Added on June 01, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R. John Burke

The Hyperspace Railroad

STAR WARS: FREEDOM'S Price Episode Six

DESCRIPTION: Garreth's flashback continues, as he recalls an assassination and the freeing of a Calamarian slave.

NOTICE: Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm (like you didn't already know that.) This story is for entertainment only (assuming you ARE entertained) and is not for sale (no kidding.)


NOW (Shortly after The Empire Strikes Back)

Admiral Mykel Garreth ended his impromptu speech and stepped down from the podium. The crowd of enthusiastic Latrians continued to cheer long after he'd left. Finally young Councilor Taris had to step to the podium and request - rather forcefully - that they return to order.

Garreth couldn't decided whether he was too chagrined to laugh, so he just stood there until the crowd had been quieted. The next speaker stepped up, and Taris returned to his side.

"We can go to the Council chamber now, Admiral." Taris smiled. "You're something of a hit."

"So I see," the Rebel officer said. "May we go?"

"Of course. You'll have to excuse them, sir. It's not every day they meet a man who fought side-by-side with General Serian."

"That's quite an exaggeration," said Garreth, "I faced Serian in battle once - but I was never exactly her ally."

Taris looked him over for a moment. "You think we don't know?"

The short Admiral with the long, graying hair kept his face impassive. "There's nothing to know."

"That's not what General Serian's journal says."

Garreth stopped short. "You found something that she herself wrote?"

"Oh, yes. Her entire journal of the early war, in fact. It's incomplete, of course, but what we have paints you in a very favorable light. The last entry tells how you risked your Imperial career to save her life... You didn't know that?"

The admiral grunted. "My briefing was sketchy."

Taris gripped his arm with the sincerity of youth. "All of Latria knows what you did, Captain. It was a pure tragedy that your efforts were in vain."

"I'll agree with that," said Garreth with a sigh. "Will you excuse me a moment? I'd like to speak to my aide."

"Of course. We'll be just ahead."

The Latrian delegation moved off, and Garreth stepped closer to his Mon Calamarian associate, Senior Chief Okel.

"Now we know why they've glorified me."

The Mon Cal gurgled softly. "I did not think objective records remained from that time."

"Oh, records remain," he said, "But hardly objective. Serian herself never knew how it really happened."

The salmon-colored alien fell into step beside him, large eyes swiveling around. "Once again, you underrate yourself. It is not hard to believe that an objective version of the events at Latria would paint you as a hero."

Garreth shook his head, craning around for one last look at the crowd. "I was no one's hero, Chief."

Okel looked away. "You were mine..."

***

NINETEEN YEARS AGO

Serian was dead.

The rebel leader had been found at her burned and scorched hideout alongside the blackened corpses of her associates.

And Commander Mykel Garreth was not happy.

He burst into the office of Latrian Supervisor Farel, his former captain in the Imperial Navy, without asking permission. The other man, balding and as short as Garreth but somehow still intimidating, was about to issue an angry protest.

Garreth cut him off. Specifically, he cleared the Supervisor's desk with a sweep of his hand, knocking datapads and readouts to the floor, and smashing some crystalline memento the older man kept there.

Farel was livid. "What do you think--"

"You killed her!"

The older man stiffened. "Who?"

"Serian! I told you I would handle it! You ordered me to handle it!"

Farel collected the datapads, surprisingly calm. He chuckled. "And here I was thinking you'd finally shown some guts. You didn't kill her?"

"Don't play games!" Garreth demanded. "You know damn well what you did!"

His former captain's ice-blue eyes played over his face. "You're out of your mind."

"Yes, I am, with anger. If you ever do that again--"

"You'll what?" Farel's unpleasant features contracted in a sneer. "You'll have me killed? You probably could, with your connections. Do yourself a favor, though. Stay away from me. I'm out of your league, son." He turned towards the door connecting his office to his private rooms. "Fish!"

A salmon-colored Mon Calamari appeared at the door, conditioned to reply to that somewhat undignified call. "Yes, my lord?"

Farel pointed at the shattered crystal. "Clean that up."

"At once, my lord."

The amphibious alien went to work on the shattered crystal as Farel held his subordinate's eyes. "Get out of my office."

Garreth did so, fuming and plotting elaborate revenge the whole way. The door slid open and led him into the Latria base's corridors. Garreth turned away from the doors.

A gurgling sounded behind him.

Garreth turned to see a pair of bulbous eyes staring out from Farel's door. Not the one that led to his office. The one leading to his personal quarters. A salmon-colored flipper gestured Garreth closer.

Warily, he followed. The Mon Cal darted back into Farel's quarters, and Garreth followed him, curious. He had seen this alien slave before - had been forced to watch the other night as Farel had berated and mocked him. The alien had impressed him with a sort of strength and dignity not generally found in slaves of the Empire.

He followed the alien into Farel's quarters, which were darkened and not nearly as luxurious as Garreth would have expected. Distasteful as Garreth found the man himself, he and Farel apparently shared a preference for simple, well-ordered surroundings.

The alien gestured for him to sit on one hard-backed chair, which Garreth did.

Speaking quietly, the alien said, "He will be working for some time, and I have disabled the security cameras. I am not so helpless as he chooses to believe."

Garreth glanced around the office, still concerned. It could be a trap, of course, with the Calamarian hoping he'd say something that could be turned against him, and gain the slave favor with his master. But the exchange of the other night - assuming it was not faked - convinced Garreth that there was no loyalty present in that relationship.

Unless the whole scene had been staged for Garreth's benefit, and Farel was a better master than he seemed. But the scars that chased each other across the alien's domed head, combined with Garreth's low opinion of the Supervisor's intelligence, convinced him that was unlikely.

"Why am I here?" Garreth asked.

"First, I wished to thank you. You did not have to defend me from him."

Garreth thought of the crackling force whip Farel had taken to his slave. "No one deserves that treatment."

"On that we agree," said the Calamarian. "But some things must be endured."

"Was that all?" Garreth appreciated the slave's gratitude, but this was quite a risk, just for that. Farel could come in at any moment.

The large eyes displayed unexpected cunning. "To repay my debt, I offer you this: Farel did not kill the rebel."

Garreth frowned. "You know that?"

"He gives no order that I am unaware of." The alien gave the impression of a smile, though his mouth did not move.

"Monitoring Imperial communications is... dangerous."

"As is assaulting your superior officer," the alien said. "As I said, some things must be done."

"But you're certain he didn't order Serian's death?"

"I am." The Mon Cal's eyes swiveled. "In fact, I rather got the impression he was hoping the assignment would fail."

"So it could be blamed on me," Garreth said with a nod. He smiled weakly. "You're not at all what I expected from a slave."

"And you not are the standard Imperial officer."

The commander was still puzzled. "But if he didn't kill Serian, and I didn't..."

"Who did?" the slave finished. "I cannot help you there. I would suggest that you are probably familiar with the suspects."

"I see." Garreth glanced at the office door nervously, and stood. "I am grateful for your help, sir."

The Calamarian croaked, "I have your silence? About monitoring Farel?"

Garreth thought about that. Technically it was treason, he supposed. But he didn't see what harm a single slave could do, and he rather liked the idea of having a friend in the Supervisor's office. "You have my silence."

"Good luck to you."

Garreth frowned. "You need it more," he said, and left.

"Excellent, commander. Fine work, as always. The Rebels on Latria will think twice before challenging my will again."

Senator Palpatine, President of the Imperial Senate and de facto Emperor of the galaxy, seemed to be aging rather rapidly lately. His skin was taking on a grayish cast, his eyes becoming tinged with yellow. Garreth wondered (hoped?) if he was ill.

"Yes, Your Highness." Secretly, the commander was more puzzled than ever. His next likely suspect after Farel had been some servant of Palpatine's, taking care of business where the young commander had failed. But clearly the Senator thought he had succeeded in killing General Serian.

Palpatine continued, "I am puzzled by a report I have received... a stormtrooper commander who reports bringing General Serian aboard your flagship the day before her death.

"I wished to interrogate her, Your Highness." Garreth fought to keep the nervousness from his tone. "But she escaped, killing a guard in the process. It was then that I realized a more direct method would be required."

Does he know after all, Garreth wondered? Is he merely toying with me?

The Senator's yellowish eyes narrowed on the oversized hologram, giving Garreth no clue as to whether he believed the story.

At length, he spoke. "I think it more likely that she was intended to escape."

Garreth's throat was dry, but he brazened it out. "Oh?"

"Yes. Perhaps some treasonous officer wished to curry favor with the Rebels. Do you think that likely, Commander?"

He frowned. He had nothing to lose by trying... "I do not, Your Highness. To the best of my knowledge, her death was as I explained it."

"Indeed." Palpatine was silent a moment. "What is your opinion of Supervisor Farel, Commander?"

Could the Senator suspect the wrong man? Hoping to avoid a trap, Garreth remained noncommittal. "I dislike the man, that's clear. I'm not sure what Your Highness wishes me to say."

"The truth, Commander. Do you believe Farel to be capable of betraying the New Order?"

Garreth considered. It was wrong, he knew it was. For all his faults, Farel was the most loyal servant Palpatine could have hoped for. And yet, when he recalled the Supervisor whipping that poor Mon Cal, he could think of no reason to defend the man.

"I have no objective knowledge either way, Your Highness."

The Senator frowned. "But you do know something."

"I do," he said. Feeling only a little guilty, he went on, "A source close to the Supervisor, speaking anonymously, told me that Farel hoped the mission would fail."

"I see. Thank you, Commander. That is most helpful..."

***

NOW

Captain Kerri Lynden-Evverd, captain of Garreth's old flagship, the NEBULON frigate FREEDOM, smiled at him over the comm. "No, Admiral, the task force is fine. Mon Mothma says to continue the talks for as long as it takes."

Garreth frowned, rather disappointed. "Are you sure you don't..."

"Everything is under control," said Kerri. "Oh, but I'll only see you briefly when you return."

Garreth frowned at his former Executive Officer, her familiar olive complexion and dark hair only a little fuzzy on the long-range comm. "Why is that?"

"When you get back, Rik and I are leaving on a mission. We'll be under the command of Leia Organa."

Garreth sighed. "Still no word about Solo?"

"None. Lando Calrissian has been trying for weeks to locate Boba Fett, but the man seems to have holed up somewhere." Kerri smiled. "Which is just as well, as far as I'm concerned. I think Fett's first priority after collecting the bounty on Solo is going to be coming after Rik."

Garreth laughed. "Your husband always did have a way with people. But if he's worried about Fett, why is he going with you and Leia to look for him?"

Kerri rolled her eyes as far as they would roll. "You know Rik. We've been having that very discussion. He seems to think Fett's vendetta is an even better reason to find the bounty hunter."

"I see." said Garreth. In a twisted sort of way, it was good logic. "Better for you to get the gundark..."

"Than for him to get you," Kerri finished the saying. "How are the talks going?"

The Admiral sighed, and proceeded unbuttoned the asphyxiating collar of his dress uniform. "They're going. The Latrians are firmly committed to the Alliance in spirit - and they do seem to like me. We have merely to work out the details."

Kerri held his eyes. "Is there something wrong, Myke?"

"No," he lied, "Just tired."

"Get some rest. Force by with you."

"You too," he said, and turned off the comm. Immediately he felt an extra three hundred kilos of dead weight drop on him. The talk with Kerri had been a refreshing bit of normalcy, a return to more pressing business after dealing with the ghosts of the past. Now, the past had returned full-force.

Not even caring that he was rumpling the fabric of his only dress uniform, Garreth fell onto the room's bed and escaped into sleep.

NINETEEN YEARS AGO

The coffin shot off into space, mixing with the blackness of the stars.

Garreth watched it for a moment, on the bridge of his VICTORY-class Star Destroyer, the GUARDIAN. Then he turned to his Weapons station. "All gunners open fire."

"Aye, sir. Target set and locked-on. Firing."

In accordance with the naval regulations of the New Order, a dozen turbolaser cannons lanced the casket with green energy. They hit the oxygen cylinders attached to it and exploded, consuming the body within by flame. The cremated ashes were left to scatter, becoming nothing more than wandering space dust.

You might have been out of my league, Farel, he thought at the void, but obviously you weren't out of someone's...

"A better sendoff than he deserved, if you ask me." Gilad Pellaeon, whose promotion to Lieutenant Commander and the GUARDIAN's XO post had recently come through, followed his captain's gaze. "The traitor..."

Pellaeon was repeating shipboard gossip, the kind that said that Farel had not been killed by a Latrian rebel, but assassinate by the Emperor for attempting to free the Latrian leader.

Garreth grunted. Another weight for his conscience. It truthfully would not have bothered him had Jayce Farel been consumed by a supernova, but his own role in the man's death was hard to ignore.

"What is it, Mykel? This could hardly have worked out better for you. Your rival is gone, the whole Latrian system is likely yours if you want it... I'd say you've been very lucky."

"A man is dead, Gilad." Garreth rubbed at his temples, feeling another headache coming on. "I don't feel fortunate."

"It could have been worse," Pellaeon said, "I've no doubt Farel tried to lay blame for his betrayal, and you know who it would have landed on. That could easily be you out there."

Garreth looked at his friend, knowing Pellaeon was right but unable to feel much in the way of relief. "You have the bridge, Gilad."

"Ah, Commander Garreth. Have the services for your Supervisor concluded so soon?"

Garreth's lip twitched. "Let's just say there was a shortage of distraught speakers."

Senator Palpatine narrowed those yellowish eyes to slits. "I see. Why have you arranged this audience?"

The commander looked down. "I have to know, Your Highness. Was Farel eliminated?"

To his surprise, the Senator was neither angered nor evasive. "He was."

"In that case, sir, you should know..." Garreth tugged as his collar. This was dangerous, but it was the only way he'd be able to live with himself. "I quoted that gossip in a moment of anger. I never seriously thought he was aiding the Rebels."

Again, Palpatine surprised him. "Nor did I."

"I beg your pardon?"

His President/Emperor gave him a distasteful smile. "Certain elements accused Farel. As his usefulness was nearing an end, I took precautions."

"You killed him for something he MIGHT have done?" Garreth couldn't conceal his shock.

The aging voice was almost a cackle. "He would have been eliminated eventually. The man was rigid and inflexible. And it has come to my attention that he did not relate well with his subordinates."

Garreth wallowed audibly, though he doubted the comm picked it up. The implied meaning was all too clear, but he needed more confirmation before he would believe it. "What do you mean, sir?"

"It is not the sort of thing that happens often," the Senator continues, "But there are times when promising individuals find their way barred by obstacles. In cases of that sort, such obstacles can be removed."

Garreth gaped, openmouthed. The message was clear: Stay on my good side and don't abuse the privilege, and all of your enemies can disappear, just like Farel. An object lesson from a prospective Emperor.

"I see."

"I thought you might," said the Emperor. "There is the matter of Latria. I had given some thought to making you the new Supervisor."

Garreth hesitated. "With respect, Your Excellency, I believe I'm of more use to you in space."

"A wise decision, Commander. Continue to use such excellent judgment, and you will go far in the Imperial fleet."

There was that word again: "Imperial." Emperor. The Old Republic was truly gone. Garreth sighed. "Yes, sir. Thank you, Your Highness. I... would make one request."

"Speak, my servant."

"Er..." Here comes the rough part, he thought. "Farel had a servant, a Mon Calamari slave. I thought perhaps he could be assigned to me."

After a brief pause, the Emperor said, "Consider it done. A reward for your success on Latria."

"Thank you, Your Highness."

"Continue to justify my faith in you, Commander," the yellow eyes zeroed in on him, "And that is only the beginning. You are dismissed."

The hologram buzzed off, and Mykel Garreth remained seated at the comm for a long while, trying to sort out what exactly had happened, and what, if anything, he could do about it.

The door to the GUARDIAN's brig hissed open, and Garreth took in a scarred, salmon-colored form, looking rather pathetic in his force binders. Bulbous eyes swiveled upwards.

"I underestimated you," he said. "You have ended my reconnaissance and earned status for yourself. Did you have Farel killed?"

"Shut up and listen," said Garreth, stepping into the cell. "You're mine now, and I expect loyal service."

The Calamarian gurgled. "You'll get it."

"You'd best follow my orders to the letter," he said, "Do you understand that? I want you to listen closely to every word I say, and then take appropriate action." He stepped back, to an intercom switch on the other side of the door. "Every word, now."

He flicked on the intercom. "Commander Pellaeon, has my shuttle been prepared, as ordered?"

"It has, sir."

Garreth nodded. "The hyperdrive has been tested?"

"It checks out thoroughly, sir, and has been set for the Sluis sector, as you instructed."

"Excellent." He smiled. "Oh, commander, I want this ship in top condition. Let's run some tests today, shall we? Specifically, I want our ion drives cycled up to three-quarters power, and thoroughly scanned for matrix imperfections."

The first officer hesitated. "Yes, sir."

"I'll also want to run checks on all tractor beam generators and sensor-jamming equipment."

Pellaeon said, "Sir, all those systems running at once are likely to interfere with our electronic equipment."

"Really? Like, oh, say... the force cuffs on our prisoners?"

"Yes, sir," said Pellaeon, plainly confused. "They may short out."

The commander smiled. "I wouldn't worry, Gilad. That would only be a problem if someone were stupid enough to leave a blast door open."

"Yes, sir. I'll get right on those tests, sir."

He nodded to himself. "Outstanding, Commander. Garreth out."

Garreth walked down to the end of the cell bay, returned with a stormtrooper's blaster rifle, and studied it carefully.

"Well, look at that. The guard I dismissed must have left this lying about. I'll have to find an appropriate place for it." He arranged the weapon carefully on the ground, so that it would jam the blast door when the thing tried to close. He glanced at the Mon Calamari. "What are you looking at?"

"Thank you," the alien said.

"Don't thank me," he said, "I'm just running some tests. I'd be appalled if some prisoner were to take this rifle, ride the lift down four floors - that's four floors, mind you - sneak past the docking area guards, and escape in my shuttle."

"I understand."

Garreth nodded. "And, of course, even if you could get to my shuttle, you'd never know the access code."

The alien nodded sagely. "True."

"My daughter turned eight just four days ago, did you know that? Eight years old. As you can imagine, her birthday was a special time in my life. A thing to be remembered. Even commemorated in some way."

The alien stood. "That was eight years, FOUR days ago?"

"That's right," said Garreth. "By the way, I never learned your name."

"Okel," he said.

"Well, Okel, I'd like to stick around and chat, but the tests are scheduled to begin in...exactly forty-five seconds."He touched the keypad, and the blast doors swung partially closed - until the blaster's stock jammed them.

Garreth surveyed his handiwork. "How interesting. I bet just anyone could reach through that gap and key the doors back open... shoddy workmanship, that. I'll have to speak to maintenance about it."

And he returned to his bridge.

"Captain!" The weapons officer looked up from his station in alarm. "We're launching a shuttle!"

"Are we?" Garreth looked up. He turned to Pellaeon. "Were we scheduled to launch a shuttle, Mister Pellaeon?"

"Only yours, sir, and not for another..."

"Oh." The Captain shrugged. "Then I suppose you'd better get a tractor beam on it."

"We're running tests on the tractor beams! We'll never get them back in-service on time!"

Garreth made a small clicking noise with his tongue. "Unfortunate. What about TIE fighters?"

Pellaeon skewered him with a look. "Both squadrons are on maneuvers."

"Is that today?" Garreth said with a snap of his fingers.

"I could shoot it down, sir," the weapons chief suggested.

Garreth surveyed the tactical display. "Shoot it down. Shoot it doooowwnnn...hmmm...."

Pellaeon was shocked. "Mykel, it's almost out of range!"

"Oh, is it? Well, I suppose you'd better open fire, then."

Green flashes sizzled out towards the fleeing shuttle, but it was far too late. A moment later, the little ship was in lightspeed.

"We've lost her, sir," said the Weapons officer, sounding apologetic.

"Can't win them all, Lieutenant," he said with half a smile.

Pellaeon leaned over so that only his commander could hear. "If I were to go to the brig, I'd find an empty cell where that slave should be, wouldn't I?"

For once, Garreth reflected, his connections would come in handy. "I don't think you're going to the brig. In fact, I think you'll see to it that there is no report on this incident at all."

"But Mykel--"

"Continue with those tests, Gilad. We wouldn't want a repeat of this pathetic showing, now would we?"

***

NOW

Someone was in the room with him. Garreth awoke with a start, but remained still. Casually, as though he'd noticed nothing wrong, he reached out to flick on the lights.

They came up, and Garreth fond himself staring down the muzzle of a blaster pistol.

"I thought you'd be here, Admiral. You always were a bit sentimental."

"And I should have expected you to come," said Garreth smoothly, "How've you been, Gilad?"

Gilad Pellaeon, a good fifty kilos heavier than he'd been in the old days and sporting a white mustache instead of a black one, held the weapon on him steadily. "Fine. I'm the first officer of the CHIMERA, now. A full commander."

"Not bad," Garreth said, "The CHIMERA's a good ship."

"With a good crew," Pellaeon confirmed, "Which was something you always took for granted, Mykel."

"It took me a long time, you know, to realize what happened here." Garreth sat up, and Pellaeon's weapon hand flinched. The admiral forced himself not to look concerned. "For a long time I assumed my stormtroopers had betrayed me. You know, with their fanatically-loyal-to-Palpatine bit. I thought they'd killed Serian on their own initiative."

Pellaeon's lip twitched. "When did you realize that I had her killed?"

"Recently. At the same time I realized that you framed Farel for the rescue attempt. I hadn't thought on those events for years..."

"I should have known it was a mistake," said Pellaeon. "If I hadn't realized at the time, I should have known when you freed that disgusting fish."

Garreth arched an eyebrow. "Why'd you kill her, Gilad?"

The older man grunted. "At the time, you were my commander and my friend. I couldn't let you throw your career away. And then, of course, someone had to take the blame for your actions."

"And you picked Farel because he was the most fun to target."

"Because he deserved it," Pellaeon said, "Just as the Rebel deserved it. I did you a favor, Mykel. You were too weak to do your duty. Like any good XO, I helped you."

Garreth groaned. "I wish you'd talked to me, Gilad. I wish you'd trusted me. The whole disaster didn't have to happen."

"There was no disaster." Pellaeon lifted his weapon. "I executed a traitor here once before. I'll do it again, unless you come quietly."

"For what?" Garreth said with a snort, "To be executed?"

"To be tried for your crimes."

Mykel Garreth stood, and purposefully turned his back on his old friend. "You can't stun me and drag me out of here under the nose of security, not at your age. You'll have to kill me. If you can do that, then do it."

Garreth slowly put one foot in front of another, then forced himself to do it again. And again, until he was out of the room.

Pellaeon never fired.

"Why didn't you turn him in?" The treaty was completed, Latria was part of the Rebel Alliance, and Okel sat next to Garreth in their diplomatic courier, operating the controls for his Admiral. "An interrogation would have..."

"I couldn't turn in my oldest friend any more than he could."

Okel gurgled as he turned back to the controls. "I rather thought I was your oldest friend..."

"Oh, now, let's not be petty. Is our course set for the Fleet?"

"It is," said Okel, and reached for the hyperdrive lever.

"Don't," said Garreth, "I've recorded a message for Mon Mothma and Kerri. I've been thinking about the search for Han Solo."

The Calamarian's eyes swiveled. "Why would you be thinking about that?"

"A talk with Kerri. They're going to need information to find him. They can't go to Jabba, for obvious reasons. That means Black Sun."

Okel glanced at him from his right-side eye. "What are you suggesting?"

Garreth smiled. "Are you up to sneaking me onto Coruscant?"

The Chief considered. "I am willing too sneak US onto Coruscant."

"Excellent," said Garreth, and looked at the stars for a moment, before vertigo made him turn away. "We've completed one piece of old business, my friend. It's time to finish another."

Leaving behind Latria, and the memories associated with it, made Garreth feel younger than he had in years. The past could not be changed. The future could, and Mykel Garreth thought he had an idea how to start.

"It's time to settle up with Xizor," he said, and they jumped to lightspeed.

Continued in Episode 7

R. John Burke



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