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

Fleets Massing At Sullust

STAR WARS: FREEDOM'S Price Episode

DESCRIPTION: My "first trilogy" concludes. Wait and see, guys.

NOTICE: STAR WARS belongs to Lucasfilm, and the ROTJ scenes are by Lucas and Kasdan. This is just fan fiction, and not for sale.


"Admiral? It is time."

Garreth stood, the clunky commando armor he wore restricting his movement. Not that he was very mobile anyway. He was too old for this sort of thing.

He had to do it, though. He and his comrade, the Bothan Commander Tran'lya, had arrived with a team on the Imperial held world of Carida, hoping to confirm the information the Bothans had stolen about the second Death Star. They had failed, and now part of their team - including Garreth's own daughter and his Wookiee friend, Gaar - had been captured at the Imperial Naval Academy while attempting to set up a diversion.

In their stolen LAMBDA-class shuttle at the Caridan shipyards, Garreth and Tran'lya had prepared a rescue. It was basically a suicide mission. But they had no choice.

Tran'lya stepped to the hatch. "Ready?"

Resolutely, Garreth nodded.

Tran'lya reached for the switch, and a clanging sounded on the hull. "Official inspection. Open up in the name of the Empire!"

Garreth and Tran'lya both stepped back, blaster rifles clicking into position.

Unbidden, the shuttle's ramp slid open. The Imperials must have a lockpick, thought Garreth. Here we go...

The first being through the ramp was a Wookiee, howling with glee. He picked Garreth bodily off the ground in a massive hug.

"Gaar? Gaar, put me down!"

The ramp slid closed, and Garreth looked past the mass of fur to see a very short stormtrooper...

Which took off its helmet to reveal Trina Garreth. "Not bad, huh?"

"Trina!" Garreth rushed forward and embraced his daughter so hard that he feared he'd crack the armor.

"Steady, steady, dad. It's all right. I told you I could fight."

He backed off, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. "Of course, my dear. Of course. I was merely... hecking the armor's strength."

Tran'lya asked, "How'd you get the armor?"

"He got it," said Trina, and she reached over to scratch the Wookiee's chest, "From someone who no longer needed it."

The Wookiee howled appreciatively.

"The hairball's pretty good," she said, "I guess fathers do know a few things."

Gaar rumbled. "It was an honor to protect your offspring, Admiral."

"Let's get out of here," said Trina.

"Wait," said Tran'lya, blocking her path to the controls. "We still don't know about the Death Star plans."

"Yes, we do," said Trina.

"While we were in there, we managed to contact one of our spies," the sandy-furred Wookiee explained through his translator-device. "He told us that the Emperor was scheduled until recently to tour the Academy this week."

Trina's tone was grim. "He altered his schedule, specifically to visit the Endor moon."

A lull settled over the room. They all knew what that meant.

It fell to Tran'lya to say it aloud. "The Death Star attack is a trap."

The shield must be deactivated if any attack is to be attempted. Once the shield is down, our cruisers will create a perimeter, while the fighters fly into the superstructure and attempt to knock out the main reactor."

Okel listened to the briefing with a heavy heart. Before sending her senior officers to the Headquarters frigate for a briefing, Commander Sedra Covell had announced over open comm to the FREEDOM's crew the message they had received from the smuggler Talon Karrde off Coruscant.

Two of the ship's senior officers, Lieutenant Commander Taryn Clancee and Colonel Rik Evverd, had been killed by the Empire at Coruscant. They had then observed a moment of silence.

To Okel, a moment hardly seemed long enough for two such valiant souls. He had said a tosh'ka for them, and ancient Mon Calamari prayer to the water gods, imploring that their essences be allowed to swim in safe waters.

What else was there to do, at this point? What else... but strike back at the Empire? For that reason, Okel had volunteered for the Endor commando team. He had approached General Solo personally.

Though Solo had his doubts about a Mon Cal on a forest world, he'd liked Evverd, too. He'd promised Okel a shot to really hurt the enemy, which was just what Okel wanted.

He'd lost too many friends to the Imperial scum.

Beside him, Bren Derlin nudged Okel with an elbow. "This is us, buddy."

Ackbar no longer addressed the assembly. Instead, a bearded Corellian named Madine, the Alliance's tactical assault specialist, had the floor.

"...a small, Imperial shuttle. Disguised as a cargo ship and using a secret Imperial code, a strike team will land on the moon, and deactivate the shield generator."

Okel gurgled, his bulbous eyes swiveling. Yes, the Empire had a lot to pay for. Starting today.

Towards the end of the briefing, an aide had whispered into Mon Mothma's ear. She had listened intently, and stolen away as soon as the briefing concluded to her private office.

There, she had listened with growing dread to the glowing, holographic image of Mykel Garreth. "But this is still not certain, Admiral."

"Not certain?" Garreth said, "Mon Mothma, I'm telling you that the Fleet is walking into an Imperial trap, and you..."

"The Emperor's schedule change may be a coincidence," she said.

Garreth skewered her with a look. "Do you truly believe that?"

Mon Mothma, Chandrilan Senator turned Rebel leader, sighed heavily. "No. Little that Palpatine does is coincidental."

"Then it's settled, Mon Mothma. Call off the attack."

"I cannot, Admiral," she said. "I will advise Admiral Ackbar to take extra care, but...whatever Palpatine has planned for us, we'll have to face it. Now, head-on. It's the only way."

"It's suicide!" Garreth protested.

"Possibly," she admitted. "But... if the Death Star is activated, then there will be another Alderaan. Several, in fact. The entire galaxy will fall back into the Emperor's iron grasp. Mykel, this is our only chance."

The ex-Imperial stared at her over the comm, his dark eyes wary. He didn't like it, she could tell, but he understood her reasoning. "If this raid fails, and our people die, it will be on our heads. Yours and mine."

"Only mine," Mon Mothma assured him, and cut the transmission before she could argue. Then she crossed to her computer terminal, isolated the file for the comm recording, and deleted it.

"Force forgive me," she muttered, "For every life we lose..."

Kerri Lynden-Evverd steering her speeder over the metal and ferrocrete surface of Coruscant as though flying on autopilot. She had to take several detours, as she speeded along. With the destruction of the Emperor's skyhook, widespread rioting had begun on Coruscant. They'd even toppled the giant statue of His Highness from Monument Square itself.

The chaos didn't bother Kerri. She knew exactly whom she was searching for, and what would happen when she arrived.

Her husband had died on that skyhook, along with several good friends. Because of her. Because she'd ignored the danger posed by one untrained Force Apprentice, and he'd fallen to the Dark Side. Because she'd failed to act.

In its way, she realized, her mistake was Obi-Wan Kenobi's in reverse. He'd lost a pupil to the Dark Side by training him rashly. Kerri had lost one through her over-cautious failure to train an angry young man who desperately needed guidance.

Jev's sins were her fault. It fell to her to correct them. That Rik and Taryn had both died, one way or another, to protect Kerri only reinforced that point.

Thought of Rik made her eyes well up with tears, but she shook it off.

No emotion. No pain. Not yet.

Time enough to feel later. Now was the time for action. An action she'd put off far too long. It was time to find Jev Parrak, and put an end to the threat he posed.

"Red group, report in."

Wedge Antilles watched his cockpit display light up as his Red Wing reported in. That included his own Rogue Squadron, and also Rascal and Maverick squadrons from the FREEDOM.

As the last of his fighters reported, Wedge received a private-channel comm from Brynn Avers, the leader of Maverick Flight whose current designation was Red Five.

"Wedge, this is Avers. You heard about Rik?"

"Yeah," Wedge said with a lump in his throat, remembering the cocky, dark-skinned Corellian who had saved his tail in combat a few times. "If it's any consolation, he'll go down in history with Biggs, Porkins, Zev... great pilots. And great heroes."

"Right now," said Avers," I feel like I could take on the entire Empire by myself."

"Leave a few for me, Brynn," said Wedge. "I want a shot at them - especially that big one. I had to pull out of the last Death Star early. This one's mine."

"Unless I get to it first," said Avers. "Fly casual, Red Leader."

"Good luck."

On the bridge of the FREEDOM, an acting navigator named Doc Lasco signaled his acting captain. The FREEDOM was, as usual, extremely short-handed.

"Admiral Ackbar is requesting a final tally of all ships."

"Check in, Lieutenant," said Commander Sedra Covell. She thumbed the comm. "All hands, this is... this is sort of the captain. I know everybody's angry right now, and I don't blame you. I'm angry too. But we have a job to do, and anger will only get in your way. Focus on the job. Focus on your duty. And I swear to you, the Empire will pay for what they've done."

"Our ship's name is symbolic of our purpose. The Old Republic was just, and people were free, and it ruled for a thousand generations. We've grown tired of the Empire after only thirty years because people are not free."

She took a deep breath, blew it out. "This is for the whole show, folks. This war is gonna turn above the moon of Endor. Let's do this for our friends."

"Let's do it for FREEDOM."

Lando Calrissian sat in the pilot's seat of the MILLENIUM FALCON, his Sullustan co-pilot Nien Nunb at his side. It was going to take more luck than even he possessed, to get the FALCON through her second Death Star "without a scratch." It was going to take the Force.

"Admiral, we're in position," he said, "All fighters accounted for."

The gurgling Mon Calamari voice said, "Proceed with the countdown. All groups assume attack coordinates."

Nien Numb turned to Lando and chittered in his own tongue.

"Don't worry," said Lando with more confidence than he felt, "My friend's down there. He'll have that shield down on time."

Under his breath, he added, "Or this'll be the shortest offensive of all time..."

"All craft," said Ackbar, "Prepare to jump to hyperspace on my mark."

"All right, stand by."

Lando pulled a lever, and the MILLENIUM FALCON joined the rest of the Rebel fleet in hyperspace.

"Hello, Kerri."

Jev Parrak sat by the wreckage of his crumpled star fighter, head in heads. Tears streaked his face.

"You know why I'm here," she said.

"Yeah." The young man stood. He tossed her a small object from his belt. "I managed to palm this from Jade. Thought you might want it."

Kerri felt the reassuring weight of her lightsaber in her hands. Heard its hum as she ignited the orange blade. "What you've taken from me, you can never return."

"I know," he said, "Believe me, I know. I am so sorry."

"Save it," said Kerri. "You're never going to hurt anyone again."

She swung to the attack, dark hair fluttering around her as her lightsaber sizzled. Jev's silver blade hissed into view just in time, catching her strike.

"Isn't this the Dark Side?" Jev asked, "Attacking me our of anger and pain?"

Kerri swung her saber into a double loop that was meant to sever Jev's head, but just barely failed. "I don't care anymore."

"General Solo?"

"Yeah, what is it?" The Corellian leader of the Endor strike team spared only a moment to glance back at Okel, the only nonhuman on his commando team.

The Mon Cal hesitated. "I know you're looking for a way into the shield bunker. I have a suggestion."

The Rebel fleet popped out of hyperspace, and Avers just contained her gasp of fear. Along with Wedge and Davin Serlin, her own wingman, she was among the few pilots here who had faced the first Death Star. That battlestation had been the size of a small moon, and Avers had never thought that anything could be so intimidating.

She was wrong.

Though only partially complete, the new Death Star was almost twice the size of the original. The odds of their blowing that thing were...

Avers hesitated, and smiled as she recalled what Rik Evverd would say. She whispered, "Never tell me the odds."

Lando Calrissian gave the order for all wings to report in. Wedge and the other wingleaders complied, and all around Avers, A-Wing, B-Wing, and Y-Wing fighters joined her own X-Wing class vehicles in the assault. The B-Wing and X-Wing classes locked S-foils into attack position at Wedge's order, and Avers locked her own in.

"May the Force be with us," said Admiral Ackbar, and Avers silently agreed. She switched over to Mav Squadron's private channel.

Rather than give a speech, she decided to lead as Rik had. By example.

"Let's hit them," she said.

The Fleet soared in towards the Death Star.

At the weapons station, a young crewer looked up at Covell. "Commander, I'm not getting a reading on that shield."

Lasco grinned at Nav/Comm. "Solo works fast."

"No," said Covell. "That's a really bad sign..."

Mirroring her comments, Lando Calrissian said over the Fleet channel, "We gotta be able to get some kind of reading on that shield. Up or down!"

A Sullustan babbled for a moment.

Covell, who spoke Sullustan, frowned. Jamming?

Lando said, "But how could they be jamming us if they don't know..."

Sedra spoke the last words in unison with the newly appointed general. "...that we're coming."

"Pull up!" Covell hissed to Harkin, the helm officer, just as Lando gave the same order.

And then Admiral Ackbar ordered evasive action, and the whole Imperial fleet appeared in Sector 47, and the TIE fighters hit them, and Covell growled softly to herself.

Why couldn't just one little thing go right for a change?

Okel surfaced all at once, rejoicing in the touch of water against his skin once again. As a natural swimmer, he had volunteered to approach the bunker from behind, through the lake that bordered it on one edge. His large eyes peered towards the shield bunker...

Stormtroopers waited behind the bunker.

Stormtroopers? BEHIND the bunker? Why?

Okel started to dive again, when the subtle whine of a speeder bike hissed towards him over the waves.

"Halt!" cried the Imperial scout.

Okel submerged, ignoring the laser blasts that peppered the surface. The speeder bike whirred by above him...

Okel grabbed its steering vein, pulling it down into the water with his extra weight. The bike's vein snapped under the pressure...

As Okel submerged again, the biker scout fell into the water, and his bike slammed into a tree.

The Calamarian started back for shore. He could only hope he'd reach General Solo in time to warn him...

Kerri struck at Jev's saber again and again, the blades sizzling as they connected. Jev was good, she could tell, but his heart just wasn't in it. Again and again she swung, beginning to attract a curious crowd of onlookers as she battered down the younger Jedi's defenses.

Finally she smashed his saber away, taking two of Jev's robotic right-hand fingers with it. He cried out and fell to his knees.

"You are responsible for the deaths of Rik and Taryn and Weeilka...you turned to the Dark Side against my every warning! I tried again and again to get through to you, but nothing worked! What do I have to do to get through to you, Jev? Do I have to kill you?" She stepped forward, her blade under his throat. "DO I?"

Jev's face was streaked with tears. "I'm sorry. I understand now."

Kerri had never felt such rage. She looked down, and saw that her hands were crackling with a familiar blue energy. Dark Side energy.

Surprisingly, the thought didn't really bother her. She swung the saber back for a killing blow.

"Too late," she hissed.

A blast of green firepower burst out from the Death Star's main weapon, incinerating an entire cruiser on contact.

Avers' heart leapt, but then she was forced to concentrate on the Interceptor dogging her. She pulled into a roll to get on its tail.

Lando's voice was grim. "That blast came from the Death Star! That thing's operational!"

Avers aced the TIE, then turned to search for another target. Great, she thought. Another surprise.

We're all gonna die, she thought. If Evverd were here, this wouldn't be happening. He could have pulled this off.

NO, she thought forcefully. We are the Alliance. We're Maverick Squadron. We're the best.

As Lando's voice cut in again with, "We won't get another chance at this, Admiral," Avers grinned tightly.

We'll think of something, she thought.

Okel did not get back in time to warn Solo. The Rebel commander and his team had already been captured by the time the Calamarian returned.

What can I do? he thought. I am only one man. How can I defeat the Empire?

As he pulled his sopping wet form from the lake, Okel saw one of the little brown fuzzballs... Ewoks, he'd heard... beckoning him to the forest.

"Yubnub! Kreega kungawa washi tib!"

Okel gurgled to himself. Solo had said short help was better than no help. Okel had his doubts.

Then he saw what the little furball was beckoning towards. An entire strike force of Ewoks, bristling with primitive weaponry.

The Ewok's curious eyes stared up at him. "Eechuahwa goonda?"

Okel took a guess at the question. He stroked the short tentacles under his mouth thoughtfully.

"It's not much," he concluded, "But it's a start..."

Kerri's lightsaber swung back, began its downward arc. Jev Parrak just kneeled there, eyes closed. Neck exposed. Accepting his fate.

"No," she said, and deactivated her saber. "It's too easy."

She turned and walked away from him. "You will not cause me to turn to the Dark Side?"

Jev's voice was confused. "You're just letting me go?"

"I'm washing my hands of you," Kerri said matter-of-factly as she got into the speeder. "Live with what you've done, if you can."

She engaged the speeder and took off, leaving Jev alone.

Sedra Covell growled softly. The last blast from the Death Star had come perilously close to FREEDOM, but had chosen a different target instead.

"Star Destroyer incoming at 061!" Lasco announced.

"Yeah, like I was gonna miss it," Covell groaned. "All ion cannon, concentrate on the control tower."

Lasco stared up at her. "Commander, this is hopeless! Our fleet against Star Destroyers?"

"Until the shield is down," Covell said, "It's all we can do."

Gritting her teeth, she brought her ship in towards yet another Star Destroyer. And prayed that death would at least be quick and painless.

Okel stood back, amidst a parade of cheering Ewoks. He had stood back during the furious forest battle, providing cover with his blaster pistol. By his reckoning, he'd taken down at least eight troopers, one of whom was about to shoot the princess, and two of whom had been going after Solo.

Not a bad day's work.

"Excuse me, sir?" A golden protocol droid trundled up to him. "Do you think they'll be needing me further, or may I shut down? All this excitement has overloaded my circuits."

Okel laughed, trying to ignore the albino Ewok permanently attached to his leg. He watched as the shield generator went up in flames.

"Shut down, if you wish," he said. "Our work here is done."

Lando Calrissian's voice was triumphant. "We're on our way! Red group, Gold Group, all fighters follow me! I told you they'd do it!"

In Wedge Antilles' X-Wing, matters were not so rosy. Two TIE Interceptors and a TIE Advanced had picked up his tail. "No good, boss, I think I just bought it! Good luck with the rest of the battle!"

"Hang on, Wedge!" said Avers' voice. "I'm coming!"

Wedge grimaced. One trick left to try. Straining his X-Wing into a vertical position, he slipped between two infighting capitol ships, hoping to lose the TIE's in the transition.

No good. All three TIE pilots slipped between the starships with ease. Wedge's aft shields buckled and died.

This is it, he thought...

"YEEEE-HAAHHH!!"

Wedge physically turned to watch over his shoulder, stunned by the battle cry. A battered Corellian freighter had slipped between the two capital ships, coming in behind the TIE's. As it straightened out to vertical, its prominent quad mount caught two of the fighters. It lit up the third with a concussion missile.

For a moment, Wedge thought it was the MILLENIUM FALCON. But Lando was leading the charge to the Death Star...

And then a Corellian-accented voice crackled through the speakers. "I got your back, Antilles! Now go hit that thing!"

Wedge frowned. "Only two pilots are that crazy, and Han Solo isn't here..."

Avers' voice on the comm was completely spooked, like she'd seen the Peregrine himself...

"Boss?"

Rik Evverd's tone was light. "Hey, it's me! You think I'd miss this party?" After a moment, he scolded, "Go get the Death Star, Wedge! You think I got all day back here?"

"Copy that, Mav Leader." Wedge gunned his accelerator, and soon he was in the lead of the Death Star chase.

The last thing he heard before going in was Evverd's voice.

"Avers, form a new strike team on my wing. While they're busy in there, we're gonna do a little damage..."

Kerri Lynden-Evverd returned in a stolen fighter. Just before docking with the FREEDOM, she got word: The Death Star had been destroyed. The Emperor and Vader were dead. The Empire was in retreat. Arrangements were already made for the declaration of a New Republic.

Not that it mattered.

Sedra Covell met her at the hangar door with a tense salute. "Captain on deck!"

"At ease," Kerri mumbled. "Good job, by the way."

"Yeah, well," Covell smiled. "Sometimes we Rebels get lucky. Captain, there's a priority message for you."

Kerri waved it off, heading for the lift. "Later, Sedra."

"I really think you should see this, Captain."

Kerri sighed and grabbed the datapad from her XO. "What's so..."

She broke off as her eyes scanned the text.

SWEETHEART:
MADE IT TO THE BATTLE. SORRY I COULDN'T JUMP OUT WITH
YOU, BUT YOU KNEW IT WOULDN'T BE EASY WHEN YOU MARRIED
ME. ASK ME ABOUT THE SKYHOOK SOMETIME - ALMOST BOUGHT
IT THERE.

LOVE, RIK.

Covell nodded, totally straightfaced. "There's a VIP guest in your quarters, Captain. I didn't think you'd mind."

"Excuse me..." Kerri said.

"I'm telling you," said Colonel Rik Evverd as he fidgeted with his dress uniform, "If I told you how I got out, you wouldn't believe me."

"Try me," Kerri demanded. She'd been back on board for almost a full day, and she still didn't believe it.

"All right. This is for you." Evverd reached and handed Kerri a jagged piece of alien crystal.

Kerri frowned. "Mara Jade took this..."

"I know," said Evverd, "Ain't that a kick in the motivator? By the way, she says she's sorry..."

"But how...?"

Evverd explained.

"This is for Taryn, you one-eyed piece of garbage."

Evverd pressed the button.

Nothing happened.

"Kill him," said Screed.

Several laser shots lanced out. It was not the Corellian but the stormtroopers who fell, and their admiral with them.

A lithe woman with long, red-gold hair stepped out of the shadows. She surveyed the reactor. "You have made a mess of things, haven't you?"

Evverd groaned. "JADE?"

"Don't ask me why I'm doing this. I couldn't tell you." She hurried forward to get an arm around Evverd, leading him to the control room. "I can't stop your chain reaction, but I have delayed it. There's time to get to your ship... and you to a bacta tank."

"No bacta. Just patch me up," Evverd said, "I got things to do."

Mara frowned at him, then hissed softly. "This is Treason, plain and simple..."

As they entered the corridor, Evverd asked, "Then why are you doing it?"

"Partly because I don't really care anymore," Mara said, "This part of my life is over. I can feel that. Something terrible is going to happen, and this place won't be my home anymore."

Evverd groaned as they went over a bump. "What's the other part?"

Mara paused, and handed Evverd Kerri's Force-blind crystal. "Give this to your wife. Tell her I know what she did for me on Coruscant, almost dying so I wouldn't have to choose. I owed her. I always pay my debts."

Evverd smiled. "And you're sorry for what you did."

As they branched off towards the hangar, Mara groaned. "Don't rub it in, okay?"

As he finished his story, Kerri's eyes became distant. "This sounds strange, but I do believe it. There are great things in store for Mara Jade. Some day."

"And what about Jev?"

She paused, regret and doubt mixing on her face. "I don't see his future."

"I know," said the Corellian with a groan, "It's in motion. So...what do you want to do now that we've won the war?"

Kerri frowned. "I really hadn't given it any thought. I'm tired of fighting."

"Me, too. We don't have to stay with the Alliance, you know. There's a whole galaxy..."

"That's looking for reckless fighter pilots?"

Evverd hugged her. "Or rebel heroes."

Kerri looked thoughtful. "That's an interesting idea. I always wanted to try teaching."

"What? Jedi?"

"No," she said, "Real teaching. Children, I mean." The Corellian backed off with an expression akin to disgust. "Ugh. Why would you want to do that?"

"I like children," she said.

"I can't stand them. I get that from my father, I guess."

But Kerri seemed strangely upset. "You don't like children?"

"Hate 'em. Come on, Kerri. You knew that. I've said it a thousand times..."

Kerri sat down heavily on a chair. Evverd checked his chrono. They were gonna be late for the ceremony if she didn't hurry.

"I know you said that, but I assumed...you know, you like to talk. I didn't think you meant it."

"Well, I did." said Evverd with a grimace. "C'mon, Kerri. So I don't like kids. What's the big deal?"

Kerri's hands went instinctively to her stomach. She gave him a lopsided smile. "It's going to be a problem..."

"Taryn Clancee..." Garreth coughed, clearing his throat. Some of the top people in the Rebel Alliance were assembled, from the FREEDOM's crew on up to Ackbar and Madine. "Taryn Clancee was a warrior...a..."

He grimaced, and threw away his prepared speech. He stood at the podium, next to a casket wrapped in the symbol of the Rebel Alliance. The casket was symbolic. Nothing of Taryn's body remained.

"Taryn was a friend. And that's not a word I use lightly. I've served with literally hundreds of thousands of people in my day, and probably less than a dozen who can truly be called friends."

"She died a hero, defending one of her own, in the best tradition of the both the Old and New Republics. But that doesn't really matter."

"What matters is that she lived a hero. Everyone who knew her is glad for the opportunity, and each of those people is saddened, in their own way, by her loss."

He surveyed the room, continuing, "I'm not going to tell you that everyone liked her. Clancee was abrasive, arrogant, and cocky. She was a cheat and a scoundrel."

He flashed a grin at Rik Evverd and his wife. "But the Alliance was founded, in large part, by scoundrels. I think that's what we need. When we lose that little edge, that extra flair that makes a human being interesting or courageous or even annoying... when we lose that spark, we become the Empire."

"Having served in both fleets, let me tell you that is the difference. Palpatine wanted perfect drones. People with reactions instead of thought, training instead of minds. Taryn was a different breed. She would have been court-martialed during her first day in the Imperial fleet. And yet many of us in this room owe our lives to her."

He cleared his throat again, said, "I can offer no comfort save this: Taryn is one with the Force. The Force surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. In this way, Taryn is a part of all life. Like all of us, she is not simply an accumulation of matter, but a luminous being. And she will never be entirely gone from our midst."

Okel snapped into military form. "Attention on deck!"

The assembled audience watched as Taryn Clancee's casket was ejected into space. It would burn up over Endor in a decaying orbit.

In the light of the New Republic Taryn had died to help create. Garreth smiled, and stepped down from the podium.

On a desolate swamp planet that wasn't on any chart, Jev Parrak sat alone, and concentrated. For a long time, he was afraid he'd receive no answer.

Then, as before, a little green alien with large, pointed ears appeared next to him on the giant log next to the darkened cave. The only difference was, now the little being was outlined in blue light.

"What is it, my friend, that I can do, hmmm?"

Jev looked down, and smiled in relief. "I knew it. I knew I heard you at Coruscant. You are... were a Jedi. Weren't you?"

The little being surveyed him for a moment. "A Jedi, I was."

"And know, what are you?"

"One with the Force," said the little man. "Short, is my time. Help you, can I?"

"I don't know," said Jev. "I've done... terrible things since we met last. People are dead, friends of mine. Because of me."

The little man looked down, saddened. "Warned you, I did. Unfortunate, this was."

"I'm not worthy to call myself a Jedi."

"Perhaps," said the little green man. "A Jedi requires the deepest commitment. The most serious mind. Have you these things, hmmm?"

"Even if I did," said Jev slowly, "The dark side has consumed me. I'm beaten."

"Nooo! Ooohhh... nooo," the creature said, "Beat you it can, only if you let it. The Dark Side is quick and seductive... but defeated, it can be. Know that, do I. Recently, redeemed was an old friend whose crimes were worse than yours."

"Who?"

The creature poked its little stick - also glowing - at Jev. "Yourself, should you think of. What is it, that you want?"

Jev's eyes filled with tears as he considered that question. "Home. I want to go home."

"Gone, is your home. Not even the through the Force can it return."

"I know," said Jev. "But I'm not a Jedi. I can't be. Not now. I need peace."

"Peace, can I grant you," said the little man, staring into the distance. "Concentrate."

Jev did. He concentrated, and with the green gnome's help, he touched the Force one more time.

He saw Kerri... and Rik. Rik was alive! And... they had a child!

"The future, you see," said the gnome. "Through the Force, many things are possible."

Jev's eyes shone with tears of a different kind. "Even my redemption?"

The creature nodded. "Already begun, it has. To you it falls, to do the rest."

"I understand," he said, a lump in his throat.

"Always, will the Force be with you," said the creature.

He disappeared, leaving Jev alone to think. And there was a lot of thinking to do.

"Are you sure you won't let us drop you off, Admiral?" Captain Kerri Lynden-Evverd was beautiful in her dress uniform as she stood with her husband outside the airlock following the funeral service.

"No, thank you, Captain." Garreth smiled at the Senior Chief, Okel, who stood waiting a meter away. "I prefer my own pilot."

"Where will you go?" Kerri asked.

"I don't know," he said, after some consideration. "Perhaps to Chandrila... I hear it's lovely this time of year. Perhaps to New Alderaan, or back to Treasure Ship Row. There's a whole galaxy out there that I've only seen from orbit."

"Our first stop," Okel said, "Is to be Bothawui."

"That's right," Garreth confirmed. "There's a young woman there whom I'd like to know better. And after that, there's also a young man." Garreth smiled again, thinking of spending some real time with his son and daughter for the first time in his life.

"Mon Mothma ain't gonna be happy," said Evverd, "She's talking everybody's ears off in there about making you a Vice Admiral, right under Ackbar."

"She's going to be very disappointed," said Kerri. "How do we deal with that?"

"You'll have to figure it out yourself, Captain," said the short, gray-haired man. "I'm retired."

Kerri and Rik saluted him. After a moment, Garreth returned the salute.

With Okel at his side, he boarded his shuttle, and left the FREEDOM for good.

THE END
(So to speak--There will be one more series...)

R. John Burke


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