In Defense Of Freedom series Episode One
DESCRIPTION: Just after the start of Thrawn's campaign, things get very busy for our heroes, and a long-lost secret of the Jedi will be revealed...
NOTICE: Star Wars belongs to Lucasfilm. This story also borrows heavily from the Timothy Zahn book trilogy. I'm just playing with their toys; no money is involved.
PS: Definitely read the other stories in my series AND the Zahn books first, or you won't have a clue what's going on here.
The CHIMERA was en route to Myrkr.
An Imperial Star Destroyer II, or "Impstar Deuce" in the vernacular, the ISS CHIMERA was the pride of the Imperial fleet. That didn't say nearly as much as it used to.
Only five years ago, the Empire had been the dominant political force in the galaxy. Now it was a joke, three-quarters of its systems gone, half of the remaining ones close to open Rebellion...
As she slid by, silent in the void of space, flanked by the five other Star Destroyers of her armada, it was possible to note pits and dents in the CHIMERA's hull that never would have been allowed to exist under the regular maintenance of the old Empire. The fleet's TIE patrols were cut in half, her support cruisers dwindling. The CHIMERA had no home port to return to for refit and re-supply.
If the Empire had a capitol, it was Carida, site of the Imperial Naval Academy. But Carida's resources, like those of all Imperial worlds. were dwindling fast.
Even if the resources to refit the CHIMERA had existed, the Empire was much too weak at present to allow any of their serviceable ships to sit in dry-dock.
Some days, Captain Gilad Pellaeon wondered why he didn't just chuck it all and defect to the Rebellion.
Because, he answered his own question, unlike some people, I have a sense of duty, and honor as well. The Empire stands for order and reason. Just because the Rebels have blown the galaxy to hell is no reason to disregard those principles.
Perhaps, Pellaeon thought in a particularly bleak moment, I shall die serving the Empire I love.
If that was true, he decided, then so be it. So be it. I'm too old to change my ways now.
The door to the Grand Admiral's chamber slid open. Only last night, Pellaeon had felt a thrill of hope in this same room, listening to the Grand Admiral explain - in somewhat cryptic terms - his grand scheme to defeat the Alliance. Thrawn seemed sure he could manufacture an Imperial victory out of space dust, and at the time Pellaeon had nearly believed him. That dream, like so many dreams, had faded in the morning, under the cold light of reason.
But if anyone could defeat the Rebels, Pellaeon had decided, it would be Thrawn.
After playing his habitual - and annoying - game of hide-and-seek with the Noghri bodyguard, Rukh, Pellaeon was admitted into the Grand Admiral's meditation chamber.
As before, the place was filled with art - glowing holographic representations of the galaxy's foremost masterpieces.
Pellaeon didn't understand the Grand Admiral's passion for art, but after seeing that Elomin task force reduced to radioactive shards yesterday, the captain wasn't inclined to doubt his superior's wisdom.
He walked up to the admiral's throne with his datapad. Grand Admiral Thrawn, new commander of the Imperial fleet, was an imposing figure in his gleaming white uniform. It set off his red, glowing eyes and bluish skin.
Thrawn had been the only non-human ever to hold the rank of Grand Admiral, and it still felt odd, to Pellaeon, taking orders from an alien.
Still, Gilad Pellaeon respected competence, and the Grand Admiral certainly seemed to know what he was doing.
"Sir, I have those supply reports you..." Pellaeon stopped, his eyes drawn to one of the pieces of artwork. Corellian in design, he thought. "That's a Ver Deen, isn't it?"
The admiral blinked in surprise. "Very good, Captain. Have you acted upon my advice so quickly?"
Thrawn referred to his advice of last night that Pellaeon learn about art to gain a psychological edge on his enemies. The captain cleared his throat. "No, sir, not yet. I simply recognized that one."
"Yes, sir." He frowned as he realized something. "Come to think of it, I recognize all of these. I've seen them. If I may ask sir, what is the significance of the works?"
The admiral chuckled softly. "I could go on at length about the socio-political ramifications of this artwork... but I assume you meant to ask what they had in common."
Grand Admiral Thrawn narrowed his glowing eyes. "I have been thinking, Captain, since our discussion of yesterday. There is a man, in service to the Rebels, who may be able to thwart our plans."
Pellaeon frowned ever harder. "How so, sir?"
"He was a favorite of the Emperor's before his defection. Though his rank was lower than mine, that was largely because he declined promotion from captain repeatedly. As a human, he was often privy to bits of the Emperor's confidence that even I was not. Things His Excellency declined to share with an alien."
Pellaeon nodded. The Emperor's civil rights policies, or lack thereof, were well known.
Thrawn went on, "He may well know the location of Wayland - the location that I have only just ascertained. And he also knows me... he knows my tactics and my... negligible... weaknesses. He could be very dangerous to us in the coming days."
It was then that Pellaeon realized whose home and office he had seen these works in. "Mykel Garreth."
"That is correct, Captain," Thrawn said with a nod. "Now Admiral Garreth, retired but still a power to be reckoned with within the self-proclaimed New Republic. You had occasion to serve with Garreth?"
"I did, sir," said Pellaeon with a nod. "For many years, in fact. I... at one time, I considered him a friend. Sir."
"Indeed." One bluish black eyebrow arched. "Then we have a friend in common."
Pellaeon just restrained himself from doing a double take. The Grand Admiral did not strike him as a man who had any friends at all. "You knew him, sir?"
"Very well. We were assigned to the same task force for a brief while, just before the Emperor sent me permanently to the Unknown Regions. He was the only officer I knew at the time who treated me with anything but open contempt."
Though the admiral's face was largely impassive, his glowing eyes contained a hint of bitterness. Pellaeon supposed he would have felt the same, in Thrawn's position.
To Thrawn, he said, "I understand your point about Garreth, sir. He is quite a dangerous enemy."
"He is indeed," said Thrawn, fingers steepled together. "I last encountered him over nine years ago, while on a very temporary covert assignment to Corellia. We faced each other in battle."
Pellaeon winced. He, for one, had no desire to ever make the Grand Admiral his enemy. But Pellaeon himself had seen Garreth alive well after that, at Latria, so the outcome couldn't have been too one-sided. "How did he escape, sir?"
Thrawn's expression was very definitely unhappy for a moment, but he swiftly regained his composure, and said quietly, "Garreth defeated me."
"Really?" That was a shock. After seeing Thrawn in action last night, the weight of that particular accomplishment became clear.
"Yes," Thrawn said. "It was my first defeat in several years - and my last, to this day. Though he is misguided, there is no denying Garreth's skill."
"Agreed, sir," said Pellaeon.
"It occurs to me, Captain, that while Garreth could indeed be a formidable enemy, he could also be quite an asset to our fleet."
The captain snorted. "Why should he join us? His side is winning. Besides which, how could we trust him?"
Thrawn paused a moment before answering. His eyes were on one of the holographic pieces of art. "There is reason to believe that Garreth's loyalty to the Rebellion is not so strong as it appears."
Pellaeon frowned again. That didn't jibe with the Mykel Garreth he remembered. "Why do you say that, sir?"
"Because, captain," and Thrawn's lips turned upwards in half a smile, "Garreth knows about me. Yet the New Republic does not."
"He's lied to them?" Pellaeon truly was puzzled. "Are you certain?"
"I am," said the non-human admiral. "Delta Source has reported several times that the Rebels believe the Emperor had no non-human flag officers."
"Why would he lie to his friends?"
Those red eyes focused again on the artwork. "I do not know. It may be that the Rebellion is not all that Garreth hoped it would be. He may have become somewhat disillusioned - which would also explain his early retirement."
"I don't think..."
His superior officer silenced him with an upraised hand. "It is unlikely, I grant you, but it must be considered. And if Garreth is loyal to the Rebels, then he must be silenced before this campaign begins."
"I see, sir." Pellaeon returned to his all-business persona. "Shall I assemble a team for that purpose?"
"Unnecessary, Captain," Thrawn said, "My Empire has subtler means of handling such problems. Have we not, Rukh?"
The Noghri assassin slipped out of the shadows at Pellaeon's side. He was only a few centimeters away, the captain thought. He could have put a knife in my ribs, and I'd never have seen it coming.
The alien hunter growled, soft and low. "Yes, My Lord."
Ben was gone.
Luke Skywalker still had difficulty with that concept, even the morning after his vision of the old Jedi. No more "The Force will be with you, Luke." No more guidance. No more help.
He caught sight of his target halfway down a side corridor of the Emperor's former Palace on Coruscant. He resorted to sight instead of sense because of his curious inability - as long as he could remember - to sense this person in the Force. That peculiarity had led to a theory that Luke was eager to test, now more than ever.
Ambassador Kerri Lynden-Evverd, the New Republic representative from the border world of Tragis, turned with a look of surprise.
About the same age as Han Solo, maybe ten years older than Luke himself, Kerri's face had added a few lines and her hair perhaps a touch of gray in the years since the Rebellion, but she was no less attractive for it. Her long, dark hair framed a caramel-toned face with large, brown eyes. She smiled, a bit nervously, as she recognized Luke.
Kerri had been a captain in the Rebel Alliance, but had resigned her commission when she and her husband Rik had settled on Tragis shortly after the Battle of Endor. Luke had served with her for a time, following his destruction of the Death Star at Yavin. He'd gotten to like her in that time; Kerri had an aura of almost regal poise about her that went right along with Luke's theory. It had been she who had returned Luke's lightsaber to him after the renegade Jedi Apprentice Jev Parrak had stolen it, but she'd never explained how she had retrieved it. Another point to consider.
Well, he decided, enough supposition. Let's find out if I'm right.
"Hello, Luke," she said, but he got the distinct impression that she'd hoped to avoid him.
"Hi, Kerri. It's been a long time."
"It has," she agreed. "How are Han and Leia?"
"Fine, fine," said Luke. "Leia's pregnant now."
"So I've heard," she said with a smile, "Boy or girl? Or didn't she want to know?"
"Twins," said Luke, and a frown crossed his face as he said, "They're to be the first of a new generation of Jedi."
Kerri grunted. "Don't they get a say in the matter?"
"Their destiny is theirs to determine, of course." Luke was puzzled by her automatic suspicion - but again, it confirmed his theory. "But the galaxy needs Jedi. We need to re-establish the ideals of the old Republic."
"Agreed," said Kerri, slipping into Diplomatic Debate mode, "But the Republic will be restored by people. Not the Force."
"The Force IS people. It's created by life."
Kerri turned on him, completely unexpected anger in her tone and expression. "Don't lecture me about the Force, please. I know more about it than you'd think."
And finally Luke stated his theory aloud. "Because you're a Jedi. Aren't you?"
Kerri winced and turned away. "That's ridiculous."
"No. It's not." Luke followed doggedly after her. "I could state the whole list of reasons, but I think you know them all. Why are you hiding, Kerri? What are you afraid of?"
She stopped again, and this time the anger in her eyes had turned to pain. "If I were a Jedi - IF - I wouldn't be so cavalier about it. It's a great time to be a Knight now, isn't it? Everybody respects you, and calls you a hero? But it wasn't so long ago that being Jedi was a curse. You were spat on and feared and harassed, if you were lucky. If you weren't, Darth Vader caught up with you. He could put an end to our... your Jedi arrogance very quickly."
Luke frowned, not missing her slip of the tongue but more concerned with his own guilt. "I can never atone for my father's crimes. I know that. But I'm trying to help. I'm trying to re-establish the Order, so that something like the Empire can never happen again."
Kerri smirked without humor. "A lot of good they did the first time."
Luke caught hold of her arm. "You are a Jedi. And you can help me, but you've chosen not to. May I at least know why?"
Kerri sighed, and for once the pain completely left her. "I've done my part. I've fought my battles. I even faced the Emperor once, did you know that? And Vader too. I was incredibly lucky to survive both encounters. Too many others were unlucky. I won't be responsible for that happening again. As far as I'm concerned, the less of us there are in this galaxy, the better."
"And what about your son?" Luke watched that remark hit home with some regret, but it was his last card to play. "Is he Force-sensitive?"
"He is," Kerri said with the air of someone betraying a grave secret. "And he'll learn just enough about his powers to avoid using them."
"You can't hide from your destiny," Luke said, somewhat exasperated. "Look, I admit - you've been a great help to us. You've fought well. But there's so much I need to know.
So much those who follow me will need to learn. You have a responsibility to share what knowledge you have."
Kerri was silent a moment, a private war being fought in her eyes. Finally, she sighed. "You re-establish the Jedi at your own risk. I'd be a little more wary of the Dark Side, if I were you."
She walked away without looking back.
"Freighter GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY, please transmit ID and clearance." Rik Evverd smiled tightly behind the controls of his modified YT-1700 freighter, the SKYHOOK. "Soon."
Evverd listened to the comm crackle. No response. He had to love the irony here.
His own ship was a Corellian designed stock light freighter - modified, of course. Exactly the sort of ship used by smugglers themselves. They never expected the law to be flying one.
He nodded to his copilot, a baby-faced young man named Lieutenant Jorrs. "Scare 'em."
Jorrs nodded and fired a few bursts from the low-slung quad laser cannon on the other side of the ship's half-disk hull. Unlike the MILLENIUM FALCON-type YT-1300's, the cockpit for Evverd's ship was actually attached below the hull, opposite a prominent quad emplacement.
Their shots sizzled across the other ship's bow. The GOLD-OP's ion engines immediately glowed brighter, and Evverd cursed.
"She's running!" Jorrs said.
"I can see that. Let's go get her."
The copilot nodded, gulped audibly, and began working his side of the control board. On the sensor array, Evverd could see that they were keeping pace with the smuggler.
Evverd was a medium-sized man, wiry and dark-skinned with an easy, infectious grin. He was only thirty-eight, but he felt like he'd been doing this sort of thing forever.
Joss, on the other hand, had been doing this for about two weeks, and it showed. Evverd sighed. I haven't had a really good co-pilot since Clancee...
Taryn Clancee, formerly part-owner of the freighter, had been an ex-smuggler and a buddy in the Rebellion. She'd died five years ago, on the Emperor's skyhook, just before they'd blown it up.
The ship's name served a double purpose, honoring Clancee while also flattering Evverd's ego by reminding him of his skill and courage in destroying the installation.
And luck, he reminded himself. You almost bought it on that skyhook. And you're gonna buy it here unless you start paying attention.
His hands were steady on the helm as he brought them down in a loop, so they were under the smuggler ship. He touched the comm again.
"GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY, this is the SKYHOOK. You got one more chance, pal. I'm in a forgiving mood today."
The smuggler, typically cocky, grunted. "Try to catch me."
"Ohhh..." said Evverd with a grin, "You do not want to play this game with me."
The smuggler shot forward, displaying military-grade engines under his scruffy exterior. That was no problem for Evverd - his ship had nearly starfighter-grade engines. In no time, he was directly beneath the smuggler as they streaked away from orbit of Tragis.
"Shut down your engines," Evverd said again.
The only response was a burst from the ship's belly laser turret that stopped short against Evverd's souped-up shields.
"Nice try," he said, angry now. "My turn."
Instead of using the topside ion cannon to disable the ship, Evverd brought the SKYHOOK around in a furious loop, so he was heading straight for the freighter's armored underside. The quads sang out repeatedly, smashing first against and then through the freighter's shields.
Evverd rolled the ship around moments before a collision, and checked the viewport.
The freighter was relatively undamaged, save from the steady stream of crates and barrels now floating in open space. Evverd had incinerated the cargo-bay door, and unfortunately the other ship had been using most of its energy on shields. The weakened magnetic constrictors had given way.
Leaving his cargo, a fortune in spice and booze, locked in a rapidly decaying orbit around Tragis. Within hours, it would burn to ashes.
Evverd smiled, and touched the comm. "Hey, look at that. You are now in compliance with our shipping codes. You are clear for departure. Have a nice day."
The smuggler, furious but knowing he was outclassed, just muttered, "Understood." A moment later, he was gone.
Jorrs stared at his boss. Unlike his wife, Evverd had not resigned his New Republic commission, but had accepted the post of Supervising General of Tragis Defense. Since he was in charge, he scheduled himself for several patrols a week.
It was a good job, all in all.
The younger pilot said, "Sir, you just let him go? He should have been detained!"
Evverd snorted, "What for? Another loser clogging up our jails? I prefer to think of the look on his face when he has to explain to some Hutt why he lost his cargo. That, my friend, is justice."
He smiled. Yes, a good job indeed. "Lay in a course for the southeastern quarter. We'll make a quick patrol there, and then head home."
All things considered, New Alderaan was a beautifully pleasant little colony. Green trees, blue lakes and rivers. Very much like its namesake, the world blown up by the first Death Star battlestation.
The inhabitants seemed to think it was a bit too hot in this, the middle of summer, but for Amber Stormcaller, this was a cold snap.
A medium-sized woman, solidly built without being overweight, she had unruly light brown hair that had never once laid the way she wanted it to and clear, green eyes. Amber had spent the first twenty-one years of her life as a moisture farmer on Tattooine. It was a hard life, with only the occasional trip to the power station or nearby Mos Espa to alleviate the boredom. She'd grown up with very little to do but use her vivid imagination.
And she had used it. Blessed with exceptional intuition and reflexes, she flattered herself to think she might have some sort of connection to the Force. She'd grown up learning everything she could about the Jedi, hearing every story and rumor, disregarding the danger that came with speaking of the Jedi in the midst of the New Order. Amber's greatest dream had been to become one of those great Knights and destroy the evil Empire.
Well, the Alliance had beaten her to the punch, but Amber's excitement had only grown when she'd learned that it was Luke Skywalker - a farm kid from Tattooine like herself - who'd struck the fatal blow.
Amber had been more determined than ever to make her mark on the galaxy, so a year ago she'd stowed away on a Corellian freighter leaving Mos Eisley, and left her homeworld for good - she hoped.
Now twenty-two, still with the same unruly brown hair and green eyes, still with her dreams of becoming a Jedi, Amber had attained the lofty post of Third Shift navigator on that bulk freighter, and she spent most of her time in run-down cantinas like this, on peaceful worlds like this one, waiting for something to HAPPEN.
It never did. Luke Skywalker had walked into a cantina and met Han Solo, the man who'd take him on the adventure of a lifetime. Amber had walked into dozens of cantinas and usually the most exciting thing she got to do was fend off drunken patrons.
In fact, the highlight of her life at the moment was the chunk of yellowish crystal in her pocket, sold to her by a Gand merchant on the last world she'd visited. He claimed it was a genuine Jedi artifact.
She far, it just seemed like a hunk of rock to Amber, but she kept the faith. She followed a sip of her drink with a long sigh.
New Alderaan was a nice place, but it was as boring as the rest.
Suddenly, conversation in the room came to a halt. Amber looked around, searching for the cause of the disturbance. All she saw was a tall man in brown robes, silhouetted against the cantina entrance.
He stepped in, and Amber heard several snickers and whispered comments.
The bartender looked up, and said in a sarcastic tone, "What brings you to our humble establishment, my lord?"
Amber would have thought the man would be offended by the comment, but he merely inclined his head. In a surprisingly young-sounding voice, he said, "I sense something... something I haven't felt since..."
The cantina erupted in laughter, until the bartender gestured for quiet. "Would you like a drink? Maybe it'll help you with your next vision."
"Corellian ale." The man's tone now implied that he knew he was being mocked, but didn't really care.
The bartender poured a mug of ale and set it on the counter. "Let's see you make it fly into your hand."
The hooded man did not reply, but leaned forward to take the drink, and began looking for a booth.
Amber frowned. She leaned over towards the older woman at the next table. "Why are they laughing at him?"
"He's in here all the time," said the woman with a snicker. "He's a nut. Thinks he's some kind of wizard."
Amber's heart leapt. "A Jedi Knight?"
The woman laughed. "He says. Don't take it seriously, girl. He's just a drunk."
Amber sighed, wondering if she should pursue the matter further, when she turned back to see the hooded man standing over her.
"May I sit down?"
"Please," she said, and gestured to the chair. It was bound to be more interesting than sitting around waiting for the liftoff signal.
The man removed his hood, revealing angular features, bright blue eyes, and a full, dark beard. Though he sounded about the same age as Amber, the beard combined with something in his eyes to make him look much older. "My name is Jev. Who are you?"
"Amber Stormcaller," she said, and extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you." Unable to restrain herself any longer, she blurted, "Do you really think you're a Jedi?"
"I was," he said, "A long time ago."
Even if he is a nut, Amber decided, he's the most interesting character I've met so far. "What happened?"
"Life," he said, dismissing the question. "You have something, don't you? A crystal?"
Amber's eyebrows leapt. "That's right. How did you..."
"May I see it?"
Mutely, Amber reached into her pocket and fished out the yellow hunk of gemstone. It was nearly worthless by galactic standards - not even semi-precious - but the bearded man examined it as though it was the most precious thing in the galaxy.
He hissed softly. "I had one like this... when I was a Knight. Mine was clear, and its powers were different."
"The crystal has powers?" she asked excitedly.
"Mine did. There was also another kind, of a different color, whose powers were different. This one is... strange."
Jev frowned at the gemstone. "I feel it in the Force, yet I get no sense of its power. It does something... I can't be sure what."
Amber began to explain. "I got it from..."
"You are special, too." The blue eyes fixed on her. "You're strong in the Force. I can feel it. You could be trained..."
"Could you train me?" The former moisture farmer could barely contain her excitement.
His smile was weak, and a little sad. "You wouldn't want any training I could give."
"Why not? You--"
Amber looked up to see a big man, muscular with a thin blonde mustache and shaved head, standing over them.
Get outta here, you stupid Sithspawn. Leave her alone."
"It's okay," said Amber.
The bald man grimaced. "It ain't okay. He comes here every day, bothering people. Talking our heads off with mystic nonsense." He grabbed a handful of Jev's robes, lifting him to his feat. "I'm about ready to..."
Jev smiled. "You don't want to start a fight."
The bald man's face went blank. In a monotone, he repeated, "I don't want to...start a fight."
"You should go back to your table."
"I should..." the words came slowly, by rote. "Go back to my table."
"Don't come over here again."
"I won't... come over here... again." With that, the bald man released Jev, and wandered a little dizzily back to his table, where his companions began questioning and laughing at him.
"That's it!" said the bartender, "You're not welcome here, you lunatic! Get out!"
"As you wish," said the tall man. He pulled his hood back up, and left the bar as silently as he'd come.
Amber followed him all the way out into the light. "You are a Jedi."
"Was," he corrected.
"Please," she said, "Teach me. I want to learn the ways of the Force. I want to be a great Jedi like Luke Skywalker."
"Skywalker," Jev nodded, "A powerful Jedi, is he. A powerful Jedi." He peered at her with intense eyes. "To be a Jedi requires the deepest commitment. The most serious mind. Have you those things?"
Amber returned the stare without blinking. "I think so."
"Don't think. The answer is yes or no. There is nothing in-between."
"Yes," she said.
He nodded with a smile, and gestured to a battered landspeeder parked by the door.
"Then come. Bring your crystal. If it is what I think it is, we'll have plenty of time to begin your instruction during our journey."
"Journey?" Amber said, following him. "Are we going on a journey?"
He vaulted into the landspeeder with deceptive ease. "You must do what you feel is right."
Amber got into the speeder.
Continued in Episode 2