In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Three
DESCRIPTION: Jev and Amber are looking for a ship in a wretched hive of scum and villainy...
NOTICE: Star Wars belongs to Lucasfilm. I'm using some characters and situations by Timothy Zahn; but let's face it. How many of my characters are really original anyway? Don't sell this. I haven't.
"No," said Harv Welden, the heavyset, squat captain of the Corellian freighter EASY MONEY. "You gotta be outta your mind."
Amber Stormcaller batted a lock of brown hair out of her eyes. "Listen to me. He's a Jedi Knight! This search of his could make you all rich!" Welden grunted. "Anybody who thinks he's a Jedi should be locked up. Luke Skywalker included."
"Then you him show you," she protested, her anger building, "Let him convince you! Look, if you don't think he's a Jedi, you can fire me on the spot!"
"Don't wanna fire you," Welden said, peering up from his cluttered desk. His own hair was little more than grayish fuzz covering maybe thirty percent of his scalp. "You're a decent third-shift navigator... Look, kid, you let yourself be taken in by every scumbag and crackpot who can do a few parlor tricks..."
"He's a Jedi!" Amber protested, "I've seen him use the Force!"
The Corellian growled. "Look, I ain't got time to argue with you. We lift at 1345, local. You comin' or not?"
"Not without Jev," she said firmly.
Welden stuck out a greasy hand. "In that case, I'm sorry. I hate to lose you."
Amber sighed. All right, she thought, so we'll find another ship. Everyone can't be so blind. "What about my pay?"
"Hey, you signed on for the whole voyage!" the bulky man leaned back in his seat. "This is your basic breach of contract situation, you see, and..."
"Captain, my pay." Her green eyes bored into his dark ones for a moment, and finally the captain sighed. He removed a strongbox from a desk drawer and metered out several coins in New Republic scrip.
Amber cleared her throat. "Go on..."
"You're killin' me here, kid," said the captain. He removed a few more coins, until Amber finally nodded in satisfaction. She took the money and made for the door.
She looked back expectantly.
"Good luck, huh? Who knows - maybe he really is a Jedi. For your sake, I hope so."
"No, you don't," she said. "Because when we find this planet, you're going to feel very foolish."
The captain grunted. "That's what a get for going soft, huh? We had a kind of a, y'know, bonding moment goin' there, and you have to call me a fool."
"Good bye, Captain," she said, and left.
Jev could tell what had occurred just from the look on his young friend's face. "No ship?"
"No ship," Amber said with a sigh. "Don't give up. There are other ships in this port... Welden doesn't know what he's missing."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Jev asked, holding her eyes for a moment. "You're basically giving up your job. This quest is far from a sure success. It's more a hunch than anything else."
Amber smiled thinly. "You said becoming a Jedi would take the deepest commitment. What kind of commitment does it show if I'm not even willing to give up that crummy navigator post for it?"
Jev sighed. "Right. Okay, so... we still need to find a ship..."
"Somebody say they need a ship?"
Jev turned at the unexpected voice, to find a redheaded man with a pale complexion leaning up against some sort of freighter in the Space Yards.
"We might," said Jev, "If the price is right."
"The price is high," the other man said, "But if you want the best, you pay for it."
The fallen Jedi looked the other man up and down. He was scruffy-looking, like any good smuggler. Well-armed. The freighter was a YT-2400 Corellian job. It looked heavily modified, which was not a surprise. A battered, skeletal droid stood by its ramp.
"We don't have much money," he said. "Between our savings, you're looking at about 3000 up front."
The smuggler frowned dubiously. "How much when the job is done?"
"A fortune," Amber said immediately.
"No," Jev corrected her, "I will not start this off with a lie. The fact is, this operation is speculative. What we find may have great monetary value - or it may not. Most likely, it will be valuable but not something I could allow you to sell."
The redhead snorted. "That's some sales pitch. You're going someplace nonspecific, you don't know what you'll find, and even if you do find something, it won't be worth any cash. Gosh, I'm amazed you're having trouble finding someday..."
"This is important," said Amber. "We're looking for a lost Jedi relic of incredible power."
The smuggler turned his back on them. "Mystic mumbo jumbo. Come back when you're looking for the KATANA fleet. At least I could get interested in that..."
"Some star pilot you are," said Amber. "Han Solo would have helped us..."
To Jev's surprise, the man turned around, leaning against his ship with arms folded. "Not before he went soft. Lemme tell you something, in his day, Solo was the most mercenary, cold-blooded son of a gundark you'd ever meet. Then he went and lost his priorities..."
"You know Han Solo?" Jev asked. Though the smuggler acted tough, Jev knew most of his kind would have been gone by now. That the redhead was still talking meant he was interested, or at least curious.
"I knew him," said the smuggler. He stuck out his head. "Dash Rendar. A better pilot than Solo, no matter what you've heard. This is my baby, the OUTRIDER."
Jev's face brightened. Only when he smiled did Jev Parrak looked as young as his twenty-seven standard years. Otherwise, his dark beard and wild blue eyes added twenty years to his appearance. "You're Evverd's friend! But that's impossible...you died at Xizor's skyhook! It was in all the reports..."
"First of all," said Dash, "You're dumber than you look if you think some hunk of space debris could nail me. I did an emergency jump when I saw it incoming. Screwed up the OUTRIDER for a month... Second, how do you know Evverd? I mean, I understand everybody's heard of Han Solo, but Evverd isn't one of the glamour boys of the war. Not that he knows that..."
Jev smiled. "I met Evverd... a long time ago."
Dash's eyes narrowed. "You still see him?"
"Not for a long time," said Jev, and a hint of pain crossed his face. "Why?"
"I dunno. Just like him to know I'm alive, that's all." He chuckled. "We were pretty tight, way back when. I been in the Corporate Sector since I almost bought it... I hear he lost his mind, too. Went and married that Rebel sympathizer he used to hang around with."
"Kerri Lynden," Jev said with a nod. He remembered the vision Master Yoda had shown him years ago. "They have a son."
"No kidding?" Dash's grin faded into suspicion. "I thought you hadn't seen him in a while."
Jev elected to change the subject. "Why are you still hanging around?"
Dash shrugged. "Business is slow."
"Slow enough that you'd help us?" Amber asked.
"Hey, lady, I said I was bored, not desperate. I..."
A siren went off, blaring through the morning air. Amber frowned. "What IS that?"
"Let's go find out," said Dash, heading for his ship's ramp.
"No need," said Jev, concentrating intently with all his Force skills. "The Empire is here..."
"Admiral Bronn, we are in position to begin the bombardment." The Weapons Officer's voice was tinged with resentment; the crew of the Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION still were not used to taking orders from their new commander. A traitor to the Mon Calamari people, Bronn was thin and almost crimson in color. His uniform had to be specially altered to fit his bulbous head. Though he was a decorated officer, and had served the Empire well, the crew did not like him. In their minds, Mon Calamari were the enemy.
Bronn did not care. Had he wished to be popular, he would have stayed and fought the Empire with the rest of his idiot brethren. Bronn considered himself an opportunist in the best sense of the word. He held no loyalties, remained true to no ideals. Such things were the property of the simpleminded. Bronn wished only to live as long as possible, in as much comfort as he could arrange.
If the crew despised him for that, than so be it. It could have been worse, he reasoned. At least this crew served under Thrawn in the Unknown Regions. I could have gotten a command that would rebel at the mere thought of an alien commander, let alone an enemy alien.
Bronn gurgled softly, bringing his thoughts to bear on the situation at hand. "Excellent. I'd say this colony is a bit too close to our Unknown Regions strongholds, wouldn't you, captain?"
Next to him, Captain Orwell, the stocky, blonde human, smirked in anticipation. "Yes, sir."
"We'll teach them to violate the zoning codes," said Bronn. He chuckled softly. He also enjoyed his own sense of humor quite a bit. "Fire at will."
"Aye, sir," said the weapons chief. "Firing..."
Green daggers of flame smashed down into the New Alderaan spaceport like some kind of mutant lightning storm. Two of them caught freighters dead-on and blew apart their hulls, added the crackling of fire to the sounds of alarms and screaming.
Dash Rendar led the way into the cockpit of his starship. "You kids are lucky I'm a soft touch... you owe me big for this one! Leebo, cycle up the thrusters!"
"Yes, Captain Rendar," said the droid, who was already working the controls.
"This is insane!" said Amber, "You'll never make it past whatever's firing on us."
Rendar flashed a rogue's grin that reminded Jev painfully of Rik Evverd's. "Better to fight up there, where I can outmaneuver 'em, then to wait around here!"
"Settle down, sister. We're takin' off!"
Dash punched the accelerator, and listened with evident despair as they whined, building power, then lost it again with a chugging sound.
"Damn!" Outside their viewport, another freighter was alive with flames. "Sithspawn piece of Hutt slime! Leebo, what'd I tell you about buying parts from Jawas?"
"We'd never have lifted from Mos Eisley without that power coupling," said the droid.
"This festering junkheap never has been the same since the skyhook - I feel like I'm trying to fly the MILLENIUM FALCON!"
Jev smiled. "In that case, I could get out and push..."
The smuggler snarled at him. "Shut up! I'm thinkin'!"
Amber's face split in a grin. "Wait. You bought the power coupling from Jawas?"
Another impact tremor shook their cockpit as the droid Leebo said, "That is correct."
"Jawas scrounge parts for their sandcrawlers from that kind of merchandise. Likely they just took out a relay or something..."
Dash scowled at his droid. "Did you make sure it was in one piece when you bought it?"
"If you'll recall, Master," said Leebo over another explosion, "We were in a hurry to depart Mos Eisley due to your disagreement with the Lady Valarian..."
"Yeah, I remember!" Dash got up from the controls. "I'll fix it - punch it as soon as you hear me call."
Amber put a hand on his shoulder, pushing him down. "Stay there. I'm from Mos Espa - I'm used to working on Jawa salvage. Where do you keep spare parts?"
"Third storage locker, portside. You'd better be good at this."
The cockpit seemed to roll around them again, and Amber steadied herself against the doorframe. "At this point, what would I gain by lying?"
The weapons officer looked. "The shield generator never even had a chance to engage, sir. We're now systematically eliminating ships at the starport."
The Mon Calamari admiral nodded, stretching stiff lips into what the humans called a "smile." He'd learned that his crew understood him better if he imitated human gestures. "Excellent. Is there anything left there that could cause damage to us?"
The sensor officer spoke up. "A few bulk freighters and defensive fighters, Z-95 Headhunters - antique stuff, mostly. Also a few stock light freighters."
"There's no such thing as a 'stock' light freighter," said Bronn. Unlike others of his species, Bronn actually held a sort of affection for smugglers; they tended to be kindred spirits. Which did not mean he would hesitate to destroy them if necessary. "They'll have modifications that could prove costly unless they're dealt with." He paused, affirming his own logic. "Release TIE fighters to deal with the fighters. Then concentrate all batteries on the starport - beginning with the newest freighters. Anything Corellian is a priority target."
"Understood," said the weapons officer.
Bronn allowed himself the swiveling gesture that was his own species' equivalent of a smile. This was what he liked; a mission that would look good on his record without being overly dangerous.
The Rebels on New Alderaan hadn't a chance.
"Alluvial dampers! I need alluvial dampers!"
Jev had gone aft, to help Amber in her repairs. He'd never been very good at starship mechanics, but he'd gotten a few crash courses from Evverd and the others in Maverick Squadron. By and large, the Mavs preferred to modify and repair their own ships if they could. Jev at least knew one tool from another.
Or so he thought. "These are 50 micron dampers!" Amber hissed. "I need the 75!"
The ship rocked again, and Dash Rendar's voice said, "Hey, kids, maybe it's escaped your notice, but we're gettin' shot at out here!"
"We're working on it!" Jev called.
"Work faster! I ain't.... uh oh..."
If there was anything Jev had learned in his years, it was never to trust a star pilot who says 'uh oh.' He called, "What's the problem?"
Dash's voice was quiet. "Tell me that coupling is fixed. Like right now."
"It'll take another minute!" said Amber, cursing softly as she clanked around in the ship's innards. "Why?"
Dash sighed. "We're next in line."
Jev ran up to the cockpit and checked the viewport. Many of the ships on the landing strip were aflame now, including the one that Amber had once called home. Green bursts of laserlight were now working on the YT-2800 freighter three berths down, with the OUTRIDER the obvious next target.
He sighed. "Only one thing to do."
"I don't surrender," said Dash.
"That's not the thing." Jev pulled his cloak tighter around himself. "I've still got a few surprises left, I think. You've got a topside hatch, right?"
Dash frowned at him distractedly. "Er... yeah..."
"I think I saw the lift for it - about halfway down, on the starboard side."
"That's right," the redhead told him, "But what..."
"I'll be back."
The lift hummed as Jev rode it all the way to the top of the Corellian freighter's hull. The topside hatch parted above him, and soon he was standing atop the hull, watching out over the field of battle. The sirens had gone quiet, to be replaced by periodic roars as black or gray-painted TIE fighters chased ancient Headhunters around over the burning airfield. Once in a while one of them would score a hit, and a snubfighter would careen down into the ground, adding to the devastation.
Jev swallowed hard. Such loss of life... his sense skills had improved greatly in the last few years, and death was now palpable to him. He could sense the agony of the minds around him.
Once again, the Empire was destroying his home.
Jev allowed that anger to exist for only a moment before dismissing it. That kind of thinking would only get him into trouble. He had to concentrate. Focus on the job at hand.
Ahead of him, the YT-2800 burst into flames, and the green laserlight began tracking for the OUTRIDER. Jev smiled to himself. Good luck, he thought.
For a moment, he doubted. He hadn't used such a great degree of Force power in years - was he still touched by the Dark Side? Was he doing everyone a disservice by opening himself up to the Force?
TRUST YOUR FEELINGS, a voice in his head said, and for a moment Jev was unsure if he had thought that, or if someone else had spoken the words.
Could he even do what he intended to do? He'd never used this particular Force power before. He'd seen Vader do it, but never on this scale...
SIZE MATTERS NOT, said the voice, IF YOUR ALLY IS THE FORCE.
Jev laughed out loud. "It's been a long time," he said aloud. "I hope you're watching. This should be quite a show - if I don't get myself killed."
The green light lanced out for the OUTRIDER's hull. Jev concentrated on the energy, found it in the Force, reached out for it...
And absorbed it.
Another laser bolt struck, this time on a direct course for the OUTRIDER. Jev caught that, too, feeling a tingle as the energy built up inside him. A third bolt struck him very nearly in the heart, but did no damage as he focused it into himself as well.
Finally, of course, he needed an outlet for all that built-up energy.
He looked up at the sky, where he imagined he could see the wedge-shape of an orbiting Star Destroyer.
"Here goes nothing," he said.
And he released the energy.
The weapons officer got off only the first syllable of the word "Incoming!" before the bridge shuddered around Admiral Bronn.
"Report!" he gurgled, "I thought this world was nearly defenseless!"
"Turbolaser blast," said the sensor chief, "Triple strength. Direct hit on our nose. Minimal damage."
"Find the turbolaser emplacement," Bronn demanded, "And destroy it!"
The sensor chief looked up, confused. "Sir, we are reading no turbolaser turrets anywhere on the planet."
"Confirmed, sir," said the gunnery officer, "The blast came from nowhere!"
The Mon Cal Admiral growled. "Then track the blast to its source and incinerate THAT."
"Understood," said the sensor chief. After a moment of computation, he looked up. "Sir, you're not going to believe this..."
"Oooooh, this is bad." Dash Rendar punched the intercom. "Is the... is the coupler done?"
"Almost got it!"
"Could you hurry?" Dash said, and chuckled. "I'm just askin' cause, you know, that ISD is moving into attack position right over us."
Amber blew out a long breath. "Then punch it. Now."
Dash frowned. "Is it done?"
"If it's not," she said, "Will we be any more dead?"
The smuggler grinned. "I like the way you think, lady. Leebo, HIT IT!"
The OUTRIDER's ion engines chugged, built, and finally fired, sending them careening away at ground level just as a full barrage of turbolaser fire fried the ground they'd been sitting on. The hull of a dead bulk freighter rose up right in their path, and Dash pulled straight up, skimming the hulk by centimeters and sending OUTRIDER careening towards the stars.
"Master," said Leebo in a funny voice even for him, "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Dash glared at the droid with annoyance. "WHAT?"
Leebo pointed a metal digit at the tactical display, which showed one life sign reading clinging to their topside hull.
Dash growled a curse and leveled off just as they would have cleared the atmosphere. "Nobody told the kid to go up there, you know! It ain't my fault!"
The TIE fighters that shot onto their tail seemed to disagree.
Only the power of the Force had kept Jev alive and attached to the hull during the OUTRIDER's ascent. Between that effort and the turbolaser-absorption thing, his fuel tank was about spent.
Jev cried out in frustration as he hung to the freighter's hull by his fingertips. If he lost concentration for even a second, he would fly right off and have a very long way down to contemplate his mistakes. The bursts of TIE fighter laser fire that bounced off the hull around him were not making concentration an easy task, either.
FOCUS, said the familiar voice. FEEL THE FORCE AROUND YOU.
Yeah, right. Sure. Jev thought, How do I do that now, huh?
The voice replied with a touch of humor. IF ALL THE ANSWERS I GAVE YOU, LEARN YOU WOULD NOT.
"Thanks a lot," Jev grumbled, "I need to find a more helpful dead guy..."
The TIE's shot again, and Jev lost his traction, hanging to the vehicle's hull with the fingernails of one hand. "I'm sorry, already!"
Then the OUTRIDER stalled nearly dead, hovering in place. The TIE's shot past with a roar that split Jev's eardrums, and he hurtled forward onto the hull with a thud.
The top hatch snapped open, and a metallic arm waved him inside.
Somehow, Jev found the strength to pull himself up, vault across the hull, and dive into the hatch just before the lead TIE fighter got off a clear shot. The lift started downwards, but lurched halfway through its cycle, slamming Jev into the bulkhead.
"That will be the ion engines," Leebo explained. HE wasn't bothered by the shift in balance. "My master is doubtlessly escaping from the Empire as we speak."
Jev groaned. "I feel so much better..."
"The freighter is past us," the sensor chief announced. "Shall we pursue?"
Bronn considered for only a moment. He was not some fool like Vader or the Emperor, making every little disagreement personal. The smuggler wished to escape death; that was to be expected. Bronn also had a task to perform, and he also planned to succeed.
"Let them go," he said, "Concentrate on razing the planet, Lieutenant. I don't want two walls standing together when we are done."
Bronn smiled to himself. Perhaps allowing a few people, like those on the freighter, their escape was a good idea. After all, terror was so much more effectively spread when there was someone left to spread it.
Thrawn, you sneaky Hutt, Bronn thought to himself, you'll have some competition before long. I'm not as wily as you, yet. But I'm learning every day...
"There goes the neighborhood," Leebo drawled, and Jev shot him an angry glance.
"Ignore Leebo," Dash advised, "He was programmed by a comedian."
"A bad one," Jev said, staring out at the carnage being caused by the Imperial Star Destroyer and its escort. New Alderaan was in ruins, with flames visible from space. If the damage wasn't as bad as that done to the original planet, it was at least as infuriating.
"Sorry, kid," said Dash, and he turned away. "Leebo, get set for the jump to lightspeed."
Jev stared out at the planet with a knot in his stomach. We were simple colonists. Farmers, merchants... we had few weapons and little strategic value! What is the point of this?"
Jev went aft, and young Amber Stormcaller trailed after him.
After a moment, Jev looked up. "What do you want?"
"Just to say how sorry I am..." she sighed. "I mean, being from Alderaan the first time..."
Jev did not have the patience to hold this discussion at the moment. He cut her off. "You know nothing about it?"
Amber frowned. "But, I was wondering... um, couldn't you stop them? Dash told me what you did with those laser bolts. You must have the power to do... I don't know, something..."
"Like what?" Jev asked, hands flexing into fists. "Crush their Star Destroyer with a wave of my hand? I'm strong in the Force, but not that strong..."
"I thought one of the Jedi tenets was that size didn't matter."
Jev hissed. "Size doesn't, but intent does. What I did before was self-defense. Hurting them now would be revenge."
Amber sat down next to him. "That must take a lot of self-control. If it were Tattooine down there, I don't know if I could let it go so easily."
Jev looked down at his hands. In his mind, he saw them crackling with the energy bolts of the Dark Side, as they had in the past... He couldn't crush the Star Destroyer, but he could easily kill its captain if he chose to do so...
He shut his eyes tight. "You'll have to learn that control. Believe me, it's not easy. But if you don't, the consequences can be... disastrous..."
"Hey, kids!" Dash's voice called from the cockpit, "Get up here! You ain't gonna believe this!"
The Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION was busily pounding the remains of New Alderaan when space around it flickered. Almost directly behind it, several new ships popped into realspace. Republic ships.
NEBULON frigates, Escort Carriers, Corellian gunships, and one DAUNTLESS-class cruiser assembled between the Star Destroyer and the depths of space, trapping it against the planet.
The voice on the comm said, "This is Admiral Mykel Garreth, leading a New Republic task force. You have committed an act of war against one of our colonies. Shut down your weapons, or we will shut them down for you."
Bronn gurgled, deep in his throat. "Garreth! Isn't he dead yet?"
"We're cut off, Admiral!" said the Helm Officer, "I can't go to lightspeed!"
Bronn was not concerned. He touched a comm switch. "This is Admiral Bronn of the Imperial Navy. Here's our deal, Garreth... my TIE bombers are almost directly over Concord Dawn, one of the few remaining population centers of this pathetic little planet. Shall I give the order to drop their payloads?"
Garreth's voice was tight. "I will not surrender to blackmail."
"Indeed? Then you surrender their lives. Tie Bomber Alpha One, deploy."
On Bronn's tactical screen, the first TIE bombers soared into position over the city of Concord Dawn. Bronn smiled.
Nothing happened. The TIE bomber went evasive, then blinked out. Bronn's circular eyes swiveled...
And a new contact, the size of a Corellian freighter, popped onto the tactical display. "Admiral, this is the OUTRIDER. We have just established a no-fly zone over the city of Concord Dawn."
A droid's voice added, "You want to make something of it?"
Bronn's gaze flicked back to the New Republic ships hemming him in. He panicked. "Emergency jump! Any direction!"
"Admiral, we are still in a gravity well," said the helmsman, "Our hyperdrive will be shredded before we've gotten half a..."
Bronn jumped down into the helm crewpit and pulled the hyperdrive levers himself. The bridge rocked around him as a burst of starlines appeared on the viewport...
The Imperial Star Destroyer flickered into lightspeed.
"The coward," Okel gurgled, "He'd rather risk death with an unsafe jump than take responsibility for his crimes."
Garreth glanced at his friend. "Do you think he survived?"
"If he did," said Okel ominously, "We'll find him."
The gray-haired admiral looked away. Okel was more or less a gentle soul, but he had no love for traitors - especially Mon Calamari traitors who'd sold their own people to the Empire.
Garreth nodded to Captain Caryl Lumas, the GUARDIAN's skipper. "Stand down red alert. Deploy the task force for relief efforts."
Lumas nodded, and began relaying orders down the line. She was interrupted by her communications officer.
"Admiral Garreth, there is a transmission from that freighter at Concord Dawn. The OUTRIDER?"
"Ah, yes," said Garreth, "We owe them a debt of thanks. Put it on."
But the bearded face with the wild blue eyes in the hologram was not that of a smuggler.
"Admiral," said Jev Parrak with a nod. "We have to stop meeting like this, sir..."
Continued in Episode 4