Added July 31, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R.John Burke

The Rattle of Sabers

In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Six

DESCRIPTION: Evverd and Kerri's planet of Tragis is overrun, while the crew of the OUTRIDER rush in to help.

NOTICE: This is a Star Wars fan fiction story. It is not for sale. For your own safety, you should be aware that Star Wars is a copyright of Lucasfilm. If you are not aware of this, dozens of lawyers will descend upon you and "explain" the matter in legal jargon.


Evverd checked his systems, and confirmed that the X-Wing snubfighter was in as good condition as it could be. While most of his fighter wing flew the more advanced A-Wing fighters, the "old pros," Evverd and Wingleader Brynn Avers among them, tended to prefer their X-Wings.

A droid's trill brought his attention back to reality. "Hmmm? Yeah--it's good to be flying with you again, too, buddy.

R2-B0 bleeped in an almost sarcastic manner. Though they'd kept the little droid busy with intelligence and coordination duties at Tragis base, Evverd had always suspected that the droid resented him for abandoning his X-Wing for a modified Corellian freighter. That freighter, the YT-1700 model designated SKYHOOK, was still at the Tragis Defense Yards. While Evverd had no problem taking on smugglers in his baby, he wasn't about to risk her again in full combat - not when the X-Wing matched up better with TIE's anyway.

In the upper atmosphere in front of him, an Imperial drop ship opened and literally dozens of TIE fighters came screaming out.

"All wings, report in." Evverd's throat was dry. He hadn't engaged in a battle this dangerous since Endor.

"Red group, standing by."

"Green group, standing by."

Brynn Avers said, "Gold group, standing by."

On his screen, all twelve fighters of Evverd's own Blue Group reported in, and he nodded. "This is the big dance, boys and girls. Pick a target to hit."

"You mean, pick three targets," said Avers. "Hadn't you checked the odds against us?"

"I never check the odds." Privately, however, Rik Evverd was very aware of how badly they were outnumbered.

Tragis was just never meant to withstand a major pounding. It was a frontier world without much in the way of resources; nobody had expected the Imps to commit so many resources to hitting it. Of course, nobody had really expected the Imps to ever get this desperate, either.

The planetary shield had fallen yesterday. Evverd had personally taken down two Imperial Walkers, but of course two walkers out of ten still left a sizable strike force. He'd returned to base this morning, grabbed a quick hour and a half of sleep in the SKYHOOK's hold, then been roused by news of the fighter assault.

It's just a good thing they want the planet intact, Evverd thought. If that Star Destroyer had started its bombardment, the battle would be over by now.

Evverd knew very well that if they continued to resist, the ISD's would start bombarding them, but he could not allow himself the luxury of worrying about it. He was only trying to stay alive long enough for help to come.

A formation of four TIE Interceptors bared down on Evverd, and he whistled softly. "Just like the old days, huh?"

Bo replied that the mere thought of the "old days" was enough to make him wish for a memory wipe.

"Relax. I got everything under control." With that, Evverd launched a proton torpedo straight for the center of the TIE formation. It scattered them, and even blew the wing off one fighter, which plummeted like a stone. The other three TIE's looped around for a shot at Evverd.

He fishtailed his fighter, but a few green laser bolts connected against his shields anyway. Bo had his work cut out just trying to stabilize the power.

Evverd dove sharply. One of the Interceptors sizzled by overhead, but the other two kept on his tail. He rolled sideways, avoiding blasts from one fighter but pulling right into the sights of the other. It shredded his topside shields, but detonated before it could kill him.

Avers streaked by overhead. "Scratch one squint. You owe me for that one, Blue Leader."

"Copy," said Evverd. He turned his fighter back up, just in time to nail the Interceptor who'd peeled off him as it was zeroing in on Avers. "There you go."

"Would it have killed you to let me have that one?" Avers asked, "Just once, I'd like to have an edge on you!"

"How about this?" Evverd asked with a hiss, "You have full shields, and I don't. You're clear at the moment, and I'm not." The final TIE from the initial formation had pulled back on his tail, and it was taking all off Evverd's skill to stay out of his crosshairs.

"I'm coming," said Avers.

The Corellian grunted. "No. Worry about your own tail, Brynn. I can do this."

"Are you sure?"

A bolt flashed too close, nailing Evverd's port stabilizer. Bo complained loudly, but his pilot tried not to listen. "Pretty sure..."

He switched off the transmission, and allowed himself to go with the sudden tug to port produced by the lost stabilizer. The TIE angled around to finish him...

And Evverd suddenly snapped around in the tightest loop of his life. His proton torpedo hit the Interceptor head-on.

He groaned. "That was a close one."

Bo twittered the droid equivalent of "You think?"

"And here come two more..." said the flight leader as he checked his sensors. "I tell you, pal, I am really too old for this. When we get back, I'm putting in for early retirement."

The droid pointed out that it was well within the power of the TIE fighters to arrange that same retirement very quickly.

"All ion cannon, fire on those TIE bombers at point-61!"

Lieutenant Del Jorrs, a stocky young man with slicked-back dark hair, had never been so frightened in all his life. After weeks of waiting, the Imperial raid had actually come. Only General Evverd had flown off with the fighters, leaving him to coordinate the ground defense! Jorrs was well trained and intelligent, but hopelessly inexperienced. "Divert airspeeders to point-23. We have to tie down those scout walkers!"

"Countermand that," said a deep, quiet voice at his side. Jorrs found himself staring at the general's father, former Captain Rasir Evverd of the Corellian resistance. The big man's four-year-old grandson was balanced on his shoulders.

Jorrs frowned. "Get him out of here."

"His mother is off-planet. His father and regular sitter are in the thick of that fighting. Shall I leave him home alone at a time like this?"

The lieutenant turned to his tactical displays. "Squad C-5, watch those assault troopers!" his attention flicked back to the older man. "You shouldn't be here, either!"

Rasir Evverd was probably something over sixty, but he remained intimidating. "I have no intention of leaving the defense of this planet to a boy."

"I'm General Evverd's aide, sir. I'm fully qualified..."

"I have my doubts about leaving General Evverd in charge of a planet's welfare." He glanced at the tactical monitor and winced. "Look out."

On Jorrs' screen, half a squad of airspeeders winked out almost in unison. Remembering the older man's countermand order, Jorrs asked, "How did you know?"

Rasir's expression did not change - he seemed perpetually grim. "Those AT-ST's are using the Interceptors above for cover. You go at them, they descend on the speeders like huntbirds. A speeder can't fight a TIE."

"All right, then," Jorrs said quietly, watching on tactical as the planet went to hell around them. "What would you suggest?"

A muscle in Rasir's cheek twitched. "Are you asking?"

"Don't get cute on me, Pop. I've got a..." On tactical, the rest of the airspeeder squadron winked out, and Jorrs growled. "Yes, I'm asking!"

"First, we reroute our airspeeders to base defense. The Empire will be forced to chose between engaging them and coming within close range of our defenses. Then you..." Rasir frowned, and plucked his now-crying grandson from his shoulders. "And somebody find him something to eat."

"All fighters, this is Home Base. Got a new attack plan for you." The female voice on the comm, like most of the officers at Tragis garrison, sounded too young for this kind of fighting. "You have to... um..."

"Grady, just calm down and tell us what you got."

She swallowed, and began again. "Yes, sir. Captain says to lead the Interceptors past our ion cannons if you can. The surrounding interference should disrupt their twin ion engines, and make them easy targets."

Evverd grunted. It was a good idea - he should have thought of it himself. But... "The Captain?"

A deep voice said, "You always did have a hard time following my instructions, boy. Are you capable of this or not?"

Evverd tossed himself into a roll, and the TIE fighter dogging him shot past, into the sights of some A-Wing from Green Flight.

"Watch this," he said. "Red group, green group, fly cover. Gold and blue wings, all fighters follow me!"

"Copy, Blue Leader."

Evverd cut his altitude, bringing his X-Wing level with the tops of the capitol city's buildings. Three TIE's followed him. Going low was actually very clever, he thought. The experienced Republic pilots tended to be better than their young, possibly conscripted Imperial counterparts. And the newbies were almost all flying A-Wings, whose extra maneuverability and aerodynamic design would give them an edge in a tight spot.

As if to emphasize the point, one TIE smashed into the roof of a business complex. The TIE went up in smoke, bringing the upper tenth of the tall building with it.

And Evverd cursed. He KNEW there'd been a reason why he'd ruled this out. How could he have been so stupid?

"Blue Group, pull it up. We're only endangering people down here."

His father's voice said, "It's the only way you can stand against them!"

"We only have to stay high while we're over the city," he said.

"People are going to die no matter what you do, Rik!"

As the A-Wing next to Evverd grabbed for altitude, a pursuing TIE lit up its engines, and it fell downwards, smashing into the ferrocrete below.

"That's it! Break off from your targets, Blue Group. Just make a straight run for the ion turrets!"

"Won't that leave us as sitting nerfs?" asked one flier.

"Just hold 'em off for a few seconds..." the Corellian muttered. His fighter looped and rolled as he avoided the two TIE's still on his tail. The buildings below him were starting to thin out, however, and he could see the perimeter ion turrets on scopes.

A pilot screamed, and suddenly Blue Four was a fireball. Luckily, if you wanted to use that term, his fighter more or less disintegrated, leaving no large debris to menace the civilians below.

Something thudded hard into Evverd's X-Wing, and the damage report showed a hit on the top starboard S-foil. The thing was fused, and his maneuverability was cut once again.

Despite himself, Evverd smiled. If I'm flying a crippled fighter, he thought, all that does is even the odds.

Two more pilots - Ryder and Quince - were smoked before they cleared the city. Evverd allowed himself to drop like a stone, switching to repulsorlifts as he neared the planet's surface. Then he gunned the ion engines again, soaring towards the ion turrets.

The city defenses lit, spitting blue firepower at the Imperial fighters behind them. Judging by the number of explosions he heard, Evverd guessed that at least four Imperial fighters were nailed as they attempted to descend, losing computer control from the ion blast and smacking into the hard ground. As Evverd's group hit the cannon perimeter, they swung around in a long loop. The TIE fighters, sluggish from the ion interference, were caught flatfooted. Forced to deal with both the ion towers and the now-pursuing Rebel ships, they attempted a retreat, and were quickly skewered.

Evverd breathed a sigh of relief, swinging onto the tail of one of the few remaining Interceptors. His scopes flashed red, indicating target lock...

Then they went dark, along with every other system on his ship. The ion cannon gunners, in their zest to finish of the TIE fighters, had taken an ill-advised shot at Evverd's target... with Evverd still in the way.

"Bo, can you lock it down?" But of course Bo was silent along with every other electrical system in the fighter. The green fields of Evverd's adopted planet raced up at him, and he braced for impact...

"Blue Leader is down!" said one of the sensor officers. "Repeat, General Evverd is hit and not responding!"

"Let me see that!" Rasir Evverd snapped as he hurried to the tactical monitor. He studied the situation, and keyed the comlink on. "Rik! Rik, this is Command! Are you there? Can you answer me, son?"

Nothing.

"No explosion was detected," the sensor officer said hopefully, "He may have landed safely."

"Or the battle may have blinded our view," Rasir said, face displaying no emotion. "He may be gone."

"No, sir, he couldn't be..."

"He is gone, Lieutenant, until proven otherwise," the big man snapped. "Now, report on those AT-ST's. Now!"

Evverd groaned and rubbed his sore neck. Any crash you can walk away from, he thought wryly...

He pried the canopy of his fighter opened, and crawled onto the hull to check Bo. The ion scoring was plain...

The little droid's lights came on, and he twittered weakly. Evverd sighed with relief.

"You napping on me, huh? We've got work to do!"

Bo twittered a negative: He was stuck in his droid slot until a recovery team could be arranged.

"All right, sit tight. We can..."

"Don't move!"

Evverd squinted into the brightening sunlight, and found a brown-haired TIE pilot, helmet removed, standing amidst the smoke and chaos of the field. He looked about eighteen, maybe less.

The star pilot groaned and slid off the X-Wing, onto the ground. The TIE pilot rushed to stand over him, his blaster pistol held ready.

"You just downed a lot of my buddies, Rebel scum! I ought to kill you right here!"

Evverd shrugged. "Go ahead. At this point, my friend, It wouldn't bother me too much."

"Don't tempt me," said the young pilot, raising the weapon a bit higher.

Evverd stood, wincing as his joints popped, and kept his eyes level with the kid's. "Listen to me, son. You people come in here, shoot up my damn planet, shoot up my squadron, and now, you've screwed up my droid and my ship! Nobody screws around with my ship, kid! You got that? Nobody!"

The TIE pilot, surprised by the outburst, let his aim waver for a moment, and Evverd batted the weapon aside. "Put that away before somebody gets hurt!"

He grabbed the younger man by his front life-support pack and shoved him against the X-Wing's hull. "You're gonna do exactly what I tell you to do, or this will be the last planet you ever see. Do you get me?"

"I should die for my failure," said Rukh, and he bowed low before the blue-skinned Grand Admiral known as Thrawn.

Thrawn's eyes glowed a deep crimson. "On the contrary, Rukh, the blame is mine. Had I wished to keep Garreth absolutely secure, I would have placed him on the detention level or had him killed. This first meeting was only to see what he would do."

By his admiral's side, Captain Pellaeon tensed. "He's a stubborn man..."

"That he is, Captain. And as he is clearly not interested in joining us, his threat must still be neutralized." The admiral turned up the corners of his mouth in just the slightest bit of a smile. "Fortunately, I know where he will go."

He turned to Pellaeon. "Get me Admiral Bronn. It is time for his debt to be repaid."

Rukh still did not address his overlord directly. Pellaeon knew that Noghri honor was a touchy thing, and Rukh clearly felt he had committed an unpardonable sin by allowing Mykel Garreth to escape from the CHIMERA. His mangled right hand attested to the rebel officer's skill. Few could kill a Noghri hunter. Even fewer could wound one and escape deadly retribution.

Thrawn nodded at the alien. "You may rise. I have cleansed you of responsibility. Will you dishonor your overlord by continuing in shame?"

Rukh seemed to brighten, at least as much as a Noghri ever did. "No, my lord."

"Excellent. And have that hand bacta-dipped." When the Noghri began to protest - such things were a badge of honor among his people - Thrawn added, "I will require a fully able bodyguard in the days ahead."

Rukh nodded and left, purring like a kitten.

Pellaeon sighed. "If only the Rebels were as easily duped as those pathetic Noghri."

"They are, Captain," said the grand admiral, and once again his eyes glowed brighter. "It is only a matter of learning to anticipate their actions."

The OUTRIDER's hyperspace tunnel stretched, then broke, revealing the star-speckled vastness of realspace.

In front of them, a blue-and-green orb indicated Tragis. Two IMPERIAL-class Star Destroyers floated around it, along with their support ships making a formidable blockade.

At the controls, Dash Rendar whistled softly. "You Republic people don't hand out easy jobs, do you?"

"They're concentrating on the planet," said tall, bearded Jev Parrak as he leaned over to watch the viewport. "I hope..."

Somewhat further back, in the ship's central hold, Admiral Mykel Garreth of the New Republic Starfleet huddled with his two old companions, the scarred Calamarian Okel, and the exotic, dark-haired former Rebel captain, Kerri Lynden-Evverd.

"Do you sense Rik down there?" he asked Kerri.

He eyes were closed tightly in concentration. "I get a sense that he's down there somewhere, but I can't pinpoint him. There's too much anger and death." She opened her eyes and shuddered. "I can't work through it all."

"At least he is alive," Okel said.

Kerri nodded agreement, and Garreth got up to join the others in the cockpit. "Does anyone have a plan, perchance?"

"I just get paid to fly the ship," Dash said. "Nobody told me to think of a plan..."

"We could probably sneak in," said Jev, "I might be able to hold back Imperial curiosity long enough to do that..."

"No," said Kerri's voice as she entered the cockpit. "I'm sure a... great Jedi... like yourself knows that it's unwise to use such power when alternatives exist."

"What alternatives?" asked Amber Stormcaller, the young, brown-haired woman in the copilot's seat.

"We could always just knock on the front door," said Dash's droid Leebo, the final member of their team.

"Actually," Kerri said, "I was thinking more along the lines of going down the chimney..."

Evverd hit the switch, and the TIE fighter generator hummed. It had taken them hours to find a downed fighter whose power generator still functioned, and hours more to remove its generator and get it over near the X-Wing. It was nearly dark by the time he and the young TIE pilot were able to connect it to Evverd's X-Wing. The ion cannons and fighters had finished duking it out long ago. The cannons had been destroyed or evacuated, but they'd taken a fair number of TIE's with them, including the one that had once housed this generator.

The TIE pilot sighed, and looked over from Evverd's cockpit. "Minimal power is restored... but the individual systems are still shorted out."

"That's all right," he said, "Didn't need to get her to do anything. Unlock the droid slot."

"Done," said the pilot, and behind him on the X-Wing's hull, R2-B0 was lifted out of his socket. He bleeped happily, teetering back and forth atop the fighter on two legs...

And promptly fell off with a squeal. He dropped to the ground, his metal dome smacking it with a sickening clang.

Bo tweedled softly.

"Yes, I bet that does hurt," he said, "Hey, Junior, give me a hand with this."

The TIE pilot pulled out of Evverd's cockpit, slid to the ground, and helped the Corellian right his droid.

Evverd sighed and sank to the ground, watching both the sunset and the fighting that still raged in the city beyond.

He wiped sweat from his chocolate-colored brow, and grinned. "That's it. Nothing to do but wait."

The TIE pilot still stood. "I should have shot you when I had the chance."

"Nobody's perfect," Evverd said. "Look, by tomorrow morning, the battle will be over, and whoever won will be out here looking for survivors, and we can part company. For now, just settle down."

The young man sat carefully about two meters away. "Why couldn't you people be satisfied?"

"Us? What'd we do?"

The young man frowned. "You rebelled against the Empire. You forced them back. They had to solidify their hold on the backwater, planets they usually ignored, to survive." Evverd guessed where this was going. "I guess you're from one of those planets."

"That's right." He nodded. "They left D'tai alone for years before Endor. Then you pushed them back, and they turned my world into some kind of command post... conscripted the people..."

The Corellian hissed softly. "Who've they got, kid? Your parents? Brother? Sister?"

"All of the above," said the youth with a sigh. "We didn't want to get involved. You forced that on us."

"Would it help if I apologized?"

The pilot's lip twitched. "No."

"Then what do you want me to do about it?" Evverd was exhausted and battered. He just want to lie down and get some sleep. Bo would watch the kid, make sure he didn't try anything...

His eyes had been closed for almost a minute, he heard the kid say, "I want you Rebels to surrender. So all of this can be over."

Evverd quirked an eyebrow, propping himself back up on his elbow. "We're winning. It's the Empire who needs to surrender."

"The Empire will never give up," The TIE pilot said, "Believe me. I know."

Evverd nodded out at the battle. "I know a few things, too. Look at that. We're fighting you to a draw out there. Is there any way the city should have stood that long, as outnumbered as we are?"

The pilot hesitated, then grumbled, "No."

"But it has. It'll hold a lot longer, too. See, the Empire is fighting to conquer planets. We're fighting for our lives, even now. My son's in there... a lot of other people's kids, too. We're protecting our homes."

"That may be," said the TIE pilot, his voice sounding sleepy, "But you've made a lot of trouble for everyone."

"WE made trouble?" Evverd grunted. "You wanna talk trouble? Let's discuss Alderaan."

"I'd rather not."

Evverd lay back down and yawned. "Then go to sleep."

Dash twisted the controls, and the OUTRIDER flipped into a tight bank, trying to zero in on an imaginary target. Below them, only water and ice were visible. They were hovering over Tragis' icecaps, but more importantly, over their magnetic pole.

"If we make even one slip from this course," said Dash, "The Imps are gonna know where we are real quick."

"Don't think you can do it, Dash?" Jev Parrak smirked through his beard.

"'Course I can do it, but what about after that? We can't stay in the pole's interference forever."

"That'll require some fancy, low altitude flying," said Amber. "If you're not up to it, I could take the controls."

"Not on your life, sister! I... uh, oh."

Jev frowned. "The last time you said 'uh-oh,' I almost died."

"There's a TIE fighter, trailin' us in. But don't worry, she won't last long enough to tell anybody about us."

"Likely she's already reported in," said Garreth. "If she's destroyed, they're bound to be curious."

The redheaded smuggler sneered at Garreth. "You got any bright ideas?"

"As a matter of fact, I do." Garreth nodded at Jev. "Can you make this ship waterproof?"

"WHAT?" said Dash.

"It's a good idea..." said Kerri. "A Force-bubble, placed around the ship just for a minute, might let us submerge."

"Submerge?" said Dash. "You're nuts!"

Even Jev frowned. "I don't know if I can do that... alone."

Kerri favored him with a slight smile. "Oh, I think, in this crucial situation, you'll find the strength of two Jedi."

Jev held her eyes for a moment, and nodded. "I'll give it a... never mind, bad way to start. I'll do it."

The young would-be Knight closed his eyes for a moment, face intense with concentration. Kerri had turned away, but Garreth was certain he'd find the same look on her face.

After a moment, Jev spoke. "It's done. Hurry."

Dash grunted. "Hey, I still haven't agreed to..."

"The TIE fighter is closing," Amber said.

"All right! All right!" He sighed. "I'm gonna regret this..."

He spun the OUTRIDER into a loop, then jetted straight down. At the last moment he swerved by a few meters to miss an iceberg. Then they splashed down, into Tragis' polar sea.

Amber said, "I don't believe it..."

Out the viewport, only a deep blue was visible, interspersed with the occasional sea creature, illuminated by the OUTRIDER's landing lights. One particularly large creature, looking like a cross between a fish and a tiny rancor, swallowed three jellyfish-like creatures in a single gulp.

"Reminds me of home," Okel said thoughtfully. "It's probably colder, of course."

They remained there, about a hundred meters below the ocean surface, for several minutes until Jev grunted. "We... I... really think it's time to surface."

Dash nodded. "Yeah, the TIE should be gone by now."

They soared back up, water parting before them to reveal Tragis' blue sky. Amber checked the sensors, and nodded. "TIE fighter is gone! We've done it!"

Dash chuckled. "Rendar Tours would like to thank you for joining us on our 'Undersea Voyage.' Please come again, and remember, the scenic route costs extra."

Jev, who had collapsed against the console, muttered, "Oh, don't you dare take credit for this now..."

Kerri looked a bit shaky herself. To keep Amber and Dash from noticing, she said, "Excuse me," and stumbled back to the cabin.

Dash jerked a thumb in that direction. "What's with her?"

Garreth shrugged. "Obviously your heroic job of piloting was too much for her nerves."

Dash grinned like a kid. "Really? You... I mean, um, hey, of course."

Space outside the Tragis system flickered once again, and this time a battered Imperial class Star Destroyer popped in, still showing battle damage.

On the bridge of that Star Destroyer, the RETRIBUTION, the Calamarian Admiral Bronn stared out the viewport, and gave his species' version of a smile.

He did not always understand Thrawn's insights, but the Grand Admiral had been correct once again. Thrawn had said the freighter was here, and now Bronn was certain that it was. It fell to him to find it, and present it to his commander.

Bronn had failed once before, a fact that did not particularly bother him, but had bothered Thrawn a great deal.

He would not repeat his mistakes. This time, he'd gain the Grand Admiral's trust for good.

After all, it was only one freighter. How much trouble could it be?

At length, he turned to the RETRIBUTION's captain. "Get me Captain Harbid on the DEATH'S HEAD. Transmit new orders: By authority of Grand Admiral Thrawn, his priority is to locate and detain the modified YT-2400 Corellian freighter OUTRIDER."

Captain Orwell frowned. "One freighter? In the middle of all this chaos? Sir, that's..."

"Excuses don't concern me, Captain," said the crimson Mon Calamari. "I want that ship."

"Sir." Orwell turned on his heel, and went off to send the message.

Bronn allowed himself another Mon Cal smile. Everything was proceeding nicely...

Continued in Episode 7

R.John Burke



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