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

The Man at the Lake

In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Eight

DESCRIPTION: Evverd turns resistance leader, Garreth races back to Coruscant, and Special Guest Appearance by everyone's favorite lunatic Jedi Master!

NOTICE: All references to the Star Wars universe herein belong to LucasFilm. In other words, they own just about everything on this page except my name...


The hyperspace tunnel collapsed back in upon itself, and Jev Parrak checked his readings. They had come out of hyperspace right on target, on the fringes of the Jomark system.

Kerri Lynden-Evverd, an exotic woman with long, dark hair just touched by gray, joined him in the cockpit. "Well done. That's Jomark, I take it?"

Jev nodded. In front of them, the blue sphere that was Jomark looked pretty barren; just a few scattered, tiny continents in the midst of a gigantic, purplish blue ocean that took up most of the planet.

"Our comm station should be on the northern island," Kerri told him.

"Yes, I know. I..." he frowned. "Trouble, here."

"What?" Kerri tried to read the display over his shoulder. "Did the Empire take out our comm station?"

"No - I doubt they even found it. It's small, and inactive." He cursed to himself softly. "But there has been an Imperial presence here."

"How do you know?"

Jev pointed to a dot on the scanner. "Imperial beacon. It's also running silent. You wouldn't notice it unless you were specifically scanning comm channels."

Kerri sat down next to Jev, in the copilot's chair of the YT-1700 Corellian freighter that belonged to her husband, Rik. "Perhaps they were using Jomark as a staging ground, to prepare for their attack on Tragis."

"Why would they assemble down there?" Jev pointed out. "Land is at a premium. They'd do much better just striking from their new base on Deese."

Kerri was thoughtful for a moment. "That might help us. If there's something of importance to them on Jomark, they'll be even more eager to defend it."

Kerri referred to their mission here, which was to use the New Republic comm station on Jomark to draw some Imperial ships away from Tragis, the planet where Kerri and her family lived. It was currently under siege by the Empire.

"I don't know," said Jev, "I just have a really bad feeling about this. I think we should try something else..."

NO, said a voice in his head. COME DOWN. DO NOT BE AFRAID.

"Oh, damn..."

Kerri flinched. Like Jev Parrak, she was a Jedi. "I just intercepted that."

"Quiet!" Jev said. Kerri wore a crystal of alien origin that protected her from being sensed by her fellow Jedi. "Don't give away your presence..."

TOO LATE, said the voice. YOUR FEELINGS BETRAY YOU, YOUNG JEDI. STRANGE, THAT I CANNOT SENSE YOUR COMPANION.

What companion? Jev thought at him.

The voiced laughed. IF YOU WISH TO PLAY GAMES, I ASSURE YOU, I CAN ACCOMMODATE YOU. COME TO ME, YOUNG JEDI. YOUR PRESENCE IS UNEXPECTED, BUT MOST WELCOME.

I'll pass, thought Jev.

NO, YOU WILL COME DOWN. THE FORCE DEMANDS IT. ALREADY THE STRONG OF GALAXY ASSEMBLE AT MY FEET...

Jev frowned at Kerri. "Can you hear this?"

Kerri nodded, a little disoriented. "He sounds almost like the Emperor."

The young, bearded man nodded tightly. "That's a real bad sign, isn't it?"

NONSENSE, said the voice. IN TIME, YOU'LL LEARN TO TRUST ME. AS HE WILL.

Who's 'he?' Jev thought.

An image flashed in Jev's mind, of a man about his own age dressed in black, with yellow hair and a lightsaber...

He turned to Kerri. "You're not gonna believe this."

Evverd's airspeeder shrieked with hull stresses as he pulled it through a tight bend. The pair of TIE fighters behind him were faster and better armed. On the other hand, Evverd's ship, being designed for an atmosphere, was more maneuverable, and he knew Hutt's Canyon like the back of his hand. His starfighters trained in here.

Hutt's Canyon, so named because its long, slithering layout reminded many people of a young Hutt, had been carved eons ago by erosion combined with tectonic shifts. It was full of tricky loops and twists, but infamous for the Tail's End Tunnel, an opening several meters wide in a rock wall that constituted the only ground-level access from the wide "body" of the Hutt shape into the slender "tail" part.

Only the best pilots flew the Tail End. Evverd had done it so many times that it no longer held any excitement for him.

Green light flashed past his viewport, and the dark-skinned Corellian groaned. He'd never flown it with two TIE's at his back, of course. This could be interesting...

The darkened tunnel of the Tail's End appeared before him just as the right-side TIE got another shot. Evverd brought his wing up in a loop to avoid it...

And suddenly the tunnel was upon him, and there was no time straighten out. He shot into the Tunnel upside-down, with the TIE fighters in hot pursuit.

This might be a little TOO difficult, he decided.

Evverd struggled with his controls in the near pitch-darkness, trying to invert all the turns and twists he'd so carefully memorized. He scraped a wall, and something sparked as his wing brushed up against the rock.

The TIE pilots were having no problems at all. Granted, they were right side up, but they should have smashed into something by now.

Evverd cursed as he realized the problem. They're scoping me, he thought. Stealing my telemetry!

All right, hotshots, he decided. He reached out to flick a switch. Try THIS!

All his active sensors went dead. Evverd reflected that it had probably been unwise to attempt flying the tunnel upside-down AND blind...

His speeder's lights were the only illumination, and he was going too fast to make any sense of the inverted scenery anyway. He flew from memory alone. Left... left... right. Straight for four seconds, then UP! A rock outcropping took half the transparisteel off his viewport as he failed to attain the proper lift. Behind him, twin fireballs signaled the end of the TIE fighters, but he had no time to celebrate.

A desperate series of twists got him through the final stretch, and yellow light beckoned him from ahead. A sudden, gut-wrenching turn to port brought him through the hole...

And into open sunlight, where he gasped for breath and immediately righted his speeder. His comm light blinked.

For a moment, his hands were shaking to hard to answer it. Then he stabbed the switch. "Evverd."

"Boss, this is Avers. I have the backup you requested."

The Corellian switched his sensors back on to see a pair of A-Wing fighters descending into the canyon from above. He hissed, still shaking. "Little late, isn't it?"

"Sorry," Avers replied. "We got here as quickly as we could. Imps are pounding us at Coral Coast..."

General Rik Evverd grunted. Seemed like every time he looked up, his battered forces here on Tragis were losing some new battle. "S'okay. Wasn't too bad..."

"How'd your recon go?"

His actual surveillance of the Imperial forces had been a flop. The TIE's had picked him up before he'd gotten within five kilometers. In spite of that, Evverd grinned. "Well, I learned they can scope our telemetry..."

"Allow me to understand this, Admiral." Borsk Fey'lya's crimson fur rippled, and Mykel Garreth sensed that the Bothan was about to go in for the kill. "You knew that this man... this Thrawn... existed, and you did nothing."

Garreth rubbed his temples, where tiny Ugnaughts had apparently taken up residence, with the intention of mining straight through his skull. Normally, he would have looked to Leia Organa or her brother, or even Ackbar, for support. But they were all gone, the former two on secret missions and the latter because of Fey'lya's trumped-up treason charges.

He sighed. "As I said, I believed Thrawn to be dead."

"But you still had a responsibility, Mykel." Mon Mothma's blue eyes burned into him, an expression of utter betrayal. "Your failure has cost us lives."

"I doubt it," said Garreth. "Thrawn is very smart. Knowing about him wouldn't have stopped his advance."

"Which does not explain your failure," Fey'lya hissed.

Step closer and say that, you scumsucking little Jawa, Garreth thought. Aloud he said, "I have no explanation to offer. The man was my friend. I wished to keep his name out of it, if possible."

"So... you have friends among the Empire." Fey'lya batted his violet eyes innocently. "Isn't that a short description of treason?"

"I think that's going a bit far." Councilor Sian Tevv of Sullust was sitting in on the Inner Council in the absence of Leia and Ackbar. A chubby, mouse-like being with a chittering voice, Tevv appeared comical. But he was also a master diplomat and a hero of the Republic. Garreth had always liked him. "Admiral Garreth's actions may have been somewhat ill advised, but he is no traitor. I would remind the Councilor from Bothawui that Mykel Garreth risked his life to confirm your people's Death Star plans."

Fey'lya scowled at the Sullustan, perhaps wondering how he'd found out about that little incident. "My people died to secure that information, Councilor. Garreth merely went along for the ride."

"Still..." Tevv said thoughtfully, "Your information was faulty. It nearly cost us everything. By your broad definition, doesn't that make you a traitor?"

"No one could have anticipated the Emperor's skill at..."

"Gentlemen," Mon Mothma put in, "Dredging up past failures will achieve nothing. Now, we must determine the best use for the admiral's information."

"I am not yet satisfied that we can trust the admiral, Mon Mothma." Fey'lya directed another violet stare at Garreth. "I believe we should consider formal charges of treason."

"That's absurd!" said Winter, a regal, silver-haired woman who served as Leia Organa Solo's chief aide. "I have known Admiral Garreth for years. I assure you, Councilor, treason was not his intention."

Fey'lya seemed honestly surprised that everyone was not following his lead, to kick Garreth while he was down. "Never the less..."

"There is no time for this!" Garreth exploded. He was not accustomed to shouting, and his outcry startled himself as well as the rest of the table. In a more reasonable tone, he continued, "Thrawn has a plan, I can assure you of that. Court-martial me if you like, but deal with him first. If you don't, he'll kill us all. I've seen him do it. You'll never see the noose until it's pressing against your throat." He jabbed a finger at the Bothan councilor. "You may go cheerily to the gallows if you desire, but I will not allow you to bring this Republic down with you! We've fought too hard for that! We've lost too many friends."

Fey'lya was utterly astonished, and opened his mouth to reply angrily.

He was interrupted by a soft voice from the doorway. "He's right."

They all turned, to see a tall, dark-furred Bothan in a military uniform. "We all have our secrets, Councilor. I think we'd better put this matter behind us." He stepped forward.

Fey'lya jabbed a finger at his clansman. "You have no authority here, Tran'lya!"

General Pasc Tran'lya of the Bothan Armed Forces nodded to his Councilor. "You're right. I bring a message for you, Councilor. Our spynet still has no information about the... Imperial facility...you have been searching for."

"Imperial facility?" said Mon Mothma.

"Perhaps I should brief the Council," said Tran'lya. His eyes never left Borsk Fey'lya's face. "I'm sure they'd be fascinated to hear all about it."

Fey'lya stared down his fellow Bothan for a moment, and Garreth got the distinct impression that there was more going on than was visible on the surface. "I don't think that's necessary."

"Perhaps I do."

At length, the Bothan councilor looked away. "Perhaps I spoke rashly to suggest a formal action against Garreth. As my... esteemed colleague... points out, we all have our secrets."

Tran'lya smiled slightly. "And some of them should never come to light."

With that, he turned and left, directing just a quick, triumphant glance at Mykel Garreth as he went. The human acknowledged him with a nod and a smile.

Do I want to know what that was about? Garreth wondered.

No, he decided. I definitely do not. "Now," he said, "Let's discuss Thrawn..."

Jev brought the SKYHOOK in towards Jomark, on a course for a small island inside an almost perfectly ring-shaped lake. He shuddered as he felt again the power emanating from that island.

"Keep your crystal on," he told Kerri. "Stay in the ship, no matter what happens. There's no reason for both of us to get involved in this."

"We'll go together," Kerri said firmly. Jev couldn't tell whether she spoke from concern or lingering distrust. He suspected it was a little of both.

A white-haired figure stood at the gate of an ornate mansion on a hill. He seemed to be waiting for them.

Kerri had called up a close-up of the man on an auxiliary sensor screen. "Jorus C'Baoth..."

Jev frowned. He'd studied all things Jedi for years, and had heard of C'Baoth. The man was supposed to be some kind of powerful, dignified Jedi Master. But that wasn't what his voice had sounded like...

He frowned at Kerri. "I thought he died on some top-secret project."

"I've been dead myself," Kerri said with a small grin. "It's not necessarily fatal..."

The ship landed, and Kerri checked her lightsaber, to see that it was secured to her belt. She frowned as she saw Jev finger his own lightsaber, then set it aside.

"You might need that," she said.

He took a deep breath. "If I bring it, I'll be tempted to use it."

Kerri cleared her throat. "Okay, ummm... we might be taking this penance thing a little too far..."

Jev stood. "If you look for trouble, that's what you'll find."

Kerri shrugged. "If you're certain."

"I am," he said. Liar, he thought at himself. He entered the SKYHOOK's hold and popped the hatch.

"Greetings," he said, as he made his way out onto the grass. The air was warm and smelled of the ocean. Everything on the horizon was still, as though waiting for the Jedi Master to speak.

And finally he did. "Welcome. You know who I am."

It wasn't a question, but Jev decided to treat it as one anyway. "We know who you look like. We don't know who you truly are."

The old man's voice seemed to echo as he announced, "I am the Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth!" His tone softened. "And you are now my students."

Kerri was frowning. "Forgive me, but did you fight in the Clone Wars?"

The old man's brow creased. "I suppose I did. I really can't recall. I seem to be the right age for it, but there have been so many battles... why do you ask such questions?"

"Something about the way you pronounce your name," Kerri said, "Reminds me of my mother's stories about the Clone Wars..."

"Is Luke here?" Jev asked.

Joruus C'Baoth laughed. "He will arrive. He will arrive very soon now. Together, we shall shape the galaxy."

"I'd really rather not," Jev said.

Kerri was muttering to herself. "Joruus... Jorus..."

"I think we have his name down by now!" Jev whispered.

The older Knight looked up at him. "Oh, dear. I just remembered about the names..."

C'Baoth was ignoring them both. He turned, to lead the way towards the mansion itself. "Come. We shall begin your training."

Kerri's orange lightsaber blade ignited with a hiss. She leaned over towards Jev. "Now might be a good time to run back into the ship for that saber of yours."

"Kerri, what are you DOING?"

Jev's question brought C'Baoth's attention back to them, and he growled. "Never draw your saber against me!"

He gestured, and Kerri's blade went flying. It paused in mid-air, and floated back into her hand. "You're going to have to do better than that, I'm afraid."

He advanced on her, his eyes wild. "I have relieved you of your weapon, Knight! How dare you defy me?"

Kerri took a step back, towards the ship. "Oh, please let's not do this now. I'm rusty, he didn't bring his saber..."

C'Baoth's hand came up, and a flash of bluish-white energy sizzled from his fingertips. Kerri caught the blast with her saber's tip.

"Drop your lightsaber!" the old man shrieked.

"While that course of action has... obvious advantages... I think we're going to say our good-byes. Jev?"

Jev slapped the SKYHOOK's hatch release. The ramp hissed as it made its way downward.

C'Baoth's energy output redoubled, and Kerri struggled to catch it all. A lock of her long hair took a spark and caught fire.

Kerri glared at Jev. "You could help here!"

"Sorry," said the bearded man. He gestured with one hand, and the small fire went out.

"That's not quite what I meant!" Kerri intercepted yet another bolt, then rolled hard to the side, allowing C'Baoth's lightning to score the SKYHOOK's hull. Jev did not move.

C'Baoth gestured, and a rock flew at Kerri, only to shatter against her lightsaber. "JEV!"

"You're doing fine," he said.

C'Baoth brought both hands forward, striking out now with double bolts of blue. Kerri managed to catch them both, but grunted as a strand of energy got past her guard...

Abruptly, C'Baoth ceased his assault. He turned on Jev. "What is this? You were the one I sensed in the Force, yet she does your fighting for you!"

Jev shrugged. "Not my fight. I'm just standing here."

C'Baoth hissed. "You mock me!"

"Not at all." He shrugged. "As I said, I'm sure she can handle you. I've seen her fight off Vader."

The old Jedi master moved to within three meters of him. "Vader! A minor adept! My power far exceeds his! You will show me respect!"

Jev smiled slightly. "I don't respect you, or fear you. I simply feel sorry for you."

C'Baoth's face was purple with rage. "I AM A JEDI MASTER! YOU WILL HONOR ME, CURSE YOU!"

Jev turned his lips up in a smirk. "I don't think curses are a standard part of Jedi training. I seem to recall learning a hex or two..."

"If you will not show me respect, then you'll be destroyed." C'Baoth's tone had altered suddenly, becoming very quiet. "Defend yourself."

"I'm afraid not. A Jedi chooses his time to strike. She will not choose for me, and neither will you."

C'Baoth howled, and let loose with all his dark power, sending forth dozens of sizzling bolts from his fingertips, until the air reeked with ozone, and hummed with static energy.

Fortunately, Jev had some experience at absorbing energy bolts. C'Baoth's strikes evaporated as they reached his form, and were channeled harmlessly into the ground.

The Jedi Master stalked forward, blasts becoming more intense as he came closer. It required all of Jev's power to drain off the energy, but he forced his face to remain impassive.

Though strain also showed on the old Jedi's face, Jev knew it was a race to see whether Joruus C'Baoth would lose interest in this contest before Jev's abilities were totally drained.

Finally, the old man lowered his hands.

Jev suppressed his sigh of relief. "Is that the best you can do?"

C'Baoth continued forward to within a centimeter of Jev, trembling with rage. "How? How do you defy me?"

Jev held the Jedi Master's dark eyes with his blue ones. He allowed himself a deliberately smug little smile. "You really need to get out of my face, old man."

C'Baoth sputtered, and Jev directed a glance at Kerri. She smiled and nodded, understanding what was to come.

The Dark Jedi screamed, waves of Force energy rippling off him in an insane outburst of wounded pride. The energy battered Jev, slammed off what was left of his defenses, and finally battered through them, pummeling Jev with raw Dark Side power...

Fortunately, the brief battle had left C'Baoth as drained as Jev was. He slumped to the ground after only a moment, totally spent.

Even for so short a time, his outburst might have seriously hurt Jev or Kerri, had they been open to the Force even a bit. Fortunately, they had both prepared for this, closing themselves off to the Force as much as possible.

Jev groaned, but knew he'd gotten off with no more than a headache. Another glance at Kerri told him she barely had that.

C'Baoth lay on the ground in front of them, his power gone. He might have been unconscious, but was probably just weak.

Jev needed no prompting. He hopped to the SKYHOOK's ramp. "Let's get to that comm station."

Kerri followed him up the ramp. "Nicely done. You truly have become a Jedi."

Jev winced. Actually, he'd only remembered how easy it was to enrage a Dark Jedi. He'd experienced a scream like that once, and he'd known he could push C'Baoth's buttons.

He allowed himself one more glance at the pathetic form as the ramp slid shut. Is that what I would have been, he wondered? An insane old man, demanding respect and adoration from strangers?

He hissed as the ramp closed, blocking his view. "They say it takes one to know one..."

Evverd nodded to his lieutenant, and Del Jorrs stepped forward to heave a silver ball over the fence of the Tragis military base. Both men dove to the ground as a brilliant orange explosion lit the night.

Beside them, Sergeant Riss Grady activated her laser-torch, cutting through the power generator. If all went according to plan, Avers' people were hitting the other side of the base now, to provide a diversion.

If all went well...Rik Evverd admitted to himself that his schemes had an uninspiring track record.

Grady looked up, nodding as she cut into the power generator. Using Evverd's own back-door codes as the base's former commander, she sliced into the thing's programming and turned it off.

All the lights on the base went out, along with every sensor grid, every defensive turret, and the energized fence. Grady used her laser torch to cut their way in...

Bolts of green struck out from the side, as a patrol of scout troopers opened fire.

"Cover!" Evverd yelled. He ducked behind the power generator. Several bolts struck home that would have blown the thing up if there'd been any power left in it.

The Corellian snapped off a shot at the lead scout trooper which slammed into his shoulder, throwing the man to the ground. Grady and Jorrs also returned fire. There were only three scouts...

One of which got off a pretty good shot that cut Del Jorrs nearly in half.

Evverd cursed, and shot another trooper. Grady hit the other, and suddenly the night was quiet again. Well, quieter. The sounds of battle from the other side of the base were intensifying.

Grady looked from Jorrs' collapsed form to Evverd. "He's not..."

The Corellian's fingers searched for a pulse, but found nothing. He nodded, and Grady whimpered.

"Come on," he said, "Now's not the time. Get me an opening."

The young sergeant found her laser torch, and began cutting her way in.

This deal just keeps getting worse, Evverd thought...

The LAMBDA-class shuttle landed, and Admiral Bronn stepped out onto a world not unlike his own Mon Calamari, except of course for the occasional outcroppings of dry land.

But no world is perfect, he reflected.

The old human, C'Baoth, stepped forward, muttering to himself. "Greetings, Admiral."

Bronn gave him a Calamarian frown. "You've caught the Jedi, Master C'Baoth?"

C'Baoth waved him off. "In time, in time... first I wish to discuss something with you."

"But..."

C'Baoth gestured, and Bronn's stormtrooper guard fell to their knees, gagging. The traitorous Mon Cal backed off as quickly as he could. "What are you doing?"

In a moment, the stormtroopers were dead, and C'Baoth stepped forward. "Now, Admiral, we can speak in private."

Bronn gauged the time it would take to run into his shuttle and engage the startup sequence. Too long, he decided--C'Baoth would surely be able to do something to him first. "You said you had the Jedi!"

"And I will have them. You will have the honor of helping me to get them."

Bronn was backed all the way up against his ship now, the warning lights from his tenuous connection with the Force blazing. "What do you want from me?"

The old man's eyes blazed with thoroughly insane fire. "Why, to help you, Admiral. I'm going to give you a great gift."

"I don't want any of your gifts," Bronn gurgled.

The old Dark Jedi laughed. "You'll like this one! I'm going to make you more powerful than you can possibly imagine..."

Bronn gurgled again, his bulbous eyes rotating. It couldn't hurt to hear the old man out. What choice did he have, anyway?

"Go on," he said, "I'm listening..."

Sometimes, Boba Fett reflected, you could track a bounty for months without any luck. Other times, it fell right into your lap. When this particular alien was involved, it tended to be the latter, so Fett paid close attention, though his Mandalorian helmet kept his interest hidden.

"Admiral Thrawn."

The glowing-eyed Grand Admiral smiled over the hologram connection. "It has been some time, Boba Fett. Since our outing on Zroth, I believe, some twelve years ago..."

"Yes," Fett replied. Memory of a successful hunt was one of the few things that could cause Boba Fett to smile, even slightly. Again, the emotion was kept secret. "What is it you want?"

"Our garrison on Tragis was badly damaged recently," said the Admiral. "The Rebels there are putting up a staunch resistance, much more than we anticipated."

"I see." Fett considered. He'd worked very hard in the past five years to keep the galaxy at large from knowing he'd survived the Sarlacc Pit. Bounties were easier to come by when people thought you were dead - they let their guard down more easily. He didn't even know how Thrawn knew he was alive - but of course, Thrawn knew many things. "It's going to cost you."

"I don't doubt it," said Thrawn with a smile. "I offer two hundred thousand for the capture, alive, of the Rebel leader there."

"Four hundred," said Fett. "My expenses have gone up, live bounties are difficult, and Tragis is a mudhole."

"I think you will do it for my price, Bounty Hunter." Thrawn's glowing red eyes set off his light-blue skin as he leaned forward. "The base's commander is one Rasir Evverd Junior, better known as Rik. I believe you two are acquainted...

Fett's eyes narrowed beneath his mask. Evverd had beaten him repeatedly during the war. He'd promised to kill the Corellian. Boba Fett was not a man to hold a grudge, but he did have a reputation to uphold.

He hissed softly. "Two hundred is agreeable..."

Continued in Episode 9

R.John Burke



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