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

Protecting Our Homes

In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Nine

DESCRIPTION: Evverd comes up with a plan, and Garreth is reunited with the crew of the FREEDOM. Jev prepares for his quest...

NOTICE: Knock knock. "Who's there?" Lucasfilm. "Lucasfilm who?" Lucasfilm owns the copyright on Star Wars. This fan fiction story is not for sale in any way. (Okay, I'm reaching now...)


The wounded just kept pouring in, dozens of them, with wounds varying from cuts and abrasion to critical laser burns. The medics and Onebee droids were already overloaded, and there was no relief in sight. Having to conduct their field medicine in an environment of dank piping and cobwebbed doors and dirty surfaces wasn't helping much either.

"One... two... three!" counted the medics, and Evverd heaved, trying to ignore the greenish ichor of Twi'lek blood that had stained his hands. This young patient had nearly had one of her head-tails severed, and with all three of their bacta tanks spoken for, triage had to be exercised. Twi'lek head-tails were far too complex and delicate to be cybernetically replaced. She would be saved only if the wound could be sealed or the tail amputated.

Evverd left the Onebee to its work, helping with the next stretcher, this one carrying a young Corellian. If Evverd had to guess - and he didn't really want to - he would have said the boy would die.

By the time Evverd got to the tenth patient, he was muttering a string of curses so vile that even the droids appeared shocked.

By the twentieth, exhaustion had made him nasty as well as bitter, and the medics advised him to take a break.

Evverd wandered into a darkened storage room, found a crate, and slumped down heavily. He sighed with glorious relief as his eyes finally closed for a second...

The door hissed open. "There you are. We have some things to discuss."

Rasir Evverd, bulky and intimidating despite his age, flicked on the lights and sat opposite his son. "Adrenaline letting down, eh? That will happen after a successful mission."

He opened one eye to peer at his father. "Successful? Have you checked the medbay?"

"Casualties are inevitable," Rasir said with a shrug. "You can't let yourself feel anything about it."

"Yeah, well, I can't think of this war in terms of just tactics, Dad." He slumped forward, elbows resting on his knees. "Those are lives out there. Friends. People who trusted me." He cleared his throat. "I'm thinking of surrendering."

"Surrender? Are you insane? They'll execute you in front of the whole planet, and the rest of us with you!"

"I know that, Dad!" he exploded, "You think I don't know that? Look, we can't win here! Maybe I can buy some time for the rest of you..."

"Stop it!" his father hissed with a look close to contempt, "You got a little bloody nose here, so you're pulling out? Let me tell you something, boy - I will never surrender to the Empire. If you would, then maybe you're really not qualified to lead this group!"

Evverd bounced up from his crate, his hands clenched into fists, all his rage and frustration pouring out of him. "You know, I have taken just about all I'm gonna take from you!"

"You're a coward," Rasir said, and stood up to leave.

Evverd came within a centimeter of taking a swing at him, then sighed loudly and unclenched his fists. "Yeah? How many Death Stars have you been up against?"

"That's right," his father told him. "You have been up against Death Stars, and Super Star Destroyers, and Boba Fett himself, from what I understand. Are you going to let one little occupation force beat you?"

Evverd sunk down onto the crate again, and groaned. He did not look up as he said, "It's different in space, Dad. It's cleaner."

"Then let's take this war back into space."

Rik Evverd frowned up at his father. "I'm listening."

For one of the few times in his son's memory, Rasir Evverd really smiled. "If you think you can lead a team up there, I might have a way to disable one of those Star Destroyers. If you're interested..."

Evverd nodded fractionally, and his father began laying out a plan.

"General!"

The tall Bothan Pasc Tran'lya stopped in the middle of the Grand Corridor of the Imperial Palace on Coruscant to wait for a short human with long, gray hair. The human wore a cream-colored Admiral's dress uniform, with a red cape fluttering behind.

"Admiral Garreth," he said, and resumed walking at a somewhat slower pace. "How did the Council session go?"

"Better, once you came to my rescue," Garreth said. "What was that facility you were talking about - the one that silenced Fey'lya so well?"

The Bothan looked away. "Let me answer that with another question. You know many of the Emperor's secrets. Are you familiar with the Storehouse Mountain?"

A memory clicked into place. "Yes. As I recall, Palpatine had several of them. Places to store his favorite trinkets."

"So you know where any of them are?"

Garreth pursed his lips. "No. The Emperor may have liked me, but in the end he trusted no one. Lord Vader may have known where the facilities were, but not I."

"Too bad," said Tran'lya. "I have the feeling that's going to be very important information in the coming days."

The human admiral caught his colleague by the arm. "Do you know something?"

Tran'lya shook his head. "No. Only that the term 'Storehouse Mountain' has been turning up in the spynet's intercepted communiques. It seems to be very important."

"Why didn't Fey'lya want the Council to know about it?"

The Bothan sighed, and continued walking. "Let's just say that the Emperor had many secrets about many people."

Garreth nodded to himself. Something incriminating about the Bothans, or just Fey'lya, tucked away by the Empire for safekeeping. It made sense.

"Well, at any rate, I thank you," Garreth said as they resumed walking. "Fey'lya was about to bite my head off."

The Bothan officer grunted. "You wouldn't be the first. Take you friend Ackbar, for example..."

"Yes, I meant to speak to you about that. These charges of treason against Ackbar are so ludicrous..."

"You must understand my fellow Bothans," Tran'lya said, "Appearances are more important than fact. If this were Bothawui, no one would have cared whether they were true or not. Ackbar is lucky, at least, to have friends like Councilor Organa Solo and her husband willing to support him."

Garreth sighed. "You'll forgive me, Pasc, but it seems that your clansman is more trouble than he's worth."

"I've often thought so."

The human stopped again, leaning in close to the Bothan. "If I were you, I'd take him down."

Tran'lya's Bothan eyes narrowed. "What are you suggesting?"

"Nothing immoral, of course." Garreth backed off a step, afraid that his remark had been misinterpreted. "I simply meant this: Fey'lya will lead your people to ruin. As I understand Bothan politics, he's been in power for as long as any Bothan in recent memory. He's grown complacent and greedy. I think he needs a challenge."

Tran'lya smiled innocently. "Why, Admiral, are you suggesting that I play his political games?"

"No, I'm suggesting that you beat him at his games." Mykel Garreth's tone was intense. "You're a man of influence within Fey'lya's own clan. He has put his personal good ahead of the New Republic, ahead of the truth, ahead of everything we stand for. If he continues to push, this government will crumble. The Bothan people need a real leader, not a self-important powermonger. Take him down, Pasc."

Tran'lya frowned at the human for a long moment. "I'll consider it."

"Do that," said Garreth with a smile, "And now... I must get to my transport. I've been assigned to a special task force. We're going to find Thrawn."

"Best of luck, Admiral. You'll need it."

Garreth winked at the Bothan. "You may need it more..."

The SKYHOOK soared through the mottled blue tunnel of hyperspace, disregarding the standard laws of physics in favor of the mysterious workings of another dimension.

Jev Parrak frowned. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Tragis is my home," Kerri said. "My place is there."

Jev hissed softly. They had gone to the nearby planet Jomark, hoping to use the communications relay there to trick some of the Imperial ships away from Tragis, a world under siege by the Empire. Instead, they'd found Joruus C'Baoth, the insane clone of a dead Jedi Master, who was apparently working for the Empire. They had just barely escaped from the unstable old man.

And, just to prove that a bad situation could always get worse, the comm station had turned out to be inoperable. Apparently, some of the local predators had taken exception to it. There was no way to repair the damage without extensive replacement parts.

"What about Luke?" Jev asked. "If he was really on his way there, shouldn't we have stayed to warn him?"

"I doubt he was really coming," Kerri said. "C'Baoth was insane, remember? The last NRI update has Luke on New Cov with Han Solo."

"But what if he does come?" Jev pressed. "Don't we have a responsibility to warn him?"

"Trust me," Kerri said, "Luke Skywalker can take care of himself. We're nearly out of time. We'll deal with C'Baoth later. Right now, we have to concentrate on Tragis. You'll press Coruscant for some support?"

"As hard as I can," Jev promised. "Though I don't know why they'd trust me..."

"Garreth will vouch for you," Kerri said.

"I hope so," he replied, "I have a very bad feeling that this isn't over..."

"He doesn't know, sir?" Pellaeon frowned at his superior officer. "Are you certain?"

"I am," Grand Admiral Thrawn said with a nod. "Delta Source has confirmed that Garreth does not know the location of the Wayland Storehouse."

"Well..." the Imperial captain shrugged, "At least we no longer have to waste Noghri looking for him."

Beside the Grand Admiral, the Noghri bodyguard Rukh stiffened, perhaps offended by the comment.

"No," said Thrawn, "But that is no reason to ignore his kind invitation."

"Invitation?"

Thrawn's eyes glowed brightly inside blue eyelids. "He is looking for us, Captain. I think, for hospitality's sake, that we should make ourselves easy to find."

"Yes, sir," said Pellaeon, and smiled.

***

SEVERAL WEEKS LATER

"Move! Move! Move!" The stormtrooper commander ushered his troops ahead, into the darkened maze of corridors and tunnels under the Tragan capital of Darros. At each corner they hesitated, blaster rifles held ready, then barged into the next corridor, ready to shoot anything that moved.

They shot several large, spider-like creatures. No other targets presented themselves.

The commander frowned. They'd gotten a reliable tip that the Rebels were here. Furthermore, these tunnels had obviously been cleaned and recently used by someone. Yet the place was completely empty.

He had a bad feeling about this.

"Commander, in here!" A stormtrooper sergeant gestured the commander into a large central room, where a small holo- projector was set up on a table.

The thing started playing, unbidden. A dark-skinned human with Corellian features began speaking in a pleasant tone of voice.

"Hi, there," he said. "You've reached the secret headquarters of the Tragan resistance. If you're hearing this message, it means you're about to be incinerated. Have a nice day."

"Commander!" said the sergeant, picking up a cable that led from the projector to a bank of power generators against one wall. A clinically detached part of his mind decided it would be most efficient if the Rebels had hidden a bag of thermal detonators somewhere nearby.

Then he snapped back to reality. "Cut the connection! Cut the..."

The power generators burst into flames, taking the commander and half his squad with them.

"This had better work, Dad." Rik Evverd frowned inside his borrowed Imperial pilot's helmet. "We sacrificed our base, our generators, and the better part of our explosives stock..."

"And we gain a Star Destroyer. Maybe two." Rasir said from beside him in the LAMBDA-class shuttle. "Strategy is all about making good trades, son."

"IF this works," Evverd muttered. The Empire, predictably, had made an all-out attack on the tunnels, leaving only a skeleton complement at the Tragan Military Base. Evverd's team had captured the base quickly and quietly, without so much as a peep being sent to the Star Destroyers--they hoped. They'd secured these shuttles, and the codes to use them. It would not take the Empire much time to figure out what had happened, which meant they'd only get one shot at this.

"Cheer up," said Rasir. "I know how badly you've always wanted to see me proven wrong. This could be it."

Evverd grunted. Well, it would be over, one way or another. At least Mat was safely underground at Coral Coast. "Here goes nothing..."

The twin Star Destroyers, DEATH'S HEAD and INTERROGATOR, floated in silent orbit above them. A low warble sounded at Evverd's shoulder.

"Don't worry, buddy," he said to the purple and gray astromech droid. "Have I ever let you down?"

The droid answered.

"Yeah, but that means my luck is bound to change."

The comlink crackled with static. "Shuttle 11X-T37, please state your cargo and destination."

Evverd made his voice gruff and smug. "Got a load of prisoners here from the Rebel base at Darros. Commander says to tell you everything's going smoothly."

"Excellent," said the Imperial controller. "Our first catch of the day. Please transmit your clearance code for docking."

Evverd was about to comply when the viewport flickered with pseudo-motion. Suddenly a third Star Destroyer began moving into formation with the other.

The Corellian muted the comm, and glared at his father. "What do think that's about?"

"Reinforcements?" Rasir guessed.

"I don't like this..." Evverd muttered, and tapped in the clearance code.

Grand Admiral Thrawn stared at his tactical display with something almost like puzzlement.

Pellaeon stepped to his side. "Trouble, sir?"

The shuttles held Thrawn's gaze. "I do not know. Captain, what shuttles are those?"

Pellaeon called the information up on his datapad, and beamed. "Apparently, the Rebel base under the capital city has been secured. The shuttles are carrying prisoners."

"Secured?" Thrawn asked, "Already? Such remarkable good fortune, don't you agree, Captain?"

"I'll grant you, it's good news, sir." Pellaeon shrugged. "But I see no reason for concern."

On the tactical screen, the first of the shuttles swung around towards the DEATH'S HEAD's hangar, preparing to dock. The non-human admiral studied its maneuver...

Thrawn hissed. "That ship is piloted by a Corellian."

"We've many Corellians in our Navy, sir," said Pellaeon.

"Not like this one, Captain. Signal Captain Harbid on the DEATH'S HEAD."

On his shuttle, Rik Evverd cursed. "Avers, veer off! Abort now!"

From the cockpit of the other shuttle, bound for the INTERROGATOR, Brynn Avers sounded a bit shocked that her commander had broken radio silence. "Boss?"

"It's a trap!"

Rasir grabbed his son's arm. "What are you talking about?"

Evverd was struggling with the controls. "Tractor beam! Damn! At least Brynn's getting away..."

The DEATH'S HEAD's docking bay filled the viewport now, and Evverd watched as their entire shuttle was swallowed into the belly of the huge Star Destroyer. He groaned.

Rasir remained stoic. "How did you know?"

"TIE fighters, Dad. They were edging onto our tail, in case we made a run for it. Avers'll lose hers; she's good."

The older Corellian stared tactical display, now dark, as though it could provide some answers. "I saw nothing."

"'Course not," Evverd said with a hiss, "They were flyin' casual..."

The SLAVE II hissed to the ground atop a seaside cliff. Below it, some kilometers away, tucked between the ocean and the mountain wall, was the city of Coral Coast. The city had been built recently, with a forcefield dome to protect it from erosion, coastal storms, and the like. The Empire had briefly taken the dome down during their siege a few months ago, but the resourceful Rebels had eventually beaten them back and repaired the dome. Using a nearby hydraulic plant for power, it harnessed the energies of Tragis' ocean into a protective cover nearly as strong as a planetary shield. Ever since that first, bloody sortie, the Empire had left Coral Coast alone.

Which made it the ideal location for a new Rebel base. The dome presented a problem, since it restricted access to and from the city.

But a barrier that was impassable to most people was not necessarily so to Boba Fett.

He locked down the SLAVE II, and began formulating a plan.

"DANTOOINE, veer off! Veer off!" shouted Captain Lumas of the DAUNTLESS-class cruiser GUARDIAN. Her short, graying hair was matted by sweat. It had been a long and furious battle.

"Too late," Garreth muttered, as a pair of Dreadnoughts popped in from hyperspace right next to the Interdictor cruiser being hammered by the gunship DANTOOINE. The Dreadnoughts surrounded the smaller ship, turbolaser emplacements ripping into it brutally. Within moments, the DANTOOINE was silent.

Garreth hissed softly. "That's the first time we've actually seen Thrawn's new KATANA fleet Dreadnoughts."

"Want to bet it won't be the last?" Lumas said. "FREEDOM, come about! Get out of there! I'll set up the QUEEN PADME and the LIGHTSABER to cover you."

"Understood," replied Sedra Covell, the captain of the NEBULON-class frigate FREEDOM. A frigate that even now was showing substantial damage.

Garreth watched the screen, upon which half a dozen remaining Republic ships dueled with the Star Destroyer JUNDICATOR, the interdictor, two CARRACK-class cruisers, and now the two Dreadnoughts. Since his DAUNTLESS cruiser matched up with the ISD, they would have been winning without the sudden arrival of the Dreadnoughts to even the odds.

Only days ago, the Fleet had received word of Thrawn's KATANA fleet victory. Despite aid from Talon Karrde, a smuggler who had known the location of the two hundred missing Dreadnought cruisers of the KATANA fleet, the New Republic had been beaten to the punch. Thrawn now had the massive fleet...

And untold thousands of clone troops to crew her.

Very, VERY bad development, that.

Something on the tactical caught Garreth's eye. "Sedra, roll to starboard NOW!"

"Roll a capital ship?" Covell demanded. But she complied, and the FREEDOM slid out of the way...

Just as two more Dreadnoughts popped in from the other side. In her former position, FREEDOM would have been right in their sights. Even now, she was in danger.

"How does he do that?" Lumas demanded. "You can't jump ships into the middle of a battle!"

"You can with an Interdictor." Garreth pointed at the tactical display. "He condenses their gravity cone, uses it to pull them in at the proper coordinates. A favorite strategy of Thrawn's. Fortunately, he never did account for its weakness..."

"Weakness?" the captain asked.

"Look--the Interdictor's moving into position for another pull-in. Bring us in close."

"Close to those gravity well projectors?" Lumas frowned. "That's dangerous."

"Bring us in," Garreth repeated.

Lumas' helmsman brought their cruiser close, just to the edge of the Interdictor's condensed and over-powered gravity cone. The admiral nodded. "Now hit it with a tractor beam."

The captain stared at him. "Are you CRAZY?"

"Compensators at maximum! Tractor beam NOW!"

The tractor-control officer fixed the smaller ship with a tractor beam, drawing it towards the GUARDIAN. When the big ship came within the the Interdictor's gravity cone, systems on both ships began shorting out.

Inside the gravity cone, the DAUNTLESS immediately became heavier--but its mass also added to the Interdictor's gravity shadow, the projection wave that allowed an Interdictor to pull ships out of lightspeed. The Interdictor fought to pull away, but the large mass inside its gravity cone dragged it even closer. The gravity wave sputtered as the ship's captain tried to turn off its generators...

And failed. The gravity disturbance remained in place, growing exponentially. Garreth felt the extra drag even through the compensators...

At least the GUARDIAN had compensators. The two Dreadnoughts that popped in from hyperspace, expecting to be pulled in by a nice, easy interdiction field, instead were exposed to the effects of the disturbance. It was like bouncing too close to a star.

The Dreadnoughts exploded, their metal hulls shattering like eggshells. One of their hulks continued on course, out of control, and rammed the Interdictor. Both ships exploded.

Everyone on the bridge gasped as the Interdictor's gravity cone disappeared, returning their onboard gravity to normal.

Garreth swallowed hard. "Now that the Interdictor's out of the way, signal a retreat."

On the tactical screen, another of their gunships exploded.

"Two Dreadnoughts down," Garreth said with a humorless smirk, "198 to go..."

Boba Fett stepped aside, allowing the metal plate of the large warehouse to clank to the ground. He inspected his work, nodded to himself, and slipped into the rebel base.

Getting into the city had been rather easy. He'd identified and hijacked a Rebel cargo transport, forced its driver at blaster-point to guide him into the city, then stunned the man.

Locating the Rebel base hadn't been much harder. Even in a city under their control, they didn't want its location to be too obvious. It also had to be a large structure, possibly one connected to other large structures. That left the warehouse district by the pier.

Then Fett had simply looked for the warehouse with the lowest energy readings, knowing the Rebels would cloak their emissions to disguise their presence.

It was almost too easy, he reflected. He hoped what he found within would offer him some challenge.

He had only just dropped through to the basement level when he was shot in the back. The shoulder, more specifically. His armor compensated nicely. Fett dropped, rolled, and shot the unfortunate Rebel in the heart.

This is a bit more interesting, he decided, though not much.

Fett found himself in a long corridor with doors lining the wall. In-between two of them was a terminal, which Fett accessed and sliced, with help from a portable comp unit. It seemed that the barracks and personal quarters were on the next level up. No indication which one belonged to Evverd. He guessed it would be the largest private room, the Rebel concern for luxury being what it was.

Fett decided to check. If he was wrong...well, a few extra dead Rebels, more or less, really was not too much of a problem.

The ramp hissed downwards, and Garreth hopped down to the FREEDOM's deck before it had even touched ground. Okel trailed behind, though he waited for the ramp, and Sedra Covell fell into step beside him.

Covell, a an intense woman with dark skin and hair, was one of the few humans who had to look up to Garreth, albeit just slightly. She nodded. "Admiral."

"How is he?"

They started for the lift at the far side of FREEDOM's perpetually cluttered hangar. "I don't know yet. Eight- Twobee was still working on him when I left to call you."

"Then let's go," said the admiral.

They rode the lift up to level four, and made their way to the medbay at a run. There, facing them from the far wall as they stepped inside, was the sandy-furred form of a Wookiee, crammed hastily into a bacta tank that didn't really fit him. Bubbles trailed up from his mouth periodically, evidence that he was, at least, still alive.

On a medical table near the bacta tank, a metallic bandolier set on a table, streaked with reddish black Wookiee blood.

"How is he?" Covell asked the droid.

The Twobee's computation light seemed to blink for an eternity before he intoned, "While he is not out of danger, Commander Gaaraanzii shares his species' durable nature. I believe he will live."

"Thank the Force," Okel muttered.

Garreth walked up to the bacta tank, placing one hand against its plasteel surface. "How?"

"A TIE bomber got a hit on us before we jumped to lightspeed," Covell explained. "It threw everybody for a loop. Gaar slammed into some decking that had buckled earlier. It was like taking shrapnel. There's blood all over the bridge..."

"But he'll be all right," Garreth said, repeating that phrase to make himself believe it. The powerful Wookiee looked helpless, if not small, stuffed inside the bacta tube.

Covell stood next to him. "He's got a wife and two children on Kashyyyk, you know. He'd better be okay; that's not a call I want to make."

"He saved my daughter's life..." Garreth said, remembering their aborted mission to Carida five years ago, just before the Battle of Endor. "Damn Thrawn anyway..."

"I thought he was your friend," Okel said.

Garreth's face puckered into a sneer. "I believed that, once. I realize now that Thrawn has no friends." He looked away from Gaar's prone form. "The sooner he's dead, the better..."

"I think we can all agree to that," Covell said.

Behind them, the door hissed open. Garreth turned to see a young man with dark red hair at the door. He'd apparently hit it at a run, since he was still "breaking" himself, his boots skidding on the deck. He saw the flag officer, and snapped to. "Admiral!"

"At ease," said Garreth. It took him a moment to recognize the young man; he'd added several centimeters and thirty kilos since Garreth had seen him last. "Kris?"

"Yes, sir. Second Lieutenant Kristoff Narr, day shift helm, sir."

"You can knock off the spit-and-polish, Kris," said a very tired-looking Sedra Covell. "I've already told Garreth what you're really like. You were supposed to stay on the bridge."

"Yes, ma'am." Narr nodded, and his eyes assumed a defiant cast. "I disobeyed orders, Captain. I...kinda like the big guy."

"We all do," said Covell. "He'll be okay."

"If I may," the Twobee droid interjected, "Excessive clutter in the medbay only impedes my performance of duty..."

Covell chuckled. "I think he's kicking us out."

"As long as he's okay..." Narr said, "I'd better report to the bridge."

He started to leave, but Covell held up a hand. "Kris. Join us in the lounge. Coffeine's on you."

"Yes, ma'am," said Narr with a grin.

The FREEDOM's captain and helmsman filed out, and Okel began to join them. He paused as he noticed his captain staring back at Gaar's bacta tank.

Okel stepped closer. "Are you all right?"

"Perfectly," Garreth said, and led the way out.

It was only a bit of a lie. Garreth was fine. It was Thrawn who would pay, and dearly. My dear old friend, he thought across the stars at his fellow admiral, if you thought I was a dangerous adversary before, you have no idea what you're facing now.

The tide of the war had turned against the Republic. The Dreadnoughts and clones gave Thrawn's fleet a clear advantage in the ongoing Civil War. Things hadn't been this bad for the Republic since Endor.

A perfect time, to Mykel Garreth's way of thinking, to go on the offensive.

Continued in Episode 10

R.John Burke



© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann