In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Ten
DESCRIPTION: Jev finally gets off on that quest of his, and Boba Fett causes some trouble.
NOTICE: All Star Wars characters and situations belong to Lucasfilm under copyright law. This story is non-profit fan fiction, not for sale in any form.
The gray-haired man on the comm was unmoved. "Mister Parrak, I don't even know why we're having this conversation."
Jev had to reach deep into the Force for the calm that would keep him from hitting something. "To get Tragis some help!"
"We are well aware of the situation at Tragis," Admiral Hiram Drayson said. "We will send help as soon as our resources allow. As you may have noticed, we're a bit busy just at the moment."
That, unfortunately, was the truth. Since recovering the legendary Dark Force and developing his special clone technology, Grand Admiral Thrawn had been a terror, marauding planets throughout Republic space.
Jev hissed. "You've seen the message Ambassador Lynden- Evverd sent, right?"
"Yes," said Drayson, "And I agree with her that the situation on Tragis is desperate. You tell me, young man: What can I do about it?"
"You must be able to send something," Jev protested. "A frigate, a gunship..."
"To what end?" Drayson asked. "In order to do any good, I'd have to send a force large enough to move those two Star Destroyers; three, now, according to our latest report. I cannot spare a force of that size at this time."
Jev's hands clenched into fists. He wanted to argue, but he knew the admiral was right. They were spread too thin at the moment. "If we'd gotten help to Tragis when they first hit, months ago..."
"I know," said Drayson, cutting him off. "But we didn't, and now we're paying the price. Command, out."
The hologram shut off, and Jev slumped heavily into one of the OUTRIDER's padded seats. He'd left Rik Evverd's ship, the SKYHOOK, at Tragis with Kerri, returning to Coruscant in a hyperdrive-modified Z-95 Headhunter--he'd taken the ancient ship so the real combat starfighters could remain in the fight. He'd come to Coruscant as requested, but had utterly failed in his mission to bring help.
"Hey, kid, there you are." Dash Rendar, a pale, redheaded smuggler, came up the OUTRIDER's ramp. Evening had arrived in the Imperial City, and orange rays of sun followed Dash into the ship. "You ready to go?"
"Go? Go where?"
"On your search, remember?" Dash said, a little annoyed. "Why d'you think I been waitin' around here on Coruscant for you to get back? I'm bein' paid good money to ferry you to...where is it you're going again?"
Jev frowned. He had asked Dash, a long time ago, to take him and his young Jedi apprentice, Amber Stormcaller, on a search into the Unknown Regions. They were supposed to be looking for a lost planet from Jedi lore, one with incredible power in the Force. But then, between Thrawn and Tragis and C'Baoth and everything else, Jev hadn't had time even to begin Amber's training.
"Dash, I don't know. Everything has changed since..."
The smuggler folded his arms. "Look, kid, I ain't spending the rest of my life on this over-sanitized, giant shopping mall of a planet. If you want to go, we go NOW."
The young Jedi almost protested--but then sighed. There was really nothing left to do for Tragis. The best he could do, perhaps, would be to get Dash to return there in the OUTRIDER. Even if the smuggler would agree, one freighter wasn't going to make a difference.
And their search was even more important now. Before, protecting the lost planet from Dark Jedi had been a theory. Now, the threat was very real. If C'Baoth should somehow find his way to that world...
"All right," he said, "Get Amber. We'll leave whenever you're ready."
Dash rolled his eyes. "Just what I always wanted..."
Kerri ached all over. She had returned to Tragis weeks ago, only to be immediately pinned down by an Imperial raid on Verdin City. When the smoke cleared from that battle, she'd taken a speeder halfway around the planet, stopping to hide every time the Empire showed up nearby. Finally, her speeder had broken down ten miles off Coral Coast. She had gone the rest of the way on foot, playing hide-and-seek with biker scout patrols the whole time.
But she had arrived, finally, at the domed city--the one place left on Tragis that was truly and firmly under New Republic control. More importantly, it was only a few miles from the capital city of Darros, where she suspected Rik would be fighting.
Tired, sweaty, and dirty, with her clothes ripped and her shoes worn through, Kerri collapsed by the guard station outside the city's force bubble. "Excuse me?"
The youth and the guard station snapped to. "Ambassador!"
Kerri Lynden-Evverd, a woman of thirty-eight with caramel- colored skin and dark hair tinged by gray, had served as Tragan Ambassador to the New Republic before the Imperial occupation. She groaned. "I don't think we need to use the title at this point, private."
"Yes, sir. Ma'am. Er..."
"Try 'Captain,'" Kerri said. "I think I'm still on the New Republic's reserve list somewhere..."
"Yes, Captain." The private swallowed hard. "Shall I escort you to the command center?"
A shooting pain struck Kerri's lower back as she stood up straight. "Just to the base, for now. I have to lie down..."
"Yes, ma'am." He stepped down out of the guard post. "I'll escort you to your quarters, ma'am. Sorn! Take over here!"
As a young Gotal took over at the guard post, Kerri followed the private into the protected city. Something he'd said struck home. "Quarters? I have quarters? Is Rik here?"
The private cleared his throat. "Err... no, ma'am. I could be wrong--nobody tells me anything--but I believe General Evverd remained behind at Darros."
Kerri touched the Force for calm. "Is he all right?"
"I wouldn't know, ma'am. We don't get much news from the front--and like I said, if we ever did get any, they wouldn't tell me about it."
"I see." Kerri kept her eyes on the nearby buildings, to hide her concern.
The private brightened. "But there is someone here you'll want to see..."
Boba Fett pressed himself flat against the wall, waiting for the trio of Rebel soldiers to pass by. He could have easily killed them all, of course, but Fett was not a butcher. Why resort to bloodshed when stealth would suffice?
When they had taken the lift and gone, Fett rounded the corner. He was in yet another long corridor. What are the Rebels building here, he wondered, a base or a maze?
The middle door on the right-hand side matched the schematic Fett had downloaded into his Mandalorian helmet's processor.
He found his way to the door, and listened. A sort of rhythmic hissing sound was the only noise. The occupant was asleep. Fett nodded to himself. He stepped forward, and the door hissed open.
A middle-aged Rebel sat in a chair in the room's center, reading a datapad. She yelped in surprise as she saw the armored figure, and reached for her sidearm. Fett's stun blast caught her head-on, and she slumped to the floor.
A wailing sound came from the adjoining room. Fett hit it at a run, determined to silence the noise...
And saw a young boy sitting on a bed against the room's wall. He'd been the source of the snoring, Fett guessed, but the commotion had woken him up. He continued to cry.
"Stop that," Fett said. His first thought was to gesture with his blaster rifle, but he forced himself to keep it lowered. Frightening the child further wouldn't accomplish anything.
"Stop that now," he repeated. Underneath his helmet, Boba Fett rolled his eyes. "It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. But you must be quiet. Do you understand?"
The chld snuffled. "Yes."
"Good. I'm going to leave now. You're not to tell anyone..." The bounty hunter frowned. The child had chocolate skin and large, brown eyes a shade lighter. He looked almost like... "What's your name?"
Fett produced a soft growl from the back of his throat. "Your full name."
Beneath his visor, Boba Fett smiled. "Mat Evverd. How very... interesting."
The door hissed open, and Kerri stepped into the room the private had indicated. Her danger sense was sounding off before she'd even stepped inside, and she reached for her lightsaber. A moment later, she saw the stunned officer in the living area. She turned...
Boba Fett fired twin stun blasts at her. Advance warning came again from the force, and the rippling blue ovals shot past where Kerri had been before hurling herself to one side.
She brought her lightsaber up, in defensive posture. "I think you're in the wrong room."
A voice from behind Fett turned Kerri's blood to ice. "Momma?"
Kerri stepped forward. "Get away from him."
The infamous bounty hunter managed to look disdainful, even through his helmet. "Calm yourself. I would not harm a child."
"I know that," Kerri said sarcastically, "because you have such a kind and loving nature, right?"
Boba Fett stepped away from her son's room, keeping his blaster rifle trained on her heart. "Whatever you may think, I am a man of honor."
Kerri cursed to herself. If she hadn't been wearing her damn crystal, with its two-way blind effect, she might have sensed Mat in the Force. Might have prevented this. Mat's own fledgling abilities were so raw that they did not yet require protection--no one except a family member or a true Jedi Master would have sensed him.
Unfortunately, that didn't protect him from chance attacks by scum like this.
Kerri hissed softly. "Get out."
Fett did not move. "Where is your husband?"
"I don't know." She briefly considered using the Force to influence Fett, but decided against it. His will was strong as durasteel, and the attempt might just startle him into shooting again.
Fett cocked his head at her. "You truly don't."
Briefly, the Jedi Knight wondered how Fett knew that, but she decided that a lifetime of asking questions like that had probably given him some insight.
"Leave," she said, "And I won't hurt you."
Boba Fett actually laughed out loud--a rare occurrence if ever there was one. "I'm not the one in danger here. I was hunting Jedi before you were born."
A spark of anger passed through Kerri, but she clamped down on it. "What is it you plan to do?"
"I don't know," Fett said thoughtfully. "I should kill you, to prevent you from warning your husband. But I am not inclined to strike down a mother in front of her young son."
"You're a wonderful human being," Kerri said, deadpan.
"I'll leave," Fett announced. "If I have your word as a Jedi that you won't alert security. That would be... messy."
His matter-of-fact tone sent a chill down Kerri's spine. she got the distinct impression that Fett was not worried about his own well being. He simply didn't want the inconvenience of having to slaughter all those Rebels on the way out.
"You have my word," she said.
Fett nodded, and began backing out.
Kerri flashed him a smile. "You'll never catch Rik. You must realize that."
The bounty hunter seemed about to reply. Then he cocked his head, as though listening to an unseen voice. Incredibly, he lowered his weapon. "It would seem that you're right."
She frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Evverd's bounty is no longer posted. He was detained by the Empire last night."
This time the bounty hunter actually turned his back on her as he left, apparently believing she had no reason to strike with their disagreement settled. Kerri, in turn, deactivated her lightsaber. "Do you know where he is?"
Fett turned. "Why would I tell you?"
"Out of the goodness of your heart," Kerri said, her tone bitter.
The bounty hunter showed her his back again, and walked out the door. As he left, he tossed over his shoulder, "The Imperial command ship."
Kerri watched him board the lift and descend. Then a tug at her pants made her turn around. Seeing her son, Kerri picked him up and pressed him into a fierce hug. "It's been such a long time...I love you. Are you okay?"
Mat pulled away. "He's here, Momma."
"Who's here?" she asked.
"The man from the lake..."
A flash of insight hit Kerri. The Imperial command ship, Fett had said. Why would the command ship be at Tragis? Unless C'Baoth had called them. Told them about a Jedi in the area... they could have put the pieces together. And if they did, then C'Baoth would certainly want to come along.
She nodded. "I know. Don't worry, honey... I have an idea."
Pellaeon shifted uncomfortably next to the Grand Admiral. He watched as the doors hissed open, allowing two stormtroopers to guide a disheveled Rebel into Thrawn's command center.
The Rebel appeared about forty, or perhaps a bit younger. His short black hair was mussed, and his chocolate skin was speckled with stubble, as though he needed a shave.
His eyes were defiant--but then, weren't they all?
"General Evverd," said Thrawn, idly stroking the ysalamir next to his command chair. "How good of you to join us."
The Rebel scowled. "I don't really like small talk."
"I understand." Thrawn's eyes narrowed to slits. "Your infiltration plan was clever. It would have worked against my... less astute... subordinates."
"Can't take credit for the plan," Evverd said. "But thanks anyway."
"You may wish to know that your second shuttle escaped."
"Yeah, I feel lots better." The Corellian's shoulders were slumped, his entire posture indicating massive fatigue. Only the eyes showed his determination. "So... when's my execution?"
Thrawn stroked the ysalamir again. "There will be no formal execution, of course. I have no desire to give the Tragan rebels a martyr to rally around. You will simply remain missing in action."
"Forever," the Corellian added.
"As you say." Thrawn gauged him for a moment. "We have met in battle, have we not? At Corellia, some years ago."
"Maybe," Evverd said. "There's been a lot of battles."
"Indeed." Thrawn's fingers steepled in front of his face, leaving only the glowing eyes peering above them. Then he touched a switch. "You see here the city of Coral Coast. The location of your new Rebel base."
Evverd chuckled, but his eyes were hard. "If you say so."
"It is the location of the base," Thrawn said. "I make you this compromise, General. Tell me the name and location of the Jedi who aids Garreth, and I will not bombard the city."
The Corellian's eyes flashed. "What Jedi?"
Thrawn smiled thinly. "How very unoriginal. I had hoped for a clever response, at least."
The non-human Grand Admiral continued to smile. "You may wish to reconsider. Our Intelligence reports indicate that your wife has recently joined with the Rebel enclave."
The Corellian's expression didn't shift. "Is that a fact?"
Thrawn's smile disappeared. "Tell me now, or I will destroy them."
"That's a good shield around the city," Evverd said. "I bet they'll survive."
"You would bet with their lives?" Thrawn asked. Then his eyes glowed. "I expected no less from a Corellian." He flicked the holo-imager off.
Evverd frowned. "Don't I get to watch?"
"I've no intention of bombarding the city," Thrawn said. "There are so many subtler, more productive ways to defeat your Rebellion. I have tested you, General. And now I have no further use for you. Rukh?"
The Noghri descended the steps from Thrawn's command chair, advancing steadily on Evverd. The Corellian displayed no fear, only puzzlement. "What was the test?"
The Grand Admiral held his adversary's eyes. "Very simply, I knew you would not allow your wife and child to come to harm, if a better option existed. That implies that they were in danger either way, and confirms my theory."
Evverd eyed the Noghri monster approaching him. "You've lost me. I'd hate to die confused..."
"Then I will enlighten you... your wife, the Ambassador from Tragis... she is the Jedi, is she not?"
Evverd's eyes flashed, and Pellaeon saw that his superior officer had proven yet another improbable line of logic to be the truth. Before the Corellian could reply, Rukh moved in...
And was blown backwards, halfway across the throne room.
"What gives you the right to interfere in Jedi business, Admiral?" Joruus C'Baoth stood at the doorway, his robes swirling about him as though blown by an unseen storm.
Thrawn looked down at the Noghri assassin as he struggled to right himself, and made a small "tsking" sound. "Was that necessary, Master C'Baoth?"
"The Jedi is mine!" C'Baoth snarled. "I found her! She has revealed herself to me!"
Evverd frowned at the old man who'd just saved his life, however temporarily. "Revealed herself?"
"Yes..." C'Baoth said. He entered the meditation chamber, and its light level dropped back down as the door slid shut behind him. "She has forsaken her pathetic attempts to hide. She is on the planet below, and she has offered me a trade." C'Baoth pointed at the Corellian. "Herself... for him."
"No!" said Evverd.
"I am inclined to agree, Master C'Baoth," Thrawn said. "Historically, a Jedi who offers such a deal is usually preparing a trap."
"You do not understand, Thrawn." C'Baoth said. "Release him now."
Thrawn shook his head slowly. "He is dangerous. Return to your chambers, Master C'Baoth. You are not involved in this matter."
"Then I'll involve myself," said C'Baoth. He gestured, and Evverd's cuffs fell away. The Corellian moved...
Right for C'Baoth's throat. A jolt of Force lightning sent him sprawling to the floor.
"I'm not going to help you," the Corellian said.
"Oh, you will..." and C'Baoth advanced on the Rebel officer, who was now on his knees. "Believe me, you will..."
The old Jedi Master closed his eyes, and Rik Evverd made a small, choking sound. "Get out of my mind before I kill you."
"It is pointless to resist," said C'Baoth. "You cannot withstand the power of the Dark Side."
Evverd gritted his teeth, his expression one of intense concentration. Standing above him, C'Baoth's face displayed the same effort, and not a little bit of shock.
Pellaeon leaned over to his admiral. "Shouldn't we stop this, sir?"
"Not at all, Captain." Thrawn stroked the ysalamir again. "This should be most instructive. We know the Jedi can subvert the weak-minded. The strong are something else."
Pellaeon understood. The Grand Admiral wished to see just how far C'Baoth's skills had progressed.
The two men remained motionless in the middle of the Grand Admiral's audience chamber for a long moment, fighting a sort of mental tug-of-war. Sweat appeared on both their faces, but an occasional grunt or snarl made up the only sound.
Finally, C'Baoth stepped back, gasping for breath.
Evverd glanced up at him. Voice raw, he muttered, "Scary in there, isn't it?"
Then he hopped up from his crouch and ripped into C'Baoth with a roundhouse punch that sent the Jedi Master to the deck. C'Baoth came up with a roar, fingers splayed out for another burst of lightning.
"Enough!" said Thrawn, forcefully enough that even Joruus C'Baoth took notice.
He looked from C'Baoth to the Corellian Rebel and back. "There is no need to resort to Force trickery, Master C'Baoth. I believe I have a way to accomplish your goal that will benefit all of us."
"Except me, of course," Evverd muttered.
"Except you," said Thrawn, and his eyes glowed brightly. The stormtroopers bound Evverd and led him out. The Corellian was too exhausted from his battle with C'Baoth to struggle.
C'Baoth rose to his feet and dusted himself off. "This had better work, Thrawn. I am not accustomed to being humiliated."
"Really? I should think you would be used to it by now."
The Jedi Master snarled, and released a bolt of lightning at Thrawn which dissipated as it hit his ysalamir's Force- null field. C'Baoth sneered, then smoothed down his robes and left without another word. The chamber was silent for a long moment.
"I am going to miss him," Thrawn declared quietly, "Once I've had him killed..."
The remote darted upwards, then back to its previous position. Amber did not fall for the feint, keeping Jev's silver lightsaber steady in front of her.
Jev smiled behind his growth of dark beard. "Excellent. Now stretch out with your feelings."
Amber frowned, watching the remote for a long moment. It zipped left and got off two shots, one high and the other low. The brown-haired young woman brought her saber down to catch the first, but could not catch the second, which struck her shoulder.
Amber cursed and dropped the lightsaber. It's silvery light faded as the cutoff engaged.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's all right," Jev told her. "I took a few of those in my time. And where I was trained, they weren't set to stun."
Amber frowned. "Wasn't that dangerous?"
"Yes," he said. "I was maimed several times during my training. Once pretty badly..." His fingers dug into the skin of his right hand for a moment. Amber was about to ask if that didn't hurt when he pulled off a panel, revealing a bionic hand and micrel power supply.
"How did you lose it?" Amber asked.
Jev swallowed hard. "I was hoping you'd ask that. And dreading it, too...Amber, sit down. Before your training goes any further, there's something you have to know."
Concerned by the look in his wild, blue eyes, Amber sat down wordlessly and waited for Jev Parrak to explain. Eventually he did, in soft, halting tones. He explained how he'd learned of his Force power almost by accident, during a time when he was still angry over the loss of his homeworld, Alderaan. He explained how he'd gone off rashly to confront Darth Vader, and been captured and turned to the Dark Side. He explained about dueling another Jedi, a mentor of his, when he pretended to turn back. He explained how his actions had resulted in at least a dozen Rebel deaths, including two very good friends. How they'd almost killed Rik Evverd, the Corellian officer Amber had met who had once been Jev's best friend.
Finally, when he'd finished with the part about meeting Yoda and re-dedicating himself to the Light Side, Amber shuddered. "I should have known a Light Jedi couldn't have survived the purge..."
"Amber, I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd trust me..."
"You're right." she said, "I wouldn't have."
"Can you forgive me?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Well, if they've forgiven you, I have no right not to..."
Jev smiled, his expression one of great relief. "Do you still want to learn the Force?"
Amber was about to reply in the affirmative when she caught another glimpse of Jev's cybernetic hand. She shivered again as she realized how very dangerous the Dark Side could be. It was not a decision to be made quickly.
"I still want to learn," she said. "I'll have to think very hard about...about whether I want to learn from you."
Jev winced, and Amber could see that she'd hurt him with the remark. "I understand."
Amber picked up the lightsaber, smiled weakly, and handed it back to him. "I'm sorry."
"Look, I... I do know Luke Skywalker." Jev said, with a slight smile. "Stole his lightsaber once. When we get back, I can talk to him. Maybe he'll train you."
Amber cleared her throat. She didn't know how to broach this next subject. "Jev, I think we should turn around now."
She sighed. "I'm really sorry, but look: This planet you're talking about, you claim it means ultimate power for the Jedi who finds it."
A muscle in Jev's cheek twitched, but he was otherwise expressionless. "And you don't think a former Dark Jedi should be looking for such a thing."
Amber wanted badly to explain, but could not think of the words. She nodded.
"Right," he said. "Excuse me. I'll...go talk to Dash about turning this crate around."
He stood and went forward, to the cockpit. Amber's mind said, go after him, you idiot! He's the only Jedi you've ever met! You trust him, don't you? He's made up for what he did! Go after him!
But then Amber's mind showed her the image of that cybernetic hand again, and she stayed put.
Until a moment later when the ship shuddered around her, and she tumbled to the deck.
"Amber, get up here!" Dash called. "We're in trouble..."
She hit the cockpit at a run...and found herself staring at the superstructure of an IMPERIAL-class Star Destroyer.
Rasping Mon Calamari tones filtered through the comm. "This is Admiral Bronn aboard the Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION. It is time to discuss terms of surrender."
"Gaar's all right," Covell said as she and her acting executive officer, a Chandrilan named Jessi Harkin, made their way into the FREEDOM's wardroom. "He's out of danger, at least. He'll be out of the bacta in twelve hours, give or take."
"Excellent," said the gray-haired man already at the table. "Then he'll be right on time to help us with this."
The man, Admiral Garreth, nodded to Okel, his Calamarian aide. Assembled around them at the wardroom were Captain Lumas of the GUARDIAN, Captains Vorral and Altra, Mon Calamari representing their newly arrived-cruisers, and several other captains and execs from Garreth's task force.
Okel stood and pressed a button. A holographic projector in the table's center displayed a star chart of the Outer Rim. In his throaty, gurgling voice, Okel said, "This is Sector Four-Seven, just beyond Orus Sector. As you can see, it is lightly populated, and of importance to practically no one."
Garreth picked up the narrative. "Some months ago, desperately needing new facilities and supplies, Thrawn hit this area, hard..." A miniature Star Destroyer symbol appeared on the screen, traveling to the planets Garreth indicated. "Atro, Porrov, Deese, Tragis, and finally Ord Mirren. These planets are now under Imperial control."
"But the Imperial push through our territory of late has left them short handed," Okel said, "In this entire sector, the Empire has only four Star Destroyers. Three of those are at Tragis, the other at Atro."
Covell spoke. "So we can hit one of the others, and be in and out before help can arrive?"
"We can," Garreth said, "But we won't." he pointed, and one star system enlarged to fill the screen. It began to rotate. "Tragis is defended by three Star Destroyers. That's where we'll hit."
"That makes no sense," Captain Vorral complained. "Why would we purposely attack a planet with three Star Destroyers?"
"Corellian thinking, Captain," said Garreth with a sly smile. "They'll never expect it."
"And if we succeed," Okel added, "The entire sector is ours for the taking."
"Right," said Garreth. He paused for a long moment, his eyes becoming intense. "Besides, Thrawn is there. Do what you will with the other ships. Thrawn is mine."
Continued in Episode 11