In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Eleven
DESCRIPTION: During Thrawn's push just before "The Last Command," The New Republic goes on the offensive.
NOTICE: Star Wars is a Copyright of Lucasfilm, Limited. This is non-profit fan fiction, written by a college student with WAY too much spare time...
"It's not my fault!" Dash Rendar slammed a fist down on his console in pure frustration. The Star Destroyer RETRIBUTION had appeared from nowhere in front of them, with an Interdictor cruiser to pull them out of lightspeed. Now the Mon Calamari traitor, Admiral Bronn, was demanding their surrender.
"Actually, Master," said his droid, Leebo, "Had you calculated a less direct route to the Unknown Regions, as I advised, our chances of interception by Bronn would have decreased twenty-four percent. It IS your fault."
"Shut up!" Dash growled, and he pulled the OUTRIDER into a tight loop. "We gotta outrun that Interdictor!"
The OUTRIDER's proximity indicator blared, and behind Dash, young Amber Stormcaller said, "What's that?"
"Fighters, incoming. We--Space! I've never seen TIE's like those."
Amber's companion, a robed would-be Jedi Knight named Jev Parrak, frowned at the scanner. "I have. TIE Defenders. Tri-winged for extra maneuverability, fast as an A-Wing, with shields and hyperdrive like an X-Wing. The Empire doesn't have many of those left. They must be serious."
Dash, a redheaded smuggler and contemporary of Han Solo's, was not inclined to give up without a fight. "We can still get away. The OUTRIDER'll hold together."
The TIE Defenders streaked in, green laser beams striking out to disable the OUTRIDER's aft shields. In his mind, Dash heard their twin ion engines roar as they doubled around for another pass.
Something on Dash's helm console sparked. "Festerin' piece of junk! I TOLD you to hold together!"
A thud came from aft, and suddenly the OUTRIDER lost twenty percent of its thrust.
Jev cleared his throat. "I think you hurt her feelings."
Dash whirled on the kid. "Shaddup! I don't wanna hear from no scruffy-lookin' Jedi groupie with delusions of grandeur!"
Another hit made the ship jump, and Leebo said, "Unless of course you could alter time, or teleport us out of here..."
Jev sighed. "The best I could do is alter the TIE pilot's minds...and I won't do that again."
"Kid, we're talkin' about the Final Jump here!" Dash growled, his eyes back on the controls. "This is no time to hold out on me!"
Amber cursed softly. "Sounds like a lateral booster went. I'll go check it out."
"Oh, take your time!" the pilot said, having decided to take his frustrations out on the galaxy at large.
"Perhaps I should go to the quad well," Jev suggested, his blue eyes watching the battle with no visible emotion.
The TIE Defenders, four of them according to the sensor data, split into a diamond formation, each one focusing on a different area of the OUTRIDER. The shields blinked out totally under their barrage, then blinked unsteadily back to life.
"They're carvin' us up like nerf steak here, kid! If you can do something, DO it!"
Jev was curiously subdued. "I shouldn't have said anything."
A vicious hit on the portside sent OUTRIDER into a roll, which Dash continued into a bank, sneaking past two attacking TIE Defenders. The pair that had hit them to port swung by to finish the job, but Dash got in behind them. His hand came down on the forward lasers. One TIE exploded into brilliant fragments, leaving the other to regroup with his two friends.
The smuggler groaned. "I gotta do everything myself..."
On the bridge of the RETRIBUTION, Captain Orwell addressed his Admiral. "Sir, the freighter has destroyed a TIE Defender."
"Excellent," Bronn gurgled. "Have the reflective particles attached themselves?"
"Yes, sir, as soon as the TIE exploded. We can track that ship to the edge of space."
The alien flag officer nodded to himself. "Very good. Then order the other TIE's to begin disengaging...and the DRAGNET to stand off."
"Sir, if I might," the stocky captain asked, "We have them already. There are no Rebel bases in this area, and nothing of strategic importance. Where are we tracking them to?"
"I think that's obvious, Captain," said the Mon Cal, mimicking a human smile. "To their destination, of course..."
"Hah!" Dash pumped his fist enthusiastically. "They're breakin' off! Great work, kid!"
"Big, bad Imperials," Leebo said, "Afraid of a little freighter! If they couldn't take our hitting back, they shouldn't have picked a fight!"
"Your overconfidence is remarkable."
Dash turned to frown at Jev. "You did make 'em veer off, didn't you?"
The young Jedi shook his head. "I never touched their minds. There's only one good reason for them to leave now."
"They're tracking us," said Amber's voice as she re-entered the cockpit.
"That's right," Jev agreed. "They want the planet."
Dash scowled harder. He didn't know anything about the Force or mystic planets or Jedi or anything, but he knew not to look a gift-nerf in the mouth. "Look, kids, let's figure this out later. Right now, we just cleared the gravity cone."
"Set course for Coruscant," Amber said, "We're turning around."
Dash nodded. "Best idea I've heard all day. Leebo, pull up the coordinates for..."
Everyone in the cockpit turned to stare at Jev Parrak, Amber said, "Jev, you agreed..."
"If the Empire is tracking us, they must know what we're looking for. Do you think they'll give up just because we did?"
Amber shook her head. "It's too dangerous."
"NO!" the tall man was as intense as Dash had seen him. "If the Empire finds that planet before we do, all is lost. Now, I understand if you don't really trust me, but I will not allow my mistakes to be compounded by a failure to act! We have to find that place and protect it. Quickly."
Amber stared at him for a moment, but finally nodded to Dash Rendar. "Punch it, Dash. Same course as before."
"But if they're tracking us..." the smuggler started. Another look at Jev's intense eyes was enough to halt his objection. He was being paid well for this, after all.
"Same course," he said, and pulled the hyperdrive lever. "I just hope you know what you're doin'..."
The Imperial shuttle descended from Tragis' clear blue sky, and Kerri had to shade her eyes to keep watching it. Thrawn had agreed to this trade, in a clearing of one of Tragis' larger forested areas. The green and yellow drenaan trees fluttered in the breeze around her, but their value was more than just aesthetic.
Remember Endor, Grand Admiral Thrawn? she thought at the descending shuttle.
Of course, Thrawn would be expecting a Rebel trap. His sensors were no doubt scanning at top intensity. But the forested areas were mineral-rich, which screwed up the sensors to begin with, and a few discreetly placed jammers magnified the effect.
All of which paled beside their secret weapon...
The shuttle hissed downwards, and Thrawn led the way out of the ramp, followed by a stormtrooper guard. A slender, gray-skinned alien came next, and an old man in brown robes brought up the rear. His wild, dark eyes were enough to make Kerri shiver. They touched on her briefly, and flashed with anger. C'Baoth remembered his defeat at Jomark, and did not intend to repeat the experience.
Even more astonishing was the way his force sense felt. Kerri might have been wrong--when last they'd met, her Force blind crystal had prevented her from sensing him at all--but C'Baoth felt much more powerful than he should have been. His skills had increased tremendously since last they had met.
Finally Thrawn stood across the clearing from her, his red, glowing eyes digging into her skull as effectively as any Jedi. "You are alone, I trust?"
"Of course," Kerri said. She held up her saber, and cast it aside. "A shuttle is coming in five minutes to pick up Rik. Where is he?"
Thrawn gestured to the stormtroopers, who entered the shuttle and returned with a prone form supported between them. Rik had clearly been beaten unconscious--one eye was bloody and swollen, his uniform marked with blood.
Kerri fought back a wave of rage. "You said he wouldn't be harmed."
Thrawn was annoyingly smug. "It was necessary. Your husband is... stubborn. He is in acceptable condition. You may satisfy yourself, of course."
The stormtroopers dumped Rik in the middle of the clearing, and retreated to their admiral's side. Kerri hissed quietly, then made her way over to Rik's prone form. She checked his pulse and heartbeat, then kissed his forehead, stood up, and nodded. "All right. Let's get this over with."
The stormtroopers advanced on her.
"NO!" said C'Baoth.
Thrawn glanced at him mildly. "No, Master C'Baoth?"
"Where is the child?" the Jedi Master demanded, "I want the son, as well."
Kerri took a step back. She'd given Mat her crystal and left him someplace safe--C'Baoth was not supposed to know he even existed. She supposed he could have checked Imperial Intelligence files, but somehow she doubted he'd done so. "He has no Force talent."
C'Baoth smiled cagily. "No truth is hidden to a Jedi Master."
Kerri swallowed hard. NO truth? "You will not find him."
"Perhaps I will not," C'Baoth said after a moment. "You will tell me where he is--when I've broken you."
"Is that what you've foreseen?"
"It is what I KNOW," said the Jedi Master with a sneer. "Bring her."
The stormtroopers stepped forward...
...and were blown to the ground as the Imperial shuttle exploded behind them.
An X-Wing fighter soared by overhead, flanked by a pair of A-Wings. At that signal, a battle cry was sounded, and several dozen Tragan commandos poured out of the woods, weapons raised. Kerri held out her hand, and her saber came to her call, its orange blade snapping into place just in time to block a Force lightning burst from an enraged C'Baoth.
Despite the chaos, Kerri found her eyes drawn to Thrawn, who stood before the flames of his ruined shuttle as though totally unconcerned.
Another explosion sounded, this time overhead, and Kerri looked up to see one of the A-Wings in flames, about to crash into the forest canopy. The other Rebel fighters were taking evasive action as a squadron of TIE Interceptors poured down from the sky.
Someone screamed beside Kerri, and her stomach convulsed in horror. Imperial biker scout units were emerging from the woods, systematically cutting her force to pieces.
Then C'Baoth fired another burst, and there was no time left for worry. One last one etched its way into her mind: How can I possibly fight C'Baoth when I have to protect myself from the speeder bikes?
"Captain Pellaeon, sir..." Lieutenant Tschel stepped up to his commanding officer holding a datapad. "Report from the planet, sir: The ambush is proceeding as planned."
"Outstanding," Pellaeon said with a tight grin. It's payback time, Rebel scum, he thought. Payback for your cowardly trap at Endor. But there are no natives to help you now... "Dispatch another squadron of Interceptors, just in case."
"Sir." Tschel spun on his heel, and went off to relay the orders.
"Captain!" the comm officer, a squat man from Carida, appeared quite agitated. "An assault shuttle has left the INTERROGATOR without authorization, and the detention level is not responding! Security believes that Evverd's father and the other Rebels captured with him have escaped."
Pellaeon frowned. Sloppy, that. But one assault shuttle would not even the odds. "Send TIE fighters to intercept."
The comm officer frowned. "They're almost to the atmosphere, sir. I doubt we'll catch them in time."
"We don't have to," said Pellaeon, and his frown reversed itself. "If they escape, they'll return to their homeworld just in time to see the flag of the Empire fluttering in the breeze."
R2-B0 tootled happily where he sat plugged into the assault craft's copilot console, literally "sounding the charge" for their proverbial cavalry.
"I wish I had your confidence," Rasir muttered. "I still don't understand. Where did you people come from?"
The alien with the predator's face and the steel-gray skin had introduced itself as Lakhor clan Khim'bar. "Rukh clan Baikh'vir sent for us. It was intended that we free your firstson as well, until his consort acted rashly."
"I thought you people served the Empire," he said.
Lakhor was thoughtful for a moment. "That debt has been paid. The Lady Vader has shown us the truth." He growled softly. "The Empire will atone for its crimes against the Noghri... in good time."
"I still don't think it's wise to participate in the battle," Rasir said. "If Thrawn sees you..."
"The Noghri people are silent hunters. He will have no more idea that we are here than he will that we freed you from the INTERROGATOR."
Rasir hissed. He didn't like trusting the fate of his son, and his rebellion, to these critters. "Even if that's so, how can you help? There are only five of you, and you're lightly armed. It took a hundred times as many Ewoks at Endor..."
Lakhor turned his pitch-black eyes on Rasir, growling past rows of fierce, needle teeth. "Do I look like an Ewok?"
The speeder bike came around, firing three times from its light laser cannon. Kerri rolled backwards, flicking out her lightsaber to deflect the bolts at C'Baoth. The Jedi merely smiled and absorbed them, then channeled them into a double-strength burst of energy that nearly took Kerri's arm off. Somehow, she kept hold of her saber, and reversed its backward momentum to slash viciously for C'Baoth.
The old Jedi Master used that opportunity to duck in under her guard, and shoot twin bolts of Force lightning into Kerri's abdomen. She groaned and doubled over, just in time for two more blaster shots to sizzle over her head.
C'Baoth howled furiously at the offending scout trooper. "SHE'S MINE!"
The speeder bike drove straight ahead, its rider not even paying attention, and smashed into a tree. C'Baoth may be more help than hindrance, she realized. I wonder if I can make him lose his temper again...
Abruptly, strong hands wrapped around Kerri from behind, pinning her into an unwilling embrace. She was about to focus the Force into her limbs to drive off the attack, but some flicker of sense she caught from behind stopped her.
"I have her, Master C'Baoth," said the mewing voice of the gray alien accompanying Thrawn. "I will take her aside for safekeeping. Please assist our troops in battle."
"You do not give orders to me," C'Baoth said dangerously. "But...I am pleased that WE should watch over her."
Thrawn stepped through the battle to C'Baoth's side. He gestured at the carnage around them. "Can you not stop this?"
C'Baoth looked around, and laughed maniacally. "You're doing just fine, Admiral. It pleases me to see my troops operating at such efficiency."
Thrawn glowered at the Jedi, but said only, "Take her away, Rukh. Make certain you keep her safe...from all danger."
"Understood," said Rukh, and he began leading her away. He managed to get a few steps in front of C'Baoth, out of earshot, and Kerri instinctively erected a mental shield to keep the Jedi Master out of their conversation.
"Do not struggle," said Rukh. "Help is coming. I will protect you."
"I'm a Jedi. I don't need protection."
Rukh paused a moment. "Your presence draws the old man into the battle. He could be disruptive. I implore you, my lady...trust me."
Kerri hesitated. Instinctively, she did trust the monstrous creature, though she had no idea why. The Force, perhaps. And she had accomplished her original goal. C'Baoth was out of the fight.
She nodded fractionally. "Very well, you have my trust. For the moment."
Rukh hissed, understanding, and a moment later the old man's voice broke past Kerri's shield into her thoughts.
YOU CANNOT HIDE FROM ME, LITTLE JEDI. NEITHER YOU... NOR YOUR SON.
Kerri's face contorted again with rage. She thought: If you hurt my son, old man, I'll kill you.
C'Baoth's answer was another unstable laugh. LOOK AROUND YOU, KNIGHT. YOUR FRIENDS ARE DYING, YOUR FIGHTERS BEING SHOT DOWN. YOU YOURSELF ARE HELPLESS. EVERYTHING IS PROCEEDING AS I HAVE FORESEEN...
Pellaeon was reduced to fidgeting as he waited for the next report from the planet below. What could be taking them so long? It was a simple mop-up operation. One such as Thrawn should have no difficulty...
"Captain," said Lieutenant Tschel, "New contact on our scopes, sir. Rebel frigate. NEBULON-B class. Incoming at maximum sublight."
Pellaeon frowned, then nodded. "They must be getting desperate, to send in such a small ship. Stay alert. It may be a Rebel trap."
"Yes, sir. Shall I send a sentry to investigate?"
The old captain considered, then shook his head. "We'll investigate personally, Lieutenant. Ahead one-quarter." It was better than waiting around, after all.
"Aye, sir. Ahead one-quarter." The CHIMERA's engines thrummed as she moved ahead to investigate the bold little Rebel ship.
They got only a short distance from the planet before Tschel's face turned white. "Captain! Two more of them sir, approaching from behind, from opposite sides of the planet, Mon Calamari cruisers, class MC-80B!"
"That's impossible," Pellaeon muttered. "The INTERROGATOR was patrolling the other side of the planet. She only commed us about the shuttle a few moments ago. They couldn't have gotten past her!"
Tschel swallowed hard. "Sir, no response from the INTERROGATOR on any channel!"
It would take a sizable task force, Pellaeon knew, to so quickly and thoroughly silence an IMPERIAL-class Star Destroyer, even if you accounted for comlink jamming. "I think we're in trouble. Signal the DEATH'S HEAD."
"Yes, sir. DEATH'S HEAD acknowledges." The other remaining Star Destroyer was patrolling Tragis' pole. It would get here, but not before those cruisers did.
Well, thought Pellaeon, we can hold them off for that long. "All hands to battlestations. Charge turbolasers. Punch through any jamming and contact the Admiral."
"Sir!" Tschel was almost panicking now. "Two Corellian gunships have just come out of lightspeed, flanking us!"
"Well, another few gunships, more or less...Have the support ships engage them."
Pellaeon glared laser beams at the NEBULON frigate that had started all the trouble. "And get me that ship."
They got into firing range, the CHIMERA's turbolasers opening up on the little NEBULON. The sturdy ship swung low, attempting to dive under the Star Destroyer. We'll kill her before she gets there, Pellaeon thought.
Then space in front of the CHIMERA rippled.
A DAUNTLESS cruiser popped in from a hyperspace microjump right where the NEBULON had been, at dead-on range.
A Star Destroyer was a match for a DAUNTLESS cruiser, of course. Possibly more than a match. But with two Mon Calamari Star Cruisers closing from the rear, those gunships and whatever else the Mon Cals had used to silence INTERROGATOR also in the picture...
Pellaeon hissed. "Have the DEATH'S HEAD run interference. Get us back to the planet. And ready the admiral's shuttle."
Tschel grimaced. He knew what that meant; abandoning Tragis and the whole of the sector to the Rebels.
The DAUNTLESS-class cruiser opened fire then, and Pellaeon realized that no other options remained.
Rik Evverd awoke to a bootheel pressing into his stomach. He gagged and choked as, above him, an Imperial scout trooper stumbled backwards over him, collapsing with a crash of armor. Evverd rolled, got a hand into the man's throat, and forced him to relinquish his rifle. Evverd stunned him at close range, then untangled himself to look for another target.
Some dim part of Rik Evverd's mind realized that he was in agony, his joints and muscles aching from his Imperial beating. He choked back the feelings. It had always been Evverd's policy to shoot first and feel pain later.
He stayed low, for fear of the speeder bikes that whined all around him. One of them picked up on him anyway, its rider throwing it into a long loop designed to bring him straight for the crouching Rebel.
Twin laser bolts exploded the scout trooper's backpack, and he pitched off the bike. His vehicle continued on into a tree, exploding into flames.
Evverd looked up, and caught a glimpse of coffeine- colored skin hiding in the nearby bushes. He did a double take. Could that be his father?
As two speeder bikes turned to handle the new threat, Rasir darted back into the woods, and Evverd thought he caught a glimpse of steel-gray skin at his side, though he was not certain. At any rate, neither bike that went into the woods came back out. Twin, distant explosions were the only further sign of them.
Then Evverd caught a glimpse of blue skin, making for the edge of the battlefield. "Thrawn!" he growled, and scrambled off in pursuit.
Another biker scout--one of the last--picked up on Evverd's movement and fired. Evverd threw himself to one side, then snapped off a shot at the bike's rider. It caught the trooper's shoulder. The wounded biker struggled to keep control of his craft as it shot past...
Evverd vaulted onto the bike behind him, shooting him in the back (there was no time for social graces) and tossing his body off.
It took all of Evverd's reflexes to bring the speeder under control before it hit the forested area, but he did so. He angled the speeder towards Thrawn, who was running for a just-landed Imperial shuttle...
He got off two bursts, bringing the admiral's attention to bear on him. Coolly, Thrawn produced a sidearm and fired two shots of his own, neatly shredding one of the beams of Evverd's steering vane. He brought the craft under control again, but was forced to power down.
The Corellian cursed to himself. He's a datapusher! Evverd thought, who'd have guessed he could shoot? The admiral climbed into the shuttle. A moment later C'Baoth appeared from a clearing, along with Thrawn's bodyguard, who was dragging a female form...
Evverd's eyes went wide. "KERRI!"
Avers dove low over the treetops, but the trio of TIE Interceptors followed right along. Besides her first wave, she'd had nine other fighters, and the freighter SKYHOOK, at the start of the attack. Only two other fighters and the SKYHOOK remained, against eleven remaining TIE fighters.
Bad odds, even for a Corellian. To Avers, who had not a drop of Corellian blood, it would have seemed impossible.
It IS impossible, she amended, unless Kerri's secret weapon is as good as she claims...
She rolled as she approached a slightly thinner area of trees. One of the TIE's could not copy her maneuver, smashing into the treetops at high speed. The other two followed right along.
And were neatly skewered by a medium-sized vessel rising from the middle of the forest. Its telemetry said it was the SLAVE II.
With its help, the Tragans made reasonably quick work of the other eight TIE fighters.
Avers stared at the boxy shape of Boba Fett's personal attack craft. "THAT's Kerri's secret weapon?"
A Rebel laser bolt pinged near the shuttle's hull. Rukh chose that moment to release his grip, just slightly...
Picking up on the cue, Kerri elbowed him in the stomach and slipped away.
"NO!" C'Baoth howled.
Kerri called her lightsaber from where he'd secured it to his belt and struck with Force-enhanced speed, stopping the sizzling tip a centimeter from C'Baoth's throat.
"You're about to miss your shuttle," Kerri hissed.
C'Baoth threw back his head, exposing his throat. Kerri debated striking him down...
And the Jedi Master laughed. A sudden gust of wind smashed into her, knocking her clear off her feat. She saw the base of a tree rushing up at her hard enough to split her skull.
"Gotcha!" A heavy weight barreled into Kerri, and she crashed to the floor. Dimly, she realized the voice was Rik's, and he had saved her from the impact with a last- second tackle that kept her from hitting the tree.
She watched as C'Baoth boarded the shuttle. It whined on its repulsorlifts at the edges of a battle that the Rebels were suddenly winning (and for no apparent reason, Kerri noted; didn't there used to be a lot more Imperial troops than this? What happened to them all?).
Thrawn's shuttle swung around and blasted away, heading for space.
A gruff Corellian voice burst through the speakers. "Avers, that's Thrawn in the shuttle! Can someone up there get him?"
Boba Fett chose to take the call, seeing as how Avers was busy dogging the final TIE Interceptor. "Forget it, Evverd. I'm not getting Thrawn on my back."
The sound of shock in Rik Evverd's voice was almost as sweet to Boba Fett as his sizable payment. "FETT?"
"That's two you owe me, Evverd."
The Corellian paused for a long moment, then began to sputter. "But--I mean, how?"
There were several reasons, actually. The money was a large one. Also, Darth Vader had nearly executed Fett once for perceived disloyalty when the bounty hunter had taken a competing contract. Fett had no intention of letting Thrawn develop the same... dependence... on his services. He wished to make it clear to the Imperials that he was his own master, and could take whatever job he felt was worth his time. And he did enjoy pitting his skills against Thrawn's crack TIE fighter pilots.
All good reasons. But somehow, only one seemed worth expressing to Evverd.
"You're not Thrawn's to catch," he said. "When the time comes, General... you're mine."
Fett took a moment to pick off the last TIE fighter as Avers steered it his way, then set course for deep space and hit the accelerator.
Thrawn stood motionless in the docking bay of his Star Destroyer for a long moment, his head tilted to listen as the hyperdrive engines whined, then finally exploded into lightspeed. Both the CHIMERA and the DEATH'S HEAD had escaped from Tragis, but not without taking quite a bit of damage.
Pellaeon tugged at his collar. Still the Grand Admiral remained silent.
Finally, he lifted his head, his glowing eyes staring at nothing in particular.
He spoke a single word. "Garreth?"
Pellaeon nodded, sweat streaming down his face. "Yes, sir. Garreth's task force."
Thrawn was utterly still. Then he shrugged. "Well... there is certainly no shame in losing to Garreth. Do you have any information about how the ground battle turned against us?"
"No, sir." Pellaeon said. "I would guess that a Rebel strike force freed Rasir Evverd and the other Rebels from the INTERROGATOR, then commenced to attack our troops below. But with the loss of the INTERROGATOR and her records, there's no data to analyze."
"I see," Thrawn hissed. "But if a Rebel commando force, why would they not show themselves?"
He began walking towards the lift, and Pellaeon fell in beside him. "Perhaps they felt that remaining hidden gave them a tactical advantage."
"Perhaps..." Thrawn said, his tone thoughtful. "I shall have to consider this matter carefully, Captain." Then he returned to business. "Proceed to Bilbringi, Captain. After that, we'll continue with the plan. We'll hit Ukio next, I think. Her food production facilities should be useful."
Pellaeon released a breath he hadn't meant to hold. That was where Thrawn's true greatness lay; no one setback was crippling, no particular part of his strategy more important than the rest. He simply shrugged it off, stitched together the threadbare part of his elaborate tapestry, and proceeded to crush his enemies.
Pellaeon allowed himself to smile. The Tragan rebels thought, perhaps, that this was over. Anyone in service to Thrawn knew differently.
The war for Tragis, and the galaxy, had barely begun.
Mykel Garreth stood on a raised podium flanked by Okel and a much-recovered Gaar, who howled with enthusiasm as the blue-and-green Tragan flag was raised once again over Darros. The fight would continue for some time now, with pockets of Imperial resistance, left behind by their carriers, causing trouble. But the tide had turned conclusively. A hundred years or so from now, history would recall this as the turning point in the Tragan fight for independence.
Beside him, Sedra Covell stood at attention in dress uniform. Rik Evverd was next to her, holding his young son, with his father close by. Brynn Avers stood near the back, looking distinctly uncomfortable with all the attention. Kerri stood at the podium, addressing the cheering crowds. It felt good to stand again with these friends, however briefly. Soon, they would be relocated to separate assignments. The fight against the Empire would continue, and this victory would seem very fleeting indeed.
But for now, it was good to stand in the evening sunshine, with these people, people to whom he owed his life. People who owed their lives to him. They had a bond closer than family, in a way. They'd won their freedom together.
Garreth smiled, and brought his mind back to reality. He listened to Kerri's continuing speech.
"...Done well," she said. "And with your continuing courage and support, we will continue to do well. Tragis is free, and it will remain so. We will push out the last of the darkness, and regain the light."
She hesitated, and cleared her throat. "At least, you will. My husband and I...are returning to active duty with the New Republic."
Garreth's eyebrows leapt. They hadn't discussed that with him. Evverd leaned past a wide-eyed Covell to whisper to Garreth, "Think you can find a use for a broken-down old fighter pilot?"
"We'll work something out," he muttered.
"We're going to strike back against the Empire," Kerri told the crowd, "And we will defeat the remnants of the New Order. This place...has been our home, and we cannot thank you enough for your hospitality. When the time comes, we will return here. But the time will not come until the war is over. Until freedom has been restored not just to Tragis, but to the entire galaxy. May the Force be with you all."
With that, Kerri stepped down from the podium, smiling at the crowd of cheering and waving Tragans. She stepped to Garreth's side.
"Reporting for duty, sir."
Garreth nodded. "Understood, Captain. You'll have your orders by 2000 hours."
Kerri saluted, and Garreth returned the gesture. Together with the other non-Tragans, they boarded the shuttle for the GUARDIAN. Its preflight sequence gave way to repulsorlifts and then ion drives.
The shuttle left Tragis behind.
Continued in Episode 12