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

Here There Be Dragons...

In Defense Of Freedom series Episode Fourteen

DESCRIPTION: Jev and the others deal with Ssi-Ruuk, while Garreth lays out a plan to deal with the Empire, at the Bilbringi shipyards.

NOTICE: This is a non-profit fan fiction story, utilizing characters and situations belonging to Star Wars (Copyright Lucasfilm) and Timothy Zahn (from his trilogy). No infringement intended - this is just written for fun.


Amber crossed through the gravity well into the OUTRIDER's quad gunwell. She brought the magnetic brace around, past her torso and mop of wild, brown hair, and strapped in. She tapped the comm headset to test it.

"All set, kid?" said the voice of the lanky, pale redhead, smuggler Dash Rendar. "Great. Your buddy says it's almost time."

"Understood," Amber said. Privately, she hoped Jev knew what he was doing. Faith in a Jedi was all well and good, but it seemed dangerous to have to rely on the Force as much as they had.

And Jev wasn't even really a Jedi...

Amber Stormcaller, a green-eyed woman of twenty-two from the dustball of a planet known as Tattooine, reached down to key the targeting system on. Immediately a wireframe schematic of a Ssi-ruuvi battle droid snapped onto her screen. Four of them, total, now that one had detonated thanks to Dash's piloting.

Amber set her sights on the closest droid, and exhaled a hiss of nervous energy. "Here we go..."

"I'm ready, Amber," Jev's voice said.

But what are you doing? Amber wanted to ask. Her hands steadied on the trigger.

And suddenly she didn't need to ask what Jev was doing. The pursuing fighter just held up in her sights, not trying to dodge or anything. It must be reading my target lock, Amber thought...

She pressed the trigger, and the first battle droid exploded. Another one floated easily into her sights, and Amber lit that one up as well. It went on like that until the end of the line. Amber shuddered.

"Great job, kid!" Dash said, "C'mon up."

"Coming," Amber muttered. Jev must have paralyzed the life-force enteched within those battle droids. Forced them to commit suicide. A crystal-clear use of the Dark Side.

She shoved her way out of the gunwell, hopping lightly down into the corridor.

"What do you call that?" she asked as she arrived back in the OUTRIDER's hangar.

Jev shrugged. "Nothing spectacular. Any Jedi could have done it."

"Any Dark Jedi!" Amber said. She felt totally betrayed by her friend's actions. Here Jev had been filling her head with nonsense, telling her he'd learned from his mistakes, and here he was, acting just like Vader or any...

But he seemed honestly puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"You killed them! You murdered them with the Force! You might as well have pulled the trigger!"

"Amber, you DID pull the trigger," Dash said mildly.

"I had no choice!" she insisted. "There's a difference between defending yourself and using the Force to warp someone's mind!" Though privately, she wondered where exactly that line was. Had she acted from the Dark Side?

"I don't get it..." Dash started.

"Excuse me," Jev put in quietly, "I think I understand the problem now. I didn't murder those minds, Amber. I freed them. They asked me to. I only gave them the strength they needed to break the entechment."

Amber blinked. From just behind Dash's pilot's chair, the massive, lizardlike P'w'eck alien Kum Didi hissed. "Many thanks, Jedi. Every P'w'eck wishes to die without entechment."

Red spread up the brown-haired woman's cheeks. She realized that she had judged Jev based only on his confession of Dark Side involvement. She sighed quietly. Despite her protestations, she really didn't fully trust Jev.

And maybe she never would.

Wordlessly, Amber turned and walked back into the main hold.

Dimly, she heard Kum Didi say, "What problem hers?"

"I dunno, pal," said Dash, "These backwater bush pilots never make a lotta sense..."

Jev said nothing.

The first thing Evverd saw was the smoke, billowing up into the orange sky of a Coruscant evening. He whistled softly. "Looks like something took major damage."

Next to him in the speeder, Kerri nodded. Then her eyes widened, and she grabbed his arm with white-knuckled urgency. "Rik--!"

A moment later, he saw what her refined Jedi senses had detected. The billowing smoke was not just indicative of some electrical or chemical fire in the Imperial City. It looked more like laser damage. Battle damage.

And it was coming from their quarters, in the Diplomatic District about a half-kilometer distant from the Imperial Palace. Several Republic Security speeders and troops were milling around the scene.

Evverd punched the accelerator, reaching the bombed-out building within moments. He screeched to a stop, hard enough to burn out the inertial dampers, and leapt from the speeder. He raced for the building with Kerri only a step behind.

Some well-meaning young Security ensign stepped into his path. "Hey, you can't..."

Evverd could have shown his I.D., but that would have required breaking stride. So he flattened the young man with a roundhouse punch and continued on, to where the protective crime-scene style forcefield blocked off the house.

"Who's in charge here?"

"I am," said a quiet voice. Evverd turned to see a tall man with his head shaved to accommodate a cyborg-implant. He reminded Evverd of his old pal Lobot from Cloud City, only several years younger, and dressed in an expensive suit.

The man pulled an ID holo from his jacket and displayed it. "Cowin Browur, New Republic Intelligence. We've been expecting you, General Evverd." He held up his hands to forestall the older man's next question. "Your son is fine. He's with my people. We got here just in time, in fact." He nodded towards the interior of the house, where several laser-burned corpses could be seen through a new gap in the wall. "Imperial insertion team. I don't know how he held them off as long as he did..."

"He?"

Browur gestured towards a corner of the exterior, where a dark-skinned, bulky man was propped up against a wall, being attended to by medics. "I'm sorry, I..."

Evverd elbowed past him, and ran to the man. "Dad!"

His father, Rasir Evverd, grunted, a slice of brilliant white teeth showing beneath his thick features. "About time you showed up, boy..."

His voice was frighteningly weak. Evverd knelt beside him, trying to stay out of the medics' way. They seemed to be working on a laser burn about midway between Rasir's chest and his stomach. Periodically, the older man would wince in pain.

"Dad, I...I don't know what to say. How'd this happen?"

"They showed up looking for Mat. I think that crazy Jedi Master from the planet must have...well, anyway, I showed them that a Corellian is never too old to beat the odds."

The rebel officer had a lump in his throat. "Dad, I... I mean, look, I know we've had problems, but... I'm sorry. I've been a jerk. I love you."

Rasir gritted his teeth, in obvious pain. "You mean that?"

"Of course!"

The big Corellian with the shaved head elbowed the medics out of his way. "Good, because it's just a flesh wound. Help me up."

The lead medic frowned. "Sir, you really shouldn't move. We have to..."

Rasir glared at him. "I am sixty-four years old, boy. I think I am capable of determining whether I can stand." He held out an arm towards his son. "Well, come on."

Evverd sighed, and supported his father's bulk as the big man hauled himself to his feet. He grunted, but otherwise did not protest.

The medic, however, was capable of protesting for everyone. "Listen, I don't know who you are, but you're interfering with..."

Evverd flashed the sleeve of his krayt-hide jacket, which contained his General's insignia patch. "Why don't you take it up with someone who outranks me, kid?"

"That's ridiculous! I'd have to bother Madine or Ackbar or..."

"Right. So if you're not gonna do that, get outta my way."

The medic sighed, then slapped a flimsiplast packet into Evverd's palm. "Here. He'll need the bacta pack changed in twelve hours."

"Got it." Still supporting his father, he went back to where Browur was attempting to question Kerri. For her part, the dark-haired Jedi was cradling her young son, who seemed less upset by the proceedings than the adults.

"This is the second incident in recent days," Browur was saying, "Not long ago, an Imp squad made it into the Imperial palace...apparently, with a very similar objective. Kidnapping the Solo twins."

Kerri kissed Mat on the head ahead, then frowned. "The Empire has no conscience at all, it seems. Endangering children..."

"Hey, this is from the lovely folks who brought you Alderaan," said Evverd. "Nothing they do surprises me anymore."

"Agreed," said Rasir.

"What I need to know," the NRI agent continued, "Is whether you can think of anything your child might have in common with the Solo children. We have to determine a motive."

"You can determine it from a distance," Kerri said, "We're leaving Coruscant now."

"I'm afraid I can't..."

"I'm sorry," said Evverd. He pointed at himself, then Kerri, then Browur. "General. Captain. Lieutenant. You got that? I will pull rank on every datapusher on this planet if I have to."

Browur studied them for a moment, his cyborg implants blinking. Then he frowned. "I don't think that will be necessary, sir. I do believe you are overreacting..."

"Just make sure our ship is cleared for departure when we arrive at the shipyards," Kerri said, and she led the way towards their speeder.

A moment later, en route to the shipyards, Evverd frowned at his wife. "What was that all about? I understand you didn't want to tell him about the Jedi thing, but..."

"It's not safe here, Rik. We have to leave Coruscant at once. I can feel it."

Evverd shrugged, having been saved by Kerri's Jedi hunches too often to deny their worth. They were aboard the SKYHOOK and in space, with Mat and Rasir, less than fifteen minutes later.

It was not until they had exited hyperspace some time later, for resupply, that they heard the news: Thrawn had attacked Coruscant the night after their jump to lightspeed. He'd used some kind of new siege tactic to block off the Imperial Center from incoming and outgoing traffic.

For the first time since Endor, Thrawn had successfully taken the war to the Rebels.

"Maybe we should go back," Evverd suggested. "We could help with the cleanup..."

"I wouldn't go back," Rasir said with a groan. Though he would be all right, he remained in pain from what looked like a nasty wound. "You left under suspicious circumstances, just before the launching of a major Imperial offensive. Given time, it'll straighten itself out, but right now, your actions look very bad."

"So where do we go?" Evverd suggested. "Just find a safe port?"

Kerri, who had been using their astromech, R2-B0, to talk to the SKYHOOK's computer, looked up. "Here," she said. "We're going here."

Evverd frowned over her shoulder at the star chart she'd indicated. "Lwhekk? Isn't that the..."

"Ssi-Ruuk homeworld," Kerri said. "And no. I don't know why. Call it a Jedi hunch."

"I know why, Momma," Mat said from in back. Evverd and Kerri both frowned at the boy.

It fell to Kerri to say it. "Why is that, honey?"

"To find the dragons. We gotta find the dragons."

Evverd looked at Kerri, who shrugged. "Dragons" seemed as good a description as any for the reptilian Ssi-Ruuk. It still didn't seem like a good idea, but Rik Evverd had learned a few things in his time, and one of them was never to go against the combined wisdom of two Jedi.

As he laid in the course, Rasir slid his way into the copilot's seat. "How do you put up with two of them?"

Evverd chuckled. "I'm a saint..."

"Thrawn's done WHAT?" Garreth's face darkened, and he scowled in disbelief.

"Asteroids," Admiral Ackbar explained over the holo. "Possibly as many as two hundred eighty-seven. He's put them into orbit above Coruscant, cloaked. The result is that we cannot risk lowering the planetary shield until they are cleared out."

"We'll need a crystal gravfield trap to locate them," Garreth said immediately. That device, better known as a CGT, would detect the unknown masses in orbit, even through their cloaks. But CGT's were rare technology, not easily found. The short, gray-haired admiral went on, "I doubt there are really 287 of the things. Thrawn's smart. He'd only need about twenty real ones to create the impression that there were many more."

Ackbar nodded sagely, probably consciously trying to copy the human mannerism. "I agree. But none of them must be allowed to land."

"CGT array," Garreth said, "Only way to get this done."

"We've located a few," the Calamarian told him, "All in Imperial space. Our best chance to steal one is at Tangrene."

"There'll be a trap at Tangrene, then," said the human admiral, and Ackbar nodded once more.

"Again, you echo my thoughts. What we must do is copy your tactic at Tragis... hit the place the Empire expects least."

Garreth's grim expression turned into a tight smile. "Admiral, I couldn't have put it better myself."

"Both our task forces will pass through Sluis Sector in a short time," Ackbar said. "I believe me should meet to plan strategy. Coruscant can communicate orders from their comm array, but that is a long swim from field leadership. At this moment, we are effectively the commanders of the New Republic, we two and Madine, who was also off Coruscant."

His human's colleague's lip twitched. "Are you certain you trust me? I did fail to notify the Republic about Thrawn."

Ackbar made a slashing motion with one flipper, which Garreth had learned from his friend Okel was a Calamari gesture of dismissal. "I also have been branded a traitor, my friend. But for now, we old soldiers are all that stand between our Republic... and Thrawn."

Garreth smiled. Ackbar was rather reminiscent of Okel, but without the scars. Same salmon skin, and gravely voice. Same mixture of kindness and toughness. Same hard-won wisdom. "Sluis it is. It's time to make some executive decisions."

"Must you really leave us?"

Several hours after their flight from the shipyards, the OUTRIDER had returned, under cover of darkness. Quick, patchwork repairs had been conducted on the OUTRIDER, enough that she'd survive the rest of their journey if not pressed too badly, and now, the next morning, it was time to leave Lwhekk's tenement moon.

Though sorely tempted to accept Dash's offer of offworld transport, Kum Didi and his mate had elected to remain on Tra'Donta, as fugitives, to organize the growing P'w'eck resistance. Another of their crew had elected to remain behind, as well.

"My group sees to it--she get off-planet safe and good," Kum Didi promised. "Take her to mammal-space."

Dash patted the massive, reptilian being on the shoulder. "Anytime you want to get outta this stinkhole--well, I owe you one."

"Many thanks," the alien said. He nodded his huge head at Amber Stormcaller. "Trissa waits outside, in speeder. You made speedy, eh?" With that, he padded out on his clawed feet.

Jev held Amber's eyes. "You never answered my question."

"Jev, I'm--not ready. For this quest, for anything. I need time to think. I'm sorry if you feel I'm abandoning you."

"No," he said, his mouth suddenly dry. "I told you from the beginning, you must do what you feel is right."

Amber sighed, and stood there for a long moment, lost for words. Jev's couldn't blame her; he didn't have much to say himself.

The young woman from Tattooine offered him her chunk of yellowish crystal, the one whose "homing" power had allowed Jev to find the Jedi world's coordinates. "Do you need this?"

"No," said the young Jedi. "I know where to go now-- several copies are in the nav computer, and I also have the coordinates memorized."

"Okay, then..." Amber's hand reached for her belt, came up with a silver cylinder. "I really wish you'd take this back. You may need it."

Jev laughed. "You're on a planet full of Ssi-ruuk. Believe me, you need it more."

"Okay," she said, and reattached the saber. "Jev--I really wish I could go with you."

"I understand," he said, and turned his back on her. "Safe trip, Amber."

She pulled him back to her and hugged him tightly. "Be careful."

Jev blushed a bit. "You, too."

Then it was Amber's turn to move away, down the OUTRIDER's ramp, and into Tra'Donta's smoggy dawn. Kum Didi gave a soft hoot, a sort of P'w'eck farewell, and the ramp closed.

Dash Rendar's hand fell on Jev's shoulder. "Pretty, isn't she?"

"I suppose," he muttered, and turned away from the now- closed door.

"Look, kid, I'm just sayin', you ain't the only one who's ever been dumped."

Jev scowled at the smuggler, sorely tempted to collapse his throat with the Force. He squelched that urge immediately, and made his way into the cockpit. "Let's get off this slaghole, Dash."

The redhead shrugged, and slid into the pilot's seat. He called over his shoulder, towards the OUTRIDER's holds. "Leebo, double-check those relays!"

A moment later, a droid's voice replied, "I've already double-and-triple-checked them. My quadruple check, however, shows them to be in order."

Dash nodded, and punched in the repulsors. OUTRIDER slid upwards, and then into Tra'Donta's upper atmosphere, and then into the stars. "You sure you want to go on without her, kid?"

Jev set his jaw. "This quest is not about Amber. I...I have to see it through, Dash, I know I do."

"Well, I'm with you, kid," said the redhead. Under his breath, he added, "As long as those credits hold out..."

"Is everything about money to you?"

Dash frowned and seemed to really consider for a moment. He said, "Yes."

Garreth nodded at Ackbar, Madine, Bren Derlin, and Sedra Covell in turn. They, along with his aide, Okel, would be the sentients present at the first briefing for Garreth's plan. A tactical holo-map appeared on one wall. The Imperial Fleet Shipyards at Bilbringi were displayed in 3D, and Garreth indicated them with a pointer.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, "This is our target."

"The Bilbringi shipyards?" Derlin said.

"That's correct. Thrawn's love of subtlety is his downfall. He doesn't believe I'd use the same tactic on him twice in a row, and he furthermore does not believe we'd hit a place attacked so recently by Mazzic's smuggling cartel."

Crix Madine, a medium-sized Corellian with a trim, gray beard, spoke up. "The Empire has certainly upgraded its defenses since then."

"Which is another reason Thrawn won't expect us to hit. Furthermore, if we are appropriately subtle, I believe we can make him focus his attention on our faint at Tangrene."

Madine frowned. "Are you certain you can fool him? The Grand Admiral is...perceptive, to say the least."

"I know Thrawn," Garreth said with a sardonic expression. "We will now draw him with an obvious faint. But the man is in love with subtleties, and even more, he is in love with his own intellect. If we more towards Tangrene slowly, covertly, in precisely the same manner we'd use for a real assault, I'll guarantee you he'll put the pieces together. The only question is whether he'll somehow unravel this entire, complex web."

"And you believe he won't?" Ackbar said.

"I believe it's better than sitting around on our... bridges... waiting for Thrawn to come to us. Give him a shovel and he'll bury you, Admiral. It's time to do some digging of our own."

Those assembled were silent for a moment, their faces betraying skepticism. All of them knew the risks: The Bilbringi shipyards would be heavily armed and well guarded. An assault there would commit most of their forces to a fight where victory was not assured. Everything hung on their being able to deceive Thrawn, a questionable prospect at best.

Okel whispered in his admiral's ear. "They do not seem enthusiastic."

"Give them time," Garreth replied.

At length, Sedra Covell raised her hand. Garreth nodded at her. "Yes, Captain?"

She stood, sabacc-faced. "Sir, regarding this ill-advised, suicidal plan of yours to confront a nearly unbeatable enemy on his turf..."

Garreth frowned. "Yes?"

Her face broke into a wide grin. "Where do I sign up?"

The other officers came around more slowly, and with less enthusiasm, but come around they did. Ackbar and Madine put their heads together and helped refine the plan.

Two hours later, it was ready for submission to the Council.

The Ssi-ruuvi fleet was in ruins.

They'd deferred two SHREE-class cruisers and several smaller ships to face the RETRIBUTION as she soared into their space. None of those ships had been a match for an Impstar Deuce and her accompanying pickets. After several hours of furious battle, Bronn had contacted the Ssi-Ruuk leadership and offered peace--in exchange for free run of the tenement moon for a short time. The embattled Ssi-ruuk, still smarting for their last defeat at the hands of humankind, had accepted.

Now Bronn stood on his Star Destroyer's observation deck and smiled. "Excellent work, Captain Evins."

The dark-haired woman nodded, all business. "Thank you, sir. It was simple, really, once an Intelligence search detected Rendar's contact among the P'w'eck."

"And the name of this contact?"

Evins checked her datapad. "Kum Didi, sir. He runs the spaceport for the Ssi-Ruuk."

For a moment, Bronn stared at the raptorlike profile of the P'w'eck slave known as Kum Didi. Then he nodded. "Very well. Send a detachment down, Captain. Find this lizard, and the OUTRIDER with him. If the OUTRIDER is no longer here, then learn their location."

"Sir." Evins nodded, turned, then paused. "If he doesn't talk, sir?"

Bronn waved her off. "Your discretion, of course, Captain. Though..." he hesitated thoughtfully, "The idea of his head on a stick holds some appeal to me."

"Yes, sir."

"You sure this thing will fly?" Amber eyed the spherical Ssi-ruuvi shuttle with distaste.

Kum Didi patted its green-painted side proudly. "Fly? She make one-point-two above lightspeed!"

Amber nodded. "Not bad for a shuttle. Weapons?"

"None," he said. "We slaves, yes? Weapons not easy to come by."

"I understand," she said. "Listen, when I get back, I'll try to arrange payment for this..."

"Dash already pay," the large alien said, eyeing her with his red, slitted eyes. "Give specs for..." He sounded out the unfamiliar Basic words with some difficulty. "MILL...ENNI... UMM FALCON? Dash say ten, fifteen of those get rid of Ssi-ruuvi pickets, jiffy-quick."

Amber laughed. "He's probably right. Good luck with your war, Kum Didi."

Those large, sad eyes turned on her. "May you find your way, young one."

She nodded, and stepped into the shuttle.

Before she could close the door, another P'w'eck came running up to Kum Didi, jabbering something in their native tongue. The alien hopped up on his powerful hind legs in alarm, his forked tongue hissing out.

"What is it?" Amber called.

"Humans in white armor, with powerful guns. You go! Speedy- quick! Go!"

"No, wait a minute," Amber said, stepping to the ramp. "Stormtroopers? They must be after Jev. They'll ask you about Jev and me. I'd better..."

"There's one!" said a male voice.

Amber ducked as multiple bolts of blue stun energy sizzled by her head. Only two stormtroopers had found her, and Kum Didi was on them in a second. Though he appeared tired and sounded comical, his sharp teeth and the large claws on his feet were a match even for stormtrooper armor. One trooper found his throat slashed, and the other lost an arm before blacking out in pain.

"You must hurry! Go!"

"I'll go," said Amber. She removed her yellow crystal from her pocket. "Take this. It'll tell the location of the planet. Don't let it fall into their hands."

"You trust Kum Didi. It stays safe, nobody touches."

He took the crystal from her, and hopped off to join his fellow P'w'eck. Amber ducked into her shuttle and engaged the startup. Kum Didi had given her a quick crash-course in Ssi-ruuvi ship design, but the controls would still take some getting used to. Still, she managed to get the repulsors going. She lifted off just as stormtroopers appeared at the edges of her vision and began peppering the painted hull with laser blasts.

She was only in the air for a moment before contacts registered on her scopes. Inexperienced as she was at reading the Ssi-ruuvi data, she guessed four TIE Interceptors and three battle droids were on her tail. Amber gunned the accelerator, but knew she had little chance against the TIE fighters.

Multiple bursts of green energy slammed into her engine column, and the shuttle began to crash towards the city below...

"No. It is ill advised and foolhardy. I will not risk our troops on such..."

"The Death Star run was ill-advised and foolish, Councilor Fey'lya." Leia Organa Solo's eyes narrowed in a challenge. "Would you have had us postpone that?"

The creamy-furred Bothan had remained silent on most matters since his disgrace at the KATANA fleet a few months back, but he clearly felt that bringing Mykel Garreth down was his route back to a position of power. "I will not allow this... this traitor to waste the lives of our fighting troops!"

"Everyone's heard your speeches, Fey'lya," General Bel Iblis said, "And we've been over this before. Garreth's not a traitor."

"Perhaps he is not," Fey'lya said, "Perhaps, like my esteemed colleague from Corellia once was, Admiral Garreth is merely a maverick, with little regard for protocol or the chain of command. In either case, I see no reason to launch a major offensive on his recommendation."

Leia cast a glance at the Council President. "Mon Mothma?"

Mon Mothma's blue eyes narrowed. Once upon a time, she'd have been Garreth's staunchest supporter. But she felt betrayed by his retirement and subsequent failure to alert them to the danger of Thrawn. Garreth's voice held little sway with her at this point. "The admiral's loyalty is beyond question," she said at length, "But I am not convinced his plan is sound."

"It is," said Bel Iblis. "Trust an old warhorse, Mon Mothma. Trust Leia. Trust your own advisors. This is our best shot."

"It is a futile grab at power," the Bothan councilor said, his violet eyes wide, "By an opportunist who recalls too clearly his service to the Imperial fleet."

"That's not fair!" Leia said, "I've know Mykel Garreth my entire life!"

"And for most of that time," the Bothan cut in, "He served the Empire."

Tav Breil'lya, one of the Bothan's aides, whispered in his ear for a moment. He frowned, his cream-colored fur rippling, and stood. "Excuse me for one moment, please."

"What is it?" Fey'lya asked General Pasc Tran'lya, the tall Bothan officer who'd called him from the meeting.

"Garreth's plan is sound," Tran'lya said quietly, though his shifting fur indicated his displeasure. "You're against it for your own purposes. You wish to regain your lost status. I understand that..."

"You understand nothing," Fey'lya told him. "You undercut me in Council once before, Tran'lya. Do not think you can manipulate me forever with threats about the storehouse mountain. You know how dangerous that information is to our people. You would not dare..."

"I'm not threatening you with the mountain," Tran'lya said. "But I am prepared to...take you down."

"Take me...?" Fey'lya frowned, puzzled. "A human expression?"

"Indeed," said Tran'lya. He still had not budged from his casual sit at the briefing room table. "And a useful one. In this case, its meaning is simple: Support Garreth's plan, or I will ask for a recall. I will challenge for 'lya clan leadership, Borsk, and I will win. Have you forgotten that you're currently in disgrace? No Bothan voter will back a loser."

"An empty threat," Fey'lya said, though his eyes were wary. "You're a soldier, Pasc, not a politician. You wouldn't know what to do with clan leadership if you had it."

"And you wouldn't know a sound military plan if it kicked you in the posterior." The general's eyes held Fey'lya's for a long moment. "Stay in the debating room, Borsk. Leave tactics to those who understand them."

"But--"

Tran'lya rose quickly, moving to within a centimeter of Fey'lya to glower down at his clan leader. "The attack on Bilbringi will go forward, and we will all reap the benefits of it." His fur rippled again, this time indicating disgust. "Even those who do not deserve to."

Captain Evins paced back and forth in front of the huge P'w'eck, currently secured by stormtroopers. "I will ask one, last time. Where is the Jedi?"

"Know nothing of Jedi," the P'w'eck said with a shrug of his brawny shoulders. "Who is Jed? Why you want his eye?"

Evins frowned. "Very well, since you insist on playing games, we'll play." She nodded, and a stormtrooper left the room, returning with a mottled brown P'w'eck egg. "Such a lovely shade of brown. You know, I believe I'd like an eggshell necklace, just this color."

Kum Didi stared at his egg in horror. Inside, a young P'w'eck, his son or daughter, was forming. At this stage, it should not even be out of the incubation chamber. "You would not."

"Oh?" She gestured at the stormtrooper, who drew his fist back. One punch would puncture the fragile eggshell.

"Wait!" he hissed. After growling at Evins, he said, "Return it to incubator... I tell you how to find them."

Half an hour later, the egg was back in the incubator, Evins had brought the crystal to her captain, and Kum Didi, having successfully dodged responsibility for the stormtroopers' deaths (He'd shot them with their own laser weapons in the places they were wounded, to make it appear that Amber had killed them with laser blasts), was as free as P'w'eck ever were. He stood at the airlock of a shuttle.

"I think you should not go," his mate, Trissa, said in Ssi-ruuvi.

"I must," he replied. "Dash Rendar is valuable to us... besides, I am not a betrayer. I have little left to me but my family and my honor. I almost lost one today. I will not lose another."

"Can you truly warn Rendar in time?"

Kum Didi bit down, feeling against his forked tongue the jagged half-crystal--the half he had not given to the human, the half he planned to use to follow Dash.

"I believe so," he said. "If what the humans call the Force is with me."

Kum Didi boarded the shuttle, and took off into the night sky of Tra'Donta.

Continued in Episode 15

R.John Burke



© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann