"THE CORELLIAN CONNECTION"
The Corellian freighter sped below the Imperial war cruiser, the Agamemnon. On the warship's bridge, the Executive Officer turned to face his commanding officer. "Shall I order the tractor beam to be used, sir?" he asked.
"Not yet," Captain Hardy replied. "Let's give this . . ." He glanced at the data pad given to him by CorSec Officer Bastra. ". . . Captain Horus a chance to cooperate, first." He nodded at the other officer.
Commander Jaffe switched on the ship's communication system. "Corellian vessel, this is the Imperial starcruiser, the Agamemnon. Be prepared to be tractored."
The freighter captain's voice crackled over the com system. "This is the captain of the Javian Hawk." Hardy noted that the man did not identify himself by name. "What is the meaning of this?"
This time, Hardy replied. "We're searching for two fugitives of the Empire, last seen on Corellia. According to the Coronet port master, your ship had departed from there, five hours ago. Be prepared to be tractored."
"There are no fugitives on board my ship," the freighter captain protested. "Just me."
Hardy turned to Commander Jaffe, who checked his console. "I'm reading four life signs, Captain. Not one."
"Four?" A frown creased Hardy's forehead. "Not three?"
Jaffe confirmed his findings. "Four life signs, sir. One of them might be a child."
"Three, four . . . it doesn't matter," Hardy decided. "This ship has three too many passengers and its captain is not cooperating. Activate the tractor beam."
The First Officer nodded. "Aye, aye sir." He turned to a subordinate. "Activate the tractor beam."
The Javian Hawk jolted, catching Anakin by surprise. "We've been caught in a tractor beam."
"That's it," Senator Yeb declared mournfully. "We're done for."
Thalia Yeb appeared by her brother's side, wearing an anxious expression. "What's going on?"
"An Imperial ship has caught up with us," the senator answered. "It's over for us."
Anakin tapped into the console's computer and found what he was looking for. "Not yet, Senator." He grabbed the ship's blaster and fired. The Hawk's laser blasts struck the Imperial war cruiser's starboard side. Seconds later, the Hawk found itself free from the other ship's tractor beam. "There's a gun turret near the ship's bow," he added. "Is there anyone qualified to use it?"
Thalia spoke up before anyone else could. "I am. I've used a gun turret a few times during the war." She quickly left the cockpit.
"Is there anything I can do?" Senator Yeb asked.
Anakin replied, "You and Han can take a seat and strap in, Senator. Hopefully, this will be all over before long." As the senator left the cockpit, Anakin noticed that Han had remained in his seat. "Why haven't you left?"
"You need someone to handle the ship's blaster in here," Han said. "And I'm the one to do it."
"You're familiar with starship firearms?"
A cocky smile appeared on Han's lips. "I'm probably better with a blaster than you are, Mr. Jedi," he boasted. "I've had experienced aboard Shrike's starship."
Anakin allowed himself an amused smile. "If you say so. I suggest that you make sure that your seat strap is secure. Because this is where the fun begins."
Captain Hardy glared at one of his junior officers. "What happened to the tractor beam?"
"Uh . . . the um . . . the pilot disabled it . . . sir," the young officer replied nervously.
"Dis . . . Then repair it!" Hardy growled. "And tractor that ship! Now!" The young officer quickly focused his attention to his task. Hardy turned to his executive officer. "Jaffe, send out a squad to . . ." He glanced out at the bridge's viewport window . . . and inhaled sharply, as the Javian Hawk zoomed toward the Agamemnon with blasters firing. Hardy felt inclined to sneer at the smaller ship's efforts, when the war cruiser shook ominiously. "What the . . . What was that?" the captain demanded.
Jaffe replied, "Our starboard engine, sir. It's . . . just been disabled." His voice trembled anxiously.
"First our tractor beam and now our starboard engine." Hardy rubbed his throbbing forehead and roared, "Will someone please destroy that ship before it takes us apart, piece by piece?" He glared at Jaffe. "Order Zeta Squad to intercept it."
The first officer stood at attention. "Aye sir." He turned to the junior officer. "Summon Zeta Squad to intercept that freighter."
Seconds later, the junior officer made the announcement over the ship's communication system. Hardy allowed himself a satisfied smile. He felt certain that a half-decade old Corellian freighter would be no match against the Agamemnon and a squad of ARC-170 fighters. No match at all!
"Romulus Wort!" Former Jedi Master Roan Shyrne regarded Darth Rasche with disbelief and disgust. "So, you've finally caught up with us, again." He turned to the young padawan who was engaged in a duel with the Sith Lord. "Step aside, Olee, I'll deal with Wo . . ."
Rasche brusquely corrected the former Jedi Master. "The name is Darth Rasche, Shryne!" He shot a quick glance at Commander Appo's decapitated head. "And you're under arrest for murder and treason.
Disgust now dominated Shryne's eyes. "We'll see . . . Lord Rasche." He turned to Starstone. "Leave now, Olee. I'll deal with this Sith scum." Slowly, the young padawan backed away from Rasche. As she and the other rebels dealt with Appo's squad, the Sith Lord's red lightsaber blade clashed with Shryne's and the fight commenced.
Just as Rasche had expected, fighting the Jedi Master proved to be more difficult than his duels with Starstone and the other Jedi here on Kashyyyk. Rasche utilized all of his speed and skills to keep Shryne off-balance and from killing him. The two combatants finally paused near one of the great wroshyr trees near the city's outskirts.
"What happened to you, Wort?" Shryne demanded. "How did you turn to the Dark Side? What made . . .?" He broke off, as Rasche swung at his head. Shryne ducked just in time.
The Sith Lord snarled, "Once again, the name is Darth Rasche! Nor do I have to answer to or any other Jedi scum regarding my actions!"
"Jedi scum?" Shryne's voice rang with disbelief. "When did the Jedi become scum to . . .?" This time, Rasche attacked in earnest before he could finish his question.
The two combatants continued their brutal duel. Rasche sensed a hint of surprise radiating from the older man. Apparently, the latter had not anticipated someone of his age being able to successfully duel against an experienced Jedi Master. Explosions rocked the ground around the pair. The Imperial Destroyers had commenced upon the aerial bombardment of Kachirho and other cities being defended by the Wookies. The Sith Lord and the former Jedi Master found themselves inside one of the wroshyr trees. There, Rasche decided to embark upon a new tactic. Using the Force, he battered Shryne with wood planks and other debris. One of the planks managed to strike Shryne directly in the face. Then Rasche elevated Shryne into the air and flung him off the bridge.
Rasche levitated to the ground, next to Shryne's body. Blood flowed from the former Jedi Master's mouth, while bruises covered his body. "I . . ." He gurgled slightly. "I . . . don't under . . . stand. Why?"
Instead of answering the other man's question, Rasche switched on his lightsaber and struck the Jedi Master directly in the heart. The latter died instantly. "Too bad you're not Skywalker," Rasche muttered. "Your death would have had more meaning."
Returning to the shuttle's landing area, Darth Rasche discovered that Starstone and some of Shryne's companions had managed to kill a good number of clonetroopers before fleeing the scene. He gathered the remaining survivors and guided them back to the Theta-class shuttle. Once inside the vessel, the Sith Lord contacted his executive officer back on the Exactor. "Commander Heth," he announced, "I will be shortly returning to the Exactor. Commander Appos is dead. What is the status of the attack?"
"All star destroyers have descended to the planet's surface, my Lord," Heth replied over the shuttle's communication system. "Kashyyyk should soon be completely secured." The officer hesitated before he continued. "However, I've just learned that a detainer interdictor cruiser has just been destroyed and many of the refugee transports have managed to escape the system."
A small sense of dread gnawed at the center of Rasche's chest. "How did this happen?" he angrily demanded.
The first officer hesitated. "Apparently, some of the enemy managed to reactivate an old damaged droid-controlled destroyer from the war and programmed it to ram the cruiser."
The report infuriated Rasche. Olee Starstone, along with some of her companions and Wookie allies must have been responsible. "Commander, I want you to contact Lord Tarkin aboard the Executrix."
Rasche continued, "I have a message for him. Tell him to order all fleet commanders to initate a full orbital bombardment of the entire planet. The entire planet, Commander!"
A long silence followed before Heth nervously replied, "Aye sir. Heth out."
Breathing heavily, Rasche turned off the shuttle's communication system and leaned back into his chair. He became aware of the silence that filled the shuttle. Ignoring the other troopers, he activated the engines and commenced upon the shuttle's ascent from the planet's surface.
Inside the Javian Hawk's cockpit, Anakin allowed himself a quick glance at the viewscreen beyond. "Oh no," he muttered to himself. Then he switched on the freighter's communication system. "Miss Yeb! Keep a sharp eye ready! We have visitors. A squad of ATC fighters!"
"Understood," the Andalian female coolly replied.
Anakin turned to Han. "Good job in dealing with that warship's engines. Are you ready to try your luck with starfighters?"
A wide grin stretched Han's lips. "Like you said . . . this is where the fun begins."
Anakin chuckled. "Is that right?"
At that moment, a squad of ATC-170 fighters raced toward the Hawk. Blaster fire filled the dark space between the two ships. Although a few blasts managed to rock the freighter, Anakin made sure that it had not sustained any serious damage. On the other hand, Han managed to inflict devastating damage upon the ATC fighters by destroying four of them. Anakin checked his sensors. He noticed that Thalia Yeb had destroyed at least two fighters. However, Anakin realized that shooting down starfighters would not save them from the Agamemnon. An idea came to him. "Miss Yeb, cease fire and return to your brother!" Han stared at him, as if he had lost his mind. Meanwhile, the Andalian woman managed to destroy another fighter. "Miss Yeb, please do as I say and return to your brother!"
"You want us to cease fire?" Thalia's voice crackled with disbelief over the com system.
Anakin retorted, "Yes, Miss Yeb! I want you to cease fire. Now!"
Han shot down one more ATC fighter, while Anakin waited for the senator's sister to rejoin Yeb. Then he heard her say, "I'm at my seat!" She did not sound very pleased.
"Okay," Anakin began. "Everyone, hold on!" With the ship's throttle firmly in one hand, he flew the Javian Hawk circles around the Agamemnon. The remaining three ATC fighters followed in an attempt to destroy the freighter. Anakin then guided the Hawk directly toward the war cruiser's port side. A quick glance at the sensors told him that two of the fighters were on his tail.
Han shot a nervous glance at Anakin. "Uh, you do realize that we're heading for the . . . oh!"
At that moment, Anakin veered the ship sharply to the left, causing the Javian Hawk to miss the Imperial cruiser by millimeters. The two ATC fighters on the Hawk's tail were not so lucky. They spiraled out of control . . . and slammed right into the Agamemnon's port side.
Two major explosions rocked the Agamemnon. Anxiety gripped Captain Hardy, as he grabbed hold of his chair's armrests. "What was that?" he yelled at one of the junior officers. Red lights flooded the bridge, while the ship's klaxon filled his ears.
It was Commander Jaffe who replied. "Our port engine has been disabled, Captain! Along with all decks on the port side. The landing bay has been completely destroyed!"
Which meant that the remaining two ATC-170 squads assigned to the Agamemnon no longer existed. Captain Hardy struggled to suppress his growing anxiety. "Commander, shoot down that piece of junk, or we'll all end up . . ."
"Captain! The Corellian ship is returning!" a frightened junior officer cried out. "And it's heading straight toward us!"
Hardy glanced straight ahead. Sure enough, the Javian Hawk seemed to be spinning toward them, with the last remaining fighter close behind. He could not believe his eyes. Surely, this Captain Horus did not mean to . . . The Corellian ship veered a sharp right, avoiding the Agamemnon's by millimeters. The last thing Captain Hardy saw was an out-of-control ATC fighter hurtling toward the bridge.
Anakin heaved a sigh of relief, as he flew the Hawk away from the Imperial war cruiser. Then the freighter rocked slightly, as a series of explosions completely destroyed the Agamemnon.
"Wow!" Han cried gleefully. "That was . . . that was incredible!"
"No kidding," Anakin murmured. He felt uneasy that the Imperial ship's destruction also spelled the end of so many lives. But he could see no other way out of their situation. He could have surrendered to the Agamemnon or attempt an escape . . . ensuring that the Empire would hunt down the Javian Hawk from one end of the galaxy to the other.
Both of the Yebs appeared inside the cockpit. "In Zaahl's name!" Senator Yeb exclaimed. "You've destroyed it! You've completely destroyed an Imperial warship!"
"I believe that all of us had contributed to its destruction," Anakin added wryly.
Thalia Yeb regarded Anakin with shining admiration. "Now, I see how you had earned the name, 'Hero With No Fear'," she exclaimed. "My goodness!"
Anakin inwardly winced at his former wartime moniker. He had never liked it and said so to the Yebs. "Right now, I'm more concerned with delivering both of you to Averam. And getting rid of those laser burns on my hull. Chances are the Imperials will catch up to me, sooner or later. I don't want to leave any evidence of our encounter with the Agamemnon." He checked the Hawks' coordinates to ensure that it had returned on course. "Is everyone strapped in?" The Yebs returned to their seats and the Javian Hawk resumed its journey toward Averam.
END OF CHAPTER EIGHT