The flight was smooth and clear, and Garrett just had to let R3 show them the way. He sat in the pilot's seat, while Anders took the copilot spot. The twins were resting in their bunks. Outside, the Wounded Coast went by below them, while the mountains got ever closer.
Garrett still couldn't believe that Varric had actually gifted the droid to them, when he was so sure it would be years before the Hawke's Talon got that luxury. Varric hadn't said much about R3, other than the fact that she'd been built near the tail end of the Clone Wars and had seen battle before. When they asked R3 about her experiences, using a datapad to translate, she claimed that she'd never served alongside the Jedi or clones, being built too late for that, but she'd been partnered with a rebel before meeting Varric.
When they tried asking further, the droid had ignored the question and focused on guiding Hawke's Talon.
"You sure that you can't use the Force to read droid minds?" Garrett teased Anders.
"Quite sure." Anders then asked, "Do you think your mother believed you when you told her we were still on a smuggling run?"
"I hope so."
"What about your uncle? Would turn us in if he knew what we were really up to?"
"I doubt it. For all his flaws, Gamlen's not the type to turn on family."
It was an odd feeling, keeping a secret this huge from his mother. It wasn't as if she hadn't been keeping secrets for years now, what with hiding the fact that her daughter was Force sensitive, and then keeping up the story that her children were just couriers. But, it was better if she continued to think that her children were smugglers who did small but illegal jobs, and not full-blown rebels out to subvert the Empire.
Looking back out the cockpit, Garrett watched the beach rise up into grassy hills and rocky outcroppings, leaving the ocean behind. He couldn't deny feeling excited at what was to come.
"Can you believe it, Garrett? We're about to officially join the rebels."
"Let's just hope we know what we're doing. I mean, don't get me wrong, I want to fight the Empire, and it was just a matter of time before we did this anyway. But still…"
"I know," Anders said. "The Empire seems so big and unbeatable. Like a loth-rat about to face a giant monster." Garrett nodded. "Look at it this way, one loth-rat may not defeat the monster on its own, but many, many loth-rats working together certainly stand a chance at doing so."
"Is that one of those corny Jedi sayings?" Garrett asked with a smirk.
"More or less. The masters used something other than loth-rats for comparison, but the general idea is still the same."
"Still corny as hell."
"You should have heard it from the masters, it was even cornier coming out of them."
The two of them burst into giggles.
The ship began to slow and R3 gave a few warbles. On the console, they read the translation, which said that they were nearing the base. They looked out the window and passed over another mountain, when they saw lights and shapes below. As they got closer, things came into view and they got a better look at the encampment. There was a large tent at the far end and several small ships were parked along the perimeter. To the right of the large tent were many smaller tents. Getting even closer, Garrett noted that most of the ships were small fighters, with only a few freighters that were likely salvaged or stolen.
This was it. The Kirkwall rebel base.
Garrett looked over at Anders, who was smiling at him, and he realized that he himself was grinning widely. "I guess I am."
"I'll go tell the twins we're here," Anders stood up and left the cockpit.
The Hawke's Talon set down near the edge of the base, a few meters away from some A-wings. Garrett lowered the ramp and the four of them, plus the droid, emerged onto the rebel camp.
All manner of species were standing or walking about the compound, tending to their duties or just enjoying each other's company. Nearby, an elf and a Nautolan laughed together as they repaired one of the A-wings. A little ways off, a human and a twi'lek carried boxes into one of the shacks. To their left, a pair of elves were just conversing with each other. There was a true sense of comradery that Garrett didn't need the Force to sense.
All of these folks had come together for one purpose. To oppose the Empire.
"Ah, you must be the ones Varric just sent our way."
The four looked over to see an elf with gray hair approaching them. Anders's face lit up.
It was that elf they'd seen arguing with Elthina on Gib's behalf a few days ago. He held himself tall, but his face that of someone who seriously needed a vacation.
"We didn't exactly get to introduce ourselves last time we saw each other, did we?" The elf asked. "I'm Commander Orsino, and I lead Dragon Squadron."
"Pleased to meet you, Commander," Garrett said, stepping forward and shaking Orsino's hand. "I'm Garrett Hawke, these are my siblings, Bethany and Carver, and that handsome fellow is Anders."
"Are you really them? The Jedi from the Bone Pit?" Anders and Bethany pulled out their lightsabers. Seeing this made Orsino smile softly. "We kept hoping that you would find your way to us somehow, either on your own or through Varric. You have no idea what this is going to do for morale."
"We couldn't just stand by as people continue to be crushed under the Empire's heel," Anders said, putting his lightsaber away. "Whatever you need of us, know that you have us, and the Hawke's Talon at your command."
A few nearby rebels, no doubt having overheard the conversation, were now looking their way. Anders scratched the back of his head, while Bethany shuffled her feet. Garrett was beginning to realize that this was probably a huge risk for the two of them. By joining the Alliance, they risked the higher-ups within the Empire finding out they were Force sensitive. Yet they were willing to do so anyway.
He glanced at Anders and Bethany. The Empire wouldn't have them, he would make sure of it.
"Come, walk with me and I'll get you up to speed," Orsino waved along and began walking. Garrett and the others followed. "I imagine you must have some questions."
"A few, yes," Garrett said, falling into step next to the elf. "Just how much damage have you guys done to the local branch of the Empire here? Or just the Stormtroopers?"
"Sadly, not as much as we'd like," Orsino admitted. "The rebellion has only recently made its way to Kirkwall, and we've been taking it one day at a time. Mostly, our operations have involved attacking Stormtrooper patrols, diverting resources towards our own forces or to those who need them, and even a jailbreak or two."
"The holo-net seems to be pretty silent on those fronts," Carver said.
"I suspect Meredith doesn't want the people to know how busy we're getting," Orsino replied. "She wants Kirkwall to believe that she's got a handle on the situation, that we're just terrorists, and that she has the common folks' best interest at heart. We also suspect that after her report on your actions at the Bone Pit failed to get anyone to turn you in, she got frustrated."
"She doesn't want it to have the opposite effect," Anders said, with an edge to his voice. "Nobody gave her information on us, or at least nothing she could use, and therefore she fears that any reports might give the people incentive to join the rebellion."
"Our thoughts exactly," Orsino nodded.
"She's also not above twisting the news to suit her own needs," Anders said. "She painted the Bone Pit thing like we just wanted to stir up trouble and hurt people. And then, after our fight with the Inquisitor, she made it sound like the rebels just wanted to target a helpless business owner."
"Actually," Bethany spoke up. "Why hadn't you guys done anything about the Bone Pit before we got there?"
"We were planning a raid on that, actually," Orsino explained. "You just beat us to it, and we've kept an eye on you since then. We saw you confront Elthina, and save that twi'lek boy from those Stormtroopers."
"Meredith sent an Inquisitor after us too," Anders said.
"So, the rumors about that were true," Orsino mused. "We rather hoped they were just that. Rumors."
"Well, he's dead now," Garrett said with a shrug.
"I'm actually surprised," Orsino continued. "Because the Commander is well-known for her hatred of anything to do with Force sensitives. She hates Jedi, Sith, and anything in between. She must have been truly worried if she allowed an Inquisitor to step foot on Kirkwall."
"That or she's just a hypocrite," Garrett smirked.
"Or perhaps it was a little of both," Orsino replied.
"I still can't believe that she endorsed a slave mine and steals from merchants and calls herself a protector," Bethany sighed.
"Sadly, the Empire saying that they take care of their citizens only to turn around and exploit them isn't unusual," Orsino shook his head sadly.
It was even worse if one wasn't human, Garrett thought. It wasn't exactly a huge secret that the Empire didn't like aliens. Kirkwall wasn't as bad as other planets, with Orlais being one of the most unfriendly worlds for non-humans in the Thedas sector, but that was still a low bar. That was like saying that an amputated ear was only slightly better than an amputated leg.
"Now then, I suggest the four of you get settled in," Orsino said. "I'll send for you when it's time for a mission briefing."
It was an hour and a half later before someone came to fetch them from the Hawke's Talon and guided them to the large tent for debriefing.
This was it. They were about to get their first mission for the rebellion. Anders hoped that this would be a real blow to the Empire, and that it would be the first of many. Nothing would make him more pleased than to see the Empire crumble and die. Though, for now he'd settle on driving it out of Kirkwall.
He felt Justice stir. Was it excitement? Anticipation? Restlessness?
Anders warned Justice that it had better not be bloodlust. That was dangerous for them.
We won't turn. I won't let us.
I know, I just worry. One slip up and...
What's important right now is the Empire, and putting an end to it. What we are doing is good and just.
Yes, you're right. I hate it when you're right, you know that?
Justice didn't answer, but Anders felt his satisfaction.
He gently felt Garrett tap him on the arm, now that they had reached the briefing tent. Garrett had gotten good at telling when Anders and Justice were having a private chat, and snapping their attention back to the matter at hand.
Orsino was already standing around a circular table with a holo-projector in the middle. He waved them inside and they all took positions around the table.
"I'm glad you could join us," The elf began. "We recently got some intel that Meredith has sent for more slaves to be brought to Kirkwall to replace the ones you freed. She's sent Cullen to make the retrieval and he'll deliver them."
"Wait," Carver said. "Why is he taking orders from her? I mean, he's captain with the Imperial Fleet, and she's a Stormtrooper, so he's really not obligated to take orders from her."
"For that, you'd have to ask him," Orsino replied.
Anders could think of all kinds of reasons why Cullen continued to trust and listen to Meredith, taking orders from her like she was his boss. None of those reasons were very flattering. Garrett certainly hadn't painted a very flattering picture of the man when he'd described their encounter in the market.
"This is the ship carrying the prisoners."
Orsino tapped a button on a console in front of him, and a holographic image of a freighter came up. To Anders' surprise, it wasn't an Imperial Fleet freighter. It actually looked Orlesian in design, with its fancy curves and shiny exterior. One wouldn't guess that it was used to transport slaves.
Orlais was considered the crown jewel of the Thedas sector. It was wealthy, high cultured, home to many influential figures, and, most of all, it was one of the most Empire-loyal worlds in this region of the galaxy. If any planet lined up exactly with the Empire's values and ideals, it was Orlais. This included the way it treated its non-human citizens. On Orlais, non-humans were officially second-class citizens with barely any rights, and while the rulers and nobility denied it, Orlais practiced slavery behind closed doors. It wasn't unheard of for non-humans, especially elves, to just disappear one day, and reappear as the legal property of some noble, or shipped off to another planet.
Anders and Karl had visited that world just once during their travels. Anders preferred the idea of visiting Jakku or Mustafar rather than step foot on Orlais ever again. Or, if he ever went back, it would be to kick the nobilitys' collective ass and declare non-humans full, equal citizens. Justice rather liked that idea.
"Fulcrum has given us some coordinates where we believe the ship is to come out of hyperspace and wait for Cullen. You are to lie in wait, and hope that Cullen doesn't get there before you have a chance to intercept the ship."
"Who's Fulcrum?" Garrett asked.
"Fulcrum is our informant on the Empire's operations."
"Who are they, really?" Carver asked.
"Their identity is a secret, so they may not be compromised in case any of us are captured."
"And you just trust them?" Carver raised an eyebrow.
"Their information has never steered us wrong, young man. Fulcrum has been instrumental in subverting the Empire, not just for Dragon Squadron, but the other rebel cells across the galaxy."
"I'm sure the rebels take precautions when it comes to this sort of thing, Carver," Bethany said. Carver snorted, but Orsino smiled gently at her.
"Anyway," The elf continued. "You're to take the Hawke's Talon to these coordinates and hijack that ship."
"Shouldn't be too much of a problem," Garrett boasted. "Unless a purgill comes out of nowhere, this should be a walk through the park."
"Good," Orsino turned off the hologram and pulled out a datapad. "These are the coordinates. It's a five hour flight through hyperspace, and you leave in one hour."
Even if this wasn't going to be a huge blow to the Empire, it was still doing some good, Anders thought. Besides, freeing slaves was never beneath him.