Added on May 08, 1999
Category: Science Fiction/Star Wars
Author: R. John Burke

The Conscript

STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode Four

DESRIPTION: Multiple plotlines open up: One for Jev, one for Taryn Clancee, and one for Special Guest Star Boba Fett!

NOTICE: Star Wars is a trademark of Lucasfilm. Since I've borrowed their characters and situations, obviously I can't sell this, and neither can you. This isn't hard, people.

They had escaped, and Vader had helped them.

Prince Xizor, underworld prince of Black Sun, needed all his formidable willpower to keep from screaming. At length he was able to calm himself, return to the cold-blooded ways of his reptilian people, the Falleen, but he would not forget. To his knowledge, he had never forgotten anything of importance, and he was not about to begin now.

Vader's punishment would come in time. His punishment for this and a score of other offenses, not the least of which was his "cleansing" of Falleen, and the deaths of Xizor's family. His payment would be severe, but the time for that was not yet.

The others, the Rebels under the command of Mykel Garreth, the ones who had escaped from him - again - and damaged poor Guri again, they would be dealt with now.

Not by Xizor himself, for he had too much work here, on behalf of the Emperor, and with his own Black Sun enterprises, to allow himself the pleasure of hunting down his enemies.

They would be hunted by a proxy, one as cold and efficient as Xizor himself, and one whose skills as a hunter were unmatched.

The man whose helmet visor stared at him from a hologram.

"What is it?" asked Boba Fett.

"Ah, Boba Fett, the galaxy's foremost bounty hunter. It is a pleasure, sir."

"If you say so. What is it?" No hint of emotion showed in those flat, processed tones. Fett's voice was surprisingly soft, actually. Unlike Lord Vader's stentorian tones, designed to inspire terror in his opponents, Fett's words were low, menacing only in their total lack of feeling.

He took little pleasure in his bloody business, or in dealing with the people who hired him. Boba Fett was a businessman.

Soon, Xizor knew, this man and all those like him - the Bounty Hunter's Guild - would be destroyed by Xizor's own web. The plan was already in motion, and would bring Xizor great favor with the Emperor and no small degree of personal profit. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: See the new book, "The Mandalorian Armor," by KW Jeter)

But that time had not arrived yet either, and Xizor might as well get some use out of this infamous figure while he still existed.

"I have a job for you," said Xizor. "A hundred thousand credits upon delivery, alive."

"Live deliveries are difficult," said Fett, "And my time is precious. Two-fifty."

"You didn't let me finish," Xizor said soothingly, "In addition to your fee, you would receive first chance at all future Black Sun bounties."

"I have no need of them," said the voice within the battered helmet, Mandalorian in design, "I don't bargain, Prince Xizor. My price is set. Two-fifty."

In truth, Xizor had planned to pay as much as three hundred thousand for the services of the infamous Hunter. He'd quoted a low price so Fett would feel he'd gotten the upper hand.

It was easier to crush your enemies, and control your friends, if they thought they had the advantage.

"Two-fifty," said Xizor, "The target is a captain in the Rebel Alliance named Mykel Garreth..."

"Attention on deck!"

At the word from the Calamarian Okel, four dozen crewers, the maximum number that would fit in the FREEDOM's cramped hangar bay, snapped to attention. It reminded Garreth of the VIP greeting protocols used by the Empire. Which, of course, was the point.

Not that he wished to copy the Empire. Garreth had put that part of his life to rest. But this was the only way he knew to commemorate a very special occasion.

A modified assault shuttle floated into the hangar and settled onto the deck. Its ramp descended downwards.

Evverd came out first. "Miss us?"

"Very much, Commander," said Garreth, stepping forward through the rows of troopers at attention. He shook the Corellian's hand - his left hand, Garreth noted. His right wrist was broken.

"And where is...?"

"Captain!" Kerri Lynden descended from the ramp and greeted Garreth with a warm hug. "I understand its been a long time."

"You... understand?" said Garreth. Kerri had been missing and presumed dead for about four months now. Garreth had steeled himself for the worst before receiving Evverd's last-minute comm yesterday.

"I don't really remember it," Kerri explained, "I feel like I just saw everyone two weeks ago."

Garreth frowned, and Evverd said, "It's a long story, Myke. We'll fill you in later."

Garreth led the way down the row of troops, stopping in front of a bulbous, salmon-colored face.

"At ease, Chief."

The Calamarian Senior Chief, Okel, relaxed visibly. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Commander Lynden."

"Same here, Chief," said the rebel commander, and patted him on the shoulder.

Garreth led the way past Gaar and Avers and Harkin and Covell, who all greeted their former - and presumably future - first officer again. Even Covell, who had been serving as executive officer in Kerri's absence, seemed only too glad to relinquish the extra responsibility.

Garreth found the last officer in the row. "And this is Lieutenant Taryn Clancee, our navigator."

Kerri sized up the tall, sandy-blonde woman for a moment, and extended a hand in greeting. "Nice to meet you. I... haven't had much luck with ship's navigators."

An understatement, thought Garreth. Their last navigator had turned out to be an Imperial spy after Kerri for her secret Jedi skills.

Kerri continued, "...but I'm sure we'll get along fine."

Taryn nodded, pleasantly enough. "Listen, I don't want to spoil your party, but may I have the captain's attention for a moment?"

"Of course," said Kerri. She allowed Covell and Evverd to lead her past Taryn, back to the bridge.

"What is it, Lieutenant?" Garreth asked.

"Well, sir... I understand our current course takes us past the Pollis system, and then back past it again in a few days."

"That's right," Garreth said with a nod, "We're providing security for the Conference of Uncommitted Worlds on Kabal. It's just beyond Pollis."

"In that case, sir, now that we're not so short-handed, I'd like to ask for a few days leave."

"Any particular reason?" he asked.

"Nothing spectacular, "I just have some good friends there I haven't seen in a while."

The captain hesitated. The Conference was vital, but FREEDOM's assignment there was not. Kerri was perfectly able to take the helm for a few days, or someone from the lower decks could do it.

"I don't see why not," said Garreth, "You have three days."

"Outstanding, sir. Thank you."

He shrugged. "I may as well keep you happy. Good navigators are hard to find. Believe me, I know..."

Kerri snapped the last piece into place, and pressed the trigger. A bright orange blade snapped into place where before there had only been air. It hummed with its own flickering energy.

"Not bad," said Evverd, "Can you disguise it as a blaster stock, like the last one?"

"Afraid not," said Kerri, waving the blade around experimentally. "I rushed this one; it's supposed to take a month to do a lightsaber right."

The Corellian inspected her new weapon. "Looks as good as the last one. Why orange, though?"

Kerri shrugged. "Red and blue have been done to death."

"Is that where you went when we stopped off to drop Sivrak and pick up the shuttle? To find an orange gemstone?"

"Didn't have to be orange," she said, "Could have yellow or green. Like I said, I was in a hurry."

He nodded at the clear alien crystal Kerri wore around her neck, the one whose power protected her from being sensed by other Jedi. "Wonder what a little piece of that would do in a lightsaber?"

Abruptly, Kerri took off the crystal, placed it on the floor, and with practiced skill, sliced off about a quarter of its mass.

"Hey, I didn't mean you should try it NOW..."

"This is for Jev," she said, retrieving both pieces of crystal, "I scanned him on the shuttle. He's grown in the Force, significantly so. Without the crystal, I sensed him easily. And if I can..."

"Vader can," Evverd finished for her, "Do you even know that thing'll work, in pieces?"

"I have to chance it," she said, "Jev needs protection. Anyway, my mother always thought the power was indigenous to the stone itself. So a smaller piece will just be slightly less powerful. Jev can't do anything dramatic yet, anyway."

The Corellian frowned. "What about when he can?"

Kerri settled down on her bunk and extinguished her blade. "One problem at a time. There's something else we have to know first."

"You want to train ME as a Jedi?" Jev's prominent Adam's apple bobbed, and his eyes glanced around the room nervously. Evverd stuck close to the kid, for moral support.

"I think it's for the best," she said, "I'm not really qualified, and that could be dangerous, but it's even more dangerous for you to have this power without some idea how to control it."

"I... don't know what to say," the young man from Alderaan hesitated, his eyes looking out her viewport, at the stars. "I always had good instincts - hunches, you know? But I never thought I was a Jedi..."

"You're not a Jedi." Kerri held his eyes. Evverd had only rarely seen that level of intensity from her. Usually, that look meant that whomever they were fighting had just crossed the line, and would soon experience the business end of her lightsaber. Now she used the look to demonstrate for Jev what deadly serious business this was.

She continued, "Not yet, anyway. You have the potential. But if you decide to use it, you have to know what you're getting into. The power of the Force is used for knowledge and defense. It's not a toy, and it is never to be used in anger."

"That seems pretty clear," said Jev.

"Right now, it is," she told him, "But you'll be in a situation one day where the dark side beckons, maybe even for a good cause, maybe only in something minor, and the line between light and dark won't be so clear."

"So how do you tell them apart?" Jev asked.

"You will know," she said, "In quiet contemplation, and that's the key thing: To become a Jedi is the most serious commitment possible. You can never again act without thought, or allow your temper to get the best of you. It's a serious responsibility." She hesitated. "And a dangerous one. If Vader finds you, he will turn you or kill you. Those are the risks."

Jev frowned. "But there's an upside, isn't there?"

"Yes," she said, "To be a Jedi is to know. To understand what holds the universe together. And to have the power to fight for what you believe."

"Like against the Empire."

She inclined her head slightly. "Like against the Empire. But only when necessary, not in anger."

Jev's eyes darkened a bit. Evverd had never seen that particular look on his friend's face. "What about upholding justice?"

"That's part of it," said Kerri, though her tone said she didn't like Jev's look either.

Slowly, Jev said, "What about justice for Alderaan?"

"That's not justice," she said, "That's revenge. There's a difference."

"You think so?" said Jev, "Don't my people have a right to revenge against those who killed our families? Isn't that justice?"

Abruptly, Kerri slumped backwards, eyes downcast. "I cannot teach him. Not now."

"What?" said Jev, "You bring me all the way in here, YOU propose this idea to me, and suddenly all bets are off? What happened?"

"You happened," she said, "I should have realized. You're full of anger right now. Anger at the Empire and the others who destroyed Alderaan."

"Shouldn't I be?" Jev protested.

"I didn't say I blamed you for it," Kerri told him, "I would feel exactly the same way. But a heart filled with hatred is a terrible thing to mix with the Force."

"I'm not filled with hatred!" said Jev, "Yes, I'm angry, but I can get over that!"

"I don't think you can," said Kerri, "Not yet, anyway."

Jev turned to his friend for support. "Rik!"

Evverd looked away. "Kid, I understand exactly how you feel. I'm not even from Alderaan, and I'd like to hunt down everybody who survived the Death Star and blow them away."

"You see?" said Jev, "He underst..."

The Corellian cut him off. "I can want that, because I'm just a regular guy. I can't actually do it. A Jedi could. Kerri knows what she's talking about, kid. I don't understand the Force, but I've seen what the Dark Side can do. I felt it once." Evverd hesitated, remembering a time when, very briefly, he had received Kerri's Jedi powers. And had destroyed an Imperial base with them, killing hundreds. "It's... too easy. Too easy to act on any petty, violent little thought that comes into your head. You've gotta be able to get beyond that. I couldn't do that. Kerri could. You gotta trust her."

"Oh, please!" said Jev, "You think I don't know why you're backing her? She could say anything, and you'd agree with it!"

"You little snot!" Evverd reached forward to grab a handful of the kid's shirt. Then he took a deep breath, and released it, smirking.

"See what I mean?" he said, "If I'd been a Dark Jedi when I did that, you'd be splattered across the wall."

"But I can control my anger!" said Jev, "I'm not afraid!"

"That's your problem," said Kerri, "You should be."

She handed him the piece she'd cut for the crystal. "Here, take this. It will shield you from the Emperor. Keep it on your person."

Jev took the crystal. But--"

"Listen to me," she told him, "This is not the end. Some day, perhaps some day soon, you'll be able to release your anger. When that happens, I will train you. I promise."

"But I'm ready now!" Jev sulked, and stood up, "You just don't understand."

He left, and Kerri massaged her temples as though she had a headache. "That boy is in great danger."

"He'll be okay," said Evverd.

Silently, the Corellian added, he'd better be...

"So then Dangos comes in," Taryn said, chuckling to herself, "And he says he's dumped the whole load of spice on Mugsha the Hutt's swamp-bath!"

Across from her, on the couch, Leila Narr and her teenage son Kristoff both burst into a fit of laughter.

"Good old Dangos," said Leila, "The only Chevin I've ever met with a sense of humor... whatever happened to him?"

"I heard he finally got sick of smuggling and went back to Visgoth," said Taryn, wiping her tearing eyes as she tried to stop laughing, "But I wouldn't know. I'm with the Alliance now."

"What's it like?" asked Kris, "Have you been in many battles?"

"Have we?" said Taryn, "Why, kid, I was at Khuiumen last month when the biggest Star Destroyer you ever..."

"Let's not talk about that," said Leila, "What do you hear from Dravis?"

"Mom," said Kris in that uniquely teenage whine, "I want to hear about the Rebellion!"

"I don't want to talk about the Rebellion," Leila said slowly. Kris glared at her for a moment, and finally mumbled an "excuse me" and left.

"What's with him?" asked Taryn.

Leila Narr, a short woman with graying red hair, had been Taryn's mentor during her days on the Fringe. She sighed. "Kris wants to join the Alliance. It's all he talks about."

Taryn stared after the young man, perhaps sixteen, who had so resembled his mother. "We have a few who aren't much older..."

"He's not going," said Leila in a tone that brooked no argument.

"I didn't say he was," Taryn replied defensively, "But incidentally, when did you get so cautious?"

"I lost Jaref because he didn't know when to quit the smuggling game. I won't lose our son."

Taryn Clancee winced sympathetically. She had known Leila's husband, and a better star pilot was scarcely to be found. It had been a blow to the entire Fringe when he had been lost off Kessel.

Flying too close to the Maw was a leading cause of death among smugglers. People kept trying to break the Solo record of a twelve-parsec distance. People died that way.

"I understand," she said, "And I don't want to see anyone that young put his life on the line either. But what about you?"

Leila recoiled slightly. "Me?"

"We could use you. You're a fine gunner, good in a fight..."

"And not interested," said Leila, "I don't care about politics. For all I care, the whole damn galaxy can blow itself apart, as long as they leave Pollis alone."

"They won't leave Pollis alone," said Taryn, "Sooner or later, they'll come for you."

"It will be later, then," said Leila, and that ended that subject.

They talked for a short time longer, just random chatter and reminiscences. Taryn was about to retire to her room for the night when a high, strident alarm began to squawk.

"What's that?" she asked.

Leila's face was a frozen mask. "That's sooner."

On the Star Destroyer, a man in a captain's uniform approached his master. "Admiral, we have arrived at the Pollis system. The planetary shield is up. It will be difficult to penetrate.

"Do not be concerned, Captain Niriz," said the blue-skinned admiral. "I have calculated to the moment when the Pollans will surrender."

If you're not wrong, Niriz thought, like you were at Corellia.

"Trust me, Captain," said the admiral, his red eyes ablaze, "I am not in the habit of repeating my mistakes."

Niriz nodded, almost immediately regretting his moment of doubt. They were back at the edge of the Unknown Regions now, their home territory. And despite his setback at Corellia, there was no one better at this sort of thing than Grand Admiral Thrawn.

"Send down the walkers," said Thrawn, "The New Order needs a fresh supply of soldiers. Willing... or otherwise."

Taryn found her blaster pistol where it was stashed with the rest of her gear, and returned to find Leila brandishing a battered old BlasTech DL-11 pistol.

"What's the plan?" Taryn asked.

"The plan," said Leila, "Is not to do anything until it's absolutely necessary."

Kristoff came running out of his room. "What's going on?"

"Get back to your room and stay there!" said Leila.

Kris' eyes went wide as he saw the weapons. "But..."

"Get back!"

Kris looked at Taryn. "Do you have an extra--"

"Don't even think about it!" Leila hissed, "Go to your room until this is over!"

"I can't--"

"I mean it!"

Kris scowled and returned to his room, slamming the door on the way in.

"We could use an extra blaster," Taryn reminded the other woman.

"Putting everything else aside," her friend told her, "I don't HAVE another weapon. Do you?"

Taryn shook her head no.

"Well, there you are."

Taryn groaned. "What kind of idiot goes to a frontier world on the edge of the Unknown Regions with only one blaster?"

"The kind of idiot," Leila retorted, "Who doesn't want her Rebellion-happy son getting any ideas!"

The blonde woman was about to come back with a counter-argument, but instead found herself straining her ears. "Do you hear that?"

Leila cursed. "Imperial walkers."

"I think we're in trouble."

Taryn ran to a window, saw the red blazes of repeat blaster fire ripping into nearby homes. "We're in trouble."

"We have to get out of here," said Leila.

"And go where, huh?" Taryn looked out at the carnage once again, this time paying special attention to the targets picked by the mechanized beheamoths. "They're only returning fire against people who are already resisting. Maybe we can..."

Then she saw the stormtrooper brigade tramping down the street in their white armor. They stopped at every house, dragging people out of a few. Usually young-to-middle-aged males.

"It's a conscription run," Taryn said, "The Empire Wants Us."

Leila's eyes were wide with fear. "They'll take...

"They're not taking anyone without a fight," said Taryn, "Come on..."

Taryn huddled next to her friend's son in the secret compartments under the basement floor. Leila and Jaref had lived here during their less respectable days, and had used these compartments to hide contraband on a few occasions. It was standard smuggler procedure.

Taryn had debated whether she would join Kris in the compartments, but there were sound reasons for her to do so besides keeping the kid from blowing it.

The Empire, with their chauvinist ways, rarely took women as conscripts. Of course, women who were known as Rebels were something else. Taryn didn't know if she'd been a Rebel long enough to be noticed, but she had no desire to find out, either.

Leila had left her comlink open, and Taryn heard, at lowest volume, her argument with a stormtrooper.

"No. I live alone here," Leila said, "Honestly, I don't know what you people think you're doing..."

"Planetary registry says a suspected Rebel ship put down near here," said the trooper's filtered tones, "Do you know anything about that?"

"No, nothing," said Leila, "I didn't even know a ship had landed."

The stormtrooper said, "Search the house. Bring anyone you find."

"You can't--"

"We are the Empire," said the stormtrooper, "We can do anything we want."

That's it, thought Taryn, now all we can do is hope they don't find the compartments. She shut her end of the comlink off.

To Kristoff, she whispered, "Don't even breathe."

He nodded eagerly, and hunched up a little tighter.

After several long, breathless moments, Leila heard the stormtroopers coming down through the basement.

She repeated silently, they're not gonna get me without a fight. That was the smuggler's creed, more or less. It was generally accepted by all who lived or had lived on the galaxy's fringe that they would go down eventually, but they would not go quietly.

The upside of that philosophy was that it often produced improbable or even outrageous victories over long odds. The downside was that putting up a fight could also get you killed more quickly.

Blaze of glory, Taryn thought, that's the way to go. But not today.

She heard the clatter of armored boots nearby. They came from her right, and before long, they were right above her.

Taryn held her breath. The stormtroopers stood over her, moved past...

Someone said, "Commander! Look here!"

Taryn cursed to herself. Kris whimpered softly.

In a moment, several pairs of hands were digging past the concealing panels. They pulled them off, reached the compartment lid...

Only one thing to do, Taryn thought, and she kicked both legs into the lid viciously, sending it flying and tripping up two stormtroopers who were still standing partially on it.

Taryn vaulted out of the compartment and rolled, coming up in a firing position. She put down two more stormtroopers before one grabbed her from behind.

Taryn elbowed him in the padding where two pieces of armor connected. He released his grip slightly, and Taryn used his own weight against him, an old self-defense technique coming into play as she tossed him over her shoulder.

Another trooper had his blaster leveled on her, and Taryn kicked it away. She then spun and ripped into him with a vicious high kick to the neck. He fell backwards, choking. Taryn moved in to finish him off...

One of the troopers who had stumbled shot from the hip. Blue stun waves consumed her, and Taryn fell.

The squad commander studied the prone body of the gray-haired woman, who had been stunned upon turning violent.

"We have at least one conscript here, sir," said his subordinate. One of the few who remained conscious. "What about the women?"

"Leave the older one," he said, "As for the younger one - you know Thrawn's rule about taking anyone useful. The way she made your squad look like amateurs, I'd say she qualifies. Bring her."

The remaining stormtroopers left the house, leaving Leila's body sprawled upon the floor, and bringing with them the stunned forms of Taryn Clancee and Kristoff Narr.

"No response from Lieutenant Clancee, sir." At the Nav/Comm station, a Twi'lek named Korb Weeilka, who had started out with Okel's security force, worked the controls in puzzlement.

"Raise the Planetary Control."

After a moment, the voice of a controller replied.

Garreth shifted forward in his chair. "This is Captain Mykel Garreth of the FREEDOM. I'm looking for--"

"You're with the Alliance?" The controller's voice at first sounded hopeful, but then she said, "Captain, you must leave this system at once."

"There are no patrols around," said Garreth, "When did Pollis become so loyal to the Empire?"

"When they starting punishing us for our disloyalty," said the controller. "Leave now."

"Understood," said Garreth. He touched a switch, and the audio-only comm line was cut.

He looked around his bridge. "I'm going down there. Volunteers?"

"I'm in, Captain," Sedra Covell said.

"I'm with you, too," said Rik Evverd, as he vaulted up from where he'd been standing next to Weeilka. "I owe Clancee."

"You are injured," rumbled the Wookiee Gaaraanzii from engineering. He indicated Evverd's broken wrist. "I will accompany the captain."

"Yeah, but I should..."

Gaar's voice was menacing even through his translator unit. "You doubt my ability to protect him?"

"No, it's just..."

"Rik," said Kerri Lynden from her place beside Garreth, "Learn to take a hint, huh?"

Evverd sighed. "Good luck."

Garreth nodded, and joined Sedra and Gaar at the lift. "That'll teach you to have the wrist bacta-dipped next time."

"Ugh," Evverd shuddered, "Bacta. Can't stand the stuff. It smells bad, it tastes bad... and you don't get any sick time."

"If the Imperials show," Garreth said to Kerri, "Get out of here. Don't wait for us."

"Yes, sir," she said, just before the lift doors closed Garreth off from his bridge.

The SLAVE I slipped past the planetary screens of Pollis. The natives were too busy recovering from a recent Imperial raid to pay much attention.

He was en route to Tattooine for an audience with His Almighty Slobberiness, Jabba the Hutt, when he'd received word from one of his numerous sources that Mykel Garreth was at Pollis, right on his route. The sight of the man's ship on his sensors had only confirmed Fett's data.

Boba Fett checked the charge on his various weapons, a time-consuming process. Just a formality, of course; his weapons were always charged.

Readiness was one of the things that made Boba Fett the galaxy's best bounty hunter.

As Mykel Garreth would soon learn.

Continued in Episode 5

R. John Burke

© 1998-1999 Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann