Luke stared up the gangway at the man and the woman, and despite his good intentions, he felt bile rising in his throat at the sight of them together.
He reasoned with himself briefly, knowing that she had said all that needed to be said the night before, and knowing too that he had been a child to think otherwise, and, of course, he was just a bit twitchy at the moment anyway. His gaze slid across the hangar to where Wedge stood, talking to two of the other officers. Without his knowing it, his mouth set itself into a hard and bitter line that did not suit his features one bit.
The slow chugging of the ships fuelling up, the metallic noises of last minute repairs and adjustments, and the anxious, excited shouts of the men and women around him receded in the red fog of his anger. Why, he asked himself, did she use me so? He realised that it was really a foolish thing to think in the end, remembering how he had treated Wedge, was I really any better? But he received no internal answer, only the desolate knowledge that, from now on, he would be quite alone again, and that it was all his own fault.
He scowled at Arla and Fett, looking for something to say to them to make his feelings felt. Then, all of a sudden, he realised.
Sneering slightly, he observed, “I am surprised to see you return, Boba Fett - as I see you are little changed.”
Fett did not react in any way that Luke could see; it was Arla who whipped round to regard him with a quizzical gaze.
“What do you mean?” she asked sharply; then, looking closer at him, she started a little at his vehement expression, and said, in a quieter voice, “what’s up with you?”
Luke’s sneer grew as he regarded her, waiting a few moments before saying in a tense, clipped voice, “it does not concern you. I’m sure Boba Fett knows of what I speak.”
He watched as her mouth dropped slightly, and she seemed to choke slightly; this, he found, amused him no end; and he made to turn away and leave them to it.
Arla, though, had found her voice again.
“What are you on about?” she said, surprise in her voice at his strange conduct, “what has Fett ever done to you?” She shook her head, wondering at his sudden mood change. “You were fine a minute ago, Luke -” she stopped, jumping slightly as Fett placed a hand on her arm.
He smiled at her glance of puzzlement, but, of course, she could not see that. He made a quiet resolution to change that, and soon. But, first, there was Luke to deal with - not to mention his old employer and his navy. Although it was slightly foolish, he tried to modulate his ruined voice to sound as fair as he supposed he should.
“Don’t worry, Arla. I do know of what he speaks,” then, turning away from her to face the younger man, he said, “Luke. In case it had escaped your notice, your city is being destroyed by Thrawn. I have come to a variety of decisions, which, in your current mood, I do not wish to share with you. But, now is not the time.”
Arla glanced backwards and forwards between the two of them, worry knawing at her as she felt the atmosphere between the two men disintegrate further. She saw Luke’s hand drift towards the lightsaber that was always on his belt. What’s wrong with Luke? she asked herself, Why is he being this way - I explained my feelings to him before - before - she glanced at the featureless, battered helmet that hid the face of the man she loved, what, she asked herself, biting at her lip, is he going to think of me, when he finds out about Luke and me? She dismissed the thought. Really, she thought, this is silly, we have a battle on our hands; we are wasting valuable time.
She was not, it seemed, the only person to think this. One of the orange clad fighters was tentatively approaching their little group, a worried expression visible on his face even at the distance he was from her. She could feel his distress and confusion - and some other unease she could not identify.
Now she was aware of his presence she was also slightly surprised to see that she recognised him. Naturally, it was Wedge. He was followed, a short distance behind, by a slight female figure, already helmeted and ready.
Wedge came up to them, hesitated, swallowed, then tapped Luke’s shoulder.
Luke, still intent on his glare at Fett, his hand fingering the lightsaber, jumped at Wedge’s touch. He spun round to see who had dared to interrupt his thoughts, meaning that the unfortunate Wedge received the brief, un-shuttered glare that had been previously turned to Fett and Arla. Not surprisingly, he recoiled.
Luke’s expression became barely more friendly when he realised who it was. In fact, he made as if to turn away again, and it was only by sheer forced will he managed to keep facing Wedge. He realised, belatedly, that Wedge would want him to come to his ship, as they would be leading the battle together. Thanks Ackbar, he thought, for roping us together - the battles bound to go down now. Still, he would have to be civil, or at least find another part of the battle to deal with. An entirely irrational wave of guilt washed over him as he glanced quickly over to Arla, who was standing with Fett watching them.
Wedge felt he ought to say something to stop the silence that was stretching out between them, but Luke’s expression was tying his tongue. He felt his mouth go dry as Luke continued to stare at him with a mixture of unease, and guilt. Why guilt? Wedge shook his head to clear his thoughts - there was a battle out there to be fought.
“Luke?” he said, and was immediately angry that his voice cracked half way through the name.
Luke said, “what?”
He’s deliberately making this difficult, thought Wedge, beginning to see red, doesn’t he understand? People are going to die if we argue! Can he really be so immature that he can’t see that? If only I didn’t - he stopped himself, no time for it, Wedge.
“Everyone is ready, Luke - we are just waiting for your word. We need to get out there before they start the assault from the ground, so . .” Innocent words, but they didn’t come out as nicely as he had planned, Wedge realised.
Luke tensed at his tone. He hates me, he thought, wondering why it should matter to him after what he’d said and done.
Wedge began to get a prickly sensation as he remembered, not for the first in the last few weeks, that Luke was the son of Darth Vader; and, remembering that, he also realised that Luke had all the powers of his dead father. He shivered slightly, but cranked his features into something he hoped resembled a smile anyway.
Luke licked his lips, and the real world he had lived for six years began to come back to him in a rush, seeming too real, too loud, after the small battle of wills he had been having, and he was ashamed to admit, losing, with Boba Fett. And Wedge. My friend, he thought with a hollow, achy feeling.
He looked out the waiting pilots, and wondered what he was doing. Fett and Arla were extremely accomplished pilots and warriors - they would be needed in this battle; and Arla had mentioned that Fett had known Thrawn years back - had worked for him.
He pulled a hand over his mouth, and tried to collect his thoughts, memories of the weeks before receding fast as the danger - the thrill - of the current situation began to kick in. He started to experience the familiar excitement at the thought of going into battle, and grinned suddenly at Wedge.
Who blinked, and began to tentatively return the smile, but was interrupted by Luke.
“Wedge - Commander Antilles, go ahead. It’s all yours - I have to talk to Arla and Boba Fett, but I’ll join you up there.”
Wedge frowned, then grimaced a little when he realised that command had just been passed to him. Well, he thought, if that’s the case . . .
“Then, Commander Skywalker, talk to them in space - we need to all get out if we want to let the ground weapons do their job effectively. I need you out now.”
Luke stared at Wedge in disbelief - Wedge was giving him an order! He felt absolutely flummoxed by it, and could only say, “uh, yeah, sure.”
He turned back to the bounty hunters, and called, trying to regain some of his dignity, “okay - you heard him - lets move, I’ll talk to you in a minute.”
Arla and Fett exchanged a glance.
“Okay, okay - we’ll be there,” said Arla, and hopped off the gangway and ran off to her own ship.
Fett ran back inside his ship and started the procedure to remove the Slave I, then raced into the smaller ship and slid into the cockpit just before it launched itself into space. He deftly avoided the streams of X and Y wings and headed out into the familiar open blackness of space to the almost strange feeling of being against the Imperials he had so often assisted.
Artoo beeped crossly at Luke as he drew the X-Wing away from the rest, and blocked out Wedge’s communications with his leaders, though not before he heard the soft voice of Gold Leader, and puzzled slightly as to who it was. He shrugged, thinking they must have changed the Leaders - last I heard, Dol never sounded like that!
“Yes, Artoo, I know, but I have to talk to Fett and Arla. I’ll join them again in a minute.”
Artoo burbled distractedly back him.
“Don’t worry about me, Artoo - I’m fine. That was just a - a temporary glitch. I was being silly, I know she’d never look at me again, not with him here. But, but that’s fine, that’s great. I’m happy for them -”
A deprecatory whistle.
“No, really, I am.” he frowned slightly, then muttered, “though if he doesn’t take the damned trash can off his head, I don’t know what they’ll do with each other.”
A series of knowing beeps.
“Artoo! That’s not funny.” he said, and tapped an audio link to both the bounty hunter’s ships.
On the bridge of the Grand Admiral’s Star Destroyer a worried looking man was staring intently at the six view screens that surrounded him. Although Thrawn was nowhere in sight, his newly assigned deputy took care not to do anything that might be construed out of place. He became aware of a presence behind him, although he had heard no one approach, and his back ruckled in a shiver. He turned, half expecting the black clad figure of Vader to be standing there.
The figure was certainly wearing black, but there the resemblance to Vader ended; Admiral Piett restrained the breath of relief from leaking out of his lips and saluted General P’Tui. She clicked her heels together briefly, and gave him a tight smile. Piett waited for her to speak, although he suspected he knew the subject matter all to well.
“Piett. Something must be done. He is still on the ship.”
Piett blinked in surprise, but caught himself before saying “what?”, and said, “who do you mean, General?” instead, in a calm and carefully modulated tone. He thought of her colleague - and lover, General Veers, and his faintly arrogant, but highly efficient manner, and made a conscious effort to emulate it.
But P’Tui was frowning at him.
“That idiot bounty hunter, of course -” her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, “I bet he’s in league with the rebels - just like those two who brought you to this damned ship.”
Piett swallowed, and glanced about him. The other officers and crew were apparently blithely going about their business and paying no attention to him. He didn’t believe it for a moment, but at least he wasn’t be overtly watched.
“I’m sure that the Grand Admiral is aware of his allegiances,” he said, pleased to hear his voice sounding normal, “and has it all in hand.” He was tempted to add, otherwise he wouldn’t be a Grand Admiral, would he? but, of course, he didn’t.
P’Tui punched her fist into her hand.
“I don’t understand his irrational liking for bounty hunters.”
“Maybe he doesn’t understand your hatred.” he bit back the word “irrational” from his own comment, and tried to bring the woman back into reality.
He pointed at the viewing screens which showed the swarm of rebel - or New Republic, as they styled themselves now - ships heading towards them. That was fine, that could be dealt with, he hoped.
They had just been teasing the city with small fire; but the Ruiner had lots more tricks up its sleeve. It was not the little fighters - even now, his TIE fighters were rushing out to meet them. However, there were several ships which were not rebel standard fighters, but personalised battle ships.
One he remembered very particularly, having spent a long time in its hull, somewhere between unconsciousness and the waking world. He knew he would not forget that ship in a hurry. The other, flying upright and close to the green ship, had also been there when he had been captured, but he remembered it too, on the Executor, his long gone, much lamented Super Star Destroyer.
He shook his head, as the image of Vader flitted back through his mind. Pursing his lips, he quashed the sudden thought that he had actually preferred working under Vader, than under this upstart Grand Admiral.
He shook his head, thinking how silly, of course Thrawn is a better officer - if he wants to strangle me, he would have to use his actual hands, or order someone to do it for him . . that has to be in his favour. But still . . .
He snapped his head up, horribly aware that his arm was still randomly pointing at the viewscreen and that his mouth had dropped open. He closed it quickly, and swallowed, trying to be discreet, but knowing his Adam’s Apple was moving up and down for all the world to see.
The General was staring at him as if he was slightly touched. Perhaps, he thought, he was. He cleared his throat, and tried to get his thoughts back onto the battle again.
“Admiral,” said P’Tui, in a cool, flat voice, “do you have any idea, any idea at all, why those two horrible people are heading towards us?”
Horrifyingly, he heard himself say, “I imagine they are attacking us, General.”
Her eyes widened at his sarcasm,
“Yes, Admiral, thank you.” she gave a sharp sigh, “As you are well aware, that is not what I - oh shit.”
Piett’s gaze whipped back to the screens, and groaned, “they’ve cloaked -”
“They can’t have done! Their ships are far too small!”
Piett was shaking his head madly, remembering Captain Needa’s near fatal mistake.
“No, no - they can cloak. And to answer your earlier question, I have no idea at all what they are doing. Thrawn has not seen fit to tell me - and now I see he has not told you anything either, maybe -”
“Maybe what, Admiral Piett?”
A thrill of horror rushed down Piett’s back, at the quiet, chill voice behind him. He span around again, and his mouth dried instantly, causing him to swallow convulsively. For one endless moment he thought he was back on the Executor and that he was being strangled; but then he whooped a breath back, and started breathing again.
He was aware of sweat trickling down his face, under the stiff collar of his jacket as he met the red, glowing eyes of his white clad superior.
“I am waiting. Admiral.”
Piett glanced about, but found no support there, for the General had somehow slid away into the background, and was talking quietly, pointedly, to another officer. Others on the bridge were suddenly working hard at their attacks and strategies - things he should have been planning for them.
He swallowed - again.
“I - I meant nothing, sir - I was just - uh - just -”
“I believe,” said Thrawn, his head tipped slightly to one side as he observed his frightened officer, “it is called insubordination. And that, however slight, is not be allowed on my Fleet. It might have been on Vader’s - he was, perhaps, a more forgiving man than I.” There was a pause, as all hands on deck were stilled just for a moment, then hastily, work was resumed; “But that is the way of the Jedi, I fear.” mused Thrawn. “It is not my way. I have suspected insubordination in you from the start, Piett; it was only your skills that kept you here.”
Guards stepped from behind him, blasters at the ready, their white armour an echo only of the gleaming brightness of Thrawn’s uniform.
A muscle twitched in Piett’s face, then twitched again. He licked his lips, and took an involuntary step backwards.
“But -” his throat was so dry that the word had to be forced through it, “I -” then he felt the blood rush to his head, and the words that he had longed to say ever since he had been brought onto the ship, the words he had run through his head every night before he dropped into fitful sleep, those words poured from his mouth. “It is not surprising that I should not wish to be here, considering how I was brought. I doubt that Vader was any more forgiving, but at least he had something that resembled honour - and, despite the perils” and the fear, the ever nagging fear, “it was an honour to work for him. You have had to steal your officers, and you give your trust to bounty hunters rather than to us. I should have rather joined the rebels -”
“Enough.” The half smile that Thrawn had worn throughout the little speech abruptly dropped off his face. “Perhaps you will join them - in death.”
He turned away and began to walk down the bridge, but his voice was still fully audible even halfway down the long central corridor.
“But not yet. First we remove the rebels you like so much, then you may die. Take him to the holding bays.”
As he was marched smartly away, Piett marvelled to himself that, yet again, against the odds, he was still alive.
Close by, Luke’s X-Wing cruised back towards the others, and the man inside it was blissfully unaware of the excitements on the nearest Star Destroyer, or anything much else except his own anger. Luke flipped the switches that should have got him the link one last time, and hissed back at the white noise he heard. He stabbed at the keys before him, searching for the bounty hunters, cutting into various conversations and commands, which he ignored. Finally, after a lot of searching, he heard the harsh grating of Fett’s voice in his ears;
“ - feel that way, too.”
Luke sucked his breath in, irritated - how could they discuss their relationship at this time, he thought, and sat back to listen.
“But what can we do?” this was Arla, he voice sharp with displeasure, “Luke - and Firelord knows what’s up with him -”
“He fancies you - we are not discussing Luke, Arla.”
Luke almost snarled at Fett’s flippant comment, but managed to keep it down. Arla’s voice, when it came, was, even over the none too clear link, hesitant and nervy.
“Um. No. Ah, anyway, we should return to the formations - Han is there.”
“I’m sure I’m right. And you agreed. So we must go after them - there’s no time for anything else. I’ve locked into their trajectory, and -”
“What? What’s up?”
“Fett, someone is tapping our link . . .”
Silence, and Luke held his breath, not daring to end the link now.
“Yes, so I see. It’s Luke.”
“What! Oh lord. Fuck off, Luke - this is a private transmission.”
Luke almost choked.
“Yeah? Well, perhaps you should be thinking about the battle, and not your love life.”
Again there was silence, then Arla said, “unbelievable - that’s really what you think we were -”
“Arla, there is no time. Forget it - and lock onto to me, I’m going to cloak.”
The link went dead, leaving Luke feeling puzzled, and slightly stupid. Something about the conversation floated just out his reach, but he could not identify it, and Artoo’s incessant beeping was not helping. Then, it struck him.
“Oh no.” He threw a link out to Wedge. “Commander, we have a problem. Fett and Arla have cloaked - and they could be anywhere.”
“Oh, thank you so much. Red Leader, Gold Leader, you heard?”
“Yes,” came that soft voice that now had to be identified as Gold Leader.
“Allow for it.”
As Luke was closing down his transmission to Wedge and rejoining the squadrons, so the small cloaked vessels trailed the slightly larger ship towards the Star Destroyer. Fett and Arla had closed down all the links and concentrated on the yellow and orange ship that hazily flipped in and out of the ranges of their viewscreens.
Fett, although angry, couldn’t help but admire their technology. His devices would have picked up a cloaked pebble if it were floating through space, and yet he could hardly make out the Chandrilan’s ship. As they approached the Destroyer, it became apparent to him that the smugglers were going to go into the larger vessel. He sighed, and tentatively sent out a message to Arla.
“They’re going in” he stated, in case she hadn’t seen it.
“I see it - how are we going to follow?”
“Can you remember a code if I think it at you?”
“I think I can manage that - let’s see!”
The ships slid into the holding bays after the other ship. Surprisingly, the holding bay Fett and Arla went into was deserted apart from a few cleaning droids and their orderlies, who were fussing about the few ships left in the area.
Arla realised with a jolt that the reason for all the empty spaces was that all the TIE fighters were out - attacking those who had become her friends. She drew a ragged breath, hoping that Fett was right to come tearing off after Mon Silva and her brother rather than going with the attack. But, there was no time to dwell on their decision, as they had to find the two Chandrilans and stop whatever they were up to - or at least that is what she assumed was Fett’s plan, if, she thought wryly, if he had a plan at all.
Poor man, the minute he arrived back on Coruscant to be thrown straight into this stupid encounter; but then, she thought to herself, her mouth taking a more bitter twist, he didn’t have to leave in the first place, after all.
She jumped at the harsh imperative in her mind, and glanced out of the ship to see that Fett was already out of his ship and was heading rapidly towards her ship. She sighed, and eased herself out of the vessel to jump down to Fett’s side. She reached out and touched his hand when she stood beside him, and to her surprise, he caught hers and squeezed it. She shot him a confused glance when he let go, and swallowed, thinking about the danger of their being on this Destroyer, praying in her mind that they got out of this alive.
She could sense that there were people nearby, probably heading in their direction, and she hoped again that Fett knew what he was doing. She heaved a deep sigh at Fett’s continued mental urgings, now without words, for her to follow him. She followed though, and soon caught up with him.
They advanced down the corridor, again suspiciously empty, even though she could sense that there were people around - in the lift shafts perhaps, in rooms that backed onto the corridor - or maybe waiting around the next corner to kill them. Arla thought desperately, and I can’t die now, not now, not with so much at stake now, as she scurried after the man who was causing this worry; before, she hadn’t really cared, but now, now it was a different story. Fett, however, strode confidently, as if he knew he would be received well. She felt a twinge of worry - after all, she had no idea where he had been during those two or three weeks he had been away, but she soon dismissed it. She had to trust him, whatever he was doing, even if it meant going back over to the Imperials, didn’t she? She shivered, thinking of her friends back on Coruscant, and out in the vacuum of space, and knew she couldn’t really betray her friends. She sent a tentative touch to Fett, tinged with her concern, and received an immediate and irritated response.
“Don’t be so silly - and, please, Arla, I’m concentrating.”
They turned a corner, and the reason for his concentration became apparent. A guard patrolled up and down a small patch of floor, in front of a door. He was obviously lost deep in thought, for he did not immediately notice them. Now she was aware of it, Arla could sense that Fett was manipulating the man’s thoughts somewhat, to keep him from seeing them. She quickly damped her presence down as far as she could, so as not to interfere with what he was doing; with a slightly guilty start, that she must have been manifesting her aura to all and sundry, and in her worry, forgetting all of Luke’s - that shit, she thought - teachings on such matters. Some Jedi you’ll be, she thought to herself with some irony.
Eventually, the guard looked up, and even took a small step backwards, away from them. Fett walked straight up to him and the guard stepped back a little more. Fett said nothing, but just waited.
“Wh -Who goes here?” tried the guard, uncertainty apparent in his voice and stance.
There was a small pause, and Arla got the distinct impression that Fett was gathering his thoughts.
“I think you know who we are. We are no threat.” he said in a curious, flat voice, surprising himself as he realised just how much he sounded like the young Skywalker had sounded in Jabba’s palace, but, he permitted himself to think, with more success as the young guard echoed his words back at him.
“You should open the door.”
And the door was opened; Fett and Arla stepped through before he could change his mind. But Arla was horrified to see that instead of clearing out of there as fast as was reasonable, Fett had turned back to the young man and was continuing their “conversation”.
“It is the two who passed through here a few minutes ago who are the threat,” he was saying, “you should notify your colleagues that there are two dangerous bounty hunters at large on the ship,” and he proceeded to give a startlingly accurate description of Mon Silva and Mar Garno to the guard, who was already switching on his comm-link as Fett reassured him that they had been assigned to help clear up the mess. Then he moved on, taking her with him, as Arla tried not to emanate her confusion - and admiration - and indeed, amusement at his audacity.
Further down the other end of the corridor from they had just come, another figure came out of his concealment, and crept back into the holding bay. It was with a certain amount of glee that he set to his work, although you could not see it on his set and impassive face.
“I tell you the Grand Admiral is expecting me!”
Arla grinned at hearing the imperious, angry male voice, seemingly just around the corner. She grinned even more at the muffled thuds - then groans unmistakably in Mar Garno’s aristocratic tones. If she strained her ears, she could hear a small whimpering, sobbing sound - female this time, and supposed it had to be Mon Silva.
Another voice was heard then, gruff and satisfied.
“The Grand Admiral is going to be very pleased with us, lads - can’t have bounty hunters just running free on the ship now can we, eh?”
Fett motioned her to stop, just as they got to the corner, and he hefted his blaster to the ready. She put out a hand to stay him just before he advanced around the corner into the small knot of consciousnesses that she sensed were there.
“Fett? Are you sure about this? You are very - ah - distinctive looking in that get-up. Don’t you think that the stormtroopers might recognise you?”
“Arla, please, just trust me. I want the sergeant to recognise me. Thrawn is famous for not letting anyone know his plans until the very last minute, and I recognise the voice of the officer in charge here. Remember I worked for Thrawn once, and just trust me.” Then the mind voice was tinged with apology, “Arla, I’m sorry - I don’t mean to take charge like this, but I know Thrawn and those two,” anger and just a little bitterness, “bastards. And there is a lot you don’t know - it’s all happened too fast for me to explain, but they are not just spice runners, not at all. And now we are going in, just let me do the talking, for now.”
She glared at his back for a moment, then shrugged and followed him around the corner.
This revealed that they had come into a more open area, at the intersection of several corridors and some lift shafts. Arla felt a twinge of unease at the unprotected location of this encounter, especially the lifts. She briefly considered taking out the controls with her blaster, but knew that would only draw attention to them in an unfavourable way. She was aware that Fett was still acting the part of Garno, who himself now lay sprawled in front of them, sullen faced and broken lipped, and Fett needed her to look assured and relaxed. She tried, and focused her attention on the small group in front of her.
The Chandrilan siblings were being held by two stormtroopers each; Silva looking as if she was halfway to losing her mind with her slack-jawed, slumped attitude, but Garno was staring at them in some shock, albeit through two charming, fresh, black eyes. When Fett advanced on the little group to speak with the trooper who was overseeing the operation, he ran his tongue over his bloodied lip, and his eyes flicked from side to side as if looking for an escape route. The two stormtroopers that held him must have sensed a movement, and shifted to hold him all the more tightly.
“Well done!” said Fett, looking directly at the lead stormtrooper. “Sergeant Coras, it’s good to see you after all these years.” He looked around at them all. “I’ll be taking over from here, at the Grand Admiral’s request. I’ll make sure that you receive recognition for your exemplary work here, Sergeant.”
There was a small silence, as everyone took in his words, his confident, easy manner.
Then, “Boba Fett?” said the sergeant, in shocked tones. “What are you doing here? Does the Grand Admiral know -”
“Of course. He knows I need little - assistance in such matters. As do you.”
Arla felt the sergeant’s distress and confusion dissipate under Fett’s persuasion, but he was obviously quite a strong minded man as he turned to her, and twitched his blaster in her direction.
“What about the woman?” he asked.
Fett turned and looked at Arla, as if only just realising she was there, but there was just a tiny touch of warmth in his voice as he said, “she’s my partner.”
The sergeant nodded.
“Okay, men, everyone back to their posts -”
“No!” finally Mar Garno spoke up, his words tumbling over each other in his hurry to get them out, “what are you doing? They are the ones you want! Not us - the Grand Admiral called us - oof!”
His outburst was effectively silenced as one of the stormtroopers, after a nod from his superior, gave Garno a hefty kick in the stomach. Garno began to gag unsuccessfully, and across the way his sister began to moan softly.
“I’m sorry about that, Boba Fett. We’ll leave you to it now,” said sergeant Coras, as Fett came forward to take hold of Garno, whose eyes swivelled round to look at the blaster that Fett now held at his temple.
Arla moved forward to take the slack form of Mon Silva, who didn’t even look up at her captor, any more than she had at the two previous ones. She continued the moaning, however.
As soon as the stormtroopers had gone out of earshot, Fett breathed sigh of relief. Despite his words to Arla, he had had little confidence that his hastily cobbled together - well, it would be an injustice to plans to call it one of those - idea, and had almost given up and gone back to his ship when he had realised that he knew the sergeant from his time as part of Thrawn’s fleet. But, nevertheless, it appeared to have worked, and the two traitors were in his grasp.
“Well, thank God for that.” he said out loud. “Lets get these two out of this, ah, rather public area.”
“My feelings exactly,” said Arla in a tight voice, as she glanced at the lifts and saw to her extreme irritation that one of them showed signs of being in use. Fett followed her gaze, and swore quietly under his breath as the light continued to travel downward towards the docking levels.
“Arla,” he said, “you have more experience in this than me - and I have my hands full here,” he indicated the struggling Garno with a curt nod, “are any of the rooms off these corridors likely to be unoccupied?”
Frowning in concentration, Arla looked around, and tried to remember what her various blueprints of these vast ships said about the lower levels where much of the maintenance of the ship took place. She took in the grubby, scuffed floor and the cold metal walls on which the only decorations were the control panels for each door, and a small food and drinks hatch slightly to the left of the lifts. Her gaze was drawn back to the lifts again, and she bit her lip as the light approached the floor she thought they were on.
“I think if we head down that way,” she indicated the final corridor to the right, “we should hit some storage rooms that should be empty - or just have droids in, anyhow.”
They moved smartly away from the lift shafts and had just shut themselves in a room a short way down the corridor when the light changed colour on the lift.
The doors creaked open to release a figure, who stepped with an assured and easy tread into the landing, checked a small device, smiled and then sat down on the hard, grey floor, humming slightly as he waited. The device showed a flickering red line pointing straight in the direction that Fett and Arla had taken.
The figure amused himself by checking the status of his blaster, then checking the various other gadgets he had secreted about his person.
It was a cry so full of anguish and pain that anyone listening would have rushed to his assistance, but the only sound that could be heard after his cry was the similarly agonised wail of Luke’s distressed droid, and the hiss of a severed, useless link to a ship that was no longer there.
Luke stared out into the battle, tears already blurring his view of the ships that seemed to dance mockingly in front of his eyes.
“No,” he murmured it this time, his voice thick with the pressure of his as yet unshed tears, and his throat hoarse and sore from his scream of moments ago, “no.”
As he watched, the parts of the little X-Wing which had once contained his friend floated around the other ships that had come in to take its place, just as he was doing.
He looked up in startlement and misery as a small part clinked against his own ship, then drifted off again into the melee.
Eventually, he knew, some of it might get into the atmosphere of Coruscant, and, if it survived that, it might come down onto the planet; but that was the most that could be hoped for.
The control panel in front of him had lit up immediately the ship had gone up, and was angry with its little flashing red lights; Luke stared dull eyed at it, then, his body going into automatic, he flipped the switch that would open up the link to all the ships that had suddenly contacted him.
“Oh, Wedge, no,” he whispered he did so, then let the cacophony of clamouring voices rush into his ears.
“Commander! What should we -?”
“Help! Our formation -”
“Sir! Please do something to stop -”
“What are your orders -?”
Listening to the voices, Luke rubbed a gloved hand across his helmeted visage and stifled a groan. A quick glance at the battle showed him the worst, with TIE fighters in much larger numbers and better positions than the Republic ships. Now, he knew, he would have to take control of this sector of battle, and try to get as many people alive out of his situation as possible. The pilot in the TIE fighter that had taken out Wedge must have been cheering by this time, when he saw the chaos he had created with that one fatal shot.
He broadcast his voice on all Republic frequencies, “I will take Commander Antilles position. Gold Leader, please take my place. Red Leader, you have control over both your squadron, and also Gold from now on. Resume battle formation as we were. And finally, no more panic; we cannot win unless our minds our calm and concentrated.”
Even though his own mind was screaming anguish at his friends death, Luke tried to radiate waves of calm and reassurance out to what were now his ships as he cruised into Wedge’s former position.
After a moment, the unhappy, dour voice of Red Leader said, “yes, sir.”
It was closely followed by the slightly hesitant, soft voice of Gold Leader, “in position, sir.”
Hugging his hurt close to himself, and fighting the desire to curl up in a little ball and howl at the injustice of it all, Luke led his groups into a further attack against the TIEs. He sensed the anger of his people, sensed they wished now to annihilate the Imperials; but he was unable to think this wrong, despite his knowledge that such anger could only lead to fatal mistakes.
After all, what could he say?
He felt exactly the same way.
Garno crashed into a stack of buckets and mops as the automatic lights sputtered on at the violent movement. He shouted his pain as loudly as he could, in the vain hope that it might bring someone to his rescue, and Boba Fett’s demise. There was a tense silence as three of the four people in the room waited to see if that would happen, but, to the intense relief of two of them, no one came.
Mon Silva was the first to move, as she crawled to where her brother was pulling himself upright among the cleaning implements, and clung to his arm as she stared wide eyed at their captors.
“Unbelievable.” said Arla, her voice almost quivering with anger. “Absolutely unbelievable. How could you have betrayed Han in this way.”
Garno laughed, again loudly.
“You would have done the same, no doubt, Arla Gen, in my situation. I was offered half a million credits just for a easy little piece of information dealing - would you say no to that, huh?”
Arla closed her eyes, thinking about the money. Thrawn might have contacted her too, if he’d known her old friendship with Han, to see if she’d have betrayed him and his friends. But the bounty had been higher for him when both Vader and Jabba had wanted him, and she had not taken the bait even then. All the bounties she had collected ran through her mind, and she thought of the friends and families that had been left behind when a death was involved. Then she thought of all those who would die and leave loved ones behind in the battle raging outside of this Star Destroyer. She swallowed and shook her head.
As if to echo her thoughts, there was a loud crash from up above them somewhere, and the room juddered at what was no doubt impact sustained by the ship from one of her friend’s ships. More cleaning stuff fell off shelves and clattered about by their feet. Mon Silva looked up, at last, and gazed with surprise and something that looked like hope at the two bounty hunters. She looked as if she might have spoken, but Fett got there before she could even open her mouth.
“It doesn’t matter what we might have done. Solo knows you as spice runners, not as spies, and they all know us as bounty hunters. We are never trusted. I suppose you think yourselves so clever, working solely in the Unknown Regions so that people did not suspect, but, it seems you were wrong. Those on Coruscant, if they found out your duplicity, might be lenient with you as they are nice people. We are not, and you will not be leaving this,” he glanced about, feeling faintly foolish, “this storage room alive.”
“No!” That was Mon Silva, who seemed fully alert now, her eyes full of fear “No! That is not fair, Boba Fett.” She gave her brother an unreadable glance and licked her lips before turning back to Fett with a look of defiance, “I had no part in this, you must believe me. It was my brother who contacted the Imperials - I - I knew nothing of it until this morning.” She gasped as Fett raised his blaster. “Please, you must believe me, you must - ah!” She gasped again as Fett advanced on her and held the blaster under her chin.
“You expect me to believe that,” he said in a quiet voice.
“You do everything else together, I’ve heard, why not the betrayal of an old of an friend,” butted in Arla, in a drawling voice.
“Arla. . . .” warned Fett, raising his blaster and shooting Garno through the head.
Silva screamed, a high, piercing sound as her brother slowly crumpled to the floor.
“Firelord.” breathed Arla as the last sparks sputtered away. She flashed a glance at Fett, but, of course, she could not read his expression. “Why the fuck did you do that?”
“Sergeant Coras is more of a fool than I remembered him to be; no wonder he was never promoted. He didn’t fully disarm them. The Mar had a thermal detonator. I stopped him from detonating it.”
“Fett! You could have disarmed it with a thought! Why did you kill him?”
Fett looked away, and sighed. He thought of Vader’s last words to him, and wondered whether he had just used his anger well. Somehow he doubted it. Still, it was done now, and Garno would have died anyway, either by his hand or by Thrawn’s.
“Fett!” Arla was angry now, he could tell, and Mon Silva was keening over her brother’s corpse. He closed his eyes and tried to let calm flood his mind. “FETT!”
“Don’t you ‘Arla’ me. Why did you shoot him? Are you going to shoot her as well - even though she says she knew nothing? Maybe you’d like to shoot me too, after all, I could be a traitor too!”
“Shut up!” Fett turned back to her and waved the blaster in her face. “God knows why I came back - you are just as bad. He’s dead, okay? He deserved to die - how many have you killed that didn’t?”
“Don’t you fling it back at me - I’ve done nothing wrong here -”
Arla was interrupted by a thin wailing sound, and whipped around to look.
Mon Silva was pulling herself to her feet, her hands and her white flight suit soaked in blood, not all of it her brother’s, as her face was torn and ripped. Arla felt bile rising as she saw that there were little thin strips of skin under Silva’s fingernails where she had rent the flesh of her face in her grief. Tears mixed with the blood and dirt on her face so she looked almost inhuman and wild.
“Why?” she panted, the words forced out between sobs, “why - did - you - kill - him? Why?” That last word was stretched out into a wail so high pitched that even she had to cover her ears at it.
Fett opened his mouth to speak, but found he had nothing to say; he closed it again, and swallowed heavily as she took a step towards him, stumbling over something as she did so. Fett caught himself taking an involuntary step backwards and crashed up against the door. At the sound, Silva crouched away from him, her eyes furtive, and Arla could see, by now quite mad. She flipped her lightsaber into her hand just in case the older woman tried anything, but all that happened was that she began to speak.
“He told me nothing, no he didn’t, not a word. He lied to me - just wanted to help Han I said - he said yes, we’ll help Han - he said Empire was finished and we’d get no more from them - not like when we were against you Boba Fett - against Thrawn. We fought against Thrawn once and now my brother is dead - dead - your fault - what will I do? - he told me nothing, nothing - he lied to me but he was brother - what could I do - he was my brother - we were - we were together in everything, you wouldn’t understand - no - he was my brother but I wanted to help Han, help him, but he was my brother and - and now - now he’s dead - he lied to me, didn’t he? Didn’t he?” She screamed out that last, then crumpled into a heap again at Fett’s feet, sobbing and muttering incoherently.
They both stared at her for what seemed to Arla an age.
She said, “I don’t think she knew about Mar Garno’s plans.”
She heard Fett swallow, then draw a deep breath.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, in a rather shaky voice.
“And leave her here?” Arla’s tone was faintly condemning.
“Yes. She didn’t have to come with him. And their ship is still in a cargo hold nearby, no doubt - if she wants to leave, she will. I have no doubt at all that she would try to kill us -”
“Us - she’s no longer in sound mind. Oh, come on, let’s go.”
Arla rubbed her palm against her forehead, and sighed. She knew he was right.
“Okay,” she said, as Fett pushed the button to open the door, “Lets get back to the ship -”
A voice, somewhat familiar, said, “I don’t think so. Sorry, darling, but you are expendable.”
She looked up and saw Dengar standing on the other side of the door, his blaster at the ready.
Before she could even think of what to do, he fired the weapon at point blank range straight at her head.
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