It was barely light, streaks of red dawn light still in the sky, as Luke took off into the early morning air in a small carrier vessel to collect his charges. Part of him was slightly amused at the idea of collecting bounty hunters, but most of his thought was focused on the day's events, the mini trial in particular. He supposed he should have gone to see Mon Mothma and find out the state of the other Mon, but somehow he hadn't been able to get the enthusiasm together. And then there were the sneaky feelings of guilt, that he had abandoned his post, had let the side down. He didn't really feel like talking to those who really were doing something to help Coruscant and the New Republic.
After all, what had he really done? Blown up some Imperial bases and ships, and helped his father kill the Emperor. Wonderful, what an excellent track record.
Oh yes, and he had trained two bounty hunters to be Jedi Knights, only to have them - perhaps - go over to the Imperials and sell them secrets, and kill one of the New Republic's people. Fabulous.
He slumped down over his controls and began to slide into a black cloud of gloom. Then his head snapped up, and he grinned to himself. What, he asked himself, were the smugglers doing on the Star Destroyer anyway - and why has no one asked that question before? Of course his bounty hunters were telling the truth. There was no reason at all for the smugglers to be where they were. Luke felt a great load lift off his mind and settled back to enjoy the ride.
Eventually, he left the city behind and cruised over the wasteland heaths pockets that were all that remained of the landscape of Coruscant. There were isolated farmsteads, and even some small villages, and he wondered at the existence of the people of lived there. On Tatooine, he had been aware of the small centres of habitation such as Mos Eisley, but really, most of the planet was uninhabitable aside from the small area around where he had lived. Imagine living, though, he thought, on a planet that is virtually all city, but living on a steading. It must be a grim existence, he reasoned. He checked his co-ordinates and pulled the little craft up to a slower speed. Wasn't far now, he thought, scanning the areas for life readings. After a couple of minutes, two obligingly came up - his two bounty hunters. He started to land a little way off from them, and was soon hopping onto the long, dry grass to look for them on the ground.
He soon found the crash site, and boggled briefly at the number of small fragments that were scattered around him. As he walked along he would bend down and pick up the occasional piece; some made him frown, and some he recognised, made him chuckle a little under his breath. Boba Fett had had some very complex and up to date weaponry on his little, seemingly outdated ship. Grinning, Luke realised that it would cost his pupil a lot of money to replace what he had lost in this crash. Again he wondered why the crash had happened. Fett had always seemed a very careful person, who never did anything rashly or in a hurry.
He felt a brief rush of what was almost panic - what have I done? He wondered, have I upset something very basic in his personality - I haven't, well, unbalanced him, have I? He sighed, and started to pull the seeds off the grass as he went by, until he had a large handful of the little green and purple things; he opened his hand and turned to scatter them, but they just fell from his hand.
Afterwards, he was very glad he had seen it first, otherwise the shock might just have been too, well, shocking. Brushing a few stray seeds from his hands as he went, he hurried over to the apparition and was mildly surprised when it did not disappear when he reached out to touch it. However, it was very real under his fingers, the metal cool and still covered with a faint coating of dew, even though the sun was beginning to come into force for the day. He traced his fingers across it in wonder, leaving thin smears that revealed the true grey and green under his touch.
"Oh my," he breathed, hefting the helmet into his hands and staring at it stupidly, trying to get into his head the ramifications of the abandoned thing. Absently, he dried it with his sleeve, and looked around to see if he could see its owner.
A scarcely glimpsed flash of blue caught his eye, and looking closer, he could just make out what he assumed to be the red sprawl of Arla's hair. A few quiet paces in that direction confirmed his supposition, showing a small clearing with a dead fire, one neat pile of clothes and a heap beside it, and a sleeping bag containing two figures, both apparently still fast asleep.
One was familiar, her red hair moving slightly in the breeze, and at her own breathing, but the other, well, if it were not for the helmet he held clutched in his hand, and the instantly recognisable pile of folded clothes and armour, he would have had no idea who the man was. As it was, most of his face was obscured, as it was buried in the thick mass of Arla's hair, Fett being curled around the woman, one arm intimately thrown over her, which even in sleep she still held onto. Luke became aware that his mouth was hanging open; he closed it quickly. It had obviously been an exciting night for all concerned , he thought, his lips pursing with something that was almost irritation, but somehow fell short. Various emotions flicked through his mind - jealousy, envy, even a small amount of anger, after all Arla had been curled up with him the night before, fleeting though that pleasure had been, but most of all, the overriding emotion was a sense of regret and resignation.
Always, he thought, other people get together - even someone as unlikely as Boba Fett - and I am left in the sidelines, still waiting. Not that I thought I stood a chance with someone like Arla. But, but. However, curiosity was beginning to get the better of him and he edged closer to the couple to try and take a peek at the man who had hidden himself for so long. As he did so, he mood flipped from anger to a queer feeling of joy. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, I had a hand in this. If he had not come to me, perhaps this would have not happened, perhaps he would be still working for the forces of darkness, against even himself in the end. Maybe I have actually managed to do at least a little bit of good here.
He glanced for a moment at Arla, the beatific expression on her face tugging a smile in response, and contrasted the sobbing woman of just two nights ago, and the cold, bitter expression she had worn just yesterday before her Boba Fett had returned to her.
At that point, Fett rolled slightly away from the woman and groaned. A shaft of sunlight emerged from behind a cloud and tracked across his face. Luke took in the fine, straight brows, sharp nose and hard mouth, scrunched up at the unwelcome sunlight shining on his face. He also observed the scar that ran down the side of his face into his neck, and, apparently, under his shirt to his chest. And the claw-like slashes on his forehead, pale and thin though these scars were. His lips pursed.
He leaned further forward to get a better look, and a twig broke with a loud snap under the extra pressure. Fett’s eyes snapped open in turn, and Luke gasped and took an involuntarily stepped back.
“You’ve got yellow eyes!” he blurted before he could stop himself, then clapped a hand over his mouth in embarrassment, and felt himself flush deep red.
Fett observed him with no rancour, or even surprise. He yawned, displaying good teeth, then said, in a flat voice, “Luke.”
The man in question smiled inanely at Fett’s steady yellow gaze, wondering at the fact that Fett’s voice was virtually the same as it was with the helmet, still just as harsh and rasping. He had thought it a part of his disguise, bounty hunters often used disguisers to well, mask, their true voices. As he mused, the sun went in behind a cloud again, and the other man’s eye-colour became a more normal brown, causing Luke to shake his head slightly in confusion. He tried to think of something intelligent to say, but the very fact that he was looking, actually looking, into Boba Fett’s eyes was beginning to overtake him. He took a deep breath.
“You took your mask - I mean, your helmet, off,” he stated, feeling faintly stupid for saying it, but nonetheless feeling it had to be said.
Fett sighed, and a shadow fell across his face that was almost regret, but it only lasted a moment. Luke rejoiced to see it, though, for it showed the man was human after all.
“I think you were right first time,” said Fett, a half smile curving his mouth, “mask is the right word.” There was a pause, then he said, “I’ll wake Arla - she’s sleeping very soundly -” as he gazed at her his face lit up with joy, but it clouded again as he looked back to Luke again. “I suppose that you want to take us back to put us on trial,” he grated.
“I - no - I -” he began, but stopped as he saw that Fett’s attention was elsewhere. Awkwardly he shifted from foot to foot, suddenly aware that he was probably breaking a very intimate moment simply by his being there.
Fett gazed at Arla’s sleeping form a long moment before gently, almost tentatively shaking her shoulder to wake her. He was very aware of Luke standing only a few feet away, radiating unease, and was irritated by his presence even as he silently thanked him for returning to collect them so promptly. Arla did not respond to his mild shaking, so he shook a little harder, not daring to even tickle her awake thanks to Luke’s presence.
She curled up involuntarily, against his touch, and mumbled unintelligibly, then rolled over into his arms.
“Mmm,” she said, and blinked her eyes open and stared woozily at Fett. As she realised where she was and, more importantly, who she was with, a smile broke on her face and she kissed him. He pushed her away after a moments warm response, and answered the puzzled hurt in her eyes by nodding over her shoulder. She glanced in that direction and met Luke’s uncertain, embarrassed gaze. She shot him an angry glare.
Flinching away from the vehemence of Arla’s anger, Luke wished he had not got out of bed that morning. He was not even slightly welcome here, he realised, with bitter rush of unhappiness that brought the taste of bile to his mouth.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” spat Arla at him, causing him to flinch again.
He opened his mouth to reply, feeling tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, but Fett had laid a hand on her arm and said, “don’t be angry, Arla, it doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of time for - for whatever we want. Luke has come to take us back to Coruscant - we’ve slept very heavily, he couldn’t help finding us still asleep.”
Arla looked bullish for a moment longer, then sighed and nodded.
“Still,” she said, in a soft, regretful, voice, stroking his cheek.
“Still,” agreed Fett, smiling tenderly down at her.
Luke cleared his throat.
“Ahem,” he began, “I don’t want to interrupt anything, but we do have to get back to the city. The suns are fully up now and I have to get you back to face Mon Silva’s accusations. You don’t really have to worry. I believe you -”
“Is that supposed to make us feel better?” Arla shot at him.
“Arla,” admonished Fett.
Luke took another deep breath.
“And I don’t think that it will take long to convince the others. But we should go. The battle between us and Thrawn continues as we speak. We need any information you might have, so please, gather your stuff together and come back with me.”
“Oh God, it feels good to be clean.”
Fett ran his fingers through hair that proved, once clean, to be dark brown and wavy, as if couldn’t quite believe it was clean at last. Although it wasn’t actually that long ago since he had last showered, he had felt as if he had been through the twenty hells when they had arrived back on Coruscant.
Although his comment hadn’t been made to anyone specific, after a few moments Arla responded affirmatively anyway.
“Damn straight. Putting that flight suit on covered with those idiots blood - ugh.”
Fett watched her as she turned about in the cubicle, her hair waving in long snake like coils around her head as the dryer blasted out its heat. They had attempted to shower together but the cubicle on his ship had simply been designed for one solitary bather, with no leeway for anything else, and they had ended up crashing about and giggling, and sadly, now was not the time to cavort in such a manner. Not with this insane trial to go through before anything constructive could be done with the day.
Fett sighed sharply and turned away from his lover to find something to wear. It would not do, he realised, to turn up in a clean flightsuit with all his armour, but no helmet. He wanted to shock the people who mattered on Coruscant - and a small part of him knew that he wanted to make an impression, to show off the fact that he was not the hideous monster that they probably fondly imagined him to be. Particularly Han. Oh yes, Fett was looking forward to seeing that one’s face as he took in Fett’s helmetless visage. He grinned at the thought, knowing that there had always been a lot of rumours about his appearance among the crowd in which Han, and to a certain extent, himself had mixed - and not many of them were favourable. He was also looking forward to seeing Mon Silva’s face as she recognised the clothes he was going to put on.
Luke had been sworn to secrecy about the change, and he had delivered them back to Fett’s ship without anyone seeing them. He had also described the situation to them in a grim and flat tone that didn’t quite manage to hide the hurt that he obviously felt about his friend’s death. The situation had become apparent to them both as they had re-entered the city and seen the desolation left by Thrawn’s weapons. From the air the destruction of the great organic towering architecture looked very bad; Fett dreaded to think what it looked like from the ground, although he could quite easily imagine given his own exploits into situations like this one. And there were, of course, the ones he had caused himself all those years ago.
He did not dwell on his change of opinion and heart about such matters, but rather tried not to let terror overtake him as he realised that Thrawn was playing with Coruscant. Thrawn hated the city-world with every pore of his being, Fett knew, but even he would not dare destroy it completely. What he wanted was revenge. Or at least that was what he had wanted ten years ago. Fett could only pray that that was what he wanted now, but seeing as the city was still here, albeit very battered, he suspected that Thrawn was following that well used maxim, that revenge was a dish best eaten cold. He shivered, not wishing to think about that, either. He had a brief, mad desire to start the ship up and fly away from it all and forget about the whole thing, let them sort themselves out. But he dismissed it immediately, even without any ethical feelings he was not the sort to leave things unfinished and undone. And they had to deal with the silly trial before any of this could be begun.
“Hey!” it was Arla, emerging from the shower room, bringing wafts of steam with her, “Where were you, a moment ago? Away with the fairies? I was talking to you and you were just sitting like a lump - an attractive lump, I’ll give you that, but a lump nonetheless - on the bed with your mouth hanging open.”
She bent over and kissed him. He caught her about the waist and rolled her onto the bed with him. There was a brief interlude while they kissed some more, but Fett soon pulled away, with a sigh.
“We haven’t time for this - with that trial . . .”
Arla rolled away from him and stared at the curved white ceiling a moment, her hands laced across her belly.
“Yes. I know.” she sighed shortly, then vaulted upright again, and grinned at him. “Well, I’m going to get dressed. What are you going to wear?”
He rolled onto his stomach to watch her as she pulled on the formal suit she had requested from her rooms with the minimum of fuss, or enthusiasm.
“You think I only have flight-suits, don’t you?” he said.
“No. Remember I have seen you in that delightful tunic and trouser outfit when we had that row and you cut your hand.”
“True -” began Fett, but she had not finished.
“And your teasing tone tells me that you obviously have more clothes than for which your reputation allows. So you’d better show me, for, as you keep saying, we don’t have much time.”
He smiled at her careful, overly correct speech, hauled himself off the bed and opened a previously hidden cupboard. Inside it were neatly stacked a number of outfits, complete with either helmets or with masks. The smell of moth deterrents impregnated into the cupboard sides told how long it had been since that particular cupboard had been opened.
“Oh my,” gasped Arla, as she darted across and began to rummage among the clothes. Fett managed not to wince as she overturned all his tidiness with a few careless moves, but smiled instead as she dragged one outfit out and told him he was going to wear it. He struggled into some underwear, feeling somewhat odd wearing it as he usually only wore the long undersuit that most professional pilots wore. The clothes, a grey suit with some ochre bands, felt even odder, and he plucked uncomfortably at the collar and the cuffs.
“Excellent.” concluded Arla after a few moments, “The bands match your eyes, and you go with my dark green -”
He raised a derisive eyebrow at that.
“My dark green outfit.” Then she frowned, and her voice faltered, “but, it’s strange, because you just don’t look like yourself - like Boba Fett. I mean he wears a flightsuit and armour, and, and - well, it’s just - odd. Oh, I don’t know.” She ran a hand through her hair, and looked him straight in the eye, “You are you, aren’t you?” She shook her head. “That was a silly question. I’m sorry. Of course you are you.”
He came over to her and held her, as she began to cry.
“I know, I know - I can’t believe it myself, and I am relatively used to seeing me.” He clutched her tighter, and buried his head in her hair, “And to tell the truth, I am scared - scared of going out there and being - this. Not me, not the me I’ve been since I was fifteen. It’s a long, long time, ah, God, it really is.”
They stayed locked together for a long moment, broken all too soon by the comm-link going off.
“Uh, hi,” Luke’s voice was tinny, but still sounded nervous across the link, “I hope I’m not, ah, interrupting anything, but, um, well, really we have to go. They are waiting for us . .” his voice petered out in an agony of embarrassment.
“It’s alright, Luke,” said Arla, her voice clear, as she brushed the tears away, “we were ready anyway. We’ll come now.”
Luke looked small and nervous as he stood at the end of the ramp-way, dwarfed by the two guards that had not moved, it seemed to him, since he had left them there after delivering his charges. They paid him little note, and he paid them no heed after noting that they were there; custom dictated he leave them there, but he knew that they would be worse than useless if Fett and Arla decided to do something. They would, he was sure, be dead. However, obviously, the accused were honourable as the guards stood unperturbed and unmolested.
Luke had other things on his mind; since leaving the bounty hunters in their dubious care he had been in conference with his sister and Mon Mothma. Neither had been very impressed with his conduct or with his leaving Fett and Arla free to escape on Thrawn’s ship. It had, they had said, been reckless and foolish, and would only cause people to think that he was in league with the Imperials - Leia had reminded him of his illustrious parent, which had stung, for she seemed to have divorced herself from any hint of her own relationship to Anakin Skywalker. They had said that it would be even more obvious to people now he had resigned his commission. His fierce - too fierce, he realised now - defence of them had fallen on deaf ears.
He was now not optimistic about the mockery that this trial was now going to be. During the night, and earlier this morning, Leia and Mon Mothma had spoken to Mon Silva, and had drunk in every word she had said. And they accused him of being under the spell of the bounty hunters! It was, he concluded, most unfair.
Footsteps approaching down the ramp-way snapped out him out of his reverie with a jolt, and he glanced aphrensively up at the two figures coming down. He stared. Arla looked fine enough in a knee-length, close-fitting tunic and tapered breeches of some kind of silky stuff, all in her customary green; but it was Fett, though less good-looking than his lover, who held his attention.
Fett wore a dark grey suit, quite militaristic in style with yellowish borders, including bands down the side of his trousers that looked suspiciously like Corellian blood-stripes. At the back of his mind, he hoped that Han would not be mortally offended, but, considering it, he decided that Han would be unlikely to be thinking about Fett’s trousers under the circumstances. It was not the unusual clothes that held the eyes, of course, but Fett himself. Washed and brushed he looked, well, normal, although the black hair and very pale skin was striking. The eyes were still very strange, and were matched by the borders of his suit. Fett and Arla were holding hands.
Luke sighed, and glanced down at his own crumpled Jedi outfit. 3-PO had objected to his wearing it without proper pressing, but he had insisted that it was necessary, and had had to virtually wrench the garments out of the droid’s hands.
“Bad news,” he said, voice carefully neutral as he took in the ironic glance both of them gave the guards who fell in behind them as they walked along towards the makeshift courtroom, the formal ones having been destroyed in yesterdays bombing, “Mon Silva has been speaking to my sister and her country-woman, and she has convinced them of your guilt.”
Fett smiled serenely. Luke found himself staring again, this time at the expressionless quality of his face.
Fett said, in an equally serene voice, “then we will have to unconvince them.”
Arla glanced up at him.
“It shouldn’t be too hard to make them believe she’s a lying whore,” she grated.
Fett laughed. There was little humour in it. “I think they would rather believe that of you, Arla.”
She stopped. Fett did not.
Sharply, she said, “what was that?”
“I didn’t say I believed it. But that is what they will think. Just as they will think I am the murdering betrayer, when, in fact, it was her brother. Please don’t be offended. Or at least not at me.”
Luke sighed under his breath; it seemed that, in fact, little had changed, and both Fett and Arla seemed angry. Not surprising really, with this mockery they were heading towards. He was angry himself.
The room did not look like a traditional courtroom, but rather a little forum. Arla recognised most of the people who had been present at yesterday mornings meeting, along with some new faces who replaced the military, who were obviously busy in battle, and she swept them with a contemptuous gaze before being seated opposite their accuser.
Mon Silva looked terrible, although she was dressed to perfection in antiquated and very formal white Chandrilan mourning robes. Arla wondered briefly where they had come from, given the destruction in Coruscant had suffered, and presumably was still suffering although there was no indication of it in this building; but then, taking in the other Mon’s proprietorial attitude to Silva, she supposed that the dress could be hers. With a start, she realised she knew absolutely nothing about Mon Mothma beyond her political career; she wondered what history the woman had, and why she was lugging old fashioned mourning robes around with her. She shrugged, now was not the time to find out.
She glanced about, and belatedly came aware of the aura of puzzlement and confusion, with an undercurrent of fear, that was running about the room. She blinked, puzzled herself, then looked at her companion, who sat, looking smug and relaxed, beside her. Oh, she thought, of course.
As if reading her mind, Princess Leia stood up, and directing her words at her brother, said in a tense, uncomfortably anxious voice, “Luke, what is the meaning of this? Who is this man - and where is Boba Fett?”
Her brother gave a half smile to the man he was seated next to, but Fett was not looking at him. He stood as well, his stance a study of insolent insouciance, even though Luke could feel tension coming off him in waves. He felt a brief moment of admiration for the man, who must be finding this public exposure very hard indeed, that he could control his features in such a way. He wondered how he had learnt to do that after a lifetime, it seemed, under the mask. He thought that Leia must too be able to feel Fett’s aura and see who the man was, but she simply watched, her mouth hanging slightly open. He looked at her balled fists, and the rigidity of her pose. It was as if Fett was making an effort to be in every way the opposite if the other people in the room, and was drawing confidence from every second that the breathless, tense silence continued. Just as Fett was opening his mouth to speak, Luke risked a glance at Arla, and saw that she was looking down at the table in front of her, with her hands clutched in front of her.
Fett was beginning to speak; Luke thought his ruined voice should be, at least, instantly recognisable to all seated in the room.
“Your Highness,” he said, and his words were disarmingly simple, although the yellow eyes glinted dangerously, “I am Boba Fett.”
The room exploded into sound. People leapt up and began clamouring at him, at the Princess, at Luke; but it was Mon Silva who was quickest to get her word in.
“He lies - don’t you see, it’s all a ruse! The real Boba Fett would never appear without his helmet. Never! I know him, I would know. The real Boba Fett has gone to the Imperials - you should all be out stopping him now!” she cried, her voice rising to an hysterical shout by the end of the little speech, and she had risen to her feet just as most others were beginning to lower themselves down again into their seats. Mon Mothma placed a restraining hand on her arm, but the younger woman stood tense and unwavering, the fine bones of her face seeming harsh under the artificial lights; their glare emphasised the bruises on her face and neck, the only parts of her body not swaddled in the rough, white robes. Another tense silence descended on the room.
And Boba Fett began to laugh. The laughter was loud, but did not last long. His next words were rapped out, crisply spoken and hard, “no. I’m sorry. I will not stand for this.”
He turned to Mon Mothma, who still held her country-woman’s hand. “Madam, your views are made obvious by your gestures to the woman. Luke has described what is to happen here this morning as a trial, but he was wrong. I say that this is no more than a mockery, and I believe that I would be within my rights to leave right now. But, there are things about the Grand Admiral that you do not know - not even you, Silva, despite your brother’s association with him - and I believe that you must know these things.”
Everyone boggled at him, and no one, at first, seemed to know what to say to the man.
It was Luke, in the end, who broke the silence.
“It is Boba Fett.” he snapped, exasperated, “I do not like to pull rank on anyone here,” he glanced about at his friends and the dignitaries of his Republic, “but I fear that I must. I am a Jedi Knight, and, in the past, we served as law givers and judges because of the Force. I do not wish to enforce” he did not seem to notice the unintentional lingual slip, “this function of the Jedi, but I will if you do not listen to Fett and Arla.”
Mon Mothma gave him a cold glance.
“Your disapproval is noted, Jedi Knight.”
Arla looked up at last,
“I would say that this appears to have little to do with me, despite the fact that I was with Fett throughout yesterday’s events and could easily have been giving him information while he was away. I wasn’t doing any such thing, of course, but I just wanted to point out that there are two of us, and your personal prejudices seem to be clouding your grasp of the issue here.”
Luke saw Fett flash a surprised glance at Arla, though he hid it well.
Silva stared at her. “You did not kill my brother,” she stated, as if that were the only thing that mattered. To her it almost certainly was, but she was foolish to show it, thought Fett. But the woman was continuing.
“And you are a slut and a whore,” she spat, “and would follow your lover in anything, however stupid - like helping the Imperials.”
“Silva! That was unnecessary,” chided Mon Mothma.
Arla shook her head wearily, and rubbed three fingers across her brow. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, “she is a silly, pathetic woman. What she means to say is that she did just exactly that, even though I think that she has forgotten it to herself.” she sighed heavily, “oh, never mind.”
Princess Leia stood.
“I do not want this to become a session for the trading of insults. Boba Fett, how do you respond to the accusations that you are a spy for Grand Admiral Thrawn? You cannot deny that both you and Arla have recently been in his pay.”
She and Fett exchanged a long gaze, of which Fett was the victor, for Leia was disquieted by the very fact she could look the man in the eyes. She could see that he saw her unease, and was prepared to use this new weapon in his repertoire. She tried not to let him know that she was trying to fight his compelling yellow eyes, but nevertheless she looked down first.
As soon as she looked away, Fett began to speak. “It is quite true that Arla and I collected bounty for Thrawn recently. If we had not, then you would not have known about his approach until it was too late. Because of us, you have had time to prepare for his onslaught, and the damage has been lessened. You know that that is not the issue here. Mon Silva has informed you that I worked as spy for Thrawn some years ago. This is what you are basing your accusations on - that and the revenge of a bereaved woman.”
“You do not deny that you murdered Mar Garno?” this was from Mon Mothma.
“I did kill him, but let’s get this in perspective. He had a thermal detonator - you know about those, don’t you, your Highness?” He smiled at Leia, before continuing, “and I stopped him from using it.”
It was Luke who asked the same question that Arla had done at the time of the incident.
“But why kill him? You could have just disabled the grenade - it would have been easy, easier than killing him, in fact.”
“That’s what you would have done, Luke.” It was not a question, but Luke nodded anyway. “I am not you. He made me angry, and I shot him. I am not asking to be excused, but I was out of your juristriction on the Imperial ship, and I would like you to remember that he had a weapon, and he was not afraid to use, even though his beloved sister would have been killed as well - it is all very well, to kill yourself to protect yourself from worse,” Fett’s tone expressed precisely what he thought of that option, “but to murder the one you love while you do it . . .”
Silva shrieked in rage, and had to be forced back into her seat.
“My brother adored me - he would never - it’s all lies!”
All eyes in the room took in the difference between the hysterical woman and the calm, composed countenance that was Fett’s. Arla still stared at the table, and contributed nothing to the debate. Fett took in his audience, took in Arla’s unhappiness and frustration at being secondary to the argument, and sighed, not wanting to hurt her in any way. He knew though, that he had to get to the end of this and out the other side before it was too late for Coruscant and Thrawn acted as he suspected he might. He pressed on.
“And to answer your unspoken question,” he continued, as if Silva had said nothing, “I did work for Thrawn for a year, or perhaps a little more, as a spy. I am not working for him now.”
“Why?” Leia sounded tense and unhappy to his ears, perhaps she was aware of the lack of time, as well.
“Why am I not working for him? I have no desire to -”
“No. Why did you work for him?”
“Does that really have relevance? Never mind. I was on the run from your father, Princess Leia, and Thrawn paid me well for my work. It was how I first met Mon Silva and her brother - they were spies for the Emperor at the time. Garno obviously kept up his Imperial allegiances - I don’t know -”
Silva was shaking her head, mouth hanging open slightly, as Fett spoke. She obviously wished to speak; finally, she seemed to be able to bear it no longer.
“He lies! Garno was honourable! And he flaunts his allegiances at you - he is wearing one of the outfits he wore as Thrawn’s spy all those years ago! I remember - you thought I wouldn’t didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
Fett shook his head. “Mon Silva, I have no other clothes except these and my flight suits. I have - ah, varied my attire little since I left Thrawn’s service nine years ago and took up bounty hunting again. And yes, of course I worked for the Imperials after that - Vader was kind enough to forget my misdemeanours - why should I have not - they had the most money.”
At that point, the door burst open and all heads turned from Fett to look and see who was coming in. Fett heard several blasters being readied, in case. But Leia cried out, “oh, Han - at last. I was getting worried.”
Without realising it, Fett let a smile slide across his face in anticipation. He did not turn. Han did not notice him, and was replying to his partner.
“Well, I thought I’d better bring him as everyone seemed to have forgotten about him, and if anyone was going to know whether Boba Fett was in league with them - hey, where is the -” Han noticed Arla, and curbed the comment he had been going to make, “where is he?”
Boba Fett turned around.
“Hello, Han.” he said.
Han stared at him with a total lack of recognition. Nobody in the room said anything. Han looked puzzled.
“Who the heck are you?” he asked the dark haired stranger, “do I know you?” There was a gurgle of laughter from Arla, which made him look more sharply at the man. He thought quickly on the grating voice, and his mouth dropped open.
“Shit.” he said, “Boba Fett?”
The man nodded, smiling slightly. He did not speak. Han glanced about the room in confusion; Leia nodded once, to confirm it. Oh, he thought, it’s not fair - everyone is laughing at me, and the bloody man is good looking too - after all those years thinking he had to be disfigured.
He pulled his companion into the room, who was staring with equal shock and interest at Fett. Admiral Piett was ushered into a chair, and Han flopped down into a chair beside Leia, temporarily bereft of speech.
Leia gave a sharp sigh.
“Well, after that charming interlude, can we get on with this? Good. Thank you for bringing the Admiral, Han - that was a good idea.”
“Hey, it’s me - what do you expect?” Han fell back on old jokes to ease his shock. Leia gave him an indulgent smile, her eyes kindling briefly for him, then moved on.
“Admiral Piett, to the best of your knowledge, were either Boba Fett or Arla Gen in the Grand Admiral’s pay as spies?”
Piett looked slightly taken aback, although that could just have been his normal expression.
“No,” he said, “to the best of my knowledge, he had hired another bounty hunter to capture Boba Fett and kill the woman - Arla Gen, I mean.”
“Great,” said Arla.
Leia nodded. “And were the Chandrilans in his pay?”
“Mon Silva and Mar Garno.”
“I - I don’t know.” Piett’s voice hardened. “Thrawn never told his inferior officers his plans, preferring to hug them all to his chest - and no officer would reveal who his spies were, in case he betrayed them to another. So it is quite possible.”
Mon Silva screamed at that; then, looking furtively around for a moment, she picked up her skirts and ran out of the room. They let her go, but Mon Mothma gestured at one of the guards to follow her.
No one dared look at Boba Fett. He slammed a hand down on the table; everyone jumped and turned back towards him.
“Listen to me. There is no time to bicker any longer. Thrawn is playing games with us - or I should say, with you. It doesn’t matter to him that you are the people who killed the Emperor, it was the Emperor he hated - any other authority, and it is Coruscant he wants. He must be stopped if you want to live.”
“What are you saying, Boba Fett?” It was Mon Mothma who spoke.
“The Emperor sent Thrawn to the Unknown Regions early in his career and marooned him there. He was - you know this - deeply racist, and Thrawn is non-human enough to have the Emperor underestimate him, and trust him not at all.
When I met Thrawn, he had built a little empire of his own in the rim territories, superficially under Palpatine, but they paid scant heed to each other’s rules. But Thrawn was barred from Coruscant - all “aliens” were, and he deeply resented this. He is getting his revenge, as well as his empire, now. As he has not damaged the principal building in the city core, I think he will use ground assault to capture and, probably, kill all of the leaders of the Republic - you. Then he will transfer his power base here, rebuild the city and, well, you can imagine the rest.”
There was a deep silence after Fett had spoken those words, which became more oppressive every instant that passed. Mon Mothma licked her lips, and was about to try to break the silence when there was a knock on the door. The relief around the table was almost palpable.
“Who is it?” asked Mon Mothma.
The door opened to reveal an officer. He came into the room, and saluted.
“I apologise for breaking your meeting, Governor, but it was deemed best to tell you in person. We have had indication that Thrawn is making a ground assault, and your presence is requested, sir.”
Everyone turned to look at Fett. His face was harsh, and cruel.
“Right. I will stop him.” he said in a very still voice, and walked out of the room. A few tense moments passed, then Arla slipped out after him.
“What did he mean by that?” whispered the governor of Coruscant as he gathered up his papers to follow the guard who was still waiting for him to come.
No one answered him, except that Mon Mothma sank back down into her chair again, and buried her head in her hands.
“Very well, I will attend to my guards - does General Dodonna have things under control?”
“Yessir - if you could come this way please, sir.”
“Good, good. Yes, I’m coming, there’s no need to look so agitated.” He blustered out of the room.
“Idiot,” muttered Han, but no one responded to that either.
“I think we have misrepresented that young man all the time he has been with us,” said Mon Mothma, looking up at last; her face was drawn and very tired, “but what can he do? He should be stopped before he kills himself - we have never asked that of him, or Arla Gen, for that matter.”
Luke shook his head. “Mon Mothma, I doubt we could stop either of them if we wanted to - and I don’t think we should. I assume that you believe him now, that he isn’t a spy?” He looked around them, trying to use the Force to calm the people left in the room.
However, before he could really do much, Han leapt in. “Do we have a choice - you want us to believe that he is perfect all of a sudden, though yesterday you were mouthing off about how awful he was. I mean,” he paused for breath, “you’re all fawning over him now he’s showed his pretty face - this is the man who had me put in to carbon freeze -”
“Stop.” Luke even held up a hand against Han. “Listen to yourself, Han, do you realise how you sound? Besides, to be fair, it was my father who had you put in carbon freeze. All Fett did was deliver you into his hands -”
“Arla refused to work for him.” Han threw his hands up. “Oh, I don’t know - I can’t believe it - he took the bloody thing off. I mean, even when he - ah,” he glanced about the room at the four faces watching him, then suddenly didn’t care, “when he fucked with prostitutes, he didn’t take it off. No one saw him, and everyone hated him -” he pointed at Leia, at Luke, “you did, both of you. And now, now he takes it off, he’s a wonderful person, with the sun shining out of his -” his nerve failed, “stupid yellow eyess. God.”
Everyone stared at him, but it was Luke who spoke first.
“And? People change, Han - he took his helmet off, don’t you see how different that makes him? Don’t you understand what a leap for him that was? He has trusted us with something that has not been seen for twenty years. He was fifteen, Arla told me, when he put that helmet on. A child - a kid, as you would say. No one, no one at all has seen the face he showed to us today.” Luke swallowed heavily, caught up in his own private misery. “That is so brave, I could not hope to be that brave.” He held out a beseeching hand, “Can’t you forgive him?”
“Forgive? Hah! He’s got you right under his spell, hasn’t he?”
“Han, don’t you think you’re being a little stubborn here - he may have done bad things in his life but, well, look at you!” Leia ran a hand up Han’s arm to try and calm him, understanding his anger well, as she knew all too well that you never want to recognise that people change and become things that they were not, or have denied themselves for so long; but Han just twitched her hand away.
“Forget it, Princess - I know you’ll follow anything your sainted kid brother says.” And before she could respond, he held up a hand to her. “No, don’t try it - I’m going to see if Madine needs any help - perhaps you might think about doing something too,” and he strode out.
“He’s jealous,” began Luke, but Leia, still stinging from Han’s comment, stopped him.
“Yes, Luke - I think we can all see that. Now, we all have things to do, so lets get on with them.”
And she gathered her stuff up and left as well.
That left Luke, Mon Mothma and Admiral Piett. The latter looked very uncomfortable, and Mon Mothma finally took pity on him.
“I’m afraid that you’ll find that the command here is a little different to Imperial rules and regulations,” she said, with a lop-sided smile.
Piett nodded, and said, “yes, I see that. And I wonder how you won.” He flinched after he said that, wishing he had kept his mouth shut.
Mothma laughed softly.
“I think that about sums it up,” she said. “You expect to be punished for everything that is slightly not right, don’t you? Well, here we prefer to let everyone work under their own talents, and try to encourage everyone’s full potential - and let people say what they think. Unthinking submission to rule is not the way to have an exemplary force.”
Piett licked his lips. “And you really believe this? I must see it work.” He frowned then. “What would you have me do?”
“For now, nothing - you will have to be watched, but I feeel that this will not end here.” she looked away for a moment into some private space, “We have been very naive, in the end, and now innocents are suffering for it.” She took a deep breath, and turned back and smiled at him. “Come along, we’ll find out what is happening - perhaps you can give us some information about the Imperial attacks. The file you wrote last night was very interesting - I skimmed through it when I collected it this morning, and I think it will be a lot of help to us as we reconstruct the governmental system.”
Admiral Piett got to his feet and let Mon Mothma pass by before following her out of the door; but she paused on the threshold, as if only just remembering that Luke was still there. She frowned slightly, as if the sight of the young Jedi displeased her.
“Luke, your sister was right. We can’t just sit about doing nothing while Coruscant crumbles around our ears - there must be something that you could be doing, if you won’t fight -”
“I didn’t want to kill anymore -”
“I’m not interested, Luke - you explained last night. I had hoped you might have changed your mind in the light of morning, but, never mind. There is still the evacuation to continue, and the injured must still be treated.”
And she swept out of the room, with Piett trailing after her.
Luke let his head drop so it hit the table before him, and he groaned. His hands balled up into fists, and he bashed the table top once, in frustration. He lay there for a minute, trying to get control of his breathing, with little success. People, he realised, were beginning to notice that he was - changing. The thought made him feel a little sick. After a while he arose and left the room, to try and find something useful to do.
Arla ran after Fett.
“Wait! Fett - don’t go.”
He did not stop, but continued to stride towards the docking areas. Arla came to a halt and watched him walk away, her breath rapid and shallow as her heart beat too fast.
She thought, if he walks away now, I know I’ll have lost him forever, whether he lives or not - he will be lost, when we have only just - just, oh gods, gods - I, cannot, ccannot let that happen - I will -
“Fett! Stop - please - listen to me - please,” she cried, starting to walk again, then picking up speed to run. He just walked. She ran until she was just behind him, but even then he did not stop, although he must have been aware that she was there. All the months of change seemed to have just bled away into the old, implacable mask that had been Boba Fett. She caught at his arm, and tugged.
“Fett,” she gasped, “Fett - ah.”
He wheeled around, and the expression she saw in his eyes made her wish for the comfort of the familiar helmet; her hand went up to her face to shield it from him. They stared at each other, the only sound Arla’s ragged breathing as she tried to catch her breath. She still clutched hold of his sleeve, though her hand threatened to cramp with the intensity of her grip. A muscle moved in his face, and he wrenched his hand free.
“Do not try to stop me.” he said, his voice distant and very cold. She tried to touch him again, hold his arms, but it was as if he was stone under her tentative touch. Her hands fell down by her sides.
“You’re going out there, aren’t you? What can you hope to achieve - he will kill you.”
This time, Fett licked his lips, and swallowed. “He will not. It is the only way.”
She shook her head, staring at the ground, desperately trying to think of a way to stop him.
“Madness,” then she looked up at him, “You cannot do this alone - take me with you.”
He sighed, and glanced longingly at the lift shaft that would take him up to the docking bays.
“No. Never. I am the one who knows him - you he will kill, it has already been said, he is not interested in you. I refuse to let that happen.”
Arla panted some more, and moved her hand over her mouth again.
“No, no - don’t you understand? I love you. I’ll not let you go - take me, I don’t care what I do, just take me.”
“No - listen to me,” he gripped her wrist suddenly, and the muscle twitched in his cheek again, “I will not risk you. I know him - well enough. I am too valuable to him - he has courted me before, since I left, to get me to return. He thinks I am like him, he thinks that I wore that helmet because I was an alien like him. He thinks he understands me. You, you are wild, random - he will kill you. I love you - and I’ll not risk you in this. He is mine.”
“Fett! I am not some fragile little flower - I can stand alone. Take me - let me - let me be your getaway, or something. I cannot do what Leia does, and so many other women, I can’t sit, and wait. I’ll not let you go without me.”
“Arla, there is no time. The ground attack is launched - I will not stand here and argue. Go now.”
He started to the lift, but she was too quick for him, and was inside before he could stop her. She caught his hands again, as he stared miserably at her face.
“No. I will take you,” she said with finality. “If you go in Slave II then they can trap you inside. If you use the shutes out - they can’t be closed even if they go into hyperspace - then I can catch you. I’ve done this before. Listen to me - it will work, it is better. Don’t sacrifice yourself, please - I’ll not lose you to some piece of foolish bravado. Remember I love you, please.” That last was almost a whisper, and tears began to streak down her face as she finished speaking. Her hands fell down by her side.
“You won’t give up, will you?” His voice was softer now, and he was almost smiling around the grim set of his face. He reached up, and brushed her tears away. She shook her head, looking up into those amber eyes, a less intense pale brown under the flat light of the lift.
“Very well, you can take me. On one condition -”
“What?” she was dismayed to hear herself sounding breathless, but when Fett spoke she was shocked, amazed at the raw intensity of his voice.
“That you kiss me.” and he gathered her into his arms.
Go to Chapter 12
Return to The Unveiling
Return to Front Page