Arla screamed and threw her arms up around her head. For one mad moment Fett was back on Bespin as the angry and inevitably foolish Han Solo fired his futile blaster shot at Darth Vader. Fett had been just behind the door, waiting for his cue to come on.
Of course Vader had not wanted the impact of his presence there spoiled by a bounty hunter. Fett had understood his prejudice perfectly, and had been in no good mood throughout that short sojourn on Cloud City. Solo’s action had amused him, however; he had enjoyed watching the sparks of red flash from Vader’s palm as the blaster fire had hit it, and had enjoyed even more watching Solo’s weapon sail swiftly but elegantly through the air into the waiting hand of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Even as he thought this, even as the blaster fire soared through the air to meet with Arla’s life and quench it, he was igniting his lightsaber, focusing his mind on finishing what Arla had started on that moon those few months ago - was it even that long? he thought, amazed at the things that were coming into his mind, at the time it was taking the fire to reach his beloved - he started at the word he had thought up, not that he supposed that it mattered anymore what he thought, his throat choking up.
Even though he did not want to look, he found his eyes drawn to her last, pointless moments.
Finally the blaster fire reached her, and even over the discharge noise Fett heard himself gasp - and heard Dengar’s exclamation of amazement as a wall of red fire lit up the dim corridor, lighting up the other hunter’s astonished face, and, had he turned, he would have seen it lighting the already ghostly upturned face of Mon Silva with an even more unworldly glow. He did not turn, as his gaze was locked on Arla, who continued to scream as the red light crackled and spat around her, but did not touch her!
The knowledge seemed to come to him far too slowly, but eventually his brain registered that, far from being a dead, useless, bleeding shell on the ground, Arla was alive, unhurt and fighting back. On realising this, Fett his brain go back into gear again and, a slight smile on his face, he aped Vader’s actions back on Bespin and ripped Dengar’s blaster from his hand and sent it spinning across the corridor and into a wall, where ordinary, blue-white flame joined the red as the thing exploded.
As soon as the assault stopped, Arla collapsed to the floor, where she knelt on all fours, taking great, heaving gasps of air. Fett deactivated the lightsaber, and flipped his own blaster into his hand instead; had Dengar been able to see, he would have not been comforted by the slight smile that played across Fett’s face as he watched the other man’s movements. As it was, the helmeted visage was as disquieting as ever to him, as was the harsh voice, when it finally spoke.
Fett suddenly felt all the anger he had experienced with the spice runners completely dissipate, to be replaced by a peculiar calm; he regarded the man with a certain amusement, knowing that there was nothing that Dengar could possibly do to hurt him or Arla, as she had just proven.
Dengar seemed to be aware of this as he took first one step, then another away from the pair, his hands fumbling shakily for his other blaster, which he then held, equally shakily, against the two of them. Fett watched him lick his lips, as if they were dry and then turned his outward attention - briefly - to Arla, who was pulling herself to her feet.
She shot a venomous glance at the other bounty hunter, and spat his name with far more violence than Fett had.
Dengar visibly flinched away from her voice.
Her face, what he could see of it behind the mask she wore, was ashen white, Fett noticed with a start, and her breath came harsh and shallow, but she gave him a wan smile which grew a little wider, and altogether less pleasant as she turned her attention to Dengar.
Her light saber flashed into life, shot out at him, and she gently stroked his cheek with it.
Fett watched as Dengar’s surprised expression turned to fear, and then into a soundless oh of pain as the fleeting touch burned away the top layers of his skin, leaving it red and raw. She snapped the lightsaber out again, and silence hung in the hallway as Dengar put a wondering hand to his face, and suppressed a hiss of pain as his gloved fingers touched the already blistering surface to that side of his face. It could hardly be called skin anymore.
Fett smiled, and caught a little of Arla’s glow of satisfaction at her act. Her eyes sparkled now, and the colour had returned to her face. Dengar, on the other hand, had slumped a little against the passage wall.
Dengar leant against the cool plastic of the wall feeling suddenly breathless and tired. He blinked, and tried to take a deep breath, but the action was too painful for his maimed face to bear, making him feel dizzy with the pain and he slid a little way down the wall. He tried to focus on the two bounty hunters, only to find his vision watery and blurred. He gasped some more air, virtually crying at the agony of his face, which was getting worse with every moment.
He felt totally out of control of the situation, and he realised that Fett and the Gen woman had become something he couldn’t recognise anymore. He remembered, vaguely, as he fluctuated in and out of conscious thought, that although Fett had been the best, there was no way, before, he could have done what the woman had just done - and he remembered that, although she had been good, very good, the only exceptional thing about her had been her beauty.
He began to feel very afraid.
His head jolted up at the sound of her calling his name, sending him almost to the edge of consciousness with pain again.
“Feeling a little tired?” she was saying, sounding very smug, “I was feeling a little exhausted myself, after fighting you, so, I’m sorry, but I took some of your energy.” She turned to her companion, and said wryly, “I suppose that it could be considered a type of rape. No doubt Luke would not approve.”
And Dengar heard something he had never ever heard before.
He heard Fett laugh.
“That’s all very well, Arla, but this is unexciting - it’s too easy now.”
“Yeah. I guess - okay.”
Finally Dengar managed to whoop a full breath, and that seemed to clear his head.
Ignoring the pain, he pulled himself upright and said, “I don’t know what you’ve done to yourselves, but I’m not afraid of you, no way.”
He saw Arla reach for her light saber again, but Fett put his hand over hers, stopping her.
“No.” he said, “That is not fair. He is not worth wasting our energy on. He can only fight with blasters, so we should use them too.”
She nodded, slipped the first weapon back into her belt and flipped her blaster from it’s wrist holder to point it straight at Dengar.
“Maybe we should just shoot him and be done with it,” she said, “we had our fun last time, and I don’t think we should hang around here too much longer. This is an Imperial Star Destroyer, after all, and we are trespassing big time.”
Fett nodded, then said, “but he might know something useful. I doubt it, but you never know.”
Dengar took several more deep breaths then said, “even if I did, I’d never tell you anything.”
Fett and Arla glanced at each other, and Fett fired his blaster, finding exactly the spot he had caught before when Dengar’s lover had been killed. Blood sprang from the wound as the blaster fire ripped through his shoulder and out the other side and splatted against the wall behind him. Dengar fell back at the blow, and slid down the wall, leaving red streaks behind him as he did so.
He stared up at the two impassive figures, and felt a sudden chill. This time, he knew that he was going to die.
A feeling of calm spread over him, and with his good hand he reached into a belt pocket and pulled out a small vial. Feeling stronger, he sat back and stared up at them with defiant eyes.
“I won’t tell you anything - but Thrawn wants you, Boba Fett,” he smiled, revealing a mouth full of broken teeth, as he warmed to his subject, “in fact, he’d kill me to get you. Even if you kill me, it doesn’t matter - I know that Thrawn is after you, and you should be afraid, oh yes, you should be very afraid.”
Amazingly, Fett laughed.
“Is that all? Then you really do know nothing. Don’t you see? Thrawn and I are old friends.”
Dengar felt his calmness dissipate, as his gaze flicked from one to the other of them and he began to ease the bung out of the vial, knowing that only a little drop of his own saliva would spread enough of the resulting gas about to knock the two of them out for hours. He had spent many hours getting his body used to the poison, and knew he would be long gone before they awoke in the hands of the Imperials. And he could collect his fee for getting Fett to Thrawn. Of course, sometimes the dose was fatal, and with her smaller frame, Arla might not survive. He reached the hand containing the fluid to his lips as casually as he could.
Arla watched Dengar sharply as he recovered from Fett’s words, and quickly noticed as he began to move his hand. The tiny glimpse of glinting glass was enough to tell her all she needed to know, she raised her blaster and Dengar had a hand no longer.
He screamed as his blood flew about and little shards of glass bit into his wounded flesh and wormed its way through blood and skin to cut at the matter beneath.
Now he truly knew he was going to die.
Not caring any more, Dengar lumbered to his feet, and did the only thing left to him that hadn’t been done already. He lurched down the corridor a few paces and slammed himself into the wall, bashing a large red button with his head as he did so. Immediately, sirens began to wail. He leant there, panting, and laughing just slightly.
“Shit!” cried Arla, on hearing the alarms blare out around the ship. So far it had been easy, but there was no way they could hold off all the stormtroopers on a Star Destroyer. Fett was also looking around in surprise.
He recovered sooner and raised his blaster again, but not before Dengar whispered at them, “I’m dead,” he said, “but, you’ll not be escaping now. There’s no way off this ship for you now.”
Those were his last words as both Fett and Arla approached him and fired their blasters at the man until there was nothing left to see but a pulp of blood and innards on the floor. They were now covered in blood that had exploded from arteries at them, but neither cared.
Only when they heard the shushing sound of the lift doors opening did they stop the frenzied attack to run off away from the stormtroopers that burst from the lift after them. They fired at the soldiers as they went. Still high from the shooting, Arla called out to Fett in her mind, and reached an intoxicating mix of bloodlust and danger instead of his thoughts; it so matched her own feeling that she almost tripped and fell from the rush she felt.
“Fett?” she tried, feeling breathless, “we should go down - the prison levels are below us and then we can get straight up into the docking bays again - what was our number?”
She felt Fett gather himself together again, “sixteen. It was bay sixteen.”
They thundered down the corridors, Fett following as Arla led them the best way she could to the nearest lift shaft, with the stormtroopers following as they went. Arla was never so glad as when she spotted her goal.
“Oh Firelord,” she gasped, “thank you.” She slammed her hand at the panel. It flashed a yellow light complacently at her as she stared. “Oh fuck, fuck, fuck,” she muttered, and watched the light travel down as the lift slowly lowered itself their floor.
Fett skidded around the corner to join her, firing as he did.
“Cover me!” he cried, and backed against the lift door.
“Don’t!” Arla shouted, “It’s in use - and coming to this level!”
Fett flipped away.
“Shit.” he muttered, “Well, I’ve got to reload, so cover me, dammit.”
She did so, blasting the small contingent of troopers still remaining until only a very few still stood. She smashed her fist into the lift door.
“Come on!” she shouted, not caring now if they were heard. As her fist left contact with the lift, the door slid open and more troopers ran out.
Fett clicked his blaster back into place and fired at will.
Soon, the only stormtroopers on the deck were dead or wounded and Fett and Arla slipped into the lift and dropped down to the next level.
The prison level was very dimly lit, but appeared to be deserted. Apart from all the people behind the locked doors, of course.
They moved tentatively down the corridor, peering curiously into the viewscreens beside each cell, which showed just exactly what each prisoner was doing at that time. Somewhere in the distance they heard the solitary click of a man’s boots pacing up and down.
“There’s a guard here,” murmured Fett.
Arla nodded, and thought back at him, “well, they’d be stupid not to have one, now, wouldn’t they?”
But there was no reply. Arla turned to see that Fett was peering at one of the screens with intense interest; when he saw her looking he beckoned her over.
“What is it?” she asked, as she approached him. He gave no answer, verbally anyway, but pointed at the little screen.
She looked, and a slow smile spread across her features. The cells themselves were not too terrible at first glance, containing solely an innocent looking bed, spread with a thin coverlet and sporting, in this case, an equally thin pillow. Arla knew from experience that they often did not have those meagre luxuries, but this was a special prisoner, so the lucky man was given special treatment. The only other thing in the cell apart from the rather basic lavatory equipment - a small covered pot - was the bobbing ball that the prisoner was currently staring fixedly at. He was wise to keep an eye on it, and to sit quiet and still as any sudden movement would make it discharge a stinging, crippling ray that would leave you unable to move at all, except for breathing, for a couple of hours. Arla remembered this with surprising clarity, and thinking of it brought a slight red flush to her cheeks, which were happily covered by the mask she wore. Certainly, this man would never have experienced first hand the effects of the delightful little machine, but he obviously knew what it did. He slowly lowered his head into his hands, and Arla watched his shoulders heave up and down in what she presumed was a deep sigh.
“What do you think?” Fett’s voice in her mind was tinged with a certain amusement the reason for which she couldn’t quite identify.
“I’m surprised - no, amazed! I wonder what he did?”
“Who knows? Hmm, I think -”
She caught his thoughts even before he could send the words across, and her smile grew just that little bit wider.
“Oh no,” she thought back at him, trying desperately to keep the laughter out of her words, and to sound serious, “we can’t possibly -”
“Why not?” For a moment, Fett’s mind voice was almost impish, and he sounded very unlike his usual dour self, but it didn’t last long. “No, seriously - he is very good at his job, and a ‘company’ man, so he must have done something terrible. He must have gone against Thrawn, and if he did, then I’m surprised he is still alive. You don’t go against Thrawn - and live -”
“He won’t kill me. If this one is a desperate man, then he’ll go with anyone who’ll help him. He would be an asset to the New Republic, I think.” Again there was that tint of humour in the voice, which made Arla wonder.
“Fett - there’s something you are not telling me here - what is your agenda?”
“Oh, well - I have admit I would love to see his face when he realises that ‘scum’ have come to rescue him . . .”
Arla shook her head, but smiled nonetheless, thinking that there was obviously some old score here, and suspecting that Fett was not really thinking about the New Republic at all. Still, no stormtroopers had appeared from the lift shaft, which meant that the disabler she had quickly fitted was still in place, and although she was aware of the guard patrolling the area, one man was not going to stop them. She shrugged.
“Okay, okay, we’ll do it - and our little Admiral better be grateful!”
The viewscreen showed that Admiral Piett was blissfully unaware of any change in his fate.
Working fast, Fett pressed a button on his right wrist cuff, and a small device - little more at first glance than a tapered metal tube - emerged from one of the four slots. Fett removed it and flipped the bottom section, which began to separate into smaller strips which curled up into a bulb shape. He waited until the little light flashed red, then quickly inserted it into the jack beside the door. A couple of twists, and the doors opened.
Arla was ready, and zapped the paralysis ball with her blaster, then lowered it to the ground with her Jedi powers, so it didn’t make any noise. It rolled uselessly into a corner, she watched it for a short moment then turned to look at Piett.
She grinned, Fett had been right, Piett’s face was an absolute picture.
Piett had just been sitting quietly on the pallet that was probably going to be his last bed, carefully not moving in case the stupid p-ball got him. At least, he thought, I know about the damn things, but going to the loo is going to be a problem. He had not even looked up when the door had opened, just in case the guard had not de-activated the thing, which often happened in his experience, as the guards on duty down in these levels grew vindictive in their solitary boredom.
As the door opened he supposed to himself that his luck had finally and completely run out, this would be it for him, he realised, he was going to die, and very soon.
Then, the unmistakable muted hiss of a blaster with a silencer going off; without thinking, he snapped his head up, thinking even as he did, stupid, stupid; then felt his mouth drop open as the p-ball gently lowered itself to the ground and rolled into a corner.
He looked around to the door and his mouth dropped even further, as he took in the sight of Boba Fett and Arla Gen lolling on either side of the door.
“Wha - ?” he breathed in complete disbelief.
Fett unpeeled himself from the wall, and held out a hand to Piett.
“Fancy joining the New Republic, Admiral Piett?” he said in a half whisper.
If he hadn’t already been sitting down, Piett would have fallen over.
Just a few minutes later they were heading at speed down the corridor, with Piett directing them rather than Arla, even with his mind still reeling at what he had done, and who had come to rescue him. The bounty hunters had both seemed highly amused by the whole thing, even though they had handcuffed him. Still, although it was a case of out of the Rancor into the Sarlacc as all the trainees were saying these days - in reference to the man striding ahead of him at this precise moment, he thought with a slight twitch of his mouth, and you did not look such gift Banthas in the mouth.
Even if it was a trap, then it had to be better than whatever Thrawn had had in mind for him - and Piett had been exercising his imagination about those possibilities ever since being flung in the cell a couple of hours previously. Still, he paused when they reached the end of the holding cells, knowing that the guard would be somewhere in this area and feeling a pang of remorse about the other people in the cells behind him.
No doubt some of them would leap at the chance of serving in the New Republic after a taste of life on board Thrawn’s ship.
Arla Gen, behind him, gave him a shove with her blaster to keep him moving, but he shook away and was about to turn and say something when he heard the same blaster noise as before, and there was a cry of pain swiftly cut short as Fett fired another round. The guard, he realised, with a sigh. Arla gripped him by the shoulder to stop him from reacting.
“Well, that takes care of that, but I don’t think we’ll be alone for long,” said Fett, “we’ve been very lucky, so far, and I don’t want to push our luck.”
“But this one is hesitating for some reason - perhaps we should just leave him.”
Piett opened his mouth to protest, but the comment died on his tongue as he looked at them. He swallowed, suddenly aware of his predicament and the danger that these two posed to him.
“Come on, then,” said Arla to him. And they marched off again.
Then they heard the sound behind them. Footsteps. Running footsteps. And lots of them. Stormtroopers, Piett realised. For the first time in his life he felt scared of their noisy and thoughtless entry, rather than feeling the usual quickly submerged rush of contempt for these badly trained troops. He had often spoken to the Generals he knew about their training, but little had been done, and now, well, now it was far too late. Now, he was glad they were badly trained - but they could still kill him.
“Shit,” said Arla, “shit - there’s too many for us to take them all out - we have to slow them down.”
Piett had an idea.
“Um,” he started, jumping a little as they both snapped around to face him, “I know the code to release the prisoners - the cell doors, I mean - that will slow -”
He felt the blaster in his back again.
“Do it.” hissed Arla.
He slammed the combination into the control panel beside them, but only stopped to listen for the shack of all the doors opening at once, before setting off at a run after the bounty hunters. In the distance he heard blaster fire, shouts and cries of pain among the stamping footsteps. With a sinking heart, he realised he had probably consigned many of the prisoners to a swifter death than they would already have had, but there was little he could do for them now. And if he truly did join this rebellion, he would be sending out orders to kill many, many more of his former staff. Best, he thought, not to think about it - but to get off the ship as fast as possible, for if Thrawn would never forgive a foolish comment, he certainly will not look kindly on my actions of the last few minutes!
Finally, they reached the lift shafts, and shot up to the next level, bringing them up in the interconnected series of docking bays.
“Number fifteen - not bad!” cried Arla, setting off towards the next bay at some speed, keen to be on her ship and out of the Ruiner’s clutches.
It seemed they had been on the ship for hours, and she wondered how the battle was going - she had felt only the dimmest shocks of a vessel being struck by fire since they had come on board, and had almost forgotten about the battle. Foolish, she chided herself, for she knew that one should never forget what was happening around them. Still, no harm done - yet, she thought as they burst through the archway to the docking bay where their ships stood.
Immediately, she was aware that something was wrong. As soon as realised what it was she skidded to a halt, and looked around.
“Oh no!” she cried.
“What’s wrong?” asked Fett, from behind her, making her jump, worry evident in his voice.
“I don’t believe it! It’s a disaster!” she wailed.
Fett looked around.
“Oh.” he said.
Vert III had gone.
“My ship’s been stolen!” Arla was nearly shouting by now, as she ran across the bay looking for it, as if it would appear from underneath one of the other few ships in this bay.
“I don’t understand.” said Fett, following her, but stopping at Slave I and opening up the cargo hold. “Who would - who could -? Wait!” he cried, anger in his voice as he dropped to the ground in a crouch, ripping one of his gloves off and touching something with his fingers. “Look.”
Arla came over, and looked.
“Blood?” she said, puzzled. “But who would -?”
Fett’s voice had gone hard and flat when he spoke again.
“Mon Silva. Damn. I should have killed her, too.”
“But - what about their own ship?”
“I don’t know - but I think we’re likely to find out when we return to Coruscant.”
Piett approached them, wondering what was wrong.
“Um, might I inquire what is the problem?” he asked, keeping his voice as still and neutral as possible, a trick he had perfected under Vader.
“We only have one ship now,” said Fett, getting to his feet, businesslike, “That shouldn’t be a problem -”
“Not a problem -” this was from Arla, whose temper was fraying rapidly.
“Shut up -”
“Don’t you tell -”
“Be quiet. There is nothing we can do, except get off this Star Destroyer as fast as possible. That means no arguments, no questions and doing just as I say.” snapped Fett, gripping her arm before she could do anything, and bundling the struggling woman into the cargo hold.
“Go and strap yourself in, and you too, Admiral. This ship is too small for it to be safe to have you elsewhere. And,” he said before Arla could say anything back to him, as she was obviously busting to, “I don’t want to hear a single word about it. We have been here too long, and need to get out - so try not to be more stupid than is necessary.”
And he punched the panel on the side, closing the door before she could answer or find something to throw at him.
Fett breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the black star-laden void outside of the Star Destroyer. He was cloaked, so no one could see him, but he shot away from the ship as fast as he could make his ship go under the circumstances. He could see that there were some small skirmishes going on relatively near by, though not close enough to this side of the Ruiner to make his presence a problem. All he had to do know was get himself out of range of the weaponry that was honed in on the small clusters of New Republic ships, and also out of the range of the planet’s own defensive systems. He felt a sense of urgency he had rarely felt before in the past, and never for the same reasons.
Got to get out of this alive, he thought, finally admitting to himself the truth that he should have known for months now, I can’t lose her now, not now, when it could be alright - more than alright.
He shifted the position of the ship so that the planet swung into view, and pulled the co-ordinate screen down to track the best way onto the surface, and as close as possible to the capital without getting hit by the city’s guns. That done, he could relax a little and cruise down towards the surface, and then he could apologise to Arla for his treatment of her in the docking bay.
It was only moments after entering the atmosphere of Coruscant that he realised that he had a problem. Frowning, he checked at the figures again. Then again.
“Shit.” he muttered.
There was no way he could have lost that much fuel in that short trip, he knew, and began to check quickly for leaks. With a chill of surprise, he read the readings that told that there were no leaks out of the ship - only into it, which meant that the fuel was in the ship somewhere, as, he was informed, even the safety stops he had put on the tanks to stop something like this happening had failed now. He swallowed, feeling some alarm as he thought where the fuel could be going.
First, he thought of the bay he had docked into at Mos Eisley, but that was unlikely as he had spent a long time in hyperspace to get back to the centre of the galaxy from that border planet, and going into hyperspace put the ship under a lot more strain than it was under now. If it had happened then, he would probably have been dead by this time.
That left - sabotage.
As if to confirm his thoughts, the display lit up in front of him as a number of small explosions were confirmed in strategic points about his ship. Slave I lurched uncomfortably, dangerously. He slammed into full manual, but it made little difference.
“Shit,” he said again, but louder and with far more feeling than he usually put into any of his words, as the ship spiralled out of control.
They were going to crash.
“Arla! Arla!” he thought desperately, thinking alongside it, please don’t have shut me out, please.
“Fett!” her mind voice came to him almost before he had stopped calling out to her, to his intense relief. “What the fuck is going on?”
“We’re going to crash. I’m jettisoning the cargo - you. Warn the Admiral and brace yourself . . .”
He pushed the button to release them, and watched for a moment as the pod fell away from the ship, thanking any gods that were listening that this had happened within the atmosphere of the planet and not out in space, otherwise - well, best not to think about it.
The cockpit was full of flashing lights as various parts of the ship went down, then suddenly it was still and quiet as all the lights went out. Fett felt a surge of anger at the bastard who had done this, guessing, quite correctly, that it had been Dengar because of the things he had done to that ones ship before. He ground his teeth, realising that he had no way now of knowing what was going wrong with the ship. And the ground was coming up quite fast, despite his effort to slow the ship down to its minimum power. Now he had to rely on his senses alone. He had had this ship for nearly twenty years, and had added most of the additions himself over that time, he knew every inch of it, and every sound it should make.
Which was a very good thing, he realised only moments later, on hearing a creaking, groaning sound, and the unpleasant sharp grating noise of metal ripping from metal. He groaned.
The ship was beginning to break up.
No, no, he thought, in a sudden panic, not my Slave I, I can’t lose my ship - I can’t. But even as he thought it, he knew it was futile, and he was already pressing the button next to the one that had jettisoned the cargo pod, the one that opened the cockpit and flung him out of the ship. Please let this work, he begged anyone who happened to be listening, let the bloody cockpit open. Otherwise, he knew, he would end up crashing right through it - if he was lucky, if not, he would just be knocked against it, and crash with the ship - or what remained of it.
And, igniting his rocket pack, Fett shot out of the ship, and away from it. He hovered just a moment, watching in fascinated horror as it burnt, and parts peeled away from the hull under the force of the little - and not so little explosions inside it. Then he began an almost controlled descent to the ground. Or so he thought, for he had only been drifting down for a very short time when he heard an unfamiliar whoomphing sound behind him. Then there was a feeling of heat on his back, and despite his fully powering the pack, he was knocked into the distance as the ship blew.
Luke groaned as he noticed another red flare light up his chart of the area. Not another ship down, even after the battle was officially over by a good hour, and most of the fighters had withdrawn to lick their wounds before the next days encounter. He rubbed at his head, wishing for a moment that he could just leave it until morning and then go and fetch whoever had just come down. But that was uncharitable, the poor person hadn’t chosen to crash land in his patrol sector, rather than in one with a fresher scout, and he knew that he could have just gone and, well, if not relaxed, then at least have done something less strenuous than running patrol for any waifs and strays that were still dribbling in - or not, as in the case of this one.
Of course, there was always the possibility of this one being an unlucky Imperial, who would have to be dealt with before he returned to the city at the newly imposed curfew time. That made him grimace too, reminding him of Hoth and that delightful night spent out in the frozen wastes of that planet - or at least having Han reminding him about it, as he had not been able to remember much of it, and Han had sat up most of that night breathing in the crisp night air tinted with the unmistakable aroma of tauntaun guts. He did not like to think that this beautiful city would have to live under the same circumstances as that grim planet.
His mind clouded with anger at the thought of those damned Imperials and their stupid power games, ruining the people of Coruscant’s lives. He sighed, knowing that this anger would do no good at all, but felt quite unable to feel any other emotion.
Indeed, he had felt that way even before Vert III and its unexpected occupant had returned to the city and informed him of some news that had instantly curdled the nutrishake he had gulped down upon landing. Still, he supposed, it should have been expected. They were bounty hunters, after all. And after the bloodstained Mon had told him some illuminating stories about Fett’s exciting little past, he supposed he wasn’t even that surprised after all. And obviously Arla would do anything for her man - and, of course, for money. Maybe, he thought, it was all a ruse that they had planned out a long time ago with that infernal Grand Admiral. Maybe, even that scene - was it really only last night? he thought, choking back the bile that rose in this throat - was only play acting, to make him think that she was someone with sensibilities and feelings.
Well, he thought, they will not escape, even if we have to chase Thrawn’s ships across the whole bloody galaxy - I think that my poor Wedge is owed that much, and, and all the others killed today, of course. Another, more bitter, thought occurred to him, and I have taught them so much that only I can bring them down; well, I guess that is only fair, and I will be much, much more careful from now on. How can I have been so blind? And another, more disquieting notion came to him, and if I am not strong enough? What then? After all, even with the kids I’ve been teaching, there really is only me, isn’t there?
He became aware that he was gripping the controls far too hard, and deliberately eased his fingers away from them one by one, then stretched back, feeling tingles of pain shoot up his back as he did so, making him aware just how out of shape for this kind of thing he had been, how they all had been. As he rolled his head, listening to the various little clicks and cracks his neck was making, he thought, with a grimace, on just how complacent they had got in the past year and a half since the end of the second Death Star and the Emperor. Gritting his teeth, he thought on how they would not be complacent for one moment longer, and how easy it would be to make Fett and Arla into the New Republic’s first real victims. Or not, he thought, as the case may be.
Nothing though, would be enough to get Wedge back, and nothing would unsay the things that had been said, or undo the stupid things he’d done. No, he thought, angry with himself now, as well as the rest of the galaxy, you took this patrol to not think about him, not to dwell on it - so get on with what you are supposed to be doing and get this idiot who’s crashed their ship, and stop sand-sifting, it won’t do any good.
He pressed down harder on the controls and felt the increase in speed with a sense of relief, as his thoughts drifted away in the face of his purpose.
Looking at the piece of snapped metal in her hands, Arla clicked her tongue in frustration.
“Well,” said Piett, in a weary tone, “if it was that, then we could be spending a lot of time in here.”
She glared at him, feeling intensely stupid, and hating it, “maybe. But don’t think that you’ll get any enjoyment from that - we’d use all the oxygen up in here in a good fuck!”
She was rewarded by the expression on his face - she thought that his eyebrows were going to go right over his head, he was so shocked. People obviously did not say things like that to Admiral Piett. Not that that was surprising.
“Madam,” Piett was replying, in very frosty tones, “I am a married man.”
Arla laughed, as she continued her investigation of the pod’s controls, trying to find a way to open the damn thing, and made sure that she manoeuvred herself so that her bum was virtually in the poor man’s face.
“But not a happily married man, I would guess from your tone there.”
Piett was silent as he shifted himself away from her to the far end of the little pod, which was obviously only designed to hold one person and a little cargo at a time, making it very cramped. It was very disturbing to have been trapped in this thing with the woman for the scant half hour that had just passed. He didn’t even want to think about being trapped in there for another hour, let alone possibly days. A faint sheen of sweat broke out on his brow at the thought of the oxygen supplies.
“Do you think that Boba Fett survived - that?” he dared to ask, thinking that he man would certainly have the means to open his own cargo pod, if he was worth anything at all.
“Of course he will have survived. Of course,” she said, forcing the words out between her clenched teeth, and flipping around to activate her lightsaber so that the crackling light hummed just in front of his nose, “and don’t you go mentioning that again.”
Piett didn’t even dare to nod, but stretched his features into something that he hoped was a concilatory smile. Really, he thought, you should know better than to make - ah, unstable Jedi angrier than they already are. He cringed a little, but after a long moment, the lightsaber snapped back in, and the loss of light temporarily blinded them both, and into the darkness Arla said, “sorry. Didn’t mean that. Bit uptight about that. Sorry.”
They sat in silence for a little while, letting their eyes re-acclimatise to the tiny amount of light in the pod, then Piett heard Arla begin to start scrabbling about again.
Then he heard her laugh, and the sound of flesh slapping flesh.
“Oh, I am stupid!” she said, “all I have to do is use the lightsaber - I’m so dumb. It’ll slice through this easily, I’ll bet.” And then under her breath, “thank all the ninety gods.” She turned and faced Piett, “sorry, I’m going to have crowd you a bit, so I can activate the thing again.”
And the door fell open.
A familiar helmeted visage appeared at the hole to block the light, and said, “sorry Arla, I should have told you how to open it from the inside.”
Arla gasped a little, then crawled half out of the pod and said, with a grin plastered all over her face, “damn straight, you should have!”
She found herself pulled out of the pod into Fett’s arms. Held close, she could feel that he was shaking, and wondered why.
Piett crawled out next, blinking at the light. He looked at the two bounty hunters, then around at the scrubland strewn with bits of metal they seemed to have landed on which appeared to stretch on for several miles with no end in sight. A quick glance at the sky told him that they were not too far from twilight, as the suns were low in the sky. He sighed, glancing at the bounty hunters again, thinking that although it was no doubt better than being dead, spending the night with a pair of amorous bounty hunters was not high on his list of favourite pastimes.
Fett had disentangled himself from the Gen woman and was approaching him, and spoke to him in a surprisingly apologetic manner, considering the raspy nature of his voice.
“I’m sorry that your beginning with the New Republic has been so - disastrous. Unfortunately, I only have my wrist-comm to contact them, and that has only a short range, so we will have to watch for any patrol ships to come and fetch us. There is nothing of my Slave I left at all, except what you see around you. However, I have a tent, and I think Arla has one too, haven’t you?” She nodded. “Good. Then -”
He broke off, and his head snapped up, and he seemed to be scanning the sky.
“What’s up?” said Arla, feeling unaccountably nervous.
Fett waved his hand at her in a shushing motion, and honed the marcobinocular attachment on his helmet, then nodded once.
“It seems we’ll be alright. There is a patrol ship coming - it will only hold one other person, soo you can go back to Coruscant first, Admiral.”
Piett and Arla both looked up at that, and, sure enough, they were soon able to hear the whine of a ship coming into range, soon followed by the ship itself.
The compact little ship landed smoothly on the relatively even ground they all stood on, crunching some of the little bits of machinery that were scattered about as it did so. Arla heard Fett groan at that, and frowned, realising what those pieces were. But there was little time to dwell on that, as the orange clad figure jumped out of the cockpit of his ship and ran towards them. Then stopped dead in his tracks.
“I don’t believe it!” he cried.
Fett and Arla exchanged a quick glance.
“Luke?” they both cried at he same time.
The figure tugged his helmet off, and confirmed his identity. It was certainly Luke, although he wasn’t looking his best, with his blond hair sticking out in all directions, and his eyes red and puffy as if he had been crying. He was staring at them in total disbelief - and complete repugnance.
“Luke? Are you alright? You don’t look too good,” said Arla into the silence.
Luke opened his mouth, but nothing came out, so he smartly closed it again.
The anger built in him as he stared at the bounty hunters and the unknown Imperial officer - an Admiral, he noted with some surprise, and he blurted, “you bloody murderers - how dare you come back here?”
“What?” said Arla, turning to look at Fett, “What’s he on about?”
“Let me guess,” he said in a hard voice. “Not long ago, Arla’s ship arrived in Coruscant, with Mon Silva - covered in blood, and obviously very disturbed - piloting the thing. No doubt, she told all sorts of tales of murder and duplicity. Her brother was murdered by me, I’m sure she said, and I’m sure that Arla and I are working for Thrawn as spies. She knows this to be true, because - and I’m sure she wouldn’t have missed this little gem out - I used to be Thrawn’s spy ten years ago, when I first met them. Am I correct?”
Luke’s mouth fell open again, and he stared at Fett, taking in his exasperated words with some shock.
“But - but, how did you know?” he said.
Fett turned away from Luke and fumed, furious with himself for not killing the sister as well as the brother. He still didn’t doubt her protestations of innocence at her brother’s scheming, but, he knew he should have anticipated that she would betray them. And now this young idiot - and no doubt everyone who mattered in Coruscant - was being completely taken in by her lies.
“More to the point, Jedi, why did you not sense she was lying?” he spat at Luke. “You should have been able to tell.”
“And, Luke - you know we - or at least I - have done nothing to arouse suspicion since we arrived back from delivering this poor sod -” Arla indicated Piett with a jerk of hher head, “to the charming Grand Admiral. Not one fucking thing. You could try trusting us a little - and not some bods who arrive and take over! After all, I am Han’s friend too.”
Luke looked backwards and forwards between the two of them, not knowing what to say, and with questions brimming over in his mind. But, dammit, he did so want them to be guilty, and now he didn’t know what to think. I’ll be damned, he thought, if I take them back to Coruscant.
“Well.” he said, trying to gather his thoughts, “Well, my ship can only take one other, so I will take the Imperial - whoever he is, you haven’t deigned to say.”
Piett, completely confused by the previous exchange, stepped forward.
“Admiral Piett, former commander of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s flagship the Ruiner; and before that commander of Darth Vader’s flagship, Executor and the Imperial fleet, at your service.” Well, he thought, with credentials like that, he’ll probably just shoot me on the spot - or if he is anything like his father, he’ll simply strange me. Ah well.
Luke boggled, feeling slightly run over by all of this.
“You are Piett?” he cried, looking the thin, rather nervous looking man over. This was not how he had imagined his father’s second-in-command at all. “But why -? Oh never mind, you can tell me on the way back. You’ll be placed in the holding cells until we have time to deal with you.”
“Luke,” that was Arla again, “that’s silly. He was Thrawn’s second - although under duress, I think - he’s going to know a hell of a lot about those Destroyers up there. I think you need him.” And us, she thought, but didn’t say it.
Despite her words, Piett was handcuffed up and marched over to Luke’s patrol ship. He glanced back at the bounty hunters and shrugged at them. It was what he had expected. He would have put anyone coming to him in such a situation under very close observation - and that kind of observation was easiest in a prison setting when you were busy. And obviously, the rebels were quite well occupied at the moment. And he suspected that the holding cells on Coruscant would be better than those on a Star Destroyer.
Piett felt a great burden lift off his shoulders as he settled himself into the cramped seat behind the cockpit. He would never have to deal with megalomaniacs like Vader and Thrawn again - or the Emperor. And that could only be good, for all that it made him sad to be leaving the Empire that he had served in since it had come into existence. Not that sad though, for without the Emperor, there was really very little left of the Empire he had known. Eventually, this New Republic would win, as more and more worlds came over to its ideology, and it was always better, in the end, to be on the winning side.
As Piett made himself comfortable Luke was trying to work out what to do with his pupils. Who were simply standing and waiting for him to make the decision. That in itself gave him pause, for had the wanted to, they could have over-powered him and used his ship for escape, at least back to the city. But they hadn’t. In fact, they seemed quite resigned to spending the night here. Together. Luke’s stomach turned a little at that, remembering where Arla had been the night before. He itched to tell Fett, in the hope that he would reject the woman, but didn’t quite dare, not knowing quite what to say.
He cleared his throat, and began, knowing he sounded rather pompous, “right. You will have to stay here tonight - and frankly I don’t care if you both freeze -”
“It’s summer, Luke; it’s not likely, now is it?” said Arla.
Luke felt the wind go right out of his sails.
“Uh, I guess not. Anyway, there is nothing here for miles around - you couldn’t get back to Coruscant even if you walked all night. I have to return before curfew, which is quite soon, and now I know you are here, I can sense your presence, so there is no point in running. You’ll have answer to the charges against you tomorrow. Enjoy your night under the stars - I hope its more fun for you than last night, Arla - why don’t you tell your boyfriend all about it?” he finished waspishly, and then turned and stamped back to his ship.
In a few moments it was in the air, and Boba Fett and Arla Gen were alone among the scattered remains of Slave I in the fading light of Coruscant’s two suns.
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