The sound of over a hundred people enjoying themselves in spite of the renewed threat of war filled the summer’s night. Small, dark coloured birds flitted about the streams of ribbons that had been criss-crossed between poles to create an insubstantial canopy above the revellers heads. As if Coruscant’s three moons, all relatively full, were not enough light for them, coloured beacons were placed around the place.
There had been fireworks, earlier, but now people were applying themselves wholeheartedly to getting drunk, very fast. And eating a lot; there was always plenty on Coruscant. For this night, people chose to forget that many other worlds were starving.
For those who were looking, though, there was an edge of hysteria to the merrymaking. Most preferred not to look; and those who saw it were quick to become drunker than those who did not.
Arla clutched tightly at her glass as she watched the beautifully dressed, gaily chatting people. There was a cold, sick feeling in her stomach, and she felt uncomfortable with her hair twisted up in the most elaborate hairstyle she had allowed the hairdressers to concoct. Two irritating ringlets, slicked shiny, bounced against her cheeks every time she moved. Her eyes itched with make-up, and she felt exposed in the long, tight, viridian dress she wore, even though she knew she would have stood out even further in her usual breeches and tunic.
Through the throng she glimpsed Leia looking assured in her customary white, as she laughed with some old military coot; Arla chewed at her painted lips, and shifted her glass so she could attack the skin around her fingernails. Her desire not to be there was almost painful, and her stomach knotted itself further.
Leia had deemed it a good idea to throw this party after discovering that Grand Admiral Thrawn was planning to attack, possibly within days.
He was apparently thinking the unthinkable.
He was apparently thinking of attacking Coruscant.
As far as Arla was concerned, he could attack the damned planet as much as he liked; but that was uncharitable.
Leia had thought a party might ease the strain. And indeed, thought Arla, a party might well have eased her own tension. But this was not a party, and it was too much like the functions she had endured as a teenager. She took a big gulp of her drink, finishing it, and looked about for a replacement.
It had been three weeks since Fett had left and Arla was working hard at maintaining the level of calm necessary for her training, with surprising success. She had been very upset when he had gone, but had also been highly irritated by the way everyone had been tiptoeing around her to avoid angering her further. Particularly Luke, though he had not seemed too happy, himself. So, she had clamped down on her feelings, and just got on with the work she had to do. The time had crawled, but nothing could move more slowly than this terrible party.
She hadn’t dared not come, though, people hardly trusted her as it was, and would no doubt have suspected all sorts of things if she hadn’t come. She looked vainly about for someone decent to talk to, but saw no one. Han was conspicuous by his absence, she noted without humour, and Lando had been off planet for most of the time she had been here. She had no desire to talk to any of the other rebel heroes, or their commanders, let alone the big wigs of Coruscant that had been invited.
She drank the replacement drink too fast as well.
Her heart sank further as Leia approached her.
“Are you alright?” she said, touching Arla’s arm briefly, her brow furrowed slightly.
Arla caught herself saying, “too much like my parents parties.”
“I was too young to go, but I always wanted to - don’t know why now. This isn’t much fun, is it?”
Arla chuckled quietly.
“You do know who I am, then? I should have known.”
“You look too much like your mother - it took me awhile to place it, but once I remembered her, I knew it had to be you, Arliana.”
Arla’s lips pinched into a hard, bitter line.
“It is no compliment to say I am like my mother.” It came out harsher than she intended, and she winced at Leia’s expression, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound - oh well, I don’t know, never mind. It all seems so long ago, now. Ten years now since I left. How did you know I had even run away?”
Leia shrugged. “Easy. Your parents came to Alderaan looking for you. They assumed you had gone there. They were very angry not to find you. I was very worried about you. Arla, when you lived on Alderaan you were restless, but not unhappy enough to run away - what happened; Arla, why did you leave?”
Arla put a hand to her forehead, trying to smooth away the headache that was threatening, and thought about back when she had been the daughter of Yania and Tarl Gentrice. When she had been a rich banker’s daughter with everything she could have wanted in the world.
She glared around at the too loud revellers, hating Coruscant even more as she remembered the four awful years she had spent living among people like the vapid rich who mingled uneasily with the rebel heroes who had become the governors of their fragile New Republic.
“Why did I leave? Firelord, I need another drink right now if I have to even think about the time I lived on this stupid planet, in this hideous city!” she said.
Another drink was procured. Arla drank it down in one, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“I’ve come a long way since then,” she said, an edge of hysteria entering her voice. She tried to ignore Leia’s quiet, worried expression. “And I don’t regret a single moment of it. Not one,” she said in a quieter voice, feeling all her anger running away from her; she sighed, feeling tired of it all.
“Look, Leia, I’m sorry, I’d really rather not talk about why I left. Just lets say that I had reason enough.”
“Alright,” she said, but felt a little angry herself, “but, you had it all on Alderaan - why did you leave there? I missed you, and you never even wrote.” She was horrified to hear a note of petulance in her voice - a small part of the back of her mind thought she sounded like Luke, she dismissed it.
Arla sighed, and taking Leia’s arm, she tugged her towards a table, snatching another drink for them both as she did so.
“You missed me? Well, that’s nice to hear. I missed everything about Alderaan, absolutely everything. I hate this world so much. Leia, I wasn’t allowed to communicate with any of my old friends - it was seen as dangerous -” a thread of bitterness crept into her voice. “In some ways it was your father - well, Bail Organa, - that made us leave. My father was intimidated by the Empire, who, of course, provided his livelihood - there was little lucrative banking outside the Empire, after all. Alderaan was beginning to dedicate itself to the Rebellion in those years, so, my father upped and left for the safe city of poxy Coruscant. That’s all, only I was allowed no connection to any rebels, so I certainly could not communicate with your family, Leia.”
Leia stared at her drink, feeling churlish for having been snappy. Obviously the woman had her reasons; but she remembered Arla - Liana as she had been known then, as a good friend despite the three years between them. Arla had never looked down on her for being just a kid, though.
She glanced up at the red haired woman, feeling a little envious of her lively attractiveness, her vibrancy.
Arla met her eyes briefly, and smiled a wry smile.
“I never thought my past would catch up with me in this way,” she said.
Leia smiled, taking it for a small apology; but still feeling a little annoyed, she said, “I suppose it was unlikely - most of the people you knew are now dead.”
Arla looked glum, remembering Alderaan, and said in a quiet voice, “yes. I know. That was another reason not to work for Vader that time.” She paused, looking up to blink back the tears that had formed, then applied herself to her drink again, noticing something odd as she did so.
“You haven’t touched your drink, Leia. Why?”
Finally, Leia laughed, sounding faintly embarrassed as she did so.
“I can’t. Not for several months, anyway. I’m pregnant, you see,” she said.
Arla felt her jaw dropping. She closed it smartly.
“Firelord! Um, do I offer congratulations, or -?”
“The timing is inconvenient, but, of course, you never know when renegade Grand Admirals will drop out of the sky, but it is a happy accident, Arla. It’s twins. I’m still getting used it myself. I only found out a couple days ago.”
“And Han -?”
“Is terrified, of course!” She frowned, Arla seemed to have lost interest in her news, and was staring distractedly beyond her into the party. “What’s wrong?”
Arla was on her feet, no longer paying attention to Leia, but looking very flustered, unnaturally so.
“Arla?” said Leia more sharply, as she turned around to see what was unnerving her friend. She saw nothing unusual, just guests drinking and talking.
Arla bent down and hissed at Leia, “you invited my parents? Was this some sort of comment?”
“Your parents? Where?” said Leia, craning about. Now she knew what she was looking for, she saw them almost immediately, a tall woman with paling red hair, too much jewellery and a society smile; and a shorter, spare featured man with very little grey hair.
They seemed unaware that their daughter was in the room.
Leia turned back to point this out, but there was no one else at the table anymore. She shrugged, as she spotted Arla heading rapidly out of the party.
She got up herself, fighting back a twinge of nausea as she did, and headed for the little knot of pilots that included her brother.
Luke greeted her as she approached, “people are beginning to relax a little - are you alright?”
“Fine,” she said, surrendering a cheek to his kiss, “where’s Han?”
Luke looked sheepish.
“Lando’s back,” he began.
“Good - what’s that got to do with Han?”
Luke looked more shifty.
“Oh, I see - they’ve gone off drinking, haven’t they?” She flashed a glance at Luke. “And you were thinking of joining them weren’t you?” She shook her head, suppressing a sigh.
“No - I wouldn’t leave you to do all this yourself -”
“He’s lying,” laughed Wedge.
Leia felt so angry that she did not notice the tension in the pilot’s voice, and glared at all of them.
“Well, I want you to leave, Luke. Not to go drinking with Han and Lando,” her tone implied that a bad decision had been made there, and would be regretted by the participants when they resurfaced.
Luke felt glad he had not already sneaked away to join them, and listened attentively to his sister, keen for any excuse to get away from the friends who had dragged him over to this particular group.
Leia continued, “it’s Arla. Her parents are here - don’t ask. I think she’s upset - and she’s your pupil. I want you to go and she if she is alright.”
Luke composed his features into a neutral expression, and said the words he thought she wanted to hear, “don’t you want to go? I can stay here for you, if you want.”
Leia levelled a stare at him.
“Okay, okay. Don’t look at me like that. I’m going,” said Luke.
Curled up in a ball on her bed, Arla was crying in earnest for the first time since Fett had left. Seeing her parents had been a shock, being interrogated by Leia had been painful, and made her feel guilty, and hearing that Leia was pregnant had upset in ways she had not thought possible. Not that there any chance that she would have children, she had seen to that years ago after a scare, and nor did she want them, really, but the thought of Han and Leia having a family was making her feel left out and lonely in a completely illogical fashion.
She wanted Fett to come back.
A brief fantasy of his returning and proclaiming his undying love for her, and whipping off his helmet to reveal an impossibly handsome face ran through her mind.
For a moment it made her smile, then she sat up, snorting in disgust at herself. She felt a little sick, and tired from the amount she had drunk. Her head was beginning to throb.
There was only one thing to do; and that was drink some more. She went to the rooms comm-link and ordered a bottle or two to be sent to her.
The droid carrying her drinks was still hurrying along when Luke intercepted it.
“Who’s that drink for?” he asked, thinking that his younger students had decided to have a quiet party in their rooms.
“It is for the bounty hunter, Arla Gen, Master Luke,” said the droid.
Luke smiled to himself.
“I’ll take it, then. I was going to see her myself.”
“Of course, Master Luke.”
Luke took the tray and walked the few metres that separated him from Arla’s rooms. He knocked on the door. There was a pause, then the sound of thudding feet, and the door slid open, and Arla’s surprised face greeted him.
“Luke?” she said, frowning at him, peering around the corner saying, “what’s going on?”
“Nothing. Leia told me you were upset, so I decided to see if you were alright.” A small white lie, he thought, doesn’t really matter. “I met your droid on the way with these,” he waved the two bottles in front of her, “and took them off it.” He paused, and looked at her strained face. “You are upset aren’t you? And these bottles - Chandrilan gin, indeed - Arla, I’ve seen you drink much before. What’s wrong? You look awful.”
Arla rubbed at her forehead, then ran her hand through her hair impatiently, “ever the one with the compliment - or is it Jedi intuition? Uh, okay - Luke, it’s been a long day,” she sighed, and pinched at her forehead, “and its going to be a long night - if you could give me the bottles and -” she looked up into his face, he looked so hurt and vulnerable; she shook her head. “Okay. Never mind. Come in.”
She disappeared back into the room again, “I’ll get you a glass.”
Luke walked into the room, stepping over her dress, and then, blushing, her underwear. Arla noticed the blush, and smiled; slowly she went over and picked up the discarded clothes and went into the bathroom with them.
Luke noticed that for once she was not wearing green; her robe was in shades of warm brown silk, which enriched the colour of her red hair and made her already white skin seem paler and more fragile.
He became aware that, if that was her underwear that had just gone into the laundry shute, then she had nothing on under the robe. He shifted uncomfortably, and swallowed.
“Sit down, make yourself at home - I’m sorry about the mess. Turf stuff off a chair if you have to,” said Arla from the bathroom.
Luke did as he was told, removing a bowl of something that might once have been cereal, a stack of holo-books and papers and some other garments from the nearest chair. He frowned as he removed the last item, which was a small blaster pistol. Looking about, he saw a blaster on the table by the door, a couple of throwing stars on a nearby table, and he could she the glint of knives in the boots which lay against the other chair.
He felt suddenly glad that his lightsaber was at his belt and fingered it lightly.
Arla emerged from the bathroom looking better, the tear streaks had been washed away, and a bright smile had settled on her features. She looked at the uncomfortable black-clad figure seated on the chair, and her smile grew.
She found some glasses and, after chucking the stuff from the other chair and tugging the little table to her - the stars fell off and landed in a pile of clothes - she sat down and poured them both a drink.
Luke looked at his with suspicion.
“Thank you, but I’m not sure I-”
“Drink it. You wanted to come here, so accept my hospitality. I want to get drunk, so if you want to stay, you have to drink too, there’s a good boy.”
Luke drank his gin like a good boy, wincing a little at the kick of the strong liquor, and without looking at her. There was a pause, and Luke became aware of her aura of sadness and loss. It permeated the whole room.
“Arla,” he began, keeping his voice low and concerned, “what is wrong? The whole room seems infected with your sadness.”
Arla looked about.
“Does it?” she said, doubtfully; then she turned to him and twisted her lips into something resembling a smile. “Ah, Luke,” she said, “what do you think is the matter?”
“I didn’t think you were that involved,” said Luke, as neutrally as he could.
Arla raised an eyebrow at him, and poured him another drink.
She said, in a deliberately bland voice, “I was trying to be. I love him. Stupid, I know, but there it is. Can’t be helped. And now I have to move on and get on with it.”
There was another silence in which they both finished their drinks. It stretched on as Arla poured them another.
“Yes.” said Luke, his mind wandering. “It could be worse though,”
“Indeed. I could be in love with my sister.”
Luke laughed, thinking it all seemed a million years ago.
“Oh, no - that didn’t last long. I didn’t really - I mean I - I knew she was my sister quite quickly - and of course, there was Han.”
“Balls. I bet you were really cut up. Han’s lucky, famous for it, he would - and always did - get the girl, and come out of it looking like butter wouldn’t melt. Git.”
Luke laughed again, beginning to feel light-headed. It was probably a bad idea to drink gin straight after an evening glugging the free wine down.
“That’s not fair,” he said, “Han fought very hard for us.”
“Hah! I know he’s your ‘buddy’ but I bet he was trying to escape all the time. I bet he was crapping himself about Jabba all the time as well. Joyous.”
“And you think that Boba Fett is a nice person?”
“Don’t be dumb. I think he’s honest, though. And that’s an accusation I would not have levelled at dear Han until he got involved with you lot. Well meaning, maybe, but not honest.”
Luke shook his head, and poured them both another drink.
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “Why become a bounty hunter, anyway?”
“It was better than being a prostitute,” snapped Arla.
They stared at each other.
“Oh,” said Luke.
“Yes, oh.” Arla’s mouth set into a hard line for a moment as she remembered it. “There were points of my first year away from home that were even worse than being at home. I nearly jacked it all in and came crawling back to Coruscant - I presume Leia has blabbed to all and sundry about my illustrious parentage.”
“She told me, yes. But I don’t think she even told Han.”
“Big of her. No, that’s unfair, you are my teacher after all. And you probably knew anyway - probably read my mind.”
“Arla! I would never do that unless you let me. I don’t think I could anyway. Leia, yes. My father, too, when I - knew him. I can feel your emotions, and to certain extent, Fett’s too - the children are easy,” for a brief moment Arla thought he meant Leia’s twins, before realising he meant the young Jedi trainees, “but I couldn’t read your mind, or even talk mind to mind the way I can with Leia. I think you have to be really close to someone to do it. How do you know about it?”
Arla’s ironic expression had faded as his speech had come to a close, and now looked drawn and miserable again; she chewed at a nail, then said, “Fett and I spoke ‘mind to mind’, as you put it.”
Although Slave III handled well out in the vacuum of space, in an atmosphere it took a little more effort, so Fett was too busy to appreciate the gradual emergence of Mos Eisley from the desert.
Instead he looked about for a docking bay large enough to take his ship that wasn’t already taken by a freighter. He eventually had to come to land near the outer edge of the city, after threatening the owners, in a new series of large docking bays belonging to a spice dealer who still owed him money.
He climbed out of his ship and attached a fuelling tube to it, then went to regain his credits.
Even the speed with which the clearly terrified Twi’lek girl who served as the dealer’s secretary had produced his credits failed to put him in a good mood, however.
It was still Tatooine, and he really did not want to be there.
Which, of course, begged the question, why was he there?
Fett sighed, and walked out of the office towards Mos Eisley’s less than salubrious centre. It was all very different from Coruscant’s glittering white towers, he thought, as he made his way through the low, sand covered buildings towards Spaceport Speeders, to hire a landspeeder for his trip.
The array of vehicles was a depressing sight to a mech addict like Fett. Most of the merchandise was at least five years old and looked as if it had spent most of that time battling out desert storms. The sportiest one on view was a Sorosuub X-54, three years out of date, with a new, and to Fett’s trained eye, inaccurately matched repulsor-lift generator.
More irritatingly, the owner of the garage was leaning against the door of his office, watching him, and picking at his teeth. A lanky, grey-haired individual with an interesting attitude to personal hygiene if the flies buzzing around him were anything to go by, he seemed uninterested in Fett’s careful inspection of the speeders.
Fett shifted his blaster further into view, and called the man over.
“It might,” he said, “be good for you if you find something better than these.”
The man observed the blaster, and nodded, scurrying off.
Fett leaned back on a speeder and let the heat wash over him. Already, beads of sweat were tickling at the back of his neck.
What was he doing here? He should be back on Coruscant with Arla - no point in denying it now he was away from the city, and from her.
The last couple of weeks he had drifted aimlessly about the galaxy, each time ending up nearer to Tatooine than the last time he had gone into lightspeed, despite his desire to get away from the place. Eventually, he had thought it best just to give in and go there.
Evidently the what-ever-it-was that had mucked him about on that moon with Dengar wanted him to do something, and in the end it was always easier just to face things than to hedge about forever.
A voice in the back of his mind whispered, yeah, and you think that’s what you always do, do you, Fett? He dismissed the thought, and tried to put Arla out of his head, as well.
The bad dreams had been getting worse since he had left the city as well, which did not help his equilibrium, or his piloting. It had been more difficult to fly down to Mos Eisley than he liked to admit, and part of him worried about taking a landspeeder out into the desert, with no slave circuits to help him.
He was so lost in his reverie that he jumped when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
The person in question squeaked as he swung his blaster at her.
“Well,” she said, “that’s a nice greeting, Boba Fett! Hello to you, too.”
Her partner laughed.
Fett relaxed and lowered the blaster.
“Mon Silva, Mar Garno. What are you doing on Tatooine?”
The tall woman with the white blonde hair laughed as she exchanged a glance with her equally pale haired companion, her brother, in fact, although Fett had always suspected that their relationship was more than just fraternal. He knew these two as well as he knew any of the smugglers and sometime spice-runners who moved in the same world he did - had done.
Despite their fragile, blond, good looks, they were ruthless in their trading and highly skilled pilots; and, perhaps more dangerously, they were as close knit a team as Han Solo and Chewbacca. But, unlike most of the other smugglers and indeed, bounty hunters, who knew him, neither of them seemed to dislike or even fear him. They were, then, almost friendly.
Silva smiled at him.
“We could ask the same to you. I would have thought that this planet of all places you would have avoided,” she said in her careful, precise Basic. Her accent marked her as being of a similar background as Arla, as did her brother’s; though he seldom spoke in public.
Boba Fett said nothing to that, and Silva shrugged.
“Well,” she said, “we do not wish to tell someone who has aligned himself with the Imperials what we are up to, do we Garno?” The other grinned, but shook his head.
Fett felt taken aback.
“What do you mean?” he blurted before he could stop himself, “I’m not working for them.”
“Oh no? We had heard that you and that slutty red head, what’s her name?”
“Arla Gen,” came Garno’s soft voice.
“Yes, you would remember, wouldn’t you? Anyway, we heard you were hunting in the pay of the Grand Admiral from the Unknown Regions, with a massive bounty - half a million each, we heard.”
“Yes.” said Fett, annoyed that his movements were being so closely monitored, although he was glad they had the price wrong. “And now I am on Tatooine on my own business.”
“Well. Gods alone know why. Actually, we are on our way to Coruscant, we have just sold a rather poor batch of base Kessel spice for a rather inflated price, so we will look nice and rich and innocent.”
Fett felt curious in spite of himself.
“Why are you going to Coruscant? I thought that you all tended to avoid the city - certainly I saw no smugglers of any note when I was there.”
“You were there?” Silva seemed surprised.
Her brother said, “well, it figures. That’s where his partner is at the moment, according to reports.”
“Ooh - is there something going on between you two?”
“No,” he said, thinking, and she’s not my partner, either.
“Wise choice,” smiled Silva, “she must have had half the galaxy between her legs! Anyway, we’ve been invited to Coruscant to help the “New Republic” as we’ve been in the Unknown Regions ourselves for some time, and they need all the information they can get with Thrawn breathing down their necks - at least that’s what Han said.”
Fett’s heart thumped in his chest.
He almost ran back to his ship to go straight back to Coruscant, but at that moment the salesman reappeared with a sleek looking speeder, grinning nervously.
The siblings glanced at each other, and Silva’s mouth twitched. Garno remained impassive.
“Well,” said Silva, “we’ll leave you to your deal. ‘Bye, then,” she turned as if to go, but at the last moment turned back, reconsidering, “what are you doing, anyway?”
Concentrating on examining the speeder, Fett muttered, “I’m going into the desert.”
He was so absorbed in his task that he didn’t hear their conversation as they moved away,
“So, how did I do?” murmured Silva.
Her brother squeezed her hand, and nuzzled at her neck.
“Great, Han will be pleased we found him, and you told him everything he told us to tell him.”
“He didn’t really seem to care, though.”
“No, obviously the desert is more interesting than the woman.”
“I don’t understand why anyone would want to go out there at all.”
Arla had begun to cry a little.
“Ah, Luke,” she whispered, “it’s all so hard. I even felt jealous when Leia told me she was pregnant - and believe me I have never wanted children. Had myself sterilised years ago; but still, they will be a family, and that - something like that - would be nice, in the end. Sometimes, you get sick of just working with yourself, always alone. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to be a bounty hunter again.”
Luke dared to take her hand.
She let him.
“You wouldn’t ever have to be,” he said, rubbing her hand with his thumb, “you could stay here with us. Already you’ve brought us valuable information about Thrawn, why not join us permanently?”
Arla turned away, but didn’t remove her hand.
“Don’t say you’ve never felt lonely. You’re very alone, too, aren’t you? I’d never thought about it before, but you are very different to them all, being a Jedi. No wonder you wanted more mature ones, like Fett and me. Those kids must be irritating - don’t say anything, they are teenagers, of course they are irritating. And they’ll idolise you, but you need friends who are confident in their own abilities too.”
Luke found himself on his knees in front of her; he wasn’t really sure how he had got there.
He finished his drink, and his head swirled.
“Are you offering me your friendship, Arla?”
She smiled fondly down at him. It was strange though, how she seemed unable to focus.
“Yeah, sure. I like you, Luke. You’re odd, but I’ve always been accused of liking strange men by my friend Rene.” She began to giggle. “Not that she can talk - I’ve never seen her go out with a human. I guess I’m a bit racist - I like my men to be, well, men -” she stopped, for Luke had gone very still, and the colour had drained from his face.
“Luke?” she said.
Luke opened his mouth, but it took a while for the words to come.
“Are you - I mean, do you want - uh, is this a proposition?” He slurred over the last word.
She felt vague, as if she was watching herself from a long way away for a moment, then with a rush of blood to the head, she let a smile curve up the corners of her mouth, although there were still tears on her cheeks.
She slid off her seat so that she was sitting next to Luke. Almost casually she ran her fingers through his hair.
He appeared frozen by her light touch.
She studied his features carefully, although focusing was becoming more difficult, aware, just about, that she still had a silly grin plastered all over her face. He seemed terrified, and the thought flashed into her mind - he can’t be a virgin, can he? -
“No,” said Luke, in a tight, offended voice, “no, I’m not.”
His words broke the spell. Arla began to laugh in short, hysterical pants, falling backwards onto the floor as she did so.
“I thought,” she gasped, “you couldn’t read my mind.”
Luke muttered, “it was pretty obvious what you were thinking.”
She couldn’t seem to stop laughing, but she reached up her arms around his neck, and tugged him down on top of her. Luke let himself be tugged, and let himself be pulled into a kiss.
When they disengaged from that, she smiled at him in a not quite pleasant way, and said, “if you want to have sex, that’s fine by me.”
Luke felt his heart begin to thud out of control, and his already dry mouth went drier still; but she hadn’t finished.
“But, this is just sex, okay? I like you, Luke, and it’ll be nice having sex with someone I like, but, I love Boba Fett - not you. Don’t expect anything of it, okay? Can you deal with that?”
“Sure -” said Luke - well, what else was he going to say with a beautiful woman nibbling at his neck and ear, he thought.
They had sex. It wasn’t wonderful, earth-shattering or fabulous; but it was a release for both of them.
Luke stirred, opening his eyes, and instantly regretted it.
“Oh God,” he moaned, as his head pounded into action, and his bladder made its presence known.
He blinked, trying to focus in the half light, wondering where he was.
Slowly, the events of earlier that night flooded into his mind. Headache and bladder momentarily forgotten, he rolled onto his back and grinned at the ceiling, remembering. Amazing, stuff like that never happened to him usually, and now, twice in just a month or two, but he wasn’t going to complain, oh no.
He rolled over to look at Arla, his head and bladder kicking back into life again as he did so. But, she wasn’t there. Puzzled, and not quite awake yet, he looked about, as if expecting to see her suspended from the ceiling, or hiding under the bed.
Eventually, he realised that there was a light on in the room next door. He got up, and went naked into the bathroom to relieve one of the problems, at least. He took a long drink of water from the tap, and leaned his aching head against the cool glass of the mirror. Frankly, he thought, there had been far too many hangovers recently, you would think you’d be used to them by now.
He padded back into the bedroom, found Arla’s discarded robe and pulled himself into it, then went to find her, smiling slightly.
She was seated on one of her chairs, dressed only in a vest and pants, clutching her pillow to her chest, chewing at a nail. The lustrous hair had been plaited away from her face, except a couple of stray clumps that framed her face. Her concentration was entirely focused on the holovision screen in front her, headphones were plugged into her ears. Ghostly figures argued silently in the middle of the room. Arla reached for her glass without turning away from them at all, and jumped when her hand encountered another.
She looked up quickly, and Luke was disquieted by the swiftly suppressed flash of disappointment and irritation he saw on her face. He must have looked crushed, for her face softened almost immediately. Without letting go of his hand, she removed her headphones and turned off the visuals.
“Hello,” she said, smiling sadly at him, “you look happy.”
Luke nodded, but said, “I’ve got a headache though.”
As he studied her face further, his own face fell, and his contented mood fled back into the night.
“You’ve been crying,” he accused her.
She stood up, and using her Jedi powers, she turned on the lights a little further. With the extra light he could see her red eyes, and tear-streaked face.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, looking down at her feet, “I just got to thinking, and -”
Luke felt a small surge of anger as he read her feelings.
“And you want me to leave, don’t you?” he said in a taut voice.
Her eyes searched his face for a moment, then she continued her study of their feet.
“I’m sorry,” she said, again, “I did say it was just sex, but in the end it’s me that feels upset. So, if you wouldn’t mind . .”
Luke stamped back into the bedroom and began pulling on his clothes; when he re-emerged she was still standing looking at the floor.
“I really am sorry, I shouldn’t have -”
“Don’t bother, you’ve had your fun,” he snapped back. “But maybe you could remember that its not very nice to realise that the person you’ve just had sex with was fervently wishing you were someone else!” With that, he stomped out of the room.
Arla kicked the chair and swore, but in the end there was little else she could do except sit back down and continue watching her film; so the only witnesses to her tears were the figures acting out their roles in front her.
When he closed his eyes it was still there, the rolling dunes seeming to have no end either in his waking thought, or in his dreaming world. Indeed, Boba Fett hardly knew now whether he was asleep or awake, hardly knew what he was doing amongst all this heat and sand, only that it was where he was; left much longer, it would be what he was.
The sun beat down on the metal of his helmet so intensely that the inbuilt cooling systems made little difference to his temperature. He felt as if he was being slowly baked as he leant against the landspeeder and surveyed the barren wastes that made up most of Tatooine; tentatively he took a sip from his water supply. Aggravating as it was to have the small tube constantly extended into his mouth, it certainly saved time when he wanted a drink which was now quite often.
Trying desperately to concentrate, he pulled at his maps again, as if by shifting them he could make more sense of the unchanging landscape around him.
It didn’t help.
He longed to take off his helmet and wipe dry his brow, the back of his neck, the sides of his nose, but he felt loath to take the time, and also he knew that the additional effort would simply cause him to sweat more.
He knew he was certainly in the Western Dune Sea now, and had been for several long frustrating hours, even though he had been heading slowly west for some days. There had been more of the Jundland Wastes than he had anticipated, and he had experienced quite a lot of its delights.
He even felt sorry for Luke having had to have grown up on this terrible planet.
The only good thing was that he was being allowed to sleep without any noticeable dreams.
He had to assume that this was because he was heading towards the place he was apparently wanted to go. That did not stop the memories haunting the hot daylight hours, but he did not have to endure the cold nights awake.
He turned his attention to the maps, hoping that they were accurate, for you could never tell in a primitive world like this one. His mouth quirked at that, thinking that although it was primitive it had spawned the likes of Darth Vader and his son.
His thoughts wandered, thinking about Luke, wondering how the young man thought of his father, how he could view him. Was Luke proud of his father? Or was he ashamed that he was related to the ruthless, efficient monster that Fett had seen and admired when he had worked for him? Surely, he thought, even if he had turned to the Light Side that Luke spoke of at the end, did that really excuse to the young man all he had done in the past?
At least Luke had known his father.
He could not even begin to make decisions about his own.
What had happened to him after his mother had been killed was hardly his fathers fault; but he thought, perhaps if his father had been there, his mother might still be alive today. He shrugged at the thought, surprised at himself for even thinking it. He wondered for a moment what he would have been if his parents had not died; his neighbourhood sprang into vivid relief in his mind, and he shook his head.
No, his life had been good in comparison to what he could have expected had he stayed to adulthood in that place. At least, he thought, at least I am rich, if nothing else. He stopped the thoughts there, as he remembered what else he could have had.
He took a deep breath of the rather stale air in his helmet, got back into the landspeeder and started out again towards the west, driving mainly with his knees as he consulted the contour maps and slowly took the vehicle forward.
After heading a few miles he finally began to recognise where he was, and he increased his speed, settled his hands over the wheel and sped off into the distance.
As he neared his destination simple dread took over the other feelings of introspection he had suffered on the way. Even after all this time there were still traces of the battle that had taken place here. There was less than there had been before, when he had left over a year ago now; the Jawas had done their work well, and any useful pieces of machinery were long gone, leaving what was rubbish even to Jawas to peel and decay in the beating sun, and the searing night winds.
He stopped the landspeeder and hopped lightly down from it. Cautiously, aware of the sifting of the interminable sands around him, he made his way to the edge of the crater and lay down on the ledge.
Anyone watching would have seen that he remained there for a very long time, just watching the occasional twitch of the sluggish tentacles of the beast that lived at the crater’s centre.
After a while, he rose, stared moodily down at the Sarlacc a little longer, then padded awkwardly back to the still hovering landspeeder, slipping a little in the soft dunes.
Carefully, on reaching the little vehicle, he reached up into his helmet and flipped the switches all into the off positions, enduring the brief rush of claustrophobia at the sudden darkness and airlessness this brought on. In one smooth move he removed the helmet and slung it into the speeder; he took a moment to breathe, then removed the sweat soaked cloth mask and threw that into the speeder as well. He pushed his wet hair back from his face, and breathed deep of the desert air, his eyes blinking in the bright desert sunshine. Then, without another wasted move, he went back and sat down by the edge of the Sarlacc’s pit to watch some more through his eyes alone.
The present seemed to drift away in the heat haze that hung around him, and Fett felt himself transported back to the terrible moments when he had first regained consciousness after the battle. A frown settled on his features as he replayed the scene through his mind.
The first thing he had realised when he had come to was that his oxygen was not going to last more than a couple of days.
This was not what had caused him to panic.
In fact, he had not panicked at all, at first.
He had not survived nearly twenty years as a bounty hunter, and almost three years before that with smugglers, to be afraid just because he had made a very stupid mistake.
It had been foolish to protect Jabba, he should have known that the boy was what he claimed to be. He knew that the Jedi had once been strong, and that there was no reason why they should not appear again.
Admittedly, he was wearing a suit underneath his armour that would protect him from the acid he would inevitably meet were he to stay in this beast much longer.
The first thin shivers of fear had then run through him, and he had slid a little further into the slow death that had been promised to the Skywalker boy and to the smugglers.
A thousand years was a foolish thing to say. He would live just exactly as long as his oxygen lasted, his rational mind had told him.
He had to get out.
This was not how he should die, not with this ignominy.
The hours had passed - it had seemed like years to him - with him hanging onto the folds of flesh, feeling as even his suit was beginning to be eaten away by the acid in which his feet and half his legs were forced to lie.
The pain did not affect him as the first small bites were made into his flesh, only the horror that in fact, he was going to die. He had tried a thousand times to gain a better handhold and pull himself up, but the flesh was too slippery.
He had taken a deep breath, then another, knowing it wasted his supplies as he did so, but wishing get a bit more oxygen to help think of a way out of there.
Then, the unbelievable had happened.
A crack of light had appeared above him, almost blinding him.
Fett had not wasted time in considering what it might be, or how it might have occurred. He ignited his rocket launcher and shot upwards, losing only his boots to the monster as he did so. With agility borne of an adrenaline rush, he had neatly leaped over the object going in the opposite direction, and had ended in the sand on the slope back down into the Sarlacc’s belly again.
A tentacle had stretched lazily out towards him, but he had been faster. Igniting the rocket again, and fully using up his power supplies as he did so, he had flown the short distance onto the ridge where he now sat.
He blinked back into the present again.
Fett sighed, and turned his head to gaze into the seamless blue of the afternoon sky.
He was lucky, he thought, it would be stupid to deny it. No one had ever escaped the Sarlacc before, to his knowledge; he was the only one. He shook his head, sending a fine shower of sand onto his shoulders, wondering again what it was that had drawn him to this place to remember what was one of the most stupid and embarrassing incidents in his life as a bounty hunter. His mouth quirked, as he thought of the many stupid and embarrassing things that had happened to him before he had become what he was now.
A gust of wind that clogged his hair further with sand brought him back to the real world, and he scrambled up quickly and ran back to the speeder.
A second, faster, gust followed almost instantly on the first, confirming his instincts.
He jumped into the speeder and drove a small distance to some slightly lower ground, and let the repulsor field revert to neutral. As the little craft slowly lowered itself to the ground, Fett was already putting up the tent that would, he hoped, protect him from the sandstorm that was apparently brewing. He moved quickly and efficiently, showing little evidence of his earlier tension.
Just as he was lashing the last of the security cables down and fusing them to the rock that lay, fortuitously, under most of the Dune Sea, his head snapped up, hearing - something.
He looked about, but saw nothing.
He shook his head, thinking it must be the excess sun and heat that was affecting his mind. Then a chill ran straight through him, as the wind abruptly died and the air became still around him.
There was a noise behind him again, a noise which raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
It was a human laugh.
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