Arla punched at the buttons in her ship with anger, as if it were them that were to blame for her leaving this peaceful world, and not her own fault. Not that leaving Coruscant was much of a hardship, she found it rather boring and a little too familiar for comfort. Before the insinuation that Fett might have been the cause of her horrific nightmare last night had crept into her mind this morning, she had thought maybe her memories of Coruscant had triggered her dream. But now, knowing that Fett had had similar dreams, she knew that wasn’t the reason. It did not, however, endear her to the cultured, refined atmosphere that barely tolerated Han’s rough speaking or Luke’s strange Jedi ways, let alone her status as a bounty hunter. She grunted, a small sound of bitter satisfaction, knowing that most of the creeps who lived on this world would have not hesitated to hire her had anything gone wrong for them, and paid well for the privilege of her skills, for all they sneered at her and Fett now.
She still had doubts about Luke’s involvement in her dream, despite her angry words earlier in the day, and felt slightly guilty about her manner towards him. Not for long, however, as she felt those little feelings on a day to day basis. A grim smile was seen briefly on her face, before her concentration locked onto the transmission she was attempting to send. A few minutes passed. A green light flashed on and off beside her, and a happier expression settled on her features. She slammed the button above the light with anticipation. An image wavered into view in front of her, showing a youngish woman with dark blue hair, very pale skin, and three rings in her small nose. She was pretty, and wearing only a tie-up gown. The gown was made of silk, however.
“Hello Arla, sorry I didn’t call earlier. It’s been a busy night here, if you know what I mean.”
The woman made a gesture that made Arla laugh out load.
“I should do, Rene, I should do.”
“Well, its been a while, my dear, what’s been up with you.”
Arla raised an eyebrow, and gave the Rene an evil grin.
“I’ve been training to be a Jedi knight.”
The image flickered slightly as the woman laughed.
“I see,” she sputtered, “top secret - he must be good! Seriously though, girl, are you alright.”
“Oh yes. And you? Not too bored back there, eh?”
“No - wait! I’d heard you had been seen with Han (and that dickhead, Boba Fett, though that’s hardly news is it, dear) - what’s happening with that.”
“None of your business! Han is a good friend, Rene, but - well, we’ve both moved on, now, but yes, I’ve seen him.”
“And he’s alright? I heard he was with the rebels who got rid of your lucrative friend Lord Vader -”
“He was never any friend of mine - I just worked for him twice, okay. The Empire’s ideals were nothing - nothing - like mine.”
The woman’s face went grave and still, as if she was remembering something, “sorry - I was just joking,” she said.
“That is not anything to joke about.” Arla took a deep breath. Vader couldn’t - wouldn’t - hurt anyone now. She placed the smile back on her face with some effort. “So, tell me all the gossip, then.”
“Well. Oh yeah - there is something if you’re interested in a job - it’s big. I’ll send the information -” There was a pause as Rene fiddled with something beside her, then Arla heard the noises of a coded message being received at her end. One glance at the information was enough to set her grinning.
“Cool!” she said, “But you’re right - I need a partner for this I think.” and her grin grew wider as an evil thought slipped into her brain. “And I think I night just be able to find exactly the right one.”
Rene smiled, “So, how is Boba then -?”
“Don’t call him that, we have no idea what his first name is.” snapped Arla.
“Ah ha! I knew it, I knew it.”
Arla closed her eyes, rubbed her hand across them Rene was her closest friend, but sometimes she could push things just a bit too far. But still, Rene knew Boba Fett as well as anyone, she reasoned, so perhaps she was right to tease.
“Oh, Arla don’t take offence - I know I shouldn’t, but, really, my dear, it is just too easy. But, it is him who you have in mind isn’t it?”
Arla decided to ignore the comments, but a thought occurred to her.
“Rene, who else is after this? How fresh is it?”
“It came up earlier today - I thought you must be contacting me to find out more when I got your message, but this, well it’s like you’ve read my mind.”
Arla shivered, but thought, no, should forget about it. It’s obviously there now, in my brain, but I can’t rely on it, that would be stupid, she thought.
But Rene was still speaking.
“Oh and, um, who’s shown an interest so far? Lets see,” she turned away again and began to read something to her left; Arla was aware of another screen flickering onto the edge of her picture, “ah yes! The usual suspects - though less than usual as Bossk is dead (so rumours say - watch out for him then, dearie, and hope he doesn’t do a Boba Fett, hmm?), but no one to worry you I think, oh, except that prat Dengar - he has a partner now, a woman called, um, Bri’na, who also calls herself a bounty hunter, but we’ll just have to see, won’t we. I’ve seen her, and she looks a flighty piece of rubbish - so count her as dangerous. I’m downloading some more info, dear.”
“Is the cut the same as ever, Rene?”
Rene smiled at her friend, a sad smile.
“I guess so, as long as we are friends, Arla.” In the background, a door slid open and a female droid stepped in and stood waiting; Rene quirked into something less than a smile, but it was too well schooled to be called a grimace, “now, looks like the next dick is here, so goodbye, and good luck dear.” Rene turned to switch off the transmission, but then turned back to the screen again, “And good luck with your continuing mission to find the man behind the mask!”
“Rene, wait! I have to know, I’ve always wanted to know - does he really keep his helmet on?”
The other woman blinked.
“What? Don’t be silly. He wears a kind of cloth mask thing; bye!”
Arla sat back and laughed for a moment before checking her bugs on Fett’s ship, to find out what was doing at that moment. She dearly wished she had some vis-bugs, as you never know. However, as she checked she became irritated, as each one had been removed - ah ha, except one; she initiated it to receive and collect mode, and instantly received a message.
“Go away, Arla Gen.” it said, and blew up.
Cross though she was, she laughed at that. Could it be that this a positive outcome to this training was a sense of humour for Boba Fett? She opened a link between the two ships.
“Slave III, this is Vert III do you read me?”
A pause, then the familiar helmeted figure appeared on the screen.
“You blew up my bugs,” she began reproachfully, “but I don’t care - I’ll be magnanimous, and let you live anyway -”
“Is there a reason for your link, Arla?”
No, she thought, a sense of humour was a little bit too much to expect, wasn’t it.
“Yes, oh serious one, there is - I have a proposition for you.”
“Would this have to do with the incidents on the Inner Rim worlds?”
Arla ran her hands through her hair, and sighed.
“Oh I give up. Yes. Of course - even you couldn’t do this alone. Not the whole lot. Together - we might have a chance.” She leant forward on the console, her hands cupping her face, elbows leaning on the controls, and said in a voice redolent of a thousand holofilms, “so, whadaja say? Wanna be partners?”
The helmeted visage on her screen was still for a long moment. Then Boba Fett threw back his head and laughed unguardedly.
“What?!” he said.
“It wasn’t such a strange request - together we could totally clean up. I know it. Stop laughing. Dammit.” She began to giggle herself in response to the utterly unexpected exuberant laughter. In the back of her mind she wondered at him, saw how he had changed - was changing, and was scared a little by the power of the one who must have done this. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so rude to him, she thought with a slight chill, and her giggling stopped. Fett also had stopped laughing. Although she could not see his face, she was aware that they were staring very intently at each other. He shook his head.
“I was right,” he said, “about your danger, Arla. I have never fought with a partner. Ever. And I am the best. You are very good, but . . .” his voice, although also disguised, sounded almost sad. Maybe she was imagining it, but.
Arla felt sort of hollow inside as Fett seemed to lose interest, fiddling with some of Slave III’s controls, and not looking at the screen. At least the link hadn’t been terminated though. She smiled slyly.
“Dengar’s going for this one, you know. He has a partner now - some bint who calls herself Bri’na apparently. It would be really crap if he were to get this, wouldn’t you say? I know how well you two get on, after all.”
Fett’s head snapped back into view.
“He’s got a partner? Who would -?” he shook his head, as if trying to clear it, “Never mind; are you going to be on my back until I say yes?”
Unbelievable, thought Arla, I think he’s going to say yes. Absolutely unbelievable.
She said, “of course. And besides, I’d go for it anyway, and so will you. That means in the end one of us will have to kill the other, and I’m not ready to die just yet. Nor, despite your seeming nonchalance, I think, are you.”
“You would not kill me, I think.”
She smiled, and drawled in the same phoney accent as before, “don’t count on it.”
Fett ignored her play-acting, so answered the question, “I don’t. Have you ever fought with a partner?”
The question was unexpected. It was the first time he had ever really shown an interest in her, besides staying while she talked. Which, of course, was more than most got from him, but still. She thought, I have him.
“No,” she said, “You must know that I haven’t.”
“I thought not. Arla, you and I have an array of new skills we could use. What would your strategy be?”
Breath leaked out of her slowly.
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“You’re really saying yes?”
The sun on the sub-aquatic world of Sula was a delicate, hazy pink as it set into the un-ending sea. Un-ending except for one small aperture that jutted, white and gleaming out of the surface ripples of the water. Under it could be seen the darker, blurred shape of something much larger, as if it were a sharp, spiky, large tip to a glacier floated down from a colder, harsher region of that world. All was quiet, save for the gentle sounds from the middle of an almost planet wide ocean. It really didn’t matter, as there was nobody there to hear it. The pink of the sunset tinged a little bit further towards purple.
A dot appeared in the sky, closely followed by another. They rapidly increased in size and headed directly to the aperture, which they proceeded to circle. The first dot materialised into a ship which, out in the cold depths of space might disappear, but here on the pale sea stood out very dark indeed. The other, also a ship, of a similar attack class was of a more conventional camoflage, though it was very dirty.
There was a conversation going on between the occupants of the ship which did not at all accord with the serenity of the surroundings.
Arla was fuming. She knew it had all been her idea, a fact that she was reminded of almost daily by her delightful partner, who seemed to find her company almost intolerable - not so intolerable that he went away, however. She was also very aware that wherever they went Dengar seemed to be ahead of them with his floosie. She was also uneasy, to her surprise, about the choice of prey anyway. The fact that despite all their efforts, they still did not know who would actually be paying them, and thus, who had ordered the capture of these bloody Imperials, and the disintegration of their stronghold - and all its occupants, was yet another small niggle in what she had fondly imagined would be a happy, easy working relationship. She was disturbed to discover that the constant sniping between them (well, mainly from her - but she could feel it from him) reminded her of travelling with Han when they had been together. It was enjoyable in a similar sort of way as well, part of her mind was telling her. The rest did not agree.
“Will you enter the tunnel, please,” came the taut voice across the link, “half of this world will know we are here before we even enter the city if you don’t get a move on.”
“Enter it yourself, then” she shot back.
“Ladies first.” came the sarcastic reply.
Boba Fett watched as the little green ship’s arc was completed and it disappeared into the waves. He followed, his mouth set in a very tight line indeed. The woman was impossible. How could he have ever thought that this was the best, most efficient way of getting the credits for this bounty he did not know. The stronghold had been easy, he reflected as Slave II sped down the white tunnel further towards the centre of this cold world, after all, he had been known once for disintegrating problem areas very, very efficiently. That was when he had been young, however, and perhaps he had let things run away with themselves a little. A little, he thought, with not little irony; a little when Vader comments on it some twelve, thirteen years after the events! The stronghold was gone. Its occupants, well, they had been given the chance to get out. If they hadn’t, well, that was not his, or Arla’s, problem. Two of the six Imperials had been in the stronghold; now they were in Vert III’s holding bay. The remaining four would have to be squashed into this ridiculously small ship. He sighed; Slave II was fast, and had an interesting and comprehensive array of weapons, but it was not Slave I, which although slower and somewhat outdated would always be his favourite ship. But, he had to keep up with Vert III. And the madwoman who controlled it.
He remembered one time when everybody had said that she was dead, early in her career, not so many years after he had first met her. The other bounty hunters had not cared, and why should they? She had been becoming good, good enough to be a worry for bounty hunters admittedly less - cautious than himself, but skilled - rich men nonetheless. And she was a woman. This was, as with so many things, a man’s world. Indeed, he had found she was dead when he had been with a prostitute. The woman had wept and told him to go away. He had dressed and had gone, troubled with the feelings of sorrow and loss that touched at him. She had been so vital, so unpredictable and well, fun.
He had found out where she had last been seen and gone there to see. Perhaps to bring back her body to those who had loved her, like the young whore, Rene - she was successful within her own sphere and could have paid him well. She had not been there, however, and it had taken a small amount of detective work to find her. Alive, well and somewhat puzzled by the rumours of her death. He had hugged her when he saw her, but then had not seen her for nearly two years. She had never mentioned it.
He pulled his ship in to land beside the green vessel, bringing his mind back to the present with more of a lurch than was usual. Arla was standing on her ship, tinkering with some piece of machinery above the cockpit. To be already doing this implied she had taken the tunnel a little bit faster than was entirely sensible. He hopped down from the ship, and went over to her. She ignored him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Silence, except the noise of metal being melded to metal, and then the scrape of a knife against the metal.
“Can I help?” he tried again.
He heard a muffled reply which he could only just make out. Arla appeared to be saying, “fuck off.”
He waited a few minutes before trying again, this time vaulting onto the ship itself to be level with her.
“We have a lot to do, you know.” he said.
She looked at him. There was a smudge of oil on her forehead, and her eyes were angry underneath the goggles. The rest of her face was covered with her mask.
“Well, go and do it then. You have made it abundantly clear to me that you work far better without me - on your own. Go and work, then. My ship is sick and needs some care right now.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Go away. Can’t you tell that I’m angry?”
Fett went. They had entered the planet at another point from the Imperials they had tracked here on purpose, as they did not want them to know yet that they were coming. Not yet, but soon. They needed the man and woman here to contact the others before they were taken away. First, however, he had to find them. There were soldiers crawling all over this world, which still held to the Empire. Fett had no worries about stormtroopers, however, especially not now. They had been pathetic even before the end of the Empire. The drug barons had better soldiers and protectors. They had not had the Emperor or Vader of course, but Fett thought that without these presenses there was little to concern him with those badly trained white armoured fools. He was also known as a friend of the Empire, as far as it went, to certain Imperials. Imperials who did not understand what bounty hunters were.
By now, the docking crew were slowly realising that the two ships they had just guided into Sulan territory were not the innocent messenger ships the data had described. Years of imperial rule stopped them from acting in any abrupt or hasty manner, but some were edging their way, quite nonchalantly, to various points around the bay, put there to request emergency assistance in the case of flooding, fire - or hostile intruders. Unfortunately for them, they were not as nonchalant as they might have wished to appear. They were dead before they were able to raise the alarm.
Fett went quickly to the computer units and closed off the landing area before starting work. Two Imperial humans in a world that contained few enough of his kind shouldn’t be too difficult to find. There were several bodies scattered around that still had the gills and smooth, fatty grey skins of an aquatic race that had left the sea many thousands of years before, but whose bodies still bore the telltale markings of their ancestry on them. There had not been many on this landing bay before they had arrived, but now only he and Arla still stood alive there. He heard the crackle of her welding equipment. As far as he could tell, she had not moved a little when he had started shooting. He felt a flash of irritation. It was all very well doing this alone now the stronghold was gone and they had captured two already (in her hold, of course, Fett knew she could just leave), but it would be a lot easier with her doing her bit.
“Good.” he heard her cry. He watched her drop down from the craft. Saw her smile at him, “sorry Boba Fett.” She said, “well, she’s okay now I think. I need to upgrade again. This job should do it.” Fett continued hacking into the computers. “Oh, Boba Fett, don’t ignore me now, that’s just silly.”
“Shut up, Arla. I think I’ve got something.”
She gave him a quick hug, pressing her cheek against the cool metal of the helmet. Fett leapt back, losing the link as he did so.
She smiled, “now I know you like me; people who don’t like me just listen and are too spaced to stop me.” Her grin widened as she took in his nervous stance. “Okay, okay. I won’t do it again. So, where are they?”
Fett’s voice was as matter-of-fact as ever when he spoke, “sector D of the Hy’dric quarter. That’s quite a long way away, we’d better get moving.”
“You’re right. Let’s go then.”
She unlocked the doors and shot off around the corner. Fett stood a moment longer, staring mindlessly at the floor, his heart beating wildly. Not for long though, seconds later he was after her.
“You!” cried the thin man, looking fearfully from one bounty hunter to where the other was efficiently clipping restraints onto the limp body of his companion. She obviously wasn’t dead, he realised, or the restraints would not have been necessary, but the jab that the flame haired woman - Arla Gen, his mind flashed up her name - had used had instantly knocked out the general. His arm throbbed with the pain of a blaster wound taken just after his escape from the stronghold, given by another bounty hunter. His eyes flicked back to the man who held him pinned against the wall by his blaster rifle. He tried to move, and found to his horror he couldn’t, not without a terrible, choking constriction in his throat. His mind flashed up an image of the Dark Lord, and he almost gave way to panic. Instead, he just murmured, “you?” again.
Underneath his helmet, Boba Fett was smiling. If the Admiral’s dirty, streaked face, and his torn clothes were indicative of the state of the Imperials in this area of the galaxy, then there was little to worry about. He thought, not such scum now, am I, but said nothing.
Admiral Piett, in the face of this silence, began to babble, “I thought you were with us, you worked for him, you worked well - he paid you, I know he did -”
“Many,” grated the bounty hunter, “have paid me. Those who tried not to - they are dead.”
Lunacy rolled into Piett’s eyes. He had watched the stronghold being removed from existence and had known that he was hunted, but he had not imagined by whom. Since the destruction of Death Star II he had realised what it was to be a rebel, constantly running and fighting for a foolish - and, in this case, he suspected, ultimately doomed - cause, and the collected and resourceful commander he had been under Vader was long gone, replaced by a man whose eyes spoke his status, his unease in a world turned upside down.
“You went against the rebels, captured Han Solo - you were for us, I know you were -”
The woman was beside him now.
She gave a short sigh, then, “we are bounty hunters, we are for ourselves. Now shut up.”
There was a small, sharp pain, and the man who had once been Admiral Piett knew nothing more that day.
The small floating barque that they had stolen earlier in the day floated behind them bearing the living bodies as the two bounty hunters stepped over the dead that had got in the way. Both were pleased. They had not seen Dengar on this world, or the ‘pale-haired slut’ as Arla had termed his partner.
“Do you think we should let Luke, Han and Leia know where the Imperial army has taken to hiding out in this quadrant?” mused Arla, after they had returned to their ships, and cruised back out into what was now a dawn sky full of delicate frosted golds.
Fett laughed quietly.
“You think they would believe either of us?”
“No, but they are not stupid. They would check it out.”
“They probably already know. And we must collect what is ours first.”
“Of course,” Arla leaned back and looked as her ship plunged into the familiar blackness. She sighed, a small sound, full of contentment, “but after, perhaps . . .”. There was a long pause, as both parties contemplated the stars, then Arla snapped out of her reverie. “Oh! And have you tracked ‘Dick-gar’ -” she heard a muffled sound from Fett, which she took to be amusement, “on the scanners yet?”
“Oh. Yes, he’s far away. I think he might have been . . . distracted by some improvements he didn’t expect on his ship. He won’t trouble us for a day or so.”
Arla was pleasantly surprised to hear the sarcasm in Fett’s voice, the small attempt at least a little humour. She responded in kind.
“They’re good are they? The uh - improvements, I mean. Enough to get him really excited?”
“Yes. No ship should be without them”
Again, Arla couldn’t help but smile, and decided to deliberately misunderstand him, trying to draw out more of this relaxed mood from him, “indeed, you never know who you have to help, do you?” The image of Fett on her screen nodded at her, and settled further back into his pilots seat. She yawned, happy, but suddenly tired, and stretched. Fett watched how the fabric of her tunic moved over her breasts, then closed his eyes, and settled back to doze.
A few minutes later, her voice broke into his thoughts.
“Say, if we really have lost him for a short time, why don’t we come down to sleep somewhere tonight. I’m sick of sleeping in the pilot seat, and I’m sick of the inside of my ship.”
Fett considered the area. Then he noted a familiar planet, and nodded.
“Yes. Why not? We’re near the Ardask space station.”
Arla laughed, remembering the times she had spent there.
“Oh dear, we might cause a bit of a stir if we go there together.” She started to set the co-ordinates, “but, if it’s that or the bloody pilots seat again, then we are going down.”
“Yes.” Fett’s voice sounded weary too, or so Arla thought, “let’s go. I have a tracker on our Imperials, I think, so we are alright for one night. We must be out early tomorrow, though.”
Arla rolled her eyes.
Two ships sped towards a planet swirled in mists.
Conversation stopped as they entered the bar. Almost simultaneously they lifted their blasters into more threatening poses, and the conversations were hastily taken up again by the vast majority of the bar’s patrons. One unfortunate wolf-whistled them; it was to be hoped that he was left-handed. Whether he was or not, he screamed as he looked at the stump at the end of his right arm. Arla gave him a sweet smile, however, but that seemed to do little to cheer him up. He was carried out. The bar keeper said nothing about it, except to say that the young man was an idiot who obviously didn’t know Arla Gen. He said something else about the problems the boy would face without his right hand. Arla laughed uproariously. Fett stood ready, and though his mouth twitched, there was no one to see it.
A table was rapidly cleared for the two bounty hunters. They sat, and Arla’s sipped at her glass, gazing at Fett, a small frown on her face.
“It must be so difficult for you,” she said.
“What must be?” There was little curiosity in his voice.
Arla thought he looked very uncomfortable, ill at ease, almost, and warmed to her theme, “think of all the bars you’ve had to spend time in over the years, and you never get to have a drink,” she picked up a cracker from the bowl on the table, and looked at it; she waved it at his face, then ate it, saying through her crunching, “or eat, for that matter. Don’t you ever feel you are getting left out? That life is passing you by?”
“No.” lied Boba Fett.
Arla hung her head, tried to run a hand through her hair before remembering she had her own helmet on, she bit at a ragged nail instead.
“I do.” she said, in a small, hushed voice, “I feel that.”
Fett shifted to make himself more comfortable in his chair.
“Then why go on? Why not go back to the world in which you were raised?” he asked.
“Never! That is closed to me now, I will never go back.” She glanced up at him, curious, “you know, don’t you? You know who I am.”
“Yes. For a long time. I saw the ‘missing’ holos at most ports, you had short hair, then, and looked younger, of course, but it was you. Anyone who knew you should have seen it.”
“Why didn’t you haul me home? There would have been a large reward.”
“I thought about it, but, in the end, I didn’t want to. You had potential.”
“Ah, Boba Fett is always just.”
A thread of humour wove it’s way into Fett’s dour tones.
“I doubt Dengar is thinking that right now.”
“No, indeed not. You don’t like him do you?”
“He talks too much of his achievements.” Arla heard amusement in his voice, “you talk too much, too, but you are endlessly curious. He brags.”
Arla made a face.
“Was that a compliment?”
Later, in their rooms, Arla watched Fett watching the city below them. She felt a pang of - something, as she watched him. He seemed so alone, despite the loosening in his demeanour that was almost phenomenal over the last few weeks.
“Are you lonely?”
He turned and looked at her a long time.
Eventually, he said, “goodnight, Arla Gen.” and turned and went into his own sleeping quarter. She heard him set the locks on the door. She ran her hands through her hair, and tried to fight back the tears that had come to her eyes.
Fett’s eyes opened, and the dream dissipated; he swallowed hard as the images disappeared. Again, he thought. But it was not the dream that had woken him, he felt, something else had. He blinked in the darkness, wondering what it was. He lay still for a few moments then a wave of misery and fear crashed over him. He sat up and looked around, his eyes accustoming themselves to the darkness. He shook his head, but the alien feelings wouldn’t go away. Then he heard a sound, a sort of muffled cry. Not from in his room, but close. Next door! Arla? Without thinking he unlocked the door and rushed into her room. He stopped for a moment at the sight of her; she was writhing on the bed in what appeared to be agony. She also had nothing on. He did not get long for contemplation as no sooner had he come into the room she began to moan in her sleep.
“No, no, no -” it broke into something incoherent, then she sat bolt upright in bed and cried, “NO!” and then screamed.
“Arla? Arla - what is it?” he said, moving towards her, feeling badly shaken by it all.
She stared at him for what seemed to both of them an eternity, then she pulled the bedclothes up to cover herself.
“Boba Fett? Is that you?” she whispered.
“Yes, of course it is. I heard you cry out -” he felt puzzled.
She was staring at him; and finally he realised. He didn’t have the helmet on, he’d been asleep. Why should she recognise him, and indeed, he must have looked very strange to her eyes with the sleeping mask on. His hand moved to his face.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to scare you. What was wrong?”
“I had a dream - the same dream, again. My father -” she put a hand to her mouth and bit at it to stop herself from crying out again as the memories hit her, “never mind, you don’t want to know. I’m okay now, I think.”
I am looking at her for the first time with my own eyes, thought Fett, how strange. Perhaps I should -
“I’ll be alright, Boba Fett.” she looked up at him, standing in his sleeping clothes, still fully covered from head to toe. He looked vulnerable, human; despite the white mask that covered his face, with gauze at his nose and eyes. “Thank you,” she said, “thank you for coming when you heard. That was kind.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
She looked at him and saw that he didn’t really want to stay, so shook her head. He turned to go, then said, as if the words were being forced from him,
“I had the same dream as before, as well, Arla. I woke too soon - I felt your distress . . .”
“You felt my - oh ninety gods! Then - oh, Boba Fett - it wasn’t Luke, we’re so far away, he couldn’t reach us here, there’s no way. I was wrong. Oh no. We shouldn’t have come out here, we should still be there. He’ll never forgive us, and he was so nice to us. He accepted us for what we are.”
Boba Fett shook his head, as the cold realisation hit him.
“No, Arla, what we have to realise from this is that something else is doing this to us.”
There was a long silence, then Arla said in a small voice, “I’ve changed my mind. Would you stay?”
He nodded, feeling chilled himself. He did not like things he could not explain, and there was too much going on here for him to be able to cope with fully. He had never spent the night in the same room as another bounty hunter, but that seemed a lot better than dreaming again. But, he thought, glancing down at himself, not like this.
“I’ll just -” he said, and disappeared into his room, and pulled on his flying suit, his boots, and his helmet. He came back in, and Arla appeared to relax at the more familiar sight. He settled on the chair in the corner of the room and watched her as she fell asleep again. He watched the night deepen, and then from that the sun rise.
The two pills fizzing excitedly in the tall glass seemed to be taking an abominably long time to dissolve, thought Luke as he rubbed at his aching head. The glare from the flickering monitor stabbed at his vision, and he reached over and flipped it off. Almost instantly, his comm-link began to flash. He closed his eyes, to try to take away the strain, tried to grapple a hold of Master Yoda’s exercises, but he could fell the headache under his bones, behind his eyes, everywhere.
He didn’t answer the link, but ran a swift check on it, instead. On finding the source code, he swore under his breath, and severed the link. The flashing stopped, and he drank the now dissolved headache pills, wincing a little at the taste, which he had never liked. He stared at the blank screen, feeling stupid and cross. This was not helped by the fact that the room in which he was seated was just on the edge of being too hot. You’ve got soft, he thought to himself, his mouth twisting into a bitter grimace, can’t you remember Tatooine - the days when the heat was so bad that the air-conditioning could do nothing, and everyone just lay on their beds, too hot and uncomfortable to sleep? This is nothing. He sighed, perhaps I’m coming down with something, he thought, but swiftly dismissed the lie. He knew perfectly well why he felt so awful.
He flipped the monitor on again, and fiddled with the dial to mute the glare. It didn’t really help, but at least he felt he was doing something. Since Fett and Arla had gone, Luke had felt little reason to work at all. His little school had been recessed from his classes while he had trained the bounty hunters, and were learning the more mundane skills of becoming pilots for the New Republic. When Fett and Arla had left, he had considered bringing the kiddies back from their other classes, but somehow, he had never got round to it. He told himself that it was for their own good, that they would suffer if dragged about from discipline to discipline, but while this was undoubtedly true, he knew full well that that had nothing to do with his decisions.
At first, there had been more interesting diversions, and now, well, he just couldn’t be bothered. Indeed, today he had not dragged himself out of bed until after midday, and even then, he had slobbed about watching daytime holovision. The sight of distressed, stupid and rich Coruscanti baring their shallow little hearts to the world had amused for a while, but it had soon soured.
He had decided, then, that this lethargy was ridiculous, but had not really known what to do. He had flicked over to one of the news channels, and one of the articles had made him sit up and watch. A few minutes later he had padded out to the computer resource rooms, had sat himself down at a terminal and typed a couple of short words into the machine: Boba Fett.
Several pages of scrolled information later, his headache was throbbing away quite happily, and he had found nothing of note. The reported sighting had obviously been fictitious, he thought, miserably. That had prompted him to take the headache pills. The information had not got any more compelling in the few minutes he had been away. He sighed, and continued scrolling through it. He frowned, then retreated back to enter another search. A list of docking stations in the area of the sitting appeared in front of his eyes. Another sigh. He would have to go through them all.
The door behind him opened, and Luke jumped from the sound.
“Hi, kid,” said his visitor, flopping into a seat beside him. Luke looked about quickly, there was no one else in the room.
“Hi, Han,” he said, “how’d you find me?”
“Easy,” drawled his friend, nodding towards the door, “the entry droid recorded you coming in.” Luke looked sharply back at the door, but Han ignored that. “What’ve you been up to, then?” He asked, lolling further back on the chair, “we haven’t seen you for weeks.”
“You could have found me easily enough - you found me now,” snapped Luke, suddenly not in the mood for Han’s flippant, arrogant manner. “I didn’t go anywhere.”
“You weren’t responding to your comm,” said Han, reasonably enough, “Leia told me not to bother you.” He smiled, “of course, I obeyed her highness.”
“So I see,” said Luke sourly.
Han carried on, oblivious to Luke’s mood.
“What was it then?” He leaned forward, and gave Luke a light punch on the arm; Luke moved petulantly away, “have you found a girl? Is that what it was?”
Luke just stared at him, thinking, if only. But he shouldn’t be surprised at Han’s words, he knew. Han was always badgering him about getting a girlfriend; on a more relaxed day he would have been amused, taunted his friend on being a Correllian grandmother in disguise, that one day he’d strip off the youthful exterior to reveal a wrinkled old crone in a headscarf, but not today.
Han saw the surprise in Luke’s face, and knew he was getting somewhere. Secretly, he was relieved. Leia had often expressed worry that Luke seemed to have no relationships; if he could report back that there was something, she’d stop bending his ear about it.
“So,” he said, a teasing grin on his face, “who is she, then? Anyone I know?” He managed to make that comment sound very suggestive. He continued, not noticing the lack of response as he got carried away by the idea, “I don’t blame you for hiding away in that case - is it one of your pilots, there’s some tasty little -”
Luke said, “Han . .” in a strained voice, feeling his hands curl up into fists. Calm, he thought, there’s no reason he should know, after all. We were very secretive. He’s just teasing you. He decided to change the subject, and cleared his throat, “Han,” he tried again, “if you were in the Ardana sector, and you wanted to dock down, where would you?” He was pleasantly surprised that his voice sounded normal.
“What?” he said.
“I was watching the news, earlier, and it said that Boba Fett had been sighted in that sector. I thought I’d follow it up.” Doing well, Luke, he thought, quite normal so far, “I thought it would be interesting to see what he was up to, and Arla, if she’s with him.”
“Hmm,” said Han, tracing a finger down the screen. It left a greasy mark. “Well, not there,” he said, indicating a place called ‘Sula’, “too closed - and was very, very Imperial, before. Um, well, I’d go to Ardask. It’s space station, and pretty friendly. It’s quite a hostile sector, but Ardask is good - has a reputation. Lets just say it’s not ‘Happy Asteroid’ territory,”
Luke gave him a blank stare.
Han tried to explain, “the fast food chain, yeah? Happy, smiling, pimply old asteroid that looks like it’s puking, yeah?”
Luke nodded. Of course he knew what the Happy Asteroid was.
“It’s very,” Han searched for the right word, “wholesome. Family orientated. Free sweetie when you leave. Ardask, er, isn’t like that. It’s rough.” He grinned, looking pleased with himself, “I’ve spent a lot of time there.”
Luke congratulated himself for steering the conversation away from relationships, and clicked onto Ardask. The weeks list of occupants took a while to appear, and Luke stared morosely at the screen, thinking about his crappy week.
As if by magic, merely thinking about it conjured his comm into action again. He cursed under his breath; with Han here, he could hardly terminate the link again. He cursed himself for leaving his room, where he had disconnected the line. And he really didn’t want Han - or Leia, for that matter - to know. It was with the greatest of reluctance that he pressed the button the activate the link.
Sure enough, Wedge’s mournful face appeared on the screen. Luke stared back at him, not bothering to keep the irritation out of his eyes.
“Hi,” he said, in a grim imitation of his usual sunny manner, “seems I’m Mr. popular this afternoon. Look Wedge, Han’s visiting me as well. Isn’t a good thing we have security droids to help us find people? It’d be so easy to get lost here, otherwise.” The words were coming out from behind gritted teeth by the end of the little speech.
Wedge seemed surprised, and Luke watched him fiddle with his link controls, start with surprise, then plaster a smile over his face.
“Hi, Han,” he said, “how are you? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
Han waved back at Wedge, “hi,” he said, still grinning, “I’m just fine, just chasing up my buddy here. You’ve both been pretty elusive, lately.” he waggled his eyebrows, “You’d better watch out, people will talk.”
He was surprised at the stony silence that this comment produced, and looked from one to the other in puzzlement. Was there something he was missing? He shrugged,
“Forget it,” he said, “I never said a word.”
Fortunately, the records from Ardask completed loading at that point. Luke looked up at Wedge, who, he could tell, was quite distressed by Han’s words - and, he assumed, by Luke’s own callousness. Well, he thought, not everything can work, and with me, little does. Wedge’ll just have to get used to it.
“Sorry, Wedge, can’t talk now,” he said, “I’m checking some important data - I’ll call you back later, okay?”
Almost in a whisper, Wedge said, “alright,” and closed the link off. He sounded close to tears. Luke thanked any gods he could think of for Han’s stubborn thickheadness, and turned back to the screen, unaware that Han was staring at him in puzzlement.
Luke smiled, “yes,” he said, “they’re there - that’s Slave I’s number, I took it when they arrived, just in case, and Arla is listed by name.” He frowned, “but, they only arrived yesterday, hmm, I wonder . . Han, you said that Sula was a no go area, yeah?”
Han seemed to come back from a long way away, “wha -?” He said, then snapped back into alertness, “oh, yeah, Sula, yeah - uh, Luke -”
“Wait a sec - yes! I was right!” Luke exclaimed, ignoring Han, “they were there. And, hmm, there was a disturbance, I think - the area is closed off. I’ll just download any data they have on it . .”
Han was still staring at him, his mind unable to accept what he was beginning to think, “Luke,” he tried, “am I being really slow here? I mean, you and Wedge - that wasn’t a very, uh, normal link - I mean, you haven’t been with - I mean, we all know that Wedge is, uh - well, anyone who’s seen him with that bloody boa knows. You’ve both been incommunicado these last few weeks, uh -”
Luke stopped what he was doing, and turned to stare at his friend, horror written all over his face.
“Han, what are you trying to say? That Wedge and I have been having a relationship?”
He sounded quite incredulous. Han wasn’t abashed, though, having got the idea in his head.
“That’s about it, yeah.” He said, “well, have you?”
Luke’s eyes went wide, “no!” he cried. He stood up and pointed to the door, “get out! You disgust me!”
Han blinked at him, then shrugged. He got up, and went to the door. Just as he reached the threshold, he said, grinning again, “guess you won’t be coming to dinner, then. Leia sent me to ask you.”
Luke shouted, “no!” then flung himself back in the chair, crossing his arms sulkily. He heard Han’s laughter, then the door shut.
Oh, great, he thought, now you are lying to your friends, then, his head hanging further down, oh, Wedge, I’m sorry.
The computer beeped to tell him that the Sula data had downloaded. With a heavy heart, Luke turned back to the screen and started to check up on his former pupils.
At Ardask, two ships rose up out of the confines of the space station, away from the advertising hoardings that coated the place and into the inky blackness of space. Neither of the pilots spoke, but both were in accord. They sped towards their destination with complete single-mindedness, thoughts only intent on what they would do there. It was fortunate that they were in this frame of mind, for both were aware of the third ship long before the pilot of that vessel could have expected. He saw the green ship waver, and smiled to himself.
The ship immediately started firing at them, and no sooner than it had started a link was forced through. It flickered into view, showing Dengar’s scarred face.
“Fuck you!” he cried, “There’s no way I’m letting you get this bounty! It’s all mine!”
The image disappeared, but the barrage continued.
For a moment the two ships just sat there, taking all he had to give them. It would only be a matter of time before their shields came down. He laughed. Then the ships shot out of his view, and before he knew it, he was being knocked about from behind. The ship wheeled about to face them, and began shooting back. They weaved and danced before him among the stars. It did not take him long to realise that their combined fire-power was much in advance of his. Realising that he couldn’t beat them in the air, he shot off ahead of them as they grouped again to attack. He laughed again, and turned to look at his dark-skinned, white-haired co-pilot. She grinned back and nodded, then reached across and gave him a fierce kiss.
Arla was furious. The cheek of the man attacking them like that! Though it was what she expected; it would have been scarier if he hadn’t attacked. And perhaps, said a voice in her mind, more sensible. Arla jumped, and her ship jumped with her. Her breath came quickly, and her eyes darted about. There was no-one in the ship with her except those two drugged and bound men; besides, she realised she recognised the voice. She had heard it only, perhaps, an hour previously. A sudden chill ran down her spine, followed by a curious, taut excitement. Could I - if I just - random thought turned to action, Boba Fett? she thought, It is you, isn’t it? She felt, rather than heard his affirming answer. But there was no time to think on what had happened, for Dengar opened the link to them, and there was work to be done. They linked their thoughts, and relaying information backwards and forwards, they wove back behind his ship, firing as they went. The battle did not last long, as Dengar soon sped off into the distance, his ship fast for its large size. The link was forced again, and Dengar crowed,
“See you there, suckers!” and then shut off.
Letting fly one last bolt at him, Arla screamed with rage at the departing ship. She started to set her controls to give chase when the voice cried No! The link opened again, showing instead Fett,
“He expects us to follow him. I think we should let him get there, don’t you?”
Arla felt a grin spreading across her face as she realised what he meant.
“Let him do the hard work, you mean? I like it!”
“We’ll have to move fast when we get there, but for now -”
“We’ll let him think we’re not coming!”
They cruised off after him at a sedate pace.
On reaching the Imperials’ small moon base, they flung themselves out of their ships, having spent the time before arriving arming themselves up to the hilt. The landing bay was almost deserted, Dengar’s ship and a couple of larger freighters the only ships there. It was hushed and dark, so they proceeded with caution, after Fett had checked the area for life readings. There had been none that he could find. They said nothing, but moved towards the exit slowly. Both used artificial sight to help them, and had hearing sensors turned up to the highest level before distortion started.
It’s too dark, thought Fett, knowing that they were walking into a trap. This, he felt, was to their advantage. Dengar had got there first; he was usually cautious, but he had something against both of the other two bounty hunters. The trap should already have been sprung, Fett knew, but he also knew that it paid to stay cautious.
He glanced at the woman beside him. The lower part of her face was exposed, and her mouth was curved into a feral grin. Boba Fett felt a rush of lust, but quickly damped it down. Here was not the place, nor was it the time.
His life form reader finally began to wake into life again. They were nearing their target. Suddenly, light flooded the area, and a figure leapt out at them and started shooting. They opened fire back at the slender figure, easily, for she was not accurate. Indeed, the shots seemed there to scare - distract them, rather than kill.
Stop! barked Fett in Arla’s mind. She did so without thinking. Fett shot out a dart from his wrists with a line attached, which caught the woman at her throat. Arla quickly sent another dart from her own weaponry to catch at the woman’s legs. Backing up, the woman didn’t see the second line coming and tripped, falling heavily. Fett moved forward, carefully, but Arla was faster. Quickly, she got out her syringe, judged the amount left to last about ten minutes, jabbed it into the woman’s black skinned neck. The woman immediately went from a tensed ball of fear into a limp heap. The lights went out again.
“Great,.” said Fett, “now we’ll have to bring her.”
“No. We have ten minutes, roughly, until that runs out, to get in there, do it, and get out. Come on.”
She set off at a run. Fett followed, catching her up in a few moments. He heard a sound from behind one of the darkened doors, and caught at her sleeve, flinging her into a door alcove on the other side of the corridor. He stopped just beyond the door, just in time, for the minute he got there, the lights came on again, dazzling them momentarily. At that point, the door opened and Dengar appeared. He too paused in the sudden light, and stood just a fraction of a second too long in the open.
From all sides white clad troopers burst out on him, until he was swiftly surrounded. Others ran to the aid of the two recumbent figures in their dull green uniforms on the small barque behind Dengar. Wedged into the alcoves tightly, Boba Fett and Arla Gen went unnoticed in the chaos. Until the stormtroopers began to fall from the unexpected fire from both sides of them. Dengar took advantage of the situation and set off at a run, the barque following him, knocking aside stormtroopers as it did. He heard Arla Gen laughing as he did so, but it only made him run faster.
Soon, there were only white clad bodies on the floor around them.
“Pathetic.” said Boba Fett, loading more cells into his blaster as he looked at the soldiers dead on the ground before him.
“Indeed. Now, lets get that idiot!” Murmured Arla, somewhat distracted, “we have about two minutes before that girl wakes up.”
They sped off around the corner, catching sight of the barque as it rounded the next corner before them. As one they slowed down and crept around that corner, knowing that that was where the girl was lying. Dengar was bent over the figure, calling her name softly. The barque floated between them. They paused for a moment, but Arla had judged the time wrongly as the girl sat up and screamed as she saw them.
It was her last sound, as Arla and Fett opened fire on her the moment she opened her mouth. They did not have to fire long. She slumped to the ground again, her blood pooling around her, dying the white spread of hair red. Dengar stood and watched in horror for a moment, then hefted his own rifle to fire at them - too late. He dropped it as a shot went straight through his shoulder, cutting off all feeling to his hand. He did not even see who had fired that shot.
Arla strode up to him and smacked him in the temple with her gun. He slumped down, his lover’s blood soon creeping towards him and seeping into his clothes. Arla looked at him, then shrugged and took the barque controller from his limp hands. In silence they walked back to their ships, leaving bloody footprints behind, and began to heft the unconscious Imperials into Slave II. Just as they were climbing into their crafts again, ready to take off and collect their bounty, a figure appeared in the landing bay, listing severely to the right, but walking nevertheless. Seeing them ready to leave, he began to sprint to his own ship. They let him, and took off into the waiting skies.
Anger and loss drove Dengar on, as he spiralled into the sky after them, thinking nothing but, kill, kill, kill. He watched them shoot off ahead of him, locked onto their co-ordinates and followed through into hyperspeed and beyond. Never had he piloted his ship so well, never, despite the intense pain in his right arm, despite the tears rolling down his face. He soon saw them again, hanging close by to each other as they shot through space towards their rewards. Bastards, thought Dengar, you will die - for her, you will die.
“He’s followed us out of hyperspace!” cried Arla, watching the rapidly approaching ship.
“He will want us dead now, after what we’ve done to him.”
“I know. We have to fight him.” she shouted, not caring that he could hear her anyway.
“Then let’s get him!” She cried, feeling Fett’s amusement in her head, and, though he probably wasn’t aware of it, his affection for her. She laughed and laughed and laughed.
Then Dengar started firing. He put everything he had into his firepower, leaving even the life-support systems at a low ebb. He didn’t care. She was gone, and no one would look at a face like his again, and love him. All his own fault, she was not trained, just confident. Over confident. They had to die, a salve for his mistakes.
They fired back, no fancy dancing about this time, just honest, hard fire-power. But, this time, he had the edge. He didn’t quite know how, but he had the edge. He drove them towards the small moon they had come out of hyperspace near, and soon two ships spiralled out of the sky into that moons atmosphere. In his excitement he did not realise his predicament would be much the same.
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