A whiz of light shot past Luke barely missing his torso. He jumped back, and let free another of his hand held weapon balls. His assailant swung at the ball - and completely missed. The woman stumbled when her lightsaber hit thin air, and the ball spat stinging red light at her. Her blade flipped off, and the green clad form sank to her knees.
“Fuck.” she said, and ripped off the eye-mask, “Look, I’m just not cut out for this. I need to see to use this sword thing, can’t I - ?”
“No. The whole point is to sense the force, and move with it. If you concentrate, it will only make things worse. Switch off, let nothing from the outside in. Don’t even feel, then you might do it.”
“Shit.” said Arla, sitting down on the exercise room’s floor. She looked about, trying to distract herself from her persistent failures. The room was almost pitch black, windowless and with the lights turned off except for a few distracting corners of light, it felt tight and claustrophobic to her. She was aware of Luke’s black clad form, emanating calm and stillness, though she could barely make him out in the darkness. The weapon ball still bobbed up and down close to her head. She ignored it. The last time, she had swatted at the thing, and it had burnt her hand, she would not do that again. Don’t be impatient, she told herself, be calm, without passion. She almost laughed then, for such a thing was so very alien to her. Spoilt brat, she thought to herself, and closed her eyes.
There was a sudden rush of light from the far corner, and Luke and Arla turned to look, and saw a dark figure silhouetted in the light. Even without the rocket pack the shining dome of Fett’s helmet and his bulky armour made an imposing figure. He was not carrying his blaster, but he was still wearing the Wookie braids despite Han’s sniping comments over the last two weeks, and Chewbacca’s more insistent threats. It seemed to both Luke and Arla that he paused before entering the room. Luke read this as a hesitancy to enter another’s lesson; but Arla scrambled to her feet, thinking, what a bloody poser, he’s come to gloat at my failure. As she did so, Fett slid into the shadows and the door closed after him, obscuring his form except for the light which bounced off his helmet.
“Right.” said Arla, and activated her lightsaber. “Throw me another one, Luke,” she said, dropping into a practised battle stance. She closed her eyes and let everything slide away from her mind. She exhaled, letting the breath take away her anger and frustration; inhaling, she drank in the stillness in the air and let it permeate her body. Luke let go the ball, and hoped. Her saber swung round, leaving a trail of blue in the darkness behind it and connected. The weapon ball hit the floor with an audible crack, and rolled noisily along the wooden floor until it hit the side wall. Luke let out the breath he had been holding. She had done it. He noted Fett’s presence with some interest, and wondered again what the link between the two was. They had hardly spoken since their arrival on Coruscant, and Luke had sensed the tension between them. He wondered what had transpired when Vert III had intercepted Slave I, and why it had made Arla so angry.
“Well done,” he said, turning the lights up.
“I did it.” murmured Arla, “I did it.”
“Yes, and now perhaps you should rest - and think about why you failed before and succeeded now.” said Luke, trying very hard to be the Jedi Master he remembered both Kenobi and Yoda to have been - to be. It was, he realised, a lot easier with the young, unfledged warriors, than with these two self assured bounty hunters. He flinched back as the lightsaber touched at his throat,
“Do not patronise me, Skywalker.” said Arla, and stalked off, ignoring Fett sitting a few paces from the north entrance.
As soon as she had gone, Fett stood up. Although the blaster was gone, all his other weapons were about his person, but in his right hand he was clasping a lightsaber identical to Arla’s practice weapon.
“You are surprised to see me.” he stated.
Luke pulled his thoughts together. He did not fully realise why the hunter so unnerved him when he saw him - which, admittedly, in the past two weeks had not been often - but he saw it as a challenge to overcome, and marked it down with his respect for the man, and his distrust.
“No,” he said, “I knew you would come eventually. I was prepared to wait until you felt ready to face me.”
Fett ignored the comment, and indicated the door,
“She is good.”
Luke felt disconcerted, and so blurted, “yes, but she is too passionate, she feels too much.”
They stared at each other for a long moment.
“Or too many.” muttered Fett, seeming distracted to Luke’s mind, then, he said; “No, that is not her danger - nor her success. She is successful because she is unpredictable.” He paused. “Shall we see what I can do?” he asked.
“Well, why not?” said Luke, trying a little of Han’s flippancy. He dimmed the lights, then said, “Wait, you shouldn’t be able to see - can you?”
“I thought so. You need to be blind to do this.”
He watched as Fett reached up under the rim of his helmet and heard the click as a switch was flipped.
“I cannot see now.” said Fett calmly. He activated his saber and sank into a similar attack pose to that of Arla. Luke got a small feeling of how it must be to live by your fighting instincts every second of your life from the fluid grace of Fett’s moves. They were completely unconscious, long practised, beyond habit. Again he wondered how old the man was.
“Very well.” he said. He paused, then after a minute he let the small metal ball fly.
Fett did not move. He let the ball dance closer and closer to him without a single movement. Then, faster than Luke could have imagined he could have done, he hit the ball into the far corner of the room. It bounced back into his reach again, only to be hit a second time. The small light within it went out and it clattered to the floor. Luke began to feel afraid of the man for the first time.
“That was - very impressive,” he said, “have you been practising?”
“No. I collected the thing,” Fett indicated the now de-activated lightsaber, “today.”
Luke let the breath slip out of him.
“Are you sure you couldn’t see?” he heard himself say.
“Yes.” said Fett, reaching up inside his helmet again, lights glinting off his visor as he tipped his head back. “Now I can.” he said.
“Then, then I have seen nothing like it! Have you really never felt the power of the Force before?”
Fett turned to look at him.
“I do not feel it now,” he said.
Since arriving on Coruscant there had been a great difference in the reaction to and the acceptance of the two bounty hunters. Although Leia had been sceptical at first about the other woman, she soon warmed to her. Arla quickly discarded her armour and most of her weaponry, though she still retained a couple of knives in her sleeves and trouser legs and a small blaster at her belt. Now, she moved about the station in tight fitting green tunics and leggings, with floppy green boots which Leia was sure would contain more small weapons had anyone looked. Despite the fact she still carried more weaponry than the average person on Coruscant could ever imagine wearing, she was always full of smiles and often, laughter.
She seemed to make friends wherever she went, and Leia found herself to be no exception to this. Although she was still nervous of the easy relationship that the red haired woman still had with Han, she reasoned with herself that she need not worry. However, the woman was still a renowned bounty hunter, who obviously had Boba Fett’s respect, so could not be entirely trusted.
Fett himself was another matter. He had landed only minutes after they had, but had not appeared out of his craft for several hours. Even then, he had not gone beyond the landing bay, but had crawled under his ship and begun fiddling with some of the weapons. Leia had watched him for a while, until he had clambered back inside the ship again and her heart had leapt, thinking he might only have docked here to do repairs. The ship did not prepare for takeoff, however, so she had approached it.
“Welcome to Coruscant.” she called, trying to suppress any emotion from her voice, and hoping she didn’t sound too sarcastic.
The helmeted visage appeared from the ship,
“Thank you.” Fett had said, and his broken voice had given away no irony, either. Immediately, he ducked back into his vessel again.
“Wait!” Leia scrambled up the side of the ship and peered down to where Fett was lying. He continued to solder until she spoke.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“There is a problem with a connection in my slave circuits, so, I am fixing it,” said Fett.
“Are you not staying then?” she tried, tentatively though, not wanting to sound encouraging.
Fett put the soldering iron down and hauled himself up to look at her.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he said flatly.
Leia gave a snort of impatience.
“Well, what do you think? You have tried to kill us on a variety of occasions -”
“Just once, your Highness; I needed Solo alive for Jabba,” corrected Fett calmly and turned to flip some switches just above them. “Ah,” he said, “That’s it.” He ship started to hum slightly and Fett leapt lightly into the inside of the ship and began tapping away at the array in front of him. Leia followed him inside, looking about as she did so.
The interior was very plain, purely functional. Nothing seemed to have been given over either to artistry or comfort, not even his own navigation post. Various lights flashed as Fett worked and Leia became slowly aware that she and he were in the middle of a three dimensional map. She stared about in wonder then, realising that most of the latest navigation - and weapon technology that she had heard of in the last few years was in this ship. Including some equipment that up until this point she had thought only the Imperial army had had. She wondered at it all, thinking that Fett must be richer than her wildest imaginings to afford all this. Then she looked at the bare little chair with its tattered cloth cover which Fett was sitting on as he worked. Maybe, she thought, if we could win him to our side, maybe we could benefit from one with such dedication and single-mindness.
Finally her curiosity got the better of her.
“If you are not going,” she asked, “what are you doing?”
“I’m setting the flight path for my two other ships to arrive here as soon as possible. I do not trust them where I have left them for any length of time.”
“Other two ships?”
“Slave II and Slave III, my attack ship and my home.”
The ships - the smaller attack vessel was inside the larger of the two - arrived shortly, confirming that they were very fast indeed. Fett stored Slave I in number three as well and proceeded to spend most of his time in there over the next two weeks while Arla worked with Luke every day.
This, naturally, made everyone very edgy. Han was eventually convinced, as the days went by, that he wasn’t going to be carried off to the Hutt’s, but Leia had her own reservations about his presence. She thought that Han was being a little silly about the whole affair, but realised that seeing Fett again had awakened memories of his encapsulation in carbonite - as it had in her - that he had been trying to suppress as much as possible. He had woken up screaming one night, and it had taken her over half an hour to calm him down again. And, although he couldn’t seem to remember the dream, she had little doubt it was connected to Fett’s arrival on the planet.
However, she imagined that Fett himself could not have particularly pleasant memories of them, and that he must have a very good reason to stay surrounded by the people who had caused him - must have caused him - at least some discomfort and humiliation. But, who could say what he felt? And, although she hardly admitted it to herself, the helmet gave her the creeps, reminding her of Vader. That was something she tried not to think about too often, fearing the reprucussions that her acceptance of her parentage would no doubt bring. Luke seemed relatively relaxed about the whole Vader thing, but, on the second Death Star they had shared something she could never be privy to, let alone understand. It was all compounded by the fact that Luke said so little about that time to anyone (she had asked everyone she had been able to think of) even her, so she was not permitted to share in it. In the end, there was still too much to be done before she could address that one, she knew. One day, she knew she could enjoy falling apart for a short time, but not yet, not while there was such crucial work to be done.
That was what worried her most about Fett, she had realised. It was the work they were doing here on Coruscant, it was so important, and still rather secret. She would not even want what remained of the Imperials to be aware that Luke was training new Jedis, and now there was a former Imperial agent loitering on their landing bay. Or if not agent, then he had been in the pay of Vader at least once. And to give up a no doubt sizeable bounty from the Hutt’s, she reasoned that he must have an even bigger amount of money from elsewhere. That could easily be an Imperial, there was still a large amount of money floating about among the old families who had not wanted the end of the Empire anyway. It was a risk, but the bloody man was nevertheless just sitting there, and not even trying to interact with anyone.
She tried to reason with herself that he could not be spying because the Imperials must have known they knew who he was. And he wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. He wore an outfit that sparked terror from the recognition most of the time, she suspected. Han said he had been around for around twenty years or so; so people had had time to know the look of his battle armour very well - if they were lucky.
Although she didn’t want to admit it, she knew that Arla Gen was a threat as well, perhaps, if she really thought about it, the redhead was more of a threat as she was interacting with them, very well. She seemed so open, and free, that is was difficult to remember that according to even their incomplete records, this was a very dangerous woman indeed. And who knows, she could easily have worked for the Imperials before and they would simply not know. They didn’t have that much information about her after all. Somehow, she could not believe that the woman she was already beginning to think of as a friend was plotting against them. Could she really be so rotten, to betray her old lover, with whom she seemed so amicable? Leia thought not, and she was learning to trust her own feelings about such things, as Luke told that this was all part of the Force, and he told her that it was strong in her.
Not that she encouraged that, she had no real desire to become a Jedi. Leia watched her brother, and saw that he became more distant as each day passed. The young man who she had first known had been instantly popular with his peers and superiors alike, but now former friends treated him with a respectful reserve. He scared them, she realised. And she so wanted to be part of her people. But the feelings she had were usually accurate and could not be ignored. Unless, of course, the woman was so good at dissembling that she had fooled even Leia’s senses. Hearing of Arla’s struggles, and her human outbursts of rage at those struggles, Leia suspected that there was really nothing to worry about there. Still, the feeling was always there, in the background, waiting.
Leia snapped out of her reverie at the sound of Han’s voice, and turned around to greet him with a tired smile. He bent to kiss her, then bobbed down so that he was squatting in front of her, his arms resting on her knees.
“Hi,” she said, stroking the hair back from his face. He still, she thought, looked younger than his 34 years; not that it would matter, not at all, but she loved looking at him, loved his face, even the feel of two days worth of stubble on his chin grating against her hand as she stroked his face.
“Mmm, that’s nice,” said Han, closing his eyes. There was a pause, then, “you were very lost in thought when I came in. What were you thinking?”
“Oh, nothing much, really. About Boba Fett, of course, and Arla - where is she, by the way?”
“Um, I don’t - oh, I guess she’ll be in lesson with Luke, why?”
“Just wondering.” That’s alright then, she thought, nothing to worry about - for now, “So, what have you been up to all day then? Whose life has been enriched by your presence today, hmm?”
“Hey, that’s not fair!”
Time passed. Han and Leia were comfortably curled into each other’s arms and had been for a good quarter of an hour when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” called Leia, holding Han closer as he shifted to move to the door. It slid open to reveal a bright eyed, bright haired figure. Taking in the scene, Arla looked momentarily abashed, and there was a question in her eyes as she looked at Leia.
“No, its fine, come in and sit down.” said Leia.
Arla smiled and did as she was bid, immediately beginning to unplait her thick hair. Once unplaited it hung for a moment it heavy clumps, but she shook her head out and the curls bounced back into shape. As ever, Han watched with covert fascination as her hair rose and fell back into place, but Leia was suddenly struck again with a sense of familiarity in the woman’s face. She frowned, then shook her head; it would come to her, she was sure.
“So,” said Han, “how are you today?”
Arla grinned, a little wildly.
“Great! Oh Han, I did it - at last - I did it!” Her hands unconsciously moved to the holster which contained her lightsaber, and lingered over it. Somehow, she could seem to stop smiling.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Arla,” exclaimed Leia, who knew of the trouble that Arla had been having.
“Yes! I smacked the poxy thing right across the room! It was great, I could really tell where it was. Really, I had no idea I could do things like that; it’s amazing that Luke can just tell.” She looked downcast for moment, saying, “I’ll never be as good as him, I don’t think.” She sighed, then said, “Still. I did it, that’s what matters - perhaps he found it hard too, when he started - oh but, you’ll never guess what! Blow me if Boba Fett didn’t walk right in on my practice! He was there when I did it, and he stayed after. He’s in there now. I can’t believe it; I though he was here in someone’s pay - what’s up Leia?”
Leia had started up at that comment.
“You thought that too?” she gasped, “Oh no, then he must be -”
“Nonsense. I think he really is here to ‘learn new skills’ as he said, or I do now. It’s odd (and I bet he’s better than me, the git!). It seems so, well, I would say out of character, but really, I never know what is in character with that one. Still, not to worry. He obviously has his reasons. He seemed - different - after the Sarlacc thing. When I first saw him, when I discovered he wasn’t dead, I was so relieved. I know he’s a pain, and well, a bit of prat really, but, I don’t know, I always liked him, kind of. Oh, but I was so angry as well.” Suddenly she laughed.
“Oh, look at you two! I’m not talking too much am I?”
Their wall eyed stares confirmed it. But, Han was confused.
“No, not at all, Arla - but, why were you angry with Boba Fett for falling into the Sarlacc -”
“No, not for that. For that I was horrified for him; poor man, what a thing to happen to him.”
“Try being encased in carbonite - I find it difficult to feel sorry for him.”
Arla pursed her lips,
“Well, that’s just it. I was furious. Absolutely furious. I remember seeing Slave I in the landing bay of, um, wherever it was, and I thought, well, I felt quite weak at the knees with relief that he was alive. I strode into the bar, and he was sitting, staring at the table. He looked totally bushed, but once I had seen him alive I was so angry. I walked straight up to him and said, “You bastard - you complete and utter bastard!”
Boba Fett sighed, I think he’d seen me come in,
“Hello Arla Gen,” he said, in this kind of flat, dead voice.
“Boba Fett, how could you do it!?” I cried, sitting down opposite him.
“What have I done?” he asked, I can’t believe he had to ask.
So I said, “You captured Han, and had him encased in carbonite! For fuck’s sakes - what do you think!?””
“Ah, Arla, I didn’t know you cared!”
“Oh Han, of course I care.”
“Hmm,” said Han to Leia, winking, “maybe she was just jealous she didn’t catch me.”
Arla said, a faint hint of irritability permeating her voice, “And you think I was wasn’t asked? Vader was a bit of a superstitious guy, I’d worked for him before, on occasion - don’t look at me like that. Oh. No, I’m not working for the Empire (as if - what group of losers) now. Anyway, he called on seven bounty hunters. But, one refused, and made her way to a very remote part of the galaxy very fast and got a very lucrative contract immediately to cover her tracks. I’d never have hunted you, Han. You were with me at the beginning of my career, you - never mind. I know its all in the past, but, I couldn’t have given you to Vader (or Jabba for that matter). And I hated Boba Fett for capturing you.” She sighed, “but, Han, if you had killed Boba Fett, I would never have forgiven you. After all, you’re both big boys now.”
Suddenly, the door slid open again and Luke rushed in.
“It’s amazing!” he said. He saw Arla and blushed, “Arla, well done.” he said awkwardly.
Her voice dry and sarcastic, she said, “I take it that he was quite good.”
Luke’s face burned even hotter.
“I’m sure you’ll be as -”
“Oh, fuck off.” said Arla, and walked out.
Luke looked totally crushed.
“Well done Luke,” said Han, “that was excellent. Tactful, well thought out, flattering, ah, you really know the way to a girls heart . . .”
“Oh shut up - I didn’t realise she was in here. She is very good, especially at sensing emotions and thoughts - but, I suppose she must have already been using those skills without really realising it. But Fett,” Luke paused, ran a hand through his hair, sighed “I’ve never seen anything like it. The very first try at it, and he did it. He broke the weapon ball, in fact.”
“Scary.” said Han, with feeling.
Luke nodded, “It was. I wish we knew who he was, where he was from - something. I was told the Force was strong in our family, Leia, and it is. It makes me wonder if there are others like him, somewhere.” he frowned, “It was strange though. Even after he had done all that, he said he didn’t feel the Force. I don’t know what to do, really. It’s like there is no emotion there at all. And he escaped from the Sarlacc. It makes me wonder.”
Leia touched his hand.
“Well, at least he has started coming to lessons, not just sitting uselessly on that monster of a ship scaring us all to death. And, at least he’s good. If we can turn that single-mindedness our way . . . ”
“And if we can’t? Maybe I was wrong to think about trying to pick Jedi from experienced fighters, its so dangerous - maybe it is better to use the young.”
Han opened his mouth to say that that was ripe coming from a twenty four year old, but looking at Luke’s drawn face and sad eyes, he thought better of it. This Jedi stuff was ageing him far too fast, he thought. Han remembered the boy who, with Kenobi, had hired him and Chewie back on Tatooine, and could see little resemblance to the young man who sat before him now, his shoulders slumped, and with an almost permanent frown on his face. Instead, he muttered, “It’s too late now, anyway. I’m sure - never mind.”
Luke flung open the door to his quarters, stamped through to the bedroom without looking around, and flopped down onto the bed. He lay still for a moment, staring at the white moulded ceiling without seeing, then yawned hugely. He tried to get up, but it seemed that his limbs had turned to jelly, and he flopped limply back down onto the white, soft coverlet. Rolling onto his side, he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but despite his acute tiredness, sleep would not come. He opened sleepy eyes, and stared at his arm as it rested on the covers before him. The blackness of his sleeve seemed very harsh against the white folds and creases in the cloth he lay on, and his hand, curled up slightly, and looking slightly grubby, seemed alien, not part of him, even though this was the real one. He flexed it experimentally, just checking. Of course, it moved. He rolled onto his back and groaned.
It had been a long day. Sometimes, dealing with the two bounty hunters was like being a nanny to two particularly recalcitrant, but very clever, children. Two very, very different children who did not get on well together. Arla had been full of questions today; Luke suspected that she had been up all night thinking them out, and deliberating which ones would be the most difficult and soul-searching. Fett had been as silent as ever, but it was an insolent, un-respectful silence that had performed all it’s tasks in such a perfect manner that it had seemed to mock everything that he, Luke, did. And, of course, there was no question that he had to be anything but patient, sensitive and firm.
The first lessons had been similar to his first attempts at manipulating something he had never dreamed he had had (although, he had reasoned to himself, it did explain away his near perfect record at shooting practices back on Tatooine). But, these were much older people, more independent and confident than an eighteen year old farm-boy - or the young kids he was slowly training when he was not with the bounty hunters - they had their own ideas about what made them tick, and both, in their own way, strained against the dictates he tried to impose on them.
He suspected that his teenage pupils half enjoyed the mental and physical rigours he put them through, as he tried to recreate his training on Dagobah, even as he suspected that they spent a lot of time moaning about it. They weren’t playing, they were young enough to be at least partly idealistic about what they were doing. He had to wonder whether the bounty hunters had ever been idealistic, or even had ideals of any kind. He wondered too, what had turned these two to the life of crime they had followed. Had tragedies and coincidences put them on their path, just as he had been set on his very different one six years before?
The last exercises they had been doing were born partially of his own selfish desire to find out about these people, and partially out of Arla’s questioning. Once they had both mastered the basics, both had tired quickly of physically whacking things about with a lightsaber, even if it was the mind that had made the action.
Arla had wondered, outloud, what his father actually did when he strangled people. And, could they do it? The question had taken him aback for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he had to admit that, since the second Death Star, and since his father’s death, he had been loath to think of Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader at all. He had read files, seen news holos on the former, and though he seemed to have been an impetuous, sometimes angry, man, there was little hint of the monster that he had feared even before he had left his home-world. To be asked outright about one of his father’s more repugnant little traits was disquieting. As was the fact that, in actual fact, he didn’t really know how it was done. It had never occurred to him to use the Force directly to harm another person - except during that time with Palpatine, which he tried to forget - and he was not really sure how to go about it. And, he did not like to think of his bounty hunters using such powers. But, he had agreed to teach them everything, and he supposed that this should not be held back from them. If he could work out how to do it.
Today, they had put his research into effect. Not on real people of course, though he suppressed a grin at the thought. Actually, it had been quite funny, at first, before the real work had started. They had used fruit. This had been Arla’s suggestion, and she had supplied it herself as well. A large crate of pomaloes had arrived via a carrier droid at the practice room early that morning, and the first attempts had resulted in near hysterics as they had exploded the food around the room. Well, hysterics between him and Arla anyway. Fett had been very unimpressed when he had turned up in the middle of it. After that, they had settled down to actual work.
Very hard work, even for him. He smiled, though, thinking of the exploding fruit. The soft, pulpy fruits were very red. And the room, when they had left, stank of the sickly sweet juices. Belatedly, he became aware he could still smell it. With a groan, he realised why that was. He sat up, and looked at the bed behind him, then sighed. Although the juice from the things was transparent, it was still red. And he had come straight into his room in a daze and lain straight down. On his clean, white bed. There were smears of red all over the covers, where he had lain and twisted about. He pushed a hand through his hair, grimacing at the sticky feel of it.
“Oh, bugger.” he said, and started to strip the covers off the bed.
He’d only got as far as piling them up in a heap on the floor when his comm went. He ran into the living room and punched down on the button just before the answering facility started its monotonous droning message.
The screen flickered, then Wedge’s friendly face appeared, smiling at him. The noise of workshops blasted into the room. Luke frantically pushed the volume down, then smiled back up at his friend.
“Hi, Luke,” said Wedge, “how are you?”
Luke twiddled the display a bit so that the image panned out from his caller’s face. Wedge was sitting perched on a high, uncomfortable stool in a small, grey booth. The door, directly behind him, was hanging wide open. Beyond that, Luke could just make out one of the repair bays.
“Hi, Wedge, I’m fine - except my ears are just recovering from your background noise. Shut the door!”
Wedge looked puzzled for a moment, then glanced behind him.
“Oh,” he said, “sorry,” and pulled the door shut. Then he turned back to the screen, still smiling. “So, how did the teaching go today?” he asked.
Luke laughed, and sat down at the display.
“Good, surprisingly. It worked very well - even though I was very tired this morning -”
Wedge’s smile deepened, and he shifted to get more comfortable on the stool.
Luke continued, “they were both very responsive, just don’t ever, ever show me a pomalo ever again -”
“Oh god, it was Arla’s idea - she suggested that we used fruit to take the place of human being, it was so funny - they just went everywhere. I still stink of the bloody things.” He frowned, glancing up at Wedge’s polite expression. The poor man obviously had no idea what he was talking about. “So,” he said, “how’s your day been - no exploding fruit, I hope?”
“Uh - no. No, I can’t say that there’s been much of that. In fact not even one - I wish I was Jedi, it sounds such fun. My day has been pretty dull, really. Spent a lot of time staring at bits of the Imperial shuttles we captured - well, those exploded, but it’s not quite the same, I suspect (I hope) as pomaloes - and we totally failed to put any of it back together. Very frustrating - this was even with the blueprints. That’s why I’ve called you -”
“You think I can help?” Luke was puzzled, “I don’t really know much about the shuttles - I’ve been in one, but -”
Wedge was laughing.
“No, no,” he said, once he had control again, “nothing like that - I would have thought you’d have known. No, it was just that, well, it’s been a shitty day,” Wedge looked suddenly a little uncertain, shy, almost, “I was just wondering whether you fancied having a drink tonight?”
Luke blinked, that was totally not what he had been expecting. He shook his head, “god,” he said, “obviously I’ve been working too much. Sure, Wedge, that would be cool. Um,” he glanced at himself, “not now, though. I’m all sticky,” as he was looking down at himself, he missed Wedge’s raised eyebrow at that comment, “I’ve got to have a shower - I haven’t eaten -”
Wedge rushed in, “Don’t worry, we can grab a, I don’t know, a pizza, or something, then hit the town. As it were.”
“Yeah, that sounds good, I haven’t been down much since I came here - only with bloody Han, who pretends he knows everyone and everything, and makes me feel like a bumpkin - where shall we meet?”
“Come to mine - we can decide where when you get there - at about eightish, if that’s okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s great, I’ll see you there, then. Bye,” said Luke, and flipped the comm off again. He smiled, wondering what had brought that on, but the smile was caught up in a yawn. He stretched, then padded off towards the shower.
The weeks passed, until Fett was surprised to find that he had been on Coruscant for nearly two months. Despite himself, he was finding the training very interesting - and challenging. He fretted, however, as he found himself being told to probe deeper into his mind for some of the exercises, and some days came away from the lessons so tense that had to use his ships inbuilt massager droids to soothe his taut muscles.
Arla was another source of tension. The episode with the fruit had been a case in point. He had arrived late to the lesson, and had walked into complete chaos. Skywalker and Arla had been mentally throwing the pulpy red stuff around and laughing uncontrollably; he had not been impressed, but had seen something very alien in the two of them then, even though the exercises had been very useful. For years he had watched Vader treating people like complete muck because he had so much control over them, and had always envied that. It had seemed that for Vader, his power was something so easy and natural that he never had to try. Fett had become the best in his chosen sphere, but only after lots of hard work, and lots of losing as well. Now, it was possible that he could be like Vader. And, he had to admit, there had been quite a lot of pleasure in damaging and dissecting the fruit. There was a long list of people he would have liked to try his new skills out on.
At the moment, Arla was top of that list. It would be nice, he would find himself thinking, just to hurt her a little bit. Perhaps just shred the vocal chords . . He had never spent so much time in her company before, and Skywalker was constantly roping them together in their training. Sometimes it was all he could do to stop himself from yelling at her to shut up. It frustrated him to see how close she would get to doing something, then lose her patience and her temper and fail. He worried about worrying about her as well. Before he had not cared - no, he realised, that wasn’t true, not really. Arla had always held a certain fascination, and he had always enjoyed listening to her chatter and her bravado. It was refreshing to hear one seemingly so untainted by her experiences. But in such large doses it was highly wearing.
After one particularly trying day he wandered back to Slave III, his eyes feeling glued up with weariness. He let himself onto the ship, locked all the entrance ways, flicked the buttons off on his helmet that enhanced his vision and hearing. After some ten or twelve years of being plunged into almost total blindness and deafness, he barely noticed it, but, as always, he removed the helmet quickly. He glared at the helmet for a moment, then wandered into his living area still clutching it. Once there, he flopped down on a seat, and pulled off the cloth mask underneath the helmet and rubbed his tired eyes.
What a horrible day, he thought. They had moved on from simply hurting things to mind control. Arla had said that the games they had had to play had been like drama classes at her school. She had shivered when she had said that, and he could understand why. Nothing was more unpleasant than having your movements - your thoughts, even, controlled, however superficially. He felt exposed, and unconsciously ran a hand over his face again. Mind you, he thought, it did only last a moment - and they couldn’t read my mind. And Skywalker had been odd. Distracted. It had been almost ludicrously simple to trick him into whatever they had wanted him to do. It made him wonder, and he imagined it would make Arla wonder as well. Was Skywalker less powerful then? Or, what? Fett shrugged to himself; there were many reasons why people got distracted, and he really had no desire to know about Skywalker’s private life, none at all.
He told himself to stop thinking about it as his head began to throb. He went to a door inset in the wall and opened it, pulling out a food packet. He opened that and began to eat the dried energy food, not even noticing it as he chewed. He drank a glass of water, then another. He read for a short while, but his eyelids began to droop. He stripped off the rest of his outer clothes, but left the full length undersuit on. Retrieving the cloth mask, he pulled it back over his face, and went to bed.
Sleep, however, came slowly to him, and once it came, it was fitful. He dreamt.
He was surprised at how easily he had found it; after all, over seven years had passed since he had last seen this. Don’t think about it, don’t even try. Nothing had altered since he was last here, nothing. Everything was in just the same place as it had been on that day. Have you no control? Don’t think about it. Get what you need and then get out. Well, perhaps one thing had altered. There was nobody here anymore, but that had been so when he left, as they had only left him alive, and that barely. Don’t think about it.
For a moment he was confused, as all the blocks looked more or less alike, but he soon recognised the one in which he had spent the first seven years of his life. The wind blew across his face, fetid with rotting food, and, he suspected, bodies. Not totally uninhabited, then. He pushed open the door of the apartments, and looked nervously - cautiously - inside. A wall of blackness hit him. He had forgotten about the airless, lightless lift-well. There was, he realised after his eyes adjusted to the dark, no lift. The smell was worse in the room, and he stood frozen by the gagging nausea it brought on. A mistake, Fett. A movement off to the left, a small noise - human. He shot before he even thought about it. A scream, bubbling sounds. Nothing. He went outside and began to ascend the outside stair that snaked around the building.
Having blown the lock on the door, and hoping he had the right floor, he entered the small complex of rooms in which had been born. It seemed right, he had often come home up the stairs as the lift mechanism often failed to work. Despite everything, that was still there, embedded in his memory. He looked about, there was a thick layer of dust everywhere - seven years worth - only disturbed by the tracks of small animals, and the occasional tumble of stuff. If he searched long enough he knew would find the bloodstains. He knew what he wanted, however, and made his way quickly into the room which had been his mothers. He tried not to look at the rotten and moth-eaten rags that had been her clothes, her bedding, her throws and rugs - anything she could get her hands on to secure herself against the world. The feeling of nausea was getting worse. He swallowed harshly, quickly, to dispel it, with little success. He scanned the room, glad of the cloth mask he wore under his stolen, battered helmet, for every step he took, clouds of dust rose up. His eyes stung, and watered, creating rivulets in the dust already settled on his skin. Not like this for much longer, no more skin - oh let it be here.
At last he found it, hidden under the bed; the bed covered with the clothes she had worn the day before - no. Do it. The chest, less dusty than other things in the room, pulled out and in front of him, looked small and insignificant. A small, controlled shot with his pistol opened it and then, it was there, all of it!
It was the helmet he pulled out first, gleaming grey and green. Black visor, bound by red. Then the rest, breastplate, groin guard - everything, it was all there, even down to several spare green bodysuits. No shoes though. Good thing really, as they would never have fitted a fourteen year old boy. He sat back on his heel, staring at the helmet.
“This is me.” he whispered.
He thought about the father he had never known, who had come back from the Clone Wars penniless and - well, wrong, somehow, inside. His father had eventually died the year he was born. His armour - it wasn’t even well used, no indentations, no bullet marks, nothing. His father was no hero, he realised. Skilled, but not the best, as his mother had always tried to tell him, when he had been old enough to ask. The nausea, forgotten in his excitement, returned. He got up quickly, packed away the armour and left.
The dream turned to other, more buried things. Fett woke up with the scream still on his lips. Eyes wide open he stared at the ceiling of the small sleeping cubicle in Slave III, breathing hard. The nausea returned, he vaulted out of his bed and fled to the bathroom, only just remembering to pull off the sleeping mask in time.
He stood retching into the bowl for a good few minutes after he had finished throwing up. Then he washed out the inside and stared into it for a long time, his mind racing. For a moment, terror gripped him - he could not be remembering this, it was gone, wiped out, lost. He had controlled it, squashed it, buried it away. He reached up and pressed a button. The mirror flipped round out of its slot. He rested his forehead on its cool surface for a second, then stared into it, studying every part of his face. The face even he saw rarely. He could shave by feel now, had done for years. He had thought about throwing the mirror away, but that was wasted effort. He began to touch his face, feel the contours, as if to assert that what he saw in the mirror really was him, Boba Fett. Suddenly, he shook his head and flicked the switch back; the mirror slid away. This, he thought, was foolishness. He had to sleep, there was much to be done tomorrow (today?) and he should not be awake. He undressed quickly, and stepped into the shower for a couple of minutes, then set it to blast himself dry. After, he climbed back into some underclothes, and pulled on a new sleep mask, crawled into bed and dropped almost instantly into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Sitting in the practice room the next morning, Boba Fett was silently cursing his helmet. His eyes were puffy and red, and he longed to rub them. His limbs felt like lead, and he was very stiff. Fragments of his dreams still flitted about his mind even now, making him yet more tired, and yet he dreaded sleep that coming night. Despite his energy-filled breakfast prepared for him by his newly ordered food preparation droid, he had spent the morning doing nothing but sitting and staring into space. He tired to forget that he had woken up crying. Now it was past midday and he had thought it best to put in an appearance at the practice room, before he went mad. But there had been no one there. He had contacted Skywalker, who had said that he had come early and found no one there, and yes, he would come now. The boy had again seemed distracted, almost vague, as if his thoughts were nowhere near the lessons at all, but Fett was even less inclined to dwell on it than he had been the night before. After the dream, one he had not had for over fifteen years, Fett was determined to tell Luke he was leaving, and go back to doing what he knew best, back to what he was.
The door opened, and a figure stepped into the room. For a moment he was alarmed, for the figure was dressed in full battle armour, but then he realised it was very familiar armour, though some he had not seen for a couple of months.
Arla strode up to him.
“Good food this morning?” she said.
“What?” he said.
“Are you enjoying your new droid?” she said patiently, as if he was being exceptionally slow.
Fett looked at her curiously for a moment, his dream forgotten in the face of this strangeness. Her voice was filled with tightly controlled anger.
“Yes, I had very nice breakfast.” he said, then, “Arla, why are you tracking my transmissions?”
She gave a sharp sigh, and removed the various portions of her face mask. Her eyes were red, bloodshot and swollen, as if she had been crying all night, and her skin had a waxy, tired, grey look to it. He stared at her in complete puzzlement. He realised he had never seen her look so awful in all the years he had known her.
“You look awful.” he said, before could stop himself, “What’s wrong?”
“Hah! I knew you wouldn’t admit to it!”
Suppressing a sigh of his own, Fett said, “Admit to what?”
“Firelord! Luke warned me there would be types like you who would try to fuck about with my mind. I would not have expected it of you, I thought we were - well, kind of friends. Obviously I was wrong. What I don’t understand, though, most of all, is why? And how long have you known who I am?”
Fett continued starring at her, trying to gain some understanding of what she was talking about. Eventually, he gave up.
“Arla, what do you think I have done?” She started at him, her hand going to her blaster pistol.
He expelled an exasperated sigh, “no. Don’t be silly; just tell me - now.”
She looked at him for a long time, trying to fathom what expressions were moving across his face simply by trying see how his shoulders moved, his body tightened. Suddenly she slumped, the only emotion she could pick up in the room was complete confusion. It had to be coming from Fett.
“You really don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” She rubbed at her forehead, as if she had a bad headache she was trying to smooth away, “maybe it was just a bad dream, but I haven’t had that dream for at least eight or even nine years.”
Behind his helmet, Boba Fett’s mouth fell open. He shut it again quickly, his mind racing ahead.
“You dreamt of your past? Bad things that happened to you when you were a child? Perhaps -” he stopped, aware that he was talking too fast, too much. Arla was looking at him in a strange, calculating way.
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what I dreamt of. Are you telling me you had similar dreams - about your past.” She paused, then said in a whisper, “things you thought you had once been able to forget?”
But Fett was silent, as his mind whirred ahead of her words. He had tried to rationalise his dream, thinking maybe it had been the shock of living somewhere where he was not looking over his shoulder every two seconds, not living off his reflexes, not constantly planning his next move, not blotting everything but the immediate present from his mind. He had thought he might be getting a little bit bored, and his subconscious had tried to remind him that nothing about him was indeed truly whole or good. He dismissed that thought, no, he was himself, he thought, that was acceptable, that was the only thing he could be. Another small part of his mind insinuated the thought that if that were so, then why worry about the past, that was what had made him the person who was Boba Fett. He nodded to himself at that. Or maybe, he thought, maybe the Jedi training was opening parts of his mind he had thought closed long ago, and was dragging up twenty year old bits of memory along with the powers he obviously had always harboured there without knowing about it. Well, that might be so, but if Arla was having the same type of dream on the very same night, then there must be something in what she was saying, but how dare she think it was him -
He felt a tap on his helmet, and started back into reality again. Arla laughed.
“I know this often happens to me,” she said, “but never before with you, Boba Fett. There am I, talking away, and you were several planets away, if I’m any judge! As I was saying, you don’t think it could be Luke testing us, then, do you?”
He shook himself, to get back into the real world fully. He couldn’t remember feeling this distracted in many years. Perversely, now she had discovered it was not him sending her bad dreams, Arla seemed just fine. Fett decided not to pursue that line of enquiry either, and dragged his brain around to her question.
“Can’t you just call him Luke, for fuck’s sakes?”
“Arla, why would Skywalker send us bad dreams? It would not serve his purpose in any way, to remind us why we became bounty hunters in the first place -” he stopped, realising that for the second time today he was saying too much. Arla was boggling at him; she let out her breath very slowly, though she had been unaware that she had been holding it.
“Well now,” she said, “we are disturbed this morning aren’t we? You must have one hell of a past to actually let slip something personal about yourself, Boba Fett, as I have never heard you do so before, never.” She smiled a thoroughly unpleasant smile. Then, she frowned, mood changing instantly, “but, you are right, I suppose. Luke is trying to make us forget about that, I think, by working us so very hard. I was completely exhausted last night. Maybe you weren’t, being as you are usually so perfect (though, dammit, you are older than me by the gods know how many years, so you should be absolutely knackered), but I find it difficult to anything except go to bed after these lessons. But I don’t know, there is no one else, and if we both had it on the same night, then . . . ”
She let the words go unsaid, but they both sat for a moment and thought about who Luke’s father had been, and their dealings with him. Fett shook his head, this did not feel right.
“I was tired.” he said, somewhat defensively, “Arla, I -”
They both started as the door opened.
“I’m sorry I took so long, Boba Fett - oh, hello Arla, are you joining us too?”
Luke strode into the room to see the two of them sitting very close on the floor. As he approached, they sprang up, very tensely. He wondered what was going on, then decided he didn’t want to know. He stopped, but the two figures did not move; belatedly he become aware that Arla was dressed in full battle armour, with all her weaponry intact except the rocket launcher. His lightsaber found its way into his hand, and his heart began to hammer for a moment before he let the calm of the Force wash over him.
“What is wrong?” he asked, keeping his voice light, calm and unthreatening.
It was, not surprisingly, Arla Gen who answered.
“Boba Fett and I have decided that we are not called to the way of the Jedi. We shall be leaving by the end of the week. We thank you for the new skills we have learnt, and I, at least, wish you well with your cause, but we realise that we are happiest employed at our chosen craft, and will not detain you any longer. I trust we can get provisions here before we leave.”
Only by the greatest control did Luke stop his mouth from dropping open. That was about the last thing he had expected, at least now after two months, when even Fett had seemed to loosen up just a little. He sneaked a glance at the man and his mouth nearly dropped open again. Fett seemed nearly as surprised as he was, though he was disguising it just as well. He decided to try a direct line.
“Why?” he asked, “why are you leaving now, before your training is complete?”
Arla’s eyes became slits.
“I have just told you, and I feel no need to tell you again. We are bounty hunters. Nothing else.”
Luke’s eyes slid across to Fett again. Now the man appeared totally composed and relaxed.
“Boba Fett, are you in accordance with this?” he asked, willing the man to say no.
“Yes.” said Boba Fett, and knew he was saying the right thing despite his surprise at Arla’s words when he felt the persuasion coming from Luke’s mind. He did not feel anger as Arla did, but really, this was not right, and he had been away from his own world too long.
Luke shook his head.
“So,” he said, “you have both wasted my time, and are too lazy and capricious to finish what you have started.” He felt a sudden chill at his rather hasty words, then looking them standing tense and ready, he felt a shiver run all the way down his spine. Words spoken many times to him came unbidden to his own mouth, “beware the Dark side of the Force,” he said, then added to himself, “please.”
Arla gave a short, humourless laugh.
“Hah. I’m not taking that from someone who fucks with my mind,” and she walked out of the room, aware that she had been doing a lot of that recently. As soon as she was out of the room she felt as if a great weight had lifted from her shoulders and she shook herself and headed for her ship.
Fett and Luke stared at each other for a long moment.
“Why?” whispered Luke, “Why come at all?”
To Fett he sounded shattered. He was aware that Skywalker found Arla attractive, but saw little reason for him to be so distressed about his own leaving. An uncomfortable feeling came over him, and felt he should answer at least that question.
“I had to know.” he said, voice harsher than usual.
Luke turned puzzled, sad eyes on him.
“Had to know what?” he asked, voice still barely more than whisper. Fett was aware then of his fear and permitted himself a tight little smile under his helmet; yet he still had to answer.
“Whether it was true.”
“And do you, do you believe in it now?”
There was a long silence as Fett considered Luke’s tired, worn looking face; the obvious care and hurt in his eyes; his protective, almost scared demeanour. He thought for a moment of the small static hologram his mother had had of his father - the only image he had ever seen of him, and shook his head slightly.
Then he said, “yes.”
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