STAR WARS: By FREEDOM'S Light Episode Eight
DESRIPTION: Big things happening on Tattooine, while Garreth and Lando go to Nar Shaddaa for a showdown with Han Solo!
NOTICE: Star Wars is Copyright Lucasfilm, which means I can't sell this story. I haven't done so. You can't sell it, either, but it's really pretty egotistical of me to think you'd want to; I mean, it's not THAT good...
"Welcome to Nar Shaddaa," said the bearded man in the repulsor chair on their screen, "Remember, if you get mugged, shot, or swindled while you're here, it's not our fault."
"I'll remember, Mako." Lando Calrissian manipulated their controls with expert smoothness as he brought the shuttle in past the semi-protective ring of starship wreckage. "It's been ages."
"Has it?" said the man Lando had introduced as Mako Spince, a former smuggler associate. "Yeah, I guess it has. I don't owe you money, do I?"
"A lot," Lando confirmed, "But that's not why I'm here. You got a landing berth for me?"
Mako gave a sort of gruff laugh. "You have been away a long time, Calrissian. You find a port at your own risk on Nar Shaddaa."
"Right," said Lando, "How silly of me. Always a pleasure, Mako."
Lando turned off the comm, and faced his passenger. "Mako's a good guy, once you get to know him."
"Yes, I noticed his sterling character," said Captain Mykel Garreth of the Rebel fleet. Garreth had been embarking on a much-needed vacation, to escape the price Prince Xizor had put on his head. Now he somehow found himself on approach to the Bounty Hunter Capital of the Universe.
He always loved dealing with Lando.
"It's not right, you know," said the captain, "Whatever Han Solo may have done to you, the MILLENIUM FALCON is still his ship. You can't just take it back."
"Actually, on Nar Shaddaa I can," said Lando, "But give me a little credit. I'm no common thief. I'm going to get the FALCON back in such a way that Han doesn't even realize it wasn't his own idea."
Garreth sighed. Lando's grand schemes did work occasionally, but they also had a tendency to explode in spectacular fashion. "Solo's smart. Do you think he'll be so easy to fool?"
"This isn't easy!" Lando protested, "But it is going to work. Trust me..."
Their shuttle streaked in towards the glowing lights and smog-filled air of the Smuggler's Moon, Nar Shaddaa.
"What is that they're building?" asked Luke Skywalker, shading his eyes to peer through Rebel-issue combat macrobinoculars. His dewback shifted unsteadily beneath him, kicking up a cloud of Tattooine's all-encompassing sand.
Sedra Covell, as short as Skywalker but otherwise his opposite with her coffeine-colored skin and tied-back hair the color of space, frowned through her own macros.
"Looks like a giant deflector array," she murmured, "What could be big enough to need to need a shield that size?"
From somewhere off to the side, a golden-brown Wookiee named Gaaraanzii hooted in concern. The call filtered through his translator and came out as, "This cursed beast does not respond to commands!"
Luke chuckled, and looked over to where Gaar was fighting his ongoing battle with a particularly large dewback.
"You have to be gentler with it," said Luke, "Remember, it's not used to carrying something as heavy as a Wookiee."
Gaar rumbled ominously. "Wookiees are not known as gentle creatures."
"Neither are dewbacks," Luke protested, "Unless you treat them right."
"Here," said Covell, sidling her mount over to hand Gaar her macrobinoculars, "Stop fidgeting with that lizard and take a look at this."
The Wookiee, who was one of the better engineers in the Rebel Alliance, studied the Imperial construction job, set up as it was in the middle of the great Dune Sea.
"I do not like it," said Gaar, "Two possibilities: Either it is meant to guard the construction of something large, perhaps the size of a SUPER-class Star Destroyer, or it is a prototype."
"Prototype?" Luke asked.
"For an even larger shield," explained the Wookiee, "One that could potentially protect a Death Star."
Covell looked thoughtful. "You think they'd build another one?"
"I am not certain," Gaar said, "But if they did, a shield like that one - on a larger scale - would be an effective defense against starfighters."
"I'll tell you one thing," said Luke, "I'm not flying that trench again."
"Tattooine is just the sort of backwater planet they'd chose to experiment with something like that," said Covell. To Luke, who was a native of the planet, she added, "No offense."
"None taken," said Luke, still using the macrobinoculars, "But I think... Uh, oh."
"Sand people," said Luke, "Approaching from the south. I don't think the stormtroopers have seem them, but its a good-sized pack."
Covell looked downwards. "Poor natives'll be slaughtered."
Luke chuckled. "You're kidding, right? Have you ever seen a stormtrooper aim?"
"They're still good enough to nail some raiders armed with gaafi sticks."
"The sand people are tougher than you'd think," said Luke, and Covell was not inclined to doubt his judgment. Unlike her and Gaar, Luke Skywalker had actually fought against the Tusken Raiders.
Luke jerked his head towards the Imperial outpost. "Come on."
"Come on?" said Covell, "Come on where?"
"Over the dune," said Luke, "This is our chance. It'll take them at least half an hour to scare off a raiding party that size. In the meantime, I want a better look."
"That's an ill-conceived plan if I ever heard one."
Beside her, Gaar was already urging his dewback forward to accompany Skywalker. "Not if we are silent hunters."
"I'm a starship officer," said Covell, "I don't know how to hunt silently."
Then one of the Tuskens let out an ear-piercing high- pitched call that split Sedra's eardrums even from a great distance.
"Who needs silence?" said Luke, "This'll be easy..."
"I have a very bad feeling about this," Covell announced, and set off after her fellow Rebels.
Boba Fett, hands-down the galaxy's most feared and accomplished bounty hunter, had seen and heard many improbable things in his time. Though, he decided as he stood against the wall of Jabba the Hutt's main audience chamber, this one might take the prize.
The gangly youth before him, who had introduced himself as an Alderaan survivor named Jev, was barely more than a child. Yet he had offered Fett one hundred thousand credits.
The target, he claimed, was Darth Vader himself.
"You're joking," Fett said slowly, "No one confronts Vader and lives."
"Not even the best bounty hunter in the galaxy?" Jev smirked at him, clearly expecting Fett to be goaded by the challenge.
If that was what he hoped, he did not understand Boba Fett at all.
"I have not survived this long," said Fett, "By being reckless or foolhardy. And even were I inclined to challenge Vader, the cost would be considerably higher."
Jev fidgeted. "How much?"
"In excess of a million, I expect." Fett quoted the price off the top of his head, but decided that it was accurate. It would take at least that much to make him face Vader, especially since the Dark Lord was one of Fett's most frequent employers...
And yet, there was Xizor. Xizor, who had already offered Fett two-fifty to capture this youth's captain, Mykel Garreth. And who would probably pay at least another hundred thousand for Garreth's entire rebel crew.
And it was also Xizor who constantly vied with Lord Vader for the Emperor's affections. Xizor who desperately wanted the Lord of the Sith out of his way.
Boba Fett wondered how much the Falleen prince would pay for that honor... certainly, it would be a handsome price, enough to cover any risk. A record-setting bounty, most likely. A king's ransom, for the head of Vader on a platter...
There were other problems, of course. Fett considered himself a man of high moral character. He disliked the disruptive Rebels. He hated Xizor and his filth. Even should he wish to accommodate the Falleen, killing Vader was not an enterprise to be undertaken lightly. It would require a great deal of planning.
If Fett was a moral man, he was also a cold-blooded one. He had worked for worse than Xizor, and there was no doubt in his mind that Darth Vader was as evil a creature as he had ever encountered. The Dark Lord deserved to die, if anyone did. He had destroyed a world. Although Fett had no sympathy for the whining, rebellious simps of Alderaan, there were certain limits to what constituted acceptable punishment.
As for the planning, Boba Fett was nothing if not patient.
The young man before him was crestfallen. "I could never raise a million..."
Without so much as changing his posture, Fett said, "I'll think about it."
"You mean it?" said Jev, oddly childlike even in the midst of putting out a contract, "You're not just toying with me?"
Fett's implacable T-shaped visor allowed no hint of his expression to show. "Do I look like a man with a sense of humor?"
"Good point," said Jev, "So you'll do it?"
"I'll consider it," said Fett, "Nothing more. I'll want the five thousand down immediately, regardless of my decision. Where can I reach you?"
Jev started to reply, but was cut off by a female voice, "Is there a problem here?"
Taryn Clancee, a tall, sandy-blond human, had been a spice-runner for the Hutt, and a very competent one at that, before losing her mind and joining the Rebel Alliance.
Fett didn't particularly like her, but then, Fett didn't particularly like anyone.
"No problems," he said to Clancee, "We were talking."
"That's interesting, Fett. I've never know you to say two extra words in a row."
"Perhaps you do not know me," said Boba Fett.
"I'm at the Spacer's Haven in Mos Eisley for the next few days," said Jev, "You can contact me there."
"Understood," said Fett. His mind filled with new and interesting ideas, he turned and left the Hutt's audience chamber.
Taryn waited until she and Jev had left the palace before saying, "What was that between you and Fett?"
Jev shifted on his feet. "Um... I just wanted to talk to him."
"About what?" she asked, "Besides being a dangerous barve to tangle with, he tried to kill your captain."
"That's what I wanted to talk to him about," said Jev.
Kid's not real good at thinking on his feet, she decided as he studiously avoided her eyes. "You said he should contact you. Why?"
"I... offered him a few thousand credits to leave Garreth alone," said the young X-Wing pilot, "He promised to consider it."
Yeah, right, thought Taryn. Boba Fett is not going to give on a bounty in exchange for an X-Wing jockey's savings.
Aloud, she said, "Really? I'd have thought he was out of your price range."
"Well..." said Jev slowly, "My family had money, including some off-world holdings. It's all mine, since Alderaan."
"Funny, you don't act like a kid who comes from money."
Jev shot her a glare. "Well, you don't act much like a smuggler!"
"I'm sorry," said Taryn slowly, "You want me to act like a smuggler? I'll act like a smuggler."
Before the pilot could react, Taryn's foot lashed out and caught him hard, just behind the knee. Jev couldn't compensate, and he tumbled backwards in a storm of sand. He lay on the ground for a moment, choking on the sandy grit, his eyes flashing with anger.
"Smugglers don't like it when people lie to them," said Taryn, "What'd you say to Fett, kid?"
Jev stared at her, the dark spots of his pupils suddenly seeming to suck her in. "I never spoke to Fett."
"You didn't? But I saw..."
"You saw nothing," he repeated, voice low and husky, "You completed your business with Jabba, and then we returned to Mos Eisley. Nothing interesting happened."
That's not right, Taryn thought, feeling strangely dizzy. I know it's not right...
Her vertigo intensified, and Taryn struggled just to keep her balance. She nearly stumbled...
And abruptly the vertigo was gone. Taryn shook her head to clear it, and saw Jev Parrak, lying on the ground in front of her, his tunic covered with dust. She'd been about to say something, she thought. For the life of her, she couldn't think of what it was...
"Must've spaced out for a second," she said, and offered the kid a hand up. "What happened to you?"
"You got dizzy," he explained, "You accidentally tripped me up."
"Oh. Sorry." What WAS it she was going to say? She decided it couldn't have been very important.
"No problem," said Jev as he started off down the sandy path that led away from Jabba's palace. "Just stay out of my way next time..."
"Lovely places you frequent," said Garreth, trying not to wince as in front of them, a grotesquely huge alien literally ATE the small creature that had been skittering between his legs.
"I admit, Nar Shaddaa isn't much for atmosphere," said the gambler Lando Calrissian, "But it is a place where things get down."
Garreth surveyed the scum and chaos around them. "Not all of them being legal..."
"Most of them being illegal," Lando agreed. "It's a living."
Garreth thought of the rodent-like creature that had met with such a cruel demise. "Not if you're under a meter tall..."
"Will you relax?" said Lando for the twenty-fifth time since they'd arrived, "Eat your loska-stick before it gets cold."
Garreth peered at the meat-and-spices combination he held in his hand. He hadn't eaten since leaving the freedom. "I'm not sure the food is safe."
"Vendors don't poison people at random, even on Nar Shaddaa. Eat up."
Garreth took a tentative bite, and had to admit the smoky-flavored concoction was good. Around another bite, he said, "So what's my role in your grand scheme?"
"You'll go to Han," said Lando, "Tell him that you bring new orders from the Rebel command. As soon as he's done here, he's to head out for Ord Trasi for a special pickup. In the meantime, I'll be conducting some special modifications on the FALCON's systems - I've already paid off Shug Ninx. When he tries to go to lightspeed, my computer virus will make every system on the FALCON go dead."
"Lando!" said Garreth, a bit shocked, "You could kill him!"
"You don't understand. It won't be dangerous," said Lando, "But together with some comments I've been paying Shug to make the last few months, it'll convince Han that the FALCON is finally showing her age. With great reluctance, he'll decide to trade her in..."
"I still think this is beneath you," Garreth put in.
"...and lo and behold, Shug will just happen to have a spanking-new YT-2400 freighter that he'll give Han a beautiful deal on, since of course it's already paid for..."
Garreth stopped his friend cold. "You actually bought a YT-2400 freighter for this stunt? Why not just fly that?"
"Because," Lando said, "This isn't about money, it's about the FALCON. She's rightfully mine. Han cheated me, and I just want to see the look on his face when I show up in HIS ship - which I have miraculously repaired."
"You're out of your mind," Garreth announced.
"Why?" he asked, "Solo gets a brand-new ship, the Alliance gets that load of ore, you get your vacation, and I get the FALCON back. Who loses?"
Garreth groaned. "I'm not going to help you. I could get court-martialed."
"You have to," said Lando, "This is on a careful timetable. All I need is someone he'll trust, who can order him to jump planet before he has time to find the virus, and can also stall him while I get on board the ship."
"And if the Wookiee finds out, he'll pull my head off!"
"There's always a risk," Lando admitted.
"You have totally lost your--"
Garreth was cut off as the wall immediately behind him exploded. He slammed into Lando, driving the smuggler to the ground before a large chunk of durasteel shrapnel could take his head off.
"I knew this was a bad idea!" Garreth announced.
"He wasn't even shooting at you," Lando said.
"How do you know that?"
"For one thing, they want you alive." Lando pointed across the rapidly-clearing square, at a tall, thin droid with a high-domed head. "For another, that's IG-88, and he doesn't miss..."
On the assumption that a Wookiee wandering the sands of Tattooine would probably be noticed, Luke and Sedra left their dewbacks with Gaar, over the last dune. Though Gaar was none too thrilled about dealing with THREE of the things, he understood the reasoning and grumbled only a bit.
Luke led the way past a deserted guard post. Sedra could still hear the echoes of laser fire and Tusken shouts as the Imperial guards tried to defend against the native threat.
Luke used his lightsaber to cut his way into the main building, a small prefab shelter set up with a clean field to push away the dust and sand. Means there's likely electronic equipment inside, she thought.
Sure enough, the door slid open to reveal banks of computer and Imperial sensing equipment.
Sedra smiled. Pure sabacc, she thought.
"Hey? What are you--" The Imperial fleet trooper guarding the room was at the intercom in three steps. Sedra nailed him with her first shot.
She sat down at the panel and began trying to access the deflector schematics.
"Guard the door," she told Luke.
"Right!" he said, "But what if--"
Almost on cue, two stormtroopers burst into the room, perhaps alerted by Sedra's blaster shot. They raised their weapons, one of them pointed straight for Sedra's head.
Luke didn't have time to think, so he just reacted. The blue arc of his saber swept up to bat aside the laser blast that would have burned Sedra, then cut it back across the other trooper's rifle, slicing it in half.
The troopers themselves followed a second later.
Sedra Covell sighed with relief. "You're pretty good with that thing."
Luke looked sheepish. "So far, it's just a hobby."
Sedra pulled a tiny slicer module from her gear. It was programmed with most of the popular Imperial codes, though Sedra had no idea if any of the encrypts used by this particular computer were in there.
After a moment, the slicer module flashed red, and Sedra cursed.
"What?" asked Luke
"They're using a new encrypt. We can't break it."
The farmboy leaned over her shoulder to examine the screen. "We have to do some..."
Both rebels looked up to see a late-model protocol droid and his R5 counterpart shuffling down the corridor. Luke swept his saber up to face him.
"Oh, no, I'm terribly sorry. No need to get up. We'll just let ourselves out..."
"What are you waiting for?" asked Sedra, "Get rid of them!"
But Luke was staring at the droids with an almost sentimental grin. "I can't. He reminds me of 3P0."
"Well, I never!" said the prissy, silver droid, "I'll have you know that I am H-4P0, a significant improvement over 3P0 protocol units in all respects."
"Hey," said Covell, "I have an idea. You want to keep your head attached to your body, droid?"
"Oh, yes," said the droid with definite relief, "Very much."
"Have your counterpart come translate the system for us."
The R5 unit bleeped and tweedled with indignation.
Fourpio said, "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid that is beyond our ability. All Imperial support droids are programmed with counter-insurgency protocols."
R5 beeped at them again.
"...and he is ever so stubborn about these things," said Fourpio, inexplicably prompting a laugh from Luke.
"Fourpio," said the young man, "Do you like the Empire?"
"I am a protocol droid," said Fourpio, "It's not my place to pass judgment upon my masters. Still... I will admit that the Empire's methods can be a bit extreme. Why, they had my last counterpart disassembled merely because he had become obsolete!"
R5 twitted, and Fourpio swatted him on dome. "No, I dare say you are not much better!"
"Look," Luke said, "Why don't you plug in anyway? I bet Sedra could blank your counter-insurgency programming."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Sedra Covell said, "I'm not even sure I know...
"Would you do that?" asked the Fourpio unit, "Oh, it would be ever so nice not to have to cowtow to those dreadful stormtroopers!"
She sighed. "I'll give it a shot."
The R5 unit bleeped and rocked back and forth.
"Oh, dear!" said Fourpio, "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid Arfive has already carried out counter-insurgency procedures! A coded message has been sent to the stormtrooper garrison!" He bonked the R5 harder on the dome. "Why, when they hear what I said, they'll have me melted down! You rusting garbage can..."
The R5 tweedled apologetically.
"I don't care if it's in your programming! Why, I should..."
"Freeze!" said a male voice at the door, and Luke and Sedra found themselves facing half a dozen stormtroopers.
"We're doomed," Fourpio moaned.
Mykel Garreth drew his blaster and fired, sending sparks skittering across IG-88's metallic surface. The droid took a step closer, aiming a stun weapon.
"You're not gonna take him out with a blaster!" Lando said, "Come on!"
The gambler pulled Garreth along past the run-down shops and businesses of Nar Shaddaa. Repeat fire sounded behind them, as the clunky droid rushed to catch up.
"Doesn't miss!" Garreth scoffed, "He's missed at least eight times!"
"So I used a little poetic license," Lando said, "Give me a break!"
A shot deflected past Garreth shoulder, and nearly hit an innocent Chadra-Fan merchant. The little alien squeaked and hid under his cart.
"We've got to get out of the main square," said Garreth, "He's going to hurt someone!"
"I think that's his plan!" Lando agreed, "Where can we go?"
"That way!" said Garreth, pointing down a side alley leading to the spaceport district.
They ran, dodging IG-88's explosive fire as the war droid kicked in its boosters and began to catch up.
"You always get me in trouble, Garreth!"
"It's not my fault!" the captain complained, "YOU brought us here!"
"Leave it to you," Lando grumbled, "To turn an innocent act of revenge into an adventure."
They hit an open area, and Garreth saw that they were in the hangar area now, with a ladder leading to a high catwalk. He looked over the assembled parts and junk, and smiled.
"Here!" he said. He'd found a couple of old CC-8 thrust packs, stripped down versions of the jet pack Boba Fett wore. Starship techs often drained them of their charge as a cheap source of extra fuel.
Now, if only these haven't been drained yet, Garreth thought. He checked the charge, and found that each pack was at least half full.
"What?" said Lando, "We're gonna FLY?"
"Up to there," said Garreth, pointing at the catwalk. "He can't possibly climb the ladder with his bulk!"
The gambler almost protested, but stopped as he saw IG-88's stun rifle round the corner.
"Give me one of those," he said.
Garreth handed him one, and engaged the jets just as IG-88's blaster fire started to sound again. They soared upwards though Nar Shaddaa's filthy air, heading for a higher level where, hopefully, they could lose the bounty hunter.
Garreth closed his eyes. The scenery was rushing by much too fast, making his nauseous. It didn't help that IG-88 kept shooting at them. He felt almost weightless, like in zero-gee training, and knew he would very shortly lose that Shaddaan delicacy he'd been snacking on.
He collided with metal, and grabbed onto the catwalk. Lando helped his up. Blaster fire continued to sound, but the droid was out of range.
"Hah!" said Lando, looking down at the droid, "That'll teach you to..."
Something rumbled, and rocket boosters built into the droid's feet lit up. The droid began its ascent towards the catwalk.
"That's just not fair!" said Lando.
"Run," said Garreth.
But of course there was nowhere to run. The catwalk was thin, and once IG-88 got in range, it would be shooting nerfs in a barrel. They'd never reach the end in time. Blaster bolts spattered closer... closer still...
Something exploded, and Garreth turned to see IG-88 spinning out of control, his boosters burning with flame. "I don't believe it," said Lando.
"I do," said Garreth, pointing at the ground below, "Look."
On the lower level, a massive chestnut-colored Wookiee lowered his bowcaster and howled a greeting to the two humans.
"Still want to steal their ship?" said Garreth.
"Yeah, well, Chewie's all right," Lando said, "But Han Solo still owes me big..."
"Let me see if I understand what you are proposing, bounty hunter." Xizor, Underworld Prince of Black Sun, leaned forward a bit, causing the hologram of his face to become a closeup. "You would destroy Lord Vader for me, and deliver an entire shipload of Rebels, including Mykel Garreth, for me to present to the Emperor."
"I believe it is possible," Fett told him.
"It is not possible," said the Falleen, "Lord Vader has many enemies, but few with the courage to kill him, or the funds to hire those who would. I would be at the top of a very short list of suspects."
"Not necessarily," said Boba Fett, tone still emotionless, "Suppose I could kill Vader, and blame his murder on another, with no connection to you. What would that be worth to you?"
Prince Xizor steepled his fingers together, measuring Fett with a gaze nearly as cool as Fett's own.
At length, he spoke. "More wealth than you can imagine."
"I can imagine quite a bit," Fett said dryly.
"You'll get it, and more," Xizor promised, "But do not fail me, Bounty Hunter. You are strong, but not as strong as Black Sun. Should knowledge of our deal become known to the Emperor - or worse, to Vader himself - the consequences for you would be disastrous."
"Understood," said Fett.
"Excellent." The holographic Xizor reached forward to sever the connection. "In that case, I look forward to hearing of your progress. Until then."
The hologram disappeared, and Boba Fett leaned back. He decided it might be time to re-examine his place in the universe. He had just made a proverbial deal with the devil, and he took no pleasure in being in league with such as Xizor.
On the other hand, all those credits would surely dry his tears, and if it came to a match between Boba Fett and the devil, he had no doubt who would emerge victorious.
Jev leaned over in the darkness of his room and slapped at the comm. The desert was surprisingly frigid at night, and his teeth chattered as he said, "Yes?"
The image of a battered Mandalorian helmet that he had not expected to see for some time popped onto the viewer. "I have decided to take the job, for your price."
"You will?" said Jev, "But I thought it would take a million--"
"I have a generous nature," said Fett, "Besides, I don't like Vader either."
"That's wonderful!" said Jev, "You'll have the five thousand before the night is out. And when Vader is dead, every remaining Alderaanian will see you as our greatest hero."
"Oh, one other thing," said Jev, "As a gesture of good faith, I'd like you to stop hunting for my captain. At least for now."
To Jev's surprise, the hunter said, "That is agreeable. One bounty at a time."
"Great," said Jev, "Then we can do business."
"I'm sure we can," said Boba Fett, and the screen winked off.
Jev leaned back in his bed. He couldn't trust Fett; of that he was almost certain. On the other hand, what did he have to lose by trying? At the very least, he'd bought some time for Captain Garreth.
Unless, of course, Fett was lying to him. Using him to get to his captain.
As he drifted back to sleep, Jev smiled. If Boba Fett betrayed him, the bounty hunter would discover what the power of the Force could REALLY do.
Jev almost looked forward to it.
Continued in Episode 9
R. John Burke