When the bounty hunter had crossed half the distance to the two ships, blaster fire suddenly stretched out to greet him from behind the bulk of the further vessel. Faster than lightning, he crouched into a ball and rolled left while releasing a few bolts from his rifle. The shots were merely to keep his assailant's head down and they achieved their purpose as Fett scrambled behind the relative safety of the other ship.
"I'll pay you double!" came the high-pitched voice of the hunted in heavily accented Basic. The Sidoan's antennae quivered as he hunkered down beside the ship's hull and searched the hanger with his large, black eyes. His answer came in the form of a small black disc sliding along the floor that stopped at his feet. The prey's eyes widened even more, if that was possible for one of his race, and he turned to run just as the thing erupted in force, light and noise. He landed on the hanger floor 5 meters away in a crumpled mass and slowly rolled over onto his back. The Sidoan tried to get up but found that all six appendages seemed to be made of stone. He laid his head back on the floor realizing he was still alive but feeling the after effects of a flash grenade. A form stepped over him and he looked up into the dark features of the hunter.
"Triple?" croaked the Sidoan in a last effort to save himself.
He was met with no verbal response as the figure set his blaster to stun and fired.
A few days later, the bounty hunter sat in the cockpit of his vessel 12,000 credits richer. The transfer of the Sidoan to his employers had gone smoothly enough. He had even managed to eek out an extra 2,000 from the frugal businessmen. It hadn't taken much; not when his captive held codes to release the 200,000 he had stolen from the business. He reminded them that 1% of their return was a small price to pay to retrieve their prize before they had to report the loss to corporate headquarters. All in all, it was a good hunt with a good result. Nothing great but at least he had no debilitating injuries this time.
It had been months since he parted with Cyan and he had pushed himself hard to get her out of his system but there were times when his thoughts uncontrollably drifted to her. Like now, in the quiet hum of lightspeed when everything that needed to be thought out for the next few days had already been reasoned through and decided upon. There was nowhere else to go in his mind but to her. Her inner strength had affected him even more than her abilities, grace, and prowess. He remembered their last goodbye and a hint of emotion threatened to invade his disciplined mind.
No! Not again!
Fett shook his head to clear it. He refused to allow himself the indulgence. Instead he brought up the bounty post on the small vid-screen on his front console. He scanned the list searching for the greatest challenge; nothing like a high degree of physical exertion to clear the mind of superfluous feelings.
He found exactly what he wanted in a bounty posted by the Regional Praetor Julian Novex, one of the Empire's rising political stars. Having served only a few years in the Imperial Navy, Novex had none-the-less secured the backing of many of its senior captains and admirals though he was only a lieutenant j.g. when he resigned his commission. He had swiftly climbed the political ladder moving up the many tiers of government to his present position as Regional Praetor, which gave him jurisdiction over a full eighth of the Empire. Not surprisingly, many of the naval commanders that had showed him deference during his military stint now found themselves stationed in Novex's area of responsibility. The man had charmed his way to the top and repaid his debts ten times over to those that had assisted him on the way. Fett just hoped he paid bounties that well.
Julian Novex remained seated as the bounty hunter entered his office. Hall would have been a better description of the vast chamber that served as the Regional Praetor's working environment. Two-story ceilings gave the impression of grandeur while accompanying two-story windows ran along the back wall of the roughly oblong room revealing a grand view of the Truscan skyline. Novex preferred the indigenous architecture of the host planet for his regional government offices to the drab grays and blacks of the Empire. A connecting antechamber off to the right was available to the occupant for rest and refreshment though he rarely used it.
"Boba Fett the bounty hunter, Praetor Novex." proclaimed the assistant who struggled to keep up with his charge as Fett strode into the room.
"Thank you, Nilson. You may leave us." said Novex as he looked up from the data pad he was reviewing. The assistant's hesitancy produced a further word. "Now." the Praetor said in a calm but unquestioning tone.
The assistant turned and left the two alone, closing the chamber doors as he passed them. For a few moments, the men stared at one another taking full measure of their observations and formulating tentative opinions based on perception. It was almost a test of wills but Fett had made a habit of waiting and would not be prompted to make the first move by a bureaucrat. Novex broke the silence.
"You know, I would have had any other bounty hunter work through one of my assistants." Novex paused as if this held a degree of significance so Fett slightly bowed his head acknowledging the compliment. "But you are no other bounty hunter. You are the best in your profession and that is the singular quality I look for in my associates." The praetor rose from his chair and walked to the large windows behind him but kept his body at a sufficient angle to Fett to maintain conversation. "I will not waste time in acquainting you with my position or philosophy since these matters are irrelevant. Suffice it to say that I have made many loyal friends by ingratiating myself to them. To accomplish this takes charisma to some part but, more important, it takes wealth or, the luxuries wealth can afford." At this point, Novex turned his head to look out over the forests and far-off steppes which led to the purple mountains hazily visible in the distance. "What I am asking you to do," and at this the bounty hunter started listening for real, "is provide me with the means to ascend to the next level of recognition." The speaker kept his eyes on the horizon for a few more moments as if seeing what this 'next level of recognition' would look and feel like. Then he turned to face the bounty hunter and said, "I need you to bring me a live Madagan Razorbeak."
Fett tilted his head slightly to the left. "You've wasted my time praetor, the razorbeak is a myth."
Novex answered quickly, just in case the bounty hunter decided to walk out then and there. "Of course it is. Every rational person knows that it's just a story used to frighten children. That's why the gift of one to the emperor will be truly magnificent and solidify my rise to power." The praetor brushed a console on his desk and a panel of the left wall slid up to reveal a large vid-screen. "This footage was received from an automatic uplink transmitter in the Quatarri system. A team of Imperial engineers were recently sent there to complete the construction of an ELP station on the sole planet of that system."
As he finished speaking, the vid-screen came to life and showed a stationary view of a small area of ground in a jungle environment with a structure blocking the lower right hand corner of the screen. It looked to Fett like a security monitor. The time-date in the upper left told him that this recording was made five days ago. Nothing happened for the first twelve seconds and the bounty hunter was about to turn around and walk out of the office when something blurred across the screen. What surprised him most was the size of whatever it was. Nature did not commonly mix great size with great speed but the object that had passed before the monitor device possessed both. Fett's helmet had recorded the recording and he played it back now in his visor at a much reduced speed. There was only one real quality frame and what it revealed was astonishing to say the least.
"Would you like to see it again..." said the praetor as he turned his head from the vid-screen to Fett but the bounty hunter was already walking out of the office. For a moment Novex was unbalanced but quickly called after him, "So you will bring me my prize, bounty hunter?"
"As you wish." was the reply.
Three days later, the Slave 1 entered the Quatarri system and quickly placed itself in orbit around the only planet circling the star. Single satellite star systems were uncommon in the galaxy and attracted little attention due to their limited resources. Pirates and smugglers rarely used them as hideouts or headquarters due to the relative absence of 'cover' in the system; no gas giants or asteroid belts to hamper pursuit should authorities discover their prey. This system seemed no different as Fett scanned the planet surface and found only a small structure that must have been the praetor's listening post. He could think of no better place to start the search for a mythical beast then where it was first caught on video. The Slave 1 began its descent to the surface of a planet which didn't even have a name (the Imps called it Planet 67429) and traveled through the thick atmosphere down to land within a kilometer of the structure.
Fett had left his ship in a small clearing and was about to enter the dense foliage that covered most of the planet's surface. A quick thermal scan told him nothing but small, native lifeforms were in his direction of travel but that could change quickly enough. The bounty hunter moved off into the brush with his blaster at the ready and his mind on his mission.
It was an uneventful trip to the Imperial structure but took considerable time since there were no trails blazed through the tangle of brambles, shrubs and small trees. Twice he had to pull out a vibro-blade to hack his way through a particularly troublesome section of vine and limb. Upon reaching his initial destination, Fett made a quick perimeter check to ensure no one or no thing was laying in wait for him. When his circle was complete, he gave the structure a closer look. It was small, not even big enough to hold the Slave 1 but would have given ample room to the engineer team that would occasionally make a routine stop here to calibrate and repair the equipment. The listening post itself was administered by a modest computer that carried on the rudimentary procedures of sending signals out into space and recording the results of feedback. Any anomalous readings were sent to another smarter computer a few light-years away that would weed out the extemporaneous and send on the important data to its first organic recipient. Some low-level Imperial non-com would sit at a console somewhere and receive data from a number of these relay computers and decide whether the information garnered by technology was important enough to worry his superior with. Often, it was not but the Empire needed its information and this was one of the ways they received it.
The seven-story antenna that protruded from the structure rose high above the stunted trees in this area, which made it highly conspicuous. Perhaps that was why the beast had approached the structure. Fett found the security vid device and approximated the angle and location of where the creature would have crossed its field of view. He searched the ground carefully for any sign of tracks, first visually, then in ultra violet, then in infrared. Nothing. It had been a week since the transmission from this place and he had not really hoped for much but he ran a spectral analysis of the ground through his visor and he thought he could detect a very slight depression in the dirt. The size of the depression was close to his estimate of the beast's foot size. He looked further in the direction the depression seemed to point in and discovered another. Two microscopic depressions matching the supposed creature's foot size and length of gait at a run told the hunter that he had indeed found tracks belonging to whatever had crossed into the security monitor's view.
He looked up into the woods and, for one of the few times in his life, he was unsure of his course of action. There were no documented engagements with his prey on which to base a tactical plan. All he had to go on were fairy tales and nursery rhymes from ages past and he put little trust into them. Still, they were all he had and Fett was anything if not thorough. On the voyage to this backwater, he had reviewed every reference in print about the Madagan razorbeaks, most of which was complete drivel. He had tried to weed out the improbable from the possible and had ended up with a short summary of what might work in his hunt. It gave him little consolation now as he stood on the beast's planet and wondered if he was right to dismiss the legend that razorbeaks could cloak themselves and sneak up on even the most gifted hunters. He decided, rather quickly, that little could be done now to change the situation and went back to following the 'tracks' of a mythological beast.
It had been two days since the hunter had taken to his hide. He had tracked the beast to a watering point about six and a half kilometers from the listening post and had taken to the trees to wait for the creature to return. The beast probably had other water points but Fett was sure it would return since most creatures were innately cyclical about such things. So he had waited... and waited. He dared not move from his perch about fifty meters above the forest floor for fear he might give himself away so he took enough nourishment to maintain himself and urinated in his suit which immediately dealt with the fluid as the toxic material it was and recycled it. The wait had given him the time to re-reason through his tactical approach and he was prepared as any man about to take on a fairy tale creature with no knowledge of its strengths or weaknesses. He had a series of darts ready with increasing amounts of a very strong tranquilizer to fire in succession should the initial dose or doses prove insufficient to bring the prey down. He also had an antidote ready should the beast be somehow allergic to the solution. The praetor was, after all, insistent on a live capture. His blast rifle was already set to a high-level stun and he had replaced the small flamethrower on his gauntlet with a high-powered net launcher. All that was left to do was wait. He had taken brief naps if they could be called such; more a hovering on unconsciousness that relaxed the body but maintained a vigilant brain.
From his perch in the trees, Fett looked down at the spring and the small pool it fed and wondered if it might not be better to set up a small vid-monitor here instead and log the beast's visits in order to discover its routine and therefore set a proper trap. He was about to make up his mind when he felt a difference in the jungle air. A number of the normal creature sounds that ordinarily resounded in the area had grown quiet. He checked the skies and noted the absence of any approaching storm. There was little seismic activity in this region that might have affected the smaller wildlife similarly. Fett reasoned that whatever had brought the change was not nature but animal and probably his prey. He slowed his breathing and collected himself for action.
The reeds at the far end of the small clearing slowly parted and the razorbeak silently moved from myth to reality. It walked on all fours but the angle of the back and the difference in length between the hind limbs and the fore limbs told the hunter that the beast could probably walk on its hind legs with ease when it wanted to. The hind paws were large and clawed but the fore limbs ended in large curved talons which were obviously part of the creature's skeletal structure as it rested a large portion of its weight on them. Fett figured they could probably cut a man in half if swung with enough force and he had no doubt the beast could accomplish this. The razorbeak's relatively small torso expanded widely at the chest and provided a sound base for the almost bird-like head that sat upon it. The elongated head provided for a large jaw filled with teeth that could rip and crush anything foolish enough to get close. Ridges ran up from the snout toward the back of the head and the creature's eyes rested on either side allowing it a 180-degree view of the environment. Short, ruddy-brown fur covered the beast except for its snout whose skin was a darker shade of brown with a smattering of gray. All this the hunter took in instantly, already modifying some of his strategy to accommodate the true form of his prey. The razorbeak came slowly forward as it scanned the clearing for visitors. It did not look up, probably because there had never been any indigenous threat to it from that sector before. Fett prepared himself as the beast arrived at the small pool and began to dip its head to the water. Just as he fired his first dart, however, the razorbeak's head snapped up and discovered the hunter staring back. A low groan from the beast and a brief wincing move of its shoulder told Fett that his dart had found its mark but it did little more than make the beast angry. In fact, Fett found himself looking down right into the razorbeak's eyes and what he saw was malevolence. The analytical part of his brain told him that malevolence denoted intelligence but this only briefly registered as he fired the second dart, this one with a higher dose of the tranquilizer. Before it founds its mark, however, the beast started to shimmer. It was as if Fett were looking at it through fumes or a heat mirage; still there but not a concrete object. At first, he thought he might be fainting but quickly realized this was not the case. His second dart had obviously missed or had absolutely no affect because the beast roared once and shot off its hind legs into the base of Fett's tree with such quickness and force that it sent the hunter flying from his perch.
He spun in the air and managed to grab a hanging vine with one hand that stopped his descent 15 meters above the ground. Fett hung there for a moment but quickly grabbed hold with his other hand and pulled his legs up and over his head putting himself in an inverted position looking straight down to the jungle floor where he wrapped his legs around the vine. The maneuver freed his hands and he prepared to fire another dart as he looked for the beast below. It had recovered from hitting the tree and now stalked toward the hunter along the jungle floor keeping sharp eyes focused on the interloper. Fett still could not get a definite visual lock on the creature as it continued to shimmer so he fired a small spread of the darts at it that all should have connected. Only one apparently found its mark, however, as the razorbeak shuddered and momentarily came back into focus. A loud roar came out of the beast's maw in reaction and it suddenly leapt straight up at its attacker winding up one of its taloned forelimbs for the killing blow. The hunter moved quickly and 'sat up' at the waist pulling his torso, head, and arms just out of reach of the lethal appendage as it swung around snapping the vine where Fett's chest had been a split second earlier. As the razorbeak fell back to the ground, the hunter released his stomach muscles and let himself fall back into his inverted position once more as he steadied his arm and fired the net from his gauntlet launcher straight down. It opened swiftly and the small weights along the edges coupled with the launcher's explosive force sent the net down to the jungle floor in a fraction of a second. The shimmering form of the razorbeak appeared to be under the exact center of the net but the synth-metal mesh appeared to have fallen right through the beast. Fett wondered if the beast possessed the ability to phase shift: a state of flux where matter shifted in and out of the physical dimension. That would explain the net as well as him missing with a number of the darts but something with that theory did not sit well in his mind. It was then that the hunter noticed that a portion of the net was covering something. One of the corners was suspended in the air as if laying over something that wasn't discernible to the naked eye. Fett brought up his thermal scanner by pushing the miniature toggle switch inside his helmet to the left with his tongue and discovered the secret of the Madagan razorbeak.
Though not the hunter's preferred visual spectrum to fight in, the thermal image of a red hot core moving out concentrically into hues of orange and yellow was in fact the bulk of the beast, clearly under the corner of the net and already shaking itself free. Somehow, the creature had the natural ability to project an image of itself a few meters from its actual location. Perhaps it could bend light around itself and force the focal point of the viewer to rest at a distance from itself. An interesting theory Fett thought to himself but further hypothesis would have to wait as the beast crouched down again preparing to leap high enough to cut down the hanging nuisance once and for all this time. But just as the creature sprang up, Fett released his legs from the vine and fell toward the ground, the two passing each other in the air too quickly to do anything about it. The hunter pulled himself into a ball and, upon reaching the jungle floor, rolled backwards one and a half times ending up flat on his back with his rifle pointed up at the beast as it began to fall back down. He released a stun bolt directly at the razorbeak and rolled to his right to avoid the massive body hurtling down at him. He scrambled into a crouch at the base of a tree with his rifle at the ready but the beast had slumped to the ground. Its breathing was labored and it was obviously still conscious as it tried to get up but all it could muster was a groan and a muscle spasm in its shoulder where the round had hit home. Fett got up, feeling the sting in his tailbone from when he had hit the ground, and slowly strode over to his quarry. The effects of the two darts that had hit the beast coupled with the stun blast appeared to have taken the fight out of it. The hunter looked down into the creature's eye and hatred stared back at him; this razorbeak had never known defeat and if an animal could feel the sting of humiliation, then perhaps the creature's pride was hurt the most. It closed its eyes, either in fatigue or pain, and stopped trying to move creating an eerie stillness in the jungle. The battle had been relatively quick but had caused enough noise to quiet the entire surroundings and now there was only the sound of the creature's breathing as it lay in a heap on the jungle floor. The hunter had his prey.
Fett looked up, already knowing that his ship would not be able to come down in this area with the living canopy above. He would have to drag the beast back to the relay station where the clearing was big enough to allow for pick-up. It would be a demanding haul but the hunter was up to the task. He turned to where the net lay on the jungle floor and knelt down to extricate it from the short undergrowth; it would make an ideal travois. It was at this instant that the world went black before him. He was already unconscious as his body flew 20 meters straight into a tree trunk. Fett's limp body rolled down and came to rest on his back at the base of the tree as the razorbreak began crawling toward him on the one good forelimb that it had used to sent its tormentor flying in the first place. The beast had silently waited for the hunter to turn his back and would have used the lethal side of its huge talon to dispatch Fett if its body had been in a better position. It had marshaled its remaining strength for this one blow and had succeeded where thousands had failed - Boba Fett was now in mortal danger but helpless to act. The creature slowly crawled using its one good appendage to pull it along the dirt and brush, the other three being paralyzed. Its rate of advance continued to slow as it came nearer to the body as the tranquilizer continued to work through its bloodstream. The razorbeak finally reached the hunter and got as close as it could to Fett's head draping its own head on the hunter's upper leg. It was barely conscious as it hefted the huge claw into the air to deliver the killing blow. But the muscles never constricted to accelerate the fall of the limb and gravity simply brought it down as the razorbeak slipped into the void. The tip never the less sunk a few millimeters into the armor as it crashed down over the hunter's heart. The two lay there, both trapped in the recesses of their minds, unable to take the advantage and the sounds of the jungle returned around them.
Two days later Fett sat in the cockpit of the Slave I nursing three broken ribs and a bruised kidney. The swelling around his spine was enough of a reminder that he had narrowly escaped what could have been a very bad situation. He had woken on his back laying against a tree in the jungle with the razorbeak half on top of him. Somehow he found the strength to move and the discipline to ignore the pain and managed to drag the huge beast to the ELP station using his net. The effort had exacerbated his wounds and by the time his ship was landing remotely in the clearing, the hunter could barely stand. After manhandling the beast into his largest cell, Fett treated himself with the modest medical supplies he kept on board. A small puncture to his left kidney had been closed but would require professional medical attention. The rest of his injuries would heal but seriously affect his mobility for some time. He was still mentally kicking himself for letting his guard down and allowing the creature to take him unawares. He should have given the razorbeak more credit; it was much more cunning than he had at first surmised. Twice already it had feigned unconsciousness to lull its captor into a false sense of security only to lash out in a deadly attack. Once was all it took for the hunter to appreciate the beast's intelligence. The second occurrence had been a few hours earlier. Its metabolism was incredibly quick and the tranquilizer ran its course faster than it normally would have in a creature of that size. Fett was checking its vitals when the razorbeak snapped its head around and would have taken the hunter's hand off if he had not been expecting it. He simply fired a dart square into the beast's snout to remind it who was in charge. The razorbeak let out a loud howl and slowly succumbed to the drug while its eyes stared at Fett maliciously.
The Slave I was coming up on the Danarin system where delivery was supposed to be made. Fett found it odd that the praetor did not want the beast delivered directly to Trusca where his regional offices were located but he had his reasons, none of which mattered to the hunter so long as payment was secured.
He brought his ship out of hyperspace and quickly located the rendezvous ship orbiting the second largest gas giant in the system. It was an Imperial shuttle with an added weapons array that his initial scan picked up; nothing the Slave I couldn't chew up and spit out should the need arise.
The comm-link on Fett's panel chirped. "Ceta-flyer to Slave I. We have you on our scope and are prepared for cargo transfer. Prepare to dock." "Negative Ceta-flyer," replied the hunter. "The cargo is too large for my docking ring." Fett didn't like to admit that there were some things that even he could not overcome but there was no way he would be able to get the beast out of any hole in his ship besides the main hatch and unless the Imps wanted to build their own breathing apparatus to fit the razorbeak, there was no way the transfer could take place in space. "Suggest you find a rock with an atmosphere," he said curtly. It was quite some time before the Imperial got back to him; far more time than was necessary to find a suitable environment Fett reasoned.
"Roger Slave-1. Proceed to the large moon orbiting the fourth planet and rendezvous at these coordinates once on the ground. Sending now." Fett clicked his transmitter twice in an affirmative and waited for the transmission. He found it odd that the Imperials would choose such an obscure spot when the planet of Danar was nearby which was busy enough that no one would notice a simple cargo transfer. Well, the praetor no doubt wanted to keep the existence of his gift a secret for as long as possible; no point in moving it in a public place. The hunter followed the shuttle on the quick trip to the rocky moon and set down next to it on the barren plateau that had been chosen. He performed his perfunctory scans of the area to ensure they were alone and then climbed out of the cockpit. The air was thin and the landscape spartan but it would more than suffice for the purpose that brought them there.
The hunter opened the cargo hold hatch and prepared the creature's cage for transport. He had given it a healthy dose of the tranquilizer at the last injection to minimize the risks involved in its movement. Four technician's and a small squad of stormtroopers had already left the shuttle and were nearing the Slave-1. Fett activated the repulsors on the cage and moved it into the center of the hold where he left it for the Imps to take over. Four of the stormtroopers advanced into the ship's hold followed by the technicians while the rest of the guards waited outside; the ship's hold being only so big. Two of the technicians checked the vital signs of the beast and, once they were certain of its viability, they nodded to the other two techies who started moving the cage down the ramp and out into the open. The guard detail split up to march in front of and behind the prize while Fett followed slightly behind the technicians moving the caged beast. The parade crossed the short distance to the shuttle and moved up its ramp into the small cargo area where the razorbeak was stowed. While the hunter watched the technicians busy themselves in securing the cage, a junior lieutenant came to stand in front of him.
"Bounty hunter." The generic term was usually accompanied by a sneer when spoken by Imperial officers but this one said it rather matter-of-factly. "The praetor sends his regards and wishes to inform you that the agreed upon sum has been transferred to the account number provided by you." The young officer held out a datapad to the hunter as if to lend credence to his statement. Fett took the pad and checked for himself that the money was in the right account. Then he transferred the sum into a half dozen other encrypted accounts in various portions to put a damper on any attempt at tracing. He would move it around further once back in his ship. The hunter's ribs still ached and he just wanted to get back into his cockpit's chair.
Fett handed the pad back to the officer who accepted it and traded items with a non-com standing next to him who had brought in a black case. "The praetor also wanted to bestow a gift upon you bounty hunter for your excellent service in procuring his prize."
The hunter could do without the pleasantries but waited for them to open the case just to see if the contents matched the eloquence. The Imperial opened the case to reveal a fist-sized, opaque jewel of indiscriminate color. Depending on how much light struck the stone and at what angle, the hue could change from a deep orange down to a rusty brown. Not especially dazzling thought Fett but it would be sure to fetch a good price somewhere. He simply took the jewel out of the case while the officer was still holding it and slipped it into a cargo pocket without so much as a word. The Imperial's expression was questioning but he did not blurt out something stupid like Fett thought he might. Instead, he closed the case, gave the hunter a brief nod of the head and turned on his heel to returned to the shuttle's cockpit.
Fett, with a last look over at his quarry, turned and walked back down the shuttle's ramp, across the brief expanse and up into his own ship without so much as a glance back. As he passed through the cargo hold, he took the jewel from his pocket and placed it in a small safe tucked behind the maintenance droid's alcove. He would run a spectrometer test on it once he was in light space but for now, he was more concerned with vacating the area. The Imperials paid well but one would never consider themselves safe while in their presence; at least that's how Fett felt about it.
The two ships touched off the rocky moon and kept pace as they angled away from the planets to prepare for the jump to lightspeed. The Imperial shuttle fell a little behind the Slave-1 which Fett thought was awfully gallant of them, letting him make the first jump. He was just about to input the coordinates when a loud siren sounded in the cockpit. Fett scanned the console and found that a signal coming from the Imperial shuttle had pierced his deflectors. The only way they could have done that was if he had the receiver actually on his ship and the hunter realized a second too late that he had just brought it on board. The jewel. He leapt from the cockpit and had just entered the cargo hold when the explosion rocked the Slave-1 like an earthquake. Fett was thrown against the bulkhead and he felt one of his cracked ribs break but had little time for thought as he was quickly caught up in the whirlwind of escaping air rushing out of the now gaping hole in the side of his ship. The safe he had placed the jewel-encrusted bomb in minutes earlier had spared his ship and his life but now he was threatened with being sucked out into space with everything else in the hold that was not bolted down. He flew past the cells along the side of the vessel and vainly attempted to grab at the bars but he was moving too fast and only managed to grasp air. Just as he was shooting out into space, Fett managed to grab the twisted metal that ringed the new opening in the side of his ship. He mentally put all his strength into the four fingertips that somehow continued to grip the edge, the strain from which felt like his broken ribs were all but poking through his skin or into his lungs. If he could only hold on for a few seconds longer, all the air would escape from his ship allowing him to pull himself back inside and, hopefully, float back to the cockpit. The emergency air filtration system in his helmet, which had activated automatically, gave him some time to spare in a vacuum but not much.
Fett was just thinking through his plan of action for when he got back to the cockpit when a large tool carriage, finally pulled off its weak moorings, came barreling toward him out of the hold. He released his grip a moment before it struck him with full force which somewhat lightened the blow as it careened into his body and carried him away from the Slave-1 in slow somersaults. He held fast to the carriage, which was slightly taller and wider than him and tried to get his bearings as he fell through space. From outside his ship now, the hunter could see the Imperial cargo shuttle pulling closer to the now silent and dark Slave-1. They would no doubt be scanning the ship for life-signs that they would not find now that Fett was floating in space. He pondered allowing them to simply look and then leave with the assumption that they had completed their task; his rumored death would certainly give him time to heal and repair his ship before going after the man responsible. He changed his mind quickly, however, and decided on a quick resolution despite his injuries.
Fett used the uplink in his helmet to contact the Slave-1's computer and ordered it to jam transmissions and fire a burst at the shuttle from its aft laser cannon. The hunter's ship complied and a pair of red bolts shot out and into the shuttle's nose at close range. The Imperials' deflectors took most of the damage but, being so close to the blast, they could not hope to escape unharmed. The crew had probably been knocked off their feet and Fett was counting on their preoccupation with his ship now instead of the floating debris around them . He released his grasp of the tool carriage and ignited his jet pack in the direction of the shuttle. He angled himself to a small prominence on the topside of the shuttle's cargo area and pulled out the concussion grenade launcher at his back. When he neared to 10 meters he fired and increased his thrust at the same time to counter the new force and maintain momentum. The blast blew the top airlock door away and revealed the secondary airlock door a few meters lower in the superstructure of the ship. Fett switched the jet pack off as he spun halfway around so that he came down feet first into the airlock tube. He landed squarely and activated the magnetic plates on the soles of his boots to keep from bouncing off and back into space. He felt a shudder through the ship as the shuttle returned fire at the empty Slave-1 and heard them make contact. He used his uplink again to turn off main power on board his ship hoping it would convince the Imperials that they wouldn't need to blast it again. The hunter looked around the airlock tube for the control panel, hoping it hadn't been damaged in the blast. He found it and immediately overrode its security functions in order to access the equalization process and inner door release. Air started pumping into the tube as it would if the outer door had been closed in order for a space walker to re-enter the shuttle. The air buffeted Fett but it was immediately sucked out into space. He increased the airflow to its max, which would have created an almost breathable atmosphere in the tube if someone were caught without a breathing apparatus and the outer airlock door was open. In effect, there was as much air pumping into the tube as there was being sucked out. This created a sort of equilibrium that the manufactures of the system had never intended but one which Fett now used to his advantage. He hit the inner door release and dropped down into the hold of the cargo shuttle as its artificial gravity grabbed him out of the airlock tube. The equilibrium achieved in the airlock tube prevented the air inside the ship from being sucked out into the vacuum of space.
Six stormtroopers were in the hold when the hunter suddenly appeared and it took them a full two seconds to realize that somehow the man they had just killed was now among them. They tried to react but they were two seconds too late as Fett pulled out his blast rifle and used it with his wrist laser to turn the lot of them into charred meat and scrap metal. A roar from the back of the hold told the hunter his prey had woken from its drug induced sleep; it had smelled battle and was eager to join in. Fett turned to the hold's entrance just as the rest of the stormtroopers thundered in blazing away with their rifles. He rolled to the left and let off two bolts which both found their mark in the center of white body armor. He dove backward and, as the hold began to fill with smoke from the small arms fire, the hunter laid low in the floor to avoid the shots streaking above him. He switched his visor view to heat signatures and fired twice more bringing the remaining threat down to four enemies. He rolled to his right now as the Imperials fired blindly into the smoke from where his shots had originated. Fett sprung off the floor and ran straight at his attackers firing at a sprint. Each shot put a stormtrooper on the ground and when he reached the arched entrance to the hold, the last threat was falling to the deck. Fett looked back at the razorbeak in the far corner of the cargo area and saw him again through his still activated thermal imaging. It stared right at him through the smoke and butted its head against the bars of the cage, not fiercely but with earnest; an act that seemed almost a challenge to the hunter. There were other things to worry about though and Fett turned and walked down the dark passage to deal with the shuttle's crew.
Julian Novex walked into his office as he did every morning. He had spent an hour at the baths before coming in which always left him feeling energetically ready to handle the rigors of managing thousands of star systems. He truly believed that he would one day be the emperor's successor and he longed for the power he would one day hold; when he would not simply control a portion of the Empire but the entire colossal thing, answerable to no one. That day would come, he was certain of it. Until then, however, he would ensure that every opportunity that came by would be used to strengthen his political position. For example, he had received word upon entering his regional headquarters that morning that the shuttle carrying his newest prize had arrived during the night. His assistant had let him know that the creature had been offloaded and the vid-disc carried by the Imperial officer in charge of the operation had been delivered to his office. Novex was pleased to be able to give the Emperor such a gift as the legendary Madagan razorbeak. Secrecy was the key, however, to ensure a complete surprise that would increase the gratitude factor by a power of ten and that's what was needed at this stage in the game. The gratitude of the Emperor could grow into a healthy respect for Novex's own abilities do to the impossible which, in turn, would propel him into the Emperor's inner circle of trusted aides and advisors. It was all coming together.
Of course, secrecy had to be bought. He had already signed the orders for the stormtrooper contingent assigned to the pick-up of the creature to be reassigned to prisoner detail on Kessel where they would remain for at least five years; the only ears to hear their fantastic stories of a mythical beast brought to reality would be those attached to the heads of prisoners and who would they tell? Eliminating the bounty hunter was not something he had enjoyed. The hunter had performed his task with the utmost skill and competency. It certainly wasn't personal; it was simply necessary. Novex believed that one could never really trust a bounty hunter; that all too soon, the tale of how the legendary Boba Fett had brought in the fabled razorbeak would be circulating around the galaxy. How could he present his gift to the Emperor if everyone knew of, not only its existence, but also where it came from and how one could be captured? His gift would lose its originality, its uniqueness. That could not be allowed to happen. So he had his troops place a bomb on the bounty hunter's ship and now could view the hunter's demise on the vid-disk that had been delivered to him. He rounded his desk and sat heavily in his high-backed, black cushioned chair. He would go down to the holding area to see the beast for his own eyes in a moment but first he wanted to watch the vid-disk, to be witness to the end of a legend. He actually regretted that Fett had had to die. He was truly impressed with the hunter's work and would have been happy to continue employing him in various fashions but this was simply too important for his career to leave loose ends untied. It was for the best.
Novex took the disk off the pile of work on the left side of his desk and placed it in the player as the large wall screen slid into view. The picture was somewhat grainy but the praetor could easily recognize the Slave-1 flying through space with the shuttle apparently behind to capture the footage. Suddenly a large explosion ripped through the side of the ship and opened up a large hole in the cargo hold. This caused Novex to raise an eyebrow since he had instructed the operational commander to ensure the bomb was large enough to disintegrate the bounty hunter and his ship. Maybe reassignment was a little too lenient for this trooper.
Abruptly the screen flickered and changed scenes. The star-marked shot of space with a smoking hulk in its center was replaced with the image of Boba Fett. He stood in the cockpit of the shuttle simply looking into the vid-recorder. On the large screen, he looked like a giant and he continued to stare straight ahead, almost as if he were looking right into Novex's eyes. Confusion was the first thing to spring up in the praetor; was this the hunter's body that the Imperial officer in charge had recovered and was displaying? No, the body would have been limp. This image showed Fett to be standing tall and alert. That could mean only one thing. This realization drained all the color out of the praetor's face and, had he not already been sitting, his knees would have buckled under him. A wave of fear rushed over him and suddenly the room seemed ten degrees cooler to his skin as a shudder began in the top of his brain and quickly moved down the back of his neck, down his spine, and spread from there to the rest of his body. Regional Praetor Julian Novex had just made a blood enemy of the most feared hunter in the galaxy and only now did the full realization of what he had tried to do came to him. He had been so intent on himself and what he would accomplish that he failed to realize that once, just once, the person he had walked over to get ahead just might come back for him. He reached over to tap the comlink to tell his assistant to double security immediately when the image began to zoom in and Novex froze in his movement. In a moment, the entire screen was filled with Fett's visored helmet looking down on an open-mouthed Imperial praetor who was fairly close to soiling himself. The man in the chair actually cowered even though his rational mind knew this was just a recording. He had never known mortal fear before but he knew it now; the realization was a cold rock in the pit of his stomach. "Your prize praetor." Fett's recorded voice was even and harsh and, as he finished, the anteroom door on the side of Novex's office slid open. The praetor had not yet recovered from the hunter's voice and when the door hissed open, it almost sent him into hysterics. He knew he would not have enough time to get past the anteroom to the office doors before Fett could catch him so he stayed seated hoping to be able to come to some sort of agreement with the man he had tried to assassinate. But it was not Fett who came out of the antechamber. Instead, a large creature with a long bird-like snout and ruddy fur emerged from the shadows. It walked on its huge talon-like front claws into the office and sniffed the air. The screen on the wall fluttered again and went blank as the disk itself self-destructed in a puff of smoke that went up from the player in Novex's desk. The razorbeast turned its head and looked directly at the praetor who was frozen to his chair with an incredulous look plastered on his face. The beast's eyes turned malevolent and it began to shimmer as it turned towards the man behind the desk. Novex let out a scream just as the beast charged but it did no good. No one reached him in time to help.