Better luck next time, Rebels, Boba Fett thought as he gracefully lifted the Slave I away from the small landing platform at Cloud City, up into the gentle breezes of gas that made up Bespin. Laser bolts bounced harmlessly off his shipâs hull, creating loud pings around him as the sounds echoed throughout. Switching on the shields he also reached over to switch Slave I into vertical mode. With a groaning of joints, gears, and repulsors, the ship eventually righted itself, all the while the cockpit rotated on its axis to remain righted-up. If there is a next time.
He watched as his chasers ran back inside, only to get pinned down by stormtroopers. Fett despised both sides of the galactic civil war, but there were certain attributes that he admired in each. For example, the freedom and limitless actions of the Rebel Alliance caught his envy, but the dominating power of the Empire almost took his breath away. He couldnât choose between either side, so Boba Fett fell into the crack in the middle.
Tibanna gas clouds streaked past his reinforced cockpit window, creating a feeling as if he were falling into a harmonic pool of wave, each one penetrating him to the core. It gave him a warm feeling, flooding him all over. So instead he quickly adjusted his visor settings to filter out the waves of gas.
Just as he did so, however, tibanna gas melted into black, cold space, and Fett was once again at home. He maneuvered his ship with ease toward the pre-set hyperspace jump coordinates, ready to head for Tatooine. Within moments the Slave I had glided to that spot, and he was just about to pull back the hyperdrive lever when his sensors and warning systems blared alarms.
Fett reach down and slapped the control, bringing up the schematics of whatever was causing his ship to panic so much. On the view screen before him was a giant dagger-shaped vessel, spanning eight kilometers, baring down on him from his right flank. Blasted Imperials, Fett cursed inwardly. Thank the stars Iâm getting out of here.
His message board honked and blinked at him, indicated an incoming hail from the Executor. The Imperials must have been using some sort of military override code, because the message played right away. âSlave I, please halt. You are carrying cargo that Lord Vader has personal use for. Please cease your evacuation of the planet and allow us to bring you into our hangars. Repeat, please cease---â
Fett reached out with a gloved hand and swatted the message board off. âUh-uh, not this time Vader. Youâre not taking my prize away again for some damned personal scheme of yours.â Pulling back the lever, Fett and Slave I jumped into hyperspace, away from his newest troubles.
At Bespin, in orbit...
Fett would be in trouble, Vader knew that. Serious trouble, he thought as he stood aboard the Super Star Destroyer Executor. He was in his private holonet communications room, in a direct link to Coruscant, with his master looking over him, probably recapping the recent events in his mind, also. Vader thought back to when he had fought Skywalker, his son. The pride that washed over him when he saw how good a fight Luke had put up was overwhelming, but to not be able to turn him, and then to have him escape, was something else.
But even as the Millennium Falcon escaped into hyperspace, the backup plan he and the Emperor had personally discussed came into mind. They were to use Solo as bait to trap Skywalker, and then bring him to the Emperor. That plan would not fail, not two times in a row, that was just really bad luck. Vader hailed the Slave I, requesting that the bounty hunter stop and be allowed to be brought aboard the Executor, to exchange his cargo for a considerable sum. But instead that cursed Boba Fett had chosen to ignore the request, and fled into hyperspace. He would pay very dearly for his actions.
âHe ignored your request, Lord Vader?â the Emperor hissed. The crackling from the long-distance connection made him sound even worse.
âYes, my master,â Vader responded with a grave certainty. âHe shut off his communications during the middle of the message, and then proceeded into hyperspace.â
The Emperor stood hunched in his black robes, peering off into nothingness. Abruptly his eyes refocused, and he said, âDo you have idea as to the whereabouts of his destination?â
Vader paused. Fett mentioned that he was to bring Solo to that Hutt figure...who was it? Ah yes, Jabba, Jabba the Hutt. Now where...?
Vaderâs head jerked up to look at the holo before him at the sound of that voice. The view had moved back and a new figure had stepped in, close to the side of the Emperor.
âMy agents report that Fett was working for Jabba the Hutt, on Tatooine.â
Xizor...Vader clenched his teeth as hatred seethed through him. âYes, master, Iâm afraid Xizor is right. Fett was headed for Tatooine to deliver Solo to the Hutt. I can be there in a few days, and my assault transports can be there in two.â
Xizor raised an eyebrow. âMaster Palpatine, I have many agents on Tatooine that could easily---â
âThat wonât be necessary,â Palpatine interrupted, âfor either of you. Ten of my best royal guards are currently at Bellis, and they can be there in six hours, well before Fett arrives. Frankly, my dear Xizor, I have more confidence in my men than yours.â
Vader grinned, despite the pain it caused from the torn flesh around his mouth and one his face. âAs you wish.â
âYou judgment exceeds mine, master,â Xizor said.
Palpatine smiled, obviously pleased with the brilliant plan he had hatched. âLord Vader, you will go to Endor with your fleet. Soon I will join you there, but until then I have pressing matters I must attend to here on Coruscant.â
Without another word the hologram blinked off, and Vader was once again alone in the silent and dark room. Fett was good, but he was no match for ten Imperial Royal Guards. At least...he hoped.
At Tatooine, in orbit...
Boba Fett eased the Slave I out of hyperspace, making star lines shrink back into dots of burning gas. Below him spun the large, desolate world of Tatooine, the backwater planet of all backwater planets. He had reason to believe that all the scum in the galaxy originated from here, and now his trip down to Mos Eisley would do nothing less than prove that belief.
The spaceport command tower, standing above all other buildings in the bustling Mos Eisley, gave him clearance to land in Docking Bay 86, saying it was the only one open. âYou mean its the only one youâve rigged so you can easily slip in and out of,â Fett said aloud as he slapped off the message board. He brought the ship down through the atmosphere, which turned out to be a rather smooth ride. If there was one bad thing Tatooine didnât have, it was air pollution.
Below him Mos Eisley slowly filled the view screen, with large, round and flat buildings all huddled together and speeders darting between them. People flocked here and there, moving from one shop to the next, trying to find the best buy on a certain item. Soon enough these residential areas melted away into huge, square docking bays. Beacon lights blinked on one of them, fairly close to the main part of the city, and Fettâs tracking computer signaled that to be number 86.
Gently he touched down the Slave I in the midst of a rubble strewn docking bay. He took one final look at his cargo, then slipped out the door. Fett signaled the ship through remote to maximum security setting. Two beeps followed, acknowledging his request. He turn and left the docking bay, heading out into that wretched hive of scum and villainy.
In Mos Eisley, Tatooine...
Major Grodin Tierce watched carefully as the Mandalorian armor-wearing bounty hunter left the docking bay. His fearless swagger indicated he knew nothing of the procedures, but Tierce knew better than that. Fett always had at least some idea at what as going on, he never didnât know. âTierce to Shikeir, target has been spotted and is moving south-southwest into the city.â
His small comm unit crackled. âCopy that, Tierce, good work. You know, for just a twenty-four year old, youâre good. For Fettâs sensor not to pick you up---â
Tierce felt the pride inside of him, but he still didnât smile. âI also donât bother with flattering myself.â
An uneasy pause followed. âAll right, Tierce, move in with the other four on your side, and back him into the premarked corner.â
âUnderstood, commander,â Tierce said. âOver and out.â
He turned to the others behind him, but they had already heard the orders. Together, the five red-robed Royal Guards moved silently after the bounty hunter.
Commander Hrush Shikeir took his four Royal Guards down the small and narrow alleyway, weary of the bounty hunter that was a few streets up ahead. The robed men moved through the shadows with ease, melting into the walls despite their red colors. As they turned the corner, Shikeir suddenly stopped with such abruptness that the next guard ran into him. Before he could speak, Shikeir raised a hand, ordering silence.
Down the middle of the next alley, walked the Mandalorian armor-wearing bounty hunter. He walked confidently in their direction, but stopped when he noticed the five of them waiting there.
Skikeir smiled under his red face mask, and moved forward, the other four fanning out on his sides. Their target backed down the alley, not daring to take his eyes of the Royal Guards. âThis is Shikeir to Major Tierce, come in Major Tierce.â
âWe have Fett in an alley. Iâm sending you the location now,â Shikeir said, as he punched in the coordinates on his comm.
âUh, negative, commander,â Tierce replied, âwe have Fett. And weâre in the alley that intersects at ninety degrees with yours. this works out perfect, we can trap him there. No cross-fire.â
Shikeirâs grin drooped into a frown. âAre you sure?â
âOf course, sir.â
Shikeir and his men had backed the bounty hunter to almost where the alleys met. Now, however, he watched in shock as another man clad in Mandalorian armor backed in from the other alley.
âI see it to, Tierce.â
âWhat do we do?â
Shikeir shrugged as he waved his men forward. âGet both of them, at least one has got to be Fett!â
Boba Fett backed slowly down the alley, all the while preparing for the first Royal Guard to strike. He knew heâd be in trouble with the Empire, but not this much. He only hoped all they wanted to do was chat.
Abruptly he banged into something or someone with his shoulder, and he spun bringing his blaster up to bare on the figure behind him. What he found was a mirror image of himself. The other had also raised a blaster, and both now had their guns to each otherâs helmets. âWhat the heck...?!â both shouted in unison.
They both lowered their blasters, trying to think. Fett knew he wasnât the only person who wore Mandalorian armor, but who could this be? He racked his brain, trying desperately to put a name with a...mask.
Suddenly he remembered, and whipped the gun back up, only to have the other do the same.
âBoba Fett,â the other figure said, identifying correctly.
Fett also knew who the other was. âJodo Kast.â
They both stared at each other, for what seemed like ages. Fett had to smile, and its not like anybody would notice. But the silence was broken when a shout came from the alley Kast had come down, and the shout was repeated from Fettâs alley. They were surrounded by Imperial guards. Fett couldnât take them out, but maybe two Fetts could.
The Royal Guards rushed forward at Fett, each wielding their own force pike. While not actually having anything to do with the Force, Fett knew very well how much damage they could inflict on a human being. Each weapon had a sharpened diamond tip, complete with a vibro-motor in the handle, that was used to swiftly vibrate the blade micro-millimeters back and forth, allowing it to cut through stone like a hot knife through butter. Fett didnât want to get tickled by one of those, let alone impaled on one.
The first trooper to reach Fett was a little shorter than the others, and didnât have as broad shoulders as the others. He guessed this guy was in his early twenties. Either the Empire is in desperate need for troops, he thought, or this guy is really good.
Fett brought up his blaster, ready to deliver a quick shot into his attackerâs chest. A red blur appeared in front of him, and the guard sliced his rifle in half, and proceeded to knock Fett in the side of the helmet with the handle of the pike. Boba fell to the ground, and despite the dizzy feeling creeping over him, he managed to tuck into a roll as the same guard lunged at him.
Using the momentum of his roll, Fett pushed off the ground with his legs, just clearing the arcing swing of another guardâs force pike. He flipped in mid air, spun around, drew his blaster, and landed with a soft thud in a crouch. He fired off two quick shots to a third guardâs chest, only to have the splatter against a green shield. Fett cursed.
Other blaster shots came from his left, and Fett stole a glance in that direction, to see Jodo Kast pumping energy into a charging guardâs shield, but to no avail. Fett rolled to his left, and felt something nick his right arm. As he got up and ran towards Kast, Fett briefly looked at his arm, and found a good deal of the armor sliced off. The Imperials would pay for that...
He saw that more guards were coming at Kast from his left flank, and Fett sidestepped to fire off a wrist rocket in their direction. Two guards emerged from the explosion, but two more tattered red robes could be seen on the ground.
Suddenly realizing this was a fight he couldnât win, even with Kast on his side, Fett touched a few keys on his wrist pad, activating his rocket pack. He streaked towards Kast and hit him hard, and if Fett hadnât had good reflexes, Kast would have been left sprawled on the ground. But Fett held on to his look-alike, and shot off above the cityscape. Looking back over his shoulder, the guards could no longer be seen.
He headed back over the docking bays, towards his ship. He had to get away from Tatooine, and get away fast. To Kessel with Jabba; that fat and slimy slug could wait for his prized Solo. Fett cared about one thing now and one thing only: his life.
At Tatooine, in orbit...
The Slave I shot out of the atmosphere of Tatooine, despite constant hailing from the local ground forces. Behind Boba Fett and his ship, three Skipray Blastboats rocketed up in close pursuit, ion cannons blazing all the while. Normally Fett would try his luck, but he knew darn well that Royal Guards were trained in all aspects of combat, including dogfighting in space.
Bringing up the star chart on his view screen, Fett picked out a backwater world close to Tatooine. One particular place stood out above all else: Gall. He had been there many times before, and knew the Imperial commander there fairly well. Sure, it was an Imperial spaceport, but worlds like that way our here never get any information quickly. With luck, Fett could get there to refuel and buy some time to think about his next move.
Jodo Kast came climbing up the ladder behind Fett, and stood up in the cockpit, since there was no copilot chair. âI thought I told you to remain down below,â Fett said in a low and menacing tone.
âI like the view better from up here, thanks,â Kast replied. He was already on Fettâs nerves, and right now Fett couldnât handle the extra burden.
Lifting his feet from the floor, Fett reached under the control board to hit a hidden switch. Seconds later blue bolts arced from the floor up Kastâs body, interlacing between his scarred and damaged armor. He crumpled down in a heap, falling backwards back down the ladder.
âThatâs better,â Fett said. He leaned forward and pulled back the hyperdrive lever, jumping back into the cold of hyperspace. At least this time it wouldnât be lonely.
Onboard Slave I, in hyperspace...
Jodo Kast awoke face down on the floor, his head spinning. He uttered a small moan, then lifted himself up a bit to look around. He was in a small holding cell, with bars all around. The bars had been scratched and gnawed, but no significant damage. He brought himself to his knees, and finally noticed Boba Fett sitting in the far corner of the small room, legs propped up on a crate, and a pile of weapons lying next to him.
Kast quickly jumped into alert mode, and slapped at his pockets and pouches, but at last figured out that those weapons belonged to him. Slouching backwards against the wall exhausted, Kast nodded to the other. âYou backstabbing piece of---â
Fett raised a gloved finger. âI told you where to stay. Its my ship, I make the rules. I told you to remain down here, and you came up. Now Iâm just making sure you follow my rules.â
âWhen are you gonna learn, Fett?â Kast asked, he could feel his strength partly recovering. That blasted Fett mustâve rigged his floor with stun emitters. âYouâll never survive much longer without giving in to our stubbornness. Eventually youâre going to have to ask for help, just like everybody else.â
The other just shrugged. âDonât fix things that ainât broken. I donât need help from some second rate bounty hunter like you. Youâre just here to tag along, and Iâll tell you exactly how to tag.â
Kast gave a dark chuckle. âIâm just as good as you are, Fett, maybe better. I had those guards easily, but you had to come in with your big ego and pull me away, t hen act like you rescued me or something.â
âMy big ego?â Fett said, jabbing his right thumb into his armored chest plate. âYouâre the one firing off your own blaster there, buddy.â
âHey,â Kast said, now feeling quite insulted, âI got two guards down with my fists. You had to use that clumsy wrist rocket of yours that you fired at four guards, and still only nailed two.â
He could see that Fett was taken aback. He was about to respond when a quiet alarm sounded from above in the cockpit. Fett jumped to his feet and crossed the compartment to the ladder, and started his short climb.
âFett,â Kast spoke up. The other stopped and turned his head just enough to let Kast know he was listening. âMind telling me where weâre headed?â
Fett, after a moments pause, continued up the ladder. âYou donât need to know.â
At Gall, in orbit...
Pulling back the hyperdrive lever, Fett slid the Slave I out of hyperspace. Before him was a planet around the same size as Tatooine, and had the same rocky features as the Jundland Wastes strewn about over the surface. But where deserts would have been on Tatooine, evergreen forests were on Gall.
A single Star Destroyer orbited the planet, but it was on the other side right now, the day side. The Slave I would be able to sneak in through the night undetected by radar, and pull up near the spaceport. He would contact Governor Durrij, and that weakling would be forced to allow Fett to use Durrijâs own private landing platform.
The click and whine of a charging blaster brought him out of his planning, and he spun in his chair only to look down a blaster barrel. âFett, you moronic fool,â Jodo Kast said. âYou shouldâve taken my armor off when you had the chance. My electronic lock pick can open any cell security system known to the galaxy.â
Under his helmet, Fett could feel a trickle of sweat run down his face. For once he was nervous about another human being...he wouldnât go so far as to feeling scared, but he was definitely nervous. âWhat do you want?â
Kast gave a barely noticeable shrug. âWell, you could start by telling me where in the galaxy we are.â
âThe Gall system,â Fett said, the murder in his voice beginning to ease down a bit. Maybe Kast was better than he gave him credit for.
Leaning forward a little farther, Kast knocked Fett in the side of the helmet with the blaster. âAnother stupid move, Fett. Gallâs an Imperial spaceport. You know, from the Empire. And those guys on Tatooine, they werenât just the local Mafia, they were, get this now, this is pretty funny...Imperial Royal Guards.â
The anger rising from Fett peaked so fast that his helmet nearly blew off. With his left hand, he grabbed Kastâs wrist that had the blaster in that hand, turned it outwards, then lunged at his throat with his right hand, pinning Kast to the wall. With his visor up against the others, Fett growled, âListen, pal,â he shoved him harder, âI know exactly what Iâm doing. I know the governor here, and he owes me a lot. Heâs also and very stupid and weak guy, andâll listen to the person with the biggest blaster. Weâre going to hole up in his own private landing platform for a bit, refuel, and think about our next move.â
âOur...next move?â Kast managed to gag.
Fett twisted his grip on Kastâs wrist a little more, causing him to drop the blaster. Quickly removing his hand from Kastâs neck, Fett caught the blaster and backed up to the control board. âYeah,â he shrugged, âour next move.â Fett had to admit that Kast was good, good enough to have a say in what they were doing. And there was still time for him to prove as some use to Fett...
At the Gall Imperial Military Spaceport, Gall...
Fett found Jodo Kast outside the Slave I, attaching the fueling pipe hoses to the ship. âI just talked with Durrij. He said heâll give us twenty-four hours, then we have to leave as fast as we can, or else he sick the local Destroyer on us.â
Kast looked up momentarily to acknowledge Fett, then put his head back into his work. âAssuming those Royal Guards give us that much time.â
âOf course,â Fett shrugged as he walked up the gangplank of his ship. There, inside the cargo compartment, heavily shielded and protected with alarms, stood the carbonite-encased Solo, perfectly undamaged. âAssuming Jabba gives me that much time,â he said aloud.
âWhatâs that?â he heard Kast call from outside.
âUh, nothing.â He continued moving forward into his now horizontal cockpit, and began checking the traffic reports diligently. Ever since they had touched down an hour and a half ago, he had been expecting to hear from Kast about three Skipray Blastboats reporting in.
Linking his wrist-pad to the air traffic control monitor so he could keep an eye on things from outside his ship, Fett got up and went back into the cargo hold. While there he reached into a hidden compartment and produce four holoprojectors, and carefully slid each into his side pockets. Leaving the ship, he walked tot he edge of the inset landing platform. The platform itself had been wedged between the walls of a ravine, with high metallic walls making up the other two sides. What Kast, didnât know, but Fett did, was that there was nothing under the platform for a couple dozen meters, and the platform could be retracted as a quick escape route.
He quietly set up the holoprojectors, one on each wall, trying not to attract the attention of his busy companion. The projectors began to record every aspect of the Slave I, and prepared to emit it with the slightest request of Fett.
When all was prepared, Fett made his way back to his ship. He glanced down, checking his wrist pad, and was shocked to notice that those three Skiprays had entered the atmosphere. He was also shocked to notice that two stock freighters had also arrived and were attacking the spaceport. The freighters read as the Outrider and the Millennium Falcon. âNow Iâve got two sides chasing me,â Fett said to himself.
By now sounds of bombardment and fighting had reached the ears of Fett and Kast, and the latter had moved off the platform to the entrance to the enclosed space. âHey Fett, I think somethingâs going on out there,â Fett heard as he ran up the gangplank. From the cockpit viewport, he watched as Kast turned around, visibly confused. âFett, where the heck are you?â
Sliding the gangplank up and locking it into place, Fett sealed the Slave Iâs hatch. He flipped on the outside loudspeaker. âSorry, Kast. You lose.â
He signaled the holoprojectors, and it appeared as if nothing happened, but he knew better. Punching in the proper code on his keyboard, the platform below slid out from under the ship, and the Slave I dropped down a dozen meters into the ravine.
The projected hologram of his ship took the real thingâs place, and at one second Fett could see Kast peering over the edge as red-robed Imperial guards came charging in from behind. The platform slid shut, and Fett rocketed off into the atmosphere. He caught a glimpse of the battle raging on, but cared nothing about it.
Upon reaching the coldness of space, Fett jumped into lightspeed, heading away from his old troubles.
The eight remaining Royal Guards stood inspecting the holographic Slave I before them, and the impostor Boba Fett that lay in a tired heap behind them. Major Tierce approached Shikeir with some caution, noting the agitation that had been in his voice moments earlier. âSir, blood tests prove that this scum is telling the truth. He isnât Boba Fett.â
Shikeir just stood with his back turned, gazing up at the night sky.
Tierce edged forward a bit. âCommander?â
âDo you know how many stars are up there, Major Tierce?â
âUh, n-no, sir,â Tierce said frowning.
âWell, I donât either,â Shikeir said, âbut Fett could be at anyone of them.â
âWhat should we do now, sir?â
Shikeir shrugged visibly, and turned to face Tierce. âGood question. I donât exactly want to face the Emperorâs wrath, no matter how loyal I am to the Empire.â
âMe neither,â Tierce chuckled nervously.
âIâve got a plan, Tierce,â Shikeir said in careful thought. âIâve heard rumors about an Admiral...Admiral Thrawn running around in the Unknown Regions. Heâs supposed to be very good, and is a fine commander. How would you like for us to join up with him?â
âSounds better than anything the Emperor has in store for us,â replied Tierce.
âGood,â Shikeir said. âAnyways, I have a feeling weâre going to last a lot longer if we stick with Thrawn.â
At Jabbaâs Palace, Tatooine...
Fett eased the ship down through Tatooineâs atmosphere. Back again, he thought to himself. He spotted Jabba the Huttâs palace below, and guided the Slave I in that direction. Receiving clearance to land, Fett brought the ship in on a slow corkscrew spin, that would slow down his air speed and keep him above the palace. He needed that view to keep a careful eye on the tower guns below.
After his ship landed, four Gamorrean guards came out to help him with the repulsor sled inside his ship. Fett stood back and watched as they slowly waddled their way with the frozen Solo back towards the palace. Once they entered, Fett reluctantly followed. Out here, in the night air it was freedom, the same thing with space. Unfortunately, his job required him to enter some unsavory places.
He didnât like to admit it, but he almost did miss Jodo Kast. He had been good at what he did, perhaps even equal to Fett himself. But when it came down to it, Fett couldnât stand having a partner. He was too rugged and independent to be able to handle another person constantly there by his side.
âAh, well,â he shrugged as he walked towards the gaping palace doors. He sighed, âTime to go to work.â
Author's note: Major Grodin Tierce does join up with Thrawnâs forces after serving as an Imperial Royal Guard at the age of 24. He later dies during Thrawnâs campaign at the Battle of Generis, in a stormtrooper battalion. His clone returns to persuade Moff Disra, an established leader in the Empire, to âbring backâ Thrawn, by actually using Flim, a professional con-man, to impersonate him. Tierce is later severely injured by Shada Dâukal, a Miystril Shadow Guard.
-- ACCORDING TO VISION OF THE FUTURE BY TIMOTHY ZAHN