In the blackness of space nothing matters but the burning orbs of gas that house globes of rock destined to orbit rhythmically about them. But Handera didnât see it that way, she believed her life was just as significant as the fiery stars.
Fearfully she curled herself into a tight ball as she awaited his presence. Her heartbeat pounded so strongly that she suspected it could be heard from the next room. She was trapped in the enigma of corridors twisting through the abandoned colony on Cletiberg IV.
The fear was rising so quickly in Handera that she found she was having trouble breathing. She wanted to run, but she also wanted to stay where she was. If she moved she might run into him quicker than if she stayed put.
Terror was blurring her usual good judgement. She was not herself, but then no one was when he was after you.
Her eyes searched for an escape route, yet there was not a single window in the dark walls that divided the colony. The darkness made it hard to find doorways and turns in the corridors, Handera just hoped this would hinder his hunt for her.
Her skin prickled as she heard the bang echo through the piping that ran along the mesh flooring. The ceiling above her was ripped apart in so many places that cables and strengthening beams had tumbled down to rest on the less than stable floor.
The panic was growing too strong for her, her palms sweated as a mock bang mimicked the first. The howling wind that lashed at the colonyâs exterior only made her ordeal worse. She had to move. She could no longer stay where she was.
Handera tried to walk as quietly as possible. But the mesh was not made to induce silent travel. As she paced the long straight corridor her ears pricked up, not wanting to acknowledge the distant footfalls that were timed with her own.
Instinct told her to scream, to run and flee the danger that pursued her. However that would be futile. He was playing with her. He was waiting for her to go to him, to beg him to put her out of her misery.
Handera quickened her pace to a trot, her head kept turning to try and see the shadow that followed her. He was there, she felt and heard his presence even though she could not see him.
Her frequently turned attention made her lack to notice the swift direction change in the corridor. Handera slammed into the rusting metal wall that was still strong enough to endure an assault from the Imperial Navy. Her head connected with a dangling metal pipe, loose from the ceiling.
Handera touched her nimble fingertips to her forehead, it was damp and throbbed with pain. She was uncertain as to whether she was bleeding or merely coated with some sort of lubricant from the pipeâs cracked surface. She brought her moist fingertips before her face but the darkness was too strong for her eyes to adjust enough to distinguish what colour fluid was clinging to her skin.
She suddenly noticed that the loose pipe was swinging and grinding against another metal surface, squeaking loudly. A dead give away to her position. She also realised that the footsteps had ceased.
The hand before her face trembled and her body followed with bigger convulsions. Her undoing was near.
A gloved hand lashed out of the darkness and took a fist full of her shirt in a death grip. A shriek escaped Handeraâs lips as she tried to pry the fist from her shirt, âLet me go! Let me go, now!â She shouted, recklessly stamping the ground with nervous thuds as she tried to free herself.
âHeâs here,â croaked the voice that belonged to the man in front of Handera. She paused as recognition instilled itself in her brain. It was her copilot, Tilgan.
âOh man, you scared the living daylights out of me.â Handera sighed as she slumped with relief. Tilgan slumped also, but it wasnât with relief. âTilgan?â Handera asked as she shook him lightly. The fist that had been clenched in her shirtfront dropped as the muscles relaxed.
âTilgan?â She said more insistently as she shook him with increased vigour. Her fingers searched for his neck in desperate attempt to find a pulse. Her hands slid along his hairy arm, to his well-defined shoulder before reaching his neck dotted with short stubble. She could hear as well as feel the friction caused by the skin to skin contact. He was still warm, she felt him exhale a dewy breath as her fingers pressed beneath his jawline.
âWell, youâre still alive.â She whispered to comfort herself.
Handera licked her lips as the thundering wind pounded itself against the outer walls of the colony building. She had to find a way out. She thought Tilgan had been killed when their freighter had crash-landed.
The fragments of wreckage that had smashed through the cockpit viewport had cut his harness securing him to his seat. Then the ship had hit a huge boulder, sending Tilgan flying out the shattered viewport.
Handera had searched for him but hadnât found hide or hair of him anywhere. Then the hunter had guided his ship down to theirs.
The gravelly soil had crunched under Handeraâs feet as sheâd sprinted to the relative safety of the colony building. Only once she had become lost in the bowels of the maze did she realise that no one was there to save her.
Now as her hand gently stroked Tilganâs cropped hair she discovered that she was thrown from the frying pan and into the fire. She couldnât leave him behind, her conscience would never forgive her. He would be a burden that could cost them both their lives.
âDonât move.â Came a voice from the darkness. His cold emotionless tone could never be mistaken for another.
Handera felt a chilly finger travel up her spine. Boba Fett had found them. She could barely make out the outline of his form, the darkness seemed to embrace him like a proud parent.
A flash of crimson extinguished the darkness for a moment. Handera screamed as she recognised what it was, a blaster bolt. In response Handera wrapped her arms protectively around Tilgan, she instantly withdrew her hold as warm fluid coated her hands.
âYou killed him!â Handera shouted in agony at the loss of her only friend.
Fett said nothing, but she saw his arm move and then he slapped something against his thigh. Light suddenly illuminated the gloom.
Handera squinted to protect her eyes from the harsh brightness that seemed extremely foreign after being in the dark for so long. Gradually her eyes focused and she saw that Boba Fett was holding a glowrod in his hand. He moved it so the light cast over Tilgan.
Handera reluctantly looked down at her copilotâs body. A huge wound in his side was clearly visible, too large to have been inflicted by a blaster bolt. His flight suit was caked in wet and dried blood. Obviously an injury sustained in the crash.
âHe was bleeding to death. It was more humane to kill him than let him die slowly.â Fett told as he lifted the glowrod, concealing Tilganâs battered body in the heavy darkness.
Handera nodded numbly, wishing things had been different, wishing she had allowed Tilgan to take control of the flight as he always boasted that he could. But it was too late now. She affectionately rubbed her thumb along his bristly cheek in a silent goodbye, she then lowered him to the floor and stepped aside.
âYou win, Fett.â Handera said, feeling the strength return to her voice.
âThere was never any doubt about that.â Replied Fett as he moved towards her.
When Boba Fett reached Handera she did something most unexpected. While cradling Tilganâs body, Handera had palmed the vibro blade from Tilganâs hidden pocket along his inner arm. She twisted the blade in her hand and plunged it down and under Fettâs chestplates at his side.
Fettâs hand was around her wrist before he had time to even wince. He threw her as he pressed his thumb into a pressure point in her elbow and let her tumble to the ground, he then pulled the blade from the wound.
Handera saw the brief intake of breath Fett sharply took as he removed the weapon from his flesh. A devilish grin spread over her features.
Beneath the grim visage, Fett saw her reaction and drew his hand back and smashed the glowrod against a support beam bracing the wall. Darkness returned to dominance and Handera regretted her impulsive behaviour. Now she could no longer see the intimidating glare of the ebony visor. Fett was at a definite advantage, his helmet enhanced his vision.
Handera felt a grip as strong as a manacle take her arm and guide her through the blackness. The only accompanying element to the gloom was the metallic thuds of their feet hitting the mesh with each step. The wind had died down somewhat.
With each stride Handera tried to visualise what was around her and approximately how far they had travelled. It seemed an eternity before light began to penetrate the cold corridors.
Fett pulled her to a grinding halt at the edge of the shadows. Handera turned to look at him. Boba Fett lifted his head a degree and turned it slightly, something had spooked him Handera decided.
Handera was suddenly torn between yelling for help or remaining quiet by Fettâs side. She chose to shout. âSomebody help me!â She cried. The butt of Fettâs rifle slammed into her face and Handera lost her balance and stumbled to the mesh flooring.
The corridor was suddenly aglow with blaster fire. Fett dove behind a support beam and lined up his rifle with the targets. Precise and calculated shots followed his study. Eleven shots by Fett and then silence.
Handera stared at him open-mouthed with disbelief, no one was that good. As she closed her mouth a jolt of pain surge from the tip of her nose and along her right cheekbone. He had slugged her a powerful blow.
Cautiously Fett moved out of his cover as he perused the corridorâs end. Nothing stirred. Fett warily stepped towards the open doorway and stopped.
For the first time Handera noticed that Fett was pressing his elbow against the wound she had dealt him. He was doing a fine job at hiding his pain, but with nothing else to watch Handera had picked up on it. The corner of her mouth twitched while his attention was held elsewhere.
As if sensing her mutinous thoughts Fett turned and latched onto her wrist and pushed her before him. She mumbled a curse under her breath and hoped her luck had not run out.
They moved slowly to the corridorâs end. When they reached the exposure of the doorway Handera impulsively made a run for it.
She was down before her brain registered that a cable had snaked around her limbs and tightened, sending her hard and fast to hit the ground. Handera started to wriggle and writhe but Fettâs imposing profile made her rethink the move. âWomen,â Fett sighed.
He turned his head briefly to study the eleven bodies of the targets he had taken down. Handera wondered who they were. âHired mercenaries,â Fett said as if reading her mind. He then untangled his retractable cord from her limp form.
âHired by who?â Handera asked. Fett activated the recall of his cord and tilted his chin casually. Handera watched cautiously. She could almost hear him murmuring something within his helmet, as if communicating via a com link.
âThe rebelâs who want their smuggled weapons aboard your ship.â Fett retorted suddenly.
âIâm carrying clothing, not weapons.â Handera sulked innocently.
Boba Fett snorted his disbelief. Next Fett grabbed her arm and dragged her to Slave I that sat in the distance, idling patiently.
The moan of X-wing engines rumbled through the atmosphere. âOkay, so I am carrying weapons for the rebels.â Handera disclosed.
Fett said nothing, he merely pulled her along behind him. The X-wings drew nearer and started shooting pot shots. Slave I automatically returned fire to protect its owner.
The X-wings returned for another sweep as Fett dragged Handera up the ramp of his ship. Again, Slave I retaliated automatically and took out two X-wings.
The distant rumble of an onslaught was audible on the surface of the planet. The Imperials had come to play.
âYou sent the Imps here didnât you, Fett?â Handera demanded as she was pushed into a holding cage.
Fett nodded once and then climbed the cockpit ladder. The swift lift-off surprised Handera and she slid into the bars of the holding cage. âWhat do you want with me?â She yelled.
From the cockpit Boba Fett said one word, âProfit.â
Fett made Slave I easily cut its way through the senseless battle taking place and docked within the star destroyer, Kingpinâs Power.
The usual proceedings took place, two stormtrooper escorts to take Fett and his merchandise to the highest ranking officer aboard the ship. Apparently it was the Emperorâs new lieutenant, Darth Vader, this time.
Fett strutted with more determination than the stormtroopers beside him and was awed at the power that emanated from the Dark Lord of the Sith. âBoba Fett, we meet at last.â The low and powerful voice boomed between the frequent hiss of his respiratory apparatus.
Boba Fett gave a respectful nod in greeting.
âSo you have brought us a rebel conspirer, most interesting indeed. I believe the reward was for fifty thousand credits.â Darth Vader spoke with barely restrained hostility towards Handera.
âCorrect,â Fett simply answered.
âVery well then, bounty hunter, take it and be on your way. The transfer is complete.â Hissed the Dark Lord as a uniformed corporal reached his side.
Again Fett tilted his head respectfully and left Handera to Darth Vaderâs means. He wondered if Vader would actually pry any information out of her or her crashed freighter.
The thought was fleeting. Payday had arrived for Boba Fett, the matter was closed. But somehow Fett was sure that sooner or later a lush rebel bounty would fall into his grasp.