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“The Accursed One Lives”

Boba Fett Fan Club exclusive. First few chapters by the actor who played Boba Fett in the first Star Wars Special Edition (1997).

  • Story by Mark Austin
  • Estimated reading time: 52 minutes (10,504 words)
  • Added September 26, 1995
  • Updated June 7, 2018

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AUTHOR'S PREFACE

Hello, my name is Mark Austin. I would first and foremost regard myself a Boba Fett fan, though I can be credited with actually playing Boba Fett in A New Hope - Special Edition. In 1996 I started what originally was supposed to be just a short story for myself and my friends. It centered around the topic of 'how Boba Fett escapes the Sarlacc'. But like so many projects it grew and grew. My pet project was hindered a little with the release of the many short stories, but I managed to find a way to accommodate all of the obstacles. Those facts I couldn't cater to I put down as 'hearsay' or rumors. This I thought actually enriched the Star Wars galaxy. Making it all the more 'real'. After all, we digest so many facts day to day through another persons say-so.

Today I am busy completing what has become a novel. It has been a huge undertaking, and I have hopes that it will one day be published, either as a graphic novel or a paperback. I realize that one cannot please everybody, but I hope that most will at least enjoy the ride. It's hard to write about a character who prefers not to speak. But I feel comfortable with my portrayal of Fett, and his climb back from near death.

I tried to set the novel very much within the Star Wars universe as established by the movies. This was made easier by the fact that my story runs alongside Return of the Jedi. I also tried to keep within the boundaries of the extended universe, as descibed by so many authors in so many books and journals, dictionaries and games. I made a point of keeping the chapters as short as possible to increase the dramatic momentum of the plot . Plus I adopted a writing style which is very visual. I tend to view the action from a filmatic point of view. I hope this translates to you, the reader; that you also can also visualize it.

I am grateful to The Boba Fett Fan Club for its enthusiasm to promote my humble attempt at writing. And I am grateful to you, the reader, for taking the time to read these initial chapters.

Regards,

Mark A. Austin

###

Acc.urs.ed One - (ak-urs-ed wun)
n.
Name attributed to the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. A translation from the original Huttese "Dachno Piitu". Also translated as "The Death Bringer" or more commonly "Angel of Death".

###

FORWARD

Luke Skywalker has rescued his friends Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Jabba the Hutt and are fleeing to rejoin the ranks of the amassing Rebel Alliance.

It is a period of unrest as war seems immninent between the GALACTIC EMPIRE and the freedom fighters. Unbeknownst to the Rebellion, however, the Empire has secretly begun construction of a new armored spacestation even more powerful than the original Death Star.

The galaxy lies in wait of the inevitable battle. But on the desert planet of Tatooine, there are those who have their own battles to fight, their own struggles to overcome. Small by comparison, but for some more than just a choice between freedom and tyranny. But that of life and death......

###

PROLOGUE

The cosmos was dark. Warm and throbbing with a steady rhythmic beating. A soothing thud-thud, thud-thud, thud-thud which washed all cares from the mind, like waves caressing the shores of the soul.

It was safe here. A world away from harm. Like being back in the womb. Like tapping those lost prenatal memories of blissful security. Hiding. Dreaming. Endless sleep. No cares. No danger. No outside. Just the surrounding cocoon walls, warm and soft. Rolling gently back and forth, to and fro, to and fro in a slow motion dance of hypnosis. Rocking the cradle of perception. Lulling the will into realms of fantasy. Realms seemingly inescapable.

Not that it mattered.

Everything was beyond worry. Beyond second guessing.

There was no past, no present, no future. Just the timeless existence of dreamstate. The ceaseless throbbing muting all thought. Drowning all fear....

And yet there was something not right about this existence. Something
nagging at the edge of awareness. A distant beacon blinking. Faint. Ever so faint. Easily dismissable. To succumb to the beating heart of the cosmos was such a natural and effortless decision to make, that the warning light was but a minor annoyance. Fading....fading.

There was no concept of time. No queries as to how long or how did. It just was and would always be. Forever....




PART I - FROM THE ASHES




Chapter One

Tatooine's twin suns were setting, one slightly higher than the other. Rippling in the dusk heatwave of the Dune Sea as they immersed themselves into the distant rocky horizon. The air was still and warm in their combined glow. Their languid departure both graceful and captivating. Yet no one stood to testify their beauty. There were no admirers around the Great Pit of Carkoon. Its barren sandy landscape awash with vermilion and littered with foreign debris. Generally angular hunks of twisted metal and smoldering cloth. Small fragments on the circumference, increasing in size towards a blackened, central core. A wheel of destruction, and lying at the hub, near to the Great Pit itself, rested the roasting remains of a large vessel. A vessel which was once the great Jabba the Hutt's personal sailbarge, the Khelanna.

Jabba. Undoubtedly the most notorious crime lord in the entire galaxy. One of the major kingpins in the Outer Rim Territories. An icon of this remote, desolate planet which would otherwise be invisible to the would-be interstellar traveler. In contrast to Jabba's somewhat stubby arms, the long arm of his syndicate was able to stretch far. Likewise his reputation branched many systems, allowing him the luxury of preferred immobility. Rarely did he travel, but when he did it was always in style. His prized sailbarge for instance, was of the model used most often by tour companies or recreational resorts. A huge five hundred passenger Ubrickkian cruiser, the envy of the local nobility. Or at least it was.

Now it lay stripped of grace. A burnt out shell open to the stars of the early evening.

The base of the immense pleasure barge lay largely intact supporting the jagged remains of its armored hull. It resembled a gigantic, tarnished crown tossed carelessly among the giant dunes. A vestige of the kingpin's empire. Silently commemorating the end to the late Jabba's powerful reign.

Smoke belched from fires hidden within, curling upward in plumes of soot which stood sentinel to the larger smoldering arena. Here and there, scattered blazes raged relentlessly, ever consuming in their will to survive. Islands of flame, licking at the scorched and blackened metal hulks.

There were bodies too. Many charred carcasses strewn about this hushed graveyard. The Dune Sea was oblivious to the carnage. It had played mute witness to far worse scenes through its lifetime. Atrocities so numerous as to be insignificant in the singular. As insignificant as a single grain of sand amid these boundless wastes.

Already the shifting sands were banking against their chosen hosts. The fallen and the wreckage powerless to stop the dune's adamant progress. T'he desert seemingly intent on burying all evidence.

Though not all were completely helpless.

There were survivors.

Smoke-grimed figures, both humanoid and otherwise, shuffled their way through the destruction inspecting the corpses. Not out of any consideration for the victims of the holocaust, these were looters and thieves taking this opportunity to relieve those beyond need of their valuables and weapons. After all these were associates of Jabba, members of a crime syndicate, not orthodox members of the B'omarr order.

Few in number and faltering in their movement, they picked around hunting for spoils, and mindful to give the Great Pit of Carkoon a wide berth in doing so. No one was foolish enough to approach that particular den of suffering with its faceless tenant housed beneath.

The Sarlacc.

Ominoius in its impartiality, the Almighty Sarlacc just waited there
for the next victim. It merely existed, as did the dunes. Unified and
completely integrated into the surrounding ecosystem. Now all but part of this
hostile landscape. Its vast size unseen, buried below ground with only its mouth and upper
gullet visible at the base of the crater-like pit. Rings within rings of sharp downwards curling teeth forming a one-way portal into the creature's intestinal maze.

Was it plant or animal? Was it conscious of its whereabouts and diet? Or nothing more than a large swallowing machine?

Long tentacles writhed out from its throat. Reaching slowly up the sloping sides of the pit in search of palatable morsels. In this failing light it would be irresponsible to wander too near the edge of its funnel-trap. Yet it was irresponsibility on which the Sarlacc depended, and usually those careless enough found themselves being slowly digested within its belly.

A lone figure stood silhouetted against the dusk sky at the very edge of the crater. Peering down into its shadow-cast bowels.

To tumble to the same fate that so many had met earlier this
day...
, thought Bib Fortuna with a slow shake of his head. The
idea of death inside the creature's digestive tract was unthinkably horriffic.

What a chaotic day this has become! He regarded the
writhing tentacles coldly. It had certainly not ended the way he would have guessed had somebody asked him this morning. Events of immense proportions had occurred, and it was all too slow in sinking in. How could one digest such a galactic upheaval? What repercussions would ensue? It was too much to just accept and move on, and his mind reeled with his efforts to control this new situation. This new era in his life.

Jabba Desilijic Tiure, known more commonly as the great "Jabba the
Hutt", was dead.

Dead.

This was a crucial point in Bib Fortuna's destiny. A crossroads where great opportunities could be reaped, if only the right path be chosen. If this were not stressful enough, he had precious little time in which to decide. Some of the greatest advances had been made in the wake of such confusion, and only a fool would hesitate in seizing such a window to further his own gain. At last, after years of plotting and patience, he could finally take control. How he had dreamed of overthrowing his master. Conspiring his downfall with malice and a calculating mind....and now the Hutt was dead. Disposed of by a local farm boy and a princess of the Senate. Strange how it was hard to believe now that it was true. So odd that such a scenario was almost uncomfortable to accept after all those years of wishing it true. But now....now that it was a reality, it seemed so ethereal.

Bib's bloodshot eyes stared unseeing. The ideas rushing around his tortured mind like banshees. Haunting his entire being. It had all happened so fast and so miraculously, without warning or premonition, that he was completely unprepared.

He breathed deep and long. Time. Time was his enemy. Act now and act fast. What should be his next move?

His sharp fingernails traced invisible designs on his flabby chin, jostling the long dangling lobes beneath. His pale white face and headtails (or lekku) were smudged with grime from the smoke and ash everywhere. A long burn hole stretched from his robes hem to almost knee height.

No more will I be majordomo to some bloated Hutt, he vowed silently. Hatred flickered like fire in his red eyes. Now it is my time.

Though he stood there, tall and imposing before the immense shadow of the fallen barge, his mind was a billion light-years away.

A shout broke his reverie, and his gaze flicked up to its source atop a large dune to the south. The lookout posted there began waving a flaming torch in a wide arc above his head. The signal for an approaching craft.

At last, thought the Twi'lek as he walked about the Sarlacc's crater, not giving it another glance.

The numerous figures strewn about the site started banding together, herding themselves at the base of the southern dune.

The lookout extinguished his brand, thrusting it into the sand and beckoned with his free arm to the still unseen visitor. As the sound of repulsor-lift engines grew louder he turned and sprinted down the steep dune sending avalanches of sand ahead of himself. Unable to keep up with his body's momentlun, he fell forward and tumbled awkwardly towards his comrades. Suddenly over the crest of the sandbar appeared the nose of an open topped skiff speeder. Its steering vanes angling as it gracefully slowed and banked around in a high sweeping arc. The tumbling lookout had righted himself halfway down the slope and the skiff was preparing to pick him up. One of the two crewmembers reached down to help him aboard as the other piloted the vessel. Both however could not help but glance repeatedly at the littered landscape below. A look of horror contorting their faces in the dim evening light.

Bib followed their gaze, craning his neck to look back at the scene he was anxious to depart, half expecting it not to be there. A mere fantastical dream he had as a result of some head injury. Or a mirage of good fortune, only to vanish before him. But no. It was there. It had happened. It was all true. And it was now his time...

So why did he not feel ready for it?

Maybe because he had still to come to terms with it all. Maybe because he had only a handful of cronies remaining after the disaster. The palace was left with a mere skeleton crew defending it since everyone had been so eager to witness the execution of a Jedi. The famed Luke Skywalker. Hero of the Rebel Alliance. Only those bribed enough had stayed behind. Did he have as many as twenty men there?

True he had always planned to take Jabba's position from him, but it had always been taken for granted that such a succession would come with all the Hutt's assets intact. There was strength in numbers, yet the numbers were far from being in Bib's favor. And this was all due directly to the means by which Skywalker had escaped. Destroying the pleasure barge, killing nearly all aboard...

Curse that damned Jedi!!!!

Again the Twi'lek's musing was interrupted, this time by the skiff's arrival. The craft pulled to a halt, the boarding ramp extended towards him. His band of henchmen parted as he swept his robed about himself and approached the ramp. His thoughts were still wound up in turmoil as he accepted the extended hand of the Weequay pilot and mounted the steps.

**********

Thud-thud, thud-thud...

Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong.
The mind, numb from its lethargy, was slow in rousing. Like a blurred image slowly coming into focus. Like a diving bell, cut loose from its anchor, surging upward to the surface far above.

Was it hotter or just harder to breathe?

Every breath just a little more difficult than the last. The air thicker in density, almost viscous.

Thud-thud, thud-thud...

It was still dark. It was still warm, but now the walls were disturbing. Their heaving action, once so soothing, now seemed impeding as though they were the walls to a padded cell. Only a cell would provide much more room.

Harder to breathe.

Thud-thud, thud-thud...

Clarity broke like a crashing wave of nausea.

Consciousness surfaced and with it the recognition that its return may only be a brief one. Some sixth sense sounded the alarm like a clarion. Realizing that the flame of life was near to being snuffed out eternally with every gasp of carbon-dioxide.

Was this the reason for the re-emergence of sensibility?

Panic broke loose and with it irrationality. The primitive desire to move freely, without walls. Without constriction. Move. And move fast. But despite the desire there wasn't that freedom. The walls intact pressed in with even the slightest of movements, reacting to the sudden stirring and unwilling to relax their harsh embrace.

Where am I?

Sandwiched in this absolute blackness, near suffocating, confined and restricted the prisoner fought to think clearly. Fighting the instinctual panic. To panic was to die. Confusion...

Oh to give in to the throbbing womb. To succumb to the peace that death would bring. It was so tempting and so easy to do. Why fight? Why not choose the, quick and easy path? Why live when living was an uphill struggle?

Thud-thud, thud-thud...

Disorientation. Nothing about this situation made any sense. The prisoner just wanted out and the clock of existence was ticking.

If I don't move now this'll be my tomb!

His foot reached down in search of some purchase and touched something solid and round with his toe, only it moved with added pressure. He wished he could see but the pitch blackness was far too dense. There was no light at all. Or was he truly blind?

His right arm battled to reach back, pushing. His hand trying to penetrate, fingers working. Desperately he searched for the manual override switch on his jetpack. His left hand had already found its quarry; the concussion grenade launcher at his hip. There was no time to consider whether firing such a weapon in these close confines was a good idea or not. Within a minute it'd be all over anyhow. Options were as slim as they could ever be and he had no immediate alternatives but to attempt to blast his way out of this hole. To worm his way out would take too long and he had neither the energy nor the oxygen. He fought the urge to vomit. His head was spinning. The last precious traces of air had run dry.

Tugging the bulky pistol from its holster, he endeavored to lift his arm above his head, assuming himself to be upright. Panic was flooding his mind without air to breathe. The walls pushed in relentlessly, their compression crushing his hand to his chest with incredible force. He heard a 'snap'!

Was that his finger breaking?

'SNAP'!

The sudden swell of searing pain confirmed the question and tears welled to his blind eyes. His teeth clenched down like a vice.

**********

The Sarlacc belched its farewell to the fast departing skiff speeder, spraying sand and small pieces of shrapnel into the air. Its fleshy beak gaping in silence as its tentacles, ever restless in their continual probing for scraps, danced their morbid dance. They caressed the unstable slopes of the pit, dismissing the chunks of indigestible wreckage. The twilight desert was completely still but for the slowly roving arms.

All was calm.

Once more the Great Pit of Carkoon was at peace.

The binary stars, Tatoo I and II, were being slowly lured from view by some unseen magnetism. Their rapid departure causing temperatures to drop violently, like a breaker of bitter cold sweeping across the terrain, staining it with shadow. Silence and darkness hand in hand but for the fires crackling and popping.

A second belch escaped the mucous-covered maw, puffing up more dust. Then a third.

The Sarlacc's beak widened as its throat contracted in a spasm for an instant, then relaxed. It seemed bothered by some ailment. Its usual existence of quiet now punctuated by this sudden activity. Its beak rose slightly as if it were stretching, jaws clenched tight as it swallowed repeatedly. Quivering uncontrollably, it slowly widened its maw to the full extent and coughed loudly. The wet sound slicing the stillness around it. Bubbles of greenish bile issued forth from its gullet, forming into a single cluster, which grew, swelling upward as bubbles continually added to it from below. The Sarlacc seemed paralyzed by all this, frozen with its beak
agape.

The mucous foam spread to the comers of the Sarlacc's mouth and began to ooze down its stubby neck. The creature coughed again and this time a foul color bile pooled at the base of its throat, pushing the bubbles to its rim. A spasm rippled through the Sarlacc's neck and with it a lick of dark red rose up to stain the center of the bile pool. The blood slowly swirling and blending, looking like a brown pupil within a green, bubble rimmed eye.

A gurgling moan escaped the creature as another lick of red arose, then more. Blood pumping up from within. The pool becoming brown.

The Sarlacc suddenly became animated, shuddering violently as it swung itself about in a frenzy, coughing and belching. Its tentacles whipping the air about it. An alien shriek piercing the desert calm. Never had it behaved in such a fashion. Never had the Pit of Carkoon witnessed such a display. And as quickly as it had begun, it stopped. Once more the monolith in its gaping silent scream. Its mouth wet with brown ooze.

The last rays of sunlight vanished. The night now claimed the Dune Sea. Stillness. The calm before the storm...

The world shook then with a deafening explosion as the Sarlacc's beak erupted in a ball of flame, illuminating the area in a flare of yellow-orange. The creature writhed in agony, its tentacles thrashing more wildly then ever. Its maw nothing but a charred wound, a living chimney that spewed sooty vapor. Shards of blackened meat and bone rained down about the crater, adding to the existing debris. The ball of flame traveled upward and dissipated within a smoky cloud.

A second detonation emitted from the base of the pit and from the tattered gullet burst a hunched figure, raking and snapping several of the Sarlacc's barbed teeth as he exited and began sailing up in a wide arc. Fire jetting from his armored backpack as he soared from the crater and down towards its rim. He crashed, arms extended in an effort to cushion his fall, into the unstable sands and rolled several times before slumping at the very edge of the Great Pit.

The Sarlacc roared an ungodly roar. Defaced and wounded it flailed its arms like organic whips. Its barbed teeth flexing with each bellow, livid in its injured state. The starlit dusk was filled with its rage. A resonant howl lasting minutes before gradually dying down. The moans lessening into huffing whimpers. These too diminishing to nothing more than a muted shaking. Tentacles withdrawn about itself in a defensive shield, no longer concerned with food. The indignant Sarlacc belched twice more before relaxing. Quivering in convalescence.

The prone figure of the escapee lay motionless. Face down and sprawled, but still easily recognizable in his garb of outdated Mandalorian battle fatigues. His appearance well known throughout the galaxy, even now in this burnt and blackened state. His presence bringing fear to most, security to others, depending on both the contract details and the commission.

This man was a mercenary.

An assassin.

A bounty hunter of extortionate caliber with a fee to match.

The famed Boba Fett felt none of these things as he lay there on the shores of delirium.

The jets on his rocket pack still spluttered, malfunctioning in sporadic hiccups of sparks as the fuel lines ran dry. Suddenly he raised an arm to his head and ripped off his protective helmet in a frenzy. His mouth gasping in lungfuls of cold air, coughing in his desperation. Spittle swung from his lips. He vomited then, retching helplessly. Sweat beading his brow, he clawed at his neck wrappings, heaving uncontrollably.

Boba Fett had never felt so vulnerable, but right now he really didn't care. His retching became dry and his breathing slowed.

Now the cold was setting in and he began to shiver wildly, his teeth chattering. He began to slide downwards, carried but the shifting sands of the pit and he had to pull on energy reserves he clearly didn't possess in order to move his legs. His feet searched for purchase while his upper torso seemed reluctant to help. His downward movement slowed to a stop and his consequent relief opened the floodgates of unconsciousness once more...




Chapter Two

The palace of the late Jabba the Hutt looked dark and ominous silhouetted against the cool starlit sky, and Bib pulled his robes more tightly about himself as the skiff raced towards it. The familiar edifice, dark and looming, its small windows illuminated with a somewhat welcome glow seemed oddly alien. Bib experienced deja vu and recalled seeing it in this same light on his first arrival here, many, many moons ago. The impressive domed structures hiding sinister and dangerous secrets within their thick, sandrock and ditanium walls.

The palace was misleading in its outward appearance. Seemingly moderate in size its chambers were underlain with a network of subterranean anti-chambers and secret passages. Which in turn were underlain with lower dungeons. And beneath all were the catacombs. A veritable maze of endless tunnels stretching out beneath the desert to who knew where.

It was as if the palace induced through its structure the plotting and underhanded liaisons. That its labyrinth of interconnecting chambers somehow tempted the most despicable traits from its tenants. It certainly had seen a colorful history of corruption in its time.

Bib shivered. He couldn't help but feel he was approaching the scene of some ghastly crime. When in truth he had just departed one.

The guards on the skiff looked to him for reassurance. Their alien faces full of concern and apprehension. They catered to his needs with a silent loyalty that Bib would never have expected from them. Back-stabbers they were. Each having their own dreams of escaping or overthrowing Jabba's stranglehold on the interstellar crime syndicate. Yet now they were almost timid to be without his protective umbrella, and were looking to Bib to provide a successive shelter.

Could it be merely shock?

Could it be because they too realized the significant reduction in allies and were banding together through some primitive instinct?

Even the two Gamorreans with their slow-turning porcine brains looked to be aware of the situation. They kept turning to check on Fortuna. Not in the usual manner of a guard, but what appeared to be concern. As though worried he might slip miraculously from the speeding vessel, abandoning them forever. Bib could only guess at the shear chaos that would have ensued within the palace walls if he had chosen to flee.

The Gamorrean nearest him again glanced back and Bib nodded assurance. The guard turned away, shifting his bulky pig-like body as he adjusted his stance. He rested the stock of his heavy vibro-lance on the deck between his huge green feet and resumed his haunted stare.

Bib had never really perceived any expression change in a Gamorrean's face before. They had always seemed oblivious, but now he noted a definite seriousness 'in the guard's look. A troubled countenance about his features.

A Snivvian deckhand offered his coat to Bib. The Twi'lek accepted it with astonishment and pulled it about his shivering torso. He nodded approval and the Snivvian backed away subserviently.

The moonlight was suddenly snuffed out as they entered the shadow of the fortress.

The other Gamorrean glanced around and Bib threw him an icy stare, their repetitious looks added to the cold was playing on the Twi'lek's already strained mental state. The Gamorrean averted his eyes and straightened his posture, his anxiety lessening with the authoritative command. Bib too felt his shakiness subside a little. He was glad that his ranking succession was seemingly accepted by his peers.

By assuming Jabba's position he would automatically inherit many rivals and enemies, including the Hutt clans of Nal Hutta. This was a dangerous time as well as an opportunistic one, and it was in his best interest to keep that fact foremost in mind. Jabba had ruled with a presence of being. Like it or not, the Hutt had charisma and he was imposing in his size alone. A psychological edge that Jabba had used to great effect. Bib had serious doubts as to his capability to fill those shoes. Even with his tall build, the contrast in his dark Ryloth robes and milk-white skin; even with his piercing blood-red eyes and impressive long, tentacular lekku; even with all his mustered intimidation, he could never, ever hope to unbalance a visitor to the palace the way Jabba had done. And with such eloquence.


Maybe he should take what men and resources he could and abandon the palace, leaving it to the B'ommar monks who roamed the lower catacombs incessantly. The monks had waited many years to take back the palace which had once been theirs. Now their patience seemed finally worthwhile. Had their prayers sent Jabba to his fiery death?

The gigantic rusty blast doors squealed slowly open, grinding sand as they moved reluctantly apart. The inner motorpool lights were blinding after the hours of darkness, and the crew aboard the skiff were quick to shield their eyes, blinking at the incandescence. The deafening sound of metal on metal ceased as the doors reached a width adequate for the craft to enter. The skiff slipped smoothly between them and Bib was grateful for the balmy warmth the overhead floodlights emitted. Those that functioned that is.

The hangar was strangely empty without the huge bulk of the sailbarge filling its center. The skiffs, speeders and bikes looked minuscule in its absence. They lined one of the side walls like toys. Looking lost and not to scale. Heavy commerce carrying vehicles and fuel stations lined the opposite wall. The entire motorpool stank of oil soaked sand, rust and grease. Littering every vacant area of floorspace were spare parts of all sizes, scrap metal and hundreds of grimy rags.

Gathering about the inner hatchway came the skeleton crew that had remained to guard the palace. They were a mere handful of twenty or so. Nothing compared to the usual rabble that had filled the hallways only this morning. The casualties had been severe and looking at the welcome party showed how heavy the toll had been. The Twi'lek was reminded of just how undermanned he was. To attempt defending the palace would be plain suicide. It was an empty shell, a shadow of its former formidable self. Bib couldn't help but feel vulnerable and isolated here. He had to leave. And soon. If any or all of the guards wanted to join him, so much the better.

He knew many of Jabba's best kept secrets. Some that the Hutt had disclosed with the necessary stimuli, and some he had not. There were some secrets gained without Jabba ever knowing, when Bib had stumbled upon his master at an inopportune time. And while this knowledge had been dangerous to possess during
the Mighty Jabba's reign, it was now possibly the only thing that could save Bib's pallid neck. Best take what he can and flee this haunted edifice. There were alternate places more secure in which to hole up. Places better suited to the numbers he had at his disposal...if they were willing to join him that is.

He would have to make plans.

He would have to rally everyone together now that they were looking to him to give them guidance.

And he would have to do all of this fast!

The skiff drew to a halt as the welcoming party shuffled to greet the scant entourage. No doubt confused as to why the expedition (and in particular Jabba's pleasure barge) had not returned. Their alien faces were shocked and full of disbelief, and their eyes darted to Bib for some sort of explanation, some answers. They had expected the Khetanna and with it a drunken throng. A throng exuding laughter and tales of all the spectacles that had occurred. With no end of elaborate stories describing the death of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker and the no good smuggler, Han Solo.

Bib approached the boarding ramp and stood at its head. Questions unasked poised on every face below him.

They knew nothing of Jabba's death.

They knew nothing of the potential danger they were in now.

The Weequay pilot ordered the outer doors closed and their squealing began. Its sound shrill but falling upon deaf ears. Not a murmur from anybody, even after the doors had ceased their clamor.

Bib cleared his throat. He stood tall and proud, his head bowed trying to hide the fear he felt. Trying to summon the right words. Trying to reach the hearts of his men. He raised his arms high, pointed fingers stretched out like daggers. He held this dramatic pose, letting the tension build among his fellows.

No one seemed to breathe.

Raising his head slowly, he stretched himself to his full height. His red eyes wide, he glared about the rabble in an attempt to be as imposing as his former master.

All eyes were locked to his.

When he spoke it was in the Huttese tongue. The words loud and clear.

"Diama. Niunn vo noahh biannecchial"

[Friends. Circumstances have truly changed!].




Chapter Three

Boba Fett was cold when finally he came to. His body shivered violently, literally shaking himself awake. He lay on his back at a slight angle due to his jetpack, and stared through the storm of flying sand at the starry sky high above. Blinking grit from his eyes, he rolled his bead to one side. The bones of his neck felt stiff and his body was completely numb. The only exception to this numbness being the sharp throbbing ache from his right shoulder. He tried shifting position and the resulting stab of pain that shot through his body made him rethink. With this pain came a wave of memory. As though the doors of recollection had swung open. He realized where he was. Where he had been 'til now. Where he had almost died.....

Tatooine.

The desert planet's climate swings could be dramatic, with the crystalline sands reaching highs of over sixty-five degrees centigrade by day, and lows of near freezing by night.

Of course. Tatooine.

The cold had thrown him mentally off-balance upon waking, but now it all started coming back to him. He remembered the sailbarge, Jabba's luxury cruiser, overlooking the Great Pit of Carkoon. He remembered the noise. The excitement. Jabba's court in a frenzy. They were shouting, dizzy with the spectacle. He remembered the two skiff escorts. One circling. The other carrying the prisoners....Solo!

Solo. Skywalker. And the Wookie, Chewbacca!

He remembered Jabba giving the signal to push that cursed Jedi into the pit. Into....

The Sarlacc.

A shiver shot down his spine.

The Sarlacc!!!

Fett's mind reeled. With a series of vivid flashbacks he experienced once more the horror of entrapment. It all made sense now.

Thud-thud, thud-thud...

The darkness. The warmth. Feeling cocooned. The wafls beating....beating.....

His shivering doubled with revulsion. He'd been trapped inside that beast! Inside its digesting system! How close to death had he come? Now that he was free, had he only delayed the outcome? For temperatures were dropping rapidly with each passing minute. The elements seemingly bent on finishing him off.

All these years he'd been in control of the situation. His every predicament
had been the result of careful calculation and planning. And when the
unexpected had occured, he'd bent things his way. He had always made
sure of his regaining control. Always. But this was new ground for him. This
was something he'd not planned for. Not foreseen.

Had he perhaps lulled himself 'into a false sense of security over the years? Believing himself to be beyond death itself. Not an immortal per say, but choosing the time of his own end. Where it would happen and with honor befitting his status. A deservedly fitting finish to a flawless career. But now, was he to die out here in the desert? Broken and alone? His unblemished history now tarnished by the flailing of a blinded smuggler. It was Solo that had ignited his rocket pack. Solo of all people.

The thought of his vulnerability scared him. He couldn't tell if it was a dread of death, namely the act of dying. Or whether it was fear at dying in this fashion. In such a pitiful manner. No glory in it at all. No witnesses to some great battle. No mystery to follow his departure. Just a corpse found withering in the bleached sand.

Yes. He was scared.

And unmistakably mortal.

He felt awful. Drained. His will to live barely registered as he contemplated how death would feel. His mouth and chin were caked in gritty vomit. Distractedly he noted that he was holding something. Raising his left hand he saw his helmet, battered as ever but still intact. And as he looked at it something deep within him stirred. This helmet....

It dawned on him that he was indeed looking at himself as others saw him. This mask. This Mandalorian design of old. It symbolized his identity and it stood for something honorable. It stood for justice. Or at least the Mandalorian sense of the word. As he stared,, he felt his resolve swell.

This symbol is worth living for. This symbol represents a code. My code.... and I'll be damned if I'm going to die this way. In this hole.

Boba Fett would return.

He'd rise from the ashes and show this galaxy that he, Boba Fett, should never be underestimated. Never be counted out. 'Back from the dead'. He liked the sound of that. But first he had to survive this particular scenario.

Fett lowered the helmet and turned his attention to his aching right shoulder. His head swam as he craned it to study his injury. The entire area looked misshapen. His upper arm completely swollen. It was apparent that he'd somehow dislocated it. He let his head plop back into it's cushion of sand and waited for the rising nausea to subside.

He knew he was going to have to move soon if survival were even wildly plausible. Out here he risked exposure. He had to get to his feet before it was too late. He raised his head again and his brain reeled. His eyesight was hindered by both the sandstorm and the lack of light, and yet there did seem to be a yellowish glow in the air. He squinted at the biting sand and tried to focus on something to steady his dizziness. His roaming gaze caught sight of his right pinkie finger, bent outward in an awkward angle. The digit next to it was bent also, but not as noticeably. Fett decided it prudent to check the rest of his numb body for damage.

He sat up carefully and saw a deep gash in the meat of his left thigh. A sharp, bony stump protruded from it, though luckily it was not part of his skeletal frame. With gritted teeth he reached down and tried to grab it with his left hand, but his benumbed fingers did not respond. Though the effort did seem to rouse his nervous svstem. He felt the prickling sensation spread down from his shoulders and along both his arms. His torso too was awakening. After a few more seconds his three 'good' fingers twitched though he didn't quite feel them. Stretching them repeatedly helped, and slowly his sense of touch returned. The broken pinkie and adjacent finger ached dully, but in comparison to his dislocated shoulder they seemed minor. Again he fumbled to get some purchase on the alien object embedded in his leg, anxious to remove it before his lower body regained feeling. He withdrew it gently, careful not to damage himself further in his semi-anesthetized state. The wound was bloody and gaping, but probably looked worse than it really was. That was his hope. At least it wasn't pumping.

He turned to study the large bone fragment in his hand and realized he held a fractured tooth from the Sarlacc's maw. He thrust it into one of his many utility pouches absently and reached for his helmet. Placing it on his head he tried thumbing on the visor displays, but they remained totally black. If his helmet was damaged it meant his communication with his ship was severed. It also meant he had no way of contacting the palace. He would just have to walk. But how would he see? He needed enhanced vision if he was to navigate his way back to the palace of Jabba the Hutt. The chances of catching a ride back were virtually zero. Jabba would never suspect anybody escaping the Sarlacc and therefore, wouldn't have any craft patrolling the area at night, especially in this storm. The only option was to wait until sunrise. Find shelter if possible, build a fire and wait the night out.

Boba Fett wondered then of the battle's outcome. Had the Jedi been executed? Was Solo one of the corpses he'd had to blast his way through? And was the princess to remain Jabba's slave indefinitely? Risky with the growing Rebellion....

His thoughts were swept away as something wrapped around his right
leg and tugged roughly. His body slid a fraction causing his right shoulder to shoot pain. A second tug, this one causing his head to slam back into the sand. He heard a small electronic 'click' and before he could question its origin the macrobinocular viewplate infront of his eyes turned from black to shades of green. Within seconds he could see his whereabouts clearly. He attempted to sit up.

Phosphorus numbers, digits, pointers and displays illtuninated before him, superimposed upon his view of the crater. A tiny red warning signal informed him of a communications failure. He was cut off from his ship and the palace after all. Could he be stranded on this dustball planet? He cursed himself, angry that he ever let himself get into this mess.

Another yank from his captor.

The red light winked on indifferently.

He was in no need of any such readout to highlight the Sarlacc at the base of the pit. It was missing its extendible beak and was slightly charred, but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. One of its long tentacles had hold of his legs securely and was striving to pull him back into its open, teeth-rimmed mouth. Other tentacles slithered his way menacingly. The Sarlacc yanked a third time and Boba Fett looked rather optimistically for his trusty BlasTech EE-3 rifle. It was nowhere to be seen. His hip holster was empty too.

He checked his left wrist guard and was immediately relieved to see it fully intact and primed with an explosive MM9 rocket. Raising his left arm, Fett aimed for the base of the tentacle and fired. The rocket flared brightly, illuminating the surrounding area as it flew to its mark. With a moderate explosion the tentacle severed, provoking a high pitch squeal from the Sarlacc below, although the severed limb clung defiantly about his legs.

Fett reached back over his right shoulder and fumbled to unfasten his rocket pack. With a snap the right clasp released and with it some relief was gained. Following suit with the left side the jetpack fell free. Discarding it, he rolled over and, with his one fimctional arm, started clambering up the unstable slope of the Great Pit.

He would have to head east and try to make it to the protective rocky canyons of the Jundland Wastes. How many days travel would that be? He had no idea. But only if he reached it could he escape the harsh climate extremes and find shelter from the biting winds. And only then could he think about turning south towards Jabba's palace.

His movements were clumsy and not helped in the least by the amputated tentacle which stubbornly clung to his leg. The shifting sands, designed specifically to slide victims to their peril, made his progress slow and what little strength he had began to ebb. His efforts made his throat sore. The taste of bile was strong in his mouth.

Boba Fett paused briefly to free himself of parasite wrapped about his calf. The tentacle still had quite a grip and it was no. easy feat to remove it. He watched as it slid back towards its donor and as an afterthought delved his good hand into a pocket on his belt, withdrawing a small silver sphere with a prominent switch on top. A thermal detonator.

Setting a timely delay he rolled it down the slope. it passed the severed tentacle and gathered speed, finally dropping into the blackened and gaping maw.

Turning back onto his bellv he continued his slug-like struggle. Then he heard a strange noise from below. Snapping his head about he saw the thermal detonator sailing through the air to land mere meters away from him. Fett tensed, his eyes locked on the timebomb. However after resting a few moments it began rolling back down towards the Sarlacc.

He continued his climb with renewed vigor.

"Sphlappp!" The Sarlacc spat out the bomb again, though this time it landed the other side of the pit, only to roll back down the funnel.

Fett reached the rim of the crater. A distance he considered safe to lie and watch the Sarlacc's hopeless struggle as it repeatedly attempted to rid itself of the ball-like detonator. He wondered if the beast were aware of its imminent danger or whether it was just spitting out what it considered an indigestible hunk of metal. He relished the moment and felt almost normal again, drawing comfort from his act of revenge. It was a warm feeling. Fett had never held with the saying that 'revenge was a dish best served cold'. Always warm.

The Sarlacc finally quit its efforts and swallowed the ball. Fett smiled beneath his mask. How ironic that the 'Almighty Sarlacc' has become the victim of its own funneled trap, he mused. The Great Pit of Carkoon will be open for a new tenant come sunrise. He turned and climbed the sandstone rim of the crater.

As he emerged he staggered shakily to his feet. With the exertion his head swam. violently while his legs threatened to buckle under his weight. Now standing his right arm swung loosely at his side, offering no assistance. He cradled his reeling head in his left hand until the unsteadiness faded. Only then did he look up to see the huge, hollowed wreck towering before him. A silhouette illuminated from within by several ever-consuming fires.

Boba Fett stood there in shock, swaying ever so slightly. Surrounded on all sides by debris and blackened bodies.

His voice was hoarse and weak.

"What ... the .........."




Chapter Four

Commander Hagger stood, hands clasped behind his back, silently surveying the starfield stretching before him. However his eyes were blind to the beauty of the heavens, seeing only a multitude of potential systems to conquer, with each giving just a hint of resistance, he hoped, making victory that much more sweet.

The stars winked in mute challenge to his unspoken desires, luring a sly smile to touch his cold lips.

To behold the majesty of such a view would humble all but the most obnoxious of men. Hagger was oblivious that he ranked among that select few. And had he been aware would no doubt be proud of the fact.

One day, he mused, the galaxy will know to tremble at my approach. I'll not be a mere commander forever. It's all just a matter of time. My destiny will carry me.

He wallowed in his reverie. A pastime he'd found himself guilty of entertaining most frequently of late. Did this mean something was about to happen? Something that would sweep the galaxy? The Rebel Alliance were amassing some plot, and the Empire was ready to counter it. Maybe that was the cause of his recent daydreaming.

Sooner or later the Emperor himself will notice my strategic intellect in the field. Singling me out for promotion. Obviously recognizing me as a worthy and most valuable ally, with potential for greatness!

This was Hagger's secret ambition. To be an aide to the most powerful man in the known galaxy, Emperor Palpatine. For whom he had the utmost respect, but to a point. Unlike the Emperor, Hagger didn't need any witchcraft or mystical Force to guide him. True this Force had its uses. It seemed incredibly accurate in predicting future events. But it was hardly a comparison to an Imperial starfleet.

It was hard work and guts that had got him where he was today. He'd ascended the ranks with moderate ease. The rules were simple. Seize every opportunity... let nothing go.

Hagger was proud to serve the Empire, though he considered himself part of the Empire and not its servant. He was on the winning side, and winning was the only reason he played. Fairness was something you try to avoid at all costs. A landslide reaping greater rewards with far fewer losses. That was why he had enrolled into the Imperial Academy at the tender age of seventeen. And that was why he enjoyed commanding the Imperial Star Destroyer 'Maelstrom'. The odds were all stacked in his favor.

Taking one last look at the tranquil starfield, he turned to scan the main bridge behind him, its crewmembers bustling about their individual tasks. Everything was just the way he liked it, orderly and efficient. His staff were exemplary, ahving been under his command for over two years, and his strut reflected his pride as he left the forward viewports and strolled the command walkway.

He was of slim build, athletic-looking in his mid-thirties. His uniform was pristine. Buttons and belt gleaming. His cap cocked to just the right angle. His face long with pitted cheeks, and his eyes a chill gray.

The crew pits to either side were alive with flashing lights and active panels. He liked to be in the midst of things, spending more time on the bridge than anyone else aboard. Rarely could he be found in his private quarters. He loved his ship. He loved his job. And he hadn't time for anything more.

Devoted he was.

His attention was caught by the communications officer standing over a seated technician.

"What is it Nicholls?" Hagger interjected as he approached the two.

"Sir." Nicholls straightened. "Weve received a hailing from an approaching Lambda-class shuttle which just came out of lightspeed just inside our scopes. All codes have cleared."

"Have we an identification?"

"The 'Zenith' sir."

"The 'Zenith'," repeated Hagger to himself, a puzzled expression wrinkling his brow. The name he knew but the placement and the relevance eluded him. He looked down at the viewscreen following the sleek ship's advance, formation lights winking. "The 'Zenith'..."

"Shall I give a clearance sir?"

"Immediately," Hagger confirmed distractedly.

"ST-818. You are cleared to proceed."

"This is Imperial shuttle ST-818," came the response over the monitor speaker. "We are beginning our approach."

Hagger watched closely, his eyes glued to the monitor screen as the sleek shuttle banked right and headed straight towrds camera. The 'Zenith'.... He tapped his finger upon his lower lip. Now where do I know that name?

- - - - -

"Admiral Nunn. This is a somewhat unexpected pleasure sir." Hagger forced the words, hoping they came across as genuine.

They did not.

"Yes. I'm sure." The tone in the reply reflected the detection of Hagger's insincerity, making the commander wince at his own blatant arrogance.

The two stood at opposite ends of a large oval table which was jet black and of a glassy luster, surrounded by tall-backed empty seats. Both men had their own personal escort. The stormtroopers standing at full attention behind their respective officers. Though in a show of higher ranking, the admiral had eight to the commander's two.

Hagger regarded Nunn wit a masked loathing. His encounters with this man had been few and far between, but it seemed with each engagement Nunn had made at least one statement which betrayed his incompetence. Hagger had formulated his aversion almost immediately the very first meeting. The 'Zenith' was the admiral's personal shuttle. That's where he knew the name.

The admiral was a portly, white haired man who, in Hagger's opinion, was far more suited to the administrations of some remote and desolate moon base rather than being in charge of operating an entire Imperial starfleet. It was Nunn's aire of pompousness and his old-fashioned way of handling situations that made Hagger incredulous as to how the fool had ever achieved such status.

"There has been a.... development," began Admiral Nunn with great authority. "You men may leave." He announced, waving the stormtroopers in the direction of the doorway. He sat then as his escort began filing out.

Hagger nodded to his own escort to follow suit and hesitated before sitting, unsure as to what development entailed. He was confused with the admiral's unannounced arrival. It suggested that the admiral intended staying for some significant period of time. Perhaps even commandeering the 'Maelstrom'. Hagger dreaded to think at just how long he might have to suffer this pompous oaf.

"We're not to be disturbed." Nunn added as the senior trooper reached the door control panel. "See to it."

"Yessir. " came the reply.

The hatchway snapped shut with a sharp hiss and the two men were alone.

"What kind of development?" Hagger asked. Completely uncomfortable with the whole outlook.

"An interesting one. Unexpected, you might say."

Hagger noted the emphasis on the word he himself had just used so sarcastically to greet the admiral, and wondered if the incident would appear in Nunn's report as something more than it really was. The admiral had a way of exaggerating things. This intrusion was becoming less and less pleasant by the moment.

"Our spies have informed us of a minor battle in a region of the Outer Rim Territories" Nunn continued. "The planet of Tatooine to be precise."

"This is hardly unusual sir," Hagger replied, eyebrows raised. "The planet has been a haven to every pirate and smuggler this side of the galaxy for many years now. Ever since that bloated Hutt seized power-"

"Commander."

Hagger paused, mouth still open in mid sentence. He noticed the admiral's mottled face redden.

"Would you kindly let me finish." It was a statement, not a request.

"Sir." Hagger apologized weakly.

"Apparently it's not just some small skirmish between ganglords this time. Jabba was involved, yes. However this was no insignificant feud over smuggling routes of ryll spice.

"Now our information is sketchy and there are very few hard facts, as is always the case on Tatooine, for the reasons you have just mentioned. But what we do know is that Skywalker himself was involved."

"Skywalker. You mean the Rebelion?"

"Hard to believe that the Rebellion would reveal itself in such a minor skirmish. Our suspioions lie more with the theory that Skywalker paid Jabba a personal visit. You are no doubt familiar with the recent events on the Bespin mining colony, Cloud City?"

Hagger nodded.

"Skywalker. Alone. Rescuing his rebel friends single handed. But with the exception of one person, Captain Solo, who becomes a prisoner to Jabba the Hutt."

"Am I to assume the Emperor wishes us to track down Skywalker?" Hagger asked. "With all due respect Admiral I feel this to be nothing more than a ghost hunt."

"Maybe you would like to inform Lord Darth Vader yourself? I'm sure he would be most interested to hear your opinion."

Hagger cringed back at the suggestion. "No sir. But you must see my point. Those rebels will have their escape plans worked out. They're probably on the other side of the galaxy by now."

"Commander, do I have to remind you of your rank? This is a direct order and it will be carried out. Even if it does turn out to be a ghost hunt. We still have to be sure, and I will not be the one to tell Lord Vader otherwise. Besides, there is more to this mission than Skywalker.

"Another significant detail is that Jabba the Hutt was killed in this battle. Undoubtedly this is going to have a tremendous effect on the entire Outer Rim."

"And what of the syndicate?" Hagger asked, curious. "Jabba must have been quite a net worth."

"His businesses, stocks, vehicles and treasuries are all open to confiscation if we step in before anybody else does. We are talking about the region of Mos Eisley after all. Hardly a law abiding corner of the Tatoo system. According to our sources there is no next of kin to Jabba. The only known will and testament bequeathing his holdings is
rather sketchily made out to his father.

"His father, Zorba the Hutt, is..." Nunn referred to his datapad. "...currently serving time on the prison planet of Kip. That leaves only Kumac the Elder, Zorba's brother, as the closest to an heir. Though I'm sure we shall hear many such claims and counterfeit documents as soon as word spreads.

"The Emperor wants those assets before those on Nal Hutta lay claim to them. It's our job to seize them as quickly as possible, and by force if necessary."

"A covert mission?"

"Yes Commander, it would appear so."

"Why this secrecy? Why the request for a private audience? This all sounds standard procedure so far."

The admiral seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in Hagger's confusion. He rose and walked casually about the table, mulling over the wording of his response. Making the commander wait. Reveling in the fact that he knew something the surly officer did not. He paused near Hagger's chair and rested his knuckles on the tabletop.

"Have you by chance heard rumor of the 'Hoard'?" Nunn asked in a low voice.

Hagger blinked, thinking he had perhaps misheard. The 'Hoard'?. He had no idea what the admiral was talking about. "No sir. Should I have?"

Again Nunn paused, as though about to deliver a speech. His eyes searching the tabletop below his for clues. "This is highly classified information i am about to divulge, hence the private audience. Information from the Emperor himself."

Hagger was stunned, incredulous as to how the bumbling fool had obtained such standing with the Emperor as to carry this classified data. In all honesty he was both jealous and disappointed at the idea of it. That this man held the Emperor's trust in such confidential affairs. Could this Nunn have a side to his personality that Hagger had completely overlooked?

"His Holiness has his own means by which he collects intelligence," the admiral went on. "His undercover spies are his eyes and ears throughout the galaxy. And they report explicitly to him. His 'Hands' he calls them. Special agents, using the Force to communicate back over great distances..."

The Force, Hagger thought to himself skeptically. Trust Nunn to be taken in by the Emperor's mumbo-jumbo voodoo. He wondered if the admiral had spoken directly with the Emperor or whether he had received orders through Lord Vader. Hagger assumed the latter though Nunn made it all sound otherwise.

"...One spy infiltrated Jabba's palace and posed as some sort of guard. A mission lasting four years."

"Quite an undercover operation."

"Commander. These men are the best."

Hagger thought Nunn stressed the word 'these' in a way that implied he had a personal contribution to their being the 'best'.

Nunn stood with his chest out. "Their identities are known only by the Emperor." He relaxed a little and began pacing the floor, both hands tucked to the small of his back. "The spy uncovered some interesting facts. One being that Jabba kept a cache of gemstones as a readily transportable treasury, should he ever have need to leave in a hurry. A significant percentage of his stockpile, all in one tidy package. His nestegg. His 'Hoard'."

"Gemstones." Hagger said, almost to himself. It seemed to him they were talking of yet another ghost hunt.

"Lightweight. Immense value for their size. Ideal for storage and transportation. Easily smuggled and hidden away. It's really quite an ingenious way to bank one's funds. This Hoard would no doubt be of unthinkable worth when you consider the extent of Jabba's underground dealings. If it does exist, can you imagine the wealth such a cache must contain?"

Hagger could imagine. It did seem something the bloated slug would do, considering his paranoia. The value would be absolutely phenomenal. But it was all too incredible. "So where is this Hoard?"

"Nobody knows." Nunn said in a most flat tone. "Jabba kept both its existence and whereabouts to himself for obvious reasons. The undercover spy I mentioned ran into a Nimbanel, by the name of Mosep. Jabba's accountant. The two were in a Mos Eisley cantina and after much Abrax the accountant disclosed his secret. Fearing for his life because he had supposedly witnessed his master admiring the cache's contents."

"Fearing for his life and yet he not only tells a fellow guard, butthen doesn't alert anybody after the fact."

"You're not a drinking man, Commander Hagger."

"No sir."

"If you were you would know that Abrax is a cognac which is very effective at loosening the tongue. Especially if mixed with a little avabush spice. It is also a remarkable amnesic."

"I see."

"Jabba may have changed it's location from time to time for added security. But if the accountant knows of the Hoard's existence, then so too could others within the palace. His trusted adviser for instance."

"The Twi'lek?"

"It's a possibility."

"It's also possible that Kumac the Elder knows about it."

"That is why we must move with all speed."

Hagger's mind began reeling with the prospects. The Empire would obviously benefit enormously if this cache did exist and were captured. He could personally transport it to the Emperor and in doing so bear witness to the new Death Star battlestation under construction. Surely the Emperor would be endebted to the officer that presents him with such a prize. This could mean his promotion. All he'd have to do do is show Nunn for the incompetent fool he was and take all credit for the operation's success.

The admiral was leaning close. His voice hushed and his breath foul.

"Can you imagine what would happen if news of this were to get out? What we'd have to deal with if it leaked? We'd have every bounty hunter and petty thief this side of the Horuz system swarming. Now do you understand the reason for this mission being covert? We cannot draw attention to ourselves. All communications must be coded."

"I understand Admiral." Hagger nodded slowly in agreement.

Nunn started back for his chair on the other side of the large table. "I know that this 'Skywalker business' seems trivial by comparison but for some reason it has been given higher priority. Anyhow it may be beneficiary to start our search at the site of Jabba's demise. It's altogether possible he'd keep his 'nestegg' close at hand.

"Now. Who is your most trusted officer?"

That was easy. "Captain Larsolette......sir."

"Then Captain Larsolette is the only person outside this room privy to this information. Do I make myself clear?"

"Extremely sir. I'll see that this is handled with the utmost discretion."

"Good. Then I suggest we reach Tatooine with all speed, Commander Hagger."

Hagger reached forward and thumbed the intercom array inset into the tabletop before him. "Captain Larsolette?"

"Yes sir?" came the electronic response.

"Recall all TIE fighter patrols at once and set a course for Tatooine."

"Sir?"

"I believe you heard me correctly Captain?"

"At once sir."




Chapter Five

Coming Soon in 2018