First of all, thanks to everyone for your encouragements and kind comments.
Without further ado...
“You’re totally insane, you do realise that?” Calrissian asked.
Seated just behind the two pilot positions in the Millenium Falcon’s cramped cockpit, Anakin stared out at the spinning asteroid they were snuggled up against. From time to time, the rock’s spin carried them around far enough to catch a glimpse of the red-black surface of Yag’duhl, a tiny pinprick of light hovering in front of it identified as Imperial Penal Station 9.
Calrissian turned his seat to look at him, as if unsure whether the other man had heard him. Anakin sighed, rubbing a hand over his face, the mechanoid joints in his elbows and wrists whining in the still air.
“Yes, I do, actually.”
“Certifiable,” the Gungan – Lo – muttered from the other seat.
“Fair enough. If any of you have a better idea how we can get onto that station, I’m all ears.”
Calrissian opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it again after a moment. He shook his head. “I still say it’s insane.”
“The best plans usually are.”
The conversation set memories flickering through his mind, memories of similar conversations he had had at one point or another with Obi-wan during the Wars. How many times had the two of them found themselves faced with insurmountable odds or forces that most members of the Republic Army would have fled, but which he had been certain they could defeat? And each time, his old master had shook his head in his own inimitable way and told Anakin that he would be the death of him.
And I almost was.
Not only back on Tatooine but years before, on Naboo. When he had discovered just how close Obi-wan and Padme had grown. If he had still had the Force as his ally, Anakin wondered whether he might not have killed his old friend.
Shaking his head, he banished the thoughts. He had a chance to make all of that right, now. Free Obi-wan, find Luke, and then go home. Maybe even take Obi-wan back to the Alliance first. Introduce Luke to his mother. See his daughter…
His daughter. The thought of Leia brought more pain than any other. His greatest regret had been leaving her behind with Padme. At the time, things had seemed so simple. He could not stay on the same planet as his former wife anymore. Padme would not give up both of her children. Now, though, he wondered whether he couldn’t have tried to make it work.
Regrets. He shook his head again. There would be time enough for those later. For now…
“If we’re going to do this, we need to do it soon,” he said firmly, locking eyes with Calrissian.
The dark skinned Corellian – he had explained to Anakin during the trip that the accent came from his Socorran parents but that he himself had grown up all over the galaxy – met his eyes for a moment, then nodded. Lo gave out a muffled curse, throwing his hands up.
“You’re both insane. There is no way this is going to work.”
“You’d be surprised how often the most insane plans are the ones that work the best.”
“Whatever you say, old man.”
Anakin ignored the Gungan. Calrissian was the one in charge. Now that he had agreed to Anakin’s plan, it was only a matter of fine tuning.
“Alright, Lo. We’re doing this. The question is, how do we pull it off? The Falcon isn’t exactly the least recognizable ship in the galaxy. And out here, I’m not sure how well we can disguise her.”
Anakin thought that the Alliance commander might be letting his love for his ship get away with him. Not that he could fault the man. Besides, even if he was right, that should work to their favor.
Anakin shook his head. “If the Falcon is as recognizable as you say, there would be no point. So we make it part of the story. Lo tells them that he found you and the ship, and decided to take it as down payment on the bounty on your head.” For the first time, he looked at the Gungan. “Make sure that you negotiate the price of the Falcon into your demand for the bounty. It will make you seem that much more realistic.”
“Seem to know a lot about bounty hunters,” Lo muttered, but he didn’t object any further.
Calrissian was nodding. “I think that could work. Of course, a lot of it depends on how well Lo can pull off the whole bounty hunter thing.”
Anakin got the feeling that the Corellian was purposefully goading his partner, putting his skills in doubt to drag him on board with the idea. He decided to play along.
“You may be right. Maybe one of us should play the bounty hunter and bring him in.”
Lo’s ears flopped up and he swiveled one eye to glare at both of them. “I tricked you back at Smuggler’s Run, didn’t I?”
“I suppose so.”
“Don’t worry, Jedi, I can do the job.”
“Good,” Anakin said, trying not to smile. For a moment, he was reminded of Jar-jar Binks. It had been a long time since he had occasion to remember the gangly, clumsy Gungan. He felt a twinge of sadness as he remembered the sacrifice the Nabooan Representative had made, protecting younglings against Palpatine’s attack on the Temple. “That’s settled. Now we just need to create your persona.”
“Yes. You can’t use your own name.”
“And what should I call myself? Boba Fett?”
Anakin grinned. “Actually, I had another name in mind.”
Captain Javan Boor hated his job. He hated the prison station he worked on, with its cramped corridors. He hated the responsibilities he was asked to shoulder and the constant mind numbing boredom of filling in reports and watching the prisoners in their cages. He hated the way other naval officers looked at him and spoke to him when they dropped off new prisoners.
And he hated the bounty hunters who thought they could make a quick deal on the side by bringing prisoners directly to him.
When his XO called him out of his office and onto the tiny command bridge, Javan Boor had no doubt that it could only be to give him more bad news. When he saw the ship approaching on sensors, he realised that his hunch had been right on the money.
“What is it?”
“Claims to be a bounty hunter, Captain,” his XO responded. Of course it is, Boor thought. What else could it be? His ears pricked up, though, as the XO continued, “However, the ship corresponds to an Alliance runner in Imperial databanks. The Millenium Falcon.”
Boor shook his head. He had never heard of the ship. The fact that it was an Alliance vessel, though…
“Could it be a trap?”
“I can’t say for certain, sir.” His XO glanced down at his screens, and then looked back at Boor. “They’re hailing us.”
“Put it through.”
A small holo projector illuminated the space in the direct centre of the command bridge, revealing the disembodied head of a strange alien creature unlike any Boor had seen before. With its long snout and elongated ears, it looked like a cross between an Alderaanian equine and a Coruscanti shadehare.
“Theesa is Gunga Binks on eesa commline. Messa havin preesoners for ussa.”
Boor rubbed his temples, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, he exchanged a tired glance with his XO, before turning back to the hologram.
“Could you repeat that, Mister Binks?”
“Meesa being a bombad bounty hunter. Meesa catching big time fishies for youssen Imperials.”
“Mister Binks, I’m afraid that you misunderstand. This is a prison station, not a naval outpost. If you wish to bring your prisoners to an Imperial prison office, I am afraid you will have to go through the proper channels.”
This seemed to confuse the strange alien, whose fat lips turned downwards at the same time his ears drooped down.
“Youssa no bein prison station?”
“No. I mean, yes, we are a prison station, but we do not handle prisoners directly. We only receive them, transferred by the proper authorities. We…”
“Meesa takin Lando Calrissian to a proper authorities?”
Boor stiffened. Lando Calrissian? Now that was a name he had heard of. The man was on the list of the top ten most wanted criminals in the Empire. Boor had seen his face numerous times in the few broadcasts they received out in this hellhole assignement. The Lando Calrissian? If he could bring such a man in, hand him over to Imperial Command himself… He stiffened.
“I think we may be able to come to some kind of arrangement, Master Binks.” He nodded to his XO, who seemed surprised, but began to send out the proper codes to allow the ship access to their docking bay. “We are sending you landing codes, now. Please follow them. Closely.”
“Meesa understand. Gunga Binks out.”
The hologram flickered and vanished. Boor felt his XO’s eyes on him and turned to look at the man.
“You have a question, commander?”
“Yes. I mean… I thought we did not negotiate directly with bounty hunters, sir.”
Boor allowed a thin smile to crease his features. He hated his assignement with a passion. For the five years he had been posted here, he had dreamed of a way off this cursed station and away from this damned world.
“Who said I was going to negotiate?”
“Are we ready?” Calrissian asked, checking the bonds holding Anakin’s wrists together. Anakin tensed up, trying to pull the restraints apart, but whoever had made them had done a good job. He looked up at Calrissian and nodded.
“I think so.”
“And we’re all clear on the plan?”
Both men looked at Lo, who scowled at them. They had dressed him in an old Republic Clonetrooper’s uniform Calrissian had recovered from an Imperial outpost a few years before. Lo’s gangly body hardly fit inside, but it would do. They had also tattooed a few Huttese symbols on his ears. He looked… Well, like a Gungan pretending to be a bounty hunter. Anakin doubted they were going to be able to achieve anything more.
“Yes, we’re clear,” Lo snapped. “I’m going to hand you over to the Imps, make chummy chummy with them, and then free you from the cells. Then we find Kenobi and blow our way off that station. That about sum it up?”
Hearing it like that, Anakin realised that Calrissian had been right. The plan was insane. Still, it was the best they had. He nodded.
“Yeah, that sums it up nicely.”
Lo bugged his eyes at both humans. “And neither of you see any problem with this plan?”
Anakin and Calrissian shared a glance, and then both of them turned back and shook their heads. “Not a one.”
Lo stared at them in disgust for a moment, before turning back to his controls. “Human poodoo slimos,” he muttered under his breath. Calrissian grinned at Anakin.
“Here we go.”
Here we go indeed.
Lo piloted the Falcon in to the prison’s main docking bay with consummate skill, following the information streaming direct from the station’s comm. system. Anakin and Calrissian sat behind him, lost in their thoughts and trying not to think about all the ways the plan could go wrong.
As the Falcon touched down with a dull thud, Calrissian glanced at Anakin.
“Are you sure about this?”
Anakin grunted. “Ask me again when we get out.”
The dark-skinned Alliance man did not look reassured. Well,
Anakin thought, why should he be any different than the rest of us? I was never sure before going into a mission. That’s part of the job.
As soon as he had cut the engines, Lo turned, holding two blasters in either hand. He pointed them at Calrissian and Anakin, and assayed a cocky smile. The expression failed miserably on that equine face.
“Meesa thinking youssa being my prisoners,” he drawled in his heavy Gungan accent. Anakin had to admit that he did quite a good job considering he had been born on Coruscant and had never spent any time on the Gungan homeworld.
“Ok, don’t play it up too much, Lo.”
The Gungan frowned before motioning behind them with both blasters. “Move it.”
Anakin joined Calrissian at the door leading out to the corridor and then allowed the younger man to precede him out of the bridge. They made their way down the corridor, Lo following along with both blasters in hand. When they reached the hatch, their ‘captor’ moved past them, inputting the code that would unhinge the opening. Anakin took one last deep breath of the Falcon’s oily, lived in air. With a hiss of released pressure, the decking gave way, descending until it thudded against the plasmasteel deck.
Calrissian and Anakin shared a glance. Here goes nothing,
“Move yousa big behinds,” Lo croaked, waving one of the blasters again. Anakin nodded and went down first.
A full contingent of stormtroopers waited for them. Two columns on either side of the ship, their armor a light shade of grey instead of the usual white in order to differentiate them as prison guards. In between the two columns stood two men in Imperial officers’ uniforms. Anakin guessed that one of them was the commander they had spoken to earlier.
Anakin felt a sharp pain in his back. He turned to glare at Lo, who had jabbed him with the bore of his pistol in order to get him moving. He stumbled along, imagining all of the ways he was going to be able to get back at the Gungan once they had Obi-wan.
As Lo walked them over the two officers, Anakin turned his attention to the station itself. Having spent so much time on Tattooine since the Clone Wars ended, he had rarely gotten much of a glimpse at the changes the Empire had made to the Republic’s hardware. He was surprised to realize that there weren’t many. It seemed as though Palpatine had tried to keep as much of the old system as possible, including the construction techniques. He could almost have been walking through the docking bay of one of the old Acclamator I-class assault ships they had used back in the Wars, right down to the dead air smell of the recycling systems.
Still, it would be useful for later on. Once Lo got them free – he refused to entertain the thought that the Gungan might fail – his knowledge of the old Republic ships and space stations might just give them an advantage in finding their way around.
First of all, though, they had to get through the next few minutes.
Lo walked out in front of them as they reached the two officers, saluting with all of the clumsiness of an adolescent Gungan. He then bowed low, indicating the two prisoners behind him.
“Meesa lords and commanding officers, meesa bringing you Alliance spies and revolutionarians meesa being catchen’ in Mos Eisley. Theysa big bomba Alliance generals!”
The imperial officer peered down his nose at Lo. “You are Gunga Binks.”
Lo nodded his head so vigorously, Anakin wondered that he didn’t hurt himself. “Yessir!”
“And you are a bounty hunter?”
“Yessir. Meesa being a bombad bounty hunter and meesa havin…”
Anakin should have guessed there was something wrong when he saw the look the two officers exchanged. He was too focused on Lo’s performance, though. His first real hint of a problem came when the commanding officer pulled a blaster from his own holster.
“Unfortunately,” the imperial officer said with exagerated calm, “the Empire does not negotiate with bounty hunters.”
Anakin felt the blood rush to his ears as the red blaster bolt caught Lo square in the chest. The Gungan spun round, giving Anakin a glimpse of burnt cloth and flesh. The residual energy from the blaster bolt still sizzled, giving off a stench of cooked flesh. Lo coughed up blood before collapsing to the deck.
Calrissian launched himself at the imperial officer. Anakin lifted a hand as if to stop him, but he was too late. The commander slowly moved his arm, took aim and fired again.
The bolt caught the Alliance man in the thigh. Calrissian gave a strangled scream before crashing to the deck. He rolled himself into a ball, clutching his wound. Anakin saw his head lift and he glared at the commander.
The commander studied Calrissian for a moment, one of his eyebrows crooked. “Now why would a captive Alliance man be so upset at the murder of the bounty hunter who caught him?”
He swept his gaze over to Anakin. “Unless neither the captors nor the prisoners were really what they seem.”
Anakin stared back, refusing to answer. The commander studied him for a moment longer and then nodded.
“I see. Well, I’m sure the answer will come to us.” He nodded to the troopers on either side of him. “Take them.”
The troopers rushed in, seizing Anakin by both arms while still more of them forced Calrissian to his feet. The commander waved a hand.
“Take them to the prison level. Hopefully a few hours in solitary will induce them to talk.”
As they were forced to march towards the turbolifts at the end of the docking bay, Anakin heard the commander order his men to get rid of Lo’s body and to move the Falcon to a secure docking area. He felt his heart sink. Whatever he had hoped to achieve, he had failed. Lo had already lost his life. And there was a very good possibility that he and Calrissian were about to join him.