LAST EDITED ON Sep-18-08 AT 02:25 PM (EDT)
They say that when a man is in extremis - when he's staring straight down the barrel of death - one behavior is damn near universal. Mortally wounded soldiers on battlefields, sensing the approach of oblivion, have almost always done one thing, throughout history and across the galaxy, if they're part of any species that's even remotely human: They call for their mothers.
So that's me doubly screwed, then.
I suppose it's not fair to say that I'm facing imminent death. In fact, if what Jabba said is to be taken literally - and my offline copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica seems to indicate that it can - I'm not going to die for a very long time. A lot longer than would have been the case just a few minutes ago. In fact, I can expect to live nearly another thousand years, where this morning, with luck and care, I was looking at another 160, 180 tops.
On the minus side, I will be spending that entire time trapped all but immobile in a tiny, very foul-smelling room, being digested. This is really not how I saw myself spending my summer vacation, never mind the next thousand years.
Anyway, I don't know if the thing about soldiers and their mothers is true, but as for us motherless boys, well, I can tell you what we do first thing in a situation like this: We reflect on how we got into this mess.
I was born on a planet you'll never have heard of and won't find on any chart, but that's all right because you don't want to go there anyway. The weather's rubbish and the locals redefine that good old Anglo-Standard term assholes. Seriously, these are people who not only think it's okay to snuff newborns for having the wrong color eyes, but also insist you'd be stupid not to. Not the sort of folks you make a mental note to send chatty Christmas cards later on.
Technically born isn't the right word - I guess the correct term would be more like decanted - but a man's got to stand on his dignity sometimes.
Mind you, my memories of the place aren't from when I was first there. We left when I was just a baby, and chances are I wouldn't have known where it was myself if we hadn't had to go back when I was twelve. But that's neither here nor there. It's not a nice place and they aren't nice people. Just take my word for it.
My earliest really distinct memory is of a firefight.
Ironically, my most recent memory is also of a firefight.
"Tom, I don't know if you've noticed, but Jabba's people are a tiny bit pissed off at us."
"Really," Tom calls back. He has to raise his voice, partly because we're standing at opposite ends of a sand skiff, partly because there's a bit of a crosswind, and mostly because the guys on the other sand skiff - not to mention the upper deck of the sail barge - are shooting at us a lot.
"Yep," I reply. "That is my professional assessment of the situation." I take a shot at the pilot of the other skiff, which is jockeying for position, trying to get alongside us for boarding, but he's still pretty far away and I'm using a blaster pistol, so I miss.
The reason I'm using a blaster pistol and not my DC-15 - the reason, in other words, why my hard-to-acquire, GENOM White Legion-exclusive Deece is lying in two pieces on the deck at my feet - stands beside me, deflecting incoming blasterfire and making me fear for my limbs. Now, I don't have anything against Jedi Knights. I have no particular sensitivity to the Force, but I believe it exists, and I respect the Jedi for their nerve, their toughness, and their dedication to justice. I just wish this one's nerve and toughness came with a little skill to back it up, is all. If he keeps waving that lightsaber around like that, it's only a matter of time before he takes somebody's head off, and with my luck it'll be mine.
"Will you watch where you're swinging that kriffing thing!" I snap as he deflects another flurry of blasterfire and nearly shortens my right arm for me. "Bad enough you've wrecked my favorite blaster - "
"I said I was bloody sorry!" the Jedi snaps back.
His accent's even thicker than mine - New Caledonia, I think, rather than Concord Dawn - and his choice of words, along with his expression, rather puts the lie to the whole "Jedi dispassion" thing, but then, we've already established that he's not the most skillful Jedi in the galaxy. I have to smile a little inside my helmet, even as I'm thinking how glad I'll be when he's out of my way. His name's Ray and, God love 'im, he's trying his best. I don't know why Jedi Masters like to send their padawan learners off on their own like this, but I wish they wouldn't do it when and where I'm trying to rescue someone.
The shootout on the Ventari Station marketplace deck probably wasn't my first firefight, but it was the first one I took special notice of, because it was the first one I participated in, as opposed to just being a spectator. In those days I was very small, and I went most everywhere strapped to my father's back along with his Merr-Sonn jetpack and his emergency rations. That particular day, I had a blaster of my own - I think he gave it to me just to keep my hands busy while he did some work - and I used it to drill a turian merc who tried to get the drop on him from behind. Dad likes to joke that it was the first day I ever really earned my keep, though I have to point out that, given my position, the guy was trying to shoot me too. I was about two and a half years old. That turian - I never did find out his name - was the first sapient I ever had to kill.
That probably seems shocking to you, and now you're thinking I must be psychologically scarred, like those boy soldiers on third-galaxy hellhole planets with permanent civil wars you read about on the GNN feedsite all the time. You can relax. It's not like that. For my kind, that sort of thing is as perfectly normal - as happy and festive a childhood memory - as a kid from São Paulo Novo's first distinct memory being of his dad taking him to a futebol game. Hell, it's better. That Paulian kid might've seen a great game, but I bet he didn't score a goal for the home team. To me, that's pretty much what clearing that turian off my old man's six was.
See, I'm Mandalorian. We're... not like other people.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "But Boba," you're thinking, "the Mandalorians are extinct. They wiped themselves out in a civil war, shit, thousands of years before the fall of Atlantis."
And you're right about that last part, but we're not extinct, not quite. There are four of us left.
My father's name is Jango Fett. He served in the 229th Distrovi Brigade of the Third Mandalor Guards (most people nowadays see any Mandalorian armor and think, "Oh, the Death Watch," but by Dad's time, the Death Watch was just one brigade) until a mishap with a coldsleep transport ship stranded him in the 24th century along with two of his training buddies. Since none of them knew anything other than how to fight, they took jobs as hunter-investigators - legal guns-for-hire - and set out to have a look around their new era.
I'm told things got... interesting from there.
"Tom, talk to me," I say, trying to keep the worst of the tension out of my voice. "I'm running low on rocket darts over here and that sprocking skiff driver's lining up to ram us."
"He's close enough now - I'll handle him," says Ray, and before anyone else can say anything about his plan's relative inadvisability, he gets a running start and takes one of those Jedi leaps from the prow of our skiff to the prow of the other one, hops over the rail, and wades into the crew with his lightsaber blazing.
"Well," I remark wryly to Tom as I take a few potshots at the guys up on the sail barge's deck, "I give him full marks for enthusiasm, anyway."
"That's so comforting," Tom replies. "Come on, Jase, up you get."
That last isn't directed at me, but at the man we were hired to help rescue. Internationally infamous freelance freighter pilot, gambler, alleged smuggler, and occasional mercenary Jason Solo has undoubtedly had better days, days that didn't involve waking up from carbonite freeze only to be scheduled for a day trip to the Pit of Carkoon by the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. He's certainly looked better. He looks better in the holo his sister Jane provided so we'd know who we were looking for when we infiltrated Jabba's palace. In the holo he's grinning. In person he looks like he's trying not to puke on Tom.
Thinking of Jane, I peg another Weequay before he can make it to that giant blaster cannon that's mounted on the sail barge's foredeck and key my helmet com. "Jane, I hate to be a noodge."
"I'm working on it," Jane replies testily through a wash of narrowband digital compression artifacts. "I've got my own problems here, you know? Nobody told me Jabba had an air force. Gonna take me a few minutes to deal with these guys with no gunners aboard."
"Fine, fine, take your time. We'll just be here fighting every other lifeform Jabba's ever hired. And some droids."
I have a look across the way; Ray seems to have the situation on the other skiff well in hand. For all that he can't quite control his lightsaber in polite company, he looks to be pretty good with it when there's nothing around he doesn't want to be cutting off. I have to kind of wonder how he made it to this point in his training with both of his arms, but hey, not my problem.
I'm really starting to not like the look of that deck cannon. If anybody halfway competent gets into that saddle, we have a serious problem. I don't really relish fighting everybody on the sail barge, but it might be preferable in the long run to shooting them one at a time as they make that run down the portside rail for the cannon. I load up the guidance software for my trusty Merr-Sonn and start eyeing the distance for the jump.
It was Fenn who first accepted that the three survivors of the Extinction weren't going to be able to preserve the Mandalorian people as a biological species. Even if Khyra had been interested in playing Eve - and she wasn't - the gene pool would have been catastrophically shallow. One sunny day, over about 20 beers apiece in the Mos Eisley cantina, he broke this sad truth to the other two. At which point, according to Khyra's version, Dad took a swing at him and they all had about 20 more beers apiece and passed out. This was, morale-wise, the historical low point for the Mandalorian race.
The next day, presumably after some waffles and a lot of coffee, Dad apologized to Fenn for punching him, which Fenn didn't remember anyway, and announced that he'd had an idea. If they couldn't preserve the Mandalorian people biologically, he said, that didn't really matter anyway. We're not anything biologically interesting; we're just humans. Species that are biologically similar are a dime a dozen. What Dad proposed was that they instead focus on preserving their race culturally.
The others thought it over, decided this was a damn good idea, and went their separate ways again. Khyra likes to point out, a little archly, that it was right after this little speech that Dad went to Kamino and inquired as to the possibility of preserving the race through genetic engineering, only to be informed that yes, such a thing was possible, and they'd be happy to get started right away... just as soon as Mr. Fett paid a deposit of at least ten percent of the expected final cost of the project.
The story goes that Dad didn't bat an eye; he just told them he'd get right on it, but he didn't have 12 billion credits on him, and in the meantime, how about a one-off sample as a good-faith demonstration that they could actually do the job? That sounded reasonable to them, so they cloned him once to prove they could do it, and he cheerfully declared that he'd be back with their credits as soon as he'd given the prototype a good thorough field testing.
So there you go. Technically? I started life as stolen test equipment. It doesn't keep me up at night.
"Tom," I declare, "I'm going up and see about disabling that deck cannon before somebody manages to blow us to Dantooine with it."
"Works for me."
Jason Solo struggles to his feet, leaning on a force pike one of the mooks on this boat tried to gaff Tom with earlier in the day. "Who's that?" he asks. I leave the explanations for Tom and turn back to the sail barge, getting ready to fire up my jets.
"You didn't think I got into this mess alone, did you?" Tom replies cheerfully. "Have a nice flight, Boba."
"Boba? Boba Fett?" Jason sounds more startled than pleased, though I couldn't say why. Probably still a bit disoriented from carbon freeze. (He'll probably try to use it later on as an excuse for forgetting the money he owes me from last Friday's pazaak game.)
And then he says, "Where?!"
I am not, to the best of my knowledge, Force-sensitive, but for just an instant I have the impression of what it must be like to get one of those little Jedi premonitions. Today is not my day for people nearby flailing around with melee weapons. If I'd had Chinese for lunch, I'm sure that's what it would have said in my fortune cookie.
On the plus side, if it'd been Ray this time, I'd have been impaled. That seems fairly small consolation, though, as Jason slams his force pike into the control cluster on my jetpack and sends me on a brief, uncontrolled sub-orbital flight. Origination: half-wrecked sand skiff. Destination: the port side of Jabba the Hutt's sail barge, about halfway up.
That would've sucked enough, to be honest. The subsequent 50-foot fall into the Sarlacc is just icing on that cake.
A memory fragment: the first time I ever took an active part in one of Dad's investigations (as opposed to just participating in a firefight that found him, which we've already covered). I was five. He was tracking a low-level Hutt crimeboss - nobody of Jabba's caliber, but he was good at hiding his boltholes. We knew two important things about our quarry, though. One: He was the kind of craven slime (even by Hutt standards) who would threaten a kid to try and get a hunter off his back. Two: He had the sort of ego (this part's Hutt-normal, anyway) that would demand that he do it in person.
So I drank some blue milk spiked with a slug of nanobot trackers and then went out and indulged in some really sloppy tradecraft. I remember feeling a little insulted that the Hutt's goons actually thought I was clueless enough to get captured that way by accident. Didn't they know I was Mando'ad? I mean, please.
Anyway, they caught me and dragged me off to the Hutt's hidey-hole so he could slobber at me in person and tell me about all the awful things he was going to do to me if he didn't get Dad's assurance that he was off the case, and how he was thinking about doing them anyway just on principle. And Dad tracked the nanos, blew in the skylight, jetted on in, tossed me a blaster, and we killed everybody in the room. Apart from the Hutt, of course. We weren't getting paid to kill him.
And now you're back to where you were when I was talking about my first firefight (hmm, there's an idea for a Fisher-Price set), getting all horrified and wanting to know how a man could possibly ask his five-year-old son to do such a dangerous and unpleasant thing.
I'll have you know it was my idea. Not that Dad resisted, of course, because it was a damn good idea, if I do say so myself. It's not that he was callous about my safety; hell, he'd have died for me any day of the week. Probably still would even now that I'm an adult. But we were partners and I was the one who could make the tactic work, so we went for it. That's the way we are. We're practical men. We're Mandalorians.
I haven't just been lying here in the dark and the corrosive slime woolgathering about the good old days for lack of anything better to do, by the way. I'm thinking. So far I've thought of four different ways I could get out of the Sarlacc. In none of the scenarios does the beast survive. Unfortunately, I don't either, which is why I'm still thinking.
The reason for all the little walks down memory lane is simple. I've figured out that the Sarlacc is telepathic. This makes a certain amount of sense if you think about it. It has no eyes, no ears, and (as far as anyone can tell) no sense of smell, but it can sense when prey is near its mouth and grab onto it with its tentacles. That information has to come from somewhere, and I've worked out over the - check helmet chron - 53 minutes I've been in here that it comes from telepathy.
Not only can it sense when prey is near, it's also apparently smart enough to figure out when that prey is trying to think of a way to get out. I spent the first ten minutes of my time down here getting knocked all the hell around what I can only assume is the beast's stomach by whiplike tentacles or cilia or whatever the hell you want to call them, because it didn't like the idea of me scheming to escape. I think it's also annoyed that it can't get through my armor to pin me permanently with these tentacles and start absorbing me into the stomach lining, like it has to all the other poor bastards I saw for the couple of seconds I was fool enough to turn on my handlamp.
However, though it's telepathic and at least semi-sapient, the Sarlacc is apparently not very smart. It can't follow multiple trains of thought at once. That's my theory, anyway, since at the point where I sat down and started reminiscing, it hasn't tried to beat me senseless. I guess it can't tell that I'm working on escape plans with the other half of my mind.
Useful trick, this. I learned it from Khyra. It's intended as a defense against telepathic interrogation and Jedi mind tricks, but it seems to be working nicely for Sarlacc-fooling as well. I'll have to mention it to her next time I see her.
A memory fragment: the only time I've ever heard my father talk about why he went to all the trouble of having me made.
He's never spoken about it to me; what I know, I overheard, though I think he knew I was listening. I woke up in the night once, when I was ten or so, and went downstairs to get something to drink. I was surprised to hear Dad talking to someone in the living room; when I went to bed, we didn't have company, and it's not like people were just dropping by chez Fett at all hours of the day and night. By then I had the habit of moving silently at all times anyway, just for practice, so I crept to the living room doorway to see who was there. It turned out to be Khyra, and I was just about to break cover and go say hello when I heard her ask Dad,
"Jango... why did you go to Kamino? I can understand a man wanting a son to raise, but... well, there is another method that many lifeforms have had some success with."
Dad sat back in his favorite chair and made a dismissive gesture. "Ahh, you know me, Khyra," he said. "What woman would put up with me?"
Khyra gave him the I'm-not-in-the-mood-for-your-wit face, unintentionally proving his point, I thought. "Jango."
Dad sighed. "Okay. You're right. Really, asking them to clone me was just an impulse. I really did go to see if they could... could bring us back. And when they said they could, but it'd cost more money than I'm ever going to see, I just... had an idea and jumped on it. And I've never regretted it." He sat forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped in front of him, and looked at her intently. "He's my life, Khyra. And he gives me hope."
Khyra smiled. To this day, my mental image of what a beautiful woman should look like is Khyra, sitting on my father's couch in her beskar'gam, helmet on her knee, smiling.
"Yeah," she said. "I know what you mean, Jan'ika."
I think I've got my plan figured out. I chance another quick look with the handlamp, to pin the final details down. This place is going to give me nightmares, and I'm not too macho to admit it, but I have to double-check a couple of things, there's no getting around it. I turn it off the instant I've confirmed what I want to know.
I slosh through the nearly-knee-deep muck, trying not to think about what I'm stepping on and occasionally almost tripping over. If I move slowly enough, and stay distracted, I don't get the tentacles' attention. I don't think the Sarlacc can really feel what's going on in here very much; it just senses if its prey is thinking about trying to escape, and right now, as far as it knows, I'm not.
Just for the sake of being a bastard about it, in case this thing has any sort of sexual intelligence, I've switched from reminiscences to the most lurid fantasies I can come up with. Bit embarrassing, if you think about it, that the Sarlacc now knows everything I'd have liked to do with those twi'lek dancers Tom tried to pick up the other day, and a few of the things I've found myself wondering about our ever-masked friends the quarians over the years.
It's doing the trick, though. It's certainly distracting.
Right. Time to see if this plan is going to work.
In one of the pouches on my utility belt is a Malkite poisoner's kit. I'm not a fan of poisonings - after all, I'm an investigator, not an assassin, whatever misconceptions the Outer Rim press like to nurture about bounty hunters - but there are some interesting non-lethal options in there that occasionally come in handy, and it's always helpful to know about things that may be used against you.
There's a Nikto about ten feet off to my right. He's one of Jabba's guards; Ray knocked him down here early in the fight with one of those Force shoves. He's already good and tentacled up, completely helpless and immobile, but when I shine my light on him, his eyes move toward me, so I know he's still more or less conscious. I'm banking on the paralysis being a matter of nerve impulse interdiction rather than something in the Sarlacc's digestive juices that stops the muscles from working. If I'm wrong, this is going to be a waste of time. If I'm right, though, that Nikto is my ticket out of here.
My hands move automatically, without the need for conscious direction - one of the many things I can, and do, thank my father for. My upbringing was certainly unusual, and by the comfortable standards of people accustomed to safe, soft lives lived behind desks, it's probably considered shockingly brutal, but I don't see it that way. It's left me with two things I wouldn't trade for anything else: the skills to earn a living in one of the galaxy's most dangerous and exciting trades; and the rock-solid conviction that I am, clone or no clone, the galaxy's most beloved son.
I finish freighting a saber dart with one of the nastier things in the Malkite arsenal, load it into the dart launcher on my left gauntlet, turn, and fire it into my Nikto friend. The Sarlacc gets a whiff of my intentions at the last - unavoidable, I have to focus to make sure I don't miss my only shot - but before it can react, the Nikto goes berserk. This particular treat was designed by the Malkites to cause a high-ranking target's death by sending him into an insane, murderous rage, at which point, if the psychological factors were weighted right, he'd be put down by his own guards. Clever, if you're into that kind of thing. Done right, it can cause whole governments to topple amid scandals involving traitors on the inside.
I'm not looking for anything quite so politically dynamic. What I'm looking for is a distraction for the Sarlacc, and I get it. The Nikto's fury is enough to override his neural paralysis with such strength that he snaps free from the tentacles that hold him down and starts ripping them out of the Sarlacc's stomach wall. Instantly the Sarlacc's internal defense systems go to high alert and more of them whip out of wherever they come from, trying to snag the Nikto's limbs and secure him again. It's way too busy now to worry about little old me.
This is my cue to launch my right arm's grapple line into the ceiling and hope the meat is substantial enough to support my weight. It is. I reel myself up next to the closed sphincter that I entered through, pop the vibroblade in my left gauntlet, and start hacking. This isn't pretty, but it gets the job done. I don't need a really big hole; just enough to make my way through. The tricky part is getting up into the thing's esophagus, or whatever it is, and getting my climbing spikes planted without falling back into the stomach or losing my grapple line.
I inch my way upward, jamming my elbow and boot spikes into the soft, slimy meat of the Sarlacc's throat. It's a bit like climbing a duct, except the duct is squidgy and coated in a slick acid mucus, and smells so bad I can smell it even through the filters in my helmet. I'm going to shower for a month when I get out of here.
I estimated how far I'd have to climb before I started, but it feels like I've gone that far and I'm not seeing daylight yet. I hope I haven't taken a wrong turn and tried to climb out through the secondary esophagus in the monster's tongue. That would be a tight fit for a man my size. Of course, if I am climbing out the right hole, I'll have to deal with that tongue when I get to the top anyway, but that's part of my plan too.
Down below, I hear the faint sounds of the Nikto's bellowing and thrashing taper off. Fierfek, I think. He didn't last as long as I'd hoped.
I keep climbing, the muscles in my back and shoulders aching. I wonder vaguely whether the Sarlacc's stomach tentacles can reach this far back up its throat. A moment later I get my answer when one wraps around my ankle and tries to drag me back down. It doesn't much like the result, though, since that drags my climbing blades back like barbs in a fishhook. While it's trying to decide what to do about that, I give that tentacle a shot from my flamethrower to help it make up its mind. It unwraps and disappears, but now I can actually feel the Sarlacc shaking as it comes as close as a completely immobile buried meat/plant/thing can come to thrashing in displeasure.
There! Daylight. I am in the right hole, as it were. Now I've got tentacles coming at me from this end, trying to shove me back down. The flamethrower discourages them, too, but some of them are pretty substantial. It only has to clip me once or twice to pry me from my perch and send me back into the pit.
I hadn't wanted to do this, but I don't see that I have much choice. My jetpack's damaged. It may not work at all, and even if it does, it probably won't function predictably... but I have to get out of here now. I don't think I have the strength left to battle my way past all those damn tentacles, and I don't know if Tom and the others are even still out here.
It'll be a hell of a note if I claw my way out of the Sarlacc to find Jabba and his boys out there mopping up.
Here goes nothing, I think, and hit the gas.
For a second, nothing happens, and I begin to resign myself to a fight I don't have the gas for. Then the trusty old Merr-Sonn sputters and coughs, twitching against my beskar'gam's back plate. A moment of suspense...
... and I am out of there. The toothy outer maw of the Sarlacc whips past as the Merr-Sonn delivers me into a daylight that would be blinding if my helmet didn't have automatic filters. Something whacks me hard in the left forearm; a tentacle smacks the side of my head, snapping off my flip-down teleoptic. I feel a vague pang of annoyance about that - it's the hardest, most expensive bit of a beskar'gam set to replace - but it's quickly subsumed in my absolute glee to be getting out of the kriffing Sarlacc.
That lasts for about a second, until it dawns on me that the Merr-Sonn's not shutting off, and that my flight guidance authority seems a bit... lacking. I'm really picking up some altitude now! I could see my house from here, if I was fool enough to live in the middle of the Dune Sea. The Sarlacc looks like a sewer manhole, albeit a sewer manhole surrounded by tentacles and made of meat. The only thing taller than my flight path right now is the towering plume of greasy black smoke rising from the burned-out carcass of what I'm guessing used to be Jabba the Hutt's sail barge. Oh, and there's the flattened disk shape of the Millennium Falcon, parked a couple of hundred yards from the Sarlacc's pit. Nice of Jane to show up, finally.
I wonder, vaguely, how high I'll end up going.
A moment later the Merr-Sonn overheats and shuts down, and I get my answer as the receding desert hesitates, then starts coming back toward me.
Fortunately, I'm going in a ballistic parabola; I didn't fly straight up. This is good, because frankly after all that I would spend the next thousand years feeling irredeemably stupid if I fell straight back down into the Sarlacc again. A few seconds later I will myself limp as my helmet informs me that my ground speed is about 35 miles per hour. Hell, no problem there. I've jumped off hovers going faster than that.
All the same, I hope that sand is as soft as it looks.
A memory fragment: I was thirteen when my father decided, for reasons that were not entirely clear to me at first, that it'd be a good thing if I went away to school.
This struck me as a stupid idea, and, being my father's son, I told him so without any attempt at diplomacy.
"What would I ever need to know that you can't teach me?" I asked. "School is for aruteiise. Besides, we're a team."
Dad shot me a look; he'd chosen to bring this topic up while he was lining the Slave I up for approach to the Victrix II metagate, which was not his best plan if he expected - as he certainly should have by then - an argument. He didn't answer until we were in metaspace and he could lock down the control board and turn his seat to face me.
"Boba," he said, "there may come a day when you decide you want to do something else with your life."
"Not bloody likely," I replied.
"Don't interrupt me," Dad said, and he had that look in his eyes that said he meant it. "That day may come, and there's no shame in that. Being Mando'ade doesn't automatically mean spending your whole life at one end of a gun or the other. If it does, you're going to need to know other things than just what I can teach you. And even if it doesn't, more education than a man needs can never hurt him."
"But I can't leave you alone," I protested. The idea was almost literally unthinkable. I'd been with him, apart from brief times when circumstances had separated us during jobs, for my whole life. There were no trips to the grandparents' or stag nights with the boys for Boba and Jango Fett. And it wasn't that I thought I couldn't handle being apart from him; it was that I couldn't imagine what he would do without me to watch his back.
He seemed to sense all that, and smiled, putting his hand on my shoulder.
"I'll survive, ad'ika," he said. "I've been preparing myself for this moment since you were born. There comes a time in every man's life when he has to leave his father's side and go see what else there is in the galaxy, and your time is almost here. You've learned everything I've ever tried to teach you. You've made me very proud. Now it's time for you to get a different view of the universe. Make some friends your own age. Have some fun."
It suddenly occurred to me what might have brought this on. "Dad," I said, trying to be stern. "This is not about what that woman said to you, is it?"
He looked blankly at me for a moment, then threw back his head and laughed, clapping me hard on the shoulder.
"No, no," he said. "That government flunky on Bestana Prime? She didn't have a clue who we are, son. It has nothing to do with her. I don't regret bringing you up the way I have. But that doesn't mean I can't want you to see what else is out there. Okay?"
I thought it over. "Okay," I said. "But I'll be back when I decide it's not worth it."
Dad laughed again, not as raucously this time, and mussed my hair. "That's your choice, ad'ika," he said, amused. "Anyway, trust me. It's not like I'm sending you to any old school. I think you're going to like the place I have in mind... "
"Boba? Boba? Can you hear me?"
"Nnngh. 'Course I can hear you. I'm not deaf," I reply. I feel like I've been run over by a Juggernaut. I get slowly to elbows and knees, then pull myself upright. Tom moves to help me, then seems to think better of it, and a glance down at myself makes it clear why. I'm covered in acid, mucus, blood, and whateverthehell else I had to drag myself through to get out of the Sarlacc. Even so, I pop my neck seal and pull my helmet off. It's too hot, and it's too dry, and I reek just as much as I was afraid I would, but it's still fresher air than I was getting with the bucket on.
"That was... dramatic," Jane Solo remarks, staying judiciously upwind.
"Eh heh... sorry about that, kid," Jason adds, scratching his head. He's not quite facing the right way; Jane takes his elbow and adjusts him about ten degrees.
"Are ye all righ'?" Ray asks, flat astonishment on his face.
"I will be, once I get this crap off my armor," I reply.
"I'll hook up the hose," Jane remarks with a grin, then sets off across the sand for the Falcon. As she goes, she tosses back over her shoulder, "You're not coming in my nice clean spacecraft like that!"
"No one's e'er coom ou' of a Sarlacc alive," says Ray, still looking amazed. "Wha' was i' like?"
"I... don't want to talk about it," I tell him, and he seems to realize belatedly what a morbid question it was and looks away, embarrassed. The rest of us start trudging after Jane toward the ship. "I see you took care of Jabba."
"Blew up his barge, anyway," Tom agrees. "The slug himself got away. Who knew a Hutt could beat it to an escape launch that fast?"
"Just as well," says Jason, who has one hand on Ray's shoulder for guidance. "The last thing this sector needs is the kind of gang war that would start if Jabba got it in a firefight."
"This isn't going to get us on his Christmas card list, though," I say.
"Eh, don't worry about it," says Jason. "I was going to pay the big idiot off anyway, before he got all uppity and had me carbon-frozen. When I send him word of that through an intermediary, after he's had a chance to cool down, he'll feel so stupid that he'll want us all to just forget about the whole thing."
We've just reached the Falcon's ramp, where Jane, true to her word, is hooking up a maintenance hose to a pressure fitting on the outer hull, when I remember that there's one more thing I have to do before I can leave the Dune Sea.
I couldn't get anybody else out of the Sarlacc with me, and for that matter I didn't really want to. They were criminal scum, the most recent of whom had been trying to kill me and my friends, and in my book they deserved to get topped.
Still, I'm not totally without compassion, and that Nikto did me a favor, however unwittingly, so before I left I made arrangements to do the rest of my temporary roommates, and the galaxy at large, a favor in return.
I reach to my right vambrace, scrape acid snot off a safety cover, flip it open, and push the button underneath. For a second, as Tom and Ray give me curious looks, nothing happens.
The ground shivers beneath our feet, then jumps with a percussive, nearly subsonic whump. A hundred yards away, a fountain of fire and meat erupts from the bottom of the Pit of Carkoon as the permacrete detonator I left in the belly of the Sarlacc blows the monster and all those poor bastards sealed within it straight to wherever Sarlaccs, incompetent Hutt enforcers, and people stupid enough to cheat Jabba the Hutt go when this world is finished with them. A moment later, the crackling roar of the primary explosion reaches us, along with a brief but nauseating wave of inside-the-Sarlacc stink.
"Holy shit!" Tom yells.
"What? What was that?" Jason wants to know, squinting vaguely in the direction of the blast. "All I can see is a big bright blur."
"Just tying up a loose end," I tell him. "No worries."
"Wish You Were Here" - a Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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