Chapter 17.0 – Fett’s Fruitful Little Trip Into Town (Day 22)
Ariga took the news to the Tachibana-hideout once he got a call by a helpful Sen-Ike-housemaid. The girl was eager to get into his favor and didn’t mind late working hours. “O-Yuki-chan finally reached professional levels.”
“How many?” Tachibana stopped reading the sports-section and folded his newspaper half to peek up at his counselor. Ariga’s fingers counted up to nine. “Yeah...” His boss wrapped up the paper and slapped his thigh in relish.
“Now they will either stop wasting their men or hire a professional assassin to safe their own butts. Or both.”
“Yes. They probably managed to convince O-Yuki-chan to make some house calls in return.”
Tomoe had decided against visiting the Aidos in return that night. She was acutely tired, which was not a good condition to take a war next level. She would have to find out where the core group members of the Aido-gang were housing before she could execute an example.
But just before dawn, she got a visitor of her own... one who was far too silent to be Taichi and unlike Fett, he used the door like a civilized person. The tall man had left his straw sandals outside and strode into the room on his leather socks then stood waiting, facing away from the staircase in respect of her privacy until she spoke to him.
“Good morning, Hanma-sama.” Tomoe’s bare feet shuffled over the mats as she walked around the hearth. The hem of her wrinkled cotton robe barely moved. The sheathed sword lay loosely in her left as if she was born with it.
“You really know how to piss people off,” the tall Yuwa-enforcer chuckled and wondered which way she would jump, but the small woman stood in front of him calmly with just enough distance to keep her neck from craning. “They were either stupid or scared enough to try to hire an old teacher of mine. We used the contract-meeting to take off that serpent’s head. But of course there’s more work to do whenever you are interested.”
“You bring wonderful news.” Tomoe didn’t avert her eyes when she bowed, but added no hint of business interest.
“How’s your son?”
“With his father.”
“So you are on your way?”
“Not really, no. The father got a callous attitude.”
“You are one hard woman.” Hanma shook his head slightly. He realized this woman would accept nothing less than full devotion. In a way, she was very similar to the man who had trained him in the arts of his extinct caste. But he seriously doubted that she took pleasure in the same sadistic ways as his teacher. “Good bye, Tomoe-chan...”
“Good bye, Hanma-sama.” She tilted her head with a light smile playing around her lips. She had spotted a startling gleam in his eyes, but at night, all cats were grey. “Please give your teacher my best regards.”
Boba woke as the hatch of the TIV hissed open. His father had put him to bed very early last night and sealed the door with a fresh code to make sure the boy stayed inside - for once.
“She’ll be ready to come with us soon.” Jango announced as he dropped into the pilot’s seat to rest his sore feet and have a nap before breakfast.
“What did you do?” Boba rolled around in the nest of his seat, clutching the blanket tightly to his chest against the waft of morning cold his father had brought with him. It reminded him that dad had been everything but happy last night.
“Listen for yourself. You tell me...” Fett clicked his teeth, so his son could share what his listening device had recorded while he was already on the way back from the capital.
“...she’s with child, Taichi-kun.” Boba recognized the sharp voice of Ms. Segawa, “She’s going to have a barbarian child... and you know it will show. You are very different from those uncivilized looks, darling, everybody will know... for once, you must to think of your own future, your career, your family.”
“So what’s the deal? Tomoe-san’s live and our future happiness against the mere possibility of a cure? When will this advocate of evil return to claim his prize?” Taichi inquired.
“No Taichi. Kabuto-sama won’t be back. Look what he did...” Ms. Segawa turned away from her stubborn son, “Your father’s already here.”
Segawa stood in the doorway, the lacquered hilt of a stage prop clicking on the floor as the improvised crutch helped him over the short distance from the cab to the mansion.
“He came to see me last night, Taichi-kun, like a dark sentry standing at my bed for hours after he gave me the injection. It hurt... it hurt terrible... when the feeling returned into my useless limbs. He held my hand all night... until I fell asleep, exhausted. When the morning dawned, he left without another word. He did not request a thing.
“He came to me then, son...” Ms. Segawa pressed on, “to explain himself without putting any more sorrows on your father. He wishes us well and humbly asks you not to stand into his own family’s way any longer. Taichi-kun, he wants this woman. And her child. His child. Don’t you dare to break your own commitments just to stand between those strangers...”
On board of the TIV, Jango listened and smiled to Boba’s translation which fit easily into the long pauses of the conversation. “We won't be seeing him anymore.”
Jango decided to sleep in after his long night. Boba had to catch up with his homework and a piece of foodboard would do for breakfast. They could go out and have ‘fun’ later. Try some good old tactics on her that the rest of the galaxy was using for courtship.
Tomoe had started her day with cleaning both cottages to make sure Ukon’s back recovered well, but otherwise, her older sister dropped back into her usual serviceable routine, taking care of Oniro. Suspiciously, neither Fett nor Boba showed up. Since she was already up, Tomoe had breakfast and practiced alone until the usual time of Taichi’s arrival.
After fussing over the cottage and a flower arrangement because she was unable to concentrate on the rehearsal, she tried to call him. The receptionist of the hotel in town told her that the young Segawa had travelled home on short notice yesterday evening. Her call at Segawa-mansion was picked up by a maid who knew and answered nothing, so she just left a message to be called back.
Noon was approaching rapidly. Where the heck was Taichi? Promise or not, Fett would have to answer to her. If the mercenary was a no show, she would look him up. She changed from her dancing costume into a sturdy jacket and pants, then strapped the black assassin’s armor and pushed the saber under her narrow belt and was looking for a way to fix a blaster to her gear as the com rang.
“Taichi-kun?” Tomoe jumped to pick up, “What happened? ...Please tell me...”
Armored footfalls outside certified Fett’s impeccable timing. “It’s such a beautiful morning. Let’s take the day off and go for a boats trip or something,” he proposed, apparently totally at ease. Boba squished past his father “Mom?” the boy glanced around, ready to throw himself between the frontlines one more time, but Jango just poked his helmet through the door. “Good, already changed. Nice plate you’ve got there,” he complimented, “you comin’?”
Tomoe held up her palm to stop the rambling “Taichi’s on the com...” her hand sank as she listened intently. Then she faced around slowly. “You made a deal with his parents,” she accused Fett.
“We agreed ‘no more deals’ Tomoe, and I’m keeping my promises.” Fett reminded her. This would take a little longer. He sent Boba to freshen up and he kicked off his boots to enter as well. He closed the door behind him before he slid the helmet off his head and smoothed his short cropped black hair. Standing by, he waited for Taichi to explain himself to Tomoe on the com... that there was no request, no promise towards a Fett indeed.
When Tomoe finally put the comlink down, she looked completely dumfounded. From one day to the other, Taichi denied to even see her and asked her to hand over the material to their troupe’s prop master. She didn’t care for his stream of polite excuses as she hit rock bottom.
“You have to understand, his mother arranged that engagement with another family, years ago,” Jango explained patiently, “and now his time has come to honor it. He really can’t do anything about it... and he certainly won’t stand up against his parents, because he understands that you are my family. Again Taichi-san proves to be a sensible person. Tomoe, this ...man has known you for years... why can’t you see it?”
“Quiet.... please be quiet.” What had happened to their plans? Why couldn’t Fett just leave her alone until she had overcome her misery? Taichi had already guessed she would fly away one day. But she didn’t feel like that. She felt utterly grounded. “It’s a lie. You staged that.” She accused him.
“I did not.” Jango insisted. “Why do you want to make everybody unhappy, including Taichi and yourself? Isn’t one unhappy guy enough for you? I can see you are hurting now and I’m sorry. Tell me, what did you want from him that I can’t give you?”
“The truth. A heart. True devotion. A pair of wings. You can give me nothing of that.”
“There is no truth in this galaxy, Tomoe, but the one we create for ourselves. You want me, you get me. All of me. And wings... we’ll see about that,” A mischievous glint came in his eyes “I’d rather take you under my wing for a while ...before strapping a jetpack to your back... knowing that nothing is lost under the reign of gravity... can you agree with that Tomoe?”
“I think so.” Her eyes narrowed dangerously as she stepped up to him. Had his perverted mind already forgotten it was entirely his fault?! “I just wonder...”
“Yes, madam? Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Does it work for you at all when you don’t grind your... bed mate into submission?”
A wide grin spread over Jango’s face. “Feel free to try me,” he swallowed hard. Damn... he loved her aggressive mode, that ferocity. It called to the beast deep inside him and made it purr. Once it got that scent, once he got her in his embrace and all around him, everything else became quite negotiable, “any time, cyar’ika.”
The urge to slap that triumphant smile from his face became overwhelming, “Good for your...” she clenched her fist beside her and unsheathed her teeth into a similar grin, “chances with the ladies.” She pushed past him, undoing the chest-plate and storing her weapons before returning to the com, all business again. “I’ll see if I can get a boat on short notice and ask Oniro-sama to accompany us.”
“Sure.” Jango turned on his heel and curbed his high flying fantasies while his girl talked her way out again.
“Boba, don’t forget to bring your hat and raincoat.” Tomoe reminded the boy coming from the bathroom and went into the kitchen to fix them a picnic basket. Oniro came over from the Suzuki-Cottage with a curious face. “I’m not sure if I’m prepared for a fishing trip?” he was still in his cotton robe, but brought his own footwear and a jacket with him.
“You’ll be fine, just come along.” Tomoe stopped fussing around and bowed to him, her hat held demurely in front of her chest. “We’ll find everything else on board.” They would probably find a second boat as well. She had been careful not to blow holes into that hull.
Boba lead the group out of the garden gate and down the road to the resort’s pier. The juvenile ‘harbor master’ gaped as Tomoe borrowed another hat for her guest. But he didn’t make the mistake to stand in the other parent’s way. ‘Pity’ Boba snickered and held the boat for Oniro to climb over. While the nerd sorted the hem of his robe for decency, the nutshell shock under Jango’s armored weight.
“Sit down, please.” Tomoe jumped on the aft platform, passed Boba their picnic basket to store it under the middle bench while she threw the lines loose. She didn’t start the motor but pushed the little boat into the channel to drift with the stream. “We are a little late for the big tour,” she mused, “We can go into the marshes or we can have a look down the river and along the shore, then turn around to make it home before nightfall. The evening doldrums are no issue, we’ve got a motor today.”
“Marshes,” Boba decided, “let’s spear some fish.” – “Oya.” His father agreed and Oniro decided to stick with the majority.
Tomoe stood aft stoically, manning the rudder as the boat floated down the stream, then pulled into one of the wider channels of the river delta. The reed grew higher around them. ‘If I could just sink this bounty hunter together with all the other men I killed,’ she thought. But in his case, death would be just the beginning of the slaughter. Nobody would help her. Nothing would change to the better since none of what he stood for would die with him.
Jango watched his son who sifted through the fishing equipment on board and picked up a slim harpoon. No Cuy’val Dar used this technique in the wide, stormy oceans of Kamino. Nevertheless it looked like his boy knew what he was doing and felt quite at home in the boat. Once they had entered the delta, Boba had retrieved a long knife from under his tunic and baggy pants and pushed it under his belt horizontally like Tomoe had worn her saber last night. Underneath the wide brimmed hat, he looked like a miniature version of his mother. Maybe his cyar’ika’s mad detour hadn’t been such a waste of time after all.
Boba readied his fish-spear and crouched in the bow, looking for fish standing in the channel below, but the water was murky. Maybe he should try a line, but it would catch in the reed walls closing in on them. “Mom?” he asked without looking over his shoulder, “Do we get better water or stop-by so I can sink a line?”
“Let me push through to the next creek.” Tomoe called from the back. But as the reed parted, brownish clouds hampered Boba’s hunt again. “That’s probably the Sodeshi-divers working up stream.” Tomoe turned the boat downstream, looking for the next channel or a pool. The fish had to be gone somewhere to escape the ruckus upstream.
“We could have a swim as well. It’s getting hot.” Boba proposed.
“You’ve become a vegetarian?” Tomoe joked. She could tell it was hot, but she wasn’t too eager to shed her clothing right now.
“No. We could still try to hit a duck.”
“Did you bring a throwing stick?” she countered.
“No… dad?” Boba turned around hopefully.
“Pre-fried duck?” Tomoe wondered, switched to rudder and passed the punt pole through the length of the boat. Oniro continued to fan himself. How one could sit around in this heat packed in iron was beyond him.
Jango shrugged. “With the flame thrower, the bird is not just ‘prefried’ but incinerated to ashes... and a westar-blaster isn’t exactly the ideal fowl hunting weapon, either. Unless you are fond of flying half chickens, that is... by the way, where is my second blaster?”
“I assume you have a map?” Tomoe saved the ‘in your useless pile of equipment’, then pulled on the rudder sharply and turned the boat into a bend still untouched by mud the stream carried. “Good spot.” Boba commented. The fish would probably seek out the shadow of the boat when his parents were just quiet enough... but no such luck.
Fett rotated his armored fist and pulled up a cube of holocharts to hover above the gauntlet. Tomoe lifted the heavy rudder out of the water, stepped off the platform and squatted in the shadow of the reed to study the shiny blue lines of the map “follow the railway...” Jango scrolled and she pointed, “This town,” zoom, “in a waterproof storage box in the wood behind the shrine. Boba has the exact location.”
“Thanks.” Jango left a marking on the map and closed the projection. Tomoe had bridged quite a distance on the run from him... in continental measures. The river delta was a large area of untamed nature. But with the enhanced senses of the helmet he could pick up splashing and the voices of women and children up stream. Apparently they had made themselves at home there.
He decided to unlatch the helmet in Tomoe’s favor and set it down beside him carefully as he put his boots on the adverse railing comfortably. The sun shone warm on his face once he came out of the environmental controlled zone. “Why didn’t you keep it? It’s a far better model than anything you have in your collection.”
“I didn’t want to keep anything of you around.”
“You took Boba.”
“Boba is a person, not a thing that probably contains a listening- or tracking-device. He has made his own decision and who am I to abandon a child?”
‘No need to remind her that Boba is the best listener and tracker of all.’ Jango thought, “I won’t abandon you, either, Tomoe.”
“I’m not a child, Jango. I don’t need to be ‘adopted’ or however Mando’ade call it. I can make a living on my own.”
“I’m fully aware that you are a grown woman. That’s why I won’t have you cater to everybody’s baser needs for a black zero in the account... or undressing on a stage for a living.”
“I wonder where you get your ideas from.” Tomoe straightened her back in awkward surprise. “Put your smutty imagination to rest and stop eavesdropping,” she hissed under her breath. “What you don’t know can’t unquiet you.”
“Making informed decisions keeps me alive.”
‘You think you know everything?’ Tomoe accepted the challenge, “...and the infestation you left while listening to your baser instincts still might kill me. Slowly.”
“Be specific. I am aware you’ve got a health problem, but your doctor’s preferred to stay shut up like a clam.”
“The bacta stayed alive and is reproductive in the area of my inner injuries. The ones that would have healed all by themselves... if you had just let me alone.Now I cannot be cleaned without losing my other child as well.”
“It’s our child, Tomoe,” Jango would never stop to remind her. He was glad that her thoughts included Boba… already? …or …still? “I’m sure the bacta can be removed selectively and without side effect, but once you take that potion, it would be impossible to treat any injuries with bacta for a while. I need to know you in safety, not fighting every night.”
“That’s over now.”
“How do you know?”
“I have no trust in other guys. Is it fun, juggling men like that?”
“Making informed decisions keeps me alive.” Tomoe parroted. “Since you seem to be convinced that I’m a raving lunatic, why don’t you walk on? Wherefore that unwavering interest?”
“Maybe...” he shrugged, unable to come forwards. She hated him and she would just laugh at him again. ‘I love you. I’m not going to share you with somebody else... but I’m going to keep my temper.’ He had to believe, to trust... “Birds of a feather flock together,” he finally bit out.
“You are deceiving yourself. You don’t even know me.”
“Soon, there will be no secrets left to keep. I’ll learn everything about you. It’s like you are a part of me... the better part... stronger than I’ll ever be.”
His ridicules argumentation scared her. She didn’t want to hear it. “How do you know?” He didn’t detail, but his arm came up to wrap around her easily. She turned her face away.
He noticed and let go with a smile, his glove brushing tracing the line of her cheek lightly. “I can feel it in you. It draws me to you. It didn’t let me die in the bacta tank. I know you are afraid of me now. But one day, you will be freed of that fear. Then I’ll be your shadow. Your wings. The tree that guards your sleep.”
There had been no shadow for her when she needed it most, no protection from him other than an acidic mark searing into her back. She wanted to bury those memories in the recesses of her mind, but his presence revoked them mercilessly, like his vicelike grip wrenching her joints as he bend her over and tried to break her will.
Jango found her staring into the water. It had been worth a try but maybe the last had been too much? “You don’t plan to swim home right now, do you? Tomoe, let’s talk reasonably for a minute. I need to go back soon and I’m taking Boba with me...”
Stunned, she shook her head. This was getting worse by the minute. He was a suffocating shadow, taking everything she loved as he planted his armored boot in her life. That he had helped healing Ukon and Shioko and put on a charming mask didn’t make it any easier.
‘Afraid of being left alone?’ Jango wondered, but for once, he tried not to prey upon her fear. “Cyar’ika, don’t be so afraid, never again. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean I plan to bundle you up and continue like nothing happened...”
She tried to stand and was held back by his fist in her sleeve. She stared down at him as her free hand pulled a knot under her chin loose.
“I know I can’t ask you to get along with my quirks, but I’m working on them.” He gave her a thin contrite smile as she tried to jerk her arm free again. “All beginnings are difficult. Please come with me.”
“I can’t forget, Jango.”
“You gonna fight me every inch of the way on this?” Next thing Fett held in his fist was an empty jacket as a splash of water hit his face...
Boba fished out the hat before it drifted off into the stream. He knew it was useless to try to follow the trail of bubbles. This was his mother’s element. “She’ll be back,” the boy shook the water off the hat and sat in the bow, “whenever she’s calmed down.”
“You know the way out of this labyrinth?” Oniro inquired cautiously, “Because after that paramount romantic achievement, I honestly doubt she’ll be back.”
The nerd’s sigh was drowned as an almost casual swipe of an armored forearm threw him overboard. “Should have done that a while ago.” Jango muttered under his breath. Not that brushing off critique helped his problem.
“I can find the way out, yes. But mom will come back for me.” Boba ignored the arueti struggling in the water to get back into the boat. He put the hat on the middle bench, took the garment from his father’s hand, folded it up neatly and placed it inside the hat to keep the round shape from flying away. Then he threw out his fishing line on the other side of the boat. “...dinnertime at the latest,” Boba reckoned, “Mom’s not going to starve me.” he winked.
“Hmm...” Jango sought her scent on his palm again and again. She had changed him, in her very own way and there was no way back. What did she want? Which compromise could he offer her? How could he prove to her that he had changed?
He could trust Boba and wait for her to come back. Make her see that her evasion of communication was sort of ...childish. Fett came to his feet and reached over the aft-platform of the little boat. He grabbed the sputtering Oniro by the back of the collar and hauled him on board like a wet rag bag then sat back down without further comment. He had to think of what to tell her, what was on his mind… next time, when the annoying computer specialist wasn’t listening. He preferred to keep his experiments private.
Several hours and an emptied picnic basket later, Boba’s fishing line jerked violently “Finally!” he worked to pull up ...a crawfish. “Huh?” he grabbed his prey behind the scissors and tried to unwind his fishing line from the multitude of legs without being pinched.
“Looks like mom ran out of fluffy red bows.” Jango dutifully dipped a bucket over board to fill it with water. He had already replaced the helmet for caution and to enhance his senses. Therefore he didn’t turn around until Tomoe held the jacket closed in front of her chest while wrapping the belt around her mid swiftly. “I don’t expect you to forget a thing I did to you, Tomoe. I know this won’t change the past, but I want to give you something else to remember me.”
“I’m going nowhere with you until our …misunderstandings... are utterly cleared.” Water ran from her pants and over the rudder platform as she snatched a second crawfish from the bottom of the boat and dropped it into the bucket as well.
“I need to organize a couple of things, examine some issues and transmit a sitrep before I pick you up. We could have a little dinner and then I want to fly with you... Afterwards we vanish somewhere we can talk undisturbed and then I take you back home... if you want to?” Jango proposed, totally at ease. At least, the annoying nerd had stopped dripping accusingly.
Tomoe arched a brow. “On this planet I hope.”
“Of course.” Jango could feel her piercing stare through his visor. “Satisfied?”
“Under one condition,” ... ‘I must be crazy to even consider boarding his ship.’ Tomoe thought. ‘But total decline would mean that we have to kill each other… and somehow, we don’t want that.’ She tied up another open end anyway, “You let Oniro leave.”
“Granted.” Jango tilted his helmet courtly. It hid his smile underneath. ‘That is so her: never asking something for herself, so afraid to depend on me.’ He had to teach her how much he could give her.
Oniro stared from one to the other. Stuck in a nightmare between several feuding parties, he had tried to keep his head down and had totally forgotten to make requests for himself. Right now, he was happy enough when he lived to see a new day. He nodded slowly and watched Tomoe take up a position aft to steer down the channel with steady pulls, the screech of the rudder the only sound in the brooding silence that spread around them in the afternoon heat.
An abandoned boat hung in a patch of reed. It was empty aside of a rag on the bottom. Boba looked around, and then up at his mother. The hull was too modern and sporty to be a fishing boat of the village divers. Coincidence? The marshes were too large for that. He realized she could have left with little effort. But she had come back for him.
“My new boat. I already cleared the water from the engine and did some basic cleaning.” Tomoe informed her son evenly, and then inquired “Would you like to take over the rudder, Boba?” Still leaving a trail of drops and wet footprints, she exchanged positions with the kid and jumped over with a line to tow the barge out of the marches. Choosing a way through the bigger channels, the smooth pace of the motor boat brought them back up to the resort just in time to prepare dinner.
“Boba, stay with your mom for a moment.” Jango turned to Oniro, “Get your things. We are leaving.” In the meantime, his son would make sure Tomoe did not make a runner while he took the transport to the resort’s parking. He let Oniro board his own vessel and watched the somewhat clumsy take-off before he went inside his camouflaged TIV and opened a secure connection to Tipoca.
The Cuy’val Dar were not missing him and the project was on schedule. Fett had expected nothing less of the men and women he had chosen. He was on schedule as well... fourth day and the difficulties Tomoe had put in his way were cleared. He had relieved her of her responsibility to care for Ukon and the affiliation to Taichi’s troupe. He had gained sufficient overview about her debts. Since the organized-crime-rabble had adjusted itself, Okasan would be happy to sell him her liabilities and get a rid of the unruly ‘servant’ - as Boba had put it.
Jango smiled. He didn’t want her as a servant. All Tomoe needed to do was say ‘yes’, then he could keep her safe.
He was about to shut down the com-console as another transmission came in. It was Vau who had stayed behind in the OPs room. “There is something you should know before you take that... relationship any further, Mand’alor,” Walon started, “I have witnessed Ms. Harada’s ability to lower her body temperature far below the human spec and stay active - one of the reasons why we weren’t up to speed when we failed to intercept her.”
Of course she was fully human. That wouldn’t have slipped the medics attention when he had her blood checked, so it was a minor difference if all. What was Vau playing at? “You tell me she’s a sort of jetii?” Jango felt his shoulders tense up at the idea.
“You gave her sufficient reason to show you her lightsaber or force powers - nothing. I had her haemogram analysed; no disorder typical for jetiise could be found.” A tinge of astonishment resounded in Walon’s voice, “I just say be careful around her, Mand’alor... and even more careful with what you bring back into the reach of the kaminiise cloners.”
“How did you get your hands on her haemogram?”
“I took a sample when I kept her from bleeding all over the corridor floor.”
‘Interesting moment for your confession, Walon.’ Jango thought and leaned back slightly. What was Vau’s intention to tell him now? Did he manage to convince him that he had a chance to succeed? Or didn’t Vau want him to bring her back at all? “I’ll clarify this,” he said in his most neutral tone and closed the connection.
With Fett, it could mean everything from basic research over brutal violence to crazy stunts. Right now that meant nothing else than he would ask her. Plain and simple. If he could not bring her back to Tipoca-city, he had to shut her up and make sure she didn’t resurface in the wrong moment. This meant he had to kill her or at least declare her dead convincingly for a couple of years.
Again, that would be far easier with her consent to live in a remote place than stowing her away in a hibernation tank.
‘Would I have acted differently with that knowledge?’ Jango searched his conscience. Maybe if he had known from the start, it would have been a hands-off. But it didn’t matter any longer. He didn’t care for bloodlines. Even if a physical disorder turned up, he felt that Tomoe didn’t match the description of his arch-enemies. There was nothing of that pseudo-religious organization’s prejudice in her, no self-righteous murderous arrogance, but lots of compassionate love... for Boba - for his younger self. The three of them were very different yet they were the same.
Jango didn’t regret his decision, but he realized that he should have been more mindful how to go about things. He knew all too well that he wasn’t out of the wood yet. ‘You know what is important for her…’ he mused. Fierfeck. She had told him right out on the first day. Land. Family. Training. He should have listened and shown some respect. Well, that alone would not have changed a thing. ‘Look at you, Jango, you’re a hopeless case. Past your prime, scar faced and born without social key qualifications,” an inner voice mocked him, “you had to play your hand,” the little demon offered as excuse.
On the other hand, Boba had done next to nothing... which had been quite successful.
Now, even though Tomoe did her best to lock him out, he could see down to her true foundations. They were like pebbles shining on the bottom of a quick stream. She was connected to the land and the sea with the love and trust an animal felt into its surroundings. It made it hard to fight her on her home turf. It was going to hurt her once he tried to uproot her and plant her into Tipoca-City where they hated everything natural. But their stay on Kamino would not last forever.
He would have to explain to her what he had done. Why he had done it. Why there was no other way for him than to purge the galaxy from the heart- and merciless enemy of his people.
While he was aware that he tried to turn a wroshyr tree into a potted plant within the clinical surroundings of the stilt city for a couple of years, he couldn’t care less for the civilized shell she had constructed around her true self so carefully. Shouldn’t be a big deal for her to drop that mask, but then he couldn’t see why Tomoe wasted her talent like that. He had to convince her that they both had to get back on track. That she had all the right stuff to tell her greedy boss and picky teachers where to shove their aruetyc ideas. She could do so much better. She had to get a live, to heed the call of her ancestry and her true family, her compassion and attachment to Boba… who was nobody else than him ...without scars.
Together, they would straighten it out. Just a couple of years and his own prostitution would come to an end. He needed her to find himself in the fortifications he had built around his mind in order to survive. This job was as good as finished. Nobody could keep up the millions of soldiers grown from his body, trained by an assortment of the best veteran warriors the galaxy had to offer.
Roz had been right. Since he was no longer filled with hatred, it was time to find something to live for …or he would have nothing, be nothing until he died an insignificant death on an unknown battlefield. He deserved more. In fact, he was sure he had already picked up the right thing. He just had to find a way to open it up since life had failed to provide him with the proper key. He had already taken his boot to it. The big hammer failed as well, maybe a round with a can-opener would do.
Any way, he wouldn’t give up that easily.Chapter 17.1 – The White Mountain Range (Day 22)
In the Nanakusa-Cottage’s bathroom, Tomoe changed out of her damp pants and wondered where this would lead. She wasn’t looking forward to spend the evening in Fett’s grasp, away from home. But then she had promised, Oniro would get away and Fett hadn’t been misbehaving today. He had not truly tried to hold her down, nor bound or drugged her. He had not shot her in the back, either... for him, that probably meant progress.
So what new devilry was it then?
“He and... no, he can’t be serious.” She forced down a hysteric giggle, her nerves acting up at his charming camouflage. “We don’t share anything, let alone a bond.” He was just taking the easy, minimum-risk way to get his possessions back to Kamino in one piece. Once on his home turf, Fett would return to his normal, brutal persona, monitoring her every move. But he had sounded so ...human. As if he had forgiven her, no, he didn’t even mind her attempt to finish him off. The guy was even reckless enough to ask her to put him back in control. One could admire his hard-boiled attitude.
She shook her head wearily ‘I’m not buying your act, Fett, I just play along.’
Waiting for her to freshen up, Boba sat on the veranda. Taichi’s colleagues had been there and cleared out their stuff already. Everything looked neat again, but Tomoe was still crestfallen. But they would change that. Yes, their fishing trip didn’t turn out as planned, but even adults couldn’t talk and mess up all the time? “What’s for dinner, mom?” The plotting youngster asked with an innocent smile.
“Something light and quick. I don’t know what your dad has in mind. What he takes for flying can be hard on my stomach…” the bruises where she had hit the cage when Fett brought down the Slave I had lasted a week. She went into the kitchen to show Boba how to clean crawfish.
“Me neither. Can we pack them in?”
“Sure.” They heated water and Tomoe went into the main house kitchen to organize cooled sour-rice to make a couple of hand-rolls from the crab meat and some vegetables.
“Bring your flute, too.” Boba supervised as his mom put the cover on the rectangular basket carefully, “I like your play.” He wouldn’t let them talk too much. Jango and Tomoe always got into it verbally, and then for real once he turned his back on them. But not this time.
Tomoe squatted in front of the alcove, took her brocade-wrapped flute from one of the drawers and placed it on the polished, honey-colored wood beside the flower arrangement. She sat back on her heels in a moment of silence to clear her mind.
Then Fett asked if they would like to come out for a joyride. Mechanically, Tomoe called the chauffeur to take them out to the parking. Of course she would entertain her guest as it was her duty. It was better to keep this away from the resort where any damage was charged on her account by Okasan.
“Please come on board.” Tomoe arched a brow. Fett had even moved his butt on the landing ramp to greet his ‘guests’ with a polite gesture. Their captain for a day made sure everything was well stored and she was properly strapped in. The ‘thunk’ of the closing main hatch in her back resounded alarmingly final. But he just continued to explain the controls in front of her.
Behind them, Boba had strapped into one of the crew benches. A wide grin spread over his face. No enervating foursomes of clone brothers explaining the same thing over and over. This was the master of flight himself doing a private lesson with mom. Practical topics meant no arguments. With dad’s help she would catch up on things, soon. When they came home, Tomoe would no longer be a disgrace in the eyes of the others...
Tomoe was glad that it was Jango who lifted the TIV off the ground. She had just learned about the classes, specification and basic functions in the cockpit. There was a cold knot in her stomach. She wasn’t sure if she liked flying with this... thing. It wasn’t the blubbering sound of Slave I that took her away from home, but no mechanic thing could replace a warm and responsive Moronoko. ‘I don’t want to go…’ but to sit in front and at least see and understand what happened was a compromise she could agree upon... Think positive. For once, nobody tried to shoot them down.
Fett took the TIV along the shore and then along the railway over the mountain pass in sedate pace. He wanted her to see the beauty of the landscape, and then they would find the shrine where Tomoe stored his blaster. Jango put the vessel down on a maintenance pad of the railroad in sufficient distance of the village to prevent it from scaring the locals. The moss in the shrine wood was soft under his boots as they approached the sacred compound from the back.
Moving beside him soundlessly, Tomoe brushed some leaves away with her straw sandal and revealed a patch of darker, disturbed ground. Jango noticed that she avoided wearing those long narrow robes when he was around. She had the long sword under her belt again, but left the black chest plate at home. Boba helped to dig up the storage box and lift it out of the hole between the roots, and then they wiped their hands clean on the mossy ground. Remembering her preference for traps, Jango left it to Tomoe to open the box. She popped the lid and used it right away to fan away the foul smell arising.
Reaching inside she pushed away what had once been one of his shirts and a blue clone-child sized tunic. Revealing a pair of armored boots, she lifted the Westar-blaster up for Jango to take it back. He inspected it briefly before he holstered it beside the longish belt-pocket that held Tomoe’s knife now. No water had entered the box and there was no rust, but where did that stench come from?
“When did you get those boots?” he inquired and tipped one upright with a gloved fingertip, revealing brownish stains on the inside. He realized it was probably the one he had spotted before entering her quarters.
“It was a present by Mereel and Prudii.”
He could only guess from where. “They could have done some cleansing at least,” Jango noted, “leave them.”
“Mereel did.” Tomoe slapped the boot flat again and pushed the rags on top before closing the lid “The shrine took care of this long enough.” She stood and lifted the box on her hip “I’ll dispose of the remains properly.”
Jango didn’t move out of her way and looked down at her awkwardly. “Will you tell me what happened, please?” he touched his helmet briefly, “There is a gap... I have difficulties to remember”
Tomoe nodded slowly. “Let’s wash our hands and eat something.” It was dinnertime when they rounded the shrine that lay deserted under the evening sun. Picking up the bamboo scoop from a stone basin, Tomoe poured water over Boba’s hands and the boy returned the favor.
Not entering the sanctum, they found a place on a low supporting wall that enclosed the compound. Boba put their basket up on the wall, sat on his father’s thigh, grabbed a hand-roll from the basket and sighed before he bit into it. Now his parents would talk and get angry again.
“Do you remember that you broke into my apartment with your blaster drawn?” Jango nodded slowly. “I stabbed you into the armpit, you tried to shoot me with a bolt then you cut over my calf with your gauntlet-blade before I hit you on the head with the butt of my knife.” Tomoe explained matter-of-factly. “You didn’t think you’d go without consequences, did you?”
“I felt betrayed... and once I entered, I had no choice... but that’s over. In the bacta-tank I got time to think about things and...” His gaze sunk along her slender leg wrapped tightly down to the sturdy socks and straw sandals. “I suppose your injury was treated properly?”
“I applied bacta from the med-kit on your ship before I sent it back with the rest of your belongings.”
“Good.” Jango realized that mentioning bacta-treatment would be another sore spot with her.
“What is a bacta-tank?” Tomoe asked and wondered ‘How did you manage to avoid death once more, Fett?’
“It’s a large tub filled with bacta, the same stuff applied by patches on minor wounds. It allows healing massive injuries of the person immersed in the fluid. Meanwhile other functions such as breath and heartbeat are provided by a surgical harness. Usually the patient is kept sedated or in artificial coma... which doesn’t work too well with me apparently.” Jango shrugged, “as I said, I had time to think... about what I really want.”
“So what do you want?”
“I need you to come back to Tipoca city for the remaining four years of the project.” Jango decided to keep his request to a minimum to start with.
“I could probably bridge the present phase of unemployment you called down on me, but your alternative proposal will efficiently end my career as a dancer.” Tomoe replied coolly, but then she couldn’t swallow it any longer. “You have no idea how hard the past weeks were! Always looking out for another assault, fighting the paranoia at the same time, to make a living. My training... my friends... it all fades like shadows from another life.”
“You feel as if I took your way from you, your connections, your wings, but you will not fade away. Because I can give you… wings of steel, to fly among the stars.”
“In four years, the hardened remains in your crushing grasp will be like an empty shell, adrift in the ocean since it lost its destination.”
“No, Tomoe, you aren’t going to lose it like that... because I wronged you in the past. That won’t happen again. I think you have already straightened out your priorities when you adopted Boba. You wanted a family more than anything. You’ll get a family once you stand up for me.” He took a deep breath, “I need you to teach me."
“Teach you what?”
“How to be happy...” Jango clipped his confession by lifting Boba from his knee to the ground. He donned his helmet “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” Tomoe stumbled after him in surprise at his sudden retreat. ‘What am I doing? I’m not going back to Kamino!’
“Home. Your home.” Fett lifted the TIV up and over the mountains again as the sun set over the pass. It was a beautiful sight and in the 360° display he watched Tomoe calm down slowly. Silence had fallen again, but he knew she experienced a moment of ayhaan. And for once, it was him bringing her this bitter-sweet feeling. The Harada-homestead - or what was left of it - nestled into the shaft of light warming the south-west side of the valley.
“How did you know?” she finally turned her eyes away from what she had never seen from above, not like this.
“You gave me the address when you adopted Boba.” Jango noted easily. Now he would just follow her... generous invitation.
Tomoe stepped outside cautiously. It was a long way by foot and she had not come here for years, just listened to whatever rumors the peasants told her. But they avoided the topic in general. It hurt. “It’s nothing more than an address.” She steeled herself against any disparaging remarks that would add to her old injuries.
There was a shallow pond where the forge had once been. It was filled with murky water from the summer rain. Plant life grew over the broken walls. The side wing’s roof looked nearly intact until they walked around the corner of the boundary wall that was still standing; the gaping hole on the other side came into view. From the main house, a few thick blackened columns pierced the sky. They had not been covered by the thick thatched roof anymore when the ruined house caught fire and burned to the ground.
Jango turned over a gate’s roof-tile with the tip of his armored boot. It had been glazed moss green. Strangely, the plant life had not conquered the inside of the compound. “What happened here?” He asked evenly.
“Trouble with the government.” Tomoe shook her head unwillingly. She didn’t want his pity, either. “They got a rid of their obligations and witnesses of times of old altogether... stay in sight, Boba!” She called after the exploring kid as she followed slowly then stood to circle around in the centre of the court. There were enough landmarks left to map-on the pictures rising from her mind. But that hurt even more than seeing the place in ashes. Memories lurked in the deep shadows. She had played here in this court, had been happy. It was all gone. Nobody to welcome her home... and nobody else would come back.
“So you are the last?” The experienced hunter finished scanning the surroundings and reading the traces. Nothing had been moved for years. The old cuts ran deep, but Tomoe had not been laughing that mirthless laugh again, she just tried to change topic. He lifted his helmet and hooked to the back of his belt. He would not let her.
“Yes. They even salted the grounds. Oh... we have to inform the inspector to take back that missing person’s report...”
“Not now, Tomoe,” He mused and enfolded his cyar’ika’s rigid body in his arms before she could run off to some fake-urgent business elsewhere. “They have no clue where to start looking for me anyway.” Standing in the remains of the gate he turned her around to face the court once more. “I’d like to keep it that way...” He placed his hands on her upper arms as if he had to back her up against something, “I’ve been the last of my kind for too long since they did the same thing to the protectorate on Concord Dawn. I guess that place looks no better, Tomoe.”
“But it’s not the walls that make a home... it’s the spirit of the people.” Tomoe lifted her chin in defiance.
“So true.” He rested his jaw against the top of her head lightly. “You mentioned Special Forces... that’s what your family was, wasn’t it?”
“One of us served… while the others took care of day-to-day business here. Training, healthcare, arts... like the pair swords from this forge. My grandpa would be proud of his grand-grandson.”
“The government here will continue to try and control you. You want to rebuild your clan? We can have all this and more ... elsewhere.”
“Who are you, what did you do with Fett?” She turned around briskly to face up to him and slapped her palm against his chest plate to gain at least a minimum distance… before he managed to attach to her once more. “You don’t even look like an adult... right now you look like an infatuated teenager.”
“Before I met you,” he said with low voice and caught her hand under his palm “I didn’t even know what love is. I never gave it a chance.”
She stared up at him, transfixed like a nerf in the headlights.
“Love is a living thing, growing up towards the light. Look, we just started to get to know each other... but we both know what fear and terror is. I see it in your eyes, and maybe, when you look deeper inside of me, you will see things floating within, like leaves in the stream. Sometimes several leaves meet... or they vanish on the way. I know I have no right, no control about it, but for once, I don’t want to let go.”
“I don’t get it.” Tomoe jerked her hand free. “You are like a hundred men. You’re your own stone cold one-man-army and the next moment you are full of mischief, ignorant and immature...”
“I like that, cyar’ika, to be one hundred men for you,” Jango let go and chuckled, “That was why I noticed you. Aggressive and calm, concentrated and far away at the same time. You didn’t even listen to my threats. You just listened for Boba. Because you are the one.”
“I was scared...” she swallowed hard and lifted her hands, but didn’t dare to touch him again, even not to push him away, as if the plates of his armor were searing hot. What to do with this guy? “Can’t you see... I still am?”
“I never felt raging desire like that. And I was afraid that it showed. I thought you’d run away and I’d never see you again. I should have, but I could not let you go.”
“Ha.” Tomoe snorted, her restrictions to push him gone, “For that, your schemes afterwards were pretty risky.” Did she have to remind him?! ‘My own fault. Shouldn’t have hit his head but slit his throat, then I wouldn’t have to put up with that raving lunatic now.’… “First dumping me off with slavers, then whoring me around some more yourself...”
“I know... It is okay... just let it out...” He would not let her hit her knuckles bloody though. Jango’s palms caught her hands against his chest plate again. “I tried to bail out... put the job first… let fate decide.”
“So now it is fate?” Why was she fighting like this? Whatever she tried, it was in vain… ‘Why me?!’ Stop it, he just enjoys himself... “Don’t play with me,” she hissed.
“Sorry. I behaved like an idiot. For me, love came masked as desire. I tried to quench it, to sate it, but it only grew stronger. I wanted more. I tried to force it, but I couldn’t get what I really wanted... Because you were strong enough to save us from haran, both of us, cyar’ika.” He leaned in to kiss her forehead before he let go gently. “Thank you.”
His lips were soft and warm and perfect as she felt him breathing in the scent of her skin “You are not angry?” she stumbled backwards.
“I am still wearing your marks, yet I needed to find you... and when I found you, your fear hit me like a punch. I knew there is no way back for us. Come here. Give me your hand...” He held out his armored arm and looked around for Boba.
She touched his gloved fingertips gingerly “What are you doing with me?”
“I want to show you something new, a new way.” His gaze lingered on her face a moment then slid higher up the mountain slopes to the snow covered peak. “Come watch the sunset from up there.” Jango took his son by the other hand.
‘Easy now…’ he thought.
Fett landed the TIV on a flat patch of gravel underneath the snow-covered slope that was plan enough and stable. He shut down the engine. If everything went as planned, they would stay here over night. In the dark and cold in these heights, no other soul would interrupt them.
Tomoe breathed in the air that smelled of dew and frost. It was cooler up here. At night it would freeze over. “We shouldn’t be here… this mountain peak is sacred,” she muttered under her breath.
“Perfect for the special occasion.” Jango helped Boba to climb up a rocky edge, missing his jet pack briefly as his ribs complained. Tomoe had put her straw sandals under her belt. Her leathered socks were as good as glued to the stone. “This is cin vhetin, a virgin field of snow. Let’s walk through it and put the past behind us.” He stood and scooped his son up to keep his feet dry while they proceeded to a black bolder overlooking the pristine white around it. There was no sound but the crunching of snow under their feet.
There was no need to say something.
They squatted down, Boba sitting on Jango’s thigh. Their deep footprints in the white snow field were colored in shades of orange by the setting sun as the fireworks of colors played over the mountain slope reflecting the last sunrays. They were surrounded by a burning armada of clouds hovering over the calm silver mirror of the sea, set off by the mantle of turquoise-blue enclosing them as darkness fell. The slim blade of the moon sailed its velvety folds.
“Omo-shiroi,” Tomoe breathed. There could be no quarrel under this sun, no dishonesty in the face of the goddess. “It is fascinating. Thank you for showing me.”
“I know that you can feel me over a hundred steps distance. I want you to desire me. And I want to please you. You shall be my last pleasant view in the night and my first beautiful sight in the morning. I want to give everything and to take everything.”
“Ahh… you don’t want to do that, Jango,” Tomoe swallowed before she tried to reason with him, “this isn’t the moment for rash decisions; you are post-trauma… temporary, I hope… I know, it’s my own fault, but remember I have no clue of your line of work in general, I can’t shoot straight or pilot a ship or handle ordnance…”
Jango ignored her protest and placed his arm around her. “I know you are most innocent in the ways of this galaxy. I need to know you save, or I suffer sleepless nights. I need to keep my arms around you, so nobody’s going to hurt you.” He pulled her against him for warmth gently.
“I can’t just leave everything… They are going to hate me in Tipoca for what I did… for what I am…”
“I don’t care about conventions. What counts for me, is the promise. I’m a late starter and I don’t want to waste any more time… Now you can laugh or cry, but please don’t say no.”
Control was spinning away from her rapidly. “I need more time, Jango.”
At last he fell silent.
Tomoe had a bad feeling about this, but she didn’t dare to move away. Of course she couldn’t give him what he wanted. Under no condition. But this time, there was no chance to saunter off gracefully. She was about to pull the flute from her sleeve as she heard something else, like yawning grumble higher up the slope. She cocked her head.
“Well?” Jango noted her sudden attention. There was a crack…
Tomoe pulled on his arm that was clutching her against his chest and rolled, dropping Jango off her shoulder over the edge of the cliff. She grabbed Boba who had fallen backwards by the front of his tunic and sleeve just before she tumbled down herself. The bounty hunter had been bright enough to stop blocking and complete the rotation as he dropped a meter down into the wet gravel.
Jango ended up hard on his unhurt left side and pressed his back into the stone as the rest of the family crashed into the gravel beside him. Boba’s head braced on her lower arm that held his collar, Tomoe rolled up just enough to reach over into the kid’s belt, her legs scrambling backwards to haul them against the boulder. Jango crouched and sandwiched his son underneath his armored form. The world around them shattered, stone chips and ice shards rained down as a cloud of snow and dust billowed up.
Seconds stretched into an eternity, then the roar of the shaking ground silenced to the clicking and tumbling of the stragglers rolling down hill. Cautiously, Jango raised his head over the edge of their cover to regain a frame of reference. The cliff had taken a beating, but thankfully the main mass of the avalanche had been channeled down a rift, where… “Fierfeck,” His curse was interrupted by a rough coach.
Tomoe didn’t need a look at the field of destruction up-hill to know where the rockslide had gone. The TIV had taken a hit by a large rock and then a tumble that ended on its side, its aft section half buried in the loose material. It wouldn’t fly anywhere soon.
“Told you, I need more time,” she said flatly. It clearly looked like she would get it.
Boba shook off her overcautious hands to get a good view himself. “Can we dig that out, dad?”
That was an interesting question and an even more interesting timing. He remembered Vau’s warning. Maybe there was something of a Jedi in her after all. “Stay here, Boba.” Fett turned on her slowly, fighting to hold his wrath in check. “That was uncalled for.”
“We were asking for it.” Tomoe shrugged, “There is a reason why this area is sacred. The mountains are deities to be respected, especially the great white one, which is a jealous female guardian of the land. We stepped on her hearth, literally. We can be glad we got away with our lives.”
“It wasn’t thawing anymore at this time of the day, nor was there a lot of fresh snow.” Jango shook his head at the local superstitions. Trust was a most difficult thing to achieve. But then, she had not lifted a hand and he had not felt anything like that force shove Vosa had used to slam him into that rack, but… “What brought it down? The flank should have been stable.”
“Where do you think our hot water comes from? This is a young world. Earthquakes and the fire that burns right below the surface don’t care about the time of the day.”
“We both like playing with fire, do we?”
“There is such a thing as too much.” Tomoe could only shake her head at his light hearted attitude. Yes, she had enjoyed the sight, but the spectacle was over and darkness fell. “We need to get below the timberline and find shelter. The pilgrim’s camp is out of reach on the eastern flank. More rocks could come down and the night up here will be freezing.”
“If we can lift the TIV out of the main direction of the flow on a slightly higher ground, we will have shelter. I can have help here over night. Tomorrow, we’ll try to refloat it.”
There was only one way from this height: down. The TIV was in that direction. “Let’s have a close look at the damage first.” Tomoe walked down hill cautiously feeling for the ground under her soft leather soles. The loose grey mass that filled up the trench became an obstacle. “Stop Boba, you could sag into that mud to the knees. We need to walk around it.” She looked for rocks that could be used as counter bearings “You have a winch? …and a hundred men up your sleeve?”
“Maybe we can use the repulsors to shift it some.” Jango missed his jetpack as he climbed on the nose of the TIV and let himself in through the airlock in the roof since the main hatch was blocked. He checked for the com-console first. The innards were undamaged, but the antenna had been ripped off and the rest was stuck in the mud. He couldn’t get out a directed transmission… and a general SOS mapped on the transponder signal would be picked up by the local authorities, who would find them in a place where they should not be. ‘We aren’t in that deep yet.’
“Com is offline, sublight is gone, generator down to 50% at best… if it restarts at all, batteries full, landing gear missing. I need to rewire the repulsors. Using the left repulsor only will lift the vessel up and horizontally, then I fire up the second to limp out. The main drive’s vents need to be dug out to prevent further damage. To prevent upending, fix a rope from the roof to this boulder.” He turned to a panel in the back of the cockpit.
Again, Tomoe was amazed by his confidence. She had no clue of the vessel’s technique, but she had a hold on hardware. She eyed the hinges “This could be useful to get a footing out there while digging. Where can I find ropes and shovels?”
Careful where he put his armored boots as he inched along the tilted cockpit wall, Jango unhinged the panel and the one of the tools storage in the back, then passed them upwards through the airlock to Tomoe. Boba wanted to follow. “You can help until you get cold, son. Then you come back inside.” He told him and lifted the boy up by the hips to grab a hold on the hull’s edge.
Tomoe knotted the rope to a fixture that looked sturdy enough and used it to rappel down the side and upturned bottom of the vessel. Boba passed her the door-plates and she pressed them into the mud beside the exhaust. Once she got a footing, the boy surprised her by sliding down the same rope without her help, balancing carefully on the plates.
She smiled and remembered that he wasn’t a normal five-year old. He was blessed with exceptional skills and at the same time cursed with a brutish father. The strand of thought lead her right to ‘two sides of one coin’… which meant… what exactly?!
They started digging. The mud was cold and heavy, their lever on the narrow panels very limited. By the time they had freed the exhaust, Boba’s hands and feet were freezing cold. Tomoe checked with her hands on his cheeks, gauging his reaction. “That’s enough, Boba. Up you go.” Jango listened on the close range link of his helmet and came out to check on their progress.
“Looks good.” They had moved about a ton of that sticky stuff. He pulled up Boba and the tools by a sling in the rope. “Inside. Get a blanket and warm up.” Standing in a sling and bracing herself against the bulkhead, Tomoe fought with the panels, the mud sucked on them. She passed the icy sheet metal back up to Fett.
“How’s it going?” Tomoe finally pulled herself up on top of the TIV.
“Once the rope against upending is fixed, we can get started.” Though the infrared-vision he watched the small woman nod with relief, but he could hear her teeth clanging. “I thought you had an exceptional resistance against low temperatures?” he inquired.
“Huh? In case you didn’t notice, I’m not prepared for a high mountain trip - ‘cause you didn’t tell me a thing. My winter clothing is perfectly comfortable at home, thank you, so if you have some loafing around, now would be good moment to hand it out.” She scolded as her hands rolled up the rope mechanically. “Get going otherwise.” Shaking her head she walked down the nose of the TIV, slipping on the last step. Her butt and the bulkhead connected with a sound thud. “Mirsheb,” she grumbled and climbed up the ridge to find a rock to tie the free end. Of course the rope was on the short side and she had to pull it taught all the while to tie the knot.
It made it quite obvious to him that Tomoe wasn’t working with inhuman tricks. Mountain nerf or not, she was exhausted and without equipment and preparation she was running out of ideas. The burner of Jango’s jet-pack resounded over the slope as he jumped over easily to check on her.
“That’s the best I can do without anchors,” Tomoe defended her work.
“It’s okay. Come back inside and warm up.” Jango enfolded her in his arms, “Hold on to me and keep your legs stretched out.” Her hands tightened around his neck instinctively as the propulsive force severed her connection to the ground. He put them down on the TIV’s roof safely. “Nobody hangs around outside in case the rope breaks. Strap in.” Jango hooked the jetpack to the frame work and strapped into the pilot’s seat.
“It will become a bumpy ride. I need some force to pull it out. If the rope breaks, I’ll try to stabilize with the second repulsor and our target is this plateau…” Jango pointed, “If it stays connected, I’ll set down right outside of the mudslide on minimum propulsion. Only then I need you to go out and cut it, then come back down and strap in quickly.”
“Ready.” Tomoe acknowledged with her hand on the saber under her belt.
Cautiously testing the rope, Fett raised the power level on the repulsor sticking in the air. With the landing gear shredded to pieces, he couldn’t just set the TIV down, but he had discovered a structure that just fit between the repulsors… for the required precise landing maneuver, he had power left for 20 seconds.
“Oya.” The mud sucked to bulkhead and the stuck repulsor was overheating quickly. Jango knew the maximum would be reached in an instant and gave it another quick shove. The front veered up as it broke loose, then the back bucked and the broken rope whipped over the cockpit window. Before the weaker repulsor could be slammed into the mud by the backlash, he had fired it up, stabilizing the altitude. Agonizing slowly, the TIV drifted over to the rocky platform and sank down. A crack, a shivering went through the hull, then silence spread, disrupted only by the ticking of the overheated repulsor panel.
It was almost anticlimactic, but then, that’s what good flying was about. “Don’t try this with a civilian vessel … their bottom framework usually isn’t solid enough.” He shut down the controls and stepped outside to check. The thunder of the jetpack resounded before he climbed down the ladder again “Sits on the armor plating like a mushroom on its stem.” Jango closed the hatch and took off the helmet, revealing his wide smile.
Tomoe opened the seatbelt and stood mechanically “What’s next?”
“Nothing. Tomorrow’s another day. With daylight, I’ll look for parts, restore the com, call in help and try to get the sublight going in the meantime.” The floorboards creaked slightly as he stepped up to her. “We should turn in now. We have little energy left for heating. You are cold and tired beyond concentration and so is our son.” Being met by non-reaction, he stacked the armor plates, gauntlets and flack vest next to his helmet and got the second blanket. “Boba?” The boy sitting on the crew bench rose to his feet with a groan, clutching the blanket around him. Even in the dim emergency light of the cockpit, his lips were pale blue.
Jango swatted down “Get out of those socks and everything else that has drawn water, son. It extracts the warmth from your body,” he explained. Shaking with cold, the kid complied with his help. Jango spread the insulating sheet over the floor and lay on his back. He opened the zipper of his bodysuit and pulled Boba against his wide chest, “Put your hands underneath the suit, it will warm you as well.” He reached out and spread the second blanket over them. “You coming, Tomoe?” He smiled and rested his head back on the floorboard as Boba’s cold nose pressed into his neck. “It’s a tradition to share warmth in the field. You can trust me. Think of it like bathing in your culture. It’s considered healthy and soothing.”
Tomoe sat on the side bench and undid her soaked, muddy socks, placing them next to a vent. The remaining warmth wouldn’t last long and there were no more blankets in a craft that had been designed for a crew wearing climate-controlled suits even while sleeping. She was angry that he put them in this situation and she suspected that he had been scheming again. If only… no, if they had chosen to find a way down to the base camp in the dark, they would be huddled together for warmth somewhere just below the timberline.
She had to admit that Fett’s proposal was common sense.
Tomoe wiped her hands clean before she sat down her sword in reach, unbelted her tunic and spread it on top of the blanket before she shrugged off her pants. She hoped her clothing would dry at least a little. The heavy, well-worn cotton was comfortable and warm, but once soaked, it stayed soaked. Clad only in her thin white undershirt and loin cloth, she slipped between the blankets cautiously.
Jango turned to lay on his left side and opened his embrace so his arm served Boba as cushion. The boy yawned and curled up, slipping his ice cold feet up between his mother’s knees to find a spot to warm his toes. This was much better, indeed. Tomoe cringed and slid closer to prevent the kid from further explorations that made her uncomfortable. “What’s that, Dad?” Boba had found a protrusion on his father’s ribs that didn’t belong there and kept seeking it out.
“A drain… right there the knife cut in… those two ribs were patched up…” Jango explained patiently.
Boba was incensed “Look mom, you can even feel the head of a screw, … there.” He reached behind him to catch and guide her hand from her own neck under the body glove. Jango shrunk away slightly from her long slender hand. “Does that hurt, dad?”
“No, it’s alright.” Jango gave Tomoe a contrite smile over the boy’s head “That was the loose bolt, betcha,” he joked as he felt her hand wander up and down his ribcage. Whoa, he never knew he was that ticklish?! But then, the situation had its advantages. He supported his palm on Tomoe’s shoulder easily while he steeled himself to stay motionless. Let her explore all she wants….
“I shouldn’t have thrown you down that cliff. Sorry, I didn’t think. Thankfully it doesn’t feel like you bent something.”
“It wasn’t the time for discussions. It wasn’t comfy, but my left side took most of the blow. I’ve taken a painkiller already.”
He just stared at her as she let her hand investigate his chest. Never had she shown such an interest in his body. He had never truly been touched as gently and willingly before, and now it was making him feel strangely uncomfortable in a very special way, though he was unable to make himself push that hand away. How stupid he had been… to try and find pleasure in her… in that other way.
This was so much better!
The light went out as the energy of the vessel faded. "I love you, Tomoe," Jango reminded her softly as he closed his eyes to the darkness. She had long withdrawn her hand, but he was still acutely aware of his palm that had slipped over her shoulder down to her slim waist. She was good and warm now and didn’t mind his touch… and most important she was where she belonged… with them.
Tomoe’s eyes opened wide for a long moment as he lay very still, knowing something was wrong. She knew that it was hard for the solitary man who had been alone for so long to speak of his feelings."I wished I could help you," Tomoe whispered, moving up to kiss the forehead of the now sleeping mercenary, wondering what the new day would bring. The cold would ache more with any scratch and bruise she had taken recently, but right now, she wasn’t hurting… she just felt pleasantly exhausted.