Nobody tried to keep up the young woman in the deep red off-world clothing and heavy silver boots who carried a dark faced kid with strange curly hair on her hip that was wrapped in a grey-blue blanket. She leaned against the bulkhead of the underground train with a low sigh of exhaustion. Boba was too big to be carried around like that for long. She was aware what an uneven couple they made. But most people avoided a second look after the first glimpse, let alone seek eye-contact with those terrifying black pools in her pale face. The train was cram-full in the morning rush-hour, but something about her created an empty space around them.
Tomoe left a couple of stations later, changed trains two more times and dropped by at a fresher before she dared to go up into the business sector of the station. Aside from the ticket money, she had enough local currency to buy two simple sets of local clothing, sandals and a hat for Boba in a cheap shop. They changed right there and Tomoe bundled up everything except her knife which vanished in the overlap of her tunic. Fatigues, pyjama, boots, comlink and Jango’s Westar-blaster were wrapped in the blanket and then locked up in a deposit box within the station. She took Boba’s small hand in hers as he walked beside her.
Back on the street, they blended in with the city population who lived so far away from bloodshed as if it was a galaxy between them. Tomoe entered the one of the large bank holdings, made a bee-line over the cold shiny marble floor to the info-counter, ignored the sparse decorations and tasteful flower arrangements and slipped her ID-card to a clerk in a dark suit with immaculate black hair who tried to hide his surprise. “I would like access to my account and the inventory of this deposit box...” She penned down a number. “In a private booth, please.” She placed her palms on Boba’s shoulders and ushered the boy to stand in front of her, bending down slightly as he peeked up to her from under the hat’s rim “We have to wait a moment,” she whispered.
The accountant returned, led them behind a slide door and did the ratification with the peasant woman in the simple clothing, the court accent and the determined posture, then left them alone. Boba looked at her enquiringly as she poured hot water into two cups with something green floating on the bottom. It tasted a little like shig, but more boring. She seemed to have all the time in the world as she sipped from her cup “Three tasks before breakfast: Scrape together money for travelling and other expenses. Retrieve some items from the family deposit box. Modify my last will and testament to include you and write... two letters.” Boba sat down on a stool and swung his legs. That could take a while.
Tomoe turned to the monitor, flipped through her accounts, then sold the shares she held in the Sen-Ike-Resort as far as they weren’t frozen and bolstered the sum by draining her account book. Their financial possibilities were limited, but it was enough to plan their next steps. Maybe she had to turn something else into money. She moved to the inventory and picked out numbered positions from a long list. Two sets of formal clothing, weapons and some pieces of her grandma’s jewelry. She would have all that delivered directly to the resort. Afterwards, she had a look over a scan of her testament and attachments.
Boba was ready to go the moment she stood and stretched, but she just walked to a side board to pick up some sheets of strange white flimsy and what looked like writing equipment. “Adoption isn’t a quick and easy procedure here as it is in Mandalorian customs,” she informed him “It includes a lot of paperwork, a public hearing, a judge, the heads of two families and even the leader of the clans if the interaction requests that.”
The boy wrinkled his forehead. She had promised... didn’t she want to go through all this for him?
“I’m going to start the process as soon as we reach our home, but it can take years to the official recognition. I want you to know that - but not to unsettle you - since it won’t change anything between us. I place you as my heir in the same position as any natural child I’m going to have. This means you will become my only heir for now. Since I’m the last of my line, I can personally allow you the use of my family name from this day on. You can decide for any of your names or combine them when you reach legal age. Do you agree with that?”
“Will dad...” he cleared his throat “...will Jango Fett still be my father if I agree?”
“Yes. He will always be your father. But I will be your mother.”
Dad would be back. Boba nodded. As he saw it, he wasn’t loosing anything, but winning something he never had: a mother. “In this case, yes, Tomoe.” Unsure what to expect and wary, he scrutinized what she was doing.
She dipped the brush into the valley of the ink stone and started writing in well defined signs and columns, then signed and wrote a second signature, dubbing it in Aurabesh: “Boba Fett Harada”. She placed the brush aside and retrieved the knife from under her tunic. Something in her bristled at the brown grime still sticking everywhere in the notches, but she pressed on the hilt to unsheathe just enough of the razor-sharp blade to make a nick in a finger and signed the edict with blood. “Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad, Boba.” She spelled out the Mandalorian adoption vow to Boba slowly, trying to get it right before she repeated in basic to be safe: “I know your name as my child, Boba.” She held out the sheathed knife to Boba who repeated the process then gave it back.
Tomoe brushed down another, longish letter, ripped it to shreds and placed the shreds in two different sealed envelopes, made a note on them for the recipient, put each in a second envelope and wrote two different addresses on them. Afterwards she closed down the secure links and buzzed for the accountant. “I’d like this amount in untraceable chips, add this document to my notarial acts. Please have my deposit boxes with following numbers sent to my home address at the sen-ike-resort and post these two letters for me.” - “Of course, Harada-san. If you would follow me to the reception-counter, please...”
It seemed that they left the bank with no more on their hands than before. Boba felt no different than a moment ago, but he had a mother now. He was still peeking at her when they had a quick breakfast at a take-away in the station. Tomoe asked the cook to prepare them a large lunch package and purchased one of his larger water-proof supply-boxes. A moment later they were back in the underground, Boba at Tomoe’s hand, each with a pack under an arm. The next leg of their journey took considerably longer. The train came out from the underground and raced through a lush green countryside as the sun rose over the ocean.
“Let us take a break.” It wasn’t a city but a small village where they left the station. Tomoe took them to a small shrine that bordered to a wood. Avoiding the sanctuary since she had blood on her hands, she took the water-proof box with their offworld clothing, boots, comlink and Jango’s Westar-blaster. She buried it in the loose humus of the wood and memorized the place.
“You think that will put dad off our track when he comes looking for us?” Boba asked and stood with his fists on his hips as she smoothed the loose ground, her hands brown with dirt.
“No, but the spirit of this place will take care of that stuff for awhile.” Tomoe smiled lightly as they ambled back to the shrine. She washed her hands and mouth carefully and they had lunch on the wide door steps before taking the train again. She half expected to hear the blubbering sublight-engine of the Slave I any moment, but everything stayed peaceful. It felt unreal.
It had been a liability to let Kal go with the Slave I. But she had seen that the ship’s brain was sealed very well by its late owner’s mistrust. It was most likely programmed to self-destruct before turning over sensitive data to any intruder. She had tried to keep the enmities to a minimum, but if Kal decided to shred their unspoken arrangement, she could hardly prevent it.
She had given him a sound excuse and supplied him with a defendable position. He could take the Nulls and get lost with the Slave I wherever it pleased him. Or he could share the little information he had. Or somebody could track the comlink despite Rav’s modification. Or scan for the rare materials of the blaster... Anyway, they would spend some time looking in the wrong place without directly endangering the lives of the locals.
Offworlders – especially a bunch of armored Mando’ade - would not blend in here too well... and she would be warned. If it came to that, she would decide to make another move or simply sit it out. She hoped they would send a tactician on her heels and not a brute if it came to that. She had taken precautions to take the whole megalomaniac clone-army project to public attention of both Republic and Seperatists in case she died an unnatural death... or vanished.
Until then, any day that passed would add to their safety.
The railway climbed over a mountain pass together with the sun and the scenery changed again. Woods, orchards, fields, a town stretching along another coast line, hundreds of small islands to the horizon. They got off the train in a small suburb, took another transport to the coast, marching the short way to a small harbor to stretch their legs. “We are taking a ship from here... have you ever been on a ship that swims, Boba?” – “No.” – “It’s much calmer than a space ship... and slower of course.”
They boarded a medium-sized flat bottom boat that connected some of the bigger islands with the opposite landmasses and had some iced tea while they were ferried across the channel. Despite the constant breeze it was getting hot. Tomoe pushed back the large round straw hat she purchased in the last harbor and dragged her hand through the water beside Boba’s while she watched the wave’s reflections move over his little dark face “Can you swim already?”
“Sure.” The boy’s concentrated expression reminded her to the day she met him, sitting over the iris-pond in the resort. “All clones can swim well. They say we’ve got a lot of space in those vats to move around.”
“Good. Then we can cool off later if you like.”
“Won’t it rain later?”
Tomoe looked over the sky “Unlikely on a day like this. It’s not like Kamino. We only have one rainy month a year... and even then it doesn’t rain constantly.”
“What would have happened?” His face stayed locked-up, but his thoughts were clearly wandering elsewhere.
“What do you mean?”
“When the Captain of Deepgrass had picked up his chair and left.”
“It would be better if you got there on your own, Boba.”
“I don’t get it. Tell me now: what did you tell dad so he went to you?”
Tomoe swallowed and picked up the strands of her story carefully. Suddenly, it seemed an eternity away. “Well, it was just one more night and Komachi would have been his – theoretically. But considering her high rank and cruelty, there was still the possibility that she would not keep her promise. And... that would have been terrible, the Captain would have certainly died from the destruction of his every hope, even without a snowstorm.”
She took a deep breath. Some things could not be described, they had to be experienced. “Remember the Captain lived for ninety-nine nights on mere hope and the thought that Komachi was at home, waiting only for him... It gave him the strength to last through an inhuman ordeal. Now if he had developed a backbone in the right moment, saluted up to that cruel beauty on the balcony, then simply picked up his chair and left, he would have enjoyed the feeling that Komachi was waiting for his return for the rest of his life...”
“Hmm.” Boba had to think about that.
“One wise decision would have relieved him from the whole stupid affair and in return it would have provided him with additional strength for a lifetime.”
“All that about hope...? How can you live on something that is not real... unlike food for example? Isn’t it stupid to lie to yourself like that?”
Tomoe bit the inside of her cheeks before answering that question to somebody who was convinced that his father would return from the shadows. “Oh, we all can... and it’s not a lie. It’s an option and those are by no means exclusive. The trick is to have as many hopes as possible. So if you lose one, you can still decide to go for the other ones.”
“Options... as in plan A... B... C...?”
“Yes, that’s a good comparison. You don’t need to figure them all from the start and you don’t know for sure what will work, but just to know that they are there makes you stronger, fight harder , be more flexible... simply better.”
“I don’t think dad understood that... last night.”
“Neither do I.” Tomoe took a deep breath. Jango had chosen the way of violence instead. But there was no need to rub his father’s death into Boba’s face again. She needed the boy on his feet and healthy to get accustomed to the new surroundings. He had hope and that was good.
Given time, he would find out what life had to offer.Chapter 7.1 – In the Marshes
The ferry arrived in another small port. Tomoe took Boba’s hand and strolled down the quay from the travel- and tourist section, passed the big smelly fish-trawlers on the way to the piers where the smallest fishing boats were tied. She found an old man who was fixing his nets, was redirected to another one who sorted through his cages on a new boat. The first time in his life, Boba didn’t understand a word. He couldn’t even pick out her or his name from whatever they discussed.
“How’s it going?” Tomoe swatted down on the warm wooden planks of the pier. The fisher finished piling his cages “Great. Tourists love lobster and we are having a good year. Setting baskets is far less work than going for small change in the marshland. Pity my sons aren’t interested in the trade... everybody’s going into town for the easy jobs nowadays.” – “I’ve heard you’ve got yourself a new boat?” – “Yeah,” he extended his sinewy brown arms, “Isn’t it a beauty? It was getting cumbersome with the small one...” he pointed. “No engine... it’s so small, it would always take two rounds instead of one.” – “The new one is beautiful and will bring you good luck for sure. But your old one has its style as well. Would you think about lending the old one for a week’s fee? We would like to go on a fishing trip into the marshes.”
“I’d advise against that, but you two don’t look like tourists.” The old man arched his thick brows. – “You are right, grandpa.” She bowed lightly “I’ve grown up at the flanks of the great white one and I know the black river from its source and cliffs to the very arm in the marshes.” Tomoe smiled warmly “Thanks for your warning anyway, but there really is no danger... at home.”
The fisher took a quick step backwards, pulled his hat and bowed deeply “Of course not, Milady. It’s a beautiful day to go.”
She leaned forwards on her knees and bow back as deeply “Please name your price, grandpa: One week including light fishing equipment, the usual necessities like med-pack, mosquito net, three blankets and a brazier.” She ticked off.
The old man considered briefly, named his price, Tomoe accepted, paid and helped the fisher to move some equipment and take the cover off the small boat, fold it up and store it under the middle bench. Then she lowered the paddle in the back into the water and tied it. “Come on board.” She winked Boba to jump in and the old man untied the small boat, threw the line at the boy and gave them a firm push on the way “Farewell, Milady.”
Tomoe stood on the platform on the back, leaned into the paddle and pulled it back with long smooth movements. She hadn’t done this for a long time, but her body got the hang of it quickly as she steered out of the harbor, a short way through the gentle surf of the bay, then back into the floating labyrinth of the river delta.
“What was that?” Boba sat on the middle bench and didn’t know where to look first. It was so different to Kamino... the water was murky, the air was alive with birds and insects, deep green reed sprouted up all around them and grew soon over their heads, restricting their sight to a couple of meters left and right of the winding channel “The old guy... he seemed ...afraid?”
“Hmm...” Tomoe let the paddle go and retrieved a jar with a salve from their provisions. “The fisher merely reflected some of the respect my heritage once commanded.” She dipped her fingertips in and dappled some on his forehead, cheeks and wrists. It was smelly, but not too offensive. “Rub that on your skin. It’s against sunburn and mosquitoes... For centuries, mountain warriors guaranteed the independence of police Special Forces under the direct command of the overlords. He was just a little surprised to see me and we never cleared up certain rumors. A hard working man like him is unlikely to have ever experienced problems with the police.” She treated her own face and hands as well.
“What sort of rumors?”
“That we read thoughts... walk over water... vanish into empty air... talk to demons... or even sprout wings and fly away. Most of it is superstitious rubbish, of course, but it had its tactical use.”
“And what are we doing now?”
“We vanish.” Tomoe grinned “For the time being, I’m sick of people shoving their blaster’s business-end into my face ...and I promised you to teach you my skills. Let’s take it slow. Relax. We fish and hunt on the way back home... and I want you meet a good old friend of the family.”
“But how do you find anything in here?” Boba looked around. The place was so alive it scared him. No overview, no save platform that towered over the beasts lurking deep down in the murky waters no doubt. “This isn’t a mountain, it’s a shabla swamp...”
“No cursing, Boba.” She reminded him gently. “He will find us for sure. We just have to wait and enjoy a swim.”
“How long will that take?”
“That depends of your help with this paddle. We just have to cross the stream’s delta to come out at the resort. We can do it in two or three days... or take longer. Whatever we want.”
Boba stood and took a hold on the bar’s other side. The faster they made it back onto safe ground, the better. It was a strange construction, but Tomoe’s steady, slow movement was easy enough to follow. “But we have not enough food, no water...”
“We live of the land. Time to transfer your talent with the fishing line from Kaminoan oceans to our little pond here.” Boba pulled up his dinner with a line and Tomoe speared hers with a quick stab of a long thin harpoon. “The trick is to know the position of the fish is a little off under the surface.”
They moved on some more hours until the marshes were bathed in the soft yellow that announced soon sunset. “Let’s call it a day.” Then Tomoe pulled the paddle into the boat, grabbed a long staff and turned their vessel through some curtains of reed and into a pond. On a shallow side of the pool long stemmed shots rose out of the water and unfolded into huge round leaves. White and pink flowers shone through the green roof.
Tomoe pushed the staff into the ground and tied the boat, then took off the round hat, wiped her forehead and started shedding her clothing “Let’s swim, wash and dry off in the remaining sunlight.” She made sure that Boba folded up his clothing properly before they slid over board. She was ready to help him, but he did well indeed. “Make sure your feet don’t touch the ground unless I say it’s safe. This pool is safe, but we’ve got some plants with thorny roots and seeds elsewhere.” She watched the boy paddle around a little to be sure he was doing well then retrieved her knife, unsheathed it and washed the grime off the blade. She promised to give it the care it deserved later.
She swam over to the flowers and called out to Boba, “I’m just going to find us some veggies for dinner.” With that she took the knife between her lips and vanished under the surface with a slight wave. Boba looked around. The water was murky and she didn’t show up again as the seconds ticked by... He started counting... a minute later, her head broke the surface again and she gasped for air, something brown pressed against her chest “Had to dig around a while to find a good one.” She wiped the wet hair out of her face with the back of her hand, leaving a brown smear on her face.
Boba chuckled and then laughed, as some of his tension broke out of him. This wasn’t an impeccable cold beauty from a fairytale, this was his mom. A lean, strong, smiling huntress... a little dirty and with a warm embrace and a vice-like grip on the scary surroundings.
“It’s still a little early in the year.” She chopped down two large leaves and dragged them to the boat behind her, shook the water from her knife and placed it back inside the boat. She washed the root and threw it in as well. Then she cleaned up herself before climbing up into the boat and squished the water from her long raven black hair. Leaning over, she pulled her boy on board and sat him on the small rudder platform in the back. “Wipe off the water carefully. It’s going to be a mild night, but I don’t take any chances with you catching a cold.”
“Yes, mom.” No, he wouldn’t cry now. He was strong. His mom was strong. His dad was strong. Dad would come and then everything would be alright.
Still naked and drying in the slight breeze that rustled in the tips of the reed, Tomoe moved to the front of the boat and got a fire going in the brazier, using her hat like a fan. Then she salted the prepared fish, husked the root to cut it up, and peeled out the seeds from their capsule. She dropped the white slices into a bowl made from a large round leaf within a piled up rope and marinated them with juice from a green fruit and a dark sauce. Once dried, she rubbed more of the smelly salve on her skin and got dressed. Their fish was barbecued a moment later. Tomoe placed it on the second leaf lying on the middle bench and covered up the brazier. They sat down for dinner.
“You really think that we can’t be found here?” Boba leaned back a little and chewed. She could definitely cook but she was underestimating Jango Fett if she thought it would just take a boat trip to make her vanish from dad’s scope. But then, she was convinced dad was gone.
“Let me see... nobody but Kal knows where he left us. Save the Slave I, but the ship doesn’t talk to just anybody. Neither does Kal. You’ve seen what the orbital control does with uninvited visitors. If somebody followed us down to the surface - let’s be generous and assume they covered that huge area of train- and ferry- connections somehow and made it to our last harbor - they will still be stuck without a boat. Nobody is going to rent out a boat to strangers for a trip into the marshes. You’ve seen how hard it is to navigate here... and there are some more extras, especially at night.” Tomoe finished her fish, licked her fingertips clean and picked another root-slice from the makeshift bowl to crunch it between her molars.
“Of course, if they knew where to look, they could fly overhead once or twice. We would hear them before they could spot us and they would have the United Defense Forces on their tail in no time. They cannot land because it is water and from above, we can hardly be seen, because it’s all plant growth at the same time. We have little more metal on board than the surrounding nature, and what we have is covered up. At least the quality lacquer of my knife’s sheath has an interesting property when it comes to penetrating radar.”
“It’s warm. The water and reed stores the day’s heat.” She extended her palms “I know you can’t see it without a helmet, but can you feel the different temperatures around you on your skin? Every plant and animal has its own metabolism that changes it’s parameters in its own good time. That means chaos on the infrared. What can be seen of us with the bare eye makes little to no difference to dozens of other little fisher boats and transports. This place is everything but deserted, but if some trigger happy chakaar starts shooting, it will do far less damage than in a crowded city centre. I can tell that soothes my mind a lot.”
“And if they know where we are going? They could just wait for us there.”
“That’s what friends are there for. I’m not going to come out of my little holiday just to stare into another blaster muzzle. I’ve got plenty of time to take care of certain... starting difficulties. Out there, the hunters become the prey. I could wait for the military or police to pick them off... or my friends can hunt and so can I. It’s my decision when and where we come out.” Tomoe opened the brazier for a moment and gathered the crunchy seeds from the ashes in the last light of the day. “Dessert?”
Tomoe spent the rest of the evening on cleaning and oiling her knife until it shined like the crescent moon over their heads. Boba helped her to keep their boat meticulously clean and tidy. He kept listening to the strange sounds of this grassy jungle and the water licking the wooden nutshell. He was half-asleep when she spread out the blankets and placed the cover over their nutshell. She left just one opening which she covered with the mosquito-net.
That night, her exhausted son slept like a new born huddled into his mother’s arms seeking warmth and protection against the strange nightmares that bustled around in the dark.Chapter 7.2 – Sitrep (Night 11 / Day 12)
The Slave I’s speed was sufficient to outrun the determined but outdated interceptors and Skirata managed a micro-jump out of the system. He sighed, wiped the sweat from his brows and checked for pursuers. That dogfight had been no fun. He had been down to manual on both piloting and laser cannons since the stubborn board computer still denied full co-operation. It didn’t take his adversaries long to find out that their lasers didn’t penetrate, and even Slave I’s shielding wouldn’t have taken a full-fledged crash lightly. It seemed that aggressive suicidal tendencies were a cultural trait.
“Okay you dumb bucket,” Skirata grumbled and tried to log into the com-console. “Let me call home.” The board computer spat the fresh transponder code back at Kal the moment he offered it on his overwrite probe and denied to serve as hub for his comlink. All he could manage was an uncoded emergency call which wasn’t exactly unobtrusive. He dropped off a ping, hoping for a secure pick-up from the other side before he had to make another jump. It wouldn’t take the locals long to be on his tail again.
The response call didn’t come in from Kamino, but from a traffic interdiction vessel somewhere off the track. And it wasn’t a Cuy’val Dar but...
Worried sick Prudii had been cycling through their usual com-frequencies in an under-resourced attempt to find a lead. Kal hoped they hadn’t made contact anywhere else. The galaxy wasn’t ready for teenage sextuplets piloting military transports.
“Prudii here, Kal’buir, opening secure connection…” ... once spoken to directly from the outside, Slave I generously let Kal enter the password to decode Prudii’s transmission. It was audio-only. The fewer the records of conversation, the easier it was to make events vanish.
“Who else is with you?”
“Jaing, A’den and Kom’rk”
“I won’t waste time asking what the shab you are doing out here, lads. Sitrep?” He said sharply.
“You were a no-show and no-com in alarm, so we relocated to vital locations to look out for you, then collated. Ordo found your kit laying on the ground. Mereel found Fett in Harada’s quarter being given first aid by Vau, evidence pointing towards Harada…”
“Is he alive?” Skirata interrupted. No names. He didn’t know what Slave I did with his answers.
“Unconfirmed. Before we lost contact, Mereel said Fett looked butchered, but they were still working on him when he was sent to look for her in a cleaning duct. Jaing searched Fett’s place for Boba who was missing as well as Ms. Harada. They debated shooting Slave I down, so we procured the TIV while Ordo scrambled the local cannon control system and the com a moment later before they could call-in help from planetary defense. Guess they are still working to get it back online.”
“Last outgoing message was from Ordo, about to pull their com-plug with a minor hardware damage in the computer core. If they didn’t ask nicely, they’ll be looking for a while to find the problem.” Kal knew some instructors who would definitely not ask nicely if they caught Ordo. “Position?” - “Sending coordinates now…”
“Stay where you are and keep on trying. I’m on my way. Patch me through as soon as they come online.” He tried not to imagine how badly things had gone within the last hours if Ordo had been caught. From that perspective it was a good sign Tipoca wasn’t online again. His boy was an escape artist. Kal’s hand hovered over the hyperdrive controls. “I’ll sort it out for you, lads.” Skirata used ‘sort’ as euphemism for any form of violence, his specialist subject, especially when it came to Vau.
Slave I lurched into star-streaked space.
Mereel was ambushed the moment he dropped out of a cleaning opening into the corridor, the anklet he was sent to retrieve in his hand. It wasn’t Vau – Old Psycho’s penetrating radar was still fried – but Llats Ward taking care of the matter personally. The Cuy’val Dar’s armor plates bored into Mereel’s unprotected ribs, the headlock was so tight that could hear his poor neck making strange sounds again. This wasn’t fair!
“I just obeyed sergeant Vau’s order, sir... Harada’s not up there; it was just the monitoring anklet being dragged further down the pipe by the cleaning droid.” Mereel tried to talk his way out of it, wishing himself back into the armor he had to shed before going up into the pipe with a bean-comlink in his ear and his knife clutched between his teeth...
“You are going to accompany me nevertheless. Not everybody takes your shit as lightly as Ms. Harada.”
“Don’t care. Where is sergeant Skirata?”
“We would know more if our communication was online.”
When Vau finished in the med-bay and caught up with them, Mereel didn’t look scared, just embarrassed. Vau was going to change that. The Kaminoan technicians and their Sullustian encrypter were fed up stumbling from one problem into another, yet they weren’t even sure how many saboteurs they were against.
“What I do next depends on how much grief you’ll create for me and my colleagues.” Vau said and took Mereel through the transpari-steel walkways over to the parade ground’s balcony. He wanted everybody to see them. “Where are your brothers?” He got no answer, so he shot out a line of fibercord in a loop and whipped it around Mereel, jammed the grappling hook between the loops and bend him over the railing. “When you don’t tell me, they will.”
Mereel knew that Ordo would be up somewhere, sniping with Skirata’s verpine. He clung to the railing for dear life, but Vau’s whack on the knuckles with the back of a gauntlet made him let go. The boy plummeted and Vau braced for the thumb into his webbing when the rope ran out. His kit was made to take his own weight, but it still winded him. The kid bounced and twisted in the line’s strangling grip. Vau kept a few meters of line secured in reserve within the winch assembly.
The tall man in black armor standing on the parade ground’s balcony raised the level of his helmet’s speakers. “I’m not going to kill you. If I did that, you wouldn’t be able to tell me things.” He listened on their com-link channel to his colleagues scanning the area for Skiratas deviant clones. “And I want you to tell me things. I’m a curious man.”
Vau peered over the side. Mereel was twisting helplessly like a devee hooked on a fishing line and fought for breath. The line was tight around his waist and chest. He was dangling five meters below the rail and many over the ground. Too many. “Think calm thoughts,” Vau advised. “Seems your brother takes some more time to remember what exactly he sabotaged. It would be pity if you slipped out of the loop before that.”
“Ordo will kill you for that!”
“You are on the end of a line. I’m your anchor on solid ground. Think about it.”
A puff of dust from a projectile rose from the railing. Verpines were silent... and penetrated armor. Ordo’s voice came over the Cuy’val Dar’s com-channel: “Put him back on solid ground, then I might remember.”
“Good start” Vau leaned against the railing and paid out another meter of line with a jolt. Mereel shrieked and tried to climb up his own body. “Is that helping? Memory often needs a trigger.”
“We’ve got what we wanted anyway, Mereel.” Ordo listed the nodes he had picked out from his eidetic memory.
“If I find you’ve given me a load of osik; I’ll be back to finish the job.” Vau braced an armored boot on the railing and began winching in the Null, then heaved the kid over the rail in a tangled heap. Mereel had settled for labored breathing.
“So.” said Llats as he hauled him to his feet and put him into a holding cell. “Let’s fix that, get in touch with the cavalry and find out if we are clear already...”
Kal used the time to the RV-Point with the TIV to make up his mind. He would find out if Fett had a chance to survive and check for Ordo and Mereel. Yes, he had to honor his contract, but his loyalty was with his sons. He was in no position to free and support a whole company, but in worst case, with Fett gone, he would make a runner with the survivors of his family.
Meanwhile, the four Nulls on Board of the TIV had a hard time. They weren’t used waiting. This was the worst imaginable punishment! But it certainly drove home a point: “Kal’buir hates help he didn’t ask for.”
Once Skirata dropped out of hyperspace and had the Null’s helpful board computer in his personal comlink’s distance, he was patched through to make it a two-ways secure connection. Of all people it was Vau who picked up for Tipoca City.
“We’ve found Jango, kept him alive with several transfusions until the med-droids mended his right lung wing and an artery and put him into bacta. The intracranial swelling was stopped. I can’t say yet if he suffered brain damage or if he’s going to survive once we take him off the machines that keep him alive, but Fett doesn’t know how to die gracefully like everyone else. Where are Boba and Ms. Harada?”
“I had to drop them off where she requested.” Kal grunted. “Couldn’t stay with Slave I acting up. How are Mereel and Ordo?”
“Your six deviant blood thirsty kids caused quite some trouble here. We keep Mereel in a holding cell. Ordo’s on the run but at least he has stopped sabotaging us further. Get back here and take care of your undisciplined rabble.”
“They wouldn’t be undisciplined if you weren’t a backstabbing chakaar who debated shooting me down. You touch Mereel, I’ll put you in a bacta tank next to Fett.”
“Shove it, both of you. We need you here, Kal. How can anybody run a war that way?” Rav’s voice cut in “Events are overtaking us at breakneck speed.”
Having made his point to the Cuy’val Dar surrounding the OPs-table, Vau thought it was time to defuse the situation. “We are not at war yet, nor did we make it all over the holonet so far. That says something about Harada’s discretion. Let’s sit down and find a way to keep it like that.”
Kal acknowledged and coordinated his hyperjump back to Tipoca with the TIV in tow.
Kal’s first move was to the holding cell to spring Mereel and make sure the boy was alright before he left him in the care of his five brothers. Then he took his boiling rage at Vau into the meeting.
Skirata marched in on the Cuy’val Dar who weren’t indispensable in training or guarding vital points of infrastructure. They probably didn’t trust him yet that he had called Ordo off. For an army, it was a pretty democratic gathering anyway. Now he just had to be convincing.
Kal placed Fett’s helmet on the OPs-table and dropped code-keys and overwrites beside it. The T-shaped visor embedded in the blue V stared at the rest of the audience as he folded his hands over the silver dome. A hush spread over the room.
“Fett is in bacta for the remains of the week at least, Harada is on the run. Boba agreed to go with her and she handed over all of Fett’s kit to me, safe one blaster. So far, we suffered no leak of intelligence. There is a personal issue we have to factor in all this. Let’s collate our information before we decide what to do.”
“What’s there to decide?” Mij Gilamar was angry with himself being the one who had let that woman go when he had her at gunpoint. He would have her hair attached to his shoulder pad for that. “She tried to murder Mand’alor and she is endangering our cover. We’ve got a starting point. Find and finish her. Return Boba. I can’t believe you let her go, Kal!”
“Murder? It looked more like self-defense to me, Mij.” Rav cut in. “I don’t believe she invited Fett into her quarter that late. Who says she wanted to kill him anyway?
“Ms. Harada wasn’t introduced to a bacta tank... yet.” Vau drawled “Fett survived only because her knife was a finger width short, my quick response time, exceptional medical equipment and an infinite pool of blood- and tissue-donors.”
“She just stabbed and hit once. Fett’s still alive after all. She could have cut his head off.”
“She’s an amateur, but I’m not convinced that it was mere chance. Her failure to kill him got us in the worst possible situation... a leader who’s around but cannot lead.” Llats Ward analyzed the tactical effects. “Fett said he needs her alive.”
“Just whack her quickly then for mercy’s sake.” Gilamar snorted, “It still doesn’t answer why you didn’t put down the arutii already vod’ika.” His tone made clear he was questioning Skirata’s courage.
“Fett’d never forgive me if I had, and I wouldn’t have forgiven myself, either. Leave it with me. Maybe it’s my fault. I promised her safety when she left the battle circle.”
“But the aruetii on the loose could throw our whole mission!”
“Okay, mirsh’eb. Do it and tell Fett you’ve killed his two kids.”
“Last known position?” Mij raised his eyebrows and stopped short. “Two?”“Oh no!” Isabet burst out laughing as she realized how badly Fett had messed up.
Skirata slapped a datachip with co-ordinates on table in front of Gilamar. “Go on. Let’s see if those charts help you to find that particular place Fett tampered with… or you wait a couple of months for his legacy to show itself.”
“Yaihadla or not, we still need somebody on her trail. No use to give her a nine months head start?! Check out possibilities to subdue her, then bundle her up and move her back here, arrange med-support for worst case. Just do the decent thing - no penalties.”
“This isn’t about a subtle legal point.” Kal retorted “Did you think it through at all?”
“It’s called dynamic risk assessment....”
“...it’s making it up as you go along.” Vau reminded Mij and gave him an icy I-know-something-you-don’t smile.
“Harada did what Fett forced her to do and took responsibility for Boba. She purposefully retained no evidence aside of her testimony, she promised discretion and held her word so far.” Kal stated. “But that doesn’t mean she’s totally inflexible when it comes to her safety.”
Rav picked up where Skirata left off. “Despite her tries to integrate herself into our community, known faces or bes’kar gam in her review-cam will upset her... and she will take precautions for that case. Kal pointed out to her that this is a secret project, so she knows of our weakness. I’d be surprised if a hit on her didn’t result in compromising our position and strength. No need to plant your big boot into one of her machinations without consulting Fett.”
Vau looked up. “I’d rather like to avoid that, too.”
“Like what?” Once Mij had come down from his murderous anger, he started listening. Rav and Isabet had been around the girl longer and knew more about his target.
“Like this little decoy in her bed. She rewired a monitoring device with an energy cell and used it to heat a pile of clothing to human body temperature while she was sleeping on the floor in the opposite corner. Simple but effective. She really didn’t trust Fett.”
“She trapped him!”
“So what’s not to trust? Terrify her, treat her like dirt... Aww... anyone can make a mistake...” Isabet mocked Mij “I uprooted those bugs in her flat personally, you know?”
Dred usually smiled a lot, but he wasn’t smiling now. “Power pack of my hold-out-blaster.” For once he was glad not to stand in the centre of Isabet’s attention.
“That’s what I’d have done in her situation.” Rav challenged Mij with a hard stare “She fought for her freedom fairly and then made use of it. Don’t belie the fact that she was entitled to enjoy such aspects as well. Possible misunderstandings are entirely Fett’s fault.”
“Didn’t know he bullied her that badly.” Mij Gilamar made a face as he felt a blush spreading over his cheeks. “I was used seeing her around the little one. That’s why I let her go with Boba.”
“So we know the stakes, and what we stand to lose on both ends.” Kal concluded.
“I don’t think any answer is the right one here, other than hindsight.” Mij agreed.
“Our hands are tied and it stays that way until Fett is in a position to be able to... well, process the news.”
“No need to
mingle into the personal affairs of our Mand’alor.”
Rav nodded “It’s not that we don’t have enough work to do here."
“He knows exactly where to start the search for Tomoe.” Kal pocketed the data-chip “Give her a week’s time to tire herself out on the run. We will have an eye on transports and data stream to make sure everything stays where I dropped her off. I know a couple of privates who are in for an imposition.”
“I hear a but coming...” Dred mused.Isabet snorted “Fett’s got this magic touch with the ladies. What if she tells him to get lost?”
Vau’s reputation took care of any objections from other hot-shot colleagues. “She’ll need to be persuaded then. Ms. Harada’s coming back inside.” And he would take care personally that she was in one piece, or the aiwha-baits would get all fuzzy over the new possibilities to upgrade their product...
Vau took the meeting over to schedule modifications. A hundred ARC had to be taken care of for weeks. Maybe forever. Whoever they send on a covert operation, the rest of them would have to share the workload he or she left behind.