There were six “Headhunter” class starships across the hanger. The backside of the luxury yacht of Darga the Hutt was visible in the main bay, its bridge trapped beneath the hangar door our expert slicer Khalik had closed from the control room. The pilots of the starships flooded out of the launching platform and one quickly took a shot at me as I descended the steps onto the main hangar floor. He hit me hard, then a second time. I caught a second wind and retreated back up the stairs towards Carson, hoping for some medical attention. As I reached the top stair, the same damned pilot shot again. Miraculously, the blaster bolt shot right under my armpit and missed me entirely. I motioned to Carson and he patched me up quickly as we crouched beneath the cover of the railing.
Again I rose and attempted to join the fray. The rest of our split party was already in the thick of it, Tor rushing towards the open ramp of Darga’s yacht, N3MO surrounded by Darga’s pilot-cum-bodyguard goons, saw buzzing as he ripped into their dark, leathery flesh. They were Klatooinian, but these seemed particularly ruthless, as if their historical reverence of the Hutts as gods took a more personal meaning for these — that Darga was their God and they were his crusaders. While titularly and by uniform they appeared to be pilots, the nasty wounds Carson had patched spoke well of their martial skill.
I took a shot with my heavy blaster at the same ugly, dark brown bastard that had nearly killed me. It struck him in the gut and he reeled, clutching his midsection and barking in pain. As my foot struck the yacht ramp, I heard another yelp and turned to see the results of a well-placed shot by Carson, spinning my brief nemesis into a dance of death.
It was dim inside the yacht. The entranceway was littered with debris and motionless humanoid shapes. Tor’s work. Since his vision, he seemed to have lost his usual balance. Our “moral compass” was spinning, its guiding poles dark and chaotic. As annoying as his platitudes and stubborn mercy were at times, I had grown to regard him as a friend and my friend was in terrible anguish. I hoped it wouldn’t cost the Jedi his soul.
I heard his voice: “Behind the console!” My eyes were adjusting to the darkness of the chamber. I squinted towards where Tor had pointed and made out the small shape of a a Kowakian monkey-lizard. It turned to me, opened its beak, and squawked, “Soldier boy, soldier boy, come to play, you’ll die today.” I could see it better now: hair brightly dyed and tufted, ears larger than its head, dressed in a loose vest, pierced throughout. It was an ugly, fascinating creature, and its voice, although not mellifluous in any ordinary way, had an unusual effect on me. I stood and stared.
Carson entered beside me. The lights, possibly automated, were brighter now, and with Tor’s help he had no trouble identifying the enchanting imp. He cried, “We’ve handled starships, entire Imperial squadrons, whole— aw, c’mon, it’s a fuckin’ monkey!” I shook myself from my stupor. The monkey squawked and leapt from table to table and through an open door, deeper into the ship. Carson was taking care of Tor’s wounds as N3M0, apparently having dispatched all the pilots outside, came charging up the ramp and straight through the room, servos whizzing and chainsaw buzzing. Tor, now healthy enough to rejoin the battle, followed closely behind. Squealing came from the room as I approached. Squealing, and the faint smell of … ham.
An Ugnaught came within my line of sight, already engaged with N3M0 and his whirring blade. As I took a shot at the little porcine combatant, I heard thudding all around me. More Klatooinian thugs. Dropping from the rafters. They surrounded Carson and me with their vibro-lances and other electrified cutters and struck immediately. We both fell to the floor.
The next moment, the lights were out completely. I was conscious — it was the ship’s lighting that had gone out. Someone picked me up and I felt him rushing me back deeper into the ship, through one door, then the other, setting me down in the bridge. Carson was beside me as we both rose to our feet, and Bariss and Khalik had rejoined the party. The blast door behind us whooshed shut just before a massive explosion rung out from behind it. Soon after, the entire ship groaned as it lurched forward, tipping out of the hangar door. We managed to keep our footing as the clouds of Bespin swayed disconcertingly in the viewport over the pilot’s station, then stabilized.
Barris and I rushed to jam the door closed, in case whatever had exploded behind it managed to leave some hostiles alive. Sure enough, as soon as our combined technical skills had disabled the opening mechanism, a concerted bashing began. It would take them a while to get through, but from the sound of it, there were plenty left, and they were determined.
I turned back to the console, recognizing some of the features, and reached to begin the procedure to detach the bridge from the rest of the ship so we could fly out of here. Khalik grabbed my hand. “No! It won’t fly. I can fix it, but it’s going to take a while.” I nodded as he got to work, scrambling for parts and tools as the ghouls bashed away at the blast door.
Everyone else but N3M0 had already gone. The hulking droid stood next to a large open hatch. A pool of slime had settled around it and was dripping down into blackness. With nothing left for me to do on the bridge, I dropped to the level below.
My ears throbbed as I hit the ground. Two large fans were on either side of me, the kind that seem to serve no purpose other than as hazards for those who would approach them. Barris and Tor were further ahead, nearer the aft section of the bowels of the ship, battling yet another wave of Darga’s henchmen. I squeezed off an obligatory shot into the fray just before Tor raised his hands and pushed forward, toppling the three Klatooinians to the ground like dolls. Not dead, but harmless enough for the moment so that he and Barris easily stepped over the bodies and advanced, Tor charging, screaming “Darga!” I watched his body shimmer as if viewed on fast-forward, barely visible, as he raced down the hallway. Barris held back at the doorway to help finish the job in the immediate vicinity.
Carson was just ahead of me, having taken considerable damage. I heard a loud “CLANK”, turning to see N3M0 dropping from the hatch just behind me. Without missing a beat of his CPU, he followed Tor and Bariss down the hallway, feet smash-clanking against the floor grates, sweeping aside the prone bodies of the thugs as the three shook their heads and slowly rose, readying their lances and grimacing toward us.
It was then that the nearest fan reminded me of its hazard, its blades whirring loudly, suction pulling me toward them. I was nearly raised off the ground before grabbing onto a nearby console, steadying myself, and flipping forward nearer to Carson and the melee — and away from the fans. As I slipped past him in the narrow hallway, I shrugged aside a buzzing lance. I stopped short of the next door, seeing another clutch of battle there and knowing Carson was in bad shape. Just before turning back, a bright blast of light and a staccato electronic zapping came from the far end of the corridor.
I turned back toward those near Carson, sending a bolt of light into the kidneys of one of his attackers, causing him to drop lifeless to the ground. Another noise came abruptly from deeper in the ship: this time the crackle of lightning followed by a series of small explosions. And was that Tor’s voice? Screaming? The thugs in the doorway rushed towards the disruption. Faintly from afar I heard the familiar, monotone “Threat detected” followed by a louder buzzing. A dark head rolled out of the hallway into the room, flipping and trailing blood as it came to rest at my feet.
Carson was slumped against the wall, struggling with his medkit, trying to do what he could to get himself into fighting condition as the dark lancers surrounded him. The ship groaned again, a great creaking as it lurched forward. All of us kept our footing but one of the thugs, wavering and falling, sliding slightly past Carson back towards the hatch and the fans. Barris quickly recovered, blasting the arm and shoulder from another of our opponents. He uttered a short, pained bark, then fell limp atop the one remaining, prone from the lurching of the yacht.
From the back of the ship booms the familiar guttural voice of Darga, screaming: “You, me, we’re all going to DIE!” As I turn back from the distraction, I see the last of the living hostiles pushing his dead fellow goon off himself and and rising to his feet. From beside me, a bright blast from Bariss shoots directly into the struggling Klatooinian’s chest, tossing him backward, close enough to one of the fans to be sucked into it, his body chopped into rough pieces flung across the room and against the walls, spattering us all with his blood.
Carson rises and steadies himself. I look at him and he nods, indicating he’s OK for now. Bariss joins us as we rush down the hallway, its walls, floor, and ceiling spattered with the handiwork of N3M0 and his deadly attachments. We clear the corridor and come to a bridge where we find the droid, standing uncharacteristically idle. Beyond him, across the bridge in an area flanked by pits of droning and clunking ship machinery, Darga floats in his repulsor throne. A shimmering force field surrounds him. Tor is there, staring him down. The two seem locked in a battle more of mind than muscle, or metal, or technology. They are bound by mutual hatred, both furious beyond rationality, determined to destroy the other.
Suddenly, N3M0 rushes forward across the bridge. He propels his grappling hook into one of the machinery pits, and with his mighty strength, pulls up an Aegis droid thrice his size. It appears immobilized, but by some misfortune his pulse cannons come up aimed directly at N3M0. They fire, the light and noise incredible in the cramped underbelly of the yacht. The Aegis misses N3M0, but hits the wall beside me, which I hadn’t noticed until now, as its glass exterior bursts open and water floods out. But it wasn’t empty. No, there were bodies. Live bodies. Gungan children rode the waves of water across the bridge and over the sides from whence N3M0 had pulled the Aegis droid. A sickening squishing and plaintive, horrible wailing is heard as many of the youngling bodies become tangled in the gears below.
Carson runs past me. I shout to him, “Where are you going?” He shortly replies as he rushes back towards the hatch, “Trying to stop this ship from blowing up!” I turn back over the bridge and take a shot at Darga. The force field buzzes as an attenuated bolt strikes through into the Hutt but causes no more than a ripple over his fleshy bulk.
I hadn’t noticed Barris was no longer with us until he broke in on the comlink: “Thugs breaking through the blast door. Finish what you’re doing and let’s get the hell out of here!”
N3M0, back in form, rushes the Aegis droid, his saw tearing through its armor, sparks and mangled metal showering from the gaping hole. Still, it is operational. Motionless, but operational. Luckily, this time the giant droid rolls with the strike and his heavy cannons no longer point towards us.
Tor gesticulates towards Darga. The Hutt’s eyes grow wide under their heavy lids. He wails in Huttese. I recognize bits of it: pain, suffering, heartache, loss. These are not things a Hutt normally experiences. It’s Tor. He’s doing it. Darga raises his stubby arms and clenches his face in agony. The throne rocks, its controls unsteady. Its repulsors send it sidewise, crashing into a generator. An explosion rocks the inner hull, chunks of machinery hurtling into the walls, reverberating clangs and ripping open gashes. As the smoke clears, shards of light from the hangar outside illuminate the massive figure of Darga tangled in the remains of his throne: eyes lidded, body motionless, scarred, bleeding.
“Well, I guess I’m really not getting that majordomo job now.”
Nobody laughs. Maybe they didn’t hear me. Yeah.
Rushing back to the bridge hatch, I notice light streaming from the terminus of a side hallway. Following it, I see a crack in the hull, too small to facilitate an exit for any of our party. Fortunately, it seems to expand into an adjacent room. Some quick slicing of the access panel causes the locked door to slide open and I enter. The rotting corpse of what may once have been a Rodian lies just inside. I instinctively cup my mouth, then convulse and spew vomit over the lifeless alien. Wiping my face with my sleeve, I poke my head back out the door and yell to the others, “This way!”
Barris and N3M0 arrive quickly. I ask them, “Where’s Tor?” They tell me he said he was coming. I reach him on the comlink and hear him faintly respond, “I’m fine. I’ll meet you in the hangar.”
Two small, robed, smoldering shapes drop from the ceiling. Jawa corpses.
“I swear, I am checking the rafters of every goddamned room we enter from now on.”
Bariss sidesteps the dead and easily swings out the large opening in the far side of the room. Khalik enters soon after, following him out of the doomed ship. I fling a grappler out and prepare to leave, but call Tor on the comlink one last time, “Tor, you sure you’re OK?” He reiterates, “Yeah. Meet you there.” I swing out onto the hangar floor, reeling in my grappling line as N3M0 stomps sideways down the outer hull of the ship with Carson tucked safely under his arm. We all look back, waiting.
Soon, the familiar furry golden head of our Caamasi comrade peeks through the gash in the hull. Under each arm he carries a squirming Gungan child. He crouches, then leaps in that magical Jedi way of his, joining us in the main hangar bay.
We all watch as the ship loudly creaks and grinds between the floor and the jammed bay door, then slips silently out. In its belly: a dozen or so Klatooinians, a magical monkey-lizard, and the once-mighty Darga the Hutt. It and its contents disappear into the golden-orange twilight clouds of Bespin.
I turn to look at Tor, the Gungan children clinging to his legs. He does not seem happy, or satisfied. He doesn’t seem to feel anything. He just stares: past the clouds, past the distant setting sun, past the dim moons of H’gaard and Drudonna.
Our group reverie is broken by a regimented armored pattering behind us and then a filtered voice: “Halt, rebel scum.”
Well, at least it’s a distraction. We could all use one.