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IT WAS a 12-hour journey back to Tatooine. It was a fairly uneventful trip. Staphon kept to the cockpit. Doing what, I did not know. Muehlenkha was in his quarters. He still seemed distressed, but I judged that whatever it was that was bothering him he wasn’t ready to talk about yet. Since my shipmates were occupied, I lounged in my own quarters during the trip. I was completely bored, and eventually fell asleep.
I was awoken some time later by the navicomputer alert that signified that our destination had been reached. I sat up in my bed and wiped the sleep from my eyes. I groggily sauntered out of my quarters and, disoriented, made my way to the cockpit.
Staphon looked over his shoulder when he heard the cockpit door open. “Hurry up and sit down. I’m about to take us out of hyperspace.”
I quickly slid into the copilot’s chair and fastened my harness. Staphon looked to ensure that I was indeed buckled in, then slid a lever up on the console. The Titan exited hyperspace. Before us loomed Tatooine, a smooth, beige ball of dust floating in space. I still had trouble comprehending why anyone would voluntarily choose to live here. I also couldn’t fathom why Jabba would build a second palace here. There was literally nothing here but sand and vermin.
We again docked in Mos Eisley. I sent Staphon to rent a speeder. After a handful of minutes, Staphon returned with a 4-seat speeder. Muehlenkha donned his Jawa façade while I collected Dash from his makeshift prison cell. I slapped the door controls. As soon as the door opened, Dash, still cuffed, came charging through the door with his right shoulder down in an attempt to bowl me over. I lithely spun out of Dash’s path and kicked him in the rump as he passed by. The extra momentum from the kick in the rear sent Dash head first into door of the crew quarters across the hall. There was a loud metallic thud as his head struck the door, then Dash crumpled to the floor. I laughed, despite myself. I couldn’t help it. It was funny.
“So, you’re a crack pilot and an expert marksman, yet a lousy pugilist?” I sneered. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I said while wagging my index finger back and forth. “What, did you skip that day at the academy? Please try not to injure yourself. Jabba would like you unharmed.”
Dash looked up at me from the floor and grimaced, then let loose a furious storm of obscenities which derided my mother and threatened to do grotesque things to me when he was free. It was quite a show. I actually learned some words I would have to look up later. After I grew tired of his tirade, I attempted to tell him to shut up a couple of times, but was unable to interrupt him long enough to give the command. I eventually ran out of patience and kicked Dash in the temple, knocking him out cold. Staphon and Muehlenkha helped me carry Dash’s unconscious body out to the speeder. They propped him up in the rear seat and fastened his restraint, which was more difficult than usual because Dash still had his hands bound behind his back. We received some odd looks while we bore him out to our speeder, but if there was one thing the denizens of Mos Eisley knew well it was to mind their own business.
Once that was accomplished, then we loaded ourselves into the speeder and embarked on our journey to Jabba’s Palace. We were not prepared for what we would find.
The first thing we noticed upon arrival at Jabba’s Palace was that the massive gate was wide open and unguarded. That struck me as odd and immediately put me on guard. I parked the speeder just to the right of the door, and unloaded Dash from the speeder. We had him roughly halfway out of the speeder when he came to and began thrashing and screaming incoherently. We managed to get him the rest of the way out, but he continued to struggle. I grabbed him fiercely by the throat and slammed him viciously into the palace wall.
“Look, Rendar, don’t make me knock you out again. You’re going in there one way or the other and I’d rather you walked than us have to carry you. So what’s it going to be?”
Dash began to thrash around again. I, still with my grip on Dash’s throat, pulled Dash forward then slammed him back into the wall again. “Dammit, Rendar, you can go in there healthy and try to escape or I can cripple you out here in order to get you in there. If I cripple you you’ll have no chance to escape.”
Dash suddenly calmed down. He seemed to realize that I had the ability to carry through with his threat, and also that I was correct. He was skilled enough to escape whatever crude prison was inside this dilapidated palace. Rendar opened his mouth to speak, so I loosened my grip on Rendar’s throat. “I’ll . . .” he hoarsely began, “I’ll cooperate.”
I released him. “Good.”
I stepped to the side and gestured toward the open gate, “After you.”
Dash went in first, followed by Muehlenkha and Staphon. I entered last. The palace was not as I remembered it and I was beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable. There were no lights on, no guards, no activity, and no noise. The palace was deserted. Or so it seemed.
“Where’s the guards?” I said aloud.
Surprisingly, it was Dash who answered. “I don’t know, kid, but I gotta bad feeling about this.”
Staphon then chimed in, “Yeah, me ,too, young man. You don’t get to just walk in to Jabba’s Palace. Something’s up.”
I agreed with them. “Stay alert. Let’s head to his audience chamber. Maybe he’s here and in an unusually trusting mood today.”
“Yeah. Sure, kid.” Dash said flippantly.
“Sarcasm, Dash. Sarcasm,” I retorted.
We were just about to the stairwell and the end of the grand hallway that led to the audience chamber when a Dug surprisingly emerged. The Dug locomoted on its powerful arms around the corner, and held a blaster with its right foot. While my companions and I were able to stifle any rash reactions, the same could not be said for the Dug. It began to loudly maunder and then started wildly shooting. I was able to dodge two of his shots before Muehlenkha tackled the dug and then disarmed it. It continued maundering until I asked if it spoke Basic.
The dug stopped and looked at me curiously. “Yes, but you’re not getting my loot! I was here first and I won’t go down without a fight!”
I had absolutely no idea what this Dug was talking about. “Whoa, whoa. Back up. What loot are you talking about? What’s going on here?”
“You mean,” the Dug said disbelievingly, “you don’t know?”
I looked at each of my compatriots in turn to see if perhaps they knew something I didn’t. Each of them looked to be as perplexed as I was so I answered, “Know what? What are you talking about?”
“Jabba’s dead, mouthbreather!” the Dug vociferated.
Incredulous, I asked, “What do you mean, Jabba’s dead? How can that be? When did that happen?”
“It happened days ago, idiot. Everyone’s been in here looting the place,” the Dug retorted. “You think Jabba just leaves his palace gate wide open?”
“Alright,” I began, fed up, “I’ve had enough of your attitude you little piece of. . .”
“Hey!” Dash interrupted. “If he’s dead then get these kriffing binders off of me!”
While my attention was turned towards Dash, the miniscule Dug scurried away hurriedly. I opened my mouth to command the creature to halt, but then realized it wasn’t worthwhile. Everything the Dug said had made sense. If Jabba was alive, the gate wouldn’t have been open, there would be guards patrolling, and there would be droids and other creatures scurrying busily about the palace. I dejectedly realized that all of my efforts the last month and a half have all been for naught.
However, on the bright side I was now free to choose a career more to my liking.
It was Staphon who brought me back to reality. “Hey! You in there?”
“Huh?” I dumbly asked.
“I said,” Staphon said, emphasizing every word, “what are we going to do now?”
I considered the question momentarily. Then: “I guess we head back to the Titan and confirm the news. Once we confirm it, we’ll set Dash free.”
Dash then intruded into their conversation. “Hold up, kid. You’re just gonna let me go? No strings attached?”
“Yeah, why not?” I asked Dash as if he were a child that had asked a stupid question. Which, he truly just did.
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll come after you?” he posed.
I shook my head. “Not really.”
He seemed insulted that I wasn’t threatened by him. “You should be. I’m a force to be reckoned with.”
I sighed impatiently. “Are you trying to talk me into killing you, Rendar? I don’t have, nor have I ever had, any desire to kill you. You of all people should understand that this is just business and nothing personal.”
“Yeah,” Dash conceded, “I guess I’m still sore over how easily you took me. Well, “he said nodding toward Muehlenkha, “over how easily how took me.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of. He can still take me and I’ve been trying for years. C’mon. Let’s go.”
We left Jabba’s palace and embarked on the journey back to Mos Eisley. I consulted the holonet once we had returned to the Titan, and found out that the Dug had indeed been telling the truth. Jabba was aboard his sail barge roughly two weeks ago when it blew up near the Pit of Carkoon, wherever and whatever that was. The news article mentions that a group of Rebels led by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo somehow lured the Hutt and three of his sail barges out to the Pit, where they destroyed two of the barges, one of which carried Jabba. The article goes on to mention looting at Jabba’s Palace and general lawlessness around Mos Eisley for the week afterward.
Lawlessness in Mos Eisley, I thought, that’s quite the newsflash.
We had placed Dash back in the single crew quarters upon our return to the Titan, so it was obviously there where I found him to advise him that he would be freed. I opened the door to the quarters, and cautiously entered. I needn’t have worried, though, as Dash was asleep on the bed. I nudged Dash until he woke.
“What is it, kid?” he said though a yawn.
“Hey,” I said lamely. “Turns out Jabba’s dead after all so you’re free to go. They bounty was placed by him and I have no idea if anyone else even knew about it. We’re heading back to Nar Shaddaa if you wanna tag along. I know you’re ship’s there.”
“No, no it isn’t.” Dash said thoughtfully. “At least, it shouldn’t be. Leebo should have figured out by now that I’m not coming back and left.”
“Who’s Leebo?” I inquired.
“He’s my copilot. Anyhow, as to your offer. . . I think I’ve had about all the hospitality from you that I can stand. No offense. Besides, I have a way to get a hold of Leebo. I’ll find a place to lay low until he gets here.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Yeah, I think so. I need to ask you a favor, though, kid.”
I raised an eyebrow. “A favor of me?” I was surprised he would ask me for anything.
“Yeah, kid. I did my best on Coruscant to make everyone think I’m dead. I’d like to keep it that way for a while and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention that I’m still alive.”
I nodded. “I can do that.”
“Uh, can you unbind me now?”
“Yeah! My bad.” I pulled the keys to the binders from my pocket. Dash rose from the bed and turned around so that I could unlock the binders. Once the binders were off, Dash did what every man (or woman) does when cuffs are taken off: he started rubbing each wrist with his hands.
Dash turned back around and plopped back down on the bed. “So what you gonna do now that Jabba’s dead, kid?”
I scratched my head. “I haven’t the slightest idea. I moved to Nar Shaddaa to become a smuggler, but ended up becoming a neophyte bounty hunter instead.”
That comment drew a laugh from Dash. “Yeah, neophyte is right, kid. I gotta hand it to you, though. You’re pretty scrappy. You’d probably make a decent smuggler. I’ve done some work for the rebellion and I have a contact that who can probably get you steady work hauling supplies for them. You interested?”
“Well, sure. But out of curiosity, why would you be willing to help me?”
“Let’s just say it makes us even. I hook you up and you tell no one that I’m alive. Deal?” Dash proffered his hand to me.
I accepted his hand and shook it. “Deal.”
“Great,” Dash continued, “Here is my contact’s comlink code. His name is Calrissian. I think you’ll like him…”