The captain and Arako'ant have been saved for the moment by a unexpected guest. The bounty hunter was more inclined to help them, then either of the two would have expected, or want. For the help, the bounty hunter demanded to accompany them. Why? What is the Mandelorian's angle? And how to find the archaeologist? Find out in a new episode of Friend or Foe.
The Mandalorian had a pained look on his face. Again, my inner alarms went off.
“What is it now?” I asked with a tired voice. “There are no archaeologists on the planet? They aren’t specialized in Tatooine? Or the Rakata Empire? You shot the last archaeologist? There are no ships? You sold a large ship just yesterday? Today? What?!”
I was really fed up with all of this.
He smiled apologetically and said, “Worse… I just turned the last archaeologist into the custody of the Hutts.”
I bumped my head against the exterior of the man’s spacecraft.
Before we met Ordo, the bounty hunter had captured the archaeologist, a Gran, not knowing the reason why the target had a bounty on its head. He didn’t care if the archaeologist deserved to be handed to the Hutts, the money was the prime goal. I knew I had to keep my mouth shut about it – we needed Ordo. He has gone farther into the Hutt’s lair than I had. Even during negotiations, I only had seen the palace hall, where the Hutt “sat”. As far as a large slug as that can even sit.
I shook my head and yawned. It was a week later in the midst of night. We’d found a ship big enough for the crew that might be capable of passing as a pirate vessel. But if we had to stay on Tatooine much longer, I was sure we’d be spotted. I wasn’t sure we hadn’t already. It’s difficult to move an entire crew around a planet without someone noticing.
The soldiers, the two Jedi, Ordo ,and I made up a plan to get the archaeologist out of the Hutt’s claws. We were standing outside the Hutt’s base, about to put it into motion. Part of me tried to figure out how things could have gotten so bad that we had to be here, of all places, to finish a mission that had nothing to do with the Hutts. O’Crave’s crew were all dressed up in their desert gear for camouflage.
The Jedi used the week to research the texts and symbols that were copied from the temple. Tatooine wasn’t a key place on the map. But due to the history of the Infinite Empire it was an effective starting point to find out more. It was one of the few places that reflected that history. And was not in control by the Empire.
I tapped Ordo’s shoulder . “Are you sure about this?” I asked.
The man looked bewildered. “I suggested it, didn’t I?”
“If you go through with this, you will never be able to bounty work again, at least not here,” I responded.
I must have hit a nerve – for a brief moment he looked dumbstruck, before his lazy, confident expression returned. After a few moments he responded to me. “Well, that isn’t anything new, I have to admit. I’ve had a bounty on my head more often than not.”
Osam overheard it and shook his head. “That might be true, but it is something entirely different to have the Hutts themselves on your case. They will stop at nothing.”
“That’s life,” he said and turned back to looking at the palace.
I walked a bit away with Osam and waved over his master.
“I don’t trust him,” I said. “Why would he do this? There has to be more behind this.”
Ararko’ant shook her head. “He doesn’t seem… wrong. The man is not honest, but he has not outright lied to us – he will honor his words. His motives are his own, and they should remain his own until he decides to tell us, Kaydein. You should understand this. It’s not as if you were completely honest about your own motives.”
I nodded, although a part of me wanted to argue that I had good reasons for hiding my motives.
“That you don’t like him, doesn’t make him evil, my friend.” The Mon Cal said kindly.
Damn Jedi and their logic, I thought begrudgingly.
“Everyone ready?” the bounty hunter asked.
“Ready. I have a pilot on standby who’ll stay with your ship after we leave here,” I said with less disdain in my voice.
“Not necessary,” he replied. “I called in a favor with a friend who’ll take care of her. But let’s get going.” Friend? What friend? Damn it.
The four of us stood before the gate of the Hutt palace. The bounty hunter punched the iron entrance, causing a loud metallic sound to resonate. We didn’t hear anything for several moments. Then, a metal rasp came from the right side of the door.
“What do you want?” a harsh voice asked in Huttese.
“An audience with your boss,” Ordo replied.
“Do you have a death wish or are you just stupid?” the voice asked sarcastically.
“I assure you, he’ll be very interested in what we have to say,” Ordo replied smoothly.
The door guard snorted, but we could hear the gears in the door begin to unlock.
We stood outside in the blistering sun, waiting till we were allowed to enter. I squinted my eyes to see the building properly. Can’t believe I am back here. Like this, I thought. A chuckle escaped my lips. The bounty hunter reached over and smacked me in the face. I jerked back and stared at him, putting my hand over my nose just as a drop of blood came out.
“Shut your mouth, piece of bantha dung,” he whispered angrily. “Or I’ll make sure you keep… it… shut.”
I snorted the blood out of my nose. The large doors opened, revealing an uninvitingly dark hallway – an unsettling contrast to the blazing light of Tatooine. The two Jedi and myself walked through the gate. Immediately the door closed again and I tensed up in anticipation. The bounty hunter gave me a nudge and we walked through the corridor. Dead silence was the only thing that accompanied our footsteps. We didn’t walk on stone, but on sand blown in by the wind. Damn, that stuff really gets everywhere, even through that massive door. When we got further down the hall we heard the first sounds since we entered; soft and dreary music coming from afar.
We entered a dimly lit gathering hall. All kinds of species were doing business, both legal and illegal… but mostly the latter. Gambling, using spice and slave women were the order of the day. Arako’ant didn’t seem to react angrily nor appalled. The Jedi upbringing does strengthen one indeed. A loud slamming noise made everyone go into an ear-deafening silence. A blob slithered his huge body into the room. A deep Huttese voice came out of the slug.
“Welcome my dear Ordo. What kind of catch have you brought me this time?”
“Sir, I have a prize for you. As you can see I have captured someone that you are mightily interested in.”
Ordo grabbed me by my cuffed arms and shoved me into the clear light. The Hutt aimed his gaze at me, intelligent and scheming. His eyes widened. “YOU!” the creature bellowed.
I laughed. “Hello fat slug. Did you miss me, you piece of…?” That got me a hit in the stomach from the bounty hunter. I went down and coughed vigorously. Damn, that dude can hit.
That pleased the Hutt alright. He laughed with a deep, creepy voice. “Well done, bounty hunter, that is why you are the best. I get my money’s worth,” he turned his gaze towards my fellows And who are these two with him? That Twi’lek will be a fine addition to my slaves.”
Now we have to wait and see what Ordo will do, I thought.
The Hutt nodded in agreement. “You thought correctly. The bounty was 40.000 and you know our regular rate for slaves, Ordo. So that makes 42.000. 1500 for the Twi’lek and 500 for that fish face.”
“I’d rather have… 45.000, sir.”
The Hutt’s eyes squinted. “I am making you a good offer, bounty hunter. And now you turn me down?” I could detect anger in the fat slug’s voice.
“The Sith are looking for this fellow as well,” Ordo said, shrugging. “He might make a prettier penny with them than with you, Hutt. And I don’t know what this lot did to the Empire, but the Sith always pay very well. For ol’ times’ sake, I thought I should give you first taste. I know there was bad blood between you and this Republic scum. But I’m being generous as it is – it wasn’t easy getting all three of these guys cuffed. 45,000 is my minimum offer, take it or leave it.”
The Hutt silently contemplated Ordo’s offer. His operation was not the most profitable of the region, but he could afford to pay Ordo. We had carefully estimated his business figures, making sure our planned deal struck the right balance. Everyone recognizes the stories of splendor about the wealthiest of Tatooine’s crime lords, but the planet isn’t lucrative enough for the amount of criminals roaming it. “Done!!” the Hutt bellowed through my thoughts. “Take them away to the dungeon! I will see you hang soon, Republic scum!”
A couple of goons, Gamorrean all of them, grabbed me and my two companions by the arms and dragged us away. I could hear in the distance the Hutt ask if we had been checked for weapons. Ordo answered in the positive. The smell that came from the two goons that held me was stifling. They really should use a shower or two… maybe three. We were dragged through a low hanging corridor of cells. It smelled after feces, sweat and, mostly, fear. Outcries from unseen beings, filled with both rage and despair follow us while we continue onwards.
We suddenly stopped for a door. One of the guards unlocked it while the others threw us in and silence ensued. A cough startled us. It came from the cell block across.
“Welcome,” said the unseen person, “to the deepest side of misery on the most remote planet in the galaxy.”
“Who are you?” Osam asked.
“The name is Araas Eeng,” said the Gran with a sad voice when she showed her face in the cell door, “and I’m probably the only archaeologist around that is stuck in such a place.”
“I am Captain Kaydein from the Republic naval forces, and we are here to rescue you.”
To be continued…