Overpowering the air filters of his Mandalorian helmet, the putrid stench of the Sarlacc threatened to make Boba vomit. So this is how I'm going to die, he thought. It seemed such a demeaning fate; to be killed by some mindless monster. He remembered one of his father's teachings: "Destiny is the ultimate bounty hunter, my son. And one day he finds us all."
Not today, decided Boba.
The moist flesh of the Sarlacc enfolded him in darkness. He sub-vocalised a command and the helmet viewing system switched to infra-red. From the hellish images, he judged that he was somewhere just above the upper digestion system. The creature had attached tendrils to him, which despite his struggles, were slowly but inevitably pulling him further down to where the stomach acids would begin the work of turning him into slime. If only my jet-pack were working, he thought, I could just rocket out of here. Damn Solo.
Still, he thought, I have a small arsenal built into this suit. Let's see? The sensors inside Boba's helmet picked up his thoughts and relayed his instructions in a question of nano-seconds. Rocket darts shot out of his knee pads and plunged into the flesh of the Sarlacc. The explosion rocked the insides of the beast but still the tendrils continued their inexorable pull.
Okay, that didn't work. What else have I got? Oh yeah? A flame lashed out of Fett's gauntlet. But within seconds gastric juices sputtered forth from the stomach lining, extinguishing the fire. Fett tried again with similar results. Now he was starting to get worried.
And then he saw something that chilled him to the bone.
Jabba had often taunted execution victims by saying the Sarlacc would take a thousand years to fully digest those unfortunate enough to fall into its gaping maw. Fett had never believed it. Until now. Below him, enmeshed in the stomach lining of the Sarlacc, were dozens of skeletons. Except that they weren't totally dead. The heat of what was left of their bodies registered on his infra-red. More disturbingly, he could hear their cries.
"Kill us," they groaned in unison.
Despite his predicament, Boba found himself wondering how they could still be conscious. Most of their bodies had been digested; all that remained were scraps of flesh clinging to their bones. Yet their eyes... They still had eyes.
The tendrils tightened their grip and pulled Fett further down until he was almost level with the victims. Their arms reached out to touch his suit.
"Kill us, please, kill us," they begged.
Boba fought against the panic rising within him. There was something not right about all this. The Sarlacc's victims were still able to talk. Obviously they still had lungs. Nearly everything had been digested except their sensory organs, their respiratory system and presumably their brains. But what did it expect them to do? Talk to each other while it ate them? And why leave the eyes?
In a flash, Boba realised that the Sarlacc wanted them to be conscious, needed them to be aware of what was happening. But time was running out; stomach acids sizzled as they began to chew into his boots.
Boba reached into his memory, searching for something his father had once said. "You have to forget about your body son," Jango had told him at the end of one particularly hard day of training. "You see my scars? The people who gave them to me thought they were hurting me. They didn't realise that my body is not me. It's just something I use to experience the world around me. But it's no more me than my suit, or my ship. The body is a mask for the true self. The mask can be damaged but no one can hurt your true self."
Boba began to meditate, drawing himself inwards. He forgot about where he was, about the fate that awaited him. He retreated inside his mind, picturing the icy calm of the corridors in his childhood Kamino home. The effect was instantaneous. The tendrils relaxed, then there was a shift from down below. The next thing he knew, Boba was shot out of the Sarlacc by an enormous exhalation of gas.
He lay there for a few seconds on the ground before pulling himself to his feet. Without looking back he climbed out of the pit. Paying no heed to the smouldering remains of Jabba's sail barge, he stalked over to the corpse of one of the fallen Gamorrean guards and searched the body until he found what he was looking for. He returned to the edge of the Sarlacc pit.
The monster didn't live on the bodies of its victims, Boba had realised. It lived on their emotions, their fear and panic. That was why it kept them conscious, why it let them have eyes to see what was being done to them, and lungs to scream their terror. The Sarlacc was a psychic vampire. And it was only when Boba had remembered his father's torture-resistance training and cleared his mind of all fears that he was no use to the creature and it had spat him out.
Well, not quite spat, Boba remembered. He would have to change it in his log so it better reflected his image?
He activated the guard's pulse grenade and lobbed it into the mouth of the Sarlacc. When it came, the explosion was louder than he had expected, and had he been imagining it or had he heard ghostly voices crying their gratitude? The Sarlacc's many victims were at least free of the torture. But despite the smoke emanating from the maw of the creature, Boba could tell it was far from dead. The mouth still moved and the tendrils whipped angrily around.
He paused. Should he return with Slave 1 and finish off the Sarlacc? It had come near to ending his career and his life. But if he destroyed the creature then people would probably realise who had done it. And there was an advantage to be had in certain people believing Boba Fett to be dead...
So he returned to survey what was left of Jabba's sail barge. Impressive. Maybe that kid really was a Jedi after all. If so then Boba had a personal score to settle with him. In fact, he looked forward to meeting Solo and all of his friends; the vengeful Hutts would have put a considerable price on all of their heads.
Boba looked down at himself. His suit had been damaged and he was covered in the Sarlacc's slime. As Slave 1 responded to his signal and swooped in low over the Dune Sea, Boba remembered another of his father's favourite sayings: "Bath-time, son." It was time to breathe the clean air of home.
Original cover by Mark Jade. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.