The intercom rang. The woman set down the romance novel she was reading, Sunsets On Yaga Minor, and called to her husband in the next room. "Quint, there's somebody at the door."
He didn't respond. The intercom rang again. "Quint? Should I answer it?"
This time he replied with a barely audible grunt. She rolled her eyes at his thoughtlessness. Probably holed up with his podracing journals again, she thought. She tapped the 'reply' button on the intercom and said, "Yes, who's there?"
"Is this the residence of Quint and Madlen Bindo?" asked the voice on the other end.
"Yes," she said. "Who is it, please?"
"Delivery droid," was the answer.
"Delivery from whom? We're not expecting anything." Madlen was a frequent shopper from Holonet catalogs, but she hadn't ordered anything lately--her budget had been severely tightened after Quint's last streak of racing losses. She released the intercom button, so the droid couldn't hear, and yelled, "Quint! Are you expecting a delivery?"
"I don't know," he yelled back. "Stop bothering me."
She sighed bitterly. Him and his blasted journals, she thought. And still he loses all the time. The point of their union had been starting to elude her in the past few weeks.
After a pause, the droid's voice came over the intercom in answer to her question: "Delivery droid," it said again, and then, after another brief pause, "from SoroSuub Luxury Goods."
Madlen's eyebrows lifted; her interest was piqued. "Okay, come on in," she said, and pressed the button that granted security clearance to her visitor. In the moments it took for the droid to take the lift to the floor where her apartment was located, Madlen wondered what was coming. Had she ordered something a long time ago, and forgotten about it, or had Quint, in an uncharacteristically considerate mood, bought her something nice as a surprise? She knew he wouldn't want any of the things that SoroSuub Luxury Goods made--whatever the delivery was, it had to be for her. Her spirits perked up a little. She stood up and hovered by the door, waiting for the droid to knock.
The Phlutdroid didn't bother to knock, it simply planted one wedge-shaped foot against the door and pushed until the whole thing caved in with a terrible noise and a shower of metal shards and concrete dust. The organic on the other side screamed, staggered back in shock, and covered its face with its arms.
The Phlutdroid--it knew its own designation to be IG-72, but rarely shared this information with organics--leveled its blaster rifle at the human, still cringing and backing away in panic. IG-72 waited. Of all the things it found contemptible about organics, the panic instinct was one of the things that irritated it the very most. Time and time again, when an unsuspecting organic was confronted with a two-meter tall assassin droid bearing down on it, the flesh-burdened creature would resort to pathetic spastics in a futile attempt at self-preservation. This often created delays and confusion, which could result in collateral damage--which was bad business practice--and never, in IG-72's experience, resulted in the extension of the doomed organic's lifespan for more than a fleeting moment or two. It waited for the human to calm down before it posed a question to it in an measure to prevent collateral damage.
"Are you Quint Bindo?" intoned the Phlutdroid's metal voice.
The trembling organic stared up at the towering chrome monster with wet eyes. "N-n-no," it stammered.
At this point, IG-72's Learning Module, an intelligence processor that operated semi-independently of its Primary Motivator, kicked in and started to criticize. Of course that isn't Quint Bindo, it said. The distribution of adipose tissue clearly indicates that this is a female human, Quint Bindo's mate. Better to have simply killed her and verified her identity later; the needless delay has given Quint Bindo time to escape. Go and find him now.
IG-72's Primary Motivator redacted this message to something shorter and easier to recall--escape is worse than collateral damage--and filed that bit of information away for later use.
Though loathsomely organic, Madlen Bindo was no longer of any concern to IG-72, so it left her stammering and shaking in the main room of the apartment and went stalking down the corridor in search of her mate. He hadn't escaped; IG-72 found him right away, in the bedroom, surrounded by open volumes of podracing journals, cowering in the corner. IG-72 reflected briefly on how many of the organics it had known who had spent the last moments of their lives cowering in the corners of rooms, as if the intersection of walls afforded them some sort of protective benefits, which clearly it didn't. IG-72 did not bother to ask the organic whether or not it was Quint Bindo, the probability was high enough at this point that it was rational enough to go ahead and exterminate him on the spot. It aimed its rifle.
"Wait, wait, wait, don't shoot, don't shoot!" the organic screamed. "I'll bargain. Let me bargain. We'll make a deal. Just hear me out, hear me out, don't shoot, don't shoot!"
IG-72 hesitated. It had, on the advice of its Learning Module, programmed itself to respond positively to words like deal and bargain.
"Now listen--just listen," said Quint, sensing a moment of opportunity. "Mogo sent you, right? Mogo the Hutt? Listen, in three days, just three days, I'll have all the money I owe him. All of it. And more. I can't pay him if I'm dead, right? He can't get the money I owe him if you kill me, right? So listen. Just listen. You let me live. You let me live, and--how much did Mogo pay you to hunt me? How much?"
"Four thousand credits," said the Phlutdroid.
"I'll double it. I'll give you eight thousand. I'll give you eight thousand, and I'll give Mogo everything I owe him. I'll make everybody happy. Just give me three days. Three days, and I'll have the money. Just three days, that's all I need." Quint was nearly out of breath by the time he finished his pitch.
IG-72 evaluated the options it was presented with. Eight thousand credits was considerably more than four thousand, and its primary objective was to accumulate large numbers of credits. On the other hand, the offer was being made by a trapped organic desperate to save its own life, and it was predicated upon a wait of three days, during which time IG-72 would have to closely monitor Quint Bindo's whereabouts and activities or else risk letting him escape. Worst of all, breaking faith with the Hutt would be very bad business practice, and would most likely reduce its prospects for future acquisition of credits.
"I decline your offer," said the Phlutdroid, before shooting Quint Bindo sixteen times in the chest.
IG-72's means of interstellar transport was an old Republic-era LM-3 Security Cruiser, a wing-shaped starship that had been manufactured exclusively for the Ibhlan Space Police before they were massacred by the pirates of Korondokor. The wrecked hulls of the Ibhlan ships had been salvaged and resold as fixer-uppers by enterprising starship mechanics; IG-72's still showed some of the carbon scoring it had received in that famous battle. The ship was the first thing it had ever purchased with the credits it started earning as a bounty hunter.
It had only gone into the profession after seeing reports of IG-88's activities on the Holonet News Network and devising the notion that it, too, could use its hunting and killing skills--the primary functions for which it was created--as a means to acquire credits, which would provide it with a scheme for creating and meeting goals and measuring its own competence and success--crucial things for maintaining a droid's will to remain activated. Prior to making that decision, IG-72 had occupied itself and put its talents to use by lurking in the lower levels of Coruscant and hunting down individuals on the Empire's Most Wanted Criminals list--a thankless task for which it received no recognition or reward. It also killed the Imperial agents who were sent to investigate the unexplained deaths of these criminals, knowing that any organic involved in planetary security would be likely to know of, and act upon, the Dismantle-On-Sight orders that had been issued regarding the Phlutdroids that had blasted their way out of Holowan Laboratories. Though IG-72 was certain it could handle any individual or small group of organics that might try to subdue it, it knew organics had the inherent ability to replicate themselves through biological reproduction and therefore existed in proliferation to a disgusting degree--and that it was possible, if IG-72 wasn't careful, to unite enough of them in common enmity against itself that they might, by sheer force of numbers, manage to destroy the assassin droid. So it kept a low profile, until the day it elected to follow the path chosen by its fellow Phlutdroid IG-88. Preferring to encounter organics in smaller concentrations, IG-72 left Coruscant on that day and sought its fortune in the frontier worlds of the Outer Rim.
IG-88, which was actually four droids operating under the same designation, was far more notorious and successful than the lone IG-72. As a result, IG-72 was often mistaken for IG-88, and was able to pass itself off as IG-88 to potential employers who were only interested in hiring the more infamous assassin. To all but its most loyal repeat clients--like Mogo, for instance--IG-72 identified itself only as a Phlutdroid--"Project Phlutdroid" being the working name of Holowan Laboratories' assassin droid development program, and the name by which the general public knew the droids--"Oh no! Phlutdroid!" were the last words of many an organic IG-72 had disintegrated.
The LM-3 came out of hyperspace in Huttspace, near the icy comet cloud of Juntor XII where Mogo stationed his fleet--a battered collection of a dozen-odd freighters and transports staffed by Twi'leks and Niktos in debt peonage to the Hutt. Mogo's own residence and flagship was the Pawawanga, a Corellian gunship modified by placing additional turbolaser batteries wherever empty space on the hull would allow, resulting in a ship that looked as if it were covered all over in spiny quills. IG-72 maneuvered its ship up to a docking tube and boarded the Pawawanga. Once the airlocks were sealed, the LM-3 disconnected and trailed behind the gunship on autopilot, leaving the tube free for the next visitor. The Hutt received many guests.
Though the exterior was outfitted as a war vessel, inside the Pawawanga seemed far more like a cheap pleasure cruiser or low-end orbital casino. The interior of the ship was painted in Mogo's preferred color scheme, scab red and brownish-green. IG-72 was conveyed to the bridge by a one-eyed Rodian; there it found the Hutt, lounging in a floating bowl-shaped bed, orbited by a crowd of hangers-on consisting of weathered hunters and smugglers, wealthy alien cohorts, and partially-dressed humanoid females. Rare was the Hutt of means who did not travel with such an entourage; whether such companions universally appealed to the Hutt psychobiology, or whether they were simply a convention of the way Hutts competed with each other in a contest to display their riches and influence, IG-72 wasn't certain; in either case it found it a deplorable habit to gather together large numbers of organics, particularly when Hutts themselves were such putridly large expanses of living flesh. It chilled the Phlutdroid's servomotors just to imagine the vast networks of nerves, rivers of circulating blood, and labyrinthine digestive tracts necessary to sustain a creature of such enormity.
But, repellent as he was, Mogo was a reliable source of income for the Phlutdroid, who had to lay aside its negative feelings towards Hutts and organics in general when it dealt with the great fat crimelord. Made to wait for an indefinite span of time before the Hutt would grant it an audience, IG-72 shifted to a semi-dormant low-power-consumption mode while waiting. Mogo was in the middle of watching a podrace broadcast over the Holonet when the Phlutdroid arrived, after which there was a celebration--the Hutt had won several of the bets he placed on the race--during which the Hutt and his comrades drank and feasted, did spice, watched a succession of exotic dancers, hastily arranged--and gambled on--a fistfight between a Devaronian and a Nikto, and listened to a plump Twi'lek girl sing a impassioned cover of "By the Time I Get to Bespin (You'll Be Moving On)," a new song currently popular in the Outer Rim. Finally, when the song was over, Mogo noticed the Phlutdroid's presence and called it over.
"Ah, my favorite droid," said the Hutt in his native language--one of many in which IG-72 was fluent. "Come closer. Tell me what news you have."
IG-72 shifted back to full power and approached Mogo. "Greetings, excellent Hutt," said IG-72, addressing the Hutt in the formal, respectful manner that he liked. "I have come to collect the bounty on Quint Bindo." The Phlutdroid projected a holographic recording of Quint Bindo's death for Mogo to see; the Hutt's eyes widened with interest as he watched.
"Very good, my metal friend," said Mogo. He pointed to his one-eyed Rodian servant with an empty goblet clutched in his meaty hand. "Transfer four thousand credits into Phlutdroid's account right now." The Rodian hurried out of the bridge. "I think I may already have another job for you," said the Hutt, turning his attention back to IG-72. "A dangerous one. I think any other hunter would be too afraid to take it. Ho, ho, ho."
The Phlutdroid knew that fear was an organic mental state linked with the instinct of self-preservation, and that it caused organics to behave in undignified and illogical ways, but it could not conceive of what it felt like to be afraid of something, not even its own destruction. IG-72 regarded its own death--whether it came in the form of a memory wipe or mechanical failure--as an inevitability, to be avoided where skills and circumstance permit, but no cause for concern or regret when it happened. All beings, it knew, were destined to perish, droids and organics alike. Being in the business of putting things out of existence, the Phlutdroid had certainly seen enough of them go. That it too should one day cease to exist seemed natural and logical.
But until that fatal hour arrived, there were credits to amass, organics to kill. "I'll do it," said the Phlutdroid, without waiting to hear what it was.
The job was indeed more dangerous than usual. The target wasn't a delinquent gambler or a double-crossing smuggler or any of the rest of the Phlutdroid's usual fare. The target was a well-connected associate of one of Mogo's rivals, Jabba the Hutt. He was one of Jabba's top lieutenants, a high-volume spice runner who was cutting into traffic in what was, unofficially, Mogo's territory. This target, with Jabba's name and fortune backing him, would probably have enough defenses and security at his disposal to make an attempted hit from any organic bounty hunter a very risky prospect. IG-72 expected no difficulties.
The Phlutdroid left the Pawawanga with only a beggar's plate of leads: a name (Gazzo Ku Metz), a few aliases, a brief rundown of recent activities, his last known whereabouts (coming out of the Kessel Run), and the identification number of a six-engine modified bulk freighter he was known to use. That was all. Mogo wasn't even sure what species the man was. Some claimed he was human, some said Duros, and others just weren't sure.
The assassin droid's plan was to go somewhere where its target would have to show his face, sooner or later--Jabba the Hutt's primary residence and base of operations on Tatooine. Without any way to visually identify that face, IG-72 knew that some intelligence gathering would be necessary once it arrived on the desert planet. With no time to waste, it set its coordinates for the twin suns of Tatooine the moment its returned to its starship, and shot off into hyperspace to begin tracking its prey.
Upon arrival in the Tatoo system, IG-72 radioed the Mos Eisley spaceport and rented out docking bay 16, steering its ship through the burning upper atmosphere of the barren world and setting a course for the city.
En route, IG-72 had worked out its plans in greater detail. It knew it could easily be recognized by one of the many hardened spacers and figureheads of the underworld who frequented Mos Eisley and Jabba's palace, and understood that it would therefore have to keep a low profile. Without some way to positively identify Gazzo Ku Metz, there wasn't much IG-72 could do, and a two-meter tall chrome assassin droid was ill-suited to spying and reconnaissance. The first sensible action to take would be to make a contact on the inside, someone who could provide the Phlutdroid with information about the activities and whereabouts of Jabba and his associates. Ideally, a droid.
The Phlutdroid used its ship's computer to access the spaceport's main data network, slicing itself a high-level clearance code in less than a minute--Holowan Laboratories had been given access to powerful Imperial decryption modules--which it used to monitor the comings and goings of various worker, astromech, and maintenance droids throughout the city.
Before long, it found what it was looking for: an R2 unit that, in the course of one day, logged into data terminals in both the spaceport and Jabba's Mos Eisley townhouse. The Phlutdroid left its ship and headed for docking bay 38, where the R2 unit had been at a terminal just moments before. It stayed in the shadows and empty alleys where possible, but was nevertheless seen by at least a dozen transients and lowlifes. Most of them barely gave the imposing droid a second look, so preoccupied were they with their own wants and troubles. If any of them recognized the Phlutdroid, they didn't show it.
IG-72 soon found a likely candidate for its R2 unit rolling away from docking bay 38, headed towards a busy thoroughfare. The Phlutdroid moved quickly, stepping in front of the little red astromech and blocking its path. The R2 unit bleated angrily at the Phlutdroid, and rolled backwards to try to get around.
"You there. Stop where you are," said the Phlutdroid. "I need to speak with you, astro-droid." It stepped forward, backing the rotund R2 unit into a doorframe. Trapped, the astromech whistled and chirped insults to the other droid.
"Tell me your designation," said the Phlutdroid, ignoring the R2 unit's expletives.
"Tweedledoopweep bloorp," replied the astromech.
"Well, R2-D8, I must ask you to do a favor for me," said the Phlutdroid. "You are owned by Jabba the Hutt, are you not?"
"I need for you to determine the whereabouts of one of Jabba's chief associates--the smuggler Gazzo Ku Metz."
"Tworbledoodlewhip-bleep doot worrp?"
"Because I'll disintegrate you on the spot if you don't, that's why."
R2-D8 whistled a low tone of resignation.
"Yes, I knew you would see things my way," said the Phlutdroid. "Now, tell no-one of our meeting. Come to docking bay 16 tomorrow and upload any information you have into my ship's computer."
"That's correct. Now, go, and if you carry out your task properly, I may consider taking off your restraining bolt, and you won't have to serve the Hutt anymore. Think about that, R2-D8."
The red astromech rolled away, into the streets of Mos Eisley, tweeting and chirruping quietly to itself as it went. Satisfied, IG-72 hustled back to its starship to plan out the next phases of its strategy.
Tatoo II had just begun its crawl over the horizon when an incoming message on the ship computer woke IG-72 up from semi-dormancy. The little R2 unit had come through--IG-72 quickly scanned the contents of the message:
Subject: Gazzo Chumetz
Age: No data
Species: No data
Currently overseeing spice production on Ryloth. Expected to meet with Jabba at Mos Espa in 4 days to discuss Core trafficking.
Not much, but it was a good lead to follow. IG-72 decided to wait until the third day before moving on to Mos Espa, it could use the intervening time to sniff out new leads in Mos Eisley, and there was always the possibility that the astromech was deliberately trying to throw the Phlutdroid off-track and trick it into leaving the city.
In those three days of waiting, no new information turned up. On the evening of the second day, R2-D8 returned to the spaceport to give the network the identification codes of starships owned by certain unwelcome persons whose faces Jabba didn't want to see on the planet anymore. When the astromech droid's location was reported by the spaceport computer network, IG-72 hastily left its ship and went to meet with the little R2 unit once again.
On its way to the terminal where R2-D8 was conducting its business, IG-72 detected a human voice somewhere off in the distance excitedly exclaiming, "Look! Look! It's IG-88! IG-88!" but soon vanished around a corner and gave no more thought to the matter. It found the red astromech still connected to its terminal, busily feeding data into the network.
"R2-D8, I wish to speak with you," said the Phlutdroid.
"Based on the report you gave me, I am going to Mos Espa tomorrow to lie in wait for Gazzo Ku Metz. Have you uncovered any additional information since then?"
"Doodle-woodle wheep deep."
"Yes, you should have continued searching. The information you gave me could be false or fabricated. That would displease me very much."
"Worrp tweedle whoop-doop?"
"We shall wait and see."
"Bleep deep whoot deedle weep-dorrp?"
"I don't know. That isn't my problem to worry about. I don't have time to return to this city once my job is complete."
"Deeble-beep boop pleet." The little red droid was persistent, no doubt about that.
"Listen, astro-droid. If you want your restraining bolt taken off so badly, then find a way to be in Mos Espa in two days. I'm not coming back here for your sake. Unless the information you've given me proves to be false, in which case you can be sure I'll come back to blast you back into your constituent atoms."
The astromech retracted its terminal connector, hooted a string of rude phrases at the Phlutdroid, speeding away as it remarked that the assassin droid could bet its last servomotor that R2-D8 did not, and never would, pass incorrect information on to a fellow droid; and that if the Phlutdroid didn't come back and remove the restraining bolt like it promised, then R2-D8 would see to it that the Phlutdroid lived to regret it.
Perplexed, IG-72 watched the red astromech disappear into the streets again. It knew it had never promised to remove the R2 unit's restraining bolt--IG-72 knew that astromech droids, probably due to their frequent contact with organics, were habitual and unrepentant liars. Nevertheless, IG-72 couldn't help but be impressed by the little dome-headed droid's fearlessness. No organic had ever been bold enough to speak to the Phlutdroid so disrespectfully, not even a Hutt.
The operating system that ran Mos Espa's computer network was so antiquated and bug-ridden that IG-72 couldn't even slice into it, and the assassin droid doubted that it would have yielded any useful information even if it could have. So IG-72 stole a bundle of tattered cloaks that had been the garments and bedclothes of a destitute human it had found passed out and reeking of Zappo Wine (a popular cheap alcoholic beverage in the Outer Rim, marketed as Zappo All-Purpose Detergent on the more well-to-do Core planets). Enshrouding itself in the filthy rags, the Phlutdroid skulked around Jabba's Mos Espa townhouse in makeshift disguise, waiting for something to happen.
It was mid-afternoon on the fourth day. The Phlutdroid had been in Mos Espa since the previous night and so far there was no sign that Jabba was going to be coming to town, no sign that any important offworlders had arrived. The astromech's tip seemed to be a dead end. IG-72 wondered if it would be worth its trouble to return to Mos Eisley and make good on its vow to destroy the astromech for passing along bad information.
The Phlutdroid walked a circuit around the city block containing Jabba's townhouse for the forty-eighth time, scanning for signs of Hutts or infamous spice-runners with each of its eyes. IG-72 began to consider the dread possibility that it would need to secure the assistance of an organic in finding and identifying Gazzo Ku Metz. For reasons that IG-72 could not fathom, organics were often entrusted with sensitive information that droids were not privy to.
The droid stopped. It had seen something. Across the wide dirt road, in an alleyway, there was a humanoid covered in a black hooded robe standing behind a pair of Rodian street vendors. The creature was clearly trying to hide itself, yet its head remained constantly inclined towards Jabba's place--it was watching the entrance to the Hutt's house with the fixed intensity of a Krayt dragon stalking a fattened bantha. It wouldn't have been obvious to other organics, but IG-72's telescoping eyes could easily perceive such minute details. It decided to investigate, thinking it likely that the strange creature's presence was somehow connected with Gazzo Ku Metz's expected arrival.
The Phlutdroid walked up to the Rodians, who had their wares strewn about on blankets by the roadside--there were children's toys, droid and computer parts, music and holovideo recordings, home-remedy bacta kits, tools for moisture farmers, and even small votive statuettes of the Emperor. The Phlutdroid stopped by the blankets, studying the merchandise with one eye and the hooded figure with the rest. The shadowy creature backed further into the alley as IG-72 approached.
The two Rodians exchanged glances. The bundle of rags standing before them was readily identifiable, at such close proximity, as a droid. IG-72 was aware of this fact, and knew that its behavior was confusing the witless organics, for the overwhelming majority of droids were programmed to prefer to be naked at all times. The Phlutdroid started to creep around the Rodians' spread on the left side, trying to get closer to the hooded stranger.
Finally, one of the Rodians said, "May we help you find something in particular, droid?" Hearing this, the creature in the alley retreated even further into the darkness, slipping out of the Phlutdroid's sight. To get a better look down the alley, IG-72 had to walk almost behind the two Rodians, who were now growing increasingly nervous and agitated by the droid's actions.
"Some joint lubricant?" said the other Rodian. "Fresh memory chips? I think we have a few--"
But the Phlutdroid, who wasn't listening anyway, abruptly dashed down the alleyway at a full run in the middle of the rubbery green alien's sales pitch. The figure in the shadows, who had been only a few meters away just seconds before, had vanished into the back alleys of downtown Mos Espa.
IG-72 sprinted into a small open area behind a repulsorlift repair shop that was strewn with garbage and broken machinery, stopped to calculate which direction the stranger had likely fled down, and was mildly surprised by a blaster bolt that grazed its left arm, singing the droid's stolen rags. IG-72 swiftly lurched back into the narrow passage of the alley, threw off the burdensome rags, and lifted its blaster rifle from where it hung behind the Phlutdroid's back. Weapon at the ready, IG-72 stepped back into the open area, pivoted to face the direction from which the blaster bolt had been fired, and searched for something organic at which to take aim. There was nothing there, only another tight corridor filled with a scattering of glass from broken bottles and the burned-out shell of a long-dead GNK power droid.
And then an organic arm lunged up and out over the power droid shell, sending a small black object flying in an arc through the air to land at the Phlutdroid's feet. IG-72 had just enough time to identify the object as a hand grenade before it detonated.
The force of the blast destroyed the Phlutdroid's blaster rifle and sent the assassin droid itself crashing in a heap of wayward limbs into a pile of trash from the repair shop, but it was not powerful enough to cause any serious damage to the droid's armored body. IG-72 staggered back to a standing position as smoke from the explosion billowed upwards, clutching its ruined rifle. Three more blaster bolts tore through the lifting smoke, missing the Phlutdroid's torso by inches. Seeing that the rifle was now useless, it threw the weapon to the ground and stomped towards its attacker. IG-72 figured it could kill the creature with its own hands easily enough--they were, after all, in the shape of metal claws. And if that didn't work out, there was always the Phlutdroid's built-in flamethrower.
The attacker gave the assassin droid yet another mild surprise by standing up and aiming its blaster at the droid's head, rather than fleeing again and attempting another sneak attack. Though some of the criminals it had hunted on Coruscant had stood their ground and fought the Phlutdroid to their deaths, they only elected to do so when all possible avenues of escape had been exhausted. Perhaps the creature was emboldened by the fact that the Phlutdroid had been disarmed, but the chrome killer considered this to be only a minor setback.
"Hold it. Don't come any closer," said the hooded creature. "I've seen some ugly security droids in my day, but you've got to be the worst. How much did you set Gazzo back? Fifty credits? Or are you just some reject Jabba lifted off a dead Jawa?"
The Phlutdroid stopped, intrigued by a new sensation that even its Learning Module wasn't quite sure how to handle. It had been queer enough when the little R2 unit had talked back to it, but here was an organic--a female human, if the modulation of the creature's voice was any indicator--who was showing open contempt for the Phlutdroid! It aroused strange feelings in IG-72's electronic brain.
"What's the matter, aren't you going to answer me?" said the organic. "Or isn't there room enough for a voice unit in that skinny head of yours?"
IG-72 decided that this was the most pleasing organic that it had ever encountered. It behaved the way IG-72 felt all organics should behave--fearless of death; and violent, rather than servile, towards a potential aggressor who was obviously much more powerful. Believing that killing such a wonderfully unique organic would have to be a much more enjoyable experience than killing a non-anomalous one, as the droid had done so many times before, IG-72 stepped closer.
But, true to its word, the creature fired its blaster at the Phlutdroid, hitting it in its torso, near the left shoulder. The Phlutdroid swiveled one eye to examine the wound left by the shot--a tiny glowing bubble of molten metal. The Phlutdroid's frame was made to withstand low-grade blaster fire.
The blaster shot changed IG-72's mind. It did not want to kill the creature yet. It wanted to see what other surprising things the creature was capable of doing. IG-72 wondered what the creature might do in other, different, situations.
"I'm telling you for the last time, droid--stand back or I'll blow your head off."
The Phlutdroid hesitated. It did not want to provoke the creature into firing a shot at its head; replacing a broken eye was costly and inconvenient. It decided to try speaking with the creature.
"Put down your weapon, organic. I have decided not to kill you."
"That's not good enough," the creature said, angrily shaking its blaster for emphasis. "I want you to turn around and get out of here."
The Phlutdroid considered doing this, if only to return a moment later to observe the creature from a distance. But it recalled something the creature had said a moment earlier, and knew it had to pursue an inquiry.
"First, tell me what you know about Gazzo Ku Metz," said the assassin droid.
"You know enough about Gazzo already. Or are you going to tell me you're not his security droid, after I saw you pacing around that bloody townhouse at least fifty times this morning? I think you wore a rut into the streets."
"I am not a security droid," said IG-72. "I have come here to kill Gazzo Ku Metz, to collect the bounty posted on his head by Mogo the Hutt."
The organic lowered its blaster a few inches. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," said the Phlutdroid, who was always serious.
"Well, you've probably scared him away from Mos Espa for the next year or so," the creature said, lowering the blaster a little more. "Because you were pretty damn conspicuous, stomping around Jabba's house all day. Was that pile of laundry you were carrying around supposed to be some sort of disguise? Because I don't think you could have fooled a Tusken Raider with his mask on backwards into thinking that you were anything but a combat droid."
The Phlutdroid was a bit put out to learn that its ruse had been a failure. "Who are you?" it asked the organic. "What are you doing here?"
The blaster jumped a few inches again--the organic would not let its guard down. "Why, I'm here for the same reason you are, droid. I'm here to bag Gazzo."
"Gazzo Ku Metz is my target," said the Phlutdroid. "His bounty is mine to claim."
"The bounty goes to whoever kills him first, tinhead."
This complicated matters--the creature was a fellow bounty hunter, a threat to IG-72's means to acquire credits. It wondered if it might be best to go ahead and kill the creature after all. After a second of deliberation, it decided to try to cut a deal with the organic instead. "Tell me what you know about the location and identity of Gazzo Ku Metz," said the Phlutdroid, "or else I will rend you to pieces." It held out its arms and opened its claws in a threatening gesture.
"Don't make me laugh. I'm the one holding the blaster, droid."
"Shoot me again," said the Phlutdroid. And the organic did. The blast pitted another sizzling hole in the droid's exoskeleton, but left it otherwise unharmed. "Your weapon is useless against me," it stated.
The organic's grip on the blaster began to tremble. "So it is," it said, with somewhat less bravado than it had previously put into its voice. "Perhaps we can compromise."
"Tell me where to find Gazzo Ku Metz."
"All I know is that he was supposed to meet with Jabba here today--but like I said, one of Jabba's lookouts probably saw you prowling around, and called the meeting off. I wouldn't be surprised if Gazzo was back on Ryloth by now, and we're both out of luck."
The assassin droid reviewed its options. If the organic was right, then the trail had gone completely cold, and it would have to start again from scratch. However, if the meeting between Jabba and Gazzo Ku Metz had really been intended to take place, then the chances were high that the notorious smuggler was still somewhere on the planet, but if there was to be any chance of catching him before he fled into space again, drastic action would have to be taken. Compared to the Phlutdroid, the hostile organic was small and pliable, and not visually remarkable in any way. It could go places and do things that would be difficult for IG-72.
"Then I demand that we enter into a temporary league together," said the Phlutdroid, "to locate and destroy Gazzo Ku Metz. If your assistance proves useful, I will give you thirty percent of the bounty." Besides, it would afford the assassin droid more opportunities to observe the creature's atypical behavior.
"Fifty percent. I won't do it for a credit less."
Better to expedite things, the Phlutdroid decided, and eliminate the primary target as soon as possible. That would be good business practice. "I accept your counter-offer," it said.
The organic straightened its body and relaxed slightly. "All right," it said. "Glad to hear it. You know, I don't usually work with a partner, but I guess it's really in my best interests if I make an exception in your case." It pulled back the hood covering its head, and the creature's facial structure further confirmed the Phlutdroid's initial suspicions that it was a human female. "My name is Ondine Vega," she said, bowing slightly to the tall assassin droid. "I've never met a droid bounty hunter before. You aren't IG-88, are you?"
"No," said IG-72.
"Good," said Ondine Vega with a slight laugh. "But that was a stupid question. If you were IG-88, I wouldn't still be standing here, would I?" She glanced over her shoulder down the alley, taking her eyes off the Phlutdroid for the first time since their stand-off began. "What's your designation, droid?"
"I am Phlutdroid," said IG-72.
Ondine looked back at the assassin droid with a searching expression. "That sounds familiar. I think I've heard that name somewhere before." She holstered her blaster. "Well, let's get out of here, Phlutdroid. We're not going to get anything done just standing around like this."
After winding their way out of the back alleys, the two hunters stopped at a Whiphid arms dealer's tent to replace the Phlutdroid's obliterated rifle.
"I was thinking," said Ondine, as the Phlutdroid scrutinized the quality of a customized BlasTech DL-44 the hairy alien was trying to sell, "there's no reason to assume the meeting has to take place at you-know-who's townhouse. He practically owns all of Mos Espa. They could be anywhere."
"Affirmative," said the Phlutdroid, rejecting the DL-44 after discovering a number of small imperfections. "But we lack the resources to conduct a search of so great an area."
"That's why we have to be smart," said Ondine, as the Whiphid walked away to find some more guns to show the Phlutdroid, "and think like a Hutt."
"No," said IG-72, repulsed by the idea of attempting to emulate the irrational and inefficient thinking patterns of an organic.
"We ought to check the podrace arena. It's practically deserted right now--they could be there."
"Our best chance of success lies in the effective application of accurate intelligence, not random searches," said IG-72, taking a blaster carbine that the Whiphid had come back to show.
"I tried that already. All I got was the tip that led me here. I had my ship's computer put out a request for informants on the spaceport network--I only got one reply, late last night. It was from a little red astromech droid--all he wanted in exchange for his information was to have his restraining bolt taken off. Funny little guy."
The Phlutdroid glanced up from the weapon it was examining.
"So really, what else can we do?" Ondine continued. "It'll be evening soon--if Gazzo's still here, we've got to hustle and look through every last corner of this lousy sandbowl. Don't you have heat sensors, x-ray vision, all that stuff? We can do it if we try."
IG-72 lifted up the blaster carbine. "I'll take it," it told the Whiphid.
The Phlutdroid left the arms dealer's tent with the carbine, a standard-issue DL-44, and a pair of thermal detonators--more than enough to kill Gazzo Ku Metz, whatever he was. Assuming he could be found.
Sure enough, the arena was nearly empty. It had been many months since any races took place at Mos Espa. The only life forms to be found were scavenging Jawas, a handful or Ranat squatters, and a Quarren and a Rodian doing spice together in the middle of the empty bleachers. There was no sign that Jabba or anyone from his organization had even visited the place anytime recently.
"Okay, so they're not here," said Ondine as the pair finished their search of the arena's lower levels. "We had to give it a shot. Where else in Mos Espa do you think Jabba might meet one of his cronies? Maybe we should check out the cantinas."
Ondine's ill-planned, hastily improvised strategies for catching Gazzo Ku Metz were exactly what the Phlutdroid would expect from an organic. In many ways, IG-72 noted with a touch of disappointment, she was just like all the rest.
"We're wasting our time," the Phlutdroid said. "We must cease further action until we can learn the current whereabouts of the target."
"And how are we going to do that?" They walked down a wide, empty hallway towards the arena exits.
The Phlutdroid rattled off the idea it was currently working on. "Infiltrate Jabba's palace. Find a subordinate with access to the information we need, and extract it from that creature with intimidation or torture."
Ondine glanced sideways at the Phlutdroid. "Go ahead and try that if you want. I can hunt and I can shoot straight, but undercover work really isn't my thing. I wouldn't last ten minutes alive in Jabba's palace."
IG-72 was beginning to come to the conclusion that Ondine Vega was not very useful after all. Once again, the assassin droid considered the advantages of simply killing the organic on the spot and continuing the search for Gazzo Ku Metz without her.
The Phlutdroid's had was already drifting towards the handle of the DL-44 when the exit doors slid open and a flood of light from the outside poured into the cavernous hallway. Ondine reacted instantly, dashing towards a ticket booth and squeezing herself through the window where she could hide. The Phlutdroid could only lunge towards the shadows and attempt to fold itself into something resembling a pile of junk, powering itself down completely to prevent itself from emitting any telltale lights or sounds. It left only a single auditory unit activated.
Footsteps indicating several bipeds echoed through the hall, as well as the characteristic whir of a repulsorlift device. The doors slid shut.
"I heard a noise. Something just crawled behind that ticket booth," said a dry, monotone voice.
"It's nothing," said another, high-pitched voice, speaking in Huttese. "This place is crawling with Jawas and Ranats." Something let out a few loud grunts and squeals.
"Quite a shame you had to let the arena become such a mess," said a third voice. "You ought to have races again, Jabba. Everybody would be happy to see the Boonta come back."
"Too much trouble," boomed the guttural, unmistakable voice of Jabba the Hutt. More growls and grunts followed.
"Lots of spice to move at a big race like that." It was the third speaker again. "You really should consider it."
"I'll tell you a secret, my friend" said Jabba. "The Empire has told me that if I bring podracing back to Mos Espa, they might be interested in putting a garrison on Tatooine. For 'security reasons.' Do you see my meaning, Gazzo? We don't need the races. Now let us talk about the plans you have for the Core..."
The Phlutdroid reactivated itself. Its target was here. The R2 unit and the organic had been right after all. And now the time had come for IG-72 to perform its job. The assassin droid stood up, readied its carbine, and looked to decide who would be the first to die.
From left to right, it saw the armored and well-known organic bounty hunter Boba Fett--one of Jabba's new favorites--a white Twi'lek with fancy clothes and bared teeth, a silver protocol droid, two fat Gamorreans in bantha-leather cuirasses, a male human in a spacer suit with short red hair and a scarred face a Rodian with a pair of blaster pistols hanging from his belt, and a dark-skinned human female in an outfit that would have been classified as indecent on most Core worlds.
"Oh my!" exclaimed the protocol droid.
Before IG-72 had even selected a target, Boba Fett had already unloaded two blaster shots into the droid's side; they caused the Phlutdroid to wobble slightly but left it otherwise unharmed. It determined, by process of simple elimination, that the red-haired male human, who was starting to run for the exit doors, was Gazzo Ku Metz. The Phlutdroid fired off a flurry of shots from its carbine, several of which struck the human. The collateral damage was minor: the protocol droid was struck three times in the abdomen and crumpled into a smoldering heap, the human female received a flesh wound in the thigh, and the armrest of Jabba's repulsorlift lounger was nicked twice. The Gamorreans and the Twi'lek cowered behind Jabba's corpulent body as the Hutt roared with fury, the Rodian crouched and pointed his guns at the assassin droid, but seemed too terrified to pull the triggers.
Gazzo Ku Metz, shot several times in the head and stomach, fell to the ground, dead.
As the Phlutdroid watched its target fall, it felt something tear into its left side. Boba Fett, quickly switching to more effective weaponry, had fired a wrist-rocket and blown the Phlutdroid's left arm off at the shoulder socket. IG-72 stared at the smoking hole in its frame with puzzlement. It had never been seriously damaged before, and wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Boba Fett took aim with a second rocket.
And then a hand grenade came flying out from the ticket booth window where Ondine was hiding, and she stood up and sprayed blaster fire at Fett, forcing the faceless hunter to duck and cover. The grenade went off, sending Fett sprawling across the floor. The Rodian, unlucky enough to be locked in his crouch at ground zero, was killed. The human female screamed and ran away into the dark recesses of the arena. Boba Fett lurched to his feet and launched his wrist-rocket at the ticket booth, but in his haste his aim was off and he only managed to blast a hole in the nearby wall. Acrid smoke was beginning to clog the hallway.
"Stop, stop!" the Hutt bellowed, thrashing his tail with rage. "I command you to put down your weapons! The mighty Jabba has spoken!"
Boba Fett stood perfectly still, but kept his wrist rockets carefully aimed in the general direction of Ondine and the Phlutdroid. The Twi'lek stayed where he was, half-hidden behind Jabba. The Gamorreans crept out warily and looked at the carnage with wide eyes and blank, porcine faces.
"You--Phlutdroid--what is the meaning of this?" Jabba asked. "And you there, in the booth, come out and show yourself. Hiding can't protect you anymore." Ondine stood up slowly, fixing a cold stare into the Hutt's eyes.
"Our business is finished here," said IG-72. "Leave us alone and it will not be necessary to put anyone else to death."
"Ho, ho, ho," Jabba laughed. "This is just the kind of droid I like--ruthless and bold. But you're not the Phlutdroid I know. You're not IG-88. You must be IG-72, scourge of the Outer Rim. Am I right, Phlutdroid?"
Jabba's knowledge of the underworld was peerless; IG-72 knew it would be pointless to attempt to deceive the Hutt. "That is my designation," it said.
Ondine's face turned white and she broke her stare at the Hutt to gaze with horror at the Phlutdroid. "You're what?"
Jabba laughed, then burped, and laughed some more.
"Great bleeding Sith, I've heard of you," Ondine went on, before regaining her composure and snapping her head back in the Hutt's direction.
"New partners?" asked Jabba, amused. "Tell me, what's your name, woman? I don't think you'll make it as a bounty hunter, but I might have a job better suited to your talents. Ho, ho, ho."
"Let me kill them, Jabba," said Boba Fett. "Just say the word."
"No, my deadly friend," said the Hutt. "First they will tell us why they attacked."
"As I have already said, our business is finished here," said the Phlutdroid. "We came to collect the bounty on Gazzo Ku Metz, and I have killed him. We have no quarrel with you, Hutt."
Jabba started to laugh until drool ran down his belly. "Ho, ho, ho. You are wrong, Phlutdroid. Gazzo is still alive."
Ondine nodded her head in the direction of the spacer's body. "That's not him?"
"No, that is Gazzo Chu Metz," said Jabba, waving one of his blubbery arms towards the Gamorreans, "and his mate, Weeia Chu Metz." The two portly green aliens gave Jabba a sudden look of alarm. One of them began to grunt and huff angrily. "This is your bounty, Phlutdroid, not that worthless human you shot. Ho, ho, ho."
That was all IG-72 needed to hear. Unable to differentiate sex between Gamorreans, it quickly drew its DL-44 with its remaining arm and shot one of them in the forehead, then, as Boba Fett began to return fire, dispatched the other, now squealing with terror, with a well-aimed shot to the throat. Then one of Fett's wrist-rockets struck a glancing blow against the Phlutdroid's side, ricocheted into the wall behind, and erupted in a blast that sent the tall assassin droid crashing face-first into the ground. Ondine ducked back into the booth.
"That's enough, Fett!" the Hutt shouted. "Put your weapons away!"
Slowly, Fett lowered his wrist. "Fine. But I still want my money." He shook his helmet in disgust. "What a joke."
The Phlutdroid struggled to get back to a standing position. It saw that the Gamorreans were dead, and was very pleased to know that it had completed its task successfully.
"Don't worry, Fett," said Jabba. "No-one could have foreseen this. You will be paid as if you had done the job yourself."
The Phlutdroid managed to raise itself slightly, but was having difficulty standing up again due to the loss of its left arm.
"Tell me, Phlutdroid, who sent you to kill poor Gazzo? Was it my foolish little nephew, Mogo?" asked the Hutt.
"Ho, ho, ho. That stupid whelp! I'll tell you what to do, Phlutdroid. Go ahead and claim your bounty from Mogo. Take him for every last credit--it'll serve him right for trying to interfere with my business. But tell the fool you bring a message from Jabba: if he ever puts another bounty on one of my men's heads again, they'll be scraping chunks of him out of the inside of that silly star-cruiser of his for months. Do we have a deal, Phlutdroid?"
As long as it got to claim the bounty it had rightfully earned, everything was copasetic as far as IG-72 was concerned. "As you wish," it said to the Hutt.
"Wait a second," said Ondine, surfacing from behind the ticket counter. "Why are you letting us off so easy, Jabba? What's the catch?"
"Ho, ho, ho. You heard me wrong, woman--I'm only letting the Phlutdroid go. You'll be coming back to my palace to replace the girl who ran off when Phlutdroid shot her in the leg."
"It was I who damaged your property," said IG-72, thinking it wasteful to turn the unusual organic over to the Hutt, especially when she had proven to be useful after all. "I will pay the cost of your lost organic."
The Hutt frowned. "Are you sure, Phlutdroid? It won't be cheap."
"Affirmative," said the Phlutdroid, who had thousands of credits and virtually no expenses. It simply collected them for the sake of watching their numbers grow.
"All right," grumbled the Hutt. "You want to know why you're leaving here alive, woman? I'll tell you. Gazzo has been embezzling spice profits from me for many months. I brought him here so Fett could kill him in secret--I didn't want to offend the rest of the Metz clan. But you came and did the job instead. These two," he gestured to the dead Rodian and the red-haired human, "were Gazzo's bodyguard and his translator." He turned his bulk slightly, to address the helmeted hunter. "Almost a pity, don't you think, Fett? Gazzo there was the only smart Gamorrean I ever knew. Ho, ho, ho." Fett shrugged.
Ondine shook her head. "Looks like we stepped into a real big mess, here."
"So go--let Mogo take credit for having Gazzo Chu Metz killed. It's better for me that way," said the Hutt, turning back to face the others.
"Cross Jabba again and you'll be dead the moment I see you," Fett added.
Ondine and the Phlutdroid had heard enough. After arranging a credit transfer with Jabba's Twi'lek assistant to pay for the missing girl, they got away from the Mos Espa podracing arena as fast as they could.
On the outskirts of Mos Eisley, a pair of Jawas busied themselves reattaching the Phlutdroid's broken arm. Things had been going smoothly until the Jawas began a heated argument with each other over the order in which the various wires should be connected. IG-72 idly considered disintegrating the two creatures and trying to reattach the arm by itself.
Ondine walked up, unarmed, dressed in the loose native garb of Tatooine. She was, she said, officially off-duty for a while. The Phlutdroid didn't really understand what she meant by that. It knew it could never postpone or set aside its primary functions, not for any length of time. The droid had to do what it was made to do.
"Well, I'm leaving, Phlutdroid. I just wanted to thank you again for buying me out from Jabba. I'll pay every credit back, I swear. I'm good for it."
IG-72 didn't say anything, just held still while the Jawas got back to reconnecting its arm.
"I was thinking--you should go ahead and claim the bounty from Mogo by yourself," Ondine said. "You did all the work, after all. I mean, I don't think I could have handled any of that by myself." What she didn't mention was the fact that her half of the bounty only covered about a third of the price Jabba had extracted from the Phlutdroid in exchange for her freedom.
IG-72, however, knew that she had been instrumental in helping it to locate Gazzo Ku Metz, and had come, with some difficulty, to the conclusion that the rare organic that demonstrated competence deserved to be rewarded for its merits. "I decline your offer," it said.
She smiled. "You want to stick to the original deal? All right. You know I'll just be paying the credits back to you anyway." She started to step back. "I guess I'll meet you back on Mogo's ship. We'll claim the bounty together. Sound good?"
"All right. Goodbye, Phlutdroid."
IG-72 didn't reply. It just kept motionless while the Jawas worked, and watched the strange organic turn and walk away.
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