Varn Bolmar sensed the danger a moment before he heard the harsh voice.
"All right, Bolmar. Turn around. Nice and slow, and keep your hands where I can see them."
Varn set down his glass of Corellian ale on the bar, then did as he was told. He regarded the source of the command, a young man about his own age, dressed modestly but with a head of spiked blond hair. The man wore an arrogant grin on his face. In his right hand was a blaster.
"As I'm sure you know, there's a rather large bounty on your head. And it appears that I'll be collecting it. Now get out your weapon - slowly - and toss it over here. And don't try anything funny. There are three other guns pointed at your head."
The bounty hunter was lying, Varn recognized. He did have help, but only in the form of one ally, not three. Varn had noticed his eyes shifting momentarily to his left as he spoke, and he reached out his senses in that direction to find one focused mind that could only belong to the holder of the one other gun that was currently pointed at Varn's head.
Varn had been a mere Padawan when the Jedi Order was disbanded, but several years on the run from Imperials and bounty hunters had heightened his senses tremendously.
"Hand over the weapon," the man repeated, gritting his teeth. He was standing about three meters away, wise enough to keep his distance, but Varn could sense a nervousness behind the cocky fa?ade. These guys are amateurs.
He reached for his lightsaber, slowly, and unclipped it from his belt. As he held it out to show the bounty hunter, Varn heard gasps from several of the bar's patrons. The Twi'lek sitting next to him scrambled into the next seat over. "Here you go," Varn said, tossing the lightsaber toward his captor's feet. He sensed relief from the hunter, but it was quickly replaced by shock as, still in midair, the saber sprang to glowing blue life and arced up toward the man's chest.
Varn was already diving from his seat when the blasterfire erupted from his back right. He went into a forward roll, recovered his lightsaber from next to the collapsing hunter, and came to his feet facing his other assailant. Red blaster bolts scattered across the dim room as Varn blocked the fire, causing beings throughout the bar to duck for cover. Varn took slow steps backward to the bar's entrance. Suddenly, he was grabbed from behind. I guess someone else decided capturing a Jedi would be a nice way to earn some quick cash, he thought idly as he downed the new attacker with a hard elbow to the stomach. He blocked a few more blasts; then he was out the door.
Deactivating his lightsaber but not yet returning it to his belt, Varn raced down the street. The docking bay where his ship was waiting was just a few blocks away. He made a right turn, then grimaced as he ran straight into a patrolling stormtrooper.
"Hey, you there!" the trooper's partner cried as Varn spun around and headed the other way. Chances were that they had no idea he was a Jedi, but he had attracted their attention, and attention from Imperials was something he had best avoid.
The stormtroopers gave chase. Varn called on the Force to enhance his speed, then raced around a corner to his right. He sped down the crowded thoroughfare, weaving his way around startled passersby, before making a left turn into a dark alley. Looking up, he soon spotted an ideal hiding place. Varn leapt two stories onto a balcony and landed in a crouch.
He could hear the troopers' cries behind him, as well as the bewildered shouts of pedestrians. Peering over the edge of the balcony, Varn spotted the troopers at the mouth of the alleyway. They were now talking to a human female, who was gesturing into the alley. The white-armored troopers jogged into the darkness, and Varn ducked down and out of sight. The heavy footsteps passed below, not slowing down, and then faded as the troopers went further into the alley. After waiting fifteen seconds, Varn chanced a peek over the balcony's edge and saw the Imperial soldiers disappearing into the shadows. When they had gone far enough, he dropped the six meters to the ground and casually began to walk back the way he had come.
There were no further obstructions, and within minutes Varn had reached his ship, a Z-95 Headhunter. He climbed into the cockpit, and let out a sigh as he started up the starfighter's launch system. He had hoped that the meeting today would go successfully, and he wouldn't have to worry about Imps and bounty hunters anymore - for a while, anyway. I guess we'll have to go to the backup plan, he thought, as his fighter roared up into the starry sky.
The bounty hunter smiled. The homing device was working.
He had managed to track Varn Bolmar to Nar Shaddaa, but had discovered that several other bounty hunters were also on the Jedi's trail. None were among the big names in the business; this Jedi had been of no particular importance in the fallen order. Still, at ten thousand credits, dead or alive, any Jedi was a valuable commodity.
The hunter had lost track of Bolmar's exact location in the vast city of the Smuggler's Moon. Apparently one of the others on the Jedi's tail had found and tried to apprehend Bolmar, but not surprisingly had met with failure. The bounty hunter had finally caught up with the fleeing Jedi just as his Z-95 was preparing to launch. There had only been time to shoot a tiny, dart-like homing device onto the fighter's hull as it zoomed away. The device was quite high-tech, and would not be picked up easily by scanners. If it worked properly, as it appeared to be doing, it would enable the hunter to follow Bolmar wherever he went. And now he was going to the Risi system.
The bounty hunter punched in the coordinates and smiled once more as he sent his ship into hyperspace.
Varn slid himself into the booth across from the dark-featured man and, without preamble, said, "I'd like to place a bet on the Gundarks."
The man smiled and nodded. "Greed . . . can be a powerful ally."
"Indeed. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Lomin ale," the man replied. "Make it cold."
Varn nodded. Both responses were correct. This was his contact. He handed the man a cred-chit and received a datacard in exchange. The information in the card, if all went according to plan, would lead Varn to an unknown planet and a smuggler ship on that planet that would then take him to another unknown planet where he could live safely. He had made some friends in the smuggler business in the years since the fall of the Jedi Order, and trusted the group he was dealing with. After years of being one step ahead of the law - and sometimes of the lawless as well - he had finally found what looked like a promise of security.
Varn rose from his seat. "Good day."
"Pleasure doing business with you," the man replied.
Varn made his way to the tavern's exit, pondering the course laid before him. These next few days were critical. He had been lucky on Nar Shaddaa, no doubt about that. If those bounty hunters had been more skilled, he might have been in serious trouble. Now he had to make sure he was not tracked down once more before he met up with the smuggler's ship. His destination had to remain secret, and safe.
Safe. It would truly be wonderful to be safe, and not have to worry that anywhere he went there could be a charged blaster waiting for him. The Imperials had eyes everywhere, as did the network of bounty hunters and their lowlife allies. But this place, his smuggler friends had assured him, was unknown to anyone who would be hunting Jedi. It would be a strange feeling, being able to live peacefully in one place instead of running constantly from one system to the next. Of course, he had known such peace during his childhood - he had loved the tranquility and beauty of the Jedi Temple. But that peace had ended abruptly with the onset of the Clone Wars, and in the years since things had only gotten worse. His years at the Temple seemed a lifetime ago.
Varn wondered what he would do once he had this newfound security. Perhaps one day the beings of the galaxy would rise up against the Emperor, and he would help in that fight. Or perhaps he would just live out the rest of his years in what manner of contentment he could find. Either way, the important thing was that soon he would be safe.
Before long, Varn arrived at the large bay where his ship was docked. He keyed open the blast door at the front entrance and headed inside. His Z-95, one of a half-dozen ships in the open-aired bay, was straight ahead. Varn walked, quickly but without excessive urgency, to the small fighter. Ten meters from the ship, he stopped dead in his tracks.
Something was wrong.
Varn looked around the bay, searching for possible sources of danger. Only two other beings were visible, a pair of Rodians standing by a freighter. They were paying him no attention, and he felt certain they were not threats. He looked up to the sky. It was a deep blue with a scattering of violet-tinted clouds. A few ships buzzed by, far overhead, too far, he decided, to threaten him. The Jedi could perceive nothing that would possibly be dangerous to him at this moment. But the chills running up and down his spine remained.
Varn pulled out his com-link and called his astromech droid, R2-E4, which was in his ship less than a dozen meters away. "Did anyone approach the ship while I was gone?" he asked.
NO was the reply, printed on a small readout screen attached to the com.
"Did you detect any suspicious activity of any kind?"
Varn scratched his chin as he thought. If there had been no suspicious activity in the bay, it didn't seem possible that getting into his fighter would be dangerous. So his best option was to do so and get out of here quickly.
He exchanged his com-link for his lightsaber, but left it unlit as he jogged the last few meters to his starfighter. Then he was interrupted by a hail of blasterfire.
"Shavit!" Varn muttered as he dove to the ground and switched his blade on. Where had the attack come from? There had been no one in sight who could have been the source! More bolts pounded into the hull of his fighter, which served as a shield between the Jedi and his unknown attacker, doing little damage to the ship. Varn reached out to the Force, and now he could sense the mind of the attacker. It was coming closer, he could tell, although he was unable to detect any emotions.
Varn heard the sound of a light rocket, and an instant later an armored man flew just meters overhead, firing his blaster downwards. Varn blocked the bolts and spun to track his assailant's path. A jetpack. He must have flown up over the bay's wall.
The man - Varn presumed it was a man, although his face and body were completely covered - landed facing Varn and continued to fire. Varn turned the bolts aside, wishing that he could better control where the deflected blasts went. Shot, deflection, shot, deflection - this continued for about fifteen seconds before the man apparently realized it was a standoff and launched straight upwards. Then he changed his course to buzz Varn again. The Jedi held his saber up over his head, then launched himself into a roll as the man passed. As he began to come out of the roll, he felt netting grab onto him from behind. The net stuck to the ground and trapped his legs. He strained to look back toward his attacker. The rocket-man was turning back toward Varn, but not aiming his blaster. Instead, he threw the smoking weapon to the ground. One of the bolts Varn had deflected at close range must have been sent straight back to its source.
Varn deftly reached back with his saber, and the blue blade cut through just enough netting to set him free before his attacker was upon him. Varn groaned as the solid armor crashed into his unprotected body. He momentarily lost his grip on his saber, and the metal hilt went clattering away. The man tried to wrap his arms around Varn and hold him to the ground. Varn struggled mightily, then with a burst of Force energy managed to roll so that he was on top. He sprang out of his attacker's grasp and ran a few meters before spinning to see the rocket-man getting up from the ground and launching himself forward with his jetpack. Varn had to move quickly to avoid being rammed. He fell onto his back and, as the man zoomed overhead, grabbed onto his armored legs.
Varn wondered for a moment if this had been wise as he was dragged across the bay's hard ground. Pain shot through his back, but then the rocket-man hit the ground himself and Varn let go of his attacker's legs. The Jedi was up in an instant, calling his lightsaber to him, but the other recovered enough to kick him in the shin and the saber flew past Varn to fall back to the ground. As the rocket-man got up, Varn gave him a knee between the legs, but the armor seemed quite effective in lessening the impact. Varn was forced to block a punch, then another. The third hit him in the stomach. He fell, scrambling backwards and out of his assailant's grasp. Then he jumped meters into the air and finally managed to retrieve his lightsaber with the Force. He landed to see his foe - drawing another blaster.
It was obvious now that this bounty hunter was not a mere amateur. In fact, this was a fight that Varn was not sure that he could win.
He decided in that instant that the best plan would be to flee the docking bay. There were four entrances, one on each side of the bay, and Varn headed for the nearest one, still blocking bolts. He got to the door and began to key it open before he sensed sudden and immense danger.
Varn threw himself away from the door as it exploded. The blast flung him farther toward the center of the bay. The bounty hunter must have placed a detonation pack on the outside of the door prior to his assault - and chances were each of the other three doors leading out of the bay was similarly trapped. Varn looked back at the remains of the door to see rubble blocking the entrance. He wouldn't have time to clear it.
In the crumbling wreckage of the door, Varn imagined for a moment that he could see his dreams of peace and safety collapsing as well. There might very well be no escape from this bay -
No! He got to his feet as the next barrage of blasterfire started. There must be another way. Varn continued to deflect the shots, at the same time searching for an alternate escape route. The doors were off-limits, and he obviously wouldn't have time to get into his fighter and get it started. He spared a glance behind him - and noticed that a catwalk ran along the bay's back wall perhaps four meters off the ground. If he could get onto that, he might be able to manage a jump onto the top of the bay's high wall, and then he would hopefully be able to get down on the other side. It might just work. Varn backed up slowly toward the wall, still blocking the endless stream of blaster bolts that came toward him. His attacker followed. A few meters from the wall, Varn stopped. The bounty hunter came a bit closer, and suddenly Varn saw an opening. After turning aside another bolt, he reached out with his saber and, with a quick swing, managed to chop the end of the blaster off. Tell me he doesn't have a third.
The hunter jumped two meters back, dropping his useless weapon. In a single fluid motion, he raised his arms, pointing one at Varn and grabbing onto the wrist of that arm with the other. A large burst of flame shot from the hunter's wrist. Varn could feel the heat as he leapt up and back toward the catwalk.
Looking down, he noticed that he had been standing directly in front of a large bank of fuel cells....
The bounty hunter was hurled backwards by the massive explosion. He hit the ground hard and was dazed for a moment, after which he realized that it was a very good thing that he was wearing his armor. He would never have survived the blast otherwise. As for the Jedi, well, he did not have any armor.
The bounty hunter lay on his back a few more heartbeats before slowly pushing himself up onto his feet. He saw the Jedi's charred body lying a couple meters away and instantly recognized it as a corpse. The clothes and skin were blackened, but the authorities would still have enough material here to easily identify the body as that of Varn Bolmar. It was probably a good thing that the Jedi jumped at the last moment, the hunter thought, for otherwise he might have been completely disintegrated.
The bounty hunter walked to the corpse and knelt down beside it. As he examined it more closely, he found that in addition to a lightsaber and a com-link, the Jedi had a datacard on him. Datacards were durable, the hunter knew - perhaps the card held some useful information that had survived the blast. He would have to check it out. Then the hunter took a deep breath as the significance of the lifeless body before him set in.
His first successful solo bounty. This was certainly a momentous occasion. Being a Jedi, it was very unusual for a first catch - but I am no ordinary bounty hunter.
The hunter took off his helmet and held it in his hands before him. Regarding the battle-scarred piece of armor, he reflected that it was just over five years to the day when he had held this same helmet in a similar position, after his father had been killed. Brutally beheaded. By a Jedi.
Varn Bolmar will be only the first of many Jedi that I bring to justice, Boba Fett vowed.
Boba's father, Jango, had been the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. He had been training his cloned son to take on that title when he was old enough, but that training had been cut tragically short on that awful day on Geonosis. Boba's universe had been shattered in the instant that purple lightsaber had cleaved through Jango's neck, but as he had held his father's helmet in his hands on the empty arena battlefield, in his sadness he had determined that he would carry through with his father's wishes. One day in the future, all beings would know once more that the best bounty hunter in the galaxy was named Fett.
Boba replaced the helmet on his head. It fit quite comfortably. As he got up, he noticed as he often did that the rest of the armor was not yet so comfortable. He had just started wearing it recently, and it was still big on him. But that had not prevented it from saving his life today.
And in a few years, Boba Fett knew, his father's armor would fit him just perfectly.
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