Authors: Brian Daley
THE HAN SOLO ADVENTURES
Han Solo drove his swoop into the weather station’s giant emission cylinder. The pursuing craft hung back a moment, then followed.
“Stay gripped!” he called to the woman behind him, jockeying the swoop to face his enemies. They scattered, then dropped onto his tail again, ready to trap him at the cylinder’s far end.
Han speeded up once more. The end of the emission cylinder was swinging, first revealing and then concealing meter-and-a-half-wide openings in the gridwork. The opening Han had selected expanded before him as he drove toward it. There was a terrible moment of doubt … then the gridwork passed him like a shadow, and they were in the open.
He took a quick look behind. Pieces of wreckage were raining slowly toward the ground; one of his pursuers had tried to emulate him and failed …
A Del Rey
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
HAN SOLO AT STARS’ END copyright © 1979 by The Star
HAN SOLO’S REVENGE copyright © 1979 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
HAN SOLO AND THE LOST LEGACY copyright © 1980 by Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Del Rey Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
About the Author
Also by this Author
Introduction to the
Star Wars: The Adventures of Lando Calrissian
Introduction to the Old Republic Era
Introduction to the Rise of the Empire Era
Introduction to the Rebellion Era
Introduction to the New Republic Era
Introduction to the New Jedi Order Era
Introduction to the Legacy Era
A book for Linda Kuehl
and, with particular gratitude,
for John A. Kearney
HAN Solo nearly had the control-stem leads hooked up, a sweaty job that had him stuck under the low-slung airspeeder for almost an hour, when there was a kick at his foot. “What’s holding things up?”
The leads, now gathered together in precise order, sprang free of his fingers, going every which way. With a scalding Corellian malediction, Han shoved against the machine’s undercarriage, and his repulsor-lift mechanic’s creeper slid out from under the airspeeder.
Han leaped up instantly to confront Grigmin, his temporary employer, the color on his face changing from the red of frustration to a darker and more dangerous hue. Han was lean, of medium height, and appeared younger than his actual age. His eyes were guarded, intense.
Grigmin, tall, broad shouldered, handsomely blond, and some years younger than Han, either didn’t notice his pit-crewman’s anger or chose not to acknowledge it. “Well? What about it? That airspeeder’s an important part of my show.”
Han attempted not to lose his scant temper. Working as pit-crewman to Grigmin’s one-man airshow on a circuit of fifth-rate worlds had been the only job he and his partner, Chewbacca, had been able to get when they found they needed work, but Grigmin’s unrelenting arrogance made the task of keeping his outmoded aircraft running nearly unbearable.
“Grigmin,” Han said, “I’ve warned you before. You put
too much strain on your hardware. You could stay well within performance tolerances and still complete every maneuver in your routines. But instead you showboat, with junk heaps that were obsolete when the Clone Wars were news.”
Grigmin’s grin grew even wider. “Save the excuses, Solo. Will my airspeeder be ready for my afternoon show, or have you and your Wookiee sidekick decided you don’t like working for me?”
Masterpiece of understatement!
Han thought to himself, but mumbled, “She’ll be in the air again if Fadoop gets here with the replacement parts.”
Now Grigmin frowned. “You should have gone for them yourself. I never trust these useless locals; it’s a rule I have.”
“If you want me to use a starship for a crummy surface-to-surface skip, you’ll have to pay the expenses—up front.” Han would sooner trust a local like the amiable, gregarious Fadoop than a shifty deadbeat like Grigmin.
Grigmin ignored the invitation to part with some cash. “I want my airspeeder ready,” he concluded and left to prepare for the next part of his performance, an exhibition of maneuvers with a one-man jetpack.
Maneuvers any academy greenie could do
, Han thought.
These backwater worlds are the only place anyone would pay to see a feeble act like Grigmin’s
Still, if it hadn’t been for Grigmin’s needing a pitcrew, Han Solo and the Wookiee, Chewbacca, freelance smugglers, would have been on the Hurt Vector. He adjusted his sweatband, toed the mechanic’s creeper over to him, settled onto it, and pulled himself back under the airspeeder.
Groping half-heartedly for the control leads, Han wondered just what it was that made his luck so erratic. He had had strokes of good fortune that rivaled anything he had ever heard of, but at other times.…
He barked his knuckles, swore a mighty oath, and mulled over the fact that only a short time ago he and his Wookiee partner had held the galaxy by the tail. They had defied a slavery ring in the Corporate Sector, held the Authority’s
dreaded Security Police at bay with a Territorial Manager as hostage, and come out of the deal ten thousand credits richer.
But since then there had been needed repairs for their starship, the
, and monumental celebrations on a dozen worlds as they put the Corporate Sector behind them. Then there had been ill-fated smuggling ventures: a ruinous try at clotheslegging in the Cron Drift; a failed Military Script-exchange plot in the Lesser Plooriod Cluster; and more, each adventure bringing a little closer that day when they would find themselves among the needy.
So they had ended up here in the Tion Hegemony, so far out among the lesser star systems of the vast Empire that the Imperials didn’t even bother to exert direct control over it. In the Tion tended to congregate the petty grifters, unsuccessful con-artists, and unprosperous crooks of the galaxy. They ran
-root, picked up R’alla mineral water for the smuggling run to Rampa, swiped, ambushed, connived, and attempted in a thousand ways to fuel careers temporarily at a standstill.
Han considered all this as he carefully gathered the leads, once again separating them delicately. At least with Grigmin, Han and Chewbacca were paid, once in a while.
But that didn’t make it any easier to take Grigmin’s highhandedness. What particularly irritated Han was that Grigmin considered himself the hottest stunt pilot in space. Han had entertained the idea of taking a swing at the younger man, but Grigmin was a former heavyweight unarmed combat champion.…
His musings were interrupted by another kick that jolted his boot. The control leads sprang from his hands again. Furious, he pushed off against the airspeeder’s undercarriage, jumped off the mechanic’s creeper, and, combat champion or no, launched himself at his tormentor …
… and was caught up instantly against a wide shaggy chest in a frightfully strong but restrained hug and held a half-meter or so off the ground.
“Chewie! Let go, you big … all right; I’m sorry.”
Thick arms muscled like loops of steel released him. The Wookiee Chewbacca glared down from his towering height, growling a denunciation of Han’s manners, his reddish-brown brows lowered, his fangs showing. He shook a long, hairy finger at his partner for emphasis and tried straightening the Authority Security Police admiral’s hat perched rakishly on his head, his lush mane escaping from beneath it.
The admiral’s hat was just about the only thing the two still had from their adventures in the Corporate Sector. Chewbacca had taken a fancy to its bright braid, snowy-white material, glossy black brim, and ornate insignia during an exchange of hostages just before their hasty departure from that region of space. In his people’s tradition of counting coup on their enemies, the Wookiee had demanded the hat as part of the ransom. Han, pressed by events, had indulged him.
Now the pilot threw up his hands. “Enough! I
I was sorry. I thought you were that vapor-brain Grigmin again. Now what?”
Han’s giant copilot informed him that Fadoop had arrived. Fadoop stood nearby on her feet and knuckles, an unusually fat and outgoing native of the planet Saheelindeel. A short, bandy-legged, and densely green-furred primate, she was a local wheeler-dealer who flew an aircraft of sorts, an informal assemblage of parts and components from various scrapped fliers, a craft which she called
Pulling off his sweatband, Han walked toward Fadoop. “You scrounged the parts? Good gal!”
Fadoop, scratching behind one ear with a big toe, removed a malodorous black cigar from her mouth and blew a smoke ring. “Anything for Solo-my-friend. Are we not soulsealed buddies, you, me, and the Big One here, this Wookiee? But, ahh, there is a matter—”
Fadoop looked away somewhat embarrassed. Working the quid of
-root that swelled her cheek, she spat a stream of red liquid into the dust. “I trust Solo-my-friend, but not Grigmin-the-blowhard. I hate to bring up money.”
“No apologies; you earned it.” Han dug into a coverall pocket for the cash he had gotten in advance for the airspeeder parts. Fadoop tucked the money away swiftly into her belly pouch, then brightened; a twinkle sparkled in her close-set, golden eyes.
“And there’s a surprise, Solo-my-friend. At the spaceport, when I picked up the parts, two new arrivals were looking for you and the Big One. I had room in my ship, and so brought them with me. They wait.”
Han reached back under the airspeeder and drew out his coiled gunbelt, which he always kept at arm’s length. “Who are they? Imperials? Did they look like skip-tracers or Guild muscle?” He buckled the custom-model blaster around his hips, fastening the tiedown at his right thigh, and snapped open his holster’s retaining strap.
Fadoop objected. “Negatron! Nice, peaceful fellows, a little nervous.” She scratched her verdant, bulging midsection, making a sandpaper sound. “They want to hire you. No weapons on them, at least.”
That sounded reassuring. “What do you think?” Han asked Chewbacca.
The Wookiee resettled his admiral’s hat, pulling the gleaming brim down low over his eyes, and stared across the airfield. After a few seconds, he barked a syllable of affirmation, and the three started off for Fadoop’s ship.
It was high festival on Saheelindeel, formerly a time of tribal reunions and hunting rituals, then of fertility and harvest ceremonies. Now it incorporated elements of an airshow and industrial fair. Saheelindeel, like so many other planets in the Tion Hegemony, was struggling to thrust itself into an age of modern technology and prosperity in emulation of the galaxy at large. Farming machinery was on display as well as factory robotry. Vehicles new to the wide-eyed Saheelindeeli but obsolete on more advanced worlds were in evidence, along with communications and holo apparatuses that delighted the touring crowd. In an exhibition game of shockball,
the charged orb sizzled between players wearing insulated mitts; the winning team was using a zoned offense.
Off in the distance, Grigmin was looping and diving in jetpack harness. Just seeing him again put Han in a more receptive frame of mind to meet Fadoop’s passengers. Passing by the reviewing stand, he saw the Saheelindeeli’s grizzled matriarch holding the elaborate trophy she was to present that afternoon for the best thematic float or exhibit. The fair’s theme was
Fertility of the Soil, Challenge of the Sky
. Favored heavily to win was the opulent float entered by the Regional Fork-Pitchers’ Local.
At last Han and his companions arrived at Fadoop’s slapdash cargo ship. Despite her reassurances, Han was relieved to see the new arrivals were not Imperial stormtroopers—“snowmen” or “white-hats,” as they were called in slang-talk—but an unassuming pair, human and humanoid.
The humanoid—a tall, reedy, purple-skinned type whose eyes, protruding from an elongated skull, held tiny red pinpoints of pupil—nodded at Han. “Ah, Captain Solo? A pleasure to meet you, sir!” He stuck out a thin arm. Han clasped the long, slender hand, trying to ignore its greasy skin secretions.
“Yes, I’m Solo. What can I do for you?”
The human, an emaciated albino wearing a sunproof robe, explained. “We represent the Committee for Interinstitutional Assistance of the University of Rudrig. You’ve heard of our school?”
“I think so.” He vaguely remembered that it was the only decent advanced school in the Tion Hegemony.
“The university has concluded an Agreement of Aid for a fledgling college on Brigia,” the albino continued.
The humanoid took up the conversation. “I am Hissal, and Brigia is my homeworld. The university has promised us guidance, materials, and teaching aids.”
“So you should be contacting Tion Starfreight or Interstellar Shipping,” Han noted. “But you came looking for us. Why?”
“The shipment is completely legal,” the gaunt Hissal hastened to add, “but there is opposition from my planetary government. Though they can’t contravene Imperial trade agreements, of course, we still fear there might be trouble in making delivery and—”
“—you want someone who can look out for your stuff.”
come to us as a capable fellow’s,” Hissal admitted.
“Chewie and I try to avoid trouble—”
“The job pays rather well,” interposed the albino. “One thousand credits.”
“—unless there’s some profit in it. Two thousand,” Han finished, doubling the price automatically even though the offer had been more than fair. There ensued a few moments of haggling. But when Han pressed the university representatives too sharply and their enthusiasm began to waver, Chewbacca issued a howl that made them all jump. He didn’t much like crewing for Grigmin either.
“Uh, my copilot’s an idealist,” Han improvised, scowling up at the Wookiee. “Luckily for you. Fifteen hundred.” The albino and the Brigian agreed, adding that half would be paid on consignment, half on delivery. Chewbacca pushed his gaudy admiral’s hat back on his head and beamed at his partner, overjoyed to be lifting off again.
“So,” said Fadoop, slapping her belly merrily with both hands and one foot, “that only leaves telling that fool Grigmin good riddance.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Han agreed. “He’ll be doing his big stunt display any time now.” He rubbed his jaw and studied the ungainly, stubby-winged vessel that stood nearby. “Fadoop, can I borrow old
for a few minutes?”
“No questions asked. But she’s got cargo onboard, several cubic meters of enriched fertilizer for the agricultural pavilion.” Fadoop relit her cigar.
“No problem,” Han told her. “Warm up your ship. I’ll be right back.”
* * *
Having already amazed the unsophisticated Saheelindeeli with his hover-sled, jetpack, and repulsorlift swoops, Grigmin began his grand finale, an exhibition of stunt flying with an obsolete X-222 high-altitude fighter. The triple-deuce looped, climbed, dove, and banked through textbook maneuvers, releasing clouds of colorful aerosols at certain points to the delight of the crowd.
Grigmin came into his final approach, putting the limber and lean ship through a fancy aerobatic display before coming in toward a precise landing. He didn’t realize, however, that a second ship had come in after him on the same approach his fighter had taken. It was Fadoop’s cumbersome
with Han Solo at the controls. To show what he thought of Grigmin’s flying ability, Han took the tubby ship through the same display the exhibition flier was just completing. But, coming into his first loop, Han feathered his portside engine.
The green-furred Saheelindeeli gasped collectively and pointed the second ship out to one another with a great commotion, forgetting to watch Grigmin’s landing entirely. They expected to see
plummet from the air. But Han completed the roll, deftly working with the nearly empty craft’s stubby wings, control surfaces, and chugging engine. On the second roll, he feathered the starboard engine, too, and went into a third with zero thrust.
Shrieks of fright from the crowd and their tentative race for cover abated as they saw that the unwieldy aircraft was still under control. Jumping up and down, pointing with fingers and toes, they sent up a ragged cheer for the mad pilot, then a more forceful one, reflecting the Saheelindeeli affection for grand gestures, even insane ones.
Grigmin, who had exited from his ship virtually unnoticed, threw down his flight helmet and watched
in mounting fury. Han coaxed the third roll out of his homely vessel and waggled her down toward the strip.
But only one landing wheel emerged from its bay. Grigmin grinned at the prospect of a crash; but unexpectedly the ship
bounced off the single wheel, trimmed handily, and settled a second time as another landing wheel lowered. She bore on the reviewing stand with surprising grace and rebounded from two wheels.
neared the reviewing stand, the crowd parted before her, clapping their hands and feet in high approbation. The ship waggled her tail in midair, extended her third and last landing wheel, and rolled cleanly for the reviewing stand. By that time Grigmin was so distracted that he didn’t notice the cargo ship heading directly for his precious triple-deuce fighter.
Too late! Slam! He could only dodge out of the way as
rolled by. Han threw a wicked grin at him from the cockpit.
’s high, heavy-duty landing gear permitted her to pass directly over the low, sleek fighter. With consummate skill, Han flipped open her cargo-bay doors and suddenly an avalanche of enriched fertilizer dumped directly into the fighter through the open cockpit canopy.
The Saheelindeeli began applauding madly.
’s overhead cockpit hatch popped open, and Han’s happy face appeared. He inclined his head graciously to acknowledge the ovation as Grigmin was being elbowed farther and farther away by the press of the crowd.
From the reviewing stand the matriarch’s voice wheezed through the crackling public address system. “First prize! Trophy to
for best exhibit,
Fertility of the Soil, Challenge of the Sky
.” She waved the tall loving cup as her advisers whistled and stomped their feet in glee.
rested on Brigia’s single spaceport landing field. She looked very much like the battered, much-repaired, and worn-out stock freighter she was, but there were incongruities. The irregular docking tackle, oversized thruster ports, heavy-weapons turrets, and late-model sensor-suite dish betrayed something about her real line of work.
“That’s the last of the tapes,” Han announced. He checked the offloading on his hand-held readout screen as Bollux, the labor ’droid, stumped past, guiding a repulsorlift hand truck. The automaton’s green finish looked eerie in the glow of the irradiators with which the ship was now rigged. Brigia was flagged in all the standard directories, thus requiring phase-one decontam procedures. The ship’s environmental systems circulated broad-spectrum anticontamination aerosols along with air. Han’s and Chewbacca’s immunization treatments would protect them against local maladies, but they were nonetheless eager to be away.
Han watched Bollux head for the steam-powered freight truck parked near the ship. The glare of the landing field’s illumigrids showed him the Brigian workers, all volunteers from the budding college, arranging crates, packing canisters and carry-cases that the
had delivered. They conversed animatedly among themselves, thrilled with the new broadcasting equipment and especially with the library of tapes.
Han turned to Hissal, who had accompanied him on the
flight and who was to be the college’s first president. “The only thing left to get outboard is your duplicator.”
“Ah, yes, the duplicator, our most-awaited-item,” commented Hissal, “and the most expensive. It will print and collate material at speeds our own presses cannot match and synthesize any paper or other material from the raw constituents it contains. This, from a device that fits into a few crates. Amazing!”
Han made a noncommittal sound. Bollux was returning, and Han called down the curve of the passageway, “Chewie! Secure the main hold and crack open the number two; I want to get that duplicator off and raise ship.” From aft echoed the Wookiee’s answering growl.
“Captain, there’s one more thing,” Hissal went on, drawing a pouch from beneath his lateral folds. Han’s right hand dropped immediately to his blaster. Hissal, sensing his breach of decorum, held up a thin hand in denial.
“Be of tranquil mind. I know that among your kind it is customary to offer a gratuity for a task well done.” Hissal plucked a curl of bills out of his pouch and extended it to the pilot.
Han examined the bills. They had a strange texture, more like textile than like paper. “What
“A new innovation,” admitted Hissal. “Several Progressions ago the New Regime replaced bartering and local coinages with a planet-wide monetary system.”
Han slapped the sheaf of minutely inscribed bills against the palm of his flying glove. “Which gives them a hammer-lock on trade, of course. Well, thanks anyway, but this stuff isn’t worth much off-planet.”
Hissal’s elongated face grew even longer. “Unfortunately, only the New Regime may hold off-world currency; thus, all equipment and materials for our school had to come by donation. The first thing the New Regime did when it accumulated enough credits was bring in a developmental consulting firm. Aside from the currency system, the firm’s main accomplishment was to profit from a major purchase
of military equipment, which included that warship you saw.”
noticed the ship, a pocket-cruiser of the outmoded Marauder class surrounded by worklights and armed guards.
“Her main control stacks blew on her shakedown cruise,” Hissal explained. “Naturally, there are no Brigian techs capable of repairing her, and so she remains inert until the Regime can muster enough credits to import techs and parts. That money could have brought us commercial technology, or medical advancements.”
Han nodded. “First thing most of these boondock worlds do—no offense, Hissal—is pick up some toys to build their image. Then their neighbors run out and do the same.”
“We are a poor planet,” the Brigian told him solemnly, “and have more important priorities.”
Han declined further comment on that subject. Bollux had returned and was waiting for Han’s next order, when suddenly there was a distant screeching of steam sirens.
Han walked down to the ramp’s hinged foot. Closing in from all sides were rows of lumbering metal power wagons, petro-engines chugging, sirens ripping the night, high wheels making the landing field tremble. Arc-spotlights swung to converge on the
and the freight truck.
Han shouldered past Hissal and dashed to the ramp head. “Chewie! We’ve got problems; get into the cockpit and charge up the main guns!” He rejoined Hissal halfway down the ramp.
The college volunteers stood surprised and unmoving on the bed of their truck, unsure of what to do. In moments the cordon of power wagons had been drawn tightly. Doors flew open and squads of figures came leaping from the vehicles. They were obviously government troops, carrying old-fashioned solid-projectile firearms. But something about their uniforms seemed odd. The troops wore human-style military regalia ill-suited to the gawkish Brigian anatomy. Han surmised that remnants and leftovers had been foisted off on the
unsuspecting New Regime as part of their overall military purchase.
The soldiers marched in badly fitting battle harness, far-too-loose helmets perched precariously on their heads, filigreed epaulets sagging forlornly from their narrow shoulders, embroidered dispatch cases flopping against their skinny posteriors. Their legs and feet were too narrow for combat boots, so the warriors of Brigia wore natty pink spats with glittering buttons over bare feet. Among what Han assumed to be their officer corps were an abundance of medals and citations, one or two ceremonial swords, and several drooping cummerbunds. A number of troopers with no detectable talent were blowing bugles.
In moments, the soldiers had taken the shocked college volunteers captive at bayonet point. Other units advanced on the starship.
Han had already grasped Hissal’s thin arm and was dragging him up the ramp. “But, this is an atrocity! We have done nothing wrong!”
Han released him and plunged through the main hatch. “You want to debate that with a bullet? Make up your mind; I’m sealing up.”
Hissal hurried up the ramp. The main hatch rolled down just as the troops reached the ramp’s foot; Han heard a salvo of bullets ricocheting off it.
In the cockpit, Chewbacca had already activated defensive shields and had begun warming up the engines. Hissal, trailing Han, was still protesting. Han couldn’t take the time to reply; he was completely absorbed in readying the ship for takeoff.
The volunteers were being dragged, pushed, and thrown into confinement in the waiting wagons. The few who protested were summarily struck down and towed off by their slender, strangely boned ankles. Han noticed that the Brigians’ war-bannered personnel carriers were, in fact, garbage trucks of an outdated model.
Chewbacca made a grating sound through clenched teeth.
“I’m mad about our money, too,” Han replied. “How do we get the other half if we can’t get a delivery receipt?”
The troops were taking up firing positions in ranks around the starship. “They couldn’t have waited another ten minutes?” Han muttered. A Brigian stepped out in front of the firing lines. Because of the glare of the spotlights, Han had to shield his eyes with his hand to see that the Brigian held a loudhailer in one hand and an official-looking scroll in the other.
Han donned his headset and flipped on an external audio pickup in time to hear “—no harm will come to you, good friends from space! The peace-loving New Regime requires only that you surrender the fugitive now onboard your vessel. The Brigian government will trouble you no further.”
Han keyed his headset mike over to external-speaker mode. “What about our pay?” He avoided looking at Hissal, but kept one hand close to his side arm.
“Agreements can be reached, honored offworlder,” the Brigian below answered. “Allow me to come onboard and parley.”
Han keyed his mike again. “Pull the soldiers back and turn those spotlights off. Meet me at the ramp, no weapons, no stunts!”
The Brigian passed his loudhailer to a subordinate and motioned with the scroll. The ranks fell back and the spotlights flickered out; the martial garbage trucks withdrew. “Keep an eye on things,” Han instructed his first mate. “If anyone moves wrong, let me know.”
Hissal was outraged. “Is it your plan to treat with these hoodlums? Legally speaking, they haven’t got a receptacle to
in, I assure you. The courts—”
“—don’t concern us now,” Han interrupted, motioning him aside. “Go find a seat in the forward compartment and don’t worry; we won’t hand you over to them.”
With great dignity Hissal corrected him. “My concern is for my friends.”
Bollux, the labor ’droid, was waiting in the passageway,
the crated duplicator components loaded on his handtruck. In his measured drawl the automaton asked, “What are your instructions, Captain?”
Han sighed. “I don’t know. Why is it I never get the easy jobs? Go up forward, Bollux. If I need you, I’ll holler.” The machine’s heavy feet clattered on the deckplates. Chewbacca yeowled that the area was clear.
Han pulled his blaster. The main hatch rolled up, and at the ramp’s foot waited the Brigian. He was taller than Hissal, broadly built for his species, his color a little darker than average. He wore a chrome-studded battle harness, rhinestone shoulderboards with dangling brushes at the ends, several colorful aiguillettes, a salad of decorations, and impressive, red-sequined spats. A plume bobbed from his tilting helmet.
Han beckoned warily. The creature marched up the ramp, the scroll tucked under one arm. Han stopped him at the head of the ramp. “Shuck the harness and the tin lid and toss them back down.”
The creature complied. “Welcome to our fair planet, fellow biped,” he said with an-effort at heartiness. “I am Inspector Keek, Chief of the Internal Security Police of the very progress-minded New Regime of Brigia.” He cast his harness and helmet away with a racket of clanking metal.
“I figured you weren’t the Boosters’ Club,” Han said wryly, making the inspector raise long, skinny arms high. He cautiously poked at the security chief’s lateral folds to make sure he had no hidden weapons there. Keek wriggled. This close, Han could read Keek’s medals. Either these, too, had been obtained secondhand, he thought, or the inspector was also spelling champ of the planet Oor VII.
“All right, into the forward compartment there. Best behavior now; I’ve had all the games I’m going to play today.”
Entering the forward compartment, Keek gazed without comment at Hissal, who was seated in an acceleration chair near the holo-gameboard. The inspector found his own seat
by the tech station. Bollux had seated himself on the curved acceleration couch behind the gameboard.
Han rested one hip on the gleaming gameboard. “Now, what’s the hitch? I’ve got my clearances. The Imperials aren’t going to be too happy about you local enforcers trying to hijack an authorized shipment.”
Keek spoke with forced jocularity, “Ah, you scaredy-
human. Nothing’s wrong! The benevolent Inner Council held an emergency session when word of this transaction reached them and placed all teaching materials and off-world literature on the restricted list.” He waved the beribboned scroll. “I have here the Edict, which I am to present to you.”
“And just who’s the flaming Inner Council? Listen, slim, no little slowpoke world alters Imperial trade agreements.” That he himself had often broken Imperial laws—shattered them to fragments would be more accurate—was something he chose not to mention.
“We are merely here, my troops and I,” Keek replied evenly, “to take temporary custody of the cargo in question, until a Tion representative and an Imperial adjudicator can be summoned. The arrests were strictly an internal matter.”
And the Tion representative and the Imperial adjudicator would undoubtedly come with price tags attached, Han reflected. “So who pays me?”
Keek attempted to smile; he looked preposterous. “Our supply of Imperial currency is depleted just now, due to repairs to our spacefleet. But our Treasury’s note, or our planetary currency—”
“No play money!” Han exploded. “I want my cargo back. And besides, one run-down gunboat is no
“Impossible. The cargo is evidence for the trial of certain seditionists, one of whom you’ve been deceived into sheltering. Come, Captain; cooperate, and you’ll be well received here.” Keek winked, with effort. “Come! We’ll pass intoxicating liquids through our bodies and boast of our sporting abilities! Let us be jolly and clumsy, as humans love to be!”
Han, who hated being played for a sucker worse than anything,
gritted his teeth. “I told you already, I don’t want any of your homemade cash—”
A sudden thought struck him, and he jumped up. “You want part of my cargo? Keep it! But I’m going to come across to Hissal with what’s left.”
The security chief seemed amused. “You seek to extort me with educational materials? Come, Captain; we’re both worldly chaps.”
Han ignored Keek’s attempt at flattery. Carrying a power prybar, he began breaking packing straps from a crate on the hand truck. “This is a duplicator, just the thing to set up a college press with. But it’s a top-of-the-line model, and it’s versatile. Hissal, I’ll take that tip after all.”
Confused, Hissal handed over the Brigian currency. Han showed them one of the duplicator’s components.
“This is the prototyper; you can program it for what you want or feed it as a sample. Like this.” He inserted a Brigian bill and punched several buttons. The prototyper whirred, lights blinked, and the original bill reappeared together with an identical copy. Han held it up to the light, eyeing the duplicate critically. Keek made choking sounds, comprehending now that the pilot was holding his planet’s entire monetary system hostage.
. Not perfect,” Han noted, “but if you supplied the machine with local materials, it would work. And for different serial numbers on each bill you just program that into the machine. That consulting firm must’ve been a cut-rate operation; they didn’t even bother to set up a secure currency.” The New Regime had obviously been the victim of aggressive salesmanship. “Well, Keek, what do you—”
Keek had snapped the end off his scroll’s wooden core and pointed it directly at Han, who didn’t doubt for a second that he was looking down the barrel of a gun.
“Lay your pistol on that table, alien primate,” hissed Keek. “You will now have your automaton take the hand truck and he, you, and the traitor Hissal will precede me down the ramp.”
Han gave Bollux the order as he carefully put his blaster on the gameboard, knowing Keek would shoot him if he tried to warn Chewbacca. But as Keek reached to take possession of the blaster, Han inconspicuously touched the gameboard’s master control.
Miniature holo-monsters leaped into existence, weird creatures of a dozen worlds, spitting and striking, roaring and hopping. Keek jumped back in surprise, firing his scroll-weapon by reflex. A beam of orange energy crashed into the board, and the monsters evaporated into nothingness.
At the same instant Han, with a star-pilot’s reflexes, threw himself onto the security chief, catching hold of the hand holding the scroll-gun. He groped for his blaster with his free hand, but Keek’s shot had knocked it from the gameboard.
The security chief possessed incredible strength. Not stopped by the pilot’s desperate punches, Keek hurled him halfway across the compartment and brought his weapon around. Just then Hissal landed on his shoulders, making Keek stagger against the edge of the acceleration couch. The two Brigians struggled, their arms and legs intertwining like a confusion of snakes.
But Keek was stronger than the smaller Hissal. Bit by bit he brought his weapon around for a shot. Han got back into the fight with a side-on kick that knocked the scroll aside so that the charge meant for Hissal burned a deep hole in one of the safety cushions.
The scroll-gun was apparently spent, and Keek began to club Hissal with it. Han tried to clock him, but Keek knocked the pilot to the deck with stunning force, then turned to grapple with the other Brigian, their feet shuffling and kicking around the downed human. Unable to get around them and recover his blaster, Han tripped Keek. The inspector sank, taking Hissal with him.
Suddenly the scroll, which Keek had dropped, rolled into Han’s palm. As Keek was kneeling over the fallen Hissal, Han swung the scroll, connecting solidly with the security
chief’s skull. Keek’s lank body shook with spasms and stiffened. Hissal merely pushed him, and the security chief toppled to the deck.
A roar came from behind them. Chewbacca, seeing his partner unharmed, was visibly relieved. “Where were
?” Han cried. “He just about put out my running lights!” Rubbing the bruises he had received, Han recovered his pistol.
Hissal, collapsed in an acceleration chair, tried to catch his breath. “This isn’t my usual line of endeavor, Captain. Thank you.”
“We’re sort of even,” Han replied with a laugh. Keek began to stir, and Chewbacca the Wookiee snatched him to his feet with one hand. Keek, strong as he was, had better sense than to resist an enraged Wookiee.
Han covered Keek’s small bud of a nose with the muzzle of his blaster. The security chief’s bulging eyes crossed, watching the weapon. “That little trick of yours wasn’t nice, Keek; I hate sneaks even more than hijackers. I want Hissal’s people and my cargo back onboard this ship in five minutes or else you’re going to have the wind whistling through your ears.”
When Hissal’s freed colleagues and the controversial cargo were back onboard, Han brought Keek to the ramp’s head. “The Empire will hear of this,” the Brigian vowed. “It’s the death sentence for you.”