WE DOCKED in Shug’s Spacebarn upon our return to Nar Shaddaa. I arranged with Shug to replace the proton torpedo I had spent trying to capture Rendar, and also to resupply the ship with rations and other necessities. Muehlenkha stayed with the ship to facilitate the supply transfer while Staphon and I headed to the Orange Lady to have a couple of drinks.
“So,” Staphon said once we had ordered our drinks from the bar and found a table, “what’s eating you, young man?”
Staring blankly down at my mug, I responded, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Do what?” Staphon asked quizzically. “Drink? Young man, if you quit drinking I think we’ll have a tough time getting along.” Staphon then laughed at his own joke.
I didn’t laugh. In fact, I was annoyed by Staphon’s sophomoric attempt at humor. I sighed deeply; then explained myself to Staphon. “I’m tired of being a bounty hunter. I don’t have the patience for it and I definitely don’t like being one misstep away from being the next target on Jabba’s list. I need an out. I’m also a bit uneasy with the whole thing.”
Staphon seemed to consider that for a moment in between a couple gulps of Corellian Ale. “Well, you’ll at least need to finish this or you’ll end up with a price on your head.”
I took a huge swig from my own Corellian Ale before disconsolately saying, “I know.”
“If you don’t do this, what would you do instead?” Staphon inquired.
“I came here with the intention of becoming a smuggler. I think I’d rather do that the hunt down and possibly kill people that don’t always deserve it. I have no problem taking out the Cregan Kon’s of the galaxy. I have no problem taking out thugs who make the galaxy unsafe. They deserve it. But all Rendar did was thwart someone else from being murdered. The longer I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to doubt what I’m doing.”
Staphon nodded his head as if he understood perfectly what I was saying. “Young man, smuggling is as dangerous as bounty hunting. You run into an Imperial patrol you’ll have a fight on your hands. They could blast you into dust or send you to the spice mines of Kessel.”
“Yeah, but it’s not as far south on the moral compass,” I countered. “Besides. . .”
I was interrupted by an alert from my comlink. I snatched my comlink from my belt and answered it. “This is Afcuyo.”
“Afcuyo Fraden, the Outrider is in the system,” Muehlenkha’s voice rasped through my comlink.
That news perked me up immediately. “What do you mean it’s in the system?” Did he track us? Where is it currently?”
“I do not know,” my Noghri friend unhelpfully unanswered. “The homing beacon only reports what system it is in. It does not report more specific information.”
“Okay, we’re heading back now.” I clipped my comlink back to my belt.
I had suddenly gotten what I wished for, albeit very unexpectedly. How had Rendar tracked me? Or had he tracked me at all? Maybe he was here for the very same reasons I was here. This is the Smuggler’s Moon, after all.
“Did I hear that right?” Staphon asked, interrupting my self interrogation.
“Yeah, Rendar’s somewhere in the system. Let’s go.” I nimbly rose from my chair and turned towards the door.
What happened next took me completely by surprise and almost made me lose control of my bowels and bladder simultaneously. I may have even screamed like a little girl, but I cannot recall.
The unmistakable sound of a blaster firing rang out in the cantina. Before I could even identify the sound or react to it, a crimson bolt of energy buzzed my head, leaving a few of my brunette locks smoking. The smell of burnt hair permeated the air. Silence blanketed the cantina as wholly as if someone had pressed the mute button on a holoprojector. “Whoa! What the…” I began.
“Gotchya, kid,” an arrogant yet familiar voice smugly said. I focused on the speaker and found that Dash Rendar had indeed tracked me down. “That was a warning shot. Don’t try anything stupid.” Turning his attention to the other patrons of this sparsely populated cantina, he said, “Everybody else out.”
The few patrons in the cantina wanted nothing to do with whatever was about to go down so they quietly left. Staphon tried to leave with them, but Dash waved his blaster in Staphon’s general direction, “Not so fast, old-timer.”
Staphon began muttering obscenities under his breath while going back to his seat.
Once everyone had left the cantina, Dash said, “So, Afcuyo Fraden, huh? Where’s your pet Jawa?”
I slightly raised my eyebrows in surprise. I didn’t know how Dash had figured out my identity, but this did not bode well for me.
I bet those Bothans told him who I was and that I was after him.
“That’s right, kid. I’ve got sources, and they’re more substantial than you know.” He let silence hang in the air for a moment before continuing. “Look, kid. You don’t want to mess with me. I’m out of your league. And honestly, kid, I would’ve smoked you already but I need to know how you’re tracking me. I’m sure you’ve got some device on my ship, but I’d like you just to tell me where it is so I don’t have to dismantle my entire ship. So I’m willing to make you a deal. Tell me where the homing beacon is and I’ll let you walk. Then you forget that you ever found me.”
I didn’t respond immediately. I was very seriously contemplating Dash’s offer, but there was no way to accept it without invoking the wrath of Jabba. “You know, Dash, I would love nothing more than to do that, but if I forget you then I’ve failed. If I fail Jabba then I end up with a price on my head.”
A smirk materialized on Dash’s face. “I’m not concerned with Jabba, kid. That giant worm can lick the bottom of my boot after a long walk on Raxus Prime.”
Well, that’s just nasty, I thought. On second thought, Jabba might enjoy that.
I said as much to Dash. “He’d probably like that.”
“Nevertheless, kid, I don’t care what Jabba may or may not like. I’m only concerned with. . .”
Dash never had a chance to finish his sentence. Muehlenkha, who seemed to appear from thin air, tackled Dash from behind. He never saw Muehlenkha coming and, quite frankly, neither did I. I had no idea how or when Muehlenkha had gotten there.
Dash had dropped his blaster when Muehlenkha assailed him. Dash’s arms and head were thrown violently back such was the force with which Muehlenkha had hit him. Dash hit the ground torso-first, his head and other extremities second. Muehlenkha swiftly grabbed both of Dash’s arms and pinned them behind his back.
The joke was there, and I couldn’t resist. “There’s my ‘pet Jawa’,” I quipped. I quickly ran over and scooped Dash’s blaster from under the table where it had landed. “Muehlenkha, do we have a way to tie him up?”
“Yes, Afcuyo Fraden, “Muehlenkha responded. “I have the binders which we appropriated on Bothawui.”
I looked to Staphon. “Can you cuff him?”
Staphon strode over to where Muehlenkha had pinned Dash on the floor. He removed the binders from Muehlenkha’s belt. He then slapped them onto Dash’s wrists.
“You made this easier than I thought it would be, Dash,” I scoffed. “Thanks.”
Dash said nothing, but laid there seething.
“Let’s get him back to the ship quickly,” I said to my companions. “Someone may be helping him. He found me pretty quickly.”
It turned out that Dash had no help. Either that or his help was completely incompetent. My friends and I were able to get Dash back to the Titan without incident. Once aboard the ship, we locked him inside the single crew quarters.
Staphon headed towards the cockpit to run the pre-flight checklist. I tracked down Muehlenkha in his quarters and asked him how he knew Rendar had found me.
“I did not know, Afcuyo Fraden,” he quietly answered. “I hadn’t the slightest idea where he was and for that reason felt I needed to come to you in case Dash Rendar found you. It was only coincidence and fortuitous timing that I arrived when I did.”
Wow, I thought. It’s about time some good luck came my way.
“Well, thanks. I was in a pretty tight spot.”
Muehlenkha said nothing in return, and seemed slightly troubled. “Hey, is everything okay?” I asked.
“Do not be concerned about me, Afcuyo Fraden. I am fine. We must finish our assignment, yes?”
That was a dismissal if I had ever heard one. Muehlenkha evidently had no desire to discuss what was bothering him. “Sure,” I said, then left Muehlenkha and headed to the cockpit. I made myself a mental note to ask him about whatever may be bothering him in the future.
By the time I had made it back to the cockpit, Staphon already had the coordinates for Tatooine programmed into the navicomputer and was merely waiting for me to sit down and strap in before engaging the hyperdrive. I strapped in and punched the lever myself and we were once again bound for Tatooine.