Chapter 11.

THE PLANET TATTOOINE (40 BBY)

"Marte?" said Jo-Nathan Kent. "We're getting awfully close to the ruins of Fort Tusken. I think we should turn back."

The two moisture farmers were more than used to getting up before first sunrise to start preparing for another workday. But they were not even half-dressed before the two of them were startled fully awake by a sudden sonic boom above their subterranean bedroom! Consequently, they ran up topside, just in time to see a streak of flame crash-land somewhere to the east of their farm. Their curiosity aroused, they guzzled down some hastily brewed vine-caf before jumping into their landspeeder and heading off in the direction of the crash.

Twenty minutes later, just as Marte was about to accede to her husband's wish, she grasped his right arm with her left hand

"Stop the speeder! Stop it right here!"

Well, needless to say, Jo-Nathan could not bring the speeder to a dead stop right where she had indicated. The best he could do was slow down and double-back to the approximate same location. As a result, he finally saw what she had seen. Something half-buried in the ground after creating a huge furrow. His curiosity now just as aroused as hers, Jo-Nathan put the speeder on auto-hover before disembarking. His trusty old bolt-action slug shooter at the ready. Whereupon, the couple walked single file up to the crater.

"What is it, Jo?"

"At first glance, Marte, I'd say a shard of comet, as it looks like ice. Yet there are no cast-off chunks anywhere nearby. And the shape's too streamlined! Plus, there are two holes at the end of it. Almost like exhaust ports on a..."

All further analogy was halted by a sudden wailing sound.

"WA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-AH!"

"Force preserve us!" exclaimed the middle-aged woman. "That sounds like a baby!"

Before her husband could stop her, Marte ran into the crater. Only yelping once, more startled than actually hurt, before wrapping her hooded cloak around her hands in order to dislodge a chunk of the crystalline-looking substance from the top of the mysterious object. She then gasped in complete astonishment, before bending downward to lift something up.

"Jo, look! It is. . ."

CRACK!

Marte screamed as she saw her husband fall to the ground, face-forward. Thereby revealing a pair of armed Sand People behind him! The single-shot rifle of the one to her right still smoking from a freshly spent round. While the one to her left simultaneously started to aim his rifle... at her.

CRACK!

CORUSCANT (18 YEARS LATER)

"Force-enhanced pyrokinesis?" echoed Darth Sidious, initially disbelieving he had heard right.

"It is the only explanation that fits the facts, Milord," replied Count Dooku. "To use Aurra Sing's own words, the boy looked he'd gone skinny-dipping in molten lava!"

The elder Dark Lord of the Sith, seated on a Neimoidean mecha-throne, steepled the fingers of both hands beneath his chin.

"This is most disconcerting," he finally declared. "The late Jedi Master Poof was the only Force adept I knew with such a rare ability. Yet, not even he could have inflicted such extensive injury without succumbing to the Dark Side! And if that could be done to young Skywalker, by a glorified savage, through raw Force talent alone..."

"Agreed, Milord," said Dooku. "That is why I've already taken the liberty of commissioning Aurra Sing to hunt down and capture this superhuman Sandman. For, if we could feel young Skywalker's pain, half-way across the galaxy, so, too, must have the Jedi. And we can ill-afford to have the Jedi find him first!"

"This is true. Where is young Skywalker, now, anyway?"

"On route to Thyferra, even as we speak. There, Miss Sing will transfer him into the custody of one of the native Vratix, who will immerse him in bacta, while one of our Skakoan allies prepares a suitable suit of life-supporting armor for him."

Darth Sidious smiled. "Well done, Lord Tyranus."

Darth Tyranus bowed. "To serve you is its own reward, My Master."

THYFERRA (THREE DAYS LATER)

"Here's the Jedi, as promised," said Aurra Sing. "That'll be sixty-five thousand credits, Mister. . .?"

"Vos," replied the blond human male before her. "Dryden Vos of the Xucphra Corporation. And this is my Vratix counterpart: Kitik Keed'kak. Will you please take the hyperbaric pod, containing the Jedi, to the immersion chamber, Kitik?"

"At-once-Mister-Vos," replied the mantis-like insectoid through the second-hand protocol droid interpretron that had been recycled and modified into a collar for his "neck."

Whereupon, the mantisoid moved behind the control bar of the repulsorlift baggage tram and pushed it towards the back of the Shipping and Receiving Department.

NAR SHADDA SPACEPORT

(THE PRESENT)

The Hawk-Batman finally landed, for which his reluctant passenger was most grateful. But, of course, when he said as much, the former told him to prove it.

"You were about to tell me where Blobbo lives. So, tell me already!"

Arnwes Kar did so. Although, only after taking a deep breath to steady his nerves!

"He sublets a luxury apartment that's normally used by Falleen spacers working for Xizor Transport Systems. The apartment building is two or three clicks north of here. But he won't be there now! By this time of the morning, he's already in his office at the XTS hanger."

"Then, by all means," said the Hawk-Batman with a smile that made Arnwes Kar shudder. "...let's go pay him a visit."

When they got there, however, they were both surprised to see that the Toydarian had already been paid a visit. One far more brutal than even the Hawk-Batman had been planning. For every single one of Blobbo's Gamorrean bodyguards was dead! Each of them with some kind of arrow protruding from their eyes.

Arrows similar to the ones pinning Blobbo's wings to the bulletin board of his front wall.

"Someone wanted him alive for questioning," muttered the costumed crusader. "And when he had told them everything he knew, they killed him."

"B-B-B-But," stammered the nervous Bimm. "...who are 'they'?"

The Hawk-Batman examined Blobbo's neck.

"Puncture marks. From twin nasal radula. Blobbo had his life-force drained by an Anzat!"

Arnwes Kar blanched whiter than a Talz.

"Th-Th-That's who we sent half the blasters to each month. Some Anzat... on Churba!"

The Hawk-Batman glared at his prisoner.

"His name."

It was not a question. But, the nervous Bimm just helplessly shrugged.

"He never gave it. And every time I spiced up to read his mind, all I got was mental static! Whoever he is, he's good at blocking his thoughts. One thing did come through, though. He works on Churba... for the local Tisshar Consulate."

The Hawk-Batman smiled again. "Then, that's _our_ next stop."

Arnwes Kar gulped, not failing to notice the emphasized plural.

Meanwhile, aboard the Imperial-1-class Star Destroyer "Devastator", currently in geosynchronous orbit around the planet Nar Hakka, Darth Vader was conducting what had to be the most bizarre interrogation in the history of the Empire. For, when the Lambda-class shuttle had returned from Nar Shadda, everyone in the docking bay had been slack-jawed with amazement at seeing the Huntress emerge from its interior. With the shrunken Rek'oj perched on her right shoulder, laughing like a mad monkey-lizard!

Even Darth Vader had been momentarily nonplussed. Only his silent stance giving evidence of this fact, due to the concealing nature of his respirator mask.

"Rek'oj!" he finally demanded. "What in the name of the Dark Side...?"

"This young lady will answer all your questions, Milord. Courtesy of ye old Jedi mind trick!"

Five minutes later, they were in the soundproof room where the Devastator's captain usually held briefings for his senior staff.

"Who are you?"

"Helena- - -D'Ibertinelli- - -of the Mistryl- - -Shadow Guard."

"And what were you doing on Nar Shadda?"

"Working- - -for- - -special agent- - -of the Hapan- - -government."

"Interesting! What would a Hapan be doing this far into the outer galaxy?"

"Someone- - -has been- - -stealing- - -Guns of Command."

"Guns of Command?" echoed the Sith Lord in puzzlement. "Explain."

"They- - -are blasters- - -that can- - -induce- - -state of- - -unconditional- - -suggestibility- - -by altering- - -neuro-electrical- - -activity- - -of humanoid- - -brain."

"I see. And how many of these unusual weapons have been stolen from the Hapans?"

"At least- - -one- - -metric ton- - -for the past- - -standard year."

Once again, Vader had to pause due to unavoidable amazement. But he rallied just as quickly and returned to questioning the Huntress.

"Have you and this special agent discovered the identity of these thieves?"

"Negative. All- - -we have- - -discovered- - -is that each- - -shipment- - -of stolen- - -guns- - -was relayed- - -via Peridon's- - -Folly- - -to Nar Shadda- - -as surplus- - -weapons- - -for Corellian- - -Port Control. Care of- - -fugitive Bimm- - -named Arnwes Kar. Hence- - -my cover- - -as bounty- - -hunter- - for House- - -Renliss."

"Yet, if all these guns can do is facilitate mind control, how is that one of them shrank Rek'oj?"

"Don't- - -know. Intended- - -finding out- - -from Bith doctor- - -called- - -Reducto. But- - -mysterious- - -busybody- - -dressed- - -like giant- - -hawk-bat- - -interfered."

Meanwhile, back on Coruscant, Emperor Palpatine was asking some questions of his own.

"Dr. Helfern! Have you found out the secret behind the abilities of these two assailants?"

"Yes, Your Excellency. The woman was a Ragithian Human. A people whose ancestors were genetically engineered for extra-normal height in order to combat the heavy gravity of the world they settled. A height she reverted to, post-mortem! This made a preliminary examination of her cadaver much easier. Allowing my assistants and I to extract these."

The not-so-good doctor gestured to a nearby nurse who stepped forward with a transparisteel bowl containing two small spheres.

"What am I looking at?" demanded the Emperor.

"Earrings, Your Excellency. Made from Imskian dragon-pearls... similar to the one set in the gold ring formerly worn by the Sakiyan."

"Well done, doctor!" exulted Palaptine. "Guards! Have the self-proclaimed 'Darth Sinestro' brought to my audience chamber, immediately. I have further questions for him."

tbc