The Boarding House
"What I don't know about, I sure as hell am gonna learn." ~ The Wild Bunch
. . .
The Razor Crest was adrift. Fortunately, this was for fuel-saving purposes and not due to yet another dogfight with a wannabe with a little zest up his rump. Since the Jawas had reshuffled the guts of the old bucket, energy efficiency was down another several percent, and the ship hadn't exactly been a top of the line Canto Blight corvette before that. Instead, it hung peacefully a few hundred clicks outside a seldom-used hyperspace lane deep in the Outer Rim.
The Mandalorian didn't much care for staying on the lanes while he figured out where to start his foundling's journey, not with the risk of Imp heat still in their wake. At least his Guild reputation was clean again. Unfortunately, these routes were still safer until he knew the ship could handle being off-grid for longer jaunts again. And it also translated into making refuels easier.
He slapped at the console, which had helpfully informed him that the nearest known refueling station was a long, long way beyond what the Crest's current resources could handle, then resettled grumpily in his seat and told the computer to look for anything habitable and local. There were always places hidden away where someone could trade for a little ship-juice. More the deeper you went into the Rim and weren't too particular about the local ethics. Mandalorian Din Djarin wasn't, and the handful of (junk) weapons he'd confiscated from the last idiot with a 'plan' would make for a decent trade. So long as the traders he met with were also none too particular.
A little clunk! came from behind him as the steel ball dropped onto the floor. Only the rigorous training of his creed, and becoming very used to the green bean's shenanigans kept him from half-jumping out of his armor. Din instead sighed as he stopped the ad hoc toy's roll with his booted foot, reaching down to pick it up. "Stop dropping it," he told the child, sitting up in the makeshift crib in the rear of the cockpit. "Going to give me a heart attack."
"Bwa!" said the child, taking the ball back with a clear-eyed stare that said that had gone in one broad, floppy ear and straight out the other.
"Yeah," said Din, already tired all over again. "Figured."
The computer beeped to tell him it had more helpful news, this time in the listing of several dozen outposts found in an expanded radial search of their current location. Most of those listings, probably last updated sometime never, had extremely useful Imperial information attached. Such as 'yeah, it exists' and 'they might be sentient here.'
"Thanks," said Din to nobody, as sarcastically as he could manage, and he started manually going through the database listings himself, comparing them with a different output of hyperlane usage to see if there was anything he could take a chance on. Because it sure wasn't like he could get out and push, if the Crest completely guttered out.
. . .
Two hours later, Din had trimmed the listings down to four possibles and was rolling the steel ball around his palm and occasionally along the back of his gloved wrist while the child watched from the disused co-pilot's seat, hypnotized by the trick. It beat having to chase the kid down the gangway again, losing his place on the list. The kid was this close to figuring out how to open his armory, and that just wasn't gonna be a good day on the ship for anyone when it finally happened. Childproofing hadn't been on the mind when the Crest came off the assembly line, and it sure as blurrg dung hadn't been on Din's when he'd first stepped on board as an accredited bounty hunter, but apparently now this was on the list of stuff he had to think about on the daily. Because of course it was.
Din sighed and twisted the ball back into place on the console, drawing a disappointed coo from the child. "Yeah, forget that a second. What do you think? I've got…" He leaned forward, looking at his short list again. "Well. I've got a refitted Imperial dock right at the edge of what we can reach. That's going to be crawling with New Republic, but they're also really busy. Got a low-contact civ on a planet that shows up twice in Imperial records. They didn't like the bucketheads, which, fair, but maybe they won't like me. Got a supposedly settled moon with nice atmo, almost no signal, which means not many ships and probably not a lot of fuel. And a mining rig on a drained asteroid field, which may have a skeleton crew on board and some junk I can siphon."
He leaned back, his voice drawling out from under the helmet. "Vacation spots, all. Know I could use some sun after all that time in the Nevarro sewers."
The child gurgled unhappily.
"Come on, that was a good joke."
A little green hand grasped towards the ball, and then, threateningly, towards a bunch of shiny red buttons. Din reached out and gently pulled the hand back. "One, two, three, or four? Might as well leave it up to chance, they all suck."
"Bwee!" said the child, ignoring him and blinking at the ball. "Bwa!"
"That a three or a one?" said Din, knowing it was neither, but what the hell.
"Bweegh!" The little nails scraped the steel ball. The kid really needed better toys, but there wasn't exactly a gift shop floating around in this stretch of space.
"Gah!" said the child, firmly. His hand dug into Din's glove, wanting attention from him, wanting to play.
Din sighed and pulled the child onto his lap, patting the fuzzy head until he felt the child lean hard into him, temporarily content. "Three it is. If we get stuck, hey, at least we can breathe the air while we starve to death."
"Gweh," said the child, and for whatever reason, it made Din Djarin feel a little better. He leaned past the kid's head and input his choice, the Razor Crest firing back up into noisy but reliable life. A small moon, well away from any major hyperspace thoroughfares, barely populated and worth no notice.
Nothing bad ever happened on tiny jungle moons at the edge of known space, right? He thought about the odds. Yeah. They'd be fine.
Sure they would.
. . .
Jhas Krill. A tiny jungle moon that, according to the computer's brief description, had been on the Empire's radar for possibly having a Dathomirian witch living on it. If that had ever been true, and the listing had been iffy on the subject, sure as blaster fire she wasn't there now. The Mandalorian scanned as he came in for a landing, finding a tiny village, a few other low energy signatures in the jungle beyond that could be anything, and not a whole hell of a lot else. Perfect for staying low. Not great for a rapid, fully-fueled exit, but what the hey. He assumed he knew what he was getting into.
The Mandalorian brought the ship down on a patch set out a ways from the village, trampled down, somewhat kept clear, and even fitted with some blinkers to at least make it look like a proper landing field. There were a few small skiffs set aside. Any landers or bigger ships were probably anchored somewhere in orbit. He hadn't bothered to look for civ droppers.
The jungle, clearly, had other ideas about its dominion, and he could see as he hovered in for the drop that nature had already recovered a good chunk of the open space with thick, dangerous looking vines. Ignoring the eager squeals of the child, he leaned over his console to get a better view of a thin path that led towards the settlement. No sign of a welcoming party. Well, that was both good and bad, but hey. Nobody was shooting yet.
He took his time before disembarking, bringing a full weapons kit and trying to get the kid to stay in the cot he'd made for the kid between the armory and the carbonite freezers. "Look," he tried to tell the child. "At least let me get a whiff of the place, okay? Then you can waddle your little feet off the ship."
The child bapped and blatted at him, clearly unconvinced. In the end, he shut the door on the fussing kid. Wouldn't hold, the child was more slippery than a Mon Cala eel, but it would buy him a little time to scout in peace.
By the time he'd dropped the ramp, he had visitors. The Mandalorian stayed at the top of the ramp, assessing them. Three humans, probably Corellian by the looks of them. One man, two women. Settlers, and recent ones. There'd been a rash of new colonies since the Republic kicked over the Imperial anthill, and not all of them were shaping up to be wildly successful. By the size of the village on his scan, and the look of their clothing, well worn but cared for, this was definitely one of those.
None of them held an identifiable weapon. Good.
None of them looked thrilled to see a guy in full Mandalorian armor. Not so good, but understandable.
He tromped down the ramp, hands clearly off his weapons, and waited for them to come deeper into the field towards him. He gave the one in the lead a polite but silent nod, a tallish, stocky man in drab browns.
"Welcome, Mandalorian," said the man, careful but not rude, either. "Shipment?"
"No," said the Mandalorian, watching their expressions. "Traveling through. Need a resupply, if we can barter."
The woman to his left spoke up, watching him carefully, then examining the ship. "We're tight on anything that can't keep us going, but we can feed you, give you some rest on a real bed."
"Fuel?" He looked at the woman, immediately realizing they'd arranged a common but sensible play. The guy took point until they got a sniff of him, but this one was the village's leader. The other woman kept watch. Probably a runner if this went wrong. Not bad. He wouldn't make a thing out of it.
"Little bit. Take some time to put it together, and not sure how long you're willing to wait for that."
"Ma'am, I can wait as long as we need. Ship's on fumes."
She grimaced, but not unkindly. "Explains it." He could read the rest on her face, the ghost of real surprise at the ship's arrival in her nowhere hamlet, and some relief that it wasn't anything worse than what he'd said. Assuming he was honest, which, well, he was. But she looked smart enough to wonder about that. The subtle paranoia was interesting, and he filed it away for thought later.
And then she looked past him again, this time with open surprise. "Oh my," she said softly.
Oh crap, thought the Mandalorian as the happy coo came from behind. "Guess he could use some fresh air," he said, trying to not sound as exasperated as he felt.
"Of course he does," said the man, hunkering down with his hands on his knees as the child papped his way towards the humans. "Hey there, little one. You need some nosh-nosh?"
"Maaagh!" said the child, absolutely delighted by becoming the center of attention. Again.
Nosh-nosh. And here I thought it really was going to be that blaster shot to my skull that killed me. One of the many, many benefits of wearing a helmet full time was that no one could see the expression on a Mandalorian's face, so long as he didn't go all in to roll his head back so that he could stare at the sky and wish for death. "Probably a bath, too."
"Jerrit, looks like your place is getting a little business finally." The village leader grinned at him. "Mandalorian, welcome to Witchmoat."
"So it was true?" He couldn't resist the blurt, cocking his helmet towards her. "Used to be a Nightsister here?"
She shrugged. "Found some scraps left behind when our ship landed a couple years ago. We had the same information in the databanks that you probably found. No sign of her since, but we had good luck clearing the jungle around where she might've lived. Left the hut we found alone, just in case. Jerrit keeps hoping it'll become a tourist thing, but…" She gestured around them at the thick, unwelcoming jungle. "Yeah. Anyway, I'm Mo Deera." She nodded to the silent woman. "This is my sister, Fala Deera."
A curt nod at her acknowledgment. The Mandalorian respected that.
Mo grinned enough for the two of them, obviously used to her sister's attitude, looking down at the child. "Let's get you both comfortable, shall we? We'll talk about barter later, but we can probably do something for your ship."
"Good news," said the Mandalorian, returning to his casual truculence. He fell into step behind the trio as they moved to lead him to the village, knowing full damn well the child, irrepressible, was hot on his heels.