"Boba," Shaak Ti placed her hand on the swaying boy's shoulder, but he immediately shook it off.
Just a minute ago, the boy almost tumbled into a trench running alongside the road, but Hassan managed to catch him. The Jedi was initially affected by the peculiarities of this planet as well, so when she exited the ship, she almost stumbled. Due to the erratic gravitational effects of the various moons orbiting the planet, the strength of gravity on each moon fluctuated wildly. It could intensify suddenly and then weaken just as abruptly.
For an adult and a prepared individual, this phenomenon wouldn't have a significant impact, but for a child, it was likely torture. Shaak Ti watched with sadness as Boba, leaning against the wall leading into the town, struggled with the gravitational fluctuations. The Jedi had killed his father, and it would be foolish to assume that the boy didn't harbor resentment for the peacemakers who had been dragged into the war.
"What's wrong with this planet? I'm being tossed from side to side," the self-proclaimed Sith next to her remarked, walking with an unusually steady gait.
"Firstly, we're on a moon. Secondly, it's all due to gravity," the Jedi replied.
Hassan walked without his cloak, allowing the woman to get a better look at his armor. She had seen it before, but now her gaze was drawn to the belt on which hung metallic paired swords and, presumably, lightsabers. However, she couldn't spot any lightsabers, which puzzled her. How could he leave such valuable items on the ship? And when would he have had the opportunity to do so?
"How shameless," The Sith covered his groin even though the girl was only looking at his thighs.
In response, she looked away, in the direction of the town. They would have reached it faster if Boba wasn't being violently tossed from side to side. Nevertheless, they were soon walking through sparsely populated streets where the rough-looking inhabitants paid little attention to them. Shaak Ti glanced at the kidnapper from under her hood once more.
Thanks to the Force, she felt his strong reaction to the strangers, as if he were seeing representatives of different races for the first time. It was hard to believe. If she were to further explore this idea, it would imply that Hassan had almost never left one planet, living in complete isolation.
No, his psychological profile didn't fit that scenario. If he had truly lived his entire life in one place, he would have become reclusive. However, he was quite capable of discussing various topics. Something else was at play here, but she couldn't quite grasp it.
"Give us our money!" a loud cry echoed through the quiet street.
Two brutes were bullying a slender creature who resembled a human but had feathers on its head, webbed fingers, and a dried-up face that left an indelible impression on Hassan. The same could be said for the others. The first thug was a full-fledged eagle-humanoid with a large beak, and the second resembled, for some reason, Han Solo.
"What's going on?" Hassan approached them, leaving his companions behind.
"What's it to you?!" the Eagle threatened.
"I'm just curious about what he could have done to annoy two mercenaries," he replied, examining their combat gear.
"He's a dirty pickpocket!" the Lizard said, shaking the thief by his cloak.
Hassan looked around and realized that no one was planning to intervene – armed passersby went about their business, paying no attention to the altercation. It was just like the slums where nobody got involved in other people's business. How was this planet, full of mercenaries, any different from the slums of his hometown? It wasn't.
"I have a couple of questions for you," Hassan grabbed the reptilian mercenary by the arm, the one who was shaking the skinny thief, "that can't wait."
In terms of size, the Lizard was much larger than Gabriel, but somehow, under the pressure of the masked man, his hand began to bend, and the reptilian's face contorted in pain. Eventually, he gave in and let go of the thief.
"Hey!" the Eagle tried to intervene, but in the next moment, he received a direct blow to his abdomen, causing him to stagger back and collide with a building wall.
The Eagle was surprised. The strike from the unknown individual had hit him directly in his armor, but he still felt the impact. Meanwhile, Hassan jumped into the air in a circular motion, turning his body parallel to the ground and kicking out both legs one after the other, which landed squarely on the scaly face of the Lizard. He then landed back on the ground effortlessly. Thanks to his new body, Hassan executed a perfect Bedouin leap.
The stunned reptilian, trying to orient himself, shook his head heavily at Gabriel's feet. His partner reached for the blaster on his belt, which... was no longer there. Unnoticed by anyone except Shaak Ti, during Hassan's kick, he had used telekinesis to disarm the mercenary.
"What the...?" the feathered mercenary stammered in shock.
"Guys, let's go behind this building and have a little chat," the Sith imposter ordered both mercenaries to go into the alley with a wave of his blaster barrel.
They had no choice but to obey the masked man's orders.
"Take it easy, kid," the Eagle said, raising his hands.
"My jaw..." the Lizard muttered as he staggered to his feet, swaying and grumbling to himself.
"You're not from around here," the thief said to the boy. "No, definitely not from here."
"Follow me," Hassan commanded the captives, and the boy followed him as well. "Boba?"
"I'll talk to him."
"I just want to thank you for saving us," the thief began to justify himself. "Yes, for saving us."
"Just try to harm him, and I'll kill you," Hassan added before pushing the lagging Eagle forward.
"What do you want from us?" the four of them had already entered the alley.
"Up against the wall. Quickly," the mercenaries reluctantly complied. "Answer my questions, and I'll let you go, do you understand?"
"You could have asked us..." the Eagle didn't finish his sentence as a powerful blow landed between his legs. "AAAAA!" he screamed in pain, struggling to stay on his trembling knees and not collapse.
"Ask what you want," the frightened Lizard said, his bells shriveled with horror.
"I need Dooku. How can I contact him?"
"Dooku?" the reptilian mercenary asked in surprise. "I don't know... He's not the kind of client you can just reach out to so easily..."
"And if. Think carefully?" Gabriel asked, showing his irritation.
"Aurra Sing..." the Eagle gasped in pain. "I heard she received a job from him..."
"How can I find her?" Gabriel began searching his memory for that name.
"Her contact is sitting at the bar here..." he pointed with his clawed paw to the wall.
"Dhanevaad," the Sith smirked.
Gabriel slightly turned his hips, then delivered a powerful kick to the head, causing the last mercenary to fall to the ground with a thud. The stunned Lizard quickly regained his bearings and attempted to grab the enemy who had turned his back to him, but he was promptly stomped into the mud by Hassan's boot soles. Hassan gracefully executed a high backflip, stomping on the reptile's head with all his strength and driving its face into the ground.
Shaak Ti covered her eyes and reached out to the mercenaries with the Force. They were still alive, which couldn't help but bring some relief to the woman. If she had any doubts before, she was now almost certain that the self-proclaimed Sith had a deep affinity for Ataru.
"Let's go," Hassan rummaged through the mercenaries' pockets and took the Eagle's holster from his belt. "We shouldn't linger."
"We can't hand Boba over to Dooku," Shaak Ti said sadly.
It was incredibly foolish to say such a thing, as she herself understood that she wouldn't be able to dissuade Fett. She said it out of a sense of helplessness. A Jedi, being so close, couldn't protect the child. A Togruta could use the Force to make him relinquish the punishment, but in the end, it wouldn't lead to anything good.
"Oh," Hassan sighed heavily, well aware of his companion's feelings. "Will you trust me?"
"With Boba Fett, everything will be okay," he passed by her. "I swear to you. He will grow up strong, just as I saw him."
"Okay..." Shaak Ti replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
The whole situation seemed very strange. Just moments ago, a Sith had sworn something to a Jedi, and she had trusted his words. From the history of the Sith, one could derive one crucial lesson – never trust them under any circumstances. However, right now, through the Force connection, Shaak Ti felt that he was speaking sincerely, albeit with a hint of uncertainty. Moreover, the Jedi Master did not consider Hassan a true Sith, which is why she chose to trust him.
On the other hand, believing the abductor's visions was like acknowledging the truth of all his prophecies. Dooku would die, Mace Windu would die, and even she would die. Could a Togruta take such a step? Undoubtedly. Life and death were an integral part of the world. If her death could give life to Boba, then so be it.
"Well?" Boba didn't give the couple a chance to fully exit the alley before he swooped down on them.
"We have a lead," Gabriel said out of the corner of his eye, noticing the thief peering into the alley.
What he saw clearly didn't sit well with him, as he suddenly crouched down like a coiled spring and then rocketed into the sky like a torpedo. To say that Hassan was dumbfounded would be an understatement. The same went for the others.
"Dooku hired someone named Aurra Sing, and her contact is right here," Gabriel pointed at a sign that read "Generous Reward."
"Aurra Sing," the Togruta licked her lips. "She used to be a Jedi Temple trainee but left and became a mercenary. She usually hunts Jedi."
"Ohhh," Boba marveled.
"And Dooku knows who to give the dirty work to," Gabriel shook his head.
While it was unlikely that Aurra could defeat him in open combat, Gabriel still had no intention of letting his guard down. At the very least, her skills were worthy of respect, and underestimating her was out of the question.
In the meantime, the trio entered the cantina, where the smell of alcohol permeated the air. The diverse patrons, whose appearances both surprised and unnerved Hassan, paid no attention to them, continuing with their own activities. As long as you didn't cause trouble, they couldn't care less about you here.
"Namaste," Gabriel leaned on the bar counter, "give us your best dish and something to wet our throats."
"Money up front," a non-human creature grumbled in response, "twelve credits."
"Let's finally eat properly," Hassan said as the waiter walked away, rubbing his hands together.
He picked up a fork and knife and began slicing the unfamiliar roasted creature on the plate in the center of the round table. Overall, the animal was carved just like a roasted chicken, so soon a juicy piece of meat landed on Boba's plate. Gabriel carefully placed a second piece near the captive, and then he started adding side dishes to their meat. Finally, the Sith poured gravy onto their plates to make the dish juicier.
"Thank you," Shaak Ti took a knife and fork and began to slice her piece into smaller portions.
Her red hands moved slowly, but very gracefully. She had been walking slowly the entire way here, either due to the erratic gravity or some other reason. However, her gait was concealed by the cloak that covered her entire body, preventing Gabriel from observing it. A thought crossed the young man's mind that he would have loved to assess her gait, especially from behind. Boba kept pace with the captive, skillfully handling the kitchen utensils.
"You need to eat too, Hassan," the woman said quietly. "And it's not about your anonymity."
"Then what is it about?" Hassan poured green liquid from a pitcher into the glasses. "Are you worried about me, Jedi?" He placed the glasses in front of each of them.
"Call me Shaak Ti," sarcasm could be heard in her voice, causing Gabriel to be taken aback.
"She's right," Boba chimed in, having swallowed a large piece a moment earlier. "You need to eat to regain your strength."
"I have plenty of strength, don't worry about me," Hassan reclined in his chair.
"Boba," the woman wiped her mouth with a napkin, "I think it would be better for you to stay with Hassan. Dooku is a very dangerous man; he could harm you."
"I can't disobey my father," he frowned. "If my father told me to find Dooku, then I will find him."
"That's enough," the boy grabbed his glass, turned away from the captive, and began sipping his protein shake.
"If you encounter any problems, find me," Gabriel carefully looked around.
It seemed that Shaak Ti decided to try and persuade Boba, which, of course, didn't work. However, she wouldn't be a Jedi if she gave up so easily. As a peace envoy, she was obligated to make every attempt to ensure the boy's safety, even if she had chosen to trust Hassan's words.
"In reality, I have a request for you," Gabriel continued.
"What is it?"
"When we find out where Dooku is, could you drop me and my captive off on Tatooine first?"
"So, you've decided to sell her to Hutt?" Fett asked with interest.
"No, I don't want to ruin my relationship with the Jedi prematurely," the boy waved his hand. "So, will you give us a lift?"
"Of course..." the boy replied a bit sadly.
Boba had grown quite attached to Hassan, so it made sense that he didn't want to part ways. However, the Sith had no intention of crossing paths with Dooku, and the boy was going against the command of his deceased father, whom the boy loved and respected.
"Don't worry, little one, you'll become an incredible person," Gabriel assured him.
The rest of the meal proceeded in silence. While the woman and the child ate, Hassan began to look around for his target. More accurately, he had already found her a long time ago, and while his companions were eating, he was devising a plan of action. Although Gabriel's stew was quite good, the lack of information was hindering his ability to come up with a solid plan. Of course, they could try to bluff, but that could end in a shootout, and a stray shot might hit the child.
"Let's go," Gabriel sighed heavily.
The trio got up and approached the bar where Gabriel sat beside a gray-haired man with scars, sipping on a pungent drink. He cast a sidelong glance at Hassan, then returned his attention to his drink.
"I need Dooku," hearing this, the man paused for a moment and then slowly placed his glass on the counter.
"I don't understand what you're talking about."
"You understand perfectly well. I heard that you're connected to Aurra Sing and that she received an assignment from Dooku."
"And who told you that?" Shaak Ti, sitting next to Hassan, sensed the increasing hostility from the stranger.
"Jango Fett," the man suddenly turned to look at Gabriel and then at the Sith.
The stranger attempted to see the boy's eyes through the slits in his wooden mask, but he couldn't. Then he shifted his gaze to the figure in the cloak, and finally, he stared at the boy, his attention lingering for an uncomfortably long time. At that moment, something clicked in Gabriel's mind!
"Well, you know what," Hassan stood up from his chair, "forget it. I don't really need him. Let's go to Honest John's for the pickup." He said the last words quite loudly, addressing his team.
The bewildered Jedi and the boy silently followed him out onto the street. They were left in mild confusion by the Sith's actions. Boba urgently needed to find Dooku, and here was their chance right in front of them! But instead, they were now leaving the tavern and heading back onto the street, instead of trying to gather information from the informant of the bounty hunter!
"What's going on, Hassan?" the boy called out worriedly. "Why did we leave?"
"Aurra Sing is hunting you," Gabriel slapped his forehead area lightly, making his brain work even harder. "You saw how he looked at you, right? And if you recall that Aurra was hired by Dooku himself, then... We need to meet with her in person and talk about everything," he emphasized the last words with electric currents running through the Sith's fingers.
"Are you sure?" the Jedi skeptically asked.
"In my life, I've seen all sorts of crap, so I've learned to trust my intuition. It almost never lets me down," Gabriel shrugged.
And he was telling the truth – Shaak Ti could sense it through the Force Bonds. The Force could provide hints about an opponent's intentions, but Jedi always had to think things through on their own. If Hassan turned out to be right, it meant the self-proclaimed Sith was incredibly patient and clever.
"My father used to say that you should always trust your intuition," Boba chimed in with a wise look, even though he still appeared anxious and upset.
Slave-1, the ship that once belonged to Jango Fett and had now passed to his son, took off into the air. The ship was one of the few things that the father had left behind, so Boba was watching it in horror. His father's instructions and personal items were still onboard!
"Not so fast!" Hassan thrust his hands forward.
Simultaneously, the ship in the air froze in place. Its engines roared, attempting to overcome an invisible barrier, but it was all in vain. The ship, which was minuscule compared to humans, began slowly descending to the ground under the bewildered gazes of the captive woman and the boy. Soon, the engines grew quieter, and the ship finally settled back on the ground.
Boba immediately rushed to the entrance, which had just opened. Before the boy could say anything, Gabriel seized the small alien by the chest and lifted him up against the wall.
"You scum! Trying to steal our ship!!!" Gabriel pressed him against the wall.
"Wait! Hassan!" the approaching Jedi tried to calm him down.
She could feel the rage and anger directed at the mechanic, like a contagious illness trying to spread to the woman, but she managed to distance herself from it. Now, the kidnapper genuinely felt like a follower of the Dark Side, wanting to beat Gjon with his bare hands.
"No! No!" the mechanic squealed. "I checked the landing gear! I swear! I swear!"
"You're lying to me, scum," Hassan hissed through clenched teeth.
"I'm telling the truth! Please! Please! Don't kill me!" Honest Gjon was on the verge of tears.
"Hassan," the Jedi placed her hand gently on his shoulder. "Violence won't lead to anything good here. We need a dialogue, not brute force."
"With brute force, I could hammer into his thick skull the need to choose his targets more carefully."
"Please, calm down," the Togruta continued in a soft tone. "Violence won't solve anything. Beating him won't change anything."
A tense silence fell, during which Shaak Ti didn't remove her hand from Hassan's shoulder. She kept her gaze fixed on the wooden mask with a calm look, trying not to provoke the self-proclaimed Sith any further. He seemed to be quite an impulsive individual. Impulsiveness was common among young people, but even that could be managed with Jedi wisdom.
"Alright," Hassan unclenched his fingers, and the mechanic flopped onto a metal pallet.
"I...," trembling with fear, he mumbled. "I wanted to steal your ship, but Aya warned me that messing with you was a bad idea, so I was only checking the landing gear's integrity. I swear to you."
"Who is Aya?" the masked man asked menacingly.
"The thief we saved," Fett chimed in.
"We believe you," Shaak Ti nodded. "Please, don't hold a grudge against us."
"Pay him, Boba," the Sith gestured towards Gjon.
"What?!" Boba was genuinely outraged. "But he admitted he wanted to steal my ship!"
"But he didn't steal it," Gabriel shrugged. "And he fixed the landing gear, so he's earned his money."
"If we punished people for bad thoughts, there wouldn't be any innocence left in the galaxy," the Jedi approached Fett.
"Fine," Boba rolled his eyes and handed the credits to Gjon.
The mechanic looked skeptically at the masked man and then timidly accepted the money. He was very lucky to have Boba's wise wife, as without her intervention, he would have left with nothing more than a few missing teeth.
"Take the money and go sit in the cantina. It's going to get hot here soon," Hassan flexed his fingers.
Aurra Sing sat in ambush on a slope not far from Honest Gjon's repair shop, which had a good view of the entire landing pad. In the center stood what was clearly Jango Fett's ship, passed down to his son.
Her contact had told her that he had seen Boba in the company of a strange man in a wooden mask and an unknown figure in a cloak. The bounty huntress had instantly returned to Bogga-4. Who would have thought that her target would walk right into the hands of a bounty hunter? All that was left was to snatch the child from the Slave I, the very ship Dooku had promised her as payment.
Through the scope of her sniper rifle, which had a fair share of lives to its name, she surveyed the landing pad. Mercenaries like her were usually not picky about their targets, but Aurra had a particular fondness for killing Jedi.
Then, three figures emerged from the ship: the man in the mask, the person in the cloak, and her target, Boba Fett. Using the sound amplifier built into her cranial box, she was able to hear their conversation.
"We'll buy some equipment in town and be back soon. Don't go anywhere, understood?" the masked man said sternly.
"I'll be on the ship," Fett nodded.
The masked man and the cloaked figure slowly made their way toward the town. Once they were out of Aurra's sight, the bounty huntress hung her sniper rifle on her back and headed for the ship. The whole situation felt too much like a trap, so she remained vigilant. If she had a partner, she would have sent them for reconnaissance, but she was alone, so the risk was hers alone to take.
Aurra snatched her blaster from its holster as she casually entered the Slave I. It all felt too easy, too convenient. But there was Boba, seated in the pilot's chair, checking the ship's systems. Her target was right in front of her. Instead of retreating, Aurra took a risk and sneaked up behind the boy, pressing the blaster against his head with the words:
"Start it up."
"Who are you?" Boba stammered, clearly startled.
"It doesn't matter who I am; what matters is where we're going," the bounty huntress said arrogantly. "Start the engines."
"I can't leave until I find Count Dooku," Boba replied.
"Ahahaha!" Aurra chuckled lightly. "Actually, Count Dooku sent me to bring you to him. So, start those engines, or if your friends return, I'll have to kill them."
"Namaste," Aurra turned around, and...