Many Happy Returns: Chapter Eighteen

The lower edge of the air inlet wobbled as it drew away from its seals, and the gap between it and the durasteel rim slowly began to grow -- one inch, two inches, three. Lando felt the faint tickle of new air -- not fresh, laden as it was with the odours of industry, but at that moment sweeter than the sweetest of Chad's unique fragrant sea orchids. The wild whoop of exultation died on his lips, however, as he suddenly became aware of an ominous rumble -- the kind of sound a mechanism containing moving parts might produce when activated after a long period of disuse.

"Spit!" he hissed stepping up to the metal panel now unfolding steadily like a gill. "I was worried that that might happen. We'll just have to hope this room's soundproof."

Vehn had his head against the wall and was looking puzzled. "I don't think it's the panel making that noise you know."

Lando studied the pilot for a moment and then ducked down and peered out of the steadily widening gap. "Well, what do you know," he chuckled, and turned back to the others with a mixture of relief and amusement on his face. "Swoopers."

"Swoopers?" repeated Tendra, brown eyes wide. "Are they close enough to lasso?"

"Now there's an idea." Vehn threw himself down on his knees and stared after the disappearing line of bikers. "Damn -- they're too far away. Pity Solo isn't here. He could have thrown himself on to them in one of those Force jumps of his, grabbed some bikes and then flown us all out of here."

"Good thought," said Lando dryly. "Unfortunately -- we're going to have to do it the hard way."

"Such is life." Vehn shrugged. "Don't really fancy myself in a jacket with a yellow rancor on anyway. Clashes with the shorts." He glanced back at Qorl who was now standing up on tiptoe in order to keep the burning section of torch near the sensor, in case removing the source of heat would make the inlet close again. "Good work old buddy. With any luck that thing's on a timer, but I guess it's better to play safe. Shout if you need a hand."

Qorl nodded and waved his head towards the half-open inlet. "What's out there?" he asked Vehn.

Vehn craned his head out as far as he could. "Roof -- lots of it. Security fence round the edge too -- damn it. There are some skylights down on the bit below -- but we're hardly going to want to break into the building."

Qorl grunted. "We might have to if it's the only option."

"Fortunately it isn't." Lando's voice sounded a little distant, due to the fact he'd swivelled himself round so he could see above them, and was hanging on to the side of the panel frame and leaning out precariously over the edge.

"That's a relief," said Vehn. "I think."

"Well as far as I can make out, we're near the top of a tower which seems to be on one side of the complex." Lando turned back so he was facing the same way as the others, and pointed to their left. "I'd say that's the front because there's a bit of a gap between this place and the other buildings -- could be a wide street or something. It looks a bit narrower the other way, " he added, waving his hand to the right. "And that security fence begins and ends on each side of this tower. I can see where it's connected."

"So what you're saying," interrupted Tendra who had picked up on his line of thought, "is that if we go up and over the back of this tower, we'll be able to avoid the fence and the streets."

"Assuming there are no security cams or other nasty surprises, yes," Lando replied.

Vehn had gripped on to the frame and was probing the outside wall for a foothold. "So what are we waiting for?" He found a crack between the ceramoplast tiles that lined the outside of the tower, balanced his weight and scrutinised the distance between the panel and the edge of the roof. "It's not all that far. In fact." He paused briefly while he swung back into the opening. "There's an aerial or something sticking up from one corner. I reckon I could climb up and loop that rope we made over it, then you lot can climb up the rope."

Lando hesitated, running a number of possible scenarios through his mind.

"I don't think we have time to run simulations," Tendra said softly.

Lando breathed an exasperated sigh. "I know." He reached for her hand and their eyes locked, sharing each other's trepidation. The panel had almost reached the apex of its upwards motion revealing a panoramic view of Dinarra that Lando might have paid to see under different circumstances. Tourist potential, however, was the furthest thing from his mind. Instead he rechecked his analysis of their possible means of escape, mentally tabulated the results and leaned close to his wife's ear. "You'd better prepare Jassif. She may take some convincing to let you take Ruba."

Tendra nodded, glanced down at their joined hands and then back at Lando. "You know I trust your decision-making, don't you."

Lando placed his other hand over hers and gripped tightly. "I never know if I've made the right decision until afterwards," he said with a wry grin. "And then it's a case of it either being right, or me not being there to worry about it."

"In that case, this is going to be the right decision," she said. "Remember we have a party and medal ceremony to organise."

The wry smile turned into one that managed to look cocky. "Hey, you're right. Can't miss out on a good party."

Tendra smiled. "Keep that thought."

Lando watched her for a moment as she moved towards Jassif and Neijal wondering yet again how he could ever repay whatever gods or powers had found her for him. His motivational dial swung back into positive figures, and feeling suddenly confident again, he turned to Vehn.

"Okay, buddy. You reckon you can make it up there?"

Vehn had kicked off his boots and was already hanging out the vent with one foot tucked into the gap in the surface he'd found a few minutes ago. He had disconnected one of the belts from the end of their lifeline and put it on around his waist, tying the sleeve of Qorl's jacket to it. He handed the coiled rope to Lando. "Just line 'em up ready to follow, and be thankful for cheap tiles. The only problem will be if the broken ones crack up completely and fall out."

"You'll just have to be careful then." Lando flashed the pilot a toothy grin, and received one that was decidedly sardonic.

"Thank you professor, although I'm presuming you'll be able to catch me before I land on that security fence."

Lando anchored himself at the edge of the panel ready to feed the rope out slowly, and nodded. "Good luck." Even if the attached rope stopped Vehn's fall, it would still hurt him as it jerked on the belt.

Vehn replied in kind, took a deep breath and swung his weight up on to the foot he had wedged in the broken tile. He balanced there for a few seconds with his left knee jammed up against the side rim of the inlet and searched for a handhold. The building was obviously fairly old and, although solid enough, was showing signs typical of its age. A crack ran up diagonally from the lower right corner of the inlet frame, caused either by the long-term effects of weather or possibly from subsidence or earthquake. Whatever -- the result was serendipity for the captives. Slowly using friction and the chips and tiny openings in and between the tiles, Vehn eased up until he was a body length from the top.

"Spit," he muttered, observing the apparently smooth surface above him. The crack he'd been utilising petered out just above him, and although that meant there was one last broken tile right on the edge of the wall to serve as a useful handhold for his right hand, there was nothing higher up for his left. He leaned into the tiles. Sweat was trickling down from his forehead filling his ears and making them roar as if he was under water. He hoped it wouldn't affect his balance, because he could see he was going to need that now more than ever. The only way from where he was to the top was to clamber up the corner of the tower, relying on friction and agility -- pulling himself up from tile to tile, hoping that his fingers wouldn't let him down. As it was they ached from their unfamiliar role supporting his weight. The edging tiles were moulded with their two halves at right angles to one another, and they sloped out, creating a recess into which Vehn could fit fingers and toes. Technically this was good as it made the climb possible. The reality was, as usual, more complicated. He could feel the tendons in his ankles creaking as they were stretched way beyond their comfort zone.

About three feet from the top he stopped, exhausted, berating himself for being so stupid as to think he could succeed. This was the sort of thing you had Jedi for, but where were they when you needed them? He clung to his precious handholds with his lungs heaving and tried to push his weight into the wall to alleviate the strain on his limbs. Where were Solo and his girlfriend? Had they escaped like they all hoped? And if they had, was it reasonable to expect them to do all the work? After all, two against how ever many men Tag could conjure up wasn't exactly encouraging odds. Not that that would stop them trying.

Won't stop them trying. He exhaled deeply several times and imagined himself stepping up on to the roof. They're not the only ones who won't give up. He squinted up, focussing on his goal, imagining just how good it would feel to stand there -- free. Right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot. Every few inches further up was that much less to travel. He had just managed to re-establish his rhythm and had slipped his hand up to grip the next tile when he felt the thing give under the pressure and then start to slide down. Instinctively, he crushed his body against the wall, and grabbed wildly at the next tile down to stabilise himself. There was a grating noise and the two halves of the tile came away, one of them striking a glancing blow on the top of his head as it fell. A sudden panicked thought struck him too, and he hazarded a careful look down and watched in mounting horror as the pieces of tile plummeted towards the security fence. For one awful moment he thought one of the pieces was going to hit, but by some miracle it hit a piece of pipe sticking out from the wall and bounced away harmlessly to crash on the roof in front of the tower. It took Vehn several minutes to stop shaking.

Willing himself to move with the controlled smoothness worthy of a bomb disposal expert, he slid his head round so he could gaze down at the inlet. He could see Lando looking up, but the sweat was blurring his vision too much to catch the tall man's expression, and he was afraid to call out in case anyone heard. Suddenly he saw Lando raise his fist and give him the thumbs up. He smiled an acknowledgment, although he doubted Lando could see it, but the act of encouragement gave him the boost he needed. He stretched up with his left hand, tested the next tile tentatively and then pulled himself up. Three feet, three tiles per foot. Six tiles later he knew he was going to make it. All he had to do was reach up, grip hold of the aerial with one hand and haul himself up.

He crouched there on the roof on all fours. The muscles in his upper arms, abdomen and thighs felt as though they were on fire, and the skin on his fingers and toes was raw, but all Vehn felt was elation. He'd made it, and now he would help the others. He gave himself a minute to stabilise his breathing and to feel he could stand up without wanting to keel over, and then hurried over to the opposite side and looked down. He estimated the drop from where he was to the base of the tower to be only a little longer than their rope, and there was a section of flat roof there -- the top of the warehouse proper. They could drop down on to that, and then from there they could use the rope again to climb down to the ground. He checked carefully for holocams or other security devices, but saw nothing. He couldn't contain the triumphant affirmative that exploded from his lips. They weren't free yet, but the path was definitely there for them. With a sense of rising jubilation, he rushed back to the side he'd just climbed, waved a victory signal to the others and tied the end of their rope firmly around the aerial. When he was sure it was secure, he swung it over towards Lando, who caught it and waved back. And for the first time in what felt like an age, Vehn allowed himself the luxury of a smile.


"Okay, we're good to go," Lando announced. He turned towards the others and raised his eyebrows quizzically at Tendra who replied with a nod.

"Jassif will go next," she said quietly, and waited while the young woman gave Ruba a final cuddle.

"You follow Jassif, Tendra," said Lando. He'd been impressed with the way the women had organised themselves. Obviously Jassif wasn't happy about having to trust her baby to someone else, but she was also reasonable enough to admit that it was probably safer for the baby, as climbing walls was not an activity that rated highly in her curriculum vitae. The young woman was a little tearful, but she was covering it well as she settled Ruba inside Tendra's blouse and then tied the blouse on firmly to the older woman's back. For extra strength, she took off her own top and tied that around as well, and then watched while Tendra jumped up and down and shook herself to test the backpack for reliability. To Tendra's surprise, Ruba responded with ecstatic gurgles.

"That's definitely secure," Tendra assured her.

Jassif nodded and grasped her hand. "Here goes." Her voice faltered, but she turned to Lando and took a grip on the looped belts he placed in her hand.

"Use the belt loops as footholds to start with, and then use the knots in the clothes to help you," Lando advised her quietly. "Grip them between your knees and feet. If your arms start to give out, wedge your feet into those cracks in the tiles and take your weight off your arms for a while. If you really begin to feel you can't pull yourself up, wave a hand and Vehn will pull you. But only do that if you're desperate. Pulling the rope up and down will weaken it. Okay?"

Jassif nodded again, obviously unwilling to trust her voice. Lando patted her shoulder. "You'll be fine. And Tendra will have Ruba up there before you can say 'Vehn has the worst fashion sense of any man I've ever known.'"

Jassif snorted quietly and reached out to squeeze his arm. "Thank you," she murmured gratefully. She stepped up on to the frame of the air inlet, practised several different grips on the soft leather of the belts and then began to clamber up. Once or twice she stopped and Lando could tell she was struggling, but she made it to the top to be grabbed and hugged enthusiastically by a relieved Vehn.

"You ready Tendra?" Lando caught the rope as Vehn swung it back to him.

She wiped the sweat from his forehead, and threw him a cheeky look. "Ready as rockets."

Lando shook his head. "When I can think of a typical Anakin response, I'll tell you."

"You could try jumping instead of climbing."

"Get up that rope woman, or I'll use it as a whip."

"Now you're sounding like Booster. It's definitely time to get going."

Lando chuckled although his stomach felt like he'd been whirled around in a gyroscope. Living life on the edge was okay when you were young, but there came a point when your system began to object to such abuse. The irony was that Lando had to admit that in reality he probably wouldn't know what to do with himself if his life suddenly became crisis-free. He'd lived most it jumping from one long episode of adventure and terror to the next, with short bursts of rest and recreation in between. His system was so accustomed to adrenaline, that without it he'd no doubt go into withdrawal. Or even worse he'd become like one of those boring old military types living off their vicarious past doings. Maybe his body took a bit longer to respond to some of the demands he put on it, but at least it did respond eventually. And there were much less attractive ways of living.

His hand brushed Tendra's as she grasped their makeshift rope and he leaned over and kissed her. "Take it slowly and you'll be fine."

"Good all-round advice, that." She smiled, slipped her foot into the loop of the last belt and gripped on tightly. "Okay, you can let it go now. See you at the top." Her last words finished in a grunt of exertion as she began to climb.


"Boss!" The Weequay looked up in surprise when Tag opened his office door.

"Pleased to see you too, Korlis. Yes I did have a good trip, thanks. So good to be able to leave things in the hands of my staff and know they'll be handled competently."

Korlis hauled his muscular bulk up slowly, reading the warning in the humourless smile on his employer's face. "Well rest assured, boss, things are being handled competently here. Calrissian and his friends are still safely under wraps. We followed your orders to the T."

Tag's thick lips stretched into a smile that was a little less tense. "Good." His eyes flickered over the security screens behind the Weequay's head. "Anything untoward?" he asked nodding towards them.

Korlis shook his head. "Nothing. As quiet as carnival day in a Bo'marr monastery."

Tag studied the screens for a little longer, making Korlis uncomfortably aware of his silence, and then transferred his cold gaze to the Weequay's face. "And the guards have noticed nothing unusual?"


The wrinkles on Tag's forehead slowly transformed into a frown. "Strange. I'd have expected Calrissian to try something."

"Maybe he would have if we'd let him out last night for a comfort stop. But we didn't, so he didn't get a chance. And anyway, boss, you made that room as secure as it's possible to be."

Tag looked thoughtful. "Yeah, I think so too, but I'll check them anyway. Organise some back-up for me will you and have them wait around the corner just in case."

The Weequay hunched his upper body in what Tag recognised as a shrug. "If that's what you want, boss, but I don't think you need to worry."

"I'm not worried, I'm just rechecking the merchandise. Delone should be calling soon to let us know when and where to take them and I don't want any last minute hitches. I also need you to get on the blower and call in as many of the Pantan workers as you can get hold of. With those two stinking Jedi on the loose I'm not taking any chances." He went to turn on his heel and then stopped. "Better still, prepare a group of them to go out and track those kids. Somebody must have seen them leave the factory, or seen them wandering around."

"Sure thing." Korlis hesitated as he processed what he had to do, and then reached out for the communicator.

"And Korlis."

The Weequay looked up awaiting further orders.

"Step on it. So far today's been a heap of bantha poodoo. Make sure it starts to improve for me!"

"Uh. No worries, boss."

"There'd better not be," the bald man growled as he bustled out into the corridor. "Or heads will roll."

As he set off towards his office to rid himself of his travelling clothes and arm himself with an extra blaster, he pondered the other reason he wanted to see Calrissian, one that he didn't feel Korlis needed to know about. It had occurred to Tag on the way to his meeting the previous night that if Calrissian wanted the reflector sealant for the Jedi, he would also know where the Jedi wanted to use it. Tag remembered Delone mentioning that he'd heard his superiors in the Peace Brigade talking about the Jedi building themselves a refuge somewhere. What if he found out where? That would certainly put him into favour with the Vong. Imagine being the man to ostensibly hand all the Jedi over to them? He threw open his door and shrugged off his jacket, and in spite of the previous night's disasters felt a satisfied smile creep over his lips.


Anakin studied the Rodian as he spoke but his Force instinct told him that Vilco was on the level, and certainly what he had told them about Vehn and Qorl matched Anakin's own recollections of the two men.

"Sense anything?" he murmured in Tahiri's ear in case she'd caught any undercurrents of malice or deceit, but she responded with a shake of her head.

Anakin leaned forward and rested his folded his arms on the table. "You're obviously concerned enough about Vehn and Qorl to approach Rongo and the others, Vilco. But what about the rest of the group?"

"Most of them are pretty worried, mainly because they think maybe if Tag has Vehn and Qorl, they might try and get us as well. Although as we haven't had any more rallies or caused any more trouble I think that's unlikely." Anakin nodded. "It's possible, although I think he would have done it by now if he was going to. After all, he's had Vehn and Qorl for a while by the sounds of it." He paused teetering on the point of trusting the Rodian. Had it been just Tahiri and himself to think about he wouldn't have hesitated, but he was aware that any plans they made now risked the lives of the swoopers as well.

"Those in your group who do believe Tag has Vehn and Qorl -- what do they think he's going to do with them?"

Vilco's multi-faceted eyes seemed to darken, and his horns trembled slightly. His gaze flicked from Anakin to take in Rongo and Blue and the large muscular man who Rongo had introduced as Doc. "Some think he's going to keep them prisoner, maybe even ship them up north as prison labour. But others of us aren't so sure. We, er, wonder if perhaps he's going to punish them ... perhaps hand them over to the Peace Brigade."

"I think that might be a strong possibility, Vilco," said Anakin slowly. "Tag not only has Vehn and Qorl, he also has two of our friends -- two people who the Yuuzhan Vong would love to get their hands on. Up until last night, he also had Tahiri and me. So I'd say your assumption is pretty accurate."

Vilco seemed to collapse in on himself. "What can we do? I can't stand by and let anything like this happen to people I regard as my friends."

"How many in your group do you think would be prepared to turn up tonight to a rally?" asked Anakin suddenly.

"Tonight!" Vilco gasped and stared at the young Jedi, who returned the stare with one that seemed to penetrate beyond the glassy exterior of the Rodian's large eyes.

"How many?" Anakin repeated calmly.

Vilco's head nodded slightly as if he was silently counting heads. "There'd probably be at least twenty I could count on to turn up. I guess it depends what you want us to do. I wouldn't want to involve some of the older people if there's a strong possibility of violence."

Anakin nodded, and his steely gaze softened. "Fair enough." He turned to Tahiri. "Could you take Vilco out for a moment. We need to discuss a few things."

"Fine. I'll take him out but I'm coming back. I don't see why you guys get to do all the planning."

Blue's eyebrows shot up and he leaned back in his chair and pretended to ring a bell. "Round one to the feisty blonde in the red corner."

"Tahiri," Anakin's voice took on a conciliatory tone, but before he could continue, Rongo's tanned hand reached over and patted the girl on the shoulder.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to over-ride you on that, Tahiri. Vilco's our guest and I want you to look after him. But yes, you can come back in when we call you. And think yourself lucky. It's not that we don't value you girls or anything, but usually when it comes to making decisions like this it's me and my committee that get to do it."

"That's stupid," she countered, flashing the gang leader an icy glare.

"Yeah." Rongo agreed equably. "But it's the rules."

"Well in that case, why did you call all the gang together to agree to working with Anakin and me?"

"Different situation. I'd already decided I wanted us to work with you, but I had to make sure you were accepted by the gang. Plus I needed your input to swing them to doing something about Tag. At this point we don't know if we want to involve Vilco and his group in our plans or not. That decision is up to me, and I want to hear a few opinions before I make up my mind."

Tahiri studied him for a moment before rolling her eyes. "Okay, but I still think it's stupid." Huffily she stood up and led Vilco out into the corridor.

"Take him to the lounge," called Rongo, "and ask Iliana to give him a drink."

"Yes, master," she muttered.

Rongo grinned as Anakin threw him an apologetic look.

"You've got your hands full there, kid," laughed Blue. "Think you can handle the retribution?"

Anakin made a rueful face. "In some ways, the Vong would be easier."

Rongo chuckled, and then turned to Doc. "Well, what do we all think?"

"I like a woman with spirit," grinned Doc in reply.

Rongo punched him in the shoulder and he guffawed. "Okay, okay. The Rodian seems okay to me. But I wouldn't want him and his mates involved in any fighting. They'd just get in my line of sight."

"I agree," said Anakin. "They'd be a liability more than a help in any fight. But we could use them in another way."

"Yeah," said Rongo shrewdly, "I saw your little brain ticking over there. Spit it out."

"A diversion. If they're out the front causing a ruckus with their placards, it might attract whoever's at the back to go and look. That'll make it easier for us once we get the truck into the loading bay."

"Good point. And you reckon you're going to be able to take over this truck okay?"

"I've been thinking about it and yes. Tahiri and I can do that."

"If she's not still titchy with you, you mean," Blue reminded him with a grin.

"Well at least this time I know why she's titchy. Most of the time I haven't got a clue."

"Ah the complications of romance," sighed Blue. "Sometimes I'm glad I'm single."

"Okay so let's keep on track here." Rongo threw his comrade an amused look. "You reckon we should use Vilco's group to keep them busy. What happens when they realise we're in the building?"

"At that point we signal to Vilco to clear out. I don't want them involved if it turns nasty."

"You mean when, not if." Rongo corrected him wryly. "We'll give him a comlink. That way we can tell him when to scarper."

Anakin looked thoughtful. "That sounds okay."

Rongo turned to Doc and then Blue. "Agreed?"

"Makes sense," said Doc.

"When was that truck due to pick up its load?" Rongo asked Anakin. "Was it 1800?"

He nodded.

"So if we give ourselves an hour after that, I reckon that should be about right. Yeah?"

The others concurred.

"That's all the details Vilco needs to know. The less he knows the safer he is and the safer we are," said Anakin.

"Okay. I'll tell him to have his people there at 1900." Rongo gazed round the group. "They protest loudly and wait for our signal."

"Yeah," said Anakin.

"You want to go and get Tahiri and Vilco?" Rongo grinned.

"Not really." Anakin grimaced, but he got up anyway and heard Doc's booming laugh follow him down the corridor.


Lando watched as Vehn hauled Kushka up to stand beside him on the roof, and then turned smiling to Neijal. "What a great little kid," he said handing her the rope.

"Yes, he's very brave," she said. Something in her tone put Lando on alert.

"What's the matter?"

She stared up at him and he could see her eyes were wide with fear. "I can't climb," she said breathlessly, almost having to force the words out. "I'm sorry, Lando. I'm terrified of heights. I just ... I can't do it."

Qorl reached over and grabbed her hand. He had abandoned the torch when Kushka had started up the rope. The fire had burned down far enough to make it impossible for him to reach the sensor, so he'd set it against the side of the inlet.

"You can. You can do it. We're not leaving you behind."

"Honestly." Neijal's hands were shaking but she took a deep breath and managed to control her voice. "You two go. I'll just hold you up."

"Look, we've got this far together, Neijal, and we're not going to start separating up now," said Lando.

"All you have to do is hold on," Qorl said softly, taking the rope from Lando and undoing the second belt. "I'm going to tie this round your waist like we did Vehn, and then we'll loop the other through this. But you won't need to worry because you'll be holding on above that first knot and letting the others pull you up. See -- that way you can't possibly fall."

Lando squatted down. "That's right. Climb on to my shoulders so Qorl can loop that other belt on to you."

"I can't."

"Neijal," pleaded Qorl. "If you stay, I stay."

"No," she moaned. "No stupid heroics, please. I can't be responsible for you not escaping."

Qorl grabbed her suddenly and shook her angrily. "Who will look after Kushka? Is it responsible to abandon him?"

"All this time you're wasting," she shouted back in between sobs, "is time you could be escaping and getting my son to safety."

"You're going up that rope," growled Qorl. "You'll keep your eyes on your son and the others will pull you. And I won't take any more of your arguments."

"I -"

But Qorl lifted her bodily and maneuvered her on to Lando's shoulders.

"I'll never forgive you for this," she gasped, but to Lando's surprise she allowed the pilot to connect the belt she was wearing to the other.

"Reach up, Neijal," Lando encouraged her softly, "and get a good grip."

Qorl waved up to Vehn and pantomimed reeling something in. Vehn waved back, and took up a stance that suggested he understood what was being asked of him. Tendra stood ready to help.

"Okay. Away you go." Lando steadied her feet as they lifted off his shoulders.

"Keep your eyes on Kushka!" Qorl ordered, and watched as her slight form, twisting backwards and forwards a little, was pulled slowly but surely upwards.

Lando watched for a while and then turned to look at him.

"I'm impressed. Where did you learn your persuasive technique?"

"Imperial Academy," grunted Qorl. "Always thought the training'd come in handy one day."

Lando studied him curiously not sure how to react until he saw the faint glimmer of a grin tugging at the corners of Qorl's mouth.

"Think it's safe for you to go next, or shall I soften her up for you?"

"I'll cope. But you can go."

"Coward," Lando began but then froze.

He glanced at Qorl and then at the door from where they could both hear the unmistakable sound of somebody deactivating the locks.

"Spit!" The word issued from both their lips in unison.

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