Many Happy Returns: Chapter Twenty-Six
Iella

"You know what," said Blue as he watched Anakin start to unscrew the security transponder he'd managed to find inside the engine compartment of their stolen ground truck, "you should think about quitting your job saving the galaxy from the Vong and become a mechanic instead. How did you know where to look for that thing?"

"He's always been good with machines," Tahiri explained. "He can sort of connect with them, even if it's a machine he's never seen before."

Blue shook his head in amazement. "Like I said, if you started a business you could make a fortune -- in fact, you'd probably be able to found your own dynasty. You and Tahiri'd be sitting pretty." He winked at Tahiri. "In Tahiri's case prettier than most." He caught the flash of ice blue eyes over the top of the fan housing regarding him briefly before flicking over to exchange a soft smile with Tahiri.

"I guess if we were into money, it'd be a good idea," replied Anakin cryptically. "There." He held up a small plastisteel device. "Got it."

"Good," said Blue, and released the clip on the engine compartment of the second delivery vehicle so Anakin could relocate the transponder inside it. "I guess my brilliant change of plan made things a little more complicated, but I still reckon it was better than one of us risking breaking a leg when we jumped from the bridge." He caught the two young Jedi exchanging glances again -- this time amused ones. "Okay -- I'll rephrase it. Better then me risking breaking a leg. Happy?"

Anakin chuckled as he angled his multi-tool to drill a small hole on the ledge near the windscreen. There was no need to go to the same lengths as the delivery company to hide the device. "It hasn't made things that much more complicated. And even if we'd stuck with Plan A, it was so busy back there at the port that somebody would have probably seen us hijacking the truck and alerted security, so we'd have still had to get rid of the transponder anyway."

He quickly screwed the object in question into its new position, and clambered up on to the driver's step to prize off the last metal digit of the truck's fleet identification number. Unlike the transponder problem, this was something they'd foreseen as a potential hitch if they didn't change it as, no doubt, the local law enforcement agency would broadcast the number of the stolen vehicle to all its officers. The only thing that would blow their cover would be if they ended up in a traffic queue next to a truck from the same company with the same number -- and the chance of that happening looked good even to non-Corellians.

"It's just as well you remembered that trucks have those tracking devices," said Tahiri. "Otherwise they might have tracked us to the compound."

"It's not common knowledge, and I only know because I used to work for a delivery company," explained Blue. "They install them partly to stop theft and partly to check that their vehicles are following the delivery schedule. It stops the drivers from skiving off to the beach when they should be working."

"And do they succeed?"

"I stand here before you as living proof they do."

Tahiri threw him a quizzical look.

"I think he means he lost his job because he got caught at the beach one day," Anakin explained as he finished prising off the metal square. He grinned at Tahiri and refolded his multi-tool. "This little thing's proving itself again and again."

"Well, kid," Blue patted him on the back. "You of all people should know that good things come in little packages. Now, we'd better get a move on. I'd say one of those other drivers back at the port would have realised by now that it's time to stop arguing and put a call through to security."

As if on cue, the com-stalks in both cabs crackled to life and a voice hailed them demanding they return the trucks immediately in order to avoid being pursued. Blue clambered up and pushed the off switch, leaving the muffled warning emerging only from the other truck.

"That was good timing." Anakin went to give Tahiri a helpful push up into the cab.

"Actually." Blue scratched his head, just for a moment looking as if he was stroking the serpent tattooed there. "It's probably better if you two travel in the back. Three swoopers in a truck cab is a bit too noticeable for my liking."

"Good point." Anakin followed Tahiri round to the back of the truck and waited while Blue activated the door release.

"Something we hadn't thought of, Anakin," Tahiri said as they clambered inside. "What if the delivery company contacts Tag to let him know his delivery's been stolen."

"I was just thinking about that myself. It might be a risk we'll just have to take."

"I never realised planning something like this would be so difficult. There are so many possible things that can go wrong."

Anakin squeezed her hand. "Don't worry. Just think of all the times Mum and Dad and the others must have been in this situation. Sometimes you have to put up with a few risks -- otherwise you'd never try anything. And anyway -- what about you, Valin and Sannah back on Yavin 4 when you came to help me fight the Peace Brigade? That was risky."

"We didn't sit down and plan that -- we just did it because it seemed like the right thing to do."

"Hold on tight!" Blue warned them loudly as the engine grumbled to life, and he began to accelerate out of the vacant scrap yard he'd chosen as their swap-over place. "We're about to take Blue's backstreet tour of Dinarra."

"This feels right to me," said Anakin quietly.v "Yeah," agreed Tahiri. "I ... Oh! Ow!"

A series of bumps and exclamations resounded from behind the cab's back window and Blue craned his head around quickly to see what was happening.

"Oof!" Anakin discovered that the reason for his soft landing was because Tahiri had cushioned his fall. In spite of the bucking and rolling of the truck, or perhaps because of it, he found her proximity both warming and strangely disconcerting.

"Hey, kid!" shouted Blue as he threw the truck enthusiastically around another corner. "When I said start your own dynasty, I wasn't suggesting you begin now."

"I thought you said you used to drive these things!"

"Yeah, but I never said I was a good driver, did I?"

"Great," muttered Anakin. "Sorry, Tahiri."

"Gosh, Anakin," Tahiri studied his face curiously as he hurriedly pulled her up so they could sit against the side. "Is that a rash on your face?"

"Yeah. I think I'm allergic to Blue's jokes." He noticed her lips twitch. "What?"

"I'm just deciding whether to tease you like you did me or not."

"Be strong. Fight the urge. Prove how much better you are than me." He decided he could endure any amount of humiliation, if it meant being able to see Tahiri behaving like herself again.

"Oh, I already know that."

"Good -- glad we got that sorted out early. Nothing worse than living with delusions about your own importance."

Tahiri laughed and settled comfortably against him. "I quite like Blue -- even though he's got a weird sense of humour. And I like Rongo and Iliana."

"Yeah, me too. I'm glad we found them, or glad they found us -- whichever it was."

"Do you think Lando and Tendra are still okay?"

Anakin slipped his arm around her and tilted his head to rest against her hair. "Yep. And Vehn and Qorl."

"If Corran was here he'd tell you off for being over-confident."

"If Corran was here he'd have had a haemorrhage by now. He hates swoopers -- you should get him to tell you about his days with CorSec some time."

"Maybe he tangled with the wrong sort of swoopers. Like that other gang we saw earlier."

"The Rancors? Yeah, I guess he did."

"I don't think they'd have been willing to help us," sighed Tahiri.

"No way," agreed Anakin. "I don't think the word help would be in their vocabulary -- except when they're helping themselves."

"About another ten minutes and we'll be there!" shouted Blue.

"Good," Anakin murmured. "The sooner we get back, the sooner we can get started."

****

"So where d'ya want us, Slash?" asked the swooper with the stringy mop of blonde hair who had followed Jaytee out down the front steps of the warehouse.

The lead swooper stopped and gazed around the plaza, chewing slowly as if the process of thinking was diverting too much energy from his on-line circuits. "Depends on whether you want a good rumble or not. Should be easy pickin's out the front here with those kriffin' protestors."

"Yeah," intoned the garrulous head while the other sniggered.

"I wanna be out the back," growled Jaytee. "Wanna to see some of those bastards eating dirt."

"You reckon, kid? Dunno about that. Don't usually let rookies out on rumbles till they've got through initiation -- till we know yer committed. Don't want to find out I'm fighting beside some kriffin' panty stealer."

"Make this my initiation, then. I'll show you I ain't no panty stealer." Jaytee found he was struggling to keep the whinging tone from his voice. Surely the Rancors should be grateful to him for the details he'd been able to give them about Solo's plan -- so grateful they should be only too willing to let him do whatever he wanted. "And anyway, I've practically handed the Black Knights over to you on a plate. You'd be waiting years for another chance like this."

The red-haired man shared a knowing look with the others and cocked his head on one side. "Okay, kid. You make a fair point -- and uh, I fancy myself as a fair-minded individual. Ain't that right, Dong?"

"Yeah."

Slash chuckled and launched a spitball that narrowly missed Jaytee's shoulder. "So I guess we'll let you have yer wish on two conditions."

Jaytee tried not to eye the man uncertainly. He knew instinctively that even the slightest hesitation would be taken as weakness, and in the jungle law of gang life weakness was a surefire path to extinction. At least, it was obvious that this was the case with the Rancors -- with the Black Knights, things had definitely been less primitive.

But he wasn't a Knight anymore.

"What conditions?" The surly look wasn't manufactured. Thinking about his former home had reminded him of Rongo and all the times the swooper had criticised him and cut him down to size. It was going to feel good to get him back. Real good.

"One -- you leave Toomahai to me, and two -- you do something about that name. There ain't no way I'm going to have someone in my gang with a blousey name like Jaytee."

If Jaytee had been able to think of an appropriate response, he would have had trouble forcing his gritted teeth apart to voice it. Fortunately, for the moment anyway, he was incapable of producing anything that would sound even vaguely coherent. His fists clenched and unclenched, but he noticed neither the reflex nor the pain of his nails biting into his palms.

And yet he did feel pain -- a dull ache in his gut as hollow and persistent as that of a famine victim. His name. The one vestige of the life he might have known if fate had rolled the dice differently. He couldn't put his feelings into words, but he knew that the word Jaytee was the only link he had to his past. It was the name given him by the people who found him wandering lost and homeless in the dump at the edge of the city -- an acronym of the two letters found inscribed on the collar of his coat. JT. Whether they were his initials or those of another family member nobody knew, but since then they had proved to be the one constant in his life. Once, he'd harboured hopes of finding his way back to whatever JT stood for. Those hopes had died long ago, but the name was still important. It was the one thing he could truly say was his. Somehow or other, it defined him.

He saw Slash's grin widen. "Toomahai's sure got yer fur on end, kid, ain't he? But I've had dibs on him for a while -- him and his hoity toity ideas and his vapin' work schemes. Thinks he's some sort of holier than thou social worker."

"Gives us all a bad name," grumbled the blonde man.

"Yeah."

"So -- what're we gonna call ya?"

Jaytee felt all four sets of eyes boring into him, and to his consternation he felt his cheeks inflame from both chagrin and rage. Didn't they understand? It wasn't Slash warning him off Rongo that had upset him. What was satisfying a grudge compared to losing the thing that he couldn't explain but knew somehow meant everything?

"Come on, kid. Spit it out or we might have to pick one for ya."

"I think he's lost his tongue, Slash."

"Give him a shake, Bender. See if you can rattle it loose."

Chuckling, Bender shoved the youth roughly and he lurched down the stairs.

"Sithspit!" Jaytee landed awkwardly against the railing.

"Sithspit! Perfect. Sithspit you shall be from now on. And may I say, it fits you well."

Jaytee shuddered as Slash thumped him cheerfully on the shoulder.

"Yeah, good choice kid," chuckled Bender in concert with the unsettling giggle of the long-haired twin.

"Now we've sorted that out, back to the original question which was I believe where I wanted everyone. And I seem to recall Sithspit here saying he wants to be in on the action out back. Right?"

Still seething inside, Jaytee nodded, and then wished he hadn't. The effects of the weed he'd been inhaling had been slow wearing off this time, and he still felt a little disoriented, as if things in his head weren't quite connecting properly yet. Although there again, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing in the light of what had just happened. He didn't want to think too deeply about why he had allowed the swoopers to bully him into renaming himself.

"I guess I can go with that then. Bender, you take a couple of the others and keep an eye open for that truck. I'm gonna take everyone down to the old grain store by the bridge and get them organised -- might have to send some runners back to get us some more firepower." He scratched his chin and squinted thoughtfully around the plaza. "We'll wait till these protesting gits have got going and then drop the hammer on them. All we need is three small groups coming in from each of those streets." He indicated the intersections in question. "Station people at the entrances, and the rest can get to work. Tag just wants them done over and scared off. Be like filching lolly bars from a little kid."

"Yeah," agreed Dong in concert with his twin's appreciative gurgles.

"Not you, Ding-Dong. I want you out back to take on Toomahai's back-up group."

"I think they think they're actually going to get lolly bars," grinned the blonde man.

Slash chuckled and flamboyantly patted the two neighbouring sets of sallow cheeks. "After today, old buddies, you'll be able to get pretty much whatever you want -- well, for a while anyway -- thanks to Tag's little donation to our cause. Easy come, easy go as they say."

"Sure better than working for it," said Jaytee derisively.

Bender glanced across at Slash. "There's no chance he'll try and cheat us?"

"He's stupid, but not that stupid. He knows that whatever we do to Toomahai's bunch of losers, we can do to him. He'll deliver. He's one of those weirdos that always want to be seen as doing the right thing."

"He's a creep."

"Yeah -- but a creep with money. Don't mind doing the odd job for that sort of creep."

"Yeah."

"Ain't never seen Jedi in action before," said Bender as Slash led them over to the main group of Rancors. "They any good, Sithspit?"

It took Jaytee a moment to realise that the sudden pause in the conversation was because they were waiting for him to reply.

"Nah," he scowled. "They just think they are."

"You fought them, huh?"

Jaytee squirmed, aware that Bender was smirking at Slash over his head. He wondered whether to indulge in some creative storytelling or to let it drop. "I had one of them a bit worried, yeah."

"I'm looking forward to seeing your technique, Sithspit." Slash's amusement had a sarcastic edge to it.

"Toomahai and the Jedi are going in the truck, so they'll be inside," Jaytee reminded him.

"Yeah, but it won't take us long to deal to the ones outside, and then we can join the general mayhem. I don't care whether Tag wants us in there or not. There ain't no way I'm going to miss out on that. I'd almost count it as part of our payment."

"Yeah."

"Good on ya, Dong." Slash wiped brown juice away from the sides of his mouth and beckoned to the other swoopers to follow him.

Jaytee clambered on to his bike and leaned over to Bender. "Doesn't he ever talk?" he asked, nodding towards the two-headed swooper.

"It's not he, kid, it's they. And yeah, of course they talk -- haven't you heard them?"

Unsure as to whether Bender was being serious or not, Jaytee chose to remain silent as he followed the group down the alley beside Tag's warehouse and out towards the bridge that took ground traffic from the warehouse area over the river to the outer suburbs of Dinarra. He wondered what Rongo and the others were doing. He presumed they'd have hijacked the truck by now, and probably Solo would be strutting around being the smartass he was and telling them all what to do. It was going to be hilarious to see the looks on their faces when they realised he'd sold them out. All that work -- all that planning. All for nothing. In spite of his humiliation earlier, he grinned. No doubt there'd be a few Knights who'd be regarding him as Sithspit soon -- both Black Knights and Jedi ones. It was kind of ironic. Maybe it wasn't such a bad name after all.

*****

"Credit for them." Rongo nudged Anakin as they waited for Blue and Muss to unload the remaining cartons and rolls from the truck.

The young Jedi blinked and refocused his gaze on his companion's face. "They might be worth a credit actually -- do you think the delivery company will contact Tag to let him know that somebody's run off with his goods?"

Rongo's dark eyebrows rose as he considered the likelihood of the idea. "I dunno. Blue'd be the one to ask, I guess."

"Is that my ears I feel burning?" Blue landed beside them grinning and waited for Muss to slide a long roll of plastiwrap toward the doors.

"Delivery companies," said Rongo. "How good are they at informing their customers about thefts?"

"They'd wait, especially in the case of a truck." Blue replied without hesitation. "They'd hold off at least a day in case the thing was found -- probably pretend they had a big backlog of orders or something to stop people getting suspicious. It's bad for business to lose orders." He swung the roll over his shoulder and headed over to where they were stacking the truck's contents.

Anakin rubbed his chin thoughtfully, vaguely aware from the sound it made that he was fitting in with the swooper look more than he would have liked. "I'd still prefer to make sure. Could we get somebody to pretend to be Tag and call the company -- maybe ask them if they're running late or something?"

"Strictly speaking they're not running late yet. Not according to the manifest anyway," Rongo reminded him.

"I know -- but their reaction will let us know if they have already contacted him. If they have they'll assume either that Tag's gone senile or maybe that the person they told didn't pass on the message to him. Either way they'll admit that the truck's missing."

"And if they haven't they'll act defensive." Rongo nodded. "Good plan. I'll get Doc on to it." He hurried away.

Anakin was unable to mask his surprise at Rongo's choice of actor.

Muss and Blue had sauntered back over, and Blue chuckled. "Doc's a man of many talents, kid."

"Obviously," said Anakin dryly.

"Well, that's that," said Muss. "Want me to get the others?"

"Wait until we hear what Doc finds out," Anakin replied.

"You're organised, kid, I'll give you that," said Blue. "Where's -? Ah here she is."

Tahiri had just emerged with Iliana from the compound's front door. Blue watched them for a moment, obviously fascinated by something.

"Hey, uh, Anakin. Meant to ask you this earlier. What's with this barefoot business? Does Tahiri come from some planet that grows carpet or something?"

Anakin chuckled. "No. It's just a Tahiri thing -- although she does come from a place with lots of sand."

Muss and Blue exchanged glances.

"Tatooine," Anakin added. The two swoopers nodded sagely. "It's kind of, uh -- how can I put it," began Blue.

"Sexy," Muss finished for him.

"Oi, none of those four letter words here if you don't mind! Some of us are young and innocent."

"Different? Alternative?" offered Muss.

"Yeah -- but in a good way."

"Strangely attractive."

"Possibly -- no, maybe more like wildly attractive," revised Blue.

"Incredibly desirable," Muss suggested.

"Yeah -- that's the one."

Anakin sighed, and waited, gazing up at the sky beseechingly, while the two swoopers recovered from their laughter.

"Are they giving you a tough time, Anakin?" Iliana smiled sympathetically.

"Nothing a good swat from a lightsaber wouldn't solve," he replied darkly.

"There, you see -- we're getting him in the fighting mood," explained Muss. "We're his motivational team."

Tahiri threw Anakin a quizzical look and he replied with a roll of his eyes. She shrugged and pulled herself up on to the truck, placing her boots down beside her so she could sit with her legs dangling over the end.

"Do you know if Rongo found Doc?" Anakin managed to avoid looking at Tahiri's feet and at Blue and Muss, although he caught their smirks in his peripheral vision.

"That's what we came to tell you," said Tahiri. "They're just calling them now. I ... sorry, is there some joke going on here or something?" She glared at the two swoopers who were visibly shaking and emitting strange noises.

"Just ignore them," said Iliana. "It's sure to be something really dumb."

"Something funny afoot," sniggered Blue.

"Ili's always trying to get us to toe the line," Muss snorted.

"She's as hard as nails."

Muss exploded and staggered helplessly towards the compound building just as Rongo emerged.

"What's tickling him?" he asked only to see Blue collapse against the side of the truck, his sides heaving. Rongo stared at Iliana but she shook her head, mystified.

"Any luck?" asked Anakin, deciding to ignore the resident comedy team.

Rongo pantomimed a flustered clerk trying to sound calm while dealing with a difficult customer. "Yes, Mr Tag, sorry Mr Tag. We'll get it to you as soon as we can. Large number of back orders to clear at the moment, but I promise we'll prioritise yours."

Anakin let out a relieved sigh. "Good. In that case I think we're ready -- at least." He skewered Blue and Muss with a blue-eyed glare. "Most of us are."

Blue patted Anakin's arm as he passed on his way to the door of the building. "You're okay, kid. I'll go and give my lot the hurry up."

"Yeah," agreed Muss. "I have to admit, I thought you were too big for your boots at the start -- but I'm prepared to admit I was wrong." He chuckled to himself again returning Rongo's quizzical look with a grin. "You want me to get the rest of the group, boss?"

"Doc's getting them organised," said Rongo. "And giving them a pep talk. You'd better go and get your gear."

"Speaking of boots." Tahiri picked them up resignedly and began pulling them back on.

"How are your blisters?" Anakin murmured.

"Sore," she pouted. "But I'll survive. I put some of that bacta cream on them."

"Well, I guess this is it." Rongo patted Anakin on the back. "Any other last minute things you've thought of?"

Anakin ran through his mental checklist. "There is one more thing." Rongo folded his arms to listen, and then saw the smile softening the young Jedi's serious expression.

"We want you to know how grateful we are."

Rongo glanced across at Iliana in surprise, and she responded by stepping over and sliding an arm around his waist.

"Uh -- that cuts both ways, Anakin."

"Maybe. But we can't think of many people who'd be prepared to help us the way you guys have." Anakin went to say more, but, unable to find words that didn't sound trite, he gave up and shrugged. What could he say to the tanned biker that could adequately compensate for the lengths he was willing to go to for them, for the genuine concern he and Iliana had shown for them? Most of all, how could he ever repay them for their friendship?

Anakin felt Iliana's dark eyes scanning his face. "What's it worth if we can't lend a hand occasionally? Isn't that what it's all about?"

"Hey!" Doc had appeared followed by the rest of the group he and Rongo had chosen to be in the truck. "I thought we were getting ready for a good rumble, not a love-in. Get yourselves togged up now or I might have to let some of this stuff loose on you lot."

"You appear to have gained weight, Doc," said Iliana, eyes twinkling.

"I'm a growing lad," he assured her patting his bulging jacket affectionately, and then hauled himself up into the truck.

Anakin glanced over to where Blue's group was busy checking their swoops, and saw Blue helping Skell make the final adjustments to the clamps holding one of the CVIs to the handlebars of his bike.

"We'd better head off," he told Rongo. "But I'd like to run a quick com check when we're about a block away."

Rongo nodded. "Better get hold of Vilco, too."

"Yeah, I was just about to do that. Come on, Tahiri." He took her hand and led her towards the door of the swooper's quarters, opening the channel to the Rodian as he went.

"I'll get my gear." Rongo took Iliana in his arms and held her against him tightly.

"Don't you dare do anything stupid," she murmured. "I wish I was better with a blaster, then I could be with you."

"I need to know we've got someone reliable on that ion cannon. You're a damn good shot when you're able to take your time to aim. And anyway." He grinned and patted the middle of his chest. "You are with me."

"You know what I mean." She dimpled, but then reached up to stroke his cheek. "Just be careful," she warned, and kissed him. "Remember -- there's a lot more where that came from."

"Any more of that and I won't be shooting straight either." He kissed her and then patted her briskly on the behind. "Off you go. Skell's waiting."

She went to turn away, but hesitated. "Do you think Jonno and Pet are watching?"

"Yeah."

Iliana could tell by his expression, and the promptness of his reply, that he'd been thinking about them, too.

"They'd have liked Anakin and Tahiri," he said matter-of-factly. Then he grinned, squeezed her hand and turned and jogged towards the building.

****

Dajira peeked out from her hiding place in the shadows behind a pillar near the pedestrian entrance of the parking complex and listened for any telltale sounds of footsteps or of the muted rumble of the service lift. It looked at last as though the place had quietened down. Unfortunately she had arrived just at the changeover from day to evening shift, and, fearful of being recognised by one of her stepfather's workers, she had turned away quickly and set out as if she, too, was hurrying to work. She had ended up walking a wide circuit down towards the bridge and back, stopping a little sooner than anticipated to avoid a large group of swoopers who were gathered there. The backstreets were unfamiliar to her, and she had decided that there were parts of Dinarra that didn't quite live up to the image that the city authorities promoted in their tourist brochures.

By the time she had returned things were quiet again, and the lift that took her down to the level where her stepfather parked his speeder was empty. She had barely had time to let out a sigh of relief, however, when she'd heard voices, and had panicked and taken refuge behind the post. She hadn't recognised the two people conversing over by one of the vehicles, but that was irrelevant. The mere thought of having to deal with any complications was more than her overloaded nerves could cope with.

But now the cavernous room was silent, although it wouldn't have surprised her to hear the echo of her heart as it thumped loudly in her chest. Throwing one last anxious glance around her, she slipped out from behind the post and hurried past a long row of vehicles to the speeder. A press of her thumb against the security lock opened the door and extended the control lever, and she reached out for the repulsor switch.

"Hi, Dajira!"

She froze, convinced that her heart had just leapt out over the windscreen, and fought the instinct to swing around and thereby reveal what she knew would be an expression of shock mixed with desperation. Instead she managed somehow to turn around slowly and, even more miraculously, find her voice.

"Oh hello, Lacy." It was the accountant's secretary from the warehouse. "You're working late."

"Yeah. It's such a pain. I was meant to be going out to the holopics tonight."

"Oh. Sorry." Dajira couldn't think why she was apologising -- although, there again, maybe she did. Guilt by association -- wasn't that what they called it?

"I hear you guys got a day off." Lacy was smiling, but she looked a little peeved. "Short circuit in the main switchboard or something, Kasen said. You lucky things."

"Yes." Dajira took a calming breath. "Yes, that's right. It sounds like you made up for it by working extra hours." She smiled sympathetically.

"Story of my life," the young woman shrugged. She seemed about to speak, but then hesitated, frowning slightly. "Hey, Dajira, I know this'll sound weird, but -- um -- things have been kinda strange at the warehouse today. Is something going on?"

"I'm not sure what you mean, Lacy." Dajira couldn't help swallowing awkwardly.

"Well, people have been funny. Not funny ha ha, but ... I don't know ... secretive. A lot of whispering and coming and going, and Mr Tag, well, since he got back he's been -- and don't get upset with me for saying this -- he's been really grumpy. And somebody said that Mr Korlis had an accident and got killed, but when I asked Kasen about it he said not to worry about it, and that it was just some silly story. I can tell you, I was really relieved when Mr Tag told me I could go home." The young secretary stopped, mainly because she had run out of breath.

"Hmmm." Again Dajira had to force her body to perform its normal life-support functions and ignore the reflex telling it to rush out screaming hysterically. "Don't worry, Bomar's under a bit of pressure at the moment. Lots of important orders to fill and not enough to workers to do it."

"Oh." Lacy's face lit up with sudden realisation. "That's why he called in all those people from the factory. Of course -- silly me. Poor Mr Tag -- who'd be a boss, huh?"

"True." Dajira felt a chill creep over her. If Bomar had brought in some of the factory staff, what was the bet it was the workers he'd brought from Pantan -- the ones who shared his views about collaboration? And what was this about Korlis having an accident? She looked up at Lacy uncertain whether to pump her for more information, or whether to comply with the voice urging her that every second she wasted talking was one she might later regret. And no matter what the girl told her -- what could she do about it? Better to focus on doing the thing she could do. And would do. Because it was right. Suddenly she was filled with a resolve so clear and focused that it surprised her.

"I've got to go, sorry. See you later."

Lacy stepped back in surprise as the speeder accelerated past her more rapidly than she would have thought safe. She had wanted to tell Dajira about the swoopers who had come to see Mr Tag, especially about the one with two heads -- now that was something you didn't see very often. But instead all she could do was watch the Twi'lek girl rocket up the exit ramp and wonder what had happened to everyone to make them all so odd. She shook her head in confusion.

"Weird," she muttered. "It must be crazy day. Well, I don't care what Mr Tag says -- tomorrow I'm going in two hours late. And if he asks why, I'll tell him it's to make up for the extra two hours I did today doing Kasen's work for him." With a triumphant grin she unlocked her small speeder and clambered in.



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