Many Happy Returns: Chapter Thirty-One
Iella

When the Rancors had first appeared, Blue and his group had been stationed as planned a block away from the warehouse, at the back of the building site from which Rongo and Jaytee had taken the reconnaissance holopics earlier and where Skell and his three companions were now located. The initial few minutes had been a blur as far as the Black Knights were concerned, and Blue was amazed that they'd been able to emerge from the onslaught intact. Two things had worked to their advantage — their gang ethos, which involved helping each other out, and their opponents' — that didn't. Logically, the Rancors' superior numbers should have made the result of the encounter a foregone conclusion, but the opportunity for a good old-fashioned rumble allied with the chance to settle some old scores had proved too much of a temptation for them. Rather than working together systematically to single out the Knights and deal with them one at a time, they had roared in at them firing wildly, at the same time forgetting that they were operating in a narrow street. In their enthusiasm to try and hit as many of their counterparts as they could, they had ended up unwittingly winging a few of their comrades and pushing others into walls, or into each other, when they had come between them and their intended victims.

Blue had lost his comlink during this initial onslaught. He had noticed the light flicker on and had been about to respond when he had noticed the crazy two-headed Rancor known as Ding-Dong coming at him swinging a chain. As the durasteel snake arced towards his face, Blue threw his swoop into a swerve that took him dangerously close to a projecting sign, and it was while he was pulling his bike up to avoid the imminent collision that the device had popped out of his grasp.

Although lacking any means of hailing Anakin and Rongo, he didn't need technology to confirm that they too would be under attack. He also knew that he had to keep working on the assumption they would prevail, and that their plan to rescue Tag's prisoners would go ahead. Strangely he didn't find that as difficult to believe as he was sure he once would have.

Either I'm going insane in my old age, or the kid's never-say-die attitude is rubbing off on me.

He hadn't had time to ponder which alternative he preferred because the two-headed one was hurtling towards him again, chortling in his familiar high-pitched way and wielding the chain. Blue let loose with the CVI mounted to the handlebars of his bike cursing inwardly as he missed the swooper, but, before he could trigger another flurry, he noticed the man gazing in astonishment at the blackened piece of metal left in his hand. Without thinking, and silently bemoaning the annoying universality of inertia, Blue banked his swoop so its front cowling would protect him from the snake-like projectile heading his way. As it turned out this was a wise move for more reasons than one. Not only did he avoid having his facial features redesigned by the chain, but also he escaped the follow-up blast from the angry swooper's rifle. The bolt grazed harmlessly along the bottom of Blue's bike and dissipated its radiant energy into the ceramosteel sign he'd just missed hitting.

"You thinking of joining a chain gang?" roared Zed as he zoomed up beside Blue and pumped the space between his comrade and the Rancor with a steady stream of red dashes. The latter reacted quickly and peeled away in a wide curve, and for a brief instant as the two Knights shot up above the level of the buildings they had a clear view of the building site.

"Aw, you know, hoping to link up with them later, bro'," replied Blue. The joking reply was habitual, unthinking — allowing Blue to mentally slap himself on the forehead as he processed what he'd just seen. Of course — the Equalizer! You idiot!. He bent his head down to his bike's com-stalk that fortunately was still intact. "Skell! You got that cannon set up yet?"

"Nearly."

Thank goodness Skell and Iliana both have bike coms, otherwise I'd be having to call upon my miraculous powers of telepathy, he thought wryly. He wasn't sure if it was the interference distorting Skell's voice or anxiety. He had been about to suggest that it might not be a bad idea to hurry when he caught movement in his peripheral vision and his reflexes took him down in Zed's wake towards the temporary shelter of a huge silo.

"Skell's got eight shots with that thing, right?" he shouted to the bearded man.

"Yep. Wha--oh!" Zed's expression suggested he'd divined the answer to his own question. "Two rounds of four shots," he affirmed. "Won't do any harm to waste a few on this lot — right?"

"I reckon. Damn — watch it!"

Ding-Dong reappeared, this time leading two more of his comrades.

"Skell!" Blue bellowed as he and Zed peeled away in opposite directions.

"Yeah, yeah! No need to blow my ears off!"

"We're gonna try and lure some of these guys up for you. Let me know when that thing's operational. And keep your heads down!" As much as you can, he added silently. The last thing he wanted was the Rancors taking an interest in Skell and his group, but by the same token he needed to keep to his part of the plan — to have his group ready as back-up should Anakin need him. They wouldn't be much use if none of them were left.

He threw his bike down towards the street, and, twisting his throttle control to maximum, he hurtled towards an arched gateway that opened on to a storage yard, dodging and jinking to evade the spurts of energy he could hear sizzling past him.

"Purr's keeping an eye out."

Skell's reassurance struck an odd note — and it wasn't just because of the somewhat unreassuring situation. Blue focused on the task in hand, uncomfortably aware of how close his pursuers were behind him, although also secretly pleased. Hopefully they'd be so busy aiming at him that they might not notice how close he was to the gate. At the last possible minute he killed his forward thrust and then hit the repulsors, and his swoop soared up missing the gate by the merest fraction. It was as he reached the top of his bounce that two things hit him — the thunderclap of sudden energy transfer as moving Rancor met rigid structure and the reason for the strangeness of Skell's remark. Why had he only mentioned Purr? Where were Iliana and Hami?

Blue looked down and found the answer to the first half of the question rocketing up in the exhaust trail of his remaining opponent, however he didn't have time to voice his disapproval. Before the Rancor could line him up he dropped like a stone and then looped away to the left, vaguely aware of the distinctive screech of CVI fire from the swoop Iliana was riding. Halfway through his circle he saw the opposing bike reach the apex of its flight, level out for the merest second and then plummet almost gracefully into the yard beyond the gateway. Iliana waved at him briefly and then jerked the bike she'd obviously borrowed from Skell away towards where Zed was desperately trying to outmaneuver the two-headed swooper.

Following in her wake, Blue activated his bike com. "Not to say I'm not grateful, but what the hell do you think you're doing?" he roared.

"I can't get to Rongo, but I can get to you," she sent back, and even above the roar of her repulsors, Blue could hear the slight note of panic in her voice. He understood the underlying message — helping his group meant she was increasing the chances of success for those inside the building. He also knew it was pointless trying to order her back to the roof, and even had he been contemplating the idea, the sight ahead of him would have quickly made him reconsider.

Spit, Zed. Why'd you have to swap with Tab? Normally Zed's helter-skelter tactics would have worked well, but that was because he'd recently upgraded his steering with the new dallorian springs that could withstand any amount of rough treatment without overheating. Tab's bike, however, responded as might be expected for one with the old system — the evasive movements causing the cheaper metal to expand and stick so that the steering became sluggish.

Iliana had just settled on the Rancor's tail when one of his shots hit home, and Zed buckled to one side and clutched at his shoulder. Iliana stuck to the jubilant swooper, attempting to position her bike so he'd fall into her target zone, but he rocketed away to the right and then swooped down to the shelter of the street, apparently sensing her hesitation to use the CVI for fear of hitting innocent bystanders.

Blue raced to catch up with Zed and drew alongside him, shuddering a little when he saw the scorch mark on the back of his friend's jacket.

"Hold in there, bro'!" he yelled.

"Forget about me!"

Blue could see it took an effort for the big man to summon the energy to shout back. He also knew, Zed was right to send him away. He would have done the same. The only comfort it gave him was the hope that the Rancors would be more interested in those still able to fight.

Skell's voice crackled jubilantly through the bike's com-stalk. "Hey Blue! Got it! Send the suckers this way!"

"Okay!" He looked round for Iliana and noticed two swoops racing up the alley beside the warehouse. A chill fingered its way into his stomach. Must have come from out front. Refusing to accept it as a bad sign, he bent his mouth down to his bike com. "Iliana! Rongo'll probably kill me for this — but d'you fancy a game of chase?"

"Tell me what to do!" Her voice had lost its fear and sounded frighteningly cold and steady.

"I'm gonna get in behind that group hassling Taso and Grunt and give them a blast. You go for those new guys down by the loading bay. Let off a few rounds and then clear off up towards Skell."

"Got it." She was already swooping down at her target.

Feeling a little unnerved by this new Iliana, Blue tweaked his thrust control to close the gap between his bike and the group locked in battle below. Taso and Grunt were the two who had collided while chasing Anakin and Tahiri. They were both young and hot-headed, and had tried Blue's patience on more occasions than he wished to count. However, no matter how many times they'd irked him he would have cut off his hands rather than desert them — and he knew he felt that way about everyone in the gang.

It came as a shock, therefore, when he recognised the red hair on the youth he was fast approaching — the last rider in the group now pursuing his friends. The one who even now was sitting squarely in his sights, totally unaware of his approach.

Blue's hand trembled as he poised his thumb over the trigger. A mere squeeze was all it would take — a fraction of a second of his life to vanquish Jaytee's miserable existence like so much smoke. And who would mourn him? Who would care? If anything, he'd be doing the kid a favour — sending him off in battle rather than leaving him to wipe himself out in the degradation of a bad spice trip.

He felt the surface of the metal blister brush against the skin on his thumb. The kid had sold them out without a second thought, and worst of all he'd betrayed Rongo, repaying the man's endless patience with a possible death sentence — and all because he refused to take responsibility for his mistakes. Some brother he had turned out to be.

Brothers.

Blue swallowed the taste of bitter gall, and, shaking with emotions he doubted Jaytee would ever experience even if he lived to a hundred, he adjusted his aim ... and fired.

*******

Jaytee could feel anger and frustration nibbling at the edges of his concentration as he tried to get a bead on the Black Knight he could now recognise as Grunt. So far he hadn't managed to hit any of his former comrades. Twice he'd had one lined up nicely but had had his shot ruined by a Rancor blazing in and firing so indiscriminately that he'd had to veer off to preserve himself. Nobody could doubt their enthusiasm, but their organisation left a lot to be desired. If he'd had any say in the matter, he would have divided them into groups, committing just enough to deal with the Knights while keeping plenty in reserve. That way they wouldn't have had the problem they were having now — all competing to nail as many of their opponents as they could with the result that so far the opposition looked pretty much still intact.

But there again, he was the rookie, so he couldn't expect anyone to listen to him. Not until he'd proved himself anyway. He gritted his teeth, the urgency to do just that firing up his reflexes into a frenzy of impatience, but yet again just as he'd managed to fix Grunt in his sights, one of his new associates swung in front of him. He'd just begun to vent his fury in a growling stream of invectives when a trio of shots seared past his raised elbow so close he could feel the heat through his rancor hide jacket. He rapidly slipped sideways and turned to face the threat, only to find Blue bearing down on him.

"You missed!" he shouted derisively, but the sneer he was trying to summon gave way quickly to a yelp as Blue suddenly threw his swoop into a swerve that spun the tail out in a sideswipe maneuver. The sudden clash of Blue's angular momentum with the direction of Jaytee's motion made the youth's body the conduit for the transfer of energy. Not only did the opposing forces push the air from his lungs, but also they compressed his stomach so viciously that he thought he was going to vomit.

"No. Dead on target," came the reply.

By contrast with his own voice, Blue's was frighteningly steady, as was his steely gaze. Jaytee gulped down the acid vestiges of his last meal and made to bank his swoop clear, but Blue had anticipated his move and was already heading up towards him. Jaytee veered left, but not quickly enough to avoid being hit by the back end of Blue's bike as he whipped round like a gyroscope, and the reinforced guard plating caught and buckled the housing of Jaytee's right stabiliser, also demobilising its contents. The slight upwards vector of Blue's spin flipped Jaytee's bike over ninety degrees so that the youth found himself travelling horizontally towards an all too solid looking wall. Intellectually he knew all he had to do was neutralise the left stabiliser, but panic overtook him before he'd even managed to find the correct blister on his controls. He released his grip on the handlebars and kicked himself away from the doomed vehicle, tumbling in an ungainly heap to the ground where he lay struggling to catch his breath fully expecting to find his ribs poking out of his chest. Somewhere above the roaring in his ears he heard the crash and tinkle of his bike exploding through transparisteel, while closer at hand he became aware of the thrum of repulsors and a voice barking out an order. Then he heard it speak again more clearly, and he realised this time it was addressing him.

"You're a piece of work!"

Jaytee waited until the world had started to come back into focus before rolling painfully over to the side he thought the voice was coming from. Beyond a stretch of buff-coloured road he saw a black blur he assumed might be a boot, and when he'd managed to clamber on to all fours he noticed the boot was joined to a leg which in turn led to a shadowy face.

"You had it coming." The attempt to try and challenge gravity and stand up ran counter to his stomach's preference to remain horizontal, and this time it let him know its displeasure. As much humiliated at throwing up in front of Blue as he was angry at him, Jaytee scowled up at the tattooed biker. "You think you're so great." He swiped at the saliva clinging like threads of an arachnid's web to the front of his jacket. "It's going to be good seeing you all go down."

The words were not so much bravado as nihilism. The combination of acute discomfort in every bone in his body allied with an extreme case of vertigo was making the youth almost wish that Blue would put him out of his misery. He'd achieved the revenge he wanted — and as far as he was concerned that was as much satisfaction as he'd ever felt, or at least that he could remember feeling. He collapsed weakly to the ground again and waited for the expected blow or blaster shot, but when neither eventuated he squinted across at his antagonist.

A voice interrupted the uneasy silence. "They're swallowing the bait, Blue!"

Jaytee blinked and tried to gaze around, thinking for a moment that another of the Black Knights had turned up. But then he saw that Blue was bending down to speak into his bike com.

"You got 'em in your sights yet, Skell?"

Jaytee frowned. Skell? He didn't remember anything about Skell in the plan. Anxiety niggled at his thoughts like a maggot trying to eat its way in. Had he missed telling Slash something important, or had he just forgotten the details after he'd told him. The big biker had rewarded him with a tandem pack of some brew he'd never heard of before, so hopefully it was the latter. He tried to convince himself that this was indeed the case.

"Yup, and the twosome chasing Ili." Skell's voice sounded unusually confident. Jaytee was still wondering what was going on when he heard the little biker call out again. "Pull out Grunt!"

"Good work, Ili!" shouted Blue. "Get clear now."

Perplexed and also feeling strangely irritated at being ignored, Jaytee pulled himself shakily to his knees and followed the direction of Blue's gaze. He could make out seven shapes silhouetted against the faded backdrop of evening sky, but, even as he watched, the two who were obviously being pursued started peeling away. All of a sudden, from some point beyond his field of view, a shaft of light spurted like water from a high pressure hose and encased the front two swoops, washing over them in electric blue trickles. For a few seconds they continued their forward motion and then they arced downwards. Jaytee lost sight of them as they plummeted below the level of the roofs, but he could just make out the swoopers writhing as if overcome by some convulsive disease. Whether this was due to the effect of the ion cannon on their nervous systems or simply due to fear he couldn't say, but a second beam lashing out across the encroaching darkness halted any further speculation on the subject. Jaytee didn't realise his mouth had dropped open until he went to swear.

"What was that you said about enjoying watching things go down?" asked Blue.

The youth watched the second pair of Rancors descend almost as gracefully as festival fireballs. "Wh-where ..." he stammered, before realising just how lame the question he was about to ask sounded.

"Pity you didn't hang around a bit longer to get a few more details ain't it?"

Blue's tone was clipped, as if he was he was working at controlling it. He powered up his repulsors and crept slowly towards Jaytee, shadows masking his face, so that all that the boy could see was two eyes glittering coldly like stone. "I wonder what Slash will have to say about having four of his friends ionised?"

Jaytee gulped. He'd just been pondering the same question. He started to frame a defiant reply, but Blue was already banking away from him, and a few seconds later he had disappeared in the direction of the next street from where Jaytee could now identify the stutter of blaster fire.

He planted his hands on the ground in front of him and rested on all fours for a moment with his eyes closed. When he opened them again he was relieved to see that the road appeared to be behaving more like a road should behave, as opposed to the merry-go-round it had been trying to emulate earlier. He struggled slowly to his feet and gazed around, making sure to avoid any sudden movements that might stimulate the feeling of motion sickness again. About halfway down the street, hanging out a large window above the entrance to a building, he saw what he was searching for — his bike, or at least the back end of it. The rest of it had either been sheared off or badly bent. Whatever the case, the machine was obviously useless.

Spit, he thought. That's going to muck things up. Not much chance of ... hang on. He suddenly remembered seeing one of the Black Knights drop out of a scuffle and go down somewhere near the big grain silo two streets away. The swoop hadn't appeared to be out of control, and he'd assumed the rider was injured. Maybe he could find that bike and take it, and rejoin the fight. Yeah — they wouldn't expect that. Stupid idiots.

He reoriented himself in the direction he was sure led to the silo, but had only taken a few steps when he heard a roar overhead and two swoops buzzed him, missing his head by what he was sure could have been only a few hairs. He threw himself to the ground convinced his heart was going to leap from his chest. It was just as he was coming to the realisation that it was still in place that he heard the growl of repulsors approaching again. More angry than scared, he steeled himself to scuttle towards the shelter of a narrow alleyway. But then he heard a shout and turned to find himself face to face with a red-faced swooper. Inadvertently he took a step backwards, and the man's hand shot out and grabbed his collar roughly to yank him to within eyeballing range.

"So what's the big idea, Sithspit?" growled Slash. "You wouldn't be trying to sneak away on us, would you?"

"Of course not!" the youth scoffed, uncomfortably aware that his mouth had gone dry and he didn't sound as convincing as he would have liked. "I thought you were one of the Knights. I was trying to get clear."

"Ah," the biker said snidely. "Trying to find a spot to sit it all out." He gripped the youth's collar more tightly and shook him. "Yeah — that's about what I'd expect from a little runt like you. Squeal and hide."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean — ain't it convenient to lose your bike and remain so ... unharmed?" The biker studied him speculatively through narrowed eyes.

"Listen," hissed Jaytee. "If you're suggesting I'm faking, take a look at where my bike ended up." He thrust his finger toward the crash site. "It was only my quick thinking that saved me. And in case you're wondering where I was heading — I was trying to get to where I saw a swoop go down, so I could take it and get back in the fight."

Slash opened his eyes wide in mock surprise. "My, my — ain't you the hero. And here was me thinking that maybe your ex-mates were being a little too careful not to damage you permanently. Like maybe this was a set-up to distract Tag and get back at us in the process." The sizzle of blaster fire exploded behind him and he let the boy go and swung round, aiming and firing his repeater rifle in one fluid motion; but the two swoops — the same two that had taunted Jaytee a few minutes previously — veered away out of range.

Jaytee snorted derisively, aware that his hands were shaking, but making sure Slash couldn't see them. It had never occurred to him that his act of betrayal might be read as a ruse, and he knew what would happen to him if Slash chose to see it that way.

"Yeah — as if they'd be able to plan something like that. That'd take something called intelligence."

Slash opened his mouth to reply and then seemed to pause for a moment, giving Jaytee the impression that the man's brain was struggling to catch up with his jaw muscles. A puzzled expression passed through his eyes, but they quickly refocused spearing the youth with a gaze that still retained a little suspicion. "Maybe. But you didn't tell us the whole plan, did ya. We didn't know nothin' about that group they've got up on one of the roofs —"

"I didn't know about them. They must have come up with that after I left."

"Yeah? And —"

The distant growl of engines suddenly amplified into a throaty roar, and Slash swung his rifle up again and began firing just as the comlink clipped to his jacket crackled to life.

"Slash! Get round to the back entrance!" The voice added something else that Jaytee couldn't make out.

The swooper frowned down at the device, and let loose another volley of shots before grumbling a curse.

"Slash!" the volume made the metal case of the speaker vibrate.

Slash rolled his eyes and spat. "Whaddya say? They're out?"

Tag shouted back but the scream of repulsors was making it impossible for Jaytee to hear. He lunged toward the alley he'd been heading for earlier and was followed a few minutes later by Slash, now back on his swoop and bellowing into the comlink while beating angrily at a smouldering patch of hair on the top of his head.

"And why didn't you tell us about that ion cannon?" he demanded quickly before bending down to continue his conversation with Tag, but the latter's voice was already filtering acidly through the link.

Jaytee heard him say, "Now get on to it," and then the connection clicked off. Slash punctuated the ensuing silence with a creative description of Tag's potential as a subject for taxidermy and then turned back to the youth.

"I told you," insisted Jaytee. "I didn't know about that thing. Didn't even know we had one. And anyway — why can't you just send some of the guys up to take it out? Should be a breeze."

"Yeah, I was just thinking about that. Thought maybe I might take you up there, lend you a blaster and drop you on them. I reckon that'd do the trick, crap for brains." He reached down and grabbed Jaytee by the ear. "Do you have any idea what one of those damn things can do to ya?"

"Yeah!" Jaytee squeaked, between gritted teeth. "And like I said, I didn't know anything about them using it."

"You'd better hope I don't find out you're lying," spat Slash. "Fortunately for you I've got other stuff to see to. Tag wants us round at the bay — apparently Toomahai and his friends have broken out." An unpleasant grin revealed a sight that Jaytee could only describe as a dentist's nightmare. "Must be too hot in there for them yellow bellies. But that's okay 'coz now we get a shot at them." The grin widened. "And you don't. Unless you find that bike, of course." He leaned down and pulled the youth's ear up to within whispering distance. "I really think you need to find it, Sithspit. Then I might just start believing ya. Get it?"

Jaytee wasn't too sure which was worse — the pain in his earlobe or the odour of decaying molars. The process of deciding provided him with a welcome distraction from both, however, and he was able to make his reply sound reasonably stoic. "You're wasting your breath threatening me. I told you I want my go at them."

"You'd better get a move on then," growled the biker, shoving the boy away so that he fell against the nearby wall. "But don't expect me to leave Toomahai for ya." Chuckling raucously he banked away and hit the thrusters leaving Jaytee pressing his palm against his torn ear and trying to restore his rattled nerves to something approaching equilibrium.

"I'll show you," he muttered. "I'll show the lot of you." But somewhere in the depths of his mind a niggling feeling he couldn't identify waved its horny head at him. He'd severed his connection to the Knights on the assumption he'd be welcomed into the Rancor's camp. If the Rancors decided he was unworthy — where would he go?

He pulled his hand away from his ear and regarded the blood for a moment without really seeing it. Then he shrugged, wiped his palm on the side of his rancor-hide pants and set off to find a bike.

******

Skell didn't hear Anakin hailing him at first. He was too busy being congratulated by an ecstatic Purr who was leaping around him and banging him on the back. He caught sight of Taso and Grunt briefly before they plunged back down to street level, and was on his way to try and contact Blue using Purr's bike com when he noticed that the comlink he'd placed on the seat was flashing.

"Hey Purr, why don't you channel some of that energy into getting hold of Blue," he called grabbing the small communications device. His hands were shaking from the combined effects of the adrenaline rush and the realisation he'd actually managed to down four of their opponents. In spite of the circumstances, he couldn't help feeling more than a little proud. "Find out if the others are still okay."

"Sure thing, hotshot," she grinned, but the worried tone of Anakin's voice emerging suddenly from the comlink quashed any further teasing.

"Skell? Can you hear me?"

"I'm here, Anakin. Are you guys okay?"

"Having a marvellous time. I've been trying to get Blue — can you see him?"

Skell glanced around quickly, partly to check for incoming Rancors and partly to see if Blue was in sight. "Nope, but Purr's just trying —"

"He's okay, but he's lost his comlink," interrupted the Trianii. "He can only use his bike com. He says Zed's down."

"Spit!" muttered Skell. "Did you hear that? They got Zed."

"Hang on!" Purr was looking distressed but she waved Skell to silence as she strained to hear what Blue was saying. "Iliana's on her way to help Zed. And the Rancors are pulling out. He reckons they're heading round to the loading bay."

"The loading bay?" he repeated puzzled. "Anakin —"

"Got that." Anakin sounded calm and business-like, and it suddenly occurred to Skell just how extreme the differences between them were. Here he was nearly twenty-six and shaking like a leaf, while at the other end of the communications link was a teenage boy, rock-solid, perfectly at home in his position of command. Life was full of lessons and examples — yet up until now he'd never really taken much notice of either.

"They won't get in — we've blasted the controls. But keep an eye on them anyway. Skell, can you clip your comlink to the bike com? I need to talk to Blue."

"Sure thing. I'll watch the ... hey, Blue's right — there are a few of them there at the bay already. Here's Blue." He waited for Purr to finish telling Blue what they were about to do, and then attached the portable link to the bike's com-stalk, nodding with satisfaction as the young Jedi's voice filtered through the connection to address Blue.

"They're definitely up to something," murmured Purr as she joined him at the edge of the platform.

"Yeah, but so are we," grinned Skell. "Still got two shots left in this tube remember before we have to change to the other."

A predatory grin crept over Purr's furred face, and she chuckled. "So we do." She gazed around. "I hope someone's helping Iliana with —" she began, and then froze.

Skell noticed the change in her expression. "What's up?" he asked nervously.

She pointed towards the warehouse. "Look up at that tower and tell me what you see."

The little biker squinted in the direction she indicated. He was about to shake his head and admit he could see nothing but tower, when something bobbed up and down very quickly. It looked like —

"That's a head. Someone's up there!"

"That's what I thought. We'd better tell — oh!"

They both swung round at the sound of an approaching engine, Skell fumbling with the trigger on the Equalizer as he spun.

"Blue!" he echoed Purr's relief as the tattooed biker gave them the thumbs up. Before they could speak, however, Blue had grabbed the comlink and turned away.

"Keep an eye on them or it — whatever's up there," murmured Skell. "I'll watch these guys." He studied the growing group of swoopers by the loading bay entrance, intending to keep half an ear open to listen to what Blue was saying to Anakin, but the conversation was drowned out by the growl of another swoop engine.

"It's Hami," observed Purr, noting as she spoke the roar of more swoops on their way.

"He's got a passenger — must be Zed."

"Thank goodness."

"No — it isn't," frowned Skell. "That's Grunt!" He felt an uneasy shiver run up his spine and noticed Purr staring at him in trepidation. "What's happened?"



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