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Echo Station: Exploring Star Wars Beyond The Daily News




 


Hard Merchandise (Book 3 of The Bounty Hunter Wars)

PLOT SUMMARY - contains major spoilers

Chapter 1 -  Zuckuss and 4-LOM use a clever ruse to smuggle a weapon into a bar, capture a gambler, Drawmas Sma'Da, and collect the bounty on him from the Empire. [This has practically nothing to do with the rest of the story, but serves to pair up these two bounty hunters, thereby correcting an apparent continuity error from the first two books.]

Chapter 2 - Bossk kills a few people on Tatooine and ends up in the Mos Eisley cantina, trying to find out where Boba Fett is and brooding about killing him.

Chapter 3 - On the bridge of the Hound's Tooth, Neelah confronts Boba Fett trying to find out where they're going and threatens him with a blaster. (Didn't we see this in the previous books?) He laughs at her and dares her to pull the trigger, knowing he is the only one who can answer her questions about her true history. She gets nothing, of course, and Dengar mocks her, too. Dengar then offers to finish the story he'd begun telling her about Boba Fett, four years ago, limping with a damaged ship into the system where the arachnoid assembler Kud'ar Mub'at waited in his web with payment for the bounty in Slave I's hold.

Chapter 4 -  (About four years ago) Prince Xizor is waiting near the arachnoid's web to blast Boba Fett, thus eliminating any chance the Emperor or Vader might find out that Xizor was behind the plot to break up the Bounty Hunters Guild. Fett's cargo, a turncoat stormtrooper called Voss'on't [how I hate those stupid apostrophes], tries to reason with Fett, saying he won't survive because his ship is in such bad shape and because Kud'ar Mub'at, who holds the 5 million credit bounty, is likely to reneg. Sure enough, when they come out of hyperspace, Xizor is waiting.

Chapter 5 - Xizor opens fire, and Fett's ship is nearly destroyed. Instructing the autopilot to take evasive maneuvers, Fett runs down to the cargo hold to rescue Voss'on't, but the stormtrooper ambushes him with a beam detached by impact. [Their resultant mortal struggle as the ship is rocked by laser blasts is one of the few interesting, if implausible, action sequences in the book.] In the end Fett prevails, and uses his ship's remaining power to close in on Kud'ar Mub'at's web.

Chapter 6 - Xizor holds off from finishing Fett, gloating, until Fett manages to maneuver his ship between Xizor's ship, the Vendetta, and Mub'at's web. Only then does Xizor realize he cannot destroy Fett without also destroying the assembler. Not that he cares -- he's already decided to betray Mub'at in favor of the arachnid's sentient subnode, Balancesheet. But Balancesheet is still within the web, and Xizor can't chance destroying it just yet. Fett accelerates and rams his ship into the living web, then drags Voss'on't to Kud'ar Mub'at, who is already dying from the impact damage. The assembler mocks Boba Fett, explaining that the bounty on Voss'on't was merely a ploy of Xizor's to capture and eliminate Fett. Boba Fett ambushes Xizor when he arrives, only to find out that Balancesheet has convinced Xizor to let Fett live; he might be useful later. Fett insists on getting paid the 5 million credits for Voss'on't, and Balancesheet obliges. Xizor then has his crew eliminate Kud'ar Mub'at and Voss'on't. As Fett leaves in his damaged ship, looking for an out-of-the-way spot to buy repairs, Balancesheet calls over the commlink, mocking him. It seems Balancesheet transferred half the credits to his own account. Fett can do nothing, but vows revenge.

Chapter 7 - As Dengar finishes telling Neelah the story of Kud'ar Mub'at and Xizor, they emerge from hyperspace at the long-dead remains of the arachnoid assembler's web.

Chapter 8 - Boba Fett tells Neelah and Dengar about the time he ran into a derelict ship belonging to a disreputable ex-bounty-hunter called Ree Duptom. Inside Duptom's ship, Fett found the dead pilot along with two interesting items: a refitted cargo droid containing fabricated evidence of Xizor's involvement in the destruction of Luke Skywalker's home on Tatooine, and a memory-wiped young female in the holding cell; it had been Neelah. Not yet understanding her importance, Fett secreted her as a slave at Jabba's Palace where he could keep an eye on her. In trying to find out who she was, he discovered that Kud'ar Mub'at had been the go-between in both deals with Ree Duptom. Now all they have to do to find out the truth is to bring Kud'ar Mub'at back to life and ask him.

Chapter 9 - Kodir of Kuhlvult, the female head of security for Kuat of Kuat and by extension Kuat Drive Yards, is talking with the man she discredited and replaced, the former head of security, Fenald. Drunk and down on his luck, he complains that he's short on credits, and since he had done such a good job of acting the traitor for her, he should be given regular sums to keep quiet. She kills him instead. Meanwhile, a mystery woman, in another place, is making a wager with the gambler, Sma'Da. She's betting on a bounty hunter. At the same time, the leader of the Rebel Alliance's Scavenger Squadron, Rozhdenst, is meeting with Kuat of Kuat. Rozhdenst is chafing at being assigned babysitting duties at the shipyard while everyone else is gathering near Sullust for a big attack. Kuat does not want them there; he wishes to remain strictly neutral. But he sees that he will not be allowed to do so after he goads Rozhdenst into enough anger to reveal his true feelings.

Chapter 10 - After Dengar and Boba Fett brace up the web's structure, Fett applies a specialized current to the dead assembler, stirring his long-cold neural fibers back into life. Meanwhile Neelah has been left alone in the Hound's Tooth [as if]. She manages to effortlessly break into Boba Fett's password-protected files and looks up the only thing she can remember of her former life, the name Nil Posondum. She finds a file on Posondum, who was once Boba Fett's prisoner. A picture of the prisoner shows her a symbol he had scratched into the metal floor of the hold -- a symbol in an archaic script known only to Kuat's ancient ruling families. Upon seeing it, Neelah's memories come flooding back. Boba Fett's efforts also pay off, and Kud'ar Mub'at can again talk. Fett asks him about Ree Duptom -- who had been the client? Who had wanted the fabricated evidence against Xizor? And who had wanted Neelah memory-wiped? Mub'at cannot answer because that part of his memory banks was irretrievably destroyed. Fett gives him more and more juice in an effort to jog his memory, but it appears to fry him instead. Just then the web comes under attack, and the two bounty hunters must run for their lives to get back to their ship before the whole place decompresses. Neelah is mulling over her true name, Kateel of Kuhlvult, when the attack begins. She pilots the ship away, ripping the transfer hatch from the web. Then in a flash of conscience, she turns back and lets the two men get into the airlock.

Chapter 11 - Fett gets to the cockpit and targets their attacker, who turns out to be Balancesheet, here to cut a deal. He, too, is searching for the person behind Ree Duptom's fabrication of evidence and kidnapping the girl, but he had already discovered that Kud'ar Mub'at knew nothing. However, he informs Fett that the original spy hardware containing the fabricated evidence, which had once been aboard Slave I, is now in the hands of Bossk. Bossk, however, does not realize that the evidence is fake, or that Kuat of Kuat is looking to recover it. (It was Kuat of Kuat who had the evidence created, hoping to turn Vader against Xizor. Now, however, if the evidence came to light it would most certainly damn Kuat; therefore, he wants to find it and destroy it.) Balancesheet also informs Fett that it was Kuat of Kuat who ordered the bombing raids against him [back in book one], and who now has every bounty hunter in the galaxy gunning for Fett and the Hound's Tooth. It is clear that Fett must go to Tatooine and get the evidence from Bossk, but he cannot do so in the Hound's Tooth. Balancesheet suggests they use the services of Suhlak, a hunt saboteur. In the past, Fett and Suhlak have been mortal enemies, one trying to capture a bounty and the other trying to protect him. Ironically, now it is the hunter who needs a protective escort -- for an exorbitant sum, of course.

Chapter 12 - Kodir of Kuhlvult calls Kuat of Kuat to report that she has found the Hound's Tooth, and the occupants are currently talking with Balancesheet. Kuat orders her to destroy them all. Meanwhile, Suhlak informs everyone that they're being watched by a KDY cruiser. Fett sets off with Suhlak in his Z95 Headhunter, and Neelah and Dengar take the Hound's Tooth to the Oranessan system, luring the KDY ship into following them. The plan is for them to wait for Boba Fett in the Oranessan system, eluding the KDY ship until he gets back from Tatooine.

Chapter 13 - Kuat of Kuat meets with his alpha- and beta-supervisors, thanking them for their loyalty and asking them to accomplish a task for him, as a contingency against hostile takeover of the Kuat Drive Yards. Meanwhile, Kodir of Kuhlvult is following the Hound's Tooth; although she had it in her sights, she did not fire on it as ordered. Aboard the Z95 Headhunter, Fett and Suhlak are almost to Tatooine when they encounter the upstart bounty hunter, Osss-10, who fires upon them. Suhlak, realizing they are outgunned, wants to give up, but Fett takes the controls and, in a deadly game of Chicken, scares the other bounty hunter away.

Chapter 14 - Fett meets with Bossk in the cantina and offers to let the Trandoshan live if he turns over the evidence. Bossk refuses and tells Fett to shoot. Saying, "You win. I haven't got time for this," Fett ends up transferring a substantial sum of money into Bossk's account. As Fett leaves to go get the evidence from Bossk's hiding place, the whole cantina erupts in applause for Bossk.

Chapter 15 - Fett and Suhlak arrive in the Oranessan system and rendezvous with the Hound's Tooth. Fett takes the controls, but as he starts to accelerate away from the chasing KDY cruiser, his engines go dead. Suhlak flees in his ship. Kodir of Kuhlvult boards the Hound's Tooth and takes the fabricated evidence at gunpoint, insisting that Neelah come with her.

Chapter 16 - Dengar and Fett discover the cut-out device that allowed Kodir to disable their ship's engines. It had apparently been put in at the Kuat Drive Yards when it had been there for repairs. Fett determines to go to Kuat and get answers. Meanwhile, an attaché from the Rebel Alliance arrives at Kuat. The Drive Yard's surveillance team informs Kuat of Kuat that the attaché is waiting to meet with Kuat's head of security, Kodir of Kuhlvult. Realizing he is being betrayed, Kuat instructs his alpha- and beta-supervisors to put his contingency plan in motion.

Chapter 17 - Kodir gives the fabricated evidence to the Alliance, explaining to them that Kuat of Kuat must have created it to weaken Luke Skywalker's motives for hating the Empire and thereby weakening the Alliance itself. The attaché, however, sees through her ploy and realizes the evidence was probably aimed at destroying Xizor himself, before he and his crime organization, Black Sun, could fulfill their desire to take over Kuat Drive Yards. Regardless, the Alliance's goal is to have Kuat Drive Yards on their side, and to do that, they offer to remove Kuat of Kuat from power and place Kodir of Kuhlvult in his place. Meanwhile, Kuat of Kuat thanks his supervisors and orders them to leave. He sits down to wait.

Chapter 18 - Neelah confronts Kodir of Kuhlvult, revealing that her memory has come back, and that she knows Kodir is betraying KDY to the Alliance. Kodir admits her sisterly feelings kept her from killing Neelah/Kateel when she first objected to Kodir's plans, but now she knows better; she pulls a blaster. Neelah/Kateel takes it away from her [too] easily, but before she can do anything they hear a vast explosion. The Alliance officers hear it as well, and feel the shockwave. They realize the whole Drive Yard is going up, one bay at a time. [here comes implausible event #1:] They decide to fly their Y-wings into the shipyard and try to salvage as many ships as they can before they're destroyed. Most of them actually make it out. At that moment, Dengar and Fett arrive in the system and see what's happening. [implausible event #2:] Boba Fett deduces that Kuat of Kuat is blowing up his own facility, and that he would be on the Star Destroyer waiting to die. Saying that he still has questions for Kuat, Fett pilots his ship toward the drive yards. When Dengar tries to stop him, Fett knocks him to the floor. They get to the shipyard, where Fett debarks. Dengar just barely manages to get the Hound's Tooth out of range before the section behind him blows, but then he is struck by debris. [totally unbelievably stupid implausible event #3:] As Dengar's ship is decompressing and he resigns himself to death, his beloved Manaroo shows up at the last possible second and rescues him. Boba Fett boards the Star Destroyer and confronts Kuat, asking him a series of stupid questions. (Why did you want me dead? Do you still want me dead? Did you order Fenald to abduct and memory-wipe Kateel of Kuhlvult?) Then Kuat of Kuat leaves the Star Destroyer and [implausible event #4:] Boba Fett takes the controls, flying the ship out of the construction hangar, also somehow manning the guns to fire at the scaffolding that holds it in place. Of course, he gets away by the skin of his teeth.

Chapter 19 - Neelah meets with Boba Fett on the Star Destroyer somewhere far away from Kuat and congratulates him for saving the drive yards. It seems the Star Destroyer was a link in the chain of explosives, and when he flew away the destruction was stopped. [implausible event #5:] Boba Fett offers to give Neelah the Star Destroyer in exchange for the Hound's Tooth and her silence about his being alive. She demands to know why he really went down to talk with Kuat of Kuat, and he tells her it is because he had to know if the conspiracy to fabricate evidence had gone any further -- now that he's sure no-one can expose the evidence as fake, he can turn it over to a usurper faction of Black Sun. This faction demanded the evidence from him on pain of death, and [implausible event #6:] he plans to capitulate without a fight. Neelah gives Fett the evidence, and he leaves. Meanwhile, Manaroo explains to Dengar how she (the mystery woman in Chapter 9) placed a wager on him to survive his partnership with Boba Fett, and now they're rich. Plus, with the Alliance victory at Endor, their future happiness will no longer be threatened by the Empire's tyranny. (She didn't explain how she just happened to show up right as Dengar needed rescuing, but hey . . .) Dengar, reflecting on how he's finally got everything he always wanted and can retire, is already missing the excitement of bounty hunting. Maybe I can keep my hand in, just a little, he thinks.

THE END

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