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"The Science Vessel also notices that a High Templar is about to cast a spell on a Sieged Tank; in the nick of time, it is matrixed and weathers the storm (pun intended)"

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Date: 04/12/04 01:04
Game Type: Other
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Report Rating: 8.5, # of Ratings: 2, Max: 9, Min: 8
Lifetime Rating for MuLepton: 9.0833

I awoke feeling cold, despite the oppressive heat that had been tormenting this part of Tatooine for the last few days. A quick glance at the clock showed the time. 4:30 AM. I had fallen asleep late last night, but I wasn't about to find any more rest now, that much was for certain.

My back hurt at the usual spot. Sometimes, on good days, I can almost forget the pain, but right now it was worse than it had been in a long time. I stood up and nausea hit me. I barely made it to the bathroom before I had to retch violently.

My name is Mul E'Pton. I am a Bounty Hunter. Or was, rather. I had been one of the best, hunting down people for money. I little cared what they had done. There was a bounty on their heads, that was good enough for me. I was proud that no mark had ever evaded me. But that had been before the accident.

There had been blood in the expectoration. Again. The doctors had told me this might happen, and cautioned me to visit a hospital at once should it happen. I snorted. Doctors.
Another wave of pain hit me, making me double over. My vision swam and I groped desperately for the small box I knew had to be there. My questing hands found it, pried it open and, shaking, I took out the contents. I didn't feel the needle enter the flesh of my forearm, and for a split-second I feared that I might have missed and wasted the contents of the syringe. But then the medicine started working and the pain began to recede.

I had been tracking the mark for ten days. He was a petty gambler and a bad cheater. He had cheated the wrong guy this time, and now he was on the run. He was good at running, you had to give him that. I had chased him from Mos Espa to Tyrena. From Tyrena to Keren. From Keren to Restuss. Every time I got there, he just had left again. I had nearly lost his track after Restuss.

But then... he had made a mistake. He had tried to contact someone. The listening stations of the Empire in orbit had picked up his message. And a guy who owed me a favor had relayed the message to me. Together with the coordinates where he was hiding. It was no four kilometers outside of Restuss. I had grinned and checked out a speeder bike at the nearest dealer. He was mine now.

After the trembling had subsided a bit, I stood. I tried to, at least. The ground seemed to be moving slightly. After a moment, I steadied and drew a deep breath. I decided I needed fresh air and went to the front door of my small house. It slid open silently and I stepped outside. It was still dark, but the first signs of dawn showed on the horizon.

The night was clear, and the heat was sweltering. But it was still better than inside my stuffy house. The fresh air helped to clear my thoughts a bit. There was something nagging at the back of my mind. Then realization came. I had just used up the last of the painkillers. I frowned. They wouldn't be easy to replace, since the drug which was the main ingredient wasn't exactly... legal. That meant a trip to Mos Eisley.

It had been a trap. The vehicle dealer had been an old friend of my mark. I still wonder today how this simple fact could have eluded me. Complacency, I guess. I had had too many successful hunts, and while this guy seemed to be adept at fleeing, I never considered him to be a real challenge.

One kilometer outside of Restuss, the bike exploded. I was thrown off the saddle and still remember the searing pain and the jar of the impact. Then blackness. When I came to, some ten minutes later, I found I could barely move. And I found my mark. He stood a short distance away, a gun in his hand. When he noticed that I had regained consciousness, he grinned. And I understood. He wanted me to die with the full realization of my failure.

I groped feebly for my own gun, although I knew it was a futile gesture. That seemed to amuse him, since his smile widened. Then it faded, he stepped one step closer and pulled the trigger.

I groaned inwardly at the thought of having to go to Mos Eisley, but the prospect of being without painkillers when the next attack came was even less pleasant. I set out towards the shuttle port of the small town I called home these days. Mos Onarok was not a bad place to live in, I reflected. It was quiet, out-of-the way in the south-eastern corner of Tatooine. People were friendly, but didn't ask too many questions.

For most of the other residents, I was just Mul, the collector of strange odds and ends, with a preference for exotic paintings. This suited me just fine.

The doctors tell me it was a miracle that I survived. They are right, I suppose. I had been shot four times with a high-caliber pistol, and then left to die. One bullet had been lodged near my spine. The docs also told me that I should count myself doubly lucky that the guy hadn't had a blaster.

Lucky indeed. I recovered slowly. It took me a full year just to regain the ability to walk. When they released me from the hospital, I drifted across the galaxy for some time, aimless. My job had left me well off, even after paying off the hospital's fees.

Why I decided to settle on Tatooine? I don't know. I have always hated the heat and the desert.

I reached the shuttle port and walked over to the ticket droid to purchase a seat on the next shuttle to Mos Eisley. On the way, I passed the Bounty Hunter mission terminal. I paused. It had been a long time since I had glanced at one of these. At the height of my day, my clients had contacted me directly whenever they wanted someone dead. It came with my reputation. But still... old habits are hard to break. I went over to the terminals and pressed my palm against the scanner.

"Scanning... please stand by." - "ID positive. Access granted." As the familiar blue screen with the listing of available missions sprang up on the terminal, I skimmed over it. Nothing had changed much. Neither the system nor the crimes it showed. People were still stealing, raping, cheating throughout the galaxy.

I was about to turn away, when one mission caught my eye. I touched the screen and the details came up.

Murder of a Mon Calamari family. The identity of the killer was known, but he was still at large. I smiled bitterly. Had the victims been human, the Empire would have administered their "justice" hard and swiftly. But these had only been aliens.

I pulled out my datapad and linked into the holonet. A quick search brought up the reports on the murder. When I read the name of the victims, time seemed to stop. The world didn't move, no sounds reached me. My vision grew dim.

They say the beaches of Mon Calamari are like diamond dust in the moonlight. This is not true. It doesn't do justice to their beauty. Especially if they are seen with the eyes of a young man in love. We had danced through the evening, drunk on life and love and youth. There had been others on the beach that summer night, of course, but for me, no one had existed but she. And I for her.

That night had been the culmination of a magical summer. We had thought it would last forever - the delusions of youth. I had left Mon Calamari the next spring, in service on one of our cruisers. She had stayed, engaged to the heir of a big and successful fish-farming enterprise.

I slowly came back into the world when a passerby shook my elbow and asked me a concerned question. I looked at him confused for a second, but then answered something nondescript. It seemed to suffice, for he moved on.

I turned my focus back to the report. The appropriate button brought up the report of the Empire's investigation of the crime. As I browsed the pictures of the crime scene, a cold shiver ran across my skin. "Murder of an innocent family". Slaughter would have been the more appropriate word. I had come across many dead bodies in the line of my job, but never something like this. The killer had obviously taken sadistic pleasure in his work. The bodies of the victims were hardly even recognizable as Mon Calamari anymore.

I don't know how long I stood there, studying the report, outwardly calm. Several shuttles had landed and taken off again when I finally looked up again. The mission screen still showed on the terminal. I touched the "Accept mission" button.

"Mission accepted. Thank you. Your reward will be automatically transferred to your bank account upon proof of the target's elimination. Have a nice day."

When I arrived in Mos Eisley about thirty minutes later, I first sought out my dealer for the painkillers. When I told him my demands, his eyes grew wide for a second, but something in my expression restrained him from commenting. The customized laser carbine I had strapped to my backpack probably helped a bit as well. He hastened to fulfill my order and I left with everything I had intended to get.

I wasn't sure at first about my next stop. I had been out of the business for a long time, but when I entered the Lucky Despot and scanned the crowd, I immediately found whom I was looking for. I didn't know him, but he was standing in the place Aowee used to occupy and everything about his look told me that he was the guy I was looking for.

I went over to him and wordlessly showed him my datapad with the mission on it. He took it, looked at me and nodded.

A bio sig. Well. I would've preferred more info on his recent movements, names of people he'd seen last et cetera. But you've got to work with what you're given. The sig had likely been extracted from the crime scene. That explained why they knew his name. I thanked I'Arrara curtly and left the cantina again. Outside, I did a brief inventory of my backpack. Yes, there it was. My old control device that let me interface with the Imperial Probot System. I'd need to get outside the city limits to use it, though. Authorities were picky about that - they didn't take kindly to probots crashing down in the midst of residential areas.

I sighed and looked around. Well, at last Kwo'r'ee's Vehicle Emporium still existed, although it seemed he had fallen on hard times lately. Several of the neon lights which made up his logo were broken and hadn't been replaced. I entered and a shop assistant which was unknown to me greeted me eagerly. After a short moment of hesitation, I picked a silver Swoop bike which looked slightly better maintained than the other vehicles in the store. The assistant congratulated enthusiastically, claiming I'd made a perfect choice. I nodded politely, paid, and left the store again as fast as possible.

Mounting the bike felt strange, and the first hundred meters were awkward. The feel for the bike came back fast, though, and soon I was one kilometer outside of Mos Eisley's city limits. I slid to a halt - not quite as gracefully as I used to, but still better then I had imagined possible after these years. I pulled out the droid interface and sent the request for a probe droid to the Imperial station in orbit. Then I waited. About 30 seconds later, a low rumbling warned me that my request had been processed and a probe droid had been launched and was entering the atmosphere. It impacted seconds later about 25 m to my right.

I skimmed over and transferred the bio sig from my datapad. The probe droid beeped several times, confirming the data and then lifted off. If there was any data in the Probe Droid System on the current whereabouts of my mark, I would know within the next hour. There was not much I could do in the meantime but wait. I slowly drove back into the city and towards the starport.

Endor. That meant he truly wanted to go into hiding and that he had quite a headstart. I checked the ticket terminals. The quickest route from Tatooine to Endor would be via Naboo, but it would still take me three days at least.

I paid the requested fee and headed out to the platform. The next transport to Theed would leave in about eight minutes. It was still dark, I mused, although a lifetime seemed to have passed since I had left my house this morning. In a way that was true. After what felt like an eternity, I was on the hunt again.

The flight to Naboo was uneventful, as was the following journey to Endor. Twice a dull throbbing in my back prompted me to inject painkillers, but I always realized the necessity long before the pain became impairing.

It was early dawn when the transport landed on the northern of Endor's two outposts. I disembarked and took in the scenery.

Endor. It's as god-forsaken a planet as anyone could imagine. Well, it's not even a planet, actually, it's a small moon. There's not much there except forest, unfriendly wild-life and more forest. If you don't count the Ewoks, but who really does. There don't seem to be any natural resources worth anything, or the Empire would have started strip mining it long ago. Two small outposts are all that represents "civilization" as we know it.

It's the perfect place to hide.

A quiet inquiry in the bar of the outpost yielded that my mark hadn't passed through. That meant he had used the southern spaceport. Well. If he thought he would be safe, I was prepared to prove him wrong. He would regret leaving his bio sig on the crime scene.

I opened my backpack and pulled out a small, jagged sphere. I pushed a hidden button, and when I released it, the seeker droid hummed and hovered in front of me, awaiting my data input.

The droid zipped away. It would report back once it had found the killer. And when it did, I should be prepared. The transport had unloaded its cargo in the meantime, my swoop bike among it. I checked everything, making sure it had not been tampered with. When I was satisfied that everything was in order, I turned my attention to my carbine.

I went over it methodically, and was pleased to see that it was still in excellent condition. I took a small box from my backpack and slid into a concealed port on the stock. A small green light went on, signaling that the power-up had modified the energy output of the weapon. I smiled grimly. Highly effective, but also highly illegal. Not that I cared.

My comm device chirped. The droid had found him. I checked the coordinates and found them to be pretty much in the middle of nowhere. As I had suspected, he'd probably try to lie low there until things had cooled down a bit. As I mounted my bike, I glanced at the sun. I hoped I would arrive at the coordinates with some daylight left. Endor's animal life featured several nocturnal predators which I had no intention of meeting.

I needn't have worried. Although navigating the trees at swoop bike speed was daunting at first, I soon got used to it and could increase the speed to about 80% of the potential maximum. The trip took still roughly four hours and involved dodging several aggressive animals.

When I had closed in to one kilometer of the coordinates, I stopped the bike and dismounted. I concealed it as best as I could and continued on foot. Taking care to disturb the foliage and underbrush as little as possible, I closed in on my target. I didn't move with the grace I had possessed before my injuries, but I did a passable job. My body wasn't used to this kind of exertion anymore, though, and soon began to protest. I carefully moved within 100 meters of the position reported by the droid and the stopped, taking cover behind a particularly large tree. My back had started to hurt again, and it got worse by the second. I quietly removed the special drug I had purchased from the dealer in Mos Eisley from my backpack, but didn't use it yet. Rather, I fixed it to my forearm in a way that would allow me to inject it within the fraction of a second.

Then I peered around the tree trunk and scanned the area. There. Paydirt. A cleverly camouflaged tent had been erected about 70 meters from my current position. I didn't see my mark, but he wouldn't be far away and most certainly, he would return. So I waited. The pain in my back grew, but I clenched my teeth and tried to suppress it.

It seemed like hours until the guy showed up, but a quick glance at my watch showed me that only twelve minutes had passed. Taking out my binoculars, I studied him from my vantage point.

The magnification showed he was a Zabrak. Garbed in the traditional robes of an Aakuan. That fit. Those cultists were infamous for their cruelty throughout the galaxy. They were also known for their shunning of ranged weapons. They preferred to combat enemies close up and personal. That meant a decisive advantage for me.

After watching him for several minutes, I felt I had learned as much about him as I needed (and wanted) to know. Meanwhile, the pain in my back had become near unbearable. The time was right. A quick movement of my wrist injected the Neutron Pixie into my body. I felt the rush of Adrenaline, as my body responded to the drug. The pain became unimportant, while at the same time the entire world seemed to more ... alive. I was suddenly acutely aware of the smells, colours and noises of the forest. But instead of being overwhelmed by this onslaught of impressions, my mind sorted through it with a lightning speed, filtering out unimportant things and stressing vital information.

I gripped my carbine and dove out from behind my cover, rolling to a kneeling position while at the same time training my weapon on the killer, roaring out my challenge to him.

The first blast hit him while he was still turning towards me. The impact sent him flying backwards, but I still cursed myself. My aim had been not exact enough. Instead of killing him with the first salvo, as I had planned, I had merely injured his right shoulder. He was partly obscured from me now due to the dense underbrush, but I kept firing into his direction, to keep him pinned down. A beeping sound reminded me that the power-up on my carbine would soon expire. When it did, I dove back into cover behind the tree.

While taking another power-up from my backpack and fixing it to the carbine, my thoughts raced. I had to kill him before the effects of the Neutron Pixie ran out. I had experienced the after-effects of the drug before and knew it would be unpleasant. I'd be in no position to walk for some time, let alone fight. I listened intently. My ears didn't pick up anything except the natural noises of the forest - wait! There. A faint rustling. Fairly close, I'd estimate no more than three meters away. Coming from my left side. I took a breath and dove out from my cover into that direction.

He saw me at the same time as I saw him. His right arm was dangling uselessly, but that didn't distract me one second from the cruel knife he was wielding in his left hand. He roared a wordless cry and launched himself towards me. I instinctively sprang backwards, pulling the trigger on my carbine.

This time, my aim was true. Blaster bolts hit him on his chest, his arms and his head, the force of their impact spinning him around in mid air. He landed on the ground with a dull thump and didn't move.

I cautiously stepped towards him, keeping my carbine aimed at him. Only when I knelt next to him and saw his lifeless eyes, I released an involuntary sigh of relief.

I can't say I know what I felt at that moment. Old habits took over and I took a sample of his DNA and sent it to the Guild via the holonet. Moments later, a chirping of my comm device confirmed that the reward had been transferred to my bank account. That wasn't important, though. I stood and stared at the corpse of the killer. A sense of accomplishment started to fill me.

Justice had been done.

I glanced around me. The downer of the Neutron Pixie would soon hit, I needed a safe place to recover from it. My eyes fell on the Aakuan's tent. It would have to do. I entered and lay down on the ground. I smiled. I had finished the job. And tomorrow I would ride back to the starport and return to Theed. And then I would go to Rori. I still had a score to settle.

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