Local tradition says Jabba's palace was originally a monastery. I believe it, who but a bunch of ascetic monks would choose to live on the edge of the Dune Sea? But for the last couple of hundred years it's served as the headquarters of one gangster chieftain or another. Jabba's just the latest in a long ignoble line. I got out of the speeder, and stood for a moment considering the sandblasted portcullis guarding the entrance to the Hutt's stronghold.

'Guess we don't have time for a plan.' I smiled involuntarily remembering Lando's disgruntled comment at our last meeting.

'There's no point in making plans,' I'd replied patiently, 'there's no telling what Jabba'll do. Don't worry, the Force will guide us.'

'You sound just like Jinn!' he'd grumbled. And then he'd gone back to the palace like I'd asked him to.

I was getting used to that - to people doing what I wanted even when they didn't like it. They all did now, Lando, Chewy, even Leia. Nobody tried to boss the 'kid' anymore. It was one of the things I missed most about Han. I wondered what he'd make of the change in me.

I'd stood out here long enough, if nobody saw fit to open the door I'd open it for myself. I reached out with the Force, found the opening mechanism and gave it the necessary nudge. Slowly, grudgingly it creaked upward. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, all I had to do was keep my eyes open and the means would present themselves. But I didn't quite have my Master's faith, not yet.

I'd taken care to plant a few allies; Lando and the droids, (poor Threepio! I hoped he'd forgive me. Artoo'd insisted it was better he not be told and he knew his counterpart better than anybody). And yesterday I'd sent Chewy and Leia in to look after Han. By now they should all be together in one of Jabba's cells. Finally the door finished grinding open and I entered. Cool, damp air rushed out flapping my long cloak as I headed down the wide, dimly lit tunnel. It was possible all my precautions would prove unnecessary, Jabba might be willing to deal. Yeah, and there might be rainstorms in the Jundland Wastes. Odds were I'd have to kill him to get Han out. The prospect did not displease me.

A pair of bulky Gammorean guards appeared, trying to block my path. A gesture closed their throats and sent them reeling back fighting for air before lapsing into unconsciousness. I continued on.

A pudgy, unhealthy looking yellow Twi'lek male came bustling out of the cavernous room below babbling indignantly in Huttese. "I must speak to Jabba." I told him. It seemed Jabba didn't want to see me. Too bad. The Twi'lek was no challenge at all. "You will take me to Jabba now."

"I will take you to Jabba now." he echoed obediently, still in Huttese, turned and led the way into Jabba's throne room.

It must have been quite a party. Empty cups and bottles, and trampled remains of food littered the floor. Dozens of unconscious or sleeping bodies huddled in the dim corners of the big chamber. "You serve your master well." I told the Twi'lek, no compliment that! "and you will be rewarded." As he deserved.

He repeated the words with smug pleasure as he went to wake his master. Leia wasn't in any cell, she was right there with a chain around her neck dressed in a skimpy slave-girl costume. Stupid of me, I should have remembered Jabba's taste for humanoid females. I should never have sent her into this place. Force only knew what she'd been subjected to, certainly she'd never tell me. I carefully stifled the first stirrings of anger as I came to stand before the Hutt's throne. There was no blame in her eyes, only apology and fear that she'd somehow ruined my plans. I returned her look for an instant projecting reassurance: Everything would be all right, I'd see to that.

Threepio was there too. "At last Master Luke's come to rescue me!" Good old Threepio!

I looked at Jabba. I'd heard of him all my life, he controls practically everything on Tatooine, but I'd never seen him before and he wasn't a pleasant sight. Hutts are unlovely anyway by human standards but Jabba was a particularly repulsive specimen with an ugliness that went well beyond the physical, all the way to the rotting distortion that was his soul. No, I wouldn't mind killing him one bit.

The Hutt woke with a start and the Twi'lek Major-Domo presented me. "Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight."

"I told you not to admit him." Jabba snarled.

"I must be allowed to speak." I responded, and was echoed by the Twi'lek.

Jabba was gross and evil but not stupid, he immediately realized what I'd done. He knocked his Major-Domo backward off the dais with an angry blow. "You weak minded fool! He's using an old Jedi mindtrick!"

I put back my hood and stepped closer. "You will bring Captain Solo and the Wookiee to me." the suggestion rolled off him like oil off metal plate.

He laughed. "Your mind powers will not work on me, boy!"

I was not disturbed by the failure. It had been worth a try but Master had warned me the mindtrick probably wouldn't work. Hutts tend to be resistant anyway and a powerful, soul dead specimen like Jabba would almost certainly be immune. But I sensed the Hutt was not as confident as he seemed. There was a definite undercurrent of fear. Good. Fear leads to anger and I wanted Jabba angry with me - and my friends.

"Nevertheless, I'm taking Captain Solo and his friends." I told him quietly but with all the certainty I could project. "You can either profit by this or...be destroyed! The choice is yours but I warn you not to underestimate my powers." I know, real diplomatic, but Han had once told me attitude and arrogance were the only line to take with a Hutt - and Jabba's sense told me he had been right. Anything less confrontational would be taken as weakness. I was rewarded by a flare of fear from the Hutt, ill concealed by his forced laughter.

"Master Luke," Threepio began, "you're standing on-"

Jabba interupted him. "There will be no bargain, young Jedi! I shall enjoy watching you die." Extending a hand and the Force I called a blaster to me. A Gammorean seized my arm wrestling for it. It went off powdering us both with stone dust from the ceiling then the floor dropped out from under us.

I disentangled myself from the Gammorean as we slid down a chute ending in into a dank pit carved into the living rock beneath Jabba's throne room. I rolled to my feet discarding my cloak. I felt like a fool. I'd fallen - literally - for one of the oldest traps in the book. Whatever was down here with us it was going to be nasty - the guard's hysterical terror made that much clear. A toothed metal portcullis, not unlike the front door, rumbled upward.

I didn't need Threepio's faintly heard, "Oh no, the rancor!" to recognize the monster facing me. Yoda can say what he likes but there are some advantages to spending your whole childhood looking forward to leaving home. I'm a real expert on xeno-zoology. Not only did I recognize the rancor I knew what planet it came from and what it ate - anything that moved. I eased back, trying not to be noticed. The Gammorean guard panicked and tried to climb back into the chute squealing with terror, catching the creature's attention. In an instant it'd caught him up and devoured him, armor and all.

The crowd above cheered. I felt sick. The reverberations of the guard's death and the blood thirst of Jabba's courtiers roiled the Force around me. I tried to block the disturbance out as the rancor slowly swung towards me. I spotted a long bone, remains of some previous victim, and snatched it up holding it instinctively in the usual two handed sabre grip. The rancor reached for me. Another cheer came from above as its massive paw nearly crushed my ribcage. I struggled to breath and found myself looking straight into the dripping cavern of the creature's maw. I shoved in the bone, wedging it tight, and the rancor gagged and dropped me. I quickly rolled into the cover of a convenient crevice.

I peered up at the creature as it flailed around in angry pain. I didn't want to kill it if I didn't have to. It wasn't evil, just a poor mistreated animal, half starved to make it vicious. I would have loved to give it a good square meal - say Jabba and his hangers on - but that seemed impractical. The bone snapped, and the Rancor angrily chewed up the fragments casting around for me. It was petty bright, quickly figuring out where I'd vanished to. It reached into my crevice after me. I dodged the scrabbling claws and caught a glimpse of the cavern behind the Rancor, and of a door leading out. I groped for a rock and smashed a rock down on a monstrous digit. The Rancor snatched back its paw with a roar of pain.

I took advantage of its distraction to make a run for that door. It opened but the way was blocked by a metal grate. I gave it one good heave but it was solid. I turned back to face the monster. Maybe a quick death would be kinder than leaving it here to suffer, not that I had any choice now.

I looked around for a way. And there it was - the control panel for the big door separating the den from the feeding pit. The rancor lumbered towards me. I picked up a skull and hurled it, with a little help from the Force, right into the panel just as the creature stepped beneath the portcullis. The controls exploded and down came the gate full on the Rancor's skull. It died almost instantly.

There was a stunned silence from above, then Jabba began roaring orders right and left as his court exploded into excited comment. The grate opened but the guards were thrown aside by a bulky man draped in an animal skin making a beeline for the Rancor's body. The guards grabbed me and I was careful not to resist as they dragged me out. A second beast keeper passed us, glaring pure murder at me. Looking over my shoulder I saw him trying to comfort the first keeper who was sobbing openly over the dead monster. I guess he'd been fond of his charge.

I felt bad too. The Rancor had been the cleanest thing in this hellhole. I was dragged up a spiral ramp and back into the throne room. Han and Chewy were being hustled in through another door. Good. All together now except for Artoo, and I knew where he'd be.

"Han!"

"Luke?" He looked around blindly. Master had warned me the long hibernation would affect his sight. "Are you all right?" Not that he'd admit it if he wasn't.

"Fine." he answered, predictably. "Together again, huh?"

"Wouldn't miss it." I grinned. Just being with Han made me feel like a wide eyed farm boy again.

"How are we doing?" he asked as we arrived in front of Jabba.

"Same as always." I admitted.

"That bad, huh?" then he asked with genuine concern. "Where's Leia?"

"I'm here!" she piped up from her place on the dais.

It was just as well Han couldn't see Jabba fondling her as he made a brief speech in a Huttese dialect I couldn't follow.

"Oh dear." said Threepio. Then he began to translate. "His High Exaltedness, the Great Jabba the Hutt, has decreed you are to be terminated immediately."

"Good." Han said promptly. "I hate long waits." Yeah, he was okay.

Threepio continued unhappily. "You will therefore be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the Pit of Carkoon, nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc."

Perfect! Even better than the Arena or the Shivering Sands.

"That doesn't sound so bad." Han commented, ever the smart aleck.

"There you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years." Threepio said, and shuddered.

I wondered idly how on Tatooine Jabba could know that. Somebody climb out once after only a century or two of digestion?

Chewy barked a comment lost on anybody who didn't speak Kasshyk-ka. Han translated freely. "On second thought let's pass on that, huh?" he sounded a little worried.

I wasn't. This was exactly what I'd been playing for. "You should have bargained, Jabba." the guards began to drag me away and I had to call the final words over my shoulder. "It's the last mistake you'll ever make!"

He took it for bravado of course, which was just fine. Leia looked upset though.

"So, what'd you do to piss off his exaltedness?" Han asked me after they'd thrown us into a holding cell.

"Killed his pet." I admitted.

"His what?" Han asked blankly, then incredulously. "You mean the Rancor?"

"It was just a little one." I told him. True enough, they can grow to twice that size back on their homeworld - or so the books said.

"I told you, he's a Jedi Knight." Chewy growled.

"Yeah." Han said, clearly unconvinced. "No offense, kid, but I'll believe it when I see it - if you'll excuse the expression."

The door creaked open. Didn't anybody in this place have a can of lubricant? A squad of guards entered, Lando at their head. He went straight to Han, grabbing him in a way that looked rough but wasn't. "Okay, you, time to go."

Han pulled away. "What's your hurry, got a hot date?"

"Yeah, but not as hot as yours!"

I sensed the exchange meant more than it seemed; Lando had just apologized - and been forgiven. Good. I'd been afraid Han might hold a grudge, be unwilling to trust Lando. I should have remembered they'd been friends for a long time - and this wasn't the first time one had done the other a dirty trick.