"Sleep, Boba. You've done all you can for one day."
I don't want to sleep
The thought and the reply stirred something in the back of his semi-functional mind. The warmth of blankets, the deep, gentle voice… it called him to sleep, to rest, to give in to that comforting darkness.
I don't want to sleep.
The though echoed back again, this time, bringing him back to awareness. And as it did, the comforting darkness wrapped itself around him, smothering him as surely as if that voice had stretched out a hand and pressed a pillow to his face. He twisted weakly, trying to beat off the heavy blackness around him. He could neither draw, nor release his breath as his mind went numb again. All was lost in panic.
What did I lose?
Waking again, if only briefly. He was drowning in his own thoughts and fleeting memories, thrashing and struggling to free himself of them as a man thrashes and struggles to free himself of the waves when caught in the undertow. But it does not matter, he is trapped one way or another, doomed to the dark beneath the waves. Every now and then his face broke the surface and he would gulp in the air of reality while he could. But still he fought the same losing battle, still he was dragged down. For every time he took a breath he only prolonged his suffer, and he became weaker with each new attempt at life. Soon, he knew, he would no longer be able to fight death, and he would be able to rest in its warm embrace forever.
What did I lose?
His head broke the surface of those dark tides again and he gasped for breath while he could. He knew it would not be long before he was pulled back towards death again.
I? Why am I here? What is this?
The questions gave him strength enough to fight longer. Nothing came to mind, no answers. And he was dragged in again.
Boba… my name…
And suddenly he found a rock within those tides to cling to, to climb upon as the waves tried to reach him. But they couldn't any longer. They had lost their hold on him.
Boba, he thought consciously… Boba Fett. A bounty hunter. The greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy…I am Boba Fett. I am Boba Fett!
With each realization, with each fragment of his identity that came slipping back, his strength grew. The suffocation continued, but his mind worked faster than his body as he rapidly began to regain his very identity. Names, places, people… all of them came back in a flood.
Battle… there was a fight. Sun, and sand… it was a desert?
The waves reached for him.
Jabba the Hutt… an employer? Han Solo… a bounty? Merchandise, do they say?
The cold water splashed around his ankles.
Skywalker! The Jedi! It was under attack. His merchandise, Han Solo, escaping his employer. And he had been struck by him.
Vaguely he recalled slamming into a wall of metal and tumbling down to the sand below, into… into…
He stumbled and fell, feet slipping against the wet stone.
The Pit of Carkoon! The nest of the Sarlaac, in all its foul glory. He remembered tumbling into that gaping, beaked mouth, razor sharp teeth tearing rents in the places where armor did not cover his body.
But, he thought, if I was swallowed… then that means…
Suddenly he became aware of the sting of acid against his body, the dampness around him, the lack of air. And then he knew: he was literally in the belly of the beast.
Escape was the first thought that came to mind. He refused to die in such a pathetic, helpless way! His lungs tightening, he felt for his weapons.
His arm was stiff, and refused to move far. On his belt, beneath his stinging fingers was the feel of a melted lump of metal, and then another one. Nothing. Nothing useful, anyway.
I can't die, he thought, the tides dragging him down again. I can't die, I can't die… not here, not now…
And as he thought it, his fist clenched. His flesh stinging dully as his lungs screamed for oxygen, his subconscious noticed it was a handle.
Unaware of his own actions, instinct all that he had left of his rationality, he pulled on the handle with his little remaining strength.
The jet pack sputtered, dented and damaged from where Solo had hit it. But finally it flickered to life, igniting and shoving him against the walls of the beast's stomach with tremendous force…
…Outside, the Sarlacc raised its head, screeching in terrible pain. As its innards were melted and liquefied by the fire and the leaking of its own stomach acid, it retched terribly, its entire long, writhing body shuddering. It retched, mouth spewing forth a stream of blood and half-liquefied flesh. Before it could draw breath, it retched again, bits of metal and half-digested corpses spattering over the sandy ground with the blood and gore. One final, bloody tide washed over the sand, one final, piercing scream… and then all was still.
Of all the half-digested corpses to be spewed onto the ground, one of them moved. He himself retching, the man who now knew himself to be Boba Fett knew also fear. His instincts told him to get as far away from that pit as possible.
Feebly he began to crawl. One of his legs felt dead, and dragged uselessly on the ground. He dropped the jetpack, knowing it would only be a burden to him as he struggled on, barely able to carry his own weight. His arms, the cloth on them nothing but soggy rags, the skin raw and bleeding, were in agony as they were ground into the sand in an effort to pull himself forward. He felt sick, dizzy, and numb all over.
Feebly, hand trembling, he reached up a hand and pulled the helmet off of his head, vomiting as his throat became accustomed to drawing breath once more. His body shook violently, the cold of the Tatooine night only supplementing this, as he keeled over to one side, lying on his back in the sand.
He gasped for breath, chest rising and falling heavily. His whole body hurt in a way he had never imagined. The suction cups in the creature's gut had been ripped off, leaving round, bleeding marks where they had once been. The rents in his flesh where the teeth had scraped him had been eaten at and horribly disfigured by the acid of the thing's gut, and it stayed there still, eating his body away. The acid was everywhere: in his wounds, his clothes, the creases of his skin. Bitter, burning gorge lingered in his throat as he lay there on the desert sand. And then he began to hate himself. Not for nearly being eaten, and not for being helpless.
I was afraid, he thought darkly. Better to die than to fear death.
With great effort he slid the helmet back over his head, becoming the bounty hunter once more and leaving his weakness behind. A few forced vocal commands, and soon there was a dull roar overhead. It grew as a glowing light blurred his vision. It then dimmed, there was a hiss, and he opened his eyes to see the familiar form of his ship, Slave I before him.
Instinct returned to him again, for Slave I was his refuge, his place of safety. Staggering to his feet and stumbling forward, he toppled into the ship and collapsed to the floor as the hatch closed behind him.
A few more vocal commands to the ship and he tossed the helmet off, dragging himself with a cry out of the cargo hold. He tossed bits of armor and tore the frail cloth from his stinging body as he crawled, lurched, staggered, and dragged himself to the living quarters of Slave I.
As the ship lifted into orbit, the movement made his one good leg give out beneath him as he collapsed yet again, opening the door to the small bathing room. Turning on the water in the 'fresher and setting it to a bearable lukewarm, he lay there and let the comfortable spray wash over him, slowly watering down the acid in his flesh and dribbling it away.
He lay there, unmoving, eyes closed as his chest heaved. He regained his breath slowly as he lay on the hard floor, the cool water rinsing his half-naked, rag-clad body. The tattered shreds of his clothing, ruined by the acid, still clung to his wounds in some places. But he didn't care. All he could think of now was one thing.
That was… too close, he decided silently. Then he allowed himself to sleep, right there on the floor with the water washing his wounds, with the satisfactory knowledge that he would wake from whatever dreams he might have.