Listen to the Force 01

Chapter One

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars or Black Lagoon.

Summary: After the Invasion of Naboo, Anakin Skywalker meditates on his life and when the Force shows him a vision of things to come he wonders if becoming a Jedi is the right path for him.

BBY 32

Naboo, Theed Royal Palace.

Anakin Skywalker couldn't sleep. He was in a room bigger than his home on Tatooine, laying between sheets of something called silk, on what had to be the most comfortable bed in the Galaxy.

Only the best for the Hero of Naboo, Padmé had told him. After she had stopped laughing when he asked her how many people he would be sharing the room with. 'How was I supposed to know this room was just for me? It's huge!'

The room was actually the Veruna suite, named after King Ars Veruna, in the wing of the Palace reserved for important guests. The main doors lead to a large hall with comfortable chairs and a sofa arranged around a low wood table. Across the hall, two stained glass doors lead to a stone balcony with a view of the gardens. A door to the left lead to the bedroom where Anakin was trying to sleep and a door to the right lead to an office with a heavy wood desk, shelves full of books and a holo-projector connected to the HoloNet.

After Qui-Gon's funeral, Anakin had locked himself in the office with a big toolbox he found in one of the Palace machine shops and began to work on his new droid. R2-D2 had been a gift from Padmé and it proved to be the perfect distraction.

The Industrial Automaton R2-Series was considered by many to be the best astromech droid available on the market, favored by both pilots and mechanics across the Galaxy. Anakin never thought he would own one. The standard R2-Series came equipped from the factory with two manipulator arms; a fusion welder; a circular buzz saw; a fire extinguisher; a computer interface arm; a holo-projector/recorder and video/electromagnetic sensors. The R2-Series droid featured an Interllex IV computer and an astrogation buffer that could store up to ten sets of hyperspace vector coordinates.

However, R2-D2 was not a standard R2-Series astromech droid. One of the reasons people liked the R2-Series was because, even with all the equipment it came with, there was still plenty of room for more. Allowing people to modify their R2 droids to their individual needs.

Someone had taken the time to install a lot of extras in R2-D2.

The little droid also had heat/motion and life-form sensors; an oil injector; a cable gun; an electric pike with enough volts to knock out an angry Tusken raider, a claw arm that could cut the same Tusken in half; an internal comlink; a long range transmitter; a pair of thruster jets that allowed the droid to fly for a short time and something called submarine mode, a strange mod that raised one of the video sensors on a periscope and activated a propeller allowing the droid to swim.

That last modification had Anakin shaking his head in bewildered amusement but, despite all these mods, the most surprising piece of equipment he found on R2 was a heuristic processor.

It was far more advanced than the standard droid processors and it allowed the Astromech to learn new things by seeing and doing, rather than by being programed. It also enabled the droid to reason through several potential solutions to a problem in search of the best and formulate the most effective approach to any given task.

Anakin decided to make a few modifications of his own. He began by removing the heuristic processor and connecting it to eight standard processors from eight other R2 units.

Most of the N-1 starfighters that flew into space to protect Naboo during the invasion by the Trade Federation, did so with a R2 astromech droid. Several of the droids were damaged in the battle and had been left in a corner of the hanger to be repaired or scraped.

Anakin had... helped himself to a few parts.

He connected the nine processors in a cube shaped matrix, the eight standard processors in the corners of the cube and the heuristic processor in the center.

This greatly increased R2's processing power. It was also illegal.

The Republic had several regulations limiting droids processing power, for the same reason periodic memory wipes were recommended. The greater the processing power, the greater the chance a droid could develop personality quirks. Anyone violating these regulations could be punished with heavy fines or even jail time, depending on what the modified droid did or was used for.

Anakin Skywalker could not care less about the law if he tried. Republic law also said slavery was illegal, but that had not helped him or his mother. As for personality quirks, R2-D2 already had a few. From what Anakin had seen, R2 was brave, loyal and headstrong with a slowly developing sense of humor. These were all things Anakin liked in a droid and he was not alone there.

R2-D2 was not the first droid Anakin had modified. On Tatooine, most people that walked into Watto's shop were looking to buy or sell droid or ship parts, most of Watto's clients were Jawas trying to sell him salvage, but after Watto saw Anakin's talent with machines that changed.

Word began to spread that Watto's shop, previously just another junkyard, was now offering repairs, modifications and upgrades to droids, speeders and ships.

Most of the prospective clients that walked into the shop, only to be told that the one providing those services was a child slave, turned around and walked away grumbling about wasted time.

Those that stayed, some out of curiosity, some because they couldn't afford to go elsewhere, were surprised at the boy's level of skill and knowledge.

Eventually the shop began to attract a new kind of clients.

Bounty hunters.

Most wanted their blasters modified to give them more power per shot or a higher rate of fire, some wanted a custom weapon made. A few wanted their droids upgraded with new gear that would make their job easier, like comms jammers and slicing programs. Occasionally, a bounty hunter would walk into the shop looking for someone that could modify his ship to be faster or better armed.

Watto turned them all away.

He did so very carefully, knowing just how dangerous bounty hunters could be. It's not that Watto didn't want the credits, he just knew the consequences of taking them.

There were places that provided those services to bounty hunters all over Tatooine. Most were big shops where bounty hunters could buy almost anything they would ever need for their trade, from blasters to ships. The clients of these shops ranged from arrogant kids that thought they were good with a blaster, to hardened veterans that knew being good with a blaster wasn't enough to make it as a bounty hunter.

The rest of the shops were smaller and provided after market upgrades, illegal mods and custom jobs. The clients of these shops were seasoned professionals, feared throughout the Galaxy, that walked out of those shops with customized weapons, armor and gear that cost more credits than most ships.

However, all of these shops had one thing in common.

They were all owned by the Hutts.

The Hutts liked knowing what weapons and gear the bounty hunters working in their space had, almost as much as they liked the credits those shops made. The Hutt clans remained in power in the Outer Rim longer than anyone else ever had. This was due to a number of reasons, a healthy dose of paranoia being among them.

Gardulla Besadii the Elder ruled Mos Espa and as much as Watto hated turning away paying clients, he knew that if he started to sell to bounty hunters it was only a matter of time until the Hutt took his shop. It just wasn't worth the risk.

At least not for Watto. For Anakin it was more than worth it, it was necessary. Anakin Skywalker was born into slavery, but he had no intention of living out his life as one. He would be free.

On Tatooine, the only way for a slave to gain his or her freedom was to buy it. The price was often double whatever their owner payed for the slave, sometimes more. It could take a lifetime for a slave to scrape together that sum. Most slaves didn't even try.

Anakin had been saving up for years. At the rate he was going, Anakin would have to save for decades. What he made at Watto's shop was nothing compared to what the bounty hunters would pay.

This was not without danger. Unlike Watto, he did not have a shop to lose, but the Hutts were still a problem. If Watto went into that kind of work, Gardulla would take his shop but Watto would be in no real danger. The Hutt might even let him run the shop for her.

If Anakin, a slave, went into that kind of work he was endangering his life. If Gardulla found out, she could kill Anakin. However, a much worse fate could be waiting for him. The Hutt could be impressed with his work, in witch case Anakin could spend his life locked in a room of Gardulla's palace, working for the crime lord.

Every time a bounty hunter walked into the shop, Anakin would watch him carefully. As Watto tried to explain that they did not provide services for bounty hunters, without getting blasted, Anakin listened to what his instinct told him. Anakin always knew if a bounty hunter would keep his secret or if he would betray him to the Hutts for a few credits. Of course, now he knew it was not his instinct but the Force. Anakin was glad he had listened and contacted those bounty hunters the Force told him he could trust to keep quiet. He had a small but loyal clientele and had almost enough to buy his and his mother's freedom. The bounty hunters liked his work and payed well.

Ironically, Anakin's first client was not a bounty hunter, but a smuggler.

Anakin rolled over in bed and smiled as he remembered the first time is oldest client walked into Watto's shop. He was so tall he had to bend his neck to get through the doorway. With broad shoulders and a body bulging with muscles, he had an imposing presence. But it was the black tattoos on his chalk-white face, twisting around his eyes and up his bald head that made him intimidating. Anakin had never seen someone like that but Watto, judging by the fact that he quickly backed away from the man, clearly had. Curious, Anakin approached Watto to ask him who the man was, only for the Toydarian to whisper one word. Rattataki.

Even though Anakin had never seen one before, he had heard of the Rattataki. Strong and fierce warriors. Mercenaries and bounty hunters, prized by those lucky enough to be able to hire their services and feared by everyone else.

Watto's fear was obvious, but when Anakin looked at the man he felt no danger. Well, at least not for him, the big man was getting annoyed with Watto's reaction. Walking up to him, Anakin greeted the Rattataki like he would any other client. The annoyed frown directed at the Toydarian hiding behind the counter turned to a look of surprise at being cheerfully greeted by a small Human child, asking what he wanted. The Rattataki introduced himself as Dutch and said he was looking for someone to take a look at his damaged ship. Watto emerged from behind the counter just long enough to mutter something about no bounty hunters, only to hurry back down when Dutch glared at him.

Dutch said he was a smuggler, not a bounty hunter and that his ship had been damaged during his latest run for Gardulla the Elder. The Hutt had refused to pay for the repairs but someone at the palace had recommended Watto's shop. Anakin grabbed his tools and told Dutch he would be happy to take a look at his ship, trying to get the big and increasingly annoyed smuggler away from Watto before the Toydarian said something that would get him shot in the face. The smuggler realized what Anakin was doing and, with a bemused look on his face, allowed himself to be lead away from the shop.

Like most Tatooine settlements, Mos Espa began as a mining colony. When the mining efforts failed, the Hutts moved in and turned Mos Espa into a dangerous but growing city. These days Mos Espa was an expansive spaceport with over a hundred docking bays scattered across the city, with wide streets twisting around the domed-roofed adobe buildings like a great snake. Gardulla the Elder's city house, a large complex of buildings surrounded by a tall durasteel wall, dominated the city. Just outside the city, on its Northern Dune Sea side was the Mos Espa Grand Arena, home to one of the most famous podracing tracks in the Outer Rim Territories.

As always it was a bright and hot day, thanks to the systems binary stars, but Anakin and Dutch didn't have to walk very far as the smuggler had moved his ship to a docking bay just behind Watto's shop.

On the way Dutch told Anakin a little about the damage taken by his ship, the Black Lagoon. Anakin expected a light freighter with improved sub-light engines, a fast hyperdrive and numerous secret compartments, the standard mods most smugglers made to their ships.

What he found was a pocket warship.

The Amphibious Interstellar Assault Transport/infantry was a gunship made by the Kuat Drive Yards for the Galactic Republic. It was used by the Judicial Forces, the closest thing the Republic had to a standing military. The AIAT/i gunship was 31.5 meters long, 12.5 meters high with a 30-meter wingspan, making it about twice the size of the light freighters preferred by most smugglers. Despite its size the gunship was fast, reaching up to 700 km/h, thanks to a pair of oversized sublight engines mounted under the wings. The ships size allowed it to carry 350 cubic meters of cargo or up to 50 troops and several vehicles into battle. The gunships two forward facing twin laser cannon turrets and four concussion missile launchers made it a serious threat to larger ships like corvettes and frigates. The rear laser cannon turret made short work of any careless pilot maneuvering behind the gunship for a good shot.

This combination of speed, firepower and cargo space also made it popular with other groups, such as the Mandalorians. Jango Fett, the most infamous Mandalorian bounty hunter in the Galaxy, was know to use one.

The AIAT/i hull was shaped like a boat, allowing it to land on large bodies of water but in the duracrete docking bay it gave the ship a strange look. Not that Anakin would say that out loud. Dutch was obviously proud of his ship.

The damage to the ship itself was minor, the durasteel armor was scorched from laser fire and one of the turret mounts needed some work but the real problem was the hyperdrive. It had been some time since it had received maintenance and the short battle followed by the jump to Tatooine blew out the drive.

Anakin did a quick assessment and told Dutch how long the repairs would take and how much it would cost. The smuggler winced at the amount but knew hyperdrives were always the most expensive piece of equipment on a ship.

Over the next few days Anakin and Dutch worked on the Black Lagoon and learned many things about each other. First of all Anakin learned Dutch wasn't much of a mechanic. The smuggler spent his time handing Anakin tools and watching with growing respect as the boy repaired the gunship. They talked about their favorite ships and speeders. About the short but brutal confrontation with a rival smuggler which lead to the damage done to the Black Lagoon, which in turn lead to Anakin arguing the benefits of speed, while Dutch tried to convince him that what you wanted in a ship was firepower. Anakin talked about his life on Tatooine, his talent with machines and his love of podracing. Dutch talked about growing up in a war torn Rattatak, where the rival Rattataki warlords fought each other in never ending battles, about fighting in the gladiator pits as a boy to prove his worth as a warrior, being hired by an offworlder as a mercenary and his recent decision to take all his credits and buy a ship to try his luck as a smuggler.

There were some subjects they both avoided, such as Anakin's slavery and exactly how the big Rattataki ended up with a name like 'Dutch'. -Don't ask kid, long story.-

Eventually the damage to the Black Lagoon was repaired, in about half the time Dutch expected and it was time for the smuggler to move on. Anakin knew it was now or never and asked Dutch if he was interested in making some upgrades to his ship. Curious, the smuggler asked Anakin what he had in mind. Anakin pointed out that the only reason the Black Lagoon had taken so much damage was because the gunship was supposed to have more crew members that could operate the weapons, allowing the pilot to focus on flying the ship. Dutch said he wasn't looking for crew members. Anakin suggested installing an auto-tracking fire controller which would give the Black Lagoon fully automated firing capabilities but Dutch said they were too expensive. With some hesitation, Anakin said he could connect the three laser turrets to the ships targeting computer and upload the latest auto-tracking fire software available in the Republic. Dutch looked at Anakin for a long moment, then asked how much Watto would charge for that. Anakin told him Watto would not have anything to do with it, this deal would stay between them. Dutch was not surprised.

They discussed the details and Anakin told Dutch what gear he would need, namely computer parts. Over the years Anakin had built a specialized computer for slicing, with whatever parts he could get his hands on. It didn't look like much, in fact it looked like an old datapad. It was small and slim, if a little bulkier than newer models, with a touchscreen and several data ports. Datapads were a common sight across the Galaxy, even out on the Rim, and not really worth stealing. Which, of course, was the point. With it, Anakin could slice pretty much any network, as long as it was connected to the HoloNet. However, to slice through the levels of encryption they were talking about, Anakin would need to upgrade his computer with parts that could not be found on Tatooine. If Dutch could get him the parts, Anakin should be able to slice the Kuat Drive Yards network and get the military software he needed. The smuggler agreed and soon Anakin's computer became much more powerful and the Black Lagoon became a whole lot deadlier.

That was the first of many mutually beneficial deals between Anakin and Dutch over the years. The next time the Rattataki came back to Tatooine, to buy a medical droid for the ship, Anakin made him a custom heavy blaster pistol and an auto scatter gun. In exchange the smuggler taught him how to use a blaster pistol and promised he would teach Anakin to use a scatter gun, when he was actually big enough to hold one.

The next time Dutch returned to Tatooine, he walked into Watto's shop grumbling about annoying insects. The smuggler told Watto he needed Anakin's services and turned around, not caring what the Toydarian had to say about it, knowing Anakin would follow him out to the usual docking bay.

It turned out the annoying insects Dutch was grumbling about were rival smugglers that had ambushed him during his last job. The Black Lagoon was fine. When the four rival smugglers tried to box in and destroy the gunship, Dutch used four concussion missiles to blow one of the light freighters out of his way and the new auto-tracking fire controller sprayed the other two ships with laser fire.

That's when the starfighters came in. The smugglers had brought four starfighters with them and they turned out to be a bigger problem than the ships. With the two twin laser cannon turrets keeping the remaining ships away, the only weapon that could target the starfighters was the rear laser cannon. The cannon was meant to target larger and slower ships and was only able to destroy one of the fast moving starfighters.

The military grade ray shield generator on the Black Lagoon was more than capable of protecting the ship for the time it took the astrogation computer to calculate a hyperspace jump, but Dutch was angry about the fact that he was forced to run from what he considered weaklings.

That was the second time he had been attacked by other smugglers and the second time he had been forced to run. He would not run from them a third time.

When Anakin asked what he could do to help, Dutch said, -Weapons, lots of weapons.-

Anakin crawled all over the Black Lagoon, looking closer at the ship than he ever had before. When he was done, Anakin made a list and gave it to Dutch. The Rattataki looked over the list, nodded at Anakin and walked out of the docking bay without a word.

Two days later, Dutch came back in a cargo speeder loaded with large crates. As Dutch unloaded the crates, Anakin looked over the contents. There was everything on the list and more. Anakin didn't ask how the smuggler got everything so fast, but from the blood stains on some of the crates he had a pretty good idea.

They worked for days, stopping only when Anakin had to go home for the night. He didn't even go to Watto's shop. On the third day the Toydarian came by the docking bay to complain, only to be chased out by blaster fire.

When they finished, the Black Lagoon was a very different ship. The three original laser cannons were removed and replaced by twin heavy laser cannons. A new turret was installed on top of the ships wing and a fourth twin heavy laser cannon was mounted on it. To deal with starfighters, the wing tips were extended and eight quad laser cannons were mounted on turrets, four above and four below the wing tips, giving them a 360 degree fire arc. Finally two ion cannons were mounted below the wings, tucked in between the sublight engines and the ships frame, on a fixed fire arc.

These mods came with a price. The ship lost speed, maneuverability and several tons worth of cargo space. Dutch was wiling to lose cargo space in exchange for firepower, but not speed. Anakin grinned at that, thinking back to their debates of speed versus firepower. They installed a secondary generator to power the weapons, allowing the primary generator to provide more power to the engines. However, with the extra mass and twelve weapon turrets mounted on the hull there wasn't much that could be done to improve maneuverability.

Night had fallen, bringing with it a welcoming drop in temperature. Anakin wished the smuggler good luck and turned to go home, when Dutch surprised him by asking Anakin if he wanted to go with him.

Anakin stared at Dutch like he was suddenly speaking a different language. Dutch reasoned that all the new systems hadn't been tested yet and if something were to malfunction only Anakin could repair it.

Anakin looked up at the sky, through the open roof of the docking bay. The stars were beautiful as always, but tonight seemed to shine brighter than ever, almost like they were calling out to him.

How many times had he looked up at the stars, wishing he could go to every single one? Wishing he could be free?

With an excited grin, Anakin hurried to say yes, almost biting his tongue in the process. However, before he could get the word out, his hand seemed to move of its own volition to the back of his neck.

Slave collars were a rare sight on Tatooine. The only ones who still made use of them were the Hutts, as just another way to show their power over others. Most slave owners preferred to use subdermal implants on their slaves. A small incision was made on the back of the neck of the slave, down to the subcutaneous skin layer and the implant was placed underneath the skin, allowing the body to heal over it. The implant contained a homing beacon, a comms receiver, a shock pad and a small explosive charge.

The homing beacon allowed the slave owners to track down their slaves should they escape and the comms receiver gave them the option of punishing their slaves by activating the shock pad with a comm-link. The same comm-link could be used to detonate the explosive charge. The charge itself was very small, but the blast was more than enough to destroy the slaves brain stem.

Many slave owners programed the homing beacon with a maximum distance from their comm-link. This determined how far away a slave could get from their owner. If a slave approached the maximum distance the shock pad would automatically activate on the lowest setting, as more of a warning than a punishment. If the slave ignored the warning and crossed the maximum distance, the explosive charge would automatically detonate. The distance varied, depending on how trusted the slave was.

Anakin's maximum distance allowed him to leave Mos Espa, as Watto would often send him on errands to other cities, but if he left Tatooine...

Anakin's grin died and from the look on the smugglers face, Dutch realized why. Before Dutch could say anything, Anakin left the docking bay.

That was a difficult night and Anakin had crawled into his mother's bed for comfort. Not that he would ever admit it to anyone.

The next day Anakin and his mother walked from their home in Mos Espa's Slave Quarters to Watto's shop, like they did every morning. Usually Anakin would cheerfully tell his mother about his latest project or talk about the last podrace he saw, but that morning they walked down the sandy streets in silence. His mother ruffled his hair and Anakin looked up to see her looking at him with a small, gentle smile.

They heard the raised voices coming from Watto's shop before they saw the building. They walked in to witness a strange sight. Watto and Dutch were in the middle of a shouting match, one that seemed to have been going on for quite some time, judging from all the curious people peeking through the door. Watto's fear of the Rattataki had apparently been replaced by anger, as the irate Toydarian was flapping his wings to raise himself to Dutch's eye level and was shouting at the top of his lungs.

Anakin couldn't understand what either of them were shouting about and it looked they weren't planing on stopping any time soon. Suddenly, an hear shattering whistle made everyone cringe. With his hears ringing, Anakin looked behind him to see his mother with a sheepish grin on her face, before clearing her throat and softly telling Watto that it was probably a bad idea for the shop's owner to behave like that in front of potential customers.

Watto blinked surprised at their, apparently, sudden presence and saw the crowd gathering at his door. Shop keepers, slaves, a couple of Anakin's friends laughing at him and a few people making bets on how long it would take for the Rattataki to kill the Toydarian. Seeing the credits changing hands seemed to make Watto snap out of it. Flying to the doorway, Watto chased them all away and closed the door.

As Watto locked the door, Anakin asked Dutch what they were arguing about. It was Watto who answered, flying back to Dutch and accusing the smuggler of wanting to steal his slave. Dutch frowned and explained that he had came by the shop to ask Watto to allow Anakin to join him on his next smuggling run. There was more shouting but Anakin wasn't listening. All he could think about was jumping into the Black Lagoon and flying to the stars.

Then Watto said something that made him angry. The Toydarian was saying that for Anakin to leave the planet, the slave implant would have to be deactivated and if that happened Anakin would never return to Tatooine. Anakin stepped between them, looked Watto in the eye and asked him if he really believed Anakin would abandon his mother.

Watto faltered, glanced at Anakin's mother and muttered something that vaguely sounded like an apology. Dutch saw an opportunity and told Watto that, in exchange for allowing Anakin to join him on this smuggling run, Dutch would sign a contract stating Anakin was the only mechanic allowed to work on the Black Lagoon.

Watto's eyes widened in surprise. Successful smugglers made a lot of credits and put most of them back into their ships. An exclusive contract with a smuggler could be worth a small fortune. Greed was a powerful motivator and soon Watto was discussing the details with Dutch while Anakin ran home to pack a bag.

Space was everything Anakin hoped for and more. The freedom he felt when Watto deactivated his slave implant was nothing compared to being on a ship ascending to the stars. Everything was breathtakingly beautiful, from the systems binary stars and distant planets to the dark, empty void between them. Even Tatooine, often described by both locals and visitors as an ugly sand pit, looked like a magnificent gemstone glowing in the night. When Dutch finished uploading the hyperspace coordinates and asked him if he was ready to go Anakin turned to him with a wide grin that said it all.

For all its beauty space was not without danger. The moment the Black Lagoon jumped out of the first of several hyperspace jumps it took to reach their destination, they were ambushed by the same three ships that survived the last confrontation. This time Dutch was ready for them.

Instead of trying to outrun them until he could jump out of the system, like most people would have done, Dutch turned his ship towards them and gunned the engines. Seeing the much heavier gunship heading towards them on a collision course, the attacking ships broke formation and scattered in three different directions. Dutch held his course and fired four concussion missiles at the closest of the light freighters, reducing it to scrap metal. As the Black Lagoon flew by the two remaining ships, the four twin heavy laser cannons opened fire, battering down the shields of a Corellian light freighter and peppering the other ship with laser fire as they maneuvered back into attack positions.

Recovering from the gunships surprising attack, the two enemy ships began to retaliate. The fast Corillian light freighter was the first to open fire on the Black Lagoon, maneuvering behind the gunship and quickly closing the distance before its depleted shields could recycle. That proved to be a mistake when both the rear and the top twin heavy laser cannons of the Black Lagoon opened fire and destroyed the ship.

Before they could enjoy the now even odds a new ship jumped into the system. It was an old CMC Class VI bulk freighter that had seen better days. Just as Dutch was about to warn them off, thinking it was a civilian ship in the wrong place at the wrong time, the bulk freighter opened its cargo bay doors and a swarm of starfighters flew out.

Cursing, Dutch swerved the ship away from the new threat, only to be met by laser fire from the last light freighter. From the smooth lines, Anakin told Dutch he suspected it was a Mon Calamari design. His suspicions were confirmed when the shields held against laser fire from three of the Black Lagoon four heavy cannons. Just before the two ships overshot each other, Dutch fired two concussion missiles while cursing the Mon Calamari for equipping all of their ships with a backup shield generator and making him waste more missiles.

Holding his course and keeping the wreak of the Mon Calamari freighter behind him, Dutch put as much distance between them and the pursuing starfighters as he could, giving the shield time to recycle to full power.

It didn't take long for the fast starfighters to catch up to the Black Lagoon. There were twelve starfighters, roughly divided into two squadrons. Usually that would be more than enough to take apart ships bigger than the Black Lagoon. However, there were two factors working against them. First, among the twelve starfighters there were five different designs, each one with a different acceleration rate. As a result, even though they all began the pursuit from the same point, the faster starfighters were soon pulling ahead and the slowest were left lagging behind. Instead of a coordinated attack, where all twelve would engage their target together, the three fastest starfighters entered weapons range with no backup and were promptly cut to shreds by the gunships point defenses.

This is where the second factor about these starfighters came in. Shield generators were expensive. In fact they were almost as expensive as hyperdrives and as a result most starfighters in the Outer Rim had neither. As the next four starfighters came in, the quad laser cannons on the Black Lagoon rotated on their turrets and opened fire with the same result.

Down seven starfighters there was a spike of comms chatter. One of the pilots, flying a Z-95 Headhunter, was apparently trying to reorganize the remaining pilots into a squadron.

Dutch pulled the Black Lagoon on the tightest turn the big ship could handle, hoping to take the offensive before they could regroup. They came out of the turn to see two missiles heading for them. Dipping the ships nose Dutch held his breath while the two missiles streaked by, above their heads. Glancing at the sensor screen, Anakin watched the two missiles fly away from the battle. The weapons had been fired dumb, hoping for a lucky hit.

Looking up Anakin saw the starfighters, now flying in formation, charging at them. Leading them was the Headhunter, the only starfighter armed with missiles. Not waiting for him to try again, this time with a missile lock, Anakin designated the Headhunter as the priority target. The gunships targeting computer aimed four quad laser cannons at the Headhunter, the remaining four at the closest starfighters and opened fire. Three starfighters were hit but only two were destroyed. The quad laser cannons sacrificed power for a rapid rate of fire and the few hits that connected with the Headhunter, before it took evasive maneuvers, were not enough to knock down the shields and destroy the starfighter.

The Black Lagoon shook from the return fire and Dutch kept an eye on the shield gage. As the distance between them diminished, the heavy laser cannons of the Black Lagoon joined the battle. The powerful weapons had a slow rate of fire and moved too slowly on their turrets to actually hit such small, fast moving targets but the extra laser fire was enough to make the pilots break off their attack run.

The three remaining pilots veered off and made tight turns to attack the Black Lagoon from three different vectors, hoping to find a hole in the gunships point defenses. It was a good tactic but the eight new quad laser cannons could target incoming craft from any direction.

The two unshielded starfighters were the first to vanish, in short lived explosions. The Headhunter, approaching from above relative to the Black Lagoon, was weaving between laser fire, trying to get a missile lock. In the gunships cockpit, watching the starfighter dive, Anakin's blood froze in his veins when the missile lock warning blared through the ship. Just as two missiles were leaving the launch tubes, laser fire knocked down the shields and shredded the last starfighter.

Taking a deep breath Dutch and Anakin braced for impact, well aware that even though the Headhunter was gone the missiles still had a lock on the Black Lagoon. The gunships targeting computer recognized the immediate threat and brought all available weapons to bear. Seven laser cannons fired at the incoming missiles, unleashing a storm of red coherent light.

One missile was destroyed, the other slipped through the laser barrage and slammed into the ship like a hammer. Anakin fell out of his seat but Dutch held on to the controls, trying to stabilize the gunship.

As the Black Lagoon stopped shaking, Anakin climbed back into his seat with a relieved sigh. Shutting off the blaring alarm, Anakin ran a systems check, looking for damage. Two quad laser cannons were destroyed and the heavy cannon on top of the wing was not responding. Ray shields were useless against missiles but thanks to the gunships durasteel armor, there was no apparent structural damage.

With an angry growl the Rattataki steered his ship towards the last sensor contact. The old bulk freighter was moving away from the battle, trying to avoid the prey turned predator, until it could jump to hyperspace.

Anakin scanned the bulk freighter for weapons. Without its starfighters and with only one laser cannon mounted on the nose, the large ship was no threat for the Black Lagoon.

Dutch charged up the ion cannons and closed the distance between them. Anakin still didn't know where Dutch found the cannons, they were not on the weapons list Anakin made for the gunship. The ion cannons were big and heavy, too big for the Black Lagoon, but the smuggler insisted on having them. Because of the size of the weapons, the ion cannons could not be mounted on turrets and were placed under the wing like a pair of oversized missiles.

Lining up the Black Lagoon with the bulk freighter Dutch opened fire. Two volleys were enough to take out the shields and a final volley caused the sublight engines to shut down.

Approaching the freighter Dutch turned on the flood lights and told Anakin to look for a docking ring. With a questioning look at the smuggler, Anakin moved the flood lights along the hull of the freighter and soon found one. Dutch maneuvered the Black Lagoon, rotating the gunship until both ships docking rings were aligned.

Connecting the ships, Dutch powered down the engines and moved to the back of the ship, grabbing his auto scatter gun along the way. Anakin followed the smuggler through the ship, to the docking ring.

Dutch looked at Anakin, gave him a comm-link, a blaster pistol, then told him stay put and to blast anyone that tried to board the Black Lagoon. Checking his weapon, Dutch walked into the bulk freighter, scatter gun leading the way.

Anakin stood by the docking ring, holding the blaster and trying to remember what Dutch taught him.

Anakin was more nervous just standing there than he was when there were several ships shooting at him. After what felt like hours, but was probably just a few minutes, Dutch's voice coming from the comm-link pulled Anakin from a daydream of him fighting endless hordes of pirates trying to board the Black Lagoon.

The Rattataki told Anakin to grab his slicing computer and make his way to the bulk freighters bridge. Running to the gunships cargo bay, where he had left his bag, Anakin took his computer and a first aid kit before running back to the docking ring.

He stepped into the freighter expecting to find a trail of bodies leading all the way to the bridge. Some corridors were cluttered with boxes or empty food wrappers but they were all thankfully clear of dead bodies.

After a couple of wrong turns Anakin reached the bridge. Dutch was standing over two men. The first, a blue Twi'lek, was clearly dead. The auto scatter gun he made for Dutch was a powerful weapon, especially at close range. In the confines of a ship it could easily cut a man in half. The second, a Rodian, was still breathing although judging by the bloody wound on his skull he was going to wake up with a hell of a headache.

Dutch turned to look at Anakin and asked if he could access the ship's computer. Someone had locked down the computer and neither the Twi'lek nor the Rodian were up to answering questions.

Anakin found a terminal and hooked up his slicing computer. The encryption software was better than he expected but it didn't take long to get in. Anakin accessed the internal sensors to look for life forms and let out a sigh of relief when he only found three. Running a systems diagnostic program revealed the ship suffered no permanent damage from the ion cannon fire.

Dutch walked over to the terminal and asked Anakin to look for recent comms, to and from the ship. Pulling up the ship's comms log, Anakin showed Dutch a list of all the comms made in the last forty eight hours.

Dutch went over the list, clearly looking for one in particular, then pointed to one received a few minutes before they left Tatooine. Anakin activated the holo-tank and played the recorded transmission. The holo-tank displayed someone well know by everyone on Tatooine.

Jabba Desilijic Tiure

Tatooine was ruled by the Hutt Cartel. The Cartel presence on the planet was lead by Gardulla the Elder. She ruled unopposed until the Desilijic clan sent Jabba from Nal Hutta to Tatooine in order to safeguard the clans business interests on the desert planet.

Gardulla welcomed Jabba to Tatooine with a great feast in his honor. The feast lasted for days, the Hutts and their guests being entertained by the best music, the most beautiful dancers on the planet and enjoying enough food to feed a small city for months.

The feast ended with the two Hutts making vows of friendship and making promises of always putting the good of the Cartel above personal interests.

Naturally, the next day they began to plot against each other.

Dutch told Anakin that recently, several smugglers working for Gardulla the Elder were ambushed by unknown attackers. Of course there was nothing unknown about these attackers. Gardulla knew exactly who was behind it but she could not accuse Jabba, a fellow member of the Cartel, without evidence.

This was common behavior for the two Hutts, one attacking the other and getting away with it as long as they weren't caught. Despite everything Gardulla and Jabba maintained a cordial relationship, looking at these constant attacks like a game to be played against a worthy opponent.

Gardulla had offered a generous reward to anyone who brought her evidence of Jabba's involvement. Between the recorded transmission of Jabba ordering the Rodian captain of the bulk freighter to attack the Black Lagoon and having said captain as a prisoner, Dutch had more than enough evidence to collect the reward.

While Anakin tried to wrap his head around the 'games' played by the Hutts, Dutch finished binding the Rodians wrists and hauled him over his shoulder.

Seeing the smuggler walking away with his prisoner Anakin asked Dutch what he was going to do with the freighter. Dutch stopped, looked around the bridge for a moment and told Anakin he could have it. Anakin's heart skipped a beat and he asked Dutch to repeat what he just said.

Looking at him, Dutch told him he knew Anakin wouldn't be a slave forever. Besides, if Anakin hadn't made all those modifications to the Black Lagoon Dutch would probably be dead.

Anakin didn't even notice the Rattataki leaving the bridge. He had a ship. It wasn't new and it wasn't fast but dammit, he had a ship!

When Dutch came back Anakin was at the computer terminal, changing the security codes, uploading his best encryption software and generally doing everything he could think of to make sure no one stole his ship.

Anakin knew he couldn't take the ship back to Tatooine. Slaves were not allowed to own anything that could help them escape, ships being on the top of the list. Dutch told Anakin he knew of a few dead star systems with no inhabited planets, natural resources, trade routes or any reason for anyone to go there. These dead systems were used by smugglers to hide from various law enforcement agencies, to make repairs to damaged ships or as a safe place to store cargo they were not ready to move. It was the best place for Anakin to hide the ship.

Dutch recommended going through the ship first and look for anything he wanted to take with him. They searched the ship deck by deck, finding it to be mostly empty. The captains quarters had some valuables and a wall safe that Dutch opened with a hull cutter to find a small amount of credits but in the crew quarters, apparently used by the starfighter pilots, they found only personal belongings.

The only things of real value were found in the six cargo bays. The two main cargo bays had been converted to launch starfighters and even though all twelve were destroyed, there were still plenty of tools, power cells and spare parts Anakin could sell on Tatooine.

In the four smaller cargo bays they found enough supplies to feed the crew for six months. It would feed Anakin and his mother for years with enough left over to share with his friends. They loaded the cargo bay of the Black Lagoon to capacity and Dutch promised to come back for the rest before he moved the ship to a dead system.

Flying away in the powerful gunship, Anakin couldn't take his eyes from the beat up old freighter. That ship represented his freedom, his dreams for a better life.

Rolling over in bed Anakin took one last look around the Veruna suite, closed his eyes and tried to get to sleep. One way or another, his life would change tomorrow.

A/N: For those who know Black Lagoon you'll notice several members of the crew are missing. Don't worry, they will show up. What I would like to know is, what species should they be? I made Dutch a Rattataki but about Revy, Benny and Rock? Please let me know what species you think they should be and why.