The sound of distant blaster fire still echoed off the walls of the maze of caves that the boy ran through blindly, barely aware of what lay two steps in front of him, the darkness and the fogbank of smoke from the battle still close around him. The boy, who was perhaps ten years old, was out of his mind with terror and shock….and a sorrow that he could not begin to absorb or comprehend. So on and on he ran, here almost tripping, there scraping himself on an outcropping of rock, but never, never losing grip on the battle-helmet that he held close to his chest, clutching it to himself like a talisman, precious, sacred, horrible.
His father’s severed head was still encased within it.
The boy’s other hand clutched a blaster, which he held out before him as he ran and ran, the blood and sweat and tears that stung his face blinding him as much as the battle-smoke. He ran instinctively, for this was something his father had taught him to do, and now he at last knew why. First learn to run, then I will teach you to fight, he could hear his father saying, over and over. That, and there’s no honor in dying stupidly. So his father had made him run….and run, and run, and run, training with clone troopers twice his size though not a day older, running the same tracks they had to run, until he would fall over exhausted and unable to move. At the time he did not know why his father had made him do this, only that it was his father making him do it, and that was enough; for his father had been all that he had, and now his father was gone, the boy’s universe annihilated in an instant by the blade of a Jedi.
Thinking of his training triggered another half-coherent thought that welled up through the madness that had overtaken him. The ship. He had to get to the ship. That was where his father would want him to go; that was another thing that had been ingrained in him. The ship meant safety and escape. That was why his father had taught him to fly it before he could hold a blaster; it went with running, with living to fight another day. Consummate soldier of Mandelor that his father was, he knew that getting the mission done trumped one’s own petty ego, and that this fact sometimes required a tactical withdrawal.
The boy, Boba, slowed to a walk. He was panting and heaving so hard that he thought he was hyperventilating, though he was in remarkably good training for one so young. Looking forward and backward and seeing no one through the haze, he stopped walking and slowly dropped to a crouch; then, carefully, as though it might break, placed the helmet in a shallow natural hollow in the cave wall. Still holding the blaster he reached into one of his pockets with his free hand and brought out a small rangefinder. It always told him the location of two things, if they were near enough: his father (he shuddered as the exact location of his father Jango’s armored corpse appeared as a glowing green icon on the tiny screen) and the Slave I, his father’s ship. The latter appeared as a red icon; Boba could see that it was still in the grotto where his father had parked it, and since there were no alert codes overlaying the icon it appeared to be online and functioning normally. Now if he could only get to it….