NOW . . .
(during the events of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Two bounty hunters sat in a bar, talking.
"Things aren't what they used to be," said Zuckuss morosely. As a member of one of the ammonia-breathing species of his homeworld Gand, he had to be careful in establishments such as this. Intoxicants and stimulants that produced feelings of well-being in other creatures often evoked a profound melancholy in him. Even in a high-class place that supposedly catered to all known physiologies--the soothing, programmed play of lights across the columned walls, the shifting spectra that were supposed to relax weary travelers' central nervous systems, struck Zuckuss as crepuscular and depressing as the faded hopes of his youth. I had ambitions once, he told himself, leaning over the tall, blue-tinged glass in front of him. Big ones. Where had they gone?
"I wouldn't know," said Zuckuss's companion. The droid bounty hunter 4-LOM sat across from him, an untouched drink--perhaps only water--in front of him. A mere formality: the drink had been taken away twice already and replaced with exactly the same thing, so the charges could be rung up on 4-LOM's tab. That was the only way that nonimbibing constructs such as droids could make themselves welcome in any kind of watering hole. "Your attitude," continued 4-LOM, "implies a value judgment on your part. That is, that things were better at one time than they are now. I don't make those kinds of judgments. I merely deal with things as they are."
You would, thought Zuckuss. This was what he got for hooking up with a cold-blooded--cold-circuited, at least--creature like 4-LOM. There were plenty of excitable droids in the galaxy--Zuckuss had run into a few--but the ones that were attracted to the bounty hunter trade all shared the same vibroblade-edged logic and absolute-zero emotional tone. They hunted, and killed when necessary, without even the tiniest acceleration of electrons along their inner connectors.
The bar's soft, dirgelike background music--it was supposed to be soothing as well, with harmonic overtones of almost narcotic languor--made Zuckuss think of his previous partner Bossk. The Trandoshan bounty hunter had been cold-blooded, literally so, but one would never have guessed it from the way he'd carried on.
"Now that," said Zuckuss with a slow, emphatic nod, "that was real bounty hunting. That had some passion to it. Real excitement." He extended the retractable pipette from the lower part of his face mask and sucked up another swallow of the drink, though he knew it would only deepen and darken his mood. "We had some good times together, me and Bossk . . ."
"That wasn't what you said when you agreed to become partners with me once more." 4-LOM's photo-optical receptors kept a slow, careful scan around the bar and its other occupants, even as the droid kept up his end of the conversation. He talked for no reason other than to avoid drawing attention to himself and Zuckuss as they waited for their quarry to make an appearance. "Value judgments aside, the exact record of your statement is that you had had enough of Bossk's way of doing business. Too much danger--if that's what you mean by 'excitement'--and not enough credits. So you wanted a change."
"Don't use my own words against me." Zuckuss knew that he had gotten what he had asked for. And what could be worse than that?
"Mourn the old days if you want," said 4-LOM after a few moments of silence had passed. "We have business to take care of. Please direct your waning attention toward the entrance."
Worse than dealing with Boba Fett, grumbled Zuckuss to himself. At least when you got involved with Fett, you were assured that you were face-mask-to-helmet with the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, someone who had plenty of reason for taking such a high-and-mighty attitude. Where did 4-LOM get off, lording it over him this way? If it hadn't been for some stretches of bad luck, and a few unfortunate strategic decisions, it would have been the droid that had been looking to hook up with him again, rather than the other way around. Though they had been partners before, and for a lot longer than Zuckuss had been hooked up with Bossk, the relationship between them could never be the same. Back then, 4-LOM had even saved Zuckuss's life, when he had been dying from his ammonia-breathing lungs having been exposed to an accidental inhalation of oxygen. The two of them had even made other plans together, of working for the Rebel Alliance in some way . . .
Those plans hadn't worked out, though. Their time as members of the Rebel Alliance--double agents, actually, since they had kept secret their new allegiance to the Rebel cause--had been occupied with one significant operation: an attempt to snatch from Boba Fett the carbonite slab with Han Solo frozen inside it, before Fett could deliver the prize to Jabba the Hutt. The plan, using several other bounty hunters as unwitting dupes, had had disastrous results. It hadn't succeeded, and 4-LOM had needed a complete core-to-sheath rebuild to get back on his feet. And, mused Zuckuss, he wasn't the same after that. This idealism that had led 4-LOM to join the Rebel Alliance had all but evaporated, replaced by his former cold-spirited greed. Zuckuss supposed that came from hanging out once again with the other bounty hunters; he had felt their mercenary natures rubbing off onto him as well.
Plus there was one factor that both of them hadn't counted on when they had joined the Alliance. A factor that made all the difference in the universe--
Being a Rebel didn't pay.
Excerpted from Hard Merchandise: Star Wars (The Bounty Hunter Wars) by K.W. Jeter. Copyright © 1999 by Lucasfilm, Ltd. All rights reserved.. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.