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Staring at her like some lovesick cub. Eyes wide, mouth hanging open. Then quickly trying to get hold of himself so that Lando wouldn’t know what he was thinking. Dismissing the ship as a hunk of junk. But Lando was no fool, and by then he knew all of Han’s tells. One of the best gamblers that side of Coruscant, he knew when he was being bluffed. “She’s fast,” he had said, a twinkle in his eye.
Han didn’t doubt it.
Even that far back it was easy to envy Lando all he already possessed, his extraordinary good fortune to begin with. But luck had little to do with it. Lando just didn’t deserve this ship. He could barely handle a skimmer, let alone a light-fast freighter best ﬂown by a pair of able pilots. He just wasn’t worthy of her.
Han had never thought of himself as the covetous or acquisitive type, but suddenly he wanted the ship more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. After all the years of servitude and wandering, of close calls and failed partnerships, in and out of love, in and out of the Academy, victim of as many tricks as he’d played on others . . . perhaps he saw the ship as a chance for permanence.
Circling her, fairly orbiting her, he nursed sinister designs. The old freighter drew him to her gravity, as she clearly had all who had piloted her and added their own touches to the YT’s hull, mandibles, the varied techno-terrain of her surface. He took the smell of the ship into his nostrils.
The closer he looked, the more evidence he found of attempts to preserve her from the ravages of time and of spaceﬂight. Dents hammered out, cracks ﬁlled with epoxatal, paint smeared over areas of carbon scoring.
Aftermarket parts socked down with inappropriate fasteners or secured by less-than-professional welds. She was rashed with rust, bandaged with strips of durasteel, leaking grease and other lubricants, smudged with crud. She had seen action, this ship, long before Lando’s luck at sabacc had made her his property. But in service to who or what, Han had no idea. Criminals, smugglers, pirates, mercenaries . . . certainly all of those and more.
When Lando ﬁred her up for Han’s inspection, his heart skipped a beat. And minutes later, seated at the controls, savoring the response of the sublight engines, taking her through the paces and nearly frightening Lando to death, he knew he was fated to own her. He would get the Hutts to buy her for him, or pirate her if he had to. He’d add a military-grade rectenna and swap out the light laser cannons for quads. He’d plant a retractable repeating blaster in her belly to provide cover ﬁre for quick getaways. He’d install a couple of concussion missile launchers between the boxy forks of her prow . . .
Not once did it occur to him that he would win her from Lando. Much less that Lando would lose her on a bluff.
Piloting the modiﬁed SoroSuub he and Chewie leased from Lando had only added to his longing for the ship. He imagined her origins and the adventures she had been through. It struck him that he was so accepting of her from the start, he had never asked Lando how or when she had acquired the name Millennium Falcon.
Corellian Engineering Corporation
Orbital Assembly Facility 7
60 years Before the Battle of Yavin
WITH HIS SHIFT WINDING DOWN, SOLY KANTT’S GAZE DRIFTED lazily between the chrono display mounted on the wall and a news feed running on the HoloNet. A tie score in last night’s shock-ball match between Kuat and Commenor, and strife among some spacefaring folk known as Mandalorians. A lanky human with a family on Corellia and ten years on the job, Kantt had his soft hands clasped behind his head and his feet raised with ankles crossed on the console that constituted his private domain at CEC, Orbital 7. A holozine was opened in his lap and a partially ﬁlled container of cold caf stood with two empties in the chair’s cup holders. Beyond the transparisteel pane that crowned the gleaming monitoring deck moved a steady stream of YT-1300 freighters fresh off the assembly line, though not yet painted, and shepherded by a ﬂock of guidance buoys slaved to the facility’s cybernetic overseer. Thirty-ﬁve meters long and capable of carrying a hundred metric tons of cargo, the YT had been in production for less than a standard year but had already proved to be an instant classic. Designed with help from Narro Sienar, owner of one of CEC’s chief competitors in the shipbuilding business, the freighter was being marketed as an inexpensive and easily modiﬁed alternative to the steadfast YG-series ships. Where most of CEC’s starship line was regarded as uninspired, the YT1300 had a certain utilitarian ﬂair. What made the ship unique was its saucer-shaped core, to which a wide variety of components could be secured, including an outrigger cockpit and various sensor arrays. Stock, it came loaded with a pair of front mandibles that elongated the hull design, and a new generation of droid brain that supervised the ship’s powerful sublight and hyperspace engines.
Kantt had lost track of just how many YTs had drifted past him since he’d traded glances with Facility 7’s security scanner eight hours earlier, but the number had to be twice what it was last month. Even so, the ship was selling so quickly that production couldn’t keep pace with demand. Setting his feet on the ﬂoor, he stretched his arms over his head and was in the midst of a long yawn when the console loosed a strident alarm that jolted him fully awake. His bloodshot eyes were sweeping the deck’s numerous display screens when a young tech wearing brightly colored coveralls and a comlink headset hurried in from the adjacent station.
“Control valve on one of the fuel droids!”
Kantt shot to his feet and leaned across the console for a better view of the line. Off to one side, bathed in the bright glow of a bank of illuminators, one of the YTs had a single fuel droid anchored to its port-side nozzle, where up and down the zero-g alley identical droids had already detached from the rest of the freighters. Kantt whirled around.
“Shut the droid down!”
Raised on his toes at a towering control panel, the tech gave his shaved head a shake. “It’s not responding.”
“Override the fuel program, Bon!”
Kantt swung back to the transparisteel pane. The droid hadn’t moved and was probably continuing to pump fuel into YT 492727ZED. A form of liquid metal, the fuel that powered the freighters to sometimes dazzling speeds had ignited a controversy from the moment the concept ship had made its appearance. It had nearly been a reason for scuttling the entire line.
Kantt dropped his gaze to the console’s monitor screens and gauges. “The YT’s fuel cells are at redline. If we can’t get that droid to detach before warm-up–”
“It should be detaching now!”
Kantt all but pressed his face to the cool pane. “It’s away! But that YT’s going to ﬁre hot!” Turning, he ran for the door opposite the one Bon had come through. “Come with me.”
Single-ﬁle, they raced through two observation stations. Third in line was the data-keeping department, and Kantt knew from the instant they burst in that things had gone from bad to worse. Clustered at the viewport, the Dralls who staffed the department were hopping up and down in agitation and chittering to one another without letup, despite efforts by the clan’s Duchess to restore order. Kantt forced his way through the press of small furry bodies for a look outside. The situation was even worse than he feared. The YT had entered the test area for the braking thrusters and attitude jets. Superfueled, the ship had rocketed out of line, knocking aside and stunning a dozen or more gravitic droids responsible for keeping the line in check. As Kantt watched, three more freighters escaped the line. The YT responsible clipped one of them in the stern, sending it into a forward spin. The spinning ship did the same to the one in front of it, but in counter-rotation, so that when the two ships came full circle they locked mandibles and pirouetted as a pair into the curved inner hull of the observation station on the far side of the alley.
As the test ﬁring sequence continued, the enlivened YT jinked to port then starboard, leapt out of line, then dived below it. Kantt watched only long enough to know that all thoughts of returning to Corellia in time for dinner were up in smoke. He’d be lucky to get home by the weekend. Leaving the Dralls to bicker over how to balance the economic loss, Kantt and the technician stormed into the next station, where a mostly human group of midlevel executives were close to tearing their hair out. To a one, they looked to the newcomers for even a scrap of good news.
“A droid team is on the way,” Bon said. “No problem.”
Kantt gave the tech a quick glance and turned to the execs. “You heard him. No problem.”
A red-faced man with shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows glared at him. “You don’t think so?” His arm shot out, indicating the viewport. “See for yourself.”
Kantt hadn’t moved a muscle when two others grabbed hold of him and tugged him forward. The droid team had in fact arrive...