“Brace it against your shoulder.”
You can do anything if you’re calm enough.
“No, higher than that.”
So just breathe.
“Plant your feet.”
“My feet are planted.”
“No they’re not.”
“You’re just imitating Huff.”
“So shut up and let me concentrate.”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
And then squeeze the trigger.
As it turned out, her feet weren’t quite right. The knockback of the bowcaster sent her flying back almost two meters.
“Told you so,” said Biggs, offering a hand to help her up.
She waved it away. “Did I hit it?”
“Not a chance.”
“You sure? You looked?” Biggs didn’t answer. She narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t look.”
“You guys,” Tank called, still looking through his macrobinoculars.
“What?” Biggs replied, rushing over and grabbing the specs. “I can’t believe it.” He passed them to her as she joined both boys at the canyon’s edge.
25 meters away, on a ledge partway down the sandstone walls of Beggar’s Canyon, a womp rat lay dead with a bowcaster bolt between its eyes.
The source of that bolt, Leia Lars, smiled and said nothing.
“You should have seen it, Fix,” Tank said, nearly knocking Fixer over with the force of his enthusiastic shove. “Zap! Right between the eyes!”
“Her first time,” added Biggs, giving Leia a half-hearted shove himself.
“Quit iiiit,” she said, with an overly dramatic whine. Camie picked up on Leia’s imitation of her and moved as if to say something, but was cut off by Fixer’s skeptical scoff:
“No way you could have fired it. Humans can’t even lift a Wookiee bowcaster.”
“We propped it up on a rock. All I had to do was aim,” Leia said.
“Bet you couldn’t do it again.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” In her experience, it was best to play these things off like it was no big deal, even when it was. If you started swapping boasts with Fixer or Biggs, before you knew it you’d be trying to rappel down a canyon wall without your shoes to prove some crazy point or other. And then, of course, you’d have to decide if you really wanted to win or not.
Leia won a lot. She didn’t know why, but the more harebrained the scheme, the better she would do. Nothing seemed to scare her, not really. What was a little danger compared with the dark well of knowledge sitting in the back of her mind?
Don’t think about that. Just breathe.
She didn’t know when it started, that strategy. A bad dream in the night? One of the times they had to lock the farm down and hide in their home until after the Tusken Raiders had finished going by? She remembered a voice, a strange yet familiar one, murmuring in her ear: just breathe.
They dragged the repulsor sled up to Demak’s stand; he was known to give good prices for womp rat bounties.
“You scavenge this?” he asked raising what passed for eyebrows in his species.
“Shot it ourselves,” Biggs said, offended. “Look at the bolt mark.”
“Sure, sure,” Demak said, laughing, waving him away. He barely looked at the rat. “Five credits.”
“The Imps give ten,” Leia said.
“Well, I’m not the Imps, am I? Five credits is all you’re going to get,” he said, still amused but growing less amused by the second.
“The Imps give ten,” she repeated.
“Then go to the Imps, why don’t you? Then maybe you can tell them how you shot it yourself, eh?” His eyebrows pulled together. “And maybe tell them how a group of little ones got hold of a heavy-class blaster.”
“Nine, then,” Biggs tried, but Leia put out her arm to quiet him.
“Ten credits,” she said firmly.
“Not a chance,” Demak said. “Be lucky you’re getting five.”
Something spiked in her, but she quieted it.
“Ten credits,” she said slowly.
Demak blew out a sigh. “Fine. Ten credits. Here.” He handed her the chits. “Now get out of here.”
She and Biggs brought up the rear. Neither of them spoke for some time.
Quietly, out of range of the others, Biggs said it. “You did it again, didn’t you.”
“Yeah,” she said, not looking at him.
“It’s bad luck,” he said after a minute. “Huff says people who did that stuff got taken away by the Imps.”
“People say they don’t come back. Not even their bodies.”
“I know, Biggs.”
“You know I won’t say anything, right?”
“Better not,” she said, staring straight at him with a grim expression. Then they both started laughing.
“What so funny back there?” asked Tank.
“Nothing,” Leia said. She hurried to catch up, leaving Biggs with the sled. “Hey, Camie,” she said. The girl was somehow snuggling with Fixer and walking at the same time, which Leia didn’t even think was possible without one of them tripping over the other.
Camie wriggled out from under Fixer’s arm. “What?” she said. And then said it again as Leia shoved the ten credits into her hand.
“Put it towards parts for the T-16,” Leia said.
“Why can’t we split it?” Tank asked.
“Because I’m the one who shot it and I get to decide,” she replied.
“I brought the specs we used to find the rat and Biggs snuck the caster out of Huff’s stash,” he protested. “So we should get a cut.” Tank glanced at Camie and Fixer. “Sorry, guys.”
“Camie finishing the skyhopper is good for all of us,” Leia said. “We’d finally have something we could fly.”
“Yeah, but one at a time,” said Fixer. “It doesn’t fit passengers.”
“So we take turns for now,” Leia said. Then an idea occurred to her. “Hey, if Camie can put a small cannon on this thing, we could probably bullseye more of those womp rats and collect the bounties. Then we could afford more hoppers.”
“Then we could race!” Biggs broke in, excited.
The others nodded. As usual, Leia got her way.