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We have to get access to those hyperspace routes that the Separatist droids haven’t seized yet. Without that, we’ll never be able to take the Outer Rim worlds. Unfortunately, that means we need the cooperation of the Hutts.
Chancellor Palpatine, on the logistics problems facing the Grand Army of the Republic
Ziro the Hutt’s palace, uscru district, Coruscant
“Could you kill a child?”
Count Dooku thought it was an odd question, coming as it did from Ziro. The Hutt had been perfectly happy to go along with the idea of kidnapping his nephew’s baby son. But if he’d thought through the reality of grabbing Jabba’s gangland power, then wiping out all rivals, even baby heirs, had to be high on his list of priorities.
Maybe it wasn’t. And that would be a fatal mistake.
“Could you?” Dooku responded casually. “Isn’t he almost your flesh and blood too?”
Ziro blinked, passing the nictitating membranes across his eyes with slow deliberation. It was the Hutt equivalent of raising a sarcastic eyebrow. The private chamber was deserted, with not even a serving droid to overhear them.
“You don’t understand us, even if you speak our language far better than most realize,” Ziro said at last. “He’s Jabba’s bloodline. Not mine. So I do whatever it takes, and my priority is my own offspring.”
Ziro might have been playing the hard case, or he might have been serious. If he was serious, then Dooku hoped for his sake that he was ready to kill Jabba, too, because his nephew would send every assassin in Hutt space after him if he found out his uncle was responsible.
“Try not to be too hasty,” Dooku said. Don’t blow this before I get what I need. The ploy was buying time. “Extract maximum leverage from this.”
“You don’t have to explain long-term strategy to a Hutt,” Ziro rasped.
Dooku tried to stop himself from falling into a chain of reasoning with Ziro. It would bring the delicate edifice of his own operation crashing down if he said anything that made Ziro wonder if this kidnapping was going to achieve anything for him. Dooku wasn’t convinced that taking Rotta would dislodge or even weaken Jabba’s grip on power, but Ziro thought it would reduce his nephew to mere clay in his hands—which was all Dooku needed.
Dooku was certain of one thing, though: harming the Huttlet would unleash a tidal wave of incredible vengeance, and Jabba was going to be around a long, long time to make sure he found everyone involved in the kidnapping and punished them in his uniquely inventive way.
Dooku was counting on it. He wanted the Hutt in the Separatist camp, and the way to do that was to frame the Jedi for Rotta’s disappearance.
But if Ziro’s cover is blown—then he has to be silenced. We can’t have Jabba realizing he’s been maneuvered by us . . .
It would be too bad if anything happened to Ziro. After Jabba was signed up, Ziro’s fate was inevitable; he would have to be silenced before he implicated Dooku.
Either Hutt would do, though, in a pinch. It didn’t matter if it was Jabba or Ziro who denied hyperspace passage to Republic forces. Dooku wasn’t selling ideology, and he was sure neither Hutt was buying.
“Of course not,” he said, smiling at a being he would kill without hesitation if he threatened his plans. He had no doubt that Ziro would do the same to him. “But you do have to consider what you’ll do with Rotta in the longer term.”
Ziro eased his bulk across the marble floor onto a platform strewn with shimmersilk cushions that he swept out of the way. Hutts needed smooth surfaces to move properly; carpeting and upholstery didn’t go well with a lubricating layer of slime. But Ziro surrounded himself with the finest examples of furnishing anyway. It was as if he wanted to show the rest of the galaxy how powerful he was in terms that other species could understand. Dooku didn’t despise that. He felt the faintest pang of pity. It explained the Hutts’ need to flaunt Twi’lek dancers and other glamorous humanoids, so radically, physically different that no Hutt could possibly have found them attractive. They collected them because humanoids coveted them, and so it sent the message clearly: I possess everything you lust after, so I have power over you.
It all came from fear. Hutts felt threatened at a subliminal level. Once Dooku worked that out, it had been far easier to deal with them by pressing gently on their paranoia.
“Rotta should be on Teth soon,” Dooku said, taking a slow turn to look at the doors. He could hear raised voices in the chamber beyond. He sensed anxiety; no unusual thing in a Hutt’s palace with a capricious boss. Maybe the servants couldn’t find whatever overpriced delicacy he’d sent them to procure. “Plenty of time to consider your position at your leisure.”
“I’m expecting confirmation any moment. Tell me, why do you hate your Jedi family so much?”
“They’re not my family, and haven’t been for a very long time,” Dooku said. “Does it matter?”
“Motivation is everything in business.”
“Lord Ziro, I suspect you really have no need to ask. Would you put your future in their hands?”
“I wouldn’t trust the Republic to do anything for Hutts except try to stop us from making a living.”
Ziro saw Jedi and Republic as one entity. Dooku had reached a similar conclusion years before. “And anyone who doesn’t want to be part of their happy Republic family must be a tyrant or an anarchist. If a world wants to leave, it’s accused of being undemocratic, because the will of its inhabitants doesn’t suit Coruscant. Such a beautifully embroidered veil of irony.”
“You don’t have to sell me on Separatism, Dooku. I don’t care about your politics, but I know in which sauce my gorog is marinated.” Ziro seemed the braggart in Jabba’s extended clan, but sometimes Dooku saw hints of a subtler intelligence underneath. He kept a cautious eye on that. “You help me get what I want, I help you get what you want.”
“Welcome to politics,” said Dooku. “Don’t delude yourself that it has to have party labels.”
Dooku steeled himself to relax. The doors suddenly snapped apart; two droids strode in at a brisk pace, and Dooku slid quietly into a shadowed alcove to watch unnoticed from the sidelines.
“Exalted Lord,” one said in a flat monotone. “We have bad news. Your nephew’s son has been kidnapped by criminals.”
Ziro reared up in feigned shock, then settled down again with a noise like slapping a wet stone. “It’s an outrage! Have they demanded a ransom? This is an insult to all Hutts! Organize a search team. We’ll find the scum who did this to poor Jabba.”
Ziro wasn’t a bad actor, all things considered. But even if he’d rehearsed it, his choice of words was revealing. Dooku noted that it was more about loss of face rather than concern for the child’s safety. But Hutts didn’t think like humans, and the social rules of organized crime were not those of middle-class Coruscant. He tried not to judge when his own species had so little to boast about at times.
Dooku listened, waiting for the droid to leave. Now to the next stage. Now to making sure that we lure the Jedi to Teth . . .
“There has been no ransom demand yet, Lord,” the droid said. “Most unusual.”
“I’ll see the scum fed to a rancor.” Ziro held out an imperious hand to the second droid. Dooku couldn’t quite see the other droid around the edge of the alcove. “Get me the comlink. Let me console my nephew. I expect all Hutts to rally around and help him.”
He’s really getting into the role . . .
“Lord Jabba is said to be inconsolable. He has asked the Republic to help—to send Jedi to find the child.”
Dooku was a hard man to surprise, but the thought of Jabba—Jabba—throwing himself on the sympathy of the Jedi hit him like a punch.
Why would the head of one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the galaxy, who could buy any number of bounty hunters and an intelligence network that many governments might envy, beg the Jedi for help?
It was an inexplicable move for a species—a gang lord—so concerned about loss of face, about looking weak, about being seen to be an easy target.
Not Jabba. And it will be explicable, if I think about it . . .
The Hutt was up to something appropriately slippery. Dooku wasn’t sure what that might be, so he was instantly on his guard. But it was the most perfect stroke of luck—unnaturally perfect—for Jabba to ask the Jedi to walk into his setup and implicate themselves in the kidnapping.
Some would say it was meant to be.
And while Dooku didn’t believe in luck half as much as he believed in the less random patterns of conspiracy, plot and counterplot, he wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity.
He hoped the Jedi Council would do the decent, upstanding, moral thing, and say yes.
He was certain that they would.
From the Hardcover edition.