Buck did not like Gammorr much.
If it were not for the fact that the Rogue had developed engine trouble on its return journey from Kayyyshk, Buck would have found no reason to land on this planet. It was not that he had any personal dislike of Gammorr or Gammoreans in general but the race had a tendency to be drawn to quick profit and since he and his ship were on the high side of an Imperial wanted list, Buck knew it was a matter of time before some Gammorean tried to cash in on their presence here. At the moment, he and JD were presently utilizing the maintenance facilities provided by the spaceport where their ship was presently berthed. Even though Buck had opted one of the smaller trading posts on which to land the Rogue, he was still uneasy.
He supposed he had been this way ever since he joined the rebellion as more than just a courier. Despite himself, Buck knew he had some unresolved issues at being forced into a situation where he was required to give up the carefree existence of starship captain that he loved. He knew at the time it could not be helped, the circumstances had developed which required him to make a choice and yet lately, he was wondering if perhaps, he had not made a mistake to throw his lot in with the rebellion as he had. Unfortunately, the die was now cast and he was trapped in their service, unable to go anywhere else and for a pilot who had the stars as his playground, it was a savagely narrow cage he found himself inhabiting these days.
Fortunately, the young man who was presently replacing the power coupling to the deflector shield modulator was one of the reasons why Buck tolerated his tenure in the rebellion instead of heading for deep space, beyond the reach of either the rebellion or the Empire. JD Dunne had rekindled something inside of him that was reminded of what it was to be young. Through JD, Buck had found his friendship with Chris Larabee had improved from what it was in the wake of Sarah and Adams death because Buck no longer felt compelled to save Chris from himself when JD required his guidance. JD had arrived at a point when Buck had been ready to give up on Chris and as always, the Jedi had surprised Buck by finding salvation on his own when Buck's back was turned. In some ways, they were closer now then they had even been but Buck had come to realise that their friendship could never be what it once was and thanks to JD, Buck was okay with that.
There was little more than an hour of work left to be done on the Rogue and Buck was wasting no time in getting it accomplished. JD too seemed to realise the importance of getting the repairs completed even though Buck sensed the young man would have liked to take a look at Gammorr. Not that there was much to see in Bucks opinion, the Gammoreans were not the most attractive race as far as female company was concerned. The women of the species would consider Buck a child and he was the tallest among the seven. They would probably consider JD a snack. Besides, the places that had a more varied range of females were probably the same places he and JD would do well to stay away from. In a matter of hours, they would be back at the rebel base and JD could continue his passionate non-interest in Casey Wells.
Such thoughts inevitably brought him to Inez and once again, Buck felt that bubble of jealousy he knew he had no right to feel. She was not his wife any more, he told himself repeatedly, even taking on the tone that Chris had used to make that point so succinctly. Ezra was a good man and Buck could tell that the Imperial captain had no intention of trifling with her feelings. Buck could not even bring himself to imagine that she might be in love with the suave and charming commander of Cordoba Base because it would rip the heart out of him. There were many things he had regretted in his life but none as much as agreeing to go their separate ways when things had gotten bad between he and Inez. He knew it then that he had been making a mistake because he still loved her. No matter what the arguments and the changes in their life, that much had remained consistent. He loved her then and he loved her still.
The odd thing was, he did not know how much until she had started turning towards Ezra.
"Hey Buck," JD spoke up, stepping out from the underside of the Rogue's hull. "I'm done."
Buck blinked and remembered that he was supposed to be working on the hyperdrive converter and immediately put the finishing touches to the device before sliding its casing back into place. "So am I," he responded and emerged from the compartment before dropping down onto the floor of the berth. He wiped the sweat from his brow and strode to meet JD. "I say we grab something to eat and get the hell out of here. I think there's some place to eat in the space port."
"You sure?" JD looked at him, aware of how anxious Buck was to get off Gammorr. The younger man had a feeling that whatever was bothering Buck was not simply the fact that they had to make an unscheduled stop here. He had noticed something in the big man's manner of late, which indicated he had something on his mind he was not about to tell JD. JD could not blame him of course. Even the youth was not blind to his lack of experience. However, he did find it odd why Buck was not talking to Chris or perhaps even Vin.
"Something wrong Buck?" JD asked as they stared towards the hangar door.
"What makes you ask?" Buck returned self consciously, unaware that his mood was reflected in his manner. He often tried to hide how he felt especially in front of JD because Buck and Chris shared the same opinion that their feelings were no ones business but their own, except that he was not above talking about it when it was clearly needed.
"You seem kind of out of it," JD remarked and seemed a little nervous about asking. "I mean if you dont want to talk to me about it, I understand. I know Im just a kid and all, well at least to you."
Buck wondered if that innocent farm boy routine was exactly what it was or was JD craftier than he looked because the statement had the desired effect of making Buck feel guilty enough to concede taking JD into his confidence. He hoped it was the former. "It aint nothing serious," Buck said first and foremost. "Im just feeling a little down about what Im doing with myself these days. It wasnt my idea to join the rebellion full time you know."
JD nodded in understanding; perfectly aware of how Bucks life could sometimes spiral out of control His need to lend a helping hand was what often precipitated the sweeping changes in his life. JD had entered his life because Buck refused to sit by and let him become the property of a Rodian slaver. It was the same good intentions that had forced Buck to embark upon the mission to save Nathan Jackson following their first meeting. Nathans capture by Imperial agents had been the catalyst that made Buck assume a role beyond that of a mere courier in the rebellion. Unfortunately, Imperial forces had apprehended him and his ship and Bucks name were promptly placed on the wanted lists as soon as they had identified both. Once that was done, Bucks free-spirited existence had come to an abrupt end.
"I know how you feel," JD replied, drawing from his own experiences in order to let Buck know that in part, he understood. "I mean I never thought Id be where I am now when I left Odete, although if it werent for you Id probably in the Rim some where, as someones slave."
"You would done fine," Buck answered, giving JD a warm look of affection. "I just stopped you from making a bad mistake. At your age, as green as you were back then, you were more than a little entitled to make one. I can tell you of a couple of dumb things I did when I was your age. Dumber in fact that you can possibly imagine."
"I dont know," JD flashed Buck a mischievous grin. "If I listen to Chris right, I can imagine quite a bit."
Buck frowned and reminded himself to have a few words with the Jedi when he saw the man again. Ruining his reputation with his young companion had consequences, especially ones involving four women and a weeklong orgy in Coruscant when the Jedi was not as disciplined as he was now. Buck allowed himself a vicious smile when he considered how Chris would like it if he told Mary that story. The opportunity to amuse himself at Chris expense came to an end when the doors to the berth slid open just before the two men reached it.
Standing there, along with two heavy set Gammorreans who were armed was Nardo, the Rodian slaver/ smuggler that often crossed swords with Buck in the past. Buck went for his side arm immediately but Nardo was more than prepared for resistance and had drawn before the door had even slid open.
"Hello Weelmington," the Rodian hissed, his tapering snout twitching as he spoke.
"Nardo," Buck said coldly, exuding calm even though he had abandoned any attempt to retrieve his weapon.
"It's good to see you again Weelmington," Nardo answered in a sinister tone and then turned his green skinned head towards JD. "Hello pup."
"Who you calling pup?" JD snapped angrily.
"Youre just a pup," Nardo sneered, enjoying being in a position of power over the two men, in particular Buck. He turned around and faced the star pilot after a second of waiting to see if JD would react, giving him the excuse to shoot and was disappointed when the boy did not give him the pleasure.
"If it were up to me," the Rodians voice sounded no less malevolent through the translator device. "If it were up to me Weelmington, I would kill you now and be done with it. I know it was you who gave the Empire my name and claimed that I was some kind of rebel. I spend two months in their cells and you cannot imagine what I endured there."
"I hope you got up close and friendly with your cell mates," Buck remarked with a little smile, triumphant of that much at least. When Buck had been under interrogation by the Imperial commander during his ill fated attempt to rescue Nathan Jackson, there had come a point when the commander was more than ready to kill JD in an effort to coax information from the closed mouth pilot. Out of sheer desperation, Buck had offered him Nardos name in order to stop that from happening and had managed to keep JD alive until they were eventually rescued by Chris, Vin and Ezra much later in the day.
"I should kill you!" He jammed the gun in Bucks belly more than prepared to fire when one of the Gammorreans bellowed sharply at him and stopped the Rodian before he could pull the trigger.
JD let out a visible breath of relief as Nardos gun withdrew and Buck could not deny feeling similar amounts of gratitude for an extension of life, even though he was not about to give Nardo the satisfaction of showing the Rodian that he was at all afraid about dying. Nardo would have killed him already if he did not need Buck for something and while he may be making all the noises, Buck had a feeling that it was the Gammorreans behind him who were really pulling the strings.
"What do you want with me?" Buck demanded, directing his question, not at Nardo but rather at his Gammoreans companions, an act, which infuriated Nardo to no end because he wanted to be the one in charge.
The two Gammorreans looked at each other and the leader of the two spoke. He was larger than most Gammorreans Buck had seen in his lifetime. His porcine face was deep set and made him look quite formidable. Buck had no doubt that this was not a man to anger in any shape or form and it looked like Nardo knew it too.
"My name is Selkik," the Gammorrean introduced himself.
Buck recognized the name and it chilled his insides. "Selkik, the Hutt enforcer?"
Selkik nodded and with that affirmation told Buck they were in serious trouble indeed, far more than might be imagined when he had thought Nardo was in charge. "What do the Hutts want with me?" Buck asked with a little more respect in his voice than he had displayed to Nardo. With the Hutt gangsters involved, a little diplomacy was essential if they were going to survive the next hour.
"His Excellency, the most powerful and all knowing Jabba the Hutt has requested your presence on a task he requires undertaken in the Almania sector," Selkik answered.
He was surprisingly well spoken for a Gammorean, Buck thought. Most of the time, the race could manage little more than grunts and that was through the universal translator. However, there was something about Nardo being here and the Almania sector that made Buck extremely nervous. "The Almania sector? Why me? Place is almost on the other side of the galaxy, Im pretty sure that Jabba has a dozen pilots who could fit the bill better."
"His Excellency requires you," Selkik repeated himself and Buck noticed Nardos face contorting slightly into the Rodian version of a smile. Suddenly Buck had a bad feeling what it was that Jabba wanted him to do.
"If youre thinking the Maw, you might as well shoot me now," Buck said firmly and completely serious. "Im not taking my ship in there."
"The what?" JD looked at him questioningly.
"His excellency has urgent business that requires you going through that particular area of space," Selkik responded smoothly, ignoring JDs question as Buck had.
"Theres no way!" Buck declared in exasperation. "It's impossible."
"We have it on good authority that for you it is very possible," Selkik countered, his eyes shifting in Nardos direction enough to let Buck know who had given Jabba the idea of using him.
"I almost got myself killed trying to get through it!" Buck retorted. "You might as well shoot me now cause I aint doing it!"
"We would not be so unkind as to shoot you Weelmington," Nardo said smugly. "After all, I do not believe you can do it again. Youre not as young as you used to be and you humans get slow in your old age. But perhaps this boy .."
"No!" Buck shouted before he could even let the idea form in his mind. "You sons of bitches! He doesnt even know what it is!" This time his outburst engendered even Selkik drawing his weapon and Buck felt JDs hands restraining him.
"Buck!" JD retorted. "Take it easy!"
"It will be you or it will be him," Selkik cut through Bucks outburst. "The choice is yours."
Buck stared at JD, feeling his heart pound inside his chest. The kid did not even know what they were talking about, why should he? Unless one was an experienced star pilot or Nardo, there was no reason for JD to know what the Maw was. However, one thing was certain, the kid was certainly not going in his place.
"Alright," Buck said in a low voice full of smoldering anger. "Ill do it." He glared at Nardo with hatred and made a promise to feed the Rodian his liver before this was all over.
If he survived the Maw that is.
"Oh boy," Nathan Jackson let out a deep breath when he read the crew manifest of the ship that had just arrived from the core worlds and was presently carrying out docking procedures within the hangar of the rebel base.
Mary Travis, Alexandra Styles, Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner had just seen the departure of Marys young son Billy back to his grandfather on Bakura. Nathan could not help feeling a little sad to see the boy go but supposed he understood Marys reason for not wanting him to remain here with her. When the possibility existed that they could be set upon by Imperial warships at a moments notice, Nathan could appreciate why Mary would want her son out of harms way. Still there was no doubt that the boys presence the last month had been a tonic not only for his mother, after the death of Stephen Travis but generally everyone who came into contact with him. There was nothing more affirming about the cause that they were fighting when in the presence of a young child who would someday benefit from all the struggles they were enduring today.
"Mary," Nathan called out as he saw Mary and the others leaving the launch pad where they had seen Billy off to Bakura on a transport, which by now was jumping to hyperspace above the skies of Siraj 2.
The leader of the rebel base looked up at him, a bittersweet smile on her face that showed her sadness at seeing her son return home to his grandfather but also gratitude in knowing that he was safe in his departure. Her eyes glistened but there were no signs of tears and with Alex holding onto her arm in a show of sisterly support, the woman held up quite well. Even Chris Larabee seemed a little melancholic and no one could have been blind to how much the boy had meant to the Jedi personally these past few weeks.
"How you doing?" Nathan asked when he approached her.
"Oh Im fine," Mary answered with a sigh. "I knew I couldnt keep him around me forever but it was so nice having him here for awhile."
"Tell me about it," Vin Tanner found himself confessing. "Im gonna miss that kid."
"Youre just a big softy," Alex remarked even though she felt just as sorry to see Billy go. He reminded her so much of Stephen that sometimes, it was hard to think of her brother being gone when she looked into the cherubic face of his son.
"We just had a ship come in from command," Nathan announced. Command was the term given by its members to the central hub of the Rebel Alliance, where its leader Mon Mothma and other highly placed and visible personnel took refuge. It was from Command that most of the Alliance policy was formed and strategy was mapped out. Mary had spent time there before she had arrived in Wild Space and it was widely known that transports from command normally brought new personnel to add to the complement in the Territory's enclave of the Rebel Alliance.
"Command?" Mary looked up, all business now. "Are we expecting any new personnel?"
"Yes," Nathan took a deep breath in anticipation of an outburst. "Remember last month when we had all that trouble?"
"As opposed to what?" Mary retorted sardonically.
"I think Nathan means when you had that sanitation problem," Chris pointed out helpfully, a small smile curling at the corner of the Jedi's lips as he saw Nathan trying to reveal something he was certain Mary was not going to like.
"Sanitation problem?" Mary looked over her shoulder. "That was putting it mildly. Our recycling system completely broke down and sanitation units in every living quarters began overflowing. Naturally of course when a problem of this magnitude happens, people tend to forget the normal chain of command and go to maintenance about it. Instead, they flood my office with calls as if it was not flooded enough as it was."
"Yuck," Alex exclaimed with distaste. "Suddenly, I am so glad I'm a deep cover operative."
"No kidding," Vin chuckled "There was crap..."
"We get the idea," Mary retorted frostily and gave him a look that was very much the commander of the base and one that would have done the Larabee glare proud. "What about it Nathan?" Mary returned to the issue at hand, facing her captain once again.
"Well remember I told you that command thought that we had a little morale problem and you told me to transmit a message to them saying if they could better, to come down here and try?"
Mary straightened up and narrowed her eyes. "Yes?" Her voice reeked of suspicion and caution all at once.
"They've appointed us a morale officer."
"A morale officer," Mary said calmly.
"What's a morale officer supposed to do?" Vin asked, unfamiliar with the term.
"Cause more trouble than they're worth," Alex responded quickly.
"Not on my station," Mary declared firmly and Chris saw her jaw set, an expression which usually meant that this as far as she was concerned, this was her base and neither God nor Country was going to tell her how to run it. "I will not have a morale officer running around the place trying make people cheer up! I want my people alert and aware of what's happening around them, not letting some idiot who had probably never served a day in uniform, who got slapped with some honorary goddamn rank, telling them to lighten when at any moment they could all get killed!"
"So how do you really feel about it?" Alex could not help muttering.
"That's it," Mary glared at Alex, deciding she was not in the mood for this today. "Get off my base!"
"Be careful I just might," Alex grinned, giving her old friend a playful wink.
"So who is the morale officer they've saddled me with?" Mary groaned with resignation as she saw Chris giving her a sympathetic look, which did much for her disposition and her acceptance of the inevitable. How was that man capable of calming her so? A question for another day, she told herself as she waited for Nathan's response.
"A Captain Perkins," Nathan explained looking at the crew manifest. When he raised his eyes, he noticed the passengers from the transport disembarking and one of them was headed straight towards them. Remembering he had a question to answer, Nathan took his eyes off the woman approaching and looked at Mary again. "Captain Louisa Perkins."
"Oh no," Mary was already shaking her head in abject denial while Alex started to laugh. Both Chris and Vin looked singularly confused as Mary started to rave. "Not on my base. I am not having that woman on my base!"
"Why Mary," a new voice entered the mix. "Is that any way to talk about your new morale officer?"
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