Shortly before Chris Larabee had been struck with Force blindness, the Rogue landed on the planet Myrkr.
Myrkr was strangely idyllic in its way. Its lack of mineral ore and its distance from the main space lanes has ensured that the planet remained virtually uninhabited except to the native wildlife that had always been there. Buck himself had never had reason to travel to Myrkr and beyond its existence on the galactic star charts had no other reason to think about the system at all. Upon entering the upper atmosphere and making his slow descent to landing co-ordinates provided by Selkik, Jabbas enforcer, Buck was treated to his first view of the surface. From space, it was evident abundant life survived here just from the nitrogen oxygen rich atmosphere that gave the planet an inviting emerald glow. However as the Rogue from the atmosphere and he journeyed to the surface, Buck was treated to a world with large tracts of forest land, oceans teaming with life and the vision of a serenity that made him wish that he had come here under better circumstances.
The designated landing site was a clearing in a middle of a thick forest composed mostly of trees that Buck was certain were hundred of years old judging by the width of their thick trunks and by the height they seemed to reach. Their branches were equally formidable, all heavy with leave that when combined together created a thick canopy that blocked out the sunlight for those beneath. Buck felt a sense of outrage realising that his landing site had been land recently cleared for the evidence of burnt trees and charred grass stared at him from the ground. Somehow it did not feel right seeing such destruction in these pristine surroundings.
There was another ship already waiting for them when the Rogue landed although this one was a great deal smaller than the freighter, capable of carrying only three passengers at the most. The little skip jumper as it was called generally was modified for speed and without even being told, Buck determined that its passengers were most likely Jabbas people for their vessel had just the type of adjustment required by the demands of being under Hutt employ. The trio awaiting them was also very much of Jabbas ilk. A Chandra Fan, clearly the leader was a small rodent like creature known by their amazing ability to track. A Trandoshian whom most rebels would consider to be from a race of traitors since it was the Trandoshians who first introduced the idea of making Kashyyyk a slave labour force, was mostly the muscle, Buck decided. The last of the three was the Trandoshians protégé, a young Twileki who went by the name of Bib Fortuna.
"Have you gathered them?" Selkirk asked the Chandra Fan named Elera.
"Yes," Elera replied. "Two dozens as Jabba requested."
The diminutive alien turned away from the new arrivals and started walking toward his ship. The Trandoshian Rhussk stared at Buck Wilmington with obvious distaste. Trandoshians had no love for rebels and were known to turn any in that came across their path as if it were a matter of national pride. Buck returned the reptilians glare with the challenge that if he were to make that attempt, he would not live to regret it. Selkik grunted at Rhussk in Gammorrean and Buck guessed by the manner the Trandoshian pulled back, it was a warning of incurring Jabbas extreme displeasure if the human were killed before he could perform the task required. Buck gave the Trandoshian a little sneer, daring him to come at him and relished the fury in Rhussks eyes when he could not.
They rounded the skip tracer and were confronted by a number of steel cages. Within the cages, scurrying around in a scattered disorganised state was the yslamiri. For a moment Buck thought that his was some kind of a joke. He had expected something worthy of the risks he was taking to ferry it to Bastion but the animals he spied in their cages appeared more like creatures children would keep as pets. They were small and furry, no more than a foot from nose to tail. Their bodies were long but covered in smooth brown belt and they looked as harmless as any life form he had ever seen. They paused at the new comers and stood on their rear legs to take an exploratory sniff with their small nose from which fine whiskers were dangling.
"You got to be kidding me." Buck stared at Selkik in accusation. "You want me to brave the Maw, just to carry those things?"
"We have been told that they are creatures of great importance," Selkik responded. "The Grand Admiral was willing to pay handsomely for their capture and sale."
Buck glanced at the creature scampering in their cages and for the life of him could not see the reason why. They were cute and no doubt the kind of thing to make females and young children squeal in delight but valuable enough to take through the Maw in order to avoid Imperial detection? It simply did not make sense. Unfortunately, whether or not it made sense to Buck was not important, what did matter was the fact that unless he transported these animals to their new home on Bastion, JD Dunne was as good as dead. With that in mind, Buck brushed aside the importance or lack of, of these creatures and conceded that he would be taking them to Bastion one way or another.
"Your dime I guess," Buck frowned. "I kind of thought you might be curious why youre risking your necks for these things."
"We are risking nothing," Rhussk retorted. "We are getting well paid to play trappers."
"And you do it so well," Buck gave the Trandoshian a disgusted look.
"I have found something interesting though," the Chandra Fan announced. "I have discovered what appears to be a Jedi relic while we were engaged in the hunt."
"Jedi, pah!" The Trandoshian sneered. "Their kind is gone."
"Not all," Nardo glanced at Buck. "You is friend to one, are you not?"
Buck swore under his breath, realising that Nardo who frequented Cordoba just as much as he would have been aware of his association with Chris Larabee. During the period when Chris was hell bent on killing himself either by the liquor or the bounty hunters that attempted to claim his head for the Empire, Chris had been highly visible on Cordoba and Buck along with him. Although there was no real harm in they knowing about Chris, Buck nonetheless was unhappy about it, not wishing to be in any more of a disadvantage than he already was.
"Ive known a few in my time," Buck admitted somewhat reluctantly as all eyes fixed upon him.
"The relic is inscribed in an pre-Republic text," Elera, who seemed quite intelligent, explained as if what was found intrigued him on a personal level beyond the monetary value of the endeavour he had been paid to accomplish.
"Pre-Republic?" Buck exclaimed. "Thats more than 5,000 years!"
The Jedi Council had been known to exist for nearly 3000 years and before that the order was not exactly called the Jedi even though they had been ingrained in the fabric of the civilised galaxy for as long as there had been life to remember it. Buck did not realise until this moment the magnitude of the Jedis extinction. Suddenly Buck felt very deeply for Chris and had empathy for his old friend not only for the loss of his kind but what that meant for the galaxy as a whole. It was as if something important was lost forever, thanks to the machinations of Darth Vader and his master, the Emperor.
"So what does it say?" The Twileki named Bib Fortuna inquired.
"I do not understand for sure," the Chandra Fans nose twitched unhappily and for a moment, did not look unlike the yslamiri that Buck would soon be taking off world. "I think it is a warning to stay away from this world."
"There must be powerful weapons here then," Rhussk immediately declared. "Something that would kill Jedi."
Buck could already see the greed forming in the reptilians eyes and Buck could tell the Trandoshian had plans of selling the location of this place to the Empire. More than ever, he wished he could get word to the Rebellion because Chris of all people needed to know about this place. The Jedi were already dying out in large number, Chris and a few others still remained but if there was some kind of weapon on this world that could destroy them too, then the Jedi fire would become extinct in the galaxy. That was something Buck could not stomach in any shape or form. However, Buck need not have worried because Selkik had also see the glimmer in the Trandoshians eyes.
"You will say nothing about this place Rhussk," Selkik said firmly with enough command in his voice to indicate that if the Rhussk did not obey here and now, he would be killed immediately. "The Admiral was specific about maintaining its shroud of secrecy. Sell its location to the highest bidder and I swear to you there will be no place in this galaxy you can hide that he will not find you. Even his Excellency the mighty Jabba does not wish to anger this being."
"He is just an Imperial lackey," Rhussk snarled but Buck could see he was clearly shaken by the vehemence of the threat.
"Rhussk," Selkik eyed him carefully. "If you should feel compelled to tell about this place after we have paid you well, Jabba too has a long reach and if you do not feel threatened by an Imperial admiral then I hope you are mindful of his excellencys desire, I have no wish for you to visit the Pit of Karkoon."
Buck stared at Selkik wondering what the hell that was but the question was driven away by the relief he felt when he saw the enormity of what the Trandoshian faced sink into the reptiles psyche. Buck had no doubt that Rhussk would maintain his silence. Still, Bucks own curiosity regarding the history of Myrkr was aroused and if he ever made it back to the Alliance, made a promise to himself to find out all he could about this world.
Something told him that it was in the interest of the Jedi to do so.
The ETA for Bucks arrival at the rebel base came and went with no sign of the Rogue.
Mary had received a com transmission from Josiah who was still on Kashyyyk, informing that Buck had left on schedule and there did not seem any portents of danger during that departure that might have given Josiah any concerns for Bucks return to the Alliance. What had happened to Buck after the Rogue blasted off Kashyyyk was anyones guess and Chris was once again revisited by that terrible image of blackness that had kept him from reaching Buck. He knew Buck was not dead, that much the darkness had not been able to keep from him but he could sense little else. It was very possible that Buck was in a coma and his mind in such a state of limbo that nothing could breach the walls of his neural dysfunction. Chris tried not to give that possibility too much credence.
Vin was more than prepared to accompany him in the search for Buck, even though Chris had made it clear that he was under no obligation to do so. The former bounty hunter was currently preparing the Tracker for departure since there was wisdom in having two ships if one of them needed to return to the Alliance for help. He also hoped to sneak away before Mary carried out her foolish plan to accompany him. Chris had the sneaking suspicion that Mary's eagerness to follow him on his search had more to do with her escaping Louisa Perkins for awhile rather than rescuing Buck. Not that Mary would not put herself in danger for the pilot if required but she had to know that Chris was more than capable of handling things on his own without her presence at his side.
Chris was preparing his ship for take off when Mary entered the hangar and immediately spotted him beneath the X-wing. As he saw her walking towards him, he resolved himself not to be deterred from his intention to leave. Mary had a way of putting things so reasonably that Chris had no choice but to comply but not this time, he could feel an invisible clock somewhere in the background and each tick made him more convinced that Buck was running out of time. However, as Mary approached, Chris started to sense something from her that was not just her desire to have him remain or for that matter take him with her.
"Chris," Mary spoke up as she reached the X-Wing. "We've just had a transmission from Cordoba," she announced, not even noticing that he was readying the X-wing to leave.
"From Inez?" Chris guessed and while he did not say it, information that came from Inez usually originated from Ezra Standish.
"Yes," she nodded. "Ezra informed her that the Rogue was on Gammorr."
Chris paused what he was doing and stared at her. "On Gammorr?" He asked. "What the hell is he doing on Gammorr and how did Ezra find out?"
"I'm not sure," she shook her head trying to make sense of the pieces as Inez had imparted it to her. "Apparently he was in Gammorr and when he took off, he used the original registration codes for his ship instead the forced registration we provided him with so he could get past docking authorities without trouble. The minute he did that, docking authorities notified Ezra."
"That don't make sense," Chris mused coming towards her. "Unless he was in trouble."
"I'd say so," Mary agreed with that assertion. "Unfortunately, we have no idea where he went from Gammorr. Ezra said that he forged some kind of flight plan but that's almost certainly a forgery."
"We have to go there," Chris stated firmly, realising that finally he had somewhere to begin. "We need to go Gammorr." He started towards the Tracker on the far side of the hanger where Vin Tanner was presently conducting pre-flight preparations on his vessel.
"I'm coming with you," Mary stated firmly.
Chris had hoped she had given up that notion but her voice indicated other wise. "Mary, this isn't such a good idea."
"Chris I can take care of myself," she said trying not to sound annoyed at his remark.
"I know that," he looked at her. "But if we run into trouble, you're too valuable to lose."
"Chris," Mary looked at him. "I know you're trying to protect me but I need to get out of here for awhile. It's not just the fact that I will probably kill Louisa if I don't get away from her but it's also the fact that I need to be doing something and not just waiting around for you and the others to come back."
He could sense the emotions from her and knew that she was telling him the truth. With Stephen's demise only weeks behind them, Chris could tell that she was still had very real fears about losing her friends just as tragically as she had lost her husband. He knew when it came to him, it was more than just friendship she felt and Chris could not deny that he felt the same way about her. Mary was still too fearful of losing the people she cared about by sitting back and doing nothing. How could he berate her for something he felt once too often himself. It would drive him just as insane to be sitting somewhere safety where other people risked their lives for something he ought to be taking active participation.
"Alright," Chris let out a breath and conceded defeat, wondering if there was ever any contest really regarding this matter. "You can come along."
"Well thank you," she said sarcastically and even Chris had to admit he sounded a little condescending but considering how insane she had been behaving since Louisa got here, he figured he owed her a little discomfort.
"Be nice," he glanced sideways and gave her a smile of mischief. "I might invite Louisa with us."
"Very funny," she glowered.
"So what is the story between you two anyway?" Chris asked good naturedly, taking his mind off Buck for a moment. "Other than the boy friend stealing?" He could not resist adding with a slight chuckle.
The remark garnered a sharp slap on his shoulder. "She just gets on the wrong side of me," Mary grumbled. "I mean she was always so feminine and graceful and one of those women that swoon when men say a word to her."
"I guess you're not the swooning type," he remarked with a completely straight face.
"I haven't met a man yet that was worth the swoon," she said sweetly, giving him a look.
"And you say Alex and I are bad," Vin Tanner laughed as he stared at them from on top of his ship where he had been making some minor repairs to the hull. He had Mary and Chris' conversation and felt rather gratified to know that even a full Jedi could be just as juvenile as an apprentice could when the mood took him.
"Vin," Chris suddenly became serious. "The Rogue was spotted on Gammorr. You've been there haven't you?"
Vin walked to the edge of his ship and sat down with an immediate frown replacing the chuckle that had been on his lips an instant ago. "Hell, that is not good news."
"That bad?" Chris asked, sensing the dark emotions that were emanating from the younger man.
"Bad enough," Vin replied. "If anyone recognised him or the ship, you can bet your ass they would sold him out as fast as possible. Gammorreans are mostly big and dumb and they like to make quick money. If they can't do it by playing muscle, they'll doing by playing the informant game. I would have thought an old space jockey like Buck would know better than to land there."
"I don't think it was intentional," Mary explained as the former bounty hunter listened from his lofty position. "When he left Gammorr, he used the original registration codes for the Rogue."
"Make sense," Vin exchanged a look with Chris, "if he is in trouble, that's the surest way to get word to us without tipping off who has him."
"Except that who has him isn't the Empire," Chris pointed out, gleaning that much from what Mary had told him about Inez's information. "Apparently, docking authorities on Gammorr alerted Ezra on Cordoba to the presence of the Rogue, expecting him to call in to the Empire."
"I remember," Vin nodded, recalling how Ezra had once said that he had issued orders than any information regarding either the Tracker or the Rogue be sent on directly to him. It was Ezra's way of being alerted to any of them being in danger so that he might be able to help if necessary.
"If it isn't the Empire, who could it be?" Mary asked.
"Bounty hunters," Vin said without having to think twice. "Every one of us has a substantial price on our heads. If he was taken on Gammorr, I'm guessing that it's was a bounty hunter."
"Vin there's something else," Chris said reluctantly, "I can't find him with the Force."
"What?" Vin's eyes widened and the apprentice immediately started descending from the top of the ship by way of a set of rungs against the hull that led to the hangar deck. Within moment, he was facing Chris with the same astonishment on his face as when Chris had told Mary. "How? I thought you told me the Force was everywhere."
"I know," Chris nodded, "but it's not around Buck."
"Wait a minute," Vin started to say, a memory reawakening. "Remember when we were in the Corporate Sector when we approached the Black Sun's hideout?"
"It was exactly the same as that," Chris concluded, having already guessed what Vin said particularly since he thought about it when he had time to reflect upon the blackness he encountered when he had attempted to find Buck. "Whatever was deflecting the Force at the Black Sun's domicile is now doing it around Buck."
"There was no Force adept there," Mary retorted, recalling her time at Black Sun well enough to know that much for certain. "In fact, I had the impression Laurel Chase did not think about the Jedi very much at all."
"I know what I felt," Chris said firmly. "It was like going blind. One minute I could see and the next, everything went black, especially when I tried to link up with Buck."
"Chris," Vin let out a deep breath, reluctant to bring this possibility up but they had to be realistic and exhaust every idea. "Could he be dead?"
"No," Chris said automatically and with conviction. "He's not dead. If he died, I would have felt it."
"Chris," Mary suddenly realised that they had been speaking so much about Buck that they had forgotten one very important thing. "What about JD?"
Chris' eyes widened. "JD. I never even thought about it," the Jedi mused feeling profoundly ashamed that he had forgotten about the young man. "I assumed that he was with Buck."
"He would be," Mary pointed out. "However, if you cannot find Buck, can you find JD?"
Chris had to think on that for an instant. He did not JD as well as Buck or as long. There were some connections that were naturally binding, like his connection to Vin for instance. However that was more than just time and years of friendship, his link to Vin was established by the fact that they were both Force adept. He was not certain he could be so precise with JD.
"I'm not sure," he confessed. However, even as the words left his mouth, another was following close after it. "But I'm sure as hell going to try."
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