CHAPTER ONE

The bounty hunter stepped off the ramp way of his ship and allowed his cobalt colored eyes to scan the horizon at the city that lay before him. As cities went, this one was hardly impressive. Then again, he had not expected it to be anything but such. He stared up at the twin suns and felt its heat burn into his skin but it was not especially uncomfortable. He was accustomed to such temperatures. He had grown up on Tatooine and was used to fighting Tusken Raiders to keep them from destroying the moisture vaporators on the farm he had been indentured. A part of him could not imagine growing up in such a place but he had. He was born a slave. He remembered his mother vaguely and since being human was not exactly a valuable commodity in the eyes of a Hutt, he had been sent to work in one of Jabba's many moisture farms.

Vin Tanner shook his head of such old memories, neither liking them nor disliking them. He remained oddly detached about his past, relieved only that his tenure as livestock had ended. The best thing about being stuck out on a moisture farm was that Jabba forgot you existed and eventually, he had learnt how to remove the electronic restraints that kept other slaves trapped in servitude. Removing them had allowed him to leave Tatooine forever. Securing the access lock on the main hatch of his ship, the Tracker, he continued his descent from the ramp and stepped onto the baked earth of Cordoba, the parched world where his latest bounty was presently waiting for him to claim.

In truth, he would have preferred not to take this job but the men who had come to him had given him little choice in the matter, find the target or be satisfied with never being able to come near a civilized star system for the rest of his life. Vin did not have much use for people as such but he did not wished to be a marked man and when Imperial agents made such an offer, one did not refuse without very good reason. What he could not understand was why the Empire was not handling this themselves.

Did they not have agents who knew how to deal with the Jedi?

For Vin, he hardly even believed the Jedi existed even though, like everyone else, he had heard the stories. There was said to be a time when the Jedi ruled supreme throughout the galaxy and that they brought peace and justice to many worlds for centuries. A youth growing up in Tatooine as a slave did not have the patience to believe in such tales, for no Jedi ever came to rescue him from his prison and what he achieved, he had done because he had decided he would. The galaxy was a hard place and by the time Vin had escaped the desert world to see for himself, the Jedi War had begun.

It began with the rise of Senator Palpatine to the position of Chancellor in the Republic Senate. Already starting to collapse under its own weight, with the added strife of corruption and too much bureaucracy, Palpatine had promised to remove the rot from the Senate. His idealism brought any supporters who believed in the dream of the Republic and wished to see it returned to its former glory. However, Palpatine's words and his true plans bore very little resemblance to each other when the final analysis was done. Once firmly entrenched in position, he established himself as Emperor and though the rumors intimidated that he might have been a Sith Lord, those who attempted to substantiate it did not live long enough to find out the complete truth. The galaxy that Vin Tanner knew was one where the Empire ruled with an iron fist and something as mythical as a Jedi Knight was hunted down and killed by the thousands.

They say a Jedi lived in Cordoba. Not a Jedi Master but Jedi Knight of the First Order. The Imperial agents claimed those who came for the man, usually died in the process but should Vin Tanner make the attempt and live, he would be very well compensated for his efforts. Vin had no fears of dying but he could not deny feeling a little superstition at going after a Jedi. The Empire had come to him because he was the best bounty hunter there was. He had learned to track over desert, he had learnt the craft from the Tusken Raiders, the desert warriors who roamed the plains of Tatooine and had accepted him once they discovered he was almost as hardy as they were. It was easy enough to apply the methodology involved to learn how to track over space and other terrain and from the onset of his career, his ability to bring in a bounty was said to be uncanny.

Still, hunting Jedi was dirty work and if it were not for the fact that his freedom would be in jeopardy, Vin would have turned the Empire down. However, a part of him was also curious to see a Jedi, which was why he had taken his ship and journeyed to the part of the galaxy known as the Territory. Known as such because much of it was uncharted and even beyond the reach of what was considered Imperial boundaries, it was a dangerous place that was considered to be the galactic wilderness. People who came to Cordoba came to hide and it made sense that if a Jedi wished to lose himself in anonymity when the rest of his kind were being hunted into extinction, this was a good place to do it.

However, a Jedi could not stay hidden for long and the one he sought, whose wife and child had been murdered because the child of Jedi could not be allowed to live to become a Jedi themselves, was one of the greatest. The Imperial agents who endowed him with this duty claimed that the Jedi was from Alderaan and was a veteran of the Clone Wars, a warrior in every sense of the word. Vin could not imagine a warrior disappearing into the wilderness while the rest of his kind were being murdered, it reeked of cowardice.

Whatever the reasons, Vin sighed as he left the docking bay and his ship, he supposed he would find out when he finally met Chris Larabee.

+ + + + + + +

At the same time that Vin Tanner was making his departure from the main space port on Cordoba, former Imperial officer Captain Nathan Jackson was entering the large complex in order to carry out some business of equal importance and no less dire circumstances should he fail. Even though his contacts on Alderaan had informed him countless times during the limbo between being told about the mission and carrying it out, that security had been absolutely fool proof, Nathan could not help being apprehensive. With the ashes of the Republic still relatively new, loyalties were still indistinct. Some were still dubious that the storm predicted not only by the Jedi before they were wiped out but also by the numerous members of the Senate who were now hiding from the Emperor.

However, the newly formed Rebel Alliance was not content to wait for the darkness to come. They had already been given ringside views on the collapse of the Republic and the establishment of an Emperor, something almost unheard of in almost ten thousand years of galactic unification. The idea of one man having complete autonomy over trillions of life forms did not bode well for the future. Then there were also the rumors about Palpatine himself and claims that he was that most terrifying of creatures, a Sith Lord. A rumor that seemed to be proven by Palpatine's hatred of the Jedi and his systematic annihilation of all members of that august body.

Nathan remembered seeing the Jedi Council building when he was visiting Coruscant with his father when he was a child. Even though he had sat through the tests and learnt unfortunately that he was not Forced adept enough to be one, he had always admired the movement. Those who became Jedi had powers beyond comprehension and yet they chose to serve those who did not. Though he was disappointed that he was not Jedi, Nathan had learnt other ways to defend the weaker and thus had chosen a career as a soldier, while at the same time possessing a fascination with the healing arts. Even though he would never be content being anything else, he was mildly surprised at his capacity to tend wounds and diagnose illnesses.

But things had changed considerably now.

Protecting those who were weaker as a soldier was no longer conducive to the current policies of the Empire. While the general population had no idea what was coming at them, the members of the Rebel Alliance through the rogue senators, had some idea of what Palpatine's long term plans for the galaxy involved. Even as he turned his back on Coruscant and his commission, non-human members of the military were being forced out. The policy of segregation though not set in stone was being adopted already. In governmental positions, anyone who was now human was being ejected quietly out of the bureaucracy and their replacements were entirely of human stock.

However, the policy of segregation did not simply involve the removal of non-human races from positions of powers but the full implementation was something so horrific that those who heard it could not even begin to imagine it happening. For as long as the Republic had lived, its most basic tenet was the inalienable right of all creatures to exist, that sentient beings no matter what shape or form would be afforded equal freedoms in the eyes of the law. Palpatine's policy of segregation would soon change all that. The Empire intended making slavery legal, in particular to non-human species. Already earmarked for annexation was Kashhyk, the Wookie home world.

The Wookies, a strong, powerful race were slatted to become a hard labor work force. Unfortunately, with most worlds relying on what was once the Republic Star Fleet to protect their borders, they would be ill equipped to stop the invasion that would come now that the Republic Star Fleet had become the Imperial Fleet. In fact, it would be the Imperial Fleet with its Star Destroyers and legions of Storm Troopers who would most likely take part in the conquest of Kashyyk and there would be nothing to stop them.

Except maybe the Rebel Alliance.

Despite its existence, even Nathan had to admit that the new alliance was in no position to halt a military invasion of that size. The movement was new with its chief benefactor being Alderaan. The manpower and resources required to prevent the military annexation of Kashhyk simply did not exist. As difficult as many members of the Alliance found it to tolerate, they could not intervene. However, despite its fledgling state, the Rebel Alliance was not wasting time. At the moment, it was on a program of consolidating all its personnel and forces. The main Rebel Base would be located on Datooine for the moment but Mon Mothma, its leader, had decree that it was best to establish resistance cells across the galaxy, scattering their leaders and their forces so that even if one were to fall, the movement would still live.

Which was why Nathan was here at the main spaceport at this time, awaiting the arrival of a small freight ship that would be coming from Corellia. He glanced at the chronometer on his wrist and noted that the ship would soon be docking at its appointed berth. Nathan would prefer it be sooner rather than later. As he navigated through the large facility, he felt a twinge of sadness watching the diverse collection of faces moving through the spaceport, on their way from one destination to the others. Humans, Rodians, the spiritual Ithorians, better known as Hammerheads and even a Jawa, although Nathan had to wonder what a Jawa was doing so far from the Dune Sea.

The spaceport was the nexus for travel and commercial activity for most of Cordoba. Most travelers to the world did not emerge past this point for the climate beyond was so inhospitable that most prefer to conclude their business and hop the first ship heading out of the system. As he walked past the numerous bars and restaurants, he could see them negotiating with one or another, engaging in all sorts of enterprises, establishing trade talks, selling Rancor skin pelts, offering the latest piece of hardware from the core worlds. Despite its out of the way place in the galaxy, Nathan liked Cordoba, he liked its eclectic feel because here most of all was what the Republic had been; infinite diversity in infinite combination.

Arriving at the docking bay where the ship he awaited was about to arrive, Nathan cast a gaze across the length of the wide corridor he was presently standing within. Although he saw nothing out of the ordinary, he could not shake the feeling that perhaps things were not as benign as they seemed. Imperial spies took many shapes and the person he was meeting was simply too important to the cause to lose at this early junction in the Rebel movement. He saw peddlers at selling their wares from blankets on the floor to passing travelers, space port maintenance men going about their business and just the general flux of people that seemed to frequent such places. If there was danger here, he did not see it and allowed himself to rest a little easier.

Through the Plexiglas screen that separated the corridor from the docking bay he was waiting at, he saw the ship finally making its arrival. It was an Incom Corsair, more accustomed to ferrying passengers than freight but judging by the accessories attached to its hull, Nathan guessed that its pilot had recently spent some credits outfitting it for that purpose. The ship was not exactly new but was no piece of junk either and the custom made turbo engines he spied on it, indicated that the ship would give Imperial TIE's a run for its money should it ever need the speed.

The ship called the Rogue, in Nathan's opinion, reflected the personality of its pilot to a tee. Nathan had decided it would be prudent safety measure for person he was meeting to arrive on Cordoba in a private freighter. The pilot knew how to get around custom officials and Nathan trusted the man explicitly. They had served together on the Republic Fleet ship the Griffin and the man was still the best star pilot that Nathan had ever seen behind the controls of any ship to date. The Corellian had retired when Palpatine had come to power, having saved enough away to buy his ship and began his reputations as one of the best freighter captains around.

Nathan watched the Corsair land and looked around once again to see if anything suspicious had appeared sine the last two minutes he had looked. He realised that he was most likely being a little paranoid but with now that he was so close to his objective, he did not want anything to go wrong because of his lack of vigilance. When the ship's engines had powered down and the door to the docking bay allowed him entry after deeming it safe, Nathan immediately stepped inside the space where the ship was housed in time to see the ramp slid open.

She did not look like he had expected but then Nathan was not certain what he had in mind when he was told that the new leader of the local rebel cell was arriving on Cordoba. Nathan supposed he expected someone older and seasoned, someone who fitted the image of what a commander of an imperial warship ought to look. For a moment, he simply stared at her and wondered if she was the right person he had been sent to escort back to the secret rebel enclave in this vicinity. Whether or not she minded his scrutiny, she did not say but as she walked down the ramp, her eyes studied him just as closely as he was doing to her.

She was not very old. No much more than thirty he suspected. Nathan recalled hearing that she was one of the youngest commanders in the fleet but until he had seen for himself, he had no idea how young. To say she was beautiful would have been a gross understatement, she was exceptionally beautiful, with long golden hair that was hung down her back in a thick braid and blue grey eyes reminding him of a bird's. The long dark robe she wore covered up the rest of her but her movements were graceful and she seemed to glide off the ramp when she approached him.

"Commander Travis?" Nathan asked, once he remembered his manners.

"Yes," she nodded with a smile. "You must Captain Jackson." She extended her hand outwards him in a friendly handshake, which Nathan immediately accepted.

"How was your trip?" Nathan inquired, even though he suspected with her looks, it would have been anything but uneventful.

"Without incident," she said pleasantly. "The choice of pilot was.....interesting." A little smile crossed her face as she met his gaze.

"There is no excuse for him," Nathan retorted automatically. "He is one of the best there is but when it comes to the opposite sex, he has the self control of a five year old."

"Hey," a decided offended voice exclaimed. "I resent that remark."

Nathan turned to Buck Wilmington and broke into a grin. "That was a kind description of you."

"Thanks a lot," the freighter captain retorted as he pulled off his flight gloves while making his way down the ship's ramp towards them. Both men met in a friendly embrace and though it was some time since they had seen each other, fell into old habits as if they had never been apart. "After all the trouble I went through making sure this charming lady had a trouble free trip." As he said that, he took the commander's hand in his and gently kissed her knuckle.

"Thank you Buck," she smiled. " It was pleasant. I haven't been wined and dined in quite some time."

"Weren't you suppose to be flying the ship?" Nathan declared, shaking his head. Somehow the idea of Buck trying to romance Commander Travis, who was clearly too good for him, irritated Nathan for some reason.

"There is such a thing as auto-pilot you know." Buck gave him a look.

"Perhaps we should go," the commander spoke up before the question of her virtue came into question.

"Yes, we should," Nathan readily agreed. Although Buck was perfectly aware of Nathan's loyalties these days and was a rebel sympathizer, Nathan had no wish to endanger his life anyway. Buck provided a valuable service to the Rebel Alliance, often at no charge at all and Nathan had no wish to see that resource come to an end, not to mention his concern for Buck's life. "Buck, until next time."

"You take care." Buck's playful expression became serious and he patted Nathan gently on the shoulder. "Its hard times out there."

"You too, you ol' star pilot," Nathan replied.

"Mary," Buck turned his attention to the lovely blond who had been such good company, although not as good as he would have liked, during the voyage from Coruscant. "It has been a pleasure."

"Likewise Buck," she said with a warm smile and genuinely meaning it. "You're staying on in Cordoba?"

"For a day or so," Buck answered with a slight nod. "There's an old friend I want to look up."

Nathan knew exactly whom he was talking about even if he had never met the man himself. "A word of caution Buck, he's not the man you remember."

Buck let out a soft sigh. "I know," he replied sadly. "But he saved my life more than once and I'm not about to give up on him."

"He must be a good friend," Mary responded, unaware of the specifics of the person Buck was referring to but being able to tell by the look in his eyes, it was someone Buck cared about a great deal.

With an expression of profound sadness that touched the rebel leader's heart to no end, Buck answered with a little smile. "I hope he still is."

+ + + + + + +

The boy wandered off the large passenger cruiser, completely enthralled

It was the first time he had been anywhere. True, Cordoba could hardly be considered the hub of civilization in the greater galaxy but at this moment, it was the largest and most populous place the young man had ever been in his life. Despite his attempt not to look like an innocent for the taking of any unscrupulous conman, he could not help the awe in which he was staring at everything when he stepped off the liner that had brought him here. Anyone who cast their gaze upon him, knew without doubt that he was fresh off the farm, literally. In his case, they would not be far wrong although he was no farmer, should anyone deign to ask. He had prospects that extended beyond growing cjasij beans.

He was a pod racer.

Not just a pod racer but rather the best that there had ever been on the remote world of Odete where he had spent most of his youth with the mother that had raised him. Thinking about his mother made him said but he was not about to let his sorrow overwhelm him. He was someone with dreams and he was going somewhere. A person going places could not afford to be hampered down by memories of the mother who had gone to the next life only weeks ago, leaving a farm that was worth barely nothing, to which he had only been too happy to sell in order to buy passage off world.

He had gotten this far on his dream and the plan. The plan that he had nurtured for as long as he remembered, the one where he would leave the rural world of Odete and make his way to Coruscant, where the real money was to be made in pod racing. He imagined himself being pitted against the very best the galaxy had to offer and he knew that he could be counted as one of their number, all he had to do was get to Coruscant. Of course, while his mother was alive, he would not even entertained the notion and for a long time, felt like he was spinning his wheels on the world of his birth, even though he could never feel resentment towards her. While she was alive, she had been his entire world and when she was gone, the void left behind was more than he could stand, which was why he had so hastily sold the farm and everything that could bring a price before coming here.

He did not have a fortune on him but he did have money and the plan that had brought him this far, required him to find passage to Coruscant where he was certain some pod owner would discover him and set him on the path to glory. After disembarking from the ship that had brought him to Cordoba, the young man wandered through the lengthy corridors of the space port, seeking passage to Coruscant by way of the numerous freighters that used this as their main base of operation. The liner that had taken him this far was only a local carrier and big passenger liners, the ones that serviced the core worlds did not come out this far. If he were going to Coruscant, he would have to hire a ship to take him there.

Wandering into what he had been told by one of the people at customs to be a local haunt for freighter pilots, the young man no more than eighteen years of age felt a swell of apprehension when he noted the atmosphere in the tavern. There was only one word that best described it although to his knowledge, it was a word he had never had cause to use before. Sleazy. The place was sleazy. Swallowing visibly and trying not to feel any more out of place then he already did, the youth entered the dingy establishment and headed towards the bar. As he approached the counter, he tried no to stare at the different life form scattered around the area.


Drinking utensils equipped for every appendage from hands to tentacles, were filled with colorful concoctions and imbibed freely by the diverse array of creatures. A Jizz band was playing something catching in the distance and the mood in the establishment though 'sleazy' was nonetheless lively He arrived at the bar and was soon tended to by a Whipid bartender who inquired through the static bursts of his translator, what he wanted to drink. Nervously, he ordered a Sava juice and hoped he did not look too much like a dumb kid, which unfortunately he did no matter how hard he wished other wise.

His eye caught the arrival of a tall human striding through the front door, wearing Corellian colors and the remnants of what used to be an republic uniform. As he entered, a svelte Twi'leki, all blue and enchanting wrapped her arms around the man and for a few seconds, they engaged in flirtatious banter before she moved away from him, a look in her eyes that was clearly invitation. The man with the moustache grinned and though the youth did not know what exactly was said, could guess that he was taking up the offer.

"Boy." A finger prodded him in the back

He turned around and faced a Rodian. At least he thought it was a Rodian, he had never actually seen one in the flesh before even though he knew the characteristic generic to the species. They often came with spiky green protrusions about the skull that tapered into a snout and large, black glass eyes with no irises.

"Yes?" He asked wondering what the creature wanted of him.

"You look to me as if you are new to this place," the Rodian pointed out..

Not exactly a revelation he had to admit but could not find it in himself to be so rude by saying so, "I am. I just got in today."

"And what is your business here?" The alien inquired further as the bar tender served his juice.

"I'm trying to get to Coruscant," he volunteered, uncertain after he had done it whether it was such a wise move or not.

"Coruscant?" The Rodian exclaimed. "How fortunate, perhaps I can help you."

"Are you a freighter captain?" He said with more excitement than he should have and immediately felt like a dumb naive kid.

"Yes I am. I can take you to Coruscant," the Rodian replied.

"Really?" His excitement grew and he wondered why he thought chartering a flight was going to be so hard. This had been relatively easy! Of course he knew the Rodian was not going to take him to Coruscant for free. "How much?"

"Well," the Rodian stroke his snout with his large hand, "we are far from Coruscant. It won't be cheap."

"I know," he answered automatically, expecting it would not be cheap.

"Twenty thousand credits," the freighter captain answered.

"Twenty thousand?" He gushed, unable to even imagine that much money let alone possessing it. His heart sank at that moment, realizing that if this was the standard cost to get to Coruscant, he would not be getting there any time soon. "I don't have that much money."

"I see," the Rodian responded and seemed to consider the situation thoughtfully. "Perhaps we can work something out."

"Sure," the boy said eagerly, willing to do anything so that the plan did not fall to pieces before his eyes. He did not realize that the human he had seen earlier was now standing next to him at the bar and was being drawn into his conversation to the Rodian with growing interest, even if the man seemed oblivious to the talks.

"Would you be willing to work it off?" The Rodian suggested after a moment.

"I don't understand," he stammered. "What do you mean?"

"He means are you willing to be conned into agreeing to work off your fee which, he has will eventually tell you after you've boarded his ship is charged with substantial interest and by the time you do actually get to Coruscant, you'll be older than I am," the man declared, insinuating himself into the conversation with what could only be interpreted as a furious expression on his face.

"Stay out of this Weelmington," the Rodian warned as he stood up from his stool. "the matter is between myself and the boy."

"Kid," Buck looked at the youth who was a tragedy waiting to happen because he was just so damn green. Buck wondered if he had ever been that young. "What's your name?"

"JD," the boy answered, completely flustered now. "JD Dunne."

"Listen to me JD Dunne," Buck said firmly, his hand dropping to the blaster at his hip. "Do you know what slavery is?"

JD's eyes widened as he stared at the Rodian in shock whose expressionless face betrayed nothing, realizing what the stranger was attempting to save him from. "Yes Sir."

"Good," Buck replied. "You were just about to indenture yourself to this Rodian as a slave to get your trip to Coruscant."

JD did not know what to say but the Rodian had volumes to verbalize on the matter. He went for his weapon but before he could even draw, he was staring down Buck's blaster aimed at his face.

"Do it Nardo," Buck hissed. "I'd be doing the galaxy a favor."

"This is the last time you've interfere with my affairs Weelmington," the Rodian spat angrily at him, making JD jump slightly. "Next time, I will kill you."

"Or I could kill you," Buck returned and stepped backwards. "Come on kid." He motioned JD to follow him and after what had almost happened to him, the young man was smart enough to know a good thing when he saw one.

Besides, what other choice did he have?

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