I’d never actually been to Flamma Volpes before. Not surprising, really - hell, few enough people ever even had officially made orbit. The initial survey teams and the occasional Dajorra Defense Force patrol came by, but other than that the planet was considered useless, marked as such in the official databases.
Of course, the official databases were only half the story.
In my time on the, shall we say, seedier side of the galaxy, I knew well that “useless” and “uninhabited” in a planet’s database entries would parse to any smuggler, bounty hunter, mercenary, or crime lord as “perfect for a quiet place to lay low.” And it was possible that whomever had set up shop on Flamma Volpes would simply be more of the same. On the other hand, the possibilities hidden behind that damn phrase “unknown vessel” could mean any one of a number of groups, ranging from another Clan to the One Sith to the New Republic to… who knows who else. We had made enough enemies, and if you also considered third parties who were indifferent to our existence, well, just enumerating all of them would take forever and a day.
To get to Flamma Volpes would be a trick in and of itself. Of course, I had ideas about that. Before I left the Darkest Knight I did some research. Previously I’d been a member of a unit called Void Squadron. The squadron had been closed due to a lack of qualified members, but the dozen StealthX fighters it had boasted were still listed as on active duty, just not assigned to any particular squadron. They were kept in storage on NSD Invicta. Fortunately for me, the Invicta and her battlegroup were in-system for resupply.
A few hours on a transport later, and I was standing on the deck of the Invicta, having to convince the deck officer and then the captain that, yes, I actually was a Dark Jedi and that, yes, I had an official need for one of the StealthX’s he had in cold storage. In retrospect, I can’t really say I entirely blame the guy. I know I wouldn’t necessarily instantly believe someone in plain clothes, not robes or armor, that just randomly came aboard, claiming to be a member of the secret cabal of Dark Jedi that ran the system and wanting for one of the most expensive fighters on my hangar deck, but seriously, the guy just had to make one call to confirm my story, before pissing me off to the point that I ended up cutting his desk in half with my lightsaber and shoving him telekinetically against the wall. That was his fault. Not mine.
Yeah. We’re going to go with that.
Anyway, several hours of boring logistics and maintenance work happened - it turns out pulling a starfighter from cold storage means more than having to just fuel her up, who’d have thought? Lots of maintenance checks, lots of diagnostics, way more pushing bytes than any one single action should ever require in any sane universe. But at the end of all of it, I had a StealthX prepped and ready to for my admittedly brief flight across the system to Flamma Volpes.
The flight itself went without a hitch. An incredibly brief jaunt into hyperspace preceded a standard low-velocity entry into the planet’s atmosphere to minimize as much as possible the whole “burning ball of plasma” effect that normally accompanies a ship entering a planetary atmosphere. The approach to the ruins site was a little indirect. I only flew short distances, following the planetary rotation to keep the local time within the hours of darkness, then finding a concealed landing point to sit, wait, and rest a bit to allow the dark zone to move around me. I did this incredibly boring and yet physically taxing flight pattern because, well, while a StealthX’s hull will blend wonderfully in space or against a night sky, it tends to stand out a bit during the day. But I digress.
I finally got within walking distance of the ruins, found myself a shady bit of clearing to land the fighter in, and went the rest of the way on foot. Since I was supposed to do simple recon, I suppose I could have just done a simple overflight of the ruins and hung a scanner pod off my fighter, but one, those things are awkward as hell in space, let alone atmosphere, and two, overflights, even by stealth fighters, are not exactly easy to miss things. If the Clan leadership hadn’t cared about this being a stealth recon mission, then they’d likely have just sent a fighter package off the Invicta or another capital ship, or gone even cheaper and cooked off a probe droid.
But instead, they’d sent me. And that meant trudging in, on foot, for the last three or four kilometers to see who the heck had set up shop in the Clan’s backyard.
Save for an incident with a very disagreeable pack representing some small primate species that I couldn’t identify but I would heartily recommend the extermination of, the hike in also went without a hitch. Understand something, here; this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. I’m so incredibly used to things going off-the-rails that to have the mission go pretty much exactly as I’d planned actually freaked me out more than I would have been had I landed on the planet and discovered Darth Vader himself leading a reconstituted 501st Stormtrooper Legion and ready to swear its service to the Dark Council. Which is one of the two major reasons why this mission took so long to complete; I spent about three times longer in my on-foot approach than I really needed to simply because I was utterly convinced that the boot was about to drop and I would quickly find myself neck deep in bad guys.
The other reason things took so long to finish up was Zynni Rale. Who needs an explanation in and of herself.
Zynni Rale and I go way back. During my bounty hunter days, especially when I was just starting out and was saving up for my own first ship, I would charter ships. Sometimes passenger shuttles, sometimes light freighters. And once in a very long while I’d actually get hired by the owner of a ship for something. Sometimes protection for them or their ship, sometimes cargo retrieval, and once I got hired to track down an erstwhile business partner who had decided to abscond with a valued item, which turned out to be a key to… well, the particulars of that job don’t really matter, but it was Zynni who had hired me and ended up flying me around for a few months. Sometimes on my work, sometimes on hers. Of course, things were never that easy. Zynni was Zeltron smuggler. Which caused, as you might imagine, no end of trouble. She was a good… hell, to this day I don’t know what she was to me. I’m not that good with the females. I wish I were. Zynni… well. Let’s just say that she could live up to every stereotype about Zeltron females if she wanted, and I wasn’t - and still am not - dead. What I am is rambling and sidetracked. I really need someone to slap me upside the head when I do that when writing one of these mission reports up.
Anyway, the reason I mention Zynni is because, as you probably guessed by now, it turns out that the activity there was her and her YT-2000, the Wanderling. I waited until daybreak and I could see Zynni in the cockpit windows. I don’t mind saying - and she’d take it as a compliment that I am - that if anything, in the fifteen years or so since I’d seen her last she’d only gotten more attractive. Once I saw her, I chuckled and slid back behind the ridgeline I’d been using as cover. I shifted my lightsaber to an inside pocket on my jacket. It’d be harder to draw it in an emergency, but I’m better with a blaster than I am with that damn thing.
I brushed myself off and walked over the ridge. I saw a flash of movement in the cockpit and felt a flash of alarm, and found myself a nice piece of crumbling wall to take a seat on in plain view of the passenger ramp of the Wanderling. The ship itself was snugged back into what could have once served as a hangar or warehouse, barely big enough to keep the ship under cover and still have room to load or unload cargo. The hatch door hissed open and I saw a purple arm holding a blaster pistol lead the rest of the familiar purple body (clad in dark green leatheris vest and pants with equally dark brown knee boots, for the record) down the ramp. I was a little impressed, at that point. Zynni had never really liked guns and, while she’d never bothered to remove the stock weapons on her ship and kept a few blasters stashed around her ship “just in case,” she’d never routinely carried or practiced with one.
In contrast to what I was seeing now, she’d definitely gotten more used to being armed. The blaster never wavered from my chest as she came down the ramp. From an old gun hand, a tip: always aim for the center of mass on your target. It moves the least on most humanoid bodies, and is usually home to several important organs. Of course, there are exceptions - Force-users armed with lightsabers being a big one - but more often than not, you’ll hit at least twice as often going for a torso shot than you will a head shot.
Zynni got within about twenty meters of me before she stopped. She didn’t say anything, just kept me covered with the blaster. I spread my hands in the universal gesture for “I’m not holding a weapon in my hands” and smirked. “Okay, Zynni, I know it’s been a while, but I can’t believe you’ve forgotten me already.”
The blaster didn’t waver. “Oh, no, Lavar. I remember you all right. And I remember you being a bounty hunter and, as I recall, I do still have that Hutt space warrant out for me.”
I dropped my hands and cocked my head. “Really? I thought you’d have cleared that mess up by now.”
She smirked, almost a carbon copy of mine - or was mine a copy of hers? I hadn’t thought of that before. “Well, you know how Hutt clans love to nurse grudges. Plus, I’ve actually driven it up into the low-to-mid six-figure range.”
I raised an eyebrow. Fifteen years ago it had been barely four figures. “What, did you knock over a spice convoy or something?”
She laughed. “No, just a freighter of precious stones and metals.”
I blinked. “Unescorted?”
She simply smiled and holstered her blaster, refusing to answer. “So, what’s a bounty hunter like you doing in an abandoned hole like this?”
I shook my head. “Bounty hunter no longer.”
Zynni placed a hand over her mouth in exaggerated surprise. “Say it isn’t so! You’ve gone legitimate? Tell me you at least haven’t settled down with a wife yet! Leave me with at least that dream!”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Yes, I’ve gone at least semi-legitimate. When the Minos Cluster started to go to hell in a handbasket, I ended up retiring for a while, but ended up heading back out here when the local government offered me a job as a special agent, of sorts.” Which actually was true, sort of.
Zynni blinked, temporarily non-plussed. “You? A spy?” She laughed. “I can’t see that. You’re so unsubtle you’re legally barred from being within three parsecs of it.”
I shrugged. “Well, I’ve gotten a little better since you’ve known me. Plus I’m not really a spy. More of, and I hate to use the cliche, a problem solver for the local government.”
Zynni cocked her head, expression cooling. “And what problem are you here to solve?”
I held up my hands in a reassuring gesture. “Strictly recon, actually. We picked up that someone was here, on this uninhabited planet, and the locals wanted assurances that you weren’t, say, a division or two of old Separatist battle droids that was about to launch an invasion on the inhabited worlds. Nothing more beyond that unless I felt the situation called for it. As it stands,” I shrugged, “unless you’ve changed a lot more than I think you have, you’re not smuggling in anything more dangerous than alcohol, so far as I’m concerned it’s case closed.”
She smiled, and I felt the relief pulse off her. “Speaking of ‘case closed,’ and alcohol, could I possibly persuade you to come into the Wanderer for a while? I’ve got a bottle of Whyren’s Reserve I’ve been saving for a special occasion.”
I stood up. “Well, it would be simply rude of me to not chat with a new neighbor who happens to be an old friend.”
As far as what else happened that day… I’ll just say if anything else did happen, I wouldn’t tell, and if nothing else happened, I would never admit it.