The smell of Gamorrean sweat was unforgetable. Anyone who had had the misfortune of standing close enough to a full-grown boar for even a few minutes never forgot the distinctive scent that emanated from his sweat glands.
Luke stood only a few meters away from a large group of boars deeply engrossed in their training, gathering and forming into a clumsy line. As he watched them wield their heavy weapons, their feet pounding into the slush and mud and melted snow, Luke could almost swear that he was back in the dark, dungeon-like entrance of Jabba's Palace, where fourteen years ago he had strode in wearing a cloak of serene confidence--a self-assurance that even he didn't know he was capable of until he had been put to the test.
Today he would need that same self-assurance. He had marched into Jabba's court with the hope of convincing the gangster to hand over his imprisoned best friend, and now he would be called upon to use the same bargaining tactics to wrest valuable information from a notoriously surly Gamorrean clan-mother.
He just hoped that things would turn out better than the last time he had tried to bargain with a merciless negotiator.
At least, thought Luke with a wry smile, I can be sure that there aren't any rancors I can be fed to.
The endless gray of the skies above and the rain that tumbled forth from the pregnant clouds, soaking through his simple woven Jedi cloak, were enough to depress anyone. Gamorr was not a place to which he would ever willingly go--even if it hadn't been slushtime, the planet's most dreary season. If not for the slim possibility that he might find some sort of clue to Callista's whereabouts here, he would never have journeyed to this part of the galaxy.
He remembered how his heart had fluttered at the tiny crumb of information that Lando had been able to ease out of an old contact a few days ago.
"She didn't disappear completely, Luke," Lando had told him, his cool, playboy smile wide on the holo that stood tall in Luke's living room. The twinkle in his dark brown eyes had given Luke hope that his old friend had good news to give him.
"Then someone's seen her? Heard of her?"
Tried as he might, he couldn't hide the small sliver of hope that colored his voice.
Lando nodded. "Looks like it. A few years ago she was seen on Gamorr, with some free-traders that she seemed to be acquainted with. She went by the name Callista Ming. There was another human with her, a slave, but the rest of her companions were all Gamorrean. They were docked on the planet for a while. It was slushtime--a big deal to Gamorreans, from what I know."
Luke wrinkled his nose involuntarily, remembering the stench of Jabba's pig guards when they had surrounded him to prevent him from passing through to their master's throne room.
He heard Lando's smooth-as-silk laugh float through the holo. "I see you remember them too," he said. "They can sure be nasty, I'll give you that."
"I was only at Jabba's for a day," Luke said, unable to hide a grin. "You were there for months. My accolades to you for surviving that..."
"You get used to it after a while."
Luke shifted in his seat and leaned forward, forearms resting on his thighs. "You said they saw her there?"
"Yes, there was a songwriter, poet... Sebastin Onyx, I think his name was. He had worked there on Gamorr for a few years-"
"-he had met Callista briefly during her stay. One of her crewmates had gotten wrongfully accused of a murder and she was trying to clear his name. Onyx was one of the people she talked to to gather some information on what had happened."
That's the Callista I know, Luke thought with a smile, feeling the pride swell within him like that of a husband hearing of his wife's accomplishments. "Did he say what happened to her? Where she went after she left Gamorr?"
Lando scanned the datapad in his hand, then glanced up and shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, Luke. He saw her just once more after that, at some feast. The free-traders left soon after."
"Oh." Luke could actually feel the disappointment physically enter his body as he slumped back in his chair.
"But there is something he said that might interest you..."
Luke straightened and without saying a word--he didn't dare to--returned his eyes to the holo.
"Onyx told my buddy that the one in charge of that group of traders was a sow named Ugmush. Sound familiar?"
Luke felt a smile form on his face. "Ugmush... The Gamorrean that helped Threepio and Artoo when they were on Nam Chorios? The one who owned the Zicreex?"
"One and the same," Lando confirmed. "Callista began travelling with them not long after she left Nam Chorios. She could still be with them, and--here's another bit of information that you'll like... Apparently, Ugmush returns to Gamorr every year. During slushtime."
Luke leaned forward just a bit further, more intrigued than ever. "And if I remember correctly..."
"That's right," Lando said, guiding Luke's train of thought. "That means Ugmush is there right now. And so could Callista."
So could Callista...
Lando's words had made the ground beneath Luke's feet move. He knew right then and there that he had to make his way to Gamorr one way or another.
Find his way to Callista.
If she's here...
Luke swallowed hard, his mind an uncontrollable whirlwind of thoughts as he allowed himself to ponder the possibility of coming face to face with Callista again--after five long, agonizing years. He took a deep breath as he trudged through the muddy, monotonous terrain, his eyes eager for any sign of Ugmush's slushtime home. If she's here, I will take her in my arms and never let her go...
Though the mere thought of it was enough to send the seductive sensation of adrenaline pumping through him, an inner voice spoke louder still: she's not here. Luke knew that it was right. He would have known it, felt it in his bones.
He would have felt her.
Even if the Force within her was silent.
Still, he would not have made the trek to this desolate planet if he hadn't had the slightest bit of hope that Ugmush would have some clue to offer him. She had to know where Callista was. She was his best lead.
His only hope, really.
The rain swelled to a fury now. Raindrops as big as his fingers fell from the sky, obscuring his vision as he looked for any kind of landmark to tell him where he was. After a time, he paused to stand still and try to figure out where he was. He raised his head to the heavens, the dark gray skies reminding him of the color of Callista's eyes when she was sad.
The color they were in her last message to him--the holo where she had pleaded for him to let her walk her own path.
I have my own odyssey...
He had let her go five years ago because she had asked him to. He had turned and walked away and tried to move on with his life, because he had no other choice. But now he needed to break his promise to stop searching for her.
Her life, he thought, with a chill running through his bones, depended on it.
"Dear, oh dear... Master Luke, I'm afraid this landscape was just not meant for droids," Threepio whined not too far behind him.
Luke turned and gave him an apologetic smile. "No, I suppose it's not," he admitted. He offered a hand to the beleaguered droid, extracting him from the sticky mud pile where Threepio's golden legs had been entrenched.
"Oh my, I can barely move. Perhaps you should go on without me, Master Luke. I'll only hold you back..."
Luke had learned over the years that it was best to humor Threepio when he was in a self-pitying mood. He bit his lip to keep from smiling and tugged just a bit harder on Threepio's arm. "Come on now, you know what I think of that kind of talk," he said. "I'm not going anywhere without you."
Still, he couldn't help but feel guilty watching Threepio struggling in the mud-sodden fields. He knew that slushtime would be barely tolerable for humans, much less for droids who weren't exactly built to withstand these kind of conditions, but he had needed his protocol droid's interpreter skills and had little choice but to bring him. Gamorrean was not one of the languages in which Luke was particularly well-versed--he had encountered very few Gamorreans in his lifetime, save for the guards at Jabba's palace and the ones the Eye had harvested aboard. He doubted very much that the Huttese he had managed to master while growing up in Tatooine would have done him much good here, and though he knew Threepio would protest, he asked the reluctant droid and his counterpart to accompany him.
Artoo had halted upon seeing Threepio's predicament, swiveling his domed head and sending a muffled warble his way that sounded suspiciously like a laugh to Luke.
He turned his head to smile at his mischievous astromech. "Behave yourself, Artoo," he warned him.
"That's right, you heard Master Luke," Threepio chimed in, now fully out of the mud and able to walk once again without aid. "I don't want to hear about how your all-terrain gears can get through any kind of mud. Just because you were able to withstand the swamps on Dagobah with your-"
"All right, you two," Luke interjected, much like a weary parent trying to separate warring siblings. "Let's take it easy now. You know these Gamorreans aren't exactly fond of droids, and I'd rather not draw their attention our way..."
"Yes of course, sir," Threepio apologized. "Now see what you've started, Artoo-"
"Shutting up, sir..."
Miraculously, the rain seemed to have eased somewhat, and Luke pulled the hood from his face to get a better look at his surroundings.
"Well," he said, taking in the nondescript environment, "where do you suppose we are?"
"Artoo seems to think that we're-"
Just a split second before a low, guttural rumble sounded through the air, Luke spun around instinctively, lightsaber ignited in an emerald blaze. Before him stood a gigantic boar, almost twice his size in width, waving a blaster rifle. The boar snarled and grunted, but made no move to attack him. Luke lowered and deactivated his blade in a gesture of appeasement.
"No, please! Don't shoot, don't shoot!" Threepio exclaimed.
"It's all right, relax." Luke extended a hand towards them in an effort to quiet them. He knew that Gamorreans despised droids to begin with, had even seen firsthand the torture they liked to inflict on them. "Threepio, can you tell him we don't mean any harm?"
The droid complied, his programmed voicebox suddenly transformed into a series of indistinguishable grunts.
In turn, the boar relented and lowered his weapon. He replied to Threepio, his voice far less fierce than it had been a mere second ago.
"He wants to know what we're doing, Master Luke..."
Luke took a step closer to him, seeing that he was no longer agitated. "We're looking for someone," he said, careful to speak a bit slower than usual to give Threepio enough time to translate. "Do you know the clan-mother named Ugmush? We were told she is home for slushtime."
The boar nodded and grunted a response.
"My, what a coincidence! Master Luke, Ugmush is his sister! His name is Guth."
Luke let out a sigh of relief and smiled at him. "Guth, I am Luke Skywalker. Can you take us to Ugmush? Please, it's very important..."
"He says to follow him, sir."
Guth waved a massive arm in the direction of what looked like a medium sized cargo freighter docked not too far from the fields where they stood. "Over there," he seemed to be saying. "Follow me over there."
Luke nodded and turned to his droids. "Stick close to me," he told them. "I want you two intact when we leave this place."
Threepio stopped dead in his tracks and Luke swore that if the protocol droid only could, he would have gulped. Luke chuckled softly and winked at him. "I was only kidding," he assured him. "Ready? It's showtime..."
"Dear, oh dear..."
The airlock door opened with a hiss to reveal the surprisingly bright interior of the freighter. Luke wasn't exactly sure what he had been expecting--something more spartan, more crude perhaps. He knew that Gamorreans were not particularly technology savvy, but from the looks of things, Ugmush and her companions had managed enough sophistication to maintain a fairly decent ship.
A sullen, scar-faced man--Luke wondered if this was the human slave that Sebastin Onyx had seen with Callista--emerged from the upper deck to regard the visitors for a few seconds. With a half-sneer, he continued to make his way down the metal stairway and promptly disappeared into the cockpit without bothering to say a word to them.
Guth unleashed a furious grunt at the human, but to no avail; despite Guth's threats--Threepio whispered in Luke's ear that the Gamorrean was promising to give the human a good beating later--he remained in the cockpit. The boar turned to Luke, Threepio, and Artoo, as if to apologize for his crewmate's rudeness. Luke had to stifle a laugh at the irony--for a creature whose culture was mostly known for its lack of refinement, this boar was actually borderline polite.
Must've been Callista's influence, he thought with a smile.
"Sir," Theepio said, "From what I remember, that was the ship's engineer, Jos."
"He didn't seem very glad to see us, did he?" Luke muttered. "I sure wish he'd come out and talk to us--it would make this a whole lot easier if I didn't need a translator." He turned quickly to Threepio. "But since I need one," he managed to recover, "I'm glad I've got you here."
The droid didn't seem to be too concerned with Luke's hasty statement. "If I maybe completely honest, Master Luke," he said, leaning in just a bit closer, "I must say... I have a bad feeling about this."
Luke hid a grin. "Have a little faith, Threepio."
"What you do here?"
Luke was startled to hear the flirty, sing-song voice of holovid star Amber Jevanche emanating from a large sow who stood tall on the upper deck. As he looked closer at her, he saw the transliterator hanging from her neck and realized that the voice he heard originated from it, and not the sow herself. "You," she said again, waving an oversized paw at Luke and the droids. Luke suddenly realized she wouldn't have recognized them--at least not Threepio, who had been disguised when he and Artoo encountered her five years ago.
"Captain Ugmush!" Threepio exclaimed.
Guth stepped forward to grunt an explanation, but the captain wouldn't hear of it. She ambled down the staircase and joined them on the metal deck a few seconds later. Shoving Guth aside, she headed straight for Luke.
She was clearly upset. Luke sent a mild Force vibration her way to at least hold her back until he had a chance to explain himself. As if on cue, her shoulders dropped to release the tension and she stood before them. The sweet purr from Amber Jevanche sounded once again, "Help you?"
Relieved that she seemed more responsive now, Luke nodded. "Captain Ugmush?"
The sow nodded. "Ugmush," she repeated. "Me, Ugmush."
"I'm Luke Skywalker. Ugmush, I need your help-"
"Yes," he said. "I'm... a friend of Callista's..." Somehow, he had a feeling she had already known that without him having to tell her.
"Callista," she said, nodding. She pointed at him again. "You, gweek."
"Gweek?" Luke said back to her, bewildered. He turned to Threepio for help.
"Gweek," Ugmush said again. "Gweek." She laid a hand on her chest.
"Master Luke, I'm afraid I can not find a direct translation for this particular word, but I do believe she means... love..."
Luke watched her tap her breastplate. "Yes," he said, smiling upon the comprehension, "I think I figured that out."
Gweek. His heart swelled within him, dizzying him for a few fevered moments. Callista had told Ugmush about him after all.
"Captain Ugmush... Callista needs help--I must find her. Do you know where she is?"
She shook her head almost immediately, then after a while said, "Don't know."
If she hadn't hesitated for that extra second, Luke would never have doubted her answer. Worried that saying so would only make her defensive, he let her continue.
"She left few months ago," she went on. "One day walk into my kitchen, tell me she leaving. Don't know why."
But Luke knew--felt it beyond a doubt--that she did know why.
"What world were you docked on when she left?" he asked gently, hoping the non-threatening approach would make her feel more at ease with him. "Do you think she might have stayed there after you left?"
"No," Ugmush answered firmly. "She told me she leaving. She not stay at planet where we were."
Luke sighed, not quite sure anymore what more he could say to bring out the information he needed from her. After a few moments, he raised his head to meet her gaze once more. "Captain, please," he said. "It's urgent that I find her."
The captain visibly tensed even more, and he heard her release a low, quiet grunt that seemed to be meant for her ears only. "Can't help you," she said. "Go. You must go now."
"No! Can't help you!" She shook her head, then repeated, "Go now!" From her body language, she seemed not so much angry, but afraid--as if she wanted to help, but wasn't sure if she should.
Maybe she questioned Luke's motives.
"You can trust me." Luke wasn't sure if the words would make a difference, but he said them anyway, hoping she would change her mind.
"Guth!" She called her brother to her side and released a series of rapid grunts and squeals.
"Oh my, Master Luke, I do believe we should leave now. Captain Ugmush does not seem happy at all-"
Luke continued to hold firm. Not yet, he thought. Not when I've come this close...
For a moment, the temptation to use the Force--to reach into her mind and plant a suggestion--seemed so great that it overwhelmed him, but he stopped himself. He knew no matter how dire the circumstances, there would be no justifying such a questionable manipulation. Not even to find his beloved Callista.
She said I was gweek... Somehow I must convince her...
Guth made his way to them and as he had when they first encountered him in the fields earlier, let out a frightening sound of fury and pointed his blaster at them. "Leave!" he grunted.
Behind him, Luke heard the frantic taps of Threepio's footsteps on the gangway, and he felt Artoo's timid nudging at his hip. "Please," he said once more, looking straight at Ugmush, but the sow appeared unmoved by his pleas. Finally he took a deep breath and said, "Captain, she's in danger."
A noticeable pause. She touched Guth's arm to lower his weapon, then approached Luke again.
"Danger? What... What you mean?"
Luke took a tiny step forward--perhaps she would listen now. "If I don't help her soon, Captain Ugmush..." He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence. The mere thought of the words sliced into his heart, making him wince inside.
No, he thought. It won't come to that. I won't let it.
As if she could read his thoughts, Ugmush grunted a low, mournful sound. "You help her?" she asked.
"Yes," Luke nodded, hoping he had somehow broken through. "Yes, I only want to help her. Please, Captain. Help me help her..."
After a few moments, she sighed. "She contacted me few days ago."
Luke felt his heart rise in his ribcage. It was all he could do to keep it from bursting through his bones.
"She sounded scared... So scared..."
Stars, thought Luke, am I already too late?
"She wanted to know if I know traders nearby. She needed to leave planet she was on."
"Leave?" Luke said. No, she couldn't run away again. Not now. "Leave where? Where was she going?"
"Yavin she said-"
Yavin! Luke had to look back at her to make sure she had actually said it, and he fought hard to pay attention to her next words, though his mind had already raced to the giddy realization that Callista was on her way back--to him.
"-She don't say why. She only say she need go Yavin."
"Did she find passage? She's on her way there now?"
"Yes. I tell her I have friends near Chad. They go to Chad to take her."
Of course she would have returned to her home planet. Luke wasn't really surprised--he wondered why he hadn't thought of it sooner. He flinched, reminded for a moment of the raw pain in her she had always fought to hide from him, that he felt in her nonetheless. The pain of knowing that all she knew had gone on without her. That they, who remained her only link to her past--and the identity robbed from her when the Force abandoned her--had died while she was trapped helplessly on the Eye.
"Master Luke," he heard Threepio say, "we haven't much time... If Mistress Callista did indeed leave for Yavin a few days ago, she should there be arriving very soon."
And he would be there to meet her...
Luke nodded absently, his heart swooning at thought of his long hoped for wish finally becoming reality. He turned to Ugmush. "Thank you," he said softly. Somehow the words seemed hopelessly inadequate. She had given him back his hope--and for that, she deserved something so much more than a mere thank you. "I won't let anything happen to her," he said.
Ugmush smiled--Luke didn't know that Gamorreans were capable of smiling--and nodded. "Take care of her," she said. "Never forget gweek."
Never, he thought.
He would never forget
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