Two days of hiking through the jungles of Lamaredd leave Renci feeling disgusting. She has switched her bandana from headband to kerchief. Originally, she had thought to use it to keep sweat off her brow, but she is finding that her sanity requires her to cover her frizzed-out hair so that it is not crawling with gnats. She swats at the cloud of bugs around her, irritated that they seem to find her much more tasty than her companion.
Renn leads the way, cutting through vines with his knife. He is making an effort to be mindful of Renci, ensuring she is always within eyeshot, which is not very far at all. She can handle herself outdoors, but it is clear to him that she does not actually enjoy this part of exploration. Unlike Renci, he grew up in this environment; this is practically his daily hike to school. And as an adult, he finds it almost soothing. There is a relaxing rhythm to the movement. Cal was right; getting into the zone this way is as close to meditation as Renn is ever likely to achieve. And besides all that, things could be so much worse. They are not starting off already injured; this was an intentional, controlled landing; they have all the survival supplies they need; and the local wildlife has so far been easy to evade. They are worlds ahead of his position on Gesaril before Kash and her crew came looking for him.
Renci slashes at some leaves with her vibrosword, cursing the foliage that is too thick for jumpboots. When they did a flyover of the ziggurat location, she considered telling Renn to just lower the ramp so she could jump out. But she thought better of it, remembering how well that approach worked for JT, Kash, and her on Hoth. Sure, they got to the Rebel listening post faster than they otherwise would have, but it was pretty rough going. And besides, she cannot do this job alone while the Resolve circles above. She needs Renn along to increase her chances of finding anything truly valuable here.
This mission is not just about a potential Rebel base—although identifying a useful location on this planet would give her an enviable scouting trifecta. No, what makes this expedition different from the last two is the chance to find unique artifacts of value to the Rebellion or to addressing what is going on with JT. Prior to leaving Ryloth, Renci spoke with Quep from the Dark Force User task force. The Gossam told her about particular types of emanations that she has correlated strongly with Dark Side points of interest. The Resolve has an impressive sensor suite, and Renci was able to detect some of those readings as they conducted their initial survey. She then casually told Renn she was interested in this sector of the planet, and on subsequent sweeps, they found the vegetation-covered ziggurat that they now approach.
At least, she trusts they are approaching it. Renn seems confident in where he is leading them. Maybe he just has a good sense of direction, or maybe he senses something. She has not asked. Renci has not prodded Renn further about anything he can do with the Force, but she has been reviewing all the uncanny things she observed on their previous two missions. She supposes they might have Mira to thank once they reach their destination. The kiros bird has been spending a lot of time above the treeline. She wonders if Renn really can read minds, including the bird’s, or if Mira functions as some sort of periscope for him. Is the bird also Force-sensitive? They don’t cover this in the Rebel Handbook.
The undergrowth around them decreases, and more sunlight streams down through the thinning trees. Ahead of her, Renn freezes beside some mossy boulders and holds up a fist. Renci stops as well, and they both stand still, listening to something large moving beyond a clump of brambles. The sounds grow fainter as whatever it was heads away from them. “Definitely not quiet here, but we’ve managed to avoid trouble,” Renci says happily, once it seems safe.
“We’ve been diligent,” Renn replies.
“Let’s hope our luck keeps going.” She waves at the cloud of small bugs around her. “Ugh, I have had it!” Since they are paused anyway, she unclips her backpack and sets it on the ground, kneeling to go through it. “Is there some sort of bug bomb in here?” she wonders aloud. She pulls out the specs and looks through. “Useless!” She briefly considers just tossing the pad but then notices mention of some repellent in a long-winded paragraph. She stuffs the datapad back inside and digs through the pockets, pulling out a spray can. “Ha ha!” she cheers triumphantly and begins lavishly applying it.
Renn’s attention is caught by a glint ahead, and he moves just outside the treeline, where some crystal protrudes from the rocks. It seems to be topaz, or something similar, and the terracotta-like color reminds him of Kash. With his knife, he scrapes away lichen and then levers out a piece of the rock. Here, at the edge of the clearing around the base of the ziggurat, the sun shines brightly down. He holds up the crystal to assess its clarity. Maybe it could work in a lekku bangle. At the sound of the aerosol, he looks back behind. “Just spray it on yer clothes not—” he warns. Too late. “Not yer skin,” he finishes.
Renci has covered her arms with the foaming spray. When she wipes it off, she finds them now decorated with a splotchy rash, but at least the bugs also find it unattractive. “It will be fine, I’m sure,” Renci says. “It only burns a little.” She glances up and notices Renn is holding a rock. “Is that a dark crystal or something?”
“No, it’s just a nice stone—” Renci looks at him skeptically, making him second-guess himself. “—I think.” Why did it catch his attention? “I don’ really know how ta check if’n it’s not.”
“Uh… search your feelings? May the Force be with you? Oh!” Renci pulls out her own datapad and starts swiping through it. In addition to her notes on field-testing tech, it contains the information she has gathered on the JT situation, including what she got from Quep. “There is no emotion… Okay, so this is a mantra the Jedi used to meditate. Maybe it can help.”
“Ach… meditation,” Renn groans.
“There’s no emotion; there’s peace. There is no ignorance; there is knowledge. There is no passion—”
“That’s bloody nonsense, that is.”
“—there is serenity. There is no chaos; there is harmony. There is no death; there is the Force.”
“Don’t give me any crap. Just… give it a try.”
Renn sighs. This is his own fault. He did not need to tell Renci he was Force-sensitive; it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. He glances back at the crystal in his hand. He never had any luck sitting around staring at rocks. He did not connect to his own kyber crystal until he was back on Seregar, in tune to the jungle around him. Then it just seemed to suddenly resonate with all the energy of everything: the trees, the vines, the birds, even the earth. He wears that crystal now, still keeps with him the talisman Cal crafted it into. Zikka may be dead and gone, so some might think he no longer needs a charm that can rebuff her attempts to control him. But he still struggles within himself to quell that deep-seated need to protect her, and he hopes that, over time, the talisman can help in some way to untangle the mess she left behind. There will be no new attacks for it to stop, but maybe it can eventually undo the old ones.
As he reflects on his own crystal, the sounds of the jungle become more distinct. He looks around himself, and the edges of leaves are sharper, their waxy surfaces glinting with sunlight. He hears Renci shift, impatient or curious, maybe both. Insects skitter and chitter. Mira sings above. Somewhere in the distance is a humming, a buzzing. There is life all around him, and power in it, but what lies in his palm is just a colorful shard. It does not seem to be anything more special than that, and the intensity of everything around him is starting to weigh upon him. He feels uneasy, and it must be from the impending headache coming on. If it gets worse, it could interfere with their work. He has not had a full-blown migraine in a while, and he really does not want one to start here.
He closes his hand around the rock and looks over at Renci. “It’s just a crystal. And… can we get inta that temple already?” He nods across the clearing at the structure they have been headed toward. “It’s too bright out here.”
“Just a crystal?”
“Aye.” He puts it in a pocket and rubs his forehead.
They begin to walk around the base of the ziggurat. Although the stone structure is covered in vines, the larger plant life stops five or so meters back from it. They turn a corner and come across a completely clear entryway. Renci takes a step toward it. “Don’ go in,” Renn cautions her.
“Oh, now you want to stay outside?”
“I want ta know why this is so open. It’s not overgrown at all.”
“I don’t know… maybe it’s the will of the Force.”
“Are ya goin’ ta say that about everything? It’s goin’ ta get old real fast.”
“I think the Force is really old,” Renci replies. She glances down to consult her datapad. “And it runs through all things.”
Renn rolls his eyes and starts his inspection at the entrance, dragging his fingers along the black stone and then finding them covered in soot. He moves away from the building, examining the plants leading up to it and directly across from it.
Renci stays where she is, studying the stonework. She starts to scratch at her arms and then stops herself. “If we just had jetpacks, we could have flown here and come straight down.” And avoided all the bugs. Boulder should know about this side effect of the repellent.
“You’d’ve gotten caught in the vines comin’ down.”
Renci concludes her examination. “Well, the structure looks quite stable, not the shambles it could’ve been. I don’t think it’ll come down on our heads.”
“There’s scorchin’ on some of these tree trunks and burnt vegetation all through here,” Renn points out. “It coulda been that lightning strikes burnt the jungle, and the fire went this way, towards the entrance…. If there’s some gas inside that’s more flammable, that might explain why the fire went that way. Maybe some sort of suction action? Does that make any… technical sense?” He looks up to find Renci tapping away at her datapad.
No active volcanoes, but very active insect swarms.Insect repellent needs warning label. She interrupts her mental report-drafting and pauses to consider Renn’s theory. “That would be very… convenient. Suspiciously so.”
“It’s the best I’ve got, from out here. We can go in, we just need ta be cautious.”
Renci puts away the datapad and fishes around in her backpack for the glow rod from Renn’s survival kit. As she does so, she notices that the repellent was in pouch 3. She narrows her eyes at the bag. That was the one described in the specs as, “Do not push.” Oh, Boulder…. Light in hand, Renci swings her bag up onto her shoulders and steps into the tunnel-like entry corridor.
They slowly proceed several dozen meters down the hallway until they see another arch ahead of them. Renn hears a crackling, and then a thin bolt of electricity zaps the ground just in front of Renci. She jumps back, and they pause, maintaining their distance from where it hit.
“There’s a device mounted above the archway. It came from there,” Renn tells her.
“Have you ever seen traps like this?”
In response to her almost eager tone, he cautions, “It doesna mean this is a Force-y place, but the temple on Gesaril had traps, like a force field that blocked an exit and a stasis field.”
“A Force field?”
“They were purely technological.” Renn digs around for clearer words. “A shimmerin’ energy field cut off the exit from the main hall when the place started ta collapse. Cal or JT had ta shut it off—with their mechanical skills—ta gain access ta the corridor Kash and I had already gone down. And the stasis field that caught Cal was triggered by some sorta plate in the ground. Kash was able ta disable it completely with just her picks.” Renci seems satisfied with his elaboration.
“Okay, you watch what this device does while I give it something to pay attention to.” Renci clicks her heels together and launches. The corridor is not so large that flight is necessary, but the jumpboots give her some extra speed as she tic-tacs off the walls, staying just ahead of the bolts shooting from above the doorway. She harasses the device some, throwing Mandalorian insults at it. “C’mon, short circuit. You couldn’t hit a starship.”
Renn judges that the device is actively targeting Renci but not anticipating her moves. He experiments with edging a little closer, noting that its behavior does not change. He continues advancing slowly in case rapid movement attracts attention. When he reaches the archway, he grabs the lintel and pulls himself up to gain some height, bracing himself with a foot against each jamb, and then examines the stone-faced panel below the electrodes. The screws do not look like any standard ones he knows, but one of his tools manages to fit well enough. He pries open the casing and clips some wires, shutting down the shocker. He then pulls out a circuit board and tosses it to Renci. “What’s yer assessment of this?”
She turns the device over in her hands, examining it. “This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.” The sentients on this planet are primitive; they could have built a stone temple, but not this kind of device. “You kept it pretty intact, though, so I’ll give it to Boulder to analyze….” She pauses, reconsidering. “She might just put it in something without testing it, though. I’ll give it to JT to look at… when she’s better.”
Renn drops down into the doorway. Cool air comes from the next chamber, and for a moment he finds himself feeling better about the whole operation. That was a normal, completely reasonable security device. The tech looks weird, but that is because it is from some old, forgotten civilization. There does not have to be anything related to the Force here, despite Renci’s interest in it. His headache even seems to have gone away.
As they pass through the archway, neither Renci nor Renn notice a new blinking light next to the ruined lightning sentry.