I love a good brawl. Not being in one, mind you. My hands (and to a lesser extent, my rugged good looks) are what keeps me in credits so I prefer to do my fighting from the cockpit or holding a blaster. But there is something invigorating about watching a well-thrown punch land squarely on a jaw. I guess I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.
We had made a deal with the weasely Rodian fence Creezo Wasanti to purchase some super-illegal (and likely stolen from the Zann Consortium) disruptor pistols but we had some time to kill before the buy was to take place. I figured the tracker I put on Creezo would make sure we didn't have too many surprises coming our way without having to tail him for the next 24 hours. Zero growled something about wanting a drink so we decided to kill two Neimodian kreehawks with one blaster shot and chase down another of Venlana's leads: a former Sorority pirate who went by the name of Graf Lin.
The ex-pirate supposedly lived in a part of Taleucema crater called the "Warren." The district was aptly named, for a slum. It was a bunch of squats built into the side of the crater that some Taleucemani forefather decided to put this city in. It wasn't too different from a lot of other Outer Rim slums - a bunch of rusted doors, empty rotgut bottles, equally empty deathstick packs, a few sad plants cared for by the plebes who still hadn't had the hope mugged out of them. And a constant churn of predators.
A bunch of wannabe spice dealers were hanging around on what passed for a corner here selling deathsticks and the Force knows what else. They tried giving us a hard look but it lasted a milisecond before they decided we weren't easy prey and looked away. Well, they looked away from Zero and me. More than a few kept eyeing Kina and welcomed her with (somewhat muted) catcalls. They were obviously smarter than they looked since they didn't try anything; the only thing Zero wanted more than a shot of that electro-ceramic paint remover he considers booze was to punch someone. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.
I tried to make friends with the dealers courtesy of a shiny 50 credit piece, but they weren't much help other than pointing out what they thought was Graf's hole – second level, third rusted-out door from the left. We weren't in a rush and I wasn't about to kick open the door of some paranoid former pirate without a little more info on the guy. Besides, Zero was thirsty.
Our new "friends" helpfully suggested a local watering hole down the street. Hole being the operative word. Evidently they don't see many outsiders here since the whole place gave us sideeye as we pushed aside the dented speeder panel that passed as a door. If the dive had had enough credits to afford a music generator, I'm sure it would have skipped a track. Long way from Paradise.
I swear, I tried to do it the easy way. I put some credits on a bar that hadn't been cleaned since the Clone Wars, ordered a round for the crew, and we put back our drinks. Turned out it was yot bean whiskey, which is a bit of an "acquired taste." My dad distilled the stuff back on Garel and used to send me the occasional bottle of moonshine when I was at the Academy, but apparently I never shared any with Krom. He was doing all he could not to vomit, which was hilarious since he was also trying to look tough at the same time. Zero, on the other hand, looked vaguely disappointed that it wasn't his usual brand of varnish. Like I said, it's an acquired taste.
I tried chatting up the local sitting next to me with an offer of a round. Turns out he had a case of selective laryngytis when we were just looking for a few easy answers. And then he had to go grab Kina or insult Zero or something stupid like that. Cue our friendly ex-bounty hunter Trandoshan taking on half a bar in a brawl.
I saw Zero tap the charging pad on his shock gloves so I knew he was making some sort of play. He strode right over to a table of locals and basically smashed the thing back into the recycled plastic it came from. Drinks went flying, most of the locals started backpedaling, and then a handful of hardcore degenerates decided that it was their lucky day (or more likely they'd been overserved on yot whiskey) and came running at Zero.
Four-on-one odds in a bar fight is tough. Zero held his own at first, fending off a few wild swings, but then he took a punch to the side and slipped on some spilled whiskey. A couple of the locals jumped on him, fists flying.
I figured this was Zero's show since the guy likes to dance up close with folks. My job was simple: I kept my best hard look on and my hand close to my Reaper in case anyone decided to up the ante and pull a blaster. I don't know if it was concern for Zero or if the shot of yot whiskey had damaged his brain, but all of the sudden I see Krom grab one of the locals by his shoulder, spin him around and deliver the most solid right hook I've ever seen. Crack. Guy dropped like he'd been sucker punched by a Wookie.
And then the bartender decided he'd had enough and pulled an ancient scattergun from under the bar and yelled at everyone to cut it out. He put a round into the ceiling for emphasis, but the paint was so filthy I couldn't even see the holes from the buckshot. He was careful not to point the gun at anyone in particular, which kept me from lighting him up with my C-10, but the room quieted down just the same.
Now, it seemed, they were willing to talk a bit more. We got some info on where Graf Lin bought his rotgut and a few other details that made me think he was just another dead ender rather than a paranoid ex-pirate on the run. So a short time later we were at his door, with Kina doing her best to convince Lin to open the door and him having none of it.
We had this old grav tractor back on Garel that my brother had lost our only key to. We didn't use it often, since dad had bought a new Hyrotii model about five years earlier. But every now and then it came in handy so I had gotten pretty good at picking the ignition lock. Kina wasn't getting anywhere with ol' Graf and I didn't want Zero kicking the poor guy's door down before we even had a chance to meet properly, so I pulled a few tension wrenches out of my vest pocket and popped the lock.
Needless to say, Graf was pretty surprised (and more than a little upset) when we just strolled in. He was waving a vibroblade around like he was going to actually do something about it but Zero walked over and casually knocked the thing out of his hand. And then we got to talking.
What Graf was telling us sounded good: he was a former Imperial Navy pilot gone pirate – that part rang true enough. He was kicked out of the Sorority because he fell in love with the wrong pirate lady – someone named Noira. That part seemed plausible. Let's just say that she didn't return his affection and made sure he was exiled from the band, leading to his current sad state. From what Graf was telling us all that love turned to vinegar, because he said he'd take us to the Sorority's base if we'd let him kill Noira. It wasn't just that he wanted her taken out; he wanted to do the deed himself. That's a tough breakup.
Everyone on the Rim has a story, and I've been around long enough to hear a bunch of them and to recognize that most of the time you don't want to know all the details. I mean, other than Krom I don't even know all that much about my own crew's past. So normally I'd let a few "selective gaps" in someone's story go. But Graf was setting off all my internal alarms. His hatred of Noira was palpable, but the way he talked about the Sorority I could see he'd do anything to get back on the inside. Up to and including turning us over to them to be turned into hydroponic fertilizer. So I made a mental note to make sure he didn't get the chance.
We told Graf to meet us back at Paradise (I had brief but amusing mental image of him trying to get past the bouncers) and then turned our attention to the last of Venlana's leads: some sort of online travel agency called Sororonet. Well, more like Krom turned his attention to the last of Venlana's leads.
I appreciate the benefits of technology as much as the next guy – heck, more than the next guy since I spend my days flying through hard vacuum protected by a duralloy hull and deflector shields. And I know my way around the HoloNet well enough. But I've never really taken to computers like Krom has. I remember when he he broke all the regs to reprogram the Tydirium's flight computer and remove the g-limiters. And on Lothal he once sliced the duty roster to give us an extra day of liberty. So when he pulled out the Versafunction88 datapad he'd bought on Correllia and turned into a slicer toolkit, I figured we were in good hands.
Apparently the Imperial Navy isn't as concerned about securing its duty roster as a group of pirates is with securing their list of booty. Krom's foot was tapping some sort of random beat like it does when he's really stressed and I could hear him muttering under his breath about needing a dataspike as his fingers flew across the datapad. He stopped rather suddenly, and then pulled the hardline from the pad with a jerk. Turns out that the Sorority was using the virtual travel agency as a front and to track shipments of stolen goods to various destinations. One of those was right here on Saleucami in a place called Blackwind Crater.
Krom said he might be able to get more information, but it could risk drawing attention to us and tip off the Sorority. With what we had learned already – the fact that the pirates were brazen enough to smuggle goods to a Zann Consortium-controlled world, and that it likely had something to do with Blackwind Crater, my vote was to keep us off their scanners for now. Se we headed back to the Val and called it a night.
I slept like a baby and stumbled out of my stateroom just after seven in search of a mug of hot caf. Zero was in the galley already charging his shock gloves and I heard Krom tapping away on his datapad from his bunk, probably running some sort of simulation of the Valencia's new ion thrusters or some such engineering thing. It was a scene of domestic (or at least shipboard) bliss. Except for one problem: no Kina.
She wasn't one for pre-dawn walks and the ship's computer hadn't reported any unauthorized activity so Zero called up the storage on the landing cameras. Sure enough she had left in the middle of the night, with some sort of package under her arm. Great. Our over-trusting waitress/broker/astrogator somehow thought it was smart to wander around a Consortium-run planet alone. At night. With a blaster that generally only shot at Zero.
The fact that she snuck out without taking her stuff and without leaving a note told me that she planned on being back before we were up and about. And that fact that she wasn't meant that nothing good had happened. So I reached out to Porel for a little help tracking her down. Bad news got even worse: Kina had a bounty on her and some nerf herder had decided it was worth cashing in.
The three of us huddled at the edge of the landing bay and considered our options. The ship was newer, a model I hadn't run into before so I couldn't tell if she had any hidden armaments. But we knew that Porel's flight clearance delay wouldn't last much longer so we had to move quickly. First things first: we wanted them stuck in place and unable to call for help. I had brought along our Miradyne 1 x-Hail comm jammer and fired it up with a narrowcast program that kept even ship-powered comms from braking through. Krom pulled a panel off the docking console and moved jumpers on a circuit board and suddenly the docking clamps engaged. Stuck like a womp rat in mud and surrounded by static. A good start.
Part two should've been just as easy – breach the hull and take out a few mouth breathing bounty hunters. Krom's SoroSuub fusion cutter melted the duralloy around the landing ramp like butter, and I arced a concussion grenade through the hole before the ramp even hit the tarmac, but the bastards must've seen us on external cameras because they laid into us with heavy blaster fire as soon as we made the hole.
I don't remember much of what happened for a few seconds. I heard the va-boom of the grenade going off and felt the concussion wave, and the next thing I know Zero is crouching over me and I'm feeling that numb all-over warmth that comes from a stimpack. I still had a ringing in my ears and got back to my feet just in time to see Zero drop one of the bounty hunters – a Gank from the looks of him. The other was lying on the deck so either my grenade had taken him out or Krom had blasted him.