Star Wars - In Search of the Black Wing

Tales From the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis pt. 6

Like I said, we aren't detectives.  But the Valencia's crew isn't full of mouth-breathing nerf herders, either.  So it didn't take long for us to figure out that something was a bit off with this whole situation at the archeologist's camp.  Rodian primitives generally don't attack Imperial scientists without a reason.  And I had a bad feeling about what we saw with the researchers' wounds – arrows and spear wounds made sense.  But a few of them looked like they had been hit by lightning or some kind of ion weapon.  Not something Rodian primitives generally carry around.

We needed a bit more to go on, and Dr. Aphra wasn't exactly the most forthcoming so we decided to poke around a bit on our own.  Krom and Kina took the turbolift down a level while Zero put on his best "don't slag with me" look and glared at the jungle.  It must've worked, because the jungle didn't try anything.  I decided to keep an eye on our current employer; more specifically I decided to see what she was so focused on at her terminal.  Spying is such an ugly term – let's just say I was gathering intelligence in the very focused range of her computer screen.  Turns out I was right to be a bit worried – she was putting together some sort of report to her Imperial bosses on the attack and asking for "reinforcements." 

Krom and my IDs are pretty solid.  Some of the best slicer work in the Outer Rim, or at least that's what Ashleyn humbly told me when she made them for us.  I don't have much reason to doubt her – we've gotten past Imp customs agents, stormtroopers and even an overzealous ISB officer (are there any other type?) once without ending up dead or on a prisoner barge to Kessel.  But we don't like to press our luck unnecessarily.  So the idea of a platoon of bucket heads getting in our business didn't sound too good.  Plus I figured the good doctor might back out of our agreement and the rest of the 8,000 she owed us if she could get the Imperial Army to do it for free.

0T-5N, the doc's protocol droid, apparently took offense to my keen eyesight and stood in my way. I've learned not to waste time talking to the help when the boss is available, so I "diplomatically" reminded Aphra that we had an agreement and that calling the army down before we knew what was what might violate that agreement.  I might have also insinuated that we'd leave her stranded with a bunch of hostile primitives nearby if she didn't listen up quickly.  She didn't like it, but she saw the light and said she'd delay her report for a day.  She also gave me a bunch of video files showing her team's final minutes.  And I saw that her droid knew as much about protocol as Krom does – which is pretty much nothing.  0T moved like a disguised protection model to me and it looked to be armed to take down a rancor.  Good news if it and its master was on our side, but I wasn't quite sure of that yet.

Kina and Krom hadn't wasted time checking out the rest of the facility.  Krom found a terminal with some serious admin access and pulled some maps and logs that referenced a nearby dig site.  He also learned that the archeology crew was interested in finding Clone War era weapons.  More Clone War era weapons.  Must be the theme in this sector.  Kina found a journal that backed up this story and that the dig was well-supported by Palpatine's treasury.  The four of us huddled and looked over the holotapes again – and that's when someone noticed a boss Rodian on the vid directing some of the others to take two of Aphra's colleagues prisoner.  So we knew at least two were alive when they left – time to earn that 8,000.  

Zero was getting antsy to punch something anyway, so we gave our gear one more check and headed out towards the dig site.  Dr. Aphra had decided to come with us, with her astromech and "protocol" droid in tow.  Kina surprised me yet again, for a change not by shooting Zero in the head, but by being a pretty decent tracker.  She said something about Ryloth being a pretty dangerous place to grow up but I got the feeling it was something else. 

We made it to the dig site without any trouble, although there wasn't much left.  A bunch of plastiform storage buildings, excavation tools and a few scattered pieces of electronics, all set on fire and thrown into the hole the archeologists had been digging.  From the holos it had been a few days since the attack but the pit was still smoldering.  But no researchers, dead or alive; and no Rodians.  So we pressed on.

This time it was me who found the trail – mostly by figuring that the Rodians would want to keep moving away from the base camp and looking hard on that side of the clearing.  We found a few primitive decorative spears and signs of a trail, so we rechecked the charge on our blasters and kept on moving.  After a few minutes we heard something that gave us pause – singing.  I hadn't heard Rodian native singing before.  Now that I have, it is just one more thing I hate about this planet.  

Krom and I left Zero and Kina to guard the doctor and crept up to see about this choir practice in the middle of the sweltering jungle.  We followed an old game trail to a small clearing with about ten Rodians clustered around a hole in the ground, singing their green snouts off.  The boss Rodian was there as well, leaning on a staff and and directing the singers.  They had posted a few guards but with all the excitement of the jungle concert they had their backs to us, which was just fine to me.  

We quietly called the rest of the crew up the trail and had just gotten into some good ambush positions when Krom noticed that our two missing scientists were the center of attention in the pit.    Not good, since I figured we were watching some sort of sacrifice ritual to pre-industrial Rodian gods.  Krom and I were both Imperial Navy but the Academy had a lot of ex-Army types as teachers and we had some decent tactical classes so we put that to work setting up what we thought would be a pretty good ambush.  It would've worked, too, if we didn't have to deal with magic.  

The attack (like most, I expect) started off just as planned.  We dropped two of the guards in short order, and Zero and Krom ran up to lob stun grenades at the singers.  Zero might be a tough brawler but it's obvious he was never a real soldier – his grenade slid past the target and ended up only taking one of them out, while Krom's throw wasn't much better.  Still, we had four Rodians down and had the advantage.  Or so I thought.  We recognized the boss Rodian from the holovid – an older female with a wooden staff decorated with primitive fetishes and the like.  But she didn't move like a senior citizen – in fact she jumped about 20 meters straight at us, spinning her staff around like the martial arts instructor back at Corulag.  I'm sure some Rodians are decent with a bo staff.  But none should be able to jump 20 meters.  None.

And that wasn't the worst of it.  She and Zero faced off, which I figured wouldn't be much of a contest.  And it might not have been if it was staff vs. shock glove.  But then the Rodian reached out her hand and…shot lightning.  Not from an overcharged shock glove, not from a holdout blaster.  She just shot a bolt of purple lightning out of her hand.  Like black magic or the stories my nan used to tell about the boogeyman Sith that would come get us if we didn't do our farm chores.  

I put this bit of information down as being Not Good kept blasting away at the Rodians, some of us taking shots at the guards while others focused on the witch doctor.  She got in a few more blasts of lightning, one of which scorched me pretty good, before she did her super leap back towards the hole in the ground.  Probably half the singers were still standing at that point, trying to shoot at us with arrows.  I yelled out for Kina to go with me and ran up the the hole to see if I could even the odds a bit more since I had no interest in seeing what an arrow wound felt like.  The blasted lightning hurt enough.

Running towards the hole, my heart began beating faster.  It wasn't just the adrenaline going – that was already in play.  This was something different.  I felt cold, despite the fact that we were in a sweltering jungle.  And part of me wanted to run away, even though I had a heavy blaster and the Rodians were shooting arrows.  Kina and I chucked our stun grenades in the hole but I could tell she was feeling the same sense of strange as I was – and it must've affected our aim because we only dropped a couple more Rodians with the two grenades.  I could hear Krom behind us still firing away with his DL-12.  Krom'd be a pretty good shot if he actually spent some time practicing.  Unfortunately if he spends more than five minutes with a blaster he ends up taking it apart to see how it works rather than improving his aim. 

The witch doctor was standing on top of some sort of pod or sarcophagus in the bottom of the pit.  I could see that there was some sort of hatch on it but couldn't quite see inside.  The two hostages were also on top of the pod – not tied up mind you, but just sitting there while a pretty decent firefight was going on around them.  They looked terrified but despite us yelling at them to run they just stood still.  Just about then the doc's astromech came zooming forward to the pod and started trying to push the hostages towards the rim of the pit without much luck.  

The Rodian witch was having none of that and unloaded a surge of lightning on the droid, which screeched like the Val's navicomputer when it shorted out a few months back.  I was just happy she wasn't blasting me, since I was already feeling pretty woozy and I could tell Kina was having trouble staying on her feet as well.  Kina got off a few good shots and dropped another pair of Rodians and I played ring around the gas giant with another before I managed to blast him.  I could hear shots from behind me so I figured Krom was still banging away as well.

In the meantime, Zero and the witch doctor had gotten into it again.  The Rodian — without her staff I saw — jumped down into the pod through the hatch and Zero didn't hesitate before diving in after her.  I heard a lot of thumping and what sounded like Zero grunting (maybe from another blast of electricity) and then the witch doctor appeared at the hatch opening.  Well, half of her at least – the other half being held onto by a rather hefty Trandoshan.

Kina and I decided that half a witch doctor made a pretty good target and took a careful bead on her green snout.  We got in a few good shots but I saw she was still struggling with Zero to get free.    Krom joined the party as well, blasting away from the edge of the clearing.  I've seen our ex-bounty hunter deadlift a 100 kilo plasma cannister without a problem, but somehow this scrawny Rodian managed to break Zero's grip and then she pulled her super tauntaun jump again and started moving towards the jungle at a good clip.  I decided to try a different tack and switched the DL-44 to stun and Kina, Krom and I blasted away at her until I could see my blaster's barrel steaming.  But something must've connected because I saw the Rodian slump down to the ground.

After what we'd seen I had no interest in sticking around.  We had our two missing researchers, alive.  We had the client, alive.  All of the crew were still on our feet (more or less).  And I wasn't sure that the witch doctor was going to stay down for long, so we beat feet down the path and back to the Valencia.  I thought it might be practical to put some deflector shields between us and any potential lightning hands.

There are a couple more smuggler rules that I'll need to pass along to Kina.  Always get a percentage up front.  Never play sabbacc with a Toydarian.  And the client always lies.  Always.  This job was no exception.  We had just gotten the Val's landing hatch buttoned up and Dr. Aphra tells me that her message to her Imperial patrons "accidentally" got sent during the firefight.  And to top it off, she might have "overestimated" her credit situation to the tune of…all of it.  Great.  So now we probably had a platoon of stormtroopers heading our way and we were out 8,000.  

I was ready to drop the good doctor and her two droids out the cargo hatch from 20,000 meters, but Kina had taken a shine to her and worked out a deal.  We traded the credits we were owed for a full bacta tank in the medical bay, I smooth-talked the bucket heads when they eventually showed up and we got a solid "I owe you" from the doc that might come in handy if we ever need help from a Core-world researcher with a history of bad luck and an over-armed interpreter droid.  Not likely.  But in this business, I guess you never know.  

Tales From the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis pt. 5

After Christophsis, even Krom would have to admit that bringing Keena on as part of the crew was one of my more brilliant ideas.  The fringer might have just been a waitress in a dead-end cantina when we first ran into her, but that Twi'lek has a head (tails?) for deals.  And a knack for blasting Zero in sensitive places on a fairly frequent basis.  But I'm convinced she could squeeze a few credits out of a Tattooine sandstone if she needed to.  Plus as I mentioned – she's easy on the eyes.  And for a change we didn't even have to pull out our blasters.

After leaving the hulk of the Black Wing with some sort of shadowy deep space creature hot on our six, we came out of hyperspace a few hours later right where we'd planned, close in-system at Christophsis.  What we hadn't planned was to come out next to a whole squadron of TIEs blaring ion after a couple of what our scanners said were a couple of up-armored freighters.  The TIEs plus a few Imperial cruisers in orbit around the crystal planet seemed a bit of overkill for a customs inspection gone wrong so I quickly went into "fly casual" mode and put the Val on the most boring planetary approach I could mange.  I even remembered to call out on the emergency channel in a panicky voice for protection from whatever the Imps were chasing.

The freighters didn't stick around long, and they all jumped off in different directions after taking a few hits from the fighters.  Didn't seem like pirates to me, so I figured the ships might've been part of this anti-Imperial group we'd heard about a few times.  Now the Force knows I have no love for Palpatine or his Empire after what I saw on Lothal, and I'm pretty sure Krom agrees with me on this point.  But I was in the Imperial Navy for a good long while.  I've seen what AT-ATs and stormtroopers can do to even well-equipped planetary defense forces.  I've been on an Imperial Star Destroyer and and know that up-armored freighters are no match for real military ships.  I wasn't sure what these pirates or rebels or whatever they were hoped to accomplish, but it wasn't gonna be much once real soldiers got to the fight.

The TIEs peeled off without ever even returning my hail. Typical for the arrogant nerf herders most of those engine jockeys are.  So I continued on my "nothing to see here" approach and got in the queue for flight control.  There was some sort of customs enforcement going on and the wait was lengthy, but Keena sweet-talked the poor paper-pusher on the other end of the commlink and before you could say "Rodia is hot and nasty" we had ourselves a sweet landing pad, comp'ed for 48 standards.  

After what we had been through, we had a couple orders of business.  Zero and Keena were still pretty banged up (Zero because of Keena, now that I think about it) and they wanted to visit a hospital.  Zero said something about being thirsty, too, which I thought was a good idea, so we agreed to meet a bit later at a cantina Krom found on the HoloNet.  I decided to check out the shop stalls near the 'port for a bit and then thought I might ask around to see if I could get a lead on anyone who might be interested in paying good credits for the location of a century-old dreadnaught with a defective invisibility screen and a psychotic AI onboard.  Krom did what he always does when we dust down – poke around on the outside of the Valencia looking for problems.  He didn't have to look far, unfortunately.

The shops were pretty well stocked for an Outer Rim planet and it didn't take me long to make a note of who had what and for how much. Surprisingly, finding a potential buyer also didn't take too long.  I bought a few Supernovas for a scruffy Rodian whose name I couldn't pronounce who introduced me to a wheezy Dug whose name I couldn't wait to forget who sent me to a Devaronian named Dax that had a buyer for me: Orsk (a Bothan, this time), who normally held court in the cantina "Laredo" off Rose Crystal square.  The Devaronian was nice enough to clue me in that Orsk worked for the Zann Consortium, which meant that he had the credits to make this happen.  He also told me he wouldn't mention anything about our meeting, which of course meant he would tell Orsk everything he could about me.  Luckily this wasn't my first bantha rodeo so I had been using a fake name and had done my best not to look like me with Krom's old coveralls and smeared with tau reaction dust in a few strategic places.  

We had a name so I headed back to the spaceport cantina Krom had found to meet up with the rest of the crew.  Zero and Keena said they hadn't had much luck with the sawbones, although Zero had some weird stitches on the back of his head and he smelled even worse than normal – like a bouquet of lizard and wet dog.  Krom had been busy as well, and had replaced some of the hull plating that had been, well…eaten, so the Valencia looked shipshape again.  I briefed them on our potential buyer and we made plans to make contact with Orsk.  

I have to admit, I was pretty impressed on how the crew all handled themselves - maybe the thought of all those credits helped keep us all focused.  Keena was the seller, with Zero playing the role of obvious muscle.  That wasn't much of a stretch.  Krom made a neat job of slicing the Christophsis Zoning Comission's records to get us the cantina's floor plans so everyone could see the ways in and out.  I cleaned off the tau dust, put on an old Commerce Guild flight suit and a bored expression and went to sit at the Laredo's bar to be the less-obvious muscle and backup.  Krom was Johnny-on-the-spot outside, with all of us on commlinks.  I made a mental note that a commlink jammer and few stun grenades would come in handy in the future for meets like this.  And maybe a 74-Z speeder bike or two for us to move around more quickly.  But first we had to get the credits.

Like I said before, Keena took the whole sabbac pot.  Our new friend Orsk wasn't happy with the final price, which was almost double what he wanted to pay.  But the Consortium did its due diligence and we played it cool (it helped that we knew we really had what we said we did) and before long we had a decent pile of credits coming our way.  I do need to familiarize Keena with a few smuggler terms, like "up-front percentage, "goodwill money," and "future jobs," but we had enough to get us off this crystal ball of a planet in good shape.  

Having a few credits to clink together is a good thing, but even better is another paying cargo to throw off any suspicious Imperial customs officers.  With the problems we saw coming on-planet, I thought I might reach out to a few respectable brokers to get something in the Valencia's hold – even better if it might be something the Imps wanted to have shipped offworld quickly – like raw materials for the core planets or something like that.  I found a paying cargo quickly enough – a few hundred credits profit at most, but the low profile was the most important part.  

And then I had to go and complicate things.  It wasn't like I was trying to.  It's just that keeping the Val in the black, constantly moving the last few years to make sure we didn't have any ISB goons on us, has meant that Krom and I have pretty much constantly been on the lookout for a paying cargo – and that includes passengers.  So when I see this lady in some low-rent cantina, dressed for the a three-day dig on Ordo but screaming Core in her mannerisms and accent…well, I couldn't just pass it up.  I mean, of course she is looking to get off planet, and of course she is willing to pay 10,000.  With 2,000 of that up front (see, Keena? That's how it's done!)  All we have to do is get our new passenger Dr. Aphra, her two droids and her cargo to Rodia and we are even more ahead for a change.  So I thought why not? (Although I did at least think to check with Krom first.)

It looked like we'd be in the black none too soon, either.  A couple friendly ladies at the cantina said there was some sort of research facility on Christophsis.  I thought that the excitement we saw when we first hit system might have something to do with that.  We'd been seeing some kind of smoke off and on on that side of the city, and the bucketheads were out in force, with Lambdas and Imperial troop carriers to back them up.  HoloNet and INN had been running a pretty steady stream of reports about the "heroic efforts of our brave Imperial troops" and "unplanned power grid maintenance" and "terrorist cells" —  the same sort of junk we saw after Westhills.  That's usually more than Krom and I need to remember its a big galaxy and we might want to sample a different brand of alcohol a few parsecs away for a change.

We had a busy last night on planet, between collecting our first payment from the Consortium and turning over the coordinates and our magic AI box, finishing our shopping now that we finally had some credits to our name, collecting our distinguished passenger and her cargo and avoiding any Imperial entanglements.  We got departure clearance without any particular trouble (the Christophsan pencil-pusher still seemed worried about what Keena might say) and I fired the landing jets hard to get us off ferrocrete and clawing for the blue as soon as the Valencia's ramp signaled hard seal.  

We had a little bit of a scare on the outbound when one of the Imps took an interest in us.  It started like a normal sweep, asking about lifeforms and cargo and destination and such.  I was glad that we had a good story to tell with our hold full of repulsorlift parts but I wasn't sure how good of a scan they could get from that range.  Krom and I flew Lambdas and we had to be pretty close to get anything more than a basic weapons and biologicals read.  We didn't get any TIEs sent our way, but they asked about the number of crew and passengers in a way that made me want to check our six just in case.  And then Keena finished the last tweaks to her hyperspace plot, I pushed the power throttle forward, and the stars became lines.

So…Rodia.  Yeah, I hate that planet.  It's hot and sweaty and full of…well, Rodians.  And those blasted wall-crawling crocodile things that Keena tends to see with disturbing frequency.  But it was along the Correllian Run and we were another 8,000 credits to the good once we dropped the good doctor off at the first spaceport.  And then the doc starts trying to alter the bargain on us, saying she is some sort of researcher (on an Imperial grant no less) and that she lost contact with her group and won't we look for them, please?  To which certainly the answer is "no way" since we are a smuggler crew and not a detective firm.  But she waved another 5,000 credits at us and looks all panicked and Keena goes to sympathizing with her and Krom is giving me "that look" again.  I hate it when the only person who agrees with me is Zero.  So I guess we are detectives now.

Doc Aphra gives us the camp coordinates so I skim the jungletop at a pretty good pace before the sensors tell me we are in the right spot.  No signs of life out the cockpit nor on the sensors, and they don't answer our hails on any of the channels Aphra gives us.  So I bring the Val in with a hot-zone combat landing - mostly because it's fun and I need to keep my skills up but maybe just a little because all the maneuvering dropped the good Dr. on her rear end and reminded her she wasn't calling all the shots.  

No welcome party except for the cacophony of jungle noises all around.  We tooled up and I made sure that Krom actually remembered to bring his blaster this time and that Keena knew that Zero was in front of her so she should avoid shooting him in the head.  And as soon as the ramp was down it hit me – the heat, the humidity, the stink of jungle.  And the flies.  Force help me, the flies don't end on that planet.    

We kept a close eye out but it became apparent pretty quickly what had happened to Aphra's colleagues.  Some sort of primitive attack – we found bodies with arrows and cuts and no one left alive.  The doc just walked around in shock; you could see her ticking off names in her mind.  And then she did it again and something clicked – one body she was looking for wasn't there.  Someone might be alive.  And then I started regretting that we said we'd give her five days of looking for the low-low price of 5,000 credits.  I should've had Keena do the negotations.

Tales From the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis pt. 4

Treasure means different things to different folks.  For my dad, it was a good harvest of yot beans.  For a Hutt, I'm sure it's a load of spice or slaves or something equally distasteful.  For me it means freedom – the ability to fill the autochef with some better-than-average fillers, keep the Val's hull plating from looking like a Dejarik table, a bribe or two to some Imp customs agent, and a few credits left over for a halfway-decent bottle of Ergish rum for me and Krom to find the bottom of.  

So I wasn't really expecting to find piles of Old Republic credits or dilirium crystals on this supposed "treasure ship" but the reality was less than I had imagined.  I hate jobs where we come out worse off than when we started.  But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself here.

With the help of the schematics Krom and Keena had found I managed to skirt along the invisible hull of the Black Wing and got us where I calculated the midships airlock should be.  As soon as we locked down, suddenly what had been a big, black hole in space became a big, black military airlock door in space.  It looked to be in good shape, although it was admittedly a bit dated.  The Valencia's environmental safeties showed a hard seal and a breathable atmo on the other side so  Zero put the puzzle box of a computer in Krom's Navy rucksack, we gave each other one look of encouragement, checked our blaster charges and hit the door release.

I'm not really sure what I expected after a hundred years.  Artificial-g was still operating, and the fact that we were breathing without a vacc suit meant power and life support computers were still functioning but the only lights were from our handheld torches.  Zero started complaining almost immediately about some sort of buzzing in his ears (which for the record, he doesn't even have).

We didn't get far before we saw our first body.  It looked like I'd expect a century-old corpse to look except for the fact that it was wearing an Old Republic uniform like you see in the holovids.  We kept moving up and forward, with the intent on getting to the bridge to see what might have gone wrong.  Pretty soon, Keena started getting the same headache/buzzing as Zero and I might have gotten even more vocal about what a bad idea this whole expedition was.  But Krom had that blasted "stay calm and carry on" look in his eye so we kept moving forward.  I kept my DL-44 in hand just in case.  

We went past a series of berths and what looked like labs or engineering spaces.  A few more bodies, and a couple that looked like they might have died violently.  Zero was up front, as usual.  I give the Trandoshan grief because he's old and cranky and dour and generally no fun to be around, but he doesn't lack for courage.  Or it might just be stupidity.  I don't really care as long as he draws the first shots.  So he hears something with his non-ears and motions for us to stop.  Didn't take long for me to hear it as well, some sort of squeaking and wheels on the deck.  Droid, I thought.  

Zero might be brave but he's not exactly stealthy.  Ditto with Keena because she's usually blathering about Hutts or Zero's lack of table manners or some Twi'lek band I've never heard of.  And while Krom and I didn't get a lot of hours of special forces training at the Academy,  we picked up a few tricks so we decided to check it out.  Turned out to be some sort of ancient MSE-6 repair droid with its programming stuck, bouncing off the corners of a berthing space.  I thought we should leave it alone since it wasn't bothering us, but I've yet to see Krom leave a piece of tech alone when he could pick it up and mess with it.  Which is exactly what he did.  Then he tries to plug the blasted thing into his datapad and it starts screeching like he shot it with the DL-44.  

Zero and Keena had come up the hall at that point wondering what was going on when Krom gives me that "told you so" grin like when he sliced Captain Xeron's commlink back on Lothal and got us weekend liberty passes.  He said that the Black Wing had some sort of communication breakdown between the bridge and engineering shortly before whatever happened went down.  That didn't improve my mood any.  We talked a bit about whether we should continue on or maybe check out engineering but since we had already made progress towards the bridge that idea won out.  That and the fact that Krom and I were starting to feel the buzzing that you really couldn't hear but that wouldn't go away.

We had a rather bizarre run in with some droids in anthromorphic programming mode, passed even more bodies and found a security room full of battle droids that I locked down hard just to make sure they wouldn't come looking for us.  The whole ship was creepy as a Geonosian brain worm and I was ready to get this thing over and done with.  We made it up to the last ladder before the bridge and hit a brick wall.  Well, not exactly a brick wall – it was actually a magnetic field that looked suspiciously like an emergency atmo seal.  Since none of us had a vacc suit we thought it was time to head back and check out engineering when all of the sudden we heard a voice over the 1MC. 

You can always tell an AI by the voice.  Sounds like a droid, only more smug and flat and a lot creepier.  One of the reasons I've always been glad the Lambdas and the YT-1300s don't have anything onboard more powerful than the navicomputer.  I'd hate to hear that creepy voice every time I asked the ship for a plot or if the caf dispenser was on the fritz again.  

The Black Wing's AI had the added creepy factor of having been lost in space for a century and us having walked past a literal mortuary of its previous crew.  Krom got the bright idea of pretending to be an Old Republic repair crew which seemed a bit goofy to me considering we were dressed in civvies and not Old Republic uniforms but maybe the AI hadn't kept up with military fashions out here in the black.  It seemed to work – the ship answered a few routine status queries from us but clammed up pretty quickly when Krom asked about the experimental invisibility device. 

Then Zero – again, he's brave, but not particularly bright – decides to pull his magic box out of Krom's ruck and ask the ship about it.  The good news was, he got the lights turned on.  The bad news was the AI went off comms and the buzzing seemed to get worse and Keena started turning a shade that even Twi'leks aren't supposed to turn.  A lot of dead crewmembers, an AI that seemed creepier than normal and us without vacc suits was not what my academy instructors called a "advantageous tactical situation."   So I mentioned it might be good time to get the pfassk back to the Val, full speed.  For once, everyone agreed.

The Force is my witness, this really happened.  We were jogging back to the Valencia, Zero on point, me watching our six and Krom and Keena in the middle.  All of the sudden Keena pulls her blaster out and shoots Zero in the back of the head point blank while screaming something about sewer alligators.  She almost killed the guy.  For the second time in as many weeks.  

Both Krom and I swung our blasters around to cover our fratricide-happy waitress, figuring we might be next.  But you could see in her expression that she was as confused as either of us to see a blasted and bleeding Zero in front of her.  Keena said the buzzing in her mind was overwhelming – it wasn't bothering me as much but it definitely wasn't comfortable.  And then one of the techies (probably Krom, since Zero was spending a lot of mental energy trying not to bleed out on the deck) suggested that the ship or the invisibility device might be messing with our heads to make us hallucinate.  Stellar.  A crazed AI mortuary ship that could make us see things that weren't there.  

Full speed became flank speed and we made it back to the Val without further incident.  I was all for cutting the seal and leaving the mystery of the Black Wing for the next set of idiots, but Krom and Zero started talking about the mystery box and why the AI might be worried about it and next thing I knew they had decided it was some sort of rogue AI override device and that they needed to bring it to engineering to hardwire it in and make it work.  

Needless to say, this sounded like a horrible idea to me.  I hadn't seen a single thing that we could make a profit on aboard this ancient tomb and a steady flow of credits are what keeps the Val in the black.  But Krom had suffered through the same ground tactics classes as I did and agreed with me about the value of a decoy operation.  He put together a pretty amazing mockup of the magic box, with a glowing light and everything.  I figured we'd let the slicers take the real deal and if we ran into any ship security droids Keena and would do our best to draw their attention.  I did take the added precaution of setting the Twi'lek's blaster to stun in case she saw any more sewer lizards.  My head isn't as blaster-resistant as Zero's.

I had moved the ship to a new airlock closer to engineering and we readied ourselves for a tough go.  Keena was still looking queasy and the buzzing in my head hadn't stopped.  We all headed out together but hadn't gone far when a group of battle droids came up on us.  Unfortunately I followed the plan, which called for me drawing their fire while Zero and Krom tried to get to engineering.  Old Republic droids must've had better targeting software than current models because these things shot the decoy box out of my hands and winged me pretty good to boot.  I managed to duck back down a ladder after getting off a few shots of my own.  Keena took one of them down, finally blasting something that wasn't Zero.  She isn't a bad shot – we might just need to project a holo of Zero on all our enemies for her to hit the right target.  

I didn't really see much of what happened next, being that I was bleeding from a nasty blaster shot, but Krom filled me in afterwards. He and Zero sprinted to the engineering spaces and plugged in the mystery box to the nearest hardline port.  The Black Wing tried to talk them out of it, but Krom can be pretty stubborn about things and I'd bet that is another thing he and Zero have in common.  The ship hit all the resets – lights, artificial-g, life support.  But the two engineers managed to get us back on the floor and held off a few more battle droids until the box – which I understand was some sort of failsafe device – had done its work.  A few minutes later and we had ourselves a century-old experimental dreadnought (sans creepy and possibly psychotic AI) and had visions of fame and fortune.  Except those visions were competing with the buzzing still in our heads.

The engineers figured out how to turn off the invisibility cloak and, as I suspected, the buzzing in our heads stopped.  But a few minutes later the space whales we had seen in the area decided they were hungry for Old Republic Dreadnought and we realized we had a few choices – keep the invisibility screen off and become space whale food, turn it on and go insane from bees in our heads, or take what we could salvage from the ship and head for the nearest spaceport (hopefully one with a paying cargo). 

I thought we had had a full enough day, but the galaxy wasn't done with us quite yet.  I've seen a lot of stuff flying for the Empire but I still don't have a clue what chased us once we undocked from the Black Wing.  Krom looked over the hull damage afterwards and swears it looks like bite marks.  I think he's just messing with me,  but I'm in no hurry to head back.  Like I said, I hate jobs when we come out worse than when we started. 

Tales From the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis pt. 3
Colliding with Space

2/6/0 ABY

I love being in the black.  Sitting at the Valencia's controls is where I belong, even when we are in hyperspace and the navicomputer is doing most of the work.  The Val isn't as responsive as a Lambda-class, or even some of the trainers at the academy.  But the YT-1300s can maneuver well enough and I've figured out how to run the Val through her paces when I need to.  Plus she's mine (at least partially) and that matters.

But sometimes space can be a pretty unforgiving place.  

We had decided to use the data we had gathered and follow the Black Wing's intended flight path. It made the astrogation plots easier and I thought about my mother sitting at the farmhouse table lecturing my brothers to retrace their steps when they lost something.  I figured it still applied to 100-year-old invisible dreadnoughts.  So Keena sat down in the copilot's seat and began calculating our jump (I'm still not sure how a waitress learned astrogation) while I pushed the sublights to cruise and negotiated with orbit control to get us into the departure pattern.

Our first jump was – well, a bit of a mess.  Yeah, I admit I lost my temper.  The scientists on that station must've been fresh from Imperial Center or the Corporate Zone to try and profit off a ship in distress (well, at least claiming to be).  First law of space is to render aid.  That's really the only one people follow these days.  I was thinking about Westhills, and the damned Imps treating the Lothalians like cattle.  So they deserved a real broadside, and I was disappointed we didn't have a couple of proton torpedoes to send their way.  See how they like being in distress for a change.  But at least I didn't get a Hutt angry at us.  I used a fake name and made sure the transponder was off; there are hundreds of YT-1300s working the Outer Rim these days.  

When we came out of hyperspace at the second jump point the view out the screen was the dusty-light of a nebula, which I was expecting.  I didn't expect the warning lights on the bridge to light up like the Festival of Light on Naboo and the ship's sensors to cut out.  Krom had been trying to get the sensor package upgrade working and had run into a few software compatibility issues so basically we were flying blind.  No big deal, I thought.  As long as no one else was flying blind out there.

It was even worse than that.  I got the warning klaxons turned off and was getting ready to head back and see if I could help Krom with the repairs when we got hailed over the short range comms.   That worried me since I figured anyone hailing us knew we were here.  Which means they could see us, and we still couldn't see them. I checked to make sure the shield generators were at full power before I clicked the comms to active and got a lovely earful of some scumbag pirate-type telling us to power down and prepare to be boarded.  Not my ship, sister.  But I played along and made sure the shipwide comms was still open when I said we would stand fast and lower our shields. 

I yelled at Krom to get the sensors fixed, flank speed and diverted enough power to the gun bays to get them warm without showing up on any sensors.  Krom must've found the right engineering deity to pray to, because it only took him a minute to hack together some new code and get our eyes back.  Just in time for us to see there wasn't just one scumbag pirate, but three.  Now I consider myself a hell of a good pilot, and Krom is a fair hand with the guns, but three-on-one is never good odds.  Luckily we've been in some tight spots before.  And like I said, I'm a hell of a good pilot.

I gave Krom a heads up about what I was planning and he and Zero ran for the gunwells.  Keena slid in to the copilot seat — I have to give the girl credit, because she managed to ignore the three ships out the screen just waiting to rape and pillage the Valencia (and her crew, most likely) and began working on the hyperspace jump plot right away.  Maybe ignorance really is bliss.

At the academy we used a pretty slick gravball play where you draw the opponent in close, then shoulder him hard into the wall before lobbing the ball at a teammate running flat out for the goal.   I thought we could try the same thing here – I idled the sublight engines and cut the shields back so they were barely registering.  One of the greedy bastards closed almost to docking range with the other two in a covering pattern and then we let them have it.  Krom lit off with a point blank blast from the dorsal turret, Zero followed up with a glancing shot from the ventral and then I pushed the throttle to the indents straight at one of the covering ships while Keena maxed our deflector shields.   

The move caught them by surprise, but only barely.  The ship we'd blasted was still in the fight, although I could see on the screens where we'd blown through her shields.  The backups gave us some solid shots, scarring the Val's hull and we briefly lost the deflectors before Krom managed to get them back online.  The sublights were flaring and I threw even more power to them, which overloaded a few subsystems but I wanted to get us past the picket ships in a hurry. Krom and Zero pounded away on the closest pirate, and one of them got off a perfect shot that must've hit the sublight coolant lines since the ship pitched forward violently.  We took a few more glancing blows before Keena gave me a grin and the navicomputer display went solid green – I didn't waste any time before firing up the hyperdrive.  

When the lines dropped to stars I suddenly remembered another of my mother's favorite lines – something about frying pans and fires.  We came out of hyperspace right in the middle of an asteroid field and ship graveyard.  The shields kept us from joining the ranks of the deceased, but the sensors were barely capable of keeping up with all of the tracks.  Keena and I both nearly choked on our caf (well, more than normal considering the swill Zero brews) since in addition to the debris, asteroids and other assorted dangers we also saw some sort of space whales gliding from asteroid to asteroid off in the distance.  And then we saw something out of the screen even more scary – a hole in space.  Not a black hole.  A hole – like a big nothing where stars (and debris and asteroids) should be.  Like a hole maybe the size of an invisible century-old dreadnaught. 

Every atom in my body was screaming "get out of here, like now" but that tiny little voice in my head (or maybe it was Krom in my commlink) was reminding me that we were low on credits, had a banged up 40-year-old freighter and no paying cargo.  So instead I asked Keena to plot us a good course to…well, to nothing…and slowly moved the Valencia towards what we all hoped was a decent salvage. 

Tales From the Rim
Chapter 2 – Rodia

Zhellday, 1/6/0 ABY

I hadn’t had the “pleasure” of visiting Rodia before.  I’m not really a fan of jungle worlds to begin with and after the heat and humidity hit I was anxious to make our stay a short one.  We were looking for information on the Black Wing and decided to split up to see what we could find out.  I thought that if some fringer on Tattooine had heard the story about the Wing’s last flight, maybe some old spacers closer to home might have heard the same thing with a few more details thrown in.  Turns out I was right.  Zero and I bought a few rounds in the sorts of places off limits to Krom and me back in our Imperial Navy days and we dug up an old fossil of a navigator who said we might have some luck across the planet at an Old Republic base-cum-junkyard. 

Krom and Keena went highbrow, pretending to be researchers looking into the Black Wing legend while they dug through one of the local university libraries.  I thought this would be a waste of time since Krom had already done a HoloNet search, but they managed to get a few tidbits from some book jockey and they matched our Old Republic base lead.  So we were back to the Valencia again for what I thought was likely a lengthy (and unprofitable) Lofquarian gooney bird chase.

We found the base without much trouble, but from the air there wasn't much to see.  I set the Valencia down without a bump (of course) on an ancient plasticrete landing pad and we headed down the boarding ramp to take a look around.  A few food vendors selling hot caf and mystery meat, a repair hanger that looked in need of repairs itself and a mess of junk dealers was all that was in sight.  Nothing that screamed "secret pre-Republic research installation" to me.  And from the hard stares we got from the locals (not to mention heavy blaster mounts on most of the buildings) I figured we might want to get in and out quickly. 

For some reason Krom and Keena decided to keep up their researchers act and talk to yokels in the repair hanger.  I figured any actual researchers that showed up here would be mugged in a nanosecond, but Zero grunted something about wanting to poke around in the junk heaps and went in with them so I thought they'd be safe enough. I volunteered to keep an eye on the Val and kept the other one on our unfriendly surroundings.  Didn't look like they had climate control in the hangar anyway.

Krom and Keena said the Rodian mechanics weren't much help, although Zero got a line on a nucleonic spatial capacitor that could boost the gain on our sensor array.  I thought it would be a bad idea going into a nebula blind, and since our mystery dreadnought had supposedly passed through one, an upgrade like this might come in handy.  We were huddling at the boarding ramp considering our next move when someone noticed that all of the buildings around us seemed newer—only the landing pad itself was dated enough to have been around when the Black Wing was flying.  As that thought was going through our minds I noticed a few drain hatches leading down under the pad – probably to handle all the rain on this forsaken jungle planet.

And the next thing I know Krom and Zero are all about going down into the sewers to poke around.  I got my share of crap duties when I was flying for the Navy, but no one ever ordered me  into a jungle planet sewer.  But then Krom gave me "that look" and I somehow ended up in a dark plasticrete tunnel ankle deep in some liquid I was trying hard not to think about.  At least I had the good sense to grab a few torches from the Valencia.

We followed the sewer tunnel for a bit until Zero came to a rusted-out security door.  The lock was completely jammed but the door was still sturdy enough to hold when the Trandoshan put his beefy shoulder into it.  Trust my flight engineer to come up with a way to get through – Krom pulled out his magnocaliper and removed the hinges.  Open sesame.  We found some sort of research complex on the other side.  The rooms had been cleaned out, and I thought it might be another dead end until we got to what looked like a control room from a few bootleg historical holovids I'd seen about the Old Republic.  Krom and Zero started technobabbling to each other and poking around in the electronics.  I was more worried about what was behind us – a pitch black sewer that was giving me a bad feeling.

Krom had found himself an access hatch underneath a century-old computer and had squirmed his way to an adjacent room while Keena and I kept our eyes (and blasters) on the door.  Turns out I was right to be worried.  Keena was shining her light into the corridor when suddenly two wall-crawling alligators jumped out at us, all teeth and fury and yellow, reptilian eyes.  I yelled for Zero to get over to help and ducked back behind the door frame after putting a few shots into one of the creature's scaly hides.  Keena was blasting away at the other one (and actually hitting the bad guys for a change) but the creatures moved so quickly they were able to get in a few bites of their own.

Keena and Zero were able to take down one of the beasts with a combination of blaster shots and hits from Zero's shock gloves, and the other must've decided that discretion was the better part of valor and hightailed it back into the tunnel just as I was lining up another shot.  We figured that might scare them off for a while but Zero propped the security door back in place just in case.  

Krom had missed all the excitement down in his hole, but it turned out he found some sort of data storage device from the mainframe.  He said it was pretty hard to remove and I'll take his word for it.  My expertise with computers is limited to HoloNet searches and keeping the Val's navicomputer from sending us through a black hole but I've seen Krom patch up a Lambda-class fire control comp mid-battle without breaking a sweat.  Although come to think of it, I'm not sure if Mirialans can sweat.   

He also found a ventilation shaft and thought it might be worth checking out.  First it's sewers and now the climate control ducts.  I'm not sure when we turned into tunnel womp rats and I was having none of it.  But Krom and Keena actually seemed excited to be crawling through pitch black ducts they barely fit through.  Zero begged off, claiming he wouldn't fit, but I think he probably agreed with me.  

I kept an eye out for more of the alligators but I guess they had enough of eating blaster bolts for a while and a few minutes later Keena came over the commlink saying they had found something interesting and were heading back.  Interesting turned out to be another fortune hunter (this one deceased courtesy of our friendly neighborhood wall-crawling alligators), his datapad and a serviceable late model BlasTech ML-44 that I thought might be handy to have in case more critters crashed our party.

Krom said he had found another series of rooms and we had a brief discussion about whether we should poke around a bit more, but with the storage device and datapad in hand, and the fringers upstairs giving us the stink eye, we decided to call it a day.  A day of stomping through jungle sewers, getting bit by spider lizards, and probably catching the Force-knows-what diseases.  Sometimes I miss the Navy.  Well, not really.

The datapad turned out to be a goldmine – apparently our "competition" had discovered a few more tidbits of information about the Black Wing, including the captain's name and an the real prize – a naval architect's schematic of the dreadnought.  The data store was a bit more difficult to crack – Krom gave it his best but wasn't able to pull much off of it before it sparked and made noises that I take from his reaction weren't good.  

Looking over the Black Wing's flight plan (and despite our feeble cash balance), we thought that an upgraded sensor package might come in handy.  Keena had proven herself handy with bargaining once before – heck, it's the only reason she was along for the ride – so she and the others went back to the hangar to try and work us a deal.  From what Krom told me, it didn't go so well.  Turns out that the junker had worked for a Hutt at one point, the sort of Hutt who might have owned a teenage Twi'lek waitress-turned-fugitive like Keena.  In fact, that exact Hutt.  And although we got the parts we needed, everyone got the distinct impression that the junker was going to drop a credit on us with Keena's former owner as soon as we hit orbit.  If we didn't already have to keep under the radar enough with our sliced IDs now we have some Hutt looking for the Valencia and not enough credits for a good transponder hack.  This deal is getting worse by the minute.

After dustoff and a badly needed sonic shower, we were back in the black, me at the controls, Keena in the right seat working out a hyperspace plot, and all of us on the trail of this supposed invisible treasure ship.  Hopefully the blasted thing is out there and we can salvage enough to keep us moving and off the grid for a while.  But I'm not sure we are that lucky.

Tales From the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis
Chapter 1 - Klatooine

Centaxday, 34/5/0 ABY

Today Krom and I picked up some hitchhikers.  

I’m still not quite sure how it happened.  One minute I’m in Toydod’s Cantina on Klatooine negotiating with Fezzik about the payoff for our cargo of yot beans (and doing a mighty fine job of it).  The next minute some teenage Twi’lek with one eye over her shoulder strolls over and inserts herself my business.  I have to admit, she did get Fezzik off balance, talking about how she represented another buyer, pointing out the high quality of the beans (and they <u>were</u> high quality – if there’s one thing I know it’s how to fly.  If there’s one other thing I know it’s yot beans) and generally just annoying him.  

I played along.  Seemed like a good idea at the time (and the Twi’lek was pretty easy on the eyes) so served a hard gravball to Fezzik.  I mean, the slimy Rodian was only gonna give us 1500 for the whole shipment. 1500!!  But my new blue friend and I managed to get him up to a more reasonable offer.  Fezzik wasn’t real happy about it; he muttered something in Rodian about revenge or karma or something, but that’s just talk.  Besides, if we never dust down on this rock again I won’t cry in my Kowakian rum, so who cares what Fezzik thinks?

I gave Krom a heads up that the sweaty Rodian had paid up (and that he might be a bit irritated) and ordered a bottle of Toydod’s (second) best to celebrate.  Chatted up the Twi’lek girl a bit and gave her a nice gratuity for her “help,” although she acted pretty ungrateful.  Typical teenager—reminds me of my sister Jan.  Turns out she was on the run from some Hutt or other, something about having been its property at one point, and here we were neck deep in Hutt space.  Told me she wanted a ride off this dustball of a planet.  Can’t say that I blamed her.  I was gonna say yes (like I said, she was pretty easy on the eyes) but I figured I’d better check with Krom first.  I didn’t want him getting all bent out of shape like when I invited Petty Officer Rer'gesi on shore leave with us.  And Rer’gesi looked <u>way</u>better in her flight suit.  And out of it, for that matter.

On our way back to the Valencia we ducked into a local bazzar and I picked up a full-size hydrospanner Krom had been salivating about for the last month.  When we finally made it to the docking bay I introduced Krom to the girl, who said her name was Keena.  She might have told me her name before, but like I said I had already gotten to the bottom of a full bottle of Toydod’s (second) best.

Krom said the exchange with Fezzik had gone fine and started in with some story about some scruffy Trandoshan and a mysterious electronic device and the name Black Wing.  Krom’s never been much of a day drinker, and for a minute I wondered if the hyperdrive gasses were leaking when he was making repairs the way he was going on about this stuff.  

But then the girl said something about an invisible treasure ship and I remembered hearing some fringer on Tattooine rattle on about the Black Wing and almost the same wild story.  Krom pulled out his datapad and found a few HoloNet references to a ship called the Black Wing from back in the Old Republic days and I think he and Keena started having visions of buried treasure and gold bars and cargo bays full of spice.  Me, on the other hand—I just wanted to get a nice, semi-legal cargo and get off this parched rock. But no one ever listens to me.

And then things go supernova.  The three of us are standing on the Val’s boarding ramp and I see a crusty old Trandoshan walking towards the ship holding some kind of backpack.  And right behind him are four humans who look like they mean business.  Bad business.  At this point I’m thinking maybe Fezzik wasn’t so toothless after all.  Although I’m not sure Rodians even have teeth.  I encouraged Krom to power up the belly turret, loosened my BlasTech in its holster, and went to see what the lizard man and his friends wanted.  

Apparently they weren’t friends.  I made it a few steps and then the humans drew down on the Trandoshan, so I yelled to Keena to hold their attention while I tried to get zero angle on them.  Before I could get into position one of the goons was lying flat on his back and another was gasping for air from a hit to the solar plexus, courtesy of the Trandoshan’s fists.  Things looked like they were going aces until Keena burned a hole in the Trandoshan’s scaly hide and the humans seemed to think they had an ally in the fight. I wasn’t sure why she was shooting at him.  I’m still not.  

But then Krom swiveled the ventral turret around and thumbed the rangefinding laser to light up the wannabe hard men.  He gave them the courtesy of a warning over the Val’s 1MC which caused a couple of them to throw down their blasters at light speed.  The (apparently) stupidest one made a run at the Trandoshan to try and wrestle his backpack away and got a beefy elbow to the face for his trouble.  Two unconscious or spaced, two unarmed, and it was time for me to show them business end of my BlasTech to make sure no one got any bright ideas.

After I collected blasters (and threw Krom a slightly battered BlasTech DL-18) and the Trandoshan scattered the cut-rate goons, I heard the always-unpleasant sound of sirens approaching.  I figured we’d better dust off and head into the black so we wouldn’t have any other uninvited guests.  Although we sort of had two already.  

Port control wanted us to stand fast but Krom and I weren’t keen on letting any local law enforcement types take a hard look at our sliced IDs, so I pushed the throttles to the limits and punched the Val out of atmo.  After that nifty bit of piloting and a lot of empty threats from port control, I decided to head back and see what our uninvited guest(s) were about. 

The Trandoshan said his name was Zero, which wasn’t any T'doshok word I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was more likely the number of credits he had to his name but Krom gave me a look when I made that joke.  Mirialans sometimes have no sense of humor, although Krom is better than most.  He and Zero made a hyperspace line for the workbench Krom uses for repairs, carrying some large metal box that looked vaguely familiar and muttering about “data sockets” and “electro-ceramic ram capacitors.”  Eventually they managed to get a data tap hooked up and pulled out some pretty interesting navigational data out of it, which is when it clicked for me that the box looked vaguely like an ancient bit of navicomputer hardware.  

The fringer’s treasure ship story was starting to look like it was more above board than I had thought – apparently this Old Republic-era dreadnaught with a hull full of experimental technology might be floating out in the black somewhere near Rodia.  So despite our lack of profitable cargo and our dwindling credits, we decided to let Zero and Keena tag along and went off to see what we could find out about the Black Wing.


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