Star Wars - In Search of the Black Wing

Wookiees > Trandoshans, II The Chronicle of Van Elendis, Pt. 17

I have to hand it to the guy (or gal) who invented rapid blast shield activators.  I mean, when you need those things, you need them, and a millisecond or two really matters.  So, my hat (if I wore one) is off to that particular engineer.  It's probably Krom's great-uncle or something.   But I'm getting ahead of myself again.


We were spread out all over the ship, Krom back in primary engineering looking as inconspicuous as a green-skinned alien can in an Imperial Navy flight engineer uniform these days.  Zero had found himself a hidey hole and was busy strapping on his body armor and charging up his shock gloves.  And Keena had moved forward to take my spot at the passageway to the first cargo container, the one that the bored sailor had told me contained Wookiee slaves.

Which meant I had time to get myself to the bow to see how close I could get to the bridge.  

Turns out it was pretty far.  I took the lift up five levels, past the gym, mess deck, galley and crew quarters and into the black deck plates that signified officer country.  I was wearing my original flight uniform with the 173rd Special Operations patches removed so I blended right in with the rest of the crew.  My rank insignia meant that the enlisted crew passed gave me a half salute but otherwise ignored me, while the few officers I ran into didn't deign to notice a mere sublieutenant once they were sure my own salute was crisp and quick. 

Despite being an "undercover" civilian vessel, the ship's company went about their business pretty much like any other in the Navy and nothing jumped out at me except for a small group of TIE pilots sitting in an ad-hoc ready room.  Since a ship like this didn't have a hangar bay, a fighter crew seemed a bit odd.  I passed that bit of intel on to the rest of the Valencia's crew and moved towards the front of C deck.

And that's as far as I got.  Apparently a shuttle officer sublieutenant didn't rate entry to the CIC, since I was curtly told to back off by a stormtrooper clad in mirror-polish black combat armor.  Black armor meant ISB stormtroopers – which the rank-and-file had nicknamed Death Troopers.  I counted at least four of them.  Not my favorite bunch after what I had seen them do in Westhills.  This being the end of the line for now, I pulled out a datapad I had stolen from the mess and made myself look busy at an avionics junction box while keeping one eye on the troopers and one hand on a handhold, waiting for Krom to work his magic.

Turns out that my friend had been slicing through the ship's computer like a trid star.  Not only had he figured out a safe way to drop us out of hyperspace without turning the ship inside out, he also discovered that the ship had four TIEs docked at the bow disguised as escape pods.  So now the fighter jocks lounging around made sense.  Since we didn't want the fighters making our life more difficult after we appropriated the ship, Krom rigged the TIEs to launch just before we dropped from hyperspace.  Sounded like a solid plan to me.  

The "pop-pop-pop-pop" I heard shortly afterwards was my signal that the TIEs were no longer attached to the ship and that the bantha fodder was about to hit the rotating oscillator.  And then all hell broke lose, the ship shuddered hard and most everybody went flying as the artificial-G strained (unsuccessfully) to keep us all glued to the deck.  I nearly pulled my shoulder out of its socket holding on and the datapad went bouncing down the hallway in 1/5G.

The klaxons started sounding and I saw the threat boards in the CIC light up fast.  Despite being dazed and bloodied, crewmen everywhere started reacting with their training top of mind – battle stations and damage control parties to their rally points.  I comm'ed Krom to get up to the bridge and didn't hear anything back.  And Keena radioed she was "still working on" our hairy distraction but it might take a while.  Just then the lift arrived carrying an armored and pissed-off looking Trandoshan so it was time for our part in this little play, Wookiee distraction or no.   

I had watched a squad of Death Troopers take flamethrowers to a group of surrendered farmers back on Lothal.  I'm not sure if these were the same bastards, but there aren't all that many of them so maybe Lady Luck was with me.  I tossed Zero a flash bang grenade in case he wanted to make a big entrance and pulled my Dragoneye from its holster.  I'm pretty fast on the draw.  I put a nice smoking hole in the neckplate of one of the troopers and triggered a couple more blasts into the other one before he could react.  I'm not sure I yelled "Westhills" out loud or just in my mind, but it didn't matter at that point – two down, two more to go. 

And then the sons-of-Gammoreans triggered the CIC lockdown and a force field slammed down, cutting us off from the bridge. 

I hadn't counted on the Imps modding a civilian ship quite so extensively, but I guess the escape pod TIEs should have been better indicator.  So Zero and I were left pretty exposed with a well armed elite group of troopers on one side of a forcefield they could drop at any time, and who knows what security forces waiting to come up the lift.  And me without my flight engineer to rid me of this meddlesome field generator.  

It turns out that Keena and Krom were dealing with problems of their own, although less of the "impenetrable force-field" type.  While Krom's nifty TIE fighter detachment/hyperdrive overload routine had worked, he also managed to short his engineering panel in a puff of burned electronics, which left him looking mighty guilty to the rest of the nerds in the engineering department.  One of the watch supervisors hit the alarm and called out for security, so Krom- taking a card from my own sabacc deck – just ignored them and calmly walked out of engineering.  Sometimes my friend remembers to wear his tritanium ones.  

Unfortunately, the Imperials weren't just going to let him go – as Krom was heading towards the bow to help Keena, a couple sailors up the passageway spotted him and took off in hot pursuit, blasters barking.  To hear Krom tell it, it wasn't much of a gunfight.  He dropped one of them with a shot over his shoulder and then took the other one out of the fight after finding a little cover to shoot from.  And then he was back up the p-way, heading towards the bridge.

Meanwhile, Keena had taken out the sailor "guarding" the passage to the expected Woorkiee slave-filled cargo container and had started cutting open the airlock with her light saber like a giant crystal-powered can opener.  Why she didn't just use the sailor's ID to open the lock I guess we'll never know.  But regardless she made it through and ran up against the biggest form of scum and villainy in the galaxy - scientists.  Scientists, with their white lab coats and all of their experiments and blood samples and prodding.  It makes me sick just thinking about them.  And rather than cutting them into tiny scientist bits right away, like any rational person would do, she hesitated and gave the scum time enough time to open a few of the slave cages.  And the next thing you know out come a pair of huge Wookiees with glowing green headbands, roaring in rage at my Twi'lek astrogator.  

While Krom and Keena were messing about and not handling their part of the plan – namely creating a Wookiee-flavored diversion – Zero and I were fighting off pretty much the entire ship's company and trying to figure out a way into the CIC.  Zero tried bypassing the power shunt, but didn't get much for his effort other than some serious voltage reflux that left him a bit stunned.  The troopers on the other side of the field took advantage of the short to send a few blaster bolts our way but otherwise the stalemate continued.  We knew the Imps were working on plans of their own, as we saw them help a well-armed Trandoshan (does everyone have a giant lizard these days?) climb into a duct – whether to make our lives miserable or for safekeeping we didn't know.

I had blasted and flash-banged a half-dozen security types into unconsciousness before Zero remembered he had his ion blaster in his gym bag.  Senility is upon him, I'm afraid.  And one thing ion blasters are really good at is messing up electronics – say, like a force field generator.  As we approached the CIC to give it a shot I could hear the snap-hiss of Keena's lightsaber over the commlink so I knew she was still in the mix.  Krom came on shortly afterwards saying he was opening the second cargo container to (finally) free a few hairy allies.  

And then the force field dropped in a shower of sparks and ionized air and we were back on.  The troopers were in good cover but planning screens and CIC workstations don't provide much in terms of armor.  With the actuator mods that Krom had put into the Reaper, I just shot right through their cover and put them on the deck.  Zero batted a few of the regular security troopers into unconsciousness with his shock gloves and the rest of the command staff either decided to surrender or make a run for it.  After I put a few shots through the faceplates of all the Death Troopers (turned out there were five) we had the CIC secured.  Time to see about the bridge. 

Zero and I climbed the ladder and ran into a more conventional problem – a closed and locked blast door.  Not like I expected a welcome mat, but we were on a bit of a timer so I held out some small hope that they felt safe behind the field generator one deck below.  But I'd had to open a few of these before when I was trying to score a case of Corellian brandy some stormtrooper captain had stupidly bragged about back on Ord Mantell so I thought I'd see if I still had the skills.

Near as we can figure it, that's about when Krom had freed his second set of Wookiees and was heading full speed back into the engineering spaces this time at the head of a hairy army.  And Keena had finally stopped screwing around with the lab-coated freaks and done away with them (or I guess technically the furious aliens didn't like being mind controlled so much) and was making her way forward with a few freed slaves along for extra muscle. 

I heard some sort of commotion a few decks below – the sound of blaster fire and then a lightsaber and growling Wookiees.  So we knew Keena was close by (turned out she had run into the fighter jocks – bad news for them).  But I could barely hear Krom over the commlink due to all the roaring and bellowing and other assorted Wookiee noises – something about the hyperdrive being back online.  Time to work faster.

I got the door open in record time and Zero and I made ready to breech the entrance.  But it turns out my Mirialan friend is even faster on the computers.  The bridge was in full panic mode – captain in his command chair barking orders, crew working frantically to get status updates, stablize systems and get back into hyperspace.  And standing there without much to do was some big Trandoshan who didn't much care for Zero and I entering the room.  

One of the crew members was shouting something about the hyperdrive being offline again, which made my grin even broader.  Good ol' Krom working his magic.  A glance at the DC console showed me they had the emergency beacon out and squawking on all channels, but I didn't expect to be hanging out here for long anyway.  The captain pointed his Navy-issue DH-17 my way while Zero and the other Trandoshan hissed at one another and started brawling like their lives depended on it.  Which they did, so I guess that made sense.

The captain and I traded a few shots, but it was obvious the old man hadn't earned his stripes for marksmanship.  He knew his position was an unwinnable one and ordered his XO to rig the ship for self destruct – just as I squeezed off a shot that caught him in the side of the face.  The idiot Imp actually triggered the reactor overload which lasted a hot second before Krom squashed that from engineering.  I shot the Imp in the head just for being that suicidally stupid.  

Zero and his dance partner were still doing a bit of a two step, and although both of them had taken a few nasty blows, I had a large stack of credits on my crewmate.  But there were still quite a few Imp bridge crew around and I didn't want them getting any ideas so sent a few blasts their way to remind them who was in charge and slid into the pilot's seat to get us moving in the right direction.

That was about the time that the other Trandoshan took a runner and pulled out a thermal detonator, threatening to blow us all to atoms.  

Now, I don't take kindly to thermal detonators on the bridge – just ask Krom about that one time near Endor.  So I commed the Valencia's crew to hold onto something and killed the artificial G as I spun this unwieldy beast of a ship in a high thrust spin.  Most of the crew when bouncing off the bulkheads like I'd intended.  but unfortunately the Trandoshan was made of sterner stuff and managed to toss the detonator towards the front viewscreen, where it promptly blasted a hole in to the front of the ship.

Explosive decompression in space isn't fun.  Your ears blow immediately with the drastic pressure change, and through broken eardrums the only sound you can hear is the screams of panic and air rushing past you.  The same air that is trying to push you out of the same hole it wants to escape from.  I saw a few Imps get sucked out of the breech, followed by the idiot alien who caused this mess to begin with.  I was thanking my lucky stars I had remembered to strap in when I first sat down.  Up until the point where the belt failed and I went flying headfirst towards hard vacuum.  

I'm normally not one to praise Imperial Navy protocol.  But sometimes there are exceptions.  With all the mods they did on this civilian ship to make it more Navy shipshape, someone had decided to put in the normal command aisle.  The walkway that senior officers can pace while they look over the shoulders of their subordinates.  And they usually have handrails – one of which I managed to grab on to just before my feet reached the deep black of space.  And then the pressure drop stabilized as the forward blast shield closed over the breech and through my bleeding ears I heard the sound of emergency air being pumped into the bridge. 

And Krom had already programmed the navicomputer for the rendezvous point.  Win one for the good guys.

During the hyperspace jump it got a little – messy.  The Wookiees were not in a particularly forgiving mood, and they didn't leave very many survivors among the ship's company.  The way their species is treated by the Empire I can't say I blame them much, but it's tough to stomach watching a man get his arms torn off.  But with nearly a hundred Wookiees on our side, the ship was completely ours and we re-entered normal space right where we were supposed to – in the middle of a messy fleet that screamed "Rebel Alliance."

The med techs they sent aboard seemed a bit overwhelmed at how to deal with Wookiees, but they made do.  And despite not being able to hand over the double agent (turns out he blew himself out the front of the ship), we delivered the rebels a bit more firepower in the form of a undercover and upgraded cargo ship. 

So as far as I was concerned we had done our bit for Queen and country.  We had done our bit for ancient religious fanatics.  Could we please do a bit now for my credit balance?

Probably not.  Krom is such a bleeding heart 


Wookiees > Trandoshans - The Chronicle of Van Elendis, Pt. 16

Ignore what Keena says – older women dig me.  She's too caught up in her weird affair with that hippie Jedi hologram boyfriend to understand real desire; animal attraction. 

Trust me, I'm a hit with the silver vixens.  


As contracted, we had delivered the medical supplies to the partisans on Jedha despite a higher-than-normal number of Imperial entanglements.  Despite my (rather amazing) piloting, the trip in had left the Valencia with a few new dings that had Krom acting all fidgety and walking about the ship with his favorite hydrospanner in hand even more than normal.  So against my desire to get off this recently-blasted rock flank speed, we decided to take a few days for some field repairs.  The cave system we had the ship docked in seemed well hidden from overflights, and to be honest I was interested in how these rebels had managed to avoid what seemed like a decent percentage of the Imperial Navy for so long.  

While Krom and Zero fiddled about with the dorsal thoron array and JR-13 fetched a steady stream of thermal shock dampers, Keena and I decided to take a stroll.  I'd seen my fair share of refugee camps when I'd served in the Imperial Navy.  And a few planets on the Outer Rim weren't much better than displacement camps themselves.  But even by those standards, these refugees on Jehda were pretty bad off.  Food supplies seemed okay if you didn't mind green protein bars, and our delivery of medical supplies had certainly helped in that department.  But the ragtag group had little in the way of shelter or equipment other than basic personal needs.  And despite Steev's bragging that this "rebel alliance" had brought down some Imperial superweapon on Yavin, I saw very little in the way of military hardware.  Or military personnel.

I'd seen some nasty business at Westhills, but seeing refugee kids still bothered me.  Most of them seemed to be orphans, doing their best to survive.  And while the adults who supposedly ran this place treated them well enough, they didn't seem to have much of a plan for what to do next.  I could tell it bothered Keena, too.  Freeing slaves was something of a passion for our Twi'lek waitress/junior Jedi, but evidently orphan kids was a weekend hobby.  

So when I struck up a conversation with a comm tech named Varlo Prool and the conversation turned towards what we might be able to do to help these folks out, Keena didn't complain.  With the way he was asking questions without giving much away, my ex-military sense told me that old Varlo might be a little bit less on the comm tech and a bit more on the intelligence officer side.  But I figured rebels had to be flexible when it came to job roles and I had yet to meet a spook who offered up his real job when asked

Prool said he had a job for us if we were interested.  One that could put a spanner into the Empire's works and maybe get a little revenge for the folks we saw around us.  I knew Krom's mind on this – he and I are polar opposites in a lot of things, but we see Palpatine's agenda through the same lenses.  

All we had to do was to sneak aboard a very specific Imperial ship that was part of a ultra-top-secret convoy disguised as civilians.  And then force the ship to drop out of hyperspace midjump (without vaporizing us all) and take it to a Rebel rendezvous while fighting off the Imp Navy crew.  Oh yeah, and we had to secure the "very valuable cargo" that turns out was an ISB double agent.  A virtual cakewalk.  

And did I mention that they expected us to do this starting from a stolen Lambda-class shuttle that we had to fence if we even wanted to get paid?  

So…basically it turns out that working for lowlife criminals like the Zahn Consortium was a much better choice than signing up for the grandly-titled-but-poor-as-your-cousin "Rebellion Against the Empire."  Even working for a Hutt seemed like a better deal.

* Exit Jedha and make it to space station

* Try and track down info on ship – Krom slicing like a fiend, Keena and Van meet with our contact

* Zero recognized, turns out he has a history with the Imps (family of sympathizers) 

* Van pimped out by party, does an amazing job of getting the information out of the station governor (as far as anyone else knows)

* Van/Krom go in as Imp Navy replacement crew; Keena and Zero as "loyal Imperial citizen" and his personal assistant

* Scout ship, need to secure bridge and engineering; discover possible location for slicing/misjump in CIC

* Cargo of Wookiee slaves?  Use as distraction?


WWKD - The Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 15

Nothing good can come from laser swords.  Mark my words.  A good blaster at your side keeps you alive on the Rim.  But ancient weapons?  Nothing good.

I liked Cato Nemoida better than Rodia for a lot of reasons.  It wasn't sticky hot, the Green Galaxies were tolerable, and there wasn't a jungle in sight.  And best of all, a significant lack of Rodians.  But when I thought about it, there wasn't really much of anything that made the place worth visiting twice.  The battle-damaged factories and houses and dour Nemoidians didn't scream "tourist destination" to me.  But luckily we weren't here for tourism — we were here to find Keena's boyfriend.  Although I still wasn't fully clear on why.  Maybe I need to cut back on my Green Galaxy intake.  

We hadn't gotten much traction on finding out where Keena's hippie-dippie dreamboat Suljo Warde had disappeared to.  It didn't take us long to figure out he wasn't well-loved on the planet.  Apparently he had made himself Governor during the Clone Wars and most of the locals remembered him as a less-than-benevolent ruler.  So despite his protestations to the contrary, I guess Suljo's teenage protege Markov might have learned something from the old geezer after all.  

I figured the sooner we got a lead on Warde, the sooner we could get back to doing something that paid us in hard credits.  Time to get to work, which for me was hitting the spacer bars to see if I could get someone talking.  It took a few stops, and the Galaxies were starting to make me light headed.  But I eventually ran into a young Nemoidian who was willing to talk a bit.  He was having some sort of family problem with his brother that he was being cagy about, but he confirmed what we had been able to dig up so far – Suljo Warde was here on Cato Nemoidia, playing at being a brown-robed despot.  And at some point he got into it with two more of his Jedi friends, Kaddo Moll and Jiv Dural.  They ended up dead and Warde — well, my new Nemoidian friend said he thought he was dead too.  So much for Keena's love connection.  She might have to settle for Zero at this rate.

I got back to the Val to share what I had gathered with the rest of the crew.  Turns out they had been busy as well.  Zero had gone off scrapping and had run into some frenemy from his bounty hunting days, a human called Dalon Oberos.  It's amazing Zero is still alive considering how many enemies and how few friends he has.  Krom had scoured the markets for some doohickey that he said would boost our shield generators a good amount, unfortunately without much luck.  And Keena…well, Keena had built herself a laser sword. 

That's right, a regular cut-through-the-hull-plating Jedi laser sword.  The kind of weapon that screamed "Here I am, ISB – please disintegrate me after a long and painful interrogation." Only she called it a "light saber" and said her recorded droid boyfriend helped her make it.  Which I guess is a good thing since Keena isn't much with tools.  Zero won't even let her clean the caf machine without supervision.

We had hit a bit of a plasticrete wall with our inquiry into Warde, but thankfully I hadn't spent the entire morning playing Keena's two-legged matchmaker.  Like any good smuggler I also kept my ear to the ground for a cargo, and got a line on someone wanting to move medical supplies, no questions asked.  

That sounded a lot like something Krom and I would be interested in, so we went back through the security checkpoint at the spaceport and out into the city, off to meet our contact at a cantina called "Tarla's Place."  My keen sense of self-preservation was tingling uncomfortably, but Keena was the first one who noticed – we were getting sideways looks from the Nemoidians (although with bug-eyed aliens it is always harder to tell) and the Imp patrols seemed to be a bit too regular.  I was glad I had smuggled my holdout blaster through the customs checkpoint, although I would've felt better with the Reaper on my hip.   

We made it to the cantina without incident, and flagged the bartender down to let him know we were here for more than just the (barely adequate) Green Galaxies.  Krom and Zero picked out a nice spot to watch the door and the the patrons while Keena and I were ushered behind the bar to what appeared to be a hole in the floor – some sort of concealed entrance.  We moved through a short series of dark passages and I kept my hand close to my holdout blaster until we came into a large room occupied by an even larger alien.  The thing was taller than Zero – taller than a Wookiee, even, although I didn't recognize the species.  

I could barely make out what it was saying through its heavily accented Basic, although Keena didn't seem to be having problems.   I did make out that it called itself Rufo and that the word on the street was right – our furry client was looking to move medical supplies to a minor Mid Rim planet called Jedha.  Simple enough.  And then the reason it was talking to us rather than Stern Traders or some other shipping line: the supplies needed to be delivered to a group of terrorists fighting for survival against the Galactic Empire.  That's right, this big white alien wanted us to smuggle supplies to the Rebel Alliance.  Through an Imperial blockade, to boot.  

Now, I've outrun Imperial blockades before.  And not just the local cruisers, but the big Corellian ships.  But messing with the Imps means risk and risk means big credits.  Luckily all of the hours making goo goo eyes at her recorded boyfriend hadn't dulled Keena's negotiating skills.  She managed to get the kingly ransom of 13,000 credits from of the Rebel, and even got it to pay half in advance.  

Sitting in that dim basement hidey hole, the thought of that many credits made the risk seem worth it.  

But our Twi'lek waitress wasn't done just yet.  She also managed to get a bit more of the story of Suljo Warde out of our new rebellious patrons.  Specifically the part of the story where he grew all dark and paranoid and full of himself thinking he could see the future.  Which led to him killing his two Jedi friends and a slew of other people.  Rufo also gave us a line on someone who knew Warde from during the Clone Wars – an old Nemoidian called Tikka who spent her afternoons at a tea shop nearby.  Tea.  How quaint.

Our business ended, we were about ready to crawl back up into the daylight when Krom comm'ed me with a warning.  Apparently we had attracted the attention of some Imp military-types and they were staking out the cantina.  Fortunately for us they had the same problem we did – they weren't Nemoidian – so they stood out like a Wookiee at a Jawa party.  We conferred briefly and then sent Krom and our ancient Trandoshan to lead the Imps on a bit of a wild nerf chase while Keena and I snuck out the back door.  Turns out our caution was well-advised, since the waitress and I spotted someone in a hovercar taking an interest in our two friends.  From the look I got through my electrobinoculars I thought it was probably this Oberos character Zero had mentioned.  

Keena and I played it quiet-like and stuck to the shadows, angling our way towards this tea house.  Before we had gone too far, our bounty hunter friend appeared to lose interest or run into a technical difficulty and he took off in the other direction.  So one less person gunning for us, which I took as a good sign.

Turns out the tea house was exactly as I expected.  A bunch of old Nemoidians drinking hot water with leaves floating in it.  I put on my third-most charming smile and chatted up the old biddies for a few minutes until we found the one we were looking for.  But then after I did all the hard work Keena decided to drive the speeder for a while and got the old lady to spill her life story.  Well, part of it at least – we didn't have all day.  

She confirmed that she knew Warde when he was governor and appealed to us that he wasn't the monster most made him out to be.  It was just the pressure that had gotten to him that made him turn into a rotten authoritarian bastard.  Probably the same excuse that Tarkin used on Lothal back in the day, but I wasn't buying it anymore.  Luckily, before we got shown holos of endless Nemoidian grandchildren we got another lead on Warde – some assistant of his named Tor Haido that worked in an electronics factory nearby.  So it was back to the street.

While we were off chasing down Keena's boyfriend, our new insurrectionist clients had made good on their promise to deliver the cargo – and more importantly the first half of our payment - to the Valencia.  The first proof that the medical supplies were as legit as the alien had promised was that they cleared an impromptu Imperial customs inspection.  JR-13 had put together a fake flight plan somewhere near enough to Jedha to make it convenient for our purposes, but someplace definitely not on the Imperial embargo list.  The droid and the rest of the crew were able to get the crates stowed.  But I wish they had remembered we bought that all-purpose scanner back on Rodia for a reason.  A reason which became important a bit later.

The electronics factory was a big modern building.  With all the glass and windows, it looked more like a hydroponics greenhouse than a factory if you ask me, but maybe Nemoidians get claustrophobic.  An old-model lobby droid started beeping about our business and can I help you and the like, so I went full bluster and started rattling off a long list of complaints while Keena snuck around the desk and through the door into the factory proper.  It was going fine until I heard the sound of souped-up speeder bikes outside and a few seconds later a trio of goons with white sashes on came through the front door looking all business.  

They ignored me (mistake #1) and headed into the factory, putting the reception droid into an electronic fit.  I thought that if everyone was joining the party I might as well, too, so I gave the droid a wink and padded up behind the goons.  They were making their way to an office, clearly marked for "Supervisor Tor Haido."  I could see Keena inside, talking to an old Nemoidian male – and more importantly she could see the trouble heading her way.  One of the goons went inside and started yelling about this or that, while the others produced weapons from under their vests.  Showtime.

Keena kicked the table over and dragged Haido behind it and I could see her and the one thug dancing around almost as good as I did in the boxing ring back on Ord Mantell.  The other two were thinking about getting in on the action but weren't really paying attention to anything else (mistake #2) so I walked up behind them and dropped them both with a stun bolt to the back of the head.  Back to 2-1 odds, which is more my style. 

And then three more of their buddies decided to join the party, although these laser-brains wanted to bring their speeders.  They crashed through the factory windows in a big show of stupid and gunned the bikes straight towards me.  The Imperial Army Scout might be classified as a holdout blaster, but it was designed for firing from speeder bikes, so it gets the job done on a moving target.  I took aim and stunned one speed racer out of his saddle, and another one took a few pieces of shrapnel when the dismounted goon's bike exploded against a convenient piece of heavy machinery.  That was about the time that the factory's fire suppression system kicked in and the whole place turned as smoky as a spice den on Kessel. 

Keena was still messing around with the goon in the office but I could see things had gotten serious since they both had blasters out.  I took a few shots at the remaining speeder bike but he decided he'd had enough and headed for the hole in the wall he and his buddies had made.  By that time Keena had finally managed to drop her one opponent and she grabbed Haido and we headed for the front door.  Only to run into a wall of Imperial troops with blasters raised.

Luckily I'm a believer in never leaving an unnecessary  corpse behind, and after Keena had shot Zero in the head the third or fourth time, Krom had welded her blaster to stun only so I knew she hadn't killed anyone.  So our claims of self defense combined with Haido's testimony and a distinct lack of dead gangers meant that the bucket heads didn't have much to hold us on.  We headed back to the Valencia at pod racer speed, gave the rest of the crew a quick recap and I got us off this depressing rock.

After the little display of ganger tough, we figured the old Nemoidian was probably under a death mark so we dropped him off along the way.  For a guy who'd basically just left behind his whole life, he took it well enough.  A few innocent-looking hyperspace adjustments and one too-brief Imperial customs scan later (yet another thing that really should have made Krom and I suspicious) we were making the jump to Jedha.  

The hyperspace lines faded to points right on schedule – Keena is a blasted good astrogator when she tries – and we were all at our stations.  I'd never been to Jedha before, but the planet didn't look like much from space.  A dull brown rock with a huge asteroid impact being one of the most prominent features.  It was quite a crater for us to be able to see it this far out.  Keena started scanning for the delivery coordinates our clients had given us and I brought us in closer to Jedha.

I didn't need the sensor sweep to see that the Imperial interdiction was still in full effect, a few ISDs for intimidation and some smaller cruisers for interception.  They tried hailing us, but the fact that we had the Val's transponder off was a pretty obvious sign that we were up to no good.  Time to earn my pay.  

Being former Imperial Navy has some advantages when you are a smuggler.  For instance, I know the performance specs of just about every ship in the fleet.  And I know their patrol routes and intercept angles and the fact that they generally underestimate what our little YT-1300 can do.  Which means I know how to hit the seams just right so they have no chance of getting us in tractor beam or turbolaser range.  So yeah, some pretty good advantages.

What I couldn't do was prevent them from launching fighters to dissuade us from landing – a pair of TIEs and what looked like a TIE bomber or two trailing them.  I was burning for atmo as fast as Krom would let me, and I think he might've even boosted the reactor past the safe levels, because the ship felt like she was making .5 past light speed and we were still in real space.  Keena angled the deflectors double aft and I called over the 1MC for someone to jam the TIE's comms and for Zero and Junior to keep those fighters away from us.  And that's just about when Krom said something about detecting a signal transmitting from our ship and the too-quick Imperial customs scan suddenly made sense.  We were being tracked.  

And that meant we couldn't get to our rendezvous without leading the Imps right to the Rebel front door.  I unloaded with a string of curse words in Hutteese – they really have it down to an art form – and heard the guns open up as I yelled at Keena to get back and help Krom get the damn beacon off my ship.  

I'm sure I wasn't making it easy on them trying to scan the cargo bay, because I was spinning the Val like my head after three weeks of shore leave to avoid being an easy target for my former Imperial Navy colleagues.  The TIEs had decided we were officially Bad Guys and were blasting away at my ship.  The shields were performing magnificently and I've got to give the old lizard credit because Zero had been spending times with the Val's fire control simulator and it showed.  He blasted one of the TIEs to atoms and a few seconds later I lined him up for a glancing shot that tore one of the wing panels off and sent the fighter into a tight, smoke-trailing spiral.  

I kept the ship low, since I know TIE sensors have a hard time with ground scatter.  I heard the snap-hiss of Keena's new toy and then Krom commed that the tracking beacon had been "handled" so it was time for us to make delivery.  About then Keena got back up to the cockpit and pointed out a nice rock formation that looked promising and I arced the Val around and through some formations to lose our tails.  Easy as driving the yot bean tractor back home.  

We made it to the rendezvous point in short order and transmitted the recognition code the Rebel had given us back on Cato Nemoidia.  Some flight controller who sounded like he still had acne came over the tightbeam and vectored us in, just far enough into a cave that we wouldn't show up on any orbital scans.  And while flight ops might have just been learning how to shave, the crew that showed up at the ramp to unload the supplies looked lean and serious.  They didn't mess around and the cargo bay was bare only a few minutes later.  Looking around at the rest of the rebels, I could see why – a lot of them were still sporting field dressings and I'm sure the bacta and real medical kits we brought would be put to use quickly.

I figured we'd give the Imperial Navy some time to get frustrated looking for us and maybe go back to polishing their helmets or buffing Tarkin's rear end with their lips or whatever they did for fun these days, so I wandered around a bit and talked to a few of the folks who met my eye.  Most still seemed combat dazed, and when they told me why I guess I understood.  That crater we saw from orbit used to be the largest city on the planet.  And according to the rebels, the Empire had destroyed it a few months back with some new superweapon.  But they also claimed that they had managed to blow this weapon up near some moon in the Yavin system.  Sounded like typical military scuttlebutt to me, but these days, who knows?

After Krom checked the ship over one last time we were ready to run the blockade one more time – and exits are always easier.  I had collected the proof of delivery from the rebel commander Steev – a deal is a deal – but looking at Krom I knew what he was thinking.  So just before the ramp closed I managed to drop it out the hatch.  6500 credits is a lot for simple smugglers like us.  But it seemed like the Rebel Alliance could use all the help it could get.

And I mean, if Keena thinks she can be a Jedi, there's no reason I can't be a smuggler with a heart of gold, right?

Keena's Got a Boyfriend! - The Van Elendis Chronicles, Pt. 14

I do pretty well with the opposite sex.  I mean, I've got that winning combination of tall, dark and handsome, I'm generous with the credits (these days, at least) and I've got an innate sense of where the best Green Galaxies can be found.  Plus I know about a thousand dirty jokes in everything from Huttese to Mando'a to a few lesser-known Basic dialects.  

But some women have a sort of defect, and they end up going for these bearded hippie, robe-wearing types who don't know which end of a blaster is which. 

Turns out, Keena is one of those.  Go figure.

We were still on Salucamai, enjoying the extended R&R we had earned after bringing the Pirate Queen's little privateering venture to an end.  I had drunk at least three cantinas dry of Green Galaxies, and Krom and Zero had greased, hydrospanned, degaussed or reassembled just about every important system on the Valencia and a few I didn't know we had.  Even JR-13 had started saying "Roger, Roger" a little wistfully.  We were getting restless and it was time for smugglers to do what we do best – move on to the next spaceport.

I had just just finished a cup of Zero's second-best 'caf and (not yet knowing Keena's preference for long-haired religious zealots) stopped by her stateroom to see if she wanted a refill.  Turns out she was deep in conversation with the aforementioned robed hippie using some sort of wiz crystal comlink she called a "holocron".  A few nanoseconds later Krom was sticking his head in asking about some tool or other and he took an interest in Keena's new communicator and got that thousand meter techie stare so I got bored and wandered back to the galley.

Turns out Keena's new boyfriend actually wasn't real (ha!) but was some sort of droid intelligence that claimed to be a memory recording of a guy named Suljo Warde.  And - get this – the droid intelligence said that this Warde was a Jedi Knight.  That's right, the same religious zealots that created mayhem and suffering all over the Rim during the Clone Wars.  Or at least that's what they taught us at the Academy.  

Zero, unsurprisingly, had another take on it.  The big lizard's been around for about a hundred standard years so maybe it was just senility talking, but he said that the Jedi used to be sort of diplomats and peacekeepers in the Old Republic.  He said that Dooku was actually one of the few that went bad, and that the Empire had killed off the Jedi because Palpatine feared them.  I'm not sure what I think about that – any guy who has dozens of ISDs at his beck and call probably doesn't fear anything.  But Krom gave me his usual "you never really studied" look and considering what we had seen the Empire do on Lothal, I figured maybe our Academy military history lessons might have left a few things out.

The holocron-Warde was pretty out of the game.  Turns out it had been shut down for almost 30 standards and didn't realize that the Clone Wars were over and apparently its side lost big time.  It wanted to get back to its owner.  Unfortunately, with the 30-year memory gap, its owner was at a place that didn't exist anymore.  And on Corsucant to boot!  Which wasn't happening as long as I was flying – me and being on the same planet as ISB headquarters doesn't mix.  But the holocron also had one other lead – the last mission the real Warde went on to some Wild space planet called Arbooine.  

My preference was to sell the thing at the nearest bazaar and let it be some other smuggler's problem.  But Keena was all agog to find the real Suljo Warde (and Krom always agrees with her) and then Zero muttered something about there maybe being a finder's fee so I finally relented.  As long as we had a paying cargo to make it worthwhile.  

Keena said she knew a little about this Arbooine place – primitive, out of the way, but apparently with a big Imp presence.  So it wasn't Corsucant, but still no walk in the park.  And even more fun, the most direct route from Salucamai went right through Hutt space.  The Hutts weren't after me (at least, not as far as I knew), but traveling through their neighborhood without permission is not something to take lightly.

I'm sure it is even worse when they have a deathmark against you.  Our friends in the Zann Consortium had paid off Keena's slave bounty as a bit of a bonus for us bringing down the Pirate Queen.  But Zero was still on the Hutt bounty list, dead or alive.  So we needed to keep our heads down even more.  Luckily our Zann contact Porel was willing to help us out one more time with astrogation data for a recent smuggler's route through Hutt space that kept us away from any place the big slugs cared about.  

A few days later, I was pulling the hyperdrive throttle back to standby and the bright red forest world of Arbooine was filling the screen.  A passive scan of the system didn't give us much – no transmissions from port control, no drive signatures, nothing that would indicate a major Imperial presence.  Considering what Keena had told us about the place I found that odd so I angled the deflector shields double front while Zero charged up the dorsal gun, just in case. 

The closer we got to the planet, the more nothing we saw.  No signs of cities, ships or technology, only an endless crimson canopy that didn't seem to end.  Keena's droid boyfriend had said that his real-life version had been on a mission to the "city" of Quolas somewhere on this planet.  But since we didn't know where this Quolas was, and since I couldn't raise port control, I brought us in to high orbit to see if we could find any signs of life.  It took us a while, but eventually the active scans found something that looked like a landing platform – made of wood, if you can believe it – and I guided the Val in for a closer look.

The platform looked clear of ships, and despite the fact we couldn't raise anyone on the comlink we did see a bunch of humanoid figures on a series of walkways and other platforms nearby.  I set the ship down gently, ready to fire the attitude jets as I watched the indicators to make sure the tree could hold our weight.  Once everything looked good, I yelled back to the rest of the crew and cycled the engines to nominal.

Krom and Keena were already lowering the ramp by the time I got there, and I could hear Zero's claws scratching the ladder from the gun well as he moved to join us.  The Arbooine air was crisp and full of the aroma of the trees all around us.  In the background were the sounds of alien wildlife – totally different than the dozens of other worlds I'd visited but yet familiar in their strangeness.  

Considering that this was the only spot on this planet that had a landing platform, I expected a little more in terms of city.  Instead it looked more like what I expected from a low-rent Wookiee summer camp – a series of walkways wound around the trees and enormous wicker baskets serving as buildings of some kind.  The baskets made a little more sense when we saw the locals – blue and purple-feathered avians that called themselves the Sathari, according to the HoloNet wiki page I'd skimmed.  One of them waited patiently at the bottom of the ramp as we descended.   From the curious but not panicked looks we got from the other Sathari in the area, I got the impression that a ship arrival was unusual, but not completely unheard of.  I saw a few of the birdmen – probably the local law - carrying some sort spear, but no blasters in sight.  So far, so good.  I like an advantage in firepower.  

Our greeter was direct, which I've come to appreciate more and more these days.  He confirmed the fact that ships were a rare occurrence on Arbooine but seemed puzzled when we asked him about Imperials.  Which was unfortunate since we had taken the time to put together a pretty good cover story about being Imp researchers looking for Suljo Warde as a "historical figure."  And even worse, it turned out we were on the wrong side of the planet.  Quolas was so backwater it didn't even have a landing platform. 

But at least this place had a cantina, and a cantina meant a cool beverage, maybe a chance to pick up a yokel guide and sell some of the consumer tech we'd picked up as a speculative cargo.  And we hit the trifecta on that mark.  Keena worked her magic with a couple shopkeepers and turned us a nice profit, we found a birdman who said he'd get us to Quolas for the right price, and I discovered a Sathari cocktail that I thought might be all the rage back on Salucami if I played my sabaac cards right.

I'm not a fan of long walks through the forest – I mean, I'm a starship captain for a reason – so when the guide suggested we use local transportation I was initially in favor of the idea.  Unfortunately I spoke a bit too soon, since it turned out the local option was called a Tarvix – a four-eyed, furry beetle-type beast the size of a horse.  The thing smelled like a protein farm on Lothal, but in for a microcredit, in for a credit and all that…

A short hop to the other side of Arbooine later, and I had the Val settled nicely in a little clearing a few clicks from where we needed to go.  So we tooled up, and our overpriced Sathari guide got the Tarvixes down the cargo bay ramp.  I climbed into the "saddle" of one of the overgrown beetles and told JR-13 to do something about the smell while we were gone.  Junior "roger, roger'ed" me as we headed towards what I was sure was the "bustling metropolis" of Quolas.  

Now, I'll admit we might be a little paranoid.  I mean, after facing down an insane, invisible, droid-controlled dreadnought that tried to take over our minds to wall-crawling lizards to shifty Rodians to an entire pirate fleet, we've gone up against some nasty pieces of work (did I mention shifty Rodians?)  After all we've been through, you can't blame us for going loaded for Wookiee even though we might only run into a nerf or two.  But our Sathari tour guide had told us to watch the trees as we traveled (hard to miss since they are like 200 meters in diameter and probably three times as tall) so I encouraged Zero to bring his archaic long rifle and I clipped a couple flash bang grenades on my swoop vest in case we needed to scare of the fauna.

I got off the yot farm for a reason.  I like spaceports and ferrocrete and cantinas and civilization.  But I can still appreciate a planet's beauty as long as it doesn't involve jungles, humidity or Rodians.  Arbooine was above average.  The canopy was a brilliant scarlet color and the wind made the thick leaves twist and dance.  But nature still takes every chance it can to throw difficulties our way.  The first one came in the form of a huge ravine between us and where we needed to go.  I'll admit I wasn't happy with our guide.  The ravine was something he might have mentioned before we set out since it meant we had to leave our smelly beetle mounts behind and cross a less-than-modern rope bridge.  We all made it without issue until Zero tried to cross – the bridge decided to partially collapse on the big Trandoshan.  Luckily (or more appropriately, because of Krom's general preference for multiple redundancies) we had Zero secured with some first-rate climbing rope from our gear.  It took a minute or two to pull him up the cliff, but he made it in one piece.  

And let's just make it clear now our guide isn't getting a tip.  In fact, if his attitude continues I might just invite him to take a look out the airlock door while we are in flight and roll the ship a bit.  I mean, he's got wings…

A couple hours later we came up on another tree-town.  This one was even more primitive than the first, but our guide assured us that this was the right place.  Quolas in all its glory.  We got quite the reception from the locals, a lot of strange looks even for me which meant that Keena's intel on this being an Imperial hot spot was probably dated.  Trandoshans might be a little rare, but if you are dealing with Imperials you are dealing with humans.  Or maybe it was just the fact that I kept my right hand close to the grip of my Reaper.

The first bird we ran into was a guard of some kind, spear and all.  We gave him our story about being researchers and yada yada and he said he'd take us to his boss.  Or at least that is what I understood.  His Basic was pretty…well, basic.  We started making our way up the giant tree, picking up a few more spear-carriers as we went.  I still wasn't worried – I'd seen Zero take on a bar full of brawlers and I still favored the Dragoneye's chances against sharp sticks any day of the week.  

We passed a few of the woven baskets that I took to be homes (nests?) or shops, still getting the stares and folks hurrying out of our way.  It felt a little different than the first Sathari town – then we were odd or exciting.  The locals here – especially the civilians – seemed almost scared of us.  Keena motioned to me to pay attention to what looked like a Sathari female and a youth.  The young birdman was looking at Krom and was pointing at him like he'd seen Palpatine or something.  A few seconds later and one of the guards went over and clubbed the kid down with the blunt end of his spear.  

Now, I don't particularly care for people who beat on kids.  But I've been around enough aliens to know that they do some weird things, and considering we were on their planet I was willing to let it slide. However, Zero is touchy about that stuff.  I mean he was basically a bounty hunter for slavers for years but every now and then his conscience fires up.  Unfortunately for us (and for him, turns out) this was one of those times.  He made a beeline for the guy and they exchanged a few "pleasantries" and the next thing I knew he was stomping up the path with a dark look in his eye.

Keena and Krom took off after him, Force knows why.  And the guards decided that the pissed-off Trandoshan (plus Keena and Krom) was the greater threat so I suddenly found myself alone on the platform.  I decided I'd use my lack of a cop shadow to ask the Sathari kid what the heck made him so interested in Krom.  Mom wasn't happy with me talking to her son (chick?) but I handled that in the usual manner – by ignoring her completely – and got a few answers.  

Turns out that the Sathari had seen a Mirialan before, one he called Jel Markov.  And that name rang a bell with me, since we knew that Suljo Warde had come to Arbooine with some sort of assistant or lackey.  Apparently this Markov decided to set himself up as the boss of Quolas, and his rule was far from benevolent.  I got all I could out of the kid, palmed him a sweet I had taken from Krom's workbench stash and set out to find the rest of my crew.  

Turns out I had missed quite a bit.  From what Keena and Krom told me later, Zero basically took on half the village on his own.  Krom said he demanded to see the mayor and tried to rancor his way into a restricted area.  The guards took offense and tried to block his way.  Which ended up in more than a few unconscious Sathari before the rest of the flock swarmed him and managed to bring the big guy down.  

I could hear some sort of commotion up ahead, the sort of riot that only an enraged Wookiee or Trandoshan could cause.  I kept the Dragoneye pointed in the direction of the noise and was doing my best to move quietly and keep to the shadows;  as I passed an open doorway I saw Keena and Krom huddled with a few Sathari in what looked to be a cantina.  I didn't see any of the spear-carriers so I ducked in to see what the party was about.  

Turns out we had arrived at the start of brewing civil war.  One of the Sathari, Pathron, was complaining to Keena that our presence was about to ruin all their plans – to rebel and overthrow Jel Markov.  Although from what Krom said, Zero had caused more damage in the last five minutes than these would-be freedom fighters had thus far.  Pathron introduced us to an old timer named Koh Parthus, who told us that Quolas had been home to a power struggle between two of the larger Sathari families.  This was the big "dispute" that Suljo Warde was supposed to mediate – why a bird fight on a backwater Rim planet mattered to the Jedi I have no idea.  And sometime during the negotiations, Warde left Jel Markov behind and never returned.

The old timer and Pathron were increasingly nervous that we would be found out by the guards, so we agreed to follow them to a safehouse (safebasket?) so we could figure out how to spring Zero.  It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected – Pathron had a friend who worked in the jail and a few hours (and a small promise to help them overthrow the dictator-for-life Markov) later we had Zero back, a bit more bruised and woozy, but still in one piece. 

Our grizzled bounty hunter had even been interrogated by the man himself, Jel Markov.  And somewhat magnanimously he had offered to let us all depart his city in one piece if we would just agree to leave his little domain alone.  Apparently he'd never dealt with a grumpy Trandoshan or a bleeding-heart Twi'lek before.  So, of course we were going to get involved in the bird revolution.  Plus we still needed a lead on where this religious zealot had disappeared to. 

Which meant a few hours later, instead of heading back to a warm bunk on the Valencia, we were using our climbing gear to ascend to Markov's "palace" while some of Pathron's friends were squawking up a ruckus at the main entrance.  Our rebel friend swore that we would be able to bypass most of Markov's guards, and since we wanted him in one piece we figured this was as good a plan as any.  

You know, I thought Krom and I might join the Rebellion against the Empire at some point.  I just never thought it would start by us getting involved in a cockfight.


The Unmasking: the Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 13

It's been a pretty good year.  

I mean, we haven't had any real run-ins with ISB thugs for ages.  The Valencia is still flying, and Krom and I had the credits to afford some pretty sweet upgrades for the old gal.  We picked up a couple of new crew members who brought in more credits than they cost us (one who is easy on the eyes and one who makes a passable pot of 'caf).  I beat my previous record of Green Galaxies consumed in one sitting with me still conscious.  We have a powerful Outer Rim criminal cartel that owes us big time.  And I only got shot in the face once.  

So yeah, much better than last year.

* * * *

Michal Torval had given us the scoop on where to find the Pirate Queen: evidently she had some sort of underground base in a warehouse district near the industrial flats.  What was it with these Sorority types and underground bases, anyway?  The gambler gave us some basic details – two entrances, dozens of ruthless pirate guards, a few monstrous Savrips for extra muscle.  Nothing we couldn't handle.  

As usual, the crew got right to work.  Being the trusting type I am, I went for a stroll to find my new favorite droid hireling, JR-12.  I wanted to make sure that Torval had gone off-planet like he said so I asked Junior to have one of his fellow battle droids check out the gambler's landing pad and see if it was vacant.  He seemed like a nice enough guy for a Pirate Queen's boytoy, so I didn't want to have to kill him for lying to us.  Luckily he wasn't.  While I was busy, Krom got out his slicing gear to get us some warehouse schematics while Keena and Zero went shopping for a rental speeder van and a few more explosive toys.  

Now my buddy is the best slicer on any three planets, but even a galaxy-class grav ball player doesn't score a triple-nova every period.  It was one of those games, I guess.  Krom got the schematics, but the Sorority had some data spikes set and managed to get a trace on him in the process.  And it didn't help that he decided to hit the HoloNet from our docking bay dataport - that meant the pirates had a pretty good idea that a) someone was looking for them, and b) that they were associated with a Lothal-flagged YT-1300 called the Valencia.

So our timeline got accelerated a little bit.  

We grabbed every blaster, sharp blade and grenade we had and double checked the power charges.  Zero got the speeder van ready while I turned my brain to deception and diversions.  Torval had told us that the base had two entrances – one an elevator in the warehouse itself, and another a landing pad a few hundred meters away.  I wanted the pirates looking one way (the landing pad) while we hit them quietly from the other.  And I sure didn't want to divide our forces if we didn't have to.  

Luckily, I had Junior on speed dial.  We comm'ed JR-12 a few hundred credits to rent a small speeder and rig it to look like it was having a mechanical problem.  Meanwhile his assembly line "brother" JR-13 took the Val for a few laps around the city to make sure that any Sorority-types that came looking for her would find nothing but an empty landing bay.  And the the rest of us loaded into Zero's rented speeder van and headed for the warehouse.

It looked like we had gotten our ship blueside none to soon, as we passed a few groups of no-necked goons poking around the spaceport on our way to the pirate base.  I thought about throwing a few heavy blaster shots their way just to make a point, but Krom talked me out of it.  Probably for the best.  But not nearly as fun.

We parked the rental van a few blocks away from the warehouse and tooled up.  I pulled on a ragged old Corellian coat I'd had for at least a decade and set my Imperial Army Scout blaster to stun, keeping it hidden in the voluminous sleeve.  While the rest of the crew rechecked their weapons and hugged the warehouse wall, I told JR-12 to put his rented speeder down on the landing pad to draw attention away from us.

I staggered unsteadily down the street towards the two thugs standing conspicuously in front of the only entrance.  When I got closer, one of the two growled at me to get lost.  Feigning a midday drunk belch (that might not have been totally feigned), I kept edging closer to the entrance while one of the guards came towards me, probably expecting to issue me a solid beating.  My stun blast caught him right in the forehead.  And his buddy didn't last much longer, as one of the crew sent him into blaster-induced slumber in short order.  

And that was then JR-12 called me to say that our diversion plan was having problems – at least one shuttle was using the landing pad and some rough-looking types were less than happy that the droids were trying to undertake field repairs at their secret pirate base.  I hold Junior to delay as long as it could.  Unfortunately that wasn't as long as we would have liked.  Pirate bastards.

It took Krom all of eleven seconds to slice the door controls, but the remaining four guards playing cards around a folding table were trained well enough to know that "the door opening when it wasn't supposed to" meant trouble.  As we rushed in they stood up from their sabacc game and pulled their blasters.  Fortunately Zero and Keena were playing for a Pure Sabacc.  The Trandoshan charged straight towards a pair of the pirates, priming his shock gloves as he closed.  Before they could react he grabbed both by the collar and smashed their heads together with a sickening crunch of bone and gristle.  The snap and sizzle of the shock gloves was an afterthought as they slumped to the floor.  

Keena had her heavy blaster out and quickly put one of the others down (although I suspect she was really aiming at the back of Zero's head) before Krom and I even entered the room.  The last guard bolted towards the elevator and managed to hit a panic button before Krom put a few bolts from his heavy blaster rifle into his back.

After that it got quiet, the empty warehouse lit up only by the flashing red light of the panic button and the smell of ozone from the stun blasts heavy in the air.  By this point, the Sorority knew we were coming, but I spent a few seconds blasting the visible cameras just out of spite.  And then I tried rigging a field booby trap that Sergeant Major Flite had shown us back at the Academy (apparently I didn't pay too much attention during that lesson) and we sent the elevator down with a few bodies just to give the pirates below something to shoot at. 

We had our climbing gear along for just such a situation, so Krom overrode the door safeties and Zero dropped a coil of memory rope down the elevator shaft.  We dropped down on top of the elevator and waited for the pirates to unload on the elevator.  Nothing.  And then more nothing.  So we cautiously opened the maintenance hatch and dropped down into the complex.  Where we found…even more nothing.

The place was deserted as far as we could tell, a long L-shaped hallway ringed by doorways ending in a formidable-looking security door.  As we moved forward we scanned each of the doorways for threats, but all were empty except for one with a body strapped to a chair.  It was hard to tell through the blood and the bruises but it looked like my pal Niko, Torval's bodyguard.  Evidently second chances aren't the Pirate Queen's style.

From what I remembered from Krom's schematics, the bend in the hallway led to the landing pad where I hoped my droid friends had made good their retreat.  The fact that no one was shooting at us gave me the strong suspicion that our Pirate Queen had made a tactical retreat.  Bunch of cowardly nerf herders.  

I holstered my Reaper and pulled a concussion grenade from my vest pocket.  The security door was the only one closed, which to me meant it still had something or someone worth securing.  And over the years I've found that things worth securing are much easier to deal with after they've had a few grenades thrown their way.  

As we approached the door, Keena started turning…well, even more purple.  Her left hand was twitching and her face had the same scared and strained look she had aboard the Black Wing so I knew something was wrong.  I pulled the C-10 and thumbed the grenade arming button just as Krom got the door open.  And then Keena started running back towards the elevator at top speed. While her aim is pretty crappy, Keena's intuition is generally right on. That wasn't good news. 

I didn't have to wonder for long why our astronavigator was heading for the exit.  We got the door open and saw that it apparently led to some sort of control room, with computer stations and holodisplays scattered about.  And right in the middle of it was the scariest looking Twi'lek I'd ever seen, with dead eyes and missing her lekku.  And I couldn't help but notice that she was flanked by two ape-lizard things that I thought were probably the aforementioned Savrip bodyguards.

I was sure this was the same pirate lady from Keena's nightmares and that Torval nearly wet himself about when he said her name.  The fact that my crewmate was running for hills before she even saw her chilled me to the bone.   I have to admit, the lady scared the crap out of me, too – I had a brief feeling we were all doomed to a horrible death before I was able to push the thought from my mind.  But I also had a live grenade in my hand, and that always helps with warming up my bones.  So I chucked it at one of the Savrips and backpedaled into the hall, taking cover in one of the doorways we had passed.  The grenade's usual crump and flash was accompanied by a high-pitched squeal, so I knew it had connected.  Game on.

Zero and Krom chucked grenades of their own into the control center.  I heard another squeal and what sounded like part of the ceiling falling in.  Krom took a knee at the side of the hall, heavy blaster rifle at the ready while Zero stayed put to block the doorway.  Pretty damn ballsy when faced with two Savrips and a crazy-eyed Twi'lek.  One of the grenades must've triggered the fire suppression gear, because we could hear a hiss and the room started filling up with a choking mist. 

One of the Savrips appeared in the doorway holding a huge studded club that looked like it was made for swatting TIE interceptors out of the way.  The ape-lizard swung at Zero, who thankfully managed to dodge back and avoid most of the force of the blow.  The club hit the doorframe so hard it bent the composite into a curve.  The bounty hunter countered with a hit of his own, a brutal uppercut to the Savrip's side that caused the creature to drop its club.  I could see that its right arm was hanging limply at its side, so Zero must've hit a nerve cluster.  

Keena had apparently recovered from whatever panicked her and slid into cover in the doorway across the hallway from me with her heavy blaster pistol in hand.  She was staring daggers at the Savrip like it had insulted her sainted mother.  Apparently, the beast didn't like that because it rushed right past Zero to charge at her instead.  It got in a swing or two, but couldn't get a lot of strength behind its punches with one of its arms swinging uncontrollably at its side.  Still, I didn't care for Keena's odds considering the thing outmassed her five to one.

Zero and Krom used the opportunity of a wide open doorway to rush into the control room.  Glad it was them and not me, because I had no interest in getting closer to the mutilated Twi'lek lady.  I took a deep breath and put the laser dot of my C-10 Dragoneye Reaper right on the side of the Savrip, opposite of where I had seen Zero punch it.  Zap. And then its left arm was also hanging paralyzed at its side.  Hey, this was getting fun!  I thought I might go for a leg next.

And then creature roared and bull-rushed me.  I wasn't expecting that, because it managed to glance into me, knocking me over.  I had about 300 kilos of Savrip lying on top of me and crushing my legs and chest.  I could smell its foul breath, which reminded me vaguely of yot bean rotgut.  But thankfully Keena must've come up behind it and stunned it into dreamland since it stopped squirming.  

At this point I was firmly concentrating on keeping myself alive, but I could hear that my crewmates were still busy in the next room.  Mostly I heard the sound of Krom's heavy blaster rifle banging away.  He told me later that Zero had charged straight at the Twi'lek pirate, which to be honest seemed pretty much in character for the old Trandoshan.  Subtlety is not his strong suit, and I'm beginning to wonder if he has an actual deathwish or some crazy lizard man bet with his gods.

Krom had tried to put down some covering fire, but between the equipment and the fire suppression mist he didn't have much to aim at so he ran in to flank her.  I'll have to remind my friend that he doesn't have enough body armor (or Zero's thick skull) to do that sort of thing on a regular basis.  But he must've gotten lucky because he managed to get the Twi'lek in his sights without getting shot.  And then he opened up the rifle full auto and made a mess of just about everything – the wall, the computers that might have told us where the Pirate Queen went, and the Twi'lek herself.  Zero must've turned sideways just at the right time, because he was spared the wrath of an adrenaline-filled Krom.

And then it was quiet again, except for the sound of Keena pulling the damn Savrip off of me before I suffocated completely.

The two of us joined our friends in the control room and I saw that the crazy lekku-less Twi'lek wasn't long for this universe.  Keena and her were giving each other weird looks, so I edged closer towards the door in case my purple friend decided to take another bolter or shoot Zero in the head.  It wasn't more than a few seconds before the pirate's eyes rolled back and she went limp forever, courtesy of the three or four point blank blaster shots Krom had stitched up her chest.  Keena must've had some crazy sort of woman's intuition or something, because without another word she reached under the pirate's body and came up with a datapad that she said could tell us where the Pirate Queen went.

Considering the four of us had taken out two Sorority bases in short order, I thought we might have the Pirate Queen on her heels a bit.  Keena flipped through the files on the datapad while I comm'ed Junior 13 to get down to us with the Valencia.  As we walked towards the landing pad Keena got to a file that made her chuckle a bit – turns out that instead of retreating the Queen was going on the offensive.

* * * *

The mutilated Twi'lek's datapad had given us what we needed to know – namely that the Sorority was going to strike another Zann Consortium convoy.  More importantly, it told us where they planned to hit.  We had given Venlana and the Consortium the heads up, and they assured us that they would have a little surprise in store for our buccaneering friends.

I was in my usual spot in the Val's cockpit, with Keena in the seat beside me about ready to cut the hyperdrive.  Krom was at the engineering terminal tinkering with the power coupling to get an eighth of a percent more juice for the dorsal gun or some such, while Zero and JR-13 manned the turrets.  Yeah, I know – droids are horrible gunners.  But after the bastard pirates had blasted the droid's assembly line family I figured it might want a bit of revenge.  

I angled the deflector shields to double front just as the hyperspace lines faded to stars. The little surprise the Zanns promised us didn't take long to figure out – hanging in the black in front of us was a space battle worthy of a few engagement I'd seen back in my Navy days.  The Val's targeting computer sorted out the IFF codes the Consortium had sent us so we could see that the sides were pretty evenly matched, although for the time being it looked like the Sorority was slightly overmatched.  

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that both the Consortium and the Sorority could field capital ships.  I mean, these weren't ISDs, but the Zann forces were clustered around a heavy cruiser our IFF tagged as the End of Days while the Sorority ships were trying to protect a light cruiser painted the color of dried blood.  That would be the Renegade's Blood if our computer wasn't being spoofed.  They had at least one more assault ship and a few freighters and bulk transports in the mix as well, with swarms of StarVipers and Z-95 patrol fighters exchanging fire in a swirling, ever-changing dogfight.

Time to get to work.

The comm light was blinking for attention, but I saw the assault cruiser lining up to hammer the End of Days, so I threw the throttle open and listened to our upgraded ion drive scream.  Once upon a time I might have flown shuttles, but this wasn't my first combat engagement.  I didn't need an armchair admiral to tell me who to shoot at.

We raced past a couple of Cutlass patrol fighters like they were standing still and I kicked the Valencia hard over so both Zero and JR-13 could get a few shots at one of the cruiser's turbolasers.  At least one of them got a solid hit, which meant less fire being sent our allies' way.  And then for some unknown reason Krom routed the incoming call to his terminal and put the audio over the 1MC.The Consortium must've been scraping the bottom of the yot bean container for anyone who knew which end of the ship a drive went on, because it turns out it was even worse than an armchair admiral.  They had given that jumped-up ISB-wannabe Lieutenant Jared Sykes the keys to the cruiser. Krom and I knew the guy from when we were in the 495th on Torval.  Standard strutting martinet that the Empire usually promotes at every opportunity, so I was at a loss to how he ended up working for Zann.  But he seemed to think he was an admiral now and in charge of this whole thing, yelling about orders and mission assignments and dereliction of duty.  

I was going to get on the comm and explain to him in great detail about how we weren't part of his private little navy, and that he wasn't even skilled enough to be an admiral of bantha fodder skid lifters but I knew I'd get "that look" from Krom so I cut Sykes off and told him we were going to board the Renegade's Blood.  That might have been what he was yelling at us to do, anyway.  I wasn't listening too hard.

Docking with a capital ship that is taking and returning fire in the middle of a dogfight is borderline crazy.  The patrol fighters certainly weren't going to just let us waltz in without trying to light up our six, and End of Days was hammering our destination with enough ion blasts to blackout a small city.  

I made it look easy.

* * * *

We got the maglocks in place and the soft seal indicator was green, but we knew from experience that life support systems on a ship in the middle of combat could go at any time.  So Krom met us at the airlock with breathing masks and some emergency magnetic soles.  The airlock door came open without much decompression so we knew that the atmo system was still functioning.  But then I hit the gravity shelf, so artificial-g was down.  At least I managed to recover before anyone noticed.  Zero nearly hit the floor.

The ship was under combat red lighting, which plays tricks on your eyes.  We didn't see much in the way of resistance, mostly just crewmembers running from one sparking equipment panel to the next, trying to ward off overload that would knock out life support completely.  Standard Imperial boarding procedure calls for taking engineering so that your prize can't jump to hyperspace, but Keena and Zero were determined to get to the bridge.  Krom said he could cut the hardline if he needed to, anyway, so away we went towards the bridge.  

Keena and I headed for the lift – with all the crew rushing around trying to keep the ship from being an airless dead hunk of composite in space I didn't think they had too much time to focus on boarders and so I figured I'd ride in style.  But apparently Krom and Zero needed a few more minutes of cardio because they decided to take the ladder instead.  

The lift doors opened and we saw a group of pirates working frantically to get a shield generator back online.  Two of them reached for their sidearms while two decided discretion was the better part of valor – I'm not really sure where they thought they were going to run to.  My C-10 barked twice and the two with a little fight in them dropped to the deck.  Keena hit another one in the back as he ran off, and the last one stumbled and fell over a lose power cable.  I put a stun bolt into the back of his head as we walked by, and he went limp.

Meanwhile, Krom and Zero's plan hadn't worked out too well for them.  They reached the top of the ladder to find a huge Savrip waiting for them, hefting a wicked-looking vibroaxe.  At least my friends remembered the Rule of Elendis: when faced by a big nasty critter, throw a grenade.  A couple of concussion blasts later and the Savrip was definitely looking woozy.  

Keena and I had circled around the elevator shaft to join the rest of our team.  I saw her watching the Savrip, and maybe it thought our navigator/waitress was that crazy-eyed Twi'lek from Ord Mantell because it took off running.  Went right by Keena without giving her a second look—she didn't even flinch.  Weirdest thing I'd seen all day.  

We made it up to the blast door protecting the bridge and Krom grabbed the hydrospanner I bought for him on Rodia and started taking panels off the wall.  A few seconds later he nodded and said that he had cut communications between the bridge and engineering.   Renegade's Blood wasn't going anywhere now. 

Then he tapped the bridge comms system and tried to bluff his way in, blathering on about "resistive fault locators" and "reactor drain on the load coils" and such.  The crew on the bridge wasn't buying it, so we had to do this the hard way.  So Krom tapped a few more buttons on his Versafunction88 and the blast doors slid open easy as you please.

If anything, the bridge was in worse shape than the rest of the ship.  Sparks seemed to be flashing from every terminal and the smell of burning electronics was enough to make my eyes water.  A few groups of pirates had weapons at the ready.  And in the middle of it all, a tall woman wearing a mask.  Hopefully this was the real one for a change.

The pirates obviously never had any real combat training or they woudn't have been so clustered together.  I still had one flash-bang grenade left, so I skipped it off the deck with a sweet grav ball pass and it detonated right in the middle of them.  Keena and Zero took the other two down with their blasters.  Scratch five pirates.  

Krom took advantage of the shock and awe on the faces of the remaining pirate crew to tap a few commands into one of the few terminals still active.  I could see the few hardpoints still active powering down, and then the only sound was a squeal and shudder as the ship's shields attempted to fend of ion blasts from the Consortium fleet.  My buddy calmly radioed over to "Admiral" Sykes that we had the drop on the Queen and that they should stand down.

I have to admit, I was expecting a little more fight from the old gal.  She didn't even reach for the sword at her side, but instead went all Hutt on us, offering to become our best friends and credits beyond our wildest dreams and all that.  But ya see, while I'm always on the lookout for a paying cargo and I don't really care what it is or who is transferring the credits, once I take possession I stay bought.  You don't stay a live smuggler long by switching pods mid-race.  

The Queen could probably see from our faces that her little offer wasn't going to work and yelled something along the lines of us never taking her alive.  Which didn't faze me much, since that wasn't part of our deal with Zann.  A minute later she was foaming at the mouth and Zero had her mask (and her head, what the hell?) and we were headed back to the Valencia to get off this pirate junker. 

* * * *

A few days of watching hyperspace blue float by and we were back to Salucemai, touching down at a sweet landing bay just a short walk to my favorite nightclub.  The Paradise must've been full of Consortium members because we got a round of applause as we walked through towards the private room at the back.  I was trying not to get delusions of grandeur, but I figured maybe they had heard about my marathon Green Galaxy bout a few weeks back.  Either that or it was Zero holding the Pirate Queen's mask over his head as he walked past the bar.

Venlana and Porel were waiting for us, all smiles and job well dones.  And then it got weird – Venlana asked Zero for the Pirate Queen's mask and then Porel pulled a blaster and then she pulled a blaster and they were both yelling at us to shoot the other one as a traitor.  

I hate getting in the middle of family feuds.  And honestly I had some Green Galaxies to get drinking so I didn't have time for this Jawa standoff.  So I pulled my own blaster and told the crew to stun them both and let Zann figure it out later.  

Porel didn't look happy about the possiblity of getting stunned, but Venalan's cool broke and she pushed past Zero to head for the exit.  So we knew right then who the traitor was.  Zero took off after her, and managed to drop her with a flying tackle before she made it out the door.  Pretty much every thug in the place had a knife or blaster out by that that point, so I holstered my Reaper and sat down at the bar for a drink.  The Green Galaxies are REALLY good here.

* * * *

A few hours later everything was settled and we had a hefty credit balance and the promise of undying friendship from the Zann Consortium.  They agreed to put in a good word with the Hutts to try and get the bounty off of Keena and Zero, and I asked Porel to make sure JR-12 and -14 got rebuilt with as much of their logic saved as possible.  Things were looking pretty good for a deserter-turned-smuggler and his ragtag crew.  

And then on my way to refill my 'caf from the galley I walked by Keena's berth.  The door was open just a bit and I heard her talking to someone.  And that someone said, "Greetings, Jedi"

Talk about delusions of grandeur.

Still Undefeated on Ord Mantell: the Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 12

Blaster fights in gold lamé tops don't happen often.  For one thing, it's hard to wear body armor under them.  But every now and then life imitates a HoloNet action show and you find yourself trading shots with rent-a-goons while running after your crewmate who is dressed like a Mantellian showgirl.  This just happened to be one of those times.

* * *

As was our deal, the Herglic Ilo Vanden had given us a name – Michael Torval.  Evidently the guy was something of a local celebrity on the sabacc circuit: handsome, mysterious and a sharp card player.  Actually, sounds a lot like someone I know.  But more importantly for our purposes, it appeared Torval was the latest arm candy of our target the Pirate Queen.  Which meant he either knew how to get to her, or that he might be useful to us as bait.  So he was a guy we needed to meet.

Vanden had given us a recording of a conversation between the Queen and one of her henchmen.  And it wasn't favorable to our soon-to-be-best-friend Torval.  In fact, the Queen expressed only a passing interest in the gambler and said she would cut him out of the picture as soon as she got bored.  Loose lips sink pirate ships and all that.  

We all agreed that if we could get Torval to listen to us, the news that his lady friend was just fine with killing him might make him willing to talk.  The problem was, a Pirate Queen's playboy consort is a bit difficult to "just run into."  But being resourceful folks, we weren't going to let that stop us.

Krom had been full of surprises lately.  He was always was a Jedi at keeping the Valencia in top shape and I've seen him work some damage control miracles while I was spinning the ship like a drunken Gamorrean in the middle of a dogfight, but he'd been spending more and more time in the crew mess plugging away at his Versafunction88.  I didn't understand half of it, but he said he was coding some new dataspikes, remote access protocols, and customized search routines "just in case."  

Turns out those geek tools come in pretty handy in tracking down celebrity gamblers, because before long my Mirialan friend had Torval's recent holo, home address, ship registry and the fact that he had purchased a private box to see a fight at the Loaded Savrip tomorrow evening.  From the holos we saw that he never went anywhere without at least one handler/bodyguard.  But a few bodyguards was surmountable. That was enough to get to work.  

We sat around the dejarik table with a cup of steaming caf to come up with the framework of a plan.  Since we knew where Torval lived, Zero suggested it made sense to try and get eyes and ears in his place.  And we knew where he would be tomorrow night, so I thought that gave us the best chance to convince him to have a "private chat" with us so we could make our case.  So we decided to split up and get a few of the tools we would need.

Keena and I were on shopping detail.  We thought our Toydarian Zann Consortium contact would be a good start, but the guy confirmed my suspicion that he wasn't a real player in the underworld scene by demanding crazy credits and all sorts of favors.  I'm sure the screechy alien was just trying to cover up the fact he couldn't deliver on some pretty straightforward goods.  So we walked and found an alternate seller, a silver-eyed Rodian dealer who still stunk of jungle.  But he had what we needed so we made the buy and headed back to the ship.

Part one of the plan was for Krom and Zero to play havoc with the climate system in Torval's flat and then go in as a maintenance crew to fix it.  Only problem was that Krom had to be onsite to slice his way into the environmental controls.  Apparently it didn't go well, since they ran into the building's real maintenance team and got chased off.  That's what happens when you let a flight engineer and a bounty hunter go out unsupervised.  I love those guys, but there's not much subtlety there.

And then, apparently, they decided to double down.  On their way back to our rented van, they saw Torval and his no-neck handler getting into a personal speeder.  On a whim, they followed him to an upscale Alderaanian cafe, the kind that usually makes Trandoshans use the back door.  And our guys were still wearing Enviro-Repair jumpsuits that had their (bogus) given names over the pocket.  They tried to bluff their way past the maitre d', which I wish I could've seen live.  I mean, Zero has all the charm of a thermal detonator and Krom couldn't lie convincingly to an astromech droid wearing a restraining bolt.  

But the way Krom told it they somehow got into the main dining area.  Torval was eating some overpriced food and tapping absorbedly at his datapad while his bodyguard kept a sharp eye out.  So they went with the old Loud/Quiet approach and at least Zero had the sense to be Loud.  He made a big show about being a fan of Torval's and certainly got the bodyguard's attention (Trandoshans can do that) while Krom tried to sidle around and drop a tracker in the gambler's pocket.  

It didn't work.  You don't get a reputation as a successful sabacc player without being observant, and Torval lived up to his reputation.  Krom muttered something about the food looking good (which, for him, was a pretty decent lie) while the bodyguard backed his charge up and got into a combat crouch.  The maitre d' also jumped in at this point, sceaming at Zero and Krom to get out while Torval and his handler made a laser line for the door.  So after two periods, a complete null on the grav ball court.  Time for charm and beauty to have a go (and Keena, too.)

* * *

Since we knew Torval would be at the fight later on, we figured it would be a good chance to get close to him.  Keena would go in as a waitress (I think she even suggested it – go figure) with a nice legit staff ID courtesy of Krom's slicing work.  I just needed to find my own way of getting close.  I headed back to the Loaded Savrip to have a chat with my promoter pal Jyd Renner. 

The place was empty this early in the day, but the cleaning droid let me in once I asked for Jyd.  I found him on the floor and made a big show of wanting to get a seat next to Torval.  No luck – turns out the guy always sat in a private box with his bodyguard.  And the security at the Savrip was evidently a bit better than I had seen from the ring – each box had a personal force field to keep out the riffraff.  But at least I knew which box was likely Torval's, got a good feel for the layout of the place and the exits, and sent a few holos of the waitress uniforms back to the crew.

I headed back to the Val to go over our final plans.  Everyone else had been busy as well – Zero had rented a new nondescript speeder van and a room at an even more nondescript motel we could use as a safe house.  Krom had pulled on an on-site slice at the Savrip to forge me a ticket to Torval's very own box, and even managed to grab a waitress uniform for Keena.  I had to suppress a grin since it was a few sizes too small – Krom's got a 14-year-old's sense of humor, sometimes.

* * * 

As the evening of the fight approached, we loaded up our rental speeder with our heavy weapons and then Keena, Krom and I dug into our disguise kit to ugly up a bit.  I thought we were pretty unrecognizable, but since Torval had gotten a good look at him we thought it best if Krom stayed in the employee areas.  We didn't bother with Zero - he was our designated driver for the evening and as he kept telling us "Trandoshans don't wear wigs."  

Zero dropped us off a few blocks from the Savrip, Keena in her waitress getup, Krom in a forgettable utility jumpsuit and me in my best "upscale boxing fan" vest over my armored clothing.  Since I wasn't sure how far my forged ticket would get me, I decided I'd go straight to the box.  Keena had a few doses of a potent Mickey Finn (courtesy of our shopping trip) and went through the staff entrance with her sliced ID.  And Krom went off to whatever maintenance closet he found earlier.  

The first two bouts were forgettable, although by the second the crowd had started filling in a bit.  Keena had firmly established herself as the waitress for this box, and I was trying my best to go slow on the Green Galaxies.  And then Krom came over the commlink that Torval was on the floor and it was game time.  

It took him a while to make his way up to the box, and when the door opened I saw it was just him and the one minder.  He motioned over to someone outside the door – probably the usher to complain about his private box being a bit crowded  and I knew it was time to go full snob.  I waved my (forged) ticket in his face and told him to get out of my box - until I "suddenly" recognized him as Michael Torval.  And of course, I was such a fan.  The usher spent a little while looking over my ticket, and although I'm pretty sure his datapad wasn't giving him the A-OK, I kept up just enough of an indignant I-have-every-right-to-be-here air that he finally gave up.  Either that or Torval didn't want to miss the main event so he just told the guy to let me stay.  Regardless, I was in the room.  Check.

Just on cue, Keena came in and took our drink orders, making small talk like she knew I was supposed to be there.  I gave her the nod to make sure our new friend would get an extra special ingredient in his Trandoshan ale.  Good to know we didn't have to worry about him tasting anything since that ale could take the paint of a speeder.  Weird choice for a professional gambler.  I tried chatting Torval up a bit, but the bodyguard sitting between us didn't make for a nice, private conversation.  So we were back to Plan A, which was a snatch and grab.  

By the third round, the challenger was on the ropes down in the ring, and Torval was talking up a storm as the Mickey Finn did its work.  Despite the fact he had only finished half his ale, the gambler was swaying unsteadily like he was on his eighth.  Down in the ring, the odds-on-favorite pummeled his opponent with a brutal series of right hooks, dropping him too the mat and then it was all over.  Up in the box, Torval was all smiles and high-fives and talking about how I was just the best friend a guy could have.  Then the minder must've realized the boss was blasted and started leading him towards the door.  Showtime.

I comm'ed the crew to be ready to move quickly and followed Torval and his babysitter out of the box to the top of the stairs down to the lower level.  The bodyguard had his arm around Torval's shoulder to help steady him, and I saw Keena had come up on the other side, a step or two behind him.  I pulled my Imperial Army Scout blaster out of its concealment holster in the small of my back and put the barrel right to the back of the bodyguard's neck before triggering the stun bolt.  He dropped like he'd been roundhoused by the guy we had just seen in the ring.

I hoped that the close proximity might have kept the crowd from noticing the stun bolt, but luck wasn't with us and a few shouts of alarm went up.  Torval's was one of them as Keena deftly looped her arm around him on the right, while I did the same thing on the left, steering our prize towards the exit.  He was pretty well drugged, but not out of it so much he didn't realize he was in trouble, so after the first few cries for help I put a stun bolt into his neck as well.  That ended the struggling, but now the surrounding crowd was fully panicked.

We saw Krom just up ahead, gesturing us into a less-crowded side passage.  I remembered from my earlier reconnaissance that it was a staff corridor that led towards the cargo dock so we maneuvered Torval's limp form through the door and comm'ed Zero to be ready to move with a sense of urgency.  We were making good time when we came around a corner and ran into a squad of security monkeys.  Well, you can't have a game without some opposition.

The rental cops weren't quiet sure what to make of us yet, so I wanted to give them the right idea and yelled at them to get over and help us get our friend to an ambulance.  It was just our tough luck that one of them thought he was Hetwica Turnblast, M.D. and ran over to do CPR on our kidnap victim, while his partner pulled out his commlink.  The other two, obviously being smarter, kept a distance away and a hand on their blaster pistols.  But at least the odds were better.

I gave Krom my most bloodthirsty grin and he dropped the commlink guard with a rabbit punch to the back of the skull while I skinned my holdout blaster.  The skeptical guards might have had a higher IQ than their colleagues, but the filed sight and hair-trigger Krom had installed let me get the drop on them just the same.  A couple quick shots and one was down and the other was trying his best to shake off a glancing stun bolt.  Keena went over and gave him a solid punch to the stomach, knocking him back but not taking him out of the fight.  

The wannabe medical tech decided that discretion was the better part of valor and grabbed the commlink from the ground before making a dash for some storage containers, screaming into the mic for backup.  Krom took my spot carrying Torval's still unconscious form while I stunned the guard who was still next to us and tossed his blaster pistol to Keena.  Off we went towards the loading dock and (hopefully) our getaway driver.  

I heard Zero over the 'link saying that he could hear sirens and that he was starting to attract attention.  We were almost at the loading doors, and Krom told him to get as close to us as possible.  Zero apparently took him literally.  As we got through the last doorway to the dock, a few more guards were waiting for us.  One had the bright idea to close the garage door, while the others took some poorly-aimed shots at us.  And then, BANG, as Zero revved the speeder van through the door and pulled a nifty little bootleg turn that sent two of the cops flying.  I mashed the door stop button while Krom manhandled Torval into the back before he and Keena slid into the passenger compartment.  

I barely managed to jump into the copilot's seat before Zero mashed the accelerator full forward.  The sirens weren't just for show, because within a few seconds we had a police speeder right on our six, green and yellow lights flashing.  Keena and Krom had recovered their blasters and leaned out the side windows to "deter pursuit" while Zero spun the wheel like a maniac.  My crewmates were handling fire control, so I concentrated on trying to navigate the speeder van through alleys it wasn't designed to traverse on the theory that the cops would have an even rougher time.

For as old and big as he is, Zero is a decent driver, and I was thankful the g-belts seemed to be holding as he whipped the speeder back and forth.  The others were blasting anything on the street that might slow down the cops, and managed to sever a light pole with a great shot, dropping it right across the road.  I had a brief glimpse of the police driver trying to avoid the durasteel beam and then heard the crunch of impact.  A few seconds later and the sirens died down.

* * * 

Zero got us to the safe house after a few more twists and turns and then drove off to ditch the rental.  We carried Torval's unconscious body upstairs and made him comfortable in one of the threadbare chairs, binders on his hands and feet and some shipboard tape over his mouth.  A few minutes later, Zero came in and we got to business - a couple of slaps to the face to wake our guest up. 

I'll give the guy credit.  He looked scared, but not overly so, considering he was bound hand and foot and had four armed kidnappers staring at him – one of which was a Dug-ugly Trandoshan.  We went at him hard, but gave him the real story.  Namely that his pirate girlfriend didn't seem to care much if met an unfortunate end in the near future, and that she had another friend who was urging her to make it even nearer.  We played the recording for him to reinforce our point.  He didn't react much until we asked him who the other voice was – the one Keena told us was some lobotomized Twi'lek she had a dream about.  Turns out her name was Real, and she was unsurprisingly a big deal in the Sorority.  And very, very bad news, according to Torval.  The guy literally paled when he heard her voice, which we hadn't been able to do with a few smacks and a lot of intimidating looks.

The hard route wasn't getting much other than making Zero and I angry, so he and Krom and I regrouped in the other room (actually the fresher – this was a crappy dive hotel) to let Keena play good cop for a while.  There seemed to be some sort of spark between her and the gambler early on so we figured we could take advantage of it.  They talked for a little while before the rest of us came back in, and I could see that he was a bit more talkative.

He claimed that all he wanted to do was get offplanet and far away.  He gave us a few details we didn't know about the Pirate Queen – namely that she had some sort of hideout here on Ord Mantell and that she was calling the shots in their relationship.  We got the rundown on the hideout – underground, with an entrance in an industrial park and another one near the shipyards, the possibility of Savrip bodyguard, and the guarantee of a bunch of piratical types – but not much else despite some stern looks from Zero.  

I thought it would be cleaner for us if Mr. Torval "met with an accident" but I could tell that Krom and Keena weren't with me on that line.  So instead I told the high-roller we'd cut him loose if he beat me in a hand of sabacc.  I wanted to see how good he was, and he didn't have much else to gamble with since I'd already cleaned out his wallet.  

Turns out he's pretty good.  I mean, he beat me.  And that doesn't happen much.

We thought our safehouse was pretty off the radar, but no need to tempt fate.  So we grabbed a taxi back to the Valencia to consider our next move against the Queen.  




Undefeated on Ord Mantell : The Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 11

I've always preferred to do my fighting from the cockpit or with a heavy blaster in hand.  Less chance of losing my pearly whites that way.  But that doesn't mean I'm helpless in hand fighting.  The Academy was big into the whole "martial arts drives discipline" mentality and there were quite a few of us that needed the discipline.  That part didn't take for me (obviously), but the martial arts part I've retained well enough.  Besides, I had two burly, farm-raised older brothers and a smart mouth.  Necessity breeds familiarity.  

Our contact Venlana told us the Zann Consortium wasn't real happy about us bringing in the imposter Pirate Queen.  And in return, I wasn't real happy about her blasting the only living Sorority member who might've given us some leads.  But she must've realized that was on her, because instead of blasting us the same way or sending us off to scour the galaxy, she had us sit tight for a few days while the Consortium's spies beat the bushes.  I managed to win a few hands of sabacc against Krom during the downtime, which almost never happens.  It's hard to beat a guy who can count cards like he does.  

The spies came through with a place to start – Ord Mantell.  Krom and I had visited a few times, mostly ferrying hopeful moneyed passengers to the casinos and far-less-wealthy ones back out the Rim.  I liked the place.  Just the right combination of sleaze, credits, working girls, and bartenders who knew their way around a Green Galaxy (i.e. just the right amount of Corellian brandy).  And most importantly, not a jungle to be found on the planet.  


Port control got us routed quickly to docking bay 45.  The faux-neon lights from the the casinos lining the Path of Coins were bright enough to cause the Val's viewscreen to auto-dim on final approach.  And I swore I could just make out the columned facade of the Casino Royale before I touched the Valencia down on the ferrocrete.  That place certainly brought back memories.  I hoped that they still didn't have Krom and my holos up on the wallscreen with a "detain on sight" warning.  Probably not, but I still made a mental note to give the Royale a wide berth.

The ramp servos whined sharply and then quieted as we walked through the dense white mist of the decontamination sprayers looking for our Zann contact.  Didn't take long, since he was flapping his mottled, blue-green wings impatiently not far from the ship.  Jander, the Toydarian called himself.  He let it be known that he wasn't much impressed with us, and the feeling was certainly mutual.  Especially after he took us to this "great place for a chat and a drink" that turned out to be a below-average spaceport dive bar. A long way from the VIP room back at the Paradise.  

Jander had a lead for us, but it was thin.  The lead came in the form of a Herglic gambler-turned-casino owner named Ilo Vanden.  The Herglic apparently wanted a favor, and in return he was willing to give us the name of someone close to the Pirate Queen.  Hopefully the real Pirate Queen this go around.  Like I said, it was thin but we didn't have much else to go on so we decided to check it out.  If it turned out to be a bum lead at least the Consortium couldn't blame us for not trying.

We weren't in a huge rush and I'm a fan of knowing as much as we can about the potential marks we run into, so Krom pulled out his slicing gear and poked around a bit.  What he got from local data feeds matched with what the Consortium was telling us so we commed for a taxi.  As we were leaving the ship, a slightly battered old B1 battle droid, operating number JR-12, offered us his services to guard the Valencia.  Zero and Keena waved it off, but something about the droid struck me.  The B1s have a bad (mostly-deserved) reputation for being inept but this one still had what looked like its factory-issued E-5 blaster rifle.  And it was spotless.  I thought any droid with that much attention to detail might be helpful and called JR-12 back over to work out the details.

I love it when I'm right.


Vanden lived in a restricted district of Worlport.  The kind of place that people with credits throughout the galaxy lived in.  Big houses with expansive views of other big houses.  Wide, clean streets.  Perfect landscaping with a mix of local flora and enough off-world stuff to remind you they could afford to waste credits importing plants.  And heavy security.  Always heavy security.  

These particular private lawdogs were ex-military or ex-police of some kind.  You could tell by the fact that their attention rarely wandered and the limited distance their hands moved when they walked.  Clearly they had been trained to keep hands close to the trigger of their blaster rifles.  I did have to stifle a laugh at their uniforms, though.  Standard combat laminate like the bucketheads wear, but in a bright yellow color that reminded me of a Kubindi Lantern Bug.  Either someone must've gotten a discount price or the security company owners had a brutal sense of humor.

HoloNet said that weapons were strictly off-limits in the district but long experience had taught me that unarmed smugglers often go by the nickname "victim," so I pulled a bit of slight of hand.  I made a big show of pulling my C-10 out of its holster and complained amount about how I wanted it back in good working order before I stepped through the scanner frame with my holdout pistol still snug in its BlasTech 58 concealment holster.  The BlasTech marketing line claimed the holster was effective against 80% of detection devices, and for once the ads were true – the Lantern Bugs waved us on through until they asked Zero to take off his shock gloves.  The old lizard was having none of it, so he mumbled something about finding a place to lose some credits (he might actually have said "a casino") and wandered off in the other direction, leaving Keena, Krom and I to meet with Ilo Vanden.

I didn't know what to expect from a filthy rich Herglic's house.  Probably something like what I imagined a Hutt palace to be, but other than a lot of aquariums and ocean motifs and heavy furniture, Vanden's home was fairly tame.  Vanden himself was typical of his species: huge, well over two and a half meters, with deep blue skin except for a pale ring around his blowhole.  He had a well-stocked bar and didn't waste time with pleasantries, which was a promising start in my book.  

After winning his wealth as a system-class gambler, it seemed that Vanden wanted to increase his bank account a quicker way: by cheating.  He had a significant bet placed on a local fight and wanted to make sure that his money produced a good return.  That meant the opposing fighter had to no show – Vanden didn't care if she was killed, kidnapped or just slept off a giant hangover.  And if we made that happen, he'd give us the name we wanted.  Easy peasy.  

We made the deal and headed back to the Val, sending Zero a message over the commlink to meet us back at the ship so we could plan our next move.  Krom went to his stateroom with his Versafunction88 to do a little data search, while Keena and I killed time with a few hands of sabacc.  The Trandoshan was just stomping up the ramp when Krom poked his head out of the bulkhead with that goofy grin on his face.  

Vanden had told us our target's stage name, "Flutterplume."  Not something to strike fear into the hearts of men.  Sort of like "Zero" (which, incidentally, is his win record on Ord Mantell).  Apparently she was a human who liked to dress in outlandish costumes based on a local avian of some kind.  The fight Vanden wanted to make sure she didn't show up for was in three days, so we had a little time.  Luckily, Krom had gotten a whole bunch more off the 'net, such as her real name (Amy Kraf), the district she lived in (Westwall), where she came from (some dump called Redlake), and the fact that she was scheduled to fight a bout tonight.  That last bit looked promising.

* * *

There's no use flying a brawler all over the galaxy, despite the fact that he makes halfway decent caf, unless you get to see him fight.  So I thought it might be worth seeing this "Flutterplume" in action, with Zero as the up-close analyst and the rest of us observing safely from the cheap seats.  The Trandoshan didn't say no, so we headed down to the casino to pick a fight.  It didn't turn out quite like I expected.

Getting Zero in to fight Flutterplume was easy enough.  We put down an entry fee with the promise of a 1,000 credit purse and we were in.  But apparently the promoter didn't like humans or something, because he would only put Zero in the ring if I agreed to fight the undercard against some nerf herder who apparently thought it was intimidating to fight in a lab coat.  I tried to dissuade the promoter, but he was adamant that I fight, so with Krom trying to hide his laughter I agreed.  Anything to get the job done, right?

Our plan was pretty simple – last a few rounds in the ring, get some insight on Amy Kraf a.k.a. Flutterplume, and then decide how best to make her late for her appointment three days hence.  And maybe make a few credits on the night by betting against Zero.  I mean, who wouldn't?  Flutterplume's record was something like 198-2 and Zero was probably already collecting his Trandoshan basic retirement income.

But first I had to beat down this laserbrain in a white coat.   

My brothers might have had some justification in trying to use me as a punching bag growing up, because even then I knew my way around a choice insult.  I figured what worked then might work now, so I spent the first few rounds dodging away from The Professor while I kept up a steady stream of taunts.  He turned a shade of red I didn't think was humanly possible and started throwing wild, rage-filled haymakers that even a protocol droid could have dodged.  And shortly after the start of the third round, I ducked under one of his roundhouse blows and gave him a quick jab to the stomach and a hard uppercut to the jaw.  Bang.  

I certainly didn't knock him out or cause any lasting injury.  But it was enough to get a split decision which is all I needed to collect the purse.  And I kept my pearly whites intact.

And then it was time for the main event.  Zero seemed game enough, and came in with a flurry of body blows that made me concerned for my bet for a few seconds.  But Kraf recovered quickly, gave a smile that seemed all out of place, and gave back a bit more than she got before the bell rang.  Our ex-bounty hunter is a tough hombre, but by the end of the second round he was looking a bit ragged and Krom was working overtime in the corner as Zero's cut man.  The old lizard got in a few blows in the third, but Kraf was just too fast.  She didn't manage to drop Zero, but I had a feeling that it would have been a different story had it gone a few more rounds.

After the fight was over, the crew huddled in the locker room to consider our next move.  The place reeked of sweat, dried blood and cheap muscle liniment.  So not much different than Zero's stateroom on the Val.  Watching Kraf in action, I knew that a nice quiet snatch-and-grab kidnapping was out of the question unless we managed to get our hands on some hospital-grade tranquilizers.  Vanden didn't want her dead, just to no-show, so we were keeping the simple option – a couple of blaster rounds to the head – as a last resort.  I had a couple good stories that might've worked for a con, but I had forgotten the Keena factor.  She and Zero decided to go see her in the locker room next door and bribe her to miss the fight.  

It didn't work.  Which I could have told them to begin with.  A fighter who is 198-2 isn't going to take a dive for anyone.  But they did get Kraf to open up a bit – turns out she had family on Ord Mantell, back up in Redlake, and she was doing her fighting to make money to send back to the old folks.  Apparently the family had gotten on the wrong side of Vanden, who was Not Such A Nice Guy.  Now they were working for no pay – which on Garel we called slaves - which would be sad anywhere but the Outer Rim, where raw deals are the norm.  

So of course, Keena took out her bleeding heart to admire it and polish it for a while.  She asked Kraf if she would no-show at the bout if we could get her family back safely.  My couple of blaster rounds to Flutterplume's head plan still seemed like a cleaner solution, but once Kraf mentioned slavers I could see Zero's claws clench and dig furrows into the bench and then Krom was looking at the lady boxer like a broken device he knew he could fix and I knew we were taking a trip north to free some slaves.

* * *

Mantellians aren't particularly creative.  They called the giant trash pile of mine tailings, broken down starships and salvage that they created over thousands of years in the middle of the desert the "Scraplands."  And that probably meant the rusty red pool of acidic water we were flying towards was "Redlake."  Like I said, not creative.

The locals had some sort of maglev train that crisscrossed the planet, but we decided to take the the ship instead.  We were worried that the train schedule might not fit with our "blast a bunch of slavers and rescue Kraf's family" timeline.  And since me and Krom didn't much care to leave the Val unprotected next to a giant scrapheap full of scroungers and parts cannibals, I asked JR-12 if it might want to increase its retainer a bit.  Turned out that it did, and it brought along a couple other clankers to help make sure our ship stayed in one piece.  Good logic board in it, this droid.  

I eased the Valencia down into the parched red-orange dust and we stepped out into the mid-morning sun.  The breeze carried the sharp smell of rust and leaking hyperdrive coolant through the thin air.  The ship's comp said no rebreather was needed, but I almost grabbed one anyway due to the smell.  We could see a few shapes moving about in the scrap, some human, some alien.  They didn't seem to pay us any mind, but I cut the safety on my C-10 just the same and checked to make sure Krom had remembered to bring his heavy blaster rifle.  

A twenty-minute hike brought us into the village of Redlake.  Village being a charitable word for it.  A few scrap metal huts clustered around a cleared area that sported a community fire pit.  We saw signs of some sort of struggle, but no greeting party, or any sign that anyone lived here now.  I wasn't about to go climbing through scrap piles looking for bodies, so I figured we might get details from some of the locals by making friends.  

I grew up on a pretty prosperous farm – we had food on the table (as long as you liked yot beans) and dad's share in the co-op shuttle meant we could sell our crop for off-world credits.  But a bunch of the kids I knew weren't as well off.  So I knew what hunger looked like.  And the few scavengers we saw poking around – kids, mostly – looked like that.  I hated using food as leverage, but we needed answers so Zero and I went back to grab a few crates of ration bars out of the galley.  It didn't take long before we found a few kids willing to trade information for the crates.  

Turns out that slavers had raided Redlake a few weeks back and took the adults and some of the kids off to a camp somewhere to the north.  That tracked with the timeframe Kraf had told us when she last spoke to her family.  Most of the kids were too young and scared to offer any more help, but one of the older ones – Evun - said he'd lead us to the camp for another couple crates of ratbars.  So off we went through the teetering piles of wrecked Incom snubfighters, speeders and industrial waste.

After about two hours we arrived at what looked like some sort of scrap fortress.  A huge wall of metal with a narrow opening and a few guard towers on the other side.  Through the electrobinoculars we could see a few thugs standing on either side of the opening, and at least a couple more in the towers. I got JR-12 on the commlink and told it to get the ship warmed up just in case we needed a quick dustoff.  Krom gave me a look that told me what he thought of letting a droid pilot our ship, but he didn't argue with me.  

We were pretty sure the slavers weren't expecting us, so we thought the quiet method might be best.  Krom and I weaved our way through the scrap heaps until we got fairly close to the wall, with Zero and Keena keeping overwatch.  We slid along the wall behind the two guards, hoping that none of the slavers in the watchtowers decided to look directly down.  

Luck was with us at first, and we both got into good positions.  Krom had his Navy-issue combat knife held in a combat grip, but I've never been much for blades so I stuck with my Reaper.  We padded up behind the two guards, and then went for the takedown.

The point-blank stun charge caught my guard right in the neck and he dropped like a durasteel brick on a high-G world.  I looked over to see Krom struggling with the other slaver – he must've heard something at the last minute and turned to avoid the knife blade.  Zap from the Reaper and guard two was down.  But then stealth wasn't an option so Krom pulled his blaster out and I thumbed the toggle from stun to regular fire to get my range back.

Keena and Zero saw that the remaining guards were beginning to take notice of our handiwork and opened up on the towers.  The Twi'lek realized that her blaster pistol wasn't going to be much good at range, and bravely ran up behind an outcropping of rocks before laying down some more blaster fire.  She's coming around, for sure.  

After a few more exchanges of fire, we had quieted the towers and put our shoulders hard against the scrap wall to get a peek at the compound.We saw piles of scrap, more thugs with blasters, and a bunch of regular folks who looked beaten down or drugged or something.  They were shuffling about sort of aimlessly despite the fact that the guards were rushing our way.  

Zero must've been trying to regain a little pride after his boxing match because he didn't hesitate before running through the gap in the scrap all.  Brave.  But not particularly bright since we already had a pretty good firing position on either side of the opening.  The guards opened up on him just as he managed to get behind some sturdy crates.  Krom and I blasted a few of the remaining guards before Keena slid up next to us, blaster in hand.  

The goons didn't seem to be crack shots and I was loathe to let Zero get all the glory so I ducked through the gap, sprinting into a tuck and roll to join the bounty hunter behind his crates.  I came to my feet just in time to see Keena blast another guard from cover and then the shooting was pretty much over.  Although I let Zero poke his head out first.  I mean, Keena shot him point blank and he's still walking around so why push my luck?

We didn't know if reinforcements were on the way, so I commed JR-12 to set the Valencia down in the compound while we took stock of the situation.  Keena said the place looked like a spice lab of some sort and I wasn't going to press her on how she knew that.  Zero and I grabbed a few crates that looked to be full – gotta keep the ship in caf, right? – while Krom and Keena got the civilians on board.  

I took over the controls from the droid (have to admit it put the ship down competently) while the rest of the crew worked to shake the civilians out of their stupor. It didn't take long to find Kraf's family since we had holos, but we came up short.  Mom, dad, but no brother.  All we got was a pained look.  Drek.  

So Krom and I have seen some pretty awful things in the last decade.  I've done some of them myself.  And I'll probably do a few again.  But I won't tolerate people who kill kids.  I'll make them pay however I can.  Apparently the Val's main guns can turn a slaver's spice lab into smoldering rubble in 14 seconds.  Who knew?  

* * * 

We dropped most of the slaves off at Redlake, and I left Evun one of our crates of spice to help get the village back on its feet.  I put the Val down back on the landing pad in Worlport while Keena commed Flutterplume with the good news.  The reunion was bittersweet after Kraf learned about her brother's death, but she kept her word about skipping the bout.  A few days of close quarters aboard the ship and we had fulfilled our deal with the Herglic.  

Turns out the name belonged to the Pirate Queen's consort, who was right here on Ord Mantell.  And it also turns out that the Queen was playing him and was willing to see him dead – and we had a recording that proved it.  The Queen didn't seem to value her male friends much - hopefully this one had a little more durasteel in his spine than the last one.  'Cause I was damned sure he was gonna help us get to the Queen.  And maybe after that we could call in a few chips with the Zann Consortium to help us kill the slaver Ilo Vanden.  

Have I Mentioned I Hate Jungles? The Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 10

Using a decoy is an ancient smuggler's trick.  It's pretty simple – a group gets together and one of the ships becomes the "bait" while the others agree to share a cut of their profits. The decoy heads groundside as suspiciously as possible, with a flight plan to some out-of-the-way downport and a transponder that is "acting up."  When the customs frigate comes a calling you stall as much as possible while they tear your perfectly legal and legitimate cargo apart.  And while customs is gainfully employed, your partners sneak in on the opposite side of the planet and offload their cargo.  

So like I said, I'm familiar with the tactic.  I just don't care for it when it is used on ME.

Graf Lin had given us the location of a Sorority base of some kind – Blackwing Crater, a few hours outside of Taleucema.  We knew the base was built into the cliff wall with some pretty serious defenses and we expected the pirates wouldn't just surrender if we said boo.  And we also knew that the path in was straight through a Saleucamian jungle.  So we kitted out with one of the heavy blaster rifles we acquired from Jabba's goons, our climbing gear and some choice bits from our survival kits.  

It's always a blasted jungle.  Which meant humidity and bugs and probably some sort of lizard creature that eats smugglers for dinner.  Why can't we ever break into someplace near lakeside forests or rolling hills or something like that?

The road from Taleucema to Lawquane ran near Blackwing Crater, but we knew we had some bushwacking ahead of us.  We pulled our rented speeder off to the side of the smartgrid, pulled on our Imperial Army surplus packs, and triple-checked the charges on our blasters.  We had a bit of luck when Kina found what looked to be an old road, potholed, uneven and overgrown, but definitely better than hacking straight through the flora.  

We made good time at first, Kina in the lead, Krom and I providing overwatch on the corners and Zero bringing up the rear and keeping an eye on our "guide" Graf.  And then, of course, the monkeys came.  Kina and I spotted movement in the undergrowth to our sides — some sort of primate about the size of a Cophrigin monkey.  I described it to Krom and he just sort of nodded like he expected it.  I hate it when he does that.  And I hate it even more when he sounds like a HoloNet nature channel voiceover, telling us that this monkey-thing was called  "Thaelo," that it was an aggressive pack hunter, and that they were known to bring down creatures twice their size.  Which, for the record, would be Zero.  I'm much smaller than twice their size.

We huddled for a second to decide if we should make a show of force – we were strapped and Zero had brought along his archaic slugthrower that certainly made enough noise to scare off any animals.  But we didn't know how many were out there, and we didn't want to alert any Sorority patrols or sensors that might be in the area.  So we pushed on.  We were by my estimates maybe halfway to the crater edge when Graf started whining about needing to take a break.  I was all for giving him a permanent rest, but we found a few crater boulders that were the right size to sit on and broke out the canteens.

We should've been a bit more on our toes, since we knew the Thaelos were out there, but my annoyance with Graf evidently distracted me.  The jungle went unnaturally quiet and a second  later two of the hairy beasts jumped down out of the trees right in the middle of us.  From the crashing and screeching in the jungle, I expected the rest of the horde was rushing our way.  

I may not have seen them coming, but I was certainly expecting something and being an Imperial Navy pilot takes pretty good reflexes.  As soon as the Thaelos hit the ground my C-10 cleared its holster and I took the top of its head off in a spray of bone and monkey brain before it could even realize it was in trouble.  The rest of the crew was amped up for action as well: Kina blasted the remaining Thaelo in its shoulder with her new DL-44, leaving a large burn and a whiff of burnt monkey hair.  Zero primed his shock gloves and stepped in with a hard right cross that seemed to hurt him more than it did the ape.  And then Krom leveled his DLT-19 blaster rifle and put a shot through the Thaelo's ear.  Zap.  No more monkeys jumping on the bed.

The other Thaelos had at least figured out that discretion is the better part of valor and the rest of the pack hightailed it back into the jungle, double time.  I muttered something to Krom about all our Academy training being finally put to good use.  At least we could fight off Outer Rim monkeys.  

Graf miraculously found the energy to get moving again, and we kept moving down the ruined road.  We passed by a rock formation that looked like it might provide a good vantage point, but I spotted a bunch of what looked like cracked Thaelo bones scattered around the base.  Since taking on some sort of Saleucamian alpha predator wasn't in our agreement with the Zann Consortium, we kept moving.  

When we got close to the edge of the crater, Krom and I decided to take point, quiet-like.  We edged up towards the drop, using our electrobinoculars to scan the path ahead.  Unfortunately we should've been looking a little closer to the trail – Kina called us over to see some sort of motion camera we had walked past.  It was a good bet the Sorority knew we were here.  Time to move quickly.

We got to the edge of the crater and I was glad (and somewhat surprised) to see that Graf's information had been correct.  We were about 25 meters up from a small landing platform.  I probably could've put the Valencia down on it, but it would have been tight.  As Graf had told us, there were a couple of anti-air turbolasers in swivel turret hardpoints on the far edge of the platform and a pair of sniping positions cut into the rock facing outwards.  I secured the end of the smartrope to one of the jungle trees as Zero strapped on his rappelling harness.  And then he was over the side, Krom covering the platform with his heavy blaster rifle on its bipod and Kina providing overwatch.  Zero reached the platform without being shot at, which I took as a good sign.  I saw him disappear into the wall of the crater, which meant the landing platform doors were open.  So either they really weren't expecting us or it was a trap.  Regardless, I wasn't going to leave the crusty old Trandoshan on his own, so I double checked my own harness and jumped into the void.

As I was making my way down the wall I realized that our luck had reached its limit.  I heard a yell, then some sort of struggle.  I hit the ferrocrete to see Krom dragging a couple of limp bodies behind a crate in some sort of warehouse/hangar bay, and then heard a klaxon sound and more boots heading our way.  Typical.  I had time to take in a few details – Zann Consortium crates scattered about and some old-model cargo lifter parked between them.  And then a couple of pirates taking cover in hallways on either side of the warehouse started taking shots at Zero, blasting pieces of crate into vapor.  I pulled the quick release on my harness, drew my Reaper and slid behind another stack of cargo containers, calling for Krom over the commlink to get his green self (and his blaster rifle) down into the fight.  And then the security protocols kicked in and the blast doors started closing behind us.  Even more typical.

Krom had done a pretty good customization on my C-10, and on the flight out to Saleucami he had tinkered with the blaster actuating module to focus the beam a bit more tightly.  It showed.  I dropped one of the pirates with a single shot to center mass, and then took out the other one while Zero tried to muscle the cargo lifter in between the closing blast doors (without much luck.)  And then the doors slammed shut and more pirates started running in the room on the far end, taking cover behind their own crates.  I was thinking maybe I should've let the crusty old Trandoshan do his own thing.     

I lost sight of what Krom and Kina were doing, and since we were in the middle of a firefight I wasn't much in the mood for a chat over the commlink, but from what Kina told me later Krom pulled off a slice of beauty.  He had pulled off the blast door control panel with his hydrospanner and linked his slicer-rigged Versafunction88 into the I/O port.  In short order he not only had the doors sliding back open, but he also used an exploit to crash the base's entire security system to give him full control.  He squelched outgoing comms, opened and locked all the doors, and made sure the room lights were on full so we could see who we were aiming at.  That's my flight engineer.

Meanwhile, Zero went charging down one of the hallways to make sure no Sorority pirates tried to take potshots at our crewmates from the sniping positions.  Leaving me to face half a dozen of them on my own, I might add.  I decided that, despite Krom's extraordinary handiwork, I needed a bit more firepower than the C-10 could provide so I lobbed a flash-bang grenade at one of the groups of pirates.  The grenade dropped short, but did manage to blast their cover out of the way as Kina came running up beside me, heavy blaster pistol in hand.  As long as she didn't shoot me in the back of the head, I thought our odds were improving.  

So we decided to even them a little more.  I squeezed off a few shots from behind a cargo crate, hitting one of the pirates in the throat and putting another down with a solid shot to the thigh as he scrambled to find cover.  Kina was evidently enjoying her new DL-44, as I saw her give a bloodthirsty grin as she spun a third around with a bolt straight to his gut.  Come a long way, our Twi'lek waitress has.  And then Zero started shooting at the remaining pirates from the cover of the hallway.  3-on-3 is better than 6-on-1 any day.

This group was still firing from cover and managed to get a couple of lucky shots on Kina and Zero, but we kept up the fire. I dropped another two – one right through one of the crates and the last one bolted down one of the hallways at full sprint.  We huddled briefly behind our cargo containers while Krom showed us a schematic of the base on his datapad – looked like the hallway made some sort of loop so Zero, Kina and I took off after our rabbit while Krom lined up his DLT-19 on the exit doorway in case he tried to double back.  I also reminded him to lock down the lift to make sure any wannabe Sorority heroes on the first level couldn't crash our party.  And to keep an eye on Graf.  I know, it was a lot to keep track of.  But Krom's a smart guy.

We came upon an open doorway leading to a dark room – since I knew Krom had lit the place up full that meant someone had taken the time to shoot the lights out.  I hate vandals.  So I lobbed another flash bang grenade into the room to express my displeasure and then snuck a look around the corner with my electrobinoculars.  Someone was trying very hard not to be seen, but I saw a glimpse of a humanoid, blaster and vibroblade in hand, crouched behind an archaic computer bank.  Kina covered the hallway while Zero and I advanced into the room.  We let our hidden friend know that we had eyes on him and that had better come out or we were opening fire.  

Turns out the he was a her, more specifically Creezo's Sorority contact Mandi.  The description fit, and she was willing to sell out her Pirate Queen in pretty short order, as long as we would let her go.  So I smiled and said sure while Zero threw a pair of binders on her.  Click.  Smuggler's law #8: bargains made when you hold all the cards can be altered at any time.  The Empire taught me that lesson pretty well, too.  

Krom and Graf joined us in the hallway while we questioned Mandi.  She wasn't dumb – she understood that her only chance of leaving this base under her own power was to give us everything.  Mandi  told us the Queen's name – Naomi.  The same Naomi that Graf assured us he was so eager to kill.  She said the Queen was in the next room – the control room – with her bodyguards and likely a "kill squad" as well.  Maybe half a dozen blasters in a confined space, and I was in no mood to get shot again.  But that is what we had come here to do, so we moved up the hallway cautiously.

Krom had locked all the doors open but whoever was in the room had piled up a bunch of crates and electronics in the doorway as a makeshift barrier.  We chucked a few concussion grenades into the room to hopefully get a few of the bodyguards to keep their heads down rather than blasters up, and then Zero charged through the barricade to try and make a breech.  I think the old gent might need to hit the gym a little more.  First he had trouble moving the cargo lifter.  And then he couldn't move the barricade out of the way, and instead sort of stumbled over the wall while managing to push one crate into a semi-defensible position.  He yelled out the lay of the land: a couple of bodyguards behind cover in each of the corners, and someone wearing a rather Pirate Queen-looking mask in a concealed position along the far wall.

And then the blaster shots started coming in hot and heavy.  Game on.  

I was under no illusion that I could get over the barricade without being blasted to pieces, but luckily Zero had knocked enough out of the way that we were able to shoot back.  Krom hefted his rifle while Kina lined up the Pirate Queen in her sights.  I yelled to the crew to set for stun since I figured our Zann employers might like prisoners to interrogate and punctuated my point by blasting one of the bodyguards with a stun bolt to the head that left him unconscious before he hit the deck.  Zero, Krom and Kina all got a few shots off before the tide turned against us.  The remaining bodyguards had managed a few glancing shots on Zero and had him pinned down behind what must've felt like an entirely inadequate piece of machinery.  I saw him slam a stimpack home in his arm and shake his head to clear the numb.  

Kina had been exchanging fire with the Pirate Queen and had gotten in at least one solid hit when I heard her grunt and fall awkwardly.  Considering that we knew the Sorority had gotten their hands on a shipment of DX-2 disruptor pistols, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised the Queen was using one.  And now I saw why they were outlawed in Imperial space – Kina's knee had basically been disintegrated.  Krom rushed to her side with a stimpack in hand but I wasn't sure it would do much good. 

And that's when Graf decided to try and skewer me.  

I'm not sure what the boozed-up ex-pirate was thinking.  I mean, I had just splashed what – like six, seven of his former colleagues?  But try he did.  I had been expecting a move like that since the Warrens so I danced out of the range of his vibrosword and took no small pleasure in lighting the turncoat up with my Reaper.  He hit the floor hard, and I kicked his artificial leg over towards Kina and Krom.  No use letting the thing go to waste, right?

Being the only one of us in the control room, Zero was taking the majority of the incoming fire and was doing his best to keep his head down.  Krom got Kina stable and back on her feet…er, foot…and grabbed his blaster rifle from the floor.  Kina and I put a few shots into the room and I think I managed to take out another bodyguard, but it was Krom who got the Queen dead in his optics and blasted her against the wall, leaving a red streak against the white plasticrete.  Zero poked his head over the blaster-scarred machine he was hiding behind and squeezed off a few accurate shots at the last remaining bodyguard.  Scratch 14.  And then it was quiet.

Krom was pretty certain he had cut off all external communications but with Kina missing half her leg and as banged up as Krom and Zero were, we didn't want to risk facing reinforcements.  Plus Mandi's warning of a "kill squad" somewhere nearby was still top of mind, so we grabbed the Queen's body (after Krom had a good hard look at the mask), scooped up a few choice pieces of loot close to hand and headed back to the cargo lifter.  The trip out was certainly a lot easier than the trip in.  Plus I didn't have to listen to Graf's complaining.  

After we gathered our rented speeder, we called Venlana and let her know we were on our way back to Taleucama with our bounty and a special bonus prize, a.k.a. Mandi.  Even over the commlink I could hear her smiling as we made plans to meet at a Zann Consortium warehouse to deliver our end of the deal.  

Venlana didn't disappoint, meeting us with a bottle of 30-year-old Corellian brandy and five glasses.  She eagerly grabbed the Pirate Queen's mask and looked over her corpse, although she didn't seem to care much for the live Sorority member we had brought back.  Venlana remedied that in short order.  Like I said, bargains made when you hold all the cards.  

The few days after that were a bit of a blur.  I spent most of my time at the Paradise, switching between Green Galaxies and Corellian brandy as my mood shifted.  Venlana had set Kina up at a local hospital to get a bionic replacement for her leg – worked as good as the original although I never think the skin tones look exactly right.  And Venlana had Krom and Zero patched up by real doctors for a change.  The Consortium had even finished the hull repairs on the Valencia, although Krom was of mixed emotions about that.  It was nice to see our bird without obvious turbolaser scarring for a change.  But it meant that someone else had messed with his baby.  

The ship was patched up, my crew was patched up, and I still had half a bottle of the good stuff left in my berth.  All was right with the galaxy.  I had even put out a few feelers for a paying cargo that would get us off of this rock.  And then Venlana called my commlink and told me that the Pirate Queen that we had paid so dearly to bring in (well, at least Kina did) wasn't the real Queen at all and our current patrons had further need of our services.  Typical.  

Things to Do on Saleucami: The Diary of Van Elendis, Pt. 9

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.  From what we had seen so far, Saleucami was a Zann Consortium planet.  And we were working for them.  So I reached out to Porel for a little help tracking her down.  Bad news got worse: Kina had a bounty on her and some nerf herder had evidently decided it was worth cashing in.  We didn't want to sit around with our thumb (or three thumbs, in Zero's case) in our ion engines so we hopped in a speeder and started back to at  one place we knew that we didn't have many friends, a.k.a. the Warren.  We got about halfway there when Porel called with even worse news: Kina had been spottend on a vid being hustled aboard a ship by a couple of serious-looking Ganks.  The same armored-up bloodthirsty muscle-for-hire that did a lot of dirty work for the Hutts.  Porel said he could stall their departure for a few minutes, but he wasn't going to risk an open war with the Hutts for the hired help (i.e. us).  This day was not starting off well.  


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 breaking 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 lobbed a concussion grenade through the hole before the ramp even hit the tarmac.  Unfortunately 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 – one Gank down.  Another was lying on the deck so either my grenade had taken him out or Krom had blasted him.  

We heard a voice calling out over the ship's comm, telling us to back off or Kina would suffer.  And then to make their point they pushed her out into the corridor, with one of the Ganks holding on to her.  We could see that they had put a slave collar around her neck – a nasty piece of work that usually contains a small shaped charge that could be triggered by a radio signal.  I was sure the Miradyne was throwing up enough static to jam the trigger, but I was even more sure Kina would be happier with the thing removed.  I dropped to a knee and took a long aim at the Gank arm holding on to Kina, and told Krom and Zero to get ready to make a move.  

The blast from my C-10 didn't quite sever the Gank's arm like it would've in a trid, but I'm sure he wasn't going to be using it anytime soon.  Kina understood the plan and came charging down the ramp, just as her crewmates went charging up, blaster ready and shock gloves buzzing.  Krom dropped the one Gank that was holding Kina, and Zero went charging up the passageway.  

I heard a few more blaster shots and then some screaming, but I was busy concentrating on trying to get the explosive collar off Kina doubletime.  It took a couple of tries, but I finally found the right pin and pulled her free, kicking the collar away just in case.  It wasn't long before Krom and Zero came back down the ramp, Zero holding what looked like a few binders and a few more explosive collars, and Krom cradling a couple of heavy blaster rifles he "wanted to take a closer look at."  Which means they will end up in pieces all over the floor of his stateroom.

With Kina safe from Hutt clutches (at least for the time being) rushed to make it to our scheduled "buy" with Creezo.  We took some precautions – Krom covered the back entrance with the help of one of our newly-acquired heavy blaster rifles, while Kina and Zero played the heavies inside the shop.  Sure enough, the slimy little Rodian was dumb enough to try and sell us one of the Consortium's stolen disruptor pistols.  With that, combined with the fact that I braced him with his exact movements over the last standard, and the fence knew he was caught tight.  

He made a half-hearted attempt to scare us off with his loader droid but the muzzle of my holdout blaster pressed tightly underneath his snout made him fold like Krom with a bad sabbac hand. Begging for his life, the Rodian gave us what he knew, which unfortunately was damned little.  Apparently the Sorority used his shop to fence some of their booty, but all he could give us was a description of his contact Mandy and that he thought the pirates were based out of Blackwind Crater.  That tracked with what we had already learned and I figured having a fence on Saleucami (one terrified of us, to boot) was probably A Good Thing, so we decided to let Creezo's double dealing go for the time being.

We headed over to Paradise to collect our drunken ex-pirate Graf Lin, who apparently had not made friends with Porel.  Graf maintained his story that he'd help us in return for a chance to kill his ex lady love, and I maintained to put a shot from my Reaper into the back of his neck if he tried anything suspicious.  But he did give us some details on the pirate hideout: it was supposedly built into the cliff wall and had at least two levels – a ground level entrance with a blast door and a kill zone clearing that meant a difficult approach, and an upper entrance with a small landing pad but guarded by anti-ship defenses. He thought there might be over a dozen pirates present, so we thought it might be wise to take a stealthy approach – and since we had a couple sets of climbing gear on the Valencia I suggested rappelling in from the top of the cliff might give us the edge I was sure we would need…


Tales from the Rim: The Diary of Van Elendis, Pt 8

I was always fine with being a "lowly" cargo pilot.  

I know that the TIE jockeys get all the glory, and the bridge crew on an ISD unsurprisingly make the promotion lists in short order (all those standards with lips firmly pressed to bridge officer backsides must help), but to me being at the controls of a Lambda was the right mix of being able to put a ship through its paces while not having to worry about some fleet lieutenant looking over your shoulder all the time.  Plus Lambdas have shield generators, unlike the TIEs.  But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate being a cargo pilot on a ship that has a little something extra under the cowling.  

After some of the problems we had run into out in the black it was pretty much a unanimous decision that we should use some of our Zann Consortium pay to give our dear Valencia a few upgrades. It wasn't hard to find a few choice parts - YT-1300s were built on Correllia and it took Krom all of two minutes to put his hands on a Sienar Fleet Systems SFS-220 High Output Ion Drive that he thought he could fit into our engine compartment.  The same ship broker gave us a good deal on a military surplus SFS S/ig-30 Upgraded Hyperdrive Generator and an old PK Aegis Reinforced Shield Generator that must've come off a good-sized customs enforcement cruiser.  

Krom and Zero were pretty much in techie heaven, and I didn't see much of either of them for a couple of days while they ripped out half the Val's guts and started wiring up the new toys.  Kina and I hit the markets to pick up a few other things we wanted for the ship, although even with Kina's haggling we weren't able to get the price we wanted on a knockoff Aratech 74-Z speeder bike that caught my eye.  Ah, well…there's always the next market.  

Normally a refit like the one we were doing would take three weeks, but after only a couple of days Krom had the SFS-220 fully installed and had the shield generators recalibrating with the targeting computer and getting only a few errors.  I was standing at the bottom of the boarding ramp offering Zero and Krom some helpful advice on the hyperdrive retrofit when a group of Ughnaught-looking aliens came up to us with a pair of scraggly-looking humans in tow.  We don't have a protocol droid and I couldn't make any sense of what the aliens were squeaking, but they handed Zero a textsheet and looked at us expectantly.  

Evidently the Consortium was claiming the humans were their end of our bargain.  These nerf herders were apparently the ones looking to put the Twi'lek and her two kids on a slave ship to Hutt space.  And that meant they were behind the attack on the Valencia that left us with Kina gut shot, a giant hole cut in our ship, and ISB on us like white on a stormtrooper's armor.  I certainly wasn't opposed to them being a blaster smear on a wall somewhere, but now that they were in front of us I remembered an old saying of my mother's about never striking deals in a moment of anger.  I mean, what were we going to do with two slavers in the middle of the Core?  She has a lot of good sayings, my mom.  

It didn't take long for us to figure out that one of them – Bevo – was the brain, mouth and rear orifice of the bunch.  The other guy seemed more like someone's low functioning cousin so Zero cut him loose.  Bevo, on the other hand – well, I cut him loose too, eventually.  Just probably not in the way he wanted.  

Bevo claimed that he was a bounty hunter and slaver for a Hutt.  And not just any Hutt, but Jabba himself.  I figured at first that he was trying to scare us.  But then he said that Jabba had put a bounty on Zero – when I looked over at the Trandoshan expecting him to laugh it off (or smack the slaver upside his head for the fourth or fifth time) he just grunted like he wasn't surprised.  

Turns out Zero didn't quite "retire" from bounty hunting like he had said.  More like he helped a group of Jabba's two-legged property get away rather than tracking them down.  He had spent nearly three decades since then on the run.  I wasn't entirely thrilled to hear this news – I mean, Krom and I are technically deserters, but as far as the Empire is concerned we are KIA.  No one is out there looking for Tinis Arkit, since only my brother knows that I'm still breathing.  And that news meant that two of our rather small crew have a price on their heads form a race of aliens not known to just "let things lie."  I'm going to draw a big fat "X" on Tattooine on our navigation chart.

Bevo swore that he could help make things right with Jabba if we just cut him loose, and I think both Zero and I were about ready to do it until Krom spoke up.  My friend may not be street smart, but the guy thinks five moves ahead.  And he didn't see this playing out so well.  So we decided to keep our dirtbag slaver around for a bit longer, Krom and Zero finished the Valencia's retrofit, and we said our goodbyes to the Core. 


Saleucami is in the Outer Rim and definitely off the beaten path, so we had a long trip ahead of us. We settled into our usual watch schedule, with me taking midwatch just after Krom.  There isn't anything to actually see when we are in hyperspace, and the Val would warn us if any problems arose, but Navy traditions die hard.  So we stand a watch.

My third watch I was sitting in the cockpit, watching the blue tunnel of hyperspace streak by out the transparisteel.  I'd been having bad nightmares the last few rest cycles – dreams about Westhills and the flame troopers just burning up civilians.  The TX-225s smashing through the farmhouses while the TIEs strafed the few farmers that managed to get to their speeders.  Krom and I watched that happen and just left.  We knew we couldn't get justice for those farmers on Lothal and wanted no part of it anymore.  

But I wasn't in the Navy anymore, and I wasn't on Lothal. And yet I was still angry.  Seething.  And here on my own ship we had an animal who admitted he kidnapped people and sold them into slavery.  He ordered an attack on me and my crew that nearly killed Kina.  He  worked for the most ruthless criminal in the galaxy and made no apologies for it.  

So I decided to find a little justice in our corner of space.  I decided Bevo shouldn't be able to hurt another innocent.  

Ever again.


I've known Krom forever.  I know all his stories, and he knows all of mine, plus some my more frequent lies as well.  But I guess I need to take a bit more interest in our newer crew members, considering that after two months being in close quarters I hadn't heard Zero's "on the run from Jabba the Hutt" story.  And I still didn't know where Kina had learned astrogation.  I mean, it's not something you pick up waiting tables or haggling with portside merchants.  But she was pretty sharp with the calculations and with our new S/ig 30 humming away we were nearing Saleucami in just over two weeks.  

Luckily I was at the controls when we made our last realspace course correction drop.  The stars closed to points and we came out of hyperspace with minimal residual thrust.  And instead of the expected view of deep black space, I was treated to the sight of a light cruiser, with its shields up and no transponder squawking.  Which told me it wasn't friendly.  I barely had time to slap the shield generators to full and turn us in a tight circle before we were hailed by the cruiser, telling us to prepare to be boarded.  Not this ship, sister.  

I yelled out for Krom and Zero to head for the guns and jammed the throttles to the indents.  The SF-220 screamed to life and a faint whiff of burning electronics reached the cockpit but I knew we needed to put some hard vacuum between us and the cruiser.  The lights dimmed a bit as Krom broke all regs by routing some of the life support power to the shield generators, but he knew that our shields basically were our life support when faced with that kind of firepower.   

Zero pinged the cruiser with a hard active scan, and called out a long list of its active weapons over the comm in an annoyingly calm voice.  That did nothing to change my plan to get us the heck out of here in a hurry.  He also helpfully noted two snub fighters closing in on us at a good clip.  Luckily Kina hadn't missed a beat and had her head down at the navicomputer to start plotting a hyperspace jump.

The Valencia lurched as we took a couple direct hits from heavy lasers and I smelled ozone from at least one ion cannon blast.  The new shield generator nearly redlined and started dumping heat like mad but it held.  I was putting distance between us and the pirates and spinning the ship like a top trying to make us as hard a target as possible but the cruiser had a good-sized battery and only little old us to shoot at.  I could almost see Krom's face as he thought about the hull plating being vaporized by the few shots that got through the shields.  It wasn't his happy face.  And that was about the time we got hit with a shot that took out the hyperdrive motivator.  

I seriously need to check Kina's cup to make sure she isn't spiking her caf.  Here we are, hyperdrive out, running flat out, trying to avoid getting vaporized by corsairs, and she decides to have a little chat with them.  And not just that – although the ship's captain somehow already knew we were working for the Zann Consortium, Kina starts telling her that we were hired to investigate the Pirate Queen and the size of our crew and who knows what else.  I couldn't figure out if she was trying to surrender or if it was some sort of double-triple-double blind to tell a pirate that we were sent by your rival to hunt you down.  

Whatever she was doing, it wasn't stopping the pirates for taking shots at us, so I cut the transmitter and yelled at Kina to stop messing around and help Krom shoot straight.  The lizard is a great brawler, but those three thumbs don't seem to help him much in a space battle.  Between jukes and rolls that were straining the artificial grav system, I was doing my best to let him get a few decent shots at the snub fighters and he finally got through with a solid hit.  I could see the ventral gun was quiet and figured Krom was frantically working to keep us in one piece.  

The ion cannons had stopped firing and I knew we were outpacing the cruiser so we just had to get those fighters off our back and we had a chance.  I locked the ventral gun into strafing position and between me and Zero we managed to squeeze off a few shots that left one of the fighters a rapidly expanding cloud of hot gas and metal fragments.  The other cockpit jockey must not have liked his odds and peeled off back towards the cruiser, giving Krom a chance to get the hyperdrive back online.  As soon as the readouts turned green, ran a plot and we made ourselves scarce.


After a short misjump diversion we had Saleucami in the viewscreen and approach control had given us landing clearance.  I put the Valencia down on her landing skids in a nicer part of town than we normally frequent, evidently a bit of courtesy from our current employers.  It didn't take long for me to catch on this was a Zann "company town" since some Consortium lackeys were waiting to meet us at the docking bay as soon as the ramp hit ferrocrete.  

A few minutes later we had been escorted to one of the nicer cantinas I've been in that close to a spaceport.  The errand boys took us to a back room where we were expecting to find Porel.  Turned out Venlana was there as well.  She said something about just being in the neighborhood, but there isn't much else habitable in this part of the Rim.  I say she couldn't stay away from my rugged good looks and magnetic charm.  

We told Venlana about our little pirate trouble on the way in and she actually seemed almost apologetic.  Turns out that the Consortium and the Pirate Queen's gang – called "the Sorority" of all things – were basically in open warfare with each other.  That part didn't surprise me.  And it turns out that Venlana suspected her organization had a traitor in it.  That part didn't surprise me either, since pirates don't normally know who their prey is working for the second they come out of hyperspace.  So we were set up, and nearly got our ship shot out from under us because of it.  And we all know what happened to the last slag who thought it was a good idea to cut a hole in my ship. 

Never let it be said that the Zann Consortium is stingy with intelligence when it suits their interests.  Venlana had gotten a few leads on the Pirate Queen that she thought might point us in the right direction: a computerized travel agency called SororoNet, an alcoholic (and supposedly exiled) former member of the Sorority named Graf Lin, and the most interesting to me – a Rodian named Creezo Wasanti that Venlana thought was likely the traitor in her organization.  

That would be the same likely traitor that put me and my crew crossways with a pirate cruiser.  So we decided to pay the little green rodent a visit at his establishment.  Zero was all for playing a game of smash and grab.  Namely that he grab the Rodian by his snout and smash him until he confessed.  But just in case Creezo turned out to have more stamina than expected when faced with a Trandoshan beat down I thought we might try another tactic and appeal to his greed.  

Venlana mentioned that a Consortium shipment of disruptor pistols had gone missing, and that she suspected Creezo had taken them.  So we went to the Rodian's shop with a couple of objectives – confirm that Creezo was the traitor, identify his contact with the Pirate Queen's network, and if we were lucky, get our hands on a bunch of highly illegal (and highly profitable) disruptor pistols that might earn us a little finder's fee from our current employers.   

We made the offer, appealed to the Rodian's greed, and I managed to slip a Rhinsome SureSnoop tracker into his pocket so we could follow his movements.  So if the weasel really is bent we should know in short order if he brings us a bunch of disruptors he isn't supposed to have.  Proof of his guilt might make him ready to trade what he knows about the Pirate Queen for whatever the Zann Consortium considers mercy.  

And if that fails, we can always watch Zero wail on the guy for a while to make him talk. 


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