Treasure means different things to different folks. For my dad, it was a good harvest of yot beans. For a Hutt, I'm sure it's a load of spice or slaves or something equally distasteful. For me it means freedom – the ability to fill the autochef with some better-than-average fillers, keep the Val's hull plating from looking like a Dejarik table, a bribe or two to some Imp customs agent, and a few credits left over for a halfway-decent bottle of Ergish rum for me and Krom to find the bottom of.
So I wasn't really expecting to find piles of Old Republic credits or dilirium crystals on this supposed "treasure ship" but the reality was less than I had imagined. I hate jobs where we come out worse off than when we started. But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself here.
With the help of the schematics Krom and Keena had found I managed to skirt along the invisible hull of the Black Wing and got us where I calculated the midships airlock should be. As soon as we locked down, suddenly what had been a big, black hole in space became a big, black military airlock door in space. It looked to be in good shape, although it was admittedly a bit dated. The Valencia's environmental safeties showed a hard seal and a breathable atmo on the other side so Zero put the puzzle box of a computer in Krom's Navy rucksack, we gave each other one look of encouragement, checked our blaster charges and hit the door release.
I'm not really sure what I expected after a hundred years. Artificial-g was still operating, and the fact that we were breathing without a vacc suit meant power and life support computers were still functioning but the only lights were from our handheld torches. Zero started complaining almost immediately about some sort of buzzing in his ears (which for the record, he doesn't even have).
We didn't get far before we saw our first body. It looked like I'd expect a century-old corpse to look except for the fact that it was wearing an Old Republic uniform like you see in the holovids. We kept moving up and forward, with the intent on getting to the bridge to see what might have gone wrong. Pretty soon, Keena started getting the same headache/buzzing as Zero and I might have gotten even more vocal about what a bad idea this whole expedition was. But Krom had that blasted "stay calm and carry on" look in his eye so we kept moving forward. I kept my DL-44 in hand just in case.
We went past a series of berths and what looked like labs or engineering spaces. A few more bodies, and a couple that looked like they might have died violently. Zero was up front, as usual. I give the Trandoshan grief because he's old and cranky and dour and generally no fun to be around, but he doesn't lack for courage. Or it might just be stupidity. I don't really care as long as he draws the first shots. So he hears something with his non-ears and motions for us to stop. Didn't take long for me to hear it as well, some sort of squeaking and wheels on the deck. Droid, I thought.
Zero might be brave but he's not exactly stealthy. Ditto with Keena because she's usually blathering about Hutts or Zero's lack of table manners or some Twi'lek band I've never heard of. And while Krom and I didn't get a lot of hours of special forces training at the Academy, we picked up a few tricks so we decided to check it out. Turned out to be some sort of ancient MSE-6 repair droid with its programming stuck, bouncing off the corners of a berthing space. I thought we should leave it alone since it wasn't bothering us, but I've yet to see Krom leave a piece of tech alone when he could pick it up and mess with it. Which is exactly what he did. Then he tries to plug the blasted thing into his datapad and it starts screeching like he shot it with the DL-44.
Zero and Keena had come up the hall at that point wondering what was going on when Krom gives me that "told you so" grin like when he sliced Captain Xeron's commlink back on Lothal and got us weekend liberty passes. He said that the Black Wing had some sort of communication breakdown between the bridge and engineering shortly before whatever happened went down. That didn't improve my mood any. We talked a bit about whether we should continue on or maybe check out engineering but since we had already made progress towards the bridge that idea won out. That and the fact that Krom and I were starting to feel the buzzing that you really couldn't hear but that wouldn't go away.
We had a rather bizarre run in with some droids in anthromorphic programming mode, passed even more bodies and found a security room full of battle droids that I locked down hard just to make sure they wouldn't come looking for us. The whole ship was creepy as a Geonosian brain worm and I was ready to get this thing over and done with. We made it up to the last ladder before the bridge and hit a brick wall. Well, not exactly a brick wall – it was actually a magnetic field that looked suspiciously like an emergency atmo seal. Since none of us had a vacc suit we thought it was time to head back and check out engineering when all of the sudden we heard a voice over the 1MC.
You can always tell an AI by the voice. Sounds like a droid, only more smug and flat and a lot creepier. One of the reasons I've always been glad the Lambdas and the YT-1300s don't have anything onboard more powerful than the navicomputer. I'd hate to hear that creepy voice every time I asked the ship for a plot or if the caf dispenser was on the fritz again.
The Black Wing's AI had the added creepy factor of having been lost in space for a century and us having walked past a literal mortuary of its previous crew. Krom got the bright idea of pretending to be an Old Republic repair crew which seemed a bit goofy to me considering we were dressed in civvies and not Old Republic uniforms but maybe the AI hadn't kept up with military fashions out here in the black. It seemed to work – the ship answered a few routine status queries from us but clammed up pretty quickly when Krom asked about the experimental invisibility device.
Then Zero – again, he's brave, but not particularly bright – decides to pull his magic box out of Krom's ruck and ask the ship about it. The good news was, he got the lights turned on. The bad news was the AI went off comms and the buzzing seemed to get worse and Keena started turning a shade that even Twi'leks aren't supposed to turn. A lot of dead crewmembers, an AI that seemed creepier than normal and us without vacc suits was not what my academy instructors called a "advantageous tactical situation." So I mentioned it might be good time to get the pfassk back to the Val, full speed. For once, everyone agreed.
The Force is my witness, this really happened. We were jogging back to the Valencia, Zero on point, me watching our six and Krom and Keena in the middle. All of the sudden Keena pulls her blaster out and shoots Zero in the back of the head point blank while screaming something about sewer alligators. She almost killed the guy. For the second time in as many weeks.
Both Krom and I swung our blasters around to cover our fratricide-happy waitress, figuring we might be next. But you could see in her expression that she was as confused as either of us to see a blasted and bleeding Zero in front of her. Keena said the buzzing in her mind was overwhelming – it wasn't bothering me as much but it definitely wasn't comfortable. And then one of the techies (probably Krom, since Zero was spending a lot of mental energy trying not to bleed out on the deck) suggested that the ship or the invisibility device might be messing with our heads to make us hallucinate. Stellar. A crazed AI mortuary ship that could make us see things that weren't there.
Full speed became flank speed and we made it back to the Val without further incident. I was all for cutting the seal and leaving the mystery of the Black Wing for the next set of idiots, but Krom and Zero started talking about the mystery box and why the AI might be worried about it and next thing I knew they had decided it was some sort of rogue AI override device and that they needed to bring it to engineering to hardwire it in and make it work.
Needless to say, this sounded like a horrible idea to me. I hadn't seen a single thing that we could make a profit on aboard this ancient tomb and a steady flow of credits are what keeps the Val in the black. But Krom had suffered through the same ground tactics classes as I did and agreed with me about the value of a decoy operation. He put together a pretty amazing mockup of the magic box, with a glowing light and everything. I figured we'd let the slicers take the real deal and if we ran into any ship security droids Keena and would do our best to draw their attention. I did take the added precaution of setting the Twi'lek's blaster to stun in case she saw any more sewer lizards. My head isn't as blaster-resistant as Zero's.
I had moved the ship to a new airlock closer to engineering and we readied ourselves for a tough go. Keena was still looking queasy and the buzzing in my head hadn't stopped. We all headed out together but hadn't gone far when a group of battle droids came up on us. Unfortunately I followed the plan, which called for me drawing their fire while Zero and Krom tried to get to engineering. Old Republic droids must've had better targeting software than current models because these things shot the decoy box out of my hands and winged me pretty good to boot. I managed to duck back down a ladder after getting off a few shots of my own. Keena took one of them down, finally blasting something that wasn't Zero. She isn't a bad shot – we might just need to project a holo of Zero on all our enemies for her to hit the right target.
I didn't really see much of what happened next, being that I was bleeding from a nasty blaster shot, but Krom filled me in afterwards. He and Zero sprinted to the engineering spaces and plugged in the mystery box to the nearest hardline port. The Black Wing tried to talk them out of it, but Krom can be pretty stubborn about things and I'd bet that is another thing he and Zero have in common. The ship hit all the resets – lights, artificial-g, life support. But the two engineers managed to get us back on the floor and held off a few more battle droids until the box – which I understand was some sort of failsafe device – had done its work. A few minutes later and we had ourselves a century-old experimental dreadnought (sans creepy and possibly psychotic AI) and had visions of fame and fortune. Except those visions were competing with the buzzing still in our heads.
The engineers figured out how to turn off the invisibility cloak and, as I suspected, the buzzing in our heads stopped. But a few minutes later the space whales we had seen in the area decided they were hungry for Old Republic Dreadnought and we realized we had a few choices – keep the invisibility screen off and become space whale food, turn it on and go insane from bees in our heads, or take what we could salvage from the ship and head for the nearest spaceport (hopefully one with a paying cargo).
I thought we had had a full enough day, but the galaxy wasn't done with us quite yet. I've seen a lot of stuff flying for the Empire but I still don't have a clue what chased us once we undocked from the Black Wing. Krom looked over the hull damage afterwards and swears it looks like bite marks. I think he's just messing with me, but I'm in no hurry to head back. Like I said, I hate jobs when we come out worse than when we started.