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.