Like I said, we aren't detectives. But the Valencia's crew isn't full of mouth-breathing nerf herders, either. So it didn't take long for us to figure out that something was a bit off with this whole situation at the archeologist's camp. Rodian primitives generally don't attack Imperial scientists without a reason. And I had a bad feeling about what we saw with the researchers' wounds – arrows and spear wounds made sense. But a few of them looked like they had been hit by lightning or some kind of ion weapon. Not something Rodian primitives generally carry around.
We needed a bit more to go on, and Dr. Aphra wasn't exactly the most forthcoming so we decided to poke around a bit on our own. Krom and Kina took the turbolift down a level while Zero put on his best "don't slag with me" look and glared at the jungle. It must've worked, because the jungle didn't try anything. I decided to keep an eye on our current employer; more specifically I decided to see what she was so focused on at her terminal. Spying is such an ugly term – let's just say I was gathering intelligence in the very focused range of her computer screen. Turns out I was right to be a bit worried – she was putting together some sort of report to her Imperial bosses on the attack and asking for "reinforcements."
Krom and my IDs are pretty solid. Some of the best slicer work in the Outer Rim, or at least that's what Ashleyn humbly told me when she made them for us. I don't have much reason to doubt her – we've gotten past Imp customs agents, stormtroopers and even an overzealous ISB officer (are there any other type?) once without ending up dead or on a prisoner barge to Kessel. But we don't like to press our luck unnecessarily. So the idea of a platoon of bucket heads getting in our business didn't sound too good. Plus I figured the good doctor might back out of our agreement and the rest of the 8,000 she owed us if she could get the Imperial Army to do it for free.
0T-5N, the doc's protocol droid, apparently took offense to my keen eyesight and stood in my way. I've learned not to waste time talking to the help when the boss is available, so I "diplomatically" reminded Aphra that we had an agreement and that calling the army down before we knew what was what might violate that agreement. I might have also insinuated that we'd leave her stranded with a bunch of hostile primitives nearby if she didn't listen up quickly. She didn't like it, but she saw the light and said she'd delay her report for a day. She also gave me a bunch of video files showing her team's final minutes. And I saw that her droid knew as much about protocol as Krom does – which is pretty much nothing. 0T moved like a disguised protection model to me and it looked to be armed to take down a rancor. Good news if it and its master was on our side, but I wasn't quite sure of that yet.
Kina and Krom hadn't wasted time checking out the rest of the facility. Krom found a terminal with some serious admin access and pulled some maps and logs that referenced a nearby dig site. He also learned that the archeology crew was interested in finding Clone War era weapons. More Clone War era weapons. Must be the theme in this sector. Kina found a journal that backed up this story and that the dig was well-supported by Palpatine's treasury. The four of us huddled and looked over the holotapes again – and that's when someone noticed a boss Rodian on the vid directing some of the others to take two of Aphra's colleagues prisoner. So we knew at least two were alive when they left – time to earn that 8,000.
Zero was getting antsy to punch something anyway, so we gave our gear one more check and headed out towards the dig site. Dr. Aphra had decided to come with us, with her astromech and "protocol" droid in tow. Kina surprised me yet again, for a change not by shooting Zero in the head, but by being a pretty decent tracker. She said something about Ryloth being a pretty dangerous place to grow up but I got the feeling it was something else.
We made it to the dig site without any trouble, although there wasn't much left. A bunch of plastiform storage buildings, excavation tools and a few scattered pieces of electronics, all set on fire and thrown into the hole the archeologists had been digging. From the holos it had been a few days since the attack but the pit was still smoldering. But no researchers, dead or alive; and no Rodians. So we pressed on.
This time it was me who found the trail – mostly by figuring that the Rodians would want to keep moving away from the base camp and looking hard on that side of the clearing. We found a few primitive decorative spears and signs of a trail, so we rechecked the charge on our blasters and kept on moving. After a few minutes we heard something that gave us pause – singing. I hadn't heard Rodian native singing before. Now that I have, it is just one more thing I hate about this planet.
Krom and I left Zero and Kina to guard the doctor and crept up to see about this choir practice in the middle of the sweltering jungle. We followed an old game trail to a small clearing with about ten Rodians clustered around a hole in the ground, singing their green snouts off. The boss Rodian was there as well, leaning on a staff and and directing the singers. They had posted a few guards but with all the excitement of the jungle concert they had their backs to us, which was just fine to me.
We quietly called the rest of the crew up the trail and had just gotten into some good ambush positions when Krom noticed that our two missing scientists were the center of attention in the pit. Not good, since I figured we were watching some sort of sacrifice ritual to pre-industrial Rodian gods. Krom and I were both Imperial Navy but the Academy had a lot of ex-Army types as teachers and we had some decent tactical classes so we put that to work setting up what we thought would be a pretty good ambush. It would've worked, too, if we didn't have to deal with magic.
The attack (like most, I expect) started off just as planned. We dropped two of the guards in short order, and Zero and Krom ran up to lob stun grenades at the singers. Zero might be a tough brawler but it's obvious he was never a real soldier – his grenade slid past the target and ended up only taking one of them out, while Krom's throw wasn't much better. Still, we had four Rodians down and had the advantage. Or so I thought. We recognized the boss Rodian from the holovid – an older female with a wooden staff decorated with primitive fetishes and the like. But she didn't move like a senior citizen – in fact she jumped about 20 meters straight at us, spinning her staff around like the martial arts instructor back at Corulag. I'm sure some Rodians are decent with a bo staff. But none should be able to jump 20 meters. None.
And that wasn't the worst of it. She and Zero faced off, which I figured wouldn't be much of a contest. And it might not have been if it was staff vs. shock glove. But then the Rodian reached out her hand and…shot lightning. Not from an overcharged shock glove, not from a holdout blaster. She just shot a bolt of purple lightning out of her hand. Like black magic or the stories my nan used to tell about the boogeyman Sith that would come get us if we didn't do our farm chores.
I put this bit of information down as being Not Good kept blasting away at the Rodians, some of us taking shots at the guards while others focused on the witch doctor. She got in a few more blasts of lightning, one of which scorched me pretty good, before she did her super leap back towards the hole in the ground. Probably half the singers were still standing at that point, trying to shoot at us with arrows. I yelled out for Kina to go with me and ran up the the hole to see if I could even the odds a bit more since I had no interest in seeing what an arrow wound felt like. The blasted lightning hurt enough.
Running towards the hole, my heart began beating faster. It wasn't just the adrenaline going – that was already in play. This was something different. I felt cold, despite the fact that we were in a sweltering jungle. And part of me wanted to run away, even though I had a heavy blaster and the Rodians were shooting arrows. Kina and I chucked our stun grenades in the hole but I could tell she was feeling the same sense of strange as I was – and it must've affected our aim because we only dropped a couple more Rodians with the two grenades. I could hear Krom behind us still firing away with his DL-12. Krom'd be a pretty good shot if he actually spent some time practicing. Unfortunately if he spends more than five minutes with a blaster he ends up taking it apart to see how it works rather than improving his aim.
The witch doctor was standing on top of some sort of pod or sarcophagus in the bottom of the pit. I could see that there was some sort of hatch on it but couldn't quite see inside. The two hostages were also on top of the pod – not tied up mind you, but just sitting there while a pretty decent firefight was going on around them. They looked terrified but despite us yelling at them to run they just stood still. Just about then the doc's astromech came zooming forward to the pod and started trying to push the hostages towards the rim of the pit without much luck.
The Rodian witch was having none of that and unloaded a surge of lightning on the droid, which screeched like the Val's navicomputer when it shorted out a few months back. I was just happy she wasn't blasting me, since I was already feeling pretty woozy and I could tell Kina was having trouble staying on her feet as well. Kina got off a few good shots and dropped another pair of Rodians and I played ring around the gas giant with another before I managed to blast him. I could hear shots from behind me so I figured Krom was still banging away as well.
In the meantime, Zero and the witch doctor had gotten into it again. The Rodian — without her staff I saw — jumped down into the pod through the hatch and Zero didn't hesitate before diving in after her. I heard a lot of thumping and what sounded like Zero grunting (maybe from another blast of electricity) and then the witch doctor appeared at the hatch opening. Well, half of her at least – the other half being held onto by a rather hefty Trandoshan.
Kina and I decided that half a witch doctor made a pretty good target and took a careful bead on her green snout. We got in a few good shots but I saw she was still struggling with Zero to get free. Krom joined the party as well, blasting away from the edge of the clearing. I've seen our ex-bounty hunter deadlift a 100 kilo plasma cannister without a problem, but somehow this scrawny Rodian managed to break Zero's grip and then she pulled her super tauntaun jump again and started moving towards the jungle at a good clip. I decided to try a different tack and switched the DL-44 to stun and Kina, Krom and I blasted away at her until I could see my blaster's barrel steaming. But something must've connected because I saw the Rodian slump down to the ground.
After what we'd seen I had no interest in sticking around. We had our two missing researchers, alive. We had the client, alive. All of the crew were still on our feet (more or less). And I wasn't sure that the witch doctor was going to stay down for long, so we beat feet down the path and back to the Valencia. I thought it might be practical to put some deflector shields between us and any potential lightning hands.
There are a couple more smuggler rules that I'll need to pass along to Kina. Always get a percentage up front. Never play sabbacc with a Toydarian. And the client always lies. Always. This job was no exception. We had just gotten the Val's landing hatch buttoned up and Dr. Aphra tells me that her message to her Imperial patrons "accidentally" got sent during the firefight. And to top it off, she might have "overestimated" her credit situation to the tune of…all of it. Great. So now we probably had a platoon of stormtroopers heading our way and we were out 8,000.
I was ready to drop the good doctor and her two droids out the cargo hatch from 20,000 meters, but Kina had taken a shine to her and worked out a deal. We traded the credits we were owed for a full bacta tank in the medical bay, I smooth-talked the bucket heads when they eventually showed up and we got a solid "I owe you" from the doc that might come in handy if we ever need help from a Core-world researcher with a history of bad luck and an over-armed interpreter droid. Not likely. But in this business, I guess you never know.