"We're meeting Paz and Sparg at Nivv's soon," her mate, Mrrowl told her, his tone amused. "Can't you wait?"
Shre'ka's nostrils quivered as she watched the Nimbanese vendor handing out a kabob to a customer. She sighed, turning away from the cart reluctantly, pinning Mrrowl with a determined look. "Very well. But I'm getting bantha steak AND wall-eyed platterfish!"
Mrrowl laughed. "You got it!"
Hurrying on to Nivv's, they arrived to find the popular eatery surrounded by a growing crowd. Many of the people yelled excitedly, holding up cameras, setting off a multitude of flashes like so many bright stars. A holo crew was present as well, complete with vid gear. And at the center of this uproar calmly stood a smiling Corellian, dressed in a flashy coat and wearing an elaborate twin blaster rig. The human waved genially to the crowd, slowly making his way onto Nivv's floating restaurant, stopping to sign autographs as he went.
"What the hell?" Mrrowl murmured under his breath. As they walked up, Sparg appeared among the throng, his one eye all but bulging from his eye stalk.
"Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!" the Illyrian exclaimed, jumping up and down with unrestrained excitement. "Can you believe it?! I can't believe we're going to be eating in the same place as him!"
"With who?" Shre'ka asked, perplexed.
Sparg gave her an exasperated look. "With him!" he answered, stabbing a stubby finger toward the Corellian. "Arden Starslinger!!! That's who!" With that, the Illyrian made his way forward, elbowing bystanders none too gently in the knees as he did so. Mrrowl and Shre'ka followed. Reaching the Corellian, Sparg grasped Starslinger's hand, shaking it vigorously. "I'm so pleased to meet you!" he gushed. "I've seen all your holovids! I love your work!"
Arden grinned, shaking Sparg's hand with equal enthusiasm. "Why, thank you-uh--"
"Sparg," Starslinger replied. "Always nice to meet a fan!" He eyed the Illyrian shrewdly. "ALL my work, you say? You've seen 'The Good, the Bad and the Sarlac'?"
"How about 'Three Sith and a Jedi'?"
Arden grinned. "Ok, but here's OLD one. 'The Mystery of the Scarlet Sandpeople'."
Sparg's jaw dropped. "Are you kidding?! That's one of my favorites!"
A full filmography might have ensued, but Nivv himself came forward and usured the group into the restaurant. "Ah, my friends!" he said, as Shre'ka gave him a quick hug. "It is good to see you! I have your usual place if you like. And Arden," he continued, "you might want to meet this group, eh? They lead very interesting lives."
"You don't say," the Corellian replied. He looked around at the three. "Do you mind of I join you for lunch?"
Sparg nearly fainted. "Are you kidding?!" he exclaimed. "Of course, you can!"
Nivv showed them to their table and after taking their orders, excused himself.
Shre'ka was intrigued as Arden and Sparg continued to talk. She looked at Mrrowl. "I'm not sure I understand. Is he some kind of important ro'at?"
The Togorian considered a moment. "Not exactly," he replied.
"What was that?" Arden asked.
"Are you a revered hunter?" Shre'ka asked.
Arden placed his hands on his holstered weapons. "I know how to use these, if that's what you mean. But I don't really hunt. I pretend. I help tell a story."
"Oh!" Shre'ka exclaimed in understanding. "Like the storytellers around the camp fire or like cubs at play."
The conversation continued, but after some time had passed, Shre'ka looked around, slightly anxious. She looked at Mrrowl. "Where's Paz? Shouldn't she be here by now?"
Her mate growled, his eyes narrowing. "You're right! I've got a bad feeling about this!" Shifting in his seat, he scanned the lunch crowd and the Promenade, looking for the Mako's Run Mon Cal captain.
Gazing into her bracelet, Shre'ka reached out to Sa'uuk. Paz? Paz, we're at Nivv's. Where are you?
Shre'ka! a desperate voice called to her mind. Help! I'm in the Vault!
The Cathar stood abruptly. "Paz is at the Vault. She's in trouble," she said, turning to Arden. "I'm sorry," she told him, but we must go. Our friend needs our help."
Without waiting for a reply, she and Mrrowl headed out of the restaurant, Sparg not far behind. As the Illyrian followed, his comlink beeped. "What?!!" he cried before lunging forward to grab Shre'ka's arm. "That was Jate! He says someone's trying to break into the Mako!"
Mrrowl snarled. Shre'ka's ears went flat. Arden looked at the group with concern. "Can I help?" he offered.
The Togorian eyed the Corellian up and down, then nodded. He looked at Sparg. "Take Arden with you and get to the Mako. Shre'ka and I will help Paz. Go!"
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Shre'ka was sprinting for the cavern tunnels that led to the Jungle Vaults. Sparg raced toward docking platform 287 as fast as he could go, Arden easily keeping pace alongside him.
Once at the entry to the Vaults, Shre'ka reached out with Sa'uuk to aid her in finding Paz. But all she found was Paz's crystal bracelet on the floor of a tiny alcove. Sadly she picked it up, grasping it in her paw while Mrrowl searched the surrounding shrubbery.
The Togorian held up a familiar device. "Look!"
"Paz's datapad!" Shre'ka breathed. "Perhaps she left a message on it!"
"I hate these things," Mrrowl growled, trying to punch the tiny keys. After a moment he looked up. "It's been encrypted."
Closing her eyes, Shre'ka reached out with Sa'uuk to make a telepathic link to Paz, but failed. "Mrrowl! I can't reach her!" She looked around frantically, spying an attendant. Running over to her, she asked, "Did you see a female Mon Cal here earlier? Do you know what happened to her?"
The attendant blinked. "I think some people came and took her."
Mrrowl moved up, towering over the attendant. "What do you mean? Who took her?"
"I didn't see it! The janitor! He saw it! He said a group of guys took her away!"
"Take us to him," Mrrowl growled.
As Sparg and Arden raced along, the Corellian spoke into his com link. Not long afterwards a sleek limo zoomed up. "Get in!" Arden told Sparg. The Illyrian complied unable to refrain form grinning delightedly in spite of his worry over Paz and the Mako.
"Jate!" Sparg called over his com link. "We're on our way! What's going on?"
"They've broken in!" the droid told him in excited chirps and whistles of binary.
"Stop them from taking off!" Sparg yelled.
"I can't," Jate's whistles came back. "They've locked me out! I have no control!"
Within moments, the limo pulled up to the docking platform just in time to see the Mako departing hastily.
Sparg called Security on his comlink. "Hey!" he yelled. "Someone's stealing our ship! Docking platform 287!"
"What was that platform again, sir?"
"Docking platform 287!!!"
"Yes, sir. No need to shout…uh, sir. That ship appears to have proper clearance to depart."
"Oh, no they don't!" the Illyrian retorted. "I'm First Mate of that ship! Don't you think I'd know if it was being sotlen or not?"
There was a pause. "I'm sorry, sir," the voice came back. "This clearance came from higher up. Can you come to the station and prove you're First Mate?"
"With a curse, Sparg broke the connection, keying in a different code. "Jate!" Sparg cried. "Do what you can to get access and find out where they're headed. Then get out of there! Quick! Before they leave atmo!"
Jate whistled an affirmative. Sparg turned a forlorn look Arden's way. "There goes our ride," he said.
"I told you. All I saw was this nicely dressed Quarren come up to the Mon Cal girl. They started talking, then four other Quarren that didn't look so nice came up behind her." He pointed to a nearby doorway. "They took her through there."
"If I may be permitted," Shre'ka said, reaching to touch his forehead. Closing her eyes, she reached out to Sa'uuk and looked into the witness's thoughts for a clear picture of what Paz's abductors looked like. After a moment she blinked. "Thank you," she told him. Then she and Mrrowl hurried out the doorway he had indicated. They ran along looking intently around, but saw no one or nothing that would indicate where Paz had disappeared to.
Mrrowl's com link beeped and they heard Sparg's voice. "They took the ship. Jate couldn't stop them, but he sent me coordinates of where they're taking it before he got away. Where are you? We'll come pick you up."
Mrrowl gave Sparg their location and looked at Shre'ka, a heavy sigh gusting through his whiskers. "Not much, but it's something, at least."
Shortly, Arden's limo picked them up. As the group discussed what they could do, Sparg's com link beeped.
"Hello?" the Illyrian said.
A friendly female voice came over the link. "Is this Sparg?"
Sparg frowned. So did everyone else. "Uh…who is this?"
"Is this Sparg?" the caller repeated.
Sparg sighed. "Yes, this is Sparg. Now who--"
"Hold, please, for Oneron Fil'vye."
Shre'ka shook her head, backing her ears. "What does HE want?" she growled under her breath.
"Sparg!" Oneron's silky voice exclaimed. "It's been a while since we last met. I have a job I would like to discuss with you. Please come to my office at once."
"Oneron, we're kind of busy right now! Someone's taking our ship!"
"Hmmmm…Yes. I see that proper request for clearance was made. Well, no matter, come to my office and we'll see what we can do."
Sighing, Sparg agreed. Arden gave instructions to the driver and before long they arrived at the Fil'vye Transport Tower. After going through Security and relinquishing their weapons, they were ushered past the atrium. Shre'ka eyed the strange avians perched in the rafters warily. She knew now that the Bothan kept them to suppress Force-wielders' abilities. Trying to keep her shoulders from shivering, she followed the others into Oneron's office.
Beside the Bothan stood a figure Shre'ka had seen in a Sa'uuk trance. It was a Nimbanel male, the crime lord Gallo Memm. He gestured and several guard appeared from the shadows with blasters leveled. "You're the ones who destroyed my home and stole from me?" he rasped. "I should kill you all right now, but I have a better idea for recouping my losses! Guards!"
"Now wait just a minute!" Arden protested, his hands up. "I don't know what's been going on, but I'm not involved! I'm not with them!"
Memm smirked unpleasantly. "Well, you are now!" He gestured curtly to the guards. "Take them to the ship!"
Their hands bound with binders, the group was marched out under heavy guard. Shre'ka was seething. When the guards halted them at the Security station to gather their weapons, she touched Mrrowl and Sparg's minds through the crystal bracelets. Should we take our weapons back and attack them now? she asked. I am ready!
Best to wait until we are aboard the ship, Mrrowl warned.
Yeah, Sparg agreed. There'll be less of them to deal with. Besides, he continued in an amused voice, we're in need of a ship at the moment.
They were taken to a docking platform upon which sat a Zygerrian vessel. Several Zygerrians guarded the ramp. One, more ornately dressed than the others, stood overseeing the loading, a hulking male Togorian standing by his side. He was obviously the captain. As they passed by the two, Shre'ka nodded to the Togorian. "Fuurr’sssang," she said, greeting the felinoid in his own language.
The Togorian snorted, giving her a scathing glance before looking disdainfully away. He did not respond.
Shre'ka's ears flattened. "Prrat’sssang," she growled at him in insult for his rudeness, then continued on, her head high.
One of the Zygerrians activated his shock whip, intending to strike her with it, but the captain motioned for him to stop. "No," he said. "Not yet."
Entering the dark maw of the ship, Shre'ka touched Oneron's mind with Sa'uuk. Live, she told him grimly. Oddly, she sensed the Bothan as in pain. I intend to, came a determined answer.
The group was placed into two cells--Mrrowl and Shre'ka in one, Arden and Sparg in another. They were not the only prisoners. A Mon Cal, a Quarren, a Rodian, a Weequay and a Sullustan were also held captive.
A strange droid came by their cells to gaze at them a few moments. It shook its head. "Such a shame," it said cryptically before walking away.
Intent on freedom, Shre'ka and Mrrowl discussed a plan of escape after observing the guards. The Cathar informed Sparg of their idea silently via their bracelets.
The resourceful Illyrian was ready. Great! he told her. Arden and I are modifying his rocket boots into a rudimentary flame thrower! Just say 'when'!
The next time the nearby guard passed by, Shre'ka drew upon Sa'uuk and drained the power from his blaster. Then she waited until he met and spoke with the second guard. Once he returned to his post, Shre'ka called upon Sa'uuk once more, stunning the second guard. He dropped to the floor, unconscious. Swiftly, gesturing with an outstretched paw, she drew the guard's blaster to her. She handed it to Mrrowl with a grin that the Togorian mirrored ferociously. Turning her attention to the door, she informed Sparg they were ready, then struck the door with Sa'uuk's power.
The door shuddered, durasteel twisting and grinding in protest. The noise brought the remaining guard. "What's this?" he cried, hurrying toward them just as Sparg aimed his make-shift flame-thrower.
Shre'ka struck the door with Force again. It fell to the floor as the guard was caught in a gout of flame. She relieved the guard of his shock whip. Clothing and skin singed, the Zygerrian snarled in anger, raising his blaster to fire, but nothing happened. Mrrowl, on the other hand, had no such trouble, and shot him. The slaver dropped to the deck. Finding the keys, Sparg, Arden and the others were quickly freed. They managed to find their belongings, as well as Jate who was on the brink of being refitted as a service droid. Sparg had Jate access the ship's computer, learning the ship's layout. They were also surprised to discover Oneron had been imprisoned aboard as well.
Arming themselves, the group hurried toward the bridge, encountering a strange room with a gridded floor broken by four columns. Shre'ka tried to sense the best way to traverse the room, but could not. Arden stepped forward, going to the left. When he tried to move forward to cross the room, the grid activated, shocking him with electrical energy. The energy field kept him held securely in place. Mrrowl decided to stride straight ahead, intent on crossing the room as quickly as possible. Even so, the grid activated as he crossed, and the Togorian grit his teeth at the pain, forcing himself to keep going. Sparg followed behind him trying to tumble his way through. The Mon Cal prisoner braved the energy field as well, going to the right.
Realizing now what she could do to help, Shre'ka called upon Sa'uuk to drain the floor grid of its energy. She was partially successful and the group continued to struggle across. Sparg managed to tumble his way to the far door and tried to correctly punch in a code Jate had retrieved from the ship's computer. Unfortunately, his first attempt was not correct, triggering four laser cannons, one mounted in each corner, to activate and open fire. Mrrowl, Arden and Sparg managed to destroy the turrets, but not without injury or casualty. The Mon Cal captive was cut down, and Shre'ka knelt to murmur the Rite of Farewell to him before she made her way across.
With only the Sullustan and the Quarren still following, the group rushed down a hallway toward the bridge. Catching the crew by surprise, a vicious fight ensued with Mrrowl going claw to claw with the Togorian First Mate, their enraged roars echoing in the room. Sparg provided covering fire for Mrrowl and Shre'ka, pinning down many of the Zygerrian crew. Arden found his hands full when the Sullustan treacherously killed the Quarren and turned on the Corellian.
During the battle, Shre'ka realized the droid that had come to see them while they were in their cells was present--and wearing a bowler hat! Gasping in shock, she realized the droid was none other than Spivey. Alarmed, she waved a paw at him, rendering him powerless with Sa'uuk. The Zygerrians fought ferociously, but in the end were defeated. However, Spivey managed to reroute his power and fired a blaster at Shre'ka. Having felled the First Mate and seeing his mate threatened, Mrrowl lunged forward with a roar, burying his vibroaxe in the droid's head. Sparg fired his blaster at almost the same instant and the droid was finished, its heuristic processor destroyed. Meanwhile, Arden finally managed to gain the upper hand and defeated the Sullustan assassin.
With only one of the slaver crew on the bridge left alive and begging for mercy, the group began to secure the ship. They found Oneron and assisted him, but decided to keep him in his cell. The Bothan confessed he sent a crew of four humans and a Twi'lek to steal the Mako to 'keep it safe' from others trying to steal it. Giving Sparg the coordinates of their destination which fortunately for him matched the ones Jate had downloaded, the Bothan agreed to tell the crew the password to get his crew to turn the Mako back over to them.
Now enroute to rendezvous with the Mako's Run, the crew must try to discern Paz's whereabouts and discover what is encrypted on her datapad….
To be continued...