…Paz...Paz, where are you?…
Shre'ka roused herself from her Sa'uuk trance with a sigh of resignation. For whatever reason--distance, Paz's current state of well being, inadequacy of the young Cathar's mystic skill, or possible interference from a Ruk Ro'at, a Shadow Hunter--she was unable to make contact with the Mako's Run Mon Cal Captain. She headed up toward the ship's cockpit, hoping the others had better luck obtaining information from Paz's datapad.
Sparg looked up when she entered. "Jate had a bit of trouble breaking Paz's encryption," he told her, "but he did manage to pull up these." The Illyrian held out the viewer which showed schematics of the Mako, with a few areas and compartments highlighted.
Shre'ka flicked back her ears. "What does it mean?"
"Dunno," Sparg admitted. "Either these areas have something she's looking for or…something important about them, who knows." He shrugged."Doesn't tell us much."
"What about a message?" she asked. "Was Paz able to leave us one about what happened to her?"
Sparg shook his head. "Doesn't look that way."
Shre'ka hung her head. "I was unable to reach her with Sa'uuk, not even to tell if she is alive."
Mrrowl placed a comforting paw on her shoulder. "We'll find her," he said. "You can always try again later. Besides, we should be arriving at the coordinates Jate and Oneron gave us shortly."
Sparg checked the navcomputer. "Yep," he agreed. "Looks like we'll be arriving…now!"
The Zygerrian ship, The Frayed Whip, dropped from hyperspace. Everyone's jaw dropped at the view before them.
"What the hell?" Mrrowl growled sharply.
In their path lay the remains of what appeared to be several ships, some of them quite large. Sparg cut in the sublight engines and promptly began to try to maneuver through the drifting obstacles of scorched and twisted structural debris. "Jate! Gonna need your help, buddy!"
As the Illyrian struggled to avoid a crash, the others stared apprehensively at the destruction. "What happened here?" Arden murmured to no one in particular.
The ship gave a sudden lurch. "Careful, Sparg!" Shre'ka exclaimed.
The Illyrian frowned. "We didn't hit anything! That was blaster fire!"
Instantly Mrrowl was racing to a gun turret, his footfalls thundering on the deckplates.
"Let me know when you're set!" Sparg yelled after him.
Arden threw himself into the seat beside Sparg and began to help.
Shre'ka's ears flattened. Who was attacking them? And why? Where they the ones who had destroyed these other vessels? Trying to still her thoughts, she closed her eyes, reaching out to Sa'uuk to see what she could find out.
The Illyrian pilot made way through the debris field with a dazzling display of combat maneuvers. Arden was able to scan their attackers, discovering there were three smaller fighter craft in pursuit. One couldn't keep up with Sparg's flying, crashing into a drifting twisted bulkhead of durasteel that the Illyrian had dodged past. Another fell to Mrrowl's guns. Shre'ka reached out to touch the minds of the two beings that she could sense nearby. One was frightened and wanted help, the other slammed its mind closed to her when she thought "Stop!"
The last fighter kept pace with them through the field, but finally fell to Mrrowl's guns. A cheer echoed through the ship. "There's still someone out there!" Shre'ka warned. "Someone who's frightened and needs help."
Arden scanned their surroundings while Shre'ka used Sa'uuk to sense where the being was located. Finally they managed to find a lone survivor on a small drifting damaged freighter and get him to safety. The human, called Wing Lauderman, told the group he was making a delivery to the local space station of the Varic system, the "second moon" of Acheron. Unexpectedly, the station and everyone there had come under attack by an unknown weapon that had devastated everything in the area.
"What could possibly have been able to do all this in a single attack? Certainly not a ship--even a capitol class," Mrrowl mused.
"I don't know," Wing replied. "I've made this trip many a time and I've never seen anything like this! Why, I could tell you about this one time--"
"Maybe later," the Togorian rumbled.
"What do we do now?" Shre'ka asked.
Her mate's eyes narrowed. "Have a little talk with Oneron."
"If you're quite through throwing me around, slinging this ship to and fro, I'd appreciate it. I tell you again, my people were to take your ship to the second moon of the Varic system."
"They're not here," Mrrowl growled, showing his fangs a little. "And neither is the moon. Luckily the Mako wasn't found among the wreckage."
The Bothan threw up his hands. "Then I don't know what to tell you."
The Togorians lips lifted dangerously. "You'd better start being more cooperative."
Oneron visibly cringed. Mrrowl grinned a distinctly unfriendly grin. Shre'ka started to feel a little sorry for the Bothan. "Where would they have gone if they could not get to the "moon"?"
Sparg scowled, watching Oneron closely. "Acheron, perhaps?" he suggested.
The Bothan shook his head. "No. Not there!"
"Wait! Wait!" Arden interrupted, holding up his hands. He looked to Oneron. "What I want to know is: what has happened between ya'll before that they don't trust you?"
Shre'ka flattened her ears, waving a paw to cut the holostar off. "Why not?" Shre'ka asked the Bothan, curious about Oneron's reaction.
He cast her a sullen look, but didn't answer.
Mrrowl blew through his whiskers, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a hiss. "This is pointless." He looked at Sparg. "Come on. Acheron it is."
"Do you want anything?" Shre'ka asked Oneron as they turned to leave.
"Yes!" the Bothan replied. "I want out of here!"
Shre'ka scowled. "Do you need food or water? Are you cold? Do you need a blanket?"
The Bothan crouched on the floor of his cell, glumly shaking his head. "No, thank you."
Shre'ka sighed, then turned and followed the others.
"You are cleared to land, docking bay 10."
Sparg responded with an affirmative to the neutral voice coming over com, guiding the Zygerrian ship in on final approach. Jate twittered softly at his side.
The others congregated around Wing, dubious looks on their faces. "I'm telling you," the human assured them, "my boss, Jaekin Morel, is the one to talk to. I've flown the run between here and the second moon many, many times--"
"So you've said," Mrrowl rasped.
"Uh…yeah…so my boss, he's connected. He can get you work or whatever you need with the Wellbourne company. They control the durasteel mining that takes place on Ancheron."
"You'll take us to see him?" Arden asked.
"Sure thing! Soon as we land."
However, as the group departed the ship, they saw a small group of officials approaching. The one in the lead waved a hand toward the vessel. "Did you just come from the second moon of Varic?"
"Not exactly, no," Sparg replied. "We're here looking for work. What's the problem?"
"That area recently came under attack," the official responded. "Any ships coming from that area are impounded until an investigation into the incident is concluded. You will, of course, be allowed to retrieve any necessary items you require before the ship is sealed."
"There are others still on that ship in cells," Shre'ka protested. "They could die if you leave them in there."
"Cells? Are you slavers?" the official responded.
"We're not the slavers," Mrrowl growled. "They are."
"Yes," Shre'ka nodded. "We freed ourselves and took over the ship."
"So you're thieves," the official replied.
"No," Sparg answered. "We don't want this ship. We're here to find our ship."
"I thought you were here looking for work?"
"Is there someone in authority we can turn the slavers over to?" Shre'ka asked.
The official shrugged. "Trafficking in slaves isn't illegal here."
"So they would be set free?" Shre'ka asked.
The official nodded, jotting some notes on a datapad. "It'd be best if you gathered your belongings and vacated the ship as quickly as possible."
"You are mad! All of you!" Oneron cried. "You can not possibly expect me to be seen on Acheron! I would be killed!"
"By who?" Sparg asked.
"That is no concern of yours," Oneron snapped. "But believe me, it would happen!"
"You can not stay on the ship," Shre'ka told him, exasperated.
"He…could," Mrrowl drawled, grinning.
Shre'ka snarled to herself. "The officials here are taking the ship into custody while they investigate the attack that destroyed the place you sent us! You can not stay here! You will die!"
"I'll die if I go out there!" the Bothan argued.
Arden thoughtfully tapped his chin. "What about a disguise?"
Sparg blinked. "Brilliant! One of those Zygerrian helmets should work!"
Oneron gave them a dubious look. Arden smiled. "Don't worry, friend," he said. "I have experience with make-up and costuming. You're own mother won't know you."
A disreputable tough surrounded by several scantily clad Twi'lek females looked up from talking to Wing Lauderman as the group approached his table at the back of the bar, The Flaming Pipe. "These are the people you were telling me about?" he asked.
Wing nodded. "Sure, thing, Boss. I told 'em how you could help 'em out with working for Wellbourne--"
"What happened to my cargo?"
"Well…there was an attack, see? I barely managed to escape with my life." Wing gestured to his rescuers. "I wouldn't have made it, if it hadn't been for them."
Jaekin Morel clapped a hand on Lauderman's shoulder. "Yeah, ok. Wing, go with these two fellas, all right?"
The tramp freighter pilot nodded and left, escorted by two of Morel's minions.
He turned once more to the group. "Now what can I do for you folks?"
Sparg stepped forward. "We're looking for a ship. Mon Cal design freighter. Wavedancer riding a mako shark emblem on it."
Morel nodded slowly. "Yeah…I've seen that ship. Interesting design. Up at the Wellborne facility, I believe."
"We need to go there then."
Morel smiled. "Of course. It'll cost, though."
Mrrowl returned the smile. "Of course it will."
Sparg braced himself. "How much?"
"20,000. In advance."
"Fifteen," Arden spoke up. "Half now. Half when you get what we need to us."
Morel considered a moment, then nodded. His smile widened. "While you wait, perhaps you'd care for some entertainment? Or a massage, perhaps?" He gestured and the Twi'lek females approached the group, smiling invitingly. Arden and Sparg followed them into the back, but Mrrowl and Shre'ka declined, finding a table for themselves. Shre'ka tickled Mrrowl under his chin. "Perhaps you would care to dance?" she asked. The Togorian smiled.
"You're a buyer," Morel told Shre'ka as he handed out badges to the group. "Security," with a glance to Mrrowl, "and," with a sweeping gesture to Arden, Sparg and Oneron, "mechanics and technical staff with an R-2 unit."
Arden handed over a cred chip which Morel swiped through a reader with a practiced flourish before returning it. "A pleasure doing business, friends. Good luck."
"Yeah, yeah. You might let a guy know the Twi'lek girls aren't going to be the ones doing the massages," Sparg grumbled.
Leaving the bar, they made their way down the streets following the road that led to the Wellborne Corporation headquarters. Oneron fussed with the helmet on his head. "I want a weapon," he demanded. "I need some means to defend myself."
"Not gonna happen," Mrrowl told him firmly.
Shre'ka tried to reassure the Bothan. "We'll protect you, don't worry."
As they were walking between two buildings, assassin droids suddenly stepped out from the corners behind and in front of them, immediately opening fire. As everyone dived for cover, Arden muttered, "I'd REALLY like to know what ya'll did to piss so many people off."
Realizing shots were coming from overhead, Shre'ka cried, "The roofs!" before calling upon Sa'uuk and leaping up beside one of the droids standing near the rooftop's edge. Calling upon Sa'uuk once more, she sent the droid staggering, damaging it slightly and knocking it down. She flung an outstretched paw toward the other droid and it went over the edge, falling to the ground below.
Hearing his mate's warning, Mrrowl roared and leaped for the opposite roof, his front paws catching the edge. Digging in with his claws, he pulled himself the rest of the way up with a snarl, promising quick destruction to the droids standing there.
Arden and Sparg drew their blasters and returned fire, damaging their attackers somewhat, but pinned down in the open. Oneron cowered behind them, cursing, then broke away to the rear, racing around a building corner and disappearing. "After him, Jate!" Sparg yelled and the droid ignited his rocket jets to pursue the Bothan.
Shre'ka spied other attackers running up to join the fight and realized they wore the same insignia as those they had fought rescuing her people from Gallo Memm's estate. The remaining droid stood up and fired at her, but she managed to dodge. With a wave of her hand, she drained its power and it clattered to the roof.
Mrrowl single-handedly battled two droids, his vibroaxe making a satisfying crunch as it bit into either of his attackers. Arden and Sparg managed to drop the assailants on the ground with a little assistance from Shre'ka who moved the power drained droid overhead of one attacker to drop it upon him, while stunning another.
Dropping back to the street, Shre'ka healed Sparg, who appeared to have been injured the most severely, with Sa'uuk. However one of Memm's men still lived. While the others discussed what to do with him, Arden pulled out a blaster and abruptly shot him, shocking Shre'ka. Needing to move quickly before authorities arrived, they followed after Oneron and Jate, but sadly the droid had been unable to catch the Bothan and he escaped.
Deciding to find a hotel to rest for the night and allow things to calm down, the group prepares to visit the Wellborne facility the following day to retrieve the Mako and resume the search for their missing captain…
To be continued...