Episode 4: The taking of Perodeen
The first of two split-party adventures.
PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them so far).
*Asti : Woman with good knowledge of droids.
Quiet, cool-headed and sensible.
*Stoge : Brash Pilot.
Straun Solarwind: Polearm-wielding farmboy. Searching for his father's fate.
Dar : Muscled black native.
*Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger.
Surge : Knowledgeable man, good shot with a blaster.
Menarggrah : Wookiee.
* Only asterisked PCs played in this adventure.
Karlos Trialeki turned his gaze
from the Sabacc table and peered out the viewport, staring at the
massive form sliding gracefully past the Usurper.
"I still can't get used to seeing that thing," the gunfighter said absently.
"Makes you feel kinda small," Straun Solarwind agreed. The Usurper had hyperspaced there days before to rendezvous with the Calamari Cruiser Vigilant, an enourmous ship that dwarfed even the Usurper.
"Don't change the subject because you're losing, sucker." Stoge puffed on the cigar as he studied the cards and grinned at his pair of Novas and three Dreadnoughts. His winning streak was cut short by the blaring of klaxon alarms going off.
Menarggrah stood up immediately, striding past a passing protocol droid to where an officer stood in the corridor barking instructions into a comlink. All the others ran after him except Asti, who stood looking out the viewport. Menarggrah queried the officer in Wookiee.
"Unidentified craft dropped out of hyperspace," the officer informed. "Starfighter sized, coming right at us."
Straun looked back past Asti and saw that he was, literally, correct. A tiny object was approaching the Usurper. More precisely, it was approaching the viewport he was looking out of. It was moving slowly and not firing, even though well within range of any weapons it might have. A suicide bomber?
"How could anyone know we're here?" Dar wondered aloud. The two giant Rebel ships were far out in unpatrolled space in the outer rim, not even in a system.
There was a distant hammering sound as blue bolts of the Usurper's ion cannons opened up on the craft, disabling its systems and rendering it inert in seconds. The small figures of a scanning team jetpacked their way toward it when the guns fell silent.
"Come on, the docking bay," Surge started for the door. "They'll bring it in on tractor beam."
By the time the scanning team had gone over the ship a small crowd of curious sentients had gathered in the Usurper's docking bay. The small craft, the size of a lambda class shuttle without wings, coasted in silently by tractor beam, seeming empty and deserted. One of the scanning team reported that no-one had been found aboard.
The craft was shaped as a rectangular box with a pointed front, which was adorned by a circular sensor ring. The entry ramp was manually lowered, and a small group of officers entered for a few minutes. When they emerged one addressed the crowd in a deep officer's drawl.
"All right, who's got the slave unit?"
Menarggrah slapped his forehead in a knowing gesture, then shouldered his way through the crowd and began yelling at Straun, who had no idea what he was talking about.
"Of course," Surge exclaimed. "Your box."
Straun, puzzled, produced his almost-forgotten box he had drawn from the Ugnaughts' Sacred Bag of Treasure on Gaarla. Some of the crowd began to murmur in his direction.
"A slave unit," explained Surge "is a rare device used by owners of starships, an instrument used to call the ship to the owner. Good slave circuits will even allow a ship to fight its way to the master. This one seems simple, but must have good FTL transmit range."
"He means," added Asti "That you now own a ship."
"And," contributed Stoge "almost gave away a vital Alliance rendezvous location to whoever might have been on it."
Straun gulped, and prepared for a verbal blasting in the captain's quarters.
Stoge, Karlos and Asti stood in
the briefing room at attention, dressed in formal Rebel attire.
Even Karlos was in Rebel uniform, though he still wore his
eight-gun in a brightly polished holster. With them was a pilot
in grubby fatigues, looking casual but still at attention (a feat
Stoge wished he could duplicate). Karlos knew this pilot, Greer,
as he had been the pilot of the shuttle that transported he,
Menarggrah, Surge and Straun from the grassworld of Agost. Stoge
had since met him in pilot social circles, and the two had become
friends to some degree.
With Lieutenant Fraggine was an old human, wrinkled and stooped.
"Troops, this is Fegbert, an Old Republic Senator and amateur historian. He will accompany you on your mission; indeed, you are little more than his escort."
"Perodeen is a mid-rim system that has been relatively untouched by the Empire since the fall of the Old Republic. It is somewhat naive in its impressions of the Imperial menace, and though it has provided assistance to the Alliance in the past it sees no reason to join us. Since the Empire's attention is sweeping in its direction we will attempt to win its membership with the persuasive talents of Fegbert. This mission is a purely diplomatic one, and you must keep in mind that you are representing the Rebel Alliance at all times. While Flight Officer Greer will remain with the shuttle Fanfare, the three of you will escort Fegbert to his meeting with king Frinn and his council."
"Yo, Ace," Greer addressed Stoge cheerfully once the briefing had ended. "Bit of a shame you have to wear the brass bits and fall asleep in a meeting, eh? I'm planning on a couple of drinks and fleecing the locals at Sabacc in the spaceport cantina. Still, once the meeting's over, howzabout you and me grabbing some of the cold, bubbly and blue and go cruising for babeings?"
"Mate," Stoge slapped a hand on Greer's shoulder. "You're on." The two wandered off toward the docking bay, joking and laughing.
"I say, young lady," Fegbert addressed Asti. "I haven't seen one of those in a long, long time." The old man pointed to the short whip-like object hanging from her belt.
"This?" the woman studied the item she had obtained from the Sacred Bag of Treasure. "What is it?"
"It's broken, that's what it is," Fegbert said in his grating voice. "I hope you didn't activate the powerpack, or the energy would have shorted out all down the links."
Asti grinned sheepishly. "Can you fix it?"
"Not I," the Senator shook his head, "but perhaps I could instruct a tech.."
He summoned a technician named Adro, who had never seen the item's like before. He worked with Fegbert for over an hour, the old man nagging him with comments such as "Well, I don't know the details, but that bit there should be tightened up," and "Maybe this bit should go there."
When he showed it to Asti, it seemed exactly the same. The old man paused for effect, then pressed the button dramatically.
With a whizzing sound, the links clicked together, then telescoped inside each other into the handle.
"Now," he said, and pressed the button again.
This time the metal telescoped outward in the same manner as a primitive transmitter aerial, about a meter long, and covered in a shimmering orange cylinder of pure energy that hummed softly. Fegbert waved it slowly, and it demonstrated slight flexibility. Asti gaped at it in awe, seeing its similarity to a weapon she had only heard about.
"The force lash," explained Fegbert. "Not as famous, powerful, or elegant as the lightsaber, but in the hands of a jedi a powerful weapon." He went on to explain how it was used in the Old Republic by some Jedi-in-training, and how it was rumoured to give advantages in lightsaber combat by whipping around an opponent's guard, but being harder to parry with. Asti waved it around reverently for some time, then retracted it with a <whissk> and, clipping it to her belt, headed for the docking bay.
Straun, Menarggrah, Dar and Surge
were there to see them off.
"Sorry we can't come, guys, it sounds like a lotta fun," Straun's voice dripped sarcasm, "but we've got a job to do involving these." With his foot he lifted the lid of one of the crates they had found aboard his ship, and drew out a thick-barrelled blaster rifle of sorts. "Blastech Snap-3's. The Alliance needs weapons, and I need the creds. We're to deliver them to some Imperial slaves in the Fo system in two days."
"Sounds dangerous," commented Karlos, pulling absently at his tight collar. "Good luck."
"Hey!" said Greer, coming up behind Stoge. "We're raising anchor, chief." He turned to Asti. "Babe, let's get our buns on board."
Stoge grinned. He liked the guy's attitude.
Goodbyes completed, the group seperated.
"..though the monarchy rules,
there has been none of the civil discomfort associated with forms
of government other than the Democratic, which reminds me of a
prime example. You see, twenty.. no, it must have been closer to
thirty years ago.."
Asti sat impatiently in the chair and utilised her considerable self-control to stop herself jamming her shoe in the old man's mouth and shouting "SHUT UP!!". Five days in hyperspace with Fegbert was more than enough to exceed the patience of anyone, and Asti was more patient than most.
Karlos, like everyone else aboard the Fanfare, was not listening to the Senator. He stood in front of a large mirror, drawing and redrawing his eight-gun. He knew it was only a matter of time before he was found by another bounty hunter, and he wanted to be ready.
"Perodeen, folks," Greer announced as they came out of hyperspace and the green planet appeared before them. "Near-standard atmosphere and grav, modern tech level.."
"Major exports Kardinite and Bossic Ore.." began Fegbert.
"SHUT UP!!" everyone chorused.
They were politely given approach coordinates, and even escorted in by a pair of two-sentient, single pod cloud cars. When they approached the city its beauty was immediately apparent as they beheld streets laid out in a snowflake pattern with abundant parks and ornate buildings that swept up the valley to a magnificent palace on a hill.
The spaceport's tractor beam gently guided them down to a docking space where two landspeeders and an honour guard were waiting for them.
"Cool," said Stoge. "I can handle being treated like a V.I.P." They walked down the ramp and were greeted by the captain of the Perodeen Royal Guard.
"Catch ya, guys!" Greer farewelled them as they entered the speeders. The trip took them through a beautiful city, in which streets were clean and citizens were cheerful. Karlos, having spent all his life on Agost before joining the Alliance, was interested in the different surroundings and culture. He gazed curiously at a woman walking her pet, a green spiderlike alien, as they passed.
The pleasant trip ended at the magnificent palace from which hung a huge banner of the Perodeen royal emblem, a flying reptile of some kind. The Captain led them up a wide expanse of stairs to the main doors, through the lobby and into a recreational chamber to wait for the king. Many sentients were already there, garbed in finery and chatting among themselves. Karlos grabbed a snack from a glittering serving droid and munched it thoughtfully, taking in the artwork on the walls and, typically, keeping to himself.
"Yo, babelet!" Stoge addressed a beautiful blonde woman in her late teens. "Nice dress, but it'd look bettter crumpled up next..."
"Like, what is your SITCH?" the girl interrupted. "Oooh, men in uniform! are you Rebels? like, Cooooel! I have been, like, Sooo bored being away from the mall ALL MORNING, and now I find some RAVE Rebels to talk to! wait'll the girls find out, they'll be soo jealous. Sitch to be in!"
Stoge frowned at Karlos, who pointed to his head and signed 'Zero G'. The pilot nodded his agreement.
"Good morning, Princess Frillia," Fegbert stepped past Stoge, who welcomed the intrusion and began talking to a Twi'lek standing nearby as the Senator continued "It would be wise not to talk so freely when the walls may have ears." Palace security, knowing of the Rebel visit, had taken every precaution, but the old man did not believe in unnecessary risks.
The placid murmur of conversation was suddenly shattered by the blasting of a royal fanfare that nearly made Asti drop the drink she was holding. All eyes turned to the royal musicians at the door and the tall, handsome figure that glided smoothly between them. The Rebels stepped forward as he approached, and bowed.
"King Frinn, your majesty is.." Fegbert paused as the King swept past him and pressed his moustached lips to Asti's hand.
"Welcome," the King said with a gentle smile, then seemed to notice everyone else. "All of you, welcome. Come, we must discuss matters of great
importance." He moved toward the councilling chamber, followed by the councillors in the room.
"Pay no heed to Frinn, he's just an old smoothie," Fegbert told the slightly bewildered Asti.
Over an hour later..
"..apart from the defensive
advantages, the Alliance monitoring network provides significant
advance warning of any Imperial action." Fegbert paused to
take a breath, and Frinn took the opportunity to finally get a
"All these points have merit," he told the Senator. "But they assume hostile Imperial action toward Perodeen, a peaceful system. As we all know, in its last days the Old Republic was corrupt, rotted from within. The Empire has ended the petty wars between systems. What is to say they are any worse or better than the Republic because their mode of operation is different? We have provided you with rudimentary aid in the past, is it not enough?"
"Enough of this!" Asti raged, standing to her feet. Heads snapped toward informal, irregular interruption. Unabashed, she continued.
"Before I joined the Alliance I had lived all my life as an Imperial slave, treated as less than a droid in a forced labour system. I have witnessed.. I have ENDURED atrocities that, if you were there, would now make you all cut out your tongues for saying such words. The Empire is tyrannical; it is evil. If you wish to be an Imperial puppet, King Frinn, then do not resist the Empire. If you would remain free, we are the one force that offers hope for the galaxy."
"She is not alone," Karlos stood up. "A mere five years ago, Agost was as untouched by the Empire as Perodeen is, and as unconcerned. It was forcefully seized for food production and is now tightly controlled. All on my farm were slaughtered for not selling our land to the Empire at one-fifth its price, and I lived as a criminal before fleeing to the Rebels. You may think being peaceful is a defence in itself," he concluded coldly, "But so did Alderaan."
"My planet," Stoge testified, "was taken by force. Its armies were massacred and its cities reduced to rubble by this Empire you think is none of your concern. Will that change when you're all stains on a wall?"
There were shocked gasps. Fegbert siezed the opportunity and reminded them of the glory days of the Old Republic, in which all systems were represented through the Senate and protected by the Jedi Knights. There was silence for a minute, then King Frinn conferred quietly with some of his advisors. He stood to address the assembly.
"Sentients, we have all been fools. The darkness that has fallen on the galaxy has also made us blind. We must aid the Rebellion in any way we can. Should we perish in doing so, it is better to die on our feet than live on our knees."
After the necessary documentation was signed, all those in the councilling chamber filed out it to the party in the adjoining room. Stoge started for the main door.
"I say there, old boy. Where are you going?" inquired Fegbert.
"If there's gonna be a party, Greer's coming too," said Stoge firmly. "That man goes off at parties. Last time we got this keg and fifteen women-"
A concussive noise struck
everyone's ears. Someone screamed. They all ran for the main
door, emerging into the sunlight to behold the view that the
palace offered, looking over the valley city.
Several kilometers away, over the other side of the city, a great plume of smoke was rising skyward. "The barracks!" someone gasped. Asti looked up, and beheld the awesome sight of three massive arrowhead shapes far above the city, seemingly enourmous even though they were out of the planet's atmosphere. The Star Destroyers unleashed another devastating turbolaser strike that flashed down at the city, striking the barracks again. The deafening thunderclap struck their ears once more.
"The spaceport, quick!" yelled Fegbert. "Our work here is done!"
The four Rebels scrambled down the steps to where a tall brown alien leaned against a speeder, studying one of his appendages in a bored manner.
'So calm in a situation like THIS?' Karlos thought. Mind filled with thoughts of an Imperial spy, he laid his hand on the grip of his eight-gun.
"We need that speeder, fast!" exclaimed Stoge.
"Why?" puzzled the alien.
"Because we're being invaded!" said Asti loudly.
The alien gave her a startled look, then pointed up to the three star destroyers and the dots streaming down from them. "Is that what they're doing?" he enquired.
"Yes," Karlos told him patiently.
The alien threw his appendages to the air and ran away, screaming. Karlos shook his head at the absurdity, then they all jumped in the speeder. Stoge took the controls and they took off down the hill at full speed.
At first the trip went smoothly, because the streets they went whizzing through were empty, but soon traffic began to appear as panicked citizens tried to blindly flee the city. Stoge concentrated hard, overtaking an old speeder crammed with a family and their belongings, passing a large repulsorlift bus. Overhead they heard the mechanical screaming of TIE bombers swooping low over the city, and looking up Karlos saw whole flights of them heading for the starport, being tactically a high priority. The dull whoomphing of explosions began to be heard among the screaming and buzz of engines. From the spaceport ahead, they could see the forms of about a dozen Z-95 headhunters streaking up to intercept.
When they drew near to the starport they saw that the mesh gates had been closed, and the light of an electronic lock taunted them with a wink.
"Hold on," Stoge said, flooring the accelerator and aiming for the gate.
"That gate looks very strong," said Fegbert doubtfully.
"Leave that to me," said Karlos, drawing his eight-gun. Pointing it at the gate, he carefully took aim as the speeder swerved toward it at full speed.
With a sharp cracking sound, he shot the lock.
"Such shooting!" Stoge exclaimed as they hurtled toward it.
"Impossible!" added Fegbert.
The lock was partially blown away but still held. Asti followed Karlos' example and, with a fine blaster shot, damaged the section of the gate that the lock was on. The speeder hit it with a crash, flinging the gates wide. They sped onto the open spaceport area, now pocked with craters and getting more all the time. As they passed, Stoge realised with horror that the blasted wing of the Fanfare was leaning on the fence. The pilot headed for the spaceport cantina, braking hard outside its door.
"Greer!" he called desperately, running into the bar. The interior was deserted, all the patrons fled except for a squat, rounded being that sat on the bar guzzling from a bottle.
"Hey!" Stoge called to him. "Human pilot, red coveralls. Where is he?"
"Gluuzga," the being stared at him with glazed eyes and pointed out a window to where Stoge could see a red dot receding into the distance. Another bomb landed outside with a <CRUMP!>, spraying pieces of tarmac onto the roof of the cantina.
Stoge raced out the door in pursuit of Greer, calling his name at the top of his lungs and scarcely noticing that the others were running after him. Above him, TIE fighters had joined the bombers and easily outnumbered the Z-95s, engaging them in a wheeling dance of death. Around him, freighters were either smoking hulks or lifting off, betting their lives that they could run the blockade.
Ahead, he noticed that Greer was heading for one of the fighter hangars, disappearing inside the door as a TIE bomber swept across between them with laser cannon strafing anything in its path. Following behind, Asti looked up and noticed that other ships had come down from the Star Destroyers, ones she recognised from their adventure on Telthra IV.
With a roar another ship streaked out of the hangar and began gaining height, a ship that Stoge recognised as a Z-95ML missile launch platform, Greer at the controls. Stoge reached the hangar seconds later to find only one more Z-95, and that was in several sections awaiting maintenance. He cursed furiously to Asti, feeling helpless on the ground while battle raged overhead. Karlos eventually arrived, helping along the wheezing Fegbert.
"Must..get back to <puff> palace," the historian gasped. "Frinn will have emergency plan."
"He'd better," Karlos replied. "There isn't much left of the Fanfare." They turned back for the speeder.
Racing through the streets once
more, Stoge couldn't concentrate. He glanced skyward for the
umpteenth time. Greer had rallied the remaining Z-95s around him,
and they covered him while he hit the dropships with concussion
missiles. As he watched, there was a flash and another dropship
began a graceful arc toward the surface, trailing smoke.
"I'm up there with ya, big guy," he said softly.
The streets were now a maze of debris. Fires had broken out in several places, and wreckage was everywhere. The speeder's engine was screeching painfully and he didn't know how long it would last before burning out. To everyone's surprise, though they were travelling at full throttle they were overtaken by a speeder bike. The smaller vehicle tried to take a corner ahead and lost control, ploughing into a music store window with a violent explosion.
Karlos looked around. In the distance he saw a TIE bomber surgically take out a transmission tower with a proton torpedo strike. The sky above, he noted, was now filled with tiny specks, floating downward.
The speeder took a turn sharply and Asti's eyes widened. A large repulsorlift bus had crashed sideways across the street, bodies hanging broken at random angles. There was only a narrow gap between the end of the bus and the edge of a building. Without pause he swung the speeder toward the tiny space.
There was a wrenching shudder, and they were through.
"We made it!" Asti exclaimed.
"Yes," Fegbert agreed, looking nervously at jagged edges of metal along the speeder "But we're missing a few ornamental bits."
There was a spark from the controls, and they started losing speed. Stoge coasted the speeder for as long as he could, then they slid to a stop. They had started climbing out when Asti pointed upward and cried "Look!"
Above them, it was instantly apparent that the defending Z-95s had been cut to ribbons.
All but one.
Greer's Z-95ML had been hit and was trailing a black plume as it lost height. To Asti, Karlos and Fegbert he had simply been shot down, but Stoge could tell that Greer was fighting the controls all the way, steering the Z-95 away so he wouldn't bring it down on the town.
"I'm with ya," he said again, clutching his left hand to his chest in a respectful salute.
They didn't see the explosion after the Z-95ML disappeared out of sight behind the buildings. Karlos was looking upward at the floating specks they had seen earlier, identifying them from a passing comment he had heard on their last adventure.
The Imperial Paragrav troops.
They were armoured similar to stormtroopers, with some of the sections of the armour a dull grey, as were the paragrav backpacks they wore. Carrying blaster rifles, the elite troops were already firing at the civilians below.
"Come on, we don't have much time," said Asti. They climbed out of the speeder and started toward the palace, half a kilometer away. Karlos paused,
drawing his eight-gun, and drawing a bead on one of the floating figures.
The shot missed the paragrav trooper, who turned in their direction and placed a hand to the chin of his helmet as if talking into a comlink (which he was).
"Whoops," said Karlos, and ran.
They made slow progress, half-carrying Fegbert, and were still in sight of the abandoned speeder when a blaster shot hit Asti in the back. She briefly screamed, then fell to the street. Stoge reached for her as Karlos spun to see three paragrav troops behind the speeder, readying blaster rifles at them. Karlos fired back, but they were out of his gun's effective range. To make matters worse, they could hear engines coming closer.
There were now two Rebels that needed to be carried, and two Rebels to carry them. When they looked back down the street and saw the troopers advancing, weaving in and out of shopfronts, they didn't like their chances of making it to the palace.
A bolt of energy flashed over them, striking near the paragrav troops and making them dive for cover. Karlos turned to find the relieving sight of four Incom T-13 airspeeders coasting toward them, emblazoned with the Perodeen royal emblem. In an impressive, well-drilled manouvre, three formed a triangular formation and gave cover fire while one dropped to pick up a rebel, then joined the formation which rotated as the next came down for its passenger. Within half a minute they were rocketing away. One of the pilots, the Captain (who had first welcomed them to Perodeen), explained that King Frinn had detailed the speeders, which were part of the royal guard, to search for the Rebels and take them to him at his secret base of operations. They passed the palace without pause and headed out of the city, flying for a number of hours into the late afternoon.
Once they reached the forested
mountains they stopped. The Rebels didn't see the entrance to the
King's base, as they were blindfolded before reaching it (all but
Asti, who, being unconscious, didn't need one). When they could
see again they were in an underground complex, once again waiting
for the King. Asti was immediately whisked away to medical and
awoke over an hour later in a strange place surrounded by strange
people. Once the cringing, startled medics informed her that she
had in fact NOT been captured, she joined the others talking to
"My friends, I had almost lost hope that you had survived," he said with genuine concern. Either first impressions of the King were wrong, or recent events had changed him. Gone was the pompous fool, remaining was the leader of sentients. He continued.
"From here we have organised planetary resistance, but to be a realist, Perodeen is lost. Yet we remain, and from this base I will coordinate a guerilla campaign against the Imperial oppressors.
But there is a task equally as vital, and this I can only trust representatives of the Rebel Alliance itself. I need you to get someone offplanet to set up a government-in-exile. The Star Destroyers have moved away from the capital city, but stealing a ship will not be easy. If there are no private yachts on personal landers in the richer part of town (the citizens will be compensated when you commandeer one), you will have to chance the spaceport. Rebel Allies, will you help me?"
"Er.." Stoge considered alternatives.
"Of course," Asti smiled graciously. "Who do we take?"
"My daughter, princess Frillia," informed Frinn, as the girl Stoge had met at the palace entered, now dressed in more practical tight-fitting clothing (very tight fitting, noticed Stoge), a sporting blaster at her hip. "I'm ready, daddy dear," she said confidently.
Karlos was liking this trip less by the minute. He hoped the girl knew 1) one end of the blaster from the other, and 2) when to keep her mouth shut. He considered the prospect of combat with both Frillia and Fegbert.
"I have decided that I shall remain here," stated Fegbert, as if on cue. "I'll only slow you down."
"You got that right, baldy," muttered Stoge under his breath.
"What was that?" queried the old man.
"I said," explained Stoge "A fact I admit sadly."
"Indeed, it is a shame that I cannot accompany you and give you the benefit of my considerable knowledge," continued Fegbert (Asti mumbled something incoherently), "but Frillia carries a datastick with encrypted coordinates for a shuttle to land in the forest near here. Soon I shall rejoin you on the Usurper."
"Well," said Karlos, "that's something to look forward to." He smiled sweetly, at least until Fegbert had gone.
The late afternoon air was cool on
Asti's face, the slight breeze stirring the leaves as she took in
the sights of the forest. It was so quiet, the serene stillness
belying the terrible events of the last few hours. Somewhere in
the distance, an unseen bird of some kind warbled happily. It all
seemed so safe, tranquil. Asti welcomed the temporary respite,
and for the moment, was content to be still.
Twenty meters away, Stoge and Karlos finished unloading the second Ikas-Adno StarHawk speeder bike from the cargo skiff. The sleek vehicles seemed crouched ready to spring, engines purring softly.
"When you get to this address," -the Captain handed Karlos a datapad-
"leave the bikes in the packing crates inside. We'll need them later." Stoge, quite impressed with the speeders, was slightly downcast at this, but they agreed.
"Okay babe," he addressed Frillia. "Let's burn." They boarded the bikes, Frillia holding tight to Stoge and Asti seated behind Karlos. They wished the Perodeenites good luck, powered up the StarHawks, and sped down the forest road.
Karlos immediately felt the exhiliration of raw power beneath him, and nudged the throttle, moving ahead of Stoge and Frillia. Stoge answered by accelerating, pulling ahead of the gunfighter. Karlos immediately sped up again, regaining his lead.
Now at approximately two hundred kilometers per hour, the bikes flashed along the forest road, which (fortunately) was almost straight. Both pilots were finding it hard to focus on stationary objects as they accelerated even more, alternately taking the lead. A leaf from a low branch nicked Asti on the cheek and stung.
"Karlos," she said cooly "Cut the macho act and slow down."
The gunfighter reluctantly complied, causing Stoge to assume a safe speed also. They travelled on as the late afternoon darkened into early evening.
The cover of darkness cloaked the
approach of the two StarHawks as they entered the city at a
relatively slow speed, without lights. The city seemed dead, an
eerie stillness that was occasionally broken by the distant sound
of sporadic small arms fire. A careful search of the more wealthy
residential areas for private ships proved fruitless.
Eventually the Rebels and the princess stopped at the preset location, an old boarded-up warehouse. The front was locked and Karlos feared he would be forced to break in, but Asti discovered that the back door was unlocked.
Silently they led the bikes around the building and into the crate-filled interior. Stoge pried open a crate large enough to hold both bikes, and was nearly swamped with a small avalanche of some sort of cereal grain.
"Quick," he whispered, motioning to the bikes.
Frillia's piercing scream echoed from the walls and she leapt on a small crate. Flashing his glowrod down, Stoge saw a small furry rodent wriggling in the grain, then kicked at it in anger as Karlos clamped his hand over Frillia's mouth. In seconds, they fled the building and ran through random sidestreets.
Eventually they stopped to catch their breath. Karlos clamped a hand under Frillia's chin.
"Do that again," he hissed, "and I may as well kill you myself."
The princess nodded, frightened and ashamed. She turned to Asti for support.
"I'll help him," she said flatly. Though she had no intention of carrying out such a threat, Asti felt that the sooner the daddy's-little-girl was brought down to earth the better. "Now how about you show us a backstreet route to the starport?" she added, giving Frillia a chance to redeem her self respect.
"Yes," the princess nodded after a moment, composing herself. "Yes, I can do that. I know the city. Follow me." She took the lead, moving quickly and relatively silently.
They had covered over two kilometers when they noticed gunfire coming from the nearby palace. Frillia's route took them closer, and soon the scene was within sight.
The front doors were now
surrounded by a thick makeshift barricade of vehicles, furniture,
anything those within it could find. The steps were littered with
bodies; civilians, Imperial troops, they could even see two
bodies of the elite paragrav troops. Somewhere in the darkness
the Imperials waited out the siege. Suddenly a hail of energy
hammered from the palace as a large single weapon raked the
Imperial positions. The enemy responded with a volley of fire,
then the semi-stalemate resumed.
"The palace is almost undamaged," Frillia noted. "Why haven't they simply reduced it to rubble?"
"Because it's where they want to put their puppet governor," Stoge spat bitterly.
"I'm going to take a closer look," Karlos said firmly. "The people in there know more about the current situation than we do."
"Be careful," cautioned Asti.
Choosing his path cautiously, the gunfighter crept closer to the barricade, keeping to the other side of the Imperials as much as he could. When he was within earshot he risked a loud whisper, then braced himself as many blasters swung in his direction. When they saw that he was alone, the Perodeenites gave him cover fire and let him in. A few Imperial blaster shots came near him as he ran for the barricade, but his dexterity saw him through safely.
Karlos was horrified at what he saw inside the palace. Most of the inhabitants were civilians, and many were wounded, manning the guns and clearly tired. They gave a rousing cheer when Karlos joined their number. He was met by one of the few surviving officers of the regular army, who told him that the city was now under total control of the Empire and was constantly being patrolled. Those who resisted had been systematically massacred, and the survivors had gathered here, not knowing what else to do. Karlos told them that they could try to reach the forest, where one of the King's patrols would find them. He also mentioned that two others from the Alliance were outside with princess Frillia..
"Hey boys! the princess is here!" the officer announced, and the survivors cheered once more.
..and they were trying to reach the starport. The officer conferred with a few others briefly, then turned to him again.
"The best way we can help the princess to escape is to get as much Imperial attention on us as possible. Go back to the princess, and we'll give another burst from the E-Web. Exactly five minutes after that we're blowing the barricade and charging, some of us might make it. May the force be with you, son."
Karlos slashed himself a black poncho from one of the banners on the walls, and cast his gaze sadly over the people before him preparing to die. Their readiness to lay down their lives rather than be controlled by the Empire moved him deeply, and was a reasoning he identified with very personally indeed. For a moment he cast his mind's eye back to the early days on Agost.. then swallowed, and told the Perodeenites that they would succeed in getting the princess to the Alliance. He left under another volley of cover fire.
He told Asti, Stoge and Frillia of the plan as the E-Web blaster raked the Imperial positions again, and they waited tensely. They heard the muffled clanking of an AT-ST walker stomping past less than a block away, and pressed deeper into the shadows.
There were a series of small explosions from the palace, and the barricade toppled slowly. It landed on the stairs and began to slide swiftly down at the Imperials as defiant shouts and cries erupted from the Perodeen people. They swarmed down the slope, blasters hammering, into the Imperial guns, falling like leaves scattered before a strong wind. Yet they ran on, over the bodies of their comrades and families, and began to make headway. Stormtrooper officers barked orders into comlinks, patrols were diverted from all over the city to attempt to contain the escape.
The Rebels ran, stopping only when they realised that Frillia wasn't with them. She stood transfixed, watching her people valiantly giving their lives for her. Asti studied her features, and saw no sign of the spoiled rich girl. Then the princess turned, her jaw set, and they raced for the starport.
Blood pounded in their ears as
they ran. Streets and blocks blurred into distant memory as their
legs grew tired and their breathing heavy. Frillia was clearly
less fit than the Rebels, but she ran on, holding her sides and
gritting her teeth. The streets were empty and deserted, the
buildings looming over them in the darkness as silent witnesses
of the death of their city.
The Rebels suddenly pointed their blasters at a house at the same time Frillia's senses registered a sound from it. Their investigation found two Perodeenites, one armed with a sporting blaster and the other with an old hunting firearm of some kind. The sporting-blaster-wielder addressed them in a take-charge manner.
"Right, now that you lot have come under our protection, we can co-ordinate our efforts and soon we'll have them Empires on the run. What we want you to do is..." He turned to the other man. "What do we want them to do?"
"Make a flank attack!" the other suggested excitedly.
"Yes, make a flank attack, while we.. er, we'll.."
"Go over the top?" suggested the other.
"Exactly, exactly. We'll go over the top, and then we'll um.. stop, drop and roll.."
The Rebels shook their heads sadly.
"looks like these guys are a few Eguale short of a full paddock," muttered Karlos, twirling a finger around his ear to emphasise his statement.
"Do you know this woman?" Stoge queried, pointing his glowrod at the princess.
"Princess Frillia!" they gasped, dropping to one knee.
The Rebels explained that they already had a mission of great importance. Asti told them to make for the forest, then they resumed their running.
Suddenly a bright light lit up the sky, brighter than the brightest moonlight, as bright as an overcast day. The Rebels immediately sought cover, and were surprised when the light failed to diminish as would a flare. The light hung suspended far above, and Stoge guessed that it must be some sort of unknown Imperial device. They ran on, oblivious to the fact that they had just witnessed the first field deployment of an Imperial Sunsatt in history.
Stoge was beginning to recognise some of the streets that Frillia led them through from their earlier race for the starport, and it was almost in sight when a voice suddenly spoke from behind them.
"All right, Trialeki. Stunned or alive, you're coming with me."
Karlos Trialeki drew his eight-gun as he rolled to one side, attempting to finish in a crouch but instead floundering onto his back. He immediately rolled over, pausing (as did Stoge, Asti and Frillia) in surprise.
Thirty meters away stood a strange sight. An old man, bald with a long white beard and dressed in purple battle armour, stood stooped and appeared to be talking to a glowpost. He continued to imitate a typical bounty hunter from a holovid. Stoge noted that he was completely unarmed.
"So, nothing to say, eh? I'm.." he peered closer at the glowpost, then produced a pair of spectacles and put them on. He turned, and this time looked at Karlos. "Ah!" he said, relieved. He reached for his blaster (which was, of course, not there), patted his empty hip in confusion, then turned and ran.
Karlos started after him, but was halted by Asti. "Come ON!" she said as they all began running again. Karlos thought back to a conversation he had overheard in a cantina in Gaarla. Could this really be Bobb 'the feet'? he dismissed the thought as the spaceport came into view.
They approached it from one side, the mesh fence before them with no sign of a gate. The Rebels crouched under a collapsed awning and studied the scene. Over in the spaceport cantina Imperial troops could be seen, their music and laughter barely reaching the Rebels. Paragrav troops stood at guard at its door, ignoring the party with iron discipline.
The crunch of gravel heralded an approaching sentry. The stormtrooper strode stiffly along outside the fence, blaster rifle at the ready. The four crouched down warily, but the sentry failed to look in their direction until the blaster bolt struck him in the chest.
Karlos looked in shock at Frillia, pointing her smoking blaster at the trooper, a vengeful expression on her face. Not wanting to risk the sound of his firearm, he merely forced Frillia's arm down as Stoge and Asti reluctantly finished off the hapless trooper. When they ran to the fence, Frillia put a knife in him to be sure.
They were lucky. Sound would have alerted the distant paragrav troops more than light, and the blasters were relatively silent. Stoge thought of the possibility of the fence being electrified as he was halfway up it, then he vaulted over the top and ran, keeping low to the ground, toward a cluster of ships.
Giving a wide berth to the dropships, shuttles and TIEs in the vicinity, they approached a small transport that hadn't been there when Perodeen was first invaded. Stoge didn't recognise the type of ship, and reached up to grasp the ramp lever when it discharged an electrical shock into him, throwing him violently to the ground.
"Maybe this will help," said Asti, pressing a red button on the ship's
exterior and deactivating the field as Stoge brushed himself off. They boarded it cautiously, weapons at the ready, but the ship was deserted. It was very unusual in design, and it didn't take them long to figure out that it was one big computer with an engine. Once in the cockpit, Stoge found that it was the Databank 3. The name meant nothing to them.
Karlos, Asti and Frillia searched the ship as Stoge familiarised himself with the controls. After a few minutes at a holoterminal Asti found that the ship was an academic database. Frillia discovered an inactive stun blaster and holster in the living quarters which were discarded for the moment as they considered the problem of getting offplanet safely.
Stoge frowned indecisively, not wanting to risk a sensor scan in case of alerting the Imperials, but not wanting to take off blindly. Finally he decided on the latter course of action.
"Hold onto your buns, folks," he fired the main drive. "Let's see how drunk they are."
The Databank 3 leaped from the launchpad, screaming skyward as it clawed for height and freedom. The invaded city dropped beneath them. There was a sudden <whoomp> as something seemed to grab them, throwing all unseated passengers forward, then it was gone and they were rocketing upward.
"The 'port's tractor beam," Stoge said quickly. "It was close." A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead.
"This is probably a bad time to think of this," Asti pondered, "but how do we get back to the Usurper? The coordinates were on the Fanfare's nav computer, so we need another way to get in touch with the Alliance."
"Two TIEs," Stoge reported helpfully, "following us up. This crate is unarmed. Anyone got an X-Wing?"
"No," said Karlos, "but if we can get away from them we can get home. I know a Rebel contact agent, a man named Bokorr on Agost."
"First things first," said Stoge, and began evasive action.
Though the Databank 3 was slow, sluggish and generally not designed for blasting out of spaceports shortly after an Imperial invasion, Stoge succeeded in dodging most of the lead TIE's first pass. Only one shot caught the hull, and all systems still checked out. As the TIE screamed past, Stoge followed it, attempting to keep only one behind them.
"Feed me the numbers," he told Karlos as they reached the upper limits of Perodeen's gravity well. Karlos related the Agost coordinates as best he could remember, and the nav computer started to crunch numbers happily to itself as they resumed fighting for their lives.
The TIE Stoge was following cut speed, and to the Rebels' surprise slowed to just in front of the Databank 3, waggling its wings before the cockpit.
"Cheeky mongrel knows we're unarmed," Stoge fumed. Such behaviour was extremely rare amongst TIE pilots, and Stoge guessed that they may have been sampling some of the Perodeen bubbly before they took off. Glancing at the sensors again, he saw that the other TIE was not following standard attack procedure either. It slowed visibly, lining up its shot. Stoge swung the ship suddenly.
By luck, design, or the effects of Perodeen liquor, the TIE behind them fired a volley that missed the Databank 3 and hit the forward TIE, turning it into a fireball that lit the sky in front of them. The shock wave followed, then there was only the scream of the other TIE roaring past and the sound of jaws hitting the floor.
Stoge and Karlos uttered some expletives that were foreign to Asti's vocabulary. The TIE circled around for another pass.
"Star Destroyer cresting the planetary horizon," Stoge informed. "It's launching fighters."
"Well, it was good while it lasted," said Karlos as the energy struck the hull. Stoge estimated that they'd survive another pass at most before the TIEs from the Star Destroyer came within range and reduced them to random particles. Unless...
<ping!> went the nav computer innocently.
Stoge wrenched the hyperspace lever, and with a great "YYEEEE-HAAH!" the Databank 3 left Perodeen far behind.
The euphoria of escape had still
not passed three hours later, when the accident happened. A
metallic <FOOMPH> shuddered through the ship and they
dropped out of hyperspace.
"Where are we?" said Frillia as Stoge checked the sensors.
"See that sign over there?" Karlos pointed out the cockpit window.
"No," answered Frillia blankly.
"It says MIDDLE OF NOWHERE," Karlos told her as he left the cockpit.
searching the ship, he found a utility suit which Stoge donned and went out to check the engines. He returned a few long minutes later, somewhat frustrated.
"Hyperdrive mishap," he said gloomily. "The transaxic sedulor is a glob of slag." He glared at Karlos. "You were supposed to give me the RIGHT numbers."
"I did," defended the gunfighter, going over the coordinates in his mind. "116 hmm hmm smm... Did I say 7?"
"You brainless-" Stoge began. Asti grabbed his arm.
"It won't help now," she pointed out.
"Yes!" Stoge raged, walking back into the cockpit. "It won't help the fact that we're somewhere between the backsystems with nothing reachable even IF we had a backup hyperdrive, and a zillionish-to-one chance anyone will hear our emergency transmitter. Even the Empire would have gven us a better chance."
"Great," said Karlos. "Who do we eat first?"
They contemplated their fate with deepening depression. Asti switched on the sublight emergency transmitter and gave their name and coordinates, then lapsed into silence with the rest of them. Karlos thought of the irony that they had been through so much only to die now. Stoge studied his blaster with deep contemplation.
"We have to keep busy," Asti stood up. "I'm going to search the database for anything we can-"
"Gotcha, Databank 3," the comm interrupted. "This is Old Stumpy comin' back atcha. What seems to be the problem?"
Everyone looked at each other. Against all odds, in the game of chance their number had come up. While estimating the days that they might last, someone had responded in only a few minutes.
Old Stumpy had no equipment to repair the Databank 3, so they left it in orbit around a nearby rogue planet, a barren orb of rock that wandered randomly through the galaxy independant of a system. Old Stumpy drove an old space barge and was late already for his delivery, so he dropped them off in the Altorm system. From there they charted an inexperienced young pilot to take them to Agost, and landed in the tightly Imperial controlled spaceport. Karlos did not dare leave the ship on the world he would be most recognised in, so a few minutes after landing, Asti and Stoge (the only members of the original group that had not been on Agost before) found themselves in the Retro cantina at Mol Danta.
Stepping over a small creature that crooned and pointed at his blaster, Stoge appraised the place and informed Asti of his conclusion.
"What a crappy, scum-filled dive," he said.
They approached a thick-set man at a table and Asti boldly addressed him.
"Are you Bokorr?"
"Could be," he responded at once. "Watcha want?"
"Do you know a man named Karlos Trialeki?" Stoge queried.
Bokorr winced as heads turned in their direction. "No," he said. "Never met him." Bokorr then stood up and left the cantina.
They followed him outside and down the road to an alley of sorts. When he turned to face them, Bokorr had his jaw set and said gruffly:
"Never risk my life like that again. You mention the planet's number one wanted man in a crowded cantina, the Empire breaks down your door in the middle of the night. Clear?"
Stoge and Asti looked at each other. Karlos hadn't told them any of this.
"Yes," continued Bokorr. "I got Karlos to a Rebel shuttle a while back. He didn't give his name (I never ask) but since then I've seen enough WANTED posters around to know the infamous saboteur of Imperial assets. What I haven't figured out is how he's still carrying out raids on Agost now when he went offplanet a few weeks back."
"What," wondered Asti, "has Karlos been up to?" the Rebels resolved to question Karlos Trialeki when they got back to the spaceport.
They explained the situation to Bokorr, and he told them he'd use the hidden transmittter on his large skiff, the Centura Celerity, to contact the Alliance. Stoge and Asti talked with him, and they arranged a rendezvous with an Alliance ship back at the rogue planet where they had left the Databank 3. They didn't escape Bokorr without him showing them the Celerity, and meeting the Sullustan copilot, Biel.
When they got back to their chartered ship they immediately told Karlos of his current status on Agost and how he had apparently been sighted on the planet when he was supposed to have been on the Usurper. Karlos told them how there was another saboteur on Agost that wore a poncho and hat, and when Karlos had been captured (before being saved later by Dar) the two saboteurs had been assumed to be one. Karlos' identity was recorded by the Imperials before his escape, so the Empire now thought it was only Karlos Trialeki who had been the thorn in their side on Agost, and placed a bounty on his head. Karlos had never met the other man, but apparently his recent raids had been credited to Karlos.
Without further incident they hyperspaced back to the rogue planet and there met a large Rebel transport. The Databank 3 was gone.
Captain Osann of Imperial counterintelligence straightened his collar and prepared to have his pride damaged- if he was lucky. He considered himself a ruthless, arrogant man who bowed to no-one (as was fitting for an officer of the Galactic Empire), but even ruthless, arrogant men made exceptions when meeting with the Lord Darth Vader.
The door whisked into the doorframe as if wanting to escape from the scene, and Osann sympathised with it. On the bridge, Vader stood looking out
the large viewport and over the awesome mass of the Executor. As the Dark Lord of the Sith turned at his entrance, Osann felt the aura of Vader grasp him in an iron grip, a presence that seemed to fill the room with a chill that constricted the very soul. Bowing quickly, the Captain of Imperial counterintelligence spoke.
"My lord, one of my slicers reports that a copy alarm has been tripped. On the message that you delivered personally." Wisely, he did not bother with excuses. Vader's deep voice hissed through the mask.
"That message was from the Emperor himself, Captain. If it finds its way into Alliance hands and they find that droid, their feeble Rebellion may yet be a threat to us."
"The Rebel that copied it could not have gone far from the station, my lord. Perhaps to Gaarla, or.."
"Do not speculate, Captain- act."
Osann was finding it hard to breathe. Vader continued.
"Find the datastick and bring the Rebel to me. I will have him- or you." Vader turned again to the viewport, and Osann broke away with a gasp, the exchange over. He set off to conduct the search.