Episode 9: The Hunted.
PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them so far).
Asti : Female Young Jedi. Quiet, cool-headed
*Stoge : Brashest Pilot.
Straun Solarwind: Young Jedi, trying to follow in his father's footsteps.
*Dar : Muscled black native. Prefers the ways of his people to technological means. Uses an ornate sword with his great strength.
*Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger. Deadly with firearms. Running from his past.
Surge : Combat Medic. A man of medicine, knowledge and action.
Menarggrah : Tough, intelligent Wookiee.
*DenRama : Independant Sullustan Trader.
*Nels Lulfgren : Streetwise man.
*Only asterisked PCs played in this adventure.
cried Stoge, slapping the cards down with a flourish. There was a
resigned grumble from the other pilots as he raked in the handful
of credits. After losing heavily the first few hands, he looked
close to at least breaking even. Drawing another lidar from his
breast pocket, he studied the tiny lights racing along its
six-inch length, sniffed with appreciation the Delticcirian
tobacco within, then popped it into his mouth and lit it.
As the next hand was whisked in front of him by the dealer he raised them to eye level, studied them thoughtfully and tossed down the seven of sabers.
"Hit me again, Veet" he said out the side of his lidar.
The droid uttered a very human grunt as his small grasping claw, intended for delicate repair work, flicked the pilot another card.
Stoge studied the other pilots carefully. Derrie seemed a bit too smug for his liking, whereas Tesko had his usual deadpan face.
"This hand may have to wait, people" said Veet suddenly. "Flight control just announced that Greer is coming in".
Placing his cards carefully face down on the makeshift table, Stoge stood up and peered over the flight deck and out into space, to where a bright speck grew rapidly in size. It became a snub fighter unlike any they had seen before; stubby, arrowhead-shaped and without S-foils. It smoothly passed through the atmosphield and eased to the Usurper's deck.
Tesko whistled in appreciation. "Gentlemen, we have our first A-Wing".
They gathered around as Greer popped the canopy and grinned at his audience. "Handles like a dream. And fast!" he turned to Stoge. "Sorry chief, but your Z-98 ain't the fastest in the sector no more".
Stoge studied the cannons jutting from the side of the fighter. "It doesn't have much punch though. Anyway, it depends who's flying the thing".
Greer eyed him sidelong. "I believe that sounds like a challenge. What say we sign up for patrol at 1600 and see if we can find a nice big Imperial cruiser?"
"Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?" Stoge pondered. "Yeah, that sounds an even match. If we're in the fighters. Now get cleaned up and get to the card table so I can strip you of cash".
Karlos rubbed the polishing rag
absent-mindedly over his small new (and concealable) firearm
while speaking into the comlink. "I want to see you guys
lifting an R2 unit without touching it by the time you get back.
"We will" Asti's voice was transmitted back from the Infidel, easing away from the Usurper's forward docking tube. Karlos hoped the training of the two young Jedi would divert Asti's thoughts from her father's fate as a prisoner of the Empire.
"Menarggrah?" Karlos added. "Keep an eye on them. And no more singing on street corners, got that?"
"Yhrraggh" grumbled the Wookiee positively. The Antrola Medium transport, with Straun also aboard, glided away with speed and then shrank to a speck, disappearing toward faraway Agost.
Dar watched it go from his own quarters, feeling a deep sense of longing to return again to his people. Yet he never could, without completing the quest assigned him by his tribal elders; to stop the Empire's oppression of his tribe by killing the Emperor.
It had taught him patience. His association with the Alliance had shown him that the victory could not be won with a single battle, but was a journey that needed many small steps, such as the mission they would be carrying out tomorrow.
The Rebel Alliance was not self-sufficient. It needed a complex network of trade and supply, and tomorrow he, Karlos and Stoge (Surge was needed on the Usurper after a recent battle) would pilot the Supply 6 to the watery Rulanta system, and rendezvous with a Sullustan in the city of Udubu to discuss trading contracts. As a mission it seemed tactically insignificant (Stoge had accepted it with a lot of grumbling), but to Dar it represented progress to be made, to take action to bring the freedom of his people closer.
To the tall, dark warrior, it was as simple as that.
Rulanta was radiant, its
green-blue surface reflecting much of the dazzling brightness
beamed to it from the white-dwarf triad that centred the system.
Dar, still reflective, beheld its beauty through the viewport of
the tiny Supply 6 and marvelled at a world almost
totally covered by water. A more stark contrast to his home world
of Agost would be hard, if not impossible, to find.
The aesthetic appeal of the system was totally lost on Stoge, sitting bored at the controls. The pilot turned to Karlos.
"Ever do much fishin'?" he queried the gunfighter hopefully, then took Karlos' homeworld into account. "Guess not" he mumbled in answer to himself, then brightened. "So I'll have to show you the ropes! field-fishin', beam-fishin', even wrestle-fishin, if the fish're big enough".
The gunfighter nodded slightly. "I'll be in anything but a bath" he quoted. Stoge grinned in appreciation.
The city of Udubu, in appearance, was a paradox. Seemingly (from a great height) a piece of flotsam on the watery surface, it was a huge metropolis many kilometres wide; adorned by streets and towers, kept afloat by native technology and constant maintenance.
Dar breathed deep of the fresh, salty air as the ramp of the Supply 6 eased to the spaceport tarmac. He concluded he was going to like the Rulanta system.
Karlos strode down the ramp and stopped, glaring suspiciously beneath his hat as something caught his eye. Four docking bays away, refuelling noisily, sat the Ghtroc freighter Sleek Beak, whose crew had given them stiff competition in obtaining their first cargo run. In the bargain its crew had inspected the Infidel, and Karlos had since suspected that they'd seen the Rebel insignia on Stoge's flight helmet.
One of the Sleek Beak's crew acknowledged them with a nod as they passed the freighter on the way out of the starport. Stormtroopers at the entranceway paid them no heed as Stoge hailed a speedercab and Karlos haggled over the price.
The Imperial presence on the waterworld's city remained strong as they cruised into its heart (Dar even spotting an AT-AT's giant figure striding through a street!) and before long they were deposited in front of the rendezvous point, the Gett Slosht cantina.
Apart from the great
semi-transparent, domed ceiling overhead, Karlos saw nothing out
of the ordainary. Beings of all kinds sat, slumped, crouched and
hovered at the tables ingesting a variety of unknown substances.
A dance floor and sabacc table completed the typical scene. Stoge
immediately headed for the latter.
"I can't see a Sullustan here" Karlos commented to Dar after a quick scan of the crowd. The tall warrior did not reply, but instead sniffed the air and gave a puzzled look. He approached the bar.
"An Eguale steak" he suddenly stated in a low voice, startling the bartender.
"Comin' right up" said the squat, hairless being. "We just got these in from out the rim.." whistling, it produced a fine Agostian Eguale cut from the hiberfreeze and dropped it on a sonic grill. Instantly a mouth-watering smell wafted over the patrons accompanied by a sizzling sound.
"Make it two" added Karlos, wondering if Dar usually ate them raw.
Stoge's initial high spirits were
beginning to sink.
He'd had no trouble joining in on a game, and was seated at a table with two human women, a Twi'lek, a thin player apparently composed of jelly, and a small man with beady eyes who seemed to be in luck. Stoge had lost the first two hands (the first intentionally).
As the jellyman oozed the next hand's winnings over to itself, one of the women tossed her cards to the table and stood up. "I'm out" she stated the obvious. "Until next week, gentlebeings".
"If there's a vacant place," said a voice behind Stoge, "mind if I join in?"
Approaching the table was a man that immediately gave the impression of street wisdom with a touch of the exotic. He wore an open-collared shirt with lacy sleeves, black pants that fitted to the skin, black boots to the knee, and a headband pressed into his curly hair above his large, circular earrings. A blaster carbine hung at the ready on his hip.
"Please" the beady-eyed man motioned him to the table. The stranger replied with a slight nod and took his place in the game.
Hands came and went. Stoge's luck improved and he had made a small profit by the time the game ended. The newcomer had fared better, facing both wins and losses with a happy-go-lucky, good-time attitude.
"I like your style, bud" Stoge offered a hand. "Stoge's the name".
The hand was shaken firmly. "Nels. Nels Lulfgren".
The music changed and the patrons on the floor began to gyrate in a perculiar fashion. "What're they doing?" Stoge asked the woman at the table.
"A new dance from Mon Calamari" she answered.
The pilot glanced back at the floor, then to the woman. "I'll be in anything but a bath. Wanna try it?"
She studied him for a moment, then they stood up and went to the dance floor where, by gaping like a fish and flapping his arms like fins, Stoge made a complete idiot of himself.
The afternoon had become night.
The two drinks sat side by side in their transparisteel containers, burbling furiously as if in conversation, a small grey rock slowly dissolving in each. Nels eyed them doubtfully.
"Centukki Burbinn W'iskis" Stoge breathed in anticipation. He lifted the drink to ready position (motioning for Nels to do the same), mentally browsed the rowdy pilots' drinking songs at his disposal, then settled on a mere "Down the hatch!", and the two slammed the foul liquid in unison.
The drink required a hardened digestive system and a bit of luck to keep down. Nels and Stoge suddenly staggered a bit as if the gravity had suddenly shifted to 7G, then Stoge flicked his thumb up in victory, giving a hearty smile. It lasted two and a half seconds, which was the time it took for Nels to vomit over him on the way down to the floor and blackness.
Early morning found the two of
them in a room above the cantina, to the side of its great dome.
Karlos entered the room, beheld the corpse-like figures and
turned the lights on at maximum intensity. He gave an evil smirk
to Dar, who followed him into the room with a tray of fried
leatherbird eggs for breakfast.
"Ugrphgg" said Stoge painfully.
Karlos eyed him with interest. "I think he's learning to speak Wookiee" he pondered. He nudged Nels with his foot but the man stayed immobile, laying where the cleaning droid had dumped him.
Dar picked up Stoge who, in betrayal of his favourite saying, had a bath.
DenRama, originally of Sullust,
shuffled into the Gett Slosht cantina and became all business,
greeting the Rebels and discussing contract terms before he had
even settled himself at the table. He outlined his proposal while
absently patting his pet, a small furball that sat on his
shoulder gripping with its tiny claws. Within a couple of minutes
Stoge decided that Karlos and Dar were handling things well
enough and headed to the bar (where Nels was), and purchased a
five-pack of lidars.
Leaning on the bar, he looked over the small, scattered collection of beings that had wandered in that morning. Two Mon Calamari held an animated discussion in one corner (there seemed to be many of their race on Rulanta), a group of assorted life forms chittered near the doorway, Two cleaning droids buffed the dance floor systematically, and to his left a thick-set Gammorean mercenary stood at the bar and contemplated his nose.
Stoge lit one of his lidars and puffed on it with satisfaction, then offered one to the Gammorean. "Smoke?" he queried.
The Gammorean took the offered object, studied it for a moment, then ate it noisily, its tiny lights sparking as it was crunched to oblivion.
Stoge studied his own lidar thoughtfully, then reversed it into his mouth and chewed. The lit end burned his tongue savagely and he spat it to the floor where it was instantly retrieved by one of the cleaning droids.
The other droid wheeled over to Karlos, interrupting the conversation at the table. It produced a small card and handed it to the gunfighter. Karlos looked at it uncertainly. It featured a large logo of what appeared to be an iceberg floating in an ocean of blood. Below it was written:
Today my vengeance
The Ice Man.
Karlos had just begun to process the meaning of it when the gigantic dome overhead shattered into a thousand pieces and four blue-armoured figures dropped into the cantina with the debris, blasters firing.
As the deadly shards of shattered
transparisteel showered the cantina the inhabitants scattered,
screaming in several languages. One of the Mon Calamari was
gunned down where he stood, an expensive drink tumbling from the
salmon-coloured hand and spilling across the floor. Another
well-aimed shot flashed down and caught Nels directly below the
left shoulder, severing the arm in a spray of energy. It fell to
the ground twitching, sparks crackling from the protruding wires.
Nels glanced down at the prosthetic arm. "Damn" he stated. "I hate it when that happens". He grasped a chair uneasily as artificial pain swept over him, then reached for his blaster carbine.
Dar heaved over a table to use as cover while Karlos sprang from his chair and drew in a blur. He shot one of the hired killers on the right side of his jetpack, the shot almost killing the man even before the jetpack arced him into the wall with a crunch.
Stoge shot and wounded another one. He looked around and was surprised to see that the Gammorean had fled, along with the rest of the civilians. In front of him, Nels hefted his blaster in his good arm and fired repeatedly, one shot finishing off the hunter Stoge had hit. He then sank to the ground in obvious pain and grasped for his other arm.
DenRama had produced a curious weapon. It seemed to be a metallic hollow frisbee, held by a shaft through its centre. It hummed like a vibroblade as the little Sullustan brandished it angrily at the armoured humans that had interrupted his business.
The remaining two bounty hunters lowered themselves toward the floor to finish off the remaining rebels. The moment they came within reach of the floor, Dar sprang from behind the table and despatched one with a single mighty sweep. The other one moved to gun the warrior down as he finished the swing, but Karlos fired first, the man's jetpack exploding in a fireball. Flames licked at the furniture and began to spread.
"Let's get out of here!" Stoge exclaimed, sprinting out the door. He had only taken a few steps outside before blaster energy splashed at his feet from the other four bounty hunters that dropped from above the doorway and vanished into the cantina, looking for Karlos.
Stoge turned to pursue, hearing the military tramp of feet behind him a moment before the voice reached his ears.
Stoge turned around and was startled to see two patrolling stormtroopers that had just arrived. One pointed an armoured hand at the shattered cantina roof. "What's going on?"
The rebel pilot suppressed the urge to start blazing away at them at point blank range and, perhaps uncharacteristically, used tact.
"About time you got here!" he roared. "Terrorists are shooting up the cantina! Move it or you'll lose them, they're wearing blue.."
One of them pointed his blaster at Stoge uncertainly as the other one reported in via comlink. With a hurried "Stay here" they clomped off to the cantina.
Just as Stoge thought he had seen more than his share of surprises that day, he was beckoned from an alleyway with a whispered "Addabuddabub". It was DenRama, the Sullustan. Behind him were Karlos, Dar and Nels, who had slipped out the back of the cantina.
Leaning on the wall of a massive
residential tower, Karlos tried his best to look as if he
belonged there. This was next to impossible, given the fact that
standing next to him was a heavily muscled, near-naked human
almost two metres tall. Still, with all manner of aliens walking
by, there was a good chance they wouldn't be noticed. They rested
from the long walk.
Stoge appeared from the corner to their right and motioned for them to follow. "I think you'd better take a look at this" he said, his voice showing both nervousness and anger.
They stepped around the corner and found themselves once more across from the starport. A large group of stormtroopers had sectioned it off and were engaged in searching anyone going in.
A clue as to why was apparent when they spotted the Supply 6. Even at the distance they could see the word "REBELS" painted all over it in a bright, luminescent red paint. As if on cue, the Ghtroc freighter Sleek Beak left the spaceport in a blast of engines and arrowed into the sky.
Stoge bitterly cast aspersions on their ancestry. Dar motioned for him to be silent.
"Bloody Imperial bastards!!" spat a voice next to Denrama. An old, bearded man stood nearby, leaning on a stick and waving a grubby hand at the collection of stormtroopers.
Karlos winced at the volume of the comment (though he agreed with the sentiment wholeheartedly). "Not so loud, old man" he cautioned.
"I like this guy!" Stoge added his opinion.
"Wimpy white poofters, the lot of them!" the old man croaked. "And everybody just sits here and takes it!"
"Well" said Stoge doubtfully "not ALL of us".
The old man seemed to brighten. "You guys got the guts to stand up to 'em, huh?"
"That's us!" Stoge puffed his chest up a bit.
Instantly a small white ball dropped from the old man's fist as he pointed a finger at them and screamed deafeningly "REBELS!!! REBELS!!" the ball struck the ground and released an obscuring column of smoke that was gone in a moment, along with the old man.
Where he had been lay a small ice cube that started to melt. Stoge stood there gaping like a fish at the stormtroopers running toward them until he felt Dar's hand grab his collar and pull him backward. Once again, they ran.
A metallic rasping issued from the
sliding door as it slid back on rusting runners, setting Karlos'
teeth on edge and exposing a darkened warehouse.
"It ain't much" Nels shrugged apologetically "but it's home". He stepped inside, motioning for them to follow with the replacement arm he now had attached to his shoulder (purchased from a backyard medic he knew).
Dar followed him instantly. The ease with which Nels had lost the pursuing stormtroopers in the streets of Udubu had impressed him greatly; Dar valued knowledge of the local terrain, whether it was composed of grasslands or metrotowers.
They sat on some rough crates and rested their weary legs. Karlos attempted to both search the warehouse for possible threats with one eye and watch Nels with the other. The one-armed man may have helped them elude the Empire, but now he knew that they were Rebels and the crew of the Sleek Beak had shown them just how dangerous that knowledge could be. As if that wasn't risky enough, they had followed him into his own territory. He seemed trustworthy, but the word "trust" did not rise easily to the lips of Karlos Trialeki. Though they were weary, he resolved to stay awake.
Dar pondered their predicament. Though the starport was being carefully monitored by the Empire, it was doubtful an active search for them was being carried out merely on the screaming of an old man (even a bounty hunter disguised as an old man). Still, the city was very tightly controlled, and any attention-gaining action would bring a swift Imperial response. They would have to be careful.
DenRama thought hard. He'd just come to make a simple, honest deal and now he may have been branded a Rebel. Getting offplanet for him was not a problem, because he had his own ship. Hmmm, maybe if he got the Rebels out there'd be a sizeable bonus in it for him...
An exhausted silence settled on the room. Nels flexed his new arm experimentally. It creaked. As everyone gradually slumped into various poses of rest and/or sleep, Nels' hand crept toward a large breast pocket as he peered at Stoge across the room.
Karlos, his eyes narrowed to slits, slid his hand toward his eight- gun in an apparently innocent movement.
Nels' hand reappeared holding a deck of cards.
"Let's play!" Stoge slid up a crate.
Midway through the sixth hand,
Karlos perked up unexpectedly.
"What's that?" he said, drawing his gun with a click.
Stoge and Nels peered into the shadowy recesses of the warehouse with some scepticism. "I don't hear anything" Stoge opinionised, wishing that Straun or Asti were there with their sensing abilities.
"Probably a Crat" said Nels. "There's a big nest of 'em somewhere in the back there, and they get into the-"
A blackened window squeaked open, letting a stab of light into the shadowy warehouse. Silhouetted within the bright square was a stocky man in grubby clothes hefting a blaster carbine in one hand and a heavy globe in the other. He tossed it among the rebels.
It was a thermal detonator.
Stoge shouted a profound comment
involving faeces that instantly had everyone wide awake and
scattering behind crates.
"There are at least four" informed Dar, squinting out the window and waiting for the blast.
Nels' head snapped toward the rear of the building as the sound of hammering reached their ears. "More at the back!" he shouted, springing in that direction with blaster drawn, Karlos behind him.
DenRama, from solid cover, flicked a tiny holdout blaster into his hand and killed a pudgy human that leaped through the window at them. He shouted for Stoge to join in anytime, for the pilot just sat there. This was not because he did not understand Sullustan, but because he had a question that needed answering.
Why would thugs throw in a thermal detonator and then leap in after it?
Dar and DenRama were more concerned about taking cover from the forthcoming explosion than the blaster bolts coming in through the window. Stoge vaulted the crate he had been behind and threw himself at the deadly bomb.
He picked it up. It seemed rather light.
Stoge smiled to himself, and lobbed it out the window. Their attackers seemed totally unconcerned, which either meant that they had an innate resistance to being blown to bits or it was a dud.
So, thought Stoge. It's down to just a blaster fight.
Dar stood up, drawing his Agostian blade, and began to make his way toward the window.
Okay, amended Stoge, a blaster and sword fight. He began to blaze away amid the hammering from the back door and an incomprehensible Sullustan war cry.
When the two reached the rear of
the large building, Nels ran up a steep set of stairs to a
vantage point above. "It's my brother!"
he spat to Karlos. "This time he dies!"
he began to fire out a small opening, through which floated the
sound of screams.
Karlos threw open the door. About ten men were in various combat positions, such as "prone firing", "shooting from the hip" or, in the case of one of them, "dead on the street". In the midst of them stood a tall, thin man in a long overcoat with features unmistakably similar to Nels'.
"So" he began dramatically, and died when a shot from Karlos hit him in the chest.
The gunfighter didn't hesitate, and with shots spattering the doorway around him and Nels firing down from above, he dodged forward fanning the eight-gun's hammer with his other hand, all speed and concentration. A shot from Nels whined past uncomfortably close to his head, then he threw himself back through the doorway as his eight-gun ran empty.
Pulling an eight clip from his belt, he snapped it into the gun and brought it back into play, but there was no need. Through the gunsmoke he could see only two survivors, now in the position of "fleeing in blind terror".
He stepped back as Nels came back down the stairs in a mood of barely suppressed fury, muttering to himself.
They ran to help Stoge, Dar and
DenRama, but there was no need. Since Stoge and DenRama had been
in good cover their assailants were forced to move to the window
for a clear shot. Dar had leaped out the window with his sword
and cut them to pieces, suffering only a slight scorch to the
"They weren't very well trained" Karlos observed, studying the bodies as Stoge pocketed the fake thermal detonator.
"Muggers" shrugged Nels. "Street thugs who aren't used to people shooting back, let alone combat veterans. My brother.. deserved it, the bastard" he had trouble forcing the words out.
<klak> went something outside the front door. As the others gave solemn, concerned nods to Nels' ramblings, DenRama went to investigate with caution, reasoning that it may have been someone they missed or someone else drawn by the sound of fighting. Outside the door was a thick metallic disk-like object that the Sullustan immediately recognised as a powerful, portable holoprojector with some markings on it.
He looked closer. The markings consisted of what appeared to be an iceberg floating in a sea of blood.
Mouthing expletives, he stepped back as the air above it shimmered into a well-rendered Rebel Alliance insignia over twenty feet tall. The hologram rotated placidly as an amplified voice boomed "REBELS....REBELS...REBELS..", echoing through the narrow streets.
"Let's get the hell out of here!" yelled Stoge. He drew his blaster again and squeezed off a shot at the projector that missed. He turned to comment to Dar only to find that he, along with everyone else, was in the process of vanishing into the distance.
Following at full pace, Stoge decided that this bounty hunter, the Ice Man, was really beginning to rile him.
Dar paused momentarily and cocked
his head slightly. In seconds they could all hear the
disconcerting sound of approaching engines, but the narrow
streets distorted the sound so that it was impossible to
determine the direction.
DenRama muttered to Karlos, who nodded quickly.
"Split up!" he said. "We'll meet at the starport- his ship's in docking bay 28".
"This way" Nels motioned for Stoge to follow him and they left at a run. The others scattered in different directions.
Dar made it another four blocks
before running into the Empire. The squad of stormtroopers fanned
across the alley when they spotted him and advanced slowly,
setting their weapons to stun as they did so. Dar immediately
flattened himself against a shopfront for cover. He tried the
door. It was locked.
"You two! stay back" came the tinny, filtered voice of the stormtrooper sergeant. "Check for more and watch for a decoy. Call in the other section".
Dar pondered his options, thinking frantically before a course of action was provided by the sight of a door ajar on the far side of the street. He ran for it, stun energy sizzling the air behind him as he covered the gap. One trooper advanced quickly and intercepted him only to be struck down with his Agostian blade as Dar vanished through the doorway.
Inside a terrified family screamed and cowered among furniture. Dar didn't bother to glance at them as he vaulted a table and ran toward a far doorway. As the minions of the Empire entered the room, Dar flung open the door, sprang through and found himself in a closet.
And sprang out again.
Sweeping the air before him with his sword, Dar barged through the stormtroopers, shrugging off a stun shot to his back as he fled out of the house. He sprinted back in the direction of Nels' house in a near-panic, imagining the troops closing in around him. Briefly a memory flashed through his mind, when he had been stunned and captured while infiltrating a garisson in the Fo system.
And when he rounded a corner and four stormtroopers shot him down like a rag doll, the result was the same.
The whine of a speeder bike grew
louder in their ears as Nels and Stoge flattened themselves
against a wall, blasters drawn. The bike seemed to be approaching
"Ready?" Nels whispered.
Stoge nodded and they sprang from cover. The speeder was less than twenty metres away, and its rider had just spotted them when Stoge's shot hit him in the chest and knocked him backward onto the ground. Nels grasped the steering vane of the bike and jumped on it. "Come on!" he beckoned to Stoge.
The rebel pilot moved to comply when a stun shot hit him in the waist. Nels looked behind them and saw another two bikes accelerating toward them. "I'll draw them off!" Nels cried, gunning the engine. He made it another seventy metres down the street before the back of his mount was blown off with bike cannon fire and he crumpled to the street.
Stoge had been only momentarily dazed by the stun shot that had hit him, but he played dead as one of the troopers approached. Blaster still in hand, he waited for the moment to pounce.
It never came. Trained to take no chances, the scout trooper shot him again as he lay there.
DenRama heard firing echoing
through the streets behind him, and coldly pondered that this was
to his advantage. The more attention that was directed at the
rebels, the less there was directed at him.
A long shot blew out a window nearby. Flicking his head around, the Sullustan saw two soldiers of the Impeial regular army some distance down the street. At a waddling run, the middle-aged Sullustan fled.
Choosing streets at random, he suddenly came upon a huge marketplace. It was more than a hundred metres across and filled with thousands of sentients either hawking bargains or buying them. Hearing ths soldiers still in close pursuit behind him (one chattering into a comlink), DenRama proceeded to use his lack of height to lose himself in the crowd.
He pushed through a scattered sea of legs and waists. The crowd was quite spread out and there were numerous open spaces, but he considered himself quite safe, unless a very tall Imperial trooper passed close by.
"SULLUSTAN, YOU ARE ORDERED TO SURRENDER"
The authoritative, amplified voice booming through loudspeakers caused Denrama's head to snap toward the sound. He gasped.
Standing at the far end of the mall, perpandicular to where he had come in, stood the towering figure of an AT-AT! As it directed the search for the group of rebels, it focused its attention on DenRama.
DenRama crouched slightly and tried to push further into the crowd, thinking the thoughts of a businessman under pressure. The troopers that he'd run away from must have reported that he'd entered the marketplace, but surely they couldn't pick him out among the crowd. It was clearly a bluff, one that-
<BZZKOOMPH!> The secondary guns of the mechanical giant fired callously into the throng, some fifteen metres away from DenRama. Two hapless sentients were incinerated by the blast and seven others flung screaming into the scattering crowd.
DenRama stood in shock as people fled in panic. In parts of the galaxy where rebellion was unknown, the Empire had been known to be trigger-happy, but this was cold-blooded slaughter! The amplified voice boomed again over the sound of the screams, this time in tinny, droid-translated Sullustan.
"REBEL, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FLEE".
Rebel! DenRama fumed. He had merely been trying to do a bit of honest business (this time), and had been branded a rebel! In a display of blatant self-centredness he ran for it, not caring if the Empire shot a few more innocents. As long as it wasn't him.
And shoot again they did, killing five more people before his eyes with destructive, well-placed warning shots. When the AT-AT kneeled with a crash and disgorged a large group of stormtroopers, DenRama drew his vibroring and angrily prepared to fight, by now standing alone in a large empty space.
In less than a minute he was ringed by blaster rifles. When the fiesty Sullustan finally surrendered, binders were roughly snapped on his wrists and he was kicked into oblivion by white armoured boots.
Karlos Trialeki was getting tired.
He'd been running for ages, and just when he thought he was in
the clear he'd hear or see another part of the Imperial cordon
that had apparently sectioned off the entire area. Periodically
Karlos raised his eyes to the sky to see if the search was being
directed from the air (he had fallen for that during a raid on
Agost), but saw nothing. He considered that the bounty hunter
that had called the Empire in must be enjoying his little game.
Entering a large open area, he heard then saw a crowd pouring down a main street and fleeing across the open space screaming. He barely had time to wonder what they were running from when he saw on the far side of the crowd a two-sentient Imperial speeder with a mounted riot gun, about the same time as the driver spotted him.
The speeder moved forward, but more than a hundred hysterical beings were between them. With a powerful whine the riot gunner opened up, the gun sweeping before the speeder as a hose of stun energy. Off to its left, a lone stormtrooper picked his way through the crowd and set his blaster rifle to stun.
Karlos turned and ran, thinking furiously. The speeder would not get to him in time, so if he ran in the direction the crowd was fleeing and joined them a block or so away he should be safe. Then to the starport..
Then the blaster rifle shot hit him in the back, and thinking ceased.
Slowly, Dar opened his eyes. All
was silent. It was a better feeling than the other time he had
been captured by the Empire. He had awakened on a torture rack.
He was lying on the floor in a small cell with a barred door and window. Around him were the others, also prone. Nels looked injured and DenRama was a mess. He had an awful headache and, quite predictably, all their weapons and equimpent were gone.
He stood up shakily and shook his head to stop the floor rocking. It didn't. Looking out the window to see an ocean horizon, Dar realised why. They were on a sail barge, far out over the ocean.
Stoge raised himself wearily on an elbow and winced. "Man, what was I drinking?" he mumbled, then seemed to acknowledge reality.
Dar roused them all, seeking to pool their intellects before any of them were taken for interrogation or an opportunity to escape presented itself.
^We've been out for a long time^ informed DenRama, looking out the window at the suns.
"First things first" said Karlos, cracking his knuckles. "Let me have a look at this lock".
He stepped to the door and kneeled, studying it carefully. A frown crossed his features and, reaching forward, he pushed the door open with an ominous creak. He gave a puzzled look to the others.
"Never look a gift Thumper in the mouth" said Stoge, stepping forward. "If they're stupid enough to.." he fell silent as he stepped through the doorway.
On the floor of the corridor beyond lay the corpse of an Imperial guard, apparently having been gutted by some sort of bladed instrument. On the wall above the gruesome sight, written in the blood of the guard, was:
Have a nice day.
The Ice Man.
Dar crept up to the end of the
corridor, then motioned the others up to him. Two more guards lay
in their rec room, also slashed to death horribly.
"He could have killed us all" Karlos stated the obvious. "He's toying with us again".
"This guy is an UTTER bastard!" Stoge spat.
^Over here^ called DenRama, investigating another doorway.
Inside a storage room were their weapons and equipment. Some items had cards attached to them, similar to the one that Karlos had been given in the cantina, with messages attached. Karlos' gun had a card that read:
Nice weapon. Wait
till you see mine.
The Ice Man.
DenRama's fuzzy pet was impaled on
the wall with Nels' vibrobayonet.
The Sullustan wept as Nels read:
Aw, ain't he cute?
The Ice Man.
They donned their weapons with a
degree of nervousness. The corridor led them past ghastly scenes
of slit throats and up onto the deck of the sail barge. There was
no evidence of anything living.
"He killed everyone on this thing" Nels said in a small voice. "Just to freak us out".
The city of Udubu could be seen on the horizon, a speck across the waves. Aft they could see an escape pod bay jutting upward from the deck, and toward the bow a staircase vanished below, under a sign that said 'bridge'. "Let's see if we can get this thing running" said Stoge, heading down.
Control of the barge was directed by a strange arrangement. In the very depths of the ship, the controls were run directly from the drive itself. The engine was a very non-Imperial bank of oversized power cells and a massive regulator. Attached to this was a digital counter, some sort of power inversion device and a small card that said:
The Ice Man.
A shock of adrenaline hit them.
Karlos, who had demolitions training, studied the device quickly
and glanced to the timer. It was down to about fifty seconds. He
might be able to disarm it, but at best it would take a minute
and a half.
"I suggest we run like hell" he concluded. Stoge was already halfway up the stairs. The room began to fill with an ominous hum.
"I can stop it" Nels announced. He bent to the task eagerly and fiddled. The timer continued to tick. He furiously tried to figure out the workings of the bomb and failed. Stubbornly, he attempted to try again until the firm hand of Dar clamped down on his next and dragged him up the stairs and into the sunlight with twenty seconds to go.
Stoge had powered up the escape pod at the rear of the barge. They threw themselves into it and Karlos slammed the door as the deck began to shake.
Stoge studied the controls and gritted his teeth. If the sluggish engine fired in time they would blast clear. If not..
^Any second now..^ said DenRama.
When the engine fired and the pod launched itself into the air Stoge felt a sense of relief that lasted for almost a second, by which time he realised that the Ice Man had tampered with the thrusters. The pod spun downward in the water, diving underneath the barge as it blossomed into a fireball above them. Debris speared down through the water followed by the hulking mass of the barge that missed them by less than thirty meters. For a few seconds the suction of the barge dragged the pod down with it, then it bobbed to the surface like a cork, tossing placidly on the waves.
"I feel sick" said Nels in the deathly silence that followed.
In the evening twilight the pod
crunched against the seawall of the spaceport. Dar stood uneasily
on the top of it, lifting DenRama up to Stoge's hands above.
Once they were all atop the wall, the little Sullustan led them between the darkened hulks to where his ship lay, a bulbous affair named the Helios. DenRama entered his security code with practiced ease, and the ramp dropped in hydraulic welcome. They scrambled up it and into the cockpit. Cautiously DenRama checked his ship's systems for tampering from the Ice Man (an unlikely prospect, as the bounty had been on Karlos), but it hadn't been touched.
"Let's get outa here!" Stoge suggested the obvious. Even Nels agreed. Sullustan engines whined to life, and the Helios lifted from Udubu spaceport. As their ship arrowed up from the waterworld, they all finally allowed themselves to relax from the Ice Man's relentless hunt.
Karlos pondered their mission as they sped from the planet. They could probably still secure a trading contract with DenRama, but they had lost a ship. The Supply 6 may have been a weather beaten piece of junk, but the Alliance badly needed ships...
Suddenly there was a crackle and the engine noise whined down to nothing. The ship stopped.
DenRama and Stoge studied their instruments. Dar surveyed the technical scene and noted a simple but vital fact.
"Nels is not here" he said.
Karlos looked around in confusion. "I could have sworn he was with us" he said. "I didn't notice him leave the cockpit..." he ran aft to check as Nels' gleeful cackling sounded over the comlink.
"It's taken me a long, long time to track you people down, but it was worth it. You stole my LIVELIHOOD, you SCUM!"
"What is he.." Stoge fumbled for the comm. "What are you talking about, basket case? We've never stolen anything from anybody!"
"Don't play dumb with me" Nels snapped. "It's been almost a year since my ship detatched itself from Kettooine spacedock and went to lightspeed of its own accord. Selling it at the Dravian starport was a big mistake, I have many friends there. You turned it into from my personal yacht into a crushed beverage can, you MONGRELS! So I found you and called in my brother, and you killed him too! Now you're gonna PAY!"
There was a hiss and a deep thumping sound, as one of the Helios' escape pods was jettisoned.
"He's mad" Dar stated tonelessly.
"Mad?" Stoge echoed. "He's an utter loon. What ship is he tal-"
^That ship^ said DenRama, gesturing to the sensors.
A small, battered craft had left the nearby planetary traffic and was making its way toward them. It was the Slave II, the ship that they had called to them via the slave unit they found on Gaarla, and claimed as their own. DenRama focused his sensors on the ship and picked up some startling emanations.
"If you focus on the ship" Nels' ranting continued "you may see that it's loaded with compression explosive. When it hits your ship, you're both particles".
Reaching the dorsal turret, Karlos flung himself into the seat and swung the controls at the tiny escape pod drifting away from the ship. The controls swung, the turret didn't.
"Weapons systems are dead" he fumed over the comlink.
^Just about everything is^ said DenRama, who had run aft. ^Most systems have been cut up with his vibrobayonet^.
In the cockpit of the Helios, Stoge helplessly looked out at the slowly approaching Slave II. He was reminded of the first time he had seen the ship, when it had been lured to the Usurper by Straun's slave unit.
"The slave unit!" the implications suddenly hit him as he flicked on the comlink. "The Slave heads for that little black box, and Nels must have hidden it on this ship! If we can find it and kick it out the airlock, we're safe!"
"It's a big ship" said Dar doubtfully (though to him all ships were big). He turned to begin the search and the passive sensor bleeped.
Stoge glanced at the display. A pale blue, modified YT-1250 was cannoning upward at them from Rulanta. Stoge's nerves tingled.
"The Ice Man!"
It was taking too long.
Dar opened and closed a series of lockers in rapid succession, his eyes scanning quickly for signs of the small homing device that had once belonged to Straun. Above him DenRama wormed his way through some small ceiling compartments with just as fruitless a result.
"We don't have much time" Karlos' voice crackled from the engine bay with an edge of fear.
There was a deep metallic clang, and the whole ship shook. Dar and DenRama jumped, expecting the Helios to erupt in a fireball, but the sound subsided to an uneasy silence. They looked at each other in confusion as a shuddering vibration made the floor tremble.
Stoge burst into the hold, blaster drawn. "The Ice Dude's ship just clamped onto the hull and something is boring into it- he's coming in!" He disappeared down a stairwell in the direction of the sound. The Sullustan and the Agostian followed.
Dar had an idea. "We have a chance" he said. "If we can get past this bounty hunter and into his ship before the Slave II hits.."
Stoge frowned. "We'd have to get the airlock closed or both ships would explosively decompress and cave in like eggshells".
^But even if we do, we'll lose my ship!!^ DenRama gasped. It was his livelihood!
"Karlos is still looking for the slave unit" contributed Stoge "And if the Slave II doesn't destroy the ship and us, the Ice Man will- this guy is in the league of Fett. Now let's get down there and look sharp".
They alighted at the bottom of the Helios' secondary hold, congested with pipes and an old boiler system of some kind. The floor rumbled beneath them, vibrations steadily increasing.
"Get ready" Dar said, and slipped into the shadows. The quiet whisk of a drawn sword accompanied his movement.
Stoge edged toward the front of the ship, blaster pointing at the shaking floor and trying to ascertain exactly where the fearsome bounty hunter would make his entrance. He realised that throughout the whole of the Ice Man's gruelling hunt across Rulanta, they had never actually seen him.
DenRama stood in the middle of an open space between some rusting containers, vibroring in his hand. His ship was in danger from all fronts, and a primal protective anger seethed through him. Dropping his pudgy form into a combat stance, he prepared to repel boarders.
They all stood there for a moment
that seemed to stretch into infinity, the floor trembling in
anticipation and the certain death of the Slave II
crawling nearer all the while. Stoge couldn't tell if it was just
the floor that was shaking, or if he was too.
A section of the floor lifted slightly, then cracked as a gleaming shaft broke through the metal, humming with energy. A thin hiss of escaping atmosphere was drowned by jets of some kind of resin, and burbled into silence.
The shaft split to become a deep hole wide enough to fit two men, and out of the hole soared an imposing figure. The tall bulk of the Ice Man was encased in a pale blue crystalline armour, faceted to reflect his namesake. He entered the Helios firing, the shot from his thick blaster carbine hitting DenRama in the chest and knocking him back into the wall.
Dar watched from the shadows, gauging his enemy and preparing to move when the bounty hunter looked into his eyes and fired. Dar's shoulder exploded with energy and he fell, hissing at the pain.
Stoge flicked the dud thermal detonator into his hand and tossed it down the corridor at the Ice Man. The bounty hunter appraised Stoge in an instant, decided that he was not the type to blow up the ship and kill himself, then shot the orb as it bounced along the floor.
"Dammit, Karlos!" Stoge shouted into his comlink as he dived into cover and blaster fire spattered the floor "Get down here!"
"On my way" came the voice of the gunfighter. "We have to get out of here NOW- we have less than a minute!"
Stoge fired randomly and glanced at DenRama laying on the floor. Things didn't look good. A savage growling sound caught his attention.
With an enraged scream Dar launched himself at the bounty hunter, his ancient sword upraised. Muscles knotted, the Agostian native swung his weapon deep into the torso of the Ice Man. A disbelieving gasp was all the deadly bounty hunter managed to emit before landing on the floor plating. He fired a reflex shot into the boiler, then fell down the boarding tube and crunched onto the floor below, crumpled in death.
[GM's Note: I created the Ice Man as a very tough character, and Dar took him down in one hit!]
Karlos arrived on the scene as Dar
wearily clambered down into the Ice Man's ship, DenRama over one
shoulder. Below him, Stoge ran to the viewport. The Slave II
was just metres away, crawling toward the Helios at a
slow, deliberate pace.
"Shut that lock!" he cried to Karlos as he entered the ship.
The gunfighter moved to comply. With seconds remaining, he had just started to swing the airlock door upward when a heavy weight landed on it, throwing him back.
Nels Lulfgren dropped into the ship, an insane sneer of victory on his face and blaster in hand.
The rebels gaped in astonishment. Nels had been so vengeance-driven that he had jettisoned an escape pod (making them all think he had fled), then stayed on the Helios with the slave unit, avoiding the searching rebels so it could not be found. Seeing his opportunity for escape, he had left the unit on the Helios ("A ship for a ship" he thought) and jumped in amidst the rebels who now wanted his blood.
Dar moved to fight Nels.
Karlos went for the draw.
DenRama lay on the floor and bled profusely.
Only Stoge saw the folly of their actions, but he was too far away. Moved by anger, Dar and Karlos had forgotten that the Slave II and the Helios were about to collide and explode, and the Helios was still connected to the Ice Man's ship with an open airlock!
But as the Slave II's compression explosive detonated, something happened that shook the foundations of the rebels' knowledge of good and evil. Nels had planned and plotted against them for months, had used the Ice Man's hunt to his advantage in getting the rebels alone, had almost killed Karlos in a firefight in the city below, and had now cost them a ship. His vengeance spent, he swung the airlock closed and saved them all as the gun of Karlos Trialeki cut him down.
[GM's Note: The SW RPG has always amazed me with its capacity to change the way hardened roleplayers roleplay. Nels' player has always been purely chaotic with a tendency to anhilate the party around him (one reason I asked if he wanted his guest character to be the previous owner of the Slave II), yet when he played this game he picked up enough of the "movie style" feel to act this way at the climax of the adventure. Everyone in the room was deeply moved.]
Inside the scorched ship that had formerly belonged to the Ice Man, Dar sat on a bunk and jabbed a stimujec into his arm. He didn't wince as pain lanced through him, them faded to a dull throb. Closing the medpac, he thought of how nice it would be to see his friend Surge again.
Karlos leaned against the wall with a sense of numbness and contemplated Nels' actions. The man had tried to kill them all, yet he still felt remorse at his death. To Karlos it had always been so simple; the people that shot at him were his enemies and the people that shot the people that shot at him were his friends. But today an enemy had sacrificed himself for him.
Nobody likes it when their perception of how life works is shown to be wrong.
He sighed and turned his thoughts to evaluation of their mission. They had journeyed to Rulanta to fix a trading deal with DenRama. Since then the little Sullustan had been shot at, called a rebel, been bludgeoned into unconsciousness, had his pet skewered to a wall and then had his ship blown up in his face. Not exactly a raging success.
DenRama lay on the bunk next to him. The Ice Man's craft was not of Sullustan make, but it would be a workable replacement for his lost ship. The first thing to do would be to modify its appearance, so any of the Ice Man's enemies (or even friends) wouldn't be after him. Even so, regular trading would be too dangerous. Hmm, perhaps he could run cargo for the Alliance for a while...