Characters (and what we know about them so far):
*Claymore Trelk: Senator of the Poulos system
Hara-Kalor: Kwol Jedi Padawan
Oord Womba: Republic Investigator
Piban Macrosun: Pilot.
*R0-B1: Protocol droid (?)
Trian Letstra: Street tech
Guest PC: *Snittch: Doogo diplomat.
* Only asterisked PCs went on this adventure
While most of the group heads for the mountains to investigate the mysterious bombings, Claymore and Beeone organise a diplomatic mission to find out why the mong attack the doogo and, if possible, to negotiate peace...
first it was easy going. The mong wobble tanks' advance of the
previous day had virtually carved tunnels in the light forest,
and while the skimmer's advance was slow and cautious the passage
was wide enough not to hamper their progress. The flattened
trunks and undulating gouges in the soil were surrounded by
hundreds of smaller impressions- footprints of the accompanying
mong army. The canopy was still thin enough to let ample light
in, and only the odd leaf stirred to drift down onto the
open-topped flatbed and the seven restless sentients it bore.
Snittch, doogo expert on the mong, was not feeling confident. [I'm not sure about this] he stated nervously. [Why did you organise the expedition this way?]
"What way?" shot back Claymore Trelk, resting an elbow on the light blaster cannon he'd mounted on the skimmer's cockpit.
[This is a diplomatic mission] an edge of frustration crept into the rodent's voice. [We're supposed to be bringing a message of peace].
"We are bringing a message of peace. You told us that yourself." replied the senator. He pointed back to where Beeone sat among the four heavily armed doogo soldiers. "What was that again, Beeone?" he prompted.
"According to their research of mong culture" said the droid "a broken weapon signifies an end to hostility. Hence this" he held up an old sporting blaster that was broken into a V shape.
Snittch wasn't convinced. [Will they even notice the weapon that doesn't work amid all the weapons that do?]
"Actually, it just looks broken- that one works as well" informed Claymore, producing a datapad from his pocket. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing". Flicking it on, he recorded 'Note to self: On future diplomatic missions, conceal weaponry'.
The doogo sighed, turning back to watch their progress as the vehicle glided over short stumps and fallen trunks. His troops grumbled about the journey into almost certain death, and time crawled by in sweaty apprehension.
With barely perceptible change, time and travel stretched the forest into jungle. The humidity rose with the nervousness of the travellers, and here and there hung creepers and vines that slowed their progress. The space above them, once clear to the canopy above, now became littered with vegetation and thick branches that forced the skimmer to keep low to the ground. It was even necessary, once or twice, to get out and chop the vehicle a clearer path.
Then, suddenly, the flattened trail ended in a wall of jungle. The doogo piloting the vehicle eased it to rest, and they climbed out to investigate. Now that the constant drone of the engine had stopped, the jungle seemed to close in with an eerie, oppressive silence.
Blasters were held warily as they checked for a trap. [What does this mean?] said Snittch quizzically, looking at the jungle around them.
[I'm not sure] replied one of the soldiers, studying the ground. [I'm not a tracker].
"Hmph" grumbled Claymore as he turned to the datapad again. Note to self: when following tracks, bring tracker.
A loud, and rude, flatulent sound reach their ears through the jungle. Blasters snapped up in readiness, but there was nothing there. It echoed away to silence, leaving only more confusion.
"Sir?" Beeone pointed upward. "There's a lot of room underneath the canopy here. The tank must have been flown in and dropped".
"That would explain it" the senator conceded, looking at the space overhead and studying the ground. "And it's supported by the fact that the footprints keep going".
no other option, the party unloaded what items they could carry
and continued on foot. The distant blast of flatulence sounded
again, and all except the senator jumped at the unexpected noise.
[There's something big out there] speculated Snittch.
"You" Claymore said, motioning one of the doogo soldiers forward. "We need a point m- er, being".
The soldier cocked his head questioningly. Beeone translated Claymore's order into doogo, and the rodent moved into position thirty meters ahead of them.
The trees grew larger as they walked, and the tracks were easy to follow. There were so many of them, and the thick humus of the forest floor was soft, giving a musty smell of compost as they left tracks of their own. Beeone held the broken weapon in front of him like a shield as they moved deeper into the vegetation.
With barely a hiss of warning, the ground erupted at their feet in a flatulent blast of compost gas. Bodies went flying amid a geyser of rotting leaves and bark. Claymore and Beeone, to the left of the explosion, kept their feet, but Snittch and two of the soldiers were flung into the air.
"Blagh" Claymore gagged at the stench as he moved through the sprinkling leaves to assist. Snittch had smacked into a tree trunk and one of the doogo was draped forlornly over a branch, but nobody was badly injured. They were brushing themselves off when Beeone did a double-take.
"Our point" he said, head snapping left and right in robotic concern. "He's gone".
The soldiers wordlessly formed a defensive circle. Snittch ran forward to where the missing rodent had last been seen, but the blast had obscured all tracks. Spotting something amid the organic debris, he knelt, brushed aside some leaves and stood up again holding the soldier's carbine.
Without conscious thought, Claymore's hand moved to his belt, where a blaster had been in years gone by. "Fan out" he snapped. "Four meter spread search pattern and advance".
The drama of the moment was lost as the soldiers all looked at him curiously. Snittch and Beeone translated, then they all moved into position and crept carefully onward.
A curious sensation enveloped Snittch as they walked. They were surrounded by cover, yet he had never felt so exposed and vulnerable. Mere minutes ago the jungle had seemed to be filled with places he could hide in and be safe. Now those same places had become ominous shadows that watched his every movement. His most silent footstep seemed to crackle betrayal.
[Mittch!] rasped the soldier on the far left, carbine tracking air. [They just took Mittch!]. They noticed- too late- that the soldier on the right was gone.
[It was furry] the soldier elaborated. [Maybe a mong- I couldn't be sure].
Claymore waved the droid forward. "Warm up your mong vocabulary, Beeone. Hold that broken weapon high, and I'll dictate".
"As a councillor of the
galactic senate" he said
with authority, to the silent jungle "I come as a peaceful
emissary to negotiate between the peoples of the doogo and the
mong. To other worlds I represent both your race and theirs, and
would not see the shedding of your blood continue".
Beeone's amplified translation echoed into the stillness. An empty silence ensued, and Snittch had just made up his mind that their assailant was gone when a gutteral voice spoke from an indeterminate direction.
"Mok looobokun duk koorun pa!"
Claymore shot the droid a quizzical look, followed by an impatient one when he didn't respond immediately.
"I'm not entirely sure, sir. My knowledge of their tongue is still quite limited, but It seems to indicate a strong message of contempt for hypocrisy".
Snittch, opposed to the senator's tactics from the start, had already suspected this and dropped his weapon immediately, motioning for the soldiers to do the same. They complied with some reluctance, and soon all weapons save the broken one lay on the humus of the forest floor. They held their paws high, waiting for whatever fate would befall them.
With barely a rustle of vegetation the mong moved into view- twelve of them, from various positions around the expedition. Claymore attempted to speak to them further but they just bound his wrists (and those of the others) with some kind of vine that felt like steel cable. The doogo soldiers were chattering in their own language, and while the senator could not understand the words he knew that they feared for their lives. Truly, he concluded, the doogo knew little of war.
"Beeone" he instructed "tell the soldiers not to resist. If they wanted to kill us they would have done so already". He held out his hands as they all were roped into a chain. "This, apparently, is just what we want- they're taking us to their leader".
miles deeper in the forest, the torrok trees grew. Trunks as
thick as residential towers, they grew only a hundred and fifty
metres high, but their branches spread over a two hundred metre
radius in shallow diagonals. In the dim light that the canopy let
though, giant fungi fanned in half-circle platforms along the
branches, and it was on these that the mong had built their
In spite of his captivity, Snittch was fascinated as they were led along a walkway into the city. He committed everything he saw to memory- mechanical transports that climbed the branches like beetles, huge mushrooms used for overhead shelter, and what appeared to be a metals processing plant.
They were led to some kind of guardhouse, although the term 'house' was loosely applied- it didn't have any walls. The mong that led them began talking rapidly to one of the guards, gesticulating wildly and pointing at Beeone.
"I don't like the look of this" said Claymore. "Can you understand anything they're saying?"
"Not much, sir" answered the droid nervously. "It has something to do with me and, er.. speech. Perhaps I said something wrong?"
Before Flittch could reply, the mong grabbed the droid and carried him bodily along. The rest were prodded along behind, riding a growing sense of alarm.
Claymore attempted to keep calm and think it through. The mong were, by some standards, primitive. Their culture, however, was enmeshed with some quite sophisticated technology, so a pathological hatred of droids seemed unlikely. What then was happening? Did they see him as a machine masquerading as a sentient being? Assume he was the doogo's armoured champion? Hate the colour red?
The ominous parade ended underneath a giant branch that criscrossed the one they were on, as thick as a house. On its underside grew a ferny mass of hundreds of blunt hooks about two feet long. Below it, in front of them, was a wide pit.
One of the doogo soldiers edged forward discreetly and looked over the edge. It was a long way down, inducing a sense of vertigo, and its bottom was an unseen black mass of something. He shuffled back.
"Aagh! Help! What's happening!" cried Beeone as he was held down and boots of a coarse fabric were bound to his feet. Each boot featured a long loop that hung from the heel. A gibbering crowd of mong was starting to gather.
Realisation dawning, Claymore looked across the pit. Sure enough, on the other side a tall, thick-set mong was strapping similar boots to his own feet.
"Beeone" said Claymore as the droid was lifted to shoulder height "You're about to enter personal combat".
"WHAT?" exclaimed Beeone. The loops on his feet were placed over two of the hooks, and he swung free, upside down. His hands flailed wildly before a long club was thrust into them.
"Any suggestions would be helpful" he stammered.
[Don't drop that] advised Snittch.
With jerking movements, Beeone found that he could move the loop from one hook to another and, clumsily but effectively, walk upside down. Across the pit, his opponent was hoisted up to the hooks by his cheering comrades.
"Uh" said Beeone, feeling out of place and into danger. He gave the club a test swing.
With careful and practised movements, the mong started across the pit toward him.
"Help!" shouted the protocol droid.
The mong seemed to take this for a way cry, and gave one of his own. He rushed in and swung hard at the droid's chest, connecting with a bell-like clang that sounded above the cheering. Beeone rocked backward helplessly, then aimed a blow as he swung back. Its success produced a meaty thump that was similarly ignored.
It was a bizarre battle, and Beeone's sensory inputs struggled to make sense of it all. He had not been designed for one-one-one combat with hairy primates while hanging inverted from ferns in a city of fungus. The dizzying drop loomed above him, and a madness of howling assailed his audio as the world swung back and forth. Extending his leg desperately for a far hook, he swung away from the mong.
From among the din, a single phrase was picked up by his audio receptors, filtered for being in the basic language, and singled out for immediate attention. It was Claymore's voice.
Beeone looked down (er.. up) at his feet, thinking with horror that perhaps they might slip off and send him plummeting to an unknown fate, but they had been bound so securely that nothing short of a heavy wallop-
Other circuits were engaged as the implications began to sink in.
The mong moved in again, snarling, but now Beeone had a course of action. Squatting upward, he swung with metallic strength at his opponent's foot. This not only caused severe pain to the mong's toes, but the loop gave way with a dry tearing sound. The mong spun and twisted wildly, now anchored by only one leg, and a startled panic replaced the bloodlust in its eyes.
Before the droid had time to congratulate himself, the mong struck again. It was a hasty shot, aimed at the droid's foot in return, and while the erratic swinging spoiled his aim it was no less effective. The fern hook that supported Beeone's left leg was swatted from the underside of the giant branch, and the protocol droid found himself spinning away, supported by only one loop also.
The crowd was going wild, atmosphere tensing with every moment as the conclusion to the fight drew nearer. Beeone's directional sensor spun kaleidoscopic cartwheels in his head, and the loss of stability threatened to override all input with pure panic. Most mechanical beings were incapable of sensing fear (some battle droids, for example), and Beeone cursed his primary function- protocol droids had to respond to situations as sentients did.
That also meant he could override other inputs. Forcibly giving mental counter-instructions, Beeone gained a more practical level of thought and considered his options. He still had the loop on his boot and, if he tried, could catch another hook and steady himself. Weighed against this was the fact that he was in the middle of single combat and could use the available time to defend himself or attack his opponent.
Chance pendulumed the two combatants toward each other, and the decision was made. Wailing and wishing he had eyelids, Beeone swung at the mong- and missed.
The mong didn't.
The boot being torn from his right leg induced another surge of panic, which could not be overcome. As he fell, further input came to him that was also unhelpful (did he really need to notice that, due to his rate of descent, Dabbadon had slightly heavier than standard gravity?). With the grace of a brick he fell more than twelve stories, and had just observed that the bottom was a muddy bog when he lodged himself in it with a thick <ptoop> sound.
Some of the mong began to scramble down the rough sides of the pit to retrieve him. The mong were cheering wildly and gibbering to each other, and Reepich concentrated hard to try and make sense of it. Claymore didn't know the language, but he felt an air of.. relief?
They listened for a few minutes.
[Of course!] Snittch's whiskers fanned upward with his self-satisfied grin. [It was for the best].
"What happened?" asked Claymore. "Did that gain our trust somehow?"
[Hardly] the rodent replied. [They seem to be judging us individually. We are still doogo, and their enemies. They don't know what to think of you yet, and as for the droid- now they can trust him].
"What?" blurted the senator in spite of himself. "How does that work?"
[Look around you] Snittch gestured over the city. [The mong have fought hard to master the jungle, and they have mastered their machines as well. Then along comes a party where a machine speaks for them- as if R0B1 was our leader, not translator. They needed to know if the machine was subservient, or an aggressor].
A foul stench reached their noses. Beeone appeared at the rim of the pit, covered in thick sludge and, though devoid of facial expression, appeared utterly miserable.
[If he had won, they may have slaughtered us all].
The droid was hauled out of the pit and sat on the ground, oozing.
"Well done, Beeone" Claymore encouraged with a smile. "Good work!"
"Thank you, sir" the droid replied dryly.
At the crown of one of the torrok trees grew a small palace of chitinous fungus. The overlapping fans of mushrooms had no walls, opening the levels to dizzying drops on either side, but they provided the essential functions of sheltering the government and inspiring humility and awe in visitors.
The fanned fungus that the mong used for its architecture also furnished the throne room. King Tollok's throne had a clamshell appearance that made him appear more like a sea king, but he was large, furry, and very powerfully built.
Fourteen of the kings guard ringed the throne with polearm blasters at attention, and Snittch was surprised to find that they were draped in a coarse robe thicker than sackcloth. The mong race wore little clothing, so he guessed that it must have been a sign of status. Hopefully, he surmised, Claymore's robes would indicate similar purpose, and they would not be distracted by a droid speaking for him.
The senator stepped forward and bowed low. "Your majesty" he began, via Beeone. "I greet you as one who is not a mong, yet not a doogo. I see the blood that has been shed, and would see the suffering end for both your peoples-".
"Bortok rrol mon Doogo kanoolya!" the king interrupted with the wave of a paw. "The doogo deserve death, and shall find it" translated Beeone.
"But your highness" Claymore protested "They have not attacked aggressively, and their impact on the jungle-"
"Bortok rrol mon Doogo fonn rollog taabaal!" grunted the king in a dazed manner. "The doogo are the sworn enemy of the people".
Claymore changed tack. "Tell me, then, of the injustices committed against your people".
"Follgonda gool tok vondicha tel" said the king slowly. "The war carries across the.. years?" ended Beeone helplessly.
Claymore grunted to himself as memories of the senate flickered through his mind. The stonewall tactic could only be used when the other party was in a clear position of superiority, and the king was playing it to the hilt. Playing dumb, perhaps- he seemed to be acting like he was doped up on dirty spice. Still, he'd been in this position before and broken through it.
He cleared his throat.
"Your majesty may be unaware-" he began until being interrupted again, this time by Snittch. [Senator!]
"Not now!" Claymore hissed.
[A recess] the rodent implored [call for a recess- now!] His glaring eyes added to its insistence.
Claymore's first instinct was to have Snittch thrown out for his impertinence. He was at the critical juncture of their mission and was not given to being interrupted by people he saw as less important. Still, there was something about the urgency in the doogo's face.
Frowning his displeasure, he had Beeone graciously ask for a moment alone. They were roughly pushed aside into something between a cage and a room that projected from the edge of the giant fungus.
"I've just lost face and momentum" Claymore growled. "This had better be good".
Snittch seemed to lose some of his confidence. [I'm not sure how important it is, but I thought you should know- you humans don't have very good hearing].
[One of the cloaked guard is saying everything the king does- BEFORE the king does].
An icy tingle scuttled up Claymore's spine. Someone dictating everything the king said? He'd only heard of two things that could do that. Brain-altering drugs, and the Jedi. Though the latter could be ruled out, it was clear that the king was being manipulated by the guard.
"Which one?" he whispered.
He stepped out once more before King Tollok. The king glared down his nose at them and was about to say something dismissive when Claymore cut in, forcing Beeone to hurriedly translate. He raised his voice.
"Your majesty, I am a senator of the Galactic Senate. Not only do you have no authority over me, I represent your world to the rest of the known universe. To ignore my counsel is not only foolish, but you risk bringing down the power of the Republic on your kingdom.
That said, I completely understand your reluctance to address me. I am an alien, a foreigner. However I do not believe you, or any of the Mong assembled here, realise that I am not the only one. There is another not of this world, who is hiding here among you and is attempting to pollute your mind!"
The royal court stood frozen. The king blinked twice.
Snittch started to fear for their lives even more. Claymore was risking everything in an all-or-nothing approach.
Claymore swallowed. He had expected more of a reaction, and the guard hadn't even moved. This guy is good he thought. There's only one way I can hope to make him twitch.
"That's right, your majesty. Resist it- you're being controlled by a spy! One who hides in the shadows because he is afraid of you! Aren't you, spy, and so cowardly as to hide behind your veil of secrecy, and not face true justice!" he pointed an accusing finger.
Claymore had expected the cloaked figure to flinch, but what happened next exceeded all his expectations.
The brown mantle swirled away to reveal a cloaked blackness from which an enraged nightmare sprang. It was an alien race reminiscent of a human skeleton, with a single purple gem gleaming from the pale skull. It was dark and it was powerful and the eyes that glared from the sunken sockets projected all that anger at him.
Claymore stepped back
The treetop exploded into action. One of the guard threw himself at the king, taking him off the throne and protecting him with his own body. The others hefted their polearms as a deep purple blade sizzled into existence. Quicker than the eye could follow, two of the guards fell dying as the Sith cut himself some room. Snittch snatched up a blaster and fired wildly, missing the thing as its dark wiry arm lashed out. Spinning an arc of deadly brilliance, the saber flew at Claymore.
look-" began Beeone, his
voice cutting off with his power as his left shoulder was sliced
clean through. The flashing blade missed Claymore by inches as
the 3P0 unit fell lifeless to the floor beside his severed arm.
The senator ducked belatedly, and when he glanced back up the
Sith was gone.
Several of the guards peered over the edge of the fungus to the three hundred foot drop, and they realised that it was too smart to risk taking on the entire Mong city alone.
As relieved chatter began to break out, Claymore knelt and picked up the deactivated lightsaber. As his hand closed on the hilt it was suddenly wrenched toward the edge as though pulled by a strong arm, yet there was nothing there. Claymore doggedly held on, digging his heels in and struggling away from the edge, then the pulling force was gone and he collapsed onto the hard fungus.
He looked at the hilt. Dark and cool to the touch, its sculptured metal gave it an almost chitinous appearance. "Proof" he muttered, slipping it inside his robes.
Climbing wearily to his feet and wiping sweat from his forehead, he looked over to the throne. The king was also regaining his former position, but he had recovered from more than just the shocking events of the last few seconds. Free of the Sith's hold on his mind, his eyes showed alertness, determination and, more importantly, an openness of mind.
"Get my droid, men.. er.. doogo, and be careful with him" Claymore motioned to the soldiers. "Snittch, you'll have to do the translating now, but I think most of our job has been done for us".
The speeder slid up the gentle slope to the doogo city, Mong dignitaries aboard. The doogo soldiers carried Beeone off in the direction of a repair shop, and Claymore was about to follow when he saw the landing pad.
A stubby starfighter sat there, and beside it was a shuttle being worked on by Hara-Kalor and Oord. The senator strode over to them.
"You stopped the jammer?" he said, avoiding greetings in his urgency. "We can transmit?"
"Uh huh" nodded Oord, unhooking the power feed. "But-"
"Then you" -he stabbed a finger at the padawan- "have to call your Jedi Council immediately. That Sith order didn't die out after all".
"I know" the reptile hissed, limping in the direction of the hydrospanners. "But that iss not our mosst immediate problem".
A moment's confusion gave way to an icy tingle. "There's something worse?" Claymore exclaimed.
"Yeah" Oord thumped twice on the hull for Piban to start running preflight checks. "We found a base full of bad guys, and when a fight started they pulled out like it didn't matter. There was another Sith there, and he could have killed Hara-Kalor but didn't. It wasn't until we got back here that we found out why".
Claymore recognised the eyes of a man keeping his fear in check. "Trian found a data disc up there,and once we got back we decoded it. Remember the asteroid field that brought us out of hyperspace and dumped us here? One of the asteroids is their base- a giant rock with ship engines built onto it".
"It looks like they want to cover their tracks. The rock's coming down, and unless we can do something to stop it, this third of the planet is going to be one big cloud of dust!".