Days of Empires Glory

A Walk in the Park

The four block walk described by the Nikto guards at Jotma’s residence was suddenly more like a ten block expedition. Six blocks later and the trio marched into a well lit, though albeit shadowy greenspace cut into the side of the duracrete chasm wall. Littered around the small city park was a collection of construction repulsorcraft, parked in between symmetrically placed trees, and a collection of hydro-fountains. Amid the vibrant green foliage casting impenetrable dark shadows upon the grey permecrete ground, the shape of an enormous black obelisk lay in the center of the greenspace, positioned on its side.

“I thought the guards said we would be at the monorail in no time. I don’t like the looks of this.” Fern glumly pushed the floating repulsor cart ahead of her as they entered the park.

Dax snorted as he stopped to read a plaque aloud “This Park Commemorates the Ord City residents killed by falling debris from the Crash of the Trade Federation Destroyer “The Invisible Hand.” The ship fell from the sky during the Trade Federations cowardly attack upon Imperial Center at the Battle of Coruscant. Jedi traitors, responsible for crashing the ship, are suspected of orchestrating the plot to kidnap the then future Emperor Palpatine. May his grand and beneficent Empire never cease to exist. We will never forget the human lives lost at the hands of Jedi, alien, and droid militants.” Dax stood there for a moment with his hands on his hips “Aliens, droids, and Jedi huh? Why does everyone here seem to forget about Dooku? He was human, and he wasn’t a Jedi.”

“Because history is now written by human bucketheads.” Nolann muttered almost mumbling. “No offense Fern.”

“None taken.”

“Pathetic wretches.” Dax scratched his chin, ruminating for a moment. “Even on Csilla we know our galactic history, you core-worlders really should pay better atten…“ Dax suddenly cut-off as a blaster bolt rocketed from the shadows, hitting him squarely in the chest.

“Dax!” Fern screamed as she turned to watch the blue humanoid fall backward in slow motion. Dax’s body landed with a sickening thud. As she turned back towards park center, Fern and Nolann drew their side arms from the folds of their clothing; the fingers of Fern’s left hand still firmly grasped the grips of the repulsorcart.

“Hold it! Don’t make a move” A commanding voice ordered from the shadows. Lights from an airspeeder on the other side of the park suddenly illuminated the silhouette of a humanoid male standing directly in their path. The hum of repulsorlift engines rose above the drone of city traffic far above. ”There are a lot of us, and only a few of you. Give us the box and we’ll let you go.”

“That’s a bluff.” Nolann said breathlessly, while shifting his weight from one foot to the other; his weapon trained firmly on the silhouette.

“Maybe. But you don’t really know that, do you?” said the shadow masked by blinding headlights, a hint of amusement in his voice. ”Are you willing to give your life for that box?”

“What do you want? Maybe we can work out a deal.” The short Duro’s posture relaxed slightly, his voice hopeful. The unknown person continued to move forward.

“Nolann! What are you doing?” Fern screamed from behind. “They killed Dax!”

Suddenly a shadow rushed out from behind a piece of construction equipment to the right and pulled the 2 meter long box from Fern’s left-handed grasp. In response a shot rang out into the air from Fern’s blaster as she shrieked in fright. Like a starting gun, Fern’s clumsy shot started a cacophony of blaster fire that erupted around the beleaguered duo from every direction. Under the cover of fire the humanoid shadow bolted with the mysterious cargo toward the airspeeder lights.

With no time to respond, the leader of their ambushers was upon Nolann. A swift right from the humanoid’s fist, knocked the Duros squarely in his jaw, as an unseen attacker grabbed Fern from behind. More shapes emerged from the shadows and circled around the fight.

“Let me go!” Fern croaked as she attempted to throw her heel into the crotch of her captor.

As she looked up, still struggling to release her bound arms from her attacker, a new combatant flew into the melee. From the dim park lights she barely made out the features of a reptilian, yet humanoid figure approaching. Like a coiled snake, the creature struck at their ambushers with brute force. A stun baton snapped into its hand from the folds of its jumpsuit, and with one swift motion came crashing down into the back of an ambushers head.

Nolann and the leader of the gang continued their dance. The attacker struck with bare fists again as Nolann attempted to fire his weapon. From the near miss of Nolann’s blaster, Fern discerned a glimpse of a human face, basked in the red light of the blaster bolt as it screamed by. Finally breaking the hold, Fern jumped out of the melee and darted after the shadow pushing the repulsor cart. As she ran by she noticed the reptilian creature brandish a knife, before plunging it into the chest of a nearby human attacker.

“Fern! The Box!” Nolann screamed.

Unable to catch up with the fleeing ambusher, Fern paused a second to to take aim, though her shot went wide. Despite immediate danger, and fear that the cargo would soon be lost, Nolann carefully aimed his blaster at the back of the human pushing the repulsorcart. Risking hitting Fern, Nolann fired a perfect shot. He watched as the bolt tracked into the fleeing man’s back, who then fell, slumping over the top of the cart. The repulsors righted themselves from the unequal distribution of weight on the cart, throwing the dead mass of the body onto the ground.

Behind Fern, Nolann and the mystery ally rallied. With three ambushers now dead, and the mysterious box now back in their possession, the engines of the airspeeder truck revved as it rose from its berth and screamed into the Coruscant night. Abandoned, and alone, the leader of their attackers fled, though not before the reptile attempted to cut him off. Rounding the base of the obelisk, the human ran at full speed out of the park to the north. Nolann popped off a last shot as a final attempt at retribution.

As Fern arrived with the box, her eyes adjusted to the lights from the park. She now saw a large trandoshan male shaking hands with Nolann. “Fern, this is Varik, I called him just before we left Jotma’s. I wanted to make sure we had a little extra protection on our way to the drop off.”

“Glad your did, they almost got us. I’ve got to check on Dax.” Leaving the box with Nolann, she ran over to the fallen chiss. Fern stooped down to read vitals. She then looked up at Nolann “It’s no good. He’s gone.”

“Well, we better go then,” said Varik with a snakelike accent that ended with a quick flick of his forked tongue. “There’s nothing we can do for him now.” Fern attended to Nolann’s wounds, before they departed Monument Park.

The remainder of the journey to the monorail station occurred without incidence. Slightly bloody, and a little bit wary, Nolann paid the droid attendant for two tickets; one for himself, the other for the cargo. The monorail ride was uneventful for nearly the entire four hour ride, but the newly forged trio began to notice something as they neared Imperial City. It was almost 4:00 in the morning, yet there was not a single alien, besides Nolann and Varik, on the train. The packed cars were full of shabby looking humans, all sleepily on their way to their homes, or to work, but no other species was in sight. Even at the various monorail stations, not an alien could be seen through the car windows. An empty feeling began to sink through Nolann’s core.

Ahead in the distance, through the left windows of the car, the trio could now see Darth Vader’s palace looming on the horizon. Nolann recognized it from various programs he had watched on the holoviewer.

As Fern stood holding the bracers, her eyelids attempting to draw her into sleep, a small hand reached up and pulled at her tunic “Where you going?” a small voice inquired. Fern jerked her head and looked down to see a small female human child.

“Nowhere in particular kid.” Fern responded warily.

“But you got to be going somewhere. I’m going to go see my grandmother.”

“That’s nice.”

“Why are you aliens on the train? Dad says that aliens don’t come to Imperial City.”

“I’m not an alien, I’m human.”

“But you have purple eyes, and white hair!”

“Just a fluke kid.”

At that moment Varik felt something in the back pocket of his tunic. He turned just in time to see a nicely dressed human male, in formal cloaks pull his right hand from his own pocket. The pickpocket and Varik made eye contact just as the monorail pulled into the next station and the doors swooshed open. “What the…” Varik stammered.

But before Varik could act the thief dashed out of the car and into the morning crowds. They watched him run into a nearby alleyway, never once looking back. Varik hung out of the car for several moments, with his hands on both doors but he didn’t budge. He continued standing there cursing, staring into the throng, until an electronic voice announced “Doors are closing, Please watch your arms and Legs.” Stepping back into the car, Varik cursed under his breath.

“What’d he get?” Nolann approached.

“Just my credits.”

Nolann whistled.

“Why didn’t you go after him?” Fern asked with concern troubling her face.

“Just didn’t seem like a good idea, I don’t know.” And with that last statement all three adventurers turned to look accusingly at the little child.

The Starlit Cafe

Upon exiting the turbolift the adventurers walked through another set of stanchions and past two more stormtroopers guarding the exit. The outpour of passengers from ground level flooded past a long line of new arrivals waiting for their turbolift ride to the surface. The traffic of human and non-human species throughout the main concourse flowed at different speeds and different directions, much like the ebb and flow of a river. To each side of the primary path passengers waited seated in the cramped departure portal. In every direction behind each portal enormous trans-galactic passenger liners could be seen through large translucent view ports. The view behind the starships reached into infinity while many of the stars not normally visible from Coruscant‘s surface were exposed as brilliant points of light. Starships of every size and distance were moving to and from other nearby starports above the thin atmosphere of the drab planet below. Large blast doors at each portal led to long boarding ramps connected to the starliners. In every direction pilots and attendants walked to and from their ships. Some were headed home after a long trip. Others were just arriving for their flights. “The guide says the café should be right at the end of this concourse.” Fern said not looking up from her datapad as she almost walked into a pair of twi’lek females.

The Starlit café was dark but nicely decorated. It got its name from the large skylights in the ceiling which through some trick of technology amplified the natural starlight into useable illumination for its patrons. Lamps were placed upon dark wooden tables made from Oro trees, native to Alderaan, nestled into cozy booths made from dark blue leather. From eight wooden columns hung vine-like plants from exotic destinations offworld. A T-13 bartender droid used its multiple arms to simultaneously wash and dry glasses, probably left over from the previous night’s happy hour. In the far back corner of the venue the large view port was shaped like the characteristic cockpit glass known to be found in tie-fighters. In the same corner sat a droid operated sabaac table and some gambling machines. Before heading to the gaming tables in the back Nolann stopped at the droid bartender to pick up a glass of Dark Helmut brew. Dax and Fern went to a table to wait on their contact.

After several successful games of luck against the house Nolann returned to the table of his bored companions “Has our contact shown yet?”

“Nope, whoever it is supposed to be, they are an hour and a half past showtime,” Dax stretched his back into the seat cushion. At that time an attractive blue skinned Twi’lek woman dressed in a dark brown leather headdress appeared. Matching her traditional leki adornment was her thick leather pilots’ jacket over a dark blue tank-top. Her black pants decorated with a single yellow stripe on the seam, was stuffed into high black leather boots. She took a high chair closest to the booth where Nolann, Fern, and Dax sat in their orange jumpsuits given them by Ortho.
“I’ll have a dark side daiquiri,” The beautiful woman said to the bartender droid as she reached into her pocket then slid four imperial credits across the glossy tabletop. In a quick series of motions the T-13 bartender droid had filled and served the cold drink in less than thirty seconds.

Her pose was pensive yet still aware of her surroundings. Her hands wrapped firmly around the frosted glass betrayed her expectation. Nolann noticed that she didn’t drink, and so made his move.
“Bartender?” Nolann raised a finger to the mechanical server “A dianoga tea over here please.” He said loudly in Duros. It wasn’t common that Nolann spoke in his native tongue. Droids or others of his kind were typically the only beings who could understand him. He still remembered to emphasize “dianoga tea” in basic. That plus the orange jumpsuits, he figured, should be enough evidence that he and his friends were here to complete the Twi’lek’s job. That is, if she was the contact. In seconds the droid bartender handed the drink to a small floating T- 14 server droid. The small cylindrical droid was basically comprised of a repulsorlift unit on its ventral side, an intelligence unit housed in a small dome-like head, and four extendable arms that held a small circular serving tray over its “head.” It hummed happily as it quickly floated across the room to place the drink into Nolann’s outstretched hand.

The blue-skinned Twi’lek girl wasted no time. No sooner had the drink arrived at the table than she greeted the orange-clad trio, leaving her untouched drink at the bar.
“How is the dianoga tea?” she asked as she stepped up to the table.
“I like its dark stains upon my lips.” Nolann replied evenly in basic. Dax scoffed at the exchange not suppressing his mirth at the silliness of the code-language. Fern shoved a hard elbow into Dax’s side. Wincing at the pain Dax gave Fern a dirty look, who this time took her turn to smile. The woman sat next to Nolann and pulled a small cloth envelope from the folds of her jacket, handing it to Fern under the table.

Almost as fast as she had sat she rose again and turned to the three adventurers “May the force be with you,” and with that she left the bar. A strange sentiment thought Fern. The force be with you echoed in her head.

The decision was simple. First they needed to find a secretive place that they could view the items in the purple envelope. It was nearly 10:00 when Fern, Nolann, and Dax left the Starlit Café walking at a brisk walk. The passage back to the surface wasn’t nearly as treacherous as the voyage onto the skyhook. In theory all Imperial security screening posts throughout the Galaxy held the same standards for safety. Spaceliners were supposedly protected from the introduction of weapons and dangerous individuals into the interstellar spacelanes. As imperial bureaucratic logic went, skyhooks were completely sterile, so planet-bound traffic was never thoroughly inspected, only incoming passengers from the surface. The only scrutiny of planet-bound passengers came from drug enforcement droids, DEDs, also known as “dead” droids, placed in the turbolift carriages themselves. Built into the walls of the turbolift pods, these mechanical intelligences had powerful olfactory circuitry. This sophisticated technology could accurately detect the residues of illegal drugs down to one micron in size. They could also determine what drugs were being used, and which individual was carrying. For those ignorant and unfortunate souls who attempted to smuggle narcotics, a squad of imperial soldiers would be waiting to arrest them at the point of debarkation. The Empire expressed little tolerance for the abuse and sale of illegal intoxicants. Fortunately for Nolann, Fern and Dax they did not carry, and enjoyed a pleasant drop back to the surface.

Pushing through the crowds and out the glass doors, there were many airspeeder cabs available for passage. Coruscant never had a shortage of the red, white, and often grungy transports for hire. Airspeeder cabs were one of the few refuges where non-humans were allowed after curfew. This was understandable since enforcing the imperial segregation laws upon an endless stream of moving airspeeders would be impossible.

Sitting crammed between Fern and Dax in the backseat, Nolann opened the cloth envelope. Looking up to his left Fern raised an eyebrow to him as if stating This isn’t exactly private Nolann. But he did not care. Besides he reasoned, the best hiding places were often right out in the open where no one expects a secret. Drawing out an old leatherbound book with yellow pages titled The Mental Pathways Between Flesh and Stone: A Force Users guide to Self-Instruction he unceremoniously dumped it into the unwary Dax’s lap “There you go Dax, some light reading for the taxi ride cross-town.”

The smelly aqualish taxi-driver looked up from his controls. “Where are you headed?” It barked in a moist and strangled basic.

“Aha…152 Chasm Rd. East,” Nolann read from a small datapad he pulled out of the envelope. Handing it to Fern he pointed to the last line on the screen. It read Cut a deal with the leader for the package. Time is of the essence. After Fern acknowledged the last message on the datapad with a nod, Nolann showed it to Dax.

The transport crossed several major lines of traffic. Flying for about forty-five minutes the speeder crossed a large chasm dug into the duracrete city surface. Dipping down in between the walls of the artificial canyon the driver barely skimmed above the surface of the thick black smog characteristic of Coruscant’s lower urban levels. After a short drive in the city’s shadows the driver brought the airspeeder to a halt before the entrance of a residence embedded in the south chasm wall. Extending out from the doorway was a long walkway suspended by repulsorlifts. Where the bridge met the entrance, two creatures with lightbrown skin, and round faces circled with small horns, watched their arrival. Dax recognized the aliens immediately as Nikto. He rarely saw Nikto on Galaxy center. For those who commonly traveled the spacelanes, Nikto were usually only seen in large numbers near refugee colonies, or as indentured servants to hutt aristocrats. “Wait here” Nolann said to the aqualish driver before he and the others headed towards the ornate entranceway.

“Ba num raq tude, na wei tochi clup,” the Nikto nearest them said with a circular gesture of his hands, palms facing forward. Nolann waved back to the first Nikto and sheepishly attempted to pass.

“Eh, eh, eh, eh” the first Nikto grabbed Nolann by the chest with his right hand, then gently pushed him back as he shook his head in the gesture of “no.” Dax noticed the second guard tighten his grip on a holstered vibro-axe. The first guard then repeated the previous phrase “Ba num raq tude, na wei tochi clup.”

Nolann, Dax, and Fern glanced at each other in slight dismay, momentarily perplexed how to transcend the language barrier. Then Fern spoke up.
“Baa hootch, needa ploong, taa Hutt bagpa?” Do you speak huttese Fern querried in a third language.

The first guard then smiled warmly and replied to Fern in huttese “Noke tooona cee reesa,poon katchka aays grunden. Eeesa wine teechko lack boon taggen.”

“What did he say?” Dax leaned over to Fern.

“He said, please leave any weapons you have with me. Will you allow me to search you?” Fern turned back to the alien.

The first guard smiled widely again and gently placed his hands upon Nolann, then began feeling for any weapons the small Duros might have brought with him. The second guard stood expressionless from behind, still clasping his axe.

Finding that his hands were not adequate for holding all of the items that the threesome were carrying the guard pulled a small metal lock box from behind a decorative pillar. He then rattled something else in huttese.

“He says drop all of the items into the box. They will be safe with me.”

Dax shifted his weight from his left to his right. “Do we have to?” He looked at Fern and then to the Nikto. “I think that you should let us pass without taking our items,” he said while sweeping his hand in front of the aliens face.

“If you want to get in” Fern replied. The jedi’s mind trick apparently did not diminish the guard’s resolution. With regret Dax dropped his lightsaber into the metal box.

“I better get that back, or there’ll be hell to pay.” Dax said directly to the alien.

“Ya, ya, ya.” The Nikto replied in bad basic.

When all of the teams’ items had been emptied from their orange jumpsuits the second guard spoke Nikto into a hidden communicator placed in the buildings terra cotta façade. Nolann, Fern, and Dax stood for several more minutes before Dax finally asked “What’s taking so long?” The others just shrugged their shoulders in equal confusion. A moment later the two steel doors before them groaned open to their stops. In a friendly gesture the second guard waved them into a darkly lit hall.

With the huge doors now sealed behind them, they were now concealed from the glitter of Coruscants multitude of nighttime lights. After several minutes their eyes adjusted to the dimness. They were walking in a long curving hall, decorated in tan sandy stone. The surface of the floor was strangely wet with a mucous-like quality. On shelves inset into the walls sat thousands of fine ceramics, ceremonial masks, fertility figurines, and works of art from hundreds of different species from around the galaxy.

After passing two more Nikto guards the trio entered into what appeared to be a large audience chamber. Crowded in the alcoves around the periphery of the room were a motley troop of ragged looking individuals. The alien diversity in the room however was substantial. More Nikto guards stood sentry near the various columns and doorways located around the room. Directly ahead to the far back of the room was a large Hutt. Its eyes were bright and immediately noticed Fern as she entered the room.

“Boon dockt glooben, und meesa beind plum Jottma” the hutt greeted in a resonant bass.

“His name is Jottma, and he welcomes us to his home,” translated Fern.

The hutt spoke again. “He says that he admires our fine taste in art.” She continued with a puzzled wrinkle of her brow ridge and nose.

“What art?” Dax impulsively queried the large invertebrate.” Nolann barred Dax with his left hand to prevent him from approaching.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho, hum” the hutt on the dais rumbled a laugh from within his abdomen “Why, the Masassi sphere you’ve been carrying in the brown paper bag. You placed it in the guard’s metal box for safe-keeping. My Nikto friends always apprise me of any valuables that make their way into my home” he finished, still in huttese.

Nolann, Fern, and Dax then noticed that Jottma was holding a small blue and black translucent sphere. With his pudgy hands the hutt held the tiny object up to one of his bulbous red eyes, inspecting it with great interest. “These only come from one place,” he said dreamily “the abandoned Massassi temples of Yavin 4.”

Nolann’s eyes sparkled “that must be worth a fortune,” he thought to himself.

“Had you known this information before, your tiny Duros friend may have stolen away with it. I see his mind calculating” The hutt laughed again. Nolann looked up in surprise at the hutt’s astute observation.

“How much will you sell it to me for?” the hutt stated his question almost like a command.

“It’s not for sale,” Dax stepped forward.

“Everything is for sale,” the hutt managed a wide toothless grin. The smile made him look even more hideous than before Fern thought. If he smiled any harder his eyes would pop out of his head.

“How much would you offer?” Nolann spoke up now intrigued.

“I will give you 1,500 credits,” the hutt commanded again.

“But it must be worth more than ten times that amount!” Nolann now became animated sweeping his arms above his head in a grand gesture.

“I am feeling generous today. I will give you 2,000 credits. Final offer little one” Jotma smiled again.

“Can’t do it Jotma,” Nolann bravely squared himself before his co-haggler “We have to return that artifact to our employer.” Nolann wasn’t sure whether he really meant that or was still just haggling against the hutt for a better price.

“But surely your employer would be very satisfied with your grand judgment in bringing back a sum of credits twice the sphere’s market value.” Hutts loved to barter more than they loved to eat Nala tree frogs.

Dax, the near jedi-padawan, was tired and his ire began to grow at the hutt’s pushiness. Despite his significant abilities he had not yet mastered the skill of patience.“You are no longer interested in the sphere,” Dax said waving his hand hastily in an arch “you are now ready to talk other business.”

The hutt’s jovial smile faded as his short arms pulled him deeper into his stone dais “Do not offend me in my own home, force user.” The multi-specied room became a den of deathly still “I am immune to your tricks. You are fortunate that I am a gracious host. Others of my kind would already be plotting the 10,000 credit reward on your head.”

“I’ll take him in!” someone yelled from the back of the room. A nervous laughter fell over the crowd then died.

“No. So long as he is my guest, he will be safe in my home,” Jotma took a long stern look at Dax.

Dax was disappointed. Not so much at the hutt’s rebuke, but his inability to overcome the creature’s powerful mind. He wanted so much to have the full-fledged powers of a jedi-knight, but his training was far from complete.

“Now, to the business that you are so eager to discuss.”

“We are here to barter for the cargo of the freight vessel _Intrepid_” Fern announced in basic, certain that the hutt would understand her.

The hutt motioned to one of his Nikto lackeys, and within several seconds two Nikto guards emerged from a large door in the back of the room. Each held a hand on the top of a free-floating cargo crate suspended on repulsorlifts. The black rectangular box was near two meters long. With the gentle push of their fingers the crate effortlessly glided on top of the air.
“The price for this item will be 50,000.” Jotma stated in huttese, much more business-like this time.

“Jotma, if you take 45,000 instead, I promise to speak with my current employer concerning the artifact that you desire,” Nolann lied. He really had no idea as to Schlick’s interest in the object. Perhaps, once Schlick discovered the contents of the brown paper bag he would be disinterested and willing to sell. Of course Nolann secretly planned to take a cut of those proceeds should that transaction take place.

“And who is your employer?” Jotma queried, his eyes now slightly wider.

“We are not at liberty to say. Though I can assure you my word is golden,” Nolann grinned widely as he bowed low and graciously.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho” Jotma bellowed out another round of laughter “I should make you my chief negotiator, but 45,000 is too low. I will take 48,000 plus your word that you will speak to your employer about the artifact.”

“47” Nolann replied.

“48,” Jotma commanded “I have plenty of other potential buyers. That is my final offer.”

“Deal,” Fern stepped forward from the troop. She didn’t want the hutt to renege on his offer she thought to herself, besides she tired of the incessant banter.

Within minutes of Fern’s final declaration the trio headed out from the hutt’s home with a floating crate of unknown cargo. As they passed through the front entrance it was nearly 12:00 midnight. The Niktos gave them their belongings and waved them farewell. In the metal box nolann reclaimed his credit stick, knives, blasters, and the small massassi artifact. Dax felt relief as he held the heavy cylindrical lightsaber finally back in his hand.

“Did you get it back?” Fern smiled at Dax while he dug through the box.

“Yes, surprisingly,” Dax replied “That hutt seemed like a decent fellow.”

“Even though he threatened to turn you in?” Nolann looked at Dax puzzled.

“I don’t think he was threatening me, besides the brutality and backstabbing of the huttese culture is well documented. That should have been a lot more difficult,” Dax said knowingly.

“Maybe it was, we just don’t know it yet,” Fern scoffed as she pulled the cargo crate towards the waiting taxi airspeeder. “By the way, I don’t think this thing is going to fit.”

After discovering that the large mysterious box was too long and awkward to fit into the taxi, Dax and Fern discussed alternate travel plans with the Nikto guards. Telling the guards goodbye again, the adventures set off on foot towards the nearest mono-rail station. Pushing the crate in front of them Nolann, Fern, and Dax walked with a light step in their gait. Perhaps, soon their mission for Schlick would come to a conclusion. The Nikto’s advised it would only be a short four blocks walk.

A Cab Ride and a Rocket

“Take us to the Starport on Industry Center Pkwy.” Said Fern as she leaned into the small voice amplifier positioned in the middle of the glass partition that blocked access between the rear and front seats. Into the high lanes of traffic the aircar rose. Jostling with the vortices of criss-crossing masses of wind and passing vehicles. The sun held high in the hazy afternoon sky, only partially seen through the ever present smog.

“There’s the starport,” Dax pointed out the right window towards a tall tapered building with a circular platform at its top. Like a honeycomb the building was checkered with entry and exit points for countless private starships coming to and from countless destinations. The top platform was temporary parking for airspeeders and shuttle speeders either dropping off or picking up passengers from long commercial voyages. The largest commercial ships, which held passengers in the thousands, never actually entered the atmosphere of coruscant. They docked entirely at the orbiting skyhooks suspended in space. From the top and center of the platform a large organic looking tube extended from the top of the building all the way into space. This passageway held numerous turbolifts that carried passengers to and from the commercial skyhook above. The material of the turbolift shaft was synthetically grown in laboratories. Engineers mimicked the properties of salt-water seaweeds commonly found in the oceans of Mon Calamari. It was discovered that its pliability, relatively light weight, and super strength was ideal for tethering skyhooks in orbit. The turbolift cars that shuttled up and down the inside of these tethers were entirely by managed by ventrally aimed repulsorlifts. No other guidance systems were necessary since there was nowhere else to go but up or down.

Nearing the platform Nolann, Fern, and Dax could see hundreds of aircabs, much like their own, with the alternating white and maroon markings, lining up to the starport’s departures terminal doors. Touching down on permacrete, the driver pushed a button, allowing the cabs doors to move up and open. Like some strange winged creature perched after landing the trio of adventures exited the cab from both sides. Nolann stooped over a small payment console on the side of the aircab to insert credits. Waving bye to the driver they walked towards the long bank of glass entranceway doors.

High above them they looked at the organic tubes reaching farther into the sky than their eyes could see. Now closer, Dax observed that the turbolift shafts were a translucent tan and greenish color and housed at least thirty different passages for shuttles. Like rockets the shuttle cars moved up and down at incredible speeds. Judging by their size Dax guessed each car could hold approximately twenty human-sized creatures.

After walking through the glass doors and buying passes from the droid ticket vendors Nolann, Dax, and Fern stood in a short line waiting to pass through turnstiles. In the hallway immediately in front of them Fern looked at a large blue and illuminated imperial propaganda poster that read Never forget the Jedi. Underneath the words, there was the image of a small green creature with large ears impaling a clone trooper through the chest-plate with its lightsaber. The small but fearsome creature appeared to be no more than two feet in height. Beneath the graphic picture in bold letters it read TRAITORS! Report dangerous force users to your local magistrate and receive a reward beginning at 10,000 credits.

“You’re worth 10,000 credits?” Fern smiled at Dax raising one eyebrow in a mock challenge.

“Don’t even think about it.” Dax sighed wearily, looking away down the corridor. As far as he knew he was the last of his kind but that wouldn’t stop the Empire from wanting to kill him. Even though he posed no more of a threat than a wamp-rat attacking a krayt dragon the Empire saw things different.

Of course Fern knew that the offered bounty was a sham. The imps would never pay out that kind of coin for a captured Jedi. The sucker who ratted on a Jedi would most likely end up executed too. There was no compassion for fools under the Emperor’s rule.

Next to the wanted poster was an “relocation” advertisement. Pictures of lush warm beaches depicted the supposed allure of the planetoid Kessell. Underneath, encouragements such as free transport, free meals, and work security promised dreams of paradise. This was also a sham Fern thought to herself. Everyone in this dump knew that Kessell was a spice mining colony on a dark forsaken asteroid. If there was a bright center to the universe you would have to be from the planet that is farthest from, or incredibly dense to believe those claims. But these were the kinds of propaganda that were typical in the alien freezones, condescending, belittling, and based on gross misinformation.

After finally pushing their way through the crowded turnstiles Fern, Nolann, and Dax followed a massive herd of slow walking Ithorians. Their stereo mouths echoed their rumbling voices against the tiled walls of the cramped corridor creating a cacophony of white noise. The white walls were drab and dirty, caked with all of the smells, dust, and dead skin of billions of passengers who had walked these halls before. Since this tunnel was intended for skyhook departures only all of the traffic moved in one direction. The arrival tunnels were most likely on the other side of the huge complex. All corridors were built to keep the influx and outflow of passengers efficiently moving.

Rounding the last turn the wide corridor finally straightened before opening into a large security processing room. Two white-armor clad stormtroopers were positioned at each of the ten scanning stations for a total of twenty troopers. Ten technicians in grey imperial bureaucratic garb were also manning each of the ten stations. The line for processing was at least seventy-five persons and growing and represented at least twenty different species. As Nolann and Fern fumbled with their skyhook tickets Dax visually inspected the room. To their left were three refreshing rooms, one for males, females, and asexuals near a short hallway leading to two doorways, while to Dax’s right stood four droid starship ticket vendors. Overhead the ceiling was open, exposing the building’s infrastructure. Dax was most interested in the large ventilation shaft that passed from behind them, then across the security processing booths into the turbolift loading area.

Suddenly shaken from his introspection Dax was surprised to see two stormtroopers violently pull an Ithorian male from the group standing in line before them. As one jerked him by his left arm, the other hit him in his large hammer-like head with the butt of his rifle, making him fall to the floor face first. The other Ithorians stood back and watched in horror as their companion was mercilessly beaten by the imperial soldiers. A deathly quiet fell over the denizens as they witnessed the atrocity taking place. The other stormtroopers standing at the security lines nervously shifted from foot to foot waiting for the crowd to erupt into mayhem, though most of the xenophobic soldiers were probably unaware that Ithorians are generally pacifists. Now cuffed in binders the poor creature was dragged away to an unknown fate. This senseless act of violence most likely stemmed from the imperials petulant desire to demonstrate their superiority, not the result of a necessary police action.

Fern’s fingers passed over the hidden blaster in the folds of her brown cloak, “I think we should find another way to our meeting,” she looked at Nolann.

“I have a crazy idea,” Dax interjected, pointing his finger towards the ceiling, while a small smile crept across his face.

Nolann’s eyes followed Dax’s finger to the vent shafts above “that is crazy.”

“It looks as if the vents pass over the refreshers,” Fern observed.

Fern walked into the female refresher and positioned herself in a rear stall underneath an air vent. Dax and Nolann did the same in the males’ refresher. Nimbly positioning his feet on the edges of a refresher within one of the back stalls Dax drew his blue lightsaber and lifted it towards the small grate covering the ventilation shaft “watch the door would you Nolann?”

Nolann peeked around the corner of the stalls opening intently watching the main entranceway. In the awkward confines of the refresher stall Dax fumbled nervously with the glowing rod of light. If this went horribly wrong twenty or more stormtroopers may be pouring into this refresher unit he thought, and they wouldn’t be showing any mercy today. Nolann jumped as the refresher’s main door slammed open revealing a small black eyed sullustan in loose green clothing. Seemingly unaware the sullustan walked to the first refreshers stall to conduct his business. Nolann’s right hand nervously fingered the butt of his concealed blasters as the work on the vent grating seemed to crawl at an unbearable pace.

Dax’s right foot slipped from the rim causing his reflexes to send his right arm out to the edge of the stall for balance, “bantha fodder!” he cursed under his breath. “How’s the door?” he whispered as an afterthought.

“Ok so far, “ Nolann hoped.

The small sullustan left the refresher without incident only to be replaced by a horned devaronian. The naturally smiling creature was more astute than his predecessor. He greeted the partially hidden Nolann with a quizzical nod, and a laughing grin, before intentionally displaying disinterest. Nolann concerned about the creature’s awareness, left the rear stall to confront him with a cheerful salutation, “how are you today?” he waved with his right hand.

“Just fine,” the devaronian chuckled with a scoffing grunt through clenched teeth “that’s an interesting fusion torch your friend has there” indicating Dax with his lightsaber.

“Uh yeah, we were called in to fix a problem with the refresher,” Nolann lied terribly as Dax slipped again in the stall. More cursing ensued.

“Uh huh,” he paused thinking for a second “do you think the imps will buy that story?” he grinned creepily through jagged teeth.

Instead of drawing his blaster the annoyed Duros pulled out a one hundred credit piece from his money pouch and placed it in the palm of the devaronian. Simultaneously Nolann revealed the concealed weapons in the folds of his clothing to convey that any further complications and the Devaronian would be answering to the barrel of his blaster.

“Aha, I think this should just about do it.” He gave one last little grin before leaving Dax and Nolann alone.

“I think I’ve got it,” Dax said as the heavy grating dropped from his hands and into the stalls floor.

“Shhhh!” Nolann screamed in a whisper.

Running into the stall Nolann held his fingers into a clasped web, giving dax a sturdy platform to step into the gaping hole. In a second Dax was firmly lying on the inside of the large metallic tube.

“Hand me the grate,” Dax motioned with one arm dangling from the dark opening. After receiving the grating, Dax lowered his arm again to lift the tiny Duros into the vent shaft. Since the shaft was barely large enough for only one humanoid, Dax handed Nolann the grating which he then carefully placed over the jaggedly cut hole.

“That’s good enough,” Dax wearily observed “Now its time to get Fern.”

Shuffling down the round man-sized tube every movement echoed with a deafening buckling of the thin metallic rings. Nolann only hoped that the clamor of noisy passengers in the security screening area below was enough to mask their passage from the perceptive stormtroopers. After moving at least three meters on hands and knees the piping curved slightly to the left at an obtuse angle. To their right the shaft split sharply into a third passageway making the intersection roughly Y shaped. “Turn right?” Dax called back to Nolann.

“Yeah” he grunted. Banging their way through the short tributary pipe Dax looked into the females refresher through the metal grating “Fern!” Dax said in a strained whisper “Fern!”

“I’m here!” Fern snapped from below “Hold on.” A moment later the metal grating was gently raised into the tunnel.

Amazed, Dax looked down at Fern “How did you do that?”

“I loosened the screws. How did you think I did it? With a lightsaber? Besides, what took you guys so long?”

“Nice” Dax grunted as he lifted the petite Fern into the ventilation shaft from the refresher below.

Now reversed the team needed to move in the opposite direction. That would take them across the security line and into the turbolift area. In the cramped space Nolann now took the lead, behind him trailed Dax and Fern respectively. Ten meters from the Y intersection Nolann encountered another metal grating. Looking below his eyes struggled to focus on a single stormtrooper watching his security post. The buckethead appeared oblivious to their passage.

Soon they would be crossing the security line. Within another ten meters they breached the security line and passed another grating. Looking carefully through the small metal bars Nolann spied a bothan male speaking on his comlink.

“This is no good” Nolann whispered “We’ll have to move on.” Scurrying another 10 meters to the final grating Nolann could see nothing but a white wall below him.

“I can’t see anything from here, but it looks like the tubing climbs at a ninety degree angle straight up after this,” the Duros observed “this is the end of our road, back up.”

“Back up?” Dax looked confused.

“Back up!!” Nolann yelled now agitated from being enclosed in the cramped space. Passengers in the crowded corridor below looked up to the ventilation shaft, each wondering where the voices were coming from. The comedy troop then did as Nolann said, moving feet first towards the last grating they passed.

“It looks like the Bothan is still there,” Fern commented dryly.

“We might have to chance it. Nolann why don’t you go first?” the Chiss offered.

“Me????” the duros hissed. Knowing that there was no sense in arguing the trio arranged themselves so that the duros could lower himself into the corridor below.

“Sit back,” Dax said as he ignited his lightsaber creating a blue green glow within the tunnel.

“So you did use your lightsaber,” fern scoffed sardonically with an evil grin. Dax ignored Fern and gently lowered the tip of the dangerous beam of light into the grating’s frame. With the vent being carefully circled by the lightsaber, Nolann held the metal piece in place to prevent it from dropping to the floor below. After the cut was made Dax and Nolann both carefully lifted the vent and laid it aside inside the tunnel. Preparing for the worst, Nolann slowly lowered his head into the corridor below. Pivoting around like a ventral-side turret on a warship he inspected the hall. Surprisingly it was a deserted corridor lined with communication banks, save for a single bothan businessman talking on his communicator. At one end the hall terminated with more refresher rooms. The other side of the hall appeared to curve around to the left, probably connecting with the primary turbolift loading area.

“But I don’t want to go back to Corellia. I was just there last week Ryn!” Nolann heard the bothan speak into his communicator. The tiny voice on the other end replied but was inaudible to the inverted Duros. “Yeah, but 50,000 units was all they were willing to buy,” he continued loudly. “Well, you tell that to Andros!!” he replied to the tiny voice angrily, now increasing in volume.

As the bothan continued to whine Nolann pulled his head back into the shaft “I think I’m going to chance it.”

Swinging his legs into the small opening with his hands placed on the edges Nolann heaved then quietly dropped the three meters to the corridor floor. Now standing upright in the middle of the hall he now knew for certain that he and the bothan were alone. Still standing with his arms splayed in a landing position with his knees slightly bent the bothan spun around in surprise, jumping back two feet when he saw the short duros behind him.

“Where in Mustafar did you come from!!??” he squealed towards Nolann. Nolann couldn’t help but smile at the furry creatures terror.

“Nothing, it’s nothing!” the bothan continued into his comlink. “Some weirdo just appeared out of nowhere” he finished more quietly. Putting his left hand up against his other ear he leaned up against the wall inspecting Nolann carefully with his right eye. Since the drop-hole in the vent was now directly in the bothan’s line of sight, the Duros wheeled around to the bothans other side. Annoyed and slightly frightened by the small alien the bothan businessman flipped to his other side to keep an eye him. Now satisfied with his full attention Nolann dropped his pants to do his best impersonation of the moon walk. Utterly repulsed the bothan continued to watch Nolann but then did so with slightly averted eyes.

“Ryn, this is the last time you send me to the core worlds, I’m sick of these galactic city-dwellers. Besides the segregation laws here are awful.”

Nolann continued to mess with the bothan’s head as both Dax and Fern dropped silently behind him. Satisfied with their succesful infiltration, Nolann, Dax, and Fern walked casually past the beleaguered alien. He dropped his comlink upon sighting the female human and blue-tinted chiss male “W-where did you come from?” he whispered in exasperation.

Nolann, Fern, and Dax entered the turbolift loading area. Nodding to a stormtrooper who guarded one of the maintenance entrances they joined the line of passengers waiting for departure. A rerecorded informational message played over the speakers describing laws associated with riding the skyhook turbolift, starship departure information, necessary travel documentation, and safety regulations concerning passenger regurgitation, and system failure. The wait for the lift was not very long and soon the trio of adventurers were being strapped into seats and harnesses that filled the bullet-like pods. No sooner was the pod completely filled than they were speeding away into the outer atmosphere of Coruscant at unimaginable speeds. A nearby Ithorian vomited into a regurgitation waste unit. The Ord City Skyhook was only seconds away.

The Gambler

Nolann knew very well that he and the crew would need to get moving soon if they were going to do the job for Schlick. Of course they needed information. They needed to know how to locate the Starlit café. But it was only 8:00 in the morning Coruscanti time and the day still held plenty of hours. Beside’s Barlamoe’s would be a great place to earn some credits and relax before things started getting heavy. The 24 hour galactic clock guaranteed that the cantina would be hopping any time of day. Mara had recommended Barlamoe’s as a good place to gather information, though Nolann, Fern, and Dax were already well acquainted with the business. The proprietor Barlamoe, a human with a gruff disposition, was one of the few business owners in the area that still allowed aliens into his venue. It wasn’t that most of Coruscant’s inhabitants were intolerant, or even xenophobic towards members of the other species; the high tariffs and continuous harassment from Imperial officials successfully barred many alien species from enjoying a free public life. Most non-human activity was found only in segregated ghettos or deep within the lower levels of this unnatural stone and duracrete planet. Ord City served as a transition zone between one of many large alien freezones and the human habitation areas. Barlamoe’s cantina lay almost exactly on the dividing line.

Walking through the dimly lit doorway the adventurers ignored the Imperial segregation mandates on the first level and proceeded down a steep stairway into the Alien-free zone. Most places on the fringe who still hosted non-humans were divided in this manner. After walking through the lower level door a sickly green light struggled to find focus through the smoke-filled room while female servers weaved throughout the denizens to the beat of a pulsating bass-heavy-music. Deep booths with dim yellow lights, hiding secretive faces, lined the circular room to the left of the main entranceway. Gaming tables, backed by large holoviewers showed sports from across the galaxy as scantily clad Twi’Leks danced on a glossy black stage. Fern left the group to order a dark-side daiquiri at the bar, while Nolann sat down with a friendly looking Quarren and two Gotals for a game of sabacc. Dax split from the others to walk slowly around the room.

“Sit down, sit down! my male friend. You are male aren’t you? I have trouble determining the sexes of some species. Kaolin’s the name” the old Quarren greeted, not aware that he may have offended the newcomer with his forward but amiable mode of speech.

Nolann immediately took a liking to the squid-faced creature, “can you deal me in?”

“You bet, time for some friendly company. These two gotals don’t seem to have much personality. Don’t worry, I don’t think they speak very good basic.” Neither alien showed a response to Kaolin’s jibe.

At the quarren’s signal a small dome-like dealer droid with a translucent grey top dealt the electronic sabaac cards with its tiny servo hands. At the beginning of play Nolann was the first to contribute his ante to the hand-pot, then to the sabaac pot. He then laid down his cards onto the round gaming table.

Since this was not a professional sabaac table there was no interference field for the electronic cards. Rather, the cards themselves became deactivated when they were pushed into the table. This deactivation barred the cards from spontaneously randomizing; though only certain cards were allowed to be deactivated based upon the players choosing. As the players settled in Dax leaned up against a support pillar to watch the game from a short distance.

Incidentally it occurred to the bluish humanoid that he stood directly behind the two gotal players. The fools were no good at hiding their hands he surmised. Perhaps, he thought, he should practice some of his force powers to stave off the inevitable boredom. He wasn’t much on cards.

After the first deal Dax watched the aliens intently. Their hands were not bad to start with, but stupid decisions left them lacking when the cards face up on the table switched values. Noticing their change in luck both aliens shifted in their seats. Dax smiled.

Closing his eyes he felt the force reaching out from his mind like thick smoky tendrils. Feeling the lifeforce of all creatures large and small within the club he narrowed his focus upon the four sitting around the sabaac table. In the center he could feel the small dealer droid putting around the table giving instructions to the players as it went. Touching lightly upon the Duros mind, Dax thought of a suggestion to help his friend.

With his eyes set intently upon the electronic cards before him Nolann was startled to hear the voice of Dax echoing inside his head “bid again.” Looking up from the table Nolann saw a smirk on the chiss’s face and a slight nod indicating “_yes, I did say it._” Emboldened by this new information Nolann bid again trying hard to conceal the devious grin attempting to take over his face. Round and round again the chiss man gave the duros helpful instructions on the next move. Sometimes he was told to bluff, other times to bluff harder. Nolann found a very useful attribute in his new friend that he had not realized before.

When the final round of bidding took place and it came time to show cards, Nolann had no more power to hide the smirk that lit on his thin lips “A pure Sabaac” he said with a grin. Splaying the cards out in front of him he showed The Evil One, The Star, a five of staves, and a four of coins. Kaolin watched the little Duros with increased interest, holding his right hand to his tentacles as if in deep thought. The gotals conversed rapidly with a great degree of harshness in their own languages as if they were berating the other for not making a better show. Each simply nudged their upturned cards to the center of the table.

Almost as if returning from a daze, when it came his turn, Kaolin’s face tentacles undulated in a sign of pure pleasure as he laid down his hand to reveal The idiot, a two of flasks, and a three of staves . “An Idiot’s array beats your pure Sabaac friend” he said in a friendly tone, while visibly measuring Nolann’s face. The smile on the duros lips remained but disappointment flashed in his round red eyes.

Round and round again the players at the table played, though the order of winnings stayed consistently throughout. Nolann and Kaolin battled it out neck and neck every turn, while the baffled gotals watched their pile of credits dwindle. Only on rare occasions was one of the horned creatures able to win second place in the winnings.

Dax continued his aid though its effects were minimal against the talents of the quarren card-slinger. He could have rounded the table and attempted to spy on the quarren’s hand, but he considered the foolishness of such an action since he might be noticed. He also suspected, correctly so, that Kaolin was good at hiding his cards.

“Filthy squid-head!” the gotal nearest Nolann managed in a garbled accent, throwing his chair to the ground as he stood up placing his fists knuckle down on the table, “that was the eighth pure sabaac in a row you’ve won!” he yelled throwing his finger into the quarren’s face.

“So you ridiculous tube-heads do speak basic,” Kaolin cracked with an even tone, unmoved by his opponent’s obvious agitation. The standing gotal exhaled sharply, throwing his remaining cards at the mocking Quarren before storming away.

“Aren’t you leaving too?” the Quarren leveled coldly at the remaining gotal.

Cursing in his foreign tongue the second alien rose quickly from his chair never once looking back. “Well, I’m sorry friend but it seems that our game of cards is at an end.” Nolann could almost see the glee in Kaolin’s clever eyes, “But I tell you what, have you ever flown a Corellian YT-1250?”

“I can hold my own in most starships, yes.”

“Good, confidence, I like that in a pilot. Most Duros are good pilots though. I have a job off-world that needs completed but unfortunately I have other pressing matters to attend to. Would you be interested in talking more?”

“What kind of work are you talking about?” Nolann clasped his hands on the tabletop and slumped into a conspiratorial pose.

“Your blue friend there is welcome to join us too,” Kaolin waved a webbed hand at Dax.

Dax’s subtle face movements betrayed his surprise at the quarren’s acute perception. He thought the old quarren would never suspect the connection between he and Nolann. Nolann sat unmoved while Dax took a chair on the other side of Kaolin across from the Duros. “Do you remember the Lucrehulk class starships flown by the trade federation during the clone wars? Great big round ships with a spherical command module suspended in the middle. I believe the fabled Anakin Skywalker single-handedly destroyed one at the Battle of Naboo before even reaching the age of ten.”

“I’ve heard the story.”

“Well anyway, those ships were the primary remote control transmitters for the Federation droid armies. A friend of mine has located the remains of one somewhere between Cato Neimoidia and Talasea. Based on sensor scans at least one hangar bay is still intact, full of cargo. Somewhere deep down inside I bet you will still find a functioning remote processor. That is what I want you to find.”

“How much are you offering?” Dax spoke up for the first time.

“Straight and to the point, I commend you my blue friend. 2,500 if you bring back all of the reclaimable items and cargo still intact. However, you bring me back a remote processor and you keep all of the cargo AND the 2,500. How does that sound?”

“Sounds like you might need to offer more. Is anyone else looking for this thing?” Nolann continued.

“Well, here’s the real catch, I’m getting the coordinates secondhand, and the fellow who is selling them isn’t exactly the most trustworthy creature. I bet he has at least two other buyers on the line. Unfortunately I won’t be able to get the coordinates until later this week, so the job will need to be done real soon.” Kaolin turned, slightly surprised to find a beautiful white-haired women standing at his side.

“Nolann, Dax, I have the address for our job. We had better go.” Fern said as she approached the table, her purple eyes penetrating into the collaborating threesome.

Without a question or acknowledgment to the cold female human Nolann stood up and turned directly to Kaolin “Can I find you here later this week? I need to converse with my companions before a decision is made.”

“I will be right here where you found me. Nice to meet you Nolann, and you too blue man” the quarren made the closest approximation of a human smile, “we’ll talk price when I see you again.”

Nolann slightly winced at hearing the perceptive alien speak his name. As the trio left, Dax noticed that the old quarren was intently looking at a small datapad.

The Red Head Mara

Dax sat across from Nolann on the large circular couch that filled up the small commons area of Mara’s apartment. Fiddling with the metal holoprojector, flipping it from side to side on a round stone table, Nolann’s blank expression betrayed his concentration on Schlick’s recent communiqué. Startled by the rattling of the manual door release behind him, Nolann looked to Dax as both reached for their holstered blasters. Dax stood up nervously facing the door while his companion rose and walked to open the door. Fern waited in the small kitchen area looking on with anticipation. But before Nolann could reach the door, it slammed wide on its hinges as a huge hulking beast ducked its long neck to bow its head below the frame of the door. Seeing Nolann the creature shrieked in rage with a deafening roar while simultaneously flipping a nearby chair with its right hand into the far wall. The chair flew as if it were made of nothing more than paper. Balling his fists the creature raised his arms above his head as Nolann fumbled for his blaster. From behind the dinosaur-like creature a feminine voice pleaded for peace.

“Stop Rodgren! Stop!” Mara yelled as she squeezed past the Mantillian Savrip filling the doorway, “This is Nolann. Remember? I told you about him back at the club.” Mara now held her hands on her hips, facing the green and bluish colored alien, with her head cocked in a gesture of admonishment. In response Rodgren dropped his arms almost pouting.

The small red headed lady seemed to hold a gentle power over this hulking brute. Sensing the swift change in Rodgren’s mood the small Duros holstered his blaster but stood ready with his arms hung low at his sides. Now docile, the large alien pushed both Mara and Nolann out of the way with its shoulders while Dax wheeled on his heels admiring the creature from behind the couch. Fern, equally astonished, quickly vacated the small kitchen area when she saw Rodgren’s charge for the kitchen’s cooling unit.

Trailing quickly behind Mara yelled “Rodgren! Stop!” though this time the beast just ignored her “there isn’t anything in there to eat. I’m sorry about this guys,” Mara called to Nolann, Dax, and Fern “he really is a sweetie.”

Fumbling through the cooling unit for food, Mara stood behind Rodgren with exasperation for a short time before retreating down the hallway to her private quarters. Calling from down the hall Mara yelled “Just watch him for a second while I change would ya guys?”

Not certain about what to do, both Nolann and Dax returned to their places on the circular couch. Rodgren, seemingly pleased with his plate of small sweetcakes returned to the commons area and plopped down on the couch beside Dax. Setting his plate on the small white stone table Rodgren pulled a small holo-disk from the folds of his ragged clothing before inserting it into the small entertainment viewer in the corner.

Nolann and Dax watched with curiosity as a small moving image of Rodgren now stood on the viewers holographic plate. Across from the miniature Mantillian Savrip stood a short and block-shaped Kirtan Strider, it’s gaping mouth almost completely bisecting its face horizontally from its stomach. Almost as short as it was wide, the Strider stood with its stubby arms hanging at its sides, its face held no discernable expression.

At the call of an unseen whistler both creatures stooped into a fighting stance and began to circle one another. A multitude of alien faces could now be seen in the distance behind steel bars, cheering and jeering the two fighters. In a quick move both moved forward, Rodgren swept his lanky arms in a circular attempting to grab the stout mass of his opponent, but the Kirtan Strider was too fast as he ducked then threw a powerful right jab into the Savrip’s mid-section. Rodgren howled a frustrated roar, throwing his hands into the air, while swiveling to the right to reface his foe.

Through mouthfuls of food, the real Rodgren sitting next to Dax, began to rumble an unintelligible language from deep within his long neck. Staring at the fight he continued to speak though none of his new companions understood the garbled tongue.

“He’s saying he’s a fighter.” Mara translated from down the hall.

“Well that much is obvious.” Nolann quipped while throwing a sideways glance at Dax.

“He says that he is looking for a sponsor for his next fight.” Mara continued, ignoring the shortness of the Duro’s comment. “Rod is a good enough guy. I met him at the club tonight. He was sweet enough to escort me home.” Dax let out a short cynical snort while shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

“Well how good is he…?” Nolann barely finished his sentence before watching the animated, but seemingly bored Rodgren on the holoprojector make one last charge, grab the Strider on the shoulder with his right hand, iliac crest in the other then rip the unfortunate creature in two bloody halves. Nolann made the closest approximation of a nervous human swallowing. “That good huh.”

Rodgren pointed in interest with his right hand as he devoured another sweetcake with his left. Through chewing he rumbled a baritone sentence.

“He says 500 credits is the buy in for the fight. The next fight will be at the end of the week. His last sponsor got “dispatched” for some unrelated reason.”

Making a contorted face of disgust and uneasiness Nolann queried nervously “How much are the winnings?”

“He says he doesn’t know because it changes from week to week. But from what I’ve heard he’s a really good fighter and should win you a considerable sum.”

“Tell him I’m interested in buying in, but I have somewhere to go right now. I’ll have to get back to you some time later in the week” Nolann finished as he stood up turning towards Rodgren. “Err…nice meeting you,” the tiny Duros managed towards the hulking mass.

Absent-mindedly Rodgren replied the same, while making a dismissive wave as Nolann, Fern, and Dax exited the tiny apartment.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly like the idea of leaving that brute in the company of Mara, she might just get split in half herself.” Nolann spoke to the others over his shoulder as he walked down the smelly hall.

“We can’t help that right now, Schlick’s new mission awaits us,” Dax answered with a slight turn of his head and the coldness typical of chiss, “we’ll see her again. She’s a tough girl.”

“I can only hope,” the Duros replied with much doubt. The stone-faced Dr. Andromeda only looked at the dirty carpet as she trailed behind into the turbolift.

The Return to Ortho's

Taking the large public lift down from Crown Estates to the Workman’s District proved uneventful for Nolann, Eli, Dax, and Dr. Andromeda. Kratos feeling weary and desirous removing his breathing apparatus said goodbye and headed for a nearby atmosphere chamber that accommodates Kel Dor. Proceeding down the damp hall towards Ortho’s the crew began to notice more shops. On the right they passed a store with a sign reading Industrial Uniforms and to the left a store selling airspeeder parts. Immediately ahead at the end of the hall was a rare book shop and on the right-hand corner lay Allad’s Droid Repair Shop. Taking a right at the next hallway Karad’s Tattoo and Piercing was the shop to the left, directly across from Ortho’s Repair Shop on the corner.

Upon entering Ortho’s the characters looked to the right to see a dismantled droideka lying on the floor. The grotesque fat man sat behind his desk with dark protective goggles. He intently ignored the newcomers; his pudgy hands carefully held a tiny welder which was focused upon the housing of a large rifle lying across his messy desk. After a few more moments of silence the fat man chuckled with satisfaction as if there were some secret that the rifle before him held.

“Well, did you finish the job?”

“Here are the data chips that Schlick wanted and the cylinder.” Nolann offered.

“I don’t want those.” the fat man snapped “give those to Schlick when he returns.”

“Where is Schlick? He didn’t pick us up.” Dax eyed the pudgy man carefully.

“He’s away… on business in Imperial Center. He’ll probably be back in a week or two. No telling with Schlick.”

“But what about our compensation?” Eli stepped forward from behind as Nolann barred her approach with the back of his hand.

“I have your money little one. But first there is another mission for you.” The fat man bent down to open the lower drawer on his desk, struggling as though his fatness were suffocating each strangled breath. In his short hands he offered a small holoprojector “Take it” he managed. On the projector a small note read, Confidential, Read only when alone.

Now more composed the fat-man explained further, “Schlick says that’s for your eyes only. Here are your credits for the previous mission. I will be taking the equipment that I previously loaned you.”

“You can have them, little good these uniforms did us.” Andromeda scoffed.

“No kidding” Dax added. “I don’t know what their worth to you now that they are covered in our blood.”

“You can have them if you want them” Ortho responded unmoved “I’ll take 15 credits for each outfit.”

Nolann thought carefully “I think I’ll buy mine.”

“I want mine too!” Eli claimed pushing her way forward by ducking under Nolann’s outstretched arm.

Nolann and Eli paid for the uniforms then the crew left the repair shop with little more than a glance at the proprietor. The entrance to Crown Estates is always a pleasant experience even for the long-time tenants living there. Sounds of screaming babies, adults arguing in some intelligible language, bums lying in the floor are just some of the pleasant sights and smells to barrage the senses. Nolan has lived here in The Palace as it is more locally known with a red-headed human girl named Mara for some weeks now. Aside from the gaudy turquoise with brown-stained carpet, Mara’s place is decorated rather nicely (albeit girlishly). Nolann and the others have temporarily made this their home.

“Let’s get this thing turned on.” Dax laid the small disk-like holoprojector on the table in the relaxation room.

Clicking on the projector a small blue and translucent image of Schlick appears. His figure appears slim and tall. He is wearing his characteristic leather jacket, with a white silk shirt underneath. His black riding boots come all the way up to his knees.

Sorry I couldn’t be here in person to take care of this business but other priorities have called me to Imperial center for the moment. Here is what I need you to do. He shifts his weight to the other leg. You are to travel to the starlit café on the Ord city skyhook. Around 8:00 tonight a person will approach you at your table. He will say to you, how is the dianoga tea? And you should answer “I like its dark stains upon my lips.” He will then hand you a package, which you should not open until you have reached a private place. Inside you should find a description of the place you are to visit. Ortho should have given you an encrypted credit chip which contains 50,000 credits. Don’t even think about it, you’ll never slice it. Once you have arrived at the specified location use this money to bargain for a piece of cargo once carried on the vessel Intrepid, formerly destined for Alderaan. Try to get the lowest price possible for the deal. I will activate the credit chip when I know you have completed the mission. Once you have obtained the package, you will need to bring it to the Galactic museum in Imperial center. Ask for the curator named Nom Cardin. He will be your final contact for this mission. Once you have completed this assignment, call me on my comlink. My number is 827-72-9421-87. I will meet you on the plaza near Crown Estates. You can replay this message if you need to. Please don’t let this holoprojector fall into the wrong hands. You will receive payment when you display this projector, the remaining bargaining credits, and a receipt from Nom stating that you delivered the package.

The tiny blue image of Schlick blinked and then vanished leaving the sound of Mara’s apartment strangely quiet.

“What do you think?” Dax looked at Nolann.

The Conclusion to the Scumbag Ortho Mission

As the secret door swung open into the dark inner vault, the adventureres stood amid the scattered books, chairs, and files in Dien Mestra’s ransacked office. Fearing the darkness before them the characters lit a glow stick before entering. However, they discovered their fears to be unwarranted. To their left on the wall was a light switch. It was a small and bland room with white walls and no features. Immediately before them were filing cabinets labeled with ranges of dates. Following the labels the characters soon found the filing cabinet containing the ledgers they were seeking. Opening the drawer they found small rectangular data devices about the size of a human pinky. The small brown cylinder wrapped in brown paper was nowhere to be seen.

Deciding to make a visit to the Corellian Corvette parked outside the penthouse the team made their through the grand foyer and into the kitchen. Through the glass doors the rumbling sounds of the corvettes engines pulsed with a steady hum. Across the green lawn two soldiers dressed in the regalia of the Imperial Navy stood guarding the entry-plank. Carefully, making their way out the glass doors and across the penthouse garden Nolann and the others calmly approached the guards. Not expecting visitors the soldiers tensed slightly increasing the grip upon their blaster rifles.

Dressed in the navy blue mechanic jumpsuits of the Corellian Engineering Corporation Nolann began.

“We were called here for rountine maintenance of this ship, Can we enter?”

“I don’t recall orders for a mechanic crew I will have to clear it with the captain.”

“That’s hardly necessary, this is just a routine call. We come here every third Friday of the month.” Dax interjected.

“The captain always briefs us before maintenance inspections, one second” the guard fumbled in his pocket then pulling out a small silver comlink “Captain, some mechanics from the Corellian Engineering Corporation are here to do maintenance.”

“Mechanics?” the filtered voice queried. “I’ll be right down.”

After waiting about a minute or so a tall white haired man with a long face and sharp features, wearing the typical Imperial Navy officer’s uniform exited the ships hatch. In the nook of his left arm, he held a small brown cylinder wrapped in brown paper.

“I didn’t call for maintenance, who sent you?”

“The CEC’s maintenance headquarters, this is a routine call. It’s company policy to make courtesy calls to our best customers.” Eli Toboko offered.

“You aren’t the normal crew. We’ll have to call your headquarters to clear it.”

“That’s hardly necessary,” Nolann waved his right hand in a long arc “Headquarters will tell you the same thing. The CEC recognizes Moff Kalast as a valued customer.”

A shadow of disdain darkened the captain’s face. “Moff Kalast? This is an unlisted flight. I don’t believe who you say you are.”

And with that the Captain pulled a heavy blaster pistol from his side holster and aimed it directly at Nolann’s head. “Lietenant , cuff these creatures, they have some answering to do.”

And with that, the guards closed in to grab Nolann. Squirming away the small Duros evaded the imperials grasp. Fern Andromeda took the first action, carefully drawing her pistol from the concealed holster then firing. In the confusion the shot went wide, glancing off the hull of the ship. From behind Dax drew his lightsaber and hacked at the assaulting guardsmen. Seeing the soft glow of the ancient weapon flash in the darkness the captain screamed in bewilderment “It’s Jedi scum, Kill him!.” Turning their attention to the new threat all three imperials gunned for the Chiss armed with the lightsaber. Momentarily the Captain forgot his duty as the small wrapped cylinder dropped from his arm. Seizing the opportunity the sly Nolann reached down to grab the mysterious package. Eli then Kratos fired upon soldiers. The fighting continued for several minutes as each side traded fire. Unfortunately for this band of mercanaries, the Imperials proved to be deadly adversaries. Dropping both Dax and Dr. Andromeda unconsciously to the deck, Eli fumbled for the emergecy transmitter locator given them by Schlick. After a few more minutes fighting a taxi-cab rose over the side railing of the building’s roof landing perpindicular to the larger ship.

“Lets get going!” the driver yelled from the airspeeder.

Courageously under fire Nolann and Kratos dragged both Dr. Andromeda and Dax to the nearby speeder. Eli made cover fire as the fleeing infiltrators climbed into the transport. Lifting away from the roof, blaster fire glanced off the speeder’s hull as the team sped away into the night. That evening the characters returned to Crown estates where the party remained for a weeks worth of rest.

Meeting the Scumbag Ortho
The First Mission

Mission location:* Ord City, located in the northern hemisphere of Coruscant, approximately 60 km west of Imperial Center

Log Entry:

As the airspeeder taxi rises ever higher towards the upper most levels of traffic, the chilling rain splattering on the windshield obscures the urban galaxy center below. The nighttime City lights play on the raindrops in uneven patterns making it is difficult to see outside. Only the imposing shapes of passing buildings can be partially discerned. Brake lights from the traffic up ahead fill the windscreen in a motley blur. Occasionally the driver makes quick evasive actions to avoid hitting other vehicles. Nolann the squirmy green and bluish skinned Duros sits in the front passenger seat while Dax Sin Sur, Kratos, and Dr. Fern Andromeda sit crammed into the back of the floating aircab.

Of course, this is not the first time that this motley crew has ridden in this particular air cab, nor are these four unfamiliar with its driver Schlick Rogozhin, a full-time cab-driver/part-time private investigation broker. Tonight he asked that they join him for a quick ride above the Coruscant skyline.

After making a wide arching turn from the main body of traffic, the airspeeder approaches what appears to be a new skyscraper looming in the distance. Hanging on the skeletal frame of massive durasteel girders, a construction droid methodically goes about completing its work. As the cab approaches Schlick gently engages the repulsor thrusters to land the air cab in between two unfinished floors. A soft mist flows into the pillow of air between steel girders as the patter of rain conceals the sound of traffic below. Schlick motions the group to follow and steps out of the airspeeder into the cold precipitous air. There are no walls, only durasteel girders, leaving wide open spaces into the endless city below. It is about 8:00 PM.

Called together by the mysterious private investigation broker Schlick Rogozhin, the team met to discuss the details of their first mission: to infiltrate the private office of Dien Mestra, CEO of Chem Corp. Their goal, as proposed by Schlick, was to retrieve the companies secret financial data. As always Schlick expressed his desire to maintain client confidentiality of the hiring party. The mission plan was as follows: Mestra is always visited on every third Friday evening by Moff Kalast. Kalast invariably hands Mestra a cylinder wrapped in brown paper. Then at approximately 6pm, both leave to attend a regularly occurring shockboxing-match. The event typically lasts past 11PM. Kalast always travels in a miniature Corellian Corvette which he parks on the landing platform outside of Mestra’s penthouse. Since he routinely travels from the far out system of Ord Janon it is not uncommon for a team of mechanics from the Corellian Engineering Corporation(CEC) to do preventative maintenance checks. In the small window of time that is allotted, Schlick has asked the characters to infiltrate the building posing as mechanics from the CEC, locate a portion of the company’s financial data(located in Mestra’s private office), and retrieve the small mysterious cylinder. While it is preferred that the mission be conducted with the highest level of stealth and discretion it is understood that some collateral damage is to be expected. After receiving instructions, the party left to meet with a black-market dealer known colloquially as The Scumbag Ortho. Ortho provided the troop with uniforms from the CEC as well as ID badges for visual inspection. He gave further instruction, advising that the key to the penthouse elevator could be found in the maintenance quarters.

After Schlick dropped the party off at Crown Estates (a section of tenement housing reserved for non-humans), they immediately left for Ortho’s. Taking a large public lift down to the Workman’s district in the lower city levels, the areas rancid smells and filth signified a certain degree of neglect on the part of the local government. The lift was colored a dark red, with brown smudges, and graffiti and was illuminated by a single glow lamp dangling in the center. Nolann discovered vomit in one of the lifts corners.

The opening tunnel into the Workman’s district was cool and dank, with precipitation coalescing into large puddles. Stores lit with neon lights and accessed by recessed doorways, lined the tunnel walls. After passing by the entrance to a droid repair shop Nolann, Dax, and Fern heard a commotion occurring down the passageway to the left. Kratos was oblivious however, since he was busy contemplating the various shops. Following the noise down the left passageway the party discovered a small Bothan female being accosted by two large nikto, a rodian, and a drunk Duros. They obviously wanted something that she was holding, and planned to take her back to their boss. Pleading with the party for assistance, Nolann, Fern, Dax, and Kratos offered their help to the Bothan. Fern amazed the other party members with her cold skill with a blaster. After quickly dispatching the party of miscreants, Eli Tobokointroduced herself and asked to tag along. Then they went to make their visit with Ortho.

After entering the store called “Ortho’s Repair Shop” the troop was surprised to see a destroyer droid to their right. Fearing battle they quickly armed themselves, only to discover that the droideka had been disarmed and was chained to a pipe. Behind the desk immediately in front of them they found a short grotesque fat man. He was wearing a large magnifying glass attached to a headband around his bald head, which made his right eye look enormous. Over top his dirty wife-beater, he wore a long heavy dark leather apron (typical of artisans). His whiney voice and sickly appearance was immediately caustic to the eyes and ears of the observers. Quickly gathering their mission items, the team left for Nolann’s apartment in Crown Estates.

The drop off at Chem Corp on Friday night went exactly as planned. After a brief confrontation with the security guards in the first floor lobby they used the building’s computer system to find the maintenance quarter in the basement. After passing an oblivious maintenance worker, the party worked quickly to find the keys to Mestra’s penthouse. After slashing a strong box full of hydrospanners with his lightsaber, Dax quickly moved towards an area with maids carts and cleaning supplies and found the appropriate lock box for the keys. Now with the keys, the party moved to Mestra’s penthouse where they encountered a TC Series protocol butler droid. Fearing that time was being spent too frivolously, they attacked the poor defenseless droid by chopping his head off. Within Mestra’s home they found a considerable collection of antiquities as well as unfinished paintings. Mestra is apparently an artist and collector. After spending a couple of hours searching the large house they discovered a secret vault in Mestra’s office. They have yet to find the cylinder wrapped in brown paper. By 9PM the mission was not completed.


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