Episode 1: Escape from Agost
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
It is a dark time for the worlds
once graced by the glory of the Old Republic. The
Galactic Empire does not so much rule its domain as suppress
it beneath a white armoured boot. With ruthless and tyrranical control,
countless systems are forced to bow to the authority of Emperor Palpatine
and the forces led by his champion, the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader
Yet the Empire is not invulnerable. Fresh from their great victory at the battle of Yavin, the
Rebel Alliance mounts a small but growing resistance, hopelessly outnumbered, outgunned,
fighting on little more than determination and hope for the restoration of the galaxy that once was.
It is a guerrila war on an epic scale, in which countless heroes are made, friendships are forged, brave
sentients fight and die together, and many groups of friends and bands of adventurers have their own story to tell.
This is one such story...
The highsun period was hot but not
dry, dry being almost a foreign term on the grassworld of Agost.
Not much grass was visible from where Straun Solarwind was
standing, in a wide, dusty thoroughfare just off the main street
of Mol Danta. The city was one of the two capitals on the planet,
and was huge by Agostian standards (it even had a starport!), but
it was hard to find even one building that was taller than one
story high. Urban sprawl was so native to Agost the local tongue
didn't even have a word for "high rise". Straun fit
into the mold exactly, he had few memories of Alderaan.
The wind was warm in his face, but his long, braided black hair scarcely moved, and instead hung limp down the back of the earthen brown bodysuit he wore. He hefted the six-foot, bladed Eguale prod he carried, stroked the scar on his cheek thoughtfully, and strode toward the entrance of the Retro cantina.
Inside was crowded, filled with sentients of all descriptions and their accompanying smells and noises. Off to the left the band, a group of Squags, were hooting in placid tones designed to be as least offensive to as many races as possible. Straun was still hesitant in such situations, an Eguale farmer's life was a solitary one. Through the haze on the right he saw a burly man seated at a table, chatting in a quiet manner with a Sullustan. The human fit the description of Bokorr.
The name given him by the contact agent.
The man who could get him to the Alliance.
Straun approached warily, his
manner imposing to some of the smaller life forms present. The
man glanced at him indifferently.
"Bokorr?" Straun ventured.
"Could be," was the reply.
"I'm after a ticket offplanet," Straun blurted.
Bokorr slouched down and glanced around nervously, cursing under his breath the naivity of young farmboys. The only spaceports on the planet were at the capital cities (Mol Danta and Stoessel), and these were under strict Imperial control. Since Agost had been siezed for Imperial food production some five years ago few were able to get offplanet, and even fewer did so alive.
"You got the wrong person, mister. I'm a travel agent," Bokorr said, turning and muttering a few words to the Sullustan. Trying not to appear conspicuous, Straun took a seat and waited.
There was a commotion at the entrance to the Retro. Through the doorway appeared the looming figure of a Wookiee, causing several beings to shuffle nervously away. Menarggrah cast his gaze around the room, settled on Bokorr, and strode to the table in three huge strides.
"Yraagghh," he said, with feeling.
That's me," said Bokorr. "Have a seat. Didn't know a Wook was gonna be along this time." The Wookiee complied.
Finally a human entered the cantina dressed in simple overalls, a strangesnub-nosed blaster at his side. He pushed his way through the crowd and said loudly:
"Are you Bokorr?"
Bokorr frowned and said in a quiet voice "Yes. Sit down." Surge did, and proceeded to ignore everybody. Bokorr then glanced to the door, where a strange pair had just entered.
The first was a human, though he could have easily been mistaken for a larger being. Dar was massively muscled, had long hair and a large sword strapped across his back. A loincloth of some unfortunate creature's pelt was all he wore, contrasting to his black skin. Many of the beings in the Retro knew of his kind, but few, if any, had ever seen a Wilder out of the grass, let alone in a city.
Behind him was another human, with no less an imposing presence. The man wore an old slugthrower, an eight-gun such as was common further west in days long gone. A poncho with leather tassels rippled when he moved, and his features were partially obscured by the large hat he wore. When the two approached Bokorr's table, onlookers could hear the jingle of the electrospurs that adorned his boots. Few men looked like this in Agost, even in the galaxy, but then few men were Karlos Trialeki. Karlos ordered a drink from the bar as they passed, and they approached the table.Bokorr nodded, and motioned them to be seated.
"Okay," Bokorr began "Here's the way it works. I'm Bokorr, this here is Biel," -he gestured to the Sullustan- "and we don't know who you are. You ain't told us, and we don't wanna know. We don't want names and we don't want trouble, or you'll have the troopers down on us."
The attention of everybody at the table was drawn to Surge by a loud crooning sound coming from the floor next to him. Surge looked down and saw that a small, pudgy alien was stroking his blaster, crooning all the while.
With a solid <WHACK!> Surge gave the thing a hard backhand, sending it bowling along the floor under another table. From across the bar, a loud angry snort was heard.
A massive form arose, as big as a Gammorean, with a flat head and bigger tusks. It approached the whitening human through quickly vacated floor space and demanded of Surge:
"Okrucg buk bulr ackiiga!"
"What did he say?" Surge asked Bokorr timidly as his face turned white.
"I believe" Bokorr replied "it translates to something like 'why did you hit my wife'?"
The gaping Surge suddenly showed an inspired knowledge of alien languages, uttering an intimidated noise that sounded like "b-b-b-blgggghh." Seated behind where the large sentient now stood, Straun Solarwind moved the strange bladed polearm he carried, depressing a small button on the shaft as he did so.
There was a sudden <kzzzzt> sound, and the large form toppled over onto the floor with a crash.
"Er- another one who can't hold his drink" Bokorr defused the situation in a loud voice, then dropped his voice as he regarded the five.
"Right, meet me tomorrow, same time, docking bay 47, the 'Centura Celerity'.You late, we're gone. If you need a safe house overnight..." he whispered an address that nobody paid any attention to.
Over the course of the next hour, the group dispersed.
"It can't be right,"
"Ayeegghh," agreed Menarggrah, presumably.
The group stood,
reassembled, at docking bay 47. In front of them was not quite
what they'd expected. Okay, so maybe they hadn't expected a
But they HAD expected a ship.
In front of them was a massive repulsorskiff, some forty meters long. Although the forward cabin was enclosed, the massive deck was open to the sky, surrounded by a one meter wall. At the rear was a large engine raised above deck level, and two light blaster cannons flanked its supports. On the side, written in peeling paint, was Centura Celerity.
Sitting on the deck, apart from a few crates of lifters, were four Eguale. The horse-sized mantis beasts had many uses on the flat grassworld, ranging from mounts to beasts-of-burden to food. They had six appendages: four for running, one sickle-arm for slicing the grass they ate, and another to scoop it to the waiting mandibles. Straun and Karlos immediately noticed that they sported Eguale clamps, neck-pinchers that simulated the immobilising grip of the mother. The insectoids would sit there quite contently for a number of hours, unless frightened or extremely hungry.
"What a beauty, eh boys?" came the sudden voice of Bokorr from behind them "She's sleek, she's fast, she'll get us there no trouble at all." He patted the hull of the skiff affectionately, and flakes of rust fell away. With a loving sigh, he began hand-cranking down the loading ramp.
"What is this?" demanded Dar, the black warrior. "We want to go OFFPLANET, not to the bladesea!"
Bokorr shot him a patient look. "Keep yer skins on, grassboy. I'm the only one that knows the changing coordinates of a Rebel shuttle that comes down now and then for people like you. Think I'd try to take you up from Mol Danta? sheesh." The ramp clanged to the dirt, and he motioned his passengers up the ramp.
Biel was already aboard, and as the group came up the ramp he disappeared into the cabin with a Sullustan comment that sounded like "aabubbdab". The large engine at the back coughed and fired. Bokorr went in after the Sullustan, and easily slid the skiff out of docking bay 47. The engine roared, and the Celerity slid smoothly out of Mol Danta and across the empty grassplains.
After some hours of travelling,
Bokorr came out on deck, surveying the people before him and
appraising them through force of habit. Some had a lot to learn,
he thought, but the Rebels took what they could get. It was
obvious to him that a few of the group had never left Agost in
their lives- Straun was obviously an Eguale farmer, The muscled
black Wilder was probably getting vertigo from the height of the
skiff, and possibly that gunman, though he appeared to have some
street-sense, had never left the grassworld either.
"Wish we could get ridda that," he said, indicating the swathe of flattened grass the Celerity was leaving behind them. "Grass is back up in an hour or so, but if a buncha 'Slivers' cruises past they know they're hot." His reference to Agostian pirates was tentative, Bokorr had crossed them before, and had lost his best axe to them (and nearly his life).
Straun said nothing, but instead studied the Eguale. He wished Bokorr had not chosen the insectoids for his latest cargo, he was starting to feel homesick already (though they weren't as good as some of his mother's this season). Still, no matter what Samanti might say, he knew he was making the right decision. He WOULD leave his home. He WOULD join the Alliance.
He would know his father's fate.
Bokorr then sat on a crate and
shifted his hat over his eyes. Surge said nothing, his thoughts
lost in both the heights of his ambition and a twinge of shame
from his past.
Dar was filled with a sense of nervous anticipation, both at seeing new worlds and technologies and completing the task the elders had set for him.
Menaaggrah, the Wookie, was just glad he was getting off this dingy backwater dump at last. He set the staff he carried against the wall surrounding the deck, and sniffed the air curiously.
Karlos Trialeki idly drew his eight-gun and spun it on his finger without effort. He looked up at the blue sky above, and imagined the stars beyond.
Running. He hated running.
The thoughts of all were
interrupted by an unintelligible babble in Sullustan from inside
the Celerity's cockpit. Bokorr, whom Surge had thought
was asleep by now, was through the door in moments. The others
followed, through a mixture of curiosity and interest.
In the cockpit Biel was fiddling with the controls of what was barely discrenable as some sort of sensor apparatus. A dusty screen surrounded by loose wiring showed several alternating images, such as a blank screen, a few blips, static, and an irrelevant page of text.
"Damn!" Bokorr shouted. "Will this thing never work?" he gave it a solid kick, and it fell silent with a crackling hiss and burble of melted plasynth. "Here," he said, pulling a pair of macros from his tunic and thrusting them at Dar. "Get up on the roof and see if he was right."
The burly native quietly complied, clambering up on the railed platform on top of the cockpit. With the rushing wind of the speeding skiff full in his face and the gentle rocking of the vehicle beneath him, he scanned the macros around the horizon, stopping when he saw the three distant shapes behind the Celerity, closing fast.
From his vantage point atop the
cabin of the Centura Celerity, Dar could just
make out the three shapes far behind the craft, even with the
macrobinoculars. It was apparent that one was larger than the
other two, but no details could be discerned. What was
immediately apparent to his hunter's eye, however, was that they
were gaining fast.
As he relayed this information to the group on the deck below, Biel ran for one of the light blaster cannons at the stern. When the Sullustan reached the cannon and found it out of his reach, he ran over and began vainly pulling at one of the crates until Surge manned the cannon. Karlos, realising that the pirates were out of range of his eight-gun, took the other. The two trained the weapons on the approaching dots and waited.
The distance closed, and Dar started to make out some details. There were three skiffs; two packed with people and the third was not so much a skiff as a large archaic gun on repulsors. The figures on all the craft seemed human or at least near-human, and armed with all manner of weapons. Swords, needlebeamers, slugthrowers and many types of Gadderiffi waved uselessly out
of their respecive ranges, waiting for the gap to close. Both of the smaller skiffs were also armed with light blaster cannons, at the ready.
Menaaggrah, whom Bokorr had assumed to be very warlike, saw that he could do no good on the deck, and went back into the cockpit of the Celerity. Finding a tool box on the floor, he opened it and set to work on the sensor display.
Bokorr knew that their biggest problem was the gunskiff; a direct hit on the Celerity and they would all be landscape. He scanned the horizon hopefully, spotted a large colony of tower grubs, and headed for it.
About a meter long and half as wide, tower grubs burrow into the ground over the course of their considerable lifespan, secreting behind them a mucous substance that becomes hard and woody over time. Secretion towers have been known to exceed five meters in height, though the ones that the Celerity was speeding for averaged about three. Still, Bokorr thought, it might serve their purposes.
Then they were among them, and Bokorr had no time for idle thought. He utilised all his experience in the handling of the repulsorlift vehicle, weaving the Celerity through spaces that seemed too small for the speeding craft. From above, the calm voice of Dar informed him that the three skiffs had followed them in.
The Celerity was within range of the gunskiff now, but the craft held its fire. The archaic cannon could not turn independantly to the craft, and the pilot was more concerned with dodging the towers than shooting at their prey- at the moment. The two other skiffs, being smaller, seemed to have little trouble negotiating the strange forest.
Then the Celerity was clear, nothing ahead but the smooth, even plains. Surge and Karlos opened up with the cannons, now that they had even footing, but their targets were obscured by the towers. Between the secreted structures they could see the gunskiff clip a tower, crash into several, and plough to a halt, one of the crewmembers flung free. The other two skiffs zoomed free of the colony and began hammering bolts of energy at the Celerity.
As the gap closed rapidly, the gunners on either side exchanged fire with enthusiasm. Surge scored a hit first, a blast that took one of the pirates full in the chest aboard the crowded skiff on their left. The Sliver toppled into the grass at high speed, and in moments was left far behind.
The rest of the group crouched behind the meter-high wall that ringed the deck of the Celerity, and when the bolt crackled over Straun's head he felt almost tangible relief, at least until it hit the lifter crate behind him in a shower of sparks and sent the four large Eguale into a terrified frenzy. Scythe-arms flailing, they milled around the deck in panic.
As the second skiff began a sweeping approach, blaster cannon firing, Karlos squeezed off a volley that, by luck or design, hit and damaged its engine. As it dropped slowly astern, the pirates cursing and waving their weapons, He left the blaster cannon and drew his eight-gun, noticing for the first time the chittering of screaming Eguale behind him.
Straun, ignoring the fire, stood up and attempted to take control of the Eguale. Panicked as they were, they still recognised his prod and kept away from him. He began to herd them to a corner as Dar sprang down from the roof of the cockpit and landed lightly on the deck.
Surge blazed at the first skiff again, but missed with the unfamiliar weapon. As he steadied the blaster cannon for another shot he noticed that one of the pirates had drawn a large tube-shaped object and was pointing it in his direction. Behind him, he heard the <crack> of the eight-gun as Karlos fired defiantly.
There was a puff of smoke from the tube, and a small projectile soared toward the Celerity. It detonated some four meters above the deck into a large grey sphere that appeared to have the consistancy of bubblegum and was immediately swept back into the engine intake, as was its purpose.
There was a terrible <whumph>, and all but Karlos was thrown to the floor as the Celerity lurched wildly, and began losing speed.
Its main engine now gummed, the Centura
Celerity was quickly losing its momentum, though the
repulsors that held the ship aloft were rigged seperately and
hence were undamaged. Once sufficient speed was lost, the four
Eguale leaped over the wall into the grass and proceeded to run
in random directions, chittering as they went. Over the side
wall, Surge could see the skiff that had fired the gumgun sliding away from them, its main blaster cannon
firing ineffectually. He briefly wondered why the pirates would
bother to get some distance between the two craft. Bokorr didn't.
"Their blaster cannon has more range," He said gruffly. "Once they get out a bit we won't be able to hit 'em and they'll pick us off like mynocks." He instructed those manning the guns to tilt them upward, told everyone to get away from the walls, and vanished inside the cockpit, muttering about his loss of cargo. He passed Menarggrah coming out, rubbing his head irritably.
With a sharp <CLANG!> another two meters of blast shielding shot up from inside the wall surrounding the Celerity, forming an effective three meters of solid defense.
"Better," said Bokorr, coming back to the deck with blaster drawn. "Now they'll be forced to board. Get ready."
There was a tense few minutes of silence as the group spread out behind the wall in the direction the skiff was last seen. There was no need for anyone to climb to the roof of the cockpit and check its current direction, as the more perceptive of them could hear the whine of repulsor engines drawing closer from behind the wall. This was followed quickly by the sound of magnograpplers hitting it, and grunts of anticipation.
Then everything seemed to happen
at once. Five figures appeared at the top of the wall, all
dressed in scraggly mismatched clothing with an assortment of
weapons. A spindly human with a gaderiffi swung it straight down
onto Straun's head, and the young Eguale farmer dropped to the
deck bleeding profusely from a deep wound. A curious small
creature with an evil
grin hefted a sawnoff shotgun longer than he was high. He swung it around with a cackling "Kaladaa rowuukida!", blasted some shot harmlessly into the deck, and sailed out of sight with the force of the recoil, squealing.
Karlos Trialeki was fast, but before he could react one of the Slivers squinted his near-human eye along the top of his needlebeamer, and squeezed off a well-aimed shot that took Karlos full in the chest. With a grassblade's width between him and death, he crumpled to the deck with a sucking chest wound.
Surge fired, his stubby blaster throwing out blue concentric rings of stun energy. One of the Sliver Pirates lurched it washed over him, but gritted his teeth and fired his slugthrower at Dar. The shot passed over the nimble warrior's head, and <pting>ed off the wall on the other side.
Menarggrah threw his staff upward at one of the figures on the wall, and Surge noted with interest that it was a staff no more. The weapon now sported a shiny point that vanished into the stomach of the Sliver and pushed him backwards off the Celerity, accompanying another that Bokorr had just blasted.
As Surge moved to Straun, pulling out a medpac as he did so, another figure appeared at the top of the blast wall. The pirate was large by human standards, and wielded a huge axe. Bokorr gasped in recognition.
Menarggrah swung at the burly human as he dropped from the wall, but connected only lightly. The pirate leader swung his axe in a mighty sweep that smashed into the Wookiee's chest and drove him back with a roar. Before the leader could follow up his attack, however, his torso was transfixed by the sword of the Wilder, Dar, and the pirate leader died without a sound.
Contrasting this was the last remaining bandit on the wall, who collapsed with a scream as another blaster bolt from Bokorr hit him in the head.
There was a momentary silence, as the group realised that the entire crew of the skiff had been eradicated. Dar then cleaned his sword on a prone body and scooped a discarded needlebeamer off the deck. By this time Biel was busy attending to the near-dead Karlos, and Surge had done what he could for Straun. He straightened up, told Bokorr "He'll be awake in a few minutes," then went to the back of the Celerity and began climbing the small ladder there toward the gummed engine. Bokorr remained silent, happythat he had his axe back and the swine who had stolen it had paid in full.
A cough at his feet gained his
attention. Straun had weakly regained consciousness and was
trying to say something. Bokorr bent over him. "What was
that again, son?"
Straun coughed again, and wheezed. "Listen," he said.
Bokorr did, and heard it.
The whine of repulsorlift engines.
Dar straightened as Surge shouted from aloft "The other skiff!". The big warrior sprang to the other side wall, sword in a reverse-hand grip.
Now all of them could hear the sound of the other skiff's damaged engine drawing toward them, revving unevenly. Menarggrah, seemingly only irritated by his wound, stomped over to Dar. The two looked to Bokorr for ideas.
"Get ready to go for it," he said, and walked through the cockpit door.
The skiff drew alongside warily,
and the five pirates on board were preparing to board when the Celerity's
wall dropped and their prey boarded them first. Dar and
Menarggrah landed among them, both uttering noises in their
respective languages with similar meaning.
It was a short, furious battle. Dar fought with century-old techniques that his people had learned from watching the Eguale: his enemies fell as the grass. Menarggrah had no weapon and needed none, taking the Slivers down through sheer strength. With the advantage of surprise the fight was over in seconds. Menarggrah waved victoriously to Surge (who had almost finished cleaning the engine), as a faint <poomph> sound rang in the distance.
With an enourmous explosion the first skiff was hit directly amidships and went up like a bomb, raining metal shards, grass and turf onto the deck of the Celerity. Dar glanced back the way they had come, saw the gunskiff barely three hundred meters away, and closing fast.
The deck beneath him lurched suddenly, and for an insane moment he thought they had been hit, but once he gained his footing he spun and saw that Menarggrah had taken the controls. The Wookiee pointed to the skiff's gun, and though Dar knew not a yowl of Wookiee, the meaning was clear.
Surge, halfway down the ladder, threw caution to the wind and dropped the rest of the way. A shout from Straun had already informed Bokorr of the engine's restored status, and with a slur it came to life. The CELERITY sprang forward and began gaining speed, leaving the scene of their earlier battle behind them. The gunskiff, however, had much greater momentum and was
closing the gap rapidly.
"Har, Har, Har!" laughed
Gik through his scraggly beard. There were few things he loved
more than to have victims on the run from his skiff-mounted
cannon. This chase was particularly interesting, he thought, and
the reward would be sweeter, as the pilot of the huge rustbucket
they were after had managed to force him into a grub tower.
The other two, working the loader and skiff controls, gave him the thumbs-up again, and he fired the huge gun once more. This shot went to the left of the Celerity, fountaining grass where the second small skiff had been seconds before. Gik corrected to the right, not wanting to risk hitting his comrades, and noted that the second skiff was coming back toward them.
He begain to think of possible reasons when the puzzle was solved as Dar opened up with the blaster cannon. The gunskiff pilot swerved, ducking as he did so, and Gik's next shot went wide. The loader slammed another shot in the breech and reached for his blaster carbine.
Though armoured, the gunskiff was sluggish. It was usually used in battle protected by the other two skiffs, and now those were gone (worse yet, one of them was attacking!). Dar ignored the retaliatory shots and kept firing.Though he had never used such weapons before, his persistance paid off and he was rewarded with a few minor hits on the gun itself before another of his shots hit one of the repulsors. The gun began to tilt on an angle, still at full throttle. As the pilot fought with the controls at high speed, Gik realised he would have one more shot at the fleeing Celerity. Brow wrinkling in concentration, he depressed the firing stud.
From Dar's perspective, the gunskiff leaped into the ground. The heavy recoil of the gun was too much for the tilting skiff to carry, and as the cannon roared the repulsorless corner of the vehicle clipped the grassy surface. At its top speed, the gunskiff cartwheeled to destruction.
Slightly over an hour later,
Bokorr throttled back, the skiff alongside matching his
movements. He pointed up through the transparisteel, to where
Straun could faintly make out two dots dropping from the blue.
They swelled rapidly in size and became two ships; a sleek
Lambda-class shuttle that folded its wings placidly and came to
rest lightly on the flat ground in front of the Celerity,
and the magnificent sight of a Rebel Alliance X-Wing that broke
off and circled a wide perimeter.
Bokorr lowered the giant cargo skiff's main ramp, and the group filed down it (Dar and Menarggrah jumping from the other skiff). Karlos, carried by Surge and Straun, had regained consciousness, but was in no shape to do any more than exist. The ramp on the shuttle hissed downward, and two Rebel troopers appeared cautiously. Then another figure, dressed in pilot's fatgues, strode casually down the ramp and addressed Bokorr warmly.
"Top job, Ace. Any trouble?" he added the query with concern, noting the dressings on Karlos, Straun and Menarggrah.
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Bokorr said offhandedly. He then shook each of his passengers' hands in turn, wishing them good luck and thanking Menarrgrah for fixing his sensor screen. He looked at the other skiff and mentally priced it compared to his lost cargo.
"Welcome aboard, boys!" said the pilot. "My name's Greer, and you've made the right decision. Verm, slap some cred on the man with the sled.."
Minutes later Agost dropped beneath them, a fascinating sight for Straun, Karlos and Dar. Soon, however, all eyes were cast upward.