Episode 3: The Data Dump
PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them so far).
Asti : Woman with good knowledge of droids.
Quiet, cool-headed and sensible.
Stoge : Brash Pilot.
Straun Solarwind: Polearm-wielding farmboy. Searching for his father's fate.
Dar : Muscled black native.
Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger.
Surge : Knowledgeable man, good shot with a blaster.
Menarggrah : Wookiee.
Straun Solarwind stood transfixed
by the scene outside the viewport of his room in the Usurper.
Another observer would have merely seen the stars twinkling in
the distance, the wispy nebulae, the spiralled galaxies. Straun
saw mystery, facts obscured by distance and past. Somewhere out
there was someone or something that could tell him of his father's
fate more than two decades ago, and vast as the galaxy was he had
to find that fate. He had to try.
He dropped his hand to the holoprojector, and instantly a picture appeared; a smiling man, his loving wife, their precious child. Straun studied it thoughtfully for a moment, trying to recover memories that wouldn't come. He flicked off the projector as the door opened behind him.
"Ready?" Surge queried cautiously, sensing he had interrupted something.
"Yes," replied Straun, picking up his Eguale prod and noting that Surge's clothes were as deliberately drab and inconspicuous as his own. Checking his blaster, he followed the other man toward the docking bay.
Their mission was far from complex, yet was (according to Lieutenant Fraggine) extremely important. They were to travel to Gaarla, a core system, and in the capital city of Trus'klan they were to meet an Alliance courier agent in the starport and collect a datastick containing vital information. The system was under an extreme level of Imperial control, so they had to be cautious.
The biggest problem of the group was Menarggrah the Wookiee, as most Wookiees in Imperial areas were slaves, but this was remedied by the provision of a fake pain-collar, the controls given to Straun who took the role of Menarggrah's owner (once again the versatile Eguale prod fit the role perfectly). Other than that they all wore casual clothes.
A Rebel ship was too risky for the mission, so it had been arranged for a passing neutral freighter to transport them in. They were shuttled out to a YT-1300 at an anonymous rendezvous point, and there met the pilot, a gruff human named Bork. Copiloting the freighter was an Ithorian with a name that nobody attempted to remember.
The trip to Gaarla seemed short,
broken only by a few challenging games of holochess with the
Ithorian. Bork didn't talk much during the trip, Asti thought
that if a phrase described him it would be "I don't want to
get involved." He knew his business, though, as was
evidenced when they dropped out of hyperspace at Gaarla and were
confronted by two Imperial Nebulon-B frigates outside the planet's
Karlos was instantly apprehensive, seeing for the first time two ships the size of the Usurper. He shifted feet uneasily, hand reaching by instinct for his eight-gun. He was glad to be in action with it again, having recently developed a healthy dislike for using blasters (and, for that matter, wearing stormtrooper armour).
Bork answered the Imperials' questions smoothly, and the YT-1300 dropped toward Gaarla and Trus'klan.
"Hurry it up," said Bork
as the ramp dropped to the surface of the starport. "And don't
get inta trouble. I'm here for three days; if you're delayed for
longer than that you're walking home."
Karlos Trialeki strode cautiously down the ramp, his electrospurs <chink>ing as he walked. He cast his gaze slowly around the starport, noting the number and variety of ships, and the strong Imperial presence.
Stormtroopers dotted the throng of sentients, some patrolling, some performing random searches. As the six other Rebels joined him, Karlos started for a large entrance ahead that appeared to lead to the cantina.
Straun realised with a start that a small group of stormtroopers were looking in his direction, one pointing. Not daring to disobey, he approached them.
"Yes, you. We need your Wookiee." Straun noticed for the first time that they were in an unloading bay adorned by numerous crates. Filled with a sense of dread, he motioned Menarrgrah over.
"Load the sled, slave, NOW!" A junior officer commanded him sternly.
Menarggrah glared at the officer. Straun sincerely hoped that the Wookiee could control his temper, otherwise they would have no choice but to find out how many they could take out before the entire planet cut them down.
Time seemed to stop. Straun swallowed nervously.
Menarggrah, bowing his head in servitude, began to unload the crates.
Straun exhaled loudly despite himself, and turned it into a fit of coughing before the stormtroopers became suspicious.
The entrance took the others to a
row of turbolifts, the corridors seemingly dark in comparison to
the open starport. They took a lift to the main bar on level 2
and selected a table. The courier was nowhere to be seen.
"A professor!" said a voice from a table behind Dar. "A PROFESSOR becoming a bounty hunter! I'm a-tellin' ya, Eum, it's true. He became bored with teachin' and decided to get some adventure before croakin'. Can't see past 'is nose without his glasses, and uses a stun blaster so's he won't hurt anybody! Old, bald, white beard. Wears purple, if I remember the story rightly..."
"What was the name?" enquired a curious listener.
"Bobb," answered the storyteller. "But they call him 'The Feet' because you'd swear he's got two left ones."
"Bobb The Feet, eh?" mocked a listener. "Yeah, and I'm a Sith Lord!"
Listening to the gossip, Surge failed to notice the serving sentient until he/she/it was beside the table, raising a tentacle politely.
"Excuse me, humans. I have a long-distance visicomm call for a Mr. Karlos Trialeki."
Karlos straightened in the chair, then turned to the others.
"Could it be.. him?"
"We were told," said Surge, "to expect him in person."
Karlos stood and walked in the direction of a pointing tentacle, to where a visicomm unit was flashing expectantly. He pushed the activator.
A face filled the screen, an unfamiliar one to Karlos. It was roughly human, covered by an obscuring cloth and featured a triple visor that covered the eyes in a diagonal fashion. It addressed Karlos in a low, gravelly voice.
"The Empire has a bounty on you, Trialeki. I mean to collect."
Karlos felt the tingling of fear. He knew this would happen sooner or later. He froze.
The screen showed a limited amount of scenery behind the bounty hunter, and Karlos recognised it.
It was the cantina Karlos was standing in.
Slowly, keeping his hand movement under camera height, Karlos reached down for his eight-gun. A Twi'lek wandered past, and shortly appeared on the visicomm screen. Karlos estimated the direction as the bounty hunter grated out crimes and threats.
Karlos spun, his blurring hand tearing the gun from its holster. It barked once, kicking in his hand like a living being, and, through the crowded cantina, the bounty hunter crumpled with a bullet hole between his eyes.
The sound of the shot washed over the patrons of the cantina as the bounty hunter slumped lifelessly to the floor. Karlos immediately knew that mingling with the crowd wasn't an option, so he wisely tried to leave the cantina. He strode out the door, feeling very conscious of himself. All eyes were upon him and not the Wookiee that entered the cantina led by Straun.
The two seated themselves with their companions, Straun relating how Menarggrah had been insulted at every turn during his task. They were approached by a curious creature, five feet tall, wiry and with gray skin. Apart from his bulbous eyes, his basic shape was human-like.
"I say there," he said to Asti. "have you tried the Imperial soup?"
"No," she completed the passphrase. "It's bad for my system."
"We leave," he said.
Outside they met Karlos and they
took a lift to the basement of the starport, which was deserted.
The small alien turned to face them and chattered quickly.
"I am Ilgin the Stroo, yes, in point of fact I am. Yes indeed."
Stoge and Menarggrah turned to each other with curious looks as Straun enquired:"Quick! give us the datastick and we'll be off!"
Ilgin suddenly looked downcast.
"I don't have it," he said sadly. "At least, not anymore. No."
Karlos frowned. Menarggrah reached for Ilgin. Asti held up a hand.
"I was working in the repulsor factory when it was subjected to a random search, it was. Yes. I hid it in the only place I could, the garbage, and when I got back it had been collected."
Several of the group fumed silently.
"But I know where it's been taken," Ilgin continued. "I know EXACTLY where it is. Exactly, yes."
"Well?" Surge prompted.
"The garbage continent," said Ilgin.
"Why did I let you talk me
into this?" whined Surge.
"Fraggine said the datastick was VITAL," Asti pointed out.
"This STINKS," said Straun, stating the obvious.
"I thought the Wookiee was bad," muttered Stoge.
Menarggrah screeched an incomprehensible reply.
The group stood knee-deep in garbage in a stinking freighter that was chugging its odorous way through the high atmosphere of Gaarla, the only way to get to the garbage continent. They all wore heavy belts covered with circuitry and powerpacks, connected to each other by a thin cable.
"These paragrav chutes are cheap," informed Ilgin, totally failing to boost flagging morale. "Not like the ones used by the Imperial paragrav troops, No. These are basically a weak repulsor that burns out as it goes down, so they can be used only once. The continent is divided into various sectors, such as the radioactive sector. The pilot, Argin, will drop us into the sector used by the repulsor company I work for, yes he will. I've heard that there is a hermit who lives somewhere down there who sifts through the garbage. He may be able to help us, yes he may."
"Alright then, stringy," piped up Stoge. "How do we get back?"
"I have a friend, another Stroo who lives on an island near here. Gilgin will meet us at the Western tip of the continent in just over two days in his boat."
"Oboy," said Straun sarcastically. "I've always wanted to visit Gilgin's island."
They had persuaded Bork to wait another day, but it was going to be close.
"So how are.." began Surge as the cargo door of the garbage scow opened and they all flew into space. The thin cables were strong, but the buffeting force of the drop was too much for some of the connections. They heard faint snapping sounds amid the sound of cascading garbage, and just after they had again distinguished up from down they noticed that they were now in three groups. Menarggrah, Dar and Ilgin drifted away together, Karlos went spinning helplessly off on his own, and the other four (Surge, Straun, Stoge and Asti) remained joined.
Dar was hit with a sudden attack of vertigo, followed by a large leaf of some unknown rotting vegetable. The paragrav chutes activated and seemed to be slowing their descent (the garbage, relative to them, fell far below), but they were still at a great height. Karlos, holding his hat tightly, extracted his poncho from around his head. He made the mistake of looking down.
By then their senses had rearranged themselves and they noticed the smell. It was far worse than even inside the garbage scow, even though they were far above the speckled, multicoloured landscape.
Because of the nature of the continent, they were at a relatively low altitude before they started to make out some details. Dar, Menarggrah and Ilgin saw that the surface below them seemed to be moving, then Ilgin noticed with a gasp that what they beheld was a massive, hairy brown swarm of some type of vermin flowing along the surface as a living blanket.
Menarggrah, reasoning that there was no sense in all of them being stripped to the bones, grasped the cable seperating him from Ilgin and reeled in the wiry alien. Snapping the cable like thread, he pushed him far from himself and Dar, sending him sailing out of the reach of the swarm. As it rushed up to meet them he attempted the same action with Dar, but as they pushed each other apart time ran out and they both landed in midst of the living carpet.
The small creatures swarmed over their feet harmlessly.
Dar expressed relief. Manarggrah kicked a few of the things in irritation, and they set off to find Ilgin and the others.
Karlos Trialeki was having fun. He
had never jumped from a height before and was considering it as a
regular, safe method of entertainment when the repulsor on one
side of his belt blew with a spark and he began to list at an
Looking down, he saw an enourmous section of hull plating lying at an angle below. It was easily over one hundred meters square, and he was going to land near the top of its sloping mass.
He didn't so much land as ski. As soon as he touched the surface he sped down the slope first on his side, then on his back. He attempted to stand up twice and failed. The bottom of the slope, strewn with small bits of rubbish, was hurtling toward him incredibly fast.
In an astounding feat of dexterity, he pushed himself up to his feet.
"Yes!" he said triumphantly.
He then hit the bottom of the slope at great speed, and was sent tumbling over old food containers, small bits of metal, and some wet plastic into an old droid casing.
Straun, Stoge, Asti and Surge
surveyed the surface below them.
It was just plain garbage.
Their impression of this changed when they landed. Straun landed and kept right on going, the cable snapping, into a sinkhole in the garbage. He fell fifteen meters and landed on his ribs on a girder transfixing the hole. He felt something crack.
The others looked down helplessly. The sinkhole appeared bottomless, extending far beyond the girder, and Straun didn't know how long he could hold on.
"We need a rope," said Surge with a sudden flash of insight.
"We have a few bits of cable," said Asti. "and here's a section of power tubing, and maybe that's some wire over there.."
They set to work. In a few minutes they had constructed an improvised length of rope that they lowered to Straun. He looped a length over himself, and they precariously lifted him up.
The group was together again
within half an hour. Menarggrah had found Ilgin chest deep in
some unknown black slop, and they tied the partially-powered
paragrav chutes to the Stroo. Menarggrah boosted him up with his
pair of macrobinoculars, and they located the others a few
hundred meters away. Karlos, after climbing a hill, ran over to
They set out to the northeast, Ilgin taking his bearings from a distant smoking mountain, a volcano composed of garbage. It was slow going, trudging through regions of rotting food and gleaming metal scraps.
After some hours of walking, Menarggrah stopped.
"Rigggyaalggh," he waved his arms excitedly.
"Huh?" replied Straun.
The Wookiee gibbered unintelligibly, pointing in a direction and waving his arms some more.
"Hold it," said Asti. I though I saw something move."
There was silence as they all surveyed the refuse. Struan thought he caught a glimpse of something long and thin sliding through the garbage, but couldn't be sure.
Surge became convinced that Straun was right when a dark green tentacle wrapped around his body and attempted to pull him down. He cried out, struggling furiously as he wrestled with the thing. Straun moved to help, raising his Eguale prod, but was stopped as another of the things thrust from the rubbish and seized his leg. Menarggrah spied a hatch cover amid the garbage and stood on it, looking down in concern.
Surge, one arm pinned to his side, struggled to reach behind him to his pack. The garbage seemed to be rising about him: he was slowly being dragged under. Dar sprang forward, swinging his ornate sword, and in two slices Surge was free. The severed thing fell, spewing brown blood and twitching violently. Straun hacked at the similar one on his leg with the blades of the Eguale prod, his leg becoming slippery with garbage and its blood. A last swing finished the creature, and Straun stepped away, sickened and breathless.
There was a deafening roar, muffled beneath the garbage. The ground seemed to heave up, throwing Straun and Karlos off their feet in a fountain of garbage. Someone screamed.
Towering above them was a massive worm some forty feet long, its hide strewn with refuse. Around its mouth had been four long tentacles, of which two were now fountaining stumps.The other two lashed themselves around Asti and Dar, and the huge mouth swept towards them.
Karlos scrambled to his feet and
fired at the mass of the creature, but the worm appeared not to
feel or notice his bullets. The two remaining mouth-tentacles
lashed out, one finding Asti's waist and the other wrapping
itself around Dar. As the muscly human wrestled with the slimy
appendage, Asti was lifted off the ground toward the dripping maw.
Karlos fired again, his practiced eye enabling him to fire at -and hit- the tentacle holding Asti. The worm roared again, louder this time, but the tentacle holding the woman was still moving her upward.
Dar was more fortunate. He had already drawn his sword by the time the thing gripped him, and with an effort he freed his sword arm from the tentacle and severed it with a powerful blow. He sprang toward Asti, knowing he wouldn't get there in time. Out of the corner of his eye he suddenly saw the inspiring sight of Straun, who had been behind the worm, up on the creature's back, slashing furiously into it with his Eguale prod.
Suddenly Menarggrah ran forward, yelling in Wookiee and holding aloft a shiny, square object from the garbage. With a great leap, he slammed the hatch cover into the thing's mouth.
"Yes!" exclaimed Stoge. "Two points for the visiting team!" he sighted carefully along his blaster, and with simultaneous shots he and Karlos cleanly blew away the damaged tentacle holding Asti. She dropped two metres into the slush as Surge, Dar and Straun finished the thing off.
"My goodness," said
Ilgin quietly in the silence that followed.
"Wow," added Stoge. "That thing picks up women as easy as I do."
"Look!" shouted Straun, still atop the worm's back, pointing.
A few hills of garbage away stood a small figure, watching them and gesturing to follow.
Surge shrugged and started after it. The others followed. As they drew closer they could see it was a small creature dressed in
rags with a piglike face. Ilgin told them it was an Ugnaught.
"Come, come," it said, turning and waddling a few steps, then turning again. "Come."
They followed it for some time, picking their way between engine parts, oily pools and indiscernable objects. As they crested a hill over an hour later Karlos stopped. "Will you look at that," he said, somewhat awed.
Ahead was a massive, roughly circular canyon some two kilometers across, and its walls were dotted with holes, reinforced and decorated. Small figures could be seen waddling in the distance.
"An Ugnaught city," breathed Surge, fascinated.
"Lead on, ugly," Stoge addressed the Ugnaught with them.
He led them over to the other side and into a large entrance that narrowed into a maze of tunnels. Once they were all thoroughly lost they emerged into a huge room filled with Ugnaughts and sporadically lit with a salvaged perpetual illumi-system. At the front was an ornate throne that towered above the assembly. A tall Ugnaught sat on it, ornately dressed compared to the others.
"Hey," said Surge. "This could be the king."
They all looked at him.
The Ugnaught leading them approached the throne and spoke.
"My lord, these outsiders have killed the Slough!"
All of the Ugnaughts gasped. Karlos couldn't be sure if this was because they approved, or if the worm had been their pet or even deity. His hand moved closer to his eight-gun.
"They have slain the Slough!" exclaimed the king.
"THEY HAVE SLAIN THE SLOUGH!" repeated the assembly.
"Truly, they are worthy to find the secret of the everburning mountain!" spoke the king.
"THEY ARE WORTHY!" cried the Ughnauts as one.
"Hang on," said Straun.
"We haven't got time for a quest. We have to find.. um.."
"The hermit, yes," prompted Ilgin.
"The hermit," Straun addressed the king. "Yes."
"Yeah," agreed Stoge. "We outa here."
"Then they will be worthy to take from the sacred bag of treasure!" declared the king.
"Hold on, guys," Stoge paused.
The Ugnaughts gasped.
"Surely, my lord," spoke an Ugnaught, "Surely they are not worthy to take from the SACRED BAG OF TREASURE??"
"THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE!" chanted the assembly.
"I am Phthug the Phirst," declared the king. "and I decree that if they find the secret of the everburning mountain, they shall be worthy to take from the sacred bag of treasure!"
"THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE!" chanted the assembly.
"Hold it," said Asti.
"We're already on a quest. We have to find this hermit. It
is vitally important to.. our people."
Phthug 1 frowned.
"Let's cut a deal," he said suddenly, and began to explain. "Many years ago the everburning mountain stopped burning.."
"Then why..?" ventured Karlos, then shook his head. "Never mind."
"..but started burning again a few months ago. None of my people who ventured near have ever returned. If you find out why we will show you where the hermit lives, and you also get to take from the sacred bag-" his voice was momentarily lost as the crowd erupted:
"THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE!"
Menarggrah glanced to Ilgin, who
"Deal," decided Surge.
"Then we feast!" proclaimed Phthug 1. The crowd milled around in a happy throng.
"Yeah, let's do it!" shouted Stoge, getting into the spirit of things. He drew his blaster, fired it dramatically into the roof, and then took cover from the ensuing cascade of refuse.
Some Ugnaughts had come in with large pots of a bubbling green substance and were passing around bowls. "Hungry?" one asked the Rebels.
Dar eyed the stuff distastefully. "I don't even WANT to know what.."
"Sure!" interrupted Stoge, reaching for a bowl. "I'll be in anything but a bath". Straun grabbed two and passed one to him. They both filled their bowls.
"Enthusiasm stew," Ilgin stated, looking at the slop knowingly.
"Enthusiasm stew?" Dar looked puzzled. "Why call.."
Ilgin's face twisted into a grotesque form. Surge realised that the Stroo was smiling.
"They put everything they got into it."
Everyone groaned. Menarggrah cuffed the alien lightly on the back of the head.
Everyone's attention was suddenly drawn to Straun, who fell to his knees and vomited violently. He was led away coughing and hacking, his face turning green.
"Actually," said Stoge, smacking his lips, "That wasn't half bad." The pilot held out his bowl again.
The stinking volcano loomed ahead
"Burning toxic waste?" mused Surge. "Maybe some fuel cells that were ignited.."
"They dump anything here," said Asti. "It could even be fossil fuels."
They trudged on.
"I hadn't noticed it was lopsided before," said Straun, now feeling better.
It was true. The mountain seemed to have thrust from the surface at an angle, and now listed to the right. They spread out, keeping within sight of each other, and studied the strange feature of the continent. Some started up the slope and worked their way around it, and were starting to get bored when Stoge cried out from the top side. It took them all a while to reach him, standing on a large slab of metal.
"Look at this," he said, indicating how the slab was partially covered and at the same slope as the upper side of the mountain.
"This isn't a volcano, it's a ship!"
The group looked up at the smoking
peak, mentally drawing a line down to where they were. It
appeared that Stoge was right.
"If it's a ship, it couldn't be too big," Surge estimated. "There must be a hatch under here somewhere."
They started brushing away some of the garbage, enlarging the uncovered area. A few of them wandered away after a while looking for an easier way in, but found nothing. Hours passed before they uncovered the airlock, fused shut with time and garbage. There was no manual lever apparent, and the efforts of Menarggrah and Dar to prise if open with scavenged lengths of metal proved fruitless. Frustration was starting to set in when Surge opened one of his medpacs and produced a small object that was not standard issue.
It was a third of a meter long, a vibrotool that was not a blade yet not a saw, but somewhere in between. Surge activated the vibrocutter and set to work, making slow headway through the thick metal.
When the lock finally dropped in with a hollow clang, a dark gaping hole faced them.
"This," said Karlos "is when we notice that no-one has a glowrod."
"I need none," said Ilgin. "No I don't, no." He scrambled down into the darkness.
They improvised some torches from conveniently available materials and started down, torches smoking. The ship was on its right side, making the wall the floor. Stoge suggested they make for the cockpit to check the engine
status, and they started down the sloping corridor. Rust, exposed wiring, and an eerie stillness completed the sense of mechanical decay as they made their way carefully down under the surface of the garbage continent. Where the corridors had once turned left was now a high wall to be climbed, a turn to the right was now a dangerous drop. The trip, however, was uneventful until the floor(wall?) gave way beneath Asti and she disappeared out of sight with a shriek. A clang followed almost immediately.
They peered down cautiously. Asti lay on another level below, winded but unhurt.
"Do we go down or does she come up?" pondered Straun.
"Down," decided Stoge. "See those coloured lines down there? that's a restricted access area. We must be getting close."
After some careful climbing they continued, and eventually ended up in a room containing dimly winking banks of control panels, obviously the cockpit. A transparisteel viewport showed a somewhat limited view of compressed garbage.
"Amazing!" exclaimed Ilgin "Yes it is, yes!"
"Look," Surge indicated a diagram on the wall. "An exploration/survey vessel. I wonder how it ended up in this dump? Guess we'll never.."
"Grugghlaa!" Menarggrah stated in confusion.
"He's right," added Stoge, as the two surveyed the readouts. "The engines are turned off."
"Turned OFF?" Straun puzzled. "Then maybe.."
"They must have been disconnected from here and are being controlled direct from the transial exchangers," interrupted Stoge, starting up the slope again. "Let's go."
The diagram showed them an easier route to the rear of the ship, and they started out. Things went well until they forced open a door and found themselves in the main cargo hold.
It was a massive room extending far above and below the doorway they stood tentatively in, and the other side could not be seen, existing somewhere beyond the flicker of their torches. Ships gravity had apparently been inverted here, as a walkway of mesh flooring extended from above their heads and disappeared into the darkness toward the other side.
"Simple," said Asti. "We climb down, walk across, climb up.."
"Wait," said Karlos, bending down with his torch. Below, on what was once the roof of the hold, hundreds of crates lay smashed open from the force of either the crashing ship or the loss of inverted gravity. From the height they were, Karlos could just make out the word 'Graysite' printed on some of the crates in bold letters of red.
"Nobody drop anything," he said, testing the mesh above them. "Down there are who-knows-how-many tons of Graysite, a seismic survey explosive that becomes unstable if left for long periods."
There was silence for a moment.
Menargrrah produced a long coil of rope and proceeded to tie the group together. In a slow procession, they gingerly started to climb upside down along the mesh, trying not to look down or think of what was below them. Ilgin's clawlike hands gave hm an advantage, as did Menarggrah's climbing claws.
The hold seemed to stretch for eternity as the Rebels inched their way along. Soon the weakest of the group began to tire.
Asti suddenly slipped as she reached for a handhold. At the cry of "Falling!" they all gripped the mesh with desperate strength. Because she had been roped between Dar and Menarggrah, her fall was stopped and she dangled in space before being helped up again.
The group was visibly relieved at the escape, and had started to relax when Straun fell. This was more dangerous because Straun was at the rear of the party, but with an heroic effort Surge (who was next along the rope) held on, and disaster was averted.
At least, for almost two minutes.
Straun fell again as the other side of the hold came in sight, and this time the strain was beyond Surge's capabilities. He was torn from the mesh like a swatted insect, the compounding weight taking Karlos with him. The gunslinger spun into space, knowing that the whole party would follow and be killed either by the drop or the resulting blast.
The whole group looked in disbelief at Menarggrah, climbing claws locked into the mesh. The Wookiee had his eyes closed, gritting his teeth and straining furiously, holding the weight of three other people. With some teamwork and a little luck, they were all soon climbing again and reached the other side. Menarggrah collapsed momentarily, and they all rested for a few minutes.
They travelled on, and soon the
humming of heavy machinery was heard. Dar soon spotted human
footprints in the scum on the floor, and they followed these to a
thick door with a grubby window. Straun rubbed at it and squinted.
He could just make out the sight of some men moving among some
tables, carrying bubbling tubing. They appeared to be mixing
They all looked at each other. "Plan?" prompted Dar.
Nobody came up with anything concrete, so Straun, being decisive, knocked on the door firmly and stepped to one side, holding his Eguale prod expectantly.
Everyone adopted various ready positions and waited. After a few moments the door squealed open and a hand with a blaster appeared. Straun raised his bladed weapon, sighting at the blaster.
As he began to swing, the owner of the hand put his head cautiously through the doorway only to have it lopped off by a surprised Straun. The others didn't pause, Dar and Menarggrah leaping through the doorway with blasters blazing.
The room was large, though not as big as the cargo hold. Dominating it was an enourmous fusion engine that towered overhead. Pipes and tubing were connected to various pieces of unknown machinery, and two tables were topped with hundreds of chemitubes in rows. Populating the scene were seven men in orange coveralls that hurriedly drew sporting blasters and returned fire. Two of these were located on a catwalk high above, who shouted something that was lost on the Rebels.
The group streamed through the door and into combat. Menarggrah and Dar spearheaded the assault by hand, moving into melee with the closest foes. Surge and Stoge cut down others with blaster fire, Karlos expertly shot one of the men off the catwalk, and Asti and Straun brought up the rear.
The group had so far met little opposition, as the men in orange were
obviously not soldiers, but a more serious threat presented itself when Asti drew attention to the other man on the catwalk, out of the woman's effective blaster range. He was fumbling in his coveralls for an object, and had produced a small metallic orb when another shot from Karlos hit him in the chest. The man fell to the metal of the catwalk, the object toppling from his lifeless fingers. It detonated two-thirds of the way down, scattering metal shards across the room but not doing any harm. The rest of the enemy were cut down in seconds.
As the sounds of battle died, the
party turned their attention to examining the operation before
them. Karlos studied the chemitubes for a moment, then overturned
a table with a shattering cascade of glass.
"Narcotechs," he spat.
"Bad men, yes," offered Ilgin.
"Digiperlic coroside," Surge noted, holding up a tube. "Or Detasense, its more common name. This would fetch a pretty price on the street."
Further coverstion was cut short by the sound of a repulsorlift vehicle starting up from behind the fusion engine. A narrow corridor led through some twisting tubing to a small room.
One end of the room was a hatch that was open to the sky. Below them they could see the steeper slope of the everburning mountain, this side covered in ash from years of garbage burnt by the engine above. Disappearing into the distance was another man dressed in orange on a speeder bike. It was a long shot, but 'long' did not imply 'difficult' to a man such as Karlos Trialeki. He shot and damaged the engine of the fleeing bike before an excellent blaster shot from Stoge blew it into an expanding ball of smoking debris.
Karlos blanced the tin carefully
on the end of the board, then stepped away and turned to Dar.
"Now, when enough drips out of the tin, it becomes light enough to unbalance the board. Mr. Narcotech's second grenade drops off, releasing the activator, and it falls into approximately two hundred tons of seismic survey explosive. Bang."
"We go," the native said simply.
Karlos turned again to the tin, unplugged the tiny stopper, and seven hundred credits' worth of street narcotic began to drip onto the floor.
Back in the bike hangar room,
everything was ready.
"Come on, guys," Straun said sceptically. "Isn't this being a LITTLE too optimistic?"
"Theoretically, it should work," Surge defended.
"I can't believe this," Straun shook his head. "I'm in the middle of a whole CONTINENT made of garbage about to toboggin down a slope of ash on a TABLE??"
"We can see how far we get, and walk the rest of the way," said Asti sensibly.
"Yeah," Stoge agreed. "I'll be in anything but a bath."
Dar and Karlos joined them, and they divided themselves among the two tables and the monitor room door.
"We now have fifteen minutes to reach minimum safe distance," informed Karlos.
Sceptical as Straun was, the plan worked. The wind rushed in their faces as they slipped down the slope leaving trails of ash.
They were slightly over halfway down when the muffled blast went off from beneath the mountain.
"Lean right!" shouted Surge.
Above them, debris and ash blasted to the sky as the mountain seemed to drop slightly beneath them. A wall of ash swept down the slope. For a moment they were riding the impossible wave, then they tumbled as the curtain of ash became jumbled garbage. Above and to their left, the massive engine cone rolled free, missing them by less than a hundred meters. The mountain heaved again, blasting mainly in the opposite direction to them, fountaining clouds of debris into the sky. A few long seconds of raining ash and garbage followed, then silence reigned.
The group picked themselves up, some rubbing at bruises and ash.
"Fifteen minutes?" Asti scoffed to Karlos.
The gunslinger shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."
By way of contrast to his small
size, Phthug the Phirst's loud voice rang out across the hall.
"These outsiders have found the secret of the everburning mountain, and hence are deemed worthy to take from the Sacred Bag of Treasure!"
"THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE!!" shouted the Ugnaughts.
A large sack, bigger than a speeder bike, was dragged reverently into the room. It had a small opening. Phthug was still babbling.
"..most blessed by the gods who shower us with their gifts from above.."
The group looked at the hole curiously. "I'm not sticking my hand in there," stated Stoge firmly, imagining anything from wild creatures to mechanical traps.
Asti stepped up to the sack and reached in. After a moment she drew out an object that looked something like a short metallic whip with long links and a powerpack in the handle. She pressed the button, and power crackled up and down the links.
"So speaks the sacred bag of treasure!" cried Phthug.
"THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE HAS SPOKEN!" cheered the Ugnaughts.
Then all the Rebels went for the sack at once. One by one they reached in and randomly drew out an item, of varying value. Each selection was cheered madly by the throng.
Dar drew out a vibroblade half as long as his arm. After seeing the results of the vibroaxe he had borrowed on Telthra IV, he fully appreciated its value. Straun commented that of all those in the group to pick the item, he was the most fitting.
Straun then reached in and produced a small black box with a red button. He studied it thoughtfully.
Karlos' item was a large grey spray can that he estimated was half full. He sprayed it on the wall of the great hall and coated a section of it with liquid transparisteel that hardened in seconds. Used for temporary repairs on starship viewport windows, it was a useful find indeed.
Surge drew forth a holodisc. The title said 'Love is Waiting'.
Menarggrah was rewarded with a small globe as large as a fist with a switch on the side. He knew it for what it was, and put the thermal detonator in his pack.
Stoge, encouraged by the precious items that everyone else was getting, reached in and drew out half a stormtrooper helmet. He threw it to the ground in disgust, frowning at the cries of "THE SACRED BAG OF TREASURE HAS SPOKEN!", then bowed graciously and handed it back, saying he was not worthy of such a great gift. Phthug had pity on him, and because he had managed to hold down the enthusiasm stew he was allowed to draw again. This time he drew out a hydrospanner.
Ilgin drew forth a Teddywookiee with one leg missing.
Everyone puzzled over their items
for a while until Asti reminded them that time was crucial and
the Ugnaughts must fulfil the rest of the bargain. Phthug
detailed a guide to take them most of the way and they set out.
It was mid morning (they had stayed the night after returning to the Ugnaught city), and regardless of some of the scenery, it was a nice sunny day. Surge pondered whether the smell was getting less as they travelled or they were all getting used to it.
They skirted the radioactive sector and picked their way through the Swamp of Sludge for most of the day, passing memorable sights such as an oddly beautiful waterfall of toxic waste. Once beyond the dangerous areas the Ugnaught guide pointed them in the right direction and left.
They travelled on, gingerly stepping across a field of broken glass, and entered the foothills of a range of refuse. Straun's curiosity eventually overcame him and he pressed the button on his box, but nothing happened. He put in in his pack and forgot about it. The trip was uneventful until mid afternoon when Straun heard a squeaking sound coming from over the top of a hill. In seconds everyone could hear it.
Before anyone could move, Karlos Trialeki's eight-gun had cleared its holster and was pointing in the direction of the sound. The rest of the group followed suit with their various weapons, some taking cover in the garbage where they could.
With an irregular squeak a droid
limped over the hill. Its left leg was that of a 3P0 protocol
droid. Instead of a right leg it had the narrow wheel of some
form of ground vehicle. Its torso was composed of a mess of
jumbled wiring and patched casing, and its misshapen head seemed
to be made up of pieces of a few different droids. It spoke to
the rebels, its voice changing in mid sentence.
"Welcome to CoreWorld spaceways..<zzt> ALL OF THESE FANTASTIC ITEMS AT ONE INNNNNCRRREDIBLY LOW PRIC<ZZT!> How may I help you, m'lord?"
"Er," said Karlos "We're looking for a hermit that lives near here. Do you know where he is?"
The droid swung its composite head to face the gunslinger.
"YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SENTIENT BEING, YOU FIGURE IT OUT!! HAW HAW HAW!!" it spun in circles.
"Watch your mouth, hat rack," Stoge glared over his blaster barrel.
"Terribly sorry, m'lord." The droid changed back to the personality of a butler.
It eventually introduced itself as Junk Droid JD4, one of the hermit's constructs, and begn to lead them to him. After cresting a few hills a large building was visible atop a ridge, its spire pointing upwards as if reaching for the sky, trying to escape the garbage. When they drew near, JD4 stopped.
"Go on up," he said placidly "but watch out for JD5, he can bb<zzt> BE BAD! THAT BOY ONE MEEEEEAAAN SUCKER, YES SIREEE!!<zzt> I suggest caution, Sir."
The Rebels slowly made their way up the path, senses trained for danger. The trail ended in the door of the large building, which was closed. The building itself was, predictably, made of discarded materials, hull plates, plastisteel sheets and the like. The place was silent and still.
"We'd better knock, I suppose," said Surge. He reached out and tapped the door.
There was a moment of silence.
"I don't think they're going to.." Surge was interrupted when a small portal opened in the door and an electronic eye sprang out to regard them.
"We wish to speak with the hermit," declared Asti.
The eye was silent momentarily, then said:
"The master has not given you permission to enter."
"It's quite important," added Dar. "I'm sure it would be worth your master's time."
"The master has not given you permission to enter."
"Look, dipstick," piped up Stoge. "All we want to do is.."
"ENOUGH OF THIS FOOLISHNESS!!"
A massive shape thrust itself up from the garbage alongside the trail. Asti, who'd been around droids all her life, immediately recognised the constituent parts of the hermit's guard droid. The light blaster cannon, arm and head were from a spaceport security unit, The torso perhaps belonged to an assassin droid she had heard about, the arm holding the dripping orange syringe was from a 21B medical droid, and the huge spinning chain weapon on another arm was from a harvesting thresher unit.
Straun had a bad feeling about this.
"Whoa, big guy," said Stoge, backing away carefully. "Let's just forget total anhilation for a second and talk about.."
It opened fire.
The blaster cannon hammered, hitting Menarggrah a glancing blow and knocking him backward. The rebels opened fire, their combined force lightly damaging the droid.
A small flap opened in the torso and a black globe was ejected into the midst of the group. There was a loud blast, and Stoge, Asti and Surge fell unconscious.
Karlos sprang toward the monstrosity, and Dar noticed that the gunfighter's eight-gun was still in his holster. Landing directly in front of the deadly droid, he raised his grey can and sprayed transparisteel over the chain thresher. In seconds the deadly weapon was gummed and ground to a halt.
Menarggrah fired again, hitting JD5 in the shoulder. The blaster cannon went limp as Dar leapt forward, vibroblade humming, and slashed deep into the body before a shot from Surge blew its powerpack and the droid collapsed.
After making sure it was dead, Dar saw to the fallen. Luckily the grenade had only been a stun charge and they were soon awake again. Menarggrah and Dar forced the door (the eye had retracted) and they went inside.
The building was surprisingly well furnished, adorned with scavenged items of reasonable quality. It didn't take the group long to find the main bedroom and hence the hermit. An old, wrinkled human, he lay on a magnificent four-poster bed (actually three posts and a small stack of bricks).
"He's dead!" Karlos said in surprise.
"Blecch!" Straun wrinkled his nose at the smell.
"Great!" said Stoge. "We go through all this and the one man who can help us has carked it!"
Surge bent over and studied the corpse for a few minutes, then turned to the others.
"Natural causes. Been dead almost a month."
Everyone was at a loss as to a course of action, then Asti suggested they at least look around. Downstairs were some storage rooms and a large hydroponic garden. Below that was a warehouse-sized room full of neatly stacked junk: vehicle components, droid parts and the like. One end of the room was open, and three many-armed droids placidly entered carrying new items that they placed in the respective piles.
"JD's 1, 2 and 3," Asti noted.
Menarggrah waved them over to a piece of machinery that was easily identifiable as a sensor array, obviously to detect incoming garbage drops.
A small transmitter relayed this to the droids, who Asti determined had preset instructions as to types of garbage to collect.
"Hey, look!" Straun indicated JD2 carrying a datastick.
"That's not the one, no it isn't," said Ilgin sadly.
"Follow it," Dar suggested quietly.
It led them to a large pile of datasticks and holodisks, and after some searching Ilgin identified the vital one. They collected them all just to be sure, then Ilgin addressed their next problem.
"Now we have to go all the way to Gilgin's boat in less than a day. Yes, yes it is. Less than.."
"Shut up," stated Karlos. "Do you have to say everything twice?"
"Pardon?" said Ilgin.
"I said," repeated Karlos "Do you have to say everything twice?"
Ilgin grinned triumphantly.
"Rrghhughiiaa," pointed out Menarggrah, holding up an old arc welder scavenged from an astromech droid and pointing to the vehicle parts.
"Are you saying we BUILD a vehicle to get outa here?" Stoge asked sceptically.
"It's worth a try," replied Asti. "Our combined skills may be able to come up with something. Let's do it."
"Oboy," said Straun "This reminds me of an old holo show I used to watch when I was a kid. This group of Clone War vets would build some souped-up combat machine every episode with only a bacta tank casing, some fertoplas and the prosthetic foot of a Mon Calamari."
"Isn't that the one with the Wookiee who has a half-shaved head?" queried Karlos. "They used to build those things in fifteen minutes."
"Let's just do it," prompted Asti.
Five hours later, it was done.
An ugly conglomeration, it had four mismatched repulsors on the front, and was held up by groundcar wheels at the back. A flat-topped tray held little protection for the passengers, and it was steered by pressing wires to a circuitry grid. It hadn't been tested.
"We could have done a LOT of walking by now," said Dar.
"Get on, and let's BURN this baby!" Stoge jumped on the back.
They did, and to everyone's surprise the monster actually worked. Though it had a tendency to steer to the right and it was a bumpy ride, the vehicle reached quite an impressive speed. Menarggrah did his best to avoid the most jagged garbage, and they made good progress.
"Yahoo!" exclaimed Stoge. The machine hit a bump and he fell off the back into a stinking pile of old clothes.
As the sun was starting to set, they came in sight of the shore and found an old rusting hulk of a boat waiting for them. As the vehicle approached its engines burnt out and coughed to a stop, and the group had to walk the rest of the way. Once away from the island and in clean waters they all had a cleansing swim, and headed for the mainland.
"Routine check," said
the Imperial officer, sniffing curiously at the strange smell in
The stormtroopers checked the nervous Rebels but did not find the datastick hidden in Menarggrah's fur. Things were going well until they opened Surge's medpack and pulled out the vibrocutter.
"This isn't standard issue, where did you get this?" the trooper demanded.
"..." said Surge, gaping stupidly.
"Well?" prompted the trooper. The officer glanced over.
"..." said Surge, louder this time.
"No answer, eh? This looks suspicious." The officer turned to one of the stormtroopers. "This man appears to have something to hide. I want a scan team over his ship NOW."
Bork's eyes grew wide, and he strutted over to Karlos as the scan team approached. "If they search my ship we're all dead," he said flatly.
Karlos looked at him. "Is your ship fast?"
"Fast?" Bork exclaimed. "You've never heard of the Excreta?"
"No, thank goodness," Karlos cut off the coversation. "Get ready."
Bork spoke into his comlink, and inside the Excreta the Ithorian copilot fired the engines. Bork and Karlos opened fire, Karlos killing the officer and Bork wounding a stormtrooper. The rest of the Rebels caught on and, as the scan team scattered, easily took out the rest of the stormtrooper squad. They bolted up the ramp, Karlos deciding not to finish off the wounded trooper.
The ship screamed up from Gaarla's Trus'klan starport. The two orbiting Nebulon-Bs attempted to intercept them, but they were some distance away and were forced to launch fighters. Two TIEs were taken out by Karlos and the Ithorian manning the guns, and the Excreta flashed out of the system.
Needless to say, Bork swore not to work for the Rebels again.