“I knew this was too good to be true.”
Cotan’s words echoed around the Cloud City warehouse where he and his companions were expecting to pick up a shipment for a simple smuggling run. The run would have paid for some much-needed repairs to the Fang, new equipment and armor, and even a little left over for each of them.
Instead, they found their contact shot dead, and a host of nasty barabel thugs pointing weapons in their direction. But the barabels apparently weren’t expecting them either, and both sides paused for a heartbeat, staring at the other in surprise. Then, as if per an unseen signal, both sides raised blasters and the firefight commenced.
Mathus took pot shots at the thugs as he ran for the cover of the warehouse office, Tarwarrick on his heels laying down suppression fire. Blaster bolts rained around them, not from the barabels they had seen, but from above. Peeking out from behind a stack of crates, Tarwarrick spotted another barabel with a blaster rifle perched atop the warehouse cargo crane. From there, he had a nearly unobstructed view of the entire building. Cotan and Jalik saw him as well, and began firing at the sniper, trying to keep him pinned down.
Zindra began sneaking through the maze of crates and shipping containers, hoping to flank their enemies and catch them in a crossfire. Rounding a shipping container she came face to face with a barabel who apparently had the same idea. Firing from the hip, the rodian scout blasted the thug in the chest; he crumpled to the floor in a smoking heap. At the sound, three more barabel rounded the corner. Without hesitating, Zindra pulled a frag grenade from her belt and rolled it towards the thugs, then turned and ran the way she came.
Mathus heard the sound of a frag grenade explode on the other side of the warehouse as he examined the crane control panel. Beside him, Tarwarrick laid down fire that so far had kept the barabel from overrunning the small office. Flicking a switch, Mathus used a control stick to begin lowering the crane. The sniper shouldered his rifle and dropped prone, hanging on for dear life as Mathus swung the crane to and fro, trying to dislodge him. Finally a blaster bolt from Jalik’s pistol dropped the sniper to the warehouse floor with a sickening crunch.
Cotan came running around the corner towards Mathus and Tarwarrick, almost taking a blaster bolt from the wookie’s rifle. The crazy twi’lek was leading a grav sled fully loaded with Alderaanian ale; their cargo for the smuggling run. Tarwarrick hooted at him angrily, gesturing to his rifle. “What, you didn’t think we were just gonna leave it, did you?”, smirked Cotan.
Jalik had been following the sound of blaster fire moving towards him and figured the barabel were pursuing Zindra. He was able to cover her as she made her way towards him, again flinging a frag grenade behind her as she dove for cover. The pursuing barabel saw the grenade in time to dodge its effects, but Jalik pegged a shot that struck one of them in the chest, dropping him. Zindra took off again in the direction of their companions. As Jalik turned to follow he took a blaster bolt in the back from the barabel that staggered him even through his armor.
Back in the warehouse office, Mathus had gained access to the surveillance system and discovered two more barabel were creeping down the back hallway that led from the office to their shuttle on the landing dock. They would be at the office door in moments! He quickly pulled a frag grenade, set the timer, and chucked it through the doorway into the hall. He waited expectantly for the blast that didn’t come; apparently this was one of the dud grenades they’d picked up during their adventures on Coruscant. He cursed Kaa’to Leechos, Black Sun and Zelcomm Industries all in one breath as he dropped to the floor for cover and shouted a warning to his two teammates.
Tarwarrick slipped out the door, hoping to circle the office and catch the barabel in a crossfire. Cotan crouched in the doorway, trying to cover the warehouse from the direction they came. Mathus, out of frag grenades, pulled a stun grenade and again rolled it into the hallway. A satisfying whump! was followed by a barabel curse. “Got at least one of them”, he thought, as blaster bolts came lancing into the office, shooting up the desk across the room. “But not both.”
Tarwarrick heard the stun grenade explode and wondered if he’d be picking pieces of the foolhardy mechanic off the deck again. He crept forward and saw another of the barabel crouched behind cover. In a flash the wookie was on him, scooping him up in a bearhug that squeezed the breath out of him, then dropping him and clubbing him across the head with a giant wookie arm. Tarwarrick roared as he grabbed the barabel’s wrists and set his foot firmly on the stunned creature’s chest. A quick yank yielded twin snapping sounds as the barabel’s arms were pulled from their sockets. Tarwarrick released him and the thug sunk to the floor with a moan, clearly unconscious.
Mathus slipped his last stun grenade from his belt, kissed it for luck and rolled it into the hallway. The blast nearly deafened him and was strong enough to crack the glass windows of the office. Carefully peering out, he was rewarded with the sight of the second barabel slumped over the first, clearly unconscious. He shouted back, “It’s all clear; let’s move!” as he ran into the hallway to disarm the thugs.
Zindra and Jalik came into view, hobbling across the warehouse floor towards the office. The rodian was supporting Jalik; clearly he’d taken a wound during the firefight. Cotan and Tarwarrick lay down covering fire against the two barabel still in pursuit. The wookie shot one, knocking him backwards, and Cotan’s well aimed blaster bolt caught him in the face, dropping him. The last barabel took one last look at them before turning and running.
The party laid Jalik atop the cargo sled and quickly moved it down the hall and into their shuttle. Cotan ran a hasty pre-flight and had them in the air in seconds. But they were immediately swarmed by armed cloud cars carrying the markings of the local constabulary. They were forced to land and were quickly boarded. The constables found the cargo (which they hadn’t time to hide) and opened one of the sealed containers. Inside, instead of the ale they thought they were smuggling, the constables found bricks of Kessel spice, a highly addictive and highly illegal narcotic.
Clearly they’d been set up again.
The party sat huddled miserably in an interrogation room when a rough looking human entered, wearing the uniform of a Sector Marshal. He introduced himself as Marek Quay. After dutifully rattling off the charges against them, he explained that he’d been on the trail of a large spice ring, a shipment of which they had been carrying. The party’s protests of being jumped while picking up a legitimate shipment for transport were waved away by the marshal; while he apparently believed they were not a part of the spice ring, he clearly wasn’t going to just let them walk.
Quay explained that he wanted the party to work with him to expose the smuggling ring. In exchange, all current and prior charges would be dropped against them in this sector, and they’d have access to the constable’s medical facilities to patch themselves up after the warehouse gunfight. Depending on their results, there could even be a small reward in it for them. With no real choice, the party agreed. They were given a credit chit with 5000 cred for expenses, and a transponder they could use to call in the cavalry once they’d found something Quay could use against the ring.
Their first mission was to investigate the apartment of a known associate of the ring, a human named Kavin Rel. He was apparently the contact they found dead in the warehouse. They needed to find out what he knew about the smugglers.
The party took a speeder taxi to a crappy part of the city and headed to Rel’s apartment. Mathus was unable to hack the upgraded lock on the door, so Cotan bribed the superintendent with 200 credits to let them in. Mathus began hacking the man’s computers and data pads while the rest of the party searched the apartment.
Mathus found a com transmission from Rel to a Toydarian named Weeko on the planet Vancor, with coordinates for the delivery of the spice shipment. There was a second com, threatening Rel if he dealt with Weeko. Rel had been able to trace this com to a person known as Stim, apparently a member of something known as the Brotherhood Mortalis. Stim also told Rel that if the shipment was late, there would be problems. The shipment was due on Vancor in seven days.
The companions headed back to their ship and contacted Quay. After telling him what they found, he asked them to check out a bar called the Skifter that members of the Brotherhood Mortalis were known to frequent. The party headed over.
The Skifter was a rough bar, apparently frequented by bounty hunters and mercenaries. There was a small seating area in front with a bar running along the right side. Scanning the crowd, Mathus noticed a familiar face. A scruffy looking human named Pit Dual sat at a table watching the holos over the bar. He had run a few jobs for Teemo; Mathus had met him several times at the Hutt’s compound on Tattooine.
The party went over and Mathus made introductions. Dual seemed surprised to see the mechanic on Cloud City, but not overly suspicious. Mathus brought up the topic of the Brotherhood, and Dual motioned over a large, scary-looking human missing half an ear and with a scar running down his cheek whom he introduced as Stim. Dual told them that Stim often brokered contracts for jobs for Miraga the Hutt.
The group spoke with Stim, letting him know they had the cargo originally offered by Kavin Rel, and they were willing to sell to the Brotherhood. They made arrangements to meet at a cargo depot nearby.
Wary of a trap, the party armored up as best they could before heading out. They were met at the depot by three big humans in armor, toting blaster rifles. Jalik noticed that the armor pieces were connected to a small backpack via a series of clear tubes. Each of the humans tapped a control pad on their wrist, and a substance flowed through the tubes. The soldiers seemed to swell in their armor, becoming bigger, more muscular, and much more scary. Tarwarrick hooted in distress as the figures charged, blasters firing!
The party scrambled for cover. Cotan took two blaster bolts in the chest and immediately went down. Mathus jabbed a stimpak into the unconscious twi’lek as he shot one of the armored men in the face. Tarwarrick charged the man, his axe poised above his head. The armored man took the full brunt of the axe blow and still remained standing.
Zindra and Jon opened fire on the other two men. Cotan managed to pull his blaster from the ground and shoot his attacker, dropping him in a heap. Another of the armored figures stepped over and curb stomped the twi’lek, knocking him unconscious again, before being staggered by fire from Zindra’s blaster rifle.
The third merc charged Tarwarrick, hitting him with a devastating shot. Zindra and Mathus both blasted him, the mechanic pausing to stim Cotan again. Tarwarrick traded blows with the second merc, until Jalik shouted for him to get out of the way. The gun for hire opened up his blaster rifle on full auto mode, gunning the two remaining mercs down in a cascade of blaster fire.
The group signaled Marek, and the marshal was on the scene in minutes. He examined the mercenaries carefully. Their gear was custom, and untraceable. He was unable to identify the chemicals from the backpacks. He did find a data message from Stim to the mercs, telling them to pick up the cargo and erase the witnesses. Further examination of the mercs revealed that each had a tattoo that Jalik recognized as common with Imperial Special Forces soldiers.
Marek gave the group an extensive pep talk and sent them to make the drop to Weeko on Vancor, then follow the shipment to see who the Hutt was selling it to. The party returned to the Krayt Fang and headed for Vancor.
After a short journey the party arrived in the Uziel system and the planet Vancor. They encountered a lot of ship traffic as they were directed to a landing zone on the southern continent. Apparently there was a large hunting festival going on, and the hutts were using it as a cover for the spice transaction.
Upon landing, the party contacted the Toydarian, Weeko. He explained about the gundark hunt; a large prize was being offered by Miraga the Hutt for the hunter who killed or captured the biggest, best gundark. The hunt took place in a large preserve over the course of three days. There were parties and events scheduled throughout for the hunters and their retinues.
The party was paid and transferred the cargo to Weeko, who directed it be loaded onto Miraga’s star yacht. The party decided that the best way to complete their mission and get free of Marek Quay was to enter Zindra in the gundark hunt. Mathus and Bender would be biographers, and the rest of the party would pose as her assistants and crew. They secured three invitations to a pre-hunt festival onboard the hutt’s yacht, and Zindra, Cotan and Mathus got dressed up and headed over with Bender in tow.
The party was centered in the yacht’s greatroom. The hutt herself was sprawled out on a large dais at the head of the room, overlooking the revelry. A phalanx of gammoreans encircled the base of the dais, watchful for any threats. Servants will food and drink trays circulated freely about the room, weaving among the odd mix of bounty hunters, landed gentry, sportsmen and criminals that made up the hunt’s participants.
Mathus and Bender excused themselves to try and locate an astrogation console, while Zindra and Cotan mingled among the guests. The rodian and twi’lek overheard desperate groups who had risked all they had for a chance at the prizes the hutt was offering, and other groups who were concerned not as much at the dangers the gundarks posed as their fellow hunters. Apparently, “accidents” during the hunt were frequent occurrences.
Mathus was able to access the ship’s schematics, and noted locations of astrogation consoles in the cargo hold and the Master Stateroom (which was different than the Captain’s Quarters). He and the R5 droid headed for the stateroom, figuring it offered a better chance of being unoccupied. He easily hacked the hatch to Miraga’s quarters, and with Bender’s help was able to access the astrogation terminal and com ports. Apparently one of the yacht’s skiffs was to be used in the hunt, and would transfer the spice to a contact within the preserve. Mathus got the coordinates and time for the drop, and also noticed that the buyer’s contact used an Imperial com frequency. Disconnecting, the pair headed back to meet Zindra and Cotan.
Zindra was surveying the crowd when she noticed an unmistakable figure. Dressed as a servant, the large human with the busted ear and scarred face was definitely Stim. The rodian began casually shifting through the crowd, trying to keep the merc in sight. He seemed to sense he was being observed; he ditched his serving tray and ducked through a service hatch. Alerting Cotan, the pair silently followed him down to a storage area. There, they saw two other mercs huddled over a third, who was sweating and shaking severely. One of them looked up as Stim entered and said, “He needs juice, man. None of us are going to make it much longer if we don’t get some!”. The man on the floor convulsed several times and lay still, apparently dead. Zindra and Cotan made a hasty retreat.
The group reunited and decided to investigate the main hold. There they found much of the yacht’s staff bustling around in preparation for the hunt. Off to the side was a large skiff being provisioned, surrounded by many well-armed guards.
The group returned to the Fang and contacted the marshal, telling them everything they had learned. The marshal emphasized that they needed to get a record of the spice transaction in order to seal the case and earn their freedom. Resigned, they retired to prepare for the hunt in the morning.
The festive atmosphere of the previous night’s revelry carried over to the following morning. Hunting teams were lined up at the entrance to the preserve as gawkers and celebrants, many who were clearly still partying from the previous night, circulated between them. The companions sat in the hunting skiff provided for them; Cotan at the controls with Mathus beside him, Tarwarrick and Bender in the central seats, and Zindra and Jalik perched on the raised gunner platforms at the skiff’s rear. All were nervously looking around at the competition, trying to discern if any of them had bad intentions once the hunt began.
A horn sounded loudly three times, and the revelers and staff were cleared from the entry. After several minutes, another horn sounded long and loud, the gates to the preserve were flung open, and the gundark hunt began!