The heroes stood with their backs to the hangar exit, nothing but sky below. Wall-to-wall stormtroopers stood between them and escape. Khalic plopped down the turret droid he’d just built. It aimed at the white and put a large hole through his chest. The Gungan children ran through the hangar, making a b-line for the crane. N3MO charged a trooper, sending him flying, then bouncing off a large crate. Bariss shot a trooper between the eyes and fell back from the enemy fire. Carson fired into the ionized air. Kelyn fired at the enemy, blowing a stormtrooper away.
The stormtroopers broke into different directions, trying to pen in the spreading-out PCs. Lasers flew over Tor’s head. Bariss ducked from blaster bolts as he ran. Tor raised his hand at a group of troopers. Debris whipped about them and pierced their armor, impaling them. Khalic blasted a trooper in the helmet. He fell backwards dead against a stack of crates. Khalic moved to the side and opened a blast door. Bariss exterminated a stormtrooper and headed through the open blast door, circling a pit.
The surviving stormtroopers fell back, taking strategic cover amidst the crates and machinery. The Gungan children fiddled with the crane controls, successfully lifting a large crate. They swung the crate. The troopers tried to back out of the way but got nicked by the flying box. The box came loose and crushed the troopers beneath it.
“I am not wanting to have to compete against Gungan children,” N3MO sighed.
Tor ran around the speeder truck to reach the children. These kids are my responsibility, he thought.
N3MOpicked up a crate and threw it at a stormtrooper. It sent the trooper flying backward and smashed him into another box. The electronics inside it went haywire, electrocuting the trooper. He lifted another crate and dumped it onto another trooper.
The com buzzed. “Hey gang, it’s Sirona. What’s up. Listen, you know that Star Destroyer that showed up in-system a few days ago?”
“Please don’t tell me it’s back,” Bariss said.
“Okay honey, I won’t. But the ship I’ve been watching, the Shackles of Nizon, it’s moving… and quickly for a tibanna gas hauler.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Bariss said.
“Sirona,” Tor said, “Can you come and pick up the kids?"
The sun setting over Bespin’s horizon casts the entire atmosphere in a red-orange glow. The beauty of this scene is broken up by the cloud cars, some with two pods and others of a sleeker, more aerodynamic design, racing toward you. As the first blaster bolts pass to either side of your vessel, the cloud cars still too distant to get a good shot, you can tell that they mean to take no prisoners.
Khalic fired a concussion missile that took a direct route to the cloud car. It went up in a fireball.
“Infidel dogs! Blast them all!” Carson shouted over the com, getting the adrenaline flowing through his companions’ veins. Carson squeezed the trigger, pounding a cloud car.
“Does anyone know if Tibanna gas would make a really big boom?” Kelyn asked.
Tor, Bariss and Khalic shouted in unison, “Yes!”
Kelyn’s missile overshot the speeder. Bariss launched a missile. Debris rained down on Bespin. The tibanna barge’s automated turret whirled on Carson’s Headhunter and challenged his shields’ strength.
A group of cloud cars ganged up on Kelyn’s ship. He juked the controls, weaving between the lasers. Two more cloud cars ganged up on Carson, who had taken the lead.
The double-pod cloud car stayed back from the single pods and took sniping shots at the heroes. One blast pounded N3MO’s vehicle. More blaster fire rocked Kelyn’s ship, before the double-pod cars made a u-turn to get out of range.
One of the Gungans on board the Banshee lined a cloud car in his sights and fired, setting the engines on fire. “I knew there was a reason I brought you along,” Tor thought to himself. He put his sights on the same ship and blasted the other engine off. It fell to Bespin below.
Kelyn broke to the left and launched a missile at it. A ball of sparks and fire, still under pilot control kept chugging away. It spun on Kelyn and blasted.
Bariss fired at one of the cloud cars attacking the Banshee, did a loop and came back down firing at the other cloud car attacking the Banshee. Khalic swerved toward the sparking ship hounding Kelyn. A laser blast later turned the cloud car into a ball of fire.
N3MO passed over the tibanna platform and ejected, landing on the roof. Bariss dodged blaster bolts meant for him. One of the lasers struck N3MO’s ship, which exploded. The cloud car ducked away from the blast, prompting the Banshee’s crew to unload.
Khalic flew in fast at a cloud car, holding the trigger down. Bariss shot behind the ship attacking Carson and sent a missile into its aft. Boom. The Banshee’s crew began to crush its opponents. Kelyn pumped another missile into an enemy ship. The blast was adjacent to the Banshee. One of the Gungan children panicked, thinking the transport was falling apart. He leapt from the turret, racing down the corridor screaming.
He tripped over some cables and tumbled to the bridge, where Sirona screamed at him to get back to his post.
The Gungan in the turret blasted another cloud car out of the sky. Tor fired where the ship had been and sent his lasers into Kahlic’s ship. N3MO patched into the scomp link and hacked the platform, seizing control of the turret. He began firing at the remaining cloud cars.
Bariss flew behind Carson and aimed at a cloud car, in front of Carson. “What are you doing?” Carson yelled as the missile lock alarm kept screaming.”
“It’s okay. I know what I’m doing,” Bariss said. The missile shot under Carson’s Headhunter and disintegrated the cloud car.
The fast-learning Gungan pounded the last cloud car.
The Gallofree Medium Transport identified as the Shackles of Nizon floats in space, illuminated by the light from Bespin below. A massive Tibanna gas hauling starship, laden with the explosive substance, barrels through space directly toward the slave ship.
However, between you and the Tibanna gas hauler is nearly an entire squadron of the Empire’s TIE fighters. Ten of the flat-winged vessels scream toward you, lasers flashing even at a great distance.
“We have a big bomb going to crash into the slave ship in 30 seconds,” Bariss announced over the com.
“Well, we need to stop it,” Kelyn said. “Can we blow it up?”
“Of course we can,” Bariss assured him. With that, he launched a missile that slammed into the tibanna hauler. The vehicle spewed dark smoke and showed flames belching from inside it… but there wasn’t evidence the tibanna tanks had ruptured.
“Okay guys, this thing can take one or two more missiles before it blows. It can still hit the Shackles, so hit it fast,” Bariss pled.
Then, the Star Destroyer Assiduous emerged, shadowing the starfighters. “Oh shit,” Kelyn said.
Tor reached out through the Force, searching for Inquisitor Draco’s presence. Draco was there. He knew Tor was there, and he knew about the children.
Kelyn rocketed forward, taking a wide curve around the TIE fighters.
Khalic fiddled with the circuits to turbocharge the engines. He and Bariss surged forward. Kelyn rocketed toward the slave ship. The TIEs turned tail and gave chase.
Bariss crossed some wires, sending his ship hurtling at breakneck speed to catch up to the TIEs.
Carson raced forward and blasted a TIE. Three TIEs swarmed over Carson. One tried to pin him down in a dogfight, but Carson slipped out of the trap. Another group of TIEs tried to catch Khalic in a dogfight. He easily rolled out of the snare. He over charged the engines and bolted all the way to the Shackles of Nizon. The TIEs pounded his ship as he passed by.
The Banshee targeted a TIE. The bolts limited its escape choices, allowing N3MO to blast one of its engines and crumple a wing.
A couple of the Imperial ships flew toward the Shackles and began raining blaster fire over its hull.
Kelyn flew away from the swarm of TIEs and sent a missile at one of them.
“Hit ‘em with everything you got!” Carson called over the com.
Missiles flew from the heroes’ ships, turning the TIEs into plummeting shrapnel.
From where he was flying, Kelyn could see the Trandoshan slavers fighting the slaves in the bridge. The scoundrel flew in and nudged the Shackles just below the bridge. Kelyn’s ship shuddered under the impact. The transport rocked, sending slaves and slavers sprawling. Bariss fired at the TIE in front of him, blowing him to pieces. He spun around in a loop and came down to fire at the TIE that was adjacent to the destroyed TIE. The vehicle’s engines fizzled, and the ship flew out of control toward the planet below.
Bariss rocketed toward the remaining TIE and delivered a missile into its cockpit. It exploded in a ball of fire. The Shackles of Nizon suddenly whirled around and leapt to light speed. A message appeared on the Banshee’s screen: We have gained control. Thank you.
“Go slave rebellion,” Tor cheered. A chill ran down his spine as he saw the approaching Star Destroyer and the Inquisitor Captain.
Another message appeared on the Banshee’s screen. The image on the screen resolves to show the bridge of the Star Destroyer Assiduous. Standing before the viewscreen is a darkly handsome man wearing long, flowing robes. The hilt of a lightsaber hangs from his belt.
“My sensor operators tell me that your ship will be far enough from Bespin to jump to hyperspace before I can reach you. I congratulate you on your victory here, but know this: the Inquisitorius never rests. My name is Valin Draco, and I will find you and make you pay for meddling here. You may have bested that slimy Hutt, but I can assure you that the affections of an Inquisitor are not so gentle.”
“Hun, how about we go hang out back at the Resurgence. I’d rather be there than in a cell,” Sirona chided.
“That sounds like a really good idea,” Khalic said.
The Banshee and Headhunters leapt from the Bespin system.
After a brief stay in the medbay, the heroes were met by a shiny golden protocol droid. “Excuse me, but Admiral Varth would like to have a meeting with you in the command room.”
The heroes followed, a spring in their step from destroying Darga and freeing the slaves. The door to the command room opened, and Kelyn started gagging and hacking as a cloud of dark smoke from a hooka drifted out to engulf him.
“You!” Varth screamed, pointing at the rebels, his face beet red. The heroes thought he might swallow his cig. “Take a seat.”
“What part of covert don’t you understand? You… That’s what I thought. Your droid I fully expected this behavior from. Nothing but a killing machine. Back when I was fighting the klankers, I killed thousands of them! But you, mechanic,” turning to Tor, “When did you decide to start igniting security forces on fire?”
“We got the job done, didn’t we?” Tor suggested.
“COVERT!” Varth screamed. “You were not supposed to kill the Chief of the Wing Guard by making his brain explode.”
“He was pulling a gun on me.”
“Covert! You were not supposed to kill an Imperial officer!”
“In the defense of the mechanic, we would have killed a lot more people had he not been there,” Kelyn said in Tor’s defense.
“It was on the holonet.”
“Isn’t one less Imperial officer a good thing?” Tor asked.
“Not when our agents across the Galaxy report bounty hunters approaching them with holoimages of your faces.”
“That should take the focus off your other agents,” Tor said.
“You are in our main ship. If they find you, they find us.”
“What would you have done?” Tor asked.
“Covert. I’d sneak around, get the information then kill the Hutt.”
“We got the information,” Tor said.
“Yes, and now you have every bounty hunter in the Galaxy looking for you and our ship. You are going to bring everybody to us.”
“That’s easy to fix,” Bariss said. “Send us back out on the Banshee, and…”
“Captain O’Keefe will no longer play a part with these missions,” Varth said. “The Banshee, with some of your own people decided to destroy Imperial warships over Bespin. Do you not think there weren’t droid drones recording this?”
“What would you have us do?” Tor asked. “Get blown out of the sky and not bring the information back?”
“COVERT! Have you been listening to this stupid droid for too long?” Varth pointed at Kelyn. “You, make me understand what he was thinking.”
“He was under stress,” Kelyn said. “It was a difficult time and a difficult situation.
Throughout this campaign, Tor has kept us level and there came a tipping point where things couldn’t be handled any other way.”
“So you’re talking about blaster shock?”
“Tor’s just a mechanic. He didn’t blow the guy up. He combusted. It just happens.”
“Spontaneous combustion does not just happen.”
“There’s a lot of tibanna gas around,” Kelyn said.
“Your faces are on Imperial military channels, with the words find, kill and destroy.”
“Maybe they’ll be starstruck. We’re famous now,” Kelyn said.
“You’re going to be struck,” Varth threatened. “If it was up to me, I’d turn you in. I’d call Boba Fett and split the credits with him and cut my losses. Verana won’t let me. Go to Verana’s office. I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“I hope that kind of anger doesn’t cloud your military tactical thinking, or you could get us all in more trouble than we’ve gotten you in.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Varth shrieked.
“Oh come on, we accomplished the mission,” Kelyn said. “I don’t know how important covert was to the mission. We rescued some kids.”
“You won the battle but cost us the war.”
“Isn’t there a Jedi proverb that says if you lose yourself in war, you lose the war. Maybe Tor could say it better,” Bariss added.
“The last thing we want is to jeopardize the cause. We’ll see the captain then clear out our stuff,” Kelyn said.
“If only that’s what he wanted,” Varth grumbled and turned his back on the rebels.
“Good day sir,” Kelyn said and headed for Verana’s office.
Verana sat serene behind his desk. “How red was Varth’s face?” he asked.
“It looked like it was going to pop,” Kelyn said.
“As red as the sunset on Tatooine,” Tor added.
“He’s a jackass but he’s a valuable asset,” Verana sighed
“Let’s take him to the front lines and see how he handles things,” N3MO suggested.
“That’s what happens when you spend too much time in management,” Verana agreed.
“Hopefully we didn’t screw up as bad as he made us think,” Khalic said.
“What did you learn? I will tell you up front our patron supports you a hundred percent despite the publicity.”
Tor said, “We discovered Darga was trading tibanna gas for slaves.”
“I can’t imagine where all that tibanna gas is going,” Khalic said.
“Do you think they’re building a new fleet?” Verana asked.
“Or some kind of superweapon,” Kahlic suggested.
“That would explain why they’re keeping it away from the Senate.”
“And why they brought a Star Destroyer… commanded by an Inquisitor… to bear on it,” Tor said.
“That means you’re on the right path,” Verana mused. “In light of the publicity, we are cutting ties with Sirona O’Keefe. She’ll lay low for a while and retrofit her ship so it’s unidentifiable as the ship that attacked Imperial craft at Bespin.”
“So, we’re without a ship,” Kelyn said. “If only we had three hundred thousand or half a million credits.”
“Um, I might be able to help with that,” Khalic said.
“How could you possibly help with half a million credits?” Tor asked.
Khalic produced the datapad.
“Is that what I think it is?” Tor asked.
“It sure as hell is.”
“How’d you get that?”
“Adrianna crossed some bounty hunters on the way back to the hotel. Cad Bane didn’t see a reason to take this.”
“Was she there?” Tor asked.
“She way,” Khalic said, “But most of her brain wasn’t.”
“Cad Bane!” Kelyn exclaimed. “My father and I barely escaped him. If Varth’s right, we’ll run into him again soon.”
The group decided to go to Sluis Van Shipyards, where Khalic had made peaceful relations with the Verpine. Kelyn arranged for a Wookiee smuggler friend to deliver the parts Khalic needed to build a new ship. Once the ship was ready, they’d go to Castell, Carson’s homeworld, to find a lightsaber crystal for Tor.
Before leaving the Resurgence, Tor visited Master Denia, who presented him with a holocron she’d prepared for him, explaining everything he’d need to know about lightsaber construction. “While traveling, dedicate all your time to the Force sensitive Gungan child you rescued. Show him the true nature of the Force,” Master Denia said. “Also, I have learned about the slaves you rescued. This troubles me greatly. I will meditate on it at length. I believe it is an important clue to unraveling the mystery of this Sarlacc Project.”
Over the next month, Khalic built the prototype for the X4 Gunboat. He also upgraded Bariss’s Headhunter by adding quad cannons and proton torpedoes. N3MO acquired a gunnery droid. Khalic wrapped up his mechanical mayhem by attaching a gigantic flamethrower to N3MO’s arm.
During the stay, a Sluis Van executive approached Fenn. “Maybe this is speciest, but I heard Bothans can acquire sensitive information. We haven’t been able to confirm anything, but there are rumors the Kuat Shipyards are doing massive work for the Empire. Would you be able to uncover the scope of these projects?”
“How much is it worth to you?”
Fenn got in touch with his people. Several days later he received word several Bothans were executed trying to get this information. The spynet wanted the price to go up ten percent to cover their losses.
Fenn asked the executive for more. “That’s outrageous! You’re taking advantage of us. That’s why we only deal with our own kind,” the Executive ranted. “Why do you need more?”
“A couple people died trying to get your information,” Fenn explained.
The executive sighed. That makes sense. You will receive all the credits once you acquire the information.”
The Spynet discovered Kuat Shipyards was pumping out TIE fighters and other spacecraft for the Imperial Navy at a rate never before seen in the Galaxy. Fenn delivered the news and received payment. “Thank you for the information,” the executive said. “Hopefully this will be the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship with the Bothans. We shall begin an appropriate production response.”
The ship was gleaming and ready for its christening.
“What shall we christen it?” Bariss asked.
“What shall we christen it with? Corellian ale?” Tor asked.
“Isn’t Corellian ale contraband?” N3MO asked.
“That’s what makes this appropriate,” Tor said.
“My first idea is the Defiance,” Khalic said.
The group found it appropriate.
“Is the ship a he or she?” Bariss asked.
“A she!” Khalic said. “You call yourself a pilot.”
“I’d blast you if you didn’t fix up my ship,” Bariss said.
Carson and Tor called Switch. “Hello,” the droid said. “I hear it is very bad business to take out a loan on somebody and then blast him. Do you not agree?”
“I feel like I’m going to pay you back,” Khalic said.
“I know you are,” Switch said. “I also appreciate all the dramatic footage you’ve provided Darth Rosie to watch on the holonet. She likes the part where the security guards catch fire and their hats leap three feet in the air.”
“Good special effects,” Carson said.
“Very good special effects,” Switch agreed. For fifty credits I’ll let you know who’s been asking around about you.”
“Good deal,” Khalic said and paid Switch in full.
“Thank you,” Switch said after he received payment. “Do you remember Maya?”
“Is she still on Sel Zonn?” Tor asked.
“No, she is on a Corellian Corvette. It appears she last lost something and needs your help finding it. Shall I have her contact you?”
“Sure,” Carson said.v
“Thank you,” Switch said. “This has been most profitable and fun.”
“Have you heard any more about Caamas?” Tor asked.v
“Unfortunately there was a one percent survival rate. The Empire used something called planetary bombardment, and Caamasi apparently burn well.”
Kelyn launched the gunship. It felt like it had been built for him alone. The two Z95s flanked the X4 as they leapt to lightspeed. An hour later a communication came in. The viewscreen showed Maya dressed in the Alderaanian Security Agency uniform.
“Hello,” Maya said.
“Hello Maya. How’ve you been?” Tor asked.
“Busy running errands,” she said.
“Switch told us you were looking for us.”
“Yes, one of my errand boys has gone missing. It doesn’t look too promising, but I was hoping you would head to Castell and take a look.”
“We’re headed to Castell right now,” Tor said. “Is there anything you can tell us about your errand boy?” Tor asked.
“I’m going to send you coordinates to where my ship is drifting just outside the Castell system. I don’t want to go into details while there’s a chance of prying ears overhearing us.”
The Defiance came out of hyperspace and approached a Corellian Corvette. A voice on the com said, “This is Tantive IV. Please identify yourselves.”
“This is the Defiance,” Kelyn said.
“What is your destination and purpose?”
“We’re here for Maya.”
“You have clearance. Prepare to dock.”
The Defiance docked while the Headhunters stayed on patrol.
Maya was all hugs upon sight. “I have a mission for you.”
She activated a holoprojector showing Castell and an unfamiliar freighter pursued by a Guardian-class light cruiser. A spectacular battle ensued. The little ship was more than the Guardian bargained for. After a final volley, the freighter tumbled into the atmosphere. The Guardian was too damaged to pursue and puttered away.
“The freighter is one of ours,” Maya said. “It’s called the Golden Jewel. It’s Captain is Captain Talnar. We think he entered the system to relay a message through our encrypted satellite. Either he didn’t want to tip off the Imperials or didn’t get a chance. If his mission was successful, he was returning with a cargo hold full of droids. He must be retrieved. He doesn’t have much time. The Empire will send for reinforcements. “
“Sounds like a straight forward rescue mission,” Khalic said.
“It’s your planet,” Tor said to Carson. What can you tell me about it?”
“Castell is the homeworld of the Gossam,” Carson said. “They joined up with the Corporate Alliance and was exploited for mining. Now, because of the Empire the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and the Gossam are doing whatever they can to stay afloat.”
“How strong is the Empire’s presence on Castell?” Carson asked.
“They’re just gaining full control, like when we were at Sel Zonn.”
The rebels returned to the Defiance and set a course for Castell. Kelyn led them into the mountains. Blizzards with seventy kilometer per hour winds tried to sweep the ship into a canyon wall, but Kelyn maintained perfect control, traversing the wind currents and debris spilling over the mountain tops. “Awesome ship, Khalic,” Kelyn said.
“Thank you,” Khalic responded.” He studied the computers, trying to track the Golden Jewel’s beacon. He found it just to port. “Port!” Khalic called.
Fenn frowned. That would slam them all into a canyon wall. “Don’t!” he shouted.
“Starboard!” Fenn continued. “There’s a mountain.”
As Kelyn turned he thought he could reach out and touch it. He wanted to slam Khalic’s face into it. Kelyn caught a current that sent him upward so he could loop away from the mountain. “Thanks for the warning, guys,” Kelyn said. “Khalic, you build really good ships.”
N3MO and Fenn honed in on the Jewel’s resting place and led Kelyn to the narrow valley it was strewn across.
Kelyn brought the Defiance crashing into a snow bank. The bridge went dark momentarily. Then, the ship emerged from the other side and continued airborne. Tor saw a good landing place southeast of the beacon. The ships came down gently in the space Tor pointed out.
Kelyn put on his all temperature cloak and walked to the edge of the plateau. He pulled out the electrobinoculars and looked out over the fuselage lying in the valley. It had probably been there about twenty-four hours.
N3MO and Khalic took a swoop bike to the fuselage. Khalic looked around. Carson and Tor took another bike. Carson trudged around the ship. The cold got to his bones, and he collapsed. Tor was there to help him get back on his feet. “Home air not agreeing with you?” Tor asked.
“Let’s say I wasn’t much for spending time in the mountains,” Carson said.
Fenn studied the snow around the fuselage where the airlock had been sliced open. Tracks in the snow came and went. Blaster and grenade damage were apparent on the transport and a destroyed speeder. Talnar may have been wounded but survived. The cargo was gone.
Khalic found two control pads damaged in the bridge.
Kelyn turned on the computers and reviewed the security footage. He watched Talnar’s valiant efforts to land the ship, as the Jewel fell apart around him. He saw the rebel barricade himself inside the ship and bravely fight off his attackers. Finally, a pair of grenades made it into the ship and knocked Talnar out. Several Gossam cut open the airlock with fusion cutters and removed Talnar and his cargo.
“I sense lifeforms northwest of the ship,” Tor announced. Fenn joined Tor to check it out.
Carson studied the recorded images of the Gossam. The uniforms were similar to a local pirate gang that was starting up when he still lived here: the Oquan. Before he could say anything, Fenn came over the com announcing, “We have stormtroopers here.”