Meanwhile, Aden, Ssssawar and Annie crossed a bridge over the river that led to the waterfall only several metres due west. Their destination, Spacer’s Bistro, was on the other side of the river. Port Barrow had the expected large percentage of Weequay population in the streets, they saw. But there were also other species, including humans, several Rodians here, a few Duros over there. The Bistro was a domed building overlooking the cliff. There was a large window pane which allowed for spectacular view of the canyon and other mountains in the range.
It was still early, so there were not many patrons in the Bistro. A green and black clad human was drinking alone in a table. There was a Weequay passed out, presumably drunk at another table. A Rodian was at a table near the window downing shots of some kind of drink. The crewmates were largely ignored by the bartender who continued cleaning his glasses without skipping a beat when they walked through the door.
Annie strode toward the drinking Rodian. She nodded in greeting, to which the Rodian reciprocated. Annie started asking about the pirates that were raiding shipping coming into Port Barrow. The Rodian grinned as much as a Rodian can grin, then slammed a couple of empty shot glasses onto the table.
“Let’s talk… over drinks,” the green skinned alien said as he poured lum into the glasses.
The Trianii discovered from the discussion that there was no bounty out for the pirates because no one could afford to pay for it. And there were more than one pirate group, one after another. Annie was about to learn the supposedly exact location of the current pirate group’s base when the third shot of lum claimed him. Ssssawar and Aden turned to look as Annie hit the floor unconscious. The Rodian kept grinning his Rodian grin.
Ssssawar stepped up to the bar and greeted the bartender. The Weequay was quite cordial, and regarded Gromer quite highly. Gromer was the outsider who brought a measure of wealth into Port Barrow. If it weren’t for him, the Weequays in the region would still be hiring themselves out as muscle for mercenaries, pirate groups or worse, Hutt clans. However, wealth came with a price: Wave after wave of pirate groups, one after another. Some groups would attack daily. Some groups would attack every week. Sometimes there wouldn’t be an attack for months, before the next pirate group came along, drawn to the lawlessness of the region. The local police force was understaffed and working with a reduced budget. Of course, if it weren’t for Gromer and his progressive vision for the community there wouldn’t even be a police force.
Aden approached the unconscious human on his table. There were several bottles of liquor on it. None were identifiable. The clone raised the man’s head by his chin and was about to ask him something when he regurgitated his drink, as well as last night’s dinner, onto the table and floor. Aden leapt out of the way of the vomit. Thankfully, he boots weren’t stained.
The bartender grumbled as he moved to take care of the mess. Ssssawar and Aden though a wake up juice would be good for Annie presently, so they asked the bartender for one. They poured the concoction into Annie’s fanged mouth. Ten seconds later, she awoke with a loud meow. She looked at both Ssssawar and Aden and told them, “Good of the four of you to come help me.”
Apart from the hangover and the crossed cat-eyes, she was relatively fine.
They decided to forego questioning the remaining man in green and black, and return to the landing field.
When they got back to the Bad Example, Gromer and his droids had left. There was a light, plastic case beside Hunter which was undoubtedly filled with fifteen thousand credits. Hunter explained to Ssssawar, Aden and Annie – whose vision had been restored on their walk back – that they each will be paid two thousand credits, leaving five thousand for Hunter himself and the ship. Naturally, everyone was happy because payday was a happy day.
Then, they pooled the information they learned about the Port Barrow, Five Skulls Brigands, Gromer Imports, Tam Gromer and Dagg Vane. They decided to learn more about Dagg Vane, by asking one of the droids working at the landing field. Hunter stopped one RA-7 protocol droid who was carrying a datapad, but when asked he did not know Dagg Vane at all, nor did he know who was Tam Gromer’s personal assistant. When the droid tried to take his leave, Hunter feigned shock at the open panel behind the RA-7’s head and persuaded him to shut himself down while Tickley and Annie fixed the panel.
When the droid was shut down, Tickley and Annie connected a datajack and accessed the droid brain’s database with a pad. It was true that the droid did not know who Dagg Vane was, but he did know that the personal assistant to the CEO of Gromer Imports was created when a person arrived from offworld 5 years ago, then immediately assumed that position. They fixed the droid’s programming so that it wouldn’t remember their unauthorized memory access.
After they reconvened in the shadow beneath the Bad Example‘s hull, Hunter said, “Now we have Gromer Imports’ address, let’s pay them a visit, find Dagg Vane and get to the bottom of this.” Annie noted that someone should stay behind to guard the ship. Even if it was locked, someone could still sabotage it. It was decided that Weapon-X would oversee the security of the ship on the ground as his crewmates headed for Gromer Imports.
It took them an hour to reach the industrial park where Gromer Imports was located. The local sun, also known as Sriluur, had dropped under the neighbouring mountains. No longer sunny, the air got colder. There were getting less and less pedestrians on the streets. Landspeeders too were getting rare. Gromer Imports was a two-story building with an adjoining three-story warehouse. There were no movements at its large windows.
“Here we are. I guess we knock,” said Hunter. He pressed on the button at the door, which opened to reveal a person in leather jacket, dark coveralls, high boots and a light helmet that exposed the face. It was Dagg Vane’s face. He held in his arms a BlasTech T-21 light repeating blaster. He had an expression that cried out anger and the need for blood. He confirmed this by yelling out, “You! You work for the killer! Where is he?”
He fired a burst of blaster bolts at Hunter, who activated his rocket pack and flew up in a plume of smoke. The bolts struck walls of neighbouring offices and the street, blowing out huge chunks of molten ferrocrete. He yelled in utter rage, “That droid killed everyone I loved. Everyone I knew! Sooner or later it will kill you too!”
Annie growled, extended her talons and took a swipe at Vane, slicing up his chest. He screamed in pain, while Aden stepped forth with his DC-15s rifle. Quickly setting the weapon to stun, he aimed and felled the elder human with a single bolt. With a scream of rocket engines, Hunter lowered himself back onto the ground.
Tickley uttered in his native Javanese language, “Maybe Weapon-X should just say sorry?”
Hunter’s comlink buzzed. It was Weapon-X. “You guys alright? I just saw your rocketpack contrail fly up and then back down. Do you need reinforcements?
“No,” said the captain. “We’re all good here, thanks.”
“Then perhaps, you guys could come give me reinforcements?”
“Cause there are two pirate YT-seventeen-sixties hovering to the front and aft of the Bad Example with their cannons pointing at the ship.”
Weapon X had been pacing back and forth on the ground under the Bad Example when there came a loud basso rumble from the sky. He was still looking at the pair of floating YT-1760s in the sky, a mere fifty metres above ground, when their double laser cannons pivoted to point directly at the Bad Example. He weighed the consequences of running away, but he had been tasked with guarding their ship. So, he bolted up into the Bad Example. The gunners of the pirate freighters was slow in deciding to fire on the Bad Example. After all, capturing an unharmed ship would have been more profitable. One gunner’s doubt turned into resolve and a pair of red energy bolts lanced towards the space yacht.
There was a burst of energy, a crash of thunder and a fiery ball of gas blossomed upon the bow of the Bad Example. After the smoke had cleared, the Bad Example still stood relatively unharmed. Weapon-X had activated the yacht’s energy shields. With a roar of repulsors and thrusters, the Bad Example lifted off the ground leaving a wake of swirling post-explosion smoke. The second pair of energy bolts from the other pirate ship ploughed into the grassy ground where the yacht had been, kicking up a mushroom of flame, debris and dirt.
Back at the industrial park, the rest of the crew of the starship were desperate to get back to their ship. With an unconscious Dagg Vane being dragged after them, they boosted a nearby open-topped landspeeder to increase their travel time through the streets of Port Barrow. Hunter leapt behind the controls and accelerated through the winding streets in an attempt to reach their yacht.
However, he took a wrong turn and ended up in an alleyway with a large Trast speeder truck, which had been converted to collect garbage, blocking their way. Annie rolled her eyes at the current turn of events, vaulted onto the street and ran past the truck towards where the freighters were having their hoe down. Everyone else looked at each other, and an idea struck all of them at once.
Ten seconds later, two human garbage men, quaking with fear, were on their backs on the ferrocrete after being flung from their garbage truck. The newly-commandeered garbage truck sped down the alley. Ahead, the Trianii navigator was still running. Ssssawar yelled at Annie to get on. She turned, saw their new ride and deftly jumped onto the ledge at the side of the truck and grabbed a handhold tightly for stability.
Hunter swerved left into a main street. There was an old Weequay lady at the curb obviously waiting for the garbage truck to arrive, holding out a trash bag filled with drippy, wet, unspeakably horrible smelling refuse. As they passed her, Annie grabbed the trash bag. The grateful old lady waved Annie her thanks as she receded into the distance behind them.
It was very late afternoon, and there were hardly any other speeders on the road. Calling Weapon-X on the comlink, Hunter asked, “We’re barrelin’ down the main thoroughfare. Where are you?”
“I think I’m about to reach you.”
Their star yacht appeared in front of them, flew overhead and disappeared behind them at high speed, rattling the garbage truck violently. One YT-1760 screamed over them along the same direction of the yacht. Then immediately after, a second YT-1760 followed suit. Hunter yelled, “You’re too fast. You just went by over us!”
“Hang on, Cap’n,” Weapon-X said. “I’m turning back toward you.” Between the range of fifty and a hundred metres above the street, the Bad Example executed a bootlegger turn, but the yacht slipped the turn and took out one half off the top of a three story building. Thankfully, there was little damage to the Bad Example‘s hull.
The two pursuing freighter got out of the yacht’s way and performed a similar turn to stay on its tail. One yacht faithfully remained behind the Bad Example, though its cannon fire missed its mark. The second starship turned and ploughed right into another three story building, spraying bricks, mortar and metal reinforcements on the streets below. It spun out of control, hit the sides of two more building and finally crashed into a junkyard filled with old machine and speeder parts.
Hunter had turned the garbage truck back into the thoroughfare from whence it came, back under the oncoming paths of the starships. The captain told them, “We need the truck to… jump.” Immediately, Tickley opened a panel on the floor that no one had realised existed and fiddled around with the pipes, cables and wires underneath. There were sparks and smoke, then the Jawa chittered with glee at Hunter, giving him a thumbs up. He had augmented the speeder truck’s anti-gravity repulsors for a single jump.
Hunter spotted an unknown structure on the street which he thought would work great as a ramp. The Bad Example roared by above them. Hunter aimed the truck for the ramp, gunned the throttle and remembered to trust in the Force, the energy field created by all living things that surrounded them and bound them together.
Or some such.
The garbage truck flew. The large metallic truck, dripping with garbage water and leaving behind a trail of unpleasant smell, was airborne. Witnesses on the ground reported later that there was a large feline creature on the side of the truck, holding a large bag of trash. In what seemed an eternity, the truck crashed right on top of the cockpit pod of the oncoming pirate freighter. There was an ugly sound of crunching metal.
Tickley was first out the door of the truck, his lightsabre drawn. Swiftly, he cut a round hole on the top hull that allowed them to drop one by one into the cockpit. Simultaneously, Annie threw her trash bag right onto the pirates’ transparisteel windscreen and blinding them. In the cockpit, Ssssawar drew his two blaster pistols and jammed their muzzles at the back of both the pilot’s and co-pilot’s heads. Everyone else rushed to the lounge where two other pirates were waiting, holding blaster pistols.
They both fired on Hunter, who twisted out of the bolts’ path. A liquor cabinet behind him exploded. Aden fired his rifle, felling one at once. Bounding on all fours, came the feral Annie who jumped up and struck downwards with her claws on the remaining pirate. He screamed in terror for a second. Then he was silent.
Their comlinks buzzed again. Weapon-X virtually yelled out, “You’re about to fly into a building!”
Ssssawar hissed to the pilots, “Break left now!” The YT-1760 banked away a few metres from colliding into a building.
At gunpoint, they forced the surviving pirates to slow down and safely land the ship back at the smoking landing field, where a cadre of town officials, police personnel and Traffic Directorate officers were waiting. In front of them all, stood Tam Gromer.
When the crew delivered the two pilots into police custody, Gromer worriedly blurted, “Captain Maelstrom! What have you done?”
“We got three of the six pirate ships out of the way now,” Hunter explained cheerfully, as the police also took Dagg Vane away all tied up. Gromer waved him away with the expression that said, I’ll have a word with you later.
“But what of the other ships of their fleet?” Gromer said. “What if they return for blood?”
“We’ll be ready for them.”
“When?” Gromer asked. “Today? Tomorrow? In two days? Next week? In two weeks?”
Hunter was silent.
“Can you afford to wait here and not go out getting paid for your cargo runs?”
Hunter took a moment to gather his thoughts. He turned to look at his five crewmates. Then he faced Gromer once again and told him, “No. But we have three of his ships. We’ll take the fight to his base right now and stop them before they can attack you or anyone else.”
THE END… for now.