Log:Array Consortium: Flight of the Blackguard
Seeking information on the mysterious surge of eldratz spice even as the Mathall Syndicate's supply of Danati Blue dwindles away, Adhar dispatches Sion in the former Imperial gunship, Blackguard, to a rumored transfer point for spice smugglers in the Rseik sector. Her orders: scan any arriving ships, and should they carry eldratz on board, terminate them with extreme prejudice.
The Blackguard is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Imperial gunship that oft its aloe in the bay. Everyone else wants to use fighters; usually it's Adhar who trains on this slow engine of death, and if anyone ever bothered to see the telemetry they'd see that the captain is not only a truly excellent fighter pilot, he's also a damned lethal one behind the consoles of the Star Wing. Timing ion blasts with laser volleys, tracking multiple targets at once, all the while wheeling the seemingly graceless craft in pinwheels of pure firepower against starfighters, transports and capitals alike. When did this all happen? Has he been practicing behind everyone's back?
But the ship is easy to operate, as the training files point out, and you have more than enough simulator time on the ship to be quite competent. It's true that Blackguard isn't the agile comets that the Avengers are, or even the straight-line monsters that are the Preybirds...and yet, she can pull off a number of different missions and this makes her a massive threat all her own. And Adhar's datacard, you discover, doesn't just have astrometric data for the ship's navicomputer; it has a page or two of briefing data, from the Captain to you, that scrolls up in pale yellow Aurabesh characters on the ship's comms monitor.
Sion: Go to the following coordinates; I have information that suggests Mathall smugglers may be moving poisonous new spice through the Rim to try and make up their losses from previous operation. Reconnoiter the area, scan any transports, and if they contain material matching the included sensor profile, destroy them. There should be a meeting at..." The briefing lists a time index six hours from now, which will be plenty of time to get to the location in question and then play the 'hurry up and wait' game. Which you do, once the ship makes the transition to hyperspace - its class one drive seems to move the gunship along the hyperlanes like a fish in water, until just a few hours later you materialize back in realspace two and half hours early in deep space, somewhere around the Cadavine sector, north of Melida. Passive sensors ping one contact, a small metal thing that your trained eye identifies as a hyperspace buoy. Just you, the void, and that little thing, beeping away a false mass-shadow signature to pull those who are to do business out of hyperspace.
Sion had done a fair amount of practice on this model out of sheer desperation for distraction earlier. Anything to forget the bridge for a while! It's definitely not her craft of choice, but it's not without advantages, and she knows how to use them. This ship can wheel on a decicredit and give change, and that means being able to bring all its firepower to bear in an instant. And with all those fangs, not many want to stick around for the ship's lethal jaws to close on them.
She's not quite alone: BB-J4D is tucked into a corner, scomp-linked up with the ship's systems, and helping to monitor the local traffic. The Socorran is frankly glad of the company: It means she's not the only one in this shut-down ship, sensors on passive, main power on standby, life support barely running, watching for the scum who are trying to kill her friends.
And that's good, because she's having a hard time staying awake. All the midnight oil she's been burning to keep up with the datawork is taking its toll, and the dark-haired pilot is feeling the effects of exhaustion. And there's so little to see right now; the insides of her eyelids don't really look much difference, aside from the cockpit structure...
Time passes; you have time to chat with your buddy, who is busy keeping a watchful eye on the scanners while your poor organic back struggles with the padding in the ship's cockpit. Must get this thing reupholstered at some point! But the time does pass, and while you're buddying about, you very nearly miss a signal appearing on the scanner. At the edge of the gunship's impressive passive range, a contact appears, density approximately the size of a light transport or freighter. It's on the move, course leading toward the buoy. A contact that your droid friend apparently didn't catch in time. So, one point for organics!
"Sorry, Jade. I didn't have room to pack any audio slugs," Sion is telling her droid apologetically, as she glances at the empty sensor screen for the zillionth time...
Wait, that wasn't there before! She blinks, then peers at the screen. "Contact... big as a freighter, and it has an ion drive. Jade, start the sensor recorder," the Socorran says, knowing that she'll never find the non-essential control in time. "Looks like our show's finally starting!"
She leans forward over the sensor screen, watching the ship crawl closer to the mass shadow buoy.
Jade beeps the affirmative, and the sensor recorder light winks on. The contact moves, just at the edge of your passive sensor range. Mind you, if you put out an active ping, you'd have a better reach - as Adhar says, the sensor range on this thing is fantastic, an active ping out to fifty units and a search ping out to seventy-five. Even the focus range is longer at four. Maybe if you back up a bit, you'd be able to hit it without it detecting where the pulse came from. Or maybe modulate it to look like a simple radiation burst....
Meanwhile, the contact has slowed to a stop. It waits now, just like you. Jade whistles a question. What now?
"We wait. Don't want to spook these clowns," Sion replies, unconsciously whispering. "If we go active with sensors, they'll pick up the energy signature and run for it. If we fire up the main drive to move, same thing. Besides, this transport might be empty, here to /get/ spice rather than offload it. Let's see if he's got friends before we flash him."
She taps the sensor screen. "See if you can ID him from that signature we've got so far. Even a ship type would be more than we've got now."
Now that's a very tall order - but your little spheroid friend manages to come through, as suddenly a string of sensor data comes through with a general shape, derived from filtering out background radiation being emitted in your direction. Bit like viewing a silhouette through sunlight window at noon, and only barely possible due to the ship's sensitive sensor gear. So that's a point for synthetics.
The shape translates into a saucer-and-mandibles shape, quicky identified as a YT-1300 variant, one with the cockpit in center and with external cargo pods affixed to its dorsal surface. Well, that's interesting, for sure.
"Nice work, Jade!" Sion congratulates the droid as the results pop up on one of the ship's multipurpose displays. "Cargo pods... he's packing heavy. Pity we'd be so easy to nose out if we went active."
She glances over the controls. "Think he's scanning? We could piggyback our own scan with his beam, get him without him knowing we're here," she suggests. "I mean, /he's/ not the one sneaking around, and I'll bet he's jumpy. I know I'd be scanning if I was him." She looks to the sensor screen again.
Jade trills the binary equivalent of 'aha!' as he gets to work - and lo and behold as you watch there's a hissing and a crackling sound, a bit like radio static and a fax machine signal blended together, that fills the cockpit for a few seconds before the sensor data clears up magnificently. Sure enough, it's definitely loaded, as the mass balance is way over the ship's dry weight . You're not going to get real detail unless you do a focused scan, and there's nothing in this galaxy going to let you do that this far away, but whatever the ship is hauling, it's hauling a /lot/.
"Wow... think that's their supply ship, Jade?" Sion asks, staring at the readout in surprise. "It's so heavily loaded I'm surprised its own drives'll move it!"
She looks back to the sensor screen, just in case they've gotten more visitors. "He can't be stopping out here just for the heck of it. His spice-slinging pals must be running late."
Jade whistles confirmation - that's a full boat, that's for sure. But is it spice? Ore? No way are you going to know unless you buzz it. But how? It's just not coming to you. You're /sure/ it's there, but...ugh! So frustrating!
The freighter remains where it is, some five thousand kilometers from the buoy.
Sion keeps her eyes on the sensor screen. "Some meeting this is turning out to be," she mutters. "Did everybody else get lost or something?" She can't move or scan without tipping their hand, and waiting is proving seriously annoying. "If we go now, we'll only get the one ship, and we don't even know if it's hauling what we're supposed to destroy. And if we keep waiting, he might start second-guessing this meet-up and fly off."
It's then that Jade whistles in exclaimation, just as you check the sensor monitor again. Both at once, you see a new contact appear, and another - and another. Looks like another transport-sized mass, and two that look very much like starfighters. After a few seconds, the new contact begins to approach the heavily laden freighter, slowing down as it makes its approach. Might be trying to dock.
"/Three/ more? Looks like they're taking precautions: Two of those scan like starfighters," Sion says, interpreting the data as best she can. "Think you can do the piggyback trick again, Jade? We need to know more," she murmurs.
She rests her hands on the power controls, waiting to fire the ship up and set an intercept course. "Better wait on those two to dock, then get moving. They'll be stuck while they try to separate, which'll buy us a little more time to scan them and blast them."
With a low whistle, Jade expresses his reticence to try - after all, it'd be like pulling on the Krayt's tail to try it once, much less twice, and with multiple contacts. But at your request, the little droid waits until the two freighter contacts stop next to one another, and with a few more seconds given to allow the ships' docking mechanisms to interlock, Jade gives it another shot.
Sure enough, the ships show through - a ship that /looks/ like the spacegoing turtle shape of a Gthroc 720, and a pair of Imperial TIE fighters. One of these fighters peels off after a moment, heading in your general direction, and after a moment the other follows. Uh-oh.
"Oops..." Sion murmurs, seeing those two fighters pull off and head for the Cygnus. Her hands fly over the controls, pulling up main power and diverting as much as she can to weapons and shields. She has sensors active in only slightly more time, to paint those Imperial space buggies for the Star Wing's concussion missile launchers. "Looks like the party starts now... good thing we brought plenty of refreshments!"
The main ion drives fire, and the Cygnus Advanced Assault Gunboat surges out to do battle with these interlopers, targeting computer ticking as it calculates missile courses for intercept.
It will take a few seconds for the TIEs to get you into weapons range, but weapon locks are achieved - the ion cannons, however, can tag them now, and then they'll be within laser range as well a few seconds later. The missiles, however powerful, are definitely at knife-fight range. But one thing the TIEs don't have that you do is fire platform stability /and/ the element of surprise.
Sion puts full deflectors forward, waiting for the range to close. "Better get both of these guys now, or I'll have one or two on my back while I'm dealing with the transports," she thinks aloud, for Jade's benefit. "The missiles can do that." Counting under her breath, she pulls the trigger and sends two missiles streaking across space, one for each of the TIEs. "Dinner is served, boys..."
Though she's not fast, it really is madness how easily the gunboat moves as you barrel-roll through the cloud of brilliant green laser fire that the two TIEs begin to spew as they finally see your ship - far too late, however, as the Blackguard's missiles are loosed even as you pass the two ships in your collective jousting. The ship rattles with the blast wave of the two concussion detonations, and while you only see the barest flicker of light shining from behind the cockpit, both contacts are scrubbed from your target display.
Ahead, there are the freighters, still docked nd trying to do...whatever it is they do. But they still aren't moving, and you are making progress toward the two like the avenging fury you suddenly are.
"Yes! Finally, full kills to my credit!" Sion exults. That yellow TIE Interceptor didn't count: She only made it helpless, after all. The kill belongs to Adhar and his turbolaser cannon on the much-missed /Moonstormer/. These are hers alone, and on the sensor recorder, too!
But she still has a job to do. "Back to work... Jade, scan those freighters. One of them has to have that poisonous spice we're looking for," she commands, bringing the ship about on an intercept course and toggling to ion cannons. "I'll make sure they won't get away..."
You'll have just enough time to get one shot off before you're in range of the quad laser turrets that the YT-1300 - which is heavily armored, and heavily modified - mounts on both its surfaces, and the Gthroc with its heavy lasers and missile tubes that are all now revealed by Jade's new scan data, but that doesn't keep the transports from opening fire as you approach. At this range, they have no easy way to get at you, though, so while a bright red-orange storm of military grade death roars around you, you are able to steer through it just fine as you fire off a pair of ion bolts of your own.
Now the funny thing is about docked ships is this: they can't separate quickly, and they can't raise shields. So when you land a solid hit on the YT-1300 with the Blackguard's ion cannons, the bright blue lightning that plays across its hull spills over across the Ghtroc as well, dimming power cross both ships. Won't last for long, but the fire immediately ceases, giving you another open window for attack.
"Have to remember that trick," Sion muses as the Star Wing soars away from the immobilized freighters. "When they're docked, no shields, and what hurts one hurts them both."
She doesn't waste time considering it now, though, instead bringing Blackguard around for another run. Sending a focused sensor beam spearing out ahead of the ship, she tries to get a look at what they're carrying... and land another raking burst of ion cannon fire, just to keep them from getting any ideas about escape.
Another concentrated ion blast sends yet more lightning playing across the two transports, and now they're both completely dead - for how long is unknown, but you have plenty of time for Jade to confirm for you that both ships are, in fact, carrying spice fitting the profile sent by Adhar. Based on the amounts, it looks as though the YT was offloading the drugs to the bays of the Ghtroc. Now they're dead in space, and at your mercy.
"Jackpot... these are our spice haulers, Jade!" Sion brings /Blackguard/ around for one last pass, switching to laser cannons. "Only one thing to do now..."
Sion pulls the trigger. /Blackguard/ swoops down on the immobilized transports, its twin laser cannons spitting luminescent crimson doom.
The diving arc affords you multiple shots on your fly-by; the gunship's laser cannons hurl angry bolts of bright emerald green into the exposed hulls of the doomed freighters. Though the hull of the Corellian hauler turns back some of the assault, the Ghtroc's hide is far thinner, and the ship erupts in a great explosion as you pull up hard to try and avoid the conflagration to come. Indeed, it is no sooner that you do this, riding the shockwave of the first explosion, that the mother hauler detonates as well, a blast that rattles the ship and threatens to collapse the shields as the gunship pulls away. And yet, due to your skillful piloting, you are able to keep the ship stable and the shields doubled aft; you make away, safe and sound, from an explosion that against all odds should have damaged /Blackguard/ at least somewhat on the way out.
The telemetry data on this one's going to be fantastic.
/Blackguard/ soars away from the twin detonations behind it, rocking in the blast waves but stable and moving. "We did it, Jade! Our first solo mission!" Sion crows, unable to hug the droid because of his positioning but ecstatic all the same. "Let's go home and give the Cap the good news."
/Blackguard/ turns for a clear passage through the local debris as its pilot plots a hyperspace course home.
Indeed, it's good news all right - especially when as you're making for the outer limit of the buoy's mass shadow, multiple other transports arrive that quickly start to bank away from the debris field they've just jumped into in a desperate attempt not to crash and die. Whether they succeed or not, you have no idea, as you've already leapt into hyperspace. Anyway, according to Adhar, they're scum anyway, right? So kriff 'em. It's a good job done, some fantastic flying, and ace gunnery skills all the way. Kriff 'em all if they get their feelings hurt.
The Captain awaits.
Returning to the Bandit's Castle, Sion contacts Adhar via holonet, as he is on travel when she lands.
The captain's office, without the captain. Odd feeling, perhaps; dark, the holos glow softly on the walls, ghostlamps that let you see the silouettes of the furniture and pick out the metal of the light controls by the hatch as you enter. It's warm in here, smells like metal and leather and whiskey. Maybe a touch of his musk from all the workouts he's been doing. Quiet, though, with nothing but the soft hum of the ship's power system in the background.
Helmet tucked under her arm, Sion steps through the door into the office, Jade rolling behind her. Not sedately at her heels, though: The little black, green-trimmed ball is zipping back and forth, warbling excitedly in his high acoustic signaller tones.
Sion laughs softly. "Calm down, Jade, I'm excited too. But if you keep making so much noise, he'll never hear our holocall!" She sets her helmet down, unzipping her flight suit. "Gods, feels like a steam bath in here after that cockpit."
Finding the controls, she begins activating the holocomm system. "I hope I can find the contact number he left..."
It's definitely hot here compared to the void, even with life support in the cockpit - but you find yourself able to cool off enough as you settle in, and the warm isn't /so/ bad anymore. And now you're sitting behind his desk, cycling through the holocom directory. Which is /huge/, and...apparently coded. Huh. Eventually, however, you find a listing for the Risky Business, which is the ship he's currently on. The old Gizka flagship.
There's a little scratchpad on his desk, covered with writing. His handwriting is actually very pretty, fluid and ornate even as scribbling. Were it a sexist galaxy (hahaha) it might even be consider the script of a noblewoman. Because of course.
At least Jade pipes down, given a little time. And it's more than a little time before Sion has the holocomm powered up and dialed in on the right frequency. <Calling Risky Business... calling Risky Business... respond, please. This is Bandit's Castle.>
After a few long seconds, the Captain appears, sitting behind Bar'duur's old desk in the Gizka office in the vessel. The logo is still on the wall, even. He's in his usual shipsuit, looking rather rumpled, as if he had been roused from sleep.R
< Yeah, > he says, < I'm here, Sion. You okay? >
<All right enough,> Sion replies. <Guess what? We found your meeting, and turns out it was a transfer point for the spice those guys were hauling.> She glances down. <Jade, can you send the sensor logs we collected?>
Adhar grunts, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. < Well, that's hardly a surprise, > he says, his blue image flickering slightly. < What ended up happening? >
Meanwhile, Jade extends an arm to connect with the holocomm unit's data port, transferring the data across the light years.
<It's all in there,> Sion replies. <But the short-short version? The Mathall showed up, and they brought precautions: Two TIE fighters. We splashed the bandits, scanned and destroyed two freighters, and made for home. Just before we jumped out, a few other ships showed up, probably more hungry customers. We got away before they could scan us; they were too busy trying not to fly through the debris cloud that used to be those two freighters. That spice never made it to any customers.>
< Yeah, sec, > he murmurs, rifling in his pockets for a moment before coming up with a datacard, which he then slots into his own projector unit. < Pulling it down now - and you said you just blew the kriff outta them, huh? > He falls back into the chair, chuckling. < Well, that's hardly a surprise either. Great work, Sion. What did you think of the Blackguard? >
<It's slower than a Bantha on roller skates,> Sion replies. <But at least it's not fragile and thinly armed to boot. It made short work of those TIE fighters.>
< Maybe so, > Adhar says with a chuckle, < She's about as fast as a shuttle, it's true. But those skates have gyroscopic balancing and she can take out three ships for every attack delivered on her. Personally, I think she's great. > He grins. < I'll look at this sensor data later. You did make a match though, right? This wasn't some poor guy trying to hand out Ryl or something just to have the baddest ass this side of Socorro come and put a bolt in his aft quarter? > His tone is joking, but it's like a serious question, if only halfway so.
Sion nods. <We got a good scan. The spice registered as 'unknown type', so it wasn't any Ryll or Ryll derivative. This was the stuff we were looking for, I'm sure.>
< Good. > Adhar clears his throat, leaning forward again and placing his arms on the desk. < So what this is, > he says, < Is a spice called Eldratz. It's incredibly dangerous - kriff, it's so lethal even the /Hutts/ won't deal in it. So suddenly, it's on the rise. Why? How? Who's behind it? Well, it's on the way up as Danathi Blue is on the way down, so one has to wonder who's moving it. So what we've done here is beat the bushes, see what comes out. You follow me? >
<Not exactly...> Sion murmurs. <Unless you mean that this was to knock out a supplier and see where the panic led to?>
< Pretty much. > Adhar nods. < Whoever they are, running eldratz spice is the purview of bad, bad people. Spice is spice, sure, and you can overdose on it and have horrible things happen to you...but this stuff is designed to seize you and kill you off. There's no real way to go after you start it. And these guys know it. >
<I get it, I think. Hopefully we'll have a lead or two to follow soon," Sion replies. <Anything else you need done, while I've got you on the comm?>
< Well, not at the moment, > he says, pursing his lips. < Aola and I are due to head out to get her sister tomorrow, hopefully, and Bar'duur should likely depart with Mara the day after that to get the rest of her family. Uh...so I'm thinking you hold down the fort at the moment, because either I or Bar'duur might need to call the Castle in as backup. Don't be afraid to jump in one of those Avengers should the ship get into combat, either, because it's not like you can dodge fire in the Castle, right? >
<Right. And there are better helm-jockeys than me on board,> Sion agrees. <Better if I'm someplace I can put what I know to good use.> She manages a smile. <Say hi to Aloa for me, okay? I hope you find her sister.>
< You know I'm going to put Aola on helm duty, right? > He quirks his brows. < I mean, she's not going to just sit around being pilot royalty or anything. In case that was a thing you were wondering about. And you still outrank her. >
< I... never had that impression, > Sion replies, blinking in surprise. < I just figured she was doing what you assigned her to do, same as me. >
< Yeah, well. She's an amazing pilot, but so are you. I just want you to know she's going to have other duties as well, same as the rest of us. > A beat. < Um. Actually, that reminds me, I've been wanting to ask. You've seen my telemetry in those ships, right? How...do you think I do? > Yes, you aren't going deaf. The Captain just asked you to grade his starfighter skills.
< Well... > Sion murmurs uncomfortably. She might be good, but she's still been flying in space for less than a year. It's a good thing that so much of her experience transfers easily! < You have a good touch on the controls, and if you're flying the /Blackguard/ you're the most dangerous thing I've seen. >
His brows arch. < I hear a but coming on. Go ahead, Sion, I'm a big boy. Lay it on me. >
Sion winces. Busted. < Well... you'd be in trouble in a faster, less maneuverable ship. The Star Wing can out-spin almost anything, and it has the sharpest fangs of any of our fighters, but it can't chase anything. If you were in something less nimble, somebody might be able to latch onto your tail and stay there. As long as the enemy's in front of you, or can be put there, you're fine. >
< Hmmmmmmm. > He steeples his fingers, tapping the index points together. < All right, yeah, I can see that. So basically, I need to get more time in the Preybirds, yeah? Is that what you'd say? >
< Well, you definitely need to learn a bit more in the way of tactics,> Sion replies. <The Star Wing's not built for tactics: Just point the nose and pull the trigger. The Preybirds definitely need someone using their head at the controls. They're fast, but they're not that nimble. Good teamwork and outthinking your opponents will keep you alive in one of those. >
< More tactics? > He blinks faintly, considering that. < I've been studying tactics for months now...but it's mostly larger ships, naval engagements, with the fighters being pieces. Hmmm.... > Adhar purses his lips, then, and flops back in his chair once more. < Yeah, all right. Small craft tactics. I'll have a look at it. Thanks for your input, Sion, you've given me a lot to think about here. > And bless you, he doesn't sound remotely mad. Just very thoughtful.
< I'm going to go pick up my copy of Taranus's Treatise on Modern Fighting Ship Tactics and polish up on my small ship tactics now. You take care of yourself, all right? I'll be back on Nar Shaddaa before the day's out. >
That said, he gets up from the desk, pulling the datacard and killing the signal. Well, that went a lot better than...probably you ever expected?
<Kayo. See...> The screen winks out in mid-sentence. "...you then," Sion finishes, wincing faintly. "Well, at least he respects me enough to ask my opinion," she says to Jade. "Let's file away that flight report and get some rack time."
She does pause to pour herself a glass from the Whyren's Reserve bottle on the deck, two fingers' worth, before she turns for the door. Sure, it's the boss's, but she's earned it.