Log:Array Consortium: Mother, Droids, Rockets and Speed
As the newest aspiring Captain of the Array Consortium, Pash Danigo goes out on a qualifying mission, followed by Aola Ziveri, the newest Consortium security pilot, to provide escort. But what proves to be an unusual start gets them both in to real trouble - and that's just the present!
It's work time! Adhar has charged Pash with a job, since he seems to spend a lot more time playing fixer for the other Captains than smuggling himself. The burden of being a junior warlord, as Wodi calls him, but there you are. The job given is simple: head to Ord Mantell, pick up a load of a hundred and fifty proton rockets from an arms dealer named Hraask whose baradium cores have been removed, and take them to another location in the Outer Rim, near the edge of Hutt Space just past the Bothan Sector. Deep space. Nothing out there but cold and gas - and the client, of course. The trip should take you both about twelve hours once leaving Org Mantell, given the circuitous routes you must take, and you will need to stop in three different places to report your progress via hyperwave buoys set up in these places. In short, it's a huge pain in the ass, and it's exactly what an over-paranoid arms dealer would do. Aola, the newest ace on the block, will be flying close escort in the Blackguard - no doubt she just loves how slow the ship moves at 60 megalights, but it'll turn on a dime and has heavy armor, weapons, and enough missiles to take out a wing of fighters each with pinpoint shooting. And you both have class one hyperdrives. Ahem.
We begin on Ord Mantell, itself a vast planet of mountains and scrubland, volcanoes and ancient Republic infrastructure from the time it was an ordinance storage planet. Here, the two of you land on a cleared-off landing pad at the edge of one of the sprawing salvage fields that blanket large areas of the continents, a sea of hulls and rusty metal and ancient, rotting history as far as the eye can see.
The job is to wait for Hraask, a known Trandoshan contact, who will supply then with a number of disarmed proton rockets to deliver to a client. So you will wait. And probably be bored as hell until he shows up. But hey, get-to-know-you time is good.
The 'fighter' itself wasn't exactly Aola's usual specs. Speed and maneuverability was usually her preference over straight firepower, but the Twi'lek liked to brag she was the best and could fly anything, now she'd have to put her money where her mouth was. With her lekku in their wraps and her blaster rifle slung over her front, the woman climbs out of the Blackwing fighter and scans the surroundings with her violet eyes. "Well," she comments absently as she draws nearer. "This stinks. Figuratively and literally."
Pash spent most of his career in the Outer Rim systems and beyond, but everyone once in a while a job would send him closer to the core, so he's not exactly a stranger to Ord Mantell. Still, he can't wait to get back into Deep Space. Sitting in his Broadstar-600 on landing, he peers out at the sprawling scrapyard and wonders, idly, about the punctuality of Trandoshans.
Not long after, he spots Aola exiting her craft and follows suit. Hopping from his ship, he stamps his feet on the ground a few times before joining the Twi'lek. "Just when you get used to the stench on Nar Shaddaa," he says, grinning.
Pash shrugs and says, "Don't know him at all." He turns from the horizon to eye Aola's rifle. "The boss man set us up, so he must be somewhat reliable." Even so, a similar idea had crossed his mind on the way here. You never can be too sure when it comes to jobs like these. "How well do you know him, though? Adhar, I mean." He turns away again to stare off in the distance.
From off in the distance, the umistakable sound of a repulsor engine - a big one - rings in from somewhere on the sea of metal. The heat of the sun is soaked up and radiated by all that alloy, turning the field into a furnace all around you; it makes it hard to see what's coming, and brings sweat beading on your skins. It's...an interesting place for a meeting. Good place for an ambush, but an interesting place for a meeting.
Ryloth isn't the most humid of planets, a Twi'lek could handle the heat to a degree but it's not exactly comfortable. The blue-skinned woman chews her bottom lip and glances towards the ships before looking back to Pash. "Not all that well," she answers honestly, lekku giving a little twitch. "But he seems to have done his homework on me before approaching. You?"
That was about the answer Pash expected. "If he did," he says, hand hovering just above the grip of his blaster pistol, "then he hid it well." Beads of sweat form across his brow and one rolls lazily down the side of his face. He doesn't brush it away, instead focusing on the approaching vehicle. It's always like this. Staring at an oncoming contact can often be like staring down the barrell of an E-11. It can be exhilirating in the right circumstances. In this one, he wonders if it's at all necessary.
"I personally think it's good when employers demonstrate a sense of trust in one's new hires." From behind the ships, the voice that rings is deep and saw-edged, yet weirdly bright and eloquent in its flow - like a fine watch with rusty gears. Coruscanti accent. Behind you.
There was actually a small muttered curse in Ryl from Aola before she turns around. She doesnt raise her rifle, but she -does- keep a hand on it, just in case. The Twi'lek however clears her throat and gestures for Pash to do the talking. She wasn't the deal maker and she hardly looks like muscle, but the petite blue pilot simply remains quiet as she lets the others speak.
Pash makes a slow turn-around, hand moving away from his pistol when the rugged voice speaks to the pair. "Then you should have no worries from us today," he says, taking a few steps closer to the voice. "You must be Hraask? I'm Pash." He pauses a moment, then gets right down to business, motioning with his head to his freighter, the Special Delivery. "Ready to load her up?"
There's a very fat Trandoshan over there.
He comes around, patting the side of the Blackguard as he goes, followed by a strange droid that looks very much like a fuel tank of some kind on large, fortified treads, with no arms but a constant battery of sensors girding its circumference at what may be considered 'eye level'. It is the droid who is speaking, however. "I am Hossk, yes. And you are Captain Danigo. I assume this is your bodyguard. Good." A beat. "Shall I have the rockets loaded?"
Bodyguard? The mention makes her lips quirk into a smile but Aola stays silent. On the ground she was just a girl with a big blaster rifle, but she'd feel a whole lot more capable and powerful once she was back in the ship and in the sky.
Pash doesn't answer right away, instead taking a moment to consider the Trandoshan and his droid. Some might say he's sizing them up, even. Once he's done this, he nods and says, "Sooner we get that done, sooner we get them to the client." He turns from the Trandoshan to Aola. "Be right back."
The spacer then climbs a passenger ladder into the belly of his ship and disappears there. Not for long, though, because soon after the rear hatch opens to reveal an empty cargo bed, loose straps hanging from the walls.
The Trandoshan heads back, leaving the droid there; a small group of other saurians emerge from trapdoors along the back edge of the ring, disguised as lumps of earth and junk. From each of these man-sized holes, the well-armed Trandoshans begin to draw out large boxes with self-contained repulsorlifts, which they begin to pull into the cargo bay.
"My people are very skilled in handling explosives," Hraask natters on in that impossible accent. "Don't worry, you won't explode on /our/ account, at least. And who is your charming companion, Captain Danigo? I wasn't aware that Captain Gann employed Twi'lek as pilots at the moment."
Reassuring, Aola muses, but she's still glad that her own ship wasn't the one carrying all the traded explosives. It had enough things that could detonate already in its loadout. Watching the crew of well-armed Trandoshans moving the cargo has the blue-skinned woman's lekku giving another nervous twitch. They'd have to hope it was a legit deal, because she wasn't -that- confident she could win a firefight with a Trandoshan mercenary group. When she's being discussed? The twi'lek glances over but doesn't say anything. This wasn't her forte.
Pash does his best not to let on his surprise at the appearance of the mercenary group. Pretty well hidden indeed. He hops out of the rear of the Broadstar and watches closely as they begin loading the missles into it. On mention of companion, the smuggler looks over to Aola and offers her what's meant to be a comforting smile. "Why not ask her? She can speak well as I can." A glance to the Trandoshan, then he's back to overseeing the loading. "Make sure to strap those tight!"
"She's got a lovely body," the droid continues. "Very well-struck - but you know, I got tired of bodies...well, organic ones, anyway. That's why I had my brain put in this vessel. Oh, they say I'm mad, surely, but if it was good enough for the B'omarr, it's good enough for me. Mind you, nothing the B'omarr ever put themselves in is anything like yours truly." A hissing, metallic laugh. "Ah, well. I'll go senile eventually, they tell me, so all I've done is made myself damned near bulletproof - and then I'll be a mad droid wandering the wastelands, heavily armed and plated with armor from a Star Destroyer." A bet. "But not today! Today, it is honest business with the honest comrade of honest Captain Gann."
And so the loading goes perhaps twenty minutes more, with Pash and Hraask the apparent killer-cyborg-to-be arms dealer bellowing orders at the Trandoshans - and enjoying himself (itself?) immensely while doing so. Once the last of the rockets are secured, it's time to go. Hraask delivers the coordinates in a pair of datacards to be slotted into your navicomputers, given to each of you not by physical arms, but apparent telekinesis by miniature tractor beams. Hi-tech, this apparent bucket on treads. Must be real expensive to hide yourself as junk.
A few more disturbingly detached comments and you are back in the air, leaving Ord Mantell and its rust fields behind. With...a lot of naval-grade, old Imperial thermonuclear rockets, minus their baradium cores. Despite that, though, their catalizing proton charges will still explode if hit in combat. So. Don't do that, eh?
Well...that exchange was downright unsettling. Aola couldn't say she'd ever been lusted after by a cybrog/potential droid killer timebomb before. Or maybe it had been complementing her the same way she might complement a starfighter. It was hard to know. Still, hopefully the strangeness was going to be profitable. Moving back towards her fighter, the woman stashes her blaster rifle beside herself. Checking the systems, she fires up the ship and slides herself into her seat. Sooner they were in the sky, the sooner she'd feel better.
Back in the cockpit with a load of explosives strapped in behind him, Pash isn't sitting comfortably. The Trandoshans did a fine enough job loading everything into the freighter, but the fact that the whole operation was being run by a nutty bucket makes him hope the next steps are as in order as the loading had been.
He fires the Special Delivery up and the landing gear slides into place as the ship lifts higher. The spacer starts up the necessary mechanics, including his comm link Aola's craft and says, "Having fun yet?" before setting off for lower atmosphere.
"Giddy with it," she comms back, taking off in formation with the larger freighter and dancing her fingertips over the controls to bring up her weapon's display. If she was the only one here for security, she was certainly made to feel a little better for the weapons complement of her ship.
"You and me both," Pash says, and there's something in his voice that suggests he's not being sarcastic. This is part of why he likes his job. He gets to meet colorful characters and move exciting materials to unknown places. With the mad droid in his rearview, that's one part that can now start to be cosidered a little fun.
Perhaps that might just be why Adhar had Aola fly the thing - sensors, range and payload more than make up for its slower speed. But despite the slower speed, your hyperdrives are both first rate, and so when you take off for the first leg of your hyperspace journey, it doesn't seem like it's going to be too bad of a trip.
Which it isn't. For eight hours. Eight...long hours. In a cockpit. Stopping here and there, communicating with hyperwave buoys who then give you the next leg of your journey. Because oh by the Force, what is WRONG with people. But hour eight arrives, four hours from the goal, and the two of you transition into realspace around the next waypoint - and when you do, a very familiar voice sounds over the link.
"Ah! There you are, my friends. You've come all the way out here with my cargo. How lovely!"
Is that...Hraask? But how?"
Eight hours is still a long enough time to find even Aola, who loves flying, fidgeting and stretching out in her seat. This was a little painful, hopefully the pay was worth it. She'd hummed a few songs to herself, mused about missing having her droid for company and perhaps if Pash had been willing to keep up conversation, had been speaking about different fighters she had flown, or wished to fly.
The communication isn't so impossible, either he'd headed them of or was being relayed, but still... There's a little twitch of those headtails and her hands tighten on the controls just a little. No words, but she was being cautious, just in case.
Pash doesn't actually mind these long commutes. They can be a pain on certain parts of the body, but the solitutde is something he's come to appreciate over the years. Yes, he was happy to keep up conversation with Aola, finding is it easy to discuss details of different fighters with the Twi'lek. Being a freighter pilot, he can learn a lot. The rest of the time he spent napping or reading.
When the streaking, swirling lights of hyperspace distill into the dotted stars of realspace and Hraask's voice reappears, he lets out an annoyed sigh and switches on comms. "Good to hear your voice, Hraask," he says dryly.
"Yes, it's me," chimes Hraask's synthetic singsong. "I know you are surprised, and I do not of course blame you. You're also probably wondering where I am, how I got here, that sort of thing - well, I will tell you. I'm not here at all! Ha! Yes, I put a program in the datacards containing your navigation information! Because I saw that you had no droids to detect them. Yes! I am very clever. So no, to be truthful...I would have done it anyway. My programming is unbreakable.
"So! This is, as they say, the deal. The charges in your container are set to explode within a certain proximity to your ship - and so how, do you ask, do you fix this? You dump your cargo, of course. Yes, dump the cargo and leave. I am coming to get it, you see, and I am coming with a lot of weapons, so if you try to be cheeky...
The droid's voice becomes harsh. "You will /regret it/. So dump your cargo and go. You do not know how far the range is. Do as I say. Or die. Whichever. You have one minute to comply."
"You want the cargo," Aola speaks up, keying the comm. She might just be the security, but she's not brainless, "you can't afford to let those charges go off." Switching to closed channel, she addresses Pash. "Just in case, you've got three options. Either you go to your escape pod and you eject, you power down so they can't read your ship, or you dump the charges." The Twi'lek clenches her pointed teeth, switching back to open channel. "Two can play at this 'if I can't have it, noone can' game."
Pash should've guessed this wouldn't go smoothly. Not once he realized who or what Hraask really is. When the droid lays out its plan, however, he still feels stung. In open comms, he follows Aola with, "You heard the woman."
Moving over to a closed comm, Pash's voice comes out raspier, angrier. "Like hell I'm gonna let that rusty can take this ship or the cargo. I'm powering down. Think you can hold them off long enough for me to find a way to disable whatever's back here?"
Meanwhile, Hraask's voice is merrily counting down. "...fifty...forty-nine, doo doo, forty six...doot doo..."
Back to the closed channel, the Twi'lek sweeps her craft, almost making it look like she'd fled before pulling on her own mask. She was going to power down as best she could too, play ghost until the other ships appeared for their bounty. "Just don't blow yourself up, I'll make sure they don't blow you up either." Or avenge him if they did, but she wasn't going to say that aloud.
"Alright then," Pash says, swallowing hard. He grabs a flight mask and places it over his face, hooking it up with what he needs for temporary life support. "Going dark." Once settled, he starts to power down systems one at a time until everything a sensor on the warheads might detect is off. Then, he stands and heads for the cargo bay.
"Now, what the hell am I looking for," he grumbles, moving to the nearest crate and working it open, slowly. He didn't admit to Aola that this isn't exactly his forte, but he is sure as hell aware of it himself.
"Thirty five...doot doo...thirrrrrrrttttt....."
When the power goes down, Hraask's voice goes out - and now, all is silent. Save for the cargo bay, of course. As Pash opens the hatch into the bay, something that takes him a few precious seconds via manual release...the crates full of rockets loom at him, towers of destruction well-moored do the freight deck. Silence reigns, here. How many seconds were left? Did he keep count?
Thoughts do cross Aola's mind, a consideration about other means that could be used to make the trap described. Either she'd see the ship detonate, or she'd see the scavengers come for it. The Twi'lek had to focus on that second possibility, on the many weapons she was ready to unleash. Next time? She needs to bring Bee-boop along for any cargo pickups.
Pash stands in the cargo hold for a moment, thinking. He goes over the possible scenarios in his head. This could be a bluff, of course. Or this could be a real problem. He could solve that by dumping the load, but where would that leave them? With no pay and tarnished reputation. So that's no good.
A moment later and he's crawling back into the cockpit. Tentatively, he powers on certain parts of ship. Lights, to signal Aola. Then comms to get her view of things.
The computer powers up as well, but thanks to your careful system-by-system powering the voice merrily begins its counting loop again - but then stops as it reaches 'zero', with Hraask erupting into horrifying laughter as sounds of explosions play in the background...and stop.
Well, he isn't destroyed. So something must be right.
The comlinks come back online and Aola exhales. She was right...sorta, that this whole mess was a bluff or that they wouldn't blow up something if they wanted to salvage it. "Still with me Pash?" she speaks after a moment on her personal comlink.
"Still breathing," Pash tells Aola with a smile. Hraask's maniacal laughter still ringing through his head, he starts to go through his ship's computer systems, working diligently if not quickly. "There's a good chance this guy is full of it, but just to be safe I'm going to try and find the source of this signal and dump it from my comms. Should make it safe for us here on out. Just watch my back."
Many tense seconds tick by as Pash hammers at the consoles in his ship, trying to find some sign of rogue programs in its systems - but either he hasn't got the skill, hasn't gotten lucky enough, or it simply isn't in there. At least it's quiet, now, and the ringing of the droid-thing's voice is no longer in his ears.
Aola looks on, attention swallowed up the the moment. Time's ticking, but is something coming to meet them?
Pash's persistance - and a momentary burst of inspiration - succeed! The foreign program is found and relegated to a secondary memory block where it won't be able to interfere with the sensor system - which, indeed, it had infected. That done, it appears that the sensors can be brought up safely again!
Pash struggles with the computer system a bit longer, spurred on by the threat of Hraask's ship looming in the distance. "Come on," he mumbles, moments before finding the trojan program. "There you are!" He sequesters the program and powers on the rest of his systems, tensing as he does, because there still could be something else he didn't think of. "That should take care of it, Aola. What do you say we get the hell out of here?"
Yes, yes it should. And as the system comes up, Pash can see - assuming he does an internal scan - that something is on approach, just at the very outside of the ship's sensor range. Looks like...fighters. Three of them. And another transport.
Pash is being hailed.
Pash does do that scan. In fact, he uses all the sensors he can to get his bearings. And, unfortunately, it's as he's feared. THey're right on his tail. "Heads up," he tells Aola, before opening comm to accept the hail. "Pash here," he says. "Alive and well." His says this with a mixture of triumph and contempt.
"That is very, very annoying!" Oh. That's...Hraask. "You were supposed to leave! Why do I have to do everything myself? Fine, fine! You want to die so much, I'll show you what it's like! What it's like to lose your body! To be put in a box! Forever! For-EVER! FORRRREEEEVVVEEEERRRRRR!"
The half-droid's voice distorts hideously over the link, to the point that the comms automatically cut it off while mistaking it for a burst of interference. So there's Pash, with a load of disarmed but still dangerous proton rockets, Aola, with her powerful but surprised gunboat....versus three unknown starfighters and an apparently psychotic Trandoshan cyborg baying for your blood.
This is what is known as a party.
Well, time for a little payback. "Power up and prepare to jump Pash. I've got your back." Time to go to work. Doing a quick mental check of her weapons, she instead makes use of ion cannon. A disabled ship is as good as a dead one. Lets see what this thing can do.
The trio of Headhunters scream toward the two ships, just outside of weapons range - but not for Aola, who, turning the Blackguard around, manages to fire a salvo from the ship's ion cannons. Though for all her fast thinking and skill at the yoke, the twin lances of crackling blue energy miss its intended target, and the aging starfighters continue on their attack run.
Behind them is a YT-2400, whose turrets seem...fairly well-equipped from here.
Perhaps she was used to more maneuverable and speedy craft. Aola's first shots miss and earn a little swear from the blue-skinned pilot before clenching her teeth and dropping down a single torpedo into the cockpit of one of the fighters, blasting it into dust.
As the lasers and missles begin to fly, Pash doesn't want to stick around to see how it all miht end. He's got a load of explosive cargo to deliver and no intention of getting blown up along with it. Not after what they've just been through. So, he opens up his engines and speeds out of the battle, heading for a good jump point.
The sudden fury of the Blackguard reduces one of the incoming fighters to dust, perhaps surprising the pilots - after all, the ship is quite uncommon literally looks like a small Cygnus-buit shuttle. But this one is spewing missiles and cannon fire, so the remaining pilots break off from their attack run and head off, one port and one starboard; the port fighter strafes the Blackguard as it passes, but Aola's quick reflexes cause her to inexplicably pinwheel through the crimson bolts. The Headhunters might be faster, but Aola's using the gunship's dexterity in ways that would make even Imperial aces jealous.
Massive firepower and violence of action was about the only way the single fighter was going to be able to beat three fighters and the freighter. Blazing away with her weapons, she rushes towards the YT, clearly intending to hit it with everything she's got.
Aola's reckless rush of the armed transport bears fruit; landing strikes with the cannons and a single concussion missile, she not only manages to significantly weaken the ships's forward shields, she drops the warhead straight into the vessel's powerplant, blasting a hole through the transport's aft. Streaming smoke, flame and other gases, the ship becomes a comet as it hurtles past, listing hard to port as it does so. Though she is an excellent pilot, Aola nevertheless makes contact with the tranport with a wingtip, twisting part of the wing out of shape with a crisly crunch. That's something that isn't going to be able to be buffed out!
This sudden and unexpected strike is enough to throw the would-be pirates in disarray; the fighters, suddenly finding their lead craft bleeding in space, give the Special Delivery a wide berth as well as its furious defender. Pash's ship makes the jump to lightspeed just after, leaving Aola plenty of time to follow before anyone gets any ideas.
The rest of the trip is completely uneventful - and, at the end of this trail of strangeness, the client - an arms dealer with a much friendlier if businesslike demeanor named Atagis - collects the rockets from you without complaint and wires an amount to your accounts.
When asked about Hraask, he just laughs. "What, that crazy blender? That's not Hraask, that's his bodyguard droid. The real Hraask died a couple months ago, and he thinks he's got Hraasks' brain inside him now. Guilt, is what they call it, but come on. Droids are droids. They can't be crazy, right? They're machines."
But you two know better...and that droid - assuming it isn't Hraask for real - has a whole gang of undoubtedly very pissed-off Trandoshans in its pocket. So. There's a thing.