With Tatooine a warzone, and the Terrapin Erathem evading fire and fearing confrontation, Captain Thum seeks a friendly port. Often, Charlii has contacted him for work that takes him to Bespin for either pickups or deliveries, so it’s decided that Bespin is where they’d head next.
En route to Bespin, the now expanded crew began to settle in to figuring out sleeping arrangements, and making everyone as comfortable as rationally possible. There was the matter of a young blaster owner wanting to do some target practice during the trip. Without going into all the details involved in the discussions, Thum takes away Rian’s hold-out blaster, and puts it in corridor weapons locker. The fallout of this, aside from an irate nine year old, is Jhain feeling less than valued. Somehow, the Jhain deal ended up explained to Jhain. Not that it never should have been explained to him, it’s just that it sounds bad when you hear it.
Jhain is a bounty hunter. He pays Thum a retainer of 200 credits at the beginning of each month to be aboard, to take available bounties at any of the ships ports of call. Jhain never does this. He’s never felt the need. He looks at his living expenses; 200 credits to stay where he is, and looks at his income; Thum pays him 200 credits in the middle of each month to be the ship’s hired gun and protector. It’s worked out great for everyone for the past 16.5 months, but now Jhain put 200 and 200 together and… is in a bit of a funk. And he wouldn’t have been if Ino hadn’t turned the top third of the port side cargo bay into a hanging living quarters, a bizarre network of hammock like panels suspended 3 meters above the floor by a marriage of macrame and cargo netting only an ewok could conjure.
Entering the Bespin system, two things are immediately apparent; the Bespin port authority is broadcasting a warning about pirates in the area, and that four Star Destroyers are silhouetted against the backdrop of Bespin. Thum, trusting in the typical security Cloud City provides and there’s really no risk of pirates with so many Imperial I Star Destroyers in orbit. Though, Bespin reflects light… like Imperial Star Destroyers do. These were not silhouettes, they were black Star Destroyers. They contact the Cloud City dockmaster and are diverted to Starport facility C, one of several overflow facilities to manage traffic (freighters in excessively long holding patterns, running out of fuel and going into freefall is bad for business).
They’re nice places though. No Cloud City to be sure, but they’re half a dozen to a few dozen docking pads surrounding a promenade with shops, hotels, apartments, in addition to the warehouses and tabana tanks. Someone in Cloud City’s marketing department missed a real estate opportunity to call them Cloud Towns.
They’re assigned a pad and land. The next pad over, they can see the crew of a YT-1210 either pacing, standing with their arms folded or having a death stick. They think nothing of it, and follow the cybernetic liaison inside so Ino can get to the business of moving his wares. They’re taken to a reception room with a bar and accompanying robo-bartender, and for a few minutes the universal panacea of complementary drinks momentarily distracts and cheers everyone. Ino wants Thum to sell his wares, but Thum can’t sell transport services to people without them increasing the price he’s charging out of pity for his naivety. Ino is obviously a much better negotiator. Ino goes off in a huff into the next chamber with G-3PO, a green Cybot Galactica model. The rest of the crew, after their drink or seconds, turn to go stroll Facility C’s promenade.
They quickly find that access to the promenade is restricted. Should they need anything available from the merchants or warehouses of Facility C, it can be brought to the Mercantile Reception Area that they are currently in. The crew begins getting antsy, now they notice the crew standing around on the next platform, with nowhere to go. They go to the robo-bartender and ask a litany of questions to discover that an attack by the pirate Star-Destroyers in orbit is imminent. They are Blackstar, and even in space, one hears their roar… or so is worded, or loosely thereabouts, the reputation they’re getting.
In actuality, the Blackstar reputation was part of a marketing campaign. Underworld and criminal organizations are big business; Does Black Sun look like the type to have members that just come up with an emblem that striking? There are firms that specialize in the branding and reputation implementation for pirates, criminal organizations, bounty hunters and anything nefarious you can think of. It not the first time professional services cater to this sector, lawyers and accountants merely blazed a trail for real estate agents and marketing people. One can blame the Hutt clans for bringing crime to this level of competition… Oh, Blackstar? Kashyyyk fell out of Imperial control as fast as news hit it that the Emperor had died at Endor. The wookies essentially said to the Empire; ‘If only we knew of a force of a few million 2.3 meter tall guy and gals who could just pop the arms off of a Stormtrooper at will, you wouldn’t stand a chance. Does anyone know? Wait… you mean we’re a force of…’ then the wookies just look at the Imperial forces and said ‘RUN!’ Only the smallest minority of Imperials got off of Kashyyyk to tell the story… Of course the Empire returned in force, with an invasion of slavers in the interim even, but they’ve all been rebuffed by this point. Blackstar, and it’s Imperial Star Destroyers, were Star Destroyers transporting Wookie ‘prisoners / slaves’ at a time inconvenient for their late crews, as their captain, now named Bloodclaw, is a Madclaw.
By the end of the realization of what is about to come down on this planet, a bit of pragmatic panic sets in. They need, like those Imperials on Kashyyyk, to RUN! They couldn’t get in contact with Ino, he’d left his comm on the ship… the droid had taken Ino away! Thum thought fast, Rian was great at finding people and sneaking around, if he could just get past security, sneak through the installation, locate Ino and comm their location back to the group Jhain and Bomdor could spearhead a rescue attempt with Thum and Siri having the getaway vehicle ready! All rian needed was some incentive; “Rian, you do this and I’ll give you your blaster back, and you can fire it whenever you want!” the panicked sullustan failing to keep a calm veneer pleaded. Rian takes the deal, and asks the droid to see Ino, who is still in the antechamber. Siri was already warming the engines and they run! They board the ship as quickly as possible… so hurriedly that by the time Thum turns to verify the closing of the boarding ramp there’s G-3PO on board! The ramp hydraulics need to be checked if a protocol droid has time to run on board.
The Terrapin Erathem does a starboard hover until vertically clear of the platform and then drops into the clouds before zooming off away from the facility. This didn’t go unnoticed to the crew of the Capricious Noctule, the stock light that was on the pad next to them, and they dash aboard their ship, cold start and head the same direction of the Terrapin Erathem. This is unknown to Thum who was gradually increasing altitude to bring the ship above the cloud tops that he’d dove into to conceal themselves from the station. Not far behind them was the Capricious Noctule, and not far behind them were two rapidly approaching Blackstar Tie fighters. The Ties were closing to weapons range on the Capricious Noctule, only one of the Noctules guns turn to take aim at the pursuers. The Ties open fire and hit the Noctule and they never return fire, their power systems must have been damaged. They lose a bit of speed and altitude, and never get a chance to respond, the short range guns on the Ties ablates the entirety of the crafts superstructure, and it’s power plant explodes.
Thum tells Rian to sit in the pilots seat while he mans the guns. First chance they get, Siri needs to move fire control to the pilots seat, rather than this seat behind the nonessential co-pilots seat. Siri removes Rian from the pilots chair and takes over evading the Ties to the best of her ability; she flies straight and true. Thum gets off a few shots before the Ties blow the lone gun of the Terrapin Erathem, the power surge sent through the fire control system is enough to violently shock Thum out of his seat, Siri ill advised to enter into hyperspace while still in the planet’s gravity well. The Erathem pivots without losing momentum, 180 degrees and pushes the inertial dampeners to their design limit, the Ties pass as the Erathem cloverleafs around the faster more nimble but less expertly handled craft. Their flight control computers override the stick, and predictably ignore the smaller craft, the other Tie, to avoid collision with the larger stocklight. the distances are so close the Ties collide into each other. Before the explosion dissipates, the Erathem pivots and bolts straight down into the thicker clouds.
They hover, and asses the situation while quiet and deep. The Blackstar fleet has jammed planetary communications except for the sound of their roars. The last visual the Erathem had of Facility C was of it’s destruction, Cloud City was probably a war zone by now. Thum has the ship continue gradually away from population centers, toward the polar regions, maintaining altitude 10,000 meters below the cloud tops.
Elsewhere, Ond Smith, a muun is watching holovids of the destruction of Canton Keep. He is an agent in insurance investigation under the employee of the Czerka Corporation, and is tasked with investigating, the loss of Londo Mihn’s corvette the Vina. The circumstances, the coincidences, the conveniences of it all. That it was intentional is obvious, but the impacts of what happened at Canton Keep with the Vina were masterful, too numerous to comprehend. And the skills to pull it off, only a select few could be so deft. The only other possibility that ever crosses the agent’s mind, is that it could have been thieves trying to get Donner Vimdis’ vault. But any thief that could have had any chance of knowing what was in the vault, would have never dared look at the Vina, much less board her… but there is the missing jewel still not recovered from the wreckage.
Siting in the cockpit, helpless, Thum catches view of a beldon , and then a few more. He dims the lights in the cockpit, and calls Rian up, thinking the young boy could appreciate either the visceral beauty of nature or that it might resonate in a more transcendent spiritual way with him. No, he just wants to use them for target practice. On the scanners the beldon were making their way to the upper atmosphere, the smaller ones were giving way to larger ones the size of a… stock… light… freighter… This might be their best chance. Thum shadows the movements of the beldon heard for a 10,000 m ascent then, at the first hint of daylight, angles the pitch 90 degrees and punches it for the gravitational terminator of bespin, and then engages the hyperdrive for Dantooine. The Blackstar fleet was breaking orbit anyway as fleets from the New Republic and The Galactic Empire were arriving to liberate Bespin for themselves… needless to say, the Battle of Bespin dominates the Holonet News with both side blaming the other for the attack, neither indicating or witnessing to the presence of a whole nother fleet!
Once underway, G-3PO is deactivated, and wiped for selling. When they finally ask Ino how his sales deal went, Ino gets to brag that he traded the spice and goods for 35,000 Notarized Alliance Vouchers, redeemable at any Czerka Kiosk. Worth tens of millions to the right traders with the right connections and absolutely worthless everywhere else. They needed help, favors needed to be called in, and old friends made new. Siri calls an old friend of hers, Vuffi Raa, and explains the conditions they’re leaving from and that they’ll need accommodations and repairs on Dantooine. Siri is specifically looking to install a pair of fire controlled, toggle enabled quad laser cannons at the port and starboard extremities of the ship that would be capable of a spherical firing arc (by at least one set of guns) at short range from the Erathem.
At Dantooine, they’re given port at a docking bay just outside this excessively pastoral hamlet with an abundance of shops that the population of the hamlet couldn’t sustainably support, and this luxury resort and spa in the middle of an unnaturally remote (even for Dantooine) location. Vuffi didn’t tell us that he knows a guy with substantial holdings in the Valgus Karjamaade resort.
Two docking rings over from the Terrapin Erathem is the Ordovician Limulus, a vessel becoming legend in it’s own right. It’s crew of fixits, the Mechanics as they’ve monopolized the moniker in Hutt Space, has branded them the premium, almost vanity Mechanics to the Hutt Clans. Bordo the Hutt actually sent a merc regiment to burn Thrusu the Hutt’s penthouse to free up the Mechanics so they could extend the range of his submersible barge in time for a gala (and sales opportunity) event. That Thrusu was hosting a competing event in his penthouse at the same time, didn’t prevent the Mechanics agent in the Mercenary Marketing Division of Czerka from making it entirely about them.
Shortly after landing, they meet the Mechanics, and they’ll be handling the customization of the Erathem over the next week. The crew takes time to relax, stretch their legs, enjoy genuine gravity under their feet and air processed by unregulated biological processes rather than the canned or regulated version. The boys get some target practice, Rian gets to take his speeder for a drive but there’s still tension of living and sleeping in such close quarters until Ino says, in the midst of an argument with Thum, the most valued words ever spoken (that trip) “Just remember, because I traded my vouchers in, that the docking fees, repairs, the guns and accommodations at the resort are completely covered!”
They were all getting drinks with holographic halos and fireworks coming out of them to sip in their embroidered robes faster than the hair stylists could feign a smile at an ewok asking for the full spa treatment. You’d think they’d have run out of curlers, but there get more wookie patrons than you expect. You’d think they never saw an ewok before, but Ino was the second one, and apparently less curt than the last ewok. After having been on planet for only 5 days, weapons not wired up. We get an inexplicable call to the room. A male voice on the other end tells us we need to leave the planet immediately. The week prior to their respite had been consistent enough, that when thum hangs up the anachronistically decorative comm, no one questions his order to evacuate the planet. When you get off the comm, say “We have to leave the planet!” and EVERYONE around you immediately begins to pack and dash, and the tallest, most heavily armed man in your group does a weapons check… you might need to reassess where life is taking you, but no one here does. The watershed moment in all their lives, went by unnoticed, because the watershed moment was their not questioning their peril. The Mechanics leave a Chiss lady on board with the core name “Tee” to help Siri with what can be done from the inside, and the Mechanics will follow us in the Limulus to Cato Nemodia.
That night, Thum can’t sleep. There’s something he’d missed. Something is gnawing at him, it’s obvious and he missed it. He’d done something careless, or something happened. Eventually this leads to having woken everyone up sitting in the puce and beige lounge with ED tending bar. Then the Erathem is interdicted! Pulled right out of hyperspace by a black interdictor Star Destroyer, and behind it a fleet of 24 vessels; a mix of Republic, Separatist, commercial, salvaged and one Executor Class Star Destroyer. It was ventrally red and dorsally black. Not a smooth red either, their were edges of angular black geometry, that to be below it was to look into the mouth of Hell. And they were asking to board.
If they wanted to destroy, or even harm the Erathem, they sent 23 ships too many. Thum had been around long enough to know when he was safe, aside from that time on Taanab, and they were in no danger. Jhain knew it too. They were given a box. They were sworn to secrecy. The Chiss engineer departed with the female wookie who issued the assignment, the Mechanics were with them. As she began her climb up the ladder, Thum notices the Bloodclaw emblem that adorns the Blackstar fleet, right there on here the upper shoulder of her right sleeve. The ship and Thum were well paid, and not long after being entrusted with the box, everyone on the ship would feel… off… cold… sick…
They were to take the box to Coruscant, Thum had all the clearances, without a single blot on his record. Not just anywhere on Coruscant, a million ships a day the size of the Erathem go in and out of Coruscant’s ports on a slow day. This was to the Imperial City, specifically the grounds of the Jedi Temple. They were also instructed NOT to open the box, but everyone wanted to, or just felt ill. By the time they got to Coruscant, Thum was in a constant seated prostration over the box, as if the lid would just fly off.
They had no problems landing. If they look back on it, everyone’s memory is a bit hazy on whether or not they followed procedure. They were greeted by a lone figure, in a black robe with a chrome mask and rectangular eye slits but no mouth, keys hung from his belt. He took the box, nodded in thanks, and and motioned them on their way. They lifted off, but no one was at the controls, at least consciously. In a haze of disoriented awareness, the crew feel a mix of inverted deja vu and vertigo. Within minutes, the ship has entered and exited hyperspace at Ixtlar, the suburbs of Coruscant. Feeling more aware and conscious than they have since encountering the Black fleet, they put in to land, hope to have a comfortable meal, and a good nights sleep in modest contemporary accommodations.
Omissions & Corrections:
In the original session the Terrapin Erathem received a communication while in hyperspace from the Cloud City Dockmaster. Communications to a vessel in hyperspace are all but impossible, especially 2 way communications to a simple trading vessel from a port authority. As this is only accomplished with one way communications to the most sophisticated military vessels with a complement of staff capable of assembling the badly distorted messages, this scene has been altered/ deleted.
The Communication to Vuffi Raa on the other hand works because the communication originates from a ship, the destination the ship is headed towards is stated in the original transmission and the technical capabilities (in this case a living droid) of the one reponding are all consistent.