“What is your ship’s name and your purpose on Bazarr?” the Ithorian’s voice crackled throughout the cockpit.
Shaler froze. He muted the com and turned to Winston. “Should we use this baby’s real BOSS registry information?”
Shaler could see veins try to leap out of the Rodian’s head. “No way!” Winston shouted. “We stole this Imperial freighter back on Butun Liind.”
Shaler swallowed and unmuted the com. “Bazarr traffic control, this is the Atlantis. I’m Shaler. Winston’s sitting next to me, and Ssoy, Mac El Guapo, Marella and Wrrl are also on board. We’re supposed to report to an Alliance officer on board your herd ship.”
“Permission to land granted,” the voice crackled. “Stand by for landing coordinates.”
Shaler scanned the docking bay’s directions and swung the freighter toward Isttu City. Upon approach, the Jedi pilot snagged his sleeve on the thrusters. Instead of kicking in the repulsor engines, he launched the Atlantis toward the hangar at mind-shuffling speed. With Jedi reflexes, he pulled the ship upright, so it shot perpendicular to the herd ship. In the barracks, Mac flipped off his cot and wound up on top of the sleeping Gungan. The G-forces yanked Marella out of the refresher, unwillingly sending her on top of El Guapo.
The Atlantis roared over the Bazarr and corkscrewed its way back to the docking bay. Once on safe durasteel, the Rebels marched down the landing ramp. They were greeted by the herd ship’s commanding officer, Captain Roogark, and his top officers. “Sorry about that mess with the docking bay,” Shaler apologized, trying to look as official in his Honor Guard uniform as possible. He certainly didn’t feel like he belonged in the garb. The uniform must have covered up his lack of confidence, because Roogark replied, “Those controls can get a bit feisty. Come on. Venra is waiting at the command center.”
Outside the docking bay, a Thranta was tethered to the wall. The Ithorians undid the ropes, once the Rebels climbed into the cabin strapped on top of the eight-meter long bird-fish. Roogark took the reigns. Instantly, everyone found themselves with a phenomenal view of Isttu. The city consisted of classic Republic architecture, seamlessly blended with the landscape. Nothing had been torn down or moved to make way for these buildings. Engineering had been executed to utilize nature. In the center of it all sat a long street connecting two plazas. The plazas were filled with market stalls, selling anything and everything legal to be sold in the Galaxy. The street was lined with storefronts, for those who’d graduated from market stalls.
The Thranta released some methane, and the Rebels needed wobbled to the nearest seat. Winston and Shaler gagged. Ssoy felt uncomfortable, but it was only as bad as some of the bogs he’d hiked through back on Naboo.
Minutes later, the Thranta set down on a landing pad outside the municipal facility. The doors to the traffic control offices slid open, and a freckle-faced brunette human female stepped forward. She was dressed in a pressed white shirt and a suit jacket. She was all business. “Welcome to Isttu. Anokwa did a good job choosing the Honor Guards. Different species. A female amongst the boys. You’ll do nicely. My name is Venra Andsof, assistant to Ambassador Troper. You’ll report directly to me.”
Venra selected Shaler, Winston and Ssoy. “You three are on hangar detail. Go through traffic control’s databases. They have on file every ship in the Bazarr’s hangars. Go through the hangars ship by ship if you have to. Single out every vessel belonging to a mercenary, assassin, bounty hunter or known Imperial agent. I want threat assessments made, and then we’ll remove them from the herd city. We will strike all potential problems before they come to the awareness of Incom’s executives.”
Venra addressed the other Rebels. “Put on your best smiles, lady and gentlemen. You’ll be decoration for a photo with the ambassador, his staff, and the gents from Incom.”
While Marella, the Wookiee and Mac went blind from all the holocam lights, Ssoy, Shaler and Winston scrolled through the traffic control computers. Ten thousand ships were docked inside the Bazarr. No red flags appeared. “How about we narrow the search for two to five-crew member ships?” Winston puzzled. Several key clicks later, the ten thousand ships became four thousand. The Rebels stared dully at all the data. Shaler jacked his datapad into the holonet transceiver.
Transcript of chat with Gola
G: Who are you? What’s your holonet handle?
S: I’m Zrask’s friend. He told you might be able to help me out.
S: I need four thousand ships checked for known aliases and wanted postings.
G: Hacking into BOSS isn’t easy. It takes someone real talented. You’re chatting with the right Bothan.
S: So how much are we talking about?
G: 400 credits.
S: Sounds pricey.
G: 200. I’m behind on my rent. [pause] 100.
S: Sorry. It sounds too good.
End of transmission.
“Well, how about we look for…” Winston began, as the others overheard a traffic control technician saying, “Bloodstains by the ramp…smells like death. Stay away from the ship. We’ll send a crew to check it out.”
The rebels pounced on the Ithorian like lemmie defensive players on a loose ball. “What was that about?” Sayler asked, all but shaking the poor Ithorian in his chair.
“There’s a Dynamic freighter in the docking bays. Someone passed-by and noticed a horrid smell coming from it. She investigated and saw what she described as blood stains on the landing ramp.”
“Give me the coordinates. We’re going,” Shaler announced. Roogark ordered an air speeder be delivered to the landing pad for the Rebels’ use.
As Shaler piloted the speeder into the bay, Winston noticed this was a long term docking area. Shaler slowed the speeder to a hover as he double-checked the coordinates. This had to be the Dynamic Class freighter all right. He set down. The lady who filed the complaint was right about one thing. The place smelled like death. As the trio approached the closed and locked ramp, they noticed bloody streaks on the ramp panel. Not just smears, it looked like bloody carcasses had been dragged on board.
Shaler commed Roogark. “Captain Roogark, this is Shaler. You’d best get down here.”
Roogark sighed and said, “I’m sending a crew to open it up. Sayler spent the next minute trying to keep Winston from tinkering with the security keypad. “We don’t want the ship’s owner to know we’re here,” the pilot kept trying to get through the soldier’s head. Little did Sayler know, the owner was already present.
Eventually, two Ithorians and two droids arrived. The technicians wired the droids into the keypad. Minutes later, the landing ramp descended, along with a rank stench that made Winston’s head spin, Sayler need to drop to his knees as his stomach flip-flopped. “Ssoy,” Sayler croaked, “You go first.”
The Gungan shrugged and strode on board. He faced closed doors in front of him, to his left and right. He chose the left door. It wound around to what should be crew quarters. When the barracks doors slid open, Ssoy was not prepared to find one of the Galaxy’s top trophy room inside. Veersmoks, krayt dragons and Nevvalan heads were mounted to the hull. The Gungan’s tongue dropped out as he gaped at the ultimate work of a master hunter.
Sayler chose the right door. It led to the circular living quarters. His eyes stumbled on a holomag of Rodian pornography, left on the round table. There was another one on the chair. And another two on the booth’s seat. Who needed this much Rodian porn, Sayler pondered, unable to pry his eyes away from the green-skinned girls.
Winston entered, saw the holomags and decided to keep his cool. He’d pocket one or two before he left the ship. He moved the magazines off the chair, sat down and opened what appeared to be a log book. The transactions were primarily with a Trandoshan clan. The captain of this ship provided the clan with pelts and paws of dead Wookiees. Sometimes, he brought whole Wookiee villages as slaves. Wrrl was going to blow a coupling when he heard about this.
Ssoy headed toward the cockpit. He almost passed-up the com quarters, but screens and print-outs, all displaying bounty postings on a Rodian named “Horno” made him stop in midstep. “Any of you recognize a Rodian named ‘Horno,’” Ssoy asked over the com.
Sayler had… in Bespin cantinas, spoken in whispers among bounty hunters looking for easy credits.
Winston recognized the name. but the context eluded him like an itch behind his brain.
The Jedi slipped through the corridor to the captain’s quarters. His eyes were transfixed by the amazing number of empty gun racks mounted to the hull. Empty boxes of thermo detonators sat discarded in a corner. Packaging for enough blaster packs to keep a mercenary force happy lay dumped on top of the bunk. Under the bunk was an unassuming box. Inside it was a dozen Wookiee paws and the teeth and fingers from a dozen other species. Trophies for a demented mind. Under the pillow, Shayler hit pay dirt. It was the captain’s journal. Unfortunately, it was written in Rodese. “Winston, get in here,” Shayler called.
The Rodian cut through what would typically be the ship’s cargo holds. The first was filled with taxidermied sentients. They stood posed as they’d been when Horno killed them. The ghastly remains of a renowned Rodian enforcer stood lifeless, looking Winston in the eyes. The young Rodian’s blood boiled. He moved onto the next compartment, which was obviously where the stink originated. Different beasts lay torn apart in different stages of preservation and reassembly. One creature lay strapped to a table, where it had been allowed to slowly bleed to death.
Seconds later, Winston entered Horno’s quarters and began flipping through his journal. The itch behind his brain turned into a seed, and his associations with Horno’s name returned into a flood. Horno, a long time ago in the Tyrius system, was a renowned big game hunter. Being among the top hunters on Rodia essentially put him in the top hunters Galaxy-wide. Horno’s career hit a severe bump when a competitor alleged Horno drugged his prey before killing them. Horno responded to this outrage by meeting with his accuser, who he accidentally killed. After a massive manhunt and a bloody trail of mangled enforcers, it was apparent Horno had escaped the planet. Horno decided to tour the Galaxy and kill the biggest, nastiest game possible, to reestablish his reputation of the Galaxy’s top hunter. To finance these expeditions, he took work from a Trandoshan clan to sneak onto Kashyyk and enslave or butcher whole tribes of Wookiees. Horno’s exploits were so horrific, the Wookiees declared him their public enemy number one and placed a large bounty on his head. When the details of Horno’s deeds reached mainstream press, the Trandoshans had to save face by turning against their prized freelancer and place their own bounty on Horno’s head. According to the journal, the Rodian hunter journeyed to Ithor to hunt some game. He docked the freighter two weeks ago and will return shortly.
Shayler called Roogark. “You need to find this guy,” the Jedi ordered.
“We will,” Roogark explained. “He rented a shuttle from here to Mother Jungle. The shuttle returned two hours ago. We’ll catch him.”
Meanwhile, Ssoy slouched in the pilot chair. The controls were the most basic he’d ever seen…
A searing pain burned through his back. He smelt ozone and saw flakes of the chair explode behind him. He’d been shot! Before he could turn around, the blaster man got another shot off, knocking Ssoy back against the control panel. Before Ssoy could get a look at his attacker, the blast door leading out of the cockpit slid shut. He must have a silencer, the Gungan thought. “Misso been shot!” Ssoy yelled into his com.
Shayler and Winston dropped the journal and box of trophies. They sprinted down the corridor toward the living area hub. Winston caught movement from the corner of his eye. Something was moving down the corridor to the storage area. The door was closing fast. The Rodian altered his course. “The cockpit’s this way,” Shayler shouted.
“I saw something go this way!” Winston yelled and dove through the closing door. The soldier tumbled true and popped up to see the mechanical legs of a med droid. The droid turned around, revealing cold impassionate eyes. Blood soaked surgical instruments whirred at the ends of its appendages. They were nothing less than torture devices to Winston. He raised his blaster and hit the droid between chest plates. The processor blew, igniting the droid’s core. The chassis exploded, and a whirling saw buried itself in the hull six inches above Winston’s head.
Ssoy hit the button to open the blast doors. As soon as there was a visible gap, he dove through, getting himself entangled in a net Horno had set in the corridor. The Gungan kicked and whirled, throwing the net off him. Horno popped out of the comm. Room. He wore a white trench coat and bizarre white hunter’s hat. For some reason, he chose to wear sunglasses inside the ship. The Rodian carried a massive blaster rifle, painted to blend in with jungle foliage, and topped with a vibrobayonet. The hunter wasn’t shooting or stabbing at the moment. He produced a grenade from his satchel and lobbed it at Ssoy. The ball hit the net Ssoy swung about him and got swatted right back at Horno. It exploded in a rain of blue sparks, which stunned the Galaxy’s top hunter.
The door opened behind Horno. Shayler had his blaster pistol drawn and aimed. He squeezed the trigger, and Horno hollered as he stumbled forward. The Rodian then charged Ssoy and impaled him on the bayonet. Shayler ignited his lightsaber and leapt through the doorway, swinging the blade so it would disarm Horno one way or another. The narrow corridor messed with Shayler’s swipe, and the saber barely slashed Horno’s upper arm.
The Jedi was shocked to hear a Wookiee bellow close enough behind him to smell the creature’s breath. A blaster bolt caught Shaler in the back. His attacker was a huge Wookiee, even larger than Wrrl. Its fur was black. It wore a bandolier equipped with numerous hooks for carrying all types of weaponry and gear.
Winston stood in the living area, unseen to the Wookiee bounty hunter. He shot the beast with a barrage of bolts. Shaler went for another disarming strike against Horno, getting more shoulder than arm.
Horno pulled the bayonet free and tried to sidestep into the comm room. Shayler again swung the lightsaber. Ssoy heaved an energy ball into the room, catching his opponent in an agonizing sphere of electrical energy.
Shaler whirled around, sizing up the Wookiee hunter. He didn’t like the odds a bit. He dove between the Wookiee’s legs and spun around, pistol drawn. He caught the hunter in the back with a shot only a Wookiee could suck up. The bounty hunter took out her frustration on the Gungan’s face. Then, the entire freighter shook as a missile struck the ship’s cockpit. Seconds later, the sound of claws stomping on the durasteel floor echoed down the corridor. Ssoy ran toward it, amidst his comrade’s cries of “What do you think you’re doing?”
A gigantic Trandoshan marched through the cockpit’s remains into the corridor. Ssoy dove past the bounty hunter, through the hole the missile made and rolled on the hangar floor. Panting, he activated his com. “Captain, Roogark, please hurry.”
“I’m already here.”
Ssoy looked up to see headlights shining, plus whirling security lights, whisking through the labyrinth of starships.
“Bossk,” the Wookiee hunter hissed, just before the giant lizard raised his flame thrower and filled the corridor with fire. Shaler screamed as he ducked and covered himself with his arms. Fire washed over and engulfed him. Winston dropped back as he swatted the swirling flames. The Jedi rolled on the deck, snuffing the fire. The Rodian helped him to his feet and led him to the ramp for a strategic retreat.
Ssoy was already giving Roogark the rundown when the charred Rodian and human limped up to the Ithorian guards. The officers hurried inside, blasters raised. Shaler looked around. He saw the unconscious forms of the maintainance crew and the busted hulks that had been the droids. Roogark caught Shaler’s gaze. “Ion grenade,” he explained. They’ll be okay.
Minutes ticked by as the guards covered the ship. No blaster fire sounded, making Shaler extremely uncomfortable. He paced beneath the freighter. He stopped walking, leaned against a landing leg then whirled around to look into Bossk’s chestplate. The enormous Trandoshan delivered a mind-wobbling uppercut to Shaler’s face, sending him bouncing off the landing leg. By the time the Galaxy stopped spinning in front of him and he could say a coherent word, Bossk had vanished. Above, he could see a trap door that led into the comm room. He didn’t even need to be told by Roogark. Harno was gone.