Rendezvous on Kafrene
Renn blinked his eyes against the bright light. Slowly the glare receded and transformed into the grey dura-steel ceiling above him. He eased up onto an elbow and glanced around. He lay in a bunk in a small cabin. The walls and floor were non-descript metal just like the ceiling. He had spent enough time in space to know immediately he was aboard a ship in flight. The room was almost silent but for the quiet rumbling of power conduits behind the walls. He pushed the blanket covering him aside and got to his feet. His clothes had been replaced and he was now wearing a dark green flight suit bearing no insignia. He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands through his hair as he tried to gather his thoughts.
Renn could remember the prison barge. The desperate fight with the slaver guards and following the Weequay with the scarred face. The last he remembered was the explosion, the pain in his legs, the shuttle landing ramp… and then nothing. He pushed himself to his feet and felt the lingering pain in his legs from the exploding grenade. He reached down and traced the outline of bacta patches on his legs thorough his clothing. The pain was still there but was nothing like it had been.
Cautiously Renn stood and moved to the door. He tried the door release and was surpised when it slid open, revealing the narrow corridor beyond. A second later a head popped into view above him. It’s small dark eyes glared at Renn over the end of its long snout.
“Ah, you up human. Yous follow me.” The Dugg swung down from the piping along the corridor ceiling. He beckoned with one of his smaller grasping arms and then scuttled off along the corridor.
Renn followed the alien tentatively down the narrow well lit corridor. As he walked slowly on stiff Legs Renn regarded his surroundings. The ship appeared to be of an older design but was clean and well maintained with a vaguely Corellian design. They arrived at a turbo lift and the Dug beckoned Renn in.
“What ship is this” Renn asked as the turbo lift doors closed.
“You see”. The dugg laughed ominously to himself but said no more. Their turbo lift journey was brief and then they were out into another corridor. The Dugg motioned to the ornately designed blast doors in front of them. “You go in human." Renn glanced around but there was no one else in sight. The Dugg motioned to the doors again a predatory smirk splitting his long face. Renn shrugged to himself and stepped forward.
The doors slid silently open and he stepped into a large well lit chamber with an oversized circular table in the centre. At the far side of the table sat a brown furred Gotal in a high backed chair. He glanced up from the data pad he was reading. Big brown eyes took in the Human smuggler.
“Take a seat Mr Haythorn. I hope you are feeling better.” The Gotal put down the data pad and rested his large clawed hands on the table. Renn slipped into the nearest of the large, plushly upholstered seats.
“Yes much better. Thank you for your help.” He decided not to react to the Gotals use of his real name. The alien was testing him, trying to gauge his response. He glanced around, his curiosity piqued. The room was unlike anything he had seen of this ship so far. It was like something out of a holodrama. The furnishing and finish were antique in style, probably of a similar vintage to the rest of the ship but much more luxurious.
"Consider it repayment of a debt. My associate tells me you saved his life on that prison barge."
Renn shrugged. “ I was just trying to stay alive. From what I saw your 'associate' can take care of himself."
"Very modest. Nevertheless your assistance is appreciated. Schenk wanted to thank you personally but he had to leave on an urgent errand."
Errand? That weequay was a mercenary and trained killer. Renn could only guess at the sort of errands he would be running.
"I'm very grateful, if you could just drop me at the next spaceport I'll be on my way and let you get back to your business." The Gotals noseless face was a stoic mask which gave nothing away. The alien sat forward and pushed the datapad across the smooth table top.
"I'm curious how a former Imperial Officer from a respectable merchant family ended up on a slave barge in such a disreputable sector of space." Renn glanced down at the data pad display and saw his Imperial academy mughshot. He picked up the pad and scrolled through. The information was extensive and accurate; his military service record, his parents business portfolio as well as the bounty the Bravious Syndicate had put on his head. Twenty thousand credits, Renn didn'nt know wether to be scared or flattered. He took his time reading the pad, aware of the Gotals eyes on him. He didn't want to give the alien the satisfaction of seeing his concern.
"174th squadron." Renn slid the Datapad back across the table and stood trying to appear stronger than his shaky legs felt. Enough of these games. So it was the bounty they were after? That amount probably wouldn't pay the support costs for this ship for a month but there was no accounting for beings greed. Ten years of flying the rim had taught Renn to appreciate the worst in people and to understand that out here, nothing was ever free. He was alone and wounded but he would'nt be intimidated. "It was the 174th squadron I flew with not the 164th."
The Gotals mouth broke into a smile. "I'll have to have words with my slicer." The alien stood and walked around the table. He was tall for his species, over 2 meteres including his prominent head cones. "I apologise for the intrusion but like you said we are all just trying to stay alive. I find being well informed makes staying alive considerably easier. I like to know who I’m bringing aboard my ship.” He held out a large clawed hand. "I am Ja’vigg Toth, my ship is the Antara." Renn took the preoffered hand.
"Nice ship you have here. Don't see many of these old Consular class cruisers still flying." He was rewarded with glint in the aliens eyes which told him he had guessed correctly.
"Thats because their owners have all gone bankrupt." Toth gave a gravelly laugh.
"They just don't make them like this anymore." Renn was genuinely excited. These cruisers were icons of the Old Republic era. As a child he had a model of one hanging from his bedroom ceiling.
"Neither do they make spare parts". The Gotal shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose I'm just old fashioned. I have a weakness for rare and expensive items." Toth took Renn by the shoulder and motioned him towards the door. "You should rest and your Bacta patches will need renewed soon." He looked the the smaller human in the eye. "I am a merchant not a bounty hunter and you are a guest aboard my ship. We are currently enroute to Kafrene. You can get a transport from there to Bastion or wherever you are going." The doors slid open unbidden and the Dugg stood there apparently not having moved since Renn entered the room. "Bruk here will take you back to the med bay." Renn nodded to Toth and then followed Bruk back into the turbo lift.
Last edit: by Renn Haythorn
"Ok, this I can do. But only because I like you." The rotund little Toydarian hovering in front of Renn gave a laugh. His dark little eyes watching the human closely. "You pay me now and we will leave in 3 standard units yes?" Renn gave a theatrical laugh of his own.
"Which galaxy are you living in Mizka?" Renn waved the wad of paper credits under the aliens large drooping nose. "Half now, and half when we get to Malastare, thats the deal."
"That is not how business is done on Kafrene my friend." The Toydarian motioned to the hangar bay around them where several freighters and transports were loading and unloading cargo. Dozens of crewmembers and droids bustled about moving cargo, effecting repairs or refuelling.
Renn slipped the money back in his pocket and made to move off towards another Freighter parked nearby. "Maybe I'll go find out how those Aqualish over there like to do business." Mizka buzzed round in front of him. The palms of his grubby little hands out in a placating gesture.
"Lets not be hasty my friend." Renn caught a waft of pungent body odour and tried to keep his face straight. The prospect of spending several days locked in the confined space of a light freighter with Mizka was not appealing but there was no way he could afford any of the other ships here. Mizka drew closer in a conspiratorial gesture. "I know these Quarra, they are thieves and Ryll pirates.You don't want to do business with beings like this. Lot of bad characters around here." Renn turned away and brought his hand up to his head as if he was weighing his options. The Aqualish continued to unload their ship. There was 6 of them, which seemed a lot for a light freighter. Most poor freighter captains kept crew numbers down to save costs. They all wore long coats buttoned shut. Renn gave a big theatrical sigh. The truth was he had no other options.
"I don't know, maybe I'll just try my luck at the casinos. Maybe I'll win enough for a starliner ticket off this rock."
“You insult me. I'm just a poor freighter captain trying to make a living.”
After parting ways with Ja'vigg Toth and his crew Renn had made his way to the entertainment district. He had spotted the Toydarian earlier that afternoon in one of the low class tapcafe/casinos that lined the streets around the space port. The diminutive alien had been playing sabacc and losing badly. A heated conversation with a Gamorrean had revealled that Captain Mizka was in serious debt.
"Half now and half when we get there. Final offer." Renn flicked his thumb through the wad of credits.
"Ok, deal." Mizka all but snatched the money out of Renns hand and it disappeared into one of the several pockets of his worn spacers vest. "I have to finish loading. I see you back here." The Toydarian buzzed off back in the direction of the casino. Off to settle a debt or create new ones, Renn didn't know.
Renn gave Mizka's old Correlian transport one more glance and then with a sigh headed for the space port exit. The grubby little freighter was nothing like the ship he had spent the last few days aboard. The Antara, the personal ship of the Gotal Ja'vigg Toth. Renn was still trying to understand his experiences with the Anatara and its crew. He had been treated very well, his wounds tended and been given new clothes. Toth was an enigmatic character and Renn wondered exactly what sort of merchandise the 'Merchant' dealt in and what exactly he and his crew were doing in a place like the ring of Kafrene? Well he would never know and it was likely for the best. Time to find a decent Bantha steak. Something told him he would'nt have much of an appetite for the next few days.
Renn headed out of the spaceport, back into the busy narrow streets of the settlement proper. A left turn would take him towards the Tusken style steak house he had noticed earlier. He spotted the group of Aqualish as they headed down a narrow street in the opposite direction. The six aliens stuck closley together, a close knit unit cutting through the gaggle of refugees, spacers, drunks and beggars that made up the rest of the pedestrian traffic. There was something wrong about them. Renn didn't know what it was but his curiosity was piqued. He had plenty time before the ship left. Just so long as he made sure he was back at the spaceport early so Mizka didn't leave without him. Renn turned right and followed as the group of aliens began to merge with the bustling crowds.
He tried to convince himself the bad feeling in his stomach was just hunger.
Gavin still didn’t like it.
The Lightspeed Panthers had been redeployed from their assignment along the borders of the Imperial Remnant to the Western Reaches of the Expansion Region and Mid-Rim, to protect the area from the depredations of pirates, slavers, and other assorted criminal gangs striking from Wild Space. The Panthers first assignment was to guard a vital shipment of tibanna gas from Taloraan, but the mission turned into a rather humdrum—in fact, downright boring—convoy escort. In fact, hostile activity across all sectors in the area had dropped to zero of all of sudden, and ComScan had been unable to detect any telemetry emanating from Wild Space at all.
Gavin didn’t like that one bit. The young pilot thought that a recon mission should be launched in order to find out just what exactly was happening, but many higher ups in the NR chain of command were more than content that the problem just simply went away. Stand down orders were issues to all units, and Gavin was allowed some liberty. This soon turned into a direct order to remove his physical presence from the starfighter base, as the young Corellian spent his off time hanging around HQ trying to learn what the latest intelligence intercepts reported.
Because of that, Gavin ended up missing the available transports that were headed out-system; the one destined to Malastare, for instance, where there was pod racing—very fast, very dangerous—and featured open/amateur racing challenges. Ever since his parents had given him a Mobquet Overracer for his fourteenth birthday, Gavin had dreamed of “scraping the paint” in one of the derbies on Malastare, but alas, it was not to be. The last ship headed out was a tender setting off on a routine service inspection of astrogation buoys, with a stop at only one inhabited location: The Ring of Kafrene. Grabbing a handful of toiletries and a few changes of clothes, the young pilot made the ship’s departure with seconds to spare.
Now, as the tender settled into Kafrene’s aft docking bay, Gavin rose and prepared for disembarkation. Checking to make sure his prized Caelli-Merced blaster pistol was snug in his shoulder holster, Gavin slipped his chip holder into a front pocket of his khaki fatigues, then gave his jerba hide flight jacket a tug downward. Picking up his carryall, Gavin stepped off the tender and onto Kafrene.
His first whiff of the noxious effluvia spewing from many of the port’s ventilation ducts made Gavin want to immediately turn around and just go for a ride on the tender as it made its rounds. Tossing a pace-ball against the bulkhead for hours on end could be a lot of fun, couldn’t it? Life is what you make of it, Gavin thought to himself as he forced himself to continue walking forward, ignoring the graffiti that read “Where good dreams go bad”.
Stopping at a tourist information kiosk—the staff ecstatic over the opportunity to assist a respectable looking visitor—Gavin quickly discovered the flimsimap given to him didn’t even come close to matching the actual layout of the port. Heading deeper into Kafrene, the pilot was struck by the appearance of the inhabitants: Bowed, moving with a shuffling, plodding gait, every one looked to be beaten down into a permanent state of despair.
Gavin, on the other hand, moved with a loose, easy gait, one that was characteristic of Corellian males but one that he never really had until recently. Glancing about, the pilot could see the purpose of some of the passageways and corridors that made up the port. Over there, where vendors were hawking wares of dubious acquisition and legality was obviously the black market. Off to one side, where a group beings stared suspiciously, had to some local gang’s turf. Gavin put some extra swagger into his step as he approached a particularly luridly advertised tunnel, lit bright red.
“Hey pilot! You want good time?”
Gavin whirled, and was instantly confronted by an obese Askajian female. She leered at the young Corellian while shaking her six breasts at him. “Hey pilot, you make me wet, like Mon Calamari!” Gavin’s cheeks blushed an intense shade of crimson, and spinning on his heel, he immediately fled pell-mell down the closest alleyway available.
His headlong rush carried Gavin down to what appeared to be the entertainment district. On each of the alley were clubs and bars, music blaring, hoping to entice potential customers. From one cantina came the screech and wail of iso, while the club right next door blasted a thumping beat of EQ that rattled the port’s fixtures. At a T intersection was a particularly large venue, heavily patronized, featuring the twangy sound that Gavin identified as rim-spin music. Gavin smiled to himself, remember that Mela Roch, his former wingmate, was a particular fan. Gavin didn’t really care for the genre, thinking that all the songs sounded the same: “I’m a spacer on the down and out; My princess just left me, I lost my ship and my blaster, and now I’m left with only my Wookiee.”
Gavin stomach growled, and the young Corellian suddenly realized how hungry he was. A quick check of the flimsimap showed a Tusken steakhouse was nearby. Gavin remembered how Mela, a Tattooine native, used to rave about the food, and he now decided that he would give it a shot. So intent on following the map, it was only through chance that Gavin happened to look up to see a half-dozen Aqualish plowing through the crowds and right toward him.
Last edit: by Gavin V. Thayer