Never say it can’t get any worse. Just don’t.
So after getting away from Parnell, we made it to Gelgelar, a mudball crawling with Sullustans. Not exactly a bustling metropolis, but at that point staying low until we sussed to the situation seemed like our best bet.
I woke up to find most of the group gone. Just me and the Sullustan pilot, Vron, there. Well, us and a note from Morgan telling us to get in touch with a local contact, name of Aarrom Toom, at some bar called the Slippery Gelgelar Eel. Considering it was the only damn watering hole in the whole town, the name seemed a bit presumptuous.
Vron and I made it to the Eel, where we saw a human smelling of bounty hunter and an Ithorian who could only be Toom. I checked out the human and assured myself he wasn’t after a bounty, like us; he had some yarn about being stuck in the planet due to ship problems.
We sidled up and started a conversation with Toom. After the usual rambling one gets from a Hammerhead, he finally let it out that he had a job for us. We were to scout out a planet, Llnor, that had lost contact. The clincher was that the Errand of Mercy, one of the thrice-damned Corvettes that had laid Parnell to waste, had been scanned near the system, and reports indicated that an escape pod had been jettisoned and had landed on the planet.
The rest of the group had made off with the Whisper, so Toom lent us his ship, a Ghtroc freighter named Herd Mother (how typical of a leaf-eater). Vron and I picked up some supplies and took off right away.
The trip was pretty uneventful. I ended up giving Vron some tips on handling blasters and he gave me some pointers on starship piloting.
We arrived at Llnor to find… nothing. As in no ship activity, no comms, no transponder codes, nothing. We slid up to orbit and tried to raise the starport, but got no response. We finally broke atmo and did a fly-by of the settlement. There was no visible activity. The only thing that stood out was the track where the escape pod had crash-landed right next to the landing bays.
Vron went ahead and let me take the ship down. Don’t listen to what he says, I think I did a pretty good job of it; it was not my fault that bucket of bolts was ready to fall apart at the slightest bump.
In any case, there were red lights across the board once the ship stopped shaking. While Vron ran around mumbling to himself, I popped the top hatch (the landing ramp wasn’t opening properly for some reason) and reconned the situation.
I don’t mind telling you, the scene was enough to freeze your livers. There was no one about at all. No sounds, no lights. I told Vron to sit tight, grabbed my rifle and slid down to the ground to do a closer recon.
I moved out slowly, following the track from the crashed pod, every nerve in my body thrumming with warning signs. When I got to the pod itself, I found the first body; some human in a Rebel pilot suit, lying half out of the hatch, looking like someone had used him for target practice.
Staying alert for any sign of ambush, I tried rolling the body over. And that’s when the damn thing jumped up and pounced on me.
That’s right, you heard me. That body had every sign of being D-E-D dead, but it still tackled me down and started trying to chew my face off. It was a lot stronger than it looked; that, and the sheer shock of the situation, gave it the edge it need to sink its teeth on my shoulder. Fortunately, it happened to hit the strap on my vest and didn’t break flesh.
I managed to pull out my blaster and put a few more holes in it, but that didn’t seem to stop it. Vron showed up out of nowhere and put a few more rounds in him, but I finally finished it by shoving the barrel in its mouth and making the back of its head look like a canoe.
That’s when we heard the howling. We strategically retreated our asses back to the ship, and not a moment too soon.
They came out of the corners and alleys. People, but not people. They all looked like the pilot had. Chewed up, some missing parts of their bodies, all ready to be planted in the ground, but still moving around, and obviously hungry for lunch.
Needless to say, we were a bit concerned. It didn’t help that Vron started jabbering about the ship needing parts to lift off. Sure, what we needed was certain to be in the maintenance bays, but between us and them was a sea of biters ready to chow down.
Then we noticed a light blinking on and off from the top of the observation tower. I sent back some blinks of my own using the ship’s lights and got a response. There was at least one other living being on this Gods-forsaken rock.
The next sight just added to the bizarreness. A protocol droid calmly ambled towards the ship, unharmed and unnoticed by the biter swarms. It signaled for our attention and we popped the hatch to converse.
It informed us that a Lt. Hale would like us to join him at the tower for a meeting of minds. Don’t that beat all?
We ordered the droid to draw the biters away by making noise and it did, but only after making a lot of complaints about it. Stupid tin-can.
With the biters lured away by the droid’s warbling, we managed to sneak over to the tower and get in. Hale met us at the door with a blaster. I returned the greeting with mine, thus establishing our credentials to each other.
Once the pleasantries were done with, he gave us the skinny. The escape pod was part of a new plan the Empire had cooked up. They’d found out about some virus that turned people into those… things and had weaponized it (that’s what that damn research center at Parnell had be about). The idea was to infect some poor souls then let ’em loose on some unsuspecting target. They probably dressed the wretches in Rebel uniforms to have someone to blame for the carnage.
The only way to take one of them down was to destroy the brain or detach it from the body. And using blasters was not advisable since the noise would just attract more of the damn things.
The thing was, the pod outside had been an accident, a misfire; Llnor had not been a target. And instead of cleaning their mess up, the Impys had just left the settlement to die and taken off.
Needless to say, I was ready to use the officer’s brains to finger-paint the walls, but then he dropped the bomb. He had the coordinates for where the Errand of Mercy was going, but he’d only give it to us if we got him off the planet.
After some serious consideration (and heartfelt hesitation), we agreed. Of course, the son of a Gundark wasn’t going to lift a finger to help us. Not that it really mattered; I wouldn’t have trusted him at my back anyways.
Using the top of the observation tower for some visual recon, I ran through the channels on the comm and raised some survivors stuck on the top of one of the housing blocks. By stroke of luck, some of them not only knew where ship parts were to be found, they also knew where we could get some transport and knew how to operate them.
So Vron and I girded up, pulled out our blades and set out. We bumped into some biters along the way, but took them down reasonably quickly. We scrambled around the building and managed to get up the fire escape to the roof where the motley bunch of townies were.
There were an even half-dozen of them. A Talz and a bunch of humans. Two of them were actually local (one of them was even a security officer), the others seemed to be spacers in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We came up with a quick plan. Me, Vron, Mariah (the sec officer) and Kane (one of the spacers) would go get the trucks, load up the parts and bring them to the ship. Once we had the ship ready, we’d collect the rest of the group (and Hale too) and unass the AO. They had the skills to drive the trucks, while Mariah could get us through any potentially secured doors.
The Talz (Grivvits was his monicker, I recall) tossed Vron over to the next building with a rope and we shimmied over. While the rest of the group made a lot of noise on the other side of their building to attract any random biters, we made it down to the street and went across to where the trucks were stored inside a hangar. We luckily didn’t meet up with anything on the way.
We found two trucks in operable condition. Mariah and I took one, while Vron and Kane took the other. The plan was for the two of us to draw the biters away (maybe run a few over) while the other two went to the maintenance bays and did their shopping.
Mariah gunned it and tore through the hangar door with no mishap. Kane wasn’t so lucky and his truck came out quite the worse for wear. It still ran, though, so we kept to the plan.
The two of us started playing tag with the biters while the others went for the bay. They made it there and got into trouble right away, as the building was swarming with biters. Mariah and I zoomed over and parked around from where they had, going in through a different door into a cluster of biters.
We slashed and cut our way through the mob, Mariah keeping up quite well with me. While we danced with the monsters, Vron and Kane grabbed what they could and beat feet. We went back to our truck and that’s when we heard it.
Vron told me afterward what happened. Kane went out the door first and got plucked up by a huge Wookiee turned biter (I guess the virus wasn’t picky about species). The damn thing tore poor Kane in two and started eating him.
I yelled at Mariah to back up enough to give me a line of sight on the monster, then sent a blaster bolt at it to grab its attention. It complied and the chase was on. Meanwhile Vron threw the gear into the truck and attempted to drive to the ship.
That mangy furball was fast! I was taking potshots at it as we raced around the settlement, it keeping pace quite easily. Finally, I decided to cut the dance short with a thermal detonator as the parting gift. That biter may have been huge, but after the blast there wasn’t enough in one place to fill a bucket.
We rushed back to the ship to find Vron frantically trying to restart the stalled truck while biters, lured there by that thrice-damned protocol droid, were starting to swarm. I disabled the droid with a well-placed bolt, then Mariah and I jumped in and cleaned up. We scrambled to get the parts off the truck and into the ship.
Mariah and I left Vron in the ship to start the repairs while we took the remaining operational truck to pick up the rest of her group and bring them back.
With their help, we got the ship more or less operational soon enough. Vron lifted off and hovered over the tower. Hale got the hint and climbed up to meet me at the loading ramp, where he found my blaster pointing at his face. I got him to leave his weapons behind and dragged his worthless carcass aboard.
While Vron broke atmo and got us the frak out of there, I introduced Hale to the cargo bay where we had a chat. After some friendly persuasion, he gave up the info. He actually didn’t heave the actual coordinates of the Errand of Mercy, but he did have its final destination. Alderaan.
I left Hale in the cargo bay (yes, he was alive, but in no condition to do more than moan and pull against the restraints), came over to check on the other survivors (no bite marks, thank the Gods) and told Vron to light a fire and get us back to Gelgelar in two shakes of a Bantha’s choobies.
The trip back was not a happy one. Vron managed to make a good imitation of my landing strategy when we reached Gelgelar. It was almost worth it to see the expression on ol’ Toom’s face, but I didn’t have time for the show. I started telling him what went down at Llnor but he started playing all coy.
So I hauled the damn leaf-eater to the nearest loo for some privacy and laid down the riff. No more double talk, we had serious news that need to be passed along to the Rebellion. He admitted that some of the ones we saved from Llnor were among his “friends”, which meant the Rebellion would be more willing to accept the crazy story. Whether they can muster anything in time to stop it is another thing entirely.
Anyway, that’s where we stand. In two weeks to a month, Alderaan’s gonna be served up as the main course for an Imperial buffet, and we’re the only ones who know and most likely could do anything about it. A beat-up YT-1300 and a second-hand Y-Wing against a convoy of fully armed Imperial Corvettes.
It can’t get any worse.