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Beyond - Legends DonoSlane Excursions - For the life of a friend (Myn/Kirney + OCs, Drama/Thriller/Friendship)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by -thor-, Jun 25, 2018.

  1. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    DonoSlane Excursions – For the life of a friend
    Dramatis Personae:

    Kirney Slane-Donos (human female from Coruscant)
    Myn Donos (human male from Corellia)
    Selan Donos (human male from Corellia - Myn's father – OC)
    Jaleela Donos (human female from Corellia - Myn's mother – OC)
    Jarrath Lund (human male from Corellia - OC)
    Denna Lerimore (human female from Corellia – OC)
    Tonin (R2-series astromech)
    Kolot (modified Ewok male from Endor)

    Timeframe: ~ 13.5 ABY
    World: Legends (possibly AU)

    Author's note: I typed the first scenes of this fic way back in 2012 and then left it sitting on my HDD for over four years due to writer's block and a serious case of disillusion with official Star Wars. Only in 2016 I could motivate myself to continue writing … the longest break from writing fanfiction so far.

    Aaron Allston's last Star Wars book (Mercy Kill) contained pieces that drove me to Change my initial plans for the epilogue to match what that books said about the old Wraiths' knowledge of Kirney. They were too casual, too unsurprised to her appearance not to have known about her for a long time. I know this invalidates the Epilogue of my "starting point" of this series ("Reevaluation"), but that is okay with me.

    Hermes-Class Courier Stellar Wayfarer
    08:41 a.m. Corellian Standard Time – inbound to Corellia

    Myn was slouching in the pilot's chair, feet propped up on a secondary computer console and allowed his thoughts to roam freely. The state he was in was approaching something like meditation, a slice of his consciousness alert and focused on the ship but the majority was left free to drift.
    It was a habit he'd picked up when he'd been flying snubfighters for the New Republic. Every pilot handled the monotony of hyperspace differently – most were quick to catch up on lost sleep, others read, listened to music, played games on their datapad or conversed with their astromech, unless they were flying A- or B-Wings which had no provision to carry an astromech. Sleeping was most common since one of the earliest things you learned once out of the Academy was to conserve your strength for the moment you needed it, but on long hyperspace flights you sometimes needed something else to do and so he'd begun to let his thoughts drift. Just like now …

    He let out a small sigh of contentment as his mind was turning to his family. This had been the last run he'd go on for a while and he was looking forward to the quiet and peace very much. His father's sixtieth lifeday was approaching and the family had decided to take a few weeks off their usually busy schedules to celebrate it accordingly. He gave a low chuckle. Strike that quiet and peace, he told himself quietly, thinking of his father's old friends from the military. They may have become older but were no less rowdy than in their younger years. It's going to be a party with a very capital P.
    He let his head drop back against the padded headrest of his chair and smiled. He imagined the table full of exquisite and tasty foods: his aunt's extra-zesty spiceloaf, his mother's avian casserole, grilled Bantha steaks with that awesome Whyren's-and-cream sauce his cousin's wife made … A smirk appeared on his face as he imagined Kolot's reaction to that image. He didn't know anything about the Ewoks' religious beliefs, or if he even had any, but he guessed for the little furry glutton that would feel like having gone straight to heaven.

    A soft chime jerked him out of his hedonistic little fantasy and he let out a sigh of annoyance. He brought down his feet on the floor and swiveled the chair back to its standard position. A light was flashing and he hit a switch to bring up his navigation computer. He nodded to himself. That chime had been the proximity alert and the ship was a minute away from reverting to normal space again, a slight smile drifting on his lips as he made a few internal calculations.

    Twenty minutes to touchdown, a few minutes for the post-flight checks and another hour for the scans … I should be home in two hours.

    Another chime jolted him out of his thoughts again. He strapped himself in and flicked the switch of the intercom. "We're approaching Corellia. Thirty seconds to reversion from hyperspace, Doctor. Please strap yourself in, Sir."

    "Yes, yes …" came the somewhat absent-minded answer and he watched on the holoscreen as his passenger put down the datapad he'd been tapping on and secured his own crash-webbing. The man flashed a glance at his wrist chrono and looked up to the holocam. "Could you do me a big favor, Captain, and arrange for an airspeeder taxi to wait for me upon arrival? I have an appointment with the Head of the Corellian Medical Institute and I'm running out of time."

    "Certainly, Sir," Myn replied evenly. "Reversion to real space in five … four … three … two … one … Mark." He pulled back the lever of the hyperdrive and the chaotic swirl of light collapsed into the familiar star constellations of his home planet. "We'll be landing in twenty minutes. I have to ask you to remain belted until touchdown."

    He watched the Doctor's holo nod absently, once again preoccupied with whatever document he was reading.

    The com cackled to life as he swung the ship's nose towards the blue ball of Corellia. "Stellar Wayfarer," a woman's voice came out of the speaker system, "we have you on our scopes. Please state your business."

    "This is Stellar Wayfarer of DonoSlane Excursions, Control. Captain Donos speaking. Requesting permission to land on Coronet Central with one passenger and no freight."

    "Ah, I'm afraid that's a negative for Coronet Central, Wayfarer," the female controller answered and Myn could detect a touch of exasperation in her tone. "Central is currently closed to all traffic due to an emergency situation. One of these tarmac hogs bumped his tanker into one of the fuel distributors and blew a valve. The fire department is busy trying to mop up several hundred cubic meters of trimoseratate without setting it on fire."

    "Marvellous, Control," Myn groaned. "I've got a passenger who has an appointment at the Medical Institute and is a bit in a hurry. Any place where I can put down instead?"

    There was a momentary silence as the controller was checking landing slots and free approach corridors into Corellia's airspace. "You could put down on Behareh," she suggested.

    He frowned. "I don't have landing rights there. Can't afford to buy them now, either."

    "Don't worry," the woman soothed. "The owner consortium has agreed to cooperate and let priority flights land without the usual landing fees. I've just put your transponder on the priority list and transmitted the approach vector."

    Myn threw a bemused and somewhat disbelieving stare at the com unit. A controller who isn't a stickler for regulations, he thought. Who'd have guessed?

    "Thanks a lot, Control."

    "Don't let it get to your head, flyboy," the woman sent back, a sudden edge creeping into her voice. "That passenger of yours seems to be awfully important. The Chief Executive of the Medical Institute commed our boss and soon after we were instructed to watch for your arrival and assign you a high priority for a landing slot."

    Donos allowed himself a sarcastic smile. "And there I thought Space Control had gotten a sudden bout of customer focus," he joked.

    A decidedly un-ladylike snort came out of the com. "Sure. Anything else I can do for you, Wayfarer?"

    "In fact there's something. Could you arrange for a fast speeder taxi to wait at the spaceport or could you put me through to a taxi dispatcher? Behareh is a bit far from the Institute to walk."

    "I'll see to it," the controller promised.

    "Thanks, Control. Wayfarer out."

    Myn deactivated the com and brought up the entry vector he'd been given. A holographic projection appeared on his heads-up-display and he swung the courier around and approached the planet. When his sensors registered the ship's entry into the outer edge of Corellia's atmosphere he throttled back and pulled the nose up a hair, reducing the angle of entry. Still the friction built up quickly and so did the temperatures. The shields kept the heat away from the fuselage but they began to glow like a sun going supernova, temporarily turning the ship into the visual equivalent of a meteoroid burning its fiery way into the atmosphere. The Wayfarer glowed for less than ten seconds, then the denser atmosphere at lower altitudes slowed and cooled the ship and the eerie glow disappeared.

    As soon as the flames died away and he could see again the grey blob of Coronet City was looming ahead. Even though he was still some thirty klicks above the surface he could easily make out the large duracrete circle that was Coronet Central to the north and also the smaller tarmac of Behareh spaceport dead ahead. Myn throttled back to just over twenty percent thrust and let gravity pull the Wayfarer towards its destination.
    When he got within ten klicks of Behareh a green rectangle appeared in his holographic display, enveloping a small stretch of tarmac in the north-western quadrant of the spaceport, and he added more thrust and shunted power to his repulsorlifts but left them on standby. Upon closing further he could make out a primitive light sign on the side of a massive hangar which directed him to a specific location. Throttling back almost to zero he kicked in the repulsorlifts and extended the landing gear. The ship touched down with a gentle jolt, the shrill whine of the engine dying away as Myn worked his way through the short power-down checklist.

    Upon leaving the cockpit he found his passenger waiting near the access to the small passenger area. Myn pulled a lever and the big access hatch opened with the hiss of straining hydraulics, then he hit another switch and the gangway extended towards the ground. Myn moved ahead to check if the gangway was correctly extended, then looked around and was relieved to see the approaching figure of a Corellian customs officer and the waiting airspeeder taxi in the background.

    "Welcome to Corellia," he said to his passenger who had appeared at the top of the gangway. Gesturing at the customs officer and the taxi he added, "Have your documents ready for inspection, Sir."

    "Thanks for the speedy service, Captain," the doctor said with a smile and extended his hand, a credcard between his fingers. "The previously agreed-upon twenty-five hundred New Republic credits."

    Myn pocketed the card before shaking his passenger's hand. "Enjoy your stay on Corellia, Doctor. Thanks for your patronage."

    As the scientist turned to leave Myn began a quick inspection of the ship's hull to check for any damage. Atmospheric entry was strenous for a ship, even with the shield system, and a missed microfissure could produce some very ugly results next time he went up into the void of space. As he rounded the drive nozzles the hustle and bustle in front of the next hangar over caught his attention. A group of workers were busy tearing down a company sign from the hangar front while several more, supported by maintenance droids, were repainting a Lambda-Class shuttle and two Gymsnor-3 class freighters. Myn frowned. That red-blue sigil on the shuttle's fin … Wasn't that the company logo of Solant Transports? So why were the techs overpainting the entire fin with that green and white design? He knew he'd seen that one before but he couldn't place it at the moment.

    "They were bought up," a voice from behind spoke up as if reading his thoughts.

    Donos cast a glance at the customs officer who had appeared beside him. And then his mind managed to figure out where the green-white logo came from. "By Vhinntar Shipping?"

    "Yep." The disdain in the officer's voice was mirrored on his face. "Scuttlebutt has it that they browbeat the old Lenen Solant into selling. Cavalier son of a Sith, this Josar Vhinntar." He spat on the tarmac, a telling sign of his opinion of the neighboring company's new owner.

    Myn held out his ID card for scanning. This was routine for him now and no longer made him nervous. "Isn't that the third or fourth company Vhinntar has bought out?"

    The officer ran Myn's ID card through the scanner, handed it back and shrugged. "Don't know. I don't have time to watch the scene, so to speak, but I know this green-white is not going to be the favourite paintjob of mine." He tossed Myn a sloppy salute and turned to leave. "The scanning crew has you on their list. Once they're through you're free to go."

    "Thanks." Myn cast one last glance at the workers over at Vhinntar's new acquisition, shook off his unease and continued the inspection of his ship.

    * * *
    I'll have yet to fully decide on the posting schedule, maybe I'll leave it at one post per week, Maybe I'll post twice. Don't know yet.
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Enjoyed very much Myn's musings on his family. They sound a fun-loving close-knit bunch. And the food =P~ YUM! Liked also the details about the spaceport, the problems and the hustle and bustle with customs etc. Very real to life and I have a feeling the change in ownership of the transport company will show up again later. [face_thinking]
    -thor- likes this.
  3. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    I remember writing that initial scene even though it's been almost six years. I was searchng for Canon-ized Corellian foodstuff for a while … so much that I got hungry and had to order a big dinner from a nearby italian restaurant. =P~ [face_laugh]

    Problem was I ate a bit too much that evening and didn't manage to get up the next day at all. [face_sick]

    :cool: My lips are … [face_shhh] :cool:
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  4. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Since the story has a total of 14 "chapters" I have decided to post twice a week. No need to drag this out unnecessarily. Enjoy (even if you're just lurking here [face_mischief]).

    * * *​

    The trip home took him far longer than usual. Behareh was on the other side of Coronet City and there was no direct MagLev connection between it and his home district Tekahel. So he'd been forced to switch trains three times – from Behareh to Mongutah Station, from Mongutah to Coronet Sportsdome, from Sportsdome to CorSec Plaza and from there to Tekahel East – and decided that he greatly preferred landing on Central. At least the Behareh owners had agreed to let him move the ship another day, without having to pay the obligatory docking fee, since he felt absolutely no inclination to do that today. Tomorrow he'd have his father drive him to Behareh, then he would make the short hop over to Central and take the train to Tekahel from there.

    His mood took a rather drastic downturn as a torrential rain began to come down just as his train was entering Tekahel East station. It wasn't far from the station to his childhood home, a little less than a klick, but with water pouring down at a rate rivaling a small waterfall he was soaked thoroughly just after a few minutes of walking. As he pushed open the front door and stepped into the small entrance area his mother was already waiting for him with a large towel and a reproachful glare.

    "Sithspit, Myn," she swore as she enveloped him with the fluffy blue cloth and began to towel him dry. "Why didn't you call ahead? Your father would have picked you up with the speeder."

    "I'm okay, Mom," he answered and tried to still her hands' movements. "Look, it's only water. It won't kill me."

    Jaleela's glare intensified and her son winced. "It's not summer anymore and you're freezing," she rebuked sharply, gesturing as he was beginning to shiver. "Off to the fresher with you and take a hot shower. I'll get you some dry clothes."

    Rolling his eyes he pulled the towel tight around his shoulders and shuffled into the refresher.

    Twenty minutes later, freshly showered and dressed in loose comfortable pants and a sweatshirt, he entered the kitchen and found his parents sitting at the table.

    "Took your time," his father remarked casually but the glint in his eyes gave the teasing away.

    Myn shrugged nonchalantly. "A real shower is always nice."

    Jaleela elbowed her husband lightly and began to dish out stew from a pot. "When's Kirney due?"

    "Sometime tomorrow," her son responded and held up his own plate. He inhaled the spicy fragrance of the tuber stew and gave an appreciative sigh. "You can't imagine how much I'm looking forward to this downtime."

    "Oh, I can imagine," his father said and held up his own plate to receive a scoop of stew. "You two have been bouncing across the galaxy like balls in a repulsor flipper of late."

    "Work begets more work," his son cited an old Corellian proverb in return.

    "Yes, but that doesn't mean you should let work dictate your life," his mother reminded him gently. "If you hadn't noticed, Myn – you look exhausted. And Kirney is not any better."

    Myn sighed. "I know I'm tired. But it's because we wanted to take this break that we accepted orders at the rate you've seen of late. It's not like docking fees and taxes take a timeout as well."

    "True," Jaleela agreed as she poured a scoop of stew on her own plate. "But even without the hectic of the last few weeks you two have spent very little time together. You're seeing her … What? Ten or twelve days a month? When are you going to live your life?"

    Myn hesitated, his spoon hovering midway between plate and mouth, and gave his parents a hard look. "If this is another 'When are you going to have kids of your own?' grilling, then …"

    His father held up a hand to stall the tirade before it began. "It isn't. We're just worried that all you seem to do is eat, sleep and work … Where's the difference between that and what you did as a teenager?"

    Myn put down the spoon and sighed. "Look, I know this is not exactly the life we envisioned. But, unfortunately, it is as it is and not as we want it to be. This isn't the annual Midwinter Wish-Athlon. We do have a business to run, we need to earn credits and at the moment we're lucky to be reasonably successful but we aren't yet at the point where we can hire pilots and sit back to act as managers or dispatchers. Then, and only then, we're going to have a measure of normalcy in our life and can think about settling down for real."

    Selan tilted his head and gave his son a penetrating look. "I know what you're thinking, Myn. I've been there, you know. Remember our talk back when you came to see Kirney?"

    "I do," Myn affirmed. "And you know we want kids, more than one, but we can't give them the home we want to give to them. Not yet. We want to be there for our children, we want to see them grow up and not pop in and out of their lives every few days because we've got to fly to the other side of the galaxy."

    "We understand," his mother soothed. "But how long can you keep up the pace of work? Another year? Two? Three? Or ten?" She shook her head. "If you postpone living until some day far off in the future, when all your conditions are being met, you may wake up old and gray and realize that none of your grandiose plans have worked."

    Myn gave a sigh of exasperation. "Have you been having words with Wes Janson?"

    His father raised an eyebrow. "Since we have never met the man we haven't. But if he's said the same things he must be a wise man."

    His son chuckled. "It's apparent you've never met that perpetual nine-year-old."

    "He's a wise nine-year-old then," Jaleela retorted with a wicked smile. That drew a snort.

    "We're not saying you should start a family now," Selan said. "But you may want to consider that you won't be able to work at the pace you're working at now. So, maybe, you and that spitfire of a wife of yours should throttle back a bit and remember that there's more to life than credits and the satisfaction of a thriving company." He leaned across the table and tapped his son's forehead with his index finger. "Use that brain of yours. Consider alternative business strategies. Think of options within the confines of your business plans and portfolio. Be flexible."

    Myn narrowed his eyes and scrutinized his father's face. "You've either spent considerable time preparing for this discussion or you're the most eloquent motivational coach this side of Raxus Prime," he deadpanned. "Tell me, Dad, did you have to look up this speech somewhere or did you make it up on the fly?"

    Selan gave a snort. "Instructions for Infantry Platoon and Company Commanders," he shot back. "The tenets of a good infantry officer, just translated into business terms. I'm astonished you haven't recognized it."

    Myn groaned and buried his face in his hands. "Okay, okay. You've made your point. Can we eat now?" He began eating, determined to put the lid on that discussion.

    "Sure," his father said and picked up his own spoon as well. "So what's on the agenda for tomorrow?"

    "Um," his son mumbled with the spoon between his teeth. He swallowed, reddening slightly as his mother cast a disapproving frown in his direction, and put down the cutlery again. "Sorry. Could you give me a ride to Behareh spaceport tomorrow? I need to move the Wayfarer to Central or it'll cost."

    "Behareh?" Jaleela looked at him curiously as she handed out pieces of bread to the two men. "What are you doing there?"

    "Central was closed," her son explained, began tearing small pieces off the slice of bread and dumped them into his stew. "Some tanker bumped into a fuel distribution point, blew a valve and spilled several hundred cubic meters of trimoseratate, a highly flammable starship fuel. My passenger was important so Space Control gave me a landing slot on Behareh."

    "Oh." Selan looked mildly interested. "Someone we know?"

    "No." Myn shook his head. "He was a doctor, a scientist. Works in an area that ends with -ology. I forgot the term just as soon as I'd heard it."

    "Nice to see that the good old Vitamin C is still working like it used to," his father scoffed.

    "It certainly beats loitering in orbit for Sith knows how long all the while listening to the passenger getting more and more cranky," Myn answered dryly.

    Selan acceded to the notion with an equally dry, "Point taken."

    They finished eating in comfortable silence.

    * * *​
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Myn has a point definitely about not popping in and out :eek: ... but his folks are right too. You can't wait for ideal conditions. :p

    Even with the lecturing ;) you can sense the genuine affection
    -thor- likes this.
  6. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    I've seen the "Pop in, Pop out" thing with a number of people, simply out of economic necessity. Jobs are rare in the area where I come from so either moving away or long-distance commuting has been all too normal for a number of my neighbors here. Some marriages went down over this … and it was never a pretty spectacle.

    Anyway, here's the next part. And today's topics are somewhat difficult to "digest" ... [face_devil]

    * * *​

    Leaning against a hydraulic cylinder of the main ramp Kirney watched as two men of the scanning team stowed their gear back in the aft hold of the maintenance skimmer.

    "Everything checks out, Captain" the foreman said with a smile and held out a datapad. "As usual."

    "Of course it does," she returned wryly and pressed her thumb on the small reader pad. The device emitted a quick warble as it logged the work order as fulfilled.

    "I know how you feel," the foreman returned and his smile morphed into something akin to ruefulness. "But I shouldn't complain too much as it keeps me in work." He nodded at the small parcel Kirney had placed on the tarmac. "Anything you ought to pay duty on?" he joked.

    "Nah," she disagreed with negligent wave of a hand. "Unless, of course, Corellia has introduced tariffs on candy."

    The man arched an eyebrow. "Candy? Never took you for the overly sweet type."

    "It's for my father-in-law," Kirney explained. "Comkin Five caramel candy, the Premium Selection Maxi Box. His lifeday is approaching and he's the one with the sweet tooth."

    He chuckled and held out his hand. "Well, we're off. Next ship's waiting."

    Kirney shook it. "Until the next time."

    The foreman left and Kirney cast a glance at her wrist chrono. Her calculations, however, were interrupted by another voice speaking up from behind.

    "You really do know half of the spaceport staff, don't you?"

    She turned around and found her smirking husband leaning against the hydraulic cylinder on the other side of the main ramp. Mimicking his pose she crossed her arms in front of her chest and arched an eyebrow.

    "So what if I do? Could be useful one day."

    He let out a chuckle and moved forward to take her in his arms. They kissed, then he leaned his forehead against hers and both whispered in unison, "I missed you," thusly completing the Welcome-home-ritual they'd worked out over the years.

    Kirney put her head against his shoulder and let out a protracted sigh. "I'm so much looking forward to taking a break. I can't believe it really happens."

    Myn chuckled. "Yeah, me too." His face took on a rueful expression. "Although I'm afraid we're in for a few more 'When will you have kids of your own?' interrogations."

    Kirney extricated herself from his embrace with a groan and rolled her eyes. "Your parents are persistent, aren't they? I give them eight points for their sheer tenacity."

    An unusually loud burp from the top of the ramp drew their attention to the Ewok and the red-white astromech who had appeared from the depths of the ship. Kirney glowered at her furry co-pilot and declared imperiously, "That's the last time I ever let you eat that succotash, Kolot. From now on no more beans of any kind for you."

    The Ewok narrowed his eyes and flashed her a rude gesture. "Kirney not the one with a plasma storm in the stomach." He suddenly clutched his stomach and grimaced.

    "No, I'm just the one who had to share quarters with you," she shot back with exasperation coloring her voice. "I had to vent the aircon twice a day, not to mention bearing the multitude of disgusting noises you made."

    Her husband cracked a smile. "And there I thought Kolot had a duracrete-coated digestive system and could eat anything."

    Kolot glared back and muttered, "Nasty."

    Tonin focused his optical receptor on the Ewok and trilled something that sounded suspiciously like an 'I told you so'. That earned him a resounding whack on his rounded top and a string of Huttese curses from his furry friend.

    "Knock off the gloating, Tonin," Kirney ordered and fixed her astromech with a stern glare. "First order of the day: We find a pharmacy store and get Kolot something to calm his innards."

    The Ewok shot her a grateful look which turned into another pained grimace as a new spasm hit. "Better hurry," he ground out between clenched teeth, trying to hold back another burp. It was to no avail. A moment later another obnoxiously loud digestive noise escaped his mouth.

    Kirney sighed, dug a credcard out of her pocket and held it out to Tonin. "Go with Kolot and find a pharmacy. We'll wait for you at the tapcaf near the exit to parking deck Northwest Six."

    The astromech took the card with his manipulator arm, hooted an affirmation and twisted around to roll off towards the spaceport's central building. Kolot darted a dejected glance at the two humans and hurried after his mechanical friend.

    Once the two were out of earshot Myn gave his wife a sympathetic glance and said, "He's really caught it this time, hasn't he?"

    Kirney winced. "Yeah and the last three days weren't pretty. I didn't feel that well, either, puked my guts out the first day but I got better quickly. He didn't."

    Myn's face darkened. "You were ill, too?"

    "I ate at the same tapcaf," she muttered defensively. "Just nausea and a little bit of wobbliness in the morning. I guess the food was a little bit beyond the point of still being edible."

    Putting his arm around his wife's shoulder he gave her a small squeeze. "Come on. Let's secure the ship and get to that tapcaf. I guess a stiff drink and some decent food will sort out your intestine in no time."

    He saw her lips moving but her answer was swallowed by the sudden shrill noise of repulsorlifts revving up behind and slightly above them. They turned around and watched the scruffy Lambda-class shuttle as it approached its intended landing spot just a few dozen meters to their right. The landing struts emerged from the fuselage as the wings moved upwards to their landing configuration, the forward movement ceased and the ship lowered gently on the air cushion thrown up by the repulsorlifts.

    "That's Jarrath's ship," Myn said loudly into his wife's ear when he spotted the weather-beaten company writing and sigil at the top of the dorsal fin.

    Kirney nodded before bending back to shout in his ear. "Haven't seen him in a while."

    Myn nodded absent-mindedly. Come to think of it he hadn't seen their friend for a few weeks, either. Strange, he told himself quietly. Jarrath was an easy-going and friendly character, social and mildly extroverted, but decidedly not the type to suddenly turn into a recluse.

    There was a gentle thunk when the shuttle settled down on the tarmac. Kirney took her husband's hand and said, once the repulsorlift's whine had abated, "Let's go say hello."

    They had to wait for several minutes at the edge of the security zone, a forty-meter circle marked with a broad red line, for the immigration procedures to be completed. They watched the customs and immigration officer move up the main ramp into the ship and reemerge just a minute later. Then he strode purposefully towards the waiting speeder which would take him to the next ship. When Jarrath appeared at the top of the boarding ramp both Myn and Kirney gasped at the sight.

    Their friend had always been tall and lanky, not to say scraggy although that wasn't quite wrong either, but now he was looking almost skeletal. His face was haggard, his cheeks cavernous, the cheekbones unnaturally prominent and his eyes were sunken deep into their sockets. When he caught sight of his friends he flashed them a tired grin and moved to greet them.

    "Sithspit, Jar," Kirney gasped as she moved to embrace him, "What happened? You look like hell!"

    The Corellian gave a wheezing chuckle. "Always diplomatic," he joked and shook hands with Myn.

    "You're more bones than flesh," Myn remarked with shock evident in his voice. "You haven't forgotten to eat, have you?"

    That drew a snort. "Hardly. Had an incredible stretch of bad luck," Jarrath admitted and rubbed his eyes. "Five weeks ago I took a job to deliver a bunch of spare parts and repair tools to an isolated mining outpost in the Outer Rim. Five hours into my last hyperspace leg the hyperdrive winked out and I couldn't fix it. Took me a week on sublight to reach my destination."

    Kirney cringed at the thought. "How much fuel did you have left?"

    "A little less than two percent."


    "Yeah." Jarrath rubbed his cheek wearily. "The hyperdrive was a total loss. And to make matters worse that outpost was so isolated that delivery of a new one took almost four weeks. In the meantime I had to scant with my hard cash. Couldn't afford to buy more than the absolute minimum in ration bars."

    Donos looked at him with a puzzled frown. "Why didn't you access your account?"

    Jarrath gave another snort. "Would you believe there was no way to? The miners only dealt with hard cash because they were paid in cash. The local vendors, all of which were controlled by Shenio Mining by the way, wouldn't accept a debit card, either." He grinned sarcastically. "And given their prices, steep ain't half of it for the sodders are milking the miners wherever they can, I had to make do with two ration bars a day. And so here I am, the glorious image you see before your eyes."

    Kirney shot him a glare. "Why didn't you call? We could have helped."

    Jarrath shook his head. "You have a business of your own. I didn't want to bother you."

    Myn gave a disbelieving snort. "Instead you nearly starve yourself to death. You are our friend, Jar. We would have taken the time to help. That's what friends are for, after all."

    "Look," the Corellian returned dropping the false cheer he'd presented them before and the tone of his voice made it clear that he wasn't in a joking mood, "I appreciate the offer, but my business is just that … my business. No offense meant." He gave a sigh that betrayed infinite weariness.

    "Of all the thick-headed …" Kirney muttered but was stopped by Jarrath's glare. "Okay, okay … It's your life. You're taking a break to recharge your batteries, aren't you?"

    He shook his head. "I'd like to, but I've had no income for nearly five weeks. Gotta earn money, you know."

    Kirney opened her mouth to disagree but Myn shook his head warningly and she rolled her eyes. "We're going to a tapcaf for lunch. You want to come along?"

    Jarrath heaved another sigh. "I'd love to, but I've got to stay with the ship until the scanning crew is through. Force knows when this is going to be."

    "Take care of yourself," Kirney said and embraced her friend again. Then a thought struck her. "By the way … You know we're taking a few weeks off?"

    "Yes, I know." He wreathed his face into a wry expression. "Lucky Slizhaks."

    "Should we, perhaps, forward any interested customers to you?" she suggested hesitantly. She wasn't sure how the hard-headed Corellian would take that suggestion.

    Jarrath surprised her yet again when he relaxed and a grateful smile appeared on his face. "Thanks. I appreciate it."

    "See you around." Myn tipped him a sloppy salute, put his arm around his wife and steered her back towards her ship to lock it down.

    Jarrath watched them for a moment before he turned around and headed back into the ship.

    * * *​
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2018
  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    [face_rofl] Love the snarky astromech & the multilingual Ewok :cool: Kolot's gastrointestinal woes -- :eek: Guess he and Kirney can be glad he didn't have gas coming out the other end! [face_laugh] [face_laugh]

    Kirney's transient nausea, [face_dancing] Was that the food, or something else? [face_batting]

    Jarrath's business troubles are worrisome especially if they're reflected in the ventures of more than one company. [face_thinking] I can understand why he'd feel defensive about it, but in the end, he's grateful for help from his close friends.
  8. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    To be honest I had thought about it, but then I remembered that chemical and biological warfare have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. [face_mischief][face_laugh]
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  9. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    It's Wednesday again and that means another post. Enjoy! [face_whistling]

    * * *​

    The next few days brought a strange mixture of idleness and furious activity. Mornings were generally slow, they started late – relatively spoken - and dragged on as the Donos family enjoyed breakfast together. Then, around ten o'clock, Myn's mother assumed command and, like a royal majordomo, she began to dispatch husband, son and daughter-in-law on various errands, most of which were connected to the preparations of Selan's lifeday party which was a little over two weeks away.

    Lunch was usually passed over, they mostly resorted to a quick snack when and if they found the time before returning to working through the list of tasks Jaleela had assigned to them. This went on until about mid-afternoon when they returned home from their various errands and proceeded to do what Myn had ironically christened 'homework'. For him and Kirney this entailed dealing with the accumulated red tape and catching up with the necessary bookkeeping whereas his father withdrew into the small workshop he'd set up in the outbuilding to refurbish the old garden furniture. Jaleela was planning a barbecue as part of the lifeday party and said she'd need some tables, chairs and benches to arrange in the garden. Selan had sighed, he wasn't a particularly good handyman nor did he enjoy it, but his wife had ordered it.

    "I may be a retired Colonel," he'd joked, "but she's an active General."

    Around five o'clock in the afternoon the hectic of the day came to an end and the Donos family – including Kolot – assembled in the kitchen to prepare dinner. Once that was eaten, leisurely, they either withdrew for a quiet evening or gathered in the living room downstairs to spend time as family. This evening was such an occasion …

    The blinds were closed and the only source of light was the spotlight above the table, which was covered by a velvety green tablecloth. A portable Sabacc system sat in the center and projected small interference fields in front of the five players. But at the moment only two were still in the game, piles of toy chips in front of them and in a huge heap in the middle. Of the three other players Selan had been the first to drop out of this round, Myn had been the second and his mother the last.

    "Raise ten thousand," Kirney remarked casually and shoved the chips forward.

    Kolot calmly tossed the necessary chips onto the pile in the middle.

    The redhead glanced owlishly at her cards, put two of them into the interference field and slid one towards Selan who was doubling as dealer. "I take one," she said and lifted the corner of the card Selan dealt her.

    Myn's father looked at Kolot, but the Ewok shook his head. Then he went on staring at Kirney who stared back with an expressionless mask on her face. Myn watched both closely, certain that none of them would let anything slip. It was quite a show, he had to admit.

    Kolot took three stacks of chips and pushed them forward. "Raise thirty thousand."

    Three sets of eyebrows ascended, then three faces turned to watch Kirney's reaction. The redhead remained stoically calm and tossed more chips onto the pile in the center. "I see your thirty and raise by twenty thousand."

    Kolot was staring at her for a few seconds … and then he pushed his entire reserve of chips, a third of a million in toy credits, to the center.

    Kirney hesitated and lifted the corners of her three cards, pondered her options and finally pushed the cards away. "I'm out."

    "And with that," Selan announced in his function as card dealer, "the winner for tonight is Kolot. Tonin, log that."

    The Ewok gave them a toothy grin and made the Victory sign with his right paw.

    "Don't let it get to your head, furball," Kirney mock threatened and flexed her shoulders to ease the tension a bit. "Bet you must have had an Idiot's Array."

    "Not quite." Kolot's grin turned sly and he flipped his cards. He'd held a worthless hand, the Three of Flasks, the Five of Sabers and the Four of Staves … not even close to the winning 23, positive or negative.

    Kirney's jaw dropped while the others burst out laughing. "You were bluffing?"

    "Yub-yub," he chuckled and gave a shrug. "Worked, didn't it?"

    "And a lot better than for someone else we know," Selan quipped and elbowed his son lightly.

    Myn flashed him a rude gesture. "Just because you managed to call my bluff for once …"

    "Even I saw you were bluffing," Jaleela interjected with a stern glare at her son. "What happened to the cadet with the best Sabacc face of the millennium?"

    "Yeah," Kirney agreed. "You're usually a lot better than tonight. Distracted?"

    Myn rolled his eyes. The truth was that his mind hadn't been on the game and he also knew that he would not keep to himself what was bothering him. "A bit," he admitted aloud and frowned. "I'm worried about Jar."

    "Ah." Selan arched an eyebrow. "Still the same or is there something new?"

    His son took a handful of warra nuts from a bowl nearby and chewed quietly for a moment. "Something new," he finally conceded. "When I was picking up the beverages we'd ordered from Larkin's the checkout developed a glitch and a small queue formed. Just ahead of me was Vastus Moore, a starship tech foreman at Central. We started chatting about this and that while they were trying to fix the checkout and somehow we ended up talking about Jar. When I told him about the hyperdrive thing he was astonished that Jar has been able to afford it."

    Jaleela shot him a curious look while reaching for the warra nut bowl herself. "How so?"

    "Well, according to Moore our friend hasn't just had 'an incredible stretch of bad luck' … It's looking as if Jar has been skirting the edge of bankruptcy for months now."

    Kirney's eyes widened. "Is he sure?"

    Myn nodded gravely. "Spaceport Maintenance has received specific instructions not to accept any checks or allow pay on account from Jar. Any work carried out on his ship has to be paid in cash." He paused. "In advance."

    That elicited a low whistle from his mother. "That sounds really serious."

    "Believe me, it is. But the best is yet to come." Myn shook his head. "Moore's sister-in-law is working for a bank in downtown Coronet City. According to her Jar is one big red financial warning light for all the banks on Corellia. He couldn't take out another loan as none of the banks would give him as much as a decicred."

    Selan's brow creased in confusion. "So how did he pay for that hyperdrive?"

    "That's the trillion credit question. I've been racking my brain ever since that conversation, but I can't fathom where Jar could have gotten the money from." Myn buried his face in his hands and groaned. "I've got the terrible feeling that Jar has done something really, really stupid."

    "Like what?" Jaleela asked with a skeptical expression on her face. "I mean it's worrying that your friend has financial troubles but why are you so concerned that he's done something stupid?"

    "Two reasons," her daughter-in-law responded with a touch of resignation in her voice. "For starters Jarrath has the unfortunate habit of listening too much to that damned ego of his and not enough to his common sense. He's a proud, obstinate and never-say-die type of Corellian who thinks he has to do things his way or not at all. That has gotten him into a number of scuffles over the years but he just won't learn from that."

    "And reason number two," Myn interjected, "is that he takes the old-fashioned values his parents drummed into him a bit too serious."

    Selan raised a dubious eyebrow. "In which regard?"

    "He just won't ask for or accept help when in trouble." Myn shook his head. "His parents taught him all those ultra-conservative values that go back to the first settlers. You know ... self-sufficiency, self-reliance, hanging on when times are getting tough ... Nothing wrong with that, but Jar took all of it too serious and turned it into a straitjacket that both locks him in a vicious circle and yet drives him forward."

    "Now doesn't that sound familiar?" Selan drawled sarcastically which earned him a slap against the back of his head from his wife and a dirty look from his son.

    "Yes, well ..." Myn gave his father another pointed look. "I know that sounds a lot like my problems back then. The difference is that Jar is the civilian version of it and that's worse."

    Kirney's puzzlement was evident as she frowned at him. "What's the difference and why is it worse?"

    Myn sank back and closed his eyes for a moment. "Because I had military discipline, military decorum and a chain of command that kept me from running away when it mattered." He rubbed his face wearily and gave another sigh. "When I landed on Mon Remonda after I'd shot at you Wedge used that decorum and his command authority to hold the mirror for me and then the ingrained military discipline to make me look into it. Jar has none of that ... and nobody whom he'd grant the authority to talk this frankly."

    "What about his father?" Jaleela asked, but her daughter-in-law shook her head.

    "Their relationship is rather distant. They didn't see eye to eye about Jarrath's choice of career."

    "So there is really nobody Jarrath accepts as authority?"

    "Give Kolot a blaster and Jarrath will listen," the Ewok, who had been silent so far, threw in with a patently false expression of diabolicalness. That drew chuckles.

    "As long as you remember that he may want to have children some day," Kirney shot back and grinned.

    That sent Selan into a fit of hysteric laughter, of course they knew that story, but the hilarity was cut short by the chime of the door annunciator. After a moment of surprise they moved to the front door to see who was ringing this late in the evening.

    As Myn opened the door they were greeted by the sight of a young blond woman in a light blue dress. Her beauty, however, was ruined by the streaks of eyeliner mixed with tears running down her cheeks, a split lip, a developing black eye and bruises all over her arms and on her right cheek.

    Kirney gasped. "Oh Sith, Denna! What happened?"

    "I need your help," Denna sobbed. "It's Jar ..."

    * * *
    * imagine "Imperial March" theme playing * :vader: [face_devil]
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  10. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Wow, Jarrath is in a big mess of a bind! [face_worried] His self-reliance and perhaps questionable business choices have led to a state of near bankruptcy and being a high-risk customer for any institution that could bail him out. And if he has a family to take care of, it compounds the hardships!
  11. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Jarrath's motivation will be viewed in a bit more detail later in the story, so I will not spill the beans here. Let me just say this:

    In the MedStar Duology the Corellian society (during the Clone Wars) is being described as utterly isolationist and xenophobic (but not speciecist, they dislike offworlders regardless of their species). For thousands of years Corellians only married among themselves, to dare marrying an offworlder meant exile and factually some kind of "Damnatio memoriae". That legacy, I think, still lives on the fringes of Corellian Society at the time this story is taking place. There are probably dozens if not hundreds of "ultra-conservative" groups propagating a "return to the old values" and the ideals of their forefathers. Jarrath's parents are members of one such group … as for the rest: [face_shhh][face_shhh][face_shhh]
  12. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    It's Monday again so it's time for the next part. Enjoy!

    * * *​

    "Sit still," Jaleela admonished as she was trying to put a bacta patch on Denna's split lip. The young woman fidgeted anyway. "I said keep still or this won't work."

    Myn appeared from the pantry and handed her a bag of ice. "Here, for your eye."

    Denna managed a grateful look but offered no verbal reply. Instead she put the ice on her left eye, which was beginning to swell and tilted her head slightly backwards. Jaleela went on cleaning cuts, applying bacta patches and synthflesh with the silent efficiency of the experienced ER nurse she'd been for so many years. Finally she rose from the crouch and closed the medikit case she'd put on the kitchen table.

    "I wish I could do more," she said apologetically as she stored the kit in a locker.

    "It's okay," Denna mumbled, the bacta patch on her lip clearly a bit of an impediment. "I'm sorry for foisting this on you …"

    Myn shook his head. "Stop apologizing. This is what friends are for."

    Kirney crouched down in front of her. "Denna," she said gently, "can you tell us what happened?"

    For a second or two tears welled up in her one good eye but she forced herself to calm down just as quickly. "I wanted to see Jar." Her head drooped and she stared at the floor. "I hadn't seen him for weeks."

    Kirney and Myn exchanged a puzzled look. "What do you mean? He's been back for a few days already."

    Denna's shoulders sagged, her whole demeanor exuding misery. "I didn't know. I found out only today."

    Myn gave her an incredulous stare. "You mean he didn't com you once he got back?"

    She shook her head and it was clear how unpleasant this was for her. "No, he didn't. We …" Denna hesitated. "We've had … issues … of late."

    Kirney looked at her with a knowing expression. "Meaning he's been stressed, acerbic, distant, evasive and rather short-tempered?"

    Denna looked up at her with surprise. "Yes," she confirmed. Then surprise gave way to embarrassment. "I thought he was seeing someone else. We argued … several times."

    "Denna," Kirney said clearly hesitant to broach the subject, "did Jarrath do that to you?"

    The look on the blond woman's face changed to pure horror. "No," she responded forcefully.

    Kirney closed her eyes for a second, relieved that her greatest worry had proven to be unfounded. "Then tell us what happened!"

    "When I heard that Jarrath's been back for days," Denna began and clearly made the effort to calm her rattled nerves, "I was furious. I tried to com his apartment but nobody answered. So I decided to wait until my shift was over and pay him a visit."

    Selan arched an eyebrow. "This late?"

    The young woman gave a self-deprecating shrug. "I figured if he didn't com me I had the right to barge in even at this inhuman time." She took a deep breath. "But when I arrived at the house where Jar has his apartment I knew something was off."

    "What do you mean?" Myn asked.

    "There was this huge black airspeeder with tinted windows." Her forehead creased into a puzzled frown. "It looked so … sinister, so out of place in this neighborhood. You know where Jar's apartment is. This one was way more expensive, too expensive for such a run-down district."

    "And then?" Kirney prompted gently.

    Denna took a deep breath to steel herself. "When I arrived at Jar's door I found it half-open. There were some weird noises and raised voices coming out of it … and when I pushed open the door …" Bursting into tears again she slumped in her chair.

    Kirney stroked her hand in an effort to comfort the distraught woman. "Shhh," she tried to calm her, hoping that she sounded more reassuring than she really felt. There was a hard cold knot growing in her guts, some kind of premonition of impending doom. "It's gonna be okay. Everything's gonna be okay." I hope.

    Denna continued to alternate between crying and sobbing for a few minutes but ultimately she managed to calm down enough to continue her tale, though still interrupted by sobs now and then. "When I got into the room … There were four men. They were wearing dark coats or cloaks, were tall and muscular. Two held Jarrath between them and a third was just landing a punch in Jar's gut. And the fourth stood there, arms crossed in front of his chest and said 'I believe I've asked you a question.'"

    The Donos family exchanged alarmed glances and Selan let out a startled "Sithspit!"

    Kirney's face was now showing her own distress. "What happened then?"

    "When I saw Jar's face, the blood, the bruises … I shrieked." Her right hand moved to her left arm, just where the bruises were most visible. "That's when they noticed me. The fourth man grabbed me and asked if I was Jar's … girlfriend." The momentary pause made it clear that a much less flattering term had been used.

    Myn's face darkened. "Did this guy hurt you?"

    Denna nodded, a new round of tears springing from her eyes. "I was so horrified. I demanded to be let go, that they let Jarrath go. But they just laughed." She took a shuddering breath. "Then the fourth man backhanded me against a locker, picked me up again and shoved me hard against a wall. While the three others were dragging Jarrath out of the apartment he said 'Not a word to security or you'll never see him again.'" At that point Denna broke down crying again.

    "Okay, enough," Jaleela decreed and handed her a pack of tissues. "We need to call PSS and …"

    "No!" Denna shrieked in a fit of panic. Casting pleading looks at the people around her she said, "No Security! Otherwise Jar is dead!"

    Myn rose from his crouch and looked at his mother. "I'm afraid I agree. We can't risk it. And I wouldn't trust PSS, anyway."

    He tapped Kirney on the shoulder and motioned his father to come along. The three of them withdrew a few meters, out of Denna's immediate earshot, and watched for a moment as Jaleela tried to console the younger woman. "What are we going to do?" he began and finally let the worry he felt for his friend surface on his face. "Even though I'd rather leave PSS out of this I'm not sure we can handle something like this, either."

    His father looked pensive for a moment. "Every operation starts with adequate reconnaissance." He raised an eyebrow at Myn and Kirney. "I suppose it's not too far fetched to assume that this may be connected to … What did you call it? … the hyperdrive thing, is it?"

    Kirney nodded. Her eyes flickered in the way both men had learned to associate with heavy thinking on her part. "That's a likely candidate. But I wouldn't want to assume too much, yet."

    "So what's the plan?" Selan inquired.

    "I don't like it very much, but I think we should go and take a look at Jarrath's communication logs and his computer files," Kirney responded unhappily. "We need tangible leads, facts, evidence … Without that we can't do a thing."

    "Which means you need to get to your friend's apartment, slice into his computer system … and all of that with Denna present," Selan remarked quietly with a sideway glance at the blond woman sitting in the kitchen.

    Myn's forehead creased in confusion. "Why that?"

    His father fixed him with a look of strained patience. "Because she can let you into your friend's apartment as she has an access card, without her you'd be committing at least unlawful entry if not burglary."

    "Point taken."

    Selan turned to Kirney again. "How much do you want to tell her about your other skills?"

    "As little as possible," Myn threw in. "She knows about my past and thinks you've got military training as well. I'd rather not drop too many hints about the Intelligence angle, though."

    "Which is why I'll let Tonin do the slicing," Kirney agreed. "Astromechs are known to be capable of slicing into lightly protected systems and knowing Jar I doubt he's got the kind of computer security that could keep an R2 out."

    "Good idea," her father-in-law agreed.

    Myn gave a nod. "And prepare the guest room for Denna. Whatever these guys want from Jar they now know he's got somebody he cares about. If he doesn't or can't give them what they want they may want to use her as additional leverage. I'd feel a lot better if she stayed with us until this is over."

    Kirney tapped her chin with a thoughtful expression on her face. "And tomorrow she should call her boss and take a few days off. Because of an accident. Then nobody will start wondering about the source of her injuries."

    "Good." Selan seemed satisfied with the solution. "We'll prepare the guest room and I'll stay awake in case somebody followed here here."

    "And …" Kirney gave her father-in-law an intensive look, "in case we're not back in three hours you'll contact Rostek Horn and let him know what's happened. Just in case." Not waiting for an answer she turned away and went back to the kitchen to tell Denna what had been decided.

    * * *​
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    [face_relieved] I am so relieved that Jarrath didn't injure Denna even in just a fit of stressing out and lashing out physically. The plan of action they have sounds a very sensible one with backup plans in place. Whomever Jarrath has ticked off is no one to play with, looks like, hardened criminal types who have nothing to lose. [face_worried]
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2018
  14. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    It was theoretically possible, wasn't it? But that wouldn't have fit where this story is going to. ;)

    You will get a small hint today. [face_devil]

    * * *​

    The trip in their airspeeder to the district where Jarrath had his apartment was markedly tense. Denna sat in the back, her frame rigid from shock and fear, her demeanor absent-minded, her eyes focused on the back of the co-driver's seat but obviously not seeing. She seemed to be caught in a nightmare of her own making, tormented by the demons roused by her own fears and worries, her imagination drawing up the scariest scenarios it could possibly conceive.
    Kirney, sitting in the back beside her, wasn't off that well, either. She was torn between two conflicting instincts: A part of her, the part that had been shaped by Imperial Intelligence and New Republic military training, wanted to focus on the task at hand, to contemplate possible situations and draw up appropriate responses. This part demanded focus, concentration and emotional detachment. It was also the part that made her fiddle with the blaster pistol in her thigh holster. It was, however constrained by something else, an urge to console and comfort, to reassure and to offer emotional support to the distraught woman sitting next to her. As she would later confide in Jaleela the strength of it and how utterly natural it felt surprised her greatly, especially given the near total emotional detachment she'd practiced after her parents' death and the resulting lack of experience in this area. In the same private conversation she would say with a note of dry amusement that it had felt almost maternal.
    By trying to accommodate both instincts, however, Kirney failed to get anything done. She neither managed to switch to the 'mission mindset' and concentrate nor did she manage to snap Denna out of the shock that held her in its nefarious clutches. That frustrated her and put her on the edge even more, adding to the already palpable tension in the air.

    Myn, behind the controls of the speeder, had defaulted to his fighter pilot's instincts. His maneuvers were crisp and clear as if he was piloting a snubfighter through a dogfight and he kept his head on a swivel, making sure that no sector was left without a visual check for more than ten seconds. He flew defensively, remained within the speed limits and always kept one eye on the rear mirrors to check for possible pursuit.

    They parked the speeder two side roads from Jarrath's apartment and manhandled Tonin out of the cargo compartment, thankfully without the astromech's usual protestations and admonishments. Apparently the R2 unit had detected the state of mind of his master and mistress and had decided not to make a scene.
    They entered the housing block and rode up to the third floor in the turbolift without meeting another inhabitant of the run-down edifice. As they approached the door to their friend's apartment Myn drew his blaster and motioned the others to stay back.

    "Give me the keycard," he said quietly and held out a hand to Denna who placed the desired item in it without a protest.

    He slid the keycard through the lock and the door clicked open. With the blaster ready to fire he shouldered it open and checked the room. When he came up empty he holstered the weapon and motioned the others to come in. "Clear. Hurry."

    Kirney moved to the desk with the communications console along the northern wall of the apartment and flipped a few switches. The ancient holoprojector whirred to life coughing, sputtering and creaking … until a solid hum filled the room. "Come on, Tonin. Your turn," she said to the astromech and pointed at the computer jack.

    The R2 unit rolled forward, extended his connector arm and began slicing into the system. He remained silent for a few seconds, then turned his domed top and focused his optical sensor on his mistress.

    "He says it's a standard commercial security setup," Kirney translated Tonin's bleeps, hoots and whistles. "This shouldn't take long."

    "Good." Myn turned to look at Denna's reaction but she was staring at something on the floor on the other side of the couch. She was shaking slightly and there was a pinched look on her face as if she wanted to avert her eyes but couldn't. And then he saw it … It was a small puddle of dried blood on the ground, Jarrath's blood … Oh Sithspit!

    He moved quickly, grabbed her shoulders and turned her away. She let it happen, almost like a puppet, and stared at him with hollow eyes. "Denna, snap out of it," he said and clicked his fingers before her eyes. That had no effect. "Hey! Denna, listen to me!"

    Instead her head turned back towards the bloodstains on the floor.

    Myn took hold of her chin and gently forced her to look at him. "Denna. Don't look at that. Concentrate on my voice. Look at me!" He waited for a moment and when he saw her eyes clearing and focusing he nodded. "Yes, just look at me. Do you want to lie down in the bedroom for a moment?"

    She nodded, probably understanding only a part of what he'd said.

    "Come on then." He took hold of her shoulders and guided her to the bedroom door, carefully interposing his own body between her and the stain to prevent her from looking at it again.

    When he returned Kirney shot him a concerned look. "What's up with her?"

    Myn ran a hand through his hair. "If I had to wager a guess I'd say the shock has gotten to her. I'm afraid she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown." He let out a sigh of vexation. "Sithspit, what were we thinking? We shouldn't have brought her here! She can't cope with it."

    Kirney nodded unhappily. "I guess we were too focused on Jar to really think this through," she admitted. "Do you think your Mom has some sedative in her medicine cabinet in case we need to knock her out?"

    He frowned. "No idea." Then he shook his head. "I guess not. Maybe something to help her sleep, but no outright sedative. Corellian law is quite strict on such stuff."

    Tonin let out a soft warble and the holographic display changed.

    "He's in," she said and sat down in the chair. "Load the com log, Tonin. Go back five weeks."

    Myn moved until he stood behind her and peered over her shoulder. "Bills, reminders, more bills, final payment summons … What a depressing collection," he commented wearily.

    "Yes, it's anything but cheerful. Hey, what's this?" Her fingers danced over the keyboard and one message, unusual due to its rather large file size, was highlighted. Kirney hit enter and the entry opened.

    Myn narrowed his eyes as he read aloud. "As discussed see finalized agreement attached to this message. Sign and return. What the kriff?"

    Kirney opened the attached file and stared at it in stupefaction. "It's a credit agreement. Twenty-five thousand credits."

    Myn let out a derisive snort. "Reads more like a slave contract. Look at the interest rate."

    His wife gasped. "Thirteen percent? That's extortion!"

    "Of course it is," he agreed. "Scroll down a bit. I'm curious who granted the money. I bet it's a less than trustworthy source."

    Kirney did as he asked. When the details of the creditor appeared she gave Myn a puzzled stare. "Vhinntar Shipping? Why would they … ?"

    Again he let out a derisive snort. "With a profit margin like this?" Something began to tickle in the back of his head and he felt his neck hairs rise. For a moment he couldn't codify the growing knot of premonition … until he remembered what he'd seen on Behareh that day.

    Kirney had noticed the abrupt change in his facial expression. "What is it?"

    "Just remembered something." He quickly recounted what he'd seen upon his return to Corellia. "I found it odd that Vhinntar had bought out Solant Transports. I still do. I mean I don't know much about Vhinntar as a company, haven't heard much about it, but all of a sudden they started this insane shopping spree and began buying up rivals left and right. And now this. Where do they get the money from?"

    "Maybe they won the lottery," she suggested sarcastically. "Tonin, is there any further message from that sender?"

    The R2 unit's hoot was a musical cascade ranging from high to low. No further message had been received from that specific address.

    "Okay." Kirney scratched a spot on her forehead, her eyes flickering again. "Can you extract the com node from this message? If so cross-check whether Jarrath has received other messages from the same com node range."

    The droid chirped an affirmation and set to work.

    "You got a suspicion?" Myn asked.

    She shook her head. "Not really. Apart from this contract we have virtually nothing. On the other hand ..." Her voice trailed off.

    "On the other hand the goons Denna described would certainly fit the stereotype of the heavy-handed tactics of a credit shark," he finished her sentence, but his face showed his doubts. "But a shipping company?"

    Kirney nodded. "Yeah, it sounds pretty daft. On the other hand what do we know about Vhinntar Shipping? Virtually nothing. It's something to look into." She shot a glance at her wrist chrono. "We shouldn't stay here too long. Wouldn't want to make the neighbors suspicious and certainly I wouldn't want to get caught by security. Tonin, cancel the search. Copy all messages, including the archived ones, to your memory banks and then log out. We'll do this at home."

    The astromech let out a warble of compliance, then chirped a cascade of sounds that was too complex for the two humans to understand. Thankfully the droid projected a translation as a popup window into the holographic display.

    "Good question, Tonin," Myn replied and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Denna is pretty much out of it. I really hope she doesn't get a nervous breakdown."

    Kirney snatched her comlink out of a pocket. "Go get her. I'll call ahead and let your Mom know that she will need something that helps her sleep."

    The trip home was just as tense as the outward trip had been, except that Denna had succumbed to a fitful sleep. The two remaining occupants of the airspeeder kept a close watch on their surroundings and even Tonin seemed to have extended his sensor equipment and scanned for pursuers, but they reached their home without having picked up such unwanted company.

    * * *​
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Excellently detailed quandry and very understandable and realistic for Kirney to be caught between needing to focus on the mission versus wanting to provide comfort; it is believable that she would be unable to do either completely, but of course this doesn't make her feel any better about coming up with a sound strategy on the one hand and giving Denna the support she desperately needs.

    Great clue(s). The shipping company is very suspicious; it's probably a cover for a not so legitimate "business" venture considering they suddenly have a large amount of capital to buy out their rivals and extort contracts at horrifically high interest rates.

  16. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Things won't necessarily become clearer with today's post. :cool: [face_whistling]

    * * *​

    The next morning saw the Donos family sit wearily at the breakfast table in their kitchen. Of course they'd given a short summary of what they'd found last night, but it had been too late and they'd been too tired to debate the issue and so they had agreed to retire for the night.

    Myn yawned before taking another sip of his caf. "How's our guest?" he asked his mother.

    "Still asleep," Jaleela returned but her face showed her worry. "I'm not sure how much that helps her at the moment. When I went to check up on her she was very restless." Heaving a tired sigh she rubbed her eyes. "I have no idea how long this can go on. If she really loses it ... I don't think we'll have much of a choice but to take her to a Medcenter. There they can give her the stuff that works, including a sedative if necessary."

    Selan let out a grunt. "But of course they'll be asking all kinds of awkward questions, questions we don't really want to answer, do we?"

    "No, not really, "Kirney agreed. "I hesitate to ask this, Jaleela, but can't you use your connections to ..."

    "... to get some sedative to keep under control if push came to shove?" the older woman finished sharply. "I could, but I won't. Sedating her would not solve the problem per se, in fact it could make it worse."

    Kirney flinched at her tone. "How much worse."

    "Much, much worse," was Jaleela's answer. "An untreated nervous breakdown may cause all kinds of psychological issues. I certainly won't stand by and not help her just because that would be better for us."

    "Okay, okay," Myn's father interjected gently, "no need to argue. We'll deal with the situation when and if it happens." Clutching the cup of caf in both hands he looked at his daughter-in-law. "I'm actually more interested in your findings."

    Kirney shrugged. "We found something, but I'm not sure what to make of it."

    "You mean that contract?"

    She nodded. "It would explain where Jar got the money for the hyperdrive, but it doesn't necessarily explain what happened to him yesterday."

    Jaleela looked at her curiously. "How so?"

    "Goons beating up a defaulter? That's stereotype credit shark tactics," Myn threw in with an undertone of derision. "However, I have serious problems with believing that a rival shipping company would resort to such tactics. That wouldn't make sense!"

    "Yeah, they would be more interested to see him actually pay those 13 percent interest on the loan," Selan remarked acidly. A sudden frown stole its way onto his face. "Unless ..." He trailed off.

    Myn nodded glumly. "Unless the money wasn't the issue and they were after something else."

    "It's certainly not his shuttle," Kirney said. "That thing's a wreck, it's in dire need of a major overhaul but I'm not sure that would still be worthwhile. It's so old it may actually be a write-off."

    Jaleela gulped down the remnants of her caf and poured herself another cup. "So what were they after if it wasn't money or his ship? His clients? Customers? Contacts?"

    Myn shrugged. "No idea. Jar has never been particularly forthcoming about his business practices." He looked at his wife. "What do you think?"

    Kirney yawned. "Sorry. No idea, really. I know Jar's been flying some routes to isolated outposts or mining installations most other transport companies wouldn't fly to. Too remote, too out of the way and not profitable enough, but I can't imagine this being of interest."

    "Maybe they were just interested in driving a competitor out of business," Jaleela suggested.

    "Perhaps." Selan looked at his family one by one. "But as I see it all we have at the moment is idle speculation, haven't we?"

    "Unless, of course, Tonin finds something," Myn remarked casually.

    "Sithspit," his wife groaned and pushed her chair back from the table. "I totally forgot about that. I'll go and get him. Maybe he's got something."

    As Kirney left the kitchen Jaleela looked at her son and raised an eyebrow. "What is that about?"

    Myn grimaced. "We didn't want to get caught by security or a gang so she told Tonin to make a copy of Jarrath's com log and all the messages so we could leave. Not to mention," he added glumly, "that Denna wasn't that well and we didn't want to risk her getting hysterical."

    "Yes, but ..." His father shook his head. "Copying someone else's com log? Isn't that a bit ... well ... drastic?"

    "It is," Kirney admitted as she returned through the door, her faithful Tonin trailing behind. "But given the circumstances I didn't see any other option." She dropped back onto her chair and rubbed her eyes. "But I'm not prepared to sit around and wait for Jarrath to turn up in a body bag."

    "And how will you explain that to him if you manage to get him out?"

    "Once we've gotten him out," Kirney corrected her father-in-law. "About the other thing ... He will never know."

    Selan's face showed his unease about the whole situation. "But is that wise? I mean, to keep such a secret from him ..."

    "We're already keeping a secret from him," Myn remarked calmly but gave his father a direct stare. "Some things are better off not known."

    The unease in Selan's face remained but he relented. "Yeah, okay."

    "Good." Kirney patted her astromech's domed roof. "Have you found something?"

    Tonin warbled an affirmation, followed by a long and confusing cascade of hoots, warbles, tweets and chirps. His mistress leaned closer to read the translation running across the small screen.

    "What's he saying?" Jaleela asked but Kirney held up a hand and continued to read the scrolling text.

    "He said the com log and the archive didn't contain anything related to the message with the credit agreement," she summarized for her family. "But he's managed to reconstruct two messages Jarrath had deleted. He wants to show them to us."

    The R2 unit twisted around on his wheels, his projector lens focusing on the empty spot between the conservator and the kitchen table and power up his projector.
    The holo that appeared showed the simple user interface of a standard multitype messenger system that Jarrath used for his personal mailbox. One of two entries was highlighted, then the screen morphed into the message Tonin had selected.

    Demand of Repayment

    On behalf of Vhinntar Shipping LLC I hereby notify you of my client's demand of repayment of the 25,000 Credits that have been granted to you, Mr. Jarrath Lund, as part of the Credit Agreement 0009873782 due to the contract being void on behalf of your party's knowing deceit and fraudulent concealment of your true financial situation. You are hereby called upon to transfer the loaned sum back to my client's bank account by the seventh day after receiving this letter of notification at the latest. Should you refuse to comply with this demand my client has reserved himself the right to appeal to court.

    Yenved Saris

    Myn stared at the letters hovering in the air above the ground and was left speechless. Had Jarrath really tried to gain a loan by fraud? And if he had what the hell had he been thinking?

    "Oh Jar," Kirney breathed and her worry for her friend was etched on her face. "What have you gotten yourself into?"

    Myn's father shook his head in disbelief. "Would your friend really do something like this?"

    His son buried his face in his hands and groaned. "I don't know. Jar must have been very desperate in any way. Maybe ..."

    Tonin let out a subdued hoot.

    Kirney arched an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean by 'You won't like the next one any better'?"

    The astromech hooted again, a long drawn-out hoot that sounded like an approximation of a long human sigh. The holographic scene changed, the curt letter disappeared and in its stead the face of a harsh-looking man appeared.

    "Mr. Lund," the stranger began and Myn felt as if someone had just crawled over his grave. "You have been given the chance to settle this dispute peacefully and without involving the authorities. You have rejected this offer in the most impertinent way I have ever seen." The man's holo leaned forward, his face hardened even further. "You have until tomorrow 1800 hours sharp to settle this, or we will have to resort to different methods. This is your last warning. Heed it!"

    Tonin froze the recording and gave a subdued hoot.

    Kirney patted his domed roof. "Thanks, buddy. You've ..."

    "That's him," a new voice exclaimed. "That's the man who hit me!"

    "Denna!" Myn got up and moved to the side of the young woman who was standing on the threshold to the kitchen, her right arm outstretched to point at the holo still hovering in mid-air, her eyes wide from surprise and fear and her expression a bit moony. "Come, sit down," he said gently and guided her to the table where his father had already pulled out one of the chairs for her.

    "How are you, my dear?" Jaleela asked in what she hoped a soothing and motherly tone, but it seemed to bounce off the younger woman.

    Denna tore her eyes off the frozen recording - which disappeared when Kirney quietly tapped Tonin's top and the droid got the silent hint - and forced a weak smile. "I ... don't know," she admitted hesitantly and pushed her hand through her messed-up hair. "Not too well, I'm afraid."

    An uncomfortable silence followed, even the advancing sweep hand of the old mechanical clock on the wall seemed to mute its Click noise in anticipation. Finally Kirney's sense of realism pushed her to ask the question that was on everyone's mind but nobody wanted to ask. "Denna, you said this was the guy who hit you?"

    The blond woman didn't answer verbally, she merely gave a dejected nod.

    Exchanging a glance with her husband, and receiving a grimace in return, Kirney went on. "Are you absolutely sure that this is the one?"

    Denna exhaled slowly and visibly pulled herself together. "Yes, absolutely sure," she mumbled before burying her face in her hands. "I keep replaying the scene in my head again and again ... That's not a face I'll forget anytime soon." Her hands dropped back to the table. "Who is he? What's his name?"

    Myn shrugged. "We don't know. He didn't introduce himself."

    "So why did he do this?" When Myn and Kirney exchanged a look she asked, "What?"

    "Denna," Myn began and it was obvious he was wrestling with how to formulate what he was trying to say, "How much do you know about Jarrath's business?"

    Darting suspicious looks at the members of the Donos family Denna inquired, "I am not going to like where this is going, am I?"

    Selan shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

    Heaving a sigh the younger woman seemed to slump in her chair. "Tell me," she muttered. "I want to know."

    "Denna, did you know that Jar has been fighting against bankruptcy for a few months already?" Kirney asked quietly.

    "What?" Denna's head jerked upwards. "I had no idea ..."

    "Neither did we, until a few days ago," Myn admitted quietly. "But apparently he's maxed out his credit with any bank a while ago. So ..."

    "So what?"

    He grimaced. "His hyperdrive failed a few weeks ago and he had no money to get a new one. No bank would give him any further credit and so he went to a less respectable source."

    Again Jar's girlfriend buried her face in her hands and groaned, "Sithspit! I knew something was off. He was so ... so ... Oh, I don't know. Unlike himself." Her head jerked up. "Can you help him?"

    Myn looked decidedly uncomfortable. "We'd have to find him first."

    "But you have a lead," Denna said, her face full of suprise and dread.

    "Maybe." Kirney leaned forward with sympathy etched on her features. "But as far as leads go this is thinner than a Loveti Moth fibre. We can connect the creditor with the thugs who beat Jar and hurt you, but we still don't know where Jar is."

    Denna slumped in her chair. "He's lost then," she whispered and tears began to trickle down her cheek.

    "No," Myn responded forcefully. "Don't give up hope. We said we don't know where he is, we never said we wouldn't even try." He exchanged a look with his wife and received a nod in return. "We'll try to find him. And if we do, we'll get him out."

    "And how?"

    Kirney opened her mouth, but Tonin let out a warble followed by a cacophony of droidish noises that were impossible for them to translate. His mistress leaned closer and watched the translation scroll across the small screen. "He said we should look up more information on the creditor first. We know too little about them at this point," she read out aloud, secretly relieved that the astromech had spared her the task of mapping out their next steps. That might have roused some decidedly awkward questions. "And he says we shouldn't do this from here."

    Denna blinked. "Why?"

    "Because," Myn's father responded as understanding dawned on his face, "people resorting to such methods may be monitoring if someone is requesting information on them. We don't want to lead them here."

    "Oh. And then?"

    "One step after the other," Kirney answered gently. "I know time's not on our side but without some more information we won't get anywhere."

    "Can I help?" Denna asked pleadingly.

    Myn shook his head. "You stay here. Tonin, Kirney and I will do this."

    "But I ..."

    "Denna," Kirney interjected gently. "I know you don't want to sit around, but you're in no shape to do anything. This is a job suited for a small team. Tonin will access the computer network from public terminals, I'll watch over him and Myn will be our backup."

    "In case they do monitor information requests and decide they don't like the attention," Myn added quietly. "Come on," he said as he rose from his chair and pulled his wife up as well, "gotta change into something more appropriate. We've got no time to waste."

    Denna heaved another heavy sigh, her gaze dropping to the intricate texture of the table's wooden grain.

    * * *​
  17. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Aww, so they do have a solid lead and definite starting point in uncovering who the client of this sleazy attorney is and what they're really after. Points were well taken that if they were after the money /repayment only the company would've tried less harsh means first. [face_thinking]
    -thor- likes this.
  18. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    *chuckles* Maybe, Maybe not. [face_whistling]
  19. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    And now, without further ado, on to the next part. Let's see what the "Dynamic Trio" manage to uncover. ;)

    * * *​

    Throughout the day the two humans and their droid sidekick moved through the capital city from one public information terminal to the other, never staying longer than ten minutes, always requesting but one kind of information per terminal access, always paying in cash so that they wouldn't leave a money trail others could follow.

    Kirney had called this 'operating under maximum paranoia', the assumption that they were facing the most vigilant, sophisticated and skilled of opponents which, in turn, obligated them to adhere to the strictest security measures they could think of. But even if they were overdoing their 'paranoia' a bit, which was likely as she quietly admitted to herself, she didn't think anything less would allay the unease she felt in her guts. This was different, this was their family ...

    As such it was mid-afternoon when the three of them returned from their information gathering marathon but despite the weariness they felt they immediately called for an immediate family debriefing in the living room.

    "Vhinntar Shipping," Kirney began, a datapad with the salient points of her presentation in hand while Tonin, who held the data they'd collected, was linked to the holoprojector there. The holo of a middle-aged man with brown hair and bland features appeared. "Founded eight years ago by Josar Vhinntar, a Sacorrian. For the first five years or so his business ran as pretty much all the small shuttle and transportation companies."

    Selan scratched his chin. "And then something happened."

    Kirney nodded. "The company began with a single ship, just as I began my shuttle business before Myn came home. But three years ago he suddenly expanded his fleet to three ships. At a time, if I might remind you, when the Imperial Forces of the reborn Emperor were wreaking havoc across the galaxy."

    Selan nodded darkly. "I remember. It was difficult to get any decent information on what was going on and then Teradoc attacked the planet."

    "It was a difficult time for all small transport companies, I barely managed to get by, mostly because I no longer had to pay the rent for my apartment after moving in here, and I know a lot of pilots who had to declare bankruptcy over this," Kirney added glumly.

    "Hmmm." Myn stared at the holo with a thoughtful expression on his face. "So that raises a flag, a small one but a flag nonetheless. At a time when the rest of the business is scraping the bottom of the barrel he's managed to extend his company. And I doubt it was due to clean living."

    "So how did he manage that?" Jaleela asked but her daughter-in-law merely shrugged.

    "We don't know. We'd need to sift through his financial records but getting them is damn near impossible and we're not that curious, anyway."


    "What I find interesting, however, is that this expansion didn't stop there." She nodded at Tonin and a series of news snippets replaced Vhinntar's holo. "Over the following year Vhinntar Shipping acquired a total of four small-sized shipping companies, totaling a value of roundabout one million credits."

    Denna arched an eyebrow. "Loan?"

    Kirney shrugged again. "We have no way to find out, but I somehow doubt it because of what happened next."

    Again the droid changed the holo and the news snippets were replaced by a news article describing the groundbreaking and dedication of Vhinntar Shipping's new corporate headquarters. Selan's eyebrows shot up and he let out a low whistle when he read the address. "A new building on Coronet Boulevard? Wow! This is beyond expensive."

    Myn snorted. "You bet. I've heard real estate along that road is so in demand that they have a ten-year-waitlist even for the high society."

    His father frowned. "I don't like the implications of this."

    "Neither do we," Kirney agreed. "As a result we've looked at further real estate owned by Vhinntar Shipping - which is surprisingly little. The company owns a stretch of tarmac in the south-eastern quadrant of Coronet Central Spaceport along with three hangars, the company HQ on Coronet Boulevard and a small storage facility in a run-down industrial park on the outskirts of Coronet City. Any other real estate that came with the company acquisitions was quickly sold."

    "Which is good," Myn said as he rose from his chair and gestured at the holographic display. "For us, I mean. If Vhinntar really has Jar in his clutches and he's taken him to a location owned by his company we have a pretty good idea where he could be."

    Denna perked up at his words, hope appearing on her weary face for the first time since her unexpected arrival. "You do?"

    Myn shrugged. "It's a guess, but one based on some leads and my tactical analysis. Tonin, show the holos of the Company HQ, please."

    The droid warbled an affirmation and the holo changed to a collection of shots of an angular office complex with a full transparisteel front and, as the shots revealed, lots of open space inside.

    "As you can see Vhinntar's HQ is a typical office complex with lots of transparisteel and little to no dividing walls. Unless they've built an extended basement there's no room for any dealings as shady as beating someone to a pulp. Given that there's a large speeder park for the employees behind the building I doubt there's a basement at all, not even an underground speeder park for the executive. Because that would have made the construction twice as expensive."

    "What about the hangars at the spaceport?" his father asked.

    "Unlikely, too." Myn shook his head. "They're in the security zone meaning you will get searched thoroughly before you can set foot in there. Besides the place is too public, even in the middle of the night, too many people around."

    Selan gave a nod. "I agree. So far Vhinntar has been trying to uphold the facade of a normal company with no questionable practices. If I were in his place I'd not risk that by dragging a badly beaten captive to a place this lively."

    "It wouldn't make sense," Kirney agreed, "but further incidents within the past six months make me wonder if that facade is really just masking his business practices."

    Denna arched an eyebrow. "How so?"

    Kirney patted Tonin's dome and the holo changed, again showing a selection of news snippets. "Because within the past six months this expansion has picked up steam so much that my gut tells me there's much more to this than meets the eye."

    Scanning the various news snippets Denna's brow wandered up towards the hairline. "Five company takeovers within six months? Wow."

    Kirney nodded. "That's what I thought, too. And this time the companies were larger and worth a lot more than before. Just the ships and the real estate he's acquired through this are worth more than 4 million credits. And that's a conservative estimation."

    Selan exhaled slowly, his expression thoughtful. "So unless he won the Corellian Lottery or the Coronet City Sabacc Bash the question is where he's gotten the money from."

    "And the other question," his son added, "is why is he acquiring companies at this rate. What's the purpose?"

    Kirney offered yet another shrug. "We don't know the answer to either question. But my instinct says there's something going on behind the scenes." Heaving a sigh she switched topics. "Anyway, we now have a name for that piece of Hutt slime who hits women. Bring it up, Tonin."

    The holo that appeared showed the man Denna had already identified as the leader of the group who'd beaten up Jar and who had injured her. It was an official portrait holo, the man was wearing a dark suit with shirt and blue tie, his face serious as he gazed at the camera.

    "This is Yagomir Dempsey, official head of company security of Vhinntar Shipping. Born on Centerpoint Station he later served a stint with Planetary Defense before switching to private security services." She smiled cynically. "That's what the company holosite says."

    "Meaning the remaining ninety percent of his story, the stuff that would be of interest to us, aren't mentioned," Jaleela scoffed.

    "Yeah." Myn rubbed his face wearily. "We now have an official connection between Jar's disappearance and Vhinntar Shipping. Nothing that would do much good in court, but enough for me to take a closer look at the remaining real estate." He nodded at the astromech. "Tonin, bring up the orbital view of the storage facility."

    The satellite view of the area in question showed a medium-sized and roughly rectangular area nestled between an L-shaped densely wooded hill on two sides and what looked like a ruined factory building on the other side. Only the shortest side of the fenced-in facility had a road access.

    "Looks cozy," his father remarked and gestured at the holo. "This hill is providing visual cover from two sides, the factory building from the other side. The many trees along the perimeter and rows of containers add to this privacy. Looks like the perfect spot hide things you don't want other people to see."

    His son nodded. "Exactly. The only thing we know about this location is that Vhinntar's company has been founded here, at least that's the story the company holosite tells. Other than that we know nothing."

    Selan arched an eyebrow. "Nothing?"

    "Nothing," his son responded.

    "And still you two want to go there and look for your friend tonight?"

    "No, not tonight," Myn answered and shook his head. That earned him a questioning look from his wife. "Sorry, love, but I'm not prepared to charge into a place we know nothing about without even the slightest amount of reconnaissance. Besides ..." He stretched and allowed himself the yawn he'd been suppressing for quite some time already. "Besides we're both tired from bouncing across Coronet City. If we went in there tonight we'd struggle not to fall asleep."

    "What about Jar?" Denna asked, her face tight as she struggled not to burst into tears again.

    Myn went into a crouch in front of her and took her hand. "I know you're worried about Jar. I'm worried about him, too. But this is my family, Denna. I couldn't look into the mirror ever again if something happened to Kirney just because we were too impatient. We need to scout out the place a bit better, we need to know what will await us."

    "Let me guess," Selan threw in mockingly, "Despite being ready to drop from tiredness you're going to put yourself on that wooded hill tonight and watch the proceedings down in the facility."

    "No," his son disagreed and rose from the crouch. "You still have that holocam and the small tripod, haven't you?" When his father nodded he smiled. "We put this on the hill and leave it there until tomorrow."

    "Good idea." Kirney joined them and snuck an arm around her husband's waist, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. "I can modify a comlink to transmit on Tonin's specific frequency and if we add a bit of encryption to the data stream we're going to have a nice and relatively secure live feed. Tonin can monitor what's going on there and can give us a summary in the morning." She shot the droid a wicked smile. "You up for twenty-four hours of surveillance, Squirt?"

    Tonin moaned, then chirped a resigned affirmation.

    * * *
  20. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic clues appearing! And smart strategy for collecting the info. Don't leave a cyber or money trail.

    What is all this rushed expensive company acquiring about? [face_thinking]
    I agree that spying remotely on the storage facility is better while everyone rests up. Then they'll have more useful data plus being rested.
  21. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    It'll become somewhat clearer in the two last parts before the Epilogue. :cool:
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  22. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Here's the next part ... Enjoy.

    * * *

    The next morning saw Myn waking up to the sound of retching and after a few disoriented seconds between sleep and wakefulness he realized it came from the refresher. He blinked into the darkness, but the blinds were drawn and so he couldn't make out much more than what was illuminated by the chrono on his nightstand.

    The retching ended, there was a flush of water and the door to the refresher cell opened revealing his wife's outline before she snapped off the light.

    "Are you okay?" he asked, his voice hoarse from sleeping with his mouth open.

    Kirney jumped. "Oh, sorry Myn. I didn't want to wake you."

    As she slid back into the bed Myn pulled her close and let her rest her head on his shoulder. "You okay?" he repeated his question.

    Long ago they'd made a pact never to keep things from the other, unless it pertained to lifeday presents or planned surprises, and Kirney sighed. "I've had a bad dream," she admitted quietly.

    His eyes widened, even though she wouldn't be able to see it in the darkness. "Enough to make you sick?"

    His wife sighed again. "Yeah. It sounds stupid, I know, but ..."

    "It doesn't," he assured her and kissed the top of her head. "What were you dreaming about?"

    "It was pretty bewildering, confusing. But it was mostly about ... " Her voice trailed off.

    "About what we're going to do," he guessed shrewdly and felt her tense.

    Kirney exhaled slowly, the tension seeping from her body. "Yeah. Ever since we found out what happened to Jar I've been ... Oh, I don't know. Worried? Stressed out? Or is it terrified? I can't decide."

    Myn was torn between the instinct to console and the pledge to be honest. Honesty won. "Can't say I'm not wondering if we're getting ourselves into something way too big for us." He wriggled his body to get a more comfortable position. "I mean we were professionals, we've done this before in circumstances far worse. But ...

    "But back then we had a full squad, we had access to Intelligence resources and we had backup," Kirney finished the thought. "And right now we only have ourselves."

    "Yeah," he agreed softly and placed another kiss on her hair. "I'll be honest, love. If we'd still have the old CorSec I'd have pressured Denna to go there. They still had a code of honor, a codex they followed. I'd have trusted them to get Jar out of there alive. But PSS? I suspect they'd be happy to sacrifice him if they can take out a criminal organization, if they they were to do anything at all."

    She nodded, he felt it rather than saw it. "I understand. So what can we do?"

    "Be professionals," he answered simply. "Plan meticulously, triple check everything and pray we're not running into something we can't deal with."

    That drew a snort. "Sounds like a good motto for Wraith Squadron."

    "Nah," he disagreed with a small smile. "That slot is taken, remember?"

    "Oh, right." Kirney chuckled and then cast a glance at the chrono on the nightstand. It was five minutes to four o'clock in the morning. "Come on, husband mine," she joked and then yawned. "Let's be professional and sleep a few more hours. The day is going to be long enough."

    He briefly tightened his hold on her. "G'night," he mumbled and closed his eyes.

    The professionalism they'd talked about dominated most of their activities over the day. It provided a soothing balm for their personal worries and fears - it kept them busy, for which both were grateful.

    "A busy mind," Kirney had said, "doesn't have time to worry."

    The overwhelming amount of Imperial military gear that the Fair Trade had contained upon her arrival on Corellia had been sold to provide Kirney the seed capital she'd needed for her shuttle business. A small part of it, however, had been retained and put into storage for emergencies, for situations like the current one.

    Myn's part in the preparations brought him back to his roots as infantryman and sniper. He picked the two BlasTech E-11 blaster rifles and two of the compact SoroSuub Q-2s5 Scout Trooper Blaster pistols from the duraplast box and withdrew into his father's workshop. First he disassembled the blaster pistols, noting with a frown the lack of an ordinary trigger mechanism, cleaned their parts, exchanged the old Tibanna gas container and reassembled them. Then he did the same with the E-11 rifles, but the more he worked on those two the less satisfied he was with their makeup. Especially the ergonomics left much to be desired in his opinion, the rattly folding stock and the lack of a solid handhold in the front rousing his dissatisfaction in particular. Not to mention that neither himself nor Kirney had the height of an average Stormtrooper so that neither weapon would be perfectly adapted to its user's body dimensions without some serious modifications. Unwilling to accept such compromises he took their airspeeder to a local arms dealer and bought conversion kits that were popular with other users of these weapon types.

    After returning home he first disassembled the blaster pistols again, removed the notoriously fiddly pressure sensor mechanism and installed the more useful ordinary trigger mechanisms he'd bought. Once satisfied he took the E-11 blaster rifles, detached the folding stock and removed the clumsy scope whose many functions were useless without a Stormtrooper helmet, added modern Patagar equipment rails underneath the barrel's heat shield and a modern holographic aimpoint sight, a much simpler but more useful aiming device for their needs, before turning to the main part of the conversion kit: length- and height-adjustable buttstocks made of a sturdy but light plasteel. It didn't take him long to install the various components for his training as a sniper of the Corellian Planetary Defense Forces had contained extensive theoretical and practical education on maintaining, repairing and especially adapting all kinds of firearms to his personal needs and preferences. Once the parts had been assembled and attached to the rifle itself he added the last two pieces he'd bought: a frontgrip for increased stability and precision and a tactical sling very popular with CPD's Special Forces which allowed the user to wear the weapon either in front of his stomach, at his side or on his back without the need to adjust the sling's position over his shoulder. One of the rifles he immediately adapted to his own body dimensions, the other to those of his wife.
    His next and last trip for this day took him to a local shooting range which he knew had the equipment to accurately sight weapons. He spent two hours adjusting and adapting the new aimpoint sights to the two rifles, checked and finetuned the trigger settings and fired over three hundred rounds at the targets before finally being satisfied with the average precision of the rifles and pistols, trying out every firing mode including - and especially - the stun settings.
    Back home again he spent the rest of the afternoon overpainting the screaming white plastoid parts of two Stormtrooper tool belts with a black color he'd found in his father's workshop before joining Tonin as the droid kept watch of the storage facility and the proceedings there.

    Kirney also returned to a part of her Intelligence training by taking several military comlinks from the box. Such devices were not sold on the civilian market and being caught using one could rouse some very inconvenient questions, but they were much more secure than civilian models due to their in-built real-time encryption module and a lot more practical due to their earpiece, microfilament microphone which could be tacked to the user's cheek and the tongue switch which allowed the user to keep his hands free for other tasks. First she enlisted her father-in-law for testing the comlinks, then she retreated to her office and began adjusting the devices to their needs. First she downscaled the transmission power settings so that their signal wouldn't be picked up beyond two klicks, just in case PSS was scanning for unusual comlink transmissions. In a second step she adjusted all four comlinks to a very out-of-the-way and unusual frequency at the edge of the devices' capability range so that they wouldn't inadvertently overlay other comlinks in the area. As the third and final measure she introduced a number of presets for encryption, codes she'd based on the old Starfighter Command code sequences Tonin still carried in his memory banks before adding the same modifications to Tonin's built-in comlink system.

    After another round of tests Kirney took a hitherto unused datapad out of its packaging, spent an hour disassembling it and removing any kind of serial number from its components and the case before reassembling it and adding a number of programs she'd written for the Wraiths that could be potentially useful for their planned infiltration to its memory banks. She then repeated what she'd done with the comlinks - first she set the datapad to a different out-of-the-way communication frequency and tight-beam mode, added the various encryption presets and tested the device whether it could receive live feed from the droid along with additional information the astromech may consider useful. Once satisfied she joined her husband in finishing their preparations, taking out loose black clothing and two light armored vests to be worn underneath, preparing vibroblades, dark synth-leather gloves and two black balaclavas before finally collapsing onto the couch in the downstairs' living room.

    Selan looked up from the datapad he was studying. "All set?"

    Kirney closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. "Yeah. About as ready as we'll ever be."

    "Weapons are ready," Myn added without taking his eyes off the live feed, "ammo packs are full and reserve ammo in the respective pouches on the toolbelts." He finally did look up from the holoscreen and grimaced. "Wish we could get flash suppressors, but they're illegal outside the military and law enforcement. I didn't want to stretch our luck."

    His father arched an eyebrow at that. "You're not going in there to eliminate them," he reminded him. "Remember your mission parameters, son. Using a weapon must be the last option."

    Myn nodded. "I know."

    "Okay then." Selan cast a glance at the chrono. "You ready for the briefing?"

    Kirney looked up in surprise. "Now?"

    "Yes now." Her father-in-law gestured at the chrono on the wall. "Because in an hour we're going to have a light dinner and then the three of us are going to bed and sleep a few hours."

    Myn opened his mouth to disagree, but Selan silenced him with a swipe of his hand.

    "Objection noted but overruled, soldier," he said in a tone that didn't allow for arguing. "You'll need all your wits about you in this and not be weary from insufficient rest."

    His son snapped his mouth shut recognizing the tone as the command tone that had made him quiver as a boy. Instead he sat down on the couch next to his wife.

    Selan gave a nod of approval. "Tonin, switch live feed to the background and bring up the annotated satellite view, please."

    The astromech warbled and the holocam view of the facility was replaced by a satellite image.

    "The facility is active seven days a week between oh-six hundred and twenty-three hundred." He looked at the two of them in the manner of a teacher casting a glance at his class above the rim of his glasses. "Which means our window of time is between oh-one-hundred and oh-four-hundred. Hence the additional rest I prescribed."

    Myn scratched his chin, noting with surprise that he'd have to shave again. "How many people at night?"

    "Interestingly enough ... just seven. Tonin, show annotations."

    Thin yellow, orange and red streaks along with a blue rectangle and a red dot appeared at the north-eastern entrance, the western, southern and eastern edges of the compound.

    Selan pointed at the red dot at the main entrance. "Ordinary guard. Sits in his guard shed and does whatever private security does through the night." Then he gestured at the blue rectangle a few meters away from it. "This looks like some kind of common room, probably an old temporary shelter. Tonin has determined that all patrols start and end at that point."

    Kirney nodded. "Patrol schedule?"

    "Irregular. Two-men patrols emerging from that confab every thirty minutes or so, but they do it in irregular intervals and there are never more than two patrols out at the same time."

    "So the other two serve as some kind of reserve," his son deduced, ever the tactician. To his surprise his father shook his head.

    "In a normal military, yes, but I think this is simply sloppiness. I've studied their behavior, at least as much as I could given the darkness and distance, and they seem to be more interested in gossiping and killing time than acting like real security." His sudden smile surprised both Myn and Kirney. "Which is good for us because you probably won't have to deal with them."

    "Huh? Why that?"

    Selan's smile got wider. "Tonin, bring up recording Cresh twelve, please."

    The holographic projection changed yet again, the satellite view being replaced by the angle of the remote holocam they'd left on the southern part of the hill. The holo played for a few seconds, showing a number of loading droids and humans loading a bunch of containers onto cargo haulers in the south-eastern corner of the compound. Then a door of the common room opened and a gray-clad figure emerged.

    "Tonin, freeze please."

    Selan's finger circled the tiny figure. "Watch this guy here. Okay, unfreeze."

    The person walked sedately across the central yard and disappeared into the only other building on the compound, an old shack which had seen better days.

    "Fast forward one hundred and forty-six seconds, please."

    The picture distorted, the movements of the beings in view being accelerated so much that they actually looked like a hustling state of insects. When the gray-clad person emerged from the shack Tonin brought the replay back to normal speed.

    "What's he holding in his hands?" Kirney asked as she leaned forward.

    "Patience," her father-in-law advised with a smile. "Just watch."

    The figure made its way past a row of containers on the western part of the compound, holding something that looked like a tray of some sorts in both of his hands. Finally he turned around another row of stacked cargo containers and cast a glance around.

    "Tonin, freeze again and zoom in on quadrant Besh Sixteen."

    The R2 unit chirped, the holo above the projector losing crispness and depth of details while the designated area got bigger.

    "Looks like a tray," Myn said as he cocked his head. "Is that a bottle on the left side?"

    Kirney was also staring at the holo with narrowed eyes as she was straining to make out more details from the grainy picture. "That's food," she finally declared in surprise, "some kind of self-heating meal, I think."

    Selan gave her a nod of approval. "Exactly. Okay, unfreeze the sequence, please."

    The person moved one hand underneath the tray and secured it against his chest in an attempt to keep it in balance while his right reached out to something that was blocked from the camera's view by the corner of a stacked container. Then a concealed hatch in the lowest container opened and gave view into a dark nothingness. The figure entered and began to walk down what looked to be a flight of stairs, then the hatch closed behind him.

    Myn gave his father a wide-eyed look of surprise. "There's something below, some kind of underground level that's not on any official plans."

    Selan nodded. "And before you ask - this sequence is one of two. It was recorded today at eleven fifty, but we have another recording from the morning as well."

    "It's always one meal?" Kirney asked and got a nod in return. "Hidden location, single meal three times a day. Jarrath?"

    Selan smiled broadly, like a teacher whose prize student had solved a complex task on his own. "Possibly, at least I hope so."

    "Okay," Myn muttered thoughtfully, "then we should concentrate on that one. So now we need to hammer out how to play this. Tonin, can you please give the satellite view again?"

    Their planning session went on for another fifty minutes before Jaleela called them to the kitchen for the dinner she'd prepared. Even Kolot emerged from his room to which he had exiled himself after Denna's arrival - he didn't know her well and was not comfortable around strangers in his own home, so he usually preferred to remain out of sight - and even volunteered to keep watch on the live feed while the astromech could power down and recharge his energy cells a bit. Then, upon a sign given by Jaleela, Selan ushered them upstairs and into their bed, with strict orders to rest at least until midnight.

    * * *
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    I am relieved the guards are sloppy rather than military-style efficient :p Besides the mission being different as to having backup and intel resources, this is literally personal, having consequences of failing that don't bear thinking of. @};- =D=
  24. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Let's just say this is not by accident. [face_mischief]

    Seriously I am one of those people who put a lot of thought even into background stories the actual writing barely touches upon, just to have all those details right. I wasn't sure whether I needed to reveal all my thoughts here, but prior to the Epilogue I'll put all the Sabacc cards on the table where Mr Vhinntar is concerned. :cool:
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  25. -thor-

    -thor- Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 15, 2002
    Today we're Breaking & Entering. [face_devil]

    * * *​

    It was the wee hours of the next day, barely half past one in the morning according to the chrono, when Myn and Kirney found themselves at the foot of the western side of the L-shaped hill, their black clothing merging them with the shadows thrown by the thick undergrowth in which they were currently hiding.

    "Com check," he spoke quietly, "Three, do you read?"

    "Loud and clear," his father's voice came back through the comlink. "On standby for extraction two blocks away in a dead-end. No activity so far. Four is monitoring the cam and also standard comlink frequencies. Just in case."

    "Affirmative. One out," Myn replied and clicked his back teeth to switch off the comlink channel. Dropping onto his stomach he crawled forward, in between two conveniently planted rows of undergrowth which shielded them from both sides and joined his wife who had brought out her datapad and was running through a series of programs.

    "You okay?" he whispered.

    Kirney turned to look at him and even though the balaclava hid most of her face he could see the puzzled frown she was sporting. "I'm not picking up anything from that fence."

    It was his turn to look puzzled. "What do you mean?"

    "I'm not picking up any energy readings," Kirney whispered back. "If that fence was connected to some kind of proximity or audio-visual sensors my scan would have registered tiny energy flows. Even a simple anti-breach system should show up. But here I found nothing."

    "But that's good," he muttered. "Isn't it?"

    "I don't know. Maybe they have more powerful sensors placed more centrally where we can't spot them until we're spotted ourselves."

    Myn bit his lip, but he had to ask. "Do you want to abort?"

    Kirney snorted, quietly that is. "Sith, no. We've come this far, we'll see it through. Get that cutter ready, will you?"

    At four meters of height and a very narrow pattern the mesh fence was too high to climb over. Myn reached onto his back and pulled the cutter from the buckle loop he'd used to secure it. "Cover me," he whispered and crawled the last meter towards the fence while Kirney brought up her blaster rifle and rose to kneel. He began clipping the thankfully thin mesh wire about half a meter above the ground, wincing every time the wire gave way with a metallic click, and methodically proceeded to cut just one particular strand until he reached ground level. Because the lower edge of the fence was buried deep in the soil he cut additional strands at ground level to the left and right of his original cut, just half a meter in total, wide enough for them to squeeze through but narrow enough to temporarily seal the hole after they'd crawled through. Not that he feared discovery, because there was a tree growing just behind the fence and its trunk was thick enough both to cast a deep shadow and to shield it from view. Unless someone came looking at this spot specifically chances of spotting the cut were low.

    Myn was the first to crawl through the hole. He swung up his blaster rifle and checked the narrow lanes between the stacks of containers to the north and south but then he bolted across the barely lit passage to melt into the deeper shadows thrown by the row of containers facing them. He waved at his wife to follow.

    Kirney scrambled through the hole in the fence, but remained on her knees in the shadow of the tree trunk where she used thin strips of wire to temporarily close the gap they'd opened. Once she was done she joined her husband in the shadowy corner.

    "So far so good," she whispered and brought her datapad out again. "No ultrasonic spikes, no obvious alarms." Then she stuffed it back into the small satchel she was carrying and pulled the blaster rifle from her back.

    Her husband nodded. "Three, we're in. Anything to report?" he asked his father over the comlink.

    "As quiet as a graveyard," came the terse reply. "No movement in the north-eastern quadrant."

    "Understood. One, out."

    "This way," Kirney muttered pointing towards the southern end of the compound. They moved stealthily, one after the other, from shadow to shadow. The compound itself was as deserted as the late - or rather early - hour suggested but still they remained cautious, suspicious even, and preferred the slow but secure pace of the bounding overwatch they'd chosen. Thankfully the facility was rather small so not even five minutes had passed when they found themselves in yet another shadowy area, a narrow gap between two stacks of containers, separated from the container with the hidden entrance only by a relatively broad but just dimly lit passage used by the cargo haulers for loading or unloading containers during the day.

    Just then the com cackled to life. "Heads up," said Selan. "The door of the common room has just opened. Two, three, four people emerging."

    "Sithspit," Myn swore and looked around. "We can't stay here and let them move past us," he said gesturing at the somewhat-lit passageway behind them and the barely-lit track ahead of them. "Three, what's their ETA?"

    "Three, maybe four minutes at best."

    Myn looked at his wife. "Can we get down there?"

    Kirney was staring at the area where the access hatch to whatever was below them was hidden. Then she slowly shook her head. "I'd rather not risk it. First I'd have to find the mechanism to open it, then I'll have to find and bypass whatever security they've in there."

    "Okay, okay." His forehead wrinkled in concentration. "Then we relocate to a more secure spot and wait them out. I don't want to take them out unless we really, really have to."

    "Follow me," Kirney whispered and brushed past him towards the southern end of the compound where the undergrowth had begun to spread inside the fence as well.

    They had barely made it to their hideout when voices grew louder from the direction of the south-western corner of the facility.

    "I can't see the point," an obviously bored male voice said.

    Kirney and Myn shrunk underneath the bushes that were hiding them.

    "You want to argue with the boss?" another man returned dryly. "Be my guest."

    "No, thank you," the first voice answered and this time it betrayed a serious dose of unease. "But I don't like his tactics, either. First he's had a go at the old fool Solant, and then ..."

    The second voice cut him off. "Be quiet, you moron! We're not debating this, not here, not now. Got it?"

    "Yeah, okay." The unease of the first speaker was still palpable. "Consider it dropped."

    Then the two men were past and disappeared around a corner a short while later.

    Myn and Kirney remained motionless in their hideout for another two or three minutes. "Interesting," he whispered. "Solant was mentioned."

    His wife nodded, the motion barely visible in the darkness. "Whatever else is going on here seems to be connected to Vhinntar's recent shopping spree."

    "Indeed," he agreed before clicking his back teeth to activate the com. "Three, status report."

    "One patrol is at the central illumigrid pole on the eastern fence. Looks like they're smoking. The cam shows the glowing dots of cigarettes. The other ..." The com went silent briefly. "The other has just moved through a gap between containers in the south-eastern corner and is heading towards the central loading area."

    "Thanks. One out." He closed the comlink channel and looked at his wife. "Seen anything remarkable about these two?"

    "Heavy blaster pistols in thigh holsters," she returned quietly. "But no lumas or glowsticks. And their minds were on other things instead of being watchful. Fine with me, but that's not real security."

    "Yeah, you won't hear me complaining, either." Then an idea struck him. "And if this is their security strategy?"

    Again Kirney's forehead creased in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"

    "Remember your surprise at the lack of any kind of sensor grid at the fence? Maybe they're trying to conceal that there may be something unusual about this place by not having any kind of security beyond some patrols at night for show. Maybe this is about hiding in plain sight."

    Kirney didn't seem to be fully convinced, though. "So what exactly are they hiding here?"

    Getting to his feet he held out a hand to her. "Let's find out."

    * * *​