Nalon is the first to speak. "This mean hurtin' the Empire?"
"Yes," says Maya.
Nalon grins toothily. "I'm in."
The others add their agreement. "Why break with tradition now?" asks Path, summing up the general mood.
Maya shifts a little to find a more comfortable posture. "All right. One of our agents was in the Deep Core, and he got stuck there. He has very important information that we need. So the way he came up with to get himself off the planet was to have himself frozen in carbonite and shipped as cargo."
"Sounds dangerous," Rima comments.
"Believe me, it would have been a lot more dangerous if he'd been caught traveling as himself. So here's the thing: supposedly, the shipment arrived here yesterday. I just went to meet my contact, who is affiliated with one of the ... let's say 'unofficial organizations' that runs things on this station. He was supposed to let me know the location of the drop-off. When I got there, he was dead, and there were a bunch of navy waiting for me. I barely had time to grab his datapad; that was all I could get." Maya pulls a datapad out of a large pocket in her coveralls. "I hope this has the information we need. Otherwise, I don't know what we're going to do; we're going to have to find it somehow."
"I'll make it confess." Path takes the datapad with relish and grins evilly. "Beware, little datapad!" he whispers.
"Never field a droid army against you," Nalon says with a shake of his head.
After about ten minutes of work on unlocking the passcode, Path stares at the datapad in disbelief. "One-two-three-four? Really?"
"I can't say my contact struck me as the brightest bulb in the box," Maya admits.
"I don't think they manufacture imagination in the Empire," adds Nalon.
They cluster around to see what information the datapad has to offer. It contains only a few cryptic notes: "Maya," "cargo bay V14," and "Switch."
"Where's cargo bay V14?" Path asks the group at large.
"We should be able to get a map of the station somehow," says Jebet.
"There be a drop-off time for this?" Nalon asks Maya.
"I don't know. I was hoping to get that information from my contact. I do know who Switch is; Switch was his boss."
"Oho, so it not be a switch."
"Remember how I mentioned 'unofficial organizations'? Switch is the leader of one of these organizations."
"It be a Hutt cartel?"
"Switch is a droid."
"Ooh! We gettin' exotic here."
"He used to work as an admin droid for a leader in the Syndicate," Maya explains, "but his boss was shot in a turf war a few months ago. Some of the men stayed with Switch."
Rima settles down at the apartment's computer. "I'll bring up a map of the station and see if we can find this cargo bay." She starts navigating through the options and menus.
While Rima works on the computer, Path moves to sit on the couch next to Jebet. He begins unscrewing the vibro-bayonet from his old slugthrower rifle in preparation for transferring it to the new blaster carbine.
"I've got a question about the way you fight," he says conversationally.
Jebet tenses. "Yeah?"
"You always swing a stun-stick like you figure you'll cut right through the target."
Jebet says nothing, but her mind races. I just told Maya we could trust this group ... hope he's not about to make me a liar.
"Been on the other end of those things," Path continues, keeping his eyes on his work.
"Let's just say old habits die hard," Jebet answers cautiously. Her eyes dart around, looking for the quickest path to the door; she wonders if she could make it before Path could shoot.
But his expression doesn't change, and he just keeps fiddling with the screws on the bayonet attachment. "Remind me to duck next time you start swinging."
Jebet can only chuckle with relief.
"I found bay V14," Rima calls, pointing to an area on the map marked off with yellow and purple bars. "It looks like it's under quarantine." She taps a few more keys. "That's interesting. The quarantine order was put in more than a year and a half ago."
Jebet and Path join the others to look over Rima's shoulder at the map. "Why would it still be quarantined?" Jebet wonders.
"Maybe Switch doesn't want anyone coming in," Path suggests.
Jebet frowns. "There's got to be a less conspicuous way of doing that."
"Depends on whether people normally care about V14," says Nalon. He points to another symbol on the map. "Look, the exhaust system..."
"Runs right by V14," Path finishes.
Nalon grins. "We about to do the ventilation shaft boogie, ain't we?"
The apartment's closet proves to contain several clean coveralls. After a quick discussion, the group decides to send Rima and Beejax to pose as mechanics and check out the exhaust shafts near V14 to see if they're really contaminated.
Rima puts her hair into two braids, a surprisingly effective disguise when combined with the coveralls; no one, unless looking closely at her, is likely to connect her with the well-groomed woman with the upswept hair in the security vids. She then turns to look Beejax over critically. "We can't really hide the fact that you're a Duros..."
"Maybe I'm just a migrant mechanical helper," he suggests with a wry smile.
"And I'm sure they think you all look alike anyway. At least the coveralls make us look more like mechanics. Fortunately, my nails are already filthy," Rima adds, glancing at her hands with a sigh.
Jebet can't resist asking, "See, remember how much you were grousing about that earlier?"
"Yes, it will be my salvation, and I'll regret that I ever longed for a manicure." But Rima doesn't sound truly convinced.
*** Screen wipe ***
The two "mechanics" return soon with the news that the ventilation shafts look safe, and people have even been seen entering or leaving occasionally. "The quarantine is probably a cover," Rima reports. "We're not likely to be irradiated or poisoned if we go in."
Maya speaks up from the couch. "It's pretty clear that someone tipped off the navy that a contact was about to go down, so be careful. Switch might have traitors in his organization."
"What'll you be doin' if Switch be playin' both sides?" asks Nalon.
Maya spreads her hands in a gesture that takes in her own helpless state. "We've got to get that guy out, no matter what. And we've got to get out of here as fast as possible, because I'm sure our images were all captured on the security cameras. They're going to know who we are."
"Do you have any way of getting off-station quickly?" asks Rima.
"I was supposed to be picked up in two days, but..." Maya shrugs.
"We do have one way," says Path.
"You mean Sirona?" asks Jebet.
"If you know something, I think the sooner we get off this station, the better," says Maya.
Rima looks at Beejax. "Will we be able to use your friend if it comes down to us fleeing quickly?"
"I think so. She owes me a favor from before, and she seems like a no-questions-asked sort of business."
Rima nods. "All right. If policy fails, then it comes down to us running quickly. This has the adavantage that our friend is portable and is actually the safest of us in a firefight. Is there a place we should take your friend to if..." She trails off, unsure how to finish the question.
"If you're not with us?" Jebet fills in tactfully.
Maya takes the implication in stride. "If something happens and I don't meet up with you again, go to Alderaan. If you can get there and get the agent thawed, he can tell you where to go next. But it would be best not to try thawing him until you're there."
As a final precaution before setting out, they decide to call Sirona and make sure she can be ready to leave on short notice if necessary--only to realize that they're not sure how to get hold of her. Remembering that they had seen her heading in the direction of the Sel-Zonn Hotel the previous night, Rima calls the hotel desk and asks if Sirona Okeefe is staying there. When Sirona answers, Rima hands the comm link over to Beejax.
"Hey, Sirona, it's Beejax."
"Beej! Nice to hear from you! Didn't I see you last night?
"Yeah, we had that drinking game where every time they mentioned the emperor..."
"Oh, yeah, I love that game! Best way to get blitzed I know of."
"So five or six friends and I might be needing to leave the station today on short notice; would we be able to come along with you on your ship?"
Sirona sounds surprised, but adjusts quickly. "Uh ... yeah. I'm between jobs right now, and hey, I owe you. Crash says hi."
In the background, a flat mechanical voice interjects, "I did not say hi."
"Ah, still functioning. That's good," Beejax murmurs with a grin as he gives a thumbs-up sign to the rest of the group.
"Ask what bay her ship is in," Jebet whispers.
"Where might we be able to meet you and your ship later?"
"I'm parked in Red Bay," Sirona answers. "Think you guys could be ready to leave this evening? I'm only registered at the hotel through today--in fact, I have to be checking out pretty soon."
"Oh yeah, I think we'll be ready to leave by then, for sure."
"All right! Well, I'm going to get Crash a little lube job and maybe play some sabaac. What time do you guys want to leave?"
"We have to pick up some cargo first ..."
"Just give me a call, then."
"We'll definitely call you back when we have a better idea. Hopefully there won't be any blaster fire in the background."
Sirona chuckles. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, Beej. Talk to you later!" The link switches off.
"So," says Nalon in the pause that follows, "what be the plan for gettin' there?"
"Looks like we've got a tunnel crawl," says Path.
"I'll lead," Nalon offers.
Rima finishes downloading the station map to her datapad and slings her bag over her shoulder. "Let's go, then."