Planning is not easy when your opponent has all the power. Well, not all of it. We debated, should we agree to the test? Yes, probably, but L’hrequ and M0-F0 said there was no rush, so we may as well do more exploring.
Pand and L’hrequ stayed in the bar, watching the patrons and observing the staff as they moved in and out from the back kitchen. M0-F0 steered Toto out the back door of the cantina to take pictures of each passerby. I decided to go shopping and Poncho came along as my bodyguard.
My Stars, this place is depressing. Clothes and shoes are at least 10 years out of fashion. Many goods can’t be found at any price. Beggars in the streets. I decided to find out what the crime economy was and see how much of it was connected to Rossi.
A sex worker named Lucinda gave me some idea of how things are run in the foreign sector. There’s no major organized crime here. What little there is centers around Deekan and his cantina. His gang doesn’t charge protection money or “rent,” but they do use the sex workers and don’t always pay for the service.
There doesn’t seem much going on in this penitentiary, so Poncho and I returned to the cantina to meet up with the others. I guess Toto didn’t find anything of interest, so M0-F0 considered sending him into the sewers to explore the literal underworld or a way out. We sat and waited in the sad pub (no music) for a few more hours.
Eventually we agreed to the humiliating trial. Deekan made a big show of it, announcing the contest to the patrons at the bar. They cheered as if gladiatorial games were about to begin.
Deekan led us to the back of the cantina and outside to an alleyway. Here was where the first of four tests took place. “A test of sights,” Deekan says. "Who is your best marksman?’ We all looked to Pand.
A pathetic human was sent to run out a few hundred meters. He held up a half empty bottle of booze. Pand took aim. There was a spray of blood as the hapless human’s fingers flew off. Then Pand turned and punched Deekan. “That son of a [slith] pushed my arm.” He claimed it was accidental, but I doubt a single person believed him. Pand certainly didn’t.
M0-F0 ran down to the eight-fingered human and within minutes reattached them and splinted his hand. Then with great theater, he picked up the bottle and put it on his head. The crowd went wild. The rest of us stood around Pand so that no one would “accidently” nudge her arm. She lifted her rifle confidently and shot the bottle cleanly off M0-F0’s head. Cheers came from the crowd as bet money passed from losers to winners.
The next test started by surprise. Someone slapped an object on to M0-F0’s back. It started beeping and the crowd backed far away. “Piece of cake,” I said, and the team sprang into action. Just to make things extra dramatic, we waited until the last second to disarm the thermal detonator. I think the throng was disappointed. Except maybe the winners of the bet.
We barely had a minute to catch our breaths. Out of nowhere, Deekan hauled off and punched me. Pand’Ora, my hero, hit him straight back. That’s how we learned the third test involved a gang fight. All hell broke loose. A buzzing Geonosian picked a fight with Poncho. Pand was attacked by Deekan’s bodyguard, the huge Ortolan. L’hrequ fought an amphibious humanoid of a race I did not recognize. M0-F0 used his biggest wrench to whack an R7 unit.
L’hrequ used telekinesis to lift a large rubbish bin and slammed it into his opponent. The audience oohed and aahed and whispered as L’hrequ wielded the dumpster using the Force. I did my best to kick Deekan in the ‘nads. Every once in a while I could hear a clang from the wrench hitting that little R7. After L’hrequ put down his guy, he landed the coup de grace on Deekan. Poncho finished his nasty bug. Maybe M0-F0 started to get bored. He finished the droid with his blaster. We let Pand have the biggest guy, and he was last to go down.
For the fourth test, we returned to the cantina. The crowd started chanting, “Meeker! Meeker! Meeker!..” This hairless Drall came out and sat at our table. It was a drinking contest. I told Deekan it wouldn’t be fair for me to start the contest with a full bladder, so I excused myself to the restroom. While tinkling, I went through the vials of my antidote set and found the “Spring Break/Mardi Gras” anti-toxin.
I returned to the table and the contest began. After one drink, M0-F0 suffered the blue screen of death. L’hrequ and Pand went down soon after. Poncho and Meeker were still upright while I stayed fresh as a daisy. After about four rounds, I was the last man standing. I had bought that antidote set for the poisonous plants and animals I expected to find on Cholganna. I never imagined it would come in useful for a drinking endurance competition.
Deekan was genial and congratulated our success for the trials. He said he would take us to see Rossi in the morning. Poncho had another meal, and then we all went off to our rooms to sleep.
In the morning, we meet Deekan at the bar. He led us through the back of the kitchen, into the alley and down several back streets. After about 20 minutes of walking, he led us to a large garage. It held several vehicles in various states of repair. There was a shuttle of a sort. I believe it was a small freighter modified for passenger transport. We went aboard without fuss.
Once we were in flight, Poncho kept trying to figure out where we were. No windows. He tried to access the wireless network, but signals were strangely absent. A jammer?
The entire trip took six hours. That’s just ridiculous. Poncho asked the fight crew about our path and destination, but no one was willing to give him any info. They said, maybe after Rossi gives approval for including us in the details.
We landed in a massive hangar. At one end is a force field. Beyond was blue sky with a canopy of forest below us. As we departed the craft, about 40 Mandalorians pointed their weapons at us. Deekan said, “This is the part where you give up.”
The ruffians forced us to give up our weapons. Despite the pat downs, I managed to hold onto my disposable blaster. I can’t quite read our Toydarian pilot yet, but I think Poncho managed to stow away something as well.
L’hrequ tried to mask his light saber as an empty holster. The grunt didn’t see through the illusion, but the empty holster was a red flag. L’hrequ was pulled away from the rest of us for a… uh… more comprehensive search. As they walked away, Poncho “confessed” he stole the blaster and sold it. When asked why L’hrequ would still wear the holster, Poncho said, “He wears the holster because he thinks it torments me.” This guy should go into public relations or advertising.
Rossi greeted us all. Pand had previously told me what a miscreant he was. After his arrogant reception, my opinion of him turned from intellectual dislike to a more visceral hate. I must remember to use self-control and not kill him myself.
With an annoying cocksure attitude, he addressed us individually. Seems like each of us is valuable to someone. As for me, it’s Dirtbag and Daddy who want to see me again. I asked where my brother was, and he assured me we’d be reunited soon.
Rossi escorted Pand away for a more private audience. The rest of us were marched to prison cells. Sad little cells with a cot and a bucket. I couldn’t tell if the other cells were occupied. Then I yelled, “Fresh meat.” A moment later I heard a familiar voice. “Winter?”
It was my baby brother. We couldn’t see him, but I could tell from his voice he was a few cells down from ours. He chided me for running away and hiding, saying Mom’s worried sick and Dad loves me. He’s so naïve. I reassured him that our current situation was temporary and that my friends and I would take care of things.
Asher said he had overheard Rossi talking. He’s in a partnership with someone. The way Asher made it sound, it’s not a balanced partnership or he’s being played, although Rossi does not seem to realize it. I hope he lives long enough to realize he’s not the top cat he thinks he is. What’s this business with the dreadnaught? A battleship?
More importantly, is Rossi unknowingly being used? That might be something we could exploit, something we could use to get all of us out of here. Lucky for us, there are only two guards in the jail here, and they’re not the brightest stars in the sky. There’s also Brand the Bombastic, if we could find a way to contact him. I know he would like to shut down Rossi’s operation here. Asher’s been here a while. We need to find out what else he knows. And where the druk is Toto?