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Max_Writer

Star Wars Edge of the Empire: Ice Station Zulu

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

(After John Leppard ran the Star Wars Edge of the Empire scenario “Ice Station Zulu” by David Villegas with Ben Abbott, Laird Davis, Nathan Johnson, and me Saturday, February 3, from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)

ICE STATION ZULU

Ten years after the end of the CLONE
WARS, much of the galaxy is in the
grip of the vast and powerful EMPIRE.

Working to consolidate its power, the
EMPIRE has engaged in many secret
research projects in the far-flung
reaches of the galaxy.

Many of these endeavors are
opportunities for the criminal
underworld of the outer rim, who are
eager to gain the wealth and power that
these medical and military
breakthroughs provide.

And the criminal underworld has no
shortage of people to gain these
secrets for them …

I, Yorbacca the Wookie, was born 32 years before in a slaver camp. After I and my younger sister lost our parents in an uprising, I vowed to always take care of her. A few years ago, she was sold to a different master, and I lost track of her. After several escape attempts, my master grew tired of it and put me up as stakes during a sabaac game, which he lost. But meeting my new “master,” a Twi’lek named Vor’la, I quickly learned she had no interest in “owning” me and promptly set me free - but asked that I remain in her crew as a free, fully-paid bodyguard. In exchange, she’d help me search for my sister. Pleased with the offer and my freedom, I readily agreed and relished throwing my furry bulk around for my new captain.

Among the crew was Mella Myson, Brek Corsen, Flyx Byx, Soril Darkrider, and, of course, Vor’la.

Mella Myson was a human from a line of moisture farmers on Tatooine but had cared little for the family business. Racing skyhoppers through the canyons had been her passion and she was a preternaturally gifted pilot. After growing enraged with a racing opponent who flashed her into the canyon walls, she had lifted him with her mind and hurled him into his ship, hurting him badly. She was rescued from the ensuing mob by a smuggler named Brek. She had been with him ever since.

Brek Corsen was one of the few trustworthy human smugglers who had a contact in every port of call. He ran afoul of a powerful crime lord recently, after he was discovered running spice to Tatooine without paying tribute. He turned to the Triumvirate for help, and they gladly assisted in exchange for a rather large debt owed. Brek was a good shot and an even better liar, which came in handy when shooting failed. He had a knack for smelling trouble before most others saw it. He was devoted to his crew, especially Vor’la, though it was purely platonic.

Flyx Byx was a Sullustan expelled from school on Sullust at age 8 for attempting to reprogram the classroom protocol droid to pummel a local bully. Flyx’s family sent him to the shipyards to tutor under his uncle and develop his bourgeoning technical skills. He spent the next 10 years learning to fix machines better than anyone, and his passion drove him to a rather nasty addiction to Booster Blue which he still struggled with. Striking out at 18, h fell in with a Twi’lek named Vor’la who used him to machine skifters for her. The pair had been partners for six years, and had been through numerous scrapes.

Soril Darkrider was a human soldier who had only two things he was passionate about: his weapons and his sex life. Addicted to both, he had often been told he was one of the best hired guns in the galaxy - unless he was around women he found too distracting. That was all women. One of the few who had not succumbed to his dark good looks and mercenary demeanor was his current captain: Vor’la. She had made it quite clear her ship was the only thing he’d be boarding.

Vor’la the Twi’lek was a consummate gambler, winning a freighter at the sabaac tables when she was only 17. She still owned it. Her beauty often distracted men as she robbed them for everything they had, disarming them with charm and guile. She had a bit of a gambling problem though. She met Brek and Mella two years before when he got in trouble on Tatooine and needed to head off-world as quickly as possible.

* * *

We all met with Captain Delagray, a yellowish-green Rodian of the gangster group The Triumvirate. Captain Vor’la and Brek had lost at the Sabaac tables on Bespin and then lost another 10,000 credits on a pod race. They’d avoided a bounty on their heads, for now, but he had a job for all of us. We were to proceed to the remote planet of Hoth and steal some kind of new, advanced Stimpack that would help the Triumvirate deal a blow to the Imperial forces trying to gain a stronghold in the area. The only problem: the Stimpack was being developed by the Empire inside one of their penal facilities on the desolate ice world.

He gave us a set of counterfeit Imperial uniforms and prisoner clothing as part of the deal. The Triumvirate captain’s instructions were simple: land and talk to the ground crew. Let them know you were there to meet with Dr. Tui about the XR-12 deployment. The Triumvirate agent inside would grant us clearance into the facility. Once inside, we were to find the prototype Stimpack and steal it along with all the research on it.

Captain Delagray said he would pay off Brek’s debt in addition to paying off the gambling losses.

“I’m as eager to please as you’re eager to make a coin, so …” Brek said.

“I’m sure you recover well,” Captain Delagray said. “I’m sure there might be something for the rest of you. We know about your pasts.”

“Everybody knows about mine,” Mella said.

The Triumvirate was a notable but smaller gangster organization. They regularly employed assassins.

“Don’t bother coming back if you don’t get the Stimpack,” Captain Delagray said. “Or you can. It will just make the job easier for the enforcers.”

“I told you not to bet,” I growled at Brek.

“I didn’t!” he said.

“I told you not to bet,” I growled at Mella.

She looked at me like I was insane.

“Who bet our money?” I growled. “Nobody bet our money. We were set up.”

It had been Vor’la but it must have been one of the others’ faults.

When Flyx Byx asked about gear, Captain Delagray noted he had provided uniforms and prison uniforms. He had shackles for me, of course. Flyx Byx said he would probably also have to be a prisoner as most Imperials weren’t Sullustan. Captain Delagray seemed to sympathize.

“I will also, so generously, provide you with a Lambda-Class shuttle,” he said.

“And codes?” I growled.

“Codes to get you to the facility,” he said. “You will have to rely on my agent to get inside the facility.”

“Your agent?” Brek said. “What’s their name?”

“I cannot provide you the name,” Captain Delagray said.

“How will we know them?” I growled.

“They’ll be waiting for you on the dock,” Captain Delagray said.

I growled and glared at him.

“Easy Yor,” Brek said. “It’ll be all right.”

I growled again.

Captain Delagray gave us the landing bay number of the Lambda-Class shuttle.

“Is our arrival scheduled?” Brek said.

“Once you leave here, I will let them know that you’re coming,” Captain Delagray said. “It should only take you about one day to arrive. The shuttle will have … since you are bringing your … wonderful captain. Thank you for the 10 thousand credits by the way.”

He grinned at Vor’la. I glared at him. I wanted to rip his head off.

“But, beyond the uniforms and the garb and the shuttle, we will be providing you with a hoversled,” Captain Delagray said. “You should be able to disguise your equipment in there if you want to.”

“Secret compartment?” I said.

“It is up to you what you want to do with the sled,” he said. “But you can use it to potentially bring some equipment in. Also, do you know much about the world you’re going to: Hoth? Have you heard of it before?”

We knew a little bit about Hoth. It seemed a little odd there would be an Imperial prison there, the system being so out of the way of most major Imperial installations. There wasn’t a lot of pirate activity in that area either. I knew about it myself and had been there long ago. It was very, very cold and barren of life except for wampas, tauntauns, and ice cats. It was snow, ice, and a little geothermal activity. In the past, it was known as a ship graveyard with older-era ships that had been scuttled. There was a sizeable amount of debris on a section of the planet. Blizzards were common and powerful enough to even disrupt communications on the world. That meant if the alert was triggered during a blizzard, it would mean a delay in getting to the Imperial battle group. The prison itself was used for violent criminals and high-profile offenders in the Empire. It held a variety of people for a wide range of species to experiment on. Some were political dissidents as well. There was also a gas giant in the system that could provide us with some cover or a hiding place if we needed it.

“And, they’re testing these Stimpacks at a prison?” Beck said.

“Well, you know the Empire,” Captain Delagray said. “Human rights, or alien rights, actually, are not a high priority.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Brek said.

Captain Delagray told us the Imperial base was not a massive facility but there was a large compliment of guards. It would probably be a bad idea to get into a firefight with the Imperials there. However, it was a covert facility so there were no star destroyers. There was a failsafe if the alarm went off in the base that would call for an Imperial battle group. However, it would probably take them a day to get there.

“I believe our business here is done,” Captain Delagray said. “I look forward to seeing the XR-12 when you come back.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to come back?” I growled.

“Come back with the XR-12 … or don’t come back,” he said.

“Well, if we see each other again, it’s going to be the best day of my life,” Brek said. “So …”

The uniforms they provided for us were a lieutenant, an ensign, and a pilot. I had hoped for something better. When Captain Delagray asked sarcastically if we thought we could just go in as Grand Admiral Thrawn, I pointed out Brek knew how to disguise people and told him we’d take the codes. He refused.

“Hey, we’re gonna be fine,” Brek told me. “This is gonna work out.”

“Can I twist his head off?” I asked.

“No,” Brek said.

I grumbled.

“You never let me do anything,” I said.

“We come out of this all right and … drinks are on me,” Brek said. “I promise.”

“Okay,” I said.

Flyx Byx suggested Stormtrooper armor. He thought if we could get any of it, he could wear it.

“Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” I said.

“Maybe,” Flyx Byx said. “I think we should go with the engineer/servant.”

“And prisoner,” I muttered. “Always the prisoner.”

“I’m sorry, man, that’s just how it works,” Brek said. “But, I promise, I’ll get you whatever you─”

“I’m not blaming you,” I said. “I’m not blaming you at all.”

“I’ll get you the full grocery store if my debt’s paid,” he said. “It’s all good.”

“I like grocery stores,” I said.

The Lambda-Class shuttle was where Captain Delagray said it would be. It was a little worn and probably had been acquired by force from the Empire. We took off from Bespin and entered hyperspace. During the flight, Flyx Byx and I searched the entire ship for tracking devices or bugs. We found nothing, surprisingly. We also disguised the hoversled compartment for our extra weapons.

* * *

While we were busy, Brek took Mella aside.

“I know you’ve been working on your gifts,” he said. “I just wonder what … what’ve you been working on? What are you confident with?”

“I … I can move things,” she said. “I remember hearing tales of old that Jedi could change people’s minds but I’ve not tried to do that yet. I really wish I could know that from now but … with not much to learn from, I … I can only move things. I can push. I can maybe pull.”

“Save your strength for when you need it. When things go bad here, it’s going to be … just trying to get out, really.”

“Right.”

“Listen, I … I want to get this resolved. I need to accomplish this job but I don’t want to see you all die in the process. So …”

“Yes. And … going into the Empire, I’m nervous about it. I’m probably going to keep my face covered most of the time and … if it’s what needs to be done and if this person can clear your debt, maybe it’s possible he can clear my name with the Empire too.”

“Possibly.”

* * *

“You’ve got to be really arrogant,” I said to Brek when he donned the Imperial uniform. “Can you do that?”

“I can make that happen,” he said.

“Okay.”

“Arrogant is … my second name.”

“Arrogant is the empire.”

* * *

En route, we discussed what to do when we arrived. Flyx Byx was of the opinion we should immediately disable the alarm. Brek figured we would have to sneak around to get the Stimpack. After that, he thought the cover story should be they were there for routine maintenance as well as dropping off a prisoner. However, that part would be tricky, but we would likely be split up. I was fine with that. He figured Flyx Byx was doing maintenance. Flyx Byx suggested if it was maintenance of the climate generator, he could break it. I suggested against that until we knew what was going on. Brek said to save that for the last resort.

I suggested to Flyx Byx he set up something radio-controlled that could be used to do damage to the station if we needed. He said it was one of his talents.

We also discussed my restraints and Flyx Byx figured a way to rig them so I could unlock them myself without a key.

It was decided Vor’la and Soril, the latter in an Imperial pilot uniform, would remain aboard the shuttle once we landed.

“You won’t leave without us, right?” Brek said.

“She would never do that!” I growled.

“Unless we tell them to,” Flyx Byx said.

“She would never leave without us,” I growled.

“I wouldn’t leave without my mechanic, at least,” she said.

“Thanks a lot,” I growled.

“And you of course,” she said.

“Glad to know I’m of value,” Mella said.

“You wound me, Vor’la,” Brek said. “You wound me.”

“I feel important,” Flyx Byx said.

“I trust the crew that’s been around me longest,” Vor’la said. “You two are new.”

* * *

The transit through hyperspace was without incident and we were soon in orbit around Hoth. We headed into the atmosphere. Flying through the swirling snows of Hoth, we transmitted the landing codes provided by the Triumvirate, but got no response from Ice Station Zulu. We all began to grow worried that the codes weren’t good - but soon we realized we couldn’t hail the station at all. There were power and life readings though. Scanning the area, we landed in one of the covered hangers of the facility - the only one with the exterior doors open.

The base didn’t look like it had been attacked from without. Flyx Byx thought it was just the blizzard, disrupting communications.

We landed in the hanger and could see, at the other end of the landing bay, a number of platform personnel huddled around a computer near the door that led into the facility. An Imperial captain was with them. He wore armor. They barely took notice of a ship landing.

“No pirate activity,” I muttered. “Right.”

“Prison break,” Flyx Byx said.

“We have one captain and his privates,” Brek said.

“Or a bunch of escaped prisoners,” I said.

“I think either a prison riot has happened or is happening,” Flyx Byx said.

Brek suggested we would signal Soril if we wanted him to open fire with the shuttle’s weapons.

“Mella, you stay with Yor,” he said. “You stay behind us. And Flyx, you’re directly behind me. Bring the hoversled. But let me take the lead on this. I’ve been working on my Imperial.”

I was manacled. Brek had used his disguise kit on Mella and she wore goggles and a scarf as well. As we exited the shuttle, the captain was still not paying any attention to us. He barked orders at the three privates and, when he saw us, seemed even more angry.

“I don’t have time for you right now,” he said. ‘We have a prison riot in progress and the facility has gone into lockdown.”

“How long has this been happening?” Brek asked.

“The past hour,” the captain said. “I was on patrol with my privates here.”

I laughed.

“Quiet!” Brek said.

“The door locked behind us,” the captain said. “Can’t get the blasted door open now. The whole facility’s in lockdown.”

“Well … um … what should we do, sir? I’m here with a prisoner transfer and an engineer for repairs on the environmental generators. We could try to have him slice into the door, if you like. Also to meet with Dr. Tui about the XR-12 deployment.”

The captain didn’t immediately lower his blaster though he was doing trigger discipline before. Now, his finger was on the trigger. He glared at Brek as if he didn’t believe him.

“Whatever!” he said. “If you want to have the blasted Sullustan look at the console, go ahead, but I’m watching him. Get on the console.”

I kept my head down but looked at the Imperials through my eyelashes.

Flyx Byx got to work on the console. He worked on it for what felt like a long time but the door didn’t open. As the console blinked red in denial of his efforts, the captain sighed.

“Major Devrin is not going to let me hear the end of this,” he said.

He sighed again.

“Well, you’re here to drop them off in the facility, aren’t you, lieutenant?” he said.

“That is correct, sir,” Brek said.

“Well … if … uh … if you’re so determined to get into the facility, there is a maintenance access outside the facility. You have to go through the snow, but it’s not that long of a walk. We haven’t tried to go out there because, you know, it’s cold, but … and we wanted to make sure no prisoners would come out of here as well. So, it is up to you. But, we will remain here. We will continue working on the console.”

“It will be done, sir, but I do request: there could be any manner of creatures outside, not to mention prisoners free in the facility. If you’re going to be waiting out here and could provide us with a little bit of your firepower, it would be most appreciated.”

“I will not divert my men from this entrance. We must ensure that no prisoners escape through the hanger. Especially while your … blasted ship is here. We need to keep guard here. We will watch your ship. We will keep an eye and make sure no prisoners escape.”

“It will be done, sir. However, I do have a question: the prisoners inside, are there any that we need to be wary of?”

“I don’t believe that are too many to worry about. None that stand out to me. You might have to watch out for the Trandoshans. They’re a little rabid.”

“It will done, sir. Glory to the Empire.”

“Glory to the Empire.”

Brek turned and we followed him to the exterior access. I saw him take out his com.

“Vor’la,” he said.

“Yes,” she immediately replied. “What is it?”

“There’s some kind of prison riot inside,” Brek said. “We’re going to see if we can get in a side entrance. Keep the doors closed and if anyone starts breaking out of there or if those guys try to run─”

“Careful,” I muttered. “They’re probably monitoring communications.”

“Keep the doors closed until we get back,” Brek said.

“Understood,” Vor’la said.

“And if need be, take off,” Brek said. “But stay close enough for coms.”

Brek gestured to the hoversled.

“Bring it with us,” he said. “It might have the equipment we need to get inside.”

We headed for the open blast doors that led outside.

“I have a bad, bad feeling about this,” Brek said.

* * *

It was a 15-minute walk through the howling snows and ice storms of Hoth to reach the cavern entrance. The cold was beyond anything I had ever felt before. Traveling even a few minutes outdoors was very taxing on our bodies, and as we reached the cave opening, we were relieved to find shelter from the wind and bitter cold - but it was still freezing in the cavern air. The caverns appeared natural, but had also been excavated somewhat, and we could see very sparse glow rods sticking out of the icy walls in various direction.

Our information didn’t include which way to go once we got there, and there appeared to be three distinct cavern paths: left, center, and right. Each seemed to open into more expansive cavern tunnels beyond. It was not readily identifiable as to which path we should take.

“I say we split up,” I said.

“That’s a terrible idea,” Brek said.

“I’m so cold!” I growled.

There was some kind of small metal sign that looked chewed and tattered tacked between the right cavern and the center one. But, as we moved closer to it, we heard a faint noise echoing somewhere in the chambers ahead.

“This one sounds like the safest one,” Brek said.

He pointed to the left cavern.

Flyx Byx was looking at the sign and I moved to it as well. It appeared to say “Danger.” It was impossible to see which tunnel it referred to. I couldn’t tell what the creature was that might have been chewing on it other than it was big and had sharp teeth.

Whatever noise we had been hearing before had stopped.

I looked around for cameras of any kind but didn’t see any. Feeling somewhat safe, I opened up the secret panel in the hoversled, which deactivated due to the cold, and slowly dropped to the ground. I took out my bowcaster and vibro-ax. I told Mella if we ran into Imperials, I’d toss them to her.

“Keep the cuffs on, just in case,” Brek said to me.

I cursed in Shyriiwook.

“Okay,” I said.

Mella looked down the right tunnel.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone but two things are coming at us … very quickly,” Mella said.

“Where?” I growled.

Flyx Byx grabbed his blaster out of the sled.

As we scanned the cavern, two giant, white-furred beasts raced towards us from the right tunnel. Curled, tusk-like horns extended down to bloodstained jaws that snarled as thick, clawed arms rose to attack us. Wampas! Moving towards us with unexpected speed, we saw a cold and desperate hunger in their eyes. They were out for blood and we were definitely on the menu.

The wampas rushed us and I dropped my bowcaster and drew my vibro-ax, roaring at the horrors. I raised the weapon and then brought it down on the creature’s chest. The wampa staggered back, gushing blood. I screamed in its face and it screamed back.

Mella put out a hand and glared towards the other creature. It started to choke and seemed to struggle against nothing, seemingly.

“This feels really good!” she said.

Then she moved back to the other side of the cave.

Brek cried out in surprise and backed away from the horrors. He drew both of his blasters and opened fire. The first shot went wide and exploded a stalagmite. The second hit the other wampa, which was knocked down. Brek slipped and fell on the ground as well.

The wampa pulled himself to its feet and rushed at Flyx Byx. The Sullustan backed away and fired his blaster but missed.

The wampa I faced slashed at me, cutting my chest. That angered me, of course, my Wookie rage blasted forth and I saw red. I swung the vibro-ax to the side and cut the thing’s head right off. The body, spewing blood from the neck, fell backwards, splattering the ice with red.

The second wampa glanced at us and then fled back into the right cavern.

Flyx Byx used a Stimpack on me while I watched down the right tunnel. I wiped my axe off on the ice and then stowed my gear back in the hoversled. I gave Flyx Byx a big hug.

“Thank you!” I said.

I went back to guarding the right corridor. Brek and Mella spoke as I did so.

“Are you all right?” he said to her. “I saw you try to … do something …”

“Yeah,” she said. “It was kind of like I was going down a roller coaster I didn’t really want to be on, but also, it was like … oh, maybe this is what it’s supposed to be. It was kind of weird.”

“What did you do?” I said.

“I did something I never thought I could do before,” she said.

“Just … take it easy, all right?” Brek said. “Just .. stay behind me.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Let’s not go that way,” I said, pointing to the right.

“Yeah,” Mella said.

“I agree,” Flyx Byx said.

We determined the central cavern had been excavated more than the others. The sled was a loss so I armed myself again.

“Here, play Angry Birds,” Brek said, handing me his datapad. “Calm down.”

“Hate Angry Birds!” I said. “I’m fine.”

“Okay, Easy Going Ewok,” he said.

“This is so relaxing,” I said.

Brek rubbed his side.

“I’m good,” he said.

“You took a tumble there,” Mella said.

“Are you gonna tell ‘em, when we get in?” I said. “We ran into the thing? Or not?”

“I’ll …” Brek said.

“It might cause them to divert some troops,” Flyx Byx said.

“I mean … possibly,” Brek said.

“I’m just asking,” I said.

“But it might possibly seal one of our exits out of here,” Flyx Byx said.

“First of all, we should cross that bridge when we come to it and just see what’s down this corridor,” Mella said.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go.”

I got my weapons out of the hoversled and handed them off to Mella.

We headed down the middle corridor, Brek in the lead. As we headed in, there were more glowrods. Eventually, the corridor ended in a metal wall with a ladder attached to it. It seemed to be the maintenance entrance.

Brek climbed up first. I looked around for cameras in the area but couldn’t see any. Brek hissed down at us with a signal calling us up.

The top of the ladder was a loading area designed for landspeeders and speeder bikes. It was empty except for a sealed door with a terminal. The cameras there were not active. The light on the terminal blinked red and it had a series of symbols but obviously needed a code. Flyx Byx moved to the terminal and looked it over. He pressed a few buttons and the door opened.

We were treated to a gruesome sight.

As the door opened, the stench of death hit us first: unmistakable. Stepping inside, we were shocked to see half-eaten corpses of what used to be support staff, guards, and some prisoners strewn about. Fear began to take hold as we heard animalistic shrieks coming from the distance, we knew not where.

In front of us was a long, dark corridor, and the room we were now in was a square receiving bay that had very little light, only provided by the arc shorts of the exposed wires that used to be light fixtures. Everything in the room had been destroyed in what looked like a terrible fight. On the floor was a figure that looked like an animal - but nothing like I’d ever seen before.

It was bipedal, but with long, loping arms ending in sharp claws; a grotesquely fanged maw; and splotchy gray skin slick with mucus. The thing was clearly dead, maybe for a few hours, having been impaled with what looked like shelving that was fashioned into a spear. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the creature was its garb: it appeared to be wearing a torn prison uniform or at least pieces of it.

I quietly reached for Mella and she, without a word, handed me my vibro-ax and bowcaster. She handed Flyx Byx his own blaster pistol. Then I looked around for cameras. When I saw they were all disabled, I took off the manacles and hooked them on my belt.

“From what I know about the Empire and from what it sounds about this man that we’re investigating, maybe this Stimpack that we’re investigating is what’s caused this,” Mella said.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Flyx Byx said.

“Maybe gangsters shouldn’t be getting hold of this,” I growled.

“Exactly,” Mella said.

I looked at the open corridor and also noticed the maintenance vents.

“Hey, Yor, how much do you know about Trandoshans?” Brek asked.

“Everything,” I said.

“Can you tell me about them?” Brek said.

I did so. The bite marks were not Trandoshan, but more like a something a wampa would do. The destruction was devoid of intelligence and animalistic. It would be odd for Trandoshans to eat people. They were slavers who mainly enslave Wookies. There was no reasonable reason for a Trandoshan to do something like that.

“My second question would be: ‘Did that sound like a Trandoshan?’” Brek said.

“No,” I said.

I looked at the dead thing on the floor.

“That thing ain’t dead,” I said. “It looks dead, but it ain’t dead.”

Flyx Byx suggested we try to find a datapad, a data card, or patch into a camera. Brek, and Flyx Byx searched the bodies for anything useful while Mella and I went over to the corridor to keep watch. The others found nothing, the bodies torn apart and anything on them destroyed or taken.

Flyx Byx tried to wire his own datapad to one of the cameras but the entire network inside the base was apparently destroyed and without power.

“How badly do you want to pay off this debt?” I asked Brek.

He sighed.

“I mean …” he said. “They’ll kill us. They’re subtle but they are absolute.”

“What if this Stimpack that he wants caused all this?” I said. “You really want to drop that in the hands of gangsters? Just think about it, that’s all I’m saying.”

“At the end of the day, I just want to find a nice outer world planet, buy a boat, and live on that for the rest of my days after we’re done with this.”

“Do any of us have medical training we could set up a fake?”

“No. First and foremost, we figure out what’s going on here.”

We examined the strange dead body.

Brek panicked slightly when he realized what it was: a rakghoul, a near-mythic creature from the Old Republic. He nudged it with his foot and got some of the goo on his boot. Flyx Byx noted they were not born but created when a humanoid was exposed to a virus which was transmitted by the creatures themselves. Legend had it that a Sith Lord originally created the virus in the old Republic Era. I knew there supposedly was a cure for the virus, a rakghoul serum. No one knew if there are any known samples that survived if they ever existed at all.

We tried to contact the ship but only got interference. It was probably the blizzard.

“Methinks this is not a good thing,” Flyx Byx said.

Brek’s face got a little hard. He looked at the thing and saw it had tiny eyes on its face. He guessed it was primarily visual. Flyx Byx said he thought these were the Trandoshans we’d been told about and he didn’t believe there were any Trandoshans that had gone rabid.

“I don’t know,” Brek said. “Something killed it with a spear.”

“I think it was probably some … prisoner or support staff who managed to take one down before getting killed by another,” Flyx Byx said.

I went back to keep watch with Mella.

“I think it’s time we keep moving though,” Brek said. “We need to get moving and stay quiet.”

Flyx Byx suggested we don’t set off blaster fire. I kicked the dead thing again to make sure it was really dead.

“It seems like we need to get deeper into this place and find our way out and back to Dr. Tui and at least get the serum,” Mella said.

“I don’t think Dr. Tui’s gonna be alive,” Flyx Byx said.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Let’s go. Let’s move out.”

I headed down the corridor. Brek lit a glow rod and drew one of his blaster pistols.

As we walked down the corridor, it didn’t take too long until we saw another corpse, or at least we thought it was a corpse until it started shaking. It appeared to be a wounded guard on the ground. He had gashes across his chest and a wide bite mark on his thigh. I almost shot the man but then stopped. I could see his eyes darting back and forth.

“Help me!” he called out. “Help me! Please!”

“Keep an eye open,” Brek said.

“I will,” Mella said, turning to watch the way we’d come.

“He’s the spear guy,” Flyx Byx said.

I moved up to close range but kept him covered with the bowcaster. Brek went to the man, kneeling next to him. He bound the man’s wounds. The man looked at us and shook his head though he seemed to be more stabilized than he had been. Brek didn’t think the man was going to turn into a rakghoul as he had clean wounds.

“Can you hear me?” Brek said.

“Yes,” the man said. “Here. Take this.”

The man slipped out a code cylinder and handed it to Brek.

“It’s the guard key to the detention area,” he said.

“Okay,” Brek said. “Is Dr. Tui there?”

“No. Dr. Tui’s … I don’t know about Dr. Tui. I just know he’s the lead researcher at the facility.”

“How many … how many of those things are there?”

“I don’t know. They’re killing everyone. And everything. They’re turning into monsters.”

He pointed back down towards the impaled corpse we’d already found.

“Was it you that did that?” Brek said.

“No,” the man said. “No. It was one of the support staff. But then of them bit him and dragged him off.”

“What about the prisoners? Are they still locked up?”

“No. Something happened. Someone let all the prisoners loose.”

“I’ve got a question,” Mella said.

“We got a Sith?” I said to myself.

“Is this what Dr. Tui’s working on?” Mella said.

“I don’t know,” the dying man said. “I-I know Dr. Tui was working on Stimpack research. He called it the XR-12. They’re working in the labs in the lower levels and they were using the prisoners as subjects. But I don’t know what it was used for or what they were working on.

“Can we get to that area from here?”

“If you go through the detention level, you should be able to use the code cylinder to open the lower levels.”

“Thank you,” Brek said.

“I just graduated from the academy,” the man said.

He passed out at that point. He would probably die due to the blood loss.

Brek stood up and looked around. At the far end of the hallway were massive blast doors. They were closed.

“Okay, let’s keep moving,” he said. “Time is short.”

“He’s too injured to harm us and I don’t think he’s a threat,” Mella said.

“Well, would it be a mercy just to put him out of his misery?” Flyx Byx said.

“No,” Brek said.

“No!” I said.

“We need to get on the move because the longer we wait, the more of the prisoners become those things,” Brek said.

“Right,” Mella said.

“We need to get in, we need to find Dr. Tui, or whoever, and we need to get out,” Brek said. “Okay? And we move quickly.”

We went to the end of the hallway where the words “Detention Area” were over the doors. I slung my bowcaster.

“Do we want to try to set out weapons to stun and see how effective that is?” Brek said. “Or do we just shoot to kill?”

“Can’t,” I growled.

“I mean, even if I do, if I try to use my powers, there’s no guarantee that I won’t do something even worse,” Mella said. “Besides, unless there really is a cure for these things, I mean, there’s no helping them.”

“Let’s press forward,” Brek said.

I went back and picked up the guard.

“I get it,” Brek said to me. “But we need to focus on the mission right now. He’s just going to be a liability. I’m sorry.”

“It’s probably going to best not to move him too,” Mella said.

I gently carried the man back to the loading bay and tried to make him comfortable, closing the door before I rejoined the rest.

“Stay close to me unless we need to slice any doors,” Brek said to Flyx Byx. “Let me go ahead a little bit. Let’s stay quiet.”

I ran up to them. Brek shushed me. He turned off the light rod and used the cylinder to open the door as I readied my bowcaster.

The area was poorly lit and there were the shrieks of more animals that we all knew to be monstrously consuming any flesh they could find. Fear coursed through us all as a few flashes of light illuminated the detention area. There was also a steady tapping noise coming from the right side of the room, but we couldn’t see far enough to know what it was. We knew the entrance to the lab was in that general direction but there was no way to know if that entrance was blocked or if we would find more monsters there.

We were on the upper level of the facility, the huge door opening onto a catwalk that ran around the walls of the place.

“Stay frosty,” I growled.

Flyx Byx looked around nervously, his eyes rolling around in his head. Almost all of the cells we could see were open.

“The guard said that someone let them out,” Brek said.

The tapping sound came from the right somewhere. Brek crept up quietly and I covered him with my bowcaster.

“So,” I said to Flyx Byx. “Can rakghouls climb? Up sheer surfaces?”

“I have no idea,” the sweating Sullustan said.

* * *

Brek had crept forward and found a solitary cell that had a prisoner inside of it. Quite panicked, the man appeared to be uninjured but his eyes were hollow from the fear. He sporadically banged his head against the cot, the tapping sound we’d heard earlier, and wrung his hands constantly. Though nearly insane with terror, he turned out to be coherent.

“Who are you?” he said.

“I’m here to stop this,” Brek said.

“You can’t stop it. No one can stop it.”

“What did you see?”

* * *

When we saw Brek wave, we crept up.

“I was in my cell when the lights went out,” the man in the cell said. “I watched the first monster come and attack the guards, biting several before they shot it down. Just before lunch time, the first guard came back from the infirmary, then transformed into a monster right outside of my cell! More monsters came and then the guards opened the cells to give them new targets, but they forgot about me.”

“What’s your name?” Brek said.

“Dex,” the man said.

I was suspicious of the man. The door looked like it was opened with a code cylinder so either he was overlooked … or something else.

“You’re the force user?” I said to Mella. “You getting anything off this guy?”

She shook her head.

“Do you know about a doctor here?” Brek said. “A researcher.”

“I might sound a little paranoid,” I said. “Do you know why? I’m paranoid!”

“You guys want me to spring him?” Flyx Byx said.

“Not yet,” I said.

“I don’t know,” the prisoner said. “I know they were doing research in the labs over there.”

He gestured down and to the right of where we were to a nearby hallway.

“I think he might feel safer inside,” Mella said.

“Some of the prisoners were taken down there but … I never was,” the prisoner said. “And some of them never came back. Those that did seem crazed. Tortured maybe. I don’t know.”

Brek took off his officer’s cap.

“Hey, listen,” he said. “I don’t know what these Imperial scum have been doing but, clearly, this is wrong and horrible. I don’t know what you did and, frankly, I don’t care. Listen, we’re going to try to find a way out and … are you able to fight?”

“No!” the prisoner said. “I’m not leaving this cell.”

I thought the man was telling the truth. He was just one of the fortunate ones that was stuck in his cell when it happened.

“Listen don’t go anywhere,” Brek said. “Why am I saying this? You’re not going anywhere. But … we’re going to figure this out. Maybe we’ll be back, okay?”

“I know that … I heard that … I think I heard the guards locked themselves in the lab,” the prisoner said. “A large group of them went down that way when everything happened.”

“How many guards?” I growled.

The man simply gave me a blank look. He must not have spoken the language.

“Question: what are you in here for?” Brek asked the man.

“I … I don’t remember,” the prisoner said.

“Damn, that’s hardcore,” Brek said.

He started to walk away, a single tear tracing its way down his face.

“Why didn’t he answer my question?” I said.

The animal shrieking sound came again. There was a clattering sound as if claws on metal.

“Watch out!” Brek said.

Two packs of three rakghouls rushed us, one from the front and one from the back. Brek spun around, holstered his pistol, drew a grenade, and rolled it towards the three coming from behind us.

“Heads down!” he shouted.

With a blast, the grenade went off, shattering the catwalk behind us and leaving a large smashed hole between us and the rakghouls there. One was killed in the blast.

“They’re not so tough!” Flyx Byx shrieked.

“Punch through!” Brek said. “Let’s keep moving!”

Mella drew her blaster and opened fire on the creatures coming from in front of us. She didn’t seem to hurt any of them but one of them stumbled as the blast struck the catwalk near it. The two things behind us were stymied by the hole and growled menacingly at us. The group in front of us rushed us and I fired into them but missed completely, even at that range. It was not a pleasant feeling. I dropped my bowcaster and drew my vibro-ax.

Flyx Byx shot at the things behind us but missed them completely, though the blaster bolt struck the catwalk and shook it.

“All right, we push forward!” Brek said. “Focus on the ones ahead of us.”

He drew both his blaster pistols and stepped forward next to me, opening fire on the three creatures rushing us. One of the bolts clipping one of the creatures, knocking it off the catwalk, leaving two. Mella concentrated on a hanging bar and it shivered and then flew violently towards the things in front of us. The bar struck one horror in the head and it stumbled and fell, dead.

“This is fun!” she said.

With a rattling, the rakghouls behind us leapt across the gap Brek had created. The one left in front of us rushed forward and attacked Brek, slashing at him and drawing blood.

“I’m fine!” Brek cried out.

“I’ll kill you later if I have to!” I growled.

“Thanks?” Brek said.

I attacked the thing mauling Brek with my vibro-ax, chopping it in half from its shoulder to its opposite side. As the horror fell in two pieces, I spun around. The creatures behind us were rallying to rush. Flyx Byx aimed his spread-barrel blaster at them and fired. The blast killed one of them outright, burning it in the head and flinging it off the catwalk. The other one was badly injured but kept coming.

Brek, spun, aimed, and fired at the last of the horrors. The blast killed the last of the things when he shot it three times in the chest. As it staggered, he stepped forward and punched it off the catwalk. Then he gripped his hand.

“Ow!” he said. “I shouldn’t have done that!”

He wiped the mucus off his hand onto the uniform.

“Well, this uniform’s ruined,” he said. “It’s a good thing it’s not mine.”

I cleaned my vibro-ax off on his uniform as well. He looked at me.

“You just said you’d get rid of the uniform,” I said.

“Here, I’ll do this,” Mella said.

She concentrated and held out a hand, facing Brek. The mucus and slime were flung off his uniform.

“How are you feeling there, lieutenant?” I asked him.

“It’s Brek,” Brek said.

“I know. How do you feel?”

“I feel fine, prisoner.”

“All right. If you start turning into one, let me know. I’ll make it quick.”

“Good job, everyone.”

“Go away!” the prisoner said.

“Do you have any slime?” Mella asked him, peeking into the cell. “I can move it.”

“No.”

“Okay.”

“Let’s go,” I said.

We continued on down the catwalk to the lower level to the hallway. There was a door with a sign above it that read “Laboratory Area.” It was locked. We heard a piercing shriek and turned to see three more of the monsters loping towards us, drool streaming from their mouths.

Brek moved to the door but then hesitated.

“Open the door!” I growled at him.

He fired at the rakghouls and quickly opened the door with the code cylinder. We backed through the door, shooting at them as we went, and it closed behind us. We heard the things crash into the door and scratch at it. It seemed to hold under their assault.

The stairwell behind us was stark white and very well-lit. It was wide and led us down some 50 meters. We spied an exit corridor about halfway down. A sign across from us on the wall laid out a simple iconic map that labeled the areas as “Research Offices” and “Infirmary.” The map indicated that, at the bottom of the stairwell was a large area marked with a biohazard symbol and labeled “Experimental Lab.” I could hear nothing but my own breathing. No one was in sight.

Brek stared at the biohazard sign, seemingly fixated on it.

“No no no no no,” he muttered.

He ripped his uniform where he’d been injured and looked at the wound he’d received. Mella put a hand on his shoulder.

“Brek, listen, if there’s any place we can find a cure for this thing, it’s here,” she said. “There’s no better place we can be, even as horrible as it is.”

“Okay,” Brek said.

“If we can’t, I’ll make it quick,” I said.

She cursed.

“What?” I said. “That is what I’d do to any Wookie. He is … comrade.”

“You need to work on my bedside manner,” she said.

“This is good Wookie bedside manner!” I said. “I’ve know of many medical holodramas from Kashyyyk. This is what the doctor always does. What are you talking about?”

Brek’s breathing quickened for a moment. Then he chuckled.

“You all are … wonderful,” he said. “You know that, right?”

“No one I’d rather be raging through a monster-filled lab with,” Mella said.

“Yeah,” Brek said. “Same.

“You’ll be fine!” I said.

I patted him on the shoulder, nearly knocking him down.

“See, you feel better already,” I said.

Flyx Byx looked over the man, examining the wound.

“You’re good,” he said. “You’re not infected.”

Brek suddenly lurched forward, a blank look in his eye and growled at us. I poked him with my bowcaster.

“Ow!” he said. “Okay! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Sorry.”

He led the way down the steps, moving quietly. We soon reached the branching corridor midway down. There were office doors on the left, two to the right, and a door at the end of the hall marked with a medical symbol. The area looked deserted and the lights in the offices were off except for the second office on the left.

“I think we need to go to the research offices,” Mella said.

“We might be able to find more keys there,” Brek said.

“Or maybe Dr. Tui,” both Mella and Flyx Byx said.

“Exactly,” Mella said.

I brought up the rear.

“Maybe we should go to the one with the lights on,” Mella said.

“Keep trained on that infirmary door,” Brek said. “Anything starts to come through that doesn’t look human, blast it.”

“Anything that doesn’t look human or anything that doesn’t look like people?” Flyx Byx said.

“I think at this point, we can’t take any risks,” Brek said.

“If it’s covered in slime, shoot it,” I said.

“No mercy for slimy boys,” Mella said.

I nodded.

We made our way down the corridor slowly. A chittering sound came from the first right office. I told everyone something was in there, then reached forward and pushed the button to close the door. Something scratched against the glass inside.

“I’m going to watch this door,” I said. “Keep going.”

I moved closer to the door and when Brek shined his glow rod in, we could see there was a rakghoul in the room wearing a torn doctor’s coat. It pushed against the door and the glass but both held.

“Check out the lit ones first,” I said. “Find a computer. Find a layout of the facility. Find out whose office this is.”

Brek and I stayed by the door while the others went into the lit office.

* * *

Mella and Flyx Byx found little of interest in the office except for a cabinet. It was locked and they returned for the code cylinder Brek had but it didn’t work. Flyx Byx ended up jimmying the thing open and found it a little portable freezer unit in the cabinet. There was a vial of liquid in that with a tab that read “Juliet Foxtrot Alpha.” The freezer unit had enough power to last a day or two. It was only the size of a datapad. They took it.

Brek shined his glow rod into the two other dark offices and then went into one, returning with a lab coat and an Imperial ID code for a man named Dr. Morvis Vek. He was apparently the infirmary doctor and appeared to be the other half of the coat the Rakghoul was wearing. He found a code cylinder in it as well.

He found a computer but it was disconnected from the holonet. In another office were several purchase orders and transfer papers lodged in cabinets. It was clear the penal facility was transferring more prisoners in than out. It was far more than the facility could support, probably because they were being killed.

The infirmary was next and they found it well-stocked with state-of-the-art medical equipment, including a bacta tank. Flyx Byx used the equipment to help Brek with his injuries. They also found six Stimpacks.

We found Dr. Vek’s personal logs and several internal communications with Dr. Tui. They noted frustration at being unable to treat the rakghoul infection in the prisoners without the antigen and requested that samples of the antigen be made available. A single reply was saved from Dr. Tui explaining that the antigen was not fully tested and could not be clinically administered at the time.

They returned and Brek looked through the window of the office with his glow rod. Everything had been destroyed in there so we left the rakghoul behind and continued on.

We headed down the stairs to the Experimental Lab. At the bottom, there was a door with a terminal and a code cylinder slot. Brek inserted the second code cylinder he’d found.

With a soft puff of air, the laboratory doors opened to a startling research facility. The room was circular with a massive, pulsing power conduit that stretched from floor to ceiling ringed by computer terminals. Lab stations and unrecognizable medical equipment were placed with some strategic purpose, leaving walkways to two unmarked doors at opposite sides of the room. Several flat tables with restraining cuffs lay empty and banks of test tubes and vials crowded the area. The most disturbing sight were the tanks which dominated the far wall.

A dozen massive tanks, filled with what looked like bacta, housed a grotesque menagerie floating in their depths. Clearly rakghouls, like those we’d encountered in the levels above, some appeared smaller and partially developed. They looked much different from the others, sporting patches of fur, scales, and extra limbs - almost as if they’d been infused with the DNA of other creatures.

What drew my eye immediate were the two center tanks, much larger than the rest. They housed normal-looking rakghouls, as normal as the creatures could get at any rate, except for their increased size. They were almost a meter taller than the others and lacked the hunched statue and elongated arms. One was clearly wearing the torn remnants of a lab coat and the other an Imperial Officer’s uniform.

The very last tank next to the far door to the right had clearly been shattered. Shards of glass surrounded it and the nearby floor was still wet with the tank fluid. There were no signs of the occupant and it suddenly occurred to me how all this undoubtedly started.

“They mentioned the failsafe,” Brek quietly said. “When we leave, we should trigger that failsafe, whatever it is.”

“How?” I growled. “Where is it? It’s probably in a security office somewhere. We haven’t seen anything like that yet.”

“The failsafe is the alarm, isn’t it?” Flyx Byx said.

I aimed my bowcaster at the rakghoul in the Imperial uniform, also keeping an eye out for the escaped rakghoul. Mella and Brek searched the room. I told Flyx Byx he needed to get any information he could.

Flyx Byx got on the computer and soon found something. He located research notes that made it clear Dr. Tui is, or was, the research head of Ice Station Zulu and had extensive knowledge about genetics and virology. A message was also there from Captain Delagray, our Triumvirate handler, to Dr. Tui, arranging for a group of agents to arrive and take possession of XR-12 samples. It was not clear why the doctor would have agreed. Based on the medical logs and personal notes, it seemed one of “subjects,” probably the one in the now-broken tank, unexpectedly awoke from stasis six days before and attacked two lab technicians before it was killed. Dr. Tui knew the subject was contagious but his research notes made it clear he elected to not administer the antigen to the two, hoping for a chance to watch the progression of the virus in an uncontrolled environment.

Brek found a closed glass storage unit marked “XR-12.” Inside were 20 vials in two neat rows. The row of 10 vials on top were marked “XR-12 Virus” while the lower row were labeled “XR-12 Antigen.”

“I don’t think we should give this to this gangster,” I growled. “I’m sorry.”

“We still have Juliet Foxtrot Alpha,” Flyx Byx said. “We could pass that on as this.”

I suggested Flyx Byx look through the computer for anything on Juliet Foxtrot Alpha but he didn’t find anything. However, he found a message from Dr. Tui to a Kaminoan on Kamino discussing purchasing the sample from them for a sizeable amount of money. We didn’t know anything about the Kamino system or its inhabitants.

I looked at the cabinet, which didn’t appear to be locked though it seemed to be refrigerated.

“What do you think, Brek?” I growled.

It sounded like two people were talking behind one of the doors.

“They did say people were holed up,” Mella said.

“Humans, find out what you can,” I growled.

“Maybe just you two go into the room,” Flyx Byx said to Mella and Brek. “We’ll stay back with the XR-12.”

“Grab a few of the antigen,” Brek said.

“This needs to be blown up,” I growled, pointing to the top row that held the virus.

“I agree,” Flyx Byx said.

“It’s too dangerous right now,” Brek said.

“It’s also possible that the case is alarmed,” Mella said. “We might want to check and see.”

Brek examined the cabinet. He didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about it.

“Yorbacca, handle this,” he said to me. “We’ll go check out the voices.”

Mella and he crossed the room to the other door while I looked at the cabinet with some discomfort. Flyx Byx and I talked about it, worried the virus might be loose in the cabinet. We opted to leave it alone but stand near it for the time.

I stopped Brek and borrowed a grenade from him, just in case I needed to try to destroy the virus.

* * *

The humans crossed to the room and could hear light muttering from inside. Brek knocked on the door.

“Imperial navy!” he said.

“Who’s there!?!” a voice came from within.

Then a light crackling sound came from the room as if something had been activated.

“Lt. Cor Sin of the Victory,” Brek said. “Who’s in there? Are you survivors? Are you infected?”

“You cannot wake them,” a man said. “You cannot wake the sleepers. We … we …”

Footsteps came towards the door.

“Have your weapon ready,” Brek said to Mella.

She had her pistol pointed at the door.

“I’m about to open the door,” Brek called.

There was no response. Only the crackling. He guessed it was a weapon of some sort.

“You have a flash grenade?” he said to Mella.

She nodded and took one out.

“Let’s do breach and clear,” he said. “I’ll pop it open and you toss it in.”

“All right,” she said. “Here we go.”

Brek pushed the button to crack the door open and Mella tossed the flash grenade into the room where two Imperials who wore all black stood. Each of them held a force pike and had a carbine on his back. Brek closed the door and there was a thud from within. He flung the door open and pointed his blasters at them.

“Weapons on the ground!” he shouted. “Drop ‘em! Drop ‘em!”

Brek noticed the two fully developed rakghouls were now moving in their tanks.

“If we’re all quiet, maybe …” he whispered.

The creatures continued writhing in their tanks.

He looked around, panicking.

“You will join them!” one of the guards said. “We protect them! They are changing! They will change us! They will change the galaxy! Will you join them?”

“Filth!” Brek said.

He pushed the button to close the door, turned and pointed at the tanks.

“Blast ‘em!” he said. “I think we should focus fire! Take him down!”

Brek fired both his pistols at the creature in uniform, blasting through the bacta tank. Flyx Byx also blasted it and it collapsed to the ground, obviously dead. I turned my aim to the thing in the labcoat and fired. I immediately reloaded as the thing fell out of the blasted bacta tank. Mella ran to the XR-12 cabinet and flung it open. Alarms immediately started sounding in the room. Lights started blinking red and a countdown timer started.

“Warning, XR-12 removed without sufficient security access,” an auto tone voice said. “Incineration commencing in 10 minutes. Protocol Inferno. Station destruction in 10 minutes.”

The power core started shaking violently.

Brek whipped out his com.

“Vor’la! Vor’la! Do you hear us?” he said.

There was no reply.

Mella grabbed all of the vials. She looked around and noticed some kind of emergency symbols on the other door. She ran to it and threw it open. A ladder was there.

The two imperials from the room burst out with force pikes and ran into the room, rushing at Mella. They swung wildly at her, both of them missing.

The rakghoul climbed to its feet and looked around. The horror came at me, swiping at me as I took cover behind the medical equipment.

Brek switched his pistol to stun and shot one of the Imperials without hurting him much.

“Come get me, fools!” he called out. “Run!”

He moved into the other room, trying to draw them to him.

Meanwhile, Flyx Byx went to the computer and fiddled with it. The countdown and the alarms stopped.

“There’s an off button right here!” he quipped.

I slung the bowcaster, drew the vibro-ax and attacked the rakghoul in front of me, knocking it back and then taking another immediate swing, but missed the thing, knocking away the piece of equipment between us.

“Get outta here, I got this!” I roared.

Mella concentrated and seemed to yank of the men’s legs towards her, knocking him down and dragging him through the broken glass, rolling him over and over, cutting his face. He glared at Mella and then stood up and turned up the power setting to the force lance. He swung at the woman and missed completely. The other guard rushed Brek but struck the door instead, jamming it open.

The rakghoul struck me, cutting me in the chest.

Brek kicked a chair across the room he was in and it hit the guard, knocking him into several chemicals. He dropped his staff and tried to get the chemicals off himself. Brek picked up the force pike.

Flyx Byx aimed and fired at Dr. Tui. The blast went wide.

I flung down my vibro-ax, leapt on the horror and twisted its head around until it ripped completely off, then flung it into the corner. Blood spewed from the body as it fell to the ground, dead. I picked my vibro-ax back up.

Mella drew her blaster and fired it at the Imperial she was fighting. The bolt struck him in the chest and he staggered back a step. Both of the men wailed.

“Your god is dead!” I bellowed.

I don’t think they understood me.

“Nice try, buddy!” Brek said.

“What?” I bellowed.

One of the men struck Mella with his force pike. She cursed.

“I’m coming Mella!” Brek shouted.

He stepped by the man on the ground who was still trying to wipe the chemicals off himself and swung the force pike he’d picked up at the man facing Mella. He missed completely, twisting and twirling the force pike. He got the man’s attention though.

Flyx Byx flung a flash grenade at the man in the doorway, blinding both the guard and himself.

I rushed the guard who was turning towards Brek. I brought the vibro-ax down on him, smashing through his force pike as he tried to defend himself. The blow came down on his shoulder and cut through his body, nearly cutting him in half. Both Brek and I were covered in blood.

Mella shot at the blinded guard, blasting a hole in his armor.

“Surrender and we’ll let you go!” I shouted. “Look, we don’t want to hurt you! We’ll take you out of here when this place blows up.”

The guard shook his head and he seemed to finally come to his senses. He raised his hands.

“I surrender,” he said.

“I vote we take his weapons, tie him to a chair, and leave him for the other Imperials,” Mella said.

“No no no no no,” I said. “Let’s take him with. There are things loose in the facility. You want to come with us?”

“Let me explain,” the guard said. “I assume you’re here for the XR-12 samples, right?”

“That is what I stole that almost got us all killed,” Mella said.

“It is,” I said.

I walked over and removed the blaster carbine from his back. I handed it off to Flyx Byx.

“Look, just take me with you,” the guard said. “Just drop me off at the nearest starport and I’ll find my own way.”

“Does this way lead out?” I said.

I pointed to the door with the ladder.

“It’ll take you up to one of the hangers,” he said,.

“What do you know about Juliet Foxtrot Alpha?” I said.

“I don’t know!”

“Be respectful!”

“Dr. Tui bought it. I don’t know why he wanted it.”

I looked at the terrible creature’s head in the corner.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“I guess I’m going first?” the guard said.

“No,” I said.

I suggested Brek go first as he was still an Imperial officer for all intents and purposes and if we ran into trouble, he could deal with it. Mella said she’d go next and I told Flyx Byx to follow her, followed by the guard, while I brought up the rear with the bowcaster pointing at him.

The guard looked at the other guard.

“You could’ve spared him too,” he said.

“If he hadn’t fought, we would have,” I said.

“We were taken by insanity. We’ve been here two days in this lab. We locked ourselves in.”

“I didn’t enjoy it, but it was the heat of battle. Let’s go. We’re going to drop you off at a starport. We’re not going to hurt you.”

“What about the countdown?” the guard said.

“It’s stopped,” I said.

“I shut it down,” Flyx Byx said.

“Wait, do we wanted it stopped?” I said.

“There’s more things in this facility,” the guard said. “If you let me access the console, I can restart the countdown at 10 minutes.”

“What do you think?” I asked the others.

“I do think that … our ship was a 15 minute walk …” Mella said.

“How far is it from here to the hanger?” I asked the guard.

“It’s just a couple minutes up the ladder,” he said.

“Oh, then we’re fine,” Mella said. “Let’s do that.”

“Wait!” I said. “There’s a man in a cell who’s not been infected.”

“He’s probably dead by now,” the guard said.

“The cell doors were sealed, still,” I said. “I’m getting him.”

I turned to the stairs.

“If I’m not back in five minutes, start the countdown without me,” I said.

I ran up the steps but then ran back down.

“Oh wait, give me the code cylinders!” I said.

I grabbed them from Brek as Flyx Byx reminded me there was a rakghouls between here and there. I ignored him and headed up the stairs.

I ran up to the top, opened the door there and found the rakghouls had left. I ran into three of the things and fled from them, running up to the man’s cell and opening it up, manhandling him out and throwing him over my shoulder. As I ran down the catwalk, I grabbed one of the dead rakghouls, dragging it along as well, hoping I could use the meat to distract any others that might be in my way. I didn’t run into any more and closed and locked the door at the top of the stairs, running to the bottom.

The guard reset the countdown and we headed up the ladder, sending the mad prisoner towards the front and threatening him if he didn’t go up the ladder. The ladder actually opened up into the floor of one of the exterior hanger platforms: our platform! We were meters away from the shuttle.

Scrambling up, we noticed the platform was completely deserted. No personnel, or even bodies, could be seen. The heavy door to the facility was wide open. From that distance, I stared into the blackness of the interior security room but saw nothing.

Moving towards the ship, we spied tiny droplets of blood leading across the platform, past the shuttle, and out into the snow and ice. At a glance, I could almost make out several sets of tracks heading off into the wilds of Hoth - but I didn’t spend much time pondering it.

The ramp of the ship lowered as we approached and we entered. Vor’la and Soril were fine and they quickly punched up the nav control and began a pre-flight warm up. In minutes, we departed Ice Station Zulu and flew through the eerily peaceful snows of Hoth until we reached orbit.

We all struggled with what we just saw and experienced and pondered the uses of the mysterious virus that we were obviously misled about. We had to decide whether to dig deeper into the Triumvirate’s plan for the virus or whether to give it to them at all. Then there was a cure. If any of the rakghouls survived or if the Empire had a secondary facility, then the serum could fetch a hefty price on the black market. But if the mythical rakghoul was really back to terrorize the galaxy, after all we had just seen, could we live with ourselves if we sold the cure to the highest bidder?

I shuddered as the nav computer finished its calculations and we rocketed to light speed.

* * *

While in hyperspace, we did some research on the holonet. As far as we could tell “Juliet Foxtrot Alpha” had nothing to do with the rakghoul virus. It appeared to be genetic strands, DNA samples. The Imperial guard actually helped us figure out what it was: one of the prize possessions of historical value to any geneticist. It was one of the last known samples of the original DNA sample of Jengo Fett, the bounty hunter who provided the source of DNA for the Republic’s Clone Army during the Clone Wars. It was extremely valuable in the right hands.

I suggested keeping the ship and going elsewhere.

“We’re going to be on the run for the rest of our lives,” Mella said.

“We cannot give this to them!” I growled.

“What if we ‘failed the mission?’” Flyx Byx said.

“Then they’re going to kill us,” I growled.

“We ‘failed the mission.’”

“Then they’re going to kill us. He said either bring it back or you’re going to be killed.”

When it was noted we might sell them the Jengo Fett DNA, I opposed it.

“They’ll make clones!” I growled.

“I would rather they make clones than make rakghouls,” Mella said.

“I don’t want them to make anything!” I growled. “Screw these gangsters.”

I thought on it.

“Let’s go to Alderaan,” I said. “I hear people are nice there.”

We discussed that briefly.

“I say we space that virus,” I growled. “Maybe keep the cure. Drop it in a sun somewhere.”

“Here’s my thing, I don’t want to give it to them, but I want a better plan, because they offered us a really good deal,” Mella said. “I need to have a better idea of what we’re doing.”

“I didn’t make the bets,” I growled. “That was Vor’la.”

“I know, but I’m saying, they would relieve his debt,” she said and pointed at Brek.

“I understand that, but …”

“I’m just saying we need a plan.”

“What other options are there? I know I don’t even want to go back to Bespin. Screw that guy.”

“Yeah, I’m in favor of not going back to Bespin,” Flyx Byx said.

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