The most interesting aspect of Lok is the fact that there is any kind of functional Spaceport. Even by Outer Rim standards it is underdeveloped and uncivilized. The wind that hits the face upon leaving the spaceship that brought the weary traveler here has a cold and dry feel to it. This is countered by the warmth of the sun shining in a cloudless sky. The temperature is approximately 13 degrees Celsius. In the distance short shrubs dot the hill side showing defiantly that life will find the most uninteresting places to take root.
Locals agree to take Syric Frost via speeder to a small village 200km south of the spaceport named Mesa de Venganza. The guides that take him into the village have odd dialects and speech patterns of galactic basic betraying that it isn’t their native tongue. They don’t seem to terribly talkative and eye him suspiciously. As Syric speeds along, occasionally he sees a homestead farm with large fields of some kind of grain, wheat probably. Rarely in the voyage is another person ever seen, nor any droid or speeder until Syric and his escorts come up on a low-walled village that has at most 6 buildings.
The gruff speeder cabby reluctantly takes the 50 credits that Syric offers him and expresses umbrage to the insult of having to take so little for such a long trip with such a smelly passenger. He refuses to aid the man in taking his bags past the wall’s gate on the west side of the village.
Walking around, Syric sees two old men standing in a doorway of the first building. One is human the other is rodian. Both are eyeing you suspiciously as you carrying your bag looking for the Church of Alvis. In the light of day, the bold and brilliant claims Jounville made about his religious home town do not match what Syric currently sees before him. This settlement, a word that would be a stretch by most definitions, is a series of small buildings in a deteriorating state.
“I suppose Arillius sent for you in regards to his boy.” says the human with a judgemental tone. “Head over to that shack, I mean church on the east side of the village.”
Syric wanders over to a small building that has some prefab unit panels making up the main walls, but clearly has stone and clay filler in parts where the prefab panels couldn’t properly join. As he passes through the doorway into the church’s “nave” he sees a collection of varied men milling about, righting knocked over chairs and other furniture.
“Well I guess that is the last of them to arrive. I’m Arillius Blackferne, Joun’s father. I called you all here because my boy is missing. This isn’t like one of his normal drunken escapades. Hell I wish it were that since that just is waiting for a cantina owner to contact me about a bar tab to come pick him up. I get ahead of myself. Allow me to introduce you to everyone.”
Arillius escorts the newcomer into the middle of the room and gestures for everyone’s attention. “Everyone, Syric Frost here has been a frequent friend to Joun for going on what 6 years now? I’m not exactly sure what business he is in, and I think he prefers it that way.”
Arillius then motions to a mid 30s Cerean sitting reclined in a chair with his feet propped up on another looking down at a datapad. “This is So Leet. He is a whiz with computers and I think hacked something 10 years ago that got him in trouble with the Exchange.”
The next person he motions to is a gray-furred Bothan donning a dark purple jacket sitting on a low step up to the “altar area” of the “church”. “Dood Ammn’el is a wandering soul if I ever met one. He ran with me and Joun a few years back for a stint. Fine enough mechanic, and always got an ear for a story. I’m glad you came out. I wasn’t sure I’d find you.”
Arillius walks toward a mid-30s man sitting in a chair with his carbine nestled in his arms, “Bulwark Migs here met Joun over some docking fees or something? I can’t remember the details, but you two ran some scams there for a stretch.”
Arillius walks over to a Zabrak with a damaged horn on his head. “Klak Reen served with Joun in the Galactic Repub Army. They ran together for a while when Joun didn’t re-up his enlistment. I used to think that decision had saved his life, but now I’m not so sure. Thanks for coming Klak.”
“Eli there is some kind of pit fighter or something.” Arillius points to an imposing young man who has what appears to be a scrapped iron bar fastened to his side. His arms folded show the definition of a fit man. “Actually I remember Joun saying you were pretty devout and a focused soul, whatever that means. I’m glad you came out.”
“And last we have the honorable Solumnos, Columi envoy I think. I’m not sure how you and Joun knew each other. Care to explain?” Arillius looks at a frail creature in a repulsor lift chair who has a head disproportionally large for its short weak body. By the creature’s side is a modified protocol droid with red metallic tint body. The droid seems to be adjusting some controls on the side of the chair.
“Good luck getting him to say anything. I think that little droid does all the work for him,” grouses Klak while finishing a large ale. “Frankly, Arillius, I would be happy to help out my old pal, Joun. I owe him for introducing me to the ways of Alvis and getting me out of the damn army – but I’m not sure what this group of misfits is going to do to help you out.”
Looking over the assembled personages, Solumnos’ head turns, “I am here at the behest of my ambassador who extended his courtesy to your father.”, a disapproving frown directed at Klak, though no answer is given.
The protocol droid standing near Solumnos’ hovering chair interrupts, “Forgive my master. Hyperspace travel sometimes has a disorienting effect on his frail body which clouds his mind. What he probably intended to say is that we traveled to this rustic corner of the galaxy at the behest of Koth Amm’nel, father of Dood there. My master is here merely to advise as Dood Amm’nel mentioned to his father about the affinity he holds for the Blackferne clan.” Z2-KP speaks in with a droll tone. Droids rarely express boredom in their speech, but this model seems to be hitting the marks perfectly.
Klak looks over the gathered crowd, “I just don’t see any other fighter nearing the prowess I have as a soldier. Joun must have told you; they will sing songs of me one day.”
For all his guile and obvious ego, Klak looks to be on the downslope of a pitiful career and a bad hangover. Though young, his appearance is the haggard sort that one would expect of someone that spent more time with a fist or a blaster in his face than sleeping in a bed.
“If we are all going to sit around introducing ourselves and patting each other on the back I’m going to need a lot more of your cheapest ale.”
Klak stands up, searching the room for another drink and seems to realize he had been rude. “Sorry, Arillius. I trust you gathered the right group, and if Joun trusted them, I do to. I’m just happy to help. Now about that drink….”
Looking at the brash, young soldier, Bulwark says, “Settle down there, Junior. Insulting the rest of us isn’t going to get your friend back any sooner.”
Bulwark stands up and, sliding his carbine into his holster, turns to Arillius, “So what’s the story? How do we know your son’s gone missing and hasn’t just drunk himself into the bottom of some pit somewhere?”
From a side door connecting the church’s nave to what appears to be an “office” a man in his late 30s wearing weave armor combat suit walks out holding a datacard to Arillius.
“Because the security feed indicates otherwise.” The man said. “I couldn’t get much out of his computer. Maybe one of these guys would be better.”
Arillius takes the datacard and says, “Thank you, Eoc. Gentlemen let me introduce my co-pilot Eoc Kikuchiyo.” Arillius then tosses the datacard to So Leet.
Fumblingly catching the data card, the Cerean holds it up to the light to examine the markings and design of the card.
“Shouldn’t be that hard to figure this out, I was using these things back in the day to reschedule my classes as I saw fit. Never really liked the physical stuff, but if I could have 10 hours of programming I was set. And getting Joun a few extra hours of rack time wasn’t hard to do with their system either.”
He plugs the data card into his comlink and begins to decipher the information.
“I think that should just about do it, let’s get it up on the big screen for the other kids to watch too huh?”
So Leet plugs the comlink into the main feed for the display of the Church.
On the slightly cracked view screen Joun had put on the “altar” of the church the security footage from some basic vid recorders starts streaming. The audio track is missing and the image isn’t a terribly high quality. The images show Jounville walking around in a pretty nervous state. Those that know him, knew that Jounville never appeared nervous usually exuding a calm demeanor, or full of rage as the situation called for. Fear was not something typically associated with Jounville’s personality. That said, fear is clearly on display on the screen as Jounville frantically walks back and forth taking swigs from a bottle, muttering to himself and checking his blaster to make sure the safety is off.
A small object flies into view of the camera followed by a bright flash whiting out the screen. As the camera and light levels adjust a few bolts of blaster fire are exchanged and finally Jounville’s body slumps to the floor dropping his blaster and his bottle. Two armored Duros walk into the shot and a Gamorrean wearing a vest. They apparently argue while restraining Jounville in binder cuffs and search the church tossing furniture. They walk into and out of the shot for about 15 minutes before the Gamorrean lifts Jounville’s body over his shoulder and they walk off screen.
Hanging towards the back, Syric passes his gaze over each of the assembled viewers as they watch Jounville’s last known actions, trying to gauge the various responses and get a feel for the situation. He attempts to inconspicuously set the bottle down he had been sipping from once he recognized it on the screen.
The Duros are wearing pretty common weave armor available at most paramilitary supply shops. Their faces are covered by helmets that obscure most of their face, but given the head shape it is clear they are Duros. The Gamorrean however has a combat vest revealing his muscular arms. On his right arm appears a tattoo. Eli indicates he wants a closer look at that and So Leet zooms in and enhances the image. There is only so much refinement he can do, but it looks like some kind of lizard head with the tongue hanging out and a sword piercing down through the skull.
“But why take him? Why not just finish him off here?” Syric asks as the video finishes playing for the fifth time. “Maybe he did more than just upset someone again, because those guys are looking for something.”
“Yeah, Syric. They are after something and when they couldn’t find it, they took Jounville presumably because he knew where it was.” says Arillius. “My guess is my bonehead son has found out something he shouldn’t have and now someone wants what he found out.”
After studying the film, Eli asks the rest of the group, “Anyone recognize them?”
Walking closer to the screen, Bulwark says, “It looks like Jounville upset the wrong person. I’m no expert, but I don’t think the Sith employ many Gamorreans. And that doesn’t look like the work of the Republic. Either the Exchange or some other criminal outfit got him, or maybe some local government. Lok is pretty far from most established governments, so I am betting on the criminals.” Bulwark looks closer at the image. “They don’t appear to have any survival gear with them. So they either landed just outside of town or took a transport from the spaceport. If they landed a ship close by, there should still be evidence outside from when it lifted off.”
Bulwark heads out the door and checks the ground around the compound.
Dood glances around the room and gets up to follow Bulwark.
“I’ll give you a hand with that.”
As he walks by Arillius, Dood pauses and pats him on the shoulder. He then nods as Solumnos as he passes through the door and out into the daylight.
“After my years in the Army I would agree these don’t seem like soldiers to me but let my eyes focus on it for a minute,” Klak slurs as he stares at the monitor. I know I can help, he thought. I wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t help. My eyes are so blurry, they need to focus. A soldier just wouldn’t do this, these can’t be soldiers.
Where the hell would he hide something here?, Syric thinks to himself. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take another look around,” he says as he begins to search the church and discovers all of the usual things one might expect Jounville to be hiding. There are a few weapons hidden in nooks and crannies throughout the church. 6 flasks (various levels of whiskey consumed) are stashed in various places.
In the office Syric finds Jounville’s computer terminal, a desk, a few chairs, more guns and more booze. There are various datacards piled up next to the computer terminal. Going through them one at a time reveals normal run-of-the mill things like expenses, half finished mushy letters to various women he’s known over the years, some letters from his mother. There are travel records of places he has been over the last several years but no apparent pattern or odd location jumps out at Syric.
So Leet sits down at the computer terminal in the office.
“Let me have a crack at this thing,” he says as he starts punching in various passwords Joun would have been likely to use.
Syric notices that So Leet’s comlink is also scrolling through various images of known questionable trade organizations looking for a match to the Gammorean’s insignia tatoo.
While Syric works, Syric combines the flasks so he has three full ones. He stashes one in his pack, one in a pocket in his pants and one in his jacket. “Don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket” Syric mutters to no one in particular.
Syric sits back and thinks about the evidence presented so far – with the help of the occaisonal pull from his new found flasks.
“I wonder if the goons on the screen knew what they were looking for or if they were just the muscle hired to bring Joun in,” he thought aloud. “If they were told what to look for, we can assume it was small enough to fit in here.” Not like the cruiser we had borrowed from an irate cantina owner who thought he could kick out two men full of the Alvian spirit with no consequences.
Syric chuckles to himself quietly.
In the main room, Eli finally speaks. “Klak, do you recall any military or quasi-military units that may have used that imagery? I understand that sometimes units do things like that to build camaraderie between members.”
This entire time, since entering the room, watching the video and discussing the possibilities, other than to make room for Syric to search where he was standing Eli has yet to move. He has continued to stand toward the back, arms folded, and so stoically and quietly that many in the group had forgotten he was there.
Clearly startled by a the person talking to him, Klak responds to Eli, “No, it’s no military I know of. But Joun and I weren’t in for very long; we could have missed a few groups. I still think they aren’t Republic or Sith. There’s a lack of discipline like they were never trained,” Klak says as he settles back to his drink, still pondering the stinging between his ears.
Outside, Bulwark and Dood search the entirety of the settlement and its outskirts for any sign of a ship having landed nearby. After an hour of searching they determine that no ships have landed recently, and the only signs of vehicles appear to be speeders that have headed in the direction of the spaceport.
Examining the tracks, Bulwark gives Dood a knowing look.
“More vapor damage than you’d expect given the number of visitors assembled in the church. These aren’t from the speeders that brought us in. Looks like Jounville got a free ride north, to the starport.”
As they pack it in and head back to the church the two old men near the gate ask, “What are you two looking for?”
Bulwark approaches the two older men while wiping some dust off his pants. “We’re looking for traces of starships landing in the area. It doesn’t appear there have been any in quite some time." Nodding towards the church and those inside, “Other than the motley crew that arrived today, have you seen any new faces around here lately?”
The old Rodian starts babbling off on one long riff in Rodese. The old human nods and from time to time interjects with phrases like “You can say that again,” and, “No good indeed.” After about three minutes of this the looks on the faces of the two scouts betray that neither of them speak Rodese. The Rodian looks at his friend and makes some kind of comment while gesturing at you two.
The old man chuckles, “That is right I don’t think they do.”
“Well I’m not quite the story teller my friend here is, but the gist of it is we have not seen any spaceship land here in, say, 3 harvests. Not since back when my farm had quite the bumper crop of lokian wheat. Now that crop was quite a cash cow for me, and held me over the past few weaker crops. But I’m off-track. We haven’t seen any ships. We did hear some shouting, blaster fire and some kind of explosion a week ago and as we peeked out our windows we saw three armed men load Jounville’s body onto a speeder before taking off to go up north. Now we ain’t heroes so we just called Arillius to say his boy was in trouble.”
“We don’t get many visitors around here so this has been a rather crazy week,” the man says as he gives a wink to his green-skinned companion.
Dood walks up to stand next to Bulwark and says, “Sounds like they headed toward the spaceport,” and then looks at the two locals. “Anything stand out to you fellows about the folks escorting Jounville? You ever seen them before?”
As he asks, Dood folds his hands behind his back.
Back at the Church, So Leet’s computer slice pretty much reveals that Jounville’s computer is a mess of disorganized files. There is nothing of immediate note. There are some religious essays, a couple of poems and various vid feeds he had downloaded to watch.
The database connection is still processing the image So grabbed from the security feed. The image is poor quality, the database is huge, and the connection is slow so this is taking a lot longer than he originally anticipated.
The Cerean slicer, apparently getting quite frustrated at the level of equipment he has to use, spouts a stream of curses under his breath that continue to grow louder until everyone in the church can hear, “blowing money on crap whiskey instead of the good stuff which would have worked better and then you could have gotten some equipment that didn’t run like it had two womp rats running on a treadmill to power the connection”.
So turns to the group of on-lookers and says, “Look, this is gonna take a little bit longer than expected to figure out thanks to Joun’s love of crap whiskey and disdain for at least keeping his equipment up to a moderate level of ability. So if you folks who tend to enjoy the big fiery balls in the sky want to get out there and check things out I can keep plugging away at this thing.”
So Leet’s cursing and incessant clicking on the equipment was getting louder than the ringing in Klak’s ears. Rubbing his head he says, “You are right, So. We can probably get an idea of what’s going on by looking around outside.”
Klak knows the sun would be no better than the cursing for his head, but it might wake him up. He grabs his travel mug of ale which still bore faint hints of the Republic Army seal on it. Klak has held onto this mug for years because of the generous discounts a tavern owner offers the army on refills.
Slowly walking outside, Klak reels when the sun hits his eyes, having to catch his balance on the front window of the church. The cracking of glass as his hand finds broken shards still in the sill rouses Klak even more than the sun.
Examining the fist sized hole in the window of the church and his own hand for any damage he calls out, “Sorry Arillius. Sometimes I don’t know my own strength,” ignoring the fact that the hole had existed before his hand ever touched the window.
Resting against the door frame, Klak allows his eyes to adjust and looks around the area outside the church. Looking toward the gate to the settlement he sees the two scouts across the way, speaking with some locals.
They look harmless enough, he thinks to himself.
Solumnos glides through the door and hovers to Klak’s left. The Columi never looks at Klak, who gives him a bleary-eyed look of disapproval. Solumnos’ focus is on the Bothan and the human talking to the locals at the gate.
He watches the quartet conversing outside of earshot, but the body language tells him a great deal.
The Bothan and human scouts show signs of apprehension. Trust does not come easily to either. And while the two locals didn’t notice the Bothan reaching for a hidden weapon moments ago, Solumnos noticed it quite easily from his vantage.
Impressive, he thinks. To the untrained eye Dood was merely scratching an itch. He’s learned much since leaving home.
The locals are a melodrama of anxiety. The Rodian is clearly more uneasy than the human. Both, as best Solumnos as can tell, yearn for a non-eventful existence and clearly are not happy that so many strangers are walking around the settlement. They don’t appear to be dishonest to the pair of scouts per their body language, but the scouts do make them nervous. They, however, realize this and are putting on their bravest most calm face.
The Rodian again goes on with the Human waving at him to slow down.
“Now these two don’t speak Rodese you gotta give me a second. So it was late afternoon and we had come back from tending our fields and making supper when the commotion started. Now we are use to Jounville getting drunk from time to time and shooting things. We told him not to shoot our stuff and mostly he has complied. I guess that is about as considerate as you can expect from a drunk in his usual condition. The thing about Jounville is while he shoots crazily sometimes he rarely pops off more than a few shots for his own amusement.
“Now this blaster fire was different. First it started with an explosion which is not like Jounville at all. So I stuck my head out the door and noticed a speeder parked in front of the church over there. That combined with the blaster fire and the explosion caused me to duck back in and just peek out the window at what transpired. After a few minutes the blaster fire stopped. There was some quiet and then some sounds furniture being tossed about. I think that crack on the front window was caused by them, but I can’t be sure about that. Finally after about 15 minutes they walked out. The big green one with the snout had Jounville slung over his shoulder, and he dropped him in the back seat and loaded into the speeder and sped off. Jounville screamed ‘Get help! Call my dad!’ before one of the big headed ones in armor popped him in the mouth and told him to shut up as they passed through the gate.”
Dood and Bulwark exchange a look. Dood’s fur above his eyes is slightly wrinkled in a look of curiosity as he asks, “Have you noticed anything strange about Jounville leading up to the incident? Has he been acting odd – well odder than usual? Has he been entertaining guests, traveling more or less than usual? Anything out of the ordinary for him?”
The old man replies, “Well he is a strange gurk to begin with, but I reckon you might know that already. He was back for probably two weeks before they took him. He was a bit more jittery than normal. No guests I can recall. As for his travels he usually swings by once every few months and stays a month or two. His last trip had him out a bit longer than usual by a few weeks. I didn’t think much of it to be honest. His delusions often take him to new places.”
The Rodian just nods his head in strong agreement.
“Any idea where he went?”
The old duo shrug their shoulders. Dood stares at them through icy blue eyes for a moment, trying to determine whether or not he believes that this is all they know. Blasted Rodian, he thinks. I can never read those savages.
Bulwark turns to Dood, “Maybe that computer kid can backtrace Jounville’s arrival and figure out where he came from.”
Dood nods, thanks the farmers for their time, takes his hand off of his hidden pistol, and begins walking back to the church.
Solumnus notices a light knocking on his chair followed by a squeaky voice saying, “Exsqueeze but wherea ganna missa find da house of drink?” When Solumnus turns he sees a thin Gungan male wearing a Jedi robe and a vacuous expression. The Gungan smiles and his eyes blink rapidly for a moment.“Missa m here to see Arillius Blackferne.”
Klak turns his squinted red eyes and attention to the voices to the side of him. A Gungan Jedi, guess nothing should surprise me on this trip.
“And who might you be?” Arillius says with a tone of complete surprise to the new visitor.
“Yousa Arillius? Mesa Padawan Wailer Master Jana sent missa to help yousa and said da yousa can inform missa of missa mission whena missa arrive. Missa ve arriv! What is weesa doin?” Wailer’s head nodded rapidly as he spoke.
Klak shifts his stance so he can better hear the conversation while keeping one eye on Dood and Bulwark as they return to the Church. Looking at the Jedi, Klak smiles a big, ugly Zabrak smile as if reminded of his past and mumbles softly, “And I was too tempted by the dark side to be trained. Humph.” More loudly he asks, “Do you two have any news worth sharing?”
“Well, there are no signs of a starship landing anywhere nearby. A couple of the locals claim they saw what happened. Apparently there was an explosion and some blaster fire, followed by our three friends dragging Jounville off in a speeder. I’m guessing the explosion was some sort of flash-bang shot through the window.” Bulwark explains. “Did you see any evidence of that in here?” he asks to no one in particular.
Arillius shrugs and turns back to the Gungan.
“Jana sent you? I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. She always put Jounville second. Padawan Wailer, pleasure to meet you. Your Master sent you to help find her son Jounville who is missing. We have some sketchy vid-feeds of the abduction and are searching for clues at the moment.” Arillius says in a tone of annoyance that appears whenever Jounville’s mother is involved.
Inside the church, So Leet is startled as the computer starts beeping.
Looking at terminal, So exclaims, “Got something!”
Bulwark appears over his shoulder. Squinting at the screen, Bulwark says, “Finally, some good news! What do we know about Kunga the Hutt?”
“Well if you can get me to a decent com-system I can probably tell you his mother’s favorite flavor of slug. With this old heap I’d be lucky to tell you if his name was spelled right,” complains So.
So Leet looks at the Gungan Jedi that just walked into the room. So this is what we’re coming to for help?
Addressing the rest of the group, “As for the flash bang that’s the bright light at the beginning of the video. I’m pretty good with explosives too. I figure its a pretty common piece of equipment. Not like it’s a collapsible hyperdrive or something. I personally think we need to get to a more advanced planet get me linked to a better computer system and find this oversized marshmallow and get Joun back.”
Eoc speaks up, “Kunga is a minor crime boss operating mostly out of Bryx though he does have a few systems he frequents. I mean he is a bit player in the Exchange and not a major guy like Sargo, but you don’t even get to be a minor boss unless you are willing to melt someone’s face in acid to prove a point.”
Bulwark says, “Good, thats gives us a ‘where’ to go along with our ‘why’. As for the ‘what’, I think our best bet is to backtrack where Jounville was.” He turns to So’leet, “Think you could pull passenger manefests fo the last few weeks from the Starport here? That may give us an idea what Jounville was into.”
From the edge of town the scream of the old men and a few bolts of blaster fire are heard…