2 ABY – 09 Golf – 7 Zheliday (Ambria) Having finished their weapons shopping, Kantarra & Cheebs are rejoined by C4-BL3 and head into the droid repair shop, hoping to find a buyer for their battledroids. Instead, they find that the eponymous proprietor of “Zexto’s Key” is in fact an ex-Imperial protocol droid. Kantarra thinks better of pressing the battledroid subject with it, but Cheebs finds the shop well-stocked for parts for R3-M3. He buys a few upgrades for her: a rocket propulsion system, a long-range comm/sensor booster, and an array of harpoon cable launchers.
Finishing there and sending R3-M3’s upgrade parts to their ship, the three proceed to The Back Room’s cantina in search of news. C4-BL3 has already parsed info from the station’s holonet regarding “Dugan’s Hand,” the now-legendary Republic-era ghost ship that Rebel General Syndulla tasked them to find. Treasure hunters have regularly explored Ambria’s asteroid belt – a place of gravitic and sensor anomalies – and often haven’t returned, or came back badly damaged. C4-BL3 has noted two distinct patterns: In the most recent 4 week period, many ships have come back damaged after encountering small craft appearing out of “thin space” and opening fire. In the previous 4-week period, the encounters in the asteroid belt were much more deadly for the scavenging spacecraft, and what little data was available showed a much larger “ghost” or pirate ship. At the cantina, Cheebs & Kantarra try plying intoxicated ship’s crews and the bartender for information, respectively, to little result. However, C4-BL3 attracts some unexpected attention. As a rare droid model, he stands out from a crowd already, but especially so given his newfound penchant for wearing humanoid clothing! Previously the droid had reported noticing a shuttlecraft in the adjoining bay festooned with antennae and sporting the Imperial News Network logo. At the bar, a familiar-looking human female approaches C4-BL3 and remarks on his unusual model and appearance. The holovid-obsessed comm droid recognizes her immediately. It’s none other than famed INN reporter Renee Wazertiz! And she wants to interview him!
If a droid can be said to be gobsmacked, C4-BL3 is certainly that. Star-struck and utterly forgetting the caution his crewmates have tried to impress into him, C4-BL3 immediately starts talking to the Imperial reporter, “helpfully” offering data to her and offering himself for interview. Cheebs and Kantarra immediately swoop in before he can give her anything, excusing the droid, fending off the reporter with claims that their ship is in pieces and needs immediate attention, and practically dragging the twitterpated droid out of the cantina. Much later, C4-BL3 discovers that the reporter must have slipped a datapad into a pocket of his ship’s jumpsuit.
Back at the ship, Cheebs manages to convince C4-BL3 that telling the Imperial News Network anything about their escapades – or indeed anything at all – would be a serious mistake. They confine themselves to the ship for the duration of their wait for Kantarra’s contact’s arrival. Cheebs & C4-BL3 outfit an extremely pleased R3-M3 with her new upgrades. Captain Cheebs encourages R3-M3 to put on an ad hoc circus-like performance in the empty cargo container, showing off her newfound rocket-assisted mobility and magnetic tether gymnastics. There follows a rare few hours of total relaxation and cameraderie. In fact, they lose track of time until there’s a banging on the cargo container’s huge twin barn doors.
2 ABY – 09 Golf – 8 Benduday (Ambria) Kantarra’s contact has arrived. She meets him and hands over her “proof” of Crag’s “successful” elimination along with the now booby-trapped camtono with its false contents. The contact seems satisfied with the proferred evidence, and much to the party’s relief, he doesn’t try to open the camtono. He submits Kantarra an apparently full fee for the job(s) and retreats with the camtono. Cheebs contacts The Back Room’s port authority to request immediate departure clearance, and the crew hastily prepares for dust-off.
They wait a few tense moments for clearance as a shuttle departs before them – the Imperial News Network craft! But all seems OK. They observe a couple light freighter-sized ships in the holding pattern awaiting docking. Cheebs decides to hail the most beat-up example using a secure channel that C4-BL3 connects for him. The freighter’s captain (“Glar”) confirms that yes, they came from the asteroid belt where they were set upon by two fighters appearing out of nowhere. Glar is beside himself at having to wait – his damaged ship needs an immediate landing to deal with failing critical systems. Cheebs offers their own berth (vacated early) and their credit with the port authority, as well as 2,000 credits, in return for the freighter’s raw sensor logs from their encounter with the pirate craft. Glar happily agrees. Cheebs suspects he’s offered more than he needed to, but he’s feeling flush. Kantarra’s payoff was huge!
Cheebs charts a course and makes an immediate but tiny jump through hyperspace. Their destination is the barren world of Ambria VI, whence they can use their sublight engines for a leisurely cruise out to the asteroid belt (in the Ambria “VII” position). Cheebs wants to buy them several hours to scrutinize the damaged freighter’s data. Astrogation duties over, he soon finds out about C4-BL3’s datapad, the data of which also needs decryption and reconstruction. The comm droid is rattled and off his game, shaken by his brush with his reporter, most likely. After happily going over the payoff finances with Kantarra and making the split, Cheebs decides to try parsing the freighter’s sensor data himself (since the comm droid is taking an unusually long time with the reporter’s datapad).
C4-BL3 eventually masters the data from the reporter’s ‘pad, and Cheebs succeeds in parsing the sensor logs. The results are mysterious and inconclusive. The datapad contains sensor records from The Back Room’s own very long-range sensor arrays and assorted outsystem remotes from the last several weeks. Collating everything, C4-BL3 discovers that all the recent attacks have happened in a 1,000 km radius – a tiny speck within the asteroid belt. He also finds a single instance of an automated Imperial nav beacon’s signal, pointing the way allegedly to a supply drop-off location. (A trap??) Buried within the freighter’s data – which generally matches Captain Glar’s description, with two fighter-sized ships appearing out of “thin space” at close range and unloading a heavy laser barrage, then disappearing utterly – the comm droid also discovers a brief encrypted audio message. The message seems to be a pirate announcing himself and his attack – using the most laughably stereotypical pirate jargon imaginable. Stranger still, there is the momentary appearance of a large gunship, recognizable as an Incom X4, behind the starfighters … but not opening fire. The crew ponders all this as they close in on the asteroid field.