Party Hardwoods

Six months have passed since the curtain closed on the first act. C4-BL3 has been busy helping to diagnose and restore control functions to the Dugan’s Hand – now renamed the Mezerel. In so doing he’s now acquired many admiring minions – the sundry small maintenance droids native to the ship. Naturally, C4-BL3 has been quite happy.

The ship itself has been turned into a semi-stationary secret (cloaked) base for the growing as well as the operations center for Gok-Tok Muusuubuu and family. Cheebs’ mother has been using the Mezerel as their headquarters in the Manress system (orbiting Manress IV) ever since faking her death and moving operations to avoid Imperial or other unwanted attention. In addition to its old established operations, Muusuubee Salvage Works has been cultivating lucrative trade relationships, particularly supplying goods to the and to the independent cluster of the Hapes Consortium.

Meanwhile, Kantarra had gone off on extended military operations with forces, attempting to secure valuable Trionex for specialized explosives production. Having been marooned on a planet for a good stretch of time, she eventually returned to the Mezerel in a new jerry-rigged ship  – an Eta 2c Actis-class Clone Wars retrofitted with a hyperdrive. The others were treated to a clipped retelling of her deeds – which naturally were punctuated by her trademark gratuitous explosions.

While Kantarra was away, Cheebs had decoded certain navigational clues in the Dugan’s Hand and taken the Porgatu on a rather shorter mission of his own. Discovering another -neutral (perhaps Dai Bendu), he explored the empty ruin, discovering more mysteries and ancient lore – and unlocking a new, nascent power within him: an ability to use the to comprehend technology.

Cut to the present day. Gok-Tok has troubling for the reassembled group: Certain shipments have been arriving at the Hapes Consortium rather “light” or completely missing their promised goods. This threatens the family’s crucial trade relationship with the Consortium. These are shipments of exotic hardwoods – rather rare in the galaxy – originating from the eponymous planet in the Cularin system. Tracing the issue through her various insulated networks of middlemen, Gok-Tok has reason to believe that the ships are “light” by the time they leave the comet cloud at the outer edge of the Cularin system. She would like the crew to investigate. She’s given them the name of her shipping contact on Cularin: Darin Keysar.

The crew boards and preps the Porgatu, now proudly paid off as well as sporting its handsome new(ish) charcoal and orange paint job.Their jump to the Cularin system is uneventful, but the system itself is unique. A huge comet cloud blocks direct hyperspace travel to the inner system. Even small ships have to jump to the edge of the cloud and navigate in a ways, feeling their way into the system before being able to jump to inner planets. Larger ships are blocked altogether, although they do seem to wait there while smaller freighters ferry goods back & forth in-system. The system itself is largely independent and largely anarchic, with corporations conducting their own independent operations throughout most of it. There’s only a small Imperial presence.

They make contact with Darin Keysar who asks them to meet him at the Sophouse in Gadrin (one of the few settlements on Cularin’s surface). Navigating their way in-system, the crew made landfall on the platform city of Tindark, a full kilometer above the surface – in effect, a very lofty treehouse-turned-city. A very colorfully dressed indigenous “Tarasin” named Inspector Zess welcomes them to the platform and asks their business: Are they here for the First Colonization of the Planets celebrations? Why, of course they are!

Making their way towards the center of the concentric rings of Tindark’s platforms, the crew decides to check out the celebrations. This seems to be the only thing happening right now: a huge annual festival. Fireworks play across the surfaces of the structures built atop the platforms. The group (C4-BL3, Kantarra, and Cheebs, with R3-M3 being left to staff the Porgatu as usual) picks out a to try. The signature cocktails go down very easily – almost too easily – but Cheebs and Kantarra keep a loose grip on their willpower. They can tell these drinks were engineered for easy addiction. At one point a Lambda-class Imperial flies by, which strikes them as quite unusual here. Could it mean there’s an Imperial personage of high rank here? (Why?)

With a spring in their steps (and extra lubrication in C4-BL3’s joints), the group decides to investigate speeder transport to the surface, despite it being nighttime. They find one still staffed, though the operator informs them it’s first come, first served, and tomorrow is the busiest day of the festival – many people will be heading down to the surface towns for the peak celebrations. Hearing this, and also that they may need to share a speeder with strangers, Cheebs tips the operator handsomely (certainly it wasn’t a bribe!) and hears him change his tune. Why yes, they can have a private coach, but they must return at a precise and early hour the following morning.

Having returned to the ship to sleep, they return to the speeder depot the next morning right on time and are whisked above the treetops on a 100km journey to the town of Gadrin. Throngs of revelers are already , flocking together in this remarkable, organically designed town among the bases of Cularin’s giant trees. They contact Darin Keysar again who will meet them soon, as agreed before, at the Sophouse .

Just as they are about to arrive at the designated spot, a large image appears in a square thronged with the festival-goers: a well-dressed furry amphibian creature of a very familiar-looking species addresses the crowd. He introduces himself as Velin Wir, and makes a grand pronouncement: The Metatheran is formalizing its interest in and extending its influence over Cularin. The crew is struck by what can’t be a coincidence: This Velin Wir appears to be a member of the same otter-like species as C4-BL3’s old master Nix (on Relatta), who was a member of the Osaji Syndicate … with alleged connections to the Metatheran Cartel

Although the self-satisfied Wir seems to think the locals should all be extremely happy about his grand pronouncement, it has quite the opposite effect on the audience. The vibe of the gathered crowd goes immediately from excitement to listlessness and despondency after the broadcast. Many people turn back the way they came. But the crew continues on into the Sophouse.

Inside, Cheebs’ Force-attuned senses are drawn to a table full of Sullustans talking about some kind of trade deal or delivery they had just made here. They are referring to very rare, high-tech (but non-Imperial) computer models (the YS-4279 and YC-1100) used for sophisticated data encryption. When C4-BL3 is informed, he blurts out one of the model numbers loudly, completely blowing the group’s cover. About the same time as the Sullustans stare down the loud-mouthed and his biological companions, a ruckus ensues at the ’s entrance.

A human male bursts in with a number of uniformed private security forces close on his heels. He has a desperate look about him and loudly declaims something hard to understand, something about a conspiracy or corporate oppression, as the security officers apprehend him. Somehow the group just knows that this is their guy, Darin Keysar.

While their contact is being led back out the main entrance, the group is momentarily pulled in two directions. Kantarra has moved towards the Sullustans, and Cheebs has followed her, as he defers to her in crisis (especially violent) situations – though her exact intent in this moment is unclear. C4-BL3 succeeds in bringing the two of them back to reality: their only contact here has just been arrested! The three find a side door, and C4-BL3 finds a computer terminal outside.

The group resolves to go after Keysar and his captors. They are only geared for mild acts of violence, given Cularin’s somewhat restrictive permitting, but their confidence is high. C4-BL3 is tasked with digital reconnaissance as usual. He discovers that the livery of the security officers is that of House Hirskaala (significance unknown). He easily finds the location of their headquarters on Gadrin, and although he fails to gain access to a floor plan of the HQ building, he does find a governmental access plan for the space. It is marked with points of egress and important equipment locations – including explosives storage.

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