The Charms of Ecotourism

After handing over their unconscious captive, the group finds itself quickly ignored by the busy Rodian, head of Renna's Transport Service. She's too busy cleaning up the mess in her warehouse to bother with them any more, apparently; she dismisses ' inquiry about tracking the stolen shuttle. “The proper authorities are handling that!” Discouraged and feeling a bit at a dead end, the group heads down the street.

The street itself isn't a dead end, though. Kantarra hears an odd coughing cackle coming from around the corner.There a human with a distinctly bad smell, strange headgear, and obvious dependency issues stands swilling strong drink and rambling about “the Cartel” and the . Sensing the Force (but not the stench) coming from this odd character , the noseless throws his arm around the derelict and bravely plunges into his fractured mind. The Duro learns one thing: “Boris” was clearly trained in the Force. Meanwhile he prattles on, weaving a delerious tapestry of hints about a tower and some kind of facility NW (or was it SE?) of the town.

Having no better leads to follow, our three heroes set off and quickly find a rental company hiring out some fancy semi-enclosed speeder bikes. They're Aratech 57-E models, built for a single rider and for exploration. After familiarizing themselves with a recommended route through the nearby forest as well as data entries on several of the most dangerous native predatory species, the three plunk down very reasonable deposits and speed off together into the forest.

The first part of their journey fits well with their cover as eco-tourists. They familiarize themselves with the terrain – an avenue of sorts, threading its way between the huge boles of cyclopean trees, with sometimes swampy ground beneath – and spot their first dangerous creatures: toothy lizard-like creatures several meters in length. Later, C4-BL3 (who has taken the lead position) is beset by a vulture-like winged scavenger which stoops on his swoop, breaking the fragile glass canopy. gooses the throttle on his bike and pulls alongside. He takes his target out of stun mode and squeezes off a shot that blasts the creature into a cloud of black feathers. The droid is now decorated in glass fragments and feathery gore, his Porgatu jumpsuit ribboned. Taking the lead now, notices some kind of snake-like creature atop the droid's smashed up bike, presumably the reason for the scavenger's interest. Kantarra finds more on ' and her own bikes (!) and clears them off. Soon the group sets down in a small indigenous settlement to refresh themselves and clean up the droid. They remove the last bits of canopy from C4-BL3's damaged bike and get back on the “road.”

A short time later, they pass by and over an incongruous sight in the lush jungle-like forest of monstrous trees: a garbage dump. A lot of it looks like cast-off crates and shipping containers – certainly nothing of value. But ' salvaging instincts kick in hard, and he swoops in slow and low for a closer look. Much to everyone's surprise, he locates some crate lids marked with a familiar cartel symbol. But it's not the Metatheran Cartel; it's that of their sister organization, the Osaji Syndicate – C4-BL3's old organization – which later came after the group. Having marveled at this and taken datapad vid of it, the group sees new signs of dangerous animal activity and starts to pull away just as a huge reptile leaps and snaps at them. A moment later, everything goes to hell.

bolts whiz by! Two speeder bikes bear down on the group just as they start to pull away from the wilderness junkyard, ridden by jockeys of military aspect blazing away with heavy blasters. On instinct, waves C4-BL3 into the lead and motions for Kantarra to get going as well. She whips her bike around with panache and cracks a shot off at their mysterious pursuers with her small needler . She makes it look good! Inspired, tries to emulate her dashing maneuver. He's not as smooth on the controls, but he does manage to land the shot with Lorik's old : one of the riders crashes his speeder spectacularly.

Racing down the forest “road,” everyone is focused on losing their pursuer. Except Kantarra, who is focused on killing him, and she has the skill and the will to back it up. And back it up she does – first climbing, then hitting the brakes hard! goes whizzing past her bike's underside, and Kantarra surprises their pursuer as she drops in directly behind him. The next few moments are a blur. Somehow she sends the second pursuer, now prey, into a fiery crash of his own. But C4-BL3 and are too focused on the excitement behind them to notice a huge fallen log in their path. In the lead, the droid manages to narrowly avoid it, but Cheebs isn't so lucky. He's going too fast for his bike's much-touted collision avoidance system to work; it caroms off the top of the enormous deadfall and vaults into the muddy ground on the other side. At least its roll cage of a cockpit protects him from injury. Shaken, but excited that they've lost their pursuers, Cheebs gives the thumbs-up and wipes the mud off his after pulling himself out of the wreckage. A terrestrial scavenger takes an interest in him, and without hesitation he blasts it into next week. (Meanwhile, C4-BL3 congratulates himself on the spectacular crash footage he's captured thanks to his 360-degree sensor arrays.) With Kantarra hovering nearby, Cheebs improvises a “tail gunner” rear-facing seat for himself on the back of C4-BL3's canopyless speeder bike, clipping himself to the mounting points, rudder between his feet. And now everything REALLY goes to hell!

Suddenly, two fire teams of (somewhat short) heavily armed and helmeted humanoids emerge from the jungle undergrowth from both sides of the “road.” They wear the livery of the Metatheran Cartel! Blasters aimed at the party, they order the party to come with them. Cheebs holsters his sidearm and raises his two green hands, but Kantarra glibly retorts that they can't comply because they're taking the droid in for service. The detachment isn't buying it; there's a sweaty moment of standoff. Just as Kantarra hits the throttle to goad her bike straight up into the air, Cheebs (desperate to create some kind of distraction) manages a feat of telekinesis. He tries to throw a small nearby log behind the guards, but his untrained mind tosses it the wrong way – into Kantarra's path. The log hits her bike's stabilizer forks. Instead of springing straight up, her spinning bike corkscrews up towards the tree canopy (to its repulsorlift's altitude limit) – making it impossible for the troops to hit.

At the same time, Cheebs bangs on the back of the droid's speeder bike and C4-BL3 takes the hint, goosing the throttle. But he's surprised by the added weight on the back of the bike, so when he punches it, it's his turn to lose his security deposit. His bike plows forks-first into the scenery; C4-BL3 is covered in wet moss and dirt, and Cheebs bangs his head hard on the bike.. Kantarra is nowhere to be seen. Eight more of the Metatheran troopers zoom up, two to a speeder bike/ rig, and dismount. C4-BL3 catches a glimpse of Kantarra on foot in the undergrowth, taking a swipe at a familiar amphibian shape – the troopers are apparently of the same otter-like race his old master belonged to. But the troops don't seem to have located the stealthy bounty hunter. Instead, they shout into the woods about the hopelessness of her situation and how outnumbered the party is. (How could they know they are just encouraging her into more desperate heroics?) C4-BL3 and Cheebs are definitely feeling hopeless, though. Cheebs asks the droid for one of his granola bars.

They are all suddenly aware of this wild planet's voracious and toothy food chain. The smaller terrestrial scavengers they saw among the junkyard's flotsam were gathering at the site of Cheebs' bike crash – accompanied by the vulture-like flying creatures overhead, and possibly some kind of giant furry tree octopus in the higher canopy. Sure enough, a voracious giant lizard stalks through the undergrowth – right past Kantarra – and rushes the troopers. This is the distraction they were hoping for! Although the troopers have enough range and open ground to gun down the huge creature, Cheebs and C4-BL3 feign panic. Flailing their arms akimbo over their heads, they let loose thin, high-pitched screams of terror and rush headlong towards the nearest rig. Both of them are so desperate for their simple ploy to work they are practically insensate to the outside world for a moment. Cheebs trusts in the Force to give the troopers sufficient empathy towards these obviously panicky civilians not to gun them down in cold blood. And it works.

While the troopers finish bringing down the hunting lizard, Cheebs makes it to a bike and hops on. In a feat of athleticism heretofore unseen in the droid, C4-BL3 keeps his feet and even vaults skillfully into the . Kantarra, seeing this, finds and hops on her own bike – the last of their rentals, still more or less unmolested. They rush back the way they came, successfully vaulting over the huge log but pursued by one particularly quick pair of troopers. C4-BL3 whips around in the sidecar and plants a bolt on their pursuing driver, sending the enemy rig hurtling into the giant deadfall. Racing once again for their lives, they choose to veer off the designated speeder “road” and take their chances with the deep forest. Its threats seem suddenly mundane compared to the paramilitary group on their tail. They manage to put enough distance between them and the remaining pursuers to find good cover and hide until the troopers give up their search.

Who knows – maybe the speeder rental company will accept a stolen Metatheran sidecar rig as compensation for its two crashed bikes?