Blackrose shivers miserably from the coolant in the cargo bay both she and Plagueis had stowed away in. Plagueis had found a way inside the Woebegone without alerting the anti-intrusion sys by having them come in with the last of the cargo of freshly killed sea creatures.
What surprised her is how she is held up against the intense cold. Plagueis had no problem, for not only the Force kept him from freezing, but his anatomy is more complex than a human’s.
“I-I-I c-can’t believe…th-that we’re st-st-stowing away in a f-f-freezer!” Blackrose stuttered, not being able to stop her lips from trembling.
“Stop complaining,” Plagueis replied. “It’s the only way inside. Frankly, I’m surprised of your current condition. Humans would normally freeze to a dangerous level by staying in here for this long. You'd as be stiff as an icicle by now…and yet you’re not.”
Blackrose’s expression showed a faint flicker of surprise. Apparently, he was right. She would’ve been frozen by now, but her body was still in a safe level of temperature. Why is that? she wondered. Could it be that she has some special abilities of her own? She never thought she had the Force, and neither did the past Sith Lords ever see any of that sort of potential within her either.
She then thought of the time when Bane had freed her from the labs of Korriban. Since she had been experimented on, she wondered if they altered her body in more ways than one. It certainly did with her age, but what if it made her body more complex? Or perhaps, nearly indestructible?
She shuddered to think of what exactly kinds of experiments that the Academy had performed on her. Strangely, she felt a little grateful. She has a thirst for adventure, eager to travel across the galaxy to see different planets, beings, and the vast array of things the universe has to offer. Being the companion of the Rule of Two line of Sith Lords certainly granted her wish for nearly a millennium, and yet there is so much more to discover.
“Blackrose,” Plagueis said, snapping the girl out of her reverie.
“When we return to Muunilinst, I must have a sample of your blood. I want to see if I can uncover the secret of your unchanging body.”
Blackrose was a bit taken aback, but nodded. The muun seemed to be the only Sith Lord in hundreds of years to be interested in her and her condition. He never had a chance to accomplish the task when he was apprenticed to Tenebrous. It excited her just a bit, for she too was curious of the answer behind her mystery.
Suddenly, their surroundings shook a bit and they heard the whirring of the hyperdrive starting up.
“Seems we’re launching off,” Plagueis said.
Blackrose sighed. “This captain and her crew is going to find out we’re here sooner or later.”
“I know. But it is inevitable.”
Blackrose only clutched onto a crate while the ship prepared to jump into hyperspace. In the next few seconds, the entire cargo bay shook when the ship made the jump. When she thought it was safe to let go now, she settled back onto soft pile of defrosting tail fins.
Neither said anything for the next ten minutes. That is, until they heard the activation click of the cargo bay camera at a top corner of the room. It swiveled around until it caught sight of the two, lens focusing.
They had been discovered.
After a moment, both of them heard footsteps coming toward the door of the cargo bay. Plagueis remained calm while Blackrose inhaled sharply in nervousness of what’s to come.
The door slid open, and in came a female Togruta, no doubt the captain, a muscular male Zabrak, a mottled Klatooinian, and Aqualish and a Kaleesh, who smelled pretty awful....at least to Blackrose. All of them were carrying blasters, some of the beings had them primed for fire and aimed at the both Plagueis and Blackrose.
“You’re not listed on the shipping manifest, strangers,” the Togruta started as she came forward to the two.
Plagueis only made a calming gesture. “We confess to be stowaways, Captain.”
Ellin Lah pointed to the open container of dead sea creatures. “How did you two survive in there?"
“Those sea creatures make a comfortable bed.”
The Zabrak suddenly surged forward in anger. “Those creatures are how we make our living, Muun. And now, they’re not worth a karking credit!”
Blackrose only swallowed when Plagueis locked eyes with him. “We apologize for spoiling some of your cargo.”
“The coolant,” Ellin Lah said more harshly, “How did you survive that?”
“We Muun have three hearts,” Plagueis answered, crossing his legs. “Two of them are under voluntary control, so I was able to keep my blood circulating and my body temperature close to normal.”
The Torgruta then turned to Blackrose. “And you?”
Blackrose stiffened and quickly pondered over for an excuse before she replied. “I guess I’m just lucky.”
The Captain took in those words with a suspicious look on her face.
“Speaking of blood,” the Aqualish said, who came closer and pointed to Plagueis, “You’re leaking some.”
Both looked to where he was pointing and noticed the congealed blood that had covered some of the sea creature bodies.
“The result of an unfortunate accident. But thank you for noticing,” Plagueis replied.
The Togruta captain only stared at the Muun. “We have a medical droid. I’ll have it take a look at your injury.”
“That’s very kind of you, captain.”
“We can see a human doing something like this…” the Kaleesh said, then gestured to Plagueis. “But, you’re a long way from the Braxant Run. Also the last species we’d expect to find stowing away in a cargo container.”
Plagueis nodded in agreement. “I can imagine.”
“Kon’meas Spaceport has passenger flights to Bimmisaari,” the Zabrak put in. “You two couldn’t wait…or are you out of credits?”
“To be honest, we both wish to avoid common spaceways.”
The Togruta and the Zabrak exchanged a glance.
“Are you fugitives? Wanted?” the captain asked.
Blackrose shook her head while Plagueis said. “We do, however, value our privacy.”
“Well you might,” the Aqualish said. “But you have to admit-” he pointed at the bloody, defrosting cargo. “This undermines your credibility some.”
“What brought you to Bal’Demnic, Muun? And with a human?” The Klatooinian asked before Plagueis could speak.
“I’m not at liberty to divulge the nature of my activities.”
“Banking Clan investments,” the Klatooinian sneered. “Or lawyering. And would the human be a prodigy of yours? That’s all the Muuns do, Captain.”
Blackrose frowned. “You do realize that’s stereotyping, right?” she said before Plagueis silently chastises her.
Ellin Lah turned to Plagueis. “Is he right?”
The Muun only shrugged. “Not all of us are bankers and lawyers. No more than all Togrutas are pacifists.”
"Be better for you if you were a financial wizard to avoid being jettisoned from our ship." the Zabrak threatened.
Blackrose shrunk back as Plagueis eyed Ellin Lah. "Captain, I appreciate that you and your crew have many questions about us. But perhaps for the sake of simplicity, the three of us could speak privately for a moment." When the Togruta hesitated, he quickly added. "Strictly in the interest of facilitating an agreement."
She looked at everyone for a moment then nodded. "I won't be long," she said. "But keep us on vid anyway."
The Zabrak shot the stowaways with a warning look. “If you are long, we’ll be on them.”
Once the rest of the crew left and it was only the three of them, Plagueis started. “Thank you, Captain.”
Lah only scowled. “Enough with the polite jabber. Who are you two? And why didn’t you leave Bal’Demnic aboard whatever craft brought you here?”
Blackrose almost about to say an almost true story about happened to their ship, but kept silent as Plagueis sighed. “Before we go into any of that, suppose we asses the present situation squarely. We’ve stowed away aboard your vessel in the hope of arranging quick passage to Muunilinst.”
Blackrose amusingly took notice of while Plagueis speaking in Basic, he pronounced the word 'Muunilinst' with the second n silent.
“Fortunately for the three of us,” he continued, “I’m in a position to reward you handsomely for transport- and of course I’ll cover the cost of whatever precious cargo we’ve ruined. You need only quote a reasonable price and the deal can be concluded. I assure you, Captain, that I am a Muun of my word.”
Blackrose hoped that the captain will be settled with that, but the Togruta’s eyes narrowed. “Leaving aside your identities for the moment- you know, the important things- your onward passage is a matter I’ll have to take up with the crew.”
Both Plagueis and Blackrose blinked in confusion.
“I’m not sure I understand. You are the Woebegone’s captain, are you not?” the Muun asked.
“We’re equals aboard this ship,” Lah replied. “I don’t make any major decisions without at least hearing everyone out- whether those decisions involve the cargo we transport or where we deliver it. And while you’re trying to make up your mind whether I’m noble or simply foolish, let me add that I don’t care what you think of the arrangements. As you said, it’s the situation.”
Plagueis only smiled. “In that case, Captain, we await the results of the summit.”
Lah relaxed a bit. “You both are going to have to sit tight in the meantime.”
“Take as much time as needed. The closer we get to Ithor, the closer we are to home.”
The Togruta was starting to walk away but when Plagueis said that, she stopped suddenly. She turned over her shoulder. “How do you know we’re bound to Ithor?"
“The same way we know your name is Ellin Lah,”
When the Togruta looked a bit alarmed, the Muun continued. “I’m not a telepath, Captain Lah. After we selected your ship from among those on the field, I sliced into Bal’Demnic’s spaceport network.”
Lah kept her eyes on Plagueis. “Why the Woebegone, then?”
“I don’t gamble, Captain, unless I know that the odds of winning are on my side.”
Lah snorted. “That’s not gambling,” she said before finally leaving the room.
Blackrose sighed heavily when the two were alone, but then Plagueis nudged her. She faces him in question until he signals the door the Togruta went through with his head.
She stood up and quietly went out of the cargo bay, following the Captain all the way to the main room of the ship where the rest of the crew was waiting.
Very carefully, took a different path and found an inactive vent that connects to the main room. She snuck in and peered through the holes that surveyed the area and its crew. By first glance, she can see that the crew is feeling uneasy by her and Plagueis’ intrusion on their ship.
“When have you ever known a Muun to do that?” the Zabrak said, breaking the silence.
“When have you ever known a Muun, period?” the Klatooinian asked back.
The Zabrak snorted. “All right, then, when have you ever heard about a Muun doing that?”
Before anyone else could answer they turned as one to the direction of their captain entering in the room, her expression clearly disturbed though she tried her best to hide it.
“So?” the Zabrak asked the captain, coming to his feet.
Ellin Lah explained of what had transpired between her and Plagueis while Blackrose listened carefully. She noted that neither of the stowaways would provide their personal details or even their names, that they only wanted is transport to Muunilinst which is well known as the home planet for the InterGalactic Banking Clan.
“What’s your gut telling you about them, Captain?” the Kaleesh said with his pointed ears twitching.
The Togruta glanced back to the door which leads to the cargo bay where Plagueis is waiting. “The Muun is as slick as they come, and used to getting his way.” Blackrose had to agree with that statement, but a bit worried when she continued. “And that girl seems a bit strange…But either we take them back to Bal’demnic- and put our cargo at risk- or we drop them at our first stop and make them someone else’s problem.”
“Or we just jettison them by now,” the Klatooinian growled.
Blackrose panicked a bit before Lah shook her head. “We don’t know they didn’t tell someone on Bal’demnic that they were stowing away. And if they did, their disappearance could put us in serious muck.”
“What’s it going to be, then?” the Zabrak said, starting to get a little impatient.
“I think we should get them off our hands as soon as possible.”
The Klatooinian and the Aqualish exchange glances and back to their captain. “You don’t want to even discuss coming up with a price for passage?”
“I’ve never been on the Braxant Run,” she replied. “Have any of you?”
Everyone else shook their heads.
“Are they willing to cover the cost of the spoiled cargo?” the Kaleesh asked.
“He said they would.”
“Then maybe we take them to Ithor,” the pointed-eared reptilian being went on. “If they prove to be cooperative passengers, we could consider taking them all the way to Muunilinst. Certainly wouldn’t hurt to get familiar with that corner of space.”
Blackrose grinned at that perspective and was eager for it to go through with the rest. Unfortunately......that wasn’t the case.
“I don’t know,” Lah said, biting her lower lip.
“I’ll go one step further,” the Aqualish said. “I mean, this Muun along with that human could be a jackpot that’s fallen right into our laps. Weren’t you just saying that no bank would ever grant us a loan against the Woebegone? Well, Muunilinst is the bank, and this Muun can provide all the collateral we’ll ever need.”
“Our reward for years of leading clean lives,” the Kaleesh added.
Blackrose took back what she thought, frowning. She does not like where this is going.
The Togruta stared at the two. “Meaning what? We hold them for ransom?”
The Aqualish drew back a bit. “We don’t have to call it that.”
“Forget it,” she said. “We’ve never done that…well, once maybe- but we’re not about to do it again.”
Blackrose smothered a snort. So, the crew wasn’t so innocent after all.
“I agree,” the Zabrak said.
“Same,” the Klatooinian nodded.
The Kaleesh withdrew somewhat. “Okay, so I was just thinking out loud.”
“There’s something else,” the Zabrak put in, then turned to a bipedal droid with many appendages. “Tell the captain what you were telling us.”
The droid then moved to the middle of the group, than turned to Lah. “Captain, I merely pointed out that Muuns are not known to travel without ample reasons for doing so. In fact, most Muuns are reluctant to leave Muunilinst for any purpose other than to transact business negotiations.”
“Yeah, most Muuns,” Blackrose quietly murmured to herself.
“That’s exactly what I was saying about collateral,” the Kaleesh interrupted. “There has to be some financial reason for his being on Bal’demnic- some major deal in the works we might be able to get in on. A construction project, maybe.”
“Let, FourDee finish,” the Zabrak said.
Lah turned back to the droid. “Go ahead.”
“It has yet to be determined just what the Muun was involved in. Suppose, however, that the nature of his business is going to impact Bal’demnic in a negative way. Should word spread that the crew of the Woebegone lent their support to the Muun’s illegal departure, then what might become of the ship’s reputation in the Auril sector? You may wish to include the worth of that in your calculations regarding an arrangement for onward passage.”
The Zabrak folded his arms over his chest. “Is our stowaways going to offer to set each of us for life, in case our services are no longer wanted in this sector?”
“What about what the Muuns can do to us if we don’t take them?” the Aqualish said. “They’ve got a reach as long as a galactic arm.”
The Klatooinian laughed. “What’re they going to do? Downgrade our portfolios? Freeze our assets? Ruin our credit rating? Our only assets are this ship and our reputation for doing what we say what we’re going to do.”
“Mostly,” the Zabrak put in.
Oh, the consenquences are a lot worse than that… Blackrose thought.
The Kaleesh slapped his hands on his thighs. “Goes back to what I said about asking for a lot more than what he might see as a fair price. These Banking Clan types hold on to every credit. But we got ourselves a live Muun, and no matter who he is or what he’s pretending to be, I guarantee you he’s worth more than ten years of dealing in meattails and octopods.”
Everyone was silent for a moment before the Zabrak broke it. “Captain?”
“I’m not swayed by any of this,” Lah said after a moment. “I want them off our hands.”
The Aqualish looked puzzled. “You think they’re dangerous?”
The Kaleesh laughed at the thought. “Muuns are cowards, the lot of them. They use credits as weapons. And what’s a human girl going to do against all of us? I bet she can’t even use a blaster correctly.”
Blackrose silently scowled at that remark. Not only of him saying she’s completely defenseless, but again with the stereotyping of Muuns. True some of them are cowards…but definitely not this one. She had to admit, though, the Togruta captain is a little smarter than she looks.
“You asked for my gut reaction. That’s what I’m giving you,” Lah replied.
“I have an idea,” the Zabrak said. “A kind of compromise. We drop out of hyperspace and comm the authorities on Bal’demnic. If those two are wanted, for whatever reason, we return them, cargo or no. If not, we decide on a figure for taking them to Ithor, and no farther.”
Blackrose sighed. This wouldn't end well.
The Zabrak then looks at his captain. “Are you willing to take that deal to them, Captain?”
“All right,” she said finally. “That sounds reasonable.” But she didn’t move.
“Do you, uh, want backup?” the Klatooinian asked.
“No, no,” she said, rising up to her feet.
I’m the captain, Blackrose could almost hear Lah say as she sees the Togruta’s right hand move discreetly to the blaster on her hip, priming the weapon for fire.
Blackrose slowly moved away and out of the vent. She needed to report back to Plagueis all that she heard, now knowing both the captain and her crew are likely now doomed.
“We’re going to have to keep you on ice for a bit longer,” Lah said when she returned to the cargo bay.
Blackrose told Plagueis everything that had transpired in the main room before the captain arrived. He had told her that he had predicted as much, that it was pointless to strike a deal with the crew. Nevertheless, he played along to the Togruta.
“Does that mean you failed to reach a consenuses?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Lah replied. “We’ve decided we need to know who you are before we agree to provide you with passage. And since either you seem reluctant to tell us, we’re going to check with Bal’demnic.”
The Muun's face took on an expression of disappointment. “Captain, I’ve told you all that you really need to know.”
Suddenly, the Woebegone lurched a bit.
“We’re dropping out of hyperspace,” the Togruta said with attempted finality.
Blackrose suddenly remembered of one time Darth Tenebrous said. To we who dwell in the Force, normal life is little more than pretense. Our only actions of significance are those we undertake in service to the dark side. She wondered if Plagueis is reminded of the same thing.
“I cannot permit this, Captain,” Plagueis said.
Lah’s expression only hardened. “I’m afraid you’ll have to.”
Her hand now reached for the primed up blaster on her hip, and Plagueis subtlely signaled Blackrose to get back. Blackrose took the cue, slowly crawling backward into a spot she was sure that no ricochete of the blaster blot would reach her.
“Don’t, Captain,” was all she heard the Muun say, before she closed her eyes and braced herself.