With Rece remaining on deck to assist Carud with anything the pilot desired, the remaining Ashes and Jedi followed Virus back to the rear port storage locker where they found Stal waiting by the locked door, his thumb nervously tapping the pommel of his broad saber, Lig sitting across the corridor from him, watching him pace.
Calz took center stage. “What’s going on?”
Stal motioned to Lig for her to stand, and rumbled, “Tell the sergeant what you saw, youngling.”
“I saw two people, one is a green lady and she is angry. The other one is covered; I can’t sense anything from her – if it is a her…”
“Angry green lady?” Calz sighed and rubbed the top of his graying head.
“And she’s got a gun,” added Lig, helpfully.
“Great,” grumbled Calz, turning to his left, “I thought you said you got rid of her, Peko.”
“I did too, Sarge,” replied the scout, “I guess it’s her ship, she’d know how to sneak on.”
“You know her?” growled Stal, stepping back as if ready to plunge his twin blades through the blast door, preparing to cut a neat entrance for them.
“Indeed,” answered Calz, putting himself between Stal and the door and tapping on it with the back of his gauntlet. “Preela, that you in there?”
A sound like a plasteel crate being scraped across metal grilles set their teeth on edge, and then a husky, female voice echoed out from behind the door. “Get off my ship, you thieving shaak worriers!”
“What’s a shaak worrier?” asked Soolad.
Pel glanced at his brother. “I think I’ll take the children to the bridge, Stal.”
Stal still hadn’t sheathed his saber. He turned to Calz. “I’m sensing two life forms in there, but I can’t read the second one’s mood…”
The female voice barked out once again. “You still there you slug sucking dug?”
Stal almost smiled, “...but the owner of that voice is pretty easy to read.”
Calz turned his attention back to the door. “Preela, c’mon, I just want to talk.”
“Come on in, Sarge. I got something here wants to talk to you, loud and quick, like. Or don’t you wanna come in alone? Need your boyfriends with ya?”
Virus attempted to stifle a laugh, but gave in and let it out when he saw Digger’s indignant face.
“Easy, Digger, she’s just trying to wind us up.”
“Buncha thath’gorrs,” came the hidden voice, “get a lady drunk and steal her access codes would ya?”
“There’s a lady on this ship?” countered Calz, smirking as he listened to barrels of Sullustan ale being kicked around the room.
“Come in here and say that again, you dewback saddle scraping!”
“OK, she’s riled enough,” whispered Calz to Stal, “if you would be so kind, Master Hed’n.”
Stal nodded and slung his saber onto his back. Then he stood to one side of the door and waved his hand as if shooing away a glip fly. The door slid open wide enough to fit a fist through and he reached out with his other hand to grab the small blaster that came flying through the gap. He left the door slightly ajar as he handed the blaster to Calz.
The voice burst out of the room, much clearer now, but still gravelly and low, “You got a Jedi out there? First you steal my ship, then you kidnap me and my crew, and now you bring a Jedi on board? You want the whole Republic on our tail?”
“It’s already on our tail, Preela; I thought you said you liked the idea of a renegade trooper.”
“For one night! Not to go on the run with!”
“Can we come in?”
“No, we’re coming out. And tell your Jedi to put his light stick away; we don’t want a mess out there.”
“I am unarmed, madam.” Stal said through the crack.
“Unarmed?” a raucous laugh reverberated out of the room, “a Jedi is never unarmed! However, since I’ve been called a lot of things, but never ‘madam’, I’ll come out, just for you.”
Stal and the clones stepped back as the door slid fully open, and a figure emerged.
Judging by her green skin, this was Preela. Stal looked at the woman who had cursed at them all so heartily, wondering if he would ever meet an unattractive twi’lek. Preela was obviously advanced in years; the crinkles around her eyes, the deep laugh lines and slightly blemished lekku all suggested a woman in her late-fifties, but she was still devastatingly attractive, and knew it.
She wore short black pants that barely reached her knees which were protected by frayed pads. Her boots reached two thirds of the way up her calves, and looked to be made of a shimmering brown hide that Stal couldn’t identify. Her top was a tight bodice, laced to keep the years in check, pushing her ample bosom higher than seemed polite. A wide utility belt hung around her hips, and the pouches were full of tools, scraps of metal and wires. An empty holster sat on her left thigh and she wore fingerless engineer’s gloves. Her lekku were scooped and strung together with a scarlet braid, twisted together at the end. Stal realized she hadn’t seen a member of her own species for quite some time, otherwise those head tails would be free and ready to communicate.
She took her time to scan Stal’s massive form as she stepped out into the corridor.
“My, you’re a big one.”
Calz shook his head, chuckling softly as Stal stepped back, uncharacteristically flustered. It even seemed as if some color had returned to those pale cheeks of his.
“Hello again, Preela.”
Preela strode up until she was fully in Calz’s face. She raised her hand and stroked his cheek, before slapping him lightly.
“I’m a sucker for you clones, it’s your eyes. So innocent.”
“We’ve all got those eyes, ma’am,” butted in Virus, trying his luck.
Preela dismissed him with a flick of her wrist. “Maybe, but you’re all boys, the Sarge here is a man.” She kissed Calz softly on the lips and then began to make her way to the bridge. Now it was the sergeant’s turn to look flustered.
Suddenly a second figure emerged from the storage room. It was clad from head to foot in gray and brown wraps, two large bandoliers criss-crossed its chest and a long, segmented mask hid its features. In one hand it carried a gaderffii stick which had three times its normal compliment of pointy heads. The men moved as one, instinctively reaching for their weapons.
“Put ‘em away, lads,” Preela’s voice floated down the corridor, “her name’s Saach, she’s Tusken and she doesn’t talk.”
The group of men watched the female desert nomad, so far from her home, as she trailed behind the twi’lek.
“Oh, and don’t try to take her gaderffii stick away from her. That’s your only warning.”
Calz took a moment to inspect the damage inside the storage room; predictably there was none. No self respecting smuggler would damage their own goods. He then pointed at Virus and Digger, whirling his fingers around to indicate that he wanted a thorough search of the rest of the ship, and then invited Stal to join him as he trotted after the dual crew of the Sulking Rancor.