Dame Metropolis exits hyperspace in the wrong location for all parties concerned. The vessel has overshot the shipjackers’ planned rendezvous point, so no reinforcements are here to join their cause. This is not as advantageous an outcome as it sounds, though, since the enormous luxury cruiseliner is far closer to the Maelstrom than any ship should get. The Dame was designed for a lot of things, but not this. Mismatched gravitational waves and pulses of dangerous radiation inundate the ship, which begins to stretch, bend, compress, and tear all at once.
When this happens, beings enjoying their late night fancy dinners in the same posh restaurant as Gran shipbuilder Tenex Sinemet are in luck. His fellow diners ooh and aah at the swirling mass of reds and yellows that have replaced the streaks of hyperspace visible through the enormous viewports. Those cries turn to panic when the ship starts to shake. Tenex, meanwhile, quickly evaluates the situation. “Hmm… They did mention the Maelstrom, and by my calculations… Oh, no!” There is chaos among the crew, but Tenex keeps his section safe. Acting rapidly and with detailed knowledge of ships such as this one, he triggers the emergency bulkheads before the viewports shatter from external stresses. This is just the first of many such life-saving contributions he will make to restoring Dame Metropolis in the days to come.
* * *
The Dame groans with each new stress to her hull. Tcho can feel the vibrations through the deck, and they extend up through the scaffolds, causing eerie creaks and groans. The metal structures shake, and a bag of dry duracrete falls off one nearby, sending up a cloud of dust. Tcho slips between pieces of construction equipment, looking for the Twi’lek JT described. He has in hand his stim applicator, which is loaded with sedative. He also has the gas grenade that he took off the Nikto earlier, but that is a weapon of last resort because Tcho does not know how loud it will be or its range. He does not want to risk knocking himself out and leaving JT all alone. He is not confident that the Blue Streak can fight off a dozen assailants on her own.
Through the dusty haze, Tcho spots his mark in a cubicle alongside one of the scaffolds. The short divider is enough to block his view of anyone else in the room—or their view of him. Unfortunately, the shaking of the ship knocks something off a platform near Tcho just as he is moving in for his strike. The Twi’lek turns at the sound and sees him in time to duck down and throw up an arm, blocking the applicator from making contact.
“What the hell?” Alask says, startled. The blue-skinned person assaulting him does not have a standard weapon, but whatever it is, is clearly intended to deliver injections. Boze must have acted earlier, Alask figures, even before his recent grumblings. She sent this hitman after his underlings and now after Alask himself. Calling for help will only bring more trouble if Boze has decided to eliminate Shipjackers, LLC. “What, we did what we were hired to do and Zann is clearing us out now?” he growls, trying to get a hand down to his blaster. “All right, I see that this is how it is.”
Although a Zann assassin is what Tcho was trained to be in the past, he is not one, and he would prefer to not do lasting damage to this person. However, he would also prefer to not get shot again. Tcho wraps a leg around one of the Twi’lek’s, entangling them together and trying to use his body to block the other man’s access to his own weapon. “You’ve come to the wrong rodeo,” the Twi’lek growls as he finally gets a hand on the heavy blaster. A shot goes off, close enough for Tcho to feel the heat from the weapon and smell the charge in the air, but not close enough to hit him, for once.
The clutter in the room and the sounds of the wrenching ship continue to conceal the scuffle from the rest of the criminals. Tcho struggles with the shipjacker for a bit and then finally sees an opening. It means giving up the hold on the other man, but he gets the stim applicator close enough to deliver a dose of the sedative. The Twi’lek staggers back, feeling woozy. The drug is fact acting, but not fast enough. “Big mistake,” he slurs out, bringing up his heavy blaster and unleashing a flurry of shots.
Tcho is already diving toward a duracrete mixer, but the edge of one blast catches him. This is a dim corner of the room, and the brilliant flash of light upsets his vision. He hunkers behind the mixer, eyes closed to try to reset his pupils, then jerks farther down as another bolt worms through the gaps in the machine, splashing across his jacket and burning the skin underneath. I can’t just wait him out, Tcho thinks, but I can’t take another hit like that. He yanks out a painkiller shot and quickly jabs himself with it. That should take care of the scorching he just received. Stopping future ones, though, will require leaving this cover.
With blaster bolts still coming in at the duracrete mixer, Tcho charges out from its opposite side. The Twi’lek does not bring the blaster around fast enough. Tcho slams into him, delivering a sharp slap to one of his lekku. The shipjacker’s eyes roll up into his head and he slumps to the ground. Tcho catches himself against the scaffold, and the impact causes it to shake even more than the ship already is. A board falls, landing right in front of Tcho instead of on him. He breathes a sigh of relief and pulls out his comm. “The shipjacker’s taken care of,” he tells JT wearily.
Hearing the waver in his voice, JT replies, “You should take it easy. I’m going to see if I can get some extra help.”