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Old 09-25-2005, 02:08 PM   #6
machievelli
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Taris

She looked sort of like Kalendra. Tall, dark haired, brown eyes, but Kalendra had never had such a cold and efficient look about her. The woman held a lightsaber, yellow beam clashing with the red of her opponent. Like Padawan Loras the last time I saw her alive, this woman was master of this battle, an outside observer could see it in her movements, the reactions of her opponent. He would lose; it was just a matter of when. She stood for a moment, and I knew she was using another power, and at the same time taunting him with the ease in which she did so.

I felt as if I’d rolled down a mountain without a suit to protect me. I sat up, and my head pounded even harder.

“Good to see you up instead of thrashing around in your sleep.” I looked toward the voice. A man, wait- Carth Onasi from the ship. He handed me a mug and I sipped the tea gratefully. We were in a room, and I scanned it as I drank. Once it was probably nice. A comfortable place to live. Now it was run down, as if the owner no longer cared. There was a workbench off to one side. I took the plate of sandwiches he handed me, and began to stuff my face. I was ravenous.

“You must have had one hell of a nightmare. I was wondering if you were ever going to wake up.” I finished the sandwich in my hand, grabbed another, and motioned for him to continue.

“I’m Carth. One of the Republic solders from the Endar Spire.” He watched my face. “I was with you in the escape pod. Do you remember?”

I nodded. “I had a strange dream.” I kept seeing it in my head. Almost like the dreams I had of Kalendra and I that weren’t real. “Like a,” I searched for a way to explain it better. “A vision or something.”

He shrugged. “Well, you’ve been slipping in and out of consciousness for a couple of days now, so I imagine you’re pretty confused about things. Try not to worry. We’re safe.” He looked grim. “At least for the moment.”

He waved at the surroundings. “We’re in an abandoned apartment on the planet Taris. You were banged up pretty bad when our pod crashed, but luckily I wasn’t seriously hurt. I was able to drag you away from our crash site in all the confusion, and I stumbled onto this place. By the time the Sith arrived on the scene, we were long gone.”

I thought of waking up in Sith hands, and I felt my blood run cold. “I guess I owe you my life.” I looked up at him. “Thanks.”

He brushed it off with a tinge of embarrassment. “You don’t have to thank me. I’ve never abandoned anyone on a mission, and I’m not about to start now. Besides, I’m going to need your help.”

I must have looked quizzical, because he waved toward the door. “Taris is under Sith control. Their fleet is orbiting the planet, they’ve declared martial law and they’ve imposed a planet wide quarantine. But I’ve seen worse spots.”

That didn’t make sense. The fleet should be out pounding ours, not sitting overhead. Why was it still here?

“I saw in your service records that you understand a remarkable number of alien languages. That’s pretty rare in a raw recruit, but it should come in handy while we’re stranded on a foreign world.”

I felt a surge of irritation. After all the battles I had seen, some desk jockey still had me down as a raw recruit? The more I heard, the more I wanted to see these service records of mine for myself. At least the constant pep talks I was getting from everyone made sense now. They all thought I was green.

Carth hadn’t noticed that second of inattention. “There’s no way the Republic will be able to get anyone through the Sith blockade to help us. If we’re going to find Bastila and get off this planet, we can’t rely on anybody but ourselves.”

I hadn‘t answered, and he began to look worried again. Or maybe he was wondering how far and fast the ‘green kid‘ would run? “Bastila. She’s the one from the Endar Spire, right?”

That statement reassured him. “That smack on the head did more damage than I thought. Bastila’s a Jedi. She was with the strike team that killed Darth Revan, Malak’s Sith master.

“Bastila in the key to the whole Republic war effort. The Sith must have found out she was on the Endar Spire and set an ambush for us in this system.

“A lot of the pods were caught by the Sith, or destroyed. But I believe Bastila was on one of the escape pods that crashed here on Taris. For the sake of the Republic war effort, we have to try and find her.”

What he said made sense in that context. The Sith would have lifted the blockade if Bastila was captured or known to be dead. There was no need to stop a few scattered Republic grunts. Martial law and controlling access from the ground would do that.

I rubbed my head. I still ached, and my mind was running in circles at hyper drive. I firmly told myself that a headache would have to wait. That not knowing what to do could stand in line with it. Action always made me focus.

“Any idea where we should start looking?”

He nodded, glad that I was tracking again. “While you were out of it I did some scouting around. There are reports of a couple escape pods crashing into the Undercity. That is probably a good place to start. But the Undercity is supposed to be a dangerous place. We don’t want to go in there unprepared. It won’t do Bastila any good if we go and get ourselves killed.”

“I don’t think we’d like it much either.” He stifled a laugh at that. “The sooner we start looking for Bastila, the sooner we find her. Let’s go.”

“Good idea. We can use this abandoned apartment as our base. Most of the shops look to be open still, and we can probably pick up some equipment and supplies here on the upper level. Just remember to keep a low profile.” He looked grim. “I’ve heard some grim stories about the Dark Jedi interrogation techniques. They say the force can do terrible things to a mind. It can wipe away your memories and destroy your very identity.”

I had heard the same thing, seen people we rescued after the fact. But the chill of his words went even deeper. Like I had suddenly stepped through an airlock into deep space without a suit.

Again he didn’t notice. First he brought up his computer map, and laid out the problem. It sounded simple, but the problem was literally global.

Taris was a really beautiful place way back when. They had just found half a dozen warp corridors leading from there to the rim about four and a half centuries ago. Entrepreneurs had spent a lot of money building a showcase city. The City of Taris covered just about the entire main continent. High-speed trams linked everywhere to everywhere else. But those plans had taken bizarre twists as time went on. Instead of razing sections of the city to rebuild them, they had merely built up from there like a coral reef. When the boom had collapsed fifty years ago, it had hit the planet hard. While still a tourist destination, it wasn’t much more since then. The people had become rigidly stratified in their outlook, and the rich on top had dealt with those below them on the social ladder by shoving them down into the lower city. Worse yet, there had been a brief revolution, and the survivors of that had been shoved even farther, down into the depths. That was called the Undercity.

If you expected bright lights, enjoyment, and reasonable food, the upper city was where you lived. But below that? I would have said chaos reigned, but no one did. The lower city was a war zone divided up by the gangs. Travelling anywhere unless you used a tram was dangerous. Few if any places down there were even on the system anymore.

The Undercity was worse. About a Century ago, someone had come up with the idea of using it as a place to banish criminals. The only way open to that level close to us led from an area fought over by two of the larger gangs. It was only open for access when sewers broke down or yet another unfortunate was banished. The technicians went under armed guard even in the best of times.

Taris was a pearl, with layers of beauty, and inside the filth that began it all.

I asked questions, and began to see some respect in his eyes. We knew where the access to the Lowercity was closest to our destination, and had a rough idea of where the pods had crashed. We could pick up our search there.

“-But I figure if we don’t do anything stupid we should be okay. I mean, after all, they’re looking for Bastila, not a couple of grunts like us.”

I stood, checking my gear. We were going to start getting overloaded soon, but I wasn’t worried yet. The vibroblade I had picked up from the Sith squad leader intrigued me. I checked the pommel and saw that it disassembled. Most don’t, they’re sealed factory units. I walked over to the workbench, and using the tools, opened the grip. Ah, the vibration cell was an older model. I went through the detritus I had picked up in the mad scramble from the ship, and found a newer model.

I could feel Carth standing behind me. “What are you doing?” He asked.

“The older vibration cells were permanently set. The vibratory level was constant. That’s all well and good if you’re cutting solids, metal, wood, flesh. You just have different cutting rates for different things.” I shrugged. “But the newer ones are adjustable. You can set them for the specific material, and they cut more smoothly. The next best thing to a lightsaber in close combat. Great for boarding actions, because you can dial it to whatever you’re cutting.”

I finished connecting it, then switched the blade on. The newer units also ran at a pitch that didn’t jar the teeth, something that had always bothered me. That narrow blade would slice through metal or flesh as if it were butter. With the new vibration cell, it would cut through either at the same rate as long as I preset it first. I shut it down, holstering it.

He was grinning at me. For an older man he was quite handsome when he smiled. “I stand corrected. Whatever you are, you’re not a raw recruit.” His voice changed. “All right, soldier! Let’s move out!”




Apartments

There is an old military maxim that says, ‘If it can go wrong, it will’. We ran smack into it as we exited the apartment. The problem with the apartments in the South city where we were was that when aliens had come to Taris, they had created their own slums, and we were in one of them.

A man in Sith uniform flanked by a pair of battle droids was harassing a pair of Duros. He obviously felt he had the upper hand. “Okay you alien scum! Everyone against the wall, this is a raid!”

I could tell from the expressions on the alien faces that this wasn’t new. “There was a patrol here just yesterday, and they found nothing. Why do you Sith keep bothering us?” One of the Duros complained.

The Sith merely drew his sidearm, and shot the protester. “That is how we Sith deal with smart mouthed aliens! Now up against the wall before I lose my temper again!”

I had imagined what a battle droid might think when it was told to attack. I am sure what I went through next was probably as close as a flesh and blood entity could get. I was totally focused on the man as he holstered his weapon. I was measuring the distance to him, and my hand had already found the hilt of the vibroblade. It felt right somehow to have a blade instead of a gun. Something deep inside of me snarled. I had always hated bullies.

He sneered at the aliens, then turned slightly. When he did, he saw Carth. He didn’t flinch. I give him that much. His eyes moved farther, and he saw me. “Humans hiding out with aliens? They’re Republic fugitives! Attack!”

I was moving even before he had shouted the command. The blade hummed as he drew his sidearm. If he had not holstered it, he might have had a chance. I sliced upward, and the blaster along with half his arm went with it. He screamed. I was too close for the droid’s targeting sensors to separate me from him, and I used it, cutting to my left shattering the torso of that droid. I could hear blaster fire, and as I spun back to my first victim, he was staring at the wreckage Carth had made of the other droid. He saw my blade come up, and screamed ‘Please-” before I cut down, killing him.

We were frozen in the tableau for a moment. I was getting a handle on my fury. I wanted to chop the dead man into fish bait. But I knew it was just my anger talking. That scream for mercy really irritated me. Most bullies I had dealt with were the kind that would laugh at your pleas, but expect you to honor theirs. I touched the stud, and the sword hummed to silence. The Duros stared at me with a mixture of terror and awe on his face. “Are you all right?”

The Duros nodded kneeling by his friend. Nothing would have saved his life at this point. “Poor Ixgil. He should never have talked back to that Sith. Thankfully, you were here to step in and help us, human This isn’t the first time the Sith have come in here to cause trouble for us. Hopefully it will be the last.”

I stared at him with amazement. We had a pair of bodies rapidly making a mess and he had hope still? “Won’t someone come searching for this patrol?”

He shrugged fatalistically. “Don’t worry about the bodies. I will move them so that if looks like they were killed elsewhere. That should throw the Sith off the track. With any luck they won’t be bothering us again for a while.”
I knelt, taking the equipment off the dead Sith. More grenades. I slotted them.

“Where did you learn that?” Carth asked.

“What, the sword? At home.”

“No. How to roll your victim afterward.”

I chuckled. “A pilot usually doesn’t see much close range combat. When you’re a grunt, you learn the fine art of conservation. A dead man doesn’t need weapons. You can use them. So he gives you what you need to complete the mission.” I nodded toward the blaster he still held. “For an old man, you’re pretty good with that thing.”

“Years of practice.” He smiled sadly. “Besides, if they’re close enough to hit me with a sword, I’m not doing my job.”

I shrugged at that. If they were close enough to hit me with a sword and I was still alive, I had been doing my job. I pocketed the few credits the dead man had, and hefted his rifle.

“How many rifles do you need?” He asked plaintively.

“I can carry it until we sell it. After all,” I pulled out my Republic ID card. “We try to run one of these through a sales kiosk, and we’ll have Sith all over us.”

He shrugged, grinning sheepishly. “All right, I forgot.”

We walked down the hall. A Twi-lek was watching as we approached, and he spoke. “Well I don’t see too many of your kind around here. Most of the residents of these rundown old apartments are illegal aliens. I’m Larrim, by the way.” I instantly pegged him as a salesman. When it comes to a glad-handing salesman, the only thing worse than Twi-leks are humans and Hutt. He proved me right when he looked around as if he expected the constable to be standing right there.

“I know it’s really none of my business, but you look like someone who might need to purchase one of those new energy shields. They’re the latest thing, you know. Very high tech.”

“I know about energy shields.” I said. They were good against blasters, but they didn’t affect a sword blade, and an ion disruptor takes them down like a creditor at your bank account. Not to mention that they were charged for a set number of uses, and without a ship with a maintenance section, they were just dead weight when they ran out. The concept wasn’t new, the Arkanians had first made them over a century ago. The Sith had introduced the newer lighter versions a couple of years ago, and everyone who had the tech was making their own versions.

“Oh, then you might be interested to know that I have one for sale. It isn’t cheap, but it may be the difference between life and death.” He motioned toward a section of the wall where he’d set up a display. “You want to see what I have in stock? I know my kiosk isn’t much to look at, but my prices are reasonable, and the merchandise is sound.”

I looked at what he had. Recorders, music cubes, a few specialty spices for other aliens species. “I don’t see much really,”

He grinned, showing the pointed teeth of an adult Twi-lek. “No problem, just step up and have a peek.” He reached down, and lifted. The entire upper deck was just for cover. Below it he had a rack of weapons, grenades separated in fruit bins, and the wedge shape of an energy shield generator.

I hefted it out, and checked the meter. Down to one use left. “How much?”

“One hundred and fifty credits.”

I shook my head. “There isn’t anything I need right now, but perhaps you’re in the mood to buy?”

We haggled, something the Twi-lek love to do. When I was done I had sold the two blaster rifles I had picked up, one of the blaster pistols, all of the adrenal supplements, and I walked away with about five hundred credits. We ended the session with both complaining that they had been ripped off, which meant we were if not pleased, we were at least satisfied that we had gotten the better of the deal.

“Now we can buy supplies if we need them.” I said, slipping the plastic coins into my belt pouch. I remembered the map, and began striding down the hall. The building was circular, at least on this level. The aliens that lived in the rooms ignored us. It was better that way for both them and us.
I stopped at the door into the street. “Won’t we look out of place with all this hardware?”

Carth grinned. “Girl, you’re going to fit right in.”

Last edited by machievelli; 04-01-2006 at 11:43 PM. Reason: adding story between this and where I left off above
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