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Old 09-27-2005, 03:13 PM   #7
machievelli
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Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
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Upper City: South

I saw what he meant when we stepped outside. Among the normal citizens were a lot of people dressed in space suits, combat gear, and attitudes.

The sky was cloudy; in fact the streets were cloudy. The building on Taris reach up in some areas almost four kilometers. Only the streets are required to be below 3500. That isn’t hubris, its simple survival. Above 3500 meters the air pressure on the average planet is too low to support un-adapted human life. As it was, someone who had spent their life at sea level would have been gasping up here.

“I said blockade and I meant it. Maybe fifty, sixty ships were caught on the ground or in orbit. Anything that could land was landed and have guards posted on them. Those that couldn’t land because of their mass were allowed caretaker crews, but locked down with explosive linked to their drive systems and battle droids to make sure no one tries to disconnect them.” He pointed at a shuttle taking off. “The only surface to space shuttles allowed have Sith crews. You can go up to your ship, but you can’t stay there. Besides, there’s at least two of the Interdictor class cruisers in orbit, and a dozen smaller ships. Anything that tries to take off or break orbit gets blown to atoms.

“But ships sitting in dock mean crews on the street. Let’s just say the Oligarchs aren’t happy with that.” He motioned to the side. The pod we had crashed in was right there, and I winced at the damage. I didn’t know it had been that close. Droids were circling it, dismantling the pod for any usable scrap.

I mentally brought up the map of the section of the city we were in. It was called, with fine attention to names, merely South City. We were on one of the main promenades, where the local citizens liked to walk along and show their finery. The tube station to North City, where the entrance to the Lower city originated was at the opposite end about 200 meters away. I located the important places we might need to go as we walked toward the tube station. There was a weapons shop directly across the promenade, with a cantina down another smaller promenade. At the other end of it past the shops and air-car pads were a medical facility, and the tube station.

“I think we should reconnoiter before we load up on ordinance.” I said. I had a blaster rifle, the vibroblade, and about a half-dozen grenades. We were set for anything but a major fight, but if we ran into that, things were already in the crapper.

“Agreed.” We strolled. We weren’t horrible nasty Republic troops. We were neutrals just stuck here. The local citizens glared at or ignored us. Sith troops in armor stalked the promenade, avoided by pretty much everyone. There were a few aliens, but they scurried from place to place as if terrified. Seeing a Tarisian spit at one, I understood their worry.

We had reached the tube station when it happened. An old man was walking furtively toward the station when two people suddenly stopped him, shoving him toward one of the edges of the promenade. By his dress I figured he was a lower to middle level merchant.

“Davik says you missed your last payment.” The human of the pair said.

“Davik doesn’t like you missing payments.” The Aqualish with him added.

The man looked from one face to the other, then fumbled at his belt pouch. “Here, I’ve got fifty credits. That should buy me some time, right?”

The human shook his head. “Sorry, you’re all out of time. Now it’s all or nothing.”

“Davik can’t have people not paying their debts.” The Aqualish said helpfully.

“But I don’t have that much! How can I give you credits I don’t have?” The merchant whined.

“That’s too bad. Davik already gave us instructions. He wants to make an example of you.” He caught the man by the arm; his associate took the other. They started toward the edge of the promenade. The Aqualish reached out, and touched a pad that had been connected to the safety field. It hissed, and wind pummeled us.

The merchant realized that time was one thing he didn‘t have. “No, help! Somebody help! They’re going to kill me!”

The few people walking by ignored him. As it had in the apartment complex, my mind focused tightly. I started forward. Carth caught my arm, but I shrugged him off. I drew the vibroblade keeping it turned off tight against my leg as I walked straight toward them.

The human noticed my approach, and was actually happy for the audience. “Hold on a second. Looks like we got a witness here!”

“Davik doesn’t like witnesses.” The Aqualish just had to say something.

“Leave this man alone or you’ll deal with me.” I said softly.

The tough looked happy. The man he was about to kill hadn‘t been enough entertainment for him. “Guess we’ll just have to teach you to mind your own business.”

He started to grab my arm, and choked as I rammed the vibroblade into his stomach and cut upward. The blade hissed from him, and I spun, chopping into the chest of the second tough before he even knew a fight had started. I flicked the blood that had adhered aside, then shut off the cell, and slowly sheathed the blade.

The merchant just stood there staring at me. He looked down at the corpses and realized that he was going to live at least a little longer. “Thank you! I owe you my life! Those bounty hunters were going to take me away and kill me! My wife warned me not to take a loan from Davik. Now I can’t pay him back. It’s not good to owe a crime lord money. He’ll just keep sending bounty hunters after me until I’m dead.”

I understood how he felt, but his effusive thanks was starting to wear. “Maybe I can help you.”

He shook his head sadly. “You already helped me by saving my life from them. I don’t have the money to hire you to protect me. If I did, I would have already paid Davik off. So unless you have a spare hundred credits to give me so I can pay off Davik, there’s nothing else you can do.” At the last, his tone was ironic. 100 credits is a weeks pay for most people.

I reached into my pouch. We didn‘t have a lot, but I pictured this man trying to whine his way through a blaster bolt. I pulled enough coins to cover what he asked for, and dropped them into his hand. “Here, take them.”

He stared at the money as if he thought it would vanish. Then he looked at me now not only with awe, but astonishment. “You’re giving me a hundred credits? Just like that? I don’t know what to say! Thank you, Thank you!”

Carth shook his head. “You’re giving him a hundred credits? Generous.” I could tell his tone was sarcastic, but he’d probably never been on the ragged edge of poverty before.

The merchant was running off at the mouth. “Now I can pay off Davik. You’ve saved my life! I had better take this to him right away!”

“One word of advice.” I said. “Your wife sounds like a smart woman. Next time I’d listen to her.” He nodded, and hurried off.

“What about these guys?” He motioned toward the bodies. I flipped over the Aqualish, and went through his pouch, and then I caught his legs, and flipped him over the edge into space. Carth stared at me as I did the same with the human.

“What guys?” I asked resetting the safety field. I looked past him. A pair of Sith were walking toward us. “Now unless you want to explain to the occupiers how all this blood ended up on the ground, I suggest we decide to get a check up.” I hooked a thumb toward the medical center across the way.

As we walked, I held out my hand. “No good deed goes un-rewarded.” The money I had taken off the two was exactly 100 credits.

The medical treatment center was small. After all with modern medicine you don’t need massive structures for something as simple as a clinic. There was a man near the door, but he snarled, pointing us toward the rear. A tall bald man was working on a child. I admired his skill. A two-year-old is sometimes the worse patient. In pain, probably barely old enough to talk. This child just watched him with trusting eyes as the med tech sprayed the burns on his arms.

“Now what have I told you about this?” He asked. “You can’t scratch these, it will cause scars. You don’t want scars do you?” The child stared wide-eyed, and shook his head. “Then I won’t have to use the bad spray.” He turned, checking a scanner, and turned back to the boy’s arm.

“What zit doo?” The child asked.

“The bad spray?” The child nodded. The med looked around, saw my attention, and winked slowly with one impassive eye. “Well if you use it on boys, they turn into girls if they scratch. But it‘s worse for girls. They turn into little boys!”

“Oooh!” Behind the child his mother shook her head in exasperation, but she was smiling.

“Look for a back door if we need it.” I whispered. Carth nodded, and moved toward the back of the open room.

Finished with his patient, the med tech turned to me. “I see from your appearance that you are an out-worlder. Still you are welcome here. I’ll not have it said that Zelka Forn refused to help somebody just because they’re not a citizen of Taris. Do you require medical treatment? I can treat almost any injury or ailment right here, except for the Rakghoul disease.”

Carth walked up behind him. “Actually, I have a question.” He said. He was furious about something, but I didn’t know what. Forn looked confused, but followed him to a personnel door in the larger door at the back. Carth opened it.

“What are you doing! Don’t go in there! That is for medical personnel only!” Carth grabbed the protesting man and shoved him into the back. I followed into horror.

Bacta tanks dozens of them. Horribly mangled people occupied five. I stared, then approached one of the tanks. I had seen the man before. Suddenly the face clicked in my mind. “I recognize him.” I looked at another face. I recognized all of them. “They’re Republic soldiers!”

“You recognize them?” Forn looked from my face to Carth’s “But how! Unless... you’re friends of the Republic?”

I touched the clearplast of the tank. “We are friends of the Republic. You can trust us.”

Forn sighed. “I guess... I guess I had better tell you what’s going on. I only hope the Sith don’t find out what I’ve done.” He sat in a chair, rubbing his face with his hands, staring sadly at the occupied tanks. “Since the space battle overhead, people have been secretly bringing in these Republic soldiers who crash-landed on this planet. I had to take them in, what other choice did I have?

“Their injuries are terrible. Even with everything I can do most won’t survive. But at least they are hidden from the Sith and I can make their last days more comfortable.”

I looked at this man, and saw the inherent bravery of his act. The Sith wouldn’t care that his act was strictly humanitarian. They would see someone that had hidden possibly valuable interrogation assets from them. If he was lucky, all they would do is kill him.

Carth was embarrassed by his original suspicions. “Well for what you have done you have my thanks. It’s good to know that at least some of these men ended up in compassionate hands.”

Forn looked sad. “I shudder to think what the Sith would do if they discovered these soldiers here. But since their initial questioning, they haven’t returned. So it may be that my fears are unfounded.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” I asked softly.

Forn shook his head with a sad smile. “I am afraid there is nothing more anyone can do for them. If you’ll excuse me, I should return to the front in case someone comes in needing treatment.”

I leaned my head against one of the tanks. The woman inside it had been one of the nurses. The last time I saw her I had screamed at her to let me just exercise, and she had left with a pained expression. “I’m sorry for what I said.” I whispered to her. “Sorry for everything I might have done.”

Carth

The more I watched her, the less made sense. I had read Danika’s service record because she was brought aboard the Endar Spire at the last minute. Anyone considered that important by a Jedi tweaks the interest. She was from a frontier world, 24 years old, and according to her records, she had just finished boot camp.

Fine.

But she was just too good at what she did. The vibroblade didn’t set off the alarms in my head. After all a lot of the new kids make pretty good jackleg mechanics. The fact that she checked her weapons easily didn’t either. You’d expect a new boot to pay attention to those kind of details.

But when we had confronted the Sith patrol in the apartments, it started to make less sense. She reacted even before the attack order was given.

How many new boots remember that a droid’s targeting sensors will hitch if you put a friendly in the line of fire? If there had been only the two droids, they would have both opened fire, because a droid is programmed that way. But there’s an implant they give flesh and blood people if you’re working consistently with droids. It labels you as friendly and that limits friendly fire incidents. If an enemy and a friendly living being are in close proximity, the droid will have to find someplace to shoot that won’t injure the friendly. So she first disarmed him literally, and then took out the droids while they were still in that programming loop. I have seen veterans that don’t consider that when they’re in a close in melee.

Then it was her take charge attitude. Most boots will follow orders from on high slavishly, as if afraid that they will be punished. She argued! Her arguments were well reasoned and took in to account the tactical situation. That was the sign of a veteran.

Now I watched her leaning into the tank. I recognized the nurse, but wasn’t sure why she bothered Danika so much. She was suddenly that little girl the records said she was. There were two people in there, and I wasn’t sure which was which.

We stepped back into the med center, and she walked toward the tech. I followed mainly to find out what she was planning next.

Forn was working on another patient.

“Could I ask you some questions?” She asked.

Forn nodded intent on debriding a nasty rip in a man‘s arm.

“Tell me about the Rakghoul disease.”

Even as he worked, Forn talked. If he didn’t live on Taris, I could see him in charge of a teaching medical center. “The terrible affliction has plagued Taris for many generations now. It is spread by what are called Rakghouls. They are horrible monsters that live in the Undercity below Taris’ great skyscrapers.

“Prolonged exposure to the Undercity breeds the disease and those infected will eventually mutate into Rakghouls themselves, becoming mindless beasts that feed on the flesh of others.”

She nodded. “Is there no cure?”

“There is no known cure or antidote for the disease, though the Republic base here had a research wing dedicated to it. The scientists that were working at the base were supposed to be close to a cure, but before they could release it, the Sith arrived.

“The Sith overran the base, and now refuse anyone access to the research wing, or any laboratory inside. If there is or was a cure, the Sith are keeping it to themselves. Their patrols have been hit rather heavily in the Undercity, and any serum they have is for those patrols.”

Forn nodded to the patient who left, and looked to Danika. “If I could just get my hands on a sample of that serum, the Rakghoul disease could be wiped from the face of Taris forever. Though I don’t see that happening.”

Danika considered, and I could almost see her mind running at top speed. “Maybe we could find a way to get my hands on that serum for you.”

“I don’t see how. The only samples would be in the base, or with the patrols. Getting it from the base would be suicide. There are a lot of guards there.

“I suppose a patrol in the Undercity might have sample, if they haven’t already been attacked and used it. Getting it from a Sith patrol would cause repercussions I hate to even think about. I’m sure they wouldn’t just hand it over if asked politely.”

She thanked him absently, then moved to the door. She motioned me over, and we looked across the promenade. The Sith patrol had left; only a cleaning droid remained.

“I think we will need more weapons.” She commented softly. “Weapons shop first, if that is all right.”

` I shrugged. So far she hadn’t put a foot wrong.

“Psst.” I looked at the assistant that had ignored us when we first entered. I didn’t like the look of him. “You there. Wait a minute.” He moved over close enough to whisper. “I need to talk to you about that Rakghoul serum. I’ve got an offer you might want to hear.”

Danika looked at him. I could see that she had already decided that we’d get it if we could. “An offer? What are you talking about?”

“Zelka isn’t the only one who wants to get his hands on that serum. Davik Kang will pay you ten times what Zelka can if you get the cure for him first.”

Davik, that was the crime lord. I tensed. I hated people that put money before humanity. Danika’s face was impassive. I didn’t know what she was thinking. “Why do you care who gets the serum first?”

“Look, Zelka can’t afford to pay me much. If you get the serum for him, I don’t get anything extra out of it. But if you sold the serum to Davik, I’d be able to get a finder’s fee for directing you to him.”

Danika nodded at that, and my heart sank. “Why does Davik want the cure so badly?” As if I didn’t already know.

“Davik’s interested in anything that can turn a profit.” The assistant admitted. “He could make a fortune selling the serum to anyone infected with the disease. Not like Zelka, who’ll practically give it away.”

Danika’s head cocked. “I think I’d rather give it to Zelka. He’ll use it to help people.”

The man waved his hands in a negative motion. “Helping people is all well and good. But you have to help yourself first, right? I’m telling you Davik will pay big credits for the cure. More than Zelka could.”

“And then only the rich would be able to buy the cure.” I rasped. She wasn’t falling for the guy’s patter. “Just let the poor suffer. Right.”

Danika looked back toward the med tech who was already busy treating another patient. “What if I told Zelka you’re really working for Davik?”

“I’ll just deny it. Who’s he going to believe, me, or some down on their luck space bum? Besides,” He hooked a thumb toward the back room. “What do you think the Sith would pay me for that secret?” He ignored the cold look that ran over Danika’s face. “Now be smart about this. You’ll get a better deal with Davik, and other people won’t get hurt. Understood?”

She nodded, and walked out. I had known her long enough to read the anger in her walk. People ahead of her, even a couple of Sith troopers stepped aside as she stormed down the promenade.

The sign at the weapons shop read ‘Equipment Emporium: Kebla Yurt Prop.’

Danika walked in like she owned the place. Yurt was a short intense black woman. She saw us and immediately headed over. “Hello there, haven’t seen you in my shop before. Allow me to introduce myself, Kebla Yurt, welcome to the Equipment Emporium. You looking to buy some supplies? My shop is the largest in all of Upper Taris. Best selection on the planet. Whatever you need, I got.” She grimaced. “Well, mostly.”

“Mostly?” I asked. “What do you mean by that?”

She waved at the prints on her walls. Sleek fighters, swoop bikes modified for combat, a Heulin heavy Particle blaster that would shred a ship’s hull. “The Sith confiscated all of my heavy weapons. And they impounded my snubs and bikes. But I still have a real nice selection of lighter weapons if you‘re interested.”

Danika hadn’t even been listening to the spiel. Instead she stood at a clearplast case, running her hand over it. Inside was an Echani ritual Brand. To the Echani the sword is part of their religion, learning to use it the same as anyone else learning to pray. Even the youngest Echani learned how to use a blade.

I’d seen the Echani in combat, and the ones you feared most were those bearing a ritual brand. They were what the Echani called ‘married to the blade‘. I had yet so see anyone who wasn’t Echani use one, though a number of societies had made double swords.

Kebla’s finely honed sales instincts had noticed the interest. “You like that?”

“Where did you get it?” Danika asked.

“About a month ago, an Echani Merc down on his luck asked me to buy it, and promised to come back for it.” She grimaced again. “But he tried to make money fast by entering the Dueling circuit. He reached the top, and instead of cashing in his chips, he tried for the big score. Bendak Starkiller.” She shrugged. “He only accepts death matches. The Echani wasn’t good enough.” She sensed a possible sale. “I have the equipment to adjust the length.” She looked Danika over. “Though I don’t know if we’ll need it.”

She opened the case. Two meters of blade and grip were passed to Danika. She motioned Yurt away, then began to move them as if she’d been born with them in her hands. Yurt whistled appreciatively. “If nothing else, I have got to get a cube of you sword dancing.”

“I’ll take it.”

“Just so you know, all prices are final. No bargaining. I run a high-class establishment and even the used equipment is brought up to factory specs before I put them out. This isn’t a Hutt or Twi-lek establishment.”

She named a price, and Danika paid it. She folded the blades with a flick of the wrist, and slid them into the sheath that Yurt supplied.

She was becoming more of an enigma. In fact, she was starting to remind me of Morgana, my late wife.

Last edited by machievelli; 04-01-2006 at 11:54 PM. Reason: insertin interim data
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