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Old 09-29-2005, 06:24 PM   #8
machievelli
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UpperCity

Danika

As we walked toward the tram station, I could see Carth was bothered by something. “Carth?” He looked up, then flushed as if he were embarrassed. “Since we’re going to be spending a lot of time together, why not tell me about yourself.”

“Me? Well I’m a star pilot. I’ve been in uniform for a long time. I’ve seen more than my share of warfare. I fought through half of the Mandalorian campaigns.”

I nodded. The Mandalorian was had begun not long after the Exar Kun War. The Republic had been staggering after that war, and the Mandalorians, who had been one of our enemies during them sensed that we were weak.

The Mandalorians aren’t an alien race, they are humans. About five centuries before the formation of the Republic they had fled Coruscant to settle on several frontier planets to found a nation based on strength and honor. The planets they had chosen were all either harsh environments, or high gravity, and if possible, both. They had rejected half of the medical technology of that time, practicing a ruthless eugenics program on themselves using both genetic manipulation and simple breeding programs. Children judged too weak to survive were euthanized, their schools were boot camp for children. An adult couldn’t get married if there was a serious genetic defect, unless they were already proven in battle. They had been in the forefront of the war against Exar Kun, and they had blooded their troops well.

But not long after that war ended, they began minor conquests along the borders of the Republic. There were a lot of systems that went their own way rather than be members of the Republic, and these soon fell. Then they had struck at our frontiers.

Like always, the Republic moved slowly into war. It lasted 12 years with an death toll that was still staggering to contemplate, and it wasn’t until the Jedi had gotten into it that the tide had turned. Unfortunately, the Jedi that had led that crushing assault were the ones in charge of the present Sith fleet.

“It sounds terrible.”

“It was.” He agreed. Then his face grew gaunt. ”But with all that I’ve never experienced anything like the slaughter these Sith animals have unleashed. Not even the Mandalorians at their most desperate were this senseless.

“My home world was one of the first to fall to Malak’s fleets. The Sith bombed them into submission and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do to stop them.”

I could understand the confusion. A fleet you’re sure is friendly arrives then suddenly unleashes hell. Captains surprised by the attack being swept away before they could resist. That anyone had resisted at all would have been surprising at first. But his tone left so much unsaid. “Somehow, I think you feel it is your fault.”

He looked at me as if I had dug a blade into an infected wound. “It shouldn’t be my fault! I did everything I could, I followed my orders, did my duty. That shouldn’t mean I failed them.” He looked even more depressed. “I didn’t.” He repeated.

“You mean your people.”

“Yes! No.” He sighed. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, I’m sorry. I’m not making much sense am I?

“I know you probably mean well, but It’ not often that I discuss my feelings. At all actually. I’m more used to taking action, keeping my mind focused on the problem in front of me. So let’s do that. If you have any more questions, save them for later.”

I nodded, and started walking again.



North City

It was a forty-minute ride from the South City to the North City. We debarked, and I checked my map. We were on another promenade. The tram station at one end of it, a droid shop and the elevator to our destination at the other. Past the elevator was the base, now occupied by the Sith. There were more Sith here, and we threaded our way through the people walking along with an aplomb we didn’t feel. I saw the guard, and motioned for Carth to let me go ahead of him.

The elevator was guarded, and the Sith waved me to a stop as I approached. “This elevator is off limits. Only Sith patrols and those with the proper authorization are allowed in the lower city.”

I staggered a little, as if I had been drinking. “But I heard there’s a really lively cantina down there! I wanted to check it out!”

He shook his head. His tone, while still firm, was a bit exasperated. “It’s obvious from the way you’re dressed that you aren’t Sith. So unless you have authorization papers, I suggest you do your drinking up here. Move along.”

I shrugged, and staggered back the way I had come.

“You’re pretty good at that. Sure you haven’t been slipping hooch while I wasn’t looking?” Carth was trying to lighten the mood.

“Remnants of a misspent youth.” I replied. I told him what the Sith guard had said.

“He doesn’t seem too bright, that means he’ll follow orders to the letter. We’re going to need some kind of disguise to get past him.”

I pointed across the way to a cafe. As we started toward it, I paused. A trio of armored Sith had just marched past us, bound for the apartment complex at the other end of the promenade. “You know, I said conversationally. “We won’t need papers if we have uniforms. I jerked my chin toward the trio.

“What do you have in mind?” He asked softly.

I grinned manically. “Trust me.”

“Famous last words.” He whispered.

We followed at a safe distance. They walked into the apartment complex, and we followed. The apartments looked slightly better than the ones we were hiding in, and I didn’t see an alien. I heard the clatter of armor from my right, and followed it. At the third door on that side, a Sith stood outside, glaring at anyone who came close. I looked around as the last of the denizens had disappeared, and moved toward him.

He saw our approach, and waved at us. “Just keep moving, nothing to see here.”

From inside I heard an angry voice. “Where did you hide those Sith uniforms you stole? Did you sell them to the Tarisian underground? Start talking. I want answers!” To one side a Sith officer in red armor was shoving an Aqualish against the wall.

The Aqualish whined. “I’m just a passerby trapped here by your blockade. I don’t know anything about an underground. Or any uniforms.”

“Uniforms? What are they talking about?” I asked Carth.

“You’re a little too curious for you own good, civilian. Move along before you get your nose chopped off.”

Carth leaned toward me, and whispered. “I know all about Sith interrogations, this is going to get bad very fast.”

The Sith inside slammed the alien into the wall. “I am sick and tired of your lies, you alien scum! Your ugly mug is all over our security sensor logs from the base. Start talking or I am going to splatter what little brains you have all over the wall!”

“Uh oh. The Commander is starting to lose his temper. It took me an hour to get the blood off my armor the last time.” The guard commented to himself.

“Maybe the alien is telling the truth.” I said.

“Listen, truth, lie, it doesn’t matter to him. Just stay out of this if you value your health.”

“I won’t just let you kill a defenseless prisoner!” I blurted out. I wasn’t talking softly when I did. The Commander spun.

“What was that I heard? You won’t ‘let’ us kill him? How could you stop us?” He looked at the guard. “I think it’s time you taught these nosy civilians a lesson. No one interferes with the Sith!”

I drew, and the blades of my new weapon snapped out. Before the guard even knew what I was doing, I cut across his neck at the join between the breastplate and the helmet. He was down and I was running at full speed toward the Sith commander. He started to go for his blaster, then changed his mind and went for his sword instead. But I was there before he could draw.

Instead of cutting him I leaped, punching all of my weight into his chest with my leg. As he went backwards, I used the rebound energy, spinning in air to land facing the third Sith trooper. He skidded, trying to stop, but my blade punched through his breastplate. I spun, but the Sith commander was going down as the Aqualish slammed both meaty fists into his head.

“Thank you human.” He said. “The Sith would have killed me. Of that I am certain. I don’t know who you are, but I can tell you are no friend to the Sith. Among my people, there is a saying; ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend‘. Like you, I hate the Sith and what they bring to this world. That is why I stole those uniforms to give to the Hidden Beks.”

“What are you talking about?”

“In the lower city, there are some that will not bow down to that.” He motioned toward the Sith bodies. “Swoop gang like the Hidden Beks are gathering resources so that one day they can strike back.”

I had to laugh. He wasn’t innocent!

“If you wish to strike more blows against the Sith, you must journey to the Lowercity. There you can contact Gadon Thek, the leader of the Hidden Beks.”

“What are they planning?”

“If you wish the answer to that question, you will have to ask Gadon Thek. My only dealings with him have been through gang members with access to the UpperCity.”

“Do you still have some uniforms we can get?”

“No. There are ways to send non-living things into the Lowercity without being noticed.” He motioned toward a panel on the wall. Of course. The trash receptacles. They fed into the compactors and recyclers far below. “However, you have access to uniforms right here.” He motioned toward the bodies.

“Then you had best get out of here.”

“I agree. The Sith now know my face. I must go into hiding.”

I nodded. Carth had dragged the body from the hall, and we got to work. There was only one clean suit. The others were bloody, or in the case of the commander, leaking brain tissue. I looked at it, then passed it to him.

“Why do I have to be the Sith?” He asked plaintively.

“Because I don’t have a size three hat size and size twenty neck like this guy.” I said.

He grumbled, but slid into the armor with my help. It wasn’t a good fit, but as long as he didn’t move his head sharply or start dancing, it should work.

“What about you?” He asked.

I giggled, holding his arm possessively. “Why I found this absolutely adorable guard that promised to take me to the cantina in return for some fun afterward!”

He shook his head. “I’m getting too old for this crap.”

We strolled down the promenade, and the disguise couldn’t have been better. The Sith pretty much ignored us. And since I was with a Sith, the citizens ignored us. We walked down to the elevator station, and the guard there just shook his head. “Another ‘patrol’ heading into the Lowercity, eh? I’ve heard it’s pretty rough down there. I would be careful if I were you. There’s a big gang war heating up. Those maniacs are even taking pot shots at us! It’s too bad we don’t have the manpower to go down and clean that mess up.” He tapped the control, and the elevator opened.

“I’d suggest you not bring your friend back up this way. There are apartments down there where you can have your fun.”

Carth mumbled, and moved with me attached like a limpet on his arm. The door closed, and I moved away.

“And we had such a nice romance going.” He grumped.

“Sorry. Maybe next time.”


Lowercity

The elevator opened onto a hallway. I brought up the map. “Hidden Beks.” I murmured.

“What?” Carth asked.

“That’s one of the gangs who control this area. The Black Vulkars and the Hidden Beks.”

“So if all else fails, we ask them for help?”

“If all else fails.” I agreed.

There was a running noise, and I drew. A Togarian wearing a black bandanna with the Vulkar logo on it ran past. I moved toward the edge of the hallway. There were three wearing the Black Vulkar Logo facing two wearing green bandannas with just the upper head and nose of a Bek. Another Bek came running up. Here unlike the Upper city, ethnic diversity was accepted. There were three Togarian. Standing against them was a Rodian an Aqualish and a human.

It looked like the start of any fight you might have see. Guys trying to prove they’re tougher than the ones they face. Most of the time, of course, the fight never gets past the name calling or shoving stage. As I watched, one of the Vulkars reached behind his back, and pulled out a white rod. I felt my blood freeze at that. A stun baton. Usually used for riot control or prisons, a stun baton would jolt a man right through his armor. At the normal settings it can knock you down or blast you into unconsciousness.

As he swung it, I heard a whine that drove nails into my ears. He’d overloaded the damn thing! The charge was lethal to anything smaller than a building!

He struck before the Rodian facing him could react. If the little green guy had been equipped with hair, it would have stood out in every direction as the power of a high-tension cable blasted apart his heart. The Togarian facing the Aqualish Bek engaged with a sword, and the stun baton wielding Vulkar came in from the side, punching it into the Bek’s chest. The Aqualish gasped, and went down.

The human desperately defended himself, but the Vulkar facing him cut down, killing him.

“Crap.” One of the survivors said, seeing us. “We don’t want the Sith down here too!” They spread out to come at us.

“Take the left!” I shouted, drawing. I charged the one with the baton. Either of the others could cut me, and my armor would stop a lot of the damage. But that baton could kill us even through the armor. The left hand Togarian went down in a welter of blood, and I was there swinging. I caught the Togarian in the arm, and he grabbed for it as my back-swing opened up his stomach. I spun, and he died with my blade in his chest and a blaster bolt in the head at almost the same instant.

There was a scream from down the hall, and we turned. Two more Togarian were there in front of a door, with the Vulkar bandannas.

I palmed a gas grenade. I don’t like them because you can’t guarantee that someone will be affected or how quickly. But the gas does cut down vision, and all I needed was a few seconds.

I over-handed the grenade at one, charging toward him. Behind me I could hear Carth charging after me.

I was there as the cloud dissipated, and cut into the guy before he recognized the danger. He went down, and Carth took out his partner a moment later.

I gasped, looking at them. Then I ransacked their gear. “Carth, I think you had better get out of that armor. They don’t seem to like Sith that much.”

“I think you might be right.”

“Then I need a command decision.”


Carth

Considering our entire relationship seemed to be me running in to keep her alive, that was rich. “A command decision.”

“We can try to avoid the Vulkars, but from what I’ve seen, they’re almost insane. We can’t guarantee the mission will succeed if we have to watch our step every second.”

“Agreed.”

“Then I suggest we move the Vulkars from our ‘maybe avoid’ column to our ‘better dead than live’ one.”

I considered her suggestion. We had heard about both gangs, and at least the Beks weren’t blasting everything that moved. “Let’s table that until we see what happens when I’m out of this.” We tried the door they had guarded, obviously the way into their base, but the security was too good.

We decided to see if the apartment complex across from the elevator would give us a place to stash the armor. We went through the rooms one by one. Unfortunately, the Vulkars had laid claim to these as well. Only one room gave us an option. The room had of all things a footlocker with a manual lock. Those are antiques. There was a gas mine set on it, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Danika merely smiled, and tossed a piece of trash on it. We evacuated the room until the gas dissipated, then went to the locker.

“You’re-” I started to tell her to give it up as a bad job, but she knelt in front of the box. She seemed to concentrate on the box as if her mind alone would open it. Then she punched in a code, waited, punched in another code, then another. The box hissed open.

“Who is Elam Mattic?” She asked softly touching a faded card on the lid.

“Mattic? There was a ground force commander named Mattic at the start of the Mandalore War. He retired right after it. Why?”

“This box once belonged to Elam Mattic.” She looked at the room. It was barely livable. She dipped her hands in and pulled out a set of Republic armor. “I think a change of clothes is in order.”

As I changed she went through the rest of the contents. As I was sealing the breastplate on the armor I heard an “Oh, my.” I turned to see what was wrong. She drew out a set of Echani fiber armor. “I’m going to change. It’s better than this.” She touched the armor she wore.

“Go ahead.”

“Well,” she waved her hand. “Turn around.”

“Hey, you didn’t turn around when I was changing.”

“But I was busy inventorying what was in this box.”

I harrumphed, but moved to the door. Actually I wanted to think. She’s good with weapons, that might be natural talent, but that box...

Damn it the thing had a Hollywell 7400 lock. I had seen them before, hell I have used them before. Without the proper code, you can‘t open them without cutting or ripping them apart. Hollywell guaranteed the value of the contents of a sealed box. The only people good enough to get through their encryption were either techs for the company-

-Or professional thieves.

“Done.” She looked good in the armor. Echani armor is made to snug itself against the flesh of the wearer and is made of reactive cloth, over small trauma plates. It moved with the wearer, and stopped almost all impact damage yet was light enough to fold it tight enough to fit in a pack. We put the Sith armor in the box, and she locked it.

Back on the walk, we were undecided which way to go. We started down the hall. Like the upper level, we were far above the ground, about a kilometer I estimated. But nothing else was the same. The hall reeked of urine and trash littered the place. Panels sparked, and the light was haphazard.

We came around a bend, and saw a Rodian standing beside a door marked Jayvar’s Cantina. Beyond him, a human stood guard on another door. She wore a Bek bandanna. When we passed by, I could feel her eyes on me, but it wasn’t outright hostility. It was the professional paranoia of a sentry on important duty.

A bit farther we saw more Vulkars. We warily backed up out of sight. “I suggest we get a drink and consider this.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Back to the cantina.” I ordered. Danika nodded. She was watching carefully.

I didn’t think we had enough ammo for this adventure.


Danika

Describing any cantina is like describing a sunset. They are all the same and all different at the same time. The lights are always low, the music a little too loud, and always the scent of bodies too close together.

Here at least the mix was more like the Republic. Aliens and humans drinking. Maybe not together, or as if they liked one another, but not barred because of race.

We had just entered when a human came from the rear. He was locked on a pair of Rodians, and I stopped Carth. “Bounty Hunter.”

He nodded, eyes hard. Because of the lack of sufficient law enforcement and massive backlogs in the Republic courts, they allowed bounty hunters. Some were just trying to catch or kill criminals, others saw it as a way to hurt people legally.

I pegged this guy as the second.

One of the Rodians looked around then shouted “Hey little human, why you spend time watching us instead of drinking?”

His friend punched him in the arm. “Watch mouth, Luugo! That Calo Nord!”

Nord stopped about ten meters away. “There’s a bounty on your slimy little heads. I’ve come to collect.”

“Over our dead bodies!” Luugo shouted going for his weapon.

It wasn’t a shoot out. It was an execution. Nord drew a pair of matched blasters even as the ones he wasn’t hunting dived for cover. Four neat precise shots took the Rodians down.

“That’s the plan.” He commented to their bodies. He took their ID plates, and tossed a credit chip toward the bartender. “For the mess.” He said.

We moved toward the bar, and got drinks. I wasn’t sure what to have, I had never been much of a drinker, but they had several teas and I ordered one.

“As I see it, the Vulkars are just trying to kill anyone who isn‘t a Vulkar. That means we may have to contact the Beks.” Carth grunted. “And how do we contact the Beks? Will they be any help?”

Before I could answer, I heard a Rodian comment. “Little girl should not be in bar. This no place for little girl. If little girl smart, she runs away home.”

I leaned out. Two Rodians with Black Vulkar bandannas were facing a young Twi-lek girl with a Bek bandanna. In deference to her head tentacles or Lekku, she wore it around her waist like a sash.

“Who you calling little, Chuba face?” She answered in Basic. That surprised me, most aliens tend to speak their own language almost as if to highlight their difference.

“Little girl need lessons in manners!” The Rodian said, cracking his knuckles.

She held up a hand as if asking for time. “Just a sec boys. Zaalbar, a little help here? I need you to rip some legs off some insects.”

There was a growling behind me. My mind translated the noise as, “Mission, I’m busy. They just brought my food!”

“Quit complaining, you can finish eating later. Besides, you need the exercise, so get over here.”

I turned, and saw one of the biggest wookiee I had ever seen. He towered over the bar, and walked toward the confrontation like a landslide. The Rodians took one look, and the one who had been pushing the confrontation stepped back, hands up in a placatory manner. “We want no trouble with wookiee! Our problem with you, little girl!”

“You got a problem with me, then you got a problem with big Z. So unless you want to take on my furry friend, I suggest you greenies hop on out of here.”

The Rodians backed down. I pointed toward her. “Maybe she can help.” I stood, walking toward her. She turned, ready to fight, but calmed down when she saw that I wasn’t wearing gang colors. She smiled brightly.

“I don’t recognize you, and I know just about everyone in the Lowercity. You must be new down here. That makes big Z and me your official welcoming committee!”

I had to laugh. She was a girl just on the edge of maturity, and the child she had been shown through. “You speak Basic!” I commented.

She waved it off. “That’s not so strange. Most aliens can speak Basic, they just prefer their own languages. But I grew up here on Taris, so I just got used to speaking the native language, you know?”

“You showed a lot of guts standing up to those Vulkars, kid. You got a name?” Carth said.

My name’s Mission Vao,” She bowed theatrically, and this big wookiee is my best friend Zaalbar.” She turned, but Zaalbar had obviously decided that food was important. He was holding his plate with one hand, and shoveling with the other. Mission shook her head, then smiled at us again. “I’d offer to give you a tour, but the streets down here aren’t what you would really call safe right now. But if there’s anything else I can help with?”

“How did a Wookiee and a Twi-lek end up as best friends?”

“We just kind of fell in together. It ain’t easy on your own down here in the Lowercity. People always look for a way to push you around if you let them.”

“So we noticed.” Carth commented dryly. “Still you’re an odd pair.”

Mission reached out, and ruffled Zaalbar’s fur. He had a long-suffering look I had seen on large dangerous pets before, usually when they have to deal with children. Something about him looked odd. He had a harness like any furry alien who disdains clothes, but something was missing. “When I met Zaalbar, it seemed a good match. I knew we could look out for each other. With my street smarts and his muscles, we make a great team.”

“Perhaps you can tell me more about the Lowercity.” I steered the conversation.

She brightened up if that was possible. “Well you came to the right person! If you want info on Lower Taris, Davik, the swoop gangs, I even have some juicy stuff on Calo Nord!”

“Tell me about Davik.”

“Davik’s part of the local crime syndicate. With connections, so I have heard, to the Exchange. But everyone knows that. If it’s illegal, or profitable, he has his hand in somehow. But what I did hear was that right before the Blockade came down, he took possession of a JT 4100 ship for his smuggling operations. The Ebon Hawk.”

“A JT 4100!” Carth looked very interested. “Any idea where he keeps it?”

“If the rumor is true, and he does have a ship, it’s locked down at his estates. Anything like that would have been confiscated if the Sith knew about it. But no one goes in there, unless they’re with the Exchange, or working for Davik.”

“Tell me about this gang war.”

“In this area there are only two gangs you have to worry about. The Hidden Beks, and the Black Vulkar. Sometimes we hang out at the Bek’s base. Gadon Thek their leader. He’s a good guy. Lost his sight a few years ago in a swoop bike accident. But even blind he’s one hell of a leader.

“Not like that traitor Brejik! Before he took over the Vulkars, he was Gadon’s right hand man. Gadon considered that worthless space slug like his adopted son!”

“Why did Brejik leave?”

“When Gadon was blinded, everyone thought Gadon would step down. Brejik was the favorite for taking over. But Gadon didn’t think Brejik was ready for the responsibility. Brejik lost it about three, four years ago. He joined the Vulkars, fought his way to the top, and since then he’s been waging a war to wipe the Beks and Gadon off the planet.

“If anyone is to blame for this gang war it’s Brejik. It’s his orders that have the Vulkars out there shooting at anyone and everyone. The UpperCity couldn’t care less, and we’re caught in the middle. It’s like the entire gang has gone insane.”

“And Calo Nord?”

“Calo Nord is one of the most famous bounty hunters in the galaxy. He’s killed more people than the Iridian plague! Last week he blew away three Vulkars just because they tried to talk to him!

“He hangs around Zax’s bounty office, but he’s not looking for work there. The local government set a cap on bounties, and that wouldn’t be enough to interest him.

“I figure he’s been hired by Davik. The last dozen or so he’s killed were on Davik’s bad side. But if Davik hired him, it had to be for a big job somewhere else. I figure the instant the blockade goes down, Nord is going to be out of here fast.”

I looked at Carth. He shrugged. “Maybe we’ll talk to you again, Mission.”

“Leaving? Yeah, this dive is boring. No action at all. Hey, Zaalbar, let’s go.”

Zaalbar looked at his plate. “Mission, I haven’t finished eating!”

“Can’t you think about anything but your stomach for five minutes! Come on, we’ll see if there’s anything good at the Bek’s base before we go slumming.”

Zaalbar upended the plate into his maw, set it on the bar, and followed her out.

Last edited by machievelli; 04-02-2006 at 05:49 PM. Reason: additional data
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