Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
Current Game: Dungeonseige series
A JT 4100! They were made at the Protopri yards on Colrami. A military design, they had been designed for customs patrols and armed diplomatic courier work. Fast enough to catch anything smaller than a fighter or outrun a larger ship. Armed well enough to fight anything that could catch them. Some had slipped into the civilian sector, and they made excellent smugglers for the same reason they made good pirate chasers. But we would still have to get past the guns of the fleet.
I looked at Danika. She had handled that interview like a pro, and the more I thought about it, the more it added onto that what the hell list. Every minute something else made me wonder.
“Can we talk, Carth?”
“We didn’t finish the discussion earlier.”
“All right, I’m all ears, beautiful.”
She looked at me coolly. “Considering the chain of command on this mission, isn’t that inappropriate?”
I was covering fast. “Is there something you would rather I call you?”
“I have a name.” She replied gently.
“Don’t get yourself in a twist about it, gorgeous. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“There you go again!”
“Oh for crying out-- Look, maybe you’ll feel better if you called me something. Go ahead. Come on. I can take it.”
“This is ridiculous.” She flushed, and I could tell she was having trouble keeping her temper.
“What? Afraid you’ll hurt my feelings? Come on, you’ll feel better. Do it, I can handle it.”
“I would rather go back to my original questions.”
Man she kept her temper locked down like the codes for a Bethe cycle concussion missile. I had rarely seen anyone as young as her with so much self-control. However I was feeling puckish. “So, all business today? Fine. Are these questions really necessary?”
She shook her head. “I just want to understand my teammate better.”
“Well if it’s an interrogation you wanted, why didn’t you say so? I promise not to scream too loudly.”
She wiped her face. “This is not an interrogation. I never said that.” She said with a long-suffering tone.
“No you didn’t.” I admitted. “I was just joking. But you do seem to be full of questions. It’s refreshing to be honest. But let me ask a few first. I’ve been going over the battle on the Endar Spire over and over ever since we crashed. Some things just don’t add up for me.
“Maybe you could tell me what happened. From your own perspective.”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t in any position to understand much of what was going on really.”
“Neither was I to tell the truth.” I admitted. “I was only aboard as an advisor for the most part. When the battle started it happened so fast that I don’t think anyone really knows what went on. We lost a good ship and some damn fine people. And for what? On the hope that Jedi mind tricks could help us. Not that Bastila had a lot of time to react. We didn’t chose that battle either. It was forced on us.” I suddenly realized I was giving her all sorts of outs from my line of questioning. “I’m just surprised that there were any survivors at all to tell you the truth.” I finished lamely. “But it’s more than a little surprising that you were there, isn’t it? What is your position with the Republic military?”
“I’m just a soldier, a grunt as you said. What’s surprising about that?”
“A recruit grunt with what looks like years of experience. That knows how to foul up the targeting systems of a droid long enough to take them out. That bounces off walls and the occasional person like a heavy worlder in zero-gee or a Jedi. That interrogates kids-” I waved after Mission, “-like a pro. That can pop a Hollywell security box like it’s unlocked, and I don’t know anyone that can do that. More than that, you were a last minute addition to the crew, and you’re a survivor when a lot of good people didn’t stand a chance.”
“What’s so odd that I was a last minute addition?”
“You were the only one. Not to mention that Bastila’s party ordered you transferred and held up our departure for you.”
She looked at me in amazement. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“The Jedi asked for a lot of things after they came aboard. Hell, from what I saw they took over the entire ship. From Bastila to that ensign Ulgo-”
“Trask Ulgo?” She asked in a whisper.
“Yeah. Psych tech, given an ensign’s bar and told to handle a special case.”
“Trask was with me until we reached the bridge. He faced a dark Jedi. That was the last I saw of him.”
“Well considering your connection with the Jedi, whether you know it or not, your presence on that ship, and right now on this planet is a little too convenient.” I hissed. “I’m probably wrong. This may be only smoke, I know. But I learned a long time ago to take nothing at face value. One thing I hate is surprises.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Just that I always expect the unexpected. It makes life easier.”
She shook her head, rubbing her temples. “Are you always this paranoid?”
“Look, it has nothing to do with you personally. I don’t trust anyone, and no, I am not going to discuss my reasons. So let’s keep our minds on the important things.”
“This is important.”
“All right! Damn you are the most persistent woman, the most persistent person I have ever met. But right now I think we need to get moving.”
My mind was whirling like a sink drain. Trask was assigned to a ‘special’ case. What had been happening aboard the ship? The lockbox had surprised me as well. I had just answered the questions the box’s cybernetic lock asked. How I had known what answers they were I can’t explain. They... just felt right.
It wasn’t far to the Bek’s base. The lookout watched us approach, ready, but not automatically in attack mode. I stopped. “I’d like to see Gadon Thek please.”
“Hey! You can’t just walk in here!” She looked at us with suspicion. “How do I know you’re not a Vulkar spy sent to kill Gadon?”
“We came down from the Uppercity. I need Gadon’s help, and a friend of the Beks up there told me to speak with him.”
“Lots of people want to see Gadon. Lots more say their friends of the Beks too. Gadon has always been a man of the people, beloved by the common folk. But the days of the Bek’s open door policy are gone. Between those Vulkar and this damn Sith invasion, we have too many enemies right now.”
“Maybe I can be an ally against those enemies.” I said. I could feel Carth tense up. If we allied ourselves with the Bek, the Vulkar automatically became our enemy. But I could see no alternative.
She looked us over. “Maybe. We can use all the help we can get, and you don't act like Sith, and I’ve never seen a Vulkar without his colors.” She shrugged. “And it’s not like the two of you could do much to him here. He’s in the base, surrounded by his faithful, and Zaedra is watching his back. If you tried anything, you’d be dead in seconds.” She keyed in a command. The door opened.
“So you’re going to let us in?”
“Sure, why not? But be on your best behavior. The Beks are watching every move.”
I understood her calm at letting us in the instant we stepped in through the inner door. There were a dozen Beks in sight, and as we entered, each surreptitiously picked up a weapon. Oh we might have been able to get past them to kill Gadon. But getting out would have been a nightmare.
I asked a Bek, and he motioned toward a desk against the wall. There, a black man sat, a wire running from the console to a socket in his head behind his left ear. A Twi-lek woman hovered over him protectively.
We walked toward them, and the woman looked up to notice us. Her eyes burned with helpless fury, and what I took to be love. She looked at Gadon, then back at us before moving across to stop us. “Hold it right there. Who are you and what is your business here?”
“I came to see Gadon Thek.”
“What is your business with Gadon? Why are you bothering him-”
“Peace, Zaedra. Nobody is going to try anything here in our base. It would be a suicide mission.”
“You’re too trusting, Gadon. Brejik and the Vulkars want you dead. Anyone we don’t know is a potential threat and I am the one in charge of keeping you alive!” He voice had a pleading tone in it.
“So what would you have me do? See no one? Order the Beks to kill anyone not in colors as the Vulkars are? Even if I must die, I will never let it come to that while I live. Now stand aside, and let them pass.”
Zaedra winced. I could see that love in her eyes. She glared at us, threatening dire retaliation as she stepped aside. “As you wish, Gadon.” She glared at me. “You can speak with him, but if you make any sudden moves, you’ll be vaporized before you can say ‘Vulkar Spy’!”
He reached up, plucking the insert from the skull socket. Then he stood. His eyes were unfocused, but his face was firm. He picked up an implant module, and set it in the socket with a click. Then he turned, and I could tell he was actually looking at us with that implant.
“You have to forgive Zaedra. Ever since the Vulkars started this insane war, she had taken her duties as my right hand a little too over-zealously. The Sith invasion hasn’t helped. She seems to forget that I can take care of myself.” He looked at both of us. “You came for my help. Talk to me.”
“I need information on those Republic escape pods that crashed into the Undercity.”
“The escape pods? I have heard that the Sith have been asking around about them in the Uppercity. For some strange reason, they haven’t asked down here.“ He showed a feral grin. “Or at least no one that has asked has gone back up. Sending patrols into the Undercity as well, the fools.”
“They might be spies for the Sith!” Zaedra cried triumphantly.
“Calm down Zaedra. If the Sith thought we had anything useful in here we would be facing a strike force, not two people. No, I think these out-worlders have their own agenda.”
“We’re not working with the Sith.” I looked at Carth. He nodded. “My name is Danika Wordweaver. Sergeant, Republic military.”
“Ah, so we are still part of the Republic. How, refreshing.” He leaned into the desk, crossing his arms. “I can tell you everything I know and it won’t harm my people in the slightest. But it will cause problems for the Vulkars and that is okay in my book.
“The Vulkars stripped those pods of everything of value within an hour of their landing. Before the Sith even located them. It’s too bad we didn’t get there first, considering what my spies told me. There was a survivor; a Republican officer named Bastila.”
“Bastila! She’s alive?” Carth blurted out. Gadon looked at him.
“Yes she is. If she were in our hands, it wouldn’t be so bad. But the Vulkars have her. We would have asked her to carry a plea for reforms, but the Vulkars sell anyone they can catch to the Exchange and onto the Intergalactic slave market.”
“Bastila is to be a slave?” I looked at Carth. At that moment I blessed the blockade. “Where is she?”
“Usually the Vulkar would sell her off to Davik or another off world connection. But a Republic officer is no ordinary catch.”
“That could work to our advantage.” Carth said. Unspoken was the idea that they didn’t know yet what they had. The Sith would have deeded the planet over to the Vulkars if they knew.
“She’s too valuable for Brejik to leave her at the base here on the Lowercity. Too much chance that his people would have their fun and damage the merchandise.” He grimaced in distaste. “No, he’s got her hidden away somewhere safe until the big swoop race. You’ll never find her. We haven’t.”
“There must be some way to help her!”
“There is, but you’re not going to like it. Your friend has become a pawn in Brejik’s plan to take over the Lowercity. He’s put her up as the Vulkar’s share in the annual Swoop gang race. By putting up such a valuable prize, he’s hoping to win the loyalty of the smaller gangs. If enough of them join him, he’ll have the manpower to finally destroy us.”
“So how do you propose we rescue her?” Carth snapped. “We can’t fight every gang in the Lowercity! Hell, the Sith would have their hands full with that mission!”
“The only hope you have is for us, the Beks, to win the season opener of the races. If you help, we can win this. We have much to gain, and even more to lose.”
“What do you need from us then, Gadon?” I asked.
“I can sponsor one of you as a racer, that will get you onto the Race concourse. The race is for Lowercity gangs only, and no one else is allowed down there, though we split a tidy profit from the entertainment circuits. You can protect your friend, and if the Beks win, your friend is free.
“But first you have to do something for me. One of my mechanics developed a souped up accelerator for a swoop bike. A bike with that accelerator can beat anything ever made. But a traitor took off yesterday, and took the prototype with him. We don’t have time to build another. They plan to use it to guarantee that they win.”
I had a sinking feeling. “Where is it?”
“Inside the Vulkar base here on the Lower boulevard.”
“How am I supposed to get in there?” I asked plaintively. We didn’t have heavy weapons, and no place to get them.
“I admit it won’t be easy. The doors on this level are locked from the inside, with no way to open them without someone letting you in. But there is a back way and I know someone that might be able to lead you to it. One of our own. A girl named Mission Vao.”
“Mission?“ Zaedra was appalled. “Gadon you can’t be serious! She’s just a kid! How is she supposed to help them with this?”
“Mission has explored every back alley of the Lowercity. Plus she knows the Undercity and the sewers better than the city planners who built it. The Vulkars have a way in down there. That was how they beat us to the escape pods. If anyone knows where that back door is, it’s Mission.”
I nodded. “Where can I find her?”
“She and her Wookiee friend left out of here to head down there a short while ago. I just wish I knew how she got past the Sith guards on the elevator.”
“We got past the Uppercity guards without a problem.”
“We have a set of their armor.”
“The Uppercity guards will let you down in uniform, but the guards down here have locked it down tighter. You need authorization papers from the Sith command. The only people going down are Sith patrols, or Bounty Hunters. But no one gets past the guard without papers.
“Now it just so happens that a Sith patrol ram into a bit of mischief recently.” He opened his pocket, and pulled out a sheaf of documents. “The poor souls didn’t need these anymore. I can’t give them to you, but I can trade them. You said you had a set of Sith armor. I want it.”
“What do you need uniforms for?”
“I like to be prepared. Eventually the Sith are going to grow bored up there, and decide to come down here. When they do, a disguise will give us an advantage in some of those skirmishes.”
“All right. The west apartment complex. There’s an old-fashioned manual input security lock-box.” I wrote down the code I had discovered. “Input that, and the suit is yours.”
He handed it to Zaedra, who sent someone. A few minutes later, they came back lugging the suit. Gadon handed me the papers. “I’ll be back.” I promised.
The Beks got us close enough to the elevator that we could see it.
Far ahead I could see a gate with a Sith guard standing behind half a dozen blaster turrets. He’d take down everyone on the street if those opened fire. I stiffened my back, and strode down the boulevard like I owned it. The guard looked up, accepting the papers I showed him.
“Best be on your guard. We’ve lost quite a few patrols down there. Be especially careful of the Undercity dwellers. Filthy beasts. There are also Rakghouls. If you need, check with a patrol, and they can give you some of the serum against the disease if there is any left.”
I nodded, stuffing the papers back in my pocket, and entered the elevator. Carth loosened up his hands. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” He replied. I pushed the button and we sank into the depths.
I had thought the Lowercity was bad, but this was squalor. The stench hit us first, garbage old enough to vote, and perpetual twilight. Here there was finally dirt, over a kilometer below the Lowercity.
A pair of young men faced off against us. All that kept them facing us was sheer bravado. “This is our elevator! No one uses our elevator unless they pay the toll!”
“I don’t believe this. Even the beggars are trying to shake us down.” Carth commented.
“Five credits! It costs five credits to use our elevator!” The other boy screeched.”
I pulled out a five credit token, and flipped it to the closer one. He snatched it as if it were life itself. Considering the conditions around us, it might very well have been.
“Credits!” He held the coin so his partner saw it. “We have credits! Food, a blanket...” He was crying.
“Come on. If someone else sees it, they’ll take it away.”
“Go away!” A young girl cried. She walked over facing the boys. I figured she might be fourteen, but judging the conditions she could have been an emaciated eighteen. The boys scurried off. She approached us diffidently, like a kicked puppy. “I’m sorry about them. Those two give the entire village a bad name. We’re not all like that.” She added defensively.
“I’m sure you’re all fine upstanding citizens.” Carth replied. The girl bristled at the sarcasm. “It’s just too bad your welcoming committee gives such a bad first impression.”
“Carth.” I growled. “My name is Danika. What’s your name?”
My tone brought her back to her earlier mood, though she looked at Carth as if he would hit her. “My name is Shaleena. You’re from the up world aren’t you?” She looked excited. “I was born here, I’ve never been there. Is it as beautiful as I’m told?”
I considered the Lowercity which I had considered bad. Even that would have been better than this. “It’s nothing special.”
“Not to you I suppose. But you’re probably used to its beauty by now.” She looked up as if at heaven. “I see it in my dreams sometimes. The city, the sky, the stars... It all sounds so wonderful.” She smiled sadly.
“Gendar, the leader of our village, tells me I should spend more time trying to make life better here than dreaming of what I cannot have. Maybe he is right. You probably think I am foolish, but when I was little, Rukil told us stories of what it was like up there, and ever since then I have dreamed of going.”
“He’s the oldest man in the village. The children call him Rukil wrinkle-skin. But he’s the kindest man I have ever met. He told us such stories! I still listen when he speaks of the Promised land. I know they’re just stories, legends, but, sometimes it makes all of this seem less dark somehow.”
“The promised land?”
“She shook her head sharply. “Nothing important. They’re just stories to make the young children smile. That’s all they are. But Rukil believes it really exists. Sometimes I can almost believe in it myself.” Her hand fluttered at the filth around her. “But then I open my eyes and see the truth. The ugly truth of life.”
She sighed again. “I guess we have to make the best of what life has given us. If you really want to know more about the promised land, ask Rukil.”
“Where would he be?”
“Somewhere near the center of the village.” She waved vaguely at a cluster of tents. “He’s too old to wander far. After all, he’s over a hundred years old.”
“Could you answer some more questions?”
“Sure. But Rukil or Gendar could answer them better.”
“Have others been down here?”
Yes, a lot more than usual. We even had soldiers down here. Big mean men in shiny armor. Gang members, people dressed like you.”
“What about the village? How did this happen?”
“I was born here to start with. My parents were Outcasts. They were banished for some crime before I was born, They never really talked about it. Everyone here is an Outcast, or the descendants of one. It’s tough down here, but we survive. I think it’s easier for the children because they never knew anything different.
“Some of the people have given into the misery, become harsh or angry. But most of us are good people regardless of what they might have done.”
I looked at the pain around me, and I wanted to drag them aboard the elevator, blast the way through the gangs, through the Sith, and take them to the Uppercity. To show Shaleena the stars for the first time. Then the enormity of the task beat down on me. I could do so little for them. “We will be back. I need to speak with Gendar.”
“Oh, okay.” She looked sad. We had been the bright spot in a black mass of existence. “Well if you want to talk, you can always find me near here.“
I vowed if anything could be done for these people, I would do it.
Rukil was ancient. I felt like I was in the presence of one of the forest giants of my home. He looked at me with rheumy eyes, then his eyes widened. “You are from the world above! Yet, you are different from those others. Is this the time of destiny then? Is this a portent of our salvation? Or is it yet another false sign to mislead us from the true path?”
I knelt facing him. Carth leaned forward. “Be careful, this one might be as dangerous as he is crazy.”
But Rukil ignored him. “Speak to me upworlder. Tell me what fate you unleash for us now, salvation or damnation! Speak!”
“What do you mean, old man?”
“A question.” He breathed. “You are confused, bewildered, perplexed. Not that odd I suppose. After all these years my mind wanders farther than my body ever did. Perhaps some things I can make clearer. I am Rukil. Rukil wrinkle skin the children call me when they don’t think I can hear. I am the oldest of the Outcasts that still live.”
“I am Danika Wordweaver, Rukil. What do you want of me?”
“Once I was honored for my wisdom, but times have been hard. Many fell away from the true faith, only the children listen to me now. Once I had an apprentice. But she is also gone now.”
“What happened to her?”
“I sent her into the wasteland to find... To find something of great importance to me. I cannot tell you unless you prove to be the messenger I seek. Will you help an old man? Seek my Apprentice Malya. Whatever she found might be enough. I beg you, do this for me.”
“We have to enter that wasteland as well. If I find any sign of her, I will tell you.”
“Finding her may be difficult. She could be anywhere under the hulking city.” He waved toward the sky. “But if you find her, then I will know that you are the guide to- to what we seek. Only then can I tell you what I know.”
“I will do what I can.” I promised.
“I wish you good fortune, upworlder. Our fates are in your hands.”
I took his hand, and squeezed it gently. I walked away, and Carth caught my arm. “What are you doing, promising the moon?”
I rounded on him. “Look around you Carth!” I waved at the surroundings. “What have they to look forward to but misery? Only the hope that the promised land Rukil spoke of is real. You have never been in their shoes, Carth. You lived on a better planet, under a better government with food they couldn’t even imagine! You had something to look forward to. Why do you think I gave that starveling child money? Money means nothing to me! I had to help them, even that much. If we had time I would have given Shaleena stories to rival Rukil’s, and all of them true! If I didn’t try to help them I might as well walk through the camp with my blaster firing!” I motioned toward a line of blaster marks against a wall, at a woman laying with what were obviously close misses burned into her flesh. “As if that would help! Others have already done that!”
I spun away from him. I was striking out at the wrong people. The leaders of the planet in their aeries had done this. If they had been standing there I would have shot the lot of them.
Gendar was easy to spot. A dozen people were trying to move a lump of plascrete the size of a speeder using only hand tools. One man was in there, pushing twice as hard as anyone else, cajoling, chivvying, and pushing the others into greater efforts. I looked at the walls for the first time. They had been built using stones just like the one they were moving. All moved by hand.
He finally stopped pushing, looking at us. Then he strode over. “Greetings, upworlders. We rarely see your kind down here. I am surprised that so many have been visiting us recently. At least you spent time with Rukil, which is more than any others have.” He motioned toward the old man’s tent.
“No offense, but I can understand why you’re not on the tour list here.” Carth said.
Gendar snorted. “Why have you come to this sunless hell? Is there something you need from my village or me? Your kindness to Rukil begs for reparation.”
“Why do you people live down here?”
“We are the Outcasts, shunned by the upper world and banished here for our crimes. Long before I was born we banded together to build our walls, to have some sense of security in this hell. I am the leader, as my father and grandfather were. Many have been here for generations, our children tainted with whatever crime their ancestors committed.
“There is no return for us, even the youngest. But we survive the filth, the roving gangs who don’t want to live with order. The slavers, and the Rakghoul by protecting each other.”
“What a horrible way to live!”
“Life can be hard.” Gendar admitted. “Some have grown bitter and uncaring. This is especially true among those newly among us, cast down for yet another crime. Those that also hurt others are banished again from our walls. But we live on what we have. Perhaps one day we will have all we need.” He barked a laugh. “Now I’m starting to sound like old Rukil.”
I sighed. “May I ask you some questions?”
“Ask. I can only answer for the Undercity, but what knowledge I have of that is yours.”
“I am looking for a Twi-lek named Mission Vao.”
“I know this Twi-lek, though I have never spoken with her. She and her Wookiee friend have passed through here many times bound for the sewers. They have brought things they have found for sale to Igear, our only merchant, and brought food and things of value for our people before. They are friends.”
“How do we get into the sewers from here?”
“There are two entrances. One is 200 meters to the southwest of the gate. The other is a hundred meters or more to the northeast. But I warn you, the sewers are a dangerous place. Rakghouls, slavers, even the Sith military that has come down recently.”
Gendar waved around him. “Can you think of a better place? The upper world would charge them for setting up their operation. A number of my people would put on a slave collar willingly in return for a promise of even one full meal a day.” He sighed. “Is there anything else?”
I shook my head silently.
“Then I must be back to my duties. Take care upworlders. Come back to our village if there is anything you need.”
“Even here there is hope.” I whispered. I had seen the gate on our trip around the village, and I walked toward it.
A woman ran past us, and was shrieking near the gate. I drew and charged toward where she was. “Hurry Hendar, Hurry! I can hear it coming!” She screamed.
The guard was staring out, and shook his head. “He’s not going to make it, Hester. He’s doomed. Blast it! I told him he was a fool to go so far alone.”
“He will make it. Hurry Hendar!”
A crowd was gathering and pressed us into the gate. A man was frantically running toward us. His only weapon was a quarterstaff of metal. He staggered to a stop less than ten meters from the gate. “Open the gate! Quickly, there isn’t much time!”
Behind him a gray skinned abomination loped toward the helpless man.
The guard was caught in a dilemma “I can’t open the gate. The Rakghouls are too close.”
“They’ll kill him if you don’t open the gate!’ Hester screamed.
“They’ll kill us all if I do!”
No, you can’t just let him die! It isn’t fair!’ She turned, and her eyes caught mine. “Please, make him open the gate, my husband will die if he doesn’t!”
I shoved through. “Open the gate!”
“Are you mad!”
“Close it after I have passed!”
He stared at me then grabbed the controls The structure lifted, from the thudding sound I heard they must have used steam power! I scuttled under the gate, hearing it huff to a stop then start back down again.
Hendar stared back toward me, and beyond him I saw a nightmare charging forward. Closer the skin looked as if the entire surface was a single blister. A maw with razor sharp teeth opened, and it leaped.
I spun, feeling the body fall in pieces behind me. Another came and another. I could hear a blaster firing over my head, and saw Hendar slam the staff down hard enough to bend it on the last of them.
“Are we clear?” I demanded.
“There aren’t any more!” I looked up, and waved at Carth.
The gate huffed back into the air, and we hurried inside. Hester clutched her man as if she would never let him go again. “Thank you.” She whispered.
I could hear Carth scrambling down the face of the wall, and motioned toward the gate. “We have to go now.”
The gate guard stared at me like he‘d never seen the like before. “No upworlder has ever risked their life for one of us. What kind of people birthed you?”
I shook my head. “I couldn’t just let him die. Open the gate. And one thing.”
“No discussion about opening it when we come back, all right?”
He blushed, and turned back toward the controls.
The gate rose, and we stepped out into that hell.
Last edited by machievelli; 04-02-2006 at 05:08 PM.
Reason: see ones above