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Old 10-05-2005, 10:45 AM   #10
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Looking at them, you wouldn’t have believed they were the footings of buildings. Massive pillars thrust into the earth, and above all spread the treelike structure of the City. I was amazed that any light reached here at all.

“Smoke.” Carth pointed toward the southeast. I nodded. We walked that direction. I stopped waving for Carth to stop also.

The noise I had heard came again, panting, whimpering. Suddenly a figure came into view. It was Mission. Her clothes were filthy, her eyes wide in fear. She stopped, then must have recognized us. She staggered toward us.

“You have to help me, please! No one else will, the Beks can’t help me. But he’s my friend!” She staggered to a stop. “You’ll help me won’t you?”

I caught her. “Whoa, slow down, Mission. What’s wrong?”

“It’s Zaalbar! He’s in trouble, big trouble! We have to help him! If we don’t they’ll sell him into slavery!”

“Calm down Mission. Slow down, take a deep breath, and start from the beginning.”

“Me, Me and Zaalbar were just wandering around down here in the Undercity. You know, looking for stuff, kind of exploring. We do it all the time.”

“I guess with a Wookiee at you side most things leave you alone.” Carth commented.

“Only this time they were waiting for us. Gamorrean slave-takers. We didn’t even have a chance to really run. Big Z threw himself at them, and roared for me to run.

“I took off, thinking he was right behind me, but he wasn’t. There were too many of them, he couldn’t get away. They’ll hold him for the next slaver that arrives, I know it!”

“Do you know where they took him?” I demanded.

“They have a section of the sewers they’ve blocked off with mines. The stink probably reminds them of home. That’s where they’ve probably taken him.”

“Stay here, we’ll go rescue him.”

“No way! I’m the reason he’s in trouble, and I’m not abandoning him again! I’m going with you!”

“Gadon told me you might know of a back door into the Black Vulkar’s base. After I’ve helped you, I want to ask you about getting in.”

“Help me and I’ll dive into hell for you!” She said. “Once Big Z is safe I can show you a way right into their cantina!”

I shrugged. I drew the blaster I carried. “Can you use this?”

She took it. “Yeah, just point and pull the trigger, right?”

I shook my head. I started to take it back, and she stopped me. “See that rock on the pile over there? The top one?” I looked. It was fist sized, about twenty meters away. She aimed, and fired, the rock shattering. “I may be a kid, but I do know guns.” She looked sad. “I learned a long time ago.”

“Then I won’t have to teach you.” I waved at the area around us. “Where is the fastest way down into the sewers?”

She pointed to the north. We sprinted that way.

Rakghouls wandered in small packs along our path, we avoided them as much as possible. I noticed that every pack seemed to cluster near small scrub bushes. “What is that?” I asked Mission.

“Some kind of plant.” She replied with thoughtless innocence. “It grows only down here. The villagers tell me it’s just a weed, and isn’t edible.”

A pack wandered by us, carrying parts of what had been a man. They dumped them near the bush, then began to feed. Oddly enough, each of them gently rubbed their hands on the flowers, then on each other. Then they wandered mindlessly to other stands of the brush, repeating the rubbing gesture.

A short while later, we passed one of the plants without rakghouls. I cut a branch off it, and stuck it in my pouch.

“There!” Mission ran toward a heavy grating. She caught it and it screeched upward, showing a ladder downward. “That’s the way in from here.”
“From here?” I asked.

“Of course.” She waved toward the distant camp. “You don’t think I wandered past a guard do you?” She motioned downward. “There’s another way in down there. That’s the way we always went.”

I waved her to silence. Near the grate, a body lay, curiously peaceful. A woman, her torso shredded by rakghouls, eyes staring at the distant sky. Her pack lay near by and I opened it. A journal lay atop some supplies, and I opened it. “Poor Malya.” I whispered. The apprentice had been here trying to get into the sewers when her fate had come. I opened it to the last pages delicately.

‘There is no sign of either Orol or Marosi here in the wasteland. Rukil knew they were searching for the path to the promised land, but he didn’t know where they might have looked for it. I believe they went into the sewer. I laughed at the thought when it came to me. A promised paradise at the end of a sewer line!

‘I must go down there to find out. The entrance is only a few meters away.’

I slipped the book into my pack, then stood. “Lead on, Mission.”


The ladder led about a hundred meters straight down. The grate walkway was wide enough for a vehicle. Mission told me that there were half a dozen other ways down, and the sewer workers used small wheeled vehicles in the newer sections. This section however was much older, and while it was wide enough for the vehicles, none of the entryways that now existed would allow them.

We came to a door, and stopped. A mine had been laid there, and Mission walked up gently and disarmed then put the mine in her pack. “This is how I make some eating money.” She said. “The villagers can use these in the areas where the walls are getting bad.”

I won’t go over the entire hell of that journey. Rakghouls wandered the halls, and bodies lay where they had been killed. Some had been gnawed to the bone, blasters or blades had killed others. It was an egalitarian mixture. Outcasts, Sith troopers, gang members of the Bek and Vulkar, the occasional sewer worker. One body dead less than a day intrigued me. The man had been an outcast, a collar still encircled his neck, and his hands were locked in it in death, as if he had been clawing it off.

“Slave collar.” Carth identified it. “When you try to run they hit you with an electrical charge. They also have a proximity setting. The farther you run, the higher the charge.”

I hissed in anger.

We opened a door, and I started forward. Carth and Mission followed behind, eyes on the area as we paced on.

“Carth, you’re a star-pilot for the Republic?”

“Uh huh.”

“You’ve been all over the Galaxy, I bet.”

“I’ve seen a few planets, yeah.”

“So how does Taris rate compared to other worlds you’ve seen?”

“To be honest, Mission Taris would rate pretty low. The prejudice, the rich living high and well while everyone else is crushed below them. It’s not a pretty picture.”

“But it was better before the Sith arrived...” She sighed. “All right, it was still pretty bad. Maybe Taris is pretty bad.”

“Trust me on this, Mission, There are much better worlds. Then again, there are a lot that are as bad if not worse. This is not the kind of place a kid should grow up in, even with a Wookiee to watch her back.”

“Hey, I watch out for Big Z too, ya-know. He‘s my friend, not my baby-sitter!” She turned to watch her section again. “Geez, ask a simple question and get a lecture. I don’t need this crap.”

“Don’t you snap at me missy! You want a lecture? Here’s one for you. Only bratty children fly off the handle because of a simple statement!”

They were starting to shout, and I spun, hissing in a whisper. “Settle down, both of you!”

Mission however was on a roll. “I don’t have to take this crap from you, Carth! You ain’t my father, though you’re old enough to be his father! So keep your lectures in that withered old head of yours.”

The next hour passed in dead frigid silence.

We stopped, and Mission waved at the door ahead of us. “From here the Gamorreans have sealed their own area. The pen they installed last time was right down the way about thirty meters on the right.” I nodded, and keyed the door. I walked in, and there, right in front of the door she had mentioned was a Gamorrean.

You’ve seen them before, two meters or more tall, heavily built, the Gamorreans have just one use as far as Galactic society is concerned. That is in the role of bodyguard, soldier, bouncer, or slave taker. Anything simple where brutality is the norm. They are brutal creatures that hadn’t even developed a meager technology beyond crude hand weapons before the Republic found their world.

This was a male, what is called a boar. Somewhere nearby there would be a sow. If they operate in groups, a Sow is required just to stop the internecine feuding. She guides them in what must be done, and does all the negotiating.

The boar snuffled, and spread his arms wide and rushed toward me. His axe, a massive weapon almost a meter long just at the blade still hung on his belt. Obviously he hadn’t seen Carth and Mission. He thought he just had a new prize for the pen.

I cut upward, and his eyes widened in shock even as he fell. Another cut slashed his throat, and his death scream came out as a whistling sound.

There was another door on the left before the door Mission had earmarked as their pen, and I opened it. A mine lay there on the grating, and beyond it a badly decomposed body.

After Mission had disarmed and picked up this mine, I checked the body. It had been an outcast, and had been dead from my estimate for almost eighty years. I pulled a grimy journal from the pack. “Marosi.” I breathed. “One of the people Malya was looking for.” In his hand was yet another journal. I looked past him at the door that was there. The lock was an antique, at least a century out of date. “Mission.” I pointed at the door.

She went over, working on it. “Haven’t seen one this old before. I’ve been everywhere down here, and never even seen this door.” She hummed as she worked, then with a groan, the door opened. It led into darkness. Mission was still crouched, and she pointed at the ground. “Now that is surprising.”

I knelt beside her, looking at the track that led off into darkness. “What is it?”

“You know the mass trans system they have up in the Uppercity? This looks like a spur line. But why would they have built one down here?”

I shook my head. “Most cities are just built on top of themselves, Mission. Maybe it led to another section of the city.”

“No way.” She pointed down the tunnel. “That way only goes to the sea. As far down as this section is, and the slope of the tunnel suggests that it comes out under the ocean.” She tapped a button, yelping as the door slammed closed. Then they opened on an tram car.

We left the mystery for someone else to explore, and after closing the door, we went back into the hall. We were just at the door when I heard a roar of pain and anger from within.

“Big Z!” Mission screamed, and she ran up, punching the door code in frantic haste. I brushed her aside, and spun to face a Sow Gamorrean. There isn’t much to tell them apart to someone who isn’t a zenologist. But I knew it was a she from the box she held in her hand, a device that had been given to them. A male would have smashed it into uselessness by now. She grunted, and reached for me. I heard a blaster behind me, either Carth or Mission joining the fray.

I chopped into her, and she tried to block the blow with her arm. The box sizzled, and if anything Zaalbar’s screams grew even more frantic.

Another, a male came at me, and I killed him. Two other had been in the room, but both were dead. One had a neat hole in his forehead, and I glanced at Mission. But she was running across the room toward another door. This had a manual lock, and she worked at it frantically. The door hissed open, and we saw Zaalbar curled up, clutching at the collar around his neck.

“They must have been punishing him for something!” Mission cried, running to her friend. “Find the control box!”

I looked at the box that the Sow still held, but it fell apart as I tried to pry it free. “It’s damaged! I can’t shut it off!”

Mission screamed wordlessly, trying to find the lock to pick it. “I don’t have anything that will work!” She shouted. “Zaalbar, hang in there!”

I looked at him, knowing there was nothing we could do. Except... “Carth, Mission, hold him!”


“Sit him up and grab his head! Pull it down on his chest!”

They tried, but Zaalbar was in a world of his own pain. He flailed, sending Mission flying like a twig.

I drew the vibroblade, and set it for it’s finest setting. “Zaalbar.” I called. “You have to sit still for this to work!”

He ignored me.

Then from the depths of my mind, I found something to use. I roared at him in his own language and he froze, then leaned forward into Carth.

“What are you-”
I swing the vibroblade, trusting in my skill at something I had heard of, practiced, but had never actually done.

It’s called Fybylka, or the ‘fly cut’ among the Echani. A cut that is supposed to cut just the upper layers of the flesh, yet not deep enough to cripple. It isn’t meant to kill you enemy or even to wound him seriously. It is meant to shame him. To leave a mark that others laugh at.

It got its name because of the way it is practiced. You practice on smaller and smaller targets until finally you can cut one fly out a swarm without touching another.

There was no resistance. Anything lighter than body armor would be cut by that blade, and it was over before anyone even knew what I planned.

There was a flash of a burned out power pack, and Zaalbar threw the collar from him. I suddenly felt cold.

When I had first seen him, something hadn’t looked right. Now, staring at that horrible collar, I knew what had been missing.

Every Wookiee I had ever seen had a collar just like it!

They had been slaves.

Zaalbar rolled over. Mission came back, wincing, and hugged his neck. Those massive arms closed in a curiously gentle embrace, the claws retracted so they wouldn’t injure her. “Where is the wookiee?” He gasped out.

“What wookiee?”

“The one who shouted ‘sit still you fool‘ in Shyriiwook? My own language?”

Carth pointed wordlessly at me. Zaalbar just stared in astonishment.

I reached back into whatever well I had dragged those words, and added, in the same language, “Have the children of Bacca grown deaf?”

He grinned at that. Then suddenly grew solemn. “You have saved me from a death in life of slavery. You did this without being asked. There is only one way I can repay such a debt. I will swear a life debt to you.”

“Zaalbar, are you serious?” Mission was stunned. “You know how important that is!”

“Mission, I must.” He grunted.

“A life debt? What is that?” I asked

Zaalbar looked at me as if he was surprised. “You speak my language but don’t know what a life debt is?”

“I don’t know where I learned your language, Zaalbar. I honestly don’t know what a life debt is.”

“Most would not.” He glared at the bodies of the Gamorreans. “They are like most of your kind. They see our great physical strength. The cunning use of our claws, and see just workers or guards. Since we do not feel comfortable among your kind we cannot be hired, so they must take us as slaves.

“When they captured me, I could see no end to my misery, I would have forced them to kill me rather than submit. A lot of my people do.”

“A life debt is like the most solemn vow a Wookiee can give.” Mission burst in. “It means that wherever you go, even into death, he has to follow you.”

“In the presence of you all, I Zaalbar, son of Freyyr, son of Shoorii, swear to follow you through life, through pain, through suffering, through death itself if need be.” He knelt, reaching out as if a child asking for a parent to comfort him. “My oath will endure. Like the Kash vines that entrap, and the Wroshyr that root our world.”

Instinctively, I took the hand. “Zaalbar, son of Freyyr, son of Shoorii, I accept this burden. I swear in return never to put you in danger that I myself do not face.”

He stood. “Somewhere you learned of this. Whatever your memory of it is. You answered well.”

I shrugged helplessly. Then I looked at him. The Gamorreans had treated him roughly, and he bore wounds still. “Right now you need medical care, and we can’t stop. Mission, you said there was a way up from here?”

“Yeah“. She pointed down the hall outside. “Down there about a hundred meters. Can you climb Big Z?”

“I can do what I must, Mission.”

We walked down the hall, Mission and Carth helping him along. They reached a section of paneling, and Mission popped it out in a practiced manner. “I’m going with him up until he reaches the Lowercity. But I made a promise, and I will be back.”


I had watched in amazement as Danika had charged four Gamorreans as if they were nothing. I was even more astonished that she spoke the Wookiee language. The people I knew that could were few enough to count on one hand with fingers left over.

Now she was trusting that little squirt to come back. I almost screamed at her. We didn’t have time for this!

Danika leaned into the wall, seemingly lost in patient thought. But once the sound faded from the others, she suddenly spoke. “We need to talk.”

“Sounds fair. I don’t like having to hope Mission is going to come back-”

“We wait for her.” It was an order, and I bristled. “That isn’t what I meant. “I mean this problem you seem to have with me.”

I sighed. “I knew you wouldn’t understand where I was coming from. Let me try to explain. Even with the mystery of your life before I met you, I still respect you. When it comes to fighting, even negotiating you’re one of the most skilled women I have ever met. You’ve saved not only my butt but a lot of people on this mud ball right down to rescuing that guy Hendar. I’m lucky to have you here helping me.

“That said, there is no way I’m going to stop watching you, and being wary. I’m just not built that way, period.”

“Not built that way? You sound like a droid in a feedback loop.”

Maybe so. But I have been betrayed by people I trusted before. Let’s just say that is never happening again.”

“What, you want an oath on it? A guarantee?”

“I don’t know that you’ll betray me. But even an oath would mean nothing. There are no guarantees, from you, from me, from anyone. But you don’t have to take it personally.”

“I wonder how anyone can live trusting no one.”

“I live just fine thank you so very much.”

She looked at me, and I could see the pain in her eyes. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?

“Why! Why is it so damned important whether I trust you or not? Why do you even care?”

“I do care.” She whispered.

“We don’t have time for this.” I cocked my head, I could hear someone climbing back down the tube. “Let’s just drop it for now, Okay? We have a mission.” As I said that, Mission popped out of the tube, and replaced the panel. “And we have a Mission among us.” I tried to lighten the mood. Danika still looked worried, and Mission glared at me. “All right, I’ll shut up.” I groused.

That Nerf-herder tried to make a joke, but I wasn’t having any of it.

I had wanted to stay up there with Zaalbar, he had been pretty banged up. But when he heard of my promise to that woman he had told me he’d never speak to me again if I didn’t follow through.

“Since Zaalbar swore a life debt, that means you’re stuck with me too. I almost lost him once, and I’m not letting him go anywhere without me along.”
“Glad to have you aboard, Mission.” The woman said.

“Well I owe you one back door into the Vulkar’s base. Don’t worry I know the best way in, because no one in their right mind would use it.” I started off down the tunnel at a jog.

“Why not?” The woman was in armor, and it had to be heavy, but she moved like it didn’t weigh anything.

“Because there’s a Rancor nest in that section of the tunnels.”

“A rancor? Who in the hell shipped a Rancor here?” She asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Where do they come from anyway?”

“No one knows, and except for idiots that buy the damn things, no one cares.” Carth growled. “Thanks to them you find them in a lot of places.”

“Well this one is huge. It eats anything it can get it’s claws into, and most people are smart enough to stay away from it.”

“Unlike us.” Danika commented.

“Hey, a rancor may be big, but it’s as dumb as a Vulkar. We can get by it, no problem.”

I found the path, and opened the door. A force field lit the hall with a hellish light. “That’s the way.” I said, moving to the console of a computer. “It’s coded, but a Black Vulkar had a little too much to drink a week or so ago, and I sorta went through his pockets. Gadon was happy, and sent someone to check it out, but they haven’t come back.” I keyed in, and the force-filed died. “Let’s roll.”

“That was pretty good, Mission.” Carth said. “Better than anyone I’ve seen.”

I felt like crap. Now he was trying to make nice, but I was still mad.

“Can we talk Carth?”

His face went from animated to cold. The guy must have been hell at a Pazaak table. “Is it going to a civil discussion? Or am I in for another tantrum?”

“Tantrum! Why you Nerf-herding slime beast, I’m trying to apologize!” I shook my head. “It’s just, I’ve been treated like a kid all my life! I’m just sick of it.”

Carth sighed, and he shook his head. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry for what I said too. I’ve been on edge lately.” He snorted. “Not surprising. But I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”

“It’s about time you two made up.” Danika said. Carth looked at her, and there was something between them there.

“Mission, no matter what I said, you’re not on a free ride here. If it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have found this place, gotten by the force field or known about the rancor. We needed you.”

“You mean that, don’t you?” I felt my heart lift. “No one ever told me they needed me. Not even Zaalbar. He might think it, but he’s not much for talking as you might have noticed.”

“Ah, you know how it is. Sometimes you just need a few words of encouragement. Kids are like that.”

“Kids! Why you...” I sputtered down as I saw his grin. “Oh you old geezer!”

We chuckled together. Danika led off. It was more of the same tunnels, except the Vulkars had tagged these. We came to a ramp, and down at the bottom I saw an arm laying on the grate. Danika ignored it, pausing to open the door. She froze, then waved for us to step up.

The rancor was big all right. Bigger than it had been the last time I saw it. Problem was, it was standing right by the door that led into the Vulkar base. I almost asked why, but the door opened, and someone was shoved through it. I think it was one of the merchants I knew from the Lowercity.

Whoever he was, he’d just become dinner. The rancor snatched him up, and stuffed him into its mouth. The scream died as the teeth slammed down, then it sucked the rest of him in.

Danika looked at this impassively. “Let me guess, that is the way we have to go, right?”

I nodded wordlessly. She shrugged, then went back to the arm that lay there. She took a pad from the hand, and scanned it. “Do you know a Hala Thrombo?”

“Sure, he’s like the best Scout the Beks have!” She held up the arm wordlessly. I looked at it, reality dawning. “Oh.”

“Carth see if there’s a canister of some kind around here. The pad made mention of some kind of scent marker.”

We looked but there was nothing nearby. “You know, Hala used to stick things up his sleeve, like knives. She looked in the sleeve, pulling out a small glass vial.

She nibbled her lip, then reached up to a slotted section of her vest. A grenade popped into her hand, and she folded the hand of the severed arm over it with the vial jammed behind it. She squeezed, and a rank stench filled the hall. Then she ran out and whistled sharply. The rancor spun, lumbering toward her. She held her stance, then threw the arm grenade and all. The rancor snatched it out of the air, stuffing it in it’s mouth.

The Rancor had just swallowed when there was a muffled boom, and smoke shot out of its mouth. It clawed at its neck, then staggered. Dropping to one knee, it whimpered, and for a moment I felt sorry for it. Then I looked at the pile of skeletons out there, and the pity died. With a final gasp, it collapsed and died.

Danika moved toward the door, then motioned for us to get ready.

Last edited by machievelli; 04-03-2006 at 01:40 AM. Reason: updating and continuing story...
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