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Old 10-06-2005, 10:48 AM   #11
machievelli
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Danika

I centered myself. The stink of the Rancor was there hot and heavy. I could still smell that lure. They had just thrown someone to their death and part of me was furious. Suddenly I felt puckish. Instead of opening it, I reached out and tapped on the door. Not the slam of a rancor hoping it will fall, but a hesitant knock. Nothing happened, and I was going to knock again when it opened. A Vulkar stood there, staring at me in amazement.

He fell as I cut into him with my ritual brand, and I was moving past him before he hit the ground. Another Vulkar was standing at the other end of the hall, and his stunned expression was still there as he pawed at his holster. I cut him down, then looked back. Carth and Mission were right behind me. Mission held up a flat plastic plate. “Lookie here! Isn’t that one of those energy shields?”

“Yes it is.” I attached it to her forearm. “Don’t use it unless you have to.” The other body had one as well, and I gave to Carth. He shook his head, and handed it back. “I’m not the one that seems to charge into everything.”

I shrugged, attached it to my wrist, and opened the elevator. I stepped into a hall, and spun. A droid was walking down the hall, head turning to watch for any movement. I leaped into a charge, and as it turned, brought the brand down, cutting into the carapace. The droid squealed, and fell.

“Hey.” Carth walked over to me then tapped me on the head as if he were trying to make a recalcitrant droid operate correctly. “Remember the shield? Why do you think I gave it back to you?”

I shook my head, crossed the hall, and opened another door. A Vulkar looked up when I entered, amazed. Being unarmed we tied him up. A girl with a slave collar occupied the next room. She squeaked as I motioned for silence. “Please, don’t kill me! I’m just a slave. I don’t know anything.”

I shushed her again. “Mission?”

She moved around behind the girl. “Local slave collar knock-off. This one I can handle.” Mission said.

“I need some answers if you have them.” I said, sitting the girl down as Mission worked.

“I don’t know a lot.” She admitted.

“There’s another prisoner. A woman named Bastila.”

“That must be that Republic officer. Brejik had her taken to a safe location. I don’t know where.”

“The Vulkars stole a prototype swoop accelerator. Where is that?”

“I don’t know. There’s a lower level accessible by the other elevator. I’m told there’s a garage down there. I’m only allowed up here.” She shook her head. “You’d best get your friend out fast. The swoop race is tomorrow, and they’ll move her to the Race concourse. If she ends up with the Vulkars after that she’ll be lucky if they just sell her. A lot of the Vulkars are mad because Brejik won’t let them play with her, like they do me.” I looked at the scars and bruises she displayed on arms and legs.
“Got it.” Mission unsnapped the collar, and the girl pulled it away, staring at it in shock.

“Can you get out of here?”

“Not if the Vulkars are still in the main room.” She pointed out the door. “But if they aren’t I can outrun anything I have to just to get free.”

“Wait here.” I said. The door opened into another hall. I sprinted down it, thumbing the shield as I did. A Vulkar was coming out of the hall to my left and I cut him down before he even knew I was there. I signaled to Carth, and he sent the girl toward me. She grasped my hand without a word, and ran out the door into the Lowercity.

There were a couple more droids, but we dispatched them efficiently. Mission ran to a console, and hummed wordlessly. “There’s a lot of guards over there.” She motioned toward our left. “Looks like a barracks to me.” She keyed in a sequence, then grinned. “There were guards I should say. I just blew the lot of them with an access panel.” She handed me a pad. “I opened all the security doors except for that one.” She tapped the map. “We need a key card for it. I also shut down all of the blaster turrets they have in the elevator room.”

I started toward the barracks she had earmarked, and a Twi-lek suddenly appeared ahead of me. He took one look, and fell to his knees. “Please!”

I approached him. “Do you know him?” I asked Mission.

“I recognize him, though I don’t know the name. One of the old Vulkars.”

“As if the new are better.” He snarled in Twi-lek.

“What do you mean?” I asked him in his own language.

“Brejik thinks being insane will earn him respect. Anyone like me that tries to talk him out of it gets stuck in the lower ranks. I used to be one of the top men in the gang. Now I’m just a flunky who’s supposed to stare at the monitor.”

I bit my lip. Could I trust him?

“I’d say it’s about time for you to take a break at the cantina.” I suggested. He stared at me in hope, then ran toward the Lowercity entrance.

“You trust the wrong people, you can end up dead.” Carth said.

“Trust no one, and you end up alone.” I snapped back. There was a Sith belt on the table, and I found an injector filled with a clear serum. The pad beside it identified it as a sample of the rakghoul serum. From the reading, there were six doses. I pocketed it, and motioned toward the barracks.

The panel had blasted free inside, and everyone lay dead. We ransacked the bodies, and I found the key card we needed.

The door opened smoothly, and I gulped at the turrets that faced us. Not as heavy as the one’s at the entrance to the Undercity, only three of them. But enough to put all of us on slabs if we hadn’t been careful.

The elevator took us up, and onto the garage level. A few bikes sat there, opened up as if they were being worked on. We moved past them into another hall. Two mines were laid, and Mission took them both down, putting them in her pack. “Hey these are collector’s items! Mines from inside the Black Vulkar base!”

I shook my head. Carth smothered a laugh. A Vulkar saw me, and shouted. I charged him, hearing shots as Mission and Carth took out the others. A door opened, and a pair of Twi-lek stared at us.

“What do we have here?” The male asked. He looked at the woman, and spoke in Twi-leki. “Fools that were hired to steal Brejik’s new toy.”

“Can I kill them now, Kandon?” She asked in the same language.

I stood, keeping my face impassive. “You could at least speak something I understand.”

Kandon looked at me. “So the little human fool doesn’t even speak Twi-leki.” He mused. “That makes it easier.” Then he spoke in Basic. “So you’ve come to steal Brejik’s swoop engine?”

Mission shouted “He stole it from the Beks, you space slug!”

Kandon looked at her pityingly. “It doesn’t matter who made it, or who it belongs to. We have it now, and it will remain here.” He looked Carth and I over. “You’re obviously not Beks, you don’t look stupid enough. Since you’re not a member of that pathetic old man’s gang, I can do business with you.”

“You’re right, I am not a Bek.” I said.

“Then you must be a mercenary down on her luck. Luck I can change with a word.” He looked at my face, thinking perhaps that I was considering his offer. “Gadon is old news. He is blind in more ways than one. Brejik is a visionary. He has plans. Once the swoop gangs are his, the Uppercity is next on his agenda. The Sith won’t be here forever. He has something they want. He has this woman Bastila.”

“So he’s going to trade her for what? Title to the planet?”

“That is simplistic, but accurate. The Sith are offering a reward of four thousand credits up above even now. If he doesn’t succeed, he can still finance the war with that much money.”

I shook my head. “Not interested.”

“Can I kill them now, Kandon?” The female asked again.

“I think so, my pet.”

“Think again.” I said in Twi-leki. As they had spoken, I had thumbed out an ion grenade. I flicked it to their feet even as I charged forward.

Designed to disrupt shields or droids, I felt the shockwave hit me, ripping down my shield. The woman drew a sword, and I cut her down, spinning to block an attack by Kandon. I kicked him in the chest, feeling ribs give, and cut him down as he tried to breath.

“Remind me never to play Pazaak with you.” Mission said.

“Can’t stand the game. Life has risks enough without gambling.” I walked past the bodies to a safe in the wall. The accelerator was a lump the size of my fists. I slid it into Mission’s pack.

“Where are you going?” Carth asked as I headed back the way we came instead of the Lowercity entrance.

I held up the rakghoul serum. “With this Zelka Forn can make enough to stop the rakghoul disease. Besides, I promised to return the journal from Malya.”

He shook his head, and followed.

Undercity

We came out at the same place we entered the sewers. I waved for the others to wait. There was the tramping of feet, and a Sith patrol hove into view. “You there! Civilian! What are you doing down there?” The patrol leader asked.

Silently I handed him my papers. “You must be one of those trackers the Commander sent down here. They should have given you an armed escort. It’s nasty down here. We’ve already lost patrols to the rakghouls. So many attacks they aren’t sure we’ll have enough serum at this stage. We’ve also lost them to attacks by those damnable swoop gangs. I think we should just stay in the upper city where we still have control.”

“And the commander values your input.” I said coldly.

His facemask was silvered, but his tone was defensive. “Hey, I’m down here doing my duty, all right? You tell the Commander that! I don’t want to star in a court martial and firing squad.”

“Then you do your duty, and so shall I.”

“Yeah. Big words from a contract killer.” He sneered. He motioned and the patrol marched off.

“You worried the guy.” Mission said.

“A little unease helps people think the right thoughts.” I commented.

We moved toward the village. A man came from my right, and I turned smoothly. He wasn’t a danger except to himself.

“Don’t come any closer! I’m not afraid to use this!” He waved the blaster rifle, and I had the urge to duck.

“Calm down kid.” Someone behind him said. I recognized this man as a Mandalorian. He was in his sixties, and still a tough customer. He carried a Mandalorian heavy blaster. With anyone smaller than a Wookiee I would have considered it a weapon that needed a tripod but he handled it easily. “We’ve already lost enough people to the rakghouls. I’m not losing any more in a senseless firefight.” He grabbed the weapon, and stuffed it back in the other man’s holster. He turned back to us as the remnants of his party joined him. Two more, one with a gash across his throat that had almost killed him.

The Mandalorian looked us over. “From the look of it you’re on the same mission as we are.”

“Really.” I replied.

“Chill down, no need to develop any agro between us. Your probably here to check out the crashed escape pods. Well my advice is to turn around, and go home.

“There’s nothing left. One of those damn swoop gangs got to it before anyone else. Nothing but rakghouls and those pathetic Outcasts.”

“Canderous, I hear something. Maybe it’s a rakghoul.” One of his men said. The wounded one squealed, and turned. Behind them half a dozen figures were loping toward us.

“We got company!” Canderous shouted. “Lock and load!”

I ducked around the big man and met the first rakghoul as it approached. There was the whine of blasters, the heavy thump of Canderous’ weapon, then silence. The wounded man was down.

Canderous walked over, and knelt beside the body. “You were an idiot, Bakker, but at least you drew them off us. Good work.” He looked at me. “If you want to try for yourself, just keep on that way. I’m getting my people out of here. I told Davik his men weren’t trained for this, but he didn’t want to listen. Now we’ve got six dead.” He looked at the others, too afraid to even move. “It’s not like I could carry any salvage we found by myself.” He turned back to his men. “What do you want? Engraved invitations? March!”

The gate opened at my shout, and I walked into the village. A couple of people were idling nearby, and I could almost feel the greed they felt for our weapons. But a single glare from Carth sent them packing.

I heard a wail of pain and terror, and looked to the side. Another gate was set there, with a woman standing outside. She shook her head, and walked to the fire she maintained. Something drew me and I walked over to look through the same gate.

Several people were walking aimlessly around in there. They were shivering from fear more than any illness I could see. I started to open it, and the woman leaped up, shouting. “Wait Upworlder! Only a fool would go in there right now!” I lowered my hand, looking at her. “Those are our own people infected with the Rakghoul disease. If they survive it as humans, we let them out, if they do not...” She waved a hand helplessly.

A gong rang, and a few men wandered toward us. They were armed with spears and bows. “This is when I chose for them.” The healer said bitterly. “Three are on the edge of the change, and two others could be there by morning.” Her face was heartbroken. For a healer to chose the moment of a patient’s death!

I fingered my pouch, and drew out the injector of serum. If I could get this to Zelka Forn, I would save thousands, perhaps millions in time.

But they weren’t here.

“We took this out of the sewer. A Sith injector with rakghoul serum.”

Her eyes widened, and she reached out, taking the device from me. It was made for an emergency injection, and all that was need was to slap it against a leg. She fingered it delicately, then handed it back. “You offer is kind, but too late for them.

“You’re just going to let them die?”

“Only a fool would enter that cage right now! If they change while you are in there, you have seconds before the bloodlust!”

I stared at her coldly, and marched to the gate. She caught up with me, trying to hold me back. “Please, listen!” I stopped and her hands dropped. “I see you are a fool, albeit a brave one. Hurry once inside. If one has already begun the change, you might not have those seconds!”

I keyed the door and stepped inside. There were five people in the cage, all in their own world of misery. I walked up to each, and the injector hissed. As I came up to the last, She spun, growling. Her skin had grayed with the disease, and pustules had formed across her face. She gave a howl, and leaped at me.

I fell backwards, my feet pushing into her stomach, and threw her over me. I rolled up, dropping the injector, and drew. She charged back, and I thrust through her chest. Her hands touched the shaft as if she didn’t believe it, then she looked at me with a glimmer understanding in her eyes. “Thank you.” She whispered, falling back dead.

As I walked toward the door one of the first I had injected was staggering toward me. I went on guard, but she fell to her knees. “The drug you gave me. I can feel it burning the disease away!” She looked at me with wonder. “Thank you!”

The crowd standing outside the cage was silent as I stepped back out. The healer came to me, tears in her eyes. I patted her on the shoulder. The crowd broke leaving me a path to walk out. Hands reached out tentatively, touching my arm or shoulder. A man held his child up as if it were a parade.

Rukil was seated by his fire, eating a bowl of stew. My stomach roiled at the thoughts of what they had to use as ingredients. He saw me and stopped chewing, his mouth open in astonishment. “You have returned Upworlder. Did you find my apprentice?”

Silently I drew out the notebook. “Malya died before she could reach the sewers.”

He looked destroyed by that simple statement. “It was as I feared. She has joined the lines of those that have searched for the way to the Promised Land.” He looked at me. “But even her death now gives me hope. For you went out of your way to find her, and out of your way to tell me.” He caught my hand. “You are the one foretold. You are to be the beacon that guides our path to the Promised Land!”

“I don’t even know what is it let alone where!” I growled in exasperation.

“Listen then, guiding spirit. Above us is the city of Taris, so great that it covers the entire continent! There is no land to grow food on; every morsel comes from the sea. Kelp, fish, even plankton feed the people above.

“But man is foolish. They dumped their sewage and waste into that ocean. A century ago, the rising levels of pollution caused a great famine. The mighty in their towers quaked, because the city is so vast, the population is only a day from starvation at the best of times. “In their terror, the rich hoarded, and the poor starved. Men ate men to live.”

“From what I have seen of Taris, things haven’t changed that much.” Carth said. “Just now the people of the Uppercity are almost as bad off as the poor were then.”

Rukil nodded. “But the poor rose up in their masses, and civil war engulfed the world. Millions died. Whole sections of the city were laid waste as people fought just for the food that would go into their mouths!
“The rich were victorious in the end. Thousands were captured, but the jails could not hold them all, and people were sickened by the death toll. The leaders then decided to remove the problem by banishing those survivors to the Undercity.” He waved at the few remaining people. “And that practice continues to this day. Many brave people were cast out, among them my grandfather Orol and my father Marosi. Along with them went their families to the youngest child.”

“Not surprising.” Mission snorted. “Those nobles would stuff their own mothers down here if it meant more for them.”

“But not long after our exile, a man came. He was not banished, was not sent, but fled to us. He spoke with my grandfather and father, telling them a secret so great that his very life would have been forfeit if he had told it up above. He had been the head of a project on a distant island. A wiser man among the rich had funded a settlement using wiser and more efficient ways of producing food. There were few people, and droids had been built to work the fields and tend the vines. Contact had been lost during the war, and the wise rich man had died telling no one. The wise man had assured that the settlement would be unnoticeable, so it had survived untouched.

“But it’s existence was discovered. The rich had merely seen it as more for them to take. They took the project head and tortured him to reveal the way to this Eden, but they had failed. After terrible tortures, the project head had escaped and come down here. He had given my grandfather information, but the rakghoul disease was rampant then, and the walls did not yet exist. He was killed in an attack, leaving them with hope, a few clues, and nothing else.

“They began searching the Undercity for the way, for the man had sworn it was in this area before his death. Gendar’s grandfather started the construction of the walls that now surround us, calling for all to forget about the visions of a madman, and try to live as best we can.

“One day Orol did not return, and my father despaired, but he taught me all he knew, and soon went to follow. That was eighty years ago.”

“Sounds like a myth to me.” Carth said apologetically. “Something to give people hope to balance the despair.”

Rukil bowed his head. “That may be true. But I gathered clues. My legs were badly broken when I was still young and they never set correctly. ” He waved toward Mission. “I had to make do with apprentices, children willing to risk their lives to try to find the journals of my family. My journal has clues, but theirs had much more. With them, I could find the way. So I sent them into the darkness, and they didn’t return. Malya was the last. I know Shaleena would have been willing if she were not so sickly. Soon I shall die, and the journals of those lost will never be recovered.”

I reached into my pack and drew out the notebooks. He stared at me as I set them in his withered hands.

He opened one to the back, then flipped a dozen pages forward. He read avidly, then set it down and picked up the other, repeating the process. “The answer! An tram leading to a passage. A way that no one had even imagined! But how can we find it?”

“We already did.” Mission said. She tapped one book. “We found this ledger right outside the door.”

Rukil looked around. Gendar, I must get this to Gendar.”

I looked around. Gendar was a distance away. “Carth, help me carry him.”

I found I didn’t need his assistance. Rukil was old and frail, and weighed not much more than a child. I held him in my arms, and we walked across the encampment.

Gendar grunted at our approach, but as Rukil showed him what the books said, Mission showed him the map of the Sewers, he became excited. “It will take us weeks, even months to get there! But it is a better place than this. You.” He pointed at Carth. “Find Shaleena, tell her to get the council together. You.” He pointed at Mission. “Bring Kudra the healer. You.” He pointed at me. “Get Igear and bring him. We must see what we have to start with.” He looked at Rukil. “You have saved us, old man.” He said gently. “As many times as I have called you fool, as many times as father and grandfather did, you have saved us anyway.” He patted the old man, and ran off.

I went to roust the merchant Igear from his tent. He grumbled at being woken up, but when I told him why, his complaints faded.

We returned to the tent, where Rukil still sat with his eyes closed. I bent down and touched him gently. He had a curiously satisfied expression on his face.

“I don’t know why this is so important, Gendar.” A large man growled as they came back. “If Rukil is telling tales again, I’ll kill him.”

“Too late for that.” I answered. They looked at the body with dismay. “He gave his life to keep the story alive. His grandfather his father his apprentices, gave their lives to find the way to this promised land, and you complain about your sleep?” I glared at them. “What good was their sacrifice if the going may be too hard on you? Stay here for all I care, rot in this hell with no way out. Or take the one offered!”

The man dug his toe into the ground in embarrassment. He was larger than the Mandalorian Canderous, but at the moment, he was a child being lectured by his mother.

“She’s right. If a good life is too much for your sleep to bear, then go.” Gendar said.

He grumbled, but didn’t leave. I lifted Rukil’s corpse.

“Where are you going with him?” Someone asked.

“Gather wood.”


Carth

The villagers built a pyre, and Danika held the dead man until they had completed it. She laid him gently on it, then lit the bonfire. Everyone stood silent as the flames leaped up, then went back to their tasks. Danika merely stood and watched until it was embers.

She turned, and Igear came running up. “My stock weighs too much, but there’s a lot of things in it we need. This however, is too much extra, and no one can use them anyway.” He thrust the bundle into her hands, and ran back to his duty.

It was a set of Echani battle armor. She held it lovingly, then drew Mission aside. They took over an unoccupied tent, then stepped back out. Danika wore the battle armor, looking very comfortable. Mission wore the light fiber armor, and while she would get used to it, she looked uncomfortable.

Danika led us across the encampment to where Gendar sat. Men and women taking notes surrounded him. The Outcasts were balancing what they needed against what they had.

“I’m still worried about Rakghouls.” One said. “According to these records Orol made, there are supposed to be a number of areas where they congregate.”

“If you can give me a few hours, I can correct that.” Danika said. They looked at her skeptically.

“She is the one that cured our own sick.” Kudra said. “Went into the cage to administer it as well.”

“There is not enough left to inoculate you all. But I know a man in the Uppercity that wants this serum not for himself, but for everyone who has the disease.” Danika said. “I will make it my price for giving it to him. What I need is an accurate count of how many doses he must give.”

The count came to 73. Danika led us to the elevator, and we rode back up to the Lowercity. Mission was sent to check on Zaalbar, and I went on with Danika.

We walked across the Uppercity, and reached the clinic. Zelka Forn looked up as if he had never left. Danika walked up to him. “I have a sample of the rakghoul serum for you. But I want something in return.”

He looked wary. “Go on.”

“The people of the Undercity need it more desperately than any, but they can’t pay even the little you would ask. I want you to make up enough for the entire village, 73 souls. I want it given to them. Not paid for.”

Forn almost cried. “And I thought you wanted money!’ He leaped up, hugging Danika. She looked surprised and uncomfortable. “I promise on my own soul that I will deliver it personally.” He took the sample. “It will take half an hour to set up the system, but then I will have enough for just them in less than four hours! I’ll send it with Gurney-”

“Maybe you should chose someone else.” I said.

“Gurney wanted us to give it to him. Davik wants the serum first.” Danika added.

“Davik!” Forn almost spat. “I’ll fire that worthless-”

Danika reached up, touching her finger to his lips. “If it weren’t for those you tend,” she nodded toward the lab, “I would have told you earlier. He might not get the money from Davik, but he would probably be satisfied with what the Sith would pay.”

He sighed. “You’re right. Well, I have contacts with the Hidden Beks, they can get the serum down there. They owe me.”

I smiled. “Doesn’t everyone have the Beks on their side?” Forn returned the smile.

“I have little I can pay you-”

I named my price, Zelka.” Danika said. “You met it. I am satisfied with my reward.” She paused, then took out the sprig of the plant she had collected. “While you’re at it, check this out. The rakghouls we saw down below were attracted to this plant for some reason.” She turned, walking out.

Gurney came after. “You could have had it all, woman!”

Danika turned, and I could feel the fury emanating from her. Then suddenly it was gone. She looked at him calmly. How did she do it? How did a mere girl in her twenties learn or master such control? Take her emotions and lock them away like this? “I was rewarded. In ways you wouldn’t begin to understand. Oh, and the injured back there.” She stepped closer, and suddenly had Gurney by the throat. “If the Sith come here to get them, I will assume you told them. If that happens, you will beg to die before I’m done. Is that clear?”

Gurney gurgled, nodding frantically. She threw him aside, and walked out.

We walked toward the North city again. “Carth, I want to continue our discussion.”

“What, you can’t stop arguing with me?”

She caught my arm, spinning me to face her. “Why can’t you trust me?”

“Why does it matter? Why not just let it be? I don’t trust easily. Leave it at that.”

“I can’t leave it at that Carth.” She snapped. “I’m fighting this entire planet and I have mister ‘I can’t trust so leave it at that’ at my back? Why don’t I feel comfortable with that?”

“Damn it, I see I’m not going to get any rest until I spill it, right? You want to know why I don’t trust anyone? All right. Five years ago, the Mandalorian war was almost over, Revan and Malak were heroes! I was proud to have served under them.

“Then they changed. They attacked the Republic with the very fleets they had led. Nobody knew what to think especially not me!” I was caught in those memories, reliving all of that. “Our heroes had become our mortal foe, Jedi had become Sith. If you can’t even trust the Jedi to live up to their ideals, who can you trust?”

“What do I have to do with Revan and Malak?” She asked.

“That’s not what I mean. It’s...” I sighed. “Not all of those that went over to the Sith were Jedi. The Jedi that betrayed that trust, that became Sith deserve to die for what they have done. But the officers and men that joined them the ones who turned their backs on the Republic are worse. They can’t blame the ‘Dark side’ of the Force.” I used my fingers to make quotes. “They did it for the glory, or the bloodlust or whatever reason their minds created to rationalize it. They deserve no mercy.”

“You say that with such... hatred.”

I shrugged. My outburst had surprised even me. “I know. I should apologize to you. I’ve become accustomed to expecting the worst from people and you got caught in the blast radius. Just leave it for a while, okay?”

She nodded sharply and we continued walking.

Last edited by machievelli; 04-04-2006 at 12:37 PM. Reason: adding additional on above work
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