Everything Under The Sun... And Then Some!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bar At The End of the Level

Chapter II: The Upper City

Matthias dreamed. And his dreams were strange indeed. In his dream he saw a female Jedi on the bridge of what seemed to be a Sith ship. The Jedi wasn’t dressed in the standard robes of the Order, but in a form fitting unisuit, with an ornamental tabard on the front. She held a blazing yellow lightsaber and was dueling fiercely with a dark Jedi, dressed in gray and black. Slashing her saber across the Sith’s wrist caused him to drop his weapon. The Jedi drew back her yellow blade and struck. With a dull thud, the corpse of the Sith collapsed to the deck.


Matthias awoke to find himself lying on a bed in some sort of apartment room. He sat up, stretched for a moment, and then stood as fast as his aching muscles would allow.
“Good to see you up instead of thrashing around in your sleep. That must’ve been a hell of a nightmare,’ said a voice from behind. Matthias turned around to see a man and a woman seated at a table in the middle of the room. One of them, the one with the leather jacket, he vaguely recognized, the other was a Jedi but he didn’t recognize her at first. Seeing that he wasn’t responding Leather Jacket decided to keep talking.
“I’m Carth. I was with you when we jumped in that escape pod. Do you remember?”
“Carth, the one from the Endar Spire, right. What happened after we ejected?”
“Well when we came down, you got a nasty crack on the head. Our Jedi friend was still out cold so I had to drag both of you out of there and make a break for it. By the time the Sith showed up we were long gone.”
“Commander Onasi tells me I have you to thank for getting me into the escape pod in the first place. My name is Anaiya Brightstar, thank you for saving my life,” she said, bowing her head towards Matthias.
Matthias studied Anaiya Brightstar carefully. Anaiya was dressed in typical brown and white Jedi robes, now scorched and torn by the fighting on the Spire and the plasma conduit. She had black hair than was pulled into a ponytail. Matthias couldn’t help but notice that there was something about her face that seemed strangely familiar.
“The pleasure was all mine miss Jedi. And thanks for getting us the rest of the way Carth.”
“No thanks are necessary. I’ve never left a man behind before and I wasn’t about to start now,” replied Carth demurely.
“Right. So where are we anyway?” asked Matthias.
 “We’re in an abandoned apartment on the surface of Taris. You’ve been unconscious for a couple of days now. While you were out, Anaiya and I did some scouting around. As you know we crash-landed on the planet of Taris. Taris is a Sith world. Their fleet is orbiting the planet, they’ve replaced the local government, declared martial law, and imposed a planet wide quarantine, but I’ve been in worse spots,” said Carth.
“Have you now? Well so have I and I can tell you now that getting off this world won’t be a piece of cake,” replied Anaiya, which earned her an annoyed stare from Carth.
“As I was saying, the Upper City is where the elite of the planet lives and is pretty safe at least for us. However the farther you go down, the worse it gets. The Lower City is filled with swoop gangs that are in the middle of a bloody war for control and the Undercity is even worse. The Undercity is home to mutant creatures called rakghouls. All in all not a very pretty picture. Now I heard some reports of Republic escape pods going down in the Undercity. I figure that’s probably the best place to start looking for Bastila.”
“How can we even be sure that Jedi Bastila is still alive?” asked Matthias.
“We can’t be sure. But, for the sake of the Republic war effort we have to try and find her,” replied Carth.
“Not to sound too much like a pessimist, but given the odds of finding Bastila alive, shouldn’t we worry more about getting off the planet and getting back into the fight?” said Matthias.
“That smack to your head must have done more damage than we thought soldier boy,” said Anaiya with a sardonic grin, “Bastila is the key to the Republic war effort. She’s a fellow Jedi and her skill at Battle Meditation has kept the Sith from total victory, that’s why Malak wants her so bad, either to turn to the dark side or destroy her.”
“Well then, let’s go rescue us a Key,” grinned Matthias.
 “Well we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. First we need to find Bastila,” said Carth, “Now the Sith have got patrols everywhere, but I figure as long as we don’t do anything stupid we should be ok. I’ve heard some grim stories about the Dark Jedi interrogation techniques. They say the Force can do terrible things to a person. It can wipe your mind and strip away your very identity. But they’re looking for Bastila, not a couple of grunts like us. All right soldiers lets move out,” said Carth.
Anaiya smiled ruefully at being told to ‘move out.’
“Would you boys mind if I changed first? These robes announce pretty loudly that I’m a Jedi.”
“Oh, sure,” said Carth, “I think I saw some clothes in a closet back in the bedroom.”
Anaiya left and came back a few minutes later dressed in a long-sleeve tan shirt, a navy vest and black pants with two thin, yellow stripes going down the sides. She also wore a pair of fingerless leather gloves. All in all, Matthias thought the ensemble did her a bit better than her robes.
“By the way Matthias, did you manage to pick up my lightsaber? I’d like it back.” Matthias froze.
“I, er… that is to say…”
“You don’t have my lightsaber?”
“Well I was… I was so busy trying to get you out of there in one piece and watching my own back that I just didn’t think about it. Sorry.” Anaiya just stared at him for a few seconds and then turned and headed for the door. Just barely, Carth and Matthias heard her say something like, “I liked that lightsaber,” in a low, hurt voice. Carth patted Matthias on the shoulder and grinned at him.
“Word of advice? Ladies don’t like it when you lose their things.”

Outside in the hallway of the building, the trio ran into trouble immediately. A Sith soldier and two war droids were in the hallway with their backs to the three soldiers.
“All right you alien scum! Up against the wall! This is a raid!” bellowed the Sith.
“Oh great this is the last thing we needed,” groaned Carth. One of a pair of Duros aliens standing next to the Sith spoke up.
Why do you Sith insist on bothering us? You’ve been here before and found nothing. Why don’t you just let us be?” The Sith promptly shot the poor Duros between the eyes with his rifle.
“That’s how we Sith deal with smart-mouth aliens,” sneered the officer, “Now the rest of you up against the walls before I lose my temper again!” he bellowed. The Sith officer promptly turned around to make sure his orders were being obeyed and saw Carth, Matthias, and Anaiya.
“What? Humans hiding out with aliens? They’re Republic fugitives! Attack!”
“Well we’re off to a great start at keeping a low profile aren’t we?’ remarked Anaiya.
As the droids raised their rifles, Carth and Matthias drew their weapons with a speed that only came from training and experience. A volley of blaster bolts cut the two droids down. The officer looked like he was about to say something when a blaster shot from behind blew through his chest, It was the companion of the Duros the officer had slain, who held a smoking blaster pistol.
“Poor Ixgil. He should never have talked back to that Sith,” remarked the Duros, “Don’t worry, I will move the bodies so it will look like they were killed elsewhere. I would have been dead if you had not stepped in when you had.”
“Won’t you be running a risk doing that?” asked Matthias concernedly.
“Consider this a repayment,” the Duros replied.


Having acquired a blaster pistol from the dead Sith officer for Anaiya, the three allies stepped out onto the streets of Taris amidst a frenzy of activity. Gaudily clad Tarisians moved about on their business while silver-clad Sith troopers marched precisely down the streets. A large group of Sith had congregated by the downed escape pod that had brought Carth and Matthias to Taris. All around them, the skyscrapers of Taris rose into the horizon like glittering teeth.
“This way,” said Anaiya, “The Upper City Cantina should be a good place to start.” They made their way across the street without much incident. There was a tense moment when a pair of Sith troopers marched right past them and one of them turned its helmet to look at the trio, but said nothing and continued on.
Passing by a shop that had a sign that said ‘Kebla Yurt’s Equipment Emporium’ Matthias couldn’t shake the feeling that something was bothering him. No… not him but… someone else. He turned around and saw that Carth was trailing Anaiya and him and seemed to have a look on his face that suggested he had something on his mind.
“Hey Carth?”
“Yes? What’s on your mind?” Matthias decided that it might be a good idea to ask about Carth to get him more comfortable.
“I’d like to know a bit more about you, seeing as how we’ll be working together in the future.”
“About me? Well there’s not much to tell really. I’ve been a starpilot for the Republic for more years than I can count. I served in the Mandalorian Wars before all this started. But with all that, I’ve never seen anything like what these Sith animals can unleash. My home world, Telos, was one of the first to fall to Malak’s fleet. The Sith bombed it into submission ad there wasn’t a damn thing that our Republic forces could do to stop them!”
“You’re talking like it’s your fault,” said Matthias.
“It shouldn’t be my fault. I’m just a soldier, I go where the fleet admirals tell me and I do my duty,” said Carth, his voice rising, “I just wish that doing that didn’t mean I failed them. I didn’t!”
“Them? You mean the people of Telos?” said Matthias.
“No… yes, I mean… I’m sorry I must not be making much sense. I’m not accustomed to talking about my past. At all actually.” Carth looked like he was about to say more, but stopped.
“They’ll be time for more questions later, right now let’s get on with what we were doing.” Matthias closed his mouth, but silently vowed to pick this up later. Carth wouldn’t wriggle out of this so easily.
At that moment Anaiya came jogging over to them.
“Hey warn me the next time you two decide to stop and chat. I was at the door of the cantina when I realized you weren’t with me. So try to keep up huh?”
“If her ladyship demands it we’ll try and comply,” said Matthias sarcastically.


The air inside the Upper City Cantina was thick with cigarra smoke and the smell of exotic ales. Right in the entrance hallway were several Pazaak tables and further in was the bar itself.
The three split up and spread out through the cantina. Carth wondered over to the Pazaak tables where a heated match was in progress. The player sitting near where Carth was standing threw down his cards and some credit chips and stalked away. Pazaak was a simple enough card game where you had to use your card deck to get to twenty in nine tries and win three hands to win the game. A simple game but responsible for making and breaking a thousand fortunes across the galaxy.
“And Niklos the great Pazaak player wins again!” stated the winning player. He was dressed in an immaculate tunic and had a pretty girl under each arm. Carth grinned. He had learned long ago in his matches against shipmates, that the ones with the egos were usually easy to beat, depending on how good their deck was.
“Mind if I play?’ asked Carth. Niklos looked him up and down, taking in his scruffy appearance and grinned like a shark about to devour a helpless fish.
“Of course my friend,” he said in his thick Tarisian accent, “provided of course you have the credits to wager? Shall we start the betting at, say, 100 credits?” he chuckled with a sneer. Carth grinned right back.
“Sounds good to me.” This guy was so done for.

Matthias was making the rounds of the bar, holding a glass of juma juice, when he was brought to a halt by a pretty woman sitting at on of the tables.
“Hello. I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”
Matthias examined her closely. She was quite pretty and seemed not to be overly drunk.
“Hi, I’m Matthias Starseeker. And you’re name is?”
“Sarna. Junior Officer Third-class Sarna with the Sith Occupation Force.”
Matthias leaned forward, now very interested in this pretty young Sith woman.


Anaiya had made her way to the back of the cantina, into a room lined with wall-mounted monitors and a medium-sized Hutt reclining the corner.
“Oh I can’t believe I didn’t get tickets for this match! Now we’ll have to watch it on the view screen,” said a woman who was standing with a taller man near one of the screens.
“Who cares? It’s Duncan and Gerlon fighting, it’s not like we’re missing anything good.”
“Quiet the match is about to start!”
Attracted by the conversation, Matthias moved over to watch a free screen. On it she saw a circular arena with raised seating platforms that formed a pit in the center. Two men clad in armor were standing at opposite ands of the arena.
“Ladies and gentlemen may I direct your attention to the dueling ring! The match is about to start! In this corner: looking to climb the ranks yet again is the ever persistent-DEADEYE DUNCAN! And in this corner is his challenger! A man so tough even a disfiguring injury couldn’t end his career ha ha ha! I give you-GERLON TWO-FINGERS! LET THE DUEL BEGIN!!”
At those words a gong sounded and both duelists drew blaster pistols. Actually Gerlon drew his pistol while Duncan fumbled his and dropped it to the floor. Gerlon fired, the bolt hitting Duncan dead in the chest.
“And to nobody’s great surprise Deadeye is down again. Don’t worry folks; he’s just unconscious as usual. And the winner is-GERLON TWO-FINGERS!”
Anaiya stepped back from the screen. She had an idea. She saw the duelist, Gerlon Two-Fingers emerge from a side door and start talking to the Hutt. With a wide smile she strode over to introduce herself.


Two VERY long hours later, Matthias had managed to disentangle himself from Sarna and went looking for Carth and Anaiya. He had some very interesting things to tell them. He ran into Carth on the other end of the bar. He was holding a large stack of credits and was trying to brush off some girl named Christyaa or something.
“What is with this planet? I’ve been yelled at five times and been mistaken for a waiter twice! They have no concepts of manners here,” Matthias complained to Carth.
“Tell me about it. From what I’ve heard they don’t appreciate the Sith being here, but as long as they don’t start stealing everyone’s money, they seem content to sit back and let the Sith have free reign.”
After that they found Anaiya coming out of the back room, her clothes cut and burnt and with some bleeding wounds.
“Anaiya what in the sithspawn happened to you?!” cried Carth when they saw her.
“The dueling ring,” she answered, and then proceeded to tell them about the huge amounts of credits there was to be made in the ring. She had gone up against the first three of the top six duelists on Taris and had already made a little more than 1,000 credits.
“We could use the credits… but powered-down blasters and vibroblades? And nobody ever dies? How come I get the feeling they’re trying to take you for a ride?” said Carth as they supported her on the way out.


They stopped a passing protocol droid who directed them to a small clinic run by a Dr. Zelka Forn. They walked through the double doors the balding, dark-skinned doctor rose to greet them.
“I’m Dr. Zelka Forn. From the looks of you I’d say you’re from off world. But I’ll not have it said that Zelka Forn refused treatment just because his patient was an off-worlder. If you’ll come this way I should be able to patch you up. I can treat most any injury here, except for the Rakghoul disease.”
“What exactly is this Rakghoul disease?” asked Anaiya, ever inquisitive.
“The Rakghouls are horrible monsters that live in the Undercity, and spread their disease to the inhabitants of Taris. The Rakghoul plague has afflicted Taris for centuries because of this. The Republic scientists were working on a cure at the military base, but then the Sith invaded. If there is a cure, then the Sith are probably stockpiling it for their soldiers who have been sent into the Undercity to look for those downed Republic space pods.”
“We sure picked a great planet to crash on, huh Carth,” moaned Matthias.


As Zelka tended to Anaiya under Carth’s watchful eye, Matthias explored the small clinic. An unmarked door caught his eye. Every other door in the place was clearly labeled, but this was not. Additionally it had a lock that looked capable of stopping a blaster bolt. He oh so casually leaned against the door and slipped a security spike into the lock. Click! He eased open the door and gasped. Inside was a long room with eight kolto tanks lining the walls, four of them filled with two men and a Mon Calamari. Unfortunately that was the exact same moment when Zelka, Anaiya, and Carth walked out of the examining room.

“Hey! Don’t go in there it’s restricted!” yelled Zelka, but Carth and Anaiya beat him to it. They too gasped when they saw what was in the room. Anaiya ran her hands over one of the tanks.
“This is Sgt. Ashaad! And over here; it’s Ensign Baan!” she said.
“And this is Lt. Ackran the navigator,” said Carth, examining the Mon Cal.
“You know these soldiers?” asked Zelka, “Then that must mean you’re Republic soldiers too!”
“What happened to these men?” asked Carth.
“Ever since the space battle overhead, people have been bringing in these soldiers. Must of them have injuries that are too severe, they won’t last much longer. All I can do for them is make their last days as comfortable as possible.” Matthias and Carth shook his hand.
“It’s good to know that some of the men fell into compassionate hands. On behalf of the Republic I thank you.
“Just please don’t tell anyone they are here. But it seems after they’re initial questioning the Sith have not returned.”
Anaiya mimed closing a zipper over her mouth. “You’re secret’s safe with us friend.”

As they stepped out of the clinic, night was beginning to fall on Taris, and the lights were starting to come on, bathing the skyscrapers in a myriad of colors that dazzled one to look at.
“I think the city looks much better at night,” said Matthias.
“Maybe… but the beauty masks the corruption deep inside,” said Anaiya.
“Bright ray of starshine, aren’t you?” remarked Matthias, “Anyway we should head back to the apartment.”


As they bedded down for the night, Matthias told them about Sarna and the party she had invited him to.
“I don’t like this. It could be a trap,” said Carth.
“A trap? Carth that woman had no idea who I am. Besides you missed what I told you about how she said that they would have their uniforms with them. We can use those uniforms to get down into the Lower City to search for Bastila. It’s the best plan we’ve had so far so I say let’s do it.”
“I agree with Matthias,” said Anaiya, adding her voice to the debate.
“All right all right, I’ll go but don’t expect me to act really chummy. What we’re doing could be considered fraternizing with the enemy.
“It’s called espionage nerf herder! Now bunk down on the couch like a nice boy and try and get some sleep ok?” said Matthias, throwing him a sickly grin.

The next evening they made sure their clothes looked presentable, and then walked down the aerial walkways to the address that Sarna had given Matthias. As they walked through the door of the apartment building, Matthias turned to Carth, whom he’d noticed being a little distant.
“Yes? What’s on your mind?” said Carth.
“Is this a good time to continue our conversation from earlier?”
“I guess I did say that you could ask me again later. Is this really necessary?”
“I just want to get to know you a little better,” said Matthias as they stepped into the building turbolift.
“Oh, well if it’s an interrogation you wanted why didn’t you say so.”
“Excellent! Soon all your secrets will be mine!” grinned Matthias.
“All my secrets are purely of the mundane variety, I assure you. Let me ask you something first though. I’ve been going over the battle on the Endar Spire in my head and some things just don’t add up for me. Maybe you could fill in the blanks?”
“Like you said when we first met: Bastila didn’t have time to use her powers.”
“True. Bastila is as powerful as they say. I guess no Jedi ability, however powerful makes up for being completely outmatched. We didn’t choose that battle anyway it was forced on us. Hell, I’m surprised that any of us made it out of there to talk about it.” Carth stared at Matthias and then at Anaiya for a moment, his brow furrowed.
“Come to think of it, it’s a little strange that you both ended up here at the same time.”
“Don’t look at me, I was just getting blown up in a corridor,” said Anaiya with a note of irritation.
“You’d rather we weren’t?” asked Matthias neutrally.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you’ve both proved yourselves since the crash, we wouldn’t have made it this far without you. Still…”
Are you implying that “I” had something to do with the crash?” asked Matthias, now shocked.
“No! Well maybe. It just seems strange that someone that Bastila’s party specifically requested to be aboard is among the survivors. Considering your connection to Bastila it just seems that your presence here is a little convenient.”
“You know Carth shouldn’t we be trying to work together instead of making unfounded accusations?” asked Anaiya.
“I am working with you, I’d be a fool not too. I’ve just learned to expect the unexpected.”
“You do know we’re on the same side right?” asked Matthias.
“I just don’t trust easily, for good reasons,” said Carth, looking Matthias in the eye, “Reasons which are my own, and no I’m not going to discuss them so can we just get on with what we were doing?”
“Hey lovebirds, if you’re done? We’re here,” said Anaiya as they stopped in front of an apartment door, from which music could be heard.

The party was in full swing. Sarna quickly spotted Matthias and practically hauled the three Republics over to her table.
“Here you are! I thought you weren’t going to show. You have to try some of this Tarisian Ale. It’s fantastic!”
“Careful Sarna,” warned her friend, “That ale’s got enough kick to keep us out till morning.”
“Who cares? We’re not on duty tomorrow so let’s live a little.
As the party wore on, Matthias, Anaiya, and Carth found many varied excuses to not drink any of the very potent Tarisian Ale. Around midnight, the last of the Sith officers had dropped to the floor from alcohol-induced exhaustion. The three adventurers quietly slipped out with three Sith uniforms and melted into the night outside.


The next morning found a trio of Sith troopers marching down the causeway towards the elevator that lead to the Lower City.
“Aren’t you a little short for a shocktrooper?” asked Matthias of Anaiya, whose armor was indeed one size too large.
“Shut up,” she said.
“Snappy. I didn’t think that Jedi got like that,” replied Matthias.
“Yeah, well not all of us are perfect.”
As they approached the guarded elevator Carth seemed to grow more nervous.
“This is not gonna work,” he said.
“Why didn’t you say so before?” said Anaiya.
“I DID say so before,” said Carth, but they had arrived at the gate and it was too late to turn back now. The guard looked them over once and then reached for something in his belt. They three stiffened up immediately but it was only a small signal device.
“Another patrol going down to the Lower City eh? Be careful down there it’s nasty. The swoop gangs will take a shot at anyone, even us,” said the guard and pressed the button on the device. The gate opened revealing the cramped elevator. Matthias, Carth, and Anaiya boarded and the gate shut with an ominous clank. The car started to descend, plunging them into weakly lit darkness.
“One small step for us, one giant leap into hell to go,” murmured Matthias.

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