Chapter III: The Lower City
Matthias sat at the dirty bar and nursed a flat lum and several bruises and burns. Their foray into the lower city hadn’t gone well. Within 15 standard minutes of the elevator depositing them into the fetid decay, they had been attacked at least a dozen times. The only thing that had saved them from being mugged, begged, etc. had been their Sith uniforms, which they’d had to put away before coming into Javyar’s Cantina. Javyar’s looked like a decomposed version of the Upper City Cantina, with slime and filth, both sentient and not decorating its dim interior. The cantina wasn’t completely safe, as they had found out when they’d come in. As they entered the bar proper, three members of the Black Vulkar gang blocked them as they accosted a small man sitting at one of the tables.
“Go away,” said the small man in a nasal voice.
“Hey! You not be like that! We just want to talk to big, bad bounty hunter Calo Nord!” said a Rodian.
“Nah, this can’t be Calo Nord, he’s supposed to be tough,” snorted his Twi’lek companion.
“One,” said Calo simply.
“Huh? What one mean? What’s he trying to say?” said the second Rodian.
“You shouldn’t talk down to us. We’re members of the Black Vulkars! What do you think of that?” said the twi’lek.
“Two,” said Calo.
“Me not understand. One, two? What, he trying to count how many of us there are?” said the confused first Rodian.
“It’s three against one! What do you think of those odds?” challenged the twi’lek. It was the last thing he ever said.
“Three,” stated Calo. He then threw a device that looked like a grenade on the floor. Before anyone could react, the flash-bang went off. There were several shouts, three blaster shots, and then the light faded away. The three Vulkars lay on the floor, very dead. Calo Nord calmly sheathed his twin blaster pistols and then strode towards the door, which Anaiya and company blocked. He gave them a look that could’ve frozen molten carbonite and said, “One.” Not wanting to challenge this dangerous little man, the three quickly stepped out of the way.
“Smart,” said Calo and left.
Now Carth, Anaiya, and Matthias sat at the bar and nursed their wounds and drinks. Their attention was caught when a high, female voice cried out amidst the normal room buzz.
“I told you to leave me alone! Now give me some space bug-eye! Your breath smells like bantha poodoo!”
Wanting to see what the trouble was, the three made their way over to the source of the racket, which turned out to be yet another pair of Black Vulkars, both Rodians, who were menacing a lithe, blue-skinned Twi’lek girl.
“Little girl should not be in bar. This no place for little girl. Little girl should run away home now.” Said one of the Rodians, as he grabbed the girl’s arm. She wrenched it out of the alien’s grasp.
“Just a sec boys. Zaalbar, a little help here? I need you to rip the legs off some insects.” A hulking, furry shadow shifted in its seat at one of the tables against the wall. It didn’t speak up in Basic but instead began to growl and bark.
“Quit complaining, you can finish later. Besides you need the exercise so get over here!” said the girl. Anaiya’s suspicions about the voice were confirmed as the hulking form moved into the light and was revealed to be a brown-furred wookie. The rodians took a step back.
“We no want trouble with wookie. Our problem with you little girl.”
“You got a problem with me? Then you got a problem with Big Z. So unless you want to take on my furry friend, I suggest you greenies hop on outta here.” The two rodians began slowly backing away, their eyes fixed on the wookie called Zaalbar.
“Little girl lucky she has big friend,” one of them called as they began to head towards the door.
Matthias stepped towards the girl and asked, “Are you all right?” The girl looked him up and down.
“Hey, I don’t recognize you and I know just about everyone around this part of the lower city. I guess that makes Big Z and me you’re official welcoming committee.”
“You showed a lot of guts dealing with those Vulkars kid,” said Carth, “You got a name?”
“My name’s Mission Vao and this big wookie is my best friend Zaalbar. I’d offer to give you a tour, but the streets aren’t safe right now, what with the gang war between the Hidden Beks and the Black Vulkars.”
“Tell us about that,” asked Anaiya.
“It’s all Brejik’s fault,” returned Mission hotly, “If he hadn’t been such a sleemo, this would never have happened. Ya see, Brejik used to be part of the Hidden Beks, Gadon’s right hand man. I think Gadon was grooming him to take over leadership or something. Anyway, when Gadon lost his sight, everyone assumed that he’d let Brejik take over. But Gadon said that with his artificial eyes he could see just fine, and that Brejik wasn’t ready to take over. Brejik stormed out and then shows up in charge of the Vulkars. Next thing anyone knows, Brejik’s gone and declared war against the Beks. Gadon is one of the nicest and most decent people I’ve ever met. I can’t believe that Brejik wants to kill him now. It’s all just so stupid!”
“Well that helps put things into perspective somewhat. Know anything else that would be helpful to a trio of wanderers kid?” said Matthias.
“I’m not a kid! I’m fourteen, and yeah, I know pretty much all there is to know about the lower city. I’ve even got the scoop on that bounty hunter Calo Nord.
“Tell us about Calo Nord,” said Anaiya.
“Calo Nord’s one of the most famous bounty hunters in the galaxy. He’s killed more people than the Iridian Plague! I’ve seen him kill people just for trying to talk to him!” said Mission.
“So we noticed,” grimaced Carth.
“I figure he’s been hired by Davik Kang to do a special job for the Exchange. I’d wager a thousand credits that once the quarantine is lifted, he’ll be offa this rock.”
“Well that certainly helps us some,” said Carth, “We’ll be going. We’ve got a job to do so thanks, you’ve been a big help.”
“You going?” asked Mission, “Yeah this place was getting boring anyway. Hey Zaalbar let’s go.”
The big Wookie let out a mournful howl.
“Can’t you think about anything besides your stomach for five minutes?” said Mission exasperatedly, “Come on, let’s see if they have anything good at the Bek base.” And with that, the slight Twi’lek girl and her 2 and a half-meter tall wookie companion exited.
“Rival gangs, Twi’lek street urchins, and wookies. This just keeps getting stranger and stranger,” mumbled Matthias as they also left.
They had decided to seek out this Gadon Thek that Mission had mentioned, thinking that he sounded like he might be able to help or at the very least provide information. They had wanted to follow Mission, but she and Zaalbar had already vanished into the murk of the lower city.
It was another danger-laden trek as they tried to find their way to the Hidden Bek base. Along with the usual assaults and attempted muggings, the trio had two more unusual encounters. The first was when they happened upon an argument between a pair of Black Vulkars and a thin, weasely man.
“You guys are late with your payments. What, you think just cause you’re in some gang that you won’t give Davik his cut?” asked the thin man.
“I don’t see Davik earning his share! We’re the ones doing all the work!” said the first alien.
“Yeah! Let’s see the big crime boss come down here and take his cut!” said the second.
“Oh so you want to play this the hard way?” said the thin man with an amused smile, “Haha, okay.” He whistled and a much larger man stepped out of the shadows. He was about two meters tall, with iron gray hair and eyes. He wore only a simple pair of slacks and a black shirt, over which he wore a red combat vest. In his hands he carried a blaster rifle that looked simply too big to be allowed. It definitely looked capable of blasting holes through solid duranium. Carth stiffened and a hand went to one of his pistols.
“Mandalorian!” he hissed.
The Vulkars didn’t look happy either. Gone was any trace of their bravado and ego.
“Oh hey Canderous. We… we didn’t know you was working for Davik now. Here, take the payment, we won’t be causing anymore trouble.”
“I knew you boys would see it our way. Now don’t be late next time.” Said the thin man.
“Too bad,” said the mandalorian, his voice a deep, growling, rumble, “I was looking forward to cracking some skulls.”
“I’m sure you were Canderous! Don’t worry I’ll call you if there’s any more trouble,” said the thin man as he walked away. Carth, Anaiya, and Matthias were also about to leave when Canderous noticed them and smirked.
“Those Vulkars are dumber than a Coruscant granite slug and only slightly more appealing. Gadon and the others keep their people in line, but Brejik’s getting delusions of grandeur. If Davik is smart, he’ll slap that young punk back down.”
“Who are you?” asked Anaiya.
“I’m someone you don’t want to get on the bad side of,” growled the big mandalorian, “Now if you’ll excuse me, Davik’s got me on special assignment.” And with that, the mandalorian calmly strode away.
Their second encounter occurred shortly thereafter. They had cut through an alleyway when they saw the bounty hunter Calo Nord approach a pair of rodians.
“You seem to be taking an interest in our progress. Do you need something little man?” asked one of the rodians.
“Quiet Luugro! That’s Calo Nord, the famous bounty hunter!” said the second.
“There’s a bounty on your little green heads. I’m here to collect,” said Calo simply.
“The only way you’ll collect is over our dead bodies!” shouted the rodian.
“That’s the plan,” said Calo.
Anaiya and Matthias saw it as if in slow motion. Before they could warn the rodians, Calo whipped out his blasters and shot them dead. He calmly holstered the pistols again and turned away. As Calo walked past them, he gave them an icy stare through the blast goggles he wore. And then he was gone, swallowed up by Taris’ darkness.
After what seemed like hours, they finally arrived at the entrance to the Hidden Beks’ base. As they approached the door, a sentry stopped them.
“Hold it right there,” said the woman.
“We need to see Gadon Thek. We were told he could help us,” said Anaiya, matching the woman’s glare.
“A lot of people want to see Gadon. He’s a hero of the common people. But the days of the Beks’ open door policy are gone. Between the Sith occupation and the Vulkar gang war Gadon has more enemies than he used to. We’re being very careful of who we let in now.”
“Perhaps we could be an ally against those enemies,” said Anaiya, indicating Carth and Matthias. The sentry ran a wary eye over the two men.
“Hmm, perhaps. We could always use an extra hand and you don’t look like you’re with the Sith or the Vulkars…” the sentry straightened and pressed a button that caused the door to open with a metallic groan.
“You can go on in and speak to Gadon if you want. Besides it’s not like you can do anything to harm him in his own base, not with Zaerdra watching his back,” pronounced the sentry as she waved the three inside.
The Bek base was dimly lit, but seemed somehow homier than the alleys and tunnels of the rest of the lower city. Various aliens and humans wandered here and there, dressed in the colors of the Hidden Beks. At the far end of the room, a dark skinned man sat behind a large durasteel desk, with a white skinned Twi’lek woman in full armor standing beside it. Presuming that this was Gadon Thek, they marched up to him. Before they could address him however, the Twi’lek woman pulled out a blaster rifle and stepped in front of the man.
“Hold it right there! Who are you, and what is your business with Gadon?”
“Calm down Zaerdra,” spoke the man sitting behind the desk. He got up out of his chair and strode over beside the woman called Zaerdra. Matthias noticed that Gadon walked with a noticeable limp.
“Nobody is going to try something in the heart of our own base. It would be a suicide mission.”
“You’re too trusting Gadon. Brejik and his Vulkars want you dead. Anyone we don’t know is a potential threat and it’s my job to make sure you’re safe.” Said Zaerdra as if she were lecturing a young child.
“Do you want us to start attacking strangers on sight Zaerdra, like the Vulkars do? I will never let it come to that! Now let them pass.” Said Gadon. He had a strong, commanding voice that burned with passion, probably why he was a good leader. Zaerdra's lekku twitched in agitation but she bowed her head.
“As you wish,” she said, then she turned to Anaiya, Matthias and Carth, “You can speak to Gadon if you want, but just remember that I’m watching you. You try anything and you’ll be vaporized before you can say Vulkar spy!”
Gadon stepped forward, the lights finally revealing his whole face. Anaiya couldn’t help but stare at his unnaturally pale eyes. They looked like they didn’t quite belong, the pupils dilated much too often for her liking. Gadon focused on her and then smiled. Anaiya blushed and looked away.
“No need to be embarrassed, I’m not ashamed of what I’ve become. As you can see, I lost my eyes in a swoop crash. I rely on these artificial implants to see now, but it’s not as good as the original thing. But my blindness was not the worst consequence of the accident. My affliction is what has led to this war between my Beks and the Vulkars.”
“It isn’t your fault and you know it Gadon,” said Zaerdra fiercely. Gadon laughed slightly.
“You’ll have to forgive Zaerdra. Ever since Brejik and the Vulkars began this war, she’s been a little over-zealous in her duties. The problems with the Sith haven’t helped any. Zaerdra seems to forget that I can look after myself,” he said directing a pointed stare at the woman, “Now how can I help you?
“We need some information on those escape pods that crashed down here,” said Anaiya.
“The escape pods? You know, I heard that the Sith have been asking around the upper city about those pods as well… but you don’t look like your with the Sith,” said Gadon.
“They might be spies Gadon. They might be working for the Sith,” Zaerdra spat heatedly.
“Cool it Zaerdra! If the Sith thought we knew anything useful, they’d have a battalion of troops kicking down our door! No, I think these offworlders have their own agenda.”
“Don’t worry, we’re not working for the Sith,” said Carth.
“I suppose I could tell you what I know… it’s not like it would do any harm to my gang… but it might cause problems for the Vulkars, and that’s okay in my book. The Vulkars stripped those pods clean within hours. It’s too bad that my Beks didn’t get to them first, considering what the Vulkars found. A female Republic officer named Bastila survived the crash and the Vulkars found her when they went hunting for the pods. We Beks don’t believe in intergalactic slavery, but Brejik holds a different opinion. They took her prisoner.”
“Bastila’s a slave?! Wonderful, this makes our job so much easier,” groaned Carth.
“What will happen to her?” asked Matthias.
“Normally the Vulkars would take a captured slave and sell them for a nice profit to Davik or an off-world slaver. But a Republic officer is no ordinary catch,” said Gadon.
“At least they still think that Bastila’s just a Republic officer. That could work to our advantage. Maybe she’ll escape from the Vulkar base on her own,” said Anaiya.
“Ha!” laughed Gadon, “She’s too valuable to leave with the scum at the base. No, Brejik’s got her hidden away somewhere safe until the big swoop race. You’ll never find her,” said Gadon.
“There has to be some way we can save her!” cried Anaiya.
“I’m afraid that your friend has become a pawn in Brejik’s plan to take over the lower city gangs. He’s offered her up as the Vulkar’s share of the prize in the Taris Season Opener swoop race. By putting up such a valuable prize, Brejik hopes to win the loyalty of the smaller gangs, with their numbers, he can finally destroy me and my followers.”
“So how do you propose we rescue Bastila then? We can’t fight all the gangs,” said Carth, desperation edging into his voice.
“The only hope you have is to somehow win the swoop race.
“You have got to be kidding us!” said Matthias
“No kidding. I could help you, if you’d be willing to help us. We both have something to gain here. And much to lose.
“What are you proposing?” asked Anaiya.
“The race is for the gangs only. No outsiders are allowed, so I could sponsor you as a rider for the Hidden Beks. If you can win the race, you’ll win your friend’s freedom. But first you have to do something for me. My mechanics built a new prototype accelerator for our swoop. A bike with the accelerator can beat anything out on that track. But the Vulkars stole the prototype. They plan to use it to guarantee them victory. You’ll have to break into their base and steal it back,” said Gadon.
“And just how, exactly, are we supposed to do this?” asked Matthias skeptically.
“Getting in won’t be easy. The front doors are locked down tight. But I know someone who might be able to help you get in the back way: Mission Vao.”
“Mission?!” exclaimed Zaerdra, “Gadon, she’s just a kid! How’s she supposed to help them?
“Because Mission knows every step of every back alley in this sector of the city. Plus she knows the Undercity sewers better than anyone. If anyone can get you inside the Vulkar base, she can.
“We met Mission in Javyar’s Cantina earlier,” said Anaiya, “where can we find her now?”
“She and her wookie friend are always looking to stir up some excitement,” said Gadon, “They like to go exploring in the Undercity despite the dangers. Your best bet is to look for her in the Undercity. But you’ll need a way past the guards and their droid turrets,” said Gadon.
“We’ve got these Sith uniforms to disguise ourselves,” said Carth. Gadon ran his eyes over them skeptically.
“A simple disguise might have fooled the guards in the upper city, but the security’s much tougher down here. You’ll need the proper security code. Luckily my gang ambushed a Sith patrol that was headed down to the Undercity and their code fell into my hands.” Gadon gave them a sly look.
“Since we’re working together now, I suppose I could give you the code in exchange for those uniforms of yours.” The three looked at each other and then nodded. One by one, they handed their uniforms over to Zaerdra.
“Good choice,” said Gadon,” Thanks for the uniforms. You won’t need them with this code anyway.”
“We’ll be back when we have the accelerator,” said Anaiya, nodding to Gadon.
“I suggest you hurry,” he said, “The race is coming up soon and we want one of you to have time to practice before it happens. Good hunting and feel free to come back anytime. We’re not like those Vulkar savages. Strangers are welcome in the Bek base.” Gadon raised his hand in salute and the three returned the gesture. Code in hand, they departed the Bek base.
The elevator to the Undercity was a surprisingly short walk from the Bek base. As Gadon had said, there were a pair of Sith troopers guarding the elevator, and a bunch of nasty looking laser turrets. Cautiously, they approached the doors, when one of the guards pointed his rifle at them.
“Hold it civilian. This turbolift is only for the use of those on official Sith business. If you don’t have the proper code, you might as well turn around and walk back.”
Carth handed the code to the trooper, who handed it to his partner. The second trooper ran the code cylinder through a machine next to the door.
“Do they have clearance?”
“It’s an older code sir, but it checks out.”
“Right,” the guard turned to face them, “All right you can go down, but I don’t envy you though. Watch out for the mutants, the Rakghouls. Some advice: If you see anything moving down there, shoot first and ask questions later,” said the guard. Carth turned to Anaiya.
“I never thought I’d see the day when a Sith soldier would be cautioning me to watch my back.”
The doors of the lift opened and they stepped inside. The other guard gave a sardonic wave as the door slammed shut again and the lift started up with a rattling jerk. Once more they descended into the darkness.