Chapter IV: The Undercity
The Undercity combined the filth and decay of the lower city with darkness and despair. When Anaiya, Carth and Matthias stepped out of the elevator, they found themselves in a village. They were immediately accosted, as Carth said; “Even the beggars are trying to shake us down!”
The two beggars were chased off by a girl named Shaleena who proceeded to babble on about her dreams of living on the surface, meaning the upper city, since they were technically on the planet’s real surface.
Carth had gone to talk to the village leader, Gendar and had left Anaiya and Matthias to wander around the village, searching for information. The Undercity village was a place of nightmarish desolation, where the residents lived in far worse squalor than even the most meager dweller of the lower city. This was Taris’ face of evil. After encountering the paddock where the destitute villagers were forced to lock in their fellows who had been infected with the rakghoul disease, Anaiya finally doubled over.
“Are you all right?” asked Matthias.
“I’ll live. But the suffering here is… intense,” said Anaiya, “What the truly horrible thing is though, is that this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.” Matthias turned his eyes to Anaiya’s.
“I’ve seen this on plenty of worlds, and not just ones that were affected by war. There are some planets whose rulers make some very bad decisions out of a desire for wealth or power, like here on Taris, and this is often the result. It makes you sick to think that even with the Jedi doing their best to maintain peace and law in the Republic, that places like this can still exist.”
Anaiya had gone to find Carth, leaving Matthias to his own devices. He was passing by a particularly decrepit tent when a voice called out from its shadowed maw.
“You! You are from the up-world!” called out a voice that was raggedy and wheezy, but still full of a commanding tone. Matthias moved to the entrance of the tent and beheld a small old man sitting cross-legged on the floor next to a dim glow lamp.
“Is this the time of destiny then? Are you a portent of the salvation of my people? Or are you just another false sign to lead us from the true path? Are you the herald of prophecy or another false sign? Tell me what fate you unleash upon us! Salvation or damnation? Speak up-worlder!”
Matthias had a definite feeling that this old man was actually crazy enough to give him problems but at the same time, his instincts told him that it would do no harm to talk with the man. He had always trusted his instincts.
“Uh, okay. What do you want of me?”
“A question. You are confused, bewildered, perplexed. Understandable I suppose. Even after a hundred years of life, I myself become befuddled at times. My name is Rukil, the oldest Outcast in the village. Rukil Wrinkle-Skin the children sometimes call me.”
“So, again, what do you want from ME Rukil?”
Rukil leaned forward so that the lamplight washed across his ancient, wrinkled face. He studied Matthias very carefully, his pale eyes darting hither and thither.
“No… no not yet. Do I dare to trust you with my secret knowledge? No, not yet. You must prove yourself first.”
“I was once the spiritual leader for this village. But over time the villagers fell away from the true path until only a single apprentice still followed me. Now she is… lost. I sent her out into the Undercity to look for… something. I beg of you up-worlder! Please find my apprentice! Her name is Malya. It will be difficult, she could be anywhere in the Undercity. But I must know what she… found. Please, will you do this boon for an old man on the verge of despair?!
“I’ll… I’ll try and find her if I can, but my friends and I have our own mission here,” said Matthias without really knowing why. Rukil’s beaming smile was full of cracked, yellowed teeth.
“Thank you up-worlder.”
Matthias re-joined the others at the gate leading to the rest of the Undercity. A woman was there, begging the gatekeeper to open it to let in her husband, who was being chased by rakghouls.
“We’ll kill the rakghouls,” Anaiya told the gatekeeper.
As soon as they stepped through the gate, the chased man ran straight past them and into the arms of his wife. The gatekeeper slammed the gate shut behind them, trapping them outside with the hideous monsters. The rakghouls looked like the personification of all that was evil on Taris. They ran on all fours, except when they reared up to attack. They had lifeless milky white eyes and bone white, translucent skin. They were hairless and had wide, fang-filled jaws that were dripping with green ichor. Matthias was strongly reminded of a zombie holo-movie he had seen right before being assigned to the Endar Spire.
“Cover me with blasters,” said Anaiya as she took out two vibroblades and hooked them together to form a double-bladed vibrosword. Carth watched in amazement as she twirled the weapon expertly above and around her.
Anaiya sliced into the rakghouls, four of them slain by her in the first stroke. Carth and Matthias opened up with their blaster rifles and cut down all but two of the remaining monsters. Anaiya then finished those two by somersaulting over their heads and slicing them with her blade. Both Carth and Matthias watched, entranced as she performed the move.
The Outcasts at the gate thanked them profusely and then left. Now they were alone in the vast expanse of the Undercity. The soil was bare all around, except for small clumps of dead grass that refused to wither away. The space was broken only by the massive foundations of the city above. Combined with the dim glow from failing lighting panels around the service ducts, the scene reminded them of some alien moonscape. Silent and foreboding.
It had only been 15 minutes, when they heard a voice cry out and a pair of feet pounding the dead soil.
“Please, you’ve gotta help me! Nobody else will, even the Beks won’t help me now! But I can’t just leave him, he’s my friend! You’ll help me won’t you?!”
It was Mission Vao. The petite Twi’lek girl rounded a pile of junk and practically jumped into Carth’s arms. She didn’t look very good. Tears streaked dirt on her face. Her gray vest was torn and she had some cuts on her arms.
“Woah, slow down Mission. What happened,” said a somewhat startled Carth.
“It’s Zaalbar! He’s in trouble, big trouble! If we don’t help him, they’ll sell him into slavery!
“Calm down Mission,” said Anaiya, holding the young woman’s face in her hands, “Take a deep breath and tell us what happened exactly.” Mission drew a shuddering breath.
“Me… me and Zaalbar were just down here exploring. We do it all the time!”
“I guess with a wookie by your side, you figure you can handle the odd rakghoul attack,” said Carth.
“But this time they were waiting for us! Gamorrean slavers. We didn’t even have time to break for it. Big Z threw himself at them and roared for me to run! I… I took off. I figured that Big Z could handle them, but there were too many. They’re going to sell him to a slaver I just know it!”
“Do you know where they took him?” asked Matthias.
“Into the sewers. The stink reminds them of home I guess.”
The three Republic soldiers took a moment to confer amongst themselves.
“I have an idea,” said Carth. He turned to Mission.
“Here’s the deal kid. If we help you get your wookie pal back, then you have to help us get into the Vulkar base,” he said. Mission nodded emphatically.
“Once we get Big Z back, I’ll show you the back door. It’s in the sewers too. Now let’s go! The more time we waste down here the more chance that Big Z might not be there!
The newly formed quartet began to make their way toward the entrance to the sewers at a more rapid pace now that they knew that there was someone in danger who needed help. As they jogged past the base of another building, several men, including the mandalorian mercenary that had been called Canderous, surrounded them. One of the men pointed his blaster carbine at them. The way he was shaking didn’t instill a lot of confidence in this squad of toughs.
“Don’t… don’t move. I’ll shoot you if I have too!” said the quavering man.
“Settle down,” said Canderous, knocking the carbine’s muzzle down, “he last thing we need is more casualties from a needless firefight.” The merc ran a critical eye over them. Obviously he didn’t remember them from earlier.
“From the look of you I’d say that you’re down here for the same thing as we are; to salvage something from those Republic space pods. Here’s some friendly advice: Go back right now.”
“Are you threatening us?” asked a wary Carth, all the bad experiences of the Mandalorian Wars coming back to him.
“Mandalorians don’t make threats. We make promises. It’s not us you should be worried about anyway. It’s those damn rakghouls.”
“Canderous!” cried one of the other mercs, “I heard something! Over there, in the shadows. Sounded like a rakghoul…”
“Stang! Get those blasters ready boys!” shouted Canderous just as a pack of rakghouls came charging out of the darkness.
The resulting fight was quick and bloody. Once again Anaiya drew her blade and Matthias followed suit, drawing his vibroblade from a sheath strapped across his back. As Anaiya finished off one of the mutants, she saw that one of them was trying to get the jump on Carth.
“Carth!” she shouted, throwing herself in the path of the rakghoul and skewering it with her blade. Carth looked down at her, not quite sure how to respond,
“Thanks,” he mumbled. Anaiya flashed him a dazzling smile.
“Any time,” she said.
None of the mercs had died, but Canderous seemed eager to leave all the same.
“This is getting ridiculous. I’ve already lost half-dozen men to these monsters. Davik’s boys just aren’t trained for this and I can’t baby-sit them all. All right boys, let’s get going. I can’t carry all this salvage back by myself.”
As they began marching off, Canderous turned and offered one last comment.
“Hey, take my advice: Leave while you’ve still got all your parts intact.”
They were close to the sewers now or so Mission said. Perhaps the stronger odor of filth was a clue.
“Hey Carth,” asked Mission, “You’re a pilot for the Republic right? You’ve been all over the galaxy right? So tell me, how do you rate Taris compared to other worlds you’ve seen?”
“To be honest Mission, Taris would rate pretty low. The rich spoiling themselves while the poor starve and fall prey to the rakghouls, it’s not a pretty picture.”
“Yeah, but that’s only since the Sith occupation. Before that… well I guess it was pretty much the same. Hmm, I guess Taris… aint as great as I thought you know?”
“Trust me Mission, there are a lot of worlds better than Taris, there are worse too, but Taris is no place to for a kid to grow up. Even one who’s got a wookie by her side.” Anaiya couldn’t help but notice how forcefully he said that last part.
“Hey I aint a kid! And I look out for Big Z as much as he looks out for me. He’s not my baby-sitter. Geez, I ask you a question and you give me a lecture!”
“Don’t you snap at me missy! You want a lecture, how’s this? Only bratty little children fly off the handle because of a simple comment.”
“I think that both of you need to calm down,” said Anaiya but they weren’t paying attention to her.
“I don’t have to listen to you Carth! You aint my father, though you’re sure old enough to be! So keep your lectures inside your withered old head, ‘cause I don’t need ‘em!” said Mission.
“And I sure as hell don’t need this, let’s just get back to what we were doing.”
Now that they were so close to the sewers, they suffered rakghoul attacks more often. The creatures had a very nasty habit of jumping out of nowhere. During one of these attacks, Matthias noticed that the creatures had made a nest. Running an eye over the grisly contents, he noticed a corpse dressed in the rags of the outcasts. The hand of the body was clutching an old, leather-bound book. Remembering what the old man Rukil had said, he pocketed the book. He didn’t want to read it. He had a feeling that whatever was inside wasn’t meant for his eyes.
They had one last obstacle blocking their way into the sewers. A Sith patrol was standing near enough to notice Anaiya and the others as they tried to sneak by. But thanks to their security code, Anaiya’s charm and her ability to create a quick cover story about them being civilian mercs, they got rid of the patrol.
“Well, well, well,” said Matthias as removed a vial of bubbling green liquid from the hand of a dead Sith, whose departed fellows had callously left behind, “Looks like they should’ve looked him over better.”
He handed the vial to Anaiya, her face slightly illuminated by the faintly glowing liquid,
“The famous rakghoul serum…” she whispered.
The sewers stank with such a revolting, numbing, cloying, smothering stink that they were all forced to wear strips of cloth over their mouths, except for Mission who said that she’d learned to ignore it.
Mission led them deep into the maze of tunnels and pipes, moving like a huntress stalking hr prey. Gadon was right, she did know her way around. The journey wasn’t without peril. There were plenty of rakghouls and gamorreans roaming about to give them trouble. Anaiya and Matthias had started using their blades more often as did Mission. Carth was noticing more that both Matthias and Anaiya were very adept at using blades. They would seemingly move together without being aware of it, yet sometimes stumbled into each other, but would recover quickly. It was yet one more suspicion to add to his growing list.
Matthias had made an effort to keep an eye out for any more objects like the book he’d found. During their trek through the stinking pipes, he found two more, one which Carth and Anaiya had to rescue him for. When asked what it was, he simply said that it was something that an old man in the village had asked him to find.
After half a standard hour, they found the chamber that held the gamorrean chieftain and his lieutenants. Matthias determined that surprise was still on their side and that a quick strike would give them the best chance of rescuing Zaalbar alive.
Mission sliced the locks on the door and the quartet charged in vibroblades and blasters flashing. Matthias was in his element. Fighting with the fierceness of a mandalorian he cleared a path through the pig-like aliens while Anaiya, Carth and Mission brought up the rear. In moments his prowess and the skill of his friends had slain all but the chieftain.
“Where is the wookie that you captured?” asked Matthias in a thunderous voice.
“Tell us now!” added Mission. The Chieftain squealed and raised his vibroaxe high into the air. Before anyone could stop him, he brought it swishing down and buried it in his chest. However they didn’t need the chieftain after all as a loud pounding and roaring echoed from behind one of the heavy blast doors in the room. Mission examined the lock on the door.
“Hmm, this is one of those old-style manual locks. No electronics to slice or nothing. The sewers is the only place you’ll find stuff this ancient, but don’t worry, I know how to pick ‘em,” said Mission. Moments later the old door creaked open and a giant wookie emerged and swept Mission up into a joyful embrace.
“Glad to see you too Big Z!” giggled Mission, “You didn’t think that I’d forget you? Mission and Zaalbar, together forever!”
Zaalbar growled and gestured at the others.
“These are my new friends who helped me rescue you Big Z!” said Mission.
“You can thank Matthias the most of us,” said Carth, “Without his skills we wouldn’t have made it this far,” Matthias then surprised Zaalbar by giving him a wookie greeting.
“You understand my language? That is rare for a human. I am impressed. You have saved my from a life of enslavement and the only way to repay such a deed is through a life debt,” growled Zaalbar.
“A Life debt? Are you sure Big Z? Think about this carefully. You better be sure about this,” said Mission.
“I am sure Mission. On my home world, my people are being used as slave labor because of our great physical strength. They see us as brutes and animals to be exploited. When the Gamorreans captured me, I thought that I was doomed to a life of servitude. I have been saved from such a fate and the only way to repay that kindness is to swear a life debt.”
“Wow! Big Z swearing a wookie life debt to you. This is… this is major! Do you realize what this means Matthias?” asked Mission
“What exactly?” said Matthias.
“A life debt is the most solemn vow a wookie can make. It means that he’ll stay by your side for the rest of your life. Wherever you go, whatever you do, Zaalbar will be with you.” Said Mission in a reverent voice.
“In the presence of you all I swear this life debt. May my oath be as strong as the great Wroshyr trees of Kashyyyk,” said Zaalbar. Matthias stared up at the wookie. Carth and Anaiya looked on in awe.
“I am… I’m honored to accept this vow,” he murmured.
“I guess that means you’re stuck with me too. Wherever Big Z goes, so do I! I guess I also still owe you one secret path into the Vulkar base.
“And the sooner we get out of this hole the better!” added Carth.
“I better come with you. The Vulkars set up a force field to block off the way and I’m one of the few non-Vulkars who knows the access code. I picked them off the pocket of a Vulkar who had a little too much to drink at the Cantina. After the field their base is only a little further beyond. I only hope the Rancor monster isn’t still there,” said Mission.
“Rancor monster?!” cried the others.
“You have got to be kidding me! I didn’t sign up for this Sithspawn!!!” shouted Matthias.