After we arrived in the lower city, the first thing that caught my attention was a confrontation between swoop gang members.
"We'll teach you not to screw with the Black Vulkars!"
"Not if we can help it! For the Beks!"
The three Vulkars fired at the two Beks before they could do any damage. The two Beks collapsed onto the filthy floor, their blood mixing with puddles of sewage. Before I could hide, the Vulkars noticed me.
"Sith are not welcome here!"
As they began shooting, I ran in an arch, avoiding fire, while Carth made precise shots, taking out the chatty Vulkar. As soon as the Vulkar collapsed, I sprang up, slicing the remaining two Vulkars in half at the waist. Before joining the dead Beks, the two Vulkars looked at each other with shock in their eyes. Carth ran up to me.
"Damn! You sure are violent, Lena. Is that how most Republic soldiers are trained to fight now days?"
"No, swords are my personal specialty. The most common training involves blasters."
I looted the fallen gang members for some credits and medpacs.
"Let's visit the cantina first. Dia said that Holdan hangs in there. It'll be the same as last time; we'll split up."
"Alright, let's go, beautiful."
When we reached the entrance to the cantina, the Rodian bouncer stopped us.
"I'm sorry but the Sith commander has specifically requested that I don't allow on duty Sith into Javyar's Cantina."
I shook my head.
"We are off duty."
"If you are off duty, then return here without your uniforms. I'm sorry but those are the rules."
"Let's go, Carth."
Carth followed me as I retraced our steps past the swoop gangsters we had recently dispatched.
"I'm thinking we can loot the lower city apartments, and then change out of our Sith uniforms."
"Why not change out of the uniforms first?"
"Think about it, Carth."
"All these gangsters and street scum are going to think the Sith are the ones raiding on their territory. We do want to minimize the number of enemies we make, do we not?"
"You are quite clever, beautiful."
We managed to loot a decent amount of credits and medpacs from abandoned apartments, and Vulkars that attacked us on sight. The apartment I had just cracked the security on had strange holograms surrounding a footlocker. I shrugged my shoulders, walked over to the footlocker and reached to open it. Suddenly the holograms turned on.
"The sequence you entered is inaccurate. If you make another error the security mechanism in place will detonate."
Carth backed away from the holograms.
"I don't think messing with that is a good idea. How about we just leave it alone for now?"
Ignoring Carth, I proceeded to open the footlocker. An alarm sounded and the holograms began playing again. I backed away, sprinting toward the door. The holograms exploded one by one behind, throwing me and Carth down to the cold floor. My armor had taken massive damage, made apparent by the burns on the fabric. Carth lay unconscious, but neither he nor his armor had sustained damage. When I looked up, I noticed the footlocker had popped open. I walked over to see the contents. A smile crept onto my face.
"Brand new Echani Fiber armor and five hundred credits!"
"Gah! That was foolish!"
Carth got up, swaying while holding a hand to his head.
"You almost killed both of us. Next time I'll wait outside, alright?"
"You can go ahead and do that now, Carthy. I have new armor to change into, and you should take off the Sith uniform."
Shaking his head, Carth walked outside the apartment. The smooth green fabric of the Echani Fiber armor felt infinitely more comfortable than the oven that is a Sith uniform.
We hid the Sith armor within the footlocker, then made our way back to Javyar's Cantina. Unlike last time, the Rodian bouncer let us right in. The moment I stepped foot inside the cantina, another commotion occurred. Two Rodians and a Twi'lek were making fun of a short man who wore a neat cap, and tinted goggles. The man began counting.
"One … Two … Three."
Seconds later the three aliens exploded into tiny bits of burned flesh. The short man muttered as he walked toward me.
"Vulkar scum. Davik will not be happy."
He looked up at me.
I blinked a few times. He wasn't someone I'd want to mess with.
"I'll be going now."
As I walked past him I heard him mutter.
Walking further into the cantina, I noticed a beautiful blue Twi'lek girl arguing with a Vulkar Rodian and his comrade.
"Mission, we have business with you. Our leader Brejik isn't very happy."
The girl glared at the menacing Vulkar.
"If Brejik wants to talk to me, he can come here himself instead of hiding at his base. Hey, Zaalbar, come here for a moment!"
A Wookiee sitting at the bar gave a growl, then commented in Wookiee.
"But, Mission, I'm hungry! I just started eating…"
"Come on, Zaalbar, it's only for a little bit."
The Wookiee obeyed, walking over to the blue Twi'lek named Mission. The Vulkars nervously looked up at Zaalbar, with the Rodian interjecting.
"We no wish to trouble the Wookiee. Our business is with you girl."
"If you have business with me, you have business with Zaalbar."
The Rodian appeared deflated.
"Fine we don't want trouble. This is not over."
The two left shortly after the confrontation with Mission. I was about to walk past her, but she stopped me in my tracks.
"Hello! You must be new here. I haven't seen you before, and I know just about everyone in the lower city."
"You are quite perceptive."
The girl reached her hand out to me. After a momentary pause, I shook it.
"My name is Mission Vao. Zaalbar and I know pretty much every part of the lower city. We've been to the sewers, and even the undercity. I guess I'll give you your official introduction to the lower city. Is there anything you'd like to know?"
I smiled at the young Rutian Twi'lek. I hadn't expected to meet someone with such a cheerful and welcoming demeanor in the lower city of Taris of all places.
"I do have a few things I'd like to ask about, but first, out of curiosity, are you this welcoming to everyone?"
She shook her head.
"No. The Vulkars are horrible, and so are the Sith. Also, I avoid Davik and the Exchange. If you've lived on the streets of the lower city as long as I have, you sort of know who to avoid."
"And how do you know I'm not an enemy?"
"Are you with any of the groups I've mentioned?"
"Then that's enough for me. Now what questions might you have?"
I contemplated on how much I should risk asking. After a moment I gazed into her deep brown eyes, and asked.
"Do you know anything about Davik?"
"Who doesn't? He's with the Exchange, and I heard rumors that Davik Kang acquired a new smuggling ship called the Ebon Hawk. Apparently it's the only ship on Taris fast enough to break through the Sith armada."
"Do you know where the Ebon Hawk is located?"
"Considering its value, it's probably somewhere in Davik's base … but that's as much as I know about it. And again, it's just a rumor. Anything else?"
I thought for a moment.
"Mission, you are with the Beks right?"
"Yeah, Gadon and the Hidden Beks have my back. Since you're new here, how'd you know?"
"It was just a guess… I'd like to speak with the leader of the Beks."
"Gadon is worried about the Vulkars, so I don't know if Zaerdra would let you near him. She's like a Kath hound. Still if you want to speak to him, you'll have to visit the Hidden Bek base. It is a few blocks down from the cantina. Is that all?"
"One more question. Where is Holdan?"
"Oh that schutta? He's pretty much always hanging in the room across from here, watching the Twi'lek dancers. Why do you ask?"
"I'm helping Dia deal with that "schutta" as you call him."
"I heard about that bounty he placed on her. Good luck."
Mission gestured to Zaalbar, then began walking to the exit.
"Let's go see if we can find something interesting in the undercity, Zaalbar."
I noticed Carth sitting at the bar sipping on his drink. Catching my glance, Carth gave a wink. Ignoring him, I continued into the room with the Twi'lek dancers. A drunken man with bags under his eyes was hooting at the dancers. I walked up to his table, banging a fist against it to get his attention. He turned his head toward the dancers, and started to ramble.
"Hey look at those dancers, the way they shake those head-tails! Ugh… but don't get the wrong idea, I'm not really all that into those alien women. I prefer a human woman, like you, beautiful."
"Well I am into alien women, though I like human women just as much."
"Huh? Wait what?"
"That's not why I'm here, Holdan. About the bounty on Dia's head…"
"Did you take care of that?"
"No. I want you to take the bounty off her head."
"And why should I do that?"
I gave a short pause.
"Because if you don't; think about how pathetic it makes you look. Holdan got stabbed by a woman, and instead of dealing with it himself, he's hiring someone else to do it. Holdan is a wimp who can't do shit."
"You got a point. The women in here have been glaring at me a lot more than usual. Fine the bounty is off. I'll go remove it as soon as I finish my drink."
I turned around to leave. Killing him would have been preferred; however his connection to Davik and the Exchange gave me pause. After I left the cantina, Carth joined me. He followed me as I walked toward the Hidden Bek base.
"So I'm guessing you got some intel from that young Twi'lek… she was quite a catch."
"Carth, I'm pretty damn sure she's less than half your age. But yes, I did get a goldmine of intel from her."
"Oh come on, you liked her too, didn't you?"
"Yes I liked her, she was a nice girl, but I liked her probably not in the same way as you … plus I'm less than twice her age."
I noticed a huge building with a woman guarding the entrance.
"This should be it, the Hidden Beks base. They are the swoop gang that hasn't shot at us. They might be able to help us with finding Bastila."
"Alright, I'll let you take the lead with this."
"Thanks, Carth, but I don't need your permission."
As we walked toward the building, a muscular man with grey hair approached us. He wore an orange jacket, and had a large scar across his left eye. He stopped in front me.
"I noticed that you have been asking around about things that might concern my boss. I'm Canderous Ordo, and I suggest you watch yourself. I have no bones to pick with you, but if Davik orders it…"
I stared blankly at the large man.
"Why are you introducing yourself to me, Canderous?"
The man gave a hardy laugh.
"I'm surprised you haven't heard of me. I'm a Mandalorian of clan Ordo, a feared mercenary working with the Exchange. I seek glory, but credits are good too … still I'm getting tired of this planet."
I nodded at him, unsure of how else to respond. He continued.
"Something about you is familiar, I feel like we might have met somewhere. What's your name?"
His words were strange to me, I didn't recall meeting him.
"My name is Lena Rouen, and I don't remember having met you."
"That's too bad then. I have some simple advice –don't get involved with the Exchange."
After having said that, Canderous walked past me. Carth and I continued to the Bek base. The guard woman had a weary expression as we approached. After scanning me over with her eyes she asked.
"What business do you have with the Hidden Beks?"
"I would like to speak with Gadon. Mission told me this is where I can find him."
"And how do I know you aren't a Vulkar spy?"
"Would Mission trust a Vulkar?"
"You have a point there. Fine I'll let you in, but remember that if you even think about doing something, Zaerdra will have your head."
Carth followed me inside. The Beks had a diverse group of members working on everything from fixing swoop bikes to cooking slimy meals, yet other members were relaxing and watching the arena battle projections. The old dark skinned man sitting behind a huge desk at the end of the room with unusually light blue eyes heard my footsteps as I approached. An angry looking Twi'lek woman wedged herself between me and the old man.
"What is your business with Gadon?"
Before I could respond, the old man who I assumed to be Gadon gestured to the Twi'lek, then spoke.
"It's alright Zaerdra, let her speak."
The Twi'lek woman grunted, but obeyed.
"Hello, by name is Lena. I have a few questions."
"Go ahead and ask."
"First off, what is your opinion on the Sith?"
Gadon replied with suspicion.
"You aren't with the Sith are you?"
"Alright then, what do you think? They come here to Taris and do whatever they please. If they try anything here, the swoop gangs will probably unite against them and use guerrilla tactics to take them down!"
"I don't mean to be rude, but I highly doubt that will happen. The Sith are known for their preference for doing things big."
Gadon gave Carth a momentary glare, before continuing.
"Needless to say, the Beks aren't friends of the Sith."
I smiled at Gadon. In his stance against the Sith; I was certain he spoke his true feelings.
"Gadon, do you know anything about the escape pods that crashed recently?"
"Yes I know about the Republic escape pods that crashed in the undercity. Are you with the Republic?"
I hesitated, but Carth spoke in my stead.
"Yes, we are with the Republic."
"I thought as much. I don't mean to disappoint, but the Vulkars already got their hands on the escape pod from the undercity. They got their hands on a Republic officer. Now usually they would sell her off to slavers, but a Republic officer is rather rare..."
"Wait, so what are they going to do to Bastila, where are they hiding her?"
"Calm down. You won't find her! They have her hidden well as she is the grand prize in this year's swoop race. Before you breakdown in frustration hear me out, child."
I locked eyes with him, although I noticed that his gaze appeared unfocused.
"I'm listening, Gadon. What do you have in mind?"
"The only way you'll get to see your friend again is if you enter this year's swoop race and win. Now the Hidden Beks could sponsor you to race, but there is a little problem."
"And that is?"
"The Vulkars stole our prototype swoop engine accelerator. The only way to get it back is to infiltrate their base. Now I'm not too keen at the thought of sending my own men to their deaths … but if you could retrieve the accelerator, I'll let you use it in the swoop race."
I gulped audibly.
"And how am I supposed to retrieve it exactly?"
"I was getting to that. Clearly barging through the front door blasters blazing won't work. Instead Mission Vao can help you. She knows every nook and cranny of the lower city, and she has scouted the Black Vulkar base more than a few times."
I smiled at the mention of Mission.
"I've spoken to her recently actually. Do you know where I can find her?"
"She spoke of exploring the sewers of the undercity. You'll need security papers to get past the Sith though … and I might just have some."
"Can I have them?"
"Yes, but in exchange for your Sith uniforms. You won't need them with the papers anyway."
"How'd you know about that?"
"I have eyes and ears all over the lower city. So what's it going to be?"
"The Sith uniforms are in a footlocker at a rather burnt apartment in the lower city complex north of the cantina."
Gadon reached into his desk, pulling out official looking papers, next handing them to me. I took the documents, turning around to leave. Gadon called out to me as I proceeded to the exit.
"I suggest you hurry, so you have time to hone your swoop skills before the race!"
During the whole walk to the lift leading down to the undercity, Carth didn't utter a single word. Earlier he had been a chatty Carthy, but now he behaved as if his lips were super glued together. A few meters from the lift I abruptly stopped, turning to face Carth.
"Is there something you want to talk about, Carth?"
"Not at all. There is nothing I want to talk about. I mean does it look like there is something I want to talk about?"
"Calm down, Carth! You look like something is bothering you, so I'm asking if there is something you want to discuss?"
"Not at all, beautiful."
"And stop talking like that. It's unprofessional."
"Alright, I'll stop, gorgeous."
"You did it again."
"Okay this time you can call me something. Come on give it a shot!"
I shook my head, but complied.
"You are a sexist worm."
"Is that the best you can do?"
"Lobotomized Kath hound"
"Okay that one kind of hurt. So now, me calling you beautiful shouldn't be as bad right?"
"That's not the point!"
"You're right, I'm sorry. The thing is, the Endar Spire crashed, and we were the only survivors. I mean it's a miracle that anyone survived at all, but don't you think it's convenient how a last minute addition to the crew is one of the survivors?"
"Are you trying to say something?"
"I mean, Bastila didn't have time to do her Battle Meditation anyway. We were forced into that confrontation, and we weren't prepared. But why did Bastila's party specifically request you to be added to the boarding list at the last minute? What were you supposed to do anyway?"
"I'm just a soldier who understands a lot of alien languages. Besides, there were a bunch of requests made by Bastila's party as I recall."
"Maybe or maybe there is more to it. Something just doesn't sit right with me if you know what I mean."
Tired of Carth's avoidance, I took a direct approach.
"Look if you don't trust me and think I'm behind all this, just say so."
"Don't take this personally. I don't trust anyone, but this is probably just me overthinking things. You've already more than proven yourself. Without you we wouldn't have made it this far, so don't worry about me. You know what? I'm an action sort of guy, so let's get back to it."
Seeing as Carth didn't want to continue with his paranoia, I simply nodded to him, then proceeded toward the lift. Near the lift there were a number of Sith and automated turret guns. I showed my security papers to the Sith guard, after which he let us pass without question as he muttered.
"Shoot first, ask questions later."
It took a couple of minutes to descend into the undercity. When the lift arrived, a few ragged beggars were blocking our path.
"If you want to pass pay five credits for using the elevator!"
I snorted at the pretentious beggar.
"It's a public elevator. I'm not paying you a credit."
"We have to make money somehow. Please just spare us five credits."
The two men did appear desperate for even a scrap, but their deceitful approach killed any sympathy I might have had for them.
"Get out of my way, and try being more honest next time, if you want credits."
Before the annoying beggars could waste any more of my time, a beautiful girl, slightly younger than me ran up. She also wore torn dirty clothes, but unlike the two men, her eyes weren't dull and lifeless. Instead there was a glimmer of hope in her light brown eyes.
"Stop bothering these upworlders you two! Gendar is going to hear about this!"
The two men ran off into the distance, I could barely see their silhouettes in the darkness of the undercity. My attention snapped back to the girl.
"Thanks for getting rid of them."
"No problem. They're always causing trouble. I know it's a bad first impression, but we aren't all like that. A lot of people down here try to make an honest living. I'm Shaleena and I've lived here all my life. But tell me about the surface world, is it as beautiful as they describe?"
I had to think about my response. To me, the surface wasn't anything special. The earnest anticipation in her eyes only made it harder.
"I suppose it is better than this dump."
My words sounded icy even to me, the momentary disappointment playing across Shaleena's face made things even harder. Smiling at her, I added.
"If this is all you've experienced, you should know that there are other worlds out there that are so beautiful that they take your breath away."
A mixture of complex emotions played on her face.
"I wish I could go to one of those worlds."
"Maybe you can."
"I doubt it. Everyone in the village here calls me a foolish dreamer. They all tell me that I should stop thinking about what's out there..."
"Don't do that! You know what? If me and this Kath hound Carthy can rescue our friend and get off this planet you can come with us."
Shaleena had a look of total disbelief, and again her face expressed a myriad of conflicting emotions.
"This is the first time anyone has offered me a chance to see what's beyond this darkness. I don't even know your name."
"I'm Lena, and he is Carth. We are here on a mission to find Mission heh. This Gendar, I'm guessing he's your leader right?"
"Yes he is. So you are here looking for Mission?"
"She went past the gates into rakghoul territory. You'll need to speak with Gendar."
Noticing she hadn't said anything about my offer, I added.
"I mean it! After we get Mission, you can come with us; we do intend to leave Taris."
"You can't imagine how much this ... offer means to me! Thank you, but I need time to think it over. I mean, I wouldn't be able to see these people I grew up with ever again ... old Rukil and everyone else."
Shaleena ran in the direction of the tattered tents that she must have called home all her life. Her sprint showed the ecstatic mood I'd put her in. When I turned to Carth, I noticed he was shaking his head with a palm pressed against his forehead.
"What's wrong, Carth?"
"I can't believe what you just did."
"What are you talking about?"
"You just made that girl a promise that you might not be able to keep! Even if you do keep that promise, you do realize that you'd be putting her life at risk? I mean the Sith want us dead, so we would only be putting her in danger."
"She's already in danger with these rakghouls she mentioned beyond what looks like a shabby fence. Being stuck here isn't what I call living. Right now, as far as I'm concerned she isn't living. When she's out of here is when she starts living, and I would say the risks are worth it!"
Carth walked ahead of me, I had to quicken my pace to catch up. He muttered.
"There is no point in arguing with you. I just hope she doesn't take that foolish offer of yours."