Before long, we found an authoritative looking man sitting by a fire. Carth prodded me on the shoulder.
"That must be Gendar."
I approached the man.
"Are you Gendar?"
"Yes I am, child. What could an upworlder such as you need from an outcast such as me?"
"Since I got here a few minutes ago, I kept wondering why you guys live here. Would you care to enlighten me?"
The man smiled.
"You must not be from Taris. We live here because we or in many cases, our ancestors were cast down for crimes once committed. A lot of us are paying for an ancestor's crime. Life can be hard and painful, but we manage."
Before I could find a way to respond, Carth spoke.
"I understand that you and your people must be suffering. Truly, I don't know if I can even imagine never having witnessed the beauty of the sun rising at dawn."
Carth shifted his feet.
"The thing is; my friend here has offered one of your people –Shaleena to leave this place with us. What's your take on that?"
Gendar had a momentary look of shock, but quickly composed himself.
"Personally I think that it's completely up to her. She is a good girl, and her parents were the ones who committed a crime. More likely though, they were framed from what I know. As I'm sure you've noticed; the rich have all the power here on Taris."
"She is completely innocent?"
"That's right. Shaleena is a victim of circumstance, and her parents were victims of corruption. Subsequent to being forced into living here, Shaleena's mother died soon after giving birth, and her father was killed by a group of rakghouls. If you genuinely intend to help her child, then I most definitely hope she leaves this hell with you."
A grim look colored Gendar's face.
"But don't start thinking that every one of these outcasts is a victim. We are a diverse lot. The majority of these people have committed crimes, and this is their punishment."
"Understood. Before changing the topic though, I'm curious. Who raised Shaleena, if both her parents died?"
"Shaleena was raised by my wife and me. She is like a daughter to me."
The earnest expression on Gendar's face made my arms fidget. I locked eyes with him.
"I promise that if she accepts I'll watch out for her. I'll be there for her."
"You become attached rather fast child. You are my Shaleena's rescuer and you haven't even told me your name."
"My name is Lena, and it's not so much that I get attached fast, as much as the impression she made on me. I would feel like a horrible person if I didn't at least offer to let her see the starry sky, but even more so, the stars themselves."
"I can see that you mean what you say Lena. If she chooses to go with you, I entrust her to you with full confidence."
"Thank you sir, I'm honored."
Carth kept pacing back and forth next to the fire. Clearing his throat, he spoke.
"The primary reason we're here is to find a blue Twi'lek girl named Mission. Have you seen her pass through here recently?"
"Actually I have. She passes through here often, but doesn't really interact with us outcasts. A couple of hours ago she passed through here, and into rakghoul territory. She was heading to the sewers."
Carth stopped pacing, then turned to me.
"Looks like we have what we need. Let's go find Mission, Lena –I'm sure you're as eager to see her again as I am."
"And I'm sure you're overstating it, Carth. Besides, I'm sure you're more eager."
Having reached the gate separating the outcast camp from the treacherous rakghoul wilds, Carth and I paused. A guard man had locked the gate latch to prevent rakghouls from invading the outcast camp. There was a woman screaming for the guard to open the gate.
"Please just open it for a few seconds to let Hendar in. I don't want my Hendar to die!"
The guard shook his head.
"I'm sorry but I can't risk letting these rakghouls inside the village."
"No! He'll die. Please help him!"
The woman turned to me with pleading eyes. I glanced at Carth, noticing his firm nod in the affirmative. I stepped up to the gate.
"Open it to let us out, then shut it while we deal with the rakghouls."
The guard complied. Carth and I ran past the gate, positioning ourselves in front of the defenseless Hendar as the rakghouls sprang at us. While Carth blasted ion beams at the vile white monsters that resembled deformed albino humans, I carefully prepared my blades. The first rakghoul succumbed to Carth's blaster fire while the next two lunged straight for my throat. At the last moment, I slid my vibrosword through the neck of the nearest rakghoul. Its head rolled to the dirt at my feet with eyes still frantically moving. I avoided the final rakghoul's attack by rolling to the side. After quickly recovering, I rammed both blades into the rakghouls back. The creature died the moment I removed my blades from the bleeding hole in its decomposing back. I had to calm my breathing as I scanned the surrounding area for more rakghouls.
"The rakghouls have been dealt with!"
The gate fell open. Hendar ran straight to the woman, who had previously begged me to help. The woman was jumping up and down in happiness.
"Hendar, I have you back! You're the only thing I need my love."
The woman turned her head toward me with a bright smile.
"Thank you, stranger!"
I looked at the guard man.
"We'll be going into the rakghoul wilds. Open the gate."
After we had walked for a few minutes, I noticed a silhouette rushing towards us. Carth prepared to fire his blaster, but I lowered his arm. As the silhouette got nearer, both of us recognized who it was. Mission, dressed in a white sleeveless jacket, black tank top, jeans and knee high boots ran up to us. The look in her eyes was frantic, her voice desperate.
You've got to help me! They've captured Zaalbar."
Her eyes were pleading.
"Hold on, Mission, who captured Zaalbar, the Vulkars?"
She shook her head.
"The Gamorreans! Those slimy boreheads caught him when we were exploring the sewers. They snuck up on us, and knocked him out cold. I managed to escape."
"Did they follow you?"
I readied my blades.
"No, I don't think so. They're stupid, but not stupid enough to willingly become rakghoul fodder."
"I doubt even rakghouls would want to snack on those Gamorreans. Those things stink!"
Mission managed a quick smile from Carth's comment, but her eyes were full of sadness.
"We'll help you, Mission, but in return you'll help us."
"Infiltrating the Vulkar base. Gadon told me you know a passage to their base."
Mission gave a huge nod.
"It's a deal. You help me, and I help you. Besides, you need to take the sewers to get to the hidden entrance. After we're done we can sneak back into the lower city."
With Mission carefully leading us, we avoided the bulk of the rakghouls. It surprised me how well she could fight. Like me, she preferred wielding a bladed weapon. Before a rakghoul could even smell her, its head was rolling.
"Mission, where did you learn to fight like that?"
"Are you surprised? When you have to look out for yourself, you learn everything that can help. Zaerdra might be a bitch sometimes, but she's a good teacher."
"Hmmm… I knew there was good in her yet!"
Carth chipped in after me.
"My friend here finds you rather enticing."
Mission blushed. I punched Carth in the shoulder whilst glaring at him.
We passed escape pods that had sustained substantial damage. Carth commented.
"One of these must be Bastila's pod. Maybe we should check this out."
Before I had time to respond, I noticed a group of humans approaching from behind the pods. Mission readied her sword, a fierce look in her eyes. At the last moment, I recognized the leader of the group.
"Canderous! Mission, I know him. Lower your weapon."
The muscular Mandalorian recognized me.
"Well if it isn't Lena Rouen. If you're trying to find anything in these Republic escape pods, you're out of luck. The Vulkars took everything."
"Were you trying to loot the pods for Davik?"
He turned towards the pods.
"Those damn Vulkars know Davik gets first pickings. They'll pay."
Canderous continued speaking about Davik, but my attention fell to the shadows rushing to strike him from behind. I yelled.
Everyone sprang into action. Mission had already downed two rakghouls. Canderous took down rakghouls targeting his men. One of which was on the ground, struggling to keep a particularly large rakghoul from devouring him. I leaped toward the rakghoul, swinging my vibrosword against the creature's thick neck. Before I could cut through bone, the creature swung the backs of its huge talons at my chest. The blunt impact threw me back a few steps. I managed to keep my balance, charging back at the vile creature as my chest throbbed in pain. Mission ran up beside me, distracting the rakghoul while dodging its strikes. As the creature swung at her, she pleaded.
"Hurry! Please finish it!"
With all my strength, I swung both blades, crossing them at the creature's neck. A crunch echoed as the rakghoul's neck snapped under pressure from my blades. After the large rakghoul fell I bent over, clutching at my chest.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Carth ran up to me with a medpac in hand. I took the medpac, injecting its contents into my bloodstream. The pain went away almost instantly. Regular medpacs relieved pain, and accelerated healing of moderate wounds. I looked up at Carth.
"I'm okay. It's still throbbing, but I'm fine."
Canderous walked over to me.
"That was impressive. Thanks for helping me and my men deal with these beasts. I owe you one."
I gave Canderous a firm look.
"There is something I'd like you to help me with, and it isn't a conflict of interest –regarding the Exchange."
The Mandalorian crossed his muscular arms.
"You know I was being rhetorical, but alright, what do you want me to do, Lena Rouen?"
I glanced over to Carth, then back at Canderous.
"There is an outcast girl, her name is Shaleena. I need you to get her some armor and take her to the Hidden Bek base. Carth here will accompany you since Shaleena knows he's with me … really your job is to make sure he doesn't become rakghoul fodder on the way back to the outcast village."
Carth looked like he wanted to protest my decision, so I added.
"After we reach our objective, there is no reason to return to the outcast village, so we might as well deal with Shaleena now. If she agrees, then you take her with you to the Beks, inform Gadon on the situation, and wait for us. If she doesn't, then you can still inform Gadon."
Glancing back at Canderous, I continued.
"The reason I need you for this is Carth. I don't trust him, and he doesn't trust me. Something tells me that things will go my way if you, an honorable Mandalorian, balance the situation –make sure Carth secures Shaleena if she's interested."
Surprisingly instead of starting an argument, Carth grinned at me.
"You are a lot more capable than I could have imagined. To be honest, I'm still conflicted about Shaleena, and I think that we should leave her –not that what I think matters."
"That's right, and also you get to be alone with Ms. Vao here. I'm honestly very impressed. Let's go Canderous, I think these girls would very much like it if we left."
I glared at Carth after noticing that Mission was trying to hide her blush by eying the ground.
"Carthy! We are going to have a talk after I return. Here, take the security papers. I shouldn't need them. "
Having taken the papers, Carth continued grinning as he walked past us with Canderous and his men. Mission fidgeted with her fingers, still blushing about implications of Carth's suggestion. I walked over to her, reaching my hand out for her to take.
"Don't let his words get to you. That's just how he is. I mean, all that and I haven't even properly introduced myself to you."
Reluctantly she took my hand in hers, shyly glancing into my blue eyes.
"I've heard your name from those two, but I guess it's not the same as you personally telling me."
I smiled at her, gazing directly into her eyes.
"I am Lena Rouen, and it is nice to make acquaintance with you, Mission Vao."
"This is a bit too formal for me, but I feel the same way! It...It's nice to make acquaintance with you, Lena."
There was an unmistakable blush on Mission's cheeks. Realizing we had held hands for I don't know how long, I gently let go, then cleared my throat.
"We should get going. Rescuing Zaalbar and all!"
"That's right! Those Gamorreans could sell him to slavers if we don't hurry."
Before we continued toward the sewers, Mission gave me a lingering glance, and added.
"Maybe after this is over and Big Z is safe… we can continue what we started."
I gulped at her words, gave her a slight nod, then shook my head into focus.