"Er Cartem L'endren, Cir Hartom Stritzcart"
-"To defend the weak, and defeat the strong." Unofficial SAWTR motto.
0062:50:32 – (LTCDR Jack Knight Mission Clock)
LTCDR Jack Knight
5th Pln., 506th Bn., 1st Raiders
Undercity Cargo Lift Approach, Taris Lower City South
Knight wasn't in a mood to be fucked with, as Carth noticed. The Spartan's pace was gradually increasing to the point were Carthhad to nearly run to keep in step with him. He approached the Sith patrolmen guarding the elevator to the Under City, and the stout man briskly ran through the order-forms Knight produced. Every once in a while he would glance up and find the heated stare of the helmeted 'superior' officer, who stood impatiently as the man scanned the documents. Carth had donned night vision and the dimly lit LoCity took on a pale green hue, just has the Sith had returned the papers to Knight, his hand trembling furiously. The Beks accompanying them piled into the large elevator, awaiting the disguised soldier.
"Uh…sir," the patrolmen interjected, "what are they doing? It's dangerous down there and civilians should…"
"They're a relief party, Corporal," Knight's deep voice barked angrily, annoyed. "The twigs downstairs need some aid and I'm the lucky fucker who gets to bring them it. So unless you want to join me…"
"Err…No, sir! Just…"
"Good, now send us down."
The creaky elevator took them down untold levels beneath the long-forgotten surface of the planet. Only desperate refugees and the dreaded Rakhghouls lived here. Carth chuckled before saying, "Kind of snappy, eh, Knight?"
The Raider tilted his helmet-clad head to the man, saying nothing, and returned it to its original position. after several minutes the elevator came to a halt, the team filed out quietly, led by the Twi'lek urchin, Mission Vao. As added strength, two scores of Beks accompanied them, armed to the teeth. Despite the large force, Knight still felt like they were out numbered.
The Undercitywas little more than a cavernous hole filled withrusted and twisted metal beams, debris, sewage, and death. Ancient depleted reactors rose to the massive vaulted ceilings like huge temples. The skeleton of a star-fighter lay unceremoniously crashed withits thrusters still giving off a small amount of ionic radiation. Mission scanned the area with a look of dogged determination; she would rescue Zaalbar or die trying. Off in the distance, torches and bonfires flickered.
"That's the outcast village," mentioned Mission, "I have friends there. Z and I have explored most of this area," she said confidently and it was obvious that she was in her element here.
They moved to the village and a filthy, pale young woman greeted them. "Mission! I knew you'd come. You know they got Zaalbar!"
"I know, Shaleena. I'm here to get him back!"
Shaleena stared at Knight in shock. She observed the monsterously large Spartan soldier with awe as he loomed above her. "You're from UpCity…. I never met anyone from there. Is it…as beautiful as they say?"
Carth nodded. He gave a flattering description of the Uppercity to Shaleena's delight and gave the poor woman some photographs he had taken. As outcast children gathered, Carth and Knight gave them candy from Uppercity, causing them to squeal with delight. Somehow, this charity eased Carth's disgust at the horrid conditions these outcasts lived in.
Knight glared at them, the gaze stoic from the helmet he wore. This place seemed so familiar to him. It looked like a refugee camp; he'd only seen a few thousand of those in his days. But this place seemed…different. There was no salvation for these people at the end of the war; they'd always be here. As soon as this was over, he concluded, he'd bring a relief ship down here to help these people. He could do that much.
Er Cartem L'endren, He thought, smiling to one side behind his mask.
A small Cathar cub approached him, curiosity present in her large, and pale yellow eyes. She couldn't have been any older than three…in Cathar years. Knight was up heartedly surprised at her, a Cathar in a slum like this; it seemed like a logical impossibility. But after he took in her less cat-like features, he came to the assumption that she was part of the Lesser Sub-Species of Cathar. The little cub rubbed her head against his armored shin, showing a rare Cathareanaffection, and scampered of with the rest of the children.
Surrounded by curious onlookers and grungy children, the raiding party pressed on further into the squalid village where Mission introduced them to Gendar, the chief. As Mission and several of the scouts would perform reconnaissance ahead of the group, Knight and Carthwould wait with him until their return. As they would find, Gendar was a strong leader and had held the tribe together through many trials. Despite his many hardships, he remained a gentle soul, dedicated to the welfare of his people.
Gendar'swife served some morsels of food and drink as the Chief talked with the newcomers, Knight removed his helmet and reviled his subtly scarred head and face to them, in a form of Spartan respect during a meal, he waited until Gendar and his wife began eating. The man paused at that, cleared his throat and spoke. He told them that many Sith had been through the village and had harassed the people.
"They were looking for a woman from a crashed pod," he continued. "We would have gone to her assistance if not for the recent Rakghoul incursions. Half a dozen villagers were attacked and have become infected."
As they spoke, an ancient man shuffled in. His pale, weathered face showed his many harsh years of life. His thin body, covered in soiled rags, was nothing short of cadaverous in appearance. Knight was amazed that he still had any life within him. He crept up to Knight and put his dirty hands on his rugged face. Knight stilled at the action, and the old man tilted his head to and fro and released him.
Gendar apologized. "I'm sorry, Rukil is old. He can be a little off at times."
Rukil snorted, crinkling the long lines on his face. "I am not crazy Gendar. This man has come to deliver us. He is the promised one," he rasped, pointing his bent finger at her.
Knight looked at Gendar, and cocked his head at the chief, raising an eyebrow. The chief rolled his eyes and shrugged with resignation. Knight knew that Gendar considered the old man crazy, but he'd seen worse; a lot worse. Ignoring the Chief's expression, Rukil continued, "It was foretold to me by my father and told to him by his father that a promised one would come to lead the tribe to the Promised Land."
"'The Promised Land?'" Jack stated, sipping a surprisingly sweet substance from a carbon-iron bowl. Rukil nodded as Gendar pursed his lips, obviously bored with the story. The old man explained, "The prophecy tells us that a man reborn shall come to you upon your century and shall guide your people from the land of shadow to the land of light. As your people are saved, so shall his heart be cleansed."
'Man reborn?' Knight thought. 'Heart cleansed?' Do I want to know what I just ate?
"The ancient words refer to an area created before the civil war and the time of darkness. It is a sanctuary where all our people's needs are met. During the war, our people were to seek refuge there, but the conflict destroyed the route and we are lost. My father and my uncle claimed to have found many clues to the whereabouts of the sanctuary, but during one expedition, they never returned. A week ago, my apprentice Malya disappeared while searching for clues. I refuse to believe that this is the end. It cannot be. I have lived one hundred years for this moment. You are the promised one."
Knight questioned him about how he identified him, but he could not explain it. "I know you are heading to the sewers. Please find Malya. If you find her, I know you will be able to guide us to the Promised Land."
"I'll see what I can do," Knight retorted, making no promise.
Soon thereafter, Mission returned. "There's not any Vulkars about, but I did see some other groups. We need to get going and find Z."
Knight scanned Mission's map and thought of a plan. "We'll need to split into two groups and rendezvous at the sewer entrance…here," he pointed to a marked area on the map. "This will maximize our area coverage and improve our ability to react to an ambush; we won't all get wiped out by one attack or one mine."
The Beks nodded and Knight gestured to Carth and Mission. The Lieutenant Commander added, "Carthand I will go with Mission and a few other Beksas an advanced party and the rest will follow five minutes after. The first group to the entrance will wait out of sight for the other group. Should twenty minutes go by with no contact, assume the other group to have been neutralized and proceed with the operation."
Carth raised an eyebrow. "'Neutralized?'"
Knight shrugged with a smile as the Chief dawned his orange leather jacket, pinning the Sith officer's insignia on the collars. "You can't expect everything to go according to plan, Carth."
He, Carth, mission, and a handful of Beks started out ahead of the second group and made for the village gate. A wall and metal slab had been erected around the village generations ago as a defense against the Rakhghoulsand other predators. At the gate stood several frightened sentries and a woman, who was peering through ports in the gate. Her hands were wrapped around the metal bars, straining with desperation.
She screamed to someone beyond the gate. "Hurry Hendar! Open the gate! Let him through!"
No one moved. Knight rushed up to the gate and saw a lone villager fleeing a pack of snarling humanoids with pale, mottled skin and radiation boils patterned on their bodies. His heart spiked. Rakghouls. Despite his trepidation at the sight of the feral monsters, he looked at the lead sentry. "Open the gate," he demanded.
"They'll overrun the village, we'll be killed!" the sentry replied in panic.
Knight snarled, and gripped the man by his shirt of rags. "So you're just going to let him die? Open the fucking gate."
The man grimaced, but quickly dropped the gate. Knight was a blur the moment his foot left the dirt, he rushed through with his side arm and knife drawn, the rifle too large to quickly draw. The beast closest to the man leapt, its trash coated claws raised at his body, Knight fired his Baulaster and the bolt hit the beast in the head, killing it. The second animal got in front of Hendar and raised its arm to strike him. Knight narrowly caught the mutant's huge hands in his own just as it swung.
The ugly beast roared into his face, its vertical eyes narrow in rage and pressing at him with its huge arms, cords of muscle flexed beneath its molting, boiled flesh. Knight pushed back with all of his own might, adrenaline pumping through his body like diesel on an ancient combustible. On average, the human body only used a third of its muscles' strength, for Spartans it was more like half. The few remaining Raks in the Cancius hadn't been anywhere near this strong, but Taris was where these mutant predators originated, and everything was threes times stronger when they were purebred.
The strained muscles in Knight's body sent his brain electron messages coded for the warning that he needed more strength. His brain reciprocated, and sent a dozen single strand responses into his arms; releasing hundreds of thousands of enzymes that increased his strength ten fold. The struggling grip he held on the beast strengthened as the muscles grew rapidly, so much so that Knight crushed the beast's mighty hands in his own, blood splayed onto his armor and face, the white-purple smears steaming with radiation and drizzled down his body. It burned fiercely but he pushed it to the back of is mind. The creature roared in pain, but Knight forced its arms back so fast they snapped free of their joints.
Boned protruded from skin as the beast snarled in pain and rage, Knight sank his knife into the mutant's throat and pushed it to the side, leaving it nearly headless.
"Get back to the village!" He roared to the man standing by him, as he wiped the blood from his face, as another beast swung its arm at him, he caught the blow, and slammed his blade's razor edge through the limb, cutting it clean off. He kicked the screaming beast away like it was an empty barrel. "NOW!"
The villager obliged, and sprinted the remaining length to the gate entrance, Knight followed, killing the animals as he went. Carth and Mission fell in beside Hendar as well as the Beks, firing madly, giving the Commander time to draw his Dragon.
Muzzle flashes lit up the darkness in front of the gate and several Rakhghouls crumpled into the dirt, throwing up musty clouds. A mass of Rakhghouls lept over the fallen in blood frenzy, closing the distance. The whine of blaster fire continued as the horde was thinned, but the distance continued to diminish…30 meters…20 meters…10 meters. Hendar scampered toward the group, as the lone Spartan followed, waging his own little war against the animals; panting,covered in sweat and blood, roaring unintelligible Spatri curses and slurs at the beasts as he strove deeper into his element.
A lucky beast had blind sighted him and hit him in the side, cutting through the thick metal and carving open the skin, blood pooled from the wound. Knight roared as he emptied the last ten plutonium rounds into the thing's head. Carth waved him on as he holstered his pistol and quickly placed a small metal box in front of the group.
This face toward the enemy, the box read.
With the last of his strength, Hendar dove past them, crashing into the ground. A wall of Rakhghouls emitted an unearthly wail at the prospect of fresh meat until Carth banged a control device three quick times. The box exploded in a wide cone toward the Rakhghoulsas thousands of ball bearings shredded them in a spray of flesh and blood. A few of the beasts staggered through the hail of death, but were easily dispatched by Mission with her vibrosword, Knight stood ahead of the blast area, catching his breath, treating his wound and washing blood off his skin. He sealed the opening in his under suit, making a mental note to have it replaced when they made it off the planet, and reapplied the newly fused protective plate to its place on his arm.
When the more than 30 Rakhghouls lay slain, Hendar rose to his feet. The gate opened and the woman, Hester, ran out. They embraced for a minute and then turned to thank their saviors, but the group was gone.
Thankful to have gotten past the Rakhghouls, Carth moved quickly in the direction of the sewer entrance, following Knight. He'd taken point of an arrowhead formation with Carth and Mission at the wings, and the two Beks left over from the Rakghoul fight had the back. Soon, nearly complete darkness overcame them as the lights of the village faded. Through his night vision, Carth caught glimpse of a Sith patrol coming in their direction; they had several wounded.
Knight looked at Carth and they hailed them. At the sound of their voices, a Sergeant, dressed in red armor looked over.
"You there! Civilians are not allowed down here! Who are you?" the masked non-commissioned officer, or NCO, demanded.
Carth handed him some documents. "Search and rescue team...You'll find everything in order, Sergeant," he said tersely. Knight dipped into the dark, hiding the Raiders emblem and outlining the chiseled features of his face, but his stacked-double star Lieutenant Commander insignia was still present on his neck guard.
The NCO read the papers. "Sorry, sir. You best be careful, we've lost two squads in two days. You'll find their bodies northeast of here near the Republic pod. I need to get my men back to medical and get more serum. Those damn Rakhghouls are everywhere."
"Dooly noted, Sergeant," Knight responded. "We'll keep our eyes open. Dismissed."
Carth nodded as the Sith patrol staggered away. Then the two soldiers ran ahead with their Twi'lek companion in tow.
Three kilometers further through the muck and filth of Undercity, the sound of blaster fire was heard over a mound. Knight led the way up the mound to gain a view. Five men in a tight circle blasted at a horde of Rakhghouls assaulting them from all sides. One man was knocked over and dragged, screaming from the circle to be torn apart by a dozen beasts.
Instinctively, Knight and Carth dove went prone, blasters aimed at the Rakhghouls. "Cover us,"Carth told Mission, the Beks splaying out to cover.
As the men fought desperately, Rakhghouls suddenly began to fall around them. In their lust for blood, the ghouls failed to notice that another group was firing on them. Jack pumped several bursts into a group swarming around them. The enfilading fire decimated the ranks of the ghouls and the four survivors took heart. A tall, muscular man with graying brown hair and a scarred cheek led the four remaining men in a counterattack, slashing and blasting the Rakhghouls. Knight chucked a detonator over the slab of metal he and Carth laid behind; a quartet of Rakscharging the retreating group was engulfed in the super heated plasma explosion. Knight stood up on a knee and pumped a group of the mutants with rounds from his Dragon, Carth downed six in rapid succession, while Mission and the Beks faired very well against the grey-white beasts.
When all the ghouls lay slain, Knight stood up from cover and hailed the men. The man with the scar swung his big weapon around at him, but then lowered it. He studied Jack carefully.
"You," he said, "The one from the tournament. You're too late, the Vulkars have her."
"Who?" asked Knight, straight up, not quite as specific as he planned.
"You know who I mean. The Sith couldn't find her and neither could we. I saw the pod and it's got the mark of the Vulkars all over it. Davik is going to be quite displeased, but I've had it. I've lost seven men down here. You're welcome to stay, Spartan, but we're out of here."
"Whoa, hold up pal," Carth barked, "who are you and how do you know who he is?"
"Canderous is the name. Canderous Ordo. I'm a low down, good for nothing mercenary, beating up miscreants for Davik Kang. I saw you fight in the tournament. Davik had me check you out. Apparently, you brought in some bounties for him too. Quite impressive. That really pissed off that psychotic midget, Calo Nord, scared him too. I liked that."
Knight frowned. He didn't like the idea of having such attention, especially now. He nodded to Canderous and he waved his men on.
"I didn't like that guy," Carth said, Knight turned to him, an eyebrow cocked. "I don't know, instinct, I guess. Let's just make sure he's out of sight before we push on."
"Likewise," Knight commented, in the corner of his eye, he spotted a huge, rusted-red shape catapulting itself from the darkness, aimed for Mission. "Shit, move!"
Shoving Carth aside, Knight literally leapt towards the young girl, who turned her head to the gapping maw of the virtually unseen assailant. Knight tacklede the thing inches from Mission's head, and sent it to the ground. The beast landed on Knight, he cursed as his rifle scattered away.
The ugly beast looked like a Rakghoul, but it was bigger, and uglier, and stronger. Knight wrestled against the beast as it gripped his forearms, and held them in a constant struggle, and barely managed to kick it away. Knight stood and grabbed his knife, as the beast lashed an arm at him. Catching the tree-trunk size arm, he cut it off Purple-white blood spurted from the stump, yet the thing was unfazed; it simply knocked him to the ground with a seep of its leg. Knight collapsed, momentarily stunned, but rolled away to his rifle, only to have the thing jump on top of him.
"Agh! Shit!" Knight cursed, the beast's rancid breath washing over his face. It smelt like garbage and rotting flesh. Carth rushed over and pointed his pistol at the struggling pair.
"What're you waiting for?" Mission yelled. "Shoot him!"
"I can't get a clear shot,"Carthsaid, swiping the sights of his pistol as the beast snapped its maw at Knight who held the things neck away withone arm, and its remaining arm with the other, its huge jaws just barely missing his face.
"SSSSCRAAAAA!" The thing roared, Bishop, not twenty yards away, camouflaged under a pile of debris and garbage, staring through the sights of his holo-scope, adjusted the zoom to a fourth of the full power and peered through it. He saw a handful of figures. One, a girl, was tugging at the orange leather vest of a man holding a blaster pistol pointed to his left, near by, a group of thugs aimed guns in the same direction the man held his pistol; he rotated his rifle to the direction.
His stomach lurched. Jack, ah shit… He held the gun tight against his shoulder. He took in two slow, deep breaths and exhaled, leveling the cross hairs of the sights, and wrapped his finger around the trigger and counted down in his head.
Three…two…one… He squeezed off the shot.
Knight struggled underneath the animal, listening to Mission and Carth squabble. "Carth! Take the shot!" He yelled.
"What? I can't get a—"
"Take the shot!" The beast's head exploded outwards, blown apart by a blaster bolt and covering Knight in blood. The corpse twitched a few times, not registering that its head was now ripped to bits, and fell to the side like a pile of meat.
"BOOM! HEADSHOT!" Knight winced at the sudden yell exploding in his ear. Immediately getting up, he reached for his canteen and popped it open and poured it over his head quickly, rinsing away the scalding blood before it did .
"Looks like you needed a bit of a hand, sir," a semi-sarcastic voice sounded over the COM. "Glad I was here to help."
"Bishop!" Knight laughed, seeing an armored figure similar to his own. "Glad to see you made it out, Marine."
"Sir," the other Raider acknowledged. "Situation's pretty FUBAR, sir, Raks are hitting the area pretty hard, already seen Sith scouting parties get torn apart be these Bull Raks," he gestured to the dead mass nearby. "Tough-ass bastards, one of them tore apart an entire platoon."
"Shit," Knight rubbed the back of his neck. "That's great."
"So," Bishop said, "Guess you're back in command, sir."
"Guess so, Executive Lieutenant."
Pressing on for another click, they encountered the crashed escape pod. Carth scanned it quickly, and shook his head. Bishop slammed his fist into the side of the pod, denting it heavily.
"Bastila was aboard. Damn…damn…this is not good."
Knight glanced around in the gloom to see a handful of Vulkars lying on the ground, heavy blaster scars present on their bodies. His in-suit computer compared the burns withknown blaster types, and all came back with the type.
"Sith actually came here to look for her, guess these bastards met them, eh, Bishop?"
The other Raider grunted in acknowledgment.
Nearby, Mission and the Beks found six Sith bodies, torn by claws and teeth. Their once shiny armor was covered in sticky blood; she hailed the pilot and the Spartan. Several of the dead had black, ballistic pouches containing metal syringes. Carth examined one. "Rakhghoul serum..." Closing the pouch, they gathered the rest of the Sith items and more serum.
Leaving behind the carnage, Mission led them to the sewer entrance and they were joined by the rest of the team. Carth gave Knight a worried expression. "It didn't look very good back there," he commented darkly. Hope seemed to have left him. The Raider ran his tongue along the front top gums of his mouth, and shook his head.
Mission looked over the filthy old gate to the sewer elevator. "Zaalbar and me have explored much of these sewers looking for salvage. The Gamorreans never gave us trouble before, but now they're gonna pay."
The girl twisted some tattered wires and the gate opened with a metallic grinding sound. They boarded the ancient lift and the gate creaked closed with a clang. Fluorescent lights flickered on and the lift lurched downward. A mechanical voice crackled. "Sub Level One..."
The sewers once serviced the great city when there was still some planetary surface exposed. Service corridors and lifts were once used by maintenance droids to keep the sewers running, but were now used by Gamorreans and unseen horrors of the depths. The lift came to a halt several levels down and they exited cautiously. Carth was amazed at how Mission had no fear of these dangers and even embraced the challenge of eluding them; even as she walked, unfazed, around a disheveled body lying at their feet.
Passing a moldering corpse, Carth thought. How has she survived for so long?
Knight and Bishop filed out after her; each of the Raiders' rifles ahead of them, tiny red-dots of their laser aiming modules bouncing on the walls as they did, barrel mounted flash-lights were ignited and illuminated the darker corridors were anything could be hiding, eyes peering down the sights of their holo-scopes. Carth guessed that she survived the same way the Spartans did: Not everyone was going to make it, so you had to be as good as you could be, and make the best choice in friends. He knelt down to examine the body.
Wrinkling his nose slightly, and exhaled sharply, Knight squated next to him. The smell of decomposition was strong. By the look of the remains, it was an outcast woman who was only recently deceased. Bishop cocked his head to the side as Carth handed Knight a data pad, and realized it had a system lock on it; Bishop motioned for it, and the Commander tossed it to him. The Raider activated the pad, hacked the system and began reading.
"This is a journal, of a...Malya...Malya Grenova..." Knight looked at him. "You know her?"
"Rukil's apprentice. It say anything alse, John?"
"Not much...Poor kid...it seems that she learned where the bodies of Rukil's father and uncle lay, but there's nothing after that. She was making preparations to get to the bodies, God knows what happened..."
Carth looked at the two Spartans. "I guess that's one mystery solved. I feel very sorry for these people. They live such a short, brutal life."
Bishop stuffed the data pad in his survival-bag and they continued on as Mission grew more anxious with every step. "This way...The Gamorreans are this way," she whispered urgently.
Leading the way through long, sludge filled corridors, Mission advanced with determination. As they entered a large, circular room, Mission suddenly crouched and put her hand up, Knight and Bishop crouch-ran to her position. Lights could be seen up ahead, moving toward them. "Gamorreans," whispered Mission, "I can smell them."
Carth moved up and set a flash-mine, Jack joined him, keeping an eye on the approaching lights. Bishop silently directed the Beks to form an 'L' at the mouth of the corridor. He would let the Gamorreans enter the larger room and order the Beks facing the enemy to open fire when they entered the kill zone. The flanking line would then open fire and the mine would be detonated by command.
On cue, the Gamorreans blundered into the area. Bishop and Carth looked at Knight for the right time to act. He shook his head, and held up three fingers, and counted down.
Carth gave the signal and the ambush was sprung. Within a minute, the Gamorrean patrol lay dead. Bishop looked down at the corpulent, pig-like beasts known for their crude, violent ways; Knight put a hand on his shoulder and shook it. The Beks looted the bodies and the party pressed on. Moving quickly, they eliminated two more patrols before they snuck up on the Gamorrean control center.
At the entrance to the center, Carth had the Beks stack behind him, Knight and Bishop as they prepped sonic and frag grenades. Mission worked on the locking mechanism and then gave the thumbs up signal. Knight smirked, and looked at Bishop.
"Ready to rumble," he whispered. The door shot open and they both threw in a sonic grenade followed by a frag grenade from Carth'shand. The sonic weapon detonated with a noise so loud, the Gamorreans reeled, holding their ears. Shrapnel then flew from the other deadly sphere and smoke, howling, and confusion ensued.
A lone Bek rushed in and one immediately ran into a mine. It exploded in a spray of metal, blood, and flesh as the Bek disintegrated. Ignoring the carnage, Knight and Bishop flipped from their cover on each side of the door, pumping rounds into Gamorreans filing into the room as support. Carth pulled his pistol and dropped one Gamorrean as blaster fire tore through the air of the room.
Gamorreans staggered or fired randomly in response as Mission charged in with her pistol blazing. Seeing Mission's reckless behavior, Bishop ran after her, firing his rifle in cover. Gamorreans fell around him as he let his rifle fall on its sling and switched to his mini-machete. As screams and blaster bolts flew around him, Bishop charged the Gamorrean chief. The bloated brute swung a heavy vibroaxe at his armored head, but he ducked and sliced him across the thigh, the razor sharp blade cutting into the bone. He grunted in pain as blood ran down his leg. The chief staggered and swung his axe again, striking a glancing blow on Bishop's shoulder. A metal plate flew off of his thick body armor and clattered to the ground.
From behind the Gamorrean, Mission crept up and fired a shot into the chief's back. The particle beam splattered in bright colors and the chief howled in pain. Seeing the opening, Bishop then drove his crude melee weapon into his fat gut, sinking the blade in up to the hilt. The chief gagged in pain, looking at Bishop in horror, the Spartan pulled at the blade with one mighty tug and tore a gash two feet long from its entry point to the side of the thing, and kicked it over. The pig's intestines spilled onto the grated floor.
Once the smoke cleared, the team determined that only four of the Bekshad been killed and a fifth badly wounded in the fray. As Knight and one of the Beks attended to the injured man, Mission unlocked all of the adjacent cells. The massive Wookiee, Zaalbar staggered out into the Twi'lekgirl's open arms, enveloping her withhis bulk. She squealed with delight, ignoring his rancid odor. The giant Wookiee then strode purposefully up to Knight and warbled submissively.
"You're welcome. Not like we could just leave you here, was it?" He huffed in Spatri.
Zaalbar continued and Knight's eyes grew narrow. "What do you mean 'life debt'? You don't owe me anything."
The Wookiee calmly explained that in his culture, a life debt would be pledged to one who had made a significant impact on the debtor's life. The life debt did not enslave the debtor, but created a bond in which the debtor would protect the charge with his or her life if necessary. Zaalbar, it seemed, wanted to pledge his life to Knight.
"Zaalbar, I'm not like Mission, I'm not gonna stay in one safe place my whole life, where I go-" Bishop coughed. "Where wego, there's a very, very high chance you won't come back. Is this something you are sure of?" Asked the Spartan seriously, continuing to speak in his guttural language. The huge Wookiee nodded his head and Knight ran a hand over his stubble hair, and itched at the one on his face. He paced several times. Finally, after a moment, he sighed, and replied, "Then, I will try to do honor to your decision."
This must be pretty deep, not sure what I'm getting into, but I sure as hell don't want to upset him. I'm not sure I can hold off a pissed Wookiee.
As this went on, Carth and Bishop finished securing the area and accessed the dilapidated main computer. Between the buzzes and bleeps, he determined that they had encountered the main force of Gamorreans. "I think it'll be fairly clear from this point," he said with authority.
"Let's hope so, we can't handle another attack like that," Bishop pointed out. Knight nodded.
After a brief conference, they decided that the raiding party would leave behind one member with the critical casualty. Knight gave the man a couple of medpacs and some rations and wished them well. If all went as planned, they would be returning this way. Picking up one of the Gamorrean vibroaxes, Zaalbarfell in withthe team. His strength would come in handy.
The team pressed on through dank corridors deeper into the sewer complex and they ambushed a group of Rakhghouls holed up in a maintenance chamber. As the team scoured the area, a number of dead villagers were found. A long dead skeleton in particular stood out, grasping a data pad in its rigid hand.
Bishop took the pad and examined it. He replaced the power cell and turned it on. A light flickered on the monitor and Bishop wiped off the long-dried blood and dirt. As before, it was a journal, one made by Rukil's father many years ago. He had been to the Promised Land described by Rukil and was returning to share his findings. The journey took months. His final, sad entry found him trapped in this chamber by the Rakhghouls. His food was running out and the door would not hold them for very long.
The Spartan shut it off, just before the Raks burst open the door and devoured him. "If this is Rukil's father, I think we've found their Promised Land."
"At the cost of several good-hearted men, yes," Knight agreed solemnly, his face again devoid of expression. Bishop grunted.
"Wow, ol'Ruk's been telling me about that place for years. I've never been to this part of the complex. Z and I usually avoided the Gamorreans. It's too bad he couldn't find it before," Mission chirped in.
"If only they had better weapons and training," Carth added. "They might have found it long ago."
"Hence the use of 'might', Onasi," Bishop remarked.
They buried Rukil's father as best they could and pressed forward. They were down to only four Bek raiders and the odds of success had diminished. As expected by Mission, they came to a powerful force field. "The Vulkars think this keeps them secret. I've been through here a hundred times," she boasted. Mission slid a key card into a slot and entered a code. With a sizzling sound, the force field faded.
"Now we gotta do is get past the rancor," the Twi'lek added cheerfully.
"RANCOR!" the Beks yelled. Bishop exchanged a glance with Knight, who shrugged.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa…a rancor?" asked Carth, with serious concern. A rancor, a monstrous and violent beast standing up to 8 meters tall with massive teeth and claws equally long. They were not known for their intelligence, but for an unending appetite and cruel temper.
"Yeah, it's kind of a big one. The Vulkars use it as a pet to guard the rear entrance. Sometimes some of them get eaten, but it does keep others out. I ran past it a couple of times," Mission said with glee. The Wookiee nodded to confirm this.
"Oh great," groaned a Bek. Carth brushed back his dark brown hair. With a huff, he tweaked his night vision, adjusting the sensitivity. He and the others sat for a moment, eating an energy bar and trying to think of ways around the hungry monster.
"Don't worry, Carth, you got two raiderss on your side, it can't go that bad."
"Can't go that ba—Kid, where the fuck does it say 'Free Rancor Extermination Service' on my face!"
"Hey! I ain't no ki—"
"Well, you sure as hell don't look grown up to me!"
"That's enough, out of all of you!" Knight barked, cutting in between the two. "These things aren't invincible."
"No, but they damn near are."
"Remember what Shorty drilled into us? Get anything to bleed..."
Bishop grunted sharply, fuming and muttering rapid strings of Spatri under his breath before reluctantly replying, "And we can kill it."
After the quick snack, they rose and began to walk to the great hall where Mission indicated the rancor would be. At the massive door to the hall, a recently severed arm lay on the ground. Something unbelievably huge had bitten through the meat and bone of this appendage. Carth picked up the arm gingerly. "Rancor definitely got this guy."
"He's only a Vulkar, who cares?" Mission said brusquely. "Hey, what's this?" Mission picked up a bloody data pad and a black, nylon pouch. Opening the pouch, she pulled out three Stoppard vials. She then activated the pad.
"These punks were trying to train the rancor…named Tiny by the way. The vials are of some kind of animal scent. I s'pose they were gonna try and lure it around when it was hungry. Oh, one of the vials is this…aphrodisiac…what's that?"
"Uh…never mind that one," advised Knight, who stuffed it into the chem-pack on his belt. "Just give me the food scent. Bishop, hand me one of your Thermo-Dets."
The Executive Commander tossed him the grenade, Knight grabbed the nylon pouch, dropped it in, and added his own grenade. Mission handed him two vials, he added them as well, and she slowly opened the door to the hall. In the center of the hall was a pile of bones with a mountain of scaly flesh sleeping nearby. All of the hairs on Knight's body raised in alert at the sight of the giant creature. Fore-arm length razor sharp teeth protruded from its flat face below slits that were used as nostrils.
Mission pointed to a tall, metal door on the far side. "Okay, we just gotta sneak past this thing."
"Easier said than done, kid."
They crept forward slowly, ever watchful of the monster. Its hulk rose and fell slowly with the rhythm of its breathing. Mission turned a switch on her belt and she began to fade and blur before their very eyes. Although still visible, she blended in well with the surrounding area. Knight motioned for Bishop to stay behind the group, while he followed took point.
At the pile of bones, one of the Beks began rummaging through the festering remains. Annoyed, Carth gave him a signal to cease.
Damn gang members, no discipline. We need trained soldiers for this.
The man pocketed a few items and moved away, Knight fell back to hurry him along. As he exited the pile of remains, he stepped on a long bone, snapping it.
Two enormous eyes opened. The beast was awake, and looked right at Knight and the Bek. Knight eyes the Bek murderously, tightly clentchinghis jaw. It rose with a dexterity Carthhad thought impossible for something that size, Bishop dove out of its reach. With a sweep of its claw it grasped the bone snapping Bekand popped him in its mouth like a piece of candy. It looked down at Knight and roared.
"Open fire!" Knight yelled, dumping a full clip into the beast.
The screaming began as Carth fired shots into the rancor's thick hide. The other Beks opened fire, but the shots were mere pinpricks on the scales of the rancor. One courageous Bek hurled a grenade at the beast, sending a shower of fragments into its leg. It staggered, but then resumed its rampage, swatting the Bek with its claw. The man splattered against a wall and crumpled to the ground.
A strange, but increasingly familiar feeling came over Knight. This time, he felt no fear despite the obvious danger, not like he had any other time in his life; but against big things like this, he felt at peace. The rancor moved in slow motion as he poured rifle shots into it. The feeling seemed to be guiding, compelling him to do something. Giving in to the feeling, he released his grip on the rifle and grabbed the nylon pouch he had, and armed the detonators, setting them for 'remote', and grabbed one of the vials, broke it and threw scent vial nearby to distract the monster. When it turned away, he charged forward.
"Jack!" cried Bishop as he moved to the exit.
Guided by unseen hands, the Lieutenant Commander leapt and shot at the beast's knees. In anger, the beast roared, and swiped at him. Knight dodged it easily, jumping between the thing's legs, rolled back and pumped a few rounds into its face, resulting in the ugly thing swiping at him with one of his claws; he grasped the wrist of the rancor with his left arm. On instinct, the beast lifted him up off of the ground and dangled him above its gaping maw. A row of long, sharp teeth awaited him.
With his free hand, he fired several shots into the beast's face. The animal snarled in pain, and roared at him, Knight released the pouch into the rancor's throat, and he verbally commanded the detonation. As the grenades went off, blowing huge sections of the beast's upper body away, he then swung off of its arm, bouncing off of its shoulder aiming for the ground were he landed hard with a grunt. It tottered for a moment before staggering forward. Knight looked straight ahead as the massive body fell toward him.
The hulking corpse crashed beside him, mere feet from his form, throwing up rocks and mud high into the air. Knight stood motionless for a moment, his eyes so white they were impossible to stare into, the rest of the raiding part stood with mouths agape in shock, horror and awe. Finally, Knight blinked away the feeling that gripped him, and realized that the remains of the group was gaping at him with massive eyes. "What?"
"THAT STILL ONLY COUNTS AS ONE!" Bishop yelled, laughing heartily.
Knight looked at his shakinhands and went for his canteen and gulped water from it, taking several long pulls and shook his head. In a few short bursts of sprinting, he caught up with the group. "Well, now, that has to be the dumbest damn thing I've ever done in my life," he joked, trying to lighten the mood.
A smile broke on the faces of the group. "Don't worry about it," Bishop chuckled.
Carth nodded. "You did a damn fool thing, brave thing there. We'd all be rancor food now if not for you."
With the beast dead, they tended to the fallen; two more Beks had perished; now only ten remained. Searching the area, they gathered a sizeable amount of credits and some undamaged weapons from the remains. Mission breathed a sigh of relief as she moved to the exit. She listened for a moment and then turned to the team.
"Shush, someone's coming."
Knight, with a quick motion of his hands, positioned the group into cover. Two voices could be heard on the opposite side of the door. "Tiny's making a racket again. Ha ha, probably more of those stupid Flashing Corsairs trying to get in or maybe even those idiot Beks."
The door shot open and two reptilian Vulkars peeked in. In a flash, Mission and one of the Bekswere behind them with garrotes. The cords tightened around their scaly necks and the Vulkars gasped, but faded without much of a struggle.
The way to the Vulkar stronghold was open.
Knight and Bishop took point, with riffles raised, they entered the compound, each of the Spartans checked to ensure that their weapon's suppressors were on. The others entered through the supply room and picked up some mines and grenades. Mission led them to the exit. "I know there's a computer room nearby. It controls the defenses for this level. I've never gone beyond that though."
"There's always a first time for everything," Bishop joked, Knight elbowed the man, grinning. Mission looked at them quizically for a moment before going back to work.
A short corridor led from the supply room to several doors. The depleted team stacked at the door to the computer room, while Mission covered the rear. On the cue, Carth opened the door, surprising three Vulkars. In a flash, the team struck them with overwhelming force. They quickly secured the area and shut the door. Carth removed his helmet, and glanced around.
With a grin, the Twi'lek girl sauntered up to the computer and sliced into it. "My brother Griff taught me this."
"I didn't know you had a brother," said Carth.
"He's temporarily off of Taris, looking to make a fortune. He'll come back for me when he does and we'll live like those snotty nobles in UpCity. If it wasn't for that slime-o Lena, he'd still be here."
Bishop watched Mission tear through layers of encryption and bring up the security camera system, genuinely impressed. "How long has Griff been away?" Bishop asked.
"Oh, only…only ummm, three years. It takes time to make a fortune, you know." Mission rotated through several camera views, showing a barracks, a pool, an elevator and an armory as Bishop focused on her, Knight laughed at the thought of the loom on his face. "Watch this!" Mission giggled.
She played with some of the settings in the barracks and the Vulkars in the room began screaming and writhing in pain. They soon fell out of their beds, dead.
"I vented toxic air through the ventilation system. No biggie," Mission said as she switched to another command menu.
"Who's Lena," Knight asked, also impressed at the girl's computer skills.
Mission scowled. "Oh, her! She lured Griff into some bad debts and that's why they had to leave. Uhh, the Exchange was after him. I haven't heard from him in two years and I know it's because of her." She angrily punched several commands. "Okay, all force fields and security doors are off."
With that, they departed the computer room. Along the way, they captured a Vulkar outside of the armory. He ducked behind the desk as Knight and Bishop fired a trio of suppressed shots.
"Come out!" Knight shouted his eye still aimed down the holographic sight of his Dragon. "Hands up, weapon on the floor, or you're gonna get very religious, very fast!"
The Twi'lek Vulkar stood up, raised his hands, but did not cower or beg. "I surrender," he told them directly, "I have no loyalty to Brejik."
Knight motioned for Carth to go and secure him, obliging the command, Carth disarmed him, taking his pistol. They moved the captive Twi'lek into the armory and seated him in a cleared area. Mission began to pillage the various parts and weapons that were lying around. Knight stood next to the Twi'lek and began to question him.
"I can tell you're not as afraid of my XO and I like the others. You're certainly different from the other Vulkars," he said.
"I am Juril, once one of the inner circle of Vulkars…when the name meant something. Three years ago, Brejik defected to us and we thought we had gained a significant advantage against our rivals. Within a year, he assassinated our leader, Karo, and consolidated power. His cronies and sycophants moved up and now I am here, guarding the armory on the midnight shift," Jurilwas surely bitter over his fall from grace and Knight could empathize with his plight.
"Don't worry, mate," Bishop said, easing some of the stress on the man by patting him on the shoulder. "We won't hurt ya, but I can't let you go yet. If you want, we'll put you in the supply room and you can come with us upon our return," the Commander offered.
Juril agreed and told them where the swoop accelerator could be found; on the upper level in a swoop bike shop. He gave them a map and the codes to shut down the upper level blaster turrets.
As promised, Jurilwas shut into the supply room and left with some food. The team pressed on toward the elevator to the upper level, liberating slaves that the Vulkars had taken in raids. One forlorn woman told the group that she was taken when her father could not pay a debt to Davik. When he was finished with her, he gave her to the Vulkars in a bargain. She picked up a weapon from a fallen Vulkar. "Let me join you, please?" She begged.
Carth shook his head. "It's too dangerous. We'll put you in the supply room and get you when we come back."
The others agreed, but the one woman slammed the weapon on a table. "I can fight! I'm coming with you. I'm going to kill those Vulkars!"
Knight stormed over to her, and put a hand over her mouth, and backed her into the wall. He looked at Bishop, who brought up a thermal scan of the area on the holo-view of his suit, then shook his head. Nothing moved, they hadn't heard.
"Okay, stop yelling. You can come, but you must follow everything I say. Do you understand? Compromise this operation, and I will kill you, understood?"
The woman nodded slowly, he released her. "I'm Kala. I was once the daughter of a merchant here."
Carth handed her some body armor and helped her to strap it on. They then followed Juril's map to the elevator. Mission pushed the up button and entered the turret disable codes. When the door opened, six cold blaster turrets greeted them; the code worked.
A corridor from the elevator led to a cavernous bay filled withswoop bikes and mechanic droids. Mission moved to a couple of the droids and messed withtheir programming. "Let's just chill a bit and let my pets do their work," she said. With a buzzing noise, the two droids floated off in search of prey. Soon, faint sounds of blaster fire could be heard and the panicked yell of surprised Vulkars. Mission smiled and raised one finger, then two, then three. "Okay, let's get'em."
The team rounded the corner with Zaalbar, Knight, and Bishop in the lead. The Wookiee aimed his Bowcaster and dropped a Vulkar with a large quarrel that burst into showering sparks, a few more stood; ready to fire, Knight and Bishop squeezed off a set of suppressed shots and two fell dead. Next to the Wookiee, Mission took careful, deadly aim and squeezed off a blaster bolt. The Vulkar grabbed his face and fell to his knees. "Just die already," she snorted and fired another shot into her enemy.
Knight waved his hands, and Carth moved to the flank and poured on some fire as Kala screamed in rage at her former tormentors. Zaalbarsaw an opening and rushed in witha stout metal club and swung it with inhuman force at one of the enemy. The mighty Wookieeconnected with his enemy and the club shattered bones, dropping the foe like a sack of credits. When the last Vulkarfell, Kala tore at him with her hands until Bishop pulled her back.
"Come, we are not finished yet. There'll be time later," he said.
Suddenly, a voice rang out causing the team to take hasty cover. They turned to see a Twi'lek man crouched behind some swoop bikes amid a group of Vulkars. "I am impressed with your handiwork. I never would have thought the Beks had the intelligence to penetrate our defenses. Oh, I see…Mission Vao…I might have known. But even you couldn't have fought your way here without help. Hmmm…humans…and not wearing Bek colors."
Carth crept to the side, holding his pistol at the ready. Bishop lowered his rifle slightly, breathing heavy from the fire-fight. "You're right, we're not Beks."
The Vulkar continued, "I am Kandon Ark, Brejik's captain. You fought incredibly well. Perhaps you might consider an offer?" the Twi'lek asked as he silently signaled his men to circle around to the rear of the team. He eyed Knight cautiously, the white eyes of the Spartan dead cold.
"Eat rancor poo, Kandon!" Mission cried out.
"Always the proper girl I see, Mission," retorted Kandon with a twitch of his lekku. "Human, I could make you rich and famous. I have a way to kill Gadon. Do this and the Vulkars will be in your debt."
"Don't listen to'em, Knight" Bishop said. "You know how Spartans are to their kind."
The Vulkars drew back at Bishop's words. The Beks had a Spartan on their side? Two of them; this was not favoring their goals.
"Fuck off, Kandon," Knight answered. "I don't negotiate with terrorists like you and the Vulkars."
Kandon looked around the room, confused by so many different people answering him from different locations. He became impatient. "Don't shackle yourself to a losing team, Spartans! The Vulkars will win this!"
The Twi'lek thumbed a button, and a score more Vulkars flooded into the small room. "Look at yourselves; you're out numbered, out gunned! You can't possibly survive."
"I like those odds," Knight raised his gun, taking aim at a few Vulkars behind him.
"Well I didn't go to all the trouble of acquiring this prototype just so you could steal it back for that old fool!"
His flanking force stood up and threw grenades to where they thought the Beks would be. As the grenades left their hands, Bishop, Carth and Knight stood up to their side and shot them down in a hail of fire.
Bishop wasted a half clip blowing the heads off few charging Vulkars, one, an Aqualish, took his to the chest, but kept coming. Calmly, he introduced the bottom of his boot to his face.
Knight squeezed a few rounds into a group giving heat to the remaining Beks, giving them a little breathing room by building up his agro, making him the prime threat.
Chaos broke out and Mission continued to crawl toward Kandon. Wookiee howls and blaster bolts rang through the room as Kandon saw a Bek moving to the side. Brejik's captain sneered and fired his weapon, frying the Bek.
Suddenly, Kandon's leg was on fire. He looked down to see that Mission had sliced his Achilles tendon. He howled, trying to aim his blaster down at the girl, but Carth stepped in front of him.
"Down you go!"
Kandon Ark lay dead as fumes of burnt ozone floated lazily from the barrel of Carth's blaster. The team had lost another Bek, but they gathered quite a haul in credits, equipment, and armor. Best of all, Mission had found the swoop accelerator, after splicing into a network safe that took several minutes to crack. The Beks reverently put the mechanical device into a cushioned crate.
"We need to get moving,"
Bishop said, moving to the door.
Carth nodded. "Okay, let's find Bastila and blow this joint," he said tersely.
Mission hacked back into the security system and watched the surrounding area.
"Dammit. Sorry Gramps, Brejik moved Bastila yesterday. He thought something like this might happen. Paranoid snot, isn't he? Speaking of Brejik, he's headed this way with a horde of Vulkars and droids!"
Knight and Carth peered over Mission's shoulder and saw an enraged Brejikrunning with many more troops then they could handle. Bishop pressed his back to the door frame and leaned out slight to the left, he waved a hand at the wrist to signal and all clear. Knight hung his head and gave a frustrated sighed, turning to the group.
"Okay, we've got to leave. We're going to need to win that swoop race," he motioned for the team to move.