Friday, April 19, 2013

Tales of a Former Dark Lord, Chapter 3: Rakghouls and Routing the Vulkar Base

Big Fat Disclaimer: I do not own Knights of the Old Republic or Star Wars.  That honor belongs to BioWare and George Lucas.  The only part of this story that’s mine is the character of Brinna Warrim.  All other characters are the creations of the genius developers of BioWare, as is some of the dialogue in this story, which I lifted word from word from the game.  I lay the blame for my obsession squarely at their feet.  :) 


            “Wake up,” a male voice said, gently.
            “No,” Brinna groaned.  “I just fell asleep five minutes ago.”
            “Actually, it’s been five hours.”
            “I said five minutes,” Brinna practically growled.
            “Well good morning to you too, sunshine.  And just because you said so doesn’t make it so.  It’s been five hours,” Carth said, more firmly this time.
            “I never claimed to be a morning person,” she grumbled in response.  With a defeated sigh, she gave in to the inevitable and rose from the bed.
            “Here, maybe this will help,” Carth said, handing her a steaming mug.
            She sipped the bitter beverage as she blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear her sleep-fogged vision.  “Thanks,” she mumbled to him.
            “Don’t mention it,” he said, moving away from her to fiddle with his vibroblades.
            Brinna moved over to the sink and splashed some cold water on her face.  What I wouldn’t give for a long, hot soak, she thought as she rolled her head around in an attempt to ease some of the stiffness in her neck.
            Carth was still toying with his weapons and Brinna sighed silently to herself.  She knew she had overreacted to his question about her necklace the previous night but she just couldn’t get over his blatant refusal to trust her.  It brought out the child in her, provoking her to lash back at him.  Still, it really wasn’t his fault that she was taking his lack of trust as personally as she was.
It wasn’t that she expected him to be her best friend, she just wished he’d stop being so suspicious of her and that he’d open up a bit.  She wasn’t concerned about trying to get to the root of his issues solely to satisfy her curiosity, although that admittedly played a role in her attempts.  What was more important was her conviction that his paranoia and his refusal to trust her could seriously compromise their mission.  In situations like this, it was necessary to trust someone, to trust that they’d be watching your back when you needed them most.  She wanted to trust Carth but his refusal to trust her was pretty much putting a crimp in that plan.  This was just going to lead to more misunderstandings and unnecessary tension between them, she was sure of it. 
            Well, I just can’t allow that.  I’m going to have to keep prodding until he finally breaks down and tells me what’s going on in that head of his, she decided.  In the meantime, maybe I should try to learn to control my temper.  Biting his head off is not going to do anything to convince him that he ought to place some confidence in me.
            “I think I’m ready to be civil now,” Brinna offered, by way of truce.
            Carth smiled crookedly at her and she could see the fatigue in his eyes.  She felt a twinge of sympathy for him, which only helped to further convince her that she should probably go a little easier on him.
            “Good.  For a minute there you scared me more than a rabid kath hound.”
            “I’m so glad to hear you say that.  I think it’s been something like a week since I last heard that from someone.  I was beginning to fear I’d lost my touch,” she told him, smiling at him.
            He relaxed visibly.  “Glad to be of assistance,” he told her.
            “Come on.  We should get going,” she told him, taking one last sip from her mug before setting it down and gathering her gear.  “We still need to scout out that last ring of apartments in the lower city before we head down to the undercity.”
            “Ready whenever you are,” Carth said.
            They made their way down to the lower city and toward the corridor leading to the ring of apartments that they had not yet explored.  The corridor was blocked by a couple of Black Vulkars who were arguing with one of Davik’s goons about whether or not they should pay their debt to Davik.  When the Vulkars refused to adjust their attitudes to the goon’s liking, he gave a sharp whistle, summoning a bounty hunter to his aide.
            As soon as they caught sight of the man, the Vulkars changed their tune and Brinna couldn’t say she blamed them.  The bounty hunter was massive, at least a head taller than Brinna and twice as wide as her.  His muscles seemed to have muscles.  He was pure intimidation from his closely cropped light hair to the tips of his boots.  When he spoke, his voice was gravelly and Brinna took note of the scars that adorned his face.  This man had seen more than one battle and the Vulkars clearly understood that they could fight him if they wanted but he would be the only one to live to see another.
            Instead, the Vulkars wisely backed down, much to the bounty hunter’s disappointment, and they and Davik’s goon disappeared.  The bounty hunter offered some color commentary to Brinna and Carth on the subject of the Vulkars’ intelligence and responded to Brinna’s query as to who he was by telling her that his name was Canderous Ordo and that she’d be wise not to get on his bad side.  Without another word, he walked off toward the apartments.
            “That Davik has some serious muscle,” Brinna told Carth.
            Carth nodded grimly.  “Yeah.  We definitely don’t want to get on his bad side.”
            They entered the ring of apartments and promptly ran into their old friend, Calo Nord, who quickly dispatched a pair of aliens he’d apparently been hunting down.  This time, as he passed by, he gave Brinna a complete once over while she did her best to stare casually at the wall in front of her.  She really wanted to slap him upside the head with the flat of one of her blades but the last thing she and Carth needed was for Calo Nord to decide that they were a nuisance.  Besides, she’d promised Carth that she’d be a good girl now and she was determined to stick to that promise lest she add further fuel to the fire of his paranoia.  She was glad when Calo Nord walked off without comment.
            As luck would have it, the first apartment they broke into was inhabited by Selvan, an infamous assassin who was one of the official government contracts about which Zax had told them.  Selvan made it quite clear that she intended to add Brinna and Carth to her list of victims and Brinna immediately knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy fight.
            Brinna was just making a move toward the assassin when Selvan pulled out a blaster with lightening speed and fired off a shot that hit Brinna’s left arm.  Wincing, Brinna decided that she’d best try to make this fight as short as possible and though the pain in her arm was screaming for her attention, she ignored it and slashed at Selvan with her vibroblades, catching the other woman off guard and leaving her with a nice gash in her firing arm.  Selvan dropped her blaster and pulled a vibroblade, dealing Carth a solid blow to his jaw with a well-aimed kick.
            The scuffle lasted several minutes and Selvan did quite a nice job of seeing to it that Carth and Brinna suffered as much as possible before she finally went down.  Brinna wiped blood from a nasty cut on her cheek and burned her way through a couple of medpacs before she began to feel relatively normal again. 
            “Now I do see why she was the most dangerous assassin on Taris,” Carth said, wincing as he made use of his own medpacs.
“At least we can make ourselves a few more credits once we report back to Zax,” Brinna replied.
“Let’s finish up here so we can get down to the undercity,” Carth said.
Brinna nodded.  She was tired of dealing with the scum on Taris and anxious to make some more progress in their search for Bastila.  They quickly cleared out the rest of the apartments, eliminating the Black Vulkars who were foolish enough to try to get in their way.  When they were done, they headed back to Javyar’s Cantina where Brinna lied through her teeth about Matrik and informed Zax of Selvan’s demise with the result that they left the cantina considerably richer than they’d entered it.
The Sith guard at the elevator to the undercity passed a cursory glance over the papers that Gadon had provided before warning them to watch out for rakghouls and letting them pass.  With an alarming rattle and whine, the elevator descended into the undercity.
“Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse,” Carth muttered as soon as they stepped out of the elevator.
“My sentiments exactly,” Brinna said, looking around her.
If there was a more depressing place in the galaxy, she had yet to see it.  They were truly underground now, with no hope of seeing any sort of natural light.  The undercity was dim and cave like with hard-packed dirt under their feet and a stifling, airless feel.
“Hey!  That’s our elevator!  You owe us five credits!” a petulant voice called out.
Brinna turned to see a couple of beggars standing before them.  Their clothing was worn and ragged and their skin had a strange pallor that she suspected was brought about by a lack of exposure to sunlight.  Every inch of them looked worn and weary and though she knew the beggars were shaking them down, Brinna felt a rush of sympathy for them.  She gave them twenty credits and instructed them to buy themselves some food and clothing.  She could have wept for the pathetic joy they showed at having gained so few credits and she ignored the slightly exasperated look that Carth sent her way.
“Go on you two, get out of here!” a female voice shouted, driving the beggars away.
The girl introduced herself as Shaleena and she seemed so thrilled to be talking with “upworlders”—as she referred to Brinna and Carth—that Brinna found her heart was once again touched.  Shaleena explained to them that everyone who was unfortunate enough to live in the undercity was there either because they’d been banished for whatever petty crimes they may have committed against the Tarisian nobles or because they were the descendent of one of those so-called criminals.  She herself was a resident of the undercity because of an occurrence that her parents refused to speak of and she spoke of the world above her with a very wistful voice.
Shaleena didn’t know much about the crashed pods, which was unfortunate, but she did share with them the intelligence that several upworlders had passed through the undercity recently.  Brinna had no doubt that the Sith made up more than a few of those upworlders and she couldn’t help but think that it was actually a stroke of luck that Bastila had been captured by Brejik and his gang.  Had she been taken by the Sith, the consequences would have been dire.
Brinna asked Shaleena a few questions about the village and learned that its leader was named Gendar and that there was an old man of questionable sanity named Rukil who liked to tell the children tales of what he called the “Promised Land.”  Shaleena seemed very disappointed when Brinna told her they had to move on and she eagerly entreated them to seek her out if they had any other questions.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Brinna confessed to Carth as they made their way through the village looking for Gendar. 
They had just been confronted by a slimy character named Igear and Brinna was eager to get away from him.  He had told them a really awful story about how he had tried to horde supplies in order to snatch power away from Gendar and though the story made her stomach turn, Brinna felt a strange sort of sympathy for Igear at the same time.  What could really be expected of people who lived in such a place, doing their best to scrabble out a meager existence?  It was a wonder that more of the villagers weren’t like Igear.
“Yeah, me too,” Carth told her.  “I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be forced to live somewhere like this.”
“I don’t want to imagine it,” Brinna said, grimly.  She tried her best not to look at the despairing faces of the villagers that they passed.
            They finally found Gendar, who told them a sad tale of how villagers infected with the rakghoul disease had to be quarantined from the healthy villagers.  He was also able to tell them that they would most likely be able to find Mission in the sewers and gave them directions to those sewers.
            As they left Gendar and prepared to head for the sewers, they were stopped by Rukil, who seemed to think that Brinna was some sort of prophet or something.  Brinna silently agreed with Carth as he warned her that Rukil might be crazy enough to be dangerous.  It certainly seemed like he had a few screws loose as he asked Brinna if she was the “one” who had been sent to lead them away from their village and to the Promised Land.  She indulged him by asking him what he meant by this and he instantly became rather paranoid, insisting that she must first discover the whereabouts of his assistant, Malya, to prove herself worthy of his secret knowledge.  Brinna agreed to do what she could.
            “What am I getting myself into?” she asked Carth uneasily as they walked away.
            “I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head.  “I mean, thinking of you as a ‘true savior’?  No offense, but that seems a bit over the top.”
            “Yeah, it does,” Brinna sighed.  “The idea of being anyone’s savior brings with it a type of responsibility I’m not sure I want to bear.”  She looked around her, shaking her head.  “How did I end up here?  I mean, there I was just minding my own business scouting to my heart’s content and now suddenly I’m fighting swoop gangs and finding crazy old men who think I’m their savior.”
            Carth grinned at her.  “Welcome to the wonderful world of working for the Republic.”
            They arrived at what they had mistakenly believed was the gate that led out of the village and to the sewers but found, instead, that it was a pen to contain the infected villagers.  Carth didn’t mince words in expressing his disgust with the situation and Brinna had trouble tearing her eyes away from the desperate faces she saw within.  She wished that there was something she could do but she was powerless to help them and so she was forced to keep going.
            At last, they reached the correct gate.  A young woman was crying out to a man named Hendar on the other side and pleading with the guard to open the gate so that Hendar could escape.  The jumpy guard, however, was refusing because Hendar had a rakghoul hot on his heels.  Without even thinking about what she was doing, Brinna ordered the guard to open the gate with the promise that she’d kill the rakghoul.
            “You don’t act unless it’s rashly,” Carth sighed, but he followed her through the gate.
            “So my mother always told me,” Brinna threw back at him.  She stepped between Hendar and the rakghoul.
            She felt an involuntary shudder of revulsion as she looked at the creature.  It was colorless with a large, misshapen head whose most prominent feature was an alarmingly oversized jaw that she had been told could infect her with one bite.  She tried to reassure herself with the thought that she and Carth had a good stock of antidote packs but that wasn’t much consolation.
            Oh well, you’ve seen worse, she told herself as she squared off against the creature.  That thought didn’t provide much comfort as she mistakenly left her right side vulnerable as she attacked the creature and promptly received a bite for her troubles.  She felt instantly sickened and though she did her best to ignore it, the toxins that the creature had released into her bloodstream made her a bit sluggish.  The battle lasted longer than she would have liked, but she managed to survive.  Any ill-effects she suffered in the aftermath were quickly dispelled as the man was reunited with his love and expressed his sincere thanks to Brinna and Carth.  The gate guard thanked them as well, expressing his wonder that an upworlder would have actually troubled themselves enough to help a denizen of the undercity.
            “Here, you look like you could use this,” Carth said, handing her an antidote kit.
            “Thanks,” she said, gratefully.  She sighed in relief as the antidote cleared away the poison coursing through her body.  “I’m sorry, Carth.  That was pretty rash of me but I just couldn’t leave him there to die.”
            “I know,” Carth said, softly.  “You did the right thing.  I guess I just wish you’d give me a little more warning before you go throwing yourself into situations like that.  I like to be at least a little prepared.”  He smiled at her and she smiled in return.
“I have to say, after seeing one of those things, I’m more determined than ever to find that serum for Zelka,” she told him, shuddering.
“If we find anything, I definitely think we should take it to him,” Carth agreed, his expression turning sober.  “I’ve seen some pretty horrifying diseases but the rakghoul disease is one of the worst.”
“Well, we’re not going to find that serum by standing around and talking about it.  Let’s go,” Brinna told Carth.
Once more they crossed through the gates and within a few steps they ran right into the person they’d been hoping to see: Mission Vao.  The young Twi’lek ran toward them, babbling something about her pal Zaalbar in a voice that was tinged with hysteria.  When Brinna was finally able to get Mission to calm down and speak coherently, she and Carth learned that Zaalbar and Mission had been ambushed by Gamorreans in the sewers.  Zaalbar had attacked them, enabling Mission to escape, but he had been captured in the process and Mission was terrified that he would be sold into slavery.  Brinna promised to help Mission find and free Zaalbar if Mission agreed to get them into the Vulkar base, a bargain that Mission quickly accepted.
They stopped for a moment so that Brinna could see to it that Mission was better equipped.  She gave the teen a second blaster, a combat suit, and an energy shield.  Brinna was not exactly thrilled with the idea of exposing the young Twi’lek to the type of danger that they were certain to face but she didn’t see any way of avoiding it.  She vowed to herself that she would keep a sharp eye on Mission and do all she could to ensure that the girl would come to no harm.
Mission wanted to go directly into the sewers and Brinna did not have an easy time convincing her that they needed to first scout the rakghoul-infested area of the undercity for Republic escape pods and any possible survivors.  Brinna understood Mission’s concern for her friend’s safety but Brinna was quite sure that Zaalbar wouldn’t be going anywhere at the moment.  Right now the need to search for any surviving Republic soldiers was more pressing as every moment they spent in the undercity brought them closer to discovery by the Sith.  Brinna’s sense of urgency increased as shortly after they encountered Mission they had a run-in with a Sith patrol.  Thanks to some quick thinking, Brinna was able to trick the Sith into thinking that she, Carth, and Mission were on a search and rescue mission.
“That was close,” Carth said uneasily as the Sith patrol moved off.
“Too close,” Brinna said, grimly.  Her attention was diverted by a dull gleam a short distance away.  “What’s that?” she asked.
Brinna moved off in the direction of the shiny object, Mission and Carth following close behind.  As she drew near, Brinna saw that the glimmer had been caused by the armor of a dead Sith soldier.  She swiftly searched the utility belt that was strapped around the corpse’s waist and gave a small cry of victory at what she found within.
“What is it?” Carth asked.
Smiling broadly, Brinna held up a small vial.  “Rakghoul serum.  There’s quite a bit here.  We can use this to help those infected villagers in the pen and then we can take what’s left to Zelka.”
“Wow!  Zelka will be beside himself.  He’s been trying for ages to get his hands on some serum.  It looks like he’ll finally be able to help the people down here.  It’ll drive those lousy Tarisian nobles crazy to see the poor finally getting the help they need,” Mission told her.
“Wonderful,” Brinna responded, with a satisfied smile.  She carefully tucked the serum away in her own utility belt.
“So what are you two doing here anyway?” Mission asked as they started to move again.
Brinna cast a look at Carth, trying to decide exactly how much to tell Mission.  Carth, as per usual, looked rather suspiciously at Mission and Brinna rolled her eyes.  Did he honestly think that the Sith had hired Mission to spy on them?  That would certainly be taking his paranoia to new heights.  After a moment’s reflection, Brinna decided to tell Mission everything.  Mission was now caught up in what they were doing, after all, and Brinna decided that the Twi’lek had the right to know what was happening.
“We’re on a mission for the Republic,” she said, while Carth stared at her, clearly aghast.  “Oh come on, Carth!  As if it won’t all be obvious to her in the end!”
“What’s with him?” Mission asked, casting a confused look from Brinna to Carth.
“He has trust issues,” Brinna said, irritated.  “But I think you have the right to know what we’re doing, since you’re now involved.  We need to break into the Vulkar base to steal a prototype swoop engine they stole from the Beks.”
“Yeah, I heard some of the Beks talking about that the last time Big Z and I were hanging out at the base.  But that can’t be why you’re here,” Mission said, looking even more confused.
“It’s not.  We have an agreement with Gadon.  He’s going to sponsor me in the swoop bike race in exchange for the recovery of the stolen engine.  Brejik is offering a captive Jedi named Bastila as the Vulkar prize for the race.  Carth and I were on a mission with Bastila and we need to get into that race so that we can rescue her.”
“I heard about her too,” Mission said.  “Brejik doesn’t know she’s a Jedi, though.  He just thinks she’s a Republic officer but that makes her valuable enough to be quite a prize offering.  It’s just like him to do something that disgusting.”
“I trust you won’t tell any of this to anyone,” Carth said to her.
Mission gave him a look that seemed to indicate she thought he had the IQ of a dewback.  “Of course I’m not going to tell anyone.  You’re helping me rescue Big Z, after all.  Do you really think I’d sell you out after that?”
“Yes, he does,” Brinna said.  Carth’s look indicated that he was none too pleased with her and she sighed deeply.  “You know you do, Carth.  Don’t deny it.”
He opened his mouth to argue with her further but she cut him off with a gesture.  “There’s someone over there,” she whispered, pointing to the other side of a small minefield.
“I can take care of those mines no problem,” Mission whispered.  She scurried over to the mines, disabling and recovering them within seconds.
Brinna was duly impressed.  Neither she nor Carth had any skill with demolitions.  It looked like Mission was going to be very handy to have around and Brinna found herself marveling at the luck she and Carth had experienced so far.
On the other side of the minefield was a jumpy young man in a Republic uniform.  It seemed he had been infected by the rakghouls and had set up a mine perimeter around him in an attempt to protect himself from further attack.  Brinna gave him a dose of the serum, perking him up almost instantly.  He was able to tell them that Bastila had not been in the pod that lay in charred ruin to his left but that he had been tracking her pod, which had gone down somewhere to the west of them.  He suddenly stopped talking and glanced nervously from side to side, declaring that he’d heard something.  Brinna told him that she hadn’t heard anything but he wasn’t reassured and he promptly ran off, crying out that he heard a rakghoul.  It turned out that he was right and the beast made short work of the weakened soldier before turning on Brinna, Carth, and Mission.
After a while, Brinna lost count of how many rakghouls they had killed.  She tried very hard not to think of the fact that the beasts had once been humans.  It made killing them that much worse, even though she knew that by the time they transformed they were beyond the help of any serum.
To her surprise, they soon ran into a familiar face in the form of Canderous Ordo, who was leading a small group of Davik’s hired goons.  It seemed he was down there on a salvage mission for Davik and was miffed because the Black Vulkars had had the nerve to loot the downed pods before Davik’s men could get to them.  Apparently, it was supposed to be understood that Davik was to have first dibs.
Their conversation was cut short by yet another rakghoul attack.  Had Brinna had the leisure to think, she would have had to shake her head at the unlikelihood of fighting side-by-side with one of Davik’s thugs but she didn’t have much time for irony.  Once the fight was over, Canderous announced that he was leaving as his men were not trained for this sort of combat.  As she watched him walk away, Brinna had the strangest feeling that it was not the last time she’d be seeing him.
“Over here,” Mission called, breaking into Brinna’s reverie.  “It looks like the rakghouls got to one of the Outcasts.”
“One of the Outcasts?” Brinna asked, her interest piqued. 
She moved over to the corpse and removed a datapad from its pocket.  Sure enough, it belonged to Malya, Rukil’s assistant, and had some information about the Promised Land in it.  Brinna could make neither heads nor tails of it but she shrugged and slipped it into her pack.  She had a feeling that Rukil would want it.
They stopped for a moment to take a breather.  Mission moved off to examine something that had caught her interest and Brinna found herself alone with Carth.  She decided that it was the perfect time to probe him again.
He accused her of wanting to argue some more and she retorted that she was always up for a good fight.  Just as she’d expected, the words had the desired effect on Carth, who smiled and told her that he’d never met a woman quite like her before and that she was “really something.”
You don’t even know the half of it, she thought as she goaded him into telling her why he took the fall of Revan and Malak so personally.  While he was obviously disturbed by the fall of the Jedi heroes, Brinna quickly discovered that the real reason he was so angry had to do with some of the Republic officers who’d become Sith.  She was truly shocked by the vehemence in his voice as he spoke of the fallen Jedi and Republic officers.  He declared that they all deserved death and his voice was so intense that she took an involuntary step back.  There was hatred in his voice and she told him as much.  He acknowledged the truth in her statement and then told her that he should apologize to her and tried to justify his behavior by telling her that he was used to expecting the worst in others.
So where’s that apology? she wondered.  It was clear that the conversation was over, however, so she supposed she wouldn’t be getting any apology from him that day.  She turned away from him and did her best to conceal her frustration.  Why did he get under her skin as he did?  Normally if she’d been faced with someone as frustrating as him she would have written him off as unworthy of her time.  And yet the more he insulted and angered her, the more effort she put forth with him.  It defied explanation.
She distracted herself by talking to Mission, who told her about how she and Zaalbar had become friends.  Mission mentioned something about her brother but didn’t want to talk about him when Brinna asked about him.
I’m surrounded, Brinna thought ruefully.
            “I think it’s time to go into the sewers,” she told Carth and Mission, who nodded their agreement.
            “It smells even worse down here than it does in that dump of an apartment,” Brinna complained as soon as they descended into the sewers.
            “Next time I’ll be sure to look for something with a less offensive odor, just for you,” Carth said, sarcastically.
            “Thanks.  I’d really appreciate that,” Brinna shot back at him.
            Mission looked at the two of them with a raised eyebrow and Brinna brushed past the both of them, leading them deeper into the sewers.  Just like everything else in the undercity, they were chock full of rakghouls and Brinna lost track of time as they fought the creatures, used medpacs, and then repeated the process over and over.  She was almost relieved when they ran into the Gamorreans.  At least fighting the overgrown pigs offered a little variety.
            It was all worth it, though, when they found and freed Zaalbar and Brinna saw the look of relief and joy on Mission’s face.  Zaalbar was just as happy to see his friend, asserting that she was a sight for sore eyes.  Mission greeted him warmly and then introduced Brinna and Carth to him.  The extent of Zaalbar’s gratitude was shortly evident as he decided to swear a life-debt to Brinna.  She was taken aback by the gesture but honored just the same.  It certainly would be handy to have a Wookie with them and when Mission announced that she went everywhere Big Z went, Brinna actually felt a rush of relief.  Brinna was positive that Mission was better off with her and Carth than she was trying to scratch out an existence on Taris.
            Zaalbar agreed to return to the apartment and keep watch for them while Mission led them on to the Vulkar base.  Before they continued on, Brinna asked Mission once more about her brother and as the Twi’lek told her about Griff, Brinna was more convinced than ever that it was best that Mission come with them.  At least Brinna would look after her, unlike that deadbeat Griff.  Still, it was obvious that Mission was very fond of her brother and Brinna kept her thoughts about Griff to herself lest she offend Mission.
            En route to the Vulkar base, Mission questioned Carth about his opinion of Taris.  The discussion quickly devolved into a bickering match with Mission taking issue when Carth called her a kid.  Brinna couldn’t help but snicker when Mission responded back with an insult about Carth’s age.  Fortunately for Brinna, Carth was too irritated with Mission to notice and Brinna composed herself and told them to calm down.  It was obvious that they were still fuming, though, as each refused to speak to the other.
            It was a huge relief when Mission disabled the energy shield that blocked the corridor leading to the Vulkar base.  However, that relief was short-lived as Mission informed Brinna of the existence of the rancor that stood between them and the entrance to the base.
            “Well, getting around that rancor ought to be fun,” Brinna sighed.  She looked at Carth questioningly.
            “I’ve got nothing,” he told her, shrugging.
            “Maybe he can help,” Mission said, pointing to a severed arm on the floor, a datapad clenched in its hand.  There was a vial of some sort of liquid lying next to it.
            Brinna picked both up and scanned the datapad.  It seemed that the vial of liquid was some type of synthesized odor that had once belonged to the datapad’s unfortunate owner.  He had theorized that he could use the odor to get the rancor to eat something hazardous to the beast’s health, killing the rancor and allowing him to pass.  Unfortunately for him, it seemed that he was much better at formulating plans than executing them.  Brinna had already decided that she would not make the same mistake.  She’d need both arms for that swoop bike race.
She peeked around the corner, her eyes widening at the sight of the rancor.  For a moment, she was unable to tear her gaze away from the giant beast.  She forced herself to scan the room behind the creature and saw a pile of corpses that littered the floor.  That gave her an idea.  Fortunately for her, the beast’s back was turned.  If she could just sneak over to the corpse pile...
“What kind of explosives do we have?” she asked Carth.
“A few mines, some sonic grenades, a couple frag grenades…”
“Frag grenades.  Perfect.  Hand one to me, would you?” she asked.
“What are you planning on doing with it?” he asked as he gave it to her.
“I’m going to sneak over to that corpse pile and put it in there, along with the synthesized odor.  It should attract the rancor’s attention.  He’ll have one hell of a case of indigestion after he snacks on it.”
Carth took a look around the corner and then stared at Brinna like she was crazy.  “Let me get this straight.  You’re going to creep in there, all the while hoping that thing doesn’t turn around and notice you…”
“Look, you don’t need to repeat my plan back to me.  I get it,” Brinna interrupted.  “Time’s wasting.  Hold onto this stuff while I go in there.”
“Brinna…” he began to protest as she handed her things to him.
“Don’t worry, Carth.  They always train us Sith spies in the art of baiting rancors.”  With those words, she slipped from the corridor and into the cavernous chamber.
She could sense Carth’s and Mission’s eyes on her as she stealthily made her way over to the corpse pile.  She wrinkled her nose against the combined stench of the rancor and the synthesized odor as she slipped her nasty surprise into the corpse pile.  The rancor stopped its restless movements, raising its head.  Brinna heard it begin to sniff and she hightailed her way out of the chamber, reaching the corridor just as the beast turned and began to lumber toward the corpses.
Her plan worked like a charm.  The greedy rancor gobbled the bodies up and there was a sharp retort as the grenade exploded.  The beast clutched at its throat before going down with a spectacular thud.
“Awesome,” Mission breathed, turning to Brinna with a wide grin.
“Thank my friend over there.  It was his idea,” Brinna said, tossing the datapad back down by the severed arm.
“I don’t know what to make of you,” Carth said, shaking his head at her.
“The feeling’s mutual, flyboy.  Now let’s go.  Less talk, more action,” she said briskly, taking her gear from him and setting off.
There were only two guards at the base’s entrance and they were swiftly dispatched.  Moving quickly and quietly, Brinna, Mission, and Carth worked their way through the base, killing any Vulkars they encountered.  In the process, they freed an abused waitress named Ada who’d become a slave after Davik killed her father and sold her to pay for her father’s debt and a dissident Vulkar who did not approve of Brejik and his tactics.
Along the way, Mission paused and apologized to Carth for jumping all over him earlier.  Carth accepted her apology and then cracked a joke about her being a kid.  Mission started to jump all over him again but realized that he was kidding and responded to his joke by affectionately referring to him as geezer, causing Brinna to snicker behind her hand once more.  She was relieved that they had patched things up.  After all, she so enjoyed being the sole focus of Carth’s hostility.
At long last, the trio came to a room containing Kandon Ark, three bodyguards, and the pilfered engine.  Kandon tried to convince them that Brejik was an all-around nice guy and that they ought to betray Gadon and help their buddy Brejik but Brinna was less than convinced.  As the Vulkars lifted their blasters and began firing, Brinna lobbed a couple of sonic grenades their way, succeeding in stunning Kandon and his female bodyguard.  The other two were unaffected and Brinna headed their way as Mission fired at them and Carth sprang to attack Kandon’s female bodyguard.
The energy shields that Brinna had swiped from the Vulkar base proved very handy in her fight against the bodyguards.  The idiots continued to fire away at her as she slashed through them with her vibroblades.  Unfortunately, Kandon and his female bodyguard had recovered and were not nearly as stupid as the other two.  Brinna rushed to fight Kandon as Carth dodged the female guard’s vibroblade.  Hardly aware of Mission firing away at Kandon, Brinna did her best to dance around his blows but he was very skilled with his blade and she could not prevent herself from sustaining some damage.  She winced as he sliced right through her energy shield, leaving a nasty gash on her left side.  The pain knocked her off balance for a minute but she managed to duck as he slashed out at her head.  She took advantage of his unprotected lower body and drove one of her vibroblades through his gut, pulling it out and tossing him aside as he gurgled and went down for good.  Carth stood over the body of Kandon’s female bodyguard, clutching his side and breathing heavily.
“Medpacs all around,” Brinna panted, tossing a couple to Carth and Mission before using one on herself.  “At least Gadon asked such an easy task of us,” she said sardonically once she’d regained her breath.
“I think this has been the longest day of my life,” Carth said wearily.  “Let’s get that engine and get out of here.”
They spent the next hour or so tying up some loose ends.  Brinna used the serum she’d found to heal two of the infected villagers.  She informed Rukil of Malya’s demise and gave him the datapad she’d found on his assistant along with two other datapads she’d found on corpses in the sewers.  Rukil was overjoyed with the information they contained and immediately moved off to show them to Gendar who, though initially skeptical, seemed awed once he’d looked at them.  They decided to leave for the Promised Land immediately, after offering profuse thanks to Brinna, Mission, and Carth.
“Do you think there really is a Promised Land?” Mission asked as they walked to the Bek base.
“I hope so.  I can’t think of any people who are more deserving,” Brinna said.  “They certainly seemed convinced of its existence.”
“I just hope they’re not deluding themselves,” Carth said.
“Right, how could I forget Mr. Cynical?” Brinna asked, rolling her eyes at him.
“I just know that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is,” he said, flatly.
“You are so very jaded,” Brinna sighed.
They entered the Bek base and returned the engine to Gadon, who announced that he’d decided that Brinna should be the one to ride the swoop fitted with it.  Brinna was instantly suspicious and with good reason, as she learned that Gadon’s “generosity” was due to the fact that he couldn’t be sure if the engine was really safe and had decided it would be better to risk her life than that of one of his gang members.
“Bastila had better appreciate all we’ve gone through to rescue her,” Brinna grumbled to Carth as they sat and ate the meal that Gadon had provided for them.  They were to stay at the Bek base until the race the next morning.
“Uh…I’m sure she will,” Carth said.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Brinna demanded.
“Nothing.  It’s just that Bastila can be a bit…particular.”
“Particular?”  Brinna cocked an eyebrow at him.
“She takes a little getting used to,” he said.
“Perfect.  That sounds just like what I need, a ‘particular’ Jedi,” she sighed.
“Come on, you know a thing or two about being particular,” he told her.  His mouth quirked up at the corner.
“Are you going to take that from him?” Mission asked her.
“No,” she said.  She turned and stuck her tongue out at Carth.
“Oh, very mature,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Well, I am quite a bit younger than you,” she said.  Mission laughed appreciatively.
“What is this, pick on Carth day?  Why does everyone keep saying I’m old?” he asked peevishly.
“Not old, Carth, just not young,” Brinna offered helpfully.
“Thank you very much.  That’s so much less offensive,” he groused.
“’Fess up, flyboy.  I know you know how old I am because you would have seen it in my service record.  How much older than me are you?”
“After all the abuse you’ve heaped on me, I don’t see why I should tell you.”
“If you tell me, I promise to be nice to you from now on,” Brinna said.  She crossed her fingers behind her back.  Mission, who was sitting next to her, noticed the gesture and laughed.
“As if I’m going to believe that!  Sorry, sister, you’re going to have to do better.”
“Aw, come on.  Don’t make me use my overpowering charm on you,” Brinna warned him, fluttering her eyelashes.
“Good luck with that!  I’m not one of those mindless Sith who’ll be eating out of your hand in five minutes flat.”
“That sounds like a challenge,” Brinna said.
“More like an impossible task,” he scoffed.
“Fine.  You know what, if you don’t tell me I’ll just keep badgering you until you do.”
“That I believe,” he sighed.  “Fine.  For the sake of getting a moment’s peace, I’ll tell you.  I’m ten years older than you.”
“Ancient,” Brinna said.  He opened his mouth to protest and she winked slyly at him.  “But you’re remarkably well-preserved.  And now I’m going to go get a last night’s sleep before I get blown to pieces by that swoop engine.”
She breezed out of the room and into the sleeping quarters for the female gang members.  As she lay sleeplessly on the bunk, though, the carefree attitude she’d feigned with Carth and Mission dissolved.  The night passed slowly as she tossed and turned, unable to stop envisioning herself and her swoop bike being blown to tiny bits.