Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dark City

Vars didn't know how long he sat there, rocking back and forth on his knees, wrestling with emotions that bewildered and frightened him. He knew that in that vital moment he had lost control of long-suppressed feelings that had haunted him in the depths of countless nights. Only by the primal instinct of self-preservation could he have summoned up the workings of his muscles to fire that one bolt of molten death; smiting his own demise in the gut.

Vars was alone now, stranded with a dead man in the deepest bowels of Coruscant, and he was, of all things, bemoaning his tortured past. He snorted derisively, half-choked in sobs that were stuck in his throat. Drawing up all his resolve he put on his shell of emotionlessness once more and stood. And coughed wrackingly. He checked his stock of bactade. Only a few drops left. In a fit of abandon he drained the last drops of that salty solution, kept the vial, and began examining Demotrova's corpse.

No trauma of any kind, no signs of struggle, no exterior wounds. Demotrova had died, perhaps, of gas, or some airborne poison, or perhaps even nanites. Demotrova's mouth was open; his last breaths had been gasps, from the looks of it. Whatever had killed Demotrova still had the power to kill him.

Rising again Vars began to slide his hands over the lone active computer terminal, familiarizing himself with the unfamiliar placements of the various controls. The terminal was strange, its layout archaic, but it was still recognizable as a construct of a known technology; Aurebesh glowed reassuringly out of the screen. A small violet phial on the screen began to blink, and Vars reached out with a tentative finger, and with one jerky motion, touched it.

His finger broke the edge of the screen like a fish out of crystalline water. The violet phial turned orange, and began spinning wildly. The air seemed to fill with static, tingling down the length of his spine. Then, as if from some unseen and unknowable cue, the air seemed to freeze- and a softly feminine voice filled the room with a bizarrely vibrant menace.

"Welcome, visitor," it purred, breathily. "You are the 236th entry in the Judicator log. Your DNA, mental signature, psychological profile have been noted. You are human, Coruscanti. You have been deemed able and mentally stable."

"Thanks," Vars replied sarcastically.

"No affimatory acknowledgements are required. The Judicator network is ready. Initiation commences in 2 hours."

"Initation?" Vars frowned, confused.

Suddenly, he could not breathe. He felt cold, clammy hands clamp onto his throat.
And he knew that, however impossible it seemed, it was Demotrova's hands around his neck. Demotrova, who had been dead a few moments earlier, was trying to kill him, cold grip implacable on his throat.

As Vars struggled, gasping for air, against Demotrova's monstrous grip, the clinical feminine purr continued, oblivious to the mortal struggle below. "The artificial application of surgical tectonic alterations, designed for minimal intrusion. These alterations involve the elevation of subsuming plates, bringing oceanic plates to the surface for mining or construction purposes, or that of surface plates for magma-mining or miscellaneous purposes."

Vars heard, horrorstruck, as he fought. He had managed to release Demotrova's viselike grip on his throat, but Demotrova was still as implacably vicious as ever.

Vars redoubled his efforts. If the inhabitants of the Dark City and the Jungle were loosed upon Coruscant, the horrors that would unleash were too terrible to conceive.

Yet, even as he struggled and fought, his detective's mind gnawed at the problem. A picture, a pattern was forming in his mind.

What had Demotrova come across? Why had he come down to the Jungle? How had he arranged for the elevator to break down? How had he killed the carnivores? How did he feign his death? The answers to these questions pointed to a plan more grandiose than Vars had conceived. A plan with no less a goal than the destruction of Coruscant and, subsequently, that of the New Republic.

It must have been the last resort of the late Emperor, a last spiteful blow designed to undermine the victory of Luke Skywalker and his ilk. Who else knew about the Dark City? Who else had the resources to act in such a fashion? Shudderingly, Vars thought of the monster which had killed Duke Kaa. And of his own, bitter cough. Tools of the Dark City and the Jungle, loosed, at long last, upon a Coruscant, ripe prey for their bitterness and savagery. A pervese sort of poetic justice; all the filth of the Dark City infecting Coruscant, transforming it into a dead world rife with roving monsters and Krodos sufferers. But he still felt that inexplicable guilt that threatened breakdown, even as he fought for his life.

What of it? He cursed at the beginning of yet another struggle, this time in his mind, distant against the larger issues of Coruscant and his life - but it still felt more important, in this crystal moment, than anything else in the world. He had left them for a free life, found a way out, leaving them to suffer even as he made his mark on Coruscant. In all his desperate adventures, a young boy,he escaped into comfort and safety, into the hands of a kind, childless couple who one day found him sleeping at their doorstep, exhausted from climbing. He had left his true kin to suffer in the Dark City, and escaped into the light. Vars, stolen name of a stolen life.

He had been eager to set off in his mission, but fearful. He had thought nothing of his kin coming near him. He had, foolishly, allowed false hope in the land that had none, a false hope that led to genuine disappointment. And even as he traded blows with Demotrova a battle raged in the depths of his mind.

Vars was drowning in the haze of conflicting emotions. But it fed him an anger, anger at himself, anger at the world, at life in general. Rage that fed him a line, that gave him strength, that removed all his inhibitions. With one mighty blow he sent Demotrova flying to the ledge. He struck against the metal railing and collapsed, back against the ledge.

Finally, Demotrova spoke, cold, milky, lifeless eyes burning with a terrible cascade of raging fire.

"Why the rage, Vars?" A voice cackled. The sound, dry and crackling, seemed not to emanate from Demotrova's throat, but from the air around them. Demotrova's lips moved soundlessly. Vars felt unsettled even in his rage.

Vars drew his blaster and dealt Demotrova a savage blow on one side of his face. Demotrova's head snapped around at the force of the blow, and chunks of skin tore from Demotrova's cheek, revealing the bone-white layer beneath. Another resounding blow, and the entire face was ripped off to reveal a gleaming skull. A metallic skull, Vars realized with sudden illumination. This Demotrova was not human. He was a droid.

The disembodied voice continued; Demotrova's metal jaws still moving out of sync with it.

"Liked it, Vars? Liked our...little plan? The NRI agent in the aircab? The flimsiplast, the turbolift?"

Vars could only stare, aghast.

"Liked the Krodos, Vars? Liked the Rak'ghuls?" the dry voice continued. "I brought them down here, where they would fester and grow. You think I would have spared a pitiful little planet? I, destroyer of worlds?"

The voice continued. "All this time, you have tried to kill me again and again, and every time I have returned. Not even your pitiful little NRI knows anything about Demotrova. Demotrova, who never existed." The voice cackled with all the saturnine mirth of a coiling gurshaa. Then, sudden as the turning of leaves, it turned wondering. "The Force is such a strange thing. Powerful, mysterious. My Master never really revealed the full extent of its power to me. They say it can do strange things to a mind. Twist it, maim it beyond all recognition. The builders of this little toy were adepts in the Force, yes, yes...they were powerful. But not powerful enough, for they died like animals."

Vars breathed heavily as he stared at the faceless droid. It was twitching, even as the mouth continued moving soundlessly to the voice in the air. It was macabre. "What are you?" he whispered.

"And now I run into a problem. The Force works in mysterious ways. The originators of this machine were adamant that it needed the energy of a strong life force, strong in the Force. None of the pathetic specimens in the Dark City would serve. I needed someone who was strong enough to find this place of his own volition." The voice emitted a breathy snort. "I found you. Poetically neat, perhaps. A denizen of that nest of gundarks returned at last to his sad little homeland, bringing flowers and a tear. Touching." The crushing contempt grated in Var's ears.

"Who are you?" he repeated.

"Who am I?" the voice mocked. "The last time your pitiful band of budding heroes tried to kill me, on Onderon; you think I would have perished? The Dark Side has more power than that. Infinite power. The true nature of the Force is in the darkness of passion, and all else is a lie.
"But when I fled, incorporeal, I still had many plans left to me. Do you think that I will let your rebel alliance keep Coruscant for your own? In my defeat, grant an enemy my last due? Kah," the voice spat through Demotrova's slow lips, "You are wrong, as are all your misguided, sentimental friends in the New Republic."

Vars whispered, "It's impossible. You can't-" Stealthily, his hand was feeling inside his duffel, one last trump-

"And now," the voice concluded, "we begin the end."

Somehow Vars could not find the strength to resist as Demotrova- no, the droid- stood up on his servos and caught him in an iron grip across the shoulders, hauling him to the edge that even then began to potrude a platform. And as he looked down to the chaotic mass of energy coruscating below, in the sheer depths of the enormous chamber, he felt the sinking sensation of his own death.

"Goodbye, Mr. Vars."

And Demotrova released Vars over the ledge.

But in the depths of victory, miscalculation rues. Vars stared down at the small vibroblade cupped hidden in his palm, intended to have been Demotrova's death. And as he began the fall he knew that there were two ways to die. And so, summoning his last desperate reserve of whatever inner strength he had left- he stabbed himself in the chest and felt a clear blossoming of senseless pain as the vibroblade did its work. And as he faded away he found a truth within himself, of bright burning glory that was his mandate from the seed of his own conception, a truth that washed away all doubt, all trouble, and all fear as he faded into oblivion, life trickling away beneath the glittering richness of Coruscant. And his last experience in the corporeal plane was a sensation of warmth, a mother's warmth, and he heard voices of men and women, human and alien, wise and old, practitioners of a power older than the Universe, welcoming him home.

Vars died in truth two seconds before he struck the twisting chaos of the burning energy below. All that impacted the Judicator mass was a body, bereft of the Force that drives the Universe. And even as a deep voice moaned howling defeat and rage in the dark places of the world, the Judicators, sprinkled all over the surface of Coruscant, looked to an energy source that never materialized.

When at last the countdown reached zero, the dormant machines of the Judicator began to whir into life, then, as energies failed them, crashed into tumbling ruin, rending the artifices of the Jungle, sending vibrations even to the sheerest pinnacles of the Imperial Palace above. The machines that had for so long been a threat to Coruscant were now wrought to destruction, and even though there was no voice to celebrate, there were the resounding raptures of the Force that spread across the galaxy, that caused Jedi and Force sensitive to feel a lightening of their hearts like the glory of a rising morning sun.

As morning rose over the Imperial District the scintillating lights of the night were dwarfed by Coruscant's golden dawn. Sunlight glinted off polished chrome. The seeming peace belied panic of last night's tremors, tremors felt all across the face of the city-planet. The New Republic Coruscant Reconstruction Department promised to look into the disturbance and assured citizens that there was nothing to fear, that Coruscant was one of the most stable planets in the galaxy after extensive plate-forming performed thousands of years ago.

And in the Dark City a parable of renewed hope was spun, of the kindly man who gave them life and a flicker of happiness in the dark hopelessness of their grim reality. And as the inhabitants of oppression lifted their faces to the surface, they thought they could feel the first glimmers of pure sunlight denied, for so long, to them.


New Republic Coruscant Recontruction Department
A4-345 Paragraphs 4-5b

"...studies made of Coruscant's lower levels as mandated by Directive 04556a have revealed a hitherto
unknown under-population residing in the lower depths of Coruscant's urban strata. This underclass comprises an entire sub-culture of their own. Anthropologists and medical staff have been called down to establish contact with aforementioned subjects...the NRCRD respectfully requests a continuance in the process of emancipation of the underclass..."


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