Friday, August 05, 2005

Dark Night

Dark night, dark city.

The evening sun on the chrome glint of durasteel cast the Imperial District in a sublime orange glow, augmented by the brilliant variegated lights of a thousand sparkling windows. Soon night would settle, a false night erased by the brilliance of Coruscant's afterglow.

Coruscant had never been ugly from above. Above, where the giants of galactic civilization stood in dignified silence against the lonely winds of the high places of the city-world's troposphere. But as one descends where the sun would never shine again, down and down the thousand levels of bitter stratification, where grime, dirt, poverty becomes king, where the exiled, the underclass, and the insane dwell in wretched destitude within the forgotten bowels of the lowest five hundred meters, Coruscant is no longer the shining jewel it seems to be from the top, where lords dwell, pleasure craft drift along the drafty currents, and the richest of the rich bandy in careful pleasantry.

No, indeed. Where the playground of the rich ends, the Dark City begins. And as the Dark City, itself, ends, we enter the Jungle of Coruscant, the habitation of mutated carnivores, shambling half-humans, and the suppressed animality of a world that has for twenty-five thousand years been a symbol of the ultimate and crushing superiority of technology.

It was pathetically easy for someone to disappear on Coruscant; all he needed was the guts and the determination to live. Beyond all cost. Merely by descending a turbolift, down and down, traveling six kilometers through the cyclopean platforms that held up a city, the foundations made from the pinnacles of older skyscrapers, the sheer maze of millions of interconnected passageways, tunnels, and elevated bridges, one could escape the casual eye; no effort was involved in losing yourself within the mass of the trillions of people who walked the walkways of Coruscant.

Losing yourself in the Dark City was another matter.

Acha Demotrova was a human from Commenor who had committed a crime. He had been an Imperial spy, stationed to remain on Coruscant after the New Republic had wrenched it, at terrible cost, from the reborn Palpatine's grasp. As a consequence of that terrible battle vast sections of the planetwide city had been razed, and there was unrest even within the Dark City. Chaos reigned. The New Republic was still in the process of rebuilding; billions of credits were spent in the half-successful attempts at rehabilitating the lower levels. But somehow the Dark City was never reached; it was so low that even the Republic engineers assumed that the Dark City had been lost to the Jungle.

Demotrova had been identified. Using means available to him, he had slipped out, somehow, of the closing web of the NRI and disappeared from sight, carrying with him vital intelligence that was a threat to Republic stability.

He had escaped to the lowest reaches of Coruscant; he was now lost.


An'kar Vars was a native of Coruscant. An’kar Vars was also a well-known detective in some circles; it was rumoured that he knew the planet as well as the back of his hand. In a Coruscant aircab on the day of Demotrova's escape, he sat in faint unease. Next to him, a hooded figure lounged, staring at him with unseeable eyes.

The hooded figure slurred his words in a low gravelly crackle that irritated Vars. "Demotrova may have gone down to the Dark City."

Var's ears pricked up at the name. "The Dark...City? That's impossible. No one knows about the Dark City."

"Please. The Empire knew about it, in their time here. Living in the Dark City is no easy thing, but it is possible, as you very well know. We keep it quiet; it coincides with our intent that few know of its existence."

The hood turned, unseen eyes fixed upon Var's. "But you do. You've been there. You know it." The gravelly voice dropped down to a whisper. "Find him."


Vars knew all about the Dark City. The lowest two hundred inhabited meters of Coruscant's urbanity, the last, feeble layer of civilization between Coruscant and the Jungle, of Coruscant's deep underground. The Dark City had last felt the rays of Coruscant's sun more than a hundred thousand years ago; as Coruscant grew higher and richer, the tentacles of durasteel had at last smothered Coruscant's virgin soil, damning it for eternity. It was a thin slice that covered over three quarters of Coruscant's surface area. The remaining quarter of Coruscant had once been covered by ocean; those monstrous bodies of water had been stored in vast underground cisterns or frozen in the ice-caps during the course of Coruscant's urbanization. Only a few last vestiges of surface water graced the landscape; in the West Sea, or some of the smaller leisure lakes that dotted the Imperial Precinct.

Reaching the Dark City itself was no easy task. As Vars made his slow descent down, he began to think of all the places that Demotrova could have escaped to. There were few. But he had some ideas. The Dark City was not a pleasant place to be, but, as with all places, some areas were better-off than others. He inspected, with a maudlin air, his orders, printed on an innocuous piece of flimsi. Combing the entire Dark City would have been an impossible task for one man. There were others, NRI agents, other similarly-employed detectives, on the case.

The Dark City was a restricted place. It had been used for exiling dissidents and criminals, even in the days of the Old Republic. There were, in the whole of Coruscant, perhaps fifty entrances into what was considered the Dark City. All fifty were hidden, all fifty were guarded by lethal defence systems.

No problem. Vars had never used them before; he knew lesser-traveled passages into the Dark City.

The one he chose involved climbing down an immense ventilation tunnel, one of those that connected to a Coruscant SDU, or Sewage Disposal Unit. An SDU involved a giant SO cannon that fired processed projectiles of unrecyclable matter into Coruscant's primary, or on most days, SDU ships that carried the waste to Revisse or Ulabos for long-term processing using specialized bacteria. SDU processors were huge bioengineered worms that required large amounts of air. Ventilation shafts were therefore pivotal in the smooth running of an SDU. Var's SDU was one of the oldest; buried beneath a war-ravaged industrial cluster, it connected to the Dark City itself.

Vars felt tiny and alone, climbing down that enormous shaft. It was perilous; although there were stairs by the sides of the huge vent, Vars still felt a sense of acrophobia as he made his way down. The going was arduous, and it took almost an hour before he finally made his way to the bottom. There, it was dark save for the feeble flickering glow of a single dying light. Activating his glowrod Vars shone his small light into the vast, empty chamber whose ceiling was lost in the dim depths above.

He was down here, once again. As he surveyed the grimy walls his heart sank in that familiar way. The contours of his face pulled back in grim lines.

He had almost reached the Dark City.


Vars walked on through the dank, uninhabited passageways, holding his glowrod in a tight, white grip. He knew that nothing would disturb him here. There was nothing here. Every now and then, when he came to a branch, or a junction, he would navigate his surefooted way through one branch or other. Coruscant was, like everything else, a system, and once you knew its rules, its weaknesses, you could exploit it. But the psychological aspect of tribulation was not so easily conquered. Shadow loomed in every turn, and Vars swore to the disconcerting natterings of distant ghosts of the mind. Eventually, he reached a blast door. With a mental sigh, he thumbed the controls, and the door creaked painfully open. Vars found himself in a drafty chamber with dirt-streaked walls. In its centre was a huge, ragged hole that held the gigantic remains of a once-vicious beast. Reluctantly, Vars trudged the length of the chamber and stood before the mouth of that enormous skull. Taking a stale breath, he stepped in.

And fell.

He fell perhaps a hundred, two hundred metres, through a gently curved tunnel, until he sat before a trap door. Clambering up, he took a mental sigh before opening it. Climbing through, he entered a small box-like chamber. He opened a nearby grille. Took a deep breath. This was the turning point, he knew. There was no going back after he passed the gates of torment that now stood, threateningly, before him.

At last his mind broke and resolve hardened into a scythe that rends all doubt-

Almost unconsciously, he strode through. And all at once, he was greeted by the familiar stench of his own hatred.

Welcome, said the stench. Welcome to the Dark City.


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