Planet of the Lightsabers
The Memory of Alderaan was three weeks out of Mos Eisley on the Old Corellian Run when Eiven Task once again caught the blinking shadow of a pursuit craft on the ship’s scanner. He cursed his mother for giving birth to a foolish and unlucky bastard, then began calculating the vectors for possible routes of escape. Task was used to being a nameless, faceless drifter, one more spacefaring rogue that minded his own business and surfed through the galaxy in pursuit of his own goals, and the endless hounding of the last few weeks was grating to his nerves.
On Tatooine one of the Hutts had arranged a secret tournament, a bloody death-match where seven Force-users from across the galaxy had come together, lightsaber matched against lightsaber in brief, brutal combat for the entertainment and betting of the crowd—but the Jedi and Sith themselves fought for higher stakes. Seven holocrons, as far-flung and disparate as the adepts that had bid them in that contest, containing centuries of wisdom from the Jedi, the Sith, the Jensaarai, the Imperial Knights, and other stranger and more obscure Force traditions. A wealth of knowledge that Eiven Task could use to complete his own aborted education in the ways of the Force, bought and paid for in the blood of six masters of lightsaber combat.
Not that Eiven Task had come away unscathed from the tournament. Thick bandages still wrapped his right hand where, for a moment, Task had been able to grasp his final opponent’s lightsaber blade, opening her up for his own killing blow. Yet his mastery of the technique was imperfect, and though the hand was healing it had been severely burned. Other injuries healed with more grace; the dark blue-black bruises on his ribs and right arm were already paled to a sickly yellow at the edges, and the lightsaber graze on his right side itched fiercely, a good sign that it was healing under its bandages as well. His cybernetic left arm he had managed to repair, but his characteristic armor was ruined during his matches so that he was forced to face his last match unmasked.
Now every bounty hunter and crime lord in the sector knew his face, the curly brown hair flecked with gold, and the brown eyes whose trace of silver spoke of some slight alienage in his otherwise typical human appearance. Eiven Task hadn’t even managed to make it out of the spaceport without a fight with a trio of Mandalorians that wanted nothing more than to kill him and take his holocrons for themselves. For three weeks he had been dogged, dropping out of hyperspace randomly and taking dangerous side routes through remote systems, pushing his ship to its limits.
Now on his emergency fuel tank and down to eating three-week old bundi rice, Task was tired, had barely begun to consult the holocrons, and there was a disturbing rattling noise from somewhere down in the engine room. It was time to head for port.
The Imperial starcharts called the mudball Bolos, and the entry in the Imperial guidebook hadn’t been updated since the Battle of Yavin. Eiven flew over walled cities sheathed in the smoke and lights of post-colonial industrialization, where blacksmiths could work alongside small grav-lift factories and locally produced foodstuffs were more available than vat-grown protein. His destination was Yasmella spaceport, which had formerly been home to an Imperial fuel depot and was Task’s best shot at getting the parts he needed to repair his ship and his kit.
Skirting the outskirts of the city which had outgrown its stone walls, Eiven mingled with the local air traffic and finally set his ship down at a discreet and illegal hangar. The owner was human or near enough, and older gentleman with muscles going to fat, no neck to speak of—it almost seemed that the back of his head was resting on a great fold of flab—and what looked for all the world like a lightsaber handle hanging from his belt. The proprietor addressed him in Galactic Basic and quoted a price in Imperial credits. Task spent a few minutes getting the particulars, and discovered that Bolos was technically a part of the Imperial remnant.
“One more faction among the Republics,” the old Bolosian said with a sneer, flapping his ears and resting a thumb on the lightsaber at his belt. Still, the old man gave Task the name of a dealer in used Imperial equipment and directions to his place.
Stepping into the street, Eiven Task found that despite being under the Empire for decades Imperialization had touched Bolos but lightly. The streets were crooked, narrow, and paved with cobbles, while overhead stretched a forest of cables from one building to the next, sometimes supported by tall, narrow pyramidal pylons, and all around him shuffled vast herds of humanity in brightly-colored artificial fabrics. Task himself was dressed in little more than he wore for exercise, a close-fitting pair of pants and a threadbare, sleeveless shirt. All that he had added was a pair of thick-tread running shoes and a dark cloak with a hood, and carried with him his lightsaber pike—but in this brightly colored crowd he would have drawn less attention if he’d painted himself pink and slipped naked through the throng.
More worryingly, every man and woman above the age of a child seemed to be carrying a lightsaber at their hilt, though he never saw any of them actually ignite one of the devices. Task shook his head and pushed through the crowd, keeping to the old man’s directions. It simply wasn’t possible for everyone here to have a lightsaber; he must be mistaking what the devices were actually used for. Something about the situation gave him a very bad feeling.
The crowd thinned and he entered the alley where the repair shop was supposed to be. Behind him, he heard the shuffle of feet and then the familiar crack and hiss as a lightsaber ignited.
Almost at the same time, a pimply-faced, no-necked youth with a shock of tall, spiky black hair stepped out of a doorway in front of Task, brandishing a three-section staff. Holding the weapon by the two end sections, the Borosian flicked a pair of switches and a pair of thirty-centimeter red lightsaber blades flicked out at the ends.
Eiven couldn’t suppress a smirk. It had to be the single most ridiculous weapon he’d ever seen; boy would probably cut himself in half. The human turned, which put his back towards the wall of the alley and presented only a narrow profile for his attackers. Risking a glance to his right, he saw another teenaged Bolosian, a broad-hipped, stubble-headed, no-necked young woman that was holding a sputtering, full-sized crimon lightsaber in front of her with both hands, thin metal bangles on both her arms and eyes painted with something dark and glittery.
“Yer credits or yer life!” the girl said.
“Okay, take it easy…” Task said.
With exaggerated care, Eiven dipped his eyes towards the ground and rolled the cloak off his shoulders, keeping his right arm up and on his unignited lightsaber pike. The sight of his prosthetic left arm caused the boy to shudder, and with his left hand Task moved towards the pouch at his belt.
Task was never good at telekinesis, and he’d lost a lot of his ability in the accident that had cost him his left arm. For a while he feared he’d lost his connection with the Force for good. It was only much later he had found he could still use the Force, when he instinctively reached for something with an arm that wasn’t there…and grabbed it.
With a mental flick of a switch, Task’s lightsaber pike ignited. The sudden shine of the silver-white blade caught both is assailants by surprise. Eiven task pulled the small holdout blaster holstered in the small of his back with his left hand and pumped three shots into the boy on his left. As he fell, smoke pouring from the holes in his face and chest, the girl gave a start—and saw Eiven aim the blaster at her.
“Kill the blade,” he said. She did. “Drop it and run.” The lightsaber handle hit the cobbles with a clank, and she turned away from Eiven. Task half wish he had a final charge to empty into the back of her head as she made herself scarce. He didn’t like leaving people who tried to kill him alive.
Eiven turned off his lightsaber pike, holstered the now empty blaster, and set to searching the body. The only items of value where their weapons. Task examined them with a practiced eye, noting the crudity of the workmanship. Coming to a decision, he hooked the girl’s heavy lightsaber at his belt, and folded up the boy’s weapon beneath his cloak.
Leaving the bodies where they lay, Eiven Task made it to the dealer in used Imperial goods without further incident.
The dealer had about half the Imperial armory in stock. Decommissioned TIE fighter engines and shielding—no ion cannons, Eiven asked—and over a hundred sets of Stormtrooper armor, blaster rifles and pistols, uniforms, the works. The two found a mutual interest in variant Imperial designs and spent an hour talking about slight differences between the different troop and ship types, and segued into prices while keeping the same conversational tone. The dealer estimated fifty thousand credits for the parts and kit Task wanted; Eiven thank him for his assistance and promised to return later when he had the credits.
Fifty thousand credits, and those bounty hunters already hot on his trail. Eiven Task didn’t know if he’d make it off this mudball alive before he could afford those repairs. The bad feeling had him again, like a full-body bout of indigestion, and this time Task wasn’t going to ignore it.
He focused on his breathing, let the noise and smells of the streets wash into him. Felt his heart throb in his chest, the pulse he could feel in his neck, his temples…and in a counterbeat to that pulse was mental beat throbbed in his prosthetic left arm. There was an artifact buried in there, a bit of history and power he’d stolen from the tomb of a Prophet of the Dark Side. It focused his foresight, sharpened his reactions; in battle he let it guide him to start countering an opponent’s move just as they were making it, keeping him a split second ahead. Now as he opened his Force senses to the crowd, he felt the same little mental tug, guiding his attention to…there.
Task’s vision focused on the alley where he’d killed the boy. A gaudily-dressed man with a frilled collar was standing over the corpse, the girl beside him clutching at the wall, looking sick. Eiven Task didn’t move as the man walked over to him.
There was money in his clothes; splashes of gold thread on an electric purple doublet, and bright aurodium buckles on his knee-high blue leather boots made from the hide of some reptile, the kneepads of which were set with slabs of lapis lazuli. He was cleaner than the girl, with a dusting of powder on his face and around his eyes, and his teeth were some sort of ceramic faced with little gems that glittered when he smiled. The lightsaber at his belt had purple pearls for switches.
Eiven Task did not smile back, but nodded his head in greeting.
“I am Malarkov, though that name must mean nothing to you. You’re an outlander here, and know nothing of our politics or causes, and you have cost me a soldier. The Revolution is nigh, and I need fighters such as you. I can pay. What do you say?”
Eiven Task considered.
“A thousand credits per head.”
“I hope you have enough enemies to make this worthwhile.”
The bad feeling continued. Malarkov led the way. Task followed.
The battle was scheduled for the next day, in a level grassy field outside the city walls, both sides lined up in formations. Eiven still didn’t know the politics, and Malarkov didn’t have time to enlighten him, but the Bolosian had advanced him enough to fix his armor. Task took to the field in the plastic and ceramic armor of the Royal Imperial Guard, but where the Emperor’s defenders had been crimson or black, his own armor was stark white like a common Stormtrooper. For the battle he had taken on a lurid purple sash trimmed with gold—the colors of Malarkov’s side, which would distinguish him as one of his supporters.
There were perhaps three hundred people on the field, the numbers more or less equally matched, and everyone had a lightsaber. Task had disassembled the weapons of the young people in the alley the night before, and that basically told the story. Lightsabers had caught on early on Bolos as weapons of the nobility, crude enough models used mainly for dueling and as examples of rank. Then came the Republics, and the lightsabers became the weapons of the people—mass produced, shoddily designed and with cheap synthetic crystals. As dangerous to the untrained, Force-blind users as they were to other people, but ingrained in the culture and only really used for mass battles like this one. Task had even heard some of the surgeons consider them humane, since the wounds rarely caused infection.
Malarkov placed Eiven at the forefront of a Longblade detachment on the left flank; about a dozen wiry veterans whose job it was to lead the way against a lightsaber pike regiment. Task took his place as the opening formalities were held. There was a speech…the sun rose in the sky and Eiven started to sweat within his armor…and then the blare of a klaxon and the two lines on either side of the field started to move towards each other. Malarkov and his opposite number sat on wooden stands at either side of the field, shouting instructions through megaphones.
At Eiven’s word, his Longblades spread out as they closed in on the lightsaber pike regiment. Four ranks of pike leveled their burning blades and marched resolutely forward as each of the Longblades ignited their own weapons—longer than the average lightsaber, nearly two meters of burning plasma on an extended handle—and began moving them in figure-of-eight patterns in front of them, building up speed. Eiven did much the same with his short-bladed lightsaber pike, hoping his phrik alloy would hold while the Bolosian pikes’ own would not.
The clash was sudden, jarring, and brutal. Task swept aside the pikes and moved in closer. Men and women screamed as burning blades veered off and struck their comrades. One or two found their mark and Eiven’s line wavered, but by then Eiven was in the thick of it, stabbing and swirling his blade, and in a few minutes the remains of the lightsaber pike regiment dropped their weapons and went into retreat.
The Longblades pursued, and Eiven didn’t bother to chase after them, but stalked through the field toward the main body of troops, who had broken into a general melee at a small rise in the center of the field. He had a number of heads left to collect.
Mentally thumbing to the hidden ignition, the lightsaber blade built into Task’s prosthetic limb crackled into life, a short bloodshine blade powered by the ancient Sith artifact erupting from his forearm over the back of his palm. Grasping his lightsaber pike in the middle, he moved in, stabbing, slashing, and moving on. The infantry couldn’t touch him as his Force-driven instincts and combat training led him to dodge or parry nearly any blow, and the armor took care of the few near misses. There was none of the delicacy or art of lightsaber dueling in this mess, it was only a slaughter as men and women waved deadly wands at one another and limbs and heads fell bloodless and smoking from torsos. A lucky man to Eiven’s right lost the tip of his nose from a sloppy blow that should have taken his head off, to Task’s right one of Malarkov’s men misjudged his swing and took off three of his own toes—and collapsed in shock on top of his own blade, turning a foolish self-inflicted injury into a glorious suicide.
By the time the klaxon sounded again and the sides moved apart, Eiven estimated at least seventy-five troops were dead. Horrendous casualties for a skirmish, but the sergeants and captains were lining the troops up again…
Malarkov descended from his high perch and trotted out into the field. He didn’t get any blood on his shiny blue boots, but he did have to step lightly where a few of the dead and dying had voided their bowels.
“Excellent work, my boy, simply excellent. You must have accounted for nearly a dozen all by yourself!”
Eiven grunted. It wasn’t enough to pay his bill with the dealer.
“I’ve had a word with my opposite number,” Malarkov jerked his thumb towards the other side of the field. “And we’ve agreed to settle this with a Trial of Champions. I’d like you to stand in for me. Forty thousand for their champion’s head, on top of the dozen you’ve already brought in. What do you say?”
The bad feeling flared. Task ignored it.
“Bring them on.”
The middle of the field was cleared, and Eiven Task examined his opposite number. It didn’t surprise him to see the black T-shaped visor of the Mandalorian helmet, or the battle-scarred green armor. Bounty hunters went for where the money was too.
“…no blasters, poison, or explosives.” Malarkov called out, reading the rules of the match. “Salute!”
Task raised his staff in front of him, then swept it in an arc until the tip of the blade almost touched the grass. The Mandalorian bounty hunter made a similar gesture with a heavy curved, single-bladed sword.
This was a dance. The Mandalorian kept the sword close to her body and rushed in; Eiven swept low with the blade of the lightsaber pike but she jumped over it and crashed into him, causing him to drop the weapon. Her weight behind the blade gave it tremendous cutting force, and as they rolled on the ground she sawed it back and forth through his armor, toward the meat. Task brought up his left arm and punched the side of her head with all his cybernetic strength, hard enough to rattle the brains in her helmet, and shifted off.
Both of them regained their footing, and Eiven ignited his left-hand lightsaber blade once again. They both moved in close; Task’s blade was shorter than her own, and she kept to the same brute-force style as before. The lightsaber flashed and crackled as it swept against armor and blade, both of which were barely scratched by contact with the bloodshine blade, and Eiven knew they must be made of Mandalorian iron. Finally she attempted a left-handed swing, and Task took the opportunity to grab her wrist with his right hand—just as he felt the spikes of her crushgaunt grind into his left forearm.
With their arms locked for the minute and neither willing or able to give way, the fight moved to a kicking and shoving match. Eiven got a couple good kicks to her groin and gut, but then she hooked her left leg behind his knee and drew him in for a Mandalorian kiss, her helmet cracking against his. They fell, still grappling. On the ground, each tried to roll and gain the dominant position. Mud spattered over them both, so anyone watching in the crowds might have been hard pressed to tell them apart.
Then Eiven mentally flicked off the lightsaber blade on his left arm. For a moment, he imagined, she must have been confused. Then his prosthetic left hand swiveled about at the wrist, an impossible angle for a biological human hand, and grabbed her wrist. Then he simply pulled.
There are limiters to cybernetic strength. However much force you exert from a prosthetic limb applies to your body as well, and Task’s body had to be severely reinforced just for the rigors of normal combat. So she screamed as he pulled her right arm from its socket, and she screamed some more as the flesh began to tear away from the bones as he kept pulling. And when his arm was at full extension and hers was half again as long as it should have been, he let go.
The bloodshine blade flared back into life. The T-shaped visor, it turned out, was not made of Mandalorian iron.
Malarkov was good as his word, if only to hasten Task’s departure from his planet. The Force user himself spent the days as his ship was getting repaired popping painkillers in his meditation chamber, getting to know the gatekeepers of the holocrons, testing to see if any of them would teach him something useful to deal with his pursuers. Some were more open than others, most agreed he was in little shape to train until he had healed. In the end, after much argument and cajoling, the holocron of Darth Modas spoke.
“Your skills are woefully incomplete. Still, there is a piece of Sith magic that even an apprentice might learn, to cloak themselves with the Force…”
“What must I do?” Task said, keeping his tone respectful.
“Korriban.” The holographic gatekeeper said. “You must travel to Korriban, the ancient home of the Sith race, where life has long been twisted by the Dark Side…”