Friday, September 6, 2013

Form Zero

Form Zero
Bobby Derie

Korriban. Seat of dark empires, birthplace and resting place of the Sith. The sun was setting on the ruins of the Valley of the Dark Lords, the toppled and broken statues that were a testament to generations of hate, fear, and narcissism. Eiven Task rested on a pillar of broken stone in one of the nearby quarries, dressed for the desert in a loose, light-colored garb. Below his feet, armored insects fought over the bloody bones of a fresh kill, and the human watched them with preoccupation. At the edges of his senses he felt the pull of the broken tombs, and the echoes of those presences trapped beneath the dirt and rock, tied by malice to their old bones.

“Five credits on the big black one.”

Task spared a glance up at the familiar voice. A tall, chocolate-skinned image of a muun stood in the shadow of the quarry-face, limned and half-lost in the darkness, his blue-grey eyes covered by the brim of his floppy desert hat. The last time Eiven had seen Milos Sothas was in the arena on Tatooine, when the muun’s dismembered corpse was being carried away in a gravcart.

“Nice trick.” Task said, when he could find his voice. The shade smiled.

“You like it?” The muun’s smile was a flicker of light in the darkness.

“Thought that was a Jedi thing.”

“Eh. Jedi,” the shade help up its left hand, “Sith” he said as he held up his right, and a flash of lightning crossed between them. “It’s all a spectrum. None of them own all the tricks. Anyway, I thought we were overdue for a little talk. Hope I’m not interrupting.”

Below his feet, the armored insects began the ancient dance, snapping their pincers, slowly circling one another.

“Not yet,” said Task. “So why now?”

“The tombs. Easier to manifest here.” The human nodded. “Any other questions?”

“I can think of a couple,” Eiven acknowledged. “But what do you want to talk about?”

“Something near and dear to both of us. Lightsaber combat. Ever heard of Form Zero?”

“At the academy.” Task said, unconsciously clenching his prosthetic left hand. He had lost the arm and a good part of his torso in an arrogant and, in hindsight, idiotic training accident. Prosthetics had saved his life and diminished his ability, and that had marked the end of his formal instruction.

The shade of Milos Sothas walked a couple steps closer, and the shadows seemed to stretch and cling to him—or maybe it was just the lengthening shadow as the sun continued to set. He didn’t quite look real to Eiven’s eyes, but there was a certain solidness to the darkness, and there was something at that spot that drew his higher senses, like an eddy in the Force.

“Figured as much. Master Yoda, they say, liked to go on about it. The fine art of not drawing your lightsaber. A very Jedi approach.” The shade leaned against the rock Eiven sat on, watching the bugs fight it out with interest.

“Were you a Jedi, Sothas?”

“No. I had the gift, you might say, but they found me out a bit too late. Ended up spending most of my life with the Antarian Rangers. Very practical people, have to be to keep up with Jedi. I spent my youth following Jedi knights around and slitting throats after they’d gone at them with lightsabers—dirty work, but it was a mercy. If you don’t die fast from a lightsaber hit there’s still plenty of ways to die slow. Ended up playing both sides during the rebellion; I think you’ve caught wind that the Emperor had more than his share of adepts under his command, and the Rebels knew all the Jedi weren’t dead and gone by a long shot, but not all of them joined up either. Enough players in the middle that those in the know needed people like me to take care of them.”

The shade looked to be engrossed in the insects. The big black one was winning, but there were five others left.

“Anyway, after the Battle of Yavin I disappeared for a long while. Watched things fall apart and build up again, time after time. Learned a few things about the Force along the way. I kept out of all the big noises as best as I could—always preferred the shadows. Kept my eyes and ears opened for what opportunities would come my way, which is how I ended up playing Dark Lord for this wampashit cult…”

“I was wondering if you’d get to that.” Eiven said.

“Anyway,” the muun’s shade seemed to be staring at his feet. “Point being, you’ve learned about the Jedi Form Zero, but have you heard of Sith Form Zero?”

Task shook his head.

“A lot of concepts get juggled between the Jedi and the Sith and everybody else. Lightsaber combat is one of those things with currency in both groups. Form Zero as Yoda had it, was a Jedi philosophy, very passive-aggressive. The lightsaber is a potential threat, more intimate and mystical than a blaster, but very real; the very presence can encourage peaceful interaction and resolution. Sith Form Zero is the complement. Using the deadly potential of the lightsaber to incite fear and anger, to demoralize and intimidate. Sith Form Zero is used to win fights before they’re fought. Do it right, and you don’t even need to ignite your lightsaber.”

Sothas talked more about the specifics, how to gauge and enrage, from the subtle reveal to the swaggering boisterousness where projecting confidence, competence, and menace can keep even the most hardened spacers and bounty hunters from making a move toward their weapons. Eiven was drawn in to the conversation almost despite himself, and the evening gave way to night as the black insect stood upon its carrion prize, forcing morsels of meat into its tiny jaws.

Task stopped talking, then crawled off the rock. He lowered himself onto all fours, eyes almost level with the thing. The human had never tried this, but he knew how it should work...he opened himself up to the Force around him. The echoes of the trapped Sith spirits were far away, but their moaning fear and anger gnawed more deeply. The shade of Sothas was a patch of night wrapped up in itself, need and fear tied together around a dark, still thread that just sat there, unchanging. Elsewhere in the desert were the tiny pings of pain and fright and instinctive flailing anger from the tiny living animals of this desolate place...and one of them was right in front of him, hungry, wary, aware now of his presence, the Sith-bred insect now somehow aware of the human Force-adept as more than a great, lumbering presence. It stopped eating, assumed a defensive posture...and Task narrowed the senses of his mind until that little pincerbug was his whole world, with even Sothas and the echoes of dead kings mere distractions. Part of him stretched itself out and took root in the small, instinct-driven mind; and when Eiven task reached out with his prosthetic hand the bug obediently crawled onto the proffered chariot, it's tiny will subsumed in his own.

"Nicely done. But what are you going to do with that?" The muun shade asked. In the dark it was almost formless, simply an outline against the deeper shadows as Korriban's moons began to rise.

"Something I've been meaning to try," the human said, stroking the shell of the creature with a flesh-and-blood finger. "Sothas...why show up here? Why the talk?"

"Because you'll need it," the shade said, it's voice a throaty whisper. "I like you, Task. You remind me of myself, when I was a century younger. You're focused, and make the most of your opportunities. You're not a chosen one; there is no grand galactic destiny for you, but you work hard. If you're lucky, that might be enough for what's coming. If you draw your lightsaber without thinking..." the shade let that trail off. "Well, I'm not your master and you're not my apprentice. You killed the knight that killed me, but you didn't do it for vengeance or justice. So maybe we owe each other nothing. I wanted to give you that, because you wouldn't hear it anywhere else. Not everything gets recorded in the holocrons."

Eiven Task nodded and stood up, still holding his prize gently in his left hand, and nodded his thanks.

"We were never master and apprentice, but for what it's worth, you always had my respect."

Task turned and walked away from the quarry, carrying his prize, and leaving behind him a valley of broken monuments and the angry echoes of dark one other.


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