Friday, September 20, 2013

Playing With Lightsabers

Playing With Lightsabers
Bobby Derie
The pincerbug scrabbled for purchase on Eiven Task’s pale, naked flesh, but his attention was drawn to the venomous stinger that the Sith insect had stabbed into his left breast. Inside the meditation chamber was darkness, lit only by the light of the seven holocrons he had arranged in a circle around him. The darkness seemed to reflect his anger and fear, so that though he sat cross-legged and in the pose of calm meditation, rage boiled within him. Only the pain of the insect’s sting gave him the focus for his task, and the presence of mind to heed the words from the holoprojection of Darth Modas as he guided Task through the ritual.
“…the sigil Sithasis, rune of transmogrification. Now draw…”
Lit by the multicolored lights of the holocrons, Eiven examined himself. A human of average height, his body lean and wiry as a marathoner’s. New scars healed on his right hand and ribs, and on the left side of his body was a line of destruction, a single old scar from collar to hip, and beyond that a tangle of plastics and alloy prostheses, including his bare, skeletal prosthetic left arm. Only his hair, an intermix of brown and gold, and the slight silver edge to his brown eyes spoke to any alienage in his ancestry.
The pincerbug, gathered from outside the Valley of the Dark Lords here on Korriban, moved as an extension of his will. Its stinger raked through his flesh, forming ancient Sith runes, its venom staining his flesh as he let the Force flow through him, then twisted and directed it through the mind-shapes as the holographic shade of Modas directed him. The process left him physically and mentally exhausted after each session, with days of healing and meditation between each session.
Blood, sweat, and venom dribbled off plastic ribs as the pincerbug formed the last of the line of characters. The pain and anger in Eiven Task peaked in a sudden flare of power, and the runes glowed red hot and smoked as the ritual completed, the pincerbug leaping off the flesh and moving to hide in the darkness. Task felt emptied as the runes ceased to glow, though a few wisps of smoke still rose from the edges. All his rage and fear emptied out of him, and he felt sick, tired, and nearly paralyzed from pain. Even his mind felt numb, his Force senses diluted and weak. In the back of his head, he could feel part of himself diverting the Force through those channels woven in his flesh.
“The feeling will pass, eventually.” The gatekeeper of the holocron said. “Though a considerable part of your power will be diverted into maintaining the ward.”
“It worked?” Eiven said, suddenly feeling his lips parched and tongue thick in his mouth.
“Indeed. The Sith ward will hide your presence in the Force from others, at least from a distance. Up close, and when you are using the Force, the protection will weaken.”
Dreshdae. Task stepped on a small lizard and enjoyed the squelch under his boot. On a dead world like Korriban, it had a spaceport and a cantina, so they called it the capital. The only settlement of sentients left on the whole damn planet, evenly split between religious fanatics and treasure hunters. A few old-timers knew the history, and Eiven had shared his firewater and heard their stories, most of them the same. Every new Sith empire seemed to re-establish themselves on Korriban, when they remembered it was here, then self-destructed when their grand galactic plans collapsed. It was a town with a lot of booms and busts, and the long-timers were thieves and opportunists, ship-wreckers waiting to kowtow to the next group of dark lords and pick their bones clean when they eventually fell.
His purpose on Korriban was over, and Task didn’t care to pick through the corpses of dead empires. After a couple months of tattooing himself in the dark and living off the eggs and meat of the local reptile population, he wanted off this rock. The lack of fruits and veggies was turning his piss a bad color, and he hadn’t had an honest bath in months. He needed creds, fuel, food, air, and water. He needed a job. So with a dry throat he entered the cantina.
The Drunk Side had seen better centuries. Broken tables, columns scrawled over with endless graffiti, a couple carnivorous tumbleweeds that nobody had bothered to clear up yet. A wrinkled, grey-skinned Rodian in a dark hood and robe propped up one end of the bar, drinking fermented lizard squeezings and playing with a lightsaber older than he was. Nobody paid much attention; it was that kind of place. Eiven had dressed more conservatively: a simple white poncho stained pink with Korriban dirt over desert-camouflage trousers and a sleeveless t-shirt that showed off his artificial arm and a few scars, but not his fresh tattoos or the hold-out blaster concealed in the middle of his back. The two-meter metal staff he carried might have drawn a stare or two, but that was it. Task strode toward the bar and held up two fingers, and the old Sith pureblood behind the counter started pouring two small glasses of something clear from a bottle with a writhing worm in the bottom of it. He laid his last credchip on the counter and swallowed the first without looking or tasting. It burned pleasantly on the way down and left a pool of fire in his belly.
The job board was blank, so he had a word with the bartender and found a table. He didn’t have long to wait. A figure in a dun hood and cloak came in as he finished his shot. Even with his diminished Force sense, Eiven caught a flicker of presence, and impression that grew stronger the more he concentrated. Without moving, he followed her trajectory from the entrance to the cantina bar, and then from there to his table. A fine, feminine near-human hand laid a bottle on the table; the skin was almost translucent and slightly green, letting the darker green veins show through. A whiff caught him as she sat down, like the wet heart of an ancient forest.
Task looked up and stared into a face veined like the petals of a flower and in a colored vivid black-and-white pattern centered around the middle of her face, lightening toward the edges. The black-and-yellow eyes stared into his with an unearthly evenness. The wisps of fine pale cornsilk that escaped her hood reminded him more of a dandelion than hair. Eiven couldn’t place her species; Zelosian, Sylphe, one of those things partway between plant and mammal.
“I am Illanova Skywalker.”
As the last syllable escaped her mouth, Eiven was already somersaulting backwards in his chair, tucking into a roll and twisting on the floor to come up in a sprinter’s pose—and then he was off like a shot. Behind him, he heard and felt the commotion as furniture toppled and she started to move.
Fething mothernerfing son of a nerf feth feth feth… Task swore in his head, focusing on his breathing and pouring everything he had into speed, running in the general direction of away. His ship was parked a couple kilometers away, but there were no alleys or sidestreets along the way. He tried not to think about why there was a Skywalker on Korriban. It didn’t matter why they were in the cantina or looking for him. Nothing good had come from the Skywalkers since the Battle of Yavin. The whole family seemed tagged by destiny, and drew whole planets into their family squabbles. Eiven would rather try to catch a lightsaber with his bare hand than be in the same system with them.
Then a carnivorous tumbleweed hit him, the dry tendrils clinging to his flesh-and-blood arm. Task ripped it off, but two more had already jumped on him, and as he reached to pull those off he saw an entire ride of the strange migrating plantlife descending on him. Eiven cursed as he realized that the plants were being manipulated—an old Jedi trick he’d heard of from one of his holocrons, though not a common one. Desperate, he mentally thumbed the switch of the short-bladed lightsaber installed in his prosthetic forearm, the crimson blade setting one of the plants on fire as it ignited. With desperation Task laid about him, trying to burn the things as they clustered about him without chopping off any of his own bits.
Eiven was so busy fending them off, he didn’t even notice Illanova had caught up to him until something thumped hard against the back of his skull. He managed to stagger backwards and saw her wielding a pair of wooden clubs in either hand. His vision was already fading to black around the edges when she stepped forward and hit him again, and Eiven Task surrendered to the darkness.
Task awoke to the smell of wet wood and the singing of crystals. He was aware of lying against a wall, his arms bound behind him, and took his time opening his eyes, trying to get a sense of the place. It looked like a room grown out of dark, knobby wood and moss, threaded through with lighter tendrils from which crystals grew like fruit or tubers. Bright sunlight stung his half-lidded eyes, and he was aware of the slight, rhythmic thump of feet on floor not far from him. Somewhere in his backbrain there was also the hum of constant chatter, like a dozen people talking at once.
Eiven risked opening his eyes more and saw his captor bare-breasted as she worked through a series of exercises with her pair of cudgels. At the moment her hair was bright green and trying to stand on end and soak up the sunlight, but she had it tied back in a bushy tail behind her as she moved. Task recognized the general outlines of the style—Sholân Kha, the war dance/martial art of the Sylphe people, though several of the moves spoke of lightsaber training as well. The clubs were about right for the painful bump he felt at the back of his head. She finished the sequence and turned to him, green blood visibly rushing through her veins beneath the nearly translucent green skin.
“You’re awake.” She said, panting and smiling. He opened his eyes. “You have a head hard as durasteel. My ironwithe club barely left a mark!”
“You’re a Skywalker?” He said. The smile died.
“Adopted. My mother…” she shook her head.
“Where are we?” Task said.
“My ship, the Green Kilometer. An Ergesh Starjumper, grown in the Industrial Swampfields of Ergeshui. I had her refitted with Revwien biotechnology after she took a couple hits when the Sith hit the Temple…” she smiled again, then grew serious.  “Anyway, the reason you’re here. I need your help.”
“Lady Skywalker, I don’t want anything to do with you, or your clan, or the Jedi.”
“Then you shouldn’t have killed one of us.”
She crossed over to one of the wooden walls and pressed one of the knots. The crystals’ song changed, and lights shot out from hidden sconces, forming a hologram. Eiven Task watched the opening sequence of a tournament, himself pitted against a hulking wookiee in Jedi robes with a massive two-handed lightsaber. The fight didn’t end well for the wookiee. Task ground his teeth.
“He knew the risks going in.” he said.
“Maybe.” she said. “But the holocron he put up was not his. It was stolen from the Jedi.”
“And now you want it back and to bring me to justice?” Task said, letting a bit of acid into his voice.
“Oh no. My master says you can keep the holocron. We just need your help to do what you’re best at.”
“And what’s that?” He said, with a sinking feeling in his gut.
“Killing another Jedi.”
“He calls himself the Jedi Wizard.” Illanova said, and Eiven winced.
After he’d tentatively agreed to help, she’d finally untied him. The cockpit of her ship was little more than a thick window that let her look out into space; apparently it was controlled by some telepathic Baforr crystal-ferns or some such crap she’d picked up Ithor or some other forest world. Task tended to zone out on the details whenever she got into the technical specifications of her adventures in exotic agriculture. Whatever the case, they had a holographic projection of the planet, and their flight path to his not-so-secret hideout, and even an image of the guy—who was dressed like a Jedi but with lots of stars and moons stitched into his robes.
Eiven tried to think of something relevant to add to that, but gave up.
“That’s a really stupid name.” he said.
“Yeah. Apparently he left the temple, claiming the Jedi had lost the path blah blah blah and went off to study all the different types of Force-magic in the galaxy, vowing to return and prove us wrong. Typical teenage Jedi angsty wampashit, but apparently he learned something.”
Her hair was mostly back to cornsilk now, with rose highlights; Task had the uncomfortable thought that its color probably reflected her current mood.
“When he popped up on our screens again he was…experimenting on Force-sensitive kids. When the Jedi moved in en masse, he fled. I’ve tracked him here. The Council don’t want me to move in alone, though. That’s why I was in the cantina, looking for help. And here you are, Mr. Big Jedi Killer.”
Eiven thought about everything that was wrong with what he’d seen and what she said. He couldn’t tell her physical age, but mentally she had one of those bubbly cheerful attitudes that made him want to go torture a small fluffy animal just to balance out the Force. Based on her moves down at the cantina and exercising—she still hadn’t put a shirt on, something about being partially photosynthetic—she wasn’t an incompetent fighter, but obviously the Jedi Council didn’t trust her to take on this guy alone.
“Do you do this a lot? Hunt down rogue Jedi?” he asked.
“Oh no. When I was a padawan I was really kind of a pacifist—I studied the teachings of the Agricultural Corps from the Old Jedi Order, and even did some cross-training with the Tyia and the Ithorian Oracles. The Council usually sends me out on diplomatic and support missions and stuff, but I’m a good tracker, and I’m sneaky. I bet you hardly registered me before I stepped into the bar, right?”
“True.” He grudgingly admitted. Eiven briefly considered taking her out, but he had no idea how to fly this bioship. He looked again at the so-called “wizard” with his fancy-pants robes, and his right palm itched. Task wanted to kick this guy’s ass on general principles. “Okay, so let’s come up with a plan…”
“This was not the plan!” Task shouted as he swung his lightsaber pike at knee level, the silver-white blade bisecting three of the abominations coming towards him. They looked like six-year old human children, but flat artificial eyes stared out of their too-large skulls, and other cybernetic implants were visible sticking out of their skin, most notably the burning red lightsaber blades that replaced their right hands.
Eiven had heard of things like these—Sith Knights, they were called; cybernetic Force-users programmed for unswerving loyalty. Based on their ages and eerie uniformity of appearance, Task figured that instead of kidnapping a bunch of Force-sensitives the Jedi Wizard had just resorted to trying to clone a Force-adept over and over. A process which hardly ever worked, as these shambling, mostly mindless abominations were proving ridiculously easy to kill.
“Stop shouting at me!” Illanova screamed, swirling about and bringing her ironwithe staves down to crush wrists and skulls. They were already surrounded, fighting back to back, and were quickly being overwhelmed as more of the incomplete Force-clone-cyborg-things crawled out of their tanks. The Jedi Wizard, for his part, was laughing maniacally from a catwalk, holding a remote control in one hand.
“You see now my genius!” the star-and-moon spangled Force user yelled, specs of spittle getting caught in his beard. “Soon my new generation of Jedi knights will be ready to topple your stolid New Order! Jedi mass-produced to order, the Force harnessed to my will alone!”
Indulging in maniacal laughter, the wizard raised his right hand and let loose a burst of blue-white lightning right between the two embattled Force-users; as one, Illanova and Task jumped aside and let the burst scar the floor where they had been standing.
“What genius?” Eiven shouted as he thrust with his lightsaber blade to behead a clone that was sneaking up on Illanova. “You just found it and started it up again!” With a scream of rage, Task threw himself into a whirling attack, slinging the lightsaber pike about by the end of its handle, cutting indiscriminately through clone-cyborgs and equipment. The rage of the assault counted for a dozen of the dangerous things, clearing a space around them. Panting and high on adrenaline, Eiven spun around and pulled his holdout blaster from the small of his back with his left hand, aimed, and fired off a shot toward the madman.
The wizard only raised his right hand and smiled, the blaster bolt halting and seeming to dissipate inches from his skin.
“Ha! You see my power!” the rogue Jedi shouted.
Beside Task, Illanova tossed one of her ironwithe cudgels at the wizard, but he gestured and smiled as he telekinetically deflected that missile too. He was in mid-gloat when Skywalker tossed her other cudgel, and Eiven carefully timed his shot at the same time. Faced with their simultaneous attack, the wizard tried—and failed—to deflect both. The heavy wooden club caught him across the forehead, and the blaster bolt reduced the control unit in his hand to a burnt-out box.
Around them, the clone-cyborgs stumbled to a halt. Illanova beamed, still breathing heavy from the fight. “All right! We captured him alive and stopped his crazy plan! Now we just…”
Skywalker’s victory ruminations were brought up forth by the sizzle-pop of Eiven’s final blaster bolt into the Jedi Wizard’s body. He holstered the weapon and brought the business end of his lightsaber pike around.
“What are you doing?” She said.
“I’m going to cut him up into about four pieces. Maybe more.” Task said as he carefully separated the wizard’s head from his body. The smell of burning hair quickly filled the room. “And don’t give me any Jedi-don’t-kill nonsense. You wanted a Jedi killer, you got one.”
After the wizard was hacked in a sufficient number of pieces, Eiven started in on the clone-cyborgs, but that particular bit of butchery was more a mercy than anything else. The Jedi Wizard had pulled them out of these cloning chambers too soon, and many of them were already exhibiting biological distress as their unfinished bodies started to fail them, and the cybernetic implants essentially lobotomized them without the wizard directing them. Illanova spent most of the time very quiet as he moved from one to another, putting them out of their misery. Her hair was the brown and red of autumn silk.
“Is it always like this?” she said as he finished.
“You play with lightsabers,” Task said “you’re going to get burned.”

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