Friday, January 24, 2014

Force Shiv

Force Shiv
by Bobby Derie

The bruises had mostly faded to blue-brown by the time the in-processing ritual had begun, but the drugs still had their hold on him. Eiven Task barely registered the proceedings, watching them dispassionately as though he had stepped outside his own head. The room was a bare cell, false stone flags, and the figure reading aloud his sentence and crimes was just a pale blue holoprojection, floating in midair. Task wondered if the Jedi from the hologram was alive, or just a recording. Below his feet, the floor hummed and vibrated. The cell was moving.
Eiven Task was human, or close enough; only the slight violent tint on the edge of his brown eyes and the gold creeping into his short-cropped brown hair suggested any alienage in his ancestry. At barely a meter and a half tall he was of average height for his species, and with the slim, stringy build of a marathoner or desert rat. The prison uniform they’d stuck him in reminded him of the bodysuits worn as underclothes by padawans, though perhaps a size too small.
Unconsciously, he tested his bonds. His right arm—he had only the one—was bound behind his back by a black sleeve. The stump of a prosthetic arm jutted out from his left shoulder, ending just above where the elbow joint should have been, and he wiggled it uselessly. Weird rings surrounded his feet at ankle and mid-calf, glowing slightly; Eiven wasn’t familiar with the technology, but he knew at this point he couldn’t even feel his legs below the knee. So he stood, thighs aching, trapped in the box. Waiting for it to stop talking.
Groggy from the drugs, disoriented by his seclusion, Task wasn’t prepared when the box opened beneath him. There was a brief sensation of weightlessness, followed by blinding sunlight on dark-adapted eyes, and then he fell. Pins and needles screamed in his legs and blood flowed back in the numb limbs, and he credited luck more than skill or the Force in managing a bit of a roll as he landed on the damp grass. One good arm still tied behind him, he sat blinking as his eyes adjusted, and pain began fading from his legs. Somewhere in the back of his brain he registered the rhythmic thumping on the ground of feet headed toward him.
When he could see again, he found himself in the middle of a small crowd. True Sith, humans and near-humans mostly, and a few more exotic species, including a practically emaciated Hutt. Hard men and women, by the look of them; lots of stringy muscle and fine grey hand-made tattoos. Like Task, they wore the thin grey bodysuits that marked them as inmates to this prison, but worn, stained, and mended from long use.
“Fresh meat,” the Hutt said in Basic. “Let me eat this one, Voss?”
One of the women stepped forward, about three heads taller than Task and built like a bodybuilder; with red skin and weird compound orange eyes.
“Simmer.” She said to the Hutt, her accent clipped and slightly mechanical. “Pecking order. You,” she toed Task. “Name?”
A glimmer of warning hit Task’s gut, and he tried to relax. He had a bad feeling about this.
“Eiven Task.”
The kick caught Task on the right temple; he’d half expected it, but couldn’t do much to avoid it. The blow was precise and powerful enough to split his scalp open, blood starting to flood over his right eye, but he responded almost instinctively, striking out with his own numb legs as it hit, catching Voss in the right knee. Task half-hoped the joint would buckle, but his kick lacked force. It just made her angry. She picked him up and grabbed the metal stump of his prosthetic left arm, then ripped it out of his shoulder. Eiven obliged her with a scream.
“I am Voss. You are Bitch. Jedi, Sith, don’t care. You do what I say, you live. Not, you die. Understand, Bitch?”
Task didn’t nod, for fear his head would fall off.
“Understood.” He managed.
Satisfied, most of the crowd dispersed. The Voss woman turned to a stumpy, long-necked brown alien. “Greenie. Cut Bitch loose.”
Then she dropped the remains of his arm and walked away.
From a sleeve, the brown alien produced a long-handled stick with a fragment of sharpened metal on the end, and waddled over to Task’s side, began sawing away at the material of the black sleeve holding his arm, humming all the while. Within a few minutes, Eiven felt a sudden slack and pulled the sleeve away. He stretched his fingers and wiped some of the blood from his eye.
The brown alien, Greenie, stuck out one long finger, which began to glow as from within. Eiven said nothing as the finger touched the cut, and the flesh seemed to burn—but in a few moments the blood stopped, and the pain receded to a dull ache. Task fingered the fresh scar on his brow.
“Welcome, Bitch.” Greenie said, amiably enough.
Still seated, Task started to massage some life back into his legs and feet, looking around, sniffing the air.
There were no walls to this prison, at least that he could see. He was seated on a sward of grass that inclined gently down to the sea, which was visible in three directions. Behind him, the land rose into a grassy knoll atop which where some stone buildings that had seen better centuries.
“Where are we?”
“Datooine. Jedi prison. Very old, very secret. Use, forget, use, forget.” Greenie said, spreading his arms wide. “Fallen Jedi, Sithspawn, padawans too dangerous to let go or train, masters grown senile or insane…all those the Jedi want to forget. What are you in for?”
An image flashed through Task’s mind: a Wookiee in Jedi robes, the flash of a lightsaber blade, that great furred head bouncing on the floor of the arena.
“Murder. You?”
Greenie smiled, raising its hands in front of it to display the pale grey Sith tattoos across its knuckles. Task sounded out the symbols in his head, translating it as something like “Reaper.”
“Any way off this rock?” he asked. Greenie chuckled.
“Supersith Bitch gonna fly? Or maybe swim? Hundred kilometers to main continent, easy. Datooine, sparsely populated. Food dropped in, thirty day cycle. Laced with drugs. Keeps us docile, keeps the rapes down. Voss’ posse say who gonna eat. Anybody try to escape, no food for a cycle. Eyes in the sky.” Greenie points up. “Transports, never come close enough. Been tried.”
Task nodded. “Any advice?”
Greenie slapped him on the ass, which was about shoulder-height for the small alien. “Make friends. Make shiv. Watch your back. Watch your butt.”
Eiven nodded, and as Greenie walked away, the human bent over and picked up the metal shaft of his left arm.
There were cells on the island, in the main structure; empty stone-walled cubes with thin window slits and communal toilets. They reminded Task more than a bit of the quarters he’d had as a padawan. He found one no-one else had claimed and laid down on the floor. It was a long night, and after Greenie’s bit of advice, Task would have opted to lay on his back if he was going to sleep. But there was no rest for him that night.
There was a story, before the first proto-sabers with their bulky power supplies were made, of the ancient Jedi wielding swords imbued with the Force. The Sith too, had their stories of terrific weapons, crafted with their strange alchemical arts, that could stand up to a lightsaber in combat. Task had faced such weapons before, studied the techniques, but he’d never tried to make one for himself.
Now was as good a time as any.
He lay awake before dawn, listening to the others in the darkness, opening himself up to the Force until he could feel the presence of his fellow prisoners. It was familiar and comforting in a way he hadn’t felt in many years, the pull of so many Force-users so close together.
With the sun came communal exercises, Voss leading forms for a group of about half the prisoners. Task watched them train. After that, everyone seemed to break off to do their own thing. Some sparred, other meditated, a few engaged in contests, most talked and argued. Real fights seemed few, but there was a definite animosity between different groups, individuals. Boredom was engrained in everyone, but Eiven was well aware that there were no guards for this camp—at least, not near enough to make a distance—and whatever they might look like, every single one of them was trained in combat.
Task tried to keep to himself, which didn’t win him any favors. As the emaciated Hutt had put it, he was fresh meat, and most of the prisoners wanted a piece of him one way or another. A new voice, new stories, a new opponent, a new piece of ass was all he was to most of them, and after Voss had shown that “Bitch” wasn’t going to topple the status quo, some of them decided he might even be a push-over.
The first fight came as Voss and her posse were passing out daily rations. Individually packaged with the minimum daily calories and nutrients for each prisoner, labeled with their name and species with little warning markers so nobody accidentally poisoned themselves. Task’s included a soft sugarwafer for dessert. A one-eyed Besalisk made a grab for it, and Eiven responded by punching the four-armed behemoth in its fat lips. That brought a smile to its broad face, and the rest of the prisoners made a circle to watch the fight.
The Besalisk was 1.8 meters tall, had four arms, and must have massed at least three times what Eiven did. Consequently, Task’s first attack was Force-fueled kick between the legs. The Besalisk brushed the kick aside with one sweep of its arms, and then barreled straight at the human, huge sweaty hands swinging and groping for holds as the smaller, thinner, nimbler Task dodged and weaved. Task didn’t know what the name of the Besalisk’s martial art was, but it was a wrestler’s art, and with the tremendous strength in those four broad shoulders Eiven didn’t want to think about what would happen if the Besalisk got a solid grip on him—and then it happened, and the four-armed brute slammed Task to the ground, using his weight to try and pin his arms and legs. The massive lips split in a huge smile, its top-left arm holding the sugarwafer in triumph.
Task smiled too, as the sharpened edge of his prosthetic arm dug deep into the bulbous pouch of flesh that the Besalisk had instead of a chin. There was only a momentary look of surprise on the Besalisk’s face, and then Task focused all his skill to telekinetically push the shiv straight up, right into the creature’s brain. It died almost instantly. Crawling out from under it took longer.
The crowd did not applaud as he struggled up, but nobody jumped the exhausted prisoner either, at least not with the shiv still in his hand. Most went back to eating, Voss had a couple of her boys take the corpse of the Besalisk away.
Greenie sidled up in his slow waddle, head bobbing.
“Was good fight, Darth Bitch.” the little brown alien said.
Task, nodding, bent down and picked up the blood-soaked sugarwafer and brought it to his lips. It tasted sweet.

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