The Truth of Lightsabers
The night was old when Eiven Task left the Green Sith on the rocky outcropping by the beach, drunk on his home-brewed silva and staring up at the stars. The small brown alien had regaled Task with the tale about how he'd found a burning blade and it had destroyed him; then he issued the warning which had confirmed the bad feeling the human had been having for days: tomorrow, a few hours from now, his fellow prisoners were going to gang up and kill him. Fallen Jedi or broken Sith didn't matter; in the melting pot of this prison, philosophies and religions boiled down to their essence. They feared him. They were right to do so.
Somewhere up above, he knew, the Jedi were watching. Once, this remote island on Dantooine had been a training facility. Long abandoned and forgotten, it had been repurposed to jail the Force-using criminals too dangerous for regular prisons, but not worthy to merit outright execution. So no walls for a couple dozen Force-adepts and Sithspawn, no guards with vulnerable minds to be tricked or throats to be choked from afar. Just cold stone cells without power in the planet's temperate band, supplies dropped off once a week from low orbit, and a hundred miles of flat grey ocean in any direction.
Task walked towards the complex of ancient buildings where most of the prisoners were sleeping. In his right hand he fingered the shiv he'd made on the first day, the sharp metal point and edge held lightly in his palm. The human's left arm was long gone; a line of scar tissue tracing down from where his neck met his shoulder down to his hip, the pale skin to the right of it marked out with dark tattoos of blocky Sith runes. He had been bisected in a lightsaber duel in his youth, back when he had been a student of the New Order. For years he'd had a cybernetic prosthetic, but now even that was gone, leaving only the empty socket, and a few plastic and ceramic ribs holding in his artificial organs.
He could feel their fear, as he got nearer. Eiven's vision had slipped into black-and-white in the darkness, lit only by starlight, but he could sense each of them by the way they touched the Force. That was part of the reason they hated him, of course.
Task's old injury had decimated his talent; for a while he thought he'd lost all connection to the Force at all, until in a drunken stupor he'd managed to reach for a glass with his missing arm - and surprisingly managed to lift it, in a small display of telekinesis that had brought him back from the brink. Not to go back to the Jedi, but to find his own path, sifting through the ruins and trash of the old empires and orders, finding bits and pieces - lightsabers, training droids, old armor and damaged texts. Eiven had dug up graves and pilfered tombs. More than once he'd fought to keep what he found, or killed someone else for a holocron.
Sifting through the garbage, he had found treasures, and taught himself a few things. The Sith runes were more than just decoration, they were part of a piece of old Sith magic fueled by what was left of his ability, to hide him from the Force-senses of others. They couldn't feel him, not through the Force or through their foresight. None of the fellow prisoners could sense him coming, he was the blank space in their precognitive flashes, the unpleasant surprise that always was where they didn't expect him. The more puissant adepts figured out what was going on, and thought Eiven was hiding his true power; the less skilled just knew that his mere presence irritated them. Task might have laughed at how scared they were of a one-armed human with less raw potential remaining than most apprentices. Instead he went to where the Sithspawn were sleeping and fingered his shiv. There was a lot of work to do before morning.
Task sat shuddering in the morning chill. An early morning swim in the ocean had washed the blood from his body and clothes as best as could be done. Now he sat in the middle of the courtyard formed by the buildings, where the ex-Jedi camp typically came to do their exercises. The prisoners filed out and looked at him strangely, sitting there all alone, but none of them made a move directly towards him, at least not until the Voss came out.
Taller than Eiven by almost a full meter, the Voss was built like a mountain with red skin stretched tight over bulging muscles and weird compound orange eyes that burned from within when she channeled the Force. She was unofficially considered the most powerful of the adepts here, and headed up the Light Side Gang. He'd never learned her real name.
As she approached him, the rest of the prisoners stretched out into a circle. Hands went to hidden folds and pockets, fingering their own shivs; a few surreptitiously stretched to loosen their muscles up for the upcoming epic beatdown. Below it all he could feel their fear tickling at his backbrain, and almost taste the Force begin to pulse among them as the anticipation began to build, three dozen adepts scrabbling for a glimpse of the future and finding uncertainty.
"Bitch," the Voss said in clipped Basic, using the name she'd given him the day he got here. "Ready to die?"
Task, still seated, held up his empty right hand to head height. "Can I say something?"
The Voss nodded. Eiven's tongue was thick in his mouth, his heart unconsciously started to beat faster, and his sphincter clenched, but he'd taken the time to go before he'd sat down. There was nothing left to vent.
"This is all bullshit." He began. "This is the crap that Jedi and Sith have been doing for centuries, killing each other to prove who's the best. We pride ourselves so much on our foresight and intuition, but too often we get so caught up chasing prophecies that we can't see past our own blades. As high and mighty as either side likes to dress it up, they all seem to think that the truth of the Force comes down to might makes right, and that the proof of the argument comes at the point of a lightsaber. Well let me tell you the truth," and he raised his voice and started locking eyes with the people in the crowd; the Green Sith, nursing a hangover, had waddled in at the edge, "about lightsabers."
"They're not magical swords of flame that only Force-attuned can wield. They're just nasty weapons, and there's nothing special about that. Like any other weapon, the moment you draw it you're taking a tense situation and changing it into a matter of life or death." Task dropped his hand, and tossed his shiv at the Voss's feet. "Somebody once told me that winning a fight starts before you ever flick on your lightsaber. I though he meant training and preparation, but it's more than that. Its about knowing when to fight more than how, and knowing that drawing your weapon eliminates any non-violent solution. The Jedi call it Form Zero; the Sith call it something else. They each put their own spin on it - diplomacy, intimidation - but the outcome is the same. We're all prisoners on this piece of rock, far and away from the traditions - let's do something different. Let's not fight."
Eiven pointed at the piece of sharpened metal at Voss' feet.
"Some of you are scared of me, but I'm here to tell you there's nothing to be scared of. I'm a one-armed human without even a weapon. I'm not a Dark Lord of the Sith or Jedi Master, I'm just a drop-out who ran away from the academy and spent most of my life on the run. I'm handy with a lightsaber, but in case you haven't noticed, I haven't got one. I'm never going to be the most powerful Jedi in the universe, and I don't want to be. What are you afraid of, that I have secret special powers? That I'm going to go from cripple to berserker and kill you all? I don't want to. How long are you going to be ruled by your fears? Let's just drop it, here and now. We can all walk away from this. No one has to die here."
Task looked around at the crowd, but all eyes were on the Voss. Slowly, she reached down with her left hand and picked up his shiv, an oversized metal toothpick in her massive red hand. Then the hand closed into a fist around it.
Still sitting, Eiven stepped outside time.
The Aing-Tii call it flow-walking. The H'Drachi Seers had their own name for it. The holocron that had taught it to Task described it as an extension of a Force-user's precognition, allowing the self to step outside their frame of reference to examine future and past as an observer. Whatever the case, it worked. Powerful Sith and Jedi were said to 'walk centuries ahead or behind, to stand witness at critical moments of history. Task could 'walk about a couple minutes in either direction; far enough to win a fight, but not far enough to avoid one.
Normally battles between Force-adepts had something of a dance or chess-match about it, each side fighting by instinct and intuition as much as by tactical skill and planning, instincts driven by precognitive flashes, dueling views of the future coming together in a clash of burning blades. This fight was looking to be much the same, except for two things: Task could see farther ahead than the others, play and replay the battle-to-come from every angle - and of course, the other Force-adepts couldn't see the human in their precognitive visions at all.
The Sithspawn, of course, weren't Force-sensitives. They might have been a real problem. Which is why Eiven had gone around at night, and killed them as they slept with his little shiv.
It might have evened the odds a little, if there weren't thirty or so former Jedi and Sith left. Task played through the options, choreographing each move, dodge, and attack. He knew in the end, there would be too many, even for him, but if he was going to die he was going to take as many of these bastards with him as he could.
In the present, Task spun from a sitting posture to pile both feet into the Voss' left knee, which buckled under the blow. The red-skinned titan collapsed like the fall of empires, instinctively putting her arms and hands up to cushion her head and body, getting ready to roll with the impact when she hit the ground. Forgetting for the moment about the sharpened shiv in her left hand. She didn't scream when the sharpened spike of metal rammed into her eye socket; was too dazed from pain to notice when Eiven rolled over and quickly rammed her head downwards, driving the shiv straight into her brain. Her form shimmered for a moment and then vanished, her empty prison clothes lying on the ground.
The shock of her death rippled through the crowd; half of the first rank were moving forward with shivs bared as the rest made sure to close off any routes of escape. Even if they couldn't predict where he would be or what he would do, most of them were trained fighters - and could be faster and stronger than he was, if they drew on the Force. Task spun around on the ground, keeping his distance as they tightened the net, waiting for the first opening...he could take out one, maybe two before they started to get their shivs in him. In his mind's eye he saw himself ripped apart a thousand times...
"Bitch, catch!" A deep warbling voice cried out. Instinctively, the one-armed human stuck out his hand, felt the impact up his arm as the hard metal hilt slammed into his palm with Force more than any thin brown arm could manage on his own. Eiven tried not to think of where the little alien had hidden it, though the stringy brown goop clinging to the handle was a clue. Heedless, the first rank took it as a distraction and came on as a wave.
The burning red blade erupted with a black cloud of burning shit, the meter-long crimson blade vaporizing skin, muscle, and bone as Task whipped it around him.
The other prisoners stalled as the first six hit the ground in smoking sections, and Eiven task laughed as he lunged forward towards the other prisoners, who began to scream and shout instructions. The Green Sith was already at the back of the crowd and running away as fast his shuffling waddle could take him.
He knew, as his heart beat so fast he almost thought it would bounce through his chest, that it wasn't a lightsaber. It was a force saber, a product of a fallen empire before there had been Jedi and Sith. The fiery blade was rough and unrefined compared to the brilliant, clean core of the lightsaber blade, the burning cloud that surrounded it could blacken skin even on a near miss, and his own hand blistered from the waste heat. More than that, all the fear and rage he'd built up since he'd gotten here seemed to explode at once. All the emotional pain he'd suffered - the loneliness, the anger, the rejection, the thousand tiny slights and insults and embarrassments were fresh and raw in his mind. Fear and anger gave him strength and speed, and the blade burned brighter as he fed on it.
Even with the reach and deadliness of his weapon and his foresight, Task knew he was badly outnumbered. Instinctively, he moved into the aggressive Juyo form, slashing boldly and moving fast, trying to keep from being surrounded as the Light Siders fainted back from his attacks, only to try and bum-rush him from behind. In less than a minute, most of them were smoking piles of meat on the ground, save for the few who had vanished on death.
"Now!" someone shouted behind him, and Eiven twirled, instinctively raising his blade en garde.
A dozen prisoners - the Dark Side Gang - stood together, hands raised. Blue white lightning arced from their fingertips and palms a series of split-second electrical displays that left burning auras and glowing shadows in Task's vision. The first bolt Eiven caught on his force saber, the burning blade absorbing and dissipating the energy, rage fighting rage. Others hit him in the shoulder and leg, wet clothing exploding in sudden bursts of steam as the flesh beneath boiled and burned. None of the bolts were very powerful or very controlled, but there were many of them and even with his Force- and adrenaline-fueled reflexes the one-armed human could not catch. Things exploded in the left side of his chest, where cybernetic organs began to short and fail. Still, he walked forward into the hail, Force-visions guing each step, bringing his blade up to catch the blasts as best he could. The Dark Siders, for their part, did not flinch at Task's advance.
Then he took the final step and was among them, crimson blade burning through grey prison garb and into the flesh beneath, lopping off hands and legs, stabbing at eyes and faces. The leader of the Dark Siders - a slim human woman with filed teeth - held up both her hands as came in for the killing blow and Eiven froze, stalled in place as she held him telekinetically, the burning blade inches from her face. Task himself imagined his left hand around her throat, and was rewarded by the sudden dimpling of flesh at her neck. It was a losing struggle, her oxygen-starved brain unable to break his force choke and fend off his burning blade. After a long minute, her eyes fluttered, and Task envied her for blacking out before the blade burned through her face and skull, causing her brain to boil and explode.
For a moment, the courtyard was still and silent as an abattoir except for Eiven Task's labored breathing. Then he caught the faint flicker of the survivors, the ones who had fled. He smiled, and knew they would never feel him coming.
Task found Greenie on his rocky outcropping by the beach, drinking silva and watching the sun set. The black hilt of the force saber was still in his right hand, that was scarred and pitted where the heat blistered had popped and scabbed over. His breathing was labored, his left pseudo-lung refused to inflate, and he limped. There were burns along his head, chest, and legs, and a shiv still stuck out of his back where it had lodged in his left shoulder where he couldn't quite reach it.
The Green Sith sipped his silva and watched him, and offered Eiven his cup.
"Good for Force-hangover."
The human nodded, and painfully sat down on the rock. He had to force his cramped fingers to let go of the hilt of the force saber, which rolled between them. Task took the cup and drank a long pull of the green booze. He made a face, but didn't stop.
"Thanks," Eiven said. "and thanks." He nodded towards the hilt on the ground.
The little brown alien's head bobbed, big eyes staring up at the sky. Somewhere up there, the Jedi would be staring down at the massacre. Somewhere past that, the Green Planet hung in the heavens. Task passed him the cup back, and the brown hand with the dark grey Sith tattoos filled it with more silva.
"Good speech," the Green Sith said.
"Meant every word," Task said.
Just a quick comment to say that I eat up every Eiven Task story you write.ReplyDelete