First Draft Fridays #5—In A Galaxy Far, Far Away . . .
It's amazing what can change in a mere four or five years. Back then I was still an engineering student at UVA, took Taekwondo classes in my spare time, and didn't bother to vary my sentence structure all that much when writing. Each time I saw the word "as" in today's excerpt, I cringed a little, knowing there are far better alternatives for linking clauses together. But critiquing my prose is just one element of this blog series—and, if we're honest, the one everyone cares the least about. Instead, you come here for stories. To see what's kicking around in my mind. To be entertained. So as Ahrs's tale draws to a temporary close, I went back into my pile of unfinished projects and grabbed one that's sure to excite: a piece of Star Wars fan-fiction. Please don't copyright strike me Disney! I'm not profiting off your IP! Whew. Now that we've resolved that little bit of unpleasantness, sit back, relax, and enter the viewpoint of Aisha the waif, a young thief whose life is about to change forever . . .
NOTE: Written in 2014. For excerpts from the Divinity's Twilight universe, read the samples in the "Online Library" tab or "Side Story: Ahrs." Part One: Run 15 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin - Star Wars Episode 4) Run.
If I stop, they’ll kill me for sure.
Her lungs were on fire. Her muscles screamed for release. Every step was agony, every stride an explosion of torment throughout her body. But she couldn’t stop, she couldn’t look back. Only the rapid pattering of her light, short footfalls continued to spare her the even worse fate closing in behind. Neither her ragged breathing nor the incessant thumping of her blood in her ears could fully drown out the litany of alien screams and curses that thundered down the alleyway after her.
An opening in the debris filled lane appeared before her, and she ducked left onto the new path as a blaster bolt scored another black line on the soot covered wall above her head. Sometimes it was an advantage to be short and wiry. At four foot eight, small even for a girl her age, she presented a poor target for the soused gangsters. But she knew her luck wouldn’t hold forever; either they’d finally nail a bolt into her narrow back or catch up to her and carry her back to their den. The former was massively preferable to the latter.
A gruff voice echoed from behind in Basic. “Blast it Kras, I said no blasters! If’n ye hit the goods, it won’t just be your scrawny self feedin the boss’s nexors!” She knew the speaker to be Shor Ek, the lieutenant of local Black Sun crime boss Amari Ataros. She’d dealt with Shor before, and knew the brawny but vacuous Weequay’s cruelty first hand from beatings he’d dealt her in the past. What she didn’t know then, however, was that her previous treatment had been but a warning. She had crossed a line, and any protection her matriarch’s connections with Black Sun may have afforded her were long gone.
As she barreled past a couple of Jawas, completely ignoring the chase behind them as they studied the remnants of a derelict protocol droid, she elicited a raspy chuckle at the irony of her situation. Dust to dust. She was a human, born with no name, abandoned by her parents in the undercity of the capital of gambling, crime, and poverty, Nar Shadaa. She used to think that her parents had no choice, and were still out there somewhere, getting their lives in order so that they could one day find her and tear her away from all of this. Twelve years in the festering pit of galactic scum that toiled day and night in the shadow of the cartels had shattered that notion and left her jaded. Her father was likely a spice addict, her mother a ‘dancer,’ and they had probably abandoned her as an unwanted and unloved burden.
A hulking Gamorrean with tiny eyes and the jowls of a pig stepped out from a doorway ahead and grabbed at her with short, meaty fists. Exhausted as she was, her instinct took over and she slid between his tree trunk legs, jabbed her fist upward into his unarmored groin, and regained her feet to continue running as the thug collapsed at her back. Shouts of dismay rose immediately, and she glanced back to see four gangsters trying to climb over the unmoving bulwark of Gamorrean flesh that now blocked the narrow alley.
That maneuver, along with other less than noble skills, had been drilled into her by her matriarch, Lady Thana. No one knew where she came from, but she was a human of middling years that had established herself as a broker among the crime syndicates of Nar Shadaa. Like herself, Lady Thana had rescued dozens of children from starvation on the unforgiving streets, giving them food and shelter while turning them into her agents to gather information and valuables from across the planet wide city. Smarter and more moldable than her fellows, Lady Thana had given her a title: The Wraith. It was the first time anyone had recognized her existence beyond merely another mouth to feed, and she did not disappoint her mentor. Absorbing skills such as slicing, wiretapping, pickpocketing, safecracking, and more, she accomplished dozens of jobs that further raised the prestige of Lady Thana among her fellow crime bosses and threatened to allow her to expand her operations off world.
Dust to dust. Everything had since come crashing down. The Wraith was sent to steal a data chip containing material and monetary manifests belonging to the local representative of the Trade Federation. The job, ordered by Black Sun, was straightforward and easy: Infiltrate a lightly guarded warehouse, hack the main database, copy the files, setup a dummy program to erase any evidence of intrusion, and get back out again. However, the entire mission was a trap. Vigo Amari Ataros had become jealous of the notoriety Lady Thana had developed, to the point that even Black Sun executives from as far away as Coruscant were courting her favor for access to her intelligence networks. As their voice in the region, Amari couldn’t stand that someone else could possibly be considered equal or superior to her in their estimation. As a result, the Wraith’s ‘mission’ was nothing more than an elaborate trap.
After copying all of the data off the mainframe computer, she found herself surrounded by Shor Ek and a dozen other heavily armed thugs. He calmly informed her that the data she had just copied belonged to Amari Ataros, and that such action represented a breach of the nonaggression pact between Lady Thana and Black Sun. She would therefore be captured, interrogated, tortured, and then summarily executed along with Lady Thana.
Her mind addled with exhaustion from her flight, the Wraith couldn’t remember much of what had happened next. She had loosed a shriek of pent up rage and despair…and then everything around her exploded. Wide eyed gangsters were thrown across the room, crashing into equipment and boxes as they went. Lights hanging from the ceiling shattered and were torn from their mounts, flinging shrapnel down upon everyone and filling the room with darkness. Shor Ek managed to hold his ground, but was pushed back several feet as though buffeted by strong winds. In that instant of wide eyed terror for both her and her enemies, she had let her instincts take over and bolted straight out the warehouse doors.
The Wraith had now been on the run for over an hour, and twilight was coming on. As the shadows lengthened, the dimming light was a friend to her and a foe to her enemies. There were no street lights on the back alleys, and she was used to running under the cover of darkness while her burly pursuers were not. Behind her, the voices from the blocked intersection faded into the distance, and she took another several turns in rapid succession to throw off anyone still following her before ducking into a darkened doorway to catch her breath.
Her adrenaline began to fade almost instantly, and her legs nearly buckled beneath her as they turned to jelly. She had decided to run with a light load this mission, so she had no food or water, just her utility belt with a small knife and other thief’s tools. As her elevated heart rate and breathing began to drop, she listened intently to the end of the day bustle on the other side of the building and plotted how and where she would go to ground.
Tired as the Wraith was, she barely had time to react to the rhythmic humming of the bola as it caught her in mid dash from the alcove. Whipping around her legs, she cried out as the weights on either end bit into her flesh before dropping heavily to the ground and dragging her with them. She tried to scramble to her feet, but her legs were bound securely and she couldn’t shift the ballasts more than a few feet at a time. As the Wraith grabbed her knife from her utility belt, a boot arced out of the fading daylight to kick it from her hand. A wind scarred, leathery hand reached down, grabbed her by her dark, matted hair, and hauled her into the air.
As she clawed and punched at the muscular arm holding her, she found her eyes gazing into those of Shor Ek, “Look’ee what we got here, a lil mouse what scampered off with our data!” So this is how my misery ends the Wraith thought to herself, as with a smirk she spat straight into Shor Ek’s left eye. With a howl of outrage, Shor Ek flung her into the nearby wall, and began kicking her in the stomach, chest, and face, completely oblivious to his orders and the retrieval of the data chip.
As the myriad of blows fell on her, she began to go numb. The first kick ironically smashed the data chip in her jacket’s secret inner chest pocket. Serves him right. The second broke two ribs. I hope the rest of the crew gets away. The third gave her a black eye and nearly broke her eye socket. Lady Thana will protect them, I know she will. The fourth fractured her collar bone. Maybe I should try to smile. Lady Thana once told me you should live such that you can smile when you die. The fifth…she never felt the fifth…or the sixth for that matter. She sensed a warm glow across her exposed flesh, a slight heat that warmed the hairs of her arms and legs without burning them. Cautiously, she opened her eyes to behold a warm glow banishing the darkness of the alley.
There, in front of her, was a tall man, with brown hair, a composed, clean shaven face, and piercing blue eyes. He was dressed in a tunic and robe of varying shades of brown, and a comlink and slicing tools hung from a utility belt at his waist. Despite his old fashioned garments and calm demeanor, she estimated his age as early twenties. But all that description was secondary compared to the wondrous orange blade that emerged from a metal cylinder he held up against the throat of a wide eyed, slack jawed Shor Ek.
“A-A-A Jetii?! It can’t be, you’re suppos’d to be dead, kill’t off!”
The man smiled and spoke in an amused Coruscanti accent, “As you can see, rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.” His tone and inflection were clipped and slow, as though he was delivering a speech to a class at university rather than casually threatening to take the life of an unrepentant criminal. “Would you care to unhand the young lady you surely weren’t just mistreating? It wouldn’t do for you to be injured in retribution for an act you didn’t commit, now would it?”
Shor Ek slowly relaxed his grip on the Wraith’s hair, oblivious to her existence for the moment. She immediately resumed her struggles, and nearly escaped before his hand clamped down again like a vice, “This ‘ere brat has caused Black Sun more trouble ‘an she’s worth! She ain’t gettin away from me, and I know ye ain’t a Jetii. The last of ‘em died five years ago in the purge. Ye just some jacked up wanna be son of a rich bozo that got daddy to buy yous a nice toy so ye can mess with us gutter trash. Just ye wait, as soon as I git finished with’en this girlie I’ll slice yous up nice a-arrggggghhhh!!”
With a twitch of his wrist, the robed man swung his blade down and the pressure on the Wraith’s head instantly disappeared. As it did, a disembodied hand dropped past her head and she let out a surprised squeal as she backed up against the nearest wall. Shor Ek gazed in wonder at his now cauterized stump of an arm, and then back at the ‘Jetii.’ He let out a shriek of pain and anger while drawing his blaster with his remaining hand. The next second he was plastered to the wall across the alley, his blaster left uselessly on the ground where he had been.
The Jetii’s kind eyes had hardened, and his voice was now edged with steel, “You are scum and deserve to die for what you’ve done here today. However, it is not the Jedi way to kill when there are other alternatives.” One hand was raised outwards towards Shor Ek, as though an invisible wall extended between it and the Weequay, holding him tight to the opposite building. The other shut off the magnificent glowing saber and clipped it to his belt, before being waved in front of the gangster as he spoke his next words, “You will leave this girl alone and never bother her again.”
Through the pain from her wounds, the Wraith felt her eyes go wide and her hair stand on end with shock as Shor Ek repeated the stranger’s words, “I will leave dis girl alone and ne’er bo’der her again.”
“You will tell no one that you met a Jedi, and you will fabricate an appropriate story for your friends about what happened here tonight.”
“I will tell no one that yer a Jetii, and will fab-ri—” Shor Ek stumbled over the difficult word, before magically substituting a synonym, “Make up an appropriate story fer my friends aboot what happened to-night.”
“And you will not return to your life of crime, but will instead go home and rethink your life.”
“An’ I will not return to me life o’ crime, but will insteed git home and rethink my life.” As Shor Ek finished the statement, the Jedi lowered both his hands and Shor Ek dropped to the ground. The Wraith, unsure whether he would actually listen to the stranger’s advice or renew his attack, shrank back as far as she could down the alley with the bola weights still wrapped around her legs. However, as though in a trance, Shor Ek nodded sagely to both her and the Jedi before sauntering off the way they had come while whistling the tune of a raunchy limerick.
The Jedi waved in her direction next, and with a start, she found her legs a foot off the ground as the bola somehow unwrapped itself from her legs. He then moved towards her, prompting her to scamper back an equal number of paces. The Wraith didn’t think he meant her harm, but after what she had been through, and the amazing feats she had seen him perform, she wasn’t taking any chances.
For the first time that night, saved from a cruel death and faced with the impossible, she found her voice, “Wh-Who are you? What did you do to Shor Ek?”
He smiled at her and dropped to his haunches so he could speak on her level, “Shor Ek? You mean that ugly Weequay brute? I just suggested that he do what he should have done with his life from the get go: use it for something worthwhile.” She gave him an incredulous look, and shrank a few steps further back.If he was going to play games with her, like most other adults, she was going to make a break for it. Not like he really cared what happened to her anyway.
His expression, though still kind, took on a thoughtful aspect, as though he had deduced what she was thinking, “Sorry, that was just a poor attempt at humor. You’ve probably had enough of adults not taking you seriously throughout your life of hardship and struggle.” The Jedi’s eyes bored into her, and somehow she felt like he knew her, despite them being perfect strangers. “What you just saw is called the Force. It’s hard to explain, but it permeates all living things, connects them, and sustains them. In those especially strong in the Force, such as Jedi like myself, it can be used to move or grasp things or,” he waved the same hand he had used on Shor Ek earlier, “Manipulate the weak minded.”
To the Wraith, the Jedi’s words should have been meaningless. Why should she believe in this pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo?She had heard about the Jedi in snatches throughout her life. When she was young, she heard tales of their gallantry and power in the Clone Wars. At the age of eight, as she stole from freighters that came to Nar Shadaa from the core worlds, she heard of the attempted Jedi coup, Order 66, and the formation of the Galactic Empire.As Shor Ek said, the Jedi should be extinct, and yet she had undoubtedly witnessed this man’s power and seen his—the word sprang into her mind unbidden—lightsaber in action.
She gazed at him, caution and wonder warring in her mind, “You still never told me who you are.And why are you telling me all this?Why does a Jedi care about a street wraith with no name?”
The Wraith waited for the sorrow, the pity to cross his face as she told him she was a street urchin without a name, but the Jedi’s face beamed back at her with kindness, with joy, with an emotion she hadn’t seen in her lifetime…hope. “I am Jedi Knight Sirhc Rulless of the Unknown Regions Exploration and Colonization Mission. Admittedly, I came here to meet a contact, but all that is secondary now.I felt a great movement of the force as I landed here, and rushed towards it to find…you. Your power is raw, full of anger, torment, and despair. But your strength in the force is undeniable, and, if refined, you will become a Jedi above any I’ve known. Will you come with me and find your true destiny?”
With equal parts awe and disbelief, she stared at him as her emotions warred within her. Worry for her former boss and fellow thieves. Anger at her life and circumstances that had led to this point. Excitement at the prospects and possibilities unfolding before her. And hope, for a future better than her life or the lives any like her had ever lived. Throughout it all, she reflected upon the surge of power she had experienced earlier that day, at the…Force…she had unleashed. And with the first genuine smile of her life, the Wraith realized that she truly did have the power to seize her destiny and change her fate.
Sirhc rose to his feet and extended a hand towards her, which she swiftly rose to meet and grasp.His lips broadened into a wide grin as he spoke, “If you are to be my student, you must have a name.I think Aisha would suit a resourceful young girl like yourself.What do you think?”
Aisha beamed back at him, and tears of joy welled up in the corners of her eyes as she received the greatest gift anyone had ever given her: a name.“I like it very, very much.”