The Sidori Gambit

Trial of Skill

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

Twenty-one years before the Battle of Yavin

Zeva woke up to find herself in a tiny bed. Where am I? she thought. How did I get here?

She recognized her dimly-lit surroundings as the sleeping quarters of the Katarn clan, where she had lived before becoming Master Tulu’s Padawan. Just how had she made it back here? And who had dressed her in her sleepwear, anyway?

She swung her legs out from under the covers, found the floor cold beneath her bare feet. She moved to the center of the room, then quietly said “Where is everybody?”

“We’re here,” a familiar voice said.

Zeva turned to see a human youngling, a female. As the child stepped forward, Zeva realized she was looking at her own face. But this young Zeva had white hair, not blond.

“Master Tulu is gone,” the youngling said. “Teach us.”

Zeva brushed her bangs away from her eyes. “I’m not sure that the Council would – “

“Teach us,” said another youngling, her face also revealed to be Zeva’s as she stepped into the light.

“You know the rules. I can only take one.”

“Teach us!” said a third little Zeva, who’d appeared at her side, tugging on Zeva’s arm.

Zeva counted twelve – no, twenty – younglings crowding around her, little hands reaching out for her. “Back off!” she shouted, gathering the Force around her… too late, she fell to the floor, lost in a sea of younglings….

- – - – -

She awoke with a ragged gasp, sweat clinging to her body. I’m on Kira IV, she thought. It was just a dream. The ship’s gone. Master Tulu’s gone. This is Kira IV. It’s dark and… oh, blast it, it’s raining!

The falling rain had extinguished her fire and soaked her clothes again. It’s too hot and humid for the robes anyway… I’ll just have to wring out the undergarments in the morning. They wouldn’t offer much protection by themselves, but it would have to do. At least life among the Jedi had left her with little modesty.

She fished a food stick from the depths of the bedroll and chewed it while evaluating her situation. If there’d been time, she would have rigged up a hammock, to keep herself off the ground – but there was no life here. She sensed the jungle’s animal life, but the area around the lake was all but deserted. Didn’t they need water? And if they didn’t get it here, where did they go?

Zeva also considered the vivid unpleasantness of her dream, but dismissed it as the result of a particularly long, hard day. She would have to explore the jungle, once the daylight returned or the rain stopped. Unwilling to go back to sleep, she curled up in the bedroll and tried to meditate.

She found little solace in it.

- – - – -

The rainfall let up shortly after sunup. Zeva put on her underclothes and boots, then spent some time trying to find the escape pod, with similar results. It was just no use…

The pod has a communications array, she thought. If you fix your comlink, you might be able to detect it that way… or at least, narrow your search. It was worth a try. She sat on the bedroll and used her toolkit to dissect the comlink. Her diagnostic tool confirmed that turning it on would corrupt the unit’s memory core and render it useless. She was lucky that it didn’t fry when she checked it before.

You have another memory core, she thought. You could dump the comlink’s programming to it… you’d lose the data that’s on there now, but it might be the only way to find the escape pod.

You mean the droid’s memory. The evidence that Master Tulu tasked me with delivering to the Jedi Council.

So? You’ll never survive without the pod. And then they’ll never find your precious droid memory anyway. Zeva wondered if people routinely argued with themselves like this, in times of crisis.

She held up the droid’s core and examined it carefully. It was a bit scorched from the self-destruction, but it seemed intact. It would be a simple thing to transfer the program. She could be sleeping inside the escape pod tonight. No one ever needed to know…

“No,” she said, placing the core and the disassembled comlink into her waterproof container. “I’ll build a shelter. I can survive this place. I will. I have to.”

She reached out, and her lightsaber flew into her hand. It was time to head into the jungle.

- – - – -

Zeva had first sensed the hunters when she dragged the biggest branches back to the lakeside – quiet, and practically invisible to the eye, but not beyond the notice of one trained in the ways of the Force. When she went back into the jungle for smaller branches and vines, she felt more of them, drawing ever closer. As before, they broke off when she reached the lakeside, but she could feel the hunger rolling off of them in waves. She knew they’d attack her when she went back for the leaves she still needed to cover the frame.

Knowing that she might not be in any condition to do so later, Zeva lashed the frame together. One satisfied with it, she donned her damp, heavy robes, and trudged back into the jungle.

She found a massive tree, ringed by dozens of broad, green leaves, weighed down within her reach by rainwater. She turned her back on the hunters to snap a few leaves free, hoping to lure them into attacking so she could end this. Zeva counted nine of them surrounding her – quadrupeds, not much bigger than snow-wolves – the largest one creeping to the top of a twisted root before it pounced.

Zeva spun to meet it, but lit her lightsaber too late. She fell to the ground under the animal’s weight, but her knee kept its momentum going, causing it to roll over her. She pushed up with one elbow to regain her feet just as another reached her – but this time her Jedi weapon was ready, and it yelped as she struck, shimmering into view as it died.

Reptilian, she thought. They change color to blend in. Look at those teeth…!

The biggest hunter, the pack leader, skittered away from Zeva and gave a piercing howl. As the other hunters closed in, Zeva spun her lightsaber in a shining arc all around her, keeping them at bay.

She was weary… hungry… sleepy… desperate. But there was something else, something beneath her skills and her training, that disturbed her more: Zeva was afraid.

She knew that fear was the Jedi’s enemy. She remembered Yoda’s warnings about what fear led to… but she’d never been tested like this, never faced death, and uncertainty flowed through her like an icy river.

There is another way, said a voice at the base of her skull. There is power within your reach… power to show these creatures that you are the one to be feared. You only have to reach out and claim it for your own.

“Never,” she said aloud – but only after a moment’s hesitation.

This jungle will destroy you. Have you followed the lies of the Jedi for so long that you cannot see them for what they are?

“Get out of my head.” One of the hunters hissed at her, as if in reply.

As you wish. We’ll talk again later… if you survive this.

And the hunters charged.

Zeva leaped to the high ground of the twisted root to fend them off. She tried to move beyond herself into the realm of pure instinct, but found herself shackled by the weariness of her own body. She couldn’t prevent their claws from tearing her flesh and slashing her robes, and for every one she killed, two more took their place.

I won’t use the dark side! I won’t!

As the pack’s numbers finally started to dwindle, pain exploded inside Zeva; white stars formed a galaxy before her eyes. A hunter – the pack leader – had come up behind her and bit down on her right arm. She stumbled with a shriek and fell off the tree root, crashing to the ground with the hunter still attached. Zeva passed the lightsaber to her left hand and jabbed it behind her; even in death, the hunter’s jaws remained locked on her.

She struggled to stand up, and gave the most terrifying war cry she could manage, but the few remaining hunters were already dispersing into the jungle. She fell back down, tears stinging her eyes, and struggled to free her arm from the beast’s death grip, only to find it impossible in her current state. She cut herself free with the lightsaber, but didn’t look at her arm until she’d regained some semblance of composure.

Blood trickled from where its teeth had punctured her. Blood vessels beneath the skin had already darkened – and she saw a sticky, sweet-smelling orange fluid oozing from the wound.

Venom, she thought. They’re venomous.

She did not have much time.

- – - – -

After tearing what was left of her robes into strips to dress her wounds, Zeva used her vines to cover the frame with fronds. Even this seemingly simple task was made nearly impossible by her violent trembling. Her vision had blurred, her breathing became rapid and shallow. She’d lost sensation in her right hand, too; this was like working through an EVA suit. It’s only going to get worse, she thought. You have to finish this.

After a while, her gathered logs, vines, and fronds came to resemble a shelter; by then, she was forced to crawl to the bedroll. She dragged it back under the lean-to, and collapsed on top of it.

Concentrate on your breathing, she thought. She tried to hear the words in Master Tulu’s voice. Calm yourself, and meditate. You can heal yourself through the Force.

You will live.



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