Where-- Realizing she sounded like a heroine in a melodramatic entertainment tape, she cut off the rhetorical query and sat up carefully, looking around warily. She reached out with her Force sense, trying to find some trace of Master Skywalker but it was like bashing into a transplas wall--the life energy that she could normally sense with little effort wasn't there or, she realized, rather it was masked somehow she couldn't get a grasp on the Force to make it do her will. Her bangs hung down in her eyes, and, frustrated by the Force blindness, she pushed them back from her face, holding them back with one hand as she swung her feet over the edge of the bunk on which she'd been laying, as she looked around.
Hey, you're Princess Leia, a youthful male voice blurted out below her. She was perched on a top bunk and he was seated cross legged on the bottom level of the next stack over. Startled by the hail, realizing that everyone in the chamber was now staring at her, even some others who were obviously just awakening, she dropped her hand and shook her head, letting the bangs obscure the line of her brow and sending the rest of the shoulder length strands flying about her head with the motion. Not me, she denied. _Not anymore._ I'm Jerella.
Well you could be her twin then, from what I've seen in the vids. The youth was gawky and full of nervous energy, his finger tapping madly on his thighs as he peered up at her again. But then she's got a lot more hair, he conceded.
Jerella stifled an almost hysterical laugh at his comment, and looked around the room. Where is this place? Last thing I knew I was on a shuttle back to Yavin.
The kid shrugged, I'm not really sure. Could be Tattoine since there's two suns and it's seriously hot out there.
He was interrupted as a Twilek appeared on a balcony up near the ceiling of the chamber, too high to reach from any of the bunks.
Jerella listened to his speech and looked at the cuffs on her wrists as he finished and walked out of sight through a door to the rear of the balcony. Me? A gladiator? They must be kidding.
Nope they're not I made it through my first fight okay, but they are serious you get out only by death or winning ten matches. I managed to trip up my opponent and was lucky enough that he killed himself on his own sword as he landed. And it was his tenth fight. If I'd bought it, supposedly he would have been freed.
Jerella slid down from the bunk and realized that the formfitting jumpsuit she wore was not the one she remembered wearing on the ship and her lightsaber was gone. Her fist clenched in anger at the theft then she remembered what she was trying to become and banked the anger down, regaining control. "Where are you from?" she asked the young man. He must be only about 22 years old, she thought.
"I'm Rigell Ficett. I don't really have a place I'm from. I just drift around looking for work wherever I can find it. I got in a wrestling match with a local champ during a festival on Ragland, and when I woke up from celebrating, I was here." He shrugged again. "Hope you've got some weapon skills, 'cause I don't think you'd be too good in a hand to hand bout as little as you are."
"Thanks for the advice." She was interrupted as a man garbed just as she was walked up to her.
"Your highness, are you all right?"
Jerella looked up at the taller man, slightly exasperated. I'm not Leia Organa-Solo, honestly. Just one of Master Skywalker's students from Yavin. He had the look of a military man about him, but she'd never seen him before.
"I could have sworn--you sound just like her. I thought they'd just cut off your hair." He bowed his head briefly. "Colonel Malcolm MacDermott, Alliance forces."
"So we're both a long way from home."
Jerella looked around the room again, trying to see if there might be some way out, despite the warning given about the control cuffs they all wore. Then her stomach made an audible rumble and she flushed as Rigell chuckled with amusement and the colonel endeavored to keep a straight face. "I guess I've missed a few meals from being hijacked too."
"There should be a meal along anytime now if my internal clock is still accurate." the officer observed. He turned toward an inner wall where there were extruded benches and slots in the wall. "It's not terribly appetizing but it will fill the gaps." Rigell got up and meandered along after them, tapping on bunkframes as he went, full of energy.
Shortly thereafter, Jerella had to agree with him. As she wiped the last of the porridge type food from the bowl with a scrap of bread crust, she asked, "Colonel, have you been in the arena yet? What can I expect?" She hoped she wasn't as nervous and fearful on the outside as she felt. Information was what she needed, anything to make a difference in potential outcomes.
"I've been through four bouts so far. His words were clipped with repressed emotion. They take you through a corridor it's Force damped, by the way, or so I am told, since you're a Jedi and when they announce your name, you're sent out onto the sands. There's a table to select your weapons from but there's no energy weapons. They like to see blood on the sands and blasters just aren't messy enough for them. Then you fight whoever your opponent is, anyway you can, until only one of you is left. They bring you back here and you wait until you're called once more." Even without the use of the Force, Jerella could tell he was very disturbed and angry.
"Anyway you can but where does that leave me?"
Rigell spoke up, "You're a Jedi, that means you know how to use a lightsaber, right? So you could use a sword."
It's not quite the same, she responded wryly, but I can see your point. Do we get any idea of what opponent we might be facing?"
"Nope, although for the most part they seem to put novices with novices and experienced with experienced." Rigell chewed on the last of his meal and tapped his fingers on the bench seat.
"I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies." Jerella kept looking around the room, hoping to see in the mass of reluctant and not so reluctant gladiators any sign of Luke or Octavia. There were a couple of people, a man and a woman respectively, who seemed almost familiar, but Jerella couldn't place them. She stood up and stretched with a grimace. "Would anyone take offense if I did some exercises?" I feel like an old woman, I'm so stiff.
Malcolm shook his head. "I wouldn't think so. As long as we don't try to get out that door or escape in any other way, they don't seem to care what we do in here."
Jerella nodded her thanks for the information and made her way to an area between the bunks and the benches that was not occupied and began the stretch routine that she habitually used to prepare for physical training at the Academy. She automatically began to reach out with the Force as she did so and rebounded back into her own mind as she hit the emptiness of the Force dampening effect. Grimly, she started over, concentrating on the physical movements, until they flowed smoothly, almost like a dance. She became absorbed in it, and her external awareness of the room faded somewhat. The stretches shifted into the motions of a martial arts style that she didn't consciously remember, but her body did, with graceful movements that held an edge of danger and lethal sharpness in them as well. When the routine came to an end, she was kneeling in the middle of the floor, perspiring heavily, circled by curious observers, including Rigell.
"I've never seen anything like that before." He told her as she got to her feet. "I guess you would do more than okay on hand to hand."
Jerella just shook her head and wiped her sweaty face. _I don't even remember learning how to do that. Or do I?_ She ducked past the ring of watchers and made her way back to her bunk and climbed up to stare at the ceiling. There were memories she's purposefully repressed after crossing over to join Luke Skywalker's Jedi memories she'd hoped never to have to unlock again. But it seemed that the Force damping field had removed at least part of the barrier she'd erected. _I never thought that the door I'd locked them behind was made up of the Force._ She closed her eyes and remembered the feel of the movements and gradually a memory took form behind her eyes from well over a year ago.
_She was garbed in a black skintight jumpsuit, in a room lined with exercise equipment and exotic plants. Before her was one she knew had been her teacher, and it was time to prove that she'd learned well from him. The light of the room seemed to suck away from her as she moved, darkness clinging in an aura about her as she fought against a master, using mental and physical skills that had been drilled into her, using the physical movements and strikes to distract and weaken while waiting for the breach of will to happen so she could strike once more, but this time using the Force to bring down her opponent. Exultation filled her as the breach occurred and she struck out, not holding back, and her teacher's body collapsed to the white painted floor, never to rise again. Behind her a voice suddenly said, approvingly, "Well done, my apprentice. Well done, Leia."
Jerella thrust the memory away from her, trying to force it back behind the cracking barrier. Her fingers clenched into the firm mattress upon which she lay and anger rose from the suppressed part of her psyche, building and gaining strength.
She didn't know just who the anger was aimed at, but by the time the door opened and guards with Force damping Ysalamiri strode in to announce the first round's contener, she was in a burning rage, one that only needed a focus, a target to become lethal. She sat silently and watched as first one than another gladiator was taken from the room and she listened to the sound of the crowd over their battles through the air vents.. Most came back, but there were some that didn't return. Colonel Malcolm fought the guards who hauled him to the portal leading to death or victory, and when he returned, a woman named Psylocke was called. Psylocke's return made Rigell nervous and his finger tapping became even more frenetic. "One more and then it's my turn." he told her, his eyes darting every which way when she called him on his obsessive mannerism.
But it wasn't. When the woman identified as Sidra Roamstar was escorted back into the barracks, it was Jerella's name that was called.
In the back of her mind another memory called out to her. _ Anger leads to the Dark Side. Strive for serenity and the Light._ But it was drowned out by the rage that was flaring inside of her at those who had taken her from her life and dragged her here, all unwilling, to fight for their entertainment. They want me to fight? she smiled coldly. I'll give them a fight.
When the guards moved to seize her by the arms she gave them a fierce look and they desisted as she strode between them toward the door. The corridor wasn't long at all, ending at a doorway. "You go out when your name is called," she was told and she stared at the panel, narrow eyed until the announcers voice echoed all about.
The sands were exceedingly bright and the heat that beat down on the arena was terrible, but more importantly, she could sense the Force out here. She drew energy into herself, almost as if she were being a storage battery, but her eyes were on the opponent walking toward the weapons table, even as she did so as well.
He was grotesquely malformed with oversized thighs and calves and a muscular hump on one shoulder. His hands were oddly delicate, and his face was scarred and battered. Even though his gait was lurching, he moved quickly across the sands to select his weapon. It was a staff with odd thornlike projections bristling from each end. He stood back from the table and bowed mockingly at her. "Your turn, little girl."
Jerella paused at the side of the table and closed her eyes as her hands reached out. Not the sword, it didn't feel right, nor did the macelike weapons that lay nearby. Not a staff or spear her fingers closed down on a cold and heavy metal chain attached to a net and a short barbed javelin type weapon.
"Are you sure you can manage something as heavy as that, little girl? This is going to be so easy." He taunted her again and she flung a tendril of thought at him, trying to sense a weakness. But his mind was resistant and she couldn't get through. No matter, she decided as she circled opposite him, ignoring the noise of the crowd in the stands above. She didn't need to invade his mind to make use of the life power that was accessible to her in the arena. The rage that had been barely contained blossomed and she leapt at him, jabbing with the barbed javelin at his eyes and twisting in midair to avoid the blow he swung at her with the staff. Once again, as she moved, and reacted to his attack, the darkness seemed to cling to her and the powerful anger took over and opened up a conduit of power from the Force. Obsidian bright energy coursed into her, granting her speed and even a bit of foresight of where his blows would fall. Ultimately, despite his breaking into the offensive and catching her painfully on the left thigh and right side of her ribcage with a blow that cracked ribs, she was so fully immersed in the glory of the dark power that gave her strength that when the crowd roared out in waves of screams and cheers, it took a great effort to shake free of the battle trance, to let the darkness drain away and realize that she stood on her opponent's back, one heel dug into the back of his neck as the chain from the net looped about his throat throttled him, the javelin pinning him to the ground through one of his meaty thighs.
A flash of memory welled up: _a horrid stink and gross slime on the chain as her hands and body hauled backwards against the throat of the monstrous lump of obesity and perversion who had humiliated her and chained her to him. His death rattle echoed around her and then died as the Hutt's body slumped, lifeless. "Come on, Artoo, let's get out of here!"_
She shook her head again and dropped the chain, her hands now shaking. She stumbled off of the body, suddenly sick at what she'd done and how she'd done it. All those months of fighting the temptation to use the Dark Sideand she'd lost that battle even as she'd won the right to at least one more day of life here. As the ysalamiri-laden guards came to lead her from the arena, she looked back over her shoulder at the still form of her opponent.
A pair of Twileks ran out from a door to the side of the arena and picked up the corpse and trotted back to the portal where they'd entered. A part of Jerella's mind noticed the location of that door but she was still too horrified to realize what she'd seen. It wasn't until later that night when she lay sleepless in the darkened barracks, feeling the ache of her cracked ribs and bruised leg, that she recalled the death gate. And another memory slipped out of that Pandora's Box in her mind.
_Darana's voice, oddly patient as she explained what Leia had to do. Soft cushions below her body the first time she tried the trick; harder, more uncomfortable surfaces later. You'll never know what environment you'll be in should you need to use it, Leia, so get used to as many as possible. The slowing of the heartbeat to an almost imperceptible rate, the apparent cessation of breath, and, most difficult, the imititation of a lack of brain activity. The controls that pulled one out of the death trance were hidden away deep in the mind. One expert in the technique could fool even the most modern of medical sensors and Darana had drilled her until she was expert enough to do it._
She thought about the trick and tried to figure out a way to take enough control of her opponent's mind so that her death would look convincing, but he or she would not actually strike a real killing blow. The planning followed her into sleep and somehow kept the nightmares of her first murder away.
To be continued.