Note on the series title: Katabasis is ancient Greek for "going down," often in the sense of going down to the underworld.
Disclaimer: Star Wars is not mine. But Riveth Giro is.
Summary: Riveth Giro causes a stir in prison, loses his tongue, and finds his voice.
.3 years before Anabasis.
Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.
- Nadia Boulanger
Riveth Giro remembered with excruciating clarity the last words he had ever spoken.
"What are the chances of getting some bread with this?" he'd asked the stormtrooper who brought him his meager day's rations. The trooper had simply exited without a word, the door of Riveth's cell swishing shut and locking behind him. "Not good, I guess," Riveth muttered to the darkness.
When they came to collect him for the torture later, he remained stubbornly silent, just as he always did. Although he was known in the camp for inciting the other prisoners, he was not about to tell his torturers anything. He would not give them the satisfaction.
It was only after they had strapped him to the table and clamped his mouth open so that he could not move his lips to form the words that he realized perhaps he should have said something after all. If only so that he could know that his last words had been something meaningful.
"You've been talking too much, poet," they said. "Causing trouble. Got to put a stop to that." And they laughed at him, lying there on the table, slow trickles of saliva running down from the corners of his mouth where the clamps sat against his gums. He wished he could say something in reply, something to match the terrible meaning of the moment, but he couldn't.
The pain was excruciating. He blacked out long before they had succeeded in fully removing his tongue, and he woke up—he knew not how much later—back in his own cell, with a mouthful of blood and the sudden discovery that it was very, very difficult to swallow without a tongue.
It took him several weeks to heal fully. At first, he could barely swallow, and in the first week he lost nearly fifty pounds. At the end of that week, they put tubes through the veins in his arms, passing the nutrients directly to his system. He supposed that meant that they didn't want him dead. He could guess why.
They should have killed him in the beginning, but they hadn't, and his defiance had made him an icon in the camp. If they killed him now, he would win.
By the third week, he had learned to swallow solid food again. There was a trick to it, a certain movement of the jaws accompanied by a tossing of the head. He was certain that he looked quite ridiculous.
He was haunted by the last words he had ever spoken. He was haunted by how mundane they were, how meaningless. His last words ought to have been some grand poetic defiance, some last desperate testament to the liberty of the soul. Instead they had been the pitiful everyday words of a prisoner spoken to the empty air.
He decided that he would not allow himself to be defined by their deeds. The words were screaming within him, desperate to be expressed. He had only to find the means.
A week after he began eating on his own again, he managed to enter the mess unnoticed and slip one of the blunt kitchen knives into his pocket. He smuggled it back to his cell and waited until he was certain that the guards were at the far ends of the cell block, and then he began.
It took some time. He had to take breaks because it hurt too much, and also there was the bleeding to be staunched. But he had resolved that, though they might take his tongue, they could never keep him from speaking.
In the end, he finished it. The word "freedom" blazed in painful red letters across his chest, and they could never take it from him. He had made the cuts deep enough to be sure that they would scar. It had hurt, to be sure. But then, true freedom always did.
They had put him in solitary after that, but the damage was done. The other prisoners heard of his defiance, and it spread like the whisper of sparks in a bone-dry forest. He knew that one day soon the sparks would catch and the conflagration would be unstoppable.
As he was being hauled away to the windowless hole that was to be his home for the next three months, Palo had defied their captors long enough to ask him why he'd done it.
He wanted to tell Palo that freedom was a state of mind. That it was something they could only take from you if you let them. But he couldn't speak any more. He would never speak again. That, at least, they had taken from him.
He pointed to the word carved into his chest, the only answer he could give. And Palo said, "Yes. I understand."