Author's Note: When we create a new character in Old Republic we have the chance to shape their physical appearance. Through the Legacy system we get a chance to build their families. But what of their story? Each character begins their journey with a vaguely detailed origin that leaves the player to fill in the gaps. The inquisitor is a slave discovered to be Force-sensitive. The smuggler captains his own ship. The agent is already immersed in the world of espionage, and the trooper is a skilled fighter joining an elite special forces squad.
When I created my first character, a Sith Warrior, I asked myself what she had already experienced in an effort to decide how this person would make the choices presented in the game. For those who haven't played the class, the Sith Warrior arrives on Korriban already versed in the art of saber combat, sufficiently skilled and impressive that she is drawn into an overseer's power play against an older, more established acolyte. But where did this potential Sith learn to fight so well? How did she wind up on the road to Korriban? I had the seed of this story in my mind when I started playing – a story that would shed some light on why my ruthless and occasionally cruel juggernaut made the choices that she did. After finishing the story quest, I decided to write it down.
Chapter One: Warrior's Tribulations
For a moment, Shen ignored the harsh command, lying where she had fallen and trying to catch her breath. Her ears were still ringing from the blow of the training saber that had bounced off of the inadequate head protection she wore, just enough padding that her instructor's hits wouldn't actually crack her skull open. Her short, dark hair was damp with sweat under the headgear.
Sergeant Drake didn't bother speaking again when she didn't get to her feet. Instead, his booted foot connected forcefully with her already bruised ribs, eliciting a groan of pain from his prone student. "Get up you lazy little mynock, or I'll use you for target practice."
Shen's brown eyes widened in alarm as the grizzled veteran switched his training saber to his left hand, and wrapped his right around the grip of the blaster he wore in a holster under his arm. Less than a month earlier, during one of his first training sessions, she had made the mistake of thinking he was bluffing, and had spent the next week in a kolto tank recovering from an agonizingly painful blaster wound to the gut. Forcing her sore, exhausted muscles to move, Shen climbed to her feet. Her ebony skin hid most of the bruises that covered her body, but she felt them with each movement. Until recently, Shen had been a school teacher who had never held a weapon before, of average height and possessed of a slender build, none of which served her well in the accelerated combat training program she was undergoing. Sergeant Drake, a tall, muscular human with pale skin and graying hair in a military cut, was a good twenty centimeters taller than Shen, almost twice her weight, and had been a soldier for most of his life. Shen's first combat instructor, a Twi'lek male closer to her age, had pulled his hits in their initial sessions while she learned how to hold the training saber, but after a few months he had disappeared, and Sergeant Drake had become her teacher. Drake was merciless, striking her without restraint and forcing her to fight until she couldn't stand. Which isn't too far off, Shen reflected, her muscles protesting as she walked over the few steps to pick up her fallen training saber.
Even as she got her balance back, a sense of alarm shot through Shen's mind, a piece of undefinable information telling her that she was in danger. She'd had similar jolts of intuition all her life, and had learned to trust them. It was still an adjustment for her, being told that she was feeling the Force, but where the warning was coming from didn't matter. Surrendering to that instinct, Shen whirled back to face Drake, bringing her blade up in time to parry a blow that would have landed across the back of her head had she been a second slower. Blocking the hit stung her palms, but it didn't hurt as much as it should have, and processing that information in a flash, she jumped backward as Drake's elbow flew forward to occupy the space her head had recently occupied. Shen was rewarded with a nod of approval from the combat instructor, but then he was on her again, and Shen blocked one blow after another, focused on nothing more than avoiding the next hit. A few more of Drake's strikes got through, powerful, painful impacts that the thin padding of her sparring gear did little to blunt. Soon her arms felt like lead. Feeling her parries slowing down, Shen tried to focus on that moment when she'd known where the next hit would come from, when she had felt Drake's intention in the Force, but it proved as elusive as trying to hold onto a fistful of dry sand. The flashes of precognition came at random, and the harder she tried to feel them, the farther away they seemed.
Sensing his student's exhaustion, Sergeant Drake battered through Shen's guard and struck a numbing blow to her wrist that sent her training saber flying. He followed up with a backhand blow across her cheek and then kicked her in the stomach in the same place he had shot her not so long ago. Agony exploded through Shen's body at the blow to the recently healed wound, and she doubled over, sinking to her knees and clutching her abdomen.
"Get up. We're not done," Drake commanded.
Struggling for breath, Shen got halfway to her feet before her legs collapsed, and she sprawled back onto the floor. "I can't," she gasped, "please, no more."
"Pathetic," Drake growled. Checking his chrono, he shook his head in dismay. "It's barely been three hours. Weak, slow and stupid, that's all you are, girl. Why Lord Syan bothers with a worthless, soft creature like you is beyond me. Now get on your feet and pick up your saber."
Hearing Drake's blaster clear its holster, Shen forced herself to get up on hands and knees, crawling toward her fallen training saber. Drake snarled in disgust, and kicked her in the ribs, followed by another kick to her stomach when she fell onto her side. Shen felt something tear inside of her with a new explosion of pain, and she felt a dampness staining her tunic as the gut wound reopened. She curled into a ball on the floor, shuddering in pain and coughing up blood with each breath.
Drake sighed and holstered his blaster, walking over to the weapons rack to shelve the training sabers. Activating his wrist comm, he brought up the citadel's medical frequency. "Medics to the training hall; throw this piece of trash back in the tank." Without another word or a backward glance for his injured student, Drake left the training hall.
Floating in the kolto tank, Shen dreamed of better times. It was growing harder to remember that just a handful of months earlier, life had been so much better.
Shen had first come to the Imperial colony world of Tyrin III when she was a toddler, in the company of her mother and older brother. Tyrin III had been settled by the Sith Empire for less than a century, a tropical moon orbiting a gas giant on the inner edge of the system's habitable zone. Mostly covered with crimson-hued jungles and oceans tinged pink by the microscopic plants that suffused them, Tyrin III would have been too hot for human habitation if not for its rapid axial spin and the peculiarity of its polar orbit around the gas giant, which ensured that no section of the planet's surface was exposed to the brutal light of the system's primary for more than a quarter of the day. The planet's native flora had adapted to absorb heat during the day and release it during the orbital and planetary nights, acting as a global temperature regulator. The planet was still miserably hot year-round by the standard of most sentient species, but it was livable, and the colony had grown rapidly as an exporter of foodstuffs and refined biological products and medicines. In the years before the war against the Republic, the Empire had deemed the world's output of food and medicines sufficiently important that a Sith named Darth Denebric had been sent to govern the planet.
After Shen's father died in a speeder accident on their previous homeworld her mother, a biologist, had accepted a job with a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals on Tyrin III. Business was good and Shen's mother was able to provide a comfortable life for her and her brother. They went to a fine school, and Shen's brother joined the military when he finished his education, quickly earning an officer's commission. For her part, Shen found her calling in teaching, taking a job instructing young children in the capital city. She found her career rewarding, and in time fell in love with and married a fighter pilot in the Imperial service, a comrade of her brother.
It was on Shen's twenty-sixth birthday that her world fell apart. Her mother and brother visited to celebrate with her, and they had a family gathering in the apartment she and her husband owned in Tyrin III's capital city, near the spaceport. Shen's last memories of that night were sitting down to dinner, hearing a series of deafening blasts from the sky above, then a ground-shaking impact, and the building collapsing around her.
The next thing Shen remembered was waking up in a private clinic in the citadel of the planetary governor, Darth Denebric. The doctors and nurses there did their best to answer her questions. Weeks had passed since the accident, caused by an aging space freighter's power reactor failing catastrophically as it came in to land at the spaceport. The crash had leveled several city blocks. Shen had been severely wounded, her face smashed in by a flying chunk of permacrete, her bones broken and organs damaged by the building's collapse. When the rescuers had pulled her from the rubble, she had been expected to die from her injuries within days. Instead, she lingered for weeks.
In the wake of the accident kolto was in short supply, and Shen had been determined to be too damaged to save. But seemingly at random, Darth Denebric's apprentice had singled her out for transfer to the citadel's clinic. Shen had been subjected to extensive kolto immersion treatment and cybernetic reconstruction of her ravaged body. When one of the nurses showed Shen her face in the mirror for the first time she barely recognized herself; half the skin on her face had been replaced with shining metal prosthetics that jutted from her reconstructed jaw and cheeks and ringed her eyes. Additional sub dermal cybernetics were laced throughout her body, reinforcing weakened bone and muscle, and replacing the functionality of organs that had been damaged or destroyed. Her left arm and leg, crushed beyond repair, had been replaced with full prosthetics as well. Overall, almost a third of her body was machine, although the facial prosthetics were the only parts that were immediately obvious.
Shen learned that her husband, mother and brother were among the hundreds dead in the wake of the tragedy, their remains interred along with the other victims while she was comatose.
Shen was still in shock when Darth Denebric's apprentice, Lord Syan, came to visit her the next day. Shen had never been more frightened in her life than when the towering Zabrak encased in a black suit of full body armor, eyes shining yellow with Force power, had instructed her in how her life was to proceed. He told Shen that she had been saved and her body repaired at great cost for one reason: she was strong in the Force, and that power had kept her alive when she should have died of her wounds. She was told that she would be sent to the Sith Academy on Korriban, and as she was the first native of Tyrin III to represent her world at the Academy, she would be prepared for its rigors before departing. Syan also told her in no uncertain terms that if she was found wanting in his estimation, she would join her family in death.
Prior to the accident, Shen had never been in a kolto tank in her life. Such expensive healing was beyond all but the wealthy and grievously ill. Recently, though, she had become depressingly familiar with the sensation of drifting in the greenish buoyancy-neutral fluid, the oxygen mask pressed to the lower half of her face her only contact with anything solid. When one of the medics tapped on the tank and pointed up, Shen kicked her legs, rising to the surface of the tank. She climbed through the open hatch at the top of the tank with the help of a medical technician who sluiced the remaining kolto off of her skin and back into the tank before wrapping a robe around her.
When Shen climbed down from the top of the tank, her abdominal muscles still sore and aching with each movement, her escort was waiting for her. She thought about them as she slipped behind a privacy screen off to the side of the room and changed into clean underclothes and the plain white breeches and tunic identical to all the other clothes that had been provided for her. Whenever she moved around in the citadel, she was accompanied by a pair of armored, helmeted Imperial soldiers. She didn't know their names, or if they were the same ones each day, but they were always with her. "Lord Syan wants to see you," one of them informed her indifferently.
A cold knot of dread twisted in Shen's stomach at those words, but she pushed the fear away and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. The soldiers flanked her as they left the medical wing, leading her to the main turbolifts that would take them up to the quarters of the high-ranking Sith at the top of the citadel. When they were in the turbolift, however, the guard punched a button, and the car began going down rapidly. "Where are we going?" Shen asked, surprised.
"To see Lord Syan," was the only answer she got.
When the door hissed open, it revealed a round room with two more uniformed soldiers manning consoles, and beyond it a hallway with walls and a low ceiling of black durasteel, the floor a metal grating. The hall was dim, lit only by widely spaced reddish lights. Occasional alcoves in the walls lead down to solid-looking metal doors. Shen gasped, taking a step back at a sight she had only seen in holovids – an Imperial detention center. "What are we doing here?"
"Move along," was the only response from the soldiers. One stepped out of the lift, the other pushing her to follow and taking up position behind her as they walked down the hall. Shen's heart pounded as she walked, fear flooding her mind. Had she failed? Had Lord Syan decided she was too weak to send to Korriban? Passing one door, Shen heard muted pleas from the other side in an alien language she couldn't understand, punctuated by the sound of electrical discharges. From behind another door came dreadful laughter that went on and on. Terror was squeezing Shen's heart like a fist by the time the trooper in front of her stopped and punched a code into a keypad to open a door. He stepped through, and Shen was ushered into the room beyond, the door hissing shut behind them ominously.
The room matched Shen's imagining of what a torture chamber would look like. Along the far wall were three empty force cages, their energy walls glowing orange. There was a long table in the middle of the room, with sturdy leather straps for the restraint of subjects. Beside it was a wheeled tray covered with a nightmarish array of blades, needles, and devices Shen couldn't even identify. A sinister-looking droid of humanoid design stood, deactivated, next to a holoterminal built into the wall.
"In you go," one of the troopers said to her, deactivating the front wall of the center force cage.
"What?" Shen asked breathlessly, putting her back to the table so she could see both of her guards.
"Get in there. Now," one trooper said, while the other drew a stun baton from his belt and thumbed it to life, blue arcs of electricity running up and down its length. Glancing at the restraint table, Shen could see faded stains of blood and who knew what else. She didn't know what fate the Sith Lord planned for her, but she knew she didn't want to be trapped in this room. Without conscious thought, Shen's right hand, resting on the tray of torture implements, slowly wrapped around the handle of a knife she had seen resting there. Her left hand, the strong, sturdy prosthetic, balled into a fist, and her recent combat training sprang into her mind, unbidden. Throw the knife at the stun baton to short it out. Punch his partner with the prosthetic; it's strong enough to hurt him even through armor. Draw his blaster and stun him with it, then take out his friend and the droid. Then… Shen's calculations faltered. Then what?
In a moment of despair, Shen realized that she had no way out. She didn't know the codes to open the door, and had no idea if she could force it out of the guards. Worse, even if she somehow managed to escape the citadel, and even if she was able to evade those who would pursue her, she knew she couldn't survive as a fugitive. Shen wasn't an expert on augmentation technology, but even when Drake wasn't beating her half to death teaching her to fight, she was regularly in and out of the medical section for tune-ups to the cutting-edge cybernetics that kept her alive and mobile. Without regular maintenance that Shen didn't have the knowledge or credits to do on her own, her replacement limbs and organs would quickly fail, and she needed Lord Syan for that maintenance. All she could do was beg Syan not to kill her, promise to do better, whatever he wanted.
The troopers had tensed on seeing Shen reach for the knife, but a moment later she let go of it, lowering her head in defeat. The pair wasted no time grabbing her arms and shoving her into the force cage. They activated the front panel, trapping her behind walls of energy. Once that was done they turned and left, leaving Shen alone.
Minutes turned into hours, and the door did not open again. Shen sat down on the grated metal floor of the cage, resting her head against the back wall that was solid durasteel rather than energy. Occasionally she heard footsteps outside, and her heart would hammer in anticipation, but no one came. Hunger began to gnaw at her gut, and in the dry, climate-controlled air of the interrogation room, she started to become thirsty. Was this her punishment? To be left here to suffer the deprivations of her body? Shen's imagination produced a truly unpleasant scenario. Nothing she knew of the Sith made her think that Lord Syan wasn't capable of simply leaving her here until she died.
The next few times Shen heard footsteps passing in the hallway outside she tried calling for help, but no one answered her pleas. More time passed, and despite the distractions of an empty stomach and growing thirst, Shen had actually nodded off when the door hissed open. Jerking awake, she scrambled to her feet as Lord Syan stalked into the room and regarded her, his lip curled into a sneer of disgust. "My Lord, please-," she began, then was cut off abruptly when Syan's hand rose and an invisible pressure closed her throat.
"Pathetic," the Zabrak grated. "Look at you, caged like a nerf for slaughter without so much as an act, a word of resistance! I am sorely tempted to let you die, for I begin to doubt that you will ever have what it takes to be a Sith. You have been weak for too long. As you are, you would be an embarrassment on Korriban, quickly slain by a more worthy acolyte."
Unable to speak, unable to breathe, Shen clawed at her throat. Her eyes blurred with tears as her lungs burned for air. Is this how it ends? Am I going to die here? As blackness began to eat at the edges of her vision, Syan lowered his hand with a sigh, allowing Shen to gulp in fresh air, coughing and gasping. "My master tells me this is a failure of my teaching, and perhaps he is right. Do you even understand why you are in this position now?"
It was another moment before Shen could speak, her voice raspy from abuse. "I failed Sergeant Drake's training exercise."
"Wrong. You are here because you allowed yourself to be placed in that cage."
"Why did you let those two throw you in there? I was watching." Syan waved negligently at a holocam mounted in the ceiling. "I saw the moment when you thought about resisting, and then you decided not to. Why?"
"Where would I go if I had fought them? Even if I could escape I don't know how to maintain all of these cybernetics you put in my body."
Syan just gave Shen a puzzled look and then laughed ruefully. "Now I understand my error. I've been so focused on readying you physically for Korriban that I underestimated how unprepared you are mentally to be a Sith. You're not here because Drake beat you to a pulp again. He's a master duelist and you've been at this for a few months. Even with the Force as your ally I don't expect you to defeat him yet. The test you failed today took place in this room, when you allowed yourself to be placed in that cage."
"I don't understand, my Lord."
"I realize that now. You're not thinking like a Sith, and perhaps that's my fault." The Zabrak paced closer to her cage. "If I were kill you right this moment, do you think I would be punished for your murder?"
Shen swallowed hard. "No, my Lord."
"And if I dragged you in front of an assembly of your students and colleagues at that school you taught at and butchered you in front of all of those witnesses, do you think your local constables would come to arrest me for that deed?"
"No, my Lord," Shen repeated.
"Of course not. I am Sith. My master and I rule this world. If you prove yourself capable you will one day be a Sith as well. So why did you think I would be displeased if you had injured or killed the soldiers I sent to drag you down here?"
"You wouldn't, my Lord," Shen said slowly, comprehension dawning.
"Exactly. Perhaps this should have been your first lesson. To be Sith is to be unrestrained by things as mundane as law and conscience. A Sith does what he wills, and the only beings who can command his obedience are those strong enough to compel it. If I had personally commanded you to step into that cage you would face a choice of obeying or challenging me and dying by my hand. But that pair of desk jockeys who brought you down here?" Syan shook his head. "You have more combat training than the pair of them together. The person you used to be has reason to fear their uniform. The person you must become does not. They had no means to compel you, yet you let them control you."
"I understand, my Lord," Shen said, glancing hopefully at the cage's controls.
Syan smiled unpleasantly. "Not yet, you don't. But you will. Since you failed your first lesson today, your second will be more direct: never act – or fail to – based on assumption. Always think about the consequences of your choices. Droid, activate." At his words, the droid in the corner sprang to life, its photoreceptors glowing bright yellow.
"Ready to serve, master," the interrogation droid said in an incongruously cheerful voice better suited to a protocol model. Its body was harshly angular and its four arms all ended in different kinds of blades and needles.
"Torture this prisoner until she can't scream anymore," Syan instructed the droid.
Shen stared at Syan in horror. "What?"
"Parameters, master?" the droid asked him.
"Protocol Aurek," the Zabrak replied.
"At once, master," the droid replied, sounding frightfully eager. It jacked itself into the cage's control interface, and Shen could hear mechanisms below her feet powering up.
"Please, have mercy, my Lord! I understand now! I'll do better, I promise!" Shen pleaded as Syan turned away, heading for the door.
"You don't understand yet, but you will. Droid, if she survives have the guards throw her in a cell when you're done with her. No kolto. Let her heal naturally." The door hissed shut behind him, and Shen was alone with the droid.
The whirring sound beneath Shen's feet got louder, and a heavy weight began pressing down on her body. Frowning, Shen braced herself, but the downward pressure simply grew stronger, forcing her to her knees, then prone on the cage floor. Shen realized there was a plate generating artificial gravity under the cell. It increased her weight until she couldn't even lift her head or arms and the grating of the floor cut painfully into her skin. Just breathing became difficult. "Stop," she gasped, "can't… breathe!"
"Apologies, mistress. You are not recognized as part of my command structure. Only Lord Syan and his designates may command me. I would encourage you to do your best to continue respiration, mistress. Under Protocol Aurek I am not obligated to sustain your life functions, and in this gravity you would most likely suffocate if you lost consciousness." The droid tapped away at the cage controls, and the energy walls began humming ominously. "Please feel free to vocalize any distress you may feel throughout our time together, mistress. I assure you, my audio receptors will not be damaged." The energy walls crackled, then brilliant arcs jumped from their orange surface to strike Shen's body.
A raw scream of agony exploded from Shen's throat as pain shot through her, more than she'd ever felt in her life. She drew breath only to cry out again as the cage discharged power into her body once more. Again and again it fired, sending new waves of pain through her each time.
Her muscles twitching from the aftermath of the energy blasts, Shen dreaded receiving more shocks, but they didn't come right away. Instead, the droid did something else, and burning hot air heavy with the scent of vegetation filled the cell. Shen began perspiring immediately, recognizing the feeling. The droid was venting air from outside the citadel into the cage. It was the middle of the planetary summer, and the capitol had to be at the height of a day cycle, when few ventured outside without protective clothing, as the air temperatures reached dangerously high levels for non-indigenous life. Now each difficult breath seared her lungs.
"There we are," the droid said cheerfully. " I'm told a bit of fresh air is beneficial for organic life forms. Now, back to work." The cage walls discharged twice more, eliciting new cries of pain.
"Please, stop," Shen coughed. Without warning the cage blasted her again, stronger this time.
"Do try not to speak, mistress. The cage is now programmed to respond to intelligible vocalizations with extreme prejudice. Do feel free to scream, though. That's allowed," the droid informed her sardonically, its photoreceptors gleaming with malice.
The guards stationed in the detention center were no strangers to the horrific noises of sentient brings being brought to the edge of their endurance and over it, all in the name of acquiring information the Empire might need. It had even become a tradition for the guards on duty to place bets on how long it would take for new arrivals to break under torture. The most recent prisoner to go into the interrogation room was an oddity, though. It was rare for Lord Syan to personally visit prisoners in the detention level. Even stranger was how the session proceeded once he left. Screams and pleas they were used to, but the droid not asking any questions was unusual. Eventually, when hours had passed and the screams had become faint enough that they were barely audible through the door, they gave up on the pool and just assumed that someone had managed to seriously displease Lord Syan. They thought no more of it when the droid finally finished its work almost half a day later and ordered the unconscious, dehydrated cyborg covered in cuts, bruises and energy burns deposited in a cell for indefinite detention.