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I’m bathed in the harsh light streaming down from the glowpanel overhead, but it brings me no comfort even as I squint up into it. There’s only one thing that can do that anymore and I’m going to have it soon, very soon. In the mean time, I have to save my strength. Just thinking about the hell I’ve been through unleashes a new wave of fury, gives me new motivation to get free. Nobody kills my second set of parents and gets away with it.

It was bravely done, of course, and anyone with half a brain knew it was a setup. Fini and Darin had always been good people—they’d taken in a mongrel orphan waif like me, after all—and their detractors used that against them. I wonder if they knew it was coming, the lure, the trap that led them to their demise. Their stance against taking jobs that were less than noble was well known—they always said that just because we were mercenaries, that didn’t mean we didn’t have a choice. It always made me proud to hear that. Too bad it cost them their lives.

I watched as they were called out in the public circle for refusing to join in on a lucrative slaving operation. I watched as they fearlessly decried their challengers, even though they were outmatched by the two Karkisst brothers. It would have been so easy for them to say nothing, to let it go and live a little longer. But they didn’t believe in backing down when things looked hopeless and neither do I. Unfortunately, that didn’t help them in battle. Held back by people older and stronger than me, I could only watch as their blood was spilled on the sand of the dueling ring. I still hear the sound of Narle Karkisst’s vibroblade ripping open Darin’s torso, that odd sound of flesh tearing combined with the ring of the metal as it slices through the air. I can still smell the metallic tang of fresh blood rising from the crimson sands. I thrashed around, trying to get free, kicking, screaming, cursing the name of the people that held me as my adopted parents were slaughtered before my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of things in my sixteen years that I bet most kids don’t see. That one tops them all. I don’t remember much about the first time I was orphaned, but I remember every detail of that day. I remember seeing the only caring people I’d ever known torn from me by those I loathe.

But that wasn’t enough. Of course it wasn’t. I should have known from the leers I’d gotten earlier from our erstwhile allies the slavers, not to mention the hateful sidelong looks. My mistake for writing it off as yet another episode in the endless cycle of rejection by the purebloods my age. Before I knew it, the council had voted to allow the Karkissts, my adopted parents’ killers, to take me as part of their winnings from the duel. The wickedly triumphant look on Narle’s face is not a sight easily forgotten, especially since his hands were still covered with Darin’s blood. I’ll deal with him after I get out of here. Naturally.

The cowards they were, the Karkissts decided to dispose of me with as little open bloodshed as possible—they’d already spilled enough by killing my adopted parents. Instead, they sold me to our new partners the slavers. If I’d entertained any notions that the Thyrsus Sun Guard had any molecular quantities of honor remaining, they were disintegrated right at that point. Robbing me of Fini and Darin wasn’t enough—no, they had to treat me as property, to sell me like some animal. So, here I am, on a slaver ship leaving Thyrsus with only thoughts of unbridled revenge to keep me company.

That’s not entirely true. There’s the remnant of my rational mind, pierced by a dozen emotional daggers. There’s the haunting loneliness that reminds me of the fate of two sets of parents. There’s the burning humiliation of being treated like some kind of animal, the utter degradation of one’s humanity. There’s the bruises, burns, and cuts I accumulated from my desperate struggle to escape my captors. Mind you, I gave them better than I got—there’s one or two of them that won’t walk for another few days and breaking the arm of the big Rodian made it all worth it. Given half a chance, I’d have killed them all unarmed, until the shockwhip finished it. They had to turn it up all the way to stop me—there’s no way a humanoid can do anything against repeated hits from one of those. I was convulsing on the ground by the time they finished. They’re masters of inflicting pain without damaging the ‘merchandise;’ it ruins the resale value.

Next thing I knew, I was all properly tied up and being rudely awakened by some slavers tossing buckets of some kind of liquid—hopefully water—onto me to revive me. I don’t care to remember the beating and leering after that in great detail. My only saving relief was that I’m apparently worth a lot more if I’m unspoiled, which is why they were more restrained than might be expected. I’ll survive, most likely, which was their mistake. I probably won’t even have but a few tiny scars—like I said, they’re careful. They should have killed me when they had the chance. When I get out of here, they’re never going to touch a woman like that again. They won’t touch anyone again. They won’t be able to. They’ll all be dead.

The bleeding’s mostly stopped, just a trickle down my leg, I think. The cut on my forehead’s dried up and crusted over. There’s nothing I can do now about the gaping void inside me, the one from having a pair of loving parents torn of out it. Nor do I have the means to erase the waking nightmare of the last few hours. All I can do is blot it out for now and stay focused on my mission: getting out of here and turning the tables. It’s been about three hours since we took off, and that means we’re probably in hyperspace now. It’s almost time.

One might think that an unarmed, badly beaten girl with her arms tied above her head might be defenseless. Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to agree with you. I don’t cut a very intimidating figure right now. That said, slavers are predictable. One of them will pop in here entertaining some vile notion, expecting me to be the same half-dazed victim I was a couple hours ago. That’s where they’re wrong. They didn’t restrain my legs, and I can kill a man three ways with those alone. I glare up at the harsh light again, biding my time. Then, I hear the dim sound of footsteps coming through the corridor towards my cell. Time for action. I slump my head over and my tangled dark auburn hair droops over my face, hiding it from easy vision, though I can see through the damp locks. I look pretty pitiful right now, but appearances are deceiving. When that door opens and the slaver enters, I’m going to kill him, and then I’m going to get free. Once that’s done, it won’t take me long to seize the whole ship.

I’ll keep their leader alive as a hostage for now to lure out the Karkissts when we get to our destination. Once he’s served his purposes, I’ll kill him too. A slaver ship almost certainly has weapons, and I’m sure I can figure out how to use them. Death by laser cannon is a little fast for the Karkissts, but I don’t have time for anything else. With them dead, I can return to Thyrsus with proof of my victory. The elders will have to accept my victory—at blaster point if necessary—but I don’t want anything that was gained by the blood the Karkissts shed. I only want anything that Fini and Darin left for me.

Then, I’ll take the ship and run away where they’ll never find me. I’ll have to ditch it eventually. It’ll be life on the run for me from then on. At best, I’ll be a sellsword, a mercenary for hire. That’s what I know how to do.

Maybe out there in the galaxy, there are still decent people, people who aren’t governed by depravity, where I can live without fearing daily for my life and maybe take up something other than fighting. I hope so, but that’s only a dream as far as I’m concerned. I have to get off this ship first and then we’ll see about that. A galaxy’s a big place, and maybe there are others like Fini and Darin. I won’t hold my breath while I wait for some to show up, though. I’m going to recover my sanity and my strength and then I’m going to keep living with as little thought on the past few hours as possible. I don’t want to live my life as a rage-filled berserker, nursing some hurt or another until I die a young ignoble death. I’ve seen too many of those. I don’t want to become bitter, I want to settle the score. Once that’s done, I’m going to put this behind me and go forward. I won’t let myself remain an animal forever; I’m a person and I was taught better. If only to honor their memory, I’ll somehow overcome what they’ve done to my spirit for the sake of Fini and Darin. I can’t afford to let my anger destroy me. That’s the same as giving in. No, I have to move on, to bury the deep emotional and physical scars and make my own way in the galaxy. And eventually, satisfy the score I owe the rest of the Sun Guard. I’ll get them too, one of these days, but it will be on my terms—maybe years from now. Seems daunting for most sixteen-year-olds, but I’m not exactly normal in that regard either.

I haven’t been a little girl since I was three and my biological parents were slain in front of my eyes by the Sun Guard—it’s faint, but it’s my oldest memory. Ever since then, I’ve made myself into a weapon, learning the Echani martial arts and a dozen other disciplines useful for being a mercenary. Fending off the myriad attacks of pureblood girls jealous of my skills only made me stronger. The shell of vulnerability that surrounds me is a sham.

The door opens with groan and a clang, admitting a burly slaver whom I haven’t seen before. He looks thoroughly dim-witted as he approaches me with this smile on his stupid face. I tense ever-so-slightly, readying myself for action. He doesn’t even notice. If only he knew what he was about to begin. Underneath my dirty, tousled curtain of hair, the smallest trace of a smile of my own creeps across my face. From where I stand, the situation under this harsh light is quite different than he thinks it to be. I am Milya Tayrce, the last daughter of House Tayrce and House Valaskeois, and I am an Echani warrior. I will be victorious or I will die free.

Ten hours of almost mindless action later, it’s all over. I don’t really remember thinking consciously during that time—I was too busy taking care of business, but now I can afford that luxury. I’m free at last. That thought alone is like a breath of fresh air on a hot day. The pirates are all dead and their bodies have been shoved out of the airlock into space. The Karkissts are gone, too, reduced to smoldering ash on the forest floor of some other world. My wounds—the physical ones—are patched up as best as I could manage and the painkillers are helping a lot with that. The emotional ones won’t heal for years. Probably not ever. There’s no cure for seeing your parents killed in front of you and then sold into slavery by your community to be abused by a bunch of animals. No amount of bloodshed will ever make it right. Fini and Darin taught me that. Everything I’ve known for the last thirteen years of my life has been stripped away. I’m on my own, alone and unwanted. My path is my own to make, but it’s a very lonely one. I have nobody in the galaxy at the time when I most want to run crying into Mama Fini’s comforting arms like a little child. But I’m not, and I can’t, so I have to go on. I have to be strong.

I’ve already been back to Thyrsus and reclaimed what was left for me—there wasn’t much left by the time I returned and the elders weren’t cooperative. I did get a few hundred credits, some clothes of mine and other odds and ends, and two things dearer to me than anything else. The first thing was a tiny locket with a holo of Fini and Darin in it. I tied that one around my neck underneath my shirt. The second thing was Fini’s vibroblade, a beautiful piece of work. It’s perfectly balanced and razor-sharp. The worn handgrip fits comfortably into my hand. Fini always carried this knife, and now it’s mine. I tuck it into my belt and it weight is somehow reassuring. It’s one of my few reminders of my former life.

Everything I knew is gone—Darin and Fini, life on Thyrsus, the Sun Guard. I won’t be going back. I have a ship of my own, for now at least, and I can begin a new life roaming the galaxy. Maybe, one day, I’ll find a place I can call home, with people who really, sincerely care, but until then, I’m on my own. The galaxy has never seemed so large.

I could spend days and weeks grieving for what was lost, if I had the time. I could seek out therapy for the psychological trauma and doctors for the wounds, if I had the money. I don’t have either, so I’m going to do whatever I have to for survival. If there’s a higher power out there, it’s got an evil sense of humor or I really angered it. I’ve never been one for mystics anyway. I’m not dead yet, and the Sun Guard has given me the tools I need to start a new life. In light of my harsh background, the thing I know best is fighting and surviving. So that’s what I’ll do. It’s all I can do. It’s my one last chance at shaping my own destiny.

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