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Sharpening the Rusty Blade (Firesblood x Jabba)

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Offline Jabbathejack

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Archive - http://archive.visionary-tales.com/sharpening-the-rusty-blade-m-t20061.html

4052 dutifully followed Sabine to the mess hall. He moved to take the tray and get her breakfast for her, but before he could do so, she had already taken the tray and loaded it up. It would not do for him to try to take the tray from her, so instead, he kept silent and took up his usual position standing just beside her as she ate. He made a note to mention to her when they were alone that in public, she should let him do more for her. He needed to do the things that were expected of him, otherwise why else would she keep him around?

He tensed as the other director approached, keeping his gaze fixed at a point on the floor. Immediately, he thought of the gaps in his story, highlighted by his overseer and he wondered how long before the director came to order his interrogation to explain the abnormalities.

It was an effort to keep his breathing as slow and careful as possible. Even though their conversation focused on Shaad's display of dominance, as the director put it, 4052 kept his expression as neutral as possible.

She might have believed what she had said about Shaad's interference being at an end, but 4052 could not bring himself to believe that.


Offline Firesblood

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Sabine resisted the urge to look at Mundy once Moriead was gone.  Instead, she looked around the cafeteria without much interest, and then headed for the lifts.  She could hope that the old woman's interference would keep Shaad from causing any more problems, but Sabine would remain on guard nonetheless.  They wouldn't be here much longer; she had half of the information she needed already, and another day or two would complete all the reconnaissance required.  Then, they would journey back to Kurmaraja and report to Kohl.  After that...she wasn't certain. 

She was not looking forward to speaking with Zyad and Malek about her change of heart, but after Mundy's punishment it had become abundantly clear that things were well out of her power to help with.  Hate him though she did, Kohl had the resources needed to liberate every last slave and punish every last deserving director.  If that was all that she could do for them, it was at least something. 

Before long the lift opened on the lowest level, the smell of unwashed bodies, infection, and sickness rushing over them in a wave, along with the harsh scent of cleaning chemicals.  Sabine's eyes narrowed as she stepped out, staring down the corridor from left side to right.  Several slaves stood randomly along either side scrubbing the filth from the walls directly in front of him.  All were as thin as Mundy or thinner, though every last one of them looked have been shaved down and treated for vermin very recently.  They wore the same scrappy cloth that Mundy had been garbed in when she stole him from this place, though these seemed freshly washed as well.  None of them chanced to even look up at her, remaining focused so fixedly on their tasks that they might have been deaf and dumb to the world around them. 

Looking down at her datapad, she started in the direction of the barracks where the slaves were kept at night, intending to start from one end and make her way down to the other.  While she did, she thought of what she would say to Malek and Zyad.  She knew that they would likely understand; she was but one person.  It occurred to her that the best time to liberate 60, however, would be if they were traveling her to another facility.  She would bring it up when she saw them.

The day was spent recording everything that could be recorded, beginning at the deepest sub-level to sublevel 4.  Rather than attending the cafeteria, she ordered food be brought to her quarters so that she could continue to work, though truly it was more so that Mundy could rest and recover after a long and painful day.  She put more ointment on his wounds and gave him one of the pills before re-hiding the medical stash. 

"Another couple of days and we'll have enough to get out of here.  I hope Kohl decides to act fast."


Offline Jabbathejack

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It was rare for a director to stray to these levels of the complex. The moment their backs were turned, 4052 knew that they would be watched by curious gazes, so he made sure to only speak when he knew that they were alone.

He gave details on where they were headed, speaking about what was around every corner before they reached it. Where the slaves slept, where they fed and where they shat, although the latter was obvious from the stench.

"It's cleaner than normal." He murmured softly. "They must have had an inspection. Orders to deal with the lice infestation."

Fortunately, they managed to steer clear of any overseers, anyone who would ask questions at their presence there. When Sabine felt that they were done, they returned to her quarters.

Obediently, 4052 lay down and allowed her to clean his wounds. Fortunately, they felt as if they were beginning to heal.

"Will this be enough for Kohl?" 4052 grimaced as he thought of how their meeting with the leader had gone. "I have known overseers to have more patience than him."


Offline Firesblood

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The cleanliness of the lower levels was far out of place, and Sabine knew that it was only because she was there inspecting things that it had been done at all.  Mundy's words only confirmed it.  The datapad lay on the table waiting for her to pick it up again, and now more than ever she was intent on finishing the counts she needed so they could get out of there.  She hardly thought of her lack of chance to speak with Zyad and Malek; no doubt the chance would come the next day.  Tabling those thoughts for the moment, Sabine spread a thin layer of ointment on Mundy's back, using her natural hand to do so rather than the prosthetic one.  Her touch was careful and gentle as she considered his question.  Would it be enough?

"Nothing is ever enough for Kohl," she murmured softly, feeling the sting of the truth of those words.  Even if she brought back every detail about the facility--hell, even if she brought him the information on every facility owned and operated by the Directors, she knew that Kohl would still find something to bitch about.  Nothing she could ever do for Kohl would save her, and her thoughts lingered over the fact that her days were numbered.  It would not surprise her if he had her killed upon their return.  In a way, she had known for years that it was the only release she would be offered.  She didn't want to worry 4052, but the hard truth of the matter was that this mission would likely be her last.  "Just don't get in his way," she said, her voice barely audible.  "No matter what happens, just let it be, Mundy.  There is no reason for you to end up on his shit list too.  You could still have a good life."

She finished with the salve and sealed the tin, wiping her hand on a towel.  Finding the pills Zyad had brought for 4052's pain, she handed one to her friend and sat down at the table, taking up her datapad once more to finish the day's work.  Head counts, statistics, even floor plans were available to her, and she began to organize each portion of information into a more solid report.  She was resigned to her fate.  Certainly she had thought of escape plans before, of running off never to return.  Kohl would be just as happy with her dying on a mission as he would be with her returning, and she knew that he wouldn't send anyone to search for her if she disappeared.  Likely, he would take it as a job well done nonetheless, with the added bonus of never having to lay eyes on her again.  But she couldn't abandon Mundy to the wilderness, nor to the Directors, which meant that she had no choice but to return to Kurmaraja, if only to make certain that 4052 was safe.  She found that really...that was all that truly mattered to her.  Her life was nothing if it meant he would go on and have a chance, a real chance at freedom.  He deserved it. 

"Either way, what information we get will only help him in the long run, and that's what matters.  He could use what we collect to free every last person in this forsaken place.  It's worth it.  Whatever I end up paying...it's worth it."


Offline Jabbathejack

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4052 frowned, turning his head so that he could look up at Sabine.
"I could have a good life?" He considered the concept for a moment, before replying simply. "I don't know what that is."

Yet what he did know was that his life had changed completely on the day when he first met Sabine. On his brief visit to the place that Sabine called home, he had felt ill at ease, except when he was with her. Even after everything that he had endured, he did not regret his decision to follow her back into the complex that had enslaved him.

"I don't understand why he would be like that. You've done so much for his cause. Why is he not grateful?"

4052 fell silent, propping himself up onto his elbows as Sabine finished with him. He rolled over, sitting up with a little effort, so that he could look at Sabine unhindered.

"They free one person, but enslave another. That is not a price that you should be made to pay."


Offline Firesblood

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Sabine sighed.  A good life.  What did she know of a good life?  She had only observed others who had their freedom to discover such a thing.  She supposed that a good life was one where you didn't have to live in fear, one where a person's basic needs were met, one where a person had a say in the way of things that effected them.  In its bones, the system that Kohl had constructed was good.  It had the potential to lift what remained of humanity, both mundane and mutated, from the ashes left behind by their ancestors.   It was certainly true that he had his prejudices when it came to muties, but despite that he wasnít a terrible leader.  Mundy had only really seen Kohlís treatment of her, and she was hardly a good example.

ďHe hates me because Iím a traitor, but Iím still too useful to kill,Ē Sabine said, meeting Mundyís eyes. ďHe hates me because I was once his favorite, yet I thwarted his law and seduced his son, and forced him to make an example of us.  Worse, I survived the fight and his son didnít.  I fight him on every decision, I do not take his goals seriously, and I am a walking reminder that you cannot trust the people that you think you can.  If I were him, I would hate me too.Ē

She looked back down at the report she was working on, worrying her bottom lip.  ďDonít get me wrong, I hate the bastard and I think he does plenty of downright evil things to achieve his goals, but Iím starting to understand why he does things the way he does, and it took meeting you and coming here to do it.  These people need to be free, and the Directors need to be brought down.  Thatís not going to happen unless the person calling the shots is an unyielding son of a bitch.Ē 


Offline Jabbathejack

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4052 listened to Sabine without interrupting, but throughout his frown grew progressively deeper.

"I've seen the scars that you carry. Some of them looked familiar, but I didn't know why you had them."

He dropped his gaze, thinking of the time during their journey where he had dressed her wounds after the mutated animals had attacked. He had been too weak at that point to be much help in defending them, cleaning her wounds had been the only thing that he could do. He risked a glance up at her; so much had changed since that point.

"I was too afraid to ask."

He paused, shaking his head.

"There's so much about your world that I don't understand. Your laws seem... confusing. But then, for me, my only law was to obey. You've taught me that it is possible to break that life."


Offline Firesblood

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Sabine was silent for a time, considering.  She hadn't really done anything but encourage Mundy's fear of her at the first when she had needed answers, but she regretted that now.  At that point, she had been apathetic towards the life 4052 had lived, too awash in her own misery to care about anything beyond it.  It was done, though, and regretting it didn't change anything.  He was still there with her, even though he didn't have to be, and he was her friend.  It felt strange to acknowledge it, she thought, but also overdue.  Her smile was a small and humorless one when he mentioned the laws.  She hadn't really ever explained that bit to him, had she?

"I suppose it would seem confusing on the outside.  Kohl has far fewer laws than the Directors, but what laws he has are strictly enforced.  For the good of the population as a whole, he says."  She reached out, rested the fingertips of her hand on the back of his briefly; small contact, but genuine nonetheless. "It's been my honor, Mundy.  I want to see what you choose to do with the chance...and believe it or not, you've taught me more than a few things that I needed to learn.  Empathy for one...friendship for another."

Sabine gave an awkward shrug, setting aside the datapad with a sigh.  This sort of talk was not something either of them were good at.  Which was stupid really, she thought, because at this point Mundy knew her better than anyone else ever had.  What was the point in friendship if you couldn't even talk to your friend without feeling like a complete idiot?  It wasn't their fault, really.  Neither of their lives up to this point had fostered any encouragement for trust and connection with others.   She glanced up at him.  "You know you can ask me anything and I'll do my best to answer, right?"


Offline Jabbathejack

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"Anything?" 4052 paused, considering for a moment. He smiled, shaking his head. "Then my mind runs blank."

His smile faded, his brief and rare attempt at humour draining away almost as quickly as it had arrived. He did not shy away from her touch; he was getting more comfortable with her being near him.

Everything about her world seemed confusing and alien, emotions being a big part of that. Given the chance to ask any questions and 4052 simply did not know where to start. He did, however, recognise how upsetting it must have been.

"You don't have to talk about it, Sabine."

His gaze dropped to the floor briefly, looking as if he was afraid to make eye contact.

"Not if you don't want to..."

He wouldn't understand it if she did.


Offline Firesblood

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Sabine chuckled softly, the sound little more than a huff of air.  "Isn't that always the way it goes?  It doesn't matter how many questions a person has, but the moment a person offers to answer them, they disappear."

She set aside the datapad and scrubbed her fingers through her hair, then over her face.  She didn't want to talk about it.  It had been the very worst time of her life, and she still felt as strongly about the fact that she should have died instead as she had then.  It wasn't right that Miko should have died and that she should have lived, not when he had had the strength to plunge the blade into his own breast when she had not.  He thought he had been saving her, but really all he had done was consign her to a life of misery and heartache at his expense.  Still, perhaps she needed to talk about it. 

"All men and women aboard Kurmaraja are expected to serve a stint in Kohl's fighting force.  Everyone serves, everyone protects, everyone benefits.  Mundane humans are expected to enlist for three years, mutated humans are expected to serve five years.  During those years, whether mundane or mutated, Kohl expressly forbids fraternization, especially between officers and subordinates.  Everyone is welcome to pursue romantic goals after they have served their requirements, but he considers it a distraction and a weakness when his soldiers are meant to be fighting and upholding his ideals.  Breaking any of his laws results in punishments of varying degree depending on the infraction, and for muties it often means exile or years added to indenture.  Until Miko and myself, no one had ever broken the fraternization rule, at least none that had been caught.  It was worse, because Miko was my commanding officer, my trainer, not to mention Kohl's son, and I was Kohl's rising star.  He doted on me, gave me more room to move than some of the others.  Miko was being groomed to Kohl's right hand, and I was being groomed to serve as his left.  Because of all these things, Kohl took our betrayal...far harder than he might have otherwise.  We, whom he trusted implicitly, who would take his place and lead his march when he wasn't around anymore, thwarted his law and forced his hand.  He had no choice but to make an example of us, not if he wanted to keep everyone else in line.  No matter who we were or what we were to him, we had to be punished accordingly," she explained, her voice never rising above a whispered octave.  Her hands were clasped in front of her tightly, the knuckles of her flesh and blood hand tight and colorless over her knuckles. 

"He chose to throw us in the sparring pit and make us fight to the death, but he also weighted the odds heavily in Miko's favor.  He threw us in the pit to fight, and then he released the mutated beasts that Miko himself had raised.  They wouldn't attack him, but they attacked me.  I lost my arm and my leg to them--well, the left side of me, really--before Miko killed them.  He could have killed me too, should have killed me, but...he wrapped my right hand around the hilt of his blade and held it there, then used it to take his own life rather than mine...Kohl was so enraged that he had me whipped until I was only a breath away from death.  Only then did he allow Maggie to heal me enough to save my life, but only so far as that.  He decreed that I would keep my scars as a reminder, a reminder for everyone.  He kept me in his ranks, added ten years to my indenture, and ensured that my status as a traitor among his ranks was maintained no matter how many new people joined up...I'm a cautionary tale, a horror story told to the children of Kurmaraja to keep them in line."  Sabine shook her head then, the bright vibrancy of her living eye dimming somewhat with the threat of tears.  "So you see...I'm a bad example to judge by.  It was my choices that led to this, my mistakes."   


Offline Jabbathejack

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To his surprise, she decided to tell him what had happened and 4052 listened in silence, but there really was nothing that he could say in the face of something like this. He was only just beginning to understand that some people could form meaningful attachments to others, but Sabine had known someone was willing to give his own life for hers.

He was silent for a brief time, trying to gather his thoughts before he even considered trying to respond.

4052 looked up at Sabine.
"You still blame yourself, even after everything?"

"Over here, you know how cheap life is." He gestured to the building around them. "To them, a slave is worth next to nothing. There are many others branded and collared every year to replace those who have died."

"I don't blame myself for the times where I was punished for not always following the rules. I blame those who put those rules in place and I blame those who acted to enforce them."

"So he skews the test against you, he sends you out alone on missions that he doesn't expect you to survive." 4052 smiled bitterly. "Yet you do survive, against all the odds."