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THEME

He was standing with his back to her, staring down. Below, she knew, he could survey much of what he owned with a calculating, cold eye. People were milling down there, people he owned, people he had purchased in full. The costs for the running of his lucrative empire were half that of a more reputable business. Slave labor was a sterling example of how to drastically decrease expenditures, and people - people were plentiful. They bred to excess, and much of that excess spilled from the font of generous poverty.

“You did not carry out the task that was set to you, Bryaal,” Devcolt said, calmly. He was always calm, but right now she knew that he’d dipped to the bottom of it, was wading in a sea of perfectly tranquil rage. Seething beneath the surface, working up a froth. “And that task was very important.”

“Ay, sir. Couldn’ do it, sir.”

He turned towards her. His eyes were blue, and his features were chiseled and appealing. When she was a child and he’d plucked her off the dry desert sands of Tatooine, she had thought, for a moment, perhaps he’s not so bad. She knew better now, of course. She knew much better.

“You could,” he replied, simply. “We both know you had the equipment, and the capacity. You are intelligent, Bryaal, and you are good at what you do. That is why you were sent.”

“I couldn’ do it, sir,” she insisted, refusing to look at him. Her heart hammered in her chest. “I jus’ couldn’, sir, I couldn’ just kill-”

“Cargo, Bryaal. It was cargo, and I sent you to get rid of that cargo. You had the explosives, you were inside of the ship. You were given your orders, and you did not carry them out.”

The slave lifted her eyes towards him, her teeth gritted. It was a flare of defiance, a flicker that could never be beaten out of her - a miracle, that flare. “They was people, sir,” she says, her voice rasping.

“Cargo, Bryaal. And they were no more people than you are.”

The door opened behind him, but he was standing in front of her, staring down, pinning her with those eyes. You’re not a man, she thought. You’re the one who ain’t people. There ain’t nothing left of that in you.

She couldn’t see who was stepping through the door.

“You are not a person. You are a thing. You are a thing which was given a purpose, and you failed that purpose. A thing which malfunctions must be repaired, don’t you agree? You have experience with repair, after all. You should understand that.”

He calmly removed the blaster pistol on his belt. The metal gleamed in the strange lights overhead, the plasma cartridges filled with a dull, sickly green glow. Looking at him, looking at the pistol, she felt a soothing calm wash over her. A certitude. This was better, she knew. It was better than living with knowing that she’d killed dozens just to save her own neck. She couldn’t have lived with that, and she’d made a choice, and it had been the right one.

In a final moment of defiance, she leveled her green eyes on Devcolt and smiled.

The door behind him closed. He smiled back, and stepped aside.

Bretlin stood there, looking at her. His eyes were as wide and brown as ever, and he still looked boyish, even though he’d hit twenty not long ago. She remembered that. She remembered sneaking sweets for him, just to celebrate with him. The look on his face and the way his eyes lit up would be worth the lashings later. They’d been purchased together, friends since the beginning, friends since they’d been sold. This was her brother of bond, because to them blood was nothing. They had none.

“No,” she whispered, understanding falling over her and pressing her heart into her stomach.

“...Bryaal?” Bretlin asked, looking towards Devcolt uncertainly, then back to her. “What’s going on?”

“You failed to do what was asked of you, and now you have to pay the consequences for that failure,” he murmured. Devcolt looked at her, and the smile as gone, and she had never seen a face so empty, so devoid of feeling. Dark, dark eyes. Eyes in which empathy would always wither and die.

“Kill me,” she rasped, still on her knees. “Please, please kill me.”

“No!” Bretlin cried. He moved forward, but there was a guard behind him and he grabbed him firmly, held him kicking in place. “No! Bryaal, what’s happening? What’s happening?”

“I’m afraid you’re more expensive than he is, and replacing you would be more difficult. You’ll learn your lesson this way, won’t you? So we won’t have to do this again.”

Bryaal slowly stood, raising her hands towards him, manacled. She began to tremble, though she struggled to keep her voice clear. “He didn’ do nothin’,” she whispered, the pleading bleeding into her voice. Usually she would hate it, but now she didn’t care. She couldn’t give a damn. “Kill me. Kill me instead. I did it. It was me that did it, sir. Kill me.”

Devcolt watched her for a moment, as though considering. His lips pursed in apparent thought, and his head angled to the side.

“KILL ME!” She screamed, pressing her bound hands to her chest. “KILL ME INSTEAD, PLEASE!

A pause. A hesitation. He smiled at her, that smile that always sent a chill down her spine. He raised the pistol and pressed his finger to the trigger.

“I think not, Bryaal.”

He fired.

Flesh seared and blood bubbled up over Bretlin’s chest. He stared forward, his mouth open in shock as he fell to his knees. The guard let him fall, let go of him, let him topple. He began gurgling, more blood, seeping up his throat, seeping past his lips.

Bryaal didn’t realize she was screaming. She ran towards him, ran even as Devcolt pressed a trigger and sent her collar blazing with electrical heat. She ignored the pain, she could barely feel it, barely notice it start to sizzle into her flesh.

“It’s okay,” she promised, reaching him, pulling his head into her lap.

He stared up at her with those wide, frightened eyes. Bleeding. Dying. His blood soaked into her hands, into the fabric of her jacket. She stroked his hair as her tears fell, pulled it back from his face. “It’s okay,” she whispered, over and over. Lying. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Footsteps behind her. A hand, on her shoulder, then the back of her neck. Devcolt held her there, his grip firm, just shy of the scalding collar.

“I want you to remember this, Bryaal,” he murmured.

Bretlin didn’t seem to see her. He didn’t seem to see anything. The blood pooled around them both, flowed out of him, flowed across the floor. She reached for one of his hands, but he didn’t clutch at her fingers. He didn’t feel her there with him.

“I want you to remember this, because you need to understand. You are nothing. You are, and have always been, nothing.”

“You, Bryaal Wimsou, are nobody.”

He stood and left her there as she felt herself grow numb, and Bretlin died in her arms.