Punishments and Rewards

He soaked in the memory of his pain. A few hours after sunset, the guards came again. They hauled Cartog to his feet and threw him out of the stockade. “Make it easy on yourself. Do what he says,” one of them said.

Cartog looked back at him. “What’s it to you?”

He turned his head. On the back of his neck, he wore a slave collar too.

Cartog looked at the other guard. “How about you?”

“Not me. Not yet. I serve the Sith,” the guard said. “Hoo rah.”

Lip-service enforcers. That was good to know.

It was the middle of the night, and the camp was a ghost town except for the night guardsmen. He made it back to the Jackals’ barracks. The squad was already there. Cartog heard snoring. A few heads turned to the door.

“Yo, boss! You all right?” Jeran asked.

People started getting up. Jeran, Keeli, and Yuta were the first. They were the ones that Cartog had known the longest. Others woke up from the commotion. Someone turned on the lights.

“Where did they take you?”

“You okay, man?”

“Cartog, you look like crap.”

“All right, give me a second. Better yet, get me a drink.” Cartog dragged over someone’s locker and sat down on it. Everyone else gathered around. He had wanted to just pass out and deal with this in the morning, but it might as well be now.

One of them handed him a flask. Cartog drank. The rotgut tasted like the speeder lubricant it came from. Bad as it was, it was still the taste of home, and the kick in the head it gave him cleared his mind. Cartog handed it back.

“They burned you, didn’t they?” Jeran asked. Burned, slang for getting collar-shocked.

“Yeah, they did. You guys okay?”

Keeli said, “Nobody had any combat wounds, so they pumped us up on sedatives and tranquilizers.” She lifted her shirt, showing a bandage on her abdomen. “Some of us were still hurting ourselves.”

Cartog growled. Damned Sestra. He looked from face to face. His dogs looked shaky. The softer-hearted ones wouldn’t even look at him. The others looked through him. Cartog didn’t know which was worse.

“What about the captain?” Jack asked. Most of the squad snorted and rolled their eyes. “Yo, just saying.”

“No way. The captain’s in Sestra’s pocket.”

“What’s happening, boss? Are we stuck with this guy?” Jeran asked.

“Yeah.” No point in sugar-coating it. Cartog lowered his eyes to the floor. “Everyone get some rest. We’ll need everything we’ve got to get through this.”

Cartog put them through a double dose of combat training the next day. They had to keep moving. They had to keep their minds off what happened. So did he. The pain from the collar shocks help cloud out memories he wished would go away.

The 17th Penal Company was small unit. There were no secrets. From other troopers, Cartog found out that Lord Sestra had arrived yesterday. He had terrified the captain into giving him the Jackals. No one knew whom he served or where he came from. He threw the captain out of his tent, the captain threw his aide out of his, and the captain’s aide was bunking with the officers. Sestra had been seen meditating as the sun rose. Beyond that, no one knew where he was.

The squad was in the middle of knife fighting drills when Cartog saw the blood-red cloak coming towards them. Cartog had heard that the Sith liked drama. Sestra’s hood was up, on a cloudy day, and he walked slowly.

Cartog gave the order to stand down. Sestra stood before him and folded his arms. Cartog bit his lip. He bowed the way he’d been trained. “My lord,” he said. Politeness was a good way to set an enemy at ease.

“You Jackals fought well yesterday. I am pleased.”

He ought to be. Cartog’s curiosity overcame his disgust. “What did you do?”

“I blessed you and your squad with the dark side of the Force. Once battle was joined, the bloodshed fed the blessing. It made you stronger. That strengthened me.” He closed his hands into fists and seemed to glow a feverish black light. “I used my power to resuscitate the enemy, force their souls back into their bodies. Such a simple thing, flesh.”

It sounded like voodoo to Cartog. He wasn’t sure how much he believed. He didn’t care.

“You, all of you, show much potential as….” Cartog looked at him in shock. As his pets? Sestra chuckled. “As my servants.” Close enough. He folded his arms. “All of you will be rewarded. You Jackals will be the first of my army.”

Jeran had enough. “Hell no. We’re not serving some sick bastard like you.”

Sestra reached his hand out and Force-choked him again. He dropped to his knees immediately, much faster than he had before.

Cartog pointed his rifle at him. The rest of the Jackals did too. “Let him go!” Cartog shouted.

Sestra threw his head back, and all of them went flying. Cartog struggled to his feet. He screamed as red light poured out of Jeran’s eyes, nose, ears and mouth and into Sestra’s body.

Jeran fell. Sestra radiated power; it was like a shockwave hitting Cartog’s body. He howled. He drew his lightsaber and turned to face the squad. “Listen well, Jackals! I shall not be defied again. You serve me. You will enforce my will. You will have the rewards – and punishments – you deserve. As I promised, those of you with collars will have them removed.” He threw a pouch of coins that struck Cartog in the face. “Your first reward,” he said. “I had hoped you would be standing when I gave it to you.”

Lord Sestra stared Cartog down. This time, Cartog blinked. He lowered his rifle, and gestured for the Jackals to do the same. Sestra grinned. He spun his lightsaber slowly, and and walked away.

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