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Beyond - Legends Bylines - 2021 DDC, Hallis Saper (sludgenews)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Thumper09, Jan 12, 2021.

  1. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Entry 13

    I’m starting to bring Scrounger with me on little outings here and there. His mobility isn’t perfect but it’s improving. Each time we go out, we get more information about what needs attention, whether it’s a sticky servo, a faulty wire, a software issue, and so on. I fix what I can, and we try to work around what I can’t.

    I still want to bring him in the field with me at some point. I’ve got him outfitted with a couple hidden cameras and microphones, and after each outing I take a look at the kind of data we’ve recorded so I can tweak the recording devices as well. Other times it’s a learning experience for me to know what kind of data I can expect to get from those devices in certain conditions.

    Scrounger and I did a very low-key test run when I interviewed a couple former Imperials for some quotes to use in my story. They didn’t see Scrounger, but I made sure Scrounger was nearby and recording. I went in with all of my regular recording gear as my primary in case Scrounger’s recordings didn’t turn out.

    The interviews went pretty well, all things considered. One of the Imperials got a little pushy and didn’t like the amount of credits I was offering him in exchange for his quotes, which are complete fabrications anyway. It was a perfectly reasonable amount so I shut him down pretty quickly when he started jawing at me about it. That did get me thinking, though. I might put some audio recordings in Scrounger’s internal data storage in case I need him to broadcast something for me as a distraction. Sirens or blaster fire or something. That might come in handy some day.

    Anyway, my “dastardly Imperial” story is admittedly one of the sludgenews classics: Vader is alive and is in charge of the Imperial Remnant. I put my own spin on it using some jumbled holos from the Battle of Endor that “show” his shuttle leaving before the second Death Star exploded, as well as things like “leaked” data from the IR showing a higher than normal casualty rate of Imperial officers in certain pocket locations at certain times. It’s no secret that Vader tended to leave bodies of his own allies in his wake. And, of course, some financial nudging helped my anonymous sources to “remember” that they saw Vader in the IR recently, alive and in command. Those interviews are the centerpiece of the story.

    Maybe one day I’ll do what my co-workers do and just make up my own quotes for anonymous sources. It probably doesn’t make much sense for me to pay people to say things I’ve asked them to say. It’s better for me to do it this way for now, though. When I’m quoting what someone else says, even if they’re retelling my own fiction, they still say it in their own way. It comes out more authentic-sounding for the story. If I made up the quotes myself, they would all sound like me. Besides, they usually unconsciously throw in more details that I wouldn’t have known to include, and sometimes they really get into it and give me more than I expected. I’ve had a few stories morph into something else that way. Those are actually pretty fun. It’s interesting hearing people talk and developing stories based on what they say or what they’ve experienced. Even if it’s fake.

    We’ll see how Blakeley likes this when I’m finished with it. I haven’t really been able to get the visceral feel of fear in this story I was hoping for when I chose the topic, but it’s still a solid piece. I didn’t have any qualms writing this like I was a bit nervous about at the start. Hopefully that means that weird nonsense from before is behind me and it’s full throttle from here on out.

    Kahara likes this.
  2. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    Oh, dear

    This is true, the IR is pretty reliably dastardly

    Hey, some things are classic for a reason. I'd read that story :p

    Yup, I can see that [face_thinking]
  3. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    It's good for a writer to have dependable villains sometimes, LOL.
    Part of me wonders if "Vader sightings" would happen in the GFFA post-Endor the way that Elvis sightings happen in the US. There's so much that could be done with that topic IU.

    Thanks very much for reading and commenting!

    Here's the next entry:


    Entry 14

    Unfortunately Blakeley wasn’t too impressed with my Imperial story. She said there was nothing technically wrong with it but “Vader is alive” stories have been done to death and my spin didn’t spin things enough. Drayvet got Page One for this issue.

    I kind of feel like I need to salvage this, so I’m doing something I don’t do often: expanding on my “Vader is alive” story with a second part. My last story set things up to show Vader is still a dangerous threat and ruling the Imperial Remnant. In the second part, I’m taking a closer look at Vader himself... namely that Vader is a part played by more than one person who simply puts on the suit and assumes Vader’s identity for however long the IR deems fit. If their current incarnation isn’t ruthless enough, they can find someone else who is. Basically, the being we outwardly see as Vader cannot die.

    If this works out, it can turn the essence of Vader into a much more long-term threat that can outlast any one being’s life span. What’s more frightening than realizing that outliving a horrible enemy is not necessarily an option anymore, that the hope of “someday they’ll be gone” is off the table? That they could go on indefinitely? I’m sure to pull in readers with this approach. This is that visceral feeling I was looking for with the last story but couldn’t find. It’s going much better so far.

    The notion of different beings using the suit has given me some things to chew on that I’m exploring in my research. Exactly how would that work? How do they pass on knowledge from one Vader-actor to another so a later one knows things “Vader” should know? Did the original Vader wear the suit just for show as an intimidation factor, or was it truly needed due to medical reasons?

    That, in turn, has led me down some interesting paths with researching bacta and why such a suit would be needed if bacta is such a cure-all. Bacta allergy? It wasn’t for lack of access to bacta as one of the leaders of the Empire. What would a suit like that do for a person that bacta couldn’t? What medical conditions would make a suit like that necessary, if it was medically necessary at all?

    I have to say, this bacta research is really sparking my imagination.

    Kahara likes this.
  4. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    I genuinely love this idea. Now imagining Luke sighing over them twenty years down the line...

    Ooo :vader:

    I've wondered about the bacta thing myself [face_thinking] There's probably an in-universe answer to it, but bacta itself always felt like a narrative hand-wave akin to a sonic screwdriver anyway. But hey, even sonic screwdrivers don't work on wood, so maybe bacta doesn't work on scorched lungs or something [face_dunno]
  5. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    That would be a lot of fun. :) Poor Luke trying to weed through random reports of Vader working at refueling stations and performing marriages, but every so often a criminal puts a cosplay-esque suit on and something bad happens, and people get scared and the Jedi have to do some PR control and investigate the criminal, LOL.

    I heard some random snippet years ago about how Palpatine kept Vader in the suit because he wanted Vader in constant pain to keep him angry and anchored to the Dark Side. I have no idea how legitimate that was, but it's my headcanon now. ;) I agree that bacta seems to be more of a plot device than anything else, and how it works depends on the author of any given story. I know I've had to come up with some of my own rules for how bacta works in my stories so I can keep things internally consistent. I tend to treat it as a healing speeder-upper, which puts limits on it. If a broken bone isn't set correctly before bacta treatment, the bacta will make it heal wrong. Certain injuries need physical therapy or strengthening after bacta treatments. Things like that.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    Speaking of bacta, here's the next fairly short installment:


    Entry 15

    Blakeley liked the immortal Vader story a bit better, but she still wasn’t really enamored with it. But that’s okay, because I’m deep into my next story about bacta. This one is going to be great. It feels like the more I research bacta, the more questions I get, and the more I can explore on the subject.

    Bacta is such a universal topic, too, that lots of readers can already relate to it on some personal level, whether they’ve had a full-blown bacta dunk or just a little bacta patch on a skinned knee as a child. Growing up, I had my share of it. It’s always been touted as a miracle cure.

    But how many people really know what’s in it? How is the quality controlled? How can a single substance work “miracle cures” for so many different species and so many different medical issues? Doesn’t that sound a bit too good to be true?

    Whenever the answer to such a question is “yes,” it always makes for a great sludgenews story.

    This story is going to make up for the last couple lukewarm ones and get me back in favor with Blakeley. One of the hardest parts so far is actually trimming my draft down enough to fit in the issue. My main topics are knock-off “bacta” products that do nothing, the under-reported dangers of bacta addiction, questionable bacta ingredients, and whether the Vratix add anything “extra” into bacta, like mind-control chemicals. Mind-control stuff always gets readers riled up and invested.

    I have so much material left over in my notes that I might have enough for a follow-on story too.

    Kahara likes this.
  6. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    Dying imagining Ben's grandkids being exasperated about these sightings, and sludgenews reporters of the time writing stories about how the suit was clearly an immortality device :p

    I mean, it's totally in character for Palpatine!

    These are good rules [face_thinking]

    And you could run the entire gamut of conclusions, all the way from "bacta is a placebo" to "bacta is people" :p

    I think she's got a winner :D
  7. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    LOL, and by that time so much could be distorted and mis-remembered in the public mind that the sensationalism could really be taken to the next level. "Was Vader even human? Death personified!" The boogeyman of the times. And the Skywalker/Solo family is just spraining their eyes from rolling them so hard at everything. That whole concept would make a fun graphic novel to really make the "sightings" seem creepy. :cool::vader:[face_skull]

    Right? The GFFA is long overdue for a big journalistic expose' of bacta IU. The events in Bacta War are possibly the closest they've come to that, IIRC. I bet there are people who spend their entire careers studying bacta and its applications, and even more off-the-wall theories and old wives' tales about it. The sky's the limit.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    Next entry:


    Entry 16

    I make a point of reading all the messages sent to me from readers. I’ve written here before about how I love getting hate mail. I have a flimsi print-out of my very first piece of hate mail framed and sitting on a shelf in my living room. It’s a great conversation starter, as well as a reminder of the thick skin needed for this line of work. It’s got more expletives than non-expletives, and I reread it when I need a pick-me-up or a bit of inspiration.

    I’ve been staring at it in the dark for the last hour or so.

    That curse-laden, befouled piece of flimsi always made me want to keep going, keep pushing, keep asking questions, keep getting better. I always did. I always tried to. The vitriol in it never bothered me.

    Somehow it’s a letter from a reader with no swear words, no threats, no rage, that’s made me feel worse than I think I ever have. Someone who wrote me the other day to say that a family member of theirs read my bacta story, got scared, and refused a bacta treatment they needed. No one could convince the person that what they read wasn’t true, and the doctors were forced into a less effective treatment plan. They weren’t fully equipped or prepared for the alternate plan, either, since bacta was the primary treatment that they always used. It didn’t work. The person ended up dying.

    I’ve gotten a few more letters with similar stories, too, though thankfully no one else seems to have died as a result. One had complications that are being managed with an alternative treatment. Another has a much longer recovery time ahead of them. The others didn’t give an outcome.

    Blast it, don’t these people know that these stories are supposed to be entertainment?! That they’re not supposed to actually take them seriously? That they’re supposed to think for themselves with their own brain and not take a sensationalist sludgenews story at face value?!

    I’ve been mulling this over for a long time, and I don’t like where my brain has been taking me.


    Even if Unencrypted is marketed as entertainment, I’m still responsible for writing the story and planting whatever seeds sprouted in those minds. That name in the byline is complicit in contributing to unnecessary suffering and, in one case, death.

    I’m sure most of my co-workers, especially the career sludgers like Drayvet, will be sympathetic but will also maintain that those people made their own decisions and it’s not my fault that they took a piece of fiction too far. I can’t control other people’s actions, and I didn’t force them to do anything.

    And I guess in some ways that’s true, but... isn’t the point of writing sludgenews to influence people’s emotions and thoughts in some way? Isn’t that emotional investment and reaction what I’m always going after? If I don’t want to guide a reader’s thoughts on a path alongside my own, then why even bother to write the story? It becomes nothing without that. True, I’m doing it for entertainment and some sort of escapism, not anything malevolent, but I’m still doing it. And maybe I’ve been missing that realization this whole time. The problem is that I can’t reconcile this new realization with how to go forward after what’s happened. Now that I know what can happen.

    Ugh. Damn it.

    Page One doesn’t seem so desirable anymore.

    Kahara likes this.
  8. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Entry 17

    Like I suspected, Drayvet and the others were sorry to hear about what happened, but they don’t really understand why I’m taking it so personally. I couldn’t really explain it to them either. I took a few days off of work to clear my head, and on my way out of the office after grabbing a few things and talking to Blakeley I caught a couple glances of the sort that I used to give co-workers who I felt were “getting too soft” after some hate mail or a setback. The kind of glance that wonders if they’ll manage to pull out of the nosedive or not.

    Never thought I’d see the day when I was on the receiving end of it.

    I’m not throwing in the towel yet, though. I’ve worked too blasted hard to get to where I am, and I’m a damn good sludger. I just need to figure this out.

    I’ve spent most of the time off working on Scrounger. It’s a good mixture of a goal to focus on and time to let my brain mull things over.

    In particular, I’ve been mulling over the field of sludgenews and looking for what its essence is and if there are any aspects I can redirect myself to for a while.

    The good news is that I’ve gotten a lot fixed with Scrounger, and he’s pretty mobile now. I’ll be able to take him along on some field assignments.

    The bad news is that I haven’t had much luck with my mulling. Maybe it’s just my mood and the aftermath of my bacta story, but the more I think about it, the more I doubt that sludgenews in general is something that inherently makes the galaxy a better place. And now that I’ve started seeing things through that lens, I’m not sure how to stop.

    I’ve never wanted to hurt people or make kids cry or do anything that adds more problems to a galaxy that already has enough of its own to deal with. Maybe I can find some stories that add some positivity. I’m not sure where to find those yet, but I can try.

    Kahara likes this.
  9. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    This truly cracks me up. I can just see it sitting on her shelf :p

    These are some eternal questions, right here *sigh*

    I really like this turn, depressing though it is, because I can absolutely see this being the reason Hallis got out of sludgenews. If she hadn't had this sort of realization, she would have stayed in the field; she's too good at it. But the Hallis we saw in Starfighters had more integrity than that. Looking forward to seeing where she goes from here :D
  10. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Thank you! I'm happy to hear this makes sense to you from a characterization standpoint. :) This was probably the hardest part for me to figure out. If she "learned it all," she had to have been at least somewhat committed to a sludgenews career at some point, but then she chose to "get out anyway," so I had to reconcile that with the former aspect and, like you said, the integrity she has in Starfighters. I wonder how much of her background Mr. Allston had figured out; I would have loved to see what his concept for her career change was. Thanks so much for reading and replying!

    Next entry:


    Entry 18

    After training myself for so long to think of how I can twist a situation into something gritty or less-than-savory, you know how hard it is to look at something and figure out if there’s a good aspect to it that can be highlighted?

    It’s hard.

    And I’m annoyed at myself because I didn’t realize how hard it would be or how entrenched I’ve gotten in that other mindset.

    I actually needed some help from Scrounger. We would go walking through town, and I would point things out to him and ask for his interpretation of what he saw or heard. Sometimes it was an overheard snippet of a conversation, sometimes a sign on a business or hover train, sometimes a headline on a broadcasted news report. His more objective droid viewpoint would at least get me to a more neutral place than where my mind started from. From there, it was easier.

    It’s taking a while but I’m getting there, and I’m proud of myself for managing to submit a couple of these stories to Blakeley so far. One was about a New Republic mercy mission. Another was a more local angle about a CSA merchant ship that outsmarted some pirates and escaped unharmed. The captain was a graduate of the Bonadan academy. Both stories were researched well, and I stuck to facts instead of my blend of facts-plus-generous-interpretations. Without all that interpretation tweaking and massaging, I had those stories written in half the time I usually needed.

    Oh, and the best part? I took Scrounger with me to the Bonadan Merchant Marine Academy for some of the research. We still had to find details about the captain’s record and the CSA’s incident report about the pirate attack, and those aren’t exactly publicly accessible. I kind of knew my way around the academy from last time (I avoided that particular maintenance hangar this time around), so I focused on putting Scrounger through his paces and seeing what he could do inside some of the buildings on his own. He was amazing. He got all the info I needed, plus even more that he thought might help. And like I suspected, no one looked twice at a 3PO droid moving through the hallways. All that hard work to get him mobile and functional again is paying off. We’re going to make a great team out in the field.

    I kind of liked that feeling. Scrounger and I working together, sneaking around for footage and information, but... no one getting hurt as a result. I think we might be on to something here. I want to play around with it and see where it goes.

    The factor in all this I’m not sure about is Blakeley. She hasn’t said much about these couple stories I’ve submitted, but that in itself says a lot. Plus there’s the side-eye she’s given me each time I’ve submitted them. The New Republic story ended up on page ten, which is the lowest page number I’ve gotten since I was brand-new to the field. The pirate story was a little better and made it to page six. I suspect because there was some action and shooting involved in it.

    Before, I would have been crushed at the notion of anything past page two, but I’m okay with this right now until I figure things out better. I know these aren’t the usual fare for Unencrypted, and it’s still getting my stories out there. If what I write is going to reach a reader, even one, then I think I like the notion of this type of story being the thing that reaches them and not some of what I was writing before.

    Kahara likes this.
  11. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    This is really insightful, on all counts [face_thinking]

    That's a clever tactic, honestly.

    An unexpected side benefit!

    Aw, partners [face_love]

    There's our girl :D
  12. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Thanks! Changing thinking patterns is danged hard. I imagine Hallis's sludgenews brain tries to kick in during her documentaries down the road.

    Bonus! For me it's almost the opposite: researching usually takes longer than just making stuff up, especially if I go off on research tangents, LOL.

    Yup, they make a good team! :D
    Thanks a bunch for reading and replying!

    I'm not sure yet if next week's update will be at the end of May or if I'll wait until June. In the meantime, here's the next installment:


    Entry 19

    Well, that didn’t last long.

    Blakeley called me into her office today. She was not happy. She said she’d humored me with the first couple “poofy” stories as she called them since she knew I was shaken by those letters, but she wasn’t going to accept any more of “that ilk” from me. Her vocabulary gets strange when she’s really irritated. And no, she was not going to even bother publishing the latest story I’d submitted to her, which was actually a very good story about some unusually amazing cures some people had experienced from bacta. It was in the notes I had left over from that other bacta story, and I thought it was an interesting topic to explore.

    Blakeley didn’t.

    We argued for over fifteen minutes. I told her why it was a good story. She told me why it was a terrible sludgenews story. She told me to change it. I told her I wouldn’t. Ultimately, she said I’ve been getting too soft with these “feel-goods” and I’m losing my edge, and there’s no place on the sludger staff at Unencrypted for people who only submit “doilies” and not actual sludgenews. I either have to step up or get out of the way.

    I admit it, that rattled me. I thought I had a bit more credit banked here, but then again, this isn’t exactly a field known for its lenient and forgiving nature.

    I don’t know if it was the surprise or the argument's adrenaline or what, but I blurted out that my next story would be Page One material. She said it had better be.

    I felt confident at the time I said it, but now I’ve got some niggling doubts starting to creep in. That in and of itself scares me. A sludger can’t doubt themselves, not when they need utter self-confidence to bluff their way into secure areas and handle tricky situations while getting inaccessible footage. Self-doubt is dangerous. It’s that crack in the armor that lets security guards see right through you.

    And the doubts aren’t about my skills. I trust my skills. They’re about the prospect of what I said I’d do and what it means. As seen by her reaction to my “feel-goods,” Blakeley’s made it clear that she’ll only approve of my next story if it’s sensationalist like my old stuff. But ever since I took those days off to mull things over, I haven’t been able to come up with a story that’s full-on sludgenews that Blakeley will like and also doesn’t run a risk of people getting hurt through misinterpretations or of needlessly tarnishing someone’s reputation-- it’s called “sludgenews” for a reason. My choices are pretty much one or the other. Hence the doubts about my Page One statement.

    My first concern: what if I can’t do it?

    My second concern: what if I can?

    Kahara likes this.
  13. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    lolol :p

    The perfect dilemma for her, the poor girl. I just love how realistically you're portraying her development :D
  14. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Thanks so much! I'm very happy to hear the development is still coming across well. :) And heh, I would love to do a full scene from irritated Blakeley's POV that's filled to the brim with odd little language idiosyncrasies and word usage. That would be fun. Thanks a bunch for reading and replying!

    The next entry is one of the longest ones in this story. Here we go:


    Entry 20

    It’s taken me a while to write this entry because I don’t even know where to begin.

    Well, I guess I do. Strictly speaking, I should begin where the last entry ended-- I’d told Blakeley I would give her a Page-One-worthy story to keep my job. Despite those doubts that were creeping in, that’s what I set out to do. It was my livelihood on the line, after all.

    A couple weeks ago, a storm hit a Lant Mining Corporation’s refinery here not far from Spaceport Northeast I and damaged a lot of their equipment, as if LMC needs any more problems to deal with. It put the refinery out of operation for a while.

    When I was brainstorming Page One ideas with Scrounger, we found a news snippet about a legal dispute between LMC and TaggeCo that was playing out in a completely different sector. What drew my attention was that the legal dispute was getting pretty dirty between the two companies. LMC is struggling financially and desperate, and TaggeCo used to be untouchable but they’ve had a rough time since the Empire fell so they’re getting hit hard from lots of companies who wouldn’t have stood a chance against them before, and they’re crumbling and defensive. It’s two wounded animals fighting each other.

    It was ugly, but it wasn’t sludgenews. At least, not until I remembered that TaggeCo owns Bonadan Heavy Industries, and per law, Bonadan Heavy Industries is one of the primary financiers of the northern weather-control station that generates the sweeper storms to clear out the mining pollution here.

    From there, it was easy to come up with the theory that, through bribes or extortion or clandestine station access or any number of methods, BHI somehow caused or generated the strong storm in that area specifically to target the LMC facility as retribution on behalf of TaggeCo. The damage would hurt LMC, but in this far away, random system, who would ever connect the two events and suspect TaggeCo of wrongdoing? Especially if the storm was considered a natural event and dismissed in everyone’s minds?

    I ran my proposed story idea by Blakeley. She was thrilled and said she’d known I still had it in me.

    But I wasn’t so sure. Those doubts got worse the more I researched the story. Sweeper storms are normal here on Bonadan, but I was about to plant the seed in people’s minds that they could be purposefully used for unethical things and even used as a sort of weapon, and there was nothing the target could do about it. And what if you’re not the target but end up as collateral damage? Storms aren’t exactly precise.

    I was envisioning all the ways readers could get too invested in this story and what they might do as a result of this newly-realized powerlessness against a world and a galaxy much bigger than them. I wasn’t sleeping well, and my deadline was looming. I wasn’t passionate about the story, and my heart wasn’t really in it.

    And... I’m pretty sure that’s why I was distracted and not on my toes. That’s why I slipped up. And that’s why Scrounger is in several broken pieces in my living room, and why I (ironically) have a bacta wrap on my ankle right now.

    I feel horrible, and it’s not because of my ankle.

    I couldn’t do the story without some in-depth research. I’d planned to go to the closest BHI offices first, and then once I had some of that data I’d know what to look for up at the weather-control station.

    So I took Scrounger with me to the BHI office after hours when fewer employees would be around. They have some pretty hefty security there. It was nothing I couldn’t get past, but I didn’t have that adventurous feeling that I did with Scrounger at the Merchant Marine Academy. That was a good, thrilling sort of rush. This just felt... wrong.

    Even now I’m not 100% certain what happened. Did I miss bypassing something in the security system? Did I not spot something that I should have? Did I accidentally trip a sensor? Did someone see us?

    Scrounger was going down a nearby corridor and I was inside a back room in the building when everything hit at once: alarms started blaring, lights started flashing, and I lost contact with Scrounger.

    One thing that Drayvet drilled into me early on was to remain calm during situations like this and not draw attention to myself by running away. Normally I could do that, but I’d already been anxious so it was a lot harder and I almost lost control. Though I didn’t really start to panic until I heard the blaster fire and a crash.

    Yeah, weapons are outlawed here on Bonadan, but that doesn’t mean that security systems don’t have other ways of stopping or incapacitating intruders. Repulsor traps, shock nets, grav traps, force fields, the list goes on. Places that are really serious about their security also play a little fast and loose with the definition of a “weapon.” They might not have blasters or vibroblades, but something like stun batons or other blunt-force items might be incorporated in the system and classified as a “lever” or “strut” or something to skirt around the law.

    And sometimes, if a company is big enough and powerful enough like TaggeCo is and can grease the right palms, their security droids might have actual blasters that are defined as “power packs” or “batteries.” And oh dear, it sure was unexpected that the droid’s battery happened to explode in a very focused way and injure that intruder. It must have been faulty. We’ll look into that right away so it doesn’t happen again.

    Though I hadn’t expected quite this level of security and danger, I’d known BHI’s security was strong so I’d come at least somewhat prepared. Once I unfroze myself from the panic, I found the tiniest hiding place I could fit into in the room where I was-- always a challenge since I’m not exactly small-- and pulled out my blocker sheet, draped it over myself, and crammed myself into the hiding spot. I was still trying to adjust it properly without tearing the thin, metallic material when I heard a security droid entering the room. I froze, on purpose this time.

    Luckily the sheet was positioned well enough to block my body heat from the droid’s IR sensors. I held my breath while the droid scanned the room. I’m surprised it didn’t hear my heart pounding, though maybe all the alarms drowned it out. Finally the droid left.

    I stayed hidden for another few minutes before slowly coming out and breathing again. I tried to tap into the security comm frequencies but they’d obviously switched to something more secure once a threat was detected. I still couldn’t contact Scrounger.

    It was hard to hear anything over the alarms, but I couldn’t detect any major activity nearby. So I went for the tried-and-true ventilation duct up above the ceiling of the room. Again, not very easy for me to fit into. But I did, and I headed in the ceiling vents toward the last place where I’d known Scrounger was.

    I never would have found him through the maze of ducts if I hadn’t had the BHI office map and the small tracker I’d installed on Scrounger, though that tracking beacon was glitching out and basically impossible to get a read on. At least the alarms were more muffled in the vents.

    Finally I caught sight of him through a ventilation grate in the ceiling. His eye lights were out, and he was lying in a room that had a bunch of power banks and generators running. The power room was right off of the corridor he’d been in when I’d last heard from him-- he must have ducked inside when the alarms started. Unfortunately he’d chosen a room with a higher security threshold than the corridor had had, and it instantly made him a higher threat even though he wasn’t doing anything to the building’s power systems. But it was probably the closest door to where he’d been in the corridor, and while his mobility is okay, he was limited by my repair skills and so he’s still not very quick. He probably didn’t have any other options if he felt he had to get out of the corridor right away.

    I’d been expecting bad news, but the sight hit me harder than I expected. Scrounger had been shot in the torso and the arm with a couple decently-powered blaster bolts from the look of things. That arm was detached and lying near him. He’d also fallen back against a power bank, and the power bank had numerous craters from blaster shots in it as well. Both Scrounger and the power bank were smoking slightly. Even from up in the ductwork I could smell the ozone and fried wiring.

    I checked the office map to verify the quickest way out of the building from that room, and then I made extra sure there weren’t any people or security droids in the room below that I could see through the grate. When it looked clear, I took a deep breath and activated my contingency plan. One transmitted command over a secure comm frequency activated a little decoy recording and broadcast it over a small speaker I’d planted earlier outside the north end of the building. It was a little closer to my current position than I would have liked, but originally I thought I’d be in a different room if things went sideways. With any luck, the BHI security forces would hear some unintelligible shouting and a couple landspeeders whirring to life from that direction and they would focus their attention that way.

    I gave it another agonizingly long thirty seconds to give them time to hear it, report it, and start wondering about it before I cut the grate fasteners with my small laser cutter and dropped into the power room. The drop was farther than I expected, and I hurt my ankle on landing. I had to limp, but luckily the adrenaline took the worst of the edge off long enough for me to grab Scrounger’s blown-off arm, haul the rest of him over my back, and go as fast as I could toward the exit.

    I had to dodge a security patrol on the way, but somehow I did make it out. Several blocks away I laid low long enough to catch my breath, get my bearings, and check over Scrounger. Then I carried him to where I’d parked my speeder and took a very long, circuitous route home, just in case.

    Scrounger’s body is ruined. The blaster damage is too much for me to fix, and I think a lot of his electronics got fried and melted by the shot-up power bank he fell on. The electronics in his head were a bit more shielded because of the specialized listening and recording equipment I installed there. They didn’t come through unscathed, though. His programming is messed up and I have to replace the more sensitive items. Once again, I’m back to just having Scrounger’s head as the only semi-functional piece of him.

    That was not at all like that night was supposed to go.

    Scrounger’s ruined, and it’s my fault. My story is dead after I caused such a big security breach; there’s no way Unencrypted will publish it and open themselves up for legal charges and liability when BHI knows they had a break-in and is likely actively looking for the culprit. Plus, you know, I don’t want to be arrested. Blakeley was furious with me when I told her what happened.

    But the weird thing? If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I’m not really sorry that Blakeley’s mad or that I couldn’t publish this story. I do feel horrible and guilty about what happened to Scrounger, though. I’m also a little bit terrified when my thoughts wander to Scrounger’s condition and I realize that could have been me with a blaster bolt in my gut. And for what? Something I didn’t even really want to write about in the first place? I’d always known sludging could be dangerous, but it never really sank in until now. I’ll never be that fearless again. Is this what it feels like when a sludger truly knows they’ve lost their edge?

    And the other thing I’m scared of? What all this means for me. Is my sludging career really over? What will I do? Who am I if I’m no longer a sludger?

    I don’t know the answer to that.

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  15. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Dec 21, 2016
    Looks like she's about to make the move to legitimate investigative journalism.
  16. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    A conscience is definitely something of a drawback for a sludger

    Scrounger! :_|

    Aw, our poor girl :( But she'll figure it out, and go on to be undeniably awesome :cool:
  17. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    She's going to try, certainly! Poor thing doesn't know that these decisions will ultimately put her on an intersecting course with a crazy group of starfighter pilots, LOL. Thanks a bunch for reading and replying!

    That it is, unfortunately.

    And that she will! :) :cool: Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    And here we are at the final entry of this half-year diary. Thanks a bunch to everyone who followed along! :D I hope you enjoyed it.


    Entry 21

    I still don’t really know the answers, but I decided I have to start looking for them.

    In light of... well, everything... I told Blakeley I was quitting. I wanted to do it before she asked for my resignation. Blakeley didn’t say if she’d been planning on asking for it, but she didn’t seem particularly surprised that I quit and she certainly didn’t try to talk me out of it. I gave Blakeley my final paperwork, said goodbye to my co-workers, cleaned out my desk, and left. Some of them watched me go with the same pitying look I’d given past co-workers who couldn’t cut it. A couple of the newer ones who’d joined the sludger staff when I was at the top of my game seemed a little nervous when I headed out. I wonder what they were thinking. Right now I’m flattering myself by imagining that they were afraid of what it meant that someone like me, who had done so well for so long at Unencrypted, had washed out and what that implied for their futures. Maybe it would galvanize them into buckling down and going all-out with sludgenews to make sure that never happened to them. Maybe it would make them think twice about the sludgenews field. Who knows.

    After I left, I walked around town for a long time, trying to think about what to do next. It was one of those days when I couldn’t help but notice all the pollution hanging in the air; usually I can ignore it. But on a more positive note, the activity reminded me of when Scrounger and I had gone out walking to try to find some feel-good story ideas. I missed having him with me. I passed a couple of the places where he gave me some of his neutral, objective droid viewpoints, and I remembered how easy those fact-based stories had been to write. No spinning, no re-interpreting, just showing the facts.

    But just spewing facts sounded boring. That’s a regular news report, and it’s too dry for me. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the investment? Where’s the story? Besides, no legitimate news center is going to hire a former sludger for their staff.

    That still sounds weird. Former sludger.

    Eventually I ended up walking past the place where I interviewed the former (there’s that word again) Imperials for my Vader story. Even when I gave the people a script, I’d always liked doing interviews for anonymous and fake quotes because I liked hearing the details and the nuances that the interviewees provided. Sometimes the most fun stories were ones that took an underlying nuance or info snippet from an expanded quote and pulled me in a direction I hadn’t expected to go.

    I wondered if there was a way to combine those types of interviews and personal accounts with fact-based stories that wouldn’t become a straight news report.

    The closest thing I could come up with was some sort of documentary. I’m intrigued by that idea. I’m looking into it pretty closely now.

    One area of concern for me, though, is that documentaries need credibility to stand on, and I wonder how hard it’ll be for me to leave behind the reputation of being a sludger. Will other publishing and media groups even give me a chance with this so prominently in my background? I imagine it’ll take me a while to build that kind of personal credibility, and I’m not sure if I’ll have to do something else in the meantime to pay the bills. Maybe I should try to track down Brekki and ask him how he navigated things professionally after leaving Unencrypted.

    Hopefully in a few days I’ll be at the point where Scrounger can help me research things again, if the parts I ordered come in on time. Or, actually, I should start getting used to using his new name, Whitecap. His head’s the only main thing I can salvage, and I don’t think I’ll ever get the programming quite right again for a 3PO after so much got damaged. He’ll never be the way he was. But even though his memory is also fried it didn’t feel right to just throw him away after all we’ve been through, so I scavenged what useful parts I could out of his ruined body. Then I took what was left of his headless body back to the droid junk shop where I got it and used the bit of credits I got for it to pay for the first parts to repair things in his head. If I go into the documentary field I’ll need all the help I can get with research. It can be kind of like old times-- me at my desk with his disembodied head sitting there helping scour the Holonet for the facts and connections we need while simultaneously creeping out my co-workers. But the name “Scrounger” reminded me too much of what I’d done in the sludgenews field and what had happened, so I decided that a new name, a new byline in a manner of speaking, was appropriate for a fresh start. So his new name is Whitecap.

    If anyone ever asks me why he’s called that, I can say something profound like how the name is symbolic of a powerful wave reaching its limit and going in a new direction. But the truth is I’ve always just liked that name, and Scrounger needed a new one.

    While I’m waiting for Whitecap’s repair parts to come in, I’m going to keep researching the documentary field and finding out what it takes to get my foot in that door. I’ve got some documentaries on holovid that I’m going to watch and take notes on-- technique, approach, editing, topic, sources, you name it. I’ve got a lot to learn about it, but I know I can do it, just like I did in my sludgenews career.

    Speaking of which, I’d started this journal to chronicle my progress of getting onto Page One as much as possible at Unencrypted. Since that particular event won’t be happening again, I think this journal has reached its end as well. This will be the last entry, and I’m going to wrap it up here because I’ve got a lot to do and even more to figure out going forward.

    From now on, this byline will be published on better things.

    Look out, galaxy. Hallis Saper isn’t finished with you yet.


    The End
    Kahara likes this.
  18. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    I like how Hallis has become much more introspective like this :D

    Another subtle but good indication of how she's changed!

    This is exactly in character for her, I love it


    Ha, I always did wonder about Whitecap's name :p And yay, Whitecap! [face_love]

    I just love this whole story. I've always loved Hallis's character, but putting her in a fanfic or filling out her backstory never occurred to me. You've done it beautifully here: she's always in character and her development is realistic and convincing. I can totally see how she goes from this to where we see her in SoA. It's been such a treat to get to read more about her, especially when that writing is so good :D
    Kahara likes this.
  19. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Thanks! The thinking has been working overtime for her lately. :p


    I've always wondered about Whitecap's name too. :p It's not a particularly intuitive name for a droid.

    Thank you so much! I really appreciate hearing that-- I hardly ever write canon or EU characters because getting their characterization right intimidates me, so I'm glad to hear it felt realistic for you. And thank you very much for following this story over the course of these six months! :D I would love to see Hallis in more fics-- I think she's got a lot to offer a story and lots of fun could be had. :D Thank you again!
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