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Saga Careful Shadow

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mechalich, Dec 9, 2012.

  1. Mechalich

    Mechalich Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Feb 2, 2010
    Careful Shadow
    Author: Mechalich
    Timeframe: 33 - 24 BBY
    Characters: Lady Blackshade (OC), Dal Perhi
    Genre: Drama
    Notes: All comments, including criticism, are welcome

    Summary: Black Sun faces the tumult of the oncoming Clone Wars

    Chapter 1
    Coruscant sector
    Core Worlds
    33 BBY

    Eleea no longer woke swiftly in the middle of the night when an emergency beckoned; her body did not tolerate such jarring. She solved the problem by a different expedient. Sleep was no longer a thing holding great power over her, and she commonly remained awake late into the morning, reading the news feeds that streamed across the HoloNet endlessly.

    The dark hours, spent alone, with a glass of fine wine and nothing but the screens and droning announcers for companionship, were among her most pleasant. The chattering absurdities of the fools and mediocrities that filled her days were silenced, and she was left to contemplate the vast game of life; politics devoid of distraction.

    She often wondered, late at night, how others kept up with the pomp and circumstance of position at all times as the years rolled by. It seemed so miserably tiresome.

    Those allowed to disturb her in the slow time when the lady was ostensibly sleeping were few indeed. Family, a tiny circle of close friends, and the trio of personal servants she trusted most. Of the last only one was a creature of flesh and blood, the others were machines.

    Sleep might hold little power over a woman of advanced years and iron will, but it possessed none at all in the realm of sentient automata. The face guarding Eleea’s door at night possessed no eyes; it peered out at the world through a gleaming blue bar across the skull, positioned above a sharply outlined vocabulator. Such was the image of Flourish, the head of her household droids, and the bearer of a vibroblade enhanced well beyond legal civilian carrying limits.

    The Duelist Elite had been her companion since childhood, and she trusted its refined sense of judgment above all other machines and almost all organic beings. When the droid’s characteristic knock came to her door, she knew it was of great importance.

    “Enter,” Eleea answered, turning away from her screens, muting them to black with a gesture. She remained in shrouded darkness, only a few tiny blue signal LEDs illuminating her cavernous bedchamber.

    The droid entered, perfectly poised on sloped wedge-feet. He bowed with preternatural grace. “Apologies for the disturbance milady, but there has just been news of a development of great importance.”

    She said nothing, retaining her glance and allowing the machine to continue. Flourish’s understanding of her moves was sufficient to interpret the rest.

    “I have a communiqué from Ralltiir, milady,” the droid explained. “The news is most grave.”

    As he ought, Flourish paused there, waiting for the essential confirmation.

    Eleea, having heard Ralltiir mentioned, understood completely. “Access priority alpha, full security privileges, Lady Blackshade resides within the eclipse.” She dropped the final syllable considerably.

    “Very good milady,” Flourish continued, accepting the voice-activated pass-phase. The droid’s bearing changed slightly, becoming far less traditional and much more militant. The right hand moved to the hilt of the vibroblade in a ready defensive pose. “I have had direct communication from an officer in the security detail at Alexi Garyn’s estate on Ralltiir. There has been an assault. Underlord Alexi Garyn is dead, as are the other Vigos, along with most of their bodyguards. These deaths have been confirmed by security.”

    It had been many years since Eleea was struck speechless, but she stumbled now, staring blankly at the droid’s face in shock for long seconds, unable to process the enormity of this revelation.

    After a time, she pushed the gaping hole, ruination at the foundation of her existence, away. She scrambled for data, for context, some other pieces she use to plug the pit opened in her universe. “Who was responsible?” she asked the droid. Her imagination reeled at the idea that anyone could penetrate Garyn’s defenses, could defeat the very best of Black Sun’s killers.

    “Security footage has identified a single assassin, a male Zabrak with extensive red and black body tattooing. Images recovered from Underlord Garyn’s yacht indicate he used a red lightsaber-staff in combat,” Flourish related. “The precise identity of this individual is unknown, but he matches the figure identified as ‘Maul’ in recent reports.”

    “A lightsaber? Really?” this was not something easily believed.

    “Yes milady, the footage is not yet verified, but there is no reason to doubt the report at present.”

    “Well…how strange…” she mulled this revelation. Not many assassins were in the habit of wielding lightsabers, but there were a few possibilities. The Bando Gora perhaps, or the Dathomiri, even a rogue fallen Jedi might turn to assassination. Eleea could not say for certain, but she divined that this Zabrak killer was someone else’s agent, a mercenary actor, though she doubted his reward was in credits. Whatever the party truly responsible, their goal was clear enough; as was its accomplishment.

    “All the Vigos are among the dead?” she probed the droid again, not doubting, truly, just trying to wrap her head around the magnitude of the disaster.

    “Yes, milady.”

    “Who sent out the report?” Broadcasting the news was an unconventional approach at best.

    “Underlord Garyn’s personal aide, Oolth,” Flourish reported. “He appears to have been the only survivor among those present during the attack.”

    “I see.” A flunky looking for protection, Eleea realized. Her mind supplied a second deduction a moment later, finally catching up to the import of matters. Oolth was doomed. “So, someone, as yet unknown, has procured the services of a shockingly deadly assassin to eliminate the leadership of Black Sun. Why would they do that?”

    The droid paused, meeting his mistress’ gaze. Then it determined a reply was desired. “There are two obvious possibilities. The first is a strike against Black Sun itself, designed to cripple the leadership. The second is that this attack was directed only at Underlord Garyn or one of the Vigos, and they were all slain to hide that fact.”

    “The first, it must be,” she decided. “Their assassin would never have been so brazen had this been part of some subterfuge. No, he came to crush, and succeeded.” She paused. “This was not personal, and it was designed to intimidate. Oolth’s survival may even have been deliberate.” She let out a long, slow sigh. “Every Vigo position has suddenly been vacated and I dare not claim any of them; how irritating.”

    “Milady?” the droid’s confusion was revealed only in subtle tics of motion known to Eleea through long experience.

    “This move, its purpose is clear to me now,” she proclaimed to her confidant. “Someone, a person or organization with the power to utilize this astonishingly deadly tool, wishes Black Sun removed from the game for the present. Killing the leadership will unleash a chaotic power struggle. I might enter into that and emerge victorious,” she savored the idea very briefly before willfully purging it from her psyche. “But that would mean a visit from this tattooed Zabrak, or some other, equally terminal, agent.”

    “No, it seems retreat is the order of the day. We will compartmentalize, retrench, and gradually ready our operation to rebuild Black Sun when the pressure has receded.” She stood, gathering her night-robe around her thin frame. “Summon Kay from her blankets, I must dress and be en route as soon as practicable. Wake everyone at the office and have them prepare all accounts. We must move quickly now, the Lady Blackshade will not sleep until she has seen her empire securely concealed.”

    “Of course milady,” Flourish nodded. “I will send for Kay at once, and have your speeder standing by. With your permission I should like to pilot it myself.”

    Eleea considered the duelist elite. Years ago she’d tested the machine against the best living swordsmen she could find, from noble Tionese fencers to Mandolorian thugs, and he’d never lost. Time would not have dulled the skills of the droid in the slightest. He was the very best, but could he match this ‘Maul,’ this creature of lightsabers and the Force? It seemed unlikely, but at least she knew he would die trying. The same could not be said of any other servant.

    “As you wish,” she answered.

    It was time for survival.

    Technical Notes

    1. The events related via report here, the death of Alexie Garyn, Underlord of Black Sun, and all the Vigos, are canonical, established in Darth Plagueis and the Star Wars: Maul comic.
    2. The Duelist Elite, which Flourish represents, are a canonical droid class.
  2. Mechalich

    Mechalich Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Feb 2, 2010
    Coruscant sector
    Core Worlds
    26 BBY

    The restaurant was outfitted, like so many of Coruscant’s finer establishments, in the strange pan-pastoralist style that sought to combine the elements of Alderaan, Chandrila, and the other so-called jewels of the Core into a single uniform aesthetic presence. High and soaring, it was a paean to openness, light, and the beauty of distant nature. Soft lighting came from shallow angles, imaging sunrise and sunset, but never the heat of the day.

    Eleea hated it.

    The effect was a charade, summoned by digital projection, holography, and skillful application of the plastic arts. The presentation was impressive, certainly, and a grand technical achievement. She would not hesitate to hire the decorating staff responsible.

    But it was a lie.

    The space was a lie, an illusion presented to hide the cramped nature that this restaurant, despite being one of the hundred best on the planet, was crammed into the upper stories of a massive apartment building, with ten stories of luxury suites above it. The light, the natural vistas, these too were deception, an imported amalgamation of no scene that had ever existed, and of a world Coruscant’s rampant populations had consumed long before the Republic was ever born.
    In its dishonesty the decor revealed a single cold truth, central to the heart of the galaxy. On Coruscant, everything was deception.

    That much pleased her.

    So Eleea sat, waiting, and ignored the backdrop. She slowly nursed a glass of a very good vintage from a totally synthetic orchard, having deliberately scandalized the kitchen staff by ordering it. A minor indulgence that, but she amused herself by making the so-called rulers of the galaxy squirm.
    Her table, tucked into a corner purchased through an absurd garnish to the maitre-de, contained only two seats, and the other was empty. Eleea was alone, at least as solitary as she might be for a person of her station. Flourish was there, as he always was, but no other servants. She had left her driver, an aging but solid man who would throw himself before a concussion missile for her, waiting in the speeder.

    Dressed in severe black, openly at least two decades the elder of any of the trend-conscious industrialists, politicians, and debutantes otherwise in attendance; she felt no need for ostentation.
    Her guest, when he arrived, late as expected, did not share her minimalism.

    Dal Perhi was not a tall man. Eleea guessed he would barely reach past one-point-six meters. Height did not, however, limit his presence. Broad-shouldered and heavily muscled, he looked able to lift and slam either of the towering bodyguards flanking his approach with ease. Though middle-aged, he sported grubby blond hair in a tight, militarized cut, save for the long braid extending down the center of his back.

    A modest move towards style that was; one Eleea accepted. Perhi, she determined, examining the man carefully over the rim of her crystal goblet, was certainly capable, and not to be underestimated. He might overindulge in his entourage – she counted four bodyguards, two aides, and a service droid with more surely in his vehicle – but all were tightly sculpted and appropriately attired professionals. He did not surround himself with flatterers or sycophants.

    Perhi walked with a hard edge. He pulled back the chair across from Eleea himself, and sat roughly.
    The moves belonged to a man of the street, a commoner. The observation that Perhi felt he must project strength at all times or face challenges was reflected in the weariness leaking out the corners of his eyes. Those eyes, piercing dark orbs, were sharp, focused, and cunning, but lacked depth of vision.

    A thug, Eleea decided, confirming in one glance all she had heard and read of this man, and every holocomm exchange. But a skilled thug, one who has learned all the lessons of the streets.
    This assessment met all her expectations. A disappointing fact, but one she was fully prepared to work with. For the present Perhi would do well enough.

    As Perhi sat, Eleea extended a cupped hand slowly out to the center of the table, palm down. She then stopped and raised it ever-so-slightly before pulling in back to her lap. A small boxy piece of circuitry remained in the space just vacated.

    Perhi starred at it for a second, the evaluation visible in the furrows of his brow. Then he nodded.
    Tapping the device with a gloved finger, Eleea heard a brief hiss of static. The white-noise burst confirmed the device’s functionality.

    Offering a crinkled smile, she lifted her hand the rest of the way to her guest. “Welcome, Underlord Perhi,” she offered. “It is my great pleasure to receive you.”

    He took the hand in his own bare fist, and shook once. The touch was firm, but delicate, and offered no pain. The motor control was expected, the gentility was not. Eleea, experiencing a flutter of genuine surprise, upped her estimation of the man a sliver. It seemed he had learned to respect his elders.

    “A pleasure, Lady Blackshade,” his smile seemed genuine. “To finally meet face to face. I must say, your greeting is early. I’m not the Underlord quite yet.”

    “Master Perhi,” Eleea took this as an offer to increase her familiarity. “Unless the outcome of this meeting takes a truly unanticipated turn, I believe I can say your ascension to that post is a certainty.”

    “Really?” Perhi scowled. He blanked his expression a moment later, but his ability to hide his emotions, while good enough to fool an amateur, was useless here. “So, I have your support?”

    Carefully, Eleea took a sip of wine, placing her goblet with slow deliberation upon the table. She had almost forgotten how fast the streets could move in business. “Yes,” she spoke carefully, keeping her eyes on the man before her with each syllable. “So long as I can rely upon your pledge to support my acquisition of the Vigo posting you have just vacated.”

    “You have it,” he grimaced, and the words were almost a growl. “But it’s not with my welcome. I know when I’m being played, and if I could, I’d put one of my own behind me.”

    At this shockingly crude remark Eleea exhaled sharply, but the analytical heart of her mind acknowledged it as just the reply she’d hoped to hear. “You are correct,” she admitted, half-smiling. “I have chosen my moment to leave you few options. In spite of this you may be assured, indeed you have my solemn oath, that I have no intention of seeking your title.”

    “If I didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Perhi ground out the words. “But business is business, and you’ve too many assets to ignore, too much of the old network. There’s just thing I want to know, no…” He stopped, staring at her. “I will know, or the whole deal’s off. Why’d you wait? And why aren’t you trying to become Underlord?”

    “Technically, I must consider that two things,” her answer was flippant, but her phrasing was cold. “Even so, your question is fair. The answers are linked in any case. To the first, I think you know well that the late Underlord’s murderer remains at large. I have no desire to die, and even without the title, it was necessary to wait, lest I too be struck down.”

    “The Jedi killed that Sith, Maul or whatever, on Naboo, we all saw the vids,” Perhi countered.

    He did not believe it, of course, it was written all over his face, but Eleea credited him with the attempt to snare her. “The Zabrak was a puppet, a deadly one certainly, but ultimately a minion. The one, or perhaps the ones, behind him feared us for some reason. It is only now that the threat has relented.”

    “Because Palpatine was reelected.”

    The surprise did not show on Eleea’s face, she was far too schooled and too wrinkled for that, but she was genuinely shocked. Perhi’s reasoning was considerably better than she’d estimated. “Yes,” she seconded quickly, covering up any possible pause. “The connections to Naboo, to Damask Holdings, too many threads spin about Palpatine for him to not be at the center of this. His power base is now secure. Towers may overshadow a new stratablock, but not one that has finished construction. We can rebuild safely in this knowledge.”

    “So why not bid for Underlord?” Perhi pressed. “If anyone has the old strength of Black Sun it’s you. The rest think I’m nothing but an alley operator.”

    The unspoken message behind those words was, of course, that he was not. Eleea, considering, admitted that it was a true message. Perhi was still a thug at heart, she determined, but he had learned the bourgeoisie ways of those who begin to grasp true power. He would never be a master of this game, but he knew how to play and would take pieces from any challenger.

    To honor him, she offered the true answer. “I know not your birth-date, but you have seen perhaps fifty-some odd years yes?” The tightening of his eyes confirmed this assessment. “I have stepped into my eighty-ninth. With luck and good medicine I should manage twenty more, perhaps as much as twenty-five, but there are no guarantees. To be Underlord is a trying position, requiring the entirety of one’s attention. I am loyal to Black Sun, that is well and thoroughly proven, but my legacy shall not be built only of it.”

    “That…” Perhi spoke slowly, considering before her eyes. “I can believe. Even if it’s a lie, it’s a real reason, one the rest of the Vigos will believe.” He stopped, looking briefly at his wine, as yet untouched. “I have an idea. Would you object if, during my announcement as Underlord, I say I offered you the post but you declined, citing your health?”

    It was a cunning move, one Eleea had toyed with much earlier, but rejected, thinking Perhi would consider it an insult. It pleased her to accept now. “Yes, it would please me to have this announcement made. It benefits us both.”

    “Then we are agreed,” he smiled toothily. “Congratulations, Vigo.”

    “And to you…Underlord.”

    Perhi raised his goblet in a toast. “To the future. And to Black Sun.”

    Eleea’s crystal met his above the sound-canceling device. “To Black Sun!”

    Technical Notes
    1. Dal Perhi is a canon character. He is introduced as the Underlord of Black Sun in the Coruscant Nights series (a title he presumably loses shortly thereafter, most likely along with his life, when Prince Xizor takes control of the organization).
  3. Mechalich

    Mechalich Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Feb 2, 2010
    Coruscant sector
    Core Worlds
    24 BBY

    “How long, do you think, Flourish, until it comes to war?” Eleea asked the droid as she took in the latest HoloNet news over breakfast.

    “Milady, there are a number of actuarial models being used by various data specialist firms across the galaxy…” the droid began.

    “Tell me your preferred method,” she interrupted her servant.

    “Evidence has shown that, during periods of galactic conflict, a weighted average of several Hutt Cartel betting services has the greatest predictive power,” the conclusion was droid-typical. “According to the proxy valuation we appropriate from the cartels for use here on Metellos, war should arrive in three to four years time.”

    “Three to four years, perhaps less, if someone does something foolish,” Eleea mused, feeling suddenly tired. “Not likely more, I think.”

    “Milady, is war inevitable? The consensus of the markets and the gamblers is still quite divided. The news focuses heavily on the Supreme Chancellor’s negotiations.”

    “If men were wise, all trade disputes would be settled by accountancy droids,” she answered her servant. “But men are not wise, no more than any species is truly friends with any other. It shall be war Flourish, though I can say little more than that.” Experience was a trait she possessed in abundance, and one she had come to value more and more as the years passed by, but war, true war of star fleets and planetary sieges, was foreign to her. The skirmishes and posturing over turf between syndicates was not the same beast.

    “If it is to be war then,” the droid questioned with unusually high curiosity. “Will Metellos join the new movement, the Confederacy of Independent Systems?”

    “If accounting droids decided allegiances, we would,” Eleea almost laughed. “Thankfully, they do not, and so while there will be rumblings, and soon enough terrorism, insurgency, and the countervailing repression, we will not.”

    “Milady, you view this as a clear advantage, but if the market viewpoint favors the opposite position, why should we-“

    “Flourish, broaden the scope of your deliberations,” she admonished the machine gently. It was not his fault; droids were such eminently practical creatures, even highly advanced units such as her servitor. War was a truly impractical action, and so they made poor warriors. “In war, the advantage is always to be on the winning side, and have no doubt, the Republic will be triumphant.”

    “The current order of battle advantage lies with the Separatists, and grows almost daily,” Flourish countered.

    “True, but the heart of the galaxy’s strength is here, in the Core and the Colonies. These Separatists are far out in the Rim. If they move inward, they must conquer the Inner Rim and the Expansion Region. They will bog down, the Republic will out-build them, and they will be overwhelmed.” So it had unfolded many times before, and Eleea saw no reason why it would not again. “Beyond that,” she amended. “Palpatine is a man of boundless ambition and guile. Only a madman would see that he does not foresee war. Therefore he surely has plans to emerge victorious.”

    “That deduction would seem to imply, milady,” Flourish spoke cautiously, a sign his internal conversation programs were warring. “That a considerable portion of the Republic Senate is composed of madman.”

    Eleea laughed, loud and fully, almost doubling over before she bent in the middle and croaked. Holding her stomach, she smiled vividly at the Duelist Elite. “My dear Flourish, thank you for reminding me of the wondrously piercing insight of machines.” She inhaled several quick breaths. “Mad is too strong, a joke, but those who prattle on in the Senate are quite blinded by their delusions, make no mistake of it.”

    She stopped, making a deliberate move to quickly finish her breakfast. Her appetite continued to wane as she grew older. It was becoming an annoyance.

    Flourish, wisely, stood silent as his mistress completed this essential task. Only when she had finished did he ask one final question. “If war is coming, I assume you have begun planning for our stance during militarized conditions.”

    “I have, yes,” many plans whirled through her mind daily now. There was so much happening. Violence on a galactic scale brought an unmatched mixture of danger and opportunity. Striking the correct balance was critical, absolutely critical. Eleea knew she had waited her whole life for this hour, this chance to become immortal.

    “Much depends, however, on the reports I await in today’s first meeting.” She pushed her breakfast table away. “He is scheduled to arrive soon. Have the speeder brought around. It would not do to be late. I will meet with him in Lady Blackshade’s office.”

    At this trigger the droid stiffened. “Of course, my Vigo.”

    The office of Lady Blackshade was not a pleasant place. It was not even elegant, though Eleea accepted that the architect had done quite well within the minimalist constraints she’d demanded. One desk with a single terminal, folding chairs in black metal, matte flooring and walls with dim, embedded lights providing limited illumination, it was a boxy room featuring nothing more. There were few tricks deployed, she preferred to leave that sort of thing to Hutts, but the lightning scheme did function to shroud her body in shadow behind her desk.

    It was a room with a purpose, and that purpose was reductive; the reduction of people, tribes, religions, even whole star systems to items on a ledger that had no regard for ethics, law, or sentiment. This was Black Sun, the purified pursuit of profit without regard for cost. To call it mere crime was, in Eleea’s assessment, childish.

    The chairs for visitors were only marginally comfortable, by design. Her own, itself minimalist, was a marvel of modern ergonomics. It made waiting patiently easier.

    Not that she had long to wait. Only a few minutes after ensconcing herself in place for the business of the day her first visitor was ushered through the durasteel doors.

    Lady Blackshade undertook Black Sun business alone, with only a secretary droid in the corner recording. She kept no guards in her chamber. There were plenty outside, and numerous automated defenses that both reacted faster and were immune to bribes.

    Item number one on the agenda was Doctor Bell Turos, the best in-house chemist she had available. Balding, in later middle-age, and distracted enough by his work that his best lab coat sported several stains, he was valuable for his intellect alone. His appearance was nothing but a distraction, and Eleea ignored it.

    “Ah, Lady Blackshade,” he made some semblance of a bow after entering. “Glad you could take the time to see me so early.”

    Giving the doctor no chance to ramble, Eleea moved briskly into business affairs. “I have been informed that the experimental operation I had you oversee was concluded.”

    “Yes, yes, the…experiment…” the chemist had been corrupted years before, but to Lady Bladeshade’s dismay had never fully embraced the true nature of his purpose in the present. “I’ve completed my initial analysis of the outcome, but the full report is not completed, I would urge you to wait until-“

    “This is a business operation, not a paper for the academy doctor,” she reminded him, but lightly. “I will read your full report when it is finished.” This was not entirely true, her time was too valuable for such an approach, but she would have someone she trusted read it and summarize the findings. “But this is a time sensitive matter and I will have your initial conclusions today.”

    “Ay, yes, certainly, my…initial conclusions.” Creased hands ran over the seams of the lab coat. “Well…where to begin?”

    Eleea held back a sigh. “At the beginning of course, doctor. First things first, yes? The Rast, does it work?”

    “Work?” Turos blinked. “Yes, certainly it works. So long as it is vaporized at a temperature between twenty-five and fifty C inhalation of the substance has a powerful narcotic effect that scales reliably with dosage across a wide variety of species groups. In particular, in Type H physiologies Rast produced an effect in one-hundred percent of specimens.”

    Though scientific jargon was not her field, Eleea understood the emphasis. The spice worked on all humanoids, and at least most of the rest. “A promising beginning,” she noted, offering it as praise. “And the potency?”

    “We tested several varieties my lady, but the most broad-spectrum and effective variant, Rast-I, classifies as a Two-Xeryll or rarely Three-Xeryll stimulative narcotic using the Ryll-Verified Mental Alteration Scale.”

    Spice was a significant proportion of her business, and the scale was known to every major narcotics distributor and pharmacist in the galaxy. Eleea felt growing warmth in her blood. It was all unfolding as she’d hoped. “So, it is capable enough to go up against anything without glitterstim in the mix. That is quite acceptable. And is it addictive?”

    “Chemical dependency varies widely based on physiology,” the doctor responded cautiously. “In the non-standard Type CM physiology for which it was designed there is no imbalance induced and therefore no lasting impact. Beyond that, there appears to be a rough continuum of impacts, with dependency increasing logarithmically as physiology variance from the baseline increases.”

    Playing this back through her mind a second time in silence, Eleea formulated her question carefully to supply something useful. “And the distance to Type H is how much?”

    “Vast,” the response was unscientific and immediate. “In Type H and the five other most common sentient being physiologies in the galaxy all forms of Rast match only compounds deliberately engineered to produce addiction.”

    Broad-spectrum, powerful, and highly addictive, Eleea summarized. Rast was proving to be everything its discoverers had promised and more. She could not help expressing this. “Excellent. I am impressed Doctor. We seem to have stumbled onto an almost ideal product.”

    “Yes…well…” the chemist hesitated.

    “If there is a problem, doctor, explain it now,” the Lady Blackshade hardened instantly. She would not be played with.

    “The…problem…yes, the problem, Lady Vigo,” he took shelter in formality. “Is the destructive power of the drug, and of the addiction it causes. Rast is extremely dangerous. The required dosage for recreational purposes is quite small, and as a result the difference between a recreational dosage and a lethal dose is corresponding small. Likewise, the addiction produces drastic chemical imbalances after a relatively short time with only modest use. Withdrawal symptoms become damaging quickly, and while the conclusion is necessarily speculative at this point, heavy use for a year or more would likely lead to a situation where withdrawal would cause death beyond the ability of current science to treat.”

    Sensing he was holding something else back, Eleea leaned into her chair in silence, waiting.

    “And…further, we found that in other variants of the compound outside of Rast-I, meaning cases where the material was not super-cooled until immediately prior to vaporization, there was a considerable variance in outcomes even at the recreational level. Damage sufficient to require hospitalization might occur in as many as five percent of all uses, with death resulting from a recreational dose at the zero-point-one percent level.”

    He stood still after this, stiff and stony.

    “Say your piece doctor; I assure you I will not be offended. I want all of it.”

    The thin man drew his body up, hands clasped tight to his lab coat in front, knuckles-white. “Milady, if you proceed with mass deployment of this drug, as I imagine you intend, then people will die. A large number of people.”

    Twenty-four years Doctor Turos had been her creature, and she had never seen this passion in him. She changed her mind, she would read his full report, and more than once. “Your objection is noted,” she kept her body tight. “I want you to continue testing, and find a functional combination that can produce a reliable Two-Xeryll effect with a minimum of risk.”

    He started to speak, but Eleea wouldn’t allow it. “The compound exists, doctor,” she cut through. “You know as well as anyone that you cannot take knowledge and bottle it up. With what you have told me, Rast will be sold, by someone. We have a few years, a decade at most, when it is our chance, and I will not waste them. Safety is good for business, so make it as safe as you can, but do not think I will not proceed.”

    With a long, deliberate swallow, the chemist nodded. “What about the supercooling?” he asked, his peace, painful as it appeared, made. “We need to employ units at the level of the street, or even better, the user.”

    Lady Blackshade was already ahead of him on this. “Forward a set of your specifications for both levels to my office. I will have my secretary forward them to a design team with an affiliated firm; we will produce these ourselves and sell them along with the Rast, increasing the profit.” She was only too happy to use narcotics as an excuse to overcharge for glorified coolers.

    “Thank milady, that will be very helpful,” he actually smiled. It never ceased to amaze Eleea how quickly moral qualms could fade from memory once overcome.

    “Very good, doctor,” she told him, wrapping up. “Please forward me your report as soon as it is convenient, and send regular updates on your findings. In this matter I assure you there will be sufficient funding to insure effective research.”

    “Thank you milady, your generosity is most appreciated,” he did his best to bow again, and then retreated through the gaping doors.

    When he was gone, Eleea held a moment of silence to herself. “The perfect drug, except it kills.” She mused, smiling a little, recalling the doctor’s consternation. She had no sympathy for the fools trapped by such a chemical. The weakness was not in Rast, but in them.

    Lethality was a hindrance, but not a true obstacle. It could be managed; there was time.

    “War is coming,” she whispered with a smile. “War is coming.”