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Beyond - Legends Interregnum (Post-The Last Command Action/Drama | Luke/Mara, Wedge | Epic) [Complete]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Bel505, Sep 12, 2020.

  1. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic contest of wills between Leonia and Vorru =D= and strategizing/testing between Vorru and Eliezer.
     
  2. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Ten, Part II


    The Tevas-kaar watched from his normal guard position on Invidious' bridge. The ship's bridge windows swirled with the light of hyperspace, but it would not be long before their arrival at Linuri now. Further along the elevated bridge floor, Moff Vorru was providing instructions to the Invidious' new communications officer. He was about the same age as Navarian had been, but wore nervousness of youth and inexperience. No doubt he, along with the rest of the bridge crew, noted Navarian's rather pronounced absence.

    He would have refused to execute the man himself, had he been asked; such was below his honor. It didn't matter; Tavira had been more than happy to do it herself.

    The Admiral, or Moff, or Pirate-Lord, or whatever title she was styling herself with now, was clearly unhappy. The angry glances she shot at Vorru regularly were proof enough of that, as were her lingering gazes at the Invidious' blackened hull, stretched out below the ship's bridge. Invidious was her weapon and her toy, cherished and needed in equal measure. Her need to rend and exact vengeance had not been fully sated, but he knew from experience that it would fade—though never fully burn out.

    At least she is true to what she is, he thought. She is no silent schemer, like Vorru is. There is honor in that, of a sort.

    "Reversion in five," drawled the officer overseeing the helm.

    Tavira and Vorru were talking quietly now, discussing and finalizing their plans. The Tevas-kaar stepped closer to maintain the proper distance, which conveniently also took him within easy earshot, even without using a Force enhancement. Though coming close was not necessary at this moment, as the volume of their conversation grew.

    "—will tell Moff Disra that we have engaged the Rebellion on multiple occasions and require aid to continue our campaign," Tavira was saying energetically. "It has the benefit of even being true… Disra will then demand to see our credentials and place us at the bottom of the Linuri maintenance list." Her expression soured. "Which could force us to wait weeks or even months."

    Vorru bowed his head deferentially. "I believe I can see to it that Invidious is moved to the top of that list, Moff Tavira," he replied. The crew all used her military rank, but Vorru used the civilian title likely because, in the old Imperial hierarchy, Moffs always outranked Admirals. Since Vorru was using the title himself, he had to offer it to Tavira as well, or he would in effect be claiming to be her superior. The title, combined with his obvious deference, were a salve to Tavira's ego.

    And Vorru may be a schemer, the Tevas-kaar thought silently, his face hot under his white d'oemir bear mask, but at least he has the brains to scheme properly. And he is secure enough not to need his ego constantly catered to. His respect for the man ticked up. Maybe Vorru would live longer than he'd originally expected.

    "I will need a secure location for communications," Vorru said. "You can listen in, of course," he continued before Tavira could object, "but it is important that Disra not know that you are listening, and that no one else hears anything I have to say to him." Vorru smiled thinly. "The threat of exposure is only effective at inducing behavior before it has been carried out, after all."

    Tavira considered, then nodded. "You may use my office," she agreed. "I haven't had much use for it since I took command of Invidious, but it has a full communications suite suitable for any officer of flag rank."

    "Excellent," Vorru smiled.

    "Reversion in one!" called the helm.

    "Shall we, Moff Tavira?" asked Vorru.

    Her answering smile was humorless and hungry.



    * * *


    The Moff's office in Kinham, the largest city on the Imperial-held world of Linuri, was not as opulent as it ought to have been. The fine furniture, crafted painstakingly out of Cardooine Fijisi wood, would have been adequate for a mid-rim Moff's office during the height of the Empire, but the artistry was substandard compared to some of the offices that Vilim Disra had served in. And Linuri was a poor replacement for the world that ought to have been his sector capital, Druckenwell. Linuri was prettier and more picturesque, but that was about all it had to offer. There was little native industry for him to exploit and little trade to tax. Linuri's sole appeal was the Imperial sector base—the very last major Imperial fleet base in the galactic southeast.

    Why did I have to get Doldur sector? Disra thought sourly, looking out the massive office windows and down upon the city below. A lake stretched out into the distance, with small sailing ships—a local obsession—gently gliding through the calm waves. It was a nice city, he thought, but not a wealthy one. Not by the standards of an Imperial Moff. And with the Imperial base here, it did not even get the tourism revenue it ought, leaving a content, quiet, pleasant little city that offered nothing else. Why couldn't I have gotten Braxant, or Shelsha? Anything outside the Outer Rim would be better than this.

    And worse, with Garm Bel Iblis working his way through the neighboring Albrion sector and the remainder of the Empire's holdings in the local Outer Rim, it was only a matter of time before the New Republic came for him here. Admiral Rogriss' squadron of Star Destroyers could hold for a while, he hoped and assumed, but Disra was under no illusions about the eventual fate of this region of space. His rule, such as it was, had a steadily approaching expiration date.

    Disra stalked around his office agitatedly. Forty years of hard work, forty years of scheming and plotting and backstabbing. Forty years of slow progress punctuated by exuberant promotion. And what had it gotten him, ultimately? An office on a small, meaningless world. A moderate amount of wealth. He sneered out the window at Kinham below. A scenic view.

    His desk com buzzed and he stepped over to it and smacked it with more force than was really necessary. His bony hand stung from the impact. "What?"

    "Moff Disra, a Star Destroyer has just entered the system," the crisp, professional voice of the officer-on-watch—Disra forgot his name, Kelson or Kelso or Kelsin or something—said. "IFF reads it as the Star Destroyer Invidious, last reported as an independent. There's an Admiral Tavira aboard who wants to speak with you."

    A Star Destroyer? And not Rogriss? Strange, Disra mused silently. He stepped behind the desk and brought up all the information the system had on Invidious. Last in the possession of Admiral Teradoc, in the Deep Core… An Imperial-II class Star Destroyer outmatched any of the mobile units of Linuri's picket individually, but it would stand little chance against the combined power of his Golan defense platforms.

    He then looked up Tavira and skimmed her service record. Formerly the Moff of Ado sector, some maneuvering for power since she was expelled from Ado's capital world… "Did she say what she wants?"

    "No sir, she refused to talk to anyone but you. She said it was a matter of great importance."

    Disra sighed. "Very well, put her through." He sat behind his desk, aligning himself with the Imperial banner to provide a properly imposing backdrop.

    The screen flickered and a face appeared, but it was not Leonia Tavira. An older man, distinguished and confident, wearing a Moff's uniform fit well to his frame. An older man Disra recognized immediately, and his heart froze in his chest.

    "Hello, Vilim," Moff Fliry Vorru said with a smile, cold as ice. "It's been a long time." Vorru steepled his hands together, leaning them against his chest as his smile grew thin. "I was gratified to hear you'd finally been promoted to Moff, after all these years. You've come a long way from your post as my administrative aide in the Corellian office."

    Disra's eyes were wide with shock. Vorru was locked away on Kessel, which was a death trap that had dozens of deaths daily, no one survived! But Vorru was Vorru and his game hadn't been all mystique and misdirection. Trust a mynock like him to not only survive, but to prosper in such a power vacuum.

    With a ragged breath, Disra searched for poise. It was hard to come by under Vorru's agonizingly smug gaze. "Fliry," he said, trying to match casual familiarity with casual familiarity, and proud at how calm he sounded. "I didn't know you had escaped Kessel."

    "But I did, no thanks to you," Vorru said, smiling the same thin, vulture smile that Disra remembered from when he'd been Vorru's aide. "Then again, I never did think we were friends. You never met a man you wouldn't sell for a promotion." Vorru's fingers tapped together, watching Disra with the same cool regard that effortlessly stripped away poise and gravitas earned through his years of service and survival.

    Disra scowled at him. It was true of course, but that was just how the Empire worked! That's what it took to be a Moff. And to be lectured on ethics and loyalty by Vorru of all people! "I don't remember you doing me any favors!" he hissed stridently.

    Vorru snorted contemptuously. "Didn't I? How many of those pirate and smuggler connections that you made, did you make at my behest? How many people did I introduce you to? How many of those connections have you used to your own benefit?" Vorru's smile was smug, with a hint of menace; his voice grew quiet to match. "And how did you repay me?"

    "I owed you nothing," Disra spat at him, his hands slapping on his desk as he came half out of his chair. "You would have left me as a secretary! There was no future in your service. I toiled, and I toiled, and for what? Additional leave?"

    "Fail to serve me now and you'll have plenty of leave, but you won't be using it as you'd wish," Vorru said coldly, his eyes flashing with a touch of the old anger. "Because as it stands, I could use your service once again, Vilim." Vorru unlaced his hands and leaned towards the viewer. "Invidious is in need of repairs. You will place the Star Destroyer on the top of the Linuri Repair Yard's priority list. If anyone asks, you will tell them that Invidious is in your personal service, and that her precise role is classified. You can make up something about ISB to deflect any questions. And you will provide me with any additional supply and service that I or Invidious require."

    "And why," Disra spat back, feeling his cheeked redden with embarrassment and anger, "would I do any such thing?!"

    "Because," Vorru's eyes narrowed to slits, and then his lips morphed back into his cold, vulture smile. "If you do not, I will send all my evidence of your activities to the Moff Council and the Imperial Starfleet command. All the deals with pirates. All the arrangements with Black Sun. All your treasonous activities in the Shelsha sector. Everything, Vilim. And then I will sit back and see how long it takes for you to be executed for treason."

    "I have no idea what you're talking about," Disra retorted, his heart pounding in his chest. "I am a loyal—"

    "You are loyal to nothing and no one!" Vorru exploded, snarling with a rage that Disra had not forgotten the man could possess. Disra flinched back despite himself. The fire in Vorru's eyes blazed, and then passed as the man settled back, steepling his hands together again, his calm restored. "Did you think I lost everything when Palpatine destroyed my career, Vilim? Did you think I would not have security, to keep my most important secrets?" His smile was vicious. "I know, Vilim. I know everything. Do not forget that."

    Disra couldn't help himself. "I got into all that because you told me to!" he snarled angrily. "I worked for you."

    "And so you will again," Vorru agreed, his tone oddly friendly now. "Won't you?"

    Disra could feel the urge to hyperventilate building in his gut. Suddenly all the problems with Linuri, the woes of his stalled career, the looming threat of Bel Iblis, none of it mattered. He knew Fliry Vorru, and he knew better than to underestimate the man. He forced it all back. "What do I get?" he said, trying to match the other man's calm.

    "What do you get?" Vorru laughed. "What do you get, Vilim?"

    "Yes," Disra snarled. "What do I get. You clearly need me, Fliry. Destroying me won't get you repairs on your Star Destroyer, or whatever else it is that you want from me. So," he sneered, eyes narrowing. "What. Do. I. Get."

    Vorru's smile was slow and genuine—or a reasonable facsimile of genuine. "There's the Disra I remember," he mused. "Ambitious and bold. Good. I can use that Disra." He tapped his fingers together again, watching Disra with a patient, curious smile. "Shall we make a deal?"



    * * *​



    "Could you really destroy him?" asked Leonia Tavira after Vorru had disabled the viewer. Her violet eyes were keen and she seemed somewhat energized after having watched the exchange.

    "Of course," Vorru replied. "An important rule, Tavira, one to remember: do not make threats you cannot keep."

    That seemed to amuse her. She stood, brushing her hands over her slacks then adjusting her bandanna. "I will return to the bridge and oversee our arrival at the Linuri repair facility. A full refit will likely take weeks," she mused thoughtfully. "Invidious was long overdue even before the damage we sustained."

    "Palpatine had the Imperial-II designed to require regular repair," Vorru said, remaining seated. "It was a way of ensuring his commanders could not exercise too much independence." He lifted a hand to stop her from exiting the room. "I will be leaving in the morning, along with Eliezer and the Tevas-kaar. I will also need a civilian freighter and a pilot."

    Tavira frowned at him, but this request was not unexpected. It had always been part of the plan, after all. "Fine," she agreed grudgingly. "I'll see to it." She turned and left.

    Vorru relaxed, smiling to himself. Depending on the speed of the ship she procured for him, it would be a short hop from Linuri to Druckenwell, then a relatively quick trip along the Corellian Run from Druckenwell to Coruscant. And then, he thought smugly, it will be time to take back what is mine.





     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2020
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Brilliantly written confrontation between Vorru and Disra =D= Vorru's plans seem to be unfolding as he hopes. [face_thinking]
     
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  4. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Eleven


    Mara sat behind her desk in the new Smugglers’ Alliance office and rifled through her stack of datacards. Karrde was away, off in a final meeting with Leia Organa Solo and other representatives of the New Republic’s inner circle, signing the paperwork that would finalize the creation of the Smugglers’ Alliance. And she, Mara Jade, would become an official agent of the New Republic’s government.

    She leaned back in her very comfortable, Karrde-sourced desk chair. Until then, there was literally nothing for her to do. Ghent had finished putting together the program that would offer shipping assignments (and compensation) to the Smugglers’ Alliance membership, and General Cracken had made it clear that Mara’s new NRI counterpart, the mysterious Iella Wessiri everyone seemed to know, was currently busy on assignment.

    What Mara would give for an assignment.

    Left alone in the Smugglers’ Alliance office, deep in the Imperial Palace, Mara had done some exercises and tried a bit of Skywalker's seated meditation. It didn’t help. The Imperial Palace loomed around her like a castle, and in her mind she ran through the floor plan of the floor she was on, then the floors above and below. She didn’t have a holographic memory like Winter, but she was no slouch and knowing the hidden byways of the Palace inside and out had been one of the first tasks Palpatine had ever required of her. The Palace had been her proving grounds, her first confined theatre of operations; she knew every suite, every office, and every hidden passageway.

    She wasn’t sure when she’d perfected her mental map of the palace, but she’d been young. Not yet even a teenager to be sure. Then Palpatine had set her loose, spying on his friends and rivals in equal measure, with a myriad of cover identities that she rarely needed, so skilled she had been at using the Palace’s secrets to avoid being seen.

    And soon enough the Palace would be gone.

    She had told Skywalker that the Palace’s impending destruction was for the best. That it would improve the view from the Adarian building. But part of her—the part that still thought of this building as home—recoiled from the possibility. All that effort, all those years of struggle and work and discipline, her out-of-date mental map, all gone, disassembled, made to disappear the way the New Republic strove to make the Empire disappear.

    Spurred by some impulse she didn’t quite understand, she sat up and activated her computer terminal. The system whirred as it came up, then Mara searched for the floor plan of the palace. The one that came up was incomplete, and Mara frowned at it for a moment before realizing that the sectors that were missing were classified. It wasn’t all that surprising that the “restaurant” that Cracken had taken Karrde to didn’t appear on the public map.

    She wasn’t a skilled slicer like Ghent, but Mara knew her way around a computer network and it would take more than even an excellent security system to keep the Emperor’s Hand out of files she wanted to access in her own house. Unless the New Republic had replaced the entire computer mainframe—which she doubted—there were certain commands embedded into the hardware itself that Mara might well be the last person alive to know. She’d have to tell Cracken about them eventually, but in the meantime…

    She brought up the full, unredacted map of the Imperial Palace and started perusing it, comparing her Imperial memories to the new Republic reality. She noted that the secret passages that she’d shown Palace Security a year prior, when she and Garm Bel Iblis had foiled the Empire’s attempt to kidnap Jacen and Jaina (her thoughts softened for a moment at the thought of Jaina; her memories of the toddler’s innocent affection surged forward, threatening to derail her train of thought) were now on the map. They hadn’t found all of them, though, which was curious. The passages must be better hidden than Mara remembered. Or perhaps one of the Palace’s more recent occupants had blocked them off permanently, she considered.

    Scrolling through the map, she stopped at room after room, flashing back to memories of each one. A first mission—an investigation of the secret safe of the Governor of Chandrila, who Palpatine had suspected of collaborating with Mon Mothma—from one room; Force practice under Palpatine’s guidance in the large training room near the throne room (which the New Republic had transformed into offices for the aides to the Inner Council); her extensive (and excruciating) training in manners, etiquette, and conversation in the small ballroom…

    Mara frowned suddenly, staring at an empty gap on the map. That was odd. Her previous base of operations was missing.

    That was very odd.

    One of the Palace’s many towers had hosted a landing pad for the freighter that Mara had used as her personal vessel. Her primary armory had been there also, as well as a sophisticated computer system that she used to monitor her ongoing assignments. She’d had dozens of smaller bases scattered around Coruscant, serving as safehouses while she was on assignment and couldn’t return to the Palace, but the tower had been her primary. She could still remember when Palpatine had brought her there the first time, congratulating her for all her hard work and formally announcing that she was no longer a trainee but was now the Emperor’s Hand…

    But the tower in question didn’t have a hangar listed, not on either the public or the classified map. Where she knew a hangar had been, where her hangar had been, the map showed nothing more than permacrete foundation and utilities lines.

    Mara’s frown deepened. Was it possible that New Republic Intelligence had missed it during their sweep of the palace? In theory it was, she supposed; the hangar had been hidden well enough. It had never appeared on any Imperial-era maps of the palace, Palpatine had seen to that.

    Her musings were distracted as the office door opened and Karrde stepped in. He wore one of his quietly smug expressions, and flashed her an unusually satisfied grin. He slid a datapad across her desk, then fell into his even-more-comfortable seat and set up one of his electronic scramblers.

    “Good news?” Mara asked as she examined the datapad.

    “Good news,” Karrde confirmed. “Meeting with the Inner Council is exhausting, and both Fey’lya and Ackbar expressed… degrees of skepticism… about the sustainability of our project. But neither vetoed it, either.” He nodded at the datapad. “We have a contract, and formal signatures. As of…” he examined his chrono, "fifteen-hundred standard Coruscant hours, we have a formal, verified, legal contract and are now officially the Smugglers’ Alliance.”

    Mara put the datapad down. “When will operations commence?”

    “Immediately, in the case of shipping. There’s a list of vital cargoes on that pad that the New Republic wants taken care of right away. I’ve already identified which of our associates are best placed to take care of each one, and I’ll be sending additional bonuses out to ensure that they’re taken care of in a timely fashion. Best to get started off with everyone happy.”

    “And in the case of intelligence?”

    Karrde shrugged. “Agent Wessiri is still on assignment, I understand, but if any information comes to our attention that we think might be to the interests of NRI, I will forward it to General Cracken. He and I will be meeting once more before the Wild Karrde leaves Coruscant; we need to discuss Rendili before I head out to confer with General Bel Iblis. Of course, the current state of the HoloNet makes long-range communication much more complicated.”

    Mara nodded. “I think I might have something that they could be interested in too,” Mara said, glancing back at the map of the Palace. “But I want to go check it out before we tell them anything, in case it’s nothing.”

    “Oh?” Karrde raised an eyebrow. “Anything concerning?”

    “I’m not sure,” Mara admitted. “I’ll let you know.”

    “Mara,” Karrde said warningly. “You know that I trust you, and I am fully aware of your skills and expertise, but investigating anything that might be ‘in the interests of NRI’ alone is foolhardy. Do you want me to come with you? Or I can call Dankin or Chin back from leave.”

    She pursed her lips. “No, that’s all right,” she replied. “I’ll ask Skywalker. I think I’m going to need his droid’s scanners for this, anyway.”

    “Ah.” Karrde’s lips twitched, and Mara swore he was hiding a smile. “Well, between you and Skywalker, I don’t think there are any dangers in the galaxy you cannot handle.”

    Mara’s eyes narrowed, but Karrde just looked back at her with a damnably innocent expression. Her eyes narrowed even more. “Karrde…”

    He smiled. “Go on, Mara,” he said, amusement lurking in his voice. “I’ll take care of things here.”





     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2020
  5. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Interesting about the discrepancy and [face_laugh] Karrde has an intuition about Mara working with Luke and her instinctively thinking Luke would be good to ask. Yeah, R2's scanner [face_laugh] [face_shhh] [face_love]
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2020
    Bel505 likes this.
  6. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Lol. Annoyed Mara is so scary, Karrde doesn't even have the guts to say, "What? I just meant both of you are really badass and you make a good team, that's all."

    But on the other hand, maybe it was gutsier not to say that? I dunno.

    Anyway, I'm liking this story.
     
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  7. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Eleven, Part II


    The Imperial Palace had dozens of towers, many of which served no purpose other than defense. The external ring was festooned with weapons emplacements and surveillance equipment that made sure no one approached the tower unauthorized or unnoticed (though Luke had learned that the system was easy enough to compromise if you knew how, and the Empire did).

    He peered up at the fourteenth tower of that outer ring with a frown. "How do we get in?"

    Beside him, Artoo whistled and put his wheels securely on the permacrete walkway, rolling towards the tower with his little sensor dish whirling.

    Mara wore a deceptively blank expression. Her shielding was good, but he could still feel the undercurrents of tension and uncertainty roiling beneath her placid surface.

    They stood on one of the external walks that separated the towers at higher levels. The Coruscant sun was hazy through a thick layer of clouds, and on occasional smattering of rain had left the permacrete slick. In front of them was Palace Tower Fourteen; like the rest of the Palace it was crafted out of imported stone and then covered in a layer of black paint. The external wall of the tower was tough and resistant to damage, and the paint left it too slippery to climb. Glancing from side to side, Luke could see Tower Thirteen and Tower Fifteen, and more towers beyond those.

    The Palace was enormous. Looking outwards, he could see the comparatively tiny form of the Senate Building, it's dome occasionally reflecting sunlight when the clouds shifted. Beyond that, he could see the array of towers that characterized the endless city. It wouldn't have meant anything to him a few weeks before, but looking out now the gleaming pyramidal peak of the Adarian Building stood out to Luke.

    Mara stepped in close to the tower. Her hands rested over the painted stone, gliding as she slowly started to circle the tower. She stopped and Luke could see her press into the seemingly smooth material, and see it give under her applied pressure. There was a click, and Mara stepped back as creases in the stone appeared and a heavy door swung slowly open.

    "Impressive craftsmanship," Luke commented, feeling no small amount of awe at the extraordinary stonework.

    "Palpatine left no credits unspent when he built the Palace," Mara said. She stepped into the gap in the stone. The corridors were lit only intermittently, from sunlight that peered in through windows along the exterior. Mara unbuckled her lightsaber and ignited it with a snap-hiss. The blade cast blue-white light into the narrow walkway. "There are other ways to get into this tower from the lower levels," she commented. "I wouldn't typically have used this one. Too great a chance of being spotted."

    "Does that mean we're not worried about being spotted now?" Luke asked.

    Artoo wheeled after Mara into the darkened corridor, producing a large spotlight as his sensor dish continued to whir. The light cast over Mara, leaving a shadow of her form stretched along the long corridor.

    "Whatever we find I'll have to take to Cracken anyway," Mara replied. "And I don't want to be accused of sneaking around the Imperial Palace." She led them down the corridor, the only light from her lightsaber and Artoo's spotlight. They came to a fork, with the corridor shifting off to the left and right. "It goes all around the tower," Mara explained. "There are hidden passageways to get deeper in, if you know where to look." They walked through the dark corridor, passing small, camouflaged windows that looked out both over the palace's interior courtyards, and out into the city. "Observation deck," she added. "In the event of an uprising, Stormtroopers could station snipers or E-Web nests and cover the city surrounding the palace, or the palace grounds themselves from up here."

    Luke peered out one of the windows, seeing the tiny figures of people going about their daily lives far below in the exterior courtyards. "Palpatine was prepared for everything," he commented.

    "He certainly thought he was, anyway," Mara muttered, more than a hint of scorn touching her words. She waved him back into the corridor. "Now, along this inner wall…" she stopped, disengaging her lightsaber and putting it back on her belt before placing the palms of both her hands on the interior wall of the corridor. She drew back with a frown. "Artoo, are your scanners picking up anything? I'm pretty sure there was a door here."

    The little astromech wheeled up next to her, his sensor dish whirling slowly. He gave an uncertain warble.

    Mara glanced at Luke. "What did he say?"

    "Too much interference in the wall for him to be sure where the door is," Luke replied with a frown. He closed his eyes, stretching out to the Force, pushing his Force-sense through the wall and beyond. It was much easier to find minds than it was to map geography… "There is a large open space beyond us," he murmured. "Several meters in. I don't feel any passageways leading to it, though."

    Mara stepped back, re-igniting her lightsaber to cast its blue glow across the wall. Her frown became the most visible single image in the entire corridor. "It was here," she said with certainty. "Someone must have come along and changed things around in the years I've been gone. Walled off the passageway."

    Artoo warbled uncertainly.

    "I'm not sure who," Mara replied, "but I'd guess Isard. She was one of Palpatine's few favorites who knew who and what I was, along with Thrawn. After Palpatine died at Endor—" her voice wavered for only a moment "—she had me arrested and locked up in the Palace. During interrogation she asked me all kinds of questions about what resources Palpatine had given me. It wouldn't surprise me if she tracked this facility down after I made my escape."

    "So we should be worried about traps?" Luke asked, his hand on his own lightsaber.

    "It's Isard, " stated Mara flatly. "Of course you ought to be worried about traps, the more convoluted the better. Come on, let's continue our circuit and see if we can't find a better-hidden entrance."

    It took them the better part of an hour, stopping and starting to use all their (and Artoo's) senses to probe various promising locations. It was Artoo's triumphant whistle that finally brought the search to a halt.

    "Found something?" Mara asked.

    Artoo whistled again, his sensor dome spinning as his one large photoreceptor swiveled between Luke and Mara, his large light focused on a particular spot on the wall.

    Mara stepped in close, feeling her hand over the wall slowly.

    "He says there's a small recess in the wall that might be a trigger—"

    Mara pressed down and the wall underneath it gave way. There was a whirring sound, a hiss of air, the smell of old lubricant, and then the slow mechanical creaking of a hidden doorway swinging back. Mara pressed her back to the wall next to the slowly yawing opening; Luke quickly did the same on the other side. With a nervous warble, Artoo wheeled out of sight of the passageway.

    It slowly creaked open and then stopped with a heavy, stone-on-stone shudder. Mara drew back, her green eyes flicking to Luke. "Well?"

    "Not feeling any imminent danger," he replied softly.

    "Me neither," she replied, and reached her hand out into the opening. When nothing happened, Mara pulled back from the wall and poked her head to the side to take a look.

    The revealed passageway was nothing special. Dark, stone, square, just like the one they were already in. "Not very exciting," Luke commented.

    "There was no need to make it decorative," Mara countered. "Nobody was supposed to see this. Come on."

    They took their time down the hallway, both stretched out to the Force, seeking danger. It was an odd sensation, Luke thought. He could feel the structure around them; the passageway, but more than anything he could feel Mara. Her mind and his met in the middle, and stretched out as they were, it was hard to maintain the normal shields that would assure privacy. He could hear the edges of her thoughts, and knew she could hear him. It was strangely intimate, even if the only thought that was shared was their twin determination to keep from being surprised by a potential threat.

    The opening ahead should lead to the main facility, he heard. Had Mara said that, or thought it? An image of a large, wide hangar with a bulk freighter within it flashed into his mind; he saw a silver protocol droid with visual sensors that looked more like a blindfold than eyes. Mara, performing maintenance; Mara, discussing an assignment with the droid; Mara, hearing Palpatine's cold, approving voice in her head…

    "Stop that," Mara hissed at him.

    "You're projecting," Luke replied apologetically, trying to ease the flow of memories past him.

    He felt more than saw her grimace and the images stopped. "You know," she growled testily, "if you were carrying a blaster you could cover me, instead of just standing behind me being useless if we get shot at."

    "You could let me go in front."

    "Unlike you, I know where I'm going."

    They came to the end of the passage—it hadn't been that long since they'd entered it, stretching out to the Force and the accidental intimacy of the moment had caused time to come to a sluggish halt—and entered into the hangar that Luke had seen in Mara's memories. It was well maintained; a maintenance droid was humming as it worked, ignoring their presence entirely. Throughout the room was a battery of computers, their screens dark, set in front of empty chairs that the droid moved to clean, then returned to their place. Against the opposite wall sat the freighter from Mara's thoughts.

    She blinked, shaking her head. "I didn't really expect it to still be here," she murmured.

    "It was your ship?" Luke asked carefully.

    "One of them. Its name is L6000-H-82688. It's a modified Maka-Eekai freighter." She frowned. "Looks like it was just left here, though I'm sure Isard searched it thoroughly."

    "The name of your ship was just a string of numbers and letters?" Luke asked. He relaxed as his danger sense still hadn't alerted him to any, withdrawing his Force senses slightly; he could feel Mara doing the same, and the entanglement of their emotions faded. He peered around the room. This had been Mara's place, the place the Emperor's Hand had made her fortress.

    "Well, we used many different false identities for the ship when we traveled," Mara replied. "It was best not to get too attached to the ship anyway, Palpatine made me replace them regularly to make sure I didn't get predictable, or I would've kept the Suwantek… what is this thing?" She took a set in front of one of the terminals, tapping on the keyboard.

    Luke joined her. "They weren't here before?" he asked; it was an unnecessary question, as the memory he had seen of this place had been of an open space, uncluttered. The screen was slow to illuminate, bearing all the typical interface markers of an Imperial computer.

    "No," she replied, tapping on the keyboard with increasing annoyance. A prompt appeared, requesting a password. "Isard took this over, remember?" Mara growled, and Luke could hear a hint of righteous indignation in her voice. "I'm sure of it now. She probably made it a sanctum for Imperial Intelligence's worst."

    There was a twinge in Luke's danger sense, and he peered around, concentrating… but the twinge didn't grow into any greater alarm.

    "What is it?"

    "Probably nothing," Luke said.

    "Well," Mara's attention reluctantly returned to the computer. "I'm not going to try to slice this right now. I'll put together a report and send it to Cracken and let Ghent and NRI take a crack at it, maybe they can figure out what Isard was using this place for." Her righteous scowl remained.

    He couldn't take his eyes off her. There was place and purpose in her expression, the anger of a woman whose home had been usurped from her. "This was your place," Luke murmured, finally giving voice to his earlier thought.

    Mara's eyes flicked back to him, hardening for a moment—but just for a moment—before she consciously relaxed. "Yeah," she replied with a sigh. "This was my place. This all belonged to the Emperor's Hand." She waved at the room. "The tower, the ship, the droids, the Imperial officers who rotated in and out and served as my crew and support… it was all mine." A small, melancholy smile tugged at her lips. "It's not quite as grand as I remembered it," she admitted. Her head dipped slightly, looking down at the Imperial-style keyboard under her hands. "None of this was what really mattered, though. What made this all special was the responsibility. Being needed. Everything else…" she shrugged, waving her hand at the room again, her voice trailing off.

    Luke took a risk and rested a hand on her shoulder nearest to him for a moment, feeling the tightly tensed muscle before raising it. "Someone with your fire and conviction turning it around to help people? I can assure you you're needed, Mara." He could hear the tenderness in his voice, and fought to keep his swell of emotions safely behind his own mental shields.

    She turned towards him, her expression neutral, something undefinable lurking in her eyes. She didn't back away, and for just an instant he thought he could feel her lean closer into his hand. "I'm not sure it'll ever be enough to make up for…" her voice faded, and she shook her head. "I should've seen it sooner," she said quietly. She closed her eyes for a moment, and he could feel her engaging old memories, settling ghosts to rest. When her voice came again, it startled him. "We're wasting time." Her voice punctured the calm with suddenness, but without any anger. "Come on, let's take a look at the ship."



    * * *


    The Palace Security operations center was largely unchanged from the days of the Empire, although the uniforms were different (there were fewer sets of Stormtrooper armor, among other things).

    Lieutenant Caston Nalle had been a Captain in the Rebellion, but a shoulder injury had rendered him unfit for field service and he'd accepted medical retirement before assuming a supervisory post with Palace Security. Most days nothing interesting happened, which suited him just fine.

    "Uh, Lieutenant?" the young Corporal who was at the computer monitoring station called.. Corporal Corde Brandes was a relatively new recruit, still in her first year with Palace Security, and young, but she had a talent for computers and was doing well so far in her rotation in SecOps.

    He turned in his chair, standing up awkwardly and hobbling over with his cane in his hand. "What is it, Corporal?" he asked.

    "Well, there's an alarm code here that doesn't appear in our manual," she said, her lips firming together in confusion. In one hand she had a datapad which she'd already gone through, he could see; her other rested on the controls of her console.

    He could see the flashing alert on the screen. "Code Iota-Thirteen-Ten-A," he read. His frown deepened. That didn't mean anything to him, either. "Strange indeed," he mused. "And there's nothing in the codebook? Anything under just 'Iota-Thirteen'?"

    Brandes shook her head, the tightly-coiled dark braid of her hair bobbing back and forth in emphasis. "No, Lieutenant," she replied.

    "Hmmmm," Caston considered that for a moment. "Well, there are a whole lot of old Imperial codes buried in these computer systems. It's probably a systems error. Maybe we can figure out what it means…" he strode over to his desk and gingerly pulled it open. There was a stack of datapads ten deep in there, recovered from when the New Republic had first captured Coruscant. New Republic Intelligence had gone through them with a fine-toothed comb and Palace Security never had gotten all of them back, but… Caston picked up the stack and hobbled back to Brandes' desk, giving her half. "Let's see if there's anything in these," he said.

    They started searching through them, checking under appropriate codes. It was a while before either of them found anything relevant. "Aha!" Brandes announced, her dark eyes flashing victoriously. "Here we are. Iota-Thirteen-Ten codes… there's not a lot of information here. Instructions, but not information for what they actually mean."

    Caston took the datapad from her. There was a list of different codes under the prefix "Iota," and all of them included instructions for dispatching Stormtroopers to certain palace locations and implementing enhanced security measures against intrusion. He noted the date of when these instructions were issued. "These are all from after the Emperor's death, when Director Isard was in charge," he mused aloud. "Iota-Thirteen-Ten-A. Dispatch two units of Stormtroopers to Tower Fourteen," he read. "Cut off all exits, and alert aerial patrols for potential exfiltration attempts. Also alert local Fleet commanders to prepare to interdict any unauthorized vehicles launching from the Imperial Palace." He lifted an eyebrow. He peered at the map of the Imperial Palace. Tower Fourteen wasn't anything interesting, so why… ?

    "What do we do?" asked his young Corporal.

    Caston shrugged. "Well, let's dispatch a Palace Security team down to check it out at least, full biologicals because it's Isard, and then get a squadron armed and in the air just in case. And…" he frowned, waving at her solicitously, "give me a line to NRI Headquarters. I think Cracken and his spooks will be interested to know that one of Isard's old palace alert codes just pinged our board."



    * * *


    The entry hatch to her freighter, which as Emperor's Hand she'd never given a name beyond its manufacturer's registry number, L6000-H-82688, opened and hissed as the ship's internal vacuum was punctured. It wasn't a very pretty ship; like most ships to come out of the Gallofree Yards it was symmetrical and ovoid, designed for transport and cargo. It was actually about the same size as the Wild Karrde, though it had much less room for cargo (especially if it was carrying a snubfighter; as Emperor's Hand Mara had usually kept her Z-95 tucked away in its internal hangar).

    Memories swirled as she hit the control panel on the inside of the door, and the ship's lights flickered to life. She peered inside; activating the lights hadn't triggered any obvious traps, which was a good sign, but Mara would be shocked if there wasn't at least one homing beacon that had just been activated. Mara had known better than to come back here after she'd escaped Isard's clutches, finding civilian transport off Coruscant instead of trying to reclaim her ship, but Isard would surely have put a homing device aboard, just in case.

    On the outside, L6000-H-82688 was a battered looking, pre-Clone Wars era wreck—at least, it was to the inexperienced eye. But the ship's four engines had been carefully overhauled and could put out significantly more thrust than the ones it had been built around, and as carefully camouflaged as they were, no customs crew would miss the ship's retractable dual laser cannon turrets. It's single forward-mounted spinal turbolaser was better hidden, which was good since under the Empire it had been so illegal, the whole ship would've been instantly impounded if it was found. And as illegal as that was, it wasn't as illegal as the two forward-mounted rapid-fire proton torpedo launchers.

    The interior was as Mara remembered it, with a clean Imperial finish that gave Mara an eerie sense of homesickness. For better or worse, this tower, this ship and the job she had been groomed for had been her home.

    The large cargo bay stretched back for the entire length of the ship, the small passenger entrance under the ship's blunt, rounded nose and the much larger cargo hatch (which could accommodate a snubfighter's in-vacuum launch) at the back. Twin stairwells curled upwards to the passenger deck above them, hugging the front of the ship.

    "Nice," Skywalker commented, glancing around.

    "Nothing but the best for ISB," Mara commented. "This wasn't the first of their covert ops ships I commandeered for my own use. You should've seen their operating budget… if Palpatine had ever sent me after them, the amount of waste and corruption in that organization would've kept me busy for the rest of my natural life." If Palpatine hadn't died.

    If Skywalker heard her unspoken addition—which he may have, he was alarmingly attuned to her subvocalized thoughts today—he didn't say. "The bridge is above?" he asked instead.

    Mara nodded. "Bridge, crew quarters, common area, and my own quarters." She stretched out with the Force, searching for danger once again; felt Skywalker doing the same, felt how their senses intermingled, giving her a glimpse into what he was seeing and knowing that he was receiving a glimpse into her mind as well… she reinforced her mental shields, trying to keep from broadcasting her memories as she had on the way in.

    It was hard.

    She might not have ever given L6000-H-82688 a proper name, but the ship had been her home for the better part of two years. Imperial Center, the Imperial Palace; they had been her home for most of her life, but this ship (and its predecessors) had become the places she spent most of her time once the Emperor started sending her on missions off Coruscant.

    Mara had never expected to be aboard her again.

    Re-entering the large common space on the ship's upper deck brought flashes of memory; the largely nameless, faceless men who had been her crew, so constantly replaced that none of them so much as stood out in her memory as more than obedient droids. The gaming table, where she had occasionally favored Kaythree with a game of dejarik, which she had always won (something which had never bothered the droid overmuch). Kaythree, her aide and the ship's effective operations officer, who had been as polite and unnoticeable as the human members of the crew but unlike them had at least been consistent; she'd never thought much of the droid, but still her heart tightened just a bit at the sure knowledge that Isard had pulled him apart and scoured his memory for every spare scrap of information, then tossed whatever was left into the palace waste disposal.

    She pushed through, entering the large captain's quarters in the back of the ship. It had served as a combination briefing room and bedroom; a large holographic display sat in the middle of the room, which she had used to detail every mission she was given. She had spent hours here, sitting and reading, planning and plotting, educating herself about every detail of a world, a city, or a target. No mistakes could be made; they were as unacceptable to the Emperor's Hand as they had been to the Emperor. On the one wall sat two tall bookshelves which had played host to numerous books and souvenirs of missions past; more than any other single place in the galaxy, those bookshelves had been her place. Her finest missions, her proudest accomplishments, tokens of memory. All gone now, probably buried in a forgotten closet aboard Lusankya, which had been Isard's personal Super-class Star Destroyer and lair. There was a locker somewhere, she guessed, filled with the trinkets and possessions of her childhood, such as it had been.

    Mara could remember some of the objects. A globe with the appearance of Ghel Daneth, a gift from that planet's governor after she'd arrested his top aide and executed the commander of Ghel Daneth's fleet detachment for treason (they'd been routing military funds into their own personal accounts, leaving the planet woefully under-defended and vulnerable); a print of a painting of the Silver Sea on Chandrila, which she had picked up on a whim one time she had visited the art wing of the Imperial Museum; a book on dance she'd owned since she was a teenager, still struggling with perfecting her art.

    Skywalker was watching her, and she knew the images were leaking across the porous boundary between their outstretched minds. She could feel the swell of emotion, of sympathy and care, and she tightened her shields and put her past out of her mind. She had blamed him for the loss of that past once, not that long ago; his fault or not, she didn't need to burden him with the extent of her loss.

    Surprisingly, there was one wall which had been left largely untouched. She moved over to it; felt Luke stop and stare at the wall of weapons. Her armory had everything from sniper rifles to holdout blasters, a half-dozen vibroblades of varying sizes, and even a Sith lanvarok (though that had been a gift from Palpatine she'd never used; she wasn't left handed). The spot on the wall where she'd kept her lightsaber was woefully empty.

    Mara found herself drawn to one of the items. It was an old one, one of the only items on the wall that wasn't a weapon. Back when she'd been younger, before the Emperor had sent her on missions through the entire galaxy, when the scope of her operational area only extended through Coruscant, he'd had a tool for communicating with her that wasn't the Force. A simple communications wristcom, hooked in to her personal computer net. Prompted by an instinct, undefinable but nonetheless real, she picked it up and turned it over. The screen lit up; the device was still charged.

    "Wow," Skywalker said, drawing her attention away from the wristcom, which she slipped into a pocket. His gaze was on the weapons still on the wall. "Have you used all these?"

    "No," Mara replied. "Not in combat. Tested, yes, but some of them are more flash than substance, better left on the wall." She turned and gazed around the room, feeling the weight of memory and loss press down upon her, mixed with confusion. Yes, this had been home, once… home to the Emperor's Hand. That isn't me anymore, so why does it still provoke this feeling of longing and loss? "Best not to touch any of these," she growled in response to the emotion. "Isard probably sabotaged them."

    The twinge of her danger sense was matched by Skywalker's sudden sense of alarm. It was probably for the best; the way his emotions had reached out to hers had been alarmingly comforting, and she'd started to lean into his emotional embrace before she could stop herself. That was probably the most confusing thing of all, and she was almost glad for the sudden sense of alarm. Her first thought was that the weapons had indeed been sabotaged, but the danger wasn't quite so proximate.

    "We have company," Skywalker murmured, his voice all business. "There are a half-dozen people approaching the way we came, and fast."

    She closed her eyes, concentrating; felt the consciousnesses of well-trained men and women, and one particularly bright, vivid mind who felt more curious than alarmed…

    "That is General Cracken," Skywalker answered her unspoken question, and Mara grimaced both at the fact that he knew what she was thinking, and at what he'd said.

    "I suppose I'll get to make my first Smugglers' Alliance intelligence report in person," she muttered.



    * * *


    "General Cracken," Mara greeted the man leading the small parade of Palace Security agents as she trotted down the freighter's aft entry ramp. There were quite a lot of them, more than seemed reasonable. The men and women were clearly serious-minded and well armed; one of them started examining the computers, while two others passed by her and Skywalker and went up into the ship. "I'd be careful in there," she warned them, looking at Cracken. "Skywalker and I didn't clear it of booby traps, and Isard might've left something."

    Cracken nodded at the security team, and they proceeded more cautiously. "It hasn't even been three hours since the Smugglers' Alliance contact was signed," he said, arching an eyebrow, "and here I already find you and Jedi Skywalker skulking around the palace grounds, identifying old Imperial bases of operations."

    Mara crossed her arms in front of her chest, glowering vociferously. "I wasn't skulking," she retorted. "I was investigating, and out in the open at that."

    The head of New Republic Intelligence offered a thin, polite smile in response. "What did you find?"

    She shrugged. "This used to be my base of operations on Coruscant. The ship behind us was my final operations vessel before—" she paused, considering the right way to frame it "—I left the Imperial service."

    "So it's yours then?" Cracken asked, his eyes sharp. "Are you making a claim for ownership?"

    Mara frowned. That thought hadn't occurred to her. Now that Cracken mentioned it, she could think of several uses for the freighter, and Karrde might be interested in adding it to his fleet. "I'm not sure if I have a legal claim," she said slowly. "I don't have any flimsiwork that could prove prior ownership, given the… unofficial… nature of my position. If I do have a legal claim that would hold up in court, I wouldn't mind getting it back."

    Cracken just nodded. "I'll look into it. I should mention that I've been in contact with Agent Wessiri, but her operational duties at the moment make her unavailable to assume her post as NRI Liaison to the Smugglers' Alliance at this time."

    She'd almost forgotten Skywalker's presence. "You're going to be working with Iella?" he asked, tilting his head at her and smiling. "That's great!"

    "You know her?"

    The blonde Jedi offered a somewhat boyish, slightly abashed smile. "Iella and I go way back. General Cracken asked me to do him this favor—"

    "Ah, Jedi Skywalker, perhaps we should leave that one with little else said," Cracken cut in. He turned to Mara. "Agent Wessiri's current task is an important one, but I'll task her to you as soon as it's complete. In the meantime, if you're planning on uncovering any more hidden Imperial bases in the palace, perhaps you should contact me first?"

    Luke grinned at her. Mara frowned at them both. "Fine," she agreed curtly.

    Cracken smiled. It was an expression that Mara found vaguely unsettling; one of determination and echoes of omniscience. It reminded her of Karrde, who enjoyed nothing better than knowing things he shouldn't and dangling hints of profound insight before an enraptured audience, just out of their reach.

    She then remembered that those two kindred spirits were working together now, and shuddered internally.

    "What made you decide to come down here?" Cracken asked.

    Mara frowned, glancing sideways at Skywalker and then away from him again. "I had a hunch."

    "A hunch?" Cracken turned his own attention on Skywalker and lifted one grey eyebrow. "A Jedi hunch, I presume?"

    Skywalker shrugged his shoulders innocently. "I told her they might start becoming more common again as she opened herself up to the Force. I didn't know that it would happen so quickly, though."

    Cracken's expression was one of resignation. "I suppose I've gotten used to your reports with 'I had a hunch' as justification for action. I'll just have to get used to Miss Jade's as well."

    "If she's working with Iella, you won't have to worry about that so much," Skywalker replied confidently. "Iella has a way of turning Jedi hunches into actual information." He grinned at Mara. "You'll like her."

    Mara kept frowning. There was something about the way Skywalker talked about Wessiri that annoyed her. But just then, everything about Skywalker and his chirpy connections to his squeaky-clean New Republic annoyed her. "Sure. Can we go?"

    Skywalker's expression fell slightly, but he nodded. "Did we get what we came for?"

    Mara paused, her frown deepening yet again. Had she? Why had she come here? It had just been a hunch—was the hunch now satisfied? She turned back towards the hanger; her ship, sitting quietly against the wall; the bay of Imperial Intelligence computers arrayed across the open space. The large floor which had been a place for training, when more public locations were inappropriate. It was all so familiar, and yet… all so alien, now.

    Why had she come? Closure?

    "I guess," she muttered. The Force wasn't tugging at her, wasn't drawing her to stay longer. And she had no interest in being here while Cracken dissected her life, just as Isard had half a decade before. She turned towards the exit and refused to look back. "Yes. Let's go, Skywalker."

    The sound of his footsteps behind her was oddly reassuring, but Mara resolved to convince him to carry his blaster. He'd be terrible backup at any distance beyond close combat without one. If Skywalker was going to be the one watching her back, she needed to make sure he could do it properly.





     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
  8. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb tangle of emotions... reinforcing how complex and intricate Mara is, as a person in transition [face_thinking] =D= I adore how almost automatically their awarenesses entwine, as images and memories flow as they work together to sense imminent traps, etc. :)
     
    Bel505 likes this.
  9. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Okay, so the next Chapter is basically "the end of Act 2". After I post it (later this week), the story's going to go on pause so I can finish writing it. For reference, I was hoping to finish the whole story during November but events have made that impossible. I've got about 10 chapters left to write, and at 5k-6k words per chapter that means there's about 55,000 words to go before the story is all finished. (For reference, after Chapter 12 is up, I'll have posted half of what is already written. As I get nearer to the end, I'm pretty sure the story will be ~32 chapters in total).

    It'll get finished! It just is likely to stop coming with the same speed for a while. (Which is too bad, I can't wait for you guys to read Act 3!)
     
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  10. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Twelve


    Luke's dreams were persistent. The Force vision which had first appeared to him during meditation in the Jedi Museum teased him with glimpses of insight. The master and the child; the latter uncertain and wary, the former confident, with guiding words. Glimpses of lightsaber training, not unlike what he had offered Mara a few days before; glimpses of camaraderie. Is it just meant as an example of quality training? Is the Force teaching me how to teach? Or is there another message in it, one I'm not seeing yet?

    There was a sense of familiarity to it, as if he should know what it was he was seeing. Luke suspected that a Jedi more attuned to the spiritual side, like Yoda, might have had the insight necessary to put the pieces together, or to draw more pieces out from what the Force offered, but Luke still couldn't quite get there. Whatever it was, this was the third time he'd caught glimpses of the student and master, the twinned blue lightsabers that each carried, and the careful lightsaber katas that the younger was learning. Words like grace and mindfulness hovered at the edges of Luke's sensation; calm and focused.

    He rubbed his face and checked his chrono. The first hints of sun were starting to come through the transparisteel windows of his apartment in the Imperial Palace. He pulled the blinds open and looked out over the busy city, the jungle of towering buildings and the busy air traffic; the spaceships descending and ascending in good order. It was early for him to be awake, but not that early; between his early life on Tatooine and the urge to take advantage of the most pleasant hours of the Tatooine day, and the many years in the Rebellion that called for quick wakefulness, Luke had never been one to sleep in long past dawn.

    There was a mechanical whirring, and Artoo trundled into the room and whistled a greeting.

    "Good morning, Artoo," Luke replied with a smile. "Is the X-wing all ready to go?"

    The droid whistled an affirmative, then an elaboration that sent Luke grappling for his translator. He could understand Artoo well enough for simple things, but when it got complicated the translator helped.

    "Karrde has stashed the X-wing in the Wild Karrde's cargo hold?" Luke read aloud. "And you've moved most of my travel gear down to the hangar." He nodded at Artoo. "Thanks, buddy," he said, patting Artoo's dome. "You're not worried about traveling with Karrde again?"

    Artoo blatted dismissively at him.

    Luke read the translation of the response and laughed. "Karrde's a good guy now? What makes you so sure?"

    Artoo whistled, his dome spinning.

    "Because he likes us?" Luke smiled, thinking back to Karrde and Mara's attendance at Leia's for dinner. "I suppose he does at that," Luke replied, his smile softening.

    Artoo's dome turned towards him, and the droid peered at him with his one large mechanical eye. The droid warbled softly, a knowing and semi-amused sound that the translator said had no direct translation into basic.

    "What?" Luke asked with a laugh as he fetched his Jedi blacks and set them out to change into after his sonic shower.

    The droid cackled with electronic laughter, his dome spinning, then all three of his wheels set down on the floor. Artoo whistled a farewell and rolled towards the door, dragging the last of Luke's bags behind him.

    Luke peered at the translator, but it wasn't any help. He shook his head with some bemusement. Artoo could be enigmatic at times, and this was one of those times apparently.

    He made quick use of the sonic shower and dressed, then hesitated as he considered breakfast options. You could call Mara, his mind whispered, but Luke immediately decided not to do that, no matter how tempting it was. If he woke her just because of his desire for her company, she might hold a grudge—and he already knew she could hold grudges for a long, long time. Besides, he reminded himself, she's not that far removed from hating you.

    However, not sharing her company didn't mean he couldn't enjoy their favorite breakfast locale.

    It was a quick airspeeder trip from his apartment in the palace to the Adarian Building. The servers recognized him (that was impossible to avoid absent a disguise or liberal Force use, neither of which appealed to him), but one of the reasons why the Adarian Building had become his favorite since Mara introduced him to it was the staff's professionalism. Yes, he was Jedi Luke Skywalker, but this establishment was used to serving dignitaries of all kinds and its servers went out of their way not to make a scene, which he appreciated.

    They sat him near the window, overlooking the Senate Building, as always cast in the shadow of the Imperial Palace at this hour.

    His Force sense alerted him to her presence before anything else. A familiar mind, wary but resolved, gleaming in the Force like a beacon. His ability to sense her had grown, he realized; there were a handful of presences he could recognize instantly, even at a distance, and Mara's was as identifiably brilliant as Leia's. Was that because of her increased strength in the Force? Or simply because they had spent so much time together of late?

    Mara talked to the maitre'd, who obviously recognized her, and then was allowed to make her way towards him. She pulled out the chair across from him and settled into it, her expression oddly neutral. The sensation of nervousness and resolve persisted, though he could feel her trying to shield it.

    "Good morning," he greeted her softly. Behind him, the morning sun cast light over them both; her red-gold hair gleamed gold.

    "Good morning," she replied. She looked slightly disheveled, he noticed; as if she'd either been up late the night before or woken up early that morning. His mind flicked back to the forest on Myrkr, and her steadily deteriorating state as she had refused to sleep night after night.

    But she didn't look anywhere near that tired this morning, and there was no hate in her eyes.

    "Artoo has moved my X-wing to the Wild Karrde. Last I saw him he was dragging my bag to the hangar."

    Mara smiled, her lips softening. "You're not overworking him, are you?"

    "Concerned for my droid's welfare?" Luke relaxed back into his chair, a smile blossoming on his face. "That's a new attitude."

    "In hindsight he was less trouble on Myrkr than you were," she mused. She pointed a finger at him mock-accusingly. "He wasn't the one who crashed that Skipray."

    Luke chuckled. "Guilty as charged. But, in my defense, I was being chased at the time."

    Mara smirked. "It's all my fault then is it? Don't forget, I saved your life in the first place."

    "I haven't," Luke replied softly, letting his gratitude touch his Force sense. He could tell the moment she felt it, the tightening of her lips, then the reluctant acceptance of the emotion. She wasn't going to say it out loud, not then, perhaps not ever, but the returning sense of gratefulness was more revealing than any words could have been.

    The banter came to an abrupt halt as time seemed to slow to a crawl.

    He was pretty sure Mara felt it too; he could sense the trepidation in her emotions, a quiver of uncertainty in her Force sense. She responded to it more decisively than he did—by pulling an item out of one of her pockets and placing it down in the middle of the table.

    Luke furrowed his brow as he picked it up. He turned the object over in his hands, recognizing it immediately. "A blaster scope?" He peered at her over the object, his eyebrows lifting in surprise. "You know I told you I don't carry my blaster anymore."

    Mara wagged a finger at him. "And I told you that you should," she replied firmly. "If you don't, that—" she pointed at the scope "—will go to waste, and I spent all night looking for the right one for a DL-44."

    "I didn't even pack it," Luke pointed out, but the corner of his mouth curled. All night?

    She smirked smugly at him. "Yes, you did," she assured him. "I told your droid to pack it for you."

    Artoo's teasing earlier suddenly made a lot more sense.

    Mara reached out to pluck the scope from him. "If what you said about the modifications you and Han made to your blaster are true," she peered at him through the scope, "this should let you take full advantage of your range modifications, and should serve as a good replacement for your bulky macrobinoculars." She handed it back. "And it comes with night vision and infra-red, not to mention image enhancement." Her hand lingered over the scope. "It wasn't cheap," she added pointedly.

    He laughed and nudged her hand reluctantly away then closed his hand over the scope. He tucked it into one of the pockets of his tunic. "You've made your point," he relented wryly. "I'll bring the blaster."

    Mara looked very self-satisfied. "You're right, you will. Also, you're paying for breakfast." She yawned and offered him a tired smile.

    Luke suddenly didn't want to leave Coruscant. Leaving Coruscant seemed like a horrible idea.

    Mara quirked an eyebrow at him. "What?" she asked.

    He debated the wisdom of saying the words only after they'd already slipped out. "I'm going to miss you, Mara" he said almost apologetically, his voice clinging to her name.

    Mara laughed in surprise. He could feel her astonishment, and her disbelief—and her inadequately hidden reciprocation of the sentiment. "You're going to miss me? I wanted to kill you, Skywalker."

    "But you didn't," he replied, his voice firm and reassuring, "and I'm still in one piece."

    "Yeah, well, you better stay that way," Mara countered firmly. "I'd hate to have bought that electro-scope for nothing."

    "I'll be careful," he reassured her.

    She hesitated, then nodded. He could sense her awkward concern and a not insignificant amount of something he'd describe as... nervousness... in anyone else.

    Protectiveness?

    He could feel her push past the moment firmly, refusing to linger over it. "Well, since you're going to be traveling with Karrde, I should warn you about the crew," she said. "They may not knock you out and lock you up again, but I guarantee they'll try to prank you. Aves is gone, so let's start with Dankin…"





     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2020
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Yum, just yum. I loved the dream and the entire breakfast banter. [face_love]
     
    Bel505 likes this.
  12. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Twelve, Part II

    The freighter that Fliry Vorru and his entourage were traveling in had worn many names over its long history. It seemed that the ship's original name had been the Lefler's Rose, given the long-since worn over engraving on the bulkhead in the lounge, but there was a dizzying array of false IDs stashed in one of the ship's hidden compartments. They weren't using any of them, of course; Eliezer had worked up a new one (and a fake flight plan, and a series of fake HoloNet transmissions that would 'prove' the flight plan was real in the event anyone thought to check).

    Vorru had forgotten how prolific the Drall could be. The freighter's cover established, he was now working on their individual cover IDs, complete with disguises, electronic records for both planetary citizenship and banking, and sufficient personal histories to fool a background check. And he'd managed to nearly beat Vorru in dejarik. Twice.

    "You realize you're going to have to ask him sooner or later," Eliezer said without looking up. "I can't finalize his disguise or his personal history until I see his face, and it certainly isn't wise for him to wander around Coruscant with that mask on. It's too identifiable." He did glance up now, but only for a moment. "I suppose we can find him a suit of Mandalorian armor, that's just barely common enough that I can whip something together, but it won't stand up to too much scrutiny."

    The Tevas-kaar had, so far, not removed either his armor or his helm. In fact, Vorru and Eliezer had seen almost nothing of him since they'd come aboard the Lefler's Rose. He'd simply closed himself away in one of the guest rooms and vanished, emerging only to use the refresher or fetch one of the freeze-dried flash-meals that their pilot laughingly called "food."

    "Tavira didn't say much about him," he admitted. "I know he's sworn to her service and she has no qualms about his personal loyalty, but who he is, where he's from, the extent of his skills… she said that he'd be able to handle anything we threw at him, short of maybe Luke Skywalker himself."

    "You haven't seen him in action," Eliezer waved a datacard at him, and Vorru reached out and took it. It was his cover's backstory and picture. He was going to need to change his hair… "I have. He never flinched while we escaped, dealt with every threat we ran into in seconds."

    "I have seen him in action, actually," Vorru replied. "Although only briefly, on Kessel. He was impressive. And if we're not careful he may have to deal with Luke Skywalker, my understanding is that he's living on Coruscant and helping organize the New Republic government."

    Eliezer scoffed, shaking his head and tsking softly. His beady eyes focused on his computer and his claws clacked away on the keyboard. "Republic government. It's a contradiction in terms," the Drall muttered, his words (and bitter tone) echoing dozens of discussions they'd had over the years, dating back decades. Eliezer was no fan of the Empire—it's rabid anti-alien bias had seen to that—but he'd always maintained that the Empire (or something like it) had been inevitable for centuries. "If that is the case, then it's even more important that we have airtight false identities," the Drall continued. "I assume a run in with a Jedi is not in our intended plans."

    "Assuredly not," Vorru replied firmly. "Actually, if at all possible, I'd very much rather not come to blows with anyone while we're on Coruscant."

    Eliezer's beady eyes fixed him with a stare. "I don't believe that any more than you do," he countered. "Do you really think that Black Sun is going to roll over and let you take over its operations without so much as a fight?"

    "If the ruling Vigos are wise, yes. If not…" Vorru shrugged. "I did say I'd rather it not come to that, not that I believed it wouldn't."

    "Hmm," Eliezer hummed disbelievingly, then coughed. The Drall hunched over, coughing, then leaned back in his chair and pounded his chest as he recovered. "I'm getting old," he muttered dourly, stroking his claws over his fur to smooth it, then going back to work.

    Vorru chuckled softly. "We got old long ago."

    "Hush. I know that," Eliezer muttered without looking up. "I'm trying to pretend it's not true." He coughed, his snout wrinkling with annoyance. "Rather unsuccessfully, I'm afraid."

    Vorru turned his mind again to the problem of the Tevas-kaar. He wondered idly if Grand Moff Tarkin had ever had this kind of problem with Lord Vader. Probably not; Vorru was under the impression that Vader had been unable to remove his armor for reasons of health. The Tevas-kaar's armor was not heavy enough to be used for that purpose, which meant that it was meant for intimidation and defense—and, perhaps, anonymity.

    He wished he'd been able to elicit more information from Tavira about where she'd found him and the exact nature of her hold over him, but the would-be Pirate Queen was ruthless in her refusal to discuss it, saying only that his loyalty was "absolute" and that the Tevas-kaar could be relied upon without question. Unfortunately, Vorru had only Tavira's word for that, and he knew better than to trust her word alone. Even more unfortunately, he needed the Tevas-kaar for what would come next. He needed his own Vader to smash and intimidate his enemies, at least long enough to establish his dominance. Once his dominance was secure, he could turn them against one another and rule by division, but until then he needed the unquestioning, unstoppable hammer.

    The Tevas-kaar had proved he could do it on Kessel, at least on a small scale. Vorru had no idea if he could or would do it on the larger scale that he would require on Coruscant. But that was all right. One did not become Moff of Corellia without accepting a certain degree of risk.

    Vorru exited the lounge and headed down the curved interior corridor until he found the Tevas-kaar's chosen quarters. He rapped on the door. There was no response, so he knocked on it a second time.

    The door opened and he found himself standing in the Tevas-kaar's gleaming bronze shadow, brown eyes peering down at him through the eyes of the white d'oemir bear mask. Vorru refused to start, and he refused to be cowed by the difference in their heights. I've been short all my life and never let it stop me before. "Tevas-kaar."

    "Moff Vorru," the Tevas-kaar replied with his resonant voice. "We have not yet arrived on Coruscant. Do you require something?"

    "I do," Vorru nodded. "Eliezer is preparing our identities for arrival on Coruscant. I'm afraid he cannot complete the process unless he has more information about," he nodded up at the much taller man, "you and your appearance. Unfortunately, if you attempt to go through Coruscant security wearing your armor and mask, you will… create a bit of a stir."

    There was a certain stiffness to the Tevas-kaar's utter lack of motion. Then his large, bronzed shoulders heaved with a sigh. "Very well," he agreed grudgingly. "If it is absolutely necessary."

    Vorru led him carefully back towards the freighter's lounge, where Eliezer was still hard at work. The Drall could work and work and work, with the kind of unerring focus that no human could match. "I'm afraid we'll need a holo of your appearance," Vorru said, adding as much apology to his tone as he could. This is a Force user, he reminded himself. He'll know if you're not being genuine.

    There was a moment's hesitation from the tall figure, then he reached to the sides of his head and unbuckled his mask. He removed it slowly, holding it in one hand, then pushed back the coiled helm.

    His hair was shock-white, the kind of white hair that would have been the envy of many an Imperial aristocrat, cut in a close buzz. His visage was not so aged as an aristocrat's, however, but his skin was leathery, with a lined, boxy face and wide square jaw covered with a light layer of almost invisible stubble.

    Eliezer hobbled out of his chair and used a holo-imager to take a few holos. The Tevas-kaar watched him with a void expression, the corner of his mouth tightening a bit. "Do you have a preference for your pseudonym?" Eliezer asked cautiously as he returned to his chair, lifting himself up into it and relaxing as his claws tapped on the computer keyboard.

    "You can call me whatever would be appropriate," the Tevas-kaar replied. Vorru and Eliezer both watched him, but no more information was forthcoming.

    Vorru sighed to himself silently. Working with the Tevas-kaar was going to be difficult if he insisted on acting more like a droid than a person. But he didn't have any obvious avenue for drawing the Tevas-kaar out of his social isolation, and pushing was as likely (probably more likely) to backfire as it was to succeed. It could wait. "I'm sure Eliezer will find something appropriate," he conceded.

    Taking that as a dismissal, the Tevas-kaar departed again, already re-attaching his mask.

    "Sociable," Eliezer said after the door was securely closed.

    "I've known a few men like him over the years," Vorru said. "I wish Tavira had been more forthcoming about the terms of his service. Is he so taciturn because it is an obligation, or is it a personality trait?" Vorru sat across from Eliezer and rested his hands together on the table. "And how did he come by his Force training?"

    "He was taught by a Jedi, of course," Eliezer said, peering at his screen as he put together the Tevas-kaar's identity packet. "Let's see… Rasmus Damask, from Corellia. That way you can do the talking for him, if it becomes necessary."

    "A Jedi? Palpatine killed all the Jedi."

    "I never believed that," Eliezer replied. "And clearly it can't have been true, with Luke Skywalker running around the galaxy now. Someone must have trained him. The Jedi were resourceful, surely some of them survived."

    Vorru shook his head. "But why would a Jedi apprentice end up working with Leonia Tavira?"

    Eliezer laughed, a sound which ended less enthusiastic than it started, with coughing and wincing. "Why would either of us end up working with Leonia Tavira?" he asked dryly.

    That, Vorru thought, was a fair point.





     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    =D= Great details on the mystery that is the Tevas-kaar .
     
  14. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006





    Chapter Twelve, Part III


    The arrival in-system was done with pinpoint precision. The pilot Tavira had loaned them—the same man who had shuttled Vorru up from Kessel, and pulled the skillful landing during their rescue of Eliezer, coincidentally, for which Vorru was grateful—knew his business and knew how to play the part of a bored freighter captain. So well, in fact, that Vorru suspected that the man had at one point been just that.

    "Coruscant Control, this is the freighter Puckish Allegory out of Corellia, requesting permission to land," the pilot said in a Talusan accent. "We're looking for a landing in Argosy District, if possible. We can wait." He thumbed off the ship's communicator, glancing back at Vorru. "Our identities will hold up going through customs?"

    Vorru nodded confidently. "No need to be concerned about that." Even as they were speaking, Eliezer was accessing Coruscant's HoloNet node and ensuring that the customs computers would both expect and know them by the time they were landing.

    The pilot did not look so certain, but he also didn't object. "You're the boss," he agreed, turning back to the freighter's controls. The comm clicked, and he thumbed it back on.

    "Puckish Allegory, we can give you a landing berth in Argosy District," a brisk, female voice said over the comm. "We're transmitting berth information and your directed landing route to you now. Do not deviate from the path," she instructed them firmly.

    "Confirmed, Coruscant Control," the pilot said back, again with his brisk accent. Vorru wondered idly if the man was adopting the Talusan accent as part of his identity because Eliezer had told him to, or if it was his own affectation. Either way, hearing it brought back fond memories—Talus was another of the Corellia system's many habitable worlds. "Glad you could serve us so quickly. Puckish Allegory making its approach."

    The freighter stirred as the pilot accelerated towards Coruscant, the gleaming mass of endless city seeming to glow as they approached. There was a rustle and Vorru glanced back as the Tevas-kaar approached, his expression blank as he watched over Vorru's shoulder. He was wearing the civilian clothes they had procured for him, but he would still stand out in a crowd

    Vorru almost turned away, but there was something about the Tevas-kaar's expression. His eyes tightened slightly, his lips firming together. His breathing slowed, and then his eyes closed and his hands clenched into fists.

    "Are you all right?" Vorru asked carefully.

    The Tevas-kaar nodded. "Yes," he said, visibly relaxing, though his tension did not fully fade. "Adequate."



    * * *​



    The Wild Karrde main cargo hold was sealed up, Luke's X-wing vanishing from sight within its confines. At the top of the ramp, Karrde and Mara were talking animatedly, and Karrde handed her a datapad—with final instructions for how to manage the Smugglers' Alliance in his absence, Luke guessed.

    With the cargo hold sealed, the Wild Karrde's crew started heading aboard the ship, while the landing pad's ground crew performed the final checks.

    Artoo whistled at him, and Luke laughed. "Yes, it's much friendlier than it was the first time they brought us aboard," Luke agreed. He patted the astromech's dome, whose head swirled to look up at him, then back at the bulk freighter.

    Mara and Karrde had finished their conversation; Mara nodded at her boss and trotted down the ramp. She looked slightly better rested than she had at breakfast; Luke assumed that was a product of the two cups of expensive caf he'd paid for. He smiled at her as she approached; her brisk pace slowed as she neared him.

    She stopped awkwardly, her lip twitching as neither of them spoke.

    He wasn't sure what to say. Clearly, she wasn't either. He wondered if she'd let him hug her. He rather doubted it.

    "I don't know how to do this," she said suddenly, her eyes resolutely looking away, even as her words were pitched both quiet and meant to be heard. "I'm not … used to having friends."

    He reached out and took her hand. She let him, her fingers wrapping around his as she turned towards him, still not making eye contact. Her gaze flicked up to his, then away again, and in that moment he could see the uncertainty, the confusion, and most of all the deep loneliness. Her sense in the Force tightened as she felt his response, his cold rage at Palpatine, his protectiveness and empathy. His deep and profound care. "Mara…"

    She squeezed his hand hard. "Take care of yourself, Skywalker," she whispered, and he heard the words she didn't say. I'll miss you, too.

    He used their joined hands to turn her towards him until they were facing one another, peering down at her. He waited patiently until she tentatively looked up, her piercing green eyes laden with uncertainty. She knew what he was going to do before he did it, he could feel her tense but not pull away, and he wrapped his arms around her and brought her in against his chest.

    He could feel the moment her muscles relaxed and she leaned into the embrace; could sense when her eyes shut as she accepted the display of physical affection. He suspected that she could count on one hand the number of times she had been hugged since Palpatine had ripped her away from her family, and he offered it to her freely.

    It didn't linger for more than a few seconds. By mutual acclamation they parted, the embrace ending a few seconds before she released his hand.

    He buried his emotion as deeply as he could, not because it wasn't real, or because he didn't want her to know it, but because he knew that she wasn't ready to hear it yet. Wasn't ready to accept it. Certainly wasn't ready to reciprocate it. But in that moment, torn between the desire to sing it to the heavens or to bury it deep underground until the time was right to dig it up, Luke Skywalker knew one fact he hadn't yet admitted to himself when he'd woken up that morning.

    I am in trouble. Despite the thought, Luke couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he strode up Wild Karrde's ramp with a spring in his step. I am in so, so much trouble.



    * * *​



    Luke and Mara seemed to have forgotten that the bridge viewports of the Wild Karrde had a clear view of the hangar.

    Talon Karrde turned and looked at his crew. Faughn, Dankin, and Chin each got a long gaze, one that lasted well after eye contact had been established. "If any of you," he started firmly, "mention this to Skywalker or especially to Mara, I will have you buried in a hole so deep it'll make the Spice Mines of Kessel look like a Chandrilan beach resort. After that I'll let Mara do whatever she wants to you. Are we clear?"

    Faughn just nodded. Chin was wearing a silly little smile, but while the older man liked to needle, he knew when to push and when to keep his mouth shut. Dankin recoiled away from the firm certitude in Karrde's eyes. "Clear, Boss," he said.

    Karrde let the silence linger to drive home his point.

    Once he was quite sure there would be no misunderstandings, he nodded. "And, I'll add, that all the bets on them are already in. If you want to make a new bet, you'll have to ante up again. No last minute changes based on new information." There was a groan that echoed through the bridge, but it faded quickly at his raised eyebrow. He waited until it was entirely gone. "Good. Once the outer doors are sealed and Jedi Skywalker is belted in, take us up. Dankin, I want us on the quickest route to Rendili."

    "Got it, Boss."

    The Wild Karrde's engines hummed as the ship lifted up off the ground. Unlike the trip in, Dankin was at the helm, and Faughn was in the co-pilot's seat while also managing the ship's comm chatter with Coruscant Control. I'm going to need to hire another pilot to replace Mara, Karrde thought. There was regret in the thought, but more than that there was a calm acceptance, and even a bit of happiness.

    Luke came through the door to the bridge and slid into one of the empty seats, and in response the Wild Karrde shuddered against gravity and began its climb towards orbit (much more slowly than its descent into Coruscant had been). "All settled?" Karrde asked him.

    Luke nodded. "Ready," he agreed, and Karrde recognized the same tone of serious focus that he'd seen on the Jedi's face so many times since they'd met.

    "Good," Karrde agreed. "Dankin, take us out if you would. Faughn, send my compliments to Coruscant Control."

    Coruscant vanished, replaced by the planet's busy sky, lines of airspeeders in neat rows traveling through the city and spaceships rising and lowering from orbit. The Wild Karrde passed by one of the Skyhooks, gleaming brightly, and then started to pick up speed as it passed out of the busiest layers of the planetary orbit.

    Karrde glanced at Luke, and found the Jedi staring out the window with a tight, uncertain expression on his face. "Everything all right?"

    The Jedi shook himself, then shrugged. "Yes. I just thought I sensed something, but it's gone now." Luke relaxed into the chair.

    "Well, I've learned to trust Jedi instincts," he replied, thinking more of Mara than Luke. "If there is anything wrong, please, do tell us."

    "I will," Luke promised.

    "In the meantime, there is something else that we should discuss." Karrde allowed his expression and tone to both become apologetic. "I'm afraid that there's going to be a slight delay before we arrive at Ukio. Before you become irritated with me, know that I discussed the delay with General Cracken and he agreed that it would be worth a few days to make a quick stop."

    Luke swiveled his chair towards Karrde. In the background, Dankin announced the jump to hyperspace, and the familiar disorientation of the lightspeed jump clearly gave Luke a moment's pause.

    Karrde wasn't really concerned about the Jedi's reaction. He couldn't say he knew Luke well, but Karrde trusted his ability to get a feel for personalities, and vengefulness, or even grudge-holding, were not likely to be consequences of this slight manipulation.

    "I see," Luke replied calmly. "Perhaps you should explain the nature of this delay, then?" The corner of Luke's mouth quirked up. "Something less than respectable?"

    "Oh, it most certainly is not respectable, but I'm quite sure that the New Republic will not object," Karrde corrected. "We're going to make a brief stop on Rendili. I need your help… with a theft." His lips firmed in a small, confident smirk. "If we are successful, what we will appropriate from the Empire should give General Bel Iblis everything that he needs to recapture Ukio."

    "I see," Luke said again, thoughtfully. "You do realize that Rendili is Imperial-held, and after Corellia probably the most heavily guarded Imperial system in the Core?"

    Karrde leaned back in his chair, steepling his hands together. "Oh yes. Of that, I am quite aware."




     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2020
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Scene 2--SQUEEEEEEEEEEE! Just. :D
    [face_laugh] on the new bet.

    Eagerly awaiting the events on Rendili. They seem vitally important. =D=
     
  16. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    And ... that is it for now. In the last couple weeks I've finished Chapters 26 and 27 and am halfway through Chapter 28, so progress is continuing apace. (My original estimate for final length was ~32, I think it'll be closer to 35 now, so still some distance to travel, especially since Chapters 16, 21, 24, and 25 don't exist yet.) I want to pause in the posting because this is the end of Act 2 (of 4, maybe 5 counting an epilogue Act), and I want the flexibility to make changes in the subsequent chapters to make sure the whole things holds together as tightly as I hope it will.

    For the moment, we reach the end of Act 2. Luke is off on an adventure with Karrde before planning to rejoin the Rogues to help deal with Ukio and the Tevas-kaar, but unbeknownst to him the Tevas-kaar is arriving on Coruscant (with Vorru and Eliezer) just as he departs. In the meantime, Mara's staying behind to deal with paperwork and Senators... I wonder how that's going to turn out...
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  17. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    So, I said it would be a while before my next post, and it's only been ten days. But I've had a supremely productive ten days, and I think the story is now approximately 30,000-40,000 words away from being finished (depending on how much epilogue I decide to write), which will put the final product right around 200,000 (!) words. And I very much want people to have the opportunity to read what's coming up, so I'm going to post the first scene of Chapter 13 in a few minutes.

    I've sort of re-arranged the divisions in the parts of the story in my head, and now conceptualize it in three distinct acts. We're now just entering Act 2, and as with the beginning of Act 1, we start with our villains...
     
  18. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Thirteen


    The Lefler's Rose sat, inconspicuous, in a cheap landing bay far from the Imperial Palace and the seat of the New Republic government. Coruscant was a whole universe of its own, so large and so densely populated that the New Republic hadn't even tried to organize and run the planet itself. In truth, the New Republic's presence on the planet sometimes felt like an island, isolated in and around the Palace District and on the highest levels of Coruscant's metropolitan canyons. Go too far outside that District, or descend down to the lower levels, and Coruscant became autonomous, with billions of people living their lives as they had under the Empire and the Old Republic.

    Vorru had been an integral part of that world, once. Not that long ago, even. His tendrils of power and authority and fear and respect had snaked through Coruscant's impenetrable web of power, both legal and illegal (get far enough down and the two were often difficult to differentiate). As he had as Moff of Corellia, Vorru had entwined all the elements of influence and used them to control the people who needed to be controlled, free the people who needed to be freed.

    He had respected the way Palpatine had always done the same, and Vorru's ability to emulate Palpatine (and in some ways, in this small regard even surpass him, he thought proudly), had probably been why Palpatine had finally eliminated Vorru as a threat.

    The Tevas-kaar had emerged from his room on the ship only occasionally since their arrival, days before, while Eliezer had slowly extended his holographic tendrils into Coruscant's computers. First the Drall had compromised the system's HoloNet, and from there it's traffic control computers. Eliezer had a gift for system infiltration, steadily finding one weakness after another through Coruscant's myriad web of integrated networks. Searching.

    Vorru had spent the days productively himself. His network of alliances and the memory of his authority was not so far gone to be forgotten, especially in Coruscant's criminal underworld. Black Sun, the oldest and most powerful criminal organization in the galaxy, was centered on Coruscant (just as the Empire and Republic had been; everyone came to Coruscant eventually), and Vorru steadily, surreptitiously collected information about its current operations and leadership. He had come to Coruscant for two reasons, and Black Sun was one.

    There was a tiny voice whispering on the other side of his comm. "We've just been given notice," the Coruscanti accent said, hushed and staticky. Communications on Coruscant could be tricky, what with all the structures and people crammed into every square kilometer. "Also, there's a rumor floating around the underground that Fliry Vorru has escaped from Kessel," the voice continued. "The Vigos are nervous that he might make a play to retake control of Black Sun. I haven't seen so much commotion at the executive level since Savan made her play for the organization a few years back."

    Vorru smiled thinly. Commotion was good. "Vorru was competent," he said smoothly, Eliezer's whipped-together voice synthesizer changing his voice and accent. "But hardly worth commotion."

    "I'm not sure," the voice replied. "Don't spread this around, but I think Acib has never been happy about the fact that Vorru is still alive at all. I think he tried to have him assassinated after he was returned to Kessel to take him out of the picture, but we never got confirmation of his death."

    No, they wouldn't have, Vorru thought smugly. Those assassins didn't do so well after they breached Kessel's atmosphere. Not with the tons of explosive I had planted under their landing pad.

    "He seems convinced that Vorru will come here and try to take control of the organization," the voice continued. "The rest of us aren't so certain… and many of us aren't that scared by the possibility anyway. There's still a lot of respect for Vorru in these parts. People remember how well he ran both Corellia and its criminal underworld. Acib is concerned that if Vorru presents himself as an alternative, that the other Vigos will turn on him and flock to Vorru's banner again."

    "Would they?" Vorru asked calmly.

    "Hard to say. From what I remember of Vorru, he'd come with an offer, not just a threat. It would depend on what he has to give."

    Vorru nodded to himself. "Perhaps I should send my own representative to this meeting of the Vigos. Do you know when and where it'll be held?"

    There was a rustle on the other side of the comm. "Sure, I can forward you the information." There was a pause, then Vorru's comm beeped. He briefly plugged it into his datapad and smiled as he saw the needed information. "Sent."

    "Thank you, Roeder," Vorru said, the voice synthesizer translating it into a slick Muunilist accent.

    "Sure. And remember, you didn't get any of this from me." The comm click off.

    Vorru examined the information that Roeder had sent him. It was worth the expenditure of credits - most of what was left of Vorru's supply. A Muunilist banker could afford to pay well for information, and paying well for information was the only thing that had opened Roeder's normally tight lips.

    He stretched, smiling to himself. If all else went to plan, his temporary bankruptcy would be just that. If not, there were plenty of ways he could raise a tidy sum of credits quickly. More than one well-heeled member of the New Republic's aristocracy had secrets they would pay to keep, and there were numerous members of the Imperial aristocracy still on Coruscant who would pay even better to keep their previous Imperial ties relegated to forgotten history. Blackmail came with certain risks, though, that Vorru would prefer to avoid taking.

    "Tonight?" Eleizer's voice came from the other side of the room.

    "Tonight," Vorru agreed.

    "Sooner than we hoped," Eliezer pointed out. "It would be better if we could take care of the other half of our objectives here before attempting to satisfy these." He coughed, leaning back in his not-quite-comfortable chair, his claws stroking its arms gently. "As it stands, you won't have very much to offer."

    "I'll have enough," Vorru countered. "From all reports, the Vigos are chafing under Acib's leadership. If I give them a way to get out from under him, they'll take it. Especially if I combine the offer I made them with a sufficient display of force." He glanced down the hall towards the Tevas-kaar's chambers.

    Eliezer coughed some more. "Mmm," he hummed as he recovered, wiping his mouth with the back of his furred hand, his beady black eyes narrowing. "Well, if I'm to achieve that second set of objectives, I'm afraid I'm going to need more direct access. I can't do it all from here."

    Vorru's eyes turned towards him, a frown crossing his face. "You've always been able to breach any computer network remotely," he said, dark suspicion crossing his gaze. Eliezer was his friend—of sorts—but that didn't mean the Drall wouldn't betray him if he thought it was in his best interest…

    The Drall slicer laughed, a hacking sound. "You've never asked me to penetrate Ysanne Isard's intelligence net before. I wouldn't be able to penetrate NRI either. The intelligence types are usually much too competent and cautious to leave the kinds of vulnerabilities that Senate aides do." He tapped the keyboard. "But, it's not all bad news. Isard seems to have set up a network of safehouses all around the planet. Once I found one, I was able to find the rest, they've got their own internal network. But to penetrate all their layers of security, I'm going to need direct access. We'll have to pick one of the sites and infiltrate it—and, most unfortunately, I'll have to come with you. The good news is they seem to be abandoned." He waved a datapad at Vorru. "I've put together a list of the best targets."

    Vorru walked across and took the pad, examining it quickly. "Do you need any help, or can you do this on your own?"

    Eliezer shrugged. "I should be able to manage on my own, if I'm left undisturbed."

    The datapad listed a number of sites, some more remote than others. A handful were in particularly not-remote locations. There was even one in the Imperial Palace itself, one of the Palace towers, though Eliezer had taken that one off the list as impractical. "No, we'll do it together," Vorru said after a moment. "After we've got backup from Black Sun and when the Tevas-kaar can protect us as we work. In the meantime, I want you to pick one of these sites… whichever one seems like it would be least likely to attract the Republic's attention, and set up a half-dozen escape plans in case something goes wrong." He frowned at Eliezer. "I don't want us to underestimate General Cracken. If you were able to find this network of Isard's safehouses, then he might be able to also."

    "It's possible," Eliezer conceded. "They do seem defunct, but all right." He leaned up and over his keyboard, his claws clacking away.

    Vorru frowned. There were all too many ways this could go wrong, he knew. But really, what did any of them have to lose? He left Eliezer to his slicing and went to fetch the Tevas-kaar. It was time for the man to play the role that Vorru needed him to play.




     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
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  19. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Well, their plan is clever, that's for sure, but I have a feeling it ain't gonna go smooth.
     
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  20. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I ain't saying nothing. But I will post the next part of the chapter.
     
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  21. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Thirteen, Part II


    The Tevas-kaar was decidedly uncomfortable out of his armor and without his mask, but there was nothing to be done about it.

    One of the common misperceptions about Black Sun was that it operated strictly in the shadows, under the radar of all the galaxy's legitimate authorities. When people thought of Black Sun—those that didn't know it intimately—they thought of gangs operating in shadowy twilight, or dark figures looming in backgrounds, or all the theatrical imagery nonsense that many of Black Sun's historic leaders had long cultivated. But Black Sun had existed for thousands of years, and the organizations that preceded Black Sun had existed for thousands of years before that. It operated in the shadows, yes, but it also had ties aplenty to business and politics all around the galaxy, and when its leaders met, they often did so publicly.

    The Argosy District was on the far side of Coruscant from the Senate District. As ancient as all of Coruscant's primary metropolitan and business centers, the Argosy District featured some of the tallest skyscrapers the ecumenopolis had to offer, and they were stuffed full of businessmen and politicians who often straddled the thin line between legal and illegal. Under the Empire that distinction had grown even thinner as Imperial politicians and military officers had used all kinds of illegal means to hide away their mountains of ill-gotten wealth where the Imperial tax collectors couldn't get to it.

    Palpatine had allowed it, up to a point. If ever one took more than they were implicitly permitted, though, one of his agents would find them, and deal with them quietly. Their disappearance was enough of a message for the rest.

    The Tevas-kaar frowned, memories flooding back to him. The disgruntlement, or the fury, or the fear…

    Different places often had different emotional resonance. The Jhunia planes had been desolate, with little in the way of human life, leaving just a steady, serene solitude, while Yumfla had a mundane, familial joy once you got far enough away from the Imperial garrison. The emotions of the Argosy District were a cacophonous mess. Greed and lust and fear and inadequacy and desperation and glory all clawed at each other. With a breath, he reduced the sensitivity of his empathic sense, but they continued to hum in the background of his mind as the shuttle approached their destination.

    Eyrie Tower was the center of the Argosy District, an enormous structure, opaque walls stretching up against the backdrop of Coruscant's setting sun, transitioning into transparisteel and elaborate buttresses that combined architectural styles both pre-Republican and post-Imperial, and then a large flat landing pad on the roof.

    Traffic around it was busy, a steady stream of aircars landing and departing. The Black Sun leadership meetings often took place in plain sight (up until you actually got to the conference table), and the current Underlord of Black Sun, Y'ull Acib, believed more than most that it was best not to hew too close to the shadows. That was convenient, as it ensured that their approach would not be immediately concerning. Their landing, however, would draw unwanted attention.

    Vorru was not wearing his Moff's uniform, but a simple black pseudo-military tunic and jacket, trimmed with gold. That was a statement, the Tevas-kaar knew. Wearing black and gold was a sign of leadership, of dominance. But, far worse from Acib's perspective, was the scarf Vorru had added to the outfit; a deep, royal purple. Vorru's outfit was reflective of a past Underlord of Black Sun, its most successful in centuries: the Prince Xizor. Xizor had amassed a fortune, rumored to be of the same magnitude as the Emperor and Lord Vader's personal fortunes, and he had done it by commanding Black Sun's criminal and legitimate business enterprises with a single-minded drive and cunning—and charisma—that few could match.

    Vorru was one of the few. Him arriving at this meeting dressed as he was would be perceived as no less than a declaration of war. But then, it was a declaration of war, and the Tevas-kaar was going to have to fight it.

    The shuttle swooped towards the tower, over the archaic stone buttresses and towering glass, descending towards the neat grid of parked airspeeders. They settled down between the markings, close to the entrance to the tower, and the shuttle rocked gently as it touched down.

    "Are you ready?" Vorru asked him.

    The question was slightly insulting. He favored it with a minimal response, the barest of acknowledging nods.

    That was enough for Vorru, whose thin, predatory smile was eager with anticipation. "Very well." He settled the scarf around his neck, Coruscant's evening air providing just enough of a chill to justify its use as more than a prop. "After you, Tevas-kaar," Vorru bowed slightly.

    They exited the shuttle, leaving their pilot behind in case they needed to make a quick escape. There was already a small team of security guards approaching them casually, but with a slight military gait. Black Sun enforcers; probably off-duty members of the Coruscant Constabulary at that, the Tevas-kaar thought with distaste. The leader, wearing a Sergeant's insignia on his collar, held up the palm of his hand. "Stop, and announce yourselves," he ordered.

    "We are residents of the tower," Vorru said smoothly, his scarf fluttering in the evening breeze. The former Moff had his hands folded behind him, his chin held high with not the slightest concern betrayed by his almost regal expression.

    "Your vessel is not registered to any residents of Eyrie Tower," the man responded skeptically. He waved forward another of the security guards, who secured his blaster in his holster with a click before approaching, intent on searching them. "You will state your names and your reason for being here at once."

    "I'm sorry," Vorru's voice was apologetic without sounding too apologetic, "the shuttle is a recent purchase and we haven't had time to formally register it. We do have the purchase paperwork aboard, if you want to come see it—"

    "You will state your names and your reasons for being here," the Sergeant repeated, his voice hard. The third guard brought his blaster rifle up to cover them—the Tevas-kaar could see that it was set to stun, as the guard's companion reached him and Vorru. Vorru's eyes flicked up to his, and—

    Reaching out with the Force, the Tevas-kaar twitched the guard's blaster slightly to the right and pushed back the trigger. The weapon erupted and the stun blast struck the guard reaching for Vorru in the back, the coronal effects catching the Tevas-kaar and sending an unpleasant, numbing sensation through his left arm, his fingers tingling. The Sergeant was turning to stare at the guard whose blaster had just fired, his mouth parting to give a furious order; the guard was staring at his weapon in shock, and neither of them was looking at the right person.

    A holdout blaster popped into Vorru's hand and he shot them both, one quick, precisely aimed blaster bolt driving into each of them. The Sergeant fell, clutching at his chest and reaching for his wristcom as he struggled to breathe. The Tevas-kaar stepped on his hand, holding it to the permacrete surface as he expired. The final guard was still wearing his expression of surprise, but Vorru's bolt had struck him in the heart and killed him instantly.

    Vorru calmly put his holdout back under his jacket. "Eliezer can cover for their absence for a while, but we don't know how often they have to check in. We should hurry," he said, unruffled.

    The Tevas-kaar lifted his foot off the Sergeant's hand, then reached down and removed his wristcom. He attached it to his own wrist, tapped it to make sure it was working, and nodded his… if not agreement, then at least his obedience.


    * * *​


    The trip from the landing pad to the Black Sun meeting site was not very complicated. Eliezer had scrambled the tower's computers before they arrived, leaving the surveillance equipment that normally watched every lift and every hallway seeing and remembering nothing but static, and turning most of the tower's guard droids into pliable, almost bizarrely friendly automatons that greeted everyone with the same dull lack of curiosity.

    The conference room was inconspicuous. A normal, frequently used business space (much unlike the elaborate, intricately ornate spaces that Xizor had favored, back when Black Sun had been untouchable), the varied leaders of the organization were all present in the doors beyond. Eliezer had confirmed the arrival of all but one of the Black Sun vigos that now served—with varying degrees of reluctance—the Underlord Y'ull Acib.

    Vorru and Acib had been prisoners together, on Kessel. They had escaped (of sorts) together. Eventually they parted ways, with Acib staying on Coruscant to run Black Sun, while Vorru served as Ysanne Isard's aide-de-camp (and functioning brain). Acib was ambitious, cunning, short-sighted, and desperately, loathsomely greedy. He also had always secretly been envious of Vorru, and Vorru had always expected Acib would eventually stab him in the back.

    Under such circumstances, it was best to be the one doing the stabbing.

    Vorru and the Tevas-kaar stopped in the hall outside the conference room, leaving two more subdued guards in their wake. The Tevas-kaar moved next to the door, closing his eyes and doing something with the Force that Vorru couldn't begin to understand. He was no less intimidating without his armor and mask, Vorru thought, but he also seemed less otherworldly without them. "Are they in there," Vorru asked.

    The Tevas-kaar nodded. "I sense eight presences," he said. "Two humans, six aliens of different races."

    "There are always eight Vigos and the Underlord, according to Black Sun traditions," Vorru replied, "so that would mean one is absent, or present only holographically."

    "They're agitated," the Tevas-kaar said, resting his hand on the door. "Arguing. Some of them are quite unnerved." He paused for a long moment, concentrating. "But there's no sense of imminent danger. I don't think they know we're here yet."

    "Then we should intrude before they realize," Vorru mused with satisfaction. "Are you ready?"

    The Tevas-kaar withdrew his hand from the door and straightened, bringing himself to his full, imposing height. "I am," he assented. His hands flexed as he brushed one over the lightsaber that hung from his belt, and the tall man's brown eyes darkened with focus.

    "Excellent." Vorru smiled and pressed the door release.

    "[—know as well as the rest of us that Black Sun's profits have never recovered from Xizor's demise]," a deep voice was saying in Huttese with furious tones. Durga, Vorru thought. Black Sun's second most powerful leader; the most powerful outside of the Galactic Core.

    Inside the room were nine figures surrounding a table. At the head of the table was Acib, who looked as Vorru remembered him. White hair cut military short (though Acib had never served in a military), paired with flamboyantly bushy black eyebrows; high, ridged cheekbones and a dark, perpetually angry scowl that had long since been permanently etched into his face. Vorru wanted to say that Kessel had caused those lines, but Acib had them even before Kessel.

    Along one side of the table were four Vigos. Lonay, a Twi'lek and one of their chief connections to the smuggler fringe, sat closest to Acib. He was a survivor and a coward and would let himself be blown whichever way the breeze carried him; Vorru categorized him immediately as not a threat. Next to him was Kreet'ah, a Kian'thar whose connections with the galaxy's shipbuilders ran deep; like all of his species, Kreet'ah was a natural empath who could sense confidence and fear. Clezo was next, the Rodian who served as Black Sun's personnel officer, responsible for hiring and… eliminating… Black Sun's membership, which quietly made him one of the most powerful people in the room. At the end was the glowing blue holographic form of Durga, the Hutt.

    On the other side of the table were the other four Vigos. Wumdi and Sprax he recognized; both were old Black Sun hands (Sprax was a rival of Durga, and would likely side against him if given any opportunity). The remaining two, a human and a Quarren, Vorru didn't recognize. They must be the newest Vigos, both recruited since the last time Vorru had been in active circulation. While he did not know their faces, he was well enough informed to put a name to one face: the human had to be Roeder. Roeder, Vorru knew from experience, could be bought.

    The room turned as he and the Tevas-kaar entered, men and aliens half-rising from their chairs in surprise, hands reaching for blasters. Vorru smiled, unconcerned, and the Tevas-kaar reached out a hand. Weapons flew through the air towards him; vibroblades and blasters alike smacking with force into the wall behind them; metal and permacrete cracking violently from the sudden impact. Ruined weapons fell to the floor.

    The shock of it sent a stunned, disarmed silence through the room, and Vorru smiled confidently into the void. "Gentlemen," he bowed his head respectfully, but his grey eyes were hard and his lips bespoke ruthless certainty. "It is with the greatest of joys that I am here to be with you once again."

    Durga—unsurprisingly, given the advantage of his distance from events—was the first to respond, even with the lag of the HoloNet. He laughed his slow, rolling Huttese laugh. "[So the rumors are true]," the Hutt said, his enormous, sluglike body shifting. "[The Corellian is not so dead as Acib would have us believe]."

    Vorru lifted his chin, the gesture drawing attention to the purple scarf around his neck. "Did any of you really think I would be so easily restrained? That I did not have all I needed to control my own destiny? That Kessel would be able to hold me?"

    "Vorru," Acib said, his voice low and gravelly and confident. If Vorru had not known him so well, he would have missed the slight quiver of fear, the subtle tremble of Acib's now-empty gun hand. "Welcome back to Coruscant."

    "Thank you," Vorru replied, bowing his head mock-deferentially. "May I introduce you to my Tevas-kaar," he nodded his head to the Tevas-kaar's looming, powerful form, letting them all focus on the man; see his extended hand, which had lifted just as their weapons had been taken from them, and see the lightsaber hanging prominently from his belt. "I have a proposal for you all," Vorru interrupted their gazes once he was quite certain they had observed all he wished them to. "And you all know that I keep my word, and honor my bargains."

    Acib stirred, opening his mouth to object, but was cut off by Roeder. "And what is this proposal," Roeder asked with his clipped Coruscanti accept. He was of medium height and build, nondescript in that typical handsome smuggler way. There was a hint of suspicion in his eyes, and Vorru let his eyes meet Roeder's for the briefest of instants, offering confirmation.

    "We do not—" Acib objected, but Vorru cut him off.

    "As you all no doubt know," Vorru spoke firmly, "when I was Moff of Corellia, Black Sun was at its most profitable. Government and profit were not at odds, but were as one." He clasped his hands together in a firm gesture that he knew would be especially communicative to some of the aliens around the table, for whom basic was not their first language. "I can and will restore that relationship, though it will take time and effort and perhaps," his eyes flicked to each person at the table, "sacrifice."

    Acib started to object again and was interrupted again, this time by Kreet'ah. "Go on," the large Kian'thar said, and Vorru smiled to himself. That Kreet'ah had interrupted Acib meant he sensed Vorru's confidence and Acib's fear, and that would not go unnoticed by the others at the table.

    "I know that Black Sun has waned since the death of Xizor. His heirs have not been equal to the lofty standards set by the Prince of House Sizhran," Vorru continued. "All of you have suffered as the New Republic has taken system after system, cracked down on your activities, enforced laws even the Old Republic had forgotten." He lifted his hands in a welcoming gesture, palms up. "Your fortunes have waned, your colleagues have gone independent, and many have joined Talon Karrde's new Smugglers' Alliance."

    There was a ripple of discontent at that last.

    "I can restore us," Vorru continued. "Restore our independence, or freedom, or sense of adventure and our profits. I can bring back what was lost with Xizor."

    "How," Acib growled, standing now, his black eyebrows narrowed in a fury.

    "Do you doubt me, Y'ull?" Vorru asked quietly. "Do you doubt the one who brought such prosperity to us all? Who made the galaxy safe for the rise of Black Sun under the Empire? Who set the stage for Xizor's reign?"

    "The one who fell with Corellia? Who Palpatine locked in a cage? Who abandoned Black Sun to serve Isard like a leashed, domesticated sheep?" Acib countered.

    Vorru could hear the desperation in Acib's voice. His eyes flicked to Kreet'ah, and knew that the empath could feel it was well. "And yet, here I am," Vorru replied. "Undiminished. Stronger than ever." He nodded subtly at the Tevas-kaar, and his smile widened even as his eyes hardened. He turned away from Acib, turning his attention to the other Vigos. It was time to drop all pretense. "I ask you for nothing," he said, "nothing but service that will make all of us stronger. I will not require tithes, I have no need of them. I will not require gifts as Xizor did, my ego requires no such stroking. I will require only loyalty and service; your wealth is your own, for the enrichment of us all."

    The human, Roeder, crossed his arms. "What service is that?"

    Acib was standing fully now, his expression a mix of fury and outrage. "I am the Underlord, Fliry, and you have no claim to—"

    Vorru held up a finger and Acib's voice suddenly cut off in a sudden gasping choke. He reached for his throat as he sagged forward against the table, gagging; next to Vorru, the Tevas-kaar's forefinger and thumb slowly moved towards one another.

    Vorru didn't make eye contact with any of the Vigos, walking around the table at a slow, ceremonial pace as the only sounds in the room were of Durga's holoemitter and Acib's slow choking. He stopped next to Acib, at the head of the table, and leaned towards the gasping man. "I have a claim to whatever I can take, Acib, as has always been the rule of Black Sun, is that not so?" He looked down the table now, gazing at each of the other eight Vigos. "Is that not so?"

    Durga's Huttese laugh rolled over them.

    It had been a long time since Vorru had held a room in the palm of his hand; the sensation was almost giddy. He leaned towards Acib, his lips against the man's ear as he whispered. "You should have come to get me, Y'ull. I would have made you rich. Instead, you will make me king."

    It was done almost before anyone realized it; the vibroknife in Vorru's hand soaked with Acib's blood. Vorru was careful not to let any get onto his scarf; the purple would stain, but if it got onto his outfit it would be hidden easily enough by the black fabric. The corpse hit the floor and vanished under the table.

    Vorru slowly took Acib's seat. "If we are to be restored," he said conversationally, his tone friendly, "we must start with two steps." He watched the other Vigos until they sat down once more, with varying degrees of reluctance. "First, we must regain that which was lost with Xizor's death. Second—" he waited until he was sure he had their full and undivided attention "—we must destroy the Smugglers' Alliance."


    * * *​


    Vorru remained after the Vigos departed, one by one. Durga had been the most recalcitrant, but he too had accepted Vorru's leadership over the organization—although Vorru had no doubt that the Hutt would turn on him the moment he either sensed weakness or saw opportunity. The Hutt crime cartels had long had an erratic relationship with Black Sun, both treasured partner and frequent rival. That was all right with Vorru, though. He didn't need Durga's active participation, just his acquiescence, at least for now.

    The others were more important, as they were more proximate. In particular, Vorru needed one: the newest one. He stopped Roeder before the only other human Vigo could exit. "Vigo Roeder, if you would. I have a request."

    The Coruscanti native stopped, his expression both speculative and slightly wary.

    Vorru would never trust him, of course. Not after it had been so easy to bribe the man with Muunilisti currency. But Roeder didn't know that, and Vorru still had use for him.

    "What is it you need?" Roeder asked obediently.

    "You are the sole Coruscanti Vigo," Vorru pointed out, folding his hands in his lap as he looked up at Roeder from his chair. "My time on Coruscant may well be brief," he continued, gratified to see the look of relief in Roeder's eyes at that news, "but while I am here, I have certain tasks that must be accomplished. To accomplish those tasks, I may require certain support. You seem best placed to provide that support."

    "I may be," Roeder agreed, his eyes now gleaming with something other than speculation and wariness.

    Avarice. Excellent.

    "I will need a well-equipped team of mercenaries, or otherwise combat capable fighters, who will be willing to fight the New Republic in the event that becomes necessary. I am not sure that it will be, but it may be, and as we all know, preparation is the root of all victory." Vorru smiled. "They will likely also need to be able to move unnoticed through Coruscant's security net, so that they do not themselves attract attention when the time comes." He brushed some invisible lint off his knee. "Can you provide what I need, Vigo Roeder?"

    Roeder nodded slowly. "I believe I can, yes. It will not be costless. It will require me to use long-husbanded assets that, if lost, will not be easily replaced."

    "I understand entirely," Vorru agreed. "Nonetheless, assets that are never used waste away slowly, lost to time."

    Roeder inclined his head slightly. "They are there to be used."

    Vorru smiled. "Excellent. I will send you more information in the morning. Good evening, Vigo Roeder."

    Roeder inclined his head again, this time offering a slightly deeper bow, and retreated from the room, leaving Vorru alone with the Tevas-kaar, who watched him go with a sort of dismissive disinterest.

    Roeder was a snake, Vorru thought. But snakes had their uses, at least from time to time. And in this case, it was exactly that Roeder was a snake that made him useful. After all, a Vigo who wore the uniform of a Colonel in the Coruscant Constabulary was a snake used to living amongst a horde of Rihnessian mongooses, and it was exactly that kind of snake that Vorru needed.





     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  22. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb action and supplanting of Acib =D= Vorru's plans appear to be rolling along smoothly.

    =D=
     
  23. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006




    Chapter Fourteen

    Captain Atril Tabanne sat back in her chair, her legs crossed as she examined the plot. There were her allied ships: the Interdictor cruiser Corusca Rainbow, which was effectively blocking off the hyperlane to Ukio, its powered gravity wells rudely yanking any vessels attempting to transit through it back into normal space. Four Mon Calamari cruisers and the Star Destroyer Freedom were escorted by five Katana Dreadnaughts led by Garm Bel Iblis' old flagship, Peregrine. Most important of all was the newly arrived Endurance, first in a class of new fleet carriers and commanded by Admiral Bell. Endurance would likely play host to most of the fleet group's starfighters. Atril felt a momentary pang at the idea of losing the Rogues and having to break in a less-experienced squadron and CO.

    Her gaze moved past the friendlies to the unknowns. They'd stopped a dozen freighters in the last six hours. Any supplies that could be used to reinforce Ukio's defenses, or construct a new planetary industrial base, were forfeited and the ships turned around. Any Imperial vessels were impounded.

    Ukio was an agri-world. For the last few thousand years, it had been one of the primary food production sites in the Albrion sector. That had made it Grand Admiral Thrawn's primary target during the second phase of his war against the New Republic; while Thrawn's armies of clones had not needed training, they did need to eat. But its strict specialization in agriculture meant the planet had little other industry, and had long been reliant on galactic trade to maintain its prosperity.

    Atril didn't like the idea of squeezing around the planet's neck until the Empire agreed to let it go, but at least the people of Ukio wouldn't starve for it.

    Her sensors officer, the Togorian Traks'zim, examined the plot with her, examining the reports that came in as the A-wings and inspections teams submitted them. "[All independent shippers]," he hissed. "[None of these are Imperial freighters.]"

    "I can't say I'm surprised," she replied, tapping her lip with her forefinger thoughtfully. "We've been here a while; Imperial ships are probably taking the less explored, riskier routes to Ukio now. And that attrits them considerably."

    Their first day they'd captured a Star Galleon, one of the Empire's preferred military transport designs. The ship had refused to go down without a fight, leaving it little more than a wreck once the battle was done; it's stubbornness had cost two of their pilots their lives. Large enough to be a capable freight hauler, and well enough armed to not need an escort, the versatile craft had been loaded with industrial equipment that could've been assembled into a small factory for the production of blaster and laser parts. It wasn't enough to produce new weapons, but it would've been enough to produce plenty of spare parts for when the weapons the Ukio garrison ran down through hard use.

    Since then, they hadn't caught much.

    "[What do you think the Empire will do now, Captain?]"

    Atril shrugged. "For the moment, we're in a stalemate. They can't break our blockade, but we also can't take Ukio, not with its planetary shields intact. Not without doing a lot of collateral damage, anyway. Even if we took out Rogriss' Star Destroyers, we'd just be stuck in orbit. But every time they come out to fight us, we've kicked them around like we did at Hishyim."

    Traks'zim hissed unhappily, his large feline eyes refocusing on the display.

    The gravelly voice of her Bothan communications officer, Hiacun, drew her attention away from it. "Captain, General Bel Iblis has called a staff meeting aboard Orthavan, and requests that you, General Antilles, and Colonel Celchu attend," Hiacun reported with his typical Bothan briskness.

    She frowned. "Have the shuttle prepared, and inform the Rogues." She frowned deeper, murmuring, "I wonder if I still have my dress uniform" under her breath.



    * * *​



    She did not. Or at least, she couldn't remember where in her small quarters and locker she had stashed it, but no one else was wearing theirs. Another small perk of being on the right side, Atril mused.

    Garm Bel Iblis wasted no time. "We've found Invidious," he said, crossing his arms across his chest. He stood at the end of the long conference table. On one side of the table were some of the commanding officers of the squadron's capital ships: the Mon Calamari COs of Orthavan and Ivardal, Captains Irraerl and Sulkials, both looked distinctly uncomfortable in the drier air of the conference room (even the portable humidifier Bel Iblis had brought in wasn't helping much) though Captain Sair Yonka of Freedom and Admiral Areta Bell of Endurance both looked happy enough.

    On the other side of the table sat Bel Iblis' long-time personal aide, Sena Midanyl, flanked by Wedge and Tycho with Atril herself off to the side. Atril was by far the lowest-ranked person at the briefing, and she knew it.

    "Are we going after her?" Wedge asked.

    "No," Bel Iblis groused, his voice gravelly with annoyance. "She's in the only Imperial system nearby that's better fortified than Ukio. Intelligence reports that Invidious has been spotted undergoing repairs at the Imperial repair yard in the Linuri system."

    "Does that mean we've confirmed that Invidious is now under Rogriss' command?" asked Tycho.

    "Not exactly," said Midanyl, her calm, professional voice taking over for Garm's darker, slightly hoarse one. She was younger than Bel Iblis, but not by very much; her once raven hair now matched the General's grey. Atril also knew that Midanyl had recently become a grandmother, which probably explained some of her tiredness. "NRI hasn't been able to confirm a formal transfer order for Invidious, and her status within the Imperial fleet is still uncertain. However, given our most recent discussions with General Cracken, we have to operate under the assumption that Invidious has been assigned to Rogriss."

    "Which means," Bel Iblis took back over, "that we need to assume that Cracken's Drall prisoner is now working for Rogriss. Which means we need to assume that all of our communications are potentially compromised." He scowled. "As of now, all squadron vessels are forbidden from using the HoloNet except for absolutely vital communications. All communications that do use the HoloNet are to be encrypted up to maximum available standards, but assume that even that won't keep their contents confidential."

    The room was grim. Sair Yonka's expression in particular was dark with frustration.

    "This gives the Empire a significant strategic advantage," Areta Bell said. The red-haired Corellian was one of the longest-serving members of the New Republic fleet (Wedge and Luke Skywalker had escorted her freighter to safety at the Battle of Hoth), and for that service she'd been given one of the most coveted positions in the fleet, command of the brand new Endurance.

    "Yes, it does," Bel Iblis agreed. "Which is why we need to dismantle this Imperial fleet as quickly and as thoroughly as possible."

    That sent a ripple of surprise through the room. "We're going to attack?" asked Tycho carefully.

    "Not right away," Bel Iblis said reluctantly, his tone making clear he wished they could attack right away. "Not with the intent to take the planet, anyway. We're still expecting more reinforcements, and General Cracken informed me in his final HoloNet communication that he's sending help to deal with Ukio's shields, but that it may take some time to get here. In the meantime, we need to do as much as possible to keep the Empire off-balance." He nodded at his fleet commanders. "Which is why we're going to perform a hit-and-fade on Ukio later this week."

    Midanyl manipulated her datapad, and in the middle of the table a hologram of the Ukio system appeared, five planets orbiting around the star. "The Imperials have one in-system facility outside of Ukio's planetary defense shields," she explained, and the map zoomed to present a close-look at the fourth of the five planets, a large, ringed gas giant. "A space station orbiting the system's largest gas giant, Suwen, which produces small amounts of Tibanna gas. Intelligence reports suggest the Imperial forces are attempting to enlarge the platform's extraction capabilities in order to reduce their reliance on imported Tibanna for their blasters and turbolasers. We want to get in, knock out the station, do as much damage to Rogriss' fleet as we can, and get out."

    Bel Iblis smiled thinly. "I've sent couriers to the remainder of our fleet. This operation will require very careful timing without the HoloNet to coordinate, so we'll be mounting the attack in precisely three days at eleven-hundred hours, galactic standard. That timetable cannot be changed." He turned to look at Atril. "You, Captain Tabanne, will be responsible for taking advantage of the chaos to hit as many Imperial freighters present in-system as possible."

    "Yes, sir," she replied. A risky assignment, given how many ships would be flying around in-system…

    "What's Rogue Squadron's status, General Antilles?" Bel Iblis asked.

    "We'll be back up to near-optimal strength by then," Wedge said confidently. Atril couldn't help but notice Tycho giving his boss a slightly skeptical look, but Wedge's XO didn't verbalize whatever concerns he apparently had. His posture eased once Wedge sent him a cheeky grin.

    "Good," Bel Iblis replied. Apparently for him Wedge's word was enough. "For the moment I'm going to leave Rogue Squadron aboard Ession Strike. Rogue Squadron and Strike have formed a good team in the past, and it'll be your job to see to it that none of Rogriss' logistics vessels escape."

    Wedge and Tycho both winced. Atril tried not to take it personally; if she was still flying she'd prefer to be stationed on Orthavan or Endurance too.

    "If there are no more questions," Bel Iblis said, "that concludes the briefing. Get in, hit them so it hurts, and get home. We just need them off balance, understood?"

    His subordinates pushed back their seats, rose and saluted. "Understood sir," said Atril and Antilles in unison.

    "Good. You're both a credit to the Republic. Don't get killed. Dismissed."



    * * *​



    "So, are you planning to tell me why you're so cheery about our status?" Tycho asked as soon as they were out of the briefing room. Orthavan's corridors were busy with officers and crew going about their usual business, and Atril and Wedge squeezed against the side as a cargo repulsorlift was ushered down the center of the walkway. "You realize that we're still down five birds and two pilots, and I know what Emtrey says about small craft replacement," his XO called over the sounds of warming repulsors.

    The repulsorlift passed, leaving only the background noise of a battleship in its wake. "Yes, I know," Wedge replied at a normal volume, the corner of his mouth tugging for a brief moment. "And no, I'm not going to tell you. It's a surprise. General's prerogative."

    "Oh no," Tycho groaned, rubbing his forehead as Atril quietly settled in for a show. "Wedge Antilles planning surprises. Is this going to be like the time you tried to cook Tauntaun for Luke's birthday on Hoth? You pirated Alliance flight roster flimsi and emergency flares for confetti and just stood there as Janson hijacked the sound system with the theme from 'The Littlest Lostest Nerf'? As I recall we all ended up with confetti everywhere for a week."

    "You exaggerate. It was only a few days. And no. It's better."

    Tycho raised a very aristocratic eyebrow and launched another sally as Atril fought to keep her expression businesslike. "Is it going to be like the time you spent the better part of a month faking an exotic Ewok pet rescue so you could prank Janson into thinking the Wraiths had recruited an Ewok pilot?"

    "You're forgetting that I also managed to convince him that he needed to find the Ewok who had gotten loose on Mon Remonda, but he could only do so if he was in his skivvies and smeared with Ewok food. And no," Wedge said calmly.

    Atril laughed. "That was funny. Shalla said Janson wouldn't look any of you in the eye for a fortnight, and the holo Squeaky took made that rear of his Fleet Group Famous."

    "This one is still better," said Wedge, smirking at the memory. "You're going to have fun with it, Tycho." They stepped into the main axial lift, which started moving them towards Orthavan's main hangar, where their shuttle back to Ession Strike waited for them.

    "Then it must be like the time you and I set up that ambush at Yag'Dhul station for Lusankya and humiliated Isard. You remember—Booster Terrik ended up coming out of it the private owner of a Star Destroyer, which he's spent the last few years using to terrify the galaxy and our Internal Revenue Department?"

    Wedge scoffed. "Hardly terrify, Tycho. Errant Venture has taught Booster more about the market for Star Destroyer spare parts than he ever really wanted to know. He probably should've sold it to the New Republic and bought something more economical, but you know Booster, bigger is better. And no. It's better than that."

    The lift doors slid open, and the trio stepped into the hangar, Wedge and Tycho in front, Atril following behind.

    "Well if it's not like any of those times, then I suppose it'll be like the time you didn't tell the rest of the Rogues you called for reinforcements during their covert ops on Coruscant, and I showed up out of nowhere with half a squadron of Z-95s to save your rear at exactly the right moment?" Tycho said a bit petulantly.

    Wedge smiled. "Yes, Tycho. I'm expecting it to be exactly like that. You'll even get to be all snootily superior and Alderaanian about it."





     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2020
  24. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Enjoyed the briefing and got a large chuckle at the rundown of Roguish pranks =D=
     
    Bel505 likes this.
  25. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    What she said. :D
     
    Bel505 and WarmNyota_SweetAyesha like this.