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Before - Legends Rapid Redeployment (Tales from the Corps: pre-KotOR Jedi Civil War intrigue, OCs) Complete! 6/6/14!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Feb 27, 2014.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Title: Rapid Redeployment
    Author: Goodwood
    Type: Novella
    Genre: Intrigue, drama, action
    Characters: Revan, Malak, and scads of OCs.
    Rating: PG for some strong language

    This is a tie-in story, taking place between A Marine Went to Jedi Camp and Star Wars: Saber Battalion and ties into the Tales from the Corps, Vol. 1 anthology.

    Summary: For approximately four thousand years, from the earliest conflicts with the Sith Empire to the Ruusan Reformation, the Republic Marines did battle with the enemies of the Galactic Republic. Renowned for their skill in all aspects of galactic warfare as well as their traditions of duty, valor, honor and loyalty, the Marines were one of the foundation stones for civilization throughout the galaxy.

    War once again comes to the Republic, this time in the wake of an attack carried out by those who had only recently fought to save it. In the short time since the end of the Mandalorian Wars, the forces under the command of Revan and Malak have returned from their trek beyond the Unknown Regions as Lords of the Sith. After the raid on the shipyards at Foerost, a number of Marines are summoned to meet with the Commandant, Vice Admiral Voskel Dun'vei even as a pair of infiltrators ply their trade...


    Chapter One

    No matter the time of day or night, it was fairly easy to lose oneself in the sprawling ecumenopolis that called itself the jewel of the galaxy. Just go down a few levels, take a couple of ill-used turns and bam, the glittering facade of high civilization starts to give way to the inevitable decay of universal entropy. This simple principle was not lost on the two beings who currently made their way through the mid-level public housing project situated a few dozen kilometers from the edge of Galactic City by way of CoCo Town. One being, a dark-haired Human woman from Alderaan and the other, a blond Wroonian male from Druckenwell, knew all too well what carelessness would get you in places like these. Especially since the corridor they now trudged, weighed down with travel bags, was much thinner traffic-wise than it ought to have been.

    About the only positive thing, as far as they were concerned, was the fact that both of them were well-trained, experienced, and of the sort of mind-numbingly ordinary appearance that even well-seasoned intelligence agents have difficulty maintaining an air of suspicion over. They were clad in the height of middle-class Coruscanti attire, their outfits neither brand-new nor careworn; for all intents and purposes, they were a couple who were engaging in nothing more sinister than moving to better lodgings. As long as they avoided contact with anything resembling authority, be it civilian or military, they were golden.

    After all, their previous domicile had been a truly dreadful two-room apartment barely large enough for one being to comfortably occupy, let alone two of differing gender and species. Located almost six hundred levels down from the tops of the global city, it and the rest of the building had been decorated liberally with filth and graffiti. Their mutual two-day ordeal of having to endure such a place while setting up the preliminaries went a long way toward explaining the hostility that had sprouted up between them, which threatened to drive a wedge completely through the working relationship they had built up over the course of the last few years.

    "I don't care what he says," the woman muttered hotly to her pale blue-skinned companion, her voice low and outwardly calm. "Security is bound to be tight this soon into hostilities. I mean, just look at history; every time we pull a fast one like this, some deluded moron with too much power tries to raid the place, either to humiliate the government or to rescue some karking nutter."

    "That's why I'm here," the Wroonian murmured. "Alien enough to be swiftly disregarded, yet it is easy enough for me to pass as one of your kind if necessary."

    "That, and your economic interests would stand to benefit from this war no matter who wins," she shot back.

    His affable demeanor didn't slip a centimeter. "True, but irrelevant."

    The pair continued their trek, taking a turbolift a few corridors down that, for their comfort, started to become more congested. After three days on-world, the logistics of their mission were still being settled, but their contact had at least secured a more habitable safe-house. It was another eighteen levels down from their starting point of a nondescript air taxi pad, still within the upper reaches of the transition between luxury and the squalor of ancient neglect, and therefore quite livable considering the two operatives' respective homeworlds. Pedestrian traffic here was also significantly thicker and more eclectic in its constitution, providing a more comfortable buffer between them and the planet's constabulary.

    Having split up at the cluster of lifts going down, the two met at the entrance to the apartment with the Wroonian arriving first and the Human a few minutes later. Both were slightly out of breath from navigating the hustle and bustle of the early morning commute to work of thousands of sentient beings, while they themselves were on the way to their new place. Bucking the tide of hang-dog expressions wasn't exactly easy.

    "Whenever you're ready," the woman said glibly as she stepped to the side, freeing up the doorway so they could enter.

    The Wroonian pulled a card-key from a pocket inside his blazer and swiped at the lock. It beeped three times, then issued an unhappy blat not unlike the snide comment that a T3 unit might make. Unperturbed, he swiped the key again, at which the door gave a cheerful little whistle and hissed aside. His female partner, her hand dipped into her own jacket, swiftly eyeballed the front room before stealthily snaking inward while drawing the small holdout blaster she had kept concealed within. Following suit with his own weapon out, the pair of them quickly established that the place was deserted. "Are you sure that's necessary?"

    After reholstering her weapon, the Human had pulled another item from her belt: disguised as a standard comlink, it emitted a steady, somewhat throaty hum as she walked around the apartment, seemingly sampling the air for toxins or other hazards. "It only takes one to ruin an op," she retorted, then put the bug-sniffer away. "We're clear."

    "Easiest way to defeat a Republic surveillance mission," the Wroonian smirked, "is to use their own technology against them."

    "You would know, Palo," the woman bit out. "The only reason you're free to roam about is because of our patron's change of heart. That doesn't mean I have to trust you."

    "Ah, but it does dear Kimba," Palo replied mockingly. "For all you know, I could have been planning an epic double-cross from the word go. I may even be a disarmored Mandalorian, or a disguised Jed—"

    "Finish that sentence and die," Kimba shot back, looking daggers at the Wroonian as her blaster rematerialized seemingly instantaneously. "I don't care if Lord So-and-so flays my brain to bits for fun because killing you blows the op."

    Palo stepped back, raising his hands. "Oh for the love of—put that thing away before somebody hears the shot you are so desperate to give."

    "Then start taking this thing seriously!" Kimba demanded. "I'm sticking my neck out for you—under orders I might add—and frankly, I would like to know why and to what end."

    "As much as I would love to help you..." Palo began.

    "...I don't 'need to know.' Even rank amateurs can wrap their pea brains around that concept." After a beat, she put her weapon away once more and began to rearrange the furniture. It wasn't exactly difficult, as aside from a bed more suited to a married couple than a pair of insurgents, a basic refresher and sanisteam, and a barely adequate food prep station, the apartment was rather sparsely appointed. There were sockets for a holoviewer and a comm station, but neither instrument had yet been provided. It wasn't exactly a textbook startup routine, but as safehouses went it could have been much worse.

    "Where did he say the gear had been stashed?" Palo asked after an hour of effort most notably marked by the stony silence that had descended upon the lodging like a bantha-hair blanket.

    "Under that fat bed he somehow expects us to share," Kimba grumbled sourly. "He's certainly got a sick sense of humor, your boss."

    "He's not my boss, strictly speaking," Palo reminded her cheekily. "Just a contact that our employer and I happen to have had in common."

    "I knew that much. You're freelance at best."

    "And at worst?"

    "A suave, yet conniving backstabber who would sell his own grandmother for half a credit's worth of spice."

    — — —​

    Newly-minted Lieutenant Junior Grade Reeka Chorizzo smiled to her reflection as she adjusted the neck of her brand-new, freshly-tailored officers' dress reds. The ceremony had been a week ago, but the notion of her new rank and where she was heading next in her career had left her floating as though the gravity had gone to half-Standard. That was before the declaration of war the previous day, however; now she felt as though someone had replaced her innards with a permacrete mixer. Still, it wasn't every day you got to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps—in his own office, especially—and Reeka felt that one should always at least try to be their normal selves when meeting such an important figure.

    Not that she had fully gotten around to figuring out just who she herself was now, not after having been wounded in the gut by a Mandalorian slugthrower on that green hell they called Dxun, and then having spent two years in recovery and attending Officer Candidate School. Leadership she already knew something about, having served as an ad hoc company sergeant during the last war, it was more about learning the niceties of being a so-called "gentlebeing" as well as some of the logistics of interstellar warfare. What still had her somewhat vexed was the naval side of things; while she had passed all of her classes with good marks, her ears still rang with terms that most naval officers took for granted, such as rolling a ship to present undamaged shields, the proper deployment of starfighters, standard battle formations, and various communications protocols.

    Fortunately for her at this point, Admiral Dun'vei was not an unknown quantity. Reeka had had occasion during both her recovery and attendance at OCS to meet with and learn from officers who knew the Bothan commandant, or at least had had the chance to meet him. She had in fact written an article for Jarhead some time ago about the first five years of his time in that position, the prep work for which had included interviewing her battalion's commanding officer as well as a comm call to her division executive officer. It had been an unbiased look into the admiral's career, and the reaction from a wartime audience had been mixed. Still, her editor had loved the piece, and had submitted it for some journalism award or something.

    Reeka didn't even remember which one it was, nor did she care; the article hadn't won, but that wasn't the point. The point was that this was an opportunity to get a sense of the man himself, to see if he remained the highly competent, if somewhat scheming and occasionally taciturn, leader that he had been during the Mandalorian conflict and previous wars. Of course, it was unlikely that the man would consent to be interviewed by a lowly lieutenant fresh out of school, even given her experience as an enlistee and non-commissioned officer, and she was content with that. What occupied her attention instead was the fact that, with the war barely more than a day old and the armed forces reeling from the raiding of the Foerost fleet anchorage, the highest ranking Marine in the galaxy had specifically asked to see her. By name.

    And she had the oddest notion that she wasn't the only person who was being summoned.

    Satisfied at last that she looked presentable, Reeka left her hastily-rented Coruscant apartment; fortunately for this meeting she had already been on-planet when the request had been transmitted. While waiting to be assigned to a line unit in the usual "hurry up and wait" manner of all military bureaucracies the galaxy over, she had taken the time to kick back, relax, and have some fun. Humming a jaunty imitation of Sergeant Mulkaehey to herself that was in direct contrast to the song's words and meaning, she left her apartment and mounted the blood-red speeder bike she'd rented upon her arrival, her cover secured in her belt and the wind ruffling her ears and spines.

    — — —​

    Two wet pops sounded in quick succession as Tuffass stood up from his rack in the hermetically-sealed, ammonia-filled chamber where he slumbered. It was a temporary hotfix, worked up two hours after his arrival for the short time the Gand was expecting to stay on Coruscant, by a Navy quartermaster who would probably have preferred to be out fixing warships left crippled by yesterday's Sith attack. Instead, the hapless Gotal had been assigned to Tuffass as both a guide and interpreter of sorts; the infamous gunnery sergeant had never before visited the capital world, and the brass didn't want him getting lost in the bowels of the city-planet. Grunting at this turn of events, he attached his refilled breath mask and, skyclad, cycled the chamber clean and stepped out and into a private suite which he felt he didn't deserve.

    Tuffass had shrugged off all of this fanfare and preparation with his usual gruffly stoic demeanor, accepting whatever orders he was given and determined, even after all these years, never to show weakness of any kind. The Gand normally refused any special treatment as a matter of course, even going so far as to buck back—within the bounds of protocol, of course—at the efforts of his superior officers to accommodate his increasingly obvious disability. Today, however, he would put up with it. Though he still had a crop of maggots to attend to back on Corulag, he was sure that they could manage to continue getting into trouble and embarrassing themselves for a few days. Under the tender mercies of his junior drill instructors, they would still learn and learn well. He had, after all, been summoned by name to meet with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, for reasons that would reveal themselves in due time.

    When the Commandant calls, everybody listens.

    Not that he hadn't meditated on the event, of course. He had in fact spent the entire trip to Coruscant deep within the mists, attempting to divine the meaning of this unexpected development and how it related to the reignition of hostilities. Despite his longtime mastery of the art, however, the mists had been strangely—one could even call it eerily—blank on the matter. It was as though they were playing tricks on him, or else setting him up for a surprise, but no Gand would ever hazard such a guess. The mists did not lie, they did not deceive those who knew how to read them, they simply showed possibilities and gave clues as to their likelihood.

    Perhaps the mists themselves are confused, Tuffass thought to himself as he finished donning his dress reds. That explanation seemed to click within his mind as he pondered it, as though an ethereal puzzle piece had been found and placed accordingly, and he found himself feeling a hint of relief. Satisfied that he was not going to feel burdened with matters that would not impress the Commandant, the Gand left his quarters and rendezvoused with his guide. The Navy chief looked like what Tuffass would if he had had fur and a taller, leaner frame; perpetually irritated with the universe but not in an unmanageable way.

    "Gand apologizes for his presence pulling you from your preferred and rightful duty," he said as the two walked through the barracks complex toward the speeder lot.

    The Gotal whuffed a meaningful sigh. "That is the seventh time you have done so, Sergeant," he replied resignedly. "And though I know you mean well, it is beginning to become irritating."

    Even after all these years, it had never gotten much easier associating with the Navy, Tuffass realized. He made a mental note to attempt to rectify that long-standing oversight as soon as possible, however in the meantime he resigned himself to having failed to live up to his reputation with the chief. Not that it mattered much, as he suspected that after the visit with the Commandant, the two would never meet again in this corporeal existence.

    — — —​

    Vice Admiral Voskel Dun'vei could only recall ever having worn his dress red uniform twice since his ascent to commandant. The first time had, of course, been at the event where he had been inaugurated. The second had been at the announcement of victory over the Mandalorian clans at Malachor V, after which for reasons best left to the Supreme Chancellor, he of all people had been asked to deliver the news over the HoloNet. It was therefore something of a minor puzzle for him to wonder over that every Marine who didn't already report to him, when summoned to his office, insisted on wearing their best attire with full military honors and trappings. Personally he preferred the old pre-reform Marine Combat Uniform, or MCU, but had recognized long before that it was not appropriate for an admiral—or even a commander or captain—to be seen wearing common utilities. Every time he was given command of a unit in the field, he had instituted standing orders that all soldiers were to wear service greens when on duty except in cases where full battle armor and kit was called for. It was one of those fastidious little things that male Bothans were prone to, and Voskel was well aware of the fact that he was the butt of many a whispered joke because of it.

    It bothered him not one iota, however. Many great leaders had their personality quirks; that was part of what made them memorable in the first place. Admiral Sakira Tobonne, the Corps' founder, had had a habit of inspecting his soldiers' shoes, insisting that they be shiny at all times. Voskel's reasoning for his own policy had been to institute some pride in the soldiers and officers under his command, to demonstrate that they could outperform any other unit in the Corps and look good while doing so. It had worked to a certain degree when all he was responsible for was a single platoon and later a company, but when he had later assumed command of a battalion, he had found that the rule had become unenforceable. Particularly since his company commanders hadn't exactly been enthusiastic about the idea, and especially once hostilities with the Onderonians had broken out, which had led almost seamlessly to Exar Kun's uprising.

    It had been somewhat of a relief, then, to find that upon becoming a staff officer he learned that the wearing of service greens on duty was the norm rather than the exception. The newer, post-reform Battle Dess Uniforms were for frontier units or those on tour aboard ship, where it was difficult enough to maintain appearances without having to properly care for more elaborate attire. Command can change a person, and high command even more so, and a being can more easily realize how silly they may have been in simpler times. It was that somewhat happier thought that coursed through his mind as he went through the motions of arriving at the complex that housed the Republic Military High Command's Marine Corps branch, where every being and their pet reek were so anxious to offer formal greetings that one may have been forgiven for thinking they had all been sitting on coiled springs, their saluting muscles made of elastic bands.

    "At ease, everyone," he would inevitably reply to all the choruses of "Good morning, sir!"

    At the outer room to his office he was met by his adjutant, a Zabrak captain two decades his junior who had only achieved her rank and position a month prior. "Good morning, Admiral," she said rather jauntily, as though the news of conflict came and went every day. "Did you rest well?"

    He bit back the reply he longed to hurl at the hapless woman, something about not having gotten a proper night's rest since leading a charge on Iziz alongside the rocket-jumpers and ending up with armor soaked to his fur with blood and offal. It was an exaggeration of course, but one that would be believed, and right now the last thing he wanted was to get himself and his staff riled up. "Well enough for the job," he said instead, putting enough emphasis on the word job to remind his aide that the Republic was, once again, caught up in a full-scale shooting war, this time against legions of those who, six months previous, he would have counted as trusted allies. "Will my requested appointments be making it today?"

    Captain Mir-Vostok bobbed her head, horns the color of creamed caf poking through her ebon hair. "For the most part, yes sir. However, we've had a slight delay in your third booking, she did have to take a packet all the way out from Dantooine, after all."

    "Of course," the admiral grunted. "But you've made certain that she will arrive today?"

    "It will be a near run thing sir, but yes."

    "Never accept a 'near run thing' if you can help it, Captain," Voskel replied crisply, squaring his shoulders and locking eyes with his adjutant. "That's my command advice for the day. We can't afford any screw-ups with this, not with those Sith bastards coming at us again."

    He turned to his secretary, a Twi'lek male who looked as though he desperately regretted having left his unit to take this posting. "Let me know when they arrive. Otherwise, I do not wish to be disturbed short of a supernova or an enemy armada bearing down on this very spot."

    "Yes, Admiral."

    Voskel entered the well-appointed office and sealed the door, growling intermittently as he trudged over to his desk and activated the in-built computer terminal. It would be another few hours before the first of his guests would arrive, and he had a lot to do in the meantime. Some reports just couldn't wait, and there were some things he could prepare to keep certain parties occupied if the occasion warranted it. He hoped that things would go as smoothly as he had planned; a slip-up wouldn't be catastrophic, but he hated having his timing thrown. Such things were an inevitability of war, it was true, but yesterday the galaxy had been at peace.

    Damn that Revan. Damn him and his pet Malak. Oh, he had certainly welcomed their help when it was needed, when the Mandos were practically knocking on Coruscant's door and happily nuking worlds that hardly deserved such atrocities being visited upon them. He had even permitted the two Knights to utilize as many units of Marines as they needed, from all branches and departments. Even a few honor guards had joined up with the Revanchists, although they had done so in the guise of ordinary soldiers; only one of them had returned from that conflict alive. If he had known what would happen, though—what had in fact happened...

    ...he would have done nothing different. In times of war the Republic needed its Marines, there was no other way around it, and regretting any command decisions made in the past was to undermine one's very position and authority. Thus far no Marine had proven so traitorous as the pair of fallen Jedi who had led them, but that hardly mattered to him at the moment. There remained plenty of time for duplicity to manifest itself, from any and all possible sources. Voskel was not such a fool as to assume that none under his command were capable of such high treason, but some small part of him held out hope that the disease that infected so many of the military—as well as the titular Revanchists—was not so contagious.

    Time would tell on that front. Meanwhile, he had work to do.
     
  2. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Sounds intriguing. I can only imagine what the secret meeting could be about...
     
  3. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Two


    "Of all the foul, disgusting ways to pull my leg, he chooses this?!"

    It didn't take the Force to tell Palo that Kimba was not in the least bit happy about their predicament. While he couldn't exactly blame her for her near-constant state of high dudgeon, it had swiftly begun to outstay its welcome; things were not improved when what Palo had assured her was a vital piece of equipment had begun displaying rather graphic images of a lewd nature when Kimba had activated it. Their patron hadn't exactly been thorough in the briefing he had been given, and his partner had had to rely on only what he had been permitted to tell her, which wasn't much. Lord So-and-so, which was how he had identified himself when communicating via encrypted hypercomm, seemed to know already what the two were capable of. Despite his apparent penchant for practical jokes, why else would he have paired them up for such an essential task?

    Palo would have been lying if he told himself that he didn't care, but he also knew that the stakes were too high to get caught up on minutiae. The war was less than forty hours old, and they had been ordered to get this done before the week was out or don't bother reporting back. It had been his decidedly clear impression that "don't bother" meant "find a dark hole in the galaxy and hide in it for the next several years."

    The Wroonian picked up the trinket that Kimba had cast aside in her fit of disgust. Apparently her ken was more focused on tactics and highly-directed violence rather than the latest in subterfuge and technological wizardry. He supposed that was inevitable, after all; she was after all an ex-Marine who had been kicked out of the Corps years prior to the Mandalorian invasion, and thus had missed the chance for glory on the battlefield. Until their patron had come along, that is. For his part he had been a slicer and smuggler working the fringe in a patched-together hulk of a freighter, on the run from a clan of bucketheads he had swindled before running afoul of a Republic cruiser. Never would he have dared to dream that his attempt to explain away the cargo hold full of Mando tech and weapons in his ship as "doing his patriotic duty" would be taken seriously. And it went without saying that they only knew each other by codename, as palo was actually a Wroonian term for a truly bizarre act of sexual liaison that had been popular as an epithet some thirty years ago.

    He flipped the item over, which was about three-quarters the size of a standard datapad and gilded up like an elaborate portable holodisplay, tapping a tiny button just visible beneath an elaborate engraving with his fingernail. A small hissing sounded as the backplate eased away on a pair of miniscule hinges to reveal its true purpose: a scan-proof casing for a small, semitransparent black item shaped like a trapezoid. What had appeared to be an engraved pattern was in fact a circuit wafer, which when removed from its frame also took most of the backplate with it. "Ah, I see now," he said in hushed tones. "The button you pushed, it's a decoy."

    "Because if we'd been inspected more thoroughly, the instant the customs officers would have played it they would have dismissed it," Kimba replied, comprehension setting in. "Doesn't stop me hating that schutta's guts, though."

    "I do not believe he cares what we think of him," Palo replied with a smirk. "Only that we get the job done."

    "And you still haven't told me what the job is," she retorted acidly. "Only that I'm to keep your feeble skull out of trouble and whatever that is you've got out of the hands of Republic Intelligence."

    Palo smiled, genuinely this time as he extracted the trapezoidal module. "It is a holotap, my dear," he said as though presenting a finely-cut Corusca gem. "Its purpose is to wirelessly sample hypercomm channels for keywords, sending a carrier signal along the same path which will alert monitoring stations elsewhere to intercept any transmissions containing those words."

    "Assuming those channels aren't secured," she snorted. "Even I can figure that much out."

    "Ah, but that is what this circuit wafer is for," he said, gesturing with it before setting it on their work table. He placed the device next to the wafer. "This circuit contains a cipher for a very specific channel, which the stations I mentioned will be prepared to receive. All we have to do is hook it up to a public hypercomm terminal located near our objective, wait for it to activate and synch up with the holotap, and then remove and dispose of it. The infected terminal will be permanently unscrambled on that particular channel, undetectable unless one knows what to look for."

    "You make it sound so simple," Kimba deadpanned as she watched him work. "How do we actually get your trinket installed where it'll do any good? Other than amusing some adolescent with a xeno fetish, I mean."

    "Well, it's rather easy. First of all, I will need a block of halsa wood, twenty centimeters on a side and half a meter long. Then, if you can manage it, two sets of Republic Marine dress red uniforms."

    Kimba gave Palo the kind of look that could scorch transparisteel. "You have got to be kidding me."

    "Oh, I'm quite sure that you wish I was."

    — — —​

    She hadn't always been a speeder jockey, but when Reeka had finally decided to take the plunge and try her hand at flying one, it had been love at first ride. This had been years ago, well before the Mandalorian war, while stationed out on the frontier and having to combat boredom more than anything else. To abate the sensation as best she could, she had cajoled one of the speeder scouts into letting her learn the craft, since she herself served in that capacity albeit with her feet planted firmly on the ground. The Elomin pilot had been quite surprised at how quickly Reeka had taken to the bike, almost like a flitnat to a warm breeze, beating out the proficiency scores of all four riders stationed there. Not long afterward, she had been assigned leadership of the base's speeder detachment, no doubt owing to her rank of staff sergeant.

    Zooming across the skylanes of midday Coruscant was worlds away from that old posting, however, but no less welcome for it. Reeka viewed the cityscape, with its narrow corridors and congested traffic lanes, as a fun diversion from her usual martial activities of navigating unforgiving terrain, hoping to find the enemy before they found her. Of course, she fully expected to be given somewhat of a different role upon her assignment to a line company. Platoon leader, if nothing else, but definitely not a billet which would allow for regular runs on such vehicles; with war having erupted once more, the Corps could use every combat veteran it could muster. That was why she had rented the flashy model she now navigated through noontime traffic, enjoying herself to the fullest while on her way to visit the Commandant.

    Thinking about those times gone by caused her to remember an old comrade, who had gone down fighting during the last war, and who had been so completely hopeless at piloting any sort of vehicle that used repulsorlifts. How she would have laughed at Reeka's new hobby, jokingly accusing her of taking up flying just to spite her groundbound friend. She wished the old Brain was still around. Perhaps the Human would be occupying the empty rear saddle, clinging to Reeka for dear life as, in their mutual glee, she would attempt to make her passenger airsick. Her heart skipped a beat, a sensation which had little to do with the breakneck turn she had just executed to get on an approach vector to her destination.

    The comm unit came alive with the civilian traffic controller's complaints at the barely-legal maneuvering, but it was soon smothered by an automated droid response expressing, rather rudely, the fact that the craft was currently under military jurisdiction and thus immune to censure. The wound that occupied her heart as she thoroughly ignored the chatter was a well-healed one, however, and so Reeka didn't feel quite as bad as she would have done a couple of years ago for laughing at this amusing chain of non-events. After acknowledging her arrival with the military traffic net, she gently set the bike down at the VIP entrance to the Republic Military High Command complex, exchanged salutes with the Navy petty officer on valet duty after securing her hat, then walked inside.

    "Lieutenant Reeka Chorizzo, reporting as requested," she said to the receptionist, a scarred Human sergeant who gave an impression of slight relief that his days of combat were over.

    "You're expected, ma'am," he answered in a gravely sort of voice that was nonetheless as warm as he could make it. "Just follow the line of brass."

    The remark caused her to chuckle slightly, but Reeka clamped down on the mirth and replied with a simple nod before proceeding deeper into the complex to where the admiral laird.

    — — —​

    "We're here, Sergeant," the Navy chief said into the windscreen as he brought the small military airspeeder to rest. "If it's all the same with you, I'd rather not be caught dead inside Jarhead Central."

    "That is alright," the Gand replied in a rasp. "Tuffass suspects that he will not require your services any further." Without waiting for a reply, whether it be snarky or not, he popped the hatch and, mustering his gumption, rose and exited the craft in a manner as close to that of a normal biped as he could manage.

    "Stupid, uninspired little void-brain," he hissed to himself as he walked toward the entrance, the whine of engines marking his ride's departure. As he neared the door, however, he noticed a blood-red speeder bike being coaxed along by another Navy being who almost seemed to be afraid of the machine he was attempting to handle. Turning back toward his destination, he saw the entryway close behind the back of another red-dressed Marine, who bore an aspect that he thought he ought to have recognized even at such a bad angle. Shrugging the thought aside he followed suit and, after announcing the purpose of his visit and navigating several corridors, found himself in a reception area that didn't seem nearly as expansive—or expensive—as the headquarters of a military branch's leader should have been. Though he was among the most infamous members of the Corps in living memory, Tuffass had thus far managed to avoid having to meet the admiralty, at least in person.

    He didn't particularly enjoy being put underneath a microscope.

    "Gunnery Sergeant Tuffass, reporting as requested," he rattled off somberly to the admiral's secretary. He felt a sort of kinship with the Twi'lek that wasn't at all unexpected given the lines on his gray visage and the the closed-off way he wore his lekku, but he dismissed the notion as irrelevant even as the man stood up and thrust a hand toward him.

    "It's an honor to meet you in person, sir," he said jovially as the Gand, recognizing the meaning behind the gesture after a short beat, took the proffered hand. "The Commandant wasn't expecting you for another few hours."

    Tuffass nodded, a smirk visible behind his breath mask. "The packet from Corulag was piloted by a less-than-sane pilot," he replied glibly. "And Gands do not require the same amount of rest as most other species."

    The sergeant, obviously a combat veteran, nodded his head in understanding. "Bet that came in handy out in the field."

    "Yes...and no," the gunnery sergeant replied with a shrug. "Tuffass would prefer to leave it at that."

    The receptionist gestured toward a seat. "Unfortunately, the Commandant is currently occupied. As I said we weren't expecting you this soon, but I'll let him know you're here."

    "Thank you, Sergeant."

    As the Twi'lek resumed his own seat Tuffass took the offered chair, which turned out to be deceptively soft and decidedly comfortable. He permitted himself a few moments of idleness as the noncom spoke into a device that had to be a two-way intercom unit, distractedly ticking off all the times in the past six months he had received similar greetings. He lost count at about a hundred, which was roughly the point when the sergeant called for his attention. "The Commandant will see you now, Gunnery Sergeant."

    The pronouncement caught the Gand somewhat unawares; he had not seen anyone leave the inner office, nor had anyone else joined him in what had swiftly become the admiral's private waiting room. Not for nothing, though, was he one of the most respected soldiers in the Corps, as he simply stood once more (while stifling a small stab of pain) and headed through the office door, which slid aside to admit him.

    — — —​

    "Yes, I did see that piece on me you submitted," Voskel admitted easily, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers. Such an amusing woman, this Lieutenant Chorizzo, whom he understood fancied herself as something of a writer in addition to being a fine tactician and combat leader. Her frank appraisal of his stewardship of the Corps had been thrust under his nose almost as soon as it had hit the circuits, and he would not have expected such a heartfelt evaluation to come from someone who had spent so much time in the ranks and on the front lines. From a committee of political appointees, yes, but anything from that lot would have been flavored with enough bile to choke a gornt. The Rodian's article, however, had been singularly disinclined to take sides, and instead invited the reader to draw his, her or its own conclusions.

    "It was a while ago, needless to say," she said somewhat hesitantly. "So much has changed since then."

    "No doubt," he replied flatly, then favored the junior officer with a rare smile. "But sometimes it helps to have perspective on one's efforts, no matter the source. Though your article had a few detractors, I liked it. I also found your analysis of my selection process for filling in Admiral Par'fey's staff appointments of particular interest. Perhaps in my zeal to overcome the apparent speciesism that the former Commandant engaged in—not that I agree with those aspirations, mind you—I may have ended up picking candidates of lesser ability."

    That brought Chorizzo up short. She seemed to tense up, blinking her eyes rapidly for a moment, then let out a sigh of relief. "That is most kind of you to say, Admiral."

    "A leader is only as good as his word," he pointed out. "And an officer is judged by the performance of his subordinates, for good or for ill."

    The intercom on his desk, a text-to-speech-and-back-again model which contained a small display that only he could see, blinked for his attention: APPOINTMENT TWO HAS BEEN WAITING PER YOUR ORDERS. He subtly clicked a button marked with a large A, then looked back at the Rodian, wondering if she wondered why she had been summoned. The two had not been conversing long, mostly avoiding the topic of the day-old war that was still producing a tsunami of reports which were all being attended to by his staff. There was one report in particular that he looked forward to reading; submitted by a Mirialan fighter pilot named Piccolé, it supposedly described in great detail the tactics and some of the equipment of Revan's Sith forces.

    "Speaking of an officer's subordinates," he asked into the silence, "what did you know of Darth Revan before his fall?"

    The lieutenant locked eyes with him in startled bewilderment. "I...I don't think there's anything I could tell you about him that you wouldn't already know, sir. He's...well, I'm still having trouble coming to terms with it."

    With timing he couldn't have wished for were he to receive blessings from a hundred Jedi Masters, the door to the commandant's office hissed open as the Rodian had stammered out her reply.
    "Frankly sir, Tuffass wouldn't care to know anything," the Gand announced into the vacuum that had descended upon the place after Chorizzo concluded her statement. "He's a scum-sucking gornt-punching pile of worm sperm who deserves whatever vile treatment that his beloved Corps will visit upon his person."

    Voskel grinned toothily; now here was a Marine worthy of the title. "Ah, I am so glad you could make it, Gunnery Sergeant. As I understand, you are already familiar with my other guest this afternoon."
    Reeka looked from the commandant to the new arrival and back again. Throwing protocol out the airlock, she sprung from her seat and enveloped the stocky sergeant in a firm hug, nearly lifting him from the floor in her enthusiasm. After a beat she put him down, then blushed furiously as she resumed her seat. "Begging your pardon, sir..."

    Never before had this office, to Voskel's knowledge, been subject to such a blatant violation of behavioral standards, and never before had he cared less about such things. He had, after all, deliberately set up this little reunion, full in the knowledge that his first interviewee was just as close to his second interviewee as both of them were to his third, who sadly had not yet arrived. Yes, there was a war on. Yes, he was the highest-ranking Marine in the galaxy. And yes, there were matters of some urgency that another officer might have seen to instead of permitting this almost court martial-level dereliction of duty. But in all fairness, he had begun to put this together a week ago; it was only that treasonous announcement from "Darth" Revan that had prompted his other guest to make contact and request—nay, demand—an immediate meeting.

    "Well, now that we're acquainted," Voskel said genially into the even thinner silence, "we can begin to discuss why I have called you two here. Tuffass, you will want to be sitting for this. As much as you may want to hide it, I know all about your condition and it doesn't matter to me one jot."

    There hadn't been any intentional rebuke in the statement, and it hadn't exactly been an order, so the admiral was left to wonder how the Gand would take it. But the drill instructor simply did as he was told, betraying no more emotion at the forceful invitation than any experienced noncom would at being handed their next assignment. Once he had dragged over and mounted a second chair, he placed his hands on its arms in an almost meditative posture.

    "So let's get this started," he continued, tapping at the keypad in front of him which caused two sheets of flimsiplast, printed double-sided, to exude from a recessed printing unit in his desk. He took them and handed one each to his guests. "What you have before you is a basic table of organization and equipment for the entire Republic Marines, which was compiled one week ago. What I need from each of you is a frank opinion on the state of the Corps and which units you know for absolute certainty—or as near to it as you are comfortable with—that we can trust not to betray us to Revan and Malak. You may wonder why I'm asking you to do this, when I have at my disposal a large number of staff officers who are possibly more qualified to offer an opinion. You may also be wondering why this meeting is taking place so soon after hostilities. But as longtime veterans, you may be aware of factors and events that I and my staff may not."

    He was inventing wildly and he knew it, but Voskel was not ashamed in the slightest. It was extremely important to him that these two be in the room when she arrived; he couldn't exactly explain why, but long and bitter experience had told him that his gut feeling was to be trusted absolutely. There was something about the trifecta of beings he was bringing together that teased at his senses, due in no small part to some machinations of the Force no doubt. And right now the Republic needed as much Force behind its forces as he could wrangle.

    As the pair before him buried themselves in their flimsis, he began to subtly tap at the desktop, pondering what might be taking the captain so long. Everything had been cleared for as rapid a transit as possible, including opening up an entry vector with such a high emergency clearance that it bypassed or simply plowed through every established lane of traffic, enabling one to step from starship to reception room with the absolute minimum of fuss. Arranging it had cost him more than one political favor, as too had the commandeering of a fast courier to transport her to the capital from all the way out on the Rim. The math lined up, but there was always what her kind liked to call "the Human factor."

    "Admiral, if I may..." the lieutenant spoke up after several long minutes of silence, lumping up the blanket of tension that had cloaked the room. Voskel nodded, at which she continued. "This report is...featureless, sir. It tells me nothing about the units themselves, when they last saw combat, what battles they were in, their morale. We lost a lot of good people to the Mandos, including..."

    A catch seemed to lodge in her throat, and the Bothan knew why. She cleared her voice, then resumed speaking. "Sir, I believe that Revan deliberately excluded us from the final battles. The retaking of Althir, the trap he set at Malachor, we missed it because he sent us back home."

    The fur on Voskel's neck rose sharply. The Marines who had served with the Revanchists had been a significant portion of the whole, it was true, but not an overly huge one. Plenty of garrison forces had not seen so much as a probe droid sent their way throughout the entire conflict, and a few battalions had remained Coreward to protect key installations such as the shipyards at Kuat, Corellia and Sluis Van, as well as the capital itself. As such, the chain of command for those units deployed to the Mandalorian fronts had been almost entirely separate. "Please, elaborate," he prompted.

    "Tuffass hates to interrupt the lieutenant," the Gand put in, sounding as apologetic as he ever got, "but he wonders what the Commandant expects him to add. He's been training maggots throughout this last war and will continue to do so for as long as he is able."

    Chorizzo shrugged and nodded it off. "I can't point to a specific date, since I was in a kolto tank recovering from...from Dxun when the announcement came. But when they decanted me and brought me back around, I was on a transport heading to Coruscant with an OCS invitation waiting for me. It had been flagged as a short-lister by General Sunrider, which meant there was already a berth waiting for me."

    "Hold a moment, Lieutenant," Voskel interrupted mildly, hoping to put to rest a minor, if nagging, inconsistency in the record. "You gave a eulogy at a funeral before you were wounded, correct? But wasn't your unit already engaged on Dxun at that time?"

    Reeka shrugged hopelessly, a hint of anguish in the gesture and her voice. "We were, yes. But General Sunrider had me pulled out for the occasion. I had refused at first, but then...then they told me who had died. I was back on the line within four days, though. Just in time for the fighting to..."

    Her voice trailed off into a meaningful disquiet. The admiral didn't need her to finish the sentence for him, he had been given an appropriately grim briefing about the battle after its conclusion. The dates made sense, though; it was at that point that Revan had begun ordering the main units to disperse and attempt the maze of jungle maneuvers designed to draw the Mandalorian defenders away from their most strongly-held positions while at the same time probing for weaknesses. Chorizzo's unit had taken heavy losses in one of these long, drawn-out feints. "I see," he replied somberly. "That's all I needed to know. Do either of you have anything more to say on this matter?"

    Somewhat to his surprise, the Rodian displayed the sort of emotional tack-shifting that in his experience, only the finest officers were capable of. "Just this: of the battalions listed here, I would be most worried about the Third. They in particular suffered quite heavily from attrition, particularly during the ambush at Jaga's Cluster. They also lost a lot of leaders, first Commander Dolde at Ithor, then Commander Karbuso at Contruun, as well as Commander Reyolé." She paused, her eyes drooping slightly, then plowed on. "In addition, it's been on a lot of veteran Marines' minds that Revan sent the Corps home as a sort of punishment for the loss of the fleet at Jaga's Cluster, but I'm not convinced of that."

    Voskel tapped his chin in thought. "What is your reasoning behind this?"

    "Begging the admiral's pardon, but the answer seems obvious," Tuffass interjected again, his head bowed slightly as though expressing shame. "Gand knows full well that war takes a beating on the units that are sent in. He and his brethren had a hell of a time getting new maggots through boot and into line units, and he is ashamed to admit that some corners were cut. It is therefore possible that...Revan...saw those Marines who remained as essential to protecting the heart of the Republic while his core forces pursued and eliminated the Mandalorians."

    "But Tuffass, that doesn't account for General Sunrider," Reeka asked, looking perplexed. "I heard that she went back to the Jedi...but then she disappeared..."

    The Gand blinked, equally puzzled. "Gand doesn't know this Sunrider, Lieutenant."

    "Vima Sunrider? The daughter of Nomi? She was the one who asked me to speak...made the arrangements and everything..."

    "I can see this is difficult for the both of you," Voskel interrupted gently, spreading out his hands for emphasis. "I don't normally get this informal, but I trust the two of you because of more than your service records. Admiral Par'fey spoke highly of you, Tuffass, and General Sunrider of you, Chorizzo. I don't know where the Jedi Master has gone any more than you, but trust me when I say that I wish she were here with me now—"

    He broke off as the text display on his intercom flashed: SHE IS HERE.
     
  4. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Looks interesting so far and the relationship between Reeka and Tuffass is cute.
     
  5. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Three

    The door chimed, three short bleats and one longer blat followed by a ding, at which Palo holstered his blaster and pressed the actuator. "Did you get the items I requested?"

    "You can stop the polite charade," Kimba snapped. "You're not fooling anyone."

    "In that case, I'll ask you what took so kriffing long," he retorted angrily, gesticulating at a wall chronometer. "It's almost midnight and we need to get on this in a Coruscant minute."

    "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get hold of halsa wood on this planet?!" Kimba ground out angrily as she unlimbered a rucksack and dumped its contents onto the sofa. "The stuff has to be imported from Fresia, which is the nearest planet that grows it, and even then more is sent out to the Rim than Coreward. Getting the uniforms and the necessary insignia took all of fifteen minutes at an outfitter a hundred meters up the boulevard, the rest of the time I had to waste trying to track down your karking brick of wood! What the stang do you need it for, anyway?"

    Palo took all this in with an expression carved from stone. "This," he said, extracting an instrument from a waistband pouch. "Observe, if you are so inclined."

    Picking up the block of halsa, he flicked the device's thick end, which caused a knife blade to spring forth from the broad tip which Kimba realized formed a sort of hilt. He brought the two items over to the workbench they had set up, and began whittling. As the Wroonian worked, she found herself watching in awe as flecks of material began to fall away from the whole like leaves from a tree in autumn. His technique was almost organic in its rhythm, with no motion wasted, the end point of a cut just as important as its depth or where it began. His speed too was almost mesmerizing, and the Human caught herself open-mouthed when the block began to take the shape of a warship. It was amorphous at first, but as Palo worked the material, its new form began to slide almost effortlessly into being, that of an Interdictor-class cruiser.

    How he managed to carve out the space between the upper and lower forward hulls, all without splitting the piece, she would never know.

    However, his efforts didn't end there. Ever so gently, he began to carve into what would be the ventral hull astern of the split on a real cruiser. But he didn't simply make a hole there, he ever so carefully extracted a chunk approximately twice the size of the holotap from that area. With the plug in hand, he gently placed the wooden model aside and bisected the piece horizontally. He set it aside, took up the cruiser, and placed the semitransparent device inside, reinserting the plug and injecting an adhesive into the almost indistinguishable gaps. For good measure, he took up a hunk of unused material and carved from it a basic stand, which when glued to the model camouflaged the plug quite expertly. With everything finished, Palo took a great sigh of relief, which to her surprise Kimba found herself mirroring.

    "Impressive," she said quietly. "Most impressive."

    Palo winked. "A gift for the Commandant," he said brightly, though the shadow of exhaustion was easy to spot on his pale blue features. "Now do you understand?"

    "He does have a fondness for such trinkets," Kimba recalled almost wistfully.

    "Really?" Palo inquired, brow raised. "I wonder how you would know that."

    "I had the dubious pleasure of being dismissed from the service by that very dog, if you must know," Kimba blurted out, some of her old piss and vinegar returning. "Oh, this was long before he was appointed Grand High Marine Man. He was a captain then, a staff officer in the division I was assigned to at the time. Basically the guy they get to run personnel issues. So when I got hauled in for insubordination, I got to get a real good look at his personal collection."

    Palo gave a dismissive guffaw, feeling it was an appropriate response. "And what prompted you to be so...uppity?"

    "I suppose you won't let it rest if I just told you to cram that question where the stars don't shine," Kimba grumbled resignedly, flinging herself onto the sofa next to the jumble of uniforms. "I joined the Marines to toughen myself up, to see some action and come out with a few bragging rights and a career ahead of me. But ever since halfway into boot camp I started going loggerheads with people in authority. Dun'vei called it 'a long history of rubbing people the wrong way,' which is a fitting metaphor for a Bothan. He told me plain; the peacetime Corps didn't need a headache like me gunking up the works, so I was let go. Still had a year to go on my hitch, but they kicked me out anyway. Didn't even bother with a dishonorable discharge, either."

    Palo began chuckling to himself, to which Kimba responded with a molten look that soon lost its edge as she joined in the mirth. "Their loss, I guess."

    "You make it sound as though you miss them," Palo surmised.

    Kimba blinked at him, then shrugged. "Yes and no. I had it figured that I'd get to see the galaxy on the government's decicred and that there'd be a few good fights in it for me. After they let me go I tried making it as a shockboxer, but no one with enough pull would promote me. Gave it up and started drifting across the Rim working security gigs, and that's when Lord So-and-so found me."

    "He would never tell me his name," Palo observed. "And his face was always either masked or cloaked in a hood. I suppose it was the same with you?"

    "Yep. So, how'd you end up on this fool's errand."

    Palo held up his left hand and began ticking off items with his fingers. "First, there was the smuggling, then there was the slicing—both of computers and wood—and then there was the arms-dealing. I got in too deep with the Mandos helping to make weapons for them, so as soon as I heard that they were making war on the Republic, I absconded with a freighterful of contraband of the juiciest kind. Then I got intercepted by the very same cruiser I just carved, trust me when I say you never quite forget seeing a hull like that up close."

    "Our patron was on that ship, I take it?"

    "Actually no," Palo replied mournfully. "But the captain knew him by reputation. After swallowing my story about patriotic duty, he sent me off to deliver the goods instead to another ship like this one." He held up the model demonstratively. "The captain of that ship kindly relieved me of the freighter and the cargo, and gave me a brand-new hyperdrive-equipped Herald-class shuttle. Quite a payoff, actually, especially considering all the bells and whistles she came with."

    "Humph," Kimba replied sourly.

    "I thought I'd gotten away scot free for almost an entire year before he 'found' me," Palo continued. "One day, as I was plying the Hydian, the holocomm came to life and Lord So-and-so told me that he had a job for me. I have been in his employ ever since."

    Kimba crossed her arms and kicked her feet up, sending the uniforms cascading to the floor almost defiantly. "I rather think you got the better deal."

    "Indeed. But then, you just have to protect me while I do all the real work."

    Without another word or sound he turned around, opened up his portable computer terminal, and began slicing away. After all, identification cards and false service records didn't just invent themselves.

    — — —​

    It hadn't exactly been the most comfortable ride, but it was quite easily tolerated while deep in meditation. Of course, it wasn't as easy to get into the proper rhythm while strapped into a small passenger seat than it was sitting with legs crossed and arms resting in one's lap on a mat in comfortable, familiar quarters. But it was something she would have to get used to—and quickly—so any complaints that might have been uttered manifested as stillborn thoughts that were easily brushed aside.

    Not that she minded, really; in fact she was grateful to be on her way so quickly and with such haste, which only served to further demonstrate the power wielded by the man she so very much needed to see. He was the one who could point her to where she could do the most good as a Marine and a Jedi both, and she would go where he sent her with nary a hesitation or fuss. Captain Laera Reyolé was determined to place herself at the forefront of this war, to put some serious hurt on those whom she had called friends in a previous life and who now seemed to have forgotten everything they had once stood, fought, and in her case, died for.

    It would feel good to do so. But most importantly, it felt right.

    Her meditation served a dual purpose: first as a means of passing the time that would keep her body and mind sharp and ready for whatever might come, and second to center herself in this newly-unfolding chain of events and master her own emotions. The confident declaration to her Master and the enclave council, hot on the heels of having felt the uncomfortable sensation of being a puppet on strings, had constituted the possible beginnings of an emotional roller coaster ride that neither she nor those around her could afford to indulge. Fresh from training as a newly-minted Padawan, Laera had a lot to learn about self-reliance when it came to the Force and the use of her newfound strength within it. In all likelihood, she would be the only Jedi among dozens or hundreds of soldiers and officers at any given time, which meant she would have no crutch, no Master, to fall back on in times of doubt.

    But she did have other things to bolster her, Laera knew. The support of the entire Marine Corps she could count on, unless anyone within proved themselves otherwise (and she had no reason yet to suppose that they would turn as well), and the Commandant, who had shown that he had been willing to personally intervene in such matters. With a mental chuckle she recalled the thinly-veiled threat that had been Admiral Dun'vei's personal boot in the behind that had gotten her onto the path she now traveled.

    Like all things, though, the somewhat pleasant meditation session came to an end. The pilot, a Human Navy chief petty officer, gently prodded her shoulder. "We're on approach to High Command," he said helpfully as Laera blinked in reply to his nudging. "Thought you'd want to know."

    "Thanks," she muttered offhandedly. "What time is it, local?"

    "Eighteen thirty-two hours, ma'am," the pilot replied crisply as the cramped packet banked easily into a traffic lane some two hundred meters below the tallest of Coruscant's starscrapers. "Tried to shave a few minutes off the jump but it didn't quite work out."

    "You did the best you could, kid," Laera replied with a kind smile. "ETA?"

    "Within the minute, thanks to Admiral Dun'vei's pass." He spared a glance her way out of the corner of his eye. "Will I need to wait for you, or...?"

    "Doubt it," Laera replied simply, brushing a lock of auburn hair behind her ear. "Put yourself on the list, I'm sure somebody important needs to get somewhere else in a hurry."

    "Copy that, ma'am. We're settling in now."

    As the tiny courier touched down just outside the VIP entrance to the High Command complex, Laera found herself unenvious of the life of a courier pilot. The kid had probably wanted to fly fighters, but for some reason he hadn't made the cut, and until a more illustrious billet came around he was essentially stuck flying what amounted to a fat target in space ripe for the plucking. This class of fast packet was so barebones that it had no weapons at all and only the most rudimentary of particle shields designed to prevent micrometeorites and other space flotsam from ablating the hull. The only advantage it had lay in its hyperdrive rating, as otherwise it wasn't all that quick in sublight or atmo, and only marginally maneuverable enough to avoid being classified as a bomber in that regard. As she exited the craft and left the pilot's speckled egg aura behind her, she hoped that the Force would look kindly on his future.

    Now it was time to sort out her own.

    She smiled to herself as she entered the command complex, fully aware that it was something of an unwritten rule that a Marine wore their best uniform when asked to see the vice admiral. But Laera wore instead the robes of a Jedi, her lightsaber tucked behind a fold in her overcloak, outwardly oblivious of the furtive stares that she was receiving from officer and enlisted alike as she strode confidently toward the commandant's office. It was better this way, actually, as such an outfit enabled her to conduct her business without hassle, good-natured and well-meaning as it might be. She knew that she was remembered as a hero, but right now that was a liability she wanted to minimize as much as possible. The military bureaucracy was too busy conducting a brand-new shooting war to fawn over dead Marines.

    Of course, she did have to present credentials in order to gain access to visit the admiral, but this had been overcome through the relatively simple expedient of a false identicard. For the time being she was known as Mishayle Stromboli, Jedi Knight, a temporary and highly unofficial promotion that the Council would probably forgive given the circumstances. The last thing Laera wanted right now was for word of her return to duty to get out among the soldiery, because from there it was only a single set of loose lips until the public—and then the Sith—also knew. The fewer people who were aware of her continued existence the better, since two very important figures among the Republic's opposition already knew the truth.

    After trekking quietly for a few minutes, she arrived at the small reception area. The Twi'lek secretary, his aura puckered almost as much as his face with a mixed bag of emotions, looked up to regard her with an expectant air. "You are expected, ma'am," he said simply. Doubtless he was attempting to sound casual, but the Padawan saw through the facade; he wished desperately to be back with his old unit, and knew full well who had just arrived. "Just go on in."

    Laera favored him with an understanding nod, her face an expressionless mask, and proceeded through the entryway, where she found...

    "Reeka? Tuffass?!"

    The tableau before her was enough to test the restraint of the most staid Jedi Master. The commandant, his fur rippling as his hands were held outward in what was supposed to be a calming gesture, looking at her with barely-restrained relief. The old, irascible Gand who had been her drill instructor decades prior, looking careworn and yet suddenly transported as everything fell into place in a burst of epiphany. The Rodian, whose black, lustrous eyes sparkled as she looked beyond the robes and into the face of their wearer, a sense of inexpressible shock and delight dimpling her face as she sprang from her seat like a gundark to enwrap her in the fiercest hug either of them had ever experienced. The tension, which she hadn't realized had been building up as she walked deeper into the complex, broke as she returned the embrace with interest.

    "It's good to be back," Laera said meekly once things had calmed down sufficiently for her to express herself in words. "Admiral, you planned this, didn't you?"

    "I can't very well try to hide it any longer," the commandant admitted with a halfhearted shrug, dropping his hands to the desktop. "Yes, I was hoping to get you three together eventually. However, recent events have forced my hand. You wanted to see me, and I can make a reasonable guess as to why."

    "Admiral...Commander...I..." Reeka stammered, shaking her head in consternation. "How did you...?"

    "I'll explain everything, I promise," Laera replied gently, then regarded the admiral unflinchingly. "Could we...drop the ranks for a moment, sir?"

    "As far as I'm concerned, this was always just an informal get-together," he replied somewhat cheekily. It was a mannerism that wasn't entirely unexpected, yet it was refreshing to behold. "I think we'd all like to hear your story."

    And so Laera, dragging a third chair and plopping herself into it, began to speak. She told them everything, starting from her memories of founding Viridian Squadron and the mission that had taken her life, to the recovery process that she had briefly undergone alongside Commander Onasi, and through her training as a Jedi, placing special emphasis on how the commandant had nudged her onto that path. She described her growth in the Force, how she overcame her unique hurdles under the guidance of Master Vrook Lamar, of the other Jedi she interacted with, and how by training in the Force she was able to overcome the emotional trauma of death and resurrection that she freely admitted still bore its prints. She finished by briefly describing her training with the lightsaber, then going into detail regarding the acquisition of a crystal and the assembling of her own weapon. She wrapped the whole tale up with a vivid description of Darth Revan's proclamation and the Dantooine enclave council's reaction to it.

    "That was when I knew where I belonged," she concluded, a hard edge to her voice and countenance. "I had to go back to the beginning of it all, to where I was needed most."

    Reeka continued to gaze at Laera, a look that she remembered from many years before, an almost reverent stare. The Rodian drank in her appearance, seemingly certain that, when they inevitably parted once more, the two would never meet again. Her aura was a fluctuating crosshatch of greens and blues; through the Force she gained a new appreciation for her old comrade, what she had gone through and who she had become. "General Sunrider conducted your memorial," she said finally, her voice slightly breathy. "It was a beautiful service, she asked me to read the citation for your Cross of Glory. I didn't want to do it at first, but..."

    Laera simply smiled. The two were close enough that words were not necessary to continue the thought.

    "Tuffass would be lying if he said that he saw this coming," the Gand put in, his tough exterior as soft as he could make it. "Seeing you now, though, he wishes he had something meaningful to say."

    "It's alright, Gunny," Laera chuckled. "I understand."

    The admiral cocked a thumb at the wall chrono behind his shoulder. "It is getting rather late. I have arranged quarters for the three of you in a nearby barracks complex, there's an airspeeder outside waiting for you. We can pick this up tomorrow at, say, oh-nine-hundred."

    The three visitors, so disparate in rank and appearance, rose as one and offered salutes to the Commandant. He returned them, looking at the Rodian and then the Gand, before dropping the gesture when facing the Human and standing up. "I should remind you that Cross of Glory holders do not salute first, Captain," he chuckled. "And they don't call me sir. I call them sir."

    "My mistake, Admiral," Laera replied, at which the Bothan snapped off another one. She returned it, then led the group of visitors from the office.

    — — —​
    The secretary had already left when the trio made their way through the outer office; indeed, it was so late that the vast majority of servicebeings had packed it in and gone home for the night. Those that remained didn't even look up from their terminals or computer consoles as they laughed their way through the mostly empty corridors and office lobbies on their way to the exit, arriving at the landing pad and reacting with similar expressions of mild surprise at the seeming shortness of the walk. The speeder that was waiting for them was an unassuming vehicle that, while resembling a family model from the outside, bore the unmistakable signs of having been upgraded and armored. Laera stood to the side as Reeka and Tuffass piled in the rear hatch, then closed it as she followed.​
    The craft began to lift off within moments.​

    "Talk about inconspicuous," Tuffass remarked from his seat. "Was this your idea or the Commandant's?"

    "Mine, actually," Laera chortled. "But he came up with the fake identity for me. The card I got won't actually stand up to scrutiny, but I shouldn't need it to—here, let me show you..."

    She pulled the ID from a robe pocket and held it out for the other two to examine. Predictably, they favored her with huge grins at her cover name or, as in Tuffass's case, as close to a look of open good humor as he was able to manage. Laera scowled and put the card back where it came from, then leaned back in her own seat.

    "So you're a Jedi now?" Reeka inquired, once more taking in her old friend's appearance. "I guess you never can tell who's got the Force in them..."

    Laera nodded, a knowing look on her face. "Do you remember me telling you about the funny feeling I would get when my recruits would go through the moment of silence at graduation?"

    They nodded in unison.

    "Well, I think it might actually have been the Force within me," she continued. "As cliché as this may sound, it really is like having worn gloves for all of my life, and then one day my Master took them off. I was able to touch the galaxy, to really get a feel for its currents. When so many people get together and reflect on their lives, it sends out ripples in the Force, like gently casting a hundred pebbles at once into a pond."

    "It also explains how you were able to impress Tuffass," the Gand remarked casually. "He freely admits that you didn't look like you were up to much, physically, when he first met you."

    "I wasn't, Gunny," Laera muttered, blushing crimson. "But you toughened me up, starting with that first march where you rode me like a kriffing mynock."

    The passenger compartment momentarily exploded with the sound of laughter as the three occupants tossed their heads back in joyous guffaws. Reeka was the first to recover. "And then there was that time you stood on my back while making me do push-ups. I thought I'd die of a herniated spine!"

    Laera winced in memory of the incident. "Yeah Gunny, what was up with that? You could have seriously hurt her, and she wasn't the only one."

    "Oh shut up, the pair of you," the Gand grumbled, the heat of his response spoiled by the way he crossed his arms as he gazed out the side window. His aura, appropriately enough, whorled about him like a fine mist of indistinct beiges and gray-greens; he seemed to be casting his mind about for something appropriate to add to the discussion, perhaps self-conscious about the fact that two of his former charges had gone so far beyond his expectations for them. Or maybe he was trying to think up an excuse for doing what he did, but Laera didn't think so. She already knew Tuffass's story and certainly sympathized with his plight, but if he hadn't already told Reeka, then she didn't think it was her place to do so. It was clear, however, that they had had their own interactions post-boot camp, not that Laera minded.

    The ride continued in silence for a minute or two before the old gunny resumed speaking. "Gand would have known if you were in danger of injury," he said apologetically, the pair of them already familiar with his habit of expressing contrition by denigrating himself in this manner. "Despite the image he has cultivated, Gand is not a cruel Marine."

    "I guess that settles it," Reeka said, leaning over to kiss the insectoid's equivalent of a cheek.
    Laera snorted in amusement. "You two have gotten quite close, it seems."

    "We grieved for you together," Reeka replied. "I don't think I could have gone on if it weren't for Tuffass here, or General Sunrider; their help was invaluable to me. Do you know what happened to her?"

    "The Jedi wouldn't tell me," Laera shrugged halfheartedly. "The most I managed to get out of them was that she had been exiled from the Order for joining the Revanchists. Where she is, only she knows, but I don't think she's going to join back up with them as a Sith. She's too much like her mother to succumb to the dark side."

    Silence greeted the appraisal, which ended up lasting for the short trip to their temporary quarters. The barracks complex itself was fairly innocuous, the previous tenants having been shipped offworld the day before, so they had the run of the place and its facilities. They soon discovered that the commandant had already arranged for an ammonia chamber, at which Tuffass pointed out that the three of them were staying in the same place he had been set up in upon his own arrival. After squaring away their gear and settling in he, Reeka and Laera spent several hours around a large pot of caf and a heaping plate of tomo-spiced ribines catching up on events, with Reeka describing the sorts of battles that Laera, by virtue of being dead, had missed out on.

    "Sounds like you had it rough on Dxun," Laera acknowledged after draining her third cup.

    "We could have used you there, certainly," Reeka replied soberly. "But I'm not going to complain about it, not when we've got a new enemy to fight."

    "They're not new," Tuffass pointed out bitterly. "They're just wearing different uniforms while following the same ****-brained officers. And if they could turn on us so easily, they deserve little mercy. They certainly wouldn't get it from Tuffass."

    Laera made a face, she knew just how much the Gand wished he could still be on the line. "No matter what you say, Gunny, I won't harm a surrendering enemy. It's not the Jedi way, and it isn't the Marine way."

    "You assume they'll surrender," Tuffass barked angrily. "The Massassi never surrendered! The Krath never surrendered, and neither did those old Mandos! Why should these fools give in?!"

    Laera glared at the Gand, fixing him with her unimpressed-DI-staring-down-an-impatient-recruit face, until the insectoid sergeant looked away with his shoulders slumped. "The Mandos are another animal," she said in low, commanding tones. "These Sith are not so removed from us that the more sane of them may see that they are on the wrong end of a battle, and would be willing to give up the fight rather than waste their lives in a futile effort. We offer honorable captivity to such foes, despite what they may do to us in a reversal of fortunes."

    The small mess area, bathed in a cone of light from a solitary overhead glowlamp, grew quiet once more. Reeka helped herself to another cup of caf and a ribine, as did Laera. Tuffass drained his cup, then shook his head slowly. "When did Tuffass give you permission to become more wise than he?"
    Laera and Reeka both chuckled at that, grinning at the unspoken meaning of the phrase. It was the height of praise coming from the old Gand, more so than anything he had ever admitted previously, as well as a begrudging acknowledgment of his increasing age and growing disability. Reeka reached over and took his hand, holding it and giving him a reassuring nod as her ears flicked reflexively. Laera knew that twitch, and it made her smile inwardly. "We're here for you, Gunny," the Rodian assured him. "For as long as we're alive."

    Laera mocked looking at her chronometer with surprise. "It's getting late, and the commandant did want us back at 0900. Speaking for myself, I'm going to be there a half hour early, maybe get a read on what's going on at headquarters before we meet him."
     
  6. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Sorry for the double-post, but since there hasn't been a reply in almost a month...


    Chapter Four

    "Blaagh, no," Kimba muttered stupidly at Palo's prodding. "S'all dark, too early for school..."

    The Wroonian snorted mirthlessly, though inwardly he was laughing himself silly. "Up. Now. We have a schedule to keep."

    It took her a minute, but the Alderaanian managed to flop herself to a sitting position on the bed. It took a few more moments of baleful glares before she swung her legs around to place her feet on the floor. Apparently she needed to be out for the full eight hours in order to be useful in the morning, an oversight that, hopefully, wouldn't doom the operation. Sniffing huffily, she dragged herself up and plodded out to the living area where the uniforms had been prepared prior to their turning in for the night, and began to dress.

    "Not even a sanisteam before you go?" Palo remarked idly. "You're going to reek later today."

    "Shut it, Blue," she shot back, shuffling uncomfortably into her pants. "Damn, these are tight."

    "Been letting yourself go, or did you misremember your measurements?" Palo inquired mockingly as he too donned his uniform. "I hope for your sake that tunic isn't as snug as your trousers, or we will be getting rather more attention than our patron would care for."

    Kimba grunted as she zipped herself up, sucking in her chest as she did so. It was as Palo feared; her upper torso would precede the rest of her body through a doorway by a second or two. "At least I got the rank and insignia right, Private," she retorted, heaping a healthy dollop of sarcasm onto that last word. "If you had gone for the uniforms, you would have made us captains for certain. And I can guarantee you that Dun'vei knows every Marine captain on Coruscant by name."

    The barb dug a bit closer to home than Palo would have admitted, especially to Kimba. He did indeed possess a streak of vanity, it was part of his charm and how he had managed to make his living for quite a number of years. But he would not, perhaps, have been that obvious. His partner had made herself a senior lieutenant; just important enough to have an enlistee tag along, but not important enough to register on the commandant's mental radar. There was the issue of the commandant possibly recognizing her face, but she had taken care of that while Palo had sliced their temporary identities. She was now a dirty blonde, wearing contact lenses that turned her hazel eyes brown and sporting altogether different shades of blush and eye shadow. Palo knew that there were enough Wroonians in the military that his presence wouldn't be questioned, doubly so for the lowness of his own simulated rank, and he had no outstanding warrants.

    "Alright, let's go," Kimba said mock-cheerfully after they had finished dressing, Palo having packed their "gift" in a hastily-bought velvet-lined box.

    He reached the door first, looking through the peephole to check the corridor ahead, opening it after assessing that the passage was momentarily clear. Walking with the gift box under his left arm, he led the way like a good Marine to the air taxi that would take them to headquarters and, hopefully, the successful completion of their mission. The ride wasn't too bad but for the complete silence that marred it, the pair of them not confident enough in their assumed roles to banter idly. Apparently this suited the driver, a portly Human male, just fine.

    They arrived on schedule, stepping out of the taxi with a few minutes to spare. Palo had spent a great deal of time over the last three days attempting to penetrate the computer systems of the Office of the Commandant, managing to achieve gradual progress without raising any alarms or red flags. He was rather proud of this achievement; it wasn't every slicer who could hack an admiral's appointment calender without the alterations later being rejected or otherwise overwritten, either accidentally or by some act of counter-slicing. As it stood, the two were confirmed for a quick meeting with the wily Bothan at 0845 hours, just long enough to explain their presence, hand over the "gift" and scarper without having left an impression on those who would see them arrive and leave.

    On flimsi, it was the perfect infiltration. But flimsi was such a flimsy material.

    "Don't slouch," Kimba hissed between her teeth as they approached the entryway. "Move your arms with your feet like a soldier."

    This was not Palo's natural stride, and he wondered to himself how a being could stay erect while engaged in such a pace and bearing. He would feel better about this if he was the one tailing Kimba, following her example, but according to her he was supposed to be the one leading the way and opening doors for her. It had suited him fine when they had initially discussed how to pull off the insertion, but now he wished she had taken the time to drill some of this marching business into him first, along with a few lessons in protocol and etiquette.

    "Crisp, precise, measured," she hissed again as he made to open the door for her. He feigned ignorance, hoping that she was telling him the proper procedure. Thankfully however, it would be her taking the lead from now on, as it apparently wouldn't do to be seen being led by a private once inside a military installation. Nevertheless his innards began to feel as though they were solidifying, a fear reaction that he didn't care for at all, and one that had never seemed to bode well for his financial prospects or the safety of his skin

    "Lieutenant Ellon Serabau here to see the Commandant," Kimba said to the receptionist on duty, her tone precise and measured as an officer's should be as she flashed their identification. At least, according to the holodramas that was how one should act. "I believe he is expecting us."

    Palo looked on through the corner of his eye as the Elomin behind the desk scanned his computer terminal. "Yes, I have you here..." he began, then paused, seemingly in puzzlement. "Hmm. Better make it quick, though. He's expecting a trio of interviewees at zero nine hundred."

    "I'll keep that in mind, Sergeant," Kimba replied with the kind of smile Palo had previously thought her incapable of. "We won't be long."

    "Right then, just follow the brass."

    Kimba led the way and, as the pair passed through another doorway, Palo mentally breathed a sigh of relief. The job was far from over, but at least they hadn't fallen at the first hurdle with a broken kneecap.

    — — —

    True to her vow the previous night, Laera arrived at headquarters earlier than the commandant had suggested. This time, however, she wore her service greens though her nameplate still bore the assumed surname "Stromboli" while her shoulder boards indicated that she was only a lieutenant commander. The demotion suited her just fine, as she would neither be noticed for her rank nor questioned on her presence at this facility because of it. This allowed her to achieve her stated purpose, which was to get a read on how the staff at High Command was running things as well as their mental states, without them realizing that they were being subject to analysis.

    Her ability to sense auras was proving to be immeasurably valuable for the task, as she could simply flit about the corridors picking up surface impressions from the soldiers, NCOs and officers she passed or in the rooms beyond. Most seemed to be a fair bit flustered, though they put forth a good enough front of composure, which was understandable given the galactic picture. She had left the barracks with Reeka and Tuffass still asleep, just in time to catch the latest news broadcasts on the public HoloNet terminal that flanked the headquarters building's entrance. It wasn't looking pretty: already there were reports of scout ships of an unfamiliar design appearing in multiple sectors, including Lahara and Ojoster, with some coming as close as Ralltiir in Darpa sector. Like everyone else in the building, she knew that it was only a matter of time before the next clash of fleets or armies erupted. In the meantime, the best thing for those within High Command to do was to gather intelligence on the enemy, take a proper accounting of the Republic's forces and their state of readiness, and prepare a defense to coincide with what information such endeavors yielded.

    The worst thing the military could do right now was to attack. There was nowhere to direct such an offensive, no one had a clue yet where the enemy might be concentrating their forces. Revan was nothing if not devious; he would let his enemies have their chance to amass a force to meet his next move, thus he would be able to pick and choose where to attack and where not to. As she walked amongst a cluster of offices within the headquarters of Marine Force Recon, Laera found herself wishing that she had taken the effort to meet the man behind the Revanchist cause. Back then he would have made some time for her, she knew, especially considering that it was under his orders that she was up and breathing again.

    A nebulous list of ideas began to form in her mind's eye regarding their new antagonists as Laera walked still further. She had at least met Malak once, during the awards ceremony where she had received the Marine Corps Star and the promotion to full commander that had led to her being noticed by General Sunrider. Unfortunately it hadn't been a very good opportunity to get a sense of the former Jedi Knight, she had been in and out of his presence far too quickly for that. But she had been able to reckon that he was a proud man, fond of making a show of himself but also possessed of the ability to back up his posturing. But as for Revan, all she could offer was an accounting of the battle plans he had issued during the Mandalorian conflict. It would be up to the commandant and his staff, as well as the rest of the Republic's admiralty, to pick out any insightful details.

    As Laera walked through the corridor that led toward the commandant's office, she was momentarily knocked from her reverie by a pair of passing Marines clad in dress reds. She absentmindedly turned to regard them, catching sight of their backs as they proceeded onward, and briefly wondered why they had drawn her attention when she was so deeply focused on much more important matters. But then she glimpsed their pace as they walked and the way their auras seemed to hesitate under her gaze. Both were blond, the woman's hair darker and the man's nape showing the blue of a Near Human species she couldn't identify from this angle. More importantly, they didn't seem quite at ease in this location, as though they had overplanned their visit and weren't sure what to expect next.

    The woman, who wore the bars of a senior lieutenant...something about her struck Laera as oddly familiar. She glanced at her chrono once the pair disappeared around a corner; it showed 0844 hours, time to call her comrades and make sure that they were on their way over.

    — — —

    "Just keep going, just keep going," Kimba hissed under her breath as they marched onward. "Don't you dare look back."

    The sensation of eyes focusing on the back of his neck was decidedly unwelcome as Palo did his best to obey. He didn't know whether his cover was in the process of being blown or not, but a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach was beginning to coalesce into a bole of what felt like masticated grass rolling about his stomach. The sensation seemed to abate somewhat as they made a turn, seeing the way to their destination at the end of it. They only had half a minute to spare, and Kimba had informed him in no uncertain terms that the admiral expected and insisted on punctuality. As if that wasn't enough, his partner's body language had strongly indicated that the woman in the green uniform they had passed was vaguely familiar to her.

    There was no help for it, however, as only one obstacle remained: the admiral's secretary. Palo extended his arm to press the door actuator, preceding Kimba into the outer office and forming up next to her in front of the gray-skinned Twi'lek male. He attempted to keep his expression and posture neutral as she again announced their presence and presented their credentials; like his counterpart in the front office, he seemed vaguely flummoxed but unwilling, or perhaps unable, to find a reason to refuse admittance. "The commandant is free at the moment, Lieutenant," he advised them instead. "Better see to your business quickly."

    "It won't take but a moment," Kimba replied easily, favoring the sergeant with a smile as she turned toward the inner door.

    — — —

    "Don't do that to me again," Reeka admonished heatedly when Laera met her and Tuffass at the airspeeder drop-off pad. "When I woke up and found you had gone, I almost had a flashback..."

    Laera inclined her head apologetically. "Last night I said...well, perhaps I should have made sure to see you before leaving."

    "Let it go, Lieutenant," Tuffass advised sagely. "She did tell us she was going in early. What did you learn, Captain?"

    Reeka seemed to deflate a bit as the pair walked on, Laera delivering a brief rundown of what she had felt and, in some cases, overheard. "The mood within High Command is tense, but they're doing their best given the circumstances. No one is expecting an immediate follow-up, and I'm inclined to agree. He's got a plan, Revan, and I don't think we're going to have any more luck in anticipating his next move than a granite slug would in predicting hawkbat maneuvers."

    "Consolidation and assessment," Reeka chimed in, her sour mood smothered by her innate professionalism. "They talked about this in OCS."

    "And from the chatter that's going around," Laera continued, "we lost a lot of ships at Foerost, either disabled, destroyed, or stolen outright. We're down to a very slim margin of naval reserves, a factor that is only going to become more acute. Which means..."

    The Gand perked up like a nek being offered a hunk of raw meat. "Which means that Tuffass's beloved Corps will be in thick of it once the time is right."

    "Exactly. And I suspect that Admiral Dun'vei is going to agree."

    — — —

    "You're right, I do agree with this assessment," the commandant confirmed confidently several minutes later, after Laera had explained herself in greater detail. "I believe that this is precisely the kind of warfare Admiral Tobonne imagined for us: small units of highly-trained soldiers fighting along many fronts, coordinating our actions as we harass the enemy and interfere with his plans. That's why I'm giving you command of the Third Battalion, with a free hand in developing your own operational plans."

    A tremor of silence zipped through the room in reaction to this announcement. Laera was uncertain what to think, but a glimmer of comprehension was dawning in Reeka's eyes. "Your old unit," the Rodian murmured breathlessly. "They'll be glad to see you back."

    The admiral nodded. "Indeed they will, once we get them all in one place and begin working them back up to combat readiness. I can think of no one better suited to the task than you, Captain Reyolé, particularly given your unique abilities and experiences."

    "I appreciate the vote of confidence," Laera acknowledged soberly. "Reeka tells me they suffered rather badly after I left to head up General Sunrider's outfit."

    The Bothan's neck fur rippled and his eyes flicked in a gesture that Laera recognized as sadness intermingled with regret. "The lieutenant is correct. She identified the Third as one of the units most vulnerable in these uncertain times, a vulnerability that I hope to see taken care of. Your presence should also alleviate any resentment that veterans of the Mandalorian front may have toward High Command, regarding their withdrawal from the front after the defeat at Jaga's Cluster."

    "You do realize, Admiral, that they will eventually have to be told of my status, if not my entire history since leaving," Laera pointed out.

    "Indeed, and I trust your judgment," Voskel nodded. "You may tell them whatever you feel is necessary, and when."

    There was a pregnant pause as the four beings pondered the course that this session was charting. Inwardly, Laera was overjoyed at being put back into her old battalion, but that feeling was swiftly becoming overshadowed by the burden of responsibility she bore both in helping to shape its role in the last war, and in leading it into a new one. Closing her eyes, she called upon the Force to steady herself, taking ownership of her emotions and letting them dissipate into her being as she had been taught. This was an inevitability in a way, a confirmation of her status as a Jedi and a veteran field commander; she should be proud of this accomplishment, yet detached from further emotional investment.

    "Admiral, when did you get that?" Tuffass said into Laera's brief meditation, holding out a tridactyl hand and pointing. She looked about for the source of the Gand's inquiry, her eyes falling upon a collection of carved wooden objects that occupied a shelf behind the commandant's desk just above his seated head. She recognized among them one of her own pieces: a Foray-class frigate she had sent to Captain Teeklak Sookanado shortly after her graduation from OCS and posting to Bad Alshir as a junior lieutenant. The item had somehow found its way into the Bothan's possession, but that wasn't the object that had drawn the gunnery sergeant's attention.

    "This?" the admiral responded with a shrug, turning about and extracting what looked like a brand-new addition. "A Lieutenant Serabau delivered it just before you arrived. She said it was a gift from Admiral Scaderi, CO of the Second Marine Division."

    "May I take a look, Admiral?" Laera asked, almost reluctantly as a sense of uneasiness began to pucker her skin.

    "I don't see why not," the Bothan nodded, handing her the item. "It is quite a fine effort, as I'm sure you can appreciate."

    The first thing about the piece, which depicted the claw-like shape of an Interdictor-class cruiser, that struck her as odd was the newness of it. Long experience with woodcarving screamed at her from her previous life, forming a feeling in her gut that this seemingly innocuous gift was not as benign as this Lieutenant Serabau would have had the commandant believe, which only compounded her ill ease. The angles were too sharp, the wood hadn't had time to heal, and the craftsbeing hadn't even applied a protective stain and sealant. Running her right index finger along the base, she examined the model's display stand both with her sense of touch and the Force. Though the organic material was dead, it was still possible to sense the currents of life that had once flowed through it, along the extremely fine grain that halsa wood was famous for...

    "Admiral, detain that officer!" she barked as realization hit her like a bolt of ionized plasma.

    There was a very faint crackling noise as three necks cricked at once to regard her, the heads upon them gaping open-mouthed at the Jedi in their midst. Barely a beat passed before the admiral slapped the intercom button. "Ranro'alsik, get security on the horn! Tell them to round up my previous appointment on the double! All hands on deck!"

    "Yes sir," the secretary's voice replied crisply.

    "Now, if you would, please explain why I just sent two companies of armed Marines in pursuit of this woman and her apparent accomplice," Voskel rumbled, a hint of nebulous menace in his tone.
    In response, Laera squeezed the base of the model cruiser with one hand, its upper hull with the other and, with a loud crack!, snapped off the ventral appendage. Flicking it nonchalantly over her shoulder, she dug into the newly-revealed hole, fished out a small black object, and smacked it hard onto the desk. "That's why."

    — — —

    "If Lord So-and-so ever asks me to do something like this again, I am going to go AWOL," Kimba remarked dully once the speeder taxi had dropped them off back at their safehouse building and they were nearing their temporary quarters. "That was entirely too close."

    "I think, for once, we may be of an accord," Palo replied, his legs still shaking slightly as they entered their apartment. "Perhaps we could both get away from galactic politics for a while, maybe go into business for ourselves?"

    "Don't push it, Palo," Kimba retorted mildly, shrugging off her tunic and gulping down mouthfuls of air like a fish out of water. "We just pulled off a coup that may well have every bounty hunter on the Republic's payroll after our hides."

    "They have to realize what we've done, first," the Wroonian assured the ex-Marine. "By the time they do, we will be long gone."

    "You better be right," Kimba snapped, but the effect was ruined by the softness of her expression as she stripped off the tight red uniform and replaced it with a much more comfortable ensemble. "How soon until our launch window?"

    Palo glanced at the wall chrono as he followed suit. "Not for another few hours, unfortunately. And it would do neither of us any favors to simply go back to the Brixan Messenger and wait for clearance."

    Kimba cast him a dubious look. "I told you to try and put a tighter timetable together! Those few hours are the difference between us getting away and this whole thing blowing up in our faces!"

    "Oh believe me, if that had been possible I would have done so," Palo retorted. "Were it up to me we would already be burning sky until we saw lines! But with the war now in full swing, the military is running the show, and their traffic control systems are much more sophisticated. One box unchecked, one incorrect keystroke, that's all it takes. Then boom, we're done for."

    "If we don't make it offworld, you will be the first I kill I swear to..."

    Palo had no doubt of that whatsoever in his mind as he began to scoop up incriminating items. The pair of them worked diligently for the next few minutes gathering up the evidence of their existence and plans, with Kimba setting up a small disintegrator next to the garbage chute in the food prep area. The uniforms were the first to go, followed by Palo's carving tools, then the decoy holobox...
     
  7. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Really enjoying this so far. When I first started reading chapter 1 after seeing "intrigue" in the "genre" header, I was biting my nails and saying to myself, "Ogoshogosh I won't be able to follow any of this political and military intrigue business at all," but it turned out not to be hard to follow at all—especially as the connections between the protagonists and antagonists became clearer and clearer over the course of the story. (I'm thinking of two characters in particular...) It's fun to see familiar faces from the Corps stories back in action, and especially to see how they've grown and changed (or not) since then.

    I loved the story factor of the decoy model wooden ship. It's so sudden and unexpected vis-à-vis the futuristic, high-tech atmosphere of the story and really contributes a ton to the thickening of the plot in ch. 3. My first thought was, "Laera made wooden models like that, didn't she?"—and then in chapter 4 it was precisely her model-making expertise that saved the day and thwarted the plans of the infiltrators (at least for now)! Though Tuffass also deserves credit for the flash of (misty?) insight that brought the suspicious model to everyone's attention in the first place.

    More, please! :D
     
    Goodwood likes this.
  8. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    More incoming... ;)


    Chapter Five

    The team from Republic Navy Criminal Investigations had already finished combing the office for clues relating to the two suspected infiltrators, taking both the device and the bits of halsa wood that had disguised it into evidence for as quick and thorough an examination as the civilian agency was capable. While that had been going on, Laera spent the intervening time retracing her steps and quietly watching the lead RNCI investigator, a silver-haired Human named Grimm who bore all the hallmarks of a previous career in the Corps, as he asked various officers and NCOs who had been present at the time what they had seen. Unfortunately, no one was able to give much more than a visual description.

    Reeka and Tuffass, meanwhile, had gone back to the Gand's temporary quarters to go over some more flimsiwork that the commandant had worked up for them. Something about analyzing current training practices and how new Marines were assigned to and integrated within their new units, nothing that, the Bothan had assured Laera, she needed to worry about for the moment. For his part, Admiral Dun'vei was coordinating the search for the fake lieutenant and her partner, tentatively identified as a Wroonian, from within Naval Intelligence HQ. After the first half hour, the effort to track the interlopers down had grown from a relatively simple security concern to one involving agents from departments as far-flung as the Coruscant Security Force and the recently-founded Senate Intelligence Service. Operatives from Marine Force Recon were also in on the hunt, and even two flights of Aurek fighters from the Sixteenth Naval Fighter Squadron had been called in to fly overwatch for the expanding search block.

    It was only a matter of time until all civilian traffic to and from Coruscant would be locked down, if the feeling in Laera's gut was any indication. Despite the forces that had been called upon to help, the search was being conducted as subtly as possible, with plainclothes officers and operators pursuing leads in public while uniformed intelligence and security types worked sources from behind the scenes. It was abundantly clear to everyone involved that, on this world, it would be all too easy for their quarry to go to ground. Laera wasn't Intelligence-trained, but she was aware enough of certain aspects of the trade to realize that, had she not acted upon her and Tuffass's instincts, things could have ended up being much worse in the long haul.

    As comforting an illusion as it was, the Padawan didn't indulge in it for more than a moment. While the eggheads would doubtlessly figure out the purpose of the device she had found, their efforts would be made easier if they could learn who had developed it and seen to its planting within the very heart of the Republic's armed forces. But that wasn't her field; she was as hopeless with computers as she was with speeders and starships. So rather than dwell on the technical and tradecraft aspects of this conundrum, she fell back on what she knew she could rely upon: her memories, her instincts, and the Force.

    Quietly and as unassumingly as she could, Laera worked her way toward the nearest mess area and, after securing lunch, began to meditate. Letting the Force flow within her and allowing it to take her where it willed, she cast her mind's eye back to the two blonds she had seen that morning. The familiarity of the female began to gnaw at her psyche, her senses tingling with old memories long shuffled aside as irrelevant. Strangely, the plethora of shapes and colors began to coalesce into a tall, at least to her, brown-haired woman with hazel eyes, whose homeworld was...
    "Excuse me, Commander Stromboli?"

    The bright female voice jarred Laera from her reflections, but she managed to hide her surprise as she looked up to regard the speaker. She was a Rodian, but with a long plait of coarse black hair and wearing, of all things, spectacles with thick black plastoid rims. Over flashy civilian attire that strongly reminded the Human of the club scene on Zeltros some ten years prior, she wore a white lab coat that extended almost to her knees. "Yes, that's me," Laera replied hesitantly. "Who might you be?"

    "Gabby Taretto, RNCI," the Rodian introduced herself cheerily, giving off an air of frivolity that Laera might have considered endearing under different circumstances. "I'm a forensics specialist. My boss, Special Agent Grimm, told me to come and find you."

    "If this is about me shadowing him, I can explain," Laera began, but Gabby casually shook her head.

    "I think it's about the device you found," she shrugged. "Admiral Dun'vei was convening a meeting or something."

    "Right," Laera muttered, rising to her feet. "Where to?"

    "Follow me," the Rodian advised, rocking back on her heels before floucning the way forward.

    Doing as her rather effervescent guide indicated, Laera made sure to keep back about a meter, so that Gabby's carelessly swinging arms wouldn't hit her. The scientist's aura was bubble-gum pink intermixed with misty white whorls reminiscent of some sort of sweet beverage that was popular amongst children the galaxy over. How she could be so carefree in the middle of such a mess was beyond the Padawan's ability to reckon, so she simply strode onward in mute contemplation. It wasn't all that long before they arrived at where the commandant had set up temporary shop, and it was clear that this meeting was to be attended by a fairly significant number of beings in important positions. She recognized the Chief of Naval Operations straightaway; Fleet Admiral Octar Nishalema had taken center stage at a large conference table, surrounded on both sides by the heads of Republic Intelligence and the SIS, with the head of Naval intel not far off. Admiral Dun'vei had been relegated to a side role along with his adjutant, a place that his aura indicated he found to be an insult to the integrity of himself, his office, and his people.

    Laera could sympathize, but under her cover identity there was little she could do. Gabby led her to where her superior, the Human agent she had tailed earlier, sat with a trio of bagged items in front of him. He turned to regard her, then silently gestured for the two women to join him. Sitting, Laera looked across the table to see that Reeka and Tuffass had also been recalled; they were sitting next to the commandant and looking somewhat put out and decidedly beyond their own comfort zones.

    "Well, now that everyone is here, we can get this briefing started," the CNO began crisply, his voice hard but lacking any vehemence. "Be advised that everything said within this room is hereby classified Most Secret. Admiral Dun'vei, if you could recount your version of events."

    The Bothan did so, rising to his feet and speaking frankly. His irritation at having been supplanted as head of the investigation was only apparent to Laera, who of all those in the room was the only one trained in the Force, and who found his restraint admirable. He also deftly sidestepped the potential issue of her cover identity and why "Mishayle Stromboli" had been at the meeting in the first place, concluding with the hypothesis that the simulated lieutenant commander had only guessed at the nature of the device's hiding place. Judging by the chorus of nods that circled the table, his story was largely accepted.

    When he resumed his seat, the Human fleet admiral rose. "Special Agent Heron Lethroy Grimm, your report, please."

    Grimm nodded to Gabby, who nodded back, her plait rustling with the motion. "Thank you, Admiral," he rumbled as he stood. "After a thorough examination of the commandant's office, the device that was found, and its delivery container, we have come to a preliminary conclusion. The appointment with Admiral Dun'vei, scheduled for zero-eight-forty-five this morning, was a fabrication planted within the admiral's schedule from an outside terminal using an open proxy, we have techs looking into a possible trace, but we don't expect much from it. A check of transit records for the time in question show that several taxis carried fares to and from this area, we are currently attempting to narrow down a list of suspects from surveillance footage as well as testimony from the receptionist on duty and the commandant's secretary." He then picked up two of the bags, which bore the legend EVIDENCE: DO NOT TAMPER. "This halsa wood carving is a decoy, rendered very recently though we are unable to determine precisely how long ago." He set the bags down and picked up the third, taking care to ensure that everyone could see it. "As for this device, we are tentatively calling it a 'holotap'."

    "A holotap?" the CNO inquired, his brow raised.

    Grimm nodded to Gabby, who seemed to bounce into a standing position. "It's a wireless hypercomm sensor," she said breezily. "I can't be sure who made it exactly, not without taking it apart first, but doing that might compromise its components and we'd end up with a fancy-looking flimsiweight. Decorative, but useless."

    "Your point, Agent Taretto?"

    "My point is that whoever knocked it up is either a certified genius or an aesthetic whacko. Or both. It's designed to sample hypercomm transmissions for keywords and tightcast whatever it picks up for transmission to a rigged public HoloNet station, which we're in the process of looking for now." She said all of this in a rush, as though determined to break a record for most information delivered in the shortest time. "The thing is, this kind of technology normally takes up roughly the same space as the table we're sitting at. The method of miniaturization is...marvelous."

    "It's a Sith device," Laera found herself saying as, unbidden, she stood up as well. Her words prompted every being present to fix her with stares that ranged from shocked to reproving and everything in between, and she found herself flushing with embarrassment.

    "And you know this how?" asked the head of the Senate Intelligence Service, her tightly-curled hair bobbing as she spoke. "Just who are you, anyway, Commander?"

    "She is my guest," Admiral Dun'vei interrupted angrily, also standing. "And I'll thank you not to question the integrity of my Marines in my presence, Madam."

    "Gentlebeings, let's not descend into rivalries here," Admiral Nishalema said, holding up his hands placatingly. "You found it, Commander. Please go on."

    Laera took a deep breath, relaxing into the Force's embrace before continuing, this time set in her composure. "It's a matter of logic and instinct, Admiral. We've been at war for three days now, against an enemy who knows us as well as we know ourselves, if not better. I can only surmise that this plot has been some time in the making, timed to coincide with our formulating of a response to an outbreak of hostilities, against an enemy whose motives and maneuvers we can only guess at."

    "She's got a point," the head of Republic Intelligence said, nodding at Laera and then at the CNO. "This is the kind of intelligence coup that can win a war almost before it is begun. It may also be an opportunity, but we still need an essential piece."

    "The persons who planted it," Grimm put in sourly. "I recommend that we go on full planetary lockdown until we apprehend them."

    "Too risky," the Republic's chief spook replied. "They'll just go to ground, and the Sith will know for certain that we're onto them. They'll either abandon the plan or try again somewhere else, possibly causing more damage in the process. If we allow them to leave, however, we may still be able to utilize this tap against the Sith. Through it, we could conceivably provide disinformation and misdirection to whatever intelligence agency may be working for Darth Revan."

    Laera cast the Bothan admiral a beseeching look, settling into the Force and ever so gently implanting an image within his mind. A moment after her mental withdrawal, he seemed to get the gist of her unspoken message. "Admiral Nishalema, this was an attempt to compromise the Republic Marines at its very heart, an attempt uncovered by a Marine, and I request permission to conclude it utilizing Marine Corps resources."

    A soft murmur of side conversations washed over the attendees, with the CNO exchanging looks with the heads of intelligence that flanked him. Finally, he nodded. "You may proceed, Admiral. If there is nothing else, this meeting is dismissed."

    "Nice work, Commander," Special Agent Grimm rumbled as the roomful of officers and civilian officials stood in near unison and began to leave. As the two followed suit, he handed her a small business card. "If you ever find yourself back in the civilian world, give me a call. RNCI could use someone of your talents."

    "Thanks," Laera muttered in reply, her expression cryptic. "But I think my work is just beginning."

    — — —​

    Tuffass trailed behind Reeka and the commandant as they attempted to exit the crowded conference room with as much grace as possible. The Gand was not yet so far gone that he could not at least prod the surface of the mists while navigating an ocean of beings much taller than himself, and what he found there intrigued him as much as he found it disconcerting. He had witnessed the thin stretching of his former pupil's mind as it had reached out to touch the Bothan admiral; having had nothing to contribute to the meeting, he had passed the time in a state of reflection that he liked to call "meditation at red alert."

    What the officer said once they cleared the sea of sentience only confirmed what the gunnery sergeant suspected. "Captain Reyolé knows something," the commandant said conspiratorially as they walked. "She was able to get some sort of message across somehow...and wants you two to meet her at the valet speeder station."

    Reeka seemed to squirm slightly at that. "But my speeder only seats two," she quietly protested. "And it's a rental."

    "I can only tell you that much," the admiral replied, and Tuffass was startled to see that the Bothan's disquiet mirrored his own. "Just go. I'll look after things here, but make sure to keep in contact. The captain has my personal comlink frequency and the channel is always open."

    The Rodian and the Gand exchanged a meaningful look, nodded to one another, then separated themselves from the admiral and followed their comrade's ethereal instructions.

    — — —​

    "Our launch window is drawing near," Palo announced in hushed tones as he and Kimba browsed the wares of a mid-level open-air market in CoCo Town. "We've spent enough time dawdling."

    "Good," the woman growled back. "I've about had it with this planet anyway."

    The two managed to dodge a few overenthusiastic sales pitches as they furtively made for the northeast exit and a mag-lev commuter tram that would take them to the spaceport where Palo's shuttle had been moored. From there it would be a simple matter to board the Brixan Messenger, start the prelaunch checklist at their leisure, then wait for clearance. Thus far they had not noticed any signs of pursuit or that the alarm had even been sounded, but they were taking nothing for granted.

    "I just hope Lord So-and-so doesn't blame us if the Reps manage to figure out what we did," Kimba hissed waspishly as they waited for the next tram to arrive.

    "So do I, my dear," Palo concurred, some of that old suave smugness returning now that they were almost free. "As long as we make it offworld, he will know that we did our best."

    "You're assuming that he's not like the lords of old," Kimba bit back, cocking a brow at him. "Oh, I have indeed read my history, blue man. Did you ever get around to reading yours?"

    The long, grimy metal and plastoid snake that was the public tram began to pull into the station before Palo could reply appropriately, filling the platform with a rushing gust of wind and the noisy wafting of urban flotsam. Up until that point he had managed to avoid being too inquisitive about the nature of their patron, but with Kimba's "lords of old" remark, suddenly things began to become much clearer, and he didn't like the holograph that his mind was presenting. Yes, that would be all too possible, he thought to himself as the tram ceased moving and its many doors hissed open. And if this is so...are we karked one way or another regardless?

    Unnoticed amongst a mass of beings coming and going, the pair slipped onto a car near the rear of the tram and settled on a bench near the exit surrounded by the least number of people they could find. Fortunately, their escape strategy had anticipated the need to travel light, each embarking with nought but the clothes on their back, their concealed holdout blasters, a convenient set of one-off identification to get through the terminal, and a few loose credcoins to pay for any ancillaries. Everything else they might need was already on Palo's ship, ready for them to make a quick exit to whatever destination they so desired.

    Once the tram had run up to speed, however, Palo began to feel uncomfortable once more. Was it his imagination, or had he seen that speeder bike somewhere before?

    — — —​

    "I have a bad feeling about this," Reeka said to Tuffass once the valet had left to fetch her rental.

    "Tuffass understands all too well," the Gand nodded in agreement. "There's something odd about the mists today, he can't put his finger on it."

    The pair resumed waiting, both for the Rodian's bike and for the arrival of their comrade, in silence, with the Gand casting furtive looks to and fro. Laera still hadn't arrived when the whine of repulsorlifts grew loud, indicating that the Navy crewer on valet duty was returning. He silently turned over the safety lanyard for the vehicle's ignition key, then retreated back to his post as though anticipating the appearance of some admiral or other important person. With the young Human gone, a windy silence flitted about the pad that was punctuated by the steady humming of the speeder standing at idle. Reeka looked at Tuffass, then at the bike, suddenly indecisive about how the Gand was going to be able to ride it safely.

    He shrugged uncomfortably. "If he has to, so be it."

    The Rodian helped the Gand up, gently coaxing his short legs across the rear saddle. Reeka was in the middle of coiling herself to vault astride the bike, her hands on the steering bars, when a hissed voice called out to them. "Wait!"

    Reeka jumped as though prodded with an electrode, almost losing her balance as she spun about to find the source of the hail. She didn't have far to look. "Again with the sneaking around!" she bit out. "You almost made me fall!"

    "Sorry," Laera apologized as she emerged from behind a corner. "Are you ready to go?"

    Somehow, in the span of time between the conference and their arrival at the landing pad, the Padawan had exchanged her service greens for the robes that she had worn upon her arrival the previous day, but this time her lightsaber was out and prominent as it hung from her belt. She quickly closed the distance between herself and the bike, motioning for Reeka to take control.

    "As ready as he'll ever be," Tuffass replied to Reeka's continued bewilderment. "Do you have a target?"

    "Yes," Laera confirmed softly. "Reeka, I need you to trust me."

    "You know that I do," the Rodian replied, her voice betraying her sudden misgivings. "What's going on?"

    Laera was already attempting to mount the bike, swiftly realizing that it would not be easy to fit all three of them on board safely—at least, under normal circumstances. Muttering an apology to the Gand, she held him suspended a few centimeters above the vehicle with the Force while she slid into the saddle seemingly with practiced ease. Shuffling herself into it, she relaxed her grip so that Tuffass was effectively sitting in her lap. "You too, Gunny," she whispered as she crossed her arms across his torso.

    Tuffass simply fixed her with an amused look, understanding in his multifaceted eyes. "Get yourself in gear, Lieutenant," he prompted. "You are the driver!"

    Her aura showed that she didn't like what was going on, but Reeka mustered her courage and resumed control of the bike. "Where to?" she asked as the engines roared in anticipation.

    "For now, head east," Laera said simply. "I'll let you know when we get close."

    "But how will you know—"

    "No time to explain!" Laera snapped commandingly. "Get going or we'll lose them!"

    The suddenness of the bike's acceleration momentarily caught the Padawan off-guard, but she soon resumed her Force-grip, holding herself and Tuffass securely onto the speeder like mynocks to a freighter. As she expanded her sphere of awareness outward, her senses searching diligently for the patterns of the Force she had pieced together that indicated their quarry, she began to appreciate why Reeka had taken up this sport. Even if it was only recreational flying she indulged in, the Rodian's handling of the high-performance machine was as expert as Laera could have imagined. The only thing that threatened to complicate things was the noise; running full-tilt through the urban landscape produced quite a lot of turbulence that might make communicating between the three riders difficult at best.

    "Can you hear me?" Laera shouted once they had ascended a few hundred meters and Reeka had brought them up to speed.

    "Barely!" the Rodian shouted back, her gaze still fixed firmly forward. "How about you?"

    "Well enough!"

    "Good, because I don't have any comm headsets!"

    Her attention too occupied between searching the currents of the Force and holding onto the bike, Laera couldn't create a tunnel of windless air between them, not that she would have been able to do so otherwise. So she simply increased the volume of her voice over the roaring of the wind and engines. "When I find what we're looking for, I'm going to use the Force to tap into your mind!" she yelled. "Just relax and focus on your piloting!"

    "You're going to what?!" Reeka replied, astonishment in her voice as she glanced back at her passengers.

    "The Force!" Laera shouted back, wincing slightly as the bike came altogether too close to several repulsor barges being towed by a large airtruck. "I can detect the auras of sentient beings through it! I can also place images into the minds of people who are open to suggestion or that I know well!"

    "That's crazy!" Reeka shouted back, this time keeping her head forward. "You've lost it, Captain!"

    "Trust her, damn you!" Tuffass bellowed hotly. "It's the only way we can find these scumbags!"

    "Reeka, please!" Laera all but begged. "Open yourself up to me, and you will understand!"

    The pilot shook her head, then brought the speeder around a large skyscraper and onto a new lane of traffic. "If we crash because of this," she snarled impotently, "I'm going to kill you!"

    They were passing through the heart of Galactic City now, heading rapidly toward Monument Plaza and, beyond, CoCo Town and the ring of spaceports that marked the eastern edge of that district. As Laera pushed herself hard to achieve new levels of awareness, she began to brush the upper surface of her old friend's mind. Tuffass, seemingly aware of just how taxing this was going to be for Laera, grabbed onto the back of Reeka's uniform and held on with all his might. Gratitude for the Gand fluttered through her, but she brushed the feeling aside and concentrated as she had never done so before, immersing herself deeply into the Force.

    The wind died down and the whine of the engines seemed to fall away, and then for Laera, nothing else existed but the bike, herself and her comrades. And that one elusive, tantalizing clue that she knew, once she pinned it down, was the key to solving this puzzle. Seconds passed like minutes, minutes like hours as the chase continued; the essences of dozens, hundreds, thousands of beings came and went through Laera's awareness, dismissed almost instantly as irrelevant to the matter at hand. The aura she sought was fixated within the targeting computer of her mind, and when she found it, it would outshine the sun...

    "There!" she roared, shattering the silence that had fallen between the riders. "Reeka, now!"
     
  9. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Ooh, such excitement, such suspense! I wonder what form Laera's tap into Reeka's mind will take, and I can't wait for the showdown with those two sneaky infiltrators.

    I almost feel sorry for Tuffass, having to deign to sit on his former pupil's lap after all he does to try to hide his injuries—but it shows how much he's come to respect her and that he's really not such a bad old stick after all. (I meant to say in the previous post how much I liked Adm. Dun'vei's response to this issue in chapter 2. Go him for out-forthrighting Tuffass! :D )

    Cool nod to NCIS with the RNCI. Grimm and Gabby are the counterparts of of Gibbs and Abby, aren't they? Very clever. ;)

    Can't wait for more!
     
  10. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    To be honest, Grimm and Gabby (along with some other RNCI personnel) were co-created by Trak and myself, and first appear in her own in-progress novel, Brablebriar Lane. But you're right, they are direct nods and we wanted very much to capture the essence of their characters without plagiarizing the TV show (for instance, in NCIS I personally think Gibbs would've gotten his lights punched out loooooooong ago for the constant head-slaps).
     
  11. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Six

    For Reeka Chorizzo, the third day of the war had thus far been like piloting a starship through the storms of a gas giant. The morning had gotten off to a splendid start when she had first risen, only to find that Laera, her longtime comrade, friend—and something more—had once again disappeared. She had very nearly lost her nerve right there and then, with thoughts of the previous afternoon having all been a dream threatening to consume her. Her old mentor's presence and understanding had kept her going, at least long enough for them to accost Laera outside of headquarters and deliver the appropriate warning.

    Of course, as soon as things had seemed to calm down, Laera had dropped yet another bombshell on them. Dragging nearly the entire military high command into intrigues that Reeka desperately hoped never to be part of again, the Human had brought back the tempest in full measure. And then she had seemed to disappear yet again, only to show up as her cover identity amongst a veritable avalanche of brass. And then she had, apparently through the use of the Force, convinced Admiral Dun'vei, Commandant of the Marines, to let the three of them pursue the perpetrators of this most dangerous security breach through the skyways of the galactic capital without backup. In her considered opinion, they were looking for a quark in a mole of deuterium.

    Laera's urging to let herself essentially hack into Reeka's brain had come within a micron of crossing the line. Close as the two had become over the years, and though she knew in her heart that the newly-minted Jedi was only pursuing this course for the right reasons and because there was no other choice, she had very nearly refused outright. Apparently there had been yet more to learn about Tuffass, because he had known what buttons to push, and indeed had seemed quite content to play along with this ludicrous endeavor. Even as she soared through the global cityscape with only a vague notion of where they were supposed to be going, Reeka had her lingering doubts.

    And then Laera shouted those three words.

    In spite of her misgivings, Reeka found herself relaxing in her seat and holding the controls in a lighter grip even as her gaze bore down on what looked like a mag-lev tram line. A sense of ease, of remembering the fun she had always had while piloting a speeder bike above and through all manner of terrain, stole over her, and she opened her mind to her comrade's will. In the handful of moments that followed, she saw something that to her dying day she would never be able to properly explain. Never, not even with all the grace in her tongue.

    Despite this, her newly reignited sense of enjoyment remained, even when Laera shouted for Tuffass to grab Reeka by the abdomen and hold on for dear life. The hunt was on, and the pleasure of seeing to its conclusion erupted within her as she bore down on that vision of the tram and what was causing it, urging her bike onward at full throttle. She felt the weight of the bike shift slightly, as though one of her passengers was slipping off the rear end, but she paid it no heed; Laera's presence was gently telling her that it was all part of the plan.

    They were nearing a spaceport now, and the tram was beginning to slow down. Reeka chopped the throttle back, then brought the bike around in a hard left spiral as she bled altitude and airspeed. She timed the pullout to coincide with its arrival at a sheltered platform flanking the port's terminal, which was crowded with beings of all species. After bringing her mount back into horizontal flight as she began to buzz the tram from behind, she felt the bike as it bucked forward slightly. The sensation was enough to draw her attention toward the rear, and her eyes widened with fear.

    Laera had jumped off.

    — — —

    The tram began to slow, the inertia caused by this action forcing Kimba and Palo forward in their seats slightly. They ignored the sensation, waiting until the thing had come to a complete stop before rising to their feet. They shrugged at one another as the doors opened, then began to pick their way through the crowd as they made to exit. The moment they crossed to the platform, however, an eruption of murmurs began to overtake the mass of beings around them. Then the whine of repulsorlifts and engines could be heard coming up from the rear of the tram.

    Which was the precise moment when everything went to Chaos.

    Several beings, a mixed bag of Humans and aliens, stepped back in alarm as a blood-red speeder bike charged close overhead, easily overtaking the tram and circling back around. Palo's gaze followed the retreating speeder as it maneuvered away, but then Kimba grabbed him by the arm and began pulling him forcefully in the direction of the spaceport terminal building and shouting in his ear. "Move your ass! Now!"

    The Wroonian was about to comply when a body landed catlike on the platform, gracefully rising from its crouched posture and pulling something silver and tube-shaped from its belt. The snap-hiss that followed and the appearance of a bright blue shaft of energy at the tube's business end caused the blood to drain from Palo's face, a sensation that he could well imagine his partner experiencing. Fear clutched at his heart, so that despite Kimba's continued urging, he found that his legs had mutinied against him. He could no more move his feet than he could lift a bulk freighter.

    "Going somewhere?" an outwardly pleasant-sounding female voice inquired from the walking set of Jedi robes as it advanced menacingly upon the duo.

    Kimba's grip slackened as she too seemed to become unable to move. Palo attempted to peer beneath the cowl in a vain quest to identify the species of their new antagonist and, thus, anything that might enable him to talk their way out of trouble. The Jedi, meanwhile, was gesturing to the throng of commuters, muttering something about conducting business for the Order and that they need not fear. Wanting nothing to do with the incident, and more importantly the lit lightsaber she held, they complied.

    Palo tried to take advantage of the Jedi's seemingly divided attention by reaching for his holdout blaster, only to be spitted with a hooded stare. "Don't bother," she said idly, though her voice had become chilly enough to freeze hydrogen. "I tracked you this far, do you think you could get away now?"

    Kimba had gone white as a sheet. "How...?"

    The Jedi continued to close the distance, her and Kimba's eyes locking. "Because once upon a time we knew each other, in another life. We trained as Marines together...Miranda Cenchu."

    Even the crowd seemed to hush at that revelation, though neither operative would have been fool enough to think any of them could hear the Jedi's whispered words of torment. Palo felt it as Kimba flinched from the words, or was it the still-advancing Jedi she was shying away from? It hardly mattered; they had been made, and there was no getting out of this.

    That was when the Jedi turned to regard him. "Oh, but there is," she said casually, her voice warming a few degrees. For all intents and purposes the three of them were alone, a full ten meters or more separating them from the crowd even as the commuters made to enter or exit the tram. "Just tell us what you know about that little device."

    "Wh-what device?" Kimba stammered, but even a blind and deaf bantha could detect the lie. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

    The hooded woman seemed unimpressed, making a tutting noise as, once more, the roar of speeder bike engines returned. This time the vehicle, thanks to the adroit maneuvering of its pilot, descended and sideslipped into a landing position upon the tramway platform even as the tram itself departed. From it jumped two beings, cast in semidarkness by the shadow of the shelter overhead. One was reasonably tall and bearing the confident posture of an officer, the other quite short and walking toward them with just the hint of a limp. As they approached, Palo could see who they were in greater detail: a Rodian, and a member of an insectoid species he did not recognize. Both were clad in uniforms identical to what he and Kimba had worn—and then disintegrated—mere hours earlier, the taller being carrying junior lieutenant's bars, while the smaller wore the stripes of some grade of sergeant.

    "Makeup," the diminutive insectoid spat, making the word into a curse. "Tuffass should have known he hadn't seen the last of your sorry hide."

    This was too much for Kimba, as her eyes rolled back into her skull and her legs collapsed out from under her body.

    — — —​

    Nausea greeted her gradual ascent back to consciousness, a sickly sensation that she hadn't felt since boot camp all those many years ago. When she opened her eyes and cast them about, Miranda found that she had been placed on a repulsor gurney within what she could only assume to be some sort of ambulance. Or a security vehicle, judging by the restraints that held her wrists to the bed. Either way, the looks on the faces of the three beings who held her in their gaze only made the malaise worse.

    "Rise and shine, Makeup!" her old drill instructor chirped happily, his voice and bearing conveying the utter joy he felt at a job well done. "You're in deeeeep **** now."

    "You can say that again, Gunny," the Rodian she had once known as Squeak agreed. "It's been a long time, Miranda. How have you been?"

    "Oh, I bet she's been pretty busy these past few days," the third person replied for her, and Miranda felt her hackles rise at the sound of it. "To say nothing of the years before that."

    "You!" she snarled in response, tugging impotently at the plastoid zip-cuffs. "You...you...ruined everything!"

    "We Marines have a habit of doing that," Laera Reyolé replied sarcastically. "If you had had any heart, you would have realized this a long time ago. And maybe then you wouldn't have washed out so badly."

    "How do you—"

    "Admiral Dun'vei told us," Reeka chimed in. "When we informed him of you and your partner's capture, that is. It seems you and he have a history."

    "Your friend is being most cooperative, by the way," the Gand rumbled gravelly as he crossed his arms in satisfaction. "Tuffass had forgotten just how persuasive he could be."

    "We know you're working for the Sith," Laera murmured, leaning in close. "We also know that you've been onplanet for a while now. That means we can charge you as a terrorist. Isn't that right, Agent Grimm?"

    "Absolutely," a hard male voice came from further up the van. "RNCI has all the evidence it needs to see you put away for a very, very long time. Your pal, thanks to the information he has provided, is probably going to be granted a plea bargain and leniency."

    "Something about being safer in Republic custody than out running the spacelanes, costantly looking over his shoulder," Reeka added happily. "I hear that the Sith can be quite nasty toward those who fail them."

    "What do you want?" Miranda bit out, recognizing that her nerf was well and truly cooked. "Dates? Names? I can't give them to you, because I never got them. Palo, if that's his real name, knows far more than I ever did."

    "That's not what we want, actually," Laera answered warmly, and Miranda couldn't tell if this new incarnation of her old rival was being serious or intentionally pulling her leg. "Do you want me to explain?"

    Miranda twisted her face into the filthiest expression she could come up with, imagining what sorts of horrific things she would do to all three of them given the chance. First, she would drop Tuffass off a skyscraper into a congested traffic lane. Then she would beat the snot out of Chorizzo and dump her into an incinerator. Then...then she would simply feed Reyolé to a sarlacc...

    "I'll take that rather nasty thought as a 'yes'," Laera continued remorselessly. "In truth we want you, and your friend, to go free."

    "You lie!" Miranda blurted out before she could stop herself. "You Jedi scum, you love the idea of messing with people's heads. Why should I even listen to you?!"

    "Oh, Tuffass here would very much like to do to you what you just thought about doing to him," Laera replied, as though reading peoples' thoughts out loud to them was an everyday occurrence. "You will listen—and you will believe me—because you really don't have a choice in the matter."

    The van fell silent as Miranda contemplated her options. She had a feeling as to what was being offered: the Republic wanted to turn her, to make her and her partner into double agents, feeding their patron—apparently her hunch about him had been correct—information that, while false, would come across as authentic. It was abundantly clear that they had found the holotap in the commandant's office, and if her hunches continued to be accurate, they would want to keep it running to further perpetuate the illusion of her and Palo's successful completion of the mission.

    "Sithspit," she muttered disdainfully. "I guess you'll want to put a tracker on me and then send me out to some far-off dirtball."

    "Let's just say the details will be hammered out later," that hard voice from the other end of the van replied. "So are you in, or are you going to prison?"

    Miranda felt her innards go cold at the possibility of being quietly shunted aside, buried in a cell deep below the urban skyline where she would be regarded as among the worst kind of scum, never again tasting freedom or seeing the horizon of her homeworld. Hatred of her lot in life boiled up within her; she found herself resenting the entire universe for seemingly having gone out of its way to tread on her, to dash her hopes and dreams and relegate her to serving some nebulous entity she couldn't even identify by name. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. Why should she have to keep continuing to pay, and pay heavily, for what amounted to a truckload of minor mistakes so long after they had been made?

    As she began to resign herself to the fact of her being an utter failure as a sentient, a warm presence began to enwrap her. Forgiveness and compassion seemed to seep into her, from a source she couldn't yet place, and images appeared in her mind's eye. She remembered running exercises alongside a very young version of the Jedi at her side, the girl favoring the young Miranda with a grin as she gave her all to keep up. Then she was presented with a memory of her graduation from boot camp, when despite their differences, Laera had hugged Miranda in heartfelt congratulations. A final recollection followed that: the time where she had gone to the rescue of her platoon sergeant during a skirmish with a band of pirates, despite the fact that she and the noncom had been at loggerheads for months previously.

    Suddenly, the world didn't seem so bleak after all. Perhaps there was a chance to achieve some sort of redemption; she had once served the Republic, and though it had been for selfish reasons, her enlistment had been entirely voluntary. And deep down, she remembered having felt pride in her accomplishments while serving on the line, alert and ready to tackle the Republic's enemies, whatever they might have been. And here, before her now, she was being offered a second chance to make something of herself rather than being cast to the solar winds.

    "Just tell me what to do," Miranda said finally, letting her head fall back onto the gurney as she whuffed out a deep sigh. "Do me one favor, though. Keep the Sith off my back."

    "I intend to," Laera replied, an encouraging smile dimpling her cheeks and a gleam in her lustrous sapphire eyes. "Welcome back to the light."

    "Maybe this time around, you can earn your name back," Tuffass put in.

    Despite everything, Miranda found herself smiling at the remark.

    — — —​

    The rest of the day saw Reeka, Tuffass and Laera back at headquarters, offering testimony to a lone, anonymous Republic Intelligence officer while Miranda and her Wroonian partner were being interrogated separately in another facility. The three of them took it in turns to outline the chase and how it had concluded, with Laera explaining how she had known the female perpetrator and subsequently penetrated her disguise.

    "You do realize that according to the records, you're actually dead," the spook informed the Padawan in a sardonic undertone. "Just how am I supposed to put that in a report?"

    "You don't," Laera advised nonchalantly. "On the other hand, you could put in my entire story and then stamp the whole thing with the highest classification ratings you can muster."

    The Intelligence man nodded, the ghost of a smile crossing his lips. "Can do," he said with a wink. "Also, Chief Troi Dennig of the Coruscant Security Force is all but screaming for blood; it seems that the three of you ripped about fifty traffic regulations into tatters during your pursuit."

    "It was a military operation," Reeka replied as though the answer was obvious. "This Dennig character can kiss my efflux for all I care."

    "So the commandant has told us," the officer admitted. "Well, I can't pretend to understand everything that you all have told me, but Intelligence nevertheless thanks you for your assistance in this matter. You've definitely earned some favors with us."

    Laera looked from Tuffass to Reeka, then to the agent. "Well, there was one thing I was hoping you could arrange. It shouldn't take much effort."

    "Name it," the officer replied with a casual shrug.

    "Well," Laera began, suddenly self-conscious about the idea. "I'd like to...to call my parents, if they're still around."

    The agent simply smiled.

    — — —​

    "Ceylon!" Daddi Reyolé yelled toward the garden where his wife was digging the weeds. "Hey, Ceylon, we're getting an incoming hypercomm!"

    "Be right there!" she called back, her voice muffled slightly by the flora she was tending. The back door opened and shut with a neat snap, then footsteps echoed down the hall as she approached. "It can't be Mr. Prentize, you've been retired for months now!"

    "I don't think it's him," Daddi said, a touch of apprehension in his voice. "It's a secured feed, full holo from Coruscant."

    "From...Coruscant?" Ceylon echoed disbelievingly as she joined her husband. "Why in the stars would anyone from out there want to talk to us?"

    "I guess we're going to find out," Daddi replied, his finger unsure as he made to push the ACCEPT button.

    The unit, which had been installed in the house years prior when Daddi had been promoted to field manager for all Agamar operations, hummed to life. An ethereal blue blob erupted lazily from the projector node, which eventually resolved itself into the busts of two individuals. Both Reyolés made small noises of shock as recognition blossomed within their minds; Reeka and Tuffass, who they had first met at Laera's funeral, were blinking back at them with looks of pride and gratitude. "Hello," the Rodian said brightly. "It's been a while, how are things going for you?"

    Daddi and Ceylon exchanged a glance, a myriad of possibilities flowing through their minds at lightspeed. Daddi shrugged uncertainly, but bravely offered an answer. "Well, I'm retired now. We've got a nice garden going, Ceylon has quite a green thumb."

    There was a short peal of laughter, and then a third face and upper torso joined the conversation. "Hi Mom! Hi Dad!"

    "Laera?!" Ceylon all but screamed as she clutched at her chest. "But...but you're dead!"

    "Yeah, sorry about that," their daughter said apologetically, though her good humor and radiant expression remained as strong and vibrant as Daddi had ever known it to be. "It was a...weird experience. But I'm back on my feet and soldiering on!"

    "She really is," the Gand put in proudly. "Tuffass is mightily impressed."

    "But, how is this possible?" Daddi inquired, to which Laera simply shrugged.

    "It's a long story, Dad," she replied after a beat. "And you really don't want to know the details."

    Husband and wife nodded sagely; long experience at having a daughter in the military had conditioned them to accept her word in that regard. If she figured that the less her parents knew, the better off they were, they would accept and honor such a request. "So," Daddi began as Ceylon looked from him to the three holoprojected images, "how are you keeping yourself busy? I notice you're not wearing a uniform."

    "Well, I am and I'm not," Laera replied. "I'm a captain now, but prior to returning to active duty I trained for a year as a Jedi."

    "A...Jedi?" Ceylon stammered. "But..."

    "It wasn't easy, Mom," their daughter explained. "Particularly given those trust issues I know you and Dad always had. I had them too, but my Master helped me to overcome them and open myself to the Force. Don't you remember, Dad, when you first took me to the spaceport?"

    In spite of the surprise brought on by his little girl's revelation, Daddi cast his mind back to when he had seen Laera off on her way to join the Republic Marines. He had said something about how the Force definitely existed, despite his aspirations regarding the Jedi, and how he had hoped it would be with her. Well, apparently it always had been, waiting to be discovered by the right person. And in his opinion, the Jedi had regained his respect for their role in beating back the Mandalorians—Vima Sunrider in particular had earned his trust for how she had honored their daughter. "I do, Lilly," he replied, a warm, tremulous smile crossing his visage and a tear forming in his eye. "I'm so proud of you."

    "We're both proud of you, dear," Ceylon added, a slight hitch in her voice. "If you ever want to come home again, we'll be here for you."

    The three holograms smiled in return, Laera bobbing her head gratefully. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen for a while," she explained, her words dampening the happy mood somewhat. "There's another war on as you know, and I'll be returning to the front soon. The three of us have a lot of work to get started on."

    "We understand," Daddi replied, that tear breaking loose and sliding down his cheek.

    "You'll write to us, won't you?" Ceylon inquired, at which their daughter nodded.

    "Definitely," Laera promised. "You haven't seen the last of me just yet."

    The holocomm session ended, and the three smiling and waving callers vanished into nothingness as the terminal shut down. "She always was a fighter," Daddi said, his voice thick with love and admiration. "We raised a fine woman."

    "But it's war again," Ceylon replied as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "What if—"

    "She's a Jedi now," Daddi interrupted softly, drawing his wife close and offering a reassuring kiss. "Lilly wants us to carry on and live our lives, which means we have to let go and allow the Force to do as it wills."

    "I suppose so," Ceylon admitted glumly, closing her eyes as her husband enfolded her in a hug.

    "At least we have her back," Daddi offered. "For as long as it lasts."

    Fin
     
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  12. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    A final chapter both bracing and satisfying! Very exciting showdown between Laera and her old nemesis, but I also like that said nemesis was redeemed in the end. (And her partner too—he always seemed too funny and likable to be completely evil. ;) ) I wonder if this will lead to more stories with Miranda fighting side by side with Laera and Reeka as a friend (even if they do occasionally disagree about things)...

    And what a poignant ending with Laera's call to her parents. Just about whenever I read about Laera's parents, and her love for them, I choke up a little, in a good way.

    Wonderful work—this D-Day has really been a productive writing day for you! ;)
     
  13. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    May 11, 2011
    Operation Neptune definitely heralded the beginning of the end for the Third Reich, but it was the destruction of Army Group Center on the Eastern Front later that month that really put the nails in the coffin. It was not unlike the defeat at Gettysburg on one day and the surrendering of Vicksburg on the next...

    Thank you so much for following! As far as Miranda is concerned, I have no further plans for her—she certainly wouldn't re-enter the military (there are a number of legitimate reasons for this beyond any story gripes) and I'm not sure I've got the chops to write a Clancy-esque cloak-and-dagger story about her. Reeka may have one more short story left to go, but that'd be a one- or two-shot at best and probably not a very exciting one. If anything, it'd be about the planning and execution of a textbook commando raid, which really isn't all it's cracked up to be. Unless something goes awry, that is. :p
     
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