main
side
curve
  1. Welcome to the new boards! Details here!

Before - Legends Sith Politics: The Game Gets Dangerous

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by PlanetSmasher, Feb 10, 2018.

  1. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    This story takes place in The Old Republic Era. This is a very dark story.

    Title: Sith Politics: The Game Gets Dangerous

    Author(s): PlanetSmasher

    Timeframe: The Old Republic Era, about 300 years after Revan

    Characters: The main character in this story is Shahn Lunn, AKA Darth Virulous, Andronikos Revel, Yehw'reh'nomai, and Darth Nox.

    Genre: Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller,

    Keywords: Vengeance, Power Struggles, Betrayal, Political Intrigue

    Summary: Darth Nox's Newest apprentice is on a mission for her master. Follow her down the Path to Darkness. Meanwhile, Andronikos Revel and Yehw'reh'nomai have a chance encounter. Will their meeting lead to love? Or maybe not?

    This is the sequel to my original fanfic, "Sith Politics: Fun and Games." This story begins about two weeks after the first one ends. You can find the first story on page 10 of the web forum (as of 10 Feb 18) (It's WAAAAAY AFTER 10 Feb 18! So, you might need to search for the story deep in the pages of this web site... LOL). Although you don't need to read the first story, reading it will answer a lot of questions, as this story sometimes refers to events that occurred in the first story.

    I hope you will enjoy the sequel. As always, please leave comments on what you read. Let me know what you think.

    Thanks.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    A Casual Drink With A Tough Girl​


    Andronikos Revel sat at the bar of a very exclusive club on Nar Shaddaa. He'd just finished transferring a tribute into Darth Nox's personal financial account on Dromund Kaas and fired off a text message to his employer.

    "Boss, I just wired you a thank you gift. You should see a deposit of two trillion credits. We had a really great payday! The military hardware sold fast and netted us a really nice chunk of credits. Not shabby at all. It brought in about one percent of our take. The antiques made a really good showing, netting us about twenty percent of our grand total.

    "The gem stones were all snapped up within minutes of being introduced by the auctioneer. That got us another fifteen percent of gross. The art, though! Once the authenticity of the art was verified by three independent and very reputable assessors, the bidding went through the roof! It netted us way more than anything I had imagined. We got our remaining sixty four percent of our gross take from that.

    "Everything sold! Nothing was left over. Military gear brings in good credits, but nothing like gems, antiques and ancient art. If we ever raid anyone like that again, I'll remember not to waste cargo space on military hardware.

    "The grand total for this haul was just over twelve trillion credits. Thanks for letting me loot the place, Boss. It really was a really great payday!"

    Andronikos took another sip of his Hutt's Vile Brew ale, a favorite on Nar Shaddaa, when a Chiss woman took a seat on the bar stool next to his.

    Smiling, she asked, "What are you drinking?"

    He told her, and she ordered one for herself. Andronikos took a close look at her. She was tall, his height, athletically built – not steroidally overdone, but femininely muscularly toned.

    "Damn! Her face is cute!" He thought.

    He really felt this way despite the old and faded jagged scar on her left cheek.

    Besides the scar, something else about her face made him think, "She's a tough girl!" Giving a friendly smile of his own, he told her, "You look like a tough girl. I like tough girls."

    The Chiss woman’s smile grew wider on hearing that.

    "You look kind of dangerous, yourself." Laughing, she added, "I like dangerous guys."

    "Well, you're in luck.” He said, widening his own smile and adding, “I'm as dangerous as they come."

    He laughed as though he’d told a joke. She laughed with him.

    "What's such a fine looking woman like you doing in a dump like this?" He said without thinking.

    "This is actually a very respectable club. You know?" She gave him a sidelong look.

    Andronikos laughed, telling her, "Oh, yeah. That's right. I'm not used to high class joints like this." Quickly adding, "That was a joke."

    He asked, "What's your name?"

    "Call me Wrehn," she smiled, looking deeply into his eyes.

    "All right, Wrehn. I'm Andronikos." Then, he asked, "What kind of work do you do, Wrehn?"

    "I move freight. I own a freighter." Turning on her bar stool towards him, she asked, "What about you? What do you do?"

    "I'm a pirate." Then he quipped, "I steal freight."

    The look she gave him made him laugh out loud.

    He told her, "Don't worry. I only do this part-time nowadays. I'm semi retired, and I don't go after small fry." Showing off, he added, "I just auctioned off the last of my latest haul – twelve trillion credits. That's in Hutt currency."

    He failed to tell her that his cut of that twelve trillion was four trillion, that two trillion went to his employer, while the mercenaries got six trillion before happily concluding their contractual partnership with him.

    Wrehn whistled and said, "Damn. I'm in the wrong business." To herself, "He's got to be exaggerating!" She reconsidered, "Or maybe not. His bounty is Sixty two million credits in Republic space, and thirty five million in Imperial space."

    Looking around, she asked, "Are your crew around? I don't see anyone who looks ‘pirate-like,’ besides you, that is."

    "I hired mercenaries. I paid them off already. They're gone."

    Just as Wrehn was about to entice him into following her out of the club, Andronikos asked, "I wanna show off. Do you wanna see my ship?"

    Wrehn gave him another sidelong look, saying, "You don't waste any time, do you?"

    "You don't wanna see my ship?” Sounding disappointed, then adding, “I'm really proud of her. I had some people go in and fix the deck. I had wood floors put in, but the cargo marred the surface. They got the surfaces fixed and covered with a transparent scratch resistant protective cover."

    Wrehn said in a business-like manner, "That's not enough. You have to put heavy foam shipping pads down to protect the surface of the scratch resistant protective cover from shipping crates and the like, especially loading droids. Those covers aren't so scratch resistant as you'd think."

    "She sounds like she knows what she's talking about." He thought. Aloud, he said, "Heavy foam shipping pads. Got it."

    Wrehn said coyly, "I don't know about going to a pirate's ship...." Then flirtatiously suggested, "Why don't you come to my ship?"

    Andronikos smiled wryly, telling her, "Look at who's not wasting any time..."

    The two laughed at the observation.

    "I just finished a long shipping run, and have been so lonely,” she said, coyly, adding flirtatiously, “I could use a real stiff one."

    Andronikos flagged the bartender down. When the bartender arrived, he spoke as though he’d misunderstood her.

    "Barkeep, get the lady a stiff shot of..." Interrupting himself, he asked her deadpan, "Is Duros Whiskey good for you?"

    Wrehn got a real laugh out of that and grabbed his hand, urging Andronikos, "Come on!"

    Wrehn's crew was positioned outside of the club. The plan was to ambush him just as he exited the establishment. Andronikos was wanted, dead. His personal holo-transmitter sounded just as he got on his feet to follow her out of the club. He pulled his hand free of hers and went for his communicator.

    "Sorry. I gotta take this call."

    He pushed the button on the device, and up sprang the holographic image of Darth Nox. Wrehn's eyes went wide. Andronikos spoke to the dark lord's image.

    "Hey, Boss! Your timing couldn't be better. I was gonna call you,” he lied. “Did you get the message? Did you check your account?"

    Darth Nox ignored Andronikos’ comments and questions, ordering, "Bring my ship, immediately. I must travel."

    Wrehn just happened to be standing right next to Andronikos when he connected the call. She was within the pickup range of Andronikos’ communication device.

    Seeing Wrehn's image, Nox asked, "Yehw'reh'nomai, are you working with my servant?"

    Nox’s holographic image turned its face back towards Andronikos and commented, "She is a very capable bounty hunter. She is costly! However, her services are worth the prices she demands."

    Andronikos replied very darkly, "Thanks for the tip, Boss."

    Nox immediately surmised what the situation was, and spoke very coldly to Wrehn.

    "Who hired you to kill or capture my servant?"

    Wrehn, disgusted at how horribly things were turning out, answered bluntly, "To kill."

    She looked down at the blaster pointed at her exposed belly button.

    "I'm not gonna take this personally with you.” Andronikos plainly lied to her, adding, “I know it's just business. So, let’s make a new deal, a new business arrangement. Yeah?"

    Nox interjected, "Yehw'reh'nomai, understand that as far as I am concerned there can only be one class of people who would put a price on my servant's head, and that class of people are my enemies."

    Wrehn remained silent, staring at the blaster pistol leveled at her stomach.

    Nox continued, "I'm inclined to take any attack on my people very personally."

    Andronikos gave a grim smile that had no effect of alleviating the frost around his eyes.

    "Come on, Wrehn. Let's make a deal." Then, as realization hit him, and without taking his eyes off of the Chiss bounty hunter, he asked Nox, "Boss, did you call her Yehw'reh'nomai?"

    "That's her name," the dark lord confirmed.

    Andronikos' smile changed a little as he thought about the irony playing out before him.

    "I saw your tag carved on the launch pad on Korriban," he told her.

    Wrehn, believing her life would end very soon nodded once, her eyes still on the blaster.

    In a strained voice, she replied, "Yeah. I did a job there for your boss."

    She gulped back a sob, willing herself to keep a tough exterior.

    Andronikos had heard about her job for his boss on Korriban on the gossip shows. He nodded, arching his eyebrows, quite impressed.

    “You actually faced down a pissed off Sith lord and took him down like it was nothing.” He asked rhetorically, "That really was you?" Adding, "Then I better be extra careful. It means you're real good at your work – shipping freight."

    Speaking as though trying to reason with a difficult customer, he said, "Wrehn, if you're not willing to make a deal with me, then I gotta kill you. I can tell my boss likes you." Nodding his head towards the holo-transmitter which he'd set on the bar top between them, he added, "He didn't tell me to kill you and be done with it, and he made the effort to give you a chance to make nice with him." He asked her, "What do you say? Can we do business together?"

    Wrehn’s holo-transceiver vibrated on her hip attached to her belt. It was a signal from her team that they were inside and ready to take Andronikos out. Her crew became alerted to trouble, when Wrehn’s bio readings became elevated indicating that she was in distress.

    Wrehn stood too close to him, however. If they fired, she would get caught in the bolt blast. She took the opportunity to warn off her crew. Wrehn spoke cryptically as though thinking to herself aloud.

    "I can’t finish the job and get my thirty five million. If I try it, I’ll end up on the run from the whole Sith Empire. Or I could cut a deal and let Darth Nox...” she emphasized, “take out my client for this job. I won’t get paid, but I won’t have to be on the run forever. Those are my choices.” She paused, as though thinking it over, and then asked herself aloud, “What to do? What to do?”

    Andronikos became slightly startled, as two people seemed to suddenly materialize from nowhere, a heavily armored cybernetically enhanced human female and a heavily armored human male. The male said something in the Mando language. Wrehn started to regain her composure now that her people were there to back her up.

    She said to Andronikos, “It looks like we can do business.”

    Andronikos asked, “Boss?”

    Nox demanded, “Who hired you to kill my servant?!”

    Wrehn spoke to the cybernetically enhanced female, “Mako, bring up the contract, and put the datapad on the bar top where he could see it.”

    Mako, replied in surprise, “Boss, if we reveal our client, It’ll ruin our reputation!”

    “Yeah. You’re right, Mako,” Wrehn replied, adding in a flip tone, “It’s better to get chased all over the damned galaxy for the rest of our lives by the Republic for killing the Chancellor, and by Darth Nox for killing his man.”

    A Devaronian male had entered the club unnoticed until he spoke, “We have enough problems with the Republic wanting our heads. I think that’s enough pressure already. We don’t need the Sith Empire chasing us around, too. Give them the contract, Mako.”

    The heavily armored human male spoke in the Mando language, and then translated what he’d said, “That means, ‘honor is everything, but becomes foolishness in the face of poor judgment.’ I think Yehw’reh’nomai is right, Mako.”

    Stubbornly, Mako told Wrehn, “We should charge something for this!”

    Andronikos replied with puzzlement in his tone, “We’re offering you your lives, and not getting on Darth Nox’s bad side.”

    Wrehn spoke tersely, “Mako, give them the damned contract.”

    Reluctantly Mako complied, setting the datapad with the relevant contract displayed on its screen on the bar top next to Andronikos’ holo-transmitter. That’s when she saw that Andronikos had a concealable blaster pointed at Wrehn’s exposed midsection. When she turned to look into Andronikos’ face, she saw nothing but murder in his eyes.

    As Mako withdrew from the bar, she told her employer and friend, “Sorry for giving you a hard time, Wrehn.”

    “Don’t sweat it.” The Chiss woman replied, adding, “We’re just doing business.”

    Mako knew the others hadn’t seen his blaster pistol either. It was a compact backup concealable blaster pistol, probably capable of only firing one or two very powerful bolts, but Wrehn was completely unarmored. One shot would definitely disintegrate her body. His hand covered most of it, and he held it close to his side. However, from behind him, it just looked as though Andronikos was simply leaning on the bar.

    Andronikos looked down at the datapad screen and shook his head at what he saw.

    “You’re not gonna believe this, Boss. Or maybe you will.”

    “I’m at the end of my patience, Andronikos. Spit it out!”

    “Darth Acina.”

    Nox demanded, “Yehw’reh’nomai, how old is that contract?!”

    “About two weeks old.”

    Nox told her, “Acina and I have been on a feud. I prevailed, destroying Acina. She is no longer on the Dark Council. There is no one left who will honor that contract.”

    Andronikos told Wrehn, “Look it up. It’s galaxy wide news.”

    Mako embarrassedly admitted, “Uh, Wrehn. I don’t know how I missed it, but it’s true.” She added, “The bounty is still in effect, but it’s rated as dubious, Boss.”

    Meanwhile, Darth Nox had ordered his droid, 2V-R8, “Put me in contact with Darth Zash. Hurry!”

    Zash had actually answered the call. She was very curious about what Nox would want to talk to her about.

    She spoke teasingly, “My dear Darth Nox, what an unexpected pleasure to hear from you! What could you possibly want from me?”

    Nox spoke furiously.

    “I don’t know what kind of game you think you’re playing here, but if you don’t want to share Acina’s fate, then you had better cancel that bounty you put on my servant’s head!” He added menacingly, “I swear, if Andronikos is killed because of this, I’ll not rest until you lie in ruins!”

    Zash was taken aback as Nox added, “I had better not find that others in my powerbase have been targeted in this manner. I will make you pay dearly, Zash!”

    Zash was shaken, but she hid her surprise and spoke with deep displeasure in her tone to hide her fear.

    “Your tone is most unwelcome, Darth Nox! I can understand your concern that your people have been targeted, but what evidence do you...”

    Nox cut her off, speaking through clenched teeth, “The Sphere of Technology is the client! Acina is no longer ruler of that sphere. That leaves you!”

    “I’ll look into it,” Zash said curtly and abruptly cut the connection.

    Nox smiled, thinking smugly, “Now I won’t owe her any favors.

    He knew it wasn’t Zash, but putting her on the spot in the way he did made it seem as though he blamed her for the situation. In fact, Zash had considered that Nox had already been involved in two Kaggaths, and that he’d won both blood feuds, completely destroying both of his enemies, Darth Thanaton and Darth Acina – two powerful Sith lords – in the process. Fearing his power in the face of her weakness – Nox had destroyed much of Acina’s powerbase, leaving very little for Zash to inherit when she ascended to the Dark Council – she opted to clear the matter up quickly.

    “The bounty just got yanked!” Mako exclaimed, expressing her shock.

    Wrehn asked, “What about the Republic’s bounty on him?”

    Andronikos’ eyes squinted, making him appear to Wrehn more menacing than before. It rankled him that she was still thinking about his value as a bounty.

    Mako replied, “It’s still up.”

    “O.K., gang, this job’s a wash,” Wrehn declared, adding, “He’s not worth getting a dark lord all worked up.”

    Andronikos’ eyes still had murder in them, and his back up blaster was still pointed at her mid section.

    Wrehn told him, “The Republic hates us. They’re not going to pay us for any jobs we do for them.”

    Andronikos slid the data pad towards Wrehn and said, “Show me.”

    Wrehn brought up the bounty on her and her crew’s heads and cursed.

    “The blasted nerf turds just doubled it!”

    She pushed the datapad back towards Andronikos hoping he wouldn’t get any ideas about trying to claim the bounty for himself.

    He looked at it and exclaimed in disbelief, “Two billion?!” Then he ordered, “Tell your crew to get lost.”

    Wrehn snarled, “To hell with that! We’re all getting lost.”

    “You’re my insurance to keep your crew from trying anything stupid.” Andronikos told her, adding menacingly, “Don’t make me have to cash in on the policy.”

    Wrehn gritted her teeth and growled out, “Gang, guns out! Now!”

    Andronikos found himself the target of two blaster rifles and a blaster pistol.

    Wrehn reiterated, “You’re not a bounty head anymore in the Sith Empire. I’m leaving with my gang, or we get mutually ashed.”

    Andronikos’ back up blaster vanished into his coat sleeve. He turned to face the bar and picked up his drink, taking a sip.

    Wrehn, wasting no time, grabbed the datapad off the bar top and got the hell out, with her crew quickly following her out. Outside of the establishment, she immediately made her way to an alleyway where another of her crew, a Houk, waited with their speeder.

    The Houk, in his coarse and gravelly voice, asked, “What’d I miss?”

    The Devaronian quipped, “Wrehn ran. Bounty chased her off.”

    The Houk laughed at the joke.

    Wrehn’s reaction was not entirely unexpected. She reached into the front passenger side of the speeder and pulled out her blaster, which she’d left behind for this job.

    Pointing it at the Houk, she menaced, “Stop laughing, Skadge.”

    The Houk stopped laughing. Wrehn turned to face the Devaronian.

    He had already ducked around the corner of a building at the end of the alley, and shouted into the alley from around the corner, “It was a joke! Take it easy, Wrehn! Come on!”

    Wrehn shouted furiously, “I did not run from that scummy pirate! I did not want to piss his boss off! There’s a huge blasted difference!”

    Confused, Skadge asked, “Wait! Wrehn really ran? Or did the bounty just get away?”

    Mako chirped flippantly, “With her tail between her legs.”

    Wrehn slammed the blaster onto the alley pavement as Skadge let loose a long raucous round of laughter.

    The human male in heavy Mandalorian armor added, “We had the bounty dead to rights, but it turned out the bounty works for Darth Nox.”

    “So what, Torian?” Skadge asked, recovering from his laughing fit.

    Mako replied, taking practicality into account, “We’re already wanted – dead – by the Republic for two billion credits.” Interrupting herself, she added, “It was just doubled to two billion.” Then she continued her original train of thought, asking, “Why have the whole Sith Empire chasing after us, too?”

    “I thought you said it was Darth Nox.” Skadge said.

    “Yeah, Mako replied, emphasizing, “The whole Sith Empire.”

    After some reflection, Skadge asked, “What’s wrong with that?” Speaking as though he thought it might be fun, he added, “It just means we’ll have more skulls to crush and bodies to pummel into paste.”

    Wrehn snapped, “Shut the hell up, all of you! Get your carcasses into the damned speeder. We’re getting the hell off of this moon!” Then she bellowed, “Gault, get your ass over here, unless you wanna get left behind!”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Andronikos was furious. He was furious at the tough Chiss woman with the pretty face for tricking him. He was furious at himself for letting his guard down so completely. He realized that he had to face reality and revise this idea of his about being safe in Hutt Space.

    I knew Hutt Space was harsh and unforgiving, but I ain’t been on Nar Shaddaa for two weeks, and I didn’t cross any Hutts!” He told himself, before recalling that it was Darth Acina who’d put out the call for his head sometime before her defeat at the hands of his employer a week earlier.

    Andronikos was a proud man. So, it hurt his pride as he thought, “Dammit! I’m a tough guy! So, why do I gotta hire bodyguards?!
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2018
  2. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Shahn Lunn’s New Name​


    Wearing civilian business attire, Darth Virulous sat in her seat aboard a small passenger starship operated by a regional space carrier, Duros Mid-Rim Spacelines. It was a wholly owned subsidiary of Coruscant Spaceways.

    She flew aboard Darth Nox’s starship from Dromund Kaas to Nar Shaddaa. There she bought a one way ticket for her flight to Tatooine from the Smuggler’s Moon as Nar Shaddaa was affectionately known by every facet of criminal and polite society.

    Remaining seated, she watched as the other passengers began to rise from their seats to reclaim their belongings from the overhead bins. She recalled how quickly she’d picked up a tail while she stood at the ticket counter to book her flight to Tatooine. Her thoughts went back to Nox’s starship and her conversation with its captain.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Andronikos stood before Nox’s newest apprentice as she sat in repose in one of the luxuriously over-stuffed lounge chairs in the common crew space.

    “Uh, can I still call you Shahn, or do you prefer your new name?”

    Watching the droids and mercenaries at work from the incredible comfort of the lounge chair in the common crew space, she turned her eyes downward, becoming introspective. A pang of sorrow struck her.

    I’ll miss my name,” she lamented, and despaired, thinking, “My beautiful name no longer suites what I am becoming.

    She was proud of her name. It belonged to her grandmother, and to her great grandmother before her, both were respected academicians. Her name meant First Promise in the local dialect of her people, a colony of humans who’d settled on Mirial, but which literally translated into Morning Bloom in Galactic Standard.

    If I ever give birth to a daughter, I will give my child that name,” she vowed to herself.

    She hated her new name, but it was a part of the title Darth Nox had granted her. It was a representation of what her master saw in her which, in a twisted kind of way, was complimentary.

    The Mandalorian mercenaries supervised their rented heavy duty work droids as they unloaded their looted cargo from Nox’s ship. Andronikos had on a worried expression as he watched one of the droids collide into the bulkhead on its way to the main hatch.

    “Hey! Numb nuts!” he shouted at the droid, running to where the droid had come to a stop. “Watch what the hell you’re doing!” He pushed at the one ton heavy duty work droid, exclaiming, “That’s a control panel you’re walking that crate into!”

    The droid gave way, not because of Andronikos’ strength, but rather it was because it was designed to be easily maneuverable. Sometimes droid handlers had to push and shove droids in the direction they wanted their machines to go, or to avoid accidents.

    Virulous didn’t know this about work droids of foreign manufacture, so she marveled at Andronikos’ power.

    “You are strong! That droid so easily gave way to your strength!”

    Andronikos laughed, asking, “You’ve only been around imperial made droids, eh?” He explained, “In the Republic, in Hutt space, and on some independent worlds, droids made for civilian industrial applications are easy to shove around; Imperial made droids, not so much. With those, you gotta learn to be real exact with your instructions.”

    Virulous smiled, amused at her own lack of experience outside of Sith Empire space. Returning to the matter of how she should be addressed, she looked up into the semi retired pirate’s eyes and told him, “Darth Nox would become terribly displeased if I allowed it.”

    “No sense pissing the boss off, if you don’t have to. Huh?” He realized he’d asked a dumb question, concluding, “Darth Virulous it is.”

    He could see that she was distracted. Wearing a faraway look, it was obvious to him that her mind was not in the here and now. Andronikos was, somehow, oddly forgiving of the fact that she tried to kill him a couple of weeks before, hours before their battle aboard the Arcanum space station. Somehow, despite his near death experience, he’d kind of taken a liking to her. Maybe it was because, despite her very small size, she was a tough girl.

    As far as Sith go, she’s good people, not all high and mighty with me,” he thought. He blamed himself for her reaction, thinking, “I was stupid enough to openly insinuate that she killed Xalek – right in front of the boss.

    He decided to do something for her, making her an offer.

    “Let me give you some advice, eh? It’s good traveling advice. Yeah?”

    Virulous nodded her head once, giving her consent and thinking, “He’s so rough, but he’s so handsome. I wish I hadn’t tried to kill him.

    Andronikos took a seat across from hers, settling into the exquisite embrace of the luxurious lounge chair, then began his lecture. He started by telling her the obvious.

    “You’re in Hutt Space, and soon you’ll be in the Outer Rim, in neutral territory.”

    He saw that he had her attention and got to the point.

    “The place is crawling with enemies of the empire, bounty hunters, Jedi – yeah, Jedi – Republic agents, you name it. They’re all outside of this Imperial starship.” He emphasized that last part, and then went on, repeating it for added emphasis, “The moment you walk down the ramp of this Imperial starship, you’ll have a target painted on your back.

    “Pay attention at all times to everyone around you, droids too. Even if you think it’ll get the boss in a crappy mood, use your old name, or use a fake name. Nothing attracts Jedi like going around telling everyone you’re a Sith lord.

    “Also, hide your Sith clothes and armor. Wear regular clothes until you get to your destination. I know it sounds kind of cheap, but if you want to get to your destination quickly, then you don’t want to get in a fight every three meters. You know what I mean? But keep your weapon with you at all times, and carry a blaster as a back up.”

    Virulous gave a funny look, thinking, “A Sith lord carry a blaster pistol?” However, she remembered, “I’ve been armed with one for years in my service as an officer in the Imperial Reclamation Service. Why shouldn’t I have one, now? The dark lord did not forbid it. He only forbade my military uniform, and objected to the fact that I submitted to superior officers who were not Sith.

    “I heard what you’d done in The Citadel,” Andronikos said about the slaughter she’d perpetrated to earn the dark lord’s forgiveness, adding, “So, I know you can take care of yourself, but watch your back anyway. There are a lot of professionals who know how to hunt down Force users like you.

    “Also, when you get done on Tatooine, hire an independent starship operator to fly you back to Nar Shaddaa before switching to an Imperial operated spaceline passenger carrier. Don’t fly on any spaceliners from Tatooine. Those’ll be full of Republic agents and Jedi looking to ambush you when the ship gets into space. The rest, you can take care of. Got any questions? Need anything else?”

    Virulous observed with a wry grin, “You’re not a Sith, yet you give advice as if you’ve had personal experience as one.”

    Andronikos replied, “My experience comes from all the hard knocks I’ve got traveling around with the Boss. He never listens to anything I say though, and he’d always get in a scrap, and I’d be there, stuck with him – fighting for my life. Hardheaded, I guess. Or maybe he just likes to fight all the time. And then there’s the part where I’m a pirate with a bounty on my head. So, I developed a few tricks, learned how to look over my shoulder and spot trouble.”

    Virulous, again introspective, observed, “I’ve traveled to many worlds, but it’s always been in Imperial Space, and it’s always been on Imperial Navy starships. Even when my old master, Darth Silthar, traveled to Tatooine and left me alone, in my very early twenties, on Yavin 4 to excavate an old shrine, it was in Imperial Space where I was left alone.”

    Meeting his eyes across the caff table again, she confessed, “This is the first time, in my life, I’ve been outside of Imperial Space. Thanks for your advice. I’d never considered any of this before. I didn’t need to before.”

    Andronikos merely replied, “Well, Sha… Darth Virulous, good luck to you.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Following Andronikos’ advice, she flew economy class. Most of the other passengers had already debarked and had made their way to the terminal. Virulous finally rose from her seat to retrieve her carry-on luggage from the overhead bin. She made her way down the isle of the passenger cabin to make her way to the starship’s airlock.

    Three other passengers remained behind as well, a human male and two human females. Virulous could sense their tense emotions. They immediately got up to exit the starship with her. The three passengers were still in the isle, several rows behind her, when Virulous entered the airlock on her left.

    Out of their view, she used The Force to speed her way out of the airlock, down the ramp, and then turned to run underneath the starship, hiding behind one of the ship’s landing struts. There, she used The Force to blend in with her surroundings, and to mask her presence from perception.

    Her concealment technique wasn’t as effective as Force Shroud which her master, Darth Nox, used. However, it was better than nothing. The technique she used was effective as long as individuals did not get too close. Depending on the Force user’s skill, it was as good as, or better than, photoflexing camouflage technology in use by some of the galaxy’s elite military forces with budgets big enough to be able to afford such technologies.

    The three passengers ran down the ramp, frantically searching around for her. Virulous, very quietly, very carefully set her luggage down onto the tarmac of the spaceport. Then, as she straightened, she carefully retrieved her lightsaber from under her suit jacket.

    The two women ran off to the terminal while the man stayed behind, searching under the ship. Virulous waited until the two women were well on their way to the spaceport terminal, before she used The Force to speed to where the man searched a landing strut-well under the starship. She knocked him over from behind and pinned him to the tarmac using The Force.

    In her grey pants suit and low heals, she squatted beside the man pointing the inactive beam emitter of her weapon at his face.

    Virulous asked him, “Why are you following me?” She cautioned him, “Dishonest answers mean you shorten your lifespan.”

    He lied anyway, “I’m a customs official. We are investigating an illicit spice trafficking ring. We was tipped off that you was a courier. It looks like we was tricked. We didn’t know you was a Jedi.”

    Hating to be called a Jedi, even if it was a lie, Virulous’ smile became strained, and her eyes did not convey any sense of good feelings, as she informed the man, “And now you lose some of your lifespan.”

    The man, watching her grimace with concentration, felt his life force leaving him and began to panic. He tried to get up to run, but The Force kept him firmly pinned to the tarmac beneath the starship. One of the women, returning to the scene, saw the silhouette of their subject squatting next to her partner – laid out on the tarmac, in the shadow of the starship.

    She called her female team mate on her audio only short range transmitter, and then pulled out her concealable compact blaster pistol. The woman approached quickly but cautiously, pointing her weapon at Virulous as she closed the distance.

    Virulous told the man, sneering mirthlessly, “Here comes one of your playmates.”

    Lifting her left arm, she pointed her free hand at the woman and blasted her with a bolt of Force Lightning. The woman toppled face first onto the tarmac, shaking uncontrollably.

    Virulous told the man, “She’ll live, maybe. Now, how about you?”
    The man felt his life rapidly drain away again.

    “Alright! I’ll tell you!”

    Virulous halted her attack and waited for him to speak.

    “We’re bounty hunters,” he confessed, adding, “You was seen getting off an Imp navy starship on Nar Shaddaa. You was followed to a hotel. We picked up the contract and met up with a guy who hired us for this job.

    “He’s an independent contractor for the SIS. He told us just to follow you and to tell the local Republic consulate staff where you went, when you got there. That’s it! That’s the truth!”

    And it was the truth. Virulous could sense his relief when she smiled again, this time convincingly.

    She told him, “You see? Now you get to stay alive.”

    She gently rested her hand on his shoulder and asked, “Was that so hard?”

    Just as he was about to reply, Virulous killed him using the technique she’d learned from Zash when she eavesdropped on Nox and Zash during their meeting on Korriban following a session of the Dark Council. She stood up and walked to her suit case. Picking it up, she turned to walk from under the starship. Tatooine’s stars beat down on her as she walked passed the woman bounty hunter laid out on the hot tarmac. Virulous found that she lay still and dead.

    Passing through the gate, she entered the arrivals lounge, and walked to the terminal droid and checked in. Clearing customs was simple. Merely walking past sniffers assured she was not transporting any illegal spice.

    Virulous hailed a taxi at the spaceport driveway. It was operated by a Kubaz male. He drove her to a hotel not far from the spaceport. Her Imperial credit card was worthless, but she had come prepared with physical Hutt currency. It rankled her, as she paid the taxi operator, that in the neutral regions of the Outer Rim, Hutt currency held sway over Imperial credits. Republic credits were just as worthless, but she didn’t care about that.

    In the hotel lobby, Virulous walked into a clothing store which was among the other shops conveniently located for travelers, and had clothes made for her tiny frame. She checked into a room at the hotel counter.

    Virulous told the concierge, “I’m having some clothes made for me at the tailor shop, there.” She pointed at the store. Then she instructed the human girl at the counter, “Have my new clothes delivered to my room.”

    Looking down at Virulous’ small stature and smiling, the young concierge replied, “Of course, Ms. Shahn Lunn. I’ll be happy to take care of that for you.”

    Virulous walked up the stairs to the second level and walked to her room. She couldn’t locate the second woman who’d been following her. She couldn’t sense her presence either. Virulous decided that either she’d run away, or that she’d hid herself rather well while following her to her hotel.

    A short while later Virulous stepped out of the fresher. She was drying herself off with a towel when a chime sounded indicating someone was at the door to her room. Virulous wrapped herself with the towel and then reached for her opened suitcase. Her smooth chrome plated lightsaber lifted out of the suitcase and glided into her hand.

    “Who is it?!” She demanded.

    A male voice replied, “Room service, ma’am. I’m here to deliver your new clothes.”

    “Come in!”

    “Coming in!” The male voice announced.

    The door slid open and a young man entered her room. He saw a petite woman, her wet, long black hair running straight down her back. He wasn’t close enough to see the few strands of gray hair among the black. She stood wrapped in a white bath towel, her legs exposed and bare foot. She held a smooth silver metal tube shaped object in her hand. The youth immediately got the wrong idea, becoming aroused.

    He blushed, smiling a bit too brightly, and asked, “Where do you want me to put these, ma’am?”

    Virulous pointed at the table on which her opened suitcase sat, in which her sabrestaff and body armor were kept. The young man walked to the table and set her new clothing on it. He saw her sabrestaff hilt.

    This one’s even longer!” He thought, failing to understand what he was looking at. Then he told himself, “Heck! I’m right here! She don’t need all this stuff!

    Virulous was amused by the young man’s reactions, which she sensed through The Force.

    He turned about and asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

    “No. That is all.” She told him. Pointing to another table, she added, “You may take your tip from there.”

    The young man walked to that table and was stunned to find a very large sum of money on it. It was probably two month’s pay, for him.

    He asked, as he turned to face her, “How much may I take…….., ma’am?”

    Virulous had unwrapped the towel from around her body, holding the towel behind her by the corners with her arms stretched out wide.

    Smiling coyly, she asked playfully, “Do you like what you see?”

    The young man nodded his enthusiastic appreciation for what he saw, answering, “Yes. I like it very much, ma’am.”

    She dropped the towel behind her and turned slowly about, then asked, “Is there anything wrong with what you see?”

    The young man shook his head emphatically side to side and told her, “No, ma’am. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look real nice.”

    Virulous was thirty four years old, but despite her age, kept athletically fit. Being an officer in the Imperial Army, she kept physically fit in accordance to military regulations. Being a Sith lord, she trained her marshal skills, keeping her lightsaber skills honed. For Sith, being able to fend off attacks and being always ready to kill one’s foes required a great deal of discipline.

    When she had turned about and faced the young man again, she found that he had been inching closer to her. She extended her right arm towards him with her palm facing him. He stopped.

    “You have earned a nice tip. It’s behind you on the table stand,” she told him.

    The youth was obviously disappointed as he turned away from her to claim his tip reward.

    “Take it all. I want you to have it.”

    As he picked up the Hutt cash, the young man told her, “My name’s Doogen Trey. If you need me for anything, ask for me by name.”

    When he’d picked up all of the cash, he turned to face her once more.

    His face reddened even more as he declared, “I suppose I could do better than your little droids.”

    Virulous was confused, and it showed on her face until Doogen pointedly looked at the lightsaber hilt still in her hand.

    She held back her laughter, thinking, “Is that what he thought this was?!

    She told him, teasingly, “Doogen Trey. I’ll keep that in mind.”

    Doogen nodded his head, as he exited her room, telling Virulous, “Please enjoy your stay, ma’am.”

    Touching the contact, the door slid open for Doogen, and after he’d passed through, it quickly slid shut behind him, and he was gone. Virulous laughed in a low tone. She feared the doors and walls were thin, and didn’t want the young man to hear her laughter. She found him adorable and didn’t want to hurt his pride.

    Virulous began to dress, starting with her briefs and sports bra, and then a slip. Virulous donned her body armor over her slip. It didn’t offer the same protection as her normal medium grade armor, but light body armor was concealable and better than no armor at all.

    Next she donned her leg guards, which protected her thighs, and then her vambraces, protecting her forearms. Over her armor, Virulous put on her newly tailored desert clothing. It consisted of an off white, very loose fitting leggings, she donned brown leather boots, with thin metal shin guards attached and hidden under the loose fitting leggings. Then she slipped on an off-white long sleeved, loose fitting tunic that went down to her knees, a sand colored hooded outer robe, and an off white head scarf, which she used to cover her face up to her eyes.

    Underneath her hooded robe, which she wrapped around herself and held in place with a sand colored sash, she wore her utility belt. Her lightsaber and sabrestaff were both attached to her belt, and hidden from view under her outer robe.

    Virulous looked around in the room making sure she wasn’t going to leave anything important behind. She abandoned the grey pants suit and low heals she’d worn on her travels to Tatooine from Nar Shaddaa, leaving them crumpled on the floor. Her emptied travel case lay open on the table, also abandoned.

    Virulous reread the mission profile on her encrypted datapad. She was to meet with a local, one of Keeper’s assets. Keeper was the spymaster who’d retired his position as director, following the dissolution of Imperial Intelligence a few years ago. He was now in the direct service of Darth Nox. After pulling the hood of her sand colored robe over her head, she walked to the window and peeked outside from behind the edges of the curtains.

    She then pulled the curtains to one side and opened the window. It felt to her as though she had opened a hot oven. She was pleased with what she saw outside the window, however. Not only did her window open to the narrow back alley, but the building across the alley was a one story building.

    Climbing through the window, Virulous used The Force to leap to the roof of the building across the alleyway. Tatooine’s twin stars immediately beat down on her. Crouching low, she turned about and used The Force to shut her window and to pull the curtain closed.

    Tatooine’s stars were both high in the sky, one star at the ten O’clock position, and the other at the one O’clock position. The twin stars orbited around one another, even as the planet orbited around both stars.

    The stars also changed positions in the sky, depending on the season. Sometimes they appeared very near each other, at times seeming to merge into one. In those cases, one star was nearest to Tatooine, appearing larger than usual, while the other was very far way, seeming much smaller. At other times, like today, the stars were far apart in the sky, seeming about the same size.

    Virulous dashed across the roof and found a place to jump down between two utility closets attached to the building’s exterior. The hard packed sand street was narrow and almost empty, except for a few dewback riding beasts tied to hitching posts towards the end of the side street.

    Near the end of the narrow dead end street, taking cover behind one of the riding beasts, she watched as the local constabulary forces rushed the hotel she’d just left.

    The law around here is quite lax,” Virulous asked herself, “Did they just realize they had two bodies at the spaceport?” Wearing a lopsided grin, she laughed quietly, asking herself, “What? Did I want them to do a good job and catch me?
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2019
  3. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Mr. Tranit's Very Special Guest​


    Virulous exited the narrow sandy side street and walked south on the wider rough-cut stone paved boulevard. The hot yet light Tatooine winds blew a light dusting of sand down the wide road in the early afternoon. She blended in with the thin noon crowds as she made her way towards the town square. The people were dressed similarly as she, with their faces heavily veiled deep within their hoods pulled over their heads.

    At the town square was an open air bazaar, with large triangular woven tarps, bearing vibrant intricate designs, suspended high overhead on very tall very sturdy metal poles or anchored with cables to the roof tops of multi-storied mud and stone buildings. The tarps proved shade for the bazaar while not completely blocking out the sky’s light. The tarps’ arrangement also permitted the hot desert winds to breeze through so that the air would not become stagnant underneath. The crowds at the bazaar were markedly thicker.

    Vendors called to passersby to come sample their goods. Vendors and shoppers haggled over prices and argued over the quality of the goods being offered for sale. Laborers rushed to and fro carrying baskets, sacks, crates, and casks filled with all manner of goods and wares.

    Virulous pushed her way through the crowds and found herself in front of a low domed structure with a wide entrance at the southern edge of the town square. Two Gamorrean guards armed with wood clubs stood guard at the entrance. When she attempted to enter, one of the guards grunted and squealed at her, blocking her path.

    She asked, “Is this Thieves’ Den?”

    The porcine guard towering over her, nearly twice her height, grunted and squealed at her again, this time shoving her away from the entrance. Virulous recovered from staggering back and rushed forward. Grabbing the Gamorrean by the arm, she used The Force to assist with flipping him over her shoulder, slamming him onto his back and knocking the wind out of him.

    Virulous whirled about to face the other guard, ready for his attack. Instead, she found that he was overcome with his porcine laughter at his partner’s easy defeat at the hands of what he mistook as a very tall Jawa. He waved her in, still laughing, slapping his knee and pointing at his comrade who struggled to regain his feet. Walking past the guard, she entered the vestibule and found herself at the top of a stone staircase which she proceeded to descend. At the bottom of the stairs, in an anteroom, a Bith greeted her.

    In its mid-high pitched warbling voice, it said to her, “You are small. Are you also female?”

    Virulous, already on edge, replied testily, “So what if I am?”

    The Bith replied, “Only when the moon shines on both sides with the light of two suns is the darkness hidden within.”

    Virulous’ heart began to beat with a sudden surge of excitement. This was the pass phrase she was to listen for.

    Keeper’s asset!” she thought excitedly, giving the Bith her counter phrase, “Only fools can enjoy daylight with no night, work with no play, love with no hatred, and truth without deception.”

    “Enjoy a drink at the central bar. It’s on the house,” the Bith told her.

    Virulous became confused. She was sure that after reciting the counter phrase that she’d get the info she was after. Instead, she was directed to the bar to enjoy a drink and began to worry she was being set up for betrayal.

    She walked carefully beyond the anteroom and through a narrow passageway. At the entrance to the next room, Virulous swept her eyes across the not too dimly lit bar room looking for any signs of a trap or of betrayal. The place was seedy, stinking of stale ale and spilt liquor. However, beyond idle curious looks from the patrons inside, nothing she saw with her eyes nor felt through The Force alerted her of foul play afoot.

    The patrons kept their voices low as they held their conversations. At one corner was a jukebox playing a song in a style she’d never heard before, but its slow paced, not so flashy and quiet style gave her the impression of it being an old fashioned song.

    As she started to make her way to the bar, she noticed the ratty rug on the hopelessly scuffed wood floor. Over the years, the sand had abraded the worn wood floors beneath the tired old rug, as the patrons shuffled about in the bar room.

    What a dingy hole in a wall!” She thought, disapprovingly, but then reflecting that the bar was subterranean, amended, “Well…, hole in the ground.

    At the bar, Virulous called on the barkeep. He nodded her way indicating he’d be there when he finished serving another patron. Virulous pulled back her hood and peeled down her scarf. She looked up at a big bright monitor suspended on the wall above the shelves of various bottles of spirituous liquids.

    She gave an ironic snort and chuckled at what she saw on the monitor screen. Her face was displayed next to text, written in Galactic Standard Basic, indicating she was wanted for questioning in connection with two deaths at the spaceport. Several individuals of various species started to gather around her, laughing. Virulous, cursing under her breath, grabbed her sabrestaff from under her outer robe and placed it on the bar in front of her.

    In contrast to the rest of the establishment, the bar was somewhat brightly lit. Behind the bar, the mirror mounted on the wall behind the shelves filled with bottles of spirits, gave her a chance to count how many thugs were gathering behind her.

    Eight,” she thought to herself.

    Her heart pounded in anticipation and fear of the coming confrontation, and recognizing the fear growing within her, she sharply criticized herself.

    I am the apprentice of Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith! I cannot bring him shame!

    Some of the thugs quickly left the group upon seeing her weapon resting on the bar top before her.

    That she could feel fear of these ordinary thugs angered her. She used this anger to fuel her power in The Force and to stoke her hatred. Virulous made herself hate the thugs, whom she’d never met.

    That leaves five fools to slaughter,” she thought caustically.

    The barkeep approached, first looking up at the monitor and then at her.

    He asked, laughing merrily, “What would you like to drink, Miss Wanted?

    She realized they didn’t take her seriously, she was the butt of their joke, and the fools surrounding her laughed at the joke. They laughed at her. This angered her greatly, causing the power of The Dark Side of The Force to increase within her.

    Her voice low and smooth, Virulous asked the barkeep, “What would happen if I were to kill these fools standing around me? Will they stop laughing?”

    The fools laughed even harder, as the barkeep replied, “Order a drink, and I’ll answer you, Miss Wanted.”

    Virulous’ anger flared as the men around her began to crowd closer around her. Her face became creased with hatred as one of the thugs, a Kubaz, put his hand on her shoulder. He was in the middle of saying something when he suddenly staggered backwards and fell onto his back like a plank of wood – dead.

    The four remaining thugs became agitated and confused. They didn’t see her do anything, yet one of their buddies had just dropped dead in front of them.

    One of the thugs, an Ithorian, demanded in his bass guttural grunting language, “What have you done?!”

    The tiny wanted human didn’t move, but realization of what the tiny wanted human was had finally struck him, when he finally noticed her weapon on the bar in front of her. He mistakenly thought, “Jedi!” as he turned to flee, but he did not even take his third step, before he stumbled face forward onto his long, extended muzzle – dead.

    The remaining three thugs, still not understanding how their friends were falling dead, took no further chances. They began to draw their blaster pistols. However, before they could point their weapons at Virulous’ back, she had already grabbed and activated her sabrestaff and had already cut one thug down. Before the two remaining thugs could register that she had zipped past behind them, she was already attacking them from behind and quickly cut them down, one right after the other.

    To the other patrons of Thieves’ Den, watching the commotion, it appeared as though she had flashed through the three of them, as though she were a ghost with a bright red whirling and buzzing display that lasted for only an instant. From their perspective, the three thugs seemed to collapse to the floor together – dead.

    Virulous turned about, scanning the remaining patrons in the pub with her rage filled eyes. The patrons effected not to notice anything amiss. They returned to their sabacc games and to their lewd laughter at their lewd stories. After a moment to be sure no others would attack her, Virulous deactivated her sabrestaff and returned it to the bar top as she resumed her seat. She glared at the now visibly shaken barkeep.

    In the same low smooth tone she used before, she told him, “You have only one chance to remain among the living – only one chance.”

    The bartender, his lips quivering, gulped. Unable to speak, he merely nodded his head to show he was listening.

    “I came here to meet with someone,” Virulous told him, darkly, adding, “That someone is supposed to give me some information. I want that someone here – now.”

    The barkeep nodded his acknowledgment and then turned to the shelves of bottled spirits behind him. He pushed a button under one of the shelves. A few moments later, the Bith from before walked into the pub and stopped in his tracks, looking at the carnage on the pub’s floor. In his mid-high pitched warbling voice, he shouted something angrily in his unintelligible native language.

    “And get this rubbish off of my floor!” he warbled angrily in Galactic Basic, rebuking his bartender and staff. Then, as though he had finally noticed the disaster which had befallen him, he exclaimed, “Look at my rug! My rug is... stained!

    Never mind that the rug was worn through in places to the rough, sand abraded wood floor and stank of old spilled booze. The Bith turned his attention to Virulous, seated at the bar. The fury on her face told him that she would likely kill him if he didn’t get right to business.

    “I am deeply sorry!” the Bith said, “My foolish staff could not follow directions to the floor if I shot them in the head!”

    Then he noticed that Virulous did not have a drink in her hand nor on the bar in front of her. He did notice her weapon, however.

    “Why isn’t my very special guest enjoying a drink?” he asked the barkeep, almost conversationally.

    On hearing that, the poor barkeep looked as though he would start weeping.

    “Why has my very special guest not been served?” he demanded, chirping angrily, “Explain this!”

    Virulous started to get the idea that the Bith was not only her contact, but that he was someone important to the riffraff in the pub.

    The bartender pleaded, “Mr. Tranit…,” pointing up behind him, above the shelves of booze, at the monitor, still displaying Virulous’ image, he explained, “I didn’t know that your very special guest was a bounty mark.”

    Pointing at the severed corpses on the floor, now being removed by the other staff, he added, “Those bounty hunters were all over her before I figured out that she was your very special guest. I’m so very...”

    Mr. Tranit chirped angrily, “Silence!” After a pause to compose himself, the Bith said, “Those apologies belong to my very special guest.”

    He nodded towards Virulous, indicating that the barkeep should apologize to her.

    “Ms. Very Special Guest,” the barkeep pleaded, “I am so very sorry for giving you such terrible customer service. How can I make it up to you?”

    Virulous wanted to be taken seriously. She wanted to make a deep impression on everyone in the pub, especially to the Bith.

    What would Darth Nox do to show he wanted to be taken seriously?” she asked herself, thinking she already knew the answer, and demanded of the barkeep, “Give me your life,” nodding as though affirming to herself that it would indeed make her happy, she added, “Yes. Yes, that should make up for your poor service to me.”

    Mr. Tranit clapped his hands twice and waved one of them towards the bartender. Two goons came out of the wood works. They hopped over the bar and grabbed the poor barkeep, forcing him to his knees. One of the goons produced a compact blaster pistol and aimed it at the bartender’s head.

    “Wait!” The Sith lord commanded.

    The goons stopped, turning their heads to look at her.

    “I said I want him to give me his life.”

    The goons looked at each other, and then at Mr. Tranit.

    Mr. Tranit asked, Virulous, “You want us to give him a blaster?”

    “Yes, that or a knife.”

    Mr. Tranit waved his hand at his goons, nodding his approval and hoping his barkeeper would use the chance to take out the Sith, whom he realized was more trouble than she was worth.

    “NO! PLEASE!” the barkeep pleaded, to Mr. Tranit’s surprise.

    He seemed to be struggling against himself as he reached for the pistol. The goons both stepped back as the barkeep begged and cried, all the while pointing the blaster pistol at his own temple.

    Virulous, her face twisted by hatred and fury, rasped at the barkeep, “This is for laughing at me!”

    The barkeep’s head burst into a cloud of vaporized blood, flesh and bone, and the bar sink suddenly developed a hole on the side of it from the remaining energy of the blaster bolt. The two goons’ eyes widened and their mouths fell agape as they looked alternately at the barkeep’s corps and at Virulous’ hate filled visage. Mr. Tranit watched in the reflection of the bar mirror, as the barkeep’s body slumped down and began pouring its blood out onto the floor from what was left of his head.

    Virulous turned to regard the Bith with utter contempt.

    “That just put me into a very good mood,” she growled through clenched teeth, quite plainly lying.

    Mr. Tranit saw nothing but fury and hatred on her facade. Watching her take deep measured breaths made him think that she was restraining herself from killing him in like manner. He had no way of knowing that she was actually trying to control her breathing to hide how much this display had taken out of her. Her considerable efforts to control the barkeep, as he pointed the weapon at himself, taxed her enormously.

    Also, unknown to Mr. Tranit, Virulous was at that moment greatly conflicted. She felt terrible revulsion for what she’d done. It was an exceptional act of cruelty that she’d perpetrated. However, the seductive power of the Dark Side had been increasing within her, and it frightened and excited her. She wanted more of this power, but she could see plainly that she was becoming a dark fiend because of it.

    Ever since she’d met Darth Nox, she found herself committing worse and worse atrocities. She worried about Dark Side corruption marring her appearance. Virulous was regularly seeing a dermatologist to repair the remaining scars on her skin from Darth Nox’s lightning attack which had left so many electrical burn scars on her body. The scars were very faint, but still there.

    Five more skin treatments, and they would all be gone. However, courting the Dark Side of The Force, as she was, she feared that Dark Side corruption would mar her looks, once again.

    Mr. Tranit sat on the second bar stool over from Virulous and ordered one of the goons, “Fix me a drink, and one for my very special guest.” Waiving his hand at the blood and bits on bar top, he told the other goon, clean up this mess.” Then turning to look over his shoulder and raising his mid-high pitched warbling voice to be heard, he declared, “The bar is closed. Come back tomorrow.”

    As the patrons obediently shuffled out of Thieves’ Den, Virulous warned Mr. Tranit, “I’m not in the mood to waste time on pleasantries. Just tell me where they are, so that I can complete my mission.”

    Mr. Tranit asked, “What name may I call you?”

    “Darth Virulous,” she answered.

    Mr. Tranit waited until the last of the patrons had left the room, taking a sip from the drink placed in front of him.

    “Darth Virulous, I will be frank with you,” he finally said, after the last patron had gone, confessing to her, “I am a crime boss. I have built my little piece of the criminal empire known as The Exchange Gang.

    “I’m not one of those fools who thought they could anger a ruler of the Sith Empire and get away with it, but I am a leader, albeit a minor one, within this organization. When you complete your mission, a very large power vacuum will be left. There will be infighting for years to come while we sort ourselves out.”

    Virulous sighed impatiently and growled out, “Get to the point.”

    Mr. Tranit got to the point.

    “Not only do I want to survive this upheaval, but I want to emerge on top. Well, near the top actually. To that end, I have added a few extra targets to your list.”

    He lifted his hand, forestalling Virulous’ coming objections as he continued his pitch.

    “The target list is divided into two sections, your dark councilor’s targets and my targets. You will notice that my targets have numbers next to them. This is how much I will pay for each one you’ve eliminated.

    “Of course I will not ask you to do this extra work without proper compensation. Also, I am not expecting you to execute my part of the mission. I know you are here on Darth Nox’s behalf, and I don’t want to attract his attention.

    “You could get paid, by me, to do the extra work while pointing out to Darth Nox that you’ve killed a few extra along the way. You win twice, with money from me and recognition from your superior. What do say?”

    Virulous looked at the target list. There were three names on Darth Nox’s part of the list, and six names on Mr. Tranit’s part of the list. She realized that he meant to pay her two million four hundred thousand credits.

    Four hundred thousand for each one of these on his list.” she thought to herself, “That’s over four times as much money than I have now, just for taking out one target!

    Virulous had spent several tens of thousands of credits on armor. She’d spent twenty thousand on her black with red accents armor, but Darth Nox had ruined it with his Force Lightning attack at the Citadel when he’d almost killed her. She spent thirty thousand on her new set of armor, it was too bulky to easily carry in carry-on luggage. For this mission, she had on a different set of armor, for which she had spent eight thousand seven hundred credits.

    She was left with just under ninety thousand credits in her financial account. Virulous had to reflect that she was poor. She knew that among Sith, modest means was a sign of weakness. She was strong in The Force. She served Darth Nox directly, meaning she had great influence and held a very high status, but she had no more wealth than an ordinary Imperial military officer.

    “Do not attempt to cheat me,” Virulous menaced the Bith.

    Mr. Tranit replied as though the thought had never occurred to him.

    “What? Oh no!” adding as though it surprised him that someone would think that of him, “Of course not, Darth Virulous!” He pointed at the datapad with the list, and explained, “I do not wish to meet the same end those nine will meet at your hands. I will pay you promptly and properly.”

    Mr. Tranit tapped a few icons on the datapad’s screen, unlocking the contents and making it accessible to his very special guest. The locations of each target appeared, along with the floor plans of each target scene. He passed it back to Virulous.

    “All of the information you will need to accomplish your mission is here, Darth Virulous.”

    Virulous picked up the datapad and secured it in a compartment of her utility belt. She wrapped her face with her head scarf, pulled the hood of her sand colored robe over her head, and then stood to leave. Mr. Tranit spoke as though what he wanted to say might be irritating to her.

    “Darth Virulous, if I may point out a small detail?”

    A hair’s breadth from losing her patience, she snapped at the Bith.

    “What is it?!”

    “It may be of small consequence, but your robes are covered in blood. You might stand out a bit out there. Shall I have new robes brought to you?”

    “These robes will be covered in much more blood before this day is done,” she replied darkly, adding, “I shall return here, later. Have my money ready for me.”

    She walked out of the pub, making her way to the staircase which led up to the surface and to the exit.

    Mr. Tranit clapped his hands twice and demanded, “Where is my management team? The accountant, too, I want her here.”

    Looking at the corps of his retired barkeep, he thought how strange that she could force him to commit suicide. Mr. Tranit was determined to pay Virulous as promised. He saw no opportunities to get out of paying – as was his usual practice. He needed to hire a new bartender, and recruit new thugs to replace the ones he’d instructed to test Virulous. Mr. Tranit looked at the monitor above the shelves of bottled spirits.

    What a happy coincidence that she is wanted,” he thought. Then reflecting on the commotion in his pub a short while earlier, he thought, “Thank the Stars, she did not suspect I was behind this mess.

    Virulous’ image was still displayed, with the notice that she was wanted for questioning.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  4. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Virulous, Unleashed!​


    Mr. Tranit’s six rivals worked together in two warehouses situated next to each other on a large parcel of land about five kilometers from the edge of town. Along with the two large structures were several small out buildings used as storage sheds for various materials, items, tools, and a small workshop. The structures in the compound were all enclosed on four sides by a four meter tall fence. The six rivals held their offices in the two warehouses. Virulous had decided to take them out, first.

    She used The Force to speed her way from behind a large rock to the fence, at the back of the compound, and then leapt over it. Landing on her feet, on the hard packed sand, she dashed to the nearest out building. Crouching her already small stature low, she crept to the corner and, peeking around it, surveyed the huge wide open warehouse entrance. She could see all the way through to the opposite end of the warehouse to its other wide open entrance. Loud, boisterous music blared out from within the large structure, entertaining the workers within. The music momentarily cut off while an overhead announcement was made. Then the music resumed.

    The diminutive Sith lord was surprised at the apparent lack of security, until she realized that the workers were all armed. Everyone there was packing a blaster pistol. Yet, everyone there was busy at work. None were paying attention to their surroundings. Taking advantage of this, she zipped to the side of the warehouse, just around the corner from the main entrance.

    Her excitement grew as she considered that she was about to enter a warehouse full of armed gangsters, becoming jittery as adrenaline shot through her being. She could feel the power of The Force begin to well up within her, reminding her to turn her apprehension into hatred.

    Virulous used The Force to mask her presence, taking advantage of shadows, ducking behind crates, and hiding around corners, to finally arrive at the bottom of a staircase inside the first warehouse. She climbed up the two flights of stairs to reach the second level. According to Mr. Tranit’s information, that was where some of the administrative and business offices were located. Virulous expected to find some of her targets there.

    The second level offices were all located on one side of the warehouse with a catwalk giving access to the office doors. The Sith lord, seething with hatred for everyone in the warehouse complex, looked down at the workers through the bars of the guardrail at the edge of the catwalk. When she was satisfied that none of the workers below were any of her marks, she turned her attention to the catwalk and the office doors alongside it. The blaring music cut off for another overhead announcement, and then resumed.

    The first door Virulous came to was opened. She walked by it quickly, looking inside as she passed. It was a small conference room with a round table and a few chairs around it. Three men were inside, seated at the table, holding a meeting. She instantly recognized two of the men from the images in Mr. Tranit’s datapad. The third man had his back to the door, so she could not identify him.

    Virulous stopped at the side of the door and prepared herself. She chose to arm herself with her chrome plated lightsaber. It was a gift from her previous master, Darth Silthar, who took her as his apprentice when she passed her trials at the Sith Academy on Korriban. Closing her eyes to steal herself, she took in a breath.

    The Sith lord exhaled and opened her eyes, her face contorted by hatred and rage. Then rounding the door frame, while igniting her weapon, she rushed into the room, decapitating the man with his back to the door. Then leaping over his chair and onto the conference table, she immediately pierced the chest of the man sitting at the table to her right with her weapon, while blasting the third man on her left with a bolt of Force Lightning. His chair tipped backwards as though he’d been knocked back. Virulous quietly got down from the table and pierced his chest with her bright red lightsaber, ending his violent convulsions from the electrical shock.

    It was over very quickly, and quiet had returned to the conference room when she deactivated her weapon, silencing its deep menacing hum. Virulous turned to look at the severed head on the floor and stepped over to it. Looking at its face, she determined that the man who’d had his back to the door was indeed on her target list. Revulsion for what she’d done threatened to take the edge off of her hatred and anger, and she knew that would lessen the power of the Dark Side of The Force coursing within her.

    Virulous hardened her heart and furiously spat on the dead face, then quietly made her way to the doorway, edging closer to the door frame so that she could peek outside the room. It seemed that no one on the busy and noisy warehouse floor below had heard her lightsaber nor the crack of her Force Lightning bolt.

    She thought excitedly, “That’s a million two hundred thousand credits, already!” Then angrily, “That blasted Mr. Tranit had better not try to cheat me! He’d better pay!

    Although no one on the warehouse floor seemed to have noticed the commotion, the door to the office next door made a noise as it opened, and the sound of someone approaching from that door towards the conference room made Virulous’ heart leap. By the sounds the shoes made on the resicrete catwalk, she determined that it was a woman that approached.

    She called out, as she neared the conference room, “What’s with all the racket, boys?” Adding, with concern tingeing her tone, “You rough housing in there?”

    Just as the woman stood at the threshold, Virulous pivoted from the side of the doorway and, reaching up, grabbed the taller woman’s throat. Using The Force to assist, she yanked her into the room while crushing the woman’s larynx.

    The woman crashed onto the body of the man she’d zapped with Force Lightning, lying on the floor beside his upended chair. Unable to scream, she flailed her arms and legs, pounding and kicking the floor with the heels of her feet and with her balled up fists, when she wasn’t clutching at her collapsed trachea. Virulous became alarmed at all of the noise the woman was making, fearing anyone working in the warehouse below the office floor would hear.

    She used a Dark Force technique that severed the woman’s mind from her body. The woman lay still, with her arms and legs left in odd angles. The Sith lord quickly turned her attention to the doorway as she inched her way to the door frame.

    She watched the workers on the warehouse floor below and was so focused, trying to determine whether anyone had heard the racket the woman had made, that she failed to notice the hate filled fury in the dying woman’s eyes behind her. The woman’s eyes seemed to bore her hatred into the back of the veiled and hooded stranger as her killer peeked outside the door.

    Virulous was too overcome with worry, whether anyone else was approaching, to notice the woman’s tears as she bitterly lamented her coming death. The woman slowly faded away as she watched the hooded stranger slip out of the conference room. Shortly after, she passed out from asphyxiation and then finally died.

    Virulous walked down the catwalk to the office from which the woman had emerged. There was no one else there. She searched each office until she’d reached the last one. They were all empty of office workers. Virulous looked down at the warehouse floor, giving the warehouse workers another look as she searched for her next target, but she saw no one else on her target list.

    Maybe they’re in the next warehouse,” she thought.

    She used The Force to ease her descent, as she jumped down to the dusty resicrete floor below. Spinning quickly about, she found stacks of crates behind her, underneath the catwalk and the second floor offices, and quickly ducked between the crates under the offices above. After ensuring no one in the area had noticed her, she made her way to the wide open warehouse door at the opposite end of the building from where she’d entered. Exiting the first warehouse, she made her way to the other structure, using The Force to quickly dash to the next building.

    Virulous stopped just at the edge of the large open doorway of the second warehouse, and using The Force, she sensed the interior for anyone near the entryway. Sensing no conscious being nearby, she button hooked her way into the warehouse and tripped over the legs of a worker who was taking a nap, seated just inside the entryway.

    The worker was startled awake, giving a short yelp. Virulous scrambled to her hands and knees and hurriedly crawled to the angrily protesting worker. She placed her hand on his shoulder and used the technique she’d learned from Darth Zash when she eavesdropped on Zash’s meeting with Darth Nox at the Sith Academy. However, in her haste, she failed to execute the technique properly.

    The worker howled quite loudly in pain, but very briefly. He slumped down to his side, moaning in agony. After her attack, he was too weak to move about or to call for help, but his initial cry of pain had caught the ears of others in the warehouse despite the loud music.

    Angry at her failure to keep silent, she simply zapped him with Force Lightning, ending his misery forever. Virulous, crouching, ran towards the stairs leading to the catwalk and second level offices in the second warehouse.

    As she made her way up the stairs, the music stopped which allowed her to hear the voices of men and women shouting in alarm from outside the warehouse. Just as Virulous reached the top of the stairs, someone shouted for help where she’d left the worker at the warehouse entrance. Some of the office doors opened, with worried office workers stepping out to look down at the warehouse floor as they looked for the source of the commotion.

    One of those office workers was her mark. As luck would have it, he was at the far end of the catwalk. Virulous decided the time for subtlety was past. It was time for brute power.

    She grasped her sabrestaff and, igniting both ends of it, ran down the catwalk, cutting everyone down that she passed on her way to her target.

    Her target drew his blaster pistol and began shooting at Virulous. She deflected some of the blaster bolts with her sabrestaff, and took an opportunity to activate her shield generator during a pause between blaster bolt shots. Realizing his shots were being easily nullified, the man turned and ran to the far end of the catwalk towards the stairs at the other end. Virulous did not let him escape, blasting him with a bolt of Force Lightning from ten meters away.

    She ran to where he’d fallen onto his face and then attempted to crawl away. Workers on the warehouse floor, could barely make out her Force concealed form, but began to shoot at what they could see of her from below. She wasted no time, impaling her mark through his spine to pierce his heart.

    The Sith lord ran back the way she’d come and entered his office, touching the contact which slid the door shut, thus escaping the blaster bolts as they disbursed their energies on the catwalk railing and on the exterior office wall. The angry shouts in the warehouse had increased, along with the screams of shock and grief, as the friends of the dead came across their severed corpses on the catwalk.

    Virulous deactivated her sabrestaff, securing it to her belt. She turned around as she grasped her lightsaber, freezing momentarily in her tracks as she made eye contact with a woman, sitting at her desk, also frozen in fear.

    Virulous quickly realized the woman was not on her target list.

    She demanded of the woman, “Where is your blaster?!”

    The woman, hearing her Imperial accented Basic, realized the attacker in her office was not a Jedi, but one of the dreaded Sith.

    Her lips quivering, and tears pouring from her eyes, she pointed a very shaky finger on an unsteady hand towards the wall opposite from her desk. The woman choked back a sob, believing she was very near to the end of her life.

    Virulous turned her gaze to the wall and saw, hanging from a hook on the wall, a utility belt with a small holster containing a compact blaster pistol, and decided the woman was not a threat to her.

    “The stars favor you today,” she said in a mocking sneer, adding, “I will spare you so that you may live to tell the story of how you survived being in the presence of a rampaging Sith lord. Tell any, I haven’t slain, that I am here seeking vengeance in the name of Darth Nox. Tell them, I’m only getting started.”

    She laughed at her own silly declaration as she proceeded to make her way to the office window. Using The Force to wrench it open, Virulous leapt out through the window and landed on the sandy ground, two stories below.

    Virulous ran as fast as The Force would allow her towards the tall fence that marked the edge of the property. Leaping over the fence, she made good her escape.

    Excitedly, she thought, “One million six hundred thousand credits! Easy!” but then fearing getting cheated, fumed angrily, “He’d better pay!” Finally, introspectively critiquing her own performance, “Four out of six isn’t bad.

    In her excitement, she’d forgotten the eight she’d killed to get at those four.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    It was early evening. One of Tatooine’s suns had set. The temperature had dropped considerably, making the environment much more tolerable.

    Virulous had ridden her stolen speeder bike to a ranch a hundred and twenty kilometers outside of town. She climbed up a moisture vaporator tower and used her, also stolen, macrobinoculars to scan the low domes and out buildings which made up the subterranean villa. It was the home of one of the leaders of the Exchange Gang on Tatooine. Armed guards were posted sparsely on the surface of the estate.

    Virulous was glad to have taken a bath and change her clothing. The stink of her blood soaked robes was attracting too many flying insect pests and was starting to become unbearable. She’d broken into the home of a moisture farmer, Force Persuading the family into letting her bathe, supply her with fresh clothing, and feed her.

    She lifted the macrobinoculars from a work bench and stole the speeder bike from their workshop as she left. It wouldn’t be until the father of the household had reviewed the security footage with his family a day later, that they would recall what had happened to them the day before.

    Virulous wanted to execute the final stage of her mission in the dead of night. She’d become excited that the teenaged daughter had black robes in her wardrobe and availed herself of those. Wanting to blend into the darkness of night, she sought to avoid light colored clothing. Of course, she ended up regretting leaving the farmhouse with the twin suns still up. It was decidedly much hotter in black robes than it had been in her light colored clothing.

    Virulous looked forward to Tatooine’s second star to set and to dip below the horizon. The teenager had told her that the temperatures could drop to an astoundingly cold 29 degrees Celsius after the second sun had set and that, in the wee hours, the temperature could bottom out to an unbearably freezing 24 degrees Celsius.

    I look forward to the freezing temperatures.” She laughed, amused by what Tatooinians thought of as freezing weather.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Eight hours after the second star had set, in the wee hours of the morning, Virulous luxuriated in the balmy weather of Tatooine’s early morning hours. She looked through the crystal clear dry air at the predawn sky which dimly lit up the sands with its multitude of stars.

    Using The Force to mask her presence as she’d done before, she approached the villa, crouching low and ducking behind the vaporators which dotted the landscape around the villa. She dashed to a parked speeder, unnaturally fast, then creeping around it until she caught sight of a sentry who stood guard at a side entrance of one of the low domes. She believed the dome led to stairs which descended into the subterranean villa.

    Virulous concentrated, focusing her thoughts, her force of will, and the power of The Force to cause the sentry to become struck by unrelenting drowsiness. The sentry began to shake his head. He stomped his feet, pacing to and fro. Shortly after, he sat at the side of the door, jerking his head back up each time he nodded off. Finally, he gave in and simply lay on his side and went to sleep.

    This was the first time she had ever attempted this Force Persuasion variant. So, she took out her datapad and whispered in her notes, describing what she’d done, how she’d done it, and the successful results of her impromptu experiment. However, she was winded from the effort.

    She added an addendum to her notes, “Find ways to improve this technique. It takes too much effort, and takes too long to get results.

    Virulous returned her datapad to its place on her utility belt and then stepped silently to the sleeping guard. She inspected the door mechanism and fount it required a palm print to release the locks on the door controls. She was overcome with incredulity, knowing the effort she’d expended to keep stealthily silent was wasted.

    This time, she had wanted to not leave a trail of murder and mayhem in her wake, as she’d done at the other two homes of the Exchange Gang leaders her master had ordered killed. She wanted to sneak in, kill her target, then sneak out, leaving the survivors in a state of panic and fear at how their gang boss had been killed, despite all of their security.

    I could have showed off my stealth skills to the dark lord,” she thought disappointed, and worried, “Now he’ll think I’m nothing but a butchering killing machine.

    Virulous crouched beside the sleeping man. Pointing her lightsaber hilt at the forehead of the sleeping guard’s head, she activated her weapon, instantly killing him. Immediately after, she severed his hand, just above his wrist, and deactivated her weapon.

    Her eyes had been adjusted to the dark, so the bright red beam of her lightsaber left glowing spots in her eyes, which left her partially blinded in the darkness.

    If it’s not one damned thing, then it’s a blasted other!” she fumed, deeply annoyed.

    Revulsion filler her as she picked up the severed hand, careful not to touch the bloody end where the wrist would have been. It was still warm in her hand. She had to straighten out the fingers to get it to lay flat on the palm reader.

    The panel lit up, with a touch pad grid displayed on the palm reader screen. Virulous became deeply vexed at the palm reader, pointing accusingly at it.

    Muttering angrily under her breath, she groused, “I have to enter a damned code, too!?

    She tossed the severed hand over her shoulder. It landed, making a thud on the hard packed sand where it landed, behind her. Shaking her head and shrugging her shoulders in frustration, she kicked at the sandy ground.

    The Sith lord thought about all of the trouble she had gone through to silently enter the villa. Unlike the other homes in Tatooine’s rural desert communities with their sunken open pit courtyards, this home was completely subterranean. Only the low resicrete domes, which were the entrances showed above the sands of the vast flat desert landscape.

    Sighing frustratedly, she said aloud, “So much for a stealthy infiltration.”

    She ignited her lightsaber and began to cut into the durasteel door, becoming surprised with how thin the metal was. The bright red beam easily plunged into the door and made quick work of the thin eighth inch sheet metal door.

    Using The Force, she yanked the wreckage of the door out and tossed it behind her, jumping with a start at the metallic crashing sound, as the remains of the door slammed into a parked speeder. She wasted no time entering the dome, quickly, but cautiously, descending the stairs into the home of the third and final Exchange Gang boss involved in the bombing attack of Darth Nox’s home on Dromund Kaas.

    She reached her hand to the inner door controls at the bottom of the stairs and froze. Her instincts screamed out at her to get out. Virulous turned and ran up the stairs, a sense of impending doom filling her with dread.

    All of the noise I made getting in and no alarms?!

    Just as she reached the top of the stairs, the door below her was blown apart by a powerful explosive. The blast wave blew her out of the doorway at the top of the stairs and sent her flying, tumbling into the air. Virulous used The Force to propel herself further out and away from the compound. It was all she could do to escape the ambush set for her.

    The concussive force of the blast wave nearly knocked all the wind out of her. Virulous barely thought enough to roll as she crashed onto the top of a small dune of loose sand. She groaned in pain as she rolled to a stop and turned onto her side.

    Her uncooperative hands fumbled on her utility belt and then struggled to get out a kolto injector, but she managed to jab her thigh with it – twice, administering two doses.

    I’ve got to run,” her instincts screamed at her.

    She knew the security forces had to be searching for her. She didn’t wait for the kolto to start numbing the pain.

    Get up, woman!” She growled at herself.

    Using The Force, she picked herself up, and then limping and stumbling her way away from the villa, she made her escape into the open desert.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2018
  5. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Just A Little Misunderstanding​


    Andronikos had checked out of his upscale hotel suite and hired a taxi droid to take him to the private hanger where his ship was berthed. He had talked himself out of hiring bodyguards.

    "What am I, a blasted amateur?!” he thought disgustedly of himself. “I just got to wake my ass up and start payin' attention again!" Still rankled about how close he was to getting killed, he thought furiously, "She's dead! I don't care if the boss likes her. I'm taking her out!"

    Andronikos thought about hiring the Mandalorian team he'd used to help him loot the Arcanum during Darth Nox's invasion and occupation of the station.

    "Those mercs were pretty good, but I wonder how they’ll stack up against her team? Her team wasn’t too shabby without being in your face about being good." He thought about her accomplishments. “She took out the Republic’s chancellor, and she took out a Sith on Korriban.” He considered, "I might have to hire a bigger team."

    Andronikos' taxi droid came to a stop. He scanned his credit card on the card reader and paid his fare, leaving a nice tip for the taxi droid.

    “I thank you for your generosity, favored passenger!” the taxi said enthusiastically.

    Andronikos didn’t reply as he exited the cab. The taxi droid’s trunk lid popped open and a robotic arm unloaded Andronikos’ suitcase from inside and set it down onto the metal plated roadway.

    "Let's go," the semi-retired pirate said as he turned to walk towards the spaceport entrance.

    His suitcase droid deployed its wheels and began to follow the semi-retired pirate, entering the spaceport concourse behind its master.

    Andronikos walked into the launch office, calling to the launch scheduling clerk as he stepped to the counter.

    "Hey, there! I'm going to launch. I'm requesting a launch slot – the soonest."

    "Sure,” the clerk said in a dry, bored tone. He pointed at the droid behind the counter beside him with his thumb, adding, “Just make your request to the droid like everyone else."

    That irritated the semi-retired pirate. He smiled at the clerk and motioned with his hand to get closer. The clerk had heard it all, every excuse given by pilots requesting immediate or near immediate launch slots. He smiled back, leaning over the counter to get closer to Andronikos. He was curious to hear what excuses Andronikos would use.

    Andronikos' smile vanished, replaced with a scowl. Also appearing, as if by magic, was a blaster pistol barrel – centimeters from the clerk's nose.

    "You see, my boss is a dark lord on the Dark Council over at the Sith Empire,” he explained, “and he wants his ship, now." He asked, "You follow me?"

    The clerk was visibly shaken.

    "I was born and raised on Nar Shaddaa,” he said, keeping his cool, and honestly emphasized, “I don't know any of that stuff."

    "Well, O.K. I'll keep it simple for you,” Andronikos said, reasonably, “I'll let you pick. Yeah?"

    The clerk nodded agreement, and Andronikos presented his choices.

    "One, I can blast your face all over the counter, here, walk to my ship and just take off. Or you can get me the next launch slot and keep your head." After letting the launch scheduling clerk think it over a bit, he asked, "So, what'll it be?"

    "I have to make a few calls to make it happen."

    "You see?” his friendly smile came back, as his blaster pistol vanished into his coat sleeve, “I knew we could work things out. My ship's berthed in hanger 127, partition Cresh (127-C)."

    The clerk walked to his desk in his office and contacted the launch facilities security chief. He spoke as soon as the security chief’s holographic image came up.

    "I've got this crazy nut case in my lobby pointing blasters in my face and demanding an immediate launch slot! His ship is berthed in hanger 127, section Cresh."

    The security chief tapped in the registration info into his computer. His brow furrowed.

    "Did you look up what ship it is and who its owner is?”

    "What does that matter?!" the clerk asked, quite irritated, pointing out, "The blasted pile of turds pointed a blaster at my face! What are you gonna do about that?!"

    The security chief quietly regarded the launch scheduling clerk before confirming, "So, you didn't check?"

    To the shock and dismay of the clerk, the security chief said, "I strongly recommend you let this slide. Just give him the next launch slot and bump everyone down one slot."

    Anywhere else, anyone in the clerk's shoes would have been outraged, but this wasn't anywhere else. This was Nar Shaddaa.

    "How important is he?" the clerk asked soberly.

    "His boss could start a war here, if he wanted,” the security chief said, and shrugging his shoulders indifferently, added, “He's one of the rulers of the Sith Empire."

    In fact, the Sith Empire had already established a very large ‘diplomatic’ presence on the Smuggler's Moon, Nar Shaddaa, and on the planet this moon orbited, Hutta. The Hutts were forced to invite the Galactic Republic to Nar Shaddaa and on Hutta as well, in order to keep the Sith Empire in check. The Hutts carefully maintained their neutrality and carefully played the Sith Empire against the Galactic Republic.

    Neither side wanted to push the Hutts over to the side of their enemy, so both sides waged a quiet war against the other, sabotage, assassinations, blackmail, and bribery, everything except open combat. The Hutts turned a blind eye to all of it, accepting the bribes of both opposing parties.

    The launch schedule clerk walked back to the counter, approaching Andronikos with a big customer service smile on his face. He handed the semi retired pirate an envelope containing gift certificates for gambling tokens at one of Nar Shaddaa’s most exclusive hotel casinos and one night’s stay at said, hotel casino.

    He told Andronikos, “I sincerely hope your stay on our moon was both fruitful and most enjoyable. Please, return again, and enjoy this gift on your next visit.”

    Andronikos peeked in the blank envelope, raising an eyebrow in appreciation at what he saw inside.

    “Whoa! Nice!” He exclaimed, pocketing the envelope. Smiling, and looking at the clerk expectantly, he asked, “When can I launch?”

    “Mr. Revel, you’re cleared to launch at any time.” Adding with his best customer service smile, “Please, fly safely.”

    “Now that’s what I call service! Thanks!”

    The semi retired pirate left a nice fat tip on the counter, turned about, and walked out of the office on his way to his hanger space and his ship.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Andronikos’ ship was at the far end of the hanger, just over a mile away. He had to walk past two other ships to get to it. His suitcase droid followed behind.

    The first ship he walked past was quiet and still, the crew apparently not on board. As he approached the next ship, he could see plenty of activity in and behind it. Freight was being driven up onto its over sized ramp, which Andronikos could tell also served as the ship’s rear hatch.

    A design like that could allow for oversized freight to be loaded into light freighters with huge cargo bays, but if not properly maintained could let the ship’s atmosphere seep out.

    The ship had no landing gear. Instead it had four very sturdy hard points that protruded as shallow, wide, conical mounds on the belly of the ship’s outer hull. The ship’s belly was only centimeters from the hanger deck, allowing for a shallower ramp that made it easy to load heavy cargo into the cavernous cargo bay. With its belly so close to the hanger deck, and no landing gear, it meant that the cargo bay could be cavernous.

    This also meant a tremendous savings in weight, as well as space, since the ship had no landing gear, no related landing gear machinery, and no tanks full of hydraulic fluids to operate said landing gear. Finally, the ship’s three huge engines were externally mounted on swiveling and pivoting engine mounts. Although, one of the engines tucked itself into the bottom of the ship’s hull when landing, the other two remained outside of the ship’s hull at all times. This design is what really opened up the ship’s interior for huge cargo capacities, despite its small external size.

    Andronikos walked about fifty meters from the bottom of the ramp, behind the three story tall light freighter, getting a real good look at the huge brightly lit interior. One of the crew had just started down the wide ramp and froze in her tracks. Andronikos slowed to a halt, in utter incredulous surprise.

    I can’t believe it! It’s actually her!

    The Chiss bounty hunter had changed out of her skimpy dress, and into her heavy Mandalorian armor. She didn’t wear her helmet, which allowed Andronikos to immediately recognize her. He had no doubt it was her.

    Damn! She’s hot!” Shaking his head, he reminded himself, “It’s too bad I want her dead.

    Before he could take a step towards her ship, the bounty hunter walked briskly down the ramp and made her way to where he had come to a stop, fifty meters behind her ship.

    Coming to a stop about five meters from where he stood, Wrehn told him, “I wish I’d never seen your bounty. If I had known you worked for him, I never would have gone near you.”

    “Are you saying you’re sorry?” Andronikos asked, smiling slyly.

    Wrehn laughed mirthlessly, replying, “Sorry? It’s just work. I’m never sorry when I get paid for my work. I sure get pissed when I’m shorted out on my pay, though.” Laughing ruefully, she added, “I’m a pro. I don’t let anything bother me personally…,” then with feeling, “but this job was the worst!”

    Her ironic grin vanished, replaced by a furious scowl.

    “I’ve never had to turn and run from anyone – ever. But I had to run from you.”

    Andronikos was perplexed by her demeanor and remarked, “Damn! For someone who’s a pro and all of that, and who don’t take crap personally, you sure seem to be making it a big personal deal.”

    “I am Mandalorian!” Wrehn declared forcefully, adding, “I have a reputation that I’ve built that I’m proud of, and that I need to protect.” Contradicting herself, she told him, “I want you to know that I didn’t run from you. Your bounty was rescinded, and there wasn’t a need to hunt you anymore. That’s all.”

    Andronikos teased, “My boss had a lot to do with you not needing to hunt me, too. Don’t forget.”

    He said that, implying that she had run from Nox.

    “Yeah,” Wrehn said darkly, snarkily adding, “Thanks for reminding me that your boss saved your hide.”

    That stung Andronikos. It was true. He’d be dead if Darth Nox hadn’t intervened. It hurt his pride that he had to be protected. However, unlike the Mandalorian bounty hunter, Yehw’reh’nomai, he didn’t wear his emotions pinned to the collar of his coat for all to see – if it didn’t suit him.

    He merely smiled, telling her, “Can I help it that I have friends in high places?”

    “My crew laughed at me, Andronikos,” Wrehn told him pointedly, adding, “I can’t let it stand, even if it pisses off Darth Nox.”

    She watched as Andronikos’ mocking smile waned.

    Good,” Wrehn thought, “I got his attention.

    Wrehn began stepping to one side and began creating distance between them. Andronikos turned so that he would always face her, realizing that she was up to something.

    “I know all about you, Andronikos. I make it a point to study my bounties, to plan my hunts.”

    Andronikos kept silent but his hand was down at his side. Under his coat, strapped to his thigh was his primary blaster pistol. His hand twitched, and he mentally kicked himself for it. Wrehn saw his hand twitch and noticed the strap around his inner thigh, partially exposed under his opened long leather coat.

    Good. He’s packing heat.

    “I know you want to kill me,” she said matter-of-factly, telling him, “You have this thing about not resting until someone you want dead – is dead. And I can’t let my crew keep cracking jokes about me running away from a hunt.”

    Andronikos noticed that her crew was all watching quietly from within the ship’s cargo hold and none of them had their guns out.

    The situation finally hit him and he blurted out with stupefied incredulity, “Are you challenging me to a duel?!”

    Wrehn stopped when she was about ten meters from where Andronikos stood.

    “Yeah.”

    Andronikos laughed as though it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, slapping his thigh as he bent over laughing. His hand snapped to his blaster pistol. He drew, pointed, and shot.

    Wrehn threw herself, rolling to the side as she drew both of her blaster pistols. She ended up on a knee, both pistols aimed at the pirate. He ran to the side and fired another shot, as Wrehn began unloading both blasters at him.

    A blaster bolt crossed in front of Wrehn. Instinctively, she activated her jet pack and shot up into the air as she twisted to face Andronikos’ suitcase droid. Wrehn rained down a storm of blaster fire from both over powered weapons, striking the droid a few times.

    As she descended to the landing pad, she fired off a mini guided rocket from her four shot mini rocket launcher attached to her right armored vambrace. As soon as the rocket left her vambrace launcher, she rolled to one side and turned towards the last place she had seen Andronikos.

    Andronikos had been shooting at her, but his shots missed because of how much Wrehn kept moving, rolling to the side, and then shooting up into the air. He found an opening when she turned her attention to his droid and ran up behind her to close the distance, but she had already descended and threw herself into another roll.

    As the suitcase droid skidded across the launch pad, after getting blasted by the guided mini rocket, the Mandalorian bounty hunter rolled and turned to face him. She pointed her other arm at him as he fired repeatedly at her. Some shots missed, but those that hit were negated by her personal high energy shield generator.

    Wrehn’s blasters had over heated and temporarily shut down as CO2 cartridges vented cooling gas through the blasters’ energy bolt generators. She pointed her left arm at the pirate and blasted him with her portable one shot flame thrower.

    Andronikos turned and ran to the side as he ripped off his coat, throwing it to the launch pad. He had to drop his blaster pistol to remove his burning duster, but he drew a vibroknife from his belt at the small of his back, activating the knife. Then he charged at Wrehn in the attack while also shooting his concealable back up pistol attached to a special holster strapped to his wrist.

    Wrehn’s pistols both chirped, indicating they had cooled sufficiently to resume operation in single shot mode. She aimed her right hand blaster pistol at the pirate and shot.

    Andronikos fell, screaming in agony. He got shot on the thigh, with his leg nearly getting severed and sustaining terrible burns.

    Wrehn ran to where he’d fallen and stepped on his right arm. Then she ripped his mini blaster pistol from his hand and tossed it to the side. She then kicked the vibroknife, which he’d dropped as he fell to the launch pad, out of his reach.

    The knife clattered away, continuing to make its high pitched hum where it had come to rest. She holstered her weapons, and taking a kolto injector from a utility compartment on her belt, she administered four doses to him.

    Andronikos’ screams and vile cursing subsided as the kolto mercifully deadened the pain. He felt absolutely woozy from the massive dose of the pain killers.

    “Thanks for the pain killers,” he said, smirking, and spoke ironically, “Though I suppose it’s the least you could do after shooting my leg off.”

    “My honor is restored. I don’t have to kill you, but I might kill you anyway.” She drew her right blaster and pointed it at his face. “It depends on you’re answer.”

    When Andronikos stopped smirking, she said, “I don’t have to anger your boss. I’d be happy with letting you go, but only if you swear not to come after me and my crew. If I even think you sent anyone after us, I’m gonna hunt you down and finish where I left off.”

    “Or you could cash in on the price the Republic has for my head,” Andronikos spat out bitterly.

    Wrehn kept her blaster pointed at Andronikos’ face, shaking her head in the negative.

    “They ain’t gonna pay us. They put a price on our heads, bigger than the one on yours, and I don’t do charity work. I want to get paid for every job I do.”

    Andronikos suddenly burst into laughter for a thought that randomly ran through his mind.

    “I told you that I had a thing for tough cute girls.”

    Wrehn shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah, so what?”

    “Right now you’re so damned hot!” He grinned at the absurdity of what he’d said. After a very brief pause, he added, “I’d invite you to my ship for drinks if we weren’t so busy trying to kill each other.”

    Wrehn stuck to business, while Andronikos enjoyed another laugh at the absurdity of the moment.

    “Do I have your word, or do I have to deal with your boss for smearing your head all over the launch deck?”

    Damn! She killed the Republic’s chancellor and has the whole Galactic Republic after her,” he reflected, and thought, “She ain’t really that worried about what Nox, would think.

    “Fine, I’ll forget about you,” he told her grudgingly. His pride nearly getting in the way, he reluctantly promised, “I won’t send anyone after you, either.”

    Wrehn instantly holstered her blaster pistol and turned to walk to her ship, but after half a dozen steps, Andronikos called to her. She stopped, turning to face him.

    Wearing a lopsided grin, partly from the effects of the high dose of kolto and partly because he know he was being silly, he asked her, “If we ever meet again, have dinner and a few drinks with me, yeah?”

    Wrehn burst into laughter. She enjoyed a moment of real humor at his absurd dinner invitation. She turned again to return to the ship.

    “You really are my type, babe,” Andronikos persisted, adding, “You’re beautiful, strong, and not afraid of anything.”

    Wrehn turned to give him a smile, but said nothing as she resumed her march back to her ship.

    I really hope I don’t ever run into him again,” she thought as she walked up the ramp at the back of her freighter. Shaking her head and grinning at the surreality of the moment, she thought, “What?! Did he forget that I shot his leg almost clean off?!

    Watching as she ascended the broad shallow ramp of her starship, he had a fleeting sliver of hope, thinking, “She didn’t say no…” He laughed at himself again.

    When Wrehn had gone out of view, he looked about wondering, “How am I gonna get back to my ship?” Reality finally reasserted itself through the fog of the high dose of kolto.

    “Back to the ship?!” he exclaimed, “What the hell am I gonna do about my leg?!” Then, realization hit him. “Blast! I’m bleeding out!

    That’s when he spotted the security team approaching him where he lay.

    The security team leader asked as he came to a stop a few meters from where the pirate lay, “What happened here?” Without waiting for an answer, he told one of his security crew, “Get medical rescue here – now, quickly.”

    The security official returned his attention to Andronikos, as the pirate gave his answer.

    “I was doing tricks with my blaster and accidentally shot off my leg.”

    The security team leader had been looking around at the blaster scorch marks on the launch deck, at the destroyed suitcase droid some meters away, at Andronikos’ burned up leather duster, smoldering in a heap, nearby, and at the pirate’s singed clothing and hair.

    “So, you don’t want us to arrest her?”

    He and his team had actually been waiting for the duel to end before approaching. They’d witnessed much of the fight, starting from when Wrehn blasted her opponent’s suitcase droid with her guided mini rocket. Andronikos didn’t want Yehw’reh’nomai thinking that he’d broken his word and sent the security team after her.

    “It was just a little misunderstanding, nothing to sweat over,” he said.

    “A little misunderstanding, huh?” the security team leader repeated aloud, then thinking to himself, “She blasted his leg off, and he’s losing a lot of blood, but that ain’t nothing, huh?

    After verifying that a medical rescue team was on its way, the security team leader walked to the back of Wrehn’s freighter. Wrehn was on the ramp leaning against a crate, which was to be brought into the ship. Her arms were folded across her chest. She wore a dour expression as she watched the security official approach.

    The security team leader fixed Wrehn with an appraising look as he neared the ramp, thinking, “She’s still pretty worked up. I better be careful how I talk to her.” Coming to a stop halfway up the ramp, he jerked a thumb over his shoulder pointing at Andronikos and asked, “So, what was all that about?”

    “I’m Mandalorian, she told him truthfully. Then the lies came out when she told him, “He said he wanted me to be his mate. I told him if he defeats me, he could have me.” Briefly pointing at the defeated pirate, she concluded, “He was not worthy.”

    The team leader, fighting hard not to laugh in her face at the obvious lie, nodded his head as though he totally believed her.

    “Alright then,” he said, putting an end to his investigation. Then he asked, “I’m not gonna get anymore calls about defeated suitors, am I?”

    “Not many are foolish enough to court a Mando woman without being prepared,” she replied with a straight face.

    “No more trouble, please,” the security team leader said, stifling a chortle.

    With that, he turned about to make his way back to his waiting team and Andronikos. As he walked down the ramp of Wrehn’s freighter, he watched the medical rescue team arrive on scene to save Andronikos’ life. He came to a stop where his team stood around watching the medical rescue team do its work.

    When Andronikos’ condition had been stabilized, they loaded him onto a hover gurney, and then into the emergency medical rescue transport speeder. The emergency medical rescue transport speeder dashed off to the nearest emergency medical center, several tens of stories below the spaceport in the building spire they were in.

    Watching the security team leaving the scene, Torian Cadera asked Wrehn, “You sure it was wise to let him live? He might come after you again, later.”

    Wrehn spun on him, and snarled, “Get your sorry ass back to work!”

    Without another word, the Mandalorian returned to his inventory task. The others in the cargo hold didn’t want to be similarly scolded or harangued so they dispersed, returning to their individual tasks.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019
  6. Sith-I-5

    Sith-I-5 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2002
    I'm going to assume that first piece, was a story, in and off itself.

    Very good and enticing read.

    Am I right in thinking that everyone except the Mando', got named?

    Good tactics and flirtation; nice twists - I understood the Chiss' gal's reluctance to board a pirate's ship, but was surprised to see she had a kill squad outside!

    I liked that they could monitor her stress levels, and deploy covertly inside the club to assist.

    Andronikus has quite the poker face. People saw murder in his eyes, but when we had his POV, that wasn't what was present.

    Darth Nox' concern for his underling was touching, and that was some good reputation-building for Wrehn and Nox.

    Overall, a good story.
     
    PlanetSmasher likes this.
  7. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Thank you very much for your review! I'm glad that you liked it! Except that, this is Chapter 1 of the sequel to "Sith Politics: Fun and Games."

    You will see more of Wrehn, Andronikos and company. I hope I will keep your attention for the remaining chapters.
     
  8. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Warning: Graphically descriptive violence, and very disturbing scenes, in this chapter. I hope that doesn't stop you from reading the rest of this story, however... As always, your thoughts are very appreciated.

    _________________________________________________________________________​

    What Gifts To Please A Dark Lord​


    Virulous Force Persuaded another moisture farm family to take her in. This time, it was to help treat her burns and other injuries. She’d spent a month with them, recovering. On the day she left, she repaid their kindness with the remaining Hutt currency she had on her, a little over four thousand credits.

    The family was happy she had recovered, and extremely happy she had repaid their kindness, even if the sentiment was Force Persuaded into them. They saw her off, waving at her as she rode away on her stolen speeder bike. The family didn’t know the speeder was stolen, even though they saw the reports on the local news broadcasts with images of the speeder bike in question. The bike’s owner even described how he and his family were somehow forced to provide food and clothing to the stranger who stole their speeder bike from them.

    The family who cared for Virulous failed to connect the fact that she was a very small human female, and that a very small human female was sought in connection with several murders at the spaceport and at a warehouse facility. It never occurred to them to ask where she had come from, or why she was on Tatooine, considering her strong Imperial accent. It never dawned on them to ask how she’d gotten so badly burned and injured, or where it had happened. Neither did they make the connection with their own deteriorating health and her remarkably quick recovery. However, now that she was gone, their health would also begin to make a recovery, and over the course of a few days they would start to ask questions of each other about her and about why they were so trusting of her.

    At dawn, on the day she’d first arrived to their farmstead, the farmer’s wife and their four daughters removed Virulous’ bloodied robes. Somehow, they didn’t want to ask her about her heavily damaged body armor nor of her peculiar weapons. Her wounds were cleaned and her body wrapped in bandages soaked in salves and medicines.

    A month later, it was time to remove her bandages for the last time. Virulous had asked to have her robes returned to her, thinking they’d been cleaned. She hadn’t realized how badly damaged her black robes had been until the eldest of the farmer’s three sons had described their condition to her and then suggested the girls make her some new clothes.

    So, the farmer’s wife and two of their four daughters had modified a set of one of their robes to fit her small stature, replacing Virulous’ shredded and badly burned ones. These were off white, which would save her from some of the heat produced by Tatooine’s twin stars. She was actually grateful for the new robes. It was the only thing the family had given her without using Force Persuasion.

    One of the farmer’s daughters also brought Virulous the armor she’d worn under her ruined black robes. The armor pieces had been cleaned of her blood, and the metal fragments which had partially penetrated the light body armor had been removed and the holes sewn shut.

    Inspecting the damaged armor pieces, Virulous surmised that, because she had used light duty, flexible armor, she had suffered from many cuts and bruises on her skin where her armor failed to completely protect her torso. Yet, the light armor saved her life because it prevented the shrapnel from penetrating deeply into her body.

    She looked in a full length mirror before dressing. Somehow, looking into the mirror at her ruined body reminded her of the youth at the hotel and of the enthusiastic lust he’d expressed towards her.

    She descended into a scathing rage and plunged deeply into sorrow, thinking in despair, “If he were here now, Doogen Trey wouldn’t like what he would see at all.

    Looking away in revulsion from the grotesque monster in the mirror that she’d become, Virulous finally began to dress. She donned her armor, despite their damaged condition, before putting on her newly made robes. Virulous lamented her lost beauty, having seen that she had become an abomination, a pitiable woman who would never be able to find love. Darth Nox’s face briefly flashed through her mind, causing a pang of regret.

    Instead of weeping and mourning her loss, however, she seethed in hatred, fury, and an ever growing thirst for vengeance. The Dark Side of The Force had strengthened its grip on Virulous. Her Dark Side power grew with her strong negative emotions.

    Speeding across the vast open sands, flat as far as they eye could see, Virulous was terribly miserable in the oppressive heat of the Tatooine desert. The pain on the burnt parts of her still healing skin was magnified by the oven-hot desert air as it rushed over her body on the open seat of her speeder bike. The only positive thing about the climate was that at least it was a dry heat. She was absolutely irritable.

    Some Sith and many Jedi mistakenly believed that Dark Side corruption resulted only in premature aging, rapidly declining health and, in some cases, insanity. However, Virulous was among those who correctly understood that Dark Side corruption could also manifested itself in the form of physical injuries, loss of limbs, and disfigurement. She understood perfectly well that her injuries were not just the result of fire and shrapnel. They were the manifestations of Dark Side corruption, a consequence of using the Dark Side of The Force recklessly and for relying on it too much.

    Virulous was perfectly capable of sensing danger to herself, through The Force, but for some malevolent reason, The Force did not warn her of danger until it was almost too late. It saved her life, but it allowed terrible harm to befall her, nonetheless.

    I’m not going to let it do this to me!” Virulous thought, defiantly. “I’m going to find a dermatologist or a cosmetic surgeon to fix this,” she vowed to herself.

    Virulous, so very much, wanted to leave this forsaken desert hell-world and return to her home on Dromund Kaas, but she knew she could not return without first completing her task for her master. Thus partially recovered, Virulous made a second attempt at her final target. She powered down and dismounted her stolen speeder, stretching her stiffened limbs as she walked.

    This time, she arrived at the Exchange Gang’s leader’s residence in the day time, with Tatooine’s second star at high noon in the sky above. The first star was already at its mid afternoon position in the sky. It was very hot. It was so hot in fact that not even the droids had been permitted outside to conduct their routine maintenance activities. Her burned skin ached in the terrible heat.

    She walked right up to the dome, stained with the soot from the fire which resulted from the explosive used to booby trap the door at the bottom of the stairwell. The door she had cut apart with her lightsaber had been replaced. In misery and in almost constant pain, her fury rose as she recalled her failed attempt to stealthily enter through this entryway in the dead of night a month before.

    As her fury rose, so did the power of the Dark Side within her. She reached her hands towards the sliding metal door and used The Force to rip it from its tracks. Then angrily sweeping her arms to the side, she caused the twisted metal door to go hurtling several tens of meters to the side where it crashed loudly into one of several parked speeders. The burned skin on her upper arms, upper chest and upper back, ached from her wide sweeping motions, causing her fury to spike even higher.

    The interior lighting had not been repaired. Standing outside, in Tatooine’s sun blasted landscape, it seemed as though she were peering into a bottomless black void. Entering the void of the low dome, Virulous took note that the soot staining the walls, ceiling, and stairs is what made the stairwell seem so dark. She wrinkled her nose at the air in the stairwell, which smelled burnt with the overpowering stink of an old house fire.

    She ignited her lightsaber, illuminating the stairs, walls, and ceiling in her immediate vicinity with its red light, as she cautiously descended into the seeming abyss. At the bottom of the stairs she found that the door, the source of her shrapnel wounds, had not been replaced. Exposed, at the bottom of the stairs was a room, which she presumed was a small dining hall. It was also charred and filled with the debris of incinerated and shattered tables, chairs, shelves, and burnt wall tapestries. A fire warped durasteel door at the far end of the dining hall sealed this room, separating it from the rest of the residence.

    Virulous concentrated, allowing all of her grief and rage to fill her with the power of the Dark Side. The door frame and the interior wall had already been weakened by the bomb blast and the resulting fire which consumed the dining hall and the stairwell leading to the surface. So, when she blasted the door with Force Push, the door buckled, the door frame bent out of shape, and the wall crumbled into rubble. All of it went hurtling into the next room at ballistic speeds, killing several guards and damaging a few of their light duty service droids which had been reprogrammed with medium duty security protocols.

    Virulous immediately blasted the survivors with Force Lightning, stunning many of the survivors. She leapt into what was apparently a small barracks and using her lightsaber, killed the stunned survivors and destroyed those few droids which still functioned. Silence fell in the small barracks, with only her weapon humming its menacing song of death.

    The door at the far end of the barracks cracked open and a grenade tumbled into the room. Quickly, she used The Force to keep the door from closing and, using The Force again, swept the grenade back through the door. She allowed the door to slide shut again and used The Force to reinforce the door. The grenade exploded, killing several guards in the other room.

    Despite using The Force to hold the door in place, the grenade blast pushed it into the barracks, sending the door hurtling towards her. Virulous, greatly startled, skipped back a few steps while using Force Push against the flying slab of metal, causing the warped metal door to fall, crashing at her feet. Greatly shaken by the near miss, she considered herself very lucky that she had the presence of mind to react quickly and avoid further injury to herself.

    Very quickly, Virulous regained her composure and refocused her mind, moving forward again. Her bright red lightsaber hummed its promises of death as she stepped through the doorway into the next room. Surveying the carnage inside, Virulous was surprised to see so many survivors. She secured her lightsaber, attaching it to her utility belt, and drew her sabrestaff from her opposite hip, igniting both ends.

    She began killing the guards who’d survived the grenade blast but had the wind knocked out of them. The guards, struggling to get to their feet, disoriented and confused tried to escape, but they were easy prey for her blood lust. After the slaughter, she deactivated her sabrestaff, secured it to her utility belt, and retrieved her lightsaber, re-igniting it. Virulous laughed darkly at a passing fancy, and spoke to her angrily humming weapon as though it had a will of its own.

    “I know you wanted to burn through these vermin. I’ll let you have the next bunch.”

    Virulous searched the three other rooms connected to that central room. The remaining three rooms turned out to be two other barracks, each connected to small dining halls, and a kitchen connected to a pantry, for the guards. The pantry and dining halls all connected to stairwells, which all led to domed exits on the surface.

    After a tense and careful search, she had found no other guards or droids in any of those rooms. If any had survived her attacks, they might have escaped from one of the three other exits. Returning to the large circular central lounge and meeting room, she deactivated her lightsaber as she searched about and realized that one part of the wall was covered by a large and beautiful tapestry. It covered the curved wall from floor to ceiling and measured five meters across. The red tapestry was woven with an intricate design.

    She used her free hand to feel the curved wall through the heavy, hand woven fabric and felt something on the wall behind it. Moving away from the wall, she stepped over the severed bodies and limbs of the dead guards until she was far enough back. Then she used The Force to rip the tapestry from the top of the wall, allowing it to fall in a heap, partially draping over some of the corpses on the floor, and thus revealing a hidden sliding door.

    Inspecting the door, Virulous found that it had a simple contact switch to open it. Out of an abundance of caution, she went to one of the undamaged barracks, and from there used The Force to activate the contact switch. The door slid open without incident.

    She paused, listening for the sounds of guards or droids ascending the stairs in the stairwell which was revealed when the door opened. Virulous quickly approached the opened sliding door, stepping over the bodies of the slain, and trampling the red tapestry, now soaking up their blood. Standing to the side of the open doorway, she peeked around the door frame and saw that the gently curving, well lit stairwell was empty of anyone.

    She held her deactivated lightsaber hilt at the ready as she carefully, quietly, descended the curved stairs. Virulous shivered as she neared the bottom of the stairs. It was quite cool here, so far below the blistering heat of Tatooine’s desert surface, but it was a relief to her healing burned skin.

    At the bottom of the spiral stairwell, Virulous meditated, gathering her power. She knew this was probably going to be the fiercest fight, yet. It occurred to her that her mark might probably not be at the residence. The mere thought of it sent her into a rage.

    The blasted mynock’s turd had better be here!” she whispered angrily to herself, “To think that I would have expended all of this effort for nothing…!

    Virulous was determined to make as violent an entry as she could to take any advantage away from the defenders, likely barricaded inside. Using the power of the Dark Side of The Force, she blasted the door off of its tracks, out of its frame, and into the chamber on the other side.

    This time, she wasn’t met by blaster fire or grenades. She swept the room with her eyes and found a lone man, her target, seated quietly in the room. At the side of the main family room, at the doorway of another chamber, stood a woman, and behind her were her two small children, clinging to her.

    The children were whimpering, and began crying when they saw her. The woman shushed them, shepherding them into their room and shutting the door behind her. Thus, the man was left alone to face the wrath of a Sith lord.

    At that moment, he bitterly regretted letting his greed and the promise of so much wealth get the best of him. He’d heard legends of how powerful Sith were, and also of how ruthlessly and relentlessly they pursued vengeance. Here was the proof that it was no legend. It shocked him that the Sith lord was so small. He wondered if the Sith was an adolescent youth.

    Virulous’ target spoke as she crossed the threshold into the family residence, igniting her lightsaber as she stepped towards him.

    “You don’t give up. Do you? But that’s why you win, and I lose. When you kill me, the leadership of The Exchange Gang on Tatooine will be wiped out.”

    He paused to hear what the Sith lord would say, but she kept silent.

    “You killed off a lot of the mid-tier management, too,” he told her, hoping to get some kind of response, adding, “The Exchange Gang on Tatooine is finished. Our rivals will destroy what’s left of our gang on Tatooine, and all the small fry, who are left, will fight it out to see who gets the leftovers.”

    Virulous pulled back the off-white hood of her robe and then pulled the white scarf down from her face. She felt a pang of hurt, in her gut, at the way the man’s eyes changed as he looked at her disfigurement.

    I will see a cosmetic reconstruction surgeon about this!” she vowed to herself, again.

    The man remarked soberly, “So, the blast did get you, and you still came back. You Sith are crazy.”

    Before she could respond, she heard the muted voices of the children crying and begging their mother to let them go to their father. Virulous turned her head to face the door to the children’s room.

    “They will suffer much when they see their father dead,” she sneered nastily.

    Had her target remained silent, the idea would never have occurred to her, but he spoke.

    “They have nothing to do with this. I’m the one who made the call to take the blasted contract. I’m the one you want.”

    “Of course they’re innocent,” she said, turning her head to face her prey. “You are my target...”

    Virulous paused a long moment, under the strong influence of the Dark Side, as she regarded her final target on her master’s list, thinking, “This could make a very fine gift for the dark lord!

    “The dark lord’s two children were also innocent,” she told him, “They, too, had nothing to do with any of this.” Returning her gaze towards the closed door of the children’s room, she added, “and yet, you killed them when you attacked his home.

    “My master may become greatly pleased,” she said, speculatively, “if he hears of your suffering, watching the deaths of your children before your end.”

    “You can let my family escape into exile,” the man pleaded, starting to sound desperate. “Just tell him that’s what happened. He’ll be just as happy.”

    He could see from the startled look in her eyes, as she jerked her gaze back to him, that the very idea frightened her.

    “There is a very real danger of being discovered in a lie!” Virulous said, with fear in her tone, explaining, “He can delve into your very soul and feel what you’re thinking.” Shaking her head in the negative, she said with finality, “The risk is too great. I’d rather not lie to Darth Nox.”

    With no warning or indication that he would, the man desperately leapt into the attack. Activating a vibroknife, he lunged at Virulous, his singing blade aimed at her chest.

    Virulous deftly stepped to her left, swinging her lightsaber in a subtle upward arc that sliced the knife wielding man’s right hand off at the wrist. His hand and weapon fell as she swung downward, cutting off his out stretched left forearm just below the elbow. Then sweeping her weapon low, as she stepped around the attacking man, she cut his right foot off just above the ankle. He collapsed to his knees, screaming in agony and cursing at Virulous as she rushed to the children’s room.

    “She’s coming for the kids!”

    A blaster bolt exploded on the door from the inside of the room. The children’s mother thought to shoot through the door at Virulous, but the blast only served the Sith lord’s purpose. With the door blown off its tracks and blasted to the floor and out of her way, she reached with her free hand and blasted the woman, fighting to defend her children, with Force Lightning. The woman fell forward, violently convulsing face-down on the floor.

    Virulous ran into the room and found the two children huddled in a corner in terrible shock. They watched in horror as she pierced their mother in the heart, through her back, with her weapon. Virulous then easily Force Persuaded the children to run into the family room.

    On seeing him, the children ran to their Father, now lying on his back and facing the children’s room. They had come to a stop, standing before their stricken father, again in unconscious obedience to Virulous’ will.

    “How can you be so heartless?” he sobbed, tears streaming, “These are only children. Spare them!” he begged.

    Virulous was struck with terrible guilt. She hated herself for what she’d become.

    Virulous,” she heard Nox’s harsh voice call out her name as she recalled the grotesque monster in the mirror. Just as she was about to relent, the power of Dark Side of The Force grew within her, enticing her to seek more power.

    Remembering the monstrosity that she had become, the Sith lord burned through her guilt as she spoke with venom on her tongue, “Imagine all of the families your gang has killed throughout your criminal empire! Now you are seeing things through the eyes of your victims!”

    She immediately swung her weapon, first one way, and then the other, decapitating each child. Immediately after, she pierced the man’s abdomen, burning through his intestines and letting him feel the agonizing fire of her weapon, once again, before deactivating it.

    He screamed in agony, but his tear-gushing eyes remained, transfixed, on the lifeless bodies of his children.

    She stepped around the dead and the dying as she made her way to the stairs, but she was most unsteady on her feet, staggering as she walked to the doorway leading to the gently curved stairwell.

    “Kill me. Kill me, please. Don’t leave me like this,” the man implored her, his voice hoarse.

    Virulous had intended to leave him to die slowly, but she was unable to take anymore guilt, self disgust, and self hatred. She turned about and, reaching to the man with both of her hands, used a Dark Force ritual that drained the life force of the man, healing some of her injuries in the process, until he died.

    She turned about and stumbled her way up the stairs, leaning against the wall, for support. Her head spun with vertigo, her body heaved with nausea, and she felt ill and faint.

    At the top of the stairs, she stepped into the upper central chamber and leaned against the wall, sinking to her knees as the power of the Dark Side flowed through her as it had never done before.

    She bent down to her hands and vomited explosively onto the floor, thinking in exultation, “This power! This power! This is the power my dark lord enjoys!

    She was filled with the thrill of raw power coursing through her being, thinking, “I could destroy worlds!

    However, she was also filled with terror, recognizing that the crushing torrents of the Dark Side threatened to sweep her mind irrevocably away.

    When her stomach had finally settled down, and she had done what she could to protect her mind from the raging currents of The Force, she covered her ruined face with her scarf, and covered her scorched scalp with the hood of her robe. Virulous staggered back onto her feet, and unsteadily proceeded to the ruined barracks and the burned out dining hall, tripping and falling twice on her way up the soot stained stairwell which led to Tatooine’s sun-blasted desert.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Over many hours, after leaving the residence of her final target, Virulous cut through the oven-hot winds as she sped a bare two meters above the sun baked flat sands back to what counted as civilization on this nearly barren world. Long before arriving to the outskirts of Anchorhead, after the setting of one of Tatooine's twin suns in the early evening, she could see columns of black smoke rising in the distant horizon from the direction of the small town.

    Since entering Anchorhead, in the late afternoon, the Sith lord carefully navigated the narrow sandy streets of the tiny city. Virulous jerked her head, from time to time, looking this way and that, in the direction of the nearby sounds of blaster fire, fearing someone was shooting at her. Indeed, the sounds of violent blaster battles were coming from all directions within the small town as she made her way towards the town center.

    On her way to the town square, she came across a small clothier shop and decided to buy herself some new clothes. The ones she wore were bloodied, and she wanted to change out of them. The flying insect pests were starting to get on her nerves again. Amazingly, the shop was still open for business during the chaos.

    Inside the shop, she tried to Force Persuade the shop-keeper from noticing her blood splattered off-white robes, but the woman turned out to be Force sensitive and rebuffed Virulous’ efforts. However, because of her lack of training, she didn’t understand that she’d fought off an attempt at mind manipulation. The young woman merely believed she was having a very bad dizzy spell.

    I must tell the Sith Academy about this woman,” Virulous thought. The idea of taking on an apprentice had not dawned on her.

    Virulous knew that she was still wanted for questioning in connection to the spaceport killings, and she surmised that she was probably wanted in connection to the massacre at the Tatoo Trade Goods Distribution warehouse earlier in the month. Only a handful knew that the business was a front for one of the Exchange Gang’s distribution centers for illicit contraband. However, with the terrible battle raging across the small town, she hoped, no one would notice her presence.

    “What’s all the fighting about?” she asked the shop keeper.

    “Look, lady, if you want new clothes, just say so. You don’t have to play dumb with me.”

    “I want new clothes,” Virulous said smoothly, although she felt rankled by the young woman’s brusqueness with her.

    Suddenly, fear and dread entered the young woman’s eyes. She felt the Dark Side begin to well up from within Virulous. She merely attributed it to a sixth sense that there might be trouble, and the fact that there was a gang war raging in town.

    What am I saying?! Do I want this gangster to kill me, too?!” she thought, finally realizing that the dried blood on Virulous’ attire was not some decorative pattern.

    “I’ve got a few, ready-made sand colored robes for children you’re height. The lady I made them for is late picking them up. I could sell them to you, cheap.”

    Blast! She’s figured out I’m that wanted woman!” Virulous mistakenly thought, saying to the young shopkeeper, “That sounds fine.”

    “Wait right here, I’ll fetch them,” and she disappeared to the back of the shop.

    A few moments later, she reappeared with three sets of clothing meant for adolescent girls. They were the same style, but with different colored fabrics. Virulous chose the light grey hooded robes with the dark grey head scarf.

    “I don’t have any physical currency on me. Will you accept a credit card transaction?”

    “Of course! I was gonna charge the lady seventy five credits for each outfit, but I’ll sell them to you, cheep, only twenty five credits each,” the shopkeeper said, forcing a smile on her face.

    “I only want this one,” the Sith lord insisted, pointing at the light grey outfit.

    Virulous paid much more than what was asked in Imperial credits, transferring three hundred credits from her account.

    As the shopkeeper ogled at the account information for the transaction, Virulous told her, “No one has to know that a very short woman in bloody robes came to your shop. Are we understood?”

    “In this town, discretion is how we do things, Lady,” she said in a shaky voice, finally realizing who her customer was.

    This is that woman wanted for all of those killings!” She thought in terror, finally placing her accent. “She’s from the Empire!

    “Where can I change?” Virulous asked.

    “I don’t have a changing room.”

    Unlike the hotel, and a very few other buildings, this shop had no windows. The windstorms were too powerful to have those built into normal structures. Permaglass, which could stand up to the winds, was too expensive for the average tatoonian to install, but after only a few seasons, the panes would have to be replaced anyway, as the fierce winds would scour the permaglass with sand, making it impossible to see out of them.

    “Lock the doors, I’ll change right here.”

    The shop keeper did as she was told. When she turned about, she was horrified at what she saw. The woman had finally pulled down her hood and removed her scarf, as she began to remove her bloodied robes. The shop keeper was horrified at the terrible wounds her notorious customer had suffered.

    Virulous kept her armor on, simply putting her new robes on over it. When she finished dressing, she walked to the shop door, which the shopkeeper unlocked for her.

    “Remember,” Virulous cautioned, looking up at the young woman, not a word to anyone.”

    The shopkeeper merely nodded her reply and watched as Virulous left her shop. When Virulous had pulled away on her speeder, the shopkeeper looked at the datapad again, at the transaction displayed on its screen.

    Three hundred credits, Imperial, have been deposited to your account. After conversion to Hutt currency, the total deposited is 268 credits.

    From the account of Darth Virulous (account number redacted), to the account of Liina’s clothing shop (account number redacted).

    I had a Sith lord in my shop,” the frightened woman breathe aloud to herself.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Virulous made her way, carefully, back to the bazaar. She finally had to ditch her speeder, and was ducking in and out of any structure that had its doors blasted out, or that had a hole blasted into the side of it. She finally learned that the streets were swept by a terrible wave of gang violence, and that it had started a week after she had gone into hiding to heal her wounds.

    The surviving Exchange Gang leaders, as well as the leaders of the rival gangs, fought to fill in the power vacuum she had created, just as her final target had said, and as Mr. Tranit predicted. Virulous was deeply pleased with the chaotic impact she had on the planet wherever the Exchange Gang held sway on Tatooine. To her, it meant she had demonstrated her power to change a world, and thus the potential to change the galaxy.

    Do I really have that power, or is the Dark Side filling me with delusions?” she asked herself, soberly.

    It had been a month since she’d last seen him. The town square where the bazaar would normally be held was empty and quiet. There was no fighting, here, nor around the square for many quadrants around. She saw him, sitting quietly behind four heavily armored and heavily armed gangsters who kept careful guard at the doors of the cantina, all protected by a polarized ray shield. Apparently, Mr. Tranit had won control over this very important part of town. Virulous could see that he was visibly shocked at seeing her, as if he didn’t expect to ever see her again.

    Come on, Mr. Tranit, betray me and renege on our agreement. I dare you.” she thought caustically.

    It didn’t matter that her head was hooded and that her face was veiled, he instantly knew it was her from her diminutive stature.

    Without any hesitation, Mr. Tranit commanded, “Let her pass. She is my most very important guest.”

    The two had made their way down to the bar room.

    There, Mr. Tranit commanded the newly hired barkeep, an Advosec, “Make my most very important guest and me a drink.”

    He looked around at the tables in the bar room until he found his accountant, and gesturing with his hand, signaled for her to bring the payment. He pointed at Virulous, so that the accountant would know to whom to present the credits to. The accountant put her fork down, she was on dinner break, and dashed to the back offices of the cantina to retrieve a case full of Hutt currency.

    The Advosec set two drinks down on the bar in front of Mr. Tranit and Darth Virulous. The two sat with an empty stool between them. Mr. Tranit picked up his drink and held it up to Virulous and toasted her.

    “To my very good friend and business partner, to a successfully completed business arrangement, and to your continued success in your other endeavors, I thank you, Darth Virulous.”

    He gulped down his drink and set the emptied glass down. Virulous, her veiled face hidden deep within the light grey colored hood of her robes, watched Mr. Tranit, as he spoke, and then drank. She had not even touched her drink glass. The accountant arrived at that moment, and set the case full of Hutt currency, on its side, between them on the bar.

    The Bith turned the case so that the code pad faced him. Entering a code he opened the case, exposing the Hutt currency which he did not think he would need to part with. He slid the opened case to Virulous. She didn’t need to count it. She knew it was one million six hundred thousand Hutt credits. Her instincts with The Force, told her it was so.

    She asked, “Why not simply credit my account with the proper amount? I don’t like carrying such large sums of physical currency.”

    Without another word, the Bith shut the case, locking it, and returning it to his accountant, waved her away. Then he produced a datapad and punched in the proper amount, in Hutt currency, and set the datapad onto the bar, sliding it towards Virulous. She agreed with the amount, and tapped her credit card on the datapad. The agreed upon amount was successfully transferred to her account, automatically converted from Hutt currency to Imperial currency, which translated to two million one hundred and twelve thousand credits.

    Peering at the Bith through her veil beneath the folds of her hood, Virulous finally relaxed.

    “Thank you for keeping your end of our bargain,” she told him, relieved that her assignment was almost over.

    She’d gotten paid for four out of six gangsters on Mr. Tranit’s list, which she slaughtered on her first day of mayhem and chaos. She then shocked him with the bad news.

    “My master, Darth Nox, will be dissatisfied when I return and report there are still Exchange Gang leaders left alive. He’ll likely reprimand me, quite severely, for not completing my task. He’ll likely send me back here to finish the job.”

    Mr. Tranit was taken aback. He began to worry greatly, that he’d been betrayed. However, he was a crime boss. He could not show weakness before his subordinates, especially in his own headquarters.

    “Your superior’s list showed only three names.”

    “Among Sith, it is implied that the leader, along with his followers must die.”

    Mr. Tranit gave a small smile as he observed, “So, you would have killed the ones on my list anyway?”

    “Not necessarily the ones on your list, but I would have killed a lot of their subordinates. You only helped me to find some of them more easily. However, I have not killed all of the followers,” she said, looking pointedly at the Bith crime boss.

    “Well… You could start completing your task right here, right now,” he said, as though issuing Virulous a challenge.

    His enforcers braced themselves for a fight. Virulous pulled her hood back and pulled her dark grey scarf down. The gangsters and Mr. Tranit were overcome by shock at what had befallen the once beautiful woman as she finally picked up her drink, taking a sip from her very strong drink, and setting it down again.

    Turning to face the Bith crime boss, she gave him her disfigured smile and said in a patently insincere tone, “But I like you too much, Mr. Tranit.”

    Mr. Tranit could easily tell that was a lie.

    She added with great sarcasm, “I want to help my very good friend and business partner to escape Darth Nox’s wrath.”

    Mr. Tranit realized just how tough this woman was, how hard her heart was.

    He thought of Virulous, “She is most reckless!” then asking what he already realized, “This is not over, then? There is much left to do to soothe Darth Nox, is what you mean?” Without turning to face the barkeep, he ordered, “Another round,” waving his hand in the direction of the newly hired barkeep.

    As the Advosec fulfilled Mr. Tranit’s request, the crime boss’ enforcers wound down, relaxing their stances and quietly sighing their relief; they would not need to battle the Sith lord. They were there, a month before, witnessing Virulous’ lighting quick slaughter of the hapless bounty hunters who’d provoked her at this very bar, and word of her slaughter of the Exchange gang’s leadership had gotten out. It was very big news. They knew the Sith lord who sat in their midst was the real deal.

    “What are you suggesting, Darth Virulous?” he asked skeptically, after taking a sip of his refreshed drink.

    “Truly, Darth Nox will not be satisfied if I return to him with a half finished assignment.” She picked up her drink and took another sip, setting it down on the bar again, adding, “However, if you were to send him a very nice letter, sent on high grade flimsyplast, written by a highly skilled calligrapher, suitable for framing, and if in this missive, you were to express your most profound apologies and regrets for what your foolish and now dead leaders did to him, then, if in your missive you promised to rid Tatooine and the galaxy of those profoundly despicable vermin who so coldheartedly brought harm to those most dear to him...”

    Mr. Tranit realized that Virulous was actually dictating an apology letter that he should send to Darth Nox. The Bith crime boss looked over his shoulder to a table behind where he sat. He saw that one of his business administrators was listening intently to the conversation, but otherwise taking no actions. He subtly signaled to his subordinate to write it all down.

    She finished dictating the letter of apology and said, “That in itself should be enough to get him to listen. Next come gifts.”

    Mr. Tranit was unsurprised, repeating, “Gifts?”

    “Of course! Nothing sends across the feeling of sincerity like a very thoughtful gift,” the Sith lord said glibly.

    Mr. Tranit watched Virulous pick up her drink to take another sip.

    “What sorts of gifts does Darth Nox like?”

    Virulous had finished her drink and set the emptied glass down. The barkeep immediately refreshed it.

    After some thought, she confessed, “It really is difficult to pick out gifts for a man who rules half the galaxy. Isn’t it?”

    She exaggerated a little. Nox did not rule alone. He sat in a council of twelve who administered the Sith Empire alongside him in the Sith Emperor’s name.

    The Bith crime boss laughed politely, agreeing, “It is never easy. Something you find genuinely interesting may be considered mundane by another.”

    “Slaves,” Virulous suggested. “You can never have too many slaves. Especially highly skilled slaves, like accountants, or even building engineers.” Then she added, “Money always makes a good gift.”

    Turning to the Bith, she added, “It would make it especially easy for me to sell him on the idea of forgiving the rest of your organization if I could tell him – as the messenger, that this is the first of many gifts that you’ll send to him.”

    Mr. Tranit had been lifting his drink to his lips but, on hearing that last part, his hand froze and his drink failed to reach his lips. Turning to face Virulous, he could see that despite her glib tone, her burn scared facade plainly showed that she was not smiling.

    “A yearly gift on the anniversary of the attack on his estate which resulted in the deaths of his two children,” she said, darkly, “Every year on the anniversary of the attack, he’ll think of his children, and he’ll want vengeance, but your timely gifts will ease his anger.”

    “An annual tribute, then?” the Bith seemed to growl, in his mid-high pitched warbling voice.

    Virulous nodded, saying, “At least ten million credits each year, or a gift of five or six skilled slaves.”

    That’s expensive!” The Bith thought, incredulous.

    Virulous could see the doubt in his eyes.

    “Frankly, I don’t want to come back to this planet again. I have had enough of this place and have already paid a terrible price.” She pointed at her ruined face to make her point. She added, “If I have to come back here again, I’m simply going to bring the Imperial Navy and Army with me, and I will wipe this place clean.”

    The Bith gangster, understood that even if he did manage to somehow kill this Sith lord, her master had a powerful military that he could send against him, and Darth Nox, through his agent, Darth Virulous, proved to be a most vengeful man.

    He shrugged his shoulders thinking, “It’s probably cheaper than fighting the Sith Empire.” Aloud, he said, “I truly hope he will accept my paltry gifts.”

    “Quick!” Virulous urged him, “Find a calligrapher! Get that letter written! I want to be on a starship with your letter and the first of your many gifts to him before the day is done.” She added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh, yes. I nearly forgot. I’m wanted by the authorities, here. So, I imagine I can’t simply book a flight out of the spaceport.”

    “Do not be concerned,” Mr. Tranit reassured her, “It is an easy matter for me to arrange passage for you to your desired destination.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2019
  9. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Major Incident​


    Darth Virulous, traveling on a smuggler’s starship, concealed her ruined face, wrapping it with her dark gray scarf and burying it under the hood of her light grey robes. She knelt in her cabin with her head bowed, prepared to deliver her report to her master via holo.

    “Dark Lord, I…”

    Before she could say more, Darth Nox’s holographic image began speaking, interrupting her report. She could hear the surprise in his tone.

    “It’s been over a month since you left for your mission. I thought you’d gotten yourself killed.”

    It sounded to her as if he hadn’t even tried to hold out any hope for her. In fact, it seemed to her that he appeared to be annoyed by her continued existence.

    I am reading too much into his tone,” she cautioned herself. “If he wanted me dead, he’s had plenty of opportunities to make it happen,” she thought, trying to reassure herself.

    Still, Virulous remained confident that when her master had heard her favorable report, that he would become pleased, that he would change his tone with her and treat her with respect.

    “I have completed my mission, Dark Lord. I’m ready to report...”

    “Give me your report in person,” Nox interrupted again, telling her, “Until then, travel to Nar Shaddaa. Meet with my servant, Andronikos Revel. He’s had his leg nearly blown off, and I worry he’ll be assassinated.”

    Hearing those words hurt Virulous, cutting her to the core.

    Forgetting her own caution, she thought furiously, “He wasn’t worried when he thought me dead, but he worries over a pirate scum!” Laboring to contain her fury, she struggled to reply dutifully, “Yes, Master. I’ll see to it he is safe.”

    Nox detected the anger edging her reply, but chose to ignore it, telling her, “You’ll find him on the seventh floor of the hospital center in the Felban The Hutt Market District.”

    The dark lord then cut the connection without waiting for his apprentice’s reply.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Four days later, Virulous walked directly from the smuggler’s starship to the nearest tailor shop in the massive spaceport. There, she had new vestments and armor fashioned to her specifications. She happily changed out of her humble Tatoonian desert robes and damaged light armor, donning her new attire and new armor. She felt as though she’d been mugged, however, when she was presented with the bill for her Sith-styled armor and attire.

    “One hundred twenty eight thousand credits?!” she exclaimed at the tailor, a Neimoidian male. “On Dromund Kaas this would have cost no more than sixty thousand!”

    “One hundred twenty eight thousand and six hundred twenty nine credits, valued customer, your design is a one-off specially tailored outfit using exotic materials – which I do not normally stock. I had the molytex fabric rush delivered to my shop specifically for your order.”

    “But it says on your sign that you make light and medium grade armor, too! How can you not stock molytex?!”

    “I customarily use nylex fabric. Nylex fabric is a very good material for medium grade armor, but cheaper. I must admit, though, molytex is superior to nylex. I may add it as an option for future customers. Thank you for introducing me to it, valued customer.”

    Virulous shook her head in disgust as she paid the tailor, reminding herself, “And Hutt currency is worth more than Imperial money, and I should have remembered that everything at spaceports is always way more expensive than what’s charged in shops out in town.

    She couldn’t deny that the great comfort and exact fit of her new armor was indicative of superior workmanship, and it looked rather striking on her. She rather admired her new outfit as she posed in the mirror. However, looking at her mask in the mirror had reminded her of what was underneath, and it soured her mood.

    As she walked out of the tailor shop, she quickly forgot how much she’d paid for her outfit. Weighing on her mind, at that moment, was her task as she hurriedly made her way through the labyrinthine corridors of the spaceport to the nearest exit and to the taxiport.

    Virulous wore a black hooded robe made with a heavy but smooth woolen fabric which reached down to her ankles. It had short sleeves which ended at her elbows. She wore the robe open at the front, showing off her flexible medium grade armored tunic, leggings, and boots underneath.

    The black molytex armored fabric tunic had a tall collar that protected and hid her burn scared throat and neck, and had short sleeves which ended just below her elbows. The tunic had two matt black finished metal plates embedded onto the outer surface of the tunic, one was form fitted to protect her chest, and the other one to protect her upper back, behind her heart and lungs.

    She also wore molytex fabric vambraces which covered her forearms and armored gloves, exposing her fingers. Both vambraces and gloves had small matt black finished metal plates embedded onto them, adding protection and a bit of stylish flair for her forearms and the backs of her hands.

    Her full length molytex fabric leggings were also augmented with matt black finished metal armored plates that were formed to fit around the front and outer sides of her thighs. She also wore black, natural animal hide knee-high boots, which she wore over her leggings, and which was augmented with matt black finished metal armored plate shin guards. Her black armor had bright thin red accents and thin red lines which made her robe and armor look quite striking.

    Virulous also wore a matt black, light weight rigid armored cap and face mask, made from a composite material, which protected and hid the top of her skull, and her face. With her head buried deep within the hood of her new robes, her matt black armored capped mask made it appear as though there was a black void where her face should have been. It made for quite a sinister appearance.

    Thus having satisfied her sense of Sith fashion she felt respectable again as she walked to a waiting taxi. The taxi she boarded was operated by a villainous looking Devaronian.

    She told the taxi operator, “Take me to the hospital center at Felban The Hutt Market District.”

    The driver looked over his shoulder at his masked and hood-shrouded passenger in the back seat, and asked, “Which hospital, lady? There are at least a thousand of ‘em in that building.”

    “How many spaceports are there in the building?” she asked, starting to become concerned that she might have to search many hospitals for the pirate.

    “Just one.”

    “Then I want the hospital center nearest to that spaceport,” Virulous confirmed, hoping that was the one.

    “You got it, lady.” Facing forward and getting the taxi moving, he added, “Settle in for a long ride, lady. That’s in the New Kentrow Precinct, about a hundred buildings away.”

    Looking out the window of the pressurized cabin of her taxi, from high above, it seemed to Virulous as though Nar Shaddaa’s surface was one continuous rooftop, with a few rooftops higher than those around them, making them appear like giant rectangular or square shaped plateaus. However, across the city roof-scape, she saw that some of the rooftops were lower than the others around them, creating square or rectangular depressions many kilometers in size. The gargantuan buildings were all built snugly against each other, making it seem the entire city-world was one continuous structure.

    On most of the rooftops, enormous spires rose up from the tops of the mega-buildings from horizon to horizon. Looking at the thousands of gigantic spires, Virulous could easily see how new comers to Nar Shaddaa could mistakenly believe that the mega-building rooftops were ground level, and that the enormous spires were built on the ground.

    The month before, the Sith lord traveled from Nox’s starship after getting traveling advice from Andronikos Revel. She had to travel several hundred kilometers to a major spaceport to catch her flight to Tatooine. It had been her first time visiting the Smuggler’s Moon, and she remembered how flabbergasted she’d become when her taxi, on its way to the spaceport, dove into what she at first believed was the entrance to an underground tunnel network. She found herself breath taken when she discovered that the ground was actually the roof.

    Below the roof, her taxi drove on expressways and streets crowded with speeder traffic past thousands of normal sized buildings. On each side of the streets, the walkways were crowded with pedestrians entering and exiting the sub-buildings, and that was just the top floor of that building.

    As her taxi navigated the busy streets, descending to the lower floors of the mega building, she could see that the roadways, expressways, walkways, ramps, and turbolifts were like a three dimensional neural network, connecting the many thousands of neighborhoods, shopping centers, business zones, and light industrial parks – on each floor.

    It’s like there’s a small city on every floor!” she thought, her breath was taken away at the realization.

    “How big are the floors of these buildings?” She asked her driver.

    “On average they’re about thirty by twenty eight kilometers, but this building has a huge spaceport in it. This one’s a hundred fifty by a hundred and twenty five kilometers. This building’s way shorter than most, though. It’s only six hundred stories.” After a short pause, he added, “We’ll be there soon, Lady.”

    Her taxi descended ten stories before reaching the taxiport outside of the entrance to the concourse which lead to her departure gate for her flight to Tatooine.

    Only six hundred stories high,” Virulous thought, feeling like a small town hick dazzled by the big city, “Just how many trillions live on this moon?

    One month later, Virulous was back on Nar Shaddaa. She was still terribly impressed by the moon’s mega buildings and spires, but this time she knew what to expect. Nearly two hours and one pit stop later, the taxi exited the high speed sky lanes, descending into the slower mid and low level traffic lanes, before finally entering the Felban The Hutt Market District. However, they were still quite a ways away from their final destination.

    During the long taxi ride, she looked up information about the architecture of Nar Shaddaa on the holo-net. She learned that she had grossly underestimated how massive the buildings actually were. For example, she looked up a few statistical details about the building she was heading to.

    Felban The Hutt Market District was a gigantic building with three hundred subterranean levels, nine hundred stories above ground, thirty five kilometers long and thirty two kilometers wide. It boasted twenty four spires rising above its enormous rooftop. The ceiling height of each floor in the main building was sixty meters, and the ceiling height of each floor in the spires was thirty meters. One spire, the one she would ultimately arrive to, had a small spaceport on the top twelve stories. Those twelve stories had one hundred meter high ceilings to accommodate small freighter starships.

    The common residential districts scattered throughout the main mega structure were strategically situated to be out of sight from the touristy areas. The Nar Shaddaa working class locals who lived in the densely populated residential districts lived in residential apartment sub-buildings with no windows. Even if they did have windows, their only views would be of their closely spaced, dull metallic sub-buildings in their dull and uninteresting neighborhoods.

    The other districts, such as the business, shopping, entertainment, and other commercial districts were more touristy in nature, and therefore got more attention. Those sections were full of holographic colored decorative lights and holographic advertisement displays on the sides, and suspended in between the tall sub-buildings. The hotels and luxury residences and luxury office suites had views of the glitzy mega building interior. The tallest sub-buildings rose through the main levels, extending through several stories within the mega structure, and generally had a mixed use as hotels and residential suites.

    The spires, however, had amazing breath taking vistas. It was where the super rich lived in super luxury homes, and where interstellar corporate conglomerations made their prestigious headquarters. Those super luxury homes and offices were built into the outer walls of the spires, and had the view of the spires and rooftops of the city world.

    They also had a view of the sky, a true luxury on Nar Shaddaa. The leases for those homes and office suites were incredibly expensive, unimaginable to Virulous, but those residents and corporate conglomerations owned businesses across the galaxy.

    As fast and as smooth as the complex three dimensional network of express ways and busy streets within the mega building were, the interconnecting roads between mega buildings were not as numerous, nor as easy to traverse. They tended to be bottlenecks, congested with heavy commercial traffic delivering goods from mega-building to mega-building as businesses conducted commerce from one building to the next. Taxes and tariffs on shipped goods were assessed at the boundaries between buildings and had to be paid on the spot or the goods would not be permitted to enter the building.

    Adding to this congestion was a need for commercial vehicles to stop to pay the tolls required to enter any of the mega-buildings and their spires. These delays were part of the reason for the long taxi ride. Virulous’ taxi, a commercial vehicle, had to pull into one of the commercial toll stations when it entered the mega building.

    It parked in a marked stall on the metal deck, in between two huge cargo speeder vans. The taxi operator had to pay the toll and the taxi had to be inspected for contraband. Virulous waited twenty minutes, in the taxi, for the inspector and his droid to arrive to conduct his search and to collect the toll. Of course, the toll would be added to Virulous’ taxi fare.

    While she waited, she passed the time watching the local news broadcast. She learned that in the subterranean levels of the gargantuan mega structure that, as with most buildings on Nar Shaddaa, Felban The Hutt Market District had its own power generation plants, sewage treatment facilities, water purification facilities, air recycling and climate control facilities, garbage incineration and recycling facilities, and many other utilitarian facilities.

    These were all located in the three hundred subterranean levels, and were mostly paid for with the taxes, tariffs, and tolls collected from the inter-building commerce. Also, within those three hundred subterranean basement levels, several entire floors were devoted to growing crops and raising farm animals.

    “The building has its own farms!” She exclaimed to herself.

    “Yeah, we gotta eat, too,” the driver smirked, getting the taxi moving again with the inspection finally over.

    The news caster talked about the rising air tax. Virulous shook her head in disbelief that any government would assess a tax for the air its people breathed, but as the report went into the details about the costs of importing their air, she quickly realized why it was necessary to assess the tax.

    Nar Shaddaa’s moon-wide government imported certain gasses to maintain its atmospheric pressure at the uppermost levels of the building structures around the globe. Force fields were used at the exterior through-ways at the highest stories of their structures, which held the atmosphere in the buildings while allowing speeders and ships to pass through, much like the gigantic starships with the force fields keeping the atmosphere in their huge hanger bays.

    Even so, some of the atmosphere was lost to the very thin upper atmosphere outside of the buildings and eventually to outer space, which was why atmospheric gasses were a regular import for the Smuggler’s Moon. The air tax, she learned, was assessed to real estate property owners to pay for the costs.

    After watching the cost of the toll get added to her fair, she thought sardonically, “Naturally, the air tax must be getting passed on to their tenants.

    The enormous and powerful air movers, Virulous learned from the reporter, kept the atmosphere at the same pressure at all subterranean levels, where the air pressure would normally be too high, and at the uppermost stories of the mega buildings and spires, where the air pressure would normally be too low. This made moving around quickly in the massive buildings possible without getting altitude sickness or from becoming affected by decompression sickness from the rapid change in elevation within the mega buildings.

    Virulous had heard enough, and shut the broadcast report off. She looked out the window at the three dimensional cityscape again.

    “We’re almost there, lady,” the driver assured her.

    Andronikos was in a hospital located in one of the spires which towered above the monolithic mega structure. It was located on the three hundred and thirty seventh story of the spire (one thousand two hundred and thirty seven stories if counting from the mega building’s ground floor). The hospital was located four hundred sixteen stories below the spaceport where Nox’s ship was currently berthed.

    Virulous’ taxi exited the mega building through its roof, passing through the force field and continuing to ascend steeply, spiraling around the gigantic, three kilometer diameter, cylindrical spire until it was almost halfway up.

    The taxi finally entered the spire, passing through another force field, and began to navigate the local boulevards and streets, passing many sub-buildings and sub-structures along the way, until it finally reached the hospital an hour after entering the Felban The Hutt Market District mega building.

    Virulous exited the taxi, moving a bit stiffly. As the happy – paid – Devaronian drove his taxi away, she stretched her muscles to get the kinks out, and feeling the burning pain begin to make its return to her ruined skin, she administered two doses of kolto before proceeding to enter the ten story hospital sub-building.

    On the seventh floor of the hospital, two burly guards stood watch outside of Andronikos’ hospital room. They attempted to stop Virulous from entering. She waved her hand at them, and they both immediately, wordlessly stepped aside to let her pass.

    Andronikos became instantly alert the moment his door began to hiss open. He prepared to fight to the death whoever it was that entered the room. His new cybernetic leg still gave him problems, however. It still needed adjustments, and the wound where his new leg attached to his hip still hurt. He had difficulty operating his new leg.

    Andronikos’ adrenaline shot through the roof, and his fight or flight instincts told him he didn’t have a chance, but to fight anyway, but then the cloaked, masked and hooded figure spoke.

    “So, Andronikos, you’re still alive.”

    Although she didn’t sound genuinely pleased about that fact, Andronikos still felt instant relief when he recognized her voice. It bothered him, however, that she wore a mask, thinking that it was out of character for her, but he tried to sound upbeat when he spoke to her.

    “Hey! Shah… I mean, Darth Virulous. That’s some scary mask you got on. You trying out a new look?”

    Virulous answered with a cold and hardened snarl in her tone, “Darth Nox has sent me to keep you safe!”

    Andronikos had learned the hard way, from past experience, not to anger her.

    Damn, she’s in a bad mood. Hell, I already lost a leg to one pissed off broad. I don’t need to lose my other leg, or worse. I better watch what I say to her.” Aloud, he asked, “You gonna bust me out?”

    “Why are there guards outside of your room?” she asked, brusquely, ignoring his question.

    “The diplomatic service for the Galactic Republic got wind I was here,” he said, disgustedly. His expression darkened as he told her, “They asked the Hutts to hold onto me for them to pick up. They got people coming to get me. I thought you was them when you walked in.”

    “And the dark lord’s ship?!” Virulous asked, greatly alarmed.

    Andronikos looked like a beaten akk dog, replying in an equally beaten tone, “Impounded. The Hutts are gonna give them the ship as evidence of piracy in deep space.”

    Virulous became incensed, shaking her head in disgust.

    Andronikos felt the darkness starting to emanate from her and dreaded what it could mean, thinking, “Aw crap! She’s changed! She’s becoming more like the boss! That’s just what I needed!

    Virulous turned about, facing the door, and commanded, “Get in here!”

    The door hissed open, and the two guards entered the room. They looked at one another in shocked surprise, as the two wondered how the masked hooded figure had gotten past them both. They were both sure they had sent the suspicious individual away.

    Meanwhile, Andronikos had become puzzled, thinking, “I know these rooms are sound proofed, so how’d they hear her through the shut door?

    Virulous commanded the brutes, “Summon your commander, here. Now!”

    The guards weren’t human. One was a Gamorrean and the other was a Weequay. They stood, towering over her diminutive form, scowling at her.

    The Gamorrean began squealing and grunting at her, as it demanded of her, “How you get in?!”

    Virulous lightly shoved the brute, angrily shouting, “Silence!”

    The beastly brute fell over backwards, dead, slamming onto the floor with a resounding crash of girth and armor.

    The Weequay immediately knelt by his partner’s side, shouting, “Waatyu doo?!”

    “If you want to die like your friend did,” Virulous said menacingly, “then ask me another question.”

    The Weequay realized for the first time that he was dealing with one of those strange religious fanatics with ‘the powers.’ He stood and faced her again, not knowing what to do.

    Virulous ordered again, “Summon your commander!”

    The Weequay nodded his acquiescence, and called over his audio only transceiver, “Need baakkop! Need waach commaander! Beeg trobbell! Gorkie is died!!”

    Andronikos thought of the Weequay, “He really needs to watch what he’s saying, but it’s his funeral if he crosses the line with her.

    The Weequay’s audio only communicator squawked, “This is the watch commander. What is your status, Doopkah?”

    “In room wiff pirate. Gorkie is died,” Doopkah reported, adding unnecessarily, “Doopkah not is died.”

    Virulous ordered the Weequay, “Tell your commander to get over here. Now!”

    The Weequay did as he was told.

    “Waatch Commaander, come here. Talk to mad religious crazy wiff the powers.

    Andronikos rolled his eyes thinking, “Poor choice of words, bub.

    He was about to speak up about it, but kept silent when Virulous suddenly turned about, pointing a finger, warningly, at him. After a moment, she turned back around as Andronikos took stock of the situation.

    She is seriously pissed. I can actually feel her evil aura. It’s not anything like how suffocating and crushing the Boss’ aura is, but I can feel it.

    His eyes went to the lifeless Hutt security official’s corpse.

    Damn, she’s gotten so damned touchy! She had no cause for taking him down.

    His eyes returned to the back of Virulous’ hood shrouded head as he worriedly warned himself anew, “She’s in a really crappy mood today. I had better be nice to her.

    For a short time, Andronikos waited for something to happen to the poorly spoken Weequay, but nothing untoward befell the security official. Instead, a long silence followed, during which they awaited the watch commander’s arrival.

    After what seemed to Andronikos like forever, the door chime sounded, and Virulous commanded, “Enter!”

    Again, as the door slid open, Andronikos wondered how Virulous was getting through to the people outside of the sound proofed room.

    She definitely isn’t using the intercom,” he thought.

    Then in walked another Weequay, the watch commander. Behind him entered a Jedi in heavy white plate metal armor underneath drab brown robes, he was a Human. His hood was pulled back, revealing wavy brown locks down to his shoulders. He had a full beard and thick mustache, both nicely trimmed and combed.

    Oh crap…,” Andronikos thought, “can it get any worse than it already is?!

    “I didn’t say you had to come alone,” Virulous shouted furiously at the Weequay, “but that didn’t mean you could bring a Jedi with you!”

    Unlike his Weequay subordinate, the Weequay watch commander spoke excellent Basic, albeit with a decidedly un-Imperial accent.

    “First thing, lady, you didn’t say anything to me at all. Second thing, I didn’t bring him,” he said, eyeing Gorkie lying dead on the floor, his anger rising, “He insisted on coming with me.” Pointing at Andronikos behind her, he added, “That fella is his prisoner, and he wanted to be sure nothin’ happened to him.” Then, clearly working to contain his anger, he asked, “Why did you kill my subordinate?”

    Ignoring his question, Virulous told him, “The situation in which you find yourself could very well lead to war between the Hutts and the Sith Empire.”

    The Weequay kept his pazaak face on, realizing for the first time that what stood before him was a Sith lord. His next realization was that he stood between a Jedi fanatic, behind him, and a furious Sith lord, in front of him.

    The Sith lord told him, “The man behind me is the personal pilot and protocol agent of Darth Nox, a very prominent member of the Dark Council. The ship which you’ve impounded belongs to the dark lord, and your Hutts are about to hand both to the Galactic Republic – to this Jedi.”

    The watch commander didn’t respond to Virulous directly. He merely took out his holo-communicator and dialed up the major incident inspector.

    The holographic image of a male Twi’lek came up.

    “Grann, this had better be good,” the Twi’lek said, also in excellent un-Imperial accented Basic. “I’m in the middle of something important, here.”

    “Talden, I’m stuck in the middle of a major inter-empire political mess that can blow up into an actual military mess – here on Nar Shaddaa,” Grann said pointedly. He added, “Talden, this is way the hell above my pay grade. I really need you, here. I got a Sith heavy hitter in the same room as that Jedi come to get the prisoner the Republic made that special request for, and they both want the prisoner.”

    “You don’t need help,” the Jedi said, “A Jedi is right here to assist to restore order.”

    “Hey, Talden, I got a Jedi right here. He can...” Grann began to say, but he immediately interrupted himself, angrily shouting at the Jedi, “Like hell you can! Get your sorry butt outta here! Now! I don’t need no Jedi trying to start any trouble!” Glaring angrily at the Jedi, he told the major incident inspector, “I think he tried to pull one of them mind tricks on me, Talden.”

    The major incident inspector’s holographic image told the Jedi, “Master Jedi, please go back to the Galactic Republic’s consulate. I don’t need you there.”

    The Jedi reasoned, “It would be a major problem for you, if you do not hand this wanted terrorist over to the Galactic Republic to face justice.”

    “It would be a major problem for the Galactic Republic,” Talden replied, “if you cause a major intra-galactic incident, here in Hutt space.”

    The Jedi calmly and respectfully nodded his head towards the holographic image of the Twi’lek and left the hospital room without another word.

    Virulous jabbed her finger towards the holographic image of the major incident inspector, telling him, “I don’t trust him. Be sure he doesn’t try to steal Darth Nox’s starship.”

    “Grann, get people to guard that ship. That ship ain’t going nowhere.”

    Watch Commander Grann got on his audio only communicator and issued orders.

    “Urdarii, take your team to hanger 127 – Cresh (127 – C). Keep everyone away from the starship parked there, and I mean everyone. Don’t let anyone or anything near that ship. Got it?”

    The voice emanating from Grann’s communicator replied, “Yes, Sir! Got it!”

    As though it had finally occurred to him, the Twi’lek’s holographic image asked with some incredulity, “Darth Nox’s starship? Did you say, Darth Nox, as in the Dark Council? That Darth Nox?”

    Virulous replied testily, “There is only one Darth Nox.”

    A little over a month before Virulous had left Dromund Kaas, on her mission to destroy the leadership of The Exchange Gang on Tatooine, Darth Nox made galactic news when he proclaimed victory over his hated enemy, Darth Acina, in a monumental power struggle between the two rivals. Talden had finally remembered the dark lord’s name from the news event. Nox had captured a space station belonging to his enemy in a brilliant naval battle with heavy troops invading and conquering the station.

    The major incident inspector shook his head in disbelief at the magnitude of the mess that had landed in his lap. He recalled, from the news report, that Nox wasn’t some ordinary Sith lord. He was one of the twelve rulers of the Sith Empire. He had the power and authority to start wars.

    Meanwhile, Virulous demanded, “I want you to provide safe passage for me and my charge to my master’s ship.”

    The Twi’lek told the Weequay, “Grann take care of it with your team. Pull out all the stops for this one. I’m going to talk to Felban The Hutt about this.”

    The Weequay replied, “You got it, Talden.”

    The Twi’lek’s holographic image was gone.

    Virulous turned about and ordered Andronikos, “On your feet, scum. We’re going.”

    Andronikos, bristling at her tone and forgetting his warnings to himself, let her have a piece of his mind.

    “Don’t talk to me like I’m some nobody. You’re not my boss. I don’t need to take your cra...”

    Virulous used The Force to close his airway, interrupting the pirate mid word. Andronikos began to suffocate. He could do nothing to get air into or out of his lungs. Virulous had shut his epiglottis tight, and wouldn’t let it open. She watched as Andronikos dropped to his knees, clutching at his throat with both hands, and watched as his mouth fell agape in a vain attempt to take in a breath.

    After watching him struggle for a short while, she spoke darkly, telling him, “Anything could happen to you between this hospital room and the ship, especially with that Jedi sticking his nose in our business. Be careful, Andronikos. The dark lord is not here to protect you, this time.”

    Andronikos was on the floor writhing, clutching at his throat, his skin starting to turn purple. She released his epiglottis, allowing him to breathe again. He coughed, and choked, and gagged as he struggled to get air into his lungs again.

    One Weequay whispered, not quietly enough, to the other, “Yusee? She has the powers!

    Grann, looking at the corpse of his late subordinate, Gorkie, slowly nodded agreement, thinking to himself, “This job is getting crazier by the minute. If we’re not careful, someone else is gonna get killed.

    Virulous decided to ignore the poorly spoken Weequay’s remarks, instead focusing on Andronikos as he finally began to pick himself up from the floor.

    Andronikos, finally recovering his breath, looked at Virulous with resentment in his eyes, but he remained silent, thinking to himself, “When the hell am I ever gonna learn to keep my damned mouth shut around the damned Sith?!

    He sat on the side of his hospital bed to put on his boots. As he slipped his right boot onto his cybernetic limb, he got a strange sensation, as though his mind had found itself in unfamiliar environs, almost like vertigo. It also felt as though someone were poking him repeatedly on his lower back, until he finally seated his artificial foot in his right boot.

    The sensors embedded throughout the prosthetic limb sent sensory data to his brain through its connections with his nervous system, but his brain registered these sensory inputs as a completely foreign sensation.

    Damned leg still needs adjustments,” he groused to himself.

    “I want my blasters back,” Andronikos told Grann.

    “I’ll think about it.”

    Grann’s holo-transceiver chimed and he answered it. Talden’s image came back on.

    “Grann, we’re letting the prisoner go and giving them their ship back. Felban The Hutt doesn’t want any trouble with the Sith Empire. I’ll meet you there to oversee everything. I want to be sure nothing goes wrong.”

    He cut the connection, and his image was gone again. Grann got on his audio only communicator and called for additional security forces to report to the hanger, adding, “And get the blaster pistols and other property for detainee Aurek two nine Usk Mem forty seven (A29UM47). Bring those with you to the hanger, Dye’dya.”

    “Understood, sir,” Dye’dya acknowledged.

    Grann said to Virulous, “Give my people a few minutes to get to the ship first. I want to secure the area before we move out. I don’t want to walk into any surprises at the spaceport.”

    “Very well, we’ll wait.”

    After about a quarter hour, the watch commander, the security team he’d brought with him – waiting outside the hospital room, the diminutive masked Sith lord, and the semi retired pirate all walked out of the hospital sub-building, exiting into the cavernous floor with its network of streets, walkways, ramps and turbolifts of the three dimensional cityscape within the gargantuan spire. The security escort and their charge boarded a train of speeders, waiting for them in front of the hospital, which immediately departed and sped down the wide street for the building spire’s outer wall.

    The train of pressurized, closed cab speeders had gone up three stories on roads that ramped up to each level, to the three hundred fortieth story of the enormous seven hundred sixty five story spire. Exiting the spire’s outer wall, through the force field, the train of speeders merged with the traffic outside of the spire. They climbed steeply into the thin high altitude atmosphere, spiraling around the giant tower as they ascended. As usual, traffic was heavy but moved quickly and smoothly.

    Virulous admired the early evening dusk view of the many thousands of towering spires, going out to the distant horizon in all directions, with their many millions of windows, lit from the luxury homes or corporate offices within. Not all spires had cylindrical cross sections. Some were hexagonal, some were rectangular or squared with rounded corners in shape, while others had an ovoid footprint, but all of the towering spires seemed impossibly gigantic. It still boggled Virulous’ mind that all of these behemoth towers sat on the roofs of the much more massive mega buildings.

    Think of all of the people who live and work just in this one building, alone!” she marveled.

    In less than a quarter hour, they were re-entering the spire, at the third story of the small spaceport. Virulous was struck with how vast the space was in the spaceport at the top of the spire.

    One hundred meter high ceilings!” she marveled, “After all,” she thought, shaking her head in wonderment, “starships have to be able to get into the building.

    The train of speeders dashed into a traffic feeder system which brought them past a massive taxiport. Virulous recognized the taxiport as the one she had boarded her taxi for her long trip to the other spaceport the month before.

    Zipping past the taxiport, in the security speeder, Virulous looked out the window to the scene below her. Andronikos sat silently in the seat beside her, looking out the other window. Virulous watched as many hundreds of passengers were coming to or leaving the spaceport, alighting from or clambering onto waiting taxis.

    That’s just on this level,” she thought, realizing the scene was probably being repeated on the other eleven stories of the small spaceport.

    The train of security speeders did not stop at the taxiport, however. Instead, the security speeders proceeded to a heavy cargo marshalling zone. This allowed them to park their speeders only a very short distance from hanger bay 127, proper.

    The security detail all debarked from their speeders and immediately scanned their surroundings before signaling it was safe for their charges to exit their vehicle. Darth Virulous exited first, followed by Andronikos who exited from the same side of the speeder the Sith lord did. The security procession walked briskly from the cargo marshalling zone to the hanger bay. Nox’s ship was at the far end of the hanger bay a few berthing stalls away.

    Hutt security forces showed a heavy presence and were throwing their weight around, inspecting everyone they encountered in and around the hanger bay. There was also a large team of the security forces forming a perimeter around Nox’s ship. Nothing was left to chance.

    Andronikos immediately took note that Wrehn’s ship was gone, and that another ship was in its place. He reflected that he’d been cooped up in the hospital for a month, noticing that the other ship was still parked in its berthing stall and still had no crew in or around the silent ship.

    I wonder if it’s been repo’ed,” he thought idly, “Maybe it’s for sale.

    A sharp pain stabbed his hip, where his artificial leg joined his body, wrenching his mind to the here and now.

    “Agg! Blasted leg!” he angrily exclaimed. “Damned thing won’t work right!” he complained to no one in particular. “It’s gonna be a pain to replace the damned thing if I can’t get the piece of crap tuned up right!”

    Andronikos thought about suing the cybernetic prosthetics manufacturer and the hospital for selling him a faulty product. It was not working as smoothly nor as responsively as the real thing, as was promised to him at the hospital when he was choosing which brand and model to use as his replacement.

    I miss my old leg,” he thought, morosely.

    Andronikos realized he’d have to make up some kind of story to explain how he’d lost his leg to his associates and contacts. He didn’t want it getting around that he’d been thumped pretty hard by a woman. Never mind that she was a Mandalorian equipped with impressive hardware. Never mind that she was a professional bounty hunter responsible for assassinating the previous Galactic Republic chancellor despite all of the security he had all around him.

    The notoriously ruthless pirate was still very impressed, thinking, “And she bagged that Sith lord on Korriban, too.” He had to grudgingly admit to himself, “Damn, could she fight!

    He’d been following behind Virulous the entire time and nearly tripped over her as she jerked to a sudden halt, looking about wildly while drawing and igniting her lightsaber. Andronikos hopped back a few paces, on his good leg, to give Virulous’ lightsaber some space and began to look about his surroundings as well.

    Damned stars are against me! If only I had my blasters!” he cursed, under his breath, still searching for the danger, “What a blasted time to be unarmed!

    Virulous suddenly spun around and looked up, just in time to see the Jedi coming down in his attack from the ceiling support girders, one hundred meters up. She didn’t have time to do anything except to leap backwards to escape the strike of his weapon. In doing so, she’d become separated from Andronikos.

    The Jedi landed with the crashing sound of his metal plate armor and the resounding hollow drumming boom of the metal hanger deck. He spun smartly about to face the pirate and, pointing his empty, metal gauntleted hand at Andronikos, palm outward, said, “Sleep.”

    Andronikos was completely taken off guard. He was struck with such a sudden and heavy wave of sleepiness and sank to his hands and knees, battling to stay awake.

    Meanwhile, the Jedi had snap-turned to face Virulous again and executed a massive Force Push attack that sent her light frame flying across the cavernous spaceport hanger like a leaf in a wind storm. He Force Leapt after her with his bright green lightsaber ablaze, poised over his head and ready to strike. As he neared to where Virulous had crashed onto and tumbled across the hanger deck, he began to swing his weapon downward.

    Virulous’ still raw injuries, and her still healing burned skin, had become aggravated from the abuse the Jedi had perpetrated against her. Added to the pain of her reopened scars and re-injured wounds, the Force Push attack caused her entire front to sting so much that it felt like a terrible burn from a blast of superheated steam. Crashing onto and tumbling across the deck abused her bones and joints, but she suffered no fractures.

    The kolto she’d administered to herself earlier was not enough to deaden this new assault of pain. Yet, Virulous willed herself to her feet and used The Force to speed herself away from where the Jedi would land to strike her with his weapon. However, the Jedi would not let her escape so easily. Just before landing from his long jump, he threw his lightsaber at her, directing it with The Force.

    Still running, Virulous turned at the last moment and swatted the twirling green beamed lightsaber down with her own red beamed weapon, but the green beam of her enemy’s weapon struck the shin guard of her armored boot, cutting into the guard before bouncing off. Although the shin guard had done its job and stopped the beam from cutting through, and although the molytex fabric of her leggings protected her from the worst of the heat, some of the impossibly high heat of the beam passed through and gave her shin a terrible second degree burn. The Sith lord had failed to activate her personal shield generator, which really would have made a big difference.

    Virulous fell onto her back side, favoring her scorched shin and screaming from the intense agony of the lightsaber burn. The Jedi stretched his hand forward and his weapon returned to his hand. He walked to where Virulous began her struggle to regain her feet.

    He said as he neared the Sith lord, “You are unable to continue the fight. You are beaten. There is no good reason to suffer a needless death. Stand down and allow me to take the criminal terrorist as my prisoner. He will receive a fair trial in accordance to Republic law.”

    Virulous, refused to even rebuff the Jedi’s pointless rhetoric, instead reaching her free hand towards the Jedi. The Jedi felt his life force surging out of him. However, he quickly broke her grip on his life force, with The Force, and then blasted her with another Force Push attack. Virulous crashed onto the launch deck, tumbling and skidding to a stop. She ended up in a humiliating heap, on the spaceport hanger deck.

    The Jedi shook his head to clear the fog in his mind as he unsteadily approached his defeated enemy. Clearly, the Sith lord’s attack had a profound effect on him, but he had prevailed against her. In great disappointment, he asked himself aloud, “Why do the Sith always insist on fighting to the death against impossible odds?

    He raised his weapon over his head, but as he brought his weapon down to finish the unconscious Sith lord, on instinct, he suddenly jumped straight up into the air, using The Force to propel himself many meters above the deck. He then used Force Push to propel himself backwards. The Jedi converted his tumbling into backwards somersaults, landing steadily on his feet with his armor clanging, several meters back from where Virulous remained unconscious in an undignified pile of twisted limbs and her posterior pointing humiliatingly upwards.

    The Jedi looked to where he’d been standing a moment before. A Sith lord stood where the Jedi’s back had been turned, near to where Virulous remained unconscious.

    Thank The Force I listen to my instincts,” he thought to himself, then asking, “Where did he come from? Was he here the whole time?

    Ironically, his instincts were still screaming at him to run, but he ignored them this time as he began wondering why the Sith lord just stood there, staring. At last, the Jedi paid heed to his instincts, as a feeling of impending doom overcame him. He turned to the right and dashed forward as fast as The Force would allow him.

    He ran about thirty paces, then stopped and turned to look at the place he’d last seen the Sith lord, standing near the unconscious female Sith, but he was not there. The Jedi swiveled his head until he found the Sith, standing at the spot he’d just fled. Again the Sith had gotten behind him. The Jedi had escaped death from behind, twice, at the hands of this mysterious Sith lord.

    How is he controlling what I see?!” the Jedi wondered, amazed.

    For the first time, the Sith lord spoke, telling the Jedi, “Your instincts serve you well. That’s twice you have narrowly escaped getting skewered through the back with my sabrestaff. You should thank The Force that it has given you the opportunity to escape with your life, while you still can.”

    Again, the Jedi’s instincts screamed at him, “RUN!!” But he was transfixed, wondering how the Sith was clouding his thoughts and his vision.

    “Tell me your name, Jedi.”

    “I am Jedi Knight Ostoni Hahn.”

    “I see. You’re a knight of the Jedi Order.” After a short pause the Sith lord said, “I shall remember your name, Ostoni Hahn.”

    The Jedi Knight finally realized who the Sith lord was, and immediately understood he was outmatched. The Jedi Order had standing orders that certain Sith were never to be confronted alone. Darth Nox was one of those Sith.

    If only I hadn’t come alone! What an opportunity, lost!

    Ostoni Hahn, nodding his head politely towards Darth Nox, turned to flee, but he ran into his foe’s sabrestaff beam instead. Again, The Force allowed the knight to stop quickly, and then to jump back away from his enemy’s weapon. The tip of the Nox’s deep red sabrestaff scorched the Jedi’s heavy plate armored cuirass, almost piercing the plate armor, and though it did not penetrate, it scorched the Jedi’s skin, even as his clothing flashed into flames beneath his armor.

    Ostoni Hahn jumped further back, then turned towards the administrative offices of the hanger deck and ran as fast as The Force would let him. He used The Force, as he ran, to snuff out the flames of his burning clothing.

    Nox deactivated his sabrestaff and strolled unhurriedly to his unconscious apprentice. He came to a stop where she remained in a heap, looking down at her and shaking his head in utter disappointment. Virulous, finally regaining consciousness, could feel the malignant presence of her master very close by. She opened her eyes and untangled her limbs. Struggling to get back onto her feet, she looked up to see the disgust and disappointment plastered all over her master’s face.

    Out of shame, Virulous opted to kneel instead of standing before her lord, her head bowed. In deep shame she spoke, and her voice cracked, humiliating her further.

    “Forgive m... Forgive me, Master. I have brought you shame.”

    Darth Nox chided her, “That Jedi was child’s play! This is something you should have had no trouble at all dealing with. What in damnation happened to you?! What were you thinking?! Were you even thinking?!”

    Virulous, already overcome with humiliation and shame, realized that Nox had watched her failure of a battle against the Jedi knight, and worse, was forced to come to her aid. Believing she’d been outmatched, she offered what she felt were her excuses.

    “I have suffered many injuries from one of my attacks on Tatooine, and have not yet recovered, Dark Lord.”

    Finally realizing she hid her face behind a mask, he asked brusquely, “Why are you wearing a mask?” He then demanded, “Remove your mask!”

    Through The Force, he momentarily felt her suddenly increased anxiety as she desperately begged, “Do not look on me, Dark Lord!”

    “Remove your mask!” He commanded a second time.

    His tone was clear; the dark lord would not be denied. Virulous wept silently as she peeled back her hood and removed the armored capped mask from her head and face. She feared Nox would not only look down on her, but that he would despise her when he saw her disfigurement, and possibly even send her away from his side.

    Nox saw that her pearly white skin was gone, all burned away and replaced by ruined raw red blistered flesh, bleeding and leaking clear fluid. Her once beautiful waist length hair was singed nearly gone, and left only in wiry brittle patches here and there on her blistered and bleeding raw scalp. Darth Nox was greatly taken aback by the ghastly sight. He hadn’t expected to see that his apprentice had suffered so greatly.

    Although he was deeply shocked by what he saw, he hid his surprise quite expertly, brusquely telling his apprentice, “I have seen enough. Replace your mask and rise, Darth Virulous.”

    As Virulous sorrowfully rose to her feet, replacing her mask and covering her head with the hood of her robe, Nox thought, “Well… Now I understand why she was so shamefully beaten.” Then he asked himself, “Are her wounds the result of Dark Side corruption, or was she merely stupidly careless?” He hoped it was the former, thinking, “Perhaps she has grown stronger in The Dark Side of The Force. Perhaps I can begin her training in the darker arts of The Force.

    Having prevented the loss of his ship and servant, and having saved the life of his apprentice, Nox was ready to leave The Smugglers’ Moon. He called to his servant.

    “Andronikos!”

    The semi-retired pirate heard Nox’s voice through the fog of sleep and snapped awake, as he imagined that an evil specter was after his soul. He found himself face down on the launch deck.

    What a nightmare,” the pirate thought.

    Then he heard Nox’s voice a second time.

    “Andronikos! Prepare the ship! I’m ready to depart!”

    Andronikos rose quickly, but unsteadily to his feet, wincing from the pain in his hip from the newly attached cybernetic prosthetic leg. He limped his way to the Fury-class interceptor and to the ring of Hutt security officials protecting Nox’s ship. As he walked, he heard a metallic clip clop sound approaching him from behind.

    He turned to look behind himself and saw that it was Darth Nox’s ship droid, 2V-R8. The droid had heard Nox’s command to get the ship ready for flight and had come out from hiding at the hanger entrance in anticipation of Andronikos’ commands to prep the ship.

    “R8, scan the ship’s logs. Look for evidence of tampering, sabotage, stowaways, unauthorized maintenance, or any other anomaly. Immediately report any anomalies.”

    “Yes, Captain,” the droid answered.

    Meanwhile, Andronikos turned to face forward, making his way to the ship, and saw Nox and Virulous speaking to a Twi’lek, accompanied by Grann and his security detail. Looking around the spaceport hanger deck again, he couldn’t find the Jedi’s corpse.

    He must have got away,” the pirate decided.

    At the start of the Jedi’s unprovoked attack, Grann had ordered his team to scatter and to get away as the Jedi set upon the petite Sith lord. He’d decided to stay out of their fight, secretly hoping the Jedi would kill her for killing Gorkie.

    The major incident inspector completed his emergency holographic meeting with Felban The Hutt. During his report of the situation to the Hutt mogul, he learned that the Sith Empire had already deployed a fleet of eight warships, unannounced, in orbit over their moon, a veritable act of war, and that a troop dropship had landed in the adjoining hanger bay, number 128, without clearance, clearly a hostile act. The Imperial ships were not responding to hails but, at the very least, they were not firing on the moon, nor on any Hutt security patrol craft.

    He had met up with Grann towards the end of the conflict between the Jedi and the tiny Sith lord, and watched in fascinated terror as Darth Nox, himself seemed to materialize from thin air to attack the Jedi from behind. Only after the Jedi had finally fled and the fighting ended, did he begin to approach Darth Nox. Bowing deeply and speaking politely, in a most formal manner according to Hutt tradition, he introduced himself to the dark lord.

    “I am Talden Wik. I’m the major incident inspector for this sector. I bring you greetings from his greatness, Felban The Hutt. He wishes a small moment of your time to convey his most sincere words of regret to you directly. Will you grant him a moment of your valuable time, honored, most august dark lord of Sith?”

    “Tell your master the next time I have to come here to protect what is mine, I will do this to him.” Nox pointed a finger at Talden, blasting him with a blinding bolt of Force Lightning, instantly killing him.

    The Twi’lek, who’d fallen backwards, lay dead. His clothing and the flesh on his chest smoldered where the lightning had struck. Nox turned to menacingly glare at the security detail which had accompanied the dead Twi’lek.

    After recovering from the shock of the unexpected attack he’d just witnessed, and following the deceased major incident inspector’s earlier policy of appeasement, Grann told Darth Nox, “Most honored dark lord of Sith, I will be sure your message is passed on directly to his greatness, Felban The Hutt.”

    Nox turned about and walked briskly towards his ship. A limping Virulous, labored to keep up with the dark lord, grunting as quietly as she could from the agony of all of her burns, including the newest burn on her shin. Grann realized Nox would encounter the security team protecting the ship, and frantically waved them off. The team protecting the ship had seen what had befallen the major incident inspector. They expected orders, from Grann, to apprehend the incident inspector’s killer, but being waived off instead, quickly moved away from Nox’s ship.

    Andronikos, almost to the back of his employer’s ship, watched the Twi’lek fall backwards after the blinding light, accompanied by the loud crack. 2V-R8 then began its report.

    “Captain, no anomalies have been detected. All systems show no signs of tampering. The ship’s security logs show that no attempts have been made to access the ship. The...”

    Andronikos, anxious to get the ship opened up before his employer got there, interrupted the droid’s report, ordering, “R8, quick, pre-flight the ship and get it ready to launch.”

    None of the quickly departing security forces attempted to stop Andronikos as he opened a small access panel with a heavily encrypted electronic key. He stuck his hand into the opening exposed by the retreating panel cover. After a moment, during which his hand had been scanned, the ramp silently came down until it came to a rest, with a clack, on the hanger deck. He closed and locked the access panel again, then hurriedly hobbled up the ramp with the ship droid trailing behind him.

    On the same encrypted electronic key was a keypad. He punched in a five digit code as he ascended the ramp. A green back-lit screen came to life next to the airlock hatch at the top of the ramp. Andronikos entered a different code on the keypad displayed on the digital touch screen next to the airlock.

    The sound of the ship’s engines winding up greeted Andronikos’ ears as the airlock opened just in time for Darth Nox to walk through and enter his starship. Andronikos and the ship droid followed closely behind the dark lord, entering the ship. However Virulous, struggling to limp up the ramp, was alone on the ramp and last to enter the ship.

    Immediately upon stepping through the airlock, Andronikos found Darth Nox waiting just inside.

    “Join the Imperial naval task force waiting for me in orbit.”

    Andronikos was just glad that he’d gotten the ship opened up in time for his boss to enter unimpeded.

    “Sure, Boss.” Then he asked, “What’s their designation?”

    “Task Force 4782.”

    “Task Force 4782, you got it, Boss,” Andronikos answered, making his way to the command bridge with the ship droid following behind.

    Then Andronikos remembered, at the last moment, “Crap! I forgot my blasters!
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
  10. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Medical Leave​


    Virulous was aboard Nox’s ship long enough to be taken from Nar Shaddaa to the flagship of Task Force 4782. She limped down the ramp of her master’s Fury-class interceptor, parked within the cavernous hanger bay of the Imperial warship.

    As usual, the noisy hanger bay was full of activity. Imperial logistics soldiers loaded or unloaded cargo from supply transporters. Platoons of Imperial troops, standing down from possible deployment to support Darth Nox on the Smugglers’ Moon, marched off of dropships to return to their shipboard barracks. Pilots and their crews inspected their respective transport shuttles and starships as part of their preflight routines. Meanwhile, several droids roamed the hanger bay, forever working to keep the deck clean and in its highly polished state.

    Limping across the expansive black, mirror polished hanger deck of the Harrower-class dreadnought, the Ruiner, she made her way, painfully, to a waiting long range Imperial light transport starship. At the bottom of the ramp of the transport, she turned about to look at Nox’s ship just in time to watch as it passed through the force field barrier, which held in the atmosphere, as it exited the hanger bay to go who knew where in the galaxy. She felt pangs of hurt and regret, believing she was being discarded. She used these feelings of regret and abandonment to fuel her anger and her growing hatred.

    Virulous was startled at the hatred growing within her, and asked herself, “What is it that I hate so much?” Unbidden was an answer she did not welcome but found hard to refute.

    Nox.

    She thought back to part of her conversation with her master on the flight up from Nar Shaddaa.

    “You will travel to Manaan and get yourself fixed up. You’re a mess and of no use to me in your current state. Do not return to me until you can walk about without the need to hide your face.”

    Darth Nox’s gruff and callous manner had hurt and demoralized Virulous greatly. As she watched her master’s ship accelerate away and vanish from view outside of the hanger bay, her resentment for him grew now that she understood he was the source of her misery.

    Just how does he think I came to be in this state?!” she thought furiously. “The ungrateful dog!

    Tears escaped her eyes behind her armored mask despite her best efforts to will them not to leave.

    Drowned out by the noise of the busy hanger bay, she lamented in a very tiny voice, “I became like this for your sake, my lord.”

    As she turned about and ascended the ramp of the long range personnel transport ship, it occurred to her that the substance of Nox’s orders boiled down to this:

    Get your health back and take whatever time you need to recover before you return to work.

    This thought took the edge off of her hatred and caused her emotions to conflict. Virulous didn’t know what to think or feel anymore. Her head seemed to spin, as confusion took rein of her thoughts.

    Virulous limped through the airlock at the top of the ramp where an officer greeted the Sith lord. Her reply was an order given in a tired and grief laden tone.

    “Take me to Manaan.”

    The officer snapped to attention and saluted, replying crisply, “Yes, Lord!”

    The young officer, rigidly holding his salute, watched as the slight and very small masked woman, shrouded by her dark hooded robes, shuffled past him and into the ship. He watched quietly as a protocol droid introduced itself to the mysterious passenger.

    “My lord, I am protocol droid YF23-PR78. I shall attend to your needs while you travel aboard this starship. If my lord will follow me, I shall take you to your quarters. I think you shall find these accommodations more than just adequate, my lord. If there is anything my lord requires, I am more than prepared to….”

    Virulous followed the chatty droid, but didn’t really hear anything it was telling her. Her mind was occupied with other matters.

    Is this how he expresses his concern? Is this how he shows kindness? Well, he doesn’t need to disguise his kindness under such a cruel facade! I know my place. I know his power, and I know my limits.

    She asked herself, “Why is he showing such kindnesses to me? Why does he care about my well being? How does he really feel about me?” She became startled at the last question, asking herself, “Am I lying to myself?!” It led her to ask, “How do I feel about him?

    When she thought she knew the answer to that question, she reminded herself, “He is a ruthless ruler. He has no love for anything. He is filled with only one ambition and only cares that I can help him to achieve that ambition.

    Virulous forcibly stopped herself from further speculation. She felt she was starting to wander into the realm of treason as another thought, unbidden, forced its way into her consciousness, “He means to unseat the Emperor. Will I be useful to him then?

    Virulous sat on a lounge chair in her suite, oblivious to anything the droid was telling her. In the end, the droid walked to its alcove and waited for her call. Virulous was lost in thought, going back to the events and the conversation she had with her master during the short flight to the Ruiner’s hanger bay.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Standing before the dark lord in his ship, Virulous worried Nox had found her a burden to him. She felt shame as she evaluated her own worth to her master, judging herself a weakling.

    “You will travel to Manaan and get yourself fixed up. You’re a mess and of no use to me in your current state. Do not return to me until you can walk about without the need to hide your face.”

    Virulous continued to conceal herself under her hooded robe and refused to stop hiding behind her enigmatic mask. She spoke embarrassedly to the dark lord.

    “My Lord, forgive me but I do not have the means to afford medical treatment on Manaan. I will seek treatment at the Imperial Army Hospital on Dromund Kaas.”

    Darth Nox looked scandalized and scoffed at the notion.

    “I’ll be mocked if my apprentice cannot afford better care than those butchers on Dromund Kaas can provide! Do you mean to shame me?! Go to Manaan! I’ll see to the costs. You can repay me at a later date.”

    Virulous felt belittled and worried her master might be tiring of her weakness.

    She considered his scared face and scalp, neck and throat and thought, “He wears his old faded scars like badges of honor. Does he expect me to accept my disfigurement in the same way?” Defiantly, she thought, “I will not!

    Nox’s Fury-class interceptor continued its climb into an ever higher orbit as it chased after Task Force 4782. The task force itself was accelerating into a higher orbit as it prepared to leave Nar Shaddaa, Hutta’s moon. Soon the Hutt moguls on Hutta, the capital world of Hutt Space and the seat of Hutt power and economic influence over much of the galaxy, would all breath a deep sigh of relief when the twelve Imperial warships had left their star system and their territorial space – without having suffered any losses.

    Sitting in one of the super comfortable lounge chairs in the common crew space, Nox commanded his apprentice, “Report to me your progress on Tatooine.”

    Virulous battled to ignore her pain as she bowed her hooded head towards him, and reported from behind her mask, “Dark Lord, I slew the vermin! I got all three heads of the three crime groups of The Exchange Gang on Tatooine. I also killed eight of their twenty lieutenants, and several of their thug followers.”

    Virulous could see from his lack of reaction that Nox was not particularly impressed, but his eyes seemed to light up a little when she told him, “This has sparked a power struggle amongst their survivors. They are killing one another for supremacy over what is left of their criminal enterprise. Even as they fight over dominance amongst themselves, their rivals steal what was once theirs.”

    Nox nodded acceptance of the ruin that she had visited on them, but said nothing else.

    Then she told him, “Dark Lord, there is one among them who has worked in cooperation with one of your agents. He provided me with the information that made my success possible. He wishes to curry favor with you.”

    From her utility belt, Virulous produced a data pad, a metallic cylinder and a holographic recorder. She stepped forward and placed all three on the caff table in front of Nox’s seat, then stepped back again, describing what the objects were.

    “One is a gift of ten million credits. It is a tribute to you, Dark Lord. The other is his recorded message, honoring you, and the third is a hand written letter of apology, on very expensive flimsiplast and executed by a highly skilled calligrapher.”

    Nox looked at the items but did not move to pick any of them up, nor did he move to examine any of the items. Instead, looking straight into the black void under Virulous’ hood, where her eyes would be, he called on his ship droid.

    “R8! Get over here! Inspect these devices for traps!”

    Virulous’ body had stiffened on hearing her master’s order to his ship droid. She cursed her own stupidity for not thinking of the possibility that that Bith mynock leech could have sent her merrily on her way, carrying explosive traps to her lord.

    The droid came rushing from the control bridge, leaving Andronikos to take control of the ship. Nox waved a hand towards the items, indicating to the droid which items to inspect. She waited in apprehension for 2V-R8’s pronouncement.

    After a moment, which seemed an eternity to Virulous, the droid finally announced, “These devices have no traps, explosives, nor embedded spy tech. There are no chemical traces of any anomalous toxic compounds, Master. They are safe to handle and to operate.”

    Nox could tell from the way that her body had tensed, when he called for the droid, that the thought of traps had not occurred to her before then.

    He told her, dead pan, “I’m certain you had already inspected them before bringing them into my presence, but I make it a habit to check for traps regardless.”

    Virulous remained silent. She could tell that Nox knew that she had not considered this possibility, but she dared not confess her failure to check for traps, yet she dared not lie to her lord, either, and claim that she had.

    Nox smiled, inside, at her honesty, thinking of Virulous, “How quaintly naive.

    Instead of discussing the possibility of traps, Virulous told her master, “Dark Lord, one of the three Exchange leaders was foolish enough to hide in a fortified dungeon of a home with his wife and two children.”

    Nox’s eyes sharpened; he sat straighter, asking, “What happened to them?”

    “I slew them as he watched.” Virulous replied soberly, reporting, “He suffered greatly, Master, begging for the lives of his children.”

    Darth Nox leaned back, smiling, and nodding his satisfaction.

    “You have done well, Darth Virulous. Hearing this news gladdens me. At least you have done one thing right.”

    Virulous became incensed, her voice tremored with fury as she replied, “You are too generous with your praise, Dark Lord.”

    Darth Nox openly smiled in mirth, thinking, “Ha! This is the closest she’s come to expressing her anger at me. She still fears me.” Aloud, he told his ship droid, “2V-R8, tell Andronikos to land in the hanger bay of the Ruiner. Tell them to have a transport ready to take Darth Virulous to Manaan.”

    The droid replied, “Right away, Master.”

    Then, off it went to the control bridge to complete its task.

    Nox bent forward in his seat and, picking up one of the devices from the caff table before him, activated it. It was the holo-recorder. The holographic image of a Bith appeared and the message began to play.

    The Bith bowed deeply at the waist. One arm tucked across his mid section while the other swept out from his side. His holographic image straightened, then spoke.

    “Most excellent and august dark lord of Sith. I am privileged to be permitted an opportunity to give you my most sincerest and most humble apologies for the crimes committed against you and yours by my former, and now justifiably dead, leaders. What fools they were!

    “To actually believe they could raise their hands against someone as powerful as you and actually believe they could get away with it!” The Bith shook his head as if in disbelief of his dead leaders’ foolishness, adding, “But now their hubris has attracted your ire and your wrath. We have all suffered greatly under your mighty and unmerciful blows!

    “Your agent of death has paused from her bloody feast of carnage and has given those of us who have, thus far, survived your incinerating wrath an opportunity to prostrate ourselves before you and to beg for an end to your wrathful vengeance. None of my colleagues have answered my call! Those fools believe that your wrath has abated and are carrying on, squabbling amongst themselves to vie for what scraps of power remain in the wake of your fury. Those fools!

    “I am not so short sighted as they! I am not so foolish as they! I know your wrath has not abated! I send to you gifts, peace offerings, oh mighty dark lord!”

    Nox watched the image of the Bith prostrate himself, groveling before Darth Nox. Nox paused the message as he burst into loud laughter, finding it comical.

    “He’s speaking as though I were a Hutt! This is how the small time gangsters grovel to a Hutt overlord when they’re going to ask for something.”

    He laughed some more at the ludicrous nature of the message. Virulous became worried her master would not be appeased.

    “Dark Lord, please do not send me back there. It was a terrible experience for me.” Ashamed, she added, “I suffered greatly, there.”

    As his ship entered the hanger bay of the flagship, one of three Harrower-class dreadnoughts in the task force, he told her, “When you have returned to me whole, from Manaan, I will send you into the fire once more. I want to see how strong you’ve become.”

    He could see her shoulders droop and her head drop ever so slightly. Her body language betrayed her feelings. Nox could see that it pained her greatly that she would be sent back to Tatooine.

    “Your experience has given you terrible pain. But it has also, potentially, unlocked greater power within you. You have, potentially, gained greater control of the Dark Side of The Force.”

    Virulous remained silent. Nox looked at her appraisingly. He felt the bump of the ship touching down in the hanger bay.

    “How did it feel when you killed those children while he watched?”

    Darth Nox was slightly disappointed by the guilt and regret plainly evident in her tone.

    “I hope I will never have to do such a terrible thing again, but….”

    When her silence threatened to remain, Nox prompted her, “But?”

    Virulous’ voice tremored again, but Nox could tell it was not from fury, but from the thrill she felt as she relived the moment the Dark Side nearly destroyed her existence, nearly leaving her an insane idiot.

    “But the power of The Force flowed through me like a raging river overflowing its banks. The darkness threatened to wash away my mind! I could barely walk or see straight, but I felt like I could move mountains, Dark Lord!”

    “That power is still with you, Darth Virulous,” Nox said triumphantly, “However, you cannot call on this power fully with your body so broken. When you return to me from Manaan, I want to see what you can do.” Then he surprised her, “To that end I have allowed your enemy to escape with his life. You will hunt down that Jedi who so thoroughly trounced you, and redeem your honor through his death. That shall be your test. His name is Ostoni Hahn.”

    Virulous had assumed that her master had already slaughtered the troublesome Jedi. She was surprised to learn the Jedi still lived, but it gave her a slight ray of hope.

    “Then, Master, I do not need to return to Tatooine?”

    “You will go back to Tatooine. You will finish carrying out my vengeance. I especially want this buffoon dead. He turns my stomach,” the dark lord said, waving at the frozen image of the prostrating Bith crime boss.

    Her hopes dashed, Virulous replied bitterly, “As you will, my lord.”

    Andronikos called over the ship’s public address system, “We’re in the Ruiner, debark as you like.”

    Nox told his apprentice, “Go now.”

    Virulous bowed to her master, then wordlessly turned about and left his presence and his ship.

    Nox thought with a little concern, “She does not embrace her new found dark power. I must nurture her hatred and help her cast away her aversion to do the very worst without any remorse.

    Nox had forgotten his own battles with guilt and remorse when he had accidentally killed his wife, Ashara Zavros, in a dispute he had with her just over a half year before. A few months after his wife’s accidental killing, the Exchange Gang, at Darth Acina’s behest, destroyed one of his estates and killed his two children in the attack. At the time, he had used his grief for their loss to plunge himself even deeper into the Dark Side, thus increasing his power in The Force.

    However, guilt and self hatred assailed his conscience because he took advantage of the situation precisely to gain dark power. The guilt and self hatred that he felt, for his vile use of his family’s tragedy, also fueled his power in the Dark Side of The Force. He had gained tremendous power, but the cost of this power was an imperilment to his sanity. Nox found himself descending into depravity, madness, and self destruction.

    The powerful emotions of love for his wife and children, his terrible grief for their loss, his crushing guilt for having had a part in their deaths, and his deepening hatred of self, for allowing himself to defile their memories with his selfish search for dark power all threatened to ruin his psyche.

    At his darkest moment, just before he plunged, irreversibly into unbridled madness, Nox had decided to preserve his sanity, deciding to no longer defile the memory of his beloved wife and children. In the end, he vowed to himself to find another path to dark power, all because of remorse.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2019
  11. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Fuel Shortage​


    Darth Nox worried over his secret research getting stolen. So much so that, four years ago, he had a deep space station commissioned and built. Construction of the space station was completed two years later, but he couldn’t begin moving his most sensitive research projects into it until a year after that when the station completed its shake out and space navigation trials.

    When the station had become fully manned and operational, and with his secrets safely secured aboard, he had the station moved to a starless dust filled region on the outer edge of the galaxy. However, Nox took extreme measures, sparing no expense, to ensure the security of his space station and his secrets.

    Having learned from his top spy, Keeper, how easily he and his executive officer, Watcher Two, had located the Emperor’s secret space station, the Arcanum, Darth Nox decided to replace all of his military security and starship engineering forces with his own private security and maintenance organizations and appointed Keeper with the task of setting it all up.

    Keeper handpicked the security professionals and starship engineers from all over the Empire, with a few retired navy starship engineers among the new hires to train the others and to oversee their work. He organized the security screening and vetting process himself, ensuring only reliable individuals who could be trusted to keep secrets got hired.

    Keeper and his executive officer, Watcher Two, had also returned to the Imperial Military Personnel Records Section at The Citadel in Kaas City, Dromund Kaas and went through the personnel service records of every Imperial soldier who’d ever served on Darth Nox’s space station. They altered the soldiers’ service records, changing the space station’s designation number and coordinates to make it appear that the soldiers had served aboard other space stations at other locations. This effectively purged the existence of Nox’s space station from military records.

    Following the major incident on Nar Shaddaa, Darth Nox had secluded himself aboard his space station. It was nowhere near as big as the emperor’s space station, nor was it equipped with stealth technology, but the galaxy was big, and no one was looking for his space station and no one of consequence was aware of its existence.

    Nox was confident the measures he’d taken would keep his research safely hidden from his rivals and enemies on the Dark Council. He believed that so long as his research was not disclosed to his rivals, or his secrets divulged to his enemies, that he would ultimately hold a great advantage over them all. He believed the knowledge his research could yield would cement his place as the most powerful Sith in the galaxy, after the Sith Emperor.

    Darth Nox first became aware of the existence of strange and powerful rituals involving The Force nearly ten years before, when Nox was known as Kallig, Lord of The Sith. At that time, his old master, Darth Zash, had tried to use a Dark Force ritual to commandeer Kallig’s body. It was a ritual to steal another’s body in order to extend one’s own life. However, Nox’s servant, Khem Val, thwarted her plans when he interfered with the ritual. Unexpectedly, she ended up sharing Khem Val’s body, instead.

    Darth Zash’s and Khem Val’s consciousnesses struggled for control over the Dashade’s body. So, Kallig never knew who he was going to be speaking to from one minute to the next. Whenever Zash had control of the Dashade’s body, after successfully pushing the Dashade’s mind into the realm of the subconscious, Darth Zash took the opportunity to negotiate a deal with her former apprentice.

    She promised to give Lord Kallig her hidden library of ancient Dark Force rituals. In exchange, Kallig would aid her to eject Khem Val’s consciousness from his body, granting her complete control of it. To that end, whenever she had control of the body, she conducted her research to find a way to achieve her goal.

    During his murder trial before the Dark Council on Korriban, Kallig had hidden the truth from the dark councilors, who were conducting his trial, about what had actually happened to his master. He didn’t want anyone learning the nature of her ritual, so he failed to tell them that her conscious mind, her soul, had been transferred into the Dashade’s body. The Dark Council only saw her dead body and simply assumed that he’d killed her.

    Kallig presented, to the Dark Council, evidence of the preparations his old master had undertaken for her ritual to kill him. His claim of self defense was plausible enough that the Dark Council decided to look the other way. The Dark Council also decided to award him Zash’s title, her office in government, and her powerbase as her successor. They gave him all of her wealth and real estate, but they also turned Kallig over to Darth Thanaton, to replace Zash as his subordinate.

    Shortly after his murder trial and acquittal, Darth Thanaton tried to have Kallig killed. In fact, Thanaton had tried numerous times to have Kallig assassinated. Kallig had learned craftiness and double dealing from Zash, however, and his instincts also helped him to survive Thanaton’s attempts to have him murdered.

    In an effort to establish good will and win him over, Zash provided council and advised Kallig, helping him to outmaneuver and confound Darth Thanaton’s attempts to eliminate him, while also elevating himself in the eyes of the Dark Council. As a result, Thanaton’s repeated failures to be rid of his subordinate exposed his weakness before his fellows on the Dark Council.

    It also gave notoriety to the surprisingly politically powerful and quickly rising star, Kallig, Lord of The Sith. Those following the gossip of the growing conflict between the master and the subordinate were stunned when the imperial military backed Kallig in defiance to Darth Thanaton, a dark councilor. Not only did Thanaton fail to have him killed, but Kallig demonstrated his own power when he killed each of the assassins who’d come for him, allowing none to escape. Kallig even managed to convince four of Thanaton’s followers, three Sith lords and a very powerful military official, to sit out the kaggath, and not support their lord, Thanaton.

    Embarrassed by the repeated failures of his assassins to kill his subordinate, and humiliated by the defections of some of his followers, Thanaton realized that he had to regain his standing with his fellow dark councilors. Darth Thanaton decided he needed to make a display of his own power. He challenged his subordinate to a blood feud, a kaggath. This prompted Kallig to openly declare his superiority over his master, Darth Thanaton, and to formalize his bid to overthrow his master to claim Thanaton’s seat on the Dark Council.

    During the long running feud, Zash helped Kallig to track down four Sith Force ghosts. When he located and coaxed the ghosts of the powerful long dead Sith lords into showing themselves, Kallig performed a Dark Force ritual on each of them. This ritual allowed him to subjugate each Force Ghost, stealing all of their accumulated knowledge of The Force, and finally commandeering their Force power, as he shackled the Force ghosts within his own soul.

    In essence, he enslaved the Force ghosts, consuming their existences and absorbing their beings into his own. This dark ritual instantly and permanently, gave him an exponential increase in power and control of The Force, becoming more powerful than most of the members of the Dark Council, including Darth Thanaton.

    The cost of this tremendous gain in power was that Kallig’s own nature and personality had changed. He became a darker, colder, and fanatically focused ruthless man. He was fortunate that he had not lost himself entirely. He could have become a completely addled and ruined individual, with his mind torn to shreds because the memories, life experiences, and psyche of four other individuals had become imprinted and overlaid onto his own memories, life experiences, and psyche.

    In fact, when his spies had told him about Kallig’s rituals, Darth Thanaton was deeply shocked and amazed that anyone would dare perform such an incredibly dangerous ritual simply to obtain more power. It gave him insight to the great lengths that his rival, Lord Kallig, was willing to go to in his efforts to defeat him.

    After nearly a year, Kallig finally got his chance to strike directly at his rival when he forced his way into the Dark Council chamber during a meeting, knowing Thanaton would have to attend. Boldly walking down the length of the council chamber floor, towards Thanaton’s seat, and in disregard of the other dark councilors present, he called Thanaton down to the council chamber floor, personally challenging him to a duel. There, Lord Kallig finally defeated Darth Thanaton, in the presence of the Dark Council, putting an end to the long running blood feud.

    In so doing, Kallig succeeded Thanaton to the Dark Council. The Dark Council named him Darth Nox, Dark Lord over the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge, and just as he had inherited Darth Zash’s titles, fortunes, and powerbase, he had also inherited Darth Thanaton’s titles, fortunes, and powerbase. However, whereas he had kept Zash’s followers as his subordinates, some of whom were killed by Thanaton’s followers, Nox ordered the executions of most of the former followers of Thanaton, keeping only those four of Thanaton’s former subordinates who had surrendered and sat out the kaggath.

    Shortly after Thanaton’s defeat, the newly minted dark lord, Darth Nox, traveled to Taris following a clue Zash had found. The clue led to a device that was going to be the means by which Khem Val’s existence would be removed from his body, thereby giving the Dashade’s body over to Zash as her payment for her aid against Thanaton, and in exchange for her library of dark knowledge.

    In a ruined and dilapidated warehouse which was once filled with antiquities, antiquities which were now mostly looted or destroyed, the device he was to use to eject Khem Val’s mind was finally located. However, Kallig had betrayed Zash at the last possible instant, ejecting her consciousness instead, entrapping her mind and soul in the ancient technological prison. Intending to never release her from her prison, he abandoned the ancient device, leaving it where it was found. In this way, he repaid Khem Val’s selflessness when the Dashade saved his life from his master’s plot to steal his body.

    Nearly ten years after ascending to the Dark Council and becoming one of the twelve rulers of the Sith Empire, and nearly ten years after imprisoning his old master, Darth Nox had freed his old master from her technological prison after a monumental search for the device in Taris’ ruined cityscape. This was another fact that he hid from his fellow dark counselors. The prison was a device created by an ancient and all but forgotten race, the Rakata of the almost mythical Infinite Empire more than twenty thousand years in the ancientest past.

    These devices were vanishingly rare, with only two known to have been discovered, and both Rakata mind traps were in the possession of the Sith Empire, and both of them were held as closely guarded secrets, hidden in the bowels of The Citadel within Darth Nox’s domain, the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge. To all the galaxy, Darth Zash was dead, and had been dead for the last ten years.

    So when Nox presented, to the Dark Council, Zash’s consciousness in the body of a Jedi, they assumed – and he let them assume – that he had somehow discovered and used a Dark Force ritual which brought Zash back to life. They believed that he had brought her consciousness back from beyond The Force and put it into the body of a Jedi.

    The whole thing was a ruse, smoke and mirrors. So long as they believed he had the power to bring back the dead, he held great power and influence over his rivals. The power he held over his fellow dark counselors was an illusion however, an illusion he knew would not last. This time, however, the research Nox conducted was going to lead him to real power, power that could not be resisted by any other, except by Sith Emperor Vitiate.

    Several centuries ago, Emperor Vitiate had been careful to hide his secrets in his space station, the Arcanum, but he did not know that his rivals, a thousand years before, had already stolen his secrets, making copies of his works and conducting their own research.

    Emperor Vitiate had ruthlessly eliminated his enemies and those who foolishly believed themselves his equal. Centuries later, Vitiate had discovered the thefts, but he knew that everything decayed with time. He believed his secrets were safe. However, he had not anticipated that his dead enemies had taken careful steps to preserve their hidden works based on his stolen research, and he greatly underestimated the effectiveness of the Imperial Reclamation Service, which had found and dug up those works a thousand years later.

    As does everything else in the grips of time, the long centuries had swallowed up the facts, names, events, heroic deeds, infamous crimes, and the many monuments erected to their memory. Time swallowed up the histories of the most powerful, the most notable actors of an all but forgotten ancient era. The ancient histories of great battles fought between Sith against Jedi in the conquest of empires had all become myths and legends over the passing centuries.

    Records were lost or destroyed and all reliable memory of those ancientest of times had been all but erased from galactic civilization’s memory. The only remaining constant, the only remaining proof, the only thing that lent credence to the myths and legends that had managed to persist through the murkiness of the passing centuries was Vitiate.

    There was no doubt, in the minds of the very few Sith, Jedi, and government officials of both the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic with knowledge of who Vitiate was, that he had ruled the Sith Empire for over one thousand three hundred years. Somehow, the emperor had learned to bypass the natural order of the cycle of life and death. For as long as he had ruled over the Sith Empire, the emperor had ignored death.

    Death was offended, having found itself unable to enforce its right to erase the existence of an entity. Death found itself confounded by the entity named Vitiate.

    Darth Nox was in search of Vitiate’s secrets for immortality. He wanted to be able to ignore Death, too. So, he unceasingly pursued clues to the forgotten ancient past, looking for the fragments of information leading to more of Vitiate’s secrets.

    In defeating Thanaton and rising to the Dark Council, all those years ago, he had found himself in possession of fragments of Vitiate’s research, and the research of Vitiate’s long dead rivals. Much of his work over the years, since ascending to the Dark Council, initially involved the breaking of codes used to obfuscate the meanings of words and phrases of the long dead language of the ancient Sith Race of Korriban.

    Once he had overcome those hurdles, Nox had to wrap his head around the concepts being described by the ancient Sith lords who had authored the archaic research. That took years more to accomplish. After nine years of research, Darth Nox believed himself ready to conduct his first practical experiment.

    He had spent many hours in meditation, filling himself with the power of the Dark Side of The Force. His mind was focused with fury, and his heart was filled with unyielding hatred. Darth Nox, who’d been kneeling, rose to his feet.

    He approached a laboratory table with a large tub bolted to it. The tub was half filled with a slurry of mud with a large slab of raw flesh which still had the bones, fur covered hide, and other tissue still dripping with the blood of a recently slaughtered creature, a tukata. Tukata are wild beasts which hunt in packs and which are found natively on Korriban.

    The mud slurry was also brimming full of microbial life forms and stank strongly of rot. Darth Nox picked up a clay tablet that he had made. The clay tablet was very porous and infused with a certain mixture of elements in very precisely measured quantities. He had inscribed the tablet in the ancient dead language of his ancestors, the pure-blooded red-skinned Sith who originally inhabited planet Korriban.

    He let slip the tablet into the slurry at one end of the oblong tub, and watched it slowly sink into the muddy concoction as the water in the slurry soaked into the porous tablet, weighing it down. Nox reached his hands towards the muddied slab of fur covered flesh at the center of the tub and projected his malice and hatred, his fury and his murderous intent at it. The Dark Side of The Force carried his dark and malign thoughts and feelings to the slab of flesh and bones in the slurry.

    The slurry began to churn as the tukata flesh began to writhe and pulsate as though it were some sort of worm. It began to change its nature, taking on a new form. Muddy, fur covered tentacles poked out of the slurry in the vessel and began to snake around the rim of the tub as though seeking escape from it.

    Darth Nox snapped maliciously at the forming creature, “Vile wretch! Know your place! Be still and remain in your filth until I am done with you!”

    The tentacles froze, seemingly on hearing his voice. Then, as though understanding speech, jerked back into the slurry as though hiding from a terrible threat.

    Just as Nox was about to imbue the still forming creature with his malign aura, an overhead announcement was made by a droid, “Dark Lord, Darth Marr insists on speaking to you immediately. Shall I pass the call to you?”

    Nox furiously halted his experiment and immediately killed the partially formed creature in its tub, blasting it with Force Lightning.

    Shaking his fists and stomping his armored booted foot onto the metal plated deck, Nox furiously shouted at the droid via the intercom, “I said, NO INTERRUPTIONS!”

    The droid’s voice returned through the speakers, “I’m deeply sorry, Dark Lord. However, Darth Marr stated it was a most urgent matter that could not wait. Shall I disconnect the call?”

    “I’ll take the damned call in my office!” Nox shouted disgustedly.

    With that, he stormed out of his laboratory and, after making his way through a labyrinth of hallways and turbolifts, finally entered his office.

    He sat, fuming in his chair behind his desk, and barked, “Connect the call!”

    As soon as Darth Marr’s image appeared, Darth Nox spoke darkly.

    “Marr, this had better be worth the interruption to my work.”

    Marr replied flatly, “We are losing the war with the Galactic Republic.”

    Darth Nox shifted in his seat and turned his head to the side with a look of shock on his face. His anger and his experiments were forgotten as his mind tried to absorb the enormity of what he’d just heard. After a moment, Nox returned his gaze to the holographic image hovering over his desk. He regarded Marr’s cybernetically masked facade, partially hidden beneath the hood of his heavy dark cloak.

    “Did I mishear you? Did you actually say we – the Sith Empire – are going to lose the war with our enemy?”

    Marr replied, “The Republic’s strategy of concentrating their attacks at our fueling ports, fuel mines, and their threats against third party fuel exporters has worked to strand our navy. With our fuel supply greatly diminished, our navy cannot conduct operations at the pace required to cement our control over areas we have already conquered.

    “To conserve fuel, I have been pulling our fleets out of action, keeping them hidden and safe. I have left enough of our forces to defend Imperial territories, but we cannot hold much of our war gains.”

    The full realization of the enormity of the disaster facing the Sith Empire hit Nox like hundreds of tons of rock from a collapsing Sith tomb. The Sith lord shook his head in disbelief. When he finally spoke, his tone showed his great disgust at his rival.

    “So, who have you chosen as your successor when you are voted out of the Dark Council, Marr?!”

    Marr, clearly angered by the threat of losing his seat on the Dark Council, worked to control his tone, but his anger shone through regardless.

    “I have a plan! A plan to reverse this set back, and to return us on the path to victory!” he said. Regaining his composure, he added, “We are set back because of our lack of fuel. It is a serious matter with real implications if we cannot correct it. However, I have found a solution.”

    Alarm bells started going off in Nox’s head, as he recalled Moff Pyron’s report to him about the fleet being hidden in deep space.

    Have we been short of fuel for the fleet since that far back?!” He asked himself.

    Moff Valion Pyron had reported to him that Darth Marr was hiding the fleet a few months ago when Nox had been in the midst of a kaggath against the disgraced Darth Acina.

    Nox sat up straight and said pointedly, “If you have a solution, then carry it out.” Then he asked, “Why do you need to tell me about it?”

    “My hands are full with the war effort.” Marr replied soberly, explaining, “I cannot split my time and my abilities between the two problems. The war requires my full attention.”

    “Why me, then?!” Nox asked, angrily. “Couldn’t you have asked any of the others? What about Zash, Mortis, or Ravage?”

    Marr replied, “Mortis is busy putting down rebellions, Ravage is too blunt to rely on a problem that requires subtlety, and Zash is still consolidating her hold on her sphere of influence. That leaves you.” Marr added grudgingly, “You are also, my first choice, Nox. You are strong, have a strong powerbase, and understand subtlety. The need for a small, quiet, yet very strong presence is required.”

    Nox asked incredulously, “Small, quiet, yet strong presence?! Are you telling me I can’t bring troops?”

    “I will provide you with four black ops teams, a reinforced battalion of regular infantry, and a team of operators to help with the administration of your operation and with the execution of your plans.” Marr replied, “Of course, I expect you’ll bring in your own top talent, but it is necessary to keep a very small footprint for my solution to work.”

    “So, what is this solution?” Nox asked, leaning back into his chair, suspicion of plots and traps nagging at the back of his mind.

    “The Hutts have used strong arm tactics to actually take over an independent and neutral world in the Outer Rim outside of Hutt Space.” Marr began his briefing, adding, “Makeb is the world in question.

    “Their interest in the planet has only just recently surfaced when a local mining company discovered a very rare material. It is reportedly being called Isotope Five. Since the Hutts have taken over, they have ramped up mining for this rare material.

    “My scientists tell me, based on their observations of the sample which I had obtained for their study, that with modifications to the reactors powering our starships, a very small amount of Isotope Five will power the ship for nearly its entire life of service. Imagine a Navy of ships, fueled once, and never needing to be refueled again.”

    “It would give our fleets an enormous strategic advantage over our enemies,” Nox speculated.

    “You shall meet with my assets on my ship.” Marr told Nox, adding, “I shall provide transport to Makeb from my ship. Your teams shall locate and recover all of the Hutt’s mined stockpiles of the Isotope Five for our fleets.”

    “I will see to this,” Nox affirmed, adding a thinly veiled criticism. “You be sure we stop losing the war.”

    “I have a solution for that, too,” Marr replied tersely, and then his holographic image was gone.

    Darth Nox wondered to himself aloud, “How is it that the Republic knew completely where and how to cut us off from our fuel? Why were such important resources at our facilities throughout the galaxy so poorly defended?

    Darth Nox dialed a frequency. A moment later, Andronikos Revel’s holographic image appeared above Nox’s desk.

    “Hey, Boss! What do you have going?”

    “Have you found it difficult to fuel the ship?”

    Andronikos did a double take and then burst into laughter.

    Still laughing, he asked, “Someone finally got the nuts to tell the Dark Council about the fuel shortage?”

    “Why didn’t you tell me about it?” Nox asked, dead serious.

    Andronikos stopped laughing and becoming serious replied, “I already got my fill of lightning for the few times you got mad at stuff I’ve told you before. That new apprentice of yours tried taking me out a couple of times already.” He added as though remembering at the last moment, “And I got my leg shot clean off for getting my ass saved by you.” He added as an afterthought, “Thanks for saving my ass, by the way.”

    Into the silence that followed, Andronikos added, “I already live on the edge of excitement and danger. No sense taking a swim in it, if I don’t have to.”

    Nox chuckled, almost mirthlessly, as he observed, “It’s your love of wealth and status, your ambition, too. Those outweigh any fear you have of me, of anything. Nox nodded approvingly, adding, “It’s one of the things I like about you, Andronikos. The day you finally decide to leave my service will be the day I lose such a capable and fearless man.”

    Compliments from Nox were rare and Andronikos was touched by this one.

    “I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll start to think of retiring,” the semi retired pirate said, promising his employer, “Don’t worry, Boss, you’ll be the first I’ll tell when I decide to call it a career – after I’m long gone.”

    Nox became slightly amused by his ship commander’s half serious joke, yet the smile he gave never reached his eyes. Nox’s smiles very rarely ever reached his eyes.

    He told the semi-retired pirate, “I would appreciate the courtesy.” Then getting to business, he told his subordinate, “In the meantime, find Darth Virulous. The last I knew, she was on Manaan getting treatment for her injuries. It’s been three months. She must be healed up by now. Meet me on Nar Shaddaa with her.”

    “That sounds like work.” Andronikos observed, “You want me to find Khem, too?”

    Nox thought a moment, then replied, “Yes, and after you have delivered them to Nar Shaddaa, remain ready with the ship, to quickly answer my call.”

    Andronikos whistled and commented, “Whoa! That sounds like work! Can I get my own crew and stick around to pick up the pieces?”

    “Not this time, Andronikos. I’ll think of something else for you to do, however.”
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
  12. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    I re-wrote much of the previous chapter, "A Fuel Shortage," after I realized that I had made some very big mistakes in continuity. The story of how Zash and Khem Val became enemies, why Nox hated Zash so much, yet risking her treachery to use her power (from the previous story) was not properly represented the way I had originally written the chapter. So, I re-wrote it.

    I also added back story to Nox's experience, to explain why he's doing what he's doing and hinting to what his ultimate ambitions are.

    I'm sorry, for turning in a half-done chapter. I hope you'll forgive me if I humbly ask you to give it another look.

    I'm now at work on the next chapter and, this time, I will be sure it's right before I release it. As always, I welcome your comments (although you've all been pretty quiet - I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I'm gonna keep on writing. I hope you don't mind.)...

    EDIT: 13 March 2019

    I'm re-re-writing the chapters again. I learned some more about writing, so I hope that my writing style has improved, and that the story is much more easier to read, and therefore much more interesting!
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  13. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    I can't speak for anybody else, but in my case quiet is a good thing. Still enjoying the Sithly shenanigans. Keep it up.
     
    PlanetSmasher likes this.
  14. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Business On Nar Shaddaa​


    Darth Nox traveled to Nar Shaddaa from his secret space station to meet with the executives who ran his business interests on the Smuggler’s Moon. Transformative Technologies was a manufacturing firm which, among other products manufactured for other markets, produced several vital components for the Imperial Navy’s super weapon. It was a steady and significant source of his personal wealth. He liked to keep abreast of business matters, checking in periodically.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Over eleven years ago, before he’d ever traveled to Taris and subsequently met Ashara Zavros, his late wife and reluctant Sith apprentice, he had come to Nar Shaddaa to procure an ancient relic that once belonged to Tulac Hord, a Sith lord who made his mark in Sith Imperial history three hundred years ago.

    At the time, Nox was the apprentice of Darth Zash. The relic he was to bring to her held dark knowledge she required for her research. In essence, she was recreating and replicating Tulac Hord’s research for extending one’s life, but Nox did not know this at the time.

    While on his task, Nox, then known as Kallig, defeated a Sith lord who had built up a cult of followers. Kallig took control of the cult from the dead Sith lord for himself. He also completed his task of taking the relic from the Sith lord’s possession for his master.

    After completing his mission on Nar Shaddaa, Kallig had returned to Zash, on Dromund Kaas, to present her with Tulac Hord’s holocron which contained many of the ancient Sith lord’s research secrets. Zash had surprised Kallig when she congratulated him on securing the cult of followers for himself. Kallig had never told his master about his dealings with the cultists beyond the fact that a few of the disaffected and ostracized members helped him to obtain the holocron.

    This made him realize that he was being watched. He also realized that his master would not have congratulated him unless she wanted him to know he was being watched.

    Why is she spying on me?” he asked himself, “Doesn’t she trust me? She lets me do what I want as long as I do what she wants. So, why care about what I do for my own interests?

    At the time, Kallig was happy with his relationship with his master. She taught him secrets of the Dark Side of The Force, and he obediently carried out her wishes. It was a good arrangement. She even gave him tremendous freedom of movement. So much so, that he’d even spent a period of many months transforming his cult of mindless followers into a well organized crime ring with the help of Andronikos Revel, whom he’d met less than a year before on Tatooine.

    His crime ring conducted itself in many criminal enterprises which included blackmail, intimidation, and money laundering, in addition to the trafficking of illicit materials from time to time. These activities helped to increase his organization’s influence and criminal territory.

    Then one day, Darth Zash summoned Kallig to Dromund Kaas. He was to assist her with a dark ritual. Kallig saw it as yet another opportunity to learn a dark secret of The Force and happily left Andronikos behind to run things until his return.

    Andronikos spoke cryptically, “You got a pretty good boss, Boss. Too good to be true, if you ask me. It wouldn’t hurt to grow a pair of eyes on the back of your head. You know?”

    Kallig laughed, “Darth Zash has her sights set on her master’s post, not on mine. I’m only her apprentice. She wants to step up, not step down. If anyone needed to keep eyes on the back of his head, that would be Darth Thanaton. Darth Zash is a crafty one!” He laughed some more, adding, “She’s climbing up and bringing me up with her, and she’s teaching me her secrets. If she had any problems with me, she wouldn’t give me so much freedom and knowledge.”

    Andronikos merely shrugged, thinking, “Sometimes you got to step on the little people to step up. Well, it’s his hide to be skinned, not mine.

    Khem Val, who’d been bound in service to Kallig for just over a year, added his two credits.

    “My master is blind to the ways of the Sith. He will open his eyes, or I shall be freed upon his death.”

    “Your only concern is to obey my will, Monster! Speak out of line again and I shall forbid you to hunt for a month!”

    Khem Val bristled at the reprimand, but kept silent, vowing to himself, “One day, I shall gain the strength to make you into my food, my detestable master.

    On Dromund Kaas, he assisted Darth Zash with the preparations for her experiment with one of Tulac Hord’s archaic rituals. In an ancient ruin of a forgotten temple overgrown with vines, deep in the jungles of Dromund Kaas, he set one of the relics he had collected for his master on the center of the stone floor. That was when his master tried to take over control of his body. However Khem Val, who’d been watching Zash closely, intervened…

    After the first time that Thanaton tried to have Kallig murdered, he returned to Nar Shaddaa to prepare his criminal organization for his coming absence. Kallig knew he wasn’t going to have the time to devote to his cult of followers-turned-crime-ring, so he turned operational control over to two of his lieutenants.

    “I’m in the middle of trying to not get killed by my dead master’s master,” he said, facetiously, adding with a chuckle, “He should have taken me as his apprentice, but it seems I’ve inherited Thanaton’s grudge against my dead master along with all of her other worldly possessions.”

    Kallig paused to let them laugh and, dutifully, they laughed as expected. When the required laughter had ended, he gave them their assignments.

    “I’m going to let you two run things for a while, while I deal with Thanaton. I expect monthly reports, and I expect to see my credits grow.” Turning to Andronikos, he said, “I’m sure you’ve done a good job teaching them what they need to know. I would have liked to have kept you here, running things, but I need your skills with a blaster and your underworld connections for my plan to kill Thanaton.”

    Andronikos was unhappy about this development, but he kept his mouth shut, merely shrugging his shoulders. Kallig returned his attention to his two lieutenants, and listened as they acknowledged their new orders.

    Destris Veran, a human male, promised, “Don’t worry, Lord Kallig. We won’t let you down.”

    Rylee Dray, a human female, assured Kallig, “My lord, we’ll also keep your front operations looking squeaky clean. People will still get medical treatment, so the money we launder through the free clinic will look like legitimate donations.”

    “See about getting actual donors to help fund the medical clinic,” Kallig said, explaining with concern in his tone, “I don’t want to have to use too many of my laundered credits to run it.”

    “Get actual donors. Got it,” Rylee confirmed.

    Several months later, Kallig’s drawn out duel with Thanaton had reached a point where the military began to take sides. Thanaton had killed their big weapons research project, angering a very high ranking military official who took exception to his project getting axed.

    Valion Pyron, a very powerful moff in the Imperial military hierarchy, and a vassal of Darth Thanaton, took advantage of the rift between Thanaton and his subordinate, Lord Kallig. Pyron used their enmity to convince the Sith lord to sign off on the continuation of the research and development of his super weapon. Kallig merely saw it as an opportunity to spite and embarrass Thanaton, so it was easy for Moff Pyron to sell the idea to the young Sith lord.

    When Moff Valion Pyron approached Kallig, it was not just to get him to approve the continuation of research and development of the super weapon, but to ask that Lord Kallig secure technologies being developed by a small startup firm which Kallig owned via his crime ring.

    “How do you know about my organization?” Kallig asked the moff, greatly surprised.

    “In searching for appropriate technologies to adapt, copy, or modify, we came across Transformative Technologies. When seeking to make contact with the business, we came across your organization. When investigating your organization, we learned that you are its leader.”

    Kallig would learn from his lieutenants, some days later, that a group of investors had borrowed a large sum of money from his crime ring – and then failed to pay back the loan. During the resulting shakedown, his criminal organization had ended up owning the majority stake of a technology manufacturing firm, holding eighty percent of the shares.

    Unfortunately, most of the original executives who ran the firm resigned, leaving the gangsters to run the business. Only the inventor of the technology and the senior engineers helping him to develop the technology remained.

    “Who else knows?” Kallig demanded of the moff.

    “I wouldn’t doubt that Imperial Intelligence is aware of your business interests. Beyond that, I couldn’t say, my lord.”

    Kallig was shocked to hear this news. He hadn’t known about this acquisition. He began to wonder how much else his lieutenants had been keeping from him. In the meantime, he saw an opportunity to gain more power and new allies and acted on it.

    “I’ll approve and support your project. In exchange, you shall be my vassal. Answer to my calls, and help me to defeat Thanaton.”

    “My lord, I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, until the weapon is tested and the Dark Council approves the production and deployment of the weapons system, my service to you needs to remain secret. If Thanaton finds out I’ve turned to you for support… Well, you can imagine what will happen if he finds out.”

    Kallig nodded agreement, saying, “Very well. The day that you testify before the Dark Council to present your completed and successful weapons system, sing my praises. Say that it’s thanks to me, that the project was a success.”

    “That, I can and will do, my lord.”

    With that, Kallig secured the secret backing of the military – provided he could pull off a successful test of the ship-mounted super weapon. Meanwhile, Darth Thanaton, unknowingly, lost a significant amount of military power because of the secret defection of Moff Pyron to Kallig’s side.

    “Good,” Kallig said, smiling his satisfaction and promising, “I’ll go to Nar Shaddaa to get you that technology.”

    “As the owner of the controlling shares of Transformative Technologies,” Moff Pyron said, smiling, “you’re going to become even wealthier than you are now, my lord. Military defense contracts are quite lucrative.”

    When Lord Kallig returned to Nar Shaddaa, he found himself surprised that not only had his criminal organization really flourished beyond what he’d been told in reports, but that his organization had also become the target of rival criminal gangs which saw his operation as easy pickings. Kallig decided to put off dealing with his cheating lieutenants until after he took action to protect his organization and his criminal enterprise.

    Over a period of several weeks, Lord Kallig had gone on a rampage, wrecking and ruining the rival gangsters’ operations and killing a significant number of their thuggish members until the leaders called for peace, asking for a meeting to discuss terms for an end to the fighting.

    Kallig had agreed to meet with the leadership of the rival gangs. He attended the negotiations with Andronikos Revel and Khem Val (or maybe it was Zash) backing him up. The rival gang leaders numbered five, and each of them had brought two body guards with them. Their alliance leader called the meeting to order.

    “We’re all here. Let’s introduce ourselves.”

    “That’s a good idea,” Kallig agreed, saying, “I’ll start. I am Kallig, Lord of the Sith.” Then rhetorically, he asked a question – answering it himself, “Do you know why you’ve invited a Lord of the Sith to meet with you? It is to discuss peace.” Then he asked another question. “And do you know the first tenet of the Sith Code?” He paused this time, looking at each of the leaders in turn, allowing them a few seconds to think about the answer before telling them with glee, “Peace is a lie.”

    Whereupon he drew and activated his sabrestaff, leaping into the attack, while Andronikos and Khem Val (or maybe it was Zash) stood back to watch the slaughter. Kallig betrayed their trust, murdering them all and leaving the, now leaderless, rival gangs in a state of collapsing ruin. He made them into pitiable object lessons from which all other potential rival gangs, with ideas of moving in on his operations, could learn from.

    After the slaughter, later that day, he held a conference with his lieutenants and the officers of his criminal organization. He called to task his lieutenants, Destris and Rylee, for withholding information from him, including the fact that they were under attack by rival gangs. After scolding them and pointing out their errors, it seemed that he was done teaching them a lesson and was going to move on to the next topic, until he suddenly decapitated the two with his lightsaber, one right after the other.

    The officers gasped and gave short startled shouts of surprise, before silence returned to the room. Only Kallig’s lightsaber hummed its deadly promises of death as Kallig menacingly glared at his officers. No one in the packed conference room saw that attack coming at all, and no one dared speak a word of protest.

    After a moment, Kallig powered down his weapon, returning it to his utility belt, and as he returned to his seat at the head of the conference table, he appointed new lieutenants to take over operations. The bodies of their former leaders lay in spreading pools of blood as he conducted business with his newly appointed lieutenants. They were shocked at how casually Kallig had killed both of their predecessors – who were well liked. Kallig warned the new leaders.

    “Don’t make the same mistake of thinking you can steal from me and get away with it. And don’t keep me in the dark if a rival tries to move in on my enterprise. When that happens, I have to take action quickly to protect what’s mine. Am I clear?”

    His two newly appointed lieutenants nodded somberly, replying, “Yes, Lord Kallig.”

    Leaning against the wall at the side of the conference room next to Khem Val (or maybe it was Zash), Andronikos looked at Kallig’s profile, thinking, “I’m definitely making a big pile of credits working for him.” Then, looking down at the floor to look at the unexpectedly decapitated bodies, he considered, “but I think it’s time for me to start planning my retirement.

    Kallig continued his meeting with his newly appointed leaders and his other officers, going over strategies for the expansion of his criminal operations and other interests. However, it immediately became clear to him that, while his newly appointed lieutenants and their officers could run his criminal gang, they were woefully inadequate to run the technologies business. Under the management of the now deceased Destris and Rylee the business suffered, and he was sure the company wouldn’t do any better under the management of his new lieutenants.

    At stake was an almost guaranteed defense contract with the Imperial Navy, certainly worth hundreds of billions of credits over several years to supply custom made components manufactured by his company. He was tuned in to the stock market news, on his holo-transceiver, watching the ticker show the price dropping on shares of Transformative Technologies as the minority shareholders tried to dump their shares. Kallig worried he wouldn’t have a company to win a defense contract with, if he didn’t do something fast. He ended the meeting, deciding to split the technology business from the criminal enterprise.

    Kallig turned to a professional headhunter, to help quickly recruit and hire professional industrialists and business men to bring the company back around, improve sales of their established product line, and to ramp up the company’s operations, increasing the pace of research and development of the specialized technology in which the Imperial Navy showed interest.

    In the meantime, he bought all twenty percent of the shares, which were being dumped by the minority shareholders. From their point of view the manufacturing firm was being mismanaged and was failing. Any price they got for their shares would be at a loss, but it would have been better than losing it all. They didn’t know the Imperial Navy wanted their technology.

    Kallig got sole ownership of Transformative Technologies, and then he took it off the stock market, making it a privately held company. After inking the contract with the Imperial Navy, Kallig recovered his considerable losses and watched his fortunes soar afterwards.

    Several months later, Lord Kallig received an invitation from Moff Valion Pyron to witness the test firing of the Imperial Navy’s new super weapon, code named, Silencer. Coincidentally, another task force of Imperial warships was ambushed by a Galactic Republic naval battle group with numerical superiority in the next sector and had called for reinforcements. The three moffs in attendance began to debate amongst themselves about the matter.

    Moff Graham asked, “Do you think the Republic meant to interfere with this test, and were accidentally intercepted by the 3027th?”

    Moff Pyron replied, “Regardless, their ambush was sprung in the wrong sector. Let the Republic waste their time there.” Then he urged Lord Kallig, “We must complete the test firing, here, or we will lose our opportunity to win more funding from the Dark Council for the weapon system.”

    “We can’t leave an ally to die!” Moff Dolus remarked with indignation, adding, “It would be tantamount to giving aid and comfort to the enemy!”

    Moff Graham noted, “That’s the Carnage, Darth Achelon’s ship.” Turning to Kallig, he asked, “You do know that Darth Achelon serves Darth Thanaton, don’t you, my lord?” Then he advised, “Let him die.”

    Kallig was slightly stunned on hearing Graham’s suggestion.

    “There are four Imperial warships out there with thousands of Imperial soldiers and ships’ crew serving aboard.” He asked, “Don’t we need every one of them for the war effort?”

    “Exactly so, my lord!” Dolus agreed, adding, “We can’t let our allies down!”

    Pyron shook his head worriedly, telling the young Sith lord, “Lord Kallig, if we miss this opportunity to test the weapon, then all of our efforts will be for naught. We must produce results to continue to get funding.”

    “Then we shall do both,” Kallig announced to the moffs, “We shall save valuable Imperial naval assets, and test the weapon. There are a whole lot of Republic warships that we can test this weapon on in the next sector.”

    Graham and Dolus both looked at Pyron, expecting him to explain things, and he did.

    “Lord Kallig, we’ve never fired the weapon before. We don’t know if…”

    “Moff Pyron,” Kallig interrupted at the edge of anger, “you didn’t call me all the way out here, more than twelve sectors away from my important work, to test a weapon that has a high probability of not working. Did you?”

    “The weapon will work, my lord, but we don’t know what the energy throughput is, yet. It may fire successfully but end up only scorching the paint off of the enemy’s hulls.”

    Resolutely, Kallig ordered, “Tell the Carnage to withdraw out of our field of fire. We will flank the enemy and engage them.”

    Pyron stomped his boot, snapping to attention with the two other moffs joining him.

    “Yes, Lord!”

    Kallig kept his pazaac face on, but he was shocked at the moffs’ response to his order. He didn’t expect such deferential obedience to him from such high ranking military officials. But he liked it. He liked it a lot. Kallig was legitimately a bona fide actual lord over Sith. Several weeks before Darth Zash had attempted to take control of his body, she had elevated him above ordinary Sith, granting him the title, Lord of The Sith.

    However, because of his ongoing kaggath with Darth Thanaton, he’d been viewed by other Sith lords as a rogue with his days numbered. His title barely gave his words any weight in official circles. Having moffs treat him with such respect was intoxicating to him. It made him crave such deferential treatment even more.

    Lord Kallig swore to himself again, for the umpteenth time, “I will destroy Thanaton, and force the Sith to recognize my power!

    Moff Pyron spoke to the admiral in command of the task force participating in the weapons system test.

    “Admiral Karamon, you shall direct your ships to enter sector wesk fifty seven dash krill six twenty four dash dorn two five two (W57-K624-D252). There, you shall relieve the three thousand twenty seventh naval task force, which has been ambushed and currently under attack by Galactic Republic naval forces.

    “As Task Force 3027 disengages the enemy, to withdraw from your field of fire, you shall use the Silencer weapon system, mounted on the Doombringer, to engage and destroy the enemy. The dreadnought Ruiner, its destroyer escort, and the Doombringer’s destroyer escort, shall supplement the Doombringer’s firepower as needed.”

    Admiral Karamon snapped to attention and, stomping his boot, barked out, “Yes, Moff!”

    Kallig, Pyron, Dolus, and Graham stood quietly, watching as Admiral Karamon held an impromptu holographic conference with the captains of the two dreadnought warships and the captains of their six destroyer escorts, giving them their orders. They watched as the admiral then coordinated with the executive officer, an admiral, of Task Force 3027 on precisely when to maneuver out of the field of fire to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

    The Doombringer, the Ruiner, and their six heavy destroyer escorts traveled for an hour in hyperspace, exiting hyperspace precisely one hundred and sixty thousand meters from the rear of the enemy’s formation. Kallig looked up at the huge display monitor mounted on the command bridge’s overhead, high above his head.

    On the huge monitor above him, he watched the black markers against a soft white background, symbolizing the Carnage and two of its three escort destroyers disappear from the screen as the ships shot away into hyperspace. The third heavy destroyer escort ship had been disabled, rendered unable to maneuver, and so its marker remained on the screen.

    The markers representing the Republic ships numbered nine, three super battle cruisers and six heavy destroyers. Kallig read the information on the display and learned that the Republic warships were concentrating their fires on the lone marker symbolizing the crippled Imperial Terminus-class destroyer even as they maneuvered to face the newly arrived Imperial warships, which were represented by another group of symbols marking their position.

    The Doombringer’s captain had been issuing commands, readying the Silencer super weapon to fire. Kallig and the three moffs intently watched the battle symbolized on the huge display monitor as the weapon was readied for firing. They were surprised by how very quickly the weapon built up its charge, less than fifty seconds.

    A few moments later, an engineer involved in the development of the new weapon system rushed into the control bridge and made a beeline to the ship’s captain. Kallig couldn’t hear what was being said, but he could tell by the captain’s expression that it was not something the captain wanted to hear. Yet, the captain gave a single curt nod, as though approving something. The engineer ran off.

    As the engineer exited the command bridge, the captain announced, “Admiral Karamon, we’ll have to fire the weapon continuously and shift targets to discharge the energy build up. The energy regulator has gone off line and the system is continuously building up a charge without let up. We will overload and blow up if we do not discharge this excess power. I will attempt to target as many enemy ships as possible until the charge has been exhausted, after that, we’ll have to rely on conventional weaponry to complete the counter ambush.”

    Admiral Karamon replied, “Very well, carry on.”

    Kallig asked, “How much of a charge have we built up to?”

    Karamon nodded at the captain, giving him leave to address the lord of the Sith. The captain snapped to attention and reported.

    “Captain Brance Tokk, commanding officer of the Doombringer, my lord. We are, as of the report given me by the systems development lead engineer, a moment ago, at two hundred and thirty eight percent and rising. If my lord will excuse me, I must issue orders to the targeting team.”

    “Carry on, then.”

    “Thank you, my lord.” Then, to his subordinate, “Weapons Officer, target the ships from left to right, for two seconds each. Sweep the beam across each target, and do not interrupt the discharge of the weapon. Continue to repeatedly sweep the targets for two second intervals until the weapon system is depleted.”

    “Yes, Captain!” replied the weapons officer.

    Then she proceeded to direct her team on reprogramming the targeting parameters.

    Moff Pyron told Admiral Karamon, “Order the task force to prepare for a prolonged engagement.”

    “Understood, Moff!”

    “Then contact the Carnage and ask them to return to the fray.”

    “Yes, Moff!”

    The weapons officer called out, “Target parameters have been completed. Ready to fire on your command, Captain!”

    Without hesitation, Captain Tokk ordered, “Commence firing!”

    Nearly simultaneous to the captain’s order, Admiral Karamon ordered, “Task Force, ATTACK!!”

    The triangular Harrower-class dreadnought has a split bow. In between the split bow, recessed about a third of the length of the ship, are two humongous hanger bays, one directly over the other. On the Doombringer, the two hanger bays had been merged into one enormous space, converted to accommodate the machinery for the enormous Silencer super weapon system, of which Transformative Technologies’ components made up a small but indispensable part.

    The Silencer’s muzzle was a giant ring, three hundred meters in diameter, which created a magnetic field used to focus the energy beam when the enormous energies were discharged. It was called the focusing ring.

    At the forward most tips of the split bow was another magnetic ring which was mounted on electromagnetic gimbals. This was the targeting ring. It swiveled in order to direct the weapon’s energy beam at the target. The targeting ring swiveled from its neutral forward facing position, with its aperture swiveling to target the left most enemy ship.

    The targeting computer had begun the Silencer’s programmed firing profile. Starting with the leftmost ship in the enemy’s formation, the energy beam stayed on target for two seconds before the continuously discharging energy beam was swept to its next target. The Silencer’s energy beam was deep red. It was almost gossamer in its appearance as one could see the stars tinted red through the dimly lit beam.

    A short time had passed, when Kallig heard the weapons officer give the command to lock the Silencer super weapon to a fixed coordinate. Kallig looked at the overhead display to see which of the targets the weapon was being locked onto. The Sith lord became disappointed at the new weapon system, becoming disgusted at the whole thing when he saw that there were still nine targets on the display.

    We’ll be lucky if this thing has enough power to at least cripple one of their ships. What a phenomenal waste of my time this has all been!” About his business, he thought, “Well, at least I already recovered my initial losses and made a profit before my company will go out of business. Or maybe I can sell it before the navy cancels the contract…

    Absolute silence reigned among the bridge crew in the control bridge of the Doombringer. The only sounds were from the fans and blowers keeping the computers and other various systems cool, and the rush of air circulating through the air cleaners to keep the air breathable and comfortable.

    Kallig looked around the bridge, as the moffs stood in stupefied silence, waiting for a report from the ship’s captain. The ship’s captain and his weapons officers looked at the targeting information at the weapons control console, whispering to each other about the information they were trying to interpret. Meanwhile the Silencer continued discharging its rapidly recharging power banks.

    Kallig looked up again at the tactical display monitor high overhead and noticed that none of the symbols representing the Imperial warships were moving, except for the Carnage and its two remaining heavy destroyer escorts, dropping out of hyperspace as they reentered the battlefield.

    “What’s happening here? Why aren’t the ships of the task force attacking?!”

    Moff Pyron turned to Kallig with a very grave expression on his face and spoke somberly.

    “My Lord. We have, single-handed, destroyed the entire enemy task force.”

    It turned out that two seconds of continuous fire on each ship was overkill. After the first second of firing, the next second of energy discharge was wasted on a rapidly expanding cloud of debris which the overhead monitor still labeled as enemy ships. At the end of twenty two seconds the beam continued to fire, but all nine enemy ships had already been obliterated.

    The area each ship had once occupied had become nine dangerous fields of giant shrapnel that could shred fighters and small starships in an instant, and cause significant damage to the hulls of any warship that dared to pass through the ever expanding debris fields. Overtime, the nine discrete debris fields would eventually merge into one massive debris field, making this area a hazard to navigate. The task force navigator made the appropriate notations in the navigation log, which would be passed on to the entire navy, to alert Imperial warships of the navigation hazard.

    Kallig was mystified. He couldn’t believe it.

    Incredulous, he said, “We’ve won. We’ve won and the Silencer worked! Yet everyone here is behaving as though we were at a wake!”

    Moff Pyron spoke judgmentally, “I’ve never presided over a battle where we nearly instantaneously killed eighty to a hundred thousand ships’ crews and ground troops in less than twenty seconds, Lord Kallig.”

    Kallig became angry on hearing this from the moff.

    “We are at war, Moff Pyron. Have you forgotten? It’s either us, or it’s them! We have a new weapon system that will help to end the war much sooner – in victory for us! Countless Imperial lives will be saved, and if the enemy have the good sense to surrender after a few beatings with this new weapon, then it’ll result in their lives being saved, too. Do not forget, that over an hour ago, you were willing to sacrifice four Imperial warships and their nearly forty thousand ship crews and ground troops, just to test the weapon!”

    Moff Pyron was brought up short on that last statement. His anger began to rise until he realized the truth of it.

    “My lord, you are quite correct. I apologize for my moment of weakness. Next time, I will work hard to prevent the loss of Imperial troops and ships and work feverishly to increase the slaughter of Republic forces.”

    Kallig wasn’t sure what to make of that comment, whether the moff was speaking facetiously. He merely nodded his acknowledgment.

    Captain Tokk announced, “Admiral Karamon, the engineering team have finally disengaged and powered down the charging generator.” Turning to his subordinate, he said, “Weapons Officer, take the Silencer off-line and lock it down.”

    “Yes, Captain!”

    Darth Achelon contacted the Doombringer personally, and thanked Lord Kallig for looking beyond his feud with Darth Thanaton and for saving his task force. To show respect for the honor shown him by Kallig, he agreed to bow out of the kaggath and to no longer support Thanaton. Thus he and his three apprentices defected from Thanaton’s powerbase, a humiliating loss for Thanaton. Months later, after Kallig finally defeated Thanaton in the Dark Council chamber, Darth Achelon and his three apprentices pledged fealty to the newly elevated Darth Nox.

    Moff Pyron submitted a holographic report, via courier, to the Dark Council, detailing the highly successful test firing of the new prototype super weapon system – under the direction and leadership of Lord Kallig, against enemy ships – and of the successful rescue of most of Darth Achelon’s naval task force. The crippled heavy destroyer was a loss, but the surviving crew and troop complement serving aboard had also been rescued before the destroyer was scuttled to keep its technologies from falling into unfriendly hands. This report gave the Imperial Navy a much needed boost and made it much easier for them to sell the super weapon system to the Dark Council.

    In light of the surprisingly short and one-sided battle, thanks to the Silencer, the Dark Council voted to approve production of the new weapon system to be retrofitted into some of the existing Harrower-class dreadnought warships, this, over the loud objections of Darth Thanaton, citing costs.

    Future versions of the Harrower-class warship would be built with the weapon system natively integrated into them. With this, Lord Kallig returned to the Dark Council’s notice, which also began to recognize his power, as Thanaton seemed to be having trouble keeping him in line or eliminating him altogether.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Eleven years later, Nox sat in the board room listening to the CEO’s report. His technologies business was successful. Transformative Technologies continued to manufacture the components, which had to be replaced after only a few dozen firings of the weapon system, because the intense energies that coursed through those parts wore them down quickly.

    Following the early extreme successes with the weapon system against the Galactic Republic Navy, the Republic Navy developed new tactics to mitigate the effectiveness of the Silencer super weapon system. In the end, the Imperial Navy only built forty of the new Harrower-class variants, scrapping plans to build the remaining two thousand nine hundred and sixty of the ship class variant incorporating the new weapon system. The Imperial Navy chose, instead, to maintain those few hundred ships which had been modified with the weapon system along with the forty new ships with the integrated weapon system.

    While their effectiveness against maneuvering naval targets decreased as the Republic’s naval tactics improved, they remained quite effective against static space stations and bases on planets, moons, and asteroids. However, the days that this weapon system would finally be scrapped were nearing. The commanding officers of the modified dreadnoughts were increasingly reluctant to fire the weapon, because after only a few dozen shots, the ship had to be taken out of service and docked to refit the weapon system. Each refit took about thirty days to complete and cost just over a billion credits.

    In the meantime, Nox’s business was thriving. In addition to the contract to supply the Imperial Navy with those components, the company, looking to the future and the eventual discontinuation of support for the Silencer super weapon system, had developed new technological products with non military applications, using a drastically scaled down and greatly modified version of the technology used in the super weapon system.

    It was intended for the civilian manufacturing market sector. These light manufacturing technologies enjoyed a respectable share of the light industrial manufacturing market, both in Hutt space and in Sith Imperial space.

    However, Transformative Technologies had several serious issues to contend with. The problems the executives were encountering stemmed from attempted breaches to their security across their computer networks and successful and unsuccessful physical breeches against their various manufacturing plants and the company’s headquarters.

    On several occasions, attempts had been made to slice into their computer systems to steal information. However, these slicing attacks were successfully thwarted by the business’ cyber security section. Additionally, thieves actually broke into the facilities, after hours, to commit sabotage and or theft.

    A security consultant, the executives of Transformative Technologies had hired, suggested that the S.I.S., the Galactic Republic’s spy organization, may have been behind the attempted breaches in security. The Neimoidian female security consultant demonstrated how she believed the S.I.S. was carrying out their slicing operations. The network systems manager explained this to Nox.

    “Frima Wol, the holo-net security consultant we hired, showed me that by accessing the physical holo-net hardware through which our data flows, in the central network hub thirty sub-stories below, the S.I.S. have been connecting directly to the physical lines and singling out our data stream to access our networks. Fortunately, our networks are encrypted, and so far they don’t have the proper encryption keys to be able to read our communications. Plus, we’ve taken to changing the encryption algorithm, and their keys, every week. The consultant also thinks the thieves were hired by the SIS.”

    Darth Nox turned to his CEO and told him, “Get Mulaboo on. I want to talk to him.”

    Veld Ming Terrek nodded to his secretary.

    Shortly thereafter, the holographic image of a male Twi’lek appeared above the conference table.

    “Offices of the mighty and regal Mulaboo The Hutt. Who calls?”

    “I’m Veld Ming Terrek, CEO of Transformative Technologies. The sole owner of Transformative Technologies is here with me. He wishes to speak with Mulaboo The Hutt.”

    The Twi’lek asked, “And? What is this sole owner’s name?”

    “Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith and a ruler on the Sith Empire’s Dark Council.”

    The Twi’lek, initially startled, quickly recovered his cool as he replied, “I will tell his most resplendent and august mogul of this most auspicious caller. Please bear with me as I announce Darth Nox to Mulaboo The Hutt.”

    Word of Darth Nox’s previous visit to Nar Shaddaa, only three months prior, had gotten around to the Hutts and was still fresh in their minds. None of the Hutts wanted to provoke the Sith Empire anymore than had already been done. The top Hutt moguls were still very sore at the Jedi Council and at the Galactic Republic for the trouble which the Hutts had very narrowly averted with the very warlike Sith Empire.

    The Hutts had expelled several dozen Galactic Republic diplomats and Jedi representatives, ordering the closure of a Jedi enclave on Nar Shaddaa as punishment for the stunt that nearly put them in jeopardy with the Sith Empire. The sight of the Imperial warships, which Nox had brought with him, in orbit over their moon, was most unnerving. Though the Hutts complained to the Sith Empire about the breach to their sovereignty, they accepted the excuses given them by low level Imperial diplomatic officials, thus sweeping the matter under a rug.

    Very shortly thereafter, the image of a corpulent slug-like creature, adorned with tattoos and jewelry, appeared. He spoke through his interpreter. Listening to the Hutt’s deep, guttural Huttese translated into Huttese accented Basic was grating on Darth Nox’s nerves, but he put up with it for the sake of conducting business.

    Speaking through his interpreter, Mulaboo The Hutt said, “The infamous and most famous of all Sith lords in our times! I am honored to speak to a personage such as you. I am pleased to be involved in many business arrangements with you, both through your private business enterprises and through your official governmental operations. I hope that your presence here signals new opportunities for us to enter into new business arrangements. How can I be of service?”

    Nox reciprocated with a wordy greeting of his own, but to the Hutt mogul’s chagrin, Nox’s greeting was filled with disparaging observations which, according to Hutt culture, was offensively disrespectful towards the Hutt mogul. Tenants were not supposed to speak to landlords in that manner.

    “Mulaboo, most notable mogul, I am pleased to be greeted in such a warm manner. It gives me confidence that you truly appreciate my business. However, I have cause to be much less than happy with some of the services provided at the facilities I have been leasing from you.”

    With this, in accordance to Hutt custom, Mulaboo The Hutt and Darth Nox set the tone and scope of the coming dialogue.

    Mulaboo The Hutt, feigning shock and dismay, replied, “Hearing of your dissatisfaction troubles me greatly. I am chagrined to learn that we have fallen short and have failed to meet your expectations. Please tell me precisely how we’ve failed, so that we can make things right.”

    Darth Nox knew the Hutt would immediately deny fault and deflect responsibility back at Nox’s people, which Nox would then have to follow up with detailed specifics of how the Hutt was at fault. However, Nox was not going to follow the full dance routine with the Hutt. He was going to get right to the point. He knew it would anger the Hutt, but Nox did not have a lot of time to waste on Hutt niceties and Hutt manners to get the concessions he needed from them. He mixed truth with lies, and exaggerations with threats to strengthen his complaint.

    “SIS agents are successfully slicing into my computers at my businesses and at the Sith Empire’s facilities. We know the SIS is bribing your holo-net administrators to gain physical access to our lines. This needs to stop immediately.

    “If you cannot make it stop, I will move my private businesses out of your facilities, and I will order all Imperial diplomatic services, and other Imperial government assets, to move out of your building. I will take all of our business to one of your rivals.”

    While Nox’s private businesses had only a tiny presence in Mulaboo’s building, the Sith Empire’s official presence made up fully fifteen percent of Mulaboo’s occupancies. Compared to Felban The Hutt’s building, Mulaboo’s building was small, about a fifth the size of Felban’s. So, losing the Sith Empire as a tenant would really hurt the Hutt mogul’s rental and leasing business.

    “We pay an additional percentage on our leases for security” Nox complained, “Yet thieves find it incredibly simple to slip past your security forces and routinely break into my business.”

    To drive the point home while further embarrassing the Hutt mogul, Nox added, “I hope those are not your own security forces that are proving to be systemically corrupt. I hope these failures are third party contracted security services that are failing both you and me. If so, then it would be a simple matter for you to replace the contractors. For thieves to so easily bypass so many guards can only mean they sleep at their posts, or are so easily bribed to look the other way. Perhaps they are not adequately paid for their work.”

    The Hutt mogul, so very offended and so thoroughly humiliated, forgot himself and spoke to Nox in very good Galactic Republic accented Basic. Doing so betrayed his frustration at having been told so very bluntly by a tenant, although a very important tenant, about the short comings of his facilities’ services.

    “I will investigate this problem,” the Hutt said, tersely.

    “Good,” Nox replied congenially, “I hope it will lead to improvements in your services. I am pleased that you will find a solution that will yield favorable results for both of our interests.”

    The Hutt mogul, thoroughly angered, cut the connection without a reply.

    Nox immediately turned to his CEO and said, “Veld, stay on top of this. If you don’t see an immediate improvement, or if you see an elevated rate of attacks, report it to me immediately.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    “Is there anything else that I need to know about?”

    “Actually, there is something I’d like you to consider, Dark Lord. As a recap, please be assured Transformative Technologies is doing very well. We have developed new tech that has opened new avenues for growth.

    “With that in mind, please note that we will eventually outgrow these facilities. We will hit a wall in product output as our need to ramp up production becomes ever more hampered by the physical constraints of our present manufacturing center. I would like leave, to buy real estate to build a larger manufacturing facility to expand our operations, or possibly to move our whole operations to.”

    Incredulous, Nox asked, “Have you any idea what real estate costs on Nar Shaddaa, or on Hutta for that matter?!”

    “Dark Lord, I was thinking Quesh, Makeb, Ziost, or even Dromund Kaas. However, I would like to avoid relocating to Imperial space, if possible.”

    Through The Force, Nox felt a sudden surge of anger, fear, and hostility from the executives of Transformative Technologies seated at the conference table with him.

    “Avoid Imperial Space? Why?” Nox quickly added, “And for reasons I will not state, stay away from Makeb.”

    The CEO of Transformative Technologies, replied, “Aside from the components we manufacture for the Imperial Navy, our new line of products have non-military uses, and it would be profitable to be able to do business with all markets, not just those aligned with the Empire.”

    Nox shook his head slowly side to side in utter amazement. He was honestly shocked at what his CEO suggested. He was taken by such surprise that he burst into loud laughter, looking at the horrified and outraged faces of the corporate executives seated around the table with him. Their anger filled eyes were all aimed at the CEO.

    They knew of his ideas of opening new markets for their business. However, to suggest potentially treasonous behavior to a dark lord put all of their necks on the line, not just Veld’s neck.

    When he stopped laughing and took a moment to compose himself, Nox said, “I can’t believe you are actually asking a dark lord, seated on the Dark Council, to knowingly trade with an enemy with whom we are at war.”

    CEO Veld Ming Terrek suppressed a pang of dread as he replied calmly and in a businesslike manner, “Businesses in Hutt space are neutral and are much freer to do business with whomever pays.”

    Nox, deeply impressed, could feel Veld’s internal struggle to hold his fear in check, even as he exuded a facade of steadfast confidence. Veld began to fear that he had made a terrible miscalculation, overestimating Nox’s greed.

    Despite his growing fears, Veld Ming added as though it were a bonus, “Plus we will be selling products that only have civilian applications to those other markets.”

    Nox explained, “The difficulty lies in that I – a dark lord on the Dark Council – am the sole owner of this business. It’ll look very bad for me, politically. I can’t chance that.”

    The executives of Transformative Technologies nodded their heads vehemently in agreement with the dark lord.

    He won the executives’ approval when he added, “If Transformative Technologies sold these civilian application only products to non-Imperial traders – not aligned with the enemy, then I would be satisfied with that.” However, he surprised them all when he added, “I am too busy to notice if these wholly unrelated businesses, which I do not own, and which I have no control over, unscrupulously distributed our civilian only application products to Republic scum – while in Hutt controlled space.

    “I am not responsible for where unrelated third – and fourth – party businesses sell goods that I manufacture. If they get caught, it’s their problem.” He added, “Of course, these third and fourth party businesses, which I have no control over, would need to hide the fact that the manufacturer is an Imperial owned business. The Republic would likely confiscate such goods.”

    Using this dialogue, Nox conveyed – without actually saying it, how to set up third and fourth party buyers and distributors who could do business in Republic space from Hutt space, without directly connecting Nox’s business to those transactions, and how to hide this fact from the Republic. Nox did not convey to his corporate executives that he’d already been selling art and other goods in Republic space, for years, through third party art dealers and import export traders.

    Veld Ming Terrek was greatly relieved that he had succeeded in selling Nox on the idea and that his neck was saved.

    “In that case, Dark Lord, I think we can settle on Quesh. It’s still in Hutt space, so it will be easier to hide the fact that we are an Imperial owned business. We can sell our goods to dealers in Imperial space and in Hutt space. It’s their business where in the galaxy our goods are ultimately distributed.”

    “Keep me informed,” Nox said, simply.

    He rose to his feet, as did everyone else at the table. Nox walked out of the boardroom. Even before the doors slid completely shut, he could hear the angry execs begin shouting their questions at Veld Ming Terrek, the CEO of Transformative Technologies. The doors slid shut, cutting off their angry voices. Nox laughed out loud at their consternation, deciding to give the CEO a large bonus and pay increase.

    Just as he reached the reception lobby outside of the executive office suite, he spotted a diminutive figure dressed in a stark black hooded robe with dark red accents. The lone figure wore a featureless matt black mask underneath the hood, which was pulled over the head. It was as though there were a void where a face should have been.

    The individual quickly rose from where she’d been sitting. Nox could see that the rigid matt black armored breast plate, attached to the flexible matt black armored tunic, was shaped to accommodate the female form. The very short female knelt before him.

    “Dark Lord, you honor me greatly by summoning me. I am ready to serve at your side. What is your will, Master?”

    “Let me see your face, Darth Virulous.”

    He felt no emotions emanate from her as she pulled back her hood and removed her armored capped mask, revealing the top of her head and her face. Her face was an emotionless mask. Her eyes were cast down. Despite how well she masked her feelings with The Force and with a stony sabacc face, Nox knew she had to be filled with apprehension at the least.

    But Nox nodded with approval at what he saw. He stepped closer to where she knelt and bent down to inspect her short but growing jet black hair, which just covered her ears. He examined her scalp closely along the part in her hair. He took note of the fragrance of her shampoo and became excited and aroused by her scent. Then he realized how near he was to her, almost touching.

    Nox quickly stepped back, struggling to keep his feelings hidden as he told Virulous, “The physicians of Manaan are renowned for their medical prowess. They have lived up to their reputation. It is as though no harm had ever befallen you.”

    Nox could see relief show on her face very briefly as he added, “It was money very well spent.”

    “Thank you, Dark Lord,” was her heartfelt reply, adding, “I swear I shall repay my debt to you.”

    “It is your reward,” Nox said magnanimously, “for a job very well done, both on Tatooine, and on Nar Shaddaa.” Recalling how she’d been defeated by the Jedi, he added, “Despite your very poor state, you succeeded in keeping that Jedi away from my servant, and protected my ship until my arrival.”

    Not wishing to give the impression that he was getting soft, he hurriedly added, “If you had suffered no injuries and were beaten by that Jedi, it would have been an embarrassment. Your terrible wounds, though, gave you a terrible handicap that he was too weak to fully exploit. It was his failure.”

    Virulous was not sure how to accept his seemingly grudging praise, and she didn’t believe she did well at all against that Jedi, so she simply replied, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Nox was embarrassed at himself for becoming flustered after discovering his attraction to his apprentice, and it angered him.

    “We have work,” he said gruffly, “Follow me. I will brief you on the ship.”

    Khem Val had been standing quietly in the corner of the reception office observing the interaction between the two.

    He asked himself, “What has she done to trouble my master so?
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2019
  15. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    I'll be posting two chapters, because they're both pretty short.

    EDIT:

    13 April 2019: I just updated "A Tense Conference" and "Mass Graves." If you've been carefully observing, I have been completely rewriting the story.

    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________​


    A Tense Conference​



    In the navigator's seat, Andronikos guided Nox’s starship to a place in deep space, actually far outside of the galaxy proper. Andronikos was stunned, looking out the main canopy at the strange view of the galaxy. He was transfixed by its sheer scale and beauty. His ship was above the disk of the galaxy and considerably beyond the Outer Rim. He had an angled top down view of the enormous spiral galaxy that he’d never seen before in all of his years flying through space.

    The semi retired pirate thought out loud, “That’s just gorgeous.”

    He had navigated the ship through a series of hyperspace jumps, over a period of several long days, ending up far outside of the galaxy. Andronikos tore himself away from the spectacular vista and went to work on the calculations for their final jump while the ship coasted through space with that pretty view of the entire galaxy in front of and below the starship. It was an especially difficult flight, because there were no navigation beacons, no star cluster formations, to help confirm that he was on course.

    He was manually double checking both the navigation computer’s and 2V-R8’s hyperspace jump calculations to be sure there were no errors. The ship droid, meaning to be helpful, made a suggestion.

    “Captain, you could save several minutes by relying on a comparison between my calculations and that of the navigation computer. If you are concerned over accuracy, you can be assured that there is a far higher likelihood that any errors in calculations will be yours.”

    “Come closer, R8,” Andronikos motioned to the droid to move in close.

    The droid stood closer to Andronikos, seated at the navigation station. The pirate lifted himself partially from his seat and reached over and behind the droid’s shoulder to the back of the droid’s neck, pushing a button at the base of the neck, hidden out of view below the collar socket.

    Letting himself sink back into his seat, he ordered the droid, “Now, calculate that hyperspace jump again, R8.”

    Of course, there was no response from the deactivated machine.

    “You see? You see why I can’t rely on you, you useless pile of scrap?” Andronikos told the powered down ship droid.

    When the ship dropped out of hyperspace, from its final jump, it was far higher above the galaxy over the Mid-Rim region. The ship was directly over the spiral galaxy but not centered over it. However Andronikos didn’t get to enjoy the view, as he found himself shocked to find his ship approaching a massive fleet of Imperial warships.

    There were literally tens of thousands of ships showing on his scanners. Most were support ships, of every kind, running supplies between the massive warships or conducting large maintenance operations on them. The actual fighting warships made about a third of the total number of the ships swarming around a massive deep space station undergoing the final phases of its construction.

    Nox had entered the command bridge a few moments before the ship had dropped out of hyperspace and took his place in the commander’s seat behind his ship’s captain and pilot. Nox quietly watched Andronikos work at the navigation station. Andronikos became smug and decided to show off to his employer.

    “On time, on target, and of course – on course. Here we are, Boss.” Then he observed, “Look at the size of that fleet! How is it these guys aren’t fighting? What’re they waiting for, a cordial invitation to a dance at the brawl?”

    Almost immediately after Andronikos’ remarks, the ship came under intense scrutiny. It was aggressively scanned, locked on targeting computers, and maneuvered against by several flights of rapidly approaching fighter craft and a single raid shuttle, which are used in boarding operations against hostile ships. Meanwhile, the fleet flight control officer challenged Nox’s ship on local audio only communications.

    “Unidentified ship, state your flight ID number!”

    Andronikos replied, “This is flight three Dorn, dash eight two four, dash Forn Dorn seven, dash two Cresh Leth seven (3D-824-FD7-2CL7).”

    “Unidentified ship, halt in place! Prepare to be boarded!”

    As Andronikos began slowing the ship to come to a stop, he told Nox, “Boss, it looks like we’re not welcome, here. They’re gonna board the ship.”

    Darth Nox put on his head phones and microphone, telling Andronikos, “Be ready to get us out of here.” Then he spoke on the audio only channel, “Marr! You ack dog! This is a trap you’ve devised to kill me! Isn’t it?! I’ll make you pay for this outrage!”

    Darth Marr came on immediately, “Darth Nox, this is not a trap. If it were, my fleet would have already disintegrated your ship. You are well within range of my destroyers’ cannons and they are not firing. Do not fault the officers for being diligent in their duties.”

    Nox was skeptical, but remained silent.

    Marr came back on, telling Nox, “Let us speak face to face. The matter I must discuss with you is known to only a very few, and the details must remain secret.”

    Nox told his rival, “I’m not going alone, Marr. I’ll meet you with my servants.”

    “Very well, bring as many servants as you’d like,” Marr replied, with a faint hint of sarcasm.

    “Take us inside Darth Marr’s flagship,” Nox commanded his ship’s captain.

    Andronikos kept his thoughts to himself.

    We should just bug out of here!

    Aloud, he asked for instructions.

    “This is 3D-824-FD7-2CL7, request permission to approach and to dock with flagship. Need approach and landing instructions.”

    Andronikos accelerated the ship from a dead stop and made course corrections in order to approach the flagship. Less than an hour later, Nox was walking down the ramp of his ship with Khem Val preceding him and Virulous at his right side. Andronikos remained on the ship with 2V – R8, reactivated and ready to launch the ship at a moment’s notice.

    Nox swept his eyes around the noisy hanger bay. The bay was busy with crews towing anti-ship missiles to the hard points of waiting fighter patrol craft, mechanics performing maintenance on shuttles parked at the far end of the expansive hanger bay, wheeled droids whipping about with supplies unloaded from transports and zipping those supplies into the interior of the dreadnaught to one of many thousands of storehouses within the gargantuan warship.

    Nox also noticed a crew of three inspecting their very unique and very rare compact stealth starship, apparently preparing it for flight. Their starship sat alone in a corner of the huge hanger bay. That corner of the hanger bay was very quiet and calm, in stark contrast to the rest of the hectic and chaotic cavernous space.

    At the back of the cavernous hanger bay, not far from the stealth starship, Darth Marr stood, waiting for Nox’s arrival. He was flanked by two Sith attendants. Nox turned and started walking towards his rival. Khem Val moved to Nox’s right side, forcing Virulous to switch to Nox’s left side. She took great offense but kept silent, fuming to herself over the Dashade’s disrespect towards her.

    Darth Marr suddenly turned to walk briskly towards the side of the landing bay, walking past the stealth ship, leaving his attendants behind. Nox and his attendants halted in their steps. He looked in the direction Marr walked and found he was headed to a pilots’ ready room with a permaglass wall. Through the permaglass, one could see five rows of chairs bolted to the deck and a large display board on one of the walls in front of the chairs. The room was empty of personnel.

    “Stay here,” Nox told his subordinates, “If Marr and I start to battle, then go about destroying everything in this landing bay that goes to his aid.” Turning towards the Dashade, he said, “If we start fighting, you can eat all that you wish, Khem.”

    “I hope he will give my master a reason to do battle, so that I may feast,” Khem Val replied with feeling.

    “I hope not. That would...” Nox started to say, but then changing his mind, amended, “Actually, that would be convenient for me.”

    Virulous spoke fervently from behind her armored mask.

    “If he betrays you, I shall avenge his insult a thousand fold my dark lord!”

    Nox nodded his acknowledgment, and then proceeded to follow Marr to the glass walled conference room.

    The permaglass door slid shut behind Nox, shutting out the noise of the busy hanger bay. Nox settled to stand at the end of the conference room nearest the door he’d entered, in the isle between the last row of seats and the permaglass wall. That left the other end of the conference room to Marr who was waiting in the isle between the first row of seats and the thick permaglass wall. Both Sith stood a moment, sizing up the other. After a moment, his patience expired, and Nox became irritable.

    “I am here. Tell me what your plan is already!”

    Marr, clearly reining in his anger at Nox’s rudeness, replied testily, “I was about to tell you that the Hutts have quietly taken control of Makeb.” Regaining his composure, he continued more calmly, adding, “Since then, they have been mining it of its isotope five. Your mission is to quietly infiltrate the planet, locate their stockpile, and capture it for the empire.

    “The idea is to do so without attracting the Republic’s notice. We cannot afford to let the Republic know that we are there to take control of that stockpile.”

    Darth Nox reflected aloud, his voice subdued, “Then it is true. What you told me is true. We are losing this war.”

    Nox shook his head slowly in disbelief. Casting his gaze downward he became introspective.

    “If only Darth Vengean had not been assassinated. He was leading the empire to victory.” Returning his gaze towards Marr, he added accusingly, “… and then you took over.”

    Marr shouted angrily, “True! I took over leading a war effort that started out well! Unfortunately, Darth Vengean’s brilliant surprise offensive did not have a follow up plan for defending our conquests! He literally started the war without a plan for defending our conquests and did not plan for the long term defense of our winnings! He had no plan for winning this poorly thought out adventure!”

    Marr furiously slammed the side of his armored gloved fist onto the 2 inch thick permaglass wall beside him, unintentionally using The Force when he did so. Thus, the permaglass shattered explosively into tens of thousands of pieces.

    Suddenly the noise of a busy hanger deck flooded the pilots’ ready room, the sea of shattered permaglass adding its particular roar as it spilled across the floor. Lowering his arm, Marr stared at the small sea of glass fragments that had scattered onto the floor of the conference room and which had also spilled out onto the hanger deck.

    When Marr had shattered the tough-as-durasteel permaglass, Nox’s heart had leapt into his throat and his hand had flashed onto his sabrestaff, grasping it but not detaching it from his utility belt. He thought he’d pushed Marr too far with his assertions that he was to blame for losing the war and prepared for Marr’s raging attack.

    In the landing bay, both Khem Val and Virulous were startled into drawing and activating their weapons, but neither of them moved. Marr’s attendants had similarly reacted. Both Marr’s and Nox’s people traded nervous glances at each other and at the two dark lords of Sith in the pilot’s ready room.

    When it became apparent that the two dark lords would not join in battle, their attendants began to deactivate their weapons one by one, starting with one of Marr’s people, followed by Virulous, then Marr’s other attendant. Khem Val, however, was Khem Val. He was disappointed that nothing had come of the outburst and stubbornly kept his weapon activated and at the ready.

    Nox released his weapon, relaxing his stance, and thought of Marr, “He is so stubbornly reserved!

    Studying his rival’s armored cybernetic mask beneath his hooded cloak, he wondered if he would ever get to see the man’s face behind the mask.

    One day, after I kill him, I’ll have a look,” Nox thought.

    Regaining his composure, Marr returned his gaze to Nox and picked up where he’d left off speaking.

    “Now falls to me the task of pulling the Sith Empire out of this mess, but it is an undertaking that is too large for one man alone. It requires the minds and resources of all of us on the Dark Council.”

    Marr shook his head in disbelief, adding, “Amazingly, only a small fraction of the Dark Council care enough to do something about it. It’s a wonder the dark councilors who couldn’t be bothered to do anything have even bothered to give me any resources at all.”

    Nox shook his head in disbelieving amazement, thinking, “I can’t believe this. I’m on the losing side. The Empire will be destroyed, and I will gain nothing!

    Then fury overtook him as the implications for what that meant for his own ambitions became apparent.

    He felt cheated and frustrated, shouting at himself, “I cannot be on the losing side! I cannot lose! I refuse to lose!”

    Marr seized on that, replying, “Then let us set aside our rivalry and focus our power on the matter of not losing this war.”

    Nox tacitly agreed to the truce, asking, “What other assets can you provide, besides what you have already promised on our last conference call? And how do I get this isotope five off world?”

    “Remember, we must maintain a small presence on Makeb to hide our activities there.” Marr replied, adding, “You have enough for that. Once you have control of the isotope five, and communicate this to me, I shall send a naval task force to conduct a planetary raid.

    “Imperial troops shall quickly reinforce your position, and then load the isotope five onto cargo ships to bring it to the fleet before the Republic can interfere. The isotope five shall then be brought to the space station, under construction, to refine the new fuel, and to refit our ships’ reactor cores, starting with our dreadnoughts.”

    Ah!” Nox thought, “That’s why he’s building that station all the way out here.

    Giving Marr a dubious look, Nox replied facetiously, “Yes. I’m sure that’ll work.”

    Marr gave Nox an appraising look, but Nox could not see it through his mask. After a moment, Nox began to wonder why Marr stared until his rival spoke.

    “Darth Nox, I say this to you, not because I lack confidence in you...”

    Marr had been thinking of Nox’s war record. Darth Nox, when he was known as Lord Kallig, had conquered the planets of Balmora and Corellia. While temporarily working for Darth Gravus, he had ripped Taris from Republic control when he ruthlessly sabotaged their efforts to resettle the ruined world.

    Most recently, Nox had crushed the Republic’s covert effort to retake Taris, squelching a brewing rebellion on the ruined city world, and he conquered a deep space station from a Dark Council rival, Darth Acina. In Marr’s mind, there was no doubt that Darth Nox was a warrior and a conqueror.

    Then there was that matter of Nox bringing Darth Zash back from beyond The Force. Even Emperor Vitiate had acknowledged Nox’s power before the Dark Council through the words and actions of his Hand and his Wrath.

    “Darth Nox, I told you once before, if we do not secure this stockpile of isotope five to fuel our Navy, we shall witness the end of our empire. I approached you to undertake this task, because I believe you represent our best hope for success.”

    Nox was flummoxed at what he’d heard Marr say. His shocked surprise showed on his face. He spoke rhetorically, while giving a back-handed compliment in return.

    “I’m given praise?! I’m given praise from my most potent rival. I guess that’s supposed to mean something.”

    “I do not dole out such praise lightly, Darth Nox!” Marr replied, testily.

    “With circumstances, such as they are, you’d think Emperor Vitiate would get his hands dirty to protect his empire,” Nox observed casually, changing the subject.

    Marr found Nox’s irreverent comment telling. He had been wondering about the Sith Emperor’s silence, too. The Emperor’s Hand, Voice, and Wrath had all fallen silent as well.

    Marr’s agents, operating secretly on Tython, had reported rumors circulating among the heathen Jedi, at their heretical temple, of their assassins making two attempts at killing the Sith Emperor, with the second attempt ending in success. However, those were only rumors. There was no evidence to prove the rumors were true – except for the Emperor’s silence.

    Marr, answered carefully, echoing Nox’s remark, “One would think.” Then he concluded the meeting, telling Nox, “Your team is already on the ground setting up a base of operations. A stealth starship is prepared for your secret insertion onto Makeb. If you had not undertaken this task, then it would have been me, but I have already told you, I cannot lead the war effort and this operation, both, and be effective at either.”

    “Then I had better get started,” Nox said resolutely.

    Without another word, both Marr and Nox turned to walk out of the conference room, stepping through the broken permaglass frame, their boots crunching on the broken glass. Marr turned to walk into the bowels of his flagship, his attendants rushing to catch up to him, while Nox walked back towards Virulous and Khem Val. It had been the intention of both dark lords to leave the other in his wake, but neither Sith was left behind in the room. Both had walked out, together.

    Tsk! Another tie!” Nox thought, disgustedly.

    Leaving his ship behind, after getting a few items from his personal quarters, he made his way to the stealth starship. Virulous and Khem Val both trailed Darth Nox, carrying a few items of their own. Then the question came back to him.

    Why hasn’t the Emperor even said a single word? He’s going to lose his empire!


    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________​


    Mass Graves​



    It was late morning, nearly midday, a week after his meeting with Darth Marr, when Darth Nox walked down the ramp of the compact stealth starship which was specially designed to insert and extract Black Ops teams in to and out from deep behind enemy lines. He was trailed by Darth Virulous and Khem Val.

    They walked from the hastily built landing pad in the thin woods down a dirt path to a small warehouse complex outside of a small village. Darth Nox observed several dozen medium duty droids, presumably confiscated from the locals, filling in what looked to him to be mass graves.

    He shook his head, frustrated that things seemed to be starting off on the wrong foot.

    Our presence is not to be felt,” Nox thought with some frustration, “Yet, from the outset, here we are creating a huge footprint!

    As the dark lord approached the warehouse complex from the woods, two light infantry troops guarding the entrance to the largest of the warehouses snapped to attention. Nox spoke to one of the troops.

    “Who is in charge here, and where can I find him?”

    The soldier whom Nox addressed spoke, “My lord...”

    Khem Val grabbed his vibrosword from its bracket on the back of his armored cuirass and, activating it, swung the weapon smartly until the tip of his weapon snapped to a stop centimeters from the soldier’s face. His weapon menaced the soldier with its high pitched warbling hum while the Dashade spoke menacingly at the startled young man.

    “Worm! You address, Darth Nox, a dark lord of the Sith! If you do not wish to become my excrement, then address him properly!”

    The soldier, dressed in the charcoal gray uniform and the charcoal gray can-helm of the light infantry, stood even straighter and shouted, “Yes lord!” Then addressing Darth Nox, shouted, “Darth Nox, dark lord of the Sith, Katha Niar is in command, but she’s away! Lord Cytharat is in charge while she’s gone, Dark Lord of The Sith, Sir!!

    Darth Nox told the soldier, “You may address me as Dark Lord.”

    Khem Val deactivated his weapon and returned it to its bracket, as he followed Darth Nox into the building.

    The soldier shouted his reply, “Yes, Dark Lord!”

    Virulous stopped long enough to tell the soldier, “It isn’t necessary to shout at the top of your lungs all of the time.”

    The soldier replied normally, but crisply, “Yes, my lord.”

    “The dark lord and I have left our luggage on the starship at the launch pad. Go get our things from the starship and bring them here,” she told the soldier.

    “Yes, lord!”

    Virulous darted into the building, walking quickly to catch up to Nox and Khem Val.

    The two soldiers made their way to the launch pad to carry out their task. When the other soldier was sure that the Sith would not hear him, he chortled and spoke just loud enough for his comrade to hear.

    “You’re lucky that monster didn’t make you into his excrement.” Then he asked, “What kind of threat is that? What is that suppose to even mean?”

    His friend laughed at the observation, replying, “I don’t know about that excrement comment, but his vibrosword in my face was a real enough threat for me.”

    The two soldiers shared a couple of low chuckles, together. They had no idea that Khem Val was actually speaking literally, never having seen nor even heard of the very rare and nearly extinct Dashade in either of their lives.

    Meanwhile, Virulous had caught up to her lord and found a Sith Pureblood kneeling before him. He addressed her master.

    “Dark Lord! You honor us all with your presence!”

    Darth Nox, seeing the age of this Sith lord was surprised that he was not in command. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He had a look about him that said he was a seasoned veteran, but Nox couldn’t help but think that something was off and spoke about this.

    “When I’d heard from the troops posted at the door, that a Sith lord was in charge while the non-Sith commander was away, I expected to see a brand new scrappy Sith, fresh from the academy.”

    Lord Cytharat became humiliated, but he kept his temper as he humiliatingly explained to Nox, “Dark Lord, it is true. I am a Lord of The Sith and not in command of this operation.”

    Darth Nox became embarrassed on hearing this. There were non-Sith in the room, and to have a Sith lord, a lord over other Sith at that - confess, in the presence of these non-Sith, to being so weak that he was placed under the command of a non-Sith was too degrading. To make matters worse, Lord Cytharat was a Sith Pureblood, just like Nox. This fact further compounded Nox’s embarrassment of the situation.

    “How is it that the fate of the Sith Empire rests in the balance, and Darth Marr thinks to assign a weakling to my team?” Shaking his head in disbelief, Nox added, “This is a disgrace. Does Marr mean to mock me?”

    From the depths of disgrace, Lord Cytharat spoke.

    “Dark Lord, I am not weak. I was once the apprentice of Darth Malgus, the betrayer. I did not follow him in his rebellion, but in those days, I was too weak to stop him. Later, I learned it was you who slew that betrayer.”

    Darth Nox could see the abject shame plastered all over Lord Cytharat’s face. The disgraced Sith lord was too abased to look him in the eye. He tried to cover up his humiliation by speaking in a business-like tone, but in the end, he sounded increasingly miserable to the dark lord.

    “Darth Marr has been testing my allegiance to the true Sith Emperor, Vitiate. Darth Marr trusts me to accomplish my tasks, but he does not wish to honor me by assigning me leadership rolls.”

    Nox agreed, telling Cytharat, “Nor should he. As you are now, you are an embarrassment. You have forgotten the Sith Code.” Nox shook his head at the abject failure that knelt before him, adding, I can’t fathom why Marr would suffer your existence, unless he sees something worth salvaging, but I don’t see it.”

    Cytharat found himself sinking ever deeper into the depths of shame and humiliation, yet he found a very dim ray of hope, when Nox next said, “Perhaps after this mission you’ll have shown me whether it is worth the effort to salvage you.”

    Just then, Nox heard a woman’s voice behind him. He turned about and saw the woman dressed in the uniform of an Imperial logistics bureaucrat.

    Darth Nox didn’t like being interrupted. He snapped viciously at her.

    “What do you want?! Spill it!”

    The woman, so taken aback and so thoroughly startled, couldn’t seem to decide whether to remain standing, snapping to attention, or to kneel like everyone else in the room. After a few false starts, she finally dropped to her hands and knees.

    Then she repeated herself, shouting much as the soldier at the door had earlier, “Dark Lord! I am Katha Niar!” She added, “I commanded this operation until your arrival! I am ready to give you a full report, Dark Lord!”

    Darth Nox had become irritable and snapped at her again, “You’re not even a military officer!” Shaking his head in utter disappointment, he spoke with disgust tingeing his words, “Very well, get us to your office and begin your briefing! Hurry, I haven’t got all day!”

    Katha Niar’s voice began shaking with her growing fear. Darth Nox’s noxious aura was threatening to drive her to tears. It was already having a markedly negative effect on the non-Sith in the room. Darth Virulous and Lord Cytharat had used The Force to guard themselves from Nox’s aura, and Khem Val was simply immune to it, but the non-Force using soldiers and technicians in the warehouse felt crushed under Nox’s malign aura.

    Katha fearfully told him, “Dark Lord, I don’t have an office. I work here with...”

    Darth Nox, having lost his patience, shouted at her, “Be silent!”

    Turning to Virulous, Nox commanded, “Get everyone back to work. Find out what it is that they do, and then determine if what they are doing is a waste of time.”

    Nox didn’t wait for his apprentice’s reply as he ordered, “Katha Niar! Cytharat! Follow me!”

    Darth Nox walked out of the warehouse building and returned to the woods down the dirt path he’d used to get to the warehouse. He stopped at one of the earthen berms, which he believed was a mass grave. Nox halted, spun about to face the two, and found Khem Val standing behind the woman and the disgraced Sith lord.

    Nox asked the two, “Why are there mass graves, here?”

    Just then, the ground began to shake. As the seconds wore on, the shaking became worse. A loud ear splitting crack announced the demise of one of the larger trees in the woods not far away, as its thick trunk sheared vertically in two, toppling half the tree. Nox used The Force to remain attached to the ground so that he would not be flung about. He watched as the others were bounced around. The trees’ large boughs swayed up and down, as though waving frantically.”

    Khem Val, the disgraced Sith, and the woman were thrown off of their feet. They grabbed onto whatever they could, that was rooted to the ground. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the ground quake subsided. Despite using The Force to keep from getting knocked about, Nox was still badly affected by the violent shaking.

    He said aloud, to no one in particular, “I hope that hurt our enemies more than it hurt us!”

    Khem Val said with amazement in his tone, “My master, I have found an enemy that I cannot defeat! It is the monster that shook this world!”

    Katha Niar said, “Dark Lord, the ground quakes are one of our problems.”

    Nox looked at her, expectantly. However, she remained silent after that, and after a while, Nox objected loudly to what she might be implying.

    “You make that sound as though it is a common occurrence, here! Please, say I’ve mistaken your meaning!”

    “Dark Lord, in the four weeks that we have been here, we got a lot of work done,” Katha Niar said in a tone that made it seem all was lost, and adding, “We have learned three very important things, one, the location of the isotope five stockpile, two, what the stockpile had been used for, and thirdly, the cause of these massive ground quakes.”

    Nox shook his head, already sensing that he was about to get a very bad answer.

    “What did the Hutts do with the stockpile of isotope five?”

    Katha Niar looked down at the ground and shook her head sorrowfully, telling Nox the worst.

    “They converted nearly all of it into a solid fuel state that we cannot use. They chemically converted it all into an oxide and mixed it into a ceramic-like material. They placed the cylindrical pellets into thin metal tubes, making them into rods. The rods were then used to fuel reactors which power their new war droids which are equipped with antimatter particle beam blaster cannons.”

    “Can we take the fuel from the droids and convert it all back again?”

    Nox asked, knowing the answer would not be what he wanted to hear, and the way Katha’s long face tilted towards the ground as she shook her head in the negative, told him the answer, even without her explanation.

    “No, Dark Lord. When the reactors in the war droids were started up, the fuel changed its characteristics and became something else. It isn’t isotope five anymore.”

    “Secrecy will work against us,” Darth Nox decided, declaring, “We must mine isotope five for ourselves. We must take control of the mines.”

    Katha Niar still looking at Nox’s feet with a look of defeat on her face shook her head, again.

    “Dark Lord, the ground quakes have been getting worse and more frequent because of the instability caused to the planet’s core during the mining process. At some point, soon, the core will destabilize. The mantel will become turbulent, causing the crust to fold into the mantel. The planet will destroy itself. We do not have enough time to mine the isotope five before this happens.”

    Nox thought to himself, “So, this is Marr’s game! He saw his efforts failing. He passes it on to me, and I get left holding the bag when it all goes bad!

    “Do the Hutts know about this impending destruction?” Nox asked.

    “Yes, Dark Lord. It is why they hurry their operations to evacuate the planet with their droids and the little remaining isotope five in their stockpile.”

    Lord Cytharat finally spoke, but reticently.

    “Dark Lord, if we can draw the mercenaries away from the mines, we can begin to mine the isotope five for ourselves, as you have said. Although Katha Niar has good reason not to present you this option, I find that I cannot deny you the chance to at least consider it.”

    “I thought there wasn’t time enough to mine the isotope.” Nox said, then asked, “What am I not being told?”

    Lord Cytharat replied, “Our scientists believe the planet’s core can be stabilized, and...”

    “I want to hear this from the scientists.” Nox interrupted, “I’ll have questions.”

    Lord Cytharat replied, “I’ll summon them, Dark Lord.” Then he said, “The locals have risen up against the mercenaries who had once been contracted by their local government to protect them. However, after overthrowing the local government, the Hutts now control the mercenary army, which has mostly quelled the rebellion. The mercenaries have an advantage in armored tank units, while the locals have no means to fight back against the tank units deployed to suppress them.”

    “Why should I care about the local uprising?” Nox asked with an edge of annoyance in his tone.

    “Dark Lord, I think the rebellion can be used to tie up the mercenary forces – which are already stretched thinly, allowing us freedom of movement to do what is needed,” Cytharat advised.

    Darth Nox got out his personal holo-transmitter and dialed up Andronikos. Although capable of hyperwave transmissions across the galaxy, there was a lot of interference from the natural forces of space. Andronikos’ holographic image was distorted, and flickered on and off, his words sometimes being cut off during his transmission from Nar Shaddaa.

    “...oss, what can … do for you?”

    “I need enough weapons and munitions to equip a large rebel army, all portable weapons, no big ticket items. The rebels will need portable anti-armor and anti-air weapons. I want it all smuggled onto Makeb using non-Imperial ships – get the rebels a mix of Imperial, Republic, and other faction specific weapons – with a larger portion of those weapons originating from the Republic.”

    Then after thinking about it for a moment, he said, “You pay for it with the money you’ve been skimming from me all of these years. I’ll pay you back – with interest.”

    Andronikos kept silent, clearly not liking that last part. Nox quickly typed something into his datapad and then uploaded it to Andronikos. After several re-transmissions, the complete document was finally received by Andronikos’ holo-transceiver. It was an official Dark Council document, authorizing and detailing a weapons procurement contract made in the name of the Dark Council, via Darth Nox and Darth Marr. Andronikos read the terms.

    The Dark Council shall reimburse Andronikos Revel for the total costs of arms procurement and shipping costs to Makeb. Reimbursement to be made with twenty five percent interest.” It was signed, “This transaction is officially sanctioned by Darth Nox with Darth Marr concurring.

    Andronikos’ demeanor had changed after reading the contract.

    “Whe... do you wa... your ...aster rifles and ...ther gear?”

    “As soon as you get them, ship them.” Nox replied, “There is no need to have it done in one big shipment. However, I need enough to equip a battalion of rebels with each shipment.”

    Andronikos replied in a business-like tone, “You’ve got a deal, Boss.”

    Nox cut the connection, then turning to Katha Niar, said, “Find out who the rebellion leadership is. Arrange a meeting but do not tell them I am Sith. Instead, tell them I am an Imperial representative, here to gift weapons with which to overthrow their Hutt oppressors.”

    Katha Niar bowed her head, acknowledging her orders, but said, “Dark Lord, if we do this the Republic will learn of our presence, here.”

    “Yes, but not our true purpose,” Nox replied.

    “Then, Dark Lord, what is our false purpose?”

    “To crush Hutt imperial ambitions and to be a constant thorn in the Republic’s side.”

    Katha Niar bowed her head again, declaring, “As you say, Dark Lord. I will make the arrangements for your meeting and plant the seeds of falsehood in their minds.”

    Lord Cytharat and Katha Niar began to turn about to carry out their tasks, but the dark lord said, “Wait.”

    When the two turned about to face their dark lord, he ordered, “Now. Tell me about these mass graves.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2019
  16. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    It has been a VERY long time since I last posted.… I hope you guys don't mind that I've come back to pick up where I left off. I'm going to post four chapters. They're each very short chapters, but together, make up a decent amount of reading.… I sure hope you'll enjoy the chapters... Please, don't be afraid to give me your comments. I look forward them.

    Thank you

    EDIT:

    As of 9 June 2019, I updated these four chapters, here on this website. I totally rewrote them. So, a couple of the chapters are not as short as they used to be, and I merged two chapters into one, so now there are three chapters in this post.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    An Accidental Fire​


    Six weeks earlier, sitting at his tiny metal desk in his tiny office, which he shared with his four subordinate company commanders, Major Trent Ordensk read his orders.

    He commanded the 2931st Light Infantry Battalion of the 977th Lt Inf Regiment of the 326th Lt Inf Division. This unit was based out of General Werren Pollard Imperial Army Base, in Derthmoor prefecture, on planet Ziost. Within the battalion, the troops referred to their unit as the 31st Battalion, 77th Regiment, or the 31st / 77th.

    The 31st/77th, along with the entire 326th Lt Inf Division, was currently deployed on ship with the 459th Imperial Naval Battle Group, which consisted of six Harrower-class dreadnoughts, eighteen Terminus-class destroyers, and nine Gage-class troop transports. His division was taking part in security patrols and combat operations against Republic forces in a section of neutral space claimed by the Sith Empire in the outer rim.

    Each of the nine Gage-class transporters was loaded with a division of infantry, each one over forty thousand strong, plus their reinforcements which consisted of a heavy war droid regiment and a heavy self propelled artillery droid regiment, plus all of their attending logistical and maintenance support units.

    The Gage-class troop transport ships were behemoths, with permanent ships’ crews numbering fifteen thousand. The crews were augmented with twenty thousand maintenance droids. These droids were counted as equipment, however, and not as ships’ crews.

    Major Trent Ordensk’s orders told him to load his battalion onto four of the much smaller Juggernaut-class troop carriers which were docked within the cavernous landing bays of the gargantuan Gage-class troop ship. These Juggernaut-class troop carriers were being retrofitted with stealth-field generators for this mission. Making such modifications to standard troop carriers was highly unusual for the Imperial Navy. It gave him a hint that his mission was going to take place deep behind enemy lines.

    His orders stated that he must take a full load of supplies and munitions for thirty days of sustained combat. Trent became convinced that he would likely face heavy enemy resistance after reading that an entire company of heavy war droids and their handlers would be attached to his battalion.

    That’s a lot of firepower! What in blazes is command throwing me into?!

    His orders stated that his tiny fleet of four transporters would link up with three Terminus-class destroyers, acting as escorts, thus forming Special Naval Task Force 12.

    Three Terminus-class destroyers to escort four measly Juggernauts?! That’s just plainly excessive!

    An escort of three Fury-class interceptors or a squadron of fighters was the norm.

    Do they intend to bull us through an enemy naval blockade and then deposit us somewhere? Then why the stealth field generators?” Ordensk thought, unable to make sense of the contradiction.

    The rest of his orders told him which communications maintenance unit to get his communications gear from, what frequency channels and encryption keys to use, and which medical aid unit would join his battalion, including how many medical droids the medical unit would bring with them.

    That’s a lot of medical support. They may as well give me a field hospital.

    His orders informed him that he would be given his actual mission sometime after Special Task Force 12 had departed the battle group. There was nothing unusual about that. Secrecy was the way to keep your enemies guessing.

    Major Ordensk was pleased with the generous support being given him. It looked like he would be getting into some major action soon, and he appreciated all the support he could get.

    He looked forward to his mission. It promised to be full of excitement and, if he was successful, could lead to promotion, commendations, or both. Major Ordensk reflected, for the umpteenth time, over his distinguished seven year career, that he loved being an Imperial Army officer.

    However, there were a few major discrepancies with his orders. He saw them as important problems which needed to be addressed, so he decided to discuss them with his superior commander.

    In Officer Country, Trent Ordensk walked out of his tiny office and made his way down the long narrow passageway, walking two hundred meters to his regimental commander’s office. He had to step around quite a few common soldiers, dressed in their dark grey uniforms, as they dusted the overhead and the bulkheads, and swept, swabbed and polished the deck. After navigating the gauntlet of soldiers cleaning the passageway, he finally reached his commander’s door where he touched the door chime switch.

    Colonel Frey Brakk commanded, “Enter!”

    Trent entered and announced himself, “Major Ordensk reporting, Colonel.”

    Colonel Brakk, looking as though he expected trouble from his subordinate, asked with a hard edge in his tone, “What is it, Major?”

    “These orders sound like I’m going somewhere hot – real hot! I’m getting fantastic war droid and medical support. I’m getting an overly generous issue of munitions, supplies, and other material support, but there are a few problems with my orders, sir. There’s no mention of naval gun fire support, even though we’ll be escorted by Terminus-class destroyers.

    “There’s no word of close fighter ship support, nor even heavy artillery support. You know, the usual package. There’s no mention of combat resupply support and nothing about reinforcements, either. These orders are incomplete, Sir.”

    Colonel Brakk’s expression changed ever so slightly as he realized that Major Trent Ordensk had not come to him to complain, but that his subordinate had not yet grasped the nature of his orders. He didn’t want to lie to his friend and decided not to mince his words.

    “You aren’t getting any of those things, Major Ordensk.” Then he asked, “Did your orders tell you what unit will relieve you in the field, when you’re coming back?”

    Major Ordensk turned his head to the side, making a face that showed his sudden and great disgust. He shook his head in deep anger as his features expressed his realization of the situation.

    When he recovered his composure, he returned his gaze to his commander and, snapping to attention, saluted smartly, telling his superior, “It’s been a real pleasure working with you, Colonel. I’ve learned a lot from you.”

    Colonel Brakk stood from behind his desk, walked around to the front of it and, snapping to attention, returned the major’s salute. Then he extended his hand towards his friend. Major Ordensk took and shook his friend’s hand. Colonel Brakk’s tone was somber but firm, as he explained what the major already knew.

    “Orders like these are randomly issued. There is nothing any of us can do when we get them. I’m deeply sorry, Trent.”

    Major Ordensk nodded curtly, replying, “I know, Frey.”

    “You’re dismissed Major.”

    “We’ll give them a wound they’ll never forget, Sir,” Major Trent Ordensk vowed with feeling.

    Then he turned about and marched out of his commander’s quarters, thinking to himself, “Why didn’t suicide mission occur to me?! We’re being used as a diversionary force!” Angrily, he concluded, “We’re being thrown away to distract the enemy from some other battle!

    Trent Ordensk reflected, for the fifth time in his distinguished seven year career, that he enjoyed all of the benefits of being an Imperial Army officer without having faced such a difficult situation before. He struggled to keep a positive attitude about his situation.

    I’ve had a good long run,” he thought. “Hell, I’ll figure out a way to survive this! I’m an Imperial Army Officer! I’ll make it work!

    Four weeks later, Special Task Force 12 traveled to the Tatoo Star Cluster. The Tatoo Star Cluster was a cluster of twenty six stars which included – and got its name from – the Tatoo Binary Star System. The Tatoo Binary Star System was the only star system in that cluster with a planet capable of sustaining life.

    The planet, Tatooine, was famous – or rather, it was infamous, for being a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It was home to a small population of very hearty and stoic desert people and, unfortunately for them, several vicious pirate gangs and other less than savory inhabitants.

    In the Tatoo Star Cluster, Special Task Force 12 was dissolved, with the destroyer escort traveling to the Tatoo Binary Star System to visit Tatooine for a few weeks. Each of the three star destroyers would deploy a battalion of ground troops to clean out some of the more vicious gangs, an unexpected boon for the hard working desert peoples of the desolate world.

    The gangs were currently locked in a vicious turf war after some of the more prominent gang leaders had been ruthlessly assassinated, creating several power vacuums. After quelling the turf wars and returning the desolate desert world to a semblance of law and order, the three star destroyers would then recover their troops and return to the 459th Imperial Naval Battle Group.

    In the meantime, the four modified Juggernaut-class troop transports had activated their stealth-field generators and made their way towards Hutt Space.

    It was then that Major Trent Ordensk received his mission. The ship’s captain, also commanding the four ship transport group, called the major to his quarters.

    In Officers’ Country, Major Ordensk left his very tiny quarters, which thankfully he didn’t have to share, and walked six meters down the narrow passageway. He passed a single Imperial soldier in her dark grey uniform, swabbing the deck, on his way to the ship commander’s door. At the door, he touched the door chime switch.

    The ship’s captain called out, “Enter.”

    The ship’s captain, a naval officer, was actually the same grade in rank as the major. He waved his hand to a chair beside a small table in the captain’s quarters. It was just another tiny room, even if it had twice the space of his quarters.

    Trent Ordensk sat in the offered chair, thinking, “I wish I could fit a table and chair in my room.” Then, releasing a silent sigh of exasperation, thought, “What is Randin going to complain to me about this time?

    It wasn’t that the two men didn’t get along. They were starting to become friends. It was just that the four troop ships were overcrowded. The two thousand troops of his battalion and the four hundred troops of the support units attached to his command were all crammed into four small ships.

    Discipline was difficult to maintain in the four small troop carriers. The Juggernaut-class troop transports were designed to accommodate four hundred troops with their equipment and supplies, but these four were each packed tight with six hundred troops, their war droids, medical droids, their gear and their supplies. As the days wore on, life aboard the small transports was becoming increasingly intolerable for the overcrowded Imperial soldiers.

    So, he was mildly surprised that instead of getting another earful about his men getting into another brawl with the ships’ crews or of his men breaking something on one of the four ships, Commander Grett Randin wordlessly walked to a wall safe and opened it. Commander Randin took an object out of the safe, and then shut the safe again. The object was sealed in heavy metal foil with anti-tamper evident markings all over it.

    He set the mystery object on the table in front of the major and told him, “You can’t leave whatever that is in here. You have to take it with you, including the foil wrapper.”

    Major Ordensk, feeling his exhaustion, spoke flatly, “Thanks, Grett.”

    “Yeah sure, Trent,” Commander Grett Randin replied, just as exhausted and just as flatly.

    Then he walked out of his quarters, leaving Trent Ordensk alone. Ordensk went to work to tear the metal foil open to get to the object inside. The foil was tough to tear open, but he finally got it done with the aid of a folding pocket knife.

    Inside the tough metal foil packet was a smooth, stainless, flat metal rectangular box. After fiddling with the box for a bit, he finally figured out how to open it and found a datapad inside. Taking the datapad out of its metal case, he activated the device and retrieved his mission statement.

    Major Ordensk was to select a location and establish a secret base of operations on a planet called Makeb. He’d never heard of Makeb, but the mission statement said it was in neutral space, very near the boundary to Hutt Space. Major Ordensk imagined it would be full of gangs and gang activity, not to mention crooked Hutt businesses.

    He wondered to himself, “What could the Sith Empire possibly want from this world?

    That information was not provided in the mission statement. His mission was to select the location for the base, establish it, maintain security and, while maintaining utter secrecy, wait for a special operations team to arrive. The special operations team would be the ones to actually conduct the main mission, which also wasn’t explained in his mission statement.

    After establishing the secret base, his battalion’s main mission would continue to be to provide security and to maintain the secrecy of their presence on Makeb. However, in addition to his prior responsibilities, his unit would also perform any missions given him by the special operations team leader.

    Trent thought skeptically, “So, I’ve got to turn over overall command to whoever shows up? Whoever that is better know what the hell he’s doing...

    There was an encyclopedia of information about Makeb. He’d gotten some of the more pertinent facts from it, such as the fact that the Hutts had recently conquered the planet, and that the mercenary military organization the Hutts had hired to conquer the world was a formidable competent force.

    After skimming through it, he decided there was too much there to read while in the ship’s captain’s quarters. He didn’t want to overly inconvenience Commander Randin, so he decided to revisit that section later, in his own quarters, to give it a more thorough reading.

    The only guidance his mission statement gave him was to ensure that the secret base be established within operational range of any Hutt controlled commercial mining operations while remaining hidden from their hired military forces.

    Trent Ordensk, incredulous, thought to himself, “Please, don’t tell me we are risking life and limb to find out what business opportunities the Hutts are pursuing!

    After a moment to clear his mind, and to think things through, he decided that couldn’t possibly be the case.

    Maybe we’re going to take out a secret training facility for Republic backed terrorists? Or maybe we’ll be stealing some new tech from the Hutts, to give us an edge over the Republic?

    He had no idea how close to the truth he was.

    After thinking more carefully, Trent told himself, “I need to stop speculating. For now, all I need to know is that the Empire just wants us within striking range of wherever it is the Hutts are on this planet.

    The first paragraphs of the encyclopedia told him, that the Hutts had only recently established a presence on Makeb.

    Sarcastically he told himself, “There’s likely to be only two or three Hutts on world. All I have to do is search the entire planet to figure out where on the planet they each decided to build their respective palaces. Then I just need to pick one of them and then establish a base within striking distance, all without getting caught. Easy!

    His orders authorized him to draft any aid, from his naval escorts, without revealing his mission to establish a secret base on Makeb. Major Trent Ordensk wracked his brain for five minutes trying to decide what help he could ask Commander Grett Randin that wouldn’t give away the fact that he was to establish a secret base on the planet.

    He laughed at himself, when he realized, “Grett and the three other ship commanders are going to know that I’m going to establish a freaking base on the freaking planet when they unload my battalion and all of our gear on world. How am I supposed to keep all of that a secret from them?!

    He got up from the chair, returning the datapad to its case and shutting the case tight. Rather quickly, the case became hot to the touch. It threatened to burn his fingers, so he dropped it onto the table. The table’s surface was made of a combustible material that almost immediately began to smolder.

    He immediately cast about for a pressurized fire suppression canister. He found it near the door. Grabbing the fire suppression canister, he turned back towards the table and found a fire enthusiastically burning where the once smooth and silvery – but now warped and brightly glowing red box sat.

    He activated the fire suppression canister, aiming it at the ruined metal box. Even as he attacked the fire, he watched it go from a bright red to an even brighter yellow. He fought the fire frantically, as he watched the glowing box expeditiously burn its way down, into the flaming table top, threatening to fall through onto the floor.

    Trent Ordensk was in a near panic, exclaiming with great astonishment, “Damn, that was fast!

    After a short but frantic battle to put out the rowdy flames, the completely warped and ruined box had darkened from an enthusiastically energetic yellow, to a bright red that continued to darken until it stopped glowing altogether, turning a sleek stainless metal box into a dark, mottled gray and warped mess burrowed halfway through the now ruined table top.

    Despite the fact that he had quickly put out the small but wild and quickly growing fire, the fire detection sensor in the captain’s quarters had activated, causing the ship’s crew to respond to their fire fighting stations. A fire suppression team had quickly arrived on scene.

    Part of the team opened the door and began to enter the Captain’s quarters, prepared to knock down any flames they encountered. Meanwhile, the other part of the team deployed a smoke capturing apparatus just outside of the door in the passageway. Essentially, the apparatus was a powerful vacuum with a powerful air filtration system to capture particulates and chemical scrubbers to neutralize toxic gasses.

    Commander Grett Randin wore a look of great concern, standing behind the fire suppression team as he tried to peer into the room from the passageway, trying to see through the smoke as it billowed out into the passageway only to be immediately sucked into the howling smoke capturing apparatus.

    Inside the room, Trent was hunched down to stay below the smoke. He wore a stricken look of great embarrassment, as he explained, shouting over the howling noise of the apparatus, “Grett, I had no idea it would do this! Please, accept my deepest apologies!”

    “Do what, man?!” Commander Randin demanded, with some consternation.

    Trent quickly exited the smoke-filled captain’s quarters, to allow the fire suppression team to do their work.

    The moment he stepped into the passageway, he hurriedly explained, still shouting to be heard over the air scrubbing machine, “As soon as I returned the datapad to the metal case, the damned thing got so hot, I had to let go of it! I dropped it back onto the table! It had gotten so hot and melted so fast, that I didn’t even have time to blink a second time! Before I realized it, the damned table was already on fire!”

    He shrugged his shoulders, holding up the expended fire suppression canister, and said lamely, “I put the fire out, though!”

    Randin shook his head slowly, disbelief plastered all over his face.

    “It’s bad enough that your men keep breaking things on my ships, but you too?! That was my favorite table!

    “Grett, I didn’t know it would do that!” Ordensk pleaded.

    Unable to contain himself, Grett Randin burst into laughter.

    “Neither did I, or I wouldn’t have given you that thing in my quarters!” he shouted through fits of laughter.

    “I’ve never heard of anything like this before!” Grett Randin confessed, as his laughter subsided.

    Before Ordensk could offer his renewed apologies, Randin added, still shouting over the howl of the apparatus, “Well, now I know! Next time I have to give one of those things out, I’ll give it in the air lock in a heavy metal can with thermal resistant insulation lining the bottom of it!”

    “We need to discuss the mission!” Trent shouted, getting to business while stating the obvious, “but I seem to have made a mess in your quarters, so we can’t speak there!”

    Just then, the executive officer burst out of his quarters, still activating the fasteners of his tunic. He rushed the three meters to the captain’s quarters, joining the commander and the major in the passageway outside of the commander’s stateroom. Peering into the room, he saw that the fire had already been extinguished and that most of the smoke had been removed from the air. All that remained was to conduct the investigation, clean up the mess, and write the report.

    He turned to his commanding officer and with a very serious expression, demanded, “What did I tell you about lighting cook fires in your quarters?!”

    Ignoring his executive officer, Commander Randin shouted his instructions to the fire suppression team leader.

    “Get the chief of the ship in here! I want to be sure the fire is out, clean out the fire suppression powder and the smoke residue, and get me a new table!”

    The fire suppression team leader shouted his crisp reply, “As you say, Commander!”

    At that moment, the smoke capture apparatus was shut down. It’s howling sound winding down in pitch and volume, until it was finally silent again.

    Turning to face his executive officer, Commander Grett Randin announced in a normal tone, “I need your quarters, X. O.” Pointing at Trent, standing beside him, he added, “He and I must converse, but my quarters are a bit of a mess right now.”

    The executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Harrol Ottor, arched his eyebrows and imperiously demanded, “And how do I know you aren’t planning to set a torch to my quarters, arson suspect number one?”

    “It wasn’t me,” Randin said, pointing a thumb at Trent and declaring, “He’s the miscreant who set fire to my quarters. He smells of smoke and is holding the incriminating fire suppression canister which was used to put out the flames. Do take note, X.O., I do not smell of smoke.”

    Trent rolled his eyes at their silly exchange but looked embarrassed, nevertheless. Seeing the look on Trent’s face, Lieutenant Commander Ottor realized there was an opportunity there. He leaned forward and sniffed at Commander Randin. He then sniffed at Ordensk and took on a look of shocked surprise as he stepped back.

    He declared with great astonishment, “By the Emperor’s thousand years! He does smell of smoke!”

    Trent shook his head slowly, casting his face downward as his shoulders drooped.

    “Yes. Yes. I get it,” he said, speaking tiredly, “Have your laughs.”

    Unable to contain his mirth any longer, Harrol burst into laughter. The laughter proved to be contagious, as Grett joined in, enthusiastically. Trent couldn’t deny the levity of the moment and sheepishly joined in, adding a few chuckles of his own.

    “Very well, then,” the XO of the ship told his commanding officer, “Go on ahead and use my quarters.” Turning to Trent, he added facetiously, “Only, try not to set fire to it. All of my stuff is in there. Is that a promise, miscreant?

    He laughed some more as he stepped around the other two officers and stood before the opened door of the captain’s quarters to inspect the smoked-out room.

    “Well, now! This is something to write about!” he declared enthusiastically.

    He looked back at the other officers and saw that Major Ordensk was giving him a jaded look in response to his comment.

    That prompted him to explain, “I have to write a safety report. There was a fire aboard an Imperial naval vessel, and we’ve got to explain why it happened.” He added, as though speaking disapprovingly, “I’ll check in with you later, Sir, to get the correct spelling of your name.”

    Trent began to spell out his name, but Randin quickly cut in.

    “I’ll give you the correct spelling later, Harrol. Right now, we’ve got business.”

    Laughing merrily, and with the smoked cleared out of the room, Harrol Ottor stepped into his commanding officer’s quarters to start his accidental fire investigation.

    Grett glanced at Trent and nodded towards the X.O.’s door. The two walked the few meters to Harrol Ottor’s door and entered the room. Randin gave the go ahead as soon as the door slid shut.

    Trent got to the point.

    “You need to land my battalion, with all of our gear, onto the surface of a planet near Hutt Space called Makeb. You need to land us close enough to areas showing a Hutt presence. You must accomplish this without letting any of the local Makebi military forces, local populations, or anyone else on Makeb to find out about it. Then, just as stealthily as you drop off my battalion and our gear, you need to leave Makeb space and head back to Tatooine to re-form Special Naval Task Force 12.”

    Grett already wore a serious expression as he listened to all of the difficult conditions being spelled out for the stealthy insertion of the 31st/77th, but the gravity of his orders struck him hard, when he realized that Major Ordensk had finished giving him his mission.

    He asked, “That’s it? I’m not sticking around to pick you up when you’re done? When do I come back to get you?”

    “I don’t believe anyone is expecting us to be retrieved, Grett.” Major Ordensk replied somberly.

    Grett didn’t know what to say to a man, he’d already thought of as a friend, who was decidedly on a one-way mission.

    In the end, he decided there was nothing he could actually say, so he opted to adopt a professional demeanor.

    “Well… Then let’s get to work.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    14 – Misery​


    After the briefing at the mass graves, the dark lord had returned to the warehouse with Katha Niar and Lord Cytharat. Khem Val trailed behind them all, keeping a careful eye on those two, as he remained ever ready to protect his master from potential assassins. Meanwhile, the ground trembled with small and ever diminishing, but very frequent, aftershocks.

    Ever since arriving on world, through The Force, Nox could feel the utterly depressed and guilt laden aura radiating from the troops and civilian personnel. Now that he knew what was behind their demoralized state, Nox wanted to inspect the troops and the civilian personal taking part in the mission to see what could be done to salvage the situation.

    It was a disaster! The troops’ morale, and that of the specialized personnel assigned to Darth Nox, had plummeted, hitting rock bottom. It didn’t seem to him that it would be possible to reverse their state of mass depression, but he would try.

    If what Lord Cytharat had said about the scientists and of their claim that they can save the planet is true,” Darth Nox speculated, “then this is our last and only hope to save the empire.

    However, the dark lord believed that if the troops’ and operatives’ spirits were utterly crushed, then even knowing that there might still be a way to avert utter defeat would not be enough to make them operate effectively.

    These miserable worms can’t learn the truth of our situation,” he told himself, “We have already failed our primary mission to capture the Isotope Five, and the claims the scientists have made might just be a story they’ve concocted just to save their necks.

    Nox called for all of the troops and operatives to assemble in the warehouse so that he could address them. The warehouse was not large enough, however, for the entire battalion and all of the civilians to assemble. In the end, only the officers and the very senior non-commissioned officers, the Black Ops team leaders, and the managers overseeing the civilian operatives had assembled in the warehouse for his address.

    Surveying the leaders assembled before him, Nox shook his head in disgust.

    If the officers are this demoralized, then the common troops must be a real mess,” he thought.

    He cursed under his breath at the mess Darth Marr had handed him.

    Blast him! That Marr!

    Then he proceeded to explain the situation, using misdirection and misinformation to conceal from them how close to utter defeat the empire was.

    “As you all probably already know, the Galactic Republic mounted a sustained and highly effective series of operations to cripple our fuel mining capabilities, destroying our stockpiles, and pressuring our third party suppliers to cease selling fuel to us. As a result, our navy is nearly stranded and almost without fuel, forced to halt offensive operations and forced into hiding.”

    Nox cursed under his breath again. Judging from their reactions, it was apparent that they didn’t know and that he had just let the nexu out of the bag. He had no choice but to go on.

    “The Imperial Navy’s fuel is almost all gone. It is entirely possible that the Empire might actually lose this war because of our failure to defend such a vital resource.” As an afterthought, Nox added, as though thinking out loud, “I will find out who is responsible for this humiliating failure, and be sure that they all pay dearly.”

    Returning to the matter at hand, he said, “But I’ve come to this world to steal a special material which is now in the Hutts’ possession.”

    He did not tell them that the material was already gone as Katha had explained to him in her briefing at the mass graves just a short while ago.

    “It is a special material which we shall convert into fuel for the navy. When this is done, our navy shall return to full service. The disaster shall be averted, and we shall go on to victory as it should be.

    “However, I find that I’m pitted in a race against time to capture this material. The frequent and monstrous ground-quakes are threatening to impede our mission and is prompting the Hutts to prepare to move the material off world. I don’t know what time I’ve left.”

    Katha and Cytharat wordlessly exchanged brief glances. This is nothing like what they told the dark lord. Two of the four Black Ops team leaders also exchanged quizzical glances with one another. They were quite certain that they had reported, to Lord Cytharat, that the Hutts had converted nearly the entire stockpile to fuel their mass production super heavy war droids.

    The Black Ops team leaders remained silent, however, as Darth Nox continued his remarks. It seemed the dark lord’s displeasure suddenly grew as he moved on to the next topic.

    “Now it’s come to my attention that there are several mass graves, not far from here, which is the result of a massacre which you all carried out a few weeks ago. These mass graves are now threatening to reveal our presence to our enemies! If the enemy has any brains, they would have programmed orbital observation probes to report unusual activities, such as the construction of mass graves just outside of an empty village.

    “But, no… It isn’t enough that our presence may be discovered because of these graves. Now I’ve come to learn that everyone here is morbidly depressed over the massacre and can’t keep their minds on their damned jobs! This, despite the dire straits the Empire is in! What else has gone wrong on this mission?! What haven’t I been told?!”

    Nox swept his eyes across the ranks of officers and civilian operatives. Not expecting, and not wanting, an answer.

    Some of the officers and operatives arrayed before the dark lord at parade rest, had been watching Katha Niar and Lord Cytharat, standing behind him to his left, fidgeting. Clearly, the two were greatly discomforted by the dark lord’s remarks and his increasing anger. Any intelligent being could tell that the dark lord’s speech could very easily end with their execution. What the officers did not understand was that Katha’s and Cytharat’s seeming discomfort was not from any fear of execution, but because the two could not understand why the dark lord was lying to the officers assembled in the warehouse.

    Except for the parts about the mass graves and the very low morale, what the dark lord had said was not what they had told him. Katha was shocked that Darth Nox had mentioned the lack of fuel for the navy, and the fact that the Empire was near defeat. This was actually a rather large revelation to the Imperials assembled before the dark lord.

    Until the dark lord had spoken of it, just a moment before, only Katha, Cytharat, Nox, a few members of the Black Ops teams, and Major Ordensk – who was most recently briefed, knew of the Isotope Five and of the Imperial Navy’s desperate need for fuel. The rest of what he said was well known to the personnel assembled in the warehouse. After all, they’d been living it the last few weeks.

    No matter what the dark lord had been saying, however, everyone there could plainly see that Darth Nox was most definitely displeased. His exasperation was plainly evident, and his anger was plainly building. No one there dared to be the one to tell him what else had gone wrong, including the fact that some of the details he said were quite wrong.

    From the perspective of the two Black Ops team leaders, who were aware of the actual situation, someone had clearly lied to Darth Nox. This perception lent credence to rumors circulating among the officers and civilian personnel assigned to the dark lord that he had a tendency to order the executions of anyone who brought him bad news.

    Those rumors were baseless, completely unfounded. The dark lord had never executed anyone for bringing him bad news. There were a few instances, however, when he had summarily executed those who had failed him in some way, but it was never for delivering bad news.

    The Imperial Army officers were already burdened with terrible guilt for the mass murder of the villagers, but now they’d been saddled with the knowledge that their crimes could also negatively affect the mission, which meant losing the war. In their minds, there was only one individual to blame for that.

    Over the past few weeks, the troops of the 31st/77th had been grumbling amongst themselves, blaming the woman they’d dubbed Death’s Mistress for the slaughter they were forced to perpetrate. They blamed her for the terrible nightmares which were starting to afflict an ever growing number of their fellow soldiers as a result of her ineptitude.

    Major Trent Ordensk kept a professional demeanor at all times when dealing with her but, deep inside, he utterly detested her. Morale had fallen so low that he worried the troops might start to desert, or worse, to mutiny.

    He blamed Katha Niar for all of it. The mass killings, the damage done to their mission, the near uselessness of his troops, all of it was her fault he told himself. Deep down inside, however, he bore some of the responsibility, bitterly questioning his own fitness to command his troops.

    If only I had stood my ground and told her,No! We’re not moving!’ Why did I give in to her?! I knew something could go wrong!

    Now, based on the dark lord’s speech, he had to wrestle with the fact that Katha and Cytharat had plainly lied to the dark lord. Even if the dark lord punished those who delivered him bad news, he deserved to know the truth of the situation. The fate of the Sith Empire depended on the dark lord knowing the truth, Ordensk believed.

    But how am I going to face Darth Nox to tell him what is really going on and survive an execution order?

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Five weeks ago, he and Commander Grett Randin had painstakingly selected their landing sight. After the ships had unloaded his reinforced battalion and left the planet, he executed the operation which he had planned and coordinated with his subordinate company commanders. They carefully, quietly, moved their troops, equipment, and supplies through the thick temperate hilly forest, arriving a week later to a site he felt was as close to the village as was possible without being discovered by the locals.

    The site he had chosen was three days forced march from the nearest population center and was situated in heavily forested and difficult mountainous terrain. It was far enough away to avoid most nature hikers, campers, and hunters, but close enough to allow him to send long range scouting patrols to the outskirts of the nearest village, which was situated in a narrow, thinly forested valley.

    This village lay within the valley, in between his secret base in the mountains and his objective, a series of Hutt owned deep core mining complexes, which were between four to seven day’s forced march beyond the opposite end of the valley in the lowlands. This meant that after three days forced march, any long range patrol would need to carefully and stealthily march, for an additional one to three days, in the thinly wooded landscape, making their way around the village in the narrow valley before finally reaching their objectives in the prairie below.

    It wasn’t ideal, but at the other end of the valley, past the mining complexes were open farmlands and, not far beyond the farmlands, a medium sized city and its surrounding suburbs. Five days after he had established the camp, the special operations team he was expecting had arrived. Then everything he had carefully set up began to unravel.

    Against his strongest protestations the civilian administrator who’d taken command from him, had ordered the camp moved to within a day’s march from the village. She felt the encampment was ridiculously situated in the savage wilds, which was also too far away from their objectives to be practical.

    Sitting at his field desk in his tent, Trent Ordensk’s face remained an impassive mask as he listened to one of his subordinate officers report his worst fears become realized. A young female lieutenant had been standing at parade rest, in front of his field desk, while giving her report.

    “… We successfully captured the three youths the moment they came upon our encampment, sir. Thankfully, they didn’t put up a fight. They were out here hunting small game and were only armed with low powered hunting blasters.”

    “Very well Lieutenant Rand. Make sure they do not get away. Also, pass the word to the company commanders to strike camp. We’re moving back to our original camp site.”

    “Are we taking the youths with us, Sir?”

    “We have no other choice. We can release them when our mission is completed,” but to himself, the major thought, “That is if we can survive our suicide mission.

    Trent Ordensk was convinced that as soon as the local military forces learned of their presence, on world, that his battalion would be quickly outnumbered, outmatched, and wiped out. Their only hope for survival was to complete their mission in secrecy, and win an opportunity to have his unit extracted after the mission.

    Stomping her boot, Lieutenant Rand snapped out her reply, “Yessir!”

    The young lieutenant turned smartly about to march out of the tent as the major rose from behind his desk. Trent stepped out of his tent and walked briskly to the tent next to his.

    “Administrator Niar? It’s Major Ordensk. We need to talk,” he said, firmly.

    “Come in, Major.”

    Katha Niar could tell by his abrupt tone, at her tent flap, that the major was going to whine about something. As he entered her tent, she stole herself, readying herself to put him in his place. She couldn’t read his face, however.

    As long as his mouth stays shut, he would make an excellent sabacc player,” she thought.

    The major snapped to attention in front of her desk, then relaxing his stance, announced, “I’m ordering the operation back to our original camp site. We haven’t even finished setting up camp, here, and already we’ve been discovered by three youths. We’ve taken them captive.”

    Katha Niar bolted to her feet ready to object, but Trent held up his hand, forestalling her protests.

    “Those youths will be missed!” he shouted. Then lowering his hand, he added in a professional tone, “It won’t be very long before their parents and the authorities will come searching for them. We have no other choice; we must move.”

    “This failure is yours, Major!” Katha snapped angrily, instantly regretting her words.

    “That is correct, Administrator Niar!” Trent said, instantly incensed, but he battled to restrain himself, fighting to maintain his composure, adding, “Had I stood firm and resisted your order, I wouldn’t have failed my mission to maintain the secrecy of our presence on this world.”

    Katha sank back into her chair, recognizing that ultimately she would be the one held responsible for any failures to their mission.

    “Very well, Major.” Katha spoke in a subdued tone. “Move the camp back.”

    “Yessir!”

    Two hours later, the camp was taken down. Everything was packed and the battalion was ready to march. They would march for two days, the same number of days it took them to get to their current location. Major Ordensk was moments from giving the order to move out when a messenger ran up to him to report.

    “Major Ordensk, sir! Private Hemmet reporting, sir!”

    “Report, Private Hemmet.”

    “Sir, one of the prisoners has escaped. Lieutenant Rand sent Sergeant Sato’s squad to go after him. That is all, Sir!”

    “Very well, Private. Message received. You’re dismissed.”

    “Sir!”

    The Imperial soldier stomped his boot, turned about and marched a few steps before taking off at a run to return to his unit. Meanwhile, Trent walked briskly, making his way to Lieutenant Rand’s platoon. It took him some time to make his way about half way back along the long column of restless soldiers in their dark grey uniforms and the mechanically motionless war droids in their woodland camouflage paint scheme, all waiting for the order to begin marching. Major Trent Ordensk’s calm, unflappable exterior belied the panic stampeding within his mind as he made his way to Lieutenant Rand’s platoon.

    Upon seeing her battalion commander approach, Lieutenant Rand snapped to attention.

    Relaxing her stance, she reported, “I’m deeply sorry, Sir. Somehow he got out of his restraining collar, which I think had malfunctioned. Private Patross was making an entry in his personal journal and was not properly watching the prisoners. He was therefore unaware that the prisoner had gotten free from his restraining collar until the prisoner made a break for it. Sergeant Sato took his squad and ran after him.”

    The young officer became visibly uncomfortable as she reported the worst.

    “Sergeant Sato’s men had to kill him to stop him from reporting our presence to the local authorities, Sir.”

    “What?! Why?! What happened, exactly?!” Reining in his shocked surprise and regaining his composure, he added calmly, “Start from the beginning, Lieutenant.”

    “The youth made it to his parked speeder bike and managed to dial up the local authorities, but was shot before he could speak. The troops destroyed the holo-transceiver with blaster fire to stay out of view of the authorities while ending the transmission. Sergeant Sato requested reinforcements to set up an ambush. He expects, and I agree, that a large contingent of local constabulary forces will respond. I sent a war droid to reinforce his squad, Sir.”

    “Very well Lieutenant Rand.”

    Major Ordensk paused to think a moment before issuing new orders.

    “Stay here with your platoon. Be ready to reinforce Sergeant Sato’s ambush if needed. Clean up the ambush site after it’s done. Hide the bodies and the wreckage in the woods well away from the road. Leave no telltales behind. Then give me the after action report together with Sergeant Sato after you’ve caught up with the battalion.”

    “Yes, Sir!” She stomped her boot on the forest floor, snapping to attention, then turned smartly about to issue orders to her platoon.

    As he marched briskly back to the head of the column, he thought bitterly, “This is getting worse by the minute! I should not have listened to that stupid woman!” An angry sneer marred his no longer calm exterior as he asked himself, “Who is stupider of the two, the administrator who gave the stupid order, or the officer who stupidly followed it!

    Five hours later, flanked on either side by the wild forest, four marked speeders slowed to a crawl as they approached the three speeder bikes parked on the side of the dirt road. The black and white units finally came to a stop twenty meters from the parked bikes. The doors of the police units opened and eight armed uniformed constables exited the patrol units. They cautiously approached the young man’s shot up speeder and spotted his scorched corps, partially obscured by the wild vegetation, lying beside his bike.

    As the eight law enforcement officials cautiously approached the last few meters to the dead youth’s body, a big noisy ruckus of snapping branches and tearing bushes, in the woods further down the road, caught their attention. A huge six legged droid in a woodland camouflage paint scheme tore out of the brush and trees and onto the dirt road from the same side of the road the bikes were parked. The three meter high war droid turned its twin blaster cannons towards the lawmen and began firing on the lawmen’s four police units parked several meters behind them, destroying their vehicles one after the other.

    The lawmen each activated their personal shield generators, and then began firing their blaster pistols at the Imperial war droid. Immediately thereafter, the squad of Imperial soldiers opened up from the side of the road opposite of the parked speeder bikes. Police issued blaster pistols and shield generators were no match for the powerful Imperial military blaster rifles. In mere seconds, their shield generators very quickly depleted, and the lawmen soon fell to the merciless storm of blaster bolts.

    Major Trent Ordensk was filled with fury, but he worked hard to restrain himself, to not say anything unnecessary, as he completed his report to the mission commander, Katha Niar.

    “Currently, my troops are dragging the bodies and the destroyed vehicles off of the road and into the bush. With a village as small as the one the young men and the constables had come from, I’m guessing that those eight were their entire constabulary force. I have no doubt that the youths and the lawmen will be missed. I fear the villagers will call for aid from the neighboring villages. It will not be very long before the bodies and the destroyed vehicles will be found, and then they’ll call for help from the city, bringing in advanced tactical resources and much larger numbers.”

    Katha Niar had been sitting on a fallen tree trunk with her elbows on her knees, her face buried in the palms of her hands, and her head slowly shaking side to side. Lord Cytharat stood silently behind her, his face an impenetrable mask that refused to give away what he thought of the situation.

    Major Ordensk added, “We shouldn’t have moved so close to the village, but going deeper into the forest now will be pointless. In a few hours, there will likely be a large search effort made for them unless we can stop the villagers from calling for help.”

    Katha Niar gulped back her fear, thinking, “We haven’t even started the mission, and already, we are about to be discovered!” In great self reproach she admitted to herself, “And it is my fault… I should have listened to him.

    Major Ordensk gave his recommendations.

    “We can quickly, quietly surround the village, set up jamming emitters to cut off all of their communications. Then we can capture the villagers and keep them imprisoned until….”

    Katha Niar felt revulsion even as she forced the words out of her mouth, barely audible, interrupting the major.

    “Excuse me, ma’am?” Major Ordensk asked; he hadn’t heard what she’d said. Her face was still buried in the palms of her hands when she spoke again.

    “Destroy the village,” then clarifying what she’d meant, she added, “Kill everyone in the village. No survivors. Do it before they sense the missing constables and the youths.”

    For the first time, the Sith lord exposed some of what he thought, when he nodded his approval of the order. Ordensk was stunned, however, and protested his orders.

    “We don’t need to slaughter all of those people! We can keep them captive, isolated until...”

    Lord Cytharat spoke for the first time.

    “Your suggestion is unrealistic, Major. You’re lines will be stretched too thinly, and surely some of the villagers will escape captivity, and they will report our presence here.”

    “But, my lord, to slaughter so many just to stay in hiding...”

    “If we fail our mission here,” Lord Cytharat explained, “then we shall bear witness to the destruction of the Sith Empire.”

    “My lord, we’re skulking about just to take a closer look at a stinking Hutt mine! What in damnation is so important about a mine that...?”

    “Major!” Katha Niar cut Trent Ordensk off again. Finally looking him in the eye, she explained, “The Imperial Navy is nearly out of fuel. More than two thirds of the fleet has already been pulled out of service and put into hiding to conserve fuel. We are here to steal the material the Hutts have mined in order to fuel our fleets.”

    Trent Ordensk descended into a deep state of shocked disbelief on hearing what Katha Niar had just told him.

    Turning to look at Lord Cytharat, Ordensk asked, “Is the Empire so desperate to keep the fleets operating that we must resort to stealing fuel?”

    Neither Katha nor Cytharat answered his rhetorical question. Into the short silence, Ordensk gave his professional opinion.

    “Then we have lost the war. We’re just prolonging our final defeat by stealing what little fuel has been mined from these mining complexes…..”

    “This material is not the normal fuel our fleets depend on,” Lord Cytharat said, explaining, “If our ships’ reactors are modified to run on this material, then the fleets would not need to be refueled for the life of each ship, and there is enough here to fuel the entire navy.”

    After listening to everything that was at stake, Trent Ordensk realized he was left with no other alternatives. The very survival of the Sith Empire depended on their ability to succeed with this mission. To be discovered by the local authorities would certainly make it impossible for them to do what was needed and would betray the Empire’s purpose for being on this world to their enemies. Their enemies would then make a powerful effort to deny the Empire access to the new fuel needed to operate its fleets.

    “And the prisoners?” he asked.

    His stomach turned, knowing what the answer was going to be.

    Her voice was husky, “Them, too.” Katha gulped back the bile in her throat, averting her eyes from the Major’s, as she confirmed, “No witnesses.”

    The major betrayed the anxiety he felt when he removed his dark grey officer’s cap and combed his fingers through his hair before replacing his cap.

    “That might buy us a few days at worst, or a few weeks at best. After that, their silence will start to raise questions from the other villages in the region.”

    Katha, her eyes cast to the ground before her feet, nodded acknowledgment of the major’s assessment.

    There was nothing else to discuss. He stomped his boot and snapped out his reply, “Yes, Sir!”

    Major Ordensk turned about and marched away to carry out his grim task.

    The operation lasted ten hours. The Black Ops teams stealthily deployed eight Local Area Field Transmission Cancellers around the village in an octagonal pattern. No communications signals would be able to be sent nor received once the communications frequency jammers were activated.

    Once the 31st/77th had established their perimeter around the village, the jammers were activated and the war droids moved swiftly into town, rushing down the streets, destroying any occupied vehicles, and taking out any targets of opportunity – pedestrians.

    The people, in a panic, ran into any building they could flee into to hide from the war droids’ insanely accurate, extremely fast, and horrifically murderous blaster cannon fire. Many hundreds of people tried calling the constabulary, but there was no holo-communications service. Hundreds more attempted to call friends or family in town or at the neighboring villages, suburbs, and the city, but their calls could not get through. Others looked to the local news broadcasts for information, but none of the stations seemed to be transmitting. A complete communications blackout had been achieved.

    Right behind the war droids, the troops swept into the village going house to house, building to building, rounding up the villagers. There was a large amount of confusion amongst the villagers. Many of them mistook the Imperials for the Regulator mercenary army working for the Hutts on Makeb.

    “Hutt tail kissing scum! Hutt tail kissing scum! Hutt tail kissing scum!” some of the more brazen villagers had taken to shouting in a chant at the misidentified Imperial soldiers.

    The people were all taken to the village center, and held in a hasty field prison established in a park in the center of town.

    Any villagers that managed to escape, or evade capture, were shot dead by war droids patrolling the streets or by Imperial troops set on the perimeter around the village. When it was assured that all of the surviving villagers had been gathered, they were marched three hundred at a time to the edge of town, where captured work droids had been used to dig mass graves. The villagers were massacred at the graves, after which the work droids were tasked to neatly arrange the dead in the deep trenches, in order to maximize the capacity of each trench.

    Throughout the night and into the early morning hours, Major Ordensk unmercifully worked his troops hard. He drove them like expendable slaves, not permitting his men and women to pause, even to rest for a short time.

    Major Ordensk tasked his men and women to commandeer commercial transport speeders to recover the bodies of their victims from the streets, from within destroyed speeders, from the outskirts of town, and from within several buildings and homes, where some of the people had resisted the soldiers with their civilian grade blaster pistols. The bodies were then transported to the mass graves.

    He ordered his troops to hide the wreckage of speeders, removing them from the streets and from the sides of buildings where some of them had crashed. He ordered the wreckage stuffed into garages and crammed into parking structures to get them out of sight from orbital and aerial observation.

    His troops were exhausted, but he kept them working, driving them as he established the new camp site at the edge of town in the woods. That afternoon, as his company commanders reported to him the progress of the work done to hide their horrific crimes of the previous day, he reflected, for the first time in his distinguished seven year career, that he thoroughly hated being an Imperial Army officer.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The troops of the 31st / 77th had set their encampment hidden in the woods outside of town beyond the warehouse complex and the mass graves further out. Katha Niar had been using the largest warehouse at the complex as her headquarters. The troops had been living in their tents at the outskirts of the village for almost three weeks.

    Each morning, those with duties at the warehouse complex walked past the mass graves to get to the structures to do their work. At the end of each day they walked back, past the mass graves, to return to their tents in the encampment. Over the past few weeks, the mass graves were starting to blend into the background in the minds of some of the officers. They were starting to forget, to push the memories of what had transpired out of their consciousness.

    However, not even an hour had gone past after Darth Nox’s arrival on world, that things began to go from worst to catastrophic. The chaos of three weeks ago had come crashing back to the minds of the Imperial officers and operatives assembled for the dark lord’s inspection, forcing them to relive – in the worst possible way – the horrific crimes they’d committed only a few weeks before.

    After his short and private briefing from Administrator Katha Niar and Lord Cytharat, the dark lord had returned to the warehouse, and after making a short speech in which he loudly complained about everything that had gone wrong, the first order he gave the military officers and specialized civilian personnel was to take up residence in the now vacated homes of the slain. Additionally, he ordered them to set up operations in the various shops and offices in the small town’s tiny commercial district.

    Major Ordensk took in a deep breath, and quietly sighed out his deep frustration.

    What was I thinking? Why did I expect things would improve when the dark lord took over after his arrival?

    He knew that the personal effects of the mass execution victims, their clothing, toys, family holographic portraits, etc, would haunt the men and women now working for the dark lord. However, the madness didn’t end there. The dark lord then ordered all of the personnel assigned to the mission to dress in the clothing found in the homes of their victims. Many of the officers and non commissioned officers gasped and let out short groans of surprise and shock at their orders, as did the civilians listening to the dark lord.

    Major Ordensk wondered how he was going to enforce such orders without completely destroying what little unit cohesion remained. He could barely bring himself to even imagine himself putting on the clothing of those whose slaughter he had orchestrated, let alone order it of his troops. He was grateful that the warehouse was only large enough to permit the assembly of his officers and senior noncommissioned officers. That gave him a chance to figure out how to break the orders to his troops.

    Meanwhile, through The Force, Nox could very clearly feel their suddenly increased despair, guilt, and misery. Though it irritated him greatly that he had to clean up the huge mess created by these ‘very best people’ provided to him by his rival, Darth Marr, Darth Nox found it necessary to address the officers and civilian personnel about the massacre.

    “Darth Marr gave very explicit orders to keep out of sight. Yet, you were discovered. It was your failure for allowing it to happen.

    “Normally, such failures would be dealt with by compromises and adjustments to mission parameters and goals or, in a few cases, with mission abandonment. However, these are not at all normal circumstances. In our case, being discovered and mission failure would mean the end of the Sith Empire.

    “Therefore, it would not do to let the failure of your discovery be compounded by allowing your presence be reported to the local officials. Allowing the local officials to know of our presence here, is the same as telling the Galactic Republic that we are here.

    “To keep in compliance with Darth Marr’s directive and to ensure mission success, you took very harsh and necessary measures to keep your presence concealed. You massacred and buried the local townsfolk. The very survival of the Empire required this terrible act, and you did what was necessary.

    “The Empire’s continued existence, or its assured destruction, rests entirely on the success or failure of our mission here. It really is as simple as that. Darth Marr and I are betting everything on our success, here on this world.

    “Failure here will mean the end of the Sith Empire. There really was no other choice for you to make. What you did, here, had to be done.”

    Nox knew he was repeating himself, but he felt the seriousness of the situation could not be understated. He swept his eyes across the light infantry officers, Black Ops team leaders, and specialized civilian operatives assigned to support his mission on Makeb. The Force allowed him to feel their abject guilt and self loathing. The Force also revealed to him, to his great surprise, that some of them did not believe him.

    They think I’m lying!

    Nox didn’t realize that a few of the officers believed he’d been misinformed because of the incorrect information he gave earlier.

    Do they not understand what is at stake here?!

    Nox worried greatly that, in their current state of mind, they would end up failing him and failing his mission – if there was still a chance to save the empire. He knew, however, that attempting to minimize their crimes would only cause their morale to plunge even lower – if such a thing was even possible.

    I must keep them focused,” Nox thought, “I must keep them from wallowing in their guilt or they will remain useless to me!

    He pleaded with them.

    “We can win!” he declared, with such passion.

    “We can win, but we must be willing to do whatever is necessary to obtain victory, even if it means killing everyone in the village!!”

    Through The Force, Nox could feel their indecisiveness, as they mulled over his words. He was becoming desperate, knowing he could not succeed without their help.

    Nox pointedly told them, “Whether the Sith Empire continues to thrive in victory, or whether it dies in the ashes of defeat. Whether the Sith Empire succeeds against our hated enemy, the Galactic Republic, or whether we are brought to ruins by our greatest enemy, it will all be entirely decided here, by you.”

    Nox was not encouraged by the reactions of the officers and operatives to his speech. If anything, The Force revealed that their morale had become worse.

    “However, we are still left with a very serious problem. A village without people in it is also suspicious and can attract the attention of the Hutts, their minions and, eventually, the Galactic Republic. You must occupy these homes and wear the locals’ clothing to hide the massacre – at least until we’ve accomplished our mission. Success or failure here will save or end the Empire.”

    Katha Niar spoke out of turn, interrupting Nox’s talk.

    “Dark Lord, what do we do about incoming holo-calls from relatives of the deceased, or their visitors?”

    The dark lord spun about to face her, angrily jabbing a finger in her direction. Katha grasped her throat with both hands. She found herself unable to take air into her lungs, nor to let air out. She hung suspended in the air, her feet kicking about, futilely searching for the warehouse floor.

    Lord Cytharat was startled buy the sudden and unexpected attack. He quickly stepped away from Katha, not wishing to antagonize the dark lord.

    “You should have thought of that before you gave the order!” Nox snarled, rankled by her interruption.

    Mentally kicking himself, he lowered his arm and, after gently returning her to the resicrete floor, he turned to face the officers and operatives again. Katha dropped to her knees, coughing as she fought to bring air passed her reopened epiglottis.

    Nox worried that his display of anger had damaged what little spirit they had left. Instead, he was surprised to feel their sudden and very intense surge of fury and hatred aimed at Administrator Katha Niar. The feelings he felt coming from them was an intense desire to see her dead.

    “Don’t answer the calls,” he said, answering her question in a civil tone, “and don’t place any calls on their holo-transmitters, either. That would be another way to announce our presence here.” Turning to look Katha in the eye, as she tearfully rose to her feet, he callously added, “Dig another mass grave. Dump the bodies of any visitors that come to town into it until we’ve accomplished our mission and leave this world.”

    Making that dig at her turned out to be a mistake, however. The Force revealed that he had undone almost all of the progress – what little of it that was made – towards recovering their spirits. The officers and operatives did not want to kill anymore civilians.

    Darth Nox felt their self loathing grow, and felt their already weakened resolve further erode. His anger grew as he returned his gaze to the personnel assembled in the warehouse.

    “Orbital observation must not detect a town without people in it!” he said sternly, unyieldingly adding, “Before the end of this day, you shall all be quartered in these houses and running operations from these commercial buildings, and you shall all be wearing the local civilian attire! Is that clear?!”

    The light infantry officers and the Black Ops team members all reflexively shouted, “Yes, Sir!”

    The officers’ shouted reply was in contrast to the civilian operatives, whose voices were drowned out by the soldiers, as they answered in subdued tones, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    15 – As A World Dies, An Arranged Meeting​


    Major Trent Ordensk had been tasked to assign housing to the Imperial personnel as decreed by the dark lord. The major started by taking inventory of residential and commercial structures in the village, ordering his supply officer to create teams to inspect each structure to determine which ones had major damage and blood from the slaughter. Those structures would not be used for housing. Work groups would be assigned to make needed light repairs and clean up of commercial structures, as needed.

    Armed with the list of usable structures and with the repairs and clean up in progress, Major Ordensk then began to assign housing based on how close those were to the village’s two tiny business districts in the village center. The town was quite small, with a population of just under four thousand inhabitants, and since the valley was narrow, the structures were not spread too far apart.

    The civilian operatives were assigned housing near the larger of the two business districts closest to the village center. He assigned them the business district’s eight two-story professional office buildings from which they were to conduct their operations.

    The four Black Ops teams were not under his direct command, but he was the senior military officer on the ground, so the Black Ops team leaders reported to him administratively. Major Ordensk assigned housing to Black Ops near the warehouse complex at the far edge of the village, near the mass graves. This gave Black Ops access to a place they could use to prepare for and launch operations, and it also gave them the cover of the forest, which abutted the edge of the village on that side of town.

    The remainder of the housing was divided amongst the companies of the 31st/77th and the support units attached to his battalion. The officers all lived together, near the village center, nearby the civilian operatives. This gave his subordinate officers access to the village council building, where they could plan and coordinate security patrols and other military operations. The council building became Ordensk’s battalion headquarters.

    Major Trent Ordensk assigned his battalion medical support section the medical clinic in the smaller of the two business districts on the opposite side of the village center. His supply unit was tasked with taking over the hardware store, the grocery store and other shops, restaurants, pubs, and various repair shops, making them functional supply, repair, and mess facilities to feed the troops, repair their equipment and facilitate any of the other needs of the battalion. He assigned the two speeder repair shops and one of the parking structures to the heavy war droid company attached to his battalion.

    The major ordered all Imperial personnel to turn in all food, found in the residences, to the supply officer. That food would be used to feed the Imperial personnel first, before turning to their field rations as a food source.

    It was a lot of work, but it was all done before Makeb’s star had set that evening. Lord Cytharat had delivered the progress report to Darth Nox, who begrudgingly gave a single worded acknowledgment.

    “Good.”

    In the parking lots of the restaurants and adjoining shops, tarps were set up to give overhead cover from direct sunlight, and to provide camouflage for the troops who would gather there to eat their meals. The battalion’s officers, Black Ops teams, and the civilian operatives all ate their meals in the village’s three restaurants and four pubs.

    There was no cheer under the tarps as the enlisted ate their first hot meal in three weeks. They were dressed in the clothes of the victims of their slaughter. Darth Nox could feel their gloom. It angered him, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. The orbital observation probes might otherwise spot their uniforms, the dark lord believed.

    He forced himself to ignore the misery of his troops, instead focusing on what his civilian scientists had to say as they detailed the results of their simulations. Prior to Darth Nox’s arrival on Makeb, the scientists ran two dozen simulations on two dozen super computers scattered across several Imperial worlds in Sith Empire space.

    Nox’s mouth had fallen open. Incredulity showed plainly on his face as he asked with incredible disbelief, “You actually communicated with the Sith Empire over the last few weeks – from Makeb?!

    His fury rapidly built up at what he perceived as utter folly as he spat out his inquiry laced with incendiary fury.

    “Did it not occur to you bumbling imbeciles that your intra-galactic holo-communications could be intercepted?!” Slamming his opened palm onto the conference table, he demanded, “How could you be so blasted stupid?!”

    Lord Cytharat quickly spoke, to assuage Darth Nox’s growing fury, telling the dark lord, “We used the Black Ops teams’ special communications equipment, meant to allow them to send and receive communications from deep within Galactic Republic space without detection, Dark Lord. It is a proven technology.”

    Nox quickly turned his head to face the four Black Ops team leaders, and angrily snapped his inquiry.

    “Well?! Is what Lord Cytharat saying the truth?!”

    Like all Sith, Cytharat expected Sith superiors to suspect their Sith subordinates of being deceitful, always plotting against their betters, but he was, nevertheless, offended at Nox’s blatant disrespect towards him in the presence of the lower classes. Yet, he remained silent. He knew that his own standing was in question because of his dead master, Darth Malgus, who’d been slain by Nox several years before.

    Darth Malgus had betrayed the empire and had usurped the Sith Emperor’s throne. Darth Nox had launched a major military offensive against his dead master and ultimately slew him in single combat. Though he had proved his innocence of the charge of treason, Lord Cytharat was never trusted nor respected by the Dark Council again.

    The senior ranked team leader told Darth Nox, “It is true, Dark Lord. This equipment is used routinely to send and receive communications deep in enemy territory without detection. We are quite confident in its capabilities.”

    Sensing no deceit from the Black Ops captain, Nox began to relax again, accepting the captain’s word.

    “Very well.” Then, returning his anger hardened gaze to the lead scientist, he ordered, “Continue your report. Tell me about your… simulations.”

    The scientist, a Neimoidian named Nadrin Tro, stood nervously before the Dark Lord of The Sith, resuming his report where he’d left off. His fellow scientists had been inching away from him while Nox issued his fury laden tirade earlier. Doctor Nadrin Tro felt abandoned by his colleagues, humans all, feeling as though he’d been left to face the wrath of a Sith lord alone.

    Although the Dark Council had granted Imperial citizenship, with all of its benefits, to aliens who lived within Sith Imperial space, non-humans still faced discrimination. Some Sith lords still held on to their old hatred of aliens. Nadrin Tro didn’t know Nox was not among those. The dark lord merely hated weakness, and punished those who failed him regardless of species. Darth Nox was fair in that respect.

    Nadrin Tro, the lone alien in the conference room, trembled as he spoke.

    “Most august dark lord, the data has come back with the most satisfactory results. Nineteen out of twenty four simulations have returned results that show the experiment would succeed – with great certainty!”

    He exaggerated that last point a little, but, to his chagrin, could see that the dark lord was not impressed.

    “The remaining five simulations showed, not failure,” Dr. Tro stressed, “but less than favorable results. All in all, a most satisfactory conclusion, Dark Lord.”

    Nox’s customary scowl didn’t change at this most satisfactory conclusion that Dr. Tro had proclaimed, either.

    Instead, the dark lord snapped impatiently, “Stop lying to me, and tell me what I am facing, here!”

    The Neimoidian, thoroughly intimidated by the dark lord’s fury, trembled all the more as he tried to explain the results of the simulations with greater earnestness.

    “Most august dark lord, the meaning of these simulation results is that we can save the planet from tearing itself apart and becoming an asteroid ring around its star. However, it is most regrettable that the planet will cease to be habitable. All ecological systems and the people living on this world will still die.”

    “How is it regrettable?” Nox asked to the shock of those in the conference room, “If it saves the planet and I can mine its resources, then why should I care what happens to the ecological systems of this world? As for the people…. It is unfortunate, but there is nothing we can do for them.”

    Katha Niar took that opportunity to speak up and to present her idea.

    “Actually, Dark Lord, I have an idea that can be useful to us, as well as give the people a chance to escape.”

    Darth Nox, sensing her desperation through The Force, asked as though he’d already thought it a bad idea, “Isn’t there a risk it will tip the Hutts to our purpose?”

    “This is information the Hutts have and are acting on, Dark Lord. Their activities, as they prepare to evacuate the planet are already drawing the attention of the people. The people do not yet realize why the Hutts are so rapidly moving their assets off world.

    “If word could be leaked out...”

    Darth Nox was already waiving her off and shaking his head in the negative. Lord Cytharat saw that Nox was about to dismiss her idea and spoke out.

    “That could cause a worldwide panic,” he cut in, adding, “It would further tie the hands of the Hutts’ mercenary army, The Regulators, and give us greater freedom of movement.”

    Cytharat’s comment was enough to change the dark lord’s mind. Darth Nox decided that he liked the notion after all, but he wanted to be careful.

    “Be silent, everyone,” he commanded, “I must think on this.”

    The moments ticked by as Katha, Cytharat, Dr. Tro and his team of scientists, and the four Black Ops team leaders sat or stood silently around the conference table, waiting for the dark lord to address them.

    After some thought, Darth Nox ordered, “Katha Niar, I will go with your idea. Plant the rumors and let them know that the planet’s destruction is tied to the increasing and worsening ground quakes.”

    Before Katha could acknowledge her orders, Nox raised his hand to forestall her, and then pointed a finger at her. Katha’s body involuntarily jerked at his hand gesture. She thought he was going to use The Force to choke her again.

    “Take absolute care,” he said warningly, “that we are not tied to the rumors. It would seem awkward that we are handing them weapons to fight for their homes on the one hand, while on the other telling them that their homes are doomed anyway.”

    Lord Cytharat said, “Dark Lord, it may even tie the hands of Republic forces as they find themselves having to send resources to Makeb to assist with evacuations.”

    Darth Nox became worried on hearing that.

    “I don’t want any more Republic forces coming to Makeb. An increased Republic presence may also increase the chances they’ll discover us here.”

    “The fighting, worldwide,” Cytharat assured, “and the panic in the cities and towns around the planet will mask our silent and stealthy presence on world, Dark Lord.”

    Darth Nox smiled wryly, telling Dr. Nadrin Tro and Katha Niar, “You see? We didn’t even have to worry over the fate of these people.” Turning to Lord Cytharat, he continued with his point, “We’ll let the Galactic Republic take on the burden of rescuing these people. Let them waste their resources here. It will give our forces a small but needed advantage,” adding, as a new thought came to him, “If they refuse to evacuate the Makebi people...,” his wry smile widened, “we’ll find a way to let the galaxy know that the Galactic Republic had let a planet full of people die when they were in a position to help.”

    “Then I will make doubly sure we aren’t implicated as the source of the rumors, Dark Lord,” Katha Niar promised resolutely.

    She was greatly relieved that Darth Nox would allow her to save lives, as though that would make up for the lives she had ordered destroyed. To her bitter chagrin, however, she would later discover that she would gain no absolution for her terrible crime.

    Darth Nox turned to the Neimoidian scientist and told him, “When we have control of the mines, I will allow you to proceed with your experiments.” Nox added a very heavily implied threat, “I look forward to the successful completion of these experiments, Dr. Tro.”

    The Neimoidian scientist immediately realized that failure would undoubtedly mean a death sentence for him. He felt it necessary to give Darth Nox a reminder of what saving the planet entailed.

    “Recall, most august dark lord, success means the air will become unbreathable. There will be toxic smoke and superheated ash pouring into the atmosphere from many opened fissures on the planet’s crust. We will, ourselves, need to evacuate. Do not think such a necessity as a failure, but as an unavoidable consequence of keeping the planet in one piece.”

    Darth Nox turned to Lord Cytharat and ordered, “Make a plan for our own evacuations. We must be ready to be kicked off a disgruntled planet.”

    The disgraced Sith lord bowed, replying, “As you will, Dark Lord.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox was having his breakfast the following morning when Khem Val entered the dining room, crouching down to squeeze through the doorway.

    “The miserable little woman who ordered the slaughter of the town is here,” the behemoth announced, standing upright with the top of his head bare centimeters from the ceiling, “She wishes an audience.”

    “I will see her when I’m done eating,” Nox said as he chewed, adding, “Tell her to wait.”

    Khem Val left without another word to convey Nox’s message to Katha Niar, who waited on the front porch of the house assigned to the dark lord by Major Ordensk.

    An hour later, Nox was at his desk in the office on the second story of the house. The dark lord read patrol reports looking for signs that his operation had been discovered. He knew that eventually the local authorities would start to sense something was wrong, and would want to make inquiries of the locals, who were now all dead.

    Nox needed the Makebi people armed and fighting to tie up the local authorities with the chaos of rebellion. He knew when the rumor of the planet’s imminent destruction hit, that it would become absolute pandemonium with armed rebels seeking transport off planet. Under such circumstances, a strangely quiet tiny village would fall out of the notice of the mercenary enforcers employed by the Hutts.

    As Nox thought on whether Andronikos had made progress in securing the weapons, he wondered if he’d given the not-so-former pirate too much to handle. He was about to reach for his personal encrypted holo-transmitter to contact the semi-retired pirate, when the door to his office slowly swung open.

    Virulous walked awkwardly into the room as she walked the door open. She awkwardly walked the door back to close it again. Finally, she turned about to face her master, who’d been watching as she struggled with entering the room through the archaic doorway.

    Darth Nox said to his apprentice, “I don’t know how these people could live with doors that don’t slide open and shut automatically. I miss automatic sliding doors.”

    Darth Virulous was deeply surprised, taken aback by her master’s seeming familiarity towards her. She wore her armored mask, attached to her utility belt at her side, with her hood pulled back. Virulous bowed her head towards her master.

    “Dark Lord, it is a wonder to me that such doors should exist when automatic sliding doors have been in use for millennia everywhere in the galaxy.”

    Nox nodded agreement, adding, “I’ve traveled all over the galaxy for one reason or another and have never come across any doors that were hand operated. It simply is a wonder.”

    He had enough with the pleasantries.

    “You are here to report something, Darth Virulous?”

    “Master, Katha Niar waits to give you her report. Do you not wish to hear her? Shall I send her away?”

    Having been reminded that Katha Niar was waiting for him, Nox mouthed to himself, “Oh,” as he rolled his eyes, shaking his head in annoyance at his lapse in memory.

    “Send her in,” he said in a neutral tone, “I will hear her report.”

    “Master, may I listen in as she reports to you?”

    “Yes, and be ready for instructions afterwards.”

    Virulous bowed her head, wordlessly turning about to head out through the archaic wooden door again. She reached for the knobby door handle again, but before she could grasp it, it turned on its own, the door swinging smoothly on its hinges without human hands operating it. Virulous turned about and saw Darth Nox’s hand stretched towards the door behind her.

    Why didn’t I think of that?!” she thought to herself, saying aloud to Nox, “Thank you, Master.”

    She then stepped through the door and used The Force to pull the door shut again.

    A few moments later, the door opened much more smoothly. Darth Virulous entered ahead of Katha Niar, stepping to the side of the office. Katha entered the office behind Virulous, making her way to Darth Nox’s desk. Khem Val squeezed in behind Katha and stepped to the opposite side of the small office. Katha Niar knelt before the dark lord’s desk as Darth Virulous used The Force to shut the door again.

    Darth Nox told the woman from whom he could feel her fear, self loathing, and guilt, “Rise Katha Niar. Give me your report.”

    Katha rose to her feet and reported, as ordered.

    “Dark Lord, a meet has been arranged with Pollus Avesta. He will meet with you at Kinlo Plantation at the Westwater Settlements. He knows you are an Imperial representative, and that you wish to offer him weapons to oppose the Hutts. He does not know you are Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith.”

    Darth Nox had taken note that Katha Niar still wore her civil service uniform, but that it had been turned inside out. Her hair seemed a bit unkempt, and her skin seemed a bit grimy. He decided not to address this with her, immediately.

    Instead he asked, “When is the meet to occur?”

    “I hope this evening is not too soon, Dark Lord,” Katha said, adding, “He expects you to arrive in the late afternoon to early evening.”

    Darth Nox nodded, pleased, and said, “Well done, Katha.”

    Turning to Virulous, he said, “You will accompany me.”

    “I am honored, Dark Lord,” Virulous said, dutifully as she bowed her head, “I look forward to working with you.”

    Turning to Khem Val, who practically filled the other side of the room with his bulk, Nox told the behemoth, “Sorry, Khem. You can’t go to this meeting. Do not worry, however. A chance will come for you to get out there and let out a little steam.”

    Khem Val only nodded acknowledgment of Nox’s assurance, but Nox could see the Dashade’s frustration. He could easily tell that Khem Val felt caged inside the tiny eight bedroom, eight bath, two story shack that was once occupied by the village chief and local realtor.

    Darth Nox turned to Katha Niar and observed, “You look rough. Why are you still wearing your civil service uniform – and it’s inside out, why?”

    Katha Niar bent to her knee and begged for clemency, pleading, “Forgive me, Dark Lord. I could not bring myself to wear the clothes of those whose slaughter I ordered, and I could not make myself to sleep in their homes. I slept in the speeder port of one of the businesses.”

    Darth Nox could feel her anxiety, fear, and abject guilt. He was conflicted. On the one hand, Nox wanted to kill the weakling. On the other hand, he knew he still needed her for the mission.

    “There is an inn at the village center,” he suggested, “I’m certain none of the locals lived at the inn. Why don’t you stay in one of the rooms? There is a clothing shop in the center of town, as well. Why don’t you get clothes from there?”

    Tears left Katha Niar’s eyes, but she kept her voice steady, confessing, “My mind is a mess, Dark Lord. I had not thought of this. I will see to it immediately, and I will pull myself together.”

    “Good. You are dismissed.” Darth Nox said in a neutral tone.

    Nox waited until he knew Katha would not hear after she’d left his presence.

    Turning his head to look at Khem Val, he asked, “If I ordered it, would you eat her?”

    Virulous was startled into laughter, but quickly regained her composure, becoming silent again. Nox cracked a small smile at Virulous’ mirth, but he kept his eyes on the Dashade.

    Khem Val had been shaking his head morosely, as he fumed about his cramped situation.

    “No, Master. There is very little meat on her bones, and she smells of defeat.” Turning his massive head to look Nox in the eye, he asked, “Does my master wish her dead?”

    Darth Nox’s small smile expanded as he leaned back in his commandeered office chair. He chuckled at Khem Val’s description of Katha Niar’s poor quality as food. Virulous, emboldened by the dark lord’s familiarity with her, allowed herself another brief chortle.

    “No, Khem,” Nox told his servant, “I still have need of her.”

    Still smiling, Nox returned his attention to the Black Ops’ reconnaissance report of Kinlo Plantation located in Westwater Settlements, which lay on his desk.

    He told his apprentice, “Darth Virulous, we must get moving. This place, Kinlo Plantation is far away, and Westwater Settlements is a pocket controlled by resistance fighters who are surrounded on all sides by the Hutt’s Regulator mercenary forces. We’ll have to do a lot of skulking about to sneak through the battle lines surrounding Westwater and to sneak into the Plantation, itself.”

    “I am ready, Dark Lord,” Virulous replied, dutifully.

    She was apprehensive. This would be her first time in a combat setting alongside her master. For the first time, she would actually see him operate in the field. She hoped she would not be a hindrance to him, and hoped for a chance to learn something new about The Force from him as well.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
  17. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Updated 15 June 2019.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    A Difficult Man To Keep Up With​


    Major Ordensk had put a high polish on his boots, and pressed his uniform until every unmilitary crease had been eradicated. Making sure that all of his insignia, medals and rank tabs were perfectly aligned, he pinned the representations of his distinguished seven year military career onto his dark grey uniform tunic. Placing his officer’s cap onto his head with his hair freshly trimmed with military precision, he made one final inspection in the glass mirror, which he found to be remarkable.

    Hand operated swinging doors instead of auto-slide doors,” he thought, amused, “domiciles constructed out of wood instead of resicrete or durasteel, glass wall-mounted mirrors instead of a real time personal holo-projector… These people truly lived primitively.

    Satisfied with what he saw in his reflection, he told himself, “If I’m going to die for delivering bad news to the dark lord, then I want to die as an Imperial Officer, with my head held high.

    His first stop was Lord Cytharat’s office in one of the professional office buildings in the business district.

    “Major Ordensk, why are you in your uniform? You know the dark lord’s orders are absolute.”


    “My lord, I wanted to give you the courtesy of making you aware of my intentions of going over your and Administrator Niar’s heads to speak directly to Darth Nox.”

    “What?! Why?! What do you think you’re up to?” Cytharat was plainly startled by the major’s declaration.

    “Based on the dark lord’s remarks to the officers in the warehouse, I’ve come to believe he had been given incorrect information about the status of the Isotope Five stockpile. I’m going to correct that.”

    “You actually think I would lie to Darth Nox?” Cytharat asked with incredulity. Then he became angry, demanding, “Are you actually calling me a liar?”

    “Forgive my impertinence, Lord Cytharat. However, I must report to the dark lord and correct his misconception of the situation.”

    Shaking his head in disbelief, Cytharat told him, “The administrator and I have no idea why the dark lord said what he said. We told him the truth, and he has given orders consistent with what we told him. I need you alive, Major. We must plan for the capture of the mines, and for the evacuation of our people from this planet. But if you insist on throwing your life away, tell me who your replacement is and then go report to the dark lord at his residence.”

    “Capturing the mines? Evacuate the planet? I thought this was a one way mission,” Trent Ordensk said, further confusing the issue for Cytharat.

    “The stockpile is gone,” Cytharat reminded the major, “So, we need the mines, and the dark lord has ordered their capture. Black Ops have already departed to capture the mining engineers to operate the mining lasers.

    “I need you alive to lead your troops in the capture of those mines, and later to capture any ships, that we can, for our evacuation. If the dark lord slays you for your impertinence towards him, the morale of your men will become much worse than it is now. They will become less than useless for the coming operations.”

    Major Ordensk, standing at attention before Cytharat’s desk, had to decide whether this was yet another lie.

    “My lord, you know that the very existence of the Sith Empire is at stake. I’ll trust that you have the best interests of the Empire at heart, and that you are not merely trying to avoid death.”

    Cytharat compressed his lips as outrage coursed through his body. He had never been so scandalized by a mere Imperial before. He rose slowly to his feet from behind his desk.

    “I will not have my loyalty to the Sith Emperor, nor to the Sith Empire questioned again!” He blasted at the major as he leaned against his desk with both hands planted on it, adding for emphasis, “Especially not by mere low class fodder, such as you! Get out of my sight before I cut you down!”

    “Yes, Sir!” Ordensk stomped his boot, rendering a sharp salute. He turned smartly about and marched out of Cytharat’s office.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The stealth infiltration dropship vanished from view as it lifted off. Its already nearly silent engines quickly faded to imperception, as the craft left Darth Nox and Darth Virulous on the top level of a parking structure which scanners indicated had no one posted on it.

    Through The Force, Darth Nox felt the anxiety of a few of the Hutts’ Regulators in the parking level below. He surmised they must have heard the drop ship’s engines since they were so near, only one parking level below the top of the structure. He motioned at Virulous to follow him.

    Nox took cover, hiding behind the burned out husks of speeders which had been parked there since before the fighting had started between the Regulators and the Makebi freedom fighters. Virulous hid behind the same speeders, crouching beside Nox, keeping her eyes on the ramp which led up from the level below.

    The helmeted heads of two Regulator mercenary fighters came into view, sixty meters away, as they cautiously ascended the ramp with their weapons at the ready. Darth Nox, who’d been crouching right next to her, vanished, not only from view, but she couldn’t feel his presence either. She turned her head to look at where Nox had knelt beside her.

    Impulsively, Virulous reached her hand to where she’d last seen her master, but at that instant she heard the unmistakable deadly hum of a lightsaber cutting through the air and its crashing buzz as it cut through armor. She snapped her head to look at where the mercenaries were ascending the ramp. All she saw there was Darth Nox’s murderous scowl aimed at her. He stood partway down the ramp where the mercenaries had been.

    She quickly got out from behind the wrecked speeder and ran towards her master. Nox immediately took a few steps up the ramp, pointing furiously, urgently towards her right. As she ran towards Nox, on the ramp on the left side of the parking structure, she turned her gaze to the right corner of the structure and spotted two mercenaries emerging from the stairwell.

    The two quickly started to take aim at her with their blaster rifles. Virulous executed a Force technique that made her vanish from sight. She quickly dashed to the right and ducked behind a wreck as the two men fired their blaster rifles wildly, hoping to hit something.

    Virulous knew she couldn’t let her master bail her out of her blunder. That would show utter weakness. She activated her shield generator and ran along the low wall behind the parked wreck where she had taken cover. Then turning to run towards the two shooters, she tried to close the distance to them. Forty meters was too far for her Force Lightning attack to reach. She got to within twenty five meters when one of the shooters began to perceive her presence. He could hear her running steps.

    As he turned his weapon in her direction to shoot, Virulous blasted both fighters with Force Lightning. Both mercenaries were knocked off of their feet, falling onto their backs and writhing on the soot stained resicrete surface. She quickly ran up to the two helpless mercenary fighters and impaled them both, one after the other, with her lightsaber, stabbing them three times each, alternating between the two.

    Virulous quickly approached the stairwell the two had emerged from, looking down the stairs for approaching enemies. Finding none, she turned towards the ramp, where she’d last seen Nox, but Nox was right behind her. Virulous was quite startled by his sudden and undetected appearance so close to her.

    Darth Nox worked to keep his anger on a short leash, as he told her, “Now they all know there is a problem here. They will converge here in numbers. We must move quickly.”

    He looked over the low wall, down the side of the three story parking structure and into the narrow alley way below.

    Returning his angry gaze to Virulous, he asked, “Please tell me that you can at least slow your descent with The Force. We may need to jump down to escape.”

    Virulous felt that her master was unnecessarily belittling her with his biting sarcasm, nevertheless she replied respectfully.

    “Yes, Dark Lord, I can.”

    Virulous ran after her master when he suddenly took off towards the far end of the parking structure, dodging the rusted burned out husks of parked speeders along the way. On that end of the parking structure, next door, was a two story building with a hole on its roof. Without even slowing down to assess the situation, Nox leapt off of the parking structure and onto the roof of the building next door. Then almost immediately, he jumped down into the hole in the roof.

    Virulous was close behind her master, leaping onto the roof of the two story office building. However, she hesitated at the hole in the roof. Looking down the hole, she found her master finishing the slaughter of four Regulator mercenaries in the conference room. They were already falling dead, as she looked down into the hole.

    Did he know they were in the room before he jumped in?” Virulous wondered, and considering that she was no more than a second behind her master, she thought in astonishment, “His instincts are ridiculously sharp!

    Not wishing to fall behind, she finally leapt down the hole into the room as Nox exited the conference room into the hallway. She was shocked at the carnage in the conference room. It seemed Nox had slaughtered a squad of Regulators in the middle of a briefing, and not just the four she initially saw him cut down.

    With quite some consternation, Virulous thought, “There must be at least twelve dead men in here! He killed all of them in that short a span?!

    Virulous didn’t stop to get an exact count the dead. She didn’t waste any time gawking at Nox’s slaughter, but when she stepped into the hallway, she barely caught sight of the back side of her master as he ducked around a corner at the far end of the hallway. Virulous picked up the pace, but when she got to the end of the hallway, on her right where her master had turned, she found a stairwell.

    At the bottom of the stairs was a hole blasted into the side of the building with explosives during the fighting where a doorway used to be. She could see the street through the gaping hole in what was left of the wall. She didn’t see her master, there, and panicked.

    Leaping all the way to the bottom, from the top of the stairs, she dashed out of the building and into the street, but found no sign of Darth Nox anywhere on the street in either direction. With a pang of dread, Virulous began to consider that her master was proving to be a difficult man to keep up with.

    Mercenaries from the Regulators mercenary organization began to approach the parking structure. Virulous ducked back into the hole blown into the wall, at the bottom of the stairs, and began to concentrate on The Force, using it to search for her master, feeling for his presence.

    Nox, waiting for Virulous in the burned out husk that was once a small grocery store, felt his apprentice’s attempt to feel for his presence and let out a tiny hint of his aura for Virulous to detect. Very shortly thereafter, he felt her focusing on his presence.

    She has a lot of potential,” he thought, adding with some frustration, “but she lacks focus. There is much for her to learn. I hope she’ll be able to keep up with my teachings.

    Meanwhile, Virulous ducked between burnt and smashed speeders heaped on the street. She crouched in the shadows of the piles of rubble from crumbled office buildings and collapsed shops and used any other structure still standing along the way to conceal her movements. Pausing beside a toppled wall, she looked back along the street, and watched as the Regulators, just then, began to tactically enter the parking structure she and her master had abandoned moments before.

    Another squad of Regulators had also deployed to the two story office building, which she and her master had used to egress the parking structure. She surmised they went to check up on the squad that had been using the office building as a squad barracks. With the burst of blaster fire from those two mercenaries at the top of the parking structure, she imagined that there was a lot of communications traffic and that the squad, slaughtered by Nox, had failed to answer their platoon commander’s transmissions.

    Blast!” Virulous thought in disgust, “As soon as they see the carnage the dark lord has left in his wake, they will sound the alarm and widen their search!

    Virulous dashed to the next pile of rubble. As she had done at the top of the parking structure, she used The Force to bend the light around her to blend in with the pile of broken resicrete, twisted durasteel, and other materials on which she lay. She was about to leave the pile of rubble, when two mercenaries took up positions on the rubble, not three meters from her. Virulous knew that no matter how carefully she moved, the mercenaries would immediately notice her presence. They would hear her movements on the debris.

    The two soldiers were looking away from her. Since she was not in their field of view, she could not Force Persuade them into not noticing her presence. She decided to sleep them.

    Virulous concentrated on The Force, building up a brain-slowing pulse of Force energy, as she had done on Tatooine. She unleashed it at the two men. They became groggy, but neither man fell asleep. They shook their heads as they both fought off their sleepiness.

    Concentrating on The Force a second time, she used Force Persuasion on their auditory senses.

    She stretched her arm towards the two men and whispered, “Sleep,” as she again blasted them with a brain slowing pulse.

    The two mercenaries dropped their heads, instantly, deeply asleep on the rubble on which they’d taken watch positions. Virulous wasted no time getting away from that pile of rubble and the two sleeping Regulator mercenaries. She made a mad dash for the grocery store, what was left of it, across the wide street.

    Darth Nox had been watching from his perch within the burned out structure, thinking, “So much potential, but she has many flaws of which she must be rid.

    Nox made notes on his datapad on what he needed to discuss with his apprentice for another time and then returned it to its niche on his utility belt as Virulous made her mad dash across the rubble strewn road. When she entered the ruined building, she suddenly found herself face to face with the dark lord. Breathing heavily from her exertions, she pulled back her hood and removed her armored mask, attaching it to her utility belt.

    Nox motioned for her to follow him deeper into the ruined store. He sat on the edge of an emptied and non functioning cooler, while Virulous sat on the dusty floor, resting her back against a wall.

    Without preamble, in a low voice, Nox told his apprentice, “You certainly have potential, but you need to work on a few skills. When we return to base, I’ll go over a few things with you.”

    Virulous was pleasantly surprised and excited by her master’s promise to share knowledge with her. Her gratitude was obvious in her tone and was plainly expressed on her face, but remembering to keep her voice low, she replied, “Thank you, Master!” Remembering her short comings from the very start of their mission, however, she added contritely, “I am deeply sorry that I’m giving you so much trouble and for slowing you down, Dark Lord.”

    Nox replied as though he had expected her lack-luster performance.

    “You are at my level when I was a young Sith and my master threw me to the packs of wild tukata. I had a rough time of it starting out, but I survived and learned a few tricks along the way. I’ll teach you some of the more important ones.”

    Virulous watched as her master closed his eyes and whispered, “Not here. Move on.

    She became startled when she heard a voice coming from the road so near to the shop she and her master had hid within.

    “Not here! Move on!”

    She wasn’t aware anyone was out on the street approaching the shop.

    How did he know they were there?” she asked herself in wonder, “It’s the same as when he knew the mercenaries were coming up to the top level of the parking structure, even though he could not see them, the same as when he knew the squad was in that office, before he jumped down the hole in the roof.

    Opening his eyes, Nox whispered to her, “It seems the Regulators have found the messes you and I have made in the parking structure and in the office building. They are now looking for….” He closed his eyes again and, after a moment, began to smile as he finished his statement, “Jedi. They are blaming the Jedi for the slaughter we left behind.” Pleased, Nox nodded his head, observing, “This works out well for us. It means they are not aware of the Empire’s presence on Makeb.”

    Again, Virulous was astonished to hear the dark lord’s announcement.

    How does he know what they are talking about? How can he know what they are saying from here?” she asked herself, and then speculated, “Maybe he is using The Force to read their thoughts? Is that even possible?! Or perhaps he had used The Force to hear their words from the great distance and through the walls of the ruined buildings?

    She had meant to ask him about it, but Nox started to speak.

    “We’ll have to be late for our meeting. The search is too intense. I could make it out alone, to make it on time, but you’d end up getting captured.”

    Nox could see the shame on her down turned face.

    “Learn well from your mistakes and do not repeat them,” he admonished.

    Virulous nodded her acknowledgment, whispering dutifully, “Yes, Master.”


    She then watched as Nox closed his eyes again, whispering, “This is not the place. We’ll go across the road.

    Another voice outside of the ruins of the grocery store repeated loudly, gruffly, “This is not the place. We’ll go across the road.”

    The voice of another mercenary replied, “I thought this is where...”

    Nox whispered quickly as the mercenary objected, “I said, not here.

    The first mercenary replied angrily, cutting off his subordinate soldier, “What?! Did a haba bug eat your brains?! I said, not here!”

    The voices of several men, laughing, erupted from the street in front of the ruined store as the second mercenary replied defensively.

    “Alright, already! You don’t have to yell about it, Sarge.”

    “It seems to me like I do! You keep asking me dumb questions!”

    More raucous laughter, attenuating as the squad of soldiers moved away from the front of the ruined store.

    Virulous whispered, “Eventually someone is going to figure it out, Dark Lord.”

    Darth Nox nodded once to show he concurred.

    Virulous saw her chance and asked, whispering, “Dark Lord, how do you know that they seek Jedi? How did you hear them?”

    In answer, Nox decided to reveal a secret, but not the secret she asked about.

    “Force Persuasion techniques require that the subject have visual contact with the Force user. They don’t need to know you’re there. In fact, in some cases it’s best they don’t know you’re there, but you do need to be within their field of view to affect their subconscious mind.

    “That is when you have the best success with the use of Force Shroud. You don’t simply vanish from their sight. From their point of view, you never were there to start with, and you continue to remain out of their awareness even when you stand right beside them. That is, if you become proficient with this technique.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord. I know this, but isn’t it easier to just bend light around you to keep your image from reaching their eyes?”

    “Virulous, tell me the difference between Force Concealment and Force Shroud.”

    Virulous replied, somewhat annoyed, “They are essentially the same, Master. In Force Concealment, you bend the light around you, so that anyone around you cannot see you. Your reflected light does not reach their eyes. In this case, you don’t need to seize control of their subconscious minds.

    “In Force Shroud, you also conceal your presence from them but you can only target individuals when you are within their field of view since it requires you to seize control of their subconscious minds. It is much more difficult, and requires a great deal more concentration to pull off.”

    “There is another difference,” Nox replied, “In Force Concealment, they can still hear you, and can use other ways to find you. In Force Shroud, you are not at all within their awareness. They don’t see, nor hear you, even if you stand right in front of them whistling a tune. It is with that technique that you can approach with your lightsaber ignited, and your subject would not see nor hear your weapon.”

    Virulous understood this. She’d experienced it with Juuldis in her desperate battle at the spaceport to bring her back to The Citadel on Dromund Kaas.

    Nox continued his impromptu lesson.

    “Then you also know that to change someone’s mind using Force Persuasion, you need to be in their presence, and in their subconscious awareness. You must insinuate your will upon your subject but make them believe it is their own will to act in accordance to your agenda.”

    Virulous was about to answer that she knew this also, but stopped as she realized, for the first time, that Nox was not in the presence, nor in the field of view, of the soldiers out in the street.

    Mystified, she asked, “How were you able to use Force Persuasion without being in their presence or in their field of view, Master?”

    Nox’s serious facade changed ever so slightly, as he cracked the tiniest smile. He was pleased that she was paying attention, and that she had asked exactly the right question.

    However, he wanted her to figure it out herself, so he went on to tell her, “I left you behind, lost you. You were forced to use The Force to seek me out. I allowed a sliver of my aura to seep out, so that you could find me.”

    Nox paused to let Virulous think on his words.

    “Yes, Dark Lord. I found you, because you let me find you.”

    “Did you feel the presence of anyone else, besides mine?” Nox asked dryly.

    “Only a few of the mercenaries near my vicinity, Dark Lord,” she replied, wondering where her master was going with this line of inquiry.

    Darth Nox strongly urged her, “Train this ability to sense the presence of others, not only nearby but far from you, above you, below you. Do not only sense their presence, but also feel their emotions.” He added for emphasis, “Do not only train your ability to sense those with The Force. That is easy, if they do not mask their presence. Train your ability to sense those who do not have The Force. That is much harder to do, but it is an important skill which makes the difference between avoiding a platoon of enemy soldiers or running into them.”

    This is how he knew exactly where the mercenaries were on the parking structure, in the office building, and outside of this shop,” Virulous thought. Aloud, she told her master, “Sensing your presence was like seeing a very tiny spark a very long ways away, in the dark, but sensing the mercenaries was like seeing dark, ill defined shapes in a darkened room, my lord.”

    “Yes,” Nox said, “and if you wish to manipulate these dark, ill defined shapes in the darkened room, you must also feel their emotions. It is an essential skill.” Then he asked his apprentice, “What do you sense around us now?”

    Virulous closed her eyes and concentrated. Reaching out with The Force, she searched for the presence of the mercenaries. She became alarmed. Her eyes popped open, revealing her shocked surprise.

    She whispered, with great apprehension, “Master, we are surrounded! There are hundreds of them!”

    Nox nodded both his approval and his agreement, smiling as he remarked, “Yes, we are in a bit of a fix.”

    The gravity of their situation hit her like a ton of bricks. Nox could feel the fear within her, and felt her anxiety begin to grow quickly.

    “Use your fear to increase your own awareness, to make you more aggressive, to give you power. Do not let it overwhelm you,” he cautioned her.

    “Yes, Master.”

    Virulous swallowed hard and gulped back her growing panic. Closing her eyes she willed herself to remain in command of herself. In so doing she turned her fear into determination.

    Nox nodded his approval.

    “You know that emotions are powerful tools,” he told his apprentice, “that we can use to harness the power of The Force, but sometimes those powerful emotions can get in the way of good judgment. You must be the master of your emotions at all times. Never let your feelings master you.

    “This is a mistake the Jedi constantly make,” he said derisively, “They think that powerful emotions, which increase mastery of the Dark Side of The Force, always lead to self destruction. They fail to understand this is only true if you do not become master of your emotions.

    “Their fear of The Dark Side prevents them from trusting themselves with their emotions. They seek to smother their emotions with utter peace and tranquility. It is why the Jedi are weak, and why those Jedi that do try, will never master the Dark Side of The Force. They allow their emotions to run away with them. However, there are Sith who do not understand this, either. They too fall to ruin because they do not master their feelings.”

    Nox became pleased as he sensed her fear become a fierce determination to fight for survival.

    “As an exercise,” he proposed, “why don’t you find a mercenary who is filled with anger, and induce him into a brawl with his fellows?”

    Nox could see the uncertainty in her eyes. He could see she did not understand.

    “Have you ever gotten that feeling that someone was there,” he asked his apprentice, “but after looking around, you found no one there?”

    Nodding in the affirmative, Virulous answered, “The feeling that you are being watched, Dark Lord.”

    Pointing at his apprentice, he affirmed, “That is how you establish your presence. When your subject gets that feeling, that is your presence, and that’s when you impose your will on his subconscious.”

    “I understand, Master,” Virulous said, nodding her comprehension.

    “Make your subject feel that he is being mocked by someone near him,” Nox instructed, “and incite him to brawl his mates.”

    Virulous closed her eyes. Concentrating, she used The Force to search further out until she sensed a Regulator mercenary a few street intersections away in a very poor mood. She insinuated her presence until she could sense that he was urgently looking around, as though searching.

    She then planted the idea that one of his comrades was making a mockery of him. She guided his imagination, causing him to believe that he needed to teach his squad mate a lesson. Before she knew it, he was in a brawl with his sergeant. Naturally, the sergeant knocked him out cold, and she lost her connection to the hapless soldier.

    When she opened her eyes, she found herself breathing hard from the effort. She also found a very pleased dark lord of the Sith, smiling and nodding at her success.

    Virulous bowed to her master, telling him, “Thank you, Dark Lord, for sharing your knowledge with me.”

    “I hope to be able to impart much deeper and darker secrets to you in the times ahead.” Darth Nox told his apprentice.

    Nodding his satisfaction, Nox gave her a new assignment.

    “Now use this technique to get all of the soldiers nearby to sense your presence the same way you did to that soldier, and this time you will use Force Shroud. When we leave here, we shall make our way to the East towards the farmlands. You shall enshroud both yourself and me.”

    Virulous felt the task was beyond her. Nox could sense her doubt.

    “You have extended the range you can sense others and used Force Persuasion without actually being in their presence. You have already grown. This is merely the next logical extension of what you have learned. You are using Force Shroud, but this time you are affecting many at once and not just a few at a time.”

    More than ever, now that her master was favoring her by imparting his knowledge to her, Virulous did not wish to be seen as weak to him. She closed her eyes and, exerting great concentration, blanketed the area with her presence.

    Attenuated through the ruined walls and broken windows of the grocery shop, she could hear the voices of several soldiers inquiring of each other if anyone had searched the structure she and her master hid within.

    One of the soldiers, apparently someone with rank ordered some of his troops, “You three! Go search that building!”

    Nox smiled as Virulous then executed Force Shroud. Virulous pulled the hood of her robe over her head. Then she carefully crept out of the ruined shop and walked gingerly passed soldiers who were oblivious of her passing. Nox’s initial worry was that she’d forgotten to shroud him with The Force, too. However, those worries were laid to rest as he passed a few soldiers without incident.

    They continued like this, covering a few hundred meters, until Nox started to notice soldiers around him and his apprentice begin to jump at their shadows.

    One of the mercenaries asked his comrades, “Hey… Did you guys hear something?”

    When a noncommissioned officer jumped to his feet and jerked his head directly at him, Nox drew his sabrestaff, but did not ignite it.

    The staff sergeant sighed heavily, telling his lieutenant, “Damn it, Sir! I could have sworn that I heard someone right behind us!”

    Nox realized that Virulous was starting to lose focus. He spoke in a normal conversational tone.

    “How are you holding up?”

    Virulous became greatly startled, snap-turning her head to look at the lieutenant and his staff sergeant. She became astonished when she saw the two continue their game of sabacc as if nothing were amiss. They hadn’t heard the dark lord say a thing. Nox saw then that her face was covered by her armored mask, which he hadn’t seen her put on and which her hood had concealed.

    Although he could not see the sweat rolling down her face under her mask, nor see her hair matted down with sweat under her hood, he could see her shoulders and her chest heaving, and he could hear her labored breathing. It was plain to see, Virulous was exhausted. Again, he spoke conversationally.

    “Darth Virulous, I’ll take over from here.”

    “Thank you Dark Lord,” Virulous whispered, expressing her gratitude, adding, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”

    Darth Nox took the lead, with Darth Virulous following behind her master.

    “This is an indication that although you are strong in The Force,” Nox said conversationally, “you do not have much stamina. You need to work on improving your stamina.”

    Following his example, Virulous replied in a normal tone.

    “Yes, Master. I will make that a priority.”

    Inside, she was giddy because Nox acknowledged her power, but her giddiness was tempered by his critique that she had low stamina. Yet, she was nevertheless, very happy. Virulous forcefully brought herself to the hear and now, looking up as Nox pointed at Makeb’s star, as the two continued to casually walk past mercenaries on very high alert.

    “It’s already past the mid day,” he said, adding, “At this pace, we will arrive mid to late evening. We need to pick up the pace so that we may at least arrive in the late afternoon. Try to keep up.”

    With that, Nox took off at an easy running pace, aided by The Force. Virulous ran after him.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Trent Ordensk walked quite a ways up the road away from the town center and turned left into a side road that ended in a cul-de-sac. At the end of the cul-de-sac was a very large two story ranch style house. As he approached the white picket fence at the front of the property, a huge beast seemed to squeeze his way out the front door. It proceeded to stand in the front porch, crossing its huge arms across its massive chest.

    Major Ordensk decided to remain outside the fence and not enter the property. He raised his voice so that he could be heard from the road.

    “Major Trent Ordensk, commanding officer of the 31st Battalion 77th Regiment, reporting. I request an audience with the dark lord, my lord.”

    “What do you want with my master, little human?” the beast demanded.

    There were rumors circulating that the monster had been leaving the village, traveling down to the lower end of the valley to the road. It was said that he’d been ambushing passing speeders. The rumors were coming from Black Ops who’d been conducting long range reconnaissance patrols of the mining complexes beyond the end of the valley in the lowlands.

    Major Trent Ordensk decided to investigate the veracity of the rumors. If true, it could prove to be a serious security issue that would need to be addressed with Darth Nox. In the meantime, he had other business to attend.

    “I have a report to deliver to Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith. I must see him.”

    The monster stared intently at the major in long silence. A rivulet of drool escaped the corner of its mouth. The behemoth beast swallowed to clear the saliva in its mouth before it gave a reply.

    “My master is not here. He has left, with his apprentice, on a mission.”

    “What mission, my lord?” Major Ordensk asked.

    No matter how brutish the behemoth appeared, he was the personal attendant of Darth Nox. He rated being addressed as my lord.

    “His business is none of yours, little human. When he has returned, I shall tell him you have a report for him. Now, be gone! I am hungry, and you smell delicious.”

    Major Ordensk immediately stomped his boot, saluted, then turned about before briskly marching away as ordered. During a briefing, shortly after the arrival of Darth Nox, Cytharat had told him and Katha that the beast was a Dashade, and that Dashades ate Force sensitive beings, even if they didn’t use The Force. Lord Cytharat also said that when Force sensitives were in short supply, Dashades settled for non-Force sensitives for their meals.

    As he marched briskly back towards the center of town, away from the lavish two story house assigned to Darth Nox, Trent couldn’t help but imagine the Dashade attacking him from behind to make a meal out of him.

    I guess if the dark lord is unavailable, then the dark lord is unavailable. Can’t be helped,” he told himself, adding, “No sense waiting around and risk getting eaten.

    Then the worst possible situation occurred to him. If it turned out to be true, it would prove to be a very dangerous situation for the mission.

    I’ll need to take roll of all of our personnel. If any are missing, then maybe he’s been eating them...
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
  18. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Updated 25 June 19

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    A Meeting With The Avestas​


    A few hours later, Nox and Virulous ran down an embankment into a dried out irrigation channel. From his utility belt, he immediately brought out and activated a holo-projector which produced a holographic three dimensional map of their current location, marking his and Virulous’ positions with two tiny bright red dots.

    After studying the map for a bit, he announced in a low voice, “It looks like we’ve finally lost our freedom fighter pursuers. We’re only five hundred meters out from Avesta’s plantation house, but we’ll have to be just as careful of Pollus Avesta’s guards as we were with the freedom fighters’ and the Regulators’ defensive positions. As you’ve experienced, electronic sensors and traps are immune to Force Persuasion and Force Shroud. Heh. Heh. Heh.”

    Despite her exhaustion, Virulous became amazed that Nox had shared a joke with her. Although, fighting off the seeker mines and the troops who monitored the minefields was not the least bit funny to her.

    She learned that despite Force Shroud, once the droids started shooting at them, the human and alien warriors, on both sides, used their scanners to sniff them out. They spent the better part of two hours staying several steps ahead of their pursuers, finally shaking free of the Makebi freedom fighters several kilometers back.

    Nox made as though to climb up the embankment, to leave the irrigation channel.

    Still breathing hard from the exertions of the long forced jog and the bursts of hard running to escape their pursuers, Virulous pleaded, “Dark Lord, let us catch our breath, please.”

    Virulous could see the annoyance on Nox’s face as he turned to look down the slope at his apprentice, sitting at the bottom of the opposite embankment. Virulous had pulled back the hood of her robe and removed her armored mask. Her normally pale cream skin was flushed red, covered in sweat, and her hair was soaked and matted down with her sweat. She panted heavily for air. Seeing the condition she was in forced him to reluctantly accept the fact that his apprentice needed to rest. He had no other choice, so he decided to go back down and sit beside her.

    Blast! I thought she was in better shape than this!” he fumed to himself.

    “Very well, catch your breath,” he acquiesced, telling her, “I need you fresh and focused when we confront Avesta.”

    After some thought, he decided to share his thoughts of possible betrayal with his apprentice.

    “It was kind of them to accept our request for a meeting, but it may be a trap. They may have deluded themselves into thinking that Imperial prisoners might make a nice bargaining token to exchange for favors from the Republic.”

    As he sat beside his apprentice, waiting for her to catch her breath, Nox got an idea.

    “You shall hide your presence with Force Shroud,” he told Virulous, “while I approach in the open. Stay close to me and keep alert for sensors and traps.”

    Virulous, still panting for air, replied “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Nox decided to give another short impromptu lecture.

    “Virulous, you need more exercise,” he admonished her. “You lack stamina, both physically, and in The Force.”

    Virulous’ exhaustion showed through her smile as she leaned back against the earthen embankment.

    “Dark Lord, it is painfully clear that if I want to keep up with you, that I must get into much better shape.”

    She laughed at herself.

    Thinking Virulous was making light of him and of his advice, Nox became incensed.

    “Oh?” he asked, conversationally, “What did you find so funny?”

    Turning her head to look at her master, she saw the anger in his eyes. Virulous remembered who exactly it was that sat next to her. She sat up straight and hurriedly explained herself to her master, all traces of mirth gone from her face.

    “I was laughing at myself, Dark Lord. I thought I was already in great shape, but being on this mission with you has shown me that I’m not quite in good of shape as I believed.”

    Darth Nox’s anger faded from his facade, but he then took on an inquisitive air about him as he appraised his apprentice for a moment.

    “You served as an officer of the Imperial Reclamation Service,” he observed, “You must be in great physical condition.”

    Virulous sensed that his statement was more a question than an observation.

    “Dark Lord, you ran all this way without stopping once for breath. Even now, you’re not winded.”

    Nox cut in before she could say more.

    “Yes. I am in peak physical condition. I train daily, unless I’m out on a mission. Yet, I don’t rely on my physical conditioning alone. I augment my physical exertions with The Force.”

    He paused to see what she would say. Virulous’ silence was telling to Nox.

    He thought, “This is yet another thing that had not dawned on her to make her life a little easier.

    “You’re one of those, aren’t you?” he asked.

    Virulous adopted a poker face, too late. He couldn’t see from her expressionless facade what she might be thinking, and the fact that she had learned very well how to shield her thoughts from him with The Force, made it impossible for him to sense her emotions. Her silence, however, told him that she didn’t understand what he’d meant.

    “You’re one of those who like doing things the hard way,” Nox said, shaking his fist for emphasis, “just to make things a real challenge.”

    Virulous abandoned her poker face, showing her disappointment, as she tilted her gaze downward, past the toes of her boots.

    Shaking her head side to side, she told her master, “No, Dark Lord. I’m just a dunce. It did not occur to me to use The Force to aid my endurance running.” Kicking herself mentally and annoyed with herself, she added, “I use The Force to speed me in battle, or to overpower larger, stronger enemies, but it didn’t occur to me to use it for long distance running.”

    “One must think up new and innovative ways to use The Force to make one’s life simpler,” Nox said. Then counting them off on his fingers, he gave a few examples. “Starting camp fires, fishing, moving crates to reorganize warehouses, running long distances without tiring oneself out, opening archaic wooden doors…”

    Virulous felt that she needed to explain her lack of imagination.

    “I’ve always viewed The Force as a weapon to manipulate others or to destroy one’s foes in battle,” she said, “It never occurred to me that it could also be used as a household time saving wonder tool. I’ve never used The Force for frivolous activities.”

    “You are limited with what you can achieve with The Force by your own imagination. What you think of as frivolous activities are everyday life necessities,” Nox replied, adding a bit sharply, “If you cannot envision it then you will never be able to fully realize the power of The Force, let alone the Dark Side of The Force.”

    “Thank you, Master, for your patience with me,” Virulous said, solemnly, “I will live up to your expectations. I will not fail you.”

    “As it should be,” Nox said, nodding his affirmation.

    Rising to her feet and brushing the earthen dust from her bottom, Virulous declared, “I am ready to go, Dark Lord.”

    Rising to his feet and dusting himself off, Nox admonished his apprentice, “Remain shrouded in The Force the entire time I confer with Pollus Avesta. Even if I’m threatened, do not come out of hiding until I say so, or if I’m actually attacked.”

    “Yes, Master.”

    Nox and Virulous climbed up the embankment of the dried out irrigation channel and into a field that had been growing fallow. The field was overgrown with tall wild grasses, weeds, the occasional shrub, and even a few crop plants, scattered here and there. Makeb’s star was behind the two of them, in the late afternoon, but still shone brightly and hotly.

    As they walked through the field, Virulous walked behind Nox in the trail made by her master through the vegetation. The two emerged from the field and entered a very large opening paved with rough, white gravel. A few speeders were parked in the gravel lot. Four men, armed with blaster rifles, emerged from the two story house on the far side of the open gravel lot and approached Darth Nox. A few others peered out from the opened windows of the two story ranch style house.

    He stopped halfway into the gravel lot when one of the men ordered him, “Hold it right there.”

    The four men were intently focused on him, fanning out to form a semi-circular line around the dark lord. Virulous was not even in their awareness, as she stood a few meters behind her master.

    The man, whom Nox decided was their leader spoke again, this time asking, “How in damnation did you even get here?”

    Nox pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the countryside that stretched into the distant horizon and said in his painfully obvious Imperial Basic accent, “After getting dropped by shuttle in the city thirty kilometers that way, I ran to here.”

    The man replied incredulously, “Yeah, Right! You walked through Regulator lines and then through our lines, and you didn’t get shot up by neither! And you ran the whole way from there?! Nerf-turds!”

    “I am the man Pollus Avesta is waiting to meet,” Nox said, simply, while using Force Persuasion, “You will take me to him.”

    “I suppose you’re the man Master Avesta is waiting to meet with,” the man replied, somewhat unsure, but added, “I better get you to him. Come on then. And no funny business!” he jabbed a finger at Nox for emphasis.

    The four men led Nox into the ranch house and straight to Pollus Avesta’s office on the second floor. Pollus sat, dumb founded, behind his desk, shaking his head slowly in disbelief as he looked at each of his four men.

    “You had one job. ONE DAMNED JOB!” he shouted, slamming his desk top with the palm of his hand. “All you had to do was to keep dangerous people away from me. But what did you go and do? You brought none other than Darth Nox himself INTO MY OFFICE!!!”

    Having lost his composure, Pollus had bolted to his feet as he shouted the last part of his tirade.

    The leader of his security detail replied, bewildered, “But Master Avesta, this is the man you was waiting to meet.”

    Recovering his composure, Avesta resumed his seat as he shifted his eyes to Darth Nox.

    “Is that what you tricked them into thinking?”

    “My people and your people arranged a meeting between you and an Imperial official,” Darth Nox said, dryly. “Did they not?”

    Pollus leaned back in his office chair, shaking his head in amazed disbelief.

    “I wasn’t expecting an actual dark councilor!” he nearly shouted.

    “Now you know that any deals I make with you have the actual weight of the Sith Empire behind it,” Nox assured Pollus.

    Pollus nodded his head sagely, realizing that he was in over his head.

    He thought to himself, “What does the blamed Sith Empire want with Makeb?!” Aloud, he asked Nox, “What does the blamed… Uh… Sith Empire want with Makeb?”

    Darth Nox, just starting to lose patience with the disrespect aimed at him, replied with a slight edge in his tone, “Aren’t you going to invite your very important guest to have a seat and make himself at home?”

    Pollus Avesta gave a huff for a chuckle as he conceded in reply, “My esteemed guest, please sit down. Make yourself at ho… Make yourself comfortable. Don’t start thinking you can make yourself at home, though.”

    As soon as Nox sat, he eyed the bottles of spirituous liquids on a shelf, next to the window, behind Pollus.

    Pollus swiveled his chair to look back over his shoulder.

    Realizing what his guest’s eyes longed after, he offered, “Care for a drink?”

    “Yes. I’d like one,” Nox replied with a forced faint smile which plainly failed to reach his eyes, “It was quite a chore getting to your plantation, and I’m parched.”

    “I hope you’ll forgive me, but the holo-vids of you do you no justice,” Pollus observed, shivering involuntarily, “You look much more evil and menacing in person.”

    The forced smile quickly eroding from his facade, Nox spoke to his host with a sharper edge in his tone.

    “I’m trying to be civil, here. Why can’t you return the favor?”

    Pollus set two shot glasses onto his desk. He filled them both, then sliding one of them towards his guest, offered a toast.

    “Here’s to good manners and civility,” he said, clearly not meaning it.

    Nox lifted his shot glass, in toast, and then took a hefty pull from it.

    Raising his eyebrows in appreciation, the dark lord asked, “What is this? This is quite good.”

    “Give me your shipping address.” Pollus replied, intending sarcasm, “I’ll send you a crate.”

    Darth Nox gave his business shipping address on Dromund Kaas.

    Pollus didn’t copy it down. He had no intention of sending a dark lord on the Dark Council any gifts.

    Instead he got to the point, asking, “So, why are you here?”

    Patience, they will serve my aims,” Nox had been repeating to himself, “Patience, they will serve my aims...,

    With his forced pleasant facade on the verge of becoming a scowl, and barely keeping his composure, Nox replied as calmly as his building anger allowed him.

    “I’m here to help you with your Hutt problem, and I’m here to make life miserable for the Republic. I’m here to offer you enough weapons to field a large resistance army. I’m offering blaster rifles, anti-tank and anti-air weapons.”

    Pollus, shocked at what he heard, and greatly suspicious of his guest’s motivations, shot straight to the point.

    “What do you want in return?”

    “Call off your membership with the Republic. I know they’re twisting your arms, offering military aid, but only if you sacrifice your independence and join the Galactic Republic. They are willing to land a large Republic military force to drive off the Regulators and send the Hutts packing off-world. All you’d have to do is sell your soul to them. They want exclusive mining rights to Makeb’s mineral wealth.

    “I want to deny all of that to the Galactic Republic. Simultaneous to this, I want to crush Hutt imperial ambitions. I want to quash it here on Makeb, before they think they can challenge the Sith Empire. Finally, I want Makeb to negotiate business arrangements with the Sith Empire.

    Mainly, we want access to Makeb’s resources. No membership in the Sith Empire is required, and your business arrangements need not be exclusive to the Sith Empire. Maintaining your neutrality and independence is important to us.”

    Filled with incredulous disbelief at what he heard Nox say, Pollus asked, “How do you know so much about our deal with the Republic? And why is our independence so important to you?”

    “We are at war with the Republic. Of course we spy on everything they’re doing,” Nox answered, as though Pollus had asked a stupid question.

    In truth, the Black Ops teams had ferreted this information out, while on their reconnaissance patrols, listening in to conversations between Makebi government officials with their communications interception devices.

    “What do we get out of it?” Nox continued, “It would be one less battlefield, one less star system where we would need to send military forces to oppose the Republic. If we can beat them without a fight, it would be so much more humiliating for them and so much more satisfying for us.”

    “So, the Empire is getting stretched thin and wants to mitigate stretching their lines further, eh?” Pollus said.

    The scowl, which now finally fully emerged, on Nox’s face led Pollus to believe he’d struck a nerve with the dark lord of the Sith.

    “Whether we are stretched thinly or not, we are willing to leave a civilization in ruins just to make a point,” the dark lord, said.

    Pollus knew that was no exaggeration. The Empire was very well known for not holding back its military power, even when the target of their aggression was nothing more than peasants, protesting an unfair tax increase, in a small village.

    “If that’s what you want for Makeb,” Nox continued, “then join the Republic. They may be able to root out simple mercenaries, but they have yet to overcome our full might. Join the Republic, and I shall see to it personally that we demonstrate that full might here on Makeb.”

    Nox hoped his bluff would convince them to accept his terms, empty as those terms were. He only wanted the Makebi people fighting everywhere, tying up Regulator forces, which would allow his operators to move freely.

    Pollus unmasked the projection lens of his holo-transmitter. The holographic image of Shalim Avesta sprang up. He led The Mining, Manufacture, and Transportation League of Makeb, the ruling party of Makeb’s planetary government, which in effect, made Shalim Avesta the governing ruler of Makeb.

    Pollus was one of those looking out the windows as his men escorted the dark lord of the Sith into his house. He immediately dialed up his brother and told him to listen silently to the impending meeting.

    Pollus, his voice subdued by the enormity of the moment, asked his brother, “Did you hear that, Shalim?”

    Shalim Avesta replied, just as soberly, “Yeah, Pollus. I did.” Then he asked his brother, “What do you think?”

    “Shalim,” Pollus replied, “threats aside, we’d be fools to turn this deal down, but it’s the Empire that’s making the deal.”

    Shalim Avesta addressed the dark lord, replying to the Sith’s offer, “It’s a real tempting offer, Darth Nox, but like my brother just said, we don’t know that we can trust that you won’t stab us in the back.”

    Darth Nox found respect for Pollus’ cunning in having his brother listening in from the beginning, though he worried that Shalim could see his apprentice. He could only hope that he would not mention her to Pollus. Taking his special government issued, super-encrypted intra-galactic holo-transmitter out from its niche on his utility belt, he dialed up Andronikos Revel.

    As soon as Andronikos’ holographic image appeared, Nox asked, “How goes your assignment?”

    He expected to hear about difficulties. Instead, Andronikos greatly surprised his employer.

    “Is it alright if it all comes in one shipment?” he asked his employer, and then confirmed, “It’s on its way on a convoy of nine freighters arriving an hour apart.”

    Nox, greatly surprised by the good news, was nevertheless greatly worried.

    “What about security? Have you already made arrangements for them to offload safely?” he asked.

    “Boss, there’s no way I can ship three hundred thousand blaster rifles and all of those other heavy weapons and munitions without any security,” Andronikos told his boss, “The Mandalorians were hired to do it. They’re escorting the freighters with six heavy destroyers and three heavy cruisers. Plus ground security will be provided by a division of Mandalorian heavy infantry.”

    Andronikos clenched his jaw and spoke in a tone that warned he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

    “I’m billing the Sith Empire for all of it, Boss.”

    Nox, excused his servant’s impertinence, keeping his focus the good news.

    “When will they arrive?” He asked.

    Andronikos became apprehensive because Nox seemed to ignore the matter of payment, but he answered in a tone that exposed his expectation of betrayal.

    “Tell me where to land, and they’ll be there the next galactic standard day, Boss.”

    Nox looked at Pollus, expectantly, all the while thinking, “The Force is with me!! The Force is with me!!

    Pollus asked his brother’s holographic image, “Shalim?”

    “It’s a deal, Darth Nox,” Shalim told the dark lord, “You got yourself a neutral partner. We’ll muck up our deal with the Galactic Republic just as soon as we start seeing those weapons.”

    “Good,” Nox said simply, nodding once for emphasis.

    Shalim Avesta thought a moment, then told his brother, “You’ve got the bulk of the resistance fighters. Take the shipment there. Once you’re armed and ready, link up with the mining corporation’s mesa. Then we’ll arm the fighters I’ve got with me, here. Then we can recruit and arm more fighters.”

    Andronikos suggested, “I could just land freighters in both places.”

    “Yes! Please, do that,” Pollus Avesta replied immediately.

    “Weapons for an army of freedom fighters, coming right up!” Andronikos said with a pleased used-speeder salesman’s smile, “Be ready to take delivery of thee hundred thousand weapons, their munitions and power packs, power pack charging stations, and weapons maintenance equipment and supplies.”

    Pollus told his brother, “Shalim, this is going to make a really big difference.”

    “Pollus,” Shalim said, “if the Mandalorian leader lands on your end, see if you can make a contract with his division to train our fighters. You know the Regulators have combat experience, heavy armor, and heavy weapons, and that more than makes up for our numbers over theirs.”

    “Pollus Avesta,” Darth Nox said, “I need a place to confer with my agent in private for a moment.”

    “Use the conference room two doors down the hall,” Pollus pointed in the direction of the conference room.

    Nox walked out of the office and then down the hallway until he reached the second door down the hall as instructed. Upon entering the small conference room and leaving the manually operated door wide open, he brought out a small scanner from his utility belt, activated it, and began to scan the room. Virulous, still shrouded by The Force entered the room behind her Master. Satisfied there were no spying devices in the room, he deactivated the device and returned it to his belt, as he shut the office door, using The Force.

    After sitting at the tiny conference table, he un-muted his special issue heavily encrypted holo-transceiver, he spoke to his servant.

    “I thought I told you I didn’t want the Empire tied to this deal. Why did you involve the Mandalorians?”

    “Boss, you’re not gonna like this, but to make this deal happen, I had to make a deal with some of your enemies.”

    Darth Nox was flabbergasted, and became apoplectic as he demanded answers from the not-quite-retired pirate.

    “You did WHAT?! You went to my enemies?! What could possess you to put me into such a…. Which enemies?! Spit it out!”

    Seeing his boss having such a fit did nothing to encourage Andronikos that he’d get reimbursed for his investment in this venture. Andronikos had made an unauthorized duplicate of the expense credit card he’d used to pay for his boss’ new ship at Tandankin Ship yards. In his state of fury and grief, shortly after mistakenly killing his wife, Nox had given Andronikos an expense card to take care of the repairs to his ship, but he had erroneously given Andronikos access to the entire budget of his sphere of influence.

    Come on, Nox,” the semi retired pirate thought to himself, “give me an excuse to clean you out!

    Aloud, Andronikos flatly told his employer, “It’s the Exchange Gang. There’s this guy who worked with your apprentice, Shah…”

    Seeing Virulous’ holographic image standing behind Nox’s seated image, Andronikos recalled that she did not want to use her old name again and corrected himself.

    “uh…, Darth Virulous. He was smart enough to help her kill the top three Exchange Gang leaders on Tatooine. He still thinks you’re gunning for him, so he’s trying to make nice by doing this job for you – at cost. He hired the Mandos to protect his ships and cargo.”

    Nox was immensely relieved to hear this.

    He told his servant, “Andronikos, you nearly gave me a heart attack! I thought you meant someone like Darth Marr or Darth Zash… Next time, be more specific. I thought I was going to have to kill you for betrayal.”

    “Thanks for being honest about it, Boss,” Andronikos quipped sarcastically.

    Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Nox told his servant, “Never mind all of that. Tell me this Exchange gangster’s name.”

    “Uh… It’s Mr. Trannit, Boss.”

    Nox remembered the name from the gangster’s recorded message brought to him by Virulous when she had reported to him aboard his ship after completing her mission on Tatooine and after her almost failed rescue of Andronikos on Nar Shaddaa.

    “Tell Mr. Trannit that this has put him in a favorable light with me. Tell him, that when I receive his yearly gifts, that I shall remember his part in killing my enemies on Tatooine, and shall think kindly of him.”

    Andronikos felt great relief on hearing Nox say those words. It meant that he wasn’t going to have to retire early and cash in his retirement fund, which was what he thought of his unauthorized duplicate credit card. Still shrouded by The Force and unaware that Andronikos could see her, Virulous also felt great relief at Nox’s words. For her it meant that her master would not send her back to Tatooine to finish the job.

    Taking things into account, Nox observed aloud, “The Force is truly with me in this. With the Exchange Gang getting involved, and since they hired the Mandalorians, the Empire is further removed from proof of involvement. It has worked out well, Andronikos. The Empire shall reimburse your expenses.”

    Smiling broadly, the very happy semi-retired pirate told his employer, “Boss, I’m real glad you’re happy with the deal. Thank you very, very much. I’m grateful that you’ll honor the contract.”

    “Continue to make every effort to hide the Empire’s involvement in this,” Nox cautioned his servant.

    “Don’t worry, Boss. This is a transaction between an anonymous gun-runner, the Exchange Gang, and the government of Makeb.” Buoyed by the success of this business arrangement, he hinted, “Well, Boss, when this job’s done, I’m gonna hit the pazaac tables on Nar Shaddaa for a while. I left your ship at the Imperial consulate hanger on Nar Shaddaa. R8 is keeping the ship locked tight.”

    With this, Nox understood that his ship was in this quadrant of the galaxy, only days away.

    “Don’t get so drunk that you can’t fly if I call for you,” he nagged his ship’s captain.

    “Boss, that’s why I make it a point to take R8 with me whenever you take your eyes off of him!” Andronikos replied, laughing, “It’s so that I can get plastered and still fly the ship!”

    “I’ve spent too much time talking about this,” Nox suddenly declared, “I’m returning to the meeting.”

    Muting his holo-transceiver, he exited the small conference room, leaving the door wide open so that Virulous could follow him out, and made his way back to Pollus Avesta’s office. Again, leaving the door wide open, so that Virulous could follow him in, he resumed his seat and unmuted his holo-communicator. One of the four guards in the office had closed the office door, when Nox took his seat.

    As Andronikos’ holographic image popped up, Nox announced, “My agent will speak with the Mandalorians to try to convince them to speak with you about entering into a contract, with your government, to train your fighters.”

    Andronikos made a note in his datapad to remind himself to do just that.

    “Will they fight, too?” Pollus asked Nox.

    “The Empire is giving you these weapons,” Nox replied, matter-of-factly, “The Empire did not hire the Mandalorians to fight for you. In fact, the Empire did not hire them at all. They were hired by a third party to guard the weapons shipment. We will not involve ourselves in any agreements you may wish to enter with them, except to tell the Mandalorians that you wish to do business with them.

    “You need to work out any details for a business arrangement you wish to enter with them yourselves, but you had better be ready to pay dearly for their services. They are not at all cheap. One more thing,” Nox said, “The Empire does not wish to be publicly linked to any of these dealings. No one is to know that we provided you the weapons.”

    Pollus sarcastically replied, “The weapons got here on their own. Yes, everyone will believe that.”

    A bit peeved, Nox said, “Tell anyone you feel needs to hear about this shipment that it was the Exchange Gang who sold you the weapons.”

    “Fine,” Pollus said, dryly, “we bought the weapons from the Exchange Gang.”

    Reflecting on what Nox had said about the cost of doing business with the Mandalorians, Shalim Avesta had cause to consider, “It’s exactly why the Hutts were so easily able to buy out our contract with the Regulators. We simply weren’t paying enough!”

    Shalim’s frustration at the Regulator’s betrayal was palpable. The Mekebi government’s business relationship with the board of directors of the Regulators Mercenary Group had spanned over seventy amicable years. Contract negotiations always went smoothly. The contracts were renewed every ten years, with the pertinent details of each contract renewal negotiated starting at the eight year mark of the current contract period.

    The last contract renewal negotiations had been going smoothly as well. That was until the Hutts arrived on Makeb. After securing the proper mining rights, the Hutts began massive mining operations of Makeb’s mineral resources. They secretly also began negotiations with the board of directors of the Regulators Mercenary Group.

    Just as the contract between the government and the Regulators had been agreed to, and just weeks before the signing ceremony, the Regulators’ board of directors suddenly had a change of heart, throwing out the negotiated contract and demanding the contract be renegotiated. After a very contentious and heated period of negotiations, the new contract had been signed and would go into effect at the start of the new year.

    Pollus bitterly observed, “At least they waited until the end of the last contract before they stabbed us in the back!”

    At the stroke of midnight, in the Makebi capital, just as the contract came to an end, the Regulators conducted military operations globally, to seize control of government buildings and constabulary precinct stations. Makeb’s police forces were quickly overpowered and neutralized. Then the Hutts stepped out of the shadows, declaring their dominion over Makeb.

    Most of the government leaders were able to escape and go into hiding before the Regulators realized their blunder of not seizing the leaders at their homes at the start of their conquest. It was most fortuitous for the Avesta brothers and the central government officials, who were all in their homes when the Regulators began their operations. After reconstituting, they were able to, essentially, form a government in exile while still on Makeb.

    As a result, the ousted government officials were able to quickly organize their people into resistance forces which rose up to oppose the scheming Hutts and the traitorous Regulators. Unfortunately for the resistance, all they had were civilian grade hunting blasters, slug throwers (known to some as ballistic projectile weapons), whatever weapons they were able to liberate from a few constabulary precinct stations around the globe, and a few weapons captured in battles against the Regulators.

    The fighting lasted for six months, with the resistance largely defeated. The freedom fighters, however, were able to set up several pockets of resistance which the Regulators’ heavy infantry were unable to crack. This stalemate continued until the Regulators convinced the Hutts to hire Regulators’ heavy armored tank units and close air support forces, which had to be transported to Makeb from other parts of the galaxy, where the Regulators were conducting other operations for other clients. These armored tank and air forces had only arrived a month before, and had just begun to deploy to the most difficult resistance pockets.

    In desperation, after an emergency meeting with the surviving government leaders, Shalim reached out to the Galactic Republic, appealing to them for military aid. The Republic had sent a delegation to negotiate. The cost for military aid was going to be Makeb’s inclusion into the Galactic Republic, with exclusive access to Makeb’s mineral wealth as payment for the first two years after liberation, and then said minerals to be sold to the Republic for very low prices, thereafter. This deal amounted to nothing more than extortion.

    Then out of the blue, the Sith Empire, ruled by the evil Sith, appeared from nowhere, quietly offering massive aid with virtually no strings attached. This weighed heavily on Shalim Avesta’s mind.

    He asked, knowing in his heart of hearts what the answer would be, “So… When does the Sith Empire declare Makeb its domain?”

    Pollus Avesta shifted his eyes quickly between the holographic image of his brother, and the dark councilor seated across the desk from him.

    Darth Nox replied, “Eventually, the Empire will defeat the Galactic Republic and dominate the galaxy. Over the centuries, more and more of the galaxy shall be dominated by the Sith Empire. Makeb will eventually enter the Empire. As it is now, our only interest is in crushing the Hutts’ ambitions for empire, and embarrassing the Galactic Republic.”

    He could see the doubts in the eyes of the Avesta brothers, so he added, “Militarily, Makeb has no value. Politically, Makeb can be used to embarrass the Republic since they have involved themselves in your mess. Strategically, we cannot allow the Hutts to realize their ambitions for empire.” Then in a menacing manner, Nox concluded, “And if you want to stay out of the war between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic, do not join their Republic. Maintain your neutrality.”

    The Avestas remained silent as they each considered his words and studied the dark lord’s demeanor, both wondering if they could truly trust him. Sensing their distrust, Nox began to lose his patience. His voice took on a hardened tone as he pointed out the obvious.

    “If the Empire wanted Makeb, your skies would be filled with Imperial warships and legions of Imperial troops would have, long ago, overrun the Regulators. We don’t want Makeb. All we want from you is for you to throw off the Hutts, wrecking their plans for empire, and to call off your entrance into the Galactic Republic. Maintain your neutrality.

    We are giving you weapons and munitions. Take them, fight your Hutt overlords, and win back your freedom. Or let those weapons sit unclaimed when they are delivered tomorrow, and accept the Hutts’ dominion over your world and your people. However, be ready to expect the Empire to strike at the Hutts, here on Makeb.”

    Suddenly rising to his feet, and clearly having lost his patience, Nox declared, “I’m finished talking to you, here.”

    With that, he turned to face the office door. Reaching with his hand, he used The Force to open it wide and took a couple of steps towards the door, but halted in his tracks as Shalim’s holographic image called to him.

    “Darth Nox!”

    His patience gone and frustrated by their indecisiveness, Nox whirled about and snapped, “What is it?!”

    Shalim said simply, “Thank you.”

    Nox nodded his acknowledgment, turned about, and proceeded to leave Pollus’ office, with Virulous following her master into the hallway. Two of the four guards followed behind Virulous, but they only saw the dark counselor ahead of them, as they escorted Nox to the front door, down the stairs. The two other guards stepped out of the office to post just outside of Pollus’ office door.

    Pollus watched from the second story window behind his desk, as Nox walked across the gravel lot towards the fields growing fallow. He spoke to his brother, still connected.

    “Well, he didn’t kill us all, here at the plantation. I guess that counts as a good sign. His private talk with his agent proves there really are weapons being delivered. Funny that the Empire wants to remain in the shadows about it, though.”

    There were no electronic devices spying on Darth Nox’s talk with Andronikos, but the air conditioner air ducts allowed his conversation to be heard in the other rooms.

    Shalim replied, “I suppose we should honor their desire to remain in the shadows. It’s the least we could do to thank them for their generosity.”

    As Shalim finished his remark, Pollus, still looking out the window at Darth Nox walking into the fields, watched as a much smaller individual, robed and hooded in black, materialize next to the dark lord.

    “Shalim! There were two of them! There were two Sith in my office!”

    “I could see that, Pollus,” Shalim told his brother, “She – I think it was a she – was a real short one, wearing a mask. She stood quietly at Nox’s shoulder the whole time.”

    Pollus, mystified, asked his brother, “Why didn’t you tell me there were two of ‘em, if you could see ‘em?”

    A bit puzzled, Shalim replied, “Pollus, they were in your office. Why would I tell you what’s in your own office when you’re right there to see it for yourself?”

    Pollus walked to the door of his office, and opening it, asked the guards at his door, “Did you boys see anyone else in my office with Darth Nox?”

    His men both shook their heads in the negative, as one of them replied, “No, Master Avesta. He was alone.”

    Pollus heard a barely audible high pitched whining sound coming from outside. He returned to his window and watched as a shuttle craft materialized from thin air and descended the last few meters onto his field. The two Sith wasted no time boarding the shuttle. It rose into the air a few meters and vanished from view again, the sound of its very quiet engines fading quickly into silence again.

    Pollus told Shalim, “They’re gone now.”

    “You think we’re making the right call?” Shalim asked, seeking confirmation.

    “It’s almost a free gift,” Pollus told his brother, “All we have to do is beat down his enemy, the Hutts, and tell the Republic to go stuff themselves.”

    Pollus reached for the bottle, half full of the spirituous liquid that Nox found to be quite good, and poured himself another shot.

    “I can see why they’d want to keep their hands off of the Hutts,” he said, before downing the shot, “The Empire has economic interests in Hutt space, and they wouldn’t want to openly smack the Hutts around. Politically, the Hutts are neutral. The Empire wouldn’t want to push the Hutts into the Republic’s corner.”

    “Yeah, but we also have to forgo our membership in the Galactic Republic,” Shalim pointed out to his brother, “What will we do for defense?”

    “Against whom?” Pollus asked, before telling his brother, “Once we beat down the Hutts and send the Republic packing, there’s no one else in the region that we’ll have to worry over.”

    Shalim’s reply reminded Pollus why they’d hired the Regulators to start with.

    “No one else in this part of the galaxy, except maybe the Exchange Gang, the Black Sun Pirates, and a few others…”

    “Thank the stars, we’ll be getting enough weapons to outfit an army,” Pollus reminded his brother, “With the Mandalorians training our men, we’ll be both properly armed and properly trained to fend off any trouble makers. We won’t need the Republic, or anyone else to help us.”

    Just then, Pollus felt a small bump that quickly escalated into a major ground quake. When it was over, two minutes later, he reestablished contact with his brother. Looking at his liquor bottles scattered across his carpeted floor, he thanked the stars that none of them had shattered.

    “You alright, Shalim?” Pollus asked.

    “You?” was his brother’s response.

    “Yeah,” Pollus said, “The bottles didn’t break. I’m good. Good hooch has gotten real hard to come by, lately.”

    Shalim asked his brother, “How many cases are you going to send him?”

    Pollus made a pained expression, confessing, “I didn’t get his shipping address.”

    Shalim smiled mischievously, as a small chime notified Pollus of a downloaded document. Pollus read the contents.

    Smiling at his brother, he asked, “How’d you know I didn’t copy down the address?”

    “Because you didn’t ask him to repeat it three or four times!” Shalim replied, laughing, then adding, “That was a good idea you gave me, there. We need our own professional army, Pollus. I’m going to ask the Mandalorians to not only teach our guys to fight, but to help us establish our own actual army.

    “We’ll have to start a Navy, too. In the meantime, I’m going to put out a call for a geologist or three to have a look at why we’re having so many damned ground quakes.”

    Nodding in agreement, Pollus remarked, “Good ideas, both of those, but why not just ask Avesta Mining Corporation’s geologists, and what about Lemda?”

    Lemda was Pollus’ daughter. She had returned a year before after graduating from university on Coruscant with a PHD in geophysics and started working for the family business, Avesta Mining Corporation.

    “Shalim, we’ve got a whole lot of work ahead of us,” Pollus said, soberly. “We’ve got to get ready for that shipment, and then we’ve got to be ready to distribute the weapons and munitions and other gear to our fighters. We’ve got to get moving.”

    “Let’s hope for the best, Pollus,” Shalim said, nodding his agreement.

    “We’ll talk again, Shalim.”

    The connection was cut. Pollus picked the half full bottle up from the floor, and opening it, poured himself another shot. Setting down the bottle and picking up the shot glass, he made a toast.

    “Don’t stab us in the back, Darth Nox.”

    He downed the shot in one go, then walked out of his office to get to work making preparations to receive the weapons shipment.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2019
  19. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    These next two chapters are short, so I posted them together. I hope you’ll enjoy them both.

    UPDATED: 6July 2019

    I made some serious changes to these two chapters and merged them into one chapter.


    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    A Progress Report - Terrible News!​



    Darth Nox, wearing his customary black and yellow medium grade flexible armor, sat behind his desk in the office on the second floor of the house assigned to him by Major Ordensk. Khem Val stood in his customary spot, with his huge arms crossed over his massive chest. The behemoth Dashade kept watch over the dark lord’s two visitors. He stood behind them to their right, in the corner of the office, ever ready to destroy them if they dared betray and attack his master.

    Darth Nox took note that Administrator Katha Niar, who stood in front of his desk, was dressed in the locals’ business attire. The style of her clothing was quite conservative, but what struck his curiosity most was that the clothing was strangely similar to her Imperial civil service uniform.

    Perhaps she just likes wearing uniforms,” Nox idly speculated.

    As Lord Cytharat reported Katha and himself to the dark lord, Nox took note that the disgraced Sith lord wore dark colored, tight fitting, casual Sith attire underneath an ankle length midnight blue hooded robe with long wide sleeves, and which he wore opened at the front. He judged that the robe was likely made with a thick, medium grade armored, heavy synthetic cloth material. The Sith lord wore the hood of the robe pulled back, draped over his back.

    Nox didn’t care for Cytharat’s taste in clothes. He preferred brightly colored loose fitting styles that stood out. However, he did like the robe.

    I’ll have my synthweaver make one for me like it,” Nox thought, idly.

    Cytharat and Katha stood side by side in front of the dark lord’s desk to give their reports to him. Cytharat reported first after his introductions to Nox.

    “Dark Lord, we have successfully sliced into Hesk Corporation’s servers and have accessed their personnel records. We found the names of the engineers who operate the mining lasers. The Black Ops teams deployed late last night to abduct these engineers and their immediate families. They will be made to operate the mining lasers once we take control of the targeted mines, and their families will be our hostages to ensure they do their work, and do it properly.”

    “Hesk doesn’t sound like a Hutt name,” Nox observed.

    “Dark Lord, Hesk Corporation is a Makebi mining company. They had been subcontracted to operate the mines for the Hutts. That seems to have made them unpopular with most of the Makebi people. They are seen as Hutt collaborators. This has made the mines a target of the freedom fighters in the past. Hopefully The Force will remain with us, and the freedom fighters will not target the mines again, Dark Lord.”

    Nox nodded acknowledgment of Cytharat’s explanation. With that, Cytharat continued his report.

    “We have also recovered blueprints of the structures and schematics of the mining equipment for each targeted facility, and are conducting analysis of the plans of each site in order to get an idea of the processes involved in the operation of each facility. With this information, we will be able to rebuild and re-equip the mines when the surface cools enough to start work, Dark Lord.”

    “When will that be? How long before work can start?” Nox asked.

    Cytharat turned to Katha and gestured for her to answer him.

    “Dark Lord, Dr. Nadrin Tro says it will be at the least a month, and at the most three months before the planet’s crust has cooled enough to harden into solid rock again. However, the rock surface will still be hundreds of degrees, and the atmosphere will be very hot, with winds in excess of hundreds of kilometers per hour. The air will also be full of toxic and corrosive gasses. Special care will be needed when building…”

    Nox cut her off.

    “We’ll worry about engineering a solution to that later. Focus on what we need to do now.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord,” Katha replied.

    Turning back to Cytharat, Nox asked, “The Black Ops teams are still out, you said? Have they given status updates?”

    “Dark Lord, three of the four teams have completed their missions and are bringing in nine of the twelve engineers required to operate the three mines we are planning to capture.”

    “Good,” Nox said, nodding his approval, “Keep on top of the situation and let me know if the fourth team has run into trouble, Lord Cytharat.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Nox turned his gaze towards Katha and took a moment to reflect that her outlook had changed dramatically.

    She is almost at peace,” he thought, “It seems she has become resolute about something.

    Indeed, through The Force, Nox could sense a marked difference in her emotional state. His comments reflected his curiosity about the servant on loan to him from Marr.

    “You seem better,” he observed, and then asked, “Are you able to carry out your duties without distractions?”

    Katha’s expression darkened momentarily, as she – for a very brief moment – cast her eyes downward, as though she’d been reminded of something dreadful. Standing straighter and pulling her shoulders back she answered the dark lord.

    “I have accepted responsibility for the actions I took which led to our failure when we were discovered by the locals,” she said with determination, “I have accepted full responsibility for the terrible crime of the massacre. With my mind cleared of those doubts, I can focus on my immediate responsibilities, Dark Lord.”

    Good,” he thought, “perhaps she will remain useful to me and her death can wait a while longer. I certainly don’t need the morale of the troops or of the civilians working for me to take another dive because of her execution.

    Nox was not one to easily let go of grudges, and although he craved the day he would kill her, he spoke to her in a civil tone; he didn’t want to break her resolve while he needed her service.

    “Good, then I will hear your report.”

    Katha, although a civilian, snapped to attention, and grateful for the dark lord’s seeming kindness, happily replied, “Yes, Dark Lord!

    “Since the arrival of the freighters with their shipments of weapons two days ago,” she began her report, relaxing her stance, “Mandalorians have quickly established strong defensive perimeters and combat patrols. They have beaten back several attempts by the Regulators to seize the ships and their cargoes.

    “The freedom fighters, with the help of the Mandalorians, are quite effectively distributing the weapons to their fighters, rotating fighting units to one of several weapons distribution points and quickly returning them to the front lines, with Mandalorian advisors embedded into each unit to advise Makebi unit leaders on tactics. Intercepted reports indicate that there is already an immediate difference in their effectiveness against the Regulators.

    “In space, the Mandalorian naval escort force has inflicted heavy damage to four Hutt light destroyers and two Hutt heavy cruisers. The Hutt navy was simply outmatched. They were forced to withdraw their battle group from Makebi space. Their defeat is probably due to a lack of war time experience, Dark Lord. This has left the Regulators without naval gunfire support to use against the Makebi freedom fighters, the weapons shipment, and the Exchange Gang freighters on the ground.

    “An underworld crime boss, who identified himself as Mr. Trannit has claimed responsibility and has used this event to advertise his shipping services to clients needing successful shipping of any cargo to any destination in the galaxy, even to hostile destinations.”

    Katha smiled broadly as she reported on the successful results of Nox’s negotiations.

    “Shalim Avesta, the leader of Makeb’s legitimate governing body released a statement to the holo-net news outlets.” She read from her datapad, “He said, quote, ‘Thanks to Galactic Republic efforts to blackmail and coerce the Makebi peoples to join their republic with such onerous conditions attached, in exchange for their help, the Makebi governing body had to take the extraordinary measure of purchasing weapons from the criminal Exchange Gang, so that we could fight for our homes.

    Makeb rejects the coercive invitation to join their Galactic Republic, and instead calls for the Galactic Republic to offer sincere humanitarian aid to the war displaced and suffering peoples of Makeb. When we have regained our own freedom with our own hands, with weapons we’ve bought, we will recover our economy and repay the costs of Republic aid. We will not give up our independence, not to the Hutts and not to the Galactic Republic.

    “Dark Lord,” Katha concluded, “each aspect of your mission has proven to be highly successful. The Regulators’ hands are tied by Makebi freedom fighters. Our forces can now move freely. Plus this statement, from the Makebi leader, has worked to keep our presence on this world hidden.”

    Darth Nox had been smiling and nodding his great satisfaction as he listened to Katha’s report.

    “With that,” he said, “he has lived up to his end of the bargain. I’m glad that he remembered to say they bought the weapons from the Exchange Gang. As you’ve said, that removes the Empire from suspicion of involvement – at least in the public eye. Now for the next part. It’s time for the rumor to go out. Plant the seeds reporting of Makeb’s imminent destruction.”

    “I’ll see to it, Dark Lord,” Katha Niar replied resolutely, adding, “On that score, it seems the Hutts have accelerated their evacuation of their isotope five war droids, along with their refined mineral wealth and the other treasures they have amassed while on Makeb. They brought in more ships to do it with, too.

    “I was thinking that along with the rumor, we plant the idea of the Makebi fighters capturing those ships to evacuate their people.”

    Nox laughed, and praising Katha, declared, “Excellent thinking! Yes! Do it! That will force the Regulators to pull forces from many battle fronts, to defend the spaceports and their ships.”

    Cytharat nodded his concurrence, adding, “With luck, it will isolate their guard forces at the mines, cutting them off from reinforcements and making it simpler for our troops to take and keep control of the mines. It will also eliminate any value the mines have as targets for the freedom fighters.”

    Nox moved the conversation on to the next point, having heard enough about the Makebi peoples’ fight.

    “What about the scientist? Is he ready to begin?” he asked.

    “He assures me his calculations are ready,” Katha Niar said, “His team just needs to input the program and feedback algorithm into the computers which will control the mining lasers, Dark Lord. He also said that his computer simulations show that while operating the lasers, making certain adjustments might make the groundquakes more intense in certain areas while greatly reducing the intensity of the quakes in other areas of the planet. He requests permission to test his theory, but he assures us he will conduct his tests in unpopulated areas in order to prevent casualties.”

    Nox leaned forward, greatly astonished, a look of stupefied incredulity on his face.

    “Did you just tell me he can control where the groundquakes can be at its worst?” he asked.

    Before Katha could answer, Nox burst into laughter while exclaiming, “A weaponized groundquake?! Unbelievable!” Then turning to Cytharat, he ordered, “Lord Cytharat, determine where the Regulators are most heavily concentrated and tell him, the Neimoidian, to target those areas.”

    “I’ll tell Dr. Nadrin Tro, Dark Lord,” Lord Cytharat assured.

    Nox was done with the two of them and the meeting.

    “You may both leave. I’ve heard enough,” he said, dismissing them.

    Lord Cytharat and Katha Niar both bowed their heads and replied, nearly in unison, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    The two turned and walked out of Nox’s presence, leaving his tiny office, and leaving his commandeered house.

    Darth Nox wasn’t the only one to feel the change in Katha’s emotional state. Cytharat looked askance at Katha as they walked down the street, on their way out of the cul-de-sac.

    What has transpired to cause the change in her emotional state?” he asked himself. On further consideration, he speculated, “It seems she has found her resolve. Good.

    Cytharat was not like most Sith. He came from a family that passionately espoused honor and morality. On the one hand, he believed it was criminal, what Katha had ordered – the mass slaughter of unarmed civilians. On the other hand, he understood she had no other choice. Darth Marr was quite clear.

    Cytharat was there. He watched as the cybernetically enhanced, fully armored, and physically imposing Marr, loomed over Katha Niar, repeatedly poking an armored gloved finger on her chest, between her collar bones, and menacing her from behind his fearful cybernetic armored mask.

    “Under no circumstance are you to permit the discovery of the Empire’s presence on Makeb,” Darth Marr said, in his intimidating baritone voice, “Utter secrecy is paramount to the success of this mission and to the very survival of the Sith Empire. Do not fail in this, Administrator Katha Niar.”

    Cytharat decided not to ask what had changed her state of mind. Following the slaughter of the townsfolk, she was an utter wreck, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Now however, she was in command of herself again. As curious as he was as to what led to the sea change in her being, he didn’t want to upset the balance she had found for herself.

    There is no sense in reopening such an ugly wound,” he thought. Instead he told her, “I will look into why Black Ops Team Three have failed to check in. I’ll also check on Major Ordensk and make sure he’s on schedule for the capture of the mines.”

    “Right,” Katha said, nodding once and adding, “And I’ll follow up with Dr. Nadrin Tro and his team of scientists to be sure they are ready to go when the time comes, my lord.” after a slight pause, she added, “Since I will be checking up on the scientists, I’ll tell Dr. Tro of the dark lord’s desire that he target the Regulators. Shall I tell him to expect the coordinates from you?”

    “Yes. That will do,” Cytharat said, nodding his agreement.

    At the intersection of the cul-de-sac and the main north/south road, he turned to go north, uphill. Katha turned to the south, downhill.

    Katha had the longer distance to walk. She needed to make her way to the western business district, which was west of the village council, a building which took up the whole block and where Major Ordensk had set up his headquarters. The scientists had set up shop in the small business office complex, in the Western Business District.

    Cytharat ultimately walked to the North Western edge of the village, where the warehouse complex and, further beyond the warehouses, where the mass graves were located.

    The warehouse complex was where the Black Ops teams had set up operations. A portion of the 31st / 77th operations section was set up in the warehouse, too, to coordinate with the Black Ops teams’ leadership.

    Later Cytharat would walk all the way down the shallow slope of the valley floor to the village council building to speak with Major Trent Ordensk. He needed to go over the major’s plans for capturing the mines Dr. Nadrin Tro needed to conduct his experiments.

    There was a lot of work that Katha and Cytharat needed to get done, and it was going to be a long day for both of them.

    ____________________________________________________________________________________​

    Five days later, Shalim Avesta listened, stony faced, as his young niece, Lemda Avesta, made her scientific presentation, with two geologists in attendance.

    “We have at best a few months, at worst a few weeks.”

    Shalim turned to look at the two geologists, seated at the conference table, both were pouring through the data from her research.

    After ten minutes of quiet, during which the two geologists read Lemda’s report, one of the geologists finally broke the silence.

    “This is most intriguing,” he said.

    The other scientist looked up from his copy of Lemda’s research paper to look at Shalim.

    “Of course, this needs to be peer reviewed, but…,” he started to say.

    A groundquake had suddenly struck, causing the Dr. of geology to stop in mid sentence. The quake lasted over a minute, but it was mild in comparison to previous groundquakes. When the quake ended, the scientist resumed speaking from where he had left off.

    “…, the data is compelling.”

    “Then are you signing off on her report?” Shalim asked the scientist.

    Both scientists replied in the negative, one shaking his head side to side, as he continued reading Lemda’s data sets, and the other speaking out his reply.

    “I don’t agree – yet, on the underlying cause. It may be that other factors are at play here. However, I do agree that the planet is shaking itself apart.”

    The other scientist nodded his agreement with the first scientist’s sentiment. Then turning to Lemda, told her, “This is fascinating work. Unfortunately, I agree with your assessment. Time is indeed short. There really won’t be enough time to narrow down all of the possible elements involved in this phenomena, but there can be no doubt that the mining activity has some part in some way.

    “This particular set of data, on page sixteen, gives an indication that Makeb was probably going to experience the phenomena, anyway. It seems that the laser core drilling and mining operations sped the process up by orders of magnitude. The planet would not have been destroying itself for another few thousand years. It seems, however, that the mining operations might have sped up the process – at least on the surface it seems that way.”

    The first scientist nodded his agreement, adding, “I wish there was more time to make observations and take more measurements, but we’ll all be dead in a short time, unless we can leave Makeb.”

    Shalim was startled on hearing that last comment.

    “Leave?! Leave Makeb?!” he blurted in surprise.

    “The planet is going to become an asteroid belt, Uncle Shalim,” his niece said, “If you hadn’t have been so mean to the Republic, maybe we wouldn’t have to get on our knees to beg them to help evacuate the planet.”

    Shalim finally understood what the geologists were telling him.

    “So… The world is coming to an end, and we’ve got anywhere between a few weeks to a few months,” he said, grimly. “I’ll just have to swallow my pride, and Makeb’s, and publicly beg the Republic for help.”

    Shalim briefly considered asking the Sith Empire for help, but he knew the Sith would likely not answer his call for aid.

    If worse comes to worse, what price would the Sith accept for their help?” he asked himself, “Would they demand compulsory military service, and indentured servitude? Would they make us into their slaves for a generation? Would they even help?

    Shalim’s desk top holo-transceiver chimed a pleasant chord.

    “A moment while I take this call,” he told the geologists.

    Pollus’ holographic image sprang into view above the device on his desk.

    “Hello, Shalim. I’ve got some disturbing news,” Pollus’ holographic image said.

    He noticed that Shalim had visitors.

    “Shalim, this is important, but I can’t tell you with the others listening in,” Pollus said. Then, he addressed his daughter, smiling, “Hi, Lemmi! How’s my princess doing?”

    “Dad, I’m in a professional setting, here,” Lemda told her father, sternly.

    “Sorry, Lemda,” Pollus said apologetically, still smiling, “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, but you’re still my princess.”

    Lemda shook her head disapprovingly. Her fellow scientists turned their faces away as they suppressed their smiles. The geologists had young daughters, too, and they sympathized with Pollus, but they didn’t want to antagonize Lemda, either.

    “Please, step out for a bit while I get Pollus’ report,” Shalim asked of the three scientists.

    He thanked them as they filed out of his office.

    As soon as the door slid shut, he told his brother, “They’re gone. What have you got?”

    “The Hutts are packing everything they own, even if it was bolted to the floor, and getting it ready to ship off world. They’re leaving Makeb, Shalim. Why buy out our mercenary contracts, fight to keep Makeb subjugated only to pack it all in and leave? It makes no sense,” he added, darkly, “Unless the rumors are true. My intelligence officers are reporting a rumor that the Hutts are abandoning Makeb because it’s going to self destruct, but that’s such a ridiculous load of…”

    Pollus trailed off when he saw the look on his brother’s holographic face.

    “Come over, so that we can talk in person,” Shalim told his brother, his tone subdued with gloom.

    “What? Now?” Pollus asked, in surprise, a bit too loudly. Then, as realization hit him, he asked apprehensively, “The rumors are true. Aren’t they, Shalim?”

    Shalim remained silent, only nodding his head once to confirm the truth of the rumor.

    Pollus took on a grim expression; he felt as though he’d been punched in the stomach.

    “I’ll be there in an hour,” he said somberly, cutting the connection without another word.

    Shalim immediately dialed up the frequency of the Jedi who had come to represent the Galactic Republic’s interests. It was the Jedi who had negotiated, on behalf of the Republic, their offer of military aid on condition that Makeb join the Republic. He thought the Jedi would be well on his way to Coruscant by now but, surprisingly, the Jedi was still on Makeb.

    After making his public statement, rejecting the Galactic Republic’s demands, he knew that speaking directly to the Galactic Republic supreme chancellor would be difficult. He hoped the Jedi might find a way to smooth things over with Supreme Chancellor Sharesh. He hoped that the Jedi might be able to mitigate any strange conditions she might attempt to impose in exchange for rescue.

    Pollus arrived an hour later as he said he would. With the Hutt Navy defeated and chased out of the star system, and with the improved weaponry and tactical advice of the Mandalorians, it was possible to travel by shuttle again.

    Shalim told Lemda and the other geologists what Pollus had told him about the rumors and about the Hutts leaving Makeb. Then he had Lemda tell her father what she’d told him an hour before. The meeting was adjourned a quarter hour after that, with Pollus ready to shift the focus of the war. Their war effort would now turn towards the capture of every Hutt ship that they could to evacuate their people.

    A few hours later, the Jedi arrived via Republic military shuttle to the Avesta Mining Corporation’s corporate offices. He was ushered into Shalim Avesta’s suite of offices. Shalim stood from behind his desk to greet him, walking towards a couple of comfortable chairs with a caf table in between the well cushioned seats. The Jedi turned towards the chairs, and sat in the one offered by Avesta.

    A secretary brought in a tray with a decanter of ice water and two glasses. Shalim regarded the Jedi with a neutral expression while his secretary set the water and glasses on the caf table. The secretary left the office, as Pollus poured ice water into both glasses. As he slid one of the filled glasses towards the Jedi, he couldn’t help but wonder why the Jedi was still on Makeb.

    Granted, the Galactic Republic Expeditionary Army was still gradually evacuating their forces from the planet since no deal was made for Makeb to join the Republic, but he refrained from asking the Jedi why he was still on the planet. Shalim wanted to take no chances of spoiling his meeting with the Jedi.

    “Thank you, Master Shalim,” the Jedi said as he lifted the glass to his lips and took a nice long pull from it.

    Shalim couldn’t help but notice the furrow in the Jedi’s brow. The Jedi looked… angry. He hoped it wasn’t because the Jedi felt that his time had been wasted with the failed negotiations for Makeb’s entry into the Galactic Republic.

    Maybe he doesn’t even want to be here…,” Shalim worried, as he took a sip of water from his glass.

    Both men set their glasses down and Shalim began with the pleasantries.

    “It’s good to see you again, Jedi Master Ciiru Nomuro. I am grateful that you accepted my invitation to come meet with me on such short notice.”

    Ciiru Nomuro’s features showed increased anger as he replied with a hint of an edge in his tone.

    “I am a Jedi Knight. I have not been elevated to Jedi Master. I’m afraid I am not qualified for the title.”

    Shalim instantly became deeply troubled.

    That sounded like bitterness,” he thought, worriedly. Aloud he apologized, “I beg your pardon, Jedi Knight. I did not mean to cause offense.”

    “What causes me offense is that the Jedi Council had me running all over the galaxy to solve their problems,” the Jedi said rather tersely, “which I did, but then they quibble about how I solved their difficulties. And what thanks did I get for my efforts? I got a shiny medal and a mild reprimand for daring to ask for a promotion. They tell me I’m not qualified to be a Jedi Master and then refuse to tell me why.”

    On the one hand, Shalim was glad that the Jedi did not seem to be upset at him. On the other hand, it worried him that perhaps this Jedi was on bad terms with the Jedi Council, the very ones whose help he would need to moderate Sharesh’s vindictiveness.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Three years ago, the governing council of a back water planet, Sullust, had won a lawsuit against Sharesh’s Office of The Chancellor, resulting in the nullification of Coruscant’s legal claim that it could levy ten percent of all minerals mined from the planet, while it also collected all of the taxes that were already imposed on the mining businesses operating on Sullust.

    Supreme Chancellor Sharesh retaliated, or she was accused of retaliating when, shortly after the verdict was returned, an administrative error caused all shipping companies, hauling food shipments to the non-agricultural planet, to lose their operating licenses to operate in the Sullust star system. It took several months for the administrative error to be rectified.

    During this time, absolutely inadequate emergency food aid was sent to the planet, using military transports – when such transports were available. The Sullustans experienced famine. Of the thirty million citizens who lived on the world, two million had died, with three quarters of the deaths accounted for being Sullustan children.

    An investigation into the error attributed the disastrous administrative mix up to a coding error that occurred when a droid, processing license renewal applications of a few shipping companies glitched, and instead nullified all shipping operators’ licenses to operate in the Sullustan star system. There were strong indications that the droid might have been tampered with.

    One whistle blower seemed to elude that orders had come from The Office of The Chancellor, however, the whistle blower was found to have committed suicide before she was set to be testify. The cause of death was an overdose of death sticks. However, her family and friends fiercely denied that she was a spice user.

    A separate investigation was launched to look into the allegations made by the dead whistle blower, but all leads found pointing to The Office of The Chancellor turned out to be dead ends. The Office of The Chancellor was cleared of any wrong doing. Yet, deep suspicions remained. No other suspects had been named, and the evidence pointed to nowhere else other than The Office of The Chancellor.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The more the Jedi spoke, the more worried Shalim Avesta became. The Jedi was clearly struggling with his superiors. He felt a bit of empathy for the Jedi.

    Jedi Politics: must be fun and games,” Shalim thought, ironically.

    What the Jedi let slip next, from his lips, put Shalim into shock, which he managed to hide with the best sabacc face that he could manage.

    “I even killed the Sith Emperor for them, but that doesn’t qualify me to be a Jedi Master,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Then, realizing he’d said too much, the anger on his face vanished as he told Shalim, “Now I’m the one who owes an apology. I’m sorry for troubling you with my gripes. You did not invite me here to listen to my problems.

    “I wasn’t supposed to talk about defeating the Sith Emperor,” Ciiru Nomuro said, embarrassedly. “It hasn’t been confirmed, yet. Supreme Chancellor Sharesh and Grand Master Jedi Satele Shan will make a joint announcement, soon. So, could you keep that part to yourself? I would be very much obliged.”

    Is he serious?” Shalim wondered. Aloud, he said, “I haven’t heard any news of the Sith Empire making any noises about their emperor. You sure you got the right guy?”

    “That’s what the Jedi Council and the Republic S.I.S. are trying to verify,” Ciiru said with a sheepish grin.

    Shalim realized the Jedi was indeed being serious.

    I wonder how this news will affect our secret friendship with Darth Nox?” he wondered.

    Shalim decided he needed to bring the matter to the Jedi Knight, so he got to the point.

    “Master Nomuro, I asked you to meet with me because I need your help,” he told the Jedi, “I said some things last week that may have burned a few bridges between the Galactic Republic and Makeb.”

    “So, Makeb does want to join the Republic...” Ciiru said, dryly.

    Shalim bluntly told the Jedi, “Makeb is a few weeks to maybe a couple of months from destroying itself and becoming an asteroid belt around our star. My people need to be evacuated off world, and we need new homes to go to.”

    Ciiru was visibly greatly taken aback.

    “How did you find this out?” he asked intently.

    The Jedi’s eyes seemingly burned into Shalim’s being. As he explained the situation to the Jedi, he felt as though he was compelled to tell everything that he knew. The words flowed out of him – or more like they were pulled out of him.

    “My niece is a geophysicist,” Shalim said, “She studied the cause of our increasing and worsening groundquakes. She came to me with her findings, which she published in a paper that she wrote on the subject. Two other geologists who work part time for my family’s mining company, and who hold professorships, full time, at a couple of our best universities, looked over her data and essentially agreed with her.”

    Ciiru Nomuro saw nothing but desperation and despair on Shalim’s face as the Makebi leader told his story. He knew that every word coming from the mouth of Makeb’s governing leader was the truth as Shalim knew it. Force Persuasion made sure of that.

    However, a terrible sinking feeling filled Ciiru’s being as he realized the horror that was unfolding before him. He closed his eyes and went into meditation. He opened his eyes again when he had his answer. The Force revealed it to him. It was the chaotic end of this world.

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children are going to die, and soon,” Ciiru thought, grimly. That was the answer. They were going to die.

    There is no salvation for these people,” the Jedi concluded.

    Yet, The Force seemed to suggest there was more, but he could not see it.

    “Supreme Chancellor Sharesh has a very bad reputation for being vindictive and very cold blooded,” Shalim was still speaking, “I’m afraid she will only be too glad to scatter our people across the Republic, or demand that we scrape up all of our savings to pay for rescue. I don’t want her to hurt my people when she agrees to save us. I’m ready to endure whatever hardship she’ll require of me, personally, but I don’t want her to burden my people with onerous conditions.”

    Shalim pleaded with the Jedi.

    “I’m hoping that if we make our appeal through the Jedi Council, the Council could moderate her response.”

    “I’ll do my best to help,” Ciiru said, knowing that nothing he did would help.

    The Force had already told him.

    “I need a place to work. I’ve got a lot of calls to make,” he said, knowing that his efforts would fail.

    Shalim was eager to get the ball rolling with Ciiru’s work.

    “Thank the stars, Master Jedi! Thank you! You can use the conference room downstairs until I can have a proper office set up for your use.”

    “I don’t like how Sharesh does business either, but I don’t believe she would do anything vindictive to the Makebi people,” Ciiru Nomuro told Shalim Avesta, knowing in his heart of hearts that it was a lie. “She wouldn’t survive another vote of no confidence if she pulled another stunt like she did with Sullust.

    “On the other hand, I do see her doing something to spite you and your family. I’ll talk to the Jedi Councilors to keep her in check,” Ciiru said, smiling, while assuring his host, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll see to it she sees the benefits of extending forgiveness,” Ciiru lied again.

    Shalim, worried the Jedi was underestimating Sharesh’s reputation.

    “I hope you’re right, Master Jedi…,” Shalim said, doubt tinting his tone.

    Shalim rose to his feet when the Jedi did and walked with him to the door of his office, then down the stairs to the first floor of the corporate headquarters, where Shalim showed Ciiru to the conference room. When the door to the conference room slid shut, Shalim returned upstairs to his office and sat at his desk. He immediately got to work, making a call to the headquarters office administrator to set up an office for the Jedi to work from.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2019
  20. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Updated 30 July 2019.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    Cytharat's Gambit​


    Darth Komo came to serve Darth Nox when he defected to Nox’s camp after betraying his old master, Darth Acina, whom Nox defeated in a feud nearly half a year before. However, to this day, the dark lord still fumed at how The Emperor’s Wrath had interfered, denying him the satisfaction of dealing the killing blow to his hated enemy.

    Nox was forced to withdraw from Acina’s bloodied and broken form by The Wrath, who then proceeded to haul Acina’s nearly dead body out of the Dark Council chambers. To this day, Nox had no idea what Acina’s ultimate fate had become, whether she yet lived in torment as the Sith Emperor’s prisoner, or whether she was ultimately slain at his pleasure.

    However, Nox trouncing Acina, both in military and in personal combat, had exposed the Sith Emperor to the appearance of weakness, and because the emperor had chosen her to guard his property, her failure to prevent the Sith Emperor’s space station from falling into Nox’s hands had brought him personal embarrassment.

    It was a wonder to all on the Dark Council, and to Nox himself, that he was himself not slain at the hands of The Emperor’s Wrath. Nox had dared to steal something that belonged to the Emperor, even if it was because it was Acina’s own fault for involving the space station in her feud against Nox, and even if Nox was prepared to immediately return it to the Emperor when he was done humiliating Acina with it.

    The secret space station, hidden deep in space, housed much of the Emperor’s secrets and some of his personal treasures. Nox made very sure that none of his soldiers or followers violated the vaults containing the Sith Emperor’s secrets. This is probably one of the things that saved him.

    When The Wrath had interrupted him from dealing the death blow to his enemy, Nox wasted no time immediately returning the station to the custody of The Emperor’s Wrath with his apologies to the Emperor. Instead of killing Nox for his affront, however, the Emperor acknowledged Nox’s power before the other members of the Dark Council through The Emperor’s Hand, who had also entered the council chamber with The Wrath.

    Through The Hand, the Emperor’s curiosity was made obvious. It was was a source of great fear for his rivals, and a source of great interest to the Sith Emperor, that Nox seemed to have done the impossible, when he seemed to have performed a Dark Force ritual that brought back a long dead Sith from beyond The Force, Darth Zash. This is likelier the reason why the Emperor stayed his hand against Nox.

    This had the immediate effect of raising Nox’s reputation and influence on the Dark Council. It also caused some of his rivals to fear him more than they already did. Those who were wiser, however, recognized it as a trap to embolden Nox, and others foolish enough, to reach out and take something else from the Sith Emperor. However, Nox did not take the bait. He knew he was not ready to challenge the Emperor for the throne.

    Darth Komo had sent Darth Nox a recorded holographic report, which Nox downloaded to his datapad in order to view it. Nox, sitting at his desk, carefully studied Komo’s kneeling holographic image in the recording.

    So! He must now wear a respirator!” Nox observed, “And he’s lost so much weight!

    Before Nox’s famous duel with Acina, she had ordered Komo’s death for betraying her. He barely survived being killed when one of her assassins pierced his back with his lightsaber, destroying one of Komo’s lungs in the process.

    Komo had fought off his four assassins, killing two outright and critically wounding a third, when the forth assassin had finally managed to stab Komo in the back. The stricken third assassin had died of his wounds, but the forth assassin was hunted down and slain at the hands of Sith sent by Nox to protect Komo. However, these Sith brought embarrassment to Nox when they had failed their mission to keep Komo safe. Nox did not punish their failure, but neither did they return to him, fearing Nox’s wrath.

    Darth Komo fought for his life, submerged in a kolto tank, after a major surgery to save what was left of his lung, to repair heat damage done to his heart, and to repair the other damage done to his body when the saber beam pierced his back. He had to wear a respirator to help him breathe, and he’d lost considerable weight while he healed over the months.

    Meanwhile, Lord Calaverous, an ambitious Sith lord, had come to Taris under Darth Nox’s orders to run the cleanup and resettlement operations of the planet while Darth Komo recovered from his very life threatening wounds.

    Darth Nox had strongly warned Lord Calaverous against taking surreptitious actions that could lead to Darth Komo’s death. Calaverous understood that if it could be shown that something other than his wounds had been the cause of Komo’s death, that Nox would automatically blame him and have him executed.

    Calaverous was ambitious, but he wasn’t stupid. He increased security around Komo and had all of the medical staff monitored at all times for signs that they might have been compromised.

    Since it was Darth Komo who was presenting Nox with the recorded report, the dark lord wondered if anything had befallen Calaverous, instead.

    I hope Komo didn’t kill Calaverous. I still have need of him.

    As Nox listened to the recorded report, he took note that Komo could not speak in long sentences without having to take in another mechanically aided breath. Komo delivered his report in his usual intimidating raspy low voice.

    “My most esteemed dark lord.” (breath) I thank you for retaining me in your service and for restoring me (breath) to my post on Taris. (breath) Lord Calaverous has done a credible (breath) job of keeping things running smoothly (breath) as I recovered in hospital.

    “(breath) Lord Calaverous has asked for reassignment, (breath) but I have need of him. (breath) I have sent him to Taris City. (breath) That’s what we’re calling (breath) Imperial Settlement Number Two (breath) these days, in accordance to your will that we give proper names to the settlements. As you may recall, (breath) Imperial Settlement Number Two (breath) is where the rebellion kept their (breath) shadow government and from which (breath) the rebellion, which you put down, was led.”

    The recorded message was becoming tedious to Nox, because Komo had to take so many pauses for breath. However, Nox was determined to bear with it. He needed to know how his newest conquest was coming along.

    “(breath) I have tasked him with hunting down (breath) and killing the remaining rebels. (breath) There are a few left attempting (breath) to reignite rebellion. (breath) I have isolated and sealed Taris City (breath) to keep them from escaping into the forests (breath) and to keep them from contaminating the other (breath) settlements with their rebellion.”

    Relieved at hearing this news, Nox thought, “Good! I have lost neither Komo nor Calaverous.

    “(breath) Despite their continued efforts to (breath) revive the rebellion, they are (breath) gaining no traction. (breath) The sabotage has mostly ended, and (breath) the citizenry are much more actively (breath) reporting suspicious activities, (breath) which has led to increased arrests.”

    Nox was momentarily distracted by an idle thought.

    As inconvenient as that respirator is, it certainly adds a menacing air to his appearance, and he sounds surlier than he did without it.

    “(breath) This has translated to markedly improved production (breath) at a substantially reduced cost. (breath) We are getting more work done, (breath) all thanks to you, Dark Lord.”

    With Acina’s memory entering his thoughts again, Nox became disgusted at her incompetence.

    Had Acina put in half as much effort as I have,” Nox thought aloud, “she wouldn’t have lost Komo’s respect. Komo would have followed Acina loyally, and I would never have learned of her plans to destroy me.

    “(breath) In fact, Dark Lord, we are doing so well (breath) that we have come across an unexpected problem. (breath) We can’t seem to get enough Imperials (breath) to immigrate to Taris. I can’t justify (breath) building a new Settlement if I can’t populate it.”

    Nox paused the message and opened a new application window on the datapad screen, below the frozen holographic image of Komo suspended above the device, and began to dictate his text message into it.

    If you can’t get anyone to settle on Taris, then find out what’s keeping them away. Address that problem. Or at the least, understate the problem to the public. The less they know, the easier it will be to recruit new settlers.

    Also, consider editing your recorded reports to remove each breath you take. It makes listening to your report… tedious.

    In any case, it is good to see you recovered and back to work. You have done well, and I expect good things from you. Also convey my commendations to Calaverous for his part. Tell him I have not forgotten him.

    A knock on the door took his attention from his work.

    He saved his work and then demanded, “Who’s there?!”

    “Dark Lord, it is I. Lord Cytharat is here to report to you,” his apprentice answered, her voice attenuated through the archaic wooden door.

    “Enter!” Nox commanded.

    The door swung open and Cytharat walked in. Darth Virulous walked in behind him. Nox observed that she wore her armored mask attached to her utility belt and the hood of her black robes with red markings was pulled back, exposing her head. She stepped to the side of the office, using The Force to swing the door shut again. Nox also took note that she had combed her short but growing hair straight back, keeping it in place with styling gel, exposing more of her face for all to see.

    Pleased, Nox thought, “She is regaining her confidence.” This caused him to reflect, “Why do I care that she is mending? Why do I care if she is – happy?

    With those questions, Nox began to realize that he had begun to favor his apprentice more than he had others in his service. Nox realized, with great astonishment, that he had begun to develop a fondness for her. He felt guilt when he remembered his dead wife, Ashara Zavros.

    Ashara would not hold it against me. She would want me to go on with my life,” he told himself, again astonished that such thoughts would enter his mind.

    Meanwhile, Cytharat, in traditional Sith attire fashioned from expensive dark blue and black fabrics, had taken a few steps into the small office, stopping about three feet in front of Nox’s desk. Bending to his right knee, Cytharat planted his right fist onto the floor and bowed his head. When Nox said nothing, he raised his eyes towards the dark lord and found that his attention was on Virulous.

    “I have come before you, Dark Lord,” Cytharat said in a neutral tone.

    Nox turned to look at Cytharat, kneeling before him, his eyes cast downward. Nox spoke dryly.

    “Rise, Lord Cytharat.”

    Rising to his feet and lifting his head, he met the dark lord’s cold expectant glare and gave his report.

    “Dark Lord, it has been reported to me that your servant, Khem Val has been leaving the village at night and then returning in the early morning. He’s been observed a few of those times bringing a dead body into the village with him...”

    Nox interrupted.

    “If I don’t allow him to get out and stretch his legs, he’ll end up eating our own people. I’d rather he go out to hunt than to lose what few people I’ve got here.”

    Virulous gave a small involuntary shiver at the thought of being eaten by the beast, recalling having caught him, more than a few times, hungrily watching her while wiping drool from his chin.

    Cytharat had an idea which he proposed, and which exposed his ignorance about the Dashade species.

    “Dark Lord, I’d like to use him to gather intelligence when he goes out on his hunts. May I approach him with the idea?”

    Virulous became mildly incredulous at the Sith lord’s proposal, while Nox regarded Cytharat with a curious look.

    The dark lord asked him, “Have you tired of living? Are you looking to get yourself eaten?”

    Cytharat blinked, mildly surprised by Nox’s reaction.

    “Dark Lord,” he replied, “I am not his enemy. We’re on the same side.”

    “I can understand the wider galaxy not understanding nor even knowing what a Dashade is,” Nox said with an amused smirk on his face, “They are nearly extinct, and are painfully rare in the galaxy, but for Sith or Jedi to not understand is almost comical to me.”

    Virulous let a tiny snort escape her lips, which Cytharat heard.

    Nox could tell the way his shoulders had tensed and his neck stiffened, that he’d taken offense, but Cytharat had otherwise hidden his feelings from the dark lord and his apprentice.

    “Khem Val is a predator,” Nox told him, “a predator which subsists on those sensitive to The Force. You are food to him, and he’s always hungry. Do not tempt him. Never find yourself alone with him.”

    Cytharat was mildly surprised when he learned that, despite Khem Val’s gargantuan and beastly appearance, he was actually very cultured. He’d seen the monster reading a collection of Chiss poetry a few days after Darth Nox arrived to take over command of the operation. On the one occasion he exchanged a few words with the monster, in the presence of Darth Nox, the Dashade exhibited great intellect and a commendable sense of honor.

    Cytharat realized that he had wholly underestimated Khem Val’s natural drive to eat those sensitive to The Force despite his good manners. His mind momentarily wandered as he imagined the Dashade listening to classical music as he dined on Sith lords or Jedi masters, paired with a glass of fine wine.

    Clearing his mind of extraneous thoughts, he got back to business and asked, “May I then suggest that you propose the idea to him, Dark Lord?”

    Nox nodded approval of the suggestion, promising, “I’ll talk to him.”

    “Dark Lord, may I ask an idle question?” Cytharat ventured.

    Nox’s curiosity was piqued.

    What sort of question will he ask?” he wondered. Aloud, he said, “Ask.”

    “Thank you for indulging me.” After a very brief pause, he asked, “Does this mean that each time you travel with him, he’s been…”

    Nox finished for him, “…murdering and eating people across the galaxy?” Nox let out a chuckle with a wry grin, answering, “Yes. I have to instruct him whom not to eat. Most of the time, he’ll obey, but only if I let him out to hunt.”

    Cytharat thought of all of the missing persons reports in Kaas City on Dromund Kaas, and realized that many of those could be attributed to Khem Val’s eating habits. He also realized that it was an indication of Nox’s great power, if the Dashade found itself unable to make Nox into its food, but instead was compelled to obey him.

    He is truly strong,” Cytharat thought. Aloud, he said, “Thank you, once again, for indulging my idle curiosity, Dark Lord.”

    “Is there anything else?”

    “Yes, Dark Lord. The 31st/77th is ready to strike at the three mines to capture the drilling facilities. I will accompany them to oversee operations.”

    “Good!” Nox declared, deeply pleased. “The sooner we have control of those mines, the sooner we can start to reshape this world.” He asked, “When does the operation begin?”

    “Tonight, Dark Lord.”

    “Excellent! Return to me with the after action report.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord. With your permission, I’ll take my leave.”

    “You may go.”

    Cytharat bowed his head then turned to leave. Nox watched passively, as Cytharat turned to walk to the doorway. Then Nox turned his eyes towards Virulous to watch as she followed Cytharat out, using The Force to shut the door behind her.

    I wonder how she feels about me?” he thought, astonishing himself yet again for even entertaining the idea.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The rebellion had heated up. The fighting escalated at spaceports around the globe where several hundred gigantic Hutt owned freighters were being loaded with several megatons of equipment and materials, including several tens of thousands of inactive super heavy war droids.

    The droids’ reactors had yet to be fueled with the Isotope Five fuel rods, and none of them had been programmed, yet. The powerful war droids were nothing more than heavy bulk cargo which could not be deployed to fend off the Makebi fighters. This was most fortuitous for the freedom fighters since they would not have to face these droids in battle.

    With the change of focus shifting from winning back their freedom to commandeering every ship on world, so that they could evacuate as many Makebi citizens as possible, the Mandalorians were contracted, and paid up front, to lead squads and platoons of freedom fighters in battle. Mandalorians were also tasked, at the higher levels of command, to advise the Makebi rebel unit commanders in the field.

    Since the Mandalorians informed the Makebi rebel army’s strategy and tactics, the Regulators found themselves having to reinforce and consolidate their positions. Gone were the days where a single Regulator platoon could outmatch a company of rebel fighters. The rebels were benefiting from Mandalorian field tactics and strategies, and were now armed with proper battlefield weaponry, not ordinary civilian hunting and sporting weapons as had been the case only a week before.

    The rebellion added to their numbers as well. As Regulator forces were defeated, their weapons and munitions were captured and used to arm and create new fighting units to field against the Regulator mercenaries.

    The word had gotten out. Makeb was within weeks or months from self destructing. Evacuation from the dying planet had become the highest priority, both for the Makebi people and for the Hutts’ minions, employees, and contractors.

    The factories, mines, administrative and governmental buildings were being abandoned by the Hutts’ administrative and managerial staff as they fled to the spaceports to be evacuated from the planet. Even the focus of Regulator mercenary forces had shifted from maintaining order in the streets, to defending the various spaceports around the planet, as they fought to prevent the ships from falling to the rebels. Regulator forces guarding the spaceports and starships had also made sure there would be room for them to evacuate as well.

    This was what Lord Cytharat and Major Trent Ordensk were waiting for. The Regulators were effectively pinned at the spaceports, and the mines were cut off from reinforcements.

    The Imperial troops had removed all of the insignia, unit patches and other tell-tales of their origins from their uniforms. They used various shades of green dyes to add random patterns to their mono-slate gray uniforms, body armor, and helmets to further disguise their Imperial identities as much as possible. Lord Cytharat and Major Ordensk had also gotten into their armor as they prepared to move out.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    A week and a half ago, after returning to the village with the kidnapped engineers and their immediate families, Black Ops had deployed again after only a half day of rest. Their new mission was to closely monitor and report the activities of the Regulators guarding the mines.

    Black Ops had been watching the Regulators conduct their drills for just over a week, plotting all of the defensive positions at each of the three mines. When the Regulators packed up and moved out, leaving a skeleton force to guard the mining complexes, Black Ops had made their reports, and then began to make their own moves. With the bulk of Regulator mercenary forces gone from each Hutt owned facility, there were many holes in their regular guard post defenses.

    Towers were left unmanned. The gates had been closed, locked, barricaded, and the gate guards removed from them. Patrols along the tops of the mining facilities’ ten meter high walls were increased, but that was all of the remaining security forces that the Black Ops teams had been able to detect.

    This gave Black Ops the opportunity to set up explosives and remotely operated traps on the barricaded gates. They set up autonomous turreted blaster cannons trained on the defensive response positions of the Regulators’ security reaction teams. When the 31st/77th launched their attacks, the remaining tiny Regulator defense teams would occupy their positions and instantly come under fire of the autonomous turreted blaster cannons.

    Black Ops had also spent that week and a half searching the woods in front of the walled complexes for mines and sensors, quietly neutralizing the booby traps as they came upon them. When the light infantry soldiers and their droids approached the tree line, they would be spared from the explosive traps, and their approach would remain undetected.

    Black Ops also scoured the one hundred meter open grassy space between the tree line and the ten meter high walls of the mining complexes, searching for mines and other traps in the tall grass and scattered shrubs. They used small, remotely operated droids, Garab Industries’ Model GRB-782 sensor droids, to search for and disable any traps they found.

    The model GRB-782 was the Sith Empire’s answer to the Galactic Republic’s Miirtn Droidworks’ model 23-B94 sensor probe used by Galactic Republic Commandos. Both resembled arachnids and both could move like arachnids.

    The the model 23-B94 was capable of using photo-flexing technologies to bend light through a force field, to make it seem invisible, and was small enough to fit in the palms of both hands. It was used primarily as a scouting tool.

    Meanwhile, the model GRB-782 was not capable of becoming invisible. Instead it relied on a special film that was molded onto the metallic outer shell and external parts of the limbs of the probe. The film was capable of a complex camouflage coloration scheme to blend in with its background. It changed its colors and patterns based on its surroundings in the same way certain reptiles could change colors and patterns in the wild.

    The GRB-782 was used primarily to set traps or to remove traps but could also serve as scout probes. Because of its role in setting or removing mines and booby traps, it was therefore as large as a medium sized family pet. The larger size of the GRB-782 meant that it could carry small anti personnel mines and booby traps.

    In addition to its six legs, for all terrain mobility, it had four additional appendages, with several tool attachments, for setting or disabling traps and sensors. With the mines and sensors disabled, the light infantry battalion would not suffer unnecessary losses in their coming assault.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________
    Marching down the gently sloping valley, the 31st/77th exited the narrow valley and entered the gently rolling forested lowlands. In the thickly wooded lowlands, the 31st/77th had split into its three companies, each company reinforced with a platoon from the heavy war droid company.

    They moved out from the ghost village the previous afternoon, after getting word from Black Ops that the Regulators were abandoning the mines. They remained in the wooded areas, marching no closer than five hundred meters from the roads, unless crossing them, and getting no closer than three thousand meters from populated centers.

    Each of the towns and villages the companies had marched past on their way to their respective objectives, were all eerily quiet. Major Trent Ordensk, marching with Aurek Company speculated with Cytharat, who marched with Cresh Company.

    “For the Makebi, it’s the end of the world, my lord. Perhaps they’ve elected to stay home with their families while they await the end. The rest are fighting at the spaceports to capture ships for evacuation.”

    Cytharat replied to Major Ordensk’s holographic image, “It’s as good a guess as any. Regardless, their lack of activity works to our favor.”

    Major Ordensk’s executive officer, marching with Besh Company and listening in on their exchange, added, “We haven’t encountered any hunters or campers either… I’m grateful for that, at least.”

    “Silence any that you come across,” Cytharat immediately ordered, “Leave no witnesses and no potential for the Regulators to be tipped off of an Imperial presence on world.”

    Both the battalion commander and his executive officer replied, “Yes, Lord.”

    “That is all,” Cytharat said.

    All three cut communications and stowed their specialized covert communications equipment, borrowed from Black Ops.

    Each of the three companies arrived to their respective rally points within half an hour of the other, stopping a kilometer from their respective objectives in the thick forest between the twenty second and twenty third hour of the night. The troops were allowed to rest for a few hours before the operation was to begin at the third hour of the next morning in the dead of night.

    The heavy war droids formed perimeters a hundred meters out from the troops under the direction of their human handlers, who followed carefully behind their war droids to each of the companies’ respective outer perimeters. The huge and heavy six legged machinery, painted in woodland camouflage patterns, moved surprisingly gracefully, quietly in the thick woods as they took up their watch positions in the dead of night.

    Their sensors worked much better in the thick black night-plunged forest than human eyes aided by low light goggles, and much better than human ears aided by sound amplification units installed in their helmets. This allowed all of the soldiers a few hours to rest before the attack.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    An Imperial soldier, whispering, poked Cytharat on his shoulder, waking him from a sound sleep. It was time to move out. He sprang awake.

    Quickly sitting up, he began to don his rigid plate battle armor which was a glossy bright red with black markings, although you couldn’t tell that in the black night of the forest. He had to don his gear by feel since it was pitch black. The dim light of the stars were blocked by the forest canopy. The soldiers around him were all doing the same, getting back into their flexible medium grade armor and pulling on their boots.

    After pulling on his heavy armored boots, he rose to his feet and slipped into his loose fitting, full length, long sleeved, hooded, midnight blue robe, which he had wrapped around himself like a blanket as he slept on the forest floor. His robe fully covered his bulky plate armor. When he finally donned his helm and activated the low light goggles attached to it, he was finally able to see, but visibility was still very poor with most of the starlight blocked by the trees, and Makeb had no moon.

    The company of light infantry soldiers formed into a column of twos. Meanwhile, the heavy war droids, under the guidance of their handlers, quietly arranged themselves into single column files, twenty meters out, on either side of the infantry, providing flanking protection for the troops as they quietly marched through the forest the remaining thousand meters to their finale objective.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Cytharat crouched behind a bush at the bottom of a tree, peering at a very tall wall surrounding the very well lighted mining complex a hundred meters away. He considered that the other companies of the 31st/77th were seeing similar sights at their objectives, as what met his eyes. The other mines targeted for this operation were several kilometers away, both were to the west of this mine’s location. One was ten kilometers away, and the other five kilometers beyond that.

    Cresh company’s commander quietly approached the Sith lord, crouching behind the bush. Whispering, she announced herself, before whispering her report.

    “The troops are deployed in attack formation. The droids have been preprogrammed with their assigned targets. Second Heavy War Droid Section is in the reserve to give us additional firepower to direct as needed.

    “I’ve made contact with the Black Ops team leader operating in the area. I have received the remote detonators for explosives they’ve planted at the gates and have received the intelligence they’ve collected on the enemy situated here. The operation will commence in five minutes. Do you have any instructions for me, my lord?”

    “What is your name, Captain?” Cytharat whispered back.

    “My lord, I am Captain Mallorey Thane.”

    “Captain Thane. Lead your own men. I am merely an observer.”

    “I am grateful for your confidence in me, my lord. I think my lord will find that we are worthy of our place in the Imperial Army.”

    “Very well, Captain. Carry on.”

    The captain quietly turned away to return to her command post.

    A few moments later, at the third hour of the morning, the quiet of the dark forest was shattered. The booming reports of a dozen heavy blaster cannons, mounted on the war droids, had begun turning guard towers into expanding fiery clouds of dust and rubble which rained down in flowing curtains of sparks onto the mining complex inside the ten meter high wall. Security cameras mounted at the top of the wall’s exterior were taken out on the next volley.

    Silence returned for a brief moment, as the last target was taken down. In the pause, Cytharat could hear the distant rumble of battle coming from the west. The other companies had begun to strike their targets as well. The sounds of distant combat were occluded as the captain’s voice came on over the speakers in Cytharat’s helmet. Her voice was calm, crisp, and measured.

    “Cresh Company, forward in the assault.”

    Light coming from inside of the walled mining complex, over a hundred meters away, dimly illuminated the tops of the trees directly overhead. The diffused reflected light, from the tops of the trees, barely illuminated the poorly defined dark shapes of hundreds of soldiers as they emerged from the tree line.

    A few of those soldiers stepped to either side of the Sith lord as they waded into the clearing of tall grasses, blanketed in the deep shadow of the wall. Cytharat stood from behind the bush, pushing his way through the brush and into the darkened clearing along with the Imperial troops.

    His low light goggles made the lighted mining complex look like a single mass of glowing light – above the tall wall. However, below the tops of the walls, the clearing was held in darkness. Thanks to his goggles, however, he could clearly see the troops as they rushed towards the wall a hundred meters from the tree line. None of them were shooting, however, since there wasn’t anything for them to shoot at.

    As soon as her troops reached the wall, Captain Thane set off the explosives set by Black Ops on the barricaded gates, sending their wreckage flying into the complex. When the worst of the falling rubble had settled, the captain’s voice sounded again in Cytharat’s helmet mounted speakers.

    “Cresh Company, breach the gates. Platoon commanders take charge of your platoons and secure your individual objectives.”

    Cytharat hadn’t heard any reply from the platoon leaders and decided that the platoon commanders’ comm-links were directly linked to the company commander on separate channels. He watched as hundreds of Imperial fighters rushed towards the two blasted open gates. Soon after, the sounds of sporadic blaster rifle shots emanated from within the walls.

    Suddenly, the darkened area between the tree line and the wall lit up with brilliant strobing flashes, as the autonomous blaster cannons, hidden in the tree line, slammed the mostly quiet night air with their rapid fire staccato reports, lighting up the night with their brilliant blue-white blaster bolts as they began to destroy their targets.

    Cytharat looked up at the top of the wall where the blaster cannon bolts pounded a few points just above the wall, sending showers of sparks and resicrete rubble to the ground below. He realized that’s where the Regulators’ emergency response positions were located. The autonomous blaster cannons fell silent fairly soon after, however, as they had nothing left to shoot at after only firing for less than ten seconds.

    Cytharat looked down from the ruined areas at the top of the wall and swept his gaze across the field to take in the scene.

    Two gates had been blasted open, five hundred meters apart, set in a ten meter high wall, with hundreds of Imperials rushing into the western breech. Only seconds after the autonomous blaster cannons had fallen silent, a rather spirited blaster rifle battle erupted on the western end of the mining complex as the two platoons who’d rushed in the west gate had finally made contact with a significant Regulator guard force.

    Cytharat decided that plenty of Imperial forces were handling the western breach. So, he decided to trail behind the third lone platoon headed to the east gate.

    He was less than five meters from the eastern breach, when he felt compelled to stop in his tracks. A series of huge blasts ripped from within the complex near the east gate. The air around him beat on him with the compression waves of the blasts as the ground thumped beneath his armored booted feet.

    Does the enemy have artillery blasters, here?” he asked himself, a bit worried.

    Immediately thereafter, the soldiers who’d just entered the gate began to rush right back out of it, carrying many wounded with them. Cytharat realized then that he was not going to get any of the comm chatter, at the platoon level, when he heard Captain Mallorey Thane issue new orders as though it were in response to a call for aid.

    “Second Heavy War Droid Section, enter the eastern breach and reinforce Third Platoon. Engage super heavy assault droid and destroy.”

    “Second Heavy War Droid Section, acknowledged.”

    I’ll have to correct that for next time, and be sure I’m connected to all of the pertinent comm channels,” Cytharat resolved about his poorly set up communications scheme. In the meantime, he accepted that he would hear nothing from the platoons.

    Having heard Second Heavy War Droid Section acknowledge their orders, he turned to face the tree line and, through his low light goggles, watched four of the Imperial Army’s six legged heavy war droids gracefully crab-sprint across the clearing from the tree line, towards him. The droids didn’t even stop, stampeding past him and through the blasted out gate.

    He wanted to see the fight between the droids, so Cytharat rushed to the side of the breach and peeked around the jagged edge of the destroyed gateway as the droids immediately sighted, identified and engaged the enemy war droid. Just as immediately, however, the Imperial heavy war droids were one-shotted, destroyed, one after the other, by the enemy’s super heavy war droid.

    He ducked back around the wall, concealing himself from the enemy droid.

    So, that is one of the Hutts’ Isotope Five war droids…,” he thought to himself, rather impressed.

    Cytharat spoke to Captain Mallorey Thane, via the audio only communicator attached to his helmet.

    “Captain Thane, we are facing one of the Hutt Cartel’s Isotope Five war droids. It has excellent shielding and two blaster cannons. The cannons seem to be about as powerful as artillery blasters.”

    Captain Thane replied, in her ever unflappable crisp tone, “Acknowledged, my lord. I shall forward this information to the battalion commander.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________
    At another mine complex, Major Trent Ordensk listened to Captain Mallorey Thane’s report over the audio only comm-link – even as he witnessed for himself, one such super heavy war droid hammering one of Aurek Company’s platoons as they took cover from its murderous fire.

    Ordensk watched the men and women of the platoon attempting to shelter behind a resicrete wall even as it quickly crumbled under the relentless pounding of each blaster cannon bolt. Many fist-sized pieces of the disintegrating resicrete, along with clouds of resicrete dust, rained down onto the helmeted heads and armored bodies of his men and women hunkering at the bottom of the crumbling wall.

    The thundering sound of a stampede caught his attention. He turned his head in time to see eight of his heavy war droids, two heavy war droid sections, as they came to a stop not far from the Hutts’ super heavy war droid. The Imperial heavy war droids began shooting, concentrating their fires at the flank of the Isotope Five super heavy war droid.

    It was just as Captain Thane’s report had stated. Major Ordensk could see for himself that the droid’s shielding was indeed excellent, as it absorbed every blaster cannon bolt without a hint of damage done to the Isotope Five super heavy war droid, and without any sign that the shielding was degrading.

    Having been presented with a greater threat to its existence, the super heavy war droid snapped its twin blaster cannons in the direction of Ordensk’s droids, targeting the Imperial war droids.

    Major Ordensk returned his attention to his men, watching anxiously as some members of the beleaguered platoon hastily retreated from behind the crumbling inner wall, sprinting for safety outside of the main outer wall. He worried the other troops of the battered platoon, trudging along as fast as they could while weighed down by their wounded comrades, wouldn’t be able to move to safety in time, and that they might attract the deadly attention of the super heavy war droid now that they were in the open.

    Trent Ordensk turned briefly to his heavy war droids, and noticed that his war droids were running and jumping, ducking and dodging as they drew the fire of the enemy droid. A tiny tight smile developed on his otherwise grim facade the longer he watched the droids’ battle unfold. The super heavy war droid had trouble hitting the scampering Imperial war droids. Actually, it missed every shot. It was a significant weakness which he communicated to his company commanders.

    “31st Primary to 31st Secondaries, Hutt super heavies can’t hit moving targets very well. Maximize shoot and scoot with our war droids.”

    The company commanders each replied, “Acknowledged.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Cytharat listened as Captain Thane issued new orders.

    “First Heavy War Droid Section, engage Hutt super heavy. Use shoot and scoot evasive maneuvers to avoid enemy fires. Probe for weaknesses. Report findings.”

    “First Heavy War Droid Section, acknowledged.”

    Cytharat stepped away from the wall and turned to look back from where he stood. He looked past the forty men and women of Third Platoon – Cresh Company, who had lined up alongside the wall behind him after they hurriedly rushed back out of the complex from the eastern gate.

    Through his low light goggles, he could see many of the troops applying emergency medical field aid to their comrades. Then he spotted the four war droids of First Section crab walk/run out from the western breached gate five hundred meters west of his position.

    The Imperial Army heavy war droids seemed to glide across the clearing past the troops. The six legs of each war droid pounded the ground as they sped across the landscape, sounding like a heard of hooved beasts stampeding across the field. The droids slowed to a stop about ten meters from where the Sith lord stood near the wall. Cytharat watched the droid handler hop off one of the droids.

    The droid handler briefly greeted Cytharat, “My lord,” as he ran past, coming to a stop at the ruined eastern gateway. He peeked around the wall and assessed he situation, whereupon he then began issuing orders to his droids. The heavy war droids sprang into action, stampeding their way into the compound through the breached eastern gate. The droid handler then ran through the breech behind his droids.

    Again Cytharat peeked around the broken gateway into the mining complex and watched as the Imperial war droids engaged the enemy war droid in battle. This time, the Imperial war droids ran as they fired. They jumped up onto platforms and ducked behind outbuildings or crouched low behind walls to avoid the super heavy war droid’s fires, never staying in one place for more than a few seconds. He watched the droid handler drop into a resicrete drainage ditch to take cover as he operated his heavy war droids.

    The air and the ground pounded Cytharat with each blast of the super heavy’s artillery level blaster bolts striking the resicrete parking lot after missing each Imperial droid it shot at. Cytharat was impressed with the power of the enemy droid, but he also found himself rather critical of if.

    These Hutt war droids have impressive firepower and shielding, but their fire control and targeting algorithms need a lot of work...

    He noticed another weakness and reported it to Captain Thane.

    “The Hutt droid cannot maintain a high rate of fire for extended periods. My guess is that it is either taking too long to recharge its charge capacitors or the cannon bolt generators are overheating.”

    “Thank you, my lord. I’ll pass this along.”

    Cytharat turned to one of the troops behind him and asked, “Where is your platoon leader?”

    “That is I, my lord.”

    “Observe the battle between the droids. Look for weaknesses and report them to Captain Thane. I’m going in for a closer look.”

    “Yes, my lord, but I must warn you against going in...”

    Cytharat had already activated his personal shield generator as he rushed into the complex. The lieutenant took Cytharat’s place and peeked around the broken gateway to observe the fight between the droids.

    The four Imperial army war droids had the Hutts’ super heavy war droid thoroughly occupied. Cytharat kept his attention on the super heavy war droid as he trotted along the inside of the wall to get by the battling droids. He wanted to see if the super heavy would notice and attack him, or if it would ignore him to deal with the greater threat posed by the Imperial war droids.

    He made it twenty meters before the super heavy finally snapped its very nimble turret and swiveled its twin blaster cannons down at him before letting him have a volley of two blaster cannon bolts. Then it resumed its battle with the Imperil war droids. Cytharat reacted when he saw the guns turn towards him, using The Force to dash forward.

    He made it outside of the blast zone, but was nevertheless struck by the concussive blast waves which slammed him from behind, hurling him forward through the air. He used The Force to slow his tumbling flight and then landed on his feet. However, he lost his footing with the incredible forward momentum and immediately ducked into a forward roll.

    His momentum was such that Cytharat rolled forward several times before coming to a stop, lying flat on his back. He was winded, felt sore all over, and found it difficult to move. He lay dazed on his back for nearly a minute, not making sense of the panicked communications chatter in his comm gear.

    The fog finally cleared his mind while still on his back. Finally, he mustered the strength to shift his body, although with great difficulty and great pain. He tilted his head so that he could look back at the behemoth war droid.

    It’s not coming after me. Good,” he thought with relief.

    He dug out a hypo-kolto injector from his medi-aid pack on his utility belt and administered a quarter dose of kolto through the flexible anti shrapnel mesh armor beneath his heavy plate armor on his bicep. After a moment to let the worst of the pain to subside, he arched his head back again to study the behemoth war droid.

    The monstrous machine was twice as large as a main battle tank. Its four squat legs were built to withstand multiple strikes from blaster cannon bolts or take several anti armor missile hits.

    I don’t even think normal anti-tank mines would faze the brute,” he thought, impressed.

    The main chassis was not built for speed and was not particularly agile. Its turret, on the other hand, was quite agile, seeming to respond swiftly, swiveling on its raised mount atop an articulated boom at the front end of the droid’s chassis.

    The boom could be lowered as needed to clear low underpasses or elevated high up to give the turret an additional height advantage. Targets taking cover behind low walls and in ditches could be engaged by the twin outsized heavy blaster cannons. The turret could simply ‘look down’ into the ditch or peer down behind the wall from above, from several meters away. The Hutts’ super heavy war droid had the appearance of a mechanical animal with a long mechanical neck and head.

    Cytharat observed that the super heavy’s shielding seemed inexhaustible. It easily absorbed the considerable energies of the Imperial army heavy war droids’ blaster cannon bolts without degrading.

    As a power source, Isotope Five is proving to be vastly superior,” he concluded.

    Then he saw it. Each time the energy of a blaster cannon bolt had dissipated on the shield, a short thick rod, one of a dozen sticking out from the top and sides of the super heavy’s hull, glowed red hot and quickly darkened back to its normal metallic color as it cooled. These rods were the only parts of the super heavy not painted. Cytharat realized that those were the shield emitters.

    Still lying on his back, Cytharat used The Force to launch a piece of resicrete rubble, far from where he lay, at the super heavy war droid. The rubble slammed into the side of the droid’s hull. The droid’s turret snapped in the direction from which the rubble had come and scanned the area. Finding no targets, the turret snapped its attention back to the annoyingly agile Imperial heavy war droids.

    The Sith lord did it again, twice more, sending broken pieces of resicrete from the same location. Each time, the resicrete passed through the shield unimpeded and slammed into the hull of the droid, and each time, the droid turned its attention to where the rubble had come from, but finding no targets returned its attention to the running, leaping and dodging Imperial heavy war droids.

    Its artificial intelligence is quite primitive. There’s a lot left to be desired,” he thought, unimpressed.

    However, this gave him an idea.

    “Captain Thane.”

    Captain Mallorey Thane’s voice came back a bit strained, “Yes, my lord?! Are you well? First Heavy War Droid Section Leader Tech Sergeant Edrass reported that you were struck by the super heavy’s cannon fire. Do you need rescue?”

    “I do not require rescue. I have a report for you. Are you ready to receive it?”

    “Er..., uh.., yes, lord,” was her flustered response.

    “The super heavy’s artificial intelligence is quite primitive. It doesn’t change its tactics, and constantly repeats the same tactics, even if they yield no fruit. It can be tricked into following and repeating a pattern. Also, there are bare metal rods sticking from the sides and the top. I believe these rods are the shield emitters.

    “I tested the shield with resicrete rubble, and the rubble passed through unimpeded. It is possible we may be able to use anti-tank missiles against the super heavy, provided it doesn’t have a specific threat recognition ability that we have not noticed.”

    The captain’s voice was calm and collected again.

    “Thank you for your report, my lord. Missiles may be able to pass through the shield, or did you mean the droid did not respond to projectile attacks?”

    “I succeeded in striking the hull with the resicrete rubble on three occasions. The super heavy failed to activate anti projectile shielding. This is either because its subroutines did not recognize the rubble as a threat requiring anti projectile shielding in its algorithms, or because it lacks anti projectile shielding. It’s not evident which might be the case.”

    “Understood, my lord. I’ll pass this up to 31st Primary, along with a report that you are well. Again, you have my sincere thanks, Lord Cytharat. I am glad that you are… unharmed?”

    “I am unharmed,” Cytharat replied dryly, without acknowledging her worries for his well being.

    Still on his back, he looked around and found a pile of rubble behind which he could take cover. His body still complained with pain as he carefully rolled to his side. The quarter dose of kolto was only enough to deaden the worst of the pain, so he still hurt badly.

    At least my perceptions and reactions will not be muddled or slowed,” he thought, trying to console himself.

    He knew that more kolto would deaden the pain better, but would also slow his reflexes and make him much more vulnerable to attack, so he refused to administer anymore kolto. The Sith lord scrambled to his feet and made a mad Force sped dash to the rubble pile. He waited for the murderously powerful blaster cannon bolts to strike the rubble pile. However, nothing came his way.

    He peeked over the top of the rubble at the back of the super heavy and noticed something new. The back of the droid had a huge ventilation grill. Hot air blew out of it in a powerful jet of superheated air. He tapped a spot on the lens of his low light goggles and a digital readout showed him the jet of air was heated to 1080 degrees Celcius.

    That’s hot! Is the Isotope Five reactor really air cooled? Or perhaps it is water cooled and the air takes the heat from the water via a radiator coil? That’s an awful lot of pressure for a water cooling system!

    This gave him another idea, as his head seemed to spin momentarily.

    He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head a bit to clear the fog in his head, thinking, “Blast! Did I use too much kolto?

    Cytharat took a hypo-stim injector from the medi-aid compartment of his utility belt and gave himself a dose of a military grade hyper-awareness stimulant to counter the fog the kolto had put his mind in. He inspected his shield generator and found that the battery had been completely depleted. Cytharat replaced the battery, discarding the spent battery.

    The Sith lord then removed his low light goggles, detaching them from his helmet. The lighting in the mining complex was bright, but the quality of the lighting was markedly different. With his goggles, it seemed as though it was day time within the walls of the complex. Without his goggles, he suddenly found there were large dark shadows and the lighting was unevenly distributed.

    He secured his goggles in their compartment on his utility belt and then lowered the transparisteel face guard of his helmet, locking it to the chin guard of his helmet. The hard as durasteel transparent material would now protect his face from shrapnel, debris, and high energy disbursements (blaster bolt blasts – but not direct hits).

    Cytharat removed what was left of his expensive, but now shredded midnight blue hooded robe and folded it neatly, leaving it with a pang, on the rubble pile. He really liked that robe. Cytharat tasted iron in his mouth, and realized he might have gotten a cut in his mouth.

    Feeling around the inside of his mouth with his tongue, he thought, “I don’t remember biting myself when I rolled across the ground...

    He took his lightsaber from its perch on his utility belt, and took a deep breath. Letting out his breath in a big rush, he burst out from around the pile of rubble and Force Sped his way to the Hutt super heavy war droid.

    Cytharat’s body complained greatly with aches and pains, from the earlier abuse it had suffered, as he Force Leapt onto the back of the super heavy war droid. In so doing, he had to pass through the jet of superheated air shooting out from the back of the war droid. He also passed through the droid’s shielding, landing on the droid’s back as he ignited his lightsaber.

    He immediately got to work cutting off the shield emitter rods on the top and sides of the droid’s chassis. He felt as though he’d been burned by an electrical current. This was no doubt caused when he passed through the shielding, but he also felt his suit become very warm. It continued to very quickly warm up until he became very uncomfortably hot inside his armored suit.

    Damn! I couldn’t have been in that air stream for more than a fraction of a second! Is the reactor that hot?!

    He worried about radiation in the super heated air stream.

    Too late to worry about that, now,” he thought, as he cut off another shield emitter rod.

    As he cut the last of the shield emitter rods, which he could reach with his lightsaber, he noticed two things: one, the super heavy wasn’t shooting anymore, and two, the Imperial heavy war droids weren’t shooting, either.

    Blast! The droid operator should ignore my presence on this droid and continue his attack!

    He looked up and saw that the super heavy was aiming its twin blaster cannons at him. His first instinctive impulse was to leap off the droid, but he cancelled his instinctual desire to flee the blaster cannons. Instead, he gave a wry grin within his helm at the droid.

    “Can’t shoot at me without blasting yourself to pieces, is that it?” he asked the behemoth machine.

    On the top of the super heavy’s chassis was a huge metal grill through which air was being drawn in at a ridiculous volume. The air howled as it was drawn in through the grate.

    He thought to himself, “It can’t be water cooled. It must be a molten salt cooling system. The operating pressure for those is much lower.

    Given the temperature of the air streaming out the exhaust at the back, it made better sense to him than water cooling did.

    The Sith lord, looked back down at the Imperial Army heavy war droids ducking and scurrying around the super heavy, all the while withholding their fire.

    Lord Cytharat failed to appreciate that Cresh Company’s officers were in a bit of a panic earlier when they first thought him killed in their sector of responsibility. The officers had no idea how Darth Nox would take the news of a Sith lord killed on their watch.

    So, a bit peeved, he thought, “The droid operator will likely ignore my orders to shoot for fear of accidentally killing a Lord of The Sith.

    Add to this, the fact that since the super heavy also seemed to be trapped, unable to shoot at him without destroying itself, Cytharat realized that both sides had reached an impasse on the eastern end of the battlefield. He decided that there was only one way left to end the stalemate.

    Cytharat walked to the edge of the air intake grill and could feel the enormous pull of the howling air on him, as though he would be vacuumed into the droid’s air cooling system. He cut a large square section of the grill with his lightsaber. Immediately, the heavy piece was sucked into the enormous blower.

    The explosive sound of metal rotating at incredible speed and colliding with a large piece of falling metal debris was most unnerving. He felt the jolting vibrations of the blower tearing itself apart through his armored boots, and imagined that a piece of the blower would shoot up through the grill to impale him from below.

    As the blower destroyed itself, the airflow at the intake also came to a halt. The giant vacuum had ceased to threaten to suck him in, and he knew the reactor would overheat very soon.

    The super heavy lowered itself to the ruined and cratered resicrete parking lot and returned its articulated boom mounted turret to its lowered maintenance position. It then executed its emergency reactor shut down protocol. Retracting the Isotope Five reaction rods into their graphite block, the reaction ended and the rods began to cool. The droid had shut itself off.

    Cytharat leapt off of the deactivated super heavy, landing heavily on his feet and collapsing hard to his hands and knees. Air whooshed out of his mouth from the force of the landing, and blood splattered the inside of his transparisteel face shield. The Sith lord unsnapped the visor from its catch at the chin guard of his helmet and removed an armored glove. Bringing his bare hand to his face and then looking at his blood soaked hand, he rose to his feet and began walking unsteadily towards the gate.

    I don’t remember biting my tongue. My mouth doesn’t hurt. Why is my mouth bleeding?

    He watched Third Platoon, Cresh Company rush back into the complex as he walked towards the gate. The world went black for him, and he toppled forward, crashing onto his face.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  21. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Updated on 07 August 2019.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​


    Mysteries of The Force​


    Katha Niar passed through the doorway and marched to the front of Nox’s desk in the office of what Nox thought of as his commandeered tiny eight bedroom two story shack. Sweat beaded on her forehead and a rivulet of sweat ran down her temple as she worriedly prepared to present Darth Nox with a report of failure.

    Nox’s eyes immediately locked on to Virulous, however, as she entered his office behind Katha. He watched as she walked to the corner of the office to his right, where she would take up her station to keep an eye on Katha. Her hands lightly grasped each end of her smooth, chrome plated lightsaber hilt, down in front of her.

    He was struck by her bright yellow, loose fitting, sleeveless, one piece dress which she wore with comfortable looking, tan canvass, low ankle, low heel shoes. He also took note that she wore her short jet black hair in a relaxed flowing style, with her bangs feathered back to either side of her head, to keep her forehead and face clear and open.

    That’s when he realized that her hair was growing quickly and was already covering her ears down to her jawline. He’d wondered if she’d been prescribed quick hair growth pills as part of her reconstructive surgery aftercare and therapy plan as directed by her physicians and surgeons on Manaan.

    Virulous had found the stylish attire after rummaging the closet and dresser in one of the rooms of her master’s commandeered eight bedroom house. The room belonged to the adolescent girl who would never see her cutely decorated bedroom, nor anything else, ever again.

    Her robes and armor were being laundered by soldiers of the Logistics Support Company of the 31st/77th. Her sabrestaff was put away with her utility belt and other gear in her quarters in the guest house behind the main residence. She didn’t want to reside in the same house as the Dashade.

    Virulous’ eyes were fixed on Katha. She didn’t notice her master staring at her. She’d been regarding Katha with a mixture of disgust and pity. She felt disgust at Katha’s almost constant state of self loathing and self condemnation, and yet she felt pity for the lead administrator working for her master.

    I hope I never have to do what you did, Katha,” becoming introspective, she reflected, “What I did was bad enough.

    With a shiver, Virulous shook off the memories of her own terrible crimes. Not wanting to think of the children, she concentrated on keeping an eye on Katha to get her mind off of her own atrocities on Tatooine.

    Then she finally noticed that her master had been eyeing her intently. This worried her. She figured his attention on her had something to do about her current manner of dress, but Nox turned his attention to Katha without saying anything to her.

    “Report, Katha.”

    “The dark lord honors me greatly for allowing me to speak, but I am afraid I have bad news to report, Dark Lord,” Katha began.

    “The Regulators have succeeded in holding on to the spaceports and their ships,” Katha reported, “Most of the ships have, thus far, succeeded in launching into space with their cargoes and their passengers. The Regulator forces have also boarded these ships to be evacuated from Makeb.

    “There are only a few spaceports where fighting continues, with only a few dozen Hutt freighters remaining on world. The Makebi are fighting desperately to capture those. However, Regulator….”

    “I don’t care about any of that,” Nox interrupted rather curtly, telling her, “The rebels have done what we needed. They’ve kept the Regulators tied up while we took their mines. I don’t need to hear about their failures.”

    Katha Niar was taken aback, realizing that she had invested too much of herself, emotionally, to the fate of these people. She had forgotten that Darth Nox only wanted to use those people as distractions.

    Nox’s inquiry brought her back to the here and now.

    “Where is Lord Cytharat? I want to hear his after action report.”

    Katha felt as though she’d been punched in the gut. Her bid to save the people of Makeb had ended in failure, and the blood she had shed would not be atoned for. She fought bitterly to hold back her tears. Despite her valiant effort, however, her eyes misted. This fact was not lost on Nox, not least of which because he could also sense her whirling grief and guilt stricken emotions through The Force.

    Katha kept her strong voice and told her lord, “Dark Lord, I’m sorry to inform you that Lord Cytharat has suffered serious injuries resulting from his battle against one of the Hutt’s Isotope Five super heavy war droids.”

    Nox leaned back in his chair with a look of exasperation, shaking his head in some annoyance.

    “Was it at least a good fight,” he asked, quite flippantly, “or did the droid easily take the fool out?”

    Nox was quite surprised by Katha’s very firm reply.

    “My dark lord does not appreciate the sacrifices made by his loyal followers, here!”

    Virulous’ mouth fell agape in utter shock, letting out a small gasp as Katha continued to lecture the dark lord.

    “The 31st/77th suffered nearly forty percent losses because of those cursed droids! Lord Cytharat’s actions helped the 31st/77th to deal with the super heavy war droids. The intelligence he gleaned from his observations, and from his own personal battle against one of those monsters, allowed our troops to obtain the knowledge needed to defeat the remaining two super heavies without poisoning the area with radiation.

    “He fought despite his very grievous wounds, sustained when he took a hit from the blast waves from the droid’s artillery blasters. Lord Cytharat is now in the 31st / 77th’s field hospital in the village center recovering after a major surgery. He suffered major internal injuries, and lost a lot of blood….”

    Nox angrily waved at Katha in an abruptly jerky manner, and Katha became silent, realizing what she had just done. Virulous, in a state of shock at Katha’s tone of voice with the dark lord, quickly glanced back and forth between Katha and her master. She fully expected him to order her to take Katha out to the backyard of the two story ranch-style house and to execute her by decapitation on the lawn.

    Meanwhile, Katha regained her senses and adopted the proper tone with her dark lord.

    “I beg your pardon, Dark Lord! I foolishly forgot myself!”

    Nox ignored her apology, deciding that he would execute her the instant he didn’t need her for the mission. He got back to the business at hand, but he did not hide his fury at her disrespect towards him, scowling at her as he spoke with a biting edge in his words.

    “Do we at least have control of the damned mines?! What about the scientists? Are they ready? And what about the engineers Black Ops had abducted, are they cooperating, or do we need to make examples of any of them?!”

    Swallowing back her grief for the people of Makeb, and her disgust at Nox’s indifference towards Cytharat and his sacrifice, Katha did her best to report in a neutral tone. However, Nox could sense the turmoil within her and knew that she held him in contempt.

    “Black Ops have transported the captive engineers and our scientists to the three mines. The scientists report they are currently reprogramming the mining laser computer guidance systems with the algorithms developed by Dr. Nadrin Tro and his team. Dr. Tro reports that they should be ready to begin by this afternoon, Dark Lord. The engineers are…”

    Nox cut her off brusquely.

    “Tell me when the scientist is ready to begin. I want to be ready.”

    “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    “I’ve heard enough. Get out!”

    “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Nox watched Katha bow at the waist, turn about to leave his office, then finally pull the door shut behind her. All the while, Nox fought the great urge to blast her retreating form with Force Lightning.

    Virulous turned to look at her master from the side of the office and asked, “Do you want me to execute her, Dark Lord?”

    “I’ll deal with her myself when I’m done with her,” Nox said, grimly.

    “As you will, Dark Lord.”

    “Why are you dressed like that?” Nox asked, mentally kicking himself after the words had left his lips. He was angry at Katha, but he didn’t want to use that tone towards Virulous.

    The question, however, quite clearly coming abruptly out of the blue, was asked in that tone. While it didn’t really surprise Virulous, she wished that he would not have asked. She became greatly worried that Nox would chastise her for dressing in the clothing of commoners. He’d lectured her on this in the past when she wore the uniform of an Imperial Reclamation Service officer despite his order that she dress like a Sith.

    “My robes and armor were in a dire need of cleaning,” she explained, “I have soldiers laundering them for me, Master.”

    Darth Nox looked as though a new truth had been revealed to him.

    “Oh, I see. Very well, you may go.”

    Virulous bowed at the waist, replying, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Virulous straightened and turned towards the door. The door swung open, seemingly on its own, and swung shut on its own when she had passed through it.

    Nox fumed. He was in a very foul mood, no thanks to Katha. What he wanted to say was that she was comely in her bright yellow dress, but his foul mood and anger carried him down another path. He shook his head in disgust.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Shalim Avesta sat slumped in his office chair. A look of utter shock and disbelief, at what had just transpired, was plastered on his face. The Jedi representative, Ciiru Nomuro, was also greatly surprised at what he’d witnessed.

    While The Force had revealed to him that the people of Makeb would die, he didn’t think it would happen because a politician would deliberately choose to let them die. He thought it would be a matter of time running out for them. He grieved greatly for the Makebi people, and although his great sorrow could be seen on his face, he did not weep, but fury was building in his heart, instead.

    Ciiru realized that despite knowing the fate of the Makebi people, as revealed to him by The Force, that it was still an unbelievable shock to him. When he noticed the emotional state of his mind, however, he quickly worked to pull himself together and worked to focus his mind. He struggled to get himself over the shock, and had to exert great effort to quell the fury that was building in his heart. Ciiru had been finding it ever increasingly difficult to stay calm and centered, these days.

    He then, quickly, busied himself, making every attempt to make direct contact with the Jedi Council. He had to try, even if, according to The Force, it was futile.

    Shalim’s brother and niece were also in the office watching evil unfold before their very eyes.

    In a bewildered tone, Pollus asked no one in particular, “How could she?”

    In all of her young life, Lemda had never heard her father despair, and it was too much for her to bear. On hearing her father’s plaintive question, Lemda, rose to her feet and fled the office, the sliding doors hissing shut behind her, as her professional facade quickly crumbled, revealing the frightened young woman that she was.

    Pollus and Shalim turned their grim faces towards Ciiru Nomuro’s intra-galactic holo-transceiver on the caff table when Ciiru had finally gotten a hold of someone at the Jedi Temple. It wasn’t one of the Councilors, but an administrator at the Jedi Council temple complex on planet Tython.

    “Ciiru! It’s been a while since I’ve last seen you. How have you been?”

    “Maraus, I wish this was a time to exchange pleasantries, but I have a very dire emergency, and I need the Jedi Council’s help. This is something that only they can remedy.”

    “Let me hear what the matter is, Ciiru.”

    “The people of Makeb need the Republic’s help.”

    A puzzled expression entered Ciiru’s friend’s face.

    “I don’t understand,” she said, then asked, “Didn’t their leader make a grand speech about how they didn’t want to join the Galactic Republic? What’s...”

    Ciiru interrupted, “The geologists on Makeb have discovered the cause of the very frequent and greatly worsening groundquakes on this planet. It’s the result of the Hutts’ planetary core mining operations. The planet’s core has been destabilized and the planet will soon destroy itself. The people must be evacuated from this world or they will all die – all seven million of them.”

    Maraus’ eyes widened.

    “Then you need to tell the Republic about…,” she started to say.

    “Sharesh has refused to evacuate the Makebi people. Seven million people will die in a matter of a few weeks or a couple of months. I need to report this to the Jedi Council. I can’t reach anyone. I...”

    “Say no more, I’ll track one of them down and relay your message.”

    “Ask them to contact me with instructions.”

    “I will.”

    Maraus cut the connection so that she could get right to tracking down one of the Jedi Councilors.

    Ciiru turned towards Shalim and Pollus, the abject defeat on their faces nearly tore an expletive from his lips. He felt a great need to hurl epithets at Sharesh and her great evil, but he also needed the two men to remain calm. Ciiru also realized that he himself was in a highly emotional state and that if he was not careful, he would start to do and say things without thinking them through.

    He closed his eyes to meditate and to center his being. When he opened his eyes again, he looked at the two men.

    “I have room on my ship for sixty passengers,” he told them. “I invite you and your families to leave with me if worse comes to worse.”

    Pollus turned to look out the window of the executive office of Avesta Mining Corporation. He was overcome with grief as he realized the end of life for all of his people was upon them. Shalim buried his face in his hands, his shoulders heaved slightly, as he quietly wept for his people.

    An hour later, Ciiru Nomuro was speaking to Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan via holo.

    “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you, Jedi Grand Master.”

    She spoke soberly, in measured tones, explaining, “We are a foreign entity. You know this, Jedi Knight. We are an entity with diplomatic relations with the Galactic Republic. We are not a part of their government. Our presence on Coruscant is purely advisory and cooperative in nature. We are strong allies, but there is only so much we can do to influence our ally.

    “We pressed Supreme Chancellor Sharesh, but she would not yield. She went so far as to remind us of our place. In the end we are a foreign power with a very close friendship and a very deep alliance with the Galactic Republic, nothing more. We may not interfere with their internal affairs.

    “If we had the resources to evacuate seven million people, we would do it ourselves and settle them on Tython. In fact, I suggested the Galactic Republic offer their navy to transport the Makebi people to Tython, but Sharesh refused even that. There isn’t anything else that we can do.”

    Ciiru Nomuro had forgotten himself. He forgot that The Force had already revealed the coming calamity to him. He was plunged into the depths of fury.

    “Remind me again why it is that I don’t qualify to be promoted to Jedi Master?” he had asked conversationally. “Oh, that’s right. The Jedi Council wouldn’t tell me why. Yet, as a mere Jedi Knight, I thought of the possibility of using Force Persuasion on the Supreme Chancellor. Have you thought of maybe using Force Persuasion to change Sharesh’s mind, Grand Master Jedi?”

    Satele recognized the sardonic criticism for what it was. She could see that Ciiru was emotionally tied to the problem. She spoke in an even and unemotional tone.

    “The idea of so very lightly using that technique to violate the Supreme Chancellor’s sovereign mind in order to affect a political outcome is….”

    Ciiru cut her off, but his tone was a bit more curt than he had intended; he was furious at what he perceived as hypocrisy and indifference from the Jedi Council.

    “Political? Effect a political outcome, you say. I thought we were talking about saving millions of lives,” he said with condemnation in his tone.

    When Satele Shan said nothing, he asked, “Then why is it taught at the temple? Why do the Jedi share the knowledge of Force Persuasion if it’s such a problem? Isn’t it better, as you put it, to violate a single sovereign mind in exchange for saving seven million lives?”

    Satele could plainly see his fury. She knew that the hero of the Galactic Republic was teetering on the verge of falling to the Dark Side of The Force. She didn’t want to push him over the edge. She wanted him to return to the Jedi Temple, on Tython, so that he could meditate and purge the anger from his heart, to purge the residue of the dead Sith Emperor which had contaminated Ciiru’s soul.

    Ciiru suggested, “Then how about appealing directly to the Galactic Republic’s Grand Admiral of the Fleet? Ask him to...” He interrupted himself, frustratedly answering his own suggestion. “We would be asking him to commit treason….” After a moment of angry contemplation, he pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand, declaring, “I’m so stupid!”

    Satele, quietly listening to the clearly furious Jedi Knight, considered that his battles with terribly powerful Sith lords and finally with the Sith Emperor himself had taken a terrible toll on him. Ciiru’s psyche had been deeply affected by the Sith Emperor’s decrepit and utterly foul and evil aura.

    He was one of two survivors who had returned from that mission out of sixteen Jedi which had formed the strike team. The other Jedi survivor had gone mad from the Sith Emperor’s echoing presence within her mind, even after his death. She ultimately killed herself, pointing her lightsaber to her temple and igniting it.

    Satele told him, “You have done everything that you could. I have done everything that I could. We don’t understand why Sharesh’s heart is so predisposed to such evil. It is something we will need to investigate.”

    She watched Ciiru Nomuro’s expression change, as though a new thought had occurred to him.

    “Do you think she’s under the influence of a Sith lord operating in the background?” he had asked.

    Satele looked surprised on hearing that question. It hadn’t occurred to her. Her expression became introspective as she consulted The Force.

    After a moment of meditation, she shook her head slowly and carefully replied, “I just think she’s an evil person.”

    The silence between the two had stretched for many long seconds before Satele finally broke the quiet with a simply stated order.

    “Your mission on Makeb is ended. Please return to Tython.”

    Ciiru Nomuro’s fury returned with greater heat, but he fought to keep his composure, slowly winning the battle against the blistering rage burning a hole within his soul.

    He bowed his head towards the holographic image of Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan, replying in a steady voice, “I will return posthaste.”

    Then he cut the link. The Jedi Knight leaned forward in his seat. Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned his face into his hands and stayed that way for some time.

    Shalim Avesta broke the silence in his office, his voice was heavy with defeat, but he spoke graciously.

    “Thank you, Master Jedi. I saw for myself. I know you did your utmost.”

    Turning to look at his brother, who also wore the look of a defeated man, Shalim said, “I think my family will likely not want to abandon our people.”

    Pollus snapped out of his deep thoughts and looked sharply at his brother as Shalim added, “I think my family would not want to selfishly escape while the rest of our people stayed here to die. Thank you, but we must decline your kind offer to escape on your ship. However, please feel free to rescue anyone else whom you will.”

    After a few heartbeats, Pollus looked away from his brother, nodding his concurrence. The two men had resigned themselves to their fates with their families and with their people. However, they became deeply shocked by what the Jedi said, next.

    His face still buried in his hands, Ciiru told them, “There is one last thing that I can do. I don’t know if it will do any good, but trying is better than not trying. We, the Jedi Council, know about your deal with Darth Nox for weapons in exchange for your refusal to join the Galactic Republic.” The Jedi sat up straight to look into the faces of the two men and added, “Try asking him for rescue. He may turn you down as well, but then again he might accept if you offer him servitude in exchange for rescue.”

    Shalim exploded in fury.

    “How were our communications eaves dropped?!” he demanded of the Jedi, “Did you tell the Republic?!” Bolting to his feet, he added accusingly, “This is probably why Sharesh turned us down!”

    Ciiru surreptitiously used Force Persuasion to bring calm to the two very angry men, as he replied, “We did not tell the Republic.”

    Regaining his composure and resuming his seat, Shalim countered, “Maybe you didn’t tell, but what about the Jedi Council? They might have reported it.”

    “We didn’t interfere with your deal,” Ciiru revealed, “because his deal with you would result in a free and neutral Makeb.” He paused a moment before adding with a slight hint of disgust, “We knew that if we had told Sharesh, she would have done something to retaliate against Makeb, perhaps economic sanctions, trade tariffs, perhaps even set up a pretext to attack Makeb.”

    Pollus blurted, “How did you even know we met with him?!”

    Ciiru looked straight into Shalim’s eyes.

    “Because I tapped your communications the last time I was here, on the Republic’s behalf, to negotiate your membership in their Republic.” Turning to face Pollus, he added, “Through your brother’s holo-transceiver, we watched your conference with Darth Nox in your office and listened to him make his offer to you.”

    “I’m sorry that I betrayed your trust,” Ciiru said, returning his gaze towards Shalim. “I’m sorry that I can’t do anymore for your people. I hope you’ll be able to convince Darth Nox to take your people in. Remember, do not depend on any goodness you may think he has. Nox is evil, just as evil or perhaps more so, than Sharesh. He must be given an incentive. Offer him servitude in exchange for rescue.”

    Shalim turned to his brother.

    “Do you think I should?” he asked Pollus.

    Pollus turned to the Jedi Knight and said, “He’s a dark and evil man.” Then he asked, “What makes you think he’ll do what Sharesh wouldn’t?”

    Ciiru Nomuro, deeply unsure of himself and heavily conflicted by what he was doing, replied, “I think The Force wants me to tell you this. I am trusting The Force in this matter.”

    The world began to shake, and with each passing moment, the shaking became worse.

    Pollus replied, “We don’t have a choice, Shalim. It’s our last shot.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Six hours had passed since Nox had fairly thrown Katha Niar out of his office. She was again entering his office, this time Khem Val followed her in. As usual, she knelt before Nox. As usual he allowed her to rise. As usual, she rose to her feet and then reported to him, as usual.

    However, Katha had observed something most unusual. Nox was dressed in soft clothes. The clothes probably belonged to the man who’d once lived in the ranch-style house with his family. Unbeknownst to Katha, Nox had followed Virulous’ example and had his robes and armor taken by the Logistics Company of the 31st Battalion 77th Regiment to be laundered.

    She realized she was staring, not having ever seen the dark lord out of his black and yellow flexible armor before. He was not bulky, but the open front and short sleeves of his loose fitting blue tunic, with yellow decorative patterns, revealed a well defined hardened musculature under his Sith Pureblood’s red skin. He was extremely physically fit. She snapped her mind from her idle curiosity and got to business making her report.

    “The engineers have completed calibrating the mining lasers so that they will be able to carry out the newly programmed parameters as Dr. Nadrin Tro and his scientists have calculated. Dr. Tro said there will be a marked increase in groundquakes and he wanted you to be alerted. He is ready to begin.”

    “Good!” Darth Nox replied, “It’s about time! It took long enough!”

    Nox rose from the quaint overstuffed office chair, which he had begun to take a liking to, and began to gather his datapads and personal computers from the desktop. With his portable office equipment in his arms and in his hands, he ordered Katha Niar, “Follow me.”

    Katha obeyed, quietly observing his well defined muscular legs under his loose fitting white shorts which ended halfway down his thighs. Nox was shod with brown loafers which were a size larger than his normal shoe size. Katha had noticed, because his feet didn’t quite fill in the shoes.

    She was followed by Khem Val, as she followed Nox down the stairs, through the house, and out through the back door of the house and out into the backyard.

    A white tent had been set up beforehand with all four sides rolled up. There was a white, lightweight plasticast table with a matching chair next to it in the shade of the tent. A hundred meters further back, out of sight, behind tall bushes and trees, was Virulous’ guest house.

    Sitting in the chair, after setting his computers and datapads down onto the table, he declared, “I’m all set.” Looking at the back of the main house, he quipped, “If that shack decides to crash to the ground in the next groundquake, I’ll already be out here. Tell the Neimoidian to begin.”

    Hiding her disgust from all but Nox, who could feel her hatred of him through The Force, Katha replied neutrally, “As you say, Dark Lord.”

    She then brought out her audio only communicator and spoke into it, knowing that the order was going to ultimately result in the deaths of seven million Makebis.

    “Major Ordensk, tell Dr. Tro to begin the operation.”

    A moment later the disembodied voice of Major Trent Ordensk came back, announcing, “Tell my lord that operations have begun.”

    Katha turned her face towards Nox and announced, “Dark Lord, they’ve begun. If you’ll excuse me, I must attend to other matters.”

    Nox merely waved her away, but not before flooding the area with his putrid and malign aura. Katha bowed at the waist towards him, then straightened and turned away, leaving Nox’s backyard and his presence.

    She suddenly felt sick to her stomach and found that she had great difficulty breathing. Her chest felt as though it were in the crushing depths of a deep sea. She needed to escape his foul presence, which she had not felt since his first day on Makeb when he took command of the operation.

    Katha had other work she needed to do. She had written a legal document which would require Nox’s signature, but she needed to proof-read it to be certain that it followed the proper format, and that she had referenced the proper legal codes. Katha knew she wouldn’t be able to work under such a foul atmosphere, so leaving his presence quickly was at the top of her mind.

    Khem Val watched as Katha Niar strode quickly from the backyard, with purpose, as she made her way to the walkway at the side of the house. She was headed to a house across the road from his master’s house, where her office had been established so that she could work nearby to where Nox did his work. The Dashade was not like Nox, able to sense her emotions through The Force. Khem Val could only see and sense her outer self.

    “Master, she has become stronger,” the beastly Dashade had observed, of Katha, “Perhaps she has ended her self pity.”

    In actuality, this was true. Katha had ended her self pity and had come to a resolution about what she had done. It became a source of strength for her.

    However, Nox was not moved, replying, “It won’t do her any good. She’s dead as soon as her usefulness to me has come to an end.”

    The dark lord utterly hated her.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Nox was busy polishing his policy revisions for his sphere of influence, the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge. His archaeologists were starting too many dig sites throughout the galaxy, each of which was causing the Imperial Reclamation Service to exceed their quarterly budget, and forcing the bureaucrats to borrow money from the general fund to make up the difference – with Nox’s authorization, of course.

    Several members of the Dark Council had called him out on how much the budget for his sphere of influence had inflated. His rivals argued that it was starting to become a huge fiscal burden on the Sith Empire. It was an exaggeration, Nox knew.

    However, Nox also knew that the current military crisis was no exaggeration. The Sith Empire had lost their hold on three worlds which they had only recently conquered, and the Republic had begun to challenge the Sith Empire on several other worlds which had been part of the empire for millennia.

    With his current understanding of the fragile state of the Empire’s war effort, he realized his rivals had something to hang over his head. It was something that might become a hindrance to his path to the Imperial throne someday. By cutting the growth of his sphere’s expenditures, he would be making the appearance of having done the responsible thing.

    His policy revision meant that any new archaeological discovery would be guarded by Imperial troops and protected from looters rather than developed into a new dig site. When existing dig sites have completed their excavations and restorations, and when any initial studies of any particular site were completed, it would become open to Sith seeking knowledge and to historians seeking to piece the history of the galaxy together.

    However, they would have to pay a moderate fee to access each site. These fees would go towards maintaining the sites. As each of the older dig sites were made inactive, placed under guard to prevent vandalism, a newly discovered archaeological site would then be opened to Imperial Reclamation Service archaeology teams. The budget from the old retired dig site would then be applied to the new dig site. In this way, his budget would not need to be expanded.

    Nox knew there would be resistance to his new policy, not only from within his sphere of influence, but from the Dark Council. This approach would prevent the Imperial Reclamation Service from starting new dig sites until an old one was closed, but it would also not shrink his budget.

    As Nox saved the work on his documents, the ground began to shake and roll. This time, however, the shaking did not end after two or three minutes, as usual. The world continued to shake, and it did not seem like it would stop, becoming progressively worse with each passing moment. It seemed that the world would shake itself apart at any instant.

    Upon hearing a very loud crash come from the house, the realization came to him, too late, that he was too far away from any starship to take him safely off world. He turned, just in time, to watch the roof cave in on one end of the structure. At that instant, he also witnessed the large pane window, of ordinary glass, from the large sliding glass door at the back of the house, shatter. Thousands of glass shards scattered both onto the wooden deck at the back of the house, and inside of the family room on the first floor of the house.

    The dark lord fought to stay in his chair as he questioned whether it was wise to remain on the planet any longer. His personal holo-transceiver chimed, but he ignored it as he occupied himself with ensuring his data was saved and his devices were properly shut down.

    An explosive snapping sound emanated from the house, as its resicrete foundation violently shattered under the forces of the groundquake, and the front of the structure collapsed in a crashing heap as a result. This occurred out of view of the dark lord, so he was unaware of the extent of the damage.

    As the foundation shattered, he was also suddenly thrown into the air, off of the lawn, along with his chair, the table, and all of his office devices, including the tent. He came crashing back down, with all of the other stuff, landing in a sprawl two meters over from the lawn, where he’d been a second before.

    He ended up on the resicrete patio a few meters from the edge of the wooden deck, which was strewn with shattered glass. Nox had to extricate himself from under the canvas of the tent, which had been thrown onto the patio with him, the lawn chair, and his devices. The table, through the vagaries of chance, landed elsewhere.

    Darth Nox laughed as he righted himself and sat cross-legged on the resicrete patio. He busied himself with gathering his office equipment. That new policy he’d been working on was too important to lose, plus it took him a lot of work to formulate. He didn’t want to do it all over again.

    If I’m having this much trouble, then what’s left of the Regulators, still on the planet, are experiencing hell!” he thought.

    However, then he worried over disappointment if Dr. Tro’s experiment to direct the worst of the quake had failed.

    They’d better be having a worse time than I am!

    He laughed aloud, enjoying the tumultuous catastrophe as though he were enjoying a thrilling amusement park ride on Nar Shaddaa. His laughter and enjoyment was cut short, however, as he noticed Katha Niar staggering back into the yard. She was thrown into the air again, as was he a second time. However, he used The Force to gently lower himself to the writhing ground, while she crashed back down onto the resicrete patio.

    Nox was greatly bothered by her existence. He felt that she had spoiled his fun in the moment, merely by entering his presence. As he grabbed his sabrestaff, he contemplated what to do with her.

    Well, the mission is practically over. I don’t need her anymore.

    However, something nagged at him. He couldn’t quite make the commitment to finally kill her.

    Well, something might come up, and then I’ll need her for whatever that is,” was the excuse he told himself.

    With that, he let go of his weapon.

    When she recovered from her fall, she crawled on hands and knees before him and shouted, “Dark Lord, I pray you accept this urgent call from Shalim Avesta!”

    Nox was surprised that she was still on about those people. He was at the end of his patience with her and became further perturbed over the subject matter.

    “Why should I?!” he demanded, adding, “He has served his purpose. I have no further use for him!”

    The ground quite suddenly stopped quaking violently, instead rolling and swaying as though on a great ship in a mighty rolling sea. Quite literally, the land rolled in waves three meters high and thirty meters between each wave. Katha quickly got to her knee, planting her right fist onto the ground. Meanwhile, Nox rose to his feet, looking down at his hated servant, the two swaying with the rolling landscape.

    Katha replied, “Dark Lord, we have an opportunity to embarrass the Galactic Republic, to show the galaxy just how shallow the altruism of those hypocrites really is!”

    Nox could read her like a datapad. He could see, from The Force, just how desperate she was about this.

    Disgust dipped from his tongue, as he asked, “You really want me to hear him out, don’t you? Why can’t you just let it go?!”

    Katha didn’t care anymore. She had already crossed the line with him a few times. She knew he would likely execute her for her tone of voice with him a few hours before. Her life had stopped to matter to her, in any case.

    She replied, obviously insincere, “Forgive my impertinence, Dark Lord! I exceed myself, but I believe this is a chance to hurt the Galactic Republic in a very meaningful way. If you do not wish to hurt the Galactic Republic, then I’ll tell him you are busy and cannot accept his call.”

    At that moment, Nox realized for the first time why he had so much trouble simply killing her when he had wanted to so many times before.

    She reminds me of Ashara’s stubbornness,” he finally admitted to himself.

    Thinking of his dead wife and apprentice, Ashara Zavros, he could no longer find it within himself to dismiss Katha Niar. This was precisely the sort of matter his dead wife would insist he attend.

    “I’ll hear him,” Nox relented.

    Katha replied with genuine surprise and gratitude.

    “You are most gracious, Dark Lord! I thank you!”

    She then manipulated the controls of her holo-transceiver. Shalim Avesta’s still shaking and swaying holo-graphic image sprang up above her device.

    Nox said simply, “Speak.”

    “Darth Nox, this world is destroying itself!” Shalim exclaimed at the dark lord, “My people will all die if we are not taken off of this planet!”

    Nox was deeply surprised.

    “The Republic won’t save your people?” Nox blurted his question, obviously amazed. Then he asked, “Do you want me to shame the Republic into saving your people?”

    “That witch, Sharesh, all but laughed at us,” Shalim said, bitterly, “because we refused to join the Galactic Republic!” Speaking rhetorically, he angrily asked, “What’s wrong with wanting to maintain our independence?!”

    Indifferent, Nox shrugged his shoulders in reply.

    “Please! Save my people!” Shalim begged passionately, “Take them into the Empire!”

    Nox had expected Shalim to take him up on his offer to shame the Republic into rescuing the Makebi peoples. He was not prepared to be asked to rescue the people. Not very many in the galaxy considered the Sith to be the sort to rescue the helpless. Nox spoke quite pointedly, and quite very coldly.

    “I have no need of so many weak and pathetically useless people! What can your people offer me? They...”

    Shalim interrupted, desperately making his offer.

    “We can become your servants, your slaves! You’ll have seven million slaves!”

    Darth Nox snorted at the preposterous notion.

    “Have you any notion how costly it is to maintain even a few hundred slaves,” he asked derisively, “let alone seven million?!” With finality, before ending the conversation, Nox told Shalim, “I have no use for your people. They have nothing I nee…..”

    Darth Nox suddenly stopped to think, looking away from the holographic image of a sweating and weeping Shalim Avesta. He shook his head and smiled sardonically in wry admiration of The Force. Nox was truly mystified by the power of The Force. Returning his wry smiling gaze to Shalim’s holographic image, he spoke, while jabbing an accusatory finger at his holographic image.

    “The Force is truly with you Shalim Avesta! You have no idea how mystical and powerful The Force is! Yet, it is so very subtle...” Nox’s declarations trailed away into silence, as he plunged into another round of deep contemplation about The Force. His facial expression became filled with wonderment.

    Shalim didn’t understand why Nox was so distracted and talking about The Force. He prodded the dark lord.

    “Darth Nox, I don’t understand what you are saying. What do you mean?”

    The dark lord laughed uproariously, and then declared, “As it happens, I do have a need for your people! There is something they can do for me!”

    Shalim’s confused countenance told Nox that he didn’t understand that his people had been saved.

    “I want your people to settle a world I have conquered,” Nox told him, “to clean it up, and to build several settlements there.”

    Shalim’s eyes widened with realization of what was being offered.

    “We’ll take it!” he shouted, “You have a deal, Darth Nox! You want settlers? We’ll do it!”

    “Very well,” Darth Nox nodded in satisfaction, telling Shalim, “I’ll save your people. Make a public speech condemning the cruel and coldhearted Galactic Republic, which refused to rescue your people. Then publicly ask the Sith Empire to save your people. I will bring Imperial ships here to take your people away. Remember to keep the Empire’s previous activities on Makeb secret.”

    Nox snorted and added derisively, “Let us see the worth of your people. Let us see if your people can earn their place within the Empire. You had better not make me regret this decision, Shalim Avesta.”

    Shalim was exhausted, the strain on his psyche showed plainly.

    “I hope your ships will make it in time, Darth Nox,” he said with such low energy.

    Shalim was quite drained, becoming lost in thought, for a moment, before finally telling Nox, “Thank you, Darth Nox. For as cruel and heartless as your enemies have made the Sith Empire to be, I see that the truly cruel and heartless ones are the leaders of the Galactic Republic.”

    Nox signaled for Katha to cut the signal. As the holo-graphic image of Shalim Avesta vanished, the dark lord’s eyes turned just in time to watch her turn her face away to hide her tears from him.

    “Contact Nadrin Tro,” Nox told Katha, “Discover the reason why the groundquakes have stopped being so violent, then report to me the answer.”

    Katha’s voice was husky, as she replied, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    Katha staggered as though drunk, walking on the rippling and rolling landscape, making her way out of the backyard, to the front of the property, to make her inquiries of the scientist.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Shalim sat slumped at his desk, physically and emotionally drained, but Pollus jumped up and down, pumping his fists in the air in celebration. Ciiru Nomuro sat quietly, however, contemplating with the same wonderment that Nox had experienced about the subtle, yet very powerful way that The Force ordered the galaxy.

    He shook his head in disbelief, that not only had an evil, black-hearted Sith lord promised to save the people. He did it because The Force had arranged it. The Force created his need for the Makebi people, and The Force had also guided Ciiru into making the suggestion to the Avesta brothers. The Force no longer showed him the deaths of seven million Makebis. There was a future for them, again.

    He wondered if that meant that the Light Side and The Dark Side of The Force worked together, or were they actually one and the same?

    He asked himself, “Is there no light or dark? Is it just The Force? Then is the good and evil in the Light Side and the Dark Side only the manifestations of what lies in the hearts of intelligent beings? Can one follow the Dark Side of The Force and do good?

    Thinking of how Satele Shan was prepared to accept Sharesh’s evil in order to not violate the Supreme Chancellor’s free will and her political policies, he asked himself, “Can one follow the Light Side of The Force and do evil, or allow evil to be done?

    Despite his philosophical musings, he could not be distracted to what was nagging at him the entire time. What glared at him with unknown implications was the fact that Nox was shaking and swaying as he spoke to Shalim.

    He’s here. He’s still here on Makeb. Why?

    Ciiru Nomuro considered finding the dark lord and confronting him, but he knew that if he did that, it would likely end any hope of rescue for the Makebi people. Ultimately, he decided to return to Tython as ordered by Satele Shan.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    As Nox watched Katha stagger out of his backyard, he took out his own intra-galactic holo-transceiver and dialed a frequency he’d used only twice since ascending to the Dark Council.

    Soon after his holographic image sprang up, Nox began speaking, “Soon this world will belong to the Empire, and its resources will belong to us. The Hutts are evacuating this world, abandoning it to its impending destruction, and the Republic has foolishly turned their backs on this world. Listen for a speech which shall be given by the leader of the peoples of this world.

    “Bring the fleet to evacuate the population of this world after the speech is given. There are nearly seven million of them to salvage. This is a great opportunity to make the Galactic Republic look like fiends. Their propaganda has always made us out to be cruel devils, casually murdering entire worlds. Now it is our turn to point our finger at them and declare them the heartless fiends who would leave an entire world to die!”

    Darth Nox laughed with glee at the prospect of such a propaganda coup. Darth Marr, however, was beside himself with incredulity. He spoke mockingly.

    “Amazing! I ask you to bring me the Isotope Five stockpile, but instead you bring me refugees! What am I suppose to do when the fleet runs out of fuel? Shall I ask the refugees to get out and push?” Then he asked darkly, “Why are you in those ridiculous clothes, and why are you dancing? Have you allowed your mind to become addled with spice?”

    Nox’s mirth evaporated instantaneously and was quite rapidly replaced by his ire.

    Ignoring Marr’s ridiculous jab at him, he spoke through gritted teeth, telling his rival on the Dark Council, “I said that the Hutts and the Republic have abandoned Makeb, believing the planet will destroy itself.”

    Recovering some of his composure and relaxing his jaw, Nox continued, “They do not know that Makeb can be saved, is being saved. When you have unloaded the population onto Taris, you can bring the fleet back to Makeb to secure the star system for the Empire! When Makeb’s crust has re-solidified, and has cooled sufficiently, we can start to build our own mining complexes and begin mining the Isotope Five to refine it for ourselves!”

    “What is this about Makeb’s destruction?” Marr asked, confused, “What do you mean?”

    Nox explained what the Hutts had done to the planet’s core, and about the quakes that were driving them and the Republic to abandon the planet, leaving nearly seven million people to die.

    He told Marr, “Our scientists have found a way to save the planet. However, to those not in the know, it will seem as though the planet had indeed destroyed itself.”

    Marr was unconvinced, but he realized he had no other choice. He realized that, to add to the fiction that the planet was doomed and also to black the Galactic Republic’s eye, he would have to go along with Nox’s farce. He also realized, that if Nox’s scheme worked, that it would mean another conquered world under Nox’s belt, and that the Empire would have unlimited access to the Isotope Five which the Imperial Navy desperately needed.

    Marr was unwilling to give Nox credit for a victory in the making, however, and instead complained to his rival.

    “Damn you, Nox!” he railed at his nemesis, pointing a finger of condemnation at his rival’s holographic image, “You had better be right about this, or we will see the end of our empire, and it will be your fault!

    Nox was surprised that he felt a need to explain anything at all to a fellow dark lord about what he felt was the obvious.

    “You are too cautious, Marr,” Nox lectured his rival, “You need to be more daring and force your own destiny into being.”

    Nox had taken notice that Virulous had approached him from the guest house on the far end of the backyard. He allowed her to approach, to listen in to his conference with Marr. He noted that she was dressed, again, in her customary black robes and flexible armor with its red markings.

    Virulous, on the other hand, marveled at what she saw. The dark lord in soft clothing! She’d never seen him out of armor before. Virulous found herself admiring his physique, and thought back to her cross country run to Kinlo Plantation with her master.

    It is not only The Force on which he depends for power and stamina,” she reflected, “He is also physically very fit!

    Just then, Katha reentered the backyard as the ground stopped rolling and the world became still again.

    “Dark Lord, Shalim Avesta is about to speak,” Katha reported.

    Nox was slightly disappointed that the quakes had stopped, but he put it aside as he told Marr, “He’s starting his address. Let us see what he will say.”

    Virulous took on a quizzical expression as she wondered why her master would take an interest in what the local leader would have to say about anything; she hadn’t heard the deal Nox had made with Shalim Avesta. Meanwhile, Marr ordered a technician to open a channel to the broadcast, while Nox cut his connection to Marr and turned to look at Shalim’s speech on Katha’s holo-transceiver.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Shalim walked to a podium set in a garden as the doors slid shut behind him. One half of the Avesta Mining Corporation name and logo was embossed in black, on each frosted permaglass door, so that when they slid shut, the company name and logo were formed.

    He set his speech, hand written on flimsiplast, on the podium which had been set up in the corporate garden for this important announcement. Nox could see that Shalim had pulled himself together, and had refreshed himself for this news conference.

    “My fellow Makebis, we have had some very trying times this past year. The Regulators Mercenary Group, which has provided security and protection for Makeb over the last seventy four years, not only terminated their contract right at the last second as the contract ended, and with no advanced notice, a clear violation of the ‘intent to quit’ clause of the contract, but they betrayed us to the Hutt Cartel.

    “The Hutts not only subjected our people to their cruelty at the hands of the traitorous Regulators, but they have also been the cause of these terrible groundquakes with their unsafe mining practices!

    “We appealed to the Galactic Republic, believing they were good, representing freedom and what is good in intelligent peace loving beings. We believed them when they told us the Sith Empire was cruel and oppressive. Yet, it was the Galactic Republic who placed an onerous condition for their help. They wanted us to surrender our independence. They wanted us to be indebted to them.

    “We aren’t poor. We could have reimbursed the costs of military operations, but that’s not what they wanted. Our people suffered while we tried to convince the Republic to accept payment – with interest. The Galactic Republic wanted nothing less than to annex Makeb to their Republic.

    “We had no other choice but to surrender our independence in order to win salvation from the cruel Hutts and their traitorous Regulators. However, days before we formalized our agreement in a signing ceremony for the treaty to join their Republic, the unexpected happened. A representative of the Sith Empire approached us.

    “The representative offered us weapons so that we could fight for our own freedom. I expected onerous conditions from the Sith Empire, but their only requirement was that we maintain our independence and that we defeat the Hutts!!

    “Why didn’t the Galactic Republic, which allegedly stands for freedom and justice, make us such an offer? Why did this offer have to come from the Sith Empire, who are said to be the oppressors? The weapons, provided by the Sith Empire, through the Exchange Gang, and the military training, provided by the Mandalorians, who guarded the weapons shipment, allowed us to throw off our Regulator tormentors.

    “Then a little over two weeks ago, just as we were at the very cusp of victory for our independence, we learned the truth of what the Hutts had perpetrated against our world, against our people! Their mining activities destabilized the core of our planet, and now our world will destroy itself, tearing itself apart and ultimately becoming a ring of asteroids around our star! These terrible groundquakes are the evidence of our world’s impending doom.

    “Naturally, we turned to the Galactic Republic for help, because the Galactic Republic is good. Right? We were shocked. Crushed! The Galactic Republic turned us away! Supreme Chancellor Sharesh told me, ‘You have nothing to offer. You would only become a burden on our economy, using up our much needed resources.’ That is an exact quote!! She said that!

    “In desperation we turned to the Sith Empire. Again, we expected onerous and cruel requirements. Would they require servitude, front line military service, or both? Would we be scattered throughout their vast empire to be separated from our friends and loved ones? Would they make us into slaves?

    “The requirement we have been given is to colonize a world and civilize it – that’s it! We are being given the chance to rebuild our lives and our communities on a new world, as settlers!! The Sith Empire has only required hard work and to earn our place in their empire!! Not slavery! Not servitude! We are being asked to tame a world. Of course it’s going to be hard work building a colony on a wild world, but it will be a colony we Makebi will build. It will be our community! Our home!

    “On behalf of my people, I want to thank the Sith Empire, and in particular, I want to thank Darth Nox. He is our benefactor. He brought us the weapons to win our freedom. It is he who has offered to save our people.

    He has proven that the Sith Empire is not the evil entity that the Galactic Republic has made it out to be. The Sith Empire is the true friend of justice, of freedom. They are the truly benevolent ones, only requiring hard work and that we merit our place in their empire!

    “After my experiences with both Supreme Chancellor Sharesh, and with Darth Nox, I don’t know what to believe about the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire anymore. Has everything I have ever been told, growing up all of my life, been a lie? Who are really the tyrants, and who are truly the benevolent?

    “In a short while, I shall be in contact with Darth Nox to work out the details of our evacuation. Pay close attention to official news broadcasts for instructions on what to bring, and where to report for evacuation.

    “It saddens me greatly, as I’m certain it does all of you, my fellow Makebis, that we are losing our long time homes. However, I am greatly heartened for our continued future as a people. The Makebi people shall not parish, thanks to the just and righteous Sith Empire!”
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
  22. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Breaking News!​


    Every large media outlet on Makeb, that hadn’t been destroyed by the quakes, had rebroadcast the Avesta Mining Corporation’s live stream of Shalim Avesta’s speech in real time around the planet and across the galaxy. Media organizations in Galactic Republic, Hutt, and in Sith Empire space had caught the Makebi broadcasts, recording the statement for editorial review before determining whether it was worthy of being headline news. Of course it wouldn’t take very long to realize that this was more than just headline news. This was a galaxy changing event!

    The entire statement was rebroadcast several times, on the day of the event, over several broadcast channels across millions of media markets. News organizations throughout the galaxy reported and commented on the impending catastrophe over the following days to their respective news media markets, with respected and renowned pundits, everywhere, giving their commentaries. Some spun the news to mitigate the damage this would cause the Galactic Republic, while others used the catastrophe to propagandize on behalf of the Sith Empire, and others still warned of the potential for great loss of profits to investors in Hutt markets.

    However, all of the pundits agreed on their dire pronouncements, predicting an expanded war in the galaxy. Many believed the situation could have the effect of dragging the Hutt Cartel into a very costly and destructive war with the very war hungry Sith Empire and possibly with the Galactic Republic.

    With the combination of the Hutts having had its ambitions for empire exposed for all to see, the Galactic Republic’s open willingness to enter into war against the Hutts in exchange for the Makebis joining the Republic, and the Sith Empire having been outed as the ones who actually worked, behind the scenes, to thwart the Hutts’ ambitions on Makeb, it wasn’t very hard for anyone to see where this could lead.

    One respected Hutt news anchor, reading from the holo-prompter, reported in the deep, guttural language of the Hutts, “Darth Ravage, of the Sith Empire’s ruling Dark Council, was rumored to have been overheard – by unnamed sources – as saying, “I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring the Hutts to heel!”

    This news actually caused a run on virtually all Hutt stock exchanges, with thousands of trillions in shares of Hutt businesses being sold as their value plummeted. Even Darth Nox was affected. Since he was the sole owner of Transformative Technologies, the value of his business did not decline; no one was dumping Tr-Te shares in the markets. However, the business did lose profits when several customers cancelled orders for manufactured goods from his company.

    However, the news with the largest impact was reported in Galactic Republic space. One particularly popular commentator, no fan of the current supreme chancellor, reflected the thoughts of many others throughout the Republic.

    Speaking quite pointedly, the political commentator told her audience, “It is impossible to believe that any Galactic Republic politician would abandon any people to the threat of extinction, and yet that is exactly what Supreme Chancellor Sharesh seems to have done. By all that we have seen and heard in the broadcasts from Makeb, the supreme chancellor has abandoned the Makebi people to their doom!

    “Why else would the Makebi people take the desperately extreme measure of begging the Sith Empire to save them? The Sith Empire! They went to the Sith!” the Twi’lek commentator exclaimed incredulously, and then added, “It’s a given these people will be made into slaves, or compelled to serve in the Imperial military on the front lines. A desperate people would only consciously make that choice if the only other option was extinction!

    “Supreme Chancellor Sharesh must account for this inhumane travesty!” she declared, while demanding, “The senate must act to investigate this gross act of cruelty, this extreme crime of attempted mass extinction of an entire people!”

    Commentaries like this, and the raw holographic videos of the dying people on a crumbling world, had a very negative effect on stock exchanges throughout Republic space as well. Corporations across the Republic complained loudly about the destabilization of the markets to their Republic senators, who – in turn – responded with a huge outcry of condemnation, demanding the resignation of the supreme chancellor. Other senators were not as lenient, instead calling for her arrest and subsequent trial.

    Sharesh worked feverishly to calm the senators’ angry demands for a vote of no confidence by convincing them that it was all Sith Empire propaganda and psychological warfare. She had called in every favor owed her and indebted herself to many others with solemn promises to sign their pet legislative projects into law. Thus, for the time being, she avoided a formal call for a vote of no confidence.

    Over the next three days, Darth Marr watched the galaxy shattering news coverage of the century. No matter what kind of spin was put into the story by the government of the Galactic Republic, the holographic videos of crumbling skyscrapers, entire cities ablaze, and fissures opening up in the countryside with curtains of lava, tens of kilometers across the landscape and shooting hundreds of meters into the air, was compelling. Makeb was indeed tearing itself apart.

    Over those three days, the Imperial Army’s ground forces had been hurriedly unloading their droids, equipment, and army supplies from the Gage-class transports, Terminus-class star destroyers and Harrower-class dreadnoughts. He dumped all of those ground forces into the gigantic moon sized space station he’d been building in the blackest of space where he’d been hiding the fleet many kiloparsecs high above the galaxy.

    He allowed his own naval battle group of Harrower-class dreadnoughts and Terminus-class destroyers to keep their troop complements, so that he could use them to organize the evacuations and to keep order as they shepherded the Makebi refugees aboard his ships. Marr decided to take eight thousand of his twenty four thousand Gage-class troop transports, two thousand five hundred of his seven thousand five hundred Harrower-class dreadnoughts, and seven thousand five hundred of his twenty two thousand five hundred Terminus-class star destroyers.

    In all, he committed eighteen thousand ships to bring to the Makeb star system for the evacuation of its peoples, a third of his hidden fleets. In the meantime, his fleet navigation chief had calculated the hyperspace jumps needed to take the ships tasked for the rescue from its hide position to Makeb, using an indirect path and using the fewest hyperspace jumps as was possible. This would save time but would cost fuel. At this point Marr had decided that being frugal was pointless.

    Moff Valion Pyron had marched across the polished black plate metal deck of the raised observation platform at the fore of the command bridge and stopped three meters behind Darth Marr to report.

    Snapping to attention and stomping his boot, he spoke his report crisply, stating, “Dark Lord, the fleet is ready to proceed. We need only your order.”

    Marr had been staring out into the vacuum of space through the flat, angled, meter thick transparisteel canopy of the bridge of his flagship. His ship was oriented to face downward so that he could look down at the top of the spiral galaxy thirty kiloparsecs below the fleet. He marveled that space seemed to be utterly black with emptiness, the only thing seeming to mar the void of emptiness was that thing of beauty and light as it spiraled forever and ever seemingly alone in the vast black void that was the universe.

    Intellectually, he knew there were countless trillions of other galaxies in the universe, but in his current field of view, he could only see the one galaxy below his ship, which filled the massive transparisteel canopy of the command bridge. Marr knew he would miss this view as he uttered his single worded order.

    “Proceed.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    One year ago, Moff Valion Pyron was the number four moff in the chain of command, serving on loan from Darth Nox to Darth Marr. However, he rose to number one in the aftermath of Darth Nox’s infamous blood feud with Darth Acina six months later.

    Valion Pyron’s three rivals had backed the defeated Darth Acina against the victorious Darth Nox. In exchange for a good word from him – or rather, in hopes that Pyron would not tell his benefactor, Darth Nox, of how his rivals had backed the dark lord’s enemy, the three had relinquished their seniority in rank to Pyron.

    When Marr had returned to the fleet from his Dark Council meeting on Korriban, where Nox had destroyed his foe, he found Moff Pyron in command of the fleet as the senior commanding moff under Marr’s leadership. Within a few weeks after taking command, Pyron had his three rivals, with their command staffs, reassigned to another part of the Imperial military. Replacing them with moffs he knew he could trust.

    Pyron’s three rivals couldn’t object very much. They, along with much of the military hierarchy had been following the gossip of Nox’s vengeful rampage as he had anyone associated with Acina arrested and executed. It was yet another reminder, to Marr at the time, of Nox’s ever growing power and influence in the Sith Empire.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Moff Pyron stomped his boot and replied crisply to Marr’s order.

    “As you will, Dark Lord.”

    The moff then turned to face the chief fleet navigation officer and simply signaled with a gesture of his hand and a nod of his head. The chief fleet navigation officer toggled a switch which caused a small siliglass cover to expose a square white button. When he pushed the button it lit up to a glowing bright red. Then the siliglass cover slid back in place to protect the button from getting accidentally pushed a second time.

    The fleet of eighteen thousand warships and troop transports began to accelerate relatively slowly to a cruising speed commensurate with the speed needed to establish and maintain a geosynchronous orbit over Makeb. Eighteen thousand ships, nearly simultaneously, angled downward, away from the gargantuan deep space station. The massive fleet of warships continued their gradual acceleration as they plummeted towards the top of the spiral galaxy thirty kiloparsecs below.

    An hour later, the fleet, with all of their navigation systems tied to Darth Marr’s flagship, began to jump into hyperspace, a hundred ships at a time, ten minutes apart, starting with the flagship’s group of one hundred warships.

    Three days later, Darth Marr’s naval battle group exited hyperspace in a high orbit over Makeb, establishing a geosynchronous orbit over the planet. Marr had decided that his group of ships would be made out entirely of front-line warships, twenty five dreadnoughts, each attended by three Terminus-class star destroyers. If the Republic or Hutts or both had decided to attack, he wanted to have a lot of firepower up front. In this way he could quickly destroy the attackers and protect his Gage-class troop transporters from damaging enemy attacks while they evacuated the Makebis.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The sudden appearance of the Imperial naval battle group had taken the commanders of the sixteen surviving Hutt warships by complete surprise. The Hutts had already completed the evacuation of their super heavy war droids, their processed Isotope Five fuel rods, and all of their personnel, including their hired guns, the Regulators, a week before. Those ships were long gone.

    However, the Hutt naval forces had returned to the star system in order to observe the end of Makeb, but only after the Mandalorian task force had left the star system. Now, however, they were scrambling, rapidly accelerating their tiny fleet to escape velocity.

    The Hutt naval officers ultimately ordered their ships to jump into hyperspace to make their way to the safety of Hutt controlled space. The Hutt navy was, once again, humiliated as they made their panicked escape from the massive Imperial naval battle group. They were shaken by their defeat at the hands of the Mandalorians’ smaller naval forces, and were completely nerfed by the sudden appearance of the war hardened Imperial Navy.

    In the meantime, the Republic had left six warships behind to observe the fight between the Hutt forces and the Makebi resistance fighters. When that fight ended with the Makebis stranded on a doomed world, they remained to observe the destruction of the planet. They, too, were taken by complete surprise at the sudden appearance of the Imperial naval battle group.

    Admiral Brell Doss, a human male with salt pepper hair cut short, immediately barked orders for his task force of six Thranta-class corvettes to accelerate to escape velocity and to conduct evasive maneuvers to avoid enemy fire. The six corvettes zigzagged and accelerated ever faster, scrambling to get into a higher orbit to escape the terribly oversized Imperial naval battle group. The Imperial Navy had, figuratively speaking, cast its shadow over them. Meanwhile, Admiral Doss put out an emergency broadcast.

    “Requesting immediate reinforcements! Imperial battle group, with twenty five Harrower and seventy five Terminus class ships! Am expecting immediate destruction of task force. Request rescue of survivors from planet surface! End transmission!”

    However, the Imperial naval battle group did the unimaginably unexpected. They were clearly within range, and had the advantage of orbital height and numbers. Admiral Doss poured over the situation monitors, scrutinizing every detail and trying to figure out what the Empire’s naval strategy was.

    Frustrated, he shouted at no one in particular, “They have the advantage, dammit! Why won’t they attack?!”

    Admiral Brell Doss got his answer in the most unexpected way. Darth Marr opened an unencrypted channel and addressed both the Hutt and Republic fleets scrambling to escape his naval battle group.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Shalim Avesta, with three days worth of stubble on his face, sat hunched with his elbows on his desk and his fingers clawing at his scalp through his disheveled hair. It had been six days since Nox had made his promise to him and he had made his announcement to his people. He was finally convinced that he’d been made into an utter fool and that his people had been utterly abandoned.

    Shalim hadn’t heard anymore from Darth Nox, and none of his calls had been returned. His people were rioting in the streets – when the ground wasn’t shaking. The Mandalorians were long gone, along with their ships. They took with them only those Makebi men and women willing to join the Mandalorian clans, and then only those who showed proficiency during the fighting.

    Shalim, eyeing his compact blaster pistol beside the built-in holo-transceiver on his desk, was finally about to confess to himself that his people were doomed to annihilation over his foolish pride.

    He thought to himself, as he contemplated reaching for the weapon, “I owe them at least this much after failing them so completely.

    After hours of contemplation, he had finally mustered the resolve to pay for his failure and reached his hand for the weapon, but his holo-transceiver chose that moment to begin chiming. After the fourth cheerfully melodious chime, he moved his hand, hovering over the pistol grip, to the holo-transceiver instead. After two more happily melodious chimes, he finally pressed the answer button. The holo-graphic image of a jubilant Pollus Avesta sprang up above the projector.

    “Shalim, did you hear that?!”

    Shalim simply stared incomprehensively at his brother. Pollus could plainly see the terribly gloomy state his brother was in. It was obvious his brother had no idea what was happening.

    “They’re here!” Pollus declared triumphantly, “The Empire came through! Look at the news, hurry!”

    Shalim, finally understanding what his brother was telling him, wordlessly ended the connection and dialed in one of the larger news agencies and caught a live feed being streamed throughout the galaxy.

    “…. safety.”

    Shalim had missed the transmission.

    However, the news reporter announced what the message was about. Beside him sat his co-anchor, dabbing tears of joy from her eyes and beaming enormous relief from her tearfully smiling face.

    “As we have been reporting,” the anchor announced, excitedly, “the Sith Empire’s fleet has appeared over the skies of Makeb with an announcement from one of the Empire’s dark councilors. The Sith lord, Darth Marr, delivered a short announcement declaring that they are here to evacuate the planet! Since the empire’s arrival, the message of salvation has been repeating with thirty second intervals. In a moment, you’ll see the message repeat again.”

    The news caster fell silent, and a very short time later, the message did repeat. It was broadcast live for all Makebis still in possession of a working holo-transceiver to see and hear, and it was also rebroadcast for the galaxy to witness. Shalim’s throat developed a painful lump and tears gushed from his eyes as the holographic image of a cybernetically enhanced, heavily armored and cybernetically masked Sith lord appeared.

    In his baritone voice, the Sith lord precisely enunciated his Imperial Basic accented words, declaring, “I am Darth Marr, working in concert with Darth Nox. The Sith Empire has dispatched ships here, to engage in a humanitarian effort at the request of the sovereign government of Makeb. Even if the Galactic Republic could find it within them to allow seven million civilians to die, the Sith Empire cannot. I urge both Hutt and Galactic Republic fleets to show restraint and not interfere as we evacuate the people of Makeb to safety.”

    The holographic image of the news casters returned as the lead anchor breathlessly announced, “We have images of the Imperial fleet in orbit overhead!”

    It wasn’t easy to see at all. The intensely magnified and zoomed in image was of a hundred or so very tiny sky blue triangular shapes very, very high up, just barely brighter and barely contrasting against the bright blue skies of Makeb. About a quarter of the very tiny triangular shapes were much larger than the even smaller and harder to see triangular shaped ships.

    It was clear to Shalim that he was looking at the gigantic warships of the Sith Empire very high up in orbit over the planet. The ground based cameras could barely pick them up through the day time sky, so far up in space.

    A second group of one hundred ships appeared, quite some distance behind the first group. These were not the precise pointy triangular types, as the first group of ships. They were wedge shaped, but blunt at the front end, and much bulkier, and about a quarter longer than the larger triangular ships from the first group. The news co-anchor excitedly reported what everyone, watching the broadcast, could see.

    “Another group of rescue ships have appeared!”

    The news caster was about to say more, but quickly fell silent as Darth Marr’s recorded message played again. This time, the station broadcast the audio portion only, as they broadcast the images of the two groups of warships orbiting high over head.

    Shalim cut the transmission, silencing the holo-transceiver. Then his hand reached for his blaster pistol. He engaged the safety, powering down the weapon. Shalim carefully returned it to his desk drawer, sliding it shut. He then leaned down onto his desk burying his face into his folded arms and wept uncontrollably out of enormous relief for his people, and for himself.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Nox sat on a cushion on the floor of his newly erected tent, which now served as his new quarters in the backyard of the completely ruined two story ranch house. He nodded his satisfaction at how Marr handled his entrance on the stage of the fiction they were orchestrating. He liked Marr’s speech.

    Meanwhile, the ground continually quivered and trembled. Although the tremors were not as severe, they were non-stop, punctuated with the occasional sudden violent jolt. Virulous called to him from outside of his gently swaying tent. He looked up from the local Makeb news broadcasts of the arrival of the Imperial fleet.

    “What is it, Darth Virulous?”

    “Dark Lord, Katha Niar is here to report to you about a matter.”

    “Send her in.”

    The tent flap opened and Katha entered with Virulous following her in. The diminutive Sith lord moved to the side of the tent and stood there, as Katha knelt before her lord, as always.

    And as always, Nox told his servant, “Rise, Katha Niar.”

    Nox was dressed in his customary sharply contrasting deep black and bright yellow flexible armor and robes, having gotten them back, freshly laundered, from the 31st/77th logistical support unit.

    “Dark Lord, I am grateful that you have allowed me to serve you as long as you have. I have, here, an order which must be signed by you. It is to be carried out by the soldiers of the 31st/77th.”

    Katha presented Nox with the datapad.

    Nox reached for it, and as he pressed the button to access its contents, he briefly recalled when Khem Val had saved him from a datapad that had been rigged with explosives during his blood feud with Acina.

    One of these days,” Nox thought, “one of these datapads is going to be another bomb.

    Nox read the contents of the datapad.

    Be it known that, in accordance to Imperial law, chapter thirty two, section Peth, subsection sixteen, paragraph six, clause Aurek dash 8 (ch 32, sec P, subs 16, para 6, cl A-8), the subject named herein has been charged with the high crime of mass murder.

    The subject, Katha Niar, has been summarily tried. Katha Niar has pled guilty to the charge. As such, the subject, Katha Niar is found guilty of the high crime of mass murder and is sentenced to death by firing squad. The execution is to be carried out upon the signature of competent authority.

    Nox was completely unprepared for this. He simply looked up at Katha, saying nothing. Virulous was unaware of what her master had read, but she could see the utter surprise on his face.

    Katha answered Nox’s silence.

    “It requires your signature, Dark Lord.”

    Darth Nox looked down at the datapad again, thinking, “So. This explains why she had gained her resolve and gained a measure of strength. She has prepared to accept responsibility for her crimes. She seeks death! It is suicide that she wants!

    He felt cheated somehow, thinking, “Then ordering her execution will only grant her wish… Even if I execute her by my own hand as I have planned, it will be something that she herself desires.

    Returning his gaze to Katha, Nox thought, “Then I will deny her wish. I will let her suffer in torment with her guilt.

    Somehow, Nox was left dissatisfied with that choice, too, but he didn’t want to grant her wish, even if it was death.

    “I cannot sign this order, just yet,” Nox said, and then lied, “I still need your skills.”

    Virulous was shocked on hearing Nox say that he needed Katha.

    What is this?!” she thought, highly perplexed, “I was certain that her usefulness to him was over now that the mission is done. Why does he still need her?

    Virulous was also beginning to become resentful, thinking, “He’s never treated me this kindly, and I’ve always behaved properly towards him. I’ve done everything he’s wanted!

    Thinking fast, Nox told Katha, “I need you to act as a guide for the Makebi people and the Imperial fleet. The evacuations will be complex and the people here will need guidance as to how to behave towards Imperial troops, so that the evacuations will go smoothly.”

    Nox smiled inside when, for a fleeting instant, he saw deep disappointment flash on Katha’s face. He could feel her hopeful anticipation for judgment plummet into the chasm of regret and despair. However, she kept her voice steady and calm, and answered properly.

    “I will do my utmost to serve the Empire until my usefulness to you has ended, Dark Lord.”

    “Good,” Nox nodded, and keeping a straight face, replied, “Make contact with Shalim Avesta and with the fleet commander to work out the final details of the evacuation.”

    “As you will, Dark Lord.”

    “You may go.”

    “Thank you, Dark Lord.”

    Katha bowed at the waist, turned about, and marched out of Nox’s tent, pushing the tent flap aside, so that she could exit.

    Nox set the datapad aside, staring contemplatively at the tent flap through which Katha had exited.

    Nox’s thoughts were impinged upon when he heard Virulous’ voice. She spoke with dissatisfaction in her tone towards her master.

    “Since you were obviously done with her, I thought my dark lord would slay her.”

    She momentarily startled herself and became fearful when she found herself questioning her master’s will, but the words were already out.

    “What is staying your hand? Why won’t you get rid of her?”

    Virulous had learned to hide her feelings from Nox, so he could not sense her incensed envy, mixed with fear that she might have crossed some line or other. He thought she was simply curious about why he hadn’t rid himself of Katha yet. Nox told her with some exasperation.

    “She wants to die.”

    Pointing at the datapad, he explained, “That’s a summary trial and execution order for her high crime of mass murder.”

    Virulous was floored on hearing that.

    She wrote her own execution order?!” she blurted, incredulously.

    She laughed at the absurdity, but quickly regained control, feeling silly for letting herself think that Nox would treat someone, anyone, better than he treated her. In fact, he actually did, she realized.

    Virulous thought about how Nox virtually treated Khem Val as a friend. She thought about how much free reign he lavished on his other servants in his inner circle. His ship’s captain, the pirate Andronikos Revel, and his servant, Captain Talos Drelllic of the Imperial Reclamation Service also had nearly free reign to do as they wished in their service to the dark lord.

    She reflected on how Nox had been keeping her on a very short leash and quickly pouncing on her if it even remotely appeared to him that she was getting out of line. She hadn’t yet noticed, however, that for the last week, Nox’s behavior towards her had changed.

    Virulous had finally mustered the courage to ask her master about his unfair treatment, but at that moment, Khem Val’s deep and bellowing voice had emanated from outside of the tent.

    “My master, come out! For your ragged little hovel is too small for me to enter.”

    “I can hear you just fine. What is it?”

    Khem Val, insisting on speaking to his master face to face, stubbornly stuck his huge head through the tent flap before telling Nox what was on his mind.

    “My master, there is no need for us to remain on this world. Call forth your pirate and order him to bring your ship. I tire of this shaking.”

    Nox teased the Dashade behemoth.

    “I rather have grown accustomed to it. It relaxes me.”

    Khem Val stared, shocked, for a moment before realizing that Nox was having fun at his expense. The monster snorted derisively before withdrawing his massive head from the tent flap.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Ten hours after receiving the call for reinforcements, a strong fleet of seventy Galactic Republic navy warships arrived at the scene. They came out of hyperspace far outside of Makeb’s orbital track around its star. The fleet exited hyperspace about one astronomical unit from the planet. From that very great distance, the fleet admiral assessed the situation. Almost immediately the Republic fleet, which had arrived as reinforcements, had heard the recorded message delivered by Darth Marr.

    An active scan of the region immediately around Makeb revealed a long train of naval battle groups of one hundred ships each. They were all on an equatorial geosynchronous orbit over Makeb. The scanners reported at least six thousand ships, with additional groups dropping out of hyperspace and joining the long train of battle groups in orbit around the planet.

    Each of the newly arrived naval battle groups appeared precisely in position behind the previously arrived battle group at precise ten minute intervals. This demonstration of such a very high degree of control over such an enormous naval formation was a testament to the degree of discipline and coordination the Imperial Navy possessed.

    Admiral Jamis Kanth was deeply impressed with the demonstration. It was a reminder, to him, as to why the Sith Empire’s naval forces were so formidable despite the ever degrading condition of their fleets. At least that was what Admiral Kanth thought early after his arrival to the scene.

    After making contact with Admiral Brell Doss, who had made the call for reinforcements, Admiral Jamis Kanth had learned that the Imperial naval battle groups had not fired a single shot, and had been repeating that same message at thirty second intervals since arriving over ten hours ago.

    The two admirals agreed not to interfere with the evacuations and decided to join their two units together into one large force of seventy six ships, remaining in orbit around the star, one astronomical unit from the Makeb’s orbital track. Obviously, their seventy six ships were no match for the over six thousand Imperial ships on the scene. The two admirals had decided to observe the rescue operation from their great distance, and to gather as much data on the Imperial fleet as they could.

    Several hours had elapsed since Admirals Kanth and Doss joined their fleets together and the counting and identification of ships had begun. In that time, his people counted thirty six – one hundred ship – Imperial battle groups arriving on scene to join in the evacuation of Makeb. The number of individual ships was nearing ten thousand. At that point the Republic naval officers noted the departure of several battle groups, which were among those which had arrived the earliest. Their departure was an indication that they were filled with refugees.

    “So, it seems that when a naval group has completed loading,” Admiral Doss speculated, “it leaves the system with the refugees. They aren’t going to leave en mass.”

    Admiral Kanth replied, “Yes. This will make counting them a bit difficult. We’ll have to be alert for the return of battle groups for subsequent loads of refugees.” After thinking it over, he announced, “We’ll just keep counting them. When we start to get ships with repeating markings, we’ll know we’ve counted them all.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Over the next week, as the ground quakes worsened, becoming more constant, the cities and towns were evacuated. It was no longer possible to live in any structure. Refugee camps were set in open fields away from trees or rocky features, as everything was toppling.

    Troop dropships, Juggernaut-class troop transports, and other shuttlecraft, landed on the rolling or trembling surface of the planet to rescue whom they could. In some places it was impossible to land, and the people were beaten to death by the violently shaking ground, as they were tossed high into the air and fell to their deaths. The ground also opened up into many, many fissures, swallowing many Makebis and shooting fountains of magma into the sky and filling the landscape with a spreading sea of molten rock.

    During this time, Supreme Chancellor Sharesh had been strenuously ordering the Republic Navy to attack the Imperial Navy while they were at their most vulnerable. The was furious that the Republic Navy was squandering a golden opportunity. Frankly, the Republic fleet admirals and intelligence services were in a deep state of shock.

    Throughout the war, they had been hammering themselves against the ever diminishing and weakening Imperial Navy. Republic intelligence agencies had the Imperial ship numbers pegged at just under six thousand ships.

    During the many naval battles throughout the various battle fronts, Republic naval forces found themselves facing the same battered Imperial naval warships. However, every ship being counted, coming and going from the Makeb star system for the rescue operation, indicated that the Imperial Navy was likely to number well over sixteen thousand ships, not counting the worn and tired warships which they had grown accustomed to seeing. None of those tired and worn warships were among the ones taking part in the rescue operations.

    One high admiral stated the obvious, somberly noting, “The Imps have been hiding their fleets. They’ve worn down our navy with a small fraction of theirs. Our entire navy is seriously outnumbered, and they have fresh ships and crews!”

    Another high admiral pointed out a very important fact.

    Speaking gruffly, he said, “There is no good reason to hide their fleets. It just means that our strategy to concentrate our attacks on their fuel depots was effective. Our campaign was so effective, that they had been forced to remove those fleets from the war effort to conserve fuel.

    “Those ships, the ones in the rescue operation, are using up their remaining fuel reserves. We don’t have to worry about facing those ships in combat. When they’ve completed their rescue operations, those ships will likely be parked in orbits around planets deep within their territory, well away from the fighting, and will likely remain there until we hunt them down and destroy them. They’ll be like nerfs at the slaughter!”

    A third high admiral voiced a pessimistic thought, adding her two credits.

    “What if they’ve found a new source of fuel for their ships? If that’s the case, it means that they’ve been wearing down our fleets with their own rundown fleets, waiting for our fleets to degrade below readiness levels. Then, when they think the time is right, they’ll launch their counter offensive with their superior numbers of fresh, fully fueled, warships.”

    The admiral of the navy, having heard what his three subordinate commanders had to say, and under heavy pressure from the supreme chancellor, found himself with little choice but to order an armada be formed to go to the Makeb star system to ambush the Imperial Navy there.

    However, the media had been covering the evacuations. To all of the galaxy, the Imperial Navy was being hailed as heroes, and with confirmation that the Imperial Navy was indeed conducting humanitarian rescue operations, no Galactic Republic Fleet admiral accepted their orders to form up for the attack.

    Upon learning of the near mutiny of her most senior fleet admirals, Supreme Chancellor Sharesh convened an emergency holographic conference with her fleet admirals to demand that they follow orders. One admiral threatened to resign in protest.

    He spoke quite forcefully, telling Sharesh, “Supreme Chancellor, if you continue to insist on issuing a criminal order to slaughter millions of innocent civilians being rescued by those ‘humanitarian aid ships,’ I will resign in protest, and I’ll tell the whole galaxy of your order to slaughter a people you refused to rescue!”

    By using the classification, ‘humanitarian aid ships,’ he had cemented in the minds of every fleet admiral attending the emergency holographic conference, an image of what unspeakable evil they would be responsible for perpetrating. Completely annihilating a vulnerable Imperial Navy wasn’t a good enough reason to justify the slaughter of millions of refugees who would have died, had they not been removed from their dying world by this vulnerable Imperial Navy.

    With the image of the mass murder of millions of innocent civilians in their minds, and with the very real possibility they themselves would be brought up on charges of war crimes, several dozen fleet admirals quickly joined the admiral in his threat to resign in protest.

    Sharesh realized that any further attempts to order the navy to attack could lead to another very embarrassing call for a senate investigation of her conduct. She wouldn’t be able to hide the mass resignation of Republic fleet admirals who quit in protest to her orders.

    She understood the public relations nightmare such a chain of events would unleash, and Sharesh realized that she would not be able to stop a second attempt for a call for a vote of no confidence. She was certain she would not survive the vote. Sharesh had no choice but to rescind her order and drop the matter.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Marr had decided to accompany the first three naval transport groups, each escorted by a task force of Harrower-class and Terminus-class warships which were also loaded with civilian refugees. The three Imperial naval transport groups carried the first several tens of thousands of refugees to safety, nearly thirty thousand survivors per transport group.

    A few days after leaving Makebi space, three hundred and one Imperial warships dropped out of hyperspace in high orbit over Taris. The three transport group commanders wasted no time ordering their ships to descend to a low orbit, but Marr’s ship maintained its high orbit over Taris.

    After aggressive deceleration to drop their ships to a very low orbit over the planet, the three hundred goliath ships began to disgorge the refugees onto their new home. Nearly a thousand dropships, scores of Juggernaut-class troop transports, and a myriad other shuttlecraft were each filled to the brim with refugees which they transported to several hundred meadows scattered throughout Taris’ young forests.

    None of the refugees were brought to any of the existing cities. The local government needed to identify, register and issue identification documents to the newly arrived refugees, and they didn’t want to lose track of any of them in the cities.

    Refugee camps were still being established in the meadows as well as within the forest itself. However, although Darth Komo knew that he was to receive seven million refugees, he was wholly unprepared for how quickly the refugees would be brought to the surface, and how many would arrive in one go.

    Meanwhile, in orbit high over Taris, Darth Marr sat in the fleet command chair at the center of the bridge of his flagship. He watched over the officers and their subordinates as they deciphered images seemingly with no context and seemingly with meaningless symbols and codes, scrolling up or down their monitor screens, translating them into something that he could later passingly understand.

    His eyes, hidden behind his cybernetic armored mask, which was itself hidden under the hood of his heavy dark cloak, swept across the myriad monitors before which scores of technicians worked.

    Their stations were sunken, set below and on either side of the raised deck of polished black metal plate on which his command chair was mounted. They gathered important data about the progress of their operation and about how fast the refugees were being unloaded and what problems had been encountered. Everything learned here would be passed on to the rest of the fleet participating in the rescue operations. They hoped to further streamline the rescue operations while detecting and reducing any problems they encountered.

    An officer climbed a short and narrow set of stairs up to the raised central platform and marched to the fleet command chair wherein sat the dark councilor whose Sphere of Influence was the defense of the Sith Empire from their enemies. The officer marched to a stop before Darth Marr. Then snapping to attention, he stomped his boot and gave his report.

    ”Dark Lord, Darth Komo, the governor of Taris, wishes to communicate with you. He’s standing by. Will the dark lord, hear him?”

    Darth Marr, his precisely enunciated words spoken in his baritone voice, simply responded, “I will.”

    The officer stomped his boot, turned about and marched back to the small narrow stairs at the side of the raised deck and descended into the sunken workstation. Darth Komo’s holographic image soon appeared before Marr, standing, because Marr was not his master. The holo-graphic image of Komo bowed respectfully, then straightened again.

    The dark lord spoke, “What do you want, Darth Komo?”

    Komo’s holographic image replied in his gravelly voice, “Dark Lord, your forces are bringing people (breath) down too quickly. We have facilities (breath) set up for them, and we are constructing more (breath) campsites as I report to you, however, (breath) your forces are dropping the refugees faster than (breath) we can process them (breath). Please slow the rate at which (breath) your forces bring them down.”

    “That is not my concern, Darth Komo!” Marr replied coldly, “What is my concern is that I get these people off of my fleet so that I can take possession of a vital resource.”

    Marr kicked himself mentally for saying as much as he did. He covered his blunder with a lie.

    “The faster that I can get these people transported from Makeb to here, the faster that I can return the fleet to normal combat operations. If you need more workers to get things done faster, then enlist volunteers from the refugees to help.”

    Komo’s holographic image bowed and replied, “Yes, Dark Lord.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    In the Galactic Republic, hundreds of trillions of beings across tens of thousands of Republic worlds staged protests, demanding the resignation of the supreme chancellor. Despite her best efforts to forestall such an event, a call was made for a vote of no confidence. Hanging on to her post by a hair, Sharesh barely survived the parliamentary procedure.

    Sharesh lied and ran extensive cover up campaigns to obfuscate the truth of her actions. Since she rescinded her order to attack while the Imperial fleets conducted their rescue operations, she didn’t suffer the mass resignations of her fleet admirals. Because the admirals considered themselves removed from politics, however, she was able to keep them from speaking to the media about her actions and her rescinded orders. In this way, she was able to forward her spin on the situation.

    “Fleeing Hutt aggression to avoid responsibility of defending one’s homes is one thing, but fleeing because of one’s planet’s imminent destruction is entirely a different situation. Had I known the facts at the time, I would have welcomed the Makebi people as we worked to save them from such a terrible catastrophe. My understanding of the situation was that his people had lost their battles against Hutt forces, and were looking to emigrate to escape the Hutts. I had no information that the planet was under imminent destruction.

    “In fact, because of the humanitarian catastrophe that was unfolding in the Makeb star system, when I discovered the truth of what was happening, I ordered our fleets not to interfere and to allow the Imperial Navy to conduct their massive rescue operation. Despite the differences in doctrine, we a bastion of freedom and justice, and they a fortress of oppression and cronyism, because the Sith Empire was moving to save lives, I pledged not to attack while they conducted these rescues.”

    It was a very obvious and flimsy lie which could very easily be called out, if anyone looked below the thin skin of the lie, but no one who knew the truth had the will to expose the truth that hid below the surface of her lies. The splatter that would result from that mess would likely soil the whistle blower, too.

    This had allowed enough of her supporters to not see a need to investigate further, the supreme chancellor’s lie and made it possible to back her up, as they attempted to repair the damage done to their political faction.

    Additionally, Sharesh had ordered certain corrupt elements, loyal to her, within the Galactic Republic SIS, the Secret Information Service, to fabricate fake recordings of her conversation with Shalim Avesta, to hide what she had actually said in that meeting. She was advised against using the faked recording, because if anyone were to prove that it was faked, it would harm her more than help. Nevertheless, she held onto the faked recording to use as a last resort.

    However, despite all of her efforts, the damage had already been done. The Galactic Republic had had its eye blacked, and the Sith Empire appeared to be the virtuous ones in this situation. Enough of the Galactic Republic citizens could see through the lie and deception, and they demanded that their senators take action. Although the vote of no confidence had failed to reach the number of votes needed to boot Sharesh from her job, it had, nonetheless, substantially weakened her government.

    Meanwhile, in Sith Empire space, the news greatly lifted the spirits of Imperials throughout the Empire. The morale of the soldiers of the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy had risen greatly. Darth Nox and Darth Marr were regarded as heroes of the Sith Empire.

    The matter had already blown up in Sharesh’s face, but after a second week of rescue operations, the Sith Empire announced the results, and what they said forced her to admit that she was facing the end of her career and of her ambitions. She watched as Darth Marr made the announcement to the Sith Empire’s news agencies, which was rebroadcast in both Hutt and Republic space.

    “Although the empire has made a valiant effort, making several round trips to rescue who we could, pushing our capabilities to the very edge of safe operations, and even suffering the loss of Imperials’ lives and valuable equipment in accidents, we only succeeded in saving four million of the seven million refugees from a planet in its death throes. Three millions have died, buried in the rubble of collapsed cities, or swallowed by the splitting and crumbling ground.

    “In some areas, fissures have already opened up, allowing oceans of molten lava to fountain out, creating spreading seas of molten hell which wiped out large areas where the Makebi people sought refuge. Those who escaped the molten inferno, released from below, fared no better as they were poisoned with the toxic fumes carried by the wind currents of the planet. In some areas, the world heaved as much as thirty meters, throwing refugees hundreds of metes into the air, where they then fell to their deaths.

    “The deaths could have been substantially lower than three million, if the Galactic Republic had taken action when they were in an opportune position to act, but their hardheartedness has led to tragedy, instead.”

    Nox, watching Marr’s broadcast in his stateroom aboard his personal Fury-class Interceptor, nodded his satisfaction with how Marr was handling his part of the propaganda campaign. Nox’s ship was nestled in the canyon of a moon orbiting a gas giant in the far reaches of the Makeb star system. The Neimoidian scientist, Dr. Nadrin Tro, along with his team of scientists, the abducted engineers and their immediate families, were aboard his ship. Nox considered them extremely valuable assets, so he made sure they were evacuated safely.

    The engineers were held under guard in one of the troop quarters, while Dr. Tro and his science team were berthed in troop quarters separate from the captive engineers and their families. Dr. Tro and his scientists had been given leave to move about the common crew space, but they very rarely did for fear of running into the dark lord or his behemoth monster servant, Khem Val.

    Katha Niar was held in a ray shield jail cell in the ship’s maintenance department, awaiting Nox’s judgment. The surviving men and women of the 2931st Battalion 977th Regiment of the 326th Light Infantry Division were evacuated from the start of the evacuations, along with the four Black Ops teams, and all of the civilian support staff. Lord Cytharat had been transferred to one of the hospital bays of one of the Imperial warships to continue his care.

    When Marr completed his statement from the bridge of his flagship and ended the transmission, Nox contacted Marr.

    “What is it, Darth Nox?”

    “You’re statement was well crafted, well delivered. Now we wait for the planet to destroy itself, and remake itself anew.”

    Marr’s holo-graphic image jabbed a finger at Nox, as he complained.

    “You said the planet was saved! What do you mean...”

    Nox cut him off, reminding his rival, turned temporary ally.

    “Remember, Marr. The planet’s crust will destroy itself, but the planet will not fall apart into a bunch of asteroids. We must wait a few weeks for the crust and the atmosphere to cool sufficiently so that we can build on it again. I have the scientists and the engineers with me aboard my ship. When the time is right, I’ll hand them over to you, so that they may guide your construction crews to build the new mining complexes with new mining laser drills. In fact, you should acquire several laser mining drills in preparation.”

    Marr observed, “We have gambled much, Darth Nox. Let us both hope, for the sake of the Empire, that our gamble will work.”

    “The Hutts have long been gone,” Nox informed Marr, “The Republic fleet has also gone, but only after your fleet left and did not return. They left behind scout ships to observe the destruction of the planet. I’ll advise you when the Republic scout ships have finally gone from the star system. At that time, bring your fleet back to secure the star system.”

    “I’ll await your signal, Darth Nox.”

    Marr cut the connection.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The science team observed Makeb’s destruction unfold over time via an Imperial very long range deep space scout probe droid which was left behind by Nox’s starship just before it jumped into hyperspace. Nox’s ship travelled to the incredibly distant outer boundary of the Makeb star system – as though the ship was leaving with Marr’s fleet.

    The droid took up a geosynchronous orbit over the planet, opposite from where the three Republic scout ships orbited. It used the planet to shield its presence from the ships, in addition to its already very effective stealth shielding. Meanwhile, Nox’s starship had turned back from the edge of the solar system, traveling fifty percent of the speed of light. The ship had finally ended up on one of the rocky moons of a gas giant very distant from the Makeb star system.

    Makeb’s crust had actually begun to crack and to fold into the mantle at the equator of the planet in several places while the evacuations were still in progress. The ripping and rending crust, as it rolled beneath itself, caused the entire world to shake terribly. At that stage of the planet’s destruction, all of the world’s cities had completely crumbled into giant plains of rubble. The landscape heaved up hundreds of meters into the air and sank hundreds of meters below where it had been before. This global upheaval is what marked the end of the rescue operation.

    Meanwhile, the seas of Makeb were tossed, leaving their shores and spilling deeply across the land masses. Thick clouds of water vapor, hundreds of kilometers high, quickly blanketed the globe as the seas were quickly boiled away when the sea beds cracked wide open, allowing the magma beneath to well up to the surface. Oceans of water were replaced by seas of molten magma.

    The landscape flashed into fire where the magma flowed over the sinking crust. The wind patterns changed as the air masses picked up tremendous heat from the vast expanses of molten magma. The superheated air blew in storms of very hot and dry air that caused forests to burst into flames. Hot ash and toxic gasses flowed with the superheated cyclone force dry winds, covering the land in a darkened orange sky. Everything that had once lived, microbes, plants, animals, and the Makebi people left behind, was now all dead.

    Makeb’s once spherical shape began to take on a more flattened appearance, as the molten equator began to bulge until several thousand mountain sized globules of molten magma separated from the planet’s surface, rising higher and higher. Soon many of the mountain sized globules broke up into smaller globules, forming a ring of asteroids around the planet.

    At that point, the Republic scout ships left the Makeb star system. Nox spoke to the Neimoidian scientist with a great deal of concern.

    “Dr. Tro, did you not say that the planet would not disintegrate into asteroids?”

    The scientist was quite worried that he would die before he’d gotten a chance to fully explain.

    “Most august, dark lord of dark lords, please understand that the kinetic energies generated by the massive ground quakes had to be expelled. This is the expression of the energy dispersal. It is not only the tremendous heat generated, which caused the crust to melt, but the shaking off of a certain amount of mass from the planet. However, do understand that the ring of rocky material have not achieved escape velocity. The material will be pulled back down to the planet’s surface. More heat will be generated, robbing the planet of its stored kinetic energies which had manifest in the form of ground quakes.

    “After this, the planet will cool. Most splendid ruler of Sith, the planet’s cooling will result in a hardened crust by the end of nearly a month, and the hardened surface will be cool enough to build on sometime after that...”

    The Neimoidian had more to add to his report, but Nox cut him off, asking with great concern, “So, how much time is that, before we can start building on the surface?”

    A bead of sweat rolled down the alien’s temple as it replied with a slight tremor in his voice, “Most regal dark lord, we are looking at perhaps as few as three months or as many as six months...”

    Nox waived him away, reinforcing the gesture with a verbal command.

    “That is enough. Return to your work.”

    The scientist, greatly relieved that the dark lord did not balk at the time estimates, bowed deeply at the waist. After straightening, he turned smartly about and marched quickly out of Nox’s stateroom.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  23. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    The End of A Very Long Era​


    Over the next several weeks, the millions of mountain and continent sized molten globules of Makeb’s material, along with billions of tiny fragments, had cooled while in their quickly deteriorating orbits. The mountain sized boulders, in their low orbits, were slowed by the drag of the planet’s extended atmosphere, which had swelled to hundreds of kilometers thick, because the seas had boiled away into vapor.

    The boulders fell slowly enough that they did not burn up, nor blow up in the atmosphere the way super velocity meteors would, nor did they vaporize on impact with the surface. Over time, they had been falling back onto the planet’s surface as hot black gargantuan boulders with red hot interiors, crashing back onto the cooling but pliant surface with such force that they plunged into the molten rock beneath the thin hardening crust of the still cooling planet, leaving a belt of enormous, but shallow overlapping craters around the equator of the reborn world.

    The superheated toxic clouds of water vapor, hundreds of kilometers thick, polluted with other gases and volcanic ash had released much of its heat to the super cold uppermost regions of the planet’s atmosphere and rained down continuously. Each day the rains fell closer to the surface before evaporating in midair, until one day, the rains finally began to reach the hot rocky surface at the polar regions of the planet, where the atmosphere cooled faster.

    The water evaporated on contact with the very hot black rocky ground, taking that heat up to the upper atmosphere with the rising columns of water vapor. The water’s liquid/vapor cycle scrubbed the ash out of the atmosphere while helping to cool the planet’s surface. Much of the toxic atmosphere’s terrible heat had radiated away into the cold vacuum of space at a greater rate than Makeb’s star could keep it heated.

    At the polar regions, the fallen rain began to pool into shallow lakes and seas. Rivers of water flowed towards the equator, from each pole, helping to cool the crust, as the water boiled away again into vapor. Each day, the rivers of water crept ever closer to the equatorial regions of the planet, before succumbing to the heat of the barren rocks, and evaporating away.

    Two months had past and all of the gigantic boulders had crashed back onto the planet, but there was still a steady rain of much smaller rocks, no larger than a balled fist, pelting the planet’s surface and shattering on impact, or splashing into the newly forming shallow seas. Two months after that, the cooling liquid/vapor cycle, water finally began to pool into steaming hot lakes and seas at the equator.

    During this time, nearly five months, Nox had poured himself into his work on one of his other research projects. He believed that he had the answer for returning from the dead. It involved a very subtle combination of the Force Walking ritual, which Nox had learned over ten years ago, from the force ghost of Lord Ergast, when he sought power to defeat his enemy Darth Thanaton, and the Life Transfer ritual, which he studied from the cryptic writings of that very famous and very powerful Sith lord, Tulac Hord.

    The Force Walking ritual allowed him to subsume the force ghosts of four long dead powerful Sith lords into his own being. The ritual allowed him to absorb all of the power of those Sith along with their deep knowledge and secrets of The Force.

    The Life Transfer ritual shoved the Force ghost of the ritualist into the living body of a Force sensitive individual while casting out the Force ghost of the Force sensitive victim. The ritualist would gain a new living body, while the consciousness of the Force sensitive victim would become One with The Force, forever lost.

    Darth Zash had used the dark arts to artificially extend her life. She used another technique to disguise her very old age, using the technique to maintain her youthful and vital appearance. Time was running out for her, however, and she was finding it harder and harder to maintain the rituals to remain alive.

    Zash was nearing a hundred and fifty years old when she tried to perform the Life Transfer ritual on her apprentice, Kallig, as Nox was once known, to gain a new body and grant herself a whole new lifetime. However, Khem Val had interfered with her ritual.

    Zash’s consciousness ended up in Khem Val’s body, instead. Zash had also failed to cast Khem Val’s consciousness out from his body. As a result, Khem Val and Zash had warred over control of the Dashade’s body. This was how Nox had become aware of the darker aspects of The Force. His master had taught him much, but not anything like the Life Transfer ritual.

    Zash had assisted Kallig in his hunt for the Force ghosts for his showdown with Thanaton. This was when he learned the Force Walking ritual. Little did she know that Nox had plotted to betray her when her usefulness to him had ended, exactly as she had tried to dispose of him when she no longer needed her apprentice.

    Nearly a year after her failed attempt to commandeer his body, Nox was newly ascended to the Dark Council after defeating Darth Thanaton in a duel in the council chamber. It was then that he betrayed his old master, casting her Force ghost out of the Dashade’s body, and forcing her consciousness into a Rakata mind trap.

    This series of events was the source of the great enmity between the Dashade and Zash. Her betrayal was also the source of hatred Nox harbored for his old master. Nox owed his deceitful and dark scheming ways to the influence his old master had on him, however, his deep and dark malevolence was a result of his psyche being changed when he absorbed the Force ghosts of those four Sith lords. It could fairly be said that Nox was not the same man after the rituals.

    Before Nox’s final betrayal, during the times that Zash had control of the Dashade’s body, she would complain to him about his crafty nature.

    “I’ve taught you entirely too well, my old apprentice,” she had told him, once before.

    She simply had no idea that Nox was preparing to betray her. He was simply following her example.

    Sitting at his desk in his stateroom aboard his ship, Darth Nox believed he was ready to test his newly developed technique. It would give him some options, depending on the circumstance.

    He could chose to transfer his consciousness into the body of his victim when he had reached old age and had made the proper arrangements to do to his victim what his former master had failed to do to him. Or, if he was killed but successfully attached his consciousness – his soul – to an item belonging to him, just before he was gone, he could take possession of anyone who happened upon his Force ghost using his new technique.

    Attaching one’s soul to items imbued with The Force was an old technique well known to very powerful Sith lords who steeped themselves in the study of the dark arts. However, although the technique was known, it was very difficult to accomplish, it had to be done quickly, just at the point of death. Also, none of the Sith lords who had succeeded in reaching immortality, by becoming Force ghosts, had learned how to transfer their souls into another’s living body. Nox believed his technique solved that problem.

    He needed to test his theory, however. Nox thought of obtaining a new apprentice from the Sith academy to conduct his experiments on. He also needed to find a Sith Force ghost willing to participate in his experiments. Force ghosts were not something one could easily come across, however.

    He would have to comb through the records of the Imperial Reclamation Service to search for evidence that a Force ghost was present at any of the many tens of thousands of dig sites scattered throughout the empire and beyond. Reports of strange accidents, strange deaths, illnesses, personnel who’d gone mad for no apparent reason were all telltales of a Sith’s Force ghost being present.

    Drawing the Force ghost out to manifest itself was another problem, but Nox knew of ways to induce them into manifesting. He succeeded in luring out and absorbing the four Force ghosts currently enslaved to his will, and he knew he could lure others out again. He just needed to know where to look.

    A chime sounded, signifying someone was at his door.

    Nox saved his work, blanked his computer screen, and commanded, “Enter!”

    The door hissed open, Andronikos Revel stepped into his employer’s quarters and reported.

    “Hey, Boss. The Imperial fleet is here in the star system.”

    “Good. Establish contact with Darth Marr’s flagship. Tell them I want to talk to him.”

    “You got it, Boss.”

    Andronikos turned about and walked out of Nox’s quarters. Aside from Khem Val, Andronikos was the only other of his servants who didn’t bow nor properly address Nox when speaking to his employer. It amused Darth Nox, and it served his purposes, so he allowed it. Despite this, Andronikos knew not to push his employer’s buttons.

    Nox had just got his computer back up and running when the chime sounded again.

    Exasperated with all of the interruptions to his work, he demanded, “What is it, now?!”

    Darth Virulous entered his room after his door slid open. She bent to her knee, planting her fist on the polished black metal deck, and then reported, “Dark Lord, Darth Marr is on holo waiting to speak with you. Will you take the call, and may I listen in?”

    Nox shut his computer down again and stood from behind his desk, and as he walked to the door of his state room, he gestured to his apprentice, speaking civilly to her.

    “Follow me, Virulous.”

    Excited for a chance to listen in on the dealings between dark lords of the Dark Council, Virulous obeyed, following her master to the ship’s conference room. However, she failed to notice Nox’s friendly and civil tone with her.

    On the way there, Nox saw Andronikos and told him, “I’ll take Marr’s call in the conference room.”

    Virulous bristled on hearing the pirate’s irreverent tone.

    “Sure, Boss.”

    She kept silent, however. She didn’t understand why, but she knew that Nox tolerated the scum’s familiarity towards him. Virulous didn’t really hate Andronikos, but he had seriously angered her on a few occasions. She tried to kill him on one of those occasions, but he seemed to have forgiven her for it, even giving her advice which saved her life on her travels to and from Tatooine.

    It was another reason why she tolerated his very laid back familiarity with her master. Virulous found herself wishing her relationship with the dark lord was as casual, however. Nox was finding it difficult to express his feelings to his apprentice, so she still did not know how he felt about her, that he was prepared to reciprocate and return her feelings.

    Upon entering the conference room behind her master, she pressed the door contact which caused the door to hiss shut.

    Reaching the end of the conference table, where he customarily sat, Nox spoke his command.

    “Connect the call.”

    Nothing happened. Virulous, seated at the middle seat of the long table on Nox’s right, reached for the center console controls. She pushed the call button and repeated her master’s command.

    “Andronikos, connect the call for the dark lord.”

    Marr’s holographic image sprang up over the center of the conference table facing Nox’s seat. Upon the connection of the call, Marr spoke.

    “You have done quite well, Darth Nox. Although the existing stock pile of Isotope Five was lost to us, you have secured the source of it for the glory of the Empire. All that remains is for us to extract it for ourselves.”

    Nox was mildly surprised by Marr’s overflowing praise.

    He was not ready for that and only managed to say, “Well, of course I succeeded.” The silence that followed compelled Nox to add, “The team you put together performed rather well. In particular, Dr. Nadrin Tro’s scientific knowledge allowed for the salvage of the planet. To date, all of his calculations and predictions about the planet have come true.”

    Darth Marr did not expect praise of any kind from Darth Nox, especially since Darth Nox was not well known, outside of his inner circle, to be one who praised anyone.

    Marr ventured to ask, “The others did not meet with your satisfaction?”

    “I want to keep Katha Niar,” Nox replied, “she may serve my purposes on Taris.”

    Marr replied, with mild surprise in his tone, “I thought you had carried out her execution order by now.”

    “I may still carry it out if I don’t get what I want from her,” Nox explained, “I want to make use of her skills to prepare the Makebi peoples in their transition to Imperial life. If she accepts, I intend to send her to Taris to do the work of assimilating the people into the Empire. If she refuses, then I’ll execute her.”

    “She is yours, Darth Nox,” Marr replied, magnanimously.

    Nox didn’t verbally thank Marr, but he did nod acknowledgment of Marr’s generosity. His rival could have demanded that Nox return his servant to him or demanded her execution, but he didn’t.

    Marr asked, “And of Lord Cytharat?”

    “He is a Sith lord,” Nox said, adding, “As honorably as he carries himself, I will never turn my back on him. He still has ambition. He is strong. I wonder if you are underutilizing him, Marr. Despite the fact that you, nor I, should ever turn our backs to him, he is loyal to the Empire, even to the point of risking his life.”

    Marr was not surprised by Nox’s distrust of other Sith lords. Many Sith rulers had died at the hands of their followers, but he was quite surprised at Nox’s overflowing praise of the otherwise disgraced Sith lord.

    “You want to keep him, too?” Marr asked, curious as to what Nox would say.

    “I have enough strong Sith in my service,” Nox replied, surprising Marr and adding, “What I need are pawns that I can sacrifice, and he is not one of those. The Empire can make use of him. In fact, the Empire needs more like him.”

    “Then when he is recovered,” Marr said resolutely, “I shall begin to put him to better use.” Changing the subject, he asked, “How much longer until the resource can be mined?”

    “In a short time,” Nox assured Marr, explaining, “Very soon, it will be possible to begin construction of the first mining complexes. Dr. Tro and his team of scientists and engineers have worked out procedures that will allow us to mine the Isotope Five without tearing the planet apart again.” Then he added, “Since your fleet is here, I may as well turn him, and his team, over to you.”

    Marr seized that opportunity to invite Nox to his ship.

    “Then let us meet on my ship,” he told his rival, explaining, “I have something of great importance that I must discuss with you in person, and without the presence of our apprentices.”

    Nox was immediately suspicious of Marr, rejecting his invitation, but offering a counter proposal.

    “No. Instead, let us meet on Moff Pyron’s ship, the Doombringer.”

    Nox was deeply surprised by Marr’s quick acceptance of his counter proposal. He worried greatly that Pyron might have switched his allegiance to Marr. If Valion Pyron had, then it would mean that Nox had lost his military power, and would have to do something to get it back. Nox added another condition.

    “I want my apprentice with me at the meeting.”

    After a long silence, Marr finally acquiesced, replying a bit exasperatedly, “Very well, Darth Nox.”

    Nox cut the connection. He thought carefully, taking stock of what this meeting might actually be about. Virulous had learned to carefully guard her thoughts and feelings, and although, from time to time, she slipped, she learned to keep her face a passive mask most of the time.

    She watched her master go into a contemplative mode following the short conversation with her master’s rival.

    What will Darth Nox do?” she asked herself. Then, as Nox’s silence continued, she wondered, “Does he fear Marr?

    Meanwhile, Nox had come to his conclusions about Marr’s invitation.

    Marr is going to make his move to remove me,” he thought, “That explains his strangely friendly attitude…”

    He turned to Virulous and casually asked, “Now that Makeb is ours, what business do you suppose Darth Marr has with me?”

    Virulous became introspective as she considered the possibilities.

    When she returned her eyes to her master, she said, “I can’t imagine that another great emergency has arisen, Dark Lord. Why couldn’t he simply tell you what was the matter when you were both on holo?”

    Nox said nothing, looking expectantly at his apprentice. After a few brief heartbeats, Virulous’ expression changed to realization.

    She told her master, “The great crisis is behind us, my lord. Darth Marr doesn’t need you anymore, and we are isolated in this abandoned star system…, and he’s here with his fleets!”

    An almost imperceptible curl appeared at the corner of Nox’s mouth, as he watched his apprentice finally come to understand the situation.

    He told her, “Marr will not use the fleet for that. The others on the Dark Council would quickly find out about his treachery. They would turn on him and destroy him. He will do something easier to conceal.”

    Nox nodded, slowly, his approval, and a smile of satisfaction slowly spread across his features as he listened to his apprentice speak.

    “Then he wishes to be alone with you,” Virulous said, “so that if any questions arise, he can claim self defense.” Then she asked, “Will we fight, Dark Lord? Shall we bring Khem Val with us?”

    “We will let him talk,” Nox replied, smiling, “We will let him make the first move, but I shall strike first. You and Khem Val shall follow my lead.”

    Virulous was again reminded of what being the apprentice of a Dark Councilor really meant. It wasn’t just about learning dark secrets of The Force. It wasn’t just about privilege and wealth. It wasn’t just about influence and status. It meant, power struggles, continually, unendingly, whether subtly or overtly. It meant always watching your back and never trusting anyone, ever.

    For the first time, Virulous understood why Nox trusted no one, and why he questioned even her loyalty to him, and why he would never, ever, fully trust her. Virulous felt saddened by this. She felt it was unhealthy for a sound mind to harbor such deep suspicions and mistrust of everyone, even one’s closest allies. She had been working her utmost to gain his trust and respect, and realized why she would never gain his complete trust. She had given up on love months ago, and now, it seemed, she would have to give up on the idea that she could at least gain his trust.

    She thought back to something Nox had told Marr, “I have enough strong Sith followers. What I need are pawns that I can sacrifice, and Cytharat is not that.

    She asked herself, “Am I strong enough to not be a mere sacrificial pawn?

    She thought back to over a half year ago, when she had fought and planned and schemed to trick her rival, Juuldis Vannithana Resh, and how that Nox had favored her rival. Her master had planned to sacrifice her to get Darth Zash out of the Rakata mind trap, intending to make Juuldis into his apprentice, but in the end it was her rival who was sacrificed, and it was she who became his apprentice.

    Virulous ventured to ask, “Dark Lord, do you find me strong, or just a pawn to be sacrificed?”

    Nox became impressed that she would find the nerve to ask him something like that so directly. He thought of it as proof of her becoming stronger. When she first entered his service, she would never have risked asking such a thing of him.

    He told her, “If you need to ask such a question, then you do not have the power to direct your own destiny. Become stronger, gain confidence in yourself. Then you will not need to ask such questions.”

    What Nox told her was directly in line with the Sith Code. Through Strength, I gain Power. Through Power, I gain Victory. My chains are broken, The Force shall free me!

    Virulous told her lord, “Please excuse me, Master. I must prepare for the coming battle. I will order Andronikos to make way to the Doombringer, and tell Khem Val to prepare himself as well.”

    Nox was going to tell her to leave the Dashade to him, not wanting her to end up getting eaten, but he hesitated, ultimately nodding his approval instead. Virulous rose from her seat at the conference table, bowed at the waist towards Nox, then turned away before finally walking out of the conference room.

    As the door slid shut behind her, Nox thought to himself approvingly of his apprentice, “She will become stronger, or she will become his food.

    He hoped that she would prevail over the Dashade’s natural tendency to ravage any who thought to order him about. Khem Val had once told Nox, “Food has no right to tell its eater what to do.” Then, after a pause, adding as though to clear up any misunderstanding, “My master is not food.”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox exited the conference room and walked through the passages, making his way past the crew quarters, then through the exquisitely and luxuriously appointed common crew section, then towards the back of the ship and finally to the ship’s engineering department.

    The engineering department’s bulkheads, overhead, and deck, were painted a light military gray. This space held the ship’s reactor, at the very back of the department, behind a blast and fire proofed bulkhead and its specially designed hatch. The wall and the hatch were also both rated to stop any radiation from spreading through the rest of the ship in the event of a reactor leak or explosion.

    The reactor provided the ship’s electrical power needs, including the ship’s shielding, turbo laser cannons and ion cannons. The reactor also powered the ship’s two engines’ start up process. Once the twin engines had reached operating capacity, they powered themselves, no longer needing the reactor to sustain their operation.

    Access to each engine was gained through special, oversized, access hatches on either side of the central space. The bulkheads and hatches separating the engines from the central engineering space, and the rest of the ship, were not only blast and fire proofed, but also sound proofed. It reduced the banshee scream of the twin engines to a subtle high pitched whine that easily blended into the background noises of the ship.

    The central space of the engineering department also served as a machine shop and fabrication center. Certain ship parts were refurbished and sometimes even fabricated in this space. This space also held the ship’s brig.

    At the far corner of the brightly lit and spotless machine shop, Nox saw the ray shield brig cell holding Katha Niar. She sat at the side of her metal cot, her elbows rested on her knees with her face buried in her hands. 2V-R8 was in the shop, operating a machine, painted institution-green, fabricating a replacement pin for a door hinge for a storage cabinet door somewhere on the ship.

    Nox told the droid, “Finish this task later. I need quiet while I speak to the prisoner.”

    “As you say, master,” 2V-R8 said, assuring the dark lord, as he shut down the machine, “I shall move on to the next task on my list.”

    Nox didn’t acknowledge the droid’s response, instead turning his attention to Katha, who had heard the droid’s artificially cheerful voice and looked up to see Nox eyeing her intently.

    Nox looked about the engineering department space and saw a metal work stool at another of the institution-green shop machines. He used The Force to move the stool though the air, setting it in front of the ray shield jail cell as he walked the ten meters from the hatchway to her cell. Then he sat on the stool.

    Katha was haggard. She hadn’t slept, she hadn’t eaten. Her impending death sentence weighed heavily on her mind. She was on the verge of losing her resolve to remain at peace and embrace her sentence. In her state of mind, she almost forgot to kneel before the dark lord.

    Nox studied her carefully, reading her emotions through The Force and calculating whether she was ready to break. After a long silence, Katha lifted her head to look into the dark lord’s eyes and found deep hatred and disgust in them. Like a beaten domesticated house animal, she humbly lowered her head again, returning her gaze to his armored booted feet.

    Nox finally spoke.

    “The people of Makeb will find the very strict and demanding hand of the Empire most objectionable despite the Empire’s doctrine of rewarding merit and power, while punishing shiftlessness and weakness. They truly do not understand the Empire. I fear their lack of understanding will lead to a need to use military power to crack down on their almost assured disobedience and malcontentedness. Many of them will die. I would like to avoid such a waste of valuable laborers, if possible. Have you any suggestions?”

    Katha was thrown for a loop. She expected Nox to discuss her crimes and her penalty, not the plight of the Makebi peoples. She tried to think her way through the fog in her mind. After a moment to think, and with her eyes still focused on his armored boots, she told him what she thought.

    “Dark Lord, the Empire must establish schools of indoctrination. Classes on Imperial law, the Empire’s governmental structure, duties and expectations must be spelled out. They must understand how taxes are assessed and collected. They must understand that the Empire gives nothing, but rewards those who take with their own hands, with their own power. If the Makebi are formally indoctrinated in these things, then there should be very little misunderstanding, and very few cases of disobedience to Imperial law.”

    She heard nothing from Nox and ventured to look up at his face again. This time, he wore a sardonic grin. At that moment, Nox could feel her resolve dissolve into nothing. She didn’t want to die anymore.

    Nox produced a datapad from his utility belt. Katha immediately recognized it. It was the one with the order for her death sentence. Nox activated the device and made a show of reviewing the summary trial and sentence for her high crime of mass murder. Through The Force, he could feel her suddenly increased anxiety.

    “Thank you, Katha Niar,” the dark lord said, “Your suggestion was most illuminating. I think that would work. All I need now is someone who can implement it and make it a reality.”

    Nox could feel her anxiety decline; hope began to take root within his hated servant. It was exactly what he wanted, and he sprung his trap.

    “Now all that is left to do is to approve this order and affix my signature and seal.”

    Katha had expected Nox to ask her to take on the task. She started to think of it as a temporary reprieve from her coming judgment, but the dark lord so matter-of-factly, so casually, announced he would finally carry out her execution order instead.

    She was shocked into responding, plaintively blurting, “Wait!”

    Katha’s eyes gushed with bitter tears of regret. Her face was twisted in unrelenting shame and self disgust, mingled with fear. Nox could feel Katha’s terrible fear of her impending death. He could feel her deep self hatred, disgust, and utter remorse. He could feel her mind and her soul wage war against itself, as she lost the last of her resolve, the last of her decency, the last of her self-respect.

    Nox’s index finger paused millimeters from the print reader.

    “Dark Lord, please wait…”

    He turned his gaze from the contents of the datapad towards Katha’s fear contorted face, and asked in a mild and unexcited tone, “What is it, Katha?”

    Remembering that Nox hated weakness, she quickly wiped her face of the tears that had streaked down it. Rather than beg for her life, she told him, her tone subdued, “I could do this work, Dark Lord. I am well qualified to implement these indoctrination centers for you.”

    Nox pointed at the datapad, and asked as though he were in a quandary about what to do, “But… What about this? Hasn’t this been delayed long enough? Besides, the empire is vast. I’m certain I can find someone who can…”

    At that point, Katha realized that Nox was toying with her. He was enjoying this. He was perfectly capable of granting her the post. He had the power to commute her death sentence to a lesser penalty, or even to forgive her crimes altogether. Katha looked up at Nox. He looked as though he were expecting something from her.

    She bent her head back down again and lowered herself onto both of her knees and onto her hands, touching her forehead to the cold, spotless military gray metal plate deck within her cell.

    Katha begged, in a low voice, “Spare my life, Dark Lord.”

    When she didn’t hear a reply from the dark lord, she looked up and found him with his hand cupped to his ear.

    “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear that.”

    Katha realized that Nox wanted to not only hear her beg, but he also wanted to degrade here even further. She realized that he might sign the order even after getting what he wanted from her, but she also realized that he might not.

    She raised her voice, “Spare my life, Dark Lord! I implore you!”

    Nox took his cupped hand from his ear, and instead cupped his chin. His face became a study of concentration, as though he were weighing the gravity of what Katha had asked of him. Katha waited for him to reject her plea but he did something worse. He decided to make her wait.

    “I’ll have to think about this, Katha Niar. The high crime of mass murder is something that can’t easily be overlooked.”

    “There is no evidence, Dark Lord,” Katha replied desperately, “The planet is destroyed with all of the evidence. There are no records of the Empire having been on this planet. The Empire’s only involvement, as far as the galaxy is concerned is the shipment of weapons that enabled the Makebi people’s resistance to Hutt rule. No record exists of…”

    Nox cut her off.

    “I’ll think about it, Katha.

    With that, he rose from the stool and walked towards the hatchway of the engineering department. Katha rose to her feet and began to pace the small space within her ray shield cell. When the hatch slid shut, after Nox had walked through it, she screamed her utter fury at her weakness and her lack of resolve. She hated herself, her weak self. Katha became convinced that he would sign the death sentence and have his fun with her execution, but she tortured herself with the vain hope that he would grant her clemency.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    The Imperial soldiers, from the 31st/77th, who’d kept guard over the captured Makebi mining engineers and their families aboard Nox’s ship, marched down the ramp of Nox’s Fury-class interceptor with their prisoners in tow. They met up with the soldiers of the Doombringer, in the cavernous hanger bay, to be escorted to the detention center. Meanwhile, the team of Imperial scientists, led by Dr. Nadrin Tro, was escorted by other soldiers, from the Doombringer, towards a shuttle that would transport them to Marr’s flagship.

    When the hanger had cleared of those soldiers, and the waiting shuttle had departed with the scientists, Khem Val and Virulous both marched down the ramp of Nox’s starship. Khem scanned the huge landing bay with his eyes and with an electronic scanner, searching for telltales of charged blaster rifles and pistols. Virulous, wearing her armored capped mask under the hood of her black cloak and armor, closed her eyes and, reaching with The Force, searched for feelings of hatred and hostility. Neither of the two detected anything amiss. The hanger bay was empty of everything except for Nox’s ship.

    Khem Val turned slightly to look over his huge shoulder up the ramp at his master and nodded his gargantuan head. Nox walked briskly down the ramp. At the bottom of the ramp, he stepped between his two servants and walked on ahead of the two. Virulous ended up on Nox’s right side. Khem Val tried to shove Virulous aside, as he’d done in the past, but she used The Force to shove Khem Val back and kept her place at her master’s right side.

    As he’d done in the past, Nox effected not to notice, but he approved greatly his apprentice’s increased strength.

    In the past,” Nox reflected, “Virulous would have acquiesced to the monster, but now she has become fearless.

    Moff Valion Pyron rushed into the cavernous hanger bay and marched rather smartly towards his benefactor with a small security detail at his heels. He came to an abrupt halt several paces in front of Nox and shouted commands in quick succession, which his security detail struggled to keep up with.

    “Detail, halt! Present, arms! Order, arms!”

    Nox came to a stop before the moff and his three man security detail. The moff was flustered as he addressed Nox.

    “I beg your pardon, Dark Lord, but we were not made aware that you were the passenger aboard this ship until the prisoners and engineers debarked from your ship. That is, we knew an Imperial ship was approaching with a request to land, but we did not know you were its passenger. I apologize for not being here timely with a proper welcoming party.”

    Nox could sense no guile, nor hostility from the moff, nor from any of the soldiers in his security detail.

    Nox reassured himself, thinking, “Then Pyron has not betrayed me to Marr.

    Nox explained to the moff, “When I arrive to a ship unannounced, and surprise everyone aboard, no one can organize an ambush quickly enough to assail me with it.”

    “Ah!” Moff Pyron exclaimed, nodding his comprehension and adding, “That makes a certain kind of sense, Dark Lord.”

    “Is Darth Marr aboard your ship?” Nox asked.

    “No Dark Lord. Is he coming?”

    “Yes. We will have a meeting aboard your ship.” Then Nox told his vassal, “I need a spacious conference room with a long conference table in it.”

    “Follow me, Dark Lord. I shall guide you to one.”

    Nox stepped ahead as Pyron turned smartly to walk besides Nox, walking in front of Virulous. She kept her eyes ahead, looking up at the tall moff’s back in front of her, quietly seething at him. She willed herself not to turn her head to look at Khem Val. She knew he would silently mock her if she did.

    “When he gets here,” Nox told Pyron, “have him escorted to the conference room.”

    “As you say, Dark Lord.”

    Then the moff changed the subject, hoping to glean new information.

    “Congratulations, Dark Lord. It seems you have added another planet, captured, to your list of conquered worlds.”

    Nox snorted at the notion, replying sardonically, “It’s more like I conned everyone in the galaxy out of it.”

    “Whether by combat or by guile, a conquest is a conquest in my book, my lord.”

    Nox could feel no guile coming from Pyron. He could tell that the moff was sincere in his feelings about the matter.

    “The best part was how I convinced a planet full of people to become settlers on a very dangerous world,” Nox said, now boasting.

    No mention was made publicly as to which planet the refugees were being evacuated to. Pyron understood why that detail would be left out. Taris was a world full of diseased mutants known as Rakghouls, viscous pirates, and deadly toxins soaking the soil and thoroughly polluting nearly every body of water on the planet.

    Laborers were needed to dismantle the dangerously teetering ruined and corroded mega-buildings covering the planet’s surface. The soil had to be dug up and detoxified. The water had to be purified, and the accumulated toxins had to be reduced into a solid waste form, or into a concentrated liquid sludge, stored in corrosion resistant containers and barrels, to be launched into space and directed at Taris’ star for incineration.

    The detoxified land had to be reconditioned with nutrients and microbial fauna, reforested with various kinds of trees and every kind of vegetation, and repopulated with a wide variety of wildlife, much of it imported from other worlds.

    The Rakghouls and pirates also had to be eliminated. Fortunately for the Makebi people, the Imperial Army was handling that part of the reclamation of Taris. The work was all difficult and hazardous, but the Makebi people would soon learn all of this. The people would feel cheated, but they would be constantly reminded that the alternative would have been their complete annihilation.

    Pyron finally asked what he really wanted to know.

    “How long before we start to see the first of the new fuel, Dark Lord?”

    “In a few weeks’ time, Darth Marr should get construction crews to start building the mining complexes and then start drilling for the Isotope five,” Nox said, adding as an afterthought, “We should give the material a new name to hide the fact that we’ve taken the planet.”

    The party of Sith lords, the moff, and the security detail came to a stop just outside of a conference room. Pyron turned to face his benefactor, as he pushed a contact which caused the door to slide open.

    “Imperium?” was the moff’s suggestion.

    “I like it!” Nox said, instantly taking to the suggestion. He declared, “Make that the name of the material.”

    Quite suddenly, Nox drastically changed the subject, telling his vassal, “The war is too big for Marr to run alone. Alert me when your naval groups have been fueled. I shall reassert my control over it. I plan to allow Marr to manage the Empire’s defense, while I assume command of the offensive.”

    “Dark Lord, you are most astute,” Valion Pyron said, smiling his great approval, and adding, “You quickly grasp the problem of not enough leadership to take on the many, very large, and complex responsibilities. I believe Darth Marr will initially disapprove, but in the long run, by splitting responsibilities, the Imperial war effort will see great improvements.”

    “Do not tell anyone of my intentions,” Nox told Pyron, adding, “When you alert me that your fleets are fueled, be ready to receive my orders to return to me.”

    “I’ll have plans drawn up,” Pyron told his benefactor, “but I will need to recruit other moffs to join me, to add their fleets and their armies to follow you on the offensive. My forces alone will not be enough.”

    Nox paused. He didn’t like that so many people would be aware of his intentions, but the moff made a good point. He took a moment to consider the risks, before making his decision known to his vassal.

    “Moff Pyron, be very careful that you are not betrayed to Darth Marr. I will leave this to your judgment.”

    “I know whom I can trust, Dark Lord.”

    Nox nodded his acknowledgment as Pyron’s holo-transceiver hummed and buzzed on his utility belt. The moff read the text on the tiny display screen on the side of the device.

    “Darth Marr’s shuttle is arriving. I beg your pardon if I offend you, Dark Lord, but I must prepare a welcome party to receive him.”

    Nox laughed and waved the moff away. Pyron snapped to attention, saluted then marched smartly away from the dark lord and his servants, his security detail marching behind him. As the moff walked briskly towards the landing bay, Nox listened to the moff’s fading voice as he gave orders, over his personal holo-transceiver, for a welcome party to assemble. This time, Valion Pyron would have time to assemble a proper welcome party. Marr’s shuttle pilots had given plenty of advanced notice of who their passenger was.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Khem Val opened the sliding door and announced, “My master, he is here.”

    A few seconds later, Darth Marr marched into the conference room followed by two of his attendants, both were Sith lords. He observed that Nox sat at the end of the conference table furthest from the sliding door with his apprentice standing to Nox’s left in the corner of the conference room. Marr immediately assessed the situation. Nox and his apprentice faced his front, but his escape was cut off by his beastly servant, the Dashade, who stood just inside the doorway, blocking the way out.

    Marr said nothing about Nox’s flawless tactics. He merely took his place, sitting in the chair on the opposite end of the table and pulled his hood back, exposing his slim profile helmet, and his cybernetic armored mask.

    Nox spoke first.

    “Well Marr, here we are, face to face.”

    “The galaxy will change,” Marr said cryptically, “and the nature of our war against the Galactic Republic will also change. Things will become much more challenging. Everything will be decided by what we will discuss here.”

    “I like challenges,” Nox replied, bracing himself for battle, “They make living worthwhile.” Stealing himself for the coming conflict, he thought, “This is it! He will make his move!

    Marr didn’t reply, nor did he move even a finger. So, Nox stated the obvious, to see what his rival would do.

    “Now that you have your Isotope Five, which we will start to call Imperium, to hide the fact that we’ve taken the planet, the Imperial Navy will be able to range freely throughout the galaxy and dominate once again.”

    Marr tilted his cybernetically masked face down towards the table top and remained that way for a time. Nox realized Marr was thinking about what he would say next and prepared himself, ready for Marr’s coming attack.

    Tilting his head back up to face Nox, sitting at the far end of the table, Marr told Nox, “Supreme Chancellor Sharesh and Jedi Grand Master Satele Shan have announced Emperor Vitiate’s destruction.”

    Nox was deeply taken aback. Virulous gasped, uncrossing her arms and taking a half step forward. Marr’s own servants also looked deeply troubled on hearing this news, with one of them also uncrossing his arms, letting his arms hang down his sides with his hands resting on, though not grasping, his twin lightsaber hilts hanging from his belt over either hip. Khem Val saw this, but said nothing, shifting his weight so that he could leap into the attack and land a flying kick on the Sith lord, if he drew his weapons.

    Nox, quite obviously surprised, hurled a slew of questions at his rival in quick succession.

    “Is this true?! You’re not making this up, are you? Did they really get him?! How did you become aware of this?”

    Marr ignored Nox’s implication that he would make such up such a silly lie, instead informing his rival, “The Hand, The Wrath, and The Voice have all been silent since the announcement was made. One of my servants alerted me of the holo-net broadcast.”

    “When was this broadcast?” Nox asked, incredulous, “I’ve heard nothing about this?”

    “Early this morning,” Marr answered.

    Nox reached out with The Force, as Marr laughed ruefully, adding, “It seems the news of Sharesh’s coldhearted abandonment of the Makebi people has been forgotten by the news agencies and Republic politicians. Her approval ratings have gone through the ceiling. This news is burning across Hutt space as well. Hutt stock exchanges are enjoying a resounding resurgence in their values. Our own censors are fighting a losing battle, trying to keep this news from spreading within Sith Empire space.”

    Nox opened his eyes and said, “I can’t tell if he’s still alive or if I’m sensing the last remaining echoes of his presence.”

    Virulous and Marr’s attendants had gotten over their initial shock, but then became extremely guarded as they were finally struck by what Emperor Vitiate’s destruction really implied.

    Marr answered Nox’s observation with his own, saying, “Whether he is dead or he is dying is moot. The point is we have lost our Emperor. The Empire is leaderless.”

    Nox chuckled, the corner of his mouth curling into a wry grin as he observed, “What fun we will all have, sorting out who’ll ascend the imperial throne.”

    “We cannot afford to divide our power at a time when we face such a great threat from the Republic,” Marr quickly asserted, adding, “I need your support to keep the Dark Council unified. We cannot afford to lose power from infighting. It would only profit the Galactic Republic. We will surely see the end of the Sith Empire if we cannot remain united.”

    “What kind of fool do you take me for?!” Nox became incensed, snarling out his question, “Do you actually believe that I will simply yield the throne to you?!” Menacingly, he added, “Marr, if you intend to contend for the throne, then you had better be prepared to lose to me!”

    There! It was out in the open! Virulous snarled under her armored mask and grabbed her weapon, leaving it attached to her belt, Khem Val reached up over his shoulder and grasped the hilt of his savage vibrosword, Marr’s attendants, grasped their own weapons, but none of them drew nor activated them.

    Nox braced himself, as Marr raised a fist and pounded the table with it. This time, he didn’t use The Force, so the table didn’t shatter. It took a monumental effort on the part of Marr to rein in his anger, but after a moment, he mastered his fury.

    “We do not need an emperor!” Marr shouted, adding with a bit more restraint, “We can rule together and keep unity within the Dark Council!”

    Nox didn’t believe Marr. Marr’s attendants and Nox’s followers were on the edge, ready to leap into the fight to secure their respective lords’ place on the Imperial throne. Marr worried that if he failed to convince Nox, that it would spell the doom of the Sith Empire. He could not hold unity without the power and influence of his greatest rival, Darth Nox.

    Mistrust was painted on Nox’s features and skepticism dripped from his words as he asked, “No emperor?” Then pointing to an obvious truth, he told Marr, “We need a strong emperor to keep the Dark Council in line.” Suspicion of treachery tinted his next question, “What are you thinking, Marr?”

    Marr mastered his anger at Nox’s stubbornness, struggling to keep his voice and his temper under control.

    “I’m asking that you help me keep the Dark Council in line while we prosecute this war,” he told Nox, adding, “We are vulnerable to the Republic, especially now that we’ve lost our emperor. The Galactic Republic is very likely attempting to induce a power struggle within the Dark Council, and then use our internal struggles to divide our strength. In this way they cannot lose.

    “With our emperor gone, they have gained an enormous advantage over us. We must remain united, Darth Nox. Lend me your strength and your influence. Help me keep the Dark Council unified.”

    Nox tested Marr.

    “And you don’t want to be emperor?”

    Marr replied fervently.

    “This way is better! We do not need an emperor to lead the empire!”

    Nox looked intently at Marr as he tried to detect a plot within the assertions of his greatest rival. He leaned back into his chair and cast his eyes downward. He was obviously thinking very carefully about everything Marr had said. He agreed with everything Marr had told him, except for the part about the Dark Council not needing an emperor to keep them in line.

    Marr pressed Nox, “Do I have your support, Darth Nox?”

    “What is the difference between leading and ruling?” Nox asked, resisting Marr’s proposal and pointing out, “It amounts to the same thing.” He then added, in a challenge, “Then, I will lead!”

    Marr countered, “As the leader, I will be limited by how much support I will get from the others. Unlike the Emperor who rules absolutely over the Dark Council, with even the power to order a dark councilor removed or executed. I shall have no such powers. I will only have the power of persuasion to win their support to get their cooperation. However, with your influence I believe winning their support and cooperation will be more likely.”

    Nox suddenly, changed the subject.

    “What else is there to report?”

    Everyone in the room was thrown off balance. Was the danger passed? Was this a ploy to disarm the wits of their rivals? The tension was not gone, but confusion struck the servants of the two great rivals.

    Marr was unsure if Nox would support him and wary that Nox might try an attack, but he answered the question with some hesitation as he watched Nox fiddling with the buttons, in front of him, at the far end of the conference table.

    “So far… no one seems to have figured out that Makeb has been saved. Hutt imperial ambitions have been significantly curtailed if not utterly crushed. We’ll know for certain, if the Hutts fail to launch an attack anywhere in the Outer Rim, near Hutt Space, within the next few years.”

    He tried his hand at adding confusion to the already chaotic atmosphere, pointing out, “Renaming the material to Imperium is a good idea for disguising the fact that we have saved the planet and that we will mine it for its resource. Then it follows we should rename the planet as well.”

    Nox immediately suggested, “Quake.”

    Marr countered, “I insist on two four Peth three six Qek six one seven dash Trill Senth Besh (24P36Q617-TSB).

    To Marr’s surprise, Nox quickly agreed.

    “That should make the place good and anonymous.”

    Marr became even more surprised when, from the holo projectors at the edges of the table at the unoccupied seats around the conference table, the holographic images of the six other dark councilors appeared seated on either side of the conference table, three on each side.

    Nox immediately spoke, “I move that the Dark Council shall convene an emergency session to discuss a dire emergency facing the Empire.”

    With that declaration, the tense atmosphere in the conference room was suddenly quelled, although everyone remained on guard.

    Darth Mortis seconded.

    Nox addressed his peers, “By now you should have heard of the Republic’s and the Jedi’s claims of having destroyed our emperor.”

    Darth Ravage blurted his outrage, “We aren’t going to fall for their propaganda, are we?! It has to be a lie!”

    Darth Zash declared, “Let us summon The Hand and make them explain their continued silence since the announcement was made.”

    In a very rare moment, Darth Rictus spoke, telling the others, “We don’t need to summon The Hand. You can feel it for yourselves. The Emperor is not dead, but he has been suddenly and greatly diminished. If it is the result of defeat, then it was done at the hands of the Jedi.” Darth Rictus shook his head in disbelief, adding, “In our lifetimes, we are witnesses to the end of a very long era.”

    Darth Vowron was uncharacteristically cautious.

    “What if The Hand and The Wrath insist that the Emperor still rules?” he asked.

    “Then the burden of proof will be on them to demonstrate their assertions,” Nox answered.

    Aruk asked, “If we find that the Emperor was beaten in battle, but not destroyed. Is he still emperor, or has he shamed himself and the Sith Empire?”

    Mortis exclaimed angrily, “If he truly was defeated by a Jedi, even if he lives, then he has lost his right to rule over us! If he wishes to retain his throne, then let him prove he is fit to reign over the Dark Council! Let him personally battle and defeat the Jedi who vanquished him!”

    Marr finally spoke.

    “Then shall we elect a new emperor?”

    Nox looked sharply at Marr, suspecting his rival would make a claim for the throne. The other councilors fell silent, except for Rictus who laughed ruefully at what was about to unfold within the Dark Council, or so he thought. Marr spoke into the silence that gripped the dark lords gathered for the emergency session.

    “We can all see where this would lead us. We are in the midst of a great struggle for the very survival of the Sith Empire, locked in a destructive war against the Galactic Republic. If we go our separate ways, seeking the throne for ourselves, then the Sith Empire shall crumble under the might of the Galactic Republic. We must remain unified. Only with a unified front do we stand a chance to stand up to, and ultimately defeat the enemy!”

    Taking everyone by surprise, Nox declared, “Until the war has been won and our enemy crushed, we must stand together in support of Darth Marr’s war effort against the Republic.”

    Vowron was started into blurting, “This is your chance to take control, Darth Nox! Aren’t you going to make a grab for power? It seems unnatural for you not to try.”

    Many of the councilors laughed at the jab until Nox replied, “It isn’t worth grabbing power if there isn’t an empire to rule afterwards. I want to rule over a strong Sith Empire, and you will all kneel before me, but for now, we must stand united behind Darth Marr in order to preserve the Empire.”

    Rictus smugly observed, “Darth Nox, before you can become Emperor, you must unseat the current Emperor.”

    Nox spoke angrily, “You said it yourself!” Then shouting vehemently, he added, “He lost his right to rule the moment he lost to a Jedi! He has brought shame to himself and has humiliated the Sith Empire! He is no longer the Sith Emperor!”

    Darth Zash thought to herself, “Damn! He just openly challenged the Emperor for the throne!” She looked at the holographic images of her peers on the Dark Council as the seconds ticked by and was startled into another realization, exclaiming to herself, “None of them have challenged Nox’s claim to the throne!

    Zash thought about making her own bid for the throne, but she knew that she was too weak. Nox had virtually wiped Acina’s powerbase out of existence. So, Zash had inherited a gutted powerbase. She was still rebuilding her organization, recruiting Sith apprentices and followers, and she had yet to establish herself in the Dark Council. Zash was in no position to challenge Nox’s claim, let alone make her own claim. However, to Zash’s great astonishment, the greatest evidence of Nox’s power and influence was what she declared to herself next.

    Marr has not challenged Nox, and he’s sitting right there with him!!

    Mortis noticed it too, asking himself, “Doesn’t Marr want to rule?

    Nox spoke into the stunned silence. He was under no illusions, he knew he’d have to beat them into submission, but the fact that none of them openly challenged his claim to the throne was encouraging. Their silence meant they feared him. He doubted Marr feared him, but even Marr’s silence meant that he was using caution around Nox.

    Nox’s illusion, which Zash had helped him to perpetrate, still had a profound effect on their perception of his power over death, but he wanted them to know that he would not take his eyes off of them, despite their fear of him.

    “Despite your silence,” he said, “which I will take as your tacit support for my claim to the throne, I know that each of you is thinking that you should make your own claims. This is what will divide the Dark Council and fragment our power. This is what the Galactic Republic wants desperately of us. If we stand opposed to one another as we assert our individual claims to the throne, they will destroy us one by one.”

    Darth Vowron burst into applause, declaring sarcastically, “Well said! Well spoken! Empire first, power struggles after!”

    Darth Rictus rolled his eyes at the facetious declaration.

    Darth Mortis shouted, “We must not let our pursuit of personal ambitions be the cause of the Empire’s downfall! I’m with Darth Nox in supporting Darth Marr to lead the Empire for the duration of the war!

    Darth Ravage shouted, “I second the motion!”

    Nox polled the dark councilors, “All those in favor?!”

    Nox made the announcement, as the attendants in the conference room all relaxed their stances, removing their hands from their weapons.

    “The vote is unanimous. Darth Marr, you have leadership of the Empire until the conclusion of this war. Try not to drag out the war.”



    The End​
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2019
  24. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 1

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Please consider giving my story a review. I would really appreciate it.

    Thank you, all.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2018
  25. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    I enjoyed this.

    "Empire first, power struggles after!” [face_laugh]
     
    PlanetSmasher likes this.