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PostPosted: Sun Dec 08, 2013 2:30 pm 
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Location: England
Jedi Temple
Ossus. Free Worlds League.
321ABY.
July 30th

Diana Senn massaged her forehead to try and sooth away the ache that tiredness and trying to focus on a mountain of reports had bequeathed her with. Despite her efforts, she'd failed to find the information she'd sought, the evidence that Julian Tiepolo was running his own scheme counter to the Order's goals.

She knew it was hear somewhere. Just a little bit of data to point her in the right direction. She just had to find it.

She picked up the next datapad in the pile and looked it over. Another report from Lucas Horn regarding Tiepolo's recent visit to Jedi facilities on Endor.

It was standard stuff. Horn had reported that the Grandmaster had toured the training facilities there and had done nothing out of the ordinary. He did take time to point out that he hadn't been able to watch Tiepolo the entire time and had estimated that the old man could have had any number of clandestine meetings or unobserved holonet contacts.

Diana sighed, she was so sure that Tiepolo was up to something. But she just had no leads.

Well, there was one, but she would have to call in one heck of a favour.


-------------------------------------------------------

Ord Mantell.
Republic March.
Skye Alliance.
321ABY.
November 12th.

“Damn you, Harrison Tarn!”

Duke Mile Fel-Tarn's shouted echoed around his office as he hurled the datapad to one side, sending it skidding off the desk to clatter on the floor. It bounced twice before coming up against the wall and Miles stared at it, wishing it would utterly vanish, or better yet, have never arrived at all.

The Duke narrowed his eyes and shook his head, sending his long black braid waving like a serpent, “How pained your wording sounds, brother-in-law. Written even by your own hand. You honour me with the information. You trust me with the information” He spat at -and missed- the datapad, “But you damn me with the information”

With a sigh, he stood and retrieved the datapad in his prosthetic hand and perching himself on the edge of the desk, reread the message in the vain hope that it would reveal some detail he had missed, some nuance, that would cast the message in a more benign light.

'My dear Miles' It began with a lie, 'Had it been solely up to me, I would have appraised you of this of this information much earlier. As well you know, I value your wisdom and devoted service as the guardian of the Republic March. However, other forces have prevented me from sharing this joyous news until now'

Miles snorted derisively, “You pretend to blame the security precautions of your own Subhash Indrahar or the Free Worlds Leagues Moren Zatoq for this unspeakable breach of faith, but you do not fool me Harrison. You are not known as a man who is slavishly devoted to the wishes of his subordinates. No Harrison, I sense your shadow hand in all of this” Miles thought.

With a snarl, he rose and moved to the window. A short distance he could see a pair of transports being loaded out on the starport tarmac. Their loading bays were open and crews were rushing to get the holds loaded and full before the next set of transports arrived.
In and around the transports, moved tanks and infantry on sentry duty. Much closer he could see a full battalion of tanks -elements of the local garrison unit- sat in three perfect ranks.

“I am the master of all this” Miles thought, “I command those ships. I command those troops. My orders send them to rendezvous with other forces, and my orders send them far and wide to do my bidding. I command the forces of thirty regiments and fie entire fleets. I should be invincible” He looked at the datapad in his hand, “How is it this one message can destroy me?”

He forced himself to continue reading, 'Ordinary though the situation is, it may come as a shock. It seems that my son Jacob has found the woman he wishes to spend his life with. In Hanna Leong, he has found the woman who is all that he is looking for'

Miles gritted his teeth and his free hand knotted into a fist as he struck it against the window frame, “You speak Harrison as if Hanna Leong is some young girl from Aldivy, as opposed to the daughter of one of the most powerful nobles in the Free Worlds League” He snorted, “Not only is she everything you son has looked for, she is everything you have looked for too. Long have you sought closer ties to the League. I have no doubt you would have wed Jesmin Akdool herself, had she been capable of bearing you an heir”

A purple storm cloud rolled over head, cutting off the glow of Ord Mantell's star. It robbed the angular landscape of its glow, bathing it in a deep maroon that made Miles think of dried blood. Lightning strikes stabbed down as even the mighty tanks fled the storms fury.

Miles returned to his desk even as the storm whipped up a howling wind that sound so much like a nerf heading for the slaughterhouse and continued reading, ' I'm sure Miles, that you see the political benefits of this marriage. With the Free Worlds League bound more tightly to us, we will box in the Circinus Federation. This means that, as you have long requested, I will be able to shift assets to help bolster defences there in the Republic March. Together, we can strengthen your domain so that the covetous Republic will be forced to look elsewhere'

Miles brought his metal fist down, shattering the datapad into fragments, “No Harrison” He muttered, “You'll not sink your talons into my realm. You cloak your attempt to oust me with words of friendly intent. But I see through them. Once your son has wed, you'll need fear no one”

Standing in frustration, he walked to a wall where a map of the galaxy hung. His fingers traced the lines that marked the wedge of space that denoted the Republic March, “My realm, larger than the Circinus Federation. I should be one of the galactic leaders, but you ignore me and my claims of blood. You deny me my birthright, my due” He sighed, “You have forced me to deal with Reisk Fel'lya because you refuse to give me the forces I need to conquer him. I know you have your suspicions about me, but you will never have any proof. No, you'll never have any”

He scowled as he gazed at the area of space controlled by the New Republic, “Had I the troops I could destroy Fel'lya. Ah, but then, having proved to the entire Skye Alliance my ability to lead,I would be able to take your place on the throne so that our people would have a true leader to guide them”

He laughed, “Already, the fledgling alliance with the Free Worlds League has drawn the Circinus Federation,the New Republic and the Taurian Concordat into an loose alliance. Their alliance is not as strong as yours as suspicions undermine their every communication, but it gathers strength” He nodded to himself, “But then, they do not yet know about the impending nuptials, do they? If they new about the marriage, it would galvanise them and they would come forth to crush you and Akdool. But how can I benefit from the turn of events?”

He considered things for a moment, studying the map and the borders laid out on it, “Yes, I will inform Fel'lya of the marriage. I will continue to forward him details of your troop movements and positions, and will continue to undervalue the strength of my own troops in the same reports. I will convince Fel'lya that the Free Worlds League could fall to a combined assault by the Republic, the Circinus Federation and the Taurian Concordat” He smiled, “Tortorelli will agree to it because such an assault will allow his Circinus Federation to claim worlds from the League that he has long desired. Meanwhile, Fel'lya will pull forces from my border, confident that he knows my troops strengths to launch attack on his enemy”
He traced Skye’s border with the Circinus Federation, “Harrison will launch strikes into the Federation to relieve the pressure on the League, but he won't want to risk diluting the forces arrayed with the Republic, though he might be willing to dispatch expeditionary forces to help fight the Taurians. Then while his attention is elsewhere, fighting a war to help the nation of his sons bride, I will strike at the Republic and crush it. I will be the Skye Alliance's conquering hero. In one bold stroke, I will have proven myself to be Harrison's superior, I will negotiate a peace and be proclaimed the Prince of the Skye Alliance as if my right”

Crossing back to his desk, he punched the button on his intercom, “Agnes, put a call through to Ambassador Kogrian, tell him I expect him in my office within the next two hours”

“Forgive me, your grace” Miles' secretary stammered, “I don't believe the Ambassador is in the capital at this time......”

“I don't want you giving me his excuses. If that idiot thinks I increasing his embassy's monthly shipments of vodka from the Republic just so he can sell it on the black market to keep his two mistresses, he has another thing coming” Miles shouted, “Two hours, Agnes, or there'll be hell to pay” He snapped.

Miles never heard her reply, instead smiling to himself as he pulled a fresh datapad out of his desk and copied over the message from Harrison, “In two hours, the Ambassador will have this information. Within a month, Fel'lya will have it in his hands and my revenge against Harrison will begin. Though him, I will light the fuse that will launch the galaxy into one final burst of chaos and I shall emerge from the runs as the victor”

----------------------------------------------

Imperial Palace.
Coruscant.
321ABY.
November 28th.

“Thanks for this Ash” Ran Gavin nodded gratefully his fellow analyst handed him a stack of datapads. I'd have never got through all them by this evening.

Natasha Loran shrugged as she slumped in the chair opposite him, “I was on a quiet period. These days I seem to be able to get by on just a few hours of sleep, so it kept me bust at least”

“Good” Ran smiled, “When do you think your team will be done with a the analysis of the Galahad 321 war games? Specifically the Moraven part of the exercises? Councillor Dorees was quite concerned with the units in the battle. He maintains that the Bell Training battalion is configured along the same lines of the Seventh Kearny Regiment stationed on his holding on Kuat. He was most upset at the 'casualty reports' that suggested that the Second Deneb Cavaliers ripped apart the Bell Battalion”

Ash laughed, “Subhash Indrahar and the ISF are working overtime to fill us up on false data. The report Dorees is complaining about has already been discounted as false” She winced, “The reality wasn't much better, still dismal reading. About the only thing the Bell Battalion did right was capture a mining complex and that was because they got lost in a snowstorm and stumbled upon the facility, which was never the objective of the exercise”

Ran sighed, “If only the Seventh Kearny could achieve as much against their surrogates, then we'd be happy” He nodded, “See if we can get a preliminary report within the next two days. Something nice and easy on the nerves to sooth Councillor Dorees”

“Will do” Ash nodded, then frowned as a light lit up on the wall, “Looks like we're being summoned”

Ran sighed, “I swear if this is Doress again.......”

“Well, things have been tense ever since both of the the Chief-of-State's daughters got back on planet. Asyr is pretty easy to get along with, but Askar constantly tries to undermine her, so of course, Asyr strikes back and Reisk gets caught in the middle. Add to that the various Councillors on the Advisory Council, each supporting one daughter or the other and it's not exactly a zone of calm” Ash shrugged, “Still, at least no ones been shooting yet”

“True” Ran nodded, “Let's go see why we're wanted”

------------------------------------------------

As they rode the turbolift up to the Council Chambers, Ran turned to Ash, “If we've both been asked in, I'm guessing it has something to do with the Skye Alliance”

Ash shrugged, “Maybe more rants from Dorees about the reports of the Galahad war games” She snorted, “I swear Harrison runs the Galahad exercises just to give the Republic fits. Might just be new troops strengths and deployments from our 'friend'”

Ran sighed, “Whatever it is, be prepared for a lot of shouting”

The car doors opened and Ran lead Ash from the lift and into the corridor to the council chambers. The two guards on the doors checked their Ids then waved them through to the scene within.

Inside the chamber, they found three of the eight members members of the council – Jokan Dorees of Kuat, Fyor Rodan VII of Commenor and Kund How of Neimodia. Also present was Reisk Fel'lya and his two daughters, Asyr and Askar. The Latter two sat just slightly back of the Chief-of-State's position at the table, but Reisk himself was walking back and forth in obvious anger, a datapad clasped in his trembling hands, his entire body quivering with rage.

Off to one side, Ran also saw Tym Jit, the Devaronian who currently headed up the NRI. If he was present, then whatever the problem was, it was major.

“You!” Fel'lya snapped seeing them arrive. He pointed a furred hand at them, “Ran Gavin, Natasha Loran. Are you sent here to betray me?” He waved the datapad in one hand and smoothed the fur on his neck with another, “Why did you not know of this?” The Bothan snarled.

Ran exchanged a confused look with Ash, saw the confusion mirrored on her face, “Forgive me, Sir?” Ran said, “What should we have known?”

“This dammit!” A squeal of inarticulate rage escaped the Bothan's throat, “Jacob Tarn is to marry Hanna Leong!”

The shock hit Ran like a hammer blow. The son of the First Prince marrying the daughter of the second most powerful person in the Free Worlds League next to Jesmin Akdool? “If we had known of this information, we'd have communicated it to you instantly”

“Yes” Ash nodded quickly, “If we'd known, if we'd heard even the slightest hint of it.....”

“You'd have both never been allowed to leave the Skye Alliance” Tym Jit said in a deep bass growl, “Such important information would have been enough for the ISF to mark you for death”

“Indeed” Fel'lya nodded, visibly trying to control his anger, “The shock upon both of you is evident. Yet, the two of you are the top people in my Alliance section. Why have you not learned of this before now?”

“We have no excuses” Ash nodded apologetically, “But the ISF and Tarn's Ministry of Intelligence send out so much chaff and false data, it's an enormous task to sort through and decipher it all. We may not have the key information, but I believe we could work out when and where the meetings to arrange the marriage took place”

Fel'lya made to wave away Ash's explanation, but Askar spoke up, “Could you explain what you mean?” She turned and smiled at her father, and Fel'lya's expression softened and her nodded to Ash to speak.

“Thank you, Lady Askar” Ash cleared her throat, “You might recall the reports we had of a Free Worlds League passenger ship being hijacked into the Circinus Federation some six months ago? The Silver Eagle?”

“I do recall something to that effect” Fel'lya frowned, “What of it?”

Ash continued, “Well, our initial reports suggested that a highly placed member of the League was travelling to the Alliance for medical treatment on Arkania. Since then, we have determined that no such treatment took place, but with this new information we can surmise that the purpose of the visit was to further seal the agreements that have been made between the Alliance and the League over the years”

Fel'lya finally settled into his chair and scowled at Ash over steepled fingers, “Why did you not have this information before?”

Ash hesitated and Ran stepped forward to speak, “If I may, Sir. I would suggest that the reason we have not been getting this information is because of the bureaucracy and the way it has become entrenched. It took us months just to get the data to confirm our suspicions”

Fel'lya shoot forwards in his seat, slamming his palms down on the table with enough force to startle Fyor Rodan VII, “Who denied you this data? Give me his name and he will be dealt with shortly. I will not be surrounded by incompetents”

Asyr spoke up, “Actually, Father, I do not believe Major Gavin is singling out one person” She nodded to Ran, “Please Major continue”

“As your daughter has suggested, Sir. It is not the fault of any one person. Consider that for so long, the NRI was concerned with the Skye Alliance. But over the last few years, border raids from the Oberon Confederation has caused a shift of focus to that area and the discontent we are fomenting there may soon pay off, but as a result, the Oberon section has grown so much that much of the information from the Free Worlds League and the Skye Alliance now filters through that section first. The longer the chain, the greater the chance of something being lost”

Ash nodded cautiously, “Major Gavin and I have also noticed an over-reliance on troop movements and other information coming to us via Miles Fel-Tarn”

“What is wrong with that?” Fel'lya snapped, “It is because of him that we finally learned of this marriage”

Ash held her hands up, “Nothing is wrong with it, Sir, but our other operations seem to come in secondary to the Duke's information. The information still comes in, but our analysts are so busy sorting through the data from Miles, that they cannot clear as much of the other data as they should”

Fel'lya narrowed his eyes and glanced at Tym Jit, “What are you doing about this?”

The Devoronian stepped forwards, “In my talks with Major's Gavin and Loran, they have suggested the creation of a 'crisis team'. It would be an elite group of analysts concerned solely with solving special problems or investigating odd situations. They would operate at a level directly below my office and could command information from all areas, bypassing the normal bureaucratic constraints”

Fel'lya nodded curtly, “Very well” He pointed to Ran and Ash, “Assemble the people you need and requisition the equipment you need, I will see that your needs are met. I want you on call at all times and never more than twelve hours away from me, unless I send you out on some mission”

Ash's jaw dropped and Ran shared a timid glance with her, “Ah, Sir, I believe the director may have more suitable candidates in mind for the crisis team”

Fel'lya sat back in his chair, “How can he argue that you two or not the most logical choices? You are both new enough to the Coruscant operations to not become bogged down in the bureaucracy. It is your plan and you will execute it. I am certain the Director sees this as the only logical choice”

The Bothan glanced at Tym Lit long enough to see the Devaronian's weary nod, then looked back at the two of them, “Now what shall we do about this treacherous new turn of events that Harrison Tarn has engineered for us?”

Before anyone could answer, an aide entered the chamber and Fel'lya shot to his feet in anger. Ran turned just in time to see the aide cringe before the Chief of-States verbal assault, “I ordered no interruptions. What is the meaning of this?”

“May I die a thousand deaths if this is not important, oh he-who-the-universe-envies” The aide -a Balosar bowed, “But it is Dominic Ricol, the ambassador from the Skye Alliance. He says he comes on a matter of great urgency”

Fel'lya's anger faded into an expression of predatory anticipation, “Send him in. It has been a while since I have roasted a Tarn envoy alive. This I will enjoy”

-----------------------------------------------------

A small man with a thick crop of white hair, Dominic Ricol ate up the distance between the door and the centre of the room with the enthusiasm of a child dashing for presents. A large, undiplomatic smile displayed his true feelings, though it faded slightly when he saw Ran.

“I am grateful that you made time to see me, Sir” Ricol's deep tenor voice rang with a deep sincerity, yet beneath the surface, Ran detected an undercurrent that he recognised instantly.

“You cannot fool me, Dominic” Ran thought, “I remember the time we served together in the Prince's Bodyguard. You are up to something, but what? What do you have up your sleeve?”

“I always have time for an envoy of Harrison Tarn” Fel'lya smiled as he stepped out from around the council table, “You know Councillors How, Rodan and Dorees?”

“We've met once or twice” Ricol nodded to each of the Council members.

“And my daughters, Asya and Askar?”

“A pleasure” Ricol smiled, and looked back at Fel'lya, “It must bring you great joy to have almost 'all' your children here?”

Fel'lya ignored the veiled reference to his disinherited son, Escra, “And you've met Director Jit?”

“It has been a while” Ricol nodded to the Director of the NRI, “If it pleases you to know Director Jit, the Pirate Drugo is still rotting in his cell”

Fel'lya let his smile grew as he directed Ricol's attention towards the two analysts, “And in case you think me impolite, allow me to introduce you to Ran Gavin and Natasha Loran. They are NRI specialists in dealing with the Skye Alliance”

Ricol reinforced his smile and nodded to Ash, “If I may be of service, m'lady” He turned to Ran, “Gavin, I hoped I'd never see you again. Didn't take much for you to turn traitor, did it?” He turned back to Fel'lya, “Sir, I come on important business from Prince Harrison”

“Now, now, Ambassador” Fel'lya admonished, “Surely, you can be more polite than that. I'm sure Ran here fondly remembers your time together in the Prince's Bodyguard”

“Hardly” Ran smiled, taking the Chief-of-State's lead, “He was little more than an aide at the time. His position now owes more to his family name than any appreciable ability. But he served well”

“Ah” Fel'lya nodded, “Then do forgive me for forcing memories of this 'servant' on you”

Ran smiled as Ricol flushed scarlet, “I plunge the knife in and Fel'lya twists it” He thought.

The Ambassador fought to regain his composure, “If you would allow me, Sir. I have here a letter from my Prince Harrison” He produced a flimsi envelope, “Harrison Tarn, I am told, personally wrote and sealed this letter and a priority courier brought it straight here all the way from Skye with explicit instructions that I deliver it straight to your hands”

Fel'lya slitted his eyes, “Major Gavin, bring me the letter”

Ricol tried to shield the letter with his body, but Ran deftly plucked it from his grasp, “Never did have fast reflexes, did you, Dominic?” Ran thought as he shot Ricol a smirk.

He offered the letter to Fel'lya, but the Bothan shook his head, “Nay, Major. I would prefer you to read it. I have seen the Princes handwriting and his style is very difficult for me to read. Perhaps you will have better luck than I”

Ran frowned, but did as he was instructed, sliding a finger beneath the flap and breaking the seal, withdrawing the letter, he found that Fel'lya had been correct, the letter was written in the Prince's unusual style.

One word caught his eye and shock ran through his body and he glanced up and caught the expression of mirth on Ricol's face, “You know, don't you?” He asked silently, “You know, you maggot, all that training and practice can't keep the knowledge from your eyes”

Fel'lya rested a hand on Ran's shoulder, “I meant for you to read it aloud, Major”

Ran swallowed, “Forgive me, Sir, but I'm not sure......”

The hand tightened and Fel'lya's voice grew cold, “But I am, Major. Read...it...ALOUD!”

Ran swallowed again and a drop of sweat ran down the back of his neck to tumble down his spine, “My dear Reisk, I know this is unorthodox, and official documents and invitations will follow soon, but I wanted you to hear from me first. On June 20th of next year, my soon, Jacob Tarn will wed Hanna Leong, daughter of Duke Sebastian Leong of the Corellian Government-in-Exile, and the day just would not be complete without your presence”

-------------------------------------------------


Royal Palace.
Nashira.
Skye, Skye Alliance.
321ABY.
December 4th.

The image of Ambassador Dominic Ricol wore an expression of good humour as he made his report, “Oh, if only you could have seen it, My prince” Ricol laughed, “You would have loved the look of dread that turned Ran Gavin's face pale, no doubt a reminder of the day you had him stripped of his rank and commission. Every word seemed to killed him a little more”
The Ambassador let the unbridled excitement that overwhelmed him to show on his face as he related the tale, “When Fel'lya heard the words Gavin was speaking, he snatched the letter from his hands, read it himself and tore it to shreds and stared at me” Ricol hunched his shoulders and thrust an imperious finger at the audience. In a passable imitation of the Bothan's hoarse and angry hiss, he continued, “Leave here immediately, you jackanape. Tell your master that this is an outrage!”

Ricol returned his voice to its usual levels, “I regret my Prince, I was unable to carry away a formal reply to your invitation”

Harrison Tarn hit the pause button on the holo-viewer and froze the ambassador’s image. He turned to the rooms other occupants, his face slashed with a satisfied smile and his eyes lit with pleasure, “The ambassador played his part well”

“Indeed” Subhash Indrahar, the wheelchair bound head of the ISF nodded, “Not only does he accurately portray Reisk Fel'lya in a rage, but his report of the people assembled 'by chance' indicates that something was up”

The third person in the room snorted, “You don't think that they were busy discussing Harrison's letter to Miles do you?”

Harrison smiled to his best friend, “Once again, Arden, you go straight for the heart of the matter”

Arden Sortek shrugged, “As much as I despise politics, I hate traitors even more” He faced the withered old man who was still known as one of the shrewdest minds in the galaxy, “Miles had his note on the 12th. Could he have passed it to Fel'lya by the 28th?”

Indrahar frowned in concentration, “Well, within two hours of receiving your message, Miles summoned Sok'a'vin Kogrian, the Republic Ambassador on Ord Mantell to his office. We don't know what was said -Miles has his office swept regularly for recording devices- but from all accounts the discussion became quite heated. Something about a late payment on a trading shipment”

“The information could have been passed over then” Arden pointed out.

“That was my theory” Indrahar nodded, “But as far as we can tell, Kogrian did not transmit anything to Coruscant until nearly two weeks later, standard diplomatic stuff we've been able to determine”

“No way it would have reached Coruscant in time” Harrison scowled, “Sent out on a ship?”

“It's the most likely” Indrahar said, “Three ships went out under diplomatic flags, though none went in the direction of Couscant. However, at least two, one heading to Nal Hutta, the other to Naboo, have enough unaccounted time on the journey that they could have easily passed the information over to an another ship, or transmitted it direct to Coruscant”

Harrison growled under his breath, “again, Miles shows his colours, but I still don't have the proof. Miles is working with Fel'lya and I don't have anything to hang him with”

“Actually, I don't think Miles and Fel'lya are quite working hand in hand” Indrahar smiled.

Harrison frowned, “What do you mean? Because if he isn't our entire plan is built on shaky foundations”

“Don't take what I said as a denial that Miles is betraying us” Indrahar shook his head wearily, “Fel'lya's troop movements are perfectly consistent with the figures and strengths we are feeding Miles. There is even movement on the Circinus border to indicate the Fel'lya is passing information to Tortorelli as well. In fact, due to Fel'lya's reliance on Miles, NRI operations appear to be withering in our area”

Arden looked at him, “So, what makes you think Miles and Fel'lya aren't working hand in glove?”

Indrahar laughed, “Just as we are sending Miles false information, so too is he sending false data to Fel'lya. He passes along our troops and ship figures faithfully and accurately, but he has been altering the data of his own forces. We know this because the Republic garrisons are ten to twenty percent understrength for the forces they'll be facing”

“That little weasel!” Arden snorted, “Can't trust him at all. Isn't he loyal to anything?”

Harrison shook his head, “Miles is loyal to House Fel, His father, Soontir II, worked hard to improve the family fortunes, and Miles grew up to believe in the 'Fel destiny'. He married my sister Marie to ensure a place in the line of succession and until Jacob marries and has an heir, technically Miles' son Draco has a claim on the throne too”

“It's a pity that he's strayed so far from the fold” Indrahar said, “The Fel's have long been allies of the Tarns”

“He's trying to play both ends against the middle” Arden shook his head, “Whatever happens, he brought it on himself”

Before anyone could say anything further, the doors to the room opened and Jacob swept into the room, resplendent in his uniform.

“Sorry, I'm late” Jacob smiled, “I got held up at the spaceport”

“It's okay” Harrison pulled his son into a hug, “You haven't missed much”

“Arden, good to see you again” Jacob slipped from his fathers arms and shook the other man's hand, then looked at Indrahar, “And well done on your efforts with the story of the Silver Eagle”

Indrahar waved a hand, “Didn't take much. Most of the passengers and the Styx refugees never even knew Miss Leong was present and the vow of secrecy you extracted from those that knew has held up”

“Thanks anyway” Jacob nodded, “Well, tomorrow's the day we release the information about our marriage. But I still have a duty to perform” He faced Arden again, “Arden, I don't have a lot of friends, close comrades in the service yes, but no true friends. If you're not doing anything on the 20th of June, would you consider being my best man”

Arden was taken aback, “I'm..ah...I'm honoured”

Jacob smiled and he saw a grin split his fathers face, “Arden, I've looked up to you since I was a kid. You stood by my father during the Doppelgänger incident and saved his life as many times as he saved yours. You looked after Hanna on Styx, even when things looked grim. I'd be the one who'd be honoured”

Arden blushed, “All that praise, I don't know how to thank you”

“Just saying yes, would be enough, I think” Harrison winked.

Arden smiled, “Then I accept. With all my heart I accept. But not because you asked, but because Hanna did, back on Styx” He laughed.

Jacob shook his head, “And I spent the whole way here working up to ask you”

“Get used to it” Harrison smiled at his son, “Being anticipated by your wife is one of the key points of a marriage”

-----------------------------------------

Almania
Circinus Federation.
321ABY.
December 8th

Baron Calvilena Tortorellia smiled warmly as his cousin entered the Baron's office, “Yorinaga” He said, “It is good to see you walking unaided again”

Yorinaga Tortorellia stood on his right and held his left leg slightly above the floor flexing the lower leg back and forth. Until recently it had been encased in a bacta brace, healing the horrendous injury that had been suffered at Styx.

“It's good to have the brace off” Yorinaga nodded, “Better still to be certified combat ready again. The inactivity was driving me insane”

“It's good that you are ready again” The baron scowled, “You've seen the copy I sent you?” He asked waving a letter.

Yorinaga gave a sharp nod, “Jacob Tarn is to marry Hanna Leong. Such a thing would bind the Skye Alliance and the Free Worlds League closer together, make their alliance stronger” He frowned, “Trapped between them, we'd be easy pickings” He shrugged, “Though not much of change really”

“True” Calvilena sighed, “I doubt it's mercy that has restrained either nation from coming after us, but more of a fear of the hideous damage we could inflict in our death throes”

Yorinaga scowled, “I've never found much honour in a suicidal death”

Calvilena looked at his cousin in distaste. His obsession was honour was an occasional annoyance, “Perhaps if your people had seized the Silver Eagle, we would be in a far better position“

“I will not wage war on civilians” Yorinaga shot back, “Those on board the Silver Eagle were innocents, they had done no wrong. My fight was with the warriors defending the base and the Genyosha. In any case, I was merely an observer, I had no command over General Nero in the long run and I knew Hanna Leong was not aboard the Silver Eagle” His head came up defiantly, “Perhaps if the Death Commandos had moved faster or the Seventh Dierion Regulars not been late and stupid enough to destroy their own transport, we would be in a better position”

“Touche” Calvilena gave a curt nod, “Still, I believe the fact that we have avoided any conflicts larger than skirmishes with either nation bodes well for us for the time being. Harrison is occupied with the larger threat of the New Republic and Akdool is focused on internal problems. We may find that they will refrain from action against us until we are ready”

“Then you expect war?” Yorinaga asked.

“If not here, then somewhere in the galaxy” Calvilena nodded, “And I mean to take advantage of it”

“How can I help?” Yorinaga frowned.

“You have unfinished business with the Genyosha?” Calvilena raised an eyebrow.

Yorinaga hesitated and looked down in momentary shame, “I do. Specifically with Morgan Tarn Varik, the father of the current commander. It is a long standing issue that has never been resolved”

“Perhaps it is time to resolve it” Calvilena smiled.

“Impossible, Morgan retired to a monastery” Yorinaga sighed.

“Much as you did?” Calvilena smiled wider, “When the news reaches Morgan that you have returned, he too will have no choice but to leave his refuge. He will return and the two of you will settle your vendetta”

Yorinaga's jaw worked up and down, “I need a unit”

“You will have it” Calvilena nodded, “Requisition the troops you want, the equipment you need and whatever else you require and you will have it. On one condition. You destroy the Genyosha completely and utterly”

“I accept” Yorinaga smiled, “And it will be my pleasure”

------------------------------------------


Zaniah.
Skye Alliance.
321ABY.
December 10th

Patrick Tarn-Varik shivered and tried not think about how the monk next him was only wearing a robe with nothing covering his head. Patrick himself was clad in a thick heavy coat, gloves and hat to ward off the icy cold of Zaniah. Here, out on the landing pads, it was bitterly cold, harsh enough that Patrick wished for a heavier warmer coat, yet the monk didn't even seem to notice, and in his expression Patrick saw no disdain nor superiority, but instead a sadness for man who does not know himself well enough to be one with the cold.

Still, he was grateful when they passed through the magcon field that held the cold at bay. Peeling off the gloves and hat, he nodded to the monk, “I'm grateful that you were willing to allow me access” He looked back out over the frozen landscape to his shuttle sitting out on the pad, “I would not have wanted to wait out there”

The monk, Brother Keith, nodded his shaved head, “The cold is a mere challenge, but one that takes time to master, you fared better than some have”

“And how well did my father manage?” Patrick asked carefully.

“Well enough” Keith said equally carefully, “At least as far as I have heard. I have only been here two years. Morgan has been here for closer to six”

Patrick nodded, “Since 315ABY. How is he?0”

“He is well”, Keith shrugged, “Much of what I know of him has been related to me by others, though not much since no one is given to gossip here. I've been told though that his time here has done wonders for him, though he maintains that some things prevent him from joining the order formally. A pity, he's a good man”

Patrick smiled, “He always was”

Keith hesitated as he led Patrick to a lift car, “You were there, weren’t you? At the battle were it happened to him?”

“On Korriban in 315ABY? When he had his battle with Yorinaga Tortorelli?” Patrick nodded as the lift began to descend beneath the surface, “Yes, I was there. If you mean the battle on Telos in 291ABY, no, that was before I was born”

“Yes, the battle on Korriban. The battle in 315ABY” Keith frowned, “What happened to him?” When Patrick hesitated, Keith rushed to continue, “I don't mean to pry, it's just that Morgan is so open about his past, except for that period. I know the battle is a matter of public record, but it's obvious something happened that was never recorded”

Patrick sighed, “Honestly, I don't know. The battle was a confused mess, we were scattered all over the place on landing and Yorinaga's unit, the Third Sword of Light wasn't doing any better. My father got split off from the rest of us, his Battlesuits system barely functional and from what I can work out, he encountered and fought with Yorinaga in the Valley of the Dark Lords”

“That's one of the parts I'm confused about” Keith frowned, “I've read all the records of the battle. Even Bay Janson's book on the battle, but his account seems so unreal”

Patrick snorted, “Janson wrote the book three years after the battle and used a lot of unreliable accounts to do so. He tried to rationalise how a company held off a regiment like the Sword of Light. And he makes it all sound like some bad holo movie”

“Yet Morgan was in a light Phoenix Battlesuit” Keith pointed out, “He should never have stood a chance against an Orca like Yorinaga piloted. Yet he did”

“He did” Patrick nodded, “Whatever happened in the Valley, it changed both of them. My father came here and Yorinaga apparently went to a monastery on Echo V” He sighed, “When we found the two of them, both were to weary for a fight and we half expected to have to drag my father off the battlefield under fire, but Yorinaga ordered his forces to retreat. When a member of the Sword of Light protested, Yorinaga blew him away and the rest fell into line and pulled back”

“Sounds like something really spooked Yorinaga” Keith frowned, “Something in the Valley? Something that affected Morgan too”

“Maybe” Patrick nodded, “But I couldn't tell you what”

The lift came to a stop and the doors hissed open, this time the wave of heat that hit Patrick set him sweating and he had to undo his jacket. Up ahead, waiting for them was another monk,significantly older, rounder, balder and with a serious expression upon his face.

Patrick narrowed his eyes, “Shave off sixty years, six or seven kilos, give him back his hair” Patrick thought, “And he'd be the spitting image of Hermann Tarn”

The brother extended his hand, “Greetings Commander, I am Brother Giles, Abbot of Mavron House. I bid you welcome”

Patrick nodded slowly, “He is Hermann Tarn. So, this is where he ended up” Tarn had been the commander of the Tarn First Guards when Alessendro Tarn had seized power in 254ABY and had resigned his commission to avoid being used against his cousin Katrina Tarn, “Thank you for agreeing to meet my Brother Giles. I need to see my father, Morgan as soon as possible”

“I understand” Brother Giles said gravely, “But first I must speak with you. Mavron House is a refuge for those who renounce the violence of their past” Giles turned and waved Patrick down the passageway, “This house is named for a commander who chose not to surrender his oath in exchange for a promotion and was martyred for it. Because the men who come here came of their own free will, I attempt to shield them from the outside world”

“I appreciate you concern Abbot” Patrick nodded, “But I would not have come here and disturbed this place of serenity, if it were not of the utmost importance”

“I understand this” The Abbot replied, “Which is why I have permitted this. Your father may have not formally joined our community, so I have no jurisdiction over him. But...” The Abbot pursed his lips, “I fear for his sanity”

“His sanity?”

“Perhaps that was the wrong word” Giles sighed, “But you have seen war yourself and know how it can warp and change a person. Morgan has conquered many of the daemons that he brought here with him, but there is still one he has yet to control”

Patrick frowned as they reached a door that looked like every other in the passage, “What are you talking about?”

Giles grimaced, “Something still haunts your father, Patrick” Giles pointed upwards, “Something waits for him out there, amongst the stars. Something he has hidden away from for six years. And with your arrival, I don't think he can hide any longer”

Patrick felt a cold feeling in his body, “What is waiting for him?”

Giles stared hard at the mercenary, “I believe what he fears is an encounter with his own death”

--------------------------------------------

Giles silently opened the door and gestured for Patrick to enter, closing the door behind the mercenary and leaving him to proceed alone.
Patrick found the room beyond to be somewhat devoid of furniture or even character. A simple bed, a desk with a chair and small kitchen unit occupied the main room. Beyond one door, he could see a very basic shower and fresher, the other door was open, but from this angle he could see what was beyond.

Heading for the second door, he pushed it open and found that it opened out into a Spartan meditation and reading room. A small library occupied one wall, filled primarily with books of fiction from some of the greats as well as some military themed books, he noted some were almost new.

The centre of the room was dominated by a thin mat upon which his father knelt. Tall, lean, and muscular, the ex-solider was clad only in a thin loin cloth that offered no protection from the cool air, yet Morgan seemed not to show any discomfort. His hair, once as red as fire was now almost completely grey with only a few streaks of the original colour as was his thick, full beard.

Patrick didn't believe the older man had heard him enter, but Morgan's head came around slowly and his emerald eyes opened and focused on Patrick with a curious expression.

“Father?” Patrick said softly.

For a moment, Morgan stared at his son and Patrick noted the same handsome face he always remembered and the same wary look of cunning that had inspired fear in many an enemy for years. He also saw the changes wrought in the man who once commanded the Genyosha, the additional wrinkles, the grey hair, were ones he had expected. But her saw other changes that startled him.

“He looks so peaceful” Patrick thought, “So much more restrained than before. Brother Giles was right, he has changed” He stared into those emerald eyes and felt his gut churning, “He looks so haunted too”

A smile brought animation to Morgan's face, “Patrick, by the Force, Patrick. It's so good to see you” The old mercenary rose far more smoothly and quicker than his sixty-plus years would suggest and embraced his son in a hug that brought a lump to Patrick's throat as the memories came back.

“It's good to see you too, Dad” Patrick smiled.

Morgan's face turned serious, “I know why you're here, Patrick, it's him isn't it?”

Patrick's mouth went dry, “How can he know?” He thought, then shook his head before speaking, “How...how?” Was all he could say.

“How?” Morgan turned and stared off into space, “I knew it would happen some day. It wasn't finished six years ago,yet I've hoped and prayed that this day would never come”

“You, me and the rest of the Genyosha” Patrick nodded numbly.

“Yorinaga Tortorelli” Morgan sighed, “I guess it was inevitable that he'd return from wherever he retreated to. Where do you have the unit now?”

“On Toprawa” Patrick answered.

“Good” Morgan nodded, “We can be there within a week”

“We?” Patrick frowned, “You're coming too?”

“Of course” Morgan nodded vigorously, “This thing with Yorinaga has to come to an end, and I don't believe in allowing others to take my place. Are the Genyosha under contract?”

“Yes, border patrol with the Skye Alliance” Patrick replied, “But we've always had a clause in the contract that allows it to be dissolved if you ever wished to take command again”

“Take command?” Morgan frowned, “You are the leader of the Genyosha”

“No” Patrick said, “I never took the rank of Colonel. I've always been a Commander, because the unit is yours and YOU are it's leader”

“But I've been gone so long” Morgan shook his head.

“It's been six years” Patrick smiled, “The unit will follow you. Through hell if necessary”

Morgan nodded slowly, “Very well. But you WILL accept a promotion to Colonel. I will not have any lesser than such serving as my XO”

“I accept” Patrick smiled.

“Good” Morgan returned the smile, “Go to Brother Giles, ask him to ready my possessions and by the time you return I'll be ready to leave”

“Okay, and Dad?”

“Yes?” Morgan asked.

"It's good to have you back" Patrick grinned.


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Location: England
The Galactic Museum.
Coruscant.
New Republic.
321ABY.
December 14th.

Still known as one of the Wonders of the Galaxy, the Galactic Museum on Coruscant was not a place one could visit and see much of what the Museum had to offer in a day, or a week or even a year.
Effectively encompassing an entire district, the Museum was based in a building that dwarfed even the old Imperial Palace and contained exhibits thrown thousands of worlds and civilizations, some of which no longer even existed.

With exhibits dedicated to almost every era of history, it just wasn't possible to see even a tenth of what the museum had to offer in a single lifetime.

Something Ran Gavin had never really given much thought to until his visit today.

As he walked through the 'Villain’s of the Galaxy', he tried to imagine how long it would take just to audit a fraction of the collections. He'd heard a tale that said that one man who had attempted it had spent his working life doing so and had barely made an impact.

Here, in the 'Villain's' exhibit, which was one of the smaller ones, Ran estimated that just cataloguing the items would take the best part of a year.

“Evening Sir” A protocol droid bearing the sash of a tour guide said, stirring him from his thoughts, “Do you require any assistance?”

“No thank you” Ran waved a hand at the droid, an antique looking 3PO unit almost as old as the exhibits here, “Has to be a mock up job” He thought silently, “There hasn't been a 3PO made for three hundred years”

“My apologies for disturbing you, Sir” The droid bowed, “The next tour begins in ten minutes if you are interested. In the meantime, do enjoy your visit”

“Thank you” Ran smiled as the droid turned and left.

He then turned to look at the exhibit he was standing before and actually took a momentary step back as a small twinge of fear went through him.

Tall and imposing, the lifelike hologram of Darth Vader loomed out from the display. Every detail of his black clad form, from the crud life support system on his chest to the flowing black cloak to the fearsome mask that once elicited terror in enemy troops, each element seemed to add to the malevolence of the long dead Dark Lord of the Sith.

A small sensor in the holo-projector detected Ran's presence and the hologram came to life.

“I am Darth Vader” A voice rough edged, filled with hatred and unspoken threat overlaid with a distinctive mechanical breathing, began to speak, “I was once a Jedi of the Old Republic, Anakin Skywalker, but seduced by power and greed I turned to evil and betrayed my fellow Jedi. In service to my Emperor, I hunted down Jedi, dissidents and rebels and served the Imperial cause with my all” The hologram seemed to grow even more imposing, “The mere mention of my name was enough to keep citizens, senators, Imperial officers and even entire worlds in line and my hands were stained with the blood of hundreds” The figure seemed to shrink, “Yet I could not extinguish the part of my that was still Anakin Skywalker, and at the end, the good won out. I sacrificed my life to destroy the Emperor and save my son. I was Darth Vader and even I still had the capacity for good within me”

“A lesson to be learned, surely” A voice said from behind Ran making him jump.

Fighting to get his heart rate back under control, Ran turned to face who had spoken, “And what lesson would that be, Lady Fel'lya?”

Asyr Fel'lya smiled, “That even the darkest soul is not beyond redemption”

Ran shrugged as they moved away from the Vader display, “Perhaps, but I've read the history. Vader was a killer of hundreds, possibly thousands. Maybe not all by his hands, but certainly by his order too. Can one good act be more than a blip against the evil he wrought?”

“a good point” Asyr conceded with a nod, “I guess Vader's tale is more one of hope than anything. Not Vader's hopes of course, but those of Luke Skywalker, his son. He apparently believed his father was not beyond redemption and he was right, though he redeemed and lost his father almost at the same time. A bitter sweet conclusion to the story”

“For someone like Vader, there's rarely a happy ending” Ran snorted as they stopped before the Darth Zeev display.

“Considering the number of people who died at the hands of these villains, it's a wonder there's a galaxy left” Asyr sighed, “What kind of person could do such a thing as destroy a city or even...” She gestured at the Grand Moff Tarkin display, “Destroy a planet?”

Ran shrugged, “Sometimes it's upbringing, sometimes environment or even merely an aspect of a species. Occasionally, its the result of some injury or perceived slight” He frowned, “Sometimes though, I think people are just born that way. Destined to do evil from the moment of their birth”

“Maybe” Asyr said, “I just don't like the idea that some people are without hope. Still, it's reassuring that we haven't had anyone on the same level as some of these people in the galaxy for a long time”

Ran nodded, “Well there was Stefan Amaris, who murdered his way the throne of the Skye Alliance for his short lived rule in 166ABY. His purges were responsible for the deaths of at least thirty thousand beings” He frowned, “Beyond that, there's only really been whoever was responsible for what happened on Sarna”

Asyr sighed, “My father believes it was a deliberate and carefully planned act and that the Skye Alliance was responsible”

“I agree with him on the first part, at least” Ran said, “The evidence I reviewed does indicate that the explosion and subsequent contamination of the world was fully intended. But, there's no evidence to implicate the Alliance in what happened”

“My father is adamant there is” Asyr scowled.

“Unfortunately, I think his belief in this is misguided” Ran said carefully, “The evidence is pointing in a completely different direction. We just don't know to where”

“My father seems to think different, despite the evidence you present to him” Asyr pointed out, “He 'wants' it to be the Skye Alliance behind what happened on Sarna”


Ran shook his head, “I hate the Alliance and specifically Harrison Tarn for what was done to me. But I just can't fathom you father's utter hatred of the Alliance and the way it blinds him to everything in regards to it and Tarn”

Asyr shrugged, “It's a family thing. Vorsk Kel'lya was an ancestor of our line. When Trinity Oslo-Tarn revealed the proof of how he'd rigged his own election, Vorsk fell very far from the top of the pedestal and dragged the Lya line down with him” She smoothed the fur on her neck, “The Lya's went from being one of the most powerful Bothan lines to one of the most reviled, power disappeared overnight and they became clerks and aides, when weeks before they'd been leaders”

“Must have taken a lot of work to regain the power needed for your father to be in a position to run for office” Ran nodded.

“It was. It wasn't until my grandfather that we Lya's even had the power to re-enter politics” Asyr smiled, “It's strange. The family fortunes suffered because of Vorsk. Oslo-Tarn merely hastened his fall. Yet, the Lya's have hated the Tarn's and the Alliance almost to the point of blood feud since, whilst simultaneously scorning Vorsk as a tainted ancestor”

“Yet, you don't seem to share that feeling” Ran frowned.

Asya sighed, “I guess I'm more realistic. I just don't see the point of holding onto a three hundred year old hatred. Don't get me wrong, I'm loyal to my father and the Republic, I just don't see the point of hate for hates sake”

“Sometimes it's better not to hate” Ran shrugged.

“I thought you hated Harrison Tarn?” Asyr raised an eyebrow.

“I do” Ran nodded, “But I have an actual reason, but once I've avenged the injustice against me I'll let the hate go”


-----------------------------------

Algot.
Circinus Federation.
321ABY.
December 19th.

Yorinaga Tortorelli glanced over his shoulder as his new XO joined him on the balcony. Short and thin, Tomaz Devlin was the opposite of the tall, muscular Yorinaga, yet the man had a soldiers mind as sharp as any.

“You have news?” Yorinaga asked.

Devlin's head bobbed, “The first set of recruits -twenty-five in all- have arrived. I've already taken the liberty of assigning bunks and we have another fifty due in three days time”

“Good” Yorinaga smiled, “Our requested equipment?”

“A freighter is due next week with seventy battlesuits of multiple classes, thirty tanks -again of multiple classes- and enough infantry equipment to outfit a hundred troopers. Simulator units and packages, munitions and support staff are due sometime in the next few days”

Yorinaga sighed, “Please tell me we have some good news regarding the food situation. I tire of rations”

Devlin grinned, “With today's recruits, we also got a full catering staff and three months food supplies”

Yorinaga sagged with relief, “Thank the force” He muttered, “If I had to eat one more dehydrated soy bar, I'd have had to seriously consider defecting”

Devlin stiffened at the remark, then relaxed as he realised Yorinaga had made a joke, “I'll have the staff prepare a suitable meal for you. Well, you be eating in your quarters or joining the troops in the mess hall?”

Yorinaga considered the question carefully. To forestall answering, he moved to the balcony and looked out over the salt flats that surrounded the compound, “In my quarters I think. I will dine with the troops, but only once all are assembled, thus I can address them all at once”

“Very good, sir” Devlin frowned, “Sir, if I may be frank, it seems strange that we're forming a brand new unit merely to strike against a mercenary unit. We're to operate outside the normal military structure, answerable only to the Baron. Significant resources are being spent on training our recruits and ensuring they have the best equipment the Federation boasts. I must ask, what is so important about a mercenary unit -even one as infamous as the Genyosha- for such significant changes in military policy”

Yoringa said nothing for a moment, and Devlin wondered if he'd perhaps stepped over the line, but then the tall man began to speak, “The Federation has long had a reputation as a bandit kingdom, one that is perhaps well deserved. Crime is rife, bribes are common as is assassination. Much of our military is using outdated equipment and weaponry and our forces are often little more than organised raiding parties. This unit is to be a step in the right direction” Yorinaga straightened up, “A well trained unit fighting for the Federation rather than individual selves and equipped with the best equipment and weaponry available. It is time that the Circinus Federation evolved”

Devlin nodded with pride, “But why the Genyosha? Does this have something to do with Korriban six years ago?”

“In part, yes” Yorinaga sighed, “but it began much earlier in 291ABY on Telos. What do you know of that battle?”

“Not much that isn't officially available” Devlin admitted, “It was when you first took command of the Third Sword of Light, you led a deep strike at Telos, intending to hit the shipyards and factories there. I know Harrison Tarn led the defence. The Genyosha were there too?”

“They were” Yorinaga said, “Though I was not aware of this at first. Instead, I directed the main thrust of my attack against Harrison's First Tarn Guards” The man's became unfocused as he recalled the memories, “It was a glorious battle. Tarn bravely led his forces from within his Paladin battlesuit, remaining at the front of the battle, never yielding an inch. Constantly he rallied his troops, turning them into a wall that blunted my attacks and smashed my forces. His long time friend, Arden Sortek hampered my efforts further, constantly directing artillery fire at my lines, even as he fought from within his own battlesuit”
“In the end, however, he was forced into retreat in a series of canyons as we gave chase. A retreat that almost became a rout when a near miss from my Orca's heavy cannon disabled Tarn's battlesuit. Though Arden Sortek fought to rally his troops, I pushed forwards in an attempt to cut Tarn off from his people. I would have taken him prisoner, returned him to Almania as my prize”

Anger and shame sent a shiver through the tall man's shoulders, “I never got the chance. Dozens of tanks and battlesuits bearing the insignia of the Genyosha appeared on the ridges on either side of my position and a voice of one who I came to know as Morgan Varik came over the comms 'Leave him alone', he said. It was a plea and challenge all wrapped in one, but I ignored it and pushed closer to my prize”
“At that point the Genyosha opened fire, missiles and laser fire rained down and savaged my troops, but was staggered enough that they were able to retreated. Morgan's own weapons were perfectly aimed, disabling my heavy weaponry in a few salvos” His voice seethed with anger and disgust, “His air support swept my own fighters from the skies before turning and raining destruction upon my unit. He forced us to retreat, but did not pursue us once the final retreat orders went out. Robbed of glory at the last moment I was forced to led my forces back to our drop ships” His fists knotted, “At the moment of my greatest victory, I returned to the Federation empty handed”

Devlin frowned, “What happened later, in 315ABY?”

“I made a mistake” Yorinaga sighed, “I let my need for revenge cloud my judgement and when I learnt the Genyosha were en route to Korriban to smash a pirate operation I ordered my forces there. We arrived just as the Genyosha were arriving in orbit and pursued them down to the surface, our starfighters harrying theirs. The landings were confused, units scattered across half the region. My Orcas drop pod took damage to it's guidance systems and I landed somewhere in the Valley of the Dark Lords. What do you know of the Valley?”

“Not much” Devlin admitted, “I know it's where the ancient Sith species buried their kings, and later, where the Dark Jedi who called themselves the Lords of the Sith were also buried. Supposedly the place is haunted”

Yoringa grimaced, “I cannot touch the force, yet I could sense that there was something dark and evil about that place. Thus I intended to get clear of the Valley and rejoin the rest of the Sword of Light. Yet, even as I made my way past the tombs, who should I encounter, also cut off from his troops”

Devlin nodded, “Morgan Varik?”

“Yes” Yoringa said, “Separated from his unit and it's Talon Battlesuit no match for my Orca, I saw my chance for revenge. I announced my presence to him, then opened fire with all my weapons. Yet, in my eagerness, I took no notice that my targeting systems did not blink when I dropped the cross-hairs over Varik's form. My computer failed to recognise Morgan Varik as a target, but what did it matter? This was not combat, but an execution, what did I need a target look for?”

As Yorinaga's face crumpled in anger and shame, Devlin remained quiet, “This is his struggle” He thought, “I will respect that”

Disbelief edged into the older man's voice, “I fired with every weapon at my disposal and every weapon missed. My heavy blaster cannon flashed wide, melting sand into glass. My missiles bracketed the Talon suit, but did not come close to a hit. My small lasers shot high or low at their own whim. Somehow, impossibly, I missed with every shot I fired at Morgan Varik”
“He suffered no such problems, even as panic rose within me, his weapons opened up and encountered no such problems. His own missiles hammered into me, destroying my missile launcher and his own blaster cannon tore chunks out of my armour, yet it was out of proportion to the damage my weapons could have, should have done”

Yorinaga forced his fists to open up and he stared at the palms and the indentations left by his nails, “Again, I fired and again, I missed with every weapon. Somehow, by some means, almost as if he were a ghost, I could not find a way to destroy Morgan Varik” He sighed, “Then to my surprise, even as my weapons blazed away impotently at him, he bowed to me”

He fell silent, and Devlin thought carefully about what his commanding officer had said, “There's the conflict. He both hates and respects Morgan Varik for what he did. With that bow, he acknowledged him as the superior warrior, yet denied him his victory”

“I do not know what caused my targeting systems to fail” Yorinaga began to speak again, “But perhaps for a moment, fear caused me to believe that perhaps, the sorcery of the Dark Lords were it work. Then Morgan spoke and he was just as disturbed as I was. He recommended that we left the Valley as soon as possible and I, in my fear, agreed with him”

“That's when you ordered the retreat” Devlin nodded.

“I did” Yorinaga grimaced, “I was shaken by what had happened, I may not have been thinking clearly. But I could only foresee disaster, hence I ordered the retreat. When a Major newly assigned to the Third Sword sought to question my orders and my sanity, I destroyed him and the others fell in line”

“And then you returned to the Federation, resigned your commission and was exiled to the monastery on Echo V” Devlin frowned, “But what disturbed you so much?”

Yorinaga thought for a moment, emotions waging war in his expression, “Morgan Varik trapped me with that bow. He knew that I value honour above all and used it defeat me. Had I slain him, I would have allowed the Genyosha to retrieve his body and mourn him. I would have accepted their vow of neutrality, but their freedom would not have been purchased with his blood, but with my honour” He sighed, “In the end, despite my superior situation, I had lost and could not win the battle. I ordered the retreat, and returned to Almania where I made my report and resigned my commission”Shame rippled his body, “As punishment, my cousin had me exiled to Echo V, but on the condition that when he called for me again, I would come”

“And I did, and he has given me what I want. A chance to finally prove myself Morgan Varik's superior”

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Myrkr.
Republic March, Skye Alliance.
321ABY.
December 29th.

Crouched in the shadows of the trees, Alexandria Tarn grimaced as her sensor display clouded in static. The high metal content of the trees here on Myrkr just caused too much interference for the sensors to be any use. She couldn't even use her force abilities either -even if she had gone through more advanced instruction- as the Ysalamiri created bubble just blocked her attempts.

She glanced to her left, saw one of the damned things hanging from a branch and was almost tempted to blast it. It'd wouldn't have made a difference, but it might have made her feel better.

It all made spotting the enemy so much tougher. The enemy in this case being a Undine Battlesuit unit from the Light Guards proper, commanded by a Captain Drax.

They been running these exercises for a few months now, pitting individual units and squads against each other. It was supposed to be part of acclimating Col Levin's Delta Company -as they were now known- with Light Guard's organisation and methods.

It did seem though, that a lot of the Light Guards saw it as a way of proving that the Academy training people were better. Of course, Delta Company and it's 'half trained whelps' took great delight in proving them wrong.

Alex grinned as she remembered a recent exercise between Sini Cha's unit and one of the Light Guards Infantry units. Not only had Cha's unit wiped the floor with the academy grads, they'd also taken the opportunity to humiliate them, parading them as 'prisoners of war'.
It hadn't gone down to well with the Light Guards and they'd redoubled their efforts to teach the 'border folk' some lessons.

Despite the fact that she was an academy graduate herself, Alex refused to allow the Light Guards to have one over her squad. Determined that her people were going to show their worth, Alex had planned this little battle carefully. She was no tactical nor strategic genius, but she was inventive and having been given the role of ambusher once more, she took full advantage of her unit being first on location here in Myrkr's forests.

Since she could rely on sensors or the force, she instead called on the talents of her squad members. Ton Delar was an experienced outdoors man from Toprawa and had an extensive knowledge of trapping and snares and with his advice and knowledge, Alex had led her squad to laying a series of low tech traps and alarms designed to hamper Drax's own squad. Pits to trap legs, tripwires that bound even Battlesuit enhanced limbs for a few brief minutes and even branches positioned to drop and hamper and trap, but not crush anyone caught underneath.

Still, they were forced to rely on their own eyes to spot the opposing squad. As she waited for something to happen, Alex ran through what she knew of the Undine Battlesuit. Lighter than her units Wargs, the Undine was equipped with a pair of under-slung light repeaters, one of which also had a mounted grenade launcher. It's weaponry and manoeuvrability was better suited to the tight confines of the forest, but Alex felt that the steps she'd taken had neutered the Undines advantages.

A double click over her comms pre-empted the sound of crashing in a short distance ahead. One of her spotters had sighted one of Drax's people just before he'd stumbled into one of the traps. If Drax was following procedures, he'd fan his unit out and make a slow advance.

When she made her own sighing, she was surprised to see Drax had his six man team clumped together moving in a tight formation, weapons not even in a ready position.

“Idiot” A voice Alex recognised as Drax laughed, “Watch your step next time”

“I'm telling you, Sir” Another one of the Battlesuit clad forms said, “That hole was man made. Vornskyr don't dig holes that neat, and they don't cover them over like that either”

“So, one of the Princess' people dug it” Drax said with a sneer evident in his voice, “”If that's the best she can do, then this well be easy”

Clamping down on her anger, Alex clicked her comms system three times and sighted in on the one she'd identified as Drax.

At once the forest lit up as the low powered projectiles that stood in for actual rail-gun projectiles hammered in on Drax's squad. Her own shot took Drax in the shoulder, his armour twisting him around and dropping him to one knee as it registered the hit and the Simulated Combat Package software processed the outcome of such a hit in a live fire situation.

Alex saw two of Drax's men go down as their armour registered fatal hits and locked up. Two more took glancing blows and staggered. Those still standing opened up with their own powered down lasers, lighting up the forest in a red glow, but none came close to her people in their hiding spots.

Even as Drax struggled back his feet, Alex sighted on him again, her finger tightening on the trigger.

Two minutes later it was all over.

----------------------------------------------------------


Two hours later and know wearing her off duty uniform, Alex was stood before General Stone. Next to her was Captain Drax, his height allowing him to tower over her. Near the left wall, Colonel Levin stood impassive, but as she looked at him, he shot her a wink. General Stone meanwhile, was silently looking at the datapad that displayed the results and stats of this mornings exercise.

After what felt like an eternity, Stone finally looked up, his eyes filled with anger and fury, though his face was as impassive as ever.

“Captain Drax” Stone said each word carefully, “You are a top level graduate of the Nagelring. You have seven years of experience. You have served in multiple battles and conflicts and have been a recipient of several medals” He took a deep breath, “So, what in the dark pits of the Sith happened?”

“General, I...” Drax began.

“Shut up” Stone interrupted, “You marched you unit straight into an ambush like some first year cadet. Not to take away from Captain Tarn's performance or that of her unit, but with the common sense and tactical capabilities you displayed today, three Ewoks and a Gungan could have taken you”
He stabbed a finger at Alex, “Yes, Captain Tarn is also a graduate of the Nagelring. But she doesn't have combat experience beyond exercises and a single ambush by raiders. Her squad is composed primarily of farmers and young kinds with a little training and they took you apart in the space of five minutes. It wasn't just a walkover, it was embarrassing”

Next to her, Drax cringed.

“Your unit is serving perimeter duty for the next two weeks and you are on kitchen patrol each evening as well. Perhaps a little punishment will help remind you and your squad that Delta Company might be short on training, but they are not the children you all seem to think they are. Dismissed” As Drax saluted and beat a retreat, Stone turned to Alex, “Captain Tarn, a moment”

“Yes sir” Alex swallowed.

Stone steepled his fingers and scowled at her over the top of the tips for a few long minutes. Out of the corner of her eye, Alex could see Levin giving her a reassuring look, telling her she wasn't in trouble....yet.

“Captain Tarn, I owe you an apology”

Alex frowned, “I wasn't aware one was needed” She said, wincing at the flippant tone.

“Shut up” Stone said, but his voice had none of the anger it had when he'd said the dame thing to Drax, “When Delta Company was first assigned to the Light Guards and I learned that you were one of Colonel Levin's officers, I was not happy. The last thing I wanted was to have a political liability such as yourself in my unit. You are the daughter of the First Prince Harrison and that means you are under a microscope constantly, your every move being watched. It's even worse here in the Republic March, your uncle Duke Miles is already wary of the training battalions and seeks anything to use against your father. We need to be careful enough as it is, without you in the mix”

“This sounds familiar” Alex thought, casting a quite glance to Levin.

Stone also glanced at Levin, “Now Colonel Levin has told me that he had the same doubts and fears when you were assigned to him and has reassured me that you are as good as your scores say and that you won't let me down. Your performance today has gone a long way to proving that. Good work, dismissed”

Relieved, Alex saluted and beat her own retreat.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------


As the door closed behind Alex, Stone glanced over at Levin again, Well, Colonel, seems I owe you an apology too. She's as good as you said she is. A little rough around the edges perhaps, but she has potential” he shook his head, “Myrkr isn't exactly the ideal place to be running these exercises, but she created her own advantages and used the terrain and local effects perfectly. Heck, your entire company is proving themselves”

“Thank you, sir” Col nodded, feeling somewhat vindicated.

“Granted, the big test is going to be when they see combat proper” Stone sighed, “And with the news of the wedding next year, I fully expect us to start seeing some combat soon”

Col frowned, “The news was certainly a surprise. I imagine there was a lot of panic on Coruscant and Almania. Both the Federation and the Republic are going to be very wary of a strengthening between the Skye Alliance and the Free Worlds League”

“Speaking of the wedding” Stone asked, “I presume Captain Tarn will requesting leave to attend?”

“Actually” Col shrugged, “I asked her about it, but she said no. I gather she doesn't speak with her family a great deal. Plus the wedding is apparently quite close to the anniversary of her mothers death”

“I see” Stone nodded, “Well, the option is there if she wants it”

“I'll let her know”


-------------------------------------------------------------------

Terah Engineering Company Shipyards.
Tatooine Orbit.
Oberon Confederation.
322ABY.
January 2nd

Galatea Terah swore softly under her voice as she glanced over the report. True to his nature, Marko had dug into every single aspect of the disaster in Beta-four. The Skakoan had investigated every command sent, every computer system, every comm log and every program used and had packaged everything up nice and neat for her. He did append the raw data too for her to look over, but he'd also made sure that the important points were immediately visible.

First, the cause of the engine imbalance and subsequent explosion was traced to an anomalous program in the hunter systems. When the power levels reached a particular threshold, the program initiated a feedback through the systems, causing the imbalance.

Galatea knew now that the Hunter's had been sabotaged. There was no way such a program could come about accidentally.
Fortunately, the sabotage appeared to be limited to the one particular batch. Once they knew what to look for they sent out a message that had the Hunters already in service and the ones still at the factories checked. The computer systems were also purged to remove traces of the sabotage.

Second, the failure of the blast shields also appeared to be a deliberate act. Marko had discovered that an override control had been sent to prevent the shields dropping. The override had been traced to a tech from Delta-Two, though the fact he had been dead from illness seven months previous absolved him of suspicion.

Somebody was trying to sabotage the Hunter project and they had the means and resources to elude suspicion. They clearly had access to the TEC computer systems and database as well as the TEC factories on Lok and Geonosis.

That scared her. Someone with that amount of access to security systems could cover his tracks well and could easily elude any attempt to trap him.

Galatea sighed and massaged her forehead. She was a tech, not an investigator. She felt way in over her head.

----------------------------------------------------------


Visage Enterprises Central Communications Facility.
Lorrd.
Skye Alliance
321ABY
January 4th

Diana Senn looked around the foyer of the communications facility. A grand place, it reminded her of the holos of some of the long gone Alderaanian palaces. Banners displaying the insignia of both Visage Enterprises and VisComm -the Visage subsidiary responsible for the control and maintenance of the galaxy spanning holonet- hung from the walls.

Though Lorrd was a Skye Alliance world, the VisComm facility was like all Visage facilities and buildings considered neutral territory. Back when the Jedi Order had negotiated its neutrality from the various nations and factions, Visage Enterprises had done likewise, offering to handle and control the holonet and keep it free from the control of any one nation.
Since then, the threat of a communications interdiction had prevented attacks against Visage property and holdings.

Though, technically, Visage didn't control the holonet either.

“Ah, Master Senn” A tall, slender and handsome man smiled as he approached her, “Good to see you again. You're as beautiful as ever”

Diana nodded to Jol Loran, “And you are still the flatterer I see, Administrator”

Jol Loran ran a hand through his greying hair, “Caught me out again” He smiled, “Now what brings you to my humble facility. It's not often we get a Jedi Master visiting” He grinned at her and Diana was reminded of Jol's father, who had passed away the previous year. Darik Loran had been targeted by assassins from a rival company and Diana had been the Knight who protected the elder Loran all those years ago. After Darik's death, the elder brother Ben had taken over the running of visage Enterprises, whilst Jol had taken over the main communications hub. Diana knew of the much younger sister Natasha, but she was considered a black sheep of the family, a rogue and an embarrassment.

“I need to speak with her” Diana said.

Jol stiffened, “I'm not sure if I can allow it, not without authorization. Does Tiepolo know about this?”

“He's why I'm here” Diana shook her head, “This has to be off the books. Between me, you and her” Seeing his worry, Diana smiled, “It's important and you do owe me”

Jol frowned, then sighed, “Yes, I owe you. But this is asking a lot. Maybe, if you could tell me what you needed......”

Diana shook her head, “I'm not sure myself. This may turn out to be a fools errand, but I have to be sure”

Jol hesitated, then seemed to slump, “Okay, but never again. You know the rules”

“I do” Diana smiled, “And I appreciate you bending the rules for me this once”

Jol grinned, “Come on. We'll have to be quick”

He led her to the elevator and they descended to the lower levels. Somewhere near the bottom, the car stopped and Jol stepped forwards and opened a panel to reveal a keypad and a retinal scanner. Quickly inputting his code, he looked into the scanner and allowed it to scan his retina.

“Identity confirmed” A harsh mechanical voice filled the air, “Provide voice match authorisation”

“I am Jol Loran, Master of this realm” Jol said, throwing a grin to Diana.

“Voice match confirmed” The voice said, softening into a softer, female voice, one tinged with humour, “Though you certainly are not the master of this place”

The lift car started to life again and descended for a few more seconds before finally coming to a half. The doors opened and Jol led Diana into a new corridor lined with servers and memory banks. At the far end of the corridor, it opened out into a large chamber filled with more servers, terminals, memory banks and communication routers. This was the main hub of the holonet network. From here, one could essentially listen to, track and intercept any holonet communication the galaxy or even shut down entire parts of the network.

And sat on one the terminals, was the one responsible for it all.

She looked human, every aspect about her was human. On the outside at least, Diana knew here to be a Human Replica Droid, one of the few left in the galaxy since the technology had been outlawed. There were no visual clues, but where she would have sensed life, instead she sensed something different. Not quite life, but not quite droid either. Ignoring the feeling, Diana focused on what she knew about the woman.

About Sacul.

In 35ABY, Sacul had been an AI aboard the ship owned by one of Jol's ancestors, Garik Loran. During the war that dominated that year, the Sacul was infected by an ancient Rakatan virus, that split of of copy of her code to create a new AI that spawned from Sacul. That 'child' AI went on to infect the holonet, growing and learning as it did so, eventually becoming the holonet itself and becoming self aware and almost sentient.
Eventually, perhaps seeking a connection, it tracked down Sacul and revealed itself to her. Despite some initial distrust, Sacul eventually accepted her 'offspring'
Through Daedalus, Visage Enterprises ended up gaining control of the holonet. The AI had control over every holonet station in the galaxy and the then Visage Enterprises board decided to use that information to negotiate their neutrality from the various nations.

Sometime around 100ABY however, Sacul's program had begun to break down -a result of the earlier infiltration and years off being transferred between AI cores- and faced with losing the closest thing to apparent it had, Daedalus had sacrificed itself to preserve it's 'mother' The two AIs had merged and Sacul had become something more.

Now it was through Sacul that Visage Enterprises controlled the holonet and she was Diana's best hope of finding something useful about Tiepolo and his plans.

“Jol” The disturbingly human girl smiled, “What brings you to my domain?”

Jol indicated Diana, “Sacul, you remember Diana, don't you?”

“Oh yes” Sacul smiled, “Diana Senn, Jedi Master. Member of the Jedi Council. You saved Darik from the assassins back in 300ABY, didn't you?”

“I did” Diana smiled.

“I never forget a face” Sacul smiled, “Of course, I'd already identified you as you came down the elevator. Scanned your face, ran it through my information databases and made a match to within point-zero-zero-zero percent of a perfect match” She frowned, a very human expression, “Sorry, that just came across as creepy, didn't it?”

Jol frowned, “Sacul, Diana has a favour to ask you”


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Visage Enterprises Central Communication Facility.
Lorrd.
Skye Alliance.
321ABY.
January 4th

“What do you need, Master Senn?” Sacul asked, rubbing her hands, like she was preparing get down to work.

“I need” Diana said carefully, “To find out if Julian Tiepolo has made holonet calls to people, groups or factions outside of the order and I want to know who those messages went to, where they went too and their content. Along with any replies” Next to her, Jol gave a sort of strangled squeak, “And it needs to be our secret”

Sacul frowned, an expression that allowed Diana to think she was human and not just a HRD, whose very being was in every terminal, server and memory bank in this room and possibly even spread across the entire galaxy via the holonet.

“All calls and messages?” Sacul said, “Or just unofficial stuff?”

“Unofficial” Diana answered, “We log all messages that are Jedi business” She thought for a moment, “Also, anything that went out from a Jedi held world or location that meets that criteria, but didn't go out from Tiepolo”

“That's a heck of a request” Sacul scowled, “Do you want fries with that as well? How soon do you need the info?”

“How soon can you do it?”

Sacul crossed her arms and leant against a support column, the action so natural it had to be a learnt behaviour rather than programmed. “Every hour, there are on average around three-point-seven billion holonet calls. That number climbs sharply to almost double during major sporting events or triple in the aftermath of war or what happened on Sarna” She shook her head, “It would take me a lot of time to find the ones you want and I'd have to devote a significant amount of runtime and memory to do it”

Diana thought carefully, “Okay, obviously we need to narrow it down”

Jol cut in, “Well, if Tiepolo is doing anything he wants to hide, then he won't be making live calls. And it's unlikely that any messages will have visuals. So, we're looking for text only messages”

Sacul nodded, “Okay, that'll cut it down. We can also skip messages larger than a few bytes”

Jol frowned, “Why is that?”

Diana caught on and answered, “The longer the message, the more likely it is to be noticed during transmission”

Sacul smiled showing a set of utterly perfect teeth, “Exactly. All messages over a certain size are automatically scanned and checked, with particular emphasis on certain keywords”

“Why aren't smaller messages put through the same process?” Jol asked.

“Too inefficient” Sacul replied, “Most messages and transmissions below a certain size are often indistinguishable from automatic transmission checks sent out by all holonet stations on a hourly basis. It's inefficient to sort and check them, so it's rarely ever done” Her face seemed to go blank for a few moments as she evidently devoted herself to the duty in hand. After a minute or so, her expression changed again and she smiled, “Okay, I've set up a part of my runtime to start searching. It will take a few days though”

“That's better than I expected” Diana said in surprise, “I was expecting weeks”

Sacul shrugged, “I may not even find anything yet. But if I do, I'll be sure you get it”


----------------------------------------------------------

Endor.
Outer Rim Federation.
322ABY.
January 6th.

Lucas Horn sidestepped the pair of chattering Ewoks on the slender rope bridge as he headed towards where Grandmaster Tiepolo was speaking with a representative from the Outer Rim Federation. The representative -a squat, heavily built and trunk nosed Tarkelian- was a complete contrast to the tall, cadaverous Tiepolo.

Stopping a respectful distance away, Lucas wasn't close enough to hear the conversation, but was able to guess exactly what it was about. No doubt, the Outer Rim Federation was once again 'insisting' that the Order cede control of Endor to the corporations, the ones that wanted to strip the planet of resources, domesticate the Ewoks as pet's and otherwise leave the planet as a drain husk.

This was one area where Tiepolo stood firm. As far as the Order was concerned, Endor was off limits to such activities. Still, it was a constant sore point between the Outer Rim Government and the Order.

Lucas gazed off over the forest. He couldn't imagine what this world would become should corporations get their hands on it. Gazing up into the evening sky, he smiled, he couldn't imagine either what it must have been like centuries ago to look up and see the second Death Star hanging there, a moon of metal and evil and death.

“You have a message for me, Jedi Horn?” Tiepolo's voice cut into his thoughts.

“Yes, Master” Lucas turned and inclined his head in respect to the Grandmaster, “Master Wynnis reports that our ship will be ready to launch within the hour”

“Good” The old man nodded, “The sooner we have gone, the sooner the Outer Rim Republic will leave Endor alone”

Lucas frowned, suppressing a shudder as he recalled Master Senn's claims that Tiepolo had arranged for the devastation on Sarna, “Forgive me Master, but can we be sure they won't try again once we're gone”

“They wouldn't dare” Tiepolo smiled coldly, “They rely too much on the Jedi as neutral negotiators for their deals and agreements. If they were to anger us, we'd withdraw that support and trade would come to a halt for them and with a system so dependant on trade and business deals as theirs is, that would be disastrous”


“I guess so” Lucas nodded, “Still, all it takes is one rogue Corporation or someone who sees only the short term”

“True, true” Tiepolo frowned, “I'll inform Master's Cray and Do'ki'ath to be extra vigilant for incursions and illegal landings” The slender, aged man looked thoughtful for a few moments, “I have a few errands to attend to. Meet me at the shuttle in exactly one hour”

“Yes Master” Lucas bowed as the Grandmaster turned and stalked back towards the main Jedi enclave buildings. He waited until the old man had disappeared inside, then released a shudder, then immediately froze as a familiar presence made itself known.

Turning slowly, Lucas saw Connor Solo lurking in the shadows of a tree. Lucas scowled, “What are you doing here, Connor?” He demanded.

“Not so loud” Connor shook his head, “I'm following Tiepolo”

“Why?” Lucas asked, suspecting he already knew the answer. He stepped closely and was alarmed by how much weight Connor appeared to have lost, his clothes looked like the hadn't been changed in weeks and he bore a scraggly beard as unkempt as his hair.

“What happened on Sarna, he set me up, I know it” He frowned at something to one side and shook his head as if in response to a question, “I just need proof”

Lucas grabbed Connor's arm and pulled him back into the shadows, “I'm looking for proof too. You were definitely set up. Master Senn was convinced that Tiepolo was behind what happened. She had me join Tiepolo's party to try and learn something”

“Diana Senn sent you....” Connor began to say, then stopped looking to the side again, “Shut up”

“I didn't say anything” Lucas frowned.

“Not you” Connor sighed, “Have you found anything yet?”

Lucas stared at the clearly unstable man for a few moments, before finally shaking his head, “Not yet. But I haven't had a lot of opportunities yet” He frowned, “How did you get here anyway?”

“I stole a shuttle” Connor said, “Can you get me aboard the 'Wisdom Of Truth'?” He asked, referring to the small refitted heavy transport that served the Order as a mobile training facility and was currently being used to ferry Tiepolo around on his tour.

Lucas thought silently for a moment, “Not with me no. But we're taking some cargo on before we leave the system. Mostly just empty containers in exchange for the full ones we've dropped off as supplies. You might be able to sneak in with them”

“Don't the scan them?” Connor scowled.

“Only planet side” Lucas shook his head, “Since the transport unit is docked with the Wisdom, once the containers are inside the transport they are considered secure. You only thing you have to worry about then is the sterilization process and they only perform that on the container exteriors to prevent microbes being carried out of the atmosphere”

Connor nodded thoughtfully and life seemed to burn in his tired, haunted eyes, “Sounds as good a way as any. I'll see you up there”

“No” Lucas shook his head, “I think I'm being watched too much aboard ship. You'll be on your own unless I can be sure I'm not being watched”

“Okay” Connor sighed, “I'm on my own then”

“I'm afraid so” Lucas gave a reassuring smile, “Good luck, and may the force be with you”


--------------------------------

Dac Government Hall.
Mon Calamari.
Free Worlds League.
322ABY.
January 14th.

Hanna Leong looked up from her desk as her mother entered the small office she maintained in the Government House. She'd spent the morning pouring over various reports trying to find anything about what Jacob might have been up to and had been looking for a reason to get some air.

Her mother arriving was as good a reason as any.

“Mother” Hanna stood as a smile grew on her face, “What brings you to my little corner”

Joana Leong grinned at her daughter, “What? I can just decide to visit my own daughter?”

“Touche” Hanna laughed and embraced her mother, “But really, I thought you were off taking part in the reception for the Hutt trade delegation?”

“I was” Joana smiled, “But I slipped out for a little air. The Hutt's aren't exactly known for their pleasant ordures and in the summer heat it was getting quite stuffy”

Hanna wrinkled her nose as she led her mother to the small couch set at one end of the small room, “I can imagine. How's it going otherwise?”

“So-so” Joana shrugged, “The lead delegate Rondu Besedii, is more agreeable than most Hutt's, but he's still playing his cards close to his chest. Refuses to get drawn into any discussion about the upcoming trade negotiations”

“How do you think it will go?” Hanna asked as they settled onto the couch.

“Difficult to say” Joana frowned, “I know the Hutts are after assistance with dealing with Taurian Slaver parties raiding into the Hutt systems, so they may offer to make concessions in trades in exchange for a little help from the FWL military”

“Weren't the Hutts once slavers themselves?” Hanna said, “Strange that they now have to call on the authorities to help deal with slavers”

“Yes” Joana nodded, “They were slavers. In fact, they had their hand in just about every illegal activity you could name. When the League was formed, the Hutts negotiated themselves quite a lot of autonomy for their sector. All they had to do was abandon activities such as outright slavery, body parts trafficking and piracy. In return, they were allowed to keep their 'indentured employee' races such as Klatoo and Weequay and could continue the spice and smuggling trades”

“So, nothing changed” Hanna shook her head, “They just hide behind legal terms and technicalities”

“Pretty much” Joana nodded, “But their support was heavily needed during the Leagues early days, so concessions were made to guarantee that support” She smiled, “Change of subject. How are you doing?”

“I'm okay” Hanna shrugged, “Disappointed that my trip got cut short and that I only got to spend a week with Jacob before I had to come back”

“I wish you could have had longer” Joana sighed, “But with Aldo Rimmer making such a fuss, we needed you back here as a visible presence”

“I know” A flash of fury flickered across Hanna's face, “And I know he was behind the hijack of the Silver Eagle, I just can't prove it yet. It was only the death of his contact on the Sprawl and the arrival of the Death Commandos that spoiled his scheme”

“He's safe currently, because like you said, we have no proof beyond our suspicions” Joana grimaced. “On the other hand, while he knows about your trip -how, I don't know- he's been unable to capitalize on it since the announcement of the wedding undercut his opportunities”

“The wedding?” Hanna frowned, “How is it being received?”

“Quite well” Joana smiled, “There's some resistance in some quarters, but overall the attitude is pretty positive”

“Good” Hanna nodded, “I was so worried that the news would cause problems. But as long as the people of the League are happy with my choice, I can be happy”

------------------------------------------------------------------------


Nashira.
Skye.
Skye Alliance.
322ABY.
January 29th.

The snowstorm had lifted somewhat in the last ten minutes, but icy sheets of snow continued to fall, joining the thick covering that already lay upon every surface.

Morgan Tarn-Varik stepped from the landspeeder and shivered as he watched a pair of men bearing shovels continue to battle in vain against the snow fall. Seeking out Patrick on the far side of the speeder, he gave his son a rueful smile, “It always seems to be like this whenever I visit Skye. I thought I'd be used to snow after six years on Zaniah, but I'm just not”

Patrick nodded, “I'll be much happier inside myself. You sure we're expected?”

Morgan nodded, “I called ahead. Katrina is expecting us”

Patrick looked up at the building before them. Looking like a castle of some long forgotten time, the Tarn family estate was an awe inspiring sight. A central keep dominated the centre of a courtyard surrounded by a thick stone wall interrupted around it's length by tall towers. Dating back to the early days of Skye, Summerforge Castle had been home to many of Skye's ruling families. The Von Rhors, the Steiners, the Kells, the Mariks, the Oslos and finally the Tarns.

A young man in the armour of the Royal Guard met them at the main door and quickly conducted them through the corridors of the castle. At one set of doors, the guardsman turned to them..

“Commander Varik” He said to Patrick, “The Colonel's presence has been required elsewhere by her highness. But the reception is already in full swing through these doors”

Patrick looked to his father, who just nodded, “Go ahead, Patrick. I'll join you later”

After Patrick had slipped through the doors, the guardsman led Morgan further down the corridor to a nondescript door, “She's expecting you, Colonel. Please go ahead”

“Thank you” Morgan nodded and stepped through the door.

“Morgan!” The woman rising from the chair near the door in the small antechamber smiled as she rose to her feet, “You made it!”

“Katrina” Morgan returned the smile as he enfolded the former ruler of the Skye Alliance in an embrace. “You haven't changed a bit” He held her at arms length. Though her youth was long behind her, maturity had given her a greater beauty. Her face -though wrinkled- still shone with that light that he remember and the way her silver-grey hair framed her features only enhanced the vision he saw.

“Nor have you” Katrina smiled, “Though I do like the addition of the beard. Makes you look distinguished”

“Really?” Morgan scratched at his beard, “I'm of two minds about it” He shook his head, “Ah, Katrina, it's been far too long”

“That it has” She nodded, “Come, into my office” She led him to the other door out of the small room.

The door swung open and Morgan came to a stop as his eyes fell upon the desk that dominated the room. In contrast with the other items in the room, the desk was a massive oaken thing, clearly handmade and done with a lot of love, “You still have it? After all these years?”

“Of course I do” Katrina smiled, “How could I part with it? Arthur made it with his own bare hands” She went quiet and swallowed past the lump in her throat as she though of her husband, Harrison's father. It had been a long painful fifty years.

Morgan's voice pulled her back from the sadness of memories, “Now, Katrina, you know that's only half right. Arthur had some help with that monster”

“Ha!” Katrina laughed out loud, “Too hear the way Arthur told it, you just supervised”

Morgan grinned, “I helped. Even have a splinter or two to prove it” He pointed at the right hand side of the desk, “I did that top drawer for a start”

“The one on the right?”

Morgan nodded.

“The one that always sticks?” Katrina laughed.

“I told Arthur he had the casing measured wrong” He sighed, “Damn, those were the days, weren't they? Do you have anything to drink?”

Katrina nodded and moved to the liquor cabinet to one side, “Do you still drink Corellian Whiskey?”

Morgan shrugged, “I don't really know. The monastery on Zaniah is a dry house -apart from sacramental wine. Your cousin, Brother Giles, runs a tight ship”

Katrina squinted into the cupboard and withdrew a somewhat dusty bottle, “This will be a treat for you then. Patrick sent a few bottles to me last year. Apparently seized them from a bunch of pirates running out of Terminus” She poured a little into a glass, then handed it to him before pouring some into another glass, “To those we've lost, and to the future they gave themselves to build” She held her glass up in salute.

Morgan mirrored her gesture, then took a slug of the whiskey. It burned his throat slightly on the way down, but not unpleasantly so and he cherished the warm feeling as it spread from his stomach, “I heard all about the wedding, by the way. Quite the surprise”

Katrina nodded, “I imagine it was a bigger and less pleasant surprise to Fel'lya and Tortorelli”

“Indeed” Morgan frowned, “This could galvanise them into an aggressive move”

“I've said as much to Harrison” Katrina smiled, “But you know my son, he always seems to plan for those sort of eventualities”

“true” Morgan smirked, “He is a shrewd one that one. I'm sure he has his bases covered”

“He will” Katrina said, “Now come, there's a party to attend”

She lead him out another door from the office and into a long sweeping corridor that he knew linked her office to the grand ballroom. As they approached the doors at the far end, Morgan could hear the hubbub of conversation and music. As they opened the doors, a few heads turned their way and a few people bowed in the direction of Katrina, affording her the respect due a former First Princess of Skye.

Katrina turned to Morgan, “Go and mingle, I have a few people I need to speak with”

“I'll speak to you shortly” Morgan bowed and looked around the room as she moved away.

At the far end of the ballroom, he spotted Patrick standing in a group that comprised military types and discussing something or other with them. His animated gestures, hinted that he was talking of a battle of some description.

“So, it is true” A weary, gravelly voice said, stirring him from his observations, “The dead do walk amongst us”

Morgan turned slowly and carefully to face the haggard old man who had spoken. He stared at the old man for several seconds and then spoken in a glacial tone, “Do you speak of me or yourself, Alessendro Tarn?” He let a cruel smile touch his lips, “Ah, forgive me. I forgot my manners. What is the proper form of address for a deposed First Prince”

Alessendro's lips pulled back over his teeth as Morgan's riposte hit home, “You always were quick with your wit, Morgan” He sought out Miles Fel-Tarn's representative at the gathering, “Thank the force that that idiot Miles lacks your wit and intelligence or he might actually be sat on the throne”

“True, Alessendro” Morgan nodded, “But had Miles possessed such wit and intelligence, he would understand his unsuitability for the throne”

Alessendro drew himself up to his full height with more grace and anger than his ninety-plus years would have suggested, “I don't recall giving you leave to refer to me with such familiarity, Colonel Varik”

Morgan's voice turned cold, “I earned that right, Alessendro” He snapped, “During six years of hell. During that time I earned the right to topple you from your throne and forever preserve it for Katrina Tarn and her line”

Alessendro snarled at Morgan and the mercenary thought the deposed ruler was going to say more, but the aged man whirled and stalked off across the hall.

“Was that wise?” Patrick asked as he came up on Morgan's right, “Deposed he may be, but Alessendro Tarn still has a lot of power in some circles”

“Maybe” Morgan conceded, “But he doesn't have power in the circles he'd need to cause me any real problems. And the older and closer to death he gets, the more his existing power slips away. He's no threat”

“I hope you're right” Patrick sighed, “We'll have enough on our plate with Yorinaga. Assuming he comes after us”

“He will” Morgan nodded slowly, “He will”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Coruscant.
New Republic.
322ABY.
February 14th.

Ran Gavin looked up from the pile of datapads on his desk as the door to his office opened to admit someone, “Glad to see I'm not the only one working late tonight” He grinned at his visitor.

Natasha Loren gave a weak smile and collapsed bonelessly into the chair opposite. In a voice thick with fatigue, she asked, “If we have the choice of staff for this crisis team, why do we seem to be doing all the work?”

Ran laughed, “I've asked myself the same question. But even though we cherry picked the best analyst, the other departments still aren't getting data to us fast enough, so it's left down to geniuses like you and me to make sense of it all”

Natasha closed her eyes for a moment, then one opened to look wearily at him, “Well, I like the part about us being geniuses, but this late at night the rest just flew by me” She held a hand up to smother a yawn, “Are you still playing with the Skye Alliance budget figures?”

“Yeah” Ran nodded, digging through the datapads, “What do you need?”

“Disbursement payments for the Free Worlds League Monopole shipping company” Ash sighed.

Ran found the correct datapad and activated it, “Fiscal 321? I've got three-point-seven million credits, give or take. Are you still working the Silver Eagle thing?”

Ash shook her head, “No. Shipping costs for the Trident Battlesuits being shipped from the League to the Alliance. Monopoles second and third quarter earnings are grossly out of line with their projected income. They had a couple of ships being refitted in the Alliance, at the Telos shipyards. I thought maybe they'd stuffed the Tridents into one of the ships being sent to Telos”

“Good thought” Ran nodded.

“That's all it was” Ash sighed, “Turns out the payments tally with supposed payments for when Harrison commandeered some Monopole vessels for Galahad 320” She leaned forwards, “Any luck with your pet project?”

Ran gave his own sighed, “Yes and no. There's enough vagueness in the Skye Research Academy budgets to cover the funds needed to maintain an expansive weapons development facility. I know it's there. I heard enough rumours during my final years in the Skye Alliance military to believe such a facility exists”

Ash nodded, “You and I both acknowledge it's existence. Since Lucas Antilles developed the plasma cannon technology back in 88ABY, there hasn't been any major advances in weaponry for nearly three centuries”

“Just enhancement of what we already have” Ran said, “We can fire a little further and hit a little harder, but nobody has something the other doesn't have”

“Exactly” Ash smiled, “So, it's only natural for Skye to maintain a facility devoted to developing new kinds of weaponry that no one has seen before. And if this marriage goes ahead, Harrison will be able to bring the support of the Free Worlds Leagues economy to bolster his efforts”

Ran frowned, “The rumours I'd heard was of some powerful laser weapon that cut through starship armour as if it were mist and could blow through shields will little effort” He pulled out on datapad and punched through the contents, “Because of the political differences of Harrison and Miles Fel-Tarn, I can't see the facility being in the Republic March and no further than Er'Kit”

Ash nodded, “Anywhere closer and Miles would have heard of it and told us”

“Unless he's holding out on us” Ran pointed out.

“He's not that smart” Ash snorted.

“But is he that stupid?” Ran scowled, “It's not going to be in the Circinus March due to the risk of a raid from the Federation. It's also not going to be too close to Mandalorian Space for similar reasons. I've narrowed it down to a dozen or so worlds. Axton, Bethal, Generis and Garqi lead the list” He pointed at the datapads, “Hopefully, one of these reports will show the money trail leading to one of those worlds”

“We could also raid those worlds” Ash shrugged.

“True” Ran conceded, “But that might tip off Harrison that we know something. Let'#s narrow it down first. Hitting all those worlds would be a give away, I'd rather hit one or two worlds with concentrated force and be away with what we went for before they realise what we know”

Ash stretched and rose slowly, “Well, good luck. I'm off to bed”

“Sleep well” Ran smiled.

“Sleep?” Ash laughed, “I've not had any since I took this job. No rest for the wicked and all that”

“What was it they always say?” Ran smiled, “Rest comes when you're dead?”

--------------------------------------------


Mos Eisley.
Tatooine.
Oberon Confederation.
322ABY.
March 7th,

Galatea shivered as she looked around the dusty streets of Mos Eisley. She doubted that the place had really changed all the much in the last three centuries since the days of Octavia Terah, But then some things were always going to be a constant.

Even when the TEC effectively took over the planet and built the massive shipyards and orbital factories overhead, Mos Eisley still clung to its reputation as the place to go if you were after the less than legal or those who dealt in such things. And if you needed something done that was less than legal, this was the place to come.

Which is why Galatea was here.

She was no stranger to Mos Eisley, but previous visits had always been as a representative of TEC. Those visits to TEC facilities near to Mos Eisley or to the sprawling Terah Estate had been TEC business. This time she was on her own, for her own purposes.

Slipping through the doorway of the local cantina, she tried not to slouch or hesitate at the doorway and kept her head up, trying to show that she wasn't feeling the fear that chilled her belly.

As she entered a few heads turned to look at the new arrival, but few gazes lingered on her for long. People here tended to mind their own business and would only cause trouble if someone else started it. Few wanted to bring the attention of the local police on themselves.

Stopping at the bar long enough to get a mug of lum, Galatea headed towards on of the booths and finding it empty slipped into its confines.

She tried not to look fidgety as she glanced at her chrono. Her contact should be here soon, but she didn't want to stay here alone too long. Even in this day and age, a lone female was still easy prey for the unscrupulous on Tatooine.

Galatea hated Tatooine. It was too hot, too dusty and too dry, conditions that a mechanic such as herself tried to avoid. Worse, with a fair complexion and red hair -a predominant genetic feature of her bloodline- , she sunburnt easily, the half hour she'd spent in the sun between the spaceport and the cantina had been enough to redden the skin of her arms.

She knew her ancestors had come to this world centuries ago, and that TEC had essentially started with Zan Terah's little workshop just outside of Mos Eisley, but given the choice Galatea would happily spend all her time in orbit around this dust ball rather than on it.

Still, she was here for a very good reason. Somebody at TEC had sabotaged the Hunter Project and had then tried to kill her when she investigated. That meant somebody either middling to high up in the structure -which narrowed her list of suspects down to about three thousand people with the necessary clearance- or somebody with the slicing capabilities to cut through just about every single security protocol TEC possessed. Whoever it was, they had also evaded every attempt by TEC Security to track them down.

Finally, in desperation Galatea had decided to go 'off base' for help. She needed someone with absolutely no connection to TEC, someone who could dig around and find a trail and would -hopefully- find the saboteur.

That meant calling in a favour or two to track down the person she needed and then when he arrived, swallowing her pride and asking for his help.

Over the next two hours, during which time she drained her mug twice, fended off the advances of several denizens of the Cantina and threatened one with her blaster when he wouldn't take no for an answer, Galatea was starting to think he wouldn't show.

“If I'd known it was you” A voice cut into her thoughts, “I wouldn't have bothered coming”

Galatea looked up in surprise, “I'm glad you did” She said, looking him over carefully.

Tall and handsome, the man was dressed in a standard spacers jumpsuit, his black hair pulled into a ponytail and his green eyes suspicious.

“I was curious” Dan Halcyon shrugged as he slipped into the seat opposite her, “Not a lot of people have access to my personal holocomm code, fewer still would no my mothers name” He scowled, “That was pretty low of you. You knew I wouldn't have come if you had said it was you?”

“Yeah?” Galatea nodded, “After what happened......”

Dan cut her off with a wave of his hand, “So you send me a message claiming to be an old friend of my mother's and that you have a job offer? Like I said, low”

“I'm sorry” Galatea grimaced, “But I need your help and I really couldn't risk you not showing to at least here me out”

“Fine” Dan folded his arms and stared at her, “You have five minutes. If I don't like it, I walk and you lose my comm code, got it?”

“Yeah” Galatea swallowed, “We've had some problems in the shipyards. Big problems”

“And this concerns me how?”

Galatea took a deep breath, “It's sabotage. Whoever it is, has enough computer access to cover their tracks, lay false trails and even engineer accidents. Security can't seem to do anything, so I need someone who the saboteur can't see coming”

“So, you need a slicer?” Dan nodded, suddenly interested.

“Not just any slicer” Galatea shook her head, “I need one of the best in the business and one that I know that I can trust”

Dan sighed, “Sure, you can trust me, but how can I trust you?”

“What?” Galatea stared at him, “How can you ask that?”

“And how can you ask that?” Dan shot back, his tone loud enough to attract the brief, but short lived attention of a nearby Gran and a Dug, “After what you did?”

“We were young” Galatea turned to one side, so he wouldn't see the flicker of shame on her face, “I was young, too young. I made a mistake”

“Yeah, a mistake” Dan snorted, “One that cost me a lot. Cost me my dreams” He sighed, “Give me a good reason to help you. One good reason why I should bother?”

Galatea thought for a few moments, “A permanent job, here at TEC”

He looked at her curiously, “And what makes you think I don't have a good job already?”

“You're living in a container on Silver Station” Galatea smirked, “Somehow I don't think you're pulling in many credits” Seeing his surprised expression, she laughed, “Don't look at me like that, I have my sources”

“Fine” Dan grimaced, “So, I'm going through a rough patch, if it weren't for my slicing, I probably couldn't have afforded the shuttle fare here from Silver Station. So yeah, my life is in the gutter” He stared hard at her.

Galatea winced, “Then consider my offer. For what I need you to do, I'll pay you ten thousand credits. Half up front. After the job is done, you get a permanent job posting, pay is thirty thousand a month as a computer tech” She smiled, “What do you say?”


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