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11  8:37pm 18/01/12        
TNO's Finest
Enroute


"So," Ahnk started, "What is this graveyard?"


Neela just gave him a blank look and Mr. Dram just shrugged his ignorance.


"So, what the hell good are you?" Ahnk growled at the half-man.


"You think Simon Kaine tells me everything? You think he talks to me in my dreams?" Dram shouted back.


"Wouldn't that just tickle your fancy," the Jedi snapped back sarcastically giving the repulser a shove with his foot that sent the half-man down a corridor in his ship.


It was the wrong move for Mr. Dram then went livid, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST KILL ME THEN?! SINCE I AM NO USE TO YOU OR ANYONE!" the repulser gears brought him back into the doorway of the room. "You think that anyone who isn't a demigod like you isn't worth shit? I may not be Emperor Hyfe or Gash fucking Jiren but I was a captain of warship once! I had my own pride and accomplishments even if they were not written about in grand detail or reported on by INS!"


He sent a bitter look in Neela's direction and she shrunk back from his stare. She almost blurted out that no one in the Empire really wanted to hear about the life and times of a Torpedo Sphere captain but elected to remain silent.


"Imagine that," Ahnk smirked, "an Imperial with feelings."


Mr. Dram's eyes went dangerously wild and his hand went to his back when Ahnk's commanding tone arrested the movement.

"Stop," the Jedi warned. "Trying to kill me may get you a name in the news but it will not fill the damned hole that has been gnawing at the pit of your stomach. You will still be a half man."


Bitter tears welled up in the man's eyes but he did not break down into sobs even as they streaked down his face.


It was a pain that Ahnk was familiar with and his gaze did not turn from the half-man as if to pretend the man's pain was anything to be humiliated about. He probably received such treatment from his fellows, old comrades...people averting their eyes as if that would automatically make Dram forget about his lot in life. It was the pointlessness of the fake platitudes made because societal obligation compelled them too which only made matters worse. The man may have lost his legs but he did not suddenly become stupid. He could tell fake politeness as well as anyone.


"I don't see how retiring would benefit Kaine if he was fighting Dragon forces from the future," Ahnk finally relented. "I don't see why, if he was retiring, he would also pull out the Gree Hypergate from Coruscant and disappear with his armies."


"So, obviously he wasn't exactly retiring," Neela started.


"Obviously," Ahnk replied. "Just because INS did a special on him did not mean it was true."


"It pays the rent," Neela growled out, offended.


"So did leading the Brotherhood of the Sith," the Jedi quipped back. "And yet people still found the time to find fault with it."


"Probably because you were out lopping people's heads off!" exclaimed the INS Reporter.


"As opposed to you glossing over the fact that your Empire conquered worlds and impoverished planets?"


"We brought those worlds civilization and a higher standard of living!" Neela replied back hotly.


Mr. Dram groaned but Ahnk grinned, "Really? Shall we drop you off on Bothuwai and come back later after we've visited this graveyard?"


"No." Neela snapped back foldering her hands across her chest, sulking.


"Then shut---" Ahnk was starting to say when the ship suddenly lurched out of hyperspace.


"Feldercarb!" Mr. Dram shouted as his repulser banged against a wall.


"What the.." Ahnk raced to the cockpit only to stop in shock at what he saw outside.


Neela screamed as they stared down the open maw of a creature, its mandibles open wide enough to swallow that part of ship.
12  10:47pm 09/05/12        
TNO's Finest
The Graveyard



Ahnk, Neela and Dram were sitting around a table aboard a star destroyer that happened to be nearby when they arrived.


A new class, thought Ahnk. The vessel was not as large as your typical Imperator but it had differences that the usual Imperial warships lacked. Gone was the bridge protrusion at the back and gone were the blisters of weaponry. In fact, from the outside the ship looked positively unarmed. But it was Imperial and, as a rule, Imperials did not fly around on unarmed ships.


So, what sort of ship was this?


The technical part of his mind wanted to ask the Captain about the ship but found it hard to voice his questions as the multitudes of lifeless eyes staring at him through the expanse of the viewport seemed to subconciously demand attention.


"What the hell," started Neela, pointing outside, "are those?"


The Captain was turning the card that the Prelate had given the group over in her hands as if wondering what to do with them. Her eyes went from the card to the viewport and Ahnk wondered if she was looking to the creature for strength or just confirmation that it was, in fact, dead. The mere gesture chilled him.


"They are known as the Blood," the Captain finally replied matter-of-factly. "They invaded our space a few years ago and were stopped by only the narrowest of margins."


"Where did they come from?" Ahnk asked realizing that he had not heard or seen anything quite like the creatures floating about outside.


"That is a matter of some debate among those scientists who know of the circumstances," the Captain replied. "A rip, for lack of a better term, opened in space close to the Belkadan System but where the other side of that rip lead was anyone's guess. Those that crossed over from the other side of that rip were not really talkative about their origins as they wiped away Belkadan's defenses and the Blood were not very forthcoming either."


"So someone else came through?" Ahnk wanted confirmation. "A warning?" There were some nomadic peoples that traveled space as primitives crossed land and a danger in space (just as on land) could force those nomads in directions they were unfamiliar spreading word of the danger trailing them. The "Wandering Ones" or "Wandering Ryn" came to mind.


When he remarked on this, however, the Captain smiled grimly. "Oh, they spread word alright. Just not in the way you would imagine."


"What do you mean?" Mr. Dram asked, moving his repulsor a little closer.


"The first to cross over called themselves: Themiens." She paused looking at each of them but the name meant nothing to Ahnk and his company.


The Captain sighed, "In any event, the Themiens attacked and pretty much conquered Belkadan and the outlying areas. However, that is where their conquest stopped."


"Due to the brave men and women of the Imperial Navy, no doubt!" exclaimed Neela giving a little gesture that Ahnk could only interpret as "hell, yeah!"


"No doubt," the Captain murmured dryly confusing Neela and causing a slight chuckle out of Mr. Dram.


"By staying close to their rip in space," Ahnk answered seeing Neela's confused expression, "these Themiens also stayed close to their supply lines and base of operations, presumably, on the other side."


"You've a military mind, Mr. Rashanogok", the Captain complimented and Ahnk inclined his head in response.


"How come INS did not hear about it?" Neela asked. When Mr. Dram turned to stare at her, she said defensively, "Usually when the Empire triumphs, most people's second call is to INS to brag about their achievements."


"Second call?"


"Well, the first is to their immediate superior to angle for a promotion," Neela grinned.


"Simon Kaine ordered a complete blackout of the events as they were happening. He felt that the knowledge of the invasion may prompt our enemies towards unwise enterprises." the Captain answered.


"Kaine was worried your Empire would fall." Ahnk mused.


"Kaine was worried that such enterprises would weaken the Belkaden defense and the galaxy would be overrun with the Blood." the Captain replied, not rising to the bait.


"But he did not know about the Blood at first. You said these..these.. THemiens invaded and captured Belkaden," Neela broke in again hoping to find some solid ground to rest her falling reputation.


"Standard procedure," Mr. Dram, who had once commanded a Torpedo Sphere, remarked. "Blackout the offending system. Everyone always jams transmissions to limit the enemy's ability to communicate."


"It all started rather ordinary enough," the Captain started to comment. How attacks and acts of destruction could be considered 'oridinary enough' by the Imperial Captain left Ahnk to wonder about the Imperial mindset. "It was reported as an attack on Belkadan by persons unknown and so the standard system defense fleet was thought to be sufficient. The system was in blackout so Command thought nothing more of it until, after a few days, the blackout was not lifted. So, the region defense ships were sent in. It was not until after their defeat that we knew something out of the ordinary was involved. Granted that far out, the regional fleet would not be large but, even so, it was thought to be overkill as the number of enemy warships first reported was relatively small. I am talking two to four vessels. When
Command heard from the remnants of the regional fleet, the count was five vessels about half the size of an Imperator."


Ahnk frowned, "But no word as to the rip in space?"


The Captain shook her head, "No. The Imperial leaders of the defending ships put more emphasis on the attack on Belkaden than on where the attacks were coming from. We are conditioned to worry about the problem first rather than the cause of the problem."


"Except, in this case, the cause was also the problem," Mr. Dram concluded and the Captain nodded.


"The fact that the defense units were lost to so low a number of attackers was either evidence of some massive ineptitude on the part of ourselves or something special regarding the attackers. Given the state of affairs between the Empire, the Imperium and the Coalition, Kaine personally went in to shore up the sector fully prepared to execute and replace those he found lacking. What we found instead was a planet guarded by ten enemy warships, about half the size of an Imperator and troop carriers coming through the rip towards Belkaden. Whatever the method of the enemy troops gathering, they were deployed from a staging area right inside the rip straight to the planet."


"That left their capital warships to provide a screen," Ahnk pointed out.


"And they did. Very effectively. What we did not realize was that these vessels were special, even in their own universe or dimension or whatever was on the other side of that rip. Our weapons had little to no effect against their armor and their weapons cut through us like we had none. It was surprising and it was devestating."


"And this invincibility was attributed too?"


"The fact that their ships were constructed with materials, elements found indigenous to their universe. That and their subsequent interaction with our weapons principles in this universe," the Captain shrugged. "As it was explained to me by people smarter than I, all materials and elements inherent to our universe function and interact as determined by the laws that make up this universe. The same can be said of other universes."


"But, wouldn't some laws be constant between these universes?" Neela blurted out. Ahnk was surprised. Evidently INS reporters used their minds at times.


"Some probably would," The Captain acknowledged. "The Themiens had ships that flew around in space like we did after all."


"But built along different principles, with exotic or unfamiliar materials and elements," Ahnk interrupted. "Different combinations to produce different types of energies..." he mused.


"All with devestating effects," Mr. Dram remarked.


"So what happened?" Neela asked. "And when did the Blood burst through?"


"Quite honestly, we aren't sure." The Captain admitted. "When Simon Kaine arrived on the scene, he acted against the only weakness these Themiens seemed to have."


Ahnk grinned, "Their numbers."


"Exactly. With ten warships, you can effectively cover most approaches to the planet from capital ships but fighters would be a problem. The Themiens did not seem to utilize fighter craft though they were not totally unfamiliar with the concept. They had some weaponry designed to be used against single-manned craft. They also did not seem to have droids but that is neither here nor there. So Kaine used fighters to slip into Belkadan and try to organize resistance."


"Did he get much success?" Ahnk asked wondering how the Belkadans themselves would feel about their Themien overlords. Or were they overlords? They may have been liberators for all he knew.


"Not much. Small pockets seemed stay active. As they grew to a certain size, Kaine would ship in weapons and supplies with these fighter runs but, when he would get back to them they would be gone. Eliminated or destroyed or just gone over to the Themien side. Only the smaller groups seemed offer any type of consistent resistance."


"Is it any wonder that some would welcome these Themiens as liberators?" Ahnk put his thoughts to voice.


The Captain smiled ruefully. "I know what you are getting at and, I suppose, it is possible. But I don't think so. Simon Kaine was very aware of public sentiment and under his watch, he kept the people comfortable. In line, but comfortable. It is very rare for someone to chance his life on something if he is comfortable. But, even more than that, in the case of Belkadan, even some of our officers and fighter pilots changed sides. It was perplexing and it started happening when Kaine directed his capital warships against system-wide targets. If the Themiens wanted to secure the system, they had to move more of their limited fleet away from Belkadan."


"Which opened up more holes in their defense," Dram interjected.


"Kaine felt the more their limited fleet could be spread out, the better the chances of overwhelming one. And it worked with one ship. Completely obliterated it. But, it was after that incident that some of our own soldiers started to inexplicably change sides."


"And here I thought everyone was a Kaine loyalist," smirked the Jedi Master.


"Now you know why I said 'inexplicably'," the Captain retorted.


"External?" Ahnk frowned. While the Force allowed one to sway another's mind, the rule of thumb depended on one's ability in the Force and the other's weakness of mind. It was not point your finger at someone and suddenly have then dance to your tune.


"And now you know how we found the Blood," the Captain started. "We found a pattern to where our people were turning and so we mounted an assault which is how we found the Blood. Even then, when we first found them, we did not realize the true extent of the danger they posed. They seemed like animals at first. Creatures to be killed without a second thought.

Creatures of various sizes and even with slight physical differences but, more or less, similar as they all seemed to congregate together."


"What was the nature of these creatures?"


The Captain smiled grimly, "Massive psyonic abilities. Telekenesis and things of that nature."


"So what made you think these creatures were from the other side? For that matter, what made you think they called themselves the 'Blood'?" Neela asked perplexed.


"The fact that the Themiens seemed to know about them and from what we gathered from them directly."


"They spoke to you?" Neela started with surprise, glaring at the eyes outside the port as if expecting one of the cadavers to suddenly up and start speaking.


"Perhaps, I should have said indirectly," the Captain amended. "We spoke to those under their control. Some of whom were former Imperial soldiers. In any event, the Themiens seemed afraid of them, at least those that acknowledged them."


"You mean some did not? Acknowledge their presence?" Mr. Dram asked.


"Some even their existence," the Imperial Captain replied. "In the end, Kaine's strategy changed and all the forces under his command were tasked with one objective. To mend the rip in space."


"And how did he do that?" Ahnk demanded. "You can't just grab a scientist and show him something and say, 'do this or that'! Believe me, I have tried on numerous occassions to do that very thing. It takes time. Time to learn, to understand, to experiment..."


"It took almost a year," the Captain informed them.


"So how did you keep a war with these monsters quiet for nearly a year? Even communications blackouts are that effective after a time!" Ahnk snapped.


"Quite simply, we took the war to them," the Captain stated matter-of-factly. "Kaine took a force and crossed over leaving behind those with the task of closing the rip. I daresay the effects we felt from the Themien equipment crossing over to us they felt with us crossing over to them. Our weapons became much more frighteningly devastating. However, we also found the Blood more numerous than what we imagined and, in the end, the Themiens were forgotten as our focus became more and more against the onslaught of the Blood. To this day, I wonder whatever became of the Themiens after the rip was closed."


Her eyes darkened. "And I wonder what would have happened to us if the rip was never healed."
13  10:27pm 24/05/12        
TNO's Finest
The Graveyard


"So what are you still doing here?" Neela blurted out, pointing to the creatures outside floating about. "You won. Your job is done. Why didn't you go with Kaine when he retired?"


The Captain turned to Ahnk, "You may have noticed that this vessel is a different class.." While it was a statement, she made it seem like a question and Ahnk shrugged.

"It does not look armed," he remarked.

"Not very much," the Captain agreed surprising the Jedi Master. She turned to Neela, "The reason that we are still here is that some of these creatures may not be entirely dead."

Neela's eyes widened. "Well, shoot them!"

"Classic Imperial philosophy," grinned Ahnk.

"Our fight against the Blood themselves was an experience I would rather not repeat. While they can die, fighting them was almost as bad as trying to damage the Themien vessels. They do not die easily. When the rift was closed, it seemed that these creatures started to shut down, for lack of a better term. I cannot say they are all dead because if the rip opens once more, they may start back up again. There is something about their space that seems to give these creatures life."


"So why not shoot their floating husks?" Neela demanded.


The Captain sighed, "We could bring the fleet in and blast these creatures left and right but all that would do is scatter their bodies in every direction. No one's sensors are that good to track every bit of Blood that gets sent out of system and if just one egg gets away, if the rip does open, who knows what might hatch and how dangerous it could be. They can multiply quickly."


"So you keep watch on everything here. But what happens if they do wake up? What happens if they suddenly come into some powerful telepathy or telekensis and aim it at you?" Mr. Dram asked.


The Captain smiled, "Now you know the class of vessel you are in. It is the only thing we know that can hinder their mental projections. Apart from physically grappling us, we would be a hard target. And we are pretty quick when it comes to fast getaways. We are here for a reason and Kaine felt it reason enough to leave us here."


And it was then that something sparked in the Jedi Master's mind, "Supply. It all comes down to supply!"


"What are you talking about?" Neela griped.


"Simon Kaine. He 'retired' with around two hundred ships but his 256th was a larger force but let's assume he only has around two hundred. These ships and crew would still need to be supplied, serviced and maintained. You just do not turn them on and let them run around forever. People have tours of duty and even if they love each other and hang on every word of Kaine, they still would want to go home. They still would have families. Where would they be? Does Kaine have them all on his ships?"


"So?" Neela asked.


"So wherever Kaine's source of supply is for this force of his, no matter its size, that is probably where he is as well!"


The Jedi Master turned to the Captain, "Did Simon Kaine personally supply your vessel?"


The Captain nodded. "He did."


"And how long until your supplies run out?"


The Captain looked quite lovely when she smiled, "Another eight months."


Ahnk laughed out loud and pointed to Neela and Mr. Dram. "THAT is when your vaunted Simon Kaine will show up."


Everyone sat a little straighter at that statement.


"Do you know where he is?" Mr. Dram asked the Imperial Captain and Ahnk smirked. While the Jedi Master may have deduced something rather important, it would pale in comparison if the Captain actually did know where Kaine was through Dram just asking her flat out.


The Captain disappointed Mr. Dram. "No."


As Dram's shoulders slumped she was still in thought. "However, there is always the Aridian Cluster."


"Where is that?" Ahnk asked.


"Outward towards the Unknown Regions. Is it the homeworld of Gen-1 of the 256th. If any of them have families or consider any one world home, Aridia would be the closest."


Ahnk smiled, "I think we are nearing the end of our journey."
14  10:24pm 27/05/15        
TNO's Finest
After returning the pass back to the scientist-turned-Citadel priest, Ahnk and his crew turned their attention to smoking out where the Aridian System was located.  It seemed that no one had ever heard of it.
 
Ahnk had to stop and reflect on that. 
 
How many worlds were out there that were basically throw-away planets not found on any common galactic map?  He had a few such places in his own private data-base with a few hidden facilities, most notably, his cloning facilities. 
 
How many hidden facilities had he simply forgotten about?
 
The galaxy was a big place after all.
 
Neela was on the comms chatting with her home office contact getting caught up on all the Imperial Center flim-flammery that constituted news to those masses while reaching out to grasp at straws.
 
Ahnk looked at his consumable storage and found them at half capacity.  He grumbled about how a half-man and a skinny INS woman could eat like pregnant banthas but he realized, if he was being generous,  that the Jedi he had taken to Onyx had also played a part.  The Cree’Ar had not seen fit to keep their captives well fed.
 
Still, he did not feel like being generous and so laid the blame at Mr. Dram’s feet  or, rather, at his repulsor-lift.
 
He was about to remark on the half-man’s eating habits when Neela signed off and heaved a dramatic sigh.  Ahnk’s eyes narrowed.  For a woman, Neela was about a subtle as a Star Destroyer.
 
Mr. Dram, though, nibbled at the bait.
 
“What is it?” he asked, turning his lift towards her.
 
“There is only one person who may know where the Aridia Cluster is,” she replied after holding her breath to increase tension.  It was like having a small nugget of gossip.  She struggled with the desire to share it immediately to get the immediate satisfaction of people’s reaction and wanting to hold it in to keep the attention on her for as long as possible.
 
“Did he send you the map?” Ahnk asked bluntly popping her bubble.
 
She frowned.
 
“The person I asked did not know.  He did, however, tell me who might,” she clarified.
 
“And you contacted this person and they sent you the map?” Ahnk persisted.
 
“What?  No.  He does not know me!”
 
Ahnk sighed.  “The holonet is rather expensive now with the Reavers trashing the network and with the war and all.  You spent enough credits to buy your own ship.”
 
“What?  Why would I do that?” Neela asked confused.  “Oh, I know it is expensive.  That’s why I tried to download my inbox updates all at once.  Saved me a pretty penny, eh?  Not bad, if I say so myself!”
 
 
Several thoughts entered the former Sith Master’s mind at once and after a few moments, he simply asked, “So who are we looking for?”
 
Neela grinned.  “Grand Moff Gutt!”
 
 
*
 
 
Gyndine Compact
 
Gyndine
 
 
 
Seated upon a raised chair overlooking the hall was a rather rotund man with a bored expression.  His fingers rummaged through the stainless steel bowl next to him and pulled out a piece of greasy fruit.  The small orb disappeared into the man’s mouth, the slurping noise only drowned out by the cries of the kneeling fellow below him.
 
Mr. Dram, Neela and Ahnk were awaiting their turn and Ahnk realized why the line to see this overlord was so small. 
 
The kneeling man was trying to give reasons as to why he could not pay his debts but they could see the story was having no effect on the Moff.
 
He started sucking the fruit juice from his stubby fingers one at a time as the kneeling man continued.  At long last, he wiped his greasy fingers on his lapel and finally stared down at the man.
 
“I have heard your story and am not impressed.   Our glorious Emperor has requested his due taxes and taxes are the lifeblood of government.  My own modest local tax rate helps keep the schools open.  So tell me, why should I spare you and hurt the children?”
 
“But.. the schools have been closed since..” the kneeling man replied confused when the Moff stood up enraged.
 
“Silence!  Take him away and seize his property.  If it is not enough, sell his family!”
 
Another skinny man who was standing off to the side wearing a Captain’s uniform that was wrinkled snapped his fingers and two stormtroopers came forward from the ranks lining either side of the hall to take the man away.
 
“Captain Yatta, who is next?”
 
“Um… “ the Captain looked down at his report and, not finding what he was looking for, looked up and motioned for the next in line to come forward.
 
Neela strode forward, “Neela, INS. Imperial Center!” she introduced.  Ahnk and Mr. Dram stayed back in line not wanting to draw attention to themselves.
 
Ortho Gutt looked down at Captain Yatta who shrugged and motioned her forward.  She moved closer to the bottom step and stood straight waiting.
 
It seemed the Moff was waiting as well and Neela’s confident expression seemed to grow to confusion.
 
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Ortho half burped out a question, “What can I do for INS?”
 
“I am looking to enlist your aid in finding Simon Kaine.  I was told..”
 
It took all of Ahnk’s self-control not to force-choke Neela to death. 
 
Stupid girl!
 
“Simon Kaine!” Gutt's glazed eyes suddenly sharpened and he peered at the INS reporter as if seeing her for the first time.
 
“What do you want with Simon Kaine?”
 
Neela frowned.  “I am looking for him,” she replied as if it was self -evident.
 
“Obviously!” barked Ortho, sending spittle down the steps.  Captain Yatta seemed to giggle a little at the outburst.
 
Before he could continue a loud voice intruded into the hall.
 
“My dear Grand Moff Gutt!  However do you fair?” boomed an exuberant question.
 
Ahnk  was one of the many that turned towards the voice.
 
“Thracken, you old dog!  How did you slip past my screens?” Gutt shouted back.  He shuffled to his feet and started to descend.  He went as far as Neela, placing a wet, meaty hand on Neela’s shoulder turning her to the newcomer, placing himself squarely behind her, his other hand resting on her hip.
 
Neela might have said something but as soon as she was turned to face the newcomer, she saw he was not alone.  Two large, armored looking soldiers flanked the human, one holding a chain to a collared creature.
 
“What is that?” Gutt asked, nodding towards the creature.
 
“A gift, oh Glorious One!” Thracken replied, gesturing to the creature.   “In these treacherous times, one can never be too careful.  This creature is a gift from the Dominion and will serve you well.”
 
Neela heard Ortho swallow behind her and heard his nostrils breath in and out heavily.   It made the small hairs on the back of her neck crawl.
 
“What does it do?” Ortho trying to mask an effort to keep his voice from cracking.
 
“Why it sniffs out force users, of course!” Thracken replied, almost gleefully.
 
Neela’s eyes darted to Ahnk and Mr. Dram turned his head to stare up at Ahnk.  Ahnk’s features did not so much as twitch in exasperation at his companion's seeming transparency.
 
Amazingly, enough the creature’s attention was directed to a group of people on the opposite side of the hall.  It’s neck flared and it suddenly gave out a high-pitched scream and a ripple of fear moved through the group.
 
One person darted out of the crowd and Captain Yatta barked an order for the troopers in the hall to apprehend the runner.
 
There was no place to hide and it seemed the young man did not have a lightsaber.  He was captured rather quickly and brought before the Moff who was still gripping Neela.
 
“I… I thought the Empire was a safe haven for force users,” she stammered.  “Didn’t the Emperor say..”
 
The man Thracken smiled and nodded.  “Of course.  Grand Moff, do you know this man?”
 
Ortho stared at the young man and saw the pleading in his eyes.  His gaze then shifted to Thracken whose own expression was one of hunger.
 
“I do not know this man,” the Moff replied.
 
Thracken’s smile widened and he turned his gaze to Neela.   “Well, my dear.  It seems this man was not seeking asylum but is a spy against the Grand Moff.  We would be glad to take him off your hands.”
 
The comment was not exactly seeking permission.
 
Ortho swallowed again as his mind raced.
 
“The Dominion has no plans for the force users under your charge…” Thracken added.   There was an implied yet in there somewhere and Ortho lost his nerve.
 
“He’s yours, Thracken.  I appreciate the help!” he answered rather jovially masking his beating heart.  He turned to glower at Captain Yatta as if the young man’s attendance was somehow his fault.
 
“I was hoping to arrange a meeting,” Thracken stated and Ortho’s grip on Neela tightened.
 
“Maybe later, Thracken.  I have… a date.”  He moved his hand from Neela’s hip to her rump and Neela’s eyes widened in surprise.
 
Thracken’s eyes narrowed and looked as if to examine Neela.
 
“A little plain for your tastes isn’t she?”
 
Before Neela could react with indignation, Ortho’s arms wrapped around her and held her tight as if holding her would protect him.
 
Thracken laughed and turned away.  “I shall await your pleasure, Grand Moff.”   The armored giants plowed after the man as he made his exit.  Before they left the hall, one of the armored guards handed the chain of the creature to a stormtrooper without a word.
 
Ortho whispered hoarsely, “Come, my dear.  Let us discuss this in private…”
 
“She is with us..” Mr. Dram spoke up and the Grand Moff noticed Neela’s companions for the first time.  He was about to dismiss Mr. Dram but one glance at Ahnk stopped the words.
 
“...I am sure your friends would love the hospitality of my ship while we play our little game.” He whispered into her ear.
 
She was starting to realize why there were not many people in attendance.  No one wanted to be noticed by this man.
 
Ortho sloppily inhaled his drool as he gazed at the back of her neck.  As Neela started to tremble, he stuck his tongue out and licked her neck’s length.
 
“Come!  All!  Up to my ship!” he announced.  “These are my honored guests!”
This post was edited by Omnae (12:28pm 28/05/15, 6 years ago)
15  11:30pm 31/05/15        
TNO's Finest
Enroute to the ISD Predator, Gyndine Orbit
 
 
 
 
“Why didn’t that creature sense you?” whispered Mr. Dram to Ahnk as they stood at the back of the shuttle. 
 
The seats were taken up by the Moff and his sycophantic entourage plus Neela.   The Moff was trying to regale the woman of his supposed exploits the truth of which being highly questionable.
 
“A little louder…I don’t think they heard you on Coruscant,” growled the Jedi Master.
 
 
Dram’s eyes widened and he looked around suspiciously trying to see if anyone had overheard him.  Not seeing any reaction, he turned back to Ahnk.
 
“So why not?” he asked again.
 
“Probably because the stupid thing cannot really sense force users,” Ahnk replied.
 
“But.. but.. we saw it.” Dram persisted.
 
“We saw it look toward a group of people, let out a feral scream and someone ran.  Thracken’s very public comment about the creature’s ability to sense force users put the fear into everyone.  It was a very shrewd move.  People will see the display as confirmation of the creature’s ability and, in one stroke, he neutralizes the Moff’s court as a safe haven for force users and nullifies Emperor Kraken’s ‘safe harbor’ status for such refugees.”
 
“But how do you know?”
 
The Jedi Master gazed down at the half man and simply frowned.
 
Dram got the hint.  “Yeah, yeah.. .stupid question.”
 
 
 
**
 
 
Neela cringed every time Moff Gutt’s gaze turned towards her.  He had been chatting for a while about something or other regarding Garqi with those seated by clapping and cheering at the appropriate times.   Neela felt like rolling her eyes.  She had not even heard of Garqi before meeting the man.  Hearing him talk, one would think the place was the center of the universe rather than the simple agrarian world it was.
 
Every time he got to a “good part” of his story, he would place a meaty hand on her knee and lightly squeeze.
 
She realized that she probably should not have announced she was employed with INS instantly drawing his attention.  If there was one thing politicians liked, it was attention from the media.
 
She turned to the skinny Captain who was sitting opposite of her.  Captain Yabba?  She frowned trying to remember the man’s name wondering what he was a Captain of?  He seemed to be mostly ignoring Moff Gutt’s story and focusing on the crusty item he seemed to have pulled from his nose.
 
“You remember, Yatta?  That battleship we both took apart?  What was the name of the race who built it?”
 
“Huh?”  Yatta turned a blank gaze towards Ortho but the Moff had already moved on.
 
“No matter.  It’s not important.  Unless you think it would go well with the INS biography of the Gyndine Compact’s Moff?  What do you think, my dear?  Would such a detail be relevant?”
 
“I would have to check with my Editor,” Neela once again said causing Ortho to pat her knee and squeeze it again.
 
“Of course.  Of course,” he replied, continuing with his story.
 
It was then that Neela started to think that Simon Kaine really wasn’t worth this.
 
“There she is!” Ortho had stopped whatever he was saying and gestured towards the viewport where Neela saw an aging Imperial Star Destroyer hanging against nothing.
 
“The Predator,” the Moff whispered as if looking upon his one true love.  The sad truth being, thought Neela, that it probably was.
 
When they docked, the Moff instructed an officer to escort Ahnk and Mr. Dram to the guest quarters all the while indicating that he and Neela had something to discuss.
 
The Jedi Master had given her a warning look that Neela could not interpret.
 
Onward the portly Moff rambled pointing out this and that regarding his vessel until reaching a door flanked by two Stormtroopers.
 
“I am not to be disturbed,” he announced presumably to them as they both walked into the most ornately decorated cabin she had ever seen.
 
She turned to comment on it when he grabbed her arm and flung her into a nearby wall.   Her hands shot out to catch her self as she crashed into a shelf knocking glass decorations here and there.  
 
“Now, my dear,” the Moff’s voice had taken on a menacing tone.  “We shall talk about Simon Kaine and if you value your life, you will tell me where he is!”
16  1:30am 05/06/15        
TNO's Finest
Aboard the ISD Predator
 
“Skinny bitch,” murmured Ortho as he started to unbutton his uniform.  It had become quite restrictive and had hampered the swing of his arm, he was thinking.
 
Neela was on her knees dazed, tasting copper in her mouth.
 
She felt a hand grab a fistful of hair and suddenly she was being dragged up.  Suddenly, her fear turned to anger and her hand wrapped around something heavy.  Mustering what strength she could, she violently twisted around causing some hair to rip against his grip sending darts of pain all over her head.
 
 
*Thwack!*
 
 
The heavy object connected to Ortho’s temple knocking the stocky man out cold.
 
 
 
*Thud!*
 
 
Neela was heaving breath in and out as she stared at the unconscious Moff and in a burst of hatred, she started hitting the man with the object still in her hand.
 
 
“You!”
 
 
“Will!”
 
 
“Show!”
 
 
“Women!”
 
 
“Respect!”
 
 
 
The door opened and both troopers walked into the scene.   Neela stumbled backwards dropping the object and fell into the Moff’s gargantuan bed.
 
“I… I… didn’t mean to kill him,” she stammered, the enormity of her crime flooding into her mind.
 
One trooper leveled his blaster at her while the other bent over to check the Moff.
 
“Is he dead?” asked the Trooper with the blaster.
 
“No.  There is a pulse.” The other replied. 
 
“The Moff is going to want her dead, though.”  He continued straightening up.
 
“Pity,” the trooper with the blaster remarked.
 
“I guess.  A little skinny for my tastes.” The other trooper turned around to contact the ship’s medical staff when he suddenly crumpled to the ground.
 
Neela’s mouth gaped open as she saw the one stormtrooper stun the other.  He stared at his partner for a while and then turned to look at Neela.
 
He lifted his helmet and stared at her with piercing gray eyes.
 
 
“My name is Luke Skywalker and I am here to rescue you..”
17  4:40am 07/06/15        
TNO's Finest
Neela was starting to get lost in the man’s eyes of gray when his words penetrated.
 
“Wait!   What.  Huh?”
 
The trooper grinned.  “I always wanted to try that line out.   However, with my luck, you too will end up being my sister.”
 
“I.. I.. just wacked your Moff.”
 
A groan was heard from the lump of man lying on the ground and there was a slight shuffling of an arm.
 
“Who him?”  the trooper asked rather jovially.
 
His weapon aimed down and the Moff was stunned back into unconsciousness.
 
“His status as Moff is dubious at best but he’s not my Moff.”
 
“Wha… What…why?”
 
“Why did I rescue you from certain death?”
 
Neela nodded dumbly.
 
“Because, my dear, along with all that banging and crashing I heard, I also heard our imperious leader down there mention something about you knowing where Simon Kaine is?”
 
“These walls must be paper thin,” Neela stated surprised.   She started to sit up at the edge of the bed.
 
“You have no idea, ma’am.”
 
“But why would I tell you?”
 
The trooper’s blaster shifted up, aiming her way.  “I could just leave you here.”
 
“Are you a bounty hunter?”
 
“Not today.”
 
“I think I am going to be sick.”
 
“That’s imperial politics for you.”
 
Suddenly, the warning in Master Rashanagok’s eyes made sense.  “I need to get back to Ahnk.”
 
“Ahnk?   Ahnk Rashanagok?  The Jedi Master?” the trooper asked with a curious inflection.
 
“You know him?” Neela asked.
 
“You came here with him?” the man asked, clearly impressed.
 
Neela nodded.
 
“You’re braver than I thought.”
 
The man shifted the blaster away much to Neela’s relief.
 
“What does Ahnk want with Simon Kaine?” the man asked.
 
“He is looking for ways to defeat the Cree’Ar bastards who took Coruscant and threatening the force users of the galaxy.”
 
The man mulled over that and then nodded, “If anyone can figure out a way to defeat those devils, it’s Ahnk.”
 
“Why do you want to know where Simon Kaine is?”
 
“Ahnk may be able to figure out a way to defeat the Cree’Ar but he may not have everything he needs to do it.  I am trying to figure out what is and will still be available when such a time comes.”
 
Neela rolled her eyes.  “Oh sure, no pressure.”
 
The man looked at her expectantly and she relented.  He did save her from Moff Gutt after all.  “We have not figured out where Simon Kaine went or where he is.  We are following a variety of leads and one such lead goes to the Aridia System.  We are not sure where that is and we thought maybe Moff Gutt might know since he was a known associate.”
 
The man smirked.  “More like a necessary evil.  In any event, Kaine is not at Aridia.  I’ve been there.   What was there was interesting but is of no help to us now.”
 
“Well, shit!”  Neela griped out of frustration.  “I’ve never met the man and he is starting to piss me off!”
 
The trooper chuckled lightly.  “Here”, he pulled out a data crystal.  “Give this to Ahnk to analyze.  It is a copy of what I could put together before Coruscant went to hell.  Maybe you guys can make heads or tails of it.”
 
Neela rolled the crystal around in her hand.  “Wow, thanks!”
 
The trooper nodded, “And all it took was getting slapped around by a perverted Moff.”
 
“You could come with us,” Neela offered.  She pointed to a sleeping Gutt, “You seem to know Ahnk and you can’t be around when he wakes up.”
 
“Oh, I won’t be here.  This is not my day job.  I have other leads I need to look into myself.  If Ahnk is on the Simon Kaine case, I won’t worry about it.”
 
The trooper put his helmet back on, bent over and handed Neela the object she used to pummel the Moff with.  “You might want to keep that handy.”
 
Opening the door, he took one last look at the room and noting that the hall was clear, he motioned Neela out, “We might as well get the hell out of here.”
 
“Ahnk may want to speak with you,” Neela said as he escorted her down the hall.
 
“The room your friends are in will be monitored.  The only room on this ship not monitored is the Moff’s.  Rather convenient.  Tell Ahnk I will be on Coruscant in about a month.”
 
“Coruscant!?   Are you crazy?”
 
The man shrugged.  “It’s what we do.  Anyway, I have just commed a trooper to come take you and your friends back to the shuttle and down the planet.  I expect you to get the hell away from Gyndine as fast as you can.  Cree’Ar vessels have been popping in and out of the system since Thracken Sal Solo arrived.  I don’t know what they are doing but whatever it is, it can’t be good.”
 
“Who are you?” Neela asked stopping in front of a closed door to a room that Mr. Dram and Ahnk were behind.
 
The trooper started to walk away.
 
“Call me Ciscero.”
18  11:33pm 13/07/15        
TNO's Finest
Leaving the Gyndine Compact

“Son of a bitch!”  Ahnk’s fist slammed into the consol as Sihoyguwa entered stealth mode and started to slip away from the system.
 
“The one man that could actually be of help and dippy over here loses him!” Ahnk thumbed a rude gesture Neela’s way and she put her hands on her hips in anger.
 
“Now wait a minute!  I did not lose him!  He left me and was gone before you opened the door!” she snapped back.
 
Ahnk was not one to lose a ground on a good growl and he was due a good growl.  “Does every man flee the other way with you?” he growled.
 
“Now that’s not bloody fair!” Neela shouted back, hands still on hips. 
 
“And while we are at it, what the hell were you thinking mentioning Simon Kaine in that crowd!?  Why didn’t you just ask them to send a signal to Coruscant while you were at it and ask the Cree’Ar if they had seen him around and maybe had come up with a plan to killing them?”
 
Neela was breathing heavy as Ahnk stood up and noisily banged around on his way to the Mess.  “What was I supposed to say?” she demanded.  “It was the truth!”
 
“You work for INS!  You lie for a living!” Ahnk snapped back looking for a bottle of liquor.
 
“I have never lied on a story in my life!  I report what I am told!” Neela stated tears welling up in her eyes.
 
The Jedi Master rolled his eyes at the contradiction. 
 
“How was I supposed to know he would turn out to be a sadistic rape…. Rape… rapist!” she had broken down now and was sobbing, her shoulders shaking at the emotions welling up from the memory.
 
Ahnk’s eyes were smoldering coals and when he turned, aiming his anger towards her to retort, he suddenly felt the tendrils of genuine confusion in her.  Here was a woman who lived in her own world not understanding that the rest of the galaxy did not fit inside.  He felt no deceit from her and while he felt it a product of stupidity on some level, it was probably more that she was just an innocent.
 
“The galaxy, the Empire… is not a nice place.” He finally whispered to her as he sat down opening a bottle he had found at the back of a cabinet.
 
Neela stood there shaking and quietly crying while Ahnk poured himself a drink and after a while, pushed the glass towards her.  Crying women always seemed to take the heat out of his anger which frustrated him to no end.
 
Neela slid down into a chair, reached out and took the glass sipping the alcohol.
 
They sat there quietly for a time when Mr. Dram’s repulser-lift banged against a wall as he tried to maneuver into the Mess.
 
“You two have got to see this…” he started.  He had been working with the data crystal the man Ciscero had given to Neela.
 
He showed them a datapad and Neela sniffed, sipped some more and scooted closer to Ahnk to get a better view.
 
It was a partial message from Supreme Commander Kaine:
 
Director,
 
Sometimes the goal was destroying your fellow enemy.

Sometimes the goal was destroying an idea.

And sometimes...

Sometimes the goal was to lose. To manipulate your enemy on a grand scale. To shape their thoughts and their creature comforts. To bring validation to their propaganda.

 
 
“What does it mean?” Neela sniffed.
 
Ahnk stared at the transmission for a bit and then turned to Mr. Dram.  “Do you know where Director Isard can be found?”
 
Mr. Dram grinned.
19  11:33pm 13/02/21        
TNO's Finest
Enroute to Krake’s Planet
 

Ahnk sat on the floor in his quarters, eyes closed facing the port as the hyperspace vortex swirled outside.
 
What is the point? His mind mocked from the depths.  Following breadcrumbs of man whose throat you could probably crush with a closing of a hand.
 
What had his travels thus far revealed?   That Simon Kaine had faced a wide variety of threats in the past? 

Who hasn’t?
 
He started at a soft knock on his door. “Enter” he growled out and the door slid open revealing a hesitant Neela.
 
“Am I interrupting?” she asked timidly.
 
“Yes,” Ahnk replied annoyed.
 
She moved into the room ignoring his tone, “Are you doing a mystical Jedi-thing?” she motioned to him sitting on the floor.
 
He cocked an eyebrow at her, “I am sitting here thinking.”
 
“I have been thinking too,” she stated as if he had asked and stared out at the swirling colors of space.
 
“And?” he finally asked after a few seconds.
 
“Huh?  Oh,” she tore her gaze from the portal to glance around his room in curiosity.  “I do not think you will find Kaine.”
 
“Do enlighten me,” Ahnk  said closing his eyes again as if what she had to say was of no real import.
 
“Look,” she huffed, “I know you are big Jedi Master guy and shit comes easy for you but I have been doing some reading on the type of person Kaine was rather than what he did.”
 
“He wrote a biography?” Ahnk asked  a little surprised opening his eyes again.
 
“No, not as such,” Neela answered a little uncomfortably.  “He did not write a book but… but others did.  Unauthorized stuff like that.”
 
“Unauthorized?  You mean gossip crap?”  Ahnk closed his eyes again.
 
“Well,” she blushed, “Some of it was.  There was a rumor he and Bhindi Drayson were, like, a thing.  It was said that..”
 
“I do not care who Simon Kaine fucked,” Ahnk growled, frowning, eyes still closed.
 
“THAT,” Neela raised a finger, “was not confirmed.  But he was linked with the daughter of Seamus Arliss of Arliss Industries..” her voice trailed off.
 
“So?” Ahnk sighed.
 
“..but she died,” Neela frowned in thought.   “Anyway, there are other claims like he was linked with Telan Desaria but, again, no confirmation.”
 
“Your point?”
 
“Well, I also read that the Imperial High Command was not really fond of their Supreme Commander.”
 
“Well, no shit!  The High Command rebelled against Regent Zell where Kraken appointed himself Emperor.” Ahnk  replied.
 
“Emperor Kraken was not a part of that!” Neela exclaimed.
 
“No, he was just the limp dickweed that took advantage of the circumstances,” the Jedi Master stated dismissively.
 
“The point is that Simon Kaine retired and disappeared and disappeared to such a degree that even the Empire could not find him.  I do not think we looked at that detail too closely.” She said hastily.
 
Ahnk turned an irritated look her way. “And the Empire succeeds in everything it does?" He put on an astonished expression, "Wow!  You are right!  This is a mystery!”
 
“Don’t be an asshole!” she retorted angrily.  “You’re a big something in the Jedi world, aren’t you?”
 
Ahnk grinned, “That does not mean I can’t be both.”
 
“I mean,” she huffed clearly irritated herself which pleased Ahnk inside, “you know mysterious Jedi shit.”
 
When Annk nodded, “Yes, I know mysterious Jedi shit.”
 
“So how would you rate yourself against Emperor Hyfe?” she asked.
 
Ahnk paused, his curiosity finally raised a little.  “Well,” he mused, “I never fought him in a lightsaber battle..”
 
“That’s how you measure dicks, right?” she asked sarcastically.
 
“It’s a point of training,” Ahnk answered.
 
“What?  You have to prove that your saber is longer than a Sith’s to be a Jedi Knight?”
 
“Essentially,” confirmed Ahnk.  “It’s a shit galaxy for Force Users so what is the point in learning all these Jedi secrets and taking time to become one with the force if some Sith newbie can lop your head off because he felt like he was DarkestSith6 incarnate?”
 
“Who was DarkestSith6?”
 
“Well, he wasn’t DarkestSith7,” Ahnk answered unhelpfully.  “He liked to stalk Jedi training grounds looking to fight an unsuspecting Padawan.  He was a dick.  You’d like him,” he grinned.  “The point is, I do not think Hyfe was Palpatine-level strong but maybe …”
 
“..he was DarkestSith6 level,” Neela finished and Ahnk pointed a finger at her. 
 
“You got it.”
 
“I’ve never heard of this DarkestSth6…,” Neela started and Ahnk jumped in.
 
“..exactly.  So if Daemon Hyfe was not Emperor, you would probably not know about him either.  Hyfe was a naval officer and an Admiral in the New Order Navy and did not start to his training until late in life.”
 
“Like Luke Skylwalker?” Neela asked, an impish grin on her face.
 
“Hyfe was much, much older than Skywalker,” Ahnk offered by way of answer.
 
“The point I was trying to make is that Daemon Hyfe was training prior to Simon Kaine’s retaking of Coruscant (Endgame) and , after Kaine came away with Coruscant he was not the one to become Emperor.  People were surprised at the time when he announced Daemon Hyfe as Emperor electing to be a Supreme Commander.”
 
Ahnk thought back, “Well, if he knew Hyfe was becoming a Sith…  And he was not the only highly-placed Sith because there was Lupercus Darksword.  If Kaine had taken the throne himself, he would have alienated the Sith.  Because of Palpatine they would have assumed themselves as the natural heirs…” Ahnk’s voice trailed off at the thought.
 
“In all I have read there is no rumor, claim or supposition that Kaine was a force-user…” Neela supplied.
 
“So he satisfied the Sith’s vanity all the while retaining control of the Empire’s armed forces.  It was a shrewd move.”  Ahnk concluded begrudgingly impressed.
 
“So, if he were to retire?” Neela prodded.
 
“He would no longer be in control of the fleet and the Sith might jump at the opportunity to clean up a loose end that would potentially separate them from uncontested rule of the Empire.”
 
“And he would have to hide in a way so as not to be found by Sith or force-users that may come looking,” she added.  “And , if he can figure that out..”
 
“He would effectively be hidden from me as well until he chose to reveal himself.”  Ahnk concluded, frowning in thought.
 
“And he was not just hiding from Sith but also these Imperium assassins from the future,” Neela pointed out.
 
Ahnk made a rude gesture.
 
“Hey, you or I do not have to believe that part but there is evidence to suggest that he did believe it!” Neela held up her hands and Ahnk had to acknowledge the point.
 
The INS girl began to pace his quarters and Ahnk noticed her nervousness fading as she was growing more and more comfortable in them.
 
“So,” she finally looked at him full on,” how would you defeat assassins from the future? No,” she stopped, “that is not the right question.  How would you defeat assassins from the Black Dragon Empire from the future?”
 
Ahnk shifted his position, moving from the middle of the room to the wall with the portal giving her more room to pace as he considered the question.
 
“It would have to be far enough into the future that time travel technology can be created,” he mused.  “For argument’s sake, let’s say five hundred years…”
 
Neela nodded.
 
“Now there is no guarantee the Dragon Imperium’s government will last that long.  In fact very few governmental polities last even a couple hundred years with the exception of the Republic and, if in the future time travel is a reality, it would be a fringe technology.”
 
“How can you surmise that?” Neela asked.
 
“Well, for one thing there would be more instances of time travelers from the future if it is a widespread or common technology.  How many instances were there?”
 
“I think there were at least two,” Neela answered thinking back.  “Mr. Dram may know of more.”
 
Ahnk waved that away as he did not feel like rousing the angry half-man from his slumber.  “So if the technology is out there in this future and there is a galactic polity, then either it is regulated heavily or only a fringe group has it and is using it to pull off something aimed specifically at Kaine so their future fortunes are changed for the better.  At first it fails and whatever actions take place, it is not enough to change the future enough to wipe away the group, the technology or their desire to change their history.”
 
“And they try it again?” Neela asked.  “Or maybe they succeeded and the future did not turn out well and they had to come back to undo it?”
 
“The problem is that as long as the future does not change too drastically so that the group is still around with both their will to change the future and their technology, they have the advantage of history.  No matter how long Kaine waits, the instant he shows up and people know it and history records it, this group will have another chance to make a go of it.”
 
“The Black Dragon Empire seems to have the most advanced technology though they stay behind their borders,” Neela commented.
 
“It is an Imperium existing around the cult of personality called Heir Raktus.”
 
“So you have to defeat him to defeat them?  How would you stop these time travelers?”
 
Ahnk shrugged, “Off the top of my head, I could go back in time and shoot Michael Gue in the face,” he snapped his fingers, “or Jade could give him the crabs..”
 
“Who?” Neela asked confused.
 
“Doesn’t matter,” Ahnk waved  her questions away.  “The easiest way for a person without a time travel device to strike back at someone from the future is to ensure you survive that long to do it.”
 
“Like carbonite freezing?”
 
Ahnk barked out a laugh, “Not sure how long a person would last with that process but possibly.  But you would have to know the target date and you can’t get that without interacting with these assassins.  So not only would you have to survive the experience of the assassination attempt, you would have to capture them and get them to relay that information.”
 
“So it’s hopeless,” Neela sighed and sat down on Ahnk’s bed.  She was surprised by the firmness and her hand absently patted it.
 
“Not necessarily,” he murmured thinking.  “We might ask the source.”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“If Kaine and Raktus have issues, then it stands to reason if we can’t ask the one, we can ask the other?”
 
“You mean seek out the leader of the Black Dragon Empire?”
 
Ahnk shrugged, “Why not?”
 
“You’re not scared?”
 
“When you live as long as I have, you learn what to fear and what not too.”
 
“Just how old are you?” suddenly looking around the room as if there were clues scattered about.
 
A slow smile spread across his face, "Old enough to remember burning the Bathory Clan alive."

"Huh?  You're a weird Jedi."
This post was edited by Omnae (2:04am 23/02/21, 2 months ago)

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