“What do you mean, it is not here?”
Shran Badaar could feel the temperature in the room rise with the anger in the voice of his superior. They were standing in one of what was once a vast network of Imperial command centers; this particular center was designed as a security checkpoint to forbid unauthorized access to the weather control network located in the rest of the building. None of those systems, given Coruscant’s current state, were functioning.
It had been some time since the Imperial forces had withdrawn from Coruscant; in the intervening months, resistance from Imperial forces on the planet had faded as officers of the New Order were either killed by the Parrow Lin or turned in their uniforms and pretended to be civilians. The Dominion ignored the civilians, except to offer medical aid and food to those who needed them.
Occasionally, the Imperial resistance blew something up.
For the most part, The Cree’Ar ignored them. Every once in a while, they trotted out an officer; a former Commander, or a Captain, or maybe an officer from Imperial Intelligence, and publically executed them as a reminder that resistance would be met with equivalent violence. But it was a show; the Dominion could no more stop the resistance than could the resistance force the Dominion from the world.
It was just shadow play. The real game had already ended.
“The entire reason we seized this world is because you were convinced that it was here.”
Badaar’s eyes turned from the angry Cree’Ar to the other man in the room; the unlucky Vejuun.
Once the initial fighting calmed, the Armorlin focused on searching the planet. The tek’a’tara searched the lower levels, but, ultimately, their search had come up fruitless.
It had been believed that Simon Kaine, former de facto leader of The New Order, had kept a storeroom on this world. A place where the pillaged technologies of conquered foes were researched and redeveloped as weapons in his grand schemes.
It may have been falsely believed.
“Well, as you know, there WAS a hypergate here,” Vejuun explained. “Upon closer examination, it appears the particular gate was NOT part of a network native to this galaxy, but rather an Imperial recreation. However, it…”
Vejuun had stopped, for the glow in the eyes of Artanis had become almost violent.
“You… assured us… that the only logical place for such a collection… would be here.”
Vejuun made a gesture indicative of apology. “Perhaps… it was a matter of trust. Maybe his vessel…”
“We do not have… his vessel… only the useless capital ship containing their figurehead Emperor was caught within our web,” Artanis explained. The capital warships of the Empire had long ago been abandoned for containing little of use to The Dominion. “Are you telling me that we captured the wrong leader of the Empire?”
Vejuun did not speak anything in reply.
“Judicator Badaar,” the Cree’Ar high judicator spoke softly.
Badaar stepped forward. “Yes, my lord?”
“Make preparations to have Vejuun executed,” Artanis commanded.
Vejuun’s eyes widened and pleaded with Badaar not to, but Badaar did not need convincing. “Although I admit I share your loathing for Vejuun’s incompetence, his abilities as a scientist cannot be so easily replaced. I have to suggest that he may be allowed to live in that capacity.”
The Cree’Ar high judicator gave an audible growl. “Very well,” he snarled, disappointment palpable.
“If you would like, I can see to it that he is tortured?” Badaar suggested. “I would be happy to apply such torture myself, if it pleases the High Judicator.”
Vejuun’s eyes widened again at the sudden betrayal, and Artanis offered a hand wave of general disinterest. “Do with him as you will,” the elder said, “but keep him from my sight.”
Badaar nodded, and Vejuun gulped as he approached.
“Judicator Badaar,” Artanis said, and Badaar stopped in his tracks, turning his attention to his superior again. “Bring me the smoking man.”
Badaar bowed and grabbed Vejuun by his collar, dragging the lithe scientist from the room.
“Good morning, teacher, it is oh eight hundred hours.”
With those words, the room, if it could be called that, suddenly filled with light. The room was an old disused armory storage bay, which had some time ago been emptied of any useful armaments. It held only one man, who chose only to identify himself with his title; teacher.
“Our topic of discussion today is c-velocity conduits. What do you know about wormhole theory?”
“You’re wasting your time,” the man said, not happy to be awake. “I was never a physics teacher. You have the wrong man.”
“In your terms, a c-velocity conduit is known as a Schwarzschild wormhole. A theoretical tunneling effect through or outside of conventional spacetime was previously proposed, but the introduction of a better understanding of the existence of exotic, or negative, matter, that which had a negative mass and energy, led to speculation that such material could be used to keep the mouth of such a wormhole open.”
“I don’t care,” the man said. He reached up and scratched at the scar on the back of his neck. He wasn’t sure whether he had gotten it when he was captured, or if it was more recent. Touching it was painful; it felt fresh.
“Harvesting of negative matter is currently beyond the scientific abilities of the Imperial research division in so much as would be required for proper industrial application,” the voice droned on, undeterred. “The energy such matter would produce could, in theory, be harnessed to contain it, but without sufficient energy to capture and contain it in the first place, one is left with the dilemma of knowing such a thing exists, but not being able to utilize it.”
“Whatever you say, speakerbox,” the teacher said. He started pacing. It was difficult to think with all this noise, but he had to try and remember…
“The laws of gravity do not apply within conduits that exist outside normal space time…”
The teacher fell to the bench, and barely nodded his head.
The teacher looked across the table; Jaeder had been his name. As much as names were worth these days. “Using negative matter to stabilize a conduit bridging two points in space time,” the teacher said. “My understanding of gravity ends at the tactical use of it in atmospheric engagements.”
“Interesting,” Jaeder said, and the teacher must have shot him a look of disdain. “How many people have you spoken to?”
“I barely speak to you,” came the teacher’s curt reply.
“See, I’ve spoken to a few people here and there who tell me the same thing you tell me; they get woken up by a bright light, and ambushed with information,” the man said, but then his face got somewhat more excited. “But it’s never useful information. You are a commander, so you get deluged with scientific information you couldn’t process if you had your entire life to study it. Do you think that is what the physicists get?”
The teacher hadn’t thought of that. He looked down at his tray, and was surprised by what he saw. “Is this an orange?”
“You hadn’t noticed?” Jaeder asked and the look he got in return was downright hostile. “They added them to the menu about a week ago. I imagine the lack of natural sunlight probably caused some adverse health effects.”
The teacher clawed directly into the orange, skin and all, then began peeling the skin away. “If you had to guess,” he said, dirty fingers almost accidentally coming clean when bathed in citric acid, “how far down…”
Jaeder gestured with his head. “See those racks on the wall?” The teacher’s eyes followed his gesture and he saw a series of metal bracings, meant to hold something that didn’t seem to be there. “Oxygen tanks. They were removed about three years ago. They’d been in place since the formation of The New Order, and had corroded beyond the point of usefulness. They were scheduled to be repaired just after the siege began; part of overall renovations on this building, actually. I remember vaguely being asked to sign off on the orders.”
The teacher’s eyes lit up. “You know where we are!” Jaeder nodded. “Why haven’t you said anything before?”
“Because it doesn’t matter,” Jaeder replied, dejectedly. “You saw the state of the shield above the planet. Ships falling into it; fire in the atmosphere. This is doomsday. This is all there is left.”
The teacher didn’t respond.
“What about you?” the man asked of the teacher. “Wasn’t there a protocol in place… Apocalypse Protocols? In a situation such as this, with the leadership disabled or dead, were you not to be elevated to the position of Emperor?”
The teacher smirked. “Fucking idiots,” he mused, and Jaeder looked confused. “I put those protocols in place myself, to the exact opposite intent; if ever, there was such a disastrous clusterfuck so catasfuckingtrophic that Kaine, Zell, and Hyfe almighty were all removed from power, the order was to go out to the closest clonetrooper to my position to track me down and execute me immediately.” Jaeder looked shocked at first, but that faded fast as the logic of it settled in. “You think I want to inherit this mess? I didn’t want to lead the Empire when it was in its heyday. I just wanted my own little corner, where I could be alone. Failing that…”
The teacher put his hands down. The orange rolled off the edge of the table, forgotten, and fell to the floor.
“They’ve been talking about moving us,” Jaeder said.
Both men knew that meant “execution”.
Time is a funny thing.
“Commodore,” the man said, offering a nod of the head. “You’re late.”
“Apologies, Supreme Commander, you know how these training sessions go,” the other man offered back, and then stood firm and gave a full salute.
“If I ever need to use the words at ease with you again, they will shortly preclude the firing squad,” the elder of the two offered. “I get enough rigidity from the common brass.”
“It serves a purpose,” the younger of the two countered and the elder shrugged.
“In some circles and some times,” the man mused. “Commodore Gevel, do you have an afternoon? I would much like to take a walk; I so rarely get to walk this city without needing to be on my way to this meeting or this function. I’d, for once, like to take in the air, and the conversation of a fellow officer.”
“I can, of course, make the time, Supreme Commander,” Commodore Gevel offered back, intrigued by the offer.
“Call me Simon, or call me Kaine, when we walk as we do now,” the Supreme Commander of The Imperial Forces said, informally.
“If you would call me Theren,” Gevel countered, and Kaine agreed with a nod. “If I may be so bold, something seems to be bothering you. I don’t know you, outside of our professional interactions, but you seem… almost contemplative. Normally you don’t look out as you do now… you have a keen and sharp eye. As much as I have observed, I mean.”
“Speak as you mean,” Kaine said, knowing that while Gevel had, it was against his instincts. “You are observant, which is why you have risen so quickly through the ranks. That you have not risen higher is a matter of interest to me as well.”
Gevel bit back a snarl. “I am not a fan of politics,” he said.
“And yet, you spend so much time now in the Bastion Conclave, the political heart of the Empire, outside of Imperial City,” Kaine remarked. “I find that curious.”
“I helped to create the conclave,” Gevel offered, “and I see it as my responsibility.”
“Of course,” Kaine acknowledged, waving away any concern with a casual gesture of his hand. “I am not critiquing you, Theren Gevel. You have earned the right to call your own shots, at least, if my say so still counts for anything.”
Gevel smirked. “What causes you to call me to Imperial City?”
Kaine smiled. “You think I would simply tell you directly?”
“Asking never hurts,” Gevel said, keeping pace as Kaine walked. “I don’t come to the capital often except for aforementioned meeting or function.”
“Indeed,” Kaine remarked. “You have seen much in this galaxy, learned of other races and cultures and practices through your conquests. And yet, have never been a member of my… inner circle. You have always kept your own company. I can appreciate that. I find myself in an interesting position, and it is one that could use… the perspective of an outsider. But an outsider that I know that I can trust…”
Gevel was intrigued. “If I can offer anything to the Commander… sorry, to you, Kaine…”
Kaine shook his head. “Just… talk with me. Do you remember your campaign in The Vorzyd Cluster?”
Gevel nodded. “Of course,” he said. “The Vorzydiaks were a cusp race; technological in so much as they had a bare understanding of machines and how to work them in the world. They followed a strict social order, but there was a terrorist undercurrent aiming to overthrow that social order in the name of freedom. I prevented them from reaching their aims and integrated the cluster into the Empire.”
“You were also tasked with neutralizing the Yvetha,” Kaine denoted.
“They were a brutal, savage race, and living in harmony with them would have been impossible,” Gevel said, no regrets about what he had done. “At what position in my resume are you going to get to the point, Simon?”
“I’ve never met a Yvetha, in combat or otherwise…” Kaine mused, idly. “Did you know, the Vorzyd and the Falleen have about a 12% difference in their genome? There is evidence of a root ancestor, despite them being from different sections of the galaxy.”
Gevel stood in silence, not sure what Kaine was getting at.
Simon stopped walking then, and turned to Gevel. He leaned in, and Gevel did as well. “In all of your experiences,” Kaine asked, softly, almost as if he was afraid of being overhead, “have any of the races you have encountered… spoken of time travel?”
Gevel’s eyes widened in surprise. He took a step backwards, and then snorted out a laugh. “Time travel? I thought this was a serious conversation for a second,” Gevel said, unable to suppress his amusement. The laughter stopped when he saw that Kaine wasn’t chuckling. “Kaine, someone told you a story. A tall tale about temporal variance or some shit. Time travel isn’t possible.”
“What about fate?” Kaine asked, and that caused Gevel to stop and consider. “They say that Palpatine was aware of… a greater future. He spoke in hushed tones to his most trusted advisors, of a day beyond the rebellion against the Empire… of a day when weapons like the Death Star and the Sun Crusher would be our only hope against a race of beings from beyond the stars that we know… a group of aliens so powerful, they would topple Coruscant itself. Was that all hearsay, or a vision of a possible future?”
Gevel nodded, accepting that Kaine was serious. “Then let us make a pact here, and now,” he said, in a serious tone. “Should either of us command the forces of The Galactic Empire at a time in the future, when time travel is possible, we will send a man back to this walkway, at this moment… to do a silly dance.”
Kaine would have had Gevel executed if there was a soldier nearby. When one did not materialize and, further, did not produce the expected silly dance, Gevel shrugged, and reached into his pocket for the package of cigaras. “I am glad,” Kaine said, “if nothing else, I could amuse you today.”
“Your problem, Kaine, is you overthink things,” Gevel said, taking a drag of his cigara between words. “You see a prophecy by an alien race; you consider the implications rather than the source. Sometimes the words of backwater primitives are as worthless as their attempts at armed resistance.”
“Perhaps,” Kaine said, and Gevel could tell that he was letting this bother him.
“You like to be the man with the plan,” Gevel said. “The idea that someone can, at the end of the game, jump back and rearrange the pieces, to tamper with your favored outcome, could be a very upsetting idea I agree.”
“How would one go about it, then?” Kaine said. “Defending against such an impossible consideration?”
Gevel shrugged. “I’ve heard that time travel involves manipulation of gravity,” Gevel said. “Without hard science though; I’d suggest you just capture all the key pieces, and keep them close to you, not telling anyone else where they are.”
“Keep them until?” Kaine asked, and Gevel blew out a large sigh.
“Endgame,” Gevel said. “You have instincts for timings, Kaine. You will know when the time is right. Someone told me once, Simon Kaine is a string collector. He collects all the important strings. When I asked him how you knew which strings were important, he said you didn’t; you just made it a habit of always taking loose threads with you for tying them into later knots, just in case they should prove valuable.”
“I prefer to think I have a more discriminating eye,” Kaine said, then allowed himself to smile. “Sometimes the key to painting the bigger picture is holding all the paint.”
“Speaking of pains,” Gevel said, with a smirk. “Here comes the day.”
Kaine turned and saw a political officer – possibly a Moff, he was too far away to identify exact insignia – coming in his direction, flanked by a contingent of stormtroopers. “Well, I am recalled to daily life it seems,” Kaine said. He offered Gevel his hand. “I hope to have not inconvenienced you too much by recalling you here, and that you can avail yourself of the facilities of this world before returning to Bastion.”
Gevel nodded. “I see a shop a few minutes’ walk from here,” Gevel said, “and I think I could do with a new hat,” Gevel said, and shook Kaine’s hand. “May we meet again… sometime in the future,” Gevel offered, with a soft hint of sarcasm.
Kaine watched Gevel walk away; the younger of the two officers stopped briefly to consider his state of dress in the outside of the hat shop’s mirror before proceeding inside. Kaine shook his head, feeling like he had wasted time trying to draw anything meaningful out of the man, but all the same, knowing that at the very least, Gevel had given him his honest opinions.
Afterall, what Kaine had asked him did sound crazy.
Kaine silently vowed to keep his own council on such matters, lest any more discussions such as that arise. In the meantime…
“Ah, Moff Jaeder,” Kaine said, turning to greet the man who was encroaching on his walk. “I suppose the galaxy hasn’t waited on me to take a walk, has it? What news?”
Pain can become routine.
When one does something often enough, even if that thing is uncomfortable, it can become the norm. The norm becomes comfortable even if that comfort is being in a consistent level of discomfort. Such is it with being held prisoner.
Then one morning, you don’t wake up.
Gevel must have known that eight in the morning had come and gone. He had felt restless, as if in a waking sleep, for some time. Tossing, turning, but never really getting up. Nothing really to wake up to. No information. No light.
Just the strange feeling he was being watched.
Eventually, he felt that the person watching him was waiting; for him to awake naturally, perhaps. Gevel smirked in the darkness, realizing he was finally in control of something. His smirk faded as he realized how pathetically small this victory was, and then he sat up.
“So what time is it, anyway?”
Theren still could not see the other person, but he could hear them shift their position. “The Cree’Ar would tell you that time is relative. The tek’a’tara are less philosophical, and would tell you the time to the atomic second, in whatever the current system happened to be.”
Gevel furrowed his brow. “And you?”
The creature shifted again. “I am Vejuun.”
“Is that your name, or your race?”
“My name,” the creature replied. “Would you like me to turn on the lights?”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Gevel said.
“Because your question is not terribly relevant,” Vejuun countered back. “The sun sets, the sun rises. When a man has no schedule, what difference does it make whether it is closer to one, or the other?”
Gevel saw the logic in that. “No more education?”
“The higher ups have found a higher purpose for you,” Vejuun remarked.
“I am to be executed?” Gevel asked, defiantly.
“If you wish,” Vejuun stated. “That much will be up to you. But in the interim, there is something the Cree’Ar would ask of you. And before you can decide whether to accept or not, you must be moved.”
Moved, huh. “Moved where?”
“Higher up,” Vejuun said. Gevel thought sarcastically he must be found of that designation. “In any case, you may begin getting dressed, or not. How long you make them wait is entirely up to you.”
Gevel nodded. “If I’m going to get dressed and get up,” Gevel said, “then we will need some light.”
Vejuun nodded, and then there was light.
Gevel almost winced when, for the rest time in a time he could not define, natural sunlight hit his eyes. He took in several deep breathes, tasting what passed for natural air on Coruscant.
He could see smoke in the distance, evidence that the fighting continued. “Still having insurgency issues?” he said with a smirk.
“The Cree’Ar made a fundamental mistake in not simply allowing The Phage to kill all life on this world,” Vejuun said coldly, “if avoiding an insurgency was their goal.”
“What is their goal?” Gevel asked, and Vejuun, despite not being human, offered a very human shrug. “You work for them, don’t you?”
“Not exactly,” Vejuun said. “In some fashions, yes. They asked me to prepare you, so this I do. I am a scientist, and my interest is greater than their ambitions.” Gevel moved to speak, but Vejuun cut him off with a gesture of his hand. “I’ve said enough, and you have had your moment in the sun. Let’s go.”
The two began walking, across the permacrete walkways on the edges of the Imperial Palace. The statue of Palpatine that had stood for so many centuries had broken and fallen nearby, with only the legs of the old Emperor still standing. Gevel could see his hand, felled by the attack, pointing fingers skywards, as if to ask for help.
Gevel heard something, and stopped. The two tek’a’tara behind him moved to push him forward but Vejuun gestured for them to let the man stop. Gevel’s eyes found what his ears had predicted; atmospheric entry of a vessel, coming in at speed. He didn’t recognize the type of ship. “Expecting them?”
“Only recently,” Vejuun stated. “They are from something called The Cooperative… ring any bells?”
Gevel turned to him and smirked. “You really expect me to answer that?” Vejuun shrugged again. “What are they doing here?”
“They’ve come to talk,” Vejuun said, “but enough about them. You have to move. We need to have you cleaned up before you can meet with the Cree’Ar. Let’s go, into that turbolift.”
Gevel stepped silently inside, folding his hands behind his back as a good officer should, and Vejuun, amused, mimicked the gesture. “Humans fascinate me,” he said. “Do you think that you, and the people of Capricia, might be sexually compatible?” Gevel turned, hostile eyes fixed on the alien, and he withdrew. “Well, no matter.”
When the lift stopped, Gevel couldn’t help but laugh.
“You seem to know where we are,” Vejuun said.
“You could say that,” Gevel said.
“Do you know where L4PH is?” Vejuun said, and Gevel nodded. “Then you can lead.”
Gevel started walking. L4PH was a building on Level 4, which was 40 stories above ground, located in sector P area H. Sector P was denoted by the capital building, Imperial Palace, being directly at its center. The areas around were then subdivided into pie shaped slices around a massive circle encircling the palace itself.
L4PH was nicknamed The Lap, and was known as one of the most luxurious places to stay in Imperial City. It was primarily a state operated hotel used to host political guests of The Emperor himself. When Gevel had visited Coruscant, he would sometimes…
…his mind went blank when he stopped, midstep.
In front of him, was the hat shop, that so many years ago had been his destination after meeting Simon Kaine. He walked slowly towards it and, once again, Vejuun allowed him his moment before the tek’a’tara went to grab him.
Gevel saw a man in the hat shop, but, to call him a man was a bit of a stretch. The man was thin and haggard, looking as if he hadn’t slept in years. His skin was rough and cracking, evidently dehydrated. He showed no signs of injury, no bruises or breaks, but he looked thin, and malnourished. His bones were visible, hard edges in his skin, skin visible with what had once been clothes now merely dirty, torn ragged pieces of fabric, slowly decomposing. Gevel found himself wondering, softly stepping forward, if all the citizens of Coruscant were like this.
Then he stopped, and his mouth froze open in horror.
His first instinct was that the man in the window had moved, reacting to him, out of fear of his approach. But when he stopped again, he realized the truth.
The window was a mirror. The broken thing, barely resembling a man, was him.
“Amazing isn’t it,” Vejuun said. “A little sleep deprivation, dehydration, malnutrition, and a body starts to consume itself whole. No one ever had to torture you; your body instinctively did it to itself. And it happened so gradually, as your mind broke under the repetition, you didn’t notice your body failing as well.”
“What have I…” Gevel said. He reached out, touching the mirror. Touching the broken image of the broken being he saw reflected there. He turned back to Vejuun. “What have I become?”
Vejuun, for the first time, offered him a sympathetic expression. “Nothing is irreversible,” Vejuun said. “Come, we will remake you into the person you once knew.”
Gevel nodded weakly. His defiance had ebbed long ago; down in that supply closet they kept him locked in, his mind had broken under the strain of science he could never understand. The scar on the back of his neck, that itched and ached, had been the only wound they had inflicted on him. The rest he had done to himself.
So, Theren Gevel, former Moff of the New Order, shambled like a disgraced convict; like a dying leper, he walked forward, abandoning all ideas of destiny and revolution, consigned to his fate.
Not that long ago, he had saved this world, by foiling the plans of the Skey’g’aar Zeratul. And now, he strode across it aimlessly, almost soullessly.
Time was a funny thing.
“Confederation Vessel, you are to land at the coordinates marked as L4PH. Once docked, please proceed to floor 8, and avail yourselves of the accommodations and pleasantries provided. An envoy will be dispatched to you at an appropriate time.”