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The Rebel Faction » Forums » Role Playing » The Battlegrounds » Reflections: The Changing Face Of Evil

<<<12

11  12:32am 11/01/16        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
There's a lightsaber under my bed. There's a lightsaber under my bed. There's a lightsaber under my bed.

Okay, okay, this was solveable. He could solve this. He was a diplomatic envoy engaged in a first contact mission who had just been assigned quarters by the host government for an extended stay. He had personal effect to retrieve from his transport, and a pilot to inform of this new development. That was all true, accurate, and completely ordinary.

He also had a datapad that he had to get safely and covertly to Coalition space. Whoever “Not Luke Skywalker” was, whether he could be trusted or not, Rane had a duty to ensure that the technobabble on that pad got into the hands of Coalition personnel qualified to make sense of it. So he was going to the shuttle, and he was bringing the pad with him.

That just left the saber. A datapad wasn't particularly conspicuous. If he was stopped on the way and questioned, he could probably evade detection by claiming the pad was a diplomatic tool containing sensitive information. If the Dominion had any interest in maintaining the pretense of legitimacy, that should be enough.

But if he brought the saber to stow in his shuttle and he was stopped, then it would all be over. Regardless of the risk, the pad had to go, but Rane had to decide whether the saber was more dangerous to him in his Dominion-supplied quarters, or transported through a Dominion-controlled facility to the relative safety of his shuttle.

It was still possible that this was some ruse by the Dominion to test him and, by extension, the Cooperative. If that were the case, then he might be able to sell leaving the saber in his quarters as an attempt to remain neutral in this conflict between the Dominion and the Jedi, but trying to secret the saber away would reveal him unquestionably as an ally of the Jedi. Trying to transport the pad was simply intelligence gathering, a violation of his diplomatic duties, but one that he could try to claim as a personal decision rather than an operational directive, to shield the Cooperative from reprisal.

And if “Not Luke Skywalker” really was a Jedi, then he might come looking for his saber where he left it.

So it was settled: the saber was staying, the pad was going, and if anyone asked along the way, Ambassador Rane Cardan was returning to his shuttle to fetch clothes for an extended stay.

With a final, self-motivating nod, Rane hoisted himself from the bed and made for the door.
12  11:30am 08/04/16        
A politician’s work was never done.

Gevel had gone from a meeting with Rene Carden, the representative from the Cooperative, for reasons he still wasn’t sure about. Why Gevel was in that meeting and not Artanis he did not know; nothing Gevel said would have any merit without the Cree’Ar’s approval anyway, so he was essentially a middle man.

Then, he had been called to meet with Jaeder. That at least was a meeting he could handle. Jaeder and Gevel had worked within the same structure, at different places and different times and rarely directly with one another, but the system was the same, so they interfaced much better than Gevel did with the aliens. Apparently Jaeder had been instructed to begin selecting Imperial officers to serve as liaison/governors for worlds the Cree’Ar would add to their territory, and would oversee displacing or placating the human populations.

So much for staying put.

During their conversation, the planetary shield dropped. The Cree’Ar had not yet fully reconstructed the relay network to control the shield, so it was now an all or nothing proposal. And to let vessels pass through, it was nothing.

A dozen ships came into the atmosphere; two of the Cree’Ar’s boomerang shaped cruisers (Gevel remembered their name as Jay Maw Cruisers, but he wasn’t sure he had heard correctly), followed by six star galleon cruisers. Transport ships. As soon as they were in the atmosphere, the shield came back on.

“The Cree’Ar are making transport runs?” Gevel said, before dragging on his cigara. “I thought they had those machines to make everything they need.”

Jaeder nodded. “Sir,” he said, trying not to cough on the residual smoke. “As I understand it, Emperor, these are immigrants.”

“Immigrants?” Gevel said. “This planet is still half-destroyed from the siege. We’re taking on more population?”

“Much of the population either fled or was killed during said siege,” Jaeder pointed out. “There is adequate housing, and once the infrastructure is repaired…”

Gevel nodded. It made sense when it was phrased like that. “Where are they from?”

Jaeder shrugged. “Cree’Ar campaign in the outer rim. They have been inbound for days; I heard one of them mention a singularity.”

Gevel frowned. The most notable singularity was, of course, The Maw and the surrounding expanse. But there were black holes everywhere… “Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter,” Gevel said. “Figure out what level of housing is suitable for them. And get their story. I want to know more about what is happening in the outer rim.”

“Emperor,” Jaeder said with a nod, as he left Gevel to his cigara…









A mercenaries’ work is never done.

This wasn’t supposed to go down like this, of course.

This was just supposed to be simple babysitting. No wet work. No dances in the shit. Something had fucked up and it had fucked up in a hurry, and now Walker Churhee was waist deep in the proverbial shit.

“Alright, this position is nowhere near defensible,” Churhee told the assembled, mostly civilians. He looked up and took stock of what guns he had; not fucking enough. “We need to beat a retreat to the treeline, then beyond to the temples. Doesn’t matter which one, just something with chokepoints. Civvies, grab whatever essentials you can carry and still dead sprint. You might have to leg it so don’t overencumber yourselves. Maddox, Seamus, I want semtex every thirty feet, fifty feet apart, as we beat out our withdrawl. Norton, you and I are suppressing fire. Now, let’s move.”

Churhee was glad about one thing; whoever the enemy were, they seemed to be in no hurry. He’d gotten frantic call from the Lost City camp of some sort of attack. Half an hour later he’d seen the smoke. None of his men were answering which probably meant they were dead. Then, he’d seen the crowd.

Swarm may have been a better word. Churhee had worked riot control after the Battle Of Endor. He’d seen smaller crowds tear apart entire garrisons of Stormtroopers.

The good thing was, these guys moved slow. They almost seemed like they were sick. They didn’t seem to be armed, but the sheer number of them meant that they were more than capable of killing Churhee, his fellow mercenaries, and every civilian under his protection. So they needed to move somewhere to stem the flow.

Churhee and his fellow gunner, Norton, stood and fired as the assembled began moving. Churhee dropped a bogey, then another. When he fired on the third, instead of smoke, he found the bolt of his blaster was dissipated over some sort of shield. “Well shit,” he said. If they had lost their blasters then they were in real trouble. “How is that semtex coming, Maddox?”

“Let’s just say the sooner you get behind me the better,” Maddox urged. Churhee needed no further prompting, hoofing it to a position where he wouldn’t set off the semtex’s motion sensor. “Let’s hope they don’t have shields against powerful plastic explosive,” Maddox said, and then hit a switch, arming the attached sensor.

Churhee took a few more shots. He managed to drop another couple of bogeys, but hit more shields than flesh. “I don’t get it,” he said. “You and I both know the cost of training a new soldier up to grunt level is far more cost effective than personal shields. The crystals needed, the power cell miniaturization…”

“Ever since Endor I’ve learned to stop trying to make sense of the galaxy,” Maddox said. “Did I ever tell you about my days with the ORSSF?”

Churhee shrugged. “Bits and pieces,” he said, not sure if this would be a repeat story.

“We got boarded once by a Damuen cruiser who claimed we’d crossed their border,” Maddox said. “Never knew whether we did or not; meant to check but had to abandon ship. Lucky I made it out, the rest of my crew wasn’t so lucky. I watched from an escape pod as they broke the ship down as if with acid, turning it into dust.”

Churhee nodded. “They are known to be merciless and efficient killers,” he added.

“Killer,” Maddox corrected.

“You mean they only sent one man?” Churhee raised his eyebrows.

“He wasn’t… a man. It was a thing. But it killed five special forces commandos, six shipboard security officers, and a crew numbering in the dozens. Nothing we hit it with had any effect. It would fight with pieces of itself hanging by wire thin cords. It fought with holes in its chest large enough to stick a human head through. But it never stopped fighting. Not until everyone I’d gotten to know on that ship was dead.”

“Palpatine’s ghost,” Churhee cursed. He didn’t have appropriate words.

“Come on boss, let’s get to that treeline,” Maddox said and the two began moving again.





Somehow, amidst all the commotion, Theren Gevel, emperor of the Coruscan galaxy, managed to sneak in a light lunch.

It wasn’t particularly good; much of the high end faire on Coruscant had evaporated as talented chefs left for worlds that weren’t currently on fire. Though, the more Gevel read about the political situation beyond Coruscant, the less worlds he knew of that fit that description.

Still, they say that when you’re hungry, anything tastes good, and to Gevel, the light salad went down smooth. The accompanying Kuat dark ale, however…

He didn’t have any more time to think about it when the comm chime on his desk sounded. “Gevel,” he answered back out of instinct, forgetting to add the new title before he offered up his name.

“It’s Jaeder, sir,” the voice crackled through the box on Gevel’s desk. “You asked me to report on the transports.”

“Why are you using the chime? You could just come in,” Gevel said, expecting Jaeder knew that Gevel wouldn’t get up to anything untoward in his office.

“I may have, but you have a pair of rather intimidating looking guards now, and they insisted you are not to be disturbed without ringing the comm first,” Jaeder’s voice crackled back.

Goddamnit. Just what he wanted, an entourage. “Very well, you have my permission to enter,” he said, and then lowered his head into his hands as the Imperial strode into the room.

“Emperor,” Jaeder offered. He slid a datapad onto the desk. “Here is a list of official fleet maneuvers as communicated back to us from the commanding officers.”

Gevel raised his head only a little. He thumbed the list. It wasn’t long. “There’s nothing in here from Bastion, or any of the other protectorates. The only confirmation came from Ortho Gutt.”

Jaeder smirked. “I will say this for the man, his loyalty is to be commended,” Jaeder said, then took back the report. “He was very confused by your orders.”

“If I ordered Ortho Gutt to wipe his ass properly before staff meetings I’d expect him to be very confused,” Gevel said, and pulled out a cigara. He put it between his lips and then tossed it to the floor instead. “Any word from Wesley Vos? He’s always been a loyal officer.”

Jaeder frowned. “Transmission of official notification of the passing of Sirca Targon,” Jaeder said. He thumbed the datapad to read further. “Cause of death is listed as natural causes/cardiac arrest. Family to receive full benefits. With your approval, Emperor.”

Gevel waved his hand. “Of course,” unconcerned with Targon’s family. Normally such formalities are handled at a much lower level, even lower than Gevel’s previous position. No, sending formal notification was a message; Targon was on your side, and now he is dead. Don’t send us anymore orders. Gevel smirked. Vos was a cunning motherfucker; he had the ability to lead the Empire. Up until now, he wasn’t sure Vos had the ambition.

Apparently that had changed.

Gevel turned to face Jaeder squarely. “Have a communication prepared for transmission to Bastion,” he said. “Tell Ortho Gutt that once he has marshalled and organized the forces there he is to install a commander to oversee their repatriation into the greater Imperial armed forces. He is then to go and find Wesley Vos and escort him to Coruscant.”

Jaeder raised his eyebrow. “If the excursion to Bastion doesn’t kill him, trying to take Wesley Vos peacefully will probably do it,” the new Supreme Commander noted.

“Maybe,” Gevel said. “I’m curious as to where Vos stands. If he’s standing alone, he might kill Gutt to send us another message. But I have a feeling he has some sort of backing… maybe that fucking treasonous robot. Or maybe Desaria is making a play well above his station. If Vos has a support network established than he would have free reign to come to Coruscant; he would know well I couldn’t let him die, or every officer would be in open revolt. And he might relish the chance to kill me, and solidify his own claim. I doubt he’d be that brash, but I am anxious to size him up. It’s just as likely as everything else that he simply refuses Gutt; I know, if I were making a play to be the Emperor, I’d ignore the buffoon.”

Jaeder nodded. “You remind me of Kaine sometimes,” Jaeder remarked and seeing Gevel’s reaction, he added, “but only sometimes. Kaine was a bit more… sure of himself?”

“Kaine never had alien talons around his throat,” Gevel noted. He stood up. “You were here to report about the transports.”

“Yes, I had Lieutenant Phillips begin debriefing one of the leaders of the first transport that docked,” Jaeder said. “Preliminary reports indicate Cree’Ar seized his world by hostile action; ground incursion, severed communications, then destroyed the lone warship left in orbit. Siege lasted several days before surrender was negotiated.”

“Sounds like something they would do,” Gevel said. “Have you figured out who they are yet?”

Jaeder nodded. “Who they are is not quite as interesting as where they came from.”




There is a saying in fine Corellian cuisine; out of the souspan and into flame. That comparison seemed entirely apt.

The group had left the jungle behind, but the wide open space they found themselves in offered very little in the way of cover. Sure, there were a few Starfighters, mostly disused and covered in canopies which were in turn covered with dust. And boxes, an endless amount of boxes. But actual, sustainable cover didn’t really exist. The room was too open. Fortunately, it was not the only room.

“Alright,” Churhee said. “Everyone down that corridor. I want semtex on those fuel canisters before we all depart.”

Maddox put a hand on his shoulder. “Sir, that would take down the entire building,” he said.

“And trap that entire horde under tons of rubble and steel, yes, I’m aware,” Churhee said. “Consider it a last resort. Last man left alive hits the button rather than submit.”

“Copy that,” Maddox said. He made a beeline for the fuel canisters, used to fuel the starships and absent light freighters that had once flown out of this grand chamber.

Churhee continued to lead the civilians to the tunnels beyond when Norton approached him. “Sir… what is our exit plan? Have you tried reaching The Entrepreneur in orbit?”

Churhee raised his comlink and thumbed it on. The noise that poured out was offensive. “Sounds like some sort of machine code. Jamming all transmissions.”

“So we have no way off the planet,” Norton said, nervously.

“We have a chamber full of Starfighters if it comes to that,” Churhee said. “We need to figure out how we get the civilians off the planet and before we do that, we need to get them out of this room.”

“Sir,” Seamus said, jogging to join the pair. “I did a quick look around and found these.”

Churhee smiled when he saw them. “The old Golan Arms Jackhammer. Haven’t seen one of these in ages.”

“Maybe their shields will have trouble with slugthrowers,” Seamus replied, and cocked one. “Fully loaded and functioning action.”

“Spread these around, make sure any civilian who can handle one has either one of these or a blaster,” Churhee said. In the distance, they heard an explosion. “That would be the semtex. Seamus, you set the ones outside to detonate upon proximity?”

“And the ones here to detonate on a remote,” Seamus said, and held up the detonator. “I have a remote and so does Maddox. I assume you do too.”

“Same frequency as the construction work?” Churhee asked, and Seamus nodded. “Alright, then it is time we started moving. Get everyone as deep into the temple as possible. Set up choke points wherever possible. Center mass, don’t try and show off and take headshots. That means you Maddox.”

“Fuck you Churhee,” Maddox replied with a playful smirk. He turned the corner and disappeared down the corridor.

Churhee stood and thought about his current choices until he heard a thud nearby. They were inside. It was time for him to go too.





In the beginning, there was only one.

A solitary red ball, blazing in the sky. It spun and spun, around itself and around the world. When it broke over the water, it was the guiding light that awakened a species desperately needing a purpose. They reached out to it, and touched it. Then they began to touch others. Yellow stars. Blue stars. White stars. But always, no matter how far from home, always they felt the pull, the draw, the direction, and the light, provided by that red star.

Borleas.

The system they called Ariguan; the star, Borleas. The galaxy at large they referred to as Borleaquay. The Hand of God.

Nothing is impossible in the hands of the gods.

Issk was still learning Cree’Ar philosophy and religion. He understood the basic tenants, about the schism, the great cataclysm, and the holy reunification. He understood the war with The Yuuzhan Vong, and he understood the need to spread the influence of The Red Sun.

Sometimes, he questioned his own place.

He had been told the Azguard gods were false idols; that the fables he had been told were impossible, that they lacked logic and scientific backing. But he also saw the reverence for the Damuen Church, which seemed to be a new aspect of the Dominion philosophy. He wondered if, someday, if he led the Dominion to Azguard and annexed it under The Red Sun, if the Azguardian gods could take their place beside the Damuen and Cree’Ar idols of legend.

If that day ever came, it would be a long time from now. There was much to be done.

For one, Issk knew the Azguard had a very strong fleet. Their technology was innovative and defensive minded. Destroying their fleet would be much more difficult than had been neutralizing the Imperial fleet, which while much larger, relied on much more conventional thinking in terms of power dynamics and applications within warfare. The Azguard were, in many ways, truly alien to the galaxy.

In that way, he was already much a fit with The Dominion.

Issk nodded at Vejuun as the two boarded the lift, bridge bound. They had been summoned by Artanis, the new High Judicator of The Dominion.

The political situation in The Dominion confused the templator. He had been brought to his current state by Kal Shora, then the High Judicator. He had instructed Issk on the basics of his conversion; the nexus provided technical instruction. Kal Shora had been… almost a mentor. And then, he was gone.

Issk had never been lonely as an Azguard. He had many friends, and had a good relationship with his comrades in the Azguardian forces. With Kal Shora gone, his only companion was the nexus. And though the nexus spoke with the voices of millions of beings, all Issk could hear was silence.

It was lonely work, being a templator.

“Do you know what this is about?” he asked Vejuun, as much to break the silence as anything else.

Vejuun shrugged with a smile. He was almost offensively polite, Issk had noticed. Very… to use a human expression, very squirrely. “Our scientists have been working on integrating Damuen technology with that which is now considered to be native Dominion technology,” the strange grey being replied. “I believe that there was a recent step forward when attempting to integrate the Damuen hyperdrive technology with C-velocity conduit generation.”

Issk tried to calculate the possibilities in his head, but the nexus did not draw him any immediate conclusions. “I see,” he said, even though he didn’t.

“Personally, I’m more interested in the results gleamed from the Damuen Galactic Mapping project,” Vejuun told him. “Their understanding of the space of this galaxy far exceeds what our scouts were able to discern, even with their access to high level databases.”

Issk shook his head. “But, compared to some of the other galactic governments, their territory was relatively condensed…”

Vejuun nodded. “Yes, but they weren’t interested in political territorial gains,” Vejuun began. “Why would you need to hole trade spins, shipping lanes, routes in and out of spiral arms, with their hyperdrive ability to bypass the normal laws of mass effect? They held territory that was vital to their scientific ambitions, and they were an ambitious people.”

Issk frowned. “You sound like you admire them.”

“Oh I do,” Vejuun said, “unabashedly I do. Their dedication to the evolution of understanding of knowledge and the universe, their research into quantum mechanics and theoretical astrophysics, and their drive to improve their very form. Imagine, the ambition required to tamper with your own biological makeup. To seek a purity of form; improve the micro to restructure the macro. Every step forward a potential cataclysm. Oh, to have witnessed that evolution. Not that the grand result was not impressive, but to see the steps unfold… as a scientist, how could I not admire them?”

Issk nodded, understanding. He wanted to be among others like him. Men of science. Issk, as a lonely man, understood that desire, even if those kind of people would not be his peers. “Kal Shora taught me to fear The Damuens.”

Now Vejuun nodded. “He was wise to do so; The Damuens are a dangerous and unpredictable people. I feel that he understands them better than most but still. They have an ambition that at any time could become contrary to the goals of The Dominion. With their technological abilities such opposition would be problematic at best and potentially catastrophic at worst. But Kal Shora is wise; they are better as uneasy allies then almost certain future enemies.”

Issk could not disagree with that. “Kal Shora is wise.”

Vejuun said nothing. When Issk turned to him, the smaller alien seemed to be studying him. “You miss the High Elder?”

Issk did not deny it. “He was my only contact, besides the nexus, during my conversion to a templator.”

“I understand,” Vejuun said. “As a man alone, without others of his kind around, I can sympathize with your situation.”

Issk allowed an expression of surprise to cross his face. “There aren’t others like you, in The Dominion?” He thought back. Vejuun was the only member of his race that Issk had seen.

“In The Dominion? Of course. But I am the only one aboard this ship. I have not seen another of my kind in… quite some time.”

Issk nodded. “If you do not mind me asking, what race are you?”

Veejun considered for a second. “I suppose there is no harm in telling you. I am…”

Just then, the lift shuddered as it locked into place, then the doors slid open to allow them access to the bridge.

“This is our stop,” Vejuun said, and he let Issk exit first. “Lord Artanis, you asked us to join you.”

Artanis nodded. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and a holographic image appeared in front of him, between Vejuun and Issk and the Cree’ar. “The Damuens referred to P6-GR-RGG1. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Issk wasn’t sure what to make of it. “It’s very… red.”

Vejuun studied it closely. “You want to attempt the quantum anchor on this world?”

Artanis nodded. “Our tests in The Maw have been promising. I believe it is time to implement them on a larger scale.”

Vejuun nodded his enthusiasm. “I’ve seen the data; I believe this world would be an ideal candidate. Can we increase its mass?”

Artanis nodded. “Materials are being collected by The Farfalen armed forces and delivered to our station in The Maw as we speak.”

Vejuun focused his eyes on the planet, when something drew them away. “This is not just a planet but a planetary system.”

“It appears to have between 25 and 35 stellar bodies, though which orbit the planet itself and which orbit each other we have not discerned,” Artanis said. “They can be collapsed into the main body easily enough.”

Issk shook his head. “I don’t understand. What is a quantum anchor?”

Vejuun turned to him. “Imagine… a hole. A hole here, a hole there, and nothing in between but space. Now, push a string into the hole. Can you grasp it, on the other side? Maybe, maybe not. But pour water on the string… the water freezes, becomes ice around the string. The string becomes a rod. The rod becomes a pole. The pole gets thicker, the more and more water you pour into the hole.”

“I still do not follow,” Issk told him. “We can make water with the nexus, why would we need to seize a new planet to make ice?”

Vejuun smiled softly. “It’s… only a metaphor. There isn’t a real string. To explain the physics involved…”

“It is of no concern,” Artanis said. “Let science to scientists. I have a more important task to ask of you, Templator.”

Issk bowed. “What would you ask of me?”

“Your primary mission as a Templator is to act as an intermediary between the native beings of this galaxy and The Dominion,” Artanis noted. He moved a talon and the image of the red planet shifted, spinning away and becoming smaller so that an object, originally unseen, came into focus. A star destroyer. “This vessel has been in orbit of this system for some time. Such a posture indicates a defensive deployment. There are likely humans or humanoids on the surface. We want you to rescue them.”

Issk paused. “Rescue them from what?”

Artanis moved his talons again, pushing his palm forward. The image, which Issk suddenly realized was a recording, shifted forward in time. The star destroyer rotated slightly around the planet… then, a conduit opened. From it came forth two Cree’Ar ships… a large Borleas cruiser, along with an arbiter… and then, hurtling behind them, but passing them rapidly, were two large man made structures, that Issk guessed were holonet communication relays. “Unfortunately,” Artanis said, “this world is about to be overrun by Reavers.”

Issk lowered his head, solemnly. “How unfortunate for them.”




If Churhee was waist deep in the shit before, he was chest deep now.

He had been trying to defend a room full of civilians with a slugthrower and a mean disposition, but he knew from experience he only had so many shots. He’d had to listen as the others among his command had run into the same situation.

“They broke through the barriers!”

“Nothing I hit them with has any effect!”

“We’re being overrun!”

“I lost the detonator! The fucking semtex detonator!”

“Churhee? Churhee are you still there?”

“What the fuck do we do?”

Then, slowly, each voice was silenced as the broadcasting stopped from one individual after another. Finally, Churhee was alone with the civilians in the room.

Then he heard the shuffling of slowly moving feet.

He turned, and set his gun down on a nearby box. He raised the detonator and turned to the civilians huddled deeper in the room. “We can’t fight these things indefinitely,” he said, “and if I lose this, we all end up slowly torn apart. I think we all know this is our only other way out.”

There was a sob as a mother clutched her teenage son to her chest, but there were no objections. One of the civilians nodded, and put his hand on Churhee’s shoulder. “Do it,” he said, voice resolute and unwavering.

Churhee nodded. “Fire in the fucking hole,” he said, and then thumbed the detonator.

The building began shaking, and then everything went white.





“The next thing I saw was stars.”

Gevel found himself wishing he’d taken the Jedi up on the offer of a breakfast drink. “Stars?” he asked, trying to follow along. “You mean, like you’d been concussed?”

“No, but I had a hell of a fucking headache,” Walker Churhee confessed. “No, I saw literal stars. I realized I was in space, that I wasn’t on the planet anymore.”

Gevel and Jaeder shared a look. “How did you survive the explosion?”

“There wasn’t one,” Churhee said. “I asked, when I realized I was aboard a ship, to speak to the person in charge. A man then came to visit me, and he explained his name was Issk. He was a Templator of The Dominion.”

“A Cree’Ar?” Jaeder asked.

“No, he said he was an Azguard,” Churhee responded. “I’d never actually seen an Azguard, only heard about them from INS. They short, grey things?”

“Some are taller than others,” Gevel noted. “I didn’t know the Azguards had joined The Dominion. I’ve seen Falleen, Weequay, and whatever that Vejuun guy is, but never an Azguard.”

“Maybe this Azguard is the only one,” Jaeder offered. “A traitor. A deserter from a battle between The Dominion and The Azguard.”

“I don’t like the idea that The Dominion and The Azguard have had contact at all,” Gevel said. “I’ve read intelligence reports of actions against Azguardian targets and actions by Azguardian agents against our targets. If The Dominion went up against The Azguard, and The Dominion is still around, that frightens me. If The Azguard and The Dominion made some sort of agreement, that fucking terrifies me.”

“Do you think that diplomat you are talking to might be able to tell you more? Know more about the political status of The Azguard, whether they may have fought with, or perhaps allied with, The Dominion?” Jaeder asked of Gevel.

“I can ask him. I will ask him,” Gevel said, clarifying. “Listen, Churhee. We need to hear the rest of your story.”

“There isn’t much else to tell,” Churhee said. “Issk said that when The Dominion arrived in the system, the Reavers had already made planetfall. The star destroyer in orbit was completely overrun. They weren’t able to save it; they said it jumped away before they could neutralize it. When they detected the mass of Reavers are the temples, they bombarded the area with ion fire. The bombardment fried all the electrical systems, both those attached to the detonators, and the cybernetic components of the Reavers. Issk then came down to the surface and the Cree’ar used their own cybernetic soldiers to pacify what was left of the Reaver threat and save what was left of the civilians. I lost two good mates from my company, Maddox and Seamus. We were six men strong when we landed on that planet, now it is just Norton and myself left.”

“What about your leader… Marin Faulkner?” Gevel asked.

“He would have been on the ship in orbit,” Churhee said. “Most of the ground crew were civilian terraforming engineers and exobiologists, trying to determine where the best place to make camps on the planet were. He’d hired us as a mercenary guard after some stunt involving a few Jedi several months ago. But him and his command crew spent most of their time on the ship. If he’s alive, he’s long gone.”

“And as far as you know, what happened to the planet…?” Gevel asked.

Churhee frowned. “Issk explained that The Dominion had been sent there by their god. He explained that while we were welcome to return, that the world was under their domain now. Then he suggested free transport to Coruscant, and from there, a chance to return to our various homes.”

Cos Jaeder and Theren Gevel both shared a look of concern. “The Cree’Ar Dominion have taken control of Yavin,” Gevel was the one who spoke the words.

“They said their interest was primarily in the gas giant, but that they would need to spend some time on the moons, cleansing them of infection,” Churhee said. “On one hand, I have to thank them for saving us from The Reavers. If they hadn’t, we’d all be dead. On the other hand, I wonder if they’d have been as helpful if The Reavers hadn’t been there and they found us on a planet their god had decided was theirs to keep.”

Gevel looked at Jaeder and the two both nodded at the same time. “You read those reports too.”

“Imperial Intelligence speculating that The Dominion had some sort of control, or influence, over The Reavers,” Gevel replied. “No hard evidence, just a lot of coincidences.”

“You don’t believe in coincidences, Emperor?” Churhee asked Gevel.

Gevel scoffed. “There are three kinds of people in the universe; idiots who don’t believe in any coincidences, and idiots who believe in every coincidence,” he explained. “I’m the third kind.”

“I’m curious as to what they want with Yavin itself,” Jaeder said. “The gas itself is not particularly valuable. The corusca gems have various purposes but aren’t particularly valuable or unique. Most of what you can do with corusca gems you can do with kyber crystals, which are more plentiful across the galaxy.”

“Maybe Carden can help with that too,” Gevel said. “His government must be able to mobilize intelligence assets… watch their activity.”

None of the three immediately said anything. There was a darkness that hung in the room, like a suffocating gas.

The Dominion had taken Yavin.

“Fuck,” Gevel said again. It would still be several hours before the sun would rise locally and Carden would be available to discuss anything. In the meantime, all he could do was stew.

A politician’s work was never done.

Except the times when there was nothing one could do.
13  7:38pm 30/04/16        
Is dead. Would rather not be.
“Back so soon?”

“I've been given quarters on-world.” The ambassador smiled weakly. “I'm going to gather some personal effects and make my preliminary report to the Council -”

The click of the shuttle door locking into place shifted Ambassador Cardan's demeanor substantially. “We have to get this off-world as soon as possible.” He produced a datapad from beneath his ceremonial robes and handed it straight to the pilot.

Alana, for her part, inspected the design of the pad with some small show of interest. “Are we already making friends?”

“A Jedi gave it to me,” Ambassador Cardan said.

Her feigned interest immediately transformed into a very real and very demanding need. “A Jedi? Are you certain? What was their name? Did you recognize them?” She scurried back into the cockpit, her head flitting back and forth as she searched for anything out of the ordinary in the surroundings. So many windows, so many secret perches worked into these towering shrines to artifice . . .

“He wanted me to call him Luke Skywalker, but admitted he wasn't the man himself,” Ambassador Cardan said. “Still, he seemed familiar. A human male, nothing out of the ordinary except for an artificial arm.”

Ducking back into the entryway, she shut the cockpit door behind herself, blocking any possible line of sight from outside. “You should search the on-board database, should be easy enough to ID him if he's anyone of note, and telling the truth, of course . . .” She was fiddling with the datapad now. “What is this, anyway?”

“I have no idea,” the ambassador admitted, taking off the outer layer of his garb and draping it over a rack near the corridor to the rest of the ship. “Fake Luke Skywalker said he pulled it from some sort of memory implant in an Imperial. He said the Dominion runs a constant stream of technobabble at prisoners to disrupt their sleep cycle, and . . .” he pointed at the pad as he sat to take off his shoes,” . . . that's what you've got there.”

“Uncategorized audio of Dominion technobabble,” Alana repeated, frowning as she closed the pad down.

“There's this too.”

The ambassador tossed a tiny commlink to her, not a Cooperative standard issue. She caught it reflexively, her curiosity once more piqued when Cardan obliged the unasked question.

“Fake Luke gave me that, said it links straight to his ship and it should be able to patch me through to him wherever he is.”

She inspected the little device for another moment, the datapad still cradled in her other arm. “You should call home and file your preliminary report. The HoloNet's offline here and their traffic control has patched me into their own network, so be careful what you say.”

“I know the protocol, Alana,” the ambassador said as he stood back up, a little touchy. “I'll be in my room should anything come up,” he added as he headed down the ship's central corridor.

“See if you can put a name to that Jedi first,” she said, following after him.

“Not only do I know the protocol, but I'm also not a complete fool.” He glanced back over his shoulder and noticed her. “Where are you going?”

Alana smirked, pointing farther down the corridor. “Ship's made for a crew of three; I gotta be pilot, engineering, and hope there's nothing too important on that copilot checklist. Now get to work and don't screw anything up.” She made a show of trying to push him through the door and into his own quarters, but his substantially larger bulk just caused her to push off of him and bang into the opposing bulkhead.

“You should have more faith in people,” the ambassador retorted, before vanishing into his quarters and shutting the door behind himself.

Alana broke into a sprint for the nearby engine room.

Rane would be busy for a while, recording a full report locally that was to be kept under lock, key, and Alana's watchful eye until it could be safely transferred to the appropriate Coalition authority . . . or so the good ambassador was to believe. Regardless, he'd use that time to gather his thoughts and prep for the live call back to Cooperative HQ. There was no way to safeguard the live feed since they'd have to pipe it through unknown Dominion hardware, so it was important that Rane didn't share too much of whatever misgivings he might have. Still, because the Dominion was probably listening in, and because HQ was so hungry for any information on the Dominion and the fate of Coruscant, he'd still have to give a real report, something with meat that included more than a little bit of his own read of the situation.

In the meantime, however, Alana had her own duties to attend. The engine room door slammed shut behind her, and she set the pad and the commlink down on a small work table. “Guardian online,” she spoke over the gentle hum of the ship's reactor.

“How may I be of service?” The voice came from a folded mass of gray metal rising out of a compartment in the deck. It unfolded itself to reveal a droid vaguely reminiscent of the B1 line of battle droids, though it had been designed to fold more compactly. The droid stepped away and the compartment closed itself, once more fading into the pattern of the deck plates.

Alana scooped up the pad and handed it to the droid. “I want you to perform a hardware analysis on this item. Do not interface with it; do not access its contents.”

“You have concerns that the contents of this datapad may represent a cyberwarfare threat?”

“I'm not even sure it's a datapad,” Alana admitted. “Analyze and identify its components, and perform whatever materials analysis possible with available equipment.”

A chime sounded, alerting the duo that Ambassador Cardan's door had just opened.

“Hide,” she barked, pointing to a corner of the room. She rushed back to the engine room door, slapping the release only to be met by a white-faced Ambassador Cardan.

“Ahnk.”

“What?” Alana asked, the fur of her face bunching up oddly as she furrowed her brow.

“Luke Skywalker is Ahnk Rashanagok.”

Alana immediately pushed him back down the corridor, this time considerably more forcefully than before. “Make your report, now.”

“Don't try to handle me, Alana.”

“You're never not being handled, Ambassador,” she retorted, shifting her footing to angle him toward his door as they approached. “Do it now.”

She punched the wall controls and shut the door between them, then rushed back to the engine room.

“Shall I proceed -”

Alana snatched the pad from the droid, then squeezed around the back of the reactor to another small patch of open deck plating. Planting her open palm squarely in the center of the blank deck space, she rattled off an alphanumeric string of a couple dozen characters.

A square of deck plate about thirty centimeters on a side rose up on a metallic cylinder, to which was attached a small screen and keypad. The piece of Drackmarian technology was so secret that Ambassador Cardan didn't even know of its existence, let alone its installation in the ship.

“K-17 to Hub,” she typed. “Change of schedule is in effect.”

Instant, undetectable, secure point-to-point communication was all but impossible, but the Drackmarians had done it. There were rumors that the Republic had something similar, and some of the nerds back home thought the Dragons had probably cracked it as well, but none of that mattered: the security of the Drackmarian Interlink was ensured by the structure of the universe itself. The quantum weirdness technobabble was way over her head, but that didn't matter either; it was safe, and that was enough for her.

“Clarify,” was the only response that appeared on the screen.

“Prepare to receive unsecured, unverified audio files purported to be of Dominion origin. Observe all available cybersecurity and partitioning protocols.”

“Understood.”

The Guardian droid had fetched a cable, having deduced Alana's intentions from her behavior. She snatched it up and connected the pad to the device. “Reserving one channel for continued text communication.” She typed in a string of commands, beginning the transmission of the datapad's contents.

This technology wasn't designed to transmit audio and video data, and the device itself had been built with secrecy as its primary concern, not maximized bandwidth. Getting this raw data into Coalition hands would take quite some time and delay the transmission of the Ambassador's full report significantly, but that was okay. Alana had plenty to work on in the meantime.

“Ahnk Rashanagok has been spotted on-world. I need you to find something for me.”




It was a long, torturous wait, but eventually Alana got what she wanted. It was time, and with the Interlink still transmitting, Ambassador Cardan still giving his live report to Cooperative High Command, and a little metal cylinder clutched firmly in hand, the deep-cover Coalition Intelligence Bureau agent thumbed the controls of the commlink and began.

Holding the commlink out to the Guardian, it recited the code with machine precision: “173467321476 CHARLIE 32789777 643 TANGO 732 VICTOR 73117888 732476789764376 LOCK”

“Do I have your attention, 'Mr. Skywalker'?” Alana asked, bringing the commlink back in close. “Our mutual friend wanted us to have a little talk.”

The CIB had a library's worth of dusty files on the sometimes-Sith Ahnk Rashanagok. It had been easy enough to dig up an access code or password recovered from one of his abandoned safe houses or Sith Brotherhood facilities whose location would strongly imply it had been compromised by the Coalition, and no one else.

Calling Ambassador Cardan a “mutual friend” was easy, something anyone could have done, especially if the reason they had the commlink was because they had found Cardan out. But knowing one of Ahnk's secrets, buried away where only the Coalition could have found it . . . well that not only told him that they knew who he was, it also told him that he could be sure of who they were. And it did it without letting anyone who might be listening in know either of those two things.

Agent K-17 plopped down, cross-legged, on the deck and leaned back against the casing of the ship's reactor, a mix of excitement and fascination coloring her expression.
14  6:37am 06/02/21        
The air, such as it were, was thick and cold. 

Dewy; that might be the word he chose. It was as if every breath was half air and half water.

He’d have to speak to someone and get them to adjust that ratio. One benefit of living on Imperial Center was that if you didn’t like the taste of the air, you could complain about it and wait half an hour.
 

The comlink on his wrist buzzed. “This is Gevel,” he replied. 

“Moff Gevel, this is an encoded messaged from Vorzyd IV, message reads, ‘Fishing season, but left my rod at home. Can you send one? If it can be spared’, message ends. Confirm receipt of message?” 

Gevel smirked. The campaign to subdue the Vorzyd Cluster and The Vorzydiak Resistance in the system had been his pain in the ass for the past several months and that call had been for reinforcements. “Confirm receipt,” Gevel said. He pulled out a cigara. Wouldn’t be able to have more than a few drags, but he was going to need to calm down before he went ahead with this date. 

“Reply to message?”

“Fuck no,” Gevel said. The logistics of moving forces into an unofficial, off the books occupation was a headache he didn’t want to deal with tonight. He’d sort that out in the morning. “Disable all incoming messages and mute auditory signals.” The comlink gave a beep of affirmation and then he removed it from his wrist and set it into his pocket. 

“Well, if it isn’t Moff Theren Gevel,” a voice said from over his shoulder. “Didn’t know you were a smoker; I’d imagine you cut from finer cloth than to indulge in such vices. Is that really by the book, Imperial Administration behaviour?”

Gevel turned. He took a deep drag, but angled his head so as not to blow it directly at her. “When it comes to conduct and behaviour, I prefer to write my own book,” Gevel said, and then added “though that is true of many other subjects as well. And I understand you are quite the writer yourself.” 

“It pays the bills,” she said. She held out her slender hand and Gevel obliged, transferring the cigara from his fingers to hers. 

“So how am I supposed to know that this dinner of ours isn’t simply you researching the subject of your next big story?” Gevel asked. 

She took a big, long drag on the cigarra but when she let the smoke out, it went from between her lips to his open nostrils. “My professional ethics are the biggest one,” she said, and offered the cigarra back to him, “but also, if I went public with a story about you, it would ruin my plans of sleeping with you to get to one of the Grand Moffs.” 

Gevel smirked at that reply. “Well, if I have your word that our conversations are off the record,” Gevel said, taking the cigarra, dropping it, and crushing it under his heel, “then I look forward to our evening together, Neela.”






Gevel looked at the restaurant, windows broken and covered in dust. It was evident no one had been here since the siege began.

Even here, with the sky above, he wondered how much of the surface had been abandoned… how much of the undercity, and the lower levels…
 His comlink shook him from his thoughts. “This is Emperor Gevel,” he said, though still not entirely used to the words in his mouth. 

"This is Jaeder, sir; stopped by your suite but I supposed I missed you,” the new Supreme Commander told him. 

“Decided on a morning walk; going to duck down below to get some food,” Gevel said. He rubbed his hands; it felt cold, even though he could see the sun overhead. 

“Down below, sir? Is that wise?” Jaeder asked. In the old days, sometimes Imperials would duck “down below” to the upper parts of the Undercity, to get something rare or maybe even illegal on the surface. Of course, back then, everywhere an officer went, two ISB agents were always sure to be close behind. Whether to help or hinder as the case warranted, it made sure the only accidents were intended ones. “At least let me send you an escort…” 

“I go down there with a legion of stormtroopers, it’s just going to paint a target on me,” Gevel replied. 

“Not a legion; stay where you are, I’ll make arrangements,” he said, and before Gevel could curse him off, closed with “Jaeder out.” 

“God fucking…” Gevel said, turning angrily. He reached for his cigarras and then stopped; running low. Might try and find a pack in the undercity, if he had a chance. He looked up and saw someone else taking in the afternoon air, and he also happened to be smoking. “I don’t suppose you have one spare,” Gevel said as a means of introduction. 

The other man shrugged and pulled a fresh one from his pack. “Have a carton in my cabin,” he said. “How’s the Emperor today?” 

Gevel put the offered cigarra between his lips and let the other man light it for him. “Oh you know, perils of being human,” he said, taking a deep drag. “First days of a siege, the ambitious youth sneak away, while the old and resolute, long since past their adventurous days, settle in to live out what is left of their lives. So that is what is left of the Imperial chefs. Just doing their duty and waiting to die. Experimental cuisine left the planet and is probably in Coalition space by now.” 

The other man chuckled. “Yeah, it could be worse I suppose; the Cree’Ar have stepped up in terms of making sure those chefs have the raw materials they need; no one is going hungry,” the man observed. 

“I’m hungry,” Gevel offered in retort. “Listen, your name was… Churhee, right?” 

“Walker Churhee, New Republic special forces,” he said, and then mused over his cigarra, “former, now, I suppose.” 

“How would you like to do some work for me?” Gevel asked and Churhee spat on the ground. “Come on, don’t be like that. Don’t think of yourself as working for The Empire, consider yourself a part of the anti-Cree’Ar Insurgency. We might operate for different governments but I think one thing we can both agree on is that the future will be better if we drive these freaks off of Coruscant and back to whatever black hole they crawled out of.” 

Churhee grunted. “Fine, but I’m not your soldier; I take your orders if and only if they align with my moral code,” he said. 

“Ciuvir, sira pro, parinsulo,” Gevel offered. He saw the expression he got in reply and dropped his cigarra, stomping it out. “Each man his own country, and each country their own rules.” Gevel looked up and saw two stormtroopers marching his way. “Aw for fucks sake,” he said.

Gevel stood a little more rigidly as the two troopers approached. “Troopers halt.”
 The two stopped as if on a dime. “Helmets off,” Gevel instructed and both men set their helmets aside. “Churhee, store these. We won’t be needing them today.” 

“BC-146…” 

“Trooper if and when I ask for a way to identify you it will not be with your serial number, and you do not need to sound off or tell me your orders, I am the Emperor, and your orders come from me,” Gevel said. 

“Sir, yes sir, apologies sir,” the trooper said. 

“BC boy, what’s your name?”

“Silver, sir, Alexander Silver, Private First Class,” he answered. 

Gevel then turned to the other one. “And you?” 

“Reynolds, sir, Jonathan Reynolds, Private First Class,” he answered back. 

Churhee chuckled out loud. “Looks like Jaeder wants you to warm up his privates for him,” he quipped before turning to load his weapon. 

Gevel didn’t acknowledge that. “Alright, I will refer to you by your last names,” Gevel said. “Officially, this command does not exist. You are not here. If you die in the course of your duties, your family will be duly compensated but never informed of the nature of your work. You are not to discuss the nature of your work. With each other, fellow troopers, other officers… you answer to myself, Supreme Commander Jaeder, and or, if he looks really angry, Mr. Churhee over here.” 

“I’m a bit of an asshole when I’m angry,” Churhee said, apologizing in advance. 

Gevel didn’t wait for them to formally introduce each other. “We’re going to the Undercity. Stay close, stay alert, but don’t be too proactive. Restrain yourselves and follow my lead.” 

The four men entered The Undercity using Gevel’s old access card. If it had been updated to identify him as The Emperor it would probably not allow him in, but such was the benefit of slow moving bureaucracy. As Gevel entered the topmost of Coruscant’s lower levels, the thing that was immediately obvious was the smell.

The air in here smelled stale and dirty, with undertones of garbage; disturbingly, it was also warm and wet.
 But to Theren, that made it seem almost fresh. While the air wasn’t disgusting above the surface, there was a definite hint of burnt electronics and death from the siege. As effective as Imperial Center air recyclers were, there was a lot of air to recycle, and it definitely wasn’t all getting recycled. Down here, though, you could tell that the air was much more… fresh, created less by scrubbers and more by nothing having been scrubbed for a while. It smelt like shit, but there was an authenticity about shit; it didn’t have a pretense or ulterior motives, it was what it was, and Gevel respected that. 

“Hey look,” shouted someone from one of the alleys. 

“It’s The Emperor…” came another voice, this one in whispers. 

“Hey Emperor, fuck off,” came another voice, this one shouted. 

“Emperor! It’s me… I’m ready to rejoin The New Order!” came a fourth voice. “Surely you recognize me. I’m Grand Moff Jack Mehoff!” 

“Yeah! I need to get back into a starship, Emperor!” came a different voice. “This is Vice Admiral Mike Hunt!” 

Gevel had stopped laughing before Sargeant Suq Madiq asked for his garrison back. “Firing solutions?” Gevel asked. 

“Got it,” Reynolds said, raising up his blaster. 

“Gevel,” Churhee said and Gevel sighed. 

“You’re no fun,” Gevel said. “Crowd control, clear the area.” 

So Reynolds and Silver fanned out, shooting into nothingness as a general warning to knock it off. The opposing crowd, while hostile, was small and unarmed, so they mostly walked away. Churhee looked somewhat pacified by that, and Gevel, his ears perked up. 

Somewhere, off in the distance, Gevel heard music. It seemed old; both the tune, familiar, and the quality of the sound, as if it were being played off of an old physical impression, on a rusty horn, in the rubble, from somewhere in the past. But as he walked, Gevel saw old, broken speakers, covered in spiderwebs. This entire street had been lined with them. Then, Gevel looked up further and saw the screens, all long ago powered down, many broken, but some reflecting the image of his group back to him. He recognized this street now. 

Every few years, an Imperial admiral would come home from some triumphant campaign across the stars and they would be honored with which was formally termed as an “honorarium”. It would include a big march through and a section of the surface and with it, the New Order would even revitalize a street on Undercity, naming it for a planet in the newest addition to The Empire. This had become Sanctuary Street after the Empire drove the Outer Rim Sovereignty out of the Onxyian Occupation Zone. 

Of course, it was all a sham; it would take more than some new lights and speakers to revitalize a district; as long as it was considered to be and treated as a slum, it would always fall back to being a slum. The Empire would revitalize a district, keep it funded for a year or two, and then allow it to fall back to disrepair once no one was paying attention. In fact, they had done it so often, they’d started reusing the same streets. This block had once been Muunilinst Row after Hyfe had brought that system into the fold. Gevel smirked.

Three constants of the universe; war never changes, politics is always bullshit, and when you’re hungry, anything tastes good.


Gevel wasn’t sure about the last bit, but he was certainly hungry by the time he tracked down the source of the music. He pushed open the door and it opened about a third of the way, forcing Gevel to put his shoulder into. 

“Sorry about the door,” a man said, at the back of the room. “Latch needs lubrication. Told the building owner but, eh, he doesn’t care.” 

Gevel was immediately refreshed. The air was still wet but now cold and crisp, as if it had just rained. And it didn’t smell like rot anymore, but rather, fresh vegetables. He looked around and saw greenery everywhere, with sprinklers above to keep them watered and fresh, and dull, blinking lights above failing and then coming back to life. 

“Shitty bulbs,” the man continued. “Told the owner but… what are you doing down here? Are you the cops?” 

“Cops are outside,” Gevel said, referring to Reynolds and Silver. “I’m the government.” 

“These days, what’s the difference,” the man countered grumpily. “Well, you can fuck right off too. I have import licenses for all these groceries here I do. They’re stamped and approved, from Daemon Hyfe on down.” 

“Hyfe is gone; there’s a new Emperor up above,” Gevel told the man. He shrugged in reply.

“Eh, same throne, different asshole,” the man said. Then he narrowed his eyes. “Which branch of the government are you with?”
 

“All of them, all of the time,” Gevel said. “I’m not here to cause you trouble. In fact, I was just following the music.” 

The man behind the counter softened considerably. “Like it, do you? They used to tell us to take turns, each business playing their songs on one day or the other,” he said. “All boards up here now, so I play mine all the time. No one complains cause no one exists.” 

Churhee leaned in to get a better look at him. “...you know there are still other people out there? Just because the shops are boarded up…” 

The shopkeeper got hostile again. “Who are you? You government too?” 

“He’s nobody,” Gevel said. He felt like he was fighting with the gravity cranked up, making every push a slog. “I need to know about the song. I’ve heard that song before.” 

That caused the man to brighten considerably. “Yeah, you like it? A little classic from Glee Anselm. Even the notes sound tropical…” 

“Yes yes but,” Gevel said, “there’s more than just the melody.” 

“Well, there were lyrics, but this is just the instrumentation,” the shop owner explained. “You play a song with words, it distracts people, they forget to buy things.” The shop owner looked over to Churhee. “You guys are going to buy something, yes?” 

“Dah da… da da dah dee, da da, da da dah dee… da da da, da da da dah, da da dah da dee…” Gevel mumbled out, and Churhee wasn’t sure of anything at that moment. The shop owner cleared his throat.

“Dah da… beyond the sea… da da, waiting for me…”
 

Gevel’s features lit up, as if suddenly remembering the password that unlocked his higher brain functions. “Somewhere, beyond the sea… somewhere, waiting for me…” 

“That’s the one,” the shop owner said. He smiled broadly. “Like something familiar from your childhood,” the owner said, “simpler times.” 

“Like a sliver of sunshine, from back beyond the clouds; happier times,” Gevel said. 

The shop owner narrowed his eyes at Churhee. “I’m late for my afternoon nap, are you guys going to buy something or are you going to get the fuck out already?”






Back above the surface, the group, Reynolds, Silver, Churhee and The Emperor sat around a circular stone table, eating salads and sandwiches that Gevel had bought for them, all nodded pleasantly. 

“I don’t know if I have had food this fresh since I joined the academy,” Silver said, and there was a murmur of consent. 

“Said he gets deliveries from a politically neutral company coming from Druckenwell,” Churhee said. 

“I shall have the Imperial War Machine powered to take this world as my own,” Gevel said, jokingly. 

“Gevel…” Churhee said, and Gevel chuckled, then looked at Churhee intently as he ate. 

Gevel moved his focus to Reynolds. “Reynolds, you aren’t from the Kuati Reynolds are you?” 

“In fact I am,” he said. “Son of Bryan J.C. Reynolds, industrialist.” 

Gevel nodded, trying to look absent minded. “Why the hell are you just a storm trooper? Should be able to get a line captaincy on your name alone.” 

Reynolds smirked. “Not these days; Kaine organized the Academies and stacked them with men loyal to him, and on his rise, my family slighted him, favouring the rising Admiral Park Kraken.” 

So they backed the wrong horse and now you have to shovel their shit, Gevel thought to himself. Probably above Kaine to be so petty but maybe not above some of Kaine’s lieutenants, who tied their own rise to that of Kaines. “What about you, Silver? From The Bastion Conclave?” 

Silver nodded and cocked his weapon. “Fourth infantry tenth division, Muunilist detachment.” Gevel nodded in return.

“Well, welcome to the core,” he said. Now it made sense. Jaeder had sent him two nobodies. Misfits, newcomers, with no rank and no reputation. Blank slates, to imprint as he would. Fresh out of the academy, brains still rattling with the idea of duty, honor, loyalty. They’d never even conceive of betraying them, even if Gevel ordered them to kill their own families. Hell, Reynolds might even enjoy that order.
 

But more importantly, as Gevel watched them eat, he’d noticed the key difference between the two. Reynolds, sent straight to the core from the Imperial Academy, had been on world when the siege took hold. Was rounded up, and processed, as had all the Imperial officers. And Churhee, a refugee of an attack on the world of Yavin. Medically treated by the Cree’Ar before being released on Coruscant. And Silver, fresh faced plucky newcomer, probably having been called in to the core when Gevel and Jaeder began to put the systems of command back in place. That little, stupid, baby faced trooper might just be the key to freedom someday. Because unlike Reynolds, unlike Churhee, unlike Jaeder or Gevel themselves, Silver had no wound or scar on his neck. They hadn’t gotten to him, like they’d gotten to the others. 

“I need a piss,” Gevel told them, as much as it was the truth as it was to have an excuse to walk away. Of course, Silver was not unique. There were likely thousands like him, maybe tens of thousands. But Silver was close. And if Reynolds was wired for sound somehow, able to transmit any and all of what he heard from Gevel, then Gevel could use that, and use Silver as a conduit for actual instructions. Misdirection. It could cause chaos, and finally, chaos that would work in his favour. 

“Imperial Command, this is the Emperor, remove shield section LPH-17,” Gevel said, as he walked to the edge of the building. 

“Sir, this is Jaeder at Imperial Command, are you sure that is wise?” The Supreme Commander asked him. 

“What are you, worried about leaks?” Gevel said. His piss started to fizzle against the shield and turn to smoke until Jaeder did as asked and dropped the shield, allowing the flow to fall down into a shuttle lane in the Undercity. “Hey Jaeder, since I have you on the comms, didn’t we used to control Druckenwell? Part of our expansion into the mid rim, wasn’t it?” 

“Gevel, I think we should talk in person,” he said. He sounded serious. “There’s been a development.” 

Gevel zipped up, took a step back from the ledge, and shouted the loudest and most offensive obscenity he could think of. “What now?’






As Gevel rose up slowly in the elevator, he looked over Imperial City. 

Years ago, tall duracrete and transparisteel towers rose up from a surface of grey. Shuttles and cruisers came and went, the planetary shield usually disabled. Above, the stars sparkled where they weren’t bisected by a transit lane coming or going from the planet. You’d look down and see crowds of people coming and going, at all hours; Imperial Center was truly a center, and there was always some part of The Empire where now was their busiest hour. At the entrance to each building, you’d see a pair of troopers all in white and a grey uniformed officer, checking passes and permissions to enter secure facilities. 

The towers had been felled or shattered, now shells of what they once were, and the surface was grey with debris and fallen pieces of buildings. The night was quiet, with only the occasional Cree’Ar patrol flying overhead, with transit curfewed during this hour. Large portions of the planetary shield had been disabled and others could not be turned off, lest they allow a large volume of active flame to fall to the surface. Imperial Center had become more of a graveyard than a center. No one was below. The white troopers stayed indoors. The streets were patrolled by horrifying giant armored husks, lurching this way or that. 

“Far beyond the stars,” Gevel mused. 

The Empire he remembered was like something from a childhood dream; like a sliver of sunshine, behind the clouds of smoke and ash. Those happier, simpler times didn’t exist anymore. Not now, not for him.

And maybe they never would again.








Gevel had stopped at a fresher and cleaned himself up a little before walking into the meeting.

“Alright Jaeder, tell me what the fuck happened now.”
 

As he sunk into his chair, Jaeder raised an eyebrow. He looked like he was exhausted, and then dragged out bed, splashed in the face with some water, and thrown before a firing squad. “There’s been another Cree’Ar broadcast.” 

“Damn it to hell,” Gevel said, then he looked around the room. “What, where is that Ambassador Dipshit? Ambassador Carson.” 

“Ambassador Cardan,” Jaeder corrected. “I thought we might catch you up to speed before involving him in any discussions.” 

“That makes sense,” Gevel said, then after a second of thinking about it, changed his mind, saying “you know what fuck that. Maybe we can take whatever has happened and blame it all on him, and make him fix it.” 

Jaeder smirked. Gevel was still Gevel, even after everything that had been thrown at him. “Post one, allow access for Diplomat Rane Cardan,” Jaeder offered into his wrist comms and sure enough, the mentioned ambassador was produced. 

“Ambassador, I’ve been informed the Cree’Ar have made another broadcast for anyone who is listening,” Gevel said. “I feel like if this concerns me, it probably concerns your government as well, so I thought it prudent to bring you in here.” Gevel then turned to Jaeder. “Supreme Commander, please play the broadcast.” 

The broadcast began with an Imperial logo, and then noted, in aurabesh, that it was from Imperial Center. “Cheeky fuckers,” Gevel said. “Remind me to talk to that Vejuun person, remind him if he makes more broadcasts, the Cree’Ar will need their own logos.” 

The logo faded and then Vejuun himself appeared, on one of the balconies of Coruscant. “Greetings. I realize that this broadcast may be coming to you during difficult times; the incursion of the Reavers, the political confusion, and the continued suffering forced up this galaxy by it’s force users, has led to conditions galaxy wide to worsen. Unfortunately, I am afraid to announce that we have not seen the worst of conditions yet. Our scientists have studied the space of the galaxy using something called The Galactic Mapping Project, a technology created by The Damuens, and have found areas of considerable concern, in terms of the stability of space lines and the existing hyperspace corridors. It is their scientific opinion that access to certain areas of the galaxy should be limited to essential travel only, to limit potentially catastrophic implications of continued hyperspace travel.

Therefore, the Cree’Ar Dominion hereby declares that we will be establishing military checkpoints along the Hydian Way, near to the system of Corsin, and the Perlemian Trade Route, near to the system of Roche. These planets will not be effected nor will travel to them, but travel beyond them will require checking in with our authorities and verifying that travel along those routes are warranted. Non-essential travel will be restricted and anyone caught bypassing these checkpoints will be subject to repercussions. We want to repeat that this is a protective measure against catastrophic spacial instability.

This effects rimward travel, from Corsin along the Hydian Way, and Roche along the Perlemian Trade Route. If travelling to the core from the rim, our scientists advise not to pass Ruuria on the Hydian Way or Quermia on the Perlemian Trade Route. Vessels found to be travelling inside this area of space should expect to be detained and questioned as to the purposes of their travel.”


“Likely never to appear again,” Gevel said. Well this is fucking bullshit. 

“We appreciate your cooperation and thank you. We remind you that such measures are for your own safety. From Imperial Center, this is a Cree’Ar Dominion broadcast update.” The screen then faded to static.

“Well, this is fucking bullshit,” Gevel said.
 

“Indeed,” Jaeder said, and pushed a button on the panel built into the desk. The display projected a map of the galaxy. “Assume that the rumors we have heard about The Cree’Ar moving into Damuen space are true. When you add the area they have just indicated…” 

Jaeder’s map painted a bleak picture. Half of the galaxy would be in their control. Gevel scoffed. “There’s no way they could logistically control all that space,” he said. 

Jaeder seemed less certain. “Assuming that they have indeed absorbed the technology of the Damuens as many have speculated, they had access to Centerpoint…” 

“A technology that no one has been able to duplicate in hundreds of years,” Gevel said. 

“The Damuens had technological innovations no one had ever seen before; do we really believe that, if the Cree’Ar can integrate or even duplicate their technology, that any technology is beyond them?” Jaeder questioned. 

Gevel stopped at that. It was a hell of a thought. For years, secrets had eluded even the top minds of The Empire when it came to ancient technologies. The Kwa, The Rakata, The Gree… 

“In any case, I don’t think that direct military action would be wise, at least, not any directed from Imperial Center,” Jaeder said. “It’s a shame that we don’t have any way of contacting any of our foreign assets, discretely, to update them on this situation, and decide on some sort of coordinated plan of action.” 

Gevel read between the lines. “If only we could talk to anyone off Imperial Center… even a government or military that we weren’t necessarily allied with, but someone who could relay messages outside of the Imperial Communications Network, which is probably being intercepted by The Dominion.” 

Jaeder nodded. “We will have to investigate and see what options we have,” Jaeder said. 

Gevel turned to the ambassador. “Mr. Carson…” 

“Cardan,” Jaeder corrected. 

“Ambassador Cardan… you’ve been relatively quiet,” Gevel said. “If there’s anything you’d like to discuss, the floor is yours.”
This post was edited by Vejuun (6:52am 06/02/21, 2 months ago)

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