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silvershadows
02.29.2012 , 06:37 PM | #2
One


Captain Lillian Riggs lay back on her nerf-hide couch within her Dantooine home. Her slender legs hung over the armrest as she stared listlessly at a holodrama that was playing in front of her. A Rodian woman was complaining about the woes of her life, and Lillian found the actresses large multifaceted eyes perfect targets for the handful of koh tree nuts she was snacking on.

Watching the missiles sail through the hologram only entertained Lillian for a moment though, and she rolled over to her stomach and buried her face into a throw pillow, her deep black hair fanning out onto the fabric. Opening her mouth, she let out an ear-piercing shriek, the sound muffled by the pillow. She was so bored!

It wasn't Corso's fault. Lillian smiled slightly as she thought about her husband. His warm brown eyes could still melt her heart, and he had grown his knotted, twisted hair down to the middle of his back, where she could playfully tug at it to tease him. Her smile turned wistful as she also recalled the way he had left their home that morning, saying he was going out to check on his prized ronto herd. Lillian knew he really just wanted to be away from her gloomy mood.

She had tried - really tried - to be happy. She and Corso had agreed to start a family, but in two years of trying they had had no luck. Corso loved her and was more than willing to continue trying, but Lillian had begun to despair about ever having the "normal" life that he seemed to want so much.

There was still no place Lillian would rather be than in her worn pilot's chair in the Silver Shadow, hurtling through hyperspace, or blasting Imperial Interceptors with her turbolasers as she flew with the Coruscant Aegis. She'd even thought about getting back into the war. Though it had been two years since Corellia, battles were still to be fought all over the galaxy as pro-Empire and Republic factions rose and fell on the various planets involved in the conflict. In fact, there had even been fighting mentioned on Corellia itself, as the Empire refused to acknowledge their loss there, placing a blockade around the planet, and as always, Lillian had felt the need to run off and prep the Shadow for flight.

A high pitched, insistent beeping sound interrupted her thoughts. Irritated, she looked around for the source of the disturbance. Her silver gaze slid over the shelves around the room, covered with random mementos from the adventures she'd shared with Corso. A handful of blasters, a giant fake ruby that had once belonged to Skavak, the man who had stolen her ship and started the whole mess, some inlaid runestones from Voss, and there - buried beneath a stack of holostills showing Corso and Bowdaar playing various card games, was the source of the beeping - her old holocomm - the one she hadn't used since Corellia.

Pushing her shoulder length locks out of her eyes, Lillian reached out, picked up the holocomm, and thumbed on the answer button. A tiny hologram appeared, showing the image of a man around fifteen years Lillian's senior, his kind face somewhat worn with care and worry for others suffering. Blinking in disbelief, Lillian sat up straighter.

"Cole? Cole Cantarus?" Her voice squeaked a bit at the end of his name. "I was just thinking of you! Well, of Corellia, but that of course always brings you to mind."

Cole's smile was warm and carried up through his eyes. "Captain Riggs. Been a while."

Nodding, Lillian reached out to the table to pick up a glass of water and took a sip. Narrowing her eyes at the hologram, she gestured with the glass. "Is this a social call? I haven't used this comm in a long time."

The semi-transparent image flickered a little as Cole shook his head. "Afraid not. I have a pressing problem, one I could really use your help with."

"Why me?" Lillian arched a slim black eyebrow in Cole's direction. "Since when do you CorSec types want help from smugglers? Even retired, reformed ones?"

Holding his hands up, palms outward as if in defeat, Cole chuckled softly. "We both know you're rather unique among smugglers."

"Yeah, well nobody can be good-looking, smart, and a great shot all at the same time. Except me, of course."

Cole grinned at her and nodded his head. "Exactly. Actually you're the only person I can think of with the skill and the ship to get what I need done." His face turned grave. "Simply put, I need you to go to Ord Mantell, pick up a shipment of weapons, then smuggle them into Corellia for the CorSec resistance."

"You want me," Lillian began, setting her drink aside, "to pick up Republic manufactured weapons, smuggle them through Imperial held space, land on an Imperial occupied world, hand over the weapons to the resistance, then smuggle myself back out past Imperial picket lines? I thought you said 'simple', Cantarus."

She stared at him for a moment. Cole remained silent, allowing Lillian to mull the job over. "All right, all right, I'll do it."

Cole's response was another grin. "Your contact on Ord Mantell is a man named Till Orthos, he'll meet you in docking bay sixty-four. You bringing your old crew?" Cole's question was answered by a shake of her head.

"No, we've scattered. I wouldn't know where to find Risha or Akaavi." She fiddled with the glass on the table in front of her. "Besides, this one might be simpler if I go alone."

"I was going to suggest that anyway. Orthos is the nervous type and your husband can be rather imposing when he wants to be."

"More like overprotective." Lillian's sigh was a mixture of annoyance and pride. "When I'm alone men - no offense - often underestimate me. This will be much easier if I have something I can use to my advantage."

Cole knew Lillian had a point. Tiny and slender, Lillian's body was deceptively fragile, while her aim was among the best in the galaxy. He almost would have dismissed her himself, had he not seen her plant blaster bolts between the eyes of even Dark Lords of the Sith. Possessing a dark, delicate beauty, with her pale, almost luminous skin and silver eyes framed with thick ebony lashes, lids shaded a deep grey, Lillian had a way of melting the durasteel hearts of even the most stalwart man. The fact that she also possessed a quick wit and could draw and fire both her blasters before one could blink added to her ability to handle just about any situation that could be thrown her way.

"Alright," he said, "Thanks for this, Captain. CorSec will owe you one. Another one. Cantarus out." His image disappeared. Lillian sat there for a moment, gazing at where Cole had been, then staring down at the ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Reaching out, she picked the holocomm back up, and punched the record button.

It was going to be so hard, leaving Corso behind.

*****

Corso sat on the grass in the middle of his ronto herd, watching the animals run around aimlessly. His chin resting in his hand, elbows on his knees, he took in the antics of the ronto with amusement. As he sat there, enjoying the solitude and peace, he was understandably startled when a loud roar filled the air and the pack animals turned and fled. His eyes shifted skyward and widened as he saw a familiar starship head up and into the atmosphere. Bolting to his feet, he practically flew back to the ranch house, his heart thudding painfully in his chest.

He crashed through the door, nearly taking it from it's frame, frantically searching every room with his eyes, yet knowing without a doubt that had been his wife's ship making for space. He just didn't want to believe she would do this to him, after this long, after all they had been through together.

When he found the holocomm sitting on the table in the dining area, its little red light blinking to show a message had been recorded, he sat down heavily in a chair, running his large hand up and over the knotted twists of hair that cascaded from the knot on top of his head down to the center of his back. He almost couldn't bring himself to hit the play button, but finally swallowed hard and did it, deciding it was best to get it over with. Lillian's image flickered to life in front of him, and he stared at it dully as she seemed to gaze right into his eyes while the recording spoke.

"Corso, I know you're angry with me. I don't blame you. I would be angry with me too." The hologram crossed her arms over her chest as if hugging herself. "The truth is, I'm going crazy. It's not your fault. We agreed to do this, I went along with it, and I wanted it just as much as you - at first."

Corso closed his eyes and pressed the button, freezing Lillian in place as he swiped his hand over his face and sighed. After a moment, he hit it again, and she continued. "I'm not going forever. Cole Cantarus called, he had a job for me. I just need to get away for a few days, get into space, out there in the stars - just one more time. I should be back within a week at the most. I love you, Corso. I really do. I really need this though. I hope you understand." The hologram smiled at him, and he felt his heart stir at the sight of the impish Lillian he had fallen in love with, as her image lifted a hand to her mouth and blew him a kiss. The warm feeling was quickly replaced by annoyance - and yes, anger. His hand curled around the holocomm and he threw it as hard as he could, barely flinching when it shattered against the wall.

So Cantarus had called, had he? Corso had always thought the CorSec officer was a good man, and knew Lillian felt the same way, despite the professional differences that they had. On the other hand, he also knew Cantarus wouldn't have called on Lillian unless the job he needed done was especially dangerous or delicate. Corso should be with her, watching her back. Lillian could handle herself, but he always felt better if he could be there to make sure nothing happened. He had vowed that nobody would ever hurt her while he was around, but now he wasn't going to be there if she needed him. She hadn't even been gone an hour, and damn it all, he missed her already.

Well fine, he thought, as he moved toward the bedroom they shared and flopped down onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. If it was going to be that way, it was going to be that way. Maybe he'd be here when she got back, maybe he wouldn't. If she came back at all.

*****

Reaching for the hyperspace lever, Lillian pulled it back, watching the stars fade from pinpoints into blazing lines of light through the cockpit of the Shadow. She settled into her chair for the trip to Ord Mantell. The Shadow's engines thrummed powerfully as the starship roared through hyperspace, and she let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. So far, so good. She had kept the ship well maintained during her time on Dantooine, often working on it while Corso had been out in the fields, her only link to her old life. How many times had she done this exact thing, hitting hyperspace, flitting from planet to planet, Corso standing at her side, the rest of the crew scatted around the ship. The Shadow had been alive with their little family - Akaavi, Risha, Guss, Bowdaar, and of course, herself and Corso. Now it was empty and silent, except for the sound of the massive hyperdrive pushing her faster past light speed than any other freighter she knew of. Still, the freedom was there - she was breathing easy for the first time in months. This was where she belonged. Pulling her knees to her chest, she rested her chin on them and watched the starlines race by.

A soft chime caused Lillian to open her eyes. She must have dozed off, she realized, because that sound was the Shadow's navcomputer warning her that she was about to exit hyperspace. Straightening her legs, she leaned forward as the starlines shrank back into pinpoints and the planet appeared below her. Lillian aimed the Shadow toward the atmosphere, reaching out and flipping her sensors into passive scan mode. There were several other ships in orbit, but nothing that her threat-assessment programming indicated as dangerous. She knew the real danger of Ord Mantell would be on the ground. Though the separatist factions on the planet had been largely neutralized, there would always be people unhappy with the Republic, and Imperial propaganda always managed to find its way to every world, no matter how hard Republic security tried to stop it. Having fought against the separatists on Ord Mantell herself, Lillian knew they were a tenacious lot. They had murdered Corso's family, giving him the incentive he needed to learn to fight, before he had met her. In retrospect, Lillian mused, that was where a lot of Corso's over-protectiveness stemmed from. He had lost his family and everyone he loved, and he felt if he had been there he could have made a difference. It didn't matter how many times Lillian had told him that if he had been there he would have just died too. She shook her head. Enough thinking about Corso. Right now there was a job to be done.

As the Shadow punched through the atmosphere, she throttled back the sub-light engines, slowing her descent from insanely fast to moderately crazy. Her silver gaze swept over the landing zones until she located the giant "64" that had been painted on the roof over her docking bay hangar. Her starship roared over the heads of Republic soldiers training out in the yards as she headed toward it, and grinning, she twisted her steering yoke, sending the Shadow into a barrel roll. Showing off was always so much fun. Approaching the yawning door of the docking bay, she cut the power to the engines and engaged her repulsorlifts, allowing the Shadow to skim along the ground and into the bay. She brought it down gently, then sat there a moment.

Her hands went to the blasters she had holstered on each hip. Pulling them out, she frowned slightly, then opened the compartment beneath her navcomputer and put them inside. Cantarus had said Orthos was the nervous type, so approaching him with her weapons visible was probably not advisable. Though she never liked being without Flashy - the modified Soro-Suub heavy blaster Corso's father had given him and he in turn had given Lillian - she also knew that her two small holdout blasters were probably better for this situation. Pulling them from the compartment, she checked the power cells. Both were fully charged, and she slipped them into the holsters she wore on her forearms, covering them with the green fabric of her shirt. With a flick of her wrists, the blasters would be in her hands and ready to go, and nobody would even know she was armed.

Smiling slightly to herself, she pushed her black tresses back behind her ears, pasted on an innocent, happy go-lucky expression, and stood up, moving to the back of the ship and pressing the button that would lower the boarding ramp. She stepped down it and into the bay. A sudden rush of memory nearly overwhelmed her as she realized that docking bay 64 was the same hangar she had landed the Shadow in two years previously, when she had first met Corso, when Skavak had stolen her ship out from under her and sent her on a merry chase to recover it. She shook her head slightly. She should have remembered that.

As her eyes traveled around the room, she noticed a man standing against the far wall, tall and handsome, with dark hair the same shade of black as her own. Moving toward him, she couldn't help but also notice his eyes - pale blue and as cold as the wastes of Hoth. She shivered slightly but kept the smile plastered on her face as she spoke. "You Orthos?" He nodded.

"I am. You're here for your shipment, I take it?" His voice was smooth, she noted, and devoid of any regional accent that she could identify. He gestured toward the piled fiberplast boxes all around him. "The weapons are here. You'll have to load them yourself."

Lillian glanced around at all the boxes and groaned inwardly. Maybe she should have brought Corso. "Fine," she said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her tone. "Did Cantarus leave any message for me with you?" She moved back into the Shadow, grabbing her small repulsorlift sled, intending to pile the boxes on top of it and then push it into the ship. As she stepped back out, she realized Orthos had disappeared. "Guess not."

Frowning, she began to wrestle with the boxes, lifting them one at a time and shoving them onto the sled, her muscles groaning with the effort. She really should have kept in shape, she realized, as she leaned over the piled boxes and took a deep breath. The sound of footsteps came behind her, and she straightened. "Orthos? Maybe you can help me here and while you're at it, give me the name of my contact on Corellia." She turned to face the man, and was considerably disconcerted to find herself staring down the barrel of the blaster he was holding pointed at her forehead. She tried a joke. "Or, you could just shoot me and put me out of my misery."

His pale eyes narrowed at her, though his face was otherwise expressionless. "I think you'd rather come with me, Captain. Don't make this any harder on yourself." His voice had changed, Lillian realized - he spoke in clipped precise tones, each word carefully enunciated and perfectly clear. Imperial. She closed her eyes for a second and swallowed hard, then opened them and tried again.

"Hey, I think you have the wrong person here. I'm just a small-time smuggler looking for some credits, I'm nobody important."

Now he did smile, and it was a smile so predatory that it caused a cold pit to form in her stomach. She thought of the blasters on her forearms and tried to calculate whether or not she could get them into her hands and up in firing position before he burned a hole through her skull. Fat chance, she thought. This docking bay was obviously cursed. Better to keep talking if she could. Before she could open her mouth and speak again though, he took a step forward and put the cold muzzle of his blaster directly against the white skin of her forehead.

"You are Captain Lillian Riggs. Your ship is the Silver Shadow, and you were employed as a privateer for the Galactic Republic two years ago during the battle of Corellia. Your husband is a farm boy from this planet named Corso. Your ship's crew was a motley bunch of aliens who have since scattered across the galaxy as scum like that is wont to do. You made the mistake of coming here alone, and now, you will come with me, or I will shoot you."

She had no choice. Shaking her wrists, she dropped the holdout blasters into her palms and started to bring her arms up and in line. The Imperial was a split second faster, however, and she saw his thumb switch the power selection lever on his blaster from "kill" to "stun" just before he squeezed the trigger.

The blue-white ion burst played over her body, frying every nerve ending and causing her muscles to spasm uncontrollably. She dropped to the ground, unable to control her own body, as the Imperial kicked the blasters from her hands, sending them skittering across the floor. He knelt down beside her, pulling a syringe from his pocket, uncapping it and jabbing the needle into the side of her neck, depressing the plunger with his thumb.

"Sleep now, Captain." His voice came to her as if from a great distance as she felt whatever drug he had put in her body start to work, causing her mind to drift. An image of Corso surfaced in her thoughts, his brown eyes staring at her, a loving smile painted across his face. She felt a single tear well up and slide down her cheek as she lay there on the cold floor unarmed and defenseless, before unconsciousness claimed her.




Two

It was cold in the cavern, the floor dusted with snow and ice. Darth Umbral stalked back and forth, her heavy boots kicking up particles of frozen water that whirled through the air, catching the light that filtered down through cracks in the icy ceiling. Her cloak whirled behind her as she moved, left, then right, then left again. She stopped and tapped her foot impatiently. "Where are you, Malavai?" Her question went unanswered and she resumed pacing, her hand fingering the hilt of the lightsaber sheathed at her side. She glanced over at the back of the cave, eying the rubble that lay there, a reminder of the Jedi she had buried beneath the snow here two years previously. Since she had been here last, the entrance to the cave had been blocked by what appeared to be a natural ice maze. She had found her way through it only by using the Force, and had decided this was the place to interrogate her newest prisoner. A red rope wound its way through the maze, a guideline for her co-conspirator to use when he returned bearing his burden.

The sound of footfalls moving through the maze drew her attention, and she stood still, watching. Reaching out with the Force, she touched the mind of the approaching person, and confirming his identity, allowed a small smile to grace her full lips. As he came around the final bend, his pale blue eyes met her deep sapphire orbs, and she practically squealed with delight when she saw the inert body of the woman on the repulsor sled he was dragging behind him.

"Oh Malavai," she breathed, running her gloved hand through her flame-colored hair. "You bring me the best presents." He flashed her a quick smile as he pulled Lillian along, stopping in front of a durasteel chair that had been placed in the center of the cavern. Umbral moved to his side and together they lifted the unconscious smuggler, placing her in the chair, activating the energy binders that would hold the woman's wrists and ankles in place.

"Shall we wake her up, my lord?" He pulled another syringe from his pocket and raised an eyebrow at the Dark Lord of the Sith. Umbral nodded, then reached out and put her hand on his wrist when he moved to inject the chemicals into Lillian's body.

"No, let me." Taking the needle from him, she jabbed it into the smaller woman's arm forcefully, shoving the plunger down to dispense the drug. "How long?"

"It should only be a moment."

Umbral stared intently at Lillian, watching her face for any sign of awakening. When the smuggler's eyes flickered open, Umbral began to laugh softly, the sound gradually growing louder as Lillian's gaze moved around the area and the expression on her face shifted between fear, panic, and anger.

"Captain Lillian Riggs." Umbral's voice was deep yet feminine, possessing the precise accent of all high-born Imperials. Lillian struggled to push the haze out of her mind and assess her situation, but found it all but impossible to think clearly.

"Who," she croaked, her voice hoarse and thick from unconsciousness, "are you and what do you want?"

Umbral clapped her hands together, then leaned forward, pushing her face toward Lillian's until they were mere inches apart. Lillian could feel the heat of Umbral's breath against her face, and the scent of some dangerous and exotic flower radiated off of the Sith lord's skin. Dromund Kaas death orchids, Lillian realized, having acquired some of them for a collector of rare botanicals. How appropriate for a Sith, she thought dryly.

"Who am I?" Umbral's voice was a soft, sibilant whisper. "I am the darkness of the eclipse. I am the shadow from which all light flees. I am the phantom that haunts your nightmares. I am Darth Umbral."

"Rather full of yourself, aren't you?" Lillian arched a slender eyebrow, then cried out softly as the back of Umbral's armored hand connected with her cheek hard enough to cause lights to dance before her eyes. That was going to leave a mark. She glared at the other woman defiantly as she worked her jaw to ensure it wasn't broken.

"You are in no position to make jokes, Captain Riggs. You have been brought here to be punished for your role in the battle of Corellia, and to tell me everything you know about the Galactic Republic."

Lillian scoffed at the Dark Lord of the Sith, twisting her hands against the energy binders that held them in place. "Is my punishment having to look at your face? Because it's working." Umbral raised her hand to strike the smuggler again, then changed her mind mid-swing. She straightened and pointed a finger at the man standing beside her.

"This is Captain Malavai Quinn. He is the man who brought you here after we intercepted the holomessage you received from Cole Cantarus. Really, Captain Riggs, you should not have left Dantooine." Umbral stepped aside, beginning to pace again, back and forth in front of Lillian's chair. "You have a choice, you can tell me all that I want to know, or I can have Quinn get it out of you. And I assure you that Imperial Intelligence has had him well trained in information extraction." A dark smile curled the edge of Umbral's lip as she glanced sidelong at the Imperial officer. "It would be a pleasure to watch you work, Quinn."

He nodded his dark head, his expressionless gaze moving to Lillian's face. She shuddered at the sight of those cold eyes. There was no doubt in her mind that he would greatly enjoy the interrogation, just as much if not more than Darth Umbral would. If Lillian had to describe Malavai Quinn to a stranger, she would have used the word "stone" a lot. She certainly wouldn't want to play sabacc with him. He could probably pull her fingernails out and feed them to her, all while keeping that same blank look on his face.

"I'm not sure," Lillian began, "that I can help you. I've been out of the loop for two years. Any information I have is old and probably useless." Her silver eyes finally found their focus, and she noted the walls of ice behind Umbral that formed the maze-like cavern entrance. Shifting her gaze down to the binders around her wrists, she tried to figure out how exactly she was going to get out of this one.

Umbral shrugged her shoulders slightly, smiling down at Lillian, reaching out her heavy gloved hand to stroke the smuggler's pale cheek in a mocking caress. "You will help me, or you will die here, cold and alone. Nobody will know what happened to you, and nobody will ever find your remains. You will become part of the frozen wastes of Hoth, just another block of ice on this forsaken planet."

So she was on Hoth. At least she knew that much.

*****

Isad'ia's twin yellow lightsabers spun through the air as she drove herself through a series of practice swings, twirling them hand over hand in an impressive display of swordsmanship. Calling upon the Force, she leapt straight up into the air, extending the humming blades fully on either side of her body, then bringing them together in front of her as she landed, a strike meant to cut an enemy completely in half. Her blue skin shone green under the light cast by her sabers, her tattooed lekku whirling around as she began to spin, lifting her blades and driving them sideways and downward, the motion like that of a mining drill digging deep into stone.

Completing her spin, she hit the buttons on the hilts of her lightsabers, closing the blades down and hooking them to either side of her belt. The sound of hands clapping filled the air, and she turned to find she had an audience. "Good morning, Kira." Isad'ia's smile was warm as she gestured for the girl to join her, moving to a small table and pouring out two glasses of cold water. She handed one to Kira, who moved to stand next to the Twi'lek Jedi, returning her smile with one of her own.

"Master Isad'ia, the Council has asked to see you. The message just came through." Isad'ia nodded and sighed softly. Putting her glass down, she straightened her clothing, a simple cut off top and tight pants that allowed her a full range of motion for fighting. She disdained the robes most Jedi, including Kira, wore, finding them hampering in battle. Thankfully the Order did not forbid her wearing traditional Twi'lek clothing, though she made them one concession in the embossed straps that encircled her arms, covered with Jedi iconography.

"Thank you, Kira. I'll go right away. Come with me, if you want." Her former Padawan, now a Jedi Knight in her own right, nodded and grinned at her. Together they moved toward the door, heading from Isad'ia's room into the common area they shared within the Jedi Temple. As they stepped out, the door to their rooms opened and a man stepped through the threshold, his arms full of boxes piled so high he couldn't see over them.

"Hey beautiful," he called out, "I found some medical supplies, you wouldn't BELIEVE what they're hiding here in this temple." He deposited the boxes on a nearby chair, then straightened and blinked when he noticed Isad'ia and Kira both standing there. "Oh. Erm. That is, to say... well, never mind."

"Doc..." Kira fought to keep laughter from her voice. "Did you just steal medical supplies from the Jedi Temple?"

"Noooo... who would do such a terrible thing?" He ran his hand over the goatee on his chin and assumed an innocent expression.

Isad'ia rolled her amethyst eyes. "Put them back, Doc. We have enough on the ship for you to save an army."

"Fine!" He began to pile the boxes back on top of each other. "Speaking of the ship, when are we getting out of here anyway? Feels like we've been on Tython forever." Isad'ia opened the door and turned before stepping out.

"I'm not sure. I have to go see the Council now, they might have an assignment for me. Head to the ship and get it ready just in case, alright? AFTER you put those medical supplies back from wherever you got them."

"Yeah, Archie. Put them back!" Kira easily ducked the box he threw in her direction, and laughing, both Jedi exited the room. They moved out into the great hall of the Temple, the massive staircase leading up to the council chambers before them. As they climbed the stairs, other Jedi nodded at them or waved from where they stood clustered in small groups, talking quietly.

"You shouldn't tease Doc," Isad'ia admonished Kira. "He thinks he's doing good things, even if his ways are a little... unorthodox." They reached the doors to the Council chambers, and Isad'ia paused before pushing them open. Kira frowned slightly at the Twi'lek.

"You're just a small bit biased, Master."

Isad'ia sighed. "This has nothing to do with that. It can be difficult with the two of you always trying to one-up each other. We're supposed to be a team, it's time you learned to work together. Now, let's find out why the Council wants to see me." She pushed open the massive doors leading to the Council chambers and stepped in the room, her footfalls muffled by the deep red carpeting.

She had been expecting to face the Jedi Council, and so found herself a little bewildered when the room was empty, save for one woman who's dark black hair was cropped short except for the twin braids that fell over her shoulders.

"Master Satele." Isad'ia moved forward, coming to stand directly in front of the Grand Master of the Jedi Order. "I thought the Council wished to see me?"

"Ah, Master Isad'ia. The others left a few moments ago after we discussed your assignment. We are all in agreement that this is a situation we would like you to handle." Satele reached out onto the table before her and pressed a button. The holoviewer in the center flickered to life, showing two individuals, one male and one female.

"We need you to go to Ord Mantell and investigate the presence of what appears to have been an Imperial agent there." Satele pointed at the image of the man. Isad'ia noted his appearance, in particular his ice-blue eyes and the birthmark on his left cheek.

"As you wish, Master Satele." She frowned. "May I ask, why me? Is this Jedi business? Surely Republic SIS is better equipped to find possible spies."

Satele gestured toward the hologram again, her fingers pointing at the image of the female. "If our information is correct, this man is Captain Malavai Quinn, an Imperial officer in the command of Darth Umbral."

"Umbral?" Isad'ia looked closer at the hologram. A well muscled body encased in heavy armor, large eyes and full lips showed the Sith lord to be an attractive woman. She wore a single lightsaber on her left hip. "Isn't she..."

"The Emperor's Wrath," Satele finished for her. "Yes. That is why we are sending you. Her powers of the dark side are matched only by your own in the light. If indeed this was her agent on Ord Mantell, the Council directs you to find out what he was doing there, and pursue him if necessary. Darth Umbral played a large part in the war, and we cannot risk her becoming active in it again."

Kira stared at the hologram, her fists clenched at her sides. "This Darth Umbral has killed many Jedi." Satele nodded gravely at the girl.

"Yes. Though several Jedi survived their encounters with her, she has killed more than her fair share of the Order. It is up to the two of you to see that it doesn't happen again. May the Force be with you."


*****


Lillian twisted her hands against the bands of energy that kept her restrained to the hard chair. Her eyes followed Darth Umbral as the Sith lord paced back and forth across the cavern, her attention monopolized by the datapad in her hand. Frowning, Lillian tugged harder, then let out a frustrated sigh. The sound caused Umbral to raise her gaze from the datapad, and her sapphire eyes narrowed in Lillian's direction.

"Struggling is futile, Captain. The energy rays will only grow tighter." Umbral stalked over to stand in front of the smuggler, reaching out her hand and taking a fistful of Lillian's hair, tugging it painfully as she caught it up in her fingers and yanked Lillian's head back. Gritting her teeth, Lillian smiled against the pain, drew a breath, and spit into Umbral's face.

Releasing her hold, Umbral wiped the mess off of her cheek, then unhooked her lightsaber from her belt, but did not ignite it. Turning it into a reverse grip, she brought the hard metal hilt around, smashing it into Lillian's face, causing a bright red stream of blood to begin flowing from the smaller woman's nose.

"Your defiance is admirable, Captain Riggs." Returning the lightsaber to her belt, Umbral's hand reached out and took hold of Lillian's own. "However, it is ultimately useless." The Dark Lord of the Sith let her lips curl in a sinister smile as she closed her grip around Lillian's left hand, squeezing it as hard as she could. The smuggler's eyes closed against the pain - Umbral's grip was like a vise, inexorably applying more and more pressure. Lillian felt something give, and heard a loud pop from the bones in her hand as they separated from the cartilage that bound them together. Tears sprang to her eyes, though she refused to cry out, denying Umbral the pleasure of hearing her agony.

Releasing Lillian's hand, Umbral turned to Quinn, who had been standing by, observing the whole episode. "Give her hand an injection of kolto," Umbral instructed him, "so that I might break it again." Nodding, Quinn moved forward to treat the shattered appendage.

"What do you want?" Lillian ground the question out between her teeth as the Imperial man slid a needle beneath the skin of her hand.

"Tell me about Republic Strategic Information Services." Umbral pointed one finger at Lillian. "I know that you have worked with them many times."

"What do you want me to tell you? It isn't as if they gave me all their secrets, I just met with their agents and did whatever job they told me to do." As Quinn pulled the needle out from underneath her skin, Lillian could feel the kolto at work, knitting her bones back together.

"The perfect lapdog, were you?" Umbral raised an eyebrow. "Surely you have some sort of information, such as how many of them are deployed in Imperial space or onto Imperial occupied worlds."

"Enough to cause your Empire a universe of hurt." Feeling stronger, Lillian's defiance was back, and she was determined to give Umbral nothing useful, if for any reason than the principle of the idea. "There's thousands of SIS agents deployed all over the galaxy. Hell, half the time I didn't even realize I was working for SIS until after the job was already done."

"What a testament to your intelligence." Darth Umbral shot Lillian a bemused look. "Really, Captain, you don't appear to be stupid. Why protect SIS, they certainly aren't protecting you."

Lillian shrugged, flexing the fingers of her left hand as they began to tingle, the pain slowly receding as the kolto took hold. "Who said I was protecting anyone? If I have no information to give you, then I have no information to give you."

"Very well," Umbral withdrew a holocomm from her belt. "I see we are going to have to resort to... extreme measures." She thumbed on the holocomm, and the image of a large, imposing man flickered to life. "Lieutenant Pierce," Umbral addressed him. "Do we have our surprise ready for Captain Riggs?"

Pierce nodded his head, his gravely voice carrying clearly to Lillian's ears. "Yes, my lord. The charges are set. Uploading visual data now." Umbral's datapad beeped softly as the information was transferred to it. Using her free hand, the Sith lord tilted the display so that Lillian could see.

"Do you know what this is, Captain?" Umbral held the datapad in front of Lillian's face.

"It appears to be my house." Lillian tried to keep the fear that was creeping into her heart out of her voice. Did he say charges? "Why are you showing me this? I know what my home looks like."

"Are you aware of how much damage a class-A thermal detonator can do?" Umbral's soft chuckle caused Lillian's blood to run cold. "There are four of them planted within your home now. One word from me, and the lieutenant will blow the charges. Your house and the land for kilometers around it will be vaporized in an instant. Tell me about Republic SIS."

Her heart beating rapidly, Lillian tried to collect her thoughts. "It's just a house. I can always buy another one."

"True. But there are some things that credits cannot purchase." Pressing a button on the datapad, Lillian watched the display change to a thermal scan. Blue and green splashes of color predominated the image, aside from one area in the corner of the house, which had a small blob of red and yellow, indicating a living being. "Your husband, for example."

She couldn't help it. Lillian strained against her bonds as she tried to throw her body toward Umbral, succeeding only in rocking the chair forward and falling face first onto the icy cavern floor.

"Tsk, tsk." The Sith lord nodded to Quinn, who came forward and lifted the chair back to an upright position. Lillian's soft black hair fell over her eyes, and her lips twisted in a grimace as she continued to struggle with the energy bands holding her arms. "Tell me about Republic SIS." Umbral's voice turned soft, almost gentle. "Tell me, Captain, and nothing bad will happen to your beloved."

Lillian's thoughts raced and her heart pounded within her chest. She had no doubt that the Dark Lord would indeed give the order to destroy her Dantooine home. She plumbed the depths of her brain for something to tell the Sith woman.

"They operate in small cells. To avoid espionage, each cell is kept in the dark regarding the others missions. Usually one to three agents to a mission, and they are constantly in contact with Coruscant. Their messages are relayed via small satellites that are deployed into orbit around a planet when the insertion team arrives. The satellites are no larger than my fist. If you found the satellites, you might be able to break the cipher they use to encode messages."

A triumphant light sparked in Umbral's eyes as she stared down at Lillian. "There now Captain, that wasn't hard, was it?" She turned her attention back to the image of Pierce, floating above the holocomm in her palm. "Lieutenant. Blow the charges."

"As you wish, my lord."

Lillian's anguished scream rang out through the cavern as she watched the image on the datapad shift as the detonation ripped through her home. The warm spot on the thermal scan became indistinct as the entire picture turned red, orange, and yellow from the heat of the explosion.

"Corso!" The smuggler closed her eyes against a fresh onslaught of tears, her muscles straining as she struggled with her bonds once more, futilely attempting to lash out at Darth Umbral, whose mocking laughter filled the icy air.
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