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02.10.2013 , 09:20 PM | #60
Chapter 26. Hope you like your local contact (hint: you won't)

The guy in charge of watching the Thul prisoner was Captain Cormac. He seemed a solid enough guy. He had no business saluting Lieutenant Me, but he seemed pretty impressed by Havoc Squad in the first place, so I returned it and then listened.

"We caught this guy sneaking in with a dozen Imperial spec forces, on their way to take out Duke Organa. He's the only survivor. Said something about Gearbox, Republic Spec Forces will want to know, and then he clammed up. We worked him over a dozen times, got nothing for it."

That didn't sound promising, but then, if he was asking after Havoc Squad I could hope he planned to talk to me. "Got it. Thank you." Cormac opened the forcefield to allow me into the little detention block and the first cell within.

The nobleman who stood there waiting was of average height and build, swarthy, dark-haired and dark-eyed, covered in bruises and the kind of laceration that comes by accident from the overly enthusiastic application of bruises.

"Thul," I said. "You work for the Empire. Got yourself caught along with some real live Imp commandoes trying to get into the Republic's friend Duke Organa. And, they tell me, you expect the word Gearbox to be enough to keep you alive."

"So," he said, briefly trying to look down his nose at me then giving it up, "a visitor. Welcome, I am Markus Andarius Thul. Your aspect and equipment are not those of House Organa. Whom do you represent?"

"I'm with Republic Special Forces," I said sharply.

"Just as I had hoped. We have much to discuss. I can tell you all about Gearbox, the Empire and their activities. But before I help you, you must help me. I want protection for my wife and daughter."

So not only was he welcoming me to his lordly jail cell, he thought this was a negotiation. He was certainly arrogant enough to be an honorary Imp. "A callsign alone doesn't prove you know anything I care about. So talk."

"My family," he said evenly, "is back at the estate in Thul territory. If the Empire should find out that I have yielded information to the Republic there will be a reprisal. I want guarantees of their safety."

"I want answers. I didn't come here to make a trade with an assassin."

"Then if you prefer, you can get nothing," he said haughtily, and glared at me.

I got up close to lean over him, checking his face. It was bruised and cut up pretty good already, but he was still keeping up that nobleman's composure. Might be the second wind you get when a new interrogator comes in, you can try to fake them afresh. Might be something else. Some people don't break under beatings. Some won't do it until way past when you've done something to yourself. Collaborator, I reminded myself. On a planet where picking a side hadn't even been forced yet. He chose this.

I raised a hand to point without quite touching. "They missed a spot," I observed. "Want me to fix that?"

"I'll tell you nothing more until you assure the safety of my wife and daughter."

I hit him, not quite hard enough to throw him off balance. A warmup tap. "I would tell you exactly how much concern I have for the safety of the Empire's friends, but I don't know any words short enough. You want to help them? Give me Gearbox."

He braced himself. "Their safety first." For all his frilly noble clothing, there was steel in his eyes.

I knew the script, I'd seen it enough, but I hadn't had to get serious about interrogations since I'd joined up with the Republic. Oddly enough, I didn't like the idea now. I certainly didn't like the thought of doing it with Jorgan watching. He was the kind to get things done, but not…I looked at him.

He looked back at me, face set. He'd back me up. We had a job to do, after all, and he did care about that.

He'd back me up, but I'd known him long enough to know that whatever face he put on, he didn't like it.

I cast a look Dorne's way while I was at it. She lifted her chin and quickly turned a little less green. "Sir, this is a direct violation of regulation 24 and a number of planetary treaties."

Like I didn't know it was bad behavior "Noted, sergeant," I said. Then I opened my mouth again, not quite sure whether I wanted to dismiss my people or just take Thul's deal. Objections from the rulebook I didn't mind, not when the mission called for something outside it. The problem was, the stakes were people and I wasn't sure those people – Thul's wife and daughter, that is – had had much of a choice. Alderaan's nobility, from what little I had seen, didn't strike me as having the most equal power. This guy, the assassin in front of me, he was scum, but…

Paladin. Right.

"All right, Markus. If it gets you to talk, I'll get you your family." I looked to my squad. "Forex, help Captain Cormac keep order here. I'll be back before long."
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