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All the world's a stage

Syart's Avatar

03.04.2013 , 01:55 PM | #91
(About eight months later)

For once, all three of them managed to meet up at the same time, the first time they'd been together since the Warhammer. They'd all stayed in touch, of course, but mostly only brief holocom exchanges as far as Cirean and Lokin were concerned. Meeting face to face was more difficult.

It was their first evening. They were just being tourists on a package holiday, sitting on the terrace of a hotel on Aphran IV, and watching a particularly fine sunset over the hills and lakes. It was a Republic world, which made travelling complicated, but certainly not impossible for three experienced Intelligence agents.

Lokin felt more relaxed than he had for a long time. The view was magnificent, the chairs were comfortable, the serving droids were attentive but not pushy, they were well supplied with drinks and a selection of the local fruits and nuts to nibble while they waited for their food to be cooked, and it was early enough that there were few other people around. He was with his only two friends, and there was no sign of surveillance, either from the Empire or Republic. (They'd all checked as a matter of course.)

Cirean, naturally the most talkative of them, was chattering about what she'd been doing.

"I'm paired with a Chiss at the moment, two-man assassination hit squad round the Inner Rim. No targets on Aphran IV though, this is a proper holiday.” She smiled cheerfully. “Nothing very interesting about the jobs, get a kill list, work through it, rinse and repeat. It's a three year posting, half way through now."

"A Chiss? What's he like?" enquired Lokin with professional interest.

"She, actually. Not that it would make much of a difference, I think." She grinned and shook her head ruefully. "Don't know anything about her at all. Ruthlessly efficient, thoroughly competent, but I have no idea what she's really like, where she trained or anything else about her. You know Csilla, the Chiss homeworld, is in a major ice age? Covered with glaciers, they all live in ice caves, or underground, or something. Anyway, she's a lot like a glacier herself - smooth, cold, slippery, hard. Not a crack in her yet. And those blank red eyes, hard to read. Haven't you met any yourself?"

"Glaciers aren't smooth", objected Lokin. "They have lots of cracks. At least, the ones I climbed over on Hoth did."

"You have to be so pedantic!" Cirean flicked a cobnut at Lokin, which he evaded.

Twelve laughed. "You'd be surprised if he wasn't."

"Yeah, I'd think he was ill or something." She threw another nut at Lokin, who smirked.

"Accuracy is important. Especially in our jobs - you wouldn't get very far down your kill lists without hitting the targets", he pointed out.

"That's not the same at all! Besides, you know I scored highest on accuracy rates three years running at my academy, you've seen the certificates. When were you on Hoth?

Lokin pondered. "About two and a half years ago now. Holiday, not business. A group of us from the climbing club I belong to went to try some ice climbing. It's interesting, different to climbing on rock."

"I didn't know you belonged to a climbing club. How else do you spend your spare time?" Cirean was getting interested.

"Illegally." He grinned. "I'm in a number of hacker groups, again pleasure, not business. Not subversion or terrorism, of course, but I probably know rather too much about some criminal activities which go on. It's handy for breaking into the ISB nets, picking up tips and tricks from the pros."

"And you're an Intelligence officer, and you work for the police." Twelve shook his head. "Do they know?"

"Of course not, we're all as anonymous as we can be. I'm not sure whether I'd turn any of them in. I'm not particularly bothered about criminal activity. Frankly, if people can't secure their financial transactions or holomessages properly, they deserve everything they get."

"What if it was a little old lady being scammed out of her life savings?" asked Cirean.

"Some of the scariest people I've met are little old ladies." Lokin took a sip of his drink and continued, "Talking of being old, I try and keep up with freerunning too, but I'm considered past it by the teenagers now." He sighed a little. "I've often wondered why every teenage generation thinks it's unique, and anyone with an age starting with two or greater is hopelessly out of touch."

"Aww, poor old man." She laughed.

"Hey, I'm seven years older!" Imitating Cirean, Twelve threw a cobnut at her, which she caught and threw back.

"You'll always be young to me." She leaned over and took his hand, and they exchanged a tender look. Twelve raised her hand to his mouth and kissed it.

Lokin looked away, embarrassed by the open display of affection and with a feeling of intrusion.

Cirean drew him back in. "Eckard, maybe you should have studied psychology instead, being a permanent teenager yourself ... wait a minute, how did we change the subject like this?"

"Another of his gifts", observed Twelve. "You can ask him a question, he starts talking, five minutes later you're on something completely different and half an hour later you realise he never actually answered the question you originally asked."

"What can I say?" Lokin spread his hands and lowered his head in pretended humility.

"Nothing, for a change?" Cirean stuck her tongue out at him. "Except answer the questions: did you ever meet a Chiss and would you stop someone scamming little old ladies?"

"The answer to the first is yes, there are several working at the ISB. As you say, hard to read. Very dedicated though. Unquestionably loyal, in my humble opinion. In fact ..." He stopped.

"Go on", Twelve prompted.

"Oh, nothing. We can discuss it later, I don't want to get into business yet. Let's discuss little old ladies instead. Did I ever tell you about the gang leader on Nar Shaddaa known as the Beauty Queen?"
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

Beniboybling's Avatar

03.04.2013 , 02:25 PM | #92
Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
Let's discuss little old ladies instead. Did I ever tell you about the gang leader on Nar Shaddaa known as the Beauty Queen?"
Yes! I remember that hag! Awesome, gotta love it.

Syart's Avatar

03.06.2013 , 01:41 PM | #93
Lokin got up early the next morning and went out just before dawn for a solitary hike up one of the nearby hills he'd marked on the map supplied by the hotel. The pre-dawn light was cold and grey, and a damp, chilly morning mist in the valley made him glad of his warm outer jacket.

It was a steep path, requiring a bit of a scramble in places, but well marked and obviously popular with tourists. There were benches and waste recyclers at fairly frequent intervals, and even a droid-staffed restroom about half way up, discreetly concealed in a stand of trees.

He made it to the top in less than an hour. He was above the mist now, and it was visibly thinning as the glowing red ball of the sun moved slowly through it and above the hilltops.

The lake below gradually came into view as the mist dissipated. It was a long narrow lake, with a break in the hills at the eastern end though which a river was flowing into or possibly out of it - he wasn't particularly interested in hydrogeography or geomorphology, except insofar as it involved terrain that might need to be scouted or moved across. From this height, and still in shadow, the lake was a black pool of ink spilled on the wrinkled and folded land.

He roamed the flattish top of the hill for a few minutes, finding nothing more interesting than a few benches and another waste recycler, then went to look down at the lake once more before heading back.

Just as he reached the side of the hill again, the sun rose far enough that it shone through the gap at the east end, and the river suddenly became a stream of molten gold pouring into the valley. The remains of the mist glowed with the light reflected from the water, softly outlining everything in translucent luminosity. Birds, a hundred or more, flew up from the trees below and circled in a flock, twisting this way and that like a single organism, rising through the gleaming air and beyond, losing themselves above him in the clear blue immensity of the sky.

It was a moment of breathtaking beauty. For a moment he almost understood why some people impulsively turned their backs on cities and moved to remote places, unspoiled by civilisation. But he was made of practical stuff, not romantic, and he wanted his breakfast.

Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

Beniboybling's Avatar

03.06.2013 , 02:54 PM | #94
Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
I listened to it why reading, beautiful stuff.

EDIT: You're writing, not the music - although that was nice too.

bright_ephemera's Avatar

03.07.2013 , 06:34 AM | #95
Beautiful stuff.

Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
From this height, and still in shadow, the lake was a black pool of ink spilled on the wrinkled and folded land.
I think that was my favorite image.

Lokin's utterly unromantic thoughts struck me as positively British. I don't really know why. But I liked that part very much, too.
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Syart's Avatar

03.08.2013 , 11:56 AM | #96
Quote: Originally Posted by Beniboybling View Post
I listened to it why reading, beautiful stuff.

EDIT: You're writing, not the music - although that was nice too.
Quote: Originally Posted by bright_ephemera View Post
Beautiful stuff.
Thank you both *bows humbly*

Quote: Originally Posted by bright_ephemera View Post
Lokin's utterly unromantic thoughts struck me as positively British. I don't really know why. But I liked that part very much, too.
I don't think Lokin has a romantic bone in his body *sigh*
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

Syart's Avatar

03.08.2013 , 12:16 PM | #97
He found a table at the far end of the dining room, away from the other guests. He was enjoying every mouthful of a large and rather unhealthy breakfast consisting of coffee with cream, cave mushrooms deep fried in pepperleaf batter (a local delicacy), bantha sausages, a nerf cheese omelette, and toast with marmalade made with fruit from the hotel's own plantation, when Twelve and Cirean walked in. They came across when they spotted him, hand in hand and with an air of glowing contentment about them. Again Lokin felt a vaguely embarrassed sense of intrusion.

"That looks good", Twelve said as he sat down. "I think I'll imitate you, got quite an appetite myself." He looked around and beckoned to the nearest serving droid.

"Wow, that is some appetite!" Cirean commented, looking at his plates. "What have you been doing, Eckard?" Then she looked at Twelve and blushed.

Lokin affected not to notice, and told them about his early morning walk up the hill, and the sunrise. By the time their breakfasts arrived, Twelve and Cirean had made plans to try the same walk the next morning.

"What about the rest of today, any plans?" Cirean asked as she spread a generous layer of butter on a slice of toast before adding a couple of slices of bormu bacon and piling mushrooms on top.

Lokin swallowed the last of his coffee and shamelessly refilled his cup from Twelve's pot. "The hotel is offering a good number of excursions. I thought perhaps I'd try one of the boat trips, probably the Galemere one. In and out of lots of little islands and inlets, supposed to be very pretty. Includes several stops on the islands and lunch at a locally famous restaurant on one of them."

Cirean looked up from her mushrooms and bacon. "I never took you for having the soul of an artist or being the natural scenery-loving type before. First you go up a hill to watch a beautiful sunrise and now taking boat trips round pretty islands."

"Hidden depths", said Twelve, round a mouthful of sausage. "Eckard, if you want more coffee, just call a droid, don't steal mine, you sneaky bastard."

Lokin grinned, and waved at a droid, which obediently rolled over and refilled their coffee pots.

"The sunrise was pure coincidence, Cirean", he replied with the utmost seriousness as the droid rolled away again. "It's called scouting the terrain. This would be a very good area to set up ambushes, plenty of cover and ways to move unseen. I'm just putting my humble skills to use. I need to practice or I'll lose them."

Cirean made a face. "You have to bring it back to work. Can't we just pretend to be normal people on holiday for once? Just for a few days?"

"Of course, of course. I was joking. We are, as you say, normal people on holiday. Therefore, we must establish that firmly in everyone's eyes by doing normal people on holiday things. This is a planet famous for the beauty of its lakes, so we'd better go and admire them. Don't you agree, Beinn * ?"

"No question of it." Twelve nodded. "But you could still scout the terrain anyway." He winked at Lokin, out of sight of Cirean, who simultaneously poked him hard in the ribs and kicked Lokin under the table.

"Ouch!" they both said, grinning.

"You deserved it, ganging up on me like that! Anyway, have you answered the question? You're going on this Galemere boat trip, right Eckard?"


"What do you reckon, Beinn? Same trip, different trip, sit on the terrace admiring the view all day?"

"If it might pique your interest further", suggested Lokin, tapping the guide book which was open on his datapad beside his plate, "there are colonies of insectoids on some of the islands which have been isolated since the creation of the lake when the area was flooded at the end of the last ice age, five thousand-odd years ago. They've evolved remarkably quickly and differentiated into around ten separate species. Although there's some debate about whether two or three of them are only subspecies."

Cirean looked at the datapad, which was displaying a picture of what was presumably one of the insectoids. "So actually you're going to chase beetles?" She wrinkled her nose.

"They are a little like beetles, yes, but ten legs and only vestigial wings at best. I thought I might collect a few specimens, if I get the chance. Anything which has the genetic capacity for fast, stable mutation may prove useful to my work. I can explain while we're on the boat." He smiled blandly, then made a small hand gesture to warn them that there were people approaching.

Twelve rolled his eyes. "A day of scientific lectures, with no escape except voluntarily marooning myself on an insect-infested island with a long swim back. I'm going off the idea."

"Me too", said Cirean. "I don't particularly want to share a boat with a lot of little multi-legged creepy-crawly things either."

"They're not little, about palm sized", explained Lokin, holding out his hand as a demonstration.

"I think that's worse! What did I ever do to deserve a brother like you? I'm picking a better one next time!"

They all laughed, as did a pleasant middle-aged Mirialan couple who'd just sat down at the table next to them, and whom they'd met at dinner the night before. The woman asked Cirean in a friendly fashion what it was that Lokin had done, and the two of them started a conspiratorial "aren't men awful" conversation, while her husband sat patiently with a good humoured "here she goes again" look on his face.

"Well, if you're coming, Beinn", said Lokin to Twelve, "the transport leaves in about half an hour. If not, I'll see you at dinner. I'll leave Cirean to blacken my name in peace now."

“Don't you want to stay and prepare a defence?” enquired Twelve, and he and the husband grinned wryly at each other.

Lokin chuckled. “I've heard it all before, she's been telling me since she was knee high to a nexu cub.” He smiled aimiably at everyone, and went off to his room to pick up his carbonite projector and specimen box.

* Twelve was travelling under the name Beinn Dearg, which was an identity he'd used several times before. This might possibly have been his real name; even Cirean didn't know. She and Lokin were posing as brother and sister, with the surname Ardmore, again something they'd done before.

Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

Syart's Avatar

03.12.2013 , 02:17 PM | #99
Twelve and Cirean did join him on the Galemere boat trip, and were highly amused by the interested following that Lokin gathered as he hunted for his samples. By the third island, the dozen or so children on the boat were gleefully chasing down insectoids for him, and quite a few of the other passengers came along to help or watch as well. This mostly didn't include the parents, who appeared to decide that Lokin was a responsible person and seemed quite glad of the impromptu babysitting.

Observing the interest, one of the crew came to ask Lokin what he was doing, with the result that the Captain made unscheduled stops at two more of the islands so Lokin could collect specimens of the local species, much to the joy of his junior assistants. He was asked so many questions that he pleaded for mercy and promised a lecture in the hotel bar that evening.


"We have a problem", announced Lokin when Twelve and Cirean joined him at breakfast the next morning.

"You have writers' cramp from signing autographs for all your fans?" suggested Cirean, with a grin.

Lokin eyed her.

She only giggled and tried again. “One of your beetles escaped?”

Lokin sighed. "Then I would catch it again. No. Sgorr and Tuath, our delightful Mirialan friends, are SIS agents."

"Are you sure?" asked Twelve, frowning.

"After I was done lecturing last night - and I did notice you leaving part way through, by the way - they came over to congratulate and thank me, and started asking a lot of questions, particularly about where I'd studied, where I was working now, where I'd travelled. Then moved on to what did I think of the war, had I ever worked with Imperials, and had I ever ventured into Imperial space."

Cirean was frowning too by this time. "Definitely suspicious, I'd say, but a bit clumsy and blatant. Almost like they wanted you to notice. Not conclusive though. Anything else?"

"Yes." Lokin got out his datapad. "After all that, I wondered whether I'd given myself away somehow, I might have got a bit carried away when talking about genetics and evolutionary biology." He looked a little embarrassed.

"You were certainly enjoying yourself, playing to the gallery and showing off for your fans", said Cirean. "What are you waving your datapad around for?"

"I hacked into the hotel holocams late last night and got the recording from the bar so I could review what I'd said. I did make a few slips, none of which I thought would be noticed. But I believe one of them was, and then I picked this up."

He fiddled with the recording, fast forwarding to a specific point, then zooming in on Sgorr and Tuath, trying to get a good focus. After succeeding, he laid the pad on the table in front of Twelve and Cirean, set it to low volume and pushed the play button. "Watch their hands."

The couple were sitting quite close to Lokin, and seemed intently interested in his lecture, leaning forward and listening carefully. The recorded Lokin was waxing enthusiastic about early life forms, and talking about tardigrades and their survival abilities. He referred to them once as moss piglets, then hastily corrected himself as the audience laughed at the name. Suddenly, the two Mirialans' hands started making little movements, jerky but controlled, first the woman, then the man.

"You're right, SIS hand signals", said Twelve. "They picked up on something."

Cirean was trying to translate, her lips moving. "Yeah, they did. They're asking each other what they should do, 'cause they're sure you have Imperial connections. Damn."

Lokin nodded gloomily. "I'm fairly sure it was the moss piglets. These things live all over the galaxy, thousands of species, no-one is quite sure whether it's multiple lines of parallel evolution or just that they got spread from place to place. But in most of the Empire, the common name is moss piglet, whereas in most of the Republic they're known as water bears. How Tuath would know that, I have no idea. But that's the moment when she started the hand signals, and "Imperial" was the first thing she said."

"All right, it's happened", said Twelve. "They'll be joining us for breakfast any time now. Let's think about how to handle it today, reconvene this evening, and for now just carry on as we were."

Cirean and Lokin both nodded. This was as expected. Lokin opened the guidebook on his datapad instead, and when Sgorr and Tuath joined them, the three were deep in a discussion about the relative merits of an air trip over the Million Rainbows waterfall versus a visit to a historic local dignitary's palace with formal gardens preserved exactly as when originally set out four thousand years ago.

Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.

Syart's Avatar

03.19.2013 , 05:25 AM | #100
After dinner, they went for an evening stroll around the lake. Sgorr and Tuath declined to join them, which was both convenient and suspicious.

It didn't take much discussion. The three of them had fallen back into their old teamwork, knowing each other's skills and capabilities and the way they thought and worked. The approach they were going to take was the obvious one. Lokin was the one the Mirialans suspected, so Cirean would use Tuath to direct attention towards Lokin and away from herself and Twelve, building on the slightly evasive answers Lokin had given them when questioned after the lecture. Twelve would concentrate on keeping Sgorr and Tuath under close but covert observation. Lokin would act as though he was oblivious of any suspicion, but sow a few more hints about Imperial sympathies if the chance arose.

They rapidly sorted out their stories, greatly assisted by the fact that one Eilean Assynt, formerly the Senior Professor of Biochemistry at the Coronet University Medical School, had recently defected to the Empire and was now working at the ISB where Lokin had actually met her, and Lokin had 'admitted' to doing his medical training at Coronet University.

Before they went back inside the hotel, they sat on the terrace for a while. Twelve used his datapad to check the tiny holocams they'd hidden, one in each of their rooms, one watching each door.

Sure enough, they observed Sgorr bugging Lokin's room with a small holocam and several listening devices, rather clumsily and obviously.

All the devices were active rather than passive and, even if they hadn't observed them being placed, a simple sweep would have found them. All were placed in standard basic positions: in the light fitting, underneath the table, on the holocom unit, the back of the holonet screen, and so on.

"The SIS really need to improve their agent training", Cirean commented.

Lokin nodded. "It's almost unfair to put them up against us."

"Developing a conscience, Eckard?" asked Twelve with raised eyebrows.

"Not at all, I only said almost."

Cirean giggled.

There was no attempt to bug Twelve and Cirean's room, confirming that, so far, Lokin was the only suspect. That also made it likely, as they'd discussed, that Sgorr and Tuath becoming friendly with them had genuinely been an accidental encounter, not a targeted investigation.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

Lord Scourge: To repeat a mistake and expect a beneficial outcome is a sign of insanity.