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Aftermath


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Syart
11.22.2012 , 01:20 PM | #11
Part 8: In which there are no discoveries
(Several weeks later)

Pleasantly tired and relaxed after a couple of hours saber practice on the dummy, followed by a foot massage from 2V, Zier was lounging on the couch, randomly flicking through holovision channels and grouching about it. “Daytime holo never gets any better. 'Craziest Rancor Hunts', pointless now, no-one's ever going to beat that naked Rodian on roller skates …. 'My Pet is a Sithspawn', they should do an alternative for the pets – My Owner is an Idiot … why are there eleven whole channels just for huttball and another seven for swoop racing? … 'One Hundred Days With the Jawas', just why? ... and I can’t believe they’re repeating the last final of 'The Darth Factor', everyone knows it was Ravage’s choice that won, and he only forced her through because he fell for her pretty simpering missishness. Serevin’s boy was a lot better.”

Vette, who was curled up at the other end of the couch reading the latest news on her datapad, looked up. “Maybe it’s 'cause she fell for him too ... he pushed her off the top of the Citadel yesterday. Guess he got bored and went back to Sithy stuff.”

“Way to go, Ravage. That’ll really get us Darths a good name”, Zier grumbled. She was working herself up for a bit of a rant, but Quinn came down from the bridge and distracted her.

“My Lord, as you know I used your influence successfully and obtained access to the old Imperial Intelligence records, which should have been sufficient for our purpose.” He had an odd expression on his face.

“ ”Should have been” ?” enquired Zier. “You look puzzled, that’s not like you.” She switched the holonet off.

Vette giggled. “You’d be surprised what he looks like sometimes when you’re not around. Me and Jaesa can do all sorts of things.” She grinned impishly and winked at Quinn, whose expression moved from puzzled to annoyed and pinkly uncomfortable. He glared at Vette and adjusted his uniform tunic unnecessarily.

“Really? Tell me more of this.” Zier eyed Vette, who giggled again. “Maybe later, my Lord. Jaesa needs to be here too, it’ll be more fun.”

Zier glanced mischievously at Quinn. “Good point, we’ll wait for Jaesa. Meantime, Vette, go chase up those Lorridan crystals I ordered, or you’ll never get the upgrade to your pistols.”

“Piece of cake.” Vette unfolded herself and scampered off to call a shuttle.

“Ok Quinn, come sit down and explain.” She patted the couch next to her.

He sat down obediently, and she adjusted her position to nestle against him comfortably. “Forget Vette and Jaesa, they’re girls, they like teasing, and you’re very teasable, you know.”

“You have frequently demonstrated as much, my Lord.” Quinn smiled ruefully and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “But back to the matter in hand. The records are both complete and incomplete. We have access to everything, but there is no mention of Cipher Nine anywhere, nor of her known associates.”

“What do you mean? Have they been deleted?”

“No, my Lord. They never existed. Apparently.”

She twisted round and looked at him. “What do you mean, never existed?”

“All records leave tracks in other data, links to different files, cross references, consistency, record integrity, even in the way the data is stored. A deletion would leave a gap, and that would be visible or at least traceable.” He produced his datapad and showed her some examples.

“But in the Intelligence personnel records there are no data gaps. Everything is complete, and correct, but without Cipher Nine. I have full records of Ciphers One to Eight, and Ten to Twenty-seven, but for Nine there are the previous holders of the title but not the most recent one, only a note that the designation was unused without further explanation. The same with the records of Fixers. There were more than two hundred of them, and all are there with the exception of Fifteen. There is at least mention of the Hand of Jadus, but only as a temporary position in the organisation, with no personal details.”

“This makes no sense at all.” Zier looked bewildered. “It's not surprising that you can't find Kaliyo, from what little we knew about her that almost certainly wasn't her name anyway, and we didn't expect Protean to know about dealings with Baras. But they also claim they've never had a Dr Eckard Lokin connected to them, now apparently he and Cipher Nine never worked for Imperial Intelligence either. The Diplomatic Service say they have no Vector Hyllus on record, and the military deny all knowledge of a Raina Temple on Hoth or anywhere else. I don't like this, Mal, it's getting weird.”

“You do not need to tell me that, my Lord. It is most odd, especially since you and I both know that Cipher Nine existed, as do many others. The memories cannot be erased, the computer records apparently have not been erased, but are nevertheless not there.” He considered for a moment, then asked, “What about Darth Jadus himself, my Lord? Can you speak to him directly, perhaps?”

She shrugged. “I could, except I don’t know where he is, no more than anyone else does. Maybe that’s the explanation. Jadus took her and her crew with him and they’ve all vanished together.”

“I think not, my Lord. It would not explain the missing data, especially since Darth Jadus is most certainly there in the records.”

“So .... basically, what you’re saying is that we’ve discovered we can’t discover anything?”

“A fair summary, my Lord.” Quinn was clearly not happy.

Vette bounced back in at that moment, waving a small packet. “Got them! And I met the others at the port so we shared a shuttle back.” Jaesa and Pierce followed her in, rather more soberly.

Pierce leaned his rifle against the wall and stretched, joints cracking. “Decent fight, that, m’Lord. House Alde ain’t any more friendly than before, but we got in and out, no trouble. Walk in the park after the Bastion.” He grinned ferociously.

Jaesa looked tired and a bit distressed. “I didn’t enjoy that, Master. You know I don’t really like having to fight, especially on Alderaan.”

Zier’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I didn’t send you to enjoy it, I sent you to find information.”

She lowered her gaze submissively. “Yes Master, I apologise. I understand, really I do ... it’s just that it’s not that long since I was one of them. And it was all wasted anyway, the library didn’t have anything. I was sure it would, it’s the biggest repository on all of Alderaan, and it’s well known that Cipher Nine was here before she became the Hand of Jadus. You saw her working with Moff Sarek and House Thul, and that time on Voss she told us about how House Cortess was taken over by the Killiks. House Cortess and all the other people are there, but no mention of the Agent at all. Or the Joiner diplomat, Vector Hyllus. It’s like they never existed.”

“Curiouser and curiouser.” Zier looked up at Quinn, who was never comfortable showing affection in public and had vacated the couch in embarrassment when the others had come back.

He looked down at her almost helplessly. “Every place we look, there is nothing. I do not understand.”

Vette perked up a bit. “Hold on guys, you’re looking in all possible records for the Agent, yeah?”

Zier, Quinn and Jaesa all nodded. Pierce had vanished and some metallic clatters from the direction of the workbench suggested that he was busy banging out dents in his armour.

“So .... what you need to do, if there aren’t any records, is go where there aren’t any records.” She grinned mischievously. “The underworld, right? You know, smugglers, bounty hunters, slavers, pirates, tomb robbers, all those people ... I should know, I was one of them. I’ll go call the guys on Nar Shaddaa.” She bounced out again.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
11.25.2012 , 04:39 PM | #12
Part 9: In which the next hunt begins

“Ok, so Taunt wasn't sure but Plasmajack came up with Port Nowhere. He says it's some secret space station where people in the underworld meet up? Only they've never been there and you need to have, like, clearance, or something. I think I might’ve been there once with Nok and Risha but I’m not that good with memory stuff.” Vette rubbed her hands over the top of her head. "So anyway, Taunt said the best people to talk to would be the free traders, 'cause they go pretty much everywhere and pick up all the news.”

“Free traders”, said Zier thoughtfully.

Pierce snorted. “Just smugglers and pirate scum, m'Lord, hiding behind the Republic and trying to make themselves sound fancier. They run guns for rebels, spice, illegal tech implants, all that stuff, anything to make a quick credit, and they hate our guts. If I find a smuggler, I stamp on his face.”

Quinn nodded reluctantly, not really wanting to agree with Pierce. “The Lieutenant's assessment is largely accurate, my Lord. These will be difficult people to find and deal with; they dislike any rule of law and especially the Empire.”

“That Republic soldier - Major Standtrae? Didn't you say he told you his and Taberon's sister was a free trader? Based in the Core worlds, I think?” Zier looked enquiringly at Quinn.

“Yes my Lord, I have that on record, but it had temporarily slipped my mind.” Quinn looked annoyed with himself again. First being beaten by non-existent computer records; then being laughed at by Vette; then having to agree with Pierce; now having to admit to forgetting something. This was turning into a bad day.

“Well then, we should be able to contact her, if Taberon and Standtrae are willing to help.” Zier looked over at Jaesa. “Looks like we need you to get in touch with Tython again.”

“Yes Master. I guess you want to meet with them to explain this? It’ll be safer than a holocall.”

“I agree, my Lord, a face to face meeting would be much more secure”, agreed Quinn irritatedly. Another annoyance, why was Jaesa suddenly thinking about security issues? That was his job.

“That's settled then, thanks Jaesa, please sort a meeting with him soon as possible. And that was a good brainwave, thanks Vette”, she smiled across at the Twi'lek, but Vette was giggling at something Pierce had said to her and didn't notice.

Zier nudged Jaesa, and the two of them looked over at Vette and Pierce with broad speculative grins on their faces. No-one was taking any notice of Quinn, so he went back to the bridge to sulk for a while.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
11.27.2012 , 01:09 PM | #13
Part 10: In which the message is born

They met on Alderaan again at the Elysium, which seemed simpler than trying to arrange some other place. Taberon and Standtrae arrived two days after Jaesa had set it up, and she, Quinn and Zier went down to meet them.

As before, eyes filled with suspicion, doubt and dislike followed them through the Elysium to the small secluded room where they'd met before. Zier was nervous, and could feel Jaesa's unhappiness; they communed wordlessly through the Force for mutual support.

To Zier's surprise, Timmns was there again too, but she made no comment on it. After the polite exchange of greetings, they sat down, and the two Jedi and Major Standtrae looked to her.

"Well, Darth Drumelzier, you called this meeting", said Timmns. "We didn't expect to speak again so soon, so we must assume that your purpose is serious."

"It is", nodded Zier. "And something I very much regret having to share with you. Internal Sith politics is a dirty game, and sometimes it spreads a lot wider than we might wish."

Standtrae grinned and the Jedi nodded.

Zier continued. "My former Master was a Sith called Baras. You will, of course, know Baras quite well?" She looked enquiringly at Timmns.

"Not in person, but through my former Master Nomen Karr, indeed." Timmns sighed. "He and Baras were bitter enemies for many years. Ultimately it led to Karr's downfall."

"I was there", Zier commented drily. "But I don't think you can blame Baras. I showed Karr's true nature, that's all. I'm not making any apologies for what happened."

Timmns shook his head. "I regret it, but I'm not blaming you. You showed his true nature, but where did that nature come from if not largely from Baras's influence and rivalry? That - and you - have made me question a few things. Perhaps that is good, perhaps not. But rest assured, I will not fall as my Master did." He stared at her challengingly.

Jaesa was staring silently and unhappily at the floor. Zier glanced at her then looked back to Timmns.

"Enough of this. We may talk about it another time, perhaps, more privately. It's not important right now, what's important is other stuff Baras did. He did a lot of things, and developed a lot of ambitions. I regret to say that I assisted in some of his plans, without realising his true nature." Timmns looked extremely sceptical, but remained silent. "Going into full details would require a lot too much explanation, but to sum up, he was trying to take over the Empire, and he got bloody close before we stopped him." She paused and took a sip of water.

"I could've executed him, but I chose not to. He's now in a secure prison for the rest of his life, at least that was what I hoped. However, Quinn has information which he shared with us. We need to ask for your help, if you're willing to give it. Quinn, over to you." She smiled encouragingly at him.

"Yes my Lord." He proceeded to give a dispassionate recounting of Baras's preparations for his dynasty, with Timmns and Standtrae looking amazed, disgusted and concerned in equal measure. Taberon listened gravely, looking down at the table, his expression hardly changing.

Quinn moved on to the abortive hunt, and finally concluded: "Therefore, gentlemen, we have come to you to ask for assistance in locating Cipher Nine, and through her Dr Lokin, via the so-called Free Traders, and I am aware, Major" he nodded to Standtrae "that your sister is one of them.”

They all looked at each other. Finally Standtrae broke the silence, looking over at Taberon. "Guess we call Deuchar then. We can't deny this is something we've got to deal with, right? And no sitting around either."

Taberon looked up from his contemplation of the table. "Yes, you are right. This could threaten the existence of both Empire and Republic."

"You can be damn sure of that", Zier nodded. "Baras had seriously big ambitions. He wanted to swallow the Empire whole, and I'd be willing to bet if he didn't destroy the Republic, he'd want to eat that too."

"I concur, my Lord", said Quinn. "Darth Baras was very good at concealing his true nature and intentions to others, but those of us who worked with him for any length of time soon learned the extent of his ambitions."

Timmns was shaking his head. "You Sith. I have no idea how you've managed to survive. No trust, no compassion, no peace."

He was clearly going to carry on, and Zier and Jaesa both opened their mouths to start arguing, but Taberon spoke first.

"A historical and philosophical discussion for another time, Master", he said calmly. "For now, we must discover the scale of the threat, and then consider ways and means of dealing with it."

Zier swallowed her annoyance and nodded. "Call your sister then, start the search. Thanks for being willing to help. But this must all remain as confidential as possible. If it gets out what we're hunting for and why, anyone involved in Baras's plans is going to go straight underground and we'll be back to square one." Quinn nodded in agreement.

“The Council must be warned”, said Timmns obstinately.

Zier shook her head firmly. “Not until we know for certain what we're up against. It might be a false alarm, in which case there's no point, it's just worrying people unnecessarily. If it's real, well, Baras may have a spy on the Council.”

“Impossible!” Timmns looked aghast.

Zier shook her head. “Certainly not, Timmns, you know Karr successfully infiltrated the Sith as Lord Retrost, and I've no doubt the Republic has SIS spies all over the Empire. The Sith have been doing the same to the Jedi and the Republic.” She considered for a moment, then added, “Baras had at least one senior Republic military commander in place for about thirty years. I should know, I was the one that had to eliminate him when his cover was blown. And I exposed a senior member of the Green Jedi on Corellia who was one of his too. If he had those two, he certainly had other high-placed people, and where better than the Jedi Council? It's a risk even telling the three of you.” She eyed Timmns. “And you weren't even supposed to be at this meeting, it was only for Taberon and Standrae.”

Timmns shrugged self-deprecatingly. “I don't like to leave our young knights unsupported. And I confess to curiosity.” He sighed. “Very well, I will do as you wish and keep silent. For now.”
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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JaggerSwagger
11.27.2012 , 05:18 PM | #14
Absolutely love it!
It's good to have luck. It's better to have skill. It's best to have both.

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Syart
11.28.2012 , 01:11 PM | #15
Part 11: In which messages start to be sent

As they were walking back to the taxi pad, Jaesa found herself next to Standtrae. Zier and Quinn were reminiscing with Timmns about the hunt for Ekkage on Belsavis, and Taberon walked with them but silently in a world of his own. Standtrae looked down at Jaesa. "You're a quiet one, aren't you? Hardly a word out of you both meetings."

She looked down. "It's hard for me, coming back here to Alderaan. I grew up in House Organa, and I was a Jedi for a while."

"And now you're a Sith Lord as nice as a Jedi. Got to be quite a story there, I wouldn't mind hearing it sometime." She looked up in surprise, and he smiled warmly at her.

"I don't think ... not really ... it wouldn't ...I'm not sure ...", she lost herself in confusion and a morass of unfinished sentences.

"Aw, no pressure lass, just a friendly suggestion." He smiled cheerfully. "Offer's open, if you ever want to take it, good to have someone to talk to now and again."

He glanced round a moment then spoke a bit more conspiratorially. "Truth is, I'd like you to meet one of my squad. She was born Imperial, came over to us a few years back. Ramrod up her backside, worse'n your Captain there, not good at making friends, y'know? And being the only woman in the squad makes it even harder. She could do with someone to, I dunno, whatever women do together. And since you changed sides too, even going the other way, you might understand how she feels better than most."

"Oh! She must need someone very badly. Of course I'll meet her and try to help any way I can." Jaesa's sympathy was immediately aroused.

"Good to hear it, I'll call you and set something up soon. And thanks." Standtrae smiled warmly again and Jaesa blushed a little.

"It's nothing, I hope I can help her", she replied, and fortunately was saved from further conversation by their arrival at the taxi.

They all made polite farewells, and then Timmns, Taberon and Standtrae watched the taxi head back towards Kaamos territory until it disappeared beyond the hills.

Standtrae rubbed his chin and looked at Taberon. "I reckon it'd be best if we called Deuchar from your ship. More private there, and some of the squad are likely to go off a bit half-cocked if they get earshot of this."

Timmns looked quizzical. "You're cutting me out of this?" he asked. "What are you going to tell her that you don't want me to hear?"

Standtrae frowned but it was Taberon who spoke. "Please Master Timmns, you must understand that free traders are often involved in a lot of activities that are perhaps better left unspoken in view of the laws of the Republic. To Deuchar, you would represent danger. It is not that we wish to cut you out, but if we ask her informally as family, she is far more likely to help than if she thinks it is something official from the Jedi. Official things would potentially expose her and her associates to undesirable scrutiny, and she has little cause to love the Republic."

His brother nodded in agreement and added, "She tried going legit once, so-called friend got her working freelance troubleshooter for a Senator. Turned out the 'friend' and the Senator were working with an Imperial Moff and sold her out. So she ain't got no reason to try cooperating with the Republic again."

Taberon grimaced. "I would rather not have brought up the details, but I suppose it adds weight to the argument."

"Hmm." Timmns eyed Taberon. "You don't speak much, youngster, but you certainly have a way with words when you do. All right, consider me convinced. But I want to know how it turns out."

"Of course, Master", said Taberon, and the brothers both nodded.

***

"Hail Trae and Tab, the Republic heroes!" Deuchar answered the holocom in a rather mocking tone of voice. "How're you doing? Still saving the galaxy?"

Both brothers chuckled. "All the time, of course", said Standtrae. "It's a Jedi's primary function", added Taberon, and his astromech droid beeped and whistled: “T7 + Jedi = unstoppable”.

They exchanged a few more pleasantries, and chatted about some family stuff from Balmorra, then Standtrae said, "Truth is, we didn't just call you for the fun of it. We got a bit of a problem, need help finding someone."

"Really? Must be desperate if you've come all the way down to asking a lowly smuggler." She grinned.

Taberon brushed his hand through the ruff of hair on his head, leaving it untidier than usual. "Actually, we were asked to call you. By a Sith."

Deuchar blinked. "Say again? I think there's a glitch in the holo, could've sworn you just said a Sith asked you to call?"

The brothers both nodded. "It needs a lot of explaining", said Taberon. "It would be easier if we met somewhere to talk about it."

"Private as well as complicated and serious", added Standtrae.

Deuchar looked sceptical. "What's in it for me?"

Standtrae grinned. "You get to join in saving the galaxy?"

"Right ...." She looked even more sceptical but resigned. "Well, I'm at least intrigued enough to want to find out more. Meet back home? I can pick up some drops to make on Balmorra easy enough, and it's time I got to see Talla and Wylies' new baby."

They went back to family stuff again.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
11.30.2012 , 06:42 AM | #16
Part 12: In which there is a family discussion

As agreed, they met at the big sprawling clan compound on Balmorra, and spent the first day catching up with everyone’s news, admiring babies, marvelling at how much children had grown, gossiping about who was doing what (and with whom, in some cases), all the things you generally do when you meet up with clan you haven’t seen for a while. Their parents were delighted to have all of them home at once, and insisted on cooking an enormous evening meal in the big meeting hall to which half the clan turned up, and which inevitably went on far into the night.

Eventually, the elders began to totter off to bed; parents scooped up young children who were curled up asleep on chairs, tables, the floor, and, in one case, a bookshelf, and took them home; the teenagers gathered up most of what remained of the drink and went off in a noisy gang to enjoy the rest of the night; and finally it was just Standtrae, Deuchar, Taberon and their parents left.

They did some desultory clearing up before agreeing the rest could be left for the morning, and went out into the cool clear night. It was about an hour past midnight, very quiet and still apart from occasional bursts of distant laughter from whichever house the teenagers had ended up in.

As they walked back to their parents' house, Deuchar looked up. “You know, it’s kind of weird. I miss the stars when I’m away.”

“How can you miss the stars when you’re out in the middle of them all the time?” asked Standtrae.

“No, I mean these stars”, and she made a wide sweeping gesture at the sky. “All the old familiar stars we grew up under and dreamed about exploring one day.”

Standtrae clearly didn’t understand, but Taberon was nodding. “I know what you mean”, he said. “On Tython, I go out at night and meditate under the stars, and they’ve become very familiar to me, but it’s not the same.”

Their mother smiled as they entered the house. “Home is always the best place. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else, but I think I should hate it. Balmorra has its troubles, but when all’s said and done, it’s where I belong. I don’t know where you three get your wanderlust from, not from me or your father, that’s for sure.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back, acknowledging the truth of it. “You’re right, my dear, we suit each other perfectly, quite happy to stay at home.” He tried to suppress a yawn, but failed.

“Time we old ones were in bed, I think.” She chuckled. “We’ll leave you three to talk in peace, it’s been obvious since you got here that you didn’t all turn up at the same time by a nice coincidence.”

“Are we that obvious?” asked Deuchar with a grin.

“Oh yes, love, even as little children I could tell what you were up to together most of the time, and none of you have changed that much. Tab was the most unpredictable of you, because he always thought so hard about everything before he decided, but I could normally guess which way you would go. Whichever way Trae didn’t, usually, and he was easy to predict.”

Standtrae and Taberon both chuckled, and after a moment so did Deuchar, looking a bit sheepish. “We did hate each other when we were young.” She grinned ruefully at Standtrae, who grinned back.

“Used to make me furious sometimes, the way you fought”, said their father. “Several times I wanted to give you a right old beating. But your mother said to leave you alone, you’d sort it out in the end when you grew up, and she’s always right. Makes me proud to see the three of you independent and happy and getting along together.” He yawned again. “Best be off, or she’ll start nagging.” He winked.

They all exchanged good nights, and then their parents walked arm in arm away to their bedroom.

Deuchar looked at her brothers. "So guys, time for some explanations, right?"

They both nodded. "Let's get another drink", suggested Standtrae. "This could take a while."

***

Deuchar looked slightly bemused. "Ok ... let's see if I've got this straight. Some evil Sith guy called Baras has been cloning himself, this non-evil Sith woman called the Wrath - kind of not convincingly a non-evil name - wants to find these clones and kill them off, the only lead she's got is some old doctor who's vanished, and you want me to find the last person he was known to be with, who's a top secret imperial agent that no-one knows anything about."

"That's pretty much it", nodded Standtrae. He'd done most of the talking, with Taberon adding a few explanatory interjections here and there.

"And you don't know where to start looking, and I'm not allowed to tell anyone what I'm looking for. Trae, I know I'm pretty special, but I don't do miracles."

"We're not expecting a miracle", said Taberon, smiling. "Only that you could put out some feelers, try and find where Cipher Nine might have ended up. You have contacts in many places, and they will have other contacts, and they will have still more, a vast network of knowledge which neither of us has access to. The information is out there somewhere. Standtrae and I are hampered by our official positions, a lot of people won't want to talk to us, whereas you ..." He left it hanging.

Deuchar sighed resignedly. "It's true, I guess, we do have information networks that pick up a lot of stuff that never makes it into 'official' news. But why not get the SIS involved?" She looked at Standtrae. "Surely you've got some authority you could use?"

Standtrae shook his head. "This has got to stay cloaked from all the sensors for now. Secret as possible, we don't know if there are any of these clones but if there are, we don't want them knowing anything. This Baras was a crafty old devil, spies everywhere."
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
12.02.2012 , 08:00 AM | #17
Part 13: In which the net is spread, and catches a small fish

As promised, Deuchar had put out feelers for information, using what Quinn and Zier had been able to supply via Taberon and Standtrae, viz:
  1. Phantom class starship, last known name Infinity, originally registered out of Dromund Kaas. (She'd managed to get the full registration and transponder details from a hacker friend on Balmorra who'd downloaded the entire Sobrik spaceport database a year ago (just because he could), before their security net had been tightened again. But of course, the first thing anyone trying to hide would do would be to change the ship's registration and transponder code, so there was no point in including it.)
  2. Last heard of at Voss, with approximate dates.
  3. Crew of seven including the owner: four Human, one Ratattaki, two droids.
  4. Owner: Human female, above average height, shoulder-length dark hair usually tied back, light skin but space tanned, blue eyes, scar across right eye, preferred weapon sniper rifle (much of which could be changed, of course, but the description might help).
  5. Names unknown (that wouldn't surprise anyone, since a lot of people in her circles frequently changed names, usually for very good reasons like awkward law enforcement officers or irritated customers. Virtually all Free Traders simply addressed each other as Captain, it saved enquiring what the current alias was).

Absolutely no mention of Cipher Nine or Imperial Intelligence, that would have freaked everyone out.

Without specifically saying it, she let it be thought that the Infinity's owner had defaulted on payment for a big job, and she was after them for the money. Everyone would understand that and most Free Traders would help each other out for it.

She had a few quick responses back confirming that, in addition to the places they knew about, the ship had been also been seen at Nar Shaddaa, Taris and Belsavis. But all of it was historical, nothing known after Voss.

Then, after a couple of weeks, she had a break. She'd gone to make a drop and a couple of pickups on Corellia, and the second pickup referred her on to a new customer called Suilven who needed something run to Coruscant. The customer turned out to be an old ex-pirate and the something turned out to be himself plus a contraband crate of Corellian brandy which he wanted to give his brother for an eightieth birthday present. The deal was straightforward enough, and she got him and the brandy aboard with only a small bribe to Customs.

She made her other drops first, and it took several days to get to Coruscant. Deuchar found herself warming to the old ex-pirate who loved to chat and was full of tales of his old exploits. She'd never minded being on her own, in fact she preferred it, but it was nice to have someone around now and again and Suilven was good company. The second evening, they were downing a bottle of the brandy (just to check the quality, Suilven had said with a broad wink), and he started telling her about the time he'd pirated an Imperial ship.

“Closest I ever come to Drumond Kaas, that. Heart in my mouth half the time, but our info was good and our man on board come through and we took her sweet as a Corellian candy bud. Right fine ship too, Phantom class, cleared close to half a million on it. Good days.” He chuckled to himself and took another swig of brandy.

Not really expecting anything, Deuchar enquired idly, “Ever seen a Phantom since?”

“Well, now, I have and all, right there on Corellia. Maybe three, four months back, it'd be now. Was that reminded me of the old Starshine. When you get old, it's good to have memories to look back on.”

Deuchar had sat bolt upright in surprise. The old man had started to wander off into other memories, but she gently led him back to Corellia.

“Listen, Suilven, I've been hunting a Phantom class ship, lost it after Voss. This might've been the one.”

“Lost someone, lass?” He chuckled. “Or money, more like, eh?”

She grinned. “Can't get anything past you old-timers. Did you see anything of the crew?”

He pulled thoughtfully at one earlobe. “Hmm, let me think … I was heading up to Coronet spaceport, doing 'business' with a friend in the Customs Office, you know?” He grinned, as did Deuchar. Both of them knew perfectly well that 'business' meant bribery.

“And I see this Phantom come down, was admiring her, beautiful lines. Very neat piloting too, straight down, no last minute adjustments. So anyway, I went on in and found my friend and sorted the stuff out. Dunno which hangar the Phantom went in, but not long after, three people come walking out of one of the lifts. There weren't any other ships come in while I was there, so most likely they come off it. I was waiting for my friend to get me some paperwork done, so I was just standing and looking around, see? So these three …” he pondered. “First one was a fine big Human woman, strapping wench, filled the eyes real nice. If I was forty years younger I'd've been trying my luck.” He chuckled to himself. “Dark hair, tied back nice and neat, space tan, bit of a scar across her face, but it didn't take nothing away from the looks. Striding around like she owned the place, and a big sniper rifle on her back which said, don't mess with me. I always did like tough women.”

He grinned with lascivious invitation at Deuchar, but she only laughed. “You just carry on Gramps, and don't let me distract you.”

“Don't try, don't get.” He chuckled with a shrug and took another large swallow of brandy, emptying his glass. “Where was I? Oh, yes … so, next after her there was a little Ratattaki lady, bit mean and sly looking, I thought, but can't really tell, I was looking at the first woman more. And following 'em both was an older Human man, short grey beard, clever looking, one of them long coats you see sciency types wearing. They come right up past me out of the port, but my friend had come back then.”

He refilled his brandy glass with elaborate care, while Deuchar waited on tenterhooks. “So did you see them again?” she couldn't resist asking.

“I'm thinking, lass, brain works slow when you come to my age, just you wait until you're pushing eighty.” He set the bottle down again. “Well, like I said, my friend had come back, so he passed over the stuff to me, and we had a quick bit of chit chat and then I went on out. When I got to the front entrance, there was the three of 'em standing at the top of the big ramp down into the city and talking, but just as I come out, the big woman told the Ratattaki to go back to the ship and keep them monitored. Called her Calico, or something like that, if I remember rightly. Imp accent, the big woman had, just like the people on that Phantom we pirated, but the Imps hold the spaceport so no surprise there. So the little Ratattaki said something I didn't catch, then she went back in the port, and the other two walked off towards the rocket tram station. And after that I didn't see them.”

“That has to be her, you described them exactly.” Deuchar smiled with delight. “For that, you get this ride half price. And it was three or four months ago, you said?”

“Be about that”, he nodded. “Likely closer to four. Could've gone anywhere after that, of course, but might even still be on Corellia.”

He took another drink and then said, “You know, if you want to find these people so bad, why not just put out a bounty?”

“Mmm... did think of that, but I don't really want it getting out that I'm hunting her. She's got powerful friends, right?”

“Oh aye, I know how it is lass. You've got my sympathy.” He grinned and went back to the brandy. She wondered how much his brother would actually get to drink. Suilven seemed to have an amazing capacity, nearly three quarters of the bottle gone and he wasn't even talking slurred, while she'd only had two measures of it and was already feeling that walking was going to be a challenge.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
12.05.2012 , 12:30 PM | #18
Part 14: In which the small fish is fed to a shark

She dropped Suilven off on Coruscant, and gave him back half his fee as she'd promised. Then she sat and thought for a while. Bounties … a good idea, if managed carefully. Taberon and Standtrae had said that all the Sith stuff had to stay secret, but she would need a good reason for this one, and he wouldn't cooperate without the details. So she got out of Coruscanti space (never knew who might be listening in) and made another call, much more risky.

"Hey Red, how's it going?" Deuchar smiled cheerfully as the Ratattaki's form came up on the holocom.

"Duke, long time no speak, what're you wanting?" Redsike didn't smile in response, but then he rarely smiled at all.

"Maybe I just want to talk?"

"Yeah right. Pull the other one, it's got bells on."

She grinned. "Ok ok, you win, though it'd be nice to meet up over a drink sometime. I'm looking for someone, thought of you, being the expert and all, and having contacts on the Imp side. Well, actually it's my brothers who are looking for this Imp, but it's easier if I do the talking to you, y'know?"

"Sure, you're right, they ain't exactly going to be loving me, are they? Do they even know I exist?" he enquired with a glint in his eye.

"Kind of ..." she started reluctantly. "Look, they know what I am, they know there's some pretty dodgy people I talk to." She shrugged.

Redsike chuckled, unoffended. "We did a bit more than talking, if I remember rightly."

"Yeah, we did that. Which is why it'd be nice to have that drink sometime?"

"I'll see if I got a space in my diary. Who is it you're looking for and what's the bounty?"

"Well, it's complicated. Real serious, saving the galaxy stuff, they say." Deuchar scratched at her cheek.

"Yeah, anything a Jedi wants ain't going to be straightforward, and as for saving the galaxy ..." He shrugged. "All the ones I ever met, their heads are so far up their backsides they're seeing daylight through their teeth."

"Hey, that's not nice, that's my kid brother you're talking about!"

He gave a feral grin. "Admit it, Duke, he ain't living in the same galaxy as the rest of us, is he?"

She frowned but conceded, "Ok, I admit, he's a bit off in the clouds sometimes."

"And big bro the bigshot soldier? What's his angle in this?"

"Being noble and heroic, of course. Trae always was so perfect he made me puke." She sighed. "I kind of wish we'd got on better when we were younger, but all of us were too different. Not that I ever suspected mother of playing around, and we all look alike, but really, it's weird having brothers I didn't even feel related to for half my life. Still, we get along well enough now, and family is family, and they asked for help, so." She shrugged again.

"You still ain't told me who the mark is." Redsike gave her a sharp look. "What're you holding out on?"

Deuchar shook her head. "Nah, you're just getting me off track. See the effect you have on me?" She grinned. "It's an Imperial Intelligence Agent, no name, just Cipher Nine."

"Whoa, you're crazy." He rubbed his hand over the top of his head. "There isn't any Imperial Intelligence any more, I heard some Dark Council Darth got ganged up on by the others and they disbanded it to feck him off. And even if it was still there, Ciphers are the top secret agents, can't be found, no-one's even supposed to know they exist."

"You do."

"Yeah of course, life and business depends on knowing things like that." He winked.

"So... can you do it?" she asked.

"Maybe. I need more details. How about that drink? See you in three days, Nar Shaddaa, usual place." He cut the connection before she could reply.

Deuchar muttered to herself. Redsike always had to have the last word. Still, he could be surprisingly good fun, for a grim and dangerous bounty hunter. She found herself looking forward to the drink, and went jauntily up to the bridge to set course for Nar Shaddaa.
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
12.08.2012 , 09:43 AM | #19
Part 15: In which messages multiply

“How's the new job going?” Even without the holo image Risha would have remembered the deep gravelly voice.

“Redsike. Been a while since you last helped Nok out.”

“Nice you remembered me, but that ain't an answer.”

“It's going well enough. The Captain allows me pretty free rein to keep this place running.” She shrugged. “Makes a change from Nok, he always wanted to manage everything himself.”

“And you get to order everyone around, right? I remember you just loved doing that.” He grinned, not very nicely.

She scowled. “I had the right. The Captain recognised that.”

“The Captain … yeah, that's actually why I'm calling. Got a job. Think she might be just the one to help. If what I've heard is right.”

“And how exactly would I know what you've heard? She doesn't like cold calling, Red.”

“Why d'you think I came to you first? You can tell her I'm for real. This ain't a scam, Risha. You know me, I don't mess around.”

“True enough, you certainly dealt with a couple of our problems.” She scowled again. “Nok never liked relying on others too much, it risks things getting known.”

“And I could make a few things known, if there's a need. Sure you get my meaning.”

“Blackmail? You've a fine nerve trying that on, Redsike. There's more than a few things I could share too, don't think Nok didn't do a full background search on you before he did any hiring.”

He chuckled, amused. “Share away, Risha. Just let me talk to the Captain, ok? That's all I want.”

“I'll think about it.”

“Think fast, I'll be docking at Nowhere inside an hour.” The line went dead.

***

Cademuir’s expression as she looked at Risha was a mixture of interest and resigned acceptance. “Another one of your secrets, Risha? How far round the galaxy is this one goin' to take me? You plottin' to get me out of here so you can take over for real?”

“Well, it hadn't crossed my mind, but now you mention it ….”

“With your sulks and princess-preenin' and favourites this place'd be in civil war inside a month. If you ain't got the sense to see that ...” Cademuir shrugged.

Risha's normally petulant expression intensified. “Whatever you think of me, Port Nowhere runs better under me than it ever did before.”

“That's because no-one was runnin' it properly before, it just happened. But whatever, tell me what this bounty hunter wants.”

“I don't know what he wants, other than he thinks you can help him with a job. If he's asking for help, it's a big one, probably lots of credits involved.”

Cademuir’s interest sharpened, as Risha had known it would at the mention of credits. “I suppose it can't do any harm to talk.”

“If there's a payoff, I want a share in it.”

“I'm makin' no promises. Let's see what he wants, first.”

***

The tall Human and small Ratattaki's expressions were surprisingly similar as they sized one another up from opposite ends of the meeting table. Redsike saw someone exactly matching the description that Deuchar had given him. Cademuir saw someone hard-bitten, tough, competent, and extremely dangerous.

“Bounty hunter, hmm? I'd never have guessed.” She grinned sarcastically.

“Well,” he drawled, “I'd never have thought about you bein' a top secret imperial cipher agent, neither.”

She had both her pistols trained on him before he could blink. “Explain, now!”

Half of him admired the speed of her draw, the other half was thinking, “Got her.”

“I said, explain!” Cademuir’s pistols hadn't wavered. Redsike didn't know for sure, but strongly suspected that her foot was hovering inches away from a call button on the floor, certainly something he expected she would have set up.

“Easy now”, he spoke peaceably as he raised his empty hands. “I'm not here to expose you, just got a message is all.”

She shook her head and smiled grimly. “I ain't who you think I am.”

“Oh? So why're you reacting to it? I come here, find someone looking just the way I got described to me, and who jumps out of her skin as soon as I say anything. If you didn't know anything about cipher agents, you'd have just looked at me blank like.”

Cademuir sighed. “All right, I ain't goin' to lie, I ain't Cipher Nine but I'm her sister. If you mean any harm to her, you'll not get to her through me, that's a promise. Fact, you won't even be leavin' this room 'cept feet first.”

That pretty much confirmed that there was a call button of some kind. She might be good with her guns, but she'd surely not think she could do a solo takedown of a bounty hunter who'd already survived a couple of decades.

“Sister, hmm?” He pondered on that. She knew the designation was Cipher Nine, so she genuinely knew who he was talking about, if it wasn't her. “Can you prove that? This could be a masterpiece of a cover story.” He waved his hand around, meaning Port Nowhere.

“I've got Corso, Risha, Bowdaar, Akaavi, Guss, they've been with me long enough, they know who I am.”

He fingered the triangular jewels set along the angle of his jaw. “All right, suppose I'm convinced … can you get a message to her?”

“Depends what it is. Like I said, you mean any harm to her, I won't be the one who gives her to you.”

“Maybe this'd be better comin' straight from the source. See, there's this free trader I know, name of Deuchar, Zabrak workin' the Core Worlds, you can check her out. Her brothers need to get hold of Cipher Nine because of a big feckup by some important Sith. That's it in a nutshell, needs a lot more explaining. How about I get them here and they can tell you themselves?”

“I ain't gettin' involved in Sith stuff, you think I'm crazy?”

“That's why you gotta hear 'em out. It makes sense, in a crazy Sith sort of way. Duke convinced me it's important, guess she could do the same for you.”

Cademuir nodded slowly. “All right, bring 'em in, we'll talk. But no promises. And any mention of me bein' Cipher Nine's sister and you'll have every other hunter in the galaxy after you.”
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.

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Syart
12.12.2012 , 02:53 PM | #20
Part 16: In which Port Nowhere gets some unwelcome visitors

Redsike made a short holocall to Deuchar, telling her to pick up Standtrae and Taberon and giving her the coordinates for Port Nowhere. Largely out of a spirit of mischievousness, he didn't tell her anything about Cademuir, only saying he didn't want to talk over the holo. Which was a valid reason too, considering it was Deuchar who'd drummed into him the importance of total secrecy.

***

"Never thought I'd see this place." Deuchar was going through the prelimary docking procedure at Port Nowhere, manoeuvering the Mistrunner up to the connectors at the airlock port they'd been directed to. Standtrae and Taberon were on the bridge with her, Timmns was somewhere else around the ship.

"Impressive-looking", commented Standtrae. "That's a Hutt dreadnaught class ship, or was, looks like there's been some modifications. But why'd you think you'd never see it? Now me ..." He chuckled. "They'll probably throw me off straight away."

Taberon smiled but didn't say anything, just carried on watching the stars.

"Well, it's like this. Either you've got in trouble so big there's nowhere else you can go, or else you're important enough to want someone here or someone wants you. I've taken the best care I can not to need it or be needed." She grinned. "I prefer a nice simple life."

Standtrae grinned back. "As long as they don't insist on a memory wipe for us. You've not given us the coordinates and I'm happy to swear six ways from Sullust that I've no idea where we are."

The final connections clicked and bumped into place and there was the characteristic whooshing sound of the airlock equalising pressure with the ship.

"This is it", said Deuchar as she stood up and stretched. "Let's get Timmns and go."

The inner airlock door slid open, and they emerged into a large docking bay, to be greeted instantly with the sound of cocked guns and buzzing vibroblades from all sides.

"Hold it! No firin'!" yelled a young man with a scarred face, who seemed to have some position of authority. There was a lot of grumbling, and none of the weapons were put away, but no-one attacked.

Standtrae had automatically swung his assault cannon into firing position, but returned it to his back. Timmns had his lightsaber out but not activated, and he put it back on his belt. Taberon hadn't reacted at all.

The young man who'd shouted the order came over to them. "Sorry 'bout that, makes people unhappy, havin' the authorities show up. This ain't the sort of place for you. Next time come in disguise, right?" He rolled his eyes. “Name's Corso Riggs, by the way, work for the Cap'n here.”

His holocom beeped at that moment and he answered it. A young woman appeared, looking and sounding annoyed. "Corso, boss wants to know why the docking bay alarms just got triggered. Sort them out, will you?"

"Ok Risha, I'm dealin' with it. Tell the Cap'n her visitors'll be up in the private bar inside ten minutes."

Risha cut the call without answering and Corso rolled his eyes again. "All right, you heard the lady. And I think disarmin' would be safer as well." He eyed Standtrae's assault cannon, then added to Deuchar, "Not you Cap'n, you checked out and you've got clearance."

Deuchar looked at the others. "Guys, please? We've got to cooperate here, this isn't safe territory for you and we don't want to antagonise anyone right now."

Standtrae and the two Jedi nodded, Timmns with considerable reluctance. "Give us your lightsabers, I'll take them back to the ship", said Standtrae to the two Jedi.

Taberon handed his two sabers over without demur, but Timmns hesitated. "Are we to leave ourselves without protection here?" he asked, frowning.

"We are not without protection, Master Timmns", said Taberon with his usual calmness. "The Force is with us, whether or not we have lightsabers."

Standtrae stood with his hand out, waiting for Timmns' saber. Timmns eyed Taberon. "You're altogether too fond of teaching your masters, young Jedi", he said, and sighed ruefully. "And too good at it as well. It's the young who are supposed to be impulsive and lacking control."

He handed his saber over to Standtrae, who trudged back up the airlock and disappeared inside the Mistrunner briefly.

Standtrae came back down without the weapons and Deuchar looked at the man called Corso again. "Right, I guess we're ready?"

Corso grinned cheerfully. "Sure are, Cap'n. This way folks. Bowdaar, come along with us." He raised his voice: "And the rest of you, put your weapons down and get back to whatever you were doin'."

A large Wookiee, presumably Bowdaar, growled something and took up a position behind them, his vibrosword still buzzing threateningly.

Corso led them through multiple corridors and up several levels through the station. Taberon walked placidly, appearing almost unconsious of his surroundings, but the others were observing everything as much as possible. It was obvious to all of them that the two Jedi and the big Republic Trooper were the object of considerable suspicion and the cause of quite a number of suddenly turned backs and rapid exits as they went past. Deuchar was grateful for Corso and Bowdaar's escort; she had a strong feeling that they wouldn't have survived very long otherwise.

Eventually, they arrived at a large cantina, but this obviously wasn't the private bar, as Corso led them straight across to another turbolift, guarded by a fierce red female Zabrak in Mandalorian armour. Silence had fallen as they were watched through the room, but Corso seemed oblivious. The Zabrak opened her mouth as they came up, but Corso didn't give her a chance to speak. "Stow it Akaavi, no protests, just let us all up. Cap'n's waitin'."

"As you wish", said Akaavi coldly, and stared at the group with a look that, as Standtrae commented later, would have frozen a full-grown wampa.

"Wait a minute!" A small Mon Calamari who'd been standing nearby came closer and peered at the two Jedi. "I know you", he said accusingly at Timmns. "On Tython, I was there for Jedi training, just me and a load of serene kids."

Timmns tilted his head on one side. "And I believe I remember you too. Hard to forget, actually. You had an ... interesting attitude. Languss Tuno, isn't it?"

"Attitude? You bet I had attitude! You've got no idea what real rage is until you've been told to control your emotions by a four-year-old in a robe!"

Timmns rubbed his chin. "It's possible a mistake was made."

"Can you talk about this later, Guss?" Corso interrupted. "Don't want to keep the Cap'n waitin'."

"Hah! That's right, push the failed Jedi back in his corner!" He glared at them all impartially. "Later it is then."

Corso grinned, and Akaavi stood aside to let them into the lift.

"Guss don't mean it, little softy he is really. And not a bad field medic either, handy to have around, if you can put up with his grumbling." Corso smiled cheerfully, obviously the sort of person whose good humour was very hard to dent. Bowdaar rumbled a soft growl.

They came out into a much smaller bar, a comfortable-looking place with small tables scattered around and several easy chairs at each one. Redsike was lounging at one of the tables with a drink in his hand. "Hey Duke, made it at last. Hear you had some fun when you got here."

She grinned. "Nothing I couldn't handle, you know me."

"Yeah yeah, whatever. Come take a seat, the Captain will be here any minute, Risha went to tell her."

Deuchar, Standtrae, Timmns and Taberon joined him at the table, and the bar droid came over to take orders for drinks. Corso, however, returned to the lift, as did Bowdaar. "We're off again folks, back for escort duty again later." He smiled cheerfully again. "Have fun, and remember the Cap'n's bark is a lot worse'n her bite."
Control, passion, diligence: these three principles shape your world.