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Cleaner One: Saga of a Reluctant Agent

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Cleaner One: Saga of a Reluctant Agent

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 07:54 PM | #1
I began this story in the AU Short Fic thread, and rather than continue to spam that thread with posts unrelated to any existing prompts I’ve decided to take the plunge and give the story its own thread.

This is an Alternate Universe story. Cleaner’s story is not the same as the canon Agent. Rather, it runs parallel, incorporating elements of the Agent story and keeping the timeline roughly the same. The first set of posts incorporates material from the Short Fic thread and the AU Short Fic thread. New entries begin on post 12.

Chapter Two begins here, on page 15. Thanks for reading!

The original canon character is my bounty hunter, Jesp Rixik. His stories appear in the Short Fic thread.

Spoiler Alert! Cleaner One contains pervasive spoilers for all chapters of the Agent story. Spoilers are not set off with spoiler tags. You have been warned.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 07:56 PM | #2
First, a bit of background

This post contains background information on Cleaner. The initial section reads like a Codex entry, the remainder are stories or parts of stories from the Short Fic thread. Spoiler tags are to save space and reduce clutter.

A quick summary:

Spoiler


Reposted episodes from the Short Fic thread, in chronological order.

Shen as a Child (Sal’s Diner)

Hopping his First Ship (Rodian Engine Wizard)

Shen’s scar (trigger warning for violence against a child)
Spoiler


Profuse thanks to Kabeone for keeping the Short Fic indexes up to date, thus making the two links easy to find and cross-link here.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:02 PM | #3
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Prologue: Getting There from Here

The warder gave one final yank on Shen's shackles before leaving. The bolt on the door locked with a sharp rap. Strapped semi-upright to a medical diagnostics table, Shen took in his surroundings. He did not like this turn of events one bit. The last time he'd been in one of these bare “consultation” rooms was straight out of the system picket's brig, two, maybe three years before. Or longer. He wasn't sure. The days long ago flowed together into months and years.

He doubted it would be a pleasant experience this time around. They pulled him out of the mine mid-shift. They never did that for anything routine. He hadn't killed anyone. Recently. That they knew about. He hoped. And he hadn't stolen anything they could trace. Well, maybe those extra meal packets he scammed off the new fish, but he didn’t think that counted. No one cared before.

The door slid open, admitting two men. Shen had never met either of them, but the leader’s uniform was clean and crisp and he had plenty of decoration but no name badge. One of the penal colony’s high mucky-mucks. The second was tall, powerfully built, his clothes tailor made and of expensive fabrics. A cowl hid all but his chin, and that was square and clean-shaven. Human skin tone. Barely.

Colony Official stepped aside, “As your master requested, my lord. Shen, no last name, caught with the crew of a vessel smuggling weapons and other contraband through the Druckenwell system four years ago.”

“Leave us,” the cowled figure said. Shen felt a shiver run up his spine at the words.

“My lord, he doesn’t speak Basic,” said Colony Official.

“Leave us,” Cowled Figure repeated.

"As you wish, my lord," Colony Official acquiesced, bowing low and backpedaling out the door. The bolt slid home again.

Cowled Figure's attention turned to Shen.

Shen knew plenty of bad men. Callous, cruel, or indifferent, he’d seen it all. Something about this one, his stance or voice, told him this was a very bad man. An air of quiet menace hung about him as though it were part of his cloak. Shen became acutely aware of his own body odor, the fact he hadn't bathed or changed his clothes in stars knew how long. Rank and reeking of dirt and sweat and raw Andris spice among other less savory things. There was a tight knot in the pit of his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger.

"Why do you believe I am here?" Cowled Figure asked.

The lie came to his lips out of habit more than thought, "No speakee Basic," Shen replied.

Purple lightning danced on the man's fingertips and Shen already regretted his glib answer. "Then you best learn quickly," said the cowled figure.


Three days later...


The agent reread his orders, “I'm getting tired of these junior Sith thinking they know better than Intelligence recruiters."

"Be careful, Agent," replied his companion, "Fixers are required to report sedition."

"You won't report me, Fifteen," the agent said, "you'd be reassigned pending results of the investigation, and you don't want to be reassigned."

"True." Fixer Fifteen agreed, though it was unclear which part of the agent's statement he agreed with.

The agent glared at the flimsi, “Proceed immediately to Sevarcos II penal colony to collect and develop potential asset,” he declaimed. He started to crumple the sheet, then folded it neatly instead and slipped it into a pocket, “By order of Jadus, Sith Apprentice.”

“Interrogation is a standard part of the final year curriculum, or so I have heard,” Fixer Fifteen said.

“Yes, I know,” the agent snorted, “Interrogation is an art. Extracting useful information from an unwilling subject. Their interrogation ‘training’ is a thinly-disguised excuse for torturing a victim for amusement. None of these ‘specially chosen subjects’ know anything of import and the ‘puzzling cases’ are anything but.”

“Perhaps extracting information is not the goal.” Fifteen said.

The comm crackled to life, “A-agent? And fixer? Sevarcos colony Warder Serin seeking p-permission to board,” stammered a lower-class, Imperial-accented voice.

The agent looked at the fixer and rolled his eyes, “Do you have the ‘asset’ Lord Jadus requested?” the Agent asked.

“Yes, s-sir. Right here. I’m to deliver him,” Warder Serin answered.

Fixer Fifteen returned the agent’s look and shrugged. The agent released the hatch’s interlocks, “I’m going to regret this,” he muttered under his breath. The ship’s airlock opened to reveal a young man with a stubbly beard and a rumpled brown colony uniform. Warder Serin. Behind him a burly warder pushed a floating repulsor-stretcher, its occupant curled into a fetal ball.

“Agent?” Warder Serin asked.

“Yes?” the agent replied. He peered past Serin’s shoulder, trying to get a better view of the stretcher but the warder stepped forward and shoved a datapad in his hand. The agent took the datapad, his thumb falling on the printbox. The datapad beeped. The agent looked down to see a bright green ‘identity accepted’ stamp on the display screen.

“Transfer papers,” Warder Serin said, moving aside as the second warder shoved the stretcher past the agent into the ship. “He’s all yours now.”

“Wait, what?” the agent said, staring dumbfounded as it drifted along and ended up in the passageway.

“Yours. Your custody, sir,” Warder Serin said, backing down the gangway, “The pad has all our files and Lord Jadus’ complete interrogation report. You just accepted transfer of prisoner 18181220. Thank you, sir,” he said with a halfway salute, “Always a pleasure to be of service to Imperial Intelligence. S-sir.” Serin and his mute partner beat a rapid retreat.

The agent’s brow furrowed but he let them go. He saw no point in trying to get more out of the delivery men. He resealed the hatch and turned his attention to his new passenger. It was a male Twi’lek on the young side of young adulthood. Smallish, with the stringy build acquired from heavy physical labor and not enough food. He wore a ratty sleeveless mesh undershirt and a filthy green jumpsuit, its arms tied about his waist. His skin was some reddish shade, but the agent couldn’t be certain of its the exact color or the patterns on his lekku between bruises, scorching, and heat blisters. Useless. Sith and their interrogation training. What was he supposed to do with this alien?

Fixer Fifteen read the stretcher’s output, “This man should be in kolto,” he met the agent’s eyes, “that is, assuming you intend to keep him.”

The agent touched the half-melted shock collar on the Twi’lek’s neck. He jerked and his eyelids fluttered before squeezing back shut. He slurred something and pulled his limbs in tighter around himself. His breath whined in his chest. The agent turned his attention to the datapad and opened a file. A tiny holoimage resolved above the display. A powerful man even in reproduction. His dark robes and hooded features marked him as Sith. “I am Lord Jadus. This creature proved quite resistant to questioning. What is more, he managed to hide his knowledge of Basic from his captors for four years. Though not from me. I sense he will be of value to Imperial Intelligence. I consign him to you. Find a use for him.”

Fifteen cocked his head, “He could easily die of his injuries, agent. No questions, no investigation.”

The agent looked back at his prisoner. The Sith would not accept that excuse, reasonable though it might be. “Do what you can for him, Doctor.”

“As you wish,” Fixer Fifteen said, taking charge of the stretcher.

The agent stared at the Twi’lek as he passed, “He has no loyalty,” the agent sighed, “I can’t imagine a worse choice for an intelligence operative. In any capacity.”

“Well, I may be able to help with that, if you will entertain a suggestion,” Fixer Fifteen replied over his shoulder.


Seventeen years later...


Shen strolled into the rotten cantina, paid for a slimy private booth, dropped a two-meter radio bomb to disrupt any spyware and shoved a dataspike into the holoterminal. The booth’s private dancer disappeared, replaced by the image of a older Human in an Imperial uniform. “Ittu, Agent, you bring me in from the rim for Hutta? Thanks for nothing,” Shen lit up a spice cigarette and blew the smoke through the man’s holo.

The figure in the holo folded his hands behind his back, “I thought you’d feel at home,” he said.

“This karking planet smells like Evocii crotch.”

“I wouldn’t know,” replied the image.

Skrek ta,” Shen cursed, making an obscene gesture beneath the table.

“And it’s Keeper now. You ought to be able to remember that,” he continued despite Shen’s interruption.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Climbing the bureaucratic ladder,” Shen leaned forward toward the projector, “You still haven’t gotten over the language tape thing, have you?” The holoimage was too small to register the slight grimace at Shen’s mention of the language lesson fiasco. But it was there. Shen knew it was.

“Agents could have been killed for that mistake, Shen. No, I haven’t forgotten it,” Keeper said.

Shen blew more smoke through the blue figure again, “Weren’t no mistake. You never asked for polite Rodese.”

“You knew better. We can’t have agents cursing like sailors with every breath.”

“Not my fault,” Shen said, lounging back and getting comfortable on the worn seat, “Was what I learned.”

“You might have mentioned you learned from a Rodian wh*re,” Keeper said. He refolded his arms over his chest, “I don’t care to go over this again.”

“Engineer,” Shen said darkly, “she was an engineer, better than the menndo stoopa on navy ships calling themselves engineers--”

“Don’t make me use the keyword, Shen. You know how I feel about it,” Keeper said.

“Yeah,” Shen tapped the ash from his cigarette into the projector, “wouldn’t want you getting all dirty or nothing.”

“Keyword:--”

“Alright, alright,” Shen groused. He sat up straighter so it looked like he was paying attention, “Tell me about the karking job so I can get the kark off this snatto planet.”

“And cut the profanity. I’ve had enough of your mouth for one day Shen,” Keeper said.

Shen heard the telltale warning note in Keeper’s voice. Something was needling him beyond their typical exchange. “So what’s the job.”

“Subversion,” Keeper said.

Shen shifted on his grimy seat, “That’s a new one. Moving me up? Finally?”

Keeper went on, “Hardly. I’ve just lost a junior agent on this mission and time is of the essence. I don’t have the luxury of prepping another agent with culture, language, and proper credentials. I need someone who can step in and fix this mess now.”

Shen blew another puff of smoke through Keeper’s image and tapped the ash on the floor. Explained Keeper’s nerves. And his call. Mop up detail as usual. “Alright. What’s the rundown and how did your new fish screw it up?”

Shen imagined he could hear Keeper’s teeth grinding. “It may have been a problem with his cover identity. Details are still coming in, we don’t have a complete report yet. His mission was to bring Nem’ro the Hutt and his Shvash gas operation in on the side of the Empire. To that end he developed a relationship with Karrels Javis, one of Nem’ro’s lieutenants.

“Unfortunately, on top of the agent’s untimely demise, we have received word that Javis’ sons, both free traders, had a run-in with a Sith apprentice. One was killed, the other severely injured. When Javis receives the news he will undoubtedly push Nem’ro to stay independent at best, go over to the Republic at worst. We cannot allow that, and we cannot delay the message any longer without arousing suspicion.

“I need you to eliminate Karrels Javis, throw suspicion on the Republic, and complete the agent’s mission. Nem’ro’s other favored lieutenant is a volatile Twi’lek, Toth’lazhen. I expect you will be able to relate to to him--”

“Sure. Us Twi’leks always look out for each other,” Shen groused.

“Regardless, it is vital you win his trust and quickly. Your identity is a gunrunner out of occupied Balmorra. You’re looking to cut a deal for Nem’ro’s shvash gas for your company’s weapons and you’re willing to pay well,” Keeper concluded, “And you’re willing to help Nem’ro secure the gas pocket, if that’s what it takes.”

Shen grimaced, chewing on the stubby end of his cigarette, “Hope your people did a better job with that identity than the noob’s,” he reached for cutoff switch.

“Shen,” Keeper began, his hands warding off Shen’s disconnect.

“Yeah?” his finger paused above the switch.

“Do try to keep the body count to a minimum this time,” Keeper said.

Shen’s grimace opened to a thin-lipped smile, blue spice smoke drifting up from between sharp teeth, “Cleaner One out.”

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:05 PM | #4
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

New Fish

Like a lot of the underworld, the activity at Nem’ro’s never really stopped. It reached a crescendo in the dark hours then waned with the morning. A relic of when less than legal activity respected natural rhythms of night and day. So the constant party was at ebb when Shen investigated his predecessor’s quarters.

He sliced the door controls and it opened without a fuss. Easy as a fifty credit wh*re. Two steps into the dark chamber and it hissed closed behind him. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for in here, only that it had been the noob’s. Keeper wanted a report on the situation--which in Shen’s opinion did not include finding out how and why the fish got himself killed--but Keeper overruled him. So here he was wasting valuable time.

He spotted the holoterminal in the corner. Standard procedure was to sweep for listening devices, then--

Nem’ro’s security consultant and chief bully, Kaliyo Djannis, stepped out of the shadows, blaster drawn, "Well, well," the Rattataki woman purred, "looks like I caught another fish."

Shen froze, hands empty but hovering at his side. Damn it. Did the woman run on stims or something? He told Keeper this was a bad idea.

She stalked around Shen. "I didn't expect a new one so soon. Whatever you got going must be pretty important. So, who are you really working for, I wonder?"

Shen followed her with his eyes, "I could tell you," he said. She was behind him now, and he didn't like that, "but then I'd have to kill you."

The Rattataki barked a laugh, "Right. Like I haven't heard that one before." She came back around front, hand on her blaster, "Exchange? Yjal? Another of the Hutts? Seriously, you need a new job."

Shen chewed on his cigarette, "Seriously, I'd have to kill you," he said.

"Funny guy," she said, “It’s Yjal, isn’t it?”

Shen had no idea who this Yjal was, but mentioned in conjunction with the others, he must be an enemy. He could work with that. He snorted, “Damn, he said you were smart. Yeah, Yjal sent me.”

“Ha. Knew it,” she laughed, “Have a seat.” She gestured to one of the room’s chairs. Shen did as she directed, while she leaned against the edge of the table, “So how much is he paying you?”

“Not enough, I can tell you that,” Shen complained. He leaned back in the chair and hooked one arm over the back. Ash spilled onto the floor.

“I bet,” the Rattataki smiled. She leaned forward, her blaster balanced on her knee, “So now the question is, what to do with you.”

Shen took a drag on his cigarette, “Yjal’s cheap. I’m open to a better offer.”

Kaliyo cackled with laughter, “Oh, right, like I’m going to pay off Yjal’s hunter.” she leveled her blaster, “Thing is, though, if Yjal sent you, you didn’t have to vape Karrels or suck up to Toth’lazhen. Or check out this guy’s room. I figure you and him are either rivals or buds, and you got something bigger going on. Care to try again?”

“Not really,” he said. Shen expected she noticed him schmoozing Toth’lazhen. Little bit of a surprise she made the connection with Javis. Pretty clear what bit the noob. Oh well. Her habit of abandoning employers whenever she felt like it meant another mysterious disappearance wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. Disintegration was so convenient.

“I want in,” she said, “but I think I’ll just shoot you and try the next one.”

Not a chance. Shen flicked the cigarette at Kaliyo’s face. Her first bolt smoked the chair he’d been sitting in. He'd already spun out of it to the floor, drawing a compact blaster, the biggest thing he could smuggle past Nem’ro’s paranoid security. Before he could bring it up the Rattataki lunged forward. She stomped at his outstretched arm with one heavy boot. Shen rolled out of the way and her foot crushed the trailing tip of one lekku instead. Pain rocketed up and exploded inside his skull. Stars blurred half his vision and he felt nauseous. He cursed whatever cruel power created Twi'leks with three d*cks, but only one of them good for fun. He finished the roll on his knees, then slipped sideways again as her next bolt vaporized a hole in the floor.

Someone addressed her from behind. "Kaliyo Djannis," and Shen had never before been so pleased to hear Keeper's voice. Kaliyo whirled and sent a blaster bolt through Keeper's center of mass. Or what would have been his center of mass if he weren't a hologram. Shen took advantage of her distraction and launched himself at her, wrapping his left arm around her throat. She dipped her chin so he didn’t get a clean hold and sank her upper teeth into his forearm. He hissed and pulled her in tighter, pressing his blaster to her side. Her temple would have been more dramatic, but messy. Messier anyway. Dammit, he hated hand-to-hand and the holdout he packed wasn’t good for much else.

“Do not kill her, Cleaner,” Keeper said.

“F*ck all, you’re an Imp?” Kaliyo exclaimed. With her teeth in his arm only the vowels came through.

Shen took back the nice thoughts he had about Keeper a few seconds ago, “Won’t be a body. Thought I saw her heading for the spaceport.” She tried to stomp on his instep but he wrenched her sideways. His crappy hold let him do that much. She dug in and he felt a trickle of blood run down his arm.

“No, Cleaner” Keeper said. His attention returned to Kaliyo, “Imperial Intelligence, to be precise,” he continued. “As is my operative. We are aware of your activities here, as well as your background and associations. And we have a proposal.”

“No, we don’t. She’s interfering with the op,” Shen growled. If this was Keeper’s real play all along, he was going to have a chat with him. “What settling pond do you want your atoms scattered in? That’s the only deal you’re getting.”

“Overruled, Cleaner,” Keeper said.

“I can still put you in a medbay for a year, spulta,” Shen hissed in her ear. He shifted the blaster’s focus to her hip. Probably wouldn’t kill her. Right away. “And forget walking without servos.”

“Tell your dog to back off,” she snarled around her gag.

“Not quite yet, I’m afraid,” Keeper said, “As I was explaining, you have a unique skill set that could prove quite useful. You would become a well-paid servant of the Empire. Still interested?”

Kaliyo’s struggles slowed, “How well-paid?”

“Well.”

“He vapes me if I say no?” she mumbled.

“In essence,” Keeper agreed, “Cleaner is an effective asset, but not a subtle one.”

Shen tugged on her again, “This is not a good idea, Keeper.” He could hear the wheels turning in her head. His bruised lekku sent waves of pain into his head with every heartbeat. He wanted to get rid of her and continue fixing the botched mission.

“I want in,” she said finally.

“I’m pleased to hear it,” Keeper said, “Let her go, Cleaner.”

“Not a good idea, Keeper,” Shen reiterated. If she were smart, she’d kill him when she had the chance. He wasn’t about to give her that chance.

“Let her go.”

Profanity in half a dozen languages filled Shen’s mind, but he said nothing and relaxed his hold. Kaliyo bit deeper for a fraction of a second, then stepped out of his grip. She gave him a smirk and wiped his blood from her mouth with the back of her hand, “So now what?” she asked through red-stained teeth.

“You will work with Cleaner for the remainder of this mission--”

“No, no,” Shen said, “You want her, you take her. I work alone.”

“I want you to evaluate her performance in the field, Cleaner,” Keeper said, “You will remove Fa’athra’s threat to Nem’ro’s mining operation. Permanently. Retreive your predecessor’s possessions. Included among them is a dataspike intended for use in Fa’athra’s computer systems. Kaliyo has inside knowledge of Fa’athra’s palace and will accompany you. The evidence on the spike, combined with what you already planted, will convince Nem’ro that Fa’athra was working with the Republic. That is all we need.”

Shen wanted to throw something at Keeper. All he had was his crummy little holdout blaster, and bad as it was, he wasn’t giving it up. “You do remember all my evaluations say ‘does not work well with others’.”

"I am well aware of your performance evaluations, Cleaner," Keeper said.

"So, how well-paid, exactly?" Kaliyo interjected.

"There will be time enough to negotiate your salary after you aid my operative," Keeper said.

Oh. Oh, got it. Keeper's game was deeper. He wanted to get more mileage out of her death. Not a bad idea. He could sell that to Nem'ro easy. Sacrificed against Republic-armed troops...wanted him to bring the data back...yeah, "Fine," he groused, "you're in."

"Try to keep up," Kaliyo said with a smile.

"I expect a full debrief from you on Dromund Kaas, Kaliyo," Keeper said.

Damn. Maybe not.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:10 PM | #5
(reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Later, on a transport

Shen's Designation

“So what kind of a name is Cleaner, anyway?” Kaliyo asked, taking the seat opposite Shen in the ship’s dining hall.

Shen picked up his sandwich, “They send me in when an op craters and it’s all picking up body parts and scr*ping sh*t off the walls,” he said, taking a bite, “the Cleaner,” he mumbled around the mouthful. Nice thing about official Imperial transports, the food was usually decent.

“Huh,” Kaliyo said, “When do I learn your real name?”

“You don’t.”

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:14 PM | #6
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Kaliyo disembarked the tram behind Shen. She looked around at the wet city, shining damp in what passed for daylight on this world. “Kaas City, huh?” she said, following him down the station stairs, “all shiny and new. Makes you want to burn it all down.”

“Don’t spit on the sidewalk,” Shen said, “Ten years hard labor.” He paused for a moment as uniformed security personnel frog-marched a Twi’lek, loudly proclaiming his innocence, toward a back room.

Kaliyo followed his gaze, “Even better reason.” she said.

Shen bought a crunchy stick of strong-smelling fried something-or-other from the tram station vendor. “Want one?” he asked.

“It stinks like grilled Houk feet. No,” she grumbled.

“Suit yourself,” Shen said, taking a bite. Chewy. He dropped the disposable napkin the vendor handed him with his food and a sudden gust of wind sent it fluttering away. Chasing it down, he tossed it in a bin.

Kaliyo watched him, hands placed scornfully on her hips, “Aw, lookie here. You sure do live up to your name, Cleaner.”

Skrek ta,” he cursed, safely out of earshot of Kaas City security, “You have any idea what the penalty is for littering around here?”

“No,” she sang, “but I bet you’re going to tell me.”

“Transportation. For life,” he replied, “to Kessel or worse.”

“Ooo. Guess I’ll watch my step,” she said.

“You do that,” he said. It would be a convenient way to get rid of her. Easy. Plausible. He’d keep it in mind.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:16 PM | #7
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Keeper's Debriefing

Shen passed the security checkpoints one at a time, signing for Kaliyo at every step, munching his smelly snack from the vendor in the alien tram station. He ignored the rotten looks. He couldn’t smoke here. The only obnoxious habit he could get away with was eating odoriferous alien food. Hutta was bad, but it was a bad he could navigate. Dromund Kaas...Dromund Kaas had a different kind of dark heart. He did not like it. He preferred to stay away. Keeper usually obliged him.

Shen tossed the greasy stick into a trash bin and continued further into Imperial Intelligence headquarters. Arriving at the center of the web with Kaliyo in tow, he caught the tail end of Keeper's speech to another new fish, "It isn't glamorous work, despite what you see on the holonet,” he noted Shen’s appearance and wrapped up with the new agent, “See the requisitions desk for the items you require, then speak to a watcher for your orders." The fresh-faced operative scurried off, her shiny blue ponytail swaying with her movement. She ignored Shen's wink as she passed. Keeper's attention turned to Shen, "You're late," he said.

"Yeah? Well I had to take the alien-only taxi and come in through the service entrance," Shen complained. It was also a lie and Keeper knew it. Intelligence didn't have a service entrance. "Not my fault."

"I see you brought Kaliyo with you," he remarked.

"I'm here. I want some specifics--" she began.

"Watcher Three will handle your debrief, Kaliyo," Keeper said.

"What about--" she started.

"I said, speak to Watcher Three. Cleaner, I will see you in my office," Keeper said. She left with the watcher, giving Shen one irritated look over her shoulder before disappearing around a corner.

Shen followed Keeper up the familiar stairs hidden behind the main display. Keeper took his seat at his desk. As usual, there were no other chairs in the room. Nothing like forcing everyone else to stand in his presence. Shen sat on the edge of the desk.

Keeper ignored him and brought up several reports. “Quite the bloodbath on Hutta, Shen,” Keeper looked up, “after you left.” Shen shrugged. He recovered the op. Collateral damage was a bonus.

“Could you have prevented it?” Keeper asked.

“What do you think?” Shen asked. He patted his pocket for a cigarette but of course he didn’t have any.

Keeper leaned back in his chair, “I suspected as much. Nem’ro has signed a contract with the Empire. As in the original mission brief.”

“That’s what you wanted, right?” Shen said.

“I could have done without the carnage,” Keeper steepled his fingers, “Though I’ve grown accustomed to your lack of restraint. Given Nem’ro’s actions, I presume it had something to do with the data you recovered from Fa’athra?”

“You wanted Nem’ro to have that data. That was the point,” Shen said. He and Kaliyo laid waste to Fa’athra’s compound. Great gig. Nem’ro’s grand purge in the streets afterward made their exploits look like a gardening show.

Keeper sighed, “I wonder what kind of operative you might have made if you preferred to minimize casualties instead of maximize them.”

Shen turned to glare at Keeper, “One not operating with a keyword,” he said.

Keeper went back to his reports. The room stayed silent except for the vague mumble of activity in the main Intelligence room below. “I am a bit surprised to see Kaliyo with you,” he said after a minute.

“Thought you wanted her breathing,” Shen said. In truth, he wasn’t quite sure what Keeper had in mind for Kaliyo. His fingers twitched. He had nothing to hold or fiddle with. Felt strange. “I got her away from Nem’ro. She can’t do any more damage there. You want her gone now, say so.”

“No, no,” Keeper said, “I planned for either contingency. Alive, she has her uses.”

“Great,” Shen slipped off the desk, “I’m out.”

“No, you’re not,” Keeper said, “I’m assigning her to you permanently.”

“Ha. That’s a good one,” Shen said, “Developing a sense of humor?”

“No,” Keeper said, his eyes alone looking up, “You seem to be able to handle her. Shocking as that sounds.”

“I work alone,” Shen objected, “Thought that was clear.”

“You’ll work with her.”

“Already have,” Shen said. Kaliyo was effective, with an appetite for violence that rivaled his own. She was also bad news, trouble waiting to happen.

“I don’t want her having a fatal accident. Is that perfectly clear?” Keeper asked. “She is an asset now, and you will treat her as a valued member of Imperial Intelligence.”

Shen ground his teeth. Phrasing it that way gave Keeper’s words the aegis of command. One step removed from enforcing orders with his damn keyword, “But it’s not permanent, got it? One more op and that’s enough.”

“I’ve put up with you for considerably longer, Shen,” Keeper said, “I think you can manage her for a little while.” Keeper made an entry on his datapad, “Are you sleeping with her yet?”

“None of your karking business,” Shen snapped.

“I’ll take that as a yes then,” Keeper said, his head still bent over his datapad, “Do be sure to get up-to-date on your inoculations before you leave. Your nanobot colony only works for poisons. It does nothing for disease.”

“I know what it does, Keeper,” Shen said.

Keeper’s nose wrinkled, “Yes, I can tell you’re still testing its capacity.”

Shen reached again for cigarettes that weren’t there, “Well, if you don’t use something it gets all out of shape. Dried up and wrinkly.”

Keeper’s eyes narrowed but he chose not to rise to the bait. Instead he selected a dataslide from a color-coordinated rack, “I want you and Kaliyo off-planet immediately. Your next assignment is Tattooine.” He pushed the slide across the desk, “Czerka pulled out years ago, but now they’re back. I want to know why. The details are on the slide.”

Shen picked up the slide. He glanced from it to Keeper, “This almost sounds like a real op, Keeper. What’s going on?”

Keeper steepled his fingers again, “Czerka invoked emergency protocols when they abandoned their facility. Their recovery operation hasn’t gone critical yet, but knowing Czerka it’s only a matter of time. If whatever’s there can serve the Empire, make sure it does, otherwise liquidate it.”

Shen grinned. This was the kind of op he liked. “What about Czerka people?”

“Expendable.”

Shen’s smile grew wider. Even better. Tattooine was the ***-end of nowhere, but the mission was right up his alley. He’d send off a holo before leaving. He knew a guy in Czerka, they shared a hobby. “And the natives?”

“Likewise.”

“Guess I’ll be going,” Shen said.

The sound of rapid footsteps on the stair alerted both of them to a new presence. A brown-haired human female ran into the room. Keeper’s brow furrowed, “I gave strict orders not to be interrupted, Watcher Two.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, “I realize that. I apologize, sir, but he’s returned.”

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:19 PM | #8
(Reposted from the AU Short FIc Thread)

An Old Friend

Shen looked between them, "Who's returned?" he asked.

Keeper stood, "Leave. Now," he barked at Watcher Two. She lit off down the stairs. Keeper was beside Shen in a heartbeat, "Keyword: morigeratus.”

Shen’s violet eyes glazed over. He heard himself say, “Recognized.” Fifteen seconds. Frozen for fifteen seconds. Accepting whatever orders Keeper gave him like an organic droid.

“You will remain in this office unless I order you to leave. You will be quiet. You will not make noise or attempt in any way to alert others of your presence here. You will not touch or otherwise tamper with the computers," Keeper whispered in Shen's ear, “And you will do no damage to anything in this room.”

2...1. “Directive accepted. Valid phase three hours,” Shen whirled on Keeper, fury darkening his features, "Skrek ta, Keeper, you bastard son of a Kath hound. What the kark is going on?" he hissed. Keeper's command already held his voice down to no more than a soft conversational level.

“Stay here,” Keeper reiterated. He headed for the stairs.

Shen followed on his heels, “E-chu-ta what’s going on?” he cursed. Then stopped. He could not pass the threshold. His body politely refused, leaving him standing in the doorway like a jilted lover. Keeper continued down into the central Intelligence hub without looking back.

Keeper didn't like him. Everyone in Intelligence knew it. But Keeper never invoked the keyword lightly. Locking him away in the closet for the duration of a surprise inspection or whatever was...petty. Shen wasn’t a complete idiot. He knew when keep his mouth shut. He slowly turned back to Keeper’s spartan office. Three hours to kill and nothing to do. With the prohibition against touching the computers he couldn't even call up the holonet. Keeper was very good at getting all his conditions in within the fifteen second limit. He’d had plenty of practice.

Shen crossed the room to stand behind the big screens. He could see through the displays from this side. They were opaque from the other side, so the watchers and fixers and agents never knew if Keeper was watching them. This time it was Shen. Shen watching. Watcher Shen.

Keeper waited just below him beside the holotable, Watcher Two and a scattering of other watchers nearby. Parade rest, all of them. A tall figure entered from the main hall. Draped in ash grey robes, a smooth silver mask hiding his features, the figure advanced on Keeper. Minders and unfortunate lower-ranked operatives scattered before him.

Sith.

Shen had no love for the Sith. Still, he knew better than to mouth off to them. Especially them. As the Sith approached the tableau below Shen felt a cold chill in his spine and a sensation of...crawling. As though his skin were infested with parasites. A phantom smell memory. Dirt and sweat and raw Andris spice and stars knew what else. Scorched flesh and pain. His breath caught in his throat and he knew who this Sith must be. His walk was the same. He couldn't hear their voices, but he knew what the Sith’s sounded like. Smooth, even. Snakes. Swimming in frost. He remembered. He could never forget.

Shen stood transfixed watching their conversation. Keeper’s back was toward him and the mask hid the Sith’s lips. Shen could only guess at what was being said. At last the Sith raised his head. His eyeless face looked straight through the screen into the hidden chamber beyond. He knew. He knew Shen was here.

He turned and left with a swirl of his cloak. As he passed from view, the sense of wrongness faded. A rotten tooth pulled leaving an aching hole, but one that would close. Eventually. Keeper glanced up at the screen, as though wondering if Shen had seen the show. Or if he had sat with his feet up on the desk, oblivious.

Shen remembered the Sith. He still didn’t know his name.

.................................................. ...........

Notes: morigeratus is Latin for “to be compliant”. According to Google translate.

The fifteen-second restriction for orders and limited duration of commands (based on phrasing) are artistic license. I assumed an early, experimental version of the Castellan Restraint serum would have restrictions not present in the final product.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:22 PM | #9
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Dangerous Game

The high walk between Intelligence Central Command and the Sith Sanctum was windswept and deserted as usual. Two parts of the great Imperial Citadel. Dromund Kaas citizens pointed to the Citadel as the heart of their society. Yet they never wanted to visit. Shen got to tour both sections on the same day. Lucky him.

He stopped for a moment and leaned against the rail. He looked over the edge into the chasm below. Distance hid its base from his view. Within moments a combination of vertigo and prior commands forced him back from the rail to the center of the walkway. Couldn’t even look. Ahead was the Sanctum and its Sith-only hovertaxi. He could threaten the droid attendant into giving him a ride back to the city proper, but what was the point? Keeper would just broadcast his recall and he’d come running back. Or his self-destruct. Never could figure out why Keeper disallowed suicide, yet also programmed him to kill himself on command. Damn Imperials had so messed with his brain it was a wonder he could do anything at all.

His hand went to his empty pocket again. Dammit. He wanted a karking cigarette and he wanted it right karking now. Stupid Dromund Kaas and their stupid karking laws. Wouldn’t even let him indulge a karking bad habit. Not like it mattered. Couldn’t get high. Couldn’t get drunk. Keeper’s nanobot colony saw to that.

At least he had a name for this old tormentor. Darth Jadus. Keeper said Darth Jadus demanded to speak with the agent responsible for the Hutta mission. Keeper said Darth Jadus was on the Dark Council, his power rivaling the Emperor. Keeper said he doubted Darth Jadus remembered him. Sure. He probably tortured hundreds, what's one among the multitude? An alien, a nobody, someone his old master picked at random.

Shen snorted into the wind. Keeper was wrong. Darth Jadus remembered him. Must be like losing your virginity. You always remember your first brutal interrogation. What did he have in mind now, finishing what he started?

He stared up at the Sith Sanctum’s crowning spires. He was as prepared as he was going to get. Might as well get it over with.



Jadus’ cyborg guards let him in and ushered him to the Darth’s lair. The feeling of crawling was on his skin again, as well as the phantom odors. And Jadus...Darth Jadus was waiting for him.

“Why do you think you are here?” he asked.

Shen’s blood ran cold. Fear, irrational and paralyzing, gripped him. The intervening years vanished. There was only Jadus. Jadus and his questions. “You summoned me, my lord,” he croaked.

“I did,” Jadus said. Snakes. Swimming in frost. “I can feel your fear. You remember. You are privileged. The first. Called and christened in my service long ago. You see these others?”

The cyborg-soldiers with computerized voices? He’d seen them. “Yes, my lord,” he whispered.

“They are my followers. Hollowed out. Everything extraneous removed. Only fear and loyalty remain,” Darth Jadus said, “This is how the Empire shall be. The democratization of fear. But some here in the heart of the Empire oppose my grand vision. You, you shall take your place as my agent and destroy them. Kneel.” Terror and the memory of pain washed over him in a wave. Shen’s legs buckled. He dropped to his knees before Darth Jadus. He felt the Sith’s hand hovering above his bowed head. Not touching. Proximity alone forced him down, “This is indoctrination. Inoculation. The power of the Dark Side flowing through you, my chosen. Burning away all that does not serve. The remainder, tainted. Rise now, my Agent of Chaos, and look with new eyes upon your master.”



Shen stumbled back toward Intelligence. His skin still crawled but the dull ache of enduring Jadus’ presence was fading. That really should not have worked. Dredging up all those memories--which wasn’t hard--and using them as a screen for his real thoughts? He ought to be a smoking ruin. Again.

He snorted. Darth Jadus? He was Jenks with more power. The same trick worked on him. Cry and wail and beg. Give him the show he wanted. Darth Jadus wanted him filled with fear, fine. He could do fear. Kark all that stoic poodoo. Let him see abject terror. Let him choke on it. Shen smiled a sharp-toothed grin. He’d never see anything else. Shen got to keep breathing and destroy things with the Dark Council’s blessing. He’d grovel and whine for that opportunity.

Of course, his little performance was not without consequences. He sure as hell wasn’t going to be sleeping well for a while. Not with Kaliyo around and no nice doctor with his nice sedatives. But that was better than spending a month in a kolto tank with nightmares for months anyway.

And here was something interesting. Darth Jadus didn’t have his keyword.

Time to report back to Keeper.

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Striges
04.04.2013 , 08:26 PM | #10
(Reposted from the AU Short Fic Thread)

Terrorist!

“Hey stupid!” Kaliyo shouted at the armed former slave.

The redhaired woman turned and fired at her. Shen took aim while Kaliyo yelled more profane taunts. Boring-a** hand-me-down op. Keeper didn’t know what to do with him since Darth Jadus vetoed the Tatooine mission. Taking out his frustrations on rebelling slaves and the occasional soldier for hire was a poor substitute for real action. Not to mention ironic. The situation in the quarry was beyond control, beyond recovery, beyond mop up. It was full-on slaughter. He had to find ways to keep himself interested. For example, today was redhead day.

Shen felt a shuddering whump. Much bigger than the occasional water storage tank going up or scaffold demolition. Golden light bathed the worksite. The ongoing violence at the quarry paused like a holonet freezeframe. His current target’s eyes joined hundreds of others turning skyward. Shen blasted her in the back. Only then did he bother checking the scenery.

A ship exploded in low orbit. A big one. The fireball filled nearly a quarter of the dawn sky. Pieces of burning wreckage rained down over Dromund Kaas' jungle, catching the wet canopy on fire in places. The largest sections along with the bulk of the debris fell toward the north of Shen's location. Smoke and flames erupted on the horizon. It was glorious.

The quarry’s weathered address system crackled to life. Scattered holounits that survived the riots displayed a human image; most of them had long gone audio-only. He straightened, surreptitiously joining a mixed group of slaves and mercenaries clustered around the nearest unit. He caught the message in progress.

"...you’ve just witnessed our successful attack on the dreadnaught Dominator..."

Shen’s earbud pinged. “Cleaner, report!” That didn't take long.

He tapped the acknowledge signal and meandered toward the lee of a large rocky outcropping. Out of the crowd’s earshot. Also out of earshot of the broadcasting message, unfortunately, “Lovely morning, Fixer Twelve,” he said, “I didn’t do it.”

“Shut it, Cleaner,” Fixer Twelve growled, “Keeper has new orders for you, so listen up. There’s a ship in the Kaas City Spaceport bucking for departure clearance. Several dissidents from the watch lists are on it. You need to be too, and Keeper don’t much care how you get there.”

“Got it.”

“Oh, by the way, military units are converging on the spaceport,” Twelve said. There was real mirth in his voice now, “you might want to hurry.”

“Keep this comm open,” Shen said. He whistled sharply for Kaliyo, knowing he just gave Twelve an earsplitting whine through the feedback, “You, skiff, now,” he barked. Kaliyo ran for the light aero they’d hidden in the bushes above the quarry. “What’s he want, Twelve? Blast ‘em all?”

“He want them alive, Cleaner,” Fixer Twelve said, “Stay with them through their hyperjumps and find out where they come from and who they’re connected to.”

Kaliyo zipped up in the skiff, “I’m driving,” she said.

Shen jumped on behind her, “Damn straight you are,” he said. Kaliyo rocketed the aero up to full speed and zoomed over the boulders. “Fixer,” Shen shouted over the wind, “Reactivate my profile as Syad and file Documents of Fugitive Property, backdated one week,” Kaliyo whooped and he ducked a low branch, “Leave Kaliyo alone but she didn’t leave Hutta with anyone who looks like me--”

“I need approval for that--”

“You fix it. You’re a fixer, stoopa, that’s your job,” Shen shouted, “If you don’t, I will find your house and eat your children.” The line hissed. Twelve muted his input. He was either cursing at him or trying to get approval from Keeper. “Just do it. Get approval later. If Keeper doesn't like it you can switch it back and probably get me killed like you always wanted. Fix it, damn you!” he bellowed into the comm.

A click, “All right. On it.”

Kaliyo swooped into a muddy arroyo. Shen clung to her waist as they swept past the rocks. One wrong move and they were paste. Rattataki woman was crazier than he was. “I love you too, Twelve. Cleaner out.” He removed the earbud and tossed it into the slipstream while Kaliyo took another turn at insane speed. He saw the telltale puff of annihilated electronics in a quick backward glance.

They ditched the skiff in an alley and rode Shen's security overrides to the docking bay. Before breaching the blast door he grabbed Kaliyo's arm, "I'm Syad, slave agitator and general troublemaker. You're you. We met about a week ago after you dumped your ride from Hutta."

"Why'd I dump him?" Kaliyo asked, a mischievous grin on her face.

"He was boring," Shen said. Kaliyo's continued grin told him she was going to twist that directive into some insult. Most likely a dig at his sexual prowess or something equally embarrassing. "Otherwise follow my lead. Don't shoot first." There wasn't time to explain any more. He hoped her background as an anarchist would sell the show.

Shen overrode the door controls as well as shorting them out so it looked like a quick and dirty slicing job. The door slid open and the sentries leveled their rifles at the pair.

Shen held his hands in the air, "Don't shoot! I'm on your side!" he panted. One of them fired anyway, hitting the wall above his head. Kaliyo drew but he pushed the muzzle down, “No!” he shouted, “Wait!”

“Don’t know you,” one of them rumbled, a male human the size of a small asteroid. He lumbered forward and pointed his rifle at Shen, “You’ve got ten seconds.”

“Name’s Syad,” Shen gasped, “Syad Baaht. This here’s Kaliyo Djannis. Saw your show. We want in. But you got bigger problems. Military’s in the port already. You’re gonna get grounded unless you lift now.”

“Hrumph,” the rifle came up, “And you know this how?”

Shen bent over, breathing hard as though still out of breath, “I been here a week looking for a ship to jump. Right after the explosion, saw a girl run for the hangars. She was the only one not looking at the sky. Port security was watching. They must have sent out an alert.”

“Mia never pays attention,” growled a voice form the back of the pack.

Human Asteroid hesitated, “Convenient.”

Good guess. Safe bet several of their people came in late and even odds one of them was female. “I want on your ship. I’m sick of this planet,” Shen said. Absolute truth, too. “Would I call security on you if I wanted a ride?” Asteroid shifted his rifle in indecision. Shen rolled his eyes, “How’s this. You take us with, stick us in a cargo hold or an airlock or whatever you want, someplace you figure we can’t do any damage. When we’re clear atmo and the planetary defense grid, you run whatever checks you like. But if you don’t move now you’re going to get nabbed. I just busted out of a slave camp, I am not going back in.”

Asteroid Man finally lowered his weapon, “Thought I heard of a Kaliyo on Brentaal IV.”

“That’s me,” Kaliyo agreed.

“Alright,” he grumbled, “Kissiae, escort these two jokers to the starboard airlock and seal it. Everyone else get on board, we’re leaving now. The Old Man can decide what to do with them.”

Shen’s heart leapt at the name. The Old Man meant Nar Shaddaa. The Old Man would vouch for him, this was going to be easy. Until he remembered that Sal’s Old Man had to be dead by now. And Sal with him. Their Old Man was somebody else.