Welcome to the HQD fiction thread! Here you will find fictional updates related to the House. Enjoy!
Leeadra Halcyon wrapped her cloak tightly around herself as she hurried through the near deserted streets of Port Ol’val. Many of the lamps that were suspended overhead were broken; the few that remained cast only the faintest illumination. However, there was enough light that she could see the evidence of the battles that had taken place months before. Most of the buildings were in varying stages of disrepair, and still bore scorch marks from bombs or blaster fire. She noted with some concern that some of the marks appeared relatively new. The darkness, signs of violence and the oppressive silence created a feeling of unease within the Pantoran which caused her to hasten her steps as she searched for her destination.
She slowed her steps as she arrived at a rundown warehouse. She could not see any light shining between the boards that covered the windows, or any other indication that there was anyone in there. She briefly considered pulling out her datapad to double check the address, but quickly decided against it. Instead, she crossed the street and rapped sharply on the door.
At first, silence was her only answer. Just as she was about to turn away, a narrow slot slid open to reveal a pair of small eyes glaring down at her. The panel slid shut before she could say anything. The door opened to reveal a Besalisk towering over her, his bulky frame filling the doorway. He glared down at her through tiny, yellow eyes before grunting “What’ya want?”
“I’m here for the meeting,” Lee said, trying not to let her unease show.
The Besalisk folded both sets of arms over his massive chest as he stared down at her. “Ain’t nobody here.”
The Pantoran glanced over her shoulder, taking in the other buildings along the street. This was the only one that matched the description she had been given by Zujenia, the Quaestor of House Qel-Droma. “Are you sure? This is the address I was given,” she replied as she glared up at the door guard.
“Ya deaf?” the four-armed guard snapped. “I said there ain’t nobody here, so kark off!” He uncrossed his arms and curled his hands into fists, obviously prepared to make her leave. Leeadra leaned back slightly, her fingers wrapping around the hilt of her lightsaber. However, before either could move, they were interrupted by a third voice.
“Gor’lat, darling, who is at the door?”
Gor’lat turned, and Lee caught a glimpse of Lucine Vasano’s familiar form. The Aedile’s usual pleasant smile was gone, replaced by a look of annoyance as she regarded the Besalisk.
“Just some Pantoran schutta,” Gor’lat said, though there was now a trace of uncertainty in his voice.
“That Pantoran is my guest,” the redhead said. “Let her in. And who told you to guard the door?”
“Amrick did,” the Besalisk replied as he shuffled aside, allowing Lee to step inside. “He said he had some stuff to do and told me ta watch the door and not let anyone in.”
“Hello, darling,” Lucine afforded Lee with a small, tired smile, before turning her attention back to the Besalisk. “Well, tell Amrick that I do not want you guarding the door. You have far too many homicidal impulses to be greeting guests.”
Gor’lat frowned on an expression of intense concentration as he struggled to commit to memory what he was supposed to say. “Hom… homi…si…”
“Oh, never mind! I will tell him,” the Sith snapped. “My apologies, darling, “ she added as she turned her attention back to Lee. “Please, come in. Thank you for getting here so quickly. The Lady Quaestor is awaiting us in the conference room.”
“Sure, no problem,” Lee replied as she followed the Sith. They wove a circuitous path amid storage containers and shelves. “What’s all this about?”
“Did you notice the state of the port as you made your way here?” Lucine asked as she pressed her hand against the keypad. A green light flashed above the lock, and the door slid open to reveal a long hallway.
“Sure. It looked a little rough,” the Pantoran replied hesitantly.
“Darling, you are being too kind,” Lucine said wryly. “Port Ol’val is in dire straits, and we are in need of assistance to get things up and running once more.”
As she spoke, she opened one of the side doors to a small conference room. Zujenia stood near the front of the room, frowning over a holoprojector that sat upon the table. As the two women stepped into the room, the Quaestor gave Lee a tired but welcoming smile.
The three women settled in, and the meeting began with Lee reporting on the Voidbreaker’s most recent mission. Zujenia nodded her head at the appropriate time, but her amber eyes held a faraway look that made it clear that her thoughts were elsewhere.
“It sounds like things are going well with the team,” she said, once Leeadra had wrapped up her report. “I wish I could say things were going as well here, but I’m beginning to think we’re in over our heads.”
As she spoke, she cued up the holoprojector. The first few images were of the docks, the former Besadii Entertainment District, and Jerem’s Plaza. “The recent conflict with the Collective has all but stalled our attempts to rebuild. We’ve got life support online to most areas of the asteroid and have cleared away many of the buildings that were about to collapse, but we have a long way to go. If that wasn’t bad enough, we’re still having problems with a few of the gangs. Not everyone is happy with the idea of joining the Blindman’s group, so we’ve been dealing with the occasional outbreak of violence.”
“Between the gang violence and the fact that half the port is not functioning, we have lost out on quite a bit of trade,” Lucine put in. “The black market is all but deserted. Simply put, the smugglers just are not coming.”
“What about the upper Summit? Can they send some troops from Selen to help?” Lee asked as she frowned at the image of the nearly deserted dock.
“Things are just as bad there,” Zujenia replied glumly. “No, we’re on our own on this one. Lee, I want you to bring the Voidbreaker back here for a time. We need to focus our efforts on Ol’val. We’ll put out the story that the Voidbreaker crew is acting under the orders of the Blindman so that the Battleteam can help out with the cleanup.”
“All right,” Lee replied slowly. “But where will we start?”
Silence fell over the room as Zuji mulled over her answer. “We’ll start with the cleaning up, and also try to gather some funds. Once we have a stable base of operations we can focus on dealing with the other gangs,” she said at last. “It’s probably going to take a while to get Ol’val back on its feet, but hopefully we will get a good chunk of the work done before the next fiasco arises.”
Kordath slumped in his chair, his eyes grim and downcast. Seeing Zuji had been difficult, more difficult than he had anticipated. They were communicating now, at least, which automatically made things better than they had been. But he still felt chilled by her cool demeanor, and her standoffish behavior left him feeling low.
His datapad chimed on his desk, indicating that he had a message. He ignored it, just as he ignored the dark-haired woman sitting across from him. Satsi Tameike lounged in the chair on the opposite side of his desk, her boots propped up on the surface and a bored expression on her face. “Frak, least you got to see her,” she said at last, breaking the silence. “She’s still givin’ ya the chill, huh?”
Kordath nodded slowly but did not bother to speak. He simply felt too depressed to manage any words.
On the desk, the datapad chimed again.
“I don’t like seein’ you like this, Kordy. You look like you got kicked in the choobs. Whad’ya say we go get a drink? Get ya out of here,” Satsi said as she studied her friend with concern. When the datapad chimed a third time, she glanced down at it in irritation. “You gonna get that?”
“It’s just tha’ damned woman again,” the Ryn said with a groan. “Soon as Zuj told me she was quittin’, Lucine started blowin’ up me datapad wi’ all these plan she got fer when she’s made Quaestor.”
Satsi narrowed her eyes at the datapad, glaring at it venomously. She snatched up the device and began flipping through the messages. “Look at all this! Financial projections, schematics, she’s even got a ten year plan here! Wonder how long she’s been waitin’ to unload all this sithspit on ya.” She paused, reading one report in particular, her eyes widening with surprise. “Kark, she’s even got recommendations for the next Aedile. Only one, though. Karking Rhylance, of all people.”
Her words caused Kordath to stir a bit. “Th’doctor? Seem t’remember that the DIA dinnae have many nice things ta say ‘bout ‘im.”
“Eh, he’s smart and is pretty loose with his ethics. Kinda refreshing to see, so long as he don’t go cuttin’ on anyone I like,” Satsi said with a shrug as she tossed the datapad back on the desk. “Also gave us quite a bit of info on Taldryan, ya know, after his sackiin.”
“He did what now? That is intrestin.” Kordath contemplated this new information.
“So? Watcha gonna do?”
Kordath shrugged his shoulders, trying to consider his options. Yet the only thing he could picture was the look in Lucine’s eyes when they had last met, deep in the bowels of the Godless Matron. She had been fully prepared to kill him then. “Maybe we should just let ‘er have it.”
Satsi regarded him with hooded eyes. “You know she and Rhylance are friends, right? You do that and I’d give ‘em six months before they have the whole karking House rising up against you.”
“Yeah? An I’m guessin’ ya have a better idea, then?” Kord replied dryly.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Satsi replied with a wicked grin. “Why not put the Chiss in charge?”
“An’ how’s that any different?” Kord demanded.
“Think about it,” Satsi replied smoothly. “They’re supposed to be friends, right? And you know how much of a ladder-climber that red-headed schutta is. So think how pissed off she’d be if she gets passed over in favor for her ‘friend’.” A slow, wicked grin spread across Tameike’s face as she spoke. “We know those two are trouble, so why not make sure they cause trouble for each other and not for us?”
“Tha’s not a bad idea,” Kord murmured as he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Not a bad idea at all.”
The docks of Ol’val bustled with business as crates of freshly baked goods were loaded and unloaded to various merchants. A purple-hued Twi’lek ushered the deliveries to the correct recipients. Tali Sroka, a loyal and trustworthy friend to Zujenia, had been placed in charge of the half-Ryn’s final mission as the leader of Qel-Droma.
“– andt take this batch over to the fifth district, vhere the Pride usedt to be. Andt be quick about it, let’s try andt offer them a varm treat, yes?” the workers listened to the exotic lady, going about their business with haste. Tali could not help but to smile as she watched the merchants and crewmen pick up the pace to do her bidding.
Before long, she noticed a familiar half-Ryn approaching, followed by a Chiss recognizable to her only by reputation. Zuji was speaking to the somewhat newly enlisted Arconan, pointing out several areas of interest located at this port. Tali glanced around to make sure that no one was standing idle, before hurrying over to the pair. “Zuji, how nice to see you couldt make it!” she said, offering the former Quaestor a bright smile.
“Tali, I’m happy to see you’re doing well with the goods. Our plan to get new supplies seems to have been a rousing success!” Zuji beamed, truly pleased by the efforts of her House.
“It vas your idea, I just didt as I was toldt,” the Twi’lek said with a slight smirk. “And vhat are you doing vith the Chiss, Zuji?”
Zuji motioned for her companion to step forward and introduce himself.
“Hello, Tali is it? My name is Rhylance and I have been requested to take over for Zujenia as Head of Qel-Droma.” The Chiss held out his right hand as an extension of his greeting.
Tali took his hand and gave Zuji a slightly saddened look. The half-Ryn had been a popular leader; and her reassuring presence at the helm would be sorely missed. Her brief sadness was mingled with curiosity regarding this stranger who had been chosen to lead. She studied him as if trying to determine what sort of leader he would be. But the Chiss’s face remained impassive. “I look forwardt to vorking vith you, Rhylance. I have a feeling you vill bring our little organization to interesting depths,” Tali said at last.
Rhylance turned to look at the crates that were being moved around. He could not help but to raise his eyebrows as a loader bearing a palette of chocolate-scented boxes passed the trio. “If I may ask, what is in these crates?”
“Oh, baked goods that are to be used as trading materials for new supplies. After the Hutts attacked us, we needed all the help we could get,” Zuji answered.
“What kind of baked goods?”
“Cookies,” Tali said with a shrug.
Rhylance seemed bewildered by the answer. “Cookies? And here I thought this organization was legally flexible, not sweet and delicious.”
“We have many fronts to protect Qel-Droma’s interests,” the half-Ryn said.
With that, Zuji began detailing a few of the projects that she had initiated within the port. As the half-Ryn and the Chiss spoke, Tali noticed a familiar red-head making her way through the crowd. Lucine spotted them a moment later, and a look of confusion crossed her features when she saw Rhylance and Zuji in close conversation. The Sith’s look of confusion was enough to tell Tali that she was unaware of Rhylance’s promotion. This should be interesting, the Twi’lek thought as she suppressed a smirk, watching as Lucine drew nearer to the group.
“Well, what a pleasant surprise to find three of my favorite people here,” Lucine said as she approached, offering them a brilliant smile. “Rhylance, what brings you to our lovely Port Ol’val?”
Zuji and Rhylance quickly exchanged glances, each having assumed that the other had told Lucine of the Chiss’s promotion. In that brief silence, Tali spoke up. “Vell, Zuji vas just giving him a tour of the port, since he’s the new Quaestor andt all.”
Lucine’s smile dimmed for the briefest of moments, the reaction so quick that only the Chiss seemed to have noticed. “Well,” she said after a beat, “congratulations, darling. I will look forward to working closely with you in the future.”
“As will I,” Rhylance replied smoothly. It seemed as if there was an unspoken exchange between the two, and as Tali looked back and forth between them, she raised her eyebrows at it.
Care to join us?” Zuji asked.
“Thank you, but I am afraid I cannot. I have a meeting scheduled with some of our more… unsavory associates,” the Sith replied, her tone laden with regret. “But I will be certain to keep you both apprised of the results.”
Lucine bade farewell to the trio and took her leave. She hurried to the warehouse that doubled as the offices for both Zujenia and herself. She barely acknowledged the surly looking doorman as she swept past him, and retired to her office.
Once the door had closed behind her, she paused and looked around the small space. The room was only half the size of the Quaestor’s office, but she made do with what she had. Her pleasant mask never faded as she crossed the room to pour herself a drink.
She took a sip of the amber liquid, and her smile faded slightly as she reflected upon the conversation that had just taken place.
Passed over. She had been passed over. They had chosen Rhylance, a newcomer, of all people. After all she had done for the House and the Clan, she had been passed over.
She was clutching her glass so tightly that her hand was shaking, but she did not seem to notice. The thoughts whirled within her mind, faster and faster, until she hurled the glass against the wall with a shriek of rage.
Someone was going to pay for this insult.
Office of the Quaestor
Rhylance surveyed his newly redecorated office with a critical eye. The smell of cleaning agents and paint still hung in the air, a silent testament to the work that had gone into improving the space. The homey decor that Zujenia had favored was gone, replaced by a more modern style, white and metal, with clean lines and a pristine appearance. It had been difficult securing the necessary contractors to do the work, but the out of pocket expense had been worth it.
Yet his lab was not yet complete. He still needed a few pieces of equipment, but they would not be delivered until the Shadowport was back in business.
The Chiss frowned as he crossed the room to study a holoprojection of a map of Ol’val. In the past week, they had seen a significant uptick in violence from those gang members who opposed the Blindman’s reign. The fighting in the streets had been vicious, yet there seemed to be no end to the number of enemies.
A few minutes later, a knock on the door interrupted him from his thoughts. The door slid open to reveal a half-Bothan female. Rhylance recognized her as Eilen Jath, one of the Voidbreaker’s Force Users
“Sorry to interrupt,” Eilen said as she stepped into the office. She paused just inside the door, fidgeting with the datapad she held in her hand. “I… uh… I found something. It looks like some kind of coded message.”
“Thank you,” the Consul said. He accepted the datapad and glanced down at it. “Hmm. It doesn’t look like it is one of our ciphers. Well spotted,” he said as he retrieved his own datapad and began to make notes with a stylus. As he worked on cracking the code, occasionally glanced at her, studying her with the same level of interest he was giving the code in front of him. “Eilen, I’ve heard that you are half-Bothan and half-Selonian. Is this true?”
“Uh, yeah,” Eilen replied hesitantly, her ears lifting slightly as if to reflect her curiousity. She had been unaware that the Doctor even knew who she was, let alone what her heritage was.
Rhylance paused a moment, lifting his red-eyed gaze to study her intently for a moment. The half-Bothan fidgeted under his gaze. “Interesting,” he muttered as he went back to comparing the two datapads. “Such a unique genealogy would no doubt be fascinating to study further. Your bone structure is truly a thing of beauty; the merging of both species, I cannot fathom the intricacies of your DNA’s shaping for this outcome. Absolutely beautiful, has anyone told you this before?"
“Uh…I guess not,” Eilen replied, as she averted her eyes, trying to figure out an appropriate response to that. Her ears drooped as she thought. “Thanks, I think?”
Sensing her awkwardness, Rhylance steered the conversation to more comfortable topics as his stylus flew over his datapad screen. Within a few minutes, the message was decoded, and he read it aloud, “My Master agrees that it is time for the Blindman’s reign to come to an end, and he is willing to provide the weapons you requested. The shipment will arrive next Centaxday, at the usual place. We can discuss a suitable compensation once you and your gang have taken Ol’val and disposed of that blind nuisance.”
“Centaxday? That was yesterday!” Eilen exclaimed.
Rhylance nodded slowly as he considered the implications of the message. One thing was for certain: the situation on Ol’val was likely going to get worse before it got better.
“Well, I must confess that I had my doubts,” Lucine said as she watched a GR-75 medium transport ship clear the newly widened tunnel and make its approach toward the dock. She checked her chrono and tapped a note into her datapad, before glancing up at the Kaminoan female that accompanied her. “But it appears your project was a success. Well done.”
Yumni Ha allowed a small smile as she inclined her head. “I think you’ll find that the widened tunnel will expedite the ingress and egress of ships within the port.”
“I would agree, Miss Ha,” the Aedile said with a sweet smile. “It would have been most unfortunate for all involved if it had not been successful. Especially since you took it upon yourself to undertake this project without any sort of clearance from the people in charge.” Though her voice was pleasant, it carried the slight undertone of threat in it.
The Kaminoan returned her gaze impassively, “I rarely waste my time on projects that do not carry a certain degree of success,” she replied coolly.
“I am thrilled to hear it! And I must say that I admire your resourcefulness. I do hope you will apply that same resourcefulness to the upcoming building projects,” Lucine said. If she was bothered by the fact that Yumni had stood her ground, it was not reflected in her cheerful tone.
Though Yumni’s tone was polite, her eyes took on an avaricious gleam that made it clear that Lucine had caught her attention. “Building projects,” the Sith confirmed with a toss of her red curls. “Now that most of the rubble has been cleared away, it is time to restore the Shadowport to its former glory. But to do that, we need people with vision to help with its restoration. The Blindman has big plans for this port, and it will no doubt prove to be a lucrative venture for anyone who chooses to get in on the ground floor.”
“Is that so?” Yumni said in a thoughtful tone. “And what sort of help would be required?”
“Oh, the usual. Helping to plan projects, lining up contractors, putting the pieces into place to make this a thriving port,” Lucine said. “There is so much to do, and we will need the help of many capable people to do it!”
They walked as they talked, making their way past small groups of volunteers, contractors and armed guards that were clustered on the docks. Most of the latter were not in any sort of uniform and carried the hardened, surly look of men and women who had lived a hard life on the streets.
As a result, it made the massive grey Wookiee stand out even more, as he growled a cheerful tune while working on a hover platform. As Yumni and Lucine approached, he opened his mouth wide in a toothy smile. He gnarred in greeting, which his datapad duly translated. [FIRE LADY! TALL-THIN LADY! AM NICE DAY, YES?]
“I suppose it is, yes,” Yumni replied coolly, bristling a bit at being referred to as ‘Tall-thin Lady’. “Although it’s hard to tell if it even is daytime, considering the fact that we’re inside an asteroid.”
“Kelviin has been an absolute dear, helping us to get all of this old equipment working,” Lucine said as she gave the Wookiee a warm smile.
[AM LIKE HELP,] Kelviin replied in a low growl. [ALL MACHINE WORK GOOD NOW!] As if to prove his words, he smacked the hover platform with a large spanner.
“I… don’t think that is how one goes about fixing that,” Yumni said. “Here, let me take a closer look.”
As Kelviin and Yumni bent over the broken platform, Lucine looked up to see a familiar figure approaching. It was Selmy Mabross, a low-level gang member who had a tendency for overindulgence when it came to spice. A fine sheen of sweat on his forehead reflected in the dim lighting, and he fidgeted restlessly as he approached.
The man’s nervousness set the Sith on edge, and she surreptitiously checked to make sure there were guards nearby as she closed the difference between them. It was entirely possible that the man simply needed another glitterstim fix, but she preferred to be cautious, given the violence of the recent days.
“What is the matter, Selmy?” she asked as the gangster drew close enough to speak. The feeling of foreboding was growing, and she suppressed the urge to reach for her lightsaber. She did not have it anyway; the higher-ups in Selen remained adamant that the presence of Force Users be kept hidden from the general populace.
“I… uh… I gotta message fer the Blindman,” the man said as his nervous gaze darted around the crowd before fumbling for something in his coat. “It’s real important-like that he gets it.”
“And what is it?” Lucine’s voice was calm as she drew a step nearer, placing herself within arms reach of the man.
“‘Die’,” came the response as Selmy pulled a blaster from his jacket. Lucine darted forward as he took aim, her fingers closing around his wrist and pushing it up and to the side. The blaster went off, one bolt searing her shoulder before she could knock aside his aim.
The scene descended into chaos as several of the nearby gang members drew weapons and began shooting into the crowd. The air filled with shouts, curses and the sound of blaster and slugthrower fire, as those loyal to the Blindman sought cover and returned fire.
In the middle of the fray, Lucine struggled with Selmy, trying to pull the weapon from his hand. The Force screamed a warning, and she used his wrist to pull him forward and around, using his body to shield her from a slug that had been meant for her. The gang member slumped and she released his arm, before diving into cover behind a stack of supply crates. Yumni was already there, surveying the field with wary grey eyes. “Does this happen often?”
“A minor setback,” Lucine said through gritted teeth as she clutched her wounded shoulder and surveyed the field. Three other members of Selmy’s gang had taken positions of cover and were firing at her people. Even in the dim light, she could see that the weapons were new and carried expensive modifications. The implication was clear: someone had armed them well. The Sith cursed inwardly, before hailing her lieutenants on her comm. “Gentlemen. We have got one behind the crates in front of the warehouse and two in the alley. I want at least one of them alive, if possible!”
As she spoke, the one near the warehouse gave a shout and hurled a metallic sphere in the direction of the hover platform. As the light reflected off of the thermal detonator as it arced through the air, Lucine realized belatedly that she had not seen Kelviin since the fighting had started. The thought flashed through her mind just as the bomb clattered into the platform and exploded with a deafening BOOM, a sound that was accompanied by the keening wail of a Wookiee in pain.
The Obsidian Market
As the weeks passed, Port Ol’val underwent a gradual but striking transformation. The life support, security and lighting systems were repaired, restoring access to previously unreachable areas of the port. The charred remains of fallen down buildings were cleared away, and in their place new structures began to rise. Despite the occasional raids, shipments of food and necessary supplies began to arrive with more regularity. Gradually, Ol’val was coming back to life.
Nowhere was this more obvious than the Obsidian Market. It had sprung up in the ruins of the Besadii Entertainment District and had grown steadily as the rubble and debris was cleared away. The stalls sold a wide variety of items, from arms and ammo to foodstuffs to exotic goods, most of which had arrived at the port in the holds of smuggler ships.
Leeadra Halcyon took in the sights and smells as she weaved through the market, on her way to her meeting with the Aedile. The rebirth of the Shadow Port was due in large part to the efforts of the members of House Qel Droma and Voidbreaker. Many had answered the call for assistance. They had helped in a variety of ways to help clean up Ol’val and remove most of the insurgent gang members. Thanks to their help, the Blindman’s rule over Ol’val was secure, which really meant the House was firmly back in control of the port. The Pantoran could not help but feel a surge of pride at the hard work of her fellow Arconans.
That pride quickly turned to uncertainty as she drew nearer to the meeting site, only to see that Lucine was not there. She paused in midstep when she saw that it was Rhylance, the bespectacled Quaestor of House Qel Droma, who was waiting for her. Despite the fact that she had already had a number of meetings with the Chiss, the fact was that there was something about the man that unnerved her. He had a certain degree of creepiness that was impossible to ignore.
After a moment, she realized that a few people were looking at her strangely. She pushed aside her wariness and approached the Quaestor. “Well, looks like business is picking up,” she said lightly as she drew nearer.
“Indeed,” Rhylance replied as he snapped the cover of the datapad closed. Without sparing a glance at her, he turned and strode into a nearby alley. “This way, please. I do not want to have this conversation in the middle of a crowded street.”
“Then why was I told to come here?” Lee asked as she trailed behind him.
“Because I spent the morning examining one of the rival gang members,” Rhylance replied as he cast a grim smile over his shoulder. “I daresay I made a considerable mess, and it is still being cleaned.”
“I see,” Lee said as she suppressed a shudder. She knew enough about what went on in the Doctor’s ‘examinations’ to know that she did not want any further details.
They moved deeper into the alley, and a quick glance behind her proved that two large and thuggish men had moved into position at the entrance to ensure that their conversation remained private.
“There now, this is much cozier,” Rhylance said at last, pausing midway between the alley entrance and the wall the terminated it. “So, what is your report?”
“Well, the construction is nearly done,” Lee replied. “A bunch of our people have jumped in to help. Of all of them, Luka Zarkot has been a huge help.”
“Luka,” the Chiss said thoughtfully. “The lean individual who favors wearing the large hood, right?”
“That’s them,” Lee agreed.
Rhylance nodded slightly. “I have heard quite a few positive reports concerning their performance. Please convey my thanks to them when you next see him.”
“Sure,” the Pantoran replied. A thought then occurred to her, and she pulled out her own datapad. “There was something they wanted me to show you. Here,” she called up an image, before handing it to the Quaestor. The image depicted a single, all-seeing eye that was weeping tears of blood.
Rhylance raised his eyebrows as he studied the picture, before returning the datapad to her. “It is an excellent piece, but why are you showing it to me?”
“It was Luka’s suggestion. They think it would be a good idea for the Blindman to have some sort of insignia, something for the gang members to rally behind.”
“An intriguing idea. I shall consider it,” the Chiss replied. “What else?”
“I just received word from the Voidbreaker that they have stopped another attempted raid on one of our smuggling vessels. The raiding party claimed they were hired by some group I’ve never heard of, the Obsidian Daggers,” Lee said.
Rhylance nodded slowly as if he had been expecting this news. “I trust your crew made certain that they would never raid us, or any other ship, ever again?”
“Yeah, they took care of it,” Lee replied. She paused for a moment, before continuing. “You don’t seem surprised. Who are these people?”
“As of now, our intelligence is rather scant,” the Chiss replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “However, we do know that they tried to enrich themselves by taking advantage of our recent misfortunes. I think we should see to it that their avarice and ambition is suitably rewarded, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but we’re going to have to find them first,” Lee said doubtfully.
Before the conversation could continue, it was interrupted by a commotion at the entrance of the alleyway. They turned to see the surly-looking guards in heated discussion with a familiar redhead. Apparently whatever she said had an effect, because they stepped aside and allowed her to proceed toward them.
“Leeadra, darling! It is wonderful to see you again!” Lucine said as she offered the Pantoran a brilliant smile. “I do apologize for interrupting, but we are going to be late for the funeral if we do not hurry.”
“Oh, hell. That’s today, isn’t it?” Lee said, realizing belatedly that the Aedile was wearing black, presumably for the occasion. Things had been so busy that she had nearly forgotten.
“Indeed it is,” Lucine replied, before turning her attention onto Rhylance. She quirked an eyebrow at the medical science officer’s uniform that he typically wore. “That is what you are wearing?”
“What, precisely, is wrong with it?” the Chiss asked.
“Nothing really, it is just part of my ongoing campaign to get you to wear something, anything other than that boring uniform,” Lucine said brightly, ignoring Rhylance’s eye roll. “At least it is the correct color. Now, we really should be going, darlings. It would be quite disrespectful to Kelviin if we were late.”
As the lights within the asteroid were beginning to dim to indicate night-time, a small group of people gathered in the Docks. They were there for two purposes: out of respect for a dear friend and to bid farewell to an integral part of the team.
In the center of the crowd sat what remained of the hover platform that had been destroyed in the firefight that had taken place only a short time before. The charred remains had been covered with flowers, which were a rarity in the port, but a sign of the love that they bore Kelviin. The expressions of most of those assembled were stoic, as was appropriate for the solemn occasion.
Kelviin was in the center of the crowd, before the remnants of the hover platform, wearing a black armband as a sign of his grief. He intoned the eulogy gravely in a series of growls and whines, which were translated emotionlessly by the datapad that he held in his massive paw. [ALL AM MISS. WORK HARD, AND NOT NEED MUCH REPAIR.]
As the crowd listened to Kelviin’s emotional send-off for his beloved hover platform, Rhylance leaned closer to Lucine. “Why exactly was I required to attend this?”
“Because Kelviin is a beloved member of the team, and it is important to support him in his time of grief,” Lucine replied in an undertone.
“But it is a hover platform!” the Chiss muttered.
“He built the thing from scratch. When you have a Wookiee mechanic who is upset about something, you do what you need to do to let him work through it,” the redhead murmured. She patted Rhylance on the shoulder. “Relax, darling. The Obsidian Daggers will be dealt with in due course. In the meantime, this sort of thing helps build loyalty.
“I suppose,” Rhylance said quietly, though his tone of voice was doubtful.
“Trust me, we need all the help we can get,” Lucine said. “There will be plenty of time for terrible bloody vengeance in the future. This upstart gang will be made to pay.”
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
“All right, Rhylance, I will bite. Why do you have a cage full of rats in your office?” Lucine asked as she peered past the bars. All ten of the furry creatures laid still, their paws sticking in the air. “Correction, a cage full of dead rats?” she amended with a moue of distaste.
“They were a part of my most recent experiment,” the Chiss medic replied, not bothering to look up from his datapad. Slender fingers flew over the screen as he tapped in his notes and observations.
“You were testing a new poison?” the redhead nervously took a step away from the cage. Rhylance’s poisons were remarkably effective, and she did not want to be within range in case it was some sort of inhalant.
“Oh no, it was not a poison.”
“Then what in the world did you give those rats?”
Rhylance smiled wryly as he peered up at her over the rims of his glasses. “I gave them a sample of the eggnog you made.”
Lucine’s eyes narrowed as she absorbed his words. “You know, darling, you could have simply told me that you did not care for it.”
“This was more fun,” Rhylance replied.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
“But why socks?” Magik asked as he stared at the footwear that hung on the fireplace.
Kelviin uttered a series of growls as he carefully tacked another stocking to the mantle. His datapad translated in an androgynous voice. [AM WHAT DO IN KASHYYK. LEAVE SOCKS UP FOR SANDY CLAWS].
“Sandy Claws?” Magik repeated dubiously.
[AM WOOKIEE WHO LEAVE PRESENTS!] Kelviin elaborated.
“And he leaves these gifts in socks,” Magik said slowly.
Kelviin nodded happily as he continued attaching footwear to the fireplace, oblivious to the doubting tone in Magik’s voice. Eilen wandered in as he was finishing his task. The tall space-ferret paused, staring at the scene in amazement. “Hey, neat! When did we get a fireplace?”
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Leeadra yawned and stretched, enjoying the simple pleasure of being able to relax. After the past few months of constant conflict, both on Selen and against the Collective, it was nice to have a quiet couple of nights.
The Pantoran fluffed her pillow and burrowed in her blankets. All was quiet in their little section of space, which meant there was a good chance that she was finally going to be able to get a good night’s sleep.
She had just gotten comfortable when her comm clicked on. “Uh… Captain? You’d best get down here. We’ve got a bogey.”
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
A few minutes later, Lee strode onto the bridge. “All right, what have you got?” she asked, hoping that it was something minor so that she could go back to bed.
“That’s the problem, Captain. I’m not really sure. We’re tracking it now, but… well, see for yourself,” the first officer, Brandon Higgs replied as he gestured toward the viewscreen and the tiny object that was flying through the darkness of space.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
- With a little old driver, so lively and quick,*
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
Lee squinted as she tried to discern what precisely she was looking at. It was moving quickly, and as it passed in front of one of Selen’s moons, she was able to discern its outline from the silhouette. “Is that a sleigh?”
“Yes, ma’am. An open sleigh,” Brandon replied warily.
Lee stared at the darkened silhouette. “Am I seeing things, or is it being pulled by…”
“Bantha. Yes, ma’am.”
Lee blinked, before bringing her hands up to rub her eyes. She vaguely remembered Kelviin telling her about someone named Sandy Claws, as he was asking to borrow one of her socks. According to him, Sandy Claws flew around in a sleigh, delivering presents to good boys and girls. Could it be that he was telling the truth?
As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she quickly dismissed it. Even if the legend of Sandy Claws was true, there was no way anyone could fly around in a sleigh in the middle of space. It was just plain impossible. “I swear, if Rhylance is using the ventilation systems to test his hallucinogenic gas again…”
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONNER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
“Have our scans picked up anything about it?” Lee demanded.
“We’re not detecting any shields on it, and no propulsion systems either. Frankly, I have no idea how it’s moving that fast. Or at all, for that matter,” Brandon replied with a shrug.
“Looks like we’re gonna get a chance to get a closer look,” spoke up one of the technicians. “It’s coming around!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
“It appears to be on a collision course with us,” Higgs said as he monitored the approaching entity.
“Try to hail them on all channels. Helm, prepare to take evasive maneuvers,” Lee commanded.
The crew sprang into action as klaxons blared overhead, announcing to anyone not on the bridge to secure themselves as best as possible.
“It’s still coming!”
Lee sat down in the captain’s chair, before looking to the Helmsman, a rotund Falleen known as Cillian. “You’re up!”
The Falleen turned to her controls with a toothy grin, and the Voidbreaker’s engines roared as she engaged the thrusters and forward and downward. The sleigh passed overhead, though Lee noted that it was quick to circle around to give chase.
“It’s keeping up,” she said in disbelief.
“Keeping up? Hells, I think it’s actually gaining on us,” Brandon muttered.
A quick glance at the monitor proved that he was correct. The sleigh appeared much closer, propelled only by eight bantha who appeared to be running in space. “How is this even happening?” Lee muttered.
It was then that the bantha appeared to leap upward. Moments later, the Voidbreaker shuddered as the sleigh landed on the topside of the ship. Lee could almost hear the hooves of the bantha on the durasteel plating of the hull.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
Eilen glanced up as the klaxons abruptly ceased. “What was that? Some kind of drill?”
Magik snorted. “On Sithmas eve? I doubt it.”
[MAYBE WAS SANDY CLAWS!] Kelviin put in as he laboriously straightened the socks on the mantle.
The Sith fixed the Wookiee with an icy glare. “I doubt that too.”
As if on cue, the comms crackled, and Lee’s voice could be heard overhead. “Attention all crew. It… ah… appears we have been boarded. Report to— “
WHUMP A heavy thud issued forth from the fireplace, accompanied by a cloud of soot. As they watched, a massive figure emerged. Abruptly, Kelviin gave a roar of delight. [SANDY CLAWS!]
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
The Wookiee that emerged from the fireplace was well over seven feet tall, with a stocky frame and a rounded belly. His bright blue eyes twinkled and he was smiling what could be considered a jolly smile, though it displayed an uncomfortable number of teeth. The Wookiee’s long, curly beard hinted at his age.
As the trio stared, the Wookiee brushed the soot from his fur and adjusted his red velvet cap. He then reached back up the fireplace to pull down a large sack.
It was then that Magik remembered himself, and reached for the lightsaber on his belt.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
Sandy Claws reached into his pack and began filling the socks that hung on the mantle one by one. Kelviin and Eilen watched in awe, but Magik sidled closer, trying to maneuver himself so that the Wookiee had his back to him.
But before he could move into position, the Wookiee finished his task. He turned abruptly to face Magik and once again offered him a toothy grin.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
Magik ignited his lightsaber and darted forward with a shout, intending to cut the intruder in two. But his opponent nimbly dodged the swing, taking a step back toward the fireplace. Moving with unnatural speed, the white Wookiee ducked into the fireplace and leaped up the flue.
With a growl, the Sith peered up the chimney, intending to give chase, But he quickly realized just how narrow the space was; there was no way he could climb it. But how did the Wookiee manage it?
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
“He’s disengaging!” Brandon said abruptly.
“What?” Lee paused in the act of securing her armor and turned toward the viewscreen. Sure enough, the sleigh was flying away. “Wait, what?!”
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
“Vhat a night,” Tali sighed heavily as the door of her cabin slid shut behind her. She placed her lightsaber on the stand and divested herself of her armor as quickly as possible. It had become almost unbearably tight over the past month or so, but she insisted upon wearing it despite the discomfort.
She allowed herself a small smile as she rested her hand upon her belly. She could feel the baby inside kicking, no doubt stirred to excitement by the events of the evening. The motion of the small life inside of her caused a sense of serenity to wash over her. As if sensing her calm, the baby settled down.
It was then that Tali noticed that her quarters were not how she had left them. She crossed the room to her bunk, which only took a few steps in the cramped quarters. There, resting upon her pillow, were a tiny pair of pink lek-warmers wrapped in a festive bow. Pink. The same color as the mostly-finished onesie she had been knitting.
She reached down to pick up the tiny pieces of headwear, noting the precision of the stitching, and the softness of the yarn. Just the perfect thing to keep tiny lekku warm.
Tears misted her eyes at the thoughtfulness of the gift. She reached down to rest her hand on her swollen belly once more. “Happy Lifeday, little one,” she whispered.
One Month Ago
Xzehar Lethror worked with methodical slowness as he broke down and cleaned his Synergy S-5 Oathbreaker. Above all things he prided himself as a professional, and a professional did not neglect his tools. He breathed slowly as he worked through the familiar routine, picturing in his mind’s eye the final moments of his last job.
The soft sound of recorded orchestral music played from the nearby datapad as the Falleen went about his detailed work. His hands glided over the exposed mechanics of his rifle, touching them with the sensitivity of a lover’s caress. This weapon was like family to him, and he treated it as such.
Nearby, his datapad vibrated three times, indicating an incoming message and interrupting his music. He ignored it for the moment, instead focusing on reverently reassembling the sniper rifle. The Falleen reached over and grabbed a nearby tumbler of whiskey and drank it down, signifying his task’s completion.
When the ritual was complete, he retrieved the datapad and glanced at the interface. The message contained the details of his newest job. Someone was targeting a small group of people to send a message and was willing to pay a handsome price for his services.
He slowly flipped through the dossiers of the intended targets, nodding slightly to himself. Yes… this would be an interesting job indeed. Satisfied with the data, he carefully packed his sniper rifle in its case. It was time to pay a visit to Port Ol’val.
Ol’val had picked up considerably after Whallatta’s thugs had been excised and the rebuilding effort had seen much of the ruins cleared. New, equally illicit life had taken root in the void left by the burned-out old and, it seemed, was growing stronger by the day. Tali Sroka shared this predicament with the Shadow Port, her own belly swollen by months of pregnancy. It wouldn’t be much longer now.
The Twi’lek had turned down an unofficial maternity leave offered to her by the Aedile, though she had been silently grateful for the clear shift in her duties towards the more mundane and less lightsaber-y kind. Even now, searching for some odds and ends to add to the Voidbreaker’s stores with the ship’s captain and the lanky half-Bothan at her side, the Twi’lek was finding it arduous to keep moving at a brisk enough pace to keep up with the pair.
“You need a minute there, head-tails?” Leeadra Halcyon asked, the pocket-sized Pantoran looking up at her as Tali seemed to struggle for breath.
“I’m goodt!” she replied, convincing no-one.
“I think we really should stop, I know a place nearby where—" Eilen Jath began, but was cut off abruptly by a sharp, boyish yell.
“Miss Sroka? Is it really you?!” A yellow-hued Twi’lek boy, scrawny and dirty, ran across the narrow street towards the heavily pregnant Jedi, with the half-Bothan staring at him with a stunned look.
“And who are you sup – ?” Eilen began again, this time being cut off by the other Twi’lek.
“Pib’leni! H-how? I thought you vere deadt!” Tali knelt down as best she could, spreading her arms wide in a welcoming embrace. The last she’d seen of the boy, he’d been shot at by slave owners on a mining asteroid. She was sure he’d died with the others, a painful failure she still carried heavily in her heart.
Leeadra furrowed her brow, sensing something awry, though the sensation remained elusive. She placed a hand upon Tali’s shoulder and tried to pull her aside. “We…shouldn’t dally,” she said.
Momentarily snapped away from the joyous reunion, Tali turned her head to look at the Pantoran, uneasy concern plastered upon the captain’s features. The next moment, she felt Pib’leni throwing himself against her chest, the small boy surprisingly cold as a shiver ran down her spine.
A shiver of danger.
“We won’t be your slaves,” Pib hissed into her earcone, the pure hatred in the small boy’s voice hot and bitter. The words hurt her, stunned her, leaving her bewildered and confused. The cry of danger shrieked in her mind, but it was too late.
“Vhat…?” Tali managed before a sharp, searing pain stabbed into her gut. And again. And again.
In a darkened interrogation room, Emere Galo sat across from her prisoner. After weeks of hunting and scouring the streets of the Obsidian market, the last of the Daggers had finally been found. The man in front of her, confirmed to be their leader, was smiling at the olive-skinned Arconan. His face was bruised from her “tactics” at gathering information from him. His mouth, a few fewer teeth in it, was bleeding as he chuckled.
“I know you lot weren’t smart enough to have pulled off your assaults on this port, so who funded you?” she asked as she played with the knife in her hand.
“Your kind…" The Human male shook his head in lofty derision. “You always think you’ve got it all figured out. But you haven’t even scratched the surface of the real situation.”
“Quit spouting your nonsense.” Emere threw the knife into the table. It stuck into the wood, right next to the prisoner’s cuffed hands. “I want to know where you got the resources, 'cause it wasn’t from anyone here.”
“Stupid girl,” he responded, before receiving a nasty punch to the face. His nose broke on contact, spilling more blood across the durasteel floors. After the gangster laughed a bit more, his eyes tearing from the pain, he began to speak. “You think the darkness you all love so much will keep you safe? Your time is ending. The Dawn is rising, and there’s not a thing you can do to stop it.”
Before she could respond, Emere was interrupted by the sudden flickering of lights in the room. She walked over to a nearby intercom and hailed the building technicians.
“What’s going on here? What’s wrong with the lights?”
”I’m sorry ma’am, I’m not sure. It’s like a virus is attacking our systems… we’re looking at…failur…shut dow…”
The Arconan mercenary was confused by this series of events. The comm channels were breaking into static noise. As she was distracted, the leader of the Daggers reached quickly for the knife in the table, and Emere dove aside, fearing retaliation. He thrust the blade into his own chest, puncturing his heart and lung in the process. Dropping to the ground, he lay dying with a smile on his face.
“Conclave…your sun will rise…”
Emere gaped at the man’s apparent suicide. She quickly scribbled some notes before running to her superiors.
“Knife!” Eilen shouted suddenly as Pib’leni pulled a vibroknife from his pocket, plunging it into the Twi’lek’s gut with reckless abandon. She moved to pull the murderous boy away from her friend when a slugthrower shot sailed past her head, close enough to rip a knot of fur from her cheek. The half-Bothan’s ears were ringing from the close proximity to the slug.
Leeadra threw herself at the stunned hybrid, pushing her away from the street as a follow-up slug sailed past the space her head had just occupied. The pair tumbled through a shop window and landed heavily amid the shards. Leeadra’s exposed skin was cut from the sharp material.
“Medic!” Leeadra cried out, pulling her saber and activating it with a frantic ‘snap-hiss’. When she looked back at the street, Pib’leni was already gone.
Xzehar Lethror frowned as he stared down at the purple Twi’lek from his vantage point. What was the boy thinking? He was supposed to be a mere distraction, yet the chaos created by the stabbing had fouled his shot. This would not be forgiven.
But the targets, the Pantoran female and the half-Bothan, had already taken cover and a few people were gesturing toward the building where he had set up his nest. This attempt had failed, but there were others on his list. He could return for them later…
Tali lay on the cold street and coughed, hand clutching her bleeding gut. She gazed up at the cavernous ceiling and felt nothing. Everything around her was in a haze, sounds distant and muffled, her own body reduced to nothing but a pair of frail heartbeats. One strong, one yet unborn.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
She comprehended nothing. She simply was. She felt cold, but didn’t mind. There was no need.
Shapes moved around her. Gravity shifted. She saw silhouettes of faces, silhouettes she should have recognized, but didn’t. She tried to smile. It hurt.
Someone shouted from the bottom of an endless well. She couldn’t hear the words. It didn’t matter anymore.
The sterile white light bathed the operating room in a painfully bare glow, the pungent waft of antiseptics and iron overpowering to a lesser being. Rhylance, however, was no lesser being. The Chiss observed the patient with an expressionless stare, his vinyl gloved hands still a pristine white, for now.
The Twi’lek was clinging to life by a thread, both her own and her daughter’s. Even heavily sedated and suffering from acute blood loss, the woman clutched her punctured belly with bloodied hands, caressing the ragged skin that leaked amniotic fluids.
“Is ok, Aayoka. Is ok," she spoke the words, over and over past tear-streaked cheeks.
Her parched lips could barely give voice to the words, her eyes clouded over and unresponsive. It wasn’t a conscious act, but instinct that drove her. Motherly instinct.
He paused, knowing full well he did not have the time to spare if he was to save even one of them. There would only be time enough for one, and he knew the mother-to-be would never forgive him for it, but she was more valuable.
“Fear not, Tali,” the Chiss whispered as he picked up a scalpel. “There will always be another time for children.”
A Well-Appointed Apartment
Lucine absently sorted through her contacts, pausing periodically to focus her attention on the task. Much as she hated to admit it, the assault on Tali had left her shaken. Fortunately, Rhylance seemed to think the Twi’lek was going to make a full recovery. The baby, however…
She forced her thoughts away from that, and back to the holo-projection of Leeadra. The Captain of the Voidbreaker was making her report. She listened closely to the Pantoran, allowing none of her anxiety to show on her face.
“So, there was a young Twi’lek assailant with a knife, and somebody was shooting at you as well?” she clarified when the Pantoran at last finished speaking.
“Seemed that way,” Lee replied, her image appearing even more diminutive on the holoprojector. Occasionally, the Pantoran’s image flickered and blurred, residual effects of the virus that still plagued their systems.
“This is disturbing to say the least,” the redhead said thoughtfully. “Leeadra, I want all hands on deck on this one. Find the sniper and the Twi’lek, please. We need to stop this before more blood is shed.”
Lee paused, regarding Lucine quizzically. “But where would we even begin looking? We found the sniper’s nest, but they left next to nothing behind.”
“I will see what I can get from my sources,” Lucine said. “Surely someone has seen something.” She heard the quiet footfalls of her butler behind her, but did not turn to acknowledge him. She knew Tabriss well enough to know that he would wait, out of sight, for her to speak. “We hold the loyalty of the rival gangs by the thinnest thread, through fear and intimidation. If they see that we can be hurt, then they will no doubt revolt. I cannot stress this enough, Darling. We must put a stop to this as soon as— “
The Force suddenly screamed a warning, causing her to cut herself off abruptly. Moving purely by instinct, she half-rose to her feet as the sound of shattering glass split the air. She felt a sharp punch to her chest which pushed her back. She stumbled, tripping and falling backward over her chair, which had fallen backward during her sudden movement.
Dimly, Lucine was aware of Tabriss’s shout of surprise, and Lee’s demands to know what was going on. But the sudden pain in her chest and the strange warmth that flowed between her fingers confused her too much to adequately form a reply. Slowly, she pulled her hand from her body and stared in horror at the sticky blood that coated her hand. Realization came suddenly then, echoed by Tabriss’s words as he dropped to his knees beside her, med-kit in hand. “The Aedile has been shot!”
A figure sat in the darkness, illuminated only by the light of his screen. He smiled as he watched the chaos the erupted on Ol’val over and over again. His sniper had missed his mark, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t want them dead, not yet. His message had been received. His aim was becoming clear. Qel-Droma wasn’t as safe on the precious Port as they thought they were.
The Obsidian Daggers had done what they were meant to do. The resources of the Ol’val had been focused on the small time gang within their precious market, and their focus was kept off of him and his organization. Now it was time to come out of the shadows. Their Dusk was at an end.
“Rest easy, Blindman, if you can. You’ll be hearing from the Dawn Conclave yet again.”
The warehouse was largely deserted, most of its workers having gone home for the evening. Most of the illumi-panels had been dimmed, casting the cavernous room in gloomy shadows. In the back corner of the room, a few of the crates and cartons had been pushed aside to make room for a a table, ostensibly used by the workers while they were on break. It was here that five shadowy figures gathered, the glow of datapads and mini-holoprojectors illuminating their faces.
“I commend you all on your hard work,” began Rhylance as he examined the screen of one particular datapad. “This intelligence shall be invaluable in the coming fight.”
“So it is to be a fight, then?” inquired Yumni Ha, a milky-grey Kaminoan who had been responsible for most of the intel in front of them. The faint blue light from the devices made her eyes appear to be even more luminescent than usual.
“Without a doubt,” the Quaestor replied. “This Dawn Conclave attacked us, thinking to beard us in our own den. Fortunately, casualties were kept to a minimum, but the insult cannot be ignored. We will strike back at them and make them suffer.” As he spoke, he pushed his glasses further up his nose, causing the lenses to reflect the light of the datapad.
“Vengeance is a fine idea, but it’s not as if we have a lot to go on,” observed a Human with red-tinged black hair. He extended a pale hand to tap on the interface of the datapad in front of him. “We know who they are, but little else.”
Rhylance regarded Mako steadily for a moment. Mako Henymory was guided by cold logic and ruthlessness; he liked the Human already, as much as he liked anyone.
To Mako’s left stood a gaunt, green-haired Sephi. When she saw Rhylance’s eyes on the Human, she swiveled her reddish-orange eyes toward the Chiss and bared her teeth in challenge. Vestil was feral, chaotic and reckless. The only reason she was even present was because Henymory insisted, and Rhylance was not in the mood to see how many people the Sephi could murder during the course of the meeting.
“We have managed to capture a few of their people, including the Twi’lek boy who stabbed Tali. They will tell us more. But you are correct, we will need more intel before we can sufficiently burn them to the ground.” His crimson eyes swung back toward the Kaminoan. “Yumni, I want you to utilize your unusual contacts to find out as much as you can about them.”
“Such an endeavor might result in considerable expenses. I trust House Qel-Droma will continue to cover my fees?” Yumni replied.
“You will be fairly compensated,” Rhylance replied. The dark-haired Human started to speak up, and the Chiss cut him off. “Yes, Mako, I am aware that you have resources of your own, and I want you to utilize them. However, I have something else in mind for you. It is high time that the House utilized enforcers. The sniper who struck at us was able to get away because the Dawn Conclave embedded loyalists within the port. This must not be allowed to happen again. I want Ol’val secured against any further external threat.”
Mako inclined his head slightly at Rhylance’s words. Vestril did not say anything either, but her opinion was made obvious by her bloodthirsty grin.
“And me?” spoke up the thin, lanky individual who stood a bit away from the table. Luka Zarkot had remained quiet during most of the meeting, but now they favored the group with a cheerful smile.
“You will work with Mako to ensure that the port is secured,” Rhylance replied. “Until my Aedile is recovered, you will all report directly to me. Do you understand your assignments?” When the accumulated people nodded their assent, the Quaestor closed the meeting.
As they went their separate ways, a slender figure clad in black leather melted from the shadows. “Master, it looks like I joined during an interesting time.”
“Indeed you did, Alaisy,” Rhylance said in reply. “Now, gird yourself. With my Aedile temporarily out of commission, I have to see to some of her more distasteful duties, and I would just as soon have you along.”
The Sith leaned forward slightly. “What is it? What will we be doing?”
“We must see to the political side of things,” Rhylance replied with a pained look.
“You want us to steal a ship,” Leeadra said blankly.
“I do indeed, darling,” Lucine replied pleasantly as she tapped on her datapad.
Silence filled the conference room as those present waited for the Aedile to elaborate. Eilen shifted in her small chair, trying to find a comfortable position for her lanky form. Alaisy tapped her nails on the conference table in front of her. Lee suppressed the urge to kick her legs with impatience. Only Emere was still, staring at the redhead unblinkingly.
At last, Leeadra spoke up. “Okay, why?”
Lucine looked up, and a look of surprised crossed her features to see that her words were being questioned. “Well, it is very simple. My contacts indicate that the Dawn Conclave are increasing the number of ships in their possession. Personally, I think this is a fabulous idea, one that we should emulate.”
“Uh… but why steal it? Why can’t we just, you know, buy more ships?”
“Oh no. Don’t tell me you blew the House budget on your wardrobe again,” Lee put in. To her left, Alaisy’s eyes widened as she considered how many outfits she herself could buy with access to such funds.
“Oh course not!” Lucine gasped. “I swear, when I get my hands on whomever started that vile rumor—” She hastily cut herself off when she realized that the others were looking on, and took a slow breath.
“The fact is that the Qel-Droma finances are in the black, but just barely,” the Aedile continued at last. “We simply do not have the funds to buy more ships. However, if we were to have a larger fleet we could run more pirating and smuggling operations, thus bringing in more money for the House. Besides, we are a criminal House, are we not? Committing crimes is what we do.”
“Sounds like you’re committed to this idea,” Lee said at last. “What ship are we stealing?”
“A big one,” Lucine replied airily with a wave of her hand. “I do not know, darling, ships are not my forte. I will leave the details to you. But do be careful. We know that the Dawn Conclave is actively expanding their fleet, so you might have some competition for whatever ship you decide to steal. Good luck!”
An Undisclosed Warehouse
Low-Jack Krimmler suppressed the urge to groan at his sabacc hand before tossing his cards on the pile and shooting a glare at the dealer. He knew that Sticks was stacking the deck somehow, but he simply could not figure out how.
Sticks grinned as he gathered up the cards and began to shuffle. Low-Jack glared at him He was about to make his displeasure known when he saw the Rodian in the corner chugging from a large bottle. “Oy, Trasker! Go easy on that, we gotta job in a few hours!” Though he turned his head to look at Trasker, he kept Sticks within his peripheral vision.
The Rodian took a few more gulps before lowering the bottle to blink muzzily at Low-Jack. “Wha’s tha problem? I’m jus’ startin’ the celebration early!” The Rodian sharpshooter then belched to add emphasis to his point.
“Yeah? Well save if for after the job. I need ya sharp in case we run into trouble,” Low-Jack growled as he picked up his cards. He studied them carefully, before tossing a few more credit chits on the growing pile.
“We all know that job’s gonna be easy peasy, just like all the others,” Sticks put in as he tossed a small handful of chits onto the pile and drew two cards.
Low-Jack shook his head as he stared at his pathetically small pile of chits, and back to his cards. “Yeah, maybe. But I’ve been hearing stuff. Stuff that makes me think this job ain’t gonna be so easy. Word is that the Blindman’s crew are looking to snag the same ships we are.”
Sticks gave a loud guffaw. “As if they had the choobies! And speaking of choobies, you gonna call?”
The human mercenary sighed and pushed his pile of credit chits into the pile. “All the same, I’m expecting all a ya to act professional tonight.” He fixed each of the ten mercenaries in the room with a glare to show how serious he was. “We got a good thing going with the Dawn Conclave, and no one’s gonna kark it up! Got it?”
“Sure, boss, sure,” Sticks replied soothingly “We gotta act right to keep the creds rolling in. You’re gonna need all the coin you can get!” He smirked as he turned over his hand.
Low-Jack cursed and turned over his own cards, which were markedly inferior to his opponent’s. He growled under his breath as Trasker cackled at his misfortune. His laughter was abruptly cut off when the door to their hideout suddenly blew inward, sending twisted metal shrapnel hurtling into the room.
Low-Jack could only barely hear the shouts of his men over the ringing in his ears. Out of reflex, he dived for cover behind a nearby stack of crates. Once in relative safety, he fumbled for his blaster pistol as he peered over the edge of the top-most crate.
A purple Twi’lek in full armor was first into the room. Her face was set in a mask of grim determination and illuminated by the light of a yellow lightsaber. Darrik was nearest to the door and raised his slugthrower to shoot the woman, but she sliced right through him before he could get a shot off.
Two more women strode in after her; one a tall woman clad in a skin-tight black outfit and a Pantoran female who also carried a yellow lightsaber. Low-Jack’s eyes widened when he saw them, realizing that the Blindman’s crew did in fact have the choobies to attack them.
After the bloody battle
An Undisclosed Warehouse
“Well, that wasn’t very challenging,” Alaisy Tir’eivra said as she swept her eyes over the bodies strewn around the room, searching for any additional threats. When she did not see any, she began twisting her electro-whip into a tight coil.
“Vell, ve’re not done yet,” Tali Sroka replied. “Spreadt out. Remember, ve’re looking for a metal box, thirty centimeters square.”
The three women fanned out to achieve their objective. While Alaisy and Tali searched the room, Leeadra picked up a can of paint and sprayed the Blindman’s mark on the wall. They wanted the Dawn Conclave to know exactly who was responsible.
“Foundt it!” Tali said at last, holding the container aloft.
“Great, then let’s get back to the rest of the team,” Lee said as she hopped off the stool she had used to give herself extra height. “We’ve got some ships to steal.”
The docks were silent, given the late hour. Not even the guards that were supposed to patrol were present, having been previously paid off to be absent for a few hours. The Dawn Conclave had thoroughly prepared for the heist, and the Arconans were all too willing to capitalize on those preparations.
As Tali, Alaisy and Lee strode among the rows of docked ships, others melted out of the shadows to join them. The team had been handpicked for this job, just enough people to work as a skeleton crew for the flight of CR25 Troop Carriers.
At last, they found their targets. The four CR25 Troop Carriers stood near the end of the docks, powered down and dark, their crews gone for the evening. Upon seeing them, Alaisy smiled with appreciation. “Nice,” she murmured as she took in the dark hulls’ of the ships.
The counterfeit identification chits worked like a charm, further proof of the level of preparation that the Dawn Conclave had devoted to their task. Within a few minutes, the ships were powered up. One by one, they lifted off of the dock and ascended into the atmosphere.
“Excellent, excellent work!” Lucine said for the hundredth time. Her smile was brilliant as she toured the new ships with Tali, Alaisy and Leeadra in tow. “These ships will go a long way toward building our smuggling fleet. And they all have so much closet space! Well done!”
“How many of those closets do you think she vill commandeer?” Tali murmured to Lee under her breath.
“Probably all of them? Who knows?” the Pantoran replied in a sotto voice. The Twi’lek suppressed a smirk as she saw a familiar Chiss approaching their group.
“Indeed, it was very well done,” Rhylance said as he drew nearer.
“Rhylance, where have you been? You were supposed to be here an hour ago,” Lucine fixed the Quaestor with a glare. “Please do not tell me that you were holed up in your lab all this time.”
“Not this time, my dear,” Rhylance replied. “I have just returned from Selen.”
“What were you doing there?” Leeadra asked.
“Making the final arrangements. I have just been named Proconsul,” the Chiss replied with a smirk.
Silence fell over the group as they absorbed what he had said. Lee glanced at Lucine. Though the redhead’s smile was fixed on her face, her eyes blazed with emerald fire. The Pantoran grimaced, realizing what was about to happen. She grabbed Tali and Alaisy by the arm and dragged them away. “We don’t want to be here for this.”
“You WHAT?!” Lucine’s shriek of outrage was almost ear piercing. The trio needed no further impetus to turn and hurry away.
This was it. Finally. All that she’d been waiting for for so very long.
Lucine Vasano ran her hands along the smooth, supple Nerf leather of the Quaestor’s chair and did her best to stifle a shiver of bliss. It had taken a bit of adjusting after the initial news about Rhylance’s advancement, but she’d like to think she had taken it well, all things considered, and now all of this was hers – at last.
The office around her had beheld so many difficult decisions, this chair so many weighty names; and now it was her turn. What great challenges would still lie ahead of her? What monumental tasks would she be called upon to tackle and tame?
Well, there was one in particular. One she’d been aware of the day Rhylance had been summoned to serve as the Consul’s right-hand man. Her own replacement.
“More tea, Mistress Vasano?” the polite tones of Tabriss, her Chiss manservant, interjected. She gave no recognition to his words, but he filled her cup anyway before departing to dust off the dark corners of her new office.
Spread across the hardwood desk were the profiles of her House membership. Capable individuals, in their own particular ways. But she knew this was an opportunity. It was her first act as Quaestor and whomever she named as her own second-in-command would come to define her career.
Hours dragged on, Tabriss dutifully keeping the tea cup topped, before Lucine finally made her decision. It would be best for the Clan, for the House – and for her.
“Darlings, I am so pleased to see you all again,” Lucine smiled her best amicable smile as the colorful personalities of Battleteam Voidbreaker filtered into the circular conference room.
“As are we all to see someone so capable in charge,” Cymbre Kall said with a muted, yet elegant grin.
Lucine studied the flattering remark for a moment, but acknowledged it with a minute nod and the faintest of smiles before pressing on.
“As you are all aware, Rhylance has taken on other duties at the Consul’s behest and I have been selected as his worthy replacement –” she turned her gaze to Alaisy Tir’eivra and shot her a poignant look that seemed to scream ‘Yes I am, now shut up!’, before returning to her message. “– and that means we are in need of a new Aedile.”
There were some murmurs around the room, some approving, others ambitious. Lucine recognized that tone. She’d been intimately acquainted with it for so long herself.
“To that end, I am proud to present to you the exceptional individual to replace me in my old post, Tali Sroka.”
The murmurs came to an abrupt halt and all eyes turned to the purple Twi’lek. She rose calmly from her seat and stepped up next to the Quaestor.
“Vhatever the House demandts,” she stated in a monotone to rival that of a Kaminoan.
“Splendid! That’s the spirit,” Lucine replied enthusiastically through a picture perfect Trandoshan smile. “And to celebrate the occasion, I’m giving you all the week off!” she declared with a hint more genuine enthusiasm.
A resounding cheer coursed through the assembled, even as Leeadra Halcyon stood up to her full height of not-that-much, and tried to shout over the commotion. “But I had pla–”
“WEEK OFF!” came the combined shout of her Battleteam who proceeded to vacate the premises with all the elegance of a stampeding herd of Banthas.
Sitting down, the defeated Pantoran grumbled to herself. “I’m getting too old for this kark…”
Captain’s Ready Room
“Okay, so I think that’s about it,” Leeadra said as she swept a cerulean hand in the air over the captain’s desk. The surface was covered in a wide array of flimisplasts and datapads, stacked to an impressive and precarious height. “Everything you could possibly want to know about being captain of the Voidbreaker.”
Emere Galo fought the urge to bury her head in her hands as she considered the sheer amount of information Leeadra had imparted upon her over the past few weeks. The responsibility of the smooth running of the ship fell squarely on her shoulders. She could feel the burden settling there, and began to understand why the diminutive Pantoran had looked so stressed all the time. “It seems thorough,” she said at last.
“Yep,” Lee replied. “I’m pretty sure almost every contingency is covered somewhere.” She paused, noticing the apprehension on Emere’s face. “The regular crew knows what they need to do to keep the ship running. Listen to their advice and you should be okay. And, if all else fails, don’t forget that you’ve got your own private bar.” She glanced at the fully stocked bar for emergencies. It’s helped me out more than once.”
Emere turned her eyes to the cabinet that was heavily laden with a wide assortment of various high-end liquors. She suspected that she would be getting to know its contents very well. “All right.”
“Ready to do this?” Lee asked at last.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Emere replied. She followed Leeadra out the door of the ready room, and down the shaft that lead to the bridge of the ship.
“Captain on the bridge!” Their arrival was heralded by Brett Formian, the Officer on Watch. At his words, most of the crew rose to their feet to stand at attention.
Emere gave a small nod of approval of the formality, but Lee appeared embarrassed. “Most of the officers here are on loan from the Arconan Expeditionary Force,” she explained in an undertone. “I’ve told them they don’t have to be so formal, but old habits die hard.” The diminutive Pantoran then turned her attention to the crew. “It’s been great, folks. But as you know, I’m relinquishing command, as of now. Captain Galo, you now have command.”
Emere nodded her head slightly. Lee had explained the process of handing off command ahead of time, and so she had been expecting it. The crewmembers were now looking at her, waiting for her command. She cleared her throat, before saying, “As you were.”
At her words, the crew returned to their duties, and Lee grinned. “See? You’ve got this.”
“Sure,” Emere said in reply.
“Chatty as always,” the Pantoran said as she patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. I think it’s time for me to take a bit of R and R. Why not get settled in?”
Emere nodded and took her leave of Leeadra. She returned to the ready room and settled at the desk to once more stare at the pile of information that awaited her. Though it was not technically her first stint in leadership, it was definitely a new experience. She considered grabbing a drink before looking through the information once more.
As the thought crossed her mind, the console in the center of the desk flared to life, revealing the face of a familiar redhead. “Well, it appears the handoff went smoothly,” she said by way of greeting.
“You were watching?” Emere asked, though she was not surprised. The Quaestor seemed to have eyes everywhere, and made no secret of it.
“Of course, darling! Watching you assume command for the first time? I would not miss it. It was a proud moment for me,” Lucine replied brightly.
“Uh huh,” was Emere’s dry response. She raised an eyebrow at the pair of dark glasses that the redhead was wearing, despite the fact that it appeared that she was sitting in her office. “Nice glasses,” she said, trying to hide a smirk. Doesn’t she know that only assholes wear sunglasses indoors?
Lucine took a moment to adjust them, looking entirely too pleased with herself. “Why thank you! They are the latest thing, and everyone in the upper Summit is wearing them! I am so glad you like them, because pairs will be arriving for you and all the other members of the Voidbreaker shortly!”
“A uniform change?” Emere asked.
“Oh no, nothing that extreme. Merely a helpful tool. The glasses have a number of handy features, including a steady stream of the latest verified DIA intel projected on the periphery of the lenses. I think you will find the glasses to be most helpful in the days to come,” Lucine replied.
“What’s going on?”
“Well, that is the problem, darling. We are not entirely certain at this time. All of our intel indicates that something big is coming, but the details are hazy. We know it will be some sort of conflict, perhaps even a war,” the redhead explained.
“A war?” Emere repeated, feeling a thrill go up her spine. “Against who?”
“Unfortunately, we do not have any reliable data about who the conflict will be against, so we must be prepared for anything. As of right now, vacations are canceled. All members of Voidbreaker and House Qel-Droma are to remain in high alert and make all necessary preparations for the upcoming conflict. I know I can count on you to see this through. Arcona Invicta!”
Lucine did not wait for a response. The console screen went blank, leaving Emere alone with her thoughts. “Arcona Invicta,” she said to the empty room.
The Abeona stalled her engines and powered down her weapons in a show of submission. From the bridge of the Voidbreaker, Captain Emere Galo gave a quiet sigh of relief. The crew of the battered G9 Rigger-class Light Freighter had put up a significant fight, much more than anyone had expected. Still, the Voidbreaker’s superior firepower and maneuverability had won the day. Their prize would be whatever cargo The Abeona was carrying.
“Have the away team ready to board, but keep the weapons on standby,” Emere ordered. She clasped her hands behind her back as she regarded the relatively still merchant vessel with a pensive look. She didn’t like the idea of sending an away team to board the vessel, but it was necessary to secure the cargo. She simply had to hope that the team would be able to handle it if the crew of The Abeona got feisty.
“Away team, prepare to board in 10.”
The voice of Brett Formian, the Officer on Duty, echoed off of the duralium-enforced walls, causing the people gathered there to look up.
“It looks like it’s our turn, Master,” the newly Knighted Aru Law said, as his hand went reflexively to the freshly made lightsaber that hung from his belt.
“Indeed it is, Apprentice,” Alaisy Tir’eivra replied. She was already wearing her helmet. The voice modulator in her armor made her ordinarily sweet-sounding voice into a deep growl. “I do hope they have a little fight left in them.” Even with the modulation, her voice carried a note of grim anticipation.
“They probably will, Master! It seems like all of the merchant ships in this sector have had extra mercenaries on board. It’s almost like they’re expecting trouble,” he said.
Beside him, Aru’s droid Tinker gave a rapid series of chirps that drew a smile from the Knight. “No, there’s no need for you to make coffee now. We’ll save it for after we get back,” he told the droid.
Tinker started to respond, but a series of deep booms cut the droid short. The deck beneath their feet vibrated ominously with each percussion. “What was that?” Aru asked.
“What was that?” Emere demanded.
“Ma’am! A ship just came out of hyperspace to our starboard side and deployed missiles!” The viewscreen flashed, showing an image of the offending ship. It was a Combat Hammerhead Corvette, and it appeared that its weapons were trained directly on the Voidbreaker. Emere’s eyes narrowed as she saw the sigil of the Dawn Conclave emblazoned on the hull.
“Any damage?” she asked.
“None. It appears they were warning shots.”
The communications officer spoke up, “The Corvette is attempting to hail us.”
“First they attack and then they want to talk?” Emere muttered in irritation. “Fine, patch them through. And in the meantime, I want all weapons directed at that ship. Battlestations, people, now!”
The officers on the bridge leapt into action, making the necessary preparations to return the Voidbreaker to battle-ready status. Meanwhile the image of the ship vanished, only to be replaced by the visage of a smug-looking Human male. He peered at Emere through watery blue eyes and parted the massive folds of his face in an insouciant smile. “Ah, you must be Captain Galo!”
“Yeah, that’s me. Who the hell are you and why are you shooting at my ship?” Emere demanded. Not that she really cared, she just wanted to give her crew enough time to get ready for the fight.
“My name is Jarlow Crewe, and I am the captain of The Illustrious and lieutenant of the Dawn Conclave. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
“No,” Emere growled.
The portly man gave a sniff of disdain. “No matter. As for your second question, our initial shots were a warning. That ship and its contents now belong to us. But to thank you for subduing it for us, I shall graciously allow you to live.”
“You can graciously sod off,” Emere replied.
“Charming,” Jarlowe replied with a smirk. “Be that as it may, anything other than an immediate withdraw on your part will be met with force. You are outgunned, outmanned and outclassed. We will blow you and your ship directly to hell. Decide quickly, Captain. I want to have that ship looted and be home in time for tea.”
The holoscreen grew dark as Crewe cut the connection, before returning to the image of The Illustrious. Galo ground her teeth for a moment, before looking to Formian. “Well?”
“He’s not wrong,” the Twi’lek replied. “They do outgun us.”
“And we’re already beaten up from the fight with The Abeola,” Emere muttered. “Great, just great.”
“What are your orders, Captain?” Formian asked.
The seconds ticked by as Emere considered her options. They could try to fight, and at the moment there was nothing she wanted more than to wipe the smirk right off Crewe’s pompous face. But in their current state, the outcome was far from certain. Finally, she sighed. “Give the order to retreat.”
“This is an outrage! How dare they raid ships within range of Ol’val!” Lucine paced the length of the meeting room, clearly annoyed by the report. “Those are our ships to raid!”
“I had to withdraw. We were too beaten up following the fight with The Abeona,” Emere said defensively.
“Nobody blames you. You hadt to make a tough call,” Tali said from behind a veritable stack of flimsiplasts and datadisks. It seemed that the paperwork had only piled up during the war. “You kept your crew safe, and that vas a smart move.”
“And now we know why they were so heavily armed and put up such a fight. It seems the Dawn Conclave has been raiding in this area while we were distracted by the war,” Aru put in. He and Alaisy had been invited to the meeting to add their input, as they were aboard the Voidbreaker when the attack came.
“They’ve mostly been targeting ships bound for Ol’val, but they’ve also been hitting the legitimate merchant ships as well,” Alaisy growled through her voice modulator.
“The sheer audacity of it…” Lucine grumbled. “It seems like Ol’val is being invaded, overrun or infiltrated every other week! Why do we not have defenses against this sort of thing?”
Silence filled the room as the others looked from one to another. Finally, Tali spoke. “I don’t know, Quaestor. Vhy don’t ve have defenses against that sort of thing?”
Lucine did not deign to respond to her Aedile’s question. Instead, she continued to pace the office with a thunderous look on her face. A moment later and the scowl cleared, as she went to her desk and began to sort through the piles of paperwork and datapads until she found a specific one. She tapped the interface, and pulled up a catalogue of ships. “This shall be rectified immediately. As soon as Kordath and Zujenia’s wedding is over, I want every member of the House to turn their attention to the task of improving Ol’vals defenses.”
“Your response is to go shopping?” Alaisy asked. It was impossible to tell if her modulated voice held amusement or dismay.
“Well, it does always make me feel better,” the redhead replied with a smile. “And this time, it is a necessary expense. And then, once the port is suitably well defended,” her smile turned cold, “we can turn our attention to paying the Dawn Conclave back in full for this humiliation.”
Launch Bay 5
“Magnificent, aren’t they?” Yumni Ha stated as the group of Qel-Dromans walked past the ranks of freshly arrived A and B-wings, their hulls gleaming like polished chrome under the work lights of the low ceiling. Two squadrons of additional firepower, capable of reacting on short notice to any possible threat the Voidbreaker or other Qel-Droman asset might find itself facing, were being integrated into a covert launching bay hollowed out from a portion of the asteroid base’s interior.
“They appear very pristine,” Lucine Vasano agreed, maintaining a certain air of disinterest while so close to the woman she’d paid to broker them these particular fighters without too many niggling traces.
“I’m sure they vill be of great help in making sure the Shadowport von’t keep spontaneously combusting from infiltrating rebels and saboteurs,” Tali Sroka stated, with a bit more honesty than the Quaestor.
The Kaminoan’s expression remained as inscrutable as ever while she carried on with the inspection tour, letting the esteemed bill-payers have a good look at the merchandise they’d just shelled out millions of credits for.
“Shame they didn’t come in black,” Alaisy Tir’eivra mused as she ran a latex-clad hand along the smooth side of a parked A-wing. “I could see myself enjoying them much more that way.”
“W-wonder if they’ll fit a, uh, taller pilot…” Eilen Jath muttered, the tall half-Selonian eyeing the same craft with no small amount of piloting desire.
“I think the B-wings could squeeze two inside,” Leeadra Halcyon winked. “Wonder how that gyro-stabilization works in high-G motions…”
Eilen almost bumped her head on a low hanging light while trying, and failing, to process the mischievous Pantoran’s proposition.
“I agree, these are far more exciting,” Aru Law commented, already standing atop a B-wing and peering inside the cockpit. The sheer amount of firepower crammed inside the small spaceframe made his hands itch with desire to take it out for a spin and reduce the surrounding asteroid field by a few tons.
Standing squatly beside the fighter, ‘Tinker’, his R2-unit, squarbled something in binary, clearly pouting at the lack of proper astromech viewports like on an X-wing or N1.
“Yes yes, I’m not ditching you. Just calm your servos and take a look at those proton torpedo launchers!” he hollered back, head halfway down the torpedo magazine.
“All items accounted for, in full, and on time. Please sign here,” Yumni stated in the professional manner she prided herself for and handed Lucine a datapad.
The Quaestor felt like contesting at least something about the whole order, but the Kaminoan was infuriatingly pedantic in such matters, everything had been delivered precisely according to her requests. She signed the pad with a flourish and handed it back to Yumni, who bowed politely and left the Qel-Dromans to enjoy their new toys.
“Vell, at least ve’ll have some teeth to bite back next time the Dawn Conclave comes knocking,” Tali sighed, watching with muted amusement as the membership of Battleteam Voidbreaker took to their new charges with varying levels of intrigue.
“Indeed, I was always hoping to leave Ol’val in a better shape than it was given to me,” Lucine agreed.
“You’ll still have plenty of time to shore up its defences, Quaestor,” Tali replied with dry amusement.
The Twi’lek turned to face the redhead, who kept staring at the people she’d come to cherish as her fr—minions. A speck of dust, surely from the recent excavations, caught her eye and demanded wiping away.
“Is there something I’m not aware of, Lucine?” Tali pressed, seeing the woman’s hesitance to reply.
“Yes,” she coughed to clear her throat. “A fair bit, in fact,” she thought to herself before replying. “There are going to be some changes in Arcona, and I fear we both shall be part of them…”
Late 37 ABY
Tali was starting to regret her new post. Buried under an avalanche of flimsiplast—a flimsiplastilanche—she was being asked to handle the administrative functions of the surprisingly large operation which was House Qel-Droma, and at the moment, she was doing so alone.
Things had changed rapidly as of late, with Lucine taking up a more permanent residence in the Citadel what with her being Consul and all, and Emere Galo’s resignation from captaining the Voidbreaker had left the lekhead in a rather untenable position. With heaps of day-to-day duties piling up at her admittedly plus-sized desk, the Twi’lek was finding herself way beyond her depth and keeping the rapscallions that made up the House membership in line was proving to be a chore.
“Do you require assistance, Quaestor?” a familiar monotone inquired from the doorway.
Tali looked up from her mountain of sisyphean flimsi at the palid white face of the ever so helpful Kaminoan, Yumni Ha. The trader had come to be under very good terms with House Qel-Droma whenever credits were to exchange hands and Tali was under no illusion that it was precisely that which motivated her presence once again.
“Vhat do you vant, Yumni?” Tali sighed, dreading another addition to the mountain range.
“Two things, Quaestor. Firstly, the outstanding reimbursements from House Qel-Droma to the Arconan Logistics and Shipping Company are overdue by a margin so considerable, it is starting to put a strain on the amicable relations established by your predecessor.”
Tali gave her a blank stare and blinked, twice.
“Your payments are overdue,” the Kaminoan helpfully clarified. She’d recently come to be a bit better at her social interactions.
“Right, yes. I think I hadt the bills somewhere in here…” Tali muttered as she began to shuffle through the flimsi mountains. “Andt the secondt thing?”
“Advice, if I may.”
“Advice? Always pay my bills on time?”
“Well, yes, but also a lesson in delegation. You see, despite my admitted preference to maintaining myself in the loop of ALaS Co’s daily affairs, an operation like that would not run as smoothly as it does were it solely my responsibility to manage. To that end, I’ve taken great pains to find the most suitable, or failing that, least un-suitable candidates to run several of the minor logistics hubs for me; in short Delegation.”
“You are clearly struggling to complete the tasks assigned to you, which is no wonder, as before there were three people doing them. Find yourself good people and trust them to shoulder some of the burden.”
Tali looked at the woman with minor shock. It must have been the first time she heard the Kaminoan use a word like trust. She’d honestly not known if it even was in her vocabulary.
“I’dt love to, but all this…” She gestured widely at her desk.
“…Can wait until you have made your hirings. Otherwise, you will never have time. Trust me, bureaucracy will always find a way to outpace any single clerk.”
There it was again, trust. Tali thought about it for a moment and sighed, bowing her head in acceptance.
“Very vell, you make a goodt point, Yumni.”
“I usually do,” Yumni said without a hint of smugness, her deadpan delivery incapable of such nuance.
The Quaestor’s chambers had been cleared of paperwork for the moment, the mountains of flimsi stored safely in voluminous cupboards rated to withstand high-yield administrative loads. Standing before the large desk stood two people, one familiar to the Twi’lek, the other less so.
They were, as Yumni had put it, the most suitable.
Karran Val’teo, a Zabrak previously serving House Galeres, stood tall and confident to her left of the two, his expression expectant. To the Twi’lek’s eye, she found something resembling her former apprentice, Sera Kaern, in him and a few exchanged words with her had indeed confirmed that Sera had left her mark on him. As had the other person beside him.
Alaisy Tir’eivra, for her part, was even taller and bedecked, as per usual, in glossy latex from neck to toe, with her head concealed behind a mirror-faced almond shaped helmet. Had she not seen her take it off once or twice before, Tali might have assumed she was either a statue, or a droid of some sort. A very particular type of droid, Tali thought with mild revulsion.
“Thank you both for accepting these postings, House Qel-Droma needts competent leaders now more than ever,” Tali began and slid a pair of badges over the counter, one for each.
“I assure you, Quaestor, I will bring the Voidbreaker back in line. Give me two weeks, and she’ll be running like a well oiled machine,” Karran spoke confidently as he picked up his badge of office.
Tali gave him a strained smile. Clearly, he had no idea what he was getting himself into, but at least he had confidence. That had to count for something, right?
“I am honored by your trust, Quaestor,” Alaisy stated in turn, her voice a somewhat disturbingly synthetic drone from the modulator hidden in her helmet. “And I look forward to working with you. I am sure we will do many great things together.”
Tali couldn’t quite decide whether the modulation made that last bit more or less creepy.
“Vell then, since you both are so rearing to go, let me present you vith your first task.”
Both freshly-minted leaders adjusted their poises ever so slightly as Tali tapped her datapad. With a warble of Binary, a pair of R2 units entered the office, each hauling after them a small repulsor sled upon which, neatly packed, were a cubic meter of flimsiplast.
“Velcome to Qel-Droma,” Tali sighed.
House Qel-Droma Headquarters
Sounds of hydrotools, vibrosaws and the infernal clanking of hammers echoed in the hallways around the gathered Qel-Dromans, flecks of dust and chips of stone falling from the rough ceiling as construction teams continued setting up their new base. Tali stood beside a hologram of the Shadowport, trying to time her briefing to when the sounds of drilling abated.
“Alright, ve’ve almost clearedt out the Dawn Conclave from our home, but they still holdt a few strongpoints. The oldt service dockyardt at the very bottom of Ol’val, a part of the housing district, andt a portion of the mining tunnels are still no-go for our allies. Once ve retake those, Ol’val vill be secure once more.”
For the better part of a year, they’d been fighting back against the insurgency orchestrated by the elusive Dawn Conclave, a rival criminal syndicate that had launched a devastating assault on their home and almost succeeded in routing them. But now, the tides of war had turned and with the new starfighters of Aurabesh Prime and Butcher squadrons to assist them, and the resources gained from the Voidbreaker’s increased pirate activities, they had their enemy on the ropes. All that remained was the knock-out punch.
“So, what plan do you propose to finish them?” Karran Val’teo, Battleteam Voidbreaker’s newly-minted leader inquired. “Taking out that small remnant shouldn’t prove a problem.”
“They may be small, but all the more vicious for it,” Leeadra Halcyon stated pensively.
“I, uh, agree. Cornered beasts can be desperate,” Eilen Jarth added in support of her girlfriend.
“Then we’d best not tell them they’re being cornered,” Alaisy Tir’eivra stated with a hint of modulated sadism, her face obscured by the mirror sheen of her helmet.
“Agreedt,” Tali nodded and pointed back at the holomap. “After last veek’s successful hit on the Nautolan, they shouldt only have one more lieutenant left. Unfortunately, ve don’t know anything about them, except a name: Geldi. Once they are gone, vhatever cohesion they have left vill likely crumble.”
She pivoted the hologram to show the underside of the Ol’val asteroid, especially the old service dockyard left by the original mining operation, and nodded at her Aedile.
“They’ve been getting small shipments of weapons through here,” Alaisy began. “Although Aurabesh Prime has been working overtime in intercepting their shipments, it is not unlikely they couldn’t try to extract themselves that way when we turn up the heat. To that end, we will keep the Voidbreaker on increased stand-by so when they do run, we can intercept and block their escape. I trust you can manage that, Captain?” Her words pointed at Karran.
“Of course, ma’am,” the Zabrak smirked back. “Though, one small question. If we are to keep the Voidbreaker on stand-by, who’s going to hunt down this Geldi fellow?”
There was a moment’s silence as the Twi’lek and helmeted Human exchanged glances.
“Erm, yes. Excellent point, Captain Val’teo…” Tali stammered.
An awkward moment of silence descended.
“Maybe,” a voice sounded from the back row, “you could wait a little with offing this Geldi person? We just find out who they are and then, one-two,” she slapped her hands, “we blast them, scoot ‘round in the Voidbreaker and grab the fleeing mynocks in a crossfire. Yeah?”
An uncomfortable number of eyes had turned towards the Zygerrian, a recent addition to the vessel’s complement, who was shuffling a deck of Sabacc.
“Umh, that might vork, yes. Thank you, uh,” Tali tried to remember her name. It was something—Ziggurat. “Zigrahan?”
The woman’s expression told her it was not that.
“Just call me Zig,” Zig replied.
The banged up freighter barely made it to its berth before the ill-maintained thruster banks gave out and it slammed hard on its landing gear. The sound of its impactful arrival caused some looks, but such appearances were not uncommon in a place like Ol’val. By the time the pilot had managed to fix the hydraulics leak that had sprung up from the landing, a lone passenger had already made her way off the transport.
Short in stature and clad in a simple cloak that covered her from head to heel, only the glint of facial markings betrayed her as a Mirialan. She observed the state of the port with a mixture of curiosity and disdain, having clearly expected something greater. Nevertheless, she sat about towards the cantina to refresh her parched mouth, muttering into the lapel of her cloak a single phrase.
Heavy robotic drills lay dormant in the asteroid dirt that was strewn around the area leading towards the Kas Tunnels. Large shells of durasteel had been bolted onto the ceilings in order to reinforce the new routes. One of the workers dusted off his hands and another threw her construction helmet back into the cockpit of her repulsor crane, ready to take a well deserved caf break.
“I hope it was worth all the durasteel,” Alaisy Tir’eivra grumbled through her voice modulator, her mask’s visor reflecting the harsh stablights illuminating the worksite.
“It vill be, having a new route through the Kas Tunnel pays off in starship hulls savedt,” Tali Sroka muttered, scanning over her datapad. “This vay, ve’ll be sure to attract more sane merchants to set up shop on Ol’val. Although the suicidal ones didt have pretty goodt merchandise.”
Crackling of obsidian rock betrayed the heavy footsteps of the incoming horned Captain Val’teo.
“I’ve sent off Eilen and Aru to test out the new route, they seemed eager enough to take our new toys out,” Karran bolstered, more scarred and bruised than ever before.
A hiss of air escaped the Aediles mask and in response the Zabrak turned his head at the tall Sith, swearing he could’ve heard her sigh.
“The Voidbreaker crew has hadt their hands full as of late, I’ve readt the report on the creature you’ve encounteredt, vill it keep medical insurance in check?” the Quaestor asked.
“We slew the beast and retrieved the cargo from Kashyyyk, no casualties.”
The latex clad woman crossed her arms, rolling her eyes.
“You are fortunate to still be alive Captain, if it were not for the extreme competence of our crew you would have been part of the Tarentatek’s digestive system. Zig’s creative use of explosives and Sera Kaern’s ability to enhance our prowess in combat through the Force were some of the drives that prevented total disaster.”
“Yeah, they handled themselves under pressure. Seems my training is starting to pay off,” the heavily-bandaged Zabrak mused to the utter incredulity of his superiors.
“Anyway,” Tali moved along with a muted cough to clear her throat, “how are you faring in ridding our home of the Dawn Conclave?”
“Errr, yes,” Karran replied.
There was a pause. It dragged on, uncomfortably so.
“May I suggest you redirect your focus upon the tasks laid out by your direct superiors?” Alaisy’s modulated voice finally broke the silence.
“Yes, but the Consul’s orders…”
“I know, I know,” Tali sighed and rubbed her temples. “Lucine made it frustratingly clear that ve needt to get those deals done. Honestly, she shouldt just focus on dealing vith the Principate andt not have us try to act as diplomats.”
“We did manage to get us close to a deal with Kyrellius…” Karran began, but was silenced by a withering glare from the Twi’lek.
“I vill make this as monosyllabic as possible, Captain. Ve. Do. Not. Deal. Vith. Slavers.”
“I think the last word had more than one syl—” Alaisy began, but shut up upon realizing this probably wasn’t the time nor place.
Karran sighed and nodded dejectedly. “We’ll see what we can do to remedy that.”
“Make sure you do. House Qel-Droma may not exactly be overburdenedt by morals, but there are some lines ve do not cross.”
“Anything else, Quaestor, or can I return to the Voidbreaker?” Karran asked with a breathless sigh of exasperation.
“That is all, Captain,” Tali nodded, and turned towards the quickly growing hum of sublight engines as Eilen and Aru raced through the renovated Kas Tunnel in their borrowed A- and B-wings. Tali just hoped neither would try spinning. Even in the now more spacious approach, it was decidedly not a good trick.
“…but since then the Blind Man’s been securin’ his territory, pushin’ back the rivals, gettin’ everyone to play reeal nice together, ya see?” the Besalisk bartender chuckled with a superfluous wink. “Things looked pretty hairy, won’t lie. Whole place was a bloody warzone! But, like ‘im or hate ‘im, the Blind Man’s got a way of making things work out in his favor.”
The cloaked Mirialan nodded, nursing a cup of local brew she’d barely touched. Her focus was on far more important things, such as the long-winded tale the bored barkeep had lavished her with.
“So, if I understood it correctly,” she began, her voice gentle but firm, “what you’re saying is, Ol’val had a power struggle against a well-prepared foreign invader, and they managed to beat them back?”
The Besalisk gave her a look somewhere between bemusement and surprise.
“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” he chuckled and went on to clean a pair of pints at once.
The Mirialan was left to her thoughts as she dragged the back of a singular digit against her chin.
“So the stories were true…”
Edge of Dawn Conclave Territory
Finally! He’d been itching for this moment, and now he finally had the chance to exact his revenge. Geldi suppressed the urge to scratch at the stump of his right arm as he made his way towards a secluded warehouse at the edges of his dwindling turf, escorted by a handful of his finest.
It had taken them some doing, but they’d managed to capture the Rat, the Zabraki schutta who’d sliced off his arm mere weeks ago. Now, he could finally exact some long overdue revenge and send a message to the so-called ‘Blind Man’ that the Dawn Conclave was far from beaten! Once they received the bloody picts of the horn-headed woman, they’d think twice about sending their lackeys into his domain.
The door to the warehouse opened with a hiss, an almost Wookiee-sized Togorian stepping aside to allow his passage, before resuming his guard by the entrance after his security had joined him. A cloaked agent awaited his arrival, the Zabraki woman tied to a durasteel chair with electrocuffs wrapped around her ankles and wrists. She wasn’t going anywhere.
“Ah, we meet again, Rat,” Geldi gloated, flashing a set of predatory teeth as he let his disguise melt away. The Human who’d entered soon shed the last remains of his soft skin and clear blue eyes, exposing the clammy pale green skin and sickly yellow irises of a Clawdite.
The bloodied Zabrak raised her head towards him, defiant even through her bruised lips and swollen eyelid.
“Missed me that much, Geldi?” Sera Kaern spat back, quite literally.
He side-stepped the propelled phlegm with ease, closing the distance and delivering a sharp jab with his remaining arm into her gut. The Zabrak grunted, but did not flinch.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” he hissed into her ear.
“Not, as much as we…” Sera croaked back through gritted teeth.
The dreaded sounds of lightsabers activating in unison and cutting through tender flesh sent chills down Geldi’s spine. As he peered around his shoulder in panic, he saw his bodyguard slumping to the floor all around him as cloaked agents with ignited sabers in hand surrounded him.
“Surrender, andt ve von’t have to use violence,” one of the cloaked figures stated coldly.
He very much preferred the violence, but against such odds, he had no hope. He raised his remaining arm in surrender. Sera chuckled to herself as the restraints deactivated and she rose up beside him, the injuries on her face starting to fade as the illusion wore off.
“I almost feel sorry for you,” she told the Clawdite, before driving her knee in his belly with enough force to make him double over. “‘Cus you punch like a boy.”
“I’m not telling you anything, you hear? You caught me, great for you, but there will be another, and another. Until you are flushed out of this place like the vermin that you are!” Geldi shouted in impotent defiance.
Across the interrogation room table, his outburst was met by the impassive mirror sheen of a bulbous helmet and little else.
“I assure you, we have ways of making you talk,” the faceless figure stated, her voice a distorted synthetic sound that grated the Clawdite’s ears.
“Do your worst, I’ve been trained to resist your mind games,” he growled bitterly.
“Impressive,” the woman agreed, perhaps mockingly. It was difficult to be certain. “But have your men?”
Geldi’s eyes went wide in horror as the implication dawned on him.
“You see, the trouble with not having a single face, is that nobody can ever be quite sure who you are,” the Shiny Sith stated, “Not even your own troops.”
She placed a datapad on the table and let him witness the grainy holovid of a Dawn Conclave outpost letting “himself” and his “bodyguard” pass in without a fight—with predictably macabre consequences.
“I suggest you start talking,” the woman continued, “While you still are of some use to us.”
“We can’t hold ‘em! We shut the blast doors, but they’re still coming through! They’re still comin-AAAARGH!”
The crackling link was cut and the sounds of the strongpoint’s demise were mercifully muted from the remaining Dawn Conclave staff’s ears. The mood in the command center was bleak, the tension so heavy it could be cut with a vibroknife.
“Blast it! Where’s Geldi when we need him?” one of the officers grunted, punctuating her frustration with a fist to the table.
“He went off after that schutta that cut his arm, if he’s not returned by now…” another stated, leaving the implication hanging.
“Then, what are our options?” a third inquired.
“We still have some troops left and with the fresh shipments of guns and explosives, we can make a last stand here,” the woman stated, tracing a perimeter on the holomap with her finger.
“And if they breach it?”
“We blow the charges,” she replied.
A cold stillness settled in the room. Only the humm of ventilation could be heard—and the faint rumbling of gunfire.
“We load what we can, leave this miserable rock, and take our chances with the Council.”
Everyone in the room looked at each other, before beginning a frantic attempt to salvage what little they could.
Outside Port Ol’val
“Scratch one!” Zig chuckled over the comms as she watched the fleeing transport’s engines give out under her sustained barrage and slewed the gun turret around to engage another Dawn Conclave ship that was trying to escape the station.
“Better pick up the pace,” Sera hollered from her own controls, “I already nailed two!”
“Ladies, ladies, you’re both pretty,” Karran’s voice chimed from the bridge via intercom. “Also, Zaric’s leading you both with three ships so far.” He did leave out the part about the over-eager Acolyte having blown up his targets rather than left them for capture like he’d ordered, but… details.
Their plan had gone off without a much of a hiccup. And judging by the increasing desperation with which the Dawn Conclave’s forces were trying to cram themselves out of their last refuge and escape, the ground operation was surely mopping up the remnants right now. He just had to sit back, sip his recaf, and enjoy the lightshow.
Sometimes, it really paid to be the Captain.
Tali Sroka wiped sweat off her brow as the Qel-Droman strike teams returned from their mission. The Dawn Conclave had finally been eradicated and their forces driven out. Hopefully for good. The conflict that had begun with Whallatta’s lightning strike on Ol’val and engulfed the Shadowport in flames had finally been dealt with and Qel-Droma stood all the stronger for it. Ashla and Bogan willing, they wouldn’t have to repeat this exercise during her lifetime.
The weary Twi’lek almost didn’t pick up on Alaisy’s arrival before the exceedingly tall and reflective Sith had almost gotten within arm’s reach. She perked up at once, surprised to see her here. Surely the interrogation hadn’t been that swift?
“Congratulations, Quaestor,” Alaisy greeted with a muted sense of urgency. “I received the reports as well. Our home is finally secure.”
“Yes,” Tali agreed. “Finally. Didt Geldi reveal anything useful?”
Alaisy hesitated. Alaisy almost never hesitated. It made the Twi’lek feel uneasy.
“Yes, after a sort,” Alaisy admitted after a moment’s pause. “He divulged some details which I feel a pressing need to verify, but I fear little else.”
Tali furrowed her brow. “Vhat details? Vhy does it soundt like…?”
“He’s dead,” Alaisy said bluntly. “Killed himself when I tried to persuade him. Some sort of neural failsafe. Rhylance will have a field day.”
Tali was not quite as pleased, but they had captured others. Perhaps they would provide some useful information to offset the loss of the enemy’s lieutenant. “Very vell, andt vhat of the information?”
“That is the reason I am here, Quaestor, to offer you my immediate resignation.”
“I will explain, when I return, but now I urgently need to investigate a particular set of ruins on Dathomir and I fear that will interfere with my duties as Aedile.”
“Thank you for not trying to stop me,” Alaisy stated in parting, already turning around to head for her ship in long, loping steps. “And congratulations on your victory!”
Tali stood dumbfounded in the street, feeling bewildered and confused. She had most definitely not been expecting this outcome. Not in a million years. When a soft voice spoke up beside her, she almost went for her weapon out of sheer shock. Thankfully, the Mirialan’s friendly face disarmed her instincts in an instant.
“Excuse me, ma’am Sroka, but I would wish to extend my congratulations to you as well,” the small woman said with seemingly genuine courtesy. “My name is Korii Shunzo, and I’ve come from afar seeking those who’ve managed to throw off the Enclave.”
“Conclave,” Tali corrected out of instinct, not even questioning how this woman knew so much about what was happening behind the scenes.
Korii smiled knowingly. “They go by many names,” she stated, “And that is precisely why you and I need to have a little talk…”