Inevitable, Chapter One: The Scourge

Part One

Convergence

Xazoa’s Café
Ord Mantell
38 ABY

Laren Uscot preferred a stiff drink over caf any day. However, there was no Shesharilian representation in the café, so he would have to make do with the overbrewed swill. Seated at the same table was the lumpy Mantellian Savrip Hazard Friza - a name he surely hadn’t been given at birth - loudly guzzling a cup of some type of cola, belching as the carbonation hit his throat.

“Tell me, Uscot,” he quipped in his heavily accented Basic. “You ever considered trying to beat me at dejarik? The hologram they use looks a lot like me.”

Laren snorted. “It wouldn’t be worth the effort.”

“Afraid you’d choke?” Friza took another ambitious gulp and choked on the cola, spitting some of it onto the table.

Laren ignored the comment and focused on a small datapad in his hand. It contained messages and operational reports. He read that Kel Zar was traveling to the Tusken’s Eye system at this time. The pieces are nearly set, he thought approvingly.

He had been busy recruiting from Ord Mantell for the Phantom Assembly. In many instances, he hit pay dirt: not only had he found several defectors from the Collective, the Severian Principate, and the Tenixir Revenants, but he had also found a handful of Force users who had grown tired of the politics of the Brotherhood. And they weren’t weaklings to sneeze at, either. He had tapped into a vein of disillusioned Equites, pulling them from as far as the Dajorra and Caperion systems. Given that the Pantoran had departed from Clan Plagueis as a Corsair himself, he related strongly to their struggles. This shared animosity worked wonders in helping to draft these bitter recruits.

He had been speaking with others close to him as well, though the contact he had made had been minimal. Of note, a certain Kel Dor had continually reached out to him, though he couldn’t always accept his transmissions; Laren was all too aware of the consequences of having communications intercepted. However, he knew how many friends he still had in the Ascendant Clan, and that left ample room for both destruction and rebirth - whatever that meant these days.

Laren was distracted from his ruminations by a buzz from the commlink on his hip. Much to the visible annoyance of Friza, he pulled the small device off his belt and softly hissed into it. “Zar, is that you?”

“Uscot. I’ve made contact with the Dark Nest.” The Zabrak sounded far more enthusiastic than usual. Clearly, things were going well. “Two of the nest ships responded.”

Laren blinked. “Really? That quickly?”

“You mention Geonosians, and Killiks get excited,” Kel giggled. “You just give them the coordinates and the access points…” She trailed off, the silence insinuating the outcome.

“It’s not that simple,” grunted Laren. “Plagueis is onto me. And they don’t take kindly to defectors.”

“Ah, but you have a friend who still masquerades his loyalty to the Dread Throne,” said the Zabrak. “Couldn’t he get you through those hoops?”

“If he’s on the Anchorage, yes.”

“Then make sure he’s there,” hissed Kel. “If we get the Killiks to cooperate, we can then set our sights elsewhere.”

Laren gritted his teeth, suppressing his annoyance. “The Killiks will cooperate. And he’ll be there.”

“Good,” the Zabrak snorted, still highly amused by Laren’s stoicism. “How’s Hazard doing?”

“Everyone has the right to be stupid, but he’s abusing the privilege,” Laren said. “Add to that, he’s passing more gas than a freighter.”

“I can hear you, blue boy!” snarled Hazard, burping loudly again as he finished his cola.

“He certainly sounds like he’s in fine spirits,” Kel said. Laren could almost hear the grin on her lips.

Hazard belched loud enough to be overheard in the cafe, with sparse patrons in the establishment staring in awe and disgust.

“I am damn proud of that one.”

Meanwhile, Laren prayed for Kel Zar to make a speedy return.

Part Two

Intimidation

Aboard Chi Cho’s Revenge
Outskirts of the Aliso system
38 ABY

The modified YT-2000 traversed through the brilliant azure murk of hyperspace. The deep thrum of the hyperspace engine aboard the compact ship meant the freighter was traveling at top speed to reach its destination. Hopefully their trip wasn’t going to be one way.

A tense stillness had overcome Laren’s mismatched team aboard Chi Cho’s Revenge. The folks he was working with were all professional sleemos, mercenaries or criminals, but no one ever escaped overcoming their fear before a job. The common thread of coping among most seedy sorts was an introspective silence. In the hushed quiet before the chaos of work, even the most bashful, brutal or benign might reflect on lives lived and choices made. Kel Zar took this approach, made only easier by the single-seat cockpit. Others triple-checked their gear, or went over the plan - for all the good it might do them once the first blaster was fired - again, and again, and again. This was Laren’s approach in the lounge he shared with Hazard, a methodical and militaristic ritual which eased doubt and worry. Others still might try to centre themselves, or send blessings to whatever creator, beast, deity, feeling or memory that gave them hope and reassurance that a blaster bolt wouldn’t be the last thing they ever saw. And, of course, some counted, and perhaps cuddled, their credits.

And then there was Hazard. The brutish yet brilliant fool just had to be the outlier. Rather than manning the guns, the viridescent Mantellian Savrip was sparring quite vocally with the air in the lounge.

Laren paused his study of a datapad and looked over to the other side of the lounge where Hazard now “fought.” He and his imaginary opponent were eyeing each other from across the dejarik and dining table. With a hiss, Hazard bolted to the right side of the table toward the centre of the room. He growled and jabbed once, twice, and then spun and swept his tail under the legs of his invisible foe. Laughing, he pounded his fists on the ground where the nonexistent enemy now lay at the mercy of Hazard’s lumpy fists. But just when Laren thought it might be over, the man fell backwards as if pushed and landed on his rump with a loud thwack.

“Hazard, are you losing?” Laren asked dryly without looking up from his datapad.

Hazard was circling the lounge again, looking for a chance to strike the invisible villain. “This one’s damn slippery, Uscot.”

“You’re mad. Absolutely mad.”

“What’s with the racket?” Kel Zar’s voice asked over the ship’s internal communication system.

“Hazard,” Laren responded in sarcastic monotone.

“Losing to the air again?” She quipped.

“Not for long,” Hazard growled before charging his unseen opponent, burly arms swinging with surprising agility and deadly force.

Laren grabbed his datapad and exited the lounge. He decided it was a hazard to his own safety to stay this close to Hazard during one of his odd bouts. He strode closer to the cockpit, taking a seat in a chair outside the tight space.

“How long until we’re on the outskirts of the Aliso system?” Laren asked Kel Zar as he settled down with his datapad.

“We’re about two hours away. It’ll be a short time before you have to contact your friend.” Kel Zar turned in the pilot’s chair to look at Laren. Her expression was grave. “Your friend will be there, right?”

“He’ll be there. And he’ll get us past the system’s security net.” Laren sounded confident, but there was a piece of him where doubt still festered.

Kel Zar nodded slowly and turned back to the controls, apparently satisfied with his answer. “Keep going over the plan. I’ll let you know when it’s time.”


Auxiliary Control Room, The Pinnacle
Aliso
38 ABY

Regik Sey’lan, or simply the Bothan known as Reg, nervously readjusted the collar of his neatly pressed uniform with his free hand as he made his way to his work station in the Auxiliary Control Room of The Pinnacle. It was an honour to serve in the heart of the Plagueian capital and in one of the main arteries of the colossal nerve center of Clan operations. But Reg had proven his skill in slicing and mechanics, enough so that his life had been spared and he had been hauled from the middle of the aftermath of a battle halfway across the galaxy to work among a bunch of raging Force-wielding lunatics. But he wasn’t dead yet, so there was really nothing to complain about. Though he could be dead today if things didn’t go as planned.

In his other hand he carried a small stack of datapads filled with various messages and technical support tasks from more powerful people he did not, and likely would not ever want to anger. Even these Force-wielding freaks needed someone to fix their computer terminals or slice into some unlucky sod’s mainframe. It was difficult work to prioritize which Sith acolyte or deadly assassin would occupy his time first, but Reg had found the balance the first time Arden and his band of rogues had snatched him up for servitude. It was whoever threatened to kill you the soonest.

Reg was a meticulous sort of person. He always left his hovel in Aliso City at the exact same time every morning. He was also accompanied by the Ravagers - or at least, a pair of those insidious “Assets” he thought were Ravagers - from his hovel to The Pinnacle. Once there he would be assigned his tasks for the day by some middle management officer or other that was unfortunate enough to be stuck babysitting the base’s technicians.

That’s why it had been a surprise to him when that morning it hadn’t been a pair of Ravagers who had greeted him at his hovel door, but an angry and looming Kel Dor with a wide-brimmed hat who had shoved him into a speeder, a blaster pointed at his chest.

“Not again,” Reg moaned.

“What do you mean, ‘Not again?’” The male Kel Dor asked with an amused tone.

“I’d rather not make conversation at the receiving end of a blaster,” Reg responded. “But if you must know, this isn’t my first time, you know…”

“Being kidnapped? Taken hostage?” his captor offered.

Reg nodded, staying silent.

“Well, apologies for this, friend.” The fellow shrugged and leaned back in the luxury speeder, his blaster pointing lazily at Reg. This man knew the Bothan was no threat to him. “It’s just business.”

The Kel Dor fell silent, and for a minute or so, Reg stared at the blaster wielding Kel Dor and tried his best not to quiver with nearly uncontrollable fear. He sat perfectly still, unwilling to move a muscle for fear of provocation and instant death. Unlike the reputation some of his more ethical and heroic Bothan cousins had garnered during the Galactic Civil War, Reg was less inclined to risk his neck for anything. He liked his neck the way it was, where it was, and without a blaster hole burnt through it. But he couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“What in the blazing seven moons do you want…also, you’re TuQ’uan Varick, I assume?” Reg blurted, his voice squeaking with the last words that left his mouth.

“I thought you would never ask! And yes, at your service.” TuQ’uan provided a mocking bow from his chair before proffering a datapad and holographic transmitter. “First, read the pad and pass it back. Next, keep that transmitter on your person. I’ll know if you try to drop it somewhere.”

Reg read the contents of the datapad. It left his hackles standing on end and a pit in his stomach.

“You want me to slip someone through the Aliso security net? Are you out of your damn mind?” he hissed.

TuQ’uan chuckled and replied, “You bet. I’ll do just about anything if someone’s gouging the bank for some credits or promising good fun. Now,” he paused, using the blaster to lift the brim of his hat. “Do you understand what you’re supposed to do?”

“Yeah. I’m only supposed to mask the ship’s drive signature, manipulate our security system’s to approve their old codes, and cover my tracks by manipulating the records to show they were never there in the first place. About right?”

“And to not tell a soul about it,” TuQ’uan added, pointing at Reg with his blaster for emphasis. “Because what happens if you do?”

Reg looked down at the datapad again, read, and shuddered. “Nothing good.”

“Exactly. Now, you’ll be working in the Auxiliary Control Room today. I expect that will work as a suitable location for your work?”

“But this will be impossible!” Reg cried, pulling at the fur on his head. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at slicing. Might be the only thing I am good at besides running my mouth or getting caught in situations like these. But this much activity on the backend of the system will be noticed, I can promise you that.”

“You might be good. I’m better.” TuQ’uan snatched the datapad from Reg’s hands. Within moments, the pad fizzled with sparks, and the screen shattered in his lap. But TuQ’uan was fixed on Reg. “Plagueis is always on the lookout for sabotage or other cyber warfare, but a blip in the system might be overlooked. Add to that, I’m going to make sure there are other problems taking up everyone’s time.”

“But - ”

“Reg, stop asking questions. You’re either in, or I’m going to blast you and dump your body on the side of the road. And you either stay in, or I’ll make sure someone finds your corpse somewhere in The Pinnacle.”

And so it was that Reg found himself assuming his station near the back of the large, square room which was the Auxiliary Control Room. He tried his best to control his nerves and focus on the task at hand. Today, it was that angry mercenary who was the first on his list of death threats to overcome, even if it meant betraying Clan Plagueis. But by the blazing seven moons, he would he do his best, and he would run for his life if he failed.

Many thanks to Laren Uscot for writing this chapter!

Part Three

Arrival

Aboard Chi Cho’s Revenge
Outskirts of the Aliso system
38 ABY

“Go time.”

Laren set down his datapad and looked to Kel Zar. She reached forward and took a wireless conventional communicator from the dashboard of the cockpit and handed it behind her. Laren took it with his left hand and saw the red light flashing, indicating there was someone on the other end trying to send a message. He prayed it was TuQ’uan and not the premature end of this mission.

He pressed the button and spoke into the communicator. “Blue here. Setting the table.” It was a ridiculous code which indicated he was nearing the Aliso system and not in any immediate danger.

“Red here. Dinner’s ready. You should grab the drinks.” It was TuQ’uan’s voice, using the code they had agreed upon which signified he was still safe and the plan was to go forward. TuQ’uan had insisted on using this ridiculous code, but Laren had obliged out of cautious necessity.

He looked to Kel Zar and nodded, the communication with TuQ’uan now closed. “When the Plagueians ask us to transmit our codes, we should be in the clear. Are you ready?”

“They’re ready. And our drive signature?”

“We didn’t exactly get to have a conversation, Kel,” Laren said. “TuQ’uan said everything’s in order. We’ll slip past just like we planned.”

Kel Zar shook her head and laughed with an exasperated tone. “Everything’s riding on a lot of if’s, Uscot. I think -”

“Unidentified vessel,” a bleak bureaucratic voice intoned.

“They’re early,” he breathed, speaking over some administrative and opaque drivel about being killed and security.

“… Transmit your clearance codes for system authorization.”

Laren scrambled into the cramped cockpit as best he could, looking at the dashboard of controls in alarm.

“So?”

“We have to transmit, or we’ll be torn to shreds the moment we leave hyperspace.”

“I guess it’s now or never.” Kel Zar pressed the response button and said, “Read you loud and clear. Transmitting codes now.”

Her hands worked the controls and a gentle, audible bleep confirmed the old authorization codes would be sent to the unseen security station. It would then be routed through The Pinnacle on Aliso and, with luck, rerouted back with nothing to say the codes were old or suspect.

A long minute passed as the freighter sped soundlessly toward the edge of Plagueian space in the dim cerulean portal of hyperspace. Laren and Kel Zar were transfixed on the dash. They ignored the inner workings of the ship, Hazard’s grunts and footfalls, the passing minutiae of data or blinking lights on the cockpit’s other screens and panels. It usually didn’t take this long for a simple authorization. Would the plan be ruined? Would they have to turn tail and run for their lives as fast as the Chi Cho’s Revenge could take them? Or perhaps it was TuQ’uan and his old acquaintance Reg working their slicing magic and wreaking havoc with the Plagueian security systems.

“You’re cleared,” the voice finally said. “Proceed to Aliso for processing.” The communication cut off.

Hazard finally appeared down the corridor, looking up at Laren and Kel Zar stuffed into the single-occupant cockpit. “What’s goin’ on?”

“We made it,” Laren called back, grinning wildly.

Hazard smiled and slammed his fist into a wall panel, denting the metal frame and causing sparks to burst around him. “Yes! I’m itching for a real brawl. About time to toss a few heads around.”

He smashed another panel with his other arm, and Laren winced again. They might make it through the Alisoan security net, but he didn’t know if his ship would last another hour of Hazard’s boundless energy. Not only that, but he didn’t want to tell the Savrip the bad news that he would not be fighting on the ground.

The board was set and the first move had been made. Onward to Aliso.


Above Aliso
Aliso space
Same time

The Phantom Assembly was not the only group to have taken advantage of the access codes. Within moments, a cluster of dartships appeared to materialize out of nowhere. Were it not for the vacuum of space, one might have heard buzzing.

The Killiks aboard these ships were, surprisingly, of various sizes - as small as those from the Qeeq hive, but also as tall as Rekker hive Killiks. They had prepared blaster rifles and staffs, their airborne strategies plotted out. They were eager to take orders from the Assembly, especially since it meant eliminating pesky Geonosians.

The hive mind was in accord; all those that resisted would be Joined.

In one fluid movement, the dartships of the Oetteo hive began to descend.

Thank you again to Laren Uscot for collaborating on this event’s fiction.