Spies Like Us

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Re: Spies Like Us

Rinehart hoisted another keg of Forvish ale onto his shoulder, sweating profusely in the muggy heat of a Nar Shaddaa day. Blast it Vortan, the Imperial thought grimly as he unloaded the delivery speeder, I don’t give a damn about what’s happened to you, but the least you could have done was have waited till the weekly shipment arrived. The hulking spacer’s muscles would have been real handy right about now. Then again, if that blasted Val’kia Navin wasn’t so cheap, she could have sprung for some repulsor sleds to make the job easier.

“Excuse me, Ms. Navin,” Rinehart said as he dodged around the redhead.

“Sorry, Rab,” Val’kia replied. “Let me get out of your way. Alema, would you come into my office for a moment?”

Rinehart watched as the Twi’lek followed Navin into her office. Alema had been glum-faced ever since Navin had returned to the Hyperdive, presumably with news of Vortan’s fate; she looked even more shaken after exiting Navin’s office shortly thereafter. Whatever the redhead had told her, it had rattled the Twi’lek pretty good. Rinehart suppressed an evil grin. Need to work on your sabacc face, Alema!

Under the pretense of polishing the top of the bar, Rinehart managed to sidle up to Alema, easy enough as the Twi’lek was staring vacantly into space.
“Hey Alema,” Rinehart said, his voice almost a conspiratorial whisper. “Did the boss tell you what happened to Vortan? He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“What? Oh, yes. He’s dead, Rab,” Alema confirmed. No sense in trying to deny it; it was pretty much obvious to everyone who worked at the Hyperdive.
“I betcha it had something to do with that shootout. It was the Imps, wasn’t it?” When the Twi’lek remained silent, Rinehart pressed her for the details. “Come on, Alema! What happened? Was it–”
“Rab, please! I don’t want to–”
“All right, all right!” Rinehart exclaimed, throwing his hands up in defeat. “I won’t ask anymore! The subject is dropped.”

Retreating to the broom closet and grabbing the supplies necessary for cleaning the refreshers, the Imperial allowed himself a small grin. He guessed that Navin had sworn the Twi’lek to secrecy, which meant that it would almost be a guarantee that the information would soon be circulating around the Hyperdive. Give it time, and the pent-up urge to spread the juicy tidbits of info would explode like a volcano.

It was after Rinehart had cleaned the refreshers and was vacuuming the main lounge that the Twi’lek approached him, her voice lowered.
“Hey Rab,” Alema said. “Erc wasn’t killed in that shootout you know.”
“No?” Rinehart replied, letting the vacuum continue to run but leaning in close. You pathetic creature. What in the frell was NRI thinking when they took you on as an agent?
“No, Erc was stabbed to death.”
“Don’t tell me it was during some strong arm robbery. Erc was huge! He could’ve torn anyone on the moon in half!”
“I know. But the way Erc was killed, it was done by a professional. Someone with a lot of skill and training in hand-to-hand combat.”
As Alema revealed more details of Erc’s death, Rinehart adopted an appropriate wide-eyed look, all the while thinking what a rank amateur the Twi’lek was.

* * *

Later . . .

“Rab? Where you at?”
“In here, Ms. Navin.”
“Lunch was over ten minutes ago. Let’s get back to work.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Navin,” Rinehart answered as he approached Val’kia, clumsily putting material back into a box.
“What were you doing?”
“Just making some of these,” Rinehart explained as he reached back into the box and handed Val’kia a small object. “Flame miniatures. I thought I’d make some for Erc . . .eh, Mr. Vortan. He wasn’t from Corellia, but he was a valued and trusted friend and co-worker, was he not? And even though I didn’t know him all that long, I figured that I could at least do this for him.”
“Well. Thank you, Rab. That . . . was very kind and considerate of you.”
“Really tragic, isn’t it? Erc getting stabbed to death like that?”
“Stabbed?” Val’kia asked, her eyes narrowing slightly.
“He was, wasn’t he? And cut in a way so that he couldn’t even defend himself?”
Val’kia suddenly shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rab. I–”
“No, I’m sorry, Ms. Navin. I shouldn’t have even brought the subject up. Me and my big mouth, talking about Erc like–”
“No, no. Don’t beat yourself up over it.” Val’kia gestured to the flame miniatures. “This was a very thoughtful thing that you did. And wherever Erc may be, I know he’d appreciate it. Why don’t you leave me the rest of the flame miniatures, and then run a check on everything for me? Make sure the Hyperdive is ready for opening.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Rinehart answered morosely.
“Oh, and Rab? You wouldn’t know where Alema is, would you?”
“I’m sure I heard her voice coming from the gaming room, Ms. Navin.”
“Thank you, Rab.”

* * *

That evening . . .

When the cantina opened, there was the usual initial rush of customers, though nothing on the scale of a payday or when a cargoliner would put in to the moon. Nevertheless, Rinehart kept his distance from Alema, looking busy yet surreptitiously observing the Twi’lek.

Apparently, the young female wasn’t taking the presumed rebuke Navin had given her very well; the Imperial could see a simmering resentment in the Twi’lek’s eyes as she went about her business. Good. Should’ve earned your income through more appropriate employment. Dancing girl, for instance . . .

“Alema?” Rinehart said timorously as he approached the bar, taking advantage of a lull in business.
“What?!?” the Twi’lek snapped back.
“I’m really sorry if I got you in trouble,” the Imperial went on, wringing his hands anxiously.
“It’s not you, Rab. It’s–grrr,” Alema began, but abruptly terminated her sentence with an angry shake of her head.
“I should have checked with you first. Before I gave Ms. Navin those flame miniatures. But she’s one of my people, you know?”
“You sure you want to make that claim, Rab?” Alema answered grumpily.
“If it wasn’t for Ms. Navin, I wouldn’t be working here. I’d be some beggar sleeping on the street,” Rinehart pointed out. “And she’s not that bad. She left you here in charge that night when everyone else was out, didn’t she? The night there was that shootout?”

Alema frowned over the odd phrasing of that sentence. ‘She left you here’. “Yes, she did,” the Twi’lek admitted with some bitterness in her voice. “She left me here.”
“What, there some issues between you two that I’m completely clueless about?”
“If you only knew.”
“I thought the bartender was the one that was supposed to bend an ear to the problems of the galaxy, not the janitor,” Rinehart said as he pulled up a barstool and sat down on it. “And i refuse to believe that Ms. Navin is this ogre that you imply her to be. She saved my hide that one time, remember?”
“You haven’t been here all that long either, Rab.”
“So, do tell,” Rinehart said as he rested his chin on an upturned palm. “What don’t I know about the boss?”

Rinehart let Alema ramble on, allowing her to recite a litany of what seemed to be trivial complaints. The Imperial nodded sympathetically at times, noting that while the Twi’lek didn’t divulge any operational secrets, she had given Rinehart an opening. Nothing major at present, but one that could be exploited so as to pay handsome dividends in the future.
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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

The following day.

“Going out again, Miss Navin?” Val vaguely heard Rab ask as she walked back through the main floor of the cantina toward the front door dressed in grubbiest apparel anyone had likely ever seen her in.  “Yes, Rab. I need to get some air.” She answered brusquely before warming her tone more. “Thank you again for the flame miniatures, Rab.  That was a very touching gesture that I’m sure Erc would have appreciated.”  Stopping to speak to Alema in a tone of voice that was slightly cooler.  “I have to run out and see to some business relating to what we discussed yesterday. “She told the younger agent,  “When Si gets back just let him know I want to see him when I return.”

Ale’ nodded mutely and Val chalked her attitude up to the dressing down she’d given her the previous day as well as the news that they would not be holding a memorial service for the dead man, which she'd seemed very unhappy about. They did share a drink in Vortan’s honor and memory that night before at least. She ran one hand through her hair in a gesture of impatience. “I’ve got some things I’d like to clarify with you about yesterday.” She spared Kislev’s retreating back another glance as he pushed a broom across the floor nearby .  “But I’ll discuss that with you later.  Right now I have something to go look into.”  She turned away and walked out of the door, not seeing the looks directed her way by the two people in the cantina.  The man she knew as Rab Kislev’s was appraising, curious, and cold. Alem’adara’s leaning more toward anger, confusion, and even open disdain for her commanding officer’s attitude.  

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The few block’s walk from the Dive to the alleyway where Vortan was found seemed to take even longer to traverse then normal, but only because she was taking her time, observing every logical spot along the way for anything that would reveal any clues to what had unfolded the night Vortan was killed.  But much of her canvassing yielded little if any real use. “Dammit.” She muttered. “Who the hells did you run across out here you damn fringer?”  Not a clue to be found anywhere along the way.  Hopefully the search of the scene where he’d been found would prove more fruitful.

Even in the middle of the afternoon, the alleyway was gloomy at best.  Not much light from the Y`Toub system’s namesake weak sun reached the space between the buildings even under the best of conditions.  She lit up a small glow rod and went about searching the alley just as meticulously as she had the route to it. Eyes slowly roaming over the nearby walls looking for traces of blood spatter that would indicate if this was the location where he met his final fate., but as far as she was able to see there was no trace of it.  The CSC’s forensic team had likely created even more of a mess in the area if previous experience were any indication.  Trash vied with empty storage crates for most of the ground space and she had to carefully  scale a couple of them to  reach the large durasteel trash bin where his body was found.  There was no discernable blood trail to be found, but given that there likely had been many feet, human and alien alike traversing through the scene that wasn’t much of surprise.

The bin itself was roughly 2.5 meters on each side with a large opening both in the side facing the alley with a larger opening at the top where the trash barge emptied it once every week…optimally. The access door in front was more than large enough to have dumped a body through.  Even a man of Vortan’s proportions. From the holos it appeared that the bin hadn’t been very full at the bottom and there was little trash over him either.  Just enough to cover the body lightly and leave that one arm obviously visible once the access door had been opened.  Grabbing the handle of that door she slid it open, nose wrinkling at the scent of trash and the more sinister and unmistakable odor of decomposition still present in the closed off container and she whispered a small prayer for Vortan’s soul. “What a miserable place to die”.  Holding the edge of the opening with one hand and the glow rod in the other she climbed into the container, thinking again what a wise choice it had been to skip breakfast that morning as she fought the urge to retch..

Not much waste had been deposited in the container since Erc’s body had been discovered and that made it easier for her to determine the approximate location of the cryptic markings even in the gloomy, fetid confines of the container.  Crouching down low enough to examine the wall of the bin, she shone the light closer and examined the markings, now less clear than in the holos due to the blood they were written in flaking off the durasteel as well as the likely fact that the forensic team had collected a sample after holographing it. K…definitely, not an H or she first suspected.  Then a slightly wavering vertical line that could possibly have been an I and what looked to be an S, albeit shakily drawn by a man close to death’s door. And then nothing decipherable.  Only two parallel lines of rusty red-brown as if made by dragging his fingers down the side with the very last of his strength as his life finally flowed out and away.  

In spite of the serious and sad business of the whole matter, Val couldn’t suppress a smirk at the idea of Vortan’s last act being a defiant gesture of writing something to the effect of KISS MY SPACER ASS.  It would be in character for him to do so at least she thought before sobering to the task at hand again.  “What exactly were you trying to say, big man?” she said with a sigh as she stood again and climbed out after giving the rest of the interior walls a good looking over to see if there were any more traces of anything useful, which proved fruitless.  If only she knew where the frak that Dug and the rest of his crew of his ended up taking off to for sure.  She’s checked with the Corellian Sector port authority already, but they had no record of a legitimate flight plan having been filed by a ship of that name prior to it leaving Nar Shaddaa air space. “Frak!”  She kicked at an empty crushed flimsiplast starfruit drink container in frustration before making her way back out of the alley.  The puzzle of what Erc was trying to convey so urgently that he’d made it his last act to try and do so weighing on her as she made her way back to the Dive to change and wash away the stench of the trash bin and hopefully get a chance to pick Idris’ brain if he’d returned in her absence.

Quod Me Nutrit, Me Destruit
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TK0212 | "The Beast" <br>No, I'm a fucking squirrel!

Re: Spies Like Us

Nik waited for Kix at their usual meeting place, a dismal alley in one of central Nar Shaddaa's grimier neighborhoods. Darkened warehouses and slave houses loomed above the empty street. Broken glass and used deathsticks littered the pavement beneath a broken street luma that the Hutts seemed in no hurry to repair. Graffiti covered the sooty brick walls of the alley, while several meters away, a durocrete level of the city blocked Nik's view of the polluted sky.

It had been almost ten days since Kix disposed of the agent that caused the death of three on his team, and now Nik, only one of two remaining commandos, paced outside impatiently, accompanied by the second commando, Nash Cadman. Ordinarily, Nash would be the only one outside waiting, as Nik was still recovering from the injuries he'd received during the incident at the 'Dive with those Dugs. He frowned at the thought of that mysterious attack, which had cost him the lives of three of their team. That Kix killed off the NR agent who was thought to have initiated it, provided only meager consolation, particularly because it costed them their trip back to their home, an Imperial Star Destroyer named the <I>Ravisher</I>.

<I>Why the frag does he need me to be here?</i> Nik brooded. His brown leather jacket was open in the front, revealing the gleaming blaster resting inside its holster to scare off potential muggers. He glanced at his wrist chrono. It was five minutes after the agreed-upon time for the meeting. <I>Where the frell is Kix?</i> Nik's fingertips curled inward like claws. A blade was hid beneath the sleeve of his jacket.

At last, a lone figure pulled into the alley, standing only a few meters away from the other two commandos. Nash quickly moved, blaster pistol in hand. He grunted at Kix, acknowledging his friend's presence, and cautiously inspected the alley for any signs of wandering eyes or ears. Quickly determining that no deadly surprises were in store, they quietly assembled in the secluded area.

"Damn you, Kix, I should be resting at the safehouse with this injury. The frell did you drag us out here?" Nik demanded petulantly. He attempted to conceal his fear of them being discovered behind a show of arrogant bluster and indignation. "You know how dangerous it is for us to meet like this? Suppose one of Val's NR agents sees us together?"

Kix ignored Nik's feeble concern. "I judged the need to be worth the risk. I didn't want anyone tracking us back to the safehouse to talk, so better we meet here," he stated, resting his back against the grimy alley wall. "I just came back from making my survey around the Dive's neighborhood."

"And? Business as usual I suppose?" Nik said impatiently. "We're wasting our time here, Kix. I can't believe you convinced Dodonna to make us stay here longer than necessary. We should be aboard the <I>Ravisher</I> forgetting about this planet and this frelling mission. Since you lost men on your team, it's all about you and this vendetta, isn't it? Or is it your duty in completing the mission? Killing an agent wasn't enough, eh?"

Kix fixed an intimidating gaze on Nik, who gulped involuntarily. "Those men we lost deserve their lives were not in vain. I intend to finish what we started. Killing off that agent is only the beginning. If it means burning down the Dive, then I am more than willing to do it."

"Oh? Even if it means sacrificing us?" he shot back.

"No. Just you." Kix retorted. He withdrew his blaster and pointed at his head. "If you keep this up… now you with us or not?!"

The soldier blanched at Kix's angry snarl. "Yes! Yes! Put that thing away!" he insisted. "What do you have in mind?" He heard Nash snickering in the background as the storm commando holstered his weapon.

"We're taking matters into our hands to finish this," he told Nik, moderating his tone somewhat. "Make no mistake: we must get to the bottom of this mystery as swiftly as possible." He paused to consider his options. "I think the key to that is the ISB agent working undercover."

Nik nodded. The color returned to his face as he chimed in. "Of course, we wait until he finishes his shift and we wait for him in hiding. We kidnap him, take him to our safehouse and interrogate him. We then know what he knows and finish the mission. We then space him so he doesn't report us to Bastion."

"Good." Kix declared. With luck, Nash would dispose of the problem for him. "That is why I asked you to come with Nash tonight. You're coming down with us to be our eyes and ears. You're entering the <I>Hyperdive</I> to have a few drinks and to watch him. When he finally leaves for the night, you follow him out and give the signal when he is on his way to us. Me and Nash will take care of the rest."

"Sounds good," Nik agreed readily. "No one knows my face anyway, so everyone inside won't recognize me." He seemed to relax a bit.

"Then let's get going. We're wasting time." Kix nodded toward the direction of the tavern. "We got an agent to bag…"

The Kixinator
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Ext. Street Nar Shaddaa – Late Night

Disturbingly slow the beam of the headlamps crept over the ramshackle AB-1’s bonnet, scattered burger packagings, cans, the baldie’s droopy features as well as the grimlier ones of the blond commando who kept his eyes fixed on the Ripper as it slid by in walking pace.

“3:40.” Nash yawned, rubbed his face that shone an unhealthy lime under the speeder’s green digital dial, then leant back again with his hands folded in the nape of his neck. “My feet go to sleep.”

“As long as you don’t.”

>>>

“Nash?”

“Hmm?”

“That’s the same.”

“What?”

“The same guy that passed 10 minutes ago… hey!” Kix gave his comrade a dig in the ribs. “I say that is the same guy.”

“Yeah, I heard you.” Nash mumbled and squinted against the light. “And?”

“And, and… We are on duty. You flarging keep your eyes open.”

<<<

“Kix?” Grudgingly Nash opened an eye and wiped the muzzle off his left temple. “You suck!” Yawning he straightened, squinted at the unlit alley then back at his CO. “What’s up now? Nik made a report?”

“Neg. And that is bad news.”

“Why, you told him to keep the silence.”

“Look at the durned time.”

04:28. Eight fell apart and turned into nine.

“That colon’s a bugger.” Nash blinked, then rubbed his eyes. “I gotta piss.”

“No!”

His right on the door handle, Nash turned to face his CO with a questioning frown … and found him answering the wristcomm. “Hello?”

“You’re late.”
“Good. Keep your distance.” Kix closed connection.

“Game?”

“Yes. She closed an hour ago, but it’s only now that he came out… heading our way. Tired.”

Nash flashed a thin sneer.

“Later, alright?” Kix patted his shoulder. “Now get lost.”

>>>

The passenger door snapped shut with a low click. In the tarnished outside mirror Nash leisurely walked away, paused, placed a jet, then melted into the murky lane. “Frakker! Some time they’ll blast your glowing white choobies!”

Static crackle.

On the AB-1’s sensor display a small red dot moved off and became stationary in a position the oldish rangefinder estimated as 25 meters back, 2 right. One gloved hand on the controls, Kix tensedly watched as a second marker appeared and neared the dilapidated vehicle from the front.

“Approaching from 12. Minus  50….. 30… 25”

Eventually a human on foot peeled off the darkness… slowed down…

“Go!”

A bluish bolt lit up the sidewalk the same moment the AB-1’s engines roared to life. Ahead the man staggered, yet pulled a pistol and fired unaimedly right at the decrepit windshield, till a second blue bolt threw him down. Ducked, E-11 at the ready, Nash sprinted to his position.

“Flarg!”

“What?”

“Wrong target.”

“WHAT?!”

Looking up as Kix had the AB-1 hover beside him, Nash held up a cheap, holdout stingbeam, smirked, then hauled the agent’s limp and tied up weight into the rear.  He was in mid-jump himself when Kix violently stepped on the gas. “Hey! HEY!”

<<<

Exhaust fumes mixing with the moist smell of the dirt covered passage, Nash looked stupid. Only entire two minutes later the AB-1 reappeared from the other direction. In the passenger seat Nik bit back a smirk, whilst Kix stared stonily over the controls. “Get the frell in!” He put his boot down as soon as Nash squeezed in next to their dazed parcel. “Blasted Yegg!”

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“Wake up, spook!”

Flung into a puddle of unbelievable foulness, the chilly water had the desired effect of shocking Rinehart back into consciousness. Lifting his face from the mud, the ISB agent clumsily struggled into a kneeling position, a feat made difficult due to the fact that Rinehart’s arms were bound together behind his back.

“Sumbitch!”

His vision obscured from the stinging muck in his eyes, Rinehart never saw the kick delivered to his solar plexus. Barely able to breathe, he toppled over into the puddle once more, receiving a mouthful of the polluted water. Rinehart gagged and wretched; a pair of hands roughly pulled him back into a kneeling position.

“That waitress ain’t here to save your ass now, is she?”

Rinehart sensed rather than saw the blow coming, and despite his effort to roll with the punch, a fist still connected solidly with his temple. All but losing consciousness, the ISB agent fell once more into the water. Again, a pair of hands yanked him into a kneeling position.

“You must really love working for that witch. So much that you sold us out!”

Spittle flying into his face, Rinehart’s eyes slowly focused on the wiry figure with the shaven head leaning in toward him. Despite the putrid filth covering him, the agent found the man’s breath to be nauseating. “If you think that,” Rinehart suddenly spat at him, “then you’re more dense than I originally thought.”

Baldy snorted with contemptuous laughter, then drew his arm back and punched Rinehart in the face. He fell backwards, Baldy and one of his sidekicks moving in to kick the agent in his ribcage and abdomen.

“All right. Enough,” a new voice suddenly announced. “Pull him up.”

Yet again was Rinehart forced into a kneeling position, only this time a pair of hands seized his head and twisted, forcing the agent’s neck into an odd and painful angle.

“You damn ISB spooks! What the hell kind of “operation” is this one?” new voice hissed dangerously. “I lost three men to those blasted Rebels. Three good men!” The hands gripped tighter, twisted even more painfully. “And I’m not going to let them die for nothing!”

All it would take was a sudden flex of Kix Davin’s arm muscles, and the ISB agent’s neck would snap like a piece of cheap poly. And it was doubtful that there would be any retribution ether; the days when the Imperial Navy and Army constantly had to endure the overzealous scrutiny of the Imperial Security Bureau were over, they and the rest of COMPNOR falling by the wayside with the death of the Emperor.

Kix’s arms grew taut. The storm commando would never forget the times when officious ISB agents would follow stormtrooper contingents in battle, seeing in every blaster bolt that failed to find its target a sign of disloyalty. How strutting Bureau officers would countermand fire-support requests, on the grounds that such requests “strayed” from proper Imperial doctrine. Just one quick snap, then throw him into some duracrete canyon. And no one would ever know . . .

“Then . . . avenge . . . them!” Rinehart managed to choke out through gritted teeth.

“Vengeance!” Nash Cadman sneered with a short bark of laughter. “Do you believe this bishwag, Kix? We’ll get our revenge, spook. And we don’t need you to do it. I’ll slit that witch’s throat myself!” Nash boasted, his eyes taking on a maniacal gleam as he fantasized the red-haired Alliance operative on her knees before him, and the moment a gleaming blade would open her neck from ear to ear.

“Take . . . her . . . down. Lot . . . with . . . her.”

“What are you waiting for, Kix?” Nash spat. “Do it!”

“What do you mean?” the storm commando officer demanded, loosing his grip ever so slightly.

“Play . . . her . . . like . . . a kloo horn. Need . . . your help.”

Kix contemplated that. The ISB and stormtroopers working in unison. That had happened before. When he was a graduate fresh out of Carida, vets related to Kix the story of the operation on the planet Teardrop. Still, the image of the redhead being brought down, helpless amidst utter ruin, and groveling for mercy was both grimly amusing and intriguing to Kix. “Untie him, Nash,” the storm commando said as he released his grip on Rinehart.”

“What?!?”

“I’ll deal with you,” Kix the told the ISB agent as his shaven-headed lieutenant undid Rinehart’s bindings in a fury. “You just remember that it’s an alliance at my convenience, spook.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rinehart said snidely as he stiffly reached up to wipe blood and mucous from the corner of his mouth.

“I also want tangible results. Quickly.”

“I’ll contact you through your superiors, with the specifics on your particular role in this operation.”

“Excellent!” Kix said cheerfully, his voice lilting. “And don’t even think of trying to cross me on this. There won’t be anything that you, your “boss”, or anyone else can do to protect you. Nash, Nik! Toss him into the speeder.”

“We’re taking this shik back?”

Rinehart shook off Nash and Nik’s grip. “I’ll manage,” he growled.

“Don’t think so, spook,” the storm commando leader shot back as Nash and Nik stepped away. “You see, there are some things that even you don’t have the clearance to know.”

Drawing a pistol from concealment, Kix coldly fired a stun blast into Rinehart’s chest at point-blank range.

* * *

With agonizing slowness, Rinehart regained consciousness, gradually becoming aware of his surroundings. His assailants had dumped him in some alleyway, and judging from the low level of light, Rinehart was either in the depths of Nar Shaddaa, or he had been out for a very long time.

Stirring, Rinehart hissed in pain as his shirt tore at his chest. At such close range, the stun bolt has caused a huge second-degree burn on his chest, and oozing pus from draining blisters had dried to his shirtfront. His ribcage throbbed as well; if none were broken, several ribs were at the very least fractured. Rinehart ran his tongue over his teeth: Several loose, and a split lip as well. One eye completely swollen shut, along with a host of other contusions on his face. And who knows what other injuries there were on the rest of his body.

A skittering around him caused Rinehart to glance about warily, but the agent’s movements were too slow and labored for him to track the noise. He was aware however, that the sound indicated movement toward him.

Eriaduan rats. Rinehart spied the vanguard of the vile, six-legged creatures as the first of the vermin left its place of concealment and approached the agent, baring it’s fangs, eyes glinting with a ravenous hunger. Swearing, Rinehart’s hand shot out to seize the creature, crushing the life out of the animal with his grip. Other rats swarmed at him, and the agent smashed them to a pulp with heel and fist, ignoring the agonizing pain from his injuries.

Realizing that their prey still had the means to defend himself, the vermin drew back, then scurried away. Covered in gore, Rinehart hurled a dead rat after the retreating creatures, then painfully struggled to his feet. His vision swam and blurred, forcing Rinehart to lean up against a building for support, before he grimly made his way out of the alley. Upon exiting, he found his suspicions confirmed: Dumped off in the lower levels of Nar Shaddaa, and no idea exactly where.

As Rinehart staggered and stumbled along, no beings passing by took pity and offered help. Instead, they only gave the battered agent sneering looks, their expressions revealing contempt for the human who had carelessly allowed himself to be mugged.

Somehow blundering into a functioning public comm unit, Rinehart paused to try to collect his wits about him. He realized that he couldn’t call his superiors at the Ubiqtorate system cell, not just yet. He needed time; time to explain why he had unilaterally involved some outside elements into an intelligence operation.

Who to comm then?

With an unsteady hand, Rinehart punched up directory assistance, then put his back to the wall, facing the passing crowds.

“Directory assistance,” an intensely irritating, synthesized voice intoned. “How may I help you?”

“I need to place a comm through to the Hyperdive,” Rinehart said dully. Reverse the charges, please.”

“The designation or name of the party wishing to place that communication, please.”

“Rineha–” the agent began before letting the name end in a hiss.

“The designation or name of the party wishing to place that communication, please.”

“Rab Kislev.”

“Establishing link. Please hold.”
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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

The unmistakable sound of a large number of glass-like objects smashing on the floor brought Val out of her office, a glare plastered on her face as she surveyed the room and the shattered remains of the rack of drinking glasses scattered near the bar.

“What in the nine hells is going on out here?” Navin demanded, glancing around the room at the workers and few early patrons scattered about the main floor.

Banna Melvries, one of the ‘Dive’s ‘civilian’ part-time bartenders answered her from behind the bar where she and Ale’ were beginning to clean up the mess. “Sorry, Val.” I was bringing out a rack of glasses at the same time Cullen was bringing in a keg of lum and we kinda…" she trailed off, not needing to further state the obvious.

“Where the frell is Kislev? Isn’t that his job?”  She looked pointedly at Alema.

“He…he hasn’t shown up yet.” Ale’ responded hesitantly.  She had hoped to cover for him as long as possible, figuring that the boss would remain back in her office long enough to not notice him slipping in late. So much for that plan.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, Val looked at the illuminated chrono hanging over the bar, noting the time. “Frak.  Is it too much to ask for some reliable, dependable help around here?” she grumbled, then noticed the several sets of eyes belonging to Banna, Alema and a few other employees regarding her from around the room as she strode back toward the bar.  “Okay. Present company excluded,” she added apologetically.

“Ale’ the minute he gets in send Rab back to see me, please.” Val told the Twi’lek agent, noticing the small lines of worry between the younger woman’s eyes. “I’m sure he alright.” She added gently. “Probably just sleeping off a hangover or…something.”

Alema nodded slightly, not looking convinced of that in the least.  

 “Girl really needs to work on her sabacc face” Val thought not for the first time, placing a hand on her shoulder as she passed to make her way to the office again when the comm unit behind the bar counter went off.  She heard Banna answer it and the sound of Rab Kislev’s voice, tone even flatter than usual as the recorded request for reversal of charges played, made Navin stop in her tracks and nod to Banna to approve it before trading places with her.

“Rab, where the frak are you?” Navin asked over the comm.  Her question was met with a hissing sound at first that made her think the connection had gone down, damn Nar Shaddaa public communications system. A second later she heard what was unmistakably a cough and then Kislev’s voice.  

“Sor…*cough* Sorry, boss.” Rab mumbled across the comm. “I…uh ran into a problem on my way to work. I…they robbed me”

“Who attacked you, Rab?” Val asked, concern and anger apparent in her voice.

“I don’t know…it was…too dark to see clearly.” Kislev replied in a slightly wheezing voice.  “Two of them at least.  All I know.”

“Okay where are you, now?” she asked, gazing at Alema who was poised to write down any information he gave them.

“I don’t know.  Never been in this part of this lovely moon before.” There was a brief pause and then he came back telling them, “There’s a sign over a building at the corner I’m calling from. Say’s Tombat’s Place.  Across from what looks like a small plaza with a…bunch of market stall on it.”

Val looked over at Alema and nodded. “I know where you are.  Stay there and don’t move from near that public comm booth. I’ll be there in ten minutes tops.”

“I’ll be fine. Just…just tell me…how to get back to the ‘Dive.”  Rab replied

Val rolled her eyes. Typical Corellian system stubborn macho male stupidity.  Didn’t matter what planet they were from, they were all alike.  “Look, keep your hard-headed ass there and I’ll see you in ten.” She waited a moment, but Kislev had disconnected.

“Ale’” she turned to the worried junior agent. “Get the spare room in the back set up and see if Doc Melton can stop by.  He owes me a couple of favors, might as well call one in.”

“Are you taking Si with you?” Alema asked coming around from behind the counter, her concern for Rab almost outweighing her aggravation at the thought of being left behind yet again.

“Not this time. Idris will be here.  I’ve got him busy elsewhere in the building doing something for me regarding the incident with Vortan.” She told her in a lower voice. “But comm him and let him know what’s going on and if you need anything he'll come right up.” Val added before walking back to the office quickly, snatching up her jacket and then leaving for the garage, cursing under her breath about the damn run of bad luck that seemed to affect everyone around her lately.

*~*~*

She’d told him ten minutes, but made it in eight. Luckily the constabulary was rather lax in traffic duty today.

Val pulled the speeder up to the corner Rab had informed her he was calling from and spotted him leaning against the worn duracrete was next the just as worn faced of Tombat’s cantina.  A pair of patrons of said establishment giving the man looks of disdain before walking through the scarred metal door.  Ugly laughter trailing behind as one man told the other an insulting comment aimed at Kislev.

“Bloody frakkin hells.” Val muttered, walking over to him and offering an arm to steady Rab for his trip across the walkway to the speeder. He refused at first.

“I can make it fine on my own, boss” Kislev grunted, putting a hand to his side.

“Why must you men be so stubborn?” Val replied, taking a closer look at him. “Spast, those skragwits really did a number on you.”

“Thanks for noticing.  Kislev laughed weakly before it turned into a cough that made him wince in more pain.

“Come on, lets get you back to the ‘Dive and get these injuries seen to” Navin told him as she helped him along and into the speeder.

“No hospitals…please.” He said vehemently, settling into the seat. “I…I don’t like those places.  Especially here.  Last time I was in one I had all my credits stolen by another patient.”

Climbing into the driver’s seat, she gave him a look of genuine concern.  “Don’t worry, I have a friend.  A doctor who makes…housecalls when I need him.” She smiled over at the battered man.

“Miss Navin, I can’t…impose like that. It was my own fault for not paying attention to my surroundings.” Kislev frowned. “Just take me home, please. I’ll be fine.”

“And deprive a certain bartender the chance to play nurse to a friend when we get to the ‘Dive. Can’t go letting that happen or Alema will mope for days.” She grew more serious for a moment. “I take care of those who work for me, Rab.” She told him, adding to herself “Lost too many already to let it happen again anytime soon."

"Now fasten your seatbelt, I want to see if I make the return trip faster than the one here.”

*~*~*

They got him settled in to the room Val kept empty on the main floor in case of just such an event. Even though she felt concern and more than a touch of guilt, she still wasn’t about to set Rab up in one of the safe house apartments on the upper levels of the building.

Standing at the bar, she was arguing about the fact that he was even staying there at all with Sionne when Doctor Laron Melton walked over to the pair.  

“He’ll be fine. Although I have to say he's damn lucky to still be taking in air.” Melton told Val before she even asked.  "Looks like he took a blaster bolt at close range. Damn high powered pack too judging from the diameter of the bruising on his chest wall. Likely set on stun or else you'd be making a trip to the morgue instead of me making one here. Used to see  a lot like 'em like that during the war.  Sometimes they made it, sometimes…"

He trailed off and Sionne exchanged a look with Val, but said nothing

“He’s bruised a few ribs of course and his hands are a wreck.  Likely as not he fought them back like hell.  He may also have a fractured cheekbone.  That’ll heal along with everything else.  I gave him a sedative to help him sleep and left some pain meds with Alema.  Told her to change the bacta wraps on his hands every other day and he should be fine.” He informed them in his gruff voice.  

“Seems your bargirl’s taken quite a shine to your patient.” He added.  “Doesn’t seem to be her type.”

“Ale’s the type who can’t resist taking care of lost and hurt strays.” Sionne grumbled. “Nothing more.”

Melton laughed. “A little competition, Si?”

The big man gave him a look that said he found the whole idea ridiculous.  “Hardly.”

Val reached under the bar and grabbed a bottle of Corellian brandy, passing it across the bar to the physician. “Here, Laron. Consider it a bonus.”

“Thank you kindly, ma’am.” Melton gave her a nod before glancing at the label.  “I shall take my leave now before I make your ‘tender here grumpier and he starts watering down my drinks from now on when I’m in”

Val thanked the man again for his care, and more importantly his discretion before seeing him out.

“Still not liking this, bosslady.” Sionne said walking up behind her at the door. “I know you’re still hurting about Cris…and Vortan.  Not to mention that spacer that got attacked, but…

The news about the blaster injury wasn't sitting well with Idris at all.  Why would someone use such a weapon on a downtrodden, seemingly mild-mannered appearing guy just to rob him.  And of what? Kislev hardly looked the part of someone carrying around a stack of credits in his pocket. Why even shoot the guy at all, stun-setting or not after beating him so badly?  Too many questions.  On top of the intuitive feeling that he didn't really fully trust the guy anyway since Val had taken him on.  Alema wasn't the only one who had a soft spot for strays.  Unfortunately his CO did as well.

He knew Val likely had a few thoughts of her own as well, going by the looked that had passed between them at Doc Melton's news. Si also knew that her judgment was likely clouded though from the events of recent weeks.  Losing too many people and the stress of dealing with certain aggravating influences back "home" had her drinking too much and not sleeping enough and that was never a good combination where she was concerned.

“He’s…harmless, Si.” Navin cut him off  “And besides, it’ll make Ale’ happy to have something purposeful to do after feeling left out of things lately.  And you can always keep an eye on him yourself as well, you know that. Now, if you don’t mind I am going to grab some tea and relax before I have to call in my latest progress report to Phaeden.  Or more like lack off.” She trailed off sounding suddenly weary as she headed back to her office, closing the door behind her.

Quod Me Nutrit, Me Destruit
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Re: Spies Like Us

“Quite frankly, Captain VonToma, I must voice my displeasure at this unexpected turn of events you have dropped into our laps. to unilaterally recruit unknown assets into a critical operation such as this, without prior–”

“It was the best I could do, considering the circumstances,” Rinehart fired back, eyes narrowing as he faced off with the leader of the Empire’s intelligence cell on Nar Shaddaa. The ISB agent was in a foul temper, due in part to the fact that the effect of the painkillers administered by Navin’s doctor had long since worn off, and the trying experience of enduring the near constant ministrations of the Twi’lek girl, Alema. Rinehart had been hard pressed to keep his irritation in check over her constant fussing, managing to appear dumbly grateful to the Twi’lek only through sheer willpower. It was quite fortunate that he had been raised in the Corellian system, living among Drall, Selonians, and other non-humans; if he had been a native of Corulag or Coruscant, he probably would have cracked from having to be so close and intimate with an “alien”.

“Nevertheless,” the cell leader continued, “ when the Empire was ascendent, an agent would be expected to give his life rather than weakly submit.”

“And those days of the Empire are over,” Rinehart countered, quickly adding, “at least for the time being. At present, we can ill-afford to be so enthusiastic about the effusive shedding of blood, especially mine. So, my esteemed colleague, it is my recommendation that we take advantage of the situation. These “assets” that have come into play are highly trained and completely ruthless. And that’s experience talking now. Granted, they may not be much for intel, but they are hell with a blaster.”

The cell leader gazed at Rinehart for a long moment. “I’ll overlook some of your remarks, Captain Vontoma. In fact, I’ll even take you up on your words. You can have you new found “assets” placed at your disposal, however you see fit. All I ask is that you inform me, at this moment, your plans to employ them.”

Rinehart was taken aback. “I haven’t come up with an operational plan that utilizes their employment just yet, Sir,” he admitted.

“Then I suggest that you develop one. Now. Use your time wisely, Captain.”

* * *

“Anything, VonToma?” the cell leader called out jovially from behind his desk. “If not, I can have you on a cargoliner headed back toward Bastion. Or at least in the general vicinity, give or take a hundred light years or so.”

Sifting through reams of data, pain seeming to grow more intense by the minute, Rinehart felt like he was at the end of his rope. If he couldn’t come up with something, it would be regarded that he had failed in his mission–badly–and he would be sent packing back to Bastion. Upon returning, his best case scenario would see the former Captain VonToma reduced to an inspector of combat ration containers.

Giving a datafile a cursory scan, Rinehart was about to access the following one when he paused, then scrolled back. “This,” the agent said, tapping a finger on the datapad’s screen. This convoy of Star Galleons in transit to Hutt Space.”

“What about it?”

“That’s the bait for the trap we spring on Navin.”

“Out of the question! That convoy is to receive a vital shipment of materials supplied by the kajidics. The Empire cannot afford its loss. I recall, Captain, you said something along those lines earlier?”

Rinehart eyed his superior, silently wondering just how much space on those galleons would be reserved for spice and other illicit goods. “And such a vital convoy would be a high priority target for the New Republic. If Navin could supply the intelligence allowing for its interception, that certainly would be a feather in her cap.”

“Except that the Rebels don’t quite intercept the convoy.”

“Precisely,” Rinehart answered, amused by the cell leader’s refusal to use the term New Republic. “Close, but no cigarra for Navin and her bunch. But this plan won’t work unless certain factors are in place first. This convoy, is the New Republic’s fleet intelligence services aware of it, and tracking its movement?”

“I can have an analyst look into that.”

A little more than 20 minutes later, the two Imperials had their answer. “Confirmed,” the cell leader said, studying a readout on his own datapad. “The Rebels are keeping tabs on our ships, but not at highest priority level.”

The ISB officer grimaced over that. “Most likely, they want to find out which of the kajidics are doing business with us, and then try to catch them red-handed.” Rinehart suddenly flashed a pain-wracked grin, but the malevolence behind it was unmistakable. “You know, Sir, I can just picture one of Navin’s operatives patting herself on the back after they intercept this intelligence about our convoy and pass it on to their superiors. Probably think she’ll get a commendation for it. Won’t she be surprised.”

“And yet you still haven’t told me how you intend for this information to fall into the Rebels’ hands, or the role your confederates will play in this, Captain.”

“The two of which I speak of, have quite a reputation at the Hyperdive. Their reappearance will surely cause Navin to take notice.”

“And I assume that they will have the means to guarantee that their patronage at the cantina will be permitted?”

“Displaying a thermal detonator in a crowded room usually does the trick.” Stiffly, Rinehart began pacing about the subterranean chamber that served as the cell’s base of operations. “My new allies, will be there to act as emissaries; actually, their specific role would be to receive the information passed to them and confirm its receipt.”

“Continue.”

“The specific information passed to the “emissaries” would be the time, date, and galactic coordinates of our convoy as it makes its rendezvous with the Hutt interests. Also, confirmation that the Star Destroyer in orbit overhead, and to which my new allies are most undoubtedly assigned to, will shift to a position so as to distantly cover the rendezvous. I wouldn’t want to alarm our friends in the kajidics with the presence of a Star Destroyer, either.”

“Of course not.”

“Speaking of which, this vital material which Bastion must have; a secondary rendezvous point must be prearranged with the Hutts, so that the cargo can be transferred to our craft. We can send that information to the kajidics as part of a contingency plan that we’ve drawn up in case of trouble.”

“Yet, if we allow all of this intelligence to fall into Navin’s hands, and our convoy deviates from that information, it would be plainly evident that her operation was compromised in some way.”

“Yes, which is why our ships will follow their flight plan to the letter. And that is the flight plan Navin will intercept. But her superiors will receive something different. Oh, most of it will be spot on, but there will be several–maybe only one–critical error that will allow our ships to escape.”

Now the Intelligence cell leader favored Rinehart with a grin. “Captain, you’re going to suggest that we encode a virustack in the data Navin is going to intercept, aren’t you?”

“Encoded deeply,” Rinehart acknowledged. “And imbued with enough AI to activate itself when Navin transmits the data back to her superiors. That way, when she makes the comparison later on, Navin will find that the error will seem to have originated on her part.”

“Planting a seed of doubt in her superiors’ minds.”

“And others. And self-doubt in Navin as well, perhaps.”

The cell leader shook his head. “There’s an awful lot of assumptions in his plan of yours, VonToma. If things don’t go the way you expect them to, you may count on a execution order being received here. And in record time, most likely. And there won’t be any errors in that transmission.”

“I understand, Sir,” Rinehart replied as he wearily returned to his datapad. “And according to this datafile, I may have little more than four days left to live. In the meantime, I believe it best to advise my allies on the role they will be expected to play in this operation.”

“One final question, VonToma:  Who is going to pass the information to your confederates while they are in the cantina?”

Rinehart regarded his superior with a bemused look. “Can I interest you in some field work, Sir? The Hyperdive boasts some pretty mean games of chance, and the best drinks this side of Hutt Space.”

* * *

From: Wu Peifu, ISB: Nar Shaddaa/1
To: Beastly and Baldy/ISD Ravisher
Subject: Operations against New Republic agents
Confirmed: SEND; TRAN 43/43; RECV
Context: 9E6; AADV; USYS; ROPT
Phasecycle: PSEG55172205864; LINE;00.06BMUT; 00.15RMUT

Beastly and Baldy,

Since you have indicated your desire to be included in the operations against the Hyperdive, it is vital that an additional face to face meeting occur between us. The time, date, and location of said meeting will be as follows:

* * *
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TK0212 | "The Beast" <br>No, I'm a fucking squirrel!

Re: Spies Like Us

<I>Since you have indicated your desire to be included in the operations against the Hyperdive, it is vital that an additional face to face meeting occur between us. The time, date, and location of said meeting will be as follows:</I>

Kix Davin looked at the flimsi, reading it for perhaps the tenth time, still doubtful about it. He looked around the <I>Hyperdive</I> in a brief glance, a nest of gamblers in one corner, sleazebags dealing spice at another, and what looked like a gang of smugglers loudmouthing at another table. Several dozen staffers circulated around the nerve center of the tavern, serving drinks, giving credits in return, or offering items on their menu. There was no sign of Val'kia Navin anywhere from where they sat. Perhaps she was holed in her office or had stepped outside? Whatever the case, the disguises he and Nash had donned should be enough to keep their subterfuge intact. Now to hope these contacts that ISB spook had referred to would show up. And soon. Nash observed the bartender watch a shockball game, while a lone man in what was probably a merchant uniform play with a few other lowlifes at a game of sabacc.

Both storm commandos in disguise looked up as a Twil'lek approach their table and dumped a basket of whole, salted shroomchips on the table top. "What'll it be?"

Kix looked at the chips, then noticed that the floor around the bar and a few of the tables was liberally scattered with crumbs and food. It was that kind of place. "Ale– whatever passes for your best around here."

The female Twil'lek grinned. "Ran out of that almost two days ago. Ran out of second best a day after that, and third best earlier this evening. Now I'm down to 'what I've got left' and shroomchips, and not that much of either. Of course, business isn't exactly booming, especially after these few nights."

"I'll take some of that, then."

She eventually returned with a long-necked, clear bottle filled with amber fluid, which she opened and set down in front of Kix. The only label was something written in Huttese on the side of the bottle. He took a sip. It was awful–bitter and acidic. He looked around. "Busy night?"

"For now. Eventually they get bored and head off to another tavern to take their chances. So what brings you down here?"

<I>Better not bring up Val'kia. Might arouse suspicion…</i> "Came to meet someone." His smile faded and rose the bottle in a mock toast.

The Twil'lek nodded. "Well, 'fraid you're out of luck. Not much of anybody left here to meet. Even the pleasure houses closed up on this level and headed up."

"Well, I'll take my chances," Kix grinned faintly.

"Good luck," she grinned in return. "If you need anything, you know where to find me." She quickly left.

Nash sat on the edge of the table, keeping his feet planted firmly on the floor. The bald commando looked serious as he glared to him. "We're supposed to be blending into the shadows, not making conversation with the enemy."

Kix grinned. "Ease up, Nash. If we look too serious, it will be enough to give us away as Imps.. or some kind of agent."

Nash frowned at him. "Well, you're little conversation is enough to spark her interest in us. She's coming back again and this time with two more drinks."

Alema reached over and placed two more of the same bottles of ale on the table. "Compliments of those gentlemen over there," she nodded to a far table, "seems either they like you, or you were looking <I>too</I> thirsty." She laughed, then left again.

"I suppose that's our cue?" Nash flatly stated, taking one bottle and began to down its contents.

Kix's comlink suddenly came to life. He took it and adjusted it to receive a transmission in an ILKO encryption key.

"Showtime, Nash…"

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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

“Frak!” This muttered expletive, followed by the crack of the thrown datapad stylus as it hit the surface of her desk broke the silence in Val’s office for the first time in at least two hours. Yet another damn report about absolutely nothing.

Phaeden was likely having paroxysms of joy at each one that came through his inbox in the past few days. The mental image of the little bastard jumping up on his desk, dancing at thoughts of which outer rim station he’s post her to as his imposed deadline loomed closer and closer was almost enough to make her smile. The added thought of him falling off said desk and breaking his neck actually did manage to chase a bit of the gloomy look away. If only all too briefly.

Snatching the stylus back up from the floor near her chair where it had ended up, she signed off on yet another communiqué of uselessness before tossing the datapad atop a small stack of flimsies on the console a few feet away. Leaning back in her chair she closed her eyes, just thinking. That was the damn problem. Seemed lately all she did was think too frakking much. About the fate of this place and her people in the future. And of the past…far, far too much about that in fact.

Childhood halfway being spent “training” to do exactly the kind of work she had been doing legitimately for her entire adult life and beyond. As dubious the definition of legitimate some, okay many of the things she’d had to undertake in the course of her years with the service. Some tasks completed without a hint of remorse, regret, anything other than getting it done and moving on with the next set of orders. Others hanging around like ghostly guests far overstaying their welcome.

Those were the ones that nagged at her with greater frequency lately. Faces and names. Places and people she couldn’t forget if she tried. From one edge of the rim across the core to its opposite, she must have taken part in operations on at least a third of the worlds constituting the known galaxy since her early teens. So very many worlds: Corulag, Yanna, Coruscant, Algara II, Anaxes. There were always those that stood out above others. Places that were a dangerous path to wander down in her head and those five worlds stood out about all others.

She was thinking on the events that took place on that first world, one of the few governmental sanctioned killings she’d carried out which she still felt any measurable remorse over…hell the only one to be honest. Because it was a friend and mentor. A trusted associate. And under the orders of that murglak ensconced smugly behind the desk of director of special operations.

In her mind she was back on Corulag, shivering as she lay in a prone position on the third floor of an empty warehouse on the western edge of Curamelle’s industrial sector. The cold of the early winter air around her as she peered through the scope of a sniper rifle at her target being only one reason for the mild tremor she was cursing as her finger hovered over the trigger.

All she had been told about the mission to the heavily Imperial leaning world was that her task involved neutralizing an asset who’d been selling highly classified intelligence to the other side. Secrets that had resulted in the deaths of several New Republic Intelligence and Military personnel as well as innocent, uninvolved civilians. Her insertion had been clean and remarkably uneventful. Everything up to that point had gone without a hitch thanks to the highly efficient, long term cell working planetside.

She’d gotten to the warehouse under the guise of being part of a building inspection service monitoring code regulations in the warehouse district and she’d spent a cold night wrapped in the dark camo gear left for her by the collaborators, along with the rifle, ration bars, and bottled water as she awaited the target to show for the rendezvous with their Imperial contact early that morning.

Yes it had all gone just perfectly. Until she saw the face of the target as he stepped from inside his nondescript speeder and she froze. Hesitating even as the voice of her mission handler and her CO were having what sounded like apopleptic fits as they stepped over each other’s transmissions through the tiny earpiece she wore.

“Gods, no…this has to be wrong.” She whispered raggedly, finger withdrawing from inside the trigger guard subconsciously.

“Navin! Take the shot, NOW!” Phaeden’s voice cut over Simona Elis, unwaivering and cold as Hoth.

“But it’s…it’s…” she stuttered through lips gone dry.

Phaeden came back coolly in her left ear. “I know who it is and I know how you feel, but this is the frakker who is betraying you and the entire New Republic NOT your ally. The one who, likely as not sold your team out on Algara. Now take…the…damn SHOT!”

That’s what did it. The mention of that mission and all that had been lost. That was the catalyst that let emotion overrule logic before she took a deep breath in and regained control over the latter again. Letting her line up the image of the man on the street below, take a breath in, let it out, hold it and…

The flash of the bolt was seen an infinitesimal time later and just as coolly as she had just pulled the trigger, she watched as he fell to the ground in a boneless heap, just vaguely aware of the blur of movement that was the man’s contact in Imperial black speak excitedly into his commlink while gesticulating wildly at the two Stormtroopers who’d been in the vehicle with him. She barely registered the sound of E-11 fire from behind her. Already sprinting toward the warehouse’s emergency exit stairs as if every demon of the nine hells was on her tail.

Down the steps to the sublevel she ran, footfalls of others following somewhere behind. She just needed to reach the hidden entrance to the network of tunnels out from beneath the warehouse district and to the safehouse unseen. Twenty yards ahead, she spotted the mark. Just as the lone trooper in the lead spotted her and she bit back on a cry of pain as he winged her left calf. Frakker was shooting on kill, instead of stun. Idiot.

Aiming her own blaster with considerably less finesse than she had with the left behind sniper rifle she dropped the trooper with two shots and ran as fast as she could on her injured leg down a narrow passage leading off the main hallway. There! She’d almost missed it in the dimly lit conditions and her own adrenaline fueled hyped-up state.

A small panel, just slightly darker than the similar sheets of plasteel adjoining it. She found the edges, pushed it aside and crawled through the opening, before sliding it closed behind her.

It had seemed to take forever traveling through the claustrophobic passage having to rely on a sense of feel and the dim glowrod to navigate the course until she reached the end. All the while listening for any signs she’d been followed.

They had her there for almost a week, letting her wound heal and debriefing her before sending her off-world under yet another assumed name with a “good job” and thanks for not tipping off the Imps to our location.

At the debriefing back at HQ they literally had to have two New Republic Marines restrain her from going after her CO physically.

“You motherfrakker.” She had spit out at him the moment Phaeden walked into the debrief. “You knew who was being sanctioned and you sent me? You truly are a sadistic little hutt spawn.”

Phaeden, to his credit hadn’t even flinched in the face of her fury, unabated in spite of the week that had passed between the act being carried out and her appearance here.

“I needed someone with the skills necessary for the job and you were the best available at the opportune time.” He regarded her coolly from across the table where she sat, flanked by two burly men each with a ready hand hovering near her shoulders just in case. “If I were you, Navin I’d look upon the consolation that questions myself and others had in the aftermath of the Sirana incident regarding your loyalties to the New Republic and your abilities to carry out your duties in its name have been redeemed…somewhat.”

He pushed back his chair and got to his feet. “You’re on R and R officially until further notice. And try not to spend too much of that time off worrying over traitorous scum who got a better death than he deserved.”

She jumped up at that before being grabbed, not ungently by the marine guards and “helped” back to her chair as Phaeden retreated through the door as it slid open, his typical smirk even more obvious than usual.

“Let her out in five minutes” He’d addressed the guards as the door closed.

…At that moment in the present she was reliving the same thought she had in the past. How she’d love to have seen the expression on Earryk’s face if the guards hadn’t been there to stop her from getting her hands around his malicious old throat. Some things never changed and the image made her nearly smile again.

Until Ale’ walked into her office and announced the presence of some “old friends” who’d decided to make an appearance. “Imps are back. Looks like something is up between them and a couple of new faces I don’t remember seeing around before, thought it you might be worth keeping an eye on.” It was all she said, but it was enough to let her know exactly which ones she had meant. “And I need a break.”

Val glanced at the chrono and then at Alema, noting how utterly fatigued the girl looked. “Tell you what, take the rest of the night off.”

The Twi’lek agent started to protest. “But we’re short staffed as it is with the business being slow and Si running over to Nal Hut…”

Val held up one hand to cut her off. “I’m expecting him back within the hour. Now go. That’s an order.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The younger woman gave half-hearted mock salute, weariness taking over any humor she had left at the moment before turning and walking out of the office.

“Oh, Rab’s out there covering Revvis’ on his break by the way, but you know how he and those bucketheads get along.” She added before heading back down the hallway toward the turbolift to her quarters.

She walked out into the bar, schooling her features in feigned disinterest that turned to an annoyed glare as the blonde trooper, Davin raised his ale bottle in a mocking little gesture of greeting accompanied by that cocky grin she’d become all too familiar with.

Ignoring him briefly, she made her way behind the bar where Kislev was wiping off the counter, casting nervous yet angry glances in the direction of the four men at the table across the room.

“What are they doing back here?” he muttered lowly when Val appeared at his side. “I would have thought after the last time…”

“Learned a long time ago, Rab that a lot of Imps don’t exactly score high in the common sense department.” Val replied, removing a bottle of R’alla mineral water from the cooling unit beneath the bar and pouring herself a glass.

“Let’s just let them finish their drinks and their business and move on. I’m really in no mood for bar brawls or anything else like that tonight.” She added as Davin gestured with his hand for another round wearing that smug look again.

Kislev grabbed four bottles of ale and set them on a tray with a resigned sigh.

“I’ll take care of this, Rab.” She picked up the tray and made her way across the room, setting it on their table with a cool look at the booth’s occupants.

“We uh, heard you were too busy to grace us with your presence tonight, Val.” Kix raised his bottle to his lips and gave her a far too familiar wink that made the other men in the booth grin.

“You heard wrong. Last round, gentlemen so enjoy. We’re closing early tonight.” Val snatched up the tray and walked away, ignoring the comments made by Cadman and one of the newcomers.

Handing the tray to Rab as she reached the bar again, she lowered her voice. “Keep an eye on those frakwits while I check around the place, they make even one stupid little move…call for me.” She took a quick look at the chrono on the wall, wishing Sionne would get himself back here just in case they needed the extra muscle and firepower should the Imp boys decide to misbehave again.

Thankfully though that wasn’t the case and by the time she’d made the rounds of the cantina and returned to the main bar Davin, Cadman, and their pals had already cleared out. And without incident from what Kislev reported. Well outside of a couple of mean spirited remarks as they paid their tab before leaving.

Val sent him off to get some sleep after sending the few remaining patrons and employees on their way, just in time for her second in command to walk in the door as the last customer was leaving.

“How’d the run go?” she asked Idris with a tired smile. “I think Ale’ was a bit upset you didn’t ask her to come along.”

He glowered at her statement, dark eyes narrowing. “She’s so preoccupied with other things right now, I’d be surprised she even noticed I’d left.” He looked in the direction of the hallway leading to the room that Rab Kislev was still occupying and his glare deepened before returning his attention to Val. “Sorry, things went fine. Did a bit of trading while I was there along with picking up a bit of interesting info through unofficial channels.”

“Oh?” She raised her eyebrows expectantly, wondering if it had any connection to the still irritating presence of the Imperials in-system and the appearance of two of those annoyances tonight. “Come on downstairs and tell me about it while I go over some recordings from tonight.”

It was his turn to look at her questioningly. “I miss something?”

“Just some old pals paying an unwanted visit.” She smiled at his knowing look. “Just curious to see what a quartet of mynocks who supposedly went back to their ISD after shoreleave have to talk about.”

In the sub-level of the building, the real heart of the ops station, Val sat at one of the data terminals with Sionne at her side, listening to the conversation recorded earlier that night between the troopers and their associates and the redhead could scarcely contain a little smile of triumph at what she heard. Confirmation codes from the sound of it. And something major at that.

That smile grew wider when Si told her about the information he’d gotten from one of their informal, yet more reliable sources on the Hutt homeworld regarding a convey supposedly in route to Nal Hutta, from toward the Rim.

After checking this against known NRI flash alerts, she very nearly threw her arms about the big man in glee before getting herself back in some semblance of control again. “So the Imps are going into some serious business with the kajidics? I’d love to know which clan…and what they plan on doing trade in?”

Reading over the data streams and the printed out flimsies, Sionne looked over at her. “Whatever it is, I highly doubt it’s good. HQ’s various divisions are going to be tripping over themselves fighting to claim the win here. I’d say we send the report right out to D-Ops, high-priority coded. Give the old rat bastard something nice to wake up to?”

“I’d love to have him wake up to a pillow over his face, myself.” Val smirked as Idris grinned, “But I suppose this will do for now. He wanted something useful, he’s got it. I’ll compile and upload everything and send it right out. "As for you, go get some sleep. I have a feeling we’re going to have a busy day tomorrow…and the day after.”

A small frown of concentration replaced the grin on Si's face as he looked over the data streams again and that was the first thing Val noticed when she looked over at him when he didn't reply.  "Hey…take a look at this." He tapped one large finger against the flatscreen of the data terminal monitor, tapping at a key with the other hand.  

"What is that?" Val leaned in and read the lines of code interwoven with the others intercepted between the stormtroopers and their compatriots with a slight shake of her head.  "Doesn't look related to the other intel.   Maybe junk bytes, maybe just too much compression catching a microburst from another location?  Possibly another party getting their transmissions jumbled in with the Stormies'. " She shrugged, straightening up again.

"Want me to filter through and delete it?" He asked

"I'll take another look through it all again and see what's worth keeping and what's not." The Major replied, noticing Idris looked just as bone tired as Ale' had earlier. "Analysis back home can make the final determination about what stays when they do the final decodes.  That's what they pay them the big bucks for.  Now don't make me repeat my order about getting some sleep, Lieutenant." She finished, pointing in the direction of the doorway to the tubolift with a look on her face that palinly said arguments wouldn't be tolerated.


After Sionne departed, Navin took rescanned  and compiled all the collected and decoded information they’d intercepted, added her report, compressed and scrambled the data before sending the transmission on its way to Coruscant. “Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Davin.” She said after hitting the transmit key. Smiling to herself as she entered the turbolift to take her to her apartment and feeling better than she had in days. Finally, their luck seemed to be turning in the right direction.

Quod Me Nutrit, Me Destruit
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079-167-048

As Val’kia rescanned the communications she intercepted in the Hyperdive, an all but undetectable virustack, embedded deep within the code, activated. Among intellectual circles, there had been much heated debate about Artificial Intelligence, and just where the boundary of sentience lay. Such discussion was immaterial to the virustack; unleashed, it set out to follow its directives with a vengeance.

Seeking its target, the virustack found and attacked its intended prey, the bits of information that contained the hyperspace coordinates of the rendezvous point between the Imperial convoy and the ships of Nal Hutta’s Hutt kajidics. Infected, the data would mutate as it was transmitted and traveled the Simu-Tunnels to Coruscant. Upon receipt, decryption, and matching of authentication codes, the coordinates that Navin sent would read: 079-177-048.

Its purpose for existence over, the virustack destroyed itself, having completed its mission for the greater glory of the Empire.

* * *

“We have to close early tonight. Inventory.”

With much cajoling and a few threats, Sionne finally managed to get the last die-hard drinkers out of the cantina. Val watched her comrade impatiently, eager to get down into the Hyperdive’s  ops center and follow the intercept of the Imperial convoy.

“Val?”

“What is it, Ale?”

“Have you seen Rab? Doc Melton stopped by for a drink, and he dropped off some bacta patches for him. I went to his room, but he’s not there.”

Frowning, Val led the Twi’lek to the small room in the back of the Hyperdive. “Rab?” she called out, before entering. What Ale said was true; Rab wasn’t there. Looking at the bed, Val noticed that the covers hadn’t even been disturbed, not even a wrinkle from someone sitting on them.

Heading to the kitchen, Val asked the staff there if they had seen the Corellian. No one had; they all thought the same as Ale, that Rab had retired to his room.

Kislev, you nutty SOB, Val thought grimly, I hope you didn’t get some crazy idea like exacting vengeance on your own.  Shaking her head, the NRI officer checked her chrono. “I’m sorry Ale, but I can’t worry about where Rab’s run off to. We’ve more important duties to attend to.”

* * *

Smoky Places Tenement–

Rinehart stepped from the turbolift and into the Nar Shaddaa cell’s operation center, hidden deep within the foundations of the building. Acknowledging the system cell leader’s greeting, the Imperial turned his attention the various pieces of equipment that had been set up.

“The data stream that we will be receiving, will it be in realtime?”

“The Ravisher’s  comscan center will be monitoring events,” the Ubiqtorate officer answered, “and they will relay the data to us. Heavily encrypted, of course, and inserted into a beamcast of an old propaganda holovid directed toward Nar Shaddaa. They’ve been broadcasting for the better part of the day now, the same holovids over and over. I doubt any snoop would be paying attention by now.”

The Intelligence officer gestured to a tactical display. “We’ll have to follow the action as the Ravisher sends it. And we should start receiving data within the hour,” the man said as he checked his chrono.

* * *

The Tri-D came to life, displaying the opening scenes of Win or Die.  Rinehart smiled. The holovid, which starred the then youthful Garik Loran, had been a standard recruiting tool for the Imperial military, and required viewing for members of COMPNOR’s SAGroup.

The Imperials not engaged in receiving or decrypting data jumped to their feet, gathering around the tactical display off to one side of the catacombs-like operations center.
“The Alliance warships are here,” a technician explained, highlighting several areas near the planet Nar Hekka. “Telemetry indicates a mix of Nebulon-B frigates and CR-90 corvettes.”

The New Republic flotilla had divided itself into three groups: Two of them flanking Nal Hekka, the planet forming the apex of the formation. The third group stood out some distance in space, the whole thing resembling an elongated lozenge on the tactical display, but it was, nonetheless, a well-laid trap.

As the NR’s tacticians saw it, the Imperial convoy, after dropping out of hyperspace, would find itself flanked by enemy ships, subject to enfilade fire. The only avenue of escape would be a vector back into deep space, so that they could make the jump back into lightspeed. But that option would only lead the Imperial ships into the targeting scopes of the third group of New Republic warships, capping the T and sealing off the escape route . . .

“Fighter launch from Alliance flotilla detected.”

The enemy snubfighters were shown as twinkling dots on the tactical display, moving as a swarm to take up additional intercept positions. Seeing this, Rinehart wished the display was capable of 3-D holographic images.

“Telemetry shows additional ships dropping out of hyperspace.”

Rinehart showed a self-satisfied grin as the Imperial convoy appeared outside of the NR’s expected intercept zone. And because the Imperial ships were of common civilian makes–Gymsnor-3, HT-2200, and Ghtroc 720 freighters–the New Republic warships would have to withhold fire at first, lest a horrible accident occur.

Several agonizing minutes passed, with no changes on the tactical display. Finally, a tech sang out, “Alliance ships have issued a challenge. Our ships are responding.”

That would gain the convoy a bit of additional time, as the NR warships double-checked the transponder signals. Still grinning, Rinehart shook his head. Apparently, the New Republic still couldn’t get over their aversion to firing first and asking questions later . . .

“Our ships are turning away, Alliance ships have begun pursuit. Ravisher is exiting Nar Shaddaa orbit.”

The beamcast of the propaganda holovid began to break up as the Star Destroyer distanced itself from the Smuggler’s Moon. Consequently, updates from the Ravisher took longer as well, and again it was several minutes before the display showed the new tactical dispositions. When it did, the display showed that most of the New Republic ships had broken off pursuit to confront the threat posed by the Ravisher. Rinehart could imagine the consternation on the bridges of the enemy ships, what with an ISD bearing down on their sterns.

“Our ships are making the jump back into hyperspace.”

By ones and twos, the graphics representing the Imperial convoy disappeared from the display. Meanwhile, the one portraying the Ravisher had ceased its flight toward Nar Hekka and was now returning to Nar Shaddaa orbit. And far too late, the New Republic ships were attempting a belated pursuit.

The Ubiqtorate cell leader looked at Rinehart, then nodded in appreciation. “Impressive, Captain. You will be commended for this.”

Rinehart sketched a bow. “Merely the opening shot, Sir. And as for Navin and her gang–I have not yet begun to fight.”
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TK0212 | "The Beast" <br>No, I'm a fucking squirrel!

Re: Spies Like Us

Admiral Dodonna stared at the report being beamed from Rinehart's cell operation center using the same beamcast from <I>Win or Die</i> and fought the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. A raw mix of fury, frustration, and loathing all fought to control him, like a hurricane of emotion with him at the eye. Events were still unfolding down on Nar Shaddaa. The ramifications of their actions would probably become more serious every day they remained in orbit.

He had ordered the <I>Ravisher</I> to hold orbit again. No one would question their presence. The recriminations battering his mind forced him to order Lt. Commander Davin and Lt. Cadman to the command bridge to fully grasp the extent of the operations they had wrought in their involvement.

Kix Davin wore a mocking, arrogant grin emphasized by the twist in his lip. His hair swept messily off his forehead. Dodonna wanted to look away from the man's insolent grin, but it took all the effort. The man's voice taunted him.

"You wished to see me, Admiral?"

His anger swelled. "Thanks to you, I'm back to being a puppet of Bastion in doing their dirty work. Even though the operation was a success and I was commended for my participation in this, we can no longer come and go as we please," he said, his voice strained. "It seems they want you two again for another future operation."

"But I thought the cell were through with us?" Kix shrugged. "We did as they said in that tavern. We relayed the false information which brought us to a complete success in their mission. What do they want?"

"That is what I want to know." Dodonna replied to Davin. "When comscan receives another encrypted beamcast from the hidden cell, you will reply to what it is they want."

"Do we then comply?" Nash Cadman suddenly interjected.

Dodonna gave the bald officer a stern look. "You will comply what Bastion wants– now that you have me and this ship involved. All I have to say is that Bastion better acknowledge our service in this. I just hope our actions won't lead us to having the Rebellion sending a fleet to capture us." He glared to Davin. "If that happens, we will break orbit and jump to hyperspace at the first moment, leaving you to your fates on the surface. Is that clear?"

Both nodded once, slowly. "Yes, sir."

Dodonna shook his head and wiped the sweat from his brow. "As officers, I do commend your actions in this matter. You executed the operation with precision, which is why I am assuming Bastion's operatives want you back to help them again."

"Yes, Admiral," Davin nodded again.

"Dismissed. Comscan will notify you when they make contact."

The Kixinator
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Re: Spies Like Us

“What’s all the grumbling about, Rab?”

Rinehart looked up at Sionne, grimaced, then shook his head. “You think that beings would have stopped sticking gum on the bottom of tables when they graduated from school. They can really be such Hutts at times, you know?”

“Look at it this way, Rab: It’s job security for you.”

The Imperial agent glowered as the other man moved off in a burst of laughter. Waiting till Sionne had exited the main part of the cantina, Rinehart carefully shaved the gum–actually, a dun colored putty that concealed one of several listening devices–from the bottom of the table and surreptitiously stuck it to the upper inside of his trash barrel. Making his way out toward the back of the Hyperdive as if to toss out the rubbish,  the agent retrieved the bugs and concealed them in a pocket. Sticking his head back into the cantina, Rinehart called out, “Hey! I’m out to lunch!”

“So what else is new?”

Not bothering to respond to the jibe, Rinehart immediately headed for the lower levels of Nar Shaddaa, his destination: Joban’s Newsstand. Humming to himself as he entered the business, the Corellian headed for the newszine section and selected one of the pulp tabloids. The clerk behind the register gave Rinehart a withering look as he glanced at the headline: I was abducted and impregnated by Earthlings!

“How can you read this garbage?”

“Why do you sell it?”

“Because we know dumb asses like you will buy it.”

“Some of us are interested in what these people have to say. How much?”

“Two credits.”

Reaching into his pocket, Rinehart withdrew the credits, the listening devices concealed beneath the chits. The clerk swiftly deftly dropped the bugs into a secure place as he put the credits into the register. “That stuff you’re interested in, we should have some tonight.”

Rinehart gave an understanding nod.

* * *

“All done, Rab?”

“Yes, Ms. Navin. Ms. Navin, would it be all right if I went back to my place tonight? I think it’s safe now, and I’ve imposed upon you enough.”

Biting her lip, Val looked to Sionne, who only shrugged, while Ale looked devastated. “If that’s what you want, Rab. I can’t really stop you from going.”

Rinehart gave a reassuring smile to Alema. “I’ll be fine. See you all tomorrow.”

“Good night, Rab.”

Traveling back to the Smoky Places tenement building, Rinehart entered the main foyer and headed for the turbolift. Once inside the car, he punched the special code that dropped him down to the covert Ubiqtorate operation center far below the building’s foundations.

The intelligence agents on duty there gave the impression that they had been waiting for Rinehart. Dispensing with any formalities or greetings, the Imperial merely asked, “Did you get anything?”

The lead Analysis tech grinned. “Your target’s vocabulary is quite crude. Most unladylike. But yes, we got it.” Reaching back, the man activated a recording rod.

“Val, it was a simple mistake. It could have happened to anyone of us.”

“Si, I know I didn’t make an error in transmitting that data. I frinkin’ know I didn’t! Now they think I let the blasted Imps get away!”

“Haddon appreciates what it took to get that info.”

“But that carking scumbag Phaeden doesn’t. Which is why he’s sending a covert insertion team here. They’re supposed to infiltrate the kajidics that are in business with the Imps.”

“And you think that HQ is sending them here so that they can have someone to report on you.”

“Duh.”

“If you don’t cooperate, that’ll just give Phaeden something else to hold over your head.”

“I know, I know. That shik! Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to be an officer in the NRI when they still let that moron be in command . . . So we’ve got half a dozen agents coming in from Coruscant. As they arrive, we’ll put them up in the safehouse by the Drunken Drummer. The garage.

“I’ll start making arrangements.”

“Crap. Look at this place! Rab’s gonna have his work cut out for him tomorrow.”


Rinehart grinned malevolently. “Six agents. The opportunities that just seem to drop into our laps.”

“You strike me as being more devious than a Devaronian, Captain.”

“The plan is already there,” Rinehart said, tapping the top of his head. “Just some small details to be finalized. But let’s just say our visitors from Coruscant are going to get a hot welcome when the arrive on Nar Shaddaa. And there won’t be a thing to tie it to the Empire.”
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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

Though she’d be loathe to admit it, especially to herself, there were a few commonalities Val shared with her section head.  Absolute stubbornness and a strong sense of duty being chief among them.  The former had been one of the main things responsible for the many clashes between them over the years Val had been with the special section.  Both were one reason he was insistent on the insertion team being dispatched to the Smuggler’s Moon. Another reason being something else the two of them shared strongly.  Distrust of one by the other.

She had been furious at first upon hearing the news, even if it was tempered by an almost expectance of Phaeden doing such a thing eventually.  Si had talked her down from the anger as usual, helping her regain her focus to the point where she not only accepted the idea but even welcomed it.  After all, why should she worry? She and every member of her team had done their jobs and done them well.  There was nothing there in the records she’d meticulously kept since arriving here on Nar Shaddaa as the head of station that she would feel the slightest bit of worry to show to Cracken himself in the unlikely event he dropped in for a full audit.

In the end all she would do was her very best to fully cooperate with those being sent by Aerryk for whatever his reasons and assist them in any way needed.

The first three arrived the next day in the late afternoon, two men and a woman who looked to be the team leader judging by her greater age and the way she carried herself.  Even after having seen the files on each and their holos, it struck Val to see how young, eager, and yet serious the two men looked. Taking her back in time and reminding her so very much of friends now lost.  Cris, Lants, Tira, Ri’kii…Diric.  

“Ah, my cousin from back home is here.” Val gave Si a smile and inclined her head toward the trio dressed in typical modest spacer attire as they walked in the door and sat at a corner booth.  Rab, standing to her left, paused in his movements of wiping down the surface of the bar to give  the newcomers a cursory once over.  

“Back home?” He inquired, going back to the job of making the woodgrain shine like the mirror on the wall behind him. “I thought you grew up here?”

Val looked over at her hired handyman/custodian and grinned, “As a fellow Corellian, Rab you of all people should know that no matter how long you’ve lived there or been away it’s always going to be home.”  

“Yes.” He seemed to consider her statement for a moment, eyes looking over to the disguised operatives quickly before giving Val a glance that was just as brief, something she almost swore was a hint of a smile on his lips before he looked down at the bartop once again, seemingly satisfied with the results of his efforts . “I suppose that is true.”

Val regarded him with a more open smile of her own.  The odd, reserved, almost timid man had come to grow on her over the time he had been working here. “Better let me take care of their order.  You know how that old saying goes, get two Corellians together it’s a conspiracy.”

“Three and it’s a fight.” Kislev finished the statement with another small half-smile then headed to the kitchen area of the Dive.  

Walking away from behind the bar after he had left, Val approached the table, eyes already searching out the predetermined signals that these were indeed among the group she was expecting and finding everything in place.

“Welcome, Cousin.” She addressed the copper haired woman in the booth, Captain Elisa Mattus, whose eyes regarded Val’s steadily, but not without warmth in their bright blue depths as she got to her feet and embraced her ‘cousin’.  “It has been far too long.”

“Indeed it has, Val’kia” She smiled before sitting back down, “Mother sends her greetings and wishes you’d come home for a visit before long.”

Val returned her smile with a genuine one of her own. “I will be happy to come and see your mother as soon as I can find some time away from running this place.”

Elisa nodded in sympathy before ‘reintroducing’ her to the co-pilot and mechanic of her freighter.  “The rest of the crew is back at the ship taking care of business with the port authorities and a couple of business associates.”  

“I wondered why you hadn’t brought that boy of yours, Tevis along.” Val replied.  

“And he was quite disappointed not to have been asked to”, the dark-haired man, Rushad said with a grin. “All the way here he did nothing but talk about seeing you again until we were all sick with it.”

Val gave him a wide grin, the kid was good at this.  Falling into a natural candor as if they actually were old acquaintances instead of having just met for the first time a few minutes ago. Captain Mattus obviously put a team of good people together.

“Well if you are going to be around for a while, perhaps he’ll get his chance to see me after all.” She winked.  

“We do have some business matters that will keep us here for at least a couple of days.” The short-statured, muscular Iridonian gave a crooked grin. “So I’m sure the Captain has no problem with her crew availing ourselves of her cousin’s hospitality while the two of you catch up on news from home and elsewhere.

Elisa gave the man a reproachful look.  “Last time you bunch spent time here, Kore’ I had to buy my poor cousin here a new sheet of transparisteel to replace the window one of you broke.”

“Hey, come on now Captain. That Wookie started it.”  The man’s grin was wide in his intricately tattooed face.

“Maybe so,” She gave a look a mother might give a child who made some excuse as to why they had gotten into trouble for fighting in school. “But you did not need to finish it with property damage.”

Val gave him a look of mock-reproach then laughed as if remembering an event that never had actually happened in reality.  “Let me get you some drinks and I can recommend a good place for you to stay while you’re on the moon.”

Sionne was behind the bar when she walked back to it and Ale’ was just walking in from the back of the cantina. “Ah I see your cousin Silbria’s stopped by.” Idris said with a smile and a nod in the direction of the NRI operatives.

“She and the crew have some business here and will be spending a few days before heading to Onderon with a shipment of some fermented spice-infused liquer from Nal Hutta that supposedly all the rage out that way”. She gave a look of distaste at the thought of anyone wanting to drink such thing.

“Well there’s no accounting for taste” Sionne replied, grabbing three bottles of the establishment’s finest ale and setting them on a tray with three glasses as Val stood to the side and made a short notation on a sheet of the flimsipad used for taking down customer orders.  Thanking her second in command she picked up the tray and delivered the drinks along with the address and directions to Zerpo’s garage.  

The Toydarian mechanic who owned the establishment was one of Val’s best assets in that sector of the moon near the spaceport.  His eyes and ears always open and more importantly his mouth closed about any transient inhabitants of the living quarters above or behind the maintenance facility he ran with is Vratix partner.

They spent a little more than an hour carrying on the charade of old friends and family catching up.  Si and Ale both stopping by the booth to say hello.  The latter flirting subtly with Mattus’ men, much to Idris’ chagrin.

As the three of them left, Val made a show of getting them to promise to stop by once business with the employer who’d contracted their transport services was complete and before they left the moon.

Early Next Afternoon:

“Excuse me, Miss Navin.” Rab Kislev’s quiet voice could be heard coming from the doorway to her office as Val pored over the ledgers of the Hyperdive’s expenses and profits.  The margin between the two giving her a slight headache as she perused them, almost happy for the break provided by his intrusion into her thoughts.

“Rab, how many times have I told you to call me Val?” She gave him a smile.  Wasn’t his fault things were damn off kilter lately. “What can I do for you?’ she asked.

“Sionne is almost finished completing the inventory and says we will need to make some runs to restock the cantina’s supplies before tonight since it is the end of the workweek and you know how those spaceport hands can get when their favorite watering hole runs low.” He gave an almost apologetic shrug.

Val pushed the stack of flimsies she’d been going over to one side and stood up.  “Can’t have a bunch of half-drunk rioting dockhands running about then can we? Needed a break from these figures anyway.  Damn numbers are running together.”

“Tell Si and Ale we’re going out on a supply run and that means you too.” She reached in the top drawer, pulling out a credaccount card and her holstered blaster, putting the former in her pocket and the latter she strapped around her right thigh.  Looking up she noticed the look Kislev was giving her.  “With some of the places we’ll be going, this is a requirment.” She continued putting the rig on, fastening the belt around her waist before looking back at him again.

“Don’t suppose you’re carrying yourself?” she asked doubtfully, suppressing a smile at the look Rab gave her in return.

“N…no” Kislev mumbled.  “They make me nervous. I’ve just relied on yourself or Sionne or Ale’ or one of the others to use on if it became necessary.”

With a sigh, Val walked over to small cabinet on the wall to her right, unlocked it and removed a small, blaster from the shelf within. After checking the power pack’s level she locked the doors again and walked over to Rab, handing it to him.

By the look on Kislev’s face you’d have thought she was handing him some exotic deadly small animal. “I…I…just don’t know if I should.  I mean…”

“Look Rab, You don’t even have to use it, okay?” She looked at him with patience in her eyes. “Just wear it to keep some of the…locals from getting any stupid ideas.  It’s 99% attitude with those types.”
With great reluctance, Kislev nodded, taking the weapon from her hand and sticking it gingerly in the belt he wore.  “Okay…but in the event I need to use it.  I’m not sure if I can.”

“It’s okay” she reassured him. “We can handle anything that comes up.  Now let’s get that supply run made before it gets any later. I want to open on time for business tonight.”

As they drove through the various nearby sectors of the moon visiting with the vendors who supplied the Hyperdive with its variety of necessary potables, Val’s mind was half on that job and half on the group of NRI operatives stashed safely away above Zerpo’s.  Wondering if they had gotten started on their mission duties yet.  Even the ones she suspected they were sent here for that she didn’t agree with. Wondered if even now they were following her speeder as they made the rounds of seedy warehouses and less legitimate establishments in search of the best deals on ale and liquor.

Glancing at her wrist chrono Val gave a slight frown.  Whatever the plans Captain Mattus’ team had she wouldn’t per completely privy to them. Their agenda was not the same as hers but that of the powers that be back on Coruscant.  Still, she was head of station for the system and surrounding areas and protocol dictated that they check in to confirm their continued presence with her on a regular basis.  Something that had not been followed going by the time of day it was now.

“Let’s stop by Zerpo’s” She said abruptly to Idris who gave her a questioning look in reply.  Acutely aware of Rab’s presence she answered, “I just want to have him take a look at the load levelers before we head back to the ‘Dive.  I noticed the back end was listing a bit when we were putting those cases of whiskey on board back at Skaldan’s”

Without a word of argument in the face of the worried look he saw in Val’s eyes, Sionne turned at the next  boulevard and headed toward the garage, giving his boss a look out of the corner of his eye now and then and not liking what he was seeing in the tense set of her jaw.

“What in the nine hells?” It was Ale’ who commented first at the familiar sight of a Nar Shaddaa Port Control Police speederwagon hovering outside of the garage, its lights illuminating the shadowy buildings around it with flashes of red and blue.

“Looks like they just pulled up.” Kislev murmured from his seat right behind her. “I hope your mechanic friend isn’t in any trouble.” He added as Sionne brought the speeder to a stop across the way from the police vehicle.

As they watched several officers in modified riot gear got out of the back of the wagon, assembling for a moment on the sidewalk in front of the garage to confer. “We need to warn…” Si started to say before Val cut him off with an expletive as she recognized one of the “officers” who had turned to let his intense blue-eyed gaze sweep up and down the street as the remainder of his team entered the building. Even with the visored helmet he wore she’d know that face anywhere

“Slagging frak!” She jumped out of the speeder as Kix Davin followed the last man into the garage, turning his back. Val and the rest of her team unseen as he and his own people went intently about their mission.

Quod Me Nutrit, Me Destruit
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Re: Spies Like Us

Rinehart gritted his teeth in frustration as Val and rest of her agents swarmed from the speeder, quickly drawing their sidearms and disappearing like wraiths into Zerpo’s Garage. The Imperial agent always prided himself on his methodical planning, and now to have this redhead throw a hydrospanner into the servos was just flat out infuriating . . .

Previously–

Kix Davin and Nash Cadman, in mufti sa as not to attract attention to themselves, entered Joban’s Newsstand, their eyes scanning the crowd inside for a particular person. The two Imperials spied their target, standing amidst a group of beings gathered in the section of the store dedicated to the more prurient interests of its’ clientele.

“Friends of yours, Spook?” Nash spat as they approached the ISB agent. VonToma refused to acknowledge the storm commando’s presence, continuing to read the tabloid faxplast he held in his hands. None of the beings standing nearby paid Nash any attention either, far too engrossed in the explicit holoimages they held in their hands.

“Let me handle this, Nash,” Kix said genially as he grabbed one of the erotic holomagazines from its’ display rack and thrust it into Cadman’s hands. “Now, you be a good boy and stay out of the way while ol’ Kix talks shop with our super-spy.”

Nash loosed a choice epithet. “Twi’lek porn? Nothing turns my stomach more than the thought of two wormheads–” The Imperial cut himself off as he opened the magazine and gazed at the obscene images inside. Casting a furtive glance at VonToma, Nash snatched several more of the magazine from the display rack and retreated to one side, hunkering down in a corner so as to leer at pictures in privacy.

“The Admiral,” Kix remarked candidly, “is most displeased. And surrendering the use of one of his blastboats so that we could make this rendezvous doesn’t help matters any.”

Rinehart carefully rolled up his beloved tabloid faxplast before replying. “Would giving him the heads of six Alliance intelligence agents make him happy?”

“Hardly. That last operation of yours may bring a Rebel task force down on his neck.”

The ISB agent gave the storm commando a condescending smirk. “Things getting too hot for the infamous “Warlord” of the Outer Rim to handle? Perhaps your renegade admiral has belatedly discovered that he needs Bastion a hell of a lot more than Bastion needs him.”

“State your business,” Kix snapped.

“I have come across information that will lead to the elimination of an Alliance Intelligence cell. The intention is to have them terminated with extreme prejudice.”

“’Terminated’,” Kix sneered. “Why don’t you just say ‘killed’?

“If that’s the term you prefer,then I want them killed.”

“Won’t take much for the Rebels to connect the dots. They’ll know that we’re responsible.”

“Will they? As far as everyone knows, Corellian Port Control will be the ones responsible.” Rinehart frowned. “Eyewitnesses on the street will see CPC officers pull up to make a bust, a violation of immigration laws, let’s say. And that in itself is a joke, as on this cesspool of a moon, such arrests are nothing but cover for a shakedown. And I believe it is safe to assume that everyone hearing the blasterfire will conclude that it is the result of some damn fool refusing to pay up and pulling out a blaster instead. Life is cheap here, you know, sometimes measured in decicreds.”

“I could have a few of my troopers in civilian clothing,” Kix ventured. “But dressed in CPC overcoats to conceal them going in. Strip them off as we’re going out. For all intents and purposes, everyone will see that CPC has some suspects in custody.”

Rinehart nodded in approval as he reached into a pocket and handed over a flimsi with an address on it. “Zerpo’s Garage. That’s where they’re at. H-hour will be two days from now.”

The Corellian allowed himself a self-satisfied grin. What a piece of luck, Navin leaving that flimsipad behind. Incredibly careless as well. It had been simple enough for Rinehart to swipe the notepad and secret it back to his tenement apartment. There, he had painstakingly and carefully retraced the address from the indentations of Navin’s handwriting on the remaining flimsies. If Navin had taken the simple precaution of tearing the sheet from the pad and writing the address on the surface of the bar, Rinehart’s plans would have been foiled. How strange that battles, and sometimes wars, turned on such simple twists of fate!

“Is that it?” Kix blurted out as Rinehart turned to leave. “What about the CPC uniforms and vehicles?”

Rinehart stopped, looked over his shoulder. “Shouldn’t too hard for some resourceful Imperial commandos to acquire those items, correct?”
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TK0212 | "The Beast" <br>No, I'm a fucking squirrel!

Re: Spies Like Us

<B>An hour before the raid…</B>

<I>Location: Imperial safehouse, lower level, Nar Shaddaa</I>

As they pulled the CPC overcoats from the hijacked laundry speeder and began to suit up, Kix remembered his squad from the last raid they did. Several were taken out. Only him, Nash, and another were the only ones who made it out alive and made it back to the safehouse. In return, Kix took his revenge by jabbing a vibroknife at the one responsible for his losses and tossing him into the nearest trash receptable. Now, they were in the same scenario again. Would they be compromised like last time? Would he be next?

To add, were these new guys as good as that unit had been? Probably. It was hard to say for sure until things went sour. This squad had better scores in training and they moved real well when the return fire was nothing more than set for stun. <I>If</I> they moved as well in the real world when the bad guys started coming, then, yeah, they would do better than the squad had that time ago.

He hoped to the Maker that they moved better. If this team was going to go down and come back, they needed to be good. They needed to be the best. "If" was a big word, even though it didn't look it. There wasn't going to be any room for error in this mission. Screwups would get somebody dead.

The team began to gear up, each and every storm commando now donned in the garbs of the Corellian Port Control. No one would suspect Imperials now.

"All right, children, let's see if we can't cross the street without getting run down by an airspeeder, shall we? Nash, you take point. Iameh, you're demolitions, Lt. Sebastian, tactical, Ramzes–"

Kix finished ordering the squad, then started to give them the scenario. "It'll take five seconds for the explosive to go off. That's what you got, people. Once that doorway is open, we move in and take them all out. I want no mistakes. See if you can't look like commandos and not a bunch of Hutts on legs!"

He spoke into his chinlink and tested it. "Alright! Move out!"

The storm commandos began to board the hijacked CPC transport in a hurry.

The Kixinator
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Re: Spies Like Us

Entering through a side alley entrance, Val’kia and her team slipped silently and unseen into the garage, making their way through the service corridors to the main repair bay. The trio stole down the passageway in a single-file combat formation, Val at the point, Ale’ just behind and offset to one side, with Si bringing up the rear. The red-haired agent suddenly halted and raised her arm, hand clenched in a fist, palm forward. Freeze.

She could hear voices, several protesting, others commanding, and above it all, someone uttering a hideous giggle. Moving to the end of the corridor, Val cautiously peered around the corner and spied Kix Davin as the Imperial officer and his commandos brutally shoved the recently arrived NRI agents—Mattus, Gauri Vivek, Narvyk, Kore, Rushad, and Hutspha, along with Zerpo, the Toydarian mechanic—into a line.

“What is this?” Zerpo blurted in outrage. “I demand to see a warrant. And if you’re Port Control, then where’s your badges?”

“Badges?” Nash cackled. The Imperial was wearing a long overcoat that bulged with weaponry, and he seemed to take great delight in twirling about in it. “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” To drive the point home, the shaven-headed commando rammed the butt of his blaster rifle into Kore’s midsection, the blow sending the Iridonian to his knees. “Who told you to kneel?” Nash raged, spittle flying from his mouth. “Get on your feet, you frinkin’ alien! On your feet!”

Val ducked back around the corner, quickly using hand signals to identify the number and location of the enemy, and marking out the targets for Si and Ale’ to take out. The two nodded their agreement, and the NRI agents crept into the repair bay to take up firing positions. As Ale’ was bringing her pistol up, the barrel of her blaster ever so slightly struck the side of the piece of machinery she was concealing herself behind. Val barely heard the noise, and it was doubtful if anyone outside of a two meter radius would have heard it either.

But somehow, Kix did detect the sound. The storm commando whirled and dropped into a kneeling firing position, grasping his heavy blaster pistol in a sure two-handed grip, sending a withering fusillade toward the three NRI agents. Whirling, Nash and Nik added the firepower from their blaster rifles a split second later.

As Zerpo launched himself straight up to shelter among the garage’s structural girders overhead, the other NRI agents dove for cover, just barely escaping the blasts that the rest of Davin’s commandos unleashed upon them. Seeking cover, the agents drew their own concealed holdout blasters, but as the weapons were mostly stingbeam weapons with limited energy capacity, they would be of little use in the savage, intense firefight.

“GNU!” Val shouted, using the NRI slang for a blaster, as she pulled her own backup blaster out and slid it over to Mattus. Si did the same. The Merr-Sonn IR-5s were rapid-fire weapons with a respectable shot capacity, but lacked stopping power. And that left the NRI agents at a distinct disadvantage; Bolts from the Imperials’ heavier weaponry was turning their shelter into a sieve. Beams holed solvent cleaning tanks, spilling noxious chemicals onto the floor. Others sizzled through abrasive blasting cabinets, fusing the material inside into a glass-like substance. Val scrambled desperately, finding cover behind an alloy anvil, the massive metal block protecting her from everything save the blast effects that washed around it.

“Rushad!” she screamed, gesturing to one of the NRI agents. “Over here!” The agent, sheltering behind a turbo-lathe, attempted to crawl toward Val, but a pair of bolts that punched through the machine sent him scrabbling backwards. Val turned her head to protect her eyes and face from flying metal shards, and when she looked back toward Rushad, her eyes were filled with a horrific sight: The male agent sprawled on his back, a smoking hole through his chest. Rushad lifted his head, a red, frothy liquid bubbling out from between his lips. The man twitched spasmodically, then his eyes rolled back and his head dropped lifelessly to the floor. Her mouth a grim line, Val gripped her pistol resolutely and rolled over onto her stomach, snapping off a hail of energy beams at the Imperials.

The intense firefight caused the repair bay to fill with a low hanging, acrid smoke, and the combatants were to firing at where they guessed their enemies might be. Nash, blazing away from a prone position, decided that it was time to up the ante. Rolling over, the Storm Commando withdrew a prized grenade launcher that he had stashed within his overcoat. Fixing the weapon to his blaster rifle, Nash loaded the launcher and with a demonic howl, leapt onto the top of a roll-away tool chest.

“Nash!” Kix bellowed. “You stupid son of a bit–”

The Imperial officer never finished the sentence. Si, firing at the sound of Kix’s voice, almost managed to burn the nose off the Storm Commando’s face. The bolt that missed Kix did strike the tool chest Nash was standing on, the force of the blast sending the shaven headed commando toppling head over heels. Nash struck the floor hard, the impact causing him to inadvertently trigger the grenade launcher. The errant projectile detonated against one service bay doors, blowing out two panels and causing several others to collapse as well. The concussion from the blast momentarily stunned the combatants, and a sudden lull fell over the garage.

Dazed, Val shook her head, then slapped herself across the face, trying to drive off the blackness that threatened to engulf her. Spying the newly created escape route, the red haired agent staggered to her feet. “Brass mines!” she shouted. “Out!”

Somewhat drunkenly, the NRI agents began to dash toward the hole in garage door. Gauri Vivek and Narvyk were the first to make their escape, followed by Si and Kore. The two were dragging Hutspah along, the Jenet grievously wounded in the back from metal splinters. Mattus and Ale’ were next, with the Twi’lek stopping near Val to help provide security. Detecting sounds from the Imperials’ positions, the two opened fire, trying to send their enemies back under cover.

Val shoved Ale’ toward the garage door. “Go!” she shouted as the Imperials sent a few wildly aimed shots their way. Val gritted her teeth; Rushad would have to be left behind. As she agonized over that realization, the Corellian female felt liquid drop onto her head, down her cheek. Momentarily confused, she ran a palm across her face. Blood? Looking up, Val was confronted with the ghastly sight of Zerpo,dangling from the girders and staring fixedly at her, the Toydarian’s eyes glazed and lifeless. Choking back a sob, Val squeezed a few more shots off at the Imperials, then made her escape out onto the street.

* * *

The sound of energy weapons discharging first drew a crowd of the curious, but as it grew in intensity, the onlookers quickly scattered. Rinehart had stayed put in the repulsorvan, impatiently waiting out the results of the firefight.

When one of the garage doors was blown outward in an explosion, he had reflexively ducked, naturally. Davin! his mind raged. No—no, that had to be the genius of Baldy. That hairless fool was the only one insane enough to do something like that.

Several beings in civilian dress spilled out onto the street, Si among them, aiding a badly injured Jenet. The newly arrived NRI team leader was next, followed by Ale’ and then Val’kia Navin. The red headed female looked right at Rinehart and screamed “Rab!”

The ISB agent felt a moment of wild indecision. Part of him wanted to just drive off, leaving Val’kia and her gang to the not so tender mercies of Kix Davin and his troopers. But Navin had proved amazingly resourceful in dealing with the storm commandos already, and the Corellian female’s wrath would undoubtedly fall on Rinehart, putting his mission at risk. Before he realized it, Rinehart had engaged the repulsorvan’s drives and sent it barreling backwards toward Val and the other agents.

Lowering the van’s heavy boarding ramp, Rinehart used it as a battering ram as he smashed the repulsorvan into the Port Control vehicle Kix and his commandos arrived in. The ramp smashed the other vehicle’s control cab and front repulsor array, and when Rinehart pulled his van forward, the police vehicle sank nose down onto the duracrete.

The NRI agents piled into the back of the repulsorvan, the wounded Jenet by now only capable of making a strangled, gasping sound. “Val!” Ale’ screamed as she pointed her pistol toward the garage door. Two commandos appeared at the hole, kneeling and raising their rifles to firing position. Shots from Ale’ and Val caused the pair to fall back.

Val jumped into the control cab with Rinehart. “Punch it, Rab!” she shouted, and the ISB agent complied. The repulsorvan sped away from Zerpo’s garage, swerving wildly as Rinehart sawed the control yoke back and forth, preventing any would be gunmen from getting a clear final shot.

“Here,” Rinehart grunted, smoothly pulling the small blaster Val had given him from the waistband of his pants and tossing it her. “You need this more than I do.”

Val caught the pistol in mid-air and with a blaster in both hands, leaned out the van’s window and risked a look backward; the team was in the clear. Squirming back into the cab, Val blew her breath out in exhaustion. She looked over to her somewhat eccentric employee. “Thanks, Rab. I owe you one.”

Rinehart could only manage a sickly grin as he realized how his actions could be interpreted by his superiors. Oh, frink . . .

* * *

“Who the frell are you people?”

The group had returned to the Hyperdive, Val’s original plan to detour to Doc Melton’s scuttled after Hutspah died en route. Instead, the Doc was on his way to the cantina, and rest of the NRI agents tiredly tended to their own various burns and lacerations as they studiously ignored Rinehart’s hysterics.

The Corellian pointed an accusing finger. “You’re a bunch of henchmen for some Hutt, aren’t you? You shot it out with Port Control and made me an accessory to the crime!”

Val ran a hand over her face. “We’re not in the employ of the Hutts, Rab.”

“Then you must be Black Sun. Oh, frink. I’m borked now!”

Si stood, already weary of Rinehart’s histrionics. “Man, you need to reach down and see if you got a pair. Val, see you for a second? Like, now?”

Val studied Si’s face. “Sure.” As the two headed for her office, Val looked over her shoulder. “Rab? Put a sock in it, or you’ll find yourself wearing a pair of formex overshoes.”

* * *

“Disruption bubble,” Si requested.

Val did as her burly colleague asked, activating the sound proof field. “Pretty lucky that Kislev was there when we needed him,” Si ventured.

“Yes indeed.”

“And that was some evasive driving he did to get us out of there, don’t you think?”

“Agreed.”

“It was almost if he had some previous training in handling repulsorcraft. Military training, perhaps? Imperial military training? Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize those maneuvers?”

Val was silent. For someone who claimed to have been scratching out an existence in the Outer Rim, it did seem odd that Kislev was awfully proficient in handling a repulsor vehicle. “Rab’s Corellian, like me. Stuff like that comes naturally to us,” Val explained lamely, but one look at Si showed that he wasn’t buying it; the explanation sounded phony to her ears as well. And Rab had the sense to toss me his pistol. And the way he did it . . .

“Look Val, I know your heart was in the right place, but let’s face it: We don’t really know anything about Kislev.”

Val felt an overpowering need for a drink. She reached for a tumbler and the bottle she kept on her desk for such occasions. Si stopped her by putting his hand over the glass.

“Val,” he said softly. “Let me keep an eye on Kislev. At least until my own suspicions are put to rest.”

Biting her lip, Val nodded her consent. “Frak, Si,” she sighed, spinning her chair around. “What’s Haddon gonna say about this?”

** ** *

Rinehart stared after Val and Si as they went in her private office, then gulped nervously. Turning, the Imperial rushed to Ale’s side. “Ale’,” he said, his voice distraught. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s not that serious, Rab,” the young Twi’lek protested. Still, she winced as Rinehart applied alazhi cream to her burns.

“I’m sorry, Ale’. I didn’t mean to hurt you. It’s just . . .”

“Just what?”

“It’s just . . . You were so brave back there. You saved Ms. Navin’s life.”

Ale’ blushed. “Rab, you’re making me into some super heroine. I was just doing what had to be done.”

Rinehart cast his down, then looked at the Twi’lek with a shy smile. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I don’t know what I would’ve done if something had happened to you.”

Despite the nagging pain from her injuries, Ale’s found herself smiling back.
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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

<I>How the frak could she have been so stupid? When had she gone so frelling soft?</I>  Those thoughts constantly plagued Val since Si had confronted her with his suspicions about Kislev following the disaster at Zerpo’s just days ago.  Those Imperial agents had been damn efficient at carrying out the false raid and subsequent massacre, but her suspicions that they  had not been working alone  were growing stroner by the hour.

The NRI team members, living and dead, were on their way back home.  Sionne had voiced his opinion that morning that soon they would all likely be ordered to do the same. She didn’t bother to tell him and Alema that said order had already been issued by Phaeden himself.

Mainly because she had no intention of following those orders.

Not just yet.

She hadn’t had to say anything of the sort though to her second in command for him to realize she was holding back and he’d returned to her office after Ale’ had left on an errand.  “Guess Father’s given the word?”

She only nodded in reply, not surprised that Idris had figured it out.  That brawler’s physique had a sharp brain attached to it.  

“So when do we pack up?” He sat across the desk from her, resigned yet disgusted look on his dark, handsome face.

“We don’t” She replied, then went quiet for a few moments as Si waited patiently for her to go on.  “Not until I figure out exactly what “Kislev’s” game is.”

“Oh, so you believe me now?” Idris replied without amusement.

“The more I thought about what you said after that firefight, the fewer and fewer doubts I find myself having about it.” She answered, fingertips tapping subconsciously on the flimsifile on the desk in front of her. “And the more suspicions.  So I had friends back home do a couple of favors and this is what I received this early this morning.” Val slid the documents across to him and waited while he looked through them.

“I knew there was something not right about that rannat from the minute he walked in here, I…” Val cut off his angry exclamation by raising one hand.  

“These ducks,.” She gave him the kind of smile he hadn’t seen from her in a long time. Her huntress grin.  “This is what trips them up too many times, all of their tracks are just a bit too perfectly covered.”

Idris nodded as he scanned the flimsies in his hands, “No definitive ID yet?”

“No, but give them another day or two.” Val tapped her fingertips on the desktop now, seeming to read his mind as she added, “Not that I’m even sure we have another day or two ourselves.  You also know what this means don’t you?”  

“Yeah,” He replied with a pained look.  “Ale’ may only have run a cursory check on him when he first showed up and applied for the job. But to be fair Val, one of us should have…”

“Don’t!” She glared at him,  “Do not make excuses.  If she wants to work in the game she should be following the rules properly, just like I expect from anyone.  No cutting corners, no sloppy vetting.  If he’s a chicken, there’s been a great deal of damage done to this station because of her incompetence.” She frowned, “Not to mention the lives that have been lost.”

“So what do we do?” He closed the folder and placed it on her desk.

“Not much we can do immediately.” She gave a weary sigh  “Phaeden is howling for my head, but thankfully I have others looking out to make sure he doesn’t get it…for now. But that will only buy us a little time.”

“Well we can’t sit here doing nothing, Boss.” Si grumbled. “I could go and beat the living snot, and hopefully the truth, out of Rab.”

“Yes, that will accomplish a lot, Si.” She rolled her eyes at him. “Don’t do anything except keep up the observation on him.  And Ale’ as well” She added, ignoring the look the briefly passed across his face.

“Val, you don’t seriously think she’s been compromised do you?” It was his turn to glare at his commanding officer and friend, “I know she has this…fondness for Kislev, but it’s more of the kind of thing a child would have toward a lost pup or something.”

“Well I want to make sure that pup hasn’t bitten her. Or her then biting us in return.” She stood, one hand going to her hip as the other went to the space between her brows and rubbed at the headache developing there.

“Fine” Sionne nodded firmly as he stood himself.  “I’m going to go out and do a little footwork, see if she made those runs and such.” He didn’t look happy about it in the least as he turned to leave the office.  

“Keep me updated, okay? I’m going to keep the <I>Dive</I> closed for the day and spend some time on a little research.” Val followed him toward the door adding, “And please watch your ass out there, we don’t know if those frakking boys in white are still about.”  She turned off the disruption field controls then set the alarms on her office after closing the door.

“I’ll be careful, Boss.” Si gave her a sober look before heading to the cantina’s rear exit doors while Val made her way to the turbolift, entering the code for the sublevel, her mind working over a million and one things as the narrow car descended below the streets of Nar Shadda.

Quod Me Nutrit, Me Destruit
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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

The events that took place from that point are a matter of record. Not public of course.  This was official New Republic Intelligence business after all.  The less the general population of the galaxy was aware of the goings on conducted by that entity of their government the better off they were.  That was common organizational thought anyway.  One of the company lines.  Keep it all secret, keep everyone safe.  Need to know basis only and YOU don’t need to know.

For those directly affected by those events, the cogs in that agency sworn to the same code of secrecy, it’s another matter entirely.


Nar Shadda, Corellian Sector

She sat behind the desk, half of the contents of a file before her.  The rest of it scattered over various surfaces around the room as if a whirlwind had blown through.  Pale outside of one spot of livid color on each cheek, mouth set in a thin, grim line.  The almost musical sound the bottle in her shaking hand made against the edge of the tumbler the only noise in the room for a moment until she let out a keening wail that was more of anger than pain.  Barely.  Drowning out even the crash of the now empty piece of fine Mon Cal crystal against the wall.

All this time the bishwag was right here. HERE in front of her face.  Let into her sanctum.  She had taken pity on the man.  Poor down on his luck fellow from her home system, another grey, faceless life form on this wretched, miserable moon.  He’d been given a job, a safe place to recover after being savagely attacked, some small amount of her trust.  

She knocked back the contents of the glass in one swallow.  The normally very fine whisky of this particular distillery her homeworld was famous for leaving only a bitter taste in her mouth.

Gods below how could she have been so frakking stupid?  So easily misled.  She could excuse it somewhat in Alema.  Young, inexperienced, and as Val had come to find out the hard way, not suited for the trade at all.  But she herself had been in it so long, literally grown up in the game, that she should have been more vigilant at the very least.  Maybe she was no better than the younger woman who was now on her way back home to Ryloth to recover within the comfort of her large waiting family.  

It had been bad enough when the suspicions regarding the man calling himself Rab Kislev were brought to light by Si.  The subsequent investigation only furthering her fears of the worst. That the man was indeed working with or for what remained of the Empire. Not even thinking that the worst was actually yet to come.

She glanced down again at the years–old holo, marked at the margins like every other piece of flimsi and printed holofilm in the file with “Clearance Level A2 Eyes Only”.  The uniformed man in the image was cleaner shaven than he had been during the time she had known him. The perfect well groomed officer.  Younger face, but with eyes that were cold and ageless.  Head proudly high and hinting at the kind of arrogance that comes with the type of position he likely held at the time the image was captured.  Far in appearance from the soft spoken almost timid man who had approached her months back inquiring about a job.  Eyes cast downward if anyone tried to catch his gaze for too long.  

The image was important in establishing their suspicions as valid, but the more important thing to Val personally were words.  Pages and pages of them on classified flimsi documenting bits and pieces of the career of a man whose only truth he had ever shared with the woman reading it was the planet of his birth.   

She didn’t care about his childhood, the younger years he had spent on Drall.  His dedicated service with the SAGroup which led to a position with COMPNOR.   The fragments of a career spent with the Imperial Security Bureau which NRI had been able to garner and compile showed an operative officer whose loyalty to the Empire was as solid as her own to the Rebellion.  
No the point where she ignored everything else not only in the file, but in the rest of the entire universe, concerned a specific point in time.  One mission he was involved with in particular.  Taking place on a small world in the mid-rim that seemed unimportant to the galaxy at large at that time.   Just a planet like many others being fought for even though the war had been over for years now.  Small yet important cogs in the continued battle between the factions of new government and old.

An almost insignificant place where her rebuilding life had come apart.  Thanks in large part to the man whose face stared back at hers from the surface of her desk.  Captain Rinehart VonToma.

Until today she had known neither the face nor the name of the of the ISB officer responsible for order the execution of anyone suspected of New Republic resistance activities on that small Imperial controlled world.  The man who casually dispatched a platoon of stormtroopers to the marketplace of Tivin with the directions to terminate anyone even hinting at suspicion of seditious activity.  

An order they had failed to carry out completely.  She and Denson were living proof.  Along with a handful of innocent bystanders who managed to dodge the laser rifle bolts that night.   The few among those many more who had not.

The heinous act had galvanized the population of Alagara II to eventually rally against the occupying Imperial Remnant forces.  Adding another world to the solidarity of the New Republic.  But that was of minimal consolation to those members of the NRI strike team who survived to be ex-filled from the planet.  All two of them.

She finally knew the identity of the person responsible for the order this was true. And it angered her to know to know she let one of the people on her short mental list of those she’d not hesitate to kill on sight walk right into her good graces like an absolute fool.   


But as incensed as she had been both with Von Toma, with Alema, and most of all with herself about this revelation, it was nothing compared to the fury she felt for the man she had just gotten off her secured holocom with.  

“How dare he!” She screamed, sweeping the remaining documents from the desk.  “How motherfrakking DARE HE!”

“Hey!” She heard the voice from the other side of the locked door and promptly ignored it.  “Come on, Boss.  Open the door!”  

She didn’t, sitting back down and rifling through the drawers of the desk instead.  “Godsdammit I know I have another bottle in here.” She growled to no one in particular.

“Val!” Idris was ignoring the act that she was ignoring him and she momentarily thought about activating the sound disruption barrier .  The sigh he let out was barely audible through the reinforced door, but the sound of the palm of a large hand slamming against the surface hard enough to rattle it was unmistakable.  “Open the door, boss or I will shoot the lock out.”

“It doesn’t work like that, Si!” She slammed a drawer closed getting to her feet with reluctance when she realized he wasn’t about to go away. “You’ll just get hit by the ricochet.”  Val keyed the lockpad and stood there as the door slid open.

“I know, Val.” The tall man looked down at her.  “Figured that was the best way to get it opened.”

She just shook her head, turning to walk back to her desk when he put on hand on her arm to stop her.

“Val, I’m sorry.  I” Sionne stopped, eyes taking in the whirlwind mess of her office, expression softening even further. “You know this isn’t going to help anything.”

She nodded once, “I know, but it makes me feel better.” She gave a half-hearted laugh.  “So, the exchange is set for the day after tomorrow.” It was more a statement than a question.

“Yes. Tokina Plaza, 1400 hours.” He replied with the same resigned tone in his voice that Val was feeling.  “And just for the record, I am no happier about this than you are.”

“Unhappy doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel, Si.” She glared up at him.  “The man responsible for the death of people I cared about including the man I was going to marry just gets to walk because Phaeden decides that trading him for one of our own that the Imps have been holding after being stupid enough to get caught is a better idea than executing the bastard!”  Her voice was hoarse as she ranted on.  

“He set up the team, Phaeden sent here.  For fraks’ sake Si he tried to have Ale’ kill me under the influence of whatever the frak that drug was he gave her.  Who knows what in the nine hells else he’s done in the course of his career that we don’t even know about and I’m supposed to just be okay with that because the brass decides he’s more important alive than dead?”  She started pacing back and forth, ignoring the scattered flimsies and the crunch of broken crystal beneath her boots.

“And do you know that frakker expects me to be there when they do the exchange?” She glanced over at Idris as he leaving in the door frame, disgusted look on her face matching the tone of her voice.  “I swear that frakwit just keeps twisting the vibroblade in, hoping I will just give up.  Frak that! I am not putting up with this, Si.”  She stopped at the end of her desk, hands flat upon it and her head down in thought. “It wouldn’t be hard to take care of this myself you know.” Her voice was low but still loud enough for Idris to hear her.  “Make sure justice is served.”

“Val” Sionne stepped further into the room, stopping a few inches away from his CO “Whatever you are thinking, it’s not worth throwing a career away over.”

She replied without looking at him, “I can’t let them win, Si.”

“If you do what I thinking you are going to.” He placed one large hand on her shoulder. “They already have.”

She turned away, looking through the small window behind her desk a sigh of resignation and the slumping of her shoulders giving the impression that his words had gotten through.  If Idris could have seen her face though, the look of absolute resolution in her eyes as she stared at the light trails of the speeder traffic outside, he’d know exactly how wrong about that he was.  “You’re right.” Val forced a smile as she turned around to face him again. “Thanks for being here to talk some sense into my hotheaded ass as always, Si.”  

“Anytime, Boss Lady.” He grinned back, embracing her in a comforting hug. “We made a damn good team while it lasted, didn’t we?”

“Yeah,” Val muttered against his broad chest.  “We did.”  

“And it’s not over yet, okay?” Si replied.

“True,” She gave a smirk, “There’s always the chance we’ll end up with neighboring desks back at HQ. Or in a nice little hut on a swampy little world somewhere on the outer rim.”

“You know, I think I’d prefer the latter.” He laughed.

“That makes two of us, Si.” She stepped back.  “Okay, you go get some sleep. That’s an order. I am still your commanding officer, mister.”

He gave a small mock salute and winked, “Yes, ma’am!  Don’t stay up too late yourself, okay?  They’ll be here early tomorrow to start packing the sub-levels up.”
She nodded, “Thanks for the reminder.” She placed her palms on his chest and pushed lightly, “Now go.”

“See you in the morning, Boss.” He called back as he headed down the hallway to the turbolift.

“Goodnight, Si.” Navin replied, scooping up the strewn contents of VonToma’s dossier from the floor and other places they’d landed and meticulously reassembling it back in order as she reread each and every bit of intel.

Glancing up at the chrono, her head was clearer than it had felt in days.  It was almost a feeling of peace.  If there hadn’t been a thread of pervasive anger still running underneath.  

Val closed the folder and headed to the lift herself, halfway to her living quarters she stopped then reversed the lift’s direction, taking it to the first sublevel.  Her mind working over the idea she had from the moment Phaeden told her of the impending trade-off. She had been sober then so she could hardly blame the alcohol still in her system for being unable to let it go.

She pulled out a few items from the plasteel crate she was rummaging through then walked over to the locked durasteel cabinet alongside one wall. Keying in the access code she removed a case almost as long as she was tall and set its contents in the cargo area of a beaten up, dust covered speeder before replacing the case back in the cabinet and locking it again.

Quickly she changed into the baggy, worn looking articles of clothing from the crate, lastly adding a wig of short black hair that she tucked every last strand of her own beneath.  The speeder may have looked like it belonged on a scrap heap, but the drive engine turned over as smoothly as when it came out of the factory where it had been built as she took it out of the backup exit.

Tokina Plaza wasn’t more than a few klicks from the building where the station and safehouse were located, but Val took an indirect route as well as her time getting there.  Last thing she wanted was to get pulled over by a constabulary patrol car crew that had decided to choose tonight of all nights to do their job.  

To expect the trade-off point to not be under observation would have been crazy.  And while she may have been angry and grieving and a knot of other emotions, crazy she was not.  They would anticipate her doing some recon of her own. And tomorrow she would not disappoint them. She’d take a casual stroll around the plaza environs, inspecting the security setup of the layout openly.  Maybe even give a smartass wave to those observing her every action.

Tonight though, she would use the darkness and her superior familiarity with the area to her advantage in setting up everything she needed in order to take care of what she had to do.

The plaza was one of the few open spaces on this Coruscant-in-miniature moon and on days when the market stalls were not open, it tended to be relatively empty.  Mostly due to the high number of petty crimes that took place there. The unobstructed view of the area made it somewhat easier to keep an eye on what was happening at all times through not only points on the ground, but from the multistory structures surrounding it.   These buildings also made excellent cover spots for snipers, both the wanted and unwanted variety.

If things worked out as planned, she would be among the latter to those in charge on both sides.

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New Republic Intelligence<br> I'll kill you with this fraking tray<br>Feles Mala!<br> I <3 Sammiches!

Re: Spies Like Us

Val awoke early the next morning, better rested than she’d expected herself to be given the fact that she’d spent most of the night before tossing and turning.  

Typical mission twitch she supposed as she sat, teacup in hand, watching what passed for dawn on the Smuggler’s Moon lighten the sky. Knowing that said twitch would soon be replaced by the cold focus of the job at hand.  With a sigh she stood and stretched then finished dressing in fitness garb just loose enough to hide the blaster at her waist.  She figured most of the denizens of this region of the vertical city knew better than to try and bother her while out on her morning run, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Val deviated from her normal route along the suspended walkways skirting the Corellian Sector this morning. Instead heading in the direction of the location of the prisoner exchange to take place this afternoon. Not that she wasn’t already familiar with Tokina Plaza.

In fact she’d gotten to know nearly every square meter almost intimately since getting the news about VonToma’s transfer from Phaeden.   This little diversion in her route was just something she had to do to set the minds of those from both NRI and Imperial Intelligence already likely set up in position around the plaza at ease.

Just one of the agents involved in the transfer doing an expected recce of the environs.  Nothing more, nothing less.

She slowed her pace as she reached the open space.  Footsteps on the duracrete surface stamped to look like stone echoing against the walls of the square’s surrounding buildings.

Whoever was up there acting as spotters and observers and likely snipers as well were all doing a good job with their concealment.  A fact she normally would have given her approval to if it wasn’t going to make her own task more difficult.  She needed to know what their positions were so they would not interfere with her own later.

After making one round trip of the plaza she stopped, making a show of stretching out her muscles in anticipation of the run back home.  Taking a long drink from the water bottle she carried on the opposite side from her blaster she scanned the rooflines, windows, and alleyways of the buildings.  Checking for any signs of a slip up, smirking around the bottle’s opening when she swore she spotted the gleam of a helmet caught by the sun’s weak rays.

“Gotcha.” She smiled, replacing the bottle before heading toward the ’Dive without so much as a backward glance.  “Now if only the rest of the day would go as smoothly as the morning was starting out.” Val thought. Her anxiety from the early morning fading with each passing step as Y’toub rose higher in the satellite moon's sky.

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Re: Spies Like Us

Nar Shaddaa

NRI Safehouse Number 6


“I swear by all things sacred that woman just lives to defy me!” The grey-haired man’s voice was controlled fury as he gripped the edges of the table he stood behind until his knuckles were pure white.

The brown skinned man on the opposite side did not provide his commanding officer a reply. Instead he remained where he stood at attention, stoic expression on his face as he kept his eyes on a point behind the General’s head until he was addressed by him directly.
 
“Idris, I know you spoke with her last night.”  He spoke in a calmer yet clipped tone, “Is she or is she not aware of the orders she was given to participate in the events of this day, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Sir.  Major Navin did indicate to me that she was required to be here today at your orders, Sir.” Val Navin’s second in command of station kept his own voice even as possible as he replied.

“Well where is she then?” He looked over at the chrono on the wall before turning his attention back to Sionne. “I have it under good authority that she isn’t sleeping off yet another drunken night as she was seen at Tokina Plaza at 0800.”

“I have already checked the entire station facility from sublevels on up and she is not there nor do I know her current position. She is not answering her personal comm and seems to have her personal tracking device turned off, Sir.” Idris said , knowing every word of it was the truth.  And that Phaeden already knew as well having sent a team of agents through the facility after Si had performed his own sweep.

Earryk narrowed his eyes at the man, but knew there was nothing he could say to refute his claims.  

“Well we cannot wait around for her to grace us with her presence any longer. This time he checked the chrono on his wrist.  “Let’s get this over with, ladies and gentlemen shall we. I’ve spent enough time on this wretched rock.”  The Special Intelligence Section Chief headed in the direction of the holding facility flanked by three of his most trusted field response troopers and Lieutenant Idris.

Navin might show up late and purposely miss out on every moment of Earryk getting to remind her of yet another failure, but at least he had some bit of satisfaction in knowing her most loyal team member would there as a proxy.  Although why an agent with such an impressive service record as Idris would be swayed over to Navin’s side was beyond him. But knowing her previous history he had his less than flattering guesses as to how.  

“Just another write up to add to the personnel file.” He thought to himself before dismissing the woman from his head for the time being as they reached the detention area.  The pair of guards flaking the doorway moving aside with a salute in order to let the transfer team through.

The man who stepped out of the shadows of the cell bore only a passing resemblance to the timid creature who’d scurried about the Hyperdive with his head intently studying the floor over the previous weeks.  

This one carried himself at his full height, shoulders back. His plain black clothing might as well have been the uniform of the Imperial Security Bureau from the way he carried himself in it.  Dark hair neat above a face that Idris recognized from the file on Val’s desk.  Same haughty cold expression, only difference was the addition of the trace of a smirk in the set of his mouth and eyes as Si stepped forward to place the binders on his wrists.

“That won’ t necessary, Lieutenant.”  Phaeden said. “Captain VonToma’s cooperation is guaranteed I assure you.”  He added without elaborating.  

He was about to ask if that was wise and true when VonToma raised his chin, giving his expression an even haughtier look but also revealing the thin band of a shock collar around his neck.

“Mind if I hold the controller, General?” Idris gave the ISB agent a cold look.

“I hardly think that would be a good idea.” He replied, “I would like this exchange to be one where our side had something to offer.  Intact.  That is unless the Captain here gives us adequate reason to change those terms.”

“No General I can assure you I am as eager to be cooperative as possible and to get away from this system as much as I am sure you yourself are.” VonToma said in a genial voice before turning his attention back to Idris.  “Major Navin isn’t coming to this little going away party?  Pity, I’d hoped to say goodbye. Sorry about your lady friend, Si.  It was just…business.”  The smirk on his face grew by a fraction only to disappear a moment later when Sionne grabbed his upper arm and pulled him forward out of the cell.

“Get moving, Imp.”  He bent closer to the opposition agent, “One more word to me and that collar will be the least of your wo-“

“Lieutenant Idris!”  Phaeden barked.  “Hands off the prisoner.  Do I need to remind you of your duties here or must I have Sergeant S’rerrin relieve you of your weapon to assure the safety of this man?”

“No, Sir Sionne replied, watching the ISB agent coolly as he brushed away the wrinkles the larger man’s grip had made in the fabric of his sleeve with a sneer.

“Shall we proceed, General?” VonToma stepped into the circle of escorting New Republic Intelligence personnel and the group made their way to the awaiting armored hovervan disguised as a delivery vehicle, which really wasn’t far off.

The ride to the plaza was not long, but it was mostly quiet.  Communications back and forth between the teams, both Imperial and New Republic already on the scene for the most part.  And thankfully to Phaeden no more verbal exchanges between Idris and their “guest”.  Last thing he wanted was having to play referee between the two or have such actions providing a distraction in case anything came along to take advantage of that during the trip.  Instead Sionne was behaving with utmost professionalism, diligently keeping eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary just as the rest of the NRI troops were.  As for VonToma he was keeping his mouth shut for reasons known only to himself and which Earryk really didn’t care to know.

Tokina Plaza’s shopkeepers traditionally shut down their stalls every afternoon at 1400 for an hour long lunch and rest break which was the reason this particular time had been chosen for the exchange.  Still public enough to assure neither side did anything stupid, while limiting the number of potential civilian (or otherwise) bystanders. Also should either side do anything stupid.  Earryk did not believe that would be much of a worry today.  

Yes, Navin was an unknown element, but it was highly likely that the woman was holed up in some low-life cantina well past drowning herself in a bottle or several unable to face yet another failure in the line of duty.  Better she stay there and out of the way of real work being done.

The truck pulled up in front of a shuttered building still bearing the faded sign of the bakery which once occupied its ground floor.

“NRI One.  Is everyone in place?” Phaeden asked over the comm. And awaited the string of replies from their side before listening in as the Imperial team followed the same protocols.  When all was clear he keyed the transmitter again. “Clear to proceed.” Then nodded to the man at the rear of the van to unlock and open the doors.  Stepping outside at the moment the group across the plaza was mirroring their actions.

As back at the detention area, the prisoners walked surrounded by escorts from their respective captors sides.  All dressed in plain civilian wear, weapons worn as unobtrusively yet accessible as possible.  From his position next to the ISB agent and over the shoulder of the NRI agent covering from the front, Phaeden could see his Imperial counterpart.  It was only proper etiquette that equals be present. But his main concern was for the man walking next to him.  The New Republic agent who was being exchanged for VonToma.

He looked better than Earryk had expected after seeing the footage and holostills forwarded by the Imperials when the deal was being brokered.  They must have let him sleep and eat since then.  His hair was a bit whiter at the temples since he’d last been seen and his eyes more…jaded was the word that popped into Earryk’s head first and it fit.  But after when he had likely been through would one expect anything different.

Phaeden hoped he would understand why it had to happen, but he likely would.  The man had always been a good soldier.

“General.” He addressed the taller, slightly older Imperial with a nod as the two groups met halfway across the plaza’s expanse, the respective escorting troops parting slightly to let the unit leaders and the prisoners through.

“General Phaeden, thank you and your people for assuring this exchange was a smooth one.” The Imperial then looked over at one of his men who undid the a collar around the neck of the NRI agent at his side very similar to the one now being removed from VonToma.

Earryk step in between VonToma and the NRI agent and replied dryly, “Pleasure doing business with you, let’s not have to-“

And that was all he got out as large chip of durracrete from the plaza floor sprung up and drew blood from his cheek.

“SHOTS FIRED SHOTS FIRED GET DOWN!” It was unsure who gave the order but it did not need repeating as the two sides ran to take cover.

“Godsdammit find out where that is coming from!” Phaeden commanded as he hearded the freed NRI agent into the safety of the armored transport.  “I want answers now!”


Navin!” Was the next thought in Earryk’s head.  And in that he was very much not alone.

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