[Originally written by Foln] Imperial Army Chronicles: The Reluctant
Chapter 1: The Gambler Cards turned in the large room crowded with throngs of bustling, active sentients. Tables turned and lights buzzed, such that the soft music playing over the establishment’s speakers could only be heard in sparse segments. People came and went. They lost and gained credits; they laughed and cried depending on the time of the night, and usually more so on their sobriety. Depravity and elegance reigned hand in hand as people in nice clothing and of fine stature lowered themselves to act childish, wild, and unrestrained. The good times rolled, as did the dice and those who passed out in the stairwells. A man sat across another at a small table, resting his head on his left hand and spinning the gold ring on his right ring-finger with his thumb and small finger. He had, at one time, been twirling chip-tokens between those fingers, but now his chip stack stood short and lacking, and he had no intention of taking any more from its number, even just to twirl amongst his fingers. One thing he did have, even if he didn’t have chips in play, was a certainty. He had pulled a hand from his deck with all blues: a 12, 3, 1, and a 7. He drew a red 4 from the deck in the first turn. “Whew” he thought to himself, noting that the turn had saved his hand from busting over 20. That brought him to 19 in the pocket: a hand that could only be beaten by one other (a hand of 20), and he had just chosen to stand. There was a sizable set of chips on the table, and the man across him seemed a bit on edge about the largeness of its amount. “What, Nexu got your fingers, Jolie?” the man twirling the ring taunted. “I ain’t seen you so squirrely all night… turn the card, already!” The man across him took another look at the four cards pulled from his own deck, looked at the chips, and looked again to the hand. With a hesitant reluctance, he reached out, pulled the top card off of the deck, and peeked at its color and value. Suddenly, the man became ripe with energy, grabbed the four cards from his hand, and spread them across the table. “Twenty” is all he said, a stupid grin violating the face that wore it. The man twirling his ring stopped doing so, and mentally added the value of the cards that were placed on the table. Reds 7, 3, 9, and 2, along with the blue 1, did indeed equal 20. The ring-twirling man hadn’t even had a chance to show his hand, and now sat with his jaw agape, seemingly trying to will the cards to change while sitting at the table. Thirteen straight losses would do that to any normal man, and this particularly “normal” man was making it painfully obvious that it wasn’t his night. The man with the ring stood from his seat, looked at the man grinning across him, and looked back at the cards. Then he looked back to the man and said, half-dejectedly, “Well, there goes my chance for a rebound… Don’t spend it all in one place, you bandit.” Winking to the winner and pointing a sharp finger, the loser turned from the table and walked away, a mix of defeat and some kind of persistent pleasantness conflicting each other in his gait and posture. As he clutched the few chips in his left hand, he reached up with his right hand to scratch an itch under the brown hair of his sideburns. He counted the value of what he held, and figured he would get more enjoyment out of the bar than the games at this point. He rounded the corner into the cantina, and his somber disposition started to brighten with the sound of clinking glasses and rampant bar-talk. He sidled on up to the bar next to a rather finely-figured Mirialan woman, herself wearing a slightly off-white dress, called to the bartender, and announced over the din, “Line ‘em up, Sam! I want four tall ones of your best Bonadan bourbon, and I ain’t saving them for later.” Waving a few of the chips he still had possession of, he continued, “Be quick and there may be a little surprise for you when I leave!” The man with the sideburns and the ring smirked to himself at that last declaration. The bartend came over and, sharing in the ringed man’s enthusiasm, poured four tall doubleshots of the drink, floating the bottle’s end over all the glasses and rhythmically pouring into all of them in constant motion. Men were laughing to each other at another table, some people were dancing on the other side of the room, the music was cheerful, and now the dark-green-skinned Mirialan woman focused her attention on the drinks that were just poured to her left, and more so to the man who had ordered them so flagrantly. The ringed man returned the Mirialan’s half-glance, noted the absence of drink in her hands, and slid one his glasses over to her. “Here, take this one with me” he pressed, before continuing, “I always find drinking more enjoyable when a pretty woman drinks alongside.” “Oh, I really shouldn’t…” the woman attempted in a half-plea. The ringed man would not have no for an answer. “It’s carnival! What do you have to lose?” He pointed again to the drink, pushing, “Live a little, chica! Whatever kingdom you rule won’t crumble from one shot of bourbon, and whatever wealth you must have won’t be squandered in a night. Drink it up!” By now, he had placed the glass in her hand, and held her fingers around it. He picked up one of his three remaining glasses, raised it to hers, and held it there, in the air, waiting for her to tap her glass to his. He waited for several seconds, offering a desperate kind of puppy-dog face in an effort to push her over the edge of persuasion. “Oh, all right” she conceded. “One shot won’t kill me…” Her glass inched forward and *clink* contacted the man’s own glass. They both simultaneously brought the glasses to tap down on the bar, and then threw them back down their gullets with an energy only characteristic of the sport that is alcoholic consumption. “The name’s Nasho” the man said, his innocent, trusting face certainly burying itself in the woman’s mind. “Veer…Nasho.” Several hours later that night, the man named Veer slid out the door of one of the casino’s hotel rooms. Before he shut the door, he just barely made out the dark-green skin of the Mirialan’s back as she lay, half-blanketed, on the bed in the lightless room. He reached his left hand to meet his right, and pressed one of the stars carved into his ring, ever so slightly, such that it depressed into the ring a mere millimeter. As he did so, a sharp, red point of light shone forth from under the bed. Similar red points of light began to glow around the casino and attached hotel. One under a pazaak table, another under a stool in the cantina, one in the humanoid men’s restroom, another under a table in the dining area… Veer walked to the end of the hallway, where a large square window capped off the inward-slanted, rectangular, tan wall. “Why do they always paint hallways this color…” he asked to himself. The man set his ring upon the glass and dragged it along the window’s perimeter. The window being slanted in towards the room, it rested its weight on the man’s left hand as more of it was cut out by the ring-device. Once the edges of the window were completely traced, the man lowered the glass section slowly to the floor, without breaking it. As soon as he was about to climb out the hole in the window that he had just made, he noticed the fire alarm pull-switch off to the side on the adjoining wall. He hesitantly reached over to it, pulled his hand back, and then reached over again. Pausing, and taking a deep breath, he decidedly yanked the control and clambered out of the window. The wall, along with its inclusive window, was slanted inwards simply because the entire building was a massive, five-sided pyramid. Veer half-slid, half-repelled, half-ran down four stories of the pyramid’s sloping exterior, landing hard and rolling once he reached the ground. Keeping his head low and moving across the well-kept lawn, he made it to a walkway and slid onto a park-styled bench, next to a sleeping, seemingly homeless Rattataki man. Nudging the scraggly-clothed and unshaven man, Veer whispered to him, “Kyrus, wake up. It’s all yours.” The unkempt man startled in waking, and, grumbling, demanded hushedly of the ringed man, “What took you so long?” The “homeless” man pulled back the ratty sleeve of his coat, revealing a rather shiny wrist computer. “The window is nearly closed!” Veer looked back over his shoulder to see throngs of people evacuating the large pyramidal building behind him. “But it has not yet closed, now has it? Kyrus, for the love of the Force, would you just shut up, transfer the rest of my credits, and do whatever it is you want to do with this building? I have places to be.” Kyrus looked to Veer a moment with a flat stare, then tapped a few controls on his wrist computer. “There, now your credits are deposited. And now…” Kyrus tapped one final control on the wrist computer, and immediately the thunderous sound of a dozen explosions rang out, some in the habited areas of the casino, and others bursting around the supports at its foundation. Fireballs erupted from the windows near the kitchen, casino floors, and on the fourth floor. The building shook and vibrated before its far, fifth side buckled, resulting in an avalanche of stone bricks that coated its exterior. The entire structure followed, imploding into an oblivion of twisted durasteel and flame. A thousand cries of fear and self-preservation rang out from the patrons who had escaped into the lawns and adjoining lots as they scrambled to get away from the falling debris and collapsing wreckage. Kyrus had turned to watch the fireworks, but Veer had left the moment he was no longer the focus of attention. He made off down a side street, clinging to the shadows, and holding the blaster pistol he had stashed under the sidewalk bench. As he walked, he reaffirmed that nobody who escaped would suspect his involvement. He had played a pretty convincing part, as it was easy for him to emulate a thrill-seeking gambler. After all, that was seemingly what he was, although he gambled with his own life more often than with credits these days. The only person who might have connected the dots would have been that Mirialan girl, but he knew she didn’t hear the alarms, much less could she have made it out of the building alive. The sedatives certainly made sure of that. He walked up to a ramshackle, bombed-out building on one of these Corellian backstreets. He liked to think of it as once being a jewelry store, or a pawn shop. The whole sector had been torched by an Imperial subterfuge force years ago, and among the homeless who had moved in, he had no enemies there. He came up to a wall in the back, behind a once-glassed counter where some kind of business must have been conducted at one time or another, and set the face of his ring into a shallow, oval hole in the wall. When he did so, the wall seemed to flicker as if it were an image, and destabilized to reveal a durasteel door. Placing his fingers on the recognition pad, also built into this now-visible door, the door hissed upward allowing passage to the sole inhabitant of whatever store this used to be. He passed through the doorway, and the hiss of metal and vacuum followed his entrance as the door sealed itself shut again. Sparse lighting flickered to life, as though the white bars that emanated it had not been engaged in quite some time. In reality, they were just old, damaged, and probably needed replacing, but this location had served him a long time as it was. He would probably be moving on soon. This sparse lighting revealed an entire wall of horizontally-mounted rifles, his preferred mode of weapon. He hadn’t been able to use them much since the war ended, but his days as a combat medic were long gone. Opposite the rack of weapons was an entire wall of holonet articles. These articles described events of arson, demolition, and assassination, detailing and recording the timeline of his life after his scout unit was disbanded on this hell of a planet following the treaty of Coruscant. With no papers or documentation save those which he received from the Empire, Veer’s men were inevitably marooned on Corellia. Their unit tried staying together for a time, but they decided it was safer to split up and go their separate ways. Most of them had been captured or killed by now… many as they tried escaping the planet in one form or another. Veer, instead, decided to stay put and wait out the storm, making ends meet by working for the type of people on Corellia who didn’t care about papers or history. He found himself where he was now, working as a freelance demolitionist and assassin for anyone who wanted something, or someone, removed. By no means was it the life he chose, but he survived simply because he was blasted good at it. He walked over to the Holoterminal in the corner of his poorly-lit domain. Next to it sat a crate of explosives, the last one in his possession. Soon he would need to procure more, but he probably had enough for one more job. His current employments were somewhat few and far-between, but good-paying. He would stick his neck out, collect a stack of credits, and hide for a few weeks until another job came in. He still didn’t know how the word of his skills got out; it wasn’t as if he was advertising his services. It seemed that after the embassy job, the first one he took out of desperation to feed himself, employers simply found him. They would send a message, he would remove a target, and they would send credits. That’s how the exchanges worked; it was a surprisingly simple system. Approaching the holoterminal, he noticed something peculiar. Instead of one notification (assumedly of a credit transfer), there were two displaying on the readout. One, indeed, was a credit transfer notification, but the other was from a source he did not recognize. Opening the message, a scrambled image accompanied the usual scrambled voice inherent of communications in his assumed trade. Its message was short and simple. Job offer: Details will be provided at a later date. Contact will be at location zeta tomorrow at 0900 sharp. They always knew how to contact him, and, even worse, where he preferred to hold the exchanges. He sometimes wondered if some organization was conducting all the business he entered into, as he was an anonymous face on this planet with no motives or documentation. It could be imagined that someone like that could be of value to an organization that didn’t want to be implicated in the deeds he assisted in performing. He didn’t dwell on the thought much longer. Depending on the job, coupled with the one he just wrapped up, he might have a shot at relocating, or even getting off this planet. Veer removed his shirt and placed it on the foot of the bed in his little slice of home. He removed his thick, gold ring, set it on the small table next to the bed, and lay down on the old, dilapidated mattress. Pulling the sheets up over him, he drifted away to sleep with images of Corellia shrinking away in a starship’s viewport.
Chapter 2: Just Another Morning... Morning, noon and night are indistinguishable inside a duracrete box. The same dim lights shone and flickered as they had when he set down, and no tangible difference between the three times could be identified by anything but the wall chrono. Without windows, no light entered or exited his secluded sanctum. The thick walls prevented any permeation of sound from either side. Only a dim light and a flickering buzz existed in his atmosphere, constant and unchanging as they had been for the entirety of his refuge there. The unyielding monotony crawled across his senses as he awoke, again, in this bed, on this planet, during this exiled life. He reached for his shirt, drew it up above his head, and slid it down over his muscled torso. The days of pressing a uniform in the morning before he left were but a shadow in his memory, as he had eventually relented to practicality. He now seldom wore two different shirts at any time during the week, as a venture to the local hydrosource to wash clothing risked detection. So again he donned a brown shirt, one that fit snuggly and didn’t have a hole under the armpit. Wrapping his waistcord around himself, he checked the wall chrono again. 0400 Plenty of time to travel to and scout out the meeting spot. His boots still strapped on from the night before, he stepped away from the bed and walked over to the wall lined with weapons. He grabbed his shoulder holster, hanging from a bolt in the wall, and strapped it over himself. He took a mid-sized blaster pistol from the wall, checked its charge, checked its sight, and set it in the shoulder holster. He loaded his pockets with an extra charge capacitor, a handful of crowseed, a few credit ingots, and a small, spherical device that was silver in color. Grabbing and donning a very well-weathered green overcoat from the improvised coatrack in the corner (he could find seldom other uses for the broken pipes hanging off the wall), he moved toward the door. Just as his hand was within an inch of activating the door panel, he stopped just short of doing so. Pausing, he turned around, walked back over to the bed, looked down at the nightstand, and gingerly picked up the large golden ring that he had placed there the night before. He placed the ring on his right hand, then pulled two gloves, as equally green and dilapidated as his coat, from the nightstand’s drawer and slid them onto his hands. He also pulled from the drawer a pair of large, pilot-styled glareshades (the lenses of which were a very dark green and scratched from apparent abuse) and set them atop his face. Looking down to check that his ensemble was in order, he once again moved over to the door. A hiss of vacuum and the scraping of durasteel followed the door’s engagement; Veer slid out of the enclosure into the storefront that once was a jewelry store, bank, or whatever business that would require the installation of a vault large enough for him to find refuge in. He still liked to believe that it had been a jewelry store; banks are cold and the thought of living where gems once rested caught him with a kind of romantic pleasantness. He might have continued with that train of thought, as he often did, if there hadn’t been a Cathar woman standing by the missing wall section that had, at one time, held up the building’s once-intact roof. But, inconducive to his desire to ponder the history of his hideout, she indeed was there, and her stare proclaimed to the world that she had witnessed his exit from the vault into the bombed-out storefront. In his mind a thousand different scenarios ended poorly after he considered the option of letting her leave. The decision weighed heavily on his mind, but he simply could not risk the knowledge of his location to even the lowest of Corellia’s population. He quickly reached into his coat and grasped a firm hold on the grip of his holstered pistol. Before he could draw it, though, the game changed. A small Cathar boy stepped out from behind an intact chunk of duracrete wall-section to see what the mother was looking at. Veer ground his teeth in his head as the situation seemed to provide no desirable outcome. If he let the two Cathar live, they could turn in his location for a reward. It was certain that they didn’t know who or what he was, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to be found. The location of someone who fit that description was rather valuable to the Corellian Defense Force, and the locals knew that the CDF paid handsomely for any leads on known terrorists, of which he had become of late. “No, Veer”, he thought to himself. “You have one rule. Don’t break it now, especially as close as you are to getting off this rock.” He had to do something, though. A few spare moments had passed while his hand was on his holstered pistol under his coat and the woman and child stared, frightfully, at the glareshades on Veer’s undaunted and unshifting face. He wrestled with the thought in his mind until he made his decision. He had to act. Finally, he broke the stalemate by drawing his pistol and aiming it square at the mother’s head. The boy, too young to comprehend the situation, looked between the two people in confusion and worry about the tension in the atmosphere. Veer, pistol drawn, began to step closer and closer, over broken glass and shards of burned furniture, to the nearly absent wall section, closer and closer to the woman and her apparent child. “Don’t move!” he ordered loudly. The woman froze in fear, her face a hardened collection of hairs standing on end as the blaster came closer and closer to her. The boy grasped the fur of the woman’s leg, looking up at her while his pleas for an explanation fell on her deaf, frozen ears. “Mommy, mommy, what’s wrong?” he demanded, over and again as she stood there, unable to move or even react to his voice. Veer came to face her at just a few feet away, his weapon out of her reach but certainly close enough to nullify any chance of missing a shot at her forehead. Then he did something that the woman didn’t expect: he reached out and grabbed her arm with his free left hand. She started to resist, but Veer pressed the pistol against her temple and stared her in the eyes until she relented. He looked down at her wrist, and then spread the hair that covered it as he studied her skin there. The woman started to show some sign of mobility again as she started, frigidly, “What…what are you doing?” He continued to silently study her wrist for a few seconds more before he pulled his pistol away and responded. “Ma’am, I’m Sergeant Kyrin of the CDF” He stated in the professional, deep military tone that he had perfected over the several years of service in the Imperial Scout Forces. “I apologize for detaining you, but understand that it was necessary.” “But, I… I don’t understand…” She stammered in weakened basic. “The CDF… is in the city, isn’t it?” Veer set his pistol back into the holster under his coat. “Yes, the office is in the city. I am out here hunting a fugitive: a Cathar like yourself.” “A Cathar like me?” She asked, almost bewildered that she was akin to someone whom the CDF was after. “Yes, ma’am.” Veer replied in a solid, reassuring manner from behind his glareshades. “She, however, has a jagged tattoo on the skin of her right wrist, under the hair. I’ve been tracking her, undercover, for weeks now. You wouldn’t happen to know such a Cathar, would you? The CDF is very interested in any information that leads to her capture, and we are willing to generously recompense you for it.” At saying this, he pulled a credit ingot from his pocket and began to twirl it in and among his fingers. “Why, no, not that I’m aware of, Sergeant” the woman replied, before she stammered on, “b…but I know a place where you might find her! There’s an old abandoned cantina that folks are always coming in and out of… it’s just a few blocks south of here” She replied, nervously eying the man in the glareshades, and even more nervously eying the ingot that kept spinning, tauntingly, around his gloved fingers. Veer reached back into his pocket, and pulled out a few more credit ingots, reached out to her hand, and slid them in as he pulled her closer to whisper in her triangular, feline ear, “I trust that you won’t tell anyone about my post here? If the CDF catches this Cathar on your information, there’ll be more where this came from.” Pulling back, he said out loud, “Now go, and get this little one something to eat. He looks famished.” The woman nodded in obedience and started to walk eastward, counting the small items in her hands, as Veer turned and headed westward. “Crisis averted, for now…” He thought to himself. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Location Zeta. Also known as: the Corellian Zoo. Or at least what was left of it. Veer had not-so fond-memories of this place, even before his unit was decommissioned. He leaned his back against a durasteel wall, and checked his wrist chrono. 0800 He checked the area. As usual, there was nobody around. People hadn’t been to the zoo in years, and for a decently good reason. Leaning back against the wall, he slipped into memory. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ It was a very dark morning. Being the Corellian weekend, once the sun rose over the horizon, citizens of the thriving planet would go about their lives, bustling here and there. Many had made plans to visit the zoo that day, to see the wild animals and bask in the awe of nature. It was those people, and those in its immediate vicinity, whom Veer worried about. He looked out from his perch, an overlook of the entire zoo facility. It was nearing that time, so he reached up to his ear and activated his short-wave squad communicator. A minute or so later, it crackled to life. “Five minutes to target, Captain. Private, are those charges primed?” “They are, Sergeant.” “Good. Brokard, Helmann, and Flynnigan: Remember your targets?” “Yes, Sergeant. I have the Nexu cages.” “I have the Redcrest Cougar cage, Sergeant.” “And I have the Howlrunner pen, Sergeant.” “Good. Captain, any word from command?” “Sergeant Kyrin, dealing with Command is my job. You worry about yours.” “Yes, Sir. Corporal Nasho, is the punch-out ready?” “On your mark, Sergeant” Veer said with a hushed voice while depressing the control on the earpiece he wore. “Say the word, and these Corellians will hear nothing but static.” “Good. Have that kolto handy in case things get ugly with the civilians or these beasties. Four minutes to target, Captain.” “Alright, boys. Command wants this zoo opened, and we’re the only people around to do the job. I know this isn’t our thing, but we all have to adapt during times like these. We have less than four minutes to get in, plant those charges, and get out. Any questions?” Veer kneeled in the darkness, watching silently from distance as more and more patrons of the zoo began to line up outside the admission booth. “Three minutes to target, men. Head in.” Veer turned to look out the northern side of his overwatch as three men, one by one, came out of the westward tunnel. They were dressed as tourists, and made their way toward the admission booth. After they were admitted entrance, they spread out over the zoo. “Ten seconds to target. Pop the punch, Corpor-“ At that, Veer clicked the control on the hand-held activator. His comm went quiet, as assuredly all the comms in a quarter-mile radius did. Just seconds afterward, three distinct explosions rang out from the zoo’s compound, followed by the frightened screams of its patrons. Veer moved to the back of his perch where an escape ladder was mounted. He jumped out from the rooftop and slid on the pipes of the ladder, his woolen gloves heating slightly as he slid. Landing soundly on the ground just mere seconds afterward, he moved quickly, but casually, in the direction of the rendezvous. As he walked, he made the mistake of looking back over his shoulder. What he saw would haunt him that day, and the next, and as many days as he could remember. What he saw made him turn around completely and stare, in horror, at the scene. He knew that it was what command wanted (as everyone in the squad knew), but it hadn’t really set in until he saw it with his own eyes. Civilians: men, women, and children, young, elderly and otherwise, were chased down and mauled by beasts enraged by the sound of the explosions and the aggressiveness pheromones that lined the charges. Innocent sentients of all walks of life were cut down by tooth and claw by the dozens. It was like a monorail had smashed into a duracrete wall; it was terrible to observe, but impossible to look away from. Soon the beasts had killed, mauled, or scattered the many zoo patrons, and began to fan out from the facility. Some attacked each other in their sonically-and-chemically-induced violence. It was only then that Veer was able to turn and, with pain in his eyes, continue on his way to the rendezvous location. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Two men entered through the twisted metal of the unrepaired zoo fence. They walked straight up to the refresher facility in the center of the complex and sat down on one of the benches adjacent to it. They both wore black glareshades and black clothing, and were a little too official for Veer’s liking. However, curiosity hadn’t killed him yet, and all of the jobs he had taken from this meeting place had been completely legitimate. So, after another round of observations of his surroundings, he approached them. “Wonderful day to visit the zoo, eh Gentlemen?” He asked from behind his own glareshades and dilapidated clothing articles. “Just out for a stroll” One of the men replied. “You wouldn’t happen to know a mister Hackrat, now would you?” “That’s the countersign; these are the men who contacted me” Veer thought. “Hackrat and I go way back.” Veer responded. “Shall we discuss business?” “Why, certainly, Mr. Nasho. But not here” The man replied as the other man lifted up his hand. “Wait…How did they know my name…” Veer pondered, worriedly, before he saw what the other man was holding in his right hand. Veer reached for his holstered pistol, but it was too late. A dart-like object inserted itself into Veer’s leg, sending streaks of pain and…electricity… up his spine for a second or two before he blacked out.
Chapter 3: A Battle of Wills The world spun but stayed still before his eyes. Nothing but a spinning blackness passed in front of him as his mind attempted to piece itself back together. Eventually, Veer realized that the darkness was the result of a braylit sack over his face, one that obscured his view and smelled of mildew. Next in his array of sensory perception came an understanding of his posture: he was sitting down. Soon he realized that this posture was not about to change any time soon, as he noted the ropes tying his hands to what he could only presume to be the chair he was seated upon. Suddenly, a pain shot up his chest and collided with his synapses, causing him to groan and roll his head about his neck. Veer, indeed, was sitting atop a chair. His hands, indeed, were tied to the back of that chair. There was, indeed, a Braylit sack over his head, or at least there was until it was yanked off by a man whose countenance was obscured by the direct lighting on Veer’s now-uncovered face. “Hello, Corporal” was all the obscured man said. “How do you know who I am?” Veer demanded, his consciousness nearly returned to him under the intensity of the light upon his eyes in this otherwise dark room. “How do you know my name?” “Well, Corporal Nasho… let me simply say that I have been… watching… you for quite some time now.” The man replied calmly, and with a professional tone. “I know about the casino, I know about the CEC depot, the exchange drop-off shipyard… I know about everything you’ve destroyed and everyone you killed since your little unit broke apart here on Corellia.” At that, Veer stared straight into where the man’s eyes must have been, behind the sun that separated the two men. With an unrelenting fervor, Veer stated firmly, “That’s where you’re wrong, moron… I have killed no one since the treaty was signed. I have destroyed nothing in that time. I don’t pull the trigger on anyone that isn’t shooting back at me… or did you just happen to not notice that while observing me these past several years?!” “Actually”, the man countered, “I did take notice. Rather unfittingly noble of an Imperial soldier… and it is why you have been chosen for this assignment.” “Assignment?!” Veer shouted. “Who says I work for you? You mean to tell me that this is some kind of twisted job offer?!” The man turned around, facing away from Veer and the lamp on the desk between them. “If it were an offer, you would simply be getting paid. However, this is no offer; it is an ultimatum.” The man paused for several seconds before cocking his head to the right and continued, “If you can complete the assignment, then I will allow you to go freely wherever you please. I will grant you clearance to leave Corellia, unhampered and unhindered.” Veer cautiously struggled with the bindings that held his hands in place as he tried to spit the words at the man addressing him, “And if I refuse this ultimatum of yours? What then?” The man behind the lamp paused, again, and motioned toward the back of the room behind Veer. “Release him” was all he needed to say before Veer felt his hands come free of the rope that bound him. He started forward from the chair to at least knock the lamp from the table, but two different hands from two different large beings enveloped both of his shoulders and pulled him back to his seat. The man behind the lamp simply asked, “Do you feel your chest?” Veer immediately lost all the color in his face. That question boded very poorly, especially when considered alongside the chest pain he noticed upon waking. Now visibly deterred, he reached with his hands toward his own torso, and gradually felt around until he knew what the man wanted him to find. “You feel it, don’t you?” the man behind the lamp asked rhetorically and with a triumphant air. “I’m sure you’re wondering as to what exactly that rectangular lump is… please allow me to enlighten you.” Veer felt the sharp corners of a box-like object under the layer of his own skin, and he felt the stitches along the incision used to make the insertion. “What…what is inside me? What have you done?!” he demanded. “Now, now, I wouldn’t go shouting if I were you” The man warned. “The trigger on that charge of detonite in your chest is an older model… I’m not sure if it’s been tested to withstand stresses like a booming voice.” The man’s bravado in revelation brought a nausea to Veer’s stomach. “Detonite…” Veer thought to himself. “That’s enough to…” “In case you were curious, that’s enough detonite to disintegrate everything but your fingers, ears, and toes. Even then, those pieces would be blown into other sectors.” The man’s sadistic pleasure was nothing short of obvious. “In other words, I think you should calm down and listen to what I’m about to tell you.” “You want me to calm down?” Veer asked, incredulously. “There’s half a stick of detonite an inch from my heart and you want me to calm down?!” “You will calm down” The man continued, calm and unaffected by the exasperation Veer exhibited. “You’re running out of time.” Veer instantly retorted, “What does that mean? Explain yourself!” “I said I had an assignment for you” the man said simply. “You do the job, the detonite doesn’t go off, and you’re free to go wherever you please. Even have it removed… I don’t care at that point. But, if you don’t do the job in the allotted time frame… Pop goes the Corporal.” “You haven’t even told me what the job is, or how long I have to do it, stranger” Veer responded. “Do you want me to take out an exchange warehouse? C’mon, what is it that your people can’t handle?” The man turned full back around to face Veer from directly behind the lamp on the desk. “By now, you have approximately six hours. Plans have been set in motion for you to be shuttled to your target. You will execute him with extreme prejudice. Only once his death is confirmed will the detonite charge defuse.” “Didn’t you just say you knew who I was?” Veer demanded of the faceless man across him. “I already said that I never pull the trigger on a non-combatant, and you know from what I’ve done that it’s true! I just set the stage… I won’t play the part.” Veer crossed his arms over the tender patch of skin that held the detonite inside him. The man stared back at Veer after this latest display of valiant defiance. “It’s either him, or you. That’s the choice that you should be considering. If you want to live, you will do as I say. Kill the target, move on with your life, we’re all happy. Don’t be a fool.” Veer bit his lip so hard that it started to bleed. He paused there for a moment, destroying the flesh of his lip between his teeth, fighting inside himself as to how to respond. He eventually broke the silence and, half-defeatedly, asked, “Who…who is it…” The man behind the lamp activated a holoprojector on the desk as the image of a man with red hair, a red beard, and a knife-like face emerged from the device. His Imperial uniform was well-decorated, and Veer noted the insignia on his chest to be that of a Colonel’s. “Colonel Jento Svarthos” said the man behind the lamp and the holoprojector. A lump formed in Veer’s throat, one that he could not swallow with all the effort in the galaxy.
Chapter 4: Not As It Seems “Look, chap. I don’t know who you are, who this man is, nor why you want him dead… but let me make one thing perfectly clear.” Veer’s disposition in the matter had not improved with the disclosure of the objective, and he wished to purvey thusly in his grave inflections. “I don’t kill people. And I especially don’t kill Imperials.” The man behind the lamp must have smiled. There was no way to know for certain, as his face was obscured by the flare of the lamp, but his voice sounded rich with a sadistic pleasure and carried as it only could if passing across smiling lips. The man leaned in forward and, in that starkly satisfactory tone, suggested, “Then perhaps you should start numbering your body’s parts. That way the coroner will know which are yours and which belong to whoever was standing next to you in five hours and fifty-five minutes.” Veer felt a rage pass through him, an uncontrollable rage that one can only truly grasp when forced into an inescapable situation. With a strained shout, he reared back in his chair and kicked the desk with his unrestrained legs, knocking it backwards and sending it, along with the lamp and holoprojector, tumbling into the man behind it. Soon after, Veer understood what it felt like to have one’s head bashed in by the butt-end of a blaster rifle. His head spun, but he still held on to consciousness enough to spit off to his right side, near to where the man behind him had been standing. A second, more vicious blow to the head with the buttstock followed, and knocked him cold. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ First there was sound. It was a whirring sound, like a thousand bees massed in a tornado around one’s head. That sound was constant, but soon after the constant sound came short, intermittent, high-pitched bursts of sound, of an irregular pattern and different frequencies. Veer wrestled with the sounds and their meaning for a while until there was also sight. When sight came, it revealed a small, enclosed, durasteel compartment, one that was definitely not fixed in space or stable in any way, and also three other persons in his proximity. “Don’t worry, you’re alright” one of the persons shouted over the din, only to the slight comprehension of the newly-reawakened Veer. Following sound and sight came an exponential wave of understanding as his consciousness was returned to him. He sat upright quickly, but stopped at the motion from a severe pain that seemed to cover his entire body. Opening his eyes through the throbbing discomfort, he took note of his situation. The constant whirring sound came from the experimental sonic-well engines of the dropship that he appeared to be in, and the short, intermittent sounds were blast bolts being fired from and toward the aforementioned vessel that he now inhabited. Furthermore, the familiar blue sky of Corellia was in plain sight out of the starboard viewport, and its familiar cityscape and architectural patterns laid below. Veer fought with a lack of breath to try and choke out a question: “What’s going on?” he yelled above the loud whir of the sonic engines and the whiz of plasma-fueled death that flew past the craft. The man looked confused, as though he hadn’t quite heard the exact words that Veer had spoken, but understood that the recently awoken might have been a bit worried. “You’re alright” the man shouted again, his voice dulled by the reverberations in the craft’s space. Veer realized that he apparently couldn’t muster the energy to project enough of his voice for the man to hear, so he looked for a different way to quell his reasonable curiosity. The three men around him all wore what seemed to be Imperial light combat suits. Veer knew those suits well; as a combat medic in an Imperial scout unit, that was nearly exclusively his field dress. Meant for flexibility more than anything, it was well-suited for getting into and out of entangling circumstances with relative ease and agility. Coupling that with the rate of speed at which this very lightly-armed gunship was travelling, and one could easily assume that he was recently –albeit unconsciously- involved in some kind of extraction operation. Perhaps the Empire had come back for him, perhaps they had intercepted the man behind the lamp, perhaps it was all over. Then the weight of recent memory sank in, and he felt his torso again. The detonite was still implanted in his chest, and he decided to alert the others to his predicament. Then they could call in a medical team to remove it, and he would be alright after all, just like the man said. Over the whir of the Sonic-well engines and the blaster fire outside, and fighting to stay upright as the craft rocked and jolted in flight, Veer lifted up his now-ratted brown shirt and revealed the noticeable lump in his chest and shouted, for as loud as he could and slow enough for the man to piece together the words, “There is detonite in my chest! I’ll need a med crew to remove it!” The soldier looked down at the lump, then back to Veer with an expression similar to the one of slight confusion he wore before. Soon, however, that look melted away in understanding. The man patted Veer on the shoulder, comfortingly, and yelled above the din, “We know! You still have a job to do, remember?!” Veer almost asked the man what he was talking about. Before he did, however, the full weight of situational recognition hit him like a ton of bricks. This was planned; this craft was taking him, eventually, to this Colonel Svarthos. These men were in the employ of the man behind the lamp, and had no intention of helping the pain-stricken man on the floor. “We all have a job to do!” shouted the man after the moment it took for Veer to take it all in. Veer wondered what the man was doing this for. Was there detonite in his chest, too? Pity, more than anger, flowed through him as much as fear and adrenaline. Eventually the blasterfire stopped. Shortly after it did, the engines stopped as well, and the vessel sat with a *thunk* on a durasteel surface. “These Sonic engines are great for atmospheric travel, but they are completely worthless in the void of space” one of the other soldiers explained, after Veer sported a look of confusion. “The larger transport we just docked in will take us to the Relentless.” Veer looked on as though nothing had been explained. “The… Relentless?” he inquired. The third soldier looked up from the floor tile he had been staring at for the entire duration of the ride and replied, “It’s an Imperial Battlecruiser. You’ll find your target there.” “Wait…” Veer hesitated, forming the question before he asked it, “How am I supposed to find one man aboard an entire Battlecruiser, especially when I will probably be detained for the last 4-hour window before this thing goes off?!” He ended his charged inquiry with a motioned reference to his torso. “Oh, don’t worry about finding him” piped up the first soldier, closest to him. “He’ll find you… and you now only have, approximately…” the man trailed off as he checked a wrist chrono, “…one hour and forty-two minutes.” “Alright then” Veer said, half-mockingly, “Assuming he does find me, and does so in the allotted time…How am I supposed to kill him, again?” The second soldier stated, rather out of the blue, “Ya know, he does kind of look like him.” The third soldier looked back up from his floor tile, scanned Veer’s face, then turned to soldier number two and shook his head. “I still don’t see it” is all he said in reply. After a few moments of less-than-comfortable silence, Veer complained, “Are you going to answer? Am I just going to strangle him?!” The first soldier reached behind him and grabbed a blaster pistol, similar to the one carried by Veer’s previous captain. It was an officer’s pistol, no doubt…standard issue to any commissioned officer personnel. It was the same in every way, except for the silencer attached. The soldier handed it to Veer and said, simply, “With this.” “Alright” Veer said, now in a three-quarters-mocking tone, “Assuming he finds me and I kill him, how do I get out? As soon as this man is dead, they will swarm me in an instant. I might as well just shoot the detonite in my chest and be done with this already!” Veer’s voice rose in frustration as he pointed the pistol’s barrel tauntingly at his own chest. “No, No!” the first and second soldiers pleaded, before the first continued, “They have a plan in place to disrupt their internal network, or something. Whoever wants this guy dead is pretty well connected…” the soldier’s voice trailed off in a kind of regretful pessimism before he refocused his words. “If your target dies, you should be able to get back to the transport here, and then we head back to Corellia. Then we all go home.” This soldier sounded like he worried over more than just a stick of detonite. Veer again felt a bit of pity on the three men’s souls, over an unknown fate that might await them should he fail. It wasn’t just about him anymore. “Fine” Veer said as he sat back against the corner of the dropship inside what must have been the transport’s cargo bay. The first soldier handed him a wrist chrono with two active timers. Pointing to each, he detailed, “ETA at the Battlecruiser, and ETK the target.” Another hour until they docked at the Relentless, and forty minutes after that to kill the Colonel. This would be a long hour.
Chapter 5: A Time And A Place “Transmit authentication code Cresh. Re-cert field parameters. Bring her in easy, Lieutenant.” The pilot spoke as though it was just another landing. Veer felt the vessel slow and descend until a sharp thud confirmed its connection to some kind of solid surface. The three soldiers in the small compartment of the double-docked gunship began to busy themselves with leaving the vessels that they rode in; the first soldier turned to Veer and asked, somewhat worriedly, “You have a job to do. You are up to this, right?” Instantly the world in front of him shrank away and another existence replaced it. Instead of a cold, durasteel box, now a peacefully-lit countryside filled Veer’s mind. A sun shone over the horizon, at the start of its rise and marking the beginning of the day. Its warm, comforting image just barely peeked over the rolling hills of Dantooine, and cast a blanket of soft light over the field between the celestial body and the man on his balcony. From behind him, inside the room on the upper level of the house, came a calm voice that was more comforting than the sight of the rising sun. “You didn’t sleep last night, dear.” Her voice was the only thing that could have lifted the burden from his mind, albeit temporarily. He turned to face her, and realized that the only thing in the galaxy more soothing than her voice was the sight of her face. She was his respite; no matter what bothered him, her presence simply lifted his spirits. “You… are so beautiful, Vyola” He replied, softly, as he ran the backs of his fingers along the side of her face. She smiled a bit, but her face was laced by an underlying concern. “What troubles you, love?” she asked, sleepily. Veer turned and looked back to the sun rising on the far side of the hills. “I received word from command last night, after you fell asleep. I’ve been recalled.” The woman looked puzzled, and Veer could see her puzzlement without even turning around to view it with his eyes. She shifted her posture to her right leg, and clasped her right upper arm with her left hand. “But…the Sith said…” “I know what the Sith said” Veer interrupted, abruptly. “Lord Thron has apparently been dead some time now, and whoever took his command somehow came across my file.” He rested his weight on his forearms, which in turn rested on the balcony’s stone rampart. “I’m being sent behind the lines, and I am to leave as soon as I can today. They need me immediately.” The woman stepped forward and put her hand on the man’s shoulder, pressuring it to turn him around. He complied, and she looked into his eyes, saying, “We all must sacrifice, love. I understand that you must go again… you have a job to do. You… you are up to this, right?” The hiss of vacuum and the scraping of durasteel filled his ears once more as the compartment doors shot open. The three soldiers half-ushered, half-carried Veer out of the gunship, out of the transport, and onto the floor of the landing bay of what Veer could only assume to be the Battlecruiser. This development did not comfort him, as it meant he had around forty minutes until he became many little pieces of Veer scattered over whatever room he happened to reside in. The second soldier whispered in his ear as they moved across the dark grey landing bay. “From here on out, you have no allies… and any metallic contact with that detonite in you will trigger it unless it is defused by whoever’s calling the shots... so no impromptu surgery, right? Your ass isn’t the only one on the line, here…” Veer didn’t respond, but rather tried to reimagine the picture of his target. He couldn’t quite remember the man’s face; hopefully he could recognize him from the few short moments of the image on the holoprojector. A large bay door opened on the inner side of the landing deck, and an athletic-built young man in an Imperial uniform ran out from it. He called out across the deck to the group, “Is that the package?” Soldier number one replied, hurriedly, “This is the L-T. He’s pretty banged up, and fading fast. I recommend you get him debriefed and med-bayed as soon as possible.” The uniformed man stopped mid-stride, called out “Understood”, and turned to motion to another uniformed man. The second uniformed man reversed his travel and ran back into the belly of the battlecruiser. As the group approached the bay door, a team emerged to replace the three soldiers Veer had flown with. They set him on a floating gurney and took him through the ship’s passageways. The lights seemed to get larger and more flared as they traveled, and soon the lights obscured all that Veer could see. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ A sharp pain. It was difficult to pinpoint where the pain came from, but it was definitely there, and definitely sharp. After the pain came a voice. “He’s coming back around. Tell Watcher we have him back for a few moments.” Veer began to wonder if death was as inconvenient as these multiple bouts of unconsciousness. Soon, vision rejoined sound and feeling as he came back from blackness. “No need to hide from this one.” A man said as he entered the room from the opposite side. Veer concentrated all he could on the man’s face. He recognized it from somewhere, but couldn’t quite fit his finger around where. The man had a rather aggressively-shaped, long face, one that was accented by a full goatee that was red in color. His eyes seemed as needles and his red hair flowed back in an orderly, if not commanding, style. His uniform was well-decorated and sported red accents that detailed his position as an officer, as well as a rank insignia that denoted his status as a Colonel. “Lieutenant Zagreb has a dutiful service record, and a clandestine one at that” the newly-entered officer explained. “ I’m afraid that you men are not authorized to hear what he has to say; go wait outside and I will call if he starts to fade off again.” “Aye Aye, Colonel” one of the men in the room replied. “Movin’ out.” As they left the room, the Colonel looked at Veer, who recently realized that he was sitting in a chair. “I’m Colonel Jento Svarthos, and I alone am currently authorized to debrief you on your infiltration on Corellia. Tell me: were you able to procure the codes?” Veer looked at the man stupidly for a moment until the familiarity registered with him. This was the man he was tasked with killing. His eyes widened sharply, as he did not have a response for the red-haired man. Instead of responding, he looked to his wrist chrono. The final timer was counting down from 67 seconds. “Blast…” was all he said as he rose from his chair in frustration and drew the pistol given him by the soldiers, bringing its sight to bear on the Colonel’s forehead. The Colonel jerked in response to this action, and Veer commanded, violently, “Move, and you die!” Several tense moments passed as Veer held the blaster pistol aimed at Jento’s head. He knew that time was short; the troops aboard this cruiser would kill him if the detonite didn’t first. Veer wondered, while sweating like a leaking hydraulic line, why the soldiers outside had not yet responded. Perhaps the man behind the lamp actually had disabled the monitoring systems on this ship, perhaps he could actually get away from here. Then he could live, and the crew aboard that gunship could live, and he could go home again. He could see Vyola again. After all these years, he could see his home and his wife once more. All he had to do was squeeze the trigger. That simple action would conclude his life as a saboteur, as an assassin, and whatever else he was on Corellia, and mark the beginning of his permanent life on Dantooine with the one he loved so much. All he had to do was squeeze.
Chapter 6: Ends and Means The air hung tense as pins and needles began to cover Veer all over himself. His body was bruised, beaten and broken; his mind was exhausted from the lack of sleep and the frequence of blackout. The finger he held on the trigger was by no means solid, but rather twitched while it held the device in a half-engaged state. “Focus” he told himself. “You’re doing the right thing… you’re trading many lives for this one life. You’re doing the right thing.” Just as he neared the point of pulling the trigger the rest of the way back, the dark tinge of doubt encircled him. A heavy wave of realization weighed him down as he realized that he had simply been making assumptions this whole time, and he had no hard evidence that any of those assumptions were founded. He faltered in his stance a bit and imagined if he had assumed differently. Perhaps those men on the gunship were only mercenaries, and therefore only under threat of not being paid if he were to fail. If that were the case, then it was just another job to them, and they were never in danger. Maybe the soldiers outside weren’t busting down the door because they were following a hostage protocol –meaning that the surveillance feed was still intact- and then, even if he killed this Jento, they would kill him upon his exit of the room. Perhaps by killing this man, he was actually endangering the lives of others; perhaps this red-haired man’s existence was somehow providing protection of other lives! He was grasping at the straws of possibility, and these other assumptions could very well have been flagrantly false. Nevertheless, the contrast between these and his previous mindset led him to a less than solid conclusion. His voice was an eerie kind of calm as he looked down from Jento’s eyes and to the tiles on the floor. “The choice of life is not mine to make; I will not bloody my hands” Veer said, blankly, as he slowly lowered the pistol and looked to his wrist chrono. Jento didn’t move, but still stood there with his hands in a non-threatening position, seemingly unsure of how to respond to this turn of events. Veer decided to explain, and looked back up to the Colonel’s eyes with an empty, blank expression. “Colonel, in twelve seconds, the detonite in my chest will kill me, and anything near me.” He said this with a matter-of-factness that rivaled conversation about the weather on Dromund Kaas. “The blood will be on his hands –not mine- and I suggest that you do not mingle in it.” He felt the Colonel’s eyes widen as the man turned and bolted for the door. He found it locked, faltered slightly, and scrambled for anything that would give him cover. Veer paid little attention to him, as the chrono began to tick down slower and slower. He searched inside himself for what felt longer than those few, short seconds. Perhaps the mind is so strong that it can actually slow time in such dire circumstances. His comrades from the scout unit had all perished before him, as he would also, soon. However, he held on to his life longer than any of them, and survived Corellia’s cruelties for years. He even escaped a further distance than they had, as none of them had managed to leave the planet’s surface, and yet here he was, aboard a starship. He conceded inside himself those small victories as he tried to come to terms with the imminence of his own death, and found a larger victory among it all. He had survived this long, and gotten this far, but he still had his honor. He had sworn to Vyola that he would uphold one rule, and one rule only: that he would never personally pull the trigger on anyone who didn’t threaten him. Now, at the crucial moment that seemed to test all that he was, he decided not to pull that trigger, even when his own life was at stake and all hope of seeing Vyola again would evaporate thusly. It was not his place to determine those who would die and those who would live; it was not his decision to make. If he died today, it would not be his fault, but that of the man behind the lamp. If this Colonel, or any of the men aboard the gunship, died, it was not his fault, but that of the man behind the lamp. In those few moments, he absolved himself of any and all guilt in the situation, and allowed a subtle serenity to envelop him as the chrono continued to tick down. He let the pistol hang limp at his side as the explosive’s detonator inched ever closer to that dreaded empty number. Not only had he resigned to his death in those few short seconds, but he subscribed to it. He welcomed it with open arms, as he praised himself on not compromising that which he was. A strange sense of peace covered him, one that stood in stark contrast to the emotional state gripping the Colonel, which more resembled a reasonable fear of getting caught in the forthcoming blast radius. …02 …01 …00 A sharp pain shot through Veer’s body. He couldn’t quite put a finger on where it was, but it was definitely there. For a fleeting moment, that pain existed and failed to exist all at the same time. The blackness that he had become so familiar with over the past day once again gripped him and his world. Soon, even that was gone.