A Coalition of the Independent: Send In the Droids! (Aarban, Barban, Carban, Garban, Xarban, Yarban, Zarban)
Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Mar 18 2023 11:16pm

Leritor System, 24 ABY

Leritor, Boss-man's Office

As the Dragons close in . . .


Andrew was having a bitch of a time. The little crackers just weren't suited for his Sauvax physiology; he could hold one of the delicate wafers just fine with the three fingers tucked discreetly into his bulky claw, but then he couldn't get to it with the spoon to spread the gelatinous sauce onto the cracker. Three tries now, and all he'd managed to do is drop egg-juice onto his tabletop and sprinkle crumbs into his pincer joint!


“Grah!” he exclaimed, seizing the jar of fish-egg jam with a bulky pincer and raising it up to his face, angling awkwardly until he found an orientation that let him spoon the jam straight into his mouth. He stuffed a fistful of crackers in afterward and chewed vigorously, content that he'd approximated the appropriate cracker-to-jam ratio. “Hmm,” he mused, chitinous jaw clicking open and closed repeatedly as he approximated the act of a human smacking their lips. “Hmm!” he exclaimed to the empty office, nodding along with his own vocalization.


“Eh, better with seaweed.” His people ate a variety of sea meats, but jellied fish-eggs was the kind of nonsense only a proper land-dweller could cook up! The label on the jar put this particular batch's planet of origin as Cerea. “Hmm,” he intoned, reading the fine print. Andrew didn't know much about Cerea, but now he knew one thing for sure: their cuisine wasn't anything to write home about.


A knock on the clamshell interrupted his musing, so Andrew tossed the half-eaten and still-open jar of jam into the waste bin and bellowed, “Come iiiiiiiiii-nnnnnnnnn!” rather enjoying the sound quality of his own voice bouncing against the closed space. His clamshell door swung open at the front of the hollowed out rock that was his office, and . . . well! If it wasn't one of the little Noghri! Cute little things, those Noghri. The Coalition had dropped off a whole mess of them not too long ago. It was no problem, though; there was plenty of spare room inland for anybody who didn't need ready access to the sea.


Andrew quite liked the thought of having a cute little Noghri friend: someone to go on walks with, and play fetch with, and run through the surf on the seashore with. He could almost hear the pitter-patter, pitter-patter of their feet, running along right beside him, always faithful, never doubting. A Sauvax's best friend, he might say . . .


“I wish to lodge a complaint,” the Noghri said, and there was no friendship in his whispered voice.


“Oh? What sort of complaint? I'm sure I can find you the appropriate form somewhere . . .”


“Against the humans.”


The . . . the humans, you say?” There was no form for the humans. The guy who wrote up the forms didn't even know about the humans. Come to think of it, Andrew had forgotten all about the humans until his angry Noghri not-friend just reminded him of them right then! “Did . . . did they violate the Settlement Pact?”


“We have no Settlement Pact with the humans!” the Noghri seethed, taking a few measured steps into the office. “Which I learned from them, when they intruded upon our lands.”


Andrew had never noticed how walking could be so . . . menacing. “Ahh, yes. That could be something of an issue, hmm?”


The Noghri slinked closer. “Their intrusion has risked the season's harvest.” He was really ramping up the “sinister” dial. “By rights we should have killed them for their transgression.”


“K-k-k-killed?” Andrew was suddenly intensely aware that the doorway behind the Noghri was the only exit from his office, and the Noghri had shut the clamshell behind himself!


I stayed my people's hands,” the Noghri continued, pressing his hands atop the driftwood surface of Andrew's desk, his claws digging noticeably into the wood. “I came to this world to farm. I am trying to do that. I want to do that. I was promised that.”


“Well, uhh, we don't have any formal process . . .” the Noghri's claws were digging deeper into his desktop. It had taken him six months to find a piece of driftwood this big and flat! “We-we-we-we could, umm . . . uhh . . .” his grasping for the rest of the sentence wasn't impressing the Noghri. “The Coalition!” Andrew snapped his claws to approximate snapping fingers. “We can call the Coalition! I'm in the Coalition, you're in the Coalition. Leritor's in the Coalition. I can – I'll just call up the Coalition, they'll send somebody right over, and that guy – that guy can sort this out for us. Yeah? No killing necessary. Nobody even has to die. Just . . . sortation. Yeah?”


The Noghri snarled and then withdrew, stalking back toward the clamshell.


“Just . . . sortin' it out, heh!” Andrew gulped, which was not a thing that Sauvax typically did. “Hey! Uhh, when I call, they're going to want me to fill out some forms. So you should . . . I mean I need – umm, when they ask . . .


“Who should I say . . . has brought the . . . complaint?”


At the door, the Noghri turned on a heel, eyes narrowed to slits, pointed teeth protruding from a half-open mouth. “I am Rokhier.” And then he was gone.


Didn't bother to shut the clamshell, either.


Andrew bolted from his desk, digging furiously through the pile of crates stacked in the corner, each one emblazoned with the symbol of the Coalition. He was so frantic, he smashed through a couple of the lids when he couldn't get the latches to work, his big claws once again making it difficult to work even simple contraptions designed for human hands. At length, he found the very special commlink packed into its own very special container. Flicking off the packing peanuts, he clicked through the buttons several times, making sure he understood the controls.


Pausing just before he made the call, he emitted a long string of clicks from his mouth, the Sauvax equivalent of laughter. Andrew the Sauvax had just made a Noghri friend!




* * *




Kamino System, 24 ABY

Kamino, New Reef Town

“Liberation” Day


There was a new mayor in town. The last one had been executed quite publicly, for failing to put down “insurrection” in New Reef Town. Fregrad found the whole situation grimly amusing: he'd spent six months trying to figure out how to kill the collaborationist mayor, then the Empire went and did it for him – no extra charge!


It made him wonder how long he'd have to keep himself from getting caught before the Empire would kill this new collaborator, too. Hell, if he kept himself out of the Empire's reach for long enough, they might run out of offworld collaborators to put in the mayor's chair altogether. Then he'd finally get to kill himself a Kaminoan, or – dare he whisper of a dream – a proper Imperial administrator. He'd spent so long killing Kaminoan clone security and New Reef collaborator police, that he'd almost forgotten what it was like to see a proper Imperial get what was coming to him.


That was going to change soon enough, though. With what he had in the works, the Empire wouldn't be able to stay out of New Reef Town anymore. They'd have to send in Stormtroopers, and that meant they'd have to send in officers to order the Stormtroopers around. That meant real, honest-to-goodness, flesh-and-blood, black-cap Imperials. He'd promised himself he'd get at least a dozen before they finally got him.


That was how he got through, how he convinced himself every morning to get up and try again. He set himself these little goals. Recruit three new guys. Spoil five more shipments. Take out two security patrols. Kill a mayor.


It was the little things. Bottled up here in New Reef Town, it was the only way to keep the fire alive. He couldn't leave the town, didn't trust his cover ID to hold up to inspection at an actual Imperial checkpoint. Truth be told, in his darkest moments, when he didn't have the willpower to spare, the most horrific of whispers snuck into his mind.


What if they already know?


What if they wanted him to carry on? What if they needed him to carry on? What if they had found a way to make all of his means serve their own ends? It wasn't impossible. He knew it wasn't impossible. Not for the Empire. Not for Intelligence.


They let just enough in from outside that Fregrad couldn't tell what was real and what was fake. The New Coalition, as it was called now, was still out there, in one form or another. But apparently it was fighting some “Black Dragon Imperium,” wearing itself out while the Empire grew stronger.


Or not. From New Reef Town, who could say? But Fregrad was willing to accept the Empire's story on its own terms, because it confirmed what in his heart he already knew: nobody was going to fight the Empire at Kamino unless Fregrad the Mon Calamari picked up his blaster and got to work.




* * *




Tau Sakar System, 24 ABY

Garban, Bureau of Foreign Outbound Grade Two Mass Traffic, Conference Room 09

The Jenet Bureaucracy


Tomak was not a very good Jenet. He knew that about himself, and tried not to let it get him down. Make no mistake: he had the mind for it. He could remember every meal he'd eaten since he started feeding himself. He could recite the serial number of every tramp freighter that passed under his purview. Moreso, Tomak had a special aptitude for abstracting the rote information that passed through his station. That was how he first found his way into the Department of Freight Reconciliation in the Bureau of Foreign Outbound Grade Two Mass Traffic: he was good at catching the ships who tried to fudge their cargo manifests.


No, it wasn't his mind that made Tomak a bad Jenet. It was his temperament. He just didn't have it: that thing. In a pinch, he could conjure up a decent insult, maybe even two or three. If he had an insight on his counterpart's adolescence, he might even be able to come up with a proper school-yard taunt. He didn't have the staying power, though. It just wasn't in him. Men like him got good enough marks on performance reviews, but they didn't move up the ranks. What subordinate would listen to him when he couldn't even muster the contempt to put them in their place?


“I read supplemental report J97-KO0.Apple.”


The question shook him from his reverie. The room was quite standard, its walls and ceiling composed of the natural soil but coated with a structurally reinforcing paste. The squat table was just big enough for two people on each long side. The side to Tomak's left was butted against the wall, just enough room on the right for a Jenet to squeeze by and get to the other side.


There were only two Jenet in the room, though. One on each side. The unspectacular Tomak, alone in a room with an Administrator.


Tomak stared at the other man in sheer dumb terror. He hadn't even brought anyone to introduced him. Tomak knew who he was, of course, but that wasn't the point! He was getting fired. Blacklisted. Banished from the clan? Was there a punishment grave enough to warrant such disrespect? How was he even supposed to . . . have thoughts . . . in the face of such utter . . . crippling . . .


There were no words for the shame.


“Explain your reasoning.”


“My . . . uhh, reasoning?” Why was the Administrator still talking to him? Wasn't he beneath the man's consideration?


“Don't be an imbecile; How is the Coalition relevant to Outbound Grade Two Mass Traffic around the Third Sister World?”


It isn't – obviously – broadly – speaking.” He was fidgeting. Was he fidgeting? He was definitely fidgeting. Did thinking about the fidgeting make the fidgeting worse? Tomak snorted, forcing himself out of the thought spiral. “Leritor's admission into the Coalition has drastically increased offworld traffic to the planet. That increase appears to be increasing over time, as well.” The administrator was about to throw something, Tomak was sure. “Increased interstellar traffic in the region is going to alter traffic patterns across the board. Depending on the Coalition's interest in Leritor, we could see significant impacts on our own inbound and outbound traffic. Variations in traffic flow and cargo types often impact the methods and procedures used by smugglers and fee-cheats.”


“You're grasping,” the administrator said, uncharacteristically gentle. “And you're not good at it. You wanted to impress us, and you're too pathetic to admit it. Nevertheless, here I am. Present the case as you see it, not as you expect us to hear it.”


His case? They wanted to hear from him! They valued his insight!? “If the Coalition is expanding its influence in the region, the Consolidated Ministries of Security and Commerce has an obligation to ascertain their intent. We must not allow a new regional power to gain influence over our trading partners, or amass military forces sufficient to threaten our independence. Not without being certain of their intention, at any rate.”


“That's all?”


The contempt was palpable. “Of course it's not all, sir. If you would like, I would be happy to write up a report under -”


The administrator held up his hand, stopping Tomak. “Were you in a position to make a recommendation, how would you suggest the Council of 127 proceed?”


“The C – the Council . . .”


“Hypothetically,” the administrator clarified.


It wasn't a reassuring clarification. Fortunately, Tomak had this part memorized. “Records indicate that Leritor is host to significant undeveloped and valuable metal ores. We could approach their government under the pretense of an interest in helping them develop these natural resources. Given our people's extensive mining expertise, it would be a . . .” Tomak paused, nodding repeatedly, “. . . rather believable claim.”


“You want to lie to them?” the administrator said with clear disgust, sneering at Tomak. “You intend to walk into their halls of power, and say: 'here I stand, hands open wide, ready to make you an industrial competitor to my own home and warren!' Bah!”


Well, of course, I don't intend -”


“Do you know why you haven't been promoted in two years, Tomak?”


Two years, three months, ten days, six hours and change, Tomak thought. “Sir, I understand that my limitations -”


You're too nice. What can we do with a nice shift supervisor? Who's going to stay in line with a nice mid-level bureaucrat leaning away to make sure he doesn't breathe down their necks?”


“Administrator, I-I-I recognize -”


The Ministry of Records' Special Counsel on Foreign Archival Procedures, the Bureau of Mineral Exports' Secondary Review Board, and the Drive Signature Tracking Agency of the Department of Ship Records have consolidated an array of related reports and have filed a joint recommendation to the Office of the Premier that an inter-ministerial Department of Remote Observation be assembled to assess the ongoing and multi-variant risks that foreign entities pose to the long-term security of the Jenet people.”


Tomak's mouth was dry. Did the Premier read a memo that was compiled using information extracted from his report? The Premier read words derived from notes supplied by Tomak!? “Administrator -”


“I have been appointed Director of the Department of Remote Observation. I am recruiting you to manage a special sub-department tasked with establishing contact with the Coalition and developing a cover from which we may probe their intentions. You will not receive a promotion. You will not receive a pay raise. Negotiate the details of your team's composition with one of my assistants.”


The administrator got up and headed for the door.


“Uhh, thank you, Sir,” Tomak managed, before the administrator disappeared through the doorway without further acknowledgment.


The young Jenet took a deep breath, resting his hands on the table and closing his eyes. Imagining the future. Daring to dream.


Tomak was going to be a spy.


Tomak was going to be a spy!

Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Mar 21 2023 10:57pm

Leritor System, 24 ABY

Leritor, The Blockhouse

The Mediation Meeting


Esker Tanor had arrived before the disputing parties. She was surprised, because the Coalition Interior Ministry had assured her that the urgency of the situation required immediate intervention. Now that she had met the Sauvax leader, Andrew, she understood the situation all too well.


He was a hysteric. She did her best not to excite him, but he just wouldn't shut up. On and on he went, clearly talking for no other reason than to ensure the room never fell quiet enough for him to hear his own thoughts.


“An Ualaq?” he asked, going out of his way to say the word awkwardly.


Esker grunted in response, and the ornate necklace around her neck answered, “Yes, that's right.” It automatically adjusted the harsh, guttural tone of an Aqualish who has had enough of this shit into something appropriately lighthearted and open for a formal diplomatic exchange.


“And that's why you -”


She grunted again. “Yes, it is,” the necklace translated, this time shorter and with a bit of tension. It had taken a great deal of time and practice, but Esker had become quite proficient with the translator, which varied its own cadence and tone depending on subtle variations in how Esker spoke her own native Aqualish language. She'd learned to treat it as a kind of mini-game, a forced distraction from some of her more impulsive tendencies.


Andrew was absolutely fascinated by her four eyes and fingered hands. Apparently the only Aqualish he'd ever seen was a holoimage of an Aquala that he saw while skimming the Coalition cultural database in preparation for this meeting.


“Subspecies, amazing!” he exclaimed.


“Indeed,” she replied, burying yet another desire to launch into an extensive tirade. Her people had fought for thousands of years before finally achieving peace between the three Aqualish lineages, but he found it “amazing,” having first heard of their existence less than a minute ago!


“You know, I once thought -”


Esker was spared another of Andrew's almost-thoughts by the whoosh of a pneumatic door. There standing in the entryway to the building was a Noghri and a human, a piece of simple rope running between them.


“Welcome, welcome!” Andrew exclaimed, enthralled by the presence of the new arrivals. Esker kept staring at their hands, though. The rope was wrapped around one of the Noghri's hands, but it was tied around the human's wrists. The human, for his part, was clutching tightly to a polished purple seashell about the size of his own palm.


Gesturing with a gargantuan claw to an adjoining room, Andrew ushered them out of the foyer. “The Azguard made us promise to refurbish this old New Republic blockhouse when we joined the Coalition, and since we didn't have much use for a freestanding military fortification, we decided to turn it into a welcome center for new visitors. We haven't gotten much in the way of visitors, though,” he noted, a bit disappointed, “so now it's the official Reception Area for foreign dignitaries!” He perked right back up, pointing to each guest in turn and indicating where he'd like them to sit.


It was only when the Noghri and human didn't oblige his direction that Andrew seemed to notice the rope. “What's going on here, my friend?” Andrew started snapping his claws nervously.


“This is the one who piloted the hellish machine that trampled our crops. His people gave him to us to stay our wrath.”


“'Gave'?” Andrew asked, disturbed by the word. “He's not your slave, is he?”


Our prisoner,” Rokhier said, his voice low and rough. He seemed appropriately insulted by the question.


Andrew tried his best, in his own pathetic way. “Oh, well, don't you think it might -”


Unbind him,” Esker said, the translation dropping low and deliberate, “or I will not participate in this mediation.”


The Noghri stared her down for several seconds, then turned and undid the binding with a deftness that surprised Esker. “Sit,” he ordered in something between a whisper and a growl, then took his own indicated seat.


“Excellent!” Andrew exclaimed, clapping his claws together. “Now, this is Ambassador -” he pointed to Esker, “-Ambassador?” Nodding to himself, he continued: “Ambasador Esker Tanor, and wouldn't you know it: she was already on-world when I put in the call to the Coalition!”


“Yes,” she said, “A survey team from Ando has been scouting possible mining locations in the Great Southern Expanse.”


“The Great Southern -” Andrew started, clearly surprised.


We must begin,” Rokhier said, his soft voice and flat tone nonetheless impressing more than a request onto Andrew.


“Yes, of course,” Andrew agreed, gesturing to the Noghri. “This is Rokhier.”


Rokhier,” he corrected.


Right, umm, Ro- Rok- Rokhier?


Rokhier,” he repeated.


“And this gentleman,” Andrew gestured to the human, who was still clutching firmly to the purple seashell. “Well, I'm sorry, but we haven't met yet.”


“I -”


He is John,” Rokhier said, as if that would settle it.


“Just 'John'?” Andrew asked.


“I -” the human tried to answer again.


“A trespasser,” Rokhier clarified. “And despoiler of our harvest.”


“Please,” Esker interjected, setting her hands on the table for the Noghri to see. “We all must be free to speak if a resolution is to be found.”


The Noghri seemed interested in saying something, but after a moment of silence he merely nodded, turning his attention back to the human.


My name's John, from the Trittatat combine-reaper,” the human said, clearly afraid.


“And what is a combine-reaper?” Esker asked, her attention lingering on the seashell.


“Seriously?” John asked, incredulous.


She looked to Rokhier for support, but the Noghri was unreadable. Turning to Andrew, the Sauvax did a weird whole-body wiggle inside of his carapace that she couldn't begin to make sense of. “Yes,” she said at length, turning back to the human.


“It's our home, and our livelihood,” the human said. “It ploughs, plants, and harvests the fields, and we live and work aboard. Between farming and maintenance, we're busy year-round.”


“How many of you are there?”


John frowned, his brows furrowed. “Aboard the Trittatat, or in combine-reapers?”


“Both,” Esker answered weakly, suddenly realizing she'd gotten herself into more than a simple border dispute.


John exhaled forcefully, taking a moment to think. “Well Trittatat is one of the smaller ones.” The comment surprised Rokhier, though he recovered before anyone but Esker noticed. “We've got about three hundred, three-fifty people. The bigger ones get up to a thousand or more. And there's . . . maybe . . . five, ten thousand combine-reapers across the continent.”


Esker took a few seconds to approximate the numbers. “That's a population of millions.” Turning back to Andrew, she was genuinely angry at him for the first time. “There are millions of humans on Leritor?”


“Hmm?” Andrew said, trying to sound surprised by the question. “Oh, yes. Have been for hundreds of years.”


“The Settlement Pact granted us all lands more than a hundred kilometers from the shoreline,” John added, a little confidence showing as he picked up on Andrew's weak position. Still, he clutched to the seashell.


“Did the Azguard know when they resettled the Noghri here?” Esker asked.


Andrew tried to shrug. “I dunno. When Regrad asked where to put them, I just picked somewhere that would be out of the way.”


“We were not out of their way,” Rokhier said, quiet but furious.


“The Pebble Shores haven't been -”


“The Boulder Straits are closed,” John said. “Have been for more than a century.”


“No,” Andrew shook his head. “No, that can't be right.”


“The Pebble Sea is now an inland sea,” he continued. “By the terms of the Settlement Pact, it doesn't count as shoreline.”


“Now wait a minute,” Andrew said, indignant. “If you wanted to expand your territory, you should have sent someone -”


“We can't!” John shouted back, holding the purple seashell out for all to see. “The Settlement Pact forbids us from entering the shorelands! And besides, the oceandwellers sent us an emissary when they evacuated the Pebble Sea; that's how we knew that the Straits were closed in the first place!”


“Oceandwellers?” Esker asked.


“You had no right!” John yelled, directing his ire at Andrew. “No right to give our lands to strangers, without our knowledge or consent.” He glanced at Rokhier, and immediately regretted it.


“My people will not move again,” Rokhier warned. “And the destruction of our crops must be compensated before winter comes. Decide amongst yourselves who is at fault for the crimes against us, but we will not pay for your folly.”


“There's plenty of room for all of us,” John said, looking in Rokhier's direction without actually looking at him. “Nobody's asking you to move, but we'll lose a whole season if we set out for new planting grounds now, and there isn't enough land allocated to us outside of your settlement for us to make it through the winter just farming that land.”


“Allocated?” Esker asked. “By whom?”


“The City,” John said, in that same incredulous tone.


“What city?”


John sighed, realizing he'd done it again. “There's a city at the heart of the continent, where we do major repairs, and trade for the novelty wares that the freighter merchants don't bring with them.”


“A human city?” she asked.


John nodded. “Well, I mean, mostly, yeah. It's got a proper starport, so people from all over come through from time to time, but mostly it's just folks who want to stay still, who get worn down by life on a combine-reaper.”


Esker had been keeping an eye on the Noghri. She didn't know much about his people, but the little she had heard made her worry that they might want to solve their predicament through more violent means. She hoped that the sheer numbers of the humans on Leritor would make him think twice about starting a war.


“Well, Madam Ambassador,” Andrew said, perky and oblivious as ever, “what do you think?”

“What do you mean?” She asked, not bothering to hide her disdain.


“Doesn't the Coalition have some kind of . . . playbook . . . for this sort of thing?”


“What do you think the Coalition is, Andrew?”


The question caught him off guard. “Huh?”


“What do you think is happening here?” Se asked.


“Well, the Interior Ministry -”


“The Interior Ministry doesn't exist! It's a couple spare offices in the basement of the Ministry of Health and Sapient Services! Member worlds are expected to conduct their own domestic affairs in accordance with their own laws and traditions. Do you know what the Coalition did when you called them, asking to send somebody over to sort out your little squabble? Do you?


“They called Ando, and asked the government that we have there to follow the rules and procedures that we have in place as a civilized people to send a representative and sort out whatever the hell's going on here. And of course, we don't have a Department of Sorting Out Other People's Shit, so instead what happened was the Tirumvirate of Ando issued a Special Proclamation, requiring our Department of Industry and Commerce to assign someone from the mineral survey we're conducting here to – quote – 'effectuate the expedient and judicious resolution of any conflict arising from the recent relocation of Noghri refugees from Honoghr to Leritor'.


“You see, Andrew, that's what professionals sound like when they're executing their official duties.”


“You aren't a diplomat?” Rokhier asked Esker. He seemed surprised, perhaps intrigued.


“Well I don't know about all of that,” Andrew said, meekly, “but Leritor has never really had to be 'run' before, you know? People just sort of . . . got along.”


Esker was fuming. The torrent inside of her threatened to burst forth; it had already disturbed the surface, showing them a glimpse of what lay below. But they didn't heed the signs. They weren't willing to read her darkening temperament for what it was: a warning.


“What kind of minerals?” It was the human.


“Huh?” Esker's necklace struggled with the indefinite translation, her surprise and confusion muddling her own response.


“You said mineral survey,” John clarified. “What kind of minerals?”


“Mostly metal ores,” she said, allowing her surprise and John's interest to distract her from her fury. “We believe Leritor could be developed into a significant source of industrial-grade metals. Why do you ask?”


“Do you have your own mining industry? Are you planning to expand here, yourselves?”


Esker nodded. “Yes, we expect -” She stopped herself, studying the man.


John's demeanor changed instantly. As the meeting had proceeded his outright terror had gradually given way to a more subdued, brooding resignation. Now, though: John was excited. “I can get the City to give us – my people and Rokhier's people – food for the winter, in exchange for your help in developing mines for our people to work.”


“Well that's great!” Andrew exclaimed. Esker was not so nearly as enthusiastic. Andrew, to Esker's great surprise, actually took notice of her reaction. “What, don't want to help out your fellow Coalitioner? How about this: I won't grant you mining rights unless you help the humans?”


She shook her head, too distracted by the actual problem to care about his small, petty mind. “My people are mostly aquatic in nature. Our surveys have been concentrated in the oceans of the world.”


What!?” Andrew exclaimed, the outburst so shocking that Rokhier raised noticeably out of his chair, ready for a fight.


“Oh no,” John said, far more reserved.


“What?” Esker asked, looking back and forth between the two. “What?”


“You have to stop,” John warned.


“It's okay,” Andrew said, calming himself. “It's okay,” he repeated, nodding as his claws started jittering nervously. “They haven't noticed yet. I haven't gotten a fish-head.” After several seconds of staring at the tabletop, Andrew turned to Esker in a burst of frantic motion. “You have to stop, immediately.” When she didn't respond, he yelled: “Immediately!”


Slowly, deliberately, Esker removed her commlink from a pocket, taking her time to switch through the channels. As she did so, her attention wandered to the human. He nodded, urging her to comply. She pulled on her necklace with her free hand, disabling the translator, then grunted and rumbled into the commlink. An angry response of similar quality issued forth immediately, then she raised her voice and enunciated the grunts until her counterpart fell silent. One delayed grunt from the commlink seemed to settle matters, and Esker pocketed the device then pulled on her necklace again. “As sovereign of Leritor, your command has been honored. Now: what the fuck was that about?”

“The oceandwellers,” John whispered.


“Some time ago,” Andrew began, somewhat reserved, “many of my people withdrew from the surface world, migrating down into the oceans below.”


“Many?” Esker asked.


“Most,” Andrew admitted.


His incompetence astounded her. “Millions of humans you didn't bother to tell us about. And millions more Sauvax – who you don't even speak for – hiding in the seas: you lied to the Azguard!”




“You lied to the Coalition!”


“I am Boss-man of Leritor: the mountains, the plains, the shorelines, and the waves that crest the ocean. Below is . . . the world below.”


“Andrew! When the Coalition inducts a world into its membership, it inducts the whole world: skies, lands, and seas! Did you even have the authority to sign the Coalition treaty?”


“Yeah, sure. Definitely. As long as . . . as you don't go in the ocean.”


“Unbelievable. This is unbelievable.” Esker was truly gripped with disbelief; otherwise she would have had the presence of mind of be rageful. “Two months of work -”


Two months!” Andrew exclaimed.


“You owe us,” Esker said, pointing at Andrew. Her disbelief was clearing just enough for an idea to start forming.


“What, me?”


She nodded, driving the point further. “You owe us damages for wasting our time.”


“I'm not responsible for -”


“The treaty you signed guaranteed Coalition members the ability to survey Leritor and develop plans for economic and resource development, to be presented to your office for consideration.”


“Well I mean, maybe the fine print . . .”


“You just ordered me to stop doing the very thing that you guaranteed my people the right to do. You owe me damages.”


“No, no, I -”


“You owe me,” She pointed at herself. “You owe him,” she pointed to Rokhier. “You owe him,” she pointed to John.


Andrew was crushed. He didn't seem to be able to get a coherent thought together. His pincers clacking away nervously, his bulging eyes spinning about in their sockets, Andrew was completely and utterly lost.


“Why don't we invite them to the meeting?”


Esker stared daggers at John. The interruption had ruined her whole plan! “What?”


He was shocked by her rage and shrunk into his seat.


“The oceandwellers,” Rokhier clarified for John. “We could invite them here. We could negotiate for your . . . mining interests. We'll make him do it.” He lifted a clawed hand and pointed at Andrew.


“In the meantime,” John added, seeming to gain confidence from Rokhier's support, “Andrew's going to make sure that both our communities have food for the winter.”


“I am?”


“That way when Trittatat and I make it to The City to gain their support for a mining development, I won't have to tell them that you broke the Settlement Pact by denying my people the fruits of their labors.”


“Well, I mean, I guess I could try.” Andrew didn't at all seem confident. “No one's blown the conch shell for two full Boss-man's; I'm not even sure they'll answer the summons. But yeah, I guess, if you guys think it's a good idea.” He looked to Esker for support. She ignored him. “Yeah: let's do this.


“Let's blow the conch!”

Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Mar 23 2023 11:54pm

Kamino System, 25 ABY

Kamino, New Reef Town

The Exodus of Mon Calamari


The Imperial Ministry of Information was perhaps the most effective institution of its type in the history of the galaxy. Even so, this far out from the Core, on a project as low priority as the data feed into a single city: the seams were showing.


It was the third time Fregrad had seen that particular sequence of that particular starship, lumbering toward the world of Teth in its convoy of despair.


The Coalition had abandoned Mon Calamari, and every native of that world now on Kamino had heard the news at least a hundred times. There was no hope left for them, because there was no Coalition left to come and liberate this world. With the loss of the homeworld, the last of what the Mon Calamari Republic had been was finally and truly dead.


So it wouldn't be for hope that Fregrad carried on. It couldn't be for hope. He needed something else. Something darker.


Something stronger.


“You're certain this can get me in?” He was looking down at the small collection of documents strewn across the workbench. Meeting his counterpart's eyes tended to strain his neck.


“Nothing is certain,” the Kaminoan chided him. “Your best opportunity will be the night shift, at the eastern checkpoint. If you are successful, a taxi will be waiting for you. For your cover identity, that is: 'Killiac'.”


“That's a real person, here in New Reef Town?”


The Kaminoan knocked on the tabletop, waiting until Fregrad looked up to her expressionless face. “Yes, and if you kill him for collaborating, you can't steal his identity to get into Tipoca City.”


“You have the charges ready?” Fregrad asked, ignoring the admonishment.


“The taxi will deposit you at a storehouse near the decommissioned traffic control tower. My contact in the armorer's workshop has sequestered all that you'll need there. I must leave now if I am to depart the city before curfew.”


“Oh no,” Fregrad said, shaking his head. “You're not going back home.”


“If I miss my work shift, the Emp-”


“You're staying here, with my guys. If this is a trap, you get to die with the rest of the collaborators.”


“Captain, I assure you -”


“If you're not a collaborator,” Fregrad continued, “then the last place you want to be is back at work tomorrow morning. With something as big as this, you don't get to hide in plain sight. The Empire will find you, they will catch you, and they will extract everything from you. You'll expose our whole operation. You will tell them things you thought you'd forgotten, things you thought you didn't even know. No, you stay here. If you aren't a collaborator, we're the only hope you have of staying alive and keeping all your parts.”


“Captain Fregrad . . .” It was the first time he'd seen a Kaminoan properly disturbed. “You can't hide a Kaminoan in New Reef Town.”


He didn't have time for this shit, but she could still be useful to them. “Taun,” he said, putting his hand over hers on the tabletop and squeezing lightly. “My boys will look out for you; it's all I can promise. This is the best chance we'll ever have, and you got it for us. We have to try.”


Slowly, slowly, Taun Se nodded her head, withdrawing her hand. “Every chance we get, for as long as we get chances.”


Fregrad nodded like he still believed in any of it, then he scooped up the forgeries and packed them into his satchel. “I've got to get going. I have a cloning lab to blow up.”




* * *




Leritor System, 25 ABY

Leritor, The Block Partyhouse

The Conference of Parties


The conference room had been expanded since the last meeting. A new table, crafted from a sheet of multicolored sandstone and sealed with some transparent coating, sat atop wooden legs made from curved pieces of driftwood. Overhead, a string of translucent white orbs hung from green-brown rope, which appeared to be crafted from some local strain of peculiar seaweed; the orbs bathed the room in a soft, welcoming light. The walls were lined with art pieces of varying styles, mostly paintings but also collages of seashells, colored sands, and water-worn pebbles. The chairs were stainless steel.


The meeting itself was significantly larger. Andrew stood at the head of the table, A Sauvax covered in barnacles immediately to his right. At the corner of the table between the two but a few paces back, stood a silver humanoid droid. The Aqualish “ambassador,” Esker Tanor, sat immediately to Andrew's left. Beside her sat an unidentified alien: thin, frail, and covered in short gray fur, though it wore an elaborate tunic with matching pants. Across the table and beside the oceandweller sat another unidentified individual, a human in the armor of a White Knight.


John stood just inside the doorway, unable to decide which of the two open seats to take for himself. Rokhier allowed the human a couple of seconds, then pushed him toward the seat beside the White Knight. That left Rokhier the position beside the least understood participant in this Conference, and therefore the position closest to the most likely source of danger.


“Alright!” Andrew exclaimed as soon as the two had taken their seats. “It's with great pleasure that I call this First Conference of the Parties to order. First order of business: introductions!” Andrew was trying to present himself as a professional. He wore the mask poorly.


As they went around the table introducing themselves in turn, Rokhier watched not only the speakers, but the listeners. The silver droid served as a translator for the barnacled Sauvax, who neither seemed to speak or understand Basic. Esker Tanor spoke competently and concisely through her own translation device, but the silver droid seemed perturbed by something about her address that the rest of them could not perceive. The White Knight was quartermaster of The Citadel, the White Knights' fortress headquarters which had recently been completed on Leritor; he seemed compelled by duty to attend, but disinterested in the proceedings.


The strange alien was called “Tomak.” He was a Jenet, from a world called “Garban”. Apparently he had come to Leritor seeking a business arrangement with the planet's government, and Andrew had invited him to the Conference. Rokhier presumed his presence was an attempt by Andrew to avoid the work of negotiating with this alien by forcing the rest of them to engage with Tomak on Andrew's behalf. Such a plan had its merits, though dignity was certainly not one of them.


That left John and Rokhier. Much had changed for them since the previous meeting. John was no longer a prisoner of the Noghri, for one. In some real sense, their roles were now reversed: Rokhier had wagered his own honor to secure John's freedom. Now their fates were intertwined, and the outcome of this Conference would secure their mutual success, or see them both laid low.


“I would like to begin,” Andrew began, “by addressing -” what followed from Andrew's mouth was a gurgle-burgle of incoherent noise that Rokhier found truly astonishing. That a living thing could make such sounds!


“You may address His Excellency as 'The Oceandweller',” the droid said, addressing the entire table.


“I must confess that certain agents of the Coalition have violated the sanctity of the oceans below,” Andrew said, addressing the Oceandweller.


The Oceandweller squawked, and the droid translated: “What is a Coalition?”


This was going to be a long meeting. It took some doing, but with Ambassador Tanor's assistance, Andrew managed to explain the rough contours of the galactic association to the primitive sea creature. With that hurdle out of the way, the Oceandweller wanted to know why aliens had violated his people's sovereign realm. It was a fair question, and though he prodded for additional information as the case was laid out, he seemed content to accept that the violation was made in ignorance, and with no ill intent.


“These minerals are valuable to you?” the droid asked on the Oceandweller's behalf.


“Quite,” Andrew affirmed.


“They were,” Esker Tanor said, “though now we have far graver concerns.”


John tensed noticeably in his chair. Fortunately, no one but Rokhier took notice: everyone else was focused on the Aqualish ambassador.


She continued: “The Triumvirate of Ando has committed our world to aiding the people of Mon Calamari, by opening our oceans to the many billions of refugees being evacuated to the East.”


The Oceandweller asked what a “Mon Calamari” was, and Esker spiraled into another round of explanation, now assisted from time to time by the White Knight. The creature's alien form made it difficult to determine his mood, and communication through a droid translator obscured the true intention of his questions, but the progression of the exchange led Rokhier to believe the Sauvax leader was truly horrified by the scope of the atrocity they laid out before him.


Rokhier's people are refugees, too,” John said, intruding into their exchange. “His homeworld was conquered by the Dragon Imperium, and his people barely made it out in time – thanks to the Coalition.”


“That was a hard day,” the White Knight said somberly.


The Oceandweller asked the ambassador to explain her new desires for Leritor. Andrew wanted to know as well. Whatever her scheme was, he had not been made a party to it.


Rokhier extended his leg and bumped John's foot with his own, getting the man's attention. He shook his head ever so slightly; now was not the time to reveal their intentions.


“Leritor is a major source of food for the Coalition,” she said. “But it could produce far more. Especially if we began to develop its potential for aquaculture.”


She wanted to farm the oceans. Not dig mines. Not build settlements beneath the waves to harvest the mineral wealth of the deep. She wanted them to farm for her.


The stranger, Tomak, burst into a panicked fit. “The mineral wealth of this world could buy you all the food you'd ever need! Economic diversification and multi-sectoral resource management could raise Leritor to a middle power in the region within two years, with proper guidance and professional partnerships, of course.”


The droid was chattering away, trying its best to explain the stranger's outburst to the Oceandweller.


Rokhier had to kick John again. Judging by his reaction, it was harder than necessary. Humans were so delicate . . .


There was another round of questions and answers with the Oceandweller, the general mood quickly souring toward the Jenet foreigner. The exchange, however, revealed that the Sauvax beneath the sea had some interest in reestablishing relations with the surface. They were open to allowing this “aquaculture” within the oceans, if the product of that openness were used for the general good.


Andrew was immediately onboard. He portrayed his support as a general desire to see his people reunited with their long-separated cousins, but Rokhier had his doubts. It was far more likely that as Boss-man of Leritor, any Sauvax who returned to the surface would fall under his authority. In time, he may even be able to assert a claim over all the oceandwellers of Leritor.


Bah!” the Jenet exclaimed, inserting himself into the exchange once more. “Seaweed and plankton are no substitute for the cold, hard credits that a proper mining industry would bring to your world. The Council of 127 has granted me special dispensation to extend a very favorable contract to that end. With minimal upfront investment -”


Ando is a major Coalition mining world,” Ambassador Tanor said, cutting off the stranger. “If the people of Leritor wished to develop mines, we would be quite happy to assist them in that goal.”


He sneered, gesturing dismissively to the Oceandweller. “This creature will not allow you to mine the oceans!” The Oceandweller gurgled, and the droid confirmed that was the case. “Anything mined on Leritor will be mined on the land.”


When he didn't jump at the opportunity, Rokhier hissed as quietly as he could manage until John looked at him. With a bob of his head, he set the human loose.


“My people would be interested in such an arrangement.”


For the first time since the Conference began, the room's attention turned to Rokhier's end of the table. The stranger's eyes caught in the light, a blood-red gleam flashing out before his heavy brows sunk down and dropped his eyes into shadow once more. There was something formidable in the gaunt creature, after all.


Rokhier kicked John again, lightly this time. He pressed on, realizing the floor was his. “As our population has grown, so has the number of people who want to settle. There isn't enough work in The City for the number of people who leave the combine-reapers. Don't get me wrong: the great majority of my people want nothing more than to ride the combine-reapers across these fields: ploughing, and planting, and harvesting, and selling the surplus. But our population is growing, and as it does too many people are trapped in lives they didn't choose and don't want. Mining settlements could give those of us who want to leave the combine-reapers but don't want to leave Leritor a place to go, to belong, to continue contributing.”


The ambassador was quick to defend her interests. “What would be the environmental impact?”


“Environmental impact?” Andrew asked, concerned.


“We must not damage the agricultural prospects,” she said.


John shook his head, unfazed. “Mountains can't be farmed, and the combine-reapers aren't suited for the foothills either. There's plenty of room for the handful of settlements we'd need.”


“Handful?” The Jenet didn't like the sound of that. “How many is that?” He'd clearly come here for something more substantial.


“This is nice and all,” Andrew said, not sounding very nice, “but how do you propose we go about doing this?” He turned to address Ambassador Tanor directly. “I mean: where are we going to get the manpower to turn the whole planet into a farm?”


A number of suggestions were thrown around. Mon Calamari refugees didn't last long because the Oceandweller wasn't about to let strangers he'd never met move into his seas based solely on a sad story he'd only just heard for the first time. Opening land to settlers was a possibility, but those sorts of projects took time, and it greatly limited the human population's future prospects by permanently closing off lands they would want to expand into in the future. Not many species were suited to the shoreline living and farming that Andrew's own people engaged in. There were no good plans, just a collective will to do something.


And then it happened. “Machines.” The room turned their attention to Rokhier. “My people were farmers before your Clone Wars ravaged my world and poisoned its soil. When the Empire came, they brought wondrous technology, machines beyond our wildest imaginings, machines that purified the soil and restored the wastelands. But they deceived us: their own machines worked at a fraction of their true potential, ensuring that a project of years would instead take centuries. They enslaved us with the promise of a future that would never come.


But we can do better. We can do more. Together, we all can sow and reap the bounty of this world. With droids. With machines to multiply our labors ten, and a hundred, and a thousandfold. With machines that do not hunger, that do not rest, that do not regret. Together, we can automate Leritor!”


It was a wild idea. There was hooting and hollering. There was a great deal of the Oceandweller gesturing to his droid translator and asking how a metal man could farm the ocean. There was more than a little bit of the Jenet, Tomak, assuring everyone that a strong mining industry should form the essential basis of an industrialized agricultural sector.


Andrew shrugged. “Well, it's something like a plan.”

Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Mar 24 2023 11:33pm

Ketaris System, 26 ABY

Ketaris, Orbit

Look! In the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the Ryn Fleet!


“You have a lovely office.”


The leader of the Ryn Fleet turned from the open view of space, regarding the younger woman who had sought her out. “I actually have an office onboard, you know? The Ithorians insisted, given how much time I spend on this ship.”


The human woman smiled, her eyes wandering to a flowering vine that wove through a nearby support strut. “You ever find it strange? I mean: it's called the Ryn Fleet, but the closest thing to a flagship that this fleet has is an Ithorian herdship, complete with Ithorian crew and residents.”


“I find it quite beautiful,” Elder Ruto said, smiling as she turned to look down over the edge of the observation deck at the artificial jungle below. “The only constant in the universe is change. The fleet is changing, the Ithorians are changing, the Cooperative is changing.” She looked back up, still smiling. “You're changing.”


Sera Brie joined the Ryn elder at the railing, taking a moment to wonder at the jungle-in-a-staship as well. “I don't know. Maybe. Ketaris has never really been a place where things happen, but . . . I think I'm excited for the future.”


“It was an incredibly generous thing you did, opening your world to the Mon Calamari.”


Sera shrugged, uncomfortable with the praise. “You guys are doing all of the work. I mean, what were we going to do: tell them they can't move into the ocean? We weren't even using it for anything!”


“I've seen far worse from people who held themselves in far higher regard,” Ruto said, reaching out a hand to pat the younger woman on the back. She scooted in closer, moving her hand to Sera's shoulder and giving her a gentle hug. “You know,” she said quietly, her mouth close to the shorter woman's ear, “it's okay to admit you're a decent person. You don't have to pretend to be ironically detached all of the time.”


“Yeah, about that . . .” Sera patted Ruto's hand with her own, then did a gentle roll out of the other woman's grasp. “I am sort of here on official business.”


“You mean you didn't come by to stare at the stars with me?” she said sarcastically.


So the old lady did have a some zest left after all! Sera smiled, suppressing a laugh, bobbing her head up and down while she gathered her thoughts. “The Governing Board of the University of Ketaris has a proposal for your Council of Elders to consider, and I thought I'd run it by you before they do anything official.”


“The University of Ketaris, huh?” She seemed surprised by the turn in the conversation.


“I am still, technically, a professor there, although all of this 'assembling a government' is really cutting into my career goals.”


Ruto clasped her hands in front of herself, putting out something of a “stern schoolteacher” vibe. “Well let's hear it then.”


This woman was full of all kinds of surprises. Just when Sera thought she had the Ryn leader figured out . . . “Alright, fine, here it is. We want to develop an apprenticeship certification process for workers in the Ryn Fleet.”


“'Apprenticeship certification'?” Ruto repeated the words, unimpressed.


“Yeah. Look, most places in the galaxy aren't just going to let a couple dozen ships full of weird strangers from the other side of the galaxy pull into orbit and start . . . knocking things over and building shit all over the place.”


“Building . . . shit?”


“Look, I didn't think I was going to be doing, like a . . . fucking school project in front of the teacher. Could you stop looking at me like that? Please?”


Ruto relaxed, her hands sliding to her sides. “My people aren't keen on being rated and graded according to their perceived economic value by some outside arbiter.”


“Do you plan on living off of Coalition contracts for the rest of eternity?” The question hit home, she could tell. Good. “You're just going to hope that they've always got another project lined up for you, paying you in food rations and ship parts and cute little baubles of nothing from now until the stars go cold?”


“Well, eventually there will be another galactic civilizational collapse.” The words were ordered like a joke, but Ruto's delivery was utterly joyless.


“What is all of this for, Ma'am? The Ryn Fleet? Why is it here?”


“So my people can have a place to belong,” she said, hurt by the question.


“Belong? Stuck to the side of the Cooperative like a spare arm? That's your plan? Your grand vision?”


“No set of credentials is going to change what people see when they look at us,” Ruto said, showing a bitterness that Sera hadn't seen before. “A piece of paper with a fancy seal is nothing compared to their disdain.”


“Well, a placard, probably,” she said, deciding to meet the woman's darkening mood with some levity. “Tucked off neatly in the corner, on a wall.” She held up both hand and extended thumbs and forefingers to form a rectangular outline. “'This certification process accredited by the University of Ketaris'.” She dropped her hands, pushing onward. “'Join the Ryn Fleet: Learn As We Go!' These things write themselves.” When she saw that it wasn't having the desired effect, she turned back to the jungle and watched a little flock of birds flutter from one treetop to another. “I know this isn't much, but I think it can be real. And it's the only thing we have to offer.”


The nudge against her shoulder dislodged a pair of tears from her eyes.


“When you meet the Council, lead with with that.”


Sera dabbed at her face, turning away. “Gods, this damned Ithorian pollen! Get me outta here!”




* * *




Leritor System, 26 ABY

Leritor, Orbit

Jennet Expeditionary Vessel Orang III


“Ryn? The space trash?”


“Vigilance,” Rokhier said the word with a hint of menace.


“Sorry,” Tomak replied. “You surprised me with that is all.”


“That's why we're reviewing the itinerary,” Rokhier said. “Others will not be as forgiving as me.”


“It's a cultural trait of my people,” Tomak said. “Isn't the Coalition supposed to be all . . . open and accepting of others?”


“You aren't part of the Coalition,” Rokhier said. “And nobody likes being shat upon.”


“Is that,” Tomak paused, looking increasingly uncomfortable. “Is that a thing that some of them do?”


“It's a figure of speech,” the Noghri clarified. “We must attempt to adopt their idiosyncrasies if we wish to be accepted by them.”


“Right, right,” Tomak nodded. The Jenet foreigner was a competent student, but the gulf between instructor and pupil was perhaps as large as the one that Rokhier was teaching him to bridge.


“They will not interfere with your mining developments; their project is the construction of the agri-droid factories. Andrew has already signed the supply contracts, so the first round of raw materials for the factories will be purchased from Garban.”


“'Round of raw materials'?” Tomak asked in that way that wasn't really a question.


Vigilance,” Rokhier leaned into the word. “It's not only for others; it's also to avoid antagonizing me.”


“Right, sorry. Again.”


“You must make every effort to open the mines in an expedient fashion.”




“Any delay may appear as an effort to extend your supply contracts.”


“I said I understand.”


“My reputation is entangled with you now, and I will not allow you to shame me.” Tomak grew visibly uncomfortable at the implications of Rokhier's words. Plus he stank of fear. “The better your people perform, the better case I will be able to make to the Ryn.”


“What's that now?” It was amazing to witness how quickly Tomak could catch on to an opportunity. Despite his many, many shortcomings, he had nonetheless found a way to worm himself into the Coalition's workings on Leritor.


“The Ryn have assembled a substantial construction fleet, which in turn produces a significant concentration of trade activity wherever its ships are deployed. With the smallest measure of tact, I may be able to create an opportunity for you to expand your interests into the Ryn Fleet.”


“That's quite a generous offer,” Tomak said, obviously practicing the art of sounding appreciative. “What – may I ask – would prompt you to make such an offer?”


The alien was growing tiresome, but Rokhier had committed himself to this task and would see it through to the end. “In order for my people to live in peace and contentment, all the peoples of Leritor must live in peace and contentment. That means the humans get their mines, the Sauvax below get their aqua farms, the Sauvax of the shorelines get their wave-strider droids, and you don't piss any of them off.”


“Right. Of course.”


“That includes the Ryn, for as long as they are here.”


The admonishment clearly made the Jenet uncomfortable. “Oh, look at the time.” He pretended to check a wrist chrono that wasn't there. “Gotta report back to the Home Office; guess I'll be missing the Conference this year.”




* * *




Tau Sakar System, 26 ABY

Garban, Department of Remote Observation

The First Periodic Debriefing of Special Operations Team Leader Tomak


The thing of it was: he did have to report back to the Home Office. Not only did he have to report back, he had to go back to make the report.


It was strange somehow, walking through the tunnels of the warren. They felt . . . cramped, in a way he'd never experienced before. This mission of his was the first time he'd spent any significant time above ground. He knew many other species found starships to be cramped and isolating, but he'd found that if he avoided windows, the narrow corridors and sparse living spaces reminded him somewhat of home.


Now that he was back, though, home felt like somewhere else.


He stepped through the door to the briefing room, and . . . The Administrator was here. Why was the Administrator here? In his absence, the Department of Remote Observation had grown into a full-fledged Special Department of the Jenet Bureaucracy. Tomak was simply too low in the hierarchy to warrant the Administrator's presence. Even if he was being promoted . . . especially if he was being demoted.


“I've read your report,” the Administrator said. There was no indication of his impression of the report.


And the walls seemed so close now. “I'm happy to be of service to the Bureaucracy,” Tomak replied, trying not to betray his own sentiments.


“You believe your true intentions have not been discovered?”


It was a meaningless question, if the Administrator had read his report. “My true intentions are no secret,” Tomak said. Wasn't it a little dim in here? “I am directing a Jenet labor crew under contract with the government of Leritor. There is nothing unusual about our presence on or around that world.”


“Your practiced lies are repulsive. They have no place here.”


The response gave Tomak a certain sense of pride, though he wasn't quite sure why. He sat up in his chair a little, briefly distracted by how close the ceiling was to him even while he sat. “My craft requires constant vigilance. I think you'll find it difficult to replace me, should you make the mistake of trying to.”


His comment elicited a sneer from the Administrator. “You overestimate your value.”


Tomak wasn't having any of it. “You didn't read my supplemental report, then? A shame.”


“Supplemental report?” The Administrator rifled through his own notes, but it wasn't there. Whatever he'd brought with him, this meeting wasn't about Tomak's operations at Leritor.


“The Ryn Fleet is dispatching a small contingent to Leritor.”


“The Ryn?” The Administrator made no effort to conceal his disdain. Why would he?


“They're going to build factories on the planet. Factories to produce agricultural equipment.”


“How is this of concern to us?”


“If you'd read my report,” Tomak began, aware that a proper Jenet would use this opportunity to skewer his superior, “you would know that the Ryn Fleet represents an opportunity to expand our reach throughout the Coalition. They move freely between Coalition worlds and provinces, and maintain a significant demand for ores and processed metals.”


“You have the means to secure contracts with them?” The Administrator was dubious.


“I've been developing contacts,” Tomak replied.


“Do you have the means?” The Administrator wasn't interested in his games.


“I will by the time the opportunity arises, if you don't interfere in my efforts.”


The Administrator stared at him for a long moment, considering something. Tomak was still confused by the man: he must see something in Tomak worth developing. Otherwise, he would not be nearly so forgiving of the younger Jenet's idiosyncrasies.


Then the Administrator slid one of his datapads across the table. “The Bureaucracy has been invited to attend a meeting of independent governments on Utapau. Though the gathering is organized by the Pau-an, there is significant Coalition involvement in the form of . . .”


“The Ryn Fleet,” Tomak said, getting far enough into the document to see where the Administrator was going. “I don't see the . . . purpose of the . . .” Tomak was trying to get through the document as quickly as possible, finding it difficult to speak and read at the same time.


“Slavery.” The single word seized Tomak's full attention. The Administrator continued: “You have spoken favorably of the Coalition in your reports. How confident are you of their goodwill?”


“Not so confident that I would suggest we discontinue our efforts at Leritor, or halt efforts to gain purchase inside the Ryn fleet.” He was being noncommittal, and the Administrator didn't like it. “If you're concerned about their goodwill, then you should go and see what they're doing with their warships.”


“If I want your advice,” the Adminstrator said, standing to his feet, “I'll order you to file a report.” He pushed the rest of the datapads across the table. “I've assembled the rest of the team. You will represent our public will to the outsiders, but you will not be in command of the mission. You leave for Utapau in two hours.” The Administrator headed for the door.


“Me? Well, who's going to be in charge at Leritor?”


The door shut without an answer. Looking down at the pile of information left for him, Tomak suddenly felt much smaller inside of what should be a very cozy room.




* * *




Utapau System, 26 ABY

Utapau, Pau City

For the Mutual Defense of the Outer Rims


The Ryn were in charge? Well not exactly in charge, but still . . . the Ryn? And here's the kicker: they're competent? Whatever Tomak and his little band of totally honest actors had expected, this was certainly not it.


The Conference was being hosted by the native Pau'an, but most of the actual business of the event seemed to be organized by the Ryn. It was no small feat, given the number of attendees and certain groups who seemed to have arrived together in a kind of informal bloc. The small Jenet delegation seemed to be blending in well enough, though. Most attendees were small parties or individuals from a species with a significant history of enslavement, and with no clear ties to other attendees. Tomak and his little band could keep their heads down, nod along, and fade into the background if they wished.


But Tomak didn't wish. Tomak wanted to make a play. “It's out of the question,” the old bastard snapped at him.


They were safely sequestered in their private quarters. The techie one had already swept the adjoining rooms to ensure they were free of listening devices. That just left Tomak with the fools who'd been sent to ruin his plans. “We have an opportunity here beyond anything the Home Office anticipated.”


“We have a mission to fulfill, nothing more,” he snapped back.


This dumbass was going to throw away the chance for the most significant advancement of the Jenet Bureaucracy's agenda since the reformation of the Bureaucracy! Hey, that sounded good. Why not just say that? “You're going to -”


“We need to formulate a response strategy for the next session,” the techie one said, cutting him off.


“What?” Tomak asked, his face contorting into a grotesque frown. “No, that's a waste of time. We need -”


The old man cut him off this time. “Our priority is to maintain our cover. We must appear engaged with the process, but take care not to be drawn into the main action of the conference. We will allow the major players to formulate their agenda, then make whatever token commitments are necessary to secure us long-term access to this Initiative's affairs.”


“What, no!” Tomak exclaimed, surprising himself a little. “That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard,” he added before his nerve left him. “We have an opportunity to accept the premise, here.”


“Bah!” was the techie's response.


“The Bureaucracy has spent billions of credits purchasing the freedom of Jenet throughout the galaxy, because we don't have the means to project force beyond the home system. This Defense Initiative - should it come to fruition – can serve as that means.”


“That's not our mission,” the old bastard growled.


“It's our opportunity!” Tomak responded. “Haven't you been listening?”


“It sounds to me like you've gone native,” the techie said. “You've spent too long in the Coalition's clutches.”


These idiots were really prepared to throw the opportunity away. Utter fools. “I'm the only man here with any field experience!” He raised his voice on purpose this time, jabbing a finger aggressively at the techie. “And experience has taught me one thing for sure: things beyond the home system are far messier, far more complicated than remote observation would reveal.”


“That's two things,” the techie pointed out.


“We have to get into the thick of it, and to do that we have to make a good-faith play here.” The pair didn't even bother to reply. “You will listen to me, or I will report both of you for activities against the advancement of the Bureaucracy!”


“The Administrator appointed us to keep you in line,” the bastard said, unfazed by Tomak's threat.


But Tomak wasn't backing down. Not this time. “Yeah, and as a Tier Three Operator, I have discretion to forward my report to the Liaison Offices of the Ministry of Records' Special Counsel on Foreign Archival Procedures, the Bureau of Mineral Exports' Secondary Review Board, and the Drive Signature Tracking Agency of the Department of Ship Records.”


“No, you wouldn't!” By his reaction, the techie knew he would.


“You wouldn't want the Premier to learn that the Administrator of the Bureau of Remote Observation instructed you to quash an opportunity for inter-departmental cooperation because of a personal grievance he had against one of his subordinates, would you? Because these kinds of Special Reports tend to move up the ranks.”


The techie and the bastard shared unpleasant looks with each other. They took turns almost forming words, then the bastard finally worked up the gumption to say something. “You're not supposed to have the stones to pull this kind of a stunt.”


“Yeah? Well, I've learned from the best.”




* * *




Leritor System, 26 ABY

Leritor, The World Below

The Best?


It was some kind of inflatable contraption. First anchored to the seabed and then activated, the habitat module unpacked itself automatically while filling with breathable atmosphere. It wasn't designed for long-term habitation, but that was probably for the best: the Oceandwellers still weren't keen on outsiders moving in permanently.


It gave them all a place to meet in relative comfort, though. Even the Sauvax of The World Below could stay in standard atmosphere for reasonable spans of time. It took hours, perhaps days for the barnacles growing on them to dry out, and even then immersion in seawater could usually revive them. A more scientifically literate individual would probably have some elaborate observation to make on the topic, but Rohier had committed himself to learning a different craft altogether.


“Ambassador,” His Excellency the Oceandweller enunciated with slow, practiced pacing. His tone was harsh and guttural, but Rokhier understood that was because he'd been learning Galactic Basic Standard from an Aqualish work crew. Whatever the case, the Oceandweller accented the acknowledgment by bobbing his whole body in an approximation of a bow or a nod.


“Excellency,” Esker Tanor said through her translator necklace, nodding in return.


“And Rokhier,” he said, raising his voice considerably as he pivoted his considerable frame toward the Noghri. “It is good to see you so deep below.”


“How did . . .” Rokhier looked to Esker, surprised and confused.


She was staring back at him with the equivalent of a cute Aqualish smile.


It was the Oceandweller who answered, though. “I learned to pronounce your name from my protocol droid. It took many sessions. You should be . . . honored.”


That didn't really answer the question, though. Rokheir had recovered from the shock, but Esker still seemed aware of his confusion. “Rokhier, my chief engineer provided His Excellency's droid with a data stick encoding the same modification he made to my own necklace.”


“A . . . gracious consideration,” the Oceandweller added gruffly.


“Yes,” Rokhier nodded. “Then I am honored.” He took the momentary pause to look around. Protocol for this type of meeting would require the host to offer them seating, but there were no seats to be seen. The Oceandweller was probably not familiar with protocol, either, now that Rokhier took a moment to think about it.

A wheezy gurgle emanated from the Oceandweller, then his protocol droid teetered over from an alcove and took up its place beside him. “Apologies, but speaking Galactic Basic still strains my master's voice. He wishes to welcome you, but wonders why you have come at this time?”


There would be no niceties, then. That was just as well. “We've encountered a problem on the surface,” Rokhier said.


“And what problem on the surface concerns those below?” The droid, it seemed, had begun directly translating the Oceandweller's words.


“It is a problem of manpower,” Rokhier said. “I have traveled to The City of the humans. Their numbers are significant, but our designs on this world require factories that will produce many different kinds of droids. There simply aren't enough human workers to operate both the factories and the mines that will fuel them.”


The Oceandweller didn't say anything for a long moment. He just stood there, bulging eyes wiggling back and forth as he regarded Esker and Rokhier alternately. “You know that we will not return to the surface, so it must be the other thing.”


“The other thing,” in this case, was the tremendous mineral wealth locked beneath Leritor's oceans. The Aqualish and the Oceandwellers had discussed the issue haltingly since the first Conference of Parties, but to no avail. The people beneath the seas weren't interested in mining, or the many thousands of outsiders who would have to move there to help them do so. Rokhier and Esker had something like a plan for that, though.


Esker pulled on her necklace, switching its operating mode. When she spoke her native tongue, the necklace converted it to sound as it would if spoken in water. It was the way that the Oceandweller had learned to hear it. Even though Esker was an Ualaq and therefore a surface dweller, she shared her language with the Aquala who were teaching it to the Oceandweller.


Rokheir had made a point to learn as much of Esker's native tongue as he could in what spare time he had, but even so he had the ear of an air-breather and couldn't make much out through the distortion provided by the necklace. That was just as well, too: he already knew the essence of the ambassador's plea. It was the same plea he had made to her when he roped her into this little mission.


Together, we can do something grand. Together, we can do something good.


We respect your dominion,” Rokhier said, his crisp and quiet voice a stark contrast to the burbling rendition of Esker's Aqualish speech. “We will find another path if you refuse us, but it will be a slower path, one blazed by other hands less committed to our world.” It was no secret that Rokhier and the Jenet, Tomak, had become acquainted over the alien's stay on Leritor. In the reserved way that Rokhier did everything, he often spoke of the Jenet work crews' competence and professional quality. Talk of “other hands” and “our world” was precisely the kind of pointed implication Rokhier had learned could be effective in this type of social exchange.


“Our world . . “ His Excellency repeated the words in his own voice, dismissing his droid with a wave. “I have met some of your friends. The Quarren. The Mon Calamari. They don't have more time. What is your plan?”


“We can mine the volcanic vents,” Esker said, launching into her proposal immediately. “The territory is unsuited to aquaculture, and the heat can be channeled directly into refineries, purifying the metals before they even leave the sea. Certain forms of metallurgy are better performed underwater, at any rate.”


Your own people can be trained for all positions over time,” Rokhier added. “But you will require outsider help at first, and for some time into the future.”


“Aqualish?” he asked.


And Quarrens and Mon Calamari, if you are willing,” Rokhier added.


“The work can be done in the sea? There is no need for,” he tapped a claw against a wall of the habitat, “air chambers?”


Rokhier had no idea. Metallurgy was another topic on which the Noghri farmer was woefully illiterate.


“Most of my people work in the sea,” Esker said. “Together, we can develop a plan that accommodates your people.”


It was going to work. Rokhier was sure of it. It had taken some time, but he'd begun to understand the people of Leritor. For all their idiosyncrasies, they were people content with simple lives and good deeds. The humans inland, the Sauvax of the shorelines, the Oceandwellers below, and that handful of Noghri who found themselves from time to time somewhere in between: simple lives and good deeds, for all.

Posts: 837
  • Posted On: Mar 26 2023 5:15pm

Kamino System, 26 ABY

Kamino, Tipoca City

Prime Minister Regrad's Emancipation Speech


Outside, there were cheers. Outside, there were parades. Outside, hope sprang anew. Outside, the Prime Minister of the Galactic Coalition was giving a speech to shake the foundations of the galaxy.


But this was inside. This was where the victors decided the fate of the vanquished.


Three Kaminoans entered through the pearl white doors. The doors slid open and thend close with absolute silence, evincing an austere perfection that characterized so much of Kaminoan culture. At least, that was what the Cerean negotiator thought as she watched the peculiar trio enter the overly large room. Two of them stepped to either side of the doors, each resting their hands, one atop the other, on their own stomachs just above the waistline. The last approached alone, taking the floating seat opposite the negotiator without a word.


The Azguardian to her right leaned over and whispered “Taun Se, a partisan during the Occupation.”


“Ah yes,” the Cerean said aloud. “Welcome, Taun Se.”


“Doctor Taun Se,” she corrected her.


“Captain Fregrad vouched for you personally, Doctor. When should we expect the rest of your delegation?”


“I am the delegation,” she proclaimed. “Shall I address you as 'Governor', or has the Coalition decided upon some other designation?”


“Governor?” she asked, shaking her considerable head. “No, there must be a misunderstanding. The Coalition is not going to establish a government on Kamino; it's certainly not going to re-appropriate the Imperial occupation's administration.”


“That is good news for us,” Taun Se said, her tone detached and expressionless.


“My name is Olg-Viq-Mar,” the Cerean said. She gestured to her team, the half-dozen Coalition representatives who sat with her on her side of the table. “We're here in an advisory capacity, to help your people reconstitute the legitimate government of Kamino, and extract whatever may remain of the Imperial administration that was imposed on you.”


“Fascinating,” Taun Se said. “And I suppose I should take it that your presence in this room is unrelated to the thousands of Coalition troopers now occupying our streets?”


The deadpan delivery had the strange quality of sharpening the sarcastic barb. Viq-Mar smiled, genuinely amused. But she had a job to do. “It's the opinion of both the Galactic Coalition's House of Representatives and Prime Minister Regrad that Kamino was surrendered to the Empire under duress. Its forfeiture was therefore illegitimate, making it a rightful member planet of the Mon Calamari Republic. As the successor state to the M-C-R, we consider Kamino a right and proper member of the Coalition.”


“Don't you mean the successor to the successor state?” Was that another bit of sarcasm? “The 'New' Galactic Coalition, isn't it now? Regardless, isn't it a rather tenuous basis on which to assert such a consequential claim?”


Viq-Mar turned to her left, regarding the Aqualish woman at her side for the first time since the Kaminoan's arrival. Things were starting to get spicy, and she liked knowing they'd planned for this eventuality.


The woman grumbled something in the guttural manner of her people speaking their native language, then her necklace rang out in a crisp, clear Galactic Basic Standard: “My name is Esker Tanor.” She continued talking, more quietly now, the necklace continuing to translate in an uninterrupted flow. “I'm here as a representative of the Triumvirate of Ando. As a member world of the Mon Calamari Republic, Ando was a founding member of the Galactic Coalition. We've remained dedicated to the Coalition throughout its many trials and tribulations, because we've seen it hold true to those ideals that first brought us into the Mon Calamari Republic.”


“When Kamino fell to the New Order,” Taun Se said as emotionless as ever, “there was no fleet here to defend us. It had withdrawn to Mon Calamari, to protect the homeworld. Are those the ideals you mean to speak of?”


Not only did she catch Viq-Mar by surprise, but she had clearly gotten Esker Tanor with that one, too!


The Azguardian beside Viq-Mar growled at the slight. “Enough of this!”


Viq-Mar put her hand on the Azguardian's forearm, her gentle touch restraining him from saying something they would all regret. Returning her attention to the Kaminoan, she continued: “We hope to show you that the Coalition has become something more than the Mon Calamari Republic ever hoped to be. But you, your people, it's government have a right to decide for yourselves. The liberation of Kamino was pursued at more than a little risk to the Coalition, and especially to the Azguard. Perhaps that means something to your people. Perhaps not. But if the people of Kamino want to let us know what they think of our actions, deliberations, and proclamations: they're going to need a functioning and legitimate government to tell us, formally and legitimately.”


“And that is why you're here? You intend to establish that government?”


Viq-Mar shook her head again, impressed by the other woman's unwillingness to understand. “Our understanding is that Kamino's existing administrative state has the means to establish its own new head of state and reconstitute its civilian government. After our initial meetings with the administrators, the Coalition has agreed to limit our offworld prosecutions of Imperial collaborators to those personally involved in persecutions of the residents of New Reef Town. The Lieutenant Governor of Kamino and the Kaminoan Chief of Security are already in our custody, as well as the Imperial-appointed mayor of New Reef Town. By our accounting, that places Administrator . . .” Viq-Mar drew out the word while she searched her own notes for the name of the unfamiliar Kaminoan. She'd gotten ahead of herself, unwilling to surrender the moment once she saw an opportunity to get the meeting back on track.


“They will not participate.”


The Kaminoan's comment surprised her again, and Viq-Mar looked up for clarification. “Who?”


“The administrators.”


“Which ones?”


“All of them.”


Viq-Mar held the Kaminoan's gaze for a long moment, not sure if she should let her puzzlement show.


Esker Tanor held her necklace up to the side of Viq-Mar's head then grunted something short. “Yellow eyes,” the necklace whispered.


Of course! “Of course, Doctor Taun Se. That's why they sent you.”


“They didn't send me.” She shook her head for emphasis. “My participation is why they refuse to attend this meeting. No member of the administrative caste would be seen to count me as an equal.”


“If your presence was so offensive, surely they'd take steps to stop you?”


Was that a smile tugging at the corners of Taun Se's narrow mouth? “And how would they do that? Your Prime Minister is standing at a podium this very moment, explaining in some detail how every member of their clone security force is now a free and independent Coalition citizen. The administrators have no power to stop me. They certainly won't sully their own hands in restraining me . . . or those I represent.”


Was this a coup? This was starting to sound like a coup. “Doctor, you have to appreciate that our intention wasn't to undermine Kaminoan society or contribute to further unrest.”


“There will be no unrest,” Taun Se said. “There will be no protests in the streets. No armed revolt. No blood will be spilled on this account.”


“Well, that's reassuring,” Viq-Mar began, relieved.


“This is the Scientists' Coup.”


“Oh.” And there went all of the relief. Gingerly, she pressed for more information. “How – might I ask – do you plan to take control?”


“Within three days, this planet will experience major disruptions across all sectors of production. The workers are quite competent to maintain their facilities in the short-term, but they require skilled supervision. Without it, food cultures will spoil. The current clone stock will develop growth abnormalities. Manufacturing errors in our armaments departments will begin to accumulate. This planet cannot operate without the scientists' consent. We have decided to withhold that consent, and without their army of enslaved clones the administrators have no means to compel our labor. The workers will join us as soon as they see no reprisals await them for that choice; they suffered the most grievously under the Empire's reign, and your arrests of senior administrators has weakened the standing of the entire caste. The workers will be glad to see the power of the administrators broken.”


Esker Tanor spoke up. “And where does all of that power go, when it's dislodged from the administrators?”


Taun Se took note of the question, but she was too hard to read to get a sense of her reaction. “For nearly twenty thousand years, Kaminoan culture has been organized around a single, unadulterated pursuit: perfection. The perfection of self, the perfection of our society. The perfection of the scientific ideal. We have labored, in the manner in which we were born and instructed, toward perfection. The power of the Kaminoan people will be turned to that pursuit once more.”


“Under your direction?” It was Viq-Mar who asked that question.


“Of course.”


“Unbelievable,” the Azguardian said.


“None of us survived unmarred beneath the yoke of the Empire.” The tiniest strain slipped into Taun Se's voice as she said that. “But I am unique among all of my people: when the Coalition came to Kamino, I was in a cell awaiting execution, convicted of treason and insurrection against the Empire . . . in the name of the Mon Calamari Republic.”


Of course there wasn't any way to confirm that, not officially. Those records had been destroyed in the aftermath of the liberation, when several administrators erased the majority of the planetary registry to conceal their own identities. They'd feared reprisals for collaborating with the Imperial government, and sought to hide their identities from the Coalition. But Captain Fregrad had vouched for her, and given the state they'd found him in it seemed plausible enough.


“We can't help you in this pursuit,” Viq-Mar warned her.


“That is neither necessary nor desired,” Taun Se replied. “Though I must admit I find your unwillingness to intervene peculiar. The Mon Calamari intervened in Kamino, to transform our society from one unnatural state into another. The Imperial occupation did far more to cultivate our natural inclinations than the Mon Calamari ever would. Even now, the Coalition has come here and in excising the Empire, has also cut away at our own administrators as it deems appropriate.”


“We merely attempted -”


“This is not a criticism, Olg-Viq-Mar, though I am perturbed. You speak of your ideals, yet I do not see them here, now. It's just as well to me, though. I have little need of them. What I and my people do have need of are the great warships that liberated our world.” The tension in the room was palpable. Except for the Azguardian; he was grinning ear to ear. “Soon, I will be decreed Director-General of the Kaminoan Scientific Directorate, the new governing body of this world. Since you will not soil your hands with this work, I have an assignment for you while you await our inevitable ascension.”


“An assignment?” The Azguardian asked. “Like, homework?” His glee at the thought of Kaminoans wishing war was fast fading.


“As Director-General, I intend to affirm Kamino as a member world of the Coalition, acknowledging it as the right and proper successor to the Mon Calamari Republic, under two conditions.


“First: with the emancipation of all clones on Kamino, we have lost the ability to defend ourselves. The Coalition must provide Kamino with a permanent defense force to replace what we will lose through compliance with Coalition law.


“Second: in the pursuit of scientific perfection, we have antagonized foreign powers on numerous occasions. Concern for the interests and proclivities of outsiders has rarely entered the consideration of a Kaminoan's mind, and it is unlikely to do so in the future. To protect ourselves from our own limitations in this regard, the Scientific Directorate of Kamino will surrender its foreign policy power to the Galactic Coalition.”


“Say what now?” The Azguardian was either confused, incredulous, or both.


“You must, in turn, commit to ensuring the Kaminoan people are engaged at a minimum of ninety percent work capacity at all times. It will be the Coalition's duty to secure appropriate projects for our unique and highly technical capabilities.”


Viq-Mar was trying to maintain her composure, excited and terrified by the implications of this development. “You want us to be your managers?”


Taun Se locked eyes with the Cerean, that faint wisp of a smile returning to her diminished features. “If we are again targeted for the product of our genius, we want you to be responsible for it. You, and all the war fleets you have assembled while we languished under Imperial rule.”


Viq-Mar held the Kaminoan's gaze for a long moment, but eventually she blinked. “Well, I can't . . .”


Taun Se was already standing, turning toward the exit. “I will return when my people follow me. Be ready.” And then she was leaving.


Viq-Mar watched in amazed silence as the strange woman walked through the door, her pair of attendants falling in place behind her on either side. “How in the nine Corellian hells does that much spunk fit in that little chopstick of a frame?”


A grunt beside her was followed by a “Ma'am,” from the translator necklace. Turning, still bewildered to regard Esker Tanor, she saw something new in the four eyes of the Aqualish diplomat. Something . . . wild. “Do you know why I wear this necklace?” It was rhetorical, but Viq-Mar shook her head anyway. “If I were to speak Galactic Basic Standard to you, it would sound to your ears like some hellish wail vomited up from unspeakable depths, like a flayed mass of flesh and bone given voice to sound out its incomparable anguish.” Esker had grabbed the necklace in her right hand and was fiddling with it, but not obviously with any of its control surfaces. She was playing with it, it seemed. “I wear this necklace not to compensate for some lack within myself; I wear it to compensate for the lack in you.”


She raised her left hand to present a pair of glasses to Viq-Mar. Intrigued by the woman's strange behavior, she decided to play along. Accepting the glasses, she inspected them for a moment. They weren't obviously special, though the arms were flexible enough to accommodate a variety of humanoid heads. Slowly, deliberately, she put the glasses on.


She barely noticed the broad gesturing motion that Esker Tanor made with her arm. The chairs, the table, the walls, even the ceiling . . . all the subtle whites of Kaminoan architecture exploded with color in dazzling patterns she struggled to take in all at once. “What the . . .”


“What?” the Azguardian said, snatching the glasses off her face and returning the Kaminoan architecture to a wall of white. He tried them on, took them off and looked through with one eye at a time, turned them around backwards and looked through them that way. “Oh, it's some kind of ultraviolet down-shift. Cool. What, you can't see all of this?”


Viq-Mar shook her head, snatching the glasses back to look again.


“The surface of the ocean stands calm, even serene,” Esker said. “It is the unseen depths below which brim with power, with passion. With possibility.”