- 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
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.”
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!