Damaged Goods (Sarka)
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 12 2013 9:04pm
Revanche-class Star Defender Swiftsure, in orbit via Sarka

“Your job is stand their and look pretty impressive. I do wish we could use your dress uniform for it, but I'm afraid the climate would really lessen its presentation...”

Rear-Admiral Costigan half-ignored the diplomatic liaison officer's droning, instead preferring to gaze out of the viewports of his flagship at the world several thousand kilometers from the jungle world of Sarka. Verdant jungles and marshes covered the world in marbled shades of a glistening emerald green. Only the occasional grays and whites of cloud cover marred the planet's almost gem-like quality. It's a beautiful-looking world from here, but that humidity is going to kill me, that is, if the Sarkans don't...The Sarkans were a reptilian race that resembled humanoid dinosaurs to the man. While the Confederation Diplomatic Corps had informed the man that the Sarkans were probably more civilized than himself in some matter, Costigan had trouble associating their supposedly haughty high culture with such predatory bodies that they appeared ready to eat him for a snack. Costigan's hand quietly rested on the grip of his blaster pistol, something he found himself rarely wearing since leaving Genarius for the fleet several years ago.

“You really think that droid is going to work?” questioned Brailey, eying the Uffel-built contrapation.

Rather than possibly offend the Sarkans, the Council had gone through the trouble of having a droid specificially built to superficially resemble the aliens so the Confederation delegation would be capable of engaging in the complicated diplomatic dances of that typically lasted three hours or longer, that is, after the nearly eight hour long introduction in Sarkese, a language few diplomats even in the Confederation spoke. Fewer still, if any, could keep such a ponderous introduction going without breaks. But it was important to Sarkans, so the council had resolved to do it. Staring at the droid with his chestnut colored eyes, Brailey had to admit that the Uffel-built droid did greatly resemble the images of the Sarkans that he had seen. Standing slightly over 2 meters tall, the reptilian droid moved with an unusual fluid grace that made him wonder if some of the technology involved in its construction wasn't derived from the Confederation's study of the Sojourn. Supposedly to impress the Sarkans more, it apparently had a handful of other cultural-related features concealed in its drake-like body, but Costigan hadn't been informed of those abilities yet. A diplomatic aide smiled at the man's questions.

“It'd better,” replied the man, “they've had plenty of time to work out the kinks. We expected the Sarkans to join a long time ago, but it's funny how a natural disaster like the Reavers can make them reconsider.”

A middle-aged woman dressed in an emerald green dress which matched the droid's hue entered the room. She pointed her datapad's stylus at the Sarkan imitator droid, called “Demesk”, and the droid strode over towards her like an overgrown pet tautan. Ambassador Ariadna Meritxell flourished a smile at the Rear-Admiral and beckoned him over.

“Ready to make planetfall, sir?” questioned the woman, “we don't want to be late.”

Costigan snorted, “I'll be ready as I can be...”
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 17 2013 8:41pm
Salyrini, Sarka

Costigan kept his face blank, but subtly bended his knees. His legs had gone stiff after standing for several hours while “Demesk” performed his mechanical dance. The native of Genarius had lost all sense of appreciation for the droid's intricate dancing patterns, but the native Sarkans seemed intrigued by the design. I wonder if it's because the dancing is actually concerned good, or the info in it, or maybe even the spectacle of a droid that mimics a species so well... Costigan still remembered the first time he had met a HRD. In retrospect, that droid's actions would have been creeped him out if he knew it was a droid, not the human it pretended to be. It made him wonder if some of the more distant sarkans weren't aware of its true nature. He let his mind drift again to their landing on the jungle world. The wonderous expanse of jungle seemed light years away since he had entered the cave city of Salyrini, the sarkan cave city. Brilliant gems lit up the caverns with an illuminance brighter than some days on many Confederate worlds, yet for all the lighting, there wasn't much to see aside from the plain stony walls. The only thing remotely interesting he had seen in the city were the vast mineral hot springs. Some of them appeared to be open to the public, and the man wished that he'd be able to spend some time tonight, resting his weary legs in their therapeutic waters. His mind returned to reality just in time to see Demesk finish its intricate dance. A blue-skinned sarkan named Ganis dressed in what appeared to be a ruby-encrusted robe stalked up to the droid, inquisitively eying it.

“Very impressive,” pronounced the sarkan, turning to Ambassador Meritxell, “I am honored by Demesk's dance.”

The droid replied back in Sarkese. The sarkan leader's bright yellow eyes blinked in surpise. The alien replied in kind to the droid before returning his attention to the confederate ambassador.

“I have never seen a dance quite as impressive as that of your droid's, or should I say, your Confederation's,” replied the Tribal Leader, “but we have had few guests as of late.”

“Because of the Reavers,” stated the woman plainly.

Ganis cocked his dinosaur-like head to the side and stared down at the woman, “That is one reason. But tell me, Rear-Admiral Costigan, did you not find our fleet impressive?”

Costigan paused. He had seen elements of the Sarkan fleet in orbit. The ships themselve were very new Stellar Enterprise models, but their welcoming formation suggested a lack of training. He wasn't entirely sure if that was because the crew were just getting adjusted to their ships, or the crews themselves were simply inexperienced. But what he did know from CSIS was that the Sarkans had driven off a Reaver squadron nearly month ago with heavy losses. How many had survived, the Confederates did not, but it was entirely possible that they had had to replace their entire navy. But how to show we know that without pissing the little buggers off...He met the sarkan's gaze head on.

“Impressive enough,” admitted the Rear-Admiral, “and I hope they are as effective as those that came before them protecting Sarka. You have my condolences for those you recently loss.”

Ambassador Meritxell caught his eye. If only eyes could kill, we'd already have the best weapon to deal with this Reaver menace! Before the sarkan could respond, Meritxell was already cheerfully talking about the impressiveness of the sarkan homeworld, yet the sarkan kept glancing back at Costigan, as if expecting the man to talk more. But the native of Genarius merely kept his mouth clamped shut, already content with the verbal lashing he would likely endure from the ambassador at the night's end.
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 18 2013 1:00am
Later that night...

“That worked out rather well despite your recklessness,” commented Meritxell, sliding into the water next to him.

Costigan nearly blew off the words of the confederate ambassador off. The warm, soothing waters of the mineral spring gently lapped up against his chest as the pools underwater jets vigorously massaged his body underneath the surface. I could use one of these on the Swiftsure...maybe even make it communal? There's no other way I could ever get this installed without a hell of a lot of justification from an expenditure committee. He slowly opened his eyes to peer into her own.

“I think we caught him offguard, that was good,” replied the man.

She hesitated, “I'll admit that it did reveal a useful clue about what they're thinking about, but that could have easily offended them. And that's something we do not need.”

“They need us,” argued the man from Genarius, “it's the only explanation that I'd take right now at face value. I don't see them getting really uppity with us right now.”

“I wouldn't try that,” warned the woman, “did you hear about the SoroSuub rep who visited here a few years back?”

“No, what happened?”

“They completely cut off economic relations with SoroSuub up until just recently, simply because the SoroSuub ambassador didn't strictly follow their protocol.”

“Well, we're not SoroSuub,” defended Costigan, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow, “and we have them on the ropes. They're worried about the Reavers. And I'm not only basing that on that fleet comment I made, but look at the resorts around here. This pool should be packed with tourists. We're the only ones here. People, especially uppercrust citizens, aren't going to travel to extravagrant resorts like this with a high risk of becoming a Reaver. They need us to secure their space. They need the protection of the Web.”

She tilted her head from side to side, “I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment, I think it's plausible. But that begs the question, why not simply sign a treaty already? They already know they'd be welcome if they were to apply through normal channels.”

“Because they think they are special?”“They are special,” replied the woman, “the wealth here could easily be harnessed to help pay off the loans the Confederation owes to the Republic.”

“I thought those were nearly done, now that the food crisis is over with...”

“There's still enough outstanding debt, but you're right, that part of the debt is over with, now that the corporations have paid back the Confederation itself, which in turn paid back the Republic.”

The distinct pitter-patter of a being running barefoot through puddles caught their attention. It also caught the attention of their droid; Demesk surfaced from his spot underneath the pool to face the newcomer. The newcomer was not a confederate, but rather one of the sarkans he had seen earlier. Slightly smaller than Ganis, but still taller than either of the humans, the jade-colored sarkan quickly slowed to a halt at the edge of the pool. Costigan spared a glance at the droid, which had subtly revealed a pop-up sonic blaster built into his arm. His chestnut eyes quickly turned back to the sarkan, which crouched down so that his mouth was a little too close to the man's head for Costigan's comfort. Where's my blaster when I need it...Costigan stared at the razor-sharp teeth of the alien and offered a toothy grin of his own. His mind searched for a face. Jilieren, Ganis's aide.

“What can I do for you, Jilieren?” asked Ambassador Meritxell, offering a smile of her own.

Beaten to the punch...

The alien swung his elongated head to stare down at the woman.

“Ambassador, Rear-Admiral,” stated the alien, “I apologize for such a short introduction, I wish I had the time to more properly greet you, but the matter is urgent. Ganis requests all of your presences right now. It is a matter he would best prefer to keep quiet. You cannot reveal anything from this meeting to the public?”

“What about our superiors?” questioned the ambassadors.

“A need to know basis,” explained the sarkan, raising his head up, “but we must go now.”

“Like this? In swimsuits?”

“Yes,” replied the sarkan, beginning to walk away.Costigan watched as her mouth dropped. Only a glare from her made him realize that he was grinning ear to ear from her discomfort. But he continued to grin anyways. This is just too rich. He clambered out of the pool to follow the sarkan, with both Demesk and Ambassador Meritxell trailing in his wake.
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 19 2013 4:08pm
The turbo-car trip seemed to take hours to Costigan. Water pooled out of the Confederates skin and clothes to form as a sizeable puddle on the cabin's polished durasteel floor. The cabin itself sported heavily upholstered benches, a mini-bar (which he would have taken advantage of if not for the current situation), and holo-projector streaming content from the world's main holo-channels. None of the shows presented so far remotely interested the man, though Ambassador Meritxell and Jilieren seemed at least moderately entertained by what appeared to be a sort of Sarkan reality holo series. He surreptitiously eyed the other human in the car. How does she do that? She can't possibly understand all of that Sarkese...He turned to face Demesk. The droid seemed about as entertained by the holo-projector as Costigan did as it sat motionlessly with its half-closed mechanical eyelids. Finally, the turbo-car stopped, the doors slid open, and the motley group got clear of the repulsor tracks that the cars glided upon.

They stood before a set of nondescript blastdoors innocously labelled “Power Station Besh Eight Nine Seven”. The sarkan tapped a button on a comlink; the doors swooshed open to reveal a neatly decorated antechamber, where the next set of blastdoors was flanked by a pair of extravagrant statues. Someone needs to tell these guys about how to make a better hidden bunker...Jilieren hurriedly ushered the Confederates in before closing the doors behind them. As he did so, the doors in front of them opened to reveal Ganis. Instead of wearing the gaudy robes he wore earlier, the alien wore a simple long-hemmed black tunic whose elegance was derived from its surprisingly clean lines. The ruler of the world offered an outstretched claw and nearly yanked Ambassador Meritxell into his private layer. In that instant, he spotted a large bacta patch slapped onto the alien's arm. The rest of the group entered the large cavern.

“What happened to your arm, Chieftain?” questioned Costigan.

“An assassination attempt, probably by my fifth cousin...”

Uh-huh. You're almost assassinated, and that's all you've got? Apparently they didn't try hard enough...

“...luckily, my personal shield projector took the brunt of the blast...”

He clamped his mouth shut. Anyone who has both the money to buy and operate one, as well as the paranoia to actually keep that on has a hell of a story to tell...

“How do you know it's your fifth cousin?” questioned the Confederate diplomat.

“Because,” replied Ganis exasperatedly, “he is suddenly next in line to throne, after that disaster that Costigan mentioned earlier.”

Costigan frowned, “But he's your fifth cousin, you said...you didn't loose the rest of your family in that battle, did you?”

“One of the ships the Reavers ambushed was the tribal yacht. It was taking my family to different parts of the galaxy to drum up support for our tourism industry. My 5th cousin commanded one of the warships guarding it and the nova rubies the family was transporting to help with the advertising. But he stole the rubies, called in the Reavers, and absconded without a word. I've had several recent attempts on my life recently, but this is far too close to hide now. I need your people's help.”

“You want us to bring in your cousin for trial?”

“No,” stated the chieftain, “I want him dead before he even reaches our world. With the supply of nova rubies he's stolen, he has enough money to buy a mercenary force large enough to overwhelm the remaining Sarkan fleet and half of our army. But I don't think he'll do that. I think he'll keep on hiring assassins to kill me so he can legitimately take the chieftainship next. So here is what I'm prepared to do. I am willing to completely cut down on the negotiations. Sarka joins, and as a prize for your help with this situation, any of the rubies you recover can go straight to the federal government. I know that you need the money. And I need your forces, not only just now, but in the future, to keep our tourism industry running safe. But there is one catch. I want to see my cousin's actual head as proof of his death. I know that may not be easy, but I cannot afford to have him slip away to strike again later on.”

Rear-Admiral Costigan spared a glance at the Meritxell. She bit her lip. Yeah...kind of where I'm at too. I can't say we've ever had to cut off someone's head before. Is that even legal? Probably not...just great. The confederate ambassador flipped back a strand of her dark hair.

“How safe do you feel here?” asked the woman.

The alien paused, “Safe enough.”

“But safer than you would on the Swiftsure?”

Brailey found himself biting back a smile. His flagship was likely one of the safest areas in the galaxy as far as assassination plots were concerned. It was a heavily isolated and restricted environment, but the sheer size of the environment combined with thousands of Confederate troops and battle droids onboard made it nearly impossible for an assassin to infiltrate. There would be no easy way to assassinate the leader then. His brown eyes stared inquisitively at the chieftain. And now we have something he wants. Yet the alien still hesitated. Oh, he is going to counterbid us...

“Would that not appear weak to my people? Hiding on a massive warship like a coward?”

“Like a hero,” suggested the woman, “coordinating your fleet from our warship to strike at the Reavers and recover your world's lost treasure. You could even be there yourself to see your cousin's death.”

“What is the catch?”

“We're not going to behead your cousin,” announced the ambassador, “we can't do that under Confederate law, I'm fairly certain. But we could capture him, hand him over to you and your fleet, and then you can do what you please with him. Sold on the idea?”

Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 19 2013 5:44pm
Revanche-class Star Defender Swiftsure, in orbit via Sarka 

A school of smaller Binder-class Frigates coalesced around the massive Confederate starship, like Lempa fish around a Kaminoan Slaughterwhale. From the bridge of the Star Defender, Costigan watched with amusement as the sheer size of the star defender impressed the tribal leader. The Revanche-class may be impressive, but it still was smaller than many more famous warships that had become before it. Ambassador Meritxell and Demesk hovered just out of view, existing more as wallflowers than members of the Confederation delegation. In their defense, this isn't exactly their turf. 

“Chieftain Ganis,” said Admiral Costigan, “where should we start?”

 “The Anga System,” stated the sarkan, turning his reptilian head to face the human admiral, “that is where my investigators think he is most likely hiding out.” 

Brailey nodded. Of course he wants to go there.

The Anga system typically remained uninhabitanted; a rarity among systems in the Mid-Rim, simply because there was little reason to occupy it. The frozen balls of ice and rock that orbitted the neutron star couldn't support life on their own, nor had they any resources of value to the galaxy after the last Durinium mine plied out there hundreds of years ago. Nor was the world close enough to any major trade routes to attract routine traffic passing through. All of these elements combined to make the spot had become famous as an area for brief rendezvous between many people of various disrepute. It is possible to hide a cruiser there....and it's not too far away. He turned to face his helmsman. 

“Helm, take us to the outskirts of the Anga system.” 

“Yes sir.” 

Mere minutes later, the light of past and distant stars elongated into the travelling lines of hyperspace. Costigan relaxed in his command chair, letting Ambassador Meritxell entertain the chieftain with stories about the worlds of the Confederation. Costigan busied himself with reading and signing off various reports from his subordinates, while occasionally eying the sarkan. Yet little seemed to change before the star defender reverted to realspace. Even at the outskirts of the system, the central neutron star seemed barely larger than a distant moon. Immediately, the ship's powerful sensors began an active sensor sweep of the area. Ganis' fifth cousin, Degosdi, would likely detect the scanning, which Costigan was counting on to flush the being out of hiding before the star defender found him. But minutes later, the starship had still not leapt out of its hiding spot. 

“I've got a contact,” reported one of his sensor officers, “it appears to be a derelict now, but it is an Aegis-class cruiser, orbiting the fifth moon of the third orbit. It appears to be damaged from our preliminary sensor scans.” 

A damaged ship wouldn't wait in one spot before it got in a scrap with a star defender, would it? Unless they don't have any place to go, or the ship got abandoned...He frowned. 

“Take us there,” decided the Admiral, “and prepare for battle. All ships to red alert.” 

The allied fleet vanished briefly into hyperspace before appearing in front of a gray and blue mottled world; little more than rock and ice. A small moon, just large enough to qualify as one, came out from around the system's third orbit. It was a chalkly, mishappen thing that Costigan thought would make fine practice for his gunnery crews. The bulky hull of an Aegis tumbled around the moon in an erratic orbit.

Costigan winced. It's got to be derelict...

The bridge crew began to chatter; one of the sensor operators pulled up an enhanced image of the ship as seen through it's EPRs and displayed it on the room's main holo projectors. Wide swathes of the ship's hull plating were simply missing, exposing the ship's bones like that of a decomposing cadaver. The Rear-Admiral could make out the body of one sarkan, entangled in a piece of wreckage dangling from the vessel's stern. He winced again. Hope that was a quick death. Brailey stood up and walked over to Ganis. The tribal leader's mouth hung slightly open, pouring over the damage wrought onto the vessel. Costigan spared a side glance at one of the sensor readouts. 

“It's been dead for almost a standard day,” reported Costigan, “but our sensors aren't reporting any life forms on the vessel any more.” 

Ganis paused, “My people do not take well to space exposure, even less so than you humans. He is probably dead. Do you think the Reavers did it?” 

Brailey awkwardly paused in turn. Most Reavers didn't manage to slip by the confederation's border with the former worlds of the Black Dragon Empire, but some did or managed to filter in from other areas of space from time to time. While he didn't see any signs of infection, nor did his sensors report any, he couldn't be entirely sure: it could be another trap that the Reaver's had laid, yet there wasn't the wanton damage wrought to the craft that he had expected to see from one of their assaults. 

“I can't say for certain, but I'd guess no,” contemplated Brailey, “the way the ship was attacked and its markings suggest it was more likely a pirate attack of some sort. My first conjecture would be that your cousin tried to make a deal with someone, but whoever they are simply attacked your cousin to get it instead. He was new to dealing with criminals, wasn't he?” 

The sarkan bobbed his head up and down. 

“Classic rookie mistake. We'll board the craft and see what we can find out.” 
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 19 2013 8:54pm
Several hours later, the Confederates had been able to search the entire wreck, finding no trace of the nova rubies the warship had been transporting. They had found Desgodi sprawled out across his cabin's floor, his blue-green skin riddled with blaster wounds. Yet the Confederates found no physical evidence of the boarders' identities. Fortunately, the starship's computer cores were still mostly intact enough for Confederation slicers to salvage the warship's short-term sensor memories. What they did find were the images of a squadron of free-booting buccaneers: the Maelstrom Eight. While not a terribly large gang, they had a reputation for unpredictable and ruthless raids that were said to do the damage of a much larger group of pirates. Costigan didn't quite buy their reputation, but he had to admit that the group had been unusually successful. Chieftain Ganis had poured his mind into the Swiftsure's databanks, pooling over all of the information the Confederation had available on the criminal band. Rear-Admiral Costigan quietly approached his command chair, half expecting Ganis to actually get out of it. But the alien didn't.

“Well, at least your cousin is dead,” started the man, “you shouldn't have to worry about assassination threats any more.”

“Now my world probably has a larger problem,” half-snarled the reptilian, “a bunch of bandits who know of our wealth and know of the lack of my planet's strength. Desgodi probably told them all about our world if he tried to hire them like you think he did. But there is some hope.”

“What is that?”

“One of the nova rubies in the stash wasn't a ruby,” informed the chieftain, “it was a tracking device, just in case they were to get stolen.”

“That's how you knew Desgodi was here,” theorized Brailey.

The alien nodded, “But it is only a matter of time before they realize that once they start looking at the gems more closely, if they have not already. We need to move now.”

“Can you provide to me the location of the tracker?”

The reptilian hesitated, “It's a set of coordinates in the middle of space. I do know if they dumped it already. I will leave shortly to lead my ships back to protect Sarka in case they are headed there now. If you would...if you would divide up your forces with mine, and see if you can follow find the tracker...I would be in your debt.”

“Consider it done. I'll have our hyperspace capable fighters accompany your ships back home.”

The alien leader hopped off Costigan's command chair and offered a little bow before departing the warship's bridge. He's worried. Brailey slid back onto his command chair and watched the blinking dot on the distant coordinates. Still hasn't moved, that's a good sign, right? He gave the appropiate orders. Within a half hour, the Confederation warship was travelling the confines of hyperspace to the tracker's location, while the allied fleet headed back to defend Sarka from the alleged pirate invasion force. The Rear-Admiral poured over Ganis' aggregated research, hoping to not only get a handle on the pirates, but also into how Ganis' mind worked. The alarm klaxon ripped his mind from the research. Seconds later, the mammalian-shaped warship emerged among the stars at the set coordinates, hovering just above a tangled collection of mismatched hulls woven to form a impromptu space station. A shadowport. Comm traffic filled the space and dozens of starships began to attempt to leave the station.

“Interdict all traffic,” ordered the Rear-Admiral, “and lock tractor beams onto any ship attempting to move. Launch the drones.”

Piranha drones, the only starfighters left on the star defender, swarmed out of the sides of the craft. Warheads and lasers began to litter the space between the Confederates and the port's shadowy clientele. The Swiftsure's powerful weaponry began to silence their foes as they appeared. Brailey flipped a few switches on his console and put on his headset mike.

“All vessels power down immediately for boarding. All ships attempting to flee the area will be fired upon if not destroyed. Any ships or crewmembers not found to have committed a crime will be released.”

You always have to give them the illusion of hope, even if there is none...

Yet despite the variety of craft they engaged, the Rear-Admiral saw no trace of the Maelstrom Eight. It confused him. Few of the craft escaped the confederate warship's sudden appearance, but those that did CSIS would later flag as suspect vessels. A full legion of Paladin II droids boarded and captured the station, encountering little significant resistance. Once the droids had secured the station, a scanner team from the Swiftsure was able to locate the cache of nova rubies. The man watching over them only had to say “You will regret this” before offing himself with a blaster. It almost worried Costigan, before the Rear-Admiral got back to his nightly rounds of drinks with his fellow officers.
Posts: 1865
  • Posted On: Nov 19 2013 8:57pm

CCDF Office Complex, Genon

“Sarka that, Sarka this...” muttered the Kashan woman, “it's like we can't escape them at any meeting. Really, if I only could get Cor....Admiral Lucerne to attend these meetings, maybe he'd actually make this a priority. I really don't want to hear another councilor start talking about Sarkan concerns for a while.”

Costigan suppressed a smile at the Pro-Consul's remarks. Sarka's membership had upset the traditional balance within the Contegorian Council, even among the relatively stalwart bloc of councilors representing the Confederation Proper. Their money bought them influence few other Confederate members could swing around, an annoyance to Thorn, who was used to a little more respect and influence being deferred to more senior members of the Confederation. Yet the Sarkans seemed to think little of it. Their only political failure thus far had been attempting to place Sarkan cultural norms as the new norms for the council proceedings itself. While the Genarius native had successfully recovered the rubies and protected Sarka until other Federal forces could defend the world, he found himself being frequently brought in to discuss Sarkan topics by the councilors of the so-called original six, including that of his homeworld. The predominantly mid-rim councilors were having problems countering the sarkans' influence among the other influence. Already, Thorn had led the group in simply allowing one of their requests to go forward unopposed. One which she now briefed the man on.

“They're still obssessed with the Maelstrom Eight.”

“Capturing their banker and one of their havens wasn't good enough?”

“Apparently not,” replied Thorn, “they want us to go ahead and sack one of the pirate's patrons. I'm actually inclined to agree on this one, for entirely different reasons. You will lead Task Force Swiftsure to do that.”

“When did they buy you?”

She barked a light laugh that almost hid her annoyance, “Once this pirate fetish of theirs is handled, I think they will be a benefit to our government, even to the rest of the original six. But they are not at that point yet. They may need to grow into their roles some more.”

Brailey struggled to conceal a frown. Is this the clone? Or has Corise's sometime girlfriend actually gone...I shouldn't even think it, bad Brailey. He quickly turned to view the jungle through the building's windows.

“It's a jungle out there, Pro-Consul. I think the sarkans are already more than adapted to live in their little niche.”

“That's what concerns me,” replied the woman blithely, “forgive me, but they have not rubbed me the right way. And I already know how you feel about them by reading your report.”

“Well,” started the man, “once you get past the whole haughty thing and ridiculous protocol thing, I kind of think of them as being more like scared children.”

“Exactly,” sighed the woman, “they're damaged goods.”