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Ambrose continued to scream his suffering clearly audible even by mechanized standards. Even when a voice spoke directly to him via some yet undiscovered internal comm system it hardly gave him pause. Of course he could hear the voice, but what did it matter? Everything he knew was gone. Kriff even his body, his very being, was gone, yet somehow he had been transplanted into this tin suit. What did it matter? He continued to rage, sending trays of medical equipment ricocheting into walls and leaving large phrik-empowered dents in the durasteel tables.


Suddenly, though, he had a moment of clarity, brought on by a seething sheen of absolute hatred at the words he heard translated through the auditory sensors of the mechanized device he was trapped in. In that moment, he stopped his breathless scream of pain, as he brought both deployed sets of wrist mounted laser cannons to bear on the much smaller ISB agent who dared make such threats to him, to one they had just stolen everything from. Leveling the blasters of his monstrous arms within mere feet of the red-haired female he fired, or attempted to; but something was refusing to allow his mind to will the action to take place. It was not a mental block, something mechanical. Defective. Couldn’t even give me a properly functioning droid.


And so there he stood, cannons leveled, unsure of what to do next. Trying to find the will to speak and yet also unsure if he could even speak. The scream of pain had since mingled with the mental anguish and although his auditory sensors had picked up his cry, that which was left of Ambrose Veshok had not registered that the cry had been his own. How he desired to kill this woman before him. To embrace the ways of the old Empire and cut down any who stood in his way of fulfilling his orders. To kill and strike fear in doing so.

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Scanning over the historian and her notes, it was clear that she was on the right track but too mentally and physically overextended to pick up on the subtle clues being used to chum the waters. More direct measures were necessary. Kali saw parallels to the stereotypical trope in the romantic comedies Persephone had watched that had protagonists be completely oblivious to blunt romantic advances. She leaned in closely, conspiratorially.


“No, I’m not going to give you a choice, but if you stop being difficult I can arrange for you to meet Administrator Kali.”


Normally Kali would be using her simulation capabilities to explore the potential outcomes of each approach, but her processing power was currently being diverted to another task, the delicate weaving of two nascent neural nets, one born of stone and the other of storms. They would be needed for the conflicts to come.

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Query watched Subject Ambrose as he targeted Agent Aleksandra, and started a visual record for his personal files. While Ambrose's body was mechanical, body language often transferred in partial cybernetic replacements. It seemed likely that would be the case here.


Even as his weapons refused to fire (thanks to the override command), Subject Ambrose's body language displayed nothing but rage, suddenly prioritized against a singular entity as Agent Aleksandra made threats. Not the method Query would have chosen, but it did achieve the desired focus. Ambrose's clarity would return, provided he could be kept on task while his subconcious parsed his new situation.


Subprocess commencing.


What? That made no sense, it did not spring from any line of thought running through his processors. It simply...was.


Identify subprocess


Deleting Primary Directive: Serve the Imperial Remnant


Identify source of subprocess


...Data not found


Did he have a virus? Had he been sliced?


Query immediately disregarded both notions as impossible. Per current project protocol he linked up to no outside sources and was routinely scanned for tampering.


Query understood.


He had made a decision. He had bypassed his own primary directive. But...now what?


A thousand possibilities flashed through his mind, processors loaded to capacity running scenarios and analysis. Finally he landed on one.




Query turned to Aleksandra, then Ambrose.


Acquire combat assets


Query turned, curled his pincers into a rough sphere, and punched Aleksandra, directing the blow to the precise place on her temple guaranteed to cause unconsciousness.

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Sophia had glanced away from the technician for a moment, her brown eyes focusing on a document that had somehow been stuffed into the mounds of paperwork that she was sifting into. There was little time to glance over the document, a fragment of a journal entry that had somehow found its way into the Imperial archives on Project Genesis. She had only a second to skim the text, but her hurried glance at least made out the name of Admiral Druger—one of the poor, neglected sods who had been abandoned by the Imperial Navy in the Unknown Regions, the Emperor (which one? Sophia had wondered), and the commencement of the bombardment pattern Base Delta Zero.


A cold name that belied the brutality of the maneuver, Base Delta Zero was the most severe atrocity that the Empire could visit upon its subject worlds in the days of the Sith Emperors. Base Delta Zero called for the sterilization of an entire world: cities obliterated from orbit, rural areas sterilized by repeated waves of turbolaser bombardment, even survivors exterminated and droids melted down to slag. Most of the Sith Emperors had actually preferred less thorough atrocities, the psychopaths desiring their victims to suffer from the ruination of their worlds’ ecosystems by toxic contamination and biological attacks. Supposedly, a full record of the Base Delta Zero maneuvers committed by the Empire was held within the bowels of the Panopticon and lay under heavy guard. There was no chance that Sophia was supposed to have come across this journal entry.


Her left eye twitched. Her first thought had been to turn over the memo and pretend that she had never come across this particular record, but that involuntary gesture had just immortalized the document in her personal archives.


Sophia rose from her seat and made a concerted effort to not appear as though she was attempting to escape from her seat as she allowed herself to be escorted away by the technician. “Look, I don’t know what you expect, but I’m not taking stims. I haven’t tried that sort of thing since uni, and that was a bad idea. I was sick for a week, nearly had a mental breakdown in quals.” An evasion, but what Sophia was concealing would be difficult to uncover.


A little bit wobbly from lack of sleep, she nonetheless managed to notice the weariness in Parvati’s face. When the two departed the archives and were well on their way to the medical ward, Sophia took advantage of a gap between surveillance holocams and continued on with her whining. “I’m just tired. Can we just get this done so I can get back to—“ Her voice dropped down. “She’s a person? I fracking knew it!”

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Query knelt next to the now unconscious ISB agent Aleksandra. He ran his pincers along her temple, spiraling out to the rest of her skull.


Subject Aleksandra diagnosis: Unconscious, no fractures, pulse and temperature within acceptable limits. No sign of internal hemorrhaging . Full recovery expected.


Query then turned his attention back to Subject Ambrose. From a combat consideration, the man was a decidedly positive asset. However, his volatile state was worrisome, introducing a level of uncertainty Query couldn't make himself comfortable with. While both no doubt wished to escape, Subject Ambrose likely did not need Query to do that, or at least he didn't see Query as an asset. Query needed to ensure the subject's loyalty.


A moment's more typing on his datapad, and he broadcast his stilted words to Subject Ambrose's comm system again.




Query considered Subject Ambrose for a second, constructing a preliminary psychological profile based on the soldier-turned-cyborg's recent actions. Then Query considered ISB Agent Aleksandra's threats.



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Ambrose stood there, unmoving, as he watched the life-preserving medico droid assault the woman who had threatened the body of his now dead friend. White hot rage burned throughout his mind; the only thing that was currently keeping in check the screaming anguish that sought to escape from his synapses and burn along the circuits that were now as much his own as they were foreign to him and escape his mechanized vocabulator in a cry that needed no translation.


Turning his head slightly, the hidden phrik-based servos whirring with pure mechanical proficiency he looked over the much smaller droid. His sensors were not indicating that he presented a threat; unlike what he had innately calculated the now unconscious hopefully dead human woman lying on the ground next to the medical bot.


Ambrose did not yet grasp how to speak. The primalness of his screaming something innate that had transferred to the mechanized form seamlessly had not caught up to the conscious part of his body. He could not respond; yet somehow the tank of a mechanized man nodded in agreement with the spindly droid’s proposal. How is that thing speaking to me? I cannot hear him through my auditory sensors. I have auditory sensors!!! he pondered in confusion and amazement at the cognitive discovery of such a trait that most organics the galaxy over took for granted.


As his head scanned the room, he saw no further threats; at least none that he could immediately identify. With that, his deployed weaponry began to fold back into their hidden slots on his body and he was able to brutally gesture at the door that Agent Aleksandra had come through and shake his head. He knew all too well how The Empire worked. There would be, more likely than not, a rather unpleasant surprise waiting on the other side of that door.


Surveying the room, his eyes came to rest on the jagged edges that remained of the catwalk he had blasted not even seconds ago. Without a word, he reached over and grasped the 2-1B’s bucket-esque head in one massive hand, easily hoisting the droid off of its feet. With a trio of clanging clomping steps, each footfall sucking to the durasteel floor with his magnetized feet he made it to the wall and then with little thought began to walk up the durasteel wall itself, kicking several flimsily wall-mounted display screens out of his way as he moved.


Onwards and upwards he went. The mechanized medic was his only friend in the world at the moment until he could figure out what was going on. It did not take him long and they were at the catwalk, or more specifically, what was left of it still swaying back and forth, bits of flash-fried blood coating each end for several meters.


Unceremoniously, more by lack of knowledge of how he could fully function than by any nefarious purpose, Ambrose flopped the 2-1B onto the swaying catwalk with a crash before using both of his hands to grasp the railing and swing himself aboard.


Scooping up the medical droid, he thundered towards the doorway where the catwalk entered the oversight of the medical bay.


Crashing through the door into an empty access walkway, he flopped Query onto the flooring once again in as many minutes before standing there and watching, waiting for the droid to do its thing. Well, he thought, time to keep your promise. You lead the way. I’ll smash anyone that gets in our way…I hope. Not that Ambrose was clairvoyant or even force sensitive but the droid had someone spoke directly to his mind. Maybe the droid could read his thoughts too? Or maybe the droid would just do something and keep its word. Besides, if it didn’t he could just vaporize the spindly little med-tech.

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Oh my


Query clutched his datapad as Subject Ambrose picked him up, carried him up the wall, and stormed out of the surgical suite. His servos strained as Subject Ambrose dropped him roughly to the ground.


2-1Bs were not designed to handle physical abuse he thought, irritated.


On the positive side, Subject Ambrose's tactical mind clearly remained intact. Taking an unexpected route showed foresight and logical thinking, and boded well for his overall mental recovery. Either that or Subject Ambrose was completely insane and operating on base instincts.


Even more positive, Query felt irritation. Other 2-1B's often developed security complexes and intricate emotional responses, but Query had always been neutered in that area thanks to uncounted partial mind wipes. Then again, those partial data wipes are likely what led to his unusual ability to bypass his own prime directive.


Had Query developed a subconcious from the broken fragments of data and collected recordings of his past musings and experiments?


File question for later. Return attention to Subject Ambrose.


Query stood, taking into account the misaligned servo in his left shoulder caused by the rough treatment. Nothing crucial or limiting, but maintenance would be required later to prevent the damage from getting worse.


Looking up, he saw Subject Ambrose staring back, unmoving.


Subject is calm. Given military psychological profile and current confusion, is likely awaiting direction.


Note: Not capable of vocalization. Likely a mental block caused by trauma


That did not matter. They did not require vocalization for communication.


Query opened up a map of the facility on his datapad (so much easier than staffing the place with mouse droids), and simultaneously accessed Subject Ambrose's HUD. A few moments and some improvised coding, and Query was able to display the correct route to leave the facility on the upper left corner of Subject Ambrose's visual display.


After a moment's thought, he added PLEASE...BE...GENTLE

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Ambrose's mind churned. He was suffering. If he had a body, the entire thing would be wracked with pain. As it was, however, it was just his mind. it was filled with confusion and suffering. Even if consciously he could see that his mind had somehow been transplanted, subconsciously he was struggling to grasp what was going on. Much akin to when someone loses a limb and his or her mind still goes to itch it.


The translucent map that popped into his view showed the trooper's mind a direct route out of the facility.


[i[He had promised![/i]


Yet still, he could not register that the droid presented any sort of threat.


Careful? You want me to be careful?


With that he reached forward and grasped the droid's head again, firmly, and with no concern for the droid's exterior appearance. For that matter, he did not care much for the droid's internal servos either; but it had promised.


Hefting the droid up off of its feet, he strode forward his magnetized feet slapping the flooring with every step. Stealthy he was not.


Diverting from the preordained path, Ambrose touted the droid along the back pathways within the Imperial Facility to the medical bay where he had been imprisoned. Once they got close enough, Ambrose forced open a doorway into the now empty medical ward. Apparently it had been cordoned off after the incident and patients carted off to other wards whilst they awaited the arrival of Imperial Security Investigators.


Dragging the droid down the hallway, he unceremoniously threw the 2-1B towards the still open door where he assumed the two dead troopers and the lifeless body of Emmaline still lay; having not taken into account the passing of days since the incident in which the troopers had murdered Emmaline and tried to kill him.


Undoubtedly they had maybe minutes before security forces responded to their blatant breach; but that was not something Ambrose cared about at the moment. He had one thought: Save what was left of his friend. The droid promised.

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Query reevaluated his conclusions about Subject Ambrose as he was tossed to the ground yet again. Ambrose had deviated from the path and dropped him here...


Is Ambrose confused? No, this is one of the recovery suites. Ambrose's companion was shot when he recovered, likely here.


He wants me to save her.


Tapping on his datapad, he pulled up the girl's file. Emmaline.


That's not good.


This presented a serious problem. Ambrose was taking refuge in the delusion that his companion could be saved, despite likely knowing subconsciously that she was dead. If Ambrose was forcefully broken out of his delusion, he might react violently. If he was allowed to continue in his delusion, he would only act more irrational and the reaction would be even more severe when the delusion broke later.


Only one choice made sense, risky though it may be. Without Ambrose mentally or emotionally stable, Query would not make it out of this facility.


First the pain






Now shift his focus








Encourage proper emotional response







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Ambrose stood completely still, even more still than he could have as a well trained operative of the emperor, an agent of war and terror. Now, he was perfectly still. perfection within a machine? A confusing glimpse of a thought to say the least. At least, Ambrose could tell that he was standing still. That was progress he supposed. Most of his actions thus far had seemed to come from some instinctual place within his mind or the droid exosuit than from any conscious effort.


Facial features were not something anyone ever thought a Phase III Dark Trooper would need, and thus Ambrose' mechanized blank stare was just that, only much more menacing given his complete ambiance.


The droid seemed to think that Emma was still alive. Is she alive? Could it be so? If so we must rescue her! His thoughts quickened at the glimmer of hope only to be dashed when he understood what the medico droid was saying. Of course she was dead; but the droid did promise...


Reaching forward with one arm he wrenched the door off the hinges into the bay where the carnage and murder of his little friend had taken place. With his other arm folded close he directed his closed fist at Query as the twin blaster cannons whirred back up out of his arm into motion. Even without words the threat would hopefully be clear enough.

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He doesn't realize he can't shoot me


...Perhaps it was better if Subject Ambrose didn't realize that yet. Giving him a feeling of control, even artificial, would do wonders for his mental stability. An old battlefield adage Query had recorded from a trooper he'd treated once came to mind:


"Die later when there's time"


Query pulled out his datapad, moving slowly as if he was scared of Ambrose.


Accessing secure functions...done


They hadn't revoked Query's authority yet. Good, that'd simplify things.


Categorizing the corpse of Subject Emmaline as a Class 5 Biohazard, necessitating immediate disposal


Imperial labs, particularly those with high security clearances like this one, retained strict safety protocols and imposed harsh penalties on infractions. As such, anything that could potentially become a hazard required storage that could dispose of the material remotely to prevent potential spills, outbreaks, or detonations. In this case, he'd just remotely incinerated Emmaline's body in her storage tube.


Behind him, the room flared bright orange as the capsule sitting central in the room filled with flames.



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Ambrose watched, unsure what the droid was doing, but when he saw the capsule internally burst into flames he felt assured that the medical machine had at the very least tried to keep his word.


Leave? Yes, we should go. But first…


Ambrose raised the already armed weapons in his arm and fired several blasts at the flaming preservation tube. Sidestepping once, Ambrose’ shoulder mounted missile tubes appeared and he sent a single missile whooshing into the room where it detonated against the tube sending bits of flaming everything throughout the room and sending a gust of air cacophoning out of the doorway with a ringing of explosions.


Turning he once against hefted Query by his head again and made his way back to the doorway to the myriad of walkways behind the scenes that crisscrossed behind the scenes of the sprawling Imperial facility.


Somehow managing to avoid any other patrols or glory seeking agents, the mighty machine and it’s control center, a brain in a jar, and his newfound mechanized comrade, burst through an access door out into the blinding glacial wasteland that surrounded the secret facility.


Setting the spindly-legged medical droid down, Ambrose tilted his body forward and pivoted slightly at the hip to look directly into the droid’s eyes as if to say, Now what genius?

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The sun.


Query held off adjusting his sensors to compensate as he looked up at it, realizing that this was the first time he could recall simply looking at any planet's sun this close. No doubt he'd seen the suns of other worlds on his previous assignments, but those memories had presumably been wiped from his mind at the end of each project. Not important enough to retain in his personal notes, those images and thoughts would have been deemed "garbage data"


Now he reevaluated that assessment. In the back of his mind he recorded data on the sphere, from its projected size to its luminosity. The numbers were concrete and real, yet did nothing to lessen the magnitude of the orb. Such scale, greater than any creation of organic or droid.


He realized he no longer simply understood the sun. He appreciated it.


Return to primary task


Query dimmed the sun in his photoreceptors and looked around.


There, a shuttle, likely ISB agent Aleksandra's. Two troopers guarded it.




Query approached the shuttle, keeping his stride measured and calm as the troopers raised their weapons.


Adjusting the datapad to broadcast to the stormtrooper comm system, selecting the two in front of him, he tapped out another message:








His personal code allowed him certain privileges in a medical emergency, which this technically constituted thanks to his false alarm earlier.


The troopers looked at each other, likely confirming with command over their comms the presence of the "biohazard". This is where it got tricky. They'd verify the hazard alert was genuine, but if command informed them Subject Ambrose was loose and hostile, it could get messy. On the other hand, command would be trying to keep this quiet and prevent security leaks...


One trooper looked back at Query, pausing before speaking.


"Confirmed. Move him inside."


Leave it to a secret imperial lab to keep its soldiers in the dark.


Once inside, Query quickly accessed the autopilot




Query turned to Ambrose.



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If Phrik could tense with fearful anticipation it most certainly would have when the duo approached the storm troopers guarding the standard Imperial Lambda class shuttle. Even in his pain scorched mind, he was impressed by how the lowly medical droid seemed to manipulate his two comrades.


In a matter of minutes they were aboard the shuttle and the droid was asking him for an authorization code. Doesn’t this thing realize that there is no way my designation code could authorize something like this? he queried silently. Unsure of what else to do, he somehow managed to lean over and with his massive fingers tried to punch in his designation code 1-8-7-1-2-6. His effort was met by an angry mechanized honking and stereotypical red flashing light. Wrong. I knew it!


Staring at the screen he realized his mistake.




As amazing as his massive exosuit was. Fine motor skills were things that Ambrose did not quite have a grasp on in his heavy hulking form. That number was decidedly wrong! Blasted little keypads!


Very carefully Ambrose tried to enter the code again





















The next few moments felt like an eternity before the angry red light blinked to green. Somehow his code was still active. What Ambrose did not realize was that his special authorization for actions on Bespin was still active, for now. Without any more input from either mechanized men the ship's motors hummed to life as energy flooded coils and superheated gas charged. Across the screen flashed the following:


R̙E̼͈̳̠̟T͚͔͍̗̩̤͚U̙̞̗̥̖͙R̙̞̺̩̝̙N̲̞͎̞̠I̦̜̮͉N̩̪̤̝͔G͕͍̯͈̙͚̟͍͇ ̰͓͉͎̬̙̤T̺̲̰̺̲̘̗̝O̘̥̜̺̫̻ͅ ̞̠̼͍͍͈Ḽ͙͖̞A̳͓̖͖̗̠̳S̫T̪̰̰̼̹̱ ͇̩K͎͇͍̠N̗̬̤̝O̱͔W̹͙̦͖͓N͔͚͎̬̦̠̼̞ ͚͔̘͓͍̹ͅH̖̩Y̪̪̲̖͖̘͍͚P̰̳̱̝̥̼̘̳̯E̤̖̣͙̫͇͍R̻͕͓̝̻̻̘S̪̝̲̰͍̼̘P͙̭̣͖̰A̬C̯E̯̜̦͕͇̙͙̠ ̭̣̺͎̞͚C͎O̳̞O̟̱R̘͉D̳̪I̳͇͎̹N͖̭͇̪A̙̼̩͈T͓͈̙̮͈͖E̮̟̰̲͖̱̞̪S͍̜.͚̙̟͔͉:̹͊̓ͩ͛̋͐̓̓ ̣̤͇͉̪͕̫̯̂̆͒̓̇ͨḲ͕̣̣̞̠̩ͥͨ̐ͮ̄̈̈ͪ͛ͅȖ̝̲̮͔ͩ̾͂͛͂̇A̝̟̫͔̠͉̭̲ͬ̓͌ͫ͌ͅT̟͚̰̘͚ͨ̌͌ͮ̄




̼̻͔̹̭̯̘̪ͅ.̮͔̝.̘.͍̦̯̠̹͖S̮͉͙̲̤̭̫ͅT͚̜̭̤̦Ạ̺N͎̠̬̯D͓̭̼͍B͓̬͍͙̹Y͔̲̺̲̱̪͎ͅ ̖̼F̮̟͉͚O͎̙̳R̦̺̮̻̱ ̹̺̳͍͇̬͚̫L͉̻͖͔̗ͅI̜͎F̖̗͈̳̤̹T̳̲͓̞O͕̹̼͖̜̖̗F͇͓̫͍̙̪̗̖F̳̜͈.̹̘̪̲̱.͕̯.̲̥͕̜̝̙͚̭






͖͖̗͔̙̲.̼̭̠̦̬̜̖.̪͙.̲̗͖̯̥L͇͓̺͎̲͕I̘̖͇̹̹͇̱ͅF͎͙T̞̙̟̪͚͎̮O̼͈̙͙͓F̲͉̝̹͖͖͉̬ͅF͔͚͓͍͎̣̼̜ ̙͖̼̤̬̠̗͈A̘̳̻̱̤̱C͕͔H̱̼̖͉I͙͈̱͓E͇͎̖̟̫̝V̲̜̺̣̮E̲͔͙̬̻D͎.ͅ.̰͔.͔̦̜̯̫ͅ



̹̲̙̪Ṯ̫̻̝I͕̝͈̠͔M̖͕̭͎̜̳E̗̟͈͉ ̝̮̞̖̙̱U̜ͅN̯Ț̭̲̲͙͚͔̗I̩͉L̝̮̖̦̳̲ͅͅ ̠̙̯̯̤̪̺̝̮Ḁ̭̖̬͓̫R͚̪̟̥͖̩̻R̠̰̥͙͍̺͍ͅI̙͈͍V̥̖̦̱̥̫ͅA̼͉̰͚̹͔Ḻ̗̯̪̺͇:̣̭̖̠̞͖̤ͅ ͓̤͇̪̩̮̠1͖̪D̠̬̦̙̟̖̟ ̱͕̭1̳̲̙ͅ3̬̪̬̦͙͈͖̫ͅH͕͇̭̮̦̳ ̱͎̞͈͎̬̦ͅ5̹̼͓6̻̯͎͚͓̰͓̯M̰͍ ͈͖2̥̻̗͙͔8̪̺͇̦̺͍̩̺̼S͚̦̖̩̙̜̫̖


Ambrose turned to look at the droid and then take in their surroundings. Thankfully the ship had sealed itself. Not that it really mattered, truth be told, he supposed. After all, he was just a machine now. The true Ambrose Veshok was dead whether in that medical facility alongside Emma or elsewhere. Emma had mentioned something about him being cloned back to life after an incident.


Turning to stare out the viewport at the sky already rushing past them windows he stood, a silent sentinel. Perhaps Kuat was not a bad place to go. Maybe there were answers there.

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Aleksandra stood over a still small form in the Caridian medical wing, her foot tapping in concentration as her orderlies rolled up the meters of bright red ‘ISB AFFAIRS DO NOT ENTER’ tape. They had arrived just in time before evidence destruction. A medical corpsman from the Security Bureau was treating Aleksandra’s head injuries as she looked on at her next subject, who’s brain, though deceased, was not injured by the blaster fire that had burned through her chest. Aleksandra was a woman of few principals but she always stood rigidly by one. She always fulfilled her promises. Though her file labelled her a biohazard for some reason, she was ISB property from the moment she had died, and there would be no disposal of her just yet. No matter the protests from the central computer.


With a snap of black gloved fingers, two corpsman in their red tunics lifted the young girl from where she lay tangled in the body of a poor stormtrooper. It was not an easy task as rigor mortis had began to set in and the poor girl’s corpse was not gracefully handled, Aleksandra followed them to where they deposited her on the operating table of the medical theatre, stripped her, washed her with antiseptics, then placed paper-like medical sheets over her as Aleksandra watched. It would be a few hours more until the brain retrieval surgery, but for now she could think. She looked down at her datapad and began the outlines for her next project.



//BLACK 55940//

Restoration of old Empire  Avatar Programme to face recent Sith Agression


|Emmaline Fieldgrey EM392720|

|Emma Three Nine|

Prepared for HRD/AVATAR cluster conversion

//BLACK 55940//




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All across the planet the citizenry were nearly glued to their holoscreens. The news anchors stayed mostly silent as the scenes of absolute terror played behind them, only speaking to point out specific vital details to their eagre and frightened audience. The first scene was of the old capital of Coruscant, now controlled by the Galactic Alliance and the coming doom that threatened it. Thousands of ships fled from every departure angle, carrying the rich and wealthy or vital assets into the relative safety of space. Then there was the Grand Imperial Fleet, representing trillions of credits, hundreds of thousands of lives, the creme of the officer corps, and the Imperial Knights. All doomed to die and with them, the hope of the Empire.


Fear radiated on the planet as wives, girlfriends, children, and parents stared intently at the screens, searching for ship names and comparing them against garrison cards and praying that their loved one was not among the five hundred thousand.


But in the archives a message arrived for Sophia from a friend.


“Hi its Beth. You may have heard but we are trapped here on Kuat and we might not make it out. You know Carida is next right? Please get out of there if you can, perhaps we can meet again and I can buy you a drink. Anyways, may the uh force be with you because another soldier wants to use this terminal. Best of luck!”

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Sophia flushed pale, her skin became cold and clammy, and her limbs trembled as though she a spice-addict jonesing for her next fix. She grimaced and glanced from side to side. Odd--she wasn’t normally prone to panic attacks, but now it seemed as though these reinforced underground corridors were about to embrace her in a tender wampa-hug and choke the life out of her. The historian had no comprehension of what was about to happen, but buried under hundreds of meters of rock and durasteel-reinforced concrete where no Holonet signal could reach her devices, Sophia had managed to work through the events that hailed a catastrophe that was about to doom Coruscant to years of irrelevance.

“I… uhm… I’m very sorry, but I need a refresher--thiscan’twaitIswearI’mnotspiced--oh Force... make a hole!” Sophia found herself sprinting away from the archivist and she searched desperately for signage indicating a refresher station. She plowed through a one of her fellow scholars, inadvertently shoulder-checking the grey-furred Shistavenan to the ground--but there was no time to glance to check that her older colleague wasn’t hurt.

Fortunately, only seconds before the death of hundreds of billions struck and the Force reflexively kicked her in the bowels, SOphia, half-blind from a thrumming migraine, managed to follow the scent of ammonia to a refresher station, skidded over a film of drying cleaning supplies, shoulder-checked her way into an unoccupied stall, and thrust her head into the porcelain throne. At that moment, the Force decided to sucker punch her in the gut, and the historian retched miserably. She felt as though this entire underground complex was in danger of collapsing around her, burying her alive--she was simultaneously burning up, and yet so frigid that Sophia didn’t dare remove her jacket. Her ears rang with… something, but Sophia couldn’t make any sense of the keening racket.

And something kept punching her right under the solar plexus and in the bowels at the same time.

Groaning miserably, Sophia felt the unmistakable trickle of bile struggling to rise from her gut. She shut her eyes and just held herself above the refresher.

“It’s okay, Lachelle. You’ve got this. It’s okay. It’s okay. Just breathe and let it pass.”

It was not okay. Sophia did not “have” this. And as for breathing, it was impossible to breathe and let a wave of nausea pass at the same time. The unmistakable sounds of a woman in misery could be heard from her refresher station as she expelled a tide of sickness from her bowels into Carida’s plumbing.

It was nearly an hour before the historian trusted herself to lift her face from the faux-porcelain. When she managed to push herself away, she just sat on the cold tile, shivering and drawing her jacket closer towards her. Tears streamed down her face and she occasionally wiped at her eyes, but she knew that her face was a swollen, makeup-streaked, snotty, and generally unhygienic and unsightly mess and mess.

Frack me…” she whispered. “The actual frack was that?”

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The frantic events of the next week were a blur, and a time that Sophia would later find painful to recall.: Coruscant; Kuat; the Galactic Alliance; the Imperial Remnant. What Sophia had expected to be stable, or at least sufficiently well-founded to stand its ground, evaporated in a matter of days. She watched G-Span as system after system seceded from the Galactic Alliance. She endured the dread of standing before a reunion kiosk and inquiring after some twenty people she gave a damn about on Coruscant--no information was available about the fates of any of them. That didn’t mean anything. If her Coruscanti friends and colleagues had escaped, it was likely that they were still in hyperspace or had yet to be processed into the exploded refugee system. If not… the civilian Holonet transceiver networks were overloaded to the point of uselessness, and the better odds were that no remains would ever be found if they were lost.

No information was available regarding the fate of the Darkfire boy. That was classified information, Moriarty understood, not to be divulged to someone who wasn’t immediate kin.

There had been a frantic Holonet transmission from Andromina, the pilot that she had briefly met--and made a libidinous fool out of herself in front of--on Coruscant. That felt like it had been years ago. Recalling the incident in her closet of a hotel room, Sophia found herself staring at the blank screen of her datapad once the transmission ended. The average crew of an Impstar Deuce, she reminded herself, was something along the line of forty-six thousands. Beth’s time on the terminal had to have been extremely limited, and the pilot might have had to wait hours for her limited session. And Beth chose to contact her, of all people. Didn’t she have family? Close friends? Why her?

Sophia wiped her hand clean of the greasy slice of flatbread onto her bed and closed down her datapad. The historian swept her fingertips through her hair and just stared at her knees for a few minutes 

Moriarty rose and paced the perimeter of her room, an exercise that only took a few seconds. The exercise repeated itself and Moriarty stammered to herself, hammering on the dull beige walls of her room with a small fist. “Too much left on Coruscant. Everything I have, everything I was counting on. And Draygo’s stuff. Too much to leave. Too much to just leave. Gotta go there. Somehow. Somehow. Think think think think.” The anxious stammering continued for several minutes, accompanied occasionally by the frustrated pounding against the walls of her room.

Someone in the next room started to yell angrily.

“Maybe. Just maybe. Urban environment, chaos, lots of verticality, the bastards probably aren’t consolidating their territory. Can they really keep unit cohesion in an environment like Coruscant?”

Some things were worth dying for, Sophia had told herself just before setting on this adventure. She fell upon her datapad and set to work.

Two hours later, an advertisement was blasted out across Carida’s civilian networks: “Require time on a tri-dorn molprinter capable of molding armor-grade plastoid composite. Est 18 h. Will supply mats, paints, prints, just need the gear. Highest priority, will buy out current contracts if needed. Available?”


Six hours later, Sophia found herself in a garage frequented by a local chapter of historical reenactors. She breathed deeply of the scents of oil and welding torches and paint and immediately felt her shoulders loosening, the anxiety in her mind fading away. The historian had never met any of this motley menagerie of humans and aliens, but immediately upon stepping into their territory and inhaling the comforting scents of their craft and having to shout over the din of pounding, she knew that she had met her own people--hobbyists, tech enthusiasts... nerds.

Sophia brushed hair out of her face and went over the holoprints of her armor with a well-built human. Only now did she notice that the dark-skinned human had the words “Rebel Scum” tattooed on his knucklebones and she resisted the urge to arch an eyebrow.

After seeing the distinctive T-Visor in the armor’s helmet, “Really? You’re gonna recreate a son of Mandalore right after what they did to Coruscant? Too soon?”

“Can he do it?”

“The plastoid shell…. sure. But this wiring and metalwork for the jetpack… I think you’re gonna need forty-eight for this job.”

“That’s fine, I’ll buy out the next two days.” That would drain her life savings to almost nothing, but chances were that she wouldn’t need them much longer.

“Shiny. I’ll queue up the parts. Lamarr’s all yours for the next forty-eight hours.”

Sophia took a moment to regard the centerpiece of the garage’s equipment, a tri-dorn molprinter that was larger than her hotel room and boasted enough chrome-plated arms to be confused for an ancient torture device. Each of those fiendish appendages terminated in an equally-dangerous device: welding torches, electromagnetic torques, nanoscale forges--everything that a mechanically-inclined and overimaginative individual needed for a great night.  Evidently, this clan of historical reenactors had given the machine of “Lamarr”, but Sophia decided that a more masculine name better suited it.

“Hello, Mister Zirtech 9001.” She approached the apparatus and stroked one of those arms with an appreciative finger. This one ended in a durasteel vibrosaw and she withdrew well before the blade. “Sing me the song of your people…”

Her hand hauled up the canister of plastoid slurry and shoved it into a cylindrical intake. Next followed a spool of heat-treated durasteel wire. Those  arms went to work,, traversing around an empty space within the center of the molprinter and applying individual drops of plastoid and steel. Gradually, a grey shell began to take shape around a repulsorframe.

After watching the beginnings of a cuirass take shape, Sophia knelt down on the concrete floor and dusted off a square meter of space with her hand. As magnificent as that eight-armed beast of an apparatus was as it performed its craft, there were pieces of work that required a more delicate hand to complete. Producing a mass of thermalweave cloth and a simple needle from her satchel, her fingers deftly raced through the fabric to stitch together a simple garment: a traditional Mandalorian kama.

Weaving at least took her mind off the subject of her mortality.

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((Weaponized cosplay!))


Fifty hours later, it was completed. Those two days were a blur of weaving, durathrash music, programming on her datapad, flatbread, sleep deprivation, and the occasional lomin-ale with her fellow nerds. Once the cuirass came off the molprinter, Sophia immediately laid it out over a tarpand sprayed it over with an aerosol of a vivid shade of orange. The durathrash pounding and a Twi’lek growling incomprehensible lyrics in the background, the historian leaned over the pauldron and carefully stenciled a traditional mythosaur icon in black, making sure to allow her fingers to slip a few times to lend to it a roughly-drawn appearance. Seconds later, one of her comrades in books blasted the cuirass with an ultraviolet lamp to rapidly dry the paint.

Slightly addled by paint fumes, Sophia dragged put a blast-shielded helmet and tibanna-fueled welding torch. Humming along to the spine-tingling lyrics being blasted in the workshop, Sophia attacked a few non-vital segments of the plate with the torch: few grazing slashes to imitate near-misses with blaster fire, and a pair of lingering scars on the abdomen and greaves in facsimile of direct hits. The charring did not quite have the same appearance as blaster hits, but it after examining the abused plate from further away, Sophia decided that it would at least pass for battle-damage from a distance. 

Then came pre-aging the armor. Attempting to pass as a Mandalorian mercenary would never succeed while wearing armor that reeked of fresh paint. Fortunately, two of the reenactors were happy to take turns trodding upon the plates and assaulting the plastoid with their carving knives to lend it a weathered, beaten appearance. That part was simple--merely a matter of waiting and reimbursing her fellow nerds with flatbread and beer to take turns venting their loathing of the Mandalorians out on her imitation. 

The attachments were somewhat more complicated. Though the helmet boasted an imitation of a sensor antenna, no hobbyist store on Carida was going to sell quality-spec sensors to a civilian and Sophia only had hours to spare to write and steal coding--not nearly enough time to write even a crude sensor interpretation algorithm. The jetpack, fortunately was more simple--the physics of a small object in flight were not terribly complicated, and with generous cribbing from various Holonet sources, Sophia was able to piece together a guidance algorithm that she almost trusted with her life.

Eyes heavy from fifty hours of continuous work, Sophia took a few moments to survey her work. Painted orange with black trimming, her suit of imitation Mandalorian beskar’gam certainly wouldn’t blend in with any environment, but the world she was about to attempt to infiltrate didn’t offer any camouflage. Pounding the breastplate with a fist, she also recognized the distinctive clatter of stormtrooper plastoid--subtly different from the denser, more metal-rich beskar. It would have to suffice. But she knew that it would never pass inspection by a Mando’ad, especially with the webbing around her shoulders and legs. Not that she would stand a chance against the nomadic warriors in a close-range firefight.

“Let’s put it on. Boots, shinplates…” Sophia’s thin frame gradually grew heavier as she began to mount pieces of plastoid plating on her black bodyglove. When the helmet went over her face, her breath immediately grew warm and she fought to control the pace of her breathing. Finally came the woven kama, a handspun cloth of armorweave that rested just above her hips. It fell around her legs, the weight strangely reassuring around her thighs and knees.

“How does it feel?”

“All in all, pretty good. actually. I feel… big, though, rawr.” Sophia smiled under her helmet. She stretched out her shoulders and felt her motions only slightly restricted by the joints of the pauldrons “The peripheral vision in the helmet is actually quite a bit better than I would have expected. Really warm, though. Shoulda thought to put in a climate control unit.”

“Room to upgrade, then. We… will see you again, I hope? You’re not going to do anything too stupid with that armor?”

There was a pregnant pause before the historian answered. “My account is settled, correct? Peth-Osk got cleared and everything?”


Two hours later, Sophia had returned to her meagre lodgings on Carida. The room barely more than a closet, there was hardly even space to walk on the floor without stepping on pieces of discarded armor. A holograph of Coruscant’s lower levels--at least, what had been the lower levels before Faust had sent a moon into her atmosphere--lay nested in her lap and the historian charted out several routes to her apartment and the University of Coruscant. Utterly exhausted by the day, she felt her eyes grow heavy and she began to nod off.

Three hours later, she woke up, her lips still smeared with some red-orange hot sauce from her dinner. The holograph still shimmered below her, albeit with some incomprehensible gibberish scrawled over Coruscant’s skyscrapers when she had been attempting to work in her half-awake, half-asleep state.

Sophia closed down the map and pushed her hair out of her face. There were perhaps five people in the entire galaxy who knew that she was still alive and cared for the fact. Her voice strained from nervousness and exhaustion, the historian began to record a message from her acquaintance in the Imperial fleet. Maybe it would reach the TIE pilot..


I’m still alive. Hopefully you can say the same. The Sith haven’t gone after Carida yet…. but… I have a personal errand that requires me to go to Coruscant. No, I haven’t completely lost my marbles… well, maybe. I left some information there that might be critically important, like ‘might get a few million people killed if it falls into the wrong hands’ sort of important. I’ll be able to sleep a lot better if I know that it’s destroyed or off Corrie. If you hear from me again, I’ve probably succeeded and I’m on my way to safety. If not… well… at least I tried.

I know that I can’t ask you to be safe. That’s the life. So shoot straight--and shoot first.”

Her message completed, Sophia laid down on her cot and instantly fell asleep.

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Sophia did not sleep well after she had completed her “I may be dead in a few days” message. Perhaps it was the diet of cheap beer, greasy flatbread, and instant-caf with which she had been sustaining herself had twisted her digestion;perhaps it was her week-long streak of self-insomnia and dwelling in a concrete closet reeking of motor oil for nearly two days; it perhaps it was a somber reflection on her imminent mortality and what afterlife a being such as her could anticipate; sleep did not come naturally. When faced with these bouts of insomnia, the historian tended to rely on a proven regimen of pharmaceuticals to lull her to sleep (largely in the form of orally-administered ethanol), but she supposed that recovering from a skull-shattering hangover wouldn’t be conducive to her continued survival… so it was a long night of tossing and turning for her.


The next day, Sophia began her search for a pilot. As Carida was the capitol world of the Imperial Remnant, there was a nonstop stream of refugees fleeing from Coruscant and other planets in the core--but not much outgoing traffic. 


Just like everything else on this planet, the pilot’s cantina she was guided to was obsessively clean and obnoxiously-lit. The stench of stale ale that tended to linger in these establishments was absent; the clientele was predominantly human, and a mediocre band of jizz-wailers piped from one of the bar’s well-lit corners, occasionally pausing to advertise one of their uncreative covers. Two or three people, probably close friends or a producer, made a valiant show of applauding after every song.


Sophia hated this place more than her narrator could possibly describe. An appropriate fate, she decided, would have been to seal every exit and flood the entire establishment with tihaar. The foundations would then be razed by orbital bombardment and paved over to make room for an appropriately rundown dive.


But she had a job to do; coasting through the bar while nursing an mass-produced ale best described as a bad date on the Great Western Sea, the historian plied the lingering crowd of resting pilots in the hopes of hiring transport to Coruscant. However, after even mentioning her destination, the typical reaction was to outright laugh in her face or leave while muttering an expletive along the lines of “frack that spit.” Sophia met with a lot of species and was rejected by a lot of accents.


Until Sophia met with Giza'valla (“My friends call me Giza,” the red-skinned Twi’lek explained). The pilot seemed to be putting on an impression of a younger Han Solo; she wore tight-fitting pants lined on either side by a series of yellow stripes and a beaten jacket of cheap, fake nerf leather. But she didn’t run when Sophia named her destination.

"I need passage to Coruscant."


Her prospective pilot let out a bark of laughter. Seeing that Moriarty's expression was fixed, her voice lowered and a tremor of disbelief regulated down her lekku. She muttered a low phrase under her breath--probably some phrase in her native tongue that couldn't easily be translated to Basic. "You must be pfasking kidding me. After what the Mandos did? They'll kill you the first opportunity they get."


"'Magine so."


Another spasm of the headtails followed. "Do you... actually want to die? I don't take suicidals or--"


"I'd rather not. Honest. Look, I just need you to get me to Coruscant, I don't care which starport, no one is expecting me--that's all I need. I can pay ten thou in ash."

"Fifteen." That reply came in an instant.


Sophia coughed and set down her mug of warm ale. A paroxysm of reflexive coughing followed as her lungs attempted to expel an inhaled gulp. "Beg… beg your pardon? For a one-way?"


"This won't be like a hop and skip to Corellia. Triple Zero is a warzone, I have to expect that the planet is blockaded and that the Mandos are running caparound the system. If I'm going to risk my neck, it's going to be extra. Fifteen, all in advance."


Sophia ran some calculations in her head--fifteen thousand was nearly enough to purchase a beat up freighter or a shuttle and to take the risk of running the blockade on her own. That ship wasn't likely to survive for a return trip, but she was already expecting the journey to be a one-way trip. Credits were not exactly a concern of hers in that light. However, she would have preferred being smuggled onto the planet surface, rather than alerting every Mando within a light-hour to her presence and living on the run. She took a sip of lomin-ale, the drinking souring in her mouth.


"Very well. Fifteen it is."


"Pleasure. I’ll start pre-flight checks right away, sooner we can take off the better. I’m on landing pad seven-two-five cresh, ask for the Twilight Dancer.”


Sophia shook Giza’valla’s surprisingly warm hand. Taking a glance at her half-full glass of lomin-ale, she promptly decided better of finishing off the disgusting beverage and simply departed the vile den of mass-produced beer, terrible music, and scarcely-tolerable fried food. The cost of the ferry would drain the majority of the funds that had been donated by Misal’s organization, but she supposed that a return flight from a planet conquered by the Mandalorians was an unlikely eventuality.


The historian inwardly groaned when she saw the vessel piloted by her ferry. It was an old YT-2400 light freighter, and the unpainted saucer hull of the vessel was speckled with random patches of hull. The outline of a co-pilot droid was visible through the tinted canopy of the cockpit. As it happened, her perception of her ferry’s appearance was incorrect. Giza’valla, she noted as the Twi’lek came strutting down the boarding ramp of the freighter with a stubby blaster pistol slung inconveniently-low on her hip, wasn’t attempting to imitate Han Solo--she was attempting to put on a display of a Dash Rendar.


The Twi’lek was an imitation of an imitation. And Sophia was betting her survival on a poor imitation of a Mandalorian.


The historian put on a stolid mask of a stiff upper lip and marched up the boarding ramp, pausing only to deposit a password-protected credit chit into her pilot’s hand. She could guess at the layout of the freighter well enough. While the floor of the ship lifted and turned under her fleet over the course of their lift-off and approach to their hyperspace vector, Sophia, with some difficulty and minor bumps, went through the routine of donning her ersatz beskar’gam in the tiny refresher of the vessel.


Fifteen minutes later, exactly according to schedule, they retreated into hyperspace.

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