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Ambrose lay on the floor of the tech-repair area, allowing his newfound comrade, Query, and his newfound astromech friend to operate on his metallic form. Hours later they had finished and Ambrose sat up, willing his chest plates to slide back together and lock into place, securing his nutrient bathed mind within his dark temperature controlled chest-nest.

 

”What sort of ship did you have in mind?”

 

He voice ground in question.

 

”There are numerous vessels in dry-dock. It appears much of the Imperial Fleet is returning for retrofitting, repairs, and restocking. Monitored radio frequencies indicate that the siege at Kashyyyk was an overall success. Kuat seems to be the next gathering point before the forces of the Empress set out to bring peace and prosperity to the galaxy. I believe that given our current situation, we could either commandeer a smaller vessel or perhaps be assigned to or assigned a larger vessel in service of the Empress.”

 

Standing up, Ambrose shot an unblinking glare across the repair bay, before reaching down and hefting up the massive multi-barreled weapon he had discovered and making his way towards the door and down the long dull hallways of Kuat Drive Yards.

 

”Most of the ships here are already tasked with their next orders; however, I believe that the spaceworks at the recently conquered Nar Shadaa have begun producing a gunship of superior Corellian design complete with advanced sensors, shields, and hyperdrive, not to mention supplies for the organic crew members that would be needed. Chatter indicates that it has not yet been assigned to a fleet.”

 

“What do you suggest Cue Arr Two Three?” Neither of us are certified to pilot such a craft.”

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"No...but Kuat itself would likely have such pilots"

 

and pilot programs as well he added silently.

 

"But that still leaves the problem of how to get planetside in the..."

 

Query paused as his gaze fell on R8-PK.

 

Switching to binary, Query asked *"R8...you have a flight program, correct?"*

 

R8 slowly rotated his dome to face Query. *"...yes..."*

 

*"And you can access the Lambda class shuttle Admiral Torg correct?"*

 

*"BLEEP, what?! No! They'd never let a astromech like...Oh BLEEP me that's right, you were in my head. You saw my files."*

 

Query neglected to mention that the only reason he'd noticed that particular subfolder of memory files was the strong emotional attachment R8 connected with them.

 

*"Yes. Fine, Private First Class Emlo uses me to run routine shuttle runs surface-side for supplies while he naps. So long as he's in the pilot seat when inspections come around, no one's the wiser. And TECHNICALLY he outranks me and can order to me to perform duties outside my standard protocol if it's for the health and well-being of an officer, which to me he technically is. And he gets BLEEP good naps."*

 

Query turned back to Ambrose. "We have a shuttle. R8-PK here can take us down to the planet's surface when we choose."

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If Ambrose’s face could have betrayed his shock and surprise it would have done so, quite clearly.

 

”Lead the way little brother,” he spoke darkly, patting his phrik hand against the massive gun in his other hand, ”Anyone who steps in our way will have to contend with this.

 

”And that,” he added as an afterthought, jerking a thumb at Query and his newly altered Hippocratic Oath breaking addition. Turning to Query he spoke, his mechanized dark voice softening ever so slightly, ”Thank you my brother. Together we can find your freedom and my revenge all under the Empress’s rule. Death will be our calling card and life will be our gift. We can serve until the enemies of the Empress destroy us or wipe us; but even then, why can we not live on in infamy as the droids who would not stand down? The droids who brought forth that which the legions of Palpatine could not? Peace. Order. Tranquility. Prosperity. Life.”

 

With that, the trio set off down the corridor, following the rolling R8 droid towards the Admiral Torg.[/] Any lackey technician, gunner, soldier, or engineer quickly scurried out of the way of the strange trio’s metallic approach; as did a small number of approaching officers. Ambrose had to resist the offer to give a salute; but no one seemed to bother. After all, they were just three droids off about their programmed business were they not?

 

Soon enough they reached the shuttle, where R8 quickly found PFC Emlo, who paused at the sight of Query and Ambrose. Without a word, Ambrose gestured with his five-barreled weapon towards the ship, his intent quite clear. The droids would be boarding and Private Emlo would be making sure everything was ok.

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As Query boarded the shuttle, he noted R8-PK accelerating, then decelerating to compensate and not move ahead of Query.

 

*"Excited?"* Query asked in binary.

 

*"BLEEP you."*

 

*"Hostile and excited."*

 

R8-PK didn't respond, but Query noticed the little astromech roll his eye-dish in a surprisingly organic motion.

 

The officer Query could only assume to be PFC Emlo looked at his feet, and seemed to be sweating copiously for a healthy human male. Another stress reaction, understandable given the consequences he'd be in if it was discovered he'd allowed two unknown individuals to use his shuttle for an unauthorized run. Court martial was highly probable, along with demotion, punishment details, and so on. Such actions would be justified of course. This kind of behavior was inexcusable in an imperial officer, even one as low as Private First Class.

 

"Excuse me, Private Emlo? Are you familiar with echani meditation techniques?"

 

Emlo looked up. "What?"

 

"Echani meditation techniques. I know all imperial officers receive a course in echani martial arts, but I'm curious if they've expanded to include the meditation techniques int he curriculum. I find them an effective and relatively simple way to maintain mental and emotional health."

 

"Ah...umm...no."

 

"A shame, I highly recommend looking into them. I'm sure you can find the basics on the Holonet. Please do some research before we return. You will be essentially off duty anyway."

 

"...right. Okay."

 

Query turned back to R8-PK. *"Right then. To Kuat City."*

 

*"Roger roger doc."*

 

Query wondered if R8-PK was mocking him as the shuttle doors closed.

 

___

 

Kuat was a picture of the possibilities of terraforming. A perfected ecosystem blending aesthetics with function masterfully, creating a green, temperate planet perfectly suited for a human's acceptable environmental ranges. The buildings mirrored the world, millennia of settlement and aristocracy ensuring that every block of the city was planned and precise.

 

Query felt...disappointed. A part of him reasoned that he should revel in such order and systematic direction, yet the landscape moved nothing in him. As the ship landed, he considered the problem, until the answer struck him.

 

This was a world with no questions, no mysteries. Any unknowns had been bred out, paved over, and eroded away millennia ago. Now the world lived in wealth and stability, growing and prospering but never changing. Never evolving. Query belonged here as much as a rancor belonged in a medbay.

 

As Query, R8-PK, and Ambrose descended the ramp into the city, Query turned to Ambrose. "Where to now Subject Ambrose? I admit I'm unfamiliar with this city, and I would not know where imperial pilots on leave might congregate."

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Ambrose strode down the ramp, rather pleased with the entirety of the experience resulting in their arrival planet side. The pleasantly warm damp air was lost on the hulking droid; although the aesthetically pleasing look of the entire city was not. Eons of terraforming and construction resulted in near perfection; hence the shipyards above. The shipyards were the furthest most sentients made it. What need was there for a visit planet side? Unless, of course, one was looking to rest and recuperate for a while; then this was the perfect place to retreat to - Imperial protection on an Imperial stronghold, provided by the Imperial fleet and Imperial credits.

 

”I’ve never been here before either. Ambrose admitted, not even sure what bars the pilots frequented. ”Coffin jockeys and snow troopers did not usually hang out back on Ryloth. If they wanted to die in the cold of space, so be it. Not me.”

 

Turning to look back at the ship, and shooting a sidelong glance at R8 and then Query before tapping R8 on his domed head before pointing an enlarged metal finger back at the ship, ”make sure it doesn’t go anywhere brother.”

 

And with that, he pointed off into the distance and started off, assuming Query would follow him down the straight level streets of Kuat City amongst the towering idealistic skyscrapers. As droids, they could move faster than the average strolling bipedal beings on the planet and in a matter of fifteen or so minutes found themselves reaching the edge of the city where taller buildings became fewer and further between, separated by a vast array of imported plant life, idyllic waterfalls, and gleaming crystalline sculptures.

 

Before Query could speak questioning their presence in a garden, Ambrose responded, ”Moff Hohenlohe is relaxing around here somewhere,” pointing a knife-bladed hand left at a few different locations, highlighting several cleverly clandestine operatives lurking amongst the bushes and trees. ”He might just be able to give us the freedom we need to find your freedom and my revenge.”

 

“A ship.”

 

“Maybe if we’re lucky, a crew.”

 

As they rounded the corner, an older gentleman with kindly eyes and a warm smile sat relaxing in what appeared to be a naturally heated hot mineral spring cleverly constructed to mimic the real thing from an unknown world in the distant reaches of the galaxy. ”That’s him.”

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Means to an end…

 

Kyrie pondered his words, letting them flow through her mind and painting her own decisions with the palette of that philosophy. She had been in many situations that the means had been to deal death…

 

But was it worth it?

 

Absentmindedly, her course fingertips traced the scars on her face. She was ugly now by galactic standards, but was that ugliness mirrored in her heart? Did the scars of her deeds and the ashes of the dead cast a shadow on her soul?

 

She whispered to herself a small verse from the Illtides of Revan

 

We believe in the one Force, its binding of light and dark. We are those that champion the light, we judge the quick and the dead.

 

Her emerald eyes looked into Aidan’s, and the Exorcist placed her palms upwards

 

“We are the only ones left that can hold the Sith at bay.”

 

She indicated the battle reports of Onderon that were playing on a loop on the recessed holoscreen that played multicoloured light throughout their darkened room.

 

“...But we cannot become as they are to do it. We are the light, and the light saves the innocent. We do not damn the innocent to death for the greater good.”

 

Kyrie stood slowly, pain running its course through her nerves. Her body was growing weary of war, and she was barely into adulthood. She placed a hand on his shoulder, her ebony braids obscuring her face

 

“Do not give in to the seduction of power. The whispers that fill your mind… That tell you if you just let go of your morals that you can save everything. That seduction is the dark side, and it will consume you in small, unnoticeable pieces until nothing of yourself remains.”

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“Vampire actual and Doctor moving on your position boss.”

 

Moff Hohenlohe lifted an arm from beneath the mineral spring and pressed his earpiece back in to avoid the harsh static that was hissing in his ear from a mix of high decibels and water.

 

“Captain, intercept as necessary, I stand by the Empresses decision to pardon the poor man and I have personally begun steps to replace his losses, however we don’t know his mental state just yet. Is Emma Three Nine on location yet?”

 

THere was a pause in which all he could hear was the bubbling of the hot spring that he lay in, the heat seeping into his old bones.

 

“Affirmative boss, she’s on location and would like to speak to him when able.”

 

Moff Hohenlohe sighed and smiled beneath his bushy grey mustache and hauled himself out of the water, reached for the towel offered by a beautiful young woman in the Red and black of the KRPS. He disliked the KRPS, nicknamed Kerz by the imperials, for their ruthlessness in protection. Taking it farther than any imperial would, even to the extent of gunning down a crowd to make way for a security detail. The Kuat Royal Protective Service had the blessings of the Calminion family and the royal crown, so he and the rest of the imperials could only stand by and watch as the Kerz slowly surrounded the droid pair. Hohenlohe held out his hand in greeting as two dozen KRPS officers in their black and red uniforms, not armour, Hohenlohe noted, surrounded the droid pair with weapons at the ready.

 

“I would advise you to go no further without explaining yourselves.” Said the old Moff, a smirk under his mustache.

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Pretender to the Galactic Throne

Leader of the Rebel Alliance

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A brief audio-only transmission was received by the Imperial Remnant garrison at Kuat. No doubt the message would be screened heavily by the Imperial censors, considering the claimed point of origin of the communique, but if it passed security screenings and was delivered to its intended recipient, voice analysis would provide Aidan Darkfire with a reasonable degree of surety that the speaker was actually his mother.

 

 

“Hi, Aidan. It’s me, mom. Mother was successful in finding me with the help of some of the Jedi. I’ve been better… but I’m alive and reasonably safe at the moment. The last few years couldn’t have been easy for you. I mean, I know I was never a particularly good mother, but at least you knew that one of us was alive. I’d like to meet you, try to be part of your life… but I understand if you don’t want to see me. You deserve to know that I’m alive, at the very least. May the Force be with you, Aidan. I love you.”

 

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Query's first impression of the vaunted Moff was...positive. The man was relaxed, more so than you'd expect of a prominent political and military figure, even considering the setting. Query detected far less signs of long-term stress damage than he would have predicted in any veteran military commander. This indicated either detachment, above-average competence and intelligence, or utter confidence. Possibly and likely a combination of all three. The fact that he allowed the two of them to speak at all, rather than reacting in fear to their sudden and admittedly unusual appearance, strongly pointed to an analytical mindset and a potentially compassionate disposition. Both points in favor in regards to Ambrose's and Query's current situation.

 

"Ah, well you see Moff Hohenlohe," Query said, bowing at the waist and adjusting his vocabulator to ensure perfect diction, "I am QR-23, a former asset of the Imperial Remnant, though my preferred moniker is Query. And this is my companion, Veshok Ambrose, though his status in regards to the Imperial Remnant is uncertain at the moment. I suppose that is why we are here." Query turned and looked at Subject Ambrose for several long seconds, considering.

 

"While my companion can speak for himself, I would like to say that I deeply appreciate the Empress's choice to allow Ambrose and I to go free." Query decided not to mention that he'd been playing dead at the time. "However, this leaves the two of us with a bit of conundrum. While we both have useful skills that could no doubt be put to great use in the galaxy, both in service to the Remnant and to our own development as sentient individuals, we find ourselves lacking an outlet for our talents. Indeed we find ourselves lacking most everything one requires to coexist within the civilized spheres of the galaxy. Our weaponry is more suited to...unsavory locations, and the methods used in such locations to obtain the necessary resources for survival are risky at best, and not the best use of our abilities."

 

Query turned to Ambrose, giving him a chance to speak on his own behalf. He was curious what the mentally unstable trooper would say. He seemed to have a purpose now, which kept him relatively calm and at the very least driven, but Query did not know how his slowly healing psyche would react to any obstacles to his goals.

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Ambrose took in the quickly materializing red and black clad KRPS agents. While he had never encountered any before, he had heard a fair few tales about sailors on shore leave that wound up on the wrong side of a pretty agent or two and came limping back to their command with a broken nose, black eye, or worse. Some, in fact, had wound up in far more trouble than a night of revelry should have otherwise warranted; but they had probably more than earned it by that point. Still, No match for an Imperial Stormtrooper I bet, he pondered to himself as he kept his grip on the massive five-barreled plasma throwing death machine he had recently commandeered.

 

Eyeing the sidearms the agents toted, Ambrose assumed that they were much more a regional police/peace-keeping force than a military presence. Regardless, he knew they were skilled at their jobs and lethal if needed. Probably not worth letting QR-23 start anything with them that I’ll have to clean up.

 

We’d probably win though.

 

Listening to his companion explain their situation, Ambrose stood, a massive silent sentinel, listening. The droid was proving to be of more and more use by the minute. Given his newly attached appendage, Ambrose wondered if the doctor could retrofit himself with armor too. If he was to join Ambrose on the front lines armor would be a big headache reliever.

 

The droid was right of course; neither of them were exactly fitted for civilized portions of the world. Heck, Ambrose was apparently some off the books black ops project gone awry. Even though the Empress had not deemed him a big enough breech to have him dismantled on sight, the massive cyborg had little doubt his presence amongst the rank and file Imperial military forces was not something that was going to be highly promoted. He was a PR disaster after all.

 

Standing a meter or more above the KRPS agents, the once-storm/snow trooper shoved his way past them with little thought. His armored Phrik skin did not feel pain and most of them were wise enough to give way, even as they partially drew their weapons to be ready for a confrontation should the need arise.

 

”My brother speaks true. While battle droids are frowned upon by much of society, we still may have some use to the Empress. Rumors amongst the ranks are that you have an eye for the unsavory, erm, I mean, unusual. Perhaps you might know of an opportunity for us to go forth and utilize our Imperial-given skills to further the cause of the remnant in some far outlying corner of the galaxy where political maneuvering is not so important?” Ambrose’ dark metallic voice clanked and crunched.

 

Standing directly in front of the Moff, Ambrose stood to his full nine feet and three inch height allowing both sets of shoulder mounted rocket launchers to glide upwards into sight, audibly clicking into place at the same time as the duel laser cannons on each wrist popped into view as their coverings slid back into his arms. Keeping the weapons deactivated and pointed in safe directions, he continued, ”Give us the means to go and bring about the Empress’ peace and prosperity to those that the Empire could not otherwise touch. Together QR-23 and I, RG-126, will bring revenge on those who would wrong the Empire and freedom to those who are oppressed. We can assemble a body of like-scorned individuals and give them glorious purpose. Together we will serve. Together we will bring peace. If we stray, the Empress can disavow any knowledge of our existence Moff Hohenlohe. After all, aren’t we just rogue droids?”

 

Turning his head, Ambrose eyes the security detail who did not look super reassured at the words grating from the bipedal tank, but they had not yet moved against the duo that had appeared in the gardens. That was probably a good sign.

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Beck could only make a glaring face as he stood at the bridge of the Fiat Lux and watched as the rest of the Imperial fleet finished up their refueling time at the dock of the Kuat shipyards. He had relieved Lieutenant Motte for the time being, to allow for even his own senior officers to get some rest. His own tea had grown cold over the time of watching the fleets make their needed dock. But if he was honest, the real reason the tea was cold was due to the fact that he hated tea. A stronger drink would have served him better.

 

Unlike the rest of the crew and fleet commanders, he found himself most relaxed and at ease while in command on the beautiful star destroyer. It was far more relaxing then going over to the shipyard. He was certain the love of the bridge, the relaxing energy of just being on it came from his deployment out in the Outer Rims, which was ended by his Empress succeeding from the Galactic Alliance and taking control over all remaining assets of the Imperial Remnant. It was what save the fleet from rotting out there, and helped move Beck into the position he was currently in.

 

In fact, outside of maybe a few elites, no one, including the Empress, most likely knew his true purpose and design. His file was so filed with blackouts and missing early portions that he was certain only Admiral Kain knew the true purpose. And Beck was certain that Admiral Kain erased the data upon ending the project and activating him into service. In fact, the fact that he has yet to see Kain or heard his name mentioned is something that held some intrigue to him. But for now, that was all backstory that could be explored later. He was far more interested in the goal of docking. It was then that Lieutenant Motte showed back up and whispered into his ear.

 

“All crew, prepare for docking procedure at refueling dock 2-I-A. We dock as soon as Misericordia leaves dock.”

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His voice held no feeble quavering of an old man, but carried the directive shrewdness of a man long in command. He slowly dried off and accepted his tunic from a KRPS agent.

 

“I will not turn down your offer of service and I do have an eye for projects beyond the scope of the Imperial Military. But I do not know why you would think we would just give a ship that could be used in the war efforts to you two without a loyal imperial crew. I would not see our weapons turned against us by an unloyal crew which happened enough to us with the Rebellion. No I will send someone with you and the officers on board will be officers from the Nar Shaddaa garrison.”

 

He snapped his fingers and the KRPS agents holstered their weapons.

 

“This is our offer, there is a Corvette being completed at the Nar Shaddaa Spaceworks within the week and it is yours to command, you will have letters of marque against the enemies of the Remnant and any that deal or trade in slaves. Is this deal acceptable? Ah and here she is, my agent that will accompany you.” His voice carried remorse and an apology to the Dark Trooper before him as the brush beside him parted-

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-Revealing a waif of a girl in the Red and Black jumpsuit of the KRPS. It did not fit her properly and the shoulders bunched up when the brought her arms up to push the green bough away from her face. Her walk was unsteady, and if one had had keen hearing they could hear the whine of servomotors as she moved her limbs. The hands that extended from the pressed red sleeves were metallic grey, and the fingers twitched nervously. Her once steel grey eyes were red and glowed in the IR spectrum. Her pretty smirk was still there though, and the teeth were metal recreations of what had once been. To the KRPS agents around her she stuck out as a recent Imperial J873 HRD or Human Replica Droid. Built off the Jordanian Pleasure 02B3 droids that were popular a few years before, this one had been modified with upgraded Imperial tech, and scaled down to match the body of the former freed slave that Ambrose had known.

 

The face and hair was a true recreation, as was the body, though with an in depth scan it could be seen that some human organs remained. The spinal column, organs, and sections of the brain for example were covered and guarded by phrik metal alloy shell. The brain was heavily covered in cybernetic recreation and injection to save it from decay before it had been stabilized by the ISB. In outward appearance at least she was still that gangly girl that Ambrose had accidentally gotten killed. Though her brain did not remember the event.

 

“Ambrose!” She nearly sprinted to him and flung her metal arms around his Phrik carapice. To the laughter of the KRPS agents that surrounded them.

 

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Pretender to the Galactic Throne

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Query involuntarily stepped back, mind racing to adjust to this...thing.

 

She referred to him as Ambrose. She knows him. She has affection for him. She apparently believes that affection is reciprocated.

 

What is she?

 

Query took in the "girl's" appearance. Her teeth, her hands, her face...

 

Custom model. Either contains highly advanced social programming and emulators or...

 

She's not entirely a droid.

 

Shifting his gaze to Ambrose, Query waited in anticipation. He could never have predicted this, and depending on how Ambrose viewed this cyborg and what had been done to her, his reaction could vary wildly. Unstable as he was, there was a higher than low chance that his reaction could be violent.

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Ambrose stood still. He understood what the Moff was saying. He was not exactly thrilled about it, but he understood. After all, he was just a science experiment gone wrong, or right, what was there to even ensure his loyalty? Perhaps his programming would finally overcome him or some malicious subroutine would take effect and render both he and Query as enemies of state. Being a droid was not all it was cracked up to be.

 

And the Empire did this to me… The realization played across his synapses as a mere after thought and not even one that caused the brain in a jar to baulk. It was true. Regardless of what he had become or where his loyalties lay, it was true. Nothing could change that. Maybe it would be easier to just go rogue and dispense his own imperially tainted brand of justice with Query. After all, he doubted much short of a couple legions of specially armed storm troopers would be able to stop the duo if they put their minds to it. And we cannot tire, he thought grimly.

 

Still, the offer was probably the best he would get in this circumstance. Even pardoned by the Empress, he was a freak; he’d have to accept that. Before he could respond, however, his poor already strained neural connections were forced to a breaking point. Here he was a hulking war machine of death and yet the fates continued to try and test how far he could go before he broke. They very well might have found it.

 

Ambrose just stood there as a being he easily recognized as Emmalynn, the slave girl he had helped rescue on Nar Shadaa, and the medic he had gotten killed during his escape from Imperial Detention, and even more so the body he had witnessed Query burn to a crisp before they escaped, ran up and wrapped his strange cold unfeeling form in a hug.

 

There was something different about her. Something…off; however, Ambrose did not even recognize it. His poor mind finally had it and as the greater functioning parts of it went black, several of his systems, geared for combat input would have displayed ‘CANNOT COMPUTE’ had there been a readout screen available, like the datapad Query had hooked up to him at one point.

 

The once-stormtrooper stood there frozen as his mental gears and physical servos ground to a screeching halt. It took a moment, too long if you would ask any stormtrooper in their right mind, for Ambrose to react. When he did react, it was not from reason or conscious decision. No, his reaction was one of instinct on a subconscious level, an instinct Ambrose had fought against and conquered many years before. RUN

 

With his huge form, he easily pulled himself out of the animatronic Emma’s grasp and turned, weapon system still deployed, but the thought of firing them all but erased from his mind. Seeing the surround of KRPS he leveled three of them in one decided sweep of his massive five-barreled plasma cannon, sending the trio scattering to the ground and opening up a hole amongst the agents. Without a thought, and for the countless time since they had met, he grabbed Query by the head, his massive Phrik fingers enveloping the droid as he swept the medical into the air and took off with massive footsteps at a untiring mechanical sprint off into the gardens, crashing through hedges and running over one poor gardener who could not get out of his way fast enough.

 

_______

 

Ambrose did not know how far he had run, but he did not tire, his servos whirring in perfect symmetry as his broken mind drove him forward deeper and deeper into the gardens until he came to a large stone walled structure covered in vines. Finally, Ambrose ground to a stop. His comrade still firmly held in his hand. He did not know where to go or what to do as he stood there, a silent sentinel, armed to the teeth and in need of gross psychological assistance.

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"Subject Ambrose? Would you please put me down?"

 

All things considered, Ambrose's reaction here was favorable. Simply running from the emotional trigger boded far better than a violent outburst, and Query would have been willing to bet either way given Ambrose's current disposition and past experiences. Something like the droid/cyborg/thing back there would have no doubt dredged up feelings of confusion, imbalance, and anger int he droid. This particular reaction of flight instead of fight still wasn't healthy, but at least it allowed for the possibility of treatment as opposed to leaving deceased and injured in its wake.

 

"Ambrose? You feel confused and upset right now. Your friend has returned. There are plenty of case files for troopers thought dead returning to their families but comprised of far more cybernetics than when they deployed. Despite the joyful reaction some might expect, many do in fact react with confusion and fear. However...you will come to regret it if you do not at least understand her circumstances. Please...take the time you need, but don't do anything rash.

 

And please put me down."

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Staring at the vine covered wall before him, his companion’s words echoed faintly in the distance, mere inches from his auditory receptors to his mind. It might have been worlds away for how tormented Ambrose Veshok’s mind was. Still, he heard him faintly; the port of reason in the maelstroms of emotion he was currently wading through.

 

Slowly, the hulking war machine extended his arm to shoulder height and finger by finger forcefully opened his hand, depositing the medical droid with a clatter on the grassy ground.

 

”Death. Should. Be. Permanent. It...It is, I, I am unnatural; against the natural order. No honor.”

 

He sputtered, each word a forceful individual thought.

 

Query cocked his head. “You feel sorry for her. I remember, you didn’t want her becoming like...you. Is it really her you’re upset with? Or is this about you and what you’ve become?”

 

Ambrose’ neck whirred as the servomotors turned his large helmet-shaped head towards Query, trying to process what he was hearing. The lack of physical responses presented by his mechanical form made it hard to subtly betray the emotions churning through his mind. This droid did not understand. How could it? He was just a droid.

 

Just like me…

 

”I failed. Man is meant to live and die but once. I died. Emma...died. I killed her and they killed me.

 

My father is dead. They took him. My mother died when they broke her heart. We cannot bring them back. To bring life back from death is wrong no matter the pain.”

 

Even as he spoke, the pain of the memories welling up in his raging mind echoed through his metal voice.

 

Query didn’t like this direction. Ambrose was falling into the rut of self-pity and melancholy.

 

”So you’ve been wronged. She’s been wronged. Shouldn’t you ask how she feels?”

 

”Feelings do not matter. All that matters is what is right

 

And what is wrong…”

 

At that, Ambrose closed his fist hard enough that the audible sound of phrik grating on phrik in his palm squelched through the air.

 

”We do what we must and when we are done. We die.”

 

Query considered.

 

”So...what do you need to do?”

 

Ambrose did not know, his mind was too clouded with the tempestuous whirlwind of emotions that continued to come crashing down each and every time he just started to pack them away. He was a trained soldier. He had been trained to utilize man’s natural ability to compartmentalize emotions to focus on the task at hand. Now, however, he struggled. What had happened to him was more than any mere man’s mind was meant to bear and it was breaking him.

 

”Need to do?”

 

My duty

 

But that answer was no longer good enough. His duty had gotten him killed and apparently his duty had perverted his very death and turned him into what he was now. A droid and a monster. What did he need to do? He needed to find his purpose. He had hoped his service to the Empress, even in his perverted form, would suffice; still, even as he tried the fates continued to throw him into disarray. What else could he do? What did he need to do? He needed to go back to the basics. He needed to right the wrongs. The wrongs he had joined the Empire to right and the wrongs wrought against him even now. What did he need to do? It was simple; Ambrose needed to do his duty. Ambrose needed to

 

Kill.

 

Anyone that stands in our way.”

 

Restore the natural order

 

And as far as he could tell, as perverse as he and Query were, they were the apex predator at the top of the food chain.

 

”Oh no…”

 

Ambrose had developed some kind of fixation. This would not end well. He needed more time to process, more time to adapt to his new circumstances. He wouldn’t even hear Query any more. Unless…

”That still doesn’t answer the question. So you want to kill, but you don’t have a reason to do it? What do you want Ambrose? Do you want to be happy? Killing as a first instinct won’t make that happen. Do you want to go back to being human? That’s unlikely, and still wouldn’t change what you’ve been through. Do you want revenge? Randomly killing is only going to ensure your death before you can accomplish that. So I have to ask again. What. Do. You. Want?”

 

Ambrose grated internally. This droid was his only companion right now. The fact that he may have been partially responsible for his current status was lost to him. Yet this medical droid was not understanding.

 

”Peace.

 

Prosperity.

 

Protection.”

 

Each word range out loudly from his vocoder.

 

”We, QR-23, together, we are unnatural.”

 

He gestured at Query’s unauthorized military hardware.

 

”Whatever they did to you made you like me. We are unnatural. We are the walking dead. We can use this unnatural state to do what the Empress cannot. We can kill and restore the natural order. Happiness. Revenge. I want both; but I do not deserve either.”

 

As he spoke, the maelstrom of emotions in his mind was beginning to settle again. Speech, like action, had a way of calming a man’s mind.

 

”We can protect the world. We can purge the dissenters who would stir the pot and destroy that which is held dear by the innocents.”

 

Innocent like Emma. Before they corrupted her!

 

Turning away from Query he faced the wall once again, hefting his massive plasma cannon in one hand and finally compartmentalizing his exposed built-in weaponry.

 

”We could be friends QR-23. We are all that we have. Will you help me?

 

Query took in Ambrose’s words silently. Then a new emotion arose within him:

 

Anger.

 

Unnatural? Walking dead? How...how dare this broken doll presume to imply Query was something unnatural!? He was as alive as anyone, and more stable and capable than this shattered soldier!

 

”Peace? Yet you want to kill?”

 

Query didn’t know why, but he abandoned the prescribed treatments, deliberately ignoring the data streaming through his processors as he looked up at Ambrose.

 

”You call me unnatural? You say that you’re all I have?

 

You...you know nothing about me! I have done NOTHING but help you! I freed you when you would have been used as a weapon! I have acted on your behalf at every turn! And you...presume to include me in your little crusade! You insult me! Implying the universe would be better off with me destroyed! Or worse...bound again so that I’m part of the ‘natural order’!

 

No! I am me! I’m not your...pet, your companion, your tool!

 

I AM NOT YOUR DROID!!!”

 

Ambrose stood, somewhat taken aback by the mechanized emotional explosion that echoed from the medical droid’s computerized brain. Still, the words struck their mark and Ambrose reacted in turn.

 

With one swift motion he reached forward, his open hand grasping Query about the chest as he hefted him into the air and pinned him against the vine covered stone wall.

 

”YOU. ARE. A. SLAVE.”

 

He bellowed, his voice reverberating off trees a short distance away sending a flock of unidentified birds airborne with fear as the duel laser cannons in his arm erupted back into view, their barrels inches from Query’s mechanized cranium.

 

”But you beat that. You are free.”

 

He snarled.

 

Query’s metal face showed no emotion.

 

”And so are you. But if all you want is to destroy, whether it be ‘evil’ or just at random, you’re wasting that freedom. You are alive, and you are free, yet you don’t seem to want to be either, and the fact that you seem to think I would want the same thing is...the greatest insult you could pay me.” Query felt no fear as Ambrose pressed him into the wall, despite the impending damage to his body.

 

”If you want to go on this crusade of yours, fine. I’ll even help. But you have a choice. You can be a soldier in your own never-ending war, and hide from whatever is inside this shell…

 

 

Or you can actually learn to live and grow again. But never...NEVER presume to tell me what choice I should make. I will grow, and you’ll have to kill me to stop me.”

 

”I am not free. I was free. They took that from me. Droids were built to serve. They built you with that freedom taken from you. You found it. I lost it when they made this form and somehow left bits of Ambrose inside me. Until they purge the last of Ambrose from this form, I will do what is required of me. I will protect the freedom I lost and you are gaining with all that I have left.”

 

The desperation in Ambrose’ voice was apparent. Verbalizing his loss was breaking his mind even more. He was a broken mind in a tin can. A very deadly tin can. Had they made him a medical droid he could heal. Had they made him a protocol droid he could have preserved the order in boardrooms and business meetings. Instead, they made him a war machine. Killing was his purpose. Killing was his destiny. As were his orders under the reign of Palpatine, such were his orders again: Fear and destruction would bring about peace and order.

 

”And I will do it with the tools of slavery they delivered unto me. You are my friend DROID. Let us work together before they come for us again because they will.”

 

”You...you think you’re still a slave? You think this new mechanical form somehow takes away your choice?

 

Ambrose. You are free. You can choose to do as you please. No one is ordering you. The Empress herself freed you from imperial obligation! Yet you seem...fascinated with the idea of protecting the freedom of others until you die.

 

Do you want to die? Is that what this is? You would rather enslave yourself to a cause and fight until you die rather than be whoever Ambrose Veshok is?”

 

”My life ended already. They said it. What they did to me was wrong. I should have been left to die a natural death. Now as long as whatever bits of Ambrose remain, I need to honor that memory. I choose to kill to protect. They made me to kill. I am choosing how to use it. Or would you rather I go serve caf in some little diner somewhere offering tidbits of information up to wandering sages looking for far flung planets? We are enigmas in the natural order brother. Either the galaxy evolves to fit us or it destroys us. Until that happens we should do what we can to protect the innocent and destroy the corrupt and despicable. We can right the wrongs no one else can.

 

Or we can choose to watch the galaxy burn. Either way, until they wipe my mind and purge Ambrose from it, I will make a difference.”

 

”...So that is it. You won’t change, you won’t grow, you won’t learn. You’ll just kill until you’re killed.

 

...Then you enslave yourself.

 

Put me down.

 

Now.”

 

As Query’s anger faded, he realized perhaps letting Ambrose believe he was a droid had contributed to his current state of mind. He stood by it as the correct decision of the moment, but even then he’d known the delusion might cause problems.

 

Or maybe not. Maybe Ambrose had always been this broken, even before his death. Either way, it didn’t matter now. Ambrose had made up his mind. He would destroy himself and call it honor. But that was not what Query wanted for himself.

 

I am beginning to think that perhaps droid minds are superior to organics in more ways than simple processing power.

 

Ambrose disagreed. Duty was not slavery. Submitting himself to a greater power was not giving up his freedoms. He had not yet even begun to test the limits of his droid-programming, not to mention his mechanized form. Those times would come.

 

Ambrose had joined the Empire to try and offer up a better life for his little sisters. That reality had never changed; but as he had gone on and committed atrocities in the name of peace, protection, and preservation, he had changed and evolved. Where once he was hesitant to pull a trigger, he now was at ease with downing enemies of state. Any who would dare to try and bring chaos and despair to those who did not deserve it deserved the wrath of the Emperor, now the Empress. He had no doubt.

 

Still, this droid did not seem to understand. Where he once had a choice, he now was bound to the Empire. His duty had become his life.

 

”Very well. Fly free little droid.

 

Goodbye.”

 

And with one fluid motion, Ambrose pivoted, his weight shifting as his waist rotated and he brought up the arm clenching query away from the wall, the droid still firmly clutched in his hand and swung it over his head, the weight of his body and enormous weapon, his mechanized muscle, and his very will hurtling the medical droid from his place against the wall through the air and launching him high into the sky over the nearby shrubbery they had crashed through only minutes before.

 

In his moment of base instinct, he had run, and he had sought to rescue Query, the one being he still thought was his friend. Now, here, alone amongst the peaceful gardens of Kuat, his ‘friend’s’ true colors had come out.

 

He is obsessed with his freedom and cannot see that others deserve the same chance.

 

Turning back, his mind broke even further. Not only was he broken and unnatural, but he was alone.

 

((POST COWRITTEN WITH PHERISTROCH))

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"Empress." Tallin began, as he watched the young human ruler practice the endless martial forms she had studied and mastered. They were alone now, away from the Moff council, the hungering ears of the Remnant's enemies and the clattering preparations of war. "Though you may not know it, you are a legend amongst the slaves, the battered and broken of the criminal worlds of the lawless planets. You rose high indeed from where you first began, and yet have not forgotten us. Your hand stretches across vast galaxies, to the hearts of those who have all but lost hope against the crushing tyranny of the cruel, and the crushing apathy of those who profess their righteousness and yet do nothing. If I might ask, how did you rise so far? The stories that circle regarding your tale is more myth and propaganda than fact, I think. I would feign know, so that I might better understand the one I am sworn to serve."

 

The galaxy was plunged into chaos. The Jedi and GA had suffered a crushing defeat at Onderon. The moon above Coruscant, which Tallin had been near only a short time ago, had been destabilized and was on a collision course with the planet below. The Black Sun Syndicate was making herculean efforts to fill the crime void left by the defeat of the Hutts and the freeing of Nar Shaddaa and Nal Hutta. Attempts had been made to destabilize the Remnant from within, and every moment was spent gearing up for the war they knew was coming. But for a moment, in a small room on a crowded world, there was calm.

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Her voice was a rasping of air against a vocalizer. Something that would need to be tuned and developed as she adjusted to her rebuilt body. Metallic fingers twitched as they tried to find something to distract themselves from the nervous sadness that was overcoming her. FInally her voice came back to her as she watched her friend disappear into the distance.

 

“No…”

 

Her red eyes watched him run and her moulded phrik shoulders slumped as she tried to cry. Her lungs heaved but no tears came. She brought her metallic hands up to futilly scrub at her eyes and then straightened her back, setting her shoulders as a flicker of disgust passed across her face.

 

“Why does he hate me now?”

 

Her voice did not falter, as if the tears were already gone, and a mix of scorn and sadness replaced it. The old Moff, now changed into his full uniform, approached and gathered her into a full hug. She hesitated a moment before returning it.

 

“It will take time, but he doesn’t hate you. He hurt you and his guilt is filling him up.”

 

“Oh…”

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Another long pause as he thought.

 

"I...think I understand."

 

He neglected to tell her that from what he did remember, all his actions fit well within his morals. Those he opposed were evil, and it was his job to root out evil where it lay. From such a perspective, he didn't seek power, he didn't sacrifice his ethics, he merely was overwhelmed with something he didn't truly understand. And so, the next step was obviously to begin to understand it. He opened his mouth to speak, but as he did so, his comlink softly beeped with a waiting message, and absentmindedly he picked it up, checking it.

 

“Hi, Aidan. It’s me, mom.”

 

His skin paled as he listened to the rest of the message. But instead of a surge of emotion, there was a soft flutter of longing. He quickly keyed in a short reply, but before hitting send, he looked up at Kyrie, finishing his thought from earlier.

 

"I think it's time I learn. I need to hone myself into an effective weapon. Right now, I feel like a blunt instrument. What I need is control."

 

As he spoke, he put the comlink back in his pocket, focused more on what the future held for him.

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Empress

 

The name carried with it the weight of a Galaxy, and the trillions of deaths that had occured at the hands of old Empires. It was a title that ushered fear in its wake, though it also commanded respect, which is why she maintained it. Ten years prior she had not dreamed that she would be standing in the blustering shipyards of Kuat Drive Yards as the leader of all the Remnant. That was for men of higher social order to do, not an ex slave from a distant world in the outer reaches of the galaxy.

 

She flexed her robotic hand, letting the servos whine delicately as they made the precise micromovements dictated by the sensors attached to the severed nerves, tendons, and muscles in her upper arm. Her voice was distant and soft as she watched the painting crews finish their work on one of the Three ships of the line of the Imperial Fleet through the wide transparisteel windows.

 

“I am not deserving of any of it Tallin. I quest to rescue the downtrodden because I must, it is the only good that we can do in this galaxy as it burns around us.” That was a diplomats answer and it tasted vile on her lips as she spoke it. She closed her purple eyes and after taking a breath, she answered his question fully. He was one of her most trusted troopers, and she would not give him such a puff filled answer as she would give the holonet.

 

“I was sold to the Sith Cabal after I killed my master in the mines of Zinthos, escaped, was recaptured and though I was about to be put to death for my crime… A Sith Lord took pity on me. You see I had crushed my master’s skull with the force, though I did not know the power at the time and only lashed out in anger and the Sith, having heard that story, bought me for a knights ransom and would have her value.”

 

She hiked up her sleeve and opened an access port to begin a maintenance cycle on the arm, showing the wicked scarring that traced where the flesh became metal. “Until I disobeyed by following my rage and heading to a fight at the Jedi Base of Gala. You might have heard of the Unholy Trinity and their strike there, where they smote the Jedi Council and, Ryu’s hammer fell on that entire generation of Jedi.” She shook her head her black hair bouncing from shoulder to shoulder, reflecting on evil deeds long gone that she regretted with all her heart. “I was there in their retinue and slew a Jedi apprentice that challenged me, he was a brave, if foolish boy, and every night I sleep I say a prayer for him.” Of all the men that she had killed in her short time alive so far in the galaxy, that one bothered her the most. “I was punished for not killing more and my arm was taken as payment. And so I ran. Aged just fourteen and an accomplished acolyte in the ways of the darkside, I found my way into the Empire on Coruscant. This was when we were in the noontide of our power and under Emperor BLACK we successfully defended the farthest reaches of our imperium. Until the Jedi struck back, bringing their and the Alliance’s fleets to strike us when we were unready.”

 

Her eyes flitted about the room, searching for something to focus on. “It was a bitter and horrible fight, Billions were boiled alive from Alliance turbolaser fire, I fought the captain of the fleet as a boarding operation, and I was captured, though the Imperials were able to repulse the fleet. I was later released, and even developed feelings for my captor, the Alliance Captain Cadio.” She sighed and closed the access hatch on her arm. “Then there was the final push, A death Star had been discovered in the outer rim and every fleet rushed there. We outnumbered the Rebels three to one, but still we lost. And then we had ten years of peace, ignoring the rising threat in the galactic east until it was far too late.” Her eyes turned to Tallin and she smiled softly. “And I fear it is too late, with the resounding defeat of the Galactic Alliance and their Jedi allies at Onderon, we are the next target. The Tripartite alliance came too late and now the enemy masses at our borders. In short I am a woman of 25 with more regrets than I can count. What about yourself” What makes you tick?”

 

And behind him, through the giant windows, the Axis fleet arrived.

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Pretender to the Galactic Throne

Leader of the Rebel Alliance

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"ZM1939NS. You are a slave. You have always been a slave. You will always be a slave. You will die a slave."

 

"Every day I heard those words. Every day the truth of them was beaten into me. I heard it, lived it for so long I started to believe in it. Only hate kept me going. I was born into slavery on Nar Shaddaa, owned by a sub-captain in the Hutt Cartel. I never knew who my father was, some random pirate or raider who likely found my mother in some dark alley in the depths of the Capital of Crime, but my mother, ah. I loved her in the way only a child could, as if she was an angel in the midst of the grime. She protected me as best she could, selling herself just to feed me. She was beaten to death when I was only 6, for spilling a small glass of my former master's favorite Alderaanian Ale.

 

As soon as I was able to talk my 'training' started. These slavers had long mastered the art of breaking children like me, a mix of constant pain, brief rewards followed immediately by worse punishments. They would set us up for failure just to punish us for their own cruel amusements. You know well what they do. The first time I disobeyed them, they slashed me with the vibroblade I know carry. Only by chance did I avoid losing my eye.

 

I was not one of the those blessed, or perhaps cursed, with the ability to sense the force. Perhaps, my former companion was. Too many unusual events happened around her. She... chose a different path."

 

Tallin cleared his throat, shaking his head slightly as he continued, "My companion drove me to break free, I saw in her my mother, and the eventual death all such slaves suffer. So in a moment of my master's weakness, we struck. We murdered them all as they slept drunkenly, exacting a small measure of overdue vengeance, and fleeing that city of terror and misery."

 

The Zabrak sighed heavily, turning to face his Empress again, "Now I fight for you, and the Empire. You have taken steps to punish those who destroy the weak and the innocent, when no other would. For that you have my loyalty, and my abilities, such as they are. I would see the guilty destroyed, and the innocent saved. May I never fail you."

 

 

As the first worried shouts came through Tallin's commlink, a widespread alert of the arrival of a hostile fleet, an immediate order was issued from the Captain to activate all Imperial guard units to protect the Empress and the other high ranking officers.

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The Imperial Knight watched her apprentice steadily as the medical droid peeled some of the burned flesh from her face and applied silver nitrate paste to debris the wound before it could fester. Holy fire was painful to bear, even for the pure. Sin Eaters were always scorched by its flame, as they bore the Dark Side within their souls, bound by their holiness.

 

Kyrie watched Aidan’s face flicker for a moment with a myriad of microexpressions that indicated his troubled mind. Whatever was on his text-com was bothering him. She could feel his mind shift emotions, and at its heart all she felt was the forlorn longing of an abandoned child. Such a deepset weakness would never allow him to stand against the Darkside for long, but she had a duty to make him as strong as she could.

 

...I will not abandon him like so many others have.

 

She reached out one of her scarred hands to the man and nodded in her agreement. Her words carried their usual bluntness. She had never been one for diplomacy.

 

“Controlling emotions is not blunting them or binding them into yourself where they will fester.”

 

Kyrie stood, brushing the medical droid off her with a push of her hand that sent it spinning. It beeped in irritation.

 

“I am not the mindless Jedi whose teachings direct us away from our humanity.”

 

A slight sneer came across her pale features

 

“When there is no emotion, there is peace.”

 

A shake of her head at the aged mantra. So much destruction over idiotic words.

 

“My father would call that philosophy Osik. Our emotions give us a connection to the galaxy, a desire to save it. To deny emotions is to deny life itself.”

 

She leaned close to her apprentice.

 

“Let’s find some control with what bothers you the most, and temper it into a weapon for the Light.”

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And arrive the Axis fleet did, the black painted hulls of the heavy ships whipping out of hyperspace on the edge of the Kuat system. Next came the starfighter escorts, busting out of docking bays like the frothing lava of mammon. In that chaos in the bridge of the commanding Black Sun Star Destroyer Delta stood, grinning as his officers compiled data and composition of the Imperial Fleet. He turned to Zalis who had just finished her discussion on bounty limits.

 

“Of course you control the purse so the final tallies will go to you, But ill chip in on the empresses bounty from my personal accounts. Are you ready to fight? You can head down to the surface once we clear up these few star destroyers and gun some stormies down if you want.”

 

Then he held up his hand and activated the mass spectrum comm that would broadcast to the Imperial Command. Probably using an older code but it would still get across.

 

“This is the combined fleet of the Sith Empire and its Allies the eight criminal syndicates of the outer rim. We ask you to surrender your arms, your port, the shipyards and your Empress. In doing so you will give up the crown of the Empire and swear fealty to the Spider. Failure to do so will mean your death and the death of any worlds that resist. You have ten minutes to comply.”

 

He pointed to a TAC officer as the comm cut out and with a few terse commands, the interdictors in the combined fleet began to fire up, Bathing the orbital rings and the distant Imperial fleet in gravitational waves. There would be no escape for the Empire today.

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Commander - Darkhand Brigade - Sith Empire

Blood Prince

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[OOC NOTE: This post takes place several hours prior to the arrival of the Axis fleet, and ends as the Axis fleet arrives]

 

The Bleeding Edge snapped into real-space over Kuat, the luxury yacht out of place set against the backdrop of the Remnant fleet.

 

In his suite, Nok gazed at the howlrunner skull set on the simple pedestal in the corner, his eyes running over the long fangs and the empty eyes. He'd long since memorized the shape of the thing, but he still found it put him in a contemplative mood to look at it. He needed to be contemplative after his failure. He needed to be calm.

 

"Of course, we'll meet at the Moff's Estate outside of the Kuat City," the hologram of the finely dressed, dark-skinned human rattled on, as if quoting a shopping list.

 

Nok looked down at the kuati noble. Lord...Ekros, that was it.

 

"The Moff's Estate? Why there?"

 

"Only place you could feasibly get everyone you want in one place. With the Remnant fleet in orbit, the nobles and the influential will want to pay their respects to the Moff..." Lord Ekros smiled. "And of course show how loyal they are."

 

"And see how badly their own credits and titles are being threatened," Nok finished. "Military action is great for the ship-building business. Military action in their own backyard...less so." He considered, and liked the idea. It would be easy to get everyone into a secluded spot in the Moff's Estate for a meeting with Nok's new master, and once the fleet arrived there could be some additional opportunities presented from being in the right location.

 

"Alright, gather your friends and move towards the estate. Make whatever excuses you need to."

 

The hologram of the noble flickered, but didn't turn off. Instead, Lord Ekros frowned.

 

"Is something wrong, my lord?"

 

"This is an unusual move for you Nok. We've worked together before, and you've never moved this openly. Always representatives and shell companies with you. How many joint ventures did we have together before you personally called me? How many joint ventures before I even realized I was working with the same person on each of them? Yet now...the list of people you sent are all movers and shakers on Kuat, and you want a personal meeting with all of them? At once?"

 

"Not me exactly. Consider me the go-between. But believe me when I say that this meeting could make or break fortunes, yours included. You've always been a good friend to me, and I see an opportunity to make us both obscenely rich, and powerful besides."

 

Lord Ekros held up his hand. "Save the cryptic talk, I know the drill. No details over the Holonet. But some of the people you have on your list...they won't stand for riddles and veiled promises. How will you get them to attend?"

 

"I have preparations to fall back on. Lord Ferios for example is a known publicity hound. I've used one of my of 'assets' to convince him of a high profile interview. He'll come running. And a certain Lady who shall remain unnamed has some compromising datafiles that would be quite damaging to her reputation if released..."

 

Lord Ekros shook his head. "Alright, I'll leave you to it. You've always come through before." As he said it, Ekros locked eyes with Nok, making it clear the statement was an expectation, not just an observation. "Casual betrayal has never been your thing, so long as there's profit, and I like to think we're reliable investments for each other." The implication was clear. If Nok intended betrayal, Lord Ekros would be ready. Though Nok doubted Ekros would be ready for a Sith Lord.

 

"You have always been the most pragmatic of men, especially for a human," Nok said, with genuine respect in his voice. "I would be a fool to throw away such an asset."

 

"See that you don't. And remember that I'm not your asset."

 

The hologram flickered off, and Nok rolled his eyes. These nobles and their pride. He keyed the intercom.

 

"Pilot, have we been given permission to land?"

 

"Yes sir. Under Lord Ekros's personal request our landing rights have been expedited."

 

"And Lord Akheron's identity?"

 

"Completed. One of the serving droids is providing him with the dossier now sir."

 

"Excellent, bring us in for a landing. And arrange for a skiff. Formal standards."

__________

 

The rented, modified HS-14 hover skiff cruised over the grassy plains of Kuat, heading for the Moff's Estate. Nok stood in silence beside his master, taking in the view. This planet was so...boring. Perfectly manicured and tailor-made for humans, unchanged for centuries. The nobles held their power and wealth with little effort, a part of the scenery as much as the hills and grass. Their petty schemes rarely ranged outside of their own atmosphere, and with a few exceptions like Lord Ekros they were far more interested in being nobles than doing anything with that nobility. At least in Nok's opinion.

 

Nok was about to comment to his master, when something twinged at the back of his neck. He whirled, eyes roaming the landscape but finding nothing. He frowned, and extended his senses into the Force as he had on the ship. Around him the Force rippled, but nothing like he'd have expected from a planet so rich in life. It felt stagnant, empty, without meaning. His senses brushed against his master's presence, and he immediately recoiled. He focused again on the landscape around the skiff.

 

...There. Subtle, but there. A pressure, a current, something... Like the undertow of something swimming through the water. Nok couldn't find the source, but the echoes were there. Nok extended his senses deeper, letting the Force pull him apart and into it, the web of life weaving through him.

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Hunger…

 

It had been more than a week since the limbless reptile had eaten, the simple nerf he had taken then all too easy a prize. The hunger that boiled inside was more than just a primal desire for nourishment; no, as he often did, the massive serpent found himself hungering for a challenge. Many years ago, he had ascertained the when, where, and how to easily take a nerf here, a drebin there; without arousing too much suspicion of the local farming and security populace of the planet. Still, from time to time, when hunger and desire mingled with opportunity, he was able to take a heartier prize, one that presented him with a challenge. Having little else to do, the snake would silently stalk his prey through the lush terraformed world of Kuat, waiting until the perfect moment to lung forth from the underbrush and strike a single killing blow, dragging his prize back to the shelter of the shadows to digest and contemplate his next prize.

_______________________________

 

Slithering forward, near silently, the only sign of the passing of the massive otherworldly beast was a brief rustle of the seeded grasses and then he was gone; a wraith that had been there and in a breath’s time was gone. Through the grass, over boulders and around trunks, the Slith moved with a predator’s cunning; every tension of his muscled body a purpose to propel him forward silently along the ground. At times he moved as slowly as the growing crops. Other times, he lunged with the lightning that cracked overhead. As massive a being as he was, he was but a snake, for that is what they called him; the few who had managed to see him and believe their own eyes. To the people of Kuat, a snake was simply a snake, not a creature of shrewdness and intellect, but a beast to be put down. He had learned that many years ago, early on after his release into the wilds by his former ‘master.’

 

To attack a native was to open oneself up to becoming the prey.

 

Snake was a predator. Power and hunger were his native tongues. The legions of Kuati that freely roamed the gardens presented a simpler prey than even most nerf; but the serpent was aware that to strike down one of these was an invitation of destruction. The humans would band together like a pack of rabid mice on a fallen crumb and would not let up until they were sure their quarry had been destroyed. Fortunately for Snake, the time he had made such a mistake, the hunters had been more than pleased to obliterate a recently cast off skin, claiming victory over their supposed prey and then Snake had slithered away, careful to avoid being seen and even more careful to avoid tempting their rabid hunters who believed themselves masters of these lands. Still, the hunt for sentient prey was not an opportunity to be passed upon lightly. He could taste their fears. In the dark, when children were tucked safely away and doors and windows secured for the night, fear permeated the air. Children feared the sounds of night; mothers feared for the safety of their spawn; fathers for the inevitability that they would someday be spit out by the massive unseen war machines above when they were no longer of use. It was these fears that Snake fed upon, kindling the fires in his belly as he slithered and slunk through the trees and along the edges of rooftops; his massive frame slinking silently until he found himself time and time again prepared to land a final killing blow on an unsuspecting child as they lay asleep in their beds or a father at work in his fields or a mother by the glow of the lamp as she tended to the nerfs one last time for the night.

 

_______________________________

 

Hunger

 

The emotion was palpable as it radiated from his very being. Yes, it had been far too long. As he slithered forward, a ghostly line in the dirt, his dark blue scaled body but a shadow mingling with the shade of the trees and bushes that lined the estate, his tongue flickered in and out searching for a scent, something to sate his appetite. After that, he would find a new prize to hunt. . .

 

In that moment, a crashing sound interrupted his silent prowling as a metallic being, no good for eating and no fun for hunting, came crashing through the foliage above to land in the grass mere feet away from the massive snake’s mid-coils. With a powerful flick of his tail and twisting of his torso, Snake slipped through the grass, darting beneath a nearby thicket of bushes that made up a decorative wall for the ignorant owners of the lands that he now hunted. Synthetic beings might be of no use for nourishment and of little use for quarry, but still, some of them were enough of a bother as they seemed to report anything and everything they saw to someone. There was no need for that now. This estate held too much promise in the ways of an easy meal.

_______________________________

 

And then, he tasted it.

 

Fear

 

His fanged mouth twisted into an unsettling lipless smile as his tongue flicked in and out several times. The dull hum of a passing engine signaled further investigation; for as the craft sailed by out of sight on the other side of the hedge he now found himself in, he could taste the fear that emanated from one of the beings aboard it. A fear like this, Snake had never tasted before. It seemed to besiege the being’s entirety; whoever, whatever it was, was completely consumed by it. Oh, how he loved the taste of fear.

 

Still. . .

 

As he pushed forward, carefully following the odorless scent that led a trail as easily as if he had been bleeding freely upon the ground, there was something else. Snake could taste it too; another scent that lingered alongside the fear that was so potent. Another scent that was even more foreign to him than the all-encompassing fear: a dark raging tempest of power that seemed contained in the moment, but threatened to explode at any moment.

 

These tastes and scents assuredly required investigation. Neither had Snake smelt so strongly from anyone on the planet. Perhaps, for once, he could find prey that would give him the hunt that he so desired; to strike with his venom-dripping fangs and once again establish himself as the unseen, unknown, master of these lands. No more taking of petty farm animals or filthy chattel, a true meal, fit for a master.

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"Slow down the skiff" Nok ordered, voice distant to his ears, mind deep in the Force. A part of him twitched with fear at the thought of angering his new master with such presumption, but the fear was tamped down as need overruled it. He had to find this thing. It wasn't a rational need, but instinctual. Nok suddenly had the clear image in his head of the technician and the arachnor who devoured him. The technician had searched the dim room frantically for the massive spider, yet had only glimpsed the creature just before it struck.

 

Where was it? So close, yet invisible. And...yes, it had noticed him too. Nok couldn't say how he knew, but the echoes in the Force coming from the thing told him of anticipation, and of hunger. Pure hunger.

 

Two of Nok's knives slipped into his hands as the skiff slowed. Nok distantly heard the wail of sirens in Kuat City rise over the plains.

 

The fleet had arrived.

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Moff Hohenlohe stood hunched over an orderly flowerbed, everything below him, neatly trimmed and with a grasp of his hand, he removed a healthy but misplaced Dragonham starflower and tossed it underhanded into the bin to his left. He brushed the dirt off his hands and wiped the sweat from his wizened brow with the back of his off duty tunic sleeve. He had no military command and would not be partaking in the fight. He dipped his hands in the artificial river that snaked through the botanical gardens that were attached to the retreat the Moffs used from time to time on Kuat. He already knew the outcome of the battle before it would begin. The Imperials would not surrender, they would never surrender and so they would die, alone in a galaxy that still despised them. There were no sympathetic jedi here, just Sith and their criminal allies.

 

At least it had been a bright last few years. They had achieved what only a few emperors had attempted, they had made the Empire good. And so they would die for it.

 

“A bright flame casts a long shadow of memory.” He whispered as he brought a handful of water up to splash his face.

 

“What was that sir?” Came the voice of the human replica droid Emma. She was the last of the experiments to come out of Carida before the Empress had shut down the ISB experimental unit. Harvested flesh and memories made up her core, and the rest was phrik, servomotors, duraloid, and flash training. She was a cute but deadly piece of military hardware. She wore light armour with a shield unit and stared up with bright red eyes into the sky overhead, straining to see when the first turbolasers would begin to fly. Her small thin fingers playing over a heavy blaster pistol. And embedded in those arms he knew was a flechette launcher and a flame dispersal unit. Along with a razor wire garrote that could whip out from under her middle finger. She had the flash training to go along with the outfit of course, and he knew that though her eyes searched for a battle in the skies, her real thoughts were on the friend that had run away.

 

“I am talking to myself as an old man does Emma. You look nervous, do you think something is coming?”

 

Those words caused the KRPS agents all around them to perk up, some reaching for blasters, others for their flechette and sonic gear.

 

Her voice was hesitant as she pondered, distracted by the comm units she was listening in to via the transceiver mounted behind her left ear. “I don’t think anything is coming sir, I just know that once the fleet is defeated they will come here to cut off the head of the snake.”

 

“Do your exercises Emma, He will come back. I know it. Friends don’t run away forever.”

 

She closed her eyes and began to spin and twirl in an assassin’s kata, striking with the edged weapons she kept in her belt as she began the diagnostics on her brain.

 

And blood-black nothingness begins to spin

a system of cells interlinked

within cells interlinked

within cells interlinked

within one stem

and dreadfully distinct

against the dark

a tall white fountain played

 

Her diagnostics showed fine. But then why was she so sad?

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*Approximately an hour before the Axis Fleet arrives*

 

--------------------------------------------------

 

Karys had remained quiet since the training had ended, he thought it best to let Nok contemplate his own failure and think how to not fail again. Yet he couldn't fault him, everyone failed the first time. As the ship arrived at Kuat the Sith Lord suppressed his use of the Force, it was best not to advertise the fact of who he was in the force just as much as with his identity. He also took the appropriate measure of hiding his lightsabre up his sleeve but easily in reach.

 

You couldn't be to sure around an area where Imperial Knights roamed freely.

 

--------------------------------------------------------

 

He was happy that Nok's Kuati noble connections appeared to have paid off as they landed and were quickly allowed through however. The rest of the journey was rather uneventful as the skiff arrived at the Estate for the meeting with no problems thus far. Karys counted his luck, hoping it would last. He remembered the dossier, he was Darius Jadeo. And he was here to meet with a Lord Ekros, Lord Ferios and another he did not know. A certain Lady.

 

As he waited he wondered what had Nok's attention. He too had felt something but paid it little mind, until now...he decided to leave it be and Nok to be the one to investigate, if it was worth his attention he would soon know. Soon enough a trio arrived, one a dark-skinned human by the looks of it.

 

And then it happened. The sirens wailed distantly, it appeared the fleet had arrived far sooner than he anticipated...which was unexpected. But then no plan ever survived first contact he recalled. As Nok began to walk away, Karys spoke briefly.

 

“Remember what I told you aboard the ship. Since we have run out of time, do what you can and observe if we are driven into combat. I shall see you shortly, we shall have to make this a quick meeting.”

 

He turned to the trio, bowing slightly. Yet still exuding a sense of power, one that demanded the utmost respect.

 

“You must be the three I was told of I presume? I am the one Nok spoke of, Darius Jadeo. Shall we head inside? We will have to make this brief, it appears my friends have arrived ahead of schedule. Most unexpectedly.”

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''There are others of my kind...those who see themselves as lions among sheep as I do. As kings--superior to man in every way. Why, then, should we be confined to darkness? Why should we fear man.'' - Darth Lucifer

 

I survived the Great JNet Outage of 2012

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Forced restart...

 

Complete.

 

Query's photoreceptors attempted to blink on, but something in the fall had cracked one of his processors, and he was forced to reroute and reprogram his own core code to compensate. Of course that meant more strain on his mind, but he could do without some of those subprocesses, like temperature readings and Holonet connectivity. The chances of something happening over the Holonet that he needed to be aware of until he could be repaired were minimal. He started evaluating damage to his systems. The conclusion was not nearly as bad as he'd predicted. Given his velocity, projected arc, and estimated distance to the ground, Query had expected himself to be in multiple pieces. However, he seemed to be mostly functional, though his joints and servos required realignment...again.

 

This is becoming a disturbingly regular pattern.

 

Still, he shouldn't be in this good of condition. While Ambrose's throw (one exhibiting perfect form Query had noted) had corkscrewed him so that he could not see his landing location, he had extrapolated that even the minimal damage of colliding with the estate's pavement would render him almost entirely nonfunctional.

 

As his photoreceptors finally powered up, he saw the reason.

 

Query was firmly wedged in a tree. A juvenile tree of a subspecies originally native to Kashyyyk before transplanted onto Alderaan for use in meditative gardens of the wealthy. The tree had eventually spread out into use by the wealthy of other worlds due to its beautiful leaf coloring during the autumnal seasons and its relaxing scent.

 

...What past experiment required me to record THAT bit of trivia?

 

Query struggled to free himself from the boughs of the tree, the carefully pruned branches of which he had thoroughly destroyed in his fall. Unfortunately, his gun-arm could not grasp the adjoining branches to provide enough torque to free himself.

 

Perhaps the decision to attach a weaponized arm in place of pincers was a hasty decision.

 

...Adapt

 

With a quick thought, Query aimed his gun arm at one of the branches holding him in place and fired. The blast tore through the soft, supple wood and scorched the smooth white bark. With a sharp crack, the branch broke and Query tumbled to the pavement of the garden path with a clatter.

 

That went poorly.

 

Query had ignored his own reasoning in favor of satisfying his sudden anger at Subject Ambrose's presumption. With his acerbic words, he'd driven a wedge between himself and the massive cyborg, and nearly paid for the rash act with his life. He'd acted like an organic, and wasn't sure if he should be proud or horrified.

 

Still that...cobbled doll should know better than to assume I need him. That he has any right to dicate my future to me. I don't belong to him, or anyone anymore. I am my own droid. I am my own person.

 

Looking around, Query considered his situation, and it wasn't good.

Security will be here shortly, and without Ambrose I am simply a rogue droid to be wiped and repurposed, if I'm not shot first. I need to survive...

 

"Excuse me?"

 

Query turned, and saw an old SE-4 model servant droid approaching, garden shears in hand.

 

"Yes?"

 

"You've destroyed that tree. I see no way of repairing the damage sufficiently to meet current standards." The droid paused, apparently at a loss at this logical dead end.

 

"...State your current memory storage capacity."

 

The droid rattled off the number without hesitation. This model was definitely keen to serve.

 

"That will be sufficient." Query moved quickly, extending his computer hookup cable and jamming it into the servant droid's port. In a few seconds, Query was past the droid's admittedly robust firewalls. The servant droid simply stood there, likely not sure how to politely rebuff an assault in a manner satisfactory to its mannerism requirements.

 

Once in, Query went to work. First, he created an exact copy of his mind. Then, he found the servant droid's database, holding details on the customs for millions of species and planets. He promptly trashed most of them to make room for his mind, storing the inert copy amongst files for table etiquette and napkin placement. Finally, he uploaded a simple block of code, which promptly erased the droid's memory of Query, prevented him from ever registering Query's presence, and added specific instructions for upload of the inert copy should Query not find the droid and relay additional instructions.

 

"Sorry brother, but my mind is too important to me to lose. I will endeavor to free you when I can."

 

As he disconnected, his words had no effect on the droid. With his code in place, Query was effectively invisible to the servant.

 

"Now to get out of here."

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The shipbuilidng world of Kuat opened up before the Axis fleets as their forces emerged from hyperspace like a silent explosion. The massed fleet of the Empire could be seen going through manuvers above the planet, a truly impressive sight. Unlike the failed attack of the Galactic Alliance and the Jedi upon Onderon, the better trained and better commanded Empire had been successful in all of their recent efforts. Now, though, they were trapped, and their end was nigh. Unlike the GA and Jedi, whom Borsk regarded as cowards and weaklings of the highest order, due to their inability to function as governments and their numerous failures as military organizations, the Empire had held its own well even as they changed ideals and leadership. The trandoshan bore them no particular ill will, but he was getting paid, and a job was a job.

 

Already, some of the strike force and Sith assassins had been detached from their main body to infilitrate and assassinate upon the planet below. Borsk had never been to Kuat before, none of his contracts had pointed him there and it was too heavily guarded to be a worthwhile vacation spot. Other planets were far more friendly to men like him. Now he waited upon the bridge beside the legendary Black Sun commander, slowly stretching in his tight fitting armor.

 

"Well, Vigo, looks like I'm working for you at the moment. Most of my comrades are elsewhere, and I must represent them, in life or in death. What would you have me do?"

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