Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Sean Brandt and Kit Gwynne.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:1:24) in the Essesia system: Interrogator.
Sergeant Batua and Major Serra Eona.

Being a sergeant in the Stormtrooper Corps wasn't a difficult position to get to. Keeping it was the fun part. Sitting in the small office Sergeant Batua had managed to get assigned to himself, he kicked back for a few moments, feet on the desk, unlit cigarra in hand. Reflecting on recent events, he wondered at how things had gone full circle.

At the height minimum, some might have overlooked Batua as unimportant. Like his fellow troopers, he kept his hair cropped so it was impossible to tell his original hair color. If some of his hair had gone gray, no one was brave enough to mention it to him. Any tendency to overlook him stopped when anyone looked into his deep brown eyes. Grizzled was one description, hard another. Batua liked to call it survival. He was no dummy, having made it to Sergeant and having no desire to climb any higher.

Batua was content being a soldier for the Empire. Concern for what he did wasn't in his cards. Keeping his squad alive was and he did it with a passion. Those under his command may not like him, and personally, like any Drill Sergeant, he didn't give a crap about being liked. What he did care about was having men he could depend on to not break and run in a fight and that's what he had.

Raising his lighter to the cigarra end, he sent a few puffs of smoke into the office, watching as the ad hoc filtration unit sucked it up behind the flickering flames of the lighter. Inhaling a good drag on the cigarra, he noted he the filter would need replacing soon, some of the smoke wasn't getting caught. While he didn't think anyone would give him any actual flack about smoking in his office, it was never good to flaunt the little perks his service had entitled him to.

Tossing the old fashioned flame lighter onto the table, he blew out the smoke, his thoughts returning to the new commander, one High Colonel Mark Veller. He shook his head, wondering if it had really been that long ago. Taking another drag, he then turned the cigarra to watch the glowing end fade slightly, the burned ash forming as the embers retreated further in. High Colonel, he snorted to himself, Always figured he'd make officer if he didn't get himself killed first. And now he's here aboard my ship.

With his feet on his desk, he was about to lean back and take a nap, those inventory reports could wait, another privilege of rank, when he heard the scramble of feet standing at attention. Other sergeants might wonder why he put his office at the end of the barracks. He wasn't about to enlighten them. Let them figure out their own tricks for having a long career in the Stormtrooper Corps. He wasn't a sergeant by his good looks alone. It always helped to have a warning, even a few seconds, that an officer was inbound.

It was those few seconds that enabled Sergeant Batua to take his feet off his desk and at least give the appearance that he had been busy the last few moments before the officer turned the corner. There was, of course, nothing to be done about the cigarra. Those who smoked tended to keep it to the mess hall or their quarters. While there was no explicit regulation against it, unwritten rules stated only officers were allowed the privilege, the common enlisted man had to make do. He wondered which officer had gotten a bee in his bonnet to inspect this time around.

The transition from Captain to Major was proving to be a more jarring experience than Serra Eona had anticipated. Relative autonomy and a crew that was mostly unwilling to question her had become a struggle to maintain favor and a delicate balance between her duty to the Empire and the whims of a Sith Lord. This new position had it's advantages, of course, but it was a different world, one she was still having to acclimate to.

Setbacks with this new initiative using the bounty hunters to handle high risk missions were consuming the majority of her time. Serra was beginning to see it as little more than a distraction, a demand on resources that were better spent elsewhere. Soon, however, the ill fated project might bear unexpected fruit, and rid her of one of the more troublesome mercenaries.

Her mind needed a little distance from the issue, however, and in order to clear her thoughts she resumed a previously halted investigation into the crew of the Interrogator. It was far from a necessary task; working aboard the ship meant being thoroughly vetted by Imperial Intelligence to begin with. It was a personal project, one initiated by a desire for information. She collected it as one might rare flowers or fine art, keeping it locked away for future use, if it ever proved useful at all.

It was during this that she came across the dossier for Sergeant Batua. His career didn't warrant much investigation, but the fact he had ties to the new High Colonel caught Serra's attention. A surprise visit to an NCO might be just what she needed to shake herself back into form, and Batua presented the perfect opportunity for such an exercise.

The troopers who snapped to attention wore a blend of expressions, depending on their personal level of exposure to Imperial Intelligence. Unlike those serving aboard the Warspite, the bulk of these troopers were somewhat experienced with the presence of such agents, but there was an undeniable tension as she walked through the corridor. Many kept their faces stone cold, playing the good soldier, but the newer ones, those who had heard the horror stories or even bore witness to such themselves, showed their nerves.

Serra, for her part, disregarded them. She strolled on to the Sergeant's office, the door gliding open, access triggered by her clearance level. She stepped inside, eyes falling on Batua, noting his posture and the fact he smoked. Her attention moved around the space, taking in the details of his quarters. Still she didn't have a word to say, not until after she took a seat and extracted a cigarra of her own, using her own lighter to ignite it. Sure, she could have snatched his, but Serra wasn't one for little displays of authority. The fact she was here at all sufficed in that regard.

After an exhale of smoke, Serra's eyes fell to rest on Batua once more. "Sergeant. I trust your duties haven't been upset too greatly by the changes in command staff."

Only the barest hint of surprise showed on Batua's face as the one and only Major Serra Eona of Imperial Intelligence plunked herself down in the seat before his desk without so much as a nod. Not that she needed his permission to sit down at his desk. Hell, Imperial Intelligence could have him and the desk jettisoned out the airlock without too many people being sorry. There were always people who dreamed of seeing his ass on the other side of the airlock. It was the normal state of affairs for a sergeant in the Imperial Stormtrooper Corps. Popularity games aren't really a thing among sergeants or Imperial Intelligence, unless it suited some other purpose.

Watching her light up a cigarra and the informal way in which he came in, not even giving him a chance to come to attention before sitting down, Batua felt a few alarms go off when she indirectly referenced the High Colonel. Last he knew, Veller was just making Captain, though that information was about a year old when it got to him and that was about two years ago. If he was lucky, Veller just might be seeing Major within a year or two. But High Colonel should have been a good fifteen or twenty years down the road, if ever.

Hearing that their new commander was one High Colonel Mark Veller, he hadn't thought much about it. The Empire was big enough he was sure there were other Mark Vellers running around. Responding to what he thought was a routine summons by the new CO, he was shocked to see it actually was the Veller he knew, though neither of them acknowledged they knew each other as Veller had briefed him on what he wanted done with the Mando'Brat.

Batua was no dummy when it came to Imperial Intelligence and how they operated. When they were around, he kept his head down, did his job and expected things to go to hell quickly. This preparation had enabled him to survive those few times Imperial Intelligence had used Stormtroopers for whatever operation he wasn't privy to.

The only changes to his normal routine were the Mando'Brat and Veller. He doubted the Major would waste her time talking to him about El-Nay, he had been pretty clear in his report to the High Colonel. So, that left Veller as the only reason for her to personally visit instead of summoning him to her office. This meant she wanted something from him she felt she couldn't get by summoning him to her office.

Making a few hasty connections, he realized he would have to play this very carefully to find out what the Major was digging for. Instead of answering her directly, he reached down to the bottom drawer and pulled out an unmarked bottle and two shot glasses. Setting them down on his desk, he poured a few fingers of what passed for whiskey on this ship before setting the bottle back down on the desk. "To ya'll's health, Major," he said, lifting one of the shot glasses, "or lack thereof after drinking this rotgut." He downed the whiskey in one gulp and then refilled the glass. "Aside from havin' ta babysit that brat of a Mandalorian," his spat out the word like a curse, not liking bounty hunters, considering them to be uncouth, undisciplined and reckless, El-Nay Darr doing everything to confirm his prejudice, "ain't been much change, Major."

He studied the Major for a moment, then, raising his voice, he yelled out into the corridor, "But Ah's expects everyone ta not be lollygaggin' around the barracks like some folks Ah mighta seen just a few minutes ago!"

The sounds of armored feet quickly leaving the nearby barracks was loud at first, but then faded away. Sergeant Batua kept his eyes fixed on the doorway, ignoring the Major's presence until the footsteps had faded. Turning his attention to the Major, his dark brown eyes now fully fixed on her face, he said, "But somehow, Major, Ah doesn't think ya'll came down here to mah little corner o' the Interrogator to ask me that." He put the cigarra back into this mouth and drew in a few puffs, the end burning dully for a few moments before fading. Blowing the smoke at the ceiling, he waited for Major Eona to get to the point. While he longed to put his feet up on the desk, he wasn't quite ready to show that much insubordination to an officer who could bury him. Sergeant he might be, dummy he was not.

These sorts of visits were far from routine, which was precisely why Serra had taken the time to come here. Aboard the Warspite she had made a habit of lurking around the ship from time to time, dropping in unexpectedly and often doing nothing more than silently observing. It fostered a certain presence and a reputation to go along with it. If the run of the mill troops were expected to believe Intelligence was everywhere, it was necessary to nurture that impression as often as possible. Her duties as liaison to the High Inquisitor had made such a presence aboard The Interrogator almost impossible so far. Serra was determined to establish herself, however, and soon. It would be necessary for her long term work.

Her unpleasant gaze rested fully on Batua as he produced the bottle of what she could only assume was homebrewed liquor and a pair of glasses. It was a little bold, but these were the quarters of what was by all rights a hardened veteran of the Stormtrooper Corps, so not entirely unexpected. She accepted the shot and gave it a sniff. Nothing about it seemed terribly appetizing and she frowned slightly at the prospect of drinking it, but drink it she did, pulling a face as the disgusting fluid drained down her throat. The glass was returned to his desk and she took a long pull from her cigarra, the smoke scorching some of the awful flavor away and helping the alcohol settle in her stomach.

It wasn't until after Batua put a little fear into his unseen, lingering charges that Serra spoke. "I read your report on El-Nay Darr, Sergeant. I don't intend to let her disrupt your work any longer." It no doubt came across in a rather ominous way, something that wasn't unintended. "As you so astutely observed, however, that's not why I'm here. The High Colonel was previously one of your recruits, under your instruction. Is that correct?" Of course it was, and of course she knew it, but like any good agent Serra had learned how to make even the most basic introductory questions a matter of discomfort.

Batua's eyes narrowed slightly at the Major's words. He couldn't say he was sorry to see the Mando'Brat leave his life. That he had been a Drill Sergeant at the Academy when Veller was passing through was a matter of record. That she knew Veller had been one of the recruits placed in his care meant someone had been really digging into Veller's past. From his own turn at the Academy, he knew most stopped at the Academy CO's recommendation at graduation

Deciding against another drag on his cigarra, he merely stated, "That's a matter o' public record, Major," his voice neutral, "Iffing ya dig deep enough, which Ah guess since ya'll is asking, ya did." Tiny voices in the back of his began to wonder who Veller had pissed off to get promoted to CO of the troopers on The Interrogator. He also had to wonder if the Major had any part in the promotion, if she knew exactly what she had placed in command of over 9000 Imperial Stormtroopers.

"To be perfectly honest, Sergeant, looking into detailed records of an Imperial soldier's service record doesn't require a great deal of digging. Not for the right people." The man was on his guard already. It was a nice change of pace from the usual game of verbal chess she had to play with the High Inquisitor. This was, from the beginning, shaping up to be just the sort of conversation she needed to help her regroup and refocus. Batua seemed smart, but not overly clever. His own record marked him as long past due for promotion, which spoke of a man who preferred the relative straightforward life of a lower rank. Just enough trouble to never advance, never so much that he would earn demotion. Someone who never would have even crossed her radar except for some unfortunate ties to a particular High Colonel that Serra had a vested interest in.

"You seem like a man who takes pride in producing good soldiers, Sergeant. I imagine you remember many of them. Tell me what you remember about Mark Veller." She took another drag from the cigarra, trusting this more direct approach would help guide the conversation in the direction she was aiming for.

Batua looked at her for a moment, processing this direct approach. It was unusual in an Intelligence Officer and it rang all the warning bells he had. Veller must be in some real shit, he thought to himself. He took a drag on his cigarra to give himself a few seconds in deciding on his response, "What Ah remembers about mah new CO, eh?" he blew out the smoke, "That's a mighty big request for sumthin' that happened over 15 years ago, Major. Been a lot o' water under the bridge, iffing ya takes mah meaning."

He gazed over to the left of the Major, let his eyes unfocus as if he were remembering something. He didn't have to think about it to remember the young Mark Veller. The raw recruit had made quite an impression on the sergeant, though he had never let anyone know it. The reports he had filed on the young cadet were nothing special, just giving him the grade he had earned.

What had struck him though was Veller's persistence and his integrity. Veller was the scholarship boy in that batch of recruits. Every class had at least three or four, most of the time they dropped out. While the official reason varied, it was the hazing from the other recruits that usually did the job. Hazing that a blind eyes was turned to.

Mark not only withstood the hazing, but turned it around eventually, making sure the others knew there was only embarrassment to be had going after that particular scholarship boy. Ever since that, he had kept tabs on Mark's career in a leisurely way. He figured Mark would get his promotions in the usual time frame, but also wondered if he would run afoul of various unsavory elements in the Empire.

He turned back to the Major, "Did ya know he was a Scholarship Boy?" he asked the Major.

Patience was one of the greatest tools at an agent's disposal, and Serra had it in spades. There was no hint of urgency about her as Batua took his time remembering. The mention of this being a rather tall order received a calm, cold gaze and another drag or two from her cigarra, and nothing else. This kind of casual discomfort was a hallmark of Intel, something she had been drilled with just as relentlessly as Batua no doubt drilled discipline into his own soldiers.

"It's in his records, of course. I can't say I've had much personal experience with soldiers brought to the Academy on scholarship. As I understand, most of them drop out before they finish." The unasked question, of course, being why Mark succeeded where so few often did.

Batua nodded, totally unfazed by the gaze Serra was giving him. It wasn't unlike the gaze he gave his own people on inspection. "Yeah," Batua drawled, "Only a few o' dem Scholarship boys ever make it through. But then, the Scholarship did what most o' dem wanted, got 'em out o' whatever shithole dey grew up in. Got dem to Coruscant, world o' opportunity!" One could tell by Batua's voice he was being sarcastic with that remark, knowing full well opportunities on Coruscant were reserved for the connected, which Scholarship boys by definition were not.

"Veller though, Veller, he was different. Know'd dat the moment Ah laid mah eyes on him. He weren't standing there in thda line sniveling or wondering what in the hell he was doing up at o'dark hun'erd being chewed out by us sergeants," he paused again to take a drag on the cigarra, "No siree, Veller was standing der as if the cold weren't a bother." He looked over at Serra, "What made Veller succeed while all others failed was determination. And there weren't nothing that was going to stand in his way."

The Sergeant wasn't a pushover. She should have anticipated it, of course. He was a drill instructor and had to be hard as nails, in a rough, soldierly sort of way. It didn't take long to discover why he had landed a position aboard The Interrogator, despite the questionable record that kept him locked out of any real advancement. A man perfectly suited to his job. While her primary reason for the visit hadn't been to get to know Batua better, it was still proving to be a fascinating wealth of insight.

"Indeed. His determination and loyalty to the Empire are why he was hand selected for this command. I'm sure you're aware of the honor and respect that comes with such a position aboard an ISD under the Inquisitorious, as well as the severe consequences should an individual prove incapable of fulfilling the duties of that position." Would Batua back Veller, or suggest some possibility of his new superior officer's ineptitude? Few knew that Serra had a vested interest in Veller's success, and this meant she wanted to ensure he didn't have any enemies lying in wait for an opportunity to strike. Giving someone the chance to rat out a person they didn't care for to an Intelligence officer tended to be a good way to find out.

For a moment, Batua digested Serra's words, then probably did what the Major least expected, he laughed. Putting his cigarra in the ashtray so he didn't have to worry about dropping it, he took about a minute before he got himself under control. "Major, you don't have to worry about High Colonel Mark Veller failing his duties. He will fulfill them or die trying." His eyes narrowed and he picked up the cigarra. The hand that held it stabbed in Serra's direction, "He's pissed off so many commanding officers by doing just that it ain't even funny. But he does it in a way they can't touch him, which pisses them off even more. Mark succeeds at whatever job gets tossed his way 'cept one. He ain't very good at dying. And that ain't for lack of commanding officers trying."

Batua stuffed the cigarra back into his mouth and chewed on the end a bit, keeping his expression neutral, but there were hints of tension at the corners of his eyes. He knew his outburst had just revealed to the Major he'd kept an eye on Veller's career, an unusual thing for an Academy Drill Sergeant to do. "Seeing as you've probably had a hand in the assignment, I sure hope you know what you've just given command of 9000 Stormtroopers to." He leaned back in his chair, forcing his body to relax. Chewing on his cigarra as the other end slowly turned to ash, he tried to gage what the Major's reaction would be to his dropping the illiterate accent he usually used.

Veller he was sure would view the promotion as an honor, but Batua knew being onboard an ISD commanded by Sith would probably not end well for Mark. Mark was a believer and the Academy had done nothing to disillusion him as it should have. If anything, it had made his faith even stronger.

If he had to admit it, part of the reason he kept an eye on Mark's career was morbid fascination. He wondered just how spectacular Mark's demise would eventually be, how high would he go before someone managed to orchestrate his fall. The Empire's upper ranks were no place for people with ideals and Mark had that in spades with his honor and dedication to duty.

Batua knew from experience that Mark could and would inspire loyalty in the troopers under his command. He had that knack, just the right amount of praise and discipline to make a trooper desire to be better. Hell, it had even worked on him when Veller was a boot. He well remembered the extra combat sessions he had given Veller. At first telling himself it was because Veller was the only numbskull in the whole outfit smart enough to know he had something to learn, and boy did Veller learn. Veller drank in his instruction like it was water. But the pride he had felt when Veller graduated made him know he was lying to himself, that the Scholarship Boy had somehow insinuated himself and won Batua's loyalty. He just hoped he would never have to chose between Veller and something else, because he wasn't quite sure which way he would go, and that mere thought unsettled him as Major Eona's surprise visit had failed to do.

Given enough time, he was sure every single squad aboard this ISD would willing follow Veller to Hell and back again and be good enough to make the journey. Given enough time. Batua wondered if Veller had that time or if he had doomed himself the moment he had stepped onboard.

The laugh was entirely unexpected, and Serra lifted a brow, not entirely sure what had inspired such a reaction. She'd seen a pretty broad spectrum of responses from people during her time and while people did sometimes laugh when faced with persecution, never before had she experienced it when it came to questions about a fellow soldier. It sparked a thought in her, a curiosity about just how close Batua actually felt to Mark. If the laugh were a product of nerves, then this conversation was putting the man on edge in some way.

Veller's influence wasn't entirely restricted to the soldiers he worked with, either. Serra herself, an uncaring woman who by some had been described as a walking corpse, wanted the man to succeed. This desire was naturally driven by the fact she had recommended him for the position and orchestrated his promotion, but his ability and confidence had proven to be more than even she had expected. Mark Veller was the sort of man you wanted to make great. The fact wasn't lost on her, and for now she intended to work in that direction, to support his rise as much as she could without compromising her work. There was a danger there, however, and this wasn't lost on Serra either.

She continued to smoke, burning down her cigarra to the butt before snuffing it out in the ashtray on Batua's desk. Her hands folded in her lap while he carried on, eyes settling on him, watching him. The change in accent didn't escape her notice, but she made no outward sign of awareness. For all that shifted on her expression, the Major might as well have been watching paint dry. The game was in full swing now, and it was a game she played exceedingly well. Learn everything, reveal nothing.

As Batua's words wrapped she went through the motions of extracting a fresh cigarra from inside her jacket, lighting it, and taking a healthy drag. Attention settled back on Batua, but not a word was spoken until several seconds after the last of the smoke left her lips.

"I hope I've given command to someone who is loyal to the Empire above all else. Everyone who serves swear the oath, but so few truly take it to heart. If he is everything you believe him to be, Sergeant, then let us hope he manages to dodge death a while longer." Something Serra had every intention to assist with, but even with the help of someone in her position, nothing was guaranteed. A life of service under a Sith was a dangerous one, and not often survived for long.

Batua took a long drag on his cigarra, blowing the smoke at the ceiling, "Oh, the High Colonel is loyal to the Empire, alright, Major, his loyalty ain't something you have to worry about. It's what he's loyal to, ya gotta worry about, if you catch my drift. And he'll dodge death, Major, been doing it since he was a boot." He put out the stub of his cigarra in the ashtray, then leaned forward towards the Major, elbows on his desk. "You are aware, of course, that there are always a few fatal training accidents in the Academy every year. Keeps the recruits on their toes. Arranged a few of them myself, though most are legitimate training accidents. Can't train soldiers without cracking a few heads."

He leaned back in his chair, pulled out another cigarra and stuffed it into his mouth unlit. Lifting his hands he laced them behind his neck, "From his record, do you think Veller ever had a training accident?" He waited for the Major to respond. What she said would tell him just how far she had dug into his file. The official one would probably just have his commendations, the very few times he was reprimanded, his grade average and Veller's performance reviews culminating in that recommendation from the Academy Colonel to be graduated.

Pulling a few strings, there were the Academy's actual files, kept under heavy encryption and locked away on the principle that what happened in the Academy stayed in the Academy. He'd actually managed a look at them years ago. He held no illusions about the depths to which people to plummet. Nor did he hold any illusions on how far he had plunged. But Mark's file was a whole different flavor. The Academy Colonel had hated Veller with a passion that bordered on insanity and wanted him disposed of. That Veller was here, onboard the Interrogator was evidence that plot had failed.

But now, with Veller on a ship commanded by a Sith, answering to a Sith, Batua wondered if the Academy Colonel had finally found a way to rid the universe of Veller.

Serra was able to put to rest at least concern that she had come here to address. There was no doubt as to Batua's competence, but his willingness to serve under a former recruit was cause enough for her to pay him a visit. The Major was well aware of just how cutthroat the Imperial Military could be. That very sort of scheming was encouraged as a means to weed out the weak so the strong could prevail. It could, however, also lead to complications and problems when such ambitious subterfuge undermined the plans of another. Serra had no intention to let someone else's power schemes ruin what she had put in place. Mark Veller was a reflection of her, and if he was undone by someone within his own ranks, it would look quite poorly on the Intel officer.

After another inhale from the second cigarra since her visit, Serra carried on. "I'm well aware of the little machinations that are occasionally used against unfavorable recruits, Sergeant. Our own training facilities operate under similar conditions." The verbal maneuver intended to glean some information about how deep her research into Veller had gone didn't go unnoticed. It was the very sort of tactic that Serra used in conversations. While it was impressive that the Sergeant was clever enough to pull the trick, she had no intention of playing into it.

"I imagine, considering he was under your command as a recruit, you would have witnessed any such efforts first hand. Clearly he survived his time in training, though, or he wouldn't be here today." She left it at that, pointedly failing to answer the question he posed. There must have been some reason he asked. Serra wanted to see if she could force him into some admittance of why he was digging to find out just how far she'd gone in her checks on the new High Colonel.

Batua reached over and plucked his lighter off the desk, seeming to keep his eyes on Serra and finding the lighter unerringly. Oh, he thought to himself, she is -good-. He chuckled to himself, would be interesting to find the trail of corpses that lead to her current rank. But only if there wasn't a chance of becoming one of those corpses. He didn't imagine Major Eona would appreciate someone else knowing too much about her past.

Puffing on his cigarra to fully light it, he closed the lighter with a click and set it down, sending another column of smoke towards the ceiling. "From reading the official file, you might think three or four, yes? He's got a few commendations that could mask his overcoming a training accident. And yes, before you ask, I've seen that file, made some notations myself into it."

He leaned forward desk, "Major, Cadet Mark Veller survived no less than twelve attempts on his life. There are very few people I don't want to meet in a dark alley. If I did, I'd want Veller at my back. And I'd know he would have my back. But Major, betray him, and you might as well kill yourself, because that is far preferable to the fate that awaits you should Veller catch up with you." he leaned back in his seat once again and puffed on the cigarra for a moment.

"Major, you wanted to know if Veller was the man for the job? I will tell you straight up, he's one of the best I saw go through the Academy, what you would call a good man. And damn, if he didn't show up all the privileged Academy brats while he was there. So if you need a good man, Veller is your man. If you need something different, then I would watch myself when he discovers that, cause he gets mean when someone betrays him," Batua puffed some more smoke at the ceiling, having not said anything new. As far as he was concerned, this interview was over. Unless given a better reason than a nosy Intel Major, he wasn't going to say anything else to endanger Mark's chance at making it.

From his brief moments with Veller, he knew Veller remembered him as a mentor but also respected the distance he chose to maintain with the recruits. The Veller he knew in the Academy was a raw recruit and Batua had little idea how the intervening years had shaped him. But he knew the one thing they hadn't done was dint that shield of honor he cloaked himself in.

Batua was content to deliver his warning on Veller's honor. If the Major was as smart as he thought she was, she would take what steps she could to continue shielding that honor. Veller, as a raw recruit, had come close to beating him, something recruits by an unwritten law should never even come near. Fifteen years later, Batua was sure Veller could hand him his ass if he so chose. And yes, in a dark alley, he wouldn't mind having Veller at his back, but one thing he didn't confess to the Major, he wouldn't want to go up against Veller in that same alley.

For all his honor, when it came to fighting, Veller played to win and while there were some depths he wouldn't plumb, he wasn't above using ambushes and the like to win a battle. Veller liked to win, and considered it a personal affront when he didn't. An admirable trait in a commanding officer.

There were very few who had access to the full depth of Major Serra Eona's record, and with good reason. Like all others who served within the Destabilization, or Quiet Branch, of the Bureau of Operations, the details of her work were reserved for the top echelon of Imperial Intelligence. The Sergeant was probably more correct in his assumptions than he realized. Serra's career had been built on a mountain of corpses, many of them people whose only crime was compliance with local governments or civilizations that resisted Imperial control a little too actively. Most societies, of course, could be forced to bend with a strong enough presence from the military. There were those, however, which had to be broken and rebuilt, and that was where DeStab stepped in.

Sergeant Batua was incredibly good at revealing only as much as he wanted to, though, and Serra could appreciate such a quality. Even with his caution, though, this meeting had been far from pointless. A wealth of information that could only come from such a personal connection between two soldiers had been shared and, even in these final statements, there was a great deal being discovered. Mark Veller was a fascinating man who attracted others of equal interest. In many ways an ideal candidate for the job she had placed him in, but there were little hints and suggestions hidden within Batua's statements that made clear how close she would have to watch Veller.

Serra stood, inhaling deeply from her cigarra. Smoke rolled free from her lips as she extinguished the cigarra in the ashtray on Batua's desk, leaving the snuffed remains of it there. Her eyes followed the motions, only lifting back to Batua once she stood straight once more.

"Thank you for your time, Sergeant."

Feeling no need for any further parting words, Serra turned to leave. She had all she had come here for and more.

Batua nodded, "Anytime Major," he said, "Got that whole open door policy thing going," he said. He disliked Intel enough to put in that jab. As if he could keep Intel out if he wanted to. Seems like this tour of duty on board The Interrogator had a chance to be very interesting. He just hoped it wasn't so interesting it got him killed.

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