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Kit Gwynne, Rachel King, and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:7) in the Essesia system: Interrogator
Apprentice Inquisitor Kia Kaen, High Inquisitor Serine Thanor, and Colonel Mark Veller.

A day and a half had passed since the High Inquisitor was placed into a bacta tank before she started to stir awake. Her initial moments were jarring and extremely disoriented as she came to, suspended in liquid with a breathing apparatus strapped around her face. Her whole body jolted out of shock and dismay, a sudden reaction to uncertainty, until her conscious waking mind took over and she started to realize what her predicament was. Her vision strained through the murky and opaque liquid but she did not have to fully see any images to know that her apprentice was waiting for her right outside of the tank. This whole endeavor humiliated and shamed her, floating helplessly like some gutless urchin. An impatient and angry fist slammed into the interior transparent duraplast container in a silent demand to be released from this bacta prison. When the droids were slow to heed her commands, another heavy blow smashed into the tank with enough unnatural power to create a few unsightly cracks, quite impressive for a woman who had nearly died. Her eager enthusiasm was not helping her injuries, however, which she realized as soon as her fist impacted the tank a second time. A wince of pain turned into a heated glare as she watched the droids begin their work in raising her.

At the sound of the beeping from the bacta tank Kia jumped up from where she had been sitting. She was studying the more theoretical aspects of her chosen lightsaber forms.

She moved to the tank, watching Serine carefully as the droids began pulling her up. At the second near shattering blow to the tank, Kia jumped backwards in case it shattered. Well, at least she was back in good spirits.

The comlink started to beep and Veller was mostly awake. A bit slow, he fumbled with the comlink momentarily. The day had been very busy handling traffic to keep up the appearance that the High Inquisitor was fine. Though he wanted to be there when Serine woke up, he decided to leave the waiting mostly to Kia while he continued with his duties. Orders had been left with the droids to ensure he was notified and it appeared that time was now.

Quickly dressing, he was about to leave his office when a thought stopped him. Thus it was five minutes later, Mark left his quarters and office to purposefully stride to the medical bay under repair and maintenance. Keying in his code, the door opened silently and he quickly stepped inside, grateful the doors closed swiftly. His ice blue eyes took in the med droid activity around Serine and he concealed his amusement at Serine's grumpy attitude. Locating Kia, he strode over towards her, a thermos in one hand.

"I came as soon as I could," with a nod to Inquisitor Kaen. Then he turned to Serine and bowed slightly, "High Inquisitor." Mark debated saying more, but decided it might be wise to test Serine's temper before continuing.

Serine absolutely despised being in such a vulnerable position, being gandered at by both Veller and Kaen, while disabled and dependent upon the many droids to assist her from the bacta tank. In addition to her enfeebled state, she was practically exposed, her robes and armorweave had long since been cut free leaving only under garments left behind. She had no recollection of time, not knowing how long she was out or the state of her ship ... or the Retributor. Disoriented, physically and emotionally demolished and mortified, she could recall more preferable nightmares in which she awoke screaming. She was unable to even stand on her own power and had to be ushered towards the beds which she started to resist. Despite that refusing care had put her in this dire situation from the beginning, the High Inquisitor was not about to be bed ridden. The look of a ferocious animal being prodded towards a cage was flashing in angry silver eyes. In her weakened state, she could barely muster a struggle in which a few droids were toppled, but they easily righted themselves and continued their programming until Serine found herself sitting in a bed but quite enraged.

Despite her anger, this tussle was a much needed distraction away from the more grave situation for her. The respite was short lived and the High Colonel made it more difficult with a direct acknowledgement of her. She had a difficult time facing him, rather reluctant to make eye contact. Of course she was regretful of him witnessing her in the various states of helplessness that she had been in. That shame weighed heavily on her mind. No commanding officer is ever supposed to appear less than steadfast perfect to all who served. The Inquisitor feared she may have lost respect from both her apprentice and her High Colonel.

"I trust no one else knows of this matter," said as eyes drifted towards her apprentice with concern. It would have been so much easier if instead two lesser ranked officers witnessed her fall from grace, then she could have dispatched them and saved her reputation. But the two before her were far too vital, there was no other option than to endure whatever the consequences may be.

Mark straightened to attention and shook his head, "No, High Inquisitor. The medical bay you are currently in has been closed for repairs and maintenance. The medical droids have had a restricted block put on them concerning this. Theo has rescheduled your appointments with an ease that frankly surprised me, though he does not know the reason for your absence." Mark paused for a moment, looking uncomfortable, "Forgive my forwardness on the subject, but I declined to inform Major Eona as to your situation. My apologies if I erred, but I felt it best to keep the number who knew down to a minimum as it was only by chance I found out."

"Inquisitor Kia has been here while you were in the bacta tank. I await your orders," he concluded with another short bow. It was interesting in an odd way to see him standing at attention with a thermos in is hand and have it look perfectly natural.

Kia turned to a package that she had gathered during one of her off shifts, she shook out a new robe and offered it to Serine. She had studiously kept her emotions in check. Blinking a few times at her teacher. "I'll always have your back, Master. The ones responsible for trying to blow you up are going to die."

She had ignored the caf, and was mostly concerned with Serine's well being.

"You performed well," the Inquisitor reassuringly stated in response to Veller's indication that no one outside the room knew of her predicament, the first bit of encouraging news to lift her spirits. Her High Colonel had been exceedingly clever in minimizing the public damages before and during her collapse, which may bode well for their continued professional esteem. But what did not bode well in Serine's mind, was the appearance of what she perceived as his casual approach due to him holding a thermos nonchalantly as if he was on break and this was a mild inconvenience. She believed his disregard for her had already begun, and he apparently was so bold as to not even wait until she had a chance to fully recover. Even if that was not his intention, that was how the High Inquisitor saw it, and a look of bitter remorse glinted briefly in her eyes. Serine was not angry at him, she was angry at herself for allowing this situation to fall upon her. She should have been strong enough to prevent it.

Throughout the whole endeavor, the Inquisitor could sense her apprentice's ever mindful attempt to keep her emotions and thoughts in check, that swift lesson earlier was reaping remarkable dividends. Despite Serine being near death, Kia had remained calm and practically indifferent, shielding her concern and dismay, and only showing an anger to those involved. Her apprentice was a fast learner, a point she was very proud and thankful for. Though Kia had been successful in quelling her own turmoil, Serine had been far less successful in doing the same since she had been completely compromised both physically and mentally. Fragments of the High Inquisitor's feelings had filtered through that young Kaen could pick up on. This was unlike before when Kia felt pride beaming in Serine, these feelings were unwelcomed for her to sense, namely Serine's anguish and shame.

Serine was thankful to see a pristine set of her robes being offered. She was quite eager to cover up her exposed form as she felt like an exhibit on display. This had been an extremely rare opportunity for Veller to witness just why the High Inquisitor was far more likely to win their duel. Her physique was the epitome of physical vigor, an exemplar embodiment of strength and power of the female form due to decades of constant exertion. If he truly knew the extent of what draconically cruel methods were used to to enhance her condition, he would have been horrified. The bacta had done wonders to her numerous wounds, the swelling and bruising had gone down tremendously and scarring would be at a minimal. She was still extremely weak though, that was obvious when she began to pull on her robes in which she faltered and the droids had to assist her. Finally, once her robes were securely placed, a bit of resolve returned to her features that did wonders to improve her morale.

"The one responsible is already dead," she said with a dark brooding quality to her voice. "His name was Derek Atio, a leader of the rebels that have continued to worm their way into this sector." She paused but for a moment to gather her thoughts, she was not sure exactly to what extent she should explain what had happened, though she felt they deserved to know something. She had to be careful here, as revealing too much put their lives in danger. She abhorred dishonesty, and it pained her that she may have to lie to the ones she trusted most. Instead, she decided to tell them most of the truth, but to leave out the dangerous part concerning Jelena still being alive. "Rebels snuck into the Retributor in a misguided attempt to 'rescue' Jelena. I came in at the tail end of this escape in which I thwarted. A series of explosions ended her life and nearly took mine. In retribution, I ended the Rebel leader." This explanation would make sense to them as it matched the High Inquisitor's own injuries.

"In a condition no better than what you saw before, I managed to secure myself into the ship's medical bay for treatment. I awoke in what I presumed was a day later being tended to by droids. I was late for my meeting with the Grand Moff, and with the additional information I held, I felt it was imperative that I seek him without delay. This was a mistake, for it was not the Grand Moff that I ran into in the conference room, but Lord Vader. I had sent him a report earlier detailing Jelena Rodney's detainment. It was unfortunate that right before his visit to discuss those matters, Jelena perished. He was displeased." The fact that the High Inquisitor glossed over so much detail regarding Vader, and just stated merely how displeased he had been, was nearly comical. Serine saying it all in such a deadpan way made it even funnier though she didn't intend it to be. It could obviously be assumed she sustained her further injuries by Grand Inquisitor Vader's chastising.

Mark listened to Serine as she explained what happened to cause such injuries. Then he stood in amazement. She claimed to survive an explosion point blank! And only wearing armorweave! Stormtrooper armor was good, better than armorweave for handling the shrapnel from explosions, but neither of them did well with point blank. He couldn't keep his eyes widening slightly in disbelief. He believed her, he felt she had no reason to lie to him but still, it was difficult to comprehend.

When Lord Vader was mentioned he went stock still. Lord Vader was an extension of the Emperor's will. It was an ultimate dream of his to serve Lord Vader directly. A dream that would never be fulfilled but a dream nonetheless.

When Serine finished, he couldn't help but ask, almost in awe, "Lord Vader was displeased with you, yet you live?" It was a well known rumor that Lord Vader didn't give many second chances. "Milord, he must have a very high opinion of you. He does not take kindly to failure. That his displeasure didn't end your life is almost unheard of."

He stopped speaking, trying to get his thoughts in order. Mark's eyes almost glowed with admiration.

Kia frowned slightly at the confusing mix of emotions she was receiving from Serine. Trying to think fast, she focused on a sense of strength and confidence, both in herself and in her Master. For once looking the other woman directly in the eyes. "What of the others that were with him, Master? Guilt by association, they all need to be hunted down and slaughtered. Send a strong and lasting message to them."

She lapsed into a momentary silence as Veller was speaking, concerned as well at the mention of the Grand Inquisitor. She had not had the misfortune of meeting him yet and if she were being honest with herself, she didn't want to. She was pleased that Serine was making a speedy recovery, however she knew this wouldn't be an easy time for anyone recovering from those types of injuries.

The High Inquisitor was slowly regaining her poise and tenacity as their conversation continued once she began to realize that she perhaps had not lost their confidence in her after all. Their own individual antics were making this transition much easier, with Veller nearly broadcasting admiration and Kia attempting to metaphysically implant tenacity into her master. Serine's mental fortitude may recover with less difficulty than she had anticipated. Before, the Inquisitor had trouble looking at them both in the eyes, but with her fortitude returning, she could now meet their gaze boldly. In doing so, she finally noticed the bruising around Veller's eye that had been hinted at before. This, in addition to how the Colonel was barely able to contain his excitement over the prospects of her interacting with the Dark Lord, made him a bit amusing.

Serine stayed silent for a few moments while she collected her thoughts, debating if she should disclose further information on her confrontation with her superior. Normally she would not have discussed details on her dealings with her own supervisors to her subordinate officer. However, she felt regret for covering the full truth of what had happened, even if it was to protect them from reconciliation. At that moment, Kia would feel something she had never felt from her master before, a tinge of guilt. It was stifled and vague, only lasting for a mere fraction of a second, but it was there. Kia only noticed it because she had been projecting her own feelings into Serine, and that double way street allowed the High Inquisitor's emotion to slip through the cracks in what otherwise was usually an impenetrable defense. Serine decided to give Veller more details regarding what he clearly was interested in to make up for her restricting other more incriminating details.

She did not at all blame him for his curiosity. Interactions with Lord Vader were typically fatal, perhaps that was what made them so interesting ... and infamous. Her story would have to come with a warning, a heavy one, this was not something he could freely slip to others. Her gaze for the first time in days would take on a hardened threatening appeal as she peered to him dangerously. "Very well, I will tell you *some* of what happened. But if any of this I am about to share with you leaks out ... my story will be so very tame compared to your fate. Do you understand?" She questioned him intently, and once satisfied that he complied, she continued to tell her story.

"As I had stated, when I awoke in the medical bay, I was being tended to by droids, but their work had only began. Most of the severe injuries had been sutured, but many of the less life threatening gashes were either not tended to or hastily covered in gauze to hinder the bleeding. I left before they were done, thus I was in poor condition when I arrived in the conference room. I had expected to throw a few heated words around with the Grand Moff, come to some sort of compromise, and then make it back to my ship without further incident. Instead, I received an unexpected visitor."

"It would appear Lord Vader has a fondness for theatrics. The room was pitch black when I entered and the very air was chilled with malice. Mechanical breathing signified who I was facing before my eyes could adjust to the dim light. An angry accusation of my failure was accentuated by a conference chair hurtling into the buckhead that exploded violently on impact. I had mere moments for a verbal defense, but I faltered, having no knowledge of the events that happened before or after my trip to the medical bay. Struggling for some kind of retort, I suggested the members of the Retributer were responsible for Jelena's security and that I was limited to my access to her due to the Grand Moff's ill-suited affections for a traitor."

"Blame fell to me regardless, since I am the Executor of the Ringali shell. I found myself being levitated while he continued to express his displeasure in my performance, and he questioned if I was worth his effort. At that moment I accepted the painful truth that my life was forfeit. I assumed he was about to compress my body until it crumpled into a demolished husk, but instead, my fate was shared with the chair before me. I hit the side of the bulkhead with such strength that it ripped free the many sutures holding my wounds closed. My recollection from here forward is hazy due to the tremendous amount of damage I received in a short amount of time," she admitted candidly, as it was the truth, but it also gave her an excuse to not fully disclose everything, and completely cut out Arden Zevrin's influence.

"I may have slipped in and out of consciousness here, but recovered enough to see him approach with his lightsaber ignited. What I do recall is refusing to die lying on the floor, I had a strong desire to face his execution head on and retain my dignity." The Inquisitor slowly clutched her hands into fists, recalling this particular near death experience was grievous for her, but he deserved to know this much. Her silver eyes took on a glassy distant appeal as she continued with this part of the story, it was painful to recall it. "With every scrap of strength I had left, I pulled to a standing position, straightened and postured in attention as his approached. I was *not* going to die as a coward. I was barely conscious, but I looked at him steadfast."

"I had expected another violent Force imbued throw, or a strike from his lightsaber, instead I was slowly asphyxiated while he explained exactly why he was so disappointed. Once again, I was determined to stay standing, I would not succumb on the floor like a lowly cur. Lord Vader continued his onslaught until the very moment before full strangulation, then he released me and exited the room. I collapsed. Somehow later I found myself walking towards my ship and you know the rest," she visibly sighed for a moment to gather herself from such a damaging report before eyes snapped to him expectantly then narrowed at her officer. He *better* be satisfied with that recollection. The High Inquisitor was a surprisingly good story teller.

After a moment Serine was now free to address her apprentice. "There will certainly be retaliation. I believe those cowards fled into the nebula where they go to fester and plot to seed further insurgency. Instead of foolishly chasing them, we can strike at their cells of insurrection they have scattered across Esseles." She looked to Veller again, speaking to him directly. "I believe it is time to initiate the plans for an orbital bombardment. We will demonstrate our superiority to this foul chaff. I want you to work with Major Eona on this. With her intel, she should be able to pinpoint viable targets for us to demolish."

Mark was fascinated with Serine's report. He had never spoken with anyone who has a direct encounter with Lord Vader. Those who boasted about it were obviously lying. The Imperial Army was too large for Vader to police these lies even if he wished to still the rumors.

When Serine spoke of doing with dignity, of refusing to die a coward, Mark found himself nodding his approval. When she was finished, he said, "I have not the words, Milord. I can only state I am honored to serve you."

When Serine spoke of the bombardment, he smiled and it was not nice. As much of a gentleman Mark was, when it came to warfare, he was a master at his trade. It mattered not to him that innocents were likely to be caught in the crossfire. It was a price they paid for being at the same location as traitors to the Empire. Mark would do his best to ensure the bombardment was as accurate as possible. There were probably assets that were valuable to keep unharmed nearby. But he would press the attack as hard and as long as needed to achieve success.

"As you command, Milord," he nodded, "Am I correct in assuming Major Eona should only know of you... "interrogating" a prisoner? That any questions she might have of you onboard the Retributor should be directed to you?"

Kia had done the wisest thing she could think of while 'the adults were talking'. She was listening. The orbital bombardment of the planet sounded interesting, it had explosives and involved a planet she really had no love for.

"May I make a few small requests for the bombing? I can give coordinates for Tonric's home. I put a lot of time, money, and effort into upgrading that place. I'd hate to see it blown up. It's an outskirt, so it won't deny more squishy targets. Secondly, can we blow up the foster home that I was stuck in? It's a government ran facility if that means anything." She was proud of the way her Master had handled the situation with Vader. Dying on one's feet was very preferable to dying as a coward.

At first the Inquisitor was confused on Mark's deceit suggestion, not noticing it for the subterfuge that it was, but after a moment her eyes glistened with understanding. "Ah, indeed I was," she said while regarding her High Colonel with esteem for his cleverness. She was about to respond to her apprentice's suggestions when one of the many droids that still surrounded her announced that the Inquisitor needed rest and they had visited for well enough time. Serine was frustrated with the droids interruption and she was certainly embittered when a few medical droids physically pressured her to lay down. She was so exhausted that there was no resistance, but she did manage an irritated glare at the assisting droids. Her resolve to stay firm was battered as she could tell her body was desperate to rest. With much reluctance, she turned her attention to the two watching on. "Dismissed," she said with a heavy weight on her voice that was filled with weariness. Perhaps it was indeed best if she rested ... Serine was so very tired ... she fought the welcoming embrace of slumber just long enough to acknowledge the two being dismissed. Eyes were very heavy as they exited the room, and once they had fully departed, finally, she allowed herself to succumb to sleep.

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