Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Kit Gwynne, Christopher Levy, and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:22) in the Essesia system: Interrogator.
Captain Hakan Jarl, Commander Hunter Luscri, High Inquisitor Serine Thanor, and Colonel Mark Veller.

Mark woke up to pain. It filled his very being to the core. Every part of his body reported pain, with his ribs making incessant demands with every breath. The thought that this is what it feels like to be run over by a rampaging bantha flitted through his mind.

Broken ribs. His face felt swollen and his eyes were hard to open. Gingerly, he tried to move his toes and was grateful to feel them respond, though they too reported pain. Fingers were next and that forced a cry of pain from his throat. He grit his teeth against it, shutting it off. Though the fingers moved, the left shoulder was very not happy about the muscle movement. What little movement he could do, told him that his left arm had been immobilized. A broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder was the probable cause.

Satisfied for the moment, that his injuries were not paralyzing, Mark opened his eyes further and felt a chill sink into his bones. What greeted his eyes were the barren walls of a high security prison cell, not awaiting medical treatment or dying on the battlefield. He was, in fact, restrained on an interrogation table.

Memories crashed in on him. He shut his eyes against the tears that welled up with hysteria not far behind. A vision of Serine's fist smashing into his face while something held him helpless captivated his thoughts. He remembered deciding to spar with Serine, even though she was agitated and angry.

Memories flew through his mind, the exhilaration of holding his own, of finally knowing he did not have to hold back. Then had come that fateful punch and Mark shuddered, feeling again the sensation of losing control. His worst nightmare had come true. He had lost control of his rage, letting it loose. His prior teachers had warned him of this, of the dangers of letting loose his rage, emphasizing that he had to face his anger, control it.

Now, his lack of control had ruined everything. Now, he was restrained in a high security cell, facing charges of striking a commanding officer at the very least, attempted murder at the worst. If he was lucky, the court martial would execute him. If he was unlucky, prison or slavery or even both were in his future, a very dim and short future, he was sure.

His teeth clenched against the wave of despair that threatened. Taking as deep a breath as he could, he tried to calm himself down. For the moment, he was alive, and though in a massive amount of pain, he could feel the bandages on various cuts. Serine had given him some medical treatment, though, upon remembering her command to suffer, he was certain there was an order withholding pain medications.

The bands holding him to the cold metal of the table felt odd. There was no sharp edge indicating the end of a strap or cuff. Managing to glance down, he saw it was a band of energy crossing his bare chest that held him down. There was barely enough room for him to breath deeply. Deciding to put it to the test, he pulled at his right wrist, only to bite back a scream as an electric shock was delivered when he pulled too hard. He soon discovered, the more he moved, the more the energy bands shocked him.

It took the tightest of control to make his body stop moving from the shocks the bands delivered. Exhaustion darkened his vision and he gratefully sank into the arms of oblivion. Restful sleep, however, was not in the cards. Mark awoke to screaming, only to realize it was his. He found himself covered in sweat and shivering in the darkened cell. His eyes soon adjusted, but it only served to reinforce the reality of his imprisonment.

In his ears, the low buzz of the bands was his only company. The cell, illuminated more by the light of the energy bands than anything else, silently accused him. Tears of exhaustion combined with the pain threatened. Part of him yearned for the release they represented, but he shied away. Once started, he knew he would be unable to stop.

He wondered that no one had come to question him now that he had regained consciousness. Then he wondered how long the High Inquisitor would have him suffer. He hoped he was still on the Interrogator. The thought crossed his mind to yell out for someone, he knew these cells were wired for the least sound. With an effort, he stuffed that thought back down with the hysteria. He would not beg, his pride was still intact enough. If he was to face trial, he would do with the dignity and pride that had gotten him here.

What he needed, was rest, though Mark was unsure how he was going to get it. He wanted to move, to try to get more comfortable, to get his bare skin off the table. But the bands that held him, energy bands the likes of which he had not even known existed, were cruel taskmasters, reminding him of the punishment waiting should he move too much. Try as he might, rest only came in fitful spurts, always being jerked back awake by the sparkings of the energy bands.

Doctor Hakan Jarl, who held the rank of Captain in Military Intelligence, had been silently observing Colonel Veller's status on a number of medical readouts. He seemed to have remarkable conditioning as some of those who had crossed paths with Inquisitor Thanor ... and Inquisitor Tremayne before her ... had experienced less, but suffered worse. Emerging from the darkness to move into position where the Colonel could see him, the doctor was revealed to be a handsome young man with soft facial features. "And how are we feeling, Colonel?" The doctor asked, not because of care, but it was a perfunctory question. "Unfortunately I am not permitted to give you anything for the pain," he said, offering up a half smile, as he performed a close in visual inspection of the patient. "Do not trouble yourself with the restraints. They are for your own protection. Moving could further injure you," he pointed out, in a lie, before moving out of Veller's line of sight to continue his report.

Mark silently watched the doctor, noting the Captain's rank, he ignored the question on how he felt, though he wondered why the order on no pain medications. His eyes narrowed at the obvious lie since the restraints, if he fought them too much, would shock him, forcing movement. "I would appreciate the truth, Doctor. These restraints are not designed for just restraint." He closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again, "Why am I here?" Mark grit his teeth against the pain of breathing, though he felt slightly relieved the doctor used his rank.

Doctor Jarl had no more answers to give, as his orders were to simply keep the patient alive. His briefings were for Inquisitor Thanor only. "You are here because you poked a devil in the eye, Colonel. Be glad you have lived to tell the tale," he said, before silently entering more information into his pad. The cuts and bruises were of no concern to him as they were largely superficial in nature. The broken ribs were something of a badge of service for anyone in the close service of the Inquisitor, but the broken collarbone was something altogether more serious. He would have liked to have treated that if she would have let him. He imagined it must be very painful.

Mark fought back an angry response which he knew would not get him anywhere. "How long will I be keep here? Like this?" he asked, fighting the urge to struggle against the energy bands that held him to the table.

"Thank you, but I'll be the one asking the questions if you so please, Colonel," the voice of Commander Hunter Luscri said from the darkness. Drawn from the Interrogation branch of Military Intelligence he had a reputation as fearsome as the side of his face, which appeared to have been melted by the previous High Inquisitor who commanded here. "Just so we are clear, Colonel. Your name? Your home planet? Your length of service to the Empire?" He asked, shrouded in darkness. Only the sound of fingers punching keys on the datapad penetrated the silence that surrounded him.

Keeping his eyes closed, Mark responded, "High Colonel Mark Veller, Home planet is Onderon, My length of service to the Empire is fifteen years, 3 months and 10 days, assuming I have only been out for a day."

"Did anyone order you to engage the Inquisitor in personal combat?" Luscri asked as he approached the man bound to the table. His boots fell upon the floor menacingly, but he remained out of sight. "Are you part of a plot by the Rebel Alliance to eliminate her to avenge the loss of their Commander?" He asked, as he moved along the side of the table taking careful note of the restraints. "Interesting, Colonel. Most interesting," he posited, before waiting for further answers. Far more intriguing than the Bounty Hunters that Thanor had thus far sent his way.

Mark gave a wry chuckle that quickly ended in a wince of pain at the first question, "Yes, the High Inquisitor herself," he stated. At the question of being a part of the Rebel Alliance, his eyes shot open, "No," he said vehemently, "it was just a spar. I am glad their Commander is dead, traitors all to the Empire." His ice blue eyes narrowed, even though he could not see who was questioning him and did not recognize the voice, "My loyalty is to the Empire, nothing else."

"Tell me of your upbringing, Colonel," Luscri continued, before finally moving into the man's line of sight and revealing his disfigurement. "Your adolescence. Your teenage years. Any awkward moments?" He asked, before lowering his hand and placing it a top the man's head in mock comfort. "Any unexplained instances?" He asked, cryptically, before moving off once again. He picked up a small medical tool used to draw and analyze blood, which he quickly applied to Veller's right index finger. The blood taken, it was quickly encoded into data ready to transmit. But, instead of being sent to the Inquisitor aboard this vessel, it was sent to someone else entirely. Someone far off, more menacing, and of greater importance.

"What is there to tell? My parents were poor but we got by. I was offered a scholarship to the Imperial Academy which I accepted, leaving my home world, never to return." he closed his eyes to better restrain his annoyance at the man's hand on his head, "Awkward moments? Aside from being teased? Because of that, someone suggested to my parents they enroll me in martial arts which gave me the path I took to join the Empire." Mark grimaced slightly at the blood being taken, it not really registering on the scale of his pain. "Unexplained instances? None that I remember, just the usual encounters with gang types growing up in the area. It is all in my personnel file."

"Thank you, Colonel, but I have all the answers I need," Luscri informed him, before turning to leave the room. He had to prepare an alternate, less informed assessment for the Inquisitor to buy time for the real report to be processed. He was quite pleased by the turn of events ... he thought it was going to be a boring day.

Mark fought to keep the howl of rage, despair and frustration that threatened to explode from him. He would not beg, he vowed, nor give in to the baser emotions that rose from the depths of his soul. He wanted to talk to the High Inquisitor, but felt he had not the right to request it, not after his behavior in the spar. So he forced himself to silence as the man disappeared from view and walked out of the room. He would endure. It was what he was good at, what had gotten him through his childhood and off Onderon. He took as deep a breath as he could, calming himself down. He would endure. Through the pain, disgrace and everything else.

Time had passed since Mark's two visitors. How much, Mark had no idea. Pain and the buzzing of the bands was his only company for a while. Doctor Jarl had returned with a bacta patch for his shoulder but had left his ribs untouched. Once the collarbone had healed enough, he had been released from the table.

He had almost laughed at the number of guards as he had been released. Collapsing to the floor had been easy, getting up off the floor had taken a while. When he had finally made himself move, the guards had been long gone.

Since that time, he had been left alone. The meals shoved through the door were his only time marker, but he knew of the tactic to throw off his time sense by meals at irregular time. He spent the time sleeping as much as he could, knowing it was only a matter of time before someone felt it was time for the next step.

The thought that he still retained his rank sustained him. Both of his visitors had called him by his rank. Perhaps there was a way out of this mess his temper had created. Then he remembered breaking the High Inquisitor's arm and what little hope he had deserted him. Hanging onto his sanity was difficult, but he would not allow himself to sink into the embrace of despair. It took all of his strength to keep the howl that wanted to escape inside, to keep from beating his fists bloody on the door or walls, begging for release. His body seemed to be healing, though he still ached and his ribs made breathing painful, a constant reminder of what he had done.

He thought a few days had passed, mostly from the state of his injuries, when three guards entered. One carrying two sets of cuffs, the other two covering him with blasters. After motioning for Mark to kneel in the center of the room, the one with the cuffs affixed a set to the floor, then quickly put Mark's ankles into them. The other set went on his wrists and were then attached to a chain which was lowered from the ceiling. The slack on the chain was taken up, and Mark found himself restrained with his hands over his head. He winced a bit at the movement of his shoulder. The collarbone was healed, but still tender. Of course, his arms pulled upright did not make his ribs happy either. It didn't take long to learn that the cuffs they snapped on his wrists were shock cuffs. Putting his full weight on the cuffs sparked them off. Mark twisted in agony for a few moments before he could control his motions to stop the cuffs.

Sweat broke out on his skin from the exertion required to stop the writhing the cuffs had started. Gasping, he had to fight to get his breathing back under control. He wanted to let his arms hang from the cuffs, but found himself gripping the chains instead to keep from putting too much weight on them.

He could not help but wonder what was to happen next. His imagination supplied everything from getting beaten to a blaster bolt in the back of the head. The irreverent thought came to him of shouting to whomever was listening not to keep him waiting. He managed to stuff that back down, along with the hysteria that was constantly lurking.

Mark would spend the next hour alone in the room with nothing but the shocks of the stun cuffs to give him company. The strain his arms were under was severe and no doubt the muscles were experiencing failure, causing his losing battle against electrocution to be all the most strenuous and devastating. The High Inquisitor had used this time to carefully consider her approach after reviewing the brief reports her specialists gave her. Serine had made a special note that Doctor Luscri's findings were oddly simplistic for his standards as he was known for pressing his chances and going beyond his core duties. She believed she made her point clear the last time he took certain unauthorized liberties with her prisoners and that may be the reason. At no point did she consider he had more nefarious aims. She was satisfied that her doctors did not seem to suspect anything more than Veller's serious lapse of judgment and likely interrogation followed by an execution.

After what would seem like an excruciatingly long time for Veller, the singular door leading into the small high security detention cell would slide open. Due to his positioning away from the exit, he would have to risk a painful shock in order to strain to gander at who had entered. He could hear a code being placed into the keypad before a heavy lock bolted the door in place. Silence pervaded the area for a long moment before footsteps carried around his bound form towards his field of view. A bellow of red cloth preceded the form of Serine Thanor who studied him intensely as she walked into the center of his view. She was wearing her full set of crimson robes accompanied by the sash that signified her as a High Inquisitor. It was well known that Serine only wore this pristine attire during official capacities such as ceremonies, interrogations and executions, and she certainly was not conducting a ceremony at this moment.

There was something eerily cold about the cruel gleam in her eyes, even more than usual, as she gazed upon him like he was nothing more than a common malefactor and criminal. Lost was the recognition of their shared history and comradery, lost was the look of respect and esteem for her High Colonel. What replaced it was a heavy look of displeasure, anger and betrayal. Her voice was chilled and formal, no shred of emotion or common ground, he might as well have been a number on a list. "High Colonel Mark Veller, you are charged with misconduct, aggressive assault and attempted assassination. There will be no court martial. You have already been found guilty." Her words were lies, but he had no grounds to debate them. On a ship owned and commanded by a High Inquisitor, outside the rules and regulations of the Imperial Navy, the very lives of the officers were forfeit as she so desired.

She began to walk around his helpless form again until she disappeared from his sight. After a brief moment, he would feel an uncomfortable pressure on his side, and soon metallic coils of her lightwhip that she held in a bunch were harshly dragged across the thin layer of skin over his ribs, most of which were either cracked or broken. "Tell me *Veller*," his rank was now dropped as it no longer held weight, he was nothing more than a traitor now and only fit for execution, "What motivated you to attack me?" She knew exactly what had charged his onslaught, but she doubted he fully understood and was curious if she could peel anything of interest from him. Prisoners tended to say quite fascinating things when under a certain amount of pressure.

Mark was exhausted when the door opened behind him. The sound of heavy cloth moving told him it was the High Inquisitor. Managing to keep silent, he waited for Serine to move into view. A quick glance at her told him the bond between them had been severed, a blow even more painful than the one to his ribs. Bowing his head, he remained silent as Serine pronounced the charges, though his eyes closed at the guilty judgment.

The touch of the whip across his back startled him, pulling him back from his thoughts of despair at how dishonor had come at his own hand. Clutching at the chain desperately, he sought to keep the cuffs from shocking him, unable to stop the cry of pain that escaped him. Gasping, he tried to recover, barely aware that the High Inquisitor had asked him a question. It took a few moments, but eventually the question sank in.

He shook his head slightly, trying to focus his thoughts and pull himself out of the despair that flooded him in order to answer her question. Memories of the spar returned, as did the rage which had consumed him. Swallowing hard, he forced the rage back, he would *not* surrender to it again, "I... I... when you hit me... it just... I... lost... my temper... the rage..." he closed his eyes tightly, head bowed, fighting the rage as it surged again, "I... wanted to..." he continued, forcing his confession, "I could not stop... I..." he drew in some quick breaths, "I... I..." He raised his head, turning as best he could to face Serine, his body tensing with pain at the twist in his shoulder. With the full force of his memories in his eyes, he locked his gaze with hers for a few instants, ice blue eyes showing his internal torment. Though he felt he had not the right to speak the next words, he knew they needed to be spoken, she needed to know. "I... Milord, thank you for stopping me. I... I would ask your forgiveness, but there is no forgiving what I have done." He grit his teeth for a moment at the pain before turning back to gaze at the floor, head bowed. His next words only audible in the silence that followed, "What I wanted to do," speaking louder, he continued, "I... accept whatever punishment you deem necessary. My life is yours, Milord." Mark let out a long breath, "Do with it as you will." A shudder ran through his whole body as he prepared himself to meet his fate. Though she needed not his permission to do as she wanted with him helpless in chains, he felt a calmness flow into his thoughts as he said the words.

Before the High Inquisitor had entered the room, and even before Mark had been transferred to the interrogation cell, Serine knew she would not be executing this man. His paramount importance upon this ship combined with his newly discovered and valuable Force sensitivity made his continued livelihood unparalleled and his usefulness unprecedented. But even without his hidden talents, and despite his crimes, she would have been a fool to kill him this day. Never before had she seen such integrity, devotion and allegiance in a fleet officer. It was common place for an officer to be bound by duty, but Veller was also additionally bound by honor, and in her line of work, that was a rare combination. There was no subterfuge in his presentation, his words were sincere and honest, even while he suffered physically, but it was not the pain to his body that truly troubled him, it was the ache of his spirit. He was emotionally devastated due to his dishonor and treachery, and was mourning his betrayal. Any other officer would have been wracked with fear of punishment and death, but Veller was ravaged with solemn understanding that he failed her on a personal level. One does not kill a man like this, one merely conditions him.

"Indeed it is," she responded to his admittance that his life belonged to her. There was a heavy disturbing sound of five separate metal tails of her whip colliding with the durasteel deck behind him as the lightwhip was fully unraveled. She scrutinized his form with a fierce gaze as she contemplated his fate. Just applying a firm amount of pressure to his ribs had been enough to cause him to cry out, and she wondered if he would be able to stay conscious with just a single lash. Not only did she need to make an example out of him to keep the appropriate level of fear alive in her crew, she needed the punishment to fit the severe crime, and she needed to keep him alive *and* loyal. Veller had not made her task an easy one. Serine also needed him to feel as if he was appropriately punished for his misconduct, as a lesser sentence would be just as damaging and would raise questions she could not afford him to ask. The High Inquisitor was bent on hiding his Force sensitivity not only from the Empire, but from himself, at least for now, thus he could not think as though she let him off easy due to some unforeseen circumstances.

Without warning, there was a whirl of movement causing the tails of the whip to come crashing down upon Veller's back at a calculated area across his ribs where it would afflict him the most. Even though the lightwhip was not activated, it was a devastatingly gruesome weapon. The moment the coils made vicious contact with him, his skin splayed open in an appalling fashion. There was a second of time where the severed flesh was white and a small window was opened to where the faintest section of a few ribs were visible before blood rushed in and cascaded down his back in a horrifying display. Just one lash from an untrained hand was enough to rip open the spinal cord and cripple a man, but Serine was a perfectionist with this weapon and her strikes were focused and deliberate. Even though both flesh and muscle would be flayed with this morbid discipline, he was in no immediate danger of dying. The real threat Serine would try to prevent was his succumbing to unconsciousness, thus she would allow him to recover from this singular thrash.

As he writhed in pain, she walked around his form once again, the coils of the whip were dragged along the flooring, causing a hideously offensive scratching and grinding sound. "Your temper, Veller?" she asked in a mocking fashion as she flicked her wrist to reposition the many coils of the whip that fanned out before him, displaying his own splotched blood that glistened upon a few tails. "Your temper is to be reserved for the enemy!" she growled her sentence, now freely showing her anger. In a flash of movement, the coils collected and lashed down across his left thigh, leaving a deep gash along the flesh that tore into cloth and muscle. Soon it oozed out blood that rolled down his thigh and collected into a small puddle beneath him, saturating the remainder of his attire. With a free right hand, she snatched his jaw and jerked his eyes up to meet hers that were burning with livid fury. "As you so freely admitted, your life belongs to me! If I should so desire to pummel you to death, then you are to do *nothing* but accept your fate." Serine clutched at his jaw even tighter, hard enough to leave potential bruising. Her questioning shifted which could give Veller a shred of hope here, that she was not intending to execute him, but chastise.

Mark heard the whip being pulled back and tried to relax, knowing if he was tense, it would make the lash worse. His scream of anguish, ripped from him as the five tails tore through his flesh, echoed in the small room. It left him shuddering and gasping, muscles twitching and struggling as they sought to escape a second lash. Clutching the chain like a lifeline, Mark tried to get his body under control, feeling the blood flow down his bare back to be absorbed by his pants.

Let go of the chains, a part of him cajoled, let the shock cuffs do their work, escape the pain. No one would notice, it would be a perfectly understandable result. Even as the thought crossed his mind, he refused. The High Inquisitor had the right, and even the duty, to punish his misdeeds. Just as it was his duty to endure them. He had already failed the High Inquisitor once, he would not do so again, even if she meant to execute him slowly.

By the time the lash hit his leg, he grit his teeth against the pain, only allowing a hoarse cry of pain to escape his lips. Gasping for air, he tried to deal with the agony burning in his back and now the gash in his leg. A small corner of his mind noted the injuries were not crippling, not even life threatening. Yet.

Having no choice when she grabbed his chin, he met the High Inquisitor's eyes, seeing the fury burning in them. Later, he would find it difficult to explain, but somehow, he saw redemption with the acknowledgement of the claim she had on his life, the fire in her eyes burning away his dishonor. His life was hers to take, and she chose not to take it now. A hurt in his soul, one he was not even aware of, began to heal. He could only bring himself to say to say two words, "My Lord," knowing he was now bound to the High Inquisitor, that he would serve no other.

The High Inquisitor recognized the vivid loyalty that was being cultivated deep in his eyes that peered back at her with a growing devotion. His undying allegiance to her will would be absolutely vital if she should ever decide to train him to use his innate talents. Serine had to be completely certain that his dedication to her was infallible or Veller could pose a real threat to her if he went rogue. She could not afford to suffer a rival with his potential and he would be a terribly unfortunate loss if she was forced to kill him. The Inquisitor already had enough powerful enemies to worry about and had no desire to add yet another. Serine had finally been able to review the footage stored in the sealed ISB file that her apprentice had cracked. She knew what kind of caged power and fury he had locked tightly inside, and what it looked like when he unleashed it, as she had experienced it first-hand. She didn't need to see the file to know what she had to do moving forward.

If he had any hope of learning to control his abilities, she would need to begin to sow the seeds of his servitude now while he was so open to suggestion and guidance. Since Veller was a seasoned warrior, his conditioning would have to be much different than how she directed and handled Kia. He was going to need a very strong hand to guide him and his fidelity to her had to be unwavering. He could not just *say* his life belonged to her, he needed to actively experience that principle, have it ground into his very being. Unbeknownst to Veller, this very moment was when Serine started him on a darkened path that would change the course of his entire destiny. Not only was she going to fulfill her responsibilities by disciplining him, she was going to start his first repurposing lesson. Satisfied that he was going to be rather receptive for his unique instruction, she slowly eased her hand from his jaw before moving back around to his back, slipping from his field of view.

A loop of lightwhip curled around his neck like a noose and tightened dramatically as Serine leaned in towards him and spoke in a low ominous tone close to his ear. "If you let go of the chain, your existence will be a never ending wasteland of misery." The near whispered threat was a very real one, but he may not have fully understood what she meant until the stun cuffs around his wrists and ankles mysteriously fell off. He was now no longer bound, but his freedom was forfeited. The coil around his neck slid away from him as the Inquisitor took a step backwards and readied her whip once again. It was now painfully obvious that he was to voluntarily submit himself to excruciating torment. Mark being bound was a disgrace and insult to the High Inquisitor, for if his life truly belonged to her, a simple command would be enough to cause his full unconditional submission.

With a heavy crack, the tails of the whip slammed down mercilessly upon the exposed skin of his back, flaying it open in a cruel and grievous spectacle. Blood freely flowed down the hideous and jagged lacerations to collect in a pool around his legs that grew wider with every horrendous lash. The savage attacks upon him came in continuous waves that targeted a slightly different location of his back. With each brutal strike upon him, there would be a long pause as she watched with morbid anticipation to witness if his hands would slide off the chain. Not only was the pain unbearable, the chain itself was becoming slick with his own blood that had splattered upon it, making it all the more difficult to grip. The small break between blows would just barely be enough time for him to prepare for the next lash that ripped into his back and sides ruthlessly and relentlessly. The Inquisitor could sense he was reaching his limit, but he had held onto that chain with remarkable prowess, which was both admirable and exceptional.

One final flogging tore away a thin section of his flesh, and it peeled from his ruined back like a grotesque ribbon. There was a long moment of silence that followed as Serine slowly surveyed the damages. The scene itself was dreadful and ghastly, Veller's blood coated his form, the entire lightwhip and a good portion of the small interrogation room. Serine herself had a significant amount of his blood splotched upon her robes but it was indistinguishable from the crimson fabric, and it could be gathered why deep red was the color of choice for the Inquisitorius. There was hardly a section of flesh on his back that had not been brutally shredded. Surviving through this process would have been miraculous for a normal individual, but she expected him to persevere, and because he did, if she ever chose to further his training, he was worthy. Her high clearance code was punched into the keypad but an additional code was entered to lock the door in the open position to allow his eventual departure. "You have one week to return to service, *High Colonel*," the Inquisitor said with an air of respect for him returning to her voice before she disappeared through the exit.

Mark heard the words as the lightwhip wrapped around his neck, but didn't truly grasp them until he was freed from the cuffs, hearing then fall. Hearing the whip move, he suddenly understood the test and what she was about to demand as proof of his words.

The whip struck and Mark cried out, giving full vent to his pain and anguish, his hands tightening around the chain. Again it struck, more pain and agony exploding on his back, but he still held on. His cries filled the room, along with his blood, almost drowning out the sound of the whip.

Yet another strike and now his cries had an additional tone, rage and anger. He gave it all up to Serine as the lash landed once again. Rage and pain filled his beingness, shaped by the whip, burning away the chaff as Serine not only stripped his back, but his soul. Images of his buried past burst in on him. He remembered the rage Bosco had ignited in him and the pure desire to exact his revenge in the most painful way possible. Another strike burned that rage to a crisp, leaving behind a purity he never thought possible.

At one strike, Mark opened his eyes, seeing but not seeing the blood that now stained the walls, his blood flicked from the whip as it rose to strike again. Though there was no one to see it, yellow flecks of color danced in his eyes, igniting and extinguishing as the whip fell.

With every strike, the whip cleaned the dishonor off his soul, wiping the slate clean with his own blood. Though he held nothing back, screaming his voice hoarse, the chain remained clutched in his hands, a pledge of his obedience to the High Inquisitor, to Serine, and a lifeline as she held his life in her hand.

When Serine finally stopped, he was left gasping for breath, voice raw from the screaming, silence suddenly loud in his ears. As he waited for the next lash, he felt at peace with himself, perhaps for the first time, hands still gripping the chain.

Her words still managed to penetrate his fog of pain. High Colonel. She was accepting his service, forgiving him his sins. Shuddering with the pain, and gasping for air, he heard the door open and Serine's footsteps retreat, leaving him kneeling in his own blood, still clutching the chain. His back an inferno and drenched in his own sweat and blood.

When no one came to administer medical treatment, he knew the test was not over, nor would it ever be. That was as it should be, Mark thought as he painfully pulled himself to his feet and took a step to the door, managing somehow to collapse against the wall, instead of the floor.

Slowly, he made his way out of the cell and down the hall. Though a small part of him wanted to stop and just bleed out, he did not listen to it. The High Inquisitor had spared his life, punished him for his betrayal. Now, it was up to him to prove her faith in him was not misguided. She had given an order, that he was to be on duty within a week. That demanded he first make it to a medical bay.

Which, since the High Inquisitor had not sent any medical personnel, meant he was on his own. He would have to walk there, and walk he did, leaving a trail of bloody handprints on the wall. He was reminded of the time the High Inquisitor returned from the Retributor, severely wounded. Now, he guessed, it was his turn, though he doubted he would receive any help along the way. The whole ship must know of what was done, even if just by rumor. Imprisoned for days, long enough for the High Inquisitor's arm to fully heal. Then to get a visit from her in her full dress regalia. The whole ship would know that something was going on.

Step by step, Mark forced his feet and legs to work, aware he was leaving a bloody trail behind him, not having even tried to stop the bleeding on his back. There was no one to watch until he reached the security hub of the detention cells The guards stopped what they were doing to stare, not used to seeing the inmates walk out under their own power.

He wavered a moment, considered asking them what section he was in, then pushed himself off the wall, continuing out the hallway. He would know where he was soon enough, and find the nearest medical bay. Hopefully it wasn't too far. The hall had the usual traffic, which all stopped and watched as he made his way. Though he would have preferred to walk normally, he knew he did not have the strength to waste. Serine had shredded his back pretty well, he already felt a bit dizzy from blood loss, leaving even more behind in bloody hand and foot prints along with the occasional smear on the wall did not help. As long as he kept moving though, he felt he could make it.

Luck, or fate, had put a medical bay on this level. He was glad, knowing if he had to stop for a turbolift, he would not be able to start again. Locating the section he was in, he breathed a sigh of relief, only about 500 meters away, only two hundred and fifty strides. Mark started counting down, the cold duraplast steel of the floor against his bare feet helped keep him alert and chased the darkness that edged in on his vision away.

Every twenty paces or so, he had to stop and lean against the wall, leaving another bloody smear. Darkness threatened and he had to regain his breath before continuing. About halfway to the medical bay, he started coughing up blood. He had felt the broken rib shift and now, it was probably puncturing a lung.

He began to notice that people were getting out of his way, watching him pass almost as if he were a dignitary of some sort. Not a person came to help him though, for which he was both angry and grateful. He did not want anyone else to suffer his fate should he fail, but the anger it hand to be that way would not go away.

At 25 steps to go, medical bay 31-A-64 came into view, causing Mark to laugh briefly. The medical bay he had arranged to hold El-Nay Darr for interrogation would now be his rescue.

It took more like 30 strides to get there before he collapsed on the cold floor, barely conscious as the medical droids gathered around him. His last fading thought was he hoped they still recognized his rank as the High Inquisitor had implied. It would be too ironic to die now, at the feet of those who could help him.

Medical droids hurried about their business, as darkness claimed Mark, stripping him of the torn remnants of his clothing and prepping him for a bacta tank. With inhuman haste, they put him inside, various tubes hooked up to replace his blood that was currently strewn between the medial bay and the interrogation cells. Making notations, the lead medical droid sent off the report to the High Inquisitor, High Colonel Veller would be ready for light duty in six weeks minimum. Had it been capable, it would have frowned at the response, ordering High Colonel Veller to be pulled from the tank after seven.

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