Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Kit Gwynne and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:28) in the Essesia system: Interrogator.
Lieutenant Bernard Dunford and Colonel Mark Veller.

Mark woke up with a crick in his neck. Raising his head from his desk, he rubbed the back of his neck. He had not fallen asleep at his desk since he was first made a Lieutenant. The caf mug sat drained as did the pot. Understanding why Serine wanted him back on duty as soon as possible, he was still unsettled about recent events. The familiar paperwork had not helped enough to settle his thoughts.

Pushing back from his desk, he decided to risk the High Inquisitor's wrath and take a break. Feeling cast adrift among the familiar, he left his office to wander the halls of the Interrogator, mulling over the information he had gleaned from his holoterminal before falling asleep.

Learning more about the Inquisitorius and their Inquisitors, it had come as a bit of a shock to learn the extent of autonomy the Inquisitorius branch enjoyed. A High Inquisitor pretty much answered only to Lord Vader or the Emperor. This was something he knew theoretically, but the actual implementation went farther than he realized. Those under the command of an Inquisitor were his or hers to do as they pleased. That an Inquisitor could execute him for no reason and not be censored offended Mark's ordered perception of the universe.

When he had accepted the command of the 610th Legion, he had been informed this was detached service, and that he would be answering to the High Inquisitor in command of the Interrogator. This had not bothered him until now. Learning he had effectively transferred out of the Imperial Army and into the High Inquisitor's personal army, with no transfer out except as a corpse, did. There had always been the thought of returning to the Imperial Army after a tour of duty on the Interrogator.

He shook his head slightly, snorting at his own ignorance. Not that he would take a transfer now if offered anyway, but still. Perhaps it was true the enemies he had created in the Imperial Army had arranged for his transfer, hoping he would be killed by the High Inquisitor in command.

When people were startled and moved away in fear at his snort, that's when he began to notice people in the hall were getting out of his way faster than his rank demanded. This disturbed Mark in a way he could not pinpoint and something stirred inside him at seeing that hint of fear as he was recognized.

His feet finally took him to an observation bubble. An impractical waste of space to the military mind as they were vulnerable points on the ship, needing extra armor when the ship went into battle. But experience had proven over and over, sentient beings needed to be able to look outside the ship with their own senses from time to time. Quietly he went over to one of the cushioned seats and sat down, away from the others there, some of them quietly chatting with others.

He was not too worried about being away from his desk. If the High Inquisitor summoned him, he would get the call on his datapad and be able to answer it. There might be a problem if she stopped by his office, but all the summons had been to her office and he saw no reason for that to change.

Having no desire to talk, Mark ignored the other people there and just stared out into space, contemplating the changes in his life. Things had changed, but they had also stayed the same. He had his rank, his duty, he was still an Imperial Stormtrooper. His oath to the Empire, which meant everything to him, had not changed, and yet it had, shifting more to Serine than the Empire. That High Inquisitor Thanor represented the Empire to him was immaterial, the oath had still shifted. For Mark, the Empire represented order for everyone, not just the privileged. Here, in the Imperial Army, his accident of a poor birth had not kept him from promotions, had not kept him from excelling. What privilege he had, he earned. But it was not always perfect, as he had found out. His faith, however, had not wavered.

Now, with the transfer to the Interrogator, he found in High Inquisitor Serine Thanor what he had been looking for. Admitting that it sounded masochistic, Mark knew he needed a commanding officer he could respect, someone who could, in rather blunt terms, kick his ass when he needed it.

Pulling up the memories of the spars, he had to laugh at himself silently. He had certainly gotten what he wanted in that fateful spar. Even berserk, Serine had mastered him handily. Here was someone who could keep him in check if needed. As she had reminded him in the interrogation cell, his temper was to be reserved for the enemy, not his commanding officer.

He shuddered remembering the punishment Serine had dealt out, his eyes darkening at the memories. Looking back on it, Serine had known exactly what he needed to recover himself. Knowing he had betrayed her trust had broken him more than any amount of physical pain ever could. Giving him just one choice to completely surrender to her, the one person he had never wanted to betray, had given him that chance to recover himself and wash the stain of dishonor from his soul. In the midst of all that pain, he had been reborn.

Again, he was in awe of her skill with the whip, that she knew exactly how much to take from him. Things change, things stay the same. Though he had not known it, with his transfer to the Interrogator, Serine had owned his fate, she was the only recourse he had. This had not changed and yet, it had. True, she had left no special instructions so he had returned to known duties, awaiting her summons. But there was something different. Mark thought for a bit then finally hit upon the change.

As before, he served Serine, but before she did not have a claim on everything he was. Now, she did. Any summons would require instant obedience to both the summons and whatever instructions were given. He explored the idea of her summoning him to claim his life. While he disliked the idea of his death, as did anyone, he found the fear manageable, realizing that it was unlikely for Serine to want his life on a whim. If she did, then he would die with his honor intact and that was, in his opinion, the best he could hope for with his death. Whatever the manner of his death, he knew it would be bloody and violent. Stormtroopers did not die in bed with their boots off.

With a start, he realized he was the only one in the observation bubble. That the others had quietly departed, leaving him alone with his thoughts. At first, this reaction confused him. Was he now persona non grata? That everyone on the ship would avoid him because of Serine's punishment?

That reminded him of the looks he had gotten as he moved through the halls, people moving out of his way. The fear was easy to detect but the other emotions took him a bit longer to recognize. Respect and awe. This puzzled him even more. Those emotions he felt were reserved for Serine, not him. Why would they be directed at him? Had they left out of fear or respect?

He stood up and went to the clear duraplast window to stare at the stars. In the window, he caught his reflection, noticing once again the scar on his cheek, remembering that devastating blow. Of their own volition, the fingers on his left hand traced the scar, then dropped back to his side.

Looking out into the darkness and its pinpoints of light, it was troubling to dwell on the fact he was as much a slave to Serine as Theo was, even though he wore an Imperial uniform and not a slave collar. In prior commands, there had always been the recourse of resigning his commission, returning to civilian life. Recent events had taken away that option, even if it was an option Mark knew he would never take, it had still been there. Standing with his hands clasped behind his back, he stared into the darkness past his reflection and wondered.

Lieutenant Bernard Dunford had been very fortunate to have been relieved of duty when he noticed High Colonel Veller pass him in the hallway. This was a gifted opportunity that he could not turn down and he began to trail the man through the many corridors covertly. He could not help but to notice many of the officers looking at Mark with fear and awe in their eyes. The majority of the individuals acting in such a manner were fortunate enough to be relatively new transfers, they had not suffered through the true terror that had been High Inquisitor Tremayne's reign. Many of the officers now serving on the Interrogator were freshly recruited to fill in the massive void of open positions available after the brutal culling. These vacancies had finally been filled over the course of a few months after Thanor became High Inquisitor since she did not execute officers for their misconduct ... at least not yet. They may not know it now, but eventually the new recruits would understand that their lives were no longer their own, and they did not understand what true fear was. The veterans serving on board knew better and were wise to the ways of the Inquisitorius. Mark would indeed receive many stares from officers, but not all of them looked upon him with unease. Those who survived the trepidations of Tremayne, and were wary of Thanor's future exploits, would give Veller a look of respect and understanding, but not of fear.

Dunford had a goal in mind as he trailed the High Colonel through the corridors that lead to an observation deck and had taken a seat at a respectable distance from the man who was obviously lost in deep thought. This was his chance to get some much desired Intel on the inner workings of High Inquisitor Thanor. Bernard was around when she was but an apprentice, so he knew of her and about her, but not how she governed. This was key for his survival. He did not live through many years of Tremayne by wishful thinking alone, he had relentlessly toiled, perfected his craft and tirelessly researched anything he could gather on his commanding officer. Now with a new overseer, he would need to conduct the tireless process all over again. How rare was it for a High Inquisitor to be ousted from their position, and he had been shocked as the rest of the ship had been when he heard Thanor defeated Tremayne in some Inquisitorius ritual of battle. If he was going to outlast Inquisitor Thanor's reign, he was going to need to learn everything he could about her, and that started with Veller, the man who had survived a direct confrontation.

Bernard did not know if he believed the rumors traveling around the ship, for how could Veller even manage to inflict any wounds on the Inquisitor, and even if he had ... how then did she allow him to live? Tremayne had murdered his cooks for over spicing his food at one point. He did not believe Thanor would be so merciful as to let Veller go after a conflict. The Lieutenant watched the man carefully and noted that the other patrons began to filter from the area, leaving Bernard a bit exposed. He contemplated his approach to the High Colonel, as their vast difference in rank made his conversing with the man almost a breach of etiquette. But Dunford was desperate for information, this was his life, and if Veller had anything to share that could help Bernard prevent a horrendously agonizing death, he was willing to pry that knowledge from him. Mark was so engrossed in thought, he had not noticed the Lieutenant move in to sit at a table right behind him, but he was not so deep in his thoughts to miss that someone was addressing him properly. "High Colonel Veller, may I have a word?" Dunford said with an air of regard for the distance of rank but his voice held a cold calculative quality to it. Once Mark turned, he would gander at a man in his early-thirties, his brown hair was cut to regulation, wearing a dark gray tactical uniform with an insignia that signified he was a Lieutenant.

Mark turned at the voice, clearly startled out of his thoughts though he recovered quickly. His ice blue eyes surveyed Dunford for a moment before speaking, "Of course, Lieutenant..." he trailed off as an invitation for the Lieutenant to further introduce himself. Moving over to the table to take a seat, he stifled his annoyance at being so lost in his thoughts he had not noticed the Lieutenant sit down behind him.

Dunford was relieved when the other began to take a seat opposite of him, giving the Lieutenant his full undivided attention. He had been initially unsure if the Colonel would care to be bothered by a lower ranked officer, and Veller could just as easily denied him and excused himself. Bernard had no real idea of what kind of man the High Colonel was, which was part of his interest. Perhaps there was something about Veller that allowed Thanor to overlook his transgression. "Thank you, sir, " he said respectfully as he waited for the other to fully seat himself before he continued. "I am sure you are aware of the hearsay spreading regarding your ... incarceration." There was no easy way to bring this up, but Dunford attempted to be as delicate as possible. "Forgive my prying, sir, but I was hoping you would be willing to shed some light on the matter." Brown eyes wandered from Veller to their surroundings to ensure that their conversation was secure from earshot. The area was now empty save for them, which was very convenient, but there was always a danger of surveillance. Once he was satisfied they were physically alone, he leaned in just slightly while his calm voice lowered to a soft hushed whisper. "Did you attack the High Inquisitor?"

Mark had to control the one thing he wanted to do, but could not. Laugh. His first interaction with the crew and it was over what had happened between himself and the High Inquisitor. It was just too bizarre for him to conceive that he was the object of so much rumor and gossip. There was a twitch at the corners of his mouth which he concealed by wetting his lips slightly as he swallowed, his mind working as he tried to figure out what the High Inquisitor would want him to say. With no word from the High Inquisitor it was now up to him to answer this question. It was not as if he could tell the man to hold that thought while he consulted the High Inquisitor who would be rightly annoyed he could not handle such a question.

If he did not answer it, the question would not go away and some questions were best to handle when they came up. That he was being asked told him she had made no announcement to the crew on the reason for his incarceration and subsequent fate. He considered a moment what conclusions people were likely to jump to if he admitted to the whole truth and instantly knew he could not. The penalty for attacking a High Inquisitor was death, plain and simple, and he doubted this Lieutenant would understand the depths he had plunged that resulted in his forgiveness and survival. How could he explain it to this man when he barely understood himself why he was still alive?

He just knew that he was, that his fate was now tied to the High Inquisitor's and that he would follow her every command, no matter what. His eyes widened just a bit as he remembered her commanding him to suffer just before she beat him unconscious. He let out a breath, his being taken out of the tank early now made more sense. She was going to ensure his obedience to that first command.

His attention returned to the Lieutenant, if he admitted his attack, berserk though he was, he would weaken the High Inquisitor's hold on the ship. Yes, the best command was through respect, but respect also needed an element of fear to be most effective. Choosing his words carefully, he said, "There was a mishap as we sparred which resulted in the High Inquisitor being injured," he started at the table a moment before looking back at the Lieutenant, "The mishap was entirely my fault for which the High Inquisitor rightly held me responsible. Once the High Inquisitor was certain it was only by accident this mishap happened, she pronounced her judgement. Hence my incarceration and subsequent punishment. The High Inquisitor delivered her justice swiftly and without mercy." He focused once again on the Lieutenant sitting across from him, "Have you any other questions to quell the rumors, Lieutenant..?" once again trailed off as a reminder that he had not introduced himself. Mark suppressed the growing irritation at the man's lack of protocol.

"Bernard Dunford," he said quickly to fill in the gap left by Veller. "My apologies. It seems I got ahead of myself," he paused for a moment to reflect on the fact that he failed to introduce himself properly. That was such a novice mistake that was far below his typical heightened attention to detail. He had been so intent and transfixed on learning the mysterious circumstances surrounding Veller that he had completely blown past his responsibilities and duties as an officer. It was clear the Lieutenant was embarrassed for his lack of protocol and his blunt questioning. But he was also very much appreciative that the High Colonel was willing to humor him for the time being. "Thank you for being so honest and straightforward with me, sir."

Dunford eased slowly back into his seat with sigh of alleviation. If what Mark was speaking was the truth, it appeared that Inquisitor Thanor was rather merciful as compared to the previous High Inquisitor. This relieved him tremendously and he visibly relaxed after being so tense but a moment ago. If the Inquisitor was willing to forgive such a terrible mistake, she would likely forgive far less infractions, which was not the case for Tremayne. Even though Veller's punishment had been severe, he lived through it, or more specifically, she *allowed* him to live through it and that distinction was what mattered to Dunford. Thanor was willing to forgive. "In the past, things had been very ... turbulent onboard." He chose his words carefully. Speaking ill-will of an Inquisitor, even one no longer serving on the Interrogator, could be mistaken for insubordination, and he was not willing to take that chance. "I'm very glad to hear that High Inquisitor Thanor is merciful in her judgments." He nodded to the other as his appearance took on a more contemplative look. "You are a brave man for requesting a spar with a High Inquisitor." Brave ... and foolish no doubt.

Mark smiled wryly, "I am not sure I would account "merciful" to High Inquisitor Thanor's judgments. But, I believe I understand the use of the word in comparison to the rumors I have heard of Inquisitor Tremayne." Mark paused a moment, a thoughtful look crossing his face. Lieutenant Dunford was really the first person he was having a semi-casual conversation with besides Major Eona. Perhaps it was time to do a bit of prying of his own into the past Inquisitor.

"I am given to understand that Inquisitor Tremayne is no longer in command of the Interrogator due to a duel with High Inquisitor Thanor," he said, "I am curious as to the type of command Inquisitor Tremayne used while in command." While he did not ask any actual questions, he was curious as to the response Dunford would give.

Bernard shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he listened to Veller bring up a few sensitive topics, but his eyes also brightened significantly, signifying that he was quite torn on the direction this conversation was going. He was terrified of the Inquisitors, but he also knew a significant amount of information about the Inquisitorius due to his own personal investigations, prying, and a bit of unconventional slicing, all of which could get him in serious trouble. The man had a wealth of knowledge about the Citadel, their doctrines and their workings due to his desperate desire to stay alive amidst one of the most infamous members. How much of this stored information he was willing to disclose to Veller became an object of personal debate and conflict. The High Colonel seemed to be willing to share his own experiences with Bernard, but Veller acquired his knowledge rightfully, whereas the Lieutenant had dealt with a few nefarious sources to get his data.

There was the unmistakable look of gleaming excitement in his eyes, as a man that knew too much information but was struggling not to disclose it. Once again he peered around, but he was no fool, there were likely surveillances and suddenly Bernard's entire persona shifted, his eyes hardened significantly, returning to their standard cover of frigidness. He could not risk speaking to the High Colonel so freely, as the man was rumored to be at the left hand of Inquisitor Thanor. He might as well just sign his own execution orders. "Many of the details regarding the previous High Inquisitor have been documented in the data banks," came his calculative response, and Veller would be wise enough to realize that the Lieutenant was certainly holding out on him. But Dunford just did not feel *safe* enough disclosing the information the High Colonel was requesting, despite his near expert level of knowledge on the subject.

Mark nodded as he digested what was said and, more importantly, what was not. It was clear to him that Lt. Dunford did not trust him with whatever information he had. A factor that Mark could understand given his close proximity to the High Inquisitor.

He stood up from the table, "A pity," he said, "I was hoping to find a more personal view of the events of the past High Inquisitor. You have one of the longest service records aboard this vessel. It was a pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant. Your service record reads highly of your competence." He took a step from the table before turning back to face Dunford, his ice blue eyes staring at him for a moment.

"Lieutenant," he said, "If you change your mind, my office is always open. I find it better when problems come to me before I need to go chasing them," he paused, "Confidences given, I take seriously, and my office is ... private." Mark smiled slightly, "As for whether or not I am brave to have sparred with the High Inquisitor, perhaps, but I will not refute the other adjective I believe I have heard used. Stupid."

That's when Mark remembered he had not quite finished with the report on the Bridge crew during the assault on Esselles. The High Inquisitor had asked it of him before the spar, telling him to take his time with it as she wanted his opinion on how well they did their jobs. Mentally he kicked himself not having placed Dunford on the Bridge. Perhaps he was not ready to return to active duty if his memory was failing him that badly.

"Lieutenant, good work on the bridge during the Esseles operation. I will be sure to put that in my report to the High Inquisitor," he nodded to the Lieutenant and then turned to leave the observation deck. He had been away from his duties for too long. If he was to have a chance at making some time to recover, he would have to push himself. Enough time had been spent on sorting himself out, the rest would have to wait.

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