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Kit Gwynne and Nikolai Wisekal.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:16) in the Essesia system: Interrogator.
Tonric Serev and Colonel Mark Veller.

Mark was buried in his work. It was the only way he could keep his thoughts from roving in all sorts of directions after the High Inquisitor's injuries. If the Retributor was open to such an infiltration, he wanted to plug any holes in his security to prevent a similar incident. Personally, he wondered why Grand Moff Rodney was still around as it was his responsibility to secure his ship. But as with all things Lord Vader did, it was way above his pay grade. He accepted that his duty was to obey to the best of his ability.

Neck deep in various reports, it took the Stormtroopers at his doors a few tries to get his attention. When they told him Tonric wished to meet with him, he blinked a few times, then nodded, clearing a few of the datapads to the side so his desk wasn't a major disaster. What Mark considered a disaster of a desk was different from most people's definitions. There were three neat stacks of datapads and a holoterminal at his desk. The rest of his desk was clear of any clutter besides a caf mug.

The office had that rich smell of fresh brewed caf, evidenced by the caf machine and grinder nearby. Closed doors on the walls probably went to his quarters. In front of his large black desk were three chairs of medium comfort.

As Tonric came in, his eyes narrowed slightly at the inclusion of whatever beast followed him. It also reminded him of the research he had wanted to do on the alien but hadn't gotten to yet. With a nod, he dismissed the Stormtroopers to wait outside and waved Tonric towards the caf machine, "Fresh brewed caf if you want some, help yourself." Mark did not stand, nor offer to get caf. A) Tonric was a civilian and not in his chain of command, B) Tonric was male and C) Mark still had charts and reports in his head he was trying to clear out so he could give Tonric his full attention.

While other Imperial offices probably wouldn't even give the time of day to Tonric, let alone a private meeting, Mark was fairly sure Tonric wasn't stupid enough to attack him in his office with almost 10,000 Stormtroopers ready and willing to make sure Tonric had the worst day of his life if something happened to their CO. That didn't mean he was about to lower his guard around Tonric, just meant he didn't have to worry about a physical attack.

The neatish desk was a telling sight but Veller's craned neck reminded Tonric why he'd left Mandalore. Every single student was put under the boot of a quartermaster. Tonric had recognized the value of consistent supplies, and preparation but he still grimaced at the memory of boot leather in the back of his throat.

If Mark kept his focus he could glimpse the data pads. "Do not give him reason to distrust us. Increased security means something went wrong." Sarrick's annoying caution appealed to him but remaining ignorant chaffed worse than a wookie parka.

"Thank you, by any chance do you have tea?" Caf wasn't his preference.

Sarrick took up his preferred seat in the corner, never taking his eyes off of Veller.

Mark thought a moment, then said, "Top drawer, there should be a selection. My apologies for not knowing exactly what's there. I use teas to find flavors to try with caf." He smiled wryly, "Sometimes the results are ... interesting."

It would only take a few moments for the machine to dispense the necessary heated water, so Mark took those moments to observe Tonric and the beast with the leisure he didn't have before. Once Tonric was seated with his cup of tea, he asked, "What brings you to my office, Tonric?" Though faded, the black eye was still visible, "If you are here to request a rematch, I have not medical approval for combat duty," he paused a moment, "Nor, I think, do you," remembering the punishment they had dished out to one another just a few days ago.

He picked up his mug and leaned back in his chair. The illusion presented was one of being relaxed, but in reality, Mark was wary of the Bounty Hunter. He distrusted Tonric's independence from the Empire and the creature at his side was an unknown.

"Thank you," Tonric relied on corner vision and walking diagonally hoping to glimpse the datapad contents. He caught a few words off the stacked one on top. Medical and casualty fixed in his head hopefully he could inquire without arousing suspicion.

Sarrick's eyes followed Tonric for a moment before swiveling back to Veller, "Stop wasting time." The words were scratchy as they passed through a smiling maw of teeth. Tonric rapped the cup with his knuckles filling the room with a high metallic tone. Sarrick began to growl.

Pouring the heated water offered a moment to mutter angrily. "Be silent, we are blind and must correct this first."

There was no tarkesian tea something he could ask Veller about requisitioning. A small amount of sugar and boiling water could offer a lot of comfort. "A rematch can wait, I am more curious where Inquisitor Kaen is?"

Mark's eyebrow raised slightly in surprise. Of all the reasons for Tonric to walk into his office, that one had not even made the list. "Honestly, I have no idea. I would expect on some task of the High Inquisitor's devising. Why do you ask?" He set down the mug on his desk and leaned forward slightly.

Tonric took slow sips enjoying the warm balance of taste. It was rare to have an excuse to indulge. "Because she hired me." It was always fun when espionage related personnel were fed broad information. Details could be sifted but that meant investing resources. The quandary was amusing to Tonric and one reason he enjoyed keeping his loyalties simple.

"After this food and drink, at least we can do that" Tonric pondered how to arrange that, Codru-ji were not a prominent race and he wanted the advantage of everyone's ignorance.

Eying Tonric from across the desk, he considered the Bounty Hunter's position. Inquisitor Kaen had brought him aboard the Interrogator and then pretty much left him to his own devices. The only orders he had received about Tonric were from the High Inquisitor. Find out what he was capable of, she had ordered, test his mettle.

Mark had tested and instead of finding it lacking, had found the Bounty Hunter had quite a bit of mettle. If Inquisitor Kaen had not been in contact with him since his arrival, he certainly understood Tonric's position and his probable dislike of not knowing what was going on. He knew he could certainly dislike it.

"I see," said Mark, "I am sure Inquisitor Kaen will inform you directly, if she has something for you to do." Mark briefly thought of offering to send a message for him, but stopped himself as he didn't want to become Tonric's messenger boy. Though a message would be sent to Inquisitor Kaen, it would not necessarily be at Tonric's behest.

Tonric's face remained placid but the words on the datapad still needled at him. The added camouflage of tea was helpful, "A well reasoned point, High Colonel," not a trace of mockery this time, "At this point is there any Imperial protocol for me to follow in attempting to contact her?" Silently he wished they'd included that in their weeks of training.

He trusted Veller to be professional but little else, the consequences of mercenary status was being a deductible expense on Imperial balance sheets.

Mark considered for a moment, then pulled a datapad out of his desk and input some parameters into it before handing it over to Tonric. "This will allow you to access the Interrogator's internal communications systems. It has very limited access, but Inquisitor Kaen's is among them as well as mine. I have also granted you access to other Bounty Hunters currently on the Interrogator. They have been recruited for specialized missions and the Empire is providing support during their down time. Please feel free to associate with them, however, their access is more restricted than yours. I would also consider it a breach of contract to discuss Inquisitor Kaen's or any of the Interrogator's business that you might happen to overhear."

While politely worded, Mark's voice carried the threat that he wasn't to gossip among his bounty hunter friends about whatever he learned while on the Interrogator. If Tonric did, by chance visit the other bounty hunters, he would learn that his Stormtrooper escort would not follow him in, but would pick him back up again when he left to the quarters assigned to him.

Picking up his mug he took a sip of the caf, "Do you have any other questions?" he asked.

Tonric took the pad in his free hand glancing and listening at the same time. "Some progress at last," Sarrick's voice was the usual derogatory pinching tone. Tonric's hand instinctively found the shoulder spot the wyrrwulf could never reach. A few moments he was rewarded with a lolling tongue. "Thank you sir." Tonric set the empty cup aside "Discretion is a virtue I keep near and dear, Colonel Veller." Glancing the contents a question occurred " Only one more, what is your assessment of my...coworkers."

A slight smile crossed Veller's face. So the man was worried about his competition. He debated his answer. Of course, he could decline, technically, the information was classified as it would be used to determine what missions the Bounty Hunters were sent on. On the other hand, it was a common desire to know how you stacked up.

Setting down his mug and leaning forward on his desk, he decided to see if the man would agree to a bargain. "It is on my mind to tell you that information is none of your business. However, there is nothing truly confidential about the evaluations, even though some parties might not agree with the standard to which they are being upheld."

His ice blue eyes considered Tonric for a moment, "Tell me about your..." Mark paused to choose his next word, "friend. Who, or perhaps, what is he? Judging by my observations, it is sentient. I am curious as to the degree of its sentience." He leaned back in his chair, one hand holding his mug, the other discretely at his side, ready to draw his blaster if his words had somehow provoked an attack.

Tonric smiled back, the scars across his lips and cheeks injecting a menace a theatre troop would applaud. Veller was draconic with information, every little bit he gave away took from his pile.

Fingers intertwined he leaned forward resting his nose on his fingers. "Do we tell him?" He couldn't hide the movements of his jaw but the theatricality prevented Veller from reading his lips.

Sarrick flicked his ear walking on all fours around the perimeter of the office sniffing. "Do not walk behind him," Tonric did not think Sarrick would leap without provocation but the wyrrwulf was very protective...himself.

Sarrick stopped to Veller's side on his haunches. "Give him a spare earpiece."

Tonric began to form a question but Sarrick looked at him through thin eyes.

Accepting the verdict Tonric turned to Veller "That is not my question to answer," Tonric fished out a form fitted piece, "This will help," holding it out for Veller across his desk.

Mark watched as Sarrick paced towards him, controlling his instinctive reaction to draw the blaster and threaten the beast. His was still the high ground, with Stormtroopers outside to respond in less than seconds if either of them were foolish enough to attack. He was confident enough of his own abilities that he could be a gracious host. And gracious hosts did not draw blasters without provocation.

Reaching out, he took the earpiece, inspecting it before placing it in his ear. To a noncombatant, Mark's actions seemed normal, but to a trained warrior, it was obvious Mark was a coiled spring, with a trigger release.

Sarrick waited until the Imperial finished with the earpiece. To his mind people embodied allegiances, Tonric's was to Mandalore for himself it was to Tonric. Events occurred because of oaths.

Focusing on scent for a moment Sarrick breathed deep trying to pinpoint the Colonel's state of mind. It was impressive nerves were present but not in control and not a trace of anger. "What do you wish to know" Sarrick chose a pitch the earpiece could easily pick up.

Mark's eyebrow rose slightly as hearing Sarrick's voice, "Interesting," he murmured softly before continuing, "I would be introduced to you properly, then, though it might be considered a rather personal question, I would know of your loyalties. The security of this warship is partly my responsibility." His eyes flickered over to Tonric then back to Sarrick, "That you have the access you do, even escorted, is only due to Inquisitor Kaen. I will admit I am uncomfortable with it, however, knowledge of allegiances can make things easier for all parties concerned."

He turned his gaze to Tonric, "It is not a secret that many disdain the mercenary profession. One of the aspects of paid loyalty is whether the person stays paid, as it were. Just how loyal are your paid loyalties?" Mark asked, knowing full well that his words could be construed as an insult if the listener so desired. It was, however, a credible concern for him. If offered a higher price, would Tonric change his loyalties?

Sarrick cocked his head it probably looked odd on a four legged hunter with a fang filled mouth that could puncture durasteel but the absence of surprise was disappointing, eyebrow notwithstanding. "My name is Sarrick, and my loyalty is to Tonric." The words were simple and he employed with gravity but without his usual aggression. "The privileges you have given him will be enough for me, and your comfort is not my concern Colonel."

Tonric grinned through the exchange, for Sarrick that was polite. Veller's micro expressions were volumes of worthwhile reading that Tonric flicked through, moving to the tea and water before answering. "Do you know what the shortest distance between two points is Colonel Veller?"

Mark suppressed a smile at the curt words of Sarrick. Now that he had a feel for the mettle of the creature, he felt better. Though he would not increase the guard on Tonric, he felt it might be a good thing to put more experienced troopers on the two. He turned his attention to Tonric, "Usually a straight line, but that is modified by what is between those two points," he said.

Tonric silently stirred, considering a proper response that would continue the game of least information shared, then began rhythmically tapping the spoon on the rim of his cup. "I disagree, fundamentally in fact." Turning to face the Colonel he kept his tone even but without mirth. "The line may cross hills and valleys." Taking a sip his face turned, there was a touch too much sugar this time and Tonric added water with a disapproving click of his tongue before continuing "It may even encounter a wall, but hills can be taken, valleys crossed, and walls penetrated with proper ordinances." Tonric sat down meeting Veller's eyes before taking a sip of the properly balanced tea. "Or to sum up I like my loyalties easily understood. Inquisitor Kaen has them until she releases them."

Mark stirred slightly, "I am pleased to hear that, Tonric." He pulled a datapad out from under a few others. Sliding it across the desk towards Tonric, Mark continued, "We have a task for you that requires someone of your... talents. There is a Black Sun operation which we have identified as a major source of data hacking. We would like to deny them the data they have compiled and acquire it for ourselves. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to at a minimum, destroy the files. Optimally, you acquire the data and turn it over to us."

He considered Tonric for a moment before adding, "Their hacking operation was not a threat until a few months ago. If you can discover who they hired and eliminate the threat, it would be a bonus. Bring that person back, and it is an even bigger bonus." He gestured to the datapad, "The rest of the Intel is on that datapad. If you have any questions afterwards, please direct them to myself or Major Eona."

Tonric took the pad cycling through the various pieces of intel in neatly arranged files. There were a lot objectives to this and would require careful planning. Thumbing the length of the scars across his lips Tonric began to whisper for Sarrick's benefit who trotted over, "This look like quite a challenge" Putting it on the second seat for Sarrick, Tonric turned to Colonel Veller "Will you or Inquisitor Kaen be responsible for my payment, requisitions, and reports?

Mark was about to make a snide comment about mercenaries always being about the money, but he stopped himself. It actually was not his place to do so. Tonric had been hired by Inquisitor Kaen and was not truly his responsibility. He had only stepped in at the High Inquisitor's request, order actually. Amending what he originally thought, he said, "The Empire will pay all reasonable costs and whatever other terms you and Inquisitor Kaen have agreed upon. If you wish, you may send those to Inquisitor Kaen for reimbursement. However, if she is unavailable, you may send them to me.

"As to requisitions, again, the Empire will supply reasonable requests. Send them to me and I will release them to you from our stock," Mark paused, "Any other questions?"

Looking to Sarrick the wyrrwulf first "I feel prepared." Tonric nodded turning back to Veller he smiled "Only if you would recommend one of the other Bounty Hunters you have here?"

The question was not one Mark was prepared for. He opened his mouth to speak but instead a bark of laughter came out, "Recommend another Bounty Hunter?" He shook has head slightly, "You, my friend, are the only one who even comes close to getting a recommendation from me. As well, the High Inquisitor would prefer you to run solo on this one." He paused a moment, his ice blue eyes devoid of emotion, deciding how much to tell Tonric, "My advice to you on this particular point is to do the job yourself and prove your competence. The sparring ring can reveal many things, but the true standard to measure against is still success."

He emptied his mug of caf, "Though the method of success is yours to decide, be careful just how much you allow another to succeed at your task. The other Bounty Hunters are currently at the Void, a base we recently freed from Black Sun control. I will grant you access to the base so you can judge for yourself if you want their help.

"Of course, the Empire is paying for your services on this task, not another Bounty Hunter. I trust we are clear on that?" He asked Tonric.

"Completely," The word came out a little tightly, for Tonric Veller was pleasant enough but also wound so tightly that Tonric tempted to see if he was powered by gears. Sarrick gave a huffing response that Tonric recognized as laughter. "Thank you for your time High Colonel," offering a salute Tonric made for the door.

Mark watched as Tonric and Sarrick made for the door, giving them a slight nod before returning to his work. He slipped the earpiece out of his ear and into his desk. It might come in handy a bit later. Returning to his work, he penned a note to the High Inquisitor to inform her of the task Tonric had been sent on. Tonric's fate was officially out of his hands now. Briefly, Mark wondered if he would see Tonric again.

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