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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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