Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Kit Gwynne and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:4:26) in the Essesia system: Interrogator.
Lieutenant Bernard Dunford and Colonel Mark Veller.

It had been a day since his summons to the High Inquisitor. Most of that time had been spent clearing out the backlog of paperwork his incarceration and recovery had produced. It being half done, he decided to devote a bit of time to the High Inquisitor's instructions.

She offered training on how to control and harness his temper. He could not really deny her claim that the control he had now was cracking. The aches in his body were testimony to that along with the scar under his eye. He knew already that he would accept. Perhaps that is why he had not gone into it when she had offered.

But, there were other matters to investigate. If he did accept the training, he would become a target. At the moment, he was merely another officer of the crew. If the High Inquisitor was to be replaced tomorrow, he would still be serving aboard the Interrogator and, as long as the new commanding officer agreed, in the same place of command.

Attaching himself to Serine in such a manner would bring him into view of enemies he knew nothing about. The first and foremost of those he figured was Inquisitor Tremayne. For fifteen years he had ruled aboard the Interrogator, then been shunted aside for Serine Thanor, the youngest Inquisitor and the youngest to make High Inquisitor. As far as Mark could determine, the replacement of Inquisitor Tremayne was not due to some gross error on Tremayne's part. He did not know what, but he suspected if it had been, that would have leaked out in some manner.

No, something had happened internally within the Inquisitorius that allowed Inquisitor Thanor to replace High Inquisitor Tremayne. What it was, he had no clue, but Mark knew if he was in a similar position, he would want revenge, even if he had to wait for it. It was a serious question to consider, would his training allow Inquisitor Tremayne a chance at his revenge, and if so, how could he prevent that

Making a decision, he sent a comm to Lieutenant Dunford, requesting his presence in his office to discuss some possible improvements to the communication systems for his Stormtroopers. It was a flimsy excuse, but one that should pass muster well enough. The message sent, Mark went over to his caf machine, removed the pot and upended the machine, opening a compartment to remove a small item. His body blocked any actual observation of what he did and he made it look like he was checking a connection on the machine. Setting it back down and replacing the caf pot, he went over back to his desk and sat down. He put down the object on his desk. It looked like a routine item on his desk, matching others.

Switching it on, anyone listening to his office would encounter a mixed signal, one that made speech difficult to understand. He already knew that the audio recordings from the various spy devices in his office were not perfect, this merely made things harder and would make any recording meaningless. He toyed with activating the second button that would cause the visual bugs to transmit the next ten minutes of recording over and over, but decided against it. It was already recorded that he had sent for Lieutenant Dunford. If someone did not find a recording of that if they looked, it would give the whole thing away. He had spent a pretty penny for the device and been sparing in its use. He was not sure if Dunford would report the possession of this device, which was illegal to own, unless you were in the right branch of Intelligence, but he figured it worth the gamble. Lieutenant Dunford had wanted to talk, he just had not felt safe about it.

Going back to his work, he let the device on his desk continue to run, breaking up whatever sound the bugs would pick up. If he got a request to vacate his office for routine maintenance in the next few days, he would know that someone had checked the recordings and decided to replace the bugs. They did go bad every now and then.

Lieutenant Bernard Dunford was not surprised when he received an official request to speak personally with the High Colonel within the privacy of his office. The reason for the request was most certainly a front to the real issues Veller had wished to discuss. This invitation had come but a few days after Dunford had trailed him to the observation deck for his own inquiries. Mark had been very generous with the information that the Lieutenant so desperately sought, but he in turn had refused to answer the High Colonel's most basic of questions. To gain access to Bernard's uncanny knowledge was likely the true intention for the summons. He could not turn down the orders to report to Veller's office, despite his desire to refuse to comply, thus he excused himself from his station after allowing a junior officer to take over in his stead. This new development worried Bernard, and he contemplated it heavily as he journeyed down the hallways towards the office of the High Colonel.

The information that Veller would likely demand was controversial in both content and means of access. The Lieutenant had managed to slice very sensitive information from secured files reserved only for Inquisitorius members, and continued to do so covertly. He had already slipped in a few minor disguised applications within the background programs of Theo's terminal to slowly acquire High Inquisitor Thanor's daily schedule. He had done similar things in the past to avoid physical confrontation with Tremayne and it had proved to be invaluable to his survival. But if any of his underhanded techniques came to light, he could face serious consequences, perhaps fatal, as far more minor transgressions were previously met with brutal execution. One would think his illegal activities were contradictory to the very punishments he was trying to avoid. It would be an unfortunate turn of events if the unethical means that had kept him safe for a decade ended up causing his untimely demise.

Veller would not have to wait long for his chance at some answers. The Lieutenant promptly arrived at the door leading into the office of the High Colonel. He chimed the comm device before speaking into the unit to announce his intentions to his superior officer. "Lieutenant Dunford reporting as requested, sir," his said, the tone of his voice respectful yet cold, as he awaited permission to enter. He carefully considered his position and stance as he waited in the hall. He wasn't any safer discussing these sensitive topics in the office than he was outside in the observation deck. He was certain Veller's office was bugged like everywhere else on the ship. Surely the High Colonel could not be so vain as to think his office was a truly safe place to speak one's mind. In Bernard's experience, nowhere on the ship was safe. Perhaps Veller knew this and desired to force him to answer, or threaten him, or perhaps even physically assault him. In any of these cases, Dunford would likely be a hapless victim. Mark had both rank and substantial strength over him, but what he didn't have was Bernard's unshakable dread. The Lieutenant would far rather be verbally or physically chastised by the High Colonel than face the High Inquisitor's fiery wrath.

Once he received permission to enter, he quickly did so, elegantly advancing into the room and stopping before Veller's desk. He nimbly clasped his hands behind his back and stood at a rigid attention before his superior officer. "Sir," he said with grace, and any hint that he was uneasy about this meeting was not at all present on stoic features.

Mark looked up from his desk as Lieutenant Dunford came in. Nodding he said, "At ease, Lieutenant," then nodded to the caf machine, "Fix yourself a cup, Lieutenant, if you want, and take a seat. This might take some time."

Turning his attention back to his work, he covertly kept an eye on Dunford to judge his reaction to the informality Mark was showing. He was pretty certain Dunford had figured out this meeting was not about communication systems, that he wanted something else.

Then there was the question of how to tell Dunford of the device hidden in the object by his hand that was breaking up the audio to make it unintelligible. Mark toyed with several ways of starting the conversation, but finally decided to tackle it directly. He was an Imperial Stormtrooper, people would expect a direct approach. But first, he would allow Dunford to enjoy his cup of caf before starting. There was a risk with the direct approach of Dunford spitting out the caf of he was drinking it when he started. It would be an unfortunate waste of caf and he was not eager to clean his desk because of spilled caf. Suppressing a smile at the image of Dunford spitting out caf, he waited for Dunford to sit down.

"Thank you, sir," he said graciously but the Lieutenant hesitated for a moment as he debated the High Colonel's offer. He did not wish to look disrespectful by turning him down, but he also did not know this man well enough to gauge if he was willing to do something nefarious like slip in truth serum. Dunford was not a trusting individual, a characteristic brought on by years living in a hostile environment. However, Bernard had a growing favorable opinion of Veller considering he had been willing to offer his time up for conversation before and had shared details willingly. Lieutenant Dunford decided to honor the other's request and moved towards the caf machine to fix himself a modest cup. Soon the officer was sitting in a chair across from the High Colonel's desk.

He sat comfortably while holding the cup within his hands, enjoying the warmth the freshly brewed caf brought. It would have been insulting to place the cup upon his superior's desk, so he held it within his hands as he sipped the contents gingerly. He looked down into the dark colored liquid for a moment, wondering how the High Colonel was going to try to convince him to converse his tightly held secrets. Dunford decided to answer the other's questions as best as he could without betraying his sources or put him in unfavorable light. It was always a painful reminder to the Lieutenant that he had no confidants he could trust. It would be in his benefit to have a working and friendly relationship with the High Colonel. Eyes drifted from his caf to Veller silently, as he awaited the other man to begin the conversation out of respect and politeness.

As Dunford settled in his seat, Mark finished reviewing a report and sent it on its way, then pushing the datapad to one side. Giving Dunford a slight wry smile, he said, "Always with the reports, always wanted now," he stood up from his desk, suppressing a wince at muscles protesting his movement, then went over to the caf machine to refill his own cup. Coming back to his desk, he took a sip before sitting down.

"One of the perks of the rank," Mark said, a slight nod towards the machine, "It's my own personal brew, I hope you like it." Leaning back in his chair, he studied the Lieutenant for a few moments before pushing the scrambler towards Dunford. "I assure you, Lieutenant, our conversation is shielded from prying ears, though currently not prying eyes."

His sharp eyes watching Dunford carefully, he continued, "If you are willing, I would like to continue our conversation from the Observation Deck a few days ago." Taking a sip of his caf, he waited to see which way Dunford would jump.

The Lieutenant's form grew more rigid as the High Colonel made it clear that their conversation would be at least verbally secure, and his assumptions for the reason for this meeting were correct. Dunford had pondered many ways that Veller could approach this, but not once did he consider the man using a scrambling device. There was a soft gasp from the officer, and eyes that had widened just briefly returned to their normal gaze as he peered towards Mark curiously, but there was that glimmer of uncertainty and fear alive in those eyes. "Sir, that is highly illegal." It would be an injustice to himself if he did not at least mention how uncharacteristic this behavior was for a High Colonel, as a quick acceptance to criminal means would put his own character into question. But that fear had been real in his eyes, and he worried that if word got out, he may be guilty by association. It was far too late for that now.

That look of fear faded into an admiration which was also genuine. If Veller was willing to go to such lengths to obtain information, then they were truly likened spirits. The High Colonel was certainly taking a risk, and aside from pulling rank or a physical confrontation, there was not much cementing Bernard's loyalties to not report this to higher authorities. But this new development actually drew him closer and he found himself more willing to share with Veller. Bernard found comfort in the fact that the other man was a bit of an illicit outsider much like himself. The Lieutenant had never expected to find such unlawful common ground with his superior officer. If Veller was willing to trust him in such a capacity, then he could match that trust and they both may benefit from a relationship of confidence. "I would be a fool to deny you now, sir. What did you want to know?" A small nervous yet excited sip was taken of his caf, but brown eyes never once unglued from the High Colonel.

Mark could not quite contain his smile of victory that Dunford was going to open up to him, though he did caution himself that he would have to take it slow. "Thank you, Lieutenant, I appreciate the confidence." Taking a sip from the caf, he thought how to ask his next question, "I find myself needing more information on Inquisitor Tremayne. As you know, High Inquisitor Thanor is the youngest Inquisitor to achieve the rank of High Inquisitor. While I will not speak any ill of her command, the High Inquisitor," he paused for a moment, "does lack the experience that can only come with, well, more experience. Thus, in order to carry out my duties to defend this ship against all harm, I find myself needing more information on possible enemies who might wish to replace High Inquisitor Thanor. Prior commanders of vessels are, as you can imagine, high on the list.

"You served many years under Inquisitor Tremayne, and while many officers lost their lives in defense of the Interrogator, you did not," Mark's tone of voice made it perfectly clear that the use of 'defense' was only a politically correct statement. "I want to know what you can tell me of Inquisitor Tremayne's methods of command in order to perhaps predict any moves he might make against High Inquisitor Thanor. Given that the change of command was due to some internal struggle within the Inquisitorius, it is unlikely he would strike through them. Also, given that I am not a member of the Inquisitorius, I cannot defend against such an attack and will have to trust the High Inquisitor to defend herself. But there are other ways of discrediting a commander and I need to know of Inquisitor Tremayne before I can defend against him." Mark looked directly at Dunford over his cup of caf, "Is this something you can help me with, Lieutenant?"

Dunford fell deathly silent as he listened to his superior officer's lengthy summary and request. Sullen eyes drifted once again down into his caf before they closed for a period of time, the painful memories that he tried to suppress flooding back into him. He was unable to immediately answer the Colonel as he quietly battled with his long years of suffering and mental anguish that had defined his existence. Underneath his faux cold exterior, Bernard was a damaged and broken man. He did not try to deny it to himself, but he did his best to hide it from the outside world. Having to share those demons with another was both frightening and daunting. Not only was the recollection of those events traumatizing, his methods for claiming outside knowledge was damning. As soon as he opened up to Veller, his very life would be in that man's hands. The fear of pain and the fear of death were solely what motivated nearly every one of his actions, so how could a man as esteemed and honorable as the High Colonel relate or even understand that?

When the Lieutenant finally raised his head from its bowed position and looked directly at Mark, the veil had fallen revealing the truly haunted and tormented gaze alive in those brown eyes. "I ... can help you, sir. Though I lament the thought," he said before he nervously swallowed as he rubbed the outside of the caf cup with great anxiety. "During Inquisitor Tremayne's reign, every day onboard of the Interrogator felt like an eternity, as if the hand of death was constantly tightening around your throat. The fear was crippling. He ... he would execute officers for the slightest offense, or even at a whim." Trembling hands brought up his cup to take a much needed sip of caf to moisten his mouth that was becoming increasingly dry. "Early in my career, I was on duty ... with a good friend of mine, knew him since the Academy. He struck up a conversation with me ... and Tremayne overheard, who decided to make an example out of him ... idle conversation while on duty was a breach of rules. He ... he..."

Bernard had to take a moment to compose himself lest he break down. His voice was already wavering with misery so soon in his tale. He had never spoken to anyone about this and it was incredibly difficult to recollect while keeping the floodgate of emotions in check. "He executed him right in front of me. There was a horrible sound of cracking and breaking bones, my friend screamed in agony then dropped to the floor while writhing in anguish. I looked on in horror, while Tremayne looked on in amusement. My friend drowned in his own blood, but no blood ever left his body. It was all internal. At the time ... I was so in shock that I didn't understand what had happened. But now, after years of research, I know how Tremayne did it." The Lieutenant paused to wet his lips in trepidation but also elation. Uncovering secrets of the Inquisitorius had been both tantalizing and terrifying. He had kept this information private for years out of sheer dread, but he couldn't help but feel excited discussing the matters with the High Colonel ... who else would possibly believe him?

"There is a requirement to becoming an Inquisitor. They can ... do things that no one else can. Impossible things. They can cause things to happen ... I don't know how else to describe it. Tremayne never once physically touched my friend, but he somehow broke every rib in his body and used them to puncture his lungs." He attempted to take another sip of his caf but realized he had finished his cup during his explanation. With a disappointed look, he placed the small mug on the floor beside his chair before gazing up at Veller once again, a spark in his eyes. Speaking of these matters gave him more courage and desire to continue with even more controversial information. "The Inquisitorius does not operate like a normal governmental occupancy, it is fraught with murder! Their main base of operations is known as the Citadel, and the cruelest deeds happen within. Their new recruits are often forced to kill their own parents, and any who refuse are executed on the spot! They must go through torturous trials throughout their lives that most do not survive, but those that do are vicious and diabolical creatures. They can further rise in the ranks through assassinations or more 'official' duels, in which they challenge each other; usually it is to a fight to the death."

Information was now pouring out of the Lieutenant in great quantity, he couldn't even help it at this point, he had held onto this knowledge for so long that it was such a relief to finally be able to explain it. But this information was extremely sensitive, no one outside of the Inquisitorius was supposed to be privy to its inner workings. "High Inquisitor Thanor was able to get her title and command due to a similar process, although unique, even for the Citadel..." His sentence abruptly halted as Dunford just then realized how much he was actually disclosing to the Colonel and he seized up in shock and dread. An uncanny fear glistened in brown eyes as they stared at Veller with a horrifying understanding of his potential fate. He had said way too much and now was terrified of the possible consequences. "Sir, I ... I ... spoke too much ... if any of this got out ... I ... sir ... please..." Bernard stammered with intense anxiety as he helplessly peered at the man that could so effortlessly crush him at a moment's notice.

Veller listened in silence, managing just barely to keep his horror to himself as Bernard spoke. Mark wasn't above using fear to keep his troopers in line, but making an example of someone on a whim was something abhorrent to him. It made for jittery troops who couldn't be depended on in bad situations.

As Bernard spoke, he reviewed his observations on High Inquisitor Thanor's actions. He could see a cruel streak in her actions as shown in her temper. He lifted a hand to brush the scar on his left cheek, remembering the spars with her. 'Impossible things' certainly described how she held him still after he went berserk.

"Rest easy, Lieutenant, this conversation never happened, I assure you," he smiled wryly, "We all have our secrets," nodding towards the scrambler on the desk, "What you have told me is enough, for the moment. Go get yourself another cup of caf, sit back down and get control of yourself again."

Mark leaned back in his seat, "Then we can end off the conversation on something regarding the official reason I asked you to come here. Your trust is not misplaced. You are an excellent officer and I will see that your record reflects that."

He picked up the scrambler and began to idly toyed it back and forth in his hands, ready to turn it off mid-sentence when the two of them were talking about communication systems.

Once the Lieutenant had himself back under control, Mark figured it was best to engage him on his job to help him regain his equilibrium. Having Dunford leave his office unsteady had the possibility of raising suspicions since the reason for the summons was not to chew the Lieutenant out.

His mind roamed through what Dunford had said. Impossible things. The rumors about him questioned if he was really that good, stupid or crazy to spar with the High Inquisitor. Coupled with what she had said about possible training, Mark now entertained the idea that he was somehow in that group that could do impossible things. He still wasn't quite sure how he survived the brutal whipping the High Inquisitor had given him. He knew what that whip was capable of doing to durasteel. Using that whip as she did would require great skill and not killing him would definitely fit into the category of impossible things. He should have been dead from the first hit, if not the next few.

Briefly he wondered about the trials at the Citadel, wondered what could produce a result like Tremayne. After a few moments he dismissed his thoughts, he was a warrior, not an Inquisitor. For the moment, he would stay out of that world. If High Inquisitor Thanor wanted him to know more, Mark was confident she would tell him.

"Yes, sir ... thank you, sir," Bernard said before deeply sighing as a trembling hand reached down to retrieve the empty mug he placed by his chair. The Colonel was mercifully allowing him to gather himself from such a jarring account that paid a heavy price on the Lieutenant's nerves. But Dunford was also immensely grateful for this opportunity to establish a working relationship with the High Colonel. Veller seemed to appreciate his recollections and a growing bond of trust was forming between the two men. How refreshing it was to have a commanding officer he could confide in and also who understood and sympathized with his plight. It had been far too long since Bernard regarded someone as a friend onboard the Interrogator. The Lieutenant hoped his superior did not think too unkindly of his glaring weakness, his apparent frailty and emotional damage. It was a horrid dark secret that Dunford fought tirelessly to hide behind a manifested frigid exterior that strove for perfection.

After a moment of pandering to the machine, a freshly poured mug full of comforting warm caf was within Bernard's possession and he made his way back to the chair to once again sit comfortably. There was still so much information that Bernard carried, Veller had barely even scratched the surface and even so, had caused such a traumatic effect that it was unlikely the High Colonel would ask further details this session. That raw fear that Dunford harbored was tangible and intense due to years of witnessing the unspeakable and delving into sinister and hidden information that he should not have. Perhaps in this case, ignorance was indeed bliss, but for the officers on board of the Interrogator, it could also mean their untimely and agonizing deaths. For a moment, he had to struggle to remember the official reason Mark had actually summoned him and it finally dawned on him to begin discussing those measures. Focusing on the mundane and scripted did much to calm his jitters and recover from a grating experience of exposing one's troubled soul to another for judgment.

"The ... communications system for ... the 610 unit..." He shook his head for a moment trying to gather his thoughts away from the dark places they had crawled from. "I believe I can easily improve those dated programs for you, sir. Will this be an assignment in addition to my normal duties?" Bernard was assuming this was a full cover for their real conversation, but perhaps the comm units really did need an upgrade, and if so, he needed to know so he could work around his normal scheduling as to not cause a precision dip in his otherwise outstanding performances. A eager sip was taken from the caf mug, the soothing beverage doing much to ease him back into a state of normalcy.

As Dunford regained his calm, Mark turned off the scrambler, while still toying with the device. "How big a task is it to upgrade those units? I want those upgrades as quickly as possible, every little bit can help on the battlefield. Would it be best to appoint you to a special project in order to get it done quickly?" Mark asked, wondering if the man's wits were enough about him to take the offer of special assignment directly under his authority.

The Lieutenant was actually a bit surprised to realize that perhaps this was a real assignment, and if so, he would be all too eager to offer assistance. Bernard respected and trusted Veller in such a way that he had been willing to disclose incredibly damaging information that could easily get him impounded and executed ... or worse. So an opportunity to do the High Colonel a solid was actually extremely appealing. Anything really to win over Veller's approval since the man now literally had Dunford's life in his hands.

"I believe I would work more efficiently on this project if assigned into a solo special task force. I do not need outside assistance. I am fully capable of upgrading the communications system and in a timely manner," said with confidence. Compared to slicing into the confidential files of the Inquisitorius, upgrading a few Stormtrooper comm systems would be practically effortless, and if Veller was pleased with his work, would only improve their relations. Tending to these matters would be a welcomed change of pace to his normal duties though he would not dare neglect his tactical responsibilities for longer than necessary.

Mark nodded, putting down the scrambler and pulling over a datapad, "Very well, Lieutenant, I will write up the parameters of the assignment as regards our conversation and get the necessary orders issued. You will receive new orders for the project within the week." He looked up from the datapad he was working with, "In the meantime, if anything else comes to mind, be sure to tell me so it can be included in the assignment. Dismissed, Lieutenant," he said, returning his attention to the datapad.

Mark let out a slow breath so as not to betray his own anxiety about the fragility of one Lieutenant Dunford. The man obviously had data it would be good to know, he just hoped he could protect the man long enough to get it without him ruining it all with a nervous breakdown.

He let out the breath a bit faster when the door closed behind Dunford, now in control of his emotions. Looking at the drained caf mug on his desk, he smiled wryly. The time and toil to perfect his own caf brew had definitely paid off.

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