Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Sean Brandt, Kit Gwynne, Rachel King, Sarah Riggs-Shute, and Nikolai Wisekal.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:1:24) in the Essesia system: Interrogator and Shrike.
Lieutenant Bernard Dunford, Major Serra Eona, Apprentice Inquisitor Kia Kaen, Sarrick, Tonric Serev, High Inquisitor Serine Thanor, and Colonel Mark Veller.

Lieutenant Dunford glanced upon the Interrogator's hangar bay through a viewport from his position in central control. Already officers along with many squads of Stormtroopers were taking their position in a formal line to welcome an Inquisitor onboard. By his count, there appeared to be at least a hundred strong on either side, quite the precession. The Lieutenant stared callously at his communication terminal station, observing the approach of the Aggressor assault fighter, The Shrike, and analyzing its tactical readouts. He had been well briefed by his superiors that the arrival of this craft was expected and desired. A channel was opened in an attempt to hail the Shrike as Dunford's sharp and frigid tone spoke out quickly and precisely. "You are cleared to land. Proceed to the hangar bay," he said before communication was abruptly severed. The Lieutenant maintained an icy unwavering gaze at the terminal, ever vigilant in his duties, though he did manage to afford a few more glances at the developing spectacle before him. It was not every day one got to witness a formal event upon this ship of this magnitude.

The majority of the smaller craft and equipment normally within the hangar bay had been cleared for this grand reception allowing room for the hundreds of individuals to properly post themselves in accordance to formal protocol. In the midst of this grandiose display stood Serine Thanor adorned in her ceremonial crimson Inquisitorius robes but now with an additional sash that conveyed her new position and power as High Inquisitor. Despite typical procedure, she did not stand alone. To her right stood Major Serra Eona and to her left, High Colonel Veller. Serine refused to have her most valued and indispensable Intel officer meagerly stand with the other officers, and as for Veller, the Inquisitor had most recently found him to be worthy of such honor as to stand by her side in welcoming her apprentice.

Silver eyes briefly flicked to either side of the hangar bay, surveying the lines, satisfied and well pleased by the professionalism of the individuals involved. This would be Kia Kaen's first real taste of the power and prestige that came with her developing position, so Serine wanted it to be a strong impression. Though Kia was still an apprentice Inquisitor, she had passed the first test from the Inquisitorius and thus was a recognized member of the establishment. This type of large reception was usually reserved for higher members of the order, and not performed for apprentices, but this was Serine's ship now, and she wished for the young Kaen to feel that respect that she will eventually command herself, even if it may be a bit overwhelming.

It was a rare occasion that brought out the full parade like this, and less often that anyone from Imperial Intelligence was asked to be a part of it. All the same, Major Serra Eona absolutely knew how significant of an honor this was, and she wasn't about to taint it with any suggestion that things should be otherwise. Standing at the right hand of a High Inquisitor was incredibly significant. It placed her in a position of incredible trust, a member of what tended to be a very limited inner circle. The dangers couldn't be underestimated, but the rewards that came with it were more than worthwhile. Though nothing about the Major would ever betray her feelings, there was a certain pride in this. Her life, her soul, her very essence had been devoted to the Empire, and these sacrifices had culminated in standing by the side of one of the most powerful people in the sector. When she had fallen in line beside Serine, Serra took notice of the High Colonel's position on the left side of the Sith. How far that man had come in such a short time. His rapid ascent would have been a red flag for the agent if not for the fact she had orchestrated it herself. What would have been a matter of jealousy for her, and most likely was for others, stood as a mark of pride. She had taken a great risk in placing him where he was, and he had returned the favor by marking himself out for distinction with the only person who's opinion could make or break Serra at this point. His success, particularly in the eyes of Serine, was Serra's success as well. Unfeeling eyes watched as the Shrike made its way to land in the hangar, no doubt to a welcome that could hardly have been expected. The presence of that ship, and more importantly its passenger, marked another of her successes. There would always be more missions, more chances to increase her prestige or ruin herself forever, but for now she would enjoy a moment of triumph.

Mark both loved and hated formal affairs. Getting into is dress uniform was a bitch and three times a bitch when he had to do it in double time. But he hadn't been drilled to within an inch of his life to let something as trivial as only a few minutes notice keep him from appearing in that docking bay in his dress uniform with all his awards and commendations dangling. Besides, he thought to himself checking his uniform one more time in the mirror, that dress uniform did look good on him.

When he entered the docking bay, the Stormtroopers were still lining up. A few sharp commands had them in their rows, twenty long, five deep on either side. He was about to take the spot protocol demanded at the head of his troopers when the High Inquisitor motioned him closer. Dutifully, he went over, expecting some last minute order before the ship docked.

Giving the High Inquisitor his best bow, he was hard pressed to hide his surprise and shock when she motioned for him to stand beside her. It was a huge breach of protocol and he could feel the stares from his fellow officers. With a nod, he took his place at Serine's side, there being little else he could do. It wasn't like he had the luxury of disobeying a direct order in front of all these men. Briefly, he wondered if Serine knew of the target she was painting on his back, but then dismissed it. It wasn't as if the target wasn't there already with his promotion to High Colonel. Serine had just painted in the bull's eye a little bit more.

A quick check to the sides to ensure his troopers were properly lined up and then he stood at attention, more than fully aware of the honor being accorded to him, while the ship began its approach and final landing on the deck.

Tonric sat with steady hands in the pilot's seat while his armor gleamed from the lights. "Roger Interrogator, we'll follow landing procedures." It was rattled off mechanically while he wondered what his part in this homecoming would be. Kia's debrief would be a solo affair. Did Star Destroyers have ranges or libraries? Maybe Major Serra would be open to more verbal sparring. "How are you doing boss?"

Kia sat in the copilot's seat, almost bouncing with excited energy. Home was a docking maneuver away! She would get to see Serine and Sanu and Major Eona and be in an information hub again. However, the nagging doubt in the back of her mind was that she failed. She didn't get her target. Would Serine be upset with her? Was this going 'home' to the same fate that she visited upon her family? What were the consequences of this kind of failure? The excitement started to bleed away into nervousness. "Huh? I'm ... fine. I'm just nervous? Excited? A little scared? Do I look okay?" She had meticulously prepared her armorweave jumpsuit and the dark red that bordered on black tunic she wore over it. Her lightsaber hilts were clipped one at each hip. Overall her outfit was perfectly in place. "How far out are we?"

Tonric looked her up and down and ordered his thoughts "I think you're ready and capable, and creating problems is less effective than solving the ones that are real." Tonric scratched Sarrick's ear who also wore his armor with pride. Beskar was hard enough to shape to a humanoid, for Sarrick's shape it had taken months but the amount of damage it had deflected made every ounce of effort worth it. "We're five minutes out." Mindful of the approaching hangar bay Tonric slipped his helmet on. Double checking his weapons on the HUD and with careful passing fingers.

The teenager nodded absently. Five minutes. She'd know one way or the other in five minutes. Watching the ship grow in the viewscreen, she couldn't help but admire the lines of the Star destroyer. "Isn't she beautiful? Can we get there any faster?"

"I am more surprised that we do not have fewer stars in this system, and not unless you want to crash into it." The energy she exuded was not infectious but it did radiate into the cabin. "Now four minutes."

"Okay! When we get on board, follow my lead. I don't care if it rubs your pride the wrong way, Master Thanor is to be shown the utmost respect. Well I care, but right now, it's a bad idea not to show respect." She could see the hangar entrance now. It would be horribly unprofessional for her to run down the ramp, acting like a hyper child. Calm, or at least more control than she was feeling now. She needed to find a calm center and behave as her rank demanded. "I am going to meditate and get ready for landing." With that, she took a deep breath, and let her eyes drift half closed. Kia's mind quested inward, seizing the anger that had fueled her attack on Corellia as well as the fear at failing on her first ever mission. Her emotions formed the bridge to the power that constantly swirled through everything. It couldn't have been more than two minutes of focusing, but she felt the Dark Side giving her a new jolt of confidence, the power coursed through her mind and the darkness that had been somewhat absent for the past month came roaring back into existence.

"Understood boss!" Tonric felt himself taking a few deep breaths as the shields shut behind the Shrike. Sarrick's voice slithered under Tonric's helmet "This is very brave and very stupid." Tonric disabled the comm before responding "Fortune favors the bold" Sarrick somehow managed to snigger and growl at once "Right off the edge of a cliff" Tonric stared at the lupine annoyance through his visor before turning back to his console Keeping his voice even "Landing procedure started." The landing struts touched without the slightest jitter and Tonric felt a touch of pride turning to Inquisitor Kaen.

Panic flooded her seeing all of the people, "Tonric!! You went to the -wrong- bay! Look at all these people! I've been to one of these before. Except I was out there. It was the first thing Master Thanor actually took me to. We shouldn't be in this bay. They're expecting a dignitary or someone important. Oh this is just great... Do you think they'd notice if we backed out of the bay and made another approach?" Maybe they could exit the ship and then have it moved quickly. Who was she kidding, the first thing that happened when she got back home was landing in the middle of the reception for some visiting higher up. "I guess we just have to get off the ship and hope for the best? Boarding ramp down..."

Tonric was bemused to no end and tapped the console multiple times to point out the obvious. "You're being honored, that's the only reason for dress uniforms like that. Otherwise I'd guess execution" Standing up he put his hand on her shoulder, "Walk straight walk proud and we'll be right behind you." Sarrick nuzzled her hand as he walked past. It surprised Tonric which he must have sensed "You've attached us to her it is not wise to been following someone weak." Tonric whispered "She's your elder and so far more accomplished than you, treat her fairly." Tonric walked to the door then stood to the side "Inquisitors first."

Kia took another deep breath, looking out of the viewport again. She didn't jump at the touch to her shoulder, she did look down in surprise at the nuzzle to her hand. Instinctively giving a soft skritch behind the wyrwulf's ears. "I know you don't like me, Sarrick, but thank you." Standing, she looked out of the window one last time, then turned to the back of the cockpit. "If it were an execution, they would have blasted us out of the air before we knew what hit us. I don't deserve that out there, Tonric. I'm ... just me." Walking to the back of the ship, she paused at the top of the ramp to square her shoulders. She could get the rest of her belongings from the ship later, or send someone for them. Walking down the ramp, she kept her head up, and tried to exude a confidence that she was clinging to by a fingernail. At the bottom of the ramp, she stopped, staring out at the sea of stormtroopers.

Sarrick attempted to whisper in Kia's ear but when it didn't seem to register he directed it at Tonric "Tell her it is a reward for potential or performance." Tonric whispered back "Our words won't harden her spine, she will face this and we will watch her back." Sarrick kept his muzzle peeled back showing fangs but keeping silent. "Eyes straight Inquisitor Kaen, we have a reception waiting for us." Tonric kept three paces back on the gangplank and scanned the crowds making sure Kia did not faint.

Serine could sense Kia's presence before the young girl descended the ramp, and before the Shrike had even landed. There was a strong bond that formed between master and apprentice that was unbroken through the distance of space or the passage of time. All throughout the three months apart, Inquisitor Thanor knew Kia was alive, as her death would have reverberated through the Force, but she did not know her situation, her condition, and that had caused Serine an untold amount of anxiety. Seeing the young Kaen in fine health board the Interrogator finally resolved that suspense. The bond they shared also allowed Serine to perceive Kia's mental or emotional state, and it was very clear that her apprentice was surprised and nervous, nearly to the point of mistaking this event for another visiting dignitary. That certainly would have been awkward and embarrassing, not just for Kia, but overwhelmingly for Serine. Inquisitor Kaen was not just some child, she was Serine's apprentice, and thus an extension of her will and the eventual wielder of tremendous political and nautical power.

Kia was not just representing herself here, but also the High Inquisitor. Any sort of misstep or misconduct from Kia would reflect poorly on Serine's own character and abilities. That bond was a two-way connection, so in turn, with her approach, the young apprentice could also sense some of what Serine herself was feeling. There was an unbendable pride present along with an unmistakable relief, those two sensations swirled together and were soon joined by a firm pressing of encouragement. It was important that Inquisitor Kaen made the appropriate first impression of distinction and dignity. Eyes locked onto the descending form of Kia down the ramp, and sensing the other's hesitation, eased out an unspoken message to the young girl. There were no words, only feelings, but they coalesced into meaning that Kia would be able to understand silently. *With confidence, as if no one else were your equal.*

Serra's hands remained folded behind her back, standing straight, lifeless eyes falling on Kia as she emerged from the ship that brought her and her companion aboard. Tonric's presence had already been known to her, thanks to having met them when she went to find Kia just a day or two before, though it certainly occurred to her that having another outsider as well as some pet of theirs on the hangar deck probably wasn't a welcome sight to most.

For the Major, however, this routine was just a reminder of why Intelligence was often left out of this sort of thing and how grateful she was for the fact. It was, of course, nice to see the apprentice returning; Kia had potential and, beyond that, gave Serra another means to reach into the secrets of the Sith. The girl, knowingly or otherwise, could prove to be an excellent resource if nothing else. Serra let the thoughts casually pass through her mind, tucked away behind the dead apathy of her resting expression as she stood in place, going through the paces of the welcoming ceremony.

"A teenager? I'm in my dress uniform for a teenager? Are you kidding me?" Was the first thought that went through Veller's mind as Kia walked down the gangplank. The second was "Wonderful, another Mandalorian," recognizing the style of armor from El-Nay's suit along with the knowledge this must be the companion High Inquisitor Thanor wanted him to evaluate. The fact that a creature paced at his side gave him some cause for concern.

Of course, none of this escaped to Veller's face as he stood ramrod straight at attention on the left of High Inquisitor Thanor. It would take an explosion or something worse to rock Veller out of standing at attention and he would *not* dishonor himself, his men or the High Inquisitor by breaking protocol in such a rude manner. But still... a teenager? Really? All of this for a teenager?

When Kia's foot hit the deck of The Interrogator, all the Stormtroopers moved as one to come to attention. Two hundred armored feet moved simultaneously, creating a loud sound to welcome Inquisitor Kaen, E-11 blasters held at the ready. Mark had read somewhere that long ago, such an honor guard would wear ceremonial weapons only, ones that were useless if dignitaries did suddenly need protection. Something about disarmed guards making the dignitaries feel safer. For himself, he was glad the Empire had abandoned such foolishness. If something did go wrong at a function like this, he wanted armed troopers to command.

The sudden rush of feelings had caused more of a pause than she had originally intended. She had not realized or considered that Serine would have been as worried as she had been. Confidence, it was an elusive beast. Her Master had organized this for *her* arrival. She would not let her down or give cause for shame here. This was her moment. Kia blinked at the abruptly loud sound of boots hitting decking, in unison. That was her cue. Hoping that Tonric would stay the few steps behind her, she strode forward. Her eyes were locked in the trio of people, head up, shoulders back, and walking like she owned the ship and everything on it. Acting as though the mass amount of soldiers on either side of her were window dressing, if she didn't completely believe the confidence she was projecting yet, she could get by faking until she did. Kia hid the unease she was feeling with a neutral mask. Serine's little apprentice had done a bit of growing up in the last three months, it was time she showed it.

Stopping five paces from the trio, she smoothly dropped to her left knee before Serine, hands balled into fists and resting on the deck to her sides, finally her head was bowed. Short of fully prostrating herself before her Master, she was showing a new level of respect. This was another change to the youth. She waited for acknowledgement, silent.

Tonric kept within three steps always watching her back while his eyes darted to the ranks counting. The numbers were far from comforting at least until he knew where they stood. The assembly they marched towards was an impressive collection, silently he wished Kia's circle had been larger than Major Eona and Master Thanor, but time could change that. Sarrick kept pace and silent apart from the low breathy growl that always filled out the room. It made for interesting interrogations when he sat on his haunches in the corner and just stared at their victim. The sound of his claws against steel marching along with their boots was the only sound in the hangar and it kept the attention focused on them.

The pageantry was an interesting choice but did not hold his attention, especially since it could be an elaborate distraction, Tonric stopped early allowing Kia to approach alone but not out of reach, taking a short bow to the row of officers.

Once Kia fully descended the ramp and began moving towards the three awaiting her, Serine was able to get an initial evaluation of the companions that followed. Major Eona had informed her of one of the individuals who she presumed was the humanoid in Mandalorian armor. It appeared that the Inquisitor's apprentice was also fated to begin mounting a collection of Bounty Hunters, much to Serine's dismay. Time would tell if this Tonric fellow would be worthy enough to be an accessory to Inquisitor Kaen, the subject of which Serine intended to find out. Even more curious and intriguing was the sight of an adolescent Codru-Ji in close pursuit. Due to Serine's extensive studies into alien customs and species, she knew of the juvenile wyrwulves, but she had never seen one in person before as their culture was highly xenophobic and rarely left their planet. How Kia managed to acquire these individuals and Kia's plans for them would no doubt be a topic for later discussion. Serine did feel that the young Kaen was ready for such responsibilities, but it did not come without its own share of problems. Kia would need to realize that she was accountable for any mishaps they happened to make, just as Serine was accountable to her own superiors for the actions of her officers. This was the constraint of having pledged subjects.

The Stormtrooper's movements were crisp, deliberate and thoroughly synchronized. It was the model of perfection as it should be, for nothing else was acceptable on the Interrogator. Serine was well pleased that High Colonel Veller managed to gather this assembly in such short notice, and that they were performing splendidly, much to his credit she was sure. Serine also had high regard for Major Eona, who managed to track down the whereabouts of Kia Kaen with considerable competence and did so with admirable speed. If the High Inquisitor did not respect her two officers, they would not have been standing next to her now, and that very notion spoke volumes of her regard for them. Now with her apprentice returned, her inner circle of trusted associates was complete.

The Inquisitorius was a very unique branch of the Empire. In addition to producing some of the galaxy's most feared and impressive combatants, it continued ancient customs borrowed from antiquity. There were certain expectations placed upon its members, duties and obligations that were often times strictly enforced. Serine had taught Kia of these contracts and covenants, but she never required or sanctioned them upon her own apprentice. This was likely due to her heavy and ruthless abuse by her former master Tremayne. Thus Serine had chosen to have a more tolerant and permissive relationship with her student, and it was proving to be the right choice. As Kia gracefully knelt before the High Inquisitor, the accumulation of their shared experiences together acuminated in Serine's mind. Although the action was expected between a master and an apprentice at a formal event, that was not Kia's motivation, nor was it fear, obligation or debt. Kia knelt before Serine because she respected her, because she honored her and their commitment to each other. This was more than she could have hoped for in an apprentice. Kia's attunement would certainly be able to sense a satisfied contentment that overshadowed the other emotions in a warm cascade. However pleased Serine was, her stoic and indifferent expression and demeanor never betrayed it.

This was a formal ceremony involving dozens of officers and hundreds of Stormtroopers, thus it would be brief to allow them to return to their vital duties on board so as to not sacrifice efficiency. "Rise Inquisitor Kaen. You shall accompany me, as we have much to discuss," Serine said coolly before eyes peered at Kia's entourage once again. A brief sideways glance was afforded to High Colonel Veller. "See her companions to their quarters," said before a gaze was given to Major Eona. "You know what you must do." And with that, the High Inquisitor turned from the gathering and briskly began making her way from the area, fully assuming her apprentice would be following in close pursuit.

Serra, for all her distaste for being present at such displays, knew this sort of affair was far from pointless. These kinds of traditions and ceremonies helped to enforce the conviction of those involved, and made a clear show of the Empire's strength and power. It also established those in control as having absolute power, something that was necessary for the level of obedience they expected to be maintained.

Fortunately it was not the sort of ceremony that was long lived. Serra stood, observing, her expression as cold and apathetic as ever as Kia and Serine, more than anyone else, went through the expected formalities. Once Serine looked to her and spoke, however, it was taken as her cue to return to her duties. A nod was given to the High Inquisitor, and as Serine went to move, so did she, breaking off to head to her quarters.

Mark's ears heard the single sound of all the Stormtroopers standing to attention as Inquisitor Kaen's foot hit the deck. Had he not himself been drilled and drilled, he would have smiled with pride. While he doubted anyone would have called him on it had a few been out of step, it was always reaffirming when it happened correctly.

He watched the young woman gather herself and then walk towards them, back straight, gaze ahead. His first impression softened a bit with a kernel of respect. At least she had held it together and hadn't embarrassed herself, that was something.

His eyes also flickered to the man walking behind her. Mark suppressed a sigh at the sight of the armor, yet another Mandalorian. Although, why he should be surprised, he wasn't sure. After all, most Mandalorians pimped themselves out as bounty hunters and the High Inquisitor was collecting her own set.

He was hard put to keep his surprise from showing at the large six legged creature walking besides the bounty hunter. Mark prided himself on is alien knowledge. One of his mantras was to know one's enemy. He disdained the common "it doesn't matter, just kill them" opinion most Imperial soldiers held. He preferred to know what he could about the alien species he might meet. After all, the stun power one needed for a human versus a Wookiee was significant and most just fired the standard blast rather than taking the second to up the power. It was a mistake that cost trooper's their lives.

But this one, he had no idea what it was. Since it wasn't in a berserk rage, he figured this Mandalorian was either its master and therefore under control, or it was sentient enough to think for itself and therefore a friend of the Mandalorian, which could be a problem.

As he finished sizing up the Mandalorian and the creature, Kia stopped before Serine and gracefully dropped to one knee. For reasons he couldn't put a finger on, this simple act disturbed him greatly. It disturbed him so much, he almost missed Serine's command.

"Of course, High Inquisitor, I will see to it personally," he said with a short bow. As the High Inquisitor and Inquisitor Kaen left, he motioned politely for the Mandalorian and his ... companion to follow him. Nodding to the captain of the assembled Stormtrooper, he dismissed them back to their duties, save for an escort of four troopers. The Stormtroopers retreating out of the landing bay made a bit of a racket and Veller waited until the noise faded before telling the Mandalorian, "I am High Colonel Veller, if you will follow me please."

He turned away and started walking out of the landing bay, totally confident the two would follow them. Veller hadn't expected to need to house this bounty hunter separately, but it made sense as this one hadn't come in on the normal lines. He thought for a few moments then decided. There was a recent officer vacancy, a captain who had thought he could ignore Veller's requests for reports because "the old CO never demanded them." That captain was now trooper, peeling whatever fruits and vegetables the kitchen needed.

It would do for the moment, enough of an honor but also the rooms were equipped so he could be contained there if necessary. As they were walking, Mark ignored any attempt at conversation. He was glad he wasn't facing the two of them with the "Low Colonel" question, so he didn't have to repress the rolling of his eyes. As if that question was not older than the universe. It was a tired joke even before the first person had uttered it and he did not feel obligated to answer or even acknowledge it had been uttered.

He was still disturbed by Kia's kneeling and was trying to work out why. As they neared the quarters, Mark slowed down until they were outside. To the bounty hunter he said, "Please accept these quarters as your own for your stay here. These two troopers will accompany you if you decide to leave these quarters. Please respect their instructions regarding where you may or may not go. There are many prohibited areas." Mark gave the man a short bow, "Good day to you," and walked off towards his quarters, leaving two troopers to stand guard outside the quarters.

Tonric and Sarrick inclined their heads towards Kia before following High Colonel Veller. Which created an interesting line of thought if there high Colonels were there low Colonels as well? Tonric waited until the corridor before asking.

Veller's silence deepened Sarrick's growl by a few octaves. Tonric did not discourage the Codru-Ji their mutual paranoia had kept them alive more than once.

Veller's declaration was met with the same silence he had offered, but it was tempting to object being guarded. Likely there would be more of this until Kia and they were back on the Shrike. Tonric sat and accessed the holonet for news or any worthwhile information.

Kia pushed off to stand as smoothly as she had knelt, her hands settling before her. She felt a twitch of a smile and squashed it, trying to mirror the neutral and stoic demeanor of her Master. An acknowledging nod was given to Tonric and Sarrick before she started after Serine. From the warm rush of emotions received from Serine, she knew she had done the right thing. The underlying happiness to be home had to be radiating through her emotions. It was a curious mix of pride, happiness, and still a small kernel of worry. She really hoped her two companions didn't do anything to reflect poorly on her, or them, so soon after arriving.

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