Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Kit Gwynne and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:5:30) in the Corulus system: Darkened Oblivion and Interrogator.
Lieutenant Bernard Dunford, High Inquisitor Serine Thanor, Theo, and Colonel Mark Veller.

Dunford remained deathly silent throughout the entire transfer to the Interrogator, but although his composure was quiet, his insides were disturbingly turbulent. For the majority of the trip, his eyes remained closed, and when they did open, he stared at the floor paneling in front of his feet, never once looking up to recognize the pilot, and certainly not the High Colonel. His right hand clutched his left arm in anguish and heartache, trying his best not to manifest his suffering but his faux cold persona that masked his anxieties was completely failing him. The best he could do was avoid all contact and mourn soundlessly to himself the loss of the only friend he had on the ship. How could he trust Veller now? The man so callously threatened to reveal his wrongdoings to the High Inquisitor if he should expose the Jedi and their involvement. Bernard had put his life in Mark's hands, trusting him completely and without falter with information that could truly crush him, and yet, he was horribly wronged and his trust cruelly stomped upon.

Was it true that the Jedi had saved their lives? It seemed that way ... but Dunford never *asked* to be saved, he was finally content to let his life end, weary of the constant dread that consumed his him every waking moment. He was willing to go out spectacularly, and with the satisfaction that Jorad or anyone else could never again harm him or threaten him. Peace, rest and eternal slumber could have accompanied him, but now, only angst and unease. No matter how strong he had been in the past, that fear slowly ate away at him, slowly chipping him and reducing him into a mere shell of the confident and honest man he used to be. He was disgusted with himself, and now even more so, that he would be forced into silence when it was Mark who was in the wrong. How could the High Colonel do this? How could he protect the very people who sought galactic anarchy?

There was still an out for Dunford, a final conclusion to his suffering, and now he heavily considered it. Perhaps it didn't matter anymore if anyone found out about his deception and stealing. For some reason the fear of death didn't seem to have the same hold on him than it used to, perhaps because he already died once. The real threat now was the shame of betraying his main purpose as an Imperial officer, could he live with that disgrace? The guilt of full betrayal weighing on him day after day could easily eventually overtake the fear of pain and punishment. Was he so miserable that he had no further shred of his humanity? At what point would he say enough was enough, that he would finally do something? Take control back in his life? That was what he was missing ... control, but he could have that control again, the only thing actually holding him back was himself.

Thoughts drifted back to when Jorad bound him with wire ... and he had made a choice to end his life. That was real control, Dunford had made a decision for once regarding his own life, and that power was rejuvenating. He could do that again ... all he would have to do was tell High Inquisitor Thanor the truth, tell her *everything*, and finally he would be free of all the pain and fear of his prior transgression and guilt that was now haunting him. It wouldn't matter if she killed him, not anymore. *That was real power*, and it could be Dunford's. He could check out this life knowing that he finally made the right decision, that he didn't bow to fear anymore. That realization was when eyes opened and peered over towards Mark, and for the first time, Veller would see something very dangerous that was lacking in Bernard before. A man with conviction stared at him silently.

Mark was silent on the way up to the Interrogator, ignoring the chatter coming out of the pilot's mouth. In some ways he was glad, it made conversation awkward and he had some hard and fast thinking to do before reaching the Interrogator.

Dunford, he hoped, was handled for the moment. If he was as ruthless as an Inquisitor, he would arrange for Dunford die a quick death. The man was now a danger to him, privy to a secret worse than a scrambler, an association with a Jedi. He was not sure how to handle this. The swiftness of the recall left him little time to win Dunford over to his side and keep him there.

Giving out a soft sigh, he moved on to his other problem. There was nothing more to be done about Dunford, he would either betray Mark or he would not. Mark would have to deal with Dunford as he came up. The question now was what to do about the High Inquisitor and her offer of training. Also what, if anything, to say about recent events. Lying to her was distasteful, but he could not see a way of telling her the whole truth without sentencing Dunford to a messy death.

Rubbing his brow, he let out another sigh. Inquisitor Jorad. The High Inquisitor had mentioned information leaked to Inquisitor Tremayne. Had Inquisitor Jorad been sent by Tremayne? Mark tended to think not from what Jorad had said, but he could not dismiss the possibility. Did not the High Inquisitor deserve to know? And if so, how to tell it to her without exposing Dunford? There was also a matter of revenge, but that was something to pursue in the distant future. He first had to get there.

Thoughts of Jorad brought up Master Roste as well. Now *that* was a problem. A Jedi. Dunford knew he was a Jedi and had probably picked up that Mark knew him well. Never mind that it had been twenty years since Mark had last seen him. The missing comm link was probably with Master Roste and that presented him with another problem. What to do when Master Roste decided to use the comm link? That problem, however, was one for another day. The High Inquisitor was the one to tackle now.

He gave one last glance to Dunford and his eyes narrowed slightly at the change in the man. He recognized that look, having seen it in himself so many times before. Dunford had made a decision, one that did not include himself. Feeling the shuttle land, he let out a soft sigh, almost unnoticeable. Dunford had made his choice, now it was time to make his. In doing so, he hoped to still protect Dunford from the High Inquisitor's wrath. The man was a good officer, and the Empire did not deserve to lose him because of a mistake Mark had made.

Once the engines began to cycle down, he undid his harness and stood, giving his uniform its usual tug. With a nod to Dunford, he exited the ship to find an escort waiting for him. Though he felt like a man going to his own execution, his step did not show it as he neared those waiting for him. Handing over his bag to a waiting aide, he motioned for the escort to take him wherever they had their orders. He only hoped the High Inquisitor would allow him to explain before she let loose her wrath.

The moment Dunford left the shuttle, he was planning on immediately reporting to the High Inquisitor, but to his surprise, there was a Stormtrooper escort waiting for Veller. Respectfully but insistently, they informed the High Colonel that they were to take him directly to the Inquisitor without delay or detour. Bernard softly cursed to himself as he watched them move through the hangar bay, leaving him behind. The Lieutenant was convinced that Mark was going to be dishonest with Thanor based off the episode in the resort and the fierce look they had shared moments prior exiting the shuttle.

Dunford was very concerned that Veller would move to counter him and already had the advantage. His superior was getting to speak with her first, and could weave any lie he saw fit, including something to get Dunford incarcerated before he even had a chance. The Inquisitor would also be far more likely to believe Mark over Bernard considering his place by her side ... the Lieutenant had everything against him, except the truth. At least *that* was on his side. Determined to finally have control in his life, he made haste towards his own room so that he could contact Theo. A high priority message was sent to the small avian creature to meet up with him in his room, and even though it was terribly abrupt, he hoped Theo would honor his request considering they managed to resolve conflicts in the past, although with some push and shove.

Dunford did not want to tip Mark off anymore than he may already have by forcing his way into the Inquisitor's office by making a scene, or by following the escort, or even meeting up with Theo in the slave's room that was right across the hall from the High Inquisitor's office. Dunford definitely felt that he was racing against the chronometer and anxiously awaited Theo' arrival, pacing around his room impatiently, knowing that Veller was speaking to the Inquisitor as he floundered around in his room without a solid plan.

Theo was uneasy with crest feathers streaked with black. Master Thanor was tense, more abrupt than usual. The flurry of orders had put the Interrogator on a war footing. Theo had just completed the last round of orders and was heading back to Master Thanor's office when Dunford's request came through.

At first, Theo was tempted to ignore it. Master Thanor probably had more for Theo, but then Theo remember Master Thanor gave orders for High Colonel Veller to be escorted to Master Thanor's office once shuttle return. Master Thanor probably not want Theo there for whatever Master Thanor discuss with High Colonel Veller.

So Theo changed plans and went to Dunford's quarters. Putting in his access code, he entered Dunford's quarters without warning and demanded, "What Dunford want?"

Dunford was overcome with relief when he saw Theo standing by the door to his quarters and ushered him inside quickly and eagerly. "Theo!" He exclaimed with a gasp and a smile, seeming far less restrained and tormented, but urgency shone brightly in his eyes. "I need your help! I have got to have a meeting with the High Inquisitor as soon as possible, preferably her next appointment." Dunford was still in a ditch considering that whatever Mark told her could inadvertently cause her to clear her schedule and refuse any further meetings. Colonel Veller could be telling her anything right now. "Insanity happened at that resort, some serious conflict, I have to speak to her about it! You wouldn't believe me ... I am also afraid she won't believe me."

A thought sparked in his mind as he looked to Theo for any possible chance to disrupt that meeting without making it look like the meeting was disrupted. "Is there any way at all to prematurely end their conversation? Or ... can we listen in on their conversation? I feel the High Colonel may be moving against me ... I don't even know if I have time to explain anything. I may be detained shortly, I just don't know anything." Dunford took a deep breath then eased it out to calm himself, his words were zipping around without much thought to them, well, he just felt so invigorated. The promise of freedom after so many years of the heavy burden breaking him was energizing his actions. There was a sense of incredible alleviation with the intention of coming clean with everything, it was marvelous.

Theo stood in shock at change in Dunford. Theo's mind swirled in confusion at what Dunford saying. High Colonel Veller moving against Dunford? Theo cocked his head to one side, peering at Dunford. Dunford go insane? What cause change in Dunford?

Theo clicked his beak together in annoyance. Master Thanor not like interruption, this Theo know very well. But if something wrong with High Colonel Veller, Master Thanor need know, right?

But Theo already know something wrong with Dunford. Then Dunford's words penetrated. Spy on meeting? Theo shivered thinking of fate if Master Thanor find out. Even ancestors not able to stop Master Thanor fury.

Theo squawked, "Spy on Master Thanor?!? Dunford want get Theo dead?" he ruffled his feathers in agitation. "Master Thanor next appointment, Dunford can have. Theo not see problem with that." Theo pulled out a datapad, talons clicking on it before putting it away. "There, Dunford have next appointment, swap with head of TIE Fighter Starboard Division. Dunford get notification now."

Dunford's datapad blurbled with the notification of an appointment with the High Inquisitor in an hour's time. Theo was still uneasy. Changing Master Thanor's schedule on Dunford's plea was big time irregular. If Master Thanor think time wasted, Theo be the one in trouble. But something change Dunford, something Master Thanor might need know and Theo get in worse trouble if not bring to Master Thanor's attention.

Theo left Dunford's quarters quickly and hurried to own rooms. Master Thanor not want Theo there with High Colonel Veller, but Theo need to be available, so Theo go to where Master Thanor can find Theo easily. Once inside, Theo shrank into corner of room, holding head in talons. Theo just hope Theo made right decision. Theo not bother pray to ancestors as Theo knew if Theo wrong, ancestors not protect him from Master Thanor's displeasure.

Theo not stop trembling, curled up in the corner, seeing video of High Colonel Veller with Master Thanor impassionately whipping High Colonel Veller to almost death in mind. Theo still heard screams. In Theo's nightmares, screams were Theo's. Theo hope Theo not wrong.

Exiting the shuttle, Mark found an escort waiting for him with a summons to report to the High Inquisitor. Glad he had taken the time to change back into his uniform, he handed over his one piece of luggage to an aide, then nodded to the escort. No worry shown on his face as they escorted him out of the docking bay. He would know soon enough if he was being escorted to a cell or to the High Inquisitor, a meeting which might end with him in a cell.

It felt odd in some ways to be wearing his uniform. He would not have thought a few days of civilian clothes would create such a change. But then, perhaps the change was not in the clothes, but in him. The escort stopped at the High Inquisitor's door and Mark pressed the comm to announce his presence. Once again he was aware High Inquisitor was beyond the door before it even opened. When it did, he stepped inside, but quickly discovered moving to his usual position would be hazardous to his health. He watched with a touch of awe as she completed her kata.

He took a moment to study her as she returned to her desk, noting the exotic look the white hair and silver eyes gave her. "Milord," he said after a short bow, "Reporting as ordered." Mark still had no plan as to what he would tell her. Nothing, everything, something in between? The conviction in Dunford's eyes told him he would be speaking with the High Inquisitor if he could. Mark saw no reason why she would refuse Dunford's request which brought the question, how much would Dunford tell the High Inquisitor? Everything? If there were discrepancies, which one of them would win out? He awaited her questions, knowing the answers would help determine what path he would take.

Mark wondered briefly why Dunford was suddenly willing to speak with the High Inquisitor when he had spent years avoiding any confrontation, but perhaps the experience with Inquisitor Jorad had grown a spine within Dunford. If so, Mark thought it an improvement, even if it did cause problems for him. Officers willing to take a stand were needed within the Empire.

The sounds of heavy lashes and cracks filled her office as the High Inquisitor ran through a series of lightwhip velocities with precision finesse. What would have been an elegant display was aggressive and spiteful, with vicious fury in each strike. The High Inquisitor was terribly aggravated despite having some of her darker appetites satiated with the recent interrogation. The information she managed to pry from Ensign Felthan Doral caused her to be in a heightened state of alarm due to the uncertainty swirling around her former master's involvement. With even the mere mention of Tremayne, Serine would become highly erratic and volatile, even more so than usual. There were no words to properly describe her severe loathing for that sinister and malevolent man. His very existence was a continuous stain on her life, a hideous blotch that she swore to erase from history.

He was a patient and calculative bastard which made him all the more dangerous, and his obsession with her was never failing or fading. He was a truly sick and twisted individual who was more than willing to do what it took to claim her as his once again. Currently, Tremayne had limited options to enact an assault on her, being demoted to Inquisitor, losing the Interrogator, being humiliated and falling from Lord Vader's favor were all against him, but ... she knew that wouldn't stop him forever. She had successfully crushed his career, and stole everything of value from him, except his life. Serine had been prevented from killing him due to the rules of the Challenge of Ascension, leaving him a broken and battered man, but with his life intact. He couldn't officially challenge her. Though it would be frowned upon to engage her, Tremayne wouldn't care as long as he got what he wanted, and he was likely willing to do anything, including sabotage her ship ... and torture her officers to death.

Due to this new threat she uncovered, Serine had placed multiple events into motion in rapid succession, and was impatiently awaiting all of them to conclude. As she paced around the room, performing her combat art, hasty stares were given impatiently to her terminal, awaiting word from any number of people she charged with an objective. She had tasked Major Petrovna to retrieve the family information on Ensign Doral and tasked her interrogation team to patch up the Ensign so she could further question him, perhaps without the need for additional motivation. She did recently receive word that High Colonel Veller and Lieutenant Dunford landed which was a heavy relief and did some to placate her growing anxieties. With Tremayne lurking in the back of her mind, no steps she took could be too careful, and thus she was rigorously practicing her battle techniques just to steady her nerves and remind herself that she was capable of defending her ship and her crew from him or whomever he should send. There were very few individuals she was truly intimidated of, and none of them would have Tremayne's corner at this time, not after his colossal failure in their duel.

Serine was in the middle of a velocity when Veller entered, and thus he got a rare witness to her abilities that were far more honed than the restrained spars she humored him with in the past. Once completed, and with a sigh of profound exertion, she began to ravel her whip as she walked towards her desk. After she lowered herself into the seat, she intently peered at her High Colonel with a piercing stare of consequence. "I am moving us out of orbit around Corulag, out of this system and into open space for the time being. I can't be sure when we will be attacked, but I did not wish to take any chances. Inquisitor Tremayne, while fallen from grace, has resources still available to him, and subjects he still controls with fear. One of the officers on board, Ensign Felthan Doral, was one such unfortunate underling that recently sent Tremayne information that he gathered from the Interrogator. I do not know what was sent yet, but once the Ensign recovers enough for further questioning, I will retrieve that information as well."

Silver eyes washed over Veller with veiled concern, noting he seemed in fine health. He had been completely exposed and unprotected on the surface, and she was angry at herself for being so careless. Serine was really fortunate nothing happened to him. Just the threat of losing Veller harmed her in a way she had not anticipated nor understood, and it caused her to almost fly off the handle. "Your shore leave would have been a perfect opportunity for him to take you. He would have used you to force me to confront him, likely into a trap, or slowly eviscerate you just to hurt me. Regardless of his choice, you would not have survived. This is the kind of man we may have to deal with. I am going to have to cut your liberty short, but under the circumstances, I think you understand. Work with Major Petrovna to further root out any other possible spies and apprehend them for questioning. Understood, High Colonel?"

Mark listened to the High Inquisitor intently, trying to fathom the extent of recent events onboard the Interrogator. At her mention of shore leave and the possibility of being taken, he grew uneasy. Had Inquisitor Jorad been part of that trap? And what of Master Roste? Why had he trusted him so easily? The man had abandoned him twenty years ago. What had happened during those twenty years? Could it all have been an elaborate setup to get data out of him? Had he been manipulated?

When the High Inquisitor finished, he said, "I understand, Milord," he turned away to leave and then turned back, "Inquisitor Tremayne may have already moved against you, Milord." He continued at the High Inquisitor's questioning look. "Milord, I..." Mark looked unsure of himself, as if unable to shake a feeling. Mark took in a deep breath and then let it out, "Milord, Lieutenant Dunford and I were ... kidnapped by Inquisitor Jorad yesterday morning. He managed to drug both of us. I was the first to awake, finding we were both bound in what I assume was the cargo hold of his ship. In an attempt to get free, I discovered Inquisitor Jorad had used the same manner of cuffs on me as you did. Lieutenant Dunford was bound before me by thin wires which were cutting into his skin. When Inquisitor Jorad appeared, he offered me a deal. He would allow Lieutenant Dunford to go free if I willingly went with him to Prakith. At first, I thought it was someone posing as an Inquisitor, but as the encounter continued, I became convinced he was an Imperial Inquisitor. I refused the offer, of course, Inquisitor Jorad not having legal transfer orders."

His eyes darkened remembering the pain and agony by Jorad, "Inquisitor Jorad then attempted to convince me of the error of my ways by activating the stun cuffs. Once again he extended his offer but adding in a dire end for both of us if I did not comply." He took in a deep breath, fighting the anger and burning desire to crush Jorad, and let it out, returning to his report, he continued, "He offered to train me, stating that my remaining with you would only make me a slave to you, but with him, I would be free to serve the Empire as I willed. I fear at this point I allowed my temper get the better of me, insulted he thought I would so willingly change my loyalties. I told him no. He once again activated the cuffs and it was during this time Lieutenant Dunford took the opportunity Inquisitor Jorad's sloppy interrogation technique afforded him in an attempt to die. Knowing he had lost all possibility of victory, Inquisitor Jorad then attempted to kill me using his lightsaber."

Pausing a moment, he considered how to word the next part, "I... Milord, the next part of this story may sound traitorous, but I ask that you hear me out until the end. As Inquisitor Jorad was making his decision to eliminate both of us, my only thoughts were regret that my service to you was ending in such a manner. I held little hope you would discover what had happened to us. Just as Inquisitor Jorad made his thrust to end my life, another lightsaber halted it. Inquisitor Jorad accused this newcomer of being a Jedi. In the fight that ensued, Inquisitor Jorad was knocked senseless for several hours. The Jedi then turned his attention to somehow heal Lieutenant Dunford's grievous injuries.

"I fear at this point, I may not have been thinking clearly, having received several shocks. Once the Jedi released me from my bonds after tending to Lieutenant Dunford, I placed the stun cuffs on Inquisitor Jorad to prevent his continued pursual of us," Mark deciding not to mention his original intent to end Inquisitor Jorad's life. Few people in Mark's life had warranted being hunted down and even there, Mark had pushed aside the desire in favor of continued service to the Empire. Inquisitor Jorad, however, had changed that. Mark wanted to feel Jorad's life fade from him by his own hand. He also was unsure how the High Inquisitor would react learning he wished one of the Inquisitorius dead by his own hand.

"We fled, all three of us, Lieutenant Dunford was unconscious, and returned to the beach house," forgetting decorum, Mark ran a hand through his hair nervously, then remembered where he was and continued the story, "Milord, this morning I... I ended up telling him of the punishment you dealt me. When your call came through, I did not tell you he was there. Upon hearing your statement of Inquisitor Tremayne, I find myself deeply troubled and wondering if this Jedi was indeed part of some plot against you. Looking back upon the events of yesterday, he appeared at an terribly convenient time to save our lives and gain my trust.

"This Jedi did not kill Inquisitor Jorad, merely managed to knock him out. Milord, I am no expert on the Jedi, but is it possible Inquisitor Jorad and this Jedi were working together? An attempt to get at you through me?

Once again, he looked up at the High Inquisitor, "Is it possible I was somehow manipulated into confessing details that could be damaging to you, Milord?" Mark asked, wondering at the level of trust he had given to a man he had not seen for twenty years.

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