Log:Alderaan: The Odds of Success
The namesake system of the Tion Star Cluster had been a hotbed of malcontents, separatists, and outlaws for generations, and the fifteen years since the rise of the new Sith Empire were no exception. Liannan domination of the system had been bloodily opposed by raids, piracy, and sabotage that occasionally drew brutal retaliation from the powerful Sith-backed Liannan navy.
Tbe more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
Unless one knew the names and hideouts of the pirates and rebels, it was nigh impossible to track them down. But some old friends did remember such names and places...
A luxury yacht was assigned to land upon one of the restricted pads, enclosed to protect against the chill /and/ the wandering eyes of pirates who might sniff out wealth through a single glance. Aryn was at the controls of the Baudo class, its state-of-the-art design making it both easy to navigate the airspace and conduct a landing which was completely automated. As the vessel set to cooling down, the landing pad structure closing above, Aryn was left to exit the craft in near darkness.
She watched from the ramp as the last remaining light was cut off by the closing ceiling, and she felt it like a moment of introspection; was this quest the start of a dark path, she wondered.
Paying the docking authority was standard, and from there she left the port building, pausing only to tug the hood of her long coat up. It had been many, many, many years since she'd seen any of the Tion worlds; as much as things had changed, the more they stayed the same.
Following a familiar route into the ruins of a structure belonging to an age passed, she sought out old friends from a younger age. The feeling of nostalgia filled her senses, prompting her to suck in a sharp breath through her nose as she approached, denying her instincts to infiltrate and purposefully trigger their proximity to initiate a meeting.
To the sentries watching, they saw a dark figure approach through the feeds of their cameras, navigating the maze by memory alone and managing to take all the correct turns...Was today the day?
While the enclosed hangar and ship maintenance apparatus were present on the first moon, Tion 1- the only true star port in the system- when Aryn settled her ominous shuttle down on Tion 3 is was like landing in the past in more ways than one. The 'Third World' had only an open field, ground blasted bare of all but the hardiest shrubs by the coming and going of skyhoppers and small haulers that served the lakeside fishing town, downhill. But when Aryn's steps bore her through the whipping winds toward the Stony highlands, where a palace had been cut millenia before the first Old Republic, hidden eyes on flickering monitors did indeed take note. Hurried inquiries were made among the outlaws whether any were expecting an arrival, and a hasty effort to set down their dinner and grab the guns was undertaken.
All the whole, Aryn walked the remembered path into the hidden hangar. Within was a hodgepodge of obsolete fightercraft, several of the same, but with a number of 'newer' chop job Uglies cobbled together from destroyed TIEs, Scyks, and Dunelizards. As well, there were pirates, and a voice at once familiar and different: Ek-shiik Darstan was past thirty now, the veteran of half a hundred skirmishes and several full fledged battles. His voice still had a youthful quality, and a little brother's bouyancy, but there was an iron under the tone that well masked his fear as the pilot called, "Where you from, stranger?" in the way of one offering a coded call and response.
Aryn comes to a pause when the challenge goes out. It was not a sequence she could recall using upon her last visit, but much had changed from those days. She recognized the voice though, and closed her eyes to his tone to recall the memory of his youthful face looking up at her as she offered a gloved hand to him. A dangerous endeavor it had been to rescue the downed pilot, but they never left a man behind if they could help it; those were the rules.
"I will fail your challenge simply because it has been a long time since my last visit." She says back, her gloved hands rising up to pull back her hood. Blonde hair falls into place around her scarred visage as Aryn's regal features come plainly into view. She resumes her poised stance, a subtle smile curving her lips. "The years have done you wonders, master Darstan. Your voice nearly sounded foreign to me; were it not for the touch of youth in your tone, I would not have recalled pulling you out of the muck all those years ago."
"Though, to answer your inquiry. I am of Alderaan, though I suspect my entry may yet be barred still."
Ek-shiik is stunned. He makes an effort to hide it, but there is no mistaking the surprise. "What the Hell- Princess? Derek, I guess it's 'Queen' now, ain't it?" A lopsided grin- a familiar expression- belies his next thought: is she here to kill us? Of the other pirates (all are younger than Ek-shiik) some have hands on their blasters and at least two have discreetly drawn weapons, though none are yet pointed at the Alderaanian. One whispers, "Should I blow it?" Ek-shiik shakes his head slowly, and whispers back, "If she was here for for blood we're rekked anyway. And she *did* save my life, once." Swallowing once and praying he's right, the young man calls, "Come on in. We just pulled some fish off the fire. Ain't 'zactly royal fate, but.."
"My thanks for sparing me," Aryn calls back. Stepping forward with quiet grace, the much older royal steps into the heart of the ruins pondering the old stone structures in passing. She must have been the first of royal blood to walk these grounds in a long, long, long time. Though, to tell that to a Tionese was folly. Xer had once told her all Tionese claimed blood with the great Despot Xim. How many had been truthful in their claim, she wondered.
Emerging to plain view, Aryn looked no more a threat than she had before. The scent of cooked fish and the crackle of fire stirred within her a sense of nostalgia that took her back to the days of being in the Resistance. A small smile forms, but she turns to regard the Tionese pirates to see if any among them looked familiar as Ek-Shiik Darstan.
The pleasant smell of fresh, fire roasted fish mingles with the acrid stench of engine exhaust, as the improvised hangar has grown no better organized in the past fifteen years. None of the other faces are familiar, but several *looks* are: the young women tend to cut their hair short in n the same way Zappa did, several sport tattoos of questionable quality that mimicked ink Ektor had worn years ago, and the stylized skulls Xer had painted on his flight helmets were a popular motif. "So," Ek-shiik asks with wry levity, "What brings you by, Princess Doc?"
As for Tionese honesty, galactic historians agree Xim died without issue, which would make *all* claims of descent untrue.
Aryn turns to regard Ek-Shiik, studying his physique and build a moment, the marks of years on his face and the heavy gaze of eyes that had seen much. She could easily dive inside his mind to retrieve the knowledge she sought, the dark thoughts are pushed aside when she smiles, though. "I have come seeking audience with your esteemed Captain. My husband was once wronged by the Santhe-Sienar noble family; a wrong he intends to pay back in full. I told him that I knew of one crew whose hate for this family surpassed his own, whose knowledge of their vast estates and properties would prove valuable in our quest to destroy them."
Making a gesture toward the pirates, Aryn smiled. "Thus, my quest has led me to you, and to Ektor-Xer Apollyon.. if he yet lives? Few grow to a wise old age in your vocation, after all, but you know this truth more than most, I venture." Her last gesture indicating the venerable Darstan, fluffing him up a bit.
There are a couple chuckles at the banter, but fear remains palpable. Ek-shiik cracks another crooked grin and drawls, "I don't know anybody who'd call him *wise*, but ol' Xer is still alive, yeah? But-" the pilot hesitates, weighing an unspoken decision. One of the younger outlaws hisses to him, "Could be a trap-" to which Darstan laughs, flatly. "You don't say? The Queen of Alderaan saunters in for some fish and it could be a *trap*?" A few nervous snickers defuse some of the tension. "Speaking of which, get her some rekking fish and a beer, already. Ain't nobody gonna claim we're drek hosts, yeah?"
One lesson the young man learned from his old captain was how to buy time to make a decision. By the time he's done sending a pirate to fetch Aryn's skewer and bottle, he looks back to the Queen. "I don't see him much these days, but if you got some kinda comm relay, I can send word along. Or.." A small shrug. "Could try raising him on ship to ship.. see if we get lucky," with a gesture at one of the fighters.
"I commend your loyalty to your Captain. A means to speak with Ektor-Xer will suffice. I did not travel here to spill the blood of patriots." Her gaze travels to the others a moment, sharing the genuine look. "You have my word."
The skewer and beer are accepted in each hand, and the Queen steps back from them enough to afford a little privacy as she bites into the offered meal and chews. There was a tradition on Alderaan regarding guests and offering refreshments; no harm was to come to them once they partake. Oddly enough, the gesture here is interpreted that way, adding credence to the tactic Xer long ago instilled upon Ek-Shiik. Wise.
Aryn takes to walking the hangar while waiting, finishing the skewer and washing away the taste of char with the beer. It was an awful beer.
A truly awful beer.
With anice white wine, the fish would be quite nice, were it prepared with more care and mild seasoning, but alas culinary skill was not a priority among the Janissars. Ek-shiik gives a quiet word to the others and scrambles up the side of an old R-42 Starchaser, and powers it up. Canopy open, he takes the precaution of scanning to see whether any ships were following the Sith Queen before raising a series of contacts. After a few minutes (in which several of the younger pirates made no secret of their fascination with the dark robed Alderaanian- a rough squawk of status is audible over Ek-shiik's comms. << So what, does 'comm silence' not mean the same thing back there no more, yeah? >>
Ek-shiik cracks a grin and calls, "I got him," before answering, << Yeah, yeah, I know. But I figured you'd wanna hear this: Remember that time you told me you got outta Kessel? The Doc who patched you up just walked in, asking for your help."
There's a long pause. << No drek? Did she come alone? You ask her out? >> Yep, definitely Xer.
Aryn steps closer, setting aside the beer she held between two gloved hands. Standing poised, hands tucked to her lower back beneath the cape, she addresses the audio with an amused expression. "For all that has changed, Xer, much remains the same. I trust you and your wife have your health?" She doesn't pause long enough to allow him to comment. "I have come seeking counsel. My husband intends a war with an old enemy of yours. Santhe-Sienar. Recall you our campaign in the Ash Worlds, the machinations and automatons that put his people to the proverbial sword?"
<< Oh, thank GAWD, I ain't gotta be sly. No lie, I ain't sure how long I coulda kept that up, >> Ektor's voice drawls. << The thing with the drones, yeah? Sure, I remember that. HEY, SERA. SERA. GUESS WHO'S ON THE COMM. >> He still hasn't gotten better about comm chatter. << So you wanna kick Sienar in the junk, yeah? I can get behind that. Them Hutt-suckers got it coming and worse. What you need, yeah? >>
Aryn's expression remains the same, ever amused by the pirate's antics. The sound of his wife over the comms is heard, the familiar engineer's working class accent. "Still all noble and drek; posh, as you like. Good to hear your voice, Princess. Figured you forgot what friends sound like with your new banners and all.." Scrappy as always, Sera addressed the elephant in the room. Aryn just nods, her bearing still held.
"Alliegances change like the weather, Miss West. We cannot change its coming, only weather the storm."
"Clever, but I get you. Stay hidden, Princess. The clouds are still dark outside, yeah?" Aryn's response is simply a nod, even though they can't see it. Topic returns to Sienar. "I require intelligence about Sienar. Holdings, shipments, family members, and historical data. Some say the legendary Janissar Leader has a network of spies to pinpoint his attacks. I suppose it is this insight I am keen to negotiate over. Have you a price in mind for these things?"
<< See, that's why I never bother with flags: they always going outta fashion, yeah? >> Ektor drawls. As for holdings, family members, a d historical data, Ektor pauses a moment. Something unverbalized passed Ng between Ektor and Sera before the old pirate answers, << So I got some good news, some bad news, a d some more good news after that.. I can get you alla that. Good news. Bad news? My best slicer got netted few days past. Kid can get you anything. Any names you want. But he's rotting in a max security rock on Desevro. They trying to draw us into doing something stupid, and.. well, I'm still me, yeah? So more good news: you get him out alive, and you get everything you want. We'll even lend boots for the junk punting."
"A fair price," Aryn comments, her eyes angling up briefly to weigh the consequences. "If you can get me to this max security facility, I will retrieve your slicer. It would be best to limit your footprint in this retrieval mission. Make no mistake, Ektor-Xer, I am a Dark Lord now. Attending to our war will carry with it consequences, and word travels by mouth. I appreciate your willingness to help us in this fight, but would it be at the expense of your reputation? As your wife so keenly pointed out, the stench of the Empire is not so easily swept away with a breeze."
<< Rekk the Empire sideways with a rusty gaff hook, but if this gets one of ours back from the dead, I don't give a bucket of another man's drek of some body wants to think less of how I fight my rekking wars, yeah?>> A drawn breath. << Being him back, you get everything you want on Santhe, and Sienar, and I'll throw in Jaemus, too. >>
"So be it, Captain," Aryn confirms. "I agree to this arrangement. I am ready to begin the mission whenever it conveniences you. I require only an IFF beacon so you know where to retrieve us once the deed is done." Aryn shifts slightly, regarding the faces of the Janissars around her. "Regarding my husbands war, I will ensure the Janissars benefit from a privateer certificate. Your service, or at least that is how it will be recorded, will ensure you people see no bounty issued by the Empire. Should you desire it, I can keep this contract in good faith and in perpetuity, for as long as it serves your needs."
<< Liannan gonna put its own bounties out anyhow, but even a thin shield is better than nothing, yeah? >> Ektor opines with a flat chuckle. << Ek-shiik, you there? Get her the beacon and a ride, yeah? I ain't keen on waiting. >>
Ek-shiik nods. << I hear you, Xer. We'll get it done and bring him home. >>
Ektor returns, <<Arright. Let me know when the world needs blowing up, yeah? Out. >>
Aryn nodded toward the emitter when the comm cut out, and she turned slightly to regard the Janissar XO, Ek-Shiik. Offering the pirate a slight, attractive smile, she says, "Once more unto the breach..." A poetic phrase probably lost on the lot of them. "..whenever you are ready, master Darstan. We can begin this operation." Aryn's hands return to the small of her back to clasp idly, and she turns to read the expressions of the others who likely heard the terms of their new foreseeable future. Young faces to join an old, bitter war.
Young faces already mired in a other old, bitter war that they grew up with. The more things change, indeed.
Ek-shiik nods. "Once more, yeah?" He looks to the others, "Get the Broadstar prepped. That transponder won't be flagged, yet. Then prep all the warbirds, and holler at Captain Kavrith to have her cell ready to fly. Just in case."
Accustomed to a life of command and little in the way of physical labor or urgency, Aryn does what she does best by staying out of the way. The den of pirates have orders and it's a wonder to behold as things begin to set in motion. Aryn spares a moment to use her own communication device to contact her husband, relaying a simple encrypted message for the benefit of his knowing there was progress on this front.
"My love," she begins, stepping away from the sound of a freighter engine coming to life. "I have made contact with our old friends and struck an accord to secure valuable intelligence. We embark upon a small matter now; the means to this data, and then I will return to you." A pause as she considers the worst outcome a moment, then pushes the thought from her mind. "I love you. See you soon." Her thumb presses the button and the message is sent away. The device is pressed back upon her belt where she had to gently brush her cape aside, revealing the obsidian hilt fastened upon her hip. Its activation stud slowly pulsated purple, an ominous light beckoning to be pressed. She denied its thirst by brushing her cape back into place, concealing the weapon beneath its confines.
Amid the swift scramble of getting an ultralight freighter and half dozen obsolete, heavily modified fighters ready for launch, Aryn receives a brief encrypted response: "I endure thy absence and await thy return." The Broadstar is prepared, and the boarding ramp lowered. Ek-shiik runs the vessel through a brief pre-flight, starting the NavComp working on a course to Desevro while awaiting Princess Doc to join him in the cockpit.
Informed of the waiting vessel, Aryn makes her ascent upon the ramp and inside. She claims a co-pilot seat, adjusting herself to discover some measure of comfort in the old chair. An emotionless mask is placed upon the middle console between she and Ek-Shiik, then she tends to the matter of securing her blonde hair.
"This slicer must bear some importance to your Captain, though I scarcely saw such devotion to retrieve those displaced to him as I witnessed the mission you were shot down. He was changed that day." Aryn muses, considering her old memories of the Ace-Pirate-Rebel. She shares a glance with Ek-Shiik, a momentary smile. "It seems you bring out the best in people."
Ek-shiik eyes the mask briefly, finding ease in conversation only when he looks away from it to focus on taxiing the small freighter out into the open and thence up into orbit. "I was everyone's idiot little brother, back then," he reflects, without hurt. "Just a dumb kid with more guts than skill, only flying because these three worlds had been so beaten down for so long there was no one better than me left to fly." A long drawn breath. "I really do think Xer would go just as hard after any of us, if the poncy scum got hold; they'll torture any pirate they catch. But you're right: this one is special. They're not gonna kill him quick, if they got his name." A slow exhale as the vessel glides into the black of low orbit. "Cado... Cado-Xer Apollyon."
"The weight of command is a double-edged sword, master Darstan. Just as you would want to do anything for your Captain, so too is he inspired to do the same for you. As Captain, he bears the responsibility of you all, and as Janissars? You all bear his name and legacy." Aryn's intuition into the weight of this misplaced team member proved true, and she ponders it a moment while staring out the view port toward the atmosphere fading away.
"Has it all been war? Your time growing up from everyone's little brother to everyone's executive officer? I sense the loss on your conscience, its weight heavy on your shoulders. Does twilight seem so close?"
"Not all war like Rodia," the young pirate amends. "Most of it is a lot smaller: raids, hits, Sienar and Hutt freighters poached where we can take them.. Running blasters and bacta to whichever moon folk are fighting back, yeah? But every few years, some Hutt-sucker in Lianna wants a promotion, or gets tired of looking stupid, and they hit the worlds back. Orbital bombardment on Tion Two, twelve years back. Pattern bombing Tion One nine years back. The corporations move back in after to get rich rebuilding what they just blew up, and within another few years, they overstep and Tionese riot again. Corporations run back to Lianna crying after their 'lost assets' and some new army officer gets deployed with his shiny new hovertanks to put us back down." Darstan draws a deep breath, oddly sharing more with a Sith Lord he'd not seen for most of two decades than he can with his own comrades. "I just don't know if we can change it. Really change it, yeah? Or if we're all just locked into following the same dance that went on, before."
"Normally, this would be where my husband might say you are not hitting the right targets." Aryn comments, considering their predicament from an outside perspective. "Perhaps our intentions with Santhe-Sienar may resonate with your Tionese patriots." Aryn considers a moment, then draws in a breath to add..
"You spoke of the torture of other pirates. This facility, would it currently be home to more than just the progeny of your Captain? Perhaps we can add a few more names to your roster? For the cause.."
"None of ours," Ek-shiik notes, "So I can't give names.. no doubt there are a damn pile of Tionese in there, but much as I'd enjoy springing everyone who Lianna likes locked up, that'd most likely be bigger than we can manage without drawing the army." As for hitting targets and Tionese patriotism, "Aye, none among us would flinch at killing Santhes. Damnable bloodsuckers, the lot of them."
Aryn glances over at Ek-Shiik, admiring for the moment the full realization the young pirate has grown to a wiser age. She can appreciate his restraint, even at being presented an opportunity to free others. His response informs her he has an idea of the bigger picture, something a lot of officers struggle with in regards to war. "Sound judgment, master Darstan."
"I will remain true to our mission then. The release of the young master Apollyon. I believe as a harbinger of the Empire, diplomacy might be my most potent weapon here. Should violence ensue though, will your Janissars be prepared to escort us away?"
Ek-shiik nods. "The third world squadron will be ready, and Xim will come back from the dead before Zappa would fail to bring her flight to a fight. That's two flights, alongside whatever hammer Xer and Sera have to bring down. Near about fifteen birds, total. Enough to sweep any fighter cover, and fast enough to outrun any cap ships, just in case they get stupid."
"The odds of our success increases."
Aryn takes a moment then to draw in a deep, deep breath and closes her eyes. The sounds of the ship, their flight, begin to fade as she enters a trance completely sustained through her connection with the Force. A younger Sith Lord might seethe, preparing their mind and body for a bloody task, but Aryn was not a young Sith Lord or an amateur practitioner of ancient mystical arts.
A serene calm gathers before the release of the storm, and her strength gathers like a levy against the current of the Force, holding it within her and channeling the power. Perception begins to expand, encompassing her immediate surroundings and transforming them into an extension of herself. She could hear the beating of Darstan's heart, the way he breathed in and released the air, she could detect the subtle vibrations of the ship, the energy pulsing through its cables and consumption of fuel. Everything had its place within the grand scheme, and it all resided within her 'gaze'.
The levers were pulled as the Broadstar cleared the third moon's gravity well, and the utralight freighter darted into hyperspace. The flight to Desevro would be brief, and thereafter, the odds of success would play out, for better or worse.