This was the first convocation of the top Inquisitors onboard the ISD Insight that Costa Vespula, Chief Inquisitor, had found herself worthy of an invite to. She would grow a mustache and spend the rest of her days playing jizz on the streets of Nar Shaddaa if High Inquisitor Jas Rydoon had never summoned one without her. Her deliberate exclusion from prior briefings - and the fact that she was barely begrudged a presence at this one - was firmly driven home by the lack of a chair at the small semi-circular conference table that the other four Inquisitors sat at. Next to Rydoon sat Trev Kennigan, the other Chief Inquisitor onboard the Insight. Kennigan, like Rydoon, was among the last of an older generation of the Inquisitorius, those who had cultivated Palpatine's favor early in the days of the Empire that Costa was too young to remember.
Their presence here could be seen as an honored appointment, a sign of the Grand Inquisitor's trust in the two veterans - or as them finally being put out to pasture without Darth Sidious or Darth Vader alive to keep the Grand Inquisitor in line. The presence of the young, charming Costa Vespula had only alleviated this latter idea; High Inquisitor Rydoon was polite enough to the younger sect of Force users that Costa spoke for, but Kennigan had taken an instant dislike to them, and her in particular - and it only took one or two instances of rubbing elbows with him to cement the feeling into something mutual.
The other three Inquisitors may as well have been nameless, but nonetheless there they were, seated and staring at her; she roved over their faces once and had disregarded them as window dressing, merely there to provide a semblance of a larger council. Still...she would have preferred some younger faces. Costa had been Chief Inquisitor for only a handful of months. Her predecessor had died above Endor with both Dark Lords of the Sith, a handful of Grand Admirals and Moffs, and - depending on who you asked - the Galactic Empire itself. Costa had been on Imperial Center at the time, and was given a brevet appointment that soon turned permanent. The celebration that she and a dozen Inquisitors had shared in a bar on the capital had been legendary for a multitude of reasons - not least of which was the fact that she had been the victim of an assassination attempt by a jealous Inquisitor, longer tenured than Costa, who had desired the Zeltron's shiny new rank.
The duel had lasted no longer than ten minutes, but had stretched across two floors of the club, injured several patrons through the wildly thrown Force attacks of her aggressor, and had ended climatically when Costa finally claimed the high ground - by upending one of the club's strippers from her perch and delivering her final blows from there.
Of course, the Inquisitors thought that was just hilarious. But in a galaxy like this, with more Moffs and admirals dying by the day, victims of each other's power plays...it would have been nice to see a few friendly faces around the table. Costa Vespula had no friends here.
It wouldn't do to let them know that, however. So Costa, radiating her typical upbeat confidence, strode over to the holoterminal and sat along its crystal blue surface with legs crossed, back reclined, and elbow cocked out to support her. There had been a head and neck imposed upon the terminal when she arrived, and now it blinked back to life as the briefing resumed. One of the schlubs was talking about some kind of situational report, something about a B-wing tearing up one of their cruisers during a doomed flight through the Outer Rim. They had thousands of Imperials onboard to deal with B-wing bombers, so while the prattle went on about scuttled engines and breached hulls, Costa turned her attention to the blue, shimmering face beside her.
Not bad looking, but not her type. Little too scruffy - a bearded Zabrak with a soft complexion, even through the hologram, whose face seemed open and easy for her to read. She could only assume this was the New Republic pilot who had been giving them so much trouble, and she had to admit, she was a little glad of that. The last thing they needed was some Force-sensitive type starting to get uppity with his personalized treatment for Trench Run Disease, some new Luke Skywalker here to build a New Jedi Order on all their bones.
Though given Skywalker's list of accomplishments, maybe that was being a little harsh.
They were still talkiiiiiiiiiiiing. Talking about ships, about the "Rebels" (oh, get real), about anything but what Inquisitors had been put on this rig to talk about.
Costa began to bat around the pilot's hologram head three-hundred-and-sixty degrees, spinning it around her fingers like a cat with yarn.
No sooner had she started to pimp slap the pilot's visage around than talk of the pilot finally reached her ears.
"...Jedi's map is correct, and he's seeking out the artifact the Grand Inquisitor believes him to be, then we are all in a much greater deal of trouble than you would perhaps like to believe, Kennigan." Despite his calm, deliberate tone of voice, the old Togruta's lekku had begun to faintly tremble. If any of the other Inquisitors noticed their superior's trepidation, it wisely went unspoken; tensions had been high throughout all branches of the Empire, and there were those in every corner who thought that the chain of command was a little cramped - even in an organization like the Inquisitorius, with under a hundred members spread throughout the galaxy. "Whatever is or isn't in our records, the fact remains that we did not interrupt his pleasure cruise this far outside Rebel space. He is following a trail to something. Whether the Grand Inquisitor is correct or not, whether Skywalker is correct or not, this pilot is following a trail. And every moment we spend dawdling here is another moment we have not picked up on it as well."
Kennigan stood and spoke up, directly to Costa.
"Pack your bags," he sent bluntly. "You're the head of our vanguard. To the planet Taris."
Costa had to work not to squeal.
Taris! THE Taris! This was a pleasure cruise after all. The site of the glorious Revan's rebirth, the ecumenopolis pounded so thoroughly into the dust by the infamous Darth Malak, who had held the galaxy on the point of a lightsaber so briefly, yet so terribly, the scarred, homely ###### of a planet that was one of the Sith's greatest victories against the Old Republic...and she was leading an expedition right into the thick of it! For someone who sought the knowledge she sought, who dreamed of visiting light and dark side worlds that even the greatest scholars had only dreamed of...Kennigan's harsh orders had been worth the trip all by themselves. She could have kissed the ugly, wrinkled ###### so hard that his beady yellow eyes rolled back in his head.
But she had to contain herself.
"What am I supposed to find on Taris?" she asked dutifully, uncrossing her legs and dangling them over the lip of the holoterminal. Her eyes had flicked back to High Inquisitor Rydoon, and she had tilted her head to look at him quizzically. "One pilot? Looking for what? Not that your briefing hasn't been terribly interesting, High Inquisitor, but it might make more sense if I had the synopsis of the last dozen conventions that have totally not been scheduled behind my back."
Her glare locked with Kennigan's again, and credit to the old man - he didn't flinch away from Costa for an instant. Rydoon's grandfatherly old voice bifurcated the tension with a cough, and then cauterized it with a reply.
"We do not believe this pilot to be on a hunt for some manuscript or trinket. There is no risk of him bringing back a replica of Lord Revan's mask to hang on Skywalker's wall. There is evidence...the Grand Inquisitor feels credible evidence...to suggest that the Rebellion has located a clue to the holocron of Ood Bnar."
Costa stiffed and sat up straight; she tempered her reaction, noticing that no one else had even flinched. She was in the dark on this, despite the Togruta Inquisitor's warm smile. She had been out of the loop.
Something I'll be sure to fix the minute I'm off this ship.
"I see you've heard of it," Rydoon ventured. Testing her. A light verbal passado.
"Ood Bnar served the Jedi Order faithfully for a thousand years, during the days of the Old Republic," she recited. She had always had a more keen mind for history than many of the Inquisitors, and she dimly remembered her father trying to impress the names and accomplishments of some of the most famous Masters into her head at a young age. He was so happy when I got them right that he'd make a trip out to buy me dessert. We never had much, but what we had he spent on treats for me. Even when he knew I had an answer wrong. Swallowing, she continued: "Though his fate was lost to history, he recorded a holocron featuring the sum of his life's work into both the light and the dark side. There would be more in that one holocron than an entire High Council could impart on a student. It could spark--"
"--a renaissance," Rydoon finished, nodding. There was a hint of satisfaction in the movement. "Enough teachings in a single holocron to spark an entire first generation of new Jedi. All that this Empire was built on, all the years of planning on behalf of the Sith Order, gone in a heartbeat. Not only does the Grand Inquisitor wish this averted, understandably, but he also wishes to have it in his possession. It would be a great boon to us during this...turbulent phase in our Empire's history."
There wasn't an Inquisitor in the room who needed that implication explained to them.
"Who do I take?"
"Whoever you choose," Kennigan said, crossing his arms over his Inquisitorial robes. "Submit your picks to High Inquisitor Rydoon and I by 2100 hours this evening, and be prepared to leave no later than six hours from the moment of submission. But do not pick and choose from your...friends with abandon, Chief Inquisitor. This is not only an expedition for a holocron, it is also a reconnaissance, tracking, and interrogation mission. If the holocron is not on Taris, then there is a clue that will lead to the real location. This Rebellion pilot knows where to look for it. Coax it out of him. If you can do so with all your clothes on, all the better."
She knew it would be best to stop there, but something in her made her mutter "Been too long since I gave a Rebel the d."
She couldn't say what satisfied her more as she walked out of the Inquisitorial chambers and towards the rec rooms where she knew many of the younger Inquisitors hung out - the glare of an enemy, or the laughs of four strangers.
Speaking of Taris, let us transfer our gaze through the vast reach of space, into the frigate Aldera, nee ISD something-or-other. Specifically, Aldera Holovid Theater #2, where two mercenaries of sharp tongue and fierce local repute lay sprawled atop a couch while gunfire and cheesy one-liners echoed in their sleeping ears.
An R5 unit had sat silently in wait for them for several hours, perhaps allowing them to wake up on their own terms and motivate, but as they lay there, arms wrapped loosely around each other (in a display of affection neither would ever perpetrate while awake) something in the astromech's personality matrix had clearly decided that this hope was ill-founded. So it veered up to the carpet, careful not to make any extraneous beeps, and quietly withdrew a small stun gun from one of its endless drives.
Then it tased him.
Lieutenant Reo Saporta's left side clenched instinctively, and he bit back a loud hiss as the upper half of his body reared to life. Only the fact that he was cupping Skri Mennere's head with the hand not currently coursing with electricity, and the fact that her head was currently resting on his clenched abdomen, stopped him from getting up and giving R5-D1K a sweeping kick right into the theater's screen. As it is, he lay back down on the couch - stroking Skri's hair once, much in the way that petting an animal tends to relieve a little stress - he turned his head to the droid and snarled with a curse.
"You defective piece of ######," he spat. "What do you want? I told you to wake us at 0000!"
R5 whistled and beeped indignant, shaking slightly on its droid legs. Reo supposed it was too much to hope for that it was about to explode where it stood.
"We can't have come out of hyperspace early. The trip from Cloud City to Taris takes--"
Beeeeeeeep whoop whoop brip!
"No, you cram it up your ###### and head to the bridge. You're the one who doesn't need to sleep."
"Yeah, well, how do you think she feels listening to you screech?" Reo sat up again anyway, gently sliding Skri's head off of his stomach and onto the couch with another (not affectionate) ruffle of her hair. Rubbing his eyes, the ex-Imperial scanned the length of the theatre for where his clothes had flown to the previous night, collected them, and began to dress.
"Mrrrrphreo." He stiffened at the voice behind him, and then turned with the upper half of his body to look at the captain of the Aldera. She was face down, pressing hard enough into the cushions to barely be audible. "Back here ######."
"Your droid says I'm needed on the bridge. We might be at Taris early," Reo replied, buttoning his pants and stretching out with another low hiss. "I'll be back in twenty minutes, one way or the other. Captain."
With the droid nipping at his heels, Reo slipped out of the holovid theater and dimmed the lights behind him. Only when the door had whirred shut with a hydraulic hiss behind them did Reo stop suddenly, drop to one knee, and pivot 180 degrees. R5 had enough time to screeeeeeeeeeech out loudly in protest before Reo delivered a palmstrike right into the mechanized little ######'s eye, sending it tumbling over backwards and landing on its back.
With the oh-so-sweet sounds of R5-D1K's protests ringing in his ears, Lieutenant Saporta stood up and began to walk to the lift again, ready to begin his morning on a much brighter note than he'd thought possible.