In Quan Taurendill’s darkened bedroom, a feminine shape stirred under the silken blankets of her master’s bed. Quan, sprawled across most of the bed liked to have his feet up on one slave while the other slave was used alternately as a pillow or shoved to the edge of the bed for being too warm. Because Twi’lek body temperature was slightly lower than that of humans, Quan usually found Ardana more comfortable to use as a pillow. He preferred to use her lap, making her sit upright through the sleeping hours, or perhaps her stomach.
That made sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night a problem for Ardana. Luckily, one of Quan’s many failings was that he also drank too much. She lifted his head by his hair and slid out from under him; he didn’t stir. With a derisive roll of her eyes, she slipped from the bed and then waited to see if Fawn, the human slave girl at his feet, stirred.
In a way, she felt sorry for Quan’s other slave. She didn’t know how long Fawn had belonged to Quan but it was clear to Ardana, that Fawn had never known any other life. The woman had no marketable skills and a complete lack of education ensured she was as dim as she was attractive. Which was very, on both counts. Too many people, having been enslaved, would be terrified of freedom even if it was handed to them. Without skills or education, former slaves could hardly find work to feed themselves. Fawn was like one of these people. Still, Ardana wondered if the girl might make something of herself if, where she freed, someone provided proper support and guidance.
Unfortunately, there was no one like that. Ardana certainly couldn’t take Fawn with her when she completed her mission and made her escape back to Master Ro and Emperor Fel. Her duties to Fel didn’t give her time to look after runaway slaves. In truth, she wasn’t even certain exactly how she was going to get out of this once her mission was complete to begin with. Certainly she could retrieve her light sabers and simply slice her way through anyone and anything to reclaim her freedom. But that lacked finesse. Such action could in the future cause her problems if she were to be assigned to use her slave persona as a cover again.
Thinking about the sad situation of slaves made her think of that drunken human and wookiee Jedi. Those Jedi that so foolishly revealed themselves lately had certainly done nothing to make life easier or better for Fawn or herself. Their vaunted morals, it seemed to Ardana, were as mythical as their order had become. This came not from her very limited interaction or experience with those on the Alderaan Star, but rather from the fact that once again the galaxy had fallen to darkness under the Jedi’s watch. Vile institutions such as slavery and the kinds of decadence that ran rampant on the Star had persisted while the Jedi looked down their noses at immorality and crimes against freedom and then chose not to interfere. Ardana had no doubt the Jedi pride in each other and their order directly led to their downfall at the hands of the more ambitious, focused, and far better organized Sith. The Sith were evil and treacherous, but proactive.
At least one thing was true. Both Jedi and Sith proved to be very predictable to Ardana’s mind. That had given her an advantage and, if she could be successful tonight, hand her a successfully completed mission.
But she cautioned herself in her thoughts, that she not get too far ahead, and not forget she was still stuck on a starship with no escape as a slave of Quan Taurendill — a difficult situation at best. The true Emperor was counting on her and she did not want arrogance to lead her to the same downfall as it did the Jedi.
From the darkened corner of the room, near the door, Ardana thought on the past several weeks. Taken as a whole, she was not very proud of her work so far. But for that part which directly related to her mission, she had to admit she had been more successful than she thought even Master Ro might have anticipated. Humiliating or not, her undercover role was very effective.
Satisfied Fawn was not about to awaken, and with Quan in another drunken stupor and so unlikely to respond to anything short of a slap in the face, Ardana put an ear to the door.
The wookiee jedi, Kiltorsssk, and Lisa seemed never to speak. Ardana knew Lisa felt slighted that Quan hired an extra bodyguard, but Lisa couldn’t very well deny Quan a little extra protection if he wanted it. She wasn’t surprised when she heard nothing from the next room. Sliding the door open an inch, she pressed her face to the crack and took a look. She didn’t see the jedi, but Lisa was restlessly hunting for something out of the cold unit. Ardana watched as the security specialist poured a glass of bantha milk for herself, then put the clear container of blue liquid back in the cold unit of the refresher.
Ardana would have rather manipulated Quan into inviting Lisa into his bed again, but pushing their relationship too hard could backfire on her. Lisa wanted to feel competent in her work, too, not like she was neglecting it in favor of sack time with her horny paramour.
The Twi’lek spy waited at the door for the inevitable. When Lisa put the milk down, she headed down the hall to the restroom and closed the door. That gave Ardana a few scarce minutes to slip out of these quarters and be on her way to locating Camilla’s room.
She was nearly to the exit when the snore of the wookiee jedi brought her up short. The irritating wookiee had sat in a big, overstuffed chair turned to face the door. She cursed her luck. Unlike the inside doors, the door that led to the halls was powered. That meant it opened all the way or it didn’t, and when it moved, it did so with a slight “shushing” sound. With the wookiee so close, he’d almost certainly hear anyone coming into Quan’s quarters — or anyone leaving.
Frustrated, she backed away, silently cursing the Jedi for getting in her way. A flush coming from the bathroom sent her scurrying back into the bedroom before Lisa returned. She just managed to get the bedroom door closed behind her when she heard Lisa’s soft footfalls come down the hall and stop in front of the bedroom door. Ardana froze, barely even breathing as she pressed herself against the wall next to the door. By some grace, Lisa must have thought better of looking in on Quan and walked away.
With a relieved sigh, Ardana silently slipped back into the bed and resumed her position, lifting Quan’s head back onto her lap. He murmured then shifted, but never woke.
The next morning Ardana saw to the cleaning and supplying of Quan’s quarters to a level she knew he would appreciate. These functions were of course provided already by the ship’s crew, but Ardana knew much better just how Quan preferred fresh clothes to be folded and which liquors he wanted stocked in the bar. By now, it had become an assumed responsibility, though Ardana was adept at making it seem that every decision had been made by Quan personally, whether she’d subtly suggested it or not. Ardana had made an artform of studying her assignment — in this case her master — very carefully so that she knew when he liked to dine, what he liked to dine upon, where his tastes ran in terms of drink and dress, and what sort of company he preferred. She observed his habits and his vices and created opportunities for him to indulge. She wanted him to be completely comfortable in her presence.
When Ardana was around, Quan’s desires seemed to be fulfilled almost before he realized he’d wanted something. He even made a game of sometimes thinking of something random to see how Ardana would react, but she seemed never to be upset or distracted. Buying her had been expensive but as he had anticipated, it had been worth every credit.
So, Quan didn’t think it out of line when Ardana reported that the laundry had failed to remove some of the wine stains he’d acquired on his favorite vest during the party planetside. Of course it was understandable a bit might have been sloshed even if he didn’t remember it. There was quite a bit of excitement with not one, but two Jedi and two Sith engaging in a duel to the death. It also made sense that although he could see no remaining stain on the vest, Ardana’s eyes picked up on it, having been attuned in the twilight of her homeworld of Ryloth. Of course he could not wear a stained vest. He would look a fool. Ardana had correctly interpreted his feelings and obediently set about correcting the oversight with promises she would not return until they’d cleaned it for him properly.
Having waved her along to do her duty to him, he proceeded to breakfast with Fawn and his bodyguards. Fawn was a dimwitted thing but pretty and it suited him to have an attractive woman on his arm any time he was in public.
Once Quan and his entourage had meandered around the bend of the corridor outside his quarters, Ardana permitted herself a small smile, then strode off with the vest in hand. It was, of course, perfectly clean. There was no stain and never had been. What she needed was time for a quick search.
Her first stop was with a young crewman. She picked the human boy, barely able to grow facial hair, because he was inexperienced. She’d noticed the way he tended to stare — gawk really — at the numerous scantily clad guests and slaves aboard the ship. Class lines were rigid here, though. Either you were rich and could afford all the escorts you wanted, or you worked for someone else. That meant hirelings or slaves. The boy was just a crewman and due to potential repercussions should he attempt to touch someone that didn’t belong to him, Ardana was betting he’d been left wanting for attention.
Therefore, it wasn’t hard to convince the boy she was but a poor, lost slave girl set a nearly impossible task by her uncaring master to return an article of clothing to a woman Ardana barely knew. Ardana asked him to help her find the cabin of a woman who she only knew by first name and seasoned her pleading request for help with a long, sad look into his eyes. The boy nearly melted. He hurried to narrow down the guestlist to guests registered under the name Camilla that had brought a personal droid with them so that Ardana wouldn’t get in trouble with her master for being too slow. It turned out to be a very short list to dig through.
The boy had told her his name was Crewman Han, though Ardana really could care less. Likely she would forget him by the next stop in any case. She had left him with a kiss on the cheek that made his ears turn crimson. Crewman Han would not soon forget Ardana.
Ardana quickly made her way to the cabin and knocked, hoping that Camilla had already left for breakfast. No one answered. Smiling, and checking that the hallway was clear, she quickly set about popping the electronic lock. In a minute the door was open and she walked into Camilla’s room.
She’d barely gotten five steps inside, however, when the door opened again behind her. She turned around to see a startled Camilla staring straight at her.
From the surprise on her face, Ardana knew that Camilla must have just missed seeing Ardana break in. In a flash, the spy realized she would have no chance to search for what she suspected Camilla’s droid had stolen. Better then to salvage the situation. Camilla and she were together, in private and this was a rare opportunity for a frank discussion, one that was days overdue.
Ardana noticed her droid wasn’t with her. Up to some other burglary, Ardana assumed, but she made no comment.
“Good, you’re finally here,” Ardana said before Camilla could begin drawing conclusions as to why Ardana was in her quarters. “I haven’t much time before I’m missed and we need to talk.”
Camilla was restless. She needed to work out her exit strategy and she needed to get it figured out fast. She sat at the bar watching the wealthy patrons move in and out of the room between the bar and the casino. If someone had been watching her they would have noticed the way she seemed to study people intently but no one really ever paid any attention to a middle aged, underdressed, overweight, balding, human man drinking alone at a bar… no matter what part of the galaxy you were in.
She sat for a long time but found it hard to focus on the task at hand. The thoughts of the “camping” trip to Munto Cudro kept interfering. “What had those jedi been thinking?” she thought to herself. It still angered her to think about her exchange with the Wookie, in particular, after the fight. Yes, she may have lost her cool a little but could anyone blame her? Being within a mile of a Jedi put you at risk of being annihilated much less than being associated with one, especially two, and even more especially two who had just been a part of killing a couple of Sith. Wait, that wasn’t quite right was it? Camilla thought of Ardana. She had certainly been smart not to out herself but Ardana was no less a problem than the other two. No, she wasn’t a Jedi but an Imperial Knight was just as bad in the scheme of things. But at least she had shown some savy that Camilla was hoping she had.
But the real problems at hand were the Jedi. They not only revealed themselves to Quan but they hesitated to kill the Sith. Why? Didn’t they realize that they were in mortal danger everywhere they turned? There was no redeeming a Sith and they certainly never gave up their secrets. Even if you believed the history conspiracy nuts who claimed that Darth Vader had been redeemed by Luke Skywalker that was just one example out of the 1000s who went to their grave taking as many lives as they could with them. Did the Jedi not feel the press of the Galaxy on their backs? Did they feel any sense of urgency at all? She was starting to understand why they were deceived and defeated so easily by the Sith yet again.
Camilla didn’t have any particular love for the Jedi but she didn’t harbor any hate for them either, not like she did the Sith but her first real combat interaction with a Jedi had been disappointing because it only reinforced her beliefs of the Jedi and their weakness exposed itself as a liability. Yet, there was a strange comfort in knowing that they had behaved so un-sithlike. There was something there that was important but she couldn’t put her fingers on it. Perhaps it aggravated her that she wouldn’t have been as merciful but wished she could be. But the real world didn’t really allow that did it? Perhaps you can only learn that spending most of your life sitting in a Jedi Temple isolated from the real world.
And then there is Ardana. A different brand of “Jedi”. She had known about Ardana from the beginning because she had been the one to deliver Ardana to Quan after she was sold to him by Queen Jool. Of course Ardana would have had no way of recognizing her at that time and wouldn’t have made the connection but she had been there nonetheless. In fact, she was the one who had brought the attention of this transaction to the imperial knights and had brokered the information exchange and the slave exchange through Queen Jool on Coruscant. Jool had gotten most of the credits for it but Camilla had done alright for herself in the deal as well. The old empire certainly paid better than the Galactic Alliance but the real reason she had contacted them was because she knew they had better resources to figure out what was going on. That was where Ardana had entered the picture.
It was true that Camilla did not know the exact nature of what Quan was trying to trade with the Alliance but she did learn from another contact on Coruscant that it wasn’t because someone on Coruscant loved the Alliance. Ardana had already proven her skill in finding out about the [BEEP!] before her and she had even taunted Camilla about it, perhaps only a little bit. But now Camilla understood the seriousness of the situation that Ardana had hinted at thanks to the actions of 2oneK while they were gone. This deal was more complicated than an Ithorian salad. It was also now abundantly clear that Ardana and possibly many others, including the Alliance, were meant to find this information. A [BEEP!] that can kill [BEEP!][BEEP!][BEEP!] would be a highly prized tool for both sides opposing the [BEEP!][BEEP!]. It was not lost on her that she unwittingly played into the hands of whoever was behind all of this by getting the Fel Empire involved. Ardana now had the same knowledge that she had. What would she do with it? If her instincts were correct then Ardana would have to take it to Roan Fel, didn’t the Imperial Knights swear undying loyalty and obedience to Roan?
But there was something else that was bothering Camilla, she also had a copy of these notes from Quan and a sample of the [BEEP!] itself. The real question was what was SHE going to do with it? Sure, the Empire and the Alliance would pay dearly for such knowledge but the Hutts would positively fall over their portly selves in a bidding war that would allow her to buy 2 private moons. Only poor people wonder what they would do with so much money, but Camilla already had it spoken for in schemes of her own. But could she do it? Would it change the galaxy for the better? She kind of doubted it. And then there was the matter of a Jedi who came to visit her all those years ago. Had he been right about her? Was she force sensitive? She doubted it. But then again the Jedi had been quite insistent. What was his name again? Oh yes, Obi-Wan something. She couldn’t readily forget him.
He had been kind and there was something in his eyes that she knew she could trust but she had been so much younger then, had it been over 100 years already? She had run from her so called “destiny” at that time but she had always remembered the kindly man. Many years later she tried to find out about what happened to Obi-Wan but couldn’t find any records probably because the Palpatine empire had destroyed most of the information on the Jedi entirely.
It was no good, she wasn’t going to get anymore done tonight. She went into the men’s refresher and into a private stall and changed. She came back out and walked past a young bell hop who was looking at her a little surprised but she knew he had seen far stranger things than a woman coming out of the man’s fresher. It was time to get a little rest and prepare for whatever may come in the next few days. She definitely had a bad feeling about it all.
She waved her key card over the digital lock and the door slid open with the characteristic whoosh. She walked in and let her eyes adjust but she felt as if something was wrong. She looked around and saw a figure in the front room and started to reach for a hold out blaster when the figure spoke.
“Good, you’re finally here. I haven’t much time before I’m missed and we need to talk.”
It was Ardana. It was sooner than expected but yes, they needed to talk. She thought that maybe she had come to find other things as well but that was largely irrelevant at this moment.
“Yes, indeed, we do need to talk.” Camilla put her stuff down on the couch and walked over to the bar. “Care for something to drink while we talk?”
“Thank you, no.” Ardana wasn’t willing to risk Quan smelling something on her breath and then asking questions. She remained standing, alert and wary of Camilla. She didn’t have her lightsabers in reach here. If Camilla wanted trouble, Ardana would have to improvise. “It would seem we have a common interest.”
Camilla poured a small glass of Jawa Juice, one of her favorite night caps. She savored the smell a moment and then tilted her head back and drank it all in one swallow. She put the glass down hard as she let the burn take over and then mellow out into a nice warm glow that spread throughout her body. Much better.
She turned to Ardana who seemed to be watching her warily. She was probably expecting an attack of some sort but Camilla had made up her mind about the situation already and if she could help it there would be no business as usual.
“Yes, I suppose we do have a common interest but I doubt we have the same means or the same goal. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the writing on the wall, so to speak. I think you are just as aware as myself that we have been pawns in a most dangerous game and there are no telling how many more pawns are on the game board but I am guessing that the Alliance and Roan Fel’s empire are supposed to be the knights but I cannot yet guess at the King or Queen. Whoever is behind all of this has no love for anyone, the empire, the sith empire, the alliance or the jedi.” She paused to let Ardana speak. She watched for any signs of surprise at anything she just said.
Ardana watched Camilla a moment. She didn’t seem like an agent for Krayt’s Empire. If she was, then what Ardana was about to offer might draw out that allegiance. It was a calculated risk to tell Camilla this much. “You’ve made some good guesses. What’s at stake here is something that, if unleashed, will be catastrophic. If Darth Krayt gets hold of any of it, he can use this to destroy any remaining resistance. If the Alliance gets hold of it, they could use it to destabilize Krayt’s Empire. The problem is, that it cannot be controlled. It will affect all sides with devastating effect. If even one sample gets out and someone is stupid enough to use it, it could drive the beginning of the end for order in the galaxy. Chaos would ensure, leaving everyone vulnerable to the vile mind that created this thing.
“The problem is that what’s here on the ship may not be the only samples,” Ardana continued. “Quan is not the designer, he’s the dupe. Since the creator of this… abomination is on the loose, we have to assume he has more of this in his possession, or can make more. We have to gather all the samples we can and get them to the one force of order left in the galaxy that has the resources to possibly find a counter to it. That cannot be the Alliance, because they lack resources. That cannot be Krayt’s Empire because if they did find a counter, they would only protect themselves. Only the true Emperor has the resources and the will to protect the galaxy. You must turn over what your droid stole, and then I must ask you to help me safe guard it.”
Camilla raised an eyebrow at Ardana in mock surprise. “Ah yes, the true emperor and his band of loyal imperial knights. I have heard a great deal about the lengths they will go for their emperor.” She went back to the cabinet bar and began to pour another drink. “Now I will agree with you that the Krayt shouldn’t have this, although it is hard to imagine that he doesn’t have it already, and certainly the galactic alliance is not to be trusted with this assuming that we don’t want to see all force users eliminated. But you would have me believe that Emperor Fel would be any better than the other two by somehow being more responsible with this technology and information? If I recall correctly your dear ol’ emperor who has, as you say, ‘the will to protect the galaxy’, wasn’t exactly displaying that will when he started this damned war in the first place. And what part of that will make an alliance with the Sith?”
“Our Emperor responded to the threat the Galactic Alliance posed to order and security in the galaxy,” Ardana reminded her.
Camilla walked over to the lazy chair with her drink inviting Ardana to sit across from her on the couch. “No, I trust your precious emperor about as much as I trust Krayt to be responsible for this. It seems to me that this is the same damned thing over and over again. For thousands of years now the jedi allies themselves with some faction of government who promise the galaxy peace and security and then they never see it coming when an imperial government sabotages their efforts, and makes war with the ruling government and then somewhere in that mess the Sith show up and all hell breaks loose and the Jedi are almost wiped out, the jedi allies go into hiding, form a new revolution, they come out of nowhere many years later to defeat the Sith and the imperial government despite overwhelming odds and get back to promising peace and prosperity. Does any of this sound familiar?”
The last was clearly rhetorical but she had made her point clear, she didn’t trust Fel but she softened a bit knowing that there weren’t many options open to them at the moment. “Look, I don’t really trust Fel any more than I trust the Alliance but I trust both of them a whole hell of a lot more than the Sith and one way or another we have to get this stuff in the hands of people we can trust to start searching for a vaccine and keep it out of the hands of people who would use this as a weapon. Now if you think you can trust the emperor to not use this as a weapon then I hope you are right but I just have my doubts.”
“But you are also right in that no matter what we do here, it will come to nothing if stop the person behind Quan. Do you have a name?”
Ardana said, “Camilla you just demonstrated utter disloyalty to anything and anyone but yourself. You’re own words paint you a traitor. And you’re wrong about Fel. The true Emperor serves the Light; it is the duty of his knights to ensure it’s so. If he falls, we must destroy him. Protecting him from traitors that believe as you do is only part of the job. The Emperor was deceived and betrayed by the Sith just as they betray everyone. They are good at seeming to be something they aren’t when they want to be.
“You have not responded to my request for help. I’ve trusted you too far already and you’ve given me no reason to trust you. I need what you took if you want anything from me.” As odd as it seemed to see a nearly naked Twi’lek slave look so fierce, the look in Ardana’s eyes was dead serious. “Call it a gesture of trust in return for my being honest with you.”
Ardana was fully prepared to walk out of here if Camilla proved unwilling to help her. That would make them enemies, of course, and Ardana would have to eliminate her and find her stashed items herself. She didn’t relish the thought, but then too much was at stake to get squeamish now. As the thought passed through her mind, she thought she might even be able to pin the deed on the one of the two Jedi.
Camilla sat for a moment in quiet letting Ardana guess at her thoughts. After a few moments she stood and moved over to the wine cabinet again but instead of pouring a new glass she rummaged around in the cabinet and pulled out a small metal box. She was still crouched down looking at the box when she spoke again.
“You pretend to know me and my intentions and my loyalties but you don’t know anything. I was the one who found out about this transaction and I am the one who brought it to the attention of the imperial knights and yet you stand here questioning my loyalty.”
Camilla stood and walked over to the half naked Ardana and extended the box out to her. Ther was now pain in Camilla’s eyes when she continued. “I once thought as you did. I once basked in the favor of Roan and believed him to be exactly what this galaxy needed but then I got to know him better and better and saw the hunger for power that could consume him at times. Yes, there was even a time when we were in love but he loved himself more.
“You speak of him serving the light but how can that be? I’m no Jedi or Imperial Knight but it doesn’t take one to know that allying with the Sith for any reason is flirting with total darkness and so here we stand in the galaxy with very few lights left. And then there is the matter of the massacre at Ossus. Is that an example of following the light again?”
As she passed the box to Ardana she turned and walked to the door. “Maybe things are not as the seem. Maybe they are. But at this moment I cannot be the one to alter events so take it. Take it to the emperor. I truly hope that I am wrong about him because I am putting my trust in him again this time but if he uses it as a weapon I wonder if you will really have the will to carry out your mandate.”
“For my part, I was always on Roan’s side even if I don’t trust him. Love does funny things. Now unless there is anything further I would like to get some sleep.” She opened the door and gestured for her to leave. She was tired but she also knew that in a short conversation she had managed to turn her emotions inside out. She knew that she had told Ardana way too much about her and Roan but it was going to come out eventually, isn’t that what the recurring vision was telling her?
Could she trust Ardana? Yes, she suspected that she could. Ardana was crafty and skilled but even though her blind faith in Roan was naive it was the very thing that allowed her to trust Ardana. She was going to have to, this wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
Ardana was taken aback by the claim to have brought the situation to the Knights. Could it be true? Ardana wasn’t sure. Whatever Camilla’s imagined relationships, Ardana was prepared to accept Camilla’s assistance. For now, her cooperation was enough; she didn’t need Camilla’s honesty for now.
“Thank you, Camilla,” Ardana said with much less edge in her voice. “I think that, if you really know Roan Fel, then I think you know the truth behind the attack on Ossus. The Jedi were not the Emperor’s enemy. One day, I hope you come to understand that Fel is not the villain the moffs and the Sith would have you believe.”
Ardana turned to leave, but stopped after taking only a couple steps. She remembered her implied word she would cooperate if Camilla did. “You’re right, Camilla. The item isn’t the threat. The truth threat is the one that manufactured it. He’s a rogue Sith Lord, a Bith. I think his name is Daras. Quan is a pawn, but force sensitive. I don’t know what training he may or may not have really received, but he’s in the midst of two Jedi. I guarantee that sooner or later, they’ll know he’s gifted as well, if they don’t already.”
She turned back around. “The situation is a powder-keg and fire is only an ignited lightsaber away. Whatever happens, we must escape with the item and secure whatever help we can to track down this Sith lord. If things get hairy, stick near me. I’ll try to protect you, despite this infernal collar. At the least, I have a way off this ship and I can take you with me. Can I count on your help?”
* Texted sensored with [BEEP] has been done on purpose in order to maintain the mystery in the ongoing game.