An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
The first of the morning suns was just threatening to peak over the mountains surrounding Loracre outpost - aka Black site: Trill - wh
en Kelly's ship swung in through the valley approach. Passing over the body of the outpost, the ship was identified and directed to land in the underground hangar at the far side of the outpost.
Despite any innocent appearing first impression the outpost gave, the hangar interior made no effort to hide it's true intention, making it clear that this area was reserved recognized Imperials. Waiting at the tip of the ships boarding ramp before it had even lowered was none other than Warden Loracre herself.
The Twi'lek overseer of Black Site: Trill stood - arms folded at her back in a rigid, yet relaxed posture that only an Imperial officer could carry so naturally - as she stared up at the boarding ramp to Kelly's ship, waiting for it to lower so that she may personally greet her new arrivals.
The ship stood idle for a moment, completely silent with its engines turned off; only the light streaming out from the cockpit window gave any indication that there were people inside. When the boarding ramp did lower, it did so slowly and gracefully and emitted just a gentle tap as it touched the floor beneath. Two humanoid figures emerged from inside the vessel, one woman and one droid of the well-known Imperial military model.
Kelly was dressed in a set of beige clothing that matched the shade of the sands of Tatooine, serving as a layer of camouflage for the world she was on. It did not allow her to perfectly blend in to the environment around her, as numerous pieces of differently-coloured armour and equipment were attached to her body. However, this did allow her to fit right in with the populace of the Outer Rim planet, making her appear to be just another scavenger among the poor and desperate people here. The only indication of her true nature was the blaster attached to her back, a custom-built sniper rifle with the latest Imperial scope technology, a sturdy Kashyyyk-wood grip, a stock equipped with a stunner and a cortosis-woven durasteel barrel that made the weapon highly resistant against all forms of damage to the degree that it was capable of parrying vibroblades and perhaps even taking a hit from a lightsaber.
Her formal gait as she approached the Twi'lek was another giveaway of her identity, "Hello there. I'm looking for a Warden Loracre, the one in charge of this base? It's quite urgent."
The Twi'lek looked Kelly up and down with a quirked brow, taking her time to assess the new arrival before saying anything, "Your ship was verified on approach and permitted to land..." she glanced over Kelly's shoulder at the droid giving it a curious stare before looking back to Kelly, "...I am Warden Loracre, I know you are Imperial Intelligence. Please, join me in my office where we may speak" With that she turned and led Kelly out of the hangar and through what at first glance looked like a typical Tatooine settlement market with various stalls and vendors from a multitude of races tending them. On the far side of the market they entered a modest looking corporate foyer with a single protocol droid attending. The droid simple stared silently, turning it's head to watch them as they pass by and enter the lift at the far side of the room. Emerging from the lift, they entered an Imperial operations centre, which the waden led them right through and out onto a balcony before swinging around into a side office where she made herself at home, "Now agent; what is it that brings you Black Site Trill?"
"I must say, I wasn't expecting someone like you to be in charge here," Kelly stated. "That's a compliment- nothing to do with your species, just that most Wardens I've seen have been crazy old men. It's a nice change for sure, especially with the bland scenery of this planet in comparison." Standing in front of the Twi'lek in her office with the battle droid silently watching the door behind her, Kelly shifted her tone as she got down to business, "Keeper directed me here. He said you could help in my search for a missing agent."
Loracre's brow furrowed as a wave of unease washed over her, "A missing agent you say? That is a dire situation but I don't know how you think I can help; there are no agents presently stationed here."
Kelly shook her head, "I don't think Keeper expects you to offer assistance like that, but you might be able to provide information that can be useful for locating this agent. ADIN?" The battle droid turned around, retrieving a communicator attached to his chassis and displaying a holographic image of Mischa, the agent in question. Dressed in her preferred long jacket, the three dimensional still rotated 360 degrees before pausing with her front to the Twi'lek, giving the Warden a clear view of her facial features. "This is the agent we're searching for," Kelly motioned at the hologram. "Ever seen her before?"
The Warden's eyes widened subtly as she looked up at the still holo before giving a slight nod to Kelly, "I am familiar with this agent. She spent a short time stationed here a few years back, but I am sorry to say that I have not seen her since. I am sorry agent, but I have no information on her whereabouts for you. Now if you will excuse me, I must see to my duties." The Warden pressed, getting back to her feet with the intention of ushering Kelly and the droid out of her office.
Kelly did not make a move to leave, standing exactly where she had stood since entering the office, "I've been given full clearance to the information relevant to finding the agent. As a servant of Imperial Intelligence I answer to Keeper, and if he has seen fit not to act upon whatever it is you're trying to hide, then I'm in no place to judge otherwise. It doesn't matter if it's an operation gone bad because of you. I'm not here to blackmail you or ruin your career. Locating the agent is my sole priority."
The Twi'lek sighed and shook her head, "I am sorry agent; but if this image is all you have to go on then I have nothing to offer you"
"There's more," Kelly signaled ADIN's droid body behind her. Tapping the holocommunicator once more, the image disappeared, leaving only an audio recording of Kelly's voice, as if she continued to speak on a very different topic. The idle conversation was suddenly cut off by the sound of the ship's generators losing power. A deep voice could be heard speaking the word "Laesa..." followed by the whoosh of a breeze or a very quiet high-speed vehicle. Then, there was a muffled cry and a soft thud before the generators could be heard returning to operation. Kelly raised a hand to tell ADIN to halt the playback once the moment she wanted to show the Warden had passed, "Am I correct in assuming that word means something to you?"
The warden's frosty composure visibly dropped as she brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose, "Laesa... well I can certainly understand why Keeper would choose to point you in my direction. I am afraid - agent - that still don't believe I can be of any assistance in finding your missing agent. But what I can do is tell you about Laesa. Come." she said, gesturing to the door for them to walk with her.
Heading back down the elevator, Warden Loracre lead Kelly and Adin through the bustling outpost that was the black site's cover and deep into a high security area on the far side. This section appeared as much more industrialized than the market as it did automated; with a multitude of droids tending various scrap and salvage duties. Weaving between the droids as they went about their business, the warden finally elaborated without breaking pace,
"Laesa..." she began, "...do you know what that name means?" she looked to Kelly, whose face was all the response she needed to confirm her suspicion, "I do not know why it is spoken in your recording, or who by. But what I can tell you is that it is actually an acronym; Loracre Artificial Entity Series: Alpha" she paused mid step to spell out the meaning of the name, the hint of pride ever present in her voice. "And before you ask" she continued, "That does not mean AI's or cybernetics. Project LAES was intended to breed a selection of genetically engineered force sensitives with a... favorable disposition towards taking orders"
She again paused and looked to Kelly, "Your missing agent... she was our genetic template - for the series of course, not the force sensitivity - and not that she was even aware of being our template. But that is about as much as I can tell you..." she trailed off as they approached a door on the far side of the courtyard. "This, agent, is the research lab where we developed that project" she said, leading Kelly and Adin into a tightly packed laboratory with a whole manner of machinery and computers squeezed into every corner of the small room, "And this..." she said, gesturing to a stasis tank on one side, "...is Laesa"
"Another one of Intelligence's eugenics programs, like the Watchers," Kelly nodded along as she listened to the Twi'lek's explanation. "I can see why you're uncertain about how this information could help, but it's at least a start. Now we know the potential motives of our kidnappers. So, who exactly knows about this project and the agent's involvement in it, besides us and Keeper?"
Encircling the room, the warden spoke as she studied the various projects around the room as though checking their progress while she was there, "Actually... even Keeper did not know of her role in this. As for who knows about it; well... outside of this facility - nobody"
The warden stopped her wandering and paused with an uneasy silence, "At least... officially..." she turned back to Kelly, "Agent; there was an incident some time back involving this project. It actually saw it shut down and Laesa here kept on ice indefinitely. You see, she was Series: Alpha in the project - our first prototype if you will - however, initial tests did not look favorable for acclimatization and so we first revived her sister - Laes:b. That... is where things took an unfortunate turn..."
She turned and leaned her hip against a console, folding her arms across her chest as she continued, "Laes:b escaped - possibly in the company of a Republic Commando - and left a bloody path in her wake. She fooled all our scientists even in her comatose state; they thought she was what they wanted for the project, they thought she was stable... but she was far from it. Laes:b was as cunning as a cipher agent, whilst as devious a Sith Lord - not to mention likely twice as powerful in her connection with the Force. We never did determine what became of her, I mean, there were rumours about some incidents in Republic territory - even on Tython - but nothing confirmed as her."
Whilst allowing Kelly a moment to absorb the information, Loracre turned and hit a few buttons on the console she had been leaning against, "This however may go some way to explain at least how her name came to be used in your audo recording..."
Moments later, a new recording played out from the console; first a voice with a distinctly Republic accent asking "Who are you?", followed - after a long pause - by a flat monotone voice, "Loracre Artificial Entity Series: Alpha", "Who are you?" came the Republic voice once more, followed again by a long silence, "Loracre Artificial Entity Series: Alpha; Laesa. I am Laesa".
As the audio finished it's playback, the warden looked to Kelly, curious to see her reaction and if this helped at all, "That was the moment Laes:b escaped this facility. We had suspicions based off of this that she was assuming the identity of Laesa, for reasons only she can know; though we speculated that she initially took Laesa's name as part of a rouse to facilitate her escape from the facility, since we found project logs accessed which talked about her instability, and suggested that Laesa here might actually have been the more viable option to revive first"
"Could it be possible that the Republic, being in possession of Laes:b, somehow traced her genetics back to the agent?" asked Kelly. "I can't imagine why they'd need her, but perhaps the subject escaped again and they wanted to obtain the genetic basis to start a project of their own. They could theoretically get the Force sensitivity from a Jedi and recreate her to some extent, right? They did take the agent alive for some reason, which means they must need her for something..."
"Well I certainly wouldn't put it past the SIS to try and steal my work!" Loracre scoffed with a hint of arrogance in her voice, "But even so, they would not require the agents genetics to do so, nor would they have the means to identify her as the template. No... we are still missing something here..." she trailed off as she circled around Kelly to the stasis tank which still housed Laesa, idly tracing a hand over the frost covered glass as she stared up the remaining subject, "...Whatever their motives in this - whoever /they/ are - has to be something more that we're missing"
She turned back to Kelly, "Agent, given the context of the audio log you played; could it be possible that whoever took your agent thought she /was/ Laes:b? Assuming that she has continued to mask herself under Laesa's name that could explain the declaration we heard. It could then perhaps be someone she has crossed seeking vengeance, or some such motive"
Kelly contemplated the theory quietly before speaking, "Is that possible? How close is the agent to these...projects of yours? Are they genetically similar enough for one to be mistaken for the other, at least visually?"
"Very much so" Loracre nodded, "Genetically they are almost identical to the template - virtual clones. The only alteration was the midichlorian count which was induced from another source. Here, see for yourself." She said tapping at the cryo tubes console. Moments later the frost cleared to reveal the figure inside more clearly and as suggested; save a less neatly trimmed haircut than Mischa wore - it looked exactly like her.
"That's quite some impressive work," Kelly commented. "I presume this alteration can only be made to a subject prior to being born...or grown? Otherwise I'd have expected to see it used much more frequently rather than being buried in this lab."
"Indeed" Came a raspy old voice from behind them. Turning towards the new voice, Kelly would be greeted by the sight of an old man walking through the lab door with a slight limp; his gait as strained as his vocal chords by age as he inched his way closer and continued, "My children... their perfection is one that must be sewn at the earliest stages of genetic evolution..." he paused and raised a hand to his mouth, letting out a wheezing and rough cough; clearly a lifetime working in the harsh Tatooine environment had not been kind to him.
Loracre smiled across, "Aah, Dr. Silvestrie; I'm so glad you could join us" Her false sincerity was not masked in her tone, and the old man easily picked up in, waving the hand from his mouth in a dismissal gesture towards the Twi'lek as he drew close and squinted Kelly into focus, "Cloning is nothing new, our experiments in accelerated growth have even shown signs of success. But my children..." he turned to the cryo tube and stared up at Laesa, "...They are unique. I created a masterpiece in them, one which /she/" he says casting an accusatory finger at Loracre, "Now fears because she does comprehend it"
The Twi'lek rolled her eyes, "Doctor need I remind you that when we tried reviving one of your 'children' she rampaged through this facility and killed your entire staff." "Pssht!" the old doctor scoffed, "She did exactly what she had to do in order to escape and survive, and has continued to do so since!" He again turned his attention to Kelly, "You... you are here to hunt my..." he again coughs and wheezes, "...my daughter, aren't you!"
Kelly shook her head, "We believe someone might be hunting the subje- your daughter, but that's not why I'm here. My mission is to find the agent you based her on, her...mother? I guess that makes sense, although it sounds a little odd saying that..."
She gave a soft chuckle before continuing, "Do you want Laes:b returned to you if we do come across her? According to the Warden's information I don't know if it'll be possible for us to neutralize her without fatally wounding her, but if the option should arise to preserve her life..."
"We clearly have a viable subject right here," ADIN joined the discussion. "Terminating the hostile model at the first given opportunity is the most logical course of action, should she do the same to us if we do not seize the moment."
"If she's really as strong as they say," Kelly bit her lip in thought, "containing her would be a good idea, but she was the better version after all. She could be a powerful asset if we recover her. What do you think, doctor?"
"Better?" The old man scoffed, "Series Alpha was the crowning achievement, not Beta! She will always be second to her sister here, which is why /she/" he again points an accusatory finger at Loracre, "Refused to let me wake Alpha! As for what you try to do with Beta if you can even find her...." a wry grin formed across his face, "Have you ever tried taking a powerful Force user? Since you stand before me know I..." cough, "...doubt it!"
Loracre narrowed her eyes on the old doctor, "Oh no... no! Doctor, I know where you're going with this, and forget about it... no way am I letting you wake her!"
Kelly looked between the two residents of the Black Site, posing her question first to the Twi'lek, "Is releasing her going to help us locate the agent in any way?" and then to the old man, "and is she even stable enough to be released? The last one did carve a path of destruction out the camp after all, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I don't want to find out firsthand just how powerful she is..."
"Of course she is!" Dr. Silvestrie insisted, though Loracre was clearly unconvinced as he continued before she could get a word in, "And you need her, now more than ever! For one; if your going after Beta" cough, "You need the strength to match her... and for two; who better to seek out the template than her genetic equal imbued with the power of the Force!" He turned a smug grin to Loracre, knowing his arguments were sound.
The Twi'lek considered him a long moment before shaking her head, "I am sorry Doctor...but after what happened with Beta I simply cannot allow it!" she paused and turned to Kelly, "Though the Doctor does make a good point... If you are going on Beta's trail - which seems likely given the circumstances here, if not intended - then you will need the ability to defend against her, and... much as I may not like to admit it, Alpha potentially has that." She shakes her head, "I can't make the decision for you agent, but if you wish it; I will allow you to remove Alpha in her current state and revive her on your own terms. If you want the Doctor's assistance, I will happily release him to you as well"
Doctor Silvestrie frowned at the tone in Loracre's voice, sounding all too pleased at the prospect of finally removing the thorn from her side that he has been for so many years. Though the prospect of seeing his beloved Series: Alpha finally awaken overwhelmed any reservations and he eagerly looked to Kelly as well as he awaited her decision.
"Is this facility required for reviving her?" Kelly inquired. "Is there any special equipment here, or can someone just simply take the tank elsewhere and open it?"
"The tank can be adapted for short term transport..." Loracre reassured, "It has a limited life backup power supply, though it would not last long. You would need to rig an external power supply for the unit if you wanted to move it much further beyond the outpost."
"External power supply..." Kelly nodded in apprehension before continuing her line of questioning. "Would a starship like mine suffice for that?"
"Of course it would!" Dr. Silvestrie scoffed, "It's not like you're..." cough, "...trying to power the entire lab or anything!"
"Then make preparations to move the tank to my ship," Kelly instructed. "ADIN, ready the cargo bay and clear out anything we'd rather not lose, like your other droid bodies. Stuff them in my room for now if you have to."
"Right away, ma'am," ADIN replied. "Shall I tell our new pilot to prepare the ship for launch as well?"
"Yes," Kelly shifted her attention to the old scientist. "Doctor, you're with us. She's your subject and you know how to handle this better than anyone. Meet us in the hangar once the tank is on board and plugged into our system."
"Very well" Loracre nodded, the hint of a smile crossing her lips at the thought of seeing the doctor and his crazy experiments finally out of her lekku, "Do what you must to safely transfer Series: Alpha to your ship. Should you have further need of me, I will be back in main operations" with that she headed out of the lab, leaving the rest to do what they must.
It took a few hours work, but with the aid of Dr. Silvestrie; ADIN was easily able to reconfigure their ships power transfer relays to allow a controlled addition of the cryo tank - which was relatively power hungry compared to most apparatus normally found on board. Once everything was complete and Alpha was safely stowed inside the cargo bay, ADIN - still occupying the same droid body as before - escorted Dr. Silvestrie to find Kelly - at the doctor's request.
"Agent, you'll be..." cough, "... pleased to know that Alpha is resting comfortably after a successful transfer. I..." cough, "...recommend waiting some time before attempting any revival - give her a chance to recover fully and all"