An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
23 Hours Later
As the agents strolled into the familiar entrance lobby of Imperial Intelligence's headquarters inside the Citadel, it seemed that the information centre of the Empire was busier than ever. Analysts rushed from room to room, taking holocalls or typing on datapads on the fly. Several of them even made their way across the building in a sprint. One astromech zoomed out from a hallway only to give a distraught whir and stopped in its tracks, causing the man behind it to nearly stumble into it.
The man, dressed in an Imperial uniform like most in the room, managed to come to a halt just short of the droid and calmly pressed a hand to his earpiece, relaying: "Low power X2 unit in front lobby, request Fixer attention as soon as convenient."
Stepping around the droid, he made his way over to the two women who had just entered. Upon his approach, it became clear that this was more machine than man. The entire top of his head was metal; his skull was encased in a built-in cybernetic helmet and his eyes were replaced with glowing red orbs. Wires could be seen through his neck, two thick rubbery implants which complimented the natural sternocleidomastoid muscles. The cyborg did not wear gloves, and both his robotic hands were also visible. The superhuman precision of his movements indicated that even more of his body was mechanical; while Imperial officers were known for the honed way they carried themselves, the perfect angles at which this man's legs bent each time was something beyond what humans could naturally be capable of. As most were unused to seeing such perfect coordination from someone that was not a droid, this was immediately visible to anyone observing the cyborg and made him stand out in the crowd.
However, save for the complete lack of emotion, his voice sounded relatively human, "Greetings and welcome home. I am Minder Seven. Watcher Nine is currently occupied. I will take your report."
Kelly nodded and handed the cyborg a datapad, "What's going on around here?"
"You will be debriefed soon," Minder Seven did not lower his head to look at the datapad, instead plugging one of his fingertips into the device. "Please wait patiently until you are called."
With that, the cyborg analyst hurried off, leaving them amidst what felt like a hive of recently disturbed bees.
Mischa glanced around at the hive of activity within HQ. She always found the efficiency and co-ordination of the place to be admirable - especially during crisis management - which this appeared to be. She looked calmly to Kelly at her side, "Definitely not looking like extended R&R..."
As the two field operatives stood patiently awaiting their summons as requested, they were suddenly staggered as someone bumped into them from behind. Turning to look, they were greeted by the sight of a young woman - clearly flustered and over eager - she tripped over words trying to eke out an apology almost as much as she nearly tripped over Kelly and Mischa, "Oh! I- I'm so sorry! You're not hurt are you? Oh no no no, this is the last thing I need...!"
Still chuckling as she took in the sight of someone who clearly did not conform with her otherwise accurate view of the efficient and coordination of HQ, Mischa held up a hand to the girl and smiled, "Don't worry about it, just slow down and take a breath. I'm guessing you're new around here?" she asked, taking in the distinctive appearance of the girl; whilst wearing what was clearly an Imperial uniform of sorts; it appeared almost more as a formal office attire than an actual uniform as she was more accustomed to seeing. The outfit's deep green trim around the collar and hem of the skirt only further accenting it's variation from the standard attire seen around HQ. The two could also see that this girl was very young - at least by comparison to most seen working at the Citadel - her youthful face framed by a typically highborn Imperial hairstyle, tied back into a long braided ponytail which trailed halfway down the girls back. Her bright green eyes were a natural complement to the colouring of her outfit, and were more closely framed by cybernetic implants on her temples.
These were much more subtle than those seen on the male cyborg as they appeared as little more than thin strips disappearing quickly behind her hairline. The girl took a deep breath, seemingly reassured by Mischa's tone, "I... Sorry, agent. You are quite right; this is actually my first day! Everything's just crazy here, not what I expected at all! I'm Em-..." she stopped herself as her enthusiasm almost got the better of her, "I mean... Fixer Forty-Four. I'm Fixer Forty-Four! Wow, I still can't get used to that... oh! I don't suppose you've seen an X2 unit around here anywhere have you? "
Glancing sideways to Kelly with a soft chuckle, Mischa thumbed over her shoulder, "I assume you mean that one..." Fixer Forty-Four leaned out to one side to glance past Mischa - her face visibly lighting up as she set eyes on the droid, "Oh thank the Emperor! I..." she stopped again mid sentence and looked between the two woman stood in front of her, "Thank /you/" she smiled, inclining her head slightly before scurrying around them to see to her duties.
Mischa watched the girl go about her duties and turned to Kelly, still chuckling softly at the unusual and entertaining - at least in her mind - sight of someone so flustered and uncoordinated at HQ, "Poor thing, what a first day! Must only be an intern, or a new recruit bless her"
Kelly also chuckled as she watched the Fixer, "Definitely not the best day to get started on. I'd probably panic a little if I were in her position too. Since we're just waiting around anyways, might as well make ourselves useful!"
She made her way over to the girl, though her gaze was mostly set on the droid, examining it as she walked as if she were diagnosing it from a distance. She turned her attention back to Fixer Forty-Four when she stopped in front of the two, "Need any help?"
The girl jumped with a startle as Kelly had spoke, seemingly so engrossed in her task that she failed to notice her approach, "huh, wha-? Oh! I, errm... well thank you but, I mean... unless you happen to be an expert in droid power regulation..." she trailed off and made herself laugh at the obscurity of such a coincidence. Her laugh slowly fading as the deadpan expression on Kelly's face said it all, "Ohh... Well you see..." she trailed off into a convoluted technical analysis having realised that Kelly did indeed know her way around a droid.
Mischa in the mean time simply smiled and stood with her arms folded as she observed the two a moment before glancing around to see if she could pick up on anything that might give more indication of what all the excitement in HQ was about.
While Kelly and the Fixer worked with the droid, Mischa would notice hints of what was occurring around them. One of the monitors hanging high atop the walls of the lobby had the words 'MISSING IN ACTION' written across the top, with images of several agents being displayed beneath. Though all the faces were in the same blue hue of the display, this particular choice of colour combined with unmistakable facial features made the central figure recognizable as Cipher Sixteen, the Cipher Agent whom Mischa had met on Nar Shaddaa. Kelly stood back up after having examined the astromech, "You're right, looks like whoever tried to improve the power flow just made it less efficient. If you revert the modifications and plug the droid in, it should work fine."
The fixer beamed happily, "Oh thank you! You're the best! I should get this little guy back on his feet, err... wheels! You have a good day now, and if you ever need anything just comm me!" With that the young girl heaved the droid away with a hard shove; bent over unceremoniously as she shoved it down the corridor. As she disappeared Mischa approached Kelly, tapping her on the shoulder and pointing up to the screen with Cipher 16's face on it, "That may have something to do with all the excitement here. We need to find Keeper and see what's going on.
"Oh great, he got himself missing again," Kelly glanced up to the screen. "Looks like he's not the only one this time, though..." Following behind Mischa, the two of them made their way through the corridors deeper into the building. It was just as busy inside as it was in the main lobby, and when they made it to the chamber outside of Keeper's office, they saw that it was filled with a gathering of agents. Many of them were unknown to the pair, but there were some familiar faces among the crowd. One of them, a medium skinned man with a long mustache and a thin beard, recognized Kelly as he was exiting the hallway from Keeper's office. "Ms. Haron," he addressed her as he approached, his demeanor professional yet still maintaining a friendly tone. "Looks like it's all hands on board for this one, huh?" "Cipher Four," Kelly smiled a greeting. "Must be a big operation." "Might be the biggest since we brought Mandalore the Lesser to power," the man nodded. "It's going to be interesting. Can't say anything about it, of course; Keeper will let you know what you need to know. Who's your friend, by the way?"
"Oh, just another field agent" she smiled, "Don't mind me! It is good to meet you Cipher"
"Mysterious, hm? I like mysterious," he smiled back. "Mysterious is good for this job. Pleasure meeting you as well, agent." "Sorry to interrupt," a voice came from behind them which they instantly recognized as Watcher Nine's. "Keeper's ready to see us now." "Better be on your way then," Cipher Four commented. "Best of luck out there." "You too, Cipher," Kelly returned the sentiment as the Watcher moved around them so she could be in front and lead the way. While the man walked away from Keeper's office and headed out the building, the three women made their way inside, where the director of Imperial Intelligence stood waiting for them.
"Welcome back, agents," he began to speak. "And just in time, too. I hope you're unharmed, we need everyone at their best for an operation of this magnitude."
"But first things first," Watcher Nine joined in, a datapad in hand which seemed to be the one Kelly had handed to the Minder earlier. "I see you mentioned a 'Senator' in your report. Do you know anything more about who this might be?"
"Sadly not, Sir" Mischa replied promptly, "My contact barely mentioned the name in passing along with knowledge of this 'Senator's' actions against us. Reading between the lines; this may be reference to a senior figure within the Shadowguard." she paused briefly before continuing, "Sir, what exactly is all this about?"
"The Senator," Keeper replied simply before elaborating. "After your last meeting with Cipher Sixteen, he was tasked with further pursuing the Shadow Guard. His trail led him to the Republic capital, and that's where he went dark again. The only information he managed to get out before he dropped off the grid is that the Shadow Guard is led by someone known only as 'the Senator.' We don't know if that's an actual senator or some sort of code name- quite frankly we don't know anything. That's why you're being sent to Coruscant."
"Us?" Kelly asked. "With my capture by Gundo, our run-in with the Changeling on Lannik and our meeting the agent's ex-Jedi contact, this Senator might be aware of us already."
"Yes, and that's exactly why you're going," Keeper continued. "The two of you have dealt with Shadow Guard operatives admirably in the past. Your official mission will be to gather intelligence on the Senator, but we expect you to attract attention, and we need you to keep this attention off our other operatives."
"Get out of there if things become too dangerous," advised Watcher Nine. "We have more agents carrying out diversions. This isn't a suicide mission, so don't take any risks that will get yourselves captured. That'll just cause more trouble."
"That said," the director of Intelligence added, "your official objective isn't just a ruse. If you can find anything about the Senator, do it."
"Your cover will be the usual," the Watcher spoke again. "There's a galactic droid convention on Coruscant that starts in two days and lasts a week. All manufacturers are welcome, but only Republic approved combat models will be allowed to be displayed. We can arrange for Haron Incorporated to be present, though you'll probably want to speak to the rest of the board about it first."
Kelly gave a nod, "I'll come up with something to justify it: checking out the state of the market in the rest of the galaxy, expanding our horizons, I'll try to be convincing."
"We can provide you with any financial data that might help," Keeper nodded back, glancing from Kelly to Mischa. "Anything else?"
Mischa pondered for a moment as she took in the facts as presented, "Nothing specific to our immediate task, Sir. Though... I did notice that Sixteen is not the only agent listed as MIA. Is there a connection between the other missing agents and this operation. I mean, were they all investigating the Shadowguard on Coruscant?"
"One was an affiliate of Cipher Sixteen who was also working against the Shadow Guard. But no," Keeper shook his head, "I don't believe there's a connection between them and our operation. However, there may be a connection with Sixteen's disappearance. Two of them were deep undercover agents, people that only myself, Cipher Sixteen and a few others knew about. It is possible that the Shadow Guard have captured and broken him, but that's not your concern at the moment."
"With all due respect Sir; I disagree" Mischa replied boldly, "If we are to investigate - diversionary tactic or not - we should be armed with all available information, even if it does not appear pertinent at present." She stood with a determined conviction about her as she realised she had just called out the Director of Intelligence himself"
"I have agents working on locating Cipher Sixteen and determining whether or not he has given intelligence to our enemies," Keeper stated. "Due to the scale and nature of this operation, all information given to field agents are compartmentalized- you will only be told the specifics of your own role."
Mischa appears somewhat dejected at her request not being met, though remains quiet as she is thankful not to have been berated by the boss, "Understood, Sir. No further questions from me. If Kelly has nothing, I should like to get underway"
"We'll need to do a physical assessment, as per standard regulation," Watcher Nine looked to Mischa. "It'll be quick, just a basic check up to make sure your captors didn't implant you with trackers or anything." "I've got to head by our Kaas office anyways and talk with the company," Kelly said. "I can get that out of the way first and meet you at the ship."
Mischa nodded, "Very well Kelly, I will see you back there" She turned back to Keeper, nodding a simple, "Sir" as she excused herself, "Lead on then Watcher, let's get this over with!" she concluded, turning on her heel and following Watcher Nine out of the office and down to the medical bay for her checkup.
After fifteen long minutes of being scanned and poked by a medical droid, it declared that Mischa was clean. Watcher Nine came back to inspect the results personally and allowed her to proceed on with her mission. Outside Imperial Intelligence HQ, Kelly had already left, but another Haron Inc. driver droid was awaiting with a speeder to ferry Mischa back to the spaceport. The trip proceeded without incident, and the droid was even programmed to provide rain cover so that she would not get soaked during the short walk from the speeder pad to the spaceport. As Mischa approached the ship, the boarding ramp lowered for her and ADIN's voice sounded once she stepped inside, "Just in time, agent. There's a holocall for you."
Mischa thanked the Haron droid for escort - her natural polite ways overriding any thought that a basic droid would not even register the significance of the gratitude. She marched with haste up the boarding ramp, "I'll take it on the centre console ADIN, Thank you". Ascending the ramp, she continued towards the main chamber where the mysterious holocall awaited - her mind racing to figure who it may be, and settling on the most likely prediction of Laesa and Keelah. She could only hope that if it was them, they were not in any trouble and in need of assistance...
To Mischa's relief, it was not Laesa and Keelah calling for help, but the holoimage that appeared was unsettling in its own way. The figure's face was hidden behind a smooth ovoid mask, and the rest of the body was covered by long, decorated robes with pointed shoulder pads. This attire alone was enough to suggest that the individual was a member of the dreaded Sith Order, but the lightsaber hanging at the hip confirmed this beyond a doubt. Though the figure's identity was completely obscured, the robe revealed enough to show that she was female.
The ultimate figures of authority in the Empire, the Sith had few restrictions on what they could do. Some Sith Lords have been crucial to the success of Imperial ventures, such as Darth Marr, a long-time Dark Council member who had a reputation as the heroic defender of the Empire. Others chose to get involved in less than welcome ways, ruining a thought-out plan with recklessness, blindly sending troops to their deaths, and even murdering subordinates on a whim. For that reason, many Imperial officials felt uneasy and sometimes all-out terrified when Sith became interested in their work, and this was especially true for those in Imperial Intelligence due to how delicate their missions were. "Hello, agent," the Sith spoke; her voice had a slight mechanical ring to it, but over holo Mischa could not tell whether that was the effect of poor signal strength or modulation from her mask. "Kelly Haron is not with you?"
"Not presently" Mischa replied flatly, opting for the moment to reveal as little as possible to the Sith until at she learned more, "It would appear you hold me to disadvantage; to whom am I speaking, and what is it we can do for you?" Her posture remained rigid yet relaxed as she maintained a cool demeanor regardless of any trepidation beneath the surface.
"I am Videte. I serve Darth Jadus of the Sphere of Imperial Intelligence," the Sith explained. "Your partner took a scientist by the name of Dr. Silvestrie on board her ship. You may know him as a very skilled biologist and the mastermind behind the LAES project. Since Warden Loracre apparently no longer requires him at Black Site Trill, I have a use for his talents." She leaned forward, typing with one hand on a console that could not be seen through the feed, "I'm transmitting the personnel transfer documents signed by the Warden, along with coordinates for where to drop him off. I would appreciate it if you accompanied him- he is an old man, and Dromund Kaas is not the most forgiving of worlds."
Mischa stared up at the holo with a moments consideration before responding, "My Lord, I am all too happy to accommodate this transfer. However we are about to embark on a priority mission to which any delay could be costly. I still have a Haron Inc. personal transport sat here which I'm sure I can assign to take the Doctor wherever needed, if this will be acceptable?"
"Might I remind you that Dr. Silvestrie has experience with very sensitive data, including your genome," Videte replied. "I'm sure you do not want someone with this familiarity to fall into the wrong hands. I too work closely with Keeper, and I am aware of the severity of your mission. However, seeing the Doctor safely to these coordinates will be for your own good and the good of the Empire."
Making little effort to mask her sigh of reluctance, Mischa nodded, "Very well, I will be underway shortly. Will it be yourself meeting him at the drop point, or should I expect a transfer to another escort?"
The Sith shook her head, "I'll be waiting for you just past the doors. There will be droids on the landing pad- they've been instructed to let you through. Bring whatever weapons you want, if it makes you more comfortable. Videte out." With that, the hologram flickered for a moment before the projection of the robed woman disappeared to be replaced by ADIN's three-dimensional brain image, "A Sith Lord...I'm afraid there might not be a way of skipping an appointment like this. I'll inform Kelly of your situation if she returns before you do. I should also inform you that Dr. Silvestrie is currently on the crew deck"
"Thank you ADIN. Please could you arrange for the speeder which brought me here to wait at the speeder pad; we will use that to escort the Doctor" "Of course Agent" came the reply over the comms system. Marching down to the crew deck Mischa soon found the doctor who she had - until now - avoided, "Doctor Silvestrie" she addressed him as soon as she entered the room, "Please come with me. You are being transferred to a new facility; our speeder is waiting." The doctor simply stared up at her in disbelief a moment before catching up to the situation and nodding with a slight fluster as he stood to follow the young woman who had already turned her back and made her way to the boarding ramp. The walk to the speeder was short and uncomfortably silent as the doctor struggled to meet Mischa's pace. Once they reached the transport however the pause allowed him to catch up to her, "You look just like her" he offered with a slight wheeze in his voice, as a sincere complement. Mischa turned sharply to face him - arms folded across her chest - clearly unimpressed, " /She/ looks like /me/ you mean" she corrected. Silvestrie - easily picking up on the agents distaste - averted his gaze, leaving Mischa free to enter the front of the transport alongside the droid while Silvestrie climbed in the back.
The rest of the journey continued in awkward silence which suited Mischa just fine. As the speeser slowed and sescended towards the landing pad Mischa looked out to see the expected droid escorts waiting for them, "Here we are Doctor".
The two droids that stood guard beside the door leading out of the landing zone were older variants of Imperial combat models, now relegated to security or policing duties. They each held an unimpressive blaster rifle and had a stun baton attached to their hip. Both droids turned their heads to the new arrivals as their speeder touched down but made no move otherwise. When Mischa and Silvestrie approached, the doors behind the guards slid open and a probe droid emerged, scanning them briefly before disappearing inside. The combat droids urged them in as well with a simple but authoritative "Move along."
Inside the main lobby, their mysterious hostess awaited, dressed in the same robe and mask she was seen with during the holocall. She traveled without any escort; though there were three others in the room, they were all droids who appeared to go about their usual business. One of them was the probe which was now awaiting by the door for more visitors. A Seneschal-series droid serving as a receptionist stood behind a counter, looking towards the two strangers but making no effort to greet them as he likely knew that job was for the Sith. Lastly, an X2 astromech rolled across the room, passing quietly by from one side of the building to the other. Aside from them, the lobby appeared eerily empty for its size, and a glance at the monitor beside the entrance quickly revealed why it was so gloomy. Above the map displayed on the screen were the words: KAAS CITY MORGUE D.
Videte waved the reception droid over, "Show Dr. Silvestrie around the facility and take him to the Warden when you're done. Doctor, I hope you'll find the equipment here more than satisfactory. It should be much better stocked and maintained than a fringe outpost all the way in the Outer Rim." She then shifted her attention to Mischa, her expression unreadable behind the mask that obscured her face, "Agent, come with me."