An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
1 Day Later
A speeder car awaited Mischa, Kelly and Cipher Four once they touched down in Kaas spaceport. It was of course driven by a Haron Inc. droid and was one of Kelly's corporate escorts which she had called to pick them up. Unlike the taxi droids of Coruscant, many of which were programmed for social interaction and tourism guidance, their driver was completely silent. It took the order from Kelly to take them to Imperial Intelligence Headquarters without question and immediately set on its way, taking them first through the jungle of trees, then eventually into the forest of tall metal structures which formed the Imperial capital city.
The trio of agents headed inside Intelligence HQ once the car had landed. They were greeted with a calmer base- still very much active, but not in the crisis state which they had last seen it in. Cipher Four led their way into the chamber outside of Keeper's office, where a Watcher greeted them. He instructed Mischa and Kelly to wait outside while Keeper saw to the Cipher Agent, and the two men stepped through the hallway. When Cipher Four's debriefing was finally complete, the Watcher exited, but before he left, he oddly instructed Kelly to go inside first, insisting that Mischa wait for the moment. She was left alone save for several Fixers and Minders busy at work in the room, at least until another Watcher arrived, this one a familiar face.
"Welcome home," Watcher Nine greeted Mischa as she motioned her along. "Watcher One gave me the rundown of Cipher Four's report, it sounds like you had quite an unexpected turn of events."
Before Mischa could say anything in response, they turned the corner and saw Kelly and Keeper in the room ahead. The director of Imperial Intelligence sat in his chair behind his desk while Kelly stood in front of it with her usual formal, militaristic pose that she adopted while around superiors. They seemed to be speaking but immediately fell silent as Keeper noticed the new arrivals' approach as well and stood to receive them.
"Agent. Watcher," he said. "Congratulations on a successful operation. Your part in it was more vital than you probably realized. You managed to attract the attention of a major player in the Shadow Guard, which is a good job given the nature of your orders. The loss of a Cipher Agent though is less favourable news. Cipher Agents don't usually have long life expectancy, but Sixteen has made it through more than most. Would you care to tell me what happened?"
"Wel, Sir; without wanting to sound melodramatic..." Mischa began as she took up position at Kelly's side with a brief glance to her partner, "...what we faced on Coruscant was no longer Cipher Sixteen, but an abomination. I have too limited knowledge to apply any more scientific desrciption, and can only liken it tales of non-Force sensitives inexplicably becoming immensely strong in the dark side of the Force. Is it this 'Darkness' we have heard our enemies reference more than once before? ...Possible, but only supposition without further proof" She paused and looked around the others before continuing, "I do believe, Sir; that the Shadow Guard operative we encountered was also not prepared for for his true nature as it was revealed. I suspect that she had her doubts about him and this whole incident has brought her loyalties into question. If this assessment is correct; then the corruption which inflicted Cipher Sixteen may also be present at the highest level of the Shadow Guard, meaning that it is using their organization to its own twisted end. Though again, this is purely speculative at the moment without more information to go on."
Keeper nodded along as he listened to Mischa's explanation, a thoughtful expression on his visage, "So she was telling the truth. Unless she put you up to this...but as much as the Sith love meddling in our work, going through all this to get rid of an agent is far-fetched. Jadus can tear down the entire headquarters if he felt like it, and his personal assassin is no doubt capable of silencing a Cipher Agent without engineering such an elaborate set up." "No, you're right, agent," his attention snapped back to Mischa and he no longer looked deep in reflection but bore the experienced and authoritative gaze that he was usually seen with. "We have evidence of non-Force users suddenly gaining abilities; in fact, it was one of those who killed the previous Sith embedded with Imperial Intelligence. There's no indication of what these people's agenda is, or if they even have one. It could simply be that such power warps their mind and turns them against former allies in a mad vie for power. We need more information before we can act further; for now, we may only hope that if this corruption has spread to the Shadow Guard, it ends up doing more damage to them than us."
Mischa simply gave a curt nod, "As you say, Sir" she raised her head looking expectantly to him with the intention of asking what their next move was, but as she anticipated; she need not open her mouth as Keeper addressed her and Kelly together, "That will be all agents" As they turned to leave however, Keeper clarified his intent, "Not you Cipher" Cipher Four paused and turned, offering a small nod of farewell to Mischa and Kelly as he returned to Keeper's desk. Mischa shared a brief look with Kelly, but both knew better than to engage in supposition as to why the Cipher was retained. Not least because the most likely was to receive instructions for his new assignment. Exiting Keeper's office, Mischa looked about the room with a warm smile, "It is good to be home Kelly, and with no immediate reassignment... I'd say we've been graced with a night off! Feel like doing anything particular, or would you rather just turn in?"
"I was actually thinking to check in with the company," Kelly answered. "I've got no idea what the shape of things in the industry are after we got Zad arrested. Or at least I believe he's in Republic custody now, even a cyborg like him can't overcome a Jedi and a squad of troopers and then escape the Republic capital with the both local security and the military on his heels. He does play a major role in the droid production business and he's one of our primary competitors, so the situation should be in favour of Haron Inc, but it's probably a good idea to check in with the board to see what the repercussions of his absence are. We'll do most of the corporate planning later, this'll just be a quick meeting and we should be back in time for a good night's sleep!"
"That sounds good to me" Mischa smiled, "I'll see you in the morning then, or... did you want me to join you at the office?"
"You're free to come if you want, but I don't think you're the sort to enjoy hours of corporate bureaucracy, so it might be better to wait on the ship," Kelly suggested. "I should be back to join you before the night is done."
"You know something Kelly; I think you might be right" Mischa smiled, "Very well; I'll meet you back at the ship later"
With that - and a small wave - she headed off back to the transport pad, leaving Kelly to take of business at Haron Inc.
The speeder ferried Mischa back to the spaceport, where the droid dropped her off. Unlike taxis, which usually awaited at the speeder pad for their next customer, the Haron Inc. vehicle flew off with an empty passenger compartment. All was normal when she returned to the ship, and she was allowed some peace and quiet without mysterious Sith bugging her as had happened the last time Kelly was off to a business meeting. Her partner returned a few hours later as promised, and Kelly stepped into her room to see if Mischa was asleep or not.
Kelly was greeted by an empty room. Mischa was nowhere to be seen.
"Agent?" Kelly called as she peered into the washroom, then opened the wardrobe to access the armoury to check if Mischa was anywhere on this level of the ship.
Mischa was not in the armoury either. Seemingly nowhere on this level of the ship...
Kelly ascended the stairs to the upper level, figuring that she was most likely in the cockpit. She peered into the crew bunks on her way there before making her way to the front of the ship, looking inside the console-laden room for her fellow agent.
Yatuni glanced back at Kelly, "Oh, hey boss. Everything alright?"
"Have you seen the agent around?" Kelly asked him. "Did she even come back to the ship after we went out the first time?"
Yatuni shrugged, "Think I heard someone rummagin' around downstairs earlier - figure that was her else ADIN would've got all twitchy or somethin'... ain't heard much since though..."
"Downstairs as in the lounge downstairs, or engine room downstairs?" she inquired further. "And how earlier...it might've been me in the lounge you heard if it was a few minutes ago."
He shook his head, "Nah, this was like waaay earlier. As for where..." he shrugs again, "All sounds the same from up here"
"Right. I hope she hadn't got herself kidnapped again..." Kelly muttered before nodding a 'thank you' to Yatuni and heading down to the engine room in the very bottom of the ship. There she called for the agent once more before setting out to search for her among the machinery and weapon controls.
All turned up blanks. She seems to be nowhere on board the ship.
Confused, Kelly returned to the lounge where she promptly called out, "ADIN? Can you detect the agent anywhere on board? Do you have any record of her coming back to the ship and leaving again?"
ADIN's holobrain shimmered into view above the main console, "The agent returned to the ship four hours and seventeen minutes ago." a brief pause followed and the holobrain pulsed, "...She disembarked three hours and fifty four minutes ago"
"So she was here, that's consistent with Yatuni's account," Kelly nodded and looked back to the holobrain. "Did she tell you where she was going?"
"The agent did not offer any additional information" came the flat autonomous response.
"Patch me in to Watcher Nine," instructed Kelly. "Just to make sure she's not on a mission or in any kind of trouble."
"Establishing secure connection now. One moment..." ADIN responded Almost as soon as he began making the call, the outer airlock was heard opening. Moments later, Mischa emerged up the ramp, "Oh, Kelly, you're back already!"
"Nevermind, cancel the call!" Kelly said quickly before turning to Mischa. "I was just, uhh...wrapping up some company business."
Mischa reslung her large bag over her shoulder as it's bulk caused it slip off when she stopped, "Right, well... hope everything went well earlier! Just going to drop this off before my arm falls off!" she laughed, making her way through to the bedroom.
Kelly glanced to the holoprojector as Mischa walked past her, leaning over an input panel to check that the connection had indeed been terminated. When she was satisfied that Watcher Nine was not about to be confounded by a random call from her ship, Kelly followed Mischa into the bedroom, eyes set on the massive bag she held. Rushing ahead of the other agent, Kelly outstretched her arms to stabilize the bag and help Mischa lower it to the ground. "What's inside that?" Kelly asked, her gaze still focused on the bag. "And where did you go to get it?"
"Oh, just some things I picked up while we were here" she smiles, sliding the bag into a corner with her foot. As she brought it rest she turned to Kelly again, "Well I don't know about you but I'm pretty beat! Is it about time to turn in do you think, or shall we squeeze a bite to eat first?
"I've already had a bite over at the company building, but if you're hungry I can have ADIN cook something up for us," Kelly offered. "Although I wouldn't mind getting some rest after a long day of meetings, either. It does tend to wear one down!" She took another curious glance at the bag but quickly brought her attention back to Mischa, "You think it's back to work tomorrow, or if we'll get a small break like last time? Or as Keeper intended last time I should say, things didn't exactly go the way we planned."
"I'd say we've earned a a little time to slow down and put our feet up, wouldn't you?" Mischa smiled back as she shunned the long jacket from her slender shoulders, "Come on then, let's see what we can cook up!" she waved Kelly along as she made her way back to the central area in the search of a well deserved good meal.
"Are you sure you don't want ADIN to cook for us?" Kelly asked as she followed after Mischa, racing in front of her to show her where the different food components are stored. "We've got ration packs in here but I don't think that's what you're after...that's where we keep the raw ingredients and that's the drink cabinet, the coffee and water machines you can see laid out on the counter. Feel free to do what you want with them, I can make sure they're safe to eat, but cuisine...I'm not exactly trained for that."
"I'm happy to see what ADIN can cook up for us" Mischa smiled cheerily as she made herself comfortable. "It will give us a chance to kick back and take stock of our situation. With all we've been through of late there hasn't been much opportunity." She considers Kelly a moment, "So how are you doing with everything that we've seen and been through since partnering up?"
"I'll plug him into something then," Kelly nodded, heading over to the central holoterminal to extract ADIN's chip. "I'll be back in a second!"
With the chip in hand, Kelly rushed up the stairs, disappearing into the upper deck and presumably then down to the engine level where their cargo, including ADIN's spare bodies, were stored. A minute later, she returned with an NR-series protocol droid. It moved much slower and clunkier than the combat or entertainment models, and as a result it lagged some distance behind the Imperial woman, moving down the steps one by one.
Kelly took a seat in the dining area in front of Mischa, adjusting her chair while ADIN caught up. Once it did, the droid raised its left hand and a holographic display flashed into existence. With a few taps, ADIN adjusted the display to a list based on the current contents of the kitchen. From this menu, Kelly and Mischa selected their choice of food.
As ADIN went off to prepare their meals, Kelly sat back, crossing her legs as she looked to Mischa, "So...about what you were saying. It's a little disturbing how many infiltrators we have, first that Moff, now a Cipher Agent. I suppose it is a Cold War though, and that's only to be expected. We surprised the Republic when we first attacked them and their intelligence community was out of practice. They must be starting to catch up now, and I think things will only start to get tougher from here on. Hopefully Keeper's plan manages to put an end to the Shadow Guard before it becomes too much of a threat."
Mischa eyed Kelly in between making a selection from ADIN's provided list, "I'm not entirely convinced the two infiltration's are related. This business with Cipher Sixteen..." she shakes her head, "...it does not ring true to me as a simple counter espionage effort from a rival organization. I fear Kelly that we have but touched the tip of the iceberg there, and I do not like the potential of the seeing what lies beneath." She eased further back into the lounger, crossing a leg over and spreading her arms across the back of the seat to her sides, "I am however most pleased with how our position has built up. I don't mind saying Kelly; we seem to make a good team and - despite all the time I favoured working solo - I am grateful to have had you at my side recently. These last missions would not have seen the same level of success if not for you"
"You're the best partner I've had. In multiple senses of the word," Kelly smirked. "But in all seriousness, thank you for the rescue on Nar Shaddaa, and I'm glad I've proven to be of help to you as well. I've certainly never managed to uncover entire conspiracies before, working alone or with another agent, so we're definitely doing better together. There may have been moles and traitors, but at least we stopped them before they could do more damage. I understand if you'll want to take some missions alone, but as long as I'm alive you can always count on my support when you need it." She checked on the protocol droid body of ADIN, busy about the kitchen with their food, before turning her gaze back to Mischa, "About the Cipher Sixteen business...we did encounter some powerful Force phenomena during our time on the Planet. Maybe our friends over at that place would be in a better position to make sense of this?"
Mischa smiled, "I'm sure if anyone can shed light on this for us; it would be them. Though I prefer not give a brief on this over holo, for now I think it would be prudent to hold fire and see where we end up going next; maybe we'll get the opportunity to stop by and see them." she glanced idly towards ADIN working on the food a moment as well as she thought more reflectively, "And it's not about you helping me, or supporting my missions Kelly. Not in my mind at least" she spoke while holding her gaze on the kitchen, "As far as I am concerned; we are partners and the only reason I can think of to want to run an operation without you is because it would present a significant and specific risk to you" she looked back to Kelly with a light smile.
Kelly smiled back, "Thank you. I'd like nothing more than to keep working with you. Sitting on a company board is nice, but what we're doing out there...we get a lot less unwarranted attention and a lot more chances to actually contribute to the Empire. Oh, and thank you for dealing with Zad. That man's a total power-hungry opportunist. He'd sell his combat units to the Republic without second thought if there weren't sanctions." While they chatted, ADIN brought up the eating utensils first before returning to set their dishes in front of each of them. As expected from a droid, his cooking appeared professional and certainly appetizing...
Mischa eyed the modest feast laid before them, "ADIN it appears you have outdone yourself!" she turns to Kelly with a chuckle, "Perhaps you should consider a line in culinary droids!"