Imperial Administration Offices, Centares
6 ATC 3; T-59 days.
6 ATC 3; T-59 days.
The spacious halls of the administration lobby were filled with the echoes of people. Today’s rabble trying to argue their way into a meeting. Asra slid past the queue to the desks, quickly stepping through the holo-ropes as they immediately flashed a warning yellow. A simple beep by the scanner later, her security pass was validated. She walked through the scanner. Nothing. An agonizing pause followed as the guard on duty – a fresh face by the looks of it – stared at his console, waiting for a confirmation he already knows will come. “You’re clear, Lieutenant.” He offered stiffly, as though she did not already know. Another stuttering set of steps and a scan of her code cylinder later, and the turbolift doors yawned open.
She checked her datapad. Three hours late. It was salvageable. She had free reign. It would be fine. It would have to be fine. The ride was slow. Enough time to straighten her sleeves and flatten the creases in her uniform. The turbolift doors opened with an ominous sigh just as she adjusted her cap, and Asra exited to face her destiny.
The office appeared to be quiet today. Empty seats, sleeping monitors, a few analysts cramped around a single desk locked in some deep but ultimately pointless discussion. She had caught up on the notes sent out during the morning – nothing had seemed out of the ordinary. Had she missed something during her skim-reading? Were they all in meetings? Even Sergeant Vilk was suspiciously absent from his notoriously unimportant rural logistics policy station as Asra walked past. No, something was different today. She was just about to slide down unnoticed at her own station when she heard her named called across the room. Her gaze slid across the quiet hall to find the aggressor – and immediately found the squat figure and brown hair of Captain Liena. Asra gave her a timid wave as an offering, and a brief, curt smile. It was too late – she was already heading over.
“So, you’re alive after all.” He said with his typical smug grin plastered all over his square face. “I was starting to get worried all that wine finally got the better of you.”
Asra glanced about the office before responding. You could never be too cautious. “No, I’ve been chasing down the singer. Roakes little drunk target practice stunt really shook her. She made some claims about what she heard, this morning.”
“Oh, damn. Where is she now?”
“I have some friends making sure she realizes it was just a harmless party prank.” Asra breathed a quiet sigh, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. “Hopefully she’ll understand how good of an arrangement she has with us.”
“Twi’leks are always skittish, I think it’s in their nature.”
“Either way, I’m torpedoing Roakes invitation next time. He wants to shoot the help; he can pay for it himself. The pharma reps were not impressed, either.”
“I don’t think anyone was impressed by anything Roakes said or did. You’d be hard-pressed to find a worse diplomat.” Liena agreed with a sigh of his own. Any hope Asra had of him leaving was extinguished as he leaned to half-sit on her desk. She sighed sharply herself, glancing out over the office once more.
“Where is everyone?” She finally brings herself to ask after a bout of silence.
“Oh, the governor is crafting a press release about the strength of the administration in the crackdown on crime. They needed bodies to make it look proper. Everyone working non-essential projects gets to play soldier today.”
“You realize how depressing that statement is, don’t you?”
“Hey, most things on Centares just take care of themselves, that’s the way we like it.” Liena offered another of his smug grins, and Asra felt the frustration run out into her fingertips. “That reminds me, Colonel Allis has been asking for you all morning. Apparently, you had something time-sensitive on your desk?”
Time-sensitive? She thinks on the scarce projects running right now. Nar Shaddaa business was being handled. No projects. Did he know about this morning? Asra pushed from her seat, giving the captain a dirty look. “You could have led with that. He’ll know I swiped in.”
“Hey, you now know! It’s not like he can do anything to you, Lieutenant. He knows his place.”
Asra frowned and corrected her uniform once more, pushing herself to move towards the stairs and the colonel’s office. He had never known his place, or how important she was. Every time they met; he did his best to pull rank and meddle with her missions.
“Please sit, Lieutenant.” The stuffy office of Colonel Jek Allis was like an interrogation room. There was no personality beyond a few lights, no flair, nothing that would suggest how to approach this man. He was a monolith, an unpleasant, aggressive akk dog who could not be reasoned with. Even now, his stern aging face gave no impression of what to expect. Asra sat down. She had had many interactions with this awful man. If she stuck to the letter of the law, he would grow red with impotent rage today too. “We’ll cut straight to the point, what’s the progress on Hidden Charger?”
Hidden Charger? The research project? Asra paused for a moment, searching her thought for what she had reported previously. “...As per my report last week, sir, we have established basic contact with a peripheral source to the project and are waiting on actionable intel from outside sources.”
“I need you to up the time frame on this. Upper management is taking an interest in seeing this done.”
She breathed a sigh, watching the man. Upper management? Her report had just been barebones. “With all due respect, sir, this project is not in any stage to be-“
“We need to have the technology documented in your report before the Feast of Reconstitution.” Her eyes widened as he spoke. He was mad.
“-...Sir, that’s three months away. I don’t even have proper intel on the research team.”
“This is coming from Intelligence. They are sending someone during the feast to collect on our results. You want to stand here and explain why it wasn’t done?”
Asra parted her lips to speak. It was insane. Someone must have it out for her. It was an attack, an impossible mission. A torpedo for her career. Her skin felt cold, her stomach lurched. She touched at her temple and tried to keep her composure. Maybe this was it. What she had been waiting for. Maybe Intelligence was testing her. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose, trying to push some clarity back into her head. It had to be an evaluation. Do or die. It was what she had waited for. She had prepared for a trial. That had to be it. “It’s-... I’ll need resources. People.”
The colonel shifted in his seat. “I’m cleared to give you a stipend for operations. I’ll put together a list of personnel we’ve tapped in the past for wetwork. You can have your pick if they’re available.” A quick glance at his monitor, and a gesture for the door followed. “I’ll forward the Intelligence parameters to your station. We’ll reconvene with your plan of action at the end of the week. Yes?”
“Yes, sir.” She responded automatically, hearing the shake in her own voice.
“Dismissed, then.” Asra pushed from her stiff seat. After a moment, she evacuated towards the door with as much grace as she could muster.
The supply closet was claustrophobic. Rows and rows of minor equipment, replacement cleaning droids, sterile gear. Asra closed the door behind her gently and closed her eyes. She could feel her body spinning, her head pounding. Muscles in her arms and legs tensed and itched, her fingers clawed at the door behind her as she fought to breathe normally. The fear came in waves, pulsing out through her lips with each heavy breath. She opened her eyes, and the room spun around her, violently thrashing and mocking her with its serene normalcy.
A primal, panicked scream bubbled up, forcing its way through her teeth. Her hands gripped her face, ruined her hair. She was dead. This was impossible. She would be stuck on Centares forever. Ridiculed. Killed for her failure. Brushed aside as irrelevant. A loser. He enjoyed this. Watching her fail and struggle. He and Enoa would laugh it up. If word got out she couldn’t pull her weight, who would trust her? They were going to take everything from her. She tore equipment from the shelves in fury, slammed a deactivated bot on the head.
Her rage slowly subsided, replaced with exhaustion. Asra sank down on the floor of the closet. There had to be a way out of this. A way to stick it to Jek Allis, to prove her worth to Intelligence. Breathing heavy breaths, Asra reached for her holo-communicator. It rang for an eternity. Each moment another spark of anguish, fear, doubt. The insanity of the task replayed in her head several times before the image of her trandoshan companion appeared on the small disc. “Rassk…”
“We are still interrogating the girl.” He growled back at her in huttese. The formidable mercenary glanced away from their conversation. The voices of others of roiled in the brief silence. “She does not talk, only cry.”
“…Forget the girl.” Asra bit back, making the swap to huttese herself. The shift helped her center her thoughts. Focus on the now, Asra. You can do this. If anyone can, it’s you. You know you can. “We’re going to run an operation soon. Paid work. No new bloods.”
“Public hunt? Spread the word?”
“No, keep it in the clan. And get Lazal to call in. We're gonna need unlisted shuttles. Hostile space.” She terminated the call soon after. Another solidifying breath, and she moved herself to stand. Asra picked up her cap, rubbed at her face, and then finally ran her hands over her hair before placing the cap back where it belongs. A quick straightening of her uniform, and she turned to open the closet.
It could be done. It would work. She could do anything. With that, she drew a last centering breath, and walked out to face the empty office once more.