Dramatis Personae located at the end for the reader's convenience.
Chapter 1: Itoll Oc'nel
13:5:21 GrS (22 BBY)
"Fojo, Fojo!" Oc'nel whispered urgently to the Rodian.
Fojo turned in his chair and looked the heterochromatic Bothan in the eyes. "I am guessing you have an idea as to… how to not—"
"—get fragged or shot in the back by the new humans, yes. Yes, I do," Oc'nel growled cautiously. He glanced from his desk across the room towards the Strategic Advisory Cell's Ranger Division's armoury. Inside, the foolish ashy-furred Bothan, Captain Sey'les and her even more foolish Ardennian, Lieutenant Wulf, were helping the Clones find space to store their gear.
Through the sound-proof window, Sey'les was moving her snout quickly, saying something to Lieutenant DZ-9775—a human who, an hour ago, she decided had a bad identity. 'Double Seven' had too many syllables; Oc'nel remembered the downcast and upset look on DZ-9775's face as he became just Dub thanks to the feral Bothan's whims.
Oc'nel looked back to Fojo. "It's the last day of All Species Week. I think we can cram these Clones into my TW-2 and take them to the Dome Heads. They could listen to some Bothan music, party with us, drink, see Bothans are like them and—"
"—I don't think that's a good idea," Fojo interrupted. "Oc'nel, they are humans. I like your people's snarling and yipping music as much as the next Rodian, but the Clones might not. Also, the Coruscant police are patrolling the skies. You would get a ticket for cramming six beings in a speeder that only fits four."
"True," Oc'nel sighed. "You're right. I just hope that if the Clones decide to turn on Sey'les and Wulf, that they don't view us as part of it."
Oc'nel remembered the pathetic appearance of Lieutenant Wulf an hour ago. The muscly but miniature Ardennian struggled to get onto his tippy toes so as to look as tall as the Clone he was trying to intimidate, a 'Corporal Dubs.' He and Sey'les decided 'Dubs' was a good nickname despite having already named the DZ-9775 'Dub.'
"Honestly, I think it would be kind of well… a little bit hilarious if Sey'les and Wulf got their asses kicked but I hope they don't get killed—"
"—Shhh," Fojo interrupted. "Tarkin is probably listening…"
Oc'nel gasped feeling like he might be struck by lightning. "I really didn't mean it," he growled nervously to the air, not particularly sure where Tarkin was listening from, or even if he really were eavesdropping.
"I have an idea," Fojo said thoughtfully. The Rodian rested his elbow on the table then put his pointer finger and thumb under his thin snout and paused for a moment. "Let's take the humans out to dinner and pay for it. We have less than twenty minutes until we are off for the evening. These Clones probably have never even been in a restaurant before."
"Someplace nearby would work…" Oc'nel muttered. "Do the Clones have Maglev passes?"
"Well, we could ask Tarkin to requisition some for them. The Clones are technically Strategic Advisory Cell just like we are," Fojo noted.
"Should just I go up and ask Tarkin?" Oc'nel asked nervously.
"Nah I'll go," Fojo said with a chuckle as he stood up and walked confidently towards Tarkin's office. He knocked on the door and disappeared into the office upon hearing "enter."
A few minutes later, Fojo returned with an odd-looking smile on his thin snout. "Got them four Maglev passes. I had to promise the Governor to get them back here afterwards though. The Clones apparently aren't allowed to roam Coruscant."
"That's weird," Oc'nel muttered. "It's almost as if the Navy owns them."
"Maybe," Fojo mumbled. "I suspect though, the main concern is just that the Coruscanti might not be ready to see Clones. Any news from Master Jazal?"
"Yeah!" Oc'nel said brightly. "Jazal seems okay. She sent me a HoloMessage. Apparently, she's in orbit of Coruscant in quarantine…" His voice became croakier as he continued. "She's in quarantine after getting some Geonosian disease."
"Wow… That sounds terrible."
"She said not to worry," Oc'nel sighed. "I hope it's not serious."
Their idle conversation continued. Ten minutes later, Sey'les, Wulf, and the Clones returned from the armoury and stood by the table for a moment.
"Ensigns, Clones, see you tomorrow, Wulf and I are going to see the Dome Heads again," Sey'les said with a wave as she headed out the door.
"Have a good evening ma'am," Oc'nel said.
"Yeah, ma'am, have a good evening," Fojo added.
None of the Clones said a word. They just stood awkwardly by the table looking at Fojo and Oc'nel. Dub finally broke the silence. "Yeah, we were gonna go to our new quarters here and—"
"—well sir," Oc'nel interrupted Lieutenant Dub with a toothy smooth Bothan grin. "Ensign Fojo and I were wondering if perhaps you gentlemen wanted to hang with us for a bit and see some of Coruscant. We were thinking of treating you to dinner, since it is your first—"
"Ensign," Dub said sternly. "Don't interrupt me."
"Sorry sir," Oc'nel growled nervously. He stood up from the table and pushed his chair in.
"He did say they were showing us Coruscant, sir," Trooper Grath said. "That might be interesting."
Dub squinted suspiciously. Dubs, Grath, and Knot all looked excited.
"And, Tarkin gave me some Maglev passes so we could go together on the Maglev," Fojo added.
"What's the Maglev?" Dub asked.
"Oh, it's the best sir," Oc'nel stammered, the fur on his neck swirling nervously. "It's a thing that well… a thing… a thing that is the best…"
"Ensign…" Dub said impatiently.
"Sorry about Ensign Oc'nel sir, he is just nervous meeting new humans. The Maglev is a public transportation car that moves around on a magnetic line," Fojo explained calmly. "It travels along using 'magnetic levitation' so we, on Coruscant, call it the Maglev."
"That does sound interesting," Dub said. "We have to be back here by twenty hundred hours though."
"Back here sir?" Fojo asked curiously.
"Yes, we are moving into the Judicial Arcology."
"Ooohhh," Oc'nel said. Into the Arcology?! That is really weird. "You aren't all being moved into apartments?"
All four of the Clones said "nope."
Fojo and Oc'nel exchanged curious looks.
"All right," Dub said. "Where were planning on taking us?"
"The AstroBar?" Fojo suggested in a question.
Oc'nel glared at Fojo. "The AstroBar?! That might be a bit…" he turned and looked at Dub, "Have you or your men ever consumed alcohol before sir?"
"Alcohol, no we haven't Ensign."
"All right…" Fojo paused deep in thought.
"How about Alderaanian?" Oc'nel asked. "The Crevasse is only two stops away, closer than the AstroBar. That way, it's a polite sit-down place. We are all wearing dress uniforms anyways Fojo. If they want to try a tiny bit of alcohol, they could just get some Alderaanian wine."
"Yeah you're right," Fojo agreed. "Alderaanian, sir. We are taking you to Alderaanian."
Oc'nel exhaled through his nose then took a deep breath. "Alderaanians are humans from Alderaan sir, they cook… interesting food."
"A whole planet that just cooks food! That is interesting, sir," Grath said in awe.
"They don't just make food," Oc'nel replied. Not sounding condescending to these Clones took conscious effort for the Bothan. "They… well they do lots of stuff, but here on Coruscant, there are some Alderaanian restaurants."
"Fair enough," Dub said. "Well men? What do you think? Shall we accompany them to dinner?"
"I think so sir," Grath said enthusiastically.
"Yeah I'm trackin' with Grath," Knot added.
"How much of the city will we get to see sir?" Dubs asked, turning to Oc'nel.
"Honestly," Oc'nel said, "it's a really big place Dubs. We will just see part of the Federal District. Sometime though, if you want, I could fly you around to the Central District too, or CoCo Town."
"All right, well a little bit of the city is better than nothing," Dub said. "I say we go. Ensigns, you lead the way."
"Alrighty," Fojo said after taking a deep breath.
Tarkin emerged from his office.
"Good evening Governor," Oc'nel and Fojo said.
"Good evening Commander," Dub said.
"I prefer 'Governor,' if you will," Tarkin huffed impatiently.
"Sorry Governor," Dub corrected himself.
"I am heading out myself to retire for the evening, but I cannot lock down this room until everyone leaves," Tarkin remarked indirectly, as if it were not a direct request.
"We were just heading out sir, sorry." Oc'nel put his datapad into his backpack and began moving towards the door.
Fojo led the way through the door with Oc'nel, Dub and Dubs close behind. Grath and Knot walked at the back of the group.
Going through the hallways, many Naval and Corps of Engineers officers curiously stared at the group of identical humans following the Bothan and the Rodian. As they neared the exit to the new plaza on the Judicial Arcology's new roof, they happened upon Lieutenant Commander Moss, the same human who had suspended Oc'nel and Fojo at the beginning of the week.
"Good evening ma'am," Oc'nel growled nervously. Fojo said nothing to her.
She frowned as she saw the Bothan. "Good evening Ensign. Ensign Fojo, do I not get a greeting uh whoa—" she gasped as she saw the four identical humans walking behind.
"Good evening ma'am," Dub said professionally along with the other Clones. He clenched his jaw as he turned to Fojo. "Ensign," Dub said looking down at Fojo, "it reflects poorly on—"
"—Good evening ma'am," Fojo said in mock enthusiasm.
"So, I take it you are four of our new Clones," Moss said as she looked down at Dub's feet, then up to his head.
"Yes ma'am," Dub said.
"Well, I am glad there is someone out there with a brain who put you in charge of these two dunderheads, Lieutenant. Carry on and watch out." Moss walked away with her head held high not looking back.
"Thank you for the advice Commander," Dub said without a hint of humour as she left down the hall.
Oc'nel's snout and eyes were caught in a permanent guilty wince as if he were afraid something would land on his head. Fojo looked angry.
"What was that all about Ensigns?" Dub asked sternly.
"Well, sir, we kind of—" Oc'nel started with a nervous growl.
"—Our previous team leader, Zuro Pax, committed treason and stole a Republic cruiser. Moss was not happy with the way Oc'nel and I handled it," Fojo interrupted. "Very not happy with it. Extremely not happy with it."
"Your commanding officer committed treason?" Dub asked in shock. His wide-eyed face wore a look of complete horror.
"Yep," Fojo said, "let's keep going. I suppose we can talk more about it at dinner."
As the group crossed the doorway to the outside all, of them pulled their Navy caps out of their pockets and put them on.
"The Maglev is this way," Fojo said.
A loud roar from the sky accompanied by a hot gust of wind descended onto the Arcology plaza. Oc'nel looked up at the source of the noise. "Whoa… an Acclamator."
"Yep Ensign, that's an Acclamator," Dub said matter of factly.
Oc'nel sighed, realising how stupid Dub must think him. The first senior officer we bump into in the hallway just happened to be Lieutenant Commander Moss who called me a 'dunderhead' right to my face.
The Acclamator flew over the Judicial Arcology, shining a bright spotlight onto the Plaza, then crossed the Glitannai Esplanade towards the brand-new Republic military base on the other side. The huge landing platform, built to house capital ships, was now complete. Fojo and Oc'nel walked to the edge of the Plaza to watch the ship landing.
"That's the Coruscant Guard," Dub said matter of factly.
"The Coruscant Guard?" Oc'nel gasped. "Sir," he corrected himself.
"Yep," Dub said without elaborating. "Ensigns, could we get going please? It's just an Acclamator."
"Sorry sir," Fojo stammered. "We've just never seen one land on Coruscant."
"Oh, well, there'll be a lot more of that," Dub muttered.
There certainly is room for a lot more Acclamators to land, Oc'nel thought to himself. The one which had landed seemed to occupy a small fraction of the platform.
"Oh, I forgot," Fojo said. "Here are your passes." He handed the Clones each a black card. The ones issued by the Republic to Federal employees were black with the Republic's flag printed in white. The ones issued to Coruscant government employees were blue, and the civilian ones available for purchase were a variety of customisable colours.
Each Clone took a Maglev pass and looked at it curiously, except for Grath who just pocketed his without a second thought.
"All right, so…" Fojo started as they approached the Arcology Station. "You just tap it on this yellow console like so," he demonstrated tapping his.
"So, what now sir?" Knot asked after they all tapped their cards and gathered around Fojo.
"Now Sergeant," Fojo said, clearly relishing the fact he outranked at least mostof the Clones, "now we wait."
"Wait for what sir?" Grath asked curiously.
The rattling magnetic rail answered his question. The Maglev drew nearer, coming quickly into view from the evening cityscape.
"Whoa!" Dubs exclaimed.
"I have never seen anything like it! Remarkable!" Dub said with an awed voice.
"Ohhhh haha! Beauty!" Knot yelled while laughing in amazement. "REMARKABLE!"
"Wait behind the yellow line!" Oc'nel yelled and put his arm in front of Dub. "Sir," he added with another nervous wince.
A mirror on the edge of the Maglev nearly clipped Dub's head. It would have, had Oc'nel not intervened.
"Thank you, Ensign!"
"It's no problem sir," Oc'nel said now with a confident smile.
"Who knew life outside was so dangerous," Dubs said in a hushed voice.
Oc'nel started chuckling a little then stopped himself. Fojo glared.
"All right," said Fojo in a breathy voice, "let's wait a second." He held out his arm as if worried the Clones might decide to just bolt into the disembarking passengers.
A few beings stepped off the Maglev onto the platform.
"Okay, everyone aboard," Oc'nel said, stepping onto the Maglev with Fojo right behind him. They turned and watched the four Clones cautiously step aboard. The seating area was mostly packed with passengers getting off work for the evening including other officers. However, Dub, Dubs, Grath and Knot were the only Clones aboard.
"All right you are going to want to hold a pole or a handgrip," Fojo said.
"Hold onto the handgrips men, it's just like the LAAT," Dub said.
"Copy that sir," Grath said as he grabbed his handgrip.
As the Maglev started moving, the Clones held onto their handgrips tightly. One stop later, at Federal District Station, a giant hologram of Sheev Palpatine loomed into view. The hologram's mouth moved but no sound could be heard from this distance through the window, not even for a Bothan.
"Huh, that's new," Oc'nel remarked.
"Oh, that's the Supreme Chancellor," Grath said excitedly.
Oc'nel wondered to himself how it could be that the Clones knew who Palpatine was but didn't know what Bothans were. Before he could ask, the hologram flickered for a moment and black lines broke through it as parts faded. It turned off for a moment, and suddenly a hologram of Count Dooku appeared in its stead.
Fojo and Oc'nel gasped.
"Count Dooku!" Dub yelled darkly.
"You got it Director!" Danlos yelled excitedly. "Success!"
Pax looked up from his terminal. A security camera at the Federal District Station indeed showed that Palpatine's face had been replaced by Count Dooku's. "Good," Pax said with a triumphant smile. "Oh wait, nope…"
On the screen, the hologram flickered back to Palpatine.
"They locked me out," Pax groaned.
"Ahhh well," Danlos sighed.
"We don't need this to work yet at this stage Pax," Sterpen said. "This is just a trial run. In fact, we don't want it overriding everything yet, Director."
"Now that I see what you and Danlos can do, I am very confident in your abilities," Passel Argente said with a smile as he stood behind Danlos and Pax's station.
"I thought you already hired us," Pax said cautiously.
"Oh, I did. I am just telling you explicitly that day one on the job, we don't even have our team fully assembled. I am already pleased Pax."
"Well, thank you sir I suppose," Pax replied uneasily. "I just hope that our probing of their HoloNet security systems doesn't make them better able to counter our ShadowFeed intrusions once we begin in earnest."
"Yes, that could make things difficult," Sterpen agreed.
"Hmmm… Well I trust all of you," Argente said. "Sterpen?"
"I am needed on Raxus to represent the Corporate Alliance until I find us a Senator. I am leaving you in charge of things while I am gone," Argente explained.
"Have a good trip sir," Sterpen told him. "All right Director, Danlos, I think that's probably enough probing the HoloNet today. We still need to get this room set up…" he looked around the room towards all the empty stations and construction equipment.
"Is there anything we can do?" Danlos asked.
"No, Danlos you don't need to worry about that. We have people for that," Sterpen said matter of factly. "And I almost forgot Pax, I need to fly you back home."
"Thanks for that," Pax said, following Sterpen out the door towards the turbolift.
"Oh Danlos," Sterpen said turning back to the human.
"Don't be late tomorrow. You and Director Pax are going to be meeting a lot of new people."