Chapter 39: Kev Rel'skar

Coruscant

At the uppermost level of the Jedi Council Spire tower Jazal and Kev stood, once again, at the centre of the Jedi High Council. The only Jedi present in the flesh were Grand Master Yoda and Saesee Tiin, the lone organic beings amidst the shimmering blue holograms.

For Kev, it was once again a thoroughly unpleasant experience. His fur had been swirling for the last few minutes. Jazal had told the High Council an incredible story. That Master Ras Andromias had not only gone rogue, not only had he turned an entire branch of the Church of the Force into a cult, not only had he changed over the years, but that his mind now has—

"—Bothan morphological characteristics," Jazal repeated firmly. "The structure of his mind is Bothan."

A vein atop Mace Windu's bald head became visible as his eyebrows furrowed. The concern in Ki-Adi-Mundi's holopresence's posture became more defensive and concerned.

"Respectfully," Obi-Wan's holopresence said curtly, "I don't have more time for this. I believe Jazal has briefed us on all of the verifiable information, backed by the testimony of her Padawan. The rest of this is… speculative."

Ears folded down defensively, Kev winced. Speculative? My Master has gone completely insane.

"Go you may, Master Kenobi," Yoda spoke softly. "And good luck."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said with a polite nod before his holopresence vanished.

Jazal sighed. "Respectfully, it is not—"

"—Shaak Ti," Mace Windu interrupted loudly. "Is there any possibility that what Jazal is saying may be true?"

Shaak Ti bit her lower lip, the Togruta's usual serene positive expression shattered. "Master Windu, it is not… Well, what aspect of Jazal's claims more specifically?"

"Is it possible that the mind of Ras Andromias is now expressing… What was it?" Windu said, turning to Jazal.

"Bothan morphological characteristics," Jazal said firmly.

"I cannot begin to answer that," Shaak Ti answered. "We don't conceptually think of the mind in terms like that. It sounds… Well, it would be possible for Ras Andromias's personality to change after being around Bothans for so long."

Jazal sighed in relief. "It's more than that. That was not Ras Andromias, as I explained. I think Ras Andromias is a Bothan. His mind—his thought structure felt like it was a Bothan thought structure written upon a human parchment. Like palimpsest."

Kev let out a shocked whistle, his mouth in an o-shape.

"Jazal," Shaak Ti said softly, but with an impatient edge in her voice. "What are you saying sounds far-fetched."

"Dr Shaak Ti," Jazal retorted, standing firmly as she spun to face Shaak Ti's holopresence, datapad in hand. "I would have thought you would be more open-minded. Both of us just spent the last six months almost, serving as the Jedi observers into an operation of human Cloning. The things—"

"—What do you want Jazal?" Mace Windu interrupted in an elevated voice. "What is it you want us to do? We have already put out an arrest warrant for Ras Andromias for assaulting Republic personnel and interfering with a GAR operation. What is it you want?"

"I want an audience with the Tower of First Knowledge. Maybe a Bothan used a Force power to override Ras Andromias's mind. If we capture him, there may be a way to reverse the damage."

There were five seconds of silence. No one spoke. All eyes were on Kev and Jazal. Kev could hear his own heart throbbing. Outside the windows on all sides, busy Coruscant traffic criss-crossed through the clear sky, oblivious to the awkward disbelief going on within the Jedi Temple.

"Jazal, Padawan Kev Rel'skar," Yoda said firmly, "please wait outside. Deliberate without interruptions, we must."

Kev froze for a moment, then saw Jazal bow. He bowed too, then spun around, trotting as quickly as he could to leave the High Council chamber.

The instant the doors automatically closed behind him, he hissed furiously in angry whisper. "Have you gone mad?"

Outside the Council chamber, two masked Jedi Guards stood idly by as Jazal and Kev began their bickering.

"Padawan," Jazal said in a testy tone. "You weren't there."

"Yes, I was Master," Kev replied, more even and polite this time. "I was on Krant, cutting open roofs."

"I mean you were not in Ras Andromias's manor with me."

"Respectfully, Master, you sound completely insane," Kev growled, then yelped "they are probably going to institutionalise us both!"

"Calm yourself Padawan," Jazal spoke softly. "A Jedi must maintain control of their fear. What is the matter with you?"

What is the matter with me? Kev kept the quip to himself, shaking his head frustratedly. "Don't you see that they don't agree with your… uh… Assessment of the facts?"

"The High Council and I often have disagreements," Jazal snorted. "It is frustrating that they are not listening to me this time, but it is hardly cause for alarm."
Yoda's voice echoed from a speaker above the turbolift door. "Return, you may."

Jazal is right about one thing. I do need to calm down. Kev took a deep breath and proceeded to the door. The doors opened, revealing a silent Jedi High Council.

Kev grumbled under his breath, walking in ahead of Jazal. Unnervingly, of the Council's gaze was on him.

"Kev Rel'skar," Mace Windu said firmly. "In light of your heroism on Kamino and Krant, and showing greatly increased wisdom and forethought, your status as a Jedi Knight has been restored."

Gasping in shock, Kev sputtered for a moment, unable to say anything.

Before Kev could formulate a statement, Mace Windu resumed speaking. "Jazal. We are also ending your probationary period."

"Thank you Master," Jazal sighed in relief. "You show great wisdom and—"

"—You must agree to undergo a full evaluation."

o.o.o.o.o

Becoming a Jedi Knight had felt like a stupendous accomplishment, the first time. This time, it felt like a completely random and undeserved occurrence. He understood that, with the recent losses and widely growing conflict, that the Jedi needed as many Generals as possible to command the Clone Armies. But it felt completely undeserved.

"Just think of it this way Kev," Jazal muttered, "you just got out of prison."

"Is that how you viewed training me?!" Kev gasped in affront.

"Of course not," Jazal snapped, storming into the Temple library. "But it was punishment. The bald one needs as many able-bodied Jedi as he can get, and we—"

"—Can I help you with anything?" an Jocasta Nu asked tersely. "I must say Kev, I never thought I would see you venture into the library ever again."

Kev's fur swirled nervously as he stammered an explanation. "I am only following Jazal!"

"And Jazal, I am surprised to hear you refer to a member of the High Council as 'the bald one.'"

"My apologies Master," Jazal said curtly then added, with a tone of suspicion, "news must travel fast."

"Indeed," Jocasta said unblinkingly, looking from Kev to Jazal, then back to Kev. "It is a small temple after all. Now, what is it I can help you with Kev?"

"I—I was looking for…" Kev stammered in a panic, fur flat. Then he realised he had no idea why he was in the library. "I don't know."

"We are looking for any Jedi research you might have on consciousness transfer." Jazal brandished a datapad in front of Jocasta Nu. "Particularly, anything the Council of First Knowledge may have. I have already entered a search—It's in bubble letters, but you can connect this to the main computer. The port is on the upper quadrant here."

"I know how to connect a datapad to the main computer!" Jocasta gasped indignantly. "I have been a librarian for forty years."

"Glad to hear," Jazal grumbled. "Now we will confine—"

"—Pardon the interruption, Generals," a posh male voice said from behind Kev, trilling the "r" in General.

Kev spun around. It was a fair-skinned human Republic Naval Officer wearing an Admiral's uniform. He had brown hair and stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

"It's no bother, Admiral," Kev said, completely relieved to escape the conversation with Jocasta Nu. "What can I help you with?"

The human smirked slightly to only one side of his mouth. "General Jazal? And you are?"

"Kev Rel'skar," Kev answered, firmly shaking this unknown human's hand.

"Yes? Who might you be Admiral?" Jazal asked suspiciously.

"Wilhuff Tarkin," the human answered arrogantly. "Of the Strategic Advisory Cell. I have need of your services, Generals, and I am also able to return two Bothans to you who went missing on MGX-93776. I understand, from the recommendation, that you worked with a particular Duros named Zuro Pax?"

"No, I didn't," Kev growled. "I never worked with that traitor."

"He wasn't talking to you Kev." Jazal stowed her datapad. "I presume the Bothans are Itoll Oc and Lir Sey'les?"

"Indeed," Tarkin answered. "Is there anywhere in the Temple we can discuss this more privately? Some of what I am about to tell you will require confidentiality agreements. Entirely procedural, I assure you."

"That's great news!" Jazal exclaimed. "The temple crime lab should be empty at this hour."

o.o.o.o.o

"Recruited by proxy." It was how Jazal explained the situation to Kev.

One moment, Kev was a Padawan, the next, he was a Knight, and before he knew it, he was signing and agreeing the Official Secrets Acts—agreeing to keep events he may participate in and secrets he may encounter from anyone outside of the Strategic Advisory Cell, even members of the Jedi Order. Minutes after signing the Offical Secrets Act, he was brought into the heart of the Republic Center for Military Operations and inducted as a member of something called the "Strategic Advisory Cell's Clandestine Operation Group (COG)."

Jazal was positively thrilled, not only at the prospects of soon seeing Itoll, but also thrilled to find herself transferred outside of the Jedi High Council's chain of command. Kev was more hesitant. After a day of accomplishing little more than occupying space in a building, Kev had not yet figured out what exactly it was that the COG did.

"The objective of the operation is to move the Lurmen?" Kev growled incredulously.

"Yes," Tarkin muttered impatiently, staring back at the Bothan from the other side of a three-dimensional holographic projection. "The Hostile Species Relocation Act gives us the authority to move hostile species to locations designated by the Vice Chancellor."

The two Jedi Generals, Admiral Tarkin, and Captain Jylia Shale, a blonde haired Direct Action Operative, stood around a large holographic projection of the B'ankor Refuge.

"Where we are moving them," Tarkin added dramatically, "is classified."

The display shifted to a map of the galaxy. A highlighted blob was exaggerated from the deepest part of the Galactic Core.

"The Deep Core?" Jazal gasped in shock. At that, Kev sighed in relief. Good. I am not the only one who sees this as a waste of Republic resources.

But then Jazal continued, moving her pointer finger and thumb across the surface of her ShadowSync. "How could that be possible? The gravimetric disturbances at the edge of the inner core… It's unnavigable!"

Kev let off an audible groan.

"It was unnavigable," Tarkin said proudly. "Recent events, and the reason why Itoll Oc and Sey'les—well, sometimes pictures are better than words." The projection changed to footage of final battle of MGX-93776. From a distant orbital vantage point, a battle was raging between Republic and Separatist forces. Suddenly, a hyperspace window opened behind the planet. The planet jumped into hyperspace, slamming into every ship between it and the hyperspace window.

The image changed again, this time, tracking a gravity distortion as it navigated the Mass Shadows all over the Galaxy. Slowly but surely, it jumped from the Mid Rim to the Inner Rim to the Core.

After a moment of stunned silence, Tarkin turned off the projection.

"I am sorry for this, it is off-topic," Jazal said. "Itoll and Sey'les are getting transplanted kidneys?" she asked worriedly, clearly reminded of their predicament seeing the hyperspace accident firsthand.

"Yes, as we speak," Tarkin reassured. "The survivors of the 12th Army are being taken care of. Back on the topic at hand, however, the Vice Chancellor wants to build up the infrastructure of the Deep Core as quickly as possible as a potential fallback position, should the war go awry. By relocating the Lurmen to the Deep Core Security Zone, we not only move them further away from sensitive areas on Coruscant—areas vulnerable to sabotage, but we also create a temporary… For lack of a better word: Colony population."

"And they will be allowed to relocate out of the Deep Core after the war?" Jazal asked, turning her head back towards Tarkin.

Kev was utterly bewildered that anyone was convinced by this. Completely surprised that Jazal's interests and concerns seemed to be so academic; disconnected from whether or not the Jedi High Council would approve of this.

"That is the intention," Tarkin said straightforwardly.

o.o.o.o.o

Mas Amedda

Deep beneath the Verity Institute of Technology, Mas Amedda and Palpatine rode a windowless turblolift down into the Coruscant underworld. After what felt like an eternity to the Chagrian, the turblift shuddered to a stop. The doors opened automatically, revealing, not the grimy decrepit streets expected in the underworld, but instead a brightly lit hall with white walls and ceiling to every side. If anything, the environment looked sterile, reminding the Chagrian of Kamino.

Down the hall a massive series of coils, servers, and wiring and pipes connected to a massive computer mainframe. The computer complex continued on, further than the eye could see.

"After you," Palpatine said with a smile.

Following two of the Red Guards out the turbolift, Mas Amedda walked apprehensively into the strange room, eyes open wide in astonishment.

"This," Palpatine said nonchalantly, "is what I am transferring to the SAC."

"What is it?" Mas Amedda asked, both impressed by the size of whatever it was, and baffled by its lack of apparent utility.

"A project I've been using since around… 15 BrS, during my first term as Senator."

"A project?" Mas Amedda gasped, leaning curiously around the mainframe to see what was behind it.

"A PhD project to be precise. A promising young data scientist named Brell Vox was doing a project to quantify corruption in the Galactic Senate and Republic Judicial Forces. Essentially, it computes a Corruption Perception Index score for any individual, based on their actions which are fed into the program."

Mas Amedda felt a hand on his shoulder and stood up, pulling his head out from behind the mainframe. He brushed the embarrassing dust from the front of his tunic and gave a formal-sounding cough.

Palpatine raised his eyebrows, which Mas Amedda interpreted to mean are you done fooling around now? With the Chagrian now giving him his undivided attention, Palpatine continued. "Brell Vox was brilliant but did not have the funding to achieve anything like this, so I provided it, and I eventually came up with a few tweaks of my own. You see, Brell's original way to operationalise corruption merged all kinds of corruption into one score— poor behaviour for personal gain, but also behaviour which society views as unethical, even when done for its benefit, and a score for the willingness to overlook each type of corruption."

"You separated the scores then?" Mas Amedda asked.

"Of course," Palpatine answered. "Now every individual's profile fed into this device gets a separate personal corruption score and two scores for their willingness to overlook corruption. All of this is done on a scale of ten, where ten is the most corrupt and zero the least corrupt possible."

"Huh," Mas Amedda muttered, fumbling uncomfortably with his sleeve. You want to give me a big black hole where money goes in, but never comes out, to root out Senate corruption?

"Now for instance, your friend Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic?" Palpatine pressed the screen of the terminal beside the mainframe. "A score of six for personal corruption, not quite enough data for the willingness to do what is necessary, even when society views it as unethical, and two sevens for willingness to overlook corruption."

The wordage what is necessary caught Mas Amedda's eyes. Realisation dawned on him that Palpatine was not using this to root out corruption. He opened his mouth to ask does Brell Vox know what you are doing? But the Chagrian paused, realising it was a stupid question. Palpatine certainly did not refer to a "Dr Brell Vox" and Brell Vox should have finished his PhD over twenty years ago. No, Brell Vox is certainly dead and Palpatine is using this to find…

"For the two Jedi you recruited into the SAC," Palpatine muttered, thumbing a button on the screen.

"It was Tarkin," Mas Amedda stammered, "I would never have thought—"

"—Here," Palpatine said, gesturing to the screen. On it, was live probe droid footage from the B'ankor Refuge. Armed Clones and Direct Action Operatives were standing guard as lines of Lurmen, carrying all of their belongings, walked towards transport ships. A few angry looking B'ankora stood around haplessly, unable to do anything, as well as one furious-looking human.

With two taps on the screen, the probe droid's camera zoomed in on three figures. Two were, the very Jedi Tarkin had recruited into the Clandestine Operations Group, and one was a Senator, with whom Mas Amedda was very familiar. "Bail Organa," the Chagrian sneered.

"This is clearly against the spirit of the arrangement!" Bail sputtered angrily.

"The arrangement was for there to be Jedi oversight during any final resettlements of the Lurmen population," Jazal said serenely. "Here it is."

"Jedi working for Tarkin—"

"—We are not working for Admiral Tarkin," Jazal said sternly. "We are working with Tarkin."

"Sir," Kev said in a disarming tone, "I promise I do everything I can to make sure no harm comes to the Lurmen."

"As will I," Jazal added.

"Yet, you won't even tell me where they are being relocated to."

"No," Kev sighed. "It is classified."

"If you are so concerned about the Lurmen," Jazal said, "why don't you resettle them on Alderaan?"

"Master Jedi, you know I cannot do that on such short notice."

"Look at Bail Organa twaddle on," Mas Amedda jeered, a bright smile across his blue face.

"You're focusing on the wrong one," Palpatine said. "The AI though, knows which data here is relevant. Look," with a series of button presses, the scene in the B'ankor Refuge was replaced by picture of Kev and Jazal's faces, with scores next to them. Both Kev and Jazal had a score of eight for willingness to overlook unethical corruption, and Jazal had a score of nine for unethical corruption, nine for personal corruption. Kev now had a score of five for unethical corruption, nine for personal corruption.

"Brilliant," Palpatine said proudly. "Mas, you have done well."

A sudden understanding dawned on the Chagrian. The fact the Chancellor was surrounded by so many psychopathic sycophants was not because Palpatine was susceptible to flattery. No, it was because Palpatine was actively seeking out those types of individuals. To what end, Mas Amedda did not know.