AN: Changed the title after I realised I needed to split this book into two. The second half is now Tears of Murkhana.
Chapter 1: Itoll Oc
14:01:07 (21 BBY)
Aboard the Disciple
Things had changed so much in the last few days that it all seemed like a blur. All of the surviving elements of the 12th Army were being withdrawn to Coruscant, replaced by fresh new troopers from the Diplomatic Security Corps. On top of all of the changes, what had perturbed the Bothan the most, was that the date was actually 14:01:07, as opposed to 13:07:20.
Shortly after the arrival of Captain Kren Blista-Vanee, Itoll and Sey'les were taken off duty and transferred to the Disciple's medical bay. For the second time in less than a year, the Bothan was in the same room as a frightening three-legged DD-13 medical assistant droid.
The Naval doctor on-board had calmly explained to Sey'les and Itoll that they would be receiving mechanical kidneys, reassuring them that they were "far superior to organic ones."
Itoll had thought grimly to himself that, even if it turned out that weren't true, he did not have a choice. There was no way either would get a real Bothan organ or cloned organ donation in the middle of a war.
What really worried Itoll however, was the lack of bacta emersion in their treatment plans. A real surgical recovery after an artificial kidney implantation. Shtak.
"Sir, I told you before, they are not ready to be disturbed," a human voice said from somewhere. Itoll recognised it as the voice of Lieutenant Commander Salvence, the ship's doctor.
"What difference will a few hours rest make?" a familiar voice asked impatiently, trilling his rs in a posh Eriaduan accent.
Itoll's ears perked up as he sniffed the air, then his eyes widened in horror. What fresh hell is this?
"Realistically, Admiral, it can make a whole—"
"Wake them!" Tarkin hissed angrily, losing all composure.
"Admiral, Lieutenant Oc is already awake," the DD-13 droid hummed in a monotone.
Itoll shot straight up in bed. He felt a stitch tear on his side and groaned in pain.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant," Tarkin said in a calm voice.
Itoll shook his head in confusion before sudden realisation. Lieutenant being repeated twice made it clear to Itoll that his promotion all the way to Lieutenant Commander was being treated as unofficial, and he now held the rank of his previous promotion by General Olgar'kla. Do I care? Nope. "Good morning… Admiral," Itoll said softly. "What's going on?"
"It's afternoon on this ship," Tarkin said back, then held up a finger instead of answering Itoll's question. "Wake Captain Sey'les."
An orderly responded with a quick "yes Admiral," then wandered around Sey'les's bed, injecting her arm.
Morning, afternoon, evening. After so much time on a planet in perpetual daylight, it all seemed so quaint. Itoll looked over Sey'les's bed out the window. Beyond it was a Venator, an Acclamator, and some smaller craft whose design Itoll did not recognise. All around them the densest starlight Itoll had ever seen. In orbit of MGX-93776, there was just as much starlight as darkness, if not more.
He opened his snout to ask why a whole fleet had now come to the Deep Core, but then was interrupted when Sey'les gasped in shock and began sputtering, fur flat in fear.
"You have been rescued," Tarkin reassured. "Now, are you two cowards going to go behind my back again, playing parliamentary procedure to waste my time, or are you finally ready to work with me to bring down Zuro Pax?"
Recalling the method by which Tarkin had handled the Lurmen insurgents, Itoll cackled derisively. Admiral or not, being called a coward by Tarkin was just too much.
Tarkin strode across the room and seized the collar of Itoll's hospital gown, yanking him out of bed.
"Admiral!" Salvance stammered in a shocked tone. "Lieutenant Oc has been heavily sedated and is not in his right mind! Now, I told you already, they aren't ready to be transferred under your command, interrogated, or whatever the hell you think this is!"
"I have nearly had enough of you Bothans," Tarkin hissed, ignoring the doctor. "Nearly."
Coughing furiously, Itoll's cackles died. He clenched his hand into a fist, ready to strike Tarkin. The Spynet is going to kill me anyways. Whether I initiated contact or not, Tarkin is kriffing here.
"STOP IT ITOLL! STOP!" Sey'les yelped. "That's… That's—"
Yanking his collar tighter, Tarkin pulled Itoll closer. "I shall answer my question, for it was rhetorical. No, you and Sey'les won't circumvent my authority this time or interfere with my plans. Circumstances would have it, that you have absolutely no one to turn to."
"Is that so, sir?" Itoll snarled flashing his teeth.
Tarkin smirked in the corner of his mouth. Behind Tarkin, the automatic doors slid open.
"JAZAL?!" Sey'les yelped in amazement.
"General," Tarkin said gruffly, releasing Itoll's collar.
"What is going on Admiral?" Jazal asked sternly.
"Ah, the Rangers and I were getting… Shall we say? Reacquainted."
"Sir, ma'am," Sey'les stammered. "I had nothing to do with Itoll's behaviour. I am sorry—"
"—Are you okay?" Jazal asked, walking around Tarkin towards Itoll. She put a hand on his side where a stitch had popped.
A flood of thoughts rushed into Itoll's mind. He remembered Prococia Olgar'kla's obsession with Sey'les and how he had manipulated events, first to kill her, then to save her and figure a way to bring Sey'les into his life. Looking at Tarkin, eyes wide in horror, Itoll came to the conclusion that Jazal had brought Tarkin back into his life. She probably knew where we were the whole time, and just waited… To what end?
"Jazal," Itoll hissed angrily. "Don't touch me."
A look of utter confusion and concern crossed Jazal's face.
"Get away from me!" Itoll shouted. "Everyone get away from me!"
"THAT'S IT!" Salvence shouted, louder than Itoll. "I DON'T CARE IF YOU ARE A GENERAL OR AN ADMIRAL! THEY ARE NOT READY FOR VISITORS! GET OUT!"
Tarkin looked like he wanted to shove the doctor out the nearest airlock. A look of fury on his face, he raised a finger, but Jazal spoke first.
"Very well, doctor, we are leaving. Itoll, Sey'les, I hope you feel better soon."
"Thank you General," Sey'les said with a polite smile.
Jazal and Tarkin walked out of the room, with Salvence following closely behind. Outside the door, Jazal lingered, speaking with Salvance, visible through the door's window.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Sey'les snarled. "It's Jazal!"
"Yeah," Itoll sighed, falling back onto his pillow. "It's Jazal. After Prococia did that to you… I just… I need time to process this. Figure out what's going on."
"You are going to get us killed!" Sey'les panted. "Jazal is the one thing stopping Tarkin—"
"—What about the Spynet?" Itoll interrupted. "They told us never to make contact with Tarkin again. They transferred us to this kriffing planet. We've better hope Buzz isn't around."
"Yeah," Sey'les gulped, fur swirling nervously. "Maybe though, since Tarkin's still alive, Buzz is dead?"
Tarkin's behaviour had disturbed Jazal. What bothered her more, however, was how much pain and conflict she sensed in Itoll. As the Miraluka took the turbolift up to the briefing room on deck 7, she could not help but dread the future. For whatever reason, Itoll no longer trusts me.
Jazal needed answers and the quickest way to get those, would be to figure out what exactly happened on the planet below. Kev would learn the Jedi point of view, or the closest thing he could to a Jedi point of view, from Ekos. Jazal in the meantime, was on her way to debrief Wulf and Fojo.
"Good afternoon, General," a Clone said politely, snapping to attention as Jazal stepped off the turbolift.
"Good afternoon," Jazal replied, then headed down the corridor towards the briefing room. Three doors away, the Miraluka's Force sight could already sense the presence of the Rodian and the Ardennian sitting down. Their snouts moved animatedly as they chatted.
As the automatic doors slid open, their chattering died down.
"Good afternoon, General," Wulf and Fojo said in unison, standing up from their chairs.
Momentarily perturbed by how tense and nervous they suddenly were, especially Fojo, Jazal had to fight the urge to reach out to them and perceive their feelings more clearly. "At ease."
Wulf began drumming the desk with sixteen out of twenty of his fingers once he sat back down.
"So," Jazal started, trying to think of exactly how to word this. "You all have been through quite a lot. It's amazing you not only survived but saved most of the residents of Azagor. I understand though…" The Miraluka trailed off as she sensed the conspicuous lack of a rank of Wulf's chest.
Wulf continued drumming the desk.
Jazal turned her face towards his chest. While she had no eyes, she found it helpful, when communicating with other species, to give body language cues as if she had eyes.
Fojo's antennae perked up. "Wulf, I think the General wants to know why you aren't wearing a Lieutenant rank."
Wulf stopped drumming the desk, cleared his throat, and sat up straight. "Oh, haha. Well, ma'am… It's uh… A story. Quite a long story."
"I have quite a long time to listen to it, Wulf," Jazal said through impatiently gritted teeth. "What the kriff did you do?"
That night in sickbay, despite being on heavily sedating painkillers, neither Itoll nor Sey'les could sleep. In their half-addled state, they stared up at the ceiling and around the empty room, occasionally giving the doorway a nervous look.
"Okay, that's it!" Sey'les finally snapped. "We need a plan! I won't be able to sleep until I know there's a plan."
Itoll snorted cynically. "What do you mean?"
"When Buzz comes for us," Sey'les snarled, sitting up in bed. "You had it right last time when you whacked him over the head."
Sighing to himself, Itoll sat up in bed. "All right," he agreed, staring around the room for anything that could be a weapon.
Sey'les hopped out of bed, staggering in a dazed state. Nearly falling over, she gripped the edge of her bed tightly to balance herself.
"Careful," Itoll cautioned, standing up himself. "It's too dark in here to find anything…" He walked across the room towards the doorway and flicked on the lights.
Frantically digging through drawers, Sey'les let out a triumphant yell "found something!"
Itoll mumbled to himself, walking back across the room to look over Sey'les's shoulder.
Within five minutes, the lights were out again. The two Rangers now had a wide assortment of scalpels, tranquilizers, and blunt objects under their blankets. Firmly gripped in Itoll's right hand, was a surgical sock filled with paperclips, datachips, and an un-cooled icepack.
"I wonder how the rest of the team is doing," Sey'les whispered into the darkness.
"I wonder why there are so many ships here," Itoll whispered back. Rolling on his side, he stared out the window once again. Tarkin's flagship, the RSS Bisectrix, dominated the view. "There are fewer than 5,000 surviving Republic troops. It doesn't make sense."
"New occupation force," Sey'les whispered with a shrug.
That doesn't make sense, Itoll thought to himself. Azagor's only got 40,000 people. This planet isn't in a strategic location. The Deep Core is… Realising he was not entirely sure what the Deep Core was, he stared back up at the ceiling. Then his ears perked up.
Beyond the door, footsteps from armoured boots suddenly clanked closer and closer.
Sey'les swore in a whisper under her breath.
Itoll felt surprisingly calm as he gripped the sock filled with an assortment of hard objects. He had tussled once with Buzz before and this time, Buzz was alone.
The automatic doors opened with a mechanical hiss.
A lone figure in ARC Trooper armour stepped in, headlamp illuminating the room as he approached. "Shhh," Buzz whispered. "We need to—AAHHH!"
—With a snarl, Sey'les leapt up from her bed, swinging a reflex hammer hard at Buzz's head. The helmet light shattered violently, sending plastic and metal shrapnel onto the floor.
Weaponised surgical sock hanging from his fist, Itoll stood up from his bed, completely surprised.
"STOP! STOP!" Buzz yelled, shielding his helmet with his arms.
Fresh resolve surging through his veins, Itoll charged Buzz, swinging the sock as hard he could. Buzz let off a scream as the sock smashed into his respirator, sending paperclips, datachips, and an icepack spewing onto the floor.
Buzz screamed, charging forward. He grabbed Itoll and Sey'les each with one arm under their armpits, then tackled them to the ground.
As Itoll hit the ground the wind was knocked out of him. He felt several stitches break and a hot liquid roll down his side.
Sey'les shrieked, grabbing at his helmet as she snarled.
"I. Am. Unarmed," Buzz panted through his helmet. "We just need to talk."
Itoll groaned, grabbing his side. "You broke my stitches!"
"You broke my helmet!"
"You kriffing…" Itoll gasped. "You killed the Lurmen!"
Buzz laughed cynically, stood up, then took off his helmet. "I am a deep cover operative posing as a human Clone programmed to follow the orders of my commanding officer. What do you expect me to do?"
"You enjoyed it!" Itoll snarled. "I can kriffing tell. You—"
"—Why is Tarkin still alive?" Sey'les croaked, lying on the ground. "Why haven't you killed that son of a bitch? He's a threat to Bothan security. Ro'val said it, you said it. Why is he still alive? We've been gone for five months and you couldn't kill him in all this time?"
Buzz reached to Sey'les's arm, pulling her up. Then did the same to Itoll. "Blast it," he muttered, feeling the bloody patch on Itoll's hospital gown.
"What do you have to say for yourself?!" Itoll snarled.
Buzz ignored him, turned around and walked back to the door. For a wild moment, Itoll thought Buzz was just going to leave but instead, the not-Clone merely turned on the light.
"Bloody hell!" he gasped, looking at the mess. Armour pieces and random objects were strewn about the floor, as well as a smear of blood. Itoll's side was continuing to drip blood onto the floor.
Holding a fresh bandage to side, Itoll sat on his bed. For the next ten minutes, Itoll and Sey'les lazed about as Buzz frantically cleaned the room.
When Itoll asked about what happened to Buzz's compatriots, Buzz explained they were all aboard the Bisectrix.
Okay, so this is about Tarkin, Itoll concluded.
"What we need…" Buzz groaned, struggling to force the mop back into the cabinet. "What you need… You two need to do what you do best."
"What?!" Itoll growled incredulously.
Sey'les's ear batted in annoyance. "I am not going to kriffing—"
"—When push comes to shove," Buzz interrupted, cutting over her. "We need you to make the Republic and the Jedi all over this."
Itoll and Sey'les looked at each other, snouts hanging open, expressions of pure bewilderment across their faces.
"You want us to expose you to the Republic? You want us to make the Republic aware you are a Bothan!" Sey'les gasped, bewilderment turning into a look of understanding. "I can do tell Jazal myself!"
"NO!" Buzz yelled furiously. "Holy kriffing shtak you are thick."
"Then what?" Itoll snarled. "What could you possibly mean by 'we need to make the Republic all over this? What the hell is this?"
"Tarkin." Buzz put a gloved finger up to his lips, shhhh. His tone shifted, becoming increasingly conspiratorial as he walked closer to Sey'les and Itoll's beds. "When Tarkin commits his next atrocity, we need the Jedi involved. We need the Jedi and the Republic so deep in Tarkin's crimes, that they cannot possibly deny them. We need Tarkin's evil to smack them in the face. We need—"
Sey'les and Itoll both began guffawing, yipping with incredulous mirth at the Spynet's naiveté.
"You clowns think this is funny!" Buzz whisper-yelled. "You scum! You horrible excuses for Bothans! Horrible excuses for officers! People have died. I have seen Tarkin gas entire worlds with the DOOM objective. Millions of Neimoidians dead. This cannot be allowed. We will not—STOP!"
Itoll had rolled onto his back, yipping louder than before. This was the funniest thing he had heard in months.
"WHAT THE HELL IS SO FUNNY?!" Buzz screamed. "You think I am evil! Look at you! Laughing!"
Sey'les wiped the drool from her snout, collected herself, then began laughing anew.
"You—hahahaha!" Itoll gasped, laughing again, catching Sey'les's contagious laughter.
"Gin-erz-wiwisk!" ["Be quiet!"] Buzz whispered, suddenly aware of the noise they were making.
Itoll wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and sighed. "Your plan," he chucked, "your plan is for us to expose Tarkin to the Jedi?"
"Yes," Buzz said sternly. "But more than that—"
"—But Anakin was right kriffing there!" Sey'les snarled. "He was in the same fleet as Tarkin when Tarkin dropped Doonium slugs on Bothans!"
Buzz closed his eyes in frustration. "We don't want you to just tell the Jedi. We want the Jedi aware while it is unfolding! We want them involved. It's why we brought Jazal and Kev into the Strategic Advisory Cell."
"You what?!" Itoll gasped in shock. "Jazal…" He remembered Tarkin's words earlier that day: you have absolutely no one to turn to. "HOLY SHTAK!" he yelped, fur flat in fear.