Chapter 1: Itoll Oc'skar
14:4:27 GrS (21 BBY)
In the aftermath of what the media was calling 'the Centax Massacre,' Team Muun had not been among the teams sent to Centax 3.
The Republic informant and criminal mastermind, Trajan Kran, had been killed in an apparent standoff between him and the Hutts. Dozens of Clones had been killed as well.
Itoll did his best to look busy while Admiral Tarkin, Jedi General Jazal, and Team Cresh relocated to Centax 3 to gather evidence. But, after seven hours of nothing done, and no word from the Jedi, the heterochromatic Bothan Lieutenant went home that evening, feeling very much out of the loop.
The next morning, as Itoll speeder-pooled the rest of Team Muun to work in his tiny rectangular TW-4 airspeeder, he felt relieved they had not been the ones assigned to protect Trajan Kran. Odds are, if Trajan himself had not killed them in a Nebhir-induced bloodlust, they would have been massacred in the firefighter with the Hutts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the recently-promoted Lieutenant Commander, Lir Sey'les, felt differently.
"Okay, we don't know for sure Trajan killed Commander Wycombe," the shaggy ashy-coloured Bothan growled, seated in the front passenger seat.
Rain splattered against the windshield as the wipers worked furiously. Normally, an artificial Coruscanti rain-day started in the late afternoon in the Federal District and ended before morning the next day. Something was off with the weather control today.
"Are you joking?" Itoll snarled incredulously. After a few seconds, he added a cautious "ma'am." The death of Trajan's handler, Commander Wycombe, hit Itoll harder than he realised. While he did not care very much for that human, the way Wycombe had died—stabbed in the eye with an oven thermometer—frightened him on a very personal level. One of his own eyes was an artificial implant.
Sey'les's fur twitched in annoyance. "No, I am not joking. I really don't think Trajan killed Wycombe. Doesn't the whole thing sound a bit fishy to you?"
Itoll sighed, nervously rubbing the durasteel plate of his artificial eye. While his fur covered it, the upper part of the implant could be felt on the surface of his skin. He continued to look through the misty rain at the tail lights of the speeder traffic in front of him.
"I'm tracking with Itoll on this one Sey'les," Wulf, the Ardennian yawned, rubbing his eyes tiredly with his upper two arms.
"Me too," Fojo agreed. "Trajan clearly tried killing Wycombe before and just… Well, didn't give Wycombe enough poison. Or maybe Nebhir didn't."
"Yeah," Wulf agreed. "Nebhir's revenge"
"Nebhir's revenge?" Sey'les growled incredulously.
"Nebhir's revenge sounds a bit far-fetched Wulf," Itoll noted. "But yeah. Trajan totally killed Wycombe, then well… We all saw the aftermath."
"I am not sure Trajan died," Sey'les said in a low voice, scratching her head. "I mean… He could have faked his own death."
Faked his own death?! Itoll shook his head in disbelief but thought better than to say his thoughts on that theory.
"Not this again," Wulf groaned. "Sey'les, you kept me up all night with this shassa." The Ardennian began speaking in a very screechy imitation of a female voice, slurring his consonants in a thick mock-Bothan accent. "Maybe it was a body double, Wulf. No, Trajan probably left a body double. Trajan just had to fake his own death to avoid the Senate… Trajan this. Trajan that. I won't be surprised if Trajan Trajans us all to Trajan for Trajan."
"WULF!" Sey'les yelped in outrage, grabbing the side of Itoll's chair for leverage as she spun around to face her Ardennian. "We are in uniform! It is so not appropriate for you to talk about me like that, to my face. Shtak! It is way too early for this. And I do not sound like that!"
Wulf sighed, sitting back straighter in his seat. "Sorry ma'am. I didn't mean it disrespectfully."
"Do you really think I sound like that?!" Sey'les growled, fur swirling nervously. "Am I just some caterwauling old crow?"
"No, you don't sound like that," Wulf explained. "It's just… It's just…"
"It's just what!" Sey'les demanded. "Finish your kriffing sentence!"
Wulf opened his tiny Ardennian snout and began to explain, "it's just that—"
—Sey'les's datapad buzzed. "SHHH!" she hissed as she answered it. "Yes, Governor?"
Itoll's ears perked up.
"Get to hanger 14 of the COMPOR Arcology as soon as you can," Tarkin's voice spoke from her datapad. "And bring Lieutenant Oc'skar. This is urgent."
Sey'les and Itoll looked at each other, fur swirling nervously. Tarkin had only requested the two Bothan members of Team Muun.
"Uh, what about the rest of Team Muun?" Sey'les growled worriedly.
"No, just you and Lieutenant Oc'skar."
"Understood," Sey'les sighed. "I will be there before 0830."
"With Itoll Oc'skar?!" Tarkin asked impatiently.
"We will be there Governor," Sey'les stammered. "Sorry for the confusion."
"Apology accepted," Tarkin hissed, before terminating the call.
"What was that about?" Fojo asked, antennae poking up.
Sey'les opened her snout to say something, but Itoll spoke first.
"Looks like I am dropping you two off on the landing pad, and Sey'les and I are paying a visit to the COMPOR Arcology," Itoll growled knowingly, smiling contently at his hearing abilities.
"Just the Bothans then?" Wulf asked with some concern in his voice. "Sey'les, is something going on?"
"I don't think so," Sey'les growled thoughtfully.
"Huh," Itoll muttered around. He's right… When was the last time Tarkin just wanted Sey'les and I? It's urgent? Oh yeah… Divo. "I think it's Divo," he explained. His nervously swirling fur promptly relaxed. No, it has nothing to do with the Bothan Spynet or Trajan Kran also secretly being a Bothan Spynet asset—It's that Coruscant cop Divo… Tarkin always brings us in when Divo is involved.
Sey'les's snout fell open with realisation. "Shtak, you're right! Divo… Ugh. Divo. This is way too early for Tanivos Divo."
Itoll yawned widely in agreement. "Maybe Divo will have another criminal maniac for us to work with. Maybe a Wookiee spicehead who is from Murkhana."
After dropping Wulf and Fojo off at the outer checkpoint of the Republic Center for Military Operations, Itoll flew back into the rain across the Federal District, over the hulking forms of parked Acclamators.
By the time they were parked in the visitor's lot and extending their umbrellas, the rain had let up slightly.
Itoll's fur twirled with unease as they walked through the dull grey halls, through the labyrinth of offices, meeting rooms, and datacenters. Hangar 14 was not far from where Itoll and Fojo had their fateful standoff with Jom Carver eight months ago, back when the building was the Judicial Arcology.
"I wonder who Divo will thrust onto us now?" Sey'les asked conspiratorially.
"Maybe Jabba the Hutt," Itoll growled sarcastically. The hangar doors hissed open.
This hangar was about a third the size of the one from which Zuro Pax and other defecting Judicials had stolen Consular-class cruisers eight months ago. It was designed to hold just two Consular cruisers, instead of five.
Yet, this hangar had none. The only ship on the deck was an LAAT gunship, modified for space flight, with two floodlights instead of bubble turrets. Lined in three rows against the left wall were assorted items, including briefcases, weapons, stacks of chronometers, datapads, ledgers, notebooks, and even droid parts. It was clear that this hangar was being used to store non-Organic evidence.
Three Naval officers were walking between the rows, cataloguing items, while Tarkin—
"—Ah, you're finally here," Tarkin said with some surprising enthusiasm. He appeared out from behind the LAAT with a tiny green reptilian-looking or perhaps amphibian alien standing next to him. An alien whose species Itoll could not identify.
Itoll and Sey'les both chanted "Good morning, Governor," sniffing the air curiously as they walked closer.
"Where is Divo?" Sey'les asked pointedly.
Itoll's fur swirled with embarrassment as he turned to Sey'les. He knew already that his assessment was simply wrong. Damn it Sey'les, you always—
"—Divo?" Tarkin asked with raised eyebrows. "Divo is not involved in this operation anymore."
"Oh," Sey'les said, looking down at the mysterious humid-smelling alien standing ankle-height next to Tarkin.
Itoll's ears perked up, then he realised this alien was wearing a military uniform with a rank he had never seen, but one indicating an equivalent to ground Commander or space Captain. "Good morning sir," he said stiffly to the alien.
The alien blinked his bulbous eyes and hummed, in an absurdly deep voice for how tiny he was, "good morning, Lieutenant."
"This is Colonel Meebur Gascon," Tarkin explained. "Lieutenant Commander Sey'les, Lieutenant Oc'skar, Colonel Meeber Gascon."
"Oh, good morning Colonel," Sey'les growled politely, fur twirling with unease. "Sir, what is this about?"
"Have you noticed the smashed floodlight?" Tarkin asked, pointing to the starboard side of the LAAT.
Itoll and Sey'les both turned, now noting that, in fact, the floodlight on that side of the gunship was gone. The transparisteel had been completely shattered, and whatever it was that had smashed the light, removed.
"Ah," Sey'les growled knowingly, walking around to it. "Huh. Must have been quite a bird! I've never hit one personally," she chuckled, "but yeah…"
Itoll scowled as he followed after her. But yeah? You've only been allowed to fly for a few months… And I approved your license!
"Quite the bird," Tarkin mused. "Actually, 'the bird' is over there," he explained, pointing to one of the rows of evidence. "Which is why Meebur Gascon is here."
The three booted footsteps of Itoll, Sey'les, and Tarkin echoed loudly on the floor of the hangar as they walked towards the evidence. Meebur Gascon's footsteps, conversely, sounded to Itoll much like the steps of a loud insect.
I don't smell any rotting flesh… Itoll thought as he sniffed the air furiously. No… That bird must have been roasted for it to not smell like— the Bothan gasped in surprise once he reached their destination.
Sey'les gasped too. "A probe droid?!"
Sure enough, laid out on a plastic tarp was the dented head of a probe droid manufactured by Arakyd and used by a wide array of factions. With oil dripping out onto the tarp, its claws were bent, antennae crushed and giant eye darkened.
"Yes Lieutenant Commander," Tarkin hissed. "A probe droid. I am glad you can identify a probe droid."
"Governor, what do we have to do with an ID9 seeker droid?" Itoll asked, fur dancing with some degree of excitement as he identified it more thoroughly than Sey'les.
Sey'les scowled at him, ear batting in annoyance.
"Nothing directly, I hope," Tarkin muttered.
"Lieutenant, what can you tell me about this?" Meebur asked, holding out a datapad.
Itoll took it from him, careful not to accidentally squish the tiny Colonel's hands. On the screen was a paused video. Pressing his furry finger on the play button, the video began. On one half of the screen was an infrared display of a speeder lot, with five snouted beings and one square-headed being running across it. The square-headed creature was glowing much less hot, making Itoll suspect she was not a mammal. On the other half, was a visible light display showing just five beings. Surprisingly, four were Bothans, while the fifth was—
"—Oh, a Selkath," Sey'les sighed in relief. "I thought I was going to have to deal with another whole new species!"
"Yes ma'am," Itoll nodded in agreement. "Selkaths look really weird in infrared," he chuckled, putting the datapad directly under her snout. "Look at how you can see her heart from above! Or is that a brain?"
"Yeah, it's almost like—"
"—Governor, are these officers actually this dim-witted, or are they making a joke?" Meebur asked.
"Whatever the case," Tarkin hissed, snatching the datapad from Itoll's hands, "I am not amused!"
"I am sorry sir," Itoll croaked, fur flat in fear. He had no idea what Tarkin was so angry about.
"Please pay attention to the sixth heat signature," Tarkin instructed, handing him back the datapad.
Itoll rewound the video slightly, then hit play. Sey'les stared at the screen eagerly as he lowered it to chest level.
On the left half of the screen there was, again, six heat signatures. The Selkath again drew his attention because she just looked so out of place compared to the Bothans in the image. The Bothans looked, even from afar, relatively short—Likely from Kothlis or Bothawui, as opposed to a world with less gravity. The sixth heat signature was… Wait? Where is the sixth heat signature?
Sey'les gasped, coming to the same realisation. "What the hell?"
Tarkin chuckled, snatching the datapad from them and replacing it with another. "What the hell indeed."
On the screen of the other datapad were several overhead closeups of the heat signature titled "Unknown entity." It had a snout, clearly, and looked a lot like the heat signature of a Bothan. The arms though, in the photos where the entity was holding out his or her arms, were much longer than a Bothan's.
"Jazal managed to recover some DNA from the site," Tarkin continued. This creature is male and, whatever he is, has DNA close to that of a Bothan."
Sey'les and Itoll gasped again in shock, eyes wide in amazement.
An invisible Bothan, Itoll thought, imagining the implications, or near-Bothan… They could do anything, completely unseen. Scouting, robberies, assassinations… Like Trajan, but invisible-invisible. Not just invisible on camera...
"I have never seen anything like this before, Governor, Colonel" Sey'les growled earnestly.
"Me neither," Itoll stammered. "Very weird though."
"Further back in the recordings, we found something even weirder," Tarkin said mockingly, matching Itoll's intonation as he rewound the video further.
"I am surprised the self-destruct didn't go off…" Sey'les growled thoughtfully.
"Yeah," Itoll nodded.
"The Arakyd had a self-destruct," Meebur explained, wandering into the centre of the debris. "It was disabled on impact."
"Huh," Itoll snorted in mild amusement. "Lucky."
"Indeed, lucky," Tarkin hissed, handing Itoll the datapad with the video recording on it.
Itoll gulped as he saw the first frame. It was two Bothans' faces with durasteel walls in the background. One was a smiling red and white furred female, the other, a brown furred male.
"Holy shtak," Sey'les croaked, ears perked up. "Play it!"
Wincing, Itoll reluctantly hit the play button.
["Don't worry J-9,"] the red and white furred Bothan growled in Bothese. Her hand reached off the screen, clearly petting the probe droid. ["It'll just be a quick overwatch. In and out to help Arakh out. Odds are you won't need to blast a thing!"]
["You know you look crazy when you talk to these droids,"] the brown furred male sighed.
["I don't care,"] the red and white furred one said with a frown. ["They have feelings just like you! J-9 actually probably has more feelings than you."]
["What's the hold up!"] a vaguely familiar voice snarled impatiently from offscreen.
Sey'les's ears perked up. I know that voice. It is—
—None other than Vasa Ro'val, a former Republic officer, and defector Sey'les and Itoll both knew was a Spynet operative, stepped into view.
Sey'les and Itoll gasped, fur flat in fear. "Vasa Ro'val!" they both exclaimed.
"Indeed," Tarkin hissed, sounding even more livid than before. "Her death seems to have been… Greatly exaggerated."
Does Buzz know the Spynet op, whatever it was, has been compromised? "You must believe me sir," Itoll stammered, fur pressed tightly into his body. "I know nothing, absolutely nothing about this!"
"Me neither!" Sey'les gasped. "Governor, you must know, I am loyal—"
"—Enough!" Tarkin yelled over the commotion, voice echoing off the walls. The other three Naval officers in the room stopped what they were doing, staring curiously at them.
"If I thought you two were smart enough to be Spynet assets, we would not be having this conversation. I merely hoped you could identify the species of the one who showed up on the infrared, but not in the normal camera."
"I don't know, Governor," Sey'les gulped.
"I don't think it's a Bothan, sir," Itoll added. "His arms are too long."
"My thoughts exactly," Tarkin agreed with a slight smirk. "Perhaps he's a Clone… Whatever misfortune befell Trajan, we can be certain he was involved."
"We—We can?!" Sey'les yelped incredulously.
No we can… If we let Tarkin know that the Spynet was actually trying to help—Itoll elbowed her in the ribs.
"What the kriff do you think you're doing?!" Sey'les whispered angrily.
"Sorry ma'am," Itoll stammered.
"You two are dismissed," Tarkin said with a wave of his hand. "Do not tell anyone anything of what you saw here."
"Yes, Governor," Sey'les and Itoll chanted, then added, "have a good morning Governor."
"And Colonel," Itoll growled, looking down to the tiny creature.
At that, the two Bothans trotted as quickly as they could from the hangar floor. Tarkin, Meebur Gascon, and the other three Republic Naval officers stared at them with suspicion as they vacated the room.