Growth of a Seed

Disclaimer:

"Speaking"

"Radio"

'Thoughts'

Location

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Chapter 3

Planet: Earth

System: Sol

Sector: Not Applicable

Grid Coordinates: H-7

Region: Unknown Regions

Date: CE 75

President White overlooked the view of Copernicus City from his veranda as he poured wine from a decanter into two glasses resting on the stand beside him. The meeting with the extraterrestrials had ended a short while ago, but only after several hours of 'storytelling' followed by a much shorter time spent actually debating or negotiating.

It had been a rather momentous occasion, the first official talks with beings that lived beyond the solar system, one of whom was even a high ranking political official for two galactic organizations, though she only considered herself loyal to one.

However the circumstances of these interstellar visitors' visit ultimately led to only one possible outcome for the negotiations. But while the negotiations had one outcome, his request would have a less predictable outcome with Earth's politicians

Flashback

The world leaders took a few moments of silence to contemplate everything they had been told.

Princess Organa had spent the most time talking, explaining to her listeners what the galaxy beyond their system was like and what sort of political environment enshrouded the Galactic Empire, the strongest ruling power in the galaxy. More than a few times during her explanation had the princess been interrupted and asked to elaborate on a point, such as how the Galactic Republic could become the Galactic Empire through a single man's manipulation.

Leia was able to tell part of the story thanks to what her father had told her of what happened almost twenty years ago, but even of the people who knew what the Emperor did, not one fully understood how Palpatine had managed to do it. The only plausible explanation, one that Leia's father suspected, as to how it could be done was if Palpatine had orchestrated all of the events behind the Clone Wars.

That he had manipulated politics in a manner so to frustrate the entities that would form the Confederacy of Independent Systems, creating an external threat that would provoke the first Republic military buildup in a thousand years, while introducing hundreds of acts that gave the then Supreme Chancellor emergency powers that increased his individual control over the Republic. Powers that he promised to relinquish after the war but never did.

Near the end of the war, after the death of Separatist leader Count Dooku, Republic morale was high as the Confederacy was forced to retreat to the Outer Rim, and much of the Republic's success in the war was attributed to Palpatine's leadership, so when the Chancellor proclaimed himself Emperor with the promise that his enforcer Vader would destroy the Confederacy's leadership council and would deactivate the droid armies, he was met with almost unanimous and thunderous applause from the Senate.

Since then the Empire has been steadily stripping individual worlds and Senators of powers they have traditionally held, ostensibly under the reasoning that it was all for the streamlining of bureaucracy. But it effectively placed all the real governmental powers in the hands of Palpatine, his advisers, and the Moffs while the Senate had been turned into but a shadow of its former self from the days of the Republic.

But the Empire didn't stop there. It brutally crushed dissidents and rebels, forcing them into hard-labor camps without much more than a mock trial, if they weren't killed outright. For high profile individuals for whom there was no solid evidence that they were against the Empire, disappearance and assassination was the order of the day.

She spoke of how entire worlds and species that were considered too rebellious or primitive were put under strict Imperial supervision and were often used as slave labor, and cited the examples of the Wookies from Kashyyyk, Mon Calamari from Dac, and the nearby Cragmoloids on Ankus. The Empire commits these atrocities against sentient races, all while pandering to the rich and powerful worlds and corporations that support the Empire and increase its power through their efforts.

Once she was done, the princess then made a request.

She requested that the people of Earth, as fellow believers in democracy and freedom to aid the Alliance to restore the Republic in its fight against the oppressive tyranny of the Galactic Empire. The request had been made respectfully, but to the more experienced politicians there was a noticeable hint of pleading. Understandable, for if what Leia had said was the truth then the Rebel Alliance was in desperate need of… well, everything if they truly wanted to defeat the Empire.

The world leaders than spent the next lengthy amount of time discussing everything that had been said. When they were finished, Lacus addressed Leia. "Thank you for explaining the situation to us, Miss Organa. It has been very enlightening. And while I speak for everyone here when I say that we sympathize with your plight, we cannot help you. We have only just begun to truly recover from our own wars. I'm afraid that to take part in another at this time is not possible."

Leia understood but she wasn't ready to give up yet, "But what of a technological trade? It won't take away from your resources and our technology could help you with reconstruction efforts. And after having seen your military capabilities, I believe that your technology could give the Alliance an advantage in at least small engagements."

"For the time being, we also can't do that," responded the Prime Minister of the Eurasian Federation. "Currently, the only source of information we have concerning the rest of the galaxy is what you and the members of your ship's crew tells us. What if you are lying to us so as to later stab us in the back? After reviewing records of the battle, we have come to the agreement that our mobile suits and weapons technology will allow us to fight off interlopers. Any advantage they provide is an edge we cannot give to others at the risk it would be turned against us."

That was what it all boiled down to, trust and safety.

If they trusted that Leia was telling the truth, then the people of Earth would find it both desirable and beneficial to give the Alliance aid, but then their safety would be at risk should the Empire discover them and bring the full force of its military power down upon them.

They were also afraid, as the Eurasian leader had stated that Leia was being dishonest. That the intentions of the Alliance are not the noble endeavors she made them out to be, and that it was nothing more than a band of criminals, if it even existed as they had no proof beyond what she provided. Or the possibility, however improbable, that the whole battle was staged as a ruse to fool the people of Earth. At that time the president of the Atlantic Federation spoke up.

"I have a proposal for the Council to consider. This Galactic Empire, if it is anything like the princess described, is clearly a threat to our planet, people, and way of life. But, as my Eurasian colleague pointed out, aside from what we have learned through communication with the Imperial ship, we only have her word of what the Alliance and the Empire are like and what their individuals intentions are. What I propose is that we send a group out into the galaxy with the princess and her ship when they leave, whose mission will be to learn of what the galaxy is like and report back to us. Based on their report, we will make our final decision on which faction we choose to join, if any."

Lacus was the first to respond. "That is a reasonable suggestion, and shall be put to a vote. All those in favor…

"Aye" was spoken by every representative who could cast a vote.

"And against?" the question was met with silence. "The proposal has been met with unanimous approval. Each member of the Council will select an individual they trust to act as an observer and from their report we will make our final decision. Is there anything else that someone would like to add?"

"Actually," began White yet again, "I have a second proposal. The formation of a special exemption clause so that in the event of another incursion by a hostile extraterrestrial military force there will be a temporary lift on the prohibition of the weapons listed under Article 5, Section 12. I also call for an amendment to Article 5 Sections 4-8 that would allow the continuation of the listed research and development efforts… under controlled conditions of course."

The response to the proposal was immediate as Cagalli stood in a rush, toppling her chair, and slammed her hands against the table. "How can you even consider suggesting that!" she accused of him. "Those weapons and all research involving them were banned for a reason!"

A number of the individuals murmured agreements with the REA Prime Minister being the most vocal. "I concur with the Chief Representative of Orb," he proclaimed loudly. "It is an insult to suggest the resurrection of those monstrosities, such as the Cyclops and Destroys, after so many people were killed by them."

The statement was plainly designed to solidify the general undercurrent of dislike for the proposal and at the AF President for suggesting it since the Atlantic Federation was the only institution to have used both the Cyclops and the Destroy mobile armor, weapons that not only killed many ZAFT soldiers but had also been turned against the Eurasians and East Asians.

George White weathered the rebuke to his proposal with stone-like neutrality, waiting for the clamor to quiet. When it had he focused his gaze on the REA Prime Minister and spoke sternly.

"I do not make these proposals lightly. My nation and people have suffered through considerable stigma because of the previous administrations' choices in not only deploying WMDs but also in how they were used. I also do not need to remind anyone here that every time the Atlantic Federation has used a WMD, it was not long before they were countered by a weapon of equal if not greater destructive ability."

The statement was true. For the Bloody Valentine incident there was the April Fools drop. For JOSH-A there was Panama. For Boaz there was Genesis. For the N-Jammer Canceller there was the Neutron Stampeder. For Requiem there was Requiem.

"But this is an extreme situation. There are technologically advanced, potentially hostile, civilizations out there, the most powerful of which is an Empire that has the resources of millions of planets at its disposal. Even if it's a futile fight, I would not be able to rest in my grave knowing I had not utilized every resource to defend my home and I doubt any of you could either." He paused and took a deep breath and released it slowly, draining away the passion that had been rising in his heart. "Besides, I only suggested we used the tools at our disposal. I did not request any alteration to Sections 9, 10, or 13."

Flashback End

The first proposal was accepted by all parties as it was seemingly the most logical course of action at the moment. It was also ruled by the council that until they came back, their reports were thoroughly reviewed, and a final decision made, no aid was to be given to the visitors beyond what they needed to get back home.

That was the outcome White and probably just about everyone there had predicted. Now he just had to wait and see if everyone would accept the second.

The sound of a pair of footsteps alerted the President to the arrival of his expected guest. "I'm glad you could make it so soon." He said, turning to the gentleman that had walked into the presidential suite, holding out the second glass of wine which was accepted. The gentleman was elderly, bald, bearded, and needed a cane though he still proudly walked straight and tall. "I thought you would be so immersed in your work that you would completely forget our appointment."

"I am not a man to forget my priorities," stated the old man seriously. "This arrangement is too important for both of us." He took a sip from his glass and spent a moment mentally appraising the wine. "I assume that the negotiations went according to our predictions?"

"They did, which means we have to stick to the plan."

The elder gentleman glanced over to the young president. "Are you sure you want to do this? You still have most of your life ahead of you and should something go wrong, your career and reputation…"

"Don't try talking me out of this now; I was the one to contact you. The importance of this deal is too great, and with great reward comes great risk. A risk I am willing to take." The president's face darkened with a frown as he dredged up memories. "The Atlantic Federation, my home and the country I love, is just a shadow of its former self. For too long, the likes of Blue Cosmos and Logos have manipulated and used us for their own gain, only for their plans to fail and backlash on them, taking the Atlantic Federation with them as they fell. Ever since I took office, I dedicated myself to restoring my country to its former glory."

"I wonder whether you are demonstrating the determination of passion or the fanciful follies of youth," muttered the old man.

To this comment, the president just grinned. "I like to think it's a bit of both," he admitted. "But you surely can't tell me that you're not excited about this. After all, if everything works out you should be one step closer to finishing your project, and stand to claim the title of greatest scientific innovator in human history." He paused for a moment and considered his words, "Or, at the very least, in the history of this planet."

The old man smiled in amusement. White had figured out his hidden emotions quite easily and with frightening accuracy. "The title is just a trinket compared to the knowledge of what my work could create. You should know that for your goals are similar, are they not, Mr. President?"

"Indeed they are, Mr. Schenberg."

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Planet: Ankus

System: Ankus

Sector: Freestanding Subsectors

Oversector: Not Applicable, Just Galactic West Bright Jewel Oversector

Grid Coordinates: I-7

Region: Mid Rim

Date: 34:2

Praetor II Battlecruiser: Venomous Fang

Davros watched the planet Ankus spin slowly from the bridge of his flagship. "Has there been any sign of the Mangle?"

The captain of the ship reported a negative. None of the scout ships could find any trace of the Mangle in the backwater system.

Davros would have snorted in frustration but he restrained out of the decorum required of his post and instead went over what they knew. He knew that the Mangle had been in the system as records of its presence recorded by the local spaceport existed. However Darkel had not shared any information as to why he was in the system, nor even announced his presence to the local authority, and the spaceport's records were incomplete "Due to twitchy system upgrades the sensors and computers were undergoing at the time." The admiral had barely managed to suppress an unbecoming snort of disbelief when he had been fed that lie.

Public spaceports required that any and all ships fill out various papers such as cargo manifests and passenger lists for both incoming and outgoing trips as well as forms for activities like maintenance or refueling. However those were done to make sure the proper people got the appropriate bill. Private spaceports, such as the TaggCo run facility on Ankus, had to follow similar procedures, but they were notorious for providing far less details to ensure the 'privacy' of their customers. And the lack of proper documentation, even from public facilities, only got worse on world's that were more remote or were known to have major connections with the criminal underworld.

It was more likely that the local TaggeCo officials were entertaining some of their less reputable cliental at the time and wanted to make sure their visit was discreet.

But this knowledge did not prevent Davros from threatening port control to hand over all the data they had. He would search for any clue he could find that he could use to explain the disappearance of the ship to the Admiralty so that the entirety of the blame would be placed on Darkel. Without a valid explanation it was likely that he would be the one who was blamed.

But then he considered, the only possible way for the spaceport to have not noticed the disappearance of a Star Destroyer was if the crew, at the behest of the ship's master, was not using standard procedure and were actively trying to hide the ship. Darkel didn't have the authority to officially circumvent procedure, and it provided a nice plausible theory.

The only other explanation would be if those in charge of Ankus were covering up something.

"Sir," called an ensign at the communications console, "I am picking up a transmission from the planet's surface that is using Imperial naval encryptions."

Davros cocked en eyebrow. "Really," he murmured. "Captain, find the source of that transmission and bring the individual responsible in for interrogation. I will be waiting in my quarters for the report."

As it turned out, Davros didn't have to wait long. The majority of official, and many unofficial, HoloNet transceivers were strictly controlled by the Empire so a simple check of the logs showed that it was some minor TaggCo administrative aide. Of course troops were sent to his home in order to pick him up and escort him to a shuttle that would bring him up to the battlecruiser. Within a few hours the man was sitting 'comfortably' within one of the interrogation cells with some men that probably enjoyed their work a little too much.

Needless to say, the man sang like a bird. The tune was interesting but not very long. According to the report handed to Davros after the interrogation was finished, the aide had sent out information about a Rebel meeting and was answered by Darkel. The aide did not know who orchestrated the meeting or who would be participating, but he did know the landing bay the rebel's ship would be berthed. So Darkel used the aide to find a dockworker that would slip in a virus that would hide and transmit any hyperspace coordinates right before a jump.

The aide, being as opportunistic as he was, had altered the virus while it was in his custody and added some additional code that would send a second transmission to himself.

That was the data that Davros was looking over, the coordinates of the hyperspace jump. He tried matching them up with all of the coordinates in the Venomous Fang's database and he did not like the results. 'A hyperspace jump leading straight into the Unknown Regions? That's practically suicidal.' Yet the coordinates didn't lie, and the calculations to get to the final destination seemed sound. But the thought that someone had managed to discover a route past that hyperspace anomaly ridden region of space that separated the Unknown Regions from the civilized portion of the galaxy controlled by the Empire was practically preposterous.

However it could be a valuable piece of information about the rebels, a possible trap they designed to destroy pursuing vessels. Or it could be some desperate attempt at escape that likely led to the destruction of both the Rebels and the Mangle. Further investigation was required.

"Lieutenant," he said to the aide patiently waiting for orders, "Inform the captain that our probe droids are to be modified to communicate with each other via subspace radio and then launched to these coordinates along the calculated route with one stopping every 25 light-years once they pass the border region, with adjusted calculations to compensate for the elapsed time. When that is done we will remain here until the droids' reports come in. Oh, and the aide in interrogation is to be executed. I'm sure the only reason he was aware of the rebels is because of some connection to a smuggling organization."

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Planet: Earth

System: Sol

Sector: Not Applicable

Grid Coordinates: H-7

Region: Unknown Regions

Date: CE 75

Leia was curious as to why the President of the Atlantic Federation had requested an audience with her. It was the day after the negotiations and based on current estimations just two more days before the Tantive IV would be ready to leave dry-dock, and Earth's leaders were still in the process of selecting the few who would participate in the coming reconnaissance mission.

She wasn't particularly nervous. Why should she be? The Sol Council had made its decision regarding the rest of the galaxy, including Leia and the Tantive's crew. It was now just a matter of letting them see what the Empire is like and what the Alliance is fighting for.

She was however curious as to why the AF President would request her presence for a private audience. Was it just to be a simple meeting to get to know each other or was there something more? Because of the fragmented nature of the planet, no single nation could take action for or against her without facing repercussions from the others, and she had little doubt that President White was under considerable scrutiny after his proposal to use the greatest weapons Earth's technology had ever created.

She was brought to the Atlantic Federation embassy and was escorted to the president's suite, only just noticing the lightly armed guards. She was more interested in the music that was emanating from behind the doors. She was let in to a rather lovely suite that reminded her somewhat of one of the relaxation social rooms used for after party conversation at the Alderaanian palace. And George White stood at the far end of the room staring out a large window to the city beyond.

White had noticed her entry and turned to her with a smile. "Princess, please come in. If you'd like, I have some excellent wine for refreshment."

Leia accepted the wine and thanked him both for the wine and inviting her. As she sipped the wine, noticing it was a bit tarter than her favorite Alderaanian wine, she took an appreciative glance out to the city, the Earth, and stars shining in the 'night' sky above the city. It was an amazing sight, made more so by the knowledge of how difficult and painstaking it must have been to for the people of Earth to simulate their home planet so thoroughly, even managing to almost simulate the stronger gravity perfectly, with their level of technology.

As a diplomat's daughter Leia had visited many planets, moons, and artificial satellites throughout the galaxy and had detailed knowledge of hundreds more. She was aware that this lunar city was not entirely unique. There were probably hundreds of similar installations on various moons and asteroids across the galaxy, but many of those were the private getaways of the rich and powerful, and those that weren't were designed for tourists.

And orbital stations were a decicred a dozen serving as refueling stations, trading outposts, large starship construction and repair docks, even orbital cities such as what the Duros constructed when their home planet became uninhabitable. But those facilities were all very utilitarian in design and purpose with little in the way of wide open spaces or plant life, aside from designated greenhouses and agriculture centers. They were nothing like this open and welcoming city where plants grew in abundance for both the pleasure of their presence and as an air reclamation system.

"A beautiful sight," said White, speaking Leia's thoughts. "I don't know if it compares to anything out where you're from, but I'd like to think that this moon, this planet, is a real gem."

"Don't sell yourself short, Mr. President. You'd be hard pressed to find a creation such as this city no matter what part of the galaxy you venture into. Some would say that this city is a work of art. But I don't think that you asked me here for my opinion of the view."

"Heh, I knew you were a sharp one, princess, but I didn't expect you to be blunt around other politicians."

"It all depends on whom I am speaking to. At the Senate I wouldn't be, but I have already shared some of my most guarded secrets, secrets the Empire would torture and kill me for. So what do I have to worry about being a little blunt in my speech here?"

"Nothing, I suppose. As for why I asked you here, well I better wait for my other guest to arrive. He's running a little late and should have been here by now." As if summoned by the young politician the door opened and an elderly man walked in as if he owned the suites. "But there he is now. Hello, Aeolia, what kept you?"

"We were running a live-fire test with one of the rebuilt weapons. There was some sort of malfunction and it exploded. It was contained and thankfully those exposed walked away with only minor injuries. But aren't you forgetting your manners, young man? A proper introduction needs to be made."

Not many people could get away with admonishing the leader of a nation as powerful as the Atlantic Federation about a breach of etiquette, but Aeolia Schenberg was one of them.

"Sorry, Aeolia, this is Princess Leia Organa, member of the Imperial Senate and spy for the Alliance to restore the Republic. Princess Leia, this is Aeolia Schenberg, founder and head researcher of Anaheim Electronics. And to answer your earlier question about why you are here, Aeolia asked me to set up a meeting between the two of you so that you may discuss business."

"Business?" asked Leia, "What type of business? You can't mean some sort of trade after the Council made the decree that no one could make such interactions beyond the need to repair my ship."

"It's true that the Council did forbid trade until a final decision was made," said Aeolia. "However the Council only has power of authority over the governments of member nations and those institutions they control or fund. A privately owned and operated group such as Anaheim Electronics is, aside from some guidelines, beyond their control, thus I am well within my legal ability to negotiate with you."

Excitement grew within Leia to such a degree that she set down her glass so as to not give away the fact that her hands were trembling slightly. This was more then she had hoped for, the chance to have technology that the Empire was completely unaware of, an advantage the Rebels never had before. Yes, it would have been nice to be able to join the entirety of Earth's resources to the cause, but this would be enough for now. And she would just make sure that the representatives joining the Tantive IV would leave with a favorable image of the Alliance's stance in the galaxy. But she couldn't lose her head over this.

"This willingness and ability to offer trade is tempting, Mr. Schenberg. But I assume that while the Sol Council has no direct authority over you, they have implied authority, at least in a matter such as this. And I can't help but wonder what sort of benefits the Atlantic Federation gets out of this deal," said Leia as she turned her eyes on her fellow politician.

White raised his hands as if in surrender, "I assure you, Princess, I am not attempting some sort of arms race with this deal. Anaheim Electronics is a multi-national organization with facilities in 7 of the eleven nations of the Sol Council. Also while the Council has no direct authority over it, there were certain laws instituted by every nation. Laws created to act as deterrents to another war. One such law is that when any new technology that falls within a preset list of criteria is developed by any organization, whether in the public or private sector, it must be made available on an open market. Meaning that while anything Anaheim Electronics built with your technology could be patented it would have to be publically declared and made available to all potential buyers. The consequences for not abiding by this law can be quite dire."

But that answer did quite satisfy Leia. "It still seems strange that you would be a part of this secret deal, President White, considering what you proposed during the negotiations."

"I am simply doing what I can to facilitate the advance of a relationship between Earth and the Alliance. But I do have an ulterior motive, the desire that my actions can restore the Atlantic Federation to what it once was, before the likes of Logos interfered. And while I can't say that I know for sure whether or not you're telling the truth, the evidence does support you, and I am willing to take the risk that you are being honest. Though to do so in an open political environment would have been a disaster."

Now Leia understood. White couldn't have initiated this sort of action openly, and neither could any other of the political leaders, with a group they know so little about. On this planet that would have been politically bad. But he could use the law to get her in touch with someone that had no such political constraints. "Very well then, Mr. Schenberg, how shall we begin?"

Aeolia walked over to one of the table's that held a small device on it. Pressing a button a screen slid out of the top of the machine, which was soon filled with a changing image of various schematics.

"This computer contains the technical information of five mobile suits; the ZGMF-1017 GINN, ZGMF-515 CGUE, GAT-01 Strike Dagger, GAT-01A1 Dagger, and the GAT-01A2 Slaughter Dagger. Aside from the mobile suits' frame design and OS, the computer also contains files on their armor's alloy composition, propulsion methods, and defensive technologies, such as the anti-beam coating on mobile suit shields and the laminated armor used in the Dagger models. There are also files on how to construct the various weapons such as the assault rifle, missile pods, GINN sword, beam rifle, beam sub-machine gun, and beam saber and just about any other equipment these machines can use."

"An impressive amount of data you're willing to trade," commented Leia. "I notice that, with one exception, there doesn't seem to be any of the machines that took down the Star Destroyer, nor any others I have recently seen. Why is that?"

"That's because these are older models with the most basic of our mobile suit technologies," answered Aeolia. "We have many more mobile suits that are environment and situation specific, and numerous models that contain more advanced technology. President White and I agreed it would be too much to present that on the table in the first round."

"I understand," said Leia. "And what would you like in return?"

"The first item we would like is similar technical schematics for your ship. Specifically we are interested in your engines, power reactors, inertial compensators, artificial gravity generation, energy shields, and magcon fields. The second item is any records aboard your ship that concerns the galaxy, any files on flora and fauna, whether sentient or not, and information on any political organizations. The third and final item is any information for medical technology you possess aboard your ship."

Leia didn't even hesitate before agreeing to the terms. "I will have my protocol droid begin translating the information into your writing system. And as a gesture of good faith, I will also have Threepio include translations for the twenty most common languages after Basic." They really weren't asking much. The sum total of all of the technology and information that the Alliance had to offer was a hundred times greater than the contents of a single corvette or two ships if you counted the disabled Star Destroyer.

()()()()()()()

Planet: Ankus

System: Ankus

Sector: Freestanding Subsectors

Oversector: Not Applicable, Just Galactic West Bright Jewel Oversector

Grid Coordinates: I-7

Region: Mid Rim

Date: 34:2

Praetor II Battlecruiser: Venomous Fang

Davros was just about to sit down to his evening meal in his private quarters when a tone indicated that someone desired entry to his quarters. "This had better be important," the admiral stated at the entering lieutenant in irritation for interrupting his meal.

"Sorry for the disturbance, sir, but you asked for the data from the probe droids as soon as we received and analyzed it."

Davros cocked an eyebrow. "Already? We only sent the droids out yesterday."

"Yes sir, the reason is that a considerable number of droids were stopped roughly half-way to the end point designated by the coordinates."

The lieutenant entered a command into his datapad that activated the Admiral's private holo-projector, bringing up an image from the ship's computer. The image showed a basic galactic map of the space and stars of the area from Ankus to the original system that the coordinates indicated. A red line than appeared, outlining the path of the droids.

"All of the droids up to number 143 stopped at their appointed checkpoints. Their initial findings indicate that the path is clear and safe. Although scouts and astrocartographers will have to investigate the path before it can get Imperial approval as an open and safe hyperspace route."

"We're not concerned with opening a new hyperspace route. Our only concern is for what is at the end and if we can get there safely. What of the droids after 143?"

"Those droids were stopped after entering this cluster of stars," the map zoomed in on a group of a dozen or so stars with the droids' red path ending at the star in the center. "There they encountered a mass shadow, and exited as per safety protocols. As with the others, once they were in-system they began transmitting data, however…"

"However what?"

The lieutenant entered another command that switched the image over to a different image. This one was a still image that was admittedly very poor in quality, so poor that Davros wasn't sure what it was. "This is an image from one of the droids. All the images are similar to this in quality and lasted at best a few seconds before dissolving into static. Our analysts suspect the poor quality is caused by degradation from having the signal pass through so many relays, but they aren't ruling out jamming that is natural or artificial. If it is the artificial jamming, then it would mean whoever is behind it must have been doing it over a vast swath of space around the planet, and the expense of doing such without good reason leads us to believe it's probably the former."

"This is the best you have?" asked the admiral.

"It is the best natural image, sir. During analyses, all of the images were cleaned up and compiled together into one image. Its quality is considerably higher." The holo-projector changed images again, showing a still somewhat fuzzy picture of a blue planetoid with what may have been a moon in the distance. Closer to the viewpoint of the image was a large grey, fuzzy triangle that looked quite familiar to the admiral.

"Is that…?"

"We believe it is the Mangle, sir. Also the sensors detected indications that there had been recent ship activity beyond the Mangle. We can't confirm due to signal quality but we are over 95 percent sure of our findings."

"Rebel ships?"

"We can't verify it but it would be a logical guess considering who the Mangle was chasing."

Davros thought about the information for a few seconds. Then he asked, "This route is safe, yes?"

"To the best of our knowledge it is. A probe droid's sensors aren't exactly designed for this but they are sophisticated enough to pick out any major dangers."

"Good," said Davros as he typed something into his datapad. Once he was finished he removed a datacard and gave it to his subordinate. "I'm giving you a list of ships and their captains. I want them here as soon as possible, prepared for a fleet action. We will be going to the planet to deal with any rebels and to retrieve the Mangle."

"Very good sir."

The lieutenant saluted, turned, and left, leaving the admiral to return to his dinner, which had grown cold. 'I'll have to think up a punishment for him after everything has been taken care of,' he thought as he called his personal chef to prepare him a fresh dinner.

()()()()()()()

Planet: Earth

System: Sol

Sector: Not Applicable

Grid Coordinates: H-7

Region: Unknown Regions

Date: CE 75

Leia spent another two local hours at the president's suite. Some of the time was spent working out a few minor details of how to get their respective items of information to the other, and as well as getting a better feel for the partners involved in the deal.

But most of it was simply to give the appearance that she was simply a dinner guest. And she did have dinner with the two, a type of local fowl called a duck marinated in a type of fruit sauce.

As she and her escorts, both her own and those provided by the council, walked back to her own hotel she felt very good about the day.

Suddenly she felt something. A sensation in the back of her head not unlike what she felt at the negotiations. Leia stopped walking and turned to look behind her. She had a feeling that there was something behind her. And there was, or rather someone.

Kira Yamato stood there, wearing normal civilian attire rather than the military uniform he wore the last time Leia had seen him.

"Good evening, Princess Organa," he greeted warmly. "I was hoping that if you could spare a few moments, you wouldn't mind taking a quick walk with me." Kira said indicating a park that was conveniently nearby. "Lacus is waiting in there and would like to speak with you."

'Privately meeting with two world leaders in one day? Should I find this fortuitous or troubling?' "I'd love to," said Leia, not seeing any harm in the activity.

The guards kept a respectful distance as the diplomat and pilot quietly strolled into the park, though a short way into it Leia noticed that Kira seemed unusually interested in her face, staring at her from the corner of his eye.

"Is there a problem, Mr. Yamato?"

"Ah, sorry," Kira said in apology, his face slightly red from the embarrassment of being caught. "Call me Kira, and I'm sorry for staring. It's just that I'm having some trouble getting used to…"

"Getting used to the fact that the first group of living aliens to make contact with your people is comprised of mostly humans," Leia finished for him. "Am I right, Kira?"

"Well yes." Responded Kira simply. "The Whale Stone brought back from Jupiter proved that life exists beyond our planet. I just don't think anyone suspected that there would be human life."

Leia couldn't help but smile in amusement. Conversations like this were one of the more enjoyable aspects of her duties. "I've seen a picture of that Whale Stone. Believe it or not, it bears a striking resemblance to a thranta, a domesticated animal species from my home world."

"Really? That must have surprised you when you saw it."

"Yes, but I am used to surprises like that. The galaxy is a big place, with a long and complicated history. No matter how often or how far you travel, you are sure to see and experience things that are both unexpected and familiar."

As if to prove her point on the unexpected, a small, green, robotic bird suddenly flew up right into Leia's face, giving the princess a start, stopping her in her tracks.

"Birdy?" inquired the little robot as it tilted its head, as real birds tend to do when they are examining something, as if it was wondering what Leia was. The bird's examination lasted only a moment before it seemed to make its choice about the princess before it flew up and landed atop her head, hopping in place until it was settled on its new perch.

Leia's eyes rolled up, trying to see the small robot that was roosting on her head and Kira couldn't help but to laugh at the antics of his mechanical pet.

"Sorry about that," Kira said in apology, though it was difficult to determine his sincerity behind that amused smile and his efforts to stifle more laughs.

"What is this?" asked Leia as she attempted to get the bird off her head, only for it to keep hopping out of the way of her hand.

"Birdy, Birdy!" it cried in protest.

Kira couldn't help but let out a few more laughs. "That's Birdy. He's kind of a pet that a friend built for me." Reaching out with his hand, Kira got Birdy to switch over to the more willing perch.

Leia gave the mechanical bird a quick study, already classifying it as a true droid in her mind. "It's a clever piece of engineering. You don't have repulsorlift technology and it can still fly. And it seems amusing enough, when it's not trying to roost in your hair."

"Birdy!"

Again Kira chuckled again after Birdy made its indignation at Leia's comment known, even though it didn't have the processing power to simulate such emotion. "If you like Birdy, you'll love what he made for Lacus."

"What did he—?" before she could finish the question something small, round, and pink hopped in front of her face.

"Hello, hello!" greeted the infamous Mr. Pink as it bounced in front of Leia's face, using its mechanical flaps to achieve flight for several seconds before it fell back to the ground, bounced, and rolled back the way it came.

Again Leia paused and blinked in surprise at the interruption, not quite sure what to make of the pink thing.

Fortunately, Kira had gotten all of the laughter out of his system so he was prepared to explain it. "That was one of Lacus's Haros. She usually brings Mr. Pink with her wherever she goes. If it's here than she should be close by."

Indeed Lacus wasn't more than twenty feet away, sitting on a park bench hidden by trees and listening to the babble of Haro. She was giggling at something Haro had said when she finally noticed the two. She looked at the two with her usual demure smile. "Hello, Kira," she said immediately, walking up to the young man.

The two gave each other a quick hug and kiss, after which Lacus focused her attention on Leia. "Hello, Princess Leia. I hope you had a good evening with President White and Mr. Schenberg. Tell me, was it profitable?" She asked while extending her hand.

Leia grasped Lacus' hand in greeting, a hand that looked petite and held her own gently yet still felt stronger than it looked, in what she knew was a customary greeting. But it wasn't Lacus' hand that Leia was thinking about; it was how Lacus used the word profitable.

"Yes, I did have a good and profitable evening," Leia admitted somewhat carefully. "Right now I am trying to decide if I should be surprised that you already know or not."

"Neither gentleman intended to keep the matter secret," said Lacus as she sat back down, patting the seat beside her in invitation to Leia who accepted. "Mr. Schenberg is a large supporter of Terminal, which is the organization from which we selected your escorts. All of my counterparts are aware of the deal they intended to offer. Most of them consider it a risky venture for the reasons stated at the negotiations. However, I don't feel there's any risk at all."

"Oh, you don't believe that I and the people I work for won't use your technology to develop an army with which to conquer your planet?"

"Nope," said Lacus. "And that's because I trust Kira who is an exceptional judge of character, or at least he has come to be."

Leia spared a brief glance to the young man, reminded of the unusual mental sensation that she always felt when near him, even now.

"However," continued Lacus, "as important as that meeting was, it is not what I wish to discuss." She held out her hand and Kira gave her a folder. "A short while ago, a number of objects appeared within a thousand kilometers of where your ship and the imperial ship first appeared. When contact was made with one it exploded, which is believed to have been a self-destruct. I assume you're familiar with them."

Leia was given several flimsiplast sheets with pictures on them depicting numerous objects floating in space. It took Leia a moment to work out the details of their features but when she did she recognized them.

"Viper probe droids," concern heavily laced in her voice. "These are a type of scouting droids used by the Empire that can travel through hyperspace and transmit their findings back to the ship that launched them. Someone in the Empire is looking for us, and it would seem that they found us."

Both Kira and Lacus visibly frowned. "I was afraid you would say something like that."

"But there is some hope, however," continued Leia. "My people have been unable to contact the outside galaxy. Something is messing with our HoloNet system. It could also interfere with those probe droids' own superluminal communications system."

"That's a big if to bet on," Kira pointed out. "And even if the probe droids haven't managed to send something out, we should make our move on the assumption that they know where we are."

"There could still be some hope," said Leia as she handed back the photos. "The Empire is a massive organization, and sometimes the ambitions of one will leave the rest uninformed. The information could have been stopped after it reached an individual who wished to use it to their advantage, even if it had reached an admiral. The Emperor is known to award those who show initiative in successfully carrying out standing orders. Destroying an enemy force would fall into that category for an admiral." Leia paused and considered the possibilities. "Either way this is not a good situation. I need to get back to Alderaan, get in touch with my people, and begin damage control. If luck is on our side, the situation can be salvaged to protect both your world and the Alliance."

This could be considered good news but Lacus still frowned as she considered all that was being said. "In the end, though, you're still telling us to expect another war," she said dejectedly.

"I'm sorry," said Leia sincerely. "It's because of us coming to your system that you have become involved."

"What's done is done," said Lacus. "All that we can do now is to prepare for the future. A future filled with more war. I just wish that there were other options besides fighting."

Kira came up behind Lacus and gently took her in his arms. "It's OK, Lacus. We'll try any solution we can think of to prevent the fighting. As long as we sincerely try for peace… But we must prepare for battle." Kira turned his head to look at Leia. "Princess, can your people provide us with tactical data of the likely composition of an enemy fleet, as well as data on where they will likely appear? Can you tell us if they are likely to use nuclear weapons and what defenses they have prepared for such attacks?"

"Kira!" Exclaimed Lacus in shock, instantly aware of what Kira was thinking. "We can't!"

"We may not have a choice, Lacus. More than half of the Earth Sphere's mobile suits were destroyed in the war and since its end only a small number of new ones were built, and there have been fewer new warships. If the Empire does come here to fight, like President White said it will be my first duty to protect everyone, using all available resources, even those."

Lacus wanted to protest but when she considered the reported strength that this Empire wielded, 25,000 mile-long warships with a thousand times that number in smaller warships and support vessels, not even she could deny such logic. Though she detested the thought of resorting to such weapons, she was a woman willing to fight to protect peace.

For her part, Leia was trying her best to recall some of the knowledge about military equipment that she hopefully knew. "It will be impossible to tell the size or composition of an Imperial assault force without prior data. It will be based on whatever the commander feels is needed. I can tell you that most Admirals prefer to have at least four lines of battle for fleet actions, each line being composed of several smaller ships or one Imperial Star Destroyer. Then there will be the combat support ships for each battle line. They will have a variety of nuclear weapons but the Empire favors the use of turbolasers. As for the rest of the data I'll need to go back to my ship to prepare and consult with Antilles. He has more combat experience."

"Thank you," said Kira. "We'll ensure that the representatives and your ship will be ready to go soon."

()()()()()

Planet: Earth

System: Sol

Sector: Not Applicable

Grid Coordinates: H-7

Region: Unknown Regions

Date: CE 75

Star Destroyer Mangle

Tristan was sitting in his cabin. His rank didn't grant private quarters but his roommates were out on duty allowing him the time to use the cabin to hold a meeting. A meeting to discuss a recent development in the plans for mutiny that Tristan had pretty much become the organizer and leader of.

Though considering the new development, the mutiny may not have to take place.

"So a large number of probe droids have appeared in-system," he muttered to himself as he looked over the data on the datapad. "Were they able to send any signal out?" He asked of the warrant officer who worked communications.

"Not that I know of sir. Because of the nature of probe droids they have a rather unique set of transmitters that make it harder to detect any signals they send. At the very least a single probe droid has a better chance of getting something out-system than we have with our shoddily repaired systems."

"Either way their presence is a boon for us," said Tristan as he analyzed the situation. "Someone out there knows of this location."

"But if they don't get anything from the droids they won't come," said the third individual to attend this update meeting, an army captain in charge of the platoon sergeants aboard the ship. "They'll think they were destroyed."

"They could send a follow up team," countered the warrant officer. "And it wouldn't be too long after that a rescue would be mounted."

The captain was about to bark out a response but Tristan raised a hand for silence.

"The droids may have gotten a signal out-system or they might not have. There may be some form of rescue attempt, there might not. Either way for the good of the crew we have to operate under the assumption that the situation is still the same. Captain, have you determined the security situation?"

"Yeah, according to my men that play sabacc with the ship's security personal they're only going to follow the guys in charge. However most of the ground troops dislike the current situation and their feelings are starting to boil over. The ship isn't carrying a full complement of ground troops but we certainly outnumber security. Once the preparations are complete we can take this ship anytime."

"Good, if that's all than this meeting is adjourned. Tell the others in your department to stick to the plan and keep an ear to the assigned comm. channel in case there's an emergency. I'll make sure to inform the other officers involved."

()()()()()

Planet: Ankus

System: Ankus

Sector: Freestanding Subsectors

Oversector: Not Applicable, Just Galactic West Bright Jewel Oversector

Grid Coordinates: I-7

Region: Mid Rim

Date: 34:2

Praetor II Battlecruiser: Venomous Fang

Admiral Davros gazed out the bridge viewport, studying the sight before him. Seemingly sitting completely still out in space, visible from the bridge of the Venomous Fang were a single Dreadnought heavy cruiser, and a Nebulon-B frigate. Davros also knew that in addition to these two ships there were two Acclamator I-assault cruisers, another Nebulon-B frigate, four Marauder corvettes, and finally three Charger refitted Consular corvettes.

Davros was not particularly happy with the selection of ships, since with the exception of the Nebulon-Bs they were all from the Clone Wars if not older. However, after studying what ships were used in the local forces of the area he knew that these ships were the only ones available for his operation and for the sake of speed had to forgo the ability to call upon any Star Destroyers.

'Still,' he thought, 'I suppose it does not make much difference. My battlecruiser will be the main combatant and they are just here to support it, making sure the rebels can't run from me. And at least I have my Acclamators.'

Though not commonly used in the modern Imperial Navy that favored keeping its large ships in space while assault shuttles transported troops, the Acclamators would allow him to rapidly deploy his troops on the ground. To that end he had almost the entirety of the three army battlegroups and stormtrooper legion his flagship carried transferred to the Acclamators along with their ground support vehicles, leaving only 300 troops aboard the ship for security purposes.

Already he had a basic battle plan formed and relayed to the fleet commanders. It was a simple one that can be easily adapted to changing situations.

Finally word came from the group of scout ships sent to scout the hyperspace route up to the first rendezvous point. These scouts would blaze the trail for the squadron up to the final leg of the trip, ensuring the route was safe. It would take a little longer but it was for the best. After all it was far less embarrassing to lose a few shuttles to a hyperspace related accident than to lose an entire fleet.

With a quick nod of conformation to communications he ordered the formation of 13 ships to move out.

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Imperial "Ankus Hunt" Squadron Overview:

The "Ankus Hunt" squadron is an impromptu capital ship squadron formed under the command of Admiral Davros as part of a mission to track down the missing VSD Mangle and destroy any pirates or rebels they encounter.

At the heart of this squadron is the Venomous Fang, the Praetor II Battlecruiser that serves as Davros's flagship. One of the few battlecruisers in service with the Empire, Davros takes great pride in her power such that he is skeptical and dismissive of any claim that a "rag-tag" group of rebels could threaten her. Because of this pride he uses her as the hammer that shatters the enemy into pieces that will be caught by the net formed from supporting capital ships. As such when assembling the squadron he sought ships that could reach his position quickly as opposed to waiting for any warships that could provide substantial fire support.

Having chosen to draw on nearby local forces, from planets such as Rago and Ansion that reside in what is considered a remote and backwater region of the Empire, Davros had to make due with older ships, all of which were as old as the first year of the Clone Wars with the exception of the two Nebulon-B escort frigates. With few exceptions each ship under his command is staffed with only the minimal crew required and is generally in only moderate condition and repair. Again with few exceptions the crews have all graduated from third-rate local system naval academies as opposed to highly accredited academies such as Anaxes.

Their starfighter support is in similar condition, being composed of a motely group of Z-95 Headhunters, CloakShape fighters, Dagger-class fighters, Drexl-class starfighters, Pinook-class fighters, and SoroSuub Planetary Defender fighters that all predate the Clone Wars.

While considered sufficient for protecting remote regions of little value, most in the Empire would believe that Davros was scrapping the bottom of the barrel of personnel and ships. Davros would just say that they are support and his flagship would do the real work.