"Are we keeping you from something, Agent?"
She wasn't an Agent of the Empire, not officially, not anymore, so as a title it was meaningless, as outdated as her "Cipher Nine" designation. There was no Imperial Intelligence, and she was no longer one of its officers, no longer a hand of Imperial might quelling dissent. But she refused to share her name with most of her team, out of paranoid habit more than anything, so the title was a good a mode of address as any.
Besides, she had been addressed by that designation so long it might as well have been her name. Vector had once murmured it to her while they were passionately entwined, and he had been quite put off her by insistent giggling over the matter. At least for a minute or so, after that, he saw the funny side. After that, the name became something of a private joke between them.
Thoughts of Vector made her realise why exactly she kept checking her chronometer. "Vector's shuttle was supposed to dock an hour ago."
Kaliyo, true to her nature, didn't look at all concerned by Vector's absence. In fact, she was probably glad to be away from 'bug boy' as she referred to him. So instead of assuming an expression of concern, she smirked. "Feeling a little blue with him gone?"
The Agent sighed and shook her head. If she had a credit chit for every time some Imperial had made a joke about blue, feeling blue, blue balls or some other colour related pun, she would be one very rich Chiss. "It's unusual for him to be late."
Kaliyo shrugged nonchalantly. "Probably got hung up with something. Delayed. Don't worry about it, have another drink."
The Agent hadn't even had one drink. Kaliyo had drunk at least four, which was probably why she hadn't noticed the Agent nursing her drink all afternoon. "Nothing's that simple," she retorted. "And knowing that's kept me alive a long time." She pushed her drink away and stood. "Have mine."
Kaliyo shook her head. "Fine. But bugboy can take care of himself."
The Agent ignored her, and headed out of the cantina. They'd put into the Imperial fleet for some repairs, the Agent using some of her contacts within the fleet hierarchy to get the repairs done on her beloved X70B-Phantom off the books. She could have gone to any non-military facility she cared to, but she didn't trust any of them with her ship, and Imperials could be intimidated into keeping silent on some of the more experimental technology in a way that unscrupulous ship dealers couldn't.
The repairs were dealing with the hull and one of the engines, damage received after a brush with a Republic frigate that had taken exception to her presence near one of their military installations, and while the damage hadn't really made it to the core of the ship, many of the systems had to be taken offline to perform maintenance. So the Agent made her way to one of the public holocom terminals, attached a small device designed to layer in powerful encryptions into the subcarrier, and sent a few choice and carefully phrased questions.
And then, while she waited for the replies to come in, she went to find the repair chief overseeing work on her Phantom to deliver a thinly veiled threat about finishing the work within the hour or else he would find himself on the wrong side of an airlock.
"I assume you're responsible for the extremely pale looking deck chief I passed in the hangar bay." Doctor Lokin, as usual, sounded subtly amused at the whole concept.
The Agent didn't glance up from the datapad she had in her lap, only tapping its face to get it to advance through its collection of dossiers. "It's amazing how motivated technicians can be with the proper incentive. They even managed to get the atmospheric flush done in record time."
Doctor Lokin stroked his beard, clear amusement on his face. "I'll assume there's a reason why you felt it necessary to put the fear of all things holy into the maintenance crew?"
"Not the fear of anything holy," the Agent said, and raised her eyes from the datapad long enough to arch her eyebrows at Lokin. He could fill in the rest of the sentence himself.
"Is something concerning you, my dear Agent? You seem remarkably perturbed." Perhaps it was only obvious to him, a man who had spent many years around Intelligence Agents and knew from long experience how well they were able to mask emotions. To anyone else, she only appeared to be sitting calmly, reading.
"Many things concern me, doctor, only one of which occupies my attention at this moment."
Suddenly the Agent stiffened, staring at the datapad in her lap. Lokin frowned, and waited her to voice her thoughts. Finally, she stirred, though her expression was still blank, a professional mask that expertly hid any and all emotion. "Vector's been kidnapped," she said.
Lokin blinked, faintly surprised at her assertion. "How do you come to this conclusion?" he asked, genuinely curious. She seemed to have so very little information before her.
"He boarded a transport from Alderaan to Dromund Kaas, but never appeared at the destination. This woman was on board." She handed him the datapad. It displayed the photograph and biodata summary of a rather pretty Human female who wore the uniform of an Imperial diplomat.
Lokin opened his mouth to ask what about this woman gave the Agent that knowledge, but she was already moving, standing and heading for the cockpit.
"Make sure everyone's back on board," she said, "We leave in an hour."
Lokin looked back at the datapad and wondered who Anora Yu was that she so agitated the Agent.
The song was muted, distant, the melody thin and hard to pick out. Or was it simply an echo? A memory of the song that no longer surrounded him?
And the hive, the hive was silent.
No, not silent.
Vector convulsed involuntarily, thrashing, trying to reach out physically where his mind could not, but his motions were arrested; he was bound hand and foot atop a gently padded surface. Even the cuffs were lined with fuzzy material, presumably to prevent him from hurting himself. The air was sour with the stench of sterilising fields and medicines.
Voices reached him from the other side of the room, muddled through distance and some sort of narcotic swimming through his system. He vaguely recognised the sensation from a mission with his Agent...
If the lack of the hive was a loss that felt like a gaping wound somewhere inside him, her absence was more a sharp stab to the side.
"He looks like he's in pain." Someone spoke, someone possessing of a soft female voice tinged with uncertainty. It was a voice that seemed familiar but... not one he immediately recognised.
"It's not physiological," came the reply, "It's withdrawal from the pheromonic bond that connects him to the hive. Much of it is mental confusion that makes it all seem much worse than it actually is."
"He injured several of the guards who tried to restrain him."
Ah yes, now he considered the matter, he did seem to have the recollection of breaking the nose of a man in a uniform, knocking another out by slamming his head into a wall, and knocking at least one other off his feet before someone had hit him with a stun blast, or several, and everything had gone blank. It wasn't a clear recollection, the details obscured by the grey mist of emotion.
A soft sigh. "That's not the man I remember. The man I knew would never have used violence like that. Poor Vector."
The note of sympathetic pity stirred recollection where previously there had been none. Vector turned his head, twisting in his restraints, and blinking rapidly, forcing his eyes to focus on the two figures that were standing close together, in conversation on the other side of the room. One wore the simple garb of a doctor, easily recognisable even from a distance. The other...
The other he recognised from memories wreathed in the grey smoke of time and absence.
The doctor was an older man, with a rounded face and a sympathetic expression. "I assure you, Ms. Yu, we Alderaanians have a great deal of experience in freeing Joiners from Killik control. It's not a fast process, and it's an unhappy thing for the friends and family to witness, but it is effective."
Anora turned her head then, and the memories were replaced with the immediacy of her presence. He noted the differences in her that the holo she had sent him had been off too poor quality to allow him to see. There were lines around her mouth and eyes that hadn't been there before, and she looked tired, unhappy. She realised that he was staring at her, and her fingers raised to touch her lips in a small, slight gasp.
"His eyes look normal again," she whispered to the doctor, who nodded and beamed at her, as if this was some great accomplishment.
"That's just the beginning. Don't worry, we will take good care of Master Hyllus for you. He'll be back to normal in no time."
Vector forced himself to speak, to work past the holes that had been torn inside him, raking claws of chemistry and electricity tarnishing the very soul of him. "Anora," he said, and almost failed to recognise his own voice. His throat was raw, though he had no recollections of the noises he must have made to ache so. "Let us go."
Once, when he had pushed back the hive enough that they would not impinge on his consciousness, he had made a concerted effort to use the appropriately singular pronouns for such independence, though they had been inaccurate. He would only make that effort for one person, and that person was not Anora Yu.
"Oh Vector," Anora's eyes glistened slightly, and she took half a step forward, only to have her motion arrested by the doctor. She gave him an unhappy look.
"He's still not entirely in his right mind," he said, apologetically.
Vector tried again, and was relieved to find his voice was a little firmer. "There will be consequences if you do not release us."
Anora paused and then gracefully shrugged off the doctor's restraining hand and stepped across the medical bay, coming close to his bedside. She stayed a little over an arm's reach away from him, though, aware enough of the risk to her own safety that she didn't dare to push that limit. "From you?" she asked, with a sad smile.
"From our superior," he said, with the firmness of surety. He stared at her, but all he saw was the shallow reflection of flesh. No aura surrounded her, blinding him to her emotions, to her very core. It was like addressing a holo of one who was not entirely there.
Anora shook her head. "Vector, I'm neither a fool nor an ignorant child. Things have changed since we last saw each other, and I have a great many contacts these days. I know that Imperial Intelligence, they who you served, has been disbanded."
Vector tested his restraints, saw the way her eyes flickered down to his wrists as he did so, and back up again. "This information is widely known," he said, instead of the words that sat thickly on his tongue.
We are Dawn Herald and will not be restrained!
It was only a lifetime's service as a diplomat that meant he was able to pull sufficient words together to make himself understood, and the knowledge that breaking out now would probably only result in an increase in the soporific drugs he could taste in the air.
"How did you find us?" he asked, and rolled his head, staring about the room and trying to see as much as possible. There was only one doorway in and out of the room, which seemed to lead to some sort of antechamber visible through a large window. He could see what seemed to be some sort of lab beyond, and medical personnel moving soundlessly behind it. The Doctor lingered by the door, pretending that he wasn't listening to their conversation.
"As I said," Anora told him, "I have a great many contacts. I had to call in a lot of favours. You and I didn't end on the happiest of notes, I know, but that doesn't mean that I wanted to see you as some alien thrall for the rest of your life. Intelligence left orders that you were not to be interfered with, but they no longer exist. We seized the chance."
"Who is 'we'?" Gather information. Plan. Advice from his Agent to her student flittered across his mind, the recollection distracting him from the gnawing absence of the hive. They had been in a cantina on Nar Shaddaa, Ensign Temple listening raptly as his Agent described the importance of never acting until one knew every aspect of a situation.
When you know everything, she had said, you have the upper hand. There is nothing you will not be able to anticipate.
His ears rang with the silence where the Song of the Universe had once resounded. It was getting harder to keep a train of thought going.
"Myself, some of our old friends in the diplomatic service, people who knew you and what had happened to you. I told you that you had people who still cared about you in the holo I sent you. I wasn't lying."
Vector looked at her again. She was still flat, one-dimensional. "You have done me a cruelty, not a kindness. It hurts, Anora."
Anora raised her fingers and delicately wiped below her eyes, smudging her makeup. "Vector," she said, "I'm so sorry to do this to you. But I promise, we only have your best interests in mind. The Killiks changed you, indoctrinated you into their hive mind. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but I promise you, you'll feel better soon."
"Release us," he croaked out, the nagging desperation for the hive overwhelming him briefly, "Please."
"I'm sorry, Vector," Anora said, and stepped away. "It's for the best."
"Our Agent will come for us," he told her.
Anora hesitated on the threshold of the door. "No, she won't," she said, and nodded at the Doctor before leaving. "I'm sorry."
No matter how much he struggled and tried to free himself, Vector wasn't able to escape as the Doctor summoned other members of his staff and they set upon him with talons of needle-sharp metal and teeth of chemicals that turned his stomach and numbed his thoughts.
He clung to the memory of the hive and his Agent, and tried to find the peaceful centre deep inside where he could weather the assault.
"Anora Yu is the middle daughter of a highly placed Imperial family. Not a Sith line, but members of the family have served in several branches of Imperial service with distinction. Ms Yu herself is an officer of the diplomatic service. She's also Vector's former fiancée."
The Agent's team, all bar one, sat about the conference room table. The Agent had called up a floating holodisplay that showed the information she had pulled together with the speed and efficiency of one to whom such intelligence gathering was second nature.
"Snagged himself a looker," Kaliyo said, as an archive image of Anora Yu came on the display. She threw the Agent a sidelong glance. "Guess his standards slipped."
"Organics have no aesthetic virtues," Scorpio said. Everyone ignored the droid with the ease of practice, and the Agent ignored Kaliyo's sly jab in particular.
"Anora Yu recently put in for extended leave, starting two weeks ago, and scheduled to continue for the next six months. The diplomatic service requires that all their personnel leave contact details in case of recall, and she gave them the holocom of her family's estate on Takhaet."
The displayed image showed Takhaet, and gave a brief summary. It was a low-population world in the Imperial heart, with climate not too dissimilar to Dromund Kaas, save the lack of rain, and was mostly populated by rich Imperials who could afford the sprawling estates and the running costs that went with them.
"It's the end of year celebrations on Takhaet in three days time," the Agent said, "The Yu family, as befits their social status, will be hosting a grand celebration of it. It provides the best opportunity for access to the internal databases. If Vector is not on site, it is possible that there is information in the family's computers that will lead us to his location."
If anyone disagreed with her interpretation of Vector's absence as a kidnapping, they were wise enough not to say so.
"I assume you intend infiltration?" Doctor Lokin stroked his beard thoughtfully, watching as the display cycled through to a depiction of the Yu estate grounds and the main house.
"Yes." The Agent pointed at Doctor Lokin and Ensign Temple. "You two will attend the party under the guise of a high ranking member of the Imperial Science Bureau and his escort. Once inside, Ensign, you will leave Doctor Lokin to create a distraction and infiltrate their main server. Download all the information you can, then get out, and I will decide on our next move."
"How exciting," Lokin said, and he did indeed look genuinely thrilled at the prospect of a little hands-on espionage.
"You're not going yourself?" Kaliyo asked, looking at the Agent in sharp surprise. "I wouldn't think you'd let anyone get in your way of finding bugboy."
Ensign Temple shifted uncomfortably.
"It's not the sort of party where non-Humans will be anything other than a curiosity," the Agent said, mildly, showing no overt signs that the Empire's stance on such things bothered her. "Ensign Temple and Doctor Lokin will be far better able to infiltrate the gathering. Kaliyo and I will position ourselves for a direct assault if we are needed." She swept the team with a gaze that said that she was expecting them not to screw up so badly that they would be needed.
All eyes went to Scorpio, who was standing passively by the door. There was an awkward silence for a moment.
"Scorpio will monitor communications from the ship," the Agent said, quickly.
"Excellent idea," Doctor Lokin murmured. Ensign Temple nodded vigorously in agreement.
"Get your gear in order. We'll be there shortly." The others took it as the dismissal it was. Lokin, Kaliyo and Scorpio left quickly.
Temple lingered as the others exited the room. The Agent remained seated silently and waited for her student to ask the question that was writ large on her face. When Temple hesitated, she prompted with a soft, "Yes, Ensign?" and an arched eyebrow.
"Sir," she started, uncertainly, "Are you sure I'm ready for an assignment like this? I mean, I've learned a lot from you, but I've never worked solo."
"There's a first time for everything, Ensign," the Agent said, "If I wasn't certain that you could handle yourself, I wouldn't send you."
"Yes, sir," Temple said, sounding dubious.
The Agent added, brightly, "And rest assured that if you fail to live up to expectations, you'll serve no further use for me, and I will kill you before you can regret your mistakes overmuch."
Ensign Temple opened her mouth, perhaps to ask if the Agent was joking. At the last minute, she decided that the answer was best left unknown and she nodded sharply. "I'll get us underway," she said, and leapt up from her chair as if it was on fire, heading for the cockpit.
The Agent watched her go, and after an uncharacteristic moment's indecision, she stood and headed for the cargo bay, intent on completely stripping, cleaning and upgrading her sniper rifle. Kaliyo had spoken in such glowing terms of the 'one shot kill thing' that the Agent was so good at. She would hate to deprive Anora Yu of experiencing it firsthand.
The latest round of 'treatments' had sapped the strength from his limbs, and though they'd finally released him from his restraints, Vector was sure it was only because they knew he didn't have the strength to resist. He'd dragged himself from the bed, unable to bear lying there a moment longer, but had only managed to make it as far as the low uncomfortable chair that had been left out for him. He slumped there, his arms and legs feeling too heavy for his own body, and wondering if it was a physical reaction to the drugs and neuroelectrical stimulation or whether it was purely an effect of being cut off from the nest for so long.
"Vector?" the doctor was female this time, and olive skinned with a kind and sympathetic smile.
Vector wondered how long she'd been sitting there before he noticed her. Or had he simply forgotten her presence? She occupied the chair opposite him, and a datapad rested in her lap face down.
"Yes?" he said, a little tiredly. When they weren't injecting him with 'medicines' (as if he were somehow at his core diseased and unwell), they were talking at him. It was endless. And none of them wanted to hear what he was saying when he asked, and then begged, to be released. The path of least resistance was now basic, dull compliance.
The doctor smiled at his response. "How are you feeling?"
More inane smiling. It was calculated, trying to put him at his ease. Perhaps the very fact he was aware of that fact was why it was so very irksome. Normally, he would have let the Song soothe him, and remind him how small such petty manipulations were, but that was no longer an option.
"That's the medications we're giving you. Your body and your brain will start adapting soon, returning to a natural state, and the feeling will pass."
Vector remained silent, waiting for the doctor to ask him a direct question.
The doctor's smile didn't seem at all strained by his unresponsiveness, and she flipped the datapad's face towards her long enough to glance at whatever notes she'd written in preparation for this session.
"Tell me about yourself," she urged.
"We are Dawn Herald," he told her, and her expression turned indulgent.
"That's not the name you were born with," she said.
"It's who we are."
"Then tell me about Vector Hyllus," the doctor suggested, leaning forward, "The man you say you used to be."
"We are Vector, and we are Dawn Herald. There is no disparity."
"I don't think that's true." The doctor raised her datapad and tapped it, bringing up something new, and turned it towards him. He made no move to take it from her, so the doctor just held it out in front of her as she showed him the images.
They were holos of himself, before the Joining. They had been taken by friends and colleagues in the Diplomatic Service over the course of what looked to be a few years. Some were taken during training, and later during deployment, images snapped at parties or other social gatherings. The backdrops shifted, showing various worlds, displaying the variety of places he had visited. Vector was prominent in all of them, always standing with other people, those same friends and colleagues. A great deal of the latter images was of he and Anora, pictured close together or occasionally smiling and looking at each other with a smitten expression.
He turned his head slightly so that he no longer had to look at the datapad, and the doctor turned it away, not pushing the issue. "I would say that's a very different man than the Dawn Herald, wouldn't you agree?" she said, not unkindly.
It was pointless showing him such things. Even before his Joining, he and Anora had separated, having realised the basic incompatibility of their personalities and ambitions. Vector had been content as a diplomat, and she had seen the service as her stepping stone to greater things. He did not begrudge her that ambition now, but at the time, he recalled feeling deeply unhappy, and very alone. He had taken the assignment to Alderaan as a way of putting as much physical distance between the two of them as possible.
He frowned at the direction his thoughts were taking. The doctor must have known those holos of Anora would stir memories, must have known they would produce doubt in his mind. Had he so easily accepted the Joining because, at the time he was on Alderaan, he had been feeling particularly lonely? Had Project Protean realised that, and somehow orchestrated his introduction to the Killik hive knowing the likely result?
He had little taste for such brash manipulations.
"Are you lonely, doctor?" he asked.
The doctor sat up a little straighter and gave him a bland, meaningless smile. "We're not here to talk about me, Vector," she pointed out.
"But it is relevant," he told her. "It is a matter of context."
The doctor tilted her head, projecting curiosity. "How so?"
"You're young, for a Human." Vector assessed her shrewdly. "You must be very intelligent, very capable. You must have committed yourself utterly to your studies to garner your position. You must have been forced to refuse social opportunities."
Her struggle between impartiality and the desire to refute his accusations was a visible one. "I wouldn't say-"
He didn't let her regain control of the conversation. She had ceded it to him, and he pressed his advantage. She must not have been a very experienced therapist. "Did you not feel alone then? Perhaps as you do now? Perhaps you felt no one understood your ambition, your drive, and convinced yourself you were better off alone."
He tilted his head and fixed her with a firm look that worked wonders on recalcitrant diplomats. "We are not alone. We are never alone, always part of something greater." It was a painful lie to speak. He was so very alone, with nothing but his memories for comfort, but he hid it as best he could.
The doctor was silent for a long moment, and she looked between him and her notes several times before speaking. "Killiks are not Human," she said, in a reasonable tone, "Would you not agree that Human psychological health and well-being is best served by Human companionship?"
"We are not Human."
"Biologically, genetically, yes, you are." The doctor smiled again, that same, neutral, kind smile that she had been using all along. "It's my job to help you remember that. I want to help you remember the great joy and love that can be found in the Human world that you were taken away from, that this isn't how you were meant to live your life."
"You don't believe we know love?"
"As a Joiner, you cannot. You feel the nest, but it is the abstract collectivism of the hive. You're an intelligent man, Vector, you know this."
"Our wife would disagree with your assessment."
The man I love isn't Human, she'd told him, and he'd known she spoke truthfully. It had been written plainly in her aura, and in the way she'd never hesitated to embrace him.
"Your... wife..." The doctor glanced down at her datapad, and looked worried for the first time as she tabbed through it. "We don't have any record of-"
"You would not," Vector informed her curtly. "Although we're sure you'll soon get to meet her. You'll like her. The scions of Cortess certainly seemed to."
The doctors were Alderaanian, he'd known that from the accents, and their expertise with Joiners, even if he hadn't overheard the senior doctor saying as much. They would all know what happened to House Cortess, would have heard the whispers that it was punishment for defying the Empire. The doctor was thoroughly unsettled now, paler, and Vector pressed forward. She would leave soon, disconcerted at her failure, and grant him some peace to contemplate the silence until the next round of treatments commenced.
"We should thank you."
The doctor seemed to have realised how thoroughly she had lost control of the session. She audibly stuttered. "Thank... me? I don't-"
"You have reminded us, doctor, of how very pale and shallow Human interaction was for us prior to our Joining, a facile reading of muscle movement and intonation. And though we cannot hear our wife's thoughts, her part in the Song and the taste of her aura tell us far more than simple words or deeds can do. We remember that it is you who we should pity, for you cannot hear the Song, or touch the heart-whispers of the one you love."
The doctor stared, speechless.
Vector gave the doctor a pleasant smile. "You have my gratitude. These sessions are turning out to be most enlightening."
The Agent wanted to claw someone's eyes out. Her preference would have been for that 'someone' to be Anora, but she was ready to inflict it on herself so great was her frustration and barely suppressed rage. She gave no sign of it outwards. Unlike a Sith, she knew that wallowing in emotion was counterproductive, that it interfered in rational judgement, that it could blind you to alternatives that were safer, or more effective. So, instead, she kept her rage pushed far down inside her so that it sat in the bottom of her stomach, and her hands were steady on her rifle as she used its scope to keep an eye on the goings-on at the Yu compound.
Three days they'd been forced to wait, watching the estate and establishing Lokin and Temple's covers. The Agent had forced herself to go to bed each night with the rationale that she needed sleep to function effectively, but every night slumber eluded her, thoughts of Vector and some nameless fear stalking her in the dark. She stared at the ceiling, fists clenched in the sheets and sternly telling herself that she would not submit to dopey sentimentalism and cradle the stone Vector had given her.
Inevitably, she would compromise with herself, and set the stone under her pillow, her fingertips resting against it as she snatched a few hours sleep at a time. It made the coolness of the sheets, untouched by another's body warmth, a little easier to bear. Once upon a time, she would have viewed such dependency on another's presence to be pathetic, humiliating, and a cause for scorn.
That was a long time ago, at a point where she had been content in service to an Empire despised her for her skin and her eyes. But it was the disloyalty she had entered into, spurred on by the desire for freedom, which meant she knew she could never return to the Ascendency, and that the only things she had were her ship and her team, and, most importantly, Vector.
Kaliyo knew about them, of course, and had never made any secret of her knowledge. Thus, it was assured that the rest of the team knew that she and Vector shared a bed. Whether they had an inkling of the deeper, more secret promises they had made each other was a cause for debate. Sometimes the Agent thought Doctor Lokin might have realised, but she would not question him, and he would never bring it up unless he thought it necessary or it would bring him an advantage that he couldn't pass up.
She had somehow managed to pass Lokin's arcane methods of approval, however, so she rather hoped that particular day was a fair distance of in the future. Hoped, but did not anticipate it being so.
From their vantage point, they had an excellent view of the speeders containing the great and the powerful of Takhaet as they pulled up and disembarked, their gems and gowns glinting in the setting sun. As she watched, the rented speeder containing Temple and Lokin drew up to the main entrance. Lokin stepped out first, holding out his hand to help Temple exit gracefully.
The Agent was gratified to see that the girl looked calm and not unusually nervous or anxious in any way that might garner unwanted attention.
"Temple's not an idiot," Kaliyo said, where she was lounging in the scrub, apparently reading the Agent's mind. "And Lokin's a professional. Stop looking like you're going to start shooting anything breathing."
The Agent frowned, and didn't bother telling Kaliyo to stow the chatter. It wasn't like they were audible from this distance, and forcing Kaliyo into silence would be counterproductive. "If I didn't think they were both capable, I wouldn't have sent them," she said, quite honestly. "There's more than one way to skin a manka. This is simply one of the quietest."
If they stormed the estate, Anora Yu would no doubt move Vector from wherever he was being held. That would unacceptably lengthen the amount of time before he was recovered, something which the Agent was unwilling to do. She would risk it, though, to protect her team. Yet another thing that had changed.
"But keep an eye out," she said, "In case it doesn't stay quiet."
Raina Temple had never been one to dwell on the finer things in life. A Cipher's daughter, then a soldier in service to the Chiss Ascendency, she was never someone who had been pampered or coddled. It was therefore a great effort of willpower not to stand agog at the finery and sheer wealth on display as she walked into the Yu estate on Takhaet on Doctor Lokin's arm.
She had rarely taken the opportunity to go into Kaas city whenever they had landed on the capital planet of the Empire. She was far too wary, scared of stumbling across some random Sith who would somehow know what she was hiding, and no connections in the galaxy would stop them from hauling her off to Korriban. She imagined, though, that the grander homes on Dromund Kaas would look something like that she stood in now.
The main reception hall of the Yu estate was a high-ceiling affair, with a balcony level that overlooked the main floor where the majority of the guests gathered. Banners bearing the seals of both the Empire and the Yu family were draped from the ornate pillars that supported that level, made of Alderaanian silk. It was a political statement, Raina realised, after wondering at its presence for a long moment. The Yu family were dressing up Republic fabrics in the trappings of the Empire, signalling both their wealth and ability to purchase it, and their confidence that this would not be seen as any sort of betrayal of the Empire itself.
Once she would never have noticed such things. Her mentor had coached her well in the art of subtlety, of noticing what others would not. It was somehow easier to focus on the details, because when she looked around her at the men and women (all Human—the Agent had been quite correct that she would have stood out too much to be able to act without notice), and saw the richness of the fabrics they wore, the bleeding edge of fashion being presented and adorned with jewellery that probably was beyond the means of the majority of Imperial citizens, and then thought about the fact that she was wearing similar gaudy raiment to fit in-
Doctor Lokin must have noticed her struggle not to seem overwhelmed as he squeezed the hand that was resting in the crook of his arm and gave her a lopsided smile. "You're allowed to look impressed," he said, and Raina flushed at being so transparent.
Because she was masquerading as 'just some escort' brought along for the night by the head of Project Protean. Not that he was known as such here. With limited time to put a cover into effect, it had been easiest for Doctor Lokin to go in as himself. He was the head of a secret project of the Imperial Science Bureau to these people, something close enough to reality that it was easy to seem truthful, and secret projects were nothing suspicious to these people. They were exciting, smacking of influence and power. People would be paying attention to him all night.
They would not be paying attention to the pretty girl on his arm, or that was the plan.
"That's not difficult," she murmured in reply, "I get the feeling any one of these people could buy and sell me in a heartbeat and not even notice."
"And would, if they were guaranteed a decent return," Doctor Lokin patted her hand and led her on a slow path around the hall, ostensibly taking in a view of the guests, though in reality they were both checking out how many guards there were, where they were stationed, and any overt or covert surveillance taking place.
It seemed that the Yu family weren't expecting anything other than an upper class drunken scuffle. The guards were few in number and not carrying any blasters (at least, the ones in the hall were unarmed) and the security eyes seemed to be high up in the ceiling and not of sufficient quality to detect serious intruders. There were numerous blindspots.
They had arrived fashionable late, although there was still a steady stream of guests arriving, and so the party was already moving, music and alcohol both flowing freely. Lokin moved her to the far right of the dance floor, near a door that was a little separate from other exits, direct lines of sight blocked by ornamental pillars.
They spent a little time then, mingling with the other guests, and Lokin picked up more than one glass of wine, his gestures becoming more extravagant as he extolled the virtues of advancing the cause of science in service of the Empire to an overly painted woman who claimed to represent a well-funded department in the Reclamation Service. Through it all, Raina stood demurely by his side, barely touching her drink.
Eventually, the party had going long enough that even the less brave souls were straying to the dance floor, and Lokin turned to her.
"Would you care to dance, my dear?" Lokin said, holding out his hand to her.
She took his hand, and her breath went out of her in a rush as he pulled her a little too tightly to his chest, preventing her from gracefully stepping back by virtue of a firm hand at the small of her back. Lokin swept them out to the floor, where a few couples were milling, dancing with little formality, enjoying the music before the real meat of the evening, the mingling and politicking of important personages, began.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked, with arched eyebrows.
"I'm a little nervous," she admitted.
"That's alright," Lokin said, and dipped his head to say, in a definitely leering tone, "Most people are the first time."
Lokin's hand slipped down her back to her rear, and squeezed.
Raina leaned back and slapped Lokin across the face so viciously that the sound resounded above the peaceful chamber orchestra, and brought several heads to look at them. She huffed in anger, and shoved his hands off her, stalking away. Behind her, she could hear several guests making puzzled enquiries of Lokin, and his rough laugh and jokes about temperamental women. Raina overheard at least one woman tutting about the disgrace of overindulgence in drink.
She pulled a delicate handkerchief from her clutch purse as she made her way over to the side exit, where a burly looking security man was standing, watching her with concern. He had clearly witnessed the altercation.
"Are you alright, miss?" he asked, his brow furrowed.
Raina dabbed delicately under her eyes, wiping away non-existent tears, and gave a dramatic sniff. "I'm fine," she said, in a wavering tone calculated to project the impression she was putting on a brave face, "Really. I just... is there a refresher nearby?"
"Of course," the man said solicitously, opening the side door. "Just down the hallway, to your right."
"Thank you, you're so kind," Raina said, flashing him a watery smile as she slipped out of the door. She leaned close and patted his chest. "If, er, anyone comes looking for me..."
"I'll keep him off your back," he told her, with a friendly smile.
Raina felt a little bad for taking advantage of his kindness, but she ruthlessly smothered her emotions under the need to do her job. She slipped into the hallway, and, checking both ways to make sure that she wasn't being observed, she recalled the building schematics she'd memorised before arriving, and started down the hallways in the opposite direction to where the refresher lay.
Her expensive heeled shoes, impractical in the extreme, clicked loudly as she made her way down the hallways, resounding against the polished marble flooring. She had to walk through several hallways, moving further away from the public areas and towards one of the entrances to the service areas. It wasn't the closest access, but it was less likely to be in use than those near to the hall.
With a touch of her finger to the controls, the doors slid open and admitted her deeper into the heart of the Yu estate. Now, all she had to do was follow the corridor around to the right and then-
She made a noise of shock, and was immediately embarrassed at having done so, when she turned and suddenly stood face to face with a rather surprised servant, who reared back and only just managed not to drop the tray he was carrying.
He glared at her balefully once his grip was assured. "Guests aren't supposed to be back here," he said with a frown.
"I'm so sorry," she said, breathless, "I think I'm turned around. I was looking for the refresher."
The servant was holding a tray of no doubt expensive wine, and looked to be considering whether he would get in more trouble for not reporting a guest somewhere she shouldn't be, or being late serving the guests. "It's back that way," he said, jerking his chin.
"Thank you," Raina gushed, and headed the way he indicated. She stopped after she'd rounded the corner, and waited for the servant to hurry on his way. Once he was far enough away not to hear her footsteps, she carried on through the service hallways.
The door to the computer core was locked, though the security card she'd lifted from the guard took care of that, allowing her entrance without opposition. It was only a short walk to central access after that. The Yu's computer was a commercial model designed to be maintainable without specialist knowledge, so there were no lingering engineers to see her. It was also designed to be as easy to use as possible.
Raina pulled a dataspike out of her purse, sliding it into the console, and then took out a small datapad, disguised to look like a book reader. In actuality, it was loaded with slicing software, and once the dataspike had punched through the outer firewalls, it was only a matter of minutes before the full file directory was displayed before her perusal. The Yu family used a high-end commercial encryption for their files, apparently ignorant of the fact that Imperial Intelligence had long since acquired the keys for the codes from agents infiltrating the companies. It was nothing nearly as complicated as those used by the military, but if they'd had reason to believe that anyone from Intelligence would take an interest in the family, surely they would have taken greater pains to secure their files.
Follow the money, was the first and best piece of advice when investigating an unfamiliar system with limited time, and so Raina pulled up the accountancy database first. She immediately hit paydirt, and it was only a matter of following the associated files that she got a very good idea of what was going on. She downloaded the files to the datapad, fidgeting while she waited the seemingly interminable length of time it took to transfer them.
When she was done, she tucked the datapad back in her purse, and took the spike out of the console. She twisted it and snapped it in half. She would throw it in the recycling chute that she had passed on her way to the computer core.
She made her way back through the hallways, keeping a wary eye out, but it seemed that the Yu family genuinely didn't expect anyone to be creeping around the service corridors. She saw no one until she was back in the more ornate public areas, and made the effort to smile and acknowledge the few servants she saw bustling about. Mostly they ignored her.
She went back inside through the same door that she'd entered, and smiled at the guard who had let her out in the first place. She had barely made it half a dozen steps inside when Lokin approached, his arms outstretched in greeting.
"My dearest," Lokin took her hand with excessive gallantry, and kissed her knuckles with dramatism. "I apologise for my boorishness, and it has been so interminably dull without your scintillating presence. Surely you can forgive an old man his foibles?"
Raina sniffed, and fiddled with her necklace. "The new line from T'vreina, I've so admired it."
"Then it shall be yours," he said, and tucked her hand inside the crook of his arm. She squeezed his forearm twice in confirmation of her task's completion, and Lokin's smile became more genuine.
Lokin and Temple remained at the party until gone midnight, and the Agent didn't relax until she saw them exiting with the rest of the party-goers. She relaxed from her watchful pose, stowing her sniper rifle and standing up. She leant against a tree, hidden in its shadows, and waited. Kaliyo didn't bother hiding her impatience, working the tip of a nasty looking vibroblade under her nails to clean them.
It wasn't long before they arrived, still dressed in their party finery, having ditched the rental speeder and made their way into the woodlands overlooking the Yu estate by foot. Temple seemed particularly disgruntled by the impracticality of her footwear in a rural environment; she took her heeled shoes off as soon as they arrived, and heaved a sigh of relief.
"That was rather fun," Doctor Lokin said, with a broad smile. "There's nothing like a bit of practical spycrafting to get the blood flowing."
The Agent looked at Temple.
"Well?" she prompted.
"I think Doctor Lokin enjoyed his role too much," Temple said, giving their medic a sidelong look of deep suspicion.
"Just playacting, I assure you, my dear," he said, with a smile.
Kaliyo snorted. "Yeah, like in that cantina on Corellia..."
The Agent cleared her throat, killing the argument before it could get off the ground. "Report, Ensign," she said, firmly.
Temple straightened, and pulled her datapad out of her purse. "I dug up their financial records. They don't seem to have made any particular effort to mask their actions. There are payments to several doctors, daily rates and transport costs from Alderaan to Takhaet. There are also charges for ground transport from the spaceport to a piece of land owned by the Yu family in the mountains."
Temple pointed eastward, and the Agent frowned. The mountains were several hundred kilometres away, and they had passed over them on their approach to the central spaceport.
"The family has also been ordering food, medical supplies, and a spare power generator, all of which were sent to the same location."
"That's a pretty damning set of evidence," Kaliyo said, "You'd think they didn't care about getting caught."
Lokin harrumphed softly. "With the demise of Imperial Intelligence," he said, "Many previously well-behaved Imperial citizens no doubt feel that they have nothing to fear. Kidnapping a former intelligence asset would not be a crime, as there is no one left to punish them."
The Agent snorted. "I think we should correct their erroneous assumptions," she said. "Doctor, Ensign, get changed and gear up. We're going now."
Anora had spent a lot of her youth at her family's mountain retreat. It was a place to escape from the stress and business of their "normal lives" her mother would tell her, but as an adult she looked back on her mother's life as a privileged socialite, compared to the hive of manic politicking both subtle and overt that was Dromund Kaas, and thought her mother might have been exaggerating the matter just slightly. It wasn't until she was older that Anora realised what the retreat was: a virtual fortress, just in case the Yu family fell out of favour with a particularly violent Sith, or something happened that meant the family would need to be hidden, out of the way of retribution.
Even though such knowledge took a faint shine off the edge of her beloved childhood recollections of the retreat, it didn't stop her loving the mountains. There was a terrace on the north side that overlooked craggy, snow-covered valleys as they dipped down, just starting to edge into green before they twisted out of sight. The air was always fresh, with an edge of keenness. Her mother never strayed onto the terrace without being bundled up with furs, but she was not there. Anora had made sure that she would remain at the main house, busy with social engagements. No doubt she was enjoying herself having thrown what was, by all accounts, a successful year-end ball. The only people at the retreat were the medical staff, Anora herself, and the most discrete of her family's personal security guards.
And, of course, Vector.
Her mind dwelt on the words of Doctor Amil, as she had related them when Anora had met with her and Doctor Bral, the head of the medical team.
"He's not like other Joiners," Amil had said, as she fixed her eyes on the caf in her hands and refused to meet Anora's eyes. "Separate them from the hive and they quickly become confused, directionless. Once the pheromonic bond is severed, normal functioning of the brain quickly returns and it's simply a matter of retraining. Vector is different."
"Don't be absurd," Bral had chided.
Amil's words had struck Anora like a physical blow, and she'd actually swayed backwards, rocking onto her heels. "No," she said, a vague denial that drew an apologetic glance from the doctor.
"It's not registered anywhere," Bral said, dismissively, "He's probably lying to try to play on your sympathies."
"Even if he is, that's another mark against him being a 'normal' Joiner. At this stage they're normally too confused to lie, and if they do, they can't do it well. There's no lying in the hive, and they lose the skill."
The two had bickered, and Anora had ignored them. Vector had to be lying, she decided. From everything she could find out about Joiners, all the literature she had read in a desperate attempt to understand what had happened to Vector, it simply wasn't possible for those absorbed into the insect hives to understand pair-bonding in that fashion. Their personalities, their goals and ambitions, were utterly erased, consumed by the need to serve the greater good of the hive. For Vector, who had been such a good and kind man, with plans to forge new paths for the Empire by being the first to talk to species no one had ever bother trying to ally with, to have lost his ability to dream in such a fashion would have broken his heart if he were still in full control of his faculties.
The idea that a Joiner would marry was stupidity. Wasn't it?
"Who?" she had said, interrupting their argument, "Who is he supposedly married to?"
Amil frowned. "He didn't say, but the only female we can consistently place him in proximity to is his former Intelligence handler. Chiss. Name unknown."
"I see," Anora said, and if her voice sounded brittle, they at least didn't draw attention to that fact.
The man that she knew, the man she had nearly married, could never have fallen for some as devoted to subversion and violence as an agent of Imperial Intelligence. That particular branch had always been spoken of in hushed tones, and never very politely. Intelligence was where they sent the thugs to spy on decent Imperial citizens, so went the rumours, or, alternatively, the wickedly devious who were only matched by the Sith in their viciousness, tempered by an ice cold temperament that the rulers of the Empire lacked.
He was a gentle man, a man of good humour with a strong moral sense. She had no doubt that the Killiks had twisted his mind terribly in order force him down a path that was so counter to his natural personality. There was no way he would marry some refugee from that disbanded organisation.
But then, when it came down to it, he hadn't wanted to marry her. He'd decided they were too different, and it hadn't ended well when Anora had been forced to deal with the fact that they had grown into different people as time passed. She'd accepted that, though it had taken time, and those feelings she'd once had weren't at all involved in her decision to try to help Vector. Not at all.
She heaved a sigh, and tried not to think of how bitterly Vector had looked at her the last time she had tried to see him in the medical wing.
Something on the mountainside moved.
Anora leaned further over the balustrade, staring intently into the mottled grey and white that made up the mountainous vista. There, that was definitely movement. It might have been an animal, or a bit of vegetation swaying in the wind. How likely was it to be attackers?
She sucked in a breath of sharp, knife-cold air, and ran to alert the guards.
By the time that security was alerted to their presence, it was too late. The explosive charges that Scorpio had planted proved a very effective distraction, barely penetrating the outer walls but throwing a lot of impressive smoke and debris into the air. From the building layout that Temple had pulled from the Yu servers, the retreat was designed to withstand an infantry assault, but it wasn't really set up to defend against a small team of infiltration specialists. It was nice when the enemy didn't make life too difficult for them.
The security team was smaller than the Agent expected. Not as many guards appeared as she would have expected to respond to explosions on the northern terrace, and she had to conclude that the majority of the team were inside, or that they were spread very thinly to cover a building the size of the Yu retreat.
They made their entrance through the vehicle garage, which was, on paper, impossible to access on foot. It was guarded by watchtowers and automated turrets. The guards on the towers quickly fell to the Agent's pinpoint marksmanship, whilst the turrets were sabotaged by some particularly inventive hacking by Ensign Temple. They didn't meet any immediate resistance once they made it inside the perimeter, though alarms were blaring and an automated voice repeated the message for non-security personnel to seek shelter.
They moved through the building in the same way they normally tackled such facilities, in a methodical corridor by corridor fashion. As they progressed further into the building, opposition increased, guards mostly reinforced by semi-autonomous droids who were none too intelligent but tried to push them backwards through simple force of numbers.
Kaliyo had at some point during their incursion disappeared, but the Agent wasn't too worried. Kaliyo had a habit of taking a subversive tack during combat, and tended to work best when the Agent wasn't directing her too carefully, when she was allowed to act as an anarchist element, disrupting the enemy's cohesion.
Their goal was the security office, from which they would be able to disable the automated security systems and clear them a path through the retreat. They'd already put a sizeable dent into the security personnel, and if they could deal with the droids quickly, then they would have a much easier time progressing through the building.
They left piles of non-functioning metal and more than one limp body in their wake, and found the security office barely guarded, protected only by two guards and a locked door. Blaster pistols made short work of both, and the Agent set Temple to work on the computer console.
"Looking at this," Ensign Temple said, "They've figured out the route we're taking and our probable destination and are redirecting guards this way. I've killed their communications, but it won't take them long to figure out what I've done and counteract it."
"Then we go quickly," the Agent said, "Scorpio, stay here and keep an eye on the enemy. Temple, Lokin, with me."
The Agent was about to lead her team from the room when Kaliyo strode in, manhandling a woman in medic-green before her. She was clearly a civilian and thoroughly cowed by Kaliyo's show of force, if her wide eyed look of terror was any indication.
"Found this one trying to sneak out a side corridor," Kaliyo said, twisting the woman's arm painfully, her blaster not shifting from where it was pressed to her temple. "Thought you might want to have a word."
The Agent marched up, and gripped the woman's long, blonde ponytail in one hand, and pulled on it painfully. "Vector Hyllus," she snapped.
"The Joiner?" The woman yelped in pain as the Agent tightened her grip. "Please! Stop!"
"What have you people done to him?" the Agent continued, staring at the woman intently. Some Humans found Chiss eyes 'demonic' and 'terrifying', and at that moment she would take any advantage she could muster.
"Just what we were paid to," she said, hurriedly, "We were asked to treat the drastic brain alteration he'd suffered at the hands of the Killiks. He's been under medic- ow! Medical care!"
The Agent's jaw tightened, "Suffered-" She broke off before she could say anything further. "Which way?"
The woman pointed tremulously down the hallway, and the Agent met Kaliyo's eyes and jerked her head. Kaliyo released the woman and hit her with a stun blast. She unceremoniously crumpled to the ground. The Agent didn't stick around long enough to see her hit the floor.
The sound of blaster fire was reaching Anora's ears now. She was running away from the fighting, but it only ever slightly diminished in intensity, not disappearing. Eventually it would catch up with her.
She felt ill, sick with the knowledge of what was happening, that it had been her decision to convince the others to help her remove Vector from the clutches of the Killiks. The others, colleagues in the Diplomatic Service, were safely off-world, although given how quickly Vector's associates had located her there probably was no way to tell if they would be tracked down, whether some sort of vengeance would be exacted upon them. Anora would have to hope that any need for revenge would be satiated by tearing apart her family's retreat.
She had overheard the chatter on the security channel, heard the reports of a small strike team apparently led by a Chiss female. It hadn't taken much effort to connect the dots and realise exactly who had attacked the retreat. When she had realised what was going on, she had stood stock still, staring in disbelief at her com-link, and wondering how she could have so drastically underestimated the likelihood of retaliation. She had been assured by so many allies in the military that Intelligence had been taken apart piece by piece by the Dark Council, and that there was no one to fuss over the fact that she was appropriating a former Intelligence Asset. It was just a Joiner, just an alien, no one cared.
She'd cared, and enough of Vector's friends had cared too. She'd done the right thing.
Anora looked at the plaque outside of the door she had halted next to, and bit her lip. She was standing outside Vector's medical quarters.
With shaking fingers, she let herself inside. There were no doctors there, the medical staff presumably having fled when the sounds of combat started to reach them. Vector was sitting down, looking exhausted but calm. He raised his head and looked at her through the quarantine glass that separated them. Then he dropped his eyes. He had the air of someone waiting patiently.
He'd known rescue was coming. He'd warned her. She'd just been too arrogant to listen to him.
She stared at him through the glass and then, her fingers fumbling and hitting the wrong keys several times, she unlocked the door. Vector hesitated, then stood slowly, awkwardly, and stepped through, watching her with a wariness that hurt her to see written on his face. It was clearly costing him some effort to hold himself upright, but he made no sound of complaint, only asking,
"Why would you-"
"I still think you're sick," Anora swiped a hand across her cheek, scrubbing away any treacherous hint of tears, "I still think you need help and I'm not going to apologise for doing what was necessary. But I can't really stop this, can I? I can't stop her from breaking in here and killing everyone to get to you."
Vector's expression was solemn. "You cannot. We're sorry. We tried to warn you."
How she hated the way he said that. She wanted to scream, to shake the front of his clothes until he realised how wrong it was of him to speak in plural forms, how his speech was stilted and uneven, like he barely remembered how. She wanted to tell him that no matter what she'd said in the past, she still loved him, and how this, all of this, had just been to make him happy.
She didn't say any of that though, and she didn't cry either, no matter how much her eyes stung.
"You're really not the man I loved anymore, are you? Not that selfless diplomat who made everyone smile and laugh." She wanted to hear him deny it, to protest that he was still that same man.
He only dipped his head. "We are Dawn Herald," he said, simply, as if that answered all questions.
"I hate you," she spat, and thought she might have been telling the truth. "Go find your wife before she murders everyone here, and I hope I never see you again."
She fled the room, running for her life.
Vector found the Agent before she could find him, startling her by coming around a corner unexpectedly, and surprising her at entirely the wrong moment. She nearly shot him. Nearly, because even surprised she was an expert marksman, which sometimes meant knowing what not to shoot.
The Agent had scouted ahead whilst Lokin and Temple had dealt with a small group of guards that had made the unexpectedly intelligent move of trying to flank them. She had been about to turn back to rejoin them when Vector appeared, looking tired, in pain, and frighteningly Human.
"Vector!" The Agent crossed the space between them with half a dozen ground-eating steps, and halted when she came within arm's reach, staring at his face unhappily. "Your eyes-"
Vector gave her a wan smile, though it was clearly an effort for him. "I am afraid that we are currently... out of sorts, Agent."
The Agent's mouth thinned. "Anora Yu did this to you?"
She was agitated, unwilling to listen to him. She rocked back on her heels and keyed her com-link. "Scorpio, are you still in the security office?"
Vector stepped forward and touched her arm, but she shook him off, unhappy and upset. She didn't want to let him comfort her, didn't want to let go of the building anger and outrage that she could feel twisting in her inside. Perhaps this is what the Sith felt when they gave into their rage, when they let it drive them. It was simultaneously thrilling and utterly nauseating. At that moment, the Agent felt it was an appropriate time to enact her 'shoot Anora' plan.
Vector looked pained in a way that had nothing to do with his physical state and reached out again. She shook her head and stepped backwards. In her ear, Scorpio replied to her in the affirmative. "Good. There's someone I need you to look for on the security monitors."
Anora had hoped to get out of the building by the less commonly used read entrance, not too far away from the vehicle garage. She knew she wouldn't be able to get very far away, not in the harshness of the mountain environment, but she could at least stay out of the way until the attackers were gone, at which point she could go back inside and put in a call to the guards at the main compound.
Her mother would have a heart attack, her father, a sharp, clever man who had helped her plan this whole operation, would hopefully just be grateful she'd had the sense to cut her losses and accept that the ex-Intelligence rogues had to simply be allowed to win.
Anora was so set on her destination that she didn't bother to check her com-unit for where the attackers might be, thinking that they were perhaps already most of the way through the retreat, making a line straight for Vector's rooms. She was, therefore, not expecting the hand that seized the front of her tunic as she passed through an entry to the emergency stairway, nor was she expecting to be slammed backwards against the wall so hard that the back of her skull impacted the wall and made her see stars. It didn't knock her out, but she slumped immediately to the floor, trying not to vomit.
The fall jarred her bones, made her grimace beyond the immediate nausea, and even if she'd been able to get her legs under her, she knew better than to try and clamber to her feet. The tall Chiss female in light grey snow-gear would no doubt simply knock her down once again. She wore the sort of cool, calculating look, vaguely edged by anger, that Anora had seen on very few people, and always dreaded seeing on the other side of the negotiating table.
This, presumably, was Vector's Intelligence handler, the mysterious agent who had no name that anyone could learn. Anora held her breath as the Agent pulled a blaster pistol and aimed it at Anora's forehead.
"Anora Yu, I presume," she said.
"Y... yes," Anora said, not knowing what else she could say. Pre-emptive excuses for her actions bubbled up in her chest but went unvoiced.
The woman regarded Anora with a terrifyingly blank expression. Her eyes seemed to burn, demon-like, into Anora's very soul. "I take it very personally when someone kidnaps my husband." The barrel of her blaster pistol didn't twitch, and Anora's mouth went dry.
"Please-" she croaked, brain scrambling for something, anything she could say to keep herself alive.
"Wait!" Anora's head jerked around to the doorframe, to see Vector standing there, leaning heavily against the wall, breathing hard and looking not at her but the Chiss who stood over her. "Agent, stop. Don't kill her."
The Agent was clearly too experienced to jerk around at his words, kept her eyes fixed on Anora's downfallen features.
"I'll assume you have a good reason why exactly I should do that," the Agent said, icily. "Considering that she is quite guilty of arranging your kidnap, and of forcing you to separate from the hive."
Anora wanted to argue, but her eyes went to the blaster in the Agent's hands, and how it was utterly steady. She said nothing.
Vector levered himself from the doorframe, staggering inside with unsteady footsteps. He was nursing one side of his ribs. "Because I ask it," he said, simply.
Anora wanted to weep, but her shredded dignity barely kept the tears from falling. The Agent's lips thinned, as if she were contemplating whether or not she should do as Vector asked, but after a moment, she holstered the weapon and stood back slightly. "You're a lucky woman, Anora Yu," she said, severely, and turned away, looking at Vector for the first time.
Anora watched as the woman's lips parted slightly in dismay. "Vector," she murmured, and reached out, settling her hand on his shoulder. Her shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left you. I just-"
Vector hushed her with a gentle touch to her cheek, and Anora burned to see the adoration in his expression.
The Agent nodded at some unspoken reassurance. "Doctor Lokin is nearby. Can you walk?"
Vector nodded, and then looked at Anora for the first time in the conversation. "You should be thankful your hope was not realised," he said, before turning away and walking slowly from the room.
Anora watched him resentfully, and when the Agent threw a short glance at her, said, "I'll order the guards to stand down. They won't oppose your leaving." What else could she do?
Perhaps the only thing left for her to do: forget Vector Hyllus, and pretend he never existed.
Anora Yu was true to her word, and the remaining guards let them go without comment or action, glaring resentfully at their backs as they exited the building. Scorpio had secured ground transport for them, and met them at the front entrance seemingly disappointed that the violence had halted. Vector submitted silently to Doctor Lokin's quick assessment of his physical condition, and nodded when he insisted on thoroughly checking out Vector's status when they returned to the ship. The Agent drove them back, and pretended she couldn't see Vector staring at her.
The Agent followed them to the medical bay after they boarded the ship. She watched, arms folded, leaning against the wall, as Doctor Lokin settled Vector on the diagnostic bed and fussed over him with a variety of instruments that the Agent vaguely remembered from training at the Imperial Academy. She bit back questions more than once.
"How are you feeling?" Lokin finally asked, after he had finished his barrage of tests.
Vector pushed himself upright, swinging his legs over the side. "I feel... strange. We are unsettled."
The Agent wondered if he was even aware that he was switching between the singular and plural pronouns.
"Understandable," Lokin said, as he perused the data he'd gathered. "Well, I see what's going on here."
Vector stood and crossed the room. He kept a few feet distance around him, an invisible barrier, and the Agent didn't broach the self-imposed boundary around him.
"I'm listening, Doctor," she prompted, when Vector was silent.
"The drugs used on Vector block the neural pathways that have been altered by exposure to Killik pheromones," Lokin pointed out several points on the image of the brain that he held, which was fairly meaningless to the Agent. "Blocked, not altered."
"So the drugs will wear off? He'll go back to being a Joiner?"
"The drugs will eventually work out of his system," Lokin turned to look at Vector, who was listening with an impressively neutral expression, "However, by that time, his brain will have adapted to the blocked pathways. It will have formed new neural connections, rendering the severance permanent, perhaps even preventing the formation of new bonds. I believe that if Vector were to return to the Killik hive, combined with a little chemical assistance in purging the blockers, the exposure to the pheromones would allow him to return to his Joiner state."
Lokin hesitated. "If, of course, it is his choice to do so."
The Agent didn't realise she had clenched her jaw until the muscles started to ache. She consciously relaxed, and when Vector didn't speak, she gently prompted, "Vector?"
"The song is silent," he said, mournfully, "I am lesser, smaller and paler. One voice in solitude. But we are Dawn Herald."
"I understand," the Agent said, and truly did, "We'll head for Alderaan at once."
"Thank you," Vector said, softly, "Now, if you will excuse us, I feel the need for rest."
He left the medical bay, and the Agent felt a certain amount of relief when he turned forward, rather than aft, heading for the quarters she shared with him more often than not. Lokin waited until he was well out of earshot to speak.
"I admit I don't understand the Joiner mindset," he said, as he cleared away his instruments, checking each one before tucking it away in its assigned drawer. "I have often wondered if the hive prevented Vector from desiring any other life. Now that he makes his decisions away from the nest, I only wonder if it is withdrawal speaking, and not truly what Vector, the man himself, desires."
"You speak like he's trapped in his own mind," the Agent said, softly. Memories of her own stirred at her words, recollection of exactly that happening to her.
Doctor Lokin shrugged mildly. "Perhaps he is. We have no way to tell, after all."
The Agent said nothing, and left after a moment when she realised that if she stayed she might say something that she regretted.
There weren't any holocom terminals in the Killik nests, so the Agent had been forced to use an intermediary to carry her messages. She'd called on a source on Alderaan, and been forced to pay him twice what she would normally before he would even contemplate going anywhere near the Killiks. When he finally contacted her to inform her of his success, after they'd set course for Alderaan, he looked pale and wide-eyed, and she had a feeling that he wouldn't be taking her calls after today. No matter, he was an asset of limited importance, and she already was writing him off her mental list of contacts.
"I did as you told me," he said, mopping his forehead with a sleeve, sweating profusely in spite of the local mountain coolness. "I found the bugs, said what you said exactly, 'The Dawn Herald is returning', whatever that means."
"And?" she prompted, when he seemed more concerned with fussing over his own anxiety than speaking to her.
"They said to go to House Cortess when you arrived, they'll be waiting." He sucked in a breath. "It's not a good idea to make deals with the vermin, you know."
The Agent ignored him. "Your final payment will be in your account shortly," she said, and flicked off the holocom.
She'd left Vector in peace for the several hours needed to deal with affairs on Takhaet. Word had made it out that there had been an attack on a planetary resident, and the spaceport had been locked down. The Agent hadn't been worried; Anora Yu wouldn't be foolish enough to try and cross the Agent by reporting her to the local authorities, and no matter how hard they tried, they wouldn't find anything to link her to the events in the mountains. It took nearly a full solar day before the security forces gave up, but eventually the lockdown was lifted, and they got underway.
Vector had stayed in her quarters the entire time. Lokin had stepped inside once, to check up on him and to bring him something to eat and drink, but the Agent had been determined to give him a chance to rest without anyone poking or prodding him. Now, though, she went there, briefly checking on Temple, who never passed up a chance at piloting the Phantom, and who reported that they were on schedule to arrive at Alderaan by the following morning.
Inside her cabin, the lighting was dim, the temperature elevated to that which was quite uncomfortable for a Chiss. No doubt it was reminiscent of the organic warmth of a nest. Vector lay on his side on the bed, back to her. A sheet was pulled up to his throat. She crossed to the bed, pausing only to remove her gloves and her boots and toss them negligently on her deck, before she climbed onto the bed next to him, ignoring the sweat was already starting to soak into the underlayers of her clothing.
"Vector?" she spoke softly, unsure whether he was sleeping.
There was a long pause, and then Vector sighed slightly and shifted, rolling over to face her. "I'm here, Agent," he said.
Vector wondered if she were trying to put him at ease by making no overt moves, or whether she preferred physical barriers to remain between them. He couldn't tell, having no indication of her thoughts or emotion, and the sight of her seemed a terribly shallow representation of all he knew her to be. He wanted to reach out, to feel her, to try and sense the electric currents of her flesh with his own nerves, wanted to draw her closer and try to scent her pheromones, but the drugs and treatments they'd given him had dulled and altered the biochemical changes that occurred in a Joiner's brain. He would still be considered 'unusually sensitive' by the standards of most Humans, but it was woefully inadequate compared to what he used to sense.
It had been a relief to return to the Phantom, to rest in a bed that had such pleasant associations for him that still held his wife's scent lingering on the sheets and pillows. He'd dozed, though not truly sleeping, and he was starting to feel a little bit less drugged and sluggish. His Agent's absence by his side had been like a physical void though, and he'd wondered whether she was just giving him space to rest, or whether she found him distasteful in his drugged, confused, individual state. Would he suddenly be too Human for her?
The Agent propped her head up on her hand, lying on her side and examining him with a piercing look.
"You look tired," she said, finally.
Vector offered a small, rueful smile, more a faint upturning of the corners of his mouth than a genuine expression. "It's been too quiet to sleep."
"Shall I get Kaliyo to sing to you?"
Vector had been privileged enough to overhear some of Kaliyo's less than sober attempts at serenading bar patrons. "When I think of the Song of the Universe, it is not Kaliyo's voice I hear. For that we are grateful."
She smiled, almost shyly, and the expression was so unfamiliar that he was faintly surprised. "I miss your eyes," she said, after a moment, and she reached out, her fingertips just brushing the corner of his eyes, smoothing the thin skin beneath them. "I can't get used to these strange little coloured dots that follow me around the room."
"That's the opposite reaction to that most Humans have to Joiners."
"I," she said, somewhat primly, "Am not 'most Humans'. Or Human, for that matter. For shame, Master Vector."
"My rampant Humanocentrism gets away from me once again. I beg forgiveness." He curled his fingers around hers, holding her hand in place, and turned his head just enough to drop a kiss onto the inside of her wrist. Her fingers flexed slightly and she took a deep breath.
"Don't worry. I'm Chiss. We know we're better than everyone else, we're just too polite to bring it up most of the time."
He smiled wryly at her. "At least, for once, you have our undivided attention," he strove for lightness, for a joking tone, but she frowned slightly, which wasn't the reaction he had been expecting. Perhaps more of the loss he felt from the hive's absence was noticeable in his voice than he intended. It was hard to judge; everything seemed so muted that the subtleties passed him by.
"I never begrudged the hive's presence," she said. Her voice was soft, in a way it only ever was in his presence. "I don't love you in spite of being a Joiner. I love you."
"I've never doubted that."
"Never?" she echoed and arched her eyebrows.
It took him a moment to realise exactly what she was referring to, and then remembered the expression on her face when he'd approached her that first time, the nest pushed back from his consciousness, and why he'd gone to the effort.
He tried to frame the answer properly, to put it into words that she would understand, and not the jumble of emotions and images that the memories existed as in his mind. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against her neck, against the sensitive skin underneath her ear. "We told you that a ration bar overwhelmed me, and then with my self control eroded from the effort of holding back the nest, you were there before us with your scent, your taste, your song," he punctuated his sentences with light, almost undetectable kisses to her neck that made her shiver, vibrating with faint anticipation. It was a familiar sensation to him. "And then you told us to welcome back the hive, and then we knew. We knew you loved us. I did not doubt, but we were uncertain until that moment as to the depths of your affection."
The Agent moved then, shifting to press him onto his back, straddling him. "The depths of my affections," she said, "Are far beyond anything I've ever known. I'd be lying if I said I... that I understand it completely myself. But that doesn't frighten me, it thrills me." She settled her hands on his chest lightly. "We'll sort this out, Vector, we'll get you back to the Killiks and put you right again. I only want you happy."
"We are happy with you," he told her, which drew a smile, and a faint shake of the head.
"I know you," she said, "You'll not be truly happy until you can hear the others again."
He reached for her, smoothing his palms up her still trouser-clad thighs. "I'm not averse to what happiness can be achieved in the meantime," he told her, moving his fingers to her belt, pointedly smoothing them across the buckle.
She shook her head, and pressed his hands firmly to the bed, giving him a warning look that told him to keep them there. She unfastened and tossed aside the jacket, the one with all the cords and rank bars that won her instant respect on Imperial planets even if she held no genuine allegiance to the symbols of the Empire any longer. She made no other move to remove her clothing, instead turning to him, her fingers making quick work of the loose, ugly civilian garb he had been given at Anora's compound. Every exposed inch of skin that she revealed had a kiss laid upon it, and with that sort of encouragement, Vector could hardly complain about her slowly, methodically, stripping him.
He reached for her again, but she firmly turned him aside, and he was left only to tighten his fingers around the pillow behind his head as his Agent worked her particular brand of magic on him. There were few layers to the medical clothing, and before long, he lay naked before her while she was still fully dressed.
The Agent smiled wickedly at him as he said, "We are at a profound disadvantage," and teasingly ran her fingers along the edge of her undershirt, allowing him a glimpse of the azure flesh beneath it. He scowled at her as her hands dropped and she laughed, something she did so very infrequently, and instead stripped herself of her trousers, revealing smooth, toned legs that she had made mention of embarrassing her, being more athletic than the currently idealised version of physicality that was popular in the Empire. When she had told him that, he had sought to prove that she was far more beautiful to him than any ridiculous fashion trend could make her.
That had been a very pleasant evening indeed.
She climbed back on the bed over him, her fingers danced over her shirt, revealing the pretty but very practical undergarments she chose to wear. She moved slowly, drawing out her impromptu striptease. His enjoyment was very apparent, causing her to grin, and he couldn't resist running his fingertips along the side of her leg to her backside when she shifted to remove her panties, the last piece of clothing that separated them. The Agent's breath hitched, and her back arched slightly.
The sound of her breath catching seemed to flip some sort of switch for him, and any willingness to remain passive fled. He moved economically, rolling them with the minimum of effort so that she lay on her back, he over her still firmly fitted between her thighs. Her breath went out of her in a rush that might have tailed off in a laugh, but she fell silent as he braced his forearms on either side of her head and found himself preoccupied by staring into her eyes, watching her tongue dart out to wet her lips as they parted, her breath coming shorter.
Her hands came up to stroke his back as he moved just enough to tangle his fingers in her hair, the teasing eroticism of moments before replaced by something quieter, something deeper, and a part of him ached to be able to share this feeling with the hive, to sort through the memories to see if any other Joiners had ever experienced this.
There was no response from the hive when he sung out the query, unable to stop himself, and something of the dismay must have shown in his face, because her face softened and her arms and legs tightened, drawing him to her. He kissed her, deeply, chasing the fine complexity of her essential signature.
When it was done, and they both lay there, trembling with expended energy, Vector rested his head on her bosom, unable to relax enough to sleep, and the Agent reached up to twist her fingers in his hair. He held himself there, listening to her heartbeat. It was a pale substitution for the Song of the Universe, but he let his thoughts fill with her melody and, for a moment, was content.
Alderaan was much as she had left it. Though there had been all manner of political developments since she had last conducted operations on the planet, the spaceport was the same, and the fresh mountain air was unchanged. Vector said nothing as they stepped off the Phantom into the cold air, but his shoulders tensed under the light armour he was wearing less for combat reasons than to simply be clad in familiar garments.
They headed directly for the taxi rank, ignoring the market vendors that hawked their products, ignoring the soldiers and droids that stalked around the House Thul surroundings, and ignoring the signs, covert and overt, of the politicking that was ever ongoing. Vector climbed into the summoned taxi silently whilst the Agent stowed the gear they'd brought with them in the back, before she climbed into the driver's seat and called up the autopilot.
When she entered House Cortess as a destination, the taxi's onboard computer flashed a travel advisory stating that the House had been overrun by a Killik infestation, and that it was strongly recommended to avoid travel there. She overrode the advisory, and the taxi lifted off smoothly.
It wasn't a long ride, a few minutes only. No doubt the encroaching proximity of the Killiks was giving the Humans of House Thul conniptions. The Agent wondered if they would be driven to attack the hive directly, but she had once asked Vector if the Killiks were concerned, and he had only smiled slightly and informed her that one would have to destroy the entire planet to wipe out the Killiks in the Castle Lands. He was unworried.
The Agent wished she could share his confidence, sometimes, but it wasn't her place to concern herself with the Killiks. Many other things occupied her attention on a daily basis that had nothing to do with Vector's brethren, though lately, life had been relatively calm. Vector's kidnapping had seemed to prove that even in apparent quietude, danger lurked. The unwary and ill-prepared would be destroyed. The Agent was neither of these. She hadn't survived so long by being careless.
She looked at her husband, still sitting silently beside her. Few people would sit by, willingly and happily going off to join with the Killiks. Some Alderaanians might shoot themselves before getting inducted into their collective mind. She had no idea if Vector, the Human, had gone willingly to the Joining. She didn't know whether he had struggled against the process or accepted it happily, but she knew now that the man he had once been was dead, burned away by the changes wrought upon him by the nest. If he stayed un-joined, perhaps he would become accustomed to the individual life forced upon him by drugs and treatments, but he did not want that, not as he was now, and not as a Joiner. She would not force him into a state of being that a man who no longer existed might have preferred.
The Agent did not grieve for a man she never met.
Vector realised she was staring at him, and returned the look uncertainly. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
She didn't answer him directly, only leaned over the taxi's console and kissed him. He seemed surprised by her actions, as if by not glimpsing her emotions through her aura and her song, he was continually unprepared for whatever she might do. He recovered quickly, though, and raised his hand to brush his fingers across her cheek as they kissed, the touch lingering even when she pulled away.
"We're here," she said, as the taxi started to lower itself to the ground, completing its pre-programmed route.
By the time the engine had spun down and they were climbing out of the taxi, a female Joiner, and two Killik warriors were standing at the gates to the former Cortess lands, waiting patiently.
Vector walked towards them, not waiting for her, and was met by the Joiner's outstretched hands. She gripped his wrists, and looked into his face, and something approaching dismay might have passed over her face for a moment before it was replaced by the serenity of the nest. No words were spoken.
The Agent retrieved Vector's weapon where she had stowed it in the taxi, putting it into the arms of one of the warriors. "This is his, I'm sure he'll want it back."
The warrior bowed slightly, and clicked at her, before turning away and falling into place beside the Joiner and Vector. She was stroking the back of his hand with a worried expression, and without acknowledging the Agent further, led him into the nest, the warriors at their back.
She watched him go, lingering, but he didn't look back at her, and after a moment, she spun on her heel and headed back to the taxi.
It had been over a week now, but the Agent was a patient woman. Her team were not, however, and she dispatched them on various errands as time went on. Kaliyo and Scorpio were sent to investigate some leads on arms traders in the Yapin cluster in the hopes of securing supplies now that Imperial Intelligence was no longer backing them. Doctor Lokin took advantage of the downtime to visit Project Protean, to make sure they hadn't forgotten exactly who was in charge, and the Agent had decided to follow up on Ensign Temple's recent infiltration success by sending her to gather some information from a Republic listening post. It was an easy job, but it was good experience for her.
The Agent, meanwhile, remained on Alderaan. The situation on the planet was far from stable, and there were plenty of jobs for an infiltration expert with time on her hands. It was rather peculiar, running solo missions with no one at her side with a comment or a joke, no backup if something should go wrong. More than once, she raised her hand, as if to gesture an attack, only to realise that she was on her own and waving at thin air.
She wondered if she should be alarmed at this complacency, this expectation of backup. She had been trained as a solo operator, had done her job expertly before Keeper ever assigned Kaliyo to her. Even before that, on Csilla, her job had not been one that required her to work closely with a small team. She had been part of a larger organisation, true, but she had been expected to work independently. It had been something the Agent did so well that she'd matched the profile of someone who would be able to leave the Ascendency and work as a single alien in an Empire hostile to them. It was how she'd received the offer from Intelligence.
When had she become so very dependent upon others?
Vector might tell her it was no bad thing. Kaliyo would tell her that it was stupid to trust other people. Lokin might smile and inform her that the gathering of allies was tactically sound, and Temple wouldn't offer an opinion. The Agent wouldn't want to know Scorpio's thoughts on the subject.
The Agent hadn't had family, not since she was a small child, too young to remember much beyond kind smiles, the scent of softly floral perfume, and delicately boned fingers showing her how to play the zenota, arranging her own stubby fingers where they were too clumsy to land on the correct notes. She couldn't think how her team would be family, too dysfunctional, each with their own secrets, to truly care about them. But she trusted them, and she would do anything to help each of them. They had returned the favour; they had each followed her to Takhaet to help her without ever questioning or wavering in their support.
If that sort of selflessness was the definition of family, then maybe she had found that in her team. Of course, it didn't mean she wouldn't throw Kaliyo out of the airlock if the Rattataki betrayed her again, and she wouldn't hesitate to erase Scorpio's personality programming via blaster bolt to the processing core if the droid tried to kill her, but she would at least be sorry about doing so, for a little while.
The air in her cabin shifted, just slightly, and she smiled.
"You're lucky it's you," she said, without opening her eyes. "Anyone else, I'd slice their heads off."
"No, you wouldn't," Vector told her, "Because you don't sleep with a vibroblade under your pillow. You think that's an easy way to cut your fingers off in the middle of the night, and the day you can't take anyone down hand-to-hand while naked is the day you retire."
She opened her eyes to find him kneeling by the bedside, his head on his folded arms as he watched her. He reached out to touch the side of her face, and she felt a swell of relief at the normalcy of his black eyes. He seemed more solid, real, and his face lacked the loneliness that had been etched into every line during his separation from the Killiks.
He was himself again.
"So the question is," he continued, "What are you holding under there?"
It was silly to be embarrassed, but she was, and she hesitated briefly before withdrawing her hand, uncurling her fingers so that he could see the ulikuo stone that she'd clasped tightly night after night. He looked at it for a moment, then placed his palm over hers, the stone between their hands, and turned her hand over to kiss her fingers.
"The recollection of your aura was never diminished," he said, "But we find that it ever more vivid and beautiful than ever."
When he took his hand away, she could see that the chemicals in the stone that reacted to tiny electrical impulses, even those as slight as nervous impulses, had changed colour. Where it had pressed against her skin, it was blue-ish white, and the other side was a dusky orange. Eventually, it would fade back to the dark oceanic blue that was nearly identical to her own skin's colour, the stone's 'natural' sheen, but she ignored it as Vector took it from her and set it aside. She sat up in bed, the sheets falling ignored to her waist, and felt a surge of amusement and affection as Vector's eyes immediately travelled downward. For all his talk of auras and songs when he spoke of her 'beauty', he was still man enough to appreciate a naked woman when she sat before him.
Perhaps that was one of the reasons she loved him. He wasn't Human, nor was he Killik, he was both, Joined, and she could never resent him for it.
"You're better?" she asked.
"We sang our verse in the Song, and we danced all night and all day. We are Dawn Herald once more, as we ever were."
"And-" she found she couldn't phrase the question, but Vector answered her anyway.
"And we are still committed to you and your legacy," he told her. "That was never in doubt. We love you."
He kissed her then, with the tentativeness she remembered from the early days of their relationship, when he was struggling not to be overwhelming by sensory input, and she didn't push to deepen the kiss until she felt the moment he relaxed.
He might have pressed her back into the bedsheets then, if she hadn't halted him with fingers resting on the front of his armour. He looked at her with a question on his face, and was silent while she took a deep breath and forced herself to speak the words that she'd been rehearsing every night since she'd dropped him off at House Cortess, the words she'd been determined to speak ever since she'd seen him in Anora Yu's retreat and felt unfamiliar emotions swell up at the very thought of him coming to harm.
She said, "Once upon a time you told me there was a need to protect my cover, but I don't have a cover any more. I don't exist, even in the most thorough of archives."
"You appear real enough to me," Vector told her, with a slight smirk, and she grinned and kissed his cheek.
She wasn't finished, though, and leaned back to tilt her head upwards and look up at him. "There's a Chiss enclave on Ariss, discrete, friendly, and I'm sure they would enjoy a merit-adoptive of Miurani owing them a favour. There's five days until Temple is due back from her assignment."
There was silence as her intent carried across in words unspoken, and then Vector smiled. "Are you sure?"
"We never needed a ceremony," she said, "But I want one. It's foolish, perhaps, given that we are married, whether anyone says it or not. But..." The Agent heaved a sigh. "I want someone to say it."
Vector tilted his head, and brushed a kiss across the corner of her mouth. "Words spoken and sung have power, frequencies of intent reverberate through the Song, and as you say, the need to protect your cover is gone."
He splayed his hand across her belly. "Five days is very little time to consummate a marriage," He moved his hand upwards, cupping her breast and brushing his thumb against her nipple, provoking a sharp intake of breath as the calluses from wielding his staff caught against her skin. "We believe we should start right away."
"We don't need to head for Ariss until the morning," the Agent agreed quickly, as her husband put both hands to the task of making her lose the ability to think, "Now tell me more about those frequencies of intent."
~ End ~