“Jorgan, this is unexpected! Is this an official call or unofficial?” Jonas Balkar grinned at the Cathar, well aware that the captain had always had extremely mixed feelings about working with him in any capacity. Not that he entirely blamed him, considering his experiences with SIS operatives like Senior Agent Zane. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t drill the needle in a bit further, given the chance.
“Very unofficial. I need help, and I think you’ll want in on this.” Jorgan growled, scowling at the human in the holo, well aware of his amusement.
“Oh-ho! Why do I have the feeling that the lovely major doesn’t know you’ve holo’ed me?”
“She’s the reason I need your help. But I need your word that this will stay strictly between you and me first.” Jorgan’s scowl deepened at the reminder of the on-and-off relationship between the agent and his commander.
Balkar’s grin evaporated. “What’s wrong, has something happened to Tery? And yes, you ought to know that you can trust me by now, especially if it has to do with Tery.”
“That’s what I thought. Have you heard about the A-77 op yet?”
Balkar nodded, all business now. “Nasty business, that, Rakton using 300 soldiers as bait. Damned glad he didn’t succeed in wiping out Havoc Squad or the POWs.”
“Damned straight. We’d barely gotten in from a rough op on Belsavis when Garza sent us out for that, and now she already has another assignment for us. Barely allowed us a couple of days of shore leave first, too, even though she knows.... Well, problem is, Tery hasn’t checked in, and Garza’s going to be expecting to hear that we’re leaving tomorrow morning.”
“So you need to find Tery before Garza decides she’s AWOL?” Balkar pulled at his lower lip thoughtfully, eyes fixed on some point over Jorgan’s head. “Since you want this kept under the table, I take it you don’t have any reason to think something happened to her?”
“Let’s just say I happen to know she reacted badly to what happened on A-77, and Garza’s been pushing her a little too hard because she gets results. Forgets she’s flesh and blood.”
Balkar fixed his gaze on the Cathar, raising an eyebrow. “You know, I’ve always known you respected Tery, just never was sure you actually liked her.”
“Spend two and a half years going through hell with someone, covering each other’s back, taking shots for each other, and like doesn’t even come into it anymore. Look, Balkar, are you in or not? I only have so much time to find her and get her back aboard the Blue Havoc before I have to start telling lies to Garza. And while I think Dorne and Yuun will back me, Vik…”
“Would sell out his own mother for revenge. Yes. And yes, I believe I can help. Where are you right now?”
“In the Drunkard’s Vote Cantina, by the Senate Tower.”
“I can meet you at the plaza taxi in ten, just need time to pick up something.”
“Will do. And Balkar, thanks.”
“Hey, anything for you , Jorgan.” He smirked, his voice somewhere between mocking and flirtatious, but even as Jorgan scowled back at him, both men knew that they’d reached something of a truce and an understanding.
Jorgan kept eyeing the small device that Balkar had been tinkering with since they got in the taxi. Finally, he cleared his throat and broke the silence.
“You said you had a lead on the Major?”
“There aren’t that many Chiss on Coruscant, after all, much less Chiss in Republic uniform. But in Tery’s case, there happens to be a direct way to track her, and I thought since discretion was important, this would be the right time to make use of it.” Balkar's words were casual, but something about the way he spoke made Jorgan suspicious.
“Alright, what aren’t you telling me?”
Balkar tinkered with the device again silently, leaving Jorgan to glare at him before staring up at the sky visible between the tall buildings. “Not my story to tell you, Jorgan. I only knew because they gave me access to her full security profile when we first worked together. It might have occurred to me that it would be a good idea to remember that information, in case she was ever taken prisoner. Unofficially, of course.”
“Of course. But why do I feel like there’s something here I need to know?”
Balkar shrugged. “Maybe. First, let’s worry about getting Tery back to the Blue Havoc, though.”
Balkar's device quickly guided them to the Silent Sun Cantina, a rather nasty bar frequented by the criminal elements of Coruscant. Not a place you’d normally expect to locate a much-decorated hero of the Republic’s military.
But the device Balkar held led them unerringly to a back room where Major Tery greeted them with a raised glass of something in a vile shade of green, held in a hand still sporting a large bacta patch. “Hah! Jon’s and Ari’! Come to he'p me tus...toos...to'st Jaxo? She aluss says...said...shit, this her fav’rit bar. She says so.” She took a swig from the glass before Jorgan could stop her, while Balkar discretely removed the bottle at her elbow, then the woman slammed the glass down on the bar. “We’ve be’ havin’ a good fukin’ long chat, me 'n Jaxo. ‘Cept I ke'p hearun’ her tell me not t’do sumthin’. Can’t seem t’drink enough to stop fukin’ hearin’ tha’.” She turned to reach for the bottle to refill her glass to discover it was missing. “Hey, why you take tha’, I need more t’drin’ dammit!”
Balkar and Jorgan bracketed her cautiously and coaxed her to her feet, wary of her combat training taking over if she turned belligerent. Balkar raised an eyebrow inquiringly at Jorgan who shook his head. “Not until we get her somewhere less public.”
Luckily Tery was more inclined to glares that left people frozen in place like a small animal that had caught the attention of a predator. They hustled her back to the taxi without incident where Tery slumped against Jonas, and he briskly directed the taxi to his apartment without conferring with Jorgan. Not that Jorgan was inclined to object: obviously she couldn’t appear back onboard ship in this condition. As soon as they were in the air, Jorgan administered a hypospray injection that should rapidly start countering the alcohol in her system. Should. If anyone knows enough about Chiss metabolism to extrapolate a counter, Dorne does.
At first, it showed no sign of helping. In fact, halfway through the flight, she began babbling into Balkar’s shoulder.
“Jon's, my fren’. Y’know, I’m no’ ‘scactly fon’ of fukin’ ‘telligence. Made m’life hell, y’know? Made m’mut’er’s life hell too. An’ allus some r’son the fukin’ hun’ers foun’ us anywa’. ‘Course ‘tellgenz cou’dn spot a gundar’ some days, so good thin’ she’us better’n them. Til she was’n. And then she was'n.
“But yr’okay. Maybe. Least I dun hav’ta hide w’you. Jaxo dinn’ care I ‘uz Chiss either. ‘Cept...Jaxo…” She fell silent again, her head sinking onto Jonas’s shoulder, eyes shut, but something told Jorgan that she wasn’t asleep so much as beginning to sober, and unwelcome memories were returning.
Once at Jonas’s apartment, a now-silent Tery listlessly let them guide her out of the taxi, neither helping nor resisting. Once inside the small, rather simple living room, they helped her into a chair in the dining alcove, and she immediately folded her arms onto the table, burying her face without a word.
Jorgan jerked his head toward the kitchen, and Balkar nodded, following just as silently. Jonas glanced back into the main room to make certain the major was still resting her head on the table, then slid the panel shut.
“Jorgan, what the void happened on A-77?” Aric glowered at the quiet, intense words, but as he opened his mouth to snarl something, Jonas made a slashing motion with his hand. “And don’t even give me that bantha fodder about mission security. I’ve never seen Tery more than slightly tipsy, so there’d better be a damned good reason she was so drunk she can barely stand after what was reported to be a successful rescue mission.” Aric was clearly surprised by the anger in the hissed words, pausing to study the dark haired agent speculatively. “And who is this Jaxo she was talking to?”
“Mostly ...successful.” Aric corrected him brusquely. “One of our people had escaped the cells and was giving us help from the inside. Sergeant Jaxo. Except the only way to buy enough time to get the other POWs out of their cells and off the station involved venting Jaxo's level to hard vacuum.”
“And Tery gave the order?” Jonas grimaced. “Shit. Of course she did. This Jaxo, she knew her, I take it?”
“Tery’s only close friend outside of Havoc, besides you maybe. Which Garza knows, damn her. And is still ordering us to Voss.” Aric growled the words, but kept his volume quiet enough not to carry through the door panel.
“And you think the SIS is cold-blooded. Aren’t there regulations about psych evaluations and counseling after incidents like this?” Jorgan’s eyes narrowed in anger, and Jonas thought for a moment that the Cathar was going to punch him. Instead, he spat out his own question.
“You owe me some answers, Balkar. Why does the SIS have a means of tracking Tery?”
Balkar leaned back against a cabinet, arms folded and legs crossed. “There are things I won’t tell you, Jorgan. Not because I don’t trust you, but because they’re Tery’s secrets. Tell me, has she ever mentioned any family?”
Jorgan scowled. “Not that I can remember. Until tonight. You know how private she is. I wasn’t about to ask personal questions about why a Chiss was in the Republic military and speaks with a Republic accent if she didn’t volunteer the information. She’s a damned good soldier, one of the best, and loyal to the Republic, which should be all that matters.”
“No argument from me. But you do realize that, whatever her mother’s reasons for being in the Republic when she was born, a lot of the higher-ups were suspicious that she’d been planted as a spy?”
“Were ? You mean are suspicious.” Jorgan spat his words out.
Balkar nodded. “True. So they ordered a long-range locator device implanted in her mother so they could track her. Tery too. Experimental tech.”
Jorgan growled, eyes glittering coldly. “Does Tery know?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Why the void not? Dammit, the Republic should be grateful for the messes she’s cleaned up, not holding her mother over her head!”
Neither man had noticed that their volume had been rising as they sniped at each other, but the panel abruptly slid open.
“My mother wasn’t just some private who jumped sides in the middle of the war to save her skin.” Despite her disheveled appearance and skin almost more gray than blue, her gaze and words were cool and level, and only slightly slurred. She noticed his start, then glanced downward, straightening her tunic rather than meeting his eyes.
“She was a prisoner of war, not a defector. Military intelligence broke her under questioning, though, and she made a deal in exchange for protection and some level of freedom...for both of us.”
She had begun rubbing her forehead until Jonas reached into the cooler unit and silently offered her a cold pack. She took it, slapping it to her forehead with a wince, but nodding briefly in thanks. “Yes, well, we know how well they followed through.” Jorgan remained silent, but one eyebrow crept up as he noticed the anger in Balkar's voice. Wonder what he knows...?
Tery snorted, then winced, shifting the cold pack to her right temple. “You probably know more than I do.” The Chiss woman shrugged as casually as if discussing the weather. “It isn’t as if the SIS has ever offered me any answers. But we did have, mmm, supervised freedom.”
Abruptly, she fixed Jonas with a fierce stare. “Dunno what you gave me, but I’m almost certain I’m sober enough to have heard you say there’s something implanted in me that you used to track me?”
“Yes.” Jonas didn’t try to justify or expand on his answer.
“You’ve known this all along? And never warned me?”
“Yes. Don’t expect me to apologize; I stuck my neck out enough by using it to protect your career.”
She stared at him silently, as if weighing the unapologetically blunt answer, then moved the cold pack back to her forehead. “Well, at least you’ve never lied to me about what you are. I’ll assume you had your reasons, though if anyone else in the SIS had admitted this, you do know you’d be on the floor with a black eye and bloody nose?”
Jonas nodded soberly, for once making no attempt to charm his way out of trouble.
“Fine. Since Jorgan’s here, I assume Garza wants me back on duty early and you just did me a big favor. So I’ll call us even...on the condition this tracker is removed.”
She locked eyes with Balkar with a glare and several tense seconds passed before he nodded. “I can call in a favor and have it done off the books. But you do realize that if you’re ever captured…”
The mask of calm dropped away with the cold pack she removed from her forehead, eyes narrowing as she spat out her words through thinned lips. “If I’m captured, Empire or Ascendancy, you might as well assume I’m dead anyway! I’ve given enough to the Republic. If I can’t be trusted without being tracked constantly by now, then nothing will ever change that.”
"I can't arrange it openly, but I'll make sure it gets done."
She nodded in wordless agreement. "Jorgan, let me clean up, and maybe my head will be clear enough that you can tell me what Garza wants now."
He nodded, then Balkar spoke quietly. "Use my fresher, you know where the towels and stuff are." As she turned to go, he hesitantly asked, "Tery?"
She clenched her fists, not turning back to look at him. "Not now, Balkar. I...just not now." And then she was gone, leaving a heavy silence that neither man was willing to break.
“Jorgan.” The SIS agent shook Jorgan’s hand, face and voice tired. Aric was surprised to feel a moment of nostalgia for the man’s cheek and humor, less obvious casualties of the Zakuulan invasion, as he accepted the mug of beer. “Any news?”
“Nothing.” Aric couldn’t even find the energy to be angry. “And I have orders to abandon the search if I don’t want to face charges. I take it you don’t have any word either?”
“Nothing yet, and unfortunately, I have orders to Denon now.” He drained about half of his mug, then cupped it in his hands speculatively. “Are you giving up?”
"We've trusted each other to watch the other's backs for six years, and no void-damned politician is going to order me to ignore what I owe Tery." Jorgan's growl was more tired than angry. "I'll just have to have someone else do the searching, more discretely. I've got to start rebuilding Havoc; almost everyone left or was transferred after Marr's ship was destroyed. You?"
"I'm out of the direct search, but most of my network of contacts is still intact. I'm hoping to plant someone on Zakuul itself, in their underworld. Assuming they have one. And someone else you've worked with reached out to me as well. Remember an Agent Shan?"
"Yeah, an arrogant young spook." Jorgan used the derogatory term without any particular heat, almost needling Balkar reflexively. "Gotta admit though, he did good in a really bad situation on Rishi."
"And a man with some very interesting contacts outside the Republic."
"Hmm, I can guess a few. Strange allies, but even stranger times I guess." He took a sip of the beer, staring past Balkar pensively. "You know, it's ironic." Balkar raised an eyebrow curiously. "If this had happened three years ago, you wouldn't have had any trouble locating her."
"Yeah, believe me, I think about it a dozen times a day. I wish..." He trailed off, and Jorgan remembered that while Tery had apparently forgiven Balkar, their relationship had never recovered the same easy, casual footing. For all Balkar's irreverent charm, Jorgan had never been convinced that the agent's feelings had been quite as casual as Tery's. When she found out he'd kept something from her...
He raised his mug and tapped it to Jonas's, keeping any trace of sympathy out of his voice. "For the Republic."
"And for Tery."