Leness Varelle stood enchanted with the flickering holo-image of a rugged-faced Zabrak male emanating from the projector device attached to his standard-issue Imperial office desk in one of the backrooms of his dimly-lit intelligence complex on Dromund Kaas. After nearly a week of confinement to nothing but his work space thanks to several sleepless a night, and seemingly endless layers of duties and taxing paper work pertaining to his actual work with SOPE – short for the Secretary of Public Enlightenment, a chief propaganda apparatus that had only recently been anointed by Empress Acina to any position of actual relevance within the Empire's internal structure – Varelle felt the stuffy and unventilated air press on him like never before, and had the strongest temptation to drop straight onto the glassy, onyx floor immediately beneath him and do nothing but sleep for days on end, but he was determined to push on with his investigation in on the wanted fugitive.
"Let's see what this alien friend of ours has been up to", Varelle murmured to himself as he extracted an Imperial code cylinder from the upper left sleeve of his crimson uniform, and inserted it into the desk. Interfacing it with the holo-projection device he had activated, Varelle stood straight and motionless for a moment as he promptly submitted himself to a mandatory biometric scan that would allow him wider access to classified Sith Intelligence dossiers on wanted and documented individuals the Imperial military and intelligence apparatuses had labeled as both enemies and potential future assets.
"Biometric scan complete. Accessing intelligence databases. Access granted", the female voice of the computer cordially stated. "How may I assist, Commissar Varelle?"
Leness clasped his hands behind his back, and began to slowly circle the table in front of him as he proceeded to give the computer his instructions. "Access 'Rhakess Ariza Datko' and then run advanced searches on 'confiscated Weequay degenerate artworks', Republic contracts and covert streamlining of Mandalorian weaponry into Republic-occupied space", Leness said, as he monitored the evolving holo-projection in front of him with his baggy and bloodshot eyes. "A three-man crew of Mandalorian mercenaries with sophisticated knowledge of Imperial communication methods and frequencies, past associations with Jicoln Cadera and other Mandalorian factions and individuals with known pro-Republic sentiments, and possible internal assistance from Imperial personnel pertaining to Moff Assam's assassination on Bonadan", he continued.
Lines upon lines of text and imagery quickly flickered onto the open holo-field in front of him, calculating and adjusting for all probabilities and case dossiers out of the massive reservoirs of stored intelligence and information Sith Intelligence, as well as its predecessor Imperial Intelligence, had racked up over the years, and reconciled them with Varelle's adjusted search. Leness studied the ever-changing and evolving holo-projection in front of him with intensity and focus as cyan light illuminated onto his face and the rest of the rather spacious but dimly lit backroom, trying to already get a clearer picture of the Zabrak Mandalorian's underlying motives by memorizing and taking into account all of the content being visualized by the computer ahead.
It wasn't long until any drastic changes in the blue holo-projection promptly ceased, and Varelle was left standing in front of various holo-imagery of four incident casefiles and three individual dossiers. He studied them for a moment, taking in all the faces and the information presented in front of him – one of them on the far left side, his target of investigation and now arguably one of the most hated, wanted men in the Empire, Rhakess Datko. With few horns protruding from the head and donning a very strong jawline, aquiline nose and facial tattoos characteristic of an Iridonian Zabrak, Varelle deduced the Mandalorian war veteran to have the cynical and serious look of a soldier who had experienced more than his share of loss and tragedy emanating from years of conflict, war and violence.
Had his attack on Bonadan been something personal?
Leness quickly put that thought aside as he then slowly strided a foot to the right whilst folding his lean arms across his chest, and set his sights upon the second facial holo-projection – a Human that of nearly Datko's age, though still showing some signs of the graceful temperance of youth on his pale, blue-eyed face. He sported an over-arching, sandy blonde beard across his weak chinline, with his head and upper lip area shaved clean. A cross-shaped scar ran across the right side of his face, and his somewhat large eyes were contrasted by his narrow, short nose. Varelle let out a whiff of minor amusement, as he could not help but think of the man's shaved head and poorly groomed beard as completely inappropriate and uncomplimentary of his overall facial look, judging it to be nothing but a paltry attempt at showing off something that just did not fit as some would-be masculine statement – something which the Mandalorian had failed at miserably, and only managed to make a complete fool of himself, in Varelle's mind.
"Galui Vulen", Leness then told himself aloud. "I've never heard of you before, have I? Let's see what connection you have with our Iridonian friend", he went on as he proceeded to extract the floating and flickering text attached to Vulen's dossier with the palm of his left gloved hand, enlarging it by thirty percent to gain a better viewpoint.
"Multiple contradictory accounts make full background assessment of Vulen more difficult than usual. Subject was likely born on the planet of Wayland at an undisclosed date, and joined Clan Astarte of the Mandalorians on Concord Dawn somewhere during his youth. Befriended a fellow clansman named 'Rhakess Ariza Datko' soon after, and the pair promptly broke off from their clan to dedicate their skillsets towards mercenary work. Took several contracts from the Imperial military, and as far as we know, both Vulen and Datko had an active role in campaigns of conquest and consolidation on Balmorra and Myrkr, working closely and faithfully in tandem with Darth Siron. Subject and his collaegue Datko soon broke off all communication with Imperial high command for an inexplicable reason, however, and this was not investigated any further by either intelligence operatives or military personnel, despite a contract that both Vulen and Datko has blatantly left unfulfilled, taxing Imperial resources and time. Resurfaced some years later with Jicoln Cadera's bands of pro-Republic Mandalorians, denouncing Imperial 'atrocities' on a multitude of planets and calling his 'people' to thwart the Imperial war effort."
Leness could feel he was progressively closing in on the motivations of the attack that had occurred only recently on Bonadan. The primary victim of the attack, Moff Jelkyd Assam, had been one of Varelle's biggest tutors and influences in his career through the Imperial hierarchy, and he could still hear the words of wise and silent advice the hardened war veteran had slipped in his ear in the most difficult and desperate of situations. Assam might have been a man of small physical stature and paltry strength, but what he lacked in that department, he certainly compensated for with his sheer cunning and piercing intellect – Leness knew that much. His sudden death had moved him deeply, though he had done his very best to hide his resentment and anger at the news of the Moff's death from his closest rivals both in the military and in intelligence.
Re-energized by his resolve to learn more about the culprits and a burning desire to deliver them to justice, Varelle rested the elbow of his right arm on the cupped palm of his left hand and gently stroked the pointed chin of his tan-skinned face as he patiently contemplated to himself, progressively absorbing the rest of the text the desk's holo-projector was displaying in front of him.
"Went into hiding after most of Cadera's followers were liquidated. Sith Intelligence auxiliary monitors on Metellos and Alsakan have concluded he has secretly been working for Admiral Stonrog Leebic, of the Republic Navy, together with Datko. Fragments of intercepted holo-transmissions remotely suggest the triumvirate has long now been conspiring to assassinate top Imperial military and naval brass with closer than usual affiliation to Mandalorian loyalists, thus undermining Imperial-Mandalorian relations long-term – though to what end, we do not know."
The name of Stonrog Leebic immediately struck him. During his short stint in the Imperial Navy, Varelle had heard wild stories about the ruhtlessness and cutting efficiency of Leebic's fleet and boarding actions – something which contrasted with the 'ethical guidelines' the Republic Navy had always adhered to, in an effort to keep a clean name. Leebic was a man who took no prisoners, and left no witnesses – not when Imperials were concerned, at least. That was the level of the Republic Admiral's utter contempt and disgust for the Empire.
Other rumours circulating through the crimson-lit hallways of Imperial military vessels also stated that Leebic had a harsh falling out with his former commanding officer – an unnamed Jedi Master which lead to some increased tensions and mistrust between the Republic military establishment and the Jedi Order, and that Leebic had since wrested leadership of his forces from the Jedi to lead without the interference of the order.
And it was no wonder, for everything Varelle was witnessing and reading before him substantiated all of the things he had heard about Leebic and his notorious fleet.
Leness then immediately instructed the computer to enlarge and zoom in on the central dossier with the most apparent and strongest associations linked to his specified search – that of Admiral Stonrog Leebic, no less. In moments, the facial hologram of Leebic flickered to life, showing a bald-headed man, with a face so pale that it was almost of chalk-like coloring, accompanied by dim shades of blue and purple-blue here and there all across his face and head. His eyes glowed as almost completely white, and he had a flat but wide nose, and very thick lips. The sight was almost as unsettling as seeing a red-skinned Sith pureblood up close – if not more.
Varelle's jaw fell open in complete astonishment. Not just because he had expected Leebic to be a Human, but turned out to be a native of Umbara, instead – "Shadow People", as they were called. No, it was because Varelle knew exactly who the man was. Personally. Despite the wild rumours he had heard of Admiral Leebic in the past, Leness never knew the man's species or point of origin. Now he did, and it was no pleasant revelation in the least.
And most importantly, he had no idea "Stonrog Leebic" was really nothing but a cover identity – for a former prisoner of war, and begrudging Sith Intelligence sleeper agent Varelle himself had the burden of interrogating years ago, and bending to the heavy-handed will of his newfound Sith masters before the sly Umbaran had somehow broken free of his conditioning, and returned to Republic space.
His name was not Stonrog Leebic.
It was Sarth Kandar, an Umbaran Republic loyalist and anti-Imperial terrorist whose operations Varelle had managed to thwart at every turn, and eventually bring down altogether – a source of pride, and a shining star in Varelle's skyrocketing career.
That was the outside perception, at least. But Varelle had always seen it differently, and the incidents surrounding that case had troubled and disturbed him for years now, undermining his faith and belief in the Empire's infallibility and moral supremacy like never before. It was something he wanted to forget altogether – block from his mind, and never think of again. Negative perception of any kind pertaining to the Imperial war machine was treason. It was best to follow orders like a droid, and not ponder on the moral and ethical implications of those orders at all. Not even if they flew in the face of everything one believed in. That was completely incorrigible with Imperial tradition.
And Varelle was an Imperial, through and through. At least he wanted to believe that. He had to.
"One day, you will regret ever laying your hands on me the way you have today. I swear on my life that one day, the tables will be turned, and you – 'Commissar' Varelle – will be in my place, humiliated and destroyed by the string of defeats and losses I will have inflicted upon you. Then, I assure you, you will think back to this moment, and weep you'd never have crossed me. One day, you'll drop the paltry illusions and monstrous falsehoods you have adhered to for so long, and see the Empire for what it really is. I swear it", the Umbaran had said to Varelle.
Leness folded his arms across his chest and let out an exhausted and troubled whiff of air from his lungs as he looked down on the glassy floor of his office complex.
Then he hearkened back to the thought that had crossed his mind earlier – had Rhakess Datko and Galui Vulen's attack on Moff Assam at Bonadan been something personal? Now he knew.
It wasn't Datko or Vulen who were the real culprits. That much he had now understood. They were but chess pieces, in nothing less but Kandar's personal vendetta against him. Assam's death had been a message to him. With a chill running down across his spine, Leness pictured Kandar's face in his mind, and felt completely sick.
It was at that point, he knew – he was to be targeted next. Ghosts from a past Varelle would very much rather had forgotten about were haunting him once again, and this time his own life was probably on the line. None of the sins he'd wish he could absolve himself of were about to be washed away. It was his own blood he had to pay them with. And if there was any knowing of Kandar, a debt in blood is as good as guaranteed.
Varelle ran a palm across his forehead and squeezed his baggy, bloodshot eyes together in frustration. "I'm tired", he muttered to himself. "Save file arrangement and close all programs", Leness told the computer. The cyan light that had illuminated across the backroom slowly faded away as the holo-projector closed itself off, and then there was nothing but lonely darkness, and the sound of Dromund Kaas' rain whipping on the windows and durasteel foundations of the complex building.
After a moment, Leness turned tail and walked out of the backroom, heading towards his resting quarters.
"All I want to do right now is sleep", he thought to himself, as he promptly purged any other further thought or feeling of shame and guilt from his mind and his body.
Then the dark, eerie silence of Dromund Kaas' night went on, as it always had.