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Thread: Imposters

  1. #1

    Imperial - Closed Imposters

    Outside, a storm raged. Behind a grey veil, the world lost its shape as it succumbed to the encroaching downpour. Black clouds boiled, gathering about the Citadel summit like smoke. The sky flashed violently, and in the distance, stratoscrapers loomed like shadowy giants. Rain battered the expansive window pane, a thousand silent droplets at a time. Another silent flash; Jeryd caught his reflection in the glass, lost, vacant, and utterly bored.

    The lecture was in its 88th minute, and Major Gundyr showed no sign of letting up. He was a tall slender man, impeccable in uniform, with a grey bushy moustache and a pallor that betrayed long years behind a desk. His watery gaze was keen, beady, and meticulous. On the one occasion they spoke, Jeryd was given the distinct impression that he was not listening to what he was saying, but rather decrypting the private thoughts in his head. At least the creepiness was interesting. For a lecturer, one might concede he had other redeeming qualities. Intelligent? Yes. Well-read? Undoubtedly. And he drew on decades of experience working on some of the most covert intelligence operations in the Empire. But, by the Emperor’s shrivelled scrotum, was the man dull.

    Presently, he was gesturing at an old holo taken some years before the birth of the Empire, taken by a probe droid surveying a separatist base. With idle swipes of his finger, he cycled through a variety of scans and data, taking time to point out a solitary plume of gas illuminated orange by a heat sensor reading. The glow made Onika’s skin look almost red. At regular intervals, she surfaced from her diligent note-taking to spot details on the holo, her nose wrinkling every time she narrowed her eyes. Jeryd watched the stylus move in her fingers, and recalled the drawings she shared with him during one of Ivy’s classes. He found himself wondering if she still liked to draw or if the cadet program had broken the habit. He suspected her palms were calloused from all the training.

    It had been nine months since he last saw Jo-Jo. She had very soft hands, moisturised, manicured, and clean. She smiled so easily for him. Nine months. He could be a father by now. Sometimes, when he looked out the window and imagined a life beyond those walls, he pictured her, cradling a little boy or girl, still smiling, asking him to come home. But the call never came. The reality, he knew, was that she was probably working at her parents’ law firm, in a smart dress suit, decidedly not pregnant, and not thinking about him. Not when there were so many big city boys in their big city suits, taking her for big city drinks in their big city cars. While he was still stuck in school with his thumb up his arse.

    The holo changed, the separatist base was now a smouldering ruin. The Major pointed this way and that, droning in a way that could shut down a protocol droid. Jeryd studied the images, and found himself replaying fantastic combat scenarios that led to the aftermath. He recalled his training, and his friends, and wondered if they were yet caught up in some bloody conflict, storming enemy lines, basking in the glory of victory. In all likelihood, they too were in some miserable classroom, gazing out of a window, longing for something more. He considered his current comrades, then. His new friends. Some were soldierly, like him. Confident, capable, skilful and bold. Some had brilliant minds, they were prodigious, geniuses even. Some boasted incredible technical skills, engineering and computer wizardry. Others brought more unorthodox talents to the table, making their unit a crucible of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. They all walked the same path in their own way, they did it together, and they had at their disposal the very best of the Empire’s resources, be it equipment, training, vehicles, weapons. He wondered if they felt it, too; Jensen, Khoovi, Onika, Kass, Tolomy, Thida, and Neb. Together, they could change the galaxy.

    “...And that was what brought the insurgents to their knees. All it took was a single plume of gas.”

    There was a beat of silence, pregnant with the hopes of every cadet in the room. Then, bliss. The hologram vanished and the lights came on. Ripples of applause broke out around the room for their guest speaker. Jeryd summoned the strength to offer two whole claps, before gathering his things. Over the clamour, Major Gundyr invited questions but his audience was already in full retreat. Later, when he was duplicating Tolomy’s notes in bed, Jeryd would curse his own infantile attention span, but in the end, it came down to a choice between ignorance, or throwing himself through the window to a wet and violent death. And as he joined the deflated ranks trudging from the classroom, he wasn’t wholly convinced the right choice had been made.

    “Cadet Redsun.”

    Outside the classroom hovered a small droid, about the size of a smashball. It had large insectoid ocular sensors and a square vocabulator that lit up when it spoke. Upon hearing that dispassionate drone, for a moment of fleeting horror, Jeryd thought the Major was summoning him back for question time. Shrugging off the survivalist tension, he approached the droid.

    “You are to report at once to Knight Rayner. Level 36. Besh-44.”

    “Knight… Rayner?” He repeated, in confusion. By now, he knew every ranking officer at the Citadel, and had never heard of a- Rayner. His face dropped, suddenly grave, “Wait. Why?”

    “Do you not understand the nature of an order, cadet?”

    Jeryd opened his mouth, then reconsidered, “I’m on my way.”

    Making good on his word, Jeryd set off at once, an old fire rekindled in his belly. Since his promotion, Kyle Rayner had been mercifully absent from Jeryd’s day-to-day existence. As cadets, they learned to co-exist, an effort of mutual survival, if nothing else. They mixed like oil and water. Kyle Rayner was a gifted cadet: skilful in practical matters, extensively knowledgeable, and gifted in the Force. If only he could chalk his animosity down to Rayner’s previous life as a Jedi padawan. It would’ve made sense, and given Jeryd’s background, it was even understandable. But it was more than that. There was something about the guy that just pissed him off. He tried to ignore it, to rise above it, but he was always there, chipping away at his defences. A smug, self-satisfied clown.

    And now he was an Imperial Knight.

    As he walked, Jeryd reasoned with himself. All the same arguments he’d told himself before: Kyle Rayner had the experience, he'd been around long enough, completed his training, proved himself capable. He was qualified to be an Imperial Knight in every way, but one - he was still Kyle Rayner. As he stepped out of the lift onto Level 36, he expelled his frustrations with a sigh. Nowhere was it stated that he was expected to like everyone. There was always at least one superior officer who was a bit of an arsehole, and if nothing else, Rayner was unquestionably his superior officer. We respect the rank, not the man, Jeryd reminded himself as he closed in on Room Besh-44. He braced himself for whatever tedious onslaught Knight Rayner had in store for him, and rang the door chime once.

  2. #2
    The muffled call of, “Enter!” wormed its way through the door's seal, muffled by thicker layers of acoustic dampening than Jeryd’s bunkroom could boast. A soft click of lock solenoids disengaging at the base of the door scarcely registered before the two panels split and pulled aside with their familiar pneumatic hiss.

    It could be debated which senses were alerted first, upon the opening of the doors. Most would state that sight prevailed as a messy, haphazard set of living quarters made themselves known. Bed partially made, rumpled clothing either half-in, or scattered on the floor near the hamper, a near-dead potted ficus somehow clinging to life despite having likely not been watered in weeks - if you didn’t count the empty, lidless stimcaff cup laying beside it. A desk stood somewhere beneath an avalanche of datapads, technical manuals, schematics, loose flimsis, and a nested stack of empty take-out cartons. Even the boot-polishing kit which stood at the foot of the desk seemed in disarray, with more of its contents simply strewn about rather than stored inside its box case.

    Sight clearly had the advantage, yet it would require time to take in the extent of the dishevelled apartment,, whereas smell came instantly.

    Not acrid, nor pungent, yet there was a distinct odor which wafted from the room. An odor slightly sweet with hints of sweat, sour with the mildest scent of laundry, musty with a cry of help from the imprisoned, sorely mistreated ficus, and savoury from the remains of the last take-away meal. The type of scent typically only noticeable when you realize where you were had no scent at all, and the type which seemed to vanish after only a few breaths. Not that it did vanish, but you simply grew used to it, or found a way to be distracted from it.

    The sound of a refresher being activated, followed by the clink of a belt being refastened could easily provide sufficient distraction, and did, especially when accompanied by a voice.

    “Sorry, Khoov, didn’t realize you’d - oh.” The words came easily at first, before tripping and stumbling to a stop as Imperial Knight Kyle Rayner emerged from his unit’s refresher. Or at least to everyone else at the Citadel he was Kyle Rayner. Really, Kyle Rayner had never amounted to anything more than a middle-management position at a plumbing supply company, and had been dead for eighty years. In his place, using his name, stood one Halajiin Rabeak, with his paws held paused on his belt buckle, while his pink eyes looked at Jeryd in his doorway, nonplussed.

    “Oookay, not who I expected,” he found the way to carry on, then stood at ease. “Huh.”

    Outside the window, a heavy cargo speeder rumbled by, giving Hal a moment to bite his lower lip with his fangs, chewing it slightly. “Cadet Wan isn’t out there behind you, is he?” he finally asked. Jeryd’s face alone was enough to give him his answer. A sigh, and he waved the human cadet in. “So, um, how’ve you been enjoying your classes, Cadet Redsun?”

  3. #3
    From the safety of the doorway, Jeryd surveyed the scene with the same morbid curiosity with which one might regard a speeder crash. Assuming Rayner not important enough to be assigned his own office, he had, safely, he thought, assumed they were about to meet in an empty classroom, or a briefing room, a storage room, even. Instead, he found himself staring down the wasteland of Kyle Rayner's personal quarters. And much of what his dubious host had to say was met with muted bewilderment, until, that was, he was invited inside. Stepping over the threshold felt like a misdemeanour, encroaching on a personal space that he was not equipped mentally or physically to face. He was reminded of his days captaining the Manarai Mantasharks, and the rowdy, chaotic lair of secrecy they called a locker room. In truth, Rayner's room was nowhere near as messy or musky, but, compared to his own living quarters, it was practically an active warzone. Unquestionably, this was a domicile free from the threat of inspection.

    And what luxury! Larger than his own humble quarters, where he was required to share a bunk, Rayner's room was impressively furnished and boasted its own refresher. Was this what he had to look forward to when he became a knight? Privacy, it was the stuff of legend. The disorder, though, it was an assault to his sensibilities. Years removed from the bark of drill sergeants, he suspected he could never allow his personal space to fall into such disarray. How quickly Rayner had shed the habit. He shuffled to attention, ignoring the radioactive presence of a pair of underpants near his foot.

    "Sir..." Jeryd's response was immediate, a practice ingrained from an early age, but he faltered. Of all the things Rayner could have said, that was farthest from what he anticipated. He chose a direction, and silently committed to it with the faintest of nods, "Sir, the classes are challenging. Today, we were visited by Major Gundyr for a lecture on data analysis. And owing to the weather, field exercises were cancelled in favour of a morning of diplomacy studies and political theory."

    There was no shrug, no eye-rolling, no groan of all-encompassing misery that should accompany such a statement. None of it was needed. Rayner knew precisely what kind of day that was. He knew first hand how the frustration swelled up inside, ready to explode at any given moment, when you take a group of young men and women, in the peak of physical fitness, and you fill their heads with combat drills and promises of violence, you feed them well to keep their energy up, and then, against all logical sense, you make them sit in classrooms all day long. After a day like that, it was small wonder Jeryd found himself struggling to comprehend the purpose of his visit, or divine Kyle Rayner's reasons for summoning him there.

    In his Knight's blues, Kyle Rayner cut a handsome figure, though Jeryd attributed that to the uniform itself more than anything else. As much as he wished to be rid of his cadet grey-and-whites, he longed more to see himself in that royal blue, like Baastian Cain. It was a striking uniform, bold, refined, and unmistakeable. Rayner wore it well, but it was strange to see his typically oiled headfur looking more natural and untidy. For a fleeting instant, he seemed a different person, until Jeryd's survival instincts kicked in. Mercifully, Rayner had unwittingly provided him a lifeline, which he seized with both hands. He dared a glance at the door.

    "Sir, if you were expecting Cadet Wan, I would be glad to send him your way."
    Last edited by Jeryd Redsun; Aug 12th, 2022 at 09:27:06 AM.

  4. #4
    "Oh nah, no need for that," Hal waved a dismissive paw. "Doors, close and lock."

    Behind Jeryd, the two panels of the door slid shut, nearly goosing the cadet in the process, and their hiss nearly muffled the sound of the lock solenoids. Nearly.

    Thunder rumbled outside, and lightning ripped through the sky, illuminating sheets of glittering rain as it coursed towards a rod atop a nearby structure, its electricity routing directly into a storage bank. Yet somehow the thunder seemed quieter inside Hal's quarters, as did the rain. Everything was quiet, in fact, despite being an exterior room with massive windows. Another glance would reveal a second pane of transparisteel just beyond the first, a feature not seen on most other rooms in the Citadel, while the air vents in the ceiling had fine mesh screens behind them instead of a black void. Of course, there was a reason for all of the sound insulation: it's easier to hear even whispered conversations if there's no other sound to compete with, and Hal had known his room was bugged with both audio and visual devices since the day he'd arrived at the Citadel. Never had he shared a room as a cadet, instead returning nightly to these quarters, on a floor which seldom saw use beyond temporarily housing visiting ambassadors.

    After all, when needing to monitor someone, it's easier to put them in luxury than it is to hurriedly bug a standard cadet's quarters.

    "Major Grundyr," Hal repeated. "Hoo-whee, I should probably be offering you a double stimcaff. It's amazing you made it here awake, after that."

    His easy smile returned, and for a split-second he was eerily lit by another flash of lightning, his left eye squinting while his right remained open and staring at Jeryd. "I've got an assignment. A mission, you could call it, and I've been instructed to take a cadet with me. I put in for Cadet wan, but the brass must have decided you're the prime choice, so, I'll make you an offer: What would you say about getting out of classes for a week, and hitting the field instead?"

    Behind him his tail swayed, apparently possessing a mind of its own, willing to idly fidget while the rest of him maintained focus on the young human before him. That smile morphed into a smirk with just the slightest curling of his muzzle, and Hal added, "And, you're free to say no, but I'd treat this as if the brass were here to hear your answer." With that, his tail flicked a bit harder, its tip pointing at what simply looked like a comm outlet, and he wondered if Jeryd would get the point.

  5. #5
    A year ago, Rayner's subterfuge would have been entirely lost on Jeryd, who, prior to his assignment to the Citadel, had met two aliens in his whole life. A person with a tail was once a novelty, a thing to be observed from a distance, but never remarked upon. Growing up, he surrounded himself with, and was surrounded by exclusively humans. And not just any humans, but those from a very specific caste of wealthy, powerful, military families. Needless to say, when you were building a team entirely from Force Sensitives, the melting pot of recruits was markedly more diverse. And, while it wasn't like he made a point of studying Kyle Rayner's tail, at a glance, he could tell when something was natural and when something felt off. Coupled with his interesting choice of words, Jeryd pieced together the deeper meaning behind them.

    They were being watched.

    This new knowledge has no outward affect on Jeryd's behaviour. Indeed, growing up in Imperial institutes, especially of a military flavour, he was used to the feeling of being watched. It was an unwritten rule and it was certainly safer to accept the probability you were being monitored at any given moment, than not. It never concerned him because he had nothing to hide. Still, it was peculiar to make a point of monitoring a newly-promoted Knight so closely. Unless this was standard protocol; Imperial Knights, after all, were surely keepers of all kinds of secrets. It stood to reason that the Empire would want to keep those secrets closely guarded. Jeryd supposed it was the price one paid for privacy. So, outwardly, he was tranquil, but on the inside, he changed directions so hard it was a wonder he didn't have a concussion. It looked like tagging Khoovi in to take his place was completely off the cards.

    "Sir, I would be... honoured to join you."

    In that moment, he might as well have been gagging on Rayner's furry cock. Working the balls while he swallowed the indignity of his words, and maybe a tickle of the taint to go along with the eye-watering sycophancy. Behind the mask of calm, his jaw closed like a bear trap.

    So he was to suffer Kyle Rayner for a whole week. At least there was a silver lining: no classrooms, and actual field work. The promise of a real mission seasoned the bitter taste in his mouth to make it palatable. Suddenly, the storm outside looked inviting. It meant time away from the Citadel, and a chance to put his training to the test. Hells, it was another step on the ladder to promotion. Another step towards those beautiful blues. His spirits lifted an imperceptible fraction.

    "What kind of assignment do you have in mind, sir?"

  6. #6
    "Not what I have in mind." The reply came with a raised finger, before the paw went down to sift through the stack of datapads on his desk. Fingers deftly flicked some out of the way, turned another one over, until he selected one to withdraw. "Imperial Knights do not decide their assignments doing whatever they wish - that's why they're called assignments."

    The datapad was tossed to Jeryd, and Hal didn't even look to see if he caught it before pulling the chair from his desk and wheeling it over towards the bed area. "Have a seat," he said, then sat down in the chair, indicating that the bed would be good enough for his guest, and now sidekick, to sit on."

    "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've lived your whole life in Imperial space, right? Never traveled to the outer rim, or into Alliance territory?"

    He ran a paw through his dry headfur, pushing it off to the side where it usually remained when oiled.

  7. #7
    When Rayner challenged him over semantics, Jeryd felt his insides coil tightly, like a viper waiting to strike. It was starting, already. When the datapad was tossed his way, it was snatched out of the air and Jeryd took that as an invitation to not stand at attention anymore, such were Rayner's ways. He knew him to not be a stickler for protocol, which suited him just fine, as it meant he wouldn't have to "Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bags full, sir," his way through the whole mission. He studied the datapad in his hands and started thumbing his way through its contents.

    At Rayner's invitation, he moved instinctively towards the chair, only to find when he looked up from the datapad, that it was already occupied. He looked around for a moment, confused. The only other place to sit was his bed. His unmade bed.

    "I have been ice-sailing on Arkania," he offered, somewhat distracted as he inspected the bed, before taking a precarious seat at its edge. When he looked up, he could tell from Rayner's expression that this was not the answer he was looking for, "No. I've never left Imperial space."

  8. #8
    Hal nodded at that, unsurprised, yet not in any way judgemental. "I didn't think so. It's a long way, and not really worth it unless you have somewhere particular you need to be," he replied with a light shug. "Most here haven't left Imperial space. I mean, I have, obviously." A paw was swept down over himself, as if there were any question that a Nehantite could be from anywhere but Alliance space. Well, technically one of the five kingdoms of his homeworld was aligned with the Empire, but that was a trivial matter.

    "As far as food, entertainment, employment, and sights go, it doesn't really offer all that much that's different to Imperial space, so, why do you think people would want to leave here, and go there?"

    The knight's words weren't leading, not were they criticizing, instead posing a simple, straightforward question. Meanwhile, the datapad housed the unspoken side of the tale. Transports were getting off of Imperial Center with people being smuggled across the border into Alliance space, or the outer rim. An attached file read as a list of captured spies or criminals, each of which was using the identity of someone who had been smuggled out.

  9. #9
    "Criminals," he said, without so much as a glance up from the datapad.

    It was the obvious answer - perhaps not even the answer Rayner was looking for - but where else was he to start? People fled the Empire because they had a reason to run. In broad strokes, it painted the Outer Rim and Alliance worlds as lawless lands. In some cases, that may be true, but he was sure for the majority there was at least some form of law and governing body in place, even if they were more forgiving than places under Imperial rule. But for Rayner to brush them off, collectively, as not having much to offer? Surely, that wasn't true. Jeryd's previous travels were, without exception, expeditions of pure luxury. Even so, he got to visit places and see sights he could never have imagined. There had to be so much more out there. Perhaps his senior was attempting to discourage him, in some way, or perhaps he was trying to lead him down a particular avenue of thought. He elaborated:

    "Why else would someone want to leave behind a life in Imperial space if not to escape its laws? Big credits to be made in the spice trade, weapons, and secrets, too. And the Empire has many enemies willing to pay through the nose for them."

  10. #10
    The brow over Hal's left eye rose, allowing more light in, which revealed that eye to a shade of pink ever-so-slightly darker than his other one, with flecks of red seemingly stuck in his iris.

    "Do we not have the spice trade in Imperial space? As well as gun runners, intel marketplaces, slavers, and more? Aren't such criminals, and other lawbreakers what we attempt to clamp down on as Imperial Knights?" he asked. "And if we have enemies so against us that they are willing to pay dearly for our secrets, would that not suggest that perhaps we are not the utopia we believe ourselves to be? Enemies so evil, that..."

    He leaned forward using a finger pad to swipe through a few documents to show holophotos of a woman with three young children boarding a suspected transport vessel. "...someone would take their own children to be in their presence? Paying a considerable sum to do so, I might add. Is this woman a criminal? Is this baby one? How about those toddlers? Clearly they're hardened spice smugglers, right? No? Gun-runners? Just imagine the heavy arms you could smuggle in those diapers."

  11. #11
    "If she is subverting Imperial law, then yes, the woman is a criminal." Jeryd fired back, "It doesn't make her children criminals, of course. They cannot be held accountable for her actions and the law is clear on that."

    He was careful not to clench his fists, or square his shoulders, or cock his head, or to show any outward signs of aggression. Luka taught him all about his tells and how his hot-headedness could be exploited by his enemies; he had said he wasn't so much an open book as he was a collection of pages, torn from a book, and scattered for all to see. He worked on it, but Kyle Rayner always made it difficult, and had succeeded in making him go from annoyed to incensed in less than a minute. Why was exaggerating so much? He knew there were people listening to them. Was this an attempt to belittle him?

    He took a long breath, which, in itself was a tell but he didn't care. Instead of staring daggers at the man across from him, he took refuge inside the contents of the datapad. Reading nothing while he stewed.

    "No-one ever claimed the Empire to be a utopia. There is always work to be done to make things better." He looked up, "Now, with respect, sir, can you just tell me what the fucking assignment is?"

  12. #12
    With a tight sigh of frustration which was impossible to miss in the insulated room, Hal leaned back in his chair, his shoulders hitting the backrest hard enough to make the chair bounce slightly, and he pursed his lips. Those pink eyes studied Jeryd before another sigh and he looked away.

    "I'm sorry to have wasted your time," he said. "This assignment clearly isn't for you."

    If Jeryd had been Onika, he would have seen an intense green glow brighten the Knight's arm before he lashed out with such speed in the Force that the datapad was snatched from Jeryd's hands in less than the blink of an eye, and it looked as if Hal hadn't even moved, aside from the pad now resting in his own paw, face-down.

  13. #13
    "What the-!"

    Before the curse could even leave his lips, the datapad was gone. Jeryd looked down at his empty hands in shock, reeling from the dramatic change of course. The mask of calm was contorted with confusion and disbelief. He looked at Rayner, with an accusation in his eyes. But no words came. In the beginning, he couldn't find the words amongst the frothing boil of insults flooding his brain, and then, when he could, he'd summoned the good sense not to act on them.

    It was a trap. The whole thing had been a trap from the start, to make him look foolish to his superiors. Even now, as he boasted the Knight's blue, Kyle Rayner was still the same petty asshole who thrived on tormenting him, and he needed to get out of there before he said or did something that he would regret. Gladly, he rose from the corner of the bed and fixed his gaze on a single point on the wall.

    "Permission to leave. Sir."

  14. #14
    Hal simply shrugged, using a footpaw to gently rotate his chair from side to side. "Door's right there."

  15. #15
    Needing no further invitation, Jeryd made for the door at once and hit the panel beside a little too hard. Nothing. He tried again, more gently. The door was unresponsive, and the light on the panel was still red. With his back to Rayner, he closed his eyes, and stifled a sigh with gritted teeth.

    "Sir. The door is still locked."

  16. #16
    "Of course it is," Hal shrugged, now twisting in his chair a bit more. "I mean, I didn't say you could leave. This is the Empire, after all, and I didn't give you permission, even when you asked. So, no, you can't go."

    His fingers began to play with the datapad, scrolling through images as he continued with a wistful lilt in his voice. "Besides, why would you even want to leave? Sure, no one every claimed this to be utopia, but we could always work to make it better."

  17. #17
    While Rayner delivered his absurd spiel about the door being locked and denied permission to leave, Jeryd felt his entire body tense up like a clenched fist. He tried not to look, his face scrunched up, sealing the words away. But he had never heard anyone sound so pleased with themselves. His defences collapsed and he wheeled around to face his tormentor.

    "Okay...!" He fired up, ready for action. And to his astonishment, Kyle Rayner was not yet done. When he heard his own words regurgitated back at him, he froze. The point, at last, sunk in like an icy blade. Dumbfounded, he blinked. His mouth was dry. From a hurricane of thoughts, he snatched for a counterpoint, an argument to be made, but his thoughts were red hot to the touch. The silence drew out for too long. His shoulders slumped.

    "Fine. You've made your point," he said, his voice hoarse from all the shouting he didn't get to do, "Now, can I leave?"

  18. #18
    Using his toes, Hal turned the chair to face Jeryd, looking up at the tall, visibly frustrated cadet. To his credit, Jeryd hadn't yelled, or burst into a rage, whereas a few months ago, he likely would have. He'd grown. A bit. Matured. A bit. And possibly even learned the tiniest bit of humility. Maybe.

    It was a start.

    "I'm sure you're capable of leaving, yes," Hal shrugged, then held up a paw as his smile faded. "But right now you have to ask yourself if leaving is what you really want. If you go through that door, you will not be on this mission, and you might be overlooked for many others, because of it. I need you to swallow your pride, and climb down from your fucking ivory tower, and think about things from the ground level for a moment. Because right now, let me tell you, you're acting like an officer, but not at all like a Knight, and there's a very big difference there."

    Getting up from his chair, Hal didn't move toward the door, instead crossing to the window to gaze out at the storm raging beyond. Droplets of rain refracted the lights from thousands of signs and billboards, and the tens of thousands of speeders which clogged the airlanes. Left to his own devices, he would have simply watched the rain and been happy, as rain in the kingdom of Nehantish was a rare sight indeed. But this was not Nehantish, nor did he possess the luxury of simply letting his mind relax in his current surroundings.

    "This situation we're in; do you not find it interesting?" he asked, stifling a bit of a chuckle as he spotted an open-roof speeder stuck amongst the traffic, its driver miserable and wet. "I did not ask for you, I asked for someone else. Yet someone in authority here selected you instead. Selected someone they knew I do not get along well with. Was that to punish me? Or was it to punish you for something? It's clearly one or the other, right? Unless it's not."

    Turning back from the window, he arched an eyebrow at Jeryd. "You have no idea of what life is like beyond the grasp of the Empire, nor do you scarcely understand those in a lower economic class than yourself. Sure, you study hard, you excel in your classes and your tests, and that'll make you a fine poster boy, someday. But you'll never get the hard missions, thinking like you do. It'll be the photo-op softballs for life, while Knights like me get the real work done. Knights with greater perspective, with knowledge of all that off-limits stuff in the archives. Knights who have lived beyond the reach of the Empire, and among the normal people out there just trying to get by."

    A step forward, and he began to draw closer, having to look up at the taller cadet. "I was hunted by the Empire, did you know that? Literally hunted. And while looking for me, Imperial soldiers brutalized, and murdered innocent people, and were prepared to put an entire lineup to the firing squad because they lacked perspective, and lacked insight. There is so much more out there than black and white, Cadet Redsun. And I have seen your so-called good guys operate in some of the darkest, dirtiest shades of gray. And I have operated in those shades myself, while wearing this uniform, because I understand the galaxy as it really is, not how it has been presented to you. You'll get to operate in the light, the purest, most spotless light, while the real work is done in the shadows. And you just told them that's what you want, by how you've failed to even remotely grasp how to approach the assignment someone picked you for."

    Nearly in Jeryd's face, Hal's voice lowered to a whisper, though it was not in an attempt to hide something from whoever was listening. "Because the way I see it, someone sent you here to test you, and me in the process. So tell me, do you still want to go out that door, or are you starting to understand things a little better?"

  19. #19
    Jeryd braced himself for a dressing down, for a scathing remark, or even a thinly-veiled insult. He just wanted the door to open. He wanted to leave and put a safe distance between himself and Kyle Rayner before he made a poor decision. He listened carefully, weathering his words, waiting for the bait. Where there once was an almost patronising calmness to his voice, Rayner addressed him with what felt like sincerity. Inexplicably, he made it sound like there was still a place for him on the mission. Coming down from the tumultuous clouds of his own internal storm, Jeryd struggled to follow. He referenced his ivory tower, as so many had done before. Indeed, had he received a brick for every time someone mentioned his ivory tower he could've actually built himself one. A year ago, such a remark would've been taken as a slight, disregarding his own journey, and the hard work he'd invested in his own achievements. But now? It was just a statement of fact. He'd heard the stories of his fellow cadets, of Neb, and Thida, and Pash. He'd visited Khoovi's home, met his father, and saw first hand the background from which he hailed. None of them chose how there stories began. What mattered were the unwritten chapters ahead.

    The story of Kyle Rayner, on the other hand, remained very much a mystery. In part, this was due to the fact that they had never really gotten to know each other. Jeryd had some suspicions, and there were always rumours, of course. Now Rayner offered up the detail freely. What kind of a life had he lived as a lesser-known alien, in a galaxy that was unkind to aliens? To be hunted, captured, broken, indoctrinated. Just another worldview of which he was wholly ignorant. It was not his fault, he reminded himself. He wasn't going to be made to feel ashamed for it. But that didn't mean he wouldn't do something about it.

    He met Rayner's gaze where he stood.

    "You're right. I enjoyed a privileged upbringing. I don't know how the galaxy works because I haven't seen it. And I sure as hell haven't lived it." His eyes narrowed in a challenge, "So, how can you expect me to explain things I don't understand?"

    The unspoken truth was that Kyle Rayner did not expect him to explain, or to understand, which was precisely why he'd asked for Khoovi in the first place. Even Jeryd had to concede Khoovi was the better choice; the kid was a prodigy, and came from a background that provided him invaluable insight into the people they sought to understand. There was nothing Cadet Wan couldn't do when he set his mind to it. Except beat him in an arm wrestle - for now. Jeryd would not begrudge the kid a place on the mission, were it in his gift to do so. The reality of the matter, however, as Rayner would put it, was not so black and white.

    He lowered his voice to match the Knight:

    "I may not be your first choice, sir. I'm probably not even your last choice. But I want to learn, and I can't do it stuck inside a literal fucking ivory tower."

  20. #20
    Hal held his close position for a short time after Jeryd spoke, letting the silence become awkward, before leaning back on his footpaws. A satisfied smile worked up his face, and being so close, Jeryd could see the difference between his left and right eye clearly. The Nehantite's right eye appeared almost as normal as a human's aside from its pink iris, while his left iris held flecks of red, and was contracted a touch more, resulting in a smaller pupil. There had been times where Kyle Rayner had been seen wearing a patch over his left eye, though he had never explained to his fellow cadets just why.

    Those eyes studied Jeryrd again, measuring the man before him, before the Knight gave a curt nod. "Good," he stated. "In that case, our first step is getting out of this tower." Turning his head, he spoke loudly, "Excuse Cadet Redsun from his classes for the next week. My performance reviews will take place of his grading."

    His face coming back to regard Jeryd once more, Hal gave one of his typical, carefree Kyle Rayner smiles. "Sometimes life's a bit easier when you know you're being spied on. Door unlock, door open."

    Behind Jeryd, the locking solenoids disengaged, and the door itself parted with its customary hiss, exposing the wide hallway beyond. It, too, was quiet, but more from no foot traffic than additional insulation. Grabbing up the datapad once more, and then a small rucksack from beside his bed, Hal looked back up. "After you. We're heading down to garage, to start with. See what speeders they've got available. And, not a word about anything you saw in this," he tapped the datapad, "until we've cleared the Citadel. Also, you more of a nerfburger, or nuna wings kind of guy, Jeryd?"

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