Finally, the Imperials arrived at the main promenade of the station. The large open three-level compartment was packed with men and women of every possible species—all of whom gave the Imperials a wide berth. Thom pointed to the entrance of a cantina and carefully, the troopers made their way through the crowd, their weapons held pointed towards the deck, but ready to be raised on a moment’s notice.
The illumination within was dim, but the music was loud . . . until the live band playing came to a thundering halt and scores of eyes locked unto the eight suits of armor. A Rodian walked over to the entrance and he bowed slightly. “You are expected; I will escort you to the reserved suite.”
“Have our other guests arrived, Master Pak?” Thom asked, and the Rodian nodded his snout.
“They await you within. Complete your business please, and then leave with all haste. My customers do not like Imperial . . . entanglements.”
The low growl of a Wookie sound an agreement to those words, but the troopers did not react, other than one keeping that very strong alien in his sight picture as they made their way through the interior. Along the back wall there was a short corridor, with three blast doors accessing the private rooms. The Rodian pointed at one. “There. There are no listening devices, I assure you.”
“Given the rates you are charging, Master Pak, there had best not be,” said Thom, who waited until one of the troopers opened the hatch and checked within. Behind them, the music once again started up in the cantina, and the trooper nodded, entering the compartment beyond.
It was quite bare, with only a small table in the center, three chairs placed around it—two of them occupied. Both by humans, a old man and a younger woman. Several more humans and aliens—Gungans, primarily—stood behind them, against the far wall, all of them armed.
“Three, scan for listening and recording devices—the full works,” Gare ordered as he stood beside the door. “Four and Seven, stand watch outside.”
The two troopers remained in the corridor and the blast door slid shut. One of the troopers circled the room, holding a small scanner in one hand—he made certain to scan each of the people already present as well. “Clean, sir.”
“I presume that one of you is General Patrice?” the woman asked as she stood; the man beside her also came to his feet.
Thom reached up and unsealed the helmet latches, and removed it. “You presume correct, Senator Naberrie.”
“By the Force,” breathed the old man, “it really is you, isn’t it? Thom Patrice, after all these years, still alive, old friend.”
“Carlist,” Thom greeted warmly, extending his hand to take that of the old Alderaanian. Then Thom’s face fell. “It would have been unwise to send you my condolences at the time, you understand.”
General Carlist Rieekan, one of the few veterans of the Clone Wars from Alderaan nodded as he shook Thom’s hand. “I do. Yes, Senator, this is Thom Patrice. General of the Republic, General of the Empire, and Moff of the Imperial Sectors of Cyralis and Lamaredd.”
Thom extended his hand to the chairs, and the woman sat, quickly followed by Thom and Carlist. She leaned forward. “You asked for this meeting . . . do you prefer General, Moff, or Thom?”
The old man chuckled. “For the moment, Senator, let us stay informal. Call me Thom.”
“And you may address me as Pooja, Thom. There has been no Senate for many years now, not since the Emperor dissolved it.”
“Yes, it was another miscalculation by that madman Palpatine; one of many that he made over the years, Pooja.” Thom smiled. “That name means Prayer of Hope in the old tongue of Naboo, yes?”
“Yes it does. And I was wondering, Thom, why you asked specifically for me—a former Senator from a world that is not in Rebellion, a woman with little political capital, to sit and discuss treason with?”
Thom laughed. “Please, Pooja, it is an ill-kept secret that your sensibilities lie squarely with the newly formed New Republic, despite what Moff Panaka and your Queen currently might desire. And do not sell yourself short, for it is my understanding, that you have the ear of Mon Mothma herself for events in this little corner of the galaxy. The Twi’leks on Ryloth speak highly of you, after all.”
The woman laughed as well. “And some very few, very high-ranking members of the Alliance to Restore the Republic on Ryloth do the same for you, Thom. Very well, have you come to discuss bringing your Sectors over to the side of Goodness and Galactic Liberty?”
“Not on your life,” Thom said with a grin. “Cyralis—and Lamaredd, and possible a few more Sectors—need to chart their own course. We will not be joining the New Republic, but neither are we part of Palpatine’s Empire.”
“No,” Carlist said shaking his head, “no, you would not be. You realize playing both ends against other can get you in a world of hurt from all directions?”
“Of course. But Cyralis is predominately human, Carlist. I am not going to open them up to potential sanctions because some Bothan gets his fur ruffled at what the Emperor did to them—or a Wookie. On the other hand, I am not going to crack down on aliens the way some racist Imperial leaders want; each sentient being should have the freedom to choose his way of life for himself. So, to answer your question, Pooja, I am here to get you to convey to Mon Mothma and her leadership an offer.”
“The Rebellion and New Republic both stay out of the affairs of Cyralis—and our affiliated Sectors. In return, I will not launch any attacks on them. Further, I will ensure that any resident aliens are fairly treated with—as I have already done on Lamaredd and, as you know, Ryloth. My forces will be . . . unavailable . . . to either the Ruling Council or Zsinj or other Warlords, and I am prepared to allow a limited number of ships to be procured through CEC’s Ord Tanis facility for the Fleets of the New Republic and Rebellion. Perhaps even . . . refits and overhauls of ships.”
Pooja Naberrie sat back in her chair. “So basically, you want to be left alone. People do not tend to think highly of those who cannot choose a side, Thom.”
“Ah, but dear Pooja, I have chosen a side—my own. That of my people. And as a show of my good intentions, I have several ships which I will make available to . . . non-aligned worlds, such as New Alderaan. A few Hammerheads, a couple of Thantras, some Forays . . . older ships, but all of which are serviceable. For a quite reasonable price.”
“Older? Try ancient?” snorted Carlist.
“They work, Carlist. And no, they cannot take on a Star Destroyer by themselves, but they are available and ready for service—if you are interested. Plus, I have one more ship, but this one is not for sale. It is a gift to the people of New Alderaan—a War Frigate from the Clone Wars.”
Carlist Rieekan almost came out of his chair. “WHAT? Those were all destroyed, all but one that was subsequently lost!”
“Not all of them, it appears. Ord Tanis had one in mothballs—which my engineers have restored to her full Clone Wars specifications; she’s operational and needs just a crew.”
“Which one was she? And you are just giving us one of the most powerful ships of the Clone Wars?”
“I am, Carlist. And yes, we have her original name . . . Peace is our Profession,” Thom said with a chuckle. “And they say Alderaanians had no sense of humor!”
Both of the Rebel agents looked at each other and slowly Carlist nodded. Pooja did as well. “I will convey your message, Thom. Whether or not Mon Mothma chooses to accept your proposal . . . that I cannot say. I can tell you that she wants very much to see the complete dismantling of the Empire. And that includes such far-flung places as your own Cyralis.”
“And your Naboo, let us not forget that Moff Panaka has an entire full-strength Sector Group within the Chommell Sector. Six hundred capital warships, led by no fewer than two dozen Imperators and Tectors, along with one immense Bellator. Not to mention the scores of Legions currently garrisoning Naboo and the surrounding systems.”
“True, but Chommel lies in the Mid-Rim, far from your systems even if you were offering your help in freeing us.”
Thom chuckled again. “Not that far, Pooja. Although, I am not yet prepared to go to war with other Imperial factions—not yet. Hopefully, it will not come to that, but if it does, if the safety and security of Cyralis depends upon it; then the forces that I can assemble will astound the remainder of the Empire—and the New Republic. Remember, that while I want to be neutral for as long as I can be,” and Thom’s voice became very somber, very stern, “I would suggest that you remind Mon Mothma she does not want to make an enemy of me. She has enough of those as it is.”
Carlist winced, but Pooja just nodded at the bald statement. “I will pass that along, Thom. And I would remind you that Cyralis doesn’t need an active enemy at this point in time either. And it need not be Mon Mothma . . . a word in the ears of Isard, the leak of a document pointing to your collusion with Rebels, that is all that it would take for her to dispatch a Fleet—and divide our enemies.”
“True enough. But, you see there is one last thing I can do for Mon Mothma that Isard will never do for her.”
“I can arrange for the death of Maximilian Veers,” Carlist blinked twice, the blood draining from his face, “before he crushes your Rebellion on Ryloth. Does that make me just a little bit more acceptable as a friend as opposed to an enemy? I’ll let her make that choice.”
Even Pooja inhaled sharply at that. “We had heard that Veers was being appointed as the new Moff of Gaulus . . . and it does concern us greatly. You can arrange to get to the man? His guards are very good Thom.”
“Mine are better, Pooja. Yes, I can get to Veers, and I can make certain that Veers dies. But only if Mon Mothma—and her senior leadership—agrees to leave Cyralis alone. It is kind of a quid-pro-quo deal, my dear.”
She stood. “I will be in contact, then, Thom Patrice. I have heard that the natural beauty of Cyralis is quite spectacular; surely none would question a loyal Imperial citizen travelling from one loyal Imperial world to another, would they?”
Thom—and Carlist—rose as well. “No, they shouldn’t. I will await your answer, Pooja Naberrie. Come visit me on Cyralis when you have it.”