Recordings from the Holocron of Valerie Soung – Retaliation

   Valerie Soung, Trayus Academy, Malachor V

   The fact that the Mandalorians came in on the freighter full of hafnium that blew up Headstone Station pretty much implied the explosion was not an accident. It also implied whoever did it was trying to disrupt the Soung negotiation efforts. Killing me was a sure way to get at Father and interrupting his efforts, especially since Father was nominally more skilled than I was. So the question got to be: “who had the motive to try such a thing?”.

   Sure people wanted to kill me, that was a fact of everyday life. Most understood that their lack of power would doom them to a quick death, but every once in a while someone would make a try at it. This was different though, hiring assassins to do the job for them required both resources and determination and implied one of two things: either they lacked the power to do it themselves and realized it, or they didn’t want it to be known that they are who orchestrated it.

   But to learn which of those options it was, we had to find out who was behind this. And I had killed the people most likely to tell us. Mother was going to be furious over this.

(Virstris) Mother is not going to be happy about this.

(Valerie) How was I supposed to know that they were important suspects?

(Virstris) You know how Mother is, she thinks just because she can foresee something that it’s obvious to the rest of us.

(Valerie) I have a hard enough time keeping up and I’m precognitive.

(Virstris) At least you can see something, all I can do is guess. You never had to deal with Mother telling you not to eat the cookies right as the thought comes into your head to grab one.

   I remembered my own incidents with Mother like that. At least I could get to the point where I planned something before Mother preemptively caught me. I couldn’t imagine being scolded for something I had just thought of doing.

(Virstris) Best get on with eating dinner and practice then. With any luck she’ll be irate over the next thing we haven’t done yet and will have completely forgotten this one.

(Valerie) You act like the next thing will be easier.

(Virstris) Nah, the trick is to keep throwing things at her and never being around immediately after the news breaks.

   Mother was busy with Academy business so it was just Virstris and I at the table eating. Virstris started some small talk about the run with Kira. She definitely became engaged in the conversation when the topic moved on to the fight with the Mandalorians and their tactics. I could tell a part of her was taking mental notes on how I responded to the Mandalorians and was changing the plans to the practice session after dinner. Finishing our meals, we both retreated to our rooms to change clothes.

   I changed into clothing less burnt and more appropriate for what Virstris intended for practice. Still carrying my lightsaber, I met her in the training room where she was finishing putting on the power harness. She eyed the lightsaber at my side for a good moment before smiling at me. Behind her I could see a great deal more equipment than yesterday. Most of it looked to be weaponry.

(Virstris) First off, we’ll start with what I was planning on doing yesterday, and that is to start teaching movement and counters. After that we will work on weapons.

(Valerie) What sort of weapons?

(Virstris) Just the ones most likely to be used by anyone serious about killing a Force user: flame throwers, automatic blasters, lasers, and explosives. We might even throw in vibroblades for fun.

(Valerie) That sort of hardware would kill most anyone.

(Virstris) That’s the point.

   First we laid out some ground rules. Obviously no lethal attacks, and second, I couldn’t use any Force powers against Virstris directly. We then started with the basic martial arts techniques. This more or less took the form of her demonstrating dozens of counters to different attacks. I would have appreciated it more if these demonstrations didn’t result in me being thrown to the floor or getting knocked around so much. My power kept me from getting injured, along with the fact that Virstris had dialed down her strength enhancement too.

   Just when I thought I had foreseen her counters and found a vulnerability, she would surprise me again with another move. Eventually I had to stop paying attention to precognition and just rely on speed, strength, and wits to power through. It felt weird doing it that way though. At least towards the end I was making progress in not falling for the most obvious traps.

   Virstris took a break after a couple of hours. Even with the power harness, she could only keep this level of performance up for so long.

(Virstris) Geez, do you ever get tired?

(Valerie) Yes, it just takes a great deal of effort to reach that point though. Eight gravities is difficult for me to sustain for long.

(Virstris) Eight gravities?!

(Valerie) Well yes, for the strength and acrobatics training regimen I undergo periodically.

(Virstris) Unbelievable. Alright, power on that lightsaber, we are moving to weapons practice.

   First was the demonstration I didn’t need that lightsabers couldn’t block flame throwers. That was pretty obvious to most anyone who ever stopped to think about this stuff. At least Virstris was using a low temperature fuel instead of something potentially lethal. On a whim, I tried reflecting the blast of flame back at her telekinetically. She released the trigger almost immediately and stopped.

(Virstris) That is one of the better responses, although your opponent might be reflexively trained to stop blasting when you do that, or be wearing fire resistant armor.

(Valerie) One of the reasons you wear that big combat armor in combat?

(Virstris) Yep, you got it. Besides, that armor also allows me to carry the assault rifle. It has options for flame thrower, automatic blaster, laser weapon, and grenade launcher.

(Valerie) Wait, then is your entire unit trained in the Vailo arts?

(Virstris) Yes, although don’t expect them to stand one on one with anyone with any real skill. Most of them have only achieved C or D rank, the squad leaders are B rank though.

(Valerie) And you’re A rank?

(Virstris) Yes, only thing keeping me from reaching S rank is the fact I am not Force immune.

   No wonder they were brought here, with a good deal of the Varen indisposed or healing, someone had to keep the students at the Academy in line. A platoon of Sith hunters could do that job well against most of the riff raff. They would struggle against some of the more powerful trouble makers like Crasus Threen though.

   We worked through the automatic blaster and laser weapons next. Both of those proved troublesome and I ended up finding cover at range and Virstris was able to keep me pinned down behind that cover. Her announcement that to sit still was to invite grenades wasn’t helping matters either. Throwing my shirt one direction while racing around the other almost got her until she fired the flamethrower at point blank range in my face. Had that been real, I would have been so much cooked meat.

(Virstris) Alright, enough practice for now. I think we’ve adequetly demonstrated that there are plenty of ways for a trained normal person to kill you.

(Valerie) Yes thank you, I really needed that.

   I couldn’t keep the annoyance and sarcasm out of my voice with that statement. I don’t like being shown up and I don’t like losing. I grabbed the shirt and put it back on.

(Virstris) If it makes you feel any better, you did better at adapting than most I’ve fought. You keep trying to close to melee like you are supposed to. You are struggling though if you can’t close in on your opponent.

(Valerie) Ya, I noticed. How exactly am I supposed to get around flame throwers and automatic blasters?

(Virstris) Simple, a ranged attack of your own. Blasters and such don’t really suit the abilities you have, but I do think there is an alternative option. I’ll see if I can have some ready tomorrow.

   With that she ended the practice and started to put away her things. I smelled of burnt chemicals, sweat, and ozone. I went to leave the training room only to see Kira standing there at the doorway. I had no clue how long he had been there watching us. He was missing his shirt and had something green lathered all over his upper torso and arms. Judging from the smell I would say it was medicine of some sort.

(Valerie) Been watching us long?

(Kira) Long enough to see some interesting tactics. It was rather fun to watch, and besides you used to watch my practices with your father all the time.

(Valerie) Yeah, right up until I killed you for being creepy.

(Kira) Point taken, but I was sent here by your mother to call you two and bring you to her.

(Virstris) And she’s waiting for us now?

(Kira) Well, she said she wasn’t in a rush to interrupt your practice session and told me to wait until you were finished.

   Virstris stopped packing up her stuff and the three of us went to see Mother. Kira grabbed a loose white shirt from the floor and winced when he put it on. At least he wasn’t going to see Mother shirtless. Mother was sitting in a study pouring over Academy reports. She motioned for us to sit down until she was ready. After a few minutes, she looked up at us.

(Mother) We’ve been unable to trace the registration of the freighter Tychon to anywhere worth investigating further. However we were able to identify the Mandalorians that attacked Valerie and Kira this morning. It looks like they belonged to a group of mercenaries for hire based out of a system called Myce.

(Valerie) So is the fleet going to be sending investigators there?

(Mother) Unfortunately no, the Myce system is within Glaive Sith space. Launching an official investigation is likely to cause political issues.

(Virstris) So you’re sending Valerie in on covert ops?

(Mother) Not quite, I am sending the three of you together along with a couple of specialists Vera has been kind enough to supply us. Tomorrow morning the three of you are to report to the port and take a shuttle to the command ship in orbit. From there Vera will give you further instructions.

(Virstris) The three of us? Who will command my soldiers in my absence?

(Mother) I will handle their needs for the time being. In the meantime I need you supporting your sister in this effort. Glaives are a handful under the best of circumstances.

(Kira) So sneak in, find evidence, and get out?

(Mother) Yes, although it isn’t likely to be that easy. You are dismissed, although I would like to have a word with you Valerie.

   Virstris and Kira got up and left at that point. When Virstris closed the door behind her, Mother began to speak.

(Mother) You have concerns?

(Valerie) Kira isn’t ready.

(Mother) So you say, Virstris begs to differ on that based on her report from the battle in the bunker.

(Valerie) He needs to continue his training, right now he is too inexperienced to do something like this.

(Mother) Your father is currently unable to continue Keldav’s training right now. I am busy handling the family affairs in addition to your father’s duties at the Academy. Most of the other masters here among the Varen are either unable or have apprentices of their own to deal with. Besides in many ways, spending time with you is probably best for him.

(Valerie) Why?

(Mother) You may not have noticed, but the two of you are Bonding.

(Valerie) What?!?!

   Force Bonding was an emotional thing, if rather rare. Typically two Force users that spent a great deal of time together and had some deep emotional connection would bond together. Lovers might bond, as might parents to children, or force-sensitive siblings to each other. Occasionally, apprentices would bond to their masters. Those bonded were said to share the same fate with each other. The effect had a certain romantic air to it that would get young Force users giddy and making stupid promises to each other. For me to be bonding with Kira was…. unexpected.

   I mean sure, he was clever and his progress was remarkable. But I always visualized that if I bonded with someone, it would be with the pick of the Academy and Varen space. Not some snarky ass barely past earning his lightsaber. I mean, most of the students at the Academy could beat him one on one.

   Yet he killed two Mandalorians hunting Sith with a simple telekinetic pull just this morning.

(Mother) The bond is weak, but it is there. And it is also undeniable that his growth rate is tied to your own strength through the bond you share.

(Valerie) So in other words, I am dragging him along?

(Mother) In some ways yes, but the fact of the matter is he now stands a good chance of matching your power someday. That combined with Virtris’s assessment of his tactical skill makes him almost as valuable long term as you.

   That was a shocking image. If Kira really caught up in a matter of a few years as opposed to a few decades, then a lot of assumptions changed.

(Mother) Besides, should he learn or develop something you haven’t then you stand a very good chance of developing it too. The bond will work both ways after all.

(Valerie) Wasn’t there some downside to these bonds, besides the fact that I am bonded to an ass like him?

(Mother) Yes, feelings and injuries can pass through the bond. You might have felt his pain from the burns earlier today. And it is said the death of one has unfortunate consequences for the other.

(Valerie) What, he dies and then I would die?

(Mother) Not quite, but the trauma may be… intense according to the reports. Especially if you are not prepared for it.

(Valerie) Then why are you sending him along with me into danger?

(Mother) Because like it or not, right now his best chance of surviving the next several months is to spend time with you and let the bond reinforce his growth. This is also why Virstris is assigned to assist you.

   It was obvious there was no point arguing with Mother. Now not only did I have to spar with Kira, but he was riding my own coat tails and getting a free ride. Just what I needed right now. At least this did explain his rapid growth which had been bothering me.

   After I was dismissed by Mother, it was time for a bath and bed. I was in a foul mood and the hot water did little to change my disposition. I laid there and brooded. Kira was not at all what I expected in a bond mate. The only consolation out of it all was that he wasn’t an idiot and the bond ensured he might one day match my own power. I hate to think what would happen if the rest of the Academy found out. Finishing the bath and crawling into bed, I brooded under the covers before finally falling asleep. Even AFTER he was powerful enough so that he’d no longer be a point of vulnerability, he’d STILL be an embarrassment!

   This time I dreamt two dreams. The first was of a family of five on a boat on a water world. The sun was bright and the family got badly sunburned. One of the children ended up burned badly enough that he required medical attention. The parents were arguing and blaming each other over who said who would take care of applying sunscreen to the child.

   Second dream was of the Academy. I dreamt that an entire transport full of recruits arrived and all of them were so unstable as to explode within minutes of getting angry. Soon the Academy was full of craters and smoking pairs of boots were strewn everywhere. Father was lamenting the property damage while Mother complained about this batch being defective and needing to be sent back to the Jedi for a refund.

   I awoke to the sound of a thunderstorm raging outside. After getting cleaned up and dressed, I directed Gab to pack certain items from my room for me and to have them ready at the appropriate time and she set to work immediately. As nice as it would have been to take Gab along with me, taking servants along on missions was typically reserved for full Masters. Supposedly the practice taught Varen the value of self-reliance out in the field, but I merely found it to be a pain.

   I found Mother, Virstris and Kira sitting down to eat and joined them. Mother and Virstris were discussing the various strengths of Vistris’s soldiers. I only paid minor attention to the conversation and instead found myself feeling the link with Kira. Now that Mother had pointed out the link, it was easy to recognize it. I could even feel an ever so slight power flow from me to him. It was also apparent that he was not aware of it yet.

   It was easy to tell his burns had healed overnight. That was good, I could just see having to babysit his injuries and not just his training and growth while running a mission. I must have been staring or something as he became annoyed with me.

(Kira) Take a holo, it will last longer.

(Valerie) I might, something to remember you by once I kill you.

(Kira) Oh, so now you want to remember me when I’m gone?

(Valerie) No, I want to have your head to show future apprentices why not to be an ass.

(Virstris) Ohhh, group holo for a first mission together!

(Valerie) Second mission together.

(Virstris) Ah, true that.

   Virstris then proceeded to go into a story about some of the missions she went on after graduating. Mother listened to the story with interest but I found it hard to pay attention as my focus kept shifting back to the bond with Kira. As much as I wanted to probe at it, I didn’t want Kira to feel me doing it either. So I ended up staring at my plate while I ate and passively felt the bond between us. There was a bit of a counterflow… power from me, and… something – barely a trickle – back.

   With my luck it was probably skill at being a snarky smart-ass.

   Soon breakfast was over and I headed to the bunker. The rain was still pouring and so one of the servants followed me with an umbrella. After entering the bunker, I began to collect some more equipment for the mission. I grabbed my stealth suit, a fresh set of knives, the explosive gel, a comlink, a couple of spare lightsabers, and a second set of bracers. I stuffed it all into one of the backpacks available. Thinking some more, I grabbed a grapnel, a breather mask, and some of the Force suppression drugs and stuffed them into the backpack as well.

   With all of that packed, I handed the pack to the servant and we returned to the surface. Up top, the chauffeur was loading the hovercar to take us to the port. I could see Virstris’s powered armor being loaded along with the rest of her equipment. It was clear she had packed the most stuff of the three of us by far. Of course when you had to rely on technology for most basic operational tasks, I guess that was to be expected. Gab came with my bags and loaded them and I saw Kira come with his bag.

   With our bags loaded, Mother bid us farewell, and we headed to the spaceport. After the guards verified who we were, we were waved through the gate to the waiting shuttle. The baggage handlers started loading our stuff and Virstris’s – she stayed back a few moments to supervise – while Kira and I boarded the shuttle. It was a small orbital shuttle and not meant to be luxurious, but we had it to ourselves. Once the handlers finished loading our stuff, the pilot took us into orbit.

   Headstone Station was still a mess. Repair crews were busily trying to restore operations to the sections not vented directly to space. The main terminal and the blown apart docking arm were going to take longer to restore to operations it looked like. In the meantime, the Command Ship appeared to be acting as the planet’s port authority as I could see a great deal of traffic coming and going from it. We docked at a shuttle bay that wasn’t receiving any other traffic.

   Disembarking, the ship’s captain was there to meet us. Judging from the colors and Force presence, I would say the man was a non-sensitive member of the Iresha family. He must be talented indeed to have risen so high up the ranks then.

(Captain) Lady Soung, Commander Soung, and Master Keldav, I welcome you aboard the Winter Moon. I am Captain Nunsa Iresha. Admiral Morrowain shall be here shortly.

(Valerie) Very well captain. I saw repairs are proceeding with the station.

(Captain) Indeed, we hope to be able to restore basic port control operations within a couple days. We have verified the deaths of the owners and have been trying to track down next of kin to notify them of their inheritance.

(Virstris) Hey, inheriting a space station would be interesting.

   Lady Vera arrived a few minutes later with a small horde of people and equipment in tow. Most of them began loading the equipment onto a long range shuttle while the rest started moving our own stuff from the orbital shuttle to the long range shuttle. Virstris paid her respects to Lady Vera and I did the same. Kira just stood there until I stomped on his foot at which point he went through the motions.

   Clueless.

(Morrowain) So glad you could come. The shuttle will be ready shortly. In the meantime let me introduce you to the crew I am providing.

   She gestured to a trio of officers behind her. All three looked to be patroned by the Morrowain family as opposed to regular enlisted officers. That meant Lady vera was putting some of her own personal people at our disposal as opposed to regular crew members. Apparently she considered this mission to be important.

(Morrowain) Your crew will be pilot Augusta Stance, technical specialist Ban Hughes, and medical specialist Vincent Lowell. They are to follow your commands as best as they are able.

(Valerie) Thank you for the support.

(Morrowain) We’ve traced the thugs that attacked you to a mercenary company based out of Myce called the Vos Lamos. We want to know who hired them and why. So get in, find out what you can and then report back here personally.

(Valerie) Understood.

(Morrowain) I imagine you’ve already been told the Myce system is in Glaive territory. So I don’t need to tell you we don’t need any more flare ups than we’ve already got.

(Kira) And here I left the nuke in the hovercar.

   I was about to kill Kira at that when Lady Vera started laughing.

(Morrowain) I had heard of the smart ass apprentice your father had taken in. It seems he has every bit the mouth your mother says he has.

(Valerie) I do apologize Lady Vera.

(Morrowain) Don’t worry about it too much. The responsibility belongs to your father and not you. Young man, next time you see Master Soung, ask him about the “Gorka Incident”.

   Gorka incident? I had never heard of a “gorka incident”. Was she trying to antagonize Father or set Kira up? I had to admit my own interest was piqued now, but Lady Vera didn’t admit any more details.

   Lady Vera handed me a datapad full of intel and excused herself. With our stuff loaded onto the shuttle, we boarded while Stance prepared for departure. The shuttle itself was a spacious craft with separate rooms for each of us, a small medical bay, a cargo hold with our equipment and other supplies, a sitting room, a training room, and a full kitchen. Having the head of the Varen fleet as a family friend had it’s perks it seems.

   We each picked a room and dropped off our bags as the shuttle left the command ship. Soon Stance announced that we should prepare for the jump to hyperspace and we all strapped in. I felt the familiar transition to hyperspace and got out of my seat. Virstris was already chatting with Hughes and Lowell about their backgrounds and I made my way over to Kira.

(Valerie) You got lucky.

(Kira) Perhaps.

(Valerie) You need to learn to control that mouth of yours. It is one thing around us because Father took you as an apprentice. But it is entirely another when standing before one of the most powerful members of our faction.

(Kira) Well as one of my teachers said, the only way to keep my mouth shut is to use a lot of tape.

(Valerie) No, you can peel the tape off. Only way to be sure is for me to cut your vocal cords.

(Kira) Lovely.

(Valerie) I am saying this for your own good.

(Kira) I’ve heard that one before from a lot of people.

(Valerie, sighing) Come on, let’s kill some time in the training room.

   He groaned and headed to the training room. Following him, I couldn’t help but think back to what Mother said: that Kira could one day match my skill and ability. I would say that Kira got very lucky indeed bonding with me. Myself, it remains to be seen I think. After all, he’s not my equal yet, and I can be very demanding.

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