The Stars Above and The Stars Below

Ten days had passed, as Nox's Fury-class Interceptor traveled in hyperspace. A small buzzing alarm sounded from the instrument panel at the navigation station, where Andronikos was seated. Simultaneous to that, Andronikos' holo-transceiver vibrated for a brief moment also alerting him to a message from the navigation instrument panel. It was set, just in case he was away from the navigator's seat when the alarm had sounded.

Andronikos looked at the holographic three dimensional navigation chart, and saw what he was waiting for, a flashing red speck at the end of a blue line meandering amongst the specks representing the stars of the galaxy. Andronikos got on the ship-wide intercom.

"Attention all hands. One hour warning: the ship will drop out of hyperspace in the Dromund star system."

Khem Val had been standing at the back of the small command bridge, staring out of the main canopy, seemingly mesmerized by the strange patterns of light which seemed to form a tunnel of sorts through which the starship sped through. Lennell had been seated in the pilot's seat, also mesmerized by the phenomenal light show seeming to whip back, past the main canopy.

Andronikos had been staying out of the common crew space, either staying in his quarters, spending time in the engineering department, the storage locker, or in the bridge. Khem Val was in a similar situation, either keeping to his quarters, or spending time on the bridge, as was Lennell.

The rest of the ship seemed to have become the two Sith lords' romantic getaway, as Andronikos laughingly thought of it.

"At last my master has found a new mate worthy of his attention," Khem Val said, unenthusiastically, adding, "Unfortunately, she is a viper, coiling to strike."

Andronikos burst into laughter, and disagreed, "I don't know Khem. It looks like true love, to me."

"The test of this true love will come when she is free to travel the galaxy again," Khem Val noted, sourly. Rhetorically, the Dashade asked, "Will she renew her plots against our master when she is out of his sight?"

"Just don't get in between the Boss and his lady, Khem. I don't think even you will get a pass from the Boss if you interfere."

"It is my master's will to expose his back to this viper. If he is bitten and dies from her venom, that is his business," Khem Val said, as though washing his hands of the matter.

"Darth Virulous has a poison bite?" Lennell asked the pirate, thinking it might be a Dark Force technique.

"How you feeling, kid?" Andronikos asked the youth, avoiding that potentially dangerous line of talk, "You still hurt'n?"

"Nah. Darth Nox healed me, and then gave me some kolto injectors. I feel fine."

Andronikos looked briefly at his instruments as he advised the youth, "Careful with that kolto. You use too much of it, it'll turn your brains to mush."

"Sure. Alright," Lennell said.

"Wonder how long before the kid finally wakes up to what he is and starts telling me to watch my tongue and stop telling him what to do?" Andronikos asked himself.

Andronikos turned his attention to the Dashade.

"What about you, Khem?" the semi-retired pirate teasingly asked, "When are you going to find a mate worthy of your attention?"

"The world of my people was destroyed in a war, centuries ago," Khem Val said, giving a straight answer, although sensing that the pirate was merely having fun at his expense. He added, "My people are scattered and very few, and we grow fewer."

"If you found a mate, would you quit working for the Boss to raise a big family? Regrow your population?" Andronikos asked, genuinely curious this time.

"I would seek several mates, to make them into brood mothers for my clan, but I would not cease serving my master. Instead, my clan would exist to serve my master until I became free of my bonds to him."

"Brood?" Andronikos asked himself.

He began wondering if the Dashade species were hatched from eggs in a nest, but he didn't ask, thinking that it would be better not to know.

"It could be something more disgusting than I want to imagine," the pirate told himself.

Instead, the semi-retired pirate suggested, "Then you should ask the boss for time off, so that you could find a couple of mates."

"They are well hidden. I must hunt them down and claim them," Khem Val said, sighing at the plight of his people, as he explained," The galaxy is big, and there are too many places for them to hide."

"Maybe the Boss' spy chief could help narrow down the search for you," Andronikos suggested.

Khem Val said nothing to this, but the idea struck him as not being a bad one.

"Perhaps I will ask my master for a favor," Khem Val thought.

Meanwhile in the luxurious common crew space. Nox and Virulous sat in extraordinarily comfortable lounge seats, side by side, viewing an ancient recorded Sith opera. The video image was projected onto one side of a blank white screen which had to be watched from that side of the medium, which is why they sat side by side as they watched the seven hundred year old, fully restored and remastered, recorded video performance. Also, the sound, although clear, was not three dimensional.

"This was one of Lord Arus' favorite operas, contemporary to her time," Virulous told Nox.

Virulous, having subsumed the Force ghost of Arus, had access to all of the ancient Sith lord's memories, not just her knowledge of The Force.

Nox was transfixed by the plot.

Would the treacherous unimaginative young son slay his aging but wise father, a strong-willed and cunning leader? Would he really kill his capable and dutiful elder brother, in order to supplant both father and brother to become the head of House T'Khorg-hwuh?

If he did, would he enact his shortsighted plans to completely conquer the other great houses, which were already the vassals of House T'Khorg-hwuh. It was obvious to Nox that doing so could send his great house spiraling downward to a disastrous and fiery end.

"I can't believe how short sighted the younger brother is," Nox said to Virulous.

Nox knew of great houses that had been brought down, throughout Sith history, because of such betrayals. He wondered if the loyal and wise older son, or the siblings' father, would discover the betrayal of the younger sibling in time to save House T'Khorg-hwuh from such a downfall.

Virulous, watched on baited breath, tears streaming down her cheeks as the heart wrenching drama played out to the strains of haunting melodies and dark lyrics. Virulous had never seen this, nor any other opera in her life, but having the life experience of Arus welded into her being, she knew how it would end, but it impacted her emotionally, just the same.

Nox was merely surprised and impressed by the plot twist at the end.

Just as the younger foolish son struck his father down, guards and constables appeared from the woodwork, arresting him and spoiling his plot. The older son also came out, and kneeling beside his dying father, sang in somber tones, "I will continue your great work and the great legacy of our house, Father," to which his father soberly sang his confession, "It is the same way I took control of our great house, manipulating my foolish younger brother into killing our father, and then stepping into the role of patriarch," singing his final line, in a fading tone, "Well done, my son."

Nox nodded with a sad smile, as Virulous dabbed tears from her eyes.

"That's how it should be," Nox said to Virulous, his eyes moistening as the memory of his dead children flashed into his conscious thoughts. To himself, "That is how my children should have succeeded me, if only they had been allowed to grow to adulthood."

After a moment to reflect on the powerful message in the story, Nox stood and stretched. Then he started to make his way to the bridge, telling Virulous, "I'm going to check in on Andronikos in the bridge," then called out to the droid, "R8, pack my belongings into my luggage."

The ship droid quickly stepped out of the engineering department. Virulous, who'd finally stood on her feet and had just finished stretching, watched as the ship droid clip-clopped in its mechanical gait, saying nothing as it made its way through the common crew space on its way to Nox's stateroom.

"I miss the old R8," she said, observing somberly, "Its personality is gone. Now it's just a machine."

"It was necessary," Nox said, explaining, "I had it programmed to continually monitor the intercom system at home, work, and on the ship, so that it could be called from anywhere to respond, or to simply carry out the remotely assigned task. I had no idea it was actually listening in to EVERYTHING and worse, recording it all." Shaking his head in disbelief, Nox said, "Nearly twenty years of secrets, stored in that brain." Mystified, Nox shook his head, asking rhetorically, "Can you imagine the damage done to me and all of my ambitions, if someone had stolen my droid and accessed its memory?"

"What would we learn if we were to steal your rival's personal droids, my lord?" Virulous asked, speculating.

Nox shifted his eyes to his new love, then, becoming introspective, thought for a moment before turning to make his way to the bridge.

"Ah! My master has left his bed of lust and is prepared to return to work," Khem Val declared.

Andronikos did all he could not to laugh, but his heaving shoulders and all of the yipping and snorting coming from his closed mouth made it plain to all in the bridge that he was laughing. Nox merely shook his head, mildly amused at the scene.

"When are you going to settle down with a mate, Khem?" Nox asked the behemoth.

"I must find them, my master," Khem said, sounding miserable, "They are hidden and must be found."

"I don't understand, Khem," Nox said, asking, "What do you mean?"

"On Urkupp, one hunted down his mates," Khem Val explained, "When one has found her, he would set out a bait of succulent meats. If she found the meats enticing, she would come out to feast. Then he would spring his trap, coming out from hiding to dance for her. If he gained her attention as she feasted, and danced well for her, they would mate afterwards, and she would follow him forever, raising his brood. There were not many places to hide on Urkupp. The hunt was easier, but now Urkupp is gone, destroyed in a war.

"The females hide, as before, but now the hunting ground is the entire galaxy," Khem Val explained with a sigh.

"Damn! I'm glad it ain't like that for us humans!" Andronikos exclaimed. For us guys, the hardest part is deciding which woman we want to hop in the sack with, or if we want two or three of 'em hopping in the sack all at once."

"Does the sack go up to your waist, or does it have to go all the way up to your neck? And how can you hop around like that with so many people in there with you?" Lennell asked.

Andronikos' face reddened with the strain of holding back his laughter, but it was too much. The dam broke, and he exploded in laughter. He recovered enough to give his analysis of the situation.

"Boss," Andronikos said, between fits of laughter, "It seems that no one's had that talk with Lennell. Since you're his teacher, I think…."

"Stop right there, Andronikos!" Nox commanded, a big grin on his face. Andronikos broke out into another storm of laughter, and Nox couldn't help but give in to the contagious laughter, himself. The situation was too ridiculous for him not to enjoy the levity.

Lennell turned dejectedly to face the main canopy. He didn't like being made fun of.

Khem Val didn't get the joke, his culture and traditions being so different from humans and Sith Purebloods, that even if he did understand, he would not have found it funny in the least. Instead, he turned to his master and made his request.

"My master, I seek leave to ask your spy master to assist me to track down a few females, so that I may place my bait and bring them out of hiding."

This prompted Andronikos to break out into another fit of laughter. However, Nox, realizing that Keeper's fate hung in the balance, stopped laughing and became sober.

"I'll think about it, Khem," Nox said, seriously, noncommittally. He hadn't yet decided whether he would execute Keeper for the disaster on Korriban.

A new alarm sounded at the navigation console. Andronikos, having recovered from his fits of laughter, turned his attention to his navigation control station, silencing the alarm and making his overhead announcement.

"Attention all hands: one minute until we drop out of hyperspace."

Less than a minute later, Virulous entered the bridge, coming to a stop to stand beside Nox. The five stared silently out the main canopy. As often as this group had been in space, excepting Lennell, the only one among them who regularly watched the stars as they entered and exited hyperspace was Andronikos. The wonder of the phenomena had worn out for him. To the others it was a wonderment to behold, a truly spectacular experience.

The blue white gossamer glow, mottled by darker shades of blue grey patches, suddenly became white streaks against a black field, and then white, red, and blue pin points against a black field. They had exited hyperspace and were, once again, in normal space.

After detecting the navigation beacons and fixing its position in the star system, the starship made an automatic course correction, banking towards the left. The starship had entered the Dromund star system far outside of Dromund Kaas' orbit, meaning that they approached from the planet's dark side.

Their view of the planet, as it appeared at the top left side of the octagonal shaped canopy, was of a crescent shaped, star-illuminated patchwork of blue, green, and brown covered in wispy white gossamer clouds, with most of the planet in blackest shadow. When the fist-sized sphere became centered in the canopy, the starship automatically ended its banking turn and flew straight and level towards its final destination.

"R8, report to the bridge," Andronikos ordered, and then, "Say, Lennell. I'm gonna have the droid pilot the ship. Let the droid have the pilot's seat. Yeah?"

"Sure. O.K.," the youth replied, rising from the seat, as asked.

A moment later the ship droid entered the bridge and came to a stop.

"R8, get in the pilot's seat," Andronikos ordered, "Monitor the ship on its final leg of the flight plan."

The droid silently obeyed, taking the pilot's seat.

"When the ship enters the control of the final approach beacon, alert me," Andronikos commanded.

The droid did not respond.

"R8, acknowledge your orders."

"Please, repeat the orders," the droid answered, which Andronikos did.

The droid's new instructions, which permitted it to monitor the ship-wide intercom system, to respond to calls for its service, also ensured that it would not remember what was said, unless it was communications specifically directed at it.

"Acknowledged," 2V-R8 said, devoid of any voice inflection or personality. It was just a machine, again.

"My Mistress, Death has been cruel, even to that pile of worthless circuits," Khem observed, morosely, before leaving the bridge for his quarters.

"Poor R8 will never be the same again," Virulous said.

"It's gonna take a lot of time, while he learns about our particular quirks, likes and dislikes, before his performance will start to improve," Andronikos explained, "When R8 gets good enough, I'll start to install other subroutines into his core programming. Then, finally, I'll install his personality program, but first, R8 has to get smarter on his own."

"How long will that take?" Nox asked.

"Maybe five or six months, Boss," Andronikos said, "but the more we interact with R8, the faster he'll learn, and we can't hold his hand. Talk to him like normal. Make him learn."

"I see," Nox said as Virulous nodded her comprehension.

Nox signaled to Virulous to follow him out of the bridge.

"I'll let you get to work, Andronikos," Nox said, as he and Virulous walked out of the bridge.

"Sure, Boss. We'll be on the ground very soon," the semi-retired pirate said, with a crooked grin on his face, which Nox nor Virulous saw. The pirate thought he knew what those two were going to do again.

"They'll be hopping around in a sack!" he thought.

A smirk escaped his lips at the mental image of the two hopping around in a sack.

Nox walked to his quarters with Virulous trailing him. Nox walked to his caf table and invited Virulous to sit in the chair on the opposite side of the table from his chair. He sat when she did. Nox smiled at her, and she smiled back at him, wondering what he would say to her.

"On Korriban," Nox began, "did you see what I did to the Jedi Master? Did you see how I caused his body to rot?"

"No, Dark Lord. I was deeply surprised to see you appear behind the three Jedi, and all I could think to do was to attack Ostoni Hahn," Virulous said, realizing that Nox was about to teach her another Dark Force technique.

"R8, bring two cuts of raw meat, two kilograms each."

Nox was met with silence.

"R8, did you receive my command?"

"I did, Master," came the disembodied monotone mechanical voice of the droid over the intercom.

"R8, whenever you are given an order, immediately acknowledge it," Nox ordered.

"Acknowledged, Master."

A short time later, the droid entered Nox's quarters with a covered tray containing two cuts of meat, both cut precisely to two kilograms each. 2V-R8 set the tray on the caf table, then turned about to proceed out of Nox's stateroom.

"Wait, R8," Nox commanded.

The droid stopped and turned to face its owner.

"After completing a task for anyone, who is in your presence, always ask if there is anything else the person needs, if the individual says there is not, then ask to be excused, or ask for permission to take your leave before departing to your next task."

"Yes, Master," the droid said, adding, "I will take my leave."

"No," Nox told the droid, "Don't tell me that you will take your leave. Ask me for permission to take your leave."

"Master, may I take my leave?" 2V-R8 asked.

"Why?" Nox asked the ship droid.

"I must return to pilot the ship," the droid explained, "We are on final approach."

"R8, HURRY! GET BACK TO THE CONTROLS!" Nox bellowed.

"Acknowledged, Master," the droid replied, then asked, "May I take my leave?"

"YES! YES! HURRY! RUN!" Nox shouted, in great consternation.

The droid, obeyed, running out of Nox's quarters, down the passage, through the common crew space, and back into the bridge. Where it came to a dead stop next to the pilot's seat. Andronikos was in the pilot's seat desperately slowing the ship and maneuvering it back to its proper approach track.

"Captain Revel," 2V-R8 said, "My master has ordered me to return to the controls of the starship. Please move."

"R8," Andronikos said, in a tight voice, "bend over so that I can reach the back of your neck."

"Acknowledged, Captain," the droid said, before complying with its new order.

Andronikos reached behind the droid's neck and down into its collar, depressing the button. Then he shoved the droid away, lest the heavy off balanced piece of machinery toppled into his lap. The deactivated droid fell over and crashed onto the deck.

Shortly, thereafter, Andronikos had recovered control of the starship, shedding six hundred and two thousand kilometers per hour, down to eight thousand kilometers per hour, just before entering the atmosphere. All the while, he'd been kicking himself for overlooking a certain tiny detail.

"How could I make such a stupid mistake!" he roared at himself.

He'd forgotten to install the piloting and navigation programs. Without those protocols, in the droid's suite of subroutines, it was just cargo on Nox's starship. When he'd ordered the droid to monitor the ship's final approach, the droid had literally just sat there monitoring the instruments, but not taking any action on what it monitored. In fact, it had no idea what it should be monitoring the instruments for.

Because the starship was off track, it entered the atmosphere on the far side of Dromund Kaas. It would have taken several hours to travel to the opposite side of the planet at eight thousand kilometers per hour, so Andronikos accelerated back to orbital speeds as he climbed back out of the atmosphere.

Doing this had cut several hours from their travel time, around the planet. When the starship had circled back around to its originally planned atmospheric entry point, Andronikos aggressively decelerated the starship again, practically causing it to drop into the atmosphere.

The series of dangerous maneuvers and approaches had caused the local defense forces to sortie a flight of fighters to challenge and shadow Nox's starship while the traffic control center queried them for confirmation of identity. After several code confirmation tests, which Andronikos properly passed, he was questioned about the absolutely dangerous piloting.

Forty minutes later, Nox's starship had landed at Kaas City Spaceport, in the middle of the night. A security detail of two hundred Imperial troops were already on scene, standing by, waiting for the starship's arrival.

The ramp finally came down, and Khem Val stomped his way down it, immediately challenging the Imperial troops deployed at the rear of the starship. Powerful lights brightly illuminated the landing pad on which Nox's ship made a smooth landing. Hundreds of shadows cast by the troops, waiting for orders at the back of the starship, spilled across the white resicrete surface.

"What insolence is this?!" the furious Dashade bellowed his inquiry, then ordering," Disperse at once, or I shall slaughter you where you all stand!"

Andronikos ran down the ramp and called for the unit commander. An Imperial captain identified himself and stepped forward as Andronikos rushed forward to meet the officer.

"Darth Nox is about to come down that ramp, Captain. Get your men lined up into a welcoming formation if you don't want to end up on his bad side."

The officer wasted no time, shouting commands to do precisely as Andronikos had strongly suggested. His subordinate officers and noncommissioned officers helped to harangue the men and women into position.

Meanwhile, Andronikos ran back up the ramp and into the ship. Andronikos met the dark lord before he exited his starship and told him what had been happening outside, so that Nox wouldn't be surprised by the unusual number of troops gathered near his starship.

The troops were just finishing forming their ranks, when Nox and Virulous, walking slightly behind and to Nox's right, both descended the ramp. Lennell, on Virulous' order, remained aboard the starship.

As the dark lord causally descended the ramp, he was immediately positively identified.

The company commander shouted, "PRESENT, ARMS!"

His troops smartly presented their weapons in salute.

Meanwhile, Khem Val had already thoroughly scanned the military speeder, which had its top down to accommodate the Dashade's huge bulk. The special military speeder had arrived moments before Nox's starship had landed, and had been waiting for the dark lord to descend the ramp and board the military V.I.P. transport.

The staff sergeant assigned to operate the speeder had already been informed that his very, very important passengers were to be transported to The Citadel. However, he had no idea it would be the Hero of Korriban, Darth Nox himself!

Imperial news services were making much of Darth Nox's liberation of Korriban and the conquest of eighty Republic worlds over the last several weeks. This was going to be the best day in his military career, and he looked forward to it.

As soon as Nox's V.I.P. speeder left the scene, an inspector, a naval officer, boarded Nox's starship to conduct her investigation into what had caused such a dangerous situation to occur with the piloting of the Fury-class Interceptor, but Andronikos was prepared for the inquiry.

The military speeder, with its top, mercifully down, allowed Khem Val to ride, sitting straight up, even if his legs were cramped. Virulous sat beside the Dashade, nearly pressed against the passenger side door, while Nox rode in front next to the staff sergeant operating the vehicle. He had to leave his assistant driver behind to make room for Nox to sit in front.

"My master," Khem Val began, "Let us purchase a special speeder, especially for your use at the spaceport, so that I will not need to ride with my legs squeezed into a can and have the cold wind blasting into my face."

Nox turned his head to face the staff sergeant.

"If I purchased such a speeder, for my exclusive use, where will it be parked?" the dark lord asked.

The staff sergeant replied, calmly, professionally, despite being greatly surprised that any of the V.I.P. passengers would even speak to him, but in this case an actual Dark Lord of The Sith, none other than The Hero of Korriban, himself, addressed him!

"Wait until I tell the others that I actually got to speak to Darth Nox himself!" the thrilled staff sergeant thought.

"Dark Lord, it would be stored in the spaceport motor pool where it would receive regular maintenance and be kept highly polished."

"Louder," Nox ordered, "so that the Dashade behind you can hear."

The staff sergeant obeyed, and Khem Val shook his head, disgustedly, thinking, "Too dangerous. It would be too easy to gain access to it and sabotage it."

Nox and his followers were dropped off, right at the massive entrance of The Citadel. Nox didn't want to take chances using his private speeder port until the security weakness had been addressed. The dark lord and his two followers, stepped right through the massive entrance and strode through the cavernous lobby towards the turbolifts.

"Darth Virulous, take your leave," Nox said in a business-like manner, "Go home and rest. Return to the starship at the tenth hour of the morning. We shall launch to return to Korriban after I have finished my business here."

"Yes, Dark Lord," Virulous said, bowing her head, and hiding the pang of hurt, because her lover was treating her like just another servant again.

She turned, heading towards the massive entrance of the lobby again. Instead of going home, however, she decided to try out the technique the dark lord had taught her. Virulous made her way to the slave pens outside of the city walls. It was the dead of night, so she wondered if she would be able to come across any slaves up and about, or if she was wasting her time.

Fifteen minutes later, Nox was entering the reception area just outside of his office. Keeper was there, waiting, with Watcher Two. The master spy and his deputy spy chief, immediately got up from their chairs, walked three paces towards Nox, stopped and immediately knelt, with their right knees and fists on the floor.

"I have reported as ordered, dark lord," Keeper said, "I will wait here, ready for your summons to enter your office."

Khem Val could tell right away that something was wrong. The way Nox glared at his spy chief, and the way the spy chief and his deputy quickly groveled at their master's feet.

Wordlessly, Nox entered his office with Khem Val following him in.

Nox came to a stop five meters in front of his desk, turning to face his office door, nearly ninety meters away.

"Khem," Nox said, "Let Keeper in."

The Dashade walked back ninety meters to the office door and opened it. Keeper was already at the door. He immediately marched to the center of Nox's rug and knelt before Nox, forty meters from where his dark lord stood.

This time, his deputy, Watcher Two, waited in the receptionist's office. Her heart raced with fear as she gripped the biometric reader tightly in her right hand. If it began to vibrate, that would signal that Keeper's vital signs had been interrupted – for good.

"Did you have to lure the Republic and the Jedi to Korriban, Keeper?" Nox asked, simply.

Khem Val was deeply shocked on hearing that, and looked at his master with great astonishment.

"Dark Lord," Keeper began his explanation, "I gave them only a very few clues to follow, including information that would lead them into a deep space ambush of Darth Arkous' flagship near Ziost, but somehow – on their own – they decided to take him out on Korriban. I did not lure them to the holy world, Dark Lord.

"Darth Arkous deviated from his planned itinerary. From Ziost, he was supposed to go to Dromund Kalakar to tour the shipyards and space docks. This meant they were to ambush his flagship midway between the Ziost and Dromund star systems.

The Republic Navy even had their hyperspace interceptor light cruisers in place, but for some reason, Darth Arkous changed his itinerary and that change led the Jedi and Republic to conduct their raid on Korriban. This was wholly unexpected, Dark Lord."

Through The Force, Nox could see that Keeper was not lying to him. Nox shook his head at what a terrible disaster it would quickly become if it ever got out that a plot to assassinate a Dark Council rival is what led to the Jedi raid on Korriban….

"Loose ends, Keeper," Nox said, plainly, "What am I to do about those?"

"There are no loose ends, Dark Lord," Keeper said dryly, nearly choking on his words, explaining, "I and Watcher Two already took care of those."

Nox kept silent. His eyes boring into his spy chief, and his face twisting as though his spy chief's existence was turning the dark lord's stomach. Keeper knew that the dark lord's silence meant that he was deciding on whether Keeper and Watcher Two were, themselves, loose ends. After the tortuous silence, which seemed to stretch on forever, Nox finally spoke, having made up his mind.

"From this day forward, Keeper, if you ever plan such operations again, be certain nothing like this ever has the possibility of happening again."

"I will be more than cautious from now on, Dark Lord," Keeper assured Nox, enormous relief washing over him, "I swear it!"

"Find Colonel Harten Larred," Nox ordered his spy chief, "His office is in the headquarters of the Imperial Reclamation Service. Get information from him, and learn where the prisoners are being kept. Among the prisoners are witnesses and conspirators involved in an attempt to assassinate me. Find the conspirators and learn who is behind their crime."

I will get to the bottom of this, Dark Lord," the spy master replied.

"You are dismissed."

Keeper dropped to his other knee and placing both hands onto the dark lord's rug, and touching his forehead to the floor, thanked Nox.

"I am forever grateful to you, my dark lord, for giving me a second chance! Oh, Dark Lord, I will never fail you again!"

With that, he rose to his feet, turned about and walked swiftly to Nox's office door.

"Master," Khem Val spoke, "My request?"

Nox nodded his approval and waved Khem Val away. The Dashade quickly walked to the door of Nox's office in a rapid pursuit of his master's spy chief, lest he vanished into thin air and he miss his chance to seek the spy master's aid.

Nox sat at his desk to think carefully about his decision not to eliminate his top spies. He understood that the right answer was to exterminate Keeper and Watcher Two. They were the loose ends which could undo his bid for the throne and which could undo his reign, even after ascending the throne. Not killing them would give them time to establish kill-switches, a bit of blackmail against the dark lord to ensure their safety through the threat of exposing his crime.

"Besides, I really need their skills in espionage and counter espionage," Nox thought.

He had to admit to himself that because of their skills he had survived plots to destroy him, made fantastic political achievements and, all around, was made to look really good before the other members of the Dark Council.

"They have become indispensable to me," Nox was forced to admit. He was also forced to accept the threat of compromise, telling himself, "I'll meet with Keeper and Watcher Two again. This time to lay the ground rules for how not to cross me with their blackmail."


Darth Nox awoke the next morning, well before the dawn. He rose from his luxurious bed, in his princely bedroom, in his palatial home, and strode to his kingly patio, an expansive rectangular deck paved with white stone tiles to reflect the heat of the daytime star. It was bordered by waist-high ultra-transparent permaglass walls.

The patio, overlooking the spires of Kaas City, had only three pieces of furniture, set right next to the sliding permaglass doors to his bedroom. The thousands of towering spires of Kaas City seemed to sparkle, as lights shown out from millions of windows and anti-collision lights flashed on and off at the tops of the towers.

The streams of red taillights and blue white headlights of millions of speeders revealed several intricate webs, laid out in several layers, stretched out over the city, defining the city's thousands of traffic lanes. The scene reminded him of a sea of stars, lifting his gaze he beheld the real sea of stars. The predawn sky was cloudless this morning, a rare sight for the otherwise rainy world.

"Stars above me," Nox said in a low voice, and lowering his gaze to the city, added, "and stars below me."

The dark lord was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the night time cityscape. When he'd decided that he'd seen enough, Nox began his morning workout routine.

Two hours later, he completed his intense exercise regimen and entered his master suite, heading straight to the fresher for an efficient shower.

The dark lord emerged from the fresher and began to choose what he'd wear. His ensemble consisted of a loose fitting black silk blouse with long billowing sleeves, loosely gathered at his wrists. He left the top four fasteners opened, exposing his well-defined pectoral muscles and the top most of his chiseled abdomen. He wore loose fitting, billowing silk pantaloons with wide black and red stripes that ran the length of the flowing leggings from his waist down to his feet, where the cuffs were gathered at his ankles.

He wrapped his waist with a wide black silk sash, in which he had later concealed a slim profile, short hilt lightsaber. This weapon was suitable for very short encounters wherein he would strike an assailant and then quickly flee the scene.

Nox wore transparent, very slim profile shoes that exposed most of the tops of his feet including his toes, but provided support for his heels and arches. The effect of these shoes was that it made it appear that he was barefooted.

He had decided to braid his hair in a single thick braid that went part way down between his shoulders, and as usual, the top of his pate was shaved clean using special creams and soft edged scrapers, so that he could show off his old battle scars on his scalp face, and neck.

Nox stopped himself from calling to his droid, realizing that he didn't have his droid around to prepare a wonderfully delicious and nutritious breakfast for him. He smiled at the droid's cheerful enthusiasm when preparing his meals, but the smile faded when he remembered that the droid's memory had been wiped. That personality was dead.

He had to actually go down to the kitchen at the first level of his three story palace, at the top of Kaas City Tower, to prepare his own morning meal. Nox prepared a very simple cereal grain gruel, only finishing half of the bowl. He missed his droid's culinary abilities.

"I followed the directions exactly, but it still tasted awful. How did R8 get this stuff to taste so good?"

Noting the time, the fourth hour of the morning, Nox estimated that it was now business hours. He made his way up to the second level of his palace and walked to the end of the hall, where he entered his locked private business office. There, he sat at his desk and placed a call to the property management company overseeing the day to day business operations of Dromund Tower.

A droid answered the call.

"Good morning! I am DP465-OH782. Thank you for contacting the Imperial Dromund Kaas Property Management Company, a Limited Liability Partnership. Please give me your name and contact information. I shall be happy to give it to the property managers of Dromund Tower when they arrive to work on Muondaus morning."

"BLAST IT ALL!" Darth Nox exploded, at the droid, after realizing that it was Setaudaus morning. Everyone was off for the weekend.

"Listen, droid…," Nox fumed.

"I know my name is complex!" the droid suggested cheerfully, "Please, feel free to call me Dee Poh."

"DO NOT INTERRUPT ME AGAIN, YOU MISERABLE COLLECTION OF SCRAP!" Nox exploded, again.

The dark lord stopped himself and, after taking a moment to collect himself, started over.

"You have an emergency contact procedure for passing urgent messages to the property managers. You will use this procedure to tell the managers to return my call, immediately. I am Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith," Nox told the droid, adding his contact frequency, "I had better get a call back, very soon, or I shall order the execution of everyone at your miserable property management company including the deactivation and scrapping of every droid there!"

Nox cut the connection, then sat still, staring off into space as he considered how easily his wonderful morning had been spoiled by such a trivial thing. He furiously pounded the desktop with the side of his fist and rose to his feet to return to the kitchen. He was still hungry and needed to find something to eat that was easy to prepare, even if it meant to simply open the container and eat whatever was inside of it.

Just as he made his way from behind his desk and was almost to the door of his office, his holo-transceiver chimed. Nox turned back, and sat at his desk again before answering the call. It was from a frequency he did not recognize.

"Who could it be?" the dark lord wondered, mystified, "Could they be returning my call so soon?"

He touched a contact, on his desk at the base of the device, and the holographic image of a man, stubble on his cheeks, chin, and throat, bleary-eyed, and his hair barely coiffed, appeared. The man appeared to have jumped into his trousers and hastily threw on a wrinkled tunic.

"Dark Lord, I am deeply honored to be able to speak to you. I am Patrous Khang of the Imperial Dromund Kaas Property Management Company. How may I serve you?"

"I know who you are! Why do you think I called you?" Nox said, sharply, still annoyed with their droid, "What is the status of those rebuilt floors at Dromund Tower?" Nox demanded.

The man became instantly worried and spoke guardedly as he replied, "We are holding off the sale of the properties, Dark Lord, pending your payment for each property. Unfortunately, however, we have yet to receive payment for any of the properties. We have tried to contact you, but have been unable to reach you. Are you still interested in the properties?"

"Yes I am. Hold a moment while I contact my accountant," Nox told the visibly worried man.

Patrous Khang watched as the holographic image of another man appeared on the call after Nox connected the calls in conference mode.

Yannos Kanton Bae answered immediately, still in his bed clothes, and without so much as having made a halfhearted attempt to run his fingers through his hair. His slave collar was plainly visible at the back of his neck under the collar of his bed clothes.

"How may I serve you, Dark Lord?" Nox's captive accountant asked, as he struggled to shake the sleep from his voice and rub more of the sleep from his eyes.

"The Imperial Dromund Kaas Property Management Company have yet to receive payment for the properties I want to purchase," Nox said, without preamble, "Explain this."

"Right, Dark Lord. I never got confirmation from you, and it seemed a little suspicious that you would be purchasing thirty two properties, in addition to repurchasing your old penthouse suite. I never got confirmation from you, when I left a message asking you to authorize the transfer of seven hundred eighty million credits for the purchase of thirty three properties."

To forestall the dark lord from renegotiating the costs, Patrous Khang quickly reminded Nox about their deal.

"In accordance to our agreement, since you've agreed to purchase the properties in bulk, each of the thirty two properties are sixteen million credits – discounted from twenty million each, Dark Lord," the chief executive of the Imperial Dromund Kaas Property Management Company, L.L.P. said, adding, "That's a savings of four million credits for each property. And the penthouse has been redesigned as a single, two story residence. You are paying the discounted price of one hundred and forty million credits for the penthouse."

"Are the properties ready?" Nox asked.

"The plumbing, sewage, electrical, and data mains are in," Patrous explained, adding, "What is required is to build the walls, put in the flooring and ceilings for each of the…,"

"Leave them unfinished. I'll worry about designing the floors later," Nox interrupted. Turning to Yannos, his slave accountant, Nox ordered, "Pay them."

"As you command, Dark Lord," Yannos replied, "When I get to the office, first thing Muondaus morning, it'll be the first thing I take care of."

Nox turned to Patrous and asked, "Is that satisfactory? You'll send me the deeds of ownership, then?"

"Yes, Dark Lord. Mere hours after confirmation of payment, I'll have the deeds of ownership delivered to your offices by messenger."

Nox nodded his satisfaction of a business transaction successfully concluded.

"Yannos, give him the address to your office. Khang, deliver the deeds of ownership to Yannos' office. Yannos, call me to confirm receipt of the deeds of ownership."

Both Yannos and Patrous replied, "Yes, Dark Lord."

"Is there anything else?" Nox asked.

"No, Dark Lord," they both replied.

"Very well, then. Nox cut the conference call."

Patros looked at his chronometer, "Who conducts business on the fourth hour of the morning?! And on a Setaudaus, too!" he groused, undressing to return to bed. He was determined to sleep in.

Nox returned to the kitchen and rummaged around until he found a container of potted meat. Then he remembered his military field rations. The dark lord left the kitchen without putting anything back, thinking that his droid could organize it later, again forgetting that the droid would not know where things went.

The dark lord went to his armory and supply room on the second floor of his palace and got out a field mess kit, his portable field cook stove and a field ration and took it all to the kitchen. Thirty minutes later, he had finished his meal, leaving the kitchen and the mess kit behind for 2V-R8 to clean. Nox, however, did break down, packed and returned his portable field cook stove to the supply room.

The dark lord returned to the second level of his penthouse palace to his government business office to get some work done. He read several reports from Field Marshal Rett Herden, then wrote memorandums, giving guidance on certain matters. Nox sent out the memos, shut down his computer and returned to his residential suit at the top floor of his palace.

Nox entered his residential suite, walked into his master bedroom suite and then out to his patio deck, where he beheld the city as it began to gleam red. Dromund, their star, had just peaked over the horizon from behind Nox's residence. As Dromund rose higher in the sky the city began to take on golden tones.

The last time Nox had been looking at this scene, his mind was far away in a dark place. This morning he was on top of the galaxy. Seemingly as a sign of good fortune, the dark soot stained top floors of Dromund Tower, which mirrored the hole in his heart the last time he was here, had been replaced with gleaming, brilliantly dazzling reflections of the rising morning star.

The top ten floors of Dromund Tower was made with brand new materials, so it shined more brilliantly than the lower levels of the tower, and dazzled more brightly than the surrounding spires.

"There I am, the brilliant and dazzling center of the Sith Empire. Emperor Nox," he told himself, smiling exultantly.

Nox thought back to the first thing that entered his mind when he woke, five hours ago. He thought back to his meeting with the other dark lords, and went through a mental check list, confirming to himself that everything was set for his move for the throne.

He knew it could likely turn into a battle for life or death, but he was determined to see it through. Nox thought of the work being done in the Dark Council chamber and hoped that General Riiy'enni'sansa would complete the modifications in time for the showdown. The repairs were going to include a few changes, but one alteration in particular had him very excited.

Nox continued to enjoy the glorious cityscape view from his expansive patio. Dromund's brilliant golden tones reflecting from the millions of windows in the tens of thousands of spires, towers, and buildings, each of varying height, finish, and design.

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