The Storm

Sequel to The Art of War

Prologue

The living dead shall resurrect the glory of the past
And a storm of darkness shall swallow the light

Excerpt from the Jen'da prophecies

Marten Anderland was watching in rapt fascination as the program he had developed over almost four years of hard work began its wondrous task. On the five screens he was using to keep track of all the different streams of data he could practically see it sieve through the immense flow of information. And that was only a tenth of what was still waiting to be put into chronological and logical order. It was unbelievable. At least, it would have been, had it not been there in front of his very eyes. After all those years the Seeker really, truly was functional.

Marten was grinning like an idiot as the Seeker, that was the name he had given the program, began fishing code from the data and put it in orderly columns of letters and numbers, each combination a different aspect of the given topic. It had taken ages to come up with a suitable code, and Marten was still not completely satisfied with the outcome. Not fine enough for his taste, there were too many flavors that still eluded the Seeker, and those might be vital.

As the program continued its tedious work dutifully, Marten made himself relax. He had been Father and Mother for that little Seeker, but now it was up to him to do its job. All he himself could do now was wait, rest and debug the program again and again, until it was perfect. Rising from his seat he stretched slowly, then grabbed the plastic cup sitting on his desk to go and get himself something to drink and eat. Lunch was hours gone and it was already closing in on midnight on this side of the planet Marten had requested an office with no windows, so nothing would distract him.

In the outer office Julien waved at him as he passed.

"Any progress?"

"Yep," Marten was practically beaming at his colleague. "That little guy is busy as a womprat."

"Wow!" Julien exclaimed with a grin of his own. "Guess that calls for a celebration tonight. Boss will want to commend you again."

They shared a mirthless smile. "Yeah, sure," was all Marten answered. The past months had changed everything. First the Emperor had died, then the rebels had taken over Coruscant and just now they had called a New Republic. So many things had happened, but Marten and his colleagues had only one task to perform, and that took up all of their time and had done so for the past six years. Boss, who actually held a professorship for Artificial Intelligence back on Coruscant, was the only one who kept an eye on what was going on around them, and he had been increasingly nervous over the past weeks. Probably he expected a rebel raid to come crashing down on them at any moment, but Marten did not care much about that. He did not care who paid his wages as long as he could continue his work unmolested.It was too fascinating to let go, and he had put so much of himself into it that all he wanted was for the program to finally run perfectly.

Walking toward the cantina he passed the library, rows upon rows of shelves stacked with datacards, billions of them, sorted by topic, time and a whole string of other variables that Marten had had to incorporate into his little Seeker. That had taken most of his time, while Julien and the others had had the monumental task of developing a filing system he could base his code on. They were so close now, so close.

As he walked into the cantina, empty at this time of the day, since only he and Julien were still up, he noticed that a storm was again raging over the planet, with rain beating hard against the walls of the complex and thunder roaring overhead. Marten shook his head. How he hated this season. Bad weather, floods and afterwards millions of gnats that made it torture to take a walk outside, since no shield generators were allowed. They might give the complex away, after all. Security was pretty lax, but then, the job they were doing was not vital in itself. The essence of it was to acquire knowledge. Marten remembered the day when he had been first brought to the facility along with the others, among which he had only made friends with Julien, Anja and Hartford.

He had been wide-eyed then at the brand-new, first-class equipment they had been provided with, but over the years he had grown accustomed to always having the latest and best models. Then, three weeks after their arrival, once they had all had had a chance to get to know their surroundings, they had been briefed about their task: analyze the memory of a sentient being and duplicate its mind. At first they had protested, all of them convinced that this was impossible. Too many intervening variables had to be taken into account, from the mental condition over the weather to the mood of the subject. Luckily their subject had been a bit easier to handle, with almost no intervening variable to go with the memories. Marten had no idea how that was possible, but when the data had started arriving the small gang of scientists and slicers had begun muttering about 'impossible' again. That had earned them a surprise visit by the Emperor himself. Well, the old man was dead now, and he would not have to 'motivate' them again either, in fact, that had not been necessary ever since the day he had had Boss Zimay executed in front of the others' eyes.

A particulartly close strike of thunder shook the walls. Marten started, spilling lemonade all over his hand and shirt.That had been no thunder! Throwing the cup down, he hastened back into the office complex, where he found Julien already talking into the comm urgently.

"We're under attack," his friend was yelling, "get your lazy asses up here!"

"Too late," Marten breathed, when what he had taken for falling rain stopped in front of the great double doors that led out into the main corridor. Julien groaned softly and both men jumped when the door crashed open. A woman strode into the office briskly, her slender body covered with a very tight-fitting body-suit that revealed more than it hid. She held a blaster in her right hand and a throwing knife in her left. Her mane of dark blonde curls stood in all directions from her head, giving her a somewhat wild appearance, but her blue eyes were icy cold. When she became aware of the fact that it were indeed only two men confronting her and the twenty-odd tough-looking men crowding in at her heels she rammed the knife back into its scabbard at her belt.

"Your names," she growled softly. Marten found himself standing to attention automatically.

"Sergeant Marten Anderland, ma'am!" he bellowed, and Julien said almost on top of him: "Lieutenant Julien Armash."

The woman gave them a slow smile that made Marten sweat in his skin. "So. Marten and Julien. Nice to meet you two. My name is Yana Dar, and I am taking over this facility."

Yana Dar walked into the back-office almost reverentially, and her eyes were gleaming with awe. Anderland was trailing after her, twitching nervously whenever one of her bodyguards even looked at him. But Yana did not care if he was scared enough to wet his pants or not.

"This is your work, Marten?" she asked sweetly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Call me Yana. So, what does it do?"

He bustled past to show her. "This is the algorithm, or at least part of it," he began to explain and gestured at one of the smaller screens. "This is the data we have already encrypted. The program sifts through that data, looking for special code combinations on a special topic."

"What topic?" Yana asked and walked over to lean over his shoulder, her hair brushing over his cheek.

Marten blushed when he looked up at her.

"Er, Sith History, my lady."

She chuckled softly. Of course. What else? "Very good. Abla." The man detached from the rest of her guards and ambled over to join them. "Abla, what do you make of this?"

He squinted at the screens, taking his time. "Solid work, I'd say," he announced at last.

Marten was beaming with pride and Yana absent-mindedly started massaging his neck as she said: "How long do you think you'll need to get acquainted with the Sergeant's little bundle of joy?"

"Four months, maybe more, depends on his cooperation."

"His cooperation." She laughed softly, before she bent down to whisper in the Sergeant's ear: "You will be a good boy, won't you?" He nodded quickly, sweat pouring down his forehead. "Good!" She let go of him again and took a step back. "He's all yours, Abla. Take him away." She waited until the two men had left before she addressed the rest. "I want you to secure the facility completely. No one is to escape." They nodded one by one, then left too.

Yana took a place on the chair Marten had previously occupied and crossed her feet on the desk, boot-tips pointing toward the ceiling. Leaning back against the head-rest she studied the data scrolling past on the screens pensively. Four months, maybe more, until she could move in earnest. Well, there was still a lot to prepare. First she would have to get in contact with that Ismaren woman and find herself a fitting liaison to the so-called New Republic. Her sources on Coruscant were adept enough at uncovering information, but that was not enough. She needed agents who enjoyed the trust of the leaders of the Republic. Yes. Smiling to herself Yana Dar relaxed gradually. Her father would have been proud of her. Very proud. A shame that he was dead. She had felt his death a week ago, an immense disturbance in the Force, and she remembered the joy she had felt very clearly. There was no one who could stand in her way now, no one left to oppose her. Not with what she had here. With that wealth of knowledge no one would be able to challenge her.