Tasen Roskou was a vivacious sort, not at all like the rest of his very lifeless fellow Imperial academics. He knew countless languages and had memorized histories and documents, and he could make a song out of them, too. Watching him teach the bright young minds on Dromund Kaas was like watching a choreographed display by the Galactic Dance Company. Roskou had set up holograms and posters all around the classroom like props and switched from one to the other rapidly, pointing and gesturing. There was no mindless flailing; they were demonstrations of deeds, for he seemed to be an actor, too. Today's lecture was the first of several on the cultures of naturally Force-Sensitive species. Chief among them were the displaced Miraluka. It was science, history, and even some language.
Veldessian had never been in these classes; he did not grow up in the Empire. But he visited occasionally, both to catch up with Roskou, and to see the youth who would likely enter basic training in the coming years. They were on the precipice of adulthood - ready for responsibility, but malleable as to how they would someday handle it.
Tasen Roskou was the most dangerous man on Dromund Kaas at this moment.
As he danced and recited a Miraluka poem about the death of Katarr, he unwittingly spread a disease. Sith Lords could choke whomever they pleased, they could stalk the halls of Intelligence and loom over the shoulders of generals and moffs; their terror would be short-lived, even as they replaced one another. This man, here, was a slower death to the Empire, but a more final one. In a generation (or two, if he should be so lucky), he could, if he so desired, plant the seeds of uprising - not from the common rabble, but from within the military itself. Roskou's great and terrible power was that his students and his coworkers loved him.
Veldessian loved him, too. It was hard not to. Academia and all branches of the Imperial Reclaimation Services were filled with old mynocks who, to keep their posts, made a show of how brilliant they were. They pleased Sith Lords and moffs and denounced every alien that ever made a contribution to Imperial society. Roskou reached out and held them up as examples to be followed. Everyone had a place in his histories. Everyone had a role that they fulfilled. Everyone had a history, and everyone deserved to know it. And yet he reached out too often. This was not the Imperial way. In the Emipre, they eliminated what was unnecessary as if it had never been and collected and claimed what was useful. There was no room for in-betweens. It bred the Republic dependency on others to complete tasks they started. Or so Keeper told Veldessian.
"Ah!" Roskou exclaimed, spying Veldessian in the back of the room. "Veldessian, my boy, you're a week early!" Roskou beamed at him. "The lecture on the Treaty of Coruscant is not until the fifteenth. I should know, I almost had it yesterday. My assistant saw fit to write it all over my belongings until I remembered." Every year, unfailingly, someone was sent to monitor that lecture, to ensure everything went smoothly. The last two years, it had been Veldessian.
He smiled faintly, inclining his head. "I just thought I'd look in on this year's star students."
"Ah, of course, of course. Class, this is Vel'dessian'eshdo, a good friend of mine. I met him on Telos IV before his transfer to the Imperial military."
The Chiss smiled but didn't elaborate.
"I thought Telos IV wasn't a part of the Empire," a girl said, looking skeptical. She was plain, but she examined Veldessian shrewdly.
"Neither was I." Veldessian winked. She seemed to recede and become a part of her seat.
"Sir, excuse me, sir, but what's your rank?" a boy asked. He was a taller one, perhaps finally reaching his growth spurt.
"I'm afraid I can't disclose that," Veldessian answered. The boy nodded.
"That reminds me - could I ask you a few questions?"
"You could, Professor, but I don't know if I'll answer."
Roskou got a good laugh out of that. "Oh, I simply wish to build a foundation for a later class. There's a very interesting difference in development in species with innate Force capabilities, and those where it does not occur often. Who better to ask than a very fine, healthy example of a species mostly blind to the Force?" Veldessian remained silent, waiting for him to continue. "Well, from what I saw, you're Force blind. At least, that's the impression your military gave me. Is that right?"
"I'm not an expert in Force Sensitivity, but I indeed have not met others in my contingents and squads who were Force Sensitive."
"What about the public, my boy, are there any Sensitives in there?"
"I could not fairly say, Professor. My squads dealt with border patrols, not internal business."
"But surely you would have heard? Unless it is not deemed significant?" He turned to the class. "This is why, students, we do not have a lecture on our Chiss allies - they are quite the mystery!"
"Perhaps, Professor, you should send an inquiry to the Ascendency."
It was very uncomfortable to be questioned on his culture by anyone in the Empire, but this man was perhaps worst of all - because Veldessian wanted to tell him. He could give the fairest interpretation of the Chiss anyone could think of. Chiss that had been overlooked for promotions because of his species would suddenly find himself becoming a moff. But his final orders from the Ascendency had been to keep their secrets secret. And so he would.
"In fact," Veldessian continued, "perhaps tonight we could meet up and discuss putting you through with a historian I know in the Ascendency. It'd be more expedient." A lie. Necessary. Easy.
Roskou clapped his hands together. "My boy, my boy! Why didn't we do this before? Absolutely, I, why, yes, I shall clear the evening! Nexus Cantina, shall we say?" He hopped and scrambled to write it down in his daily planner. Even from the back of the room, Veldessian could tell it was covered all over with notes on things to do - things he usually never got around to. Veldessian smiled affectionately.
"It's settled then. I'll see you in the evening." Veldessian nodded briefly to the students and left the room. As he exited, he could hear the students start to whisper. Most had never seen an alien up close before.
"And you're sure you can get in touch with this man?" Roskou asked, his bright grey eyes widening.
"Of course, old friend," Veldessian answered, closing the datapad. "I'll make sure to send these notes to him and see if he can accommodate a meeting on these matters."
"Oh, fantastic, fantastic." His skin crinkled as he smiled. "I knew I had the right idea by giving a letter of recommendation for you. You'll get far, my boy."
Veldessian leaned back in his seat. It was their usual booth in the back of the Nexus Cantina. It was a slow night, full of tired off-duty guards who couldn't even bring themselves to get properly drunk. "I have you to thank for that, Tasen," Veldessian admitted. He turned the glass in place. It left a ring of condensation on the table. "You're my only friend, you know."
Roskou's smile turned kindly. "You don't want to be friends with an old man, Veldessian. We're apt to die at any second! You never know when your bookshelves will fall on you and crush you to death!"
Veldessian's tried to laugh, but it fell back into his throat and he seemed to choke on it. He wondered, briefly, if he'd subconsciously taken the wrong drink. "No, I mean it. There aren't many Chiss here. They keep us separate. And I'm sure you've noticed there are few who do more than tolerate my presence in the Empire."
The professor shook his head sadly. "Perhaps this interview with your historian friend, here, will change everything. We need as many of you as we can get. I'm working as best I can to change that, my boy."
"I know you are." He sighed, twisting the drink again. "Have you seen the Pretheen Orchestra again since Telos?"
He gave a mournful sigh. "Alas! I always miss them by a week or two. A damn shame. Have you?"
"Five times since." Veldessian grinned. It was almost boyish. He felt like he was talking to his grandfather. "It was never as good as it was on Telos."
"You lucky blue bastard! The conductor was Ithorian. That's why."
Veldessian nodded. "It must have been a pleasure for them to perform on Telos."
Veldessian had first met Roskou on Telos IV. They were meant to meet the following morning to conduct an interview so Roskou could either recommend or dismiss Veldessian as a transfer from Ascendency to Imperial ranks. They instead ran into each other at the concert hall the night before and wound up playing dejarik until the wee hours of the night. Veldessian had never gotten a chance to read the letter Roskou had written (without a formal interview at all), but Keeper had told him it was less of a letter of recommendation and more a book of praise.
Roskou cleared his throat and swallowed. He opened his mouth to say something more about the Ithorians when he coughed loudly and alarmingly.
"Are you alright?" Veldessian asked.
"Yes - ahem! - quite. Just a sip gone down the wrong tube, I suppose. I'm not sure this is genuine Csillan wine, you know that? How disappointing."
And so it began. "There's something extra inside."
Roskou's bushy brows clambered up his forehead. "Oh?" He let out another small cough.
The word plunked into the puddle of condensation from their glasses. It had a good, long swim and when it clambered out, it shook itself, drenching them both in a coldness that reached their bones.
"I see," Roskou said. He coughed loudly. And Veldessian was sure that, in fact, he did understand. "I knew there was something wrong when you chose the brandy over the wine. So those warnings you gave me last year…?"
"I tried to be delicate about it." He considered explaining how painful this was, but what point would that serve?
His breathing was growing more strained. "Well, thank you for telling me. I should- I should- " He bent over, hacking up a lung. "I should hate to die confused." He leaned back and exhaled slowly, painfully, hand over his chest. "So they get rid of someone too smart, and ensure you're loyal in one stroke. Oh, my boy…" His voice was strained. "This means you're becoming important. No, this isn't about me, my boy - it's about you. Where you're going, you can't have friends with you."
He began coughing now and really couldn't stop. His eyes were tearing up with the effort breathing took. Veldessian watched him for a few seconds longer.
"I'll get you a glass of water, shall I?"
Veldessian stood and left the cantina.
The report was sent away to Keeper. His work was done for the day, but he couldn't bring himself to go to bed yet. Veldessian's room was sparse. Immaculately clean, with not even a speck of dust, but with nothing of value on the shelves. No holoportraits of family. No trinkets. Only his uniforms in the dresser. The sole concessions to preferences were the bottle of Tionese whiskey that emerged from the drawer of his desk, along with a handful of recordings of various bands and orchestras. He chose the one labeled 'PRETHEEN' and played it.