It had already been a long day and the heat only added to the feeling. The arena had quickly and efficiently been converted from a fighting ring, where only hours before, gladiators fought and died to please the crowds, to a field of pens. Lasers sliced their way through space to divide Karella the Hutt, the host of these little games, and her people, known Imperials, Imperial sympathizers, and Mercenaries into their own neat separate little holding areas. Tara strode easily through the stands. Her people were safely on their way home, Victoria was waiting on the ship, and she was now considering the Imperial prisoners as she went to meet her apprentice. Three of them caught her attention Psylocke Lammashta, Michael Cairnfell, and Sidra Roamstar. Psylocke was of particular interest to Tara because the young force user currently had the Emperor's keen interest. As for the other two, well, the other two belonged to Darana, return them and Darana was in her debt. A thought Tara liked very much. Lon approached Tara cautiously. Even now he still searched for another way to spring Psylocke out of this situation, but each time he came up with nothing. It amounted to an assault on the Alliance and he wasn't willing to do that. Not that he had anything against Tara, but every time he spoke to her, he felt almost as if he was being weighed, measured, dissected, cataloged, and put back together. He abandoned the thoughts of an alternate plan and concentrated on the meeting about to occur. Tara Alderson was a true merc and if she knew he couldn't pay her, there'd be no deal. He needed her help if he was going to broker this one. His only hope of gaining her cooperation was to appeal to the political advantage she would have. "Lady Alderson." he called out to her retreating form. Tara turned to see who the speaker was. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Topaz as he moved slightly to put himself in a better position should Lon's intent be less than honorable. She realized Topaz did this without thinking and guessed it was as second nature to him as breathing. She returned her attention to the speaker, "Solo." She greeted him in return. "Been awhile." "A couple years." He nodded "I hear you you made quite a coup for yourself in the Imperial Camp last year at Port Lansing." She smiled wryly, "I suppose so. The pay was good." Lon nodded. "Well the way I see it, we've got ourselves a good deal here too." "Oh?" Her interest was piqued. She signaled to Topaz, her body guard, that she was going to be a bit, then sat in the nearest chair. "How so?" She was hooked. Lon sat down next to her, propping his foot up on the back of the chair in front of him. "look at them down there." He indicated the holding pens. "it's a veritable cash crop for the Alliance. Lot's of Imperials." Tara shrugged non-commitally, "If you say so. I don't know how much the Alliance would gain from them really..." She let her voice trail off. "Tara, come on." A coy grin spread across his face, "Don't tell me your Imperial Worship doesn't know who's down there." 'Like father, like son,' she thought to herself. "Alright." She conceded, the unspoken truth hanging between them. Line and Sinker in one. "Well now.." he paused for effect, "The Alliance has a few missing personnel of their own. I've got the Alliance wrapped up, You've got the Empire wrapped up and maybe we could make a trade you and I." She was suspicious. He was in this one for something other than political niceties. Any Solo--Han or Lon always had an edge to the situation. Either way she really didn't care. She'd been considering this exact possibility herself. Lon was right, it was a cash crop down there in more ways than he realized and Tara, the manipulative creature she is, fully well intended to make good on the political amenities this one could bring her and if, in the process, she could learn something more about Lon Solo, all the better. "I'll contact the Empire once I return to my ship. Meet me there in thirty." Lon nodded, "I'll let you know what the Alliance says then." It was Tara's turn to smile coyly, "Just be on time Solo." ********** Glad to have the conversation with Tara over with, Lon made his way from the stands back down to the field. He'd have a lot more fast talking to do if this was going to work, and it had to. Security met him at the entrance, hesitant to let him back in. He requested to speak with Lt. Watkins, his local contact in Alliance Intel. The guard spoke bri efly into his headset, watching Lon the entire time. Lon did his best to look casual and 'trustworthy', if there was such a thing. Getting an answer from his superiors, the guard waved Lon forward, then escorted him into a small room just inside the arena. Lon tried to hide his sigh of relief. Watkins appeared through the door a short time later. His expression was neutral as he greeted the merc. "What is it you wished to speak to me about?" Lon could almost tell the man was trying to remain patient so he was brief and to the point. "I've spoken with Tara Alderson and we believe we can broker prisoner exchange if the Alliance is interested. I told you she was a pretty good person. I'm an excellent judge of character if I do say so myself. The intel agent ignored Lon's comments about character, wondering just exactly *what* criteria a person had to meet to be considered a 'decent person' in the eyes of a mercenary. "Really?" he queried, "I'll have to obtain approval and it may take a while to get this through." Lon nodded his agreement. "Wait here I'll be back after a while." "Don't take too long, I don't want her to change her mind." ********** Once in her ship Tara opened a secure channel. "Identification Alpha 9915, Tara Alderson Palpatine." She still, after several years now, acknowledged the latter part of her name with a slight grimace. No matter how often she said it, she just couldn't seem to get used to it. Several minutes later a familiar voice came through, "Tara is that you?" "Colonel McGee, how nice to talk to you again." "What is it?" She inquired carefully. Being a handler to an individual such as Tara was complicated. Sometimes the woman would want something and other times she would give something. It was always a balancing act. McGee could never refuse the information, it was always useful, but every time she accepted it, she knew the mercenary would call one in at some point in the future. Symbolic violence is what she had come to coin this game with Tara. "Colonel relax." She sensed the other woman's concern, "This one's on me. I just need you to cut through some political barriers to get a prisoner exchange done." "Oh?" McGee questioned, very interested. With that the negotiations began. ********** Lon didn't have to wait long for Lt. Watkin's return. "Well someone in HQ is hot for this one. Here's the list of individuals we want returned and the list of those we are willing to return in exchange." Watkins didn't look absolutely thrilled by the idea. But Watkins also wasn't all that upset about not having to process all those prisoners into the alliance POW system. Lon accepted the list and read it over carefully. "I'll begin negotiations at once." Watkins nodded, "When you return, come back through the same gate and security will escort you back here." ********** Ten minutes after her conversation with McGee had begun, Tara was stepping onto the holoprojector. She glanced briefly at Topaz, whose focus, as usual, was on his task at hand, then over to her apprentice, Victoria. She might have made a joke and asked them to wish her luck, but she doubted either of them would really understand. In time Victoria might, but not yet. The young girl was still adapting to her new way of life. She hit record, then bowed deeply. "Grandfather," She began. Outwardly, her voice was calm and steady, while internally she held herself together through pure determination. Tara was never entirely sure how the Emperor would take her admitting to him that she still held herself as a mercenary. If she presented it in the right light, then maybe he would not press the point. She rose from her bow and began speaking. "The alliance has stormed the arena games here on Tatooine. They intend to take all Imperials present, including those who were forced to fight against their wills, back to the Alliance. I am technically a Mercenary so they allowed me to go free under the guild dictates. They are, however, willing to do a prisoner exchange for those whom they intend to hold. Lt. Col Tac Anderson and several other rebel prisoners were named as candidates for the return of Psylocke Lammashta and several other Imperials held here. I await your response." She stopped the recording and sent it on its way. Within moments an electronic whine broke the silence of the ship's main room, startling it's occupants. A familiar awesome figure appeared. Clad in his simple black robes with the hood pulled forward, the Galactic Emperor addressed his adopted granddaughter. "YOUR MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED, AFTER RECENTLY BEING ACCOMPANIED BY AN ANONYMOUS NOTICE OF PSYLOCKE'S CAPTIVITY AND A LIVE BROADCAST OF THE GAMES ON MY HOLOVISION. THIS IS A MATTER OF GREAT CONCERN TO ME, TARA. I WILL AUTHORIZE THE ALLIANCE PRISONER EXCHANGE. I FULLY EXPECT YOU TO OFFICIATE OVER THE EXCHANGE IN THE GUISE OF A "NEUTRAL" PARTY. USE YOUR FINELY TUNED FORCE ABILITIES AT ALL TIMES. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU BE SURE PSYLOCKE DEPARTS FOR CORUSCANT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE EXCHANGE." The holo-image faded away, but the thrill of anxiety and dread the sound of his deep voice instilled in Tara, continued to course through her lean form. The ships comm system buzzed, informing them that Lon had arrived on time. The real work was about to begin.
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