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Priorities (Private)

Ismene Leone

Byss could have been a universe away from Bothawui and still not been far enough for Ismene Leone's liking. It was not an impressive world, having been ravaged by the plague and fought hard to recover, yet for her it would always be a hellhole, the site of her first defeat. Oh, she had secured the necessary permits and the business would expand there; on the surface, it was a victory. Yet she had been thrown off balance, threatened, and made to think long and hard about subjects she had been avoiding every day of her life. The offer of an alliance wasn't one that bothered her, although in the long run she might feel otherwise. As a soldier she understood the value of allies, even if she struggled to keep them thanks to her charming personality. As a businesswoman, the one her parents were trying to mould her into, she was well aware of the benefits of scratching other people's backs. What rankled was that even though she had apparently won, Ismene felt defeated for the first time in her life.

"Cancel all my appointments," she snarled, striding off the ship almost as soon as it had landed. The secretary droid waiting for her began to beep as it processed her commands.

"Captain Leone, is everything alright?"

Ismene whirled around, her cold fury hitting the unfortunate assistant who had been awaiting the outcome of her meeting. The man quailed under her gaze and quickly found something else to be doing. Ismene strode from the landing dock to her apartment, the secretary droid tagging along behind - blissfully silent, for once. Even droids had a sense of survival, it seemed.

"All appointments cancelled for the next seventy two hours, Captain," the secretary droid confirmed once Ismene had sat down at her desk. "Would you like me to reschedule them?" Ismene gave a dismissive wave of her hand and the droid went to work once more.

"Damn him," she whispered, Kal's mocking smile having followed her across worlds. She shot a glance at the droid. "See-zee, where are my parents?"

The droid, one of the old CZ series, had been her secretary since leaving the academy and knew better than to ask questions, having been rebuilt on no less than five occasions after incurring her wrath. "Jareth and Lissa Leone are currently aboard the cruise liner Paradise Tours. They boarded approximately two standard days ago and have cleared their calendars for a further ten days."

"They're on holiday," she stated flatly.

"So it would appear."

Holiday. Ismene stood up, her chair flying backwards. They had abandoned her to that for the sake of a holiday.

"I will be in the training rooms in ten minutes," she bit out, shrugging off her jacket. "I expect to be there for some time. Ensure it is ready for my arrival." The jacket was flung across the room in her temper, where it knocked a vase to the floor.

CZ-41 took one look at her face and almost ran out of the room.

Ismene Leone

The remnants of four training droids were being carried away by the time Ismene's temper had ebbed. She rarely lost control in this way, yet suppressing anger was rarely good and so when she did explode, it was dangerous for anyone in the immediate vicinity. All organic members of staff were keeping a safe distance from her, as were most of the droids. By the time she had showered and changed into a fresh uniform, only the stalwart CZ-41 was left in her presence.

"See-zee." Ismene beckoned for the droid to follow as she made her way to her rooms. "Who is nominally in charge of Leoncrest Enterprises during my parents' unexpected holiday?"

The droid ran a brief computation. "The board of directors and yourself, Captain."

Ismene smiled. It was a cruel smile, one that should have made her parents shudder even as they holidayed far away from their home. "You are my assistant, are you not, See-zee forty-one?" she enquired casually, sealing the door behind her.

"I have been assigned to you for exactly twelve years and thirty six days, Captain."

Ismene toyed with the ornamental sword that hung in her quarters before turning to the window. "And who is your loyalty to, See-zee?"

The droid beeped. "I am assigned to you, Captain," it repeated. Ismene nodded, satisfied by this. Droids were easy to deal with. They had fewer facets to them than humans, although she knew that somewhere out there were droids with enough personality to pass for human. Most droids, though, were simple. See-zee was loyal to her until assigned elsewhere.

"I want a complete breakdown of all the company's assets," Ismene ordered, her eyes fixed on a faraway point. Not too long ago she had been studying a different planet through a similar window, asking questions of herself that she had never thought to ask before. Now she was seeking answers. "I also require a list of the current board of directors, profiles on the same, and those tipped to move into their shoes."

"I believe that information is classified, madam."

"Then I won't tell anyone. You have yourself confirmed that I, and the board of directors, are overseeing the company in the absence of Jareth and Lissa Leone. You will appreciate that I need all the information at my disposal to successfully run the company. This is logical." Ismene appreciated logic, and knew that the droid did, too. "I also want my private vessel crewed and ready to leave at my command. Ensure that the crew is selected for their discretion."

If it suspected anything of her plans, CZ-41 didn't pass comment. Instead it went about its business, obeying its mistress' orders as discreetly as possible so as not to alert anyone to the fact that, for the first time in her life, Ismene was taking a direct interest in the company rather than deferring entirely to her parents. Ismene remained silent as CZ-41 worked, transferring her gaze from the window to a picture on a shelf. It showed a young Ismene, a serious child, seated with her young, carefree, beautiful parents. For so long it had been a treasured possession. She lifted it high in the air, as if to dash it on the ground-

-no. No. She replaced it, gently traced the figures with her fingers. Now was not a time to act in anger.

Ismene Leone

CZ-41 was, as ever, efficient. Ismene had relaxed, eaten, noted in her diary the details of the meeting with Strife and the outcome; by the time she was ready to view the information, the droid was placing it in her hand. Years of working together had honed this relationship and she was, for once, grateful for something her parents had given her. She had tried working with more... organic secretaries, human and alien alike. All had resigned within a month of beginning. Ismene had no time for failure.

It was ironic, then, that she was beginning to realise that she was on the verge of failing herself. For the past few months she had been growing ever more aware of her own inadequacies. She was beginning to open her eyes, to look at the world outside of her parents, and what she was seeing brought new, strange, uncertain ideas. For example, looking at the information CZ-41 had brought her on the company was bringing forward the new, strange idea that she was, in fact, extremely wealthy, and poised to take over a large corporation. The uncertainty was the question of what, exactly, she wanted to inherit. Did she want to become just another warmonger, as the Confederacy viewed them, or something with more meaning? She was a soldier, not a mercenary. She didn't agree with changing sides simply because there were more credits available that way.

The board of directors was, on the other hand, entirely predictable. Bloated fat cats who had grown rich by letting her parents do whatever they wanted. A few ambitious young upstarts were looking for promotion, and since that usually came by dead men's shoes, it looked to be an interesting time. Ismene frowned. They would all have to go; to be replaced by people with honour, people who cared about the company's image as well as the bottom line. Diplomats would be necessary; she was not a people person and had no time for schmoozing.

Ismene almost missed the most interesting asset, hidden amongst a list of factories and shipping yards. A research station was not surprising: what was was the fact that there was no location listed, simply co-ordinates.

"See-zee, this entry here..." She tapped it with her finger thoughtfully. The droid studied it intently.

"I believe it is classified, Captain."

"Classified? It's a research station." Ismene studied the list. Two more locations were given simply as co-ordinates, listed as 'research stations'. "Why are these classified?"

"I am not able to locate that information."

"Really? Then how did you locate the co-ordinates?"

"Lissa Leone is unfortunately careless with her security, Captain."

Ismene looked up, smirked. The droid's face was incapable of emotion but she was sure she'd detected a hint of smugness in its tone.

"Well done, See-zee." She slipped the datapad into a pocket inside her jacket. "Is my ship ready?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Excellent." Ismene patted the pocket where the datapad rested. "Stay here. If my parents contact me, inform them that I am offworld pursuing the company's interests after a successful meeting on Bothawui. You are not aware of my exact location and I will return before the end of their holiday." She knew that See-zee would repeat those words, and not utter a single one more in elaboration. The droid began to putter about her office as she left, no doubt undertaking the tasks she was leaving behind. Ismene headed for her ship, intrigued to find out what her parents were hiding.

Ismene Leone

When the ship touched down, Ismene was the last person off. She had acquired passengers en route to the co-ordinates in the form of several of the soldiers she previously commanded, including the only sergeant she had ever tolerated, Sgt. Kei "Gunner" Reed. They had been more than happy to accept a substantial wage increase and enlist with her. They may not be necessary, Ismene knew this; she also knew that turning up with a squad of experienced soldiers made people nervous. Made them talk. Made them give away secrets that perhaps her parents didn't quite want her to know.

They came out of hyperspace near an asteroid field. The ship had been granted automatic clearance to land due to the codes she was transmitting: CZ-41 had been effective in obtaining all information. Ismene watched dispassionately as the ship touched down on a landing dock attached to an extremely secure looking facility. Clearly it had been designed to deter visitors, and to defend against all intruders. Ismene almost, almost smiled as Gunner ordered his men to secure every exit and round up the staff.

"The problem with facilities like this," she mused, stepping lightly down the ramp, "is that they are so rarely prepared for when people just... walk in." Gunner smirked, his rifle aimed at a group of security guards who had come dashing out to fight them, and who had already dropped their weapons.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked the security guards, stepping over to them on light feet. At last, she was in control of the situation; it felt good. They shook their heads, stuttering about codes-this and Leones-that. She laughed aloud at this last one.

"You'll tell the Leones?" she mimicked in a high falsetto. "My men will shoot the first person to try and make contact with anyone outside this facility." Behind her, Gunner relayed this to his men. All across the facility she could hear clicks as rifles were readied to fire, and shouts to inform the personnel of their current predicament. Ismene shot a cold smile at the security guard, pushing her glasses up her nose as she did so. It was then he moved, lunging at her. She caught him easily, used his own momentum to hurl him into the opposite wall; she lashed out with her foot, catching the side of his head. He fell silent.

"Bring me the director of this facility," she said, turning away from the sputtering, outraged, impotent security guards and picking instead a cowering woman. "Inform him that Captain Ismene Leone- yes," she said, enjoying the look of terror on the woman's face, "-has come to inspect the facility."

The woman scuttled away. Ismene signalled; Gunner gave the order and the guards were shot down.

"Sloppy way to operate," she commented, stepping over their bodies. "Escort all staff into whatever their largest room is. If anyone disagrees, shoot them. If anyone tries to communicate with persons outside of this facility, shoot them. If anyone does anything you believe to be a threat to your person, the soldiers, or to myself, shoot them."

"Yes, Captain," Gunner said with relish, passing the command on to his men. Ismene watched as order, her order, descended on the facility. Her mind was full of questions and she knew, deep down, that she wouldn't like the answers.

Ismene Leone

'Everyone' consisted of a large number of security personnel, some of whom had been vaguely competent and attempted to defend themselves (their corpses were being dragged in now), several janitorial and administrative staff, and the rest were scientists. The facility, she surmised, was a secret research station established by her parents. She approved of the idea, in principle. Maybe this wouldn't be a total loss.

"Is that everyone?" she asked as the last corpse was dragged in, the last living member of staff escorted into one of several frightened, huddling lines of people. Gunner stepped up beside her and saluted in his usual sloppy, devil-may-care way.

"Even the droids," he said. Ismene cast her eyes over the group. Most of them were confused by the surprise inspection, frightened by the amount of soldiers. Only a very few had reacted to her name in a manner she would deem suspicious, and she wasn't the least bit surprised to note they were some of the higher ranking members of staff; the others would defer to them, looking for comfort and finding nothing.

Ismene checked her timepiece. "Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen, droids, and those who choose not to divulge their gender," she said smoothly, all eyes fixing on her. "I'm sorry to take you away from your no doubt valuable work." No, she wasn't, and they could tell. "This is a brief inspection which will progress quickly if you all co-operate. Fight back, or try and contact anyone who is not already in this room, and you will join the recently deceased in that corner." All eyes were drawn to the pile of corpses; except her own. She watched them all carefully. Some adopted submissive postures, their shoulders slouching, eyes downcast, trying to make themselves as small as possible. They wouldn't be a problem. Others puffed out their chests indignantly, cast around for someone to try and start a fight with. These, the mused, would probably wind up in the corpse heap before she left.

"Who is in charge of this facility?" she demanded. A white coat in the back stepped forward, revealing a middle aged man with wispy greying hair and spectacles.

"I am Doctor Julian Weiss," he said. Ismene signalled for the soldiers to let him forward; she approached him slowly.

"You know who I am," she stated quietly.

"I know you should not be here, Captain. I find I must ask... why are you here? I know without a doubt that you have not been sent here on official business."

Ismene smiled. The scientist before her shivered. "I'm sure there is much you know, Julian. Much I am eager to learn from you." She didn't bother append the usual threat. The look on her face conveyed rather eloquently what would happen if he tried anything. "You will give me a tour of this facility, Doctor. You will explain in great depth what you do here, and why you hide it. You will answer every single question I have about the place and, if I am satisfied with what I hear, you may even make it to the end of the day in one piece."

Julian adopted a lofty expression. "I'm afraid the work we do here is quite complex," he said haughtily.

Ismene raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure I can keep up," she said drily. "Sergeant Reed, I require two soldiers to escort myself and Doctor Weiss on our tour. You are to remain in command here and ensure that nothing unfortunate befalls the valuable Leoncrest Enterprises employees." Gunner saluted, pointed at two of his men and jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the universal sign for get moving, you lowly maggots.

Flanked by the soldiers, Doctor Weiss didn't look nearly so confident.

"Lead the way, Julian," she said, her smile faintly mocking. "I am downright giddy with anticipation."