Monday, February 26, 2007

The Eye of Malice

He stood in the doorway of the cantina, looking out over the scene of his own handiwork. The tables all lay in ruins, shattered bottles were strewn across the floor, and the symbol of the Scarlet Wake was fused into the walls by the laser cutter on his belt. The bar, run by a pair of Grann recently moved to Tatooine, was a complete loss - the point of tonight's exercise.

Inwardly, he was both disgusted at what he had done here but he did see the blessing in disguise; no one had been injured. This mission was a message. "Aliens, get out."

The proprietors of the bar were upstairs, stunned unconscious by Maya and left in the shambles of their own sleeping chamber. By the time they woke up, Darrus and his partner would be long gone. Their efforts here would linger, though. This place was one of the most popular establishments in Anchorhead, catering to more than four hundred non-humans and spacers on average each day.

Tightening his grip on his rifle, watchful for trouble while Maya finished her vandalism upstairs, Darrus could not help but acknowledge the tactical skill this particular choice of targets suggested. The Scarlet Wake was more than a hate group; this was psychological warfare. Each body, each wrecked home, each terrified alien was one piece in a greater plan.

Figuring out that plan was his real mission, of course, but after two weeks "on the inside" he was no closer to the power behind the organization. Red One was still a complete mystery and his proxies were either too cordial and aloof to question or too violent and ignorant to be of much use. Performing these acts of terrorism were the only way he could see to ingratiate himself into the Wake and work his way up the command ladder. One rung at a time seemed the best possible course of action.

In truth, it seemed like the only course.

Maya agreed. Both his partner and his only confidant, she had proven an invaluable asset to the mission. Calm and capable, willing to do anything for him, and never questioning his decisions, she had even taken his apparent execution of that Ithorian in stride. It had relieved her when he told her the victim was still very much alive but she had not asked or treated him differently beforehand. If something difficult needed to be done, she was his unflinching right hand.

It had been so long since he had been in the position of having someone at his back he could trust. Even during the war, he had never fully believed in the "docile" nature of his Clone Soldiers. Perhaps that was why he was still alive, but he knew the real reason all too well. His connection to Aayla, his feeling her death, had been a warning exactly when he needed one.

Jeht could still close his eyes and see the look on Marr-ek's face when he evaded the bastard's death trap and chopped his own men to pieces. He could hear the panic in Marr-ek's voice when, lightsaber in hand, he forced the traitorous ARC trooper to surrender.

And, with a twist of guilt in his gut, he could still smell the charred flesh as he drove his weapon into Marr-ek's face. A plasteel garbage pod had been Marr-ek's tomb, flushed into space along with the pieces of his sundered squad. Darrus felt guilt over his former friend's execution, but not much. The man had killed Trill; he deserved nothing better. Hells and Fire, he had deserved far worse.

Darrus caught himself in that thought and forced his mind to let go of such hate. It was not just a feeling unbecoming of a Jedi, it was a distraction he could not afford right now. If he was lost in the past, he could easily be surprised bu something in the present.

As if reading his mind, "Echo" did just that. Snaking a hand over his shoulder and startling him into nearly checking her against the wall, Maya brought him back to the here and now. "It's done. There's not enough left intact upstairs to buy a used speeder and two Grann are sleeping off one mother of a headache."

He nodded and gestured for her to stand by the exit while he checked outside. It was nearly first light; the smaller of Tatooine's two suns was almost at the eastern horizon. There was a line of false dawn about to give way to the real thing. There were cutting their mission parameters close but they had finished within the time given. In the end, that was all it took to earn their paycheck.

Wraith and Echo made their way to the Starwing and climbed in quickly. They had landed far enough out that the ARC-170's huge engines would not alert their quarry. That had been a fine plan until Darrus remembered his craft no longer having a speeder. The walk, and Maya's constant "We could have been done by now" stare at the back of his head had both been unpleasant.

Still, it was better than murder.

Murder was on Darrus' mind a lot lately. The missions they were running for the Scarlet Wake had not involved killing anyone, but that could change at any moment. He knew there were people in the Tatooine chapter capable of doing far worse and more than willing. He suspected that others were handling removal missions while Echo and he were doing these less fatal tasks.

That both relieved and worried him at the same time. Why would the Scarlet Wake make him kill an alien just to get in and then not even ask him to rough one up? Were they saving his talents for something bigger? Were the leaders of the Wake suspicious?

No, he decided. If they were suspicious of his motives, an assassination or assault would be the first thing they would want from him. If that were true, however, why was he stuck doing jobs any handful of moisture farmers could handle? Why use a capable killer to vandalize a bar or plant explosives on a food transport?

Looking at this from a logistical viewpoint, it made no sense. He had never been one for self-aggrandizement but he knew what he was good at doing. Darrus had always been an instrument of violence, even in the Academy on Coruscant. As a youngling, he had been in more fistfights and force battles than any student his age in the history of the Council. he was firmly convinced that, had it not been for Master Windu's patronage, he would have been expelled from training long before becoming a padawan.

Thinking about Mace was always painful, especially now. His mentor, the closest thing he had ever known to a father, was dead. Everyone he knew on Coruscant, dead. His entire Order, dead. There might still be a few friends back on Cularin, but they were in a safe place now and he would never jeopardize their well-being by disturbing the Sanctum there.

That left Maya. She was really his only lifeline now. Without her, he would truly be alone. He wondered if she knew how grateful he was for her company. He considered telling her, but his skill with a lightsaber was inversely proportional to his skill with words. Likely, he would just sound silly or offend her accidentally. He had no desire to do either. Somehow, someway, he would let her know when the time was right.

"Hey, dark eyes. You all right up there?"

Darrus blinked behind his shadow glass visor. He had been distracted again. That was happening a lot lately. Too many thoughts, not enough attention to what was happening around him. If Yoda were still alive, the little green taskmaster would be smacking him in the skull with a cane right now.

"Sorry. I was just... considering the jobs we have been given. Don't they seem odd to you?"

Maya scoffed in the gunner's seat behind him. "Odd? We had scattered burning protein bars over southern Mos Eisley, robbed an alien money collector and vaporized the funds in a refinery incinerator, sabotaged a Devoranean transport, stolen a Bith band's instruments, and royally wrecked a cantina in Anchorhead. All without ever being seen aside from that stupid Scarlet symbol we keep blasting into things. Odd? You could say that."

Darrus agreed quietly. "Exactly. Strange work, and no common theme aside from terrorism." Then his own tactical skills caught his attention and showed him the element in every job he had missed before. "Wait..."

Maya's voice took on a note of concern, something he would normally have found endearing if he had not been so preoccupied. "What is it, Darrus?"

"There is a denominator in common, Maya." He had been thinking about these jobs all wrong, looking at them through the vantage point of a hatemonger. Hate was too imprecise to describe the rationale behind the Scarlet Wake. He needed to use something more focused to understand what was really going on here. This was not hate; it was something colder. More malevolent. It was pure, rational, unyielding malice.

Darrus continued once the realization came to him. "Every mission has had one thing the same in every case. Each time, we've been asked to do our work without being seen. We have already proven ourselves capable of violence. I think they are testing our subterfuge."

Maya considered that for a while before answering. "Okay, but if that's true, to what end? People don't normally test something without a reason. What do they intend for us to do that involves both violence and stealth?"

Darrus shook his head. "I don't know, Maya. That's what worries me."


It was a secure transmission; Gannarsen Kayvus could talk freely now.

"I've just received word, sir. The cantina went flawlessly, just as I predicted. In my estimation, they are ready. These two new recruits are perfect for the job."

The voice that answered him was both somber and dark, nearly emotionless yet edged with intense hostility. "Are you sure? I dislike trusting something this important to agents so new to the Wake. If this fails..."

Red Two bowed to the holographic bust of his master. "It won't. I assure you, our message will be sent out loud and clear. By this time tomorrow, everyone in the galaxy will know about the Scarlet Wake."

Gannarsen's superior, his face hidden by a full helmet and his shoulders concealed under a thick cloak, intoned pointedly. "Do not fail me in this. The Order has no room for failure."

Without hesitation, Gannar nodded his agreement. "It won't need any. I won't fail and neither will they. I will comm you again when the deed is done." He saluted the holo-image by clapping his hand to his chest, palm against his shirt and ring prominently displayed. "Humans first."

Red One returned the gesture, ending the transmission with the answering line of the pledge.

"Humans only."


Tarek said...

Interesting. Very interesting.
I wonder why anyone would bother with Tatooine, much less make this sort of long-range plan?
If my suspicions are correct... well, I'm not going to speculate. But I think I see something of what's going on behind the scenes, taking what else is happening in the galaxy into account.

Erisraven said...

Violence and subterfuge. This is not going to go well.

And it makes sense. Most of what we've seen in the Scarlet Wake so far are either Faces or thugs. Not so much skill there.

One wonders how many worlds this is working on - hard to believe this would be Tattooine-only.

Tarek said...

I just reread it... Darrus stole the instruments of Figrin D'An and the Modal Nodes? Now I'll never be able to listen to the Cantina songs on the soundtrack in the same way ever again... Poor Figrin.