Thursday, February 15, 2007

Uncomfortable Silences

They stood together in the middle of a large room, the awkward feeling of being surrounded growing by the moment.

There were twenty or thirty beings here, most of whom were human but a few were slight variants on that theme. A blue-skinned man, a Zabrak woman with metal-capped horns, and a slender pale white androgynous person were staring at them from the raised balcony that ran the length of all four walls. This was a gallery of sorts, with bare walls only occasionally interrupted by trophies - grisly trophies well preserved and staring just as intently, though with eyes of glass instead of distrust.

As focused as the watchers seemed to be, this room felt to Darrus more like a shooting gallery than anything else. Most of the people above them were armed and those that weren't were not far from weapons mounted in racks on the walls nearby. If this went badly, even his skills would not be able to defend him from so much concentrated fire. Not for long, any way. Regardless, he wouldn't be able to protect Maya either, which made a fight here a non-option.

Of course, that assumed he had any control over hostilities. They had been led down here to meet "the Boss" and then left to wait. One way or the other, Darrus assumed combat - or the lack thereof - would depend entirely on how they conducted themselves during this appointment.

Conduct implied contact, however, and the anticipated appointment was already twenty minutes late. How much longer was this man going to make them linger here, getting holes stared through them by the rest of the cabal? As a Jedi, he should not let himself feel apprehension, which was a difficulty since any rational, emotional person would probably be getting really annoyed at this point.

Fortunately, Maya wasn't a Jedi. "Hey! We can just go if you don't want us here!" She shifted to put one leather-clad fist on her curvaceous hip. "You called us here, remember?!"

Muttering filled the upper part of the room; several of the watchers were now talking among themselves. Darrus dearly hoped the conversation wasn't turning to how best to discipline their guests for their bad manners. Inwardly, he agreed with Maya. This was intolerable.

Intolerable, or a test. It suddenly occurred to Darrus that if he and Maya were infiltrators, they would probably just accept this delay for fear of compromising their mission. A spy would deal with any setbacks or hurdles because to do otherwise would mean failure. Now, they actually were spies and infiltrators, but they could not afford to act the part.

"Indeed." His voice modulator, thanks to Vaaro, made the word sound like a vicious, ghostly echo. "We are leaving." He turned and walked towards the thick blast doors, leveling his rifle at them as he moved.

The gallery above them reacted instantly, bringing blasters to bear in a rattle of weapons and energy hums. No one fired, but everyone seemed willing to do so. As he expected, the unarmed among them grabbed carbines and pistols as well. Darrus and Maya were now under the gun, exactly where he didn't want to be.

"I am sensing a lot of hostility." Even as Maya said it, her voice took on the tone of, "Gee, thanks Maya; how bloody insightful of you." Her eyes rolled and her face took on a sheepish expression.

Darrus did not let himself react other than to thumb the energy-on switch of the rifle. "Open these doors." Slowly pulling back the focusing bolt to bring up a maximum charge, he increased the volume of his mask to be heard over the growing pulse of his weapon. "Now."

As he expected, that got a lot of reaction from the shooters above, but the doors did not open nor did they start shooting. It was a moment of stalemate, one he hoped would not last because at this point, he was out of moves. If they called his bluff, Darrus would have to blow open the doors or back down. Neither option was attractive. The former could easily set off the twitchier members of the Wake and bring blaster fire down on their heads. The latter choice made him seem weak - something that would only jeopardize his ability to deal with the leadership of this organization. This moment burned in his mind and he realized where he was.

Shatterpoint. Act or wait. The choice was his.

He chose to do both, holding his fire but reaching down to pull a grenade from his belt. The gesture was an obvious one; shoot at me and I'll throw this. Someone, maybe a lot of someones, up there will die. Maya followed suit, taking grenades out of her vest with both hands. Now the bluff had a few more teeth.

Time to bump the pot. "I won't ask again."

A door slowly opened, but not the blast doors in front of them. On the other side of the room, a single figure strode confidently into the gallery. "And you will not have to, my friends. Please accept my apologies for the long wait. I was... detained."

The man was well-dressed, mostly in dark red, and had the look of a Republic senator to him. Older but not ancient, grey haired but not infirm, he had no visible weapons yet did not seem entirely unarmed. He was alone, though of course he was far from unguarded. The unwavering barrels of the blasters above were a succinct reminder of that fact.

Darrus lifted his rifle and put the stock back against his chest, barrel pointed to the ceiling. The grenade went back to his belt pouch. "Echo is right. You invited us."

The man gave him a cordial, almost stately half-bow. "That I did, and again, I am sorry for the delay. If you will allow me to make amends, I will see to it that your time is suitably compensated. The Scarlet Wake is not, after all, a charity organization."

With a curt nod, Darrus put his hand on Maya's shoulder, visibly indicating that she should relax her death grip on her explosives. She relented with a scowl, though he could sense from her a sheer relief in not having to carry through with the threat they implied. It pleased him to also feel her willingness to have done so if things had gone poorly. One way or another, she was with him on this. All the way.

His mask turned his rasp into an ominous rumble. "Then just what sort of organization is it?"

The man smiled and stepped aside, gesturing for them both to follow him through the open door. At that sign of acceptance, the people on the balconies relinquished their aim and weapons disappeared again. Their near-military precision and simultaneous reactions were both impressive and disconcerting.

"A generous one, I assure you, to its friends. Even as a full member, nothing you do for us will be for free. Wakers earn a substantial premium in the field." Following them as Darrus and Maya walked through the far door into a downward-slanting hallway, the man continued amiably. "Which, I suspect from your gear and mannerisms, is where you will best serve the order."

His use of the word 'order' did not escape Darrus or Maya, though neither showed any outward sign of noting it. That was something to check on later. Groups that call themselves an Order tended to be more zealous and more pervasive than a typical collective. This Scarlet Wake could be a lot bigger than Darrus had estimated.

"And who are you, friend?" Darrus let a bit of suspicion creep into his ghostly tone. It made sense for any sane person to be concerned in a situation like this.

"Ah, my manners are horrible today. I am Gannarsen Kayvus, Red Two of Tatooine, but you can call me Gannar. The Red Two is a title and honestly, I am more comfortable with first names." The older gentleman reached out to take Darrus' hand, a gesture the Jedi returned reluctantly. "And you are Wraith, a bounty hunter with a considerable and impressive record. After proving yourselves, I am sure Red One will want to meet you personally."

A considerable record? Just what did Vaaro do when he 'arranged for a bounty hunter's license and identity'? Somehow, Darrus suspected this would be trouble in some way. Anything touched by that crazy Rodian tended to get... complicated.

Maya asked what Darrus was about to say. "Red One?"

The man nodded and slid a card through a sensor to open a door barring their passage. Beyond was another set of halls. They were now deep under the sands of Tatooine, sheltered from the environment, assault, and of course, unwanted attention. This was an impressive base and far too much of it seemed of new construction. Just what level of resources did the Wake have?

"Oh yes. The founder and leader of the entire order. The Scarlet Wake would not exist without his guidance and generosity."

Darrus narrowed his eyes, but he knew she couldn't press more than they had. Not yet. "About that. You've used the word generosity twice now. When will we be seeing some of it?" A mercenary cares only for money; that was a lesson he'd received from an Alderaan Jedi Trainer at the Academy when he was a Padawan. Remembering that and acting the part would serve him well now.

Their escort smiled. "In just a few moments. We've a feast waiting below and after we dine, we'll discuss how to best accommodate each other. You want stable employment and we want a strong hand to do the Wake's will. I think together, we can accomplish both goals. Don't you?"

Maya frowned and leaned against Darrus' side. "We'll see," she told the man. her acting was excellent, helped along by her genuine nervousness at the situation.

There was a long period of silence after that, uncomfortable for both sides it seemed. They reached another door and beyond it, a dining hall filled with people eating at several long tables covered in food. The feast had, at least, not been exaggerated. A smile returned to the man's face at the sight of the busy room.

"I can see that trust will be a long road but I am determined to make the journey pleasant. Please, join the meal and afterwards, we will discuss details."

Darrus nodded, taking Maya's hand and heading to an empty section of the room. "We'll do that. Thanks."

The common courtesy made their host smile wider and nod. "Excellent. I look forward to it."

Then they were left alone. Dinner was well prepared, generously portioned, and eaten in total isolation. The room was boisterous elsewhere but the rest of the Wake spared them only looks of suspicion and thinly-veiled violence.

Oh yes, Darrus thought to himself. Trust was going to be a long, ugly road...


Zay said...

As if trust is ever easy? ;)

Tarek said...

Hmm... fanatic, pro-human, "Order", backed with a lot of money...

Interesting choice of code names though.