Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Weary is the Night

Maya's fingers worked their magic over his shoulders, slowing turning durasteel cables into muscles once more. Rigid, aching muscles.

"How many was that?" she asked gently, knowing that right now, even sound hurt him. Jeht had been caught in the blast of a powerful toxin this last time out. Normally he would have been able to counter it easily with his Jedi abilities but while "undercover", Darrus did not dare use his powers. There was at least one other force user in the Scarlet Wake and until they could be sure he was not a threat, Maya and Jeht had to assume the worst.

"Twelve." His answer was short and succinct, mostly because his teeth were gritted in pain. Maya's medical skills had halted the toxin but its lingering effects were still going strong. The poison was a intramuscular one; it attacked the muscles and soft tissues of the victim. Right now, he was in terrible agony.

She could feel it and it tore at her that she couldn't do more to help. Even bleeding off as much as possible through empathy, she knew he was still on the edge of mental collapse. She'd thought talking as if everything was fine would help take his mind off it. Now she was leaning towards silence. Perhaps quiet would help.

"No." His voice was strained and quiet, as always, but there was an intense focus to it right now. "Keep talking. It does help."

She sighed and rubbed his back, trying to open up his circulation again. The anti-venom was spiked with the most powerful painkillers she had on hand. If she could get it to work through his body, Darrus would be spared this ongoing torment. A few hours of drugged sleep and he'd be purged completely. "Sorry... I just don't know what to say."

"How about your thoughts," he groans and bit back the pain, "on our mysterious counterpart?"

She shrugged and moved farther down his body. "I don't know. He would have reported us by now if he was working for the Wake."

Darrus nodded as much as he could. "Suggesting?"

"Suggesting he's doing the same thing we are, working against this hate mongering cell in his own way. The drugs used on Vaaro and the girls were high-tech stuff but there's something odd about the delivery method."

If he could have, Darrus would have looked at her quizzically. As it was, his neck was barely functional enough to move at all. he settled for saying, "Go on."

"Well, the narcotic in question is isothorasednaprine alpha. It's a rare plant derivative from one of the Twi'lek worlds. You know, where all the good drugs come from." She was making a slight joke based on ryll, a terribly addictive chemical produced and distributed from Ryloth, the Twi'lek homeworld.

Darrus did not laugh. The dour Jedi never laughed. Darn him.

"Anyway, I-Alpha, as it's called, is best administered by means of a dermal scanner. That's a complex exodermal meson unit that breaks the chemical down on a molecular level and transmits it as energy waves into the patient's skin. It leaves no trace behind; it's a perfect item for someone looking to drug people and not make it look like they've been drugged."

Darrus managed a slight nod in understanding. "And this time?"

"This time, Vaaro and the girls were injected by means of a pressure gun. It works but it leaves a red welt on the skin that can last hours."

There was a groan from her patient as she finished his lower back. The anti-venom was starting to do its work. His voice was a touch calmer as he spoke next. "So what does that suggest to you?"

Maya sighed. "I really don't know. There's no reason for someone who knows about I-Alpha to use a pressure gun if he's looking for subtlety. The welts were well hidden but if I found them, authorities checking the scene probably would also."

She helped Darrus roll over onto his back and began the long process of massaging his tensed chest. The alien musculature of this seemingly human Jedi made any attempt at massage a complicated one. Layers of muscle and more than twice the normal number of tendons provided a biological labyrinth for her to navigate. In truth, she loved the challenge. She just wished he wasn't going to be in pain just she could find her way through it all.

He whispered through teeth locked in agony, "Are these scanners common?"

She shook her head. "No, but they almost always come with a shipment of I-Alpha. The only reason to use a pressure gun is if you didn't have one or didn't want to use one. They aren't reusable, after all. Once you activate a meson skin scanner, you have about an hour of battery life before the thing burns out."

"That's something." Another groan. "Maybe he doesn't have one left."

Maya considered that. "Maybe, but I get the feeling it's something else. I have a hunch there's a personal reason behind using the gun. Not sure what. I could 'go looking' if you want."

Darrus almost agreed, then cursed himself for letting the pain cloud his judgment. "No, better not. He's sensitive, just like us. Whoever this man is, he might detect your use of the Force. I don't want you risking yourself, especially not for an answer we don't really need."

The ex-Rebel doctor sighed and pushed her hands down his abdomen. He was sheet of solid, pained muscle from head to toe. "True enough. We have gone through a dozen missions for the Wake now and only encountered him once. He hasn't Jawa'ed us out yet so he's a curiosity but not a direct threat."

He was proud of her for that insight, adding quietly, "Not yet, anyway."

With the speed of a Tatooine land slug at high double noon, she eased the tension out of his stomach. After a long while of this, she asked, "What do you think our next job will be?"

"I think it will be against the Ithorians. I am not sure what..." Darrus bit back a slight scream. His renewed blood flow brought with it a fleeting - but terrible - wave of pain. He couldn't speak again until the analgesics kicked in. Once they did, his head spun and he had to struggle to stay focused. "...but it would make sense. Our last three missions have been against Ithorian residents and places of business."

Maya sighed. "Well, if they want us to hurt Hammerheads, they'd better hurry up about it. Most of them have already fled the planet and retreated to that big ship they've got in orbit now."

Darrus raised one eyebrow, a silent query since his jaws locked again.

She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. "You should pay a little more attention to the local news, dear. The recent attacks against Ithorians have prompted them to call in one of their transports. Massive ship, too, from the sound of it. Looks like the Wake wins this round. As soon as it leaves orbit, it'll probably take all the Ithorians and anyone else looking for sanctuary with it."

Darrus nodded quietly and closed his eyes. He was in too much pain to think about this right. The hammerhead plant toxin had almost been the end of him. The Wake wouldn't need too much convincing right now to get him to hurt them a little more. He was dimly aware of thoughts like that being bad before sleep claimed him.

Maya curled in beside him, one arm draped across Darrus' chest. She didn't really care what the next assignment was as long as she was with him. For now, it was enough...


In a dark room one level down in the Scarlet Wake compound, a man was reviewing a holocam image. The glowing shape in front of him was of a curved sword, its point aimed directly forward. Wisps of energy were wrapped around the weapon's handle but the focus of the hologram was on the blade itself.

"I've seen this before, but how did you get a hold of it?" It was an apocryphal question; the answer did not really matter. Things were coming to a head in the Wake here on Tatooine and he no longer had time to worry about how a bounty hunter with a spotless, likely fame career record had come into possession of a dead Jedi's sword from halfway across the galaxy. He chalked it all up to grave robbing and set the matter aside for now.

The image vanished, replaced by a massive ovoid shape. Words appeared in the air beside the starship graphic, identifying it as the Shin'da'ruu. One of the largest vessels known, it was only dwarfed by a Super Star Destroyer or a true Imperial Dreadnought. The sheer scale of the Shin'da'ruu was hard to grasp but given that it was built to contain a percentage of a planet's entire population, more than three million sentients, the size made sense.

"A herd-ship."

The man was musing to himself now as he laid out his gear for the upcoming run. A well worn blaster, a complete - and completely battered - thinsuit, and implements that all looked like they'd been purchased at a used junk booth in Mos Eisley. They were old and nearly worn out but these things had something no newly bought techno-bits could ever claim - reliability.

His nightly ritual began. He opened everything that could be open, took apart everything that could be disassembled and cleaned every part that wouldn't dissolve in the process. He put each device back together with an expert hand. What his tools and gear lacked in looks they more than made up for in quality. They were rough on the outside but within, they were better than new.

A low chime from his slicer rig got his attention just as he'd finished putting his pistol back together. He rolled in his chair over to the computer and punched up what it had found. One of the best remote slicing setups in the galaxy, his system was a master at digging through encrypted files and pulling up useful data. For days now, he'd had it stealthing through the Wake's archives trying to get some handle on their goals here. Tatooine was a rock; there was no reason for a group this well financed and connected to concern itself with this sandball.

With narrowed eyes, he read through the partial file recovered by his slicing pad. It detailed a mission plan involving a 'hydra strike' against the Rebellion. He wasn't sure what that was but the rest of the file implied it to mean a multiple objective offensive designed to weaken the position of the Rebellion as the successors to the Republic.

This had Imperial involvement written all over it, from the language of the document to the tactics suggested. He ran through its many layers, looking for some reference to planets or targets. The file was so heavily encrypted it would have taken Beylan himself to decode the whole thing. As it was, all he had was a set of codenames and times.

The dates were sequential, each one a day apart. The codenames were linked to planets but his rig had only uncovered the one attached to Tatooine. It would need several hours to get any of the others.

The man noted the time on the Tatooine offensive as being three hours from the current time. That didn't leave much time for calculations. With only sketching details, he hoped the codename would offer some clue to the Wake's plan. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach even as he pulled up the mission name.

As soon as he saw it, his blood ran cold.

Operation: Planetfall

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Reporting For Duty

It was dawn. From the rippling in the air over the dense stone bunker, the day was liable to be a hot one even by Tatooine standards.

All the ships were in and the hanger doors, left open all night for ventilation, were closing to keep the rising temperature outside where it belonged - outside. On a planet where exposure could be lethal and air recycling meant the difference between a fortified underground installation and a half-kilometer deep oven/tomb, every precaution was taken. All sentries came inside and the outer doors to the landing bay were closed fifteen minutes after sunrise.

For people caught outside, there was only one hope. Shade and a full canteen could keep a human alive until after noon when the temperature started to drop again. Could.

This particular morning there was movement outside the closed compound, but it wasn't human. A small black plated droid, spherical and hovering on a silent repulsorlift, drifted up out of the main building's exchanger vent. It quietly drifted to a nearby uplink aerial and extended its patch cable. Within moments, the droid was connected to the Scarlet Wake's transmission relay, sending a coded message on the back of already broadcasting data.

The method of communication was untraceable because the link was a physical one and it originated after the legitimate signal was sent. There were no computers to intercept the additional signal and no power drain to detect because the antenna array was in use during its beaming.

Half a parsec away, a small repeater satellite used for years by smugglers and slicers for "contraband data" received the message. In the data stream, there was a navigation code for where it needed to be sent. The satellite turned and followed its orders. The signal entered the backbone of the holonet as one of millions of information packets, as undetectable and unremarkable as anything else in the network.

The message it carried was anything but unremarkable when it reached its destination. A small screen on a large desk in a spacious building began to glow, its small warning chime calling the intended recipient to give it the attention it was due. As soon as the room was clear, a gloved hand pressed a glowing button on the screen and an audio file began to play.

"It has been some time since my last communication. The Tatooine sect is getting more active and asking more of its ranking members. Maintaining my cover without taking lives is becoming problematic. The leaders of this Wake chapter are more violent in their intentions than the ones on Corellia. Lately, that tendency has become a certainty. Outings now always end in some kind of violence."

The dark gloved hand pressed flat on the desk, fingers moving nervously. Whoever the listener was, this news was obviously distressing.

"I suspect your concerns are coming to pass. My infiltration has gone well to date and some of my suspicions have been borne out. There is a single figurehead at the top level of the Scarlet Wake. These cells are planetary based and all have a leadership post and a hierarchy beneath them. The leader of each cell seems to hold the same rank, disturbingly called 'Red Two'."

At that, the gloved hand clenched into a fist. The reference was not lost on the listener.

"This fits with data I obtained from a deep slice into the Tatooine network. The overall guidance of the Wake comes from the figurehead I mentioned and he or she goes by the sobriquet 'Red One'. I am not sure why they are using standard Rebel flight nomenclature but it seems to be their organizational style at every level. I have seen Red Threes and Red Fours here on Tatooine and as you may recall, I had to dispose of an agent on Corellia calling himself Five. If we assume that was short for Red Five, there is a definite pattern emerging."

The listener's other hand was on the desk now, a long white control wand in its grasp. Tapping its length into the other palm, the gesture seemed to be a repetitive, nervous gesture. The more the listener heard, the faster the wand was moving.

"I would have held this report back but something has come up requiring an immediate drop. My last report mentioned the possibility of some major offensive being planned within the Scarlet Wake. I am still investigating those rumors but have little to offer except my suspicions that such a move is going to occur very soon. I have nothing solid to base that on; it is just a personal hunch. Take that as you will."

The wand stopped, gripped tightly with both hands.

"I am sending this report three days early because of a pair of new recruits to the Tatooine chapter. One male, one female. The male checks out as a bounty hunter with the codename Wraith. His file is a little too complete. I suspect it's a well-managed fake. The other has no direct file but she seems pretty devoted to her partner. I have only seen that kind of physical loyalty in expensive bodyguard bio-units. She may be a droid. I'll look into it."

The gloved hands had set the wand down now, its larger, flanged end glowing from where a single button had been pressed. Another screen became active at that time, showing images of both Wraith and Echo.

"I encountered Wraith as opposition on my last run for the Scarlet Wake. I do not know his motivations but he attempted to bring me down as I left the scene. There was an altercation and before I could deal with him, I was driven off by an unusual form of electromagnetic defense. My cover may be compromised but I believe otherwise."

There was hesitation in the speaker's voice in his next few words.

"I... I believe I recognized a personal possession carried by this Wraith. It is unlikely that he has legitimate possession of the weapon. It is most likely the spoils of graverobbing. In any case, I have a lot of questions to answer about Wraith and his female companion. With your permission, I would like you to analyze the data appended to this report. I will not move against these two or attempt contact until you reply."

The transmission ended as it always did, with a time and place for a signal to be return beamed. The hands steepled, fingers pressed tightly into each other as the listener brought them under his chin in contemplation.

The bloody Empire had only been defeated a few months ago and already the "New Republic" was trying to burst at the seems from alien attacks, reports of some remaining Imperial loyalists gather support on rim worlds, and missing Rebel heroes heading off into the darkness of space on mysterious missions to no one-knows-where.

This was just the sort of additional stress he could live without. General Crix Madine stood up, fetched his control wand, and started pacing. It was bad enough his intelligence networks were so damned overworked that he had to use independents, even if they were reliable ones like Narr. Now he was effectively deaf and blind to a covert organization several planets wide with an agenda that could very well run counter to everything the Rebellion had worked so hard to build.

It was days like this he thanked the Maker for coffeene. In fact, his first order was business was to brew a fresh pot right now...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Crossed Swords

They were speeding across the dunes as fast as the ARC-170 would go. It was late, still a few hours from dawn, but there was no time to waste. Jeht's pulse was racing but he wasn't the reason for this haste, nor was Maya. This wasn't about either of them; they were acting on someone else's behalf now, assuming they could reach him in time.

This was about Vaaro.

Behind him, Jeht heard Maya's worried voice. "I knew I should have insisted he stay in the desert. Damn it."

He flipped his comm switch. "Do not give in to doubt and guilt. Remember what I have been teaching you. This is not your fault. It isn't Vaaro's fault. The blame, not that blame matters, lies firmly with the Scarlet Wake."

There was silence for a few seconds, then, "Can this thing go any faster?"

Darrus would have smiled in amusement if it was his habit to be amused. As it was, he gave her a technical answer by way of light mirth. "Not unless you want me to activate the hyperdrive and tear our a square kilometer of this planet's atmosphere as we hurtle towards that moon in the distance at instantly fatal speed."

Maya snorted behind him. "That would be no, then."

Four minutes later, they screamed over the outskirts of Mos Espa and touched down. Maya, "Echo" since she was wearing her combat outfit, was already running by the time Jeht shut down the engines and pulled on his new helmet. That completed his persona, "Wraith", and he climbed out of the fighter. She would need support, though not as much as he would have first thought. She was tougher by far than he's first believed, tougher than even she knew.

Still, enough blasters were enough to take down any one and he suspected she was running towards a pretty large group of them. They'd learned from slicing into the Wake's Tatooine computer network of the hate organization's current targets. As soon as the words "Transverse Tavern" came up on the screen, Maya's been in motion.

Thus the late night flight across the desert. Maya's bar was in danger. Her friends were in danger. The screen hadn't shown the Transverse as a sabotage or vandalism mission. Tonight's mission was in a different file.

The one marked "Eradication".

They reached the back door of the Transverse Tavern together, despite Maya's considerable head start. The metal portal was open, a small electronic codebreaker attached to its lock. The Wake thugs were already inside, assuming they weren't already gone. Jeht looked at Maya, panic awash over her face.

"Control your fear. Do not let yourself feel hate."

She nodded, knowing he was right. She calmed herself as best she could. It was enough. They did not have time for more.

Then they were through the door and heading past the kitchen shelves. The back room was a total shambles; the Wake might not have been here for vandalism but they were doing a good job of it regardless. Jeht could see that, to keep herself calm, Maya was focusing on adding up the cost of repairing all this damage. It amused him but now wasn't the time to tell her so.

They encountered the first Waker at the door of the kitchen. He did not see them; they saw him. Maya and Jeht both knew that if they were going to keep infiltrating the Scarlet Wake, no one here could see them and live to tell the tale. The ramifications of what would happen when the Scarlet Wake failed to kill everyone here would have to be dealt with later. Sometimes, you just had to save your friends and pick up the pieces later.

Jeht paused, his hand on the wrapped hilt of his blade. He'd taken an oath not to kill again, one he took seriously. He knew he would someday have to break that oath. His life wasn't one that promoted pacifism, after all, but could he really set aside his aversion to killing so soon. Could he really...?

Before he could even finished the thought, Maya slipped up behind the Waker, grabbed his mouth to silence any screams, and drove the blade of her vibroknife through his spine right between his shoulderblades. The man was dead in an instant, slumping into her arms to be dragged out of the doorway. Maya pulled him into the meat locker, closed the cold door, and gave Darrus an emotionless look. "You coming?"

He nodded sharply and stepped into her shadow. He was unwilling to slay just yet, so she was handling that for him. Somehow, it didn't make him feel any better. He was still a killer, but now it was by proxy. He appreciated her devotion, but was this really any better?

There were two more in the main room of the tavern itself. One was standing behind the polished wood bar; the other was crouched in the stairwell, obviously acting as lookout. That was a good sign. It meant the assassins upstairs were not done yet. There was still a chance to save someone.

They would have to work together. Maya's sympathetic rapport for Jeht's mind served them in good stead. He did not have to tell her to go for the one at the bar; she just dropped low and used the room's clutter for cover as she crawled that way. Jeht let her get close before moving. There would be no chance for subtlety; this was a situation that demanded speed.

Speed he could handle. Touching the Force, he moved with the haste of a diving raptor. Before the lookout could move, Jeht was across the room and on him. Moving like his namesake, he was a shadow, a spectre. The Waker had just enough time to breathe in before a Jedi's knee drove into his throat. There would be no cry of alarm, nor any other sound either. The lookout was unconscious before Jeht landed on his feet.

He knew Maya would be all right; there were others to worry about right now. Halfway up the stairs, Jeht's senses screamed for him to dodge. There was no hesitation; he simply did as the Force willed. Against the wall in less than a second, Jeht narrowly avoided a thick metal shell hurtling through the air on a plume of flame.

The missile flew through the space where he was and impacted the base of the stairwell. It exploded, tearing the unconscious thug apart and blasting out the wall of the tavern. Smoke poured out and the night poured in. The Scarlet Wake's mission was no longer viable. A quiet slaughter was no longer an option. From the "dammit" Darrus heard in the shadows above him, the Waker with the launcher had figured that out as well.

"Feh! Let's go!" Jeht heard him hiss angrily. That meant there was more than one thug up there. He pivoted low and ran up the stairs with inhuman speed. The man with the rocket gun was already clearing out of the hall but he could not move fast enough to avoid what was coming. Jeht's blade cleared its scabbard with an aria of violence, slashing through the air and cleaving the metal of the Waker's heavy weapon. The barrel fell impotently away from its wooden stock, ruined and smoking.

The Waker turned and reacted with a predictable but effective attack, striking where Jeht had been with the sundered handle of his launcher. Jeht wasn't there any longer, moving to the side faster than the man's eyes could track. Reversing his sword's blade, Jeht smashed the Waker with the blunt end of its grip. The sound of his splintering nose was loud enough to be heard over the hypnotic hum of songsteel.

Sputtering blood, the man dropped to his knees. Darrus Jeht would have let the man go but most launchers had night vision scopes. Unsure what the Waker had seen before firing his rocket, Jeht couldn't risk him reporting back home. Thus, he'd have to be silenced. Regrettable, but there was no other option.

Before he could decide how to quiet the man, there was another danger. At the end of the upstairs hall, there was a black-clad figure slipping out an open window. Darrus pulled his blaster pistol and snapped off a quick shot. The stun bolt lit the darkness down the hall, slamming into the resistant padding of the man's thinsuit. The jacket was dense enough to ward off the majority of the blast's effect, only slowing him as he fell past the window sill and into the street outside.

No time to waste. Darrus was past the downed thug and out the window a moment later, dropping to the road in a heavy, Force-assisted crouch. His legs were charged with power, absorbing the impact of his landing like coiled durasteel springs.

In the next second, that power proved to be useless as he had to leap into the air to avoid a lance of blue light. The escaping figure had a blaster of his own, using it as he ran to send stun bolts of his own. Darrus avoided them, dancing aside as he raced in pursuit. By the time the running Waker reached a parked speeder bike and leaped into its seat, Jeht was almost on him.

The roar of a repulsor engine stopped Darrus short, the force of its exhaust throwing him several meters backwards. He ducked and rolled to avoid injury but the damage was already done to his chase. The figure was getting away at high speed, quickly becoming a fleeting shape, ever smaller, on the dark horizon. In another few seconds, he would be gone for good. Jeht could not allow that to happen.

He tilted his shoulder, letting the heavy rifle slung across his back fall free into his hands. It was a difficult shot, nearly impossible for any normal marksman. What Darrus lacked in honed skill with the weapon, he made up for training of another kind. There would be a moment when his gun would be aimed precisely right, when he would hit if he fired. He let that moment to come to him and when it did, when the Force said shoot, he shot.

A beam of violent violet split the shadows of the night, leaping from his rifle to the back of the hurtling bike. Even now he could not bring himself to kill; the shot was meant for the speeder and that's where it landed. Metal and ceramic ablated under the beam's inexorable assault. There was a plume of smoke and the rider leaped free just before the vehicle exploded.

In all likelihood, the thug was dead. Darrus knew that and he regretted the necessity. Even so, he had to be sure. Reslinging the rifle, he drew his sword and ran towards the flaming debris and the still, silent body of his quarry. He was close enough to the figure to make out the lines on his combat thinsuit when there was a sudden motion beneath it. Somehow, the rider was both still alive and active enough to defend himself.

Darrus had just enough warning to try and leap clear before an entire belt of stun grenades, their pins all pulled, went off in his face. He tumbled and fell, ionic energies wracking his body, muscles firing and pulsing out of control. By the time he hit the ground, Jeht could barely move other than to writhe in unwilling agony.

The rider stood up painfully, obviously injured by his crash. Blaster pistol still clutched in one bleeding hand, the masked rider flipped its switch from stun to kill, cycling the blaster's gasses through its deadlier lasing chamber. Step by limping, aching step, he closed the distance between them.

"I'm sorry but I can't... uhhnn... I can't let you jeopardize my mission. There's too much at stake here." He stopped just out of arm's reach, an unnecessary precaution given Jeht's utter inability to control his body. "I am in too deep with the Wake to lose it all now. I won't let you stop me from taking them down." And with that, he brought the blaster down to point at Jeht's forehead. A mercy shot.

Darrus would have appreciated the gesture but he was determined to make his own kind of mercy. He couldn't move his body but the Force was another matter. A meter away, he could feel the familiar echoes of his songsteel sword. He closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, gathering the weapon in the tendrils of a sudden, raging storm.

As the rider tensed his finger on his blaster's trigger, a blur raced between him and victim. His pistol fell from his hand, cut nearly in half by a flying blade. The curved sword lifted into the air, wielded by lines of rippling electricity and surrounded by sheering, whirling winds. It rushed into the space between the rider and Jeht, warding its prone master with its deadly, howling edge.

The man stepped backwards, body tensed as he looked at the weapon, studying it carefully. His eyes widened suddenly and he turned to run, heading into the dunes as quickly as his feet could move. Darrus had not yet recovered from the stun flash and though his powers could wield his sword quick skillfully in his defense, there was a limit to his range. Too pained and shaken to pursue, he resigned himself to the strange man's escape. It couldn't be helped.

By the time he regained feeling in his limbs and could stand, Jeht heard the roar of a speeder coming closer. It was Maya, likely driving something stolen, and she wasn't alone. Piled in the back of the vehicle, she had all of her people from the tavern including a very unconscious, drooling Rodian. NOT a pretty sight.

"Darrus!" she called out, leaping out of the speeder and rushing to his side as soon as she'd stopped. The flickers of lightning around his sword were fading as it drifted to his own hand. He sheathed it and leaned into her supportive arms. "Are you all right?!?"

He nodded. "I will live. How about them?"

Maya looked relieved, then bewildered as she pointed at Vaaro. "He's been drugged. They all have. Not killed, but comatose. They looked dead, but they weren't. Someone went out of their way not to kill them."

It took a moment, but then everything made sense to him. Jeht touched her face affectionately and let her help him to the speeder. "I think we have an ally in the Scarlet Wake, not that he knows it yet." In response to her quizzical look, he continued, "I do not know who he is, but the one I chased down is working against them too."

Maya jumped into the driver's seat and swung the vehicle around. "So we crashed someone else's party?"

He sighed. "Looks that way, yes. We need to get the girls and Vaaro to a safehouse and then head back before we are missed. I do not think we have much time."

His partner looked determined as she expertly whipped the speeder through the streets of Mos Espa. "Not to worry. I was planning on doing this eventually anyway. I've got a friend who owes me a ton of credits. I'll take her putting these three up instead. She should be thrilled at the exchange rate."

Darrus nodded but in truth, his mind was a million parsecs away, pondering the events of the night. Who was the man in the thinsuit? Who was he working for? And would he be an ally...

Or just a different kind of enemy?