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?

3 comments:

erisraven said...

So, 'Wraith' and 'Echo' are not the only infiltrators in the Wake. That actually kind of says bad things. If the Wake's not already down, there must either be good luck or real skill working on their side. I'm pretty sure I don't like either answer.

Zay said...

Unflinching right hand indeed. :)

Tarek said...

That would depend on the kind of infiltration that's being done, and what the goals are... if the infiltrator just wanted to shut down the Tatooine chapter, then that person already has enough information to take 'em down.

The impression I got was that the Wake was being run very professionally, at the higher organizational levels.