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...