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.
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.