Gannarsen did not like to wait, especially when there was a deadline looming over his head. The Scarlet Wake was a delicate organization, no matter how much it looked to outsiders like a simple hate group. He knew what its real purpose was, after all - at least its real purpose on Tatooine.
Since earning his rank as Red Two on Tattooine, he'd begun to realize there was more going on than what he'd been told before. Timed actions, coordinated attacks and specific messages in particular places all guided by an external authority; these pointed to a larger plan. Before being told about Operation: Planetfall, he had assumed the greater scheme was being orchestrated by Red One but now...
Now he had his doubts. Red One, in the conversation that revealed what the Scarlet Wake intended to do during Operation: Planetfall, honestly sounded to him like the shadowy, helmeted figure was relaying the actions to him on behalf of someone else. Someone above Red one?
Gannar had been in the Wake since its formation a year ago on this backwater world. He'd originally believed it was just on Tatooine but he knew better now. There were chapters on Sullust, Coruscant, Corellia and at least four other planets. In his entire time with the brotherhood, he'd never been given a reason to suspect a higher authority than Red One. But now, if his suspicion was correct, there was a leader above the one he answered to - a hidden mastermind with a penchant for violence and destruction far beyond his imagination.
Operation: Planetfall had shocked him when he'd heard about it. After getting over his surprise, the idea of it appealed to him on so many levels. Not only would it be a terrible blow to one alien race, the residual fallout would cripple the non-human hold on Tatooine. Yes, a few of the one true race would die in this attack but it was a sacrifice worth making. Worth their lives and worth the priceless technology he would have to devote to the attack.
Speaking of sacrifices, it was time to call in his would-be martyrs. The time was O:P - 3 hours, precisely when he was told to begin the mission. Of course, the people he would use for Planetfall would have no idea they were being spent permanently but afterwards, he would ensure they were remembered as willing, patriotic Wakers.
It was the least he could do.
"I need to know where we are going." Darrus was using his mechanical Wraith voice again. Maya always felt a chill run up her spine when she heard it. Hissing and menacing, the voice was one of Vaaro's nicest touches on the Jedi's costume. Its effect on others was also interesting to watch.
Their escort, a Zabrak woman named Slash, shuddered. She was doing her best not to quail from Wraith's impassive, intimidating presence as it was; Jeht's "evil" voice wasn't making that any easier.
The three of them were racing on swoop bikes across the sand dunes of the Jungian Wastes as fast as their repulsorlift engines could move. The clock was ticking. They had two hours and forty one minutes left to accomplish what seemed like the impossible. Even if it was something they could do, it was certainly unthinkable.
Maya, "Echo" to the Scarlet Wake, missed the Zabrak's shaky response because she was lost in her musings. Their mission was more horrible that anything she could have expected the hate group to ask of them. She'd been mentally prepared to kill if it was required. In the Rebellion, she'd killed Imperial forces several times. She hated the idea of killing someone innocent, but taking down the Wake was worth it if she had to do so.
Of course, she was also willing to kill because she could tell Darrus was struggling with his own violent nature. Saving him from having to kill by taking the burden upon herself was a decision she'd made when she first agreed to be his partner. She wanted more than that, much more, but the Scarlet Wake had kept them from discussing such things.
There would be time for talking after the Wake was in flames. As far as Echo was concerned, that couldn't happen soon enough.
She didn't come back to the present until the shadow of a mountain darkened her surrounds. They were racing towards the rock face at full speed, something that didn't seem to disturb Slash at all. Wraith was impossible to read as usual. She suppressed her concern and trusted in him. If he was going to ram the mountain, so would she.
Even so, she still closed her eyes just as they hit...
Except they didn't. Almost instantly, she opened her eyes to see a nearly circular shaft arching up in front of her. The other two swoops were moving ahead, increasing in speed. Breathing again, she did the same. In less than a minute, they emerged into a large chamber with a high peaked roof. The ceiling was obviously hinged and connected to motors.
The room was a huge hanger and landing port, hidden in a mountain in the deepest wastelands of Tatooine. As impressive as that was, it wasn't what had her attention.
He was standing next to his hovering bike, staring at a row of large shapes, covered in metallic tarpaulins. The corners of the tarps were linked with a suspension chain, energized and caught in a power field. Whatever was under the silver sheets obviously required a lot of security. Two massive auto-cannons, already locked on her and Jeht, emphasized that point quite well.
"What... what's under there?"
Maya blinked. Darrus wasn't using the voice augment. Something had him either distracted or disturbed. The odds of Slash being sensitive to the Force were slim, slim enough to risk letting her abilities unfold. If he was upset, she wanted to know why. Closing her eyes again, she opened her senses.
And almost instantly recoiled! There was something here, several somethings, coiled and waiting. A low, simmering aggression filled the hanger, centered under the huge reflective curtains. Whatever rested beneath them was, in some bizarre and hostile way, alive!
Wraith walked toward the powered field, slight flickers of electricity arcing between the tarps and his armor. The Zabrak looked alarmed and started to move forward but he raised his hand and she stopped in her tracks.
Now he used his darker voice. "What is under here?"
Slash looked down for a moment, steeling her resolve before answering. "This is a secret armory of the Scarlet Wake, sir. Mister Gannarsen asked me to bring you here to equip you for your mission. You..."
"I did not ask for a briefing. What is under here?" The flashes of lightning were now leaping along his entire body; he was almost through the power field, less than a foot from the shimmering sheet.
"Mister Gannarsen wanted me to provide you with a way to reach your mission objective, sir." Her tone was curt and withdrawn; her emotional state was a few seconds from collapsing in fear. Darrus wasn't shielding well right now and he was obviously angry. Taking a deep breath, Maya reached out with her mind and ignored the sensations beneath the tarps long enough to soothe the frightened Zabrak.
"We already have a vehicle." As he spoke, he turned to stare at Slash. All the woman could see was black metal and her own terrified face.
Damn it. He wasn't helping. What was upsetting him so much? "Wraith, she can't help us if you melt her brain. We don't have time for this." Maya fought to kept her tone calm, mostly because she wasn't immune to his intensity either. He was furious, not that she knew the reason for it.
Fortunately, he reacted to her better than the pleading eyes of the Zabrak. "Of... course." He turned away and stepped back out of the field. His armor was steaming, unharmed but still crackling across its smaller plates.
That broke his spell of fear over the woman, long enough at least for her to move across the room to a small console. Quickly pushing a series of code keys, she brought down the energy protections and deactivated the guided cannons overhead. A moment later, a crane activated above them and started to come down over the shape in front of Wraith. His attention was locked on it, tension evident in his almost-trembling stance.
Maya moved closer to him, whispering, "Wraith, what's wrong?"
He didn't respond.
He flinched slightly. That was the extend of his reaction. Then the curtain came up.
What was revealed was both shocking and confusing, a tangle of metal and cables nearly spherical in shape. It was more than six meters wide, covered in armored panels and seemed to contain a massive amount of droid actuators and electronics. Though it was oddly vicious looking despite its obviously compressed form, there was no apparent reason for Jeht's reaction to it. What was going on?
The crane moved to the left, revealing another dark metal sphere. "Please," the Zabrak woman said quietly, as if she didn't want to attract attention to herself. "Remove your helmets and use the retina scanners to activate the droids."
Darrus did not even hesitate. Maya was worried that he would risk his identity by revealing his face but she did the same. Helmets off, she followed his lead and approached the huge metal ball in front of her. There were several objects embedded in its front plating, only one of which looked like an optic of any sort. A small red light flickered to life in its depths as she approached.
Looking into the glass-shrouded aperture, Maya was prepared when the red glow flared brighter and scanned her retina. It was vaguely painful but she knew it was coming.
What she wasn't prepared for was the giant metal ball to lurch to life, huge clawed arms unfolding and coming down on either side of her. A four lobed hand emerged from the plate above her, opening and slamming down like the sting of a scorpion. In less than a heartbeat, the dark steel hand closed around her head, driving a thin needle from its 'palm' directly into her brain!
Slash finally dared to open her eyes. She's cringed away as soon as the battle droids started moving. The sounds of their screeching steel joints had been like a banshee's wail, unnerving her even more than she was already. Being an essentially enslaved alien technician for a human's only hate group was hard enough; dealing with bizarre, lethal technology she only barely understood was almost more than she could take.
Once she realized the droid were not rampaging around the hangar and that the bounty hunter wasn't about to kill her, she calmed down enough to look up.
Both Wraith and Echo were laying on the ground, bleeding from their foreheads while two massive death machines towered over them - motionless gargoyles of metal and shadows. Mister Gannarsen had warned her about this. The droids were waiting for their bonding implants to burrow into the two human's cerebral cortexes.
She didn't envy them. This was obviously a painful process, judging by the way they were twitching and writhing on the ground. For a moment, she was worried for their safety...
Then it occurred to her. They were unconscious, but she knew they would be waking up soon. The droids would not respond to her if she didn't approach them, something she had no intention of doing. The base's defenses were all deactivated at the moment to allow the droids to integrate with its control systems and open the roof doors when they were ready to leave.
All that, and she was all alone with three swoop bikes...
"Good luck, you two!" Slash yelled over her shoulder as she raced across the desert. Away from the mountain base. Away from the Jungian Wastes...
...and as far away from the Scarlet Wake as she could get.