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08.27.2012 , 11:49 AM |
@iamthehoyden I like your Gault. I never hear anybody talking about Gault, but I like yours.
@Morgani Brei! Quit it!
for my femSmuggler Nic. Spoilers for a Republic questline on Hoth. (Yum.) 2500 words.
"No," said Corso into the pillow.
"Yes," I said, and yanked at his arm again.
"It'll be warmer when we get paid."
He turned his head, just enough for his mouth to clear the pillow. "You know I trust you, captain, but I'm not entirely sure you're right about that."
"I will otherwise make it worth your while?" I tried.
"Hm." He smiled that ridiculously cute smile. "Okay."
We left the girls to work on the
and headed out to Senth Outpost, the Republic place we'd been referred to for odd jobs while our big game plodded onward. I couldn't wait to get off Hoth. Like I said, big game, but the in-between stuff was just miserable, and it paid in millicredits.
We reached Senth and found the guy in charge conferring with an Imperial. Slick dark hair, big dark eyes, killer fit uniform. Body. Uniform. Whatever. The way some Imperials wear it, it's hard to tell the difference. I think hot officers are the way the Empire makes up for all their Sith Lords being on the far grotesque end of ugly.
The Republic guy, Lieutenant Kieral, waved us over. "The contractors Command sent along, aren't you? Welcome."
"What's an Imperial doing here?" blurted Corso. My boyfriend, the diplomat.
The Imperial took it in stride. "Captain Biron," he said, in an accent I can't really describe except in terms of the weakness it left in my knees. He bowed slightly. "I am here to discuss the matter of a common enemy."
"The Hailstorm Brotherhood," said Kieral. "That's what you two are here for. The commander didn't send me your names...?"
"Captain Nic," I supplied. I saved the eye contact for Biron and offered a hand. With a small amused smile he shook it. "This is my associate Corso Riggs."
"Her partner," clarified Corso, glaring at Biron. The officer's small amused smile stayed on.
"So," I said, "Hailstorm Brotherhood. I've heard of them. Extreme survivalist club, isn't it? Not quite right in the head?"
"Right in the head or not," said Biron – oh, I wanted him talking, that liquid thing he did with his 'o's was just delectable – "they pose a significant danger to both this facility and our own Thesh outpost. And neither of us has the power to remove them on our own. Hence I was just proposing a joint strike on their fortress, the Chilling Death Spire."
I burst out laughing. "The Chilling Death Spire?"
"That's what I said when I first came here," said Kieral. "But it's no joke."
"Exact objective once we get the gate?" I asked Biron. I had no interest in listening to the Republic guy jabber.
"We're after their leader, one Master Sav. He is the prime threat, the Brotherhood's leader and motivator. The plan is for me to accompany my squad while Kieral sends a squad under Sergeant Katcho. We will rendezvous first thing in the morning, enter the Spire, and eliminate Master Sav. For now, I should be on my way." Biron nodded courteously to Lieutenant Kieral and walked off. I watched him go until Corso cleared his throat. I gave Corso a sheepish look – I was working on that behavior, honest – and we moved on.
In the morning I rose early, ate fast, and settled down to clean my blasters. You need everything in tight order under Hoth's conditions. The ice blows any flaw into an equipment-killer within hours.
A big guy walked up to me and settled on the chair across from me. "Merc, right? Captain Nic?"
I greeted him with a smile. "That's me."
"Sergeant Katcho. I'll be leading the Republic squad in today's 'joint operation'."
"Fantastic. Hope you like ice with your ice."
"The plan's not quite what Kieral described."
"Here's the thing, uh, Nic. I know this Biron guy. He's as bad as Imperials get, and his specialty is traps. By my guess, he'll use us to clear out the Brotherhood, then wipe us out. I intend to strike before that happens."
"That's a tad more bloodshed than I signed on for, Sarge."
"I'll make it worth your while. Above and beyond your fee for showing up. Will you be ready to help when the time comes?"
For the Republic? For another fifty credits or whatever this joker would pay? Against a truly intriguing individual who might be able to hook me up with better work? "Yeah," I said. "I'll be ready." Just not necessarily in the way he expected.
When we hit the yard, Corso's speeder wouldn't start up. I took a quick look and found the inner motivator casing had cracked in the cold. Corso immediately went to Kieral for a loaner, but Kieral insisted everything else around was for the troops' use. No merc was going to ride off with one.
"I'll ride with you," Corso told me.
"Out here? We don't have the fuel to carry both of us there and back, hon. Hold down the fort around here, okay?"
"I don't like you going out there alone."
"You never do. I'll live. Promise."
"Nic, this isn't –"
"I can handle it," I snapped. And immediately regretted it. I hated lashing that sad look into those puppy eyes. It's just that sometimes he's so…stifling.
"Be careful," he told me.
"Always." I kissed his nose and let him kiss mine. And kept my relief to myself. To be honest, with what I expected to go down, it would be good to have him out of the crossfire.
We met with the Imperial squad a couple of clicks away from the Trying Too Hard Spire itself. It was a huge thing, tall, narrow, built entirely from ice by the Brotherhood cultists. I guess everybody has to have a hobby.
While the troops did a weapons check, I meandered over to where Biron was staring up at the spire. "Fine morning," I offered.
"Clear and windless? As fine as Hoth gets. For once we won't be battling the elements in addition to the Brotherhood."
"I'm impressed you came out here. Most Republic commanders I've dealt with have been giving orders from heated offices."
"The Empire does things differently," he said with a small sly smile.
"The guys who go out there hands-on, they get things done." I let myself look him over before continuing. "If the Empire does pay grades differently we might talk after this job."
"I was under the impression that the Republic sponsored your work."
"Not exclusively. Just that I don't have a whole lot of other contacts here. If I were here for ideology I'd be in uniform."
"In that case, we might talk afterward."
"Good. Good. Look, since we're getting along so well, there's something you should know."
"And what's that?"
"My sergeant friend there wants to make trouble. Seems he thinks you're going to pull something once we've taken Sav down. And he thinks a preemptive strike is a great idea."
Biron shot Katcho a dirty look. "I wish I could say I'm surprised," he said.
"Thought you should know. Be ready."
When he looked back at me, those big dark eyes were like twin blaster barrels with the first gleam of a shot coming up in them. "What's your interest in this?"
"Told you, I'm scouting for new business opportunities. Plus I don't like that kind of double-dealing. I plan on standing against whoever opens fire."
"Well, then. Thank you for the warning."
Katcho called go. I tucked my scarf over my face and we got moving.
The Spire was a hard fight, enough to keep my blasters hot for a couple of hours straight. Master Sav awaited us at the top; Sparkles and Flashy interrupted him after ten seconds of monologue, since really, I wasn't there to hear about his philosophy.
The minute Sav was down, the Imperials started off in different directions to secure side rooms. Sergeant Katcho moved up by me and talked into his comlink. "All units, find an Imperial. Reinforce their positions with small arms. Move out." Katcho nodded at me. "Showtime."
He swung his cannon to point at Captain Biron. I shot the sergeant before he could pull the trigger.
The place exploded with blaster fire in all directions. I took cover and picked off my share of the backstabbing 'Pubs. Every shot felt more like it was time for a change of scene.
I saw a couple of Imps pointing my way once the Republic squad was down. "Hold up, hold up!" I yelled. Biron raised a hand and the shooting stopped. "I'm not part of your squabble."
"Captain?" said one of the Imperial troopers.
Biron looked at me for a too-long moment, then dropped his hand. "Hold your fire. The mercenary is coming with us. Lower your weapons, miss."
I fell in line with them. Biron walked beside me. "I take it you won't want to brave the snows back to Senth alone. Come warm up with us; we'll talk from there."
"Sounds good to me." I could negotiate getting home later.
So I went with the Imps back to Thesh Outpost. I'd never been in an Imperial military facility before; funnily enough, the risk-reward analysis on those always comes out STAY AWAY AT ALL COSTS. What I saw on the way in indicated that the place didn't get any softer once you were past the outer defenses.
Biron sent his men about their business, including one to report Katcho's aggression to the Republic outpost, and then gestured for me to come into a conference room. I got the distinct impression that this conversation would have major implications for my life expectancy.
I liked the way he was looking at me, though. "Thank you again," he said. "Your tip was very helpful."
"My pleasure. I didn't like the smell of the deal they offered me."
"Nor the credits, I imagine."
"Yeah." I gave him another bold look. " They'd have to pay me a lot more than they were offering to have me mess up a face like yours."
"I'm flattered." He returned the look, and suddenly that entitled air Imps get sometimes started oozing through his cordiality. "You know, this visit doesn't have to be all business."
I would've been worried or creeped out or something, except I really didn't have a problem with the idea. Corso wouldn't like it, but I was trapped in here with zero support, so his preferences would have to wait. "You read my mind, captain."
We were just getting dressed when somebody pounded on the door to his quarters. "A moment," called Biron. The knocking continued.
Biron struggled to tuck in his shirt. "Come in, then." The door slid open. There, between a pair of troopers, was Corso Riggs.
He took one look at the bed and glared daggers at Biron. "Am I interrupting?" he said tensely.
The trooper on the left spoke. "He's from the Republic base, sir. Says he's here to negotiate the merc's release. He was…very insistent."
"Yes, of course." Biron joined his hands behind his back and smiled thinly. "The incident your people instigated was an outrage and there will be words with your superiors, but happily, the civilian contractor did survive." I kept my head high and my eyes on Corso. He didn't know what to do just yet, but at least determination was ahead of anger so far. "It would be not only an outrage but a tragedy to lose someone of her...skills."
Hm. Yeah. He had to get that shot in. Corso winced. "If she's free to go," he said, "I'm done here."
"Of course." Biron turned his attention to me and bowed. "We'll talk, miss, if you have any further concerns."
"Works for me." I scooped my blasters up from beside his bunk, fitted them back in their holsters, and swept past Corso, out through the base into the trackless white.
We grabbed our speeders. I adjusted my helmet for a snug fit, mounted up, and accelerated alongside Corso in the direction of the Republic base.
We hit comfortable cruising speed, then Corso kept pushing. I sped up to stay with him and he just kept going faster: past safe visibility, past safe turning, very close to the edge of sustainable motivator operation. Well, fine then. I kept pace. For a minute or more there was only the streaming roar of the wind and the strain of my nerves against a world coming at me too fast.
Then, abruptly, he braked. Hard enough that I feared my neck might snap when I braked alongside him. We lurched to a halt, leaving a slick trail of icemelt behind us.
Corso took off his helmet. I took off mine. It was best to get this done now, away from witnesses.
I decided to forestall the first and lesser accusation. "After that fight he would've killed me."
"I heard you, Nic. You weren't scared and that wasn't some kind of desperate move."
"If it wasn't convincing it wouldn't work. Imps don't give good terms to sobbing victims."
He shook his head. "The world through your eyes. I keep thinking you'll change, but...you never do, do you?"
"I've been trying!" Mostly, when I wasn't bored.
"Not hard enough. Even before you went for this mission, the way you talked to him, and then this...." He paused and seemed to struggle with his thoughts. "Why were you the only Republic person to survive?"
"Because I surrendered?"
"And they just decided to play nice, huh? Did you even fight for our side?"
And here was the limit of what coming clean could help with. "Yes," I lied. "Look, I tried to prevent a dustup. On both sides. Ask the captain if you don't believe me."
"You'll forgive me if I don't take the Imperial's word. And then you..." He threw up his hands. "Did you plan this from the beginning? With him? For some hugely profitable reason I can't figure out?"
"Of course not. Now you're being paranoid."
"Maybe I'm paranoid, but you're the sole survivor and you just slept with the enemy who did it! Is that why you left me behind? So you could...no. No. If you walk into our base and expect anybody to do anything less than arrest you...that's your warning, okay? I'm out of here. We're done. Don't wait up for me, and don't come looking for me."
He started moving before he had his helmet fully on. I could only stare as he vanished into the windblown snow.
Did he mean it? Probably not. Still, the sheer excitement I had felt with Biron...and Corso was getting awfully hung up on the Republic angle. Perhaps it was time to do things my way. For the first time in a while.
I swung wide of the Republic outpost just in case he was serious about arrest. Now that things were settling, I realized my heart was pounding. If he was gone, really gone, that changed everything. And, I thought, I liked that prospect. I liked it a lot.
It was about time I stopped asking permission to live.
I gave that romance line a fair shot! Sort of. Nope, can't do nice boys with my id-driven mercenary nor possessive boys at all. So yeah, I had to get rid of this companion plot.
Corso does get seriously hostile if you insist on going your own way. It was really, really unpleasant to play, and I never pushed his conversation line past 6k affection.
Nic never had any reason to avoid the Empire, apart from disliking getting Force shocked. As for finding officers attractive, well, yes, the author has a type. :P
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