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11.30.2012 , 09:35 PM |
Lodestone: Allies II
, and almost certainly not the last. This one was extraordinarily difficult to write for some reason. Spoilers for Warrior Act 3. 2200 words.
Wynston, having no reason to demonstrate his wrist console's full capabilities in front of Jaesa, accepted the console she gave him access to in the holo room. He got to work mapping and gathering certain files on the allies Ruth had today and may not have tomorrow.
Jaesa passed back and forth a few times. Finally she stopped and called Wynston's name.
He looked up. "Yes?"
"I'm going to bring Captain Quinn through in just a moment. I have to ask you not to start anything."
She disappeared in the direction of the cargo hold and came back only moments later with Quinn in tow.
He looked thinner than Wynston remembered. In fact, between the civilian clothes, the hollow cheeks, and the haunted eyes, he was only confirmably Quinn by process of elimination. The rigid poise hadn't changed, and he was still immaculately groomed. But there was a slave collar on that stiff neck. It was an enjoyable sight.
He didn't look Wynston's way as Jaesa escorted him across the holo room toward the refresher. On his return trip, though, he slowed and faced Wynston with eyes that spoke of desperation shaped into something fine and brilliant and deadly. "Agent Wynston," he said calmly.
Jaesa stopped. "Captain, you shouldn't talk to him."
"She's right," said Wynston. "I have nothing to say to you."
"Come on." Jaesa gestured back down towards the cargo hold and its improvised brig.
"I have something to say to you," Quinn continued, "and it would be to your benefit to hear. I assure you, I have no intention of starting trouble."
"What makes you think I won't?" said Wynston.
"The Wrath's goodwill is too precious a currency to spend on harming me. Come." He tilted his head as if inviting Wynston to a place that he owned instead of a prison cell he happened to live in.
Unfortunately he was right about the inadvisability of harming him. Curiosity prompted Wynston to follow. "Miss Jaesa, I give you my word I'll behave. You realize, Quinn, I'll be reporting anything you have to say."
"I expect no less." His gaze flicked to Jaesa. "Some privacy, if you would, Jaesa."
Jaesa accompanied them both to the cargo hold partition that served as brig anyway. She gave Wynston a startlingly hard look. "I know you mean well, just…remember, if anything happens to him, it won't be good for her."
"'Anything' won't happen," Wynston assured her. "Thank you."
She closed the door, leaving the two men alone.
Wynston crossed his arms and faced Quinn across the cramped space. "Talk."
He settled into a professional stance and spoke quickly, crisply. "I don't know what the Wrath has told you about my actions and I have no interest in hearing your impression. I betrayed her. At my former master Darth Baras's command I prepared an ambush, lured her into it, and attempted to kill her. I failed. Now I am held here, and she as before is occupied with her struggle against him."
How dutiful a recitation. "I really don't know where to start commenting on that. What's your point?"
"My point is that I still possess knowledge of value regarding Baras's methods and resources. The Wrath is not disposed toward listening; neither is her crew. It's far from my preference to deal with you, but you are in theory a professional and as such should be pragmatic enough to recognize that a tainted source is sometimes better than none."
"Hm. No, not really, I have trouble imagining how you could be better than none of anything." Wynston gestured to forestall Quinn's defense. "You say you know things? Fine. Tell me something I can use against Baras."
"I have no explicit lists of resources, names, locations. I didn't need to know those things. My familiarity is with his methods; give me what data you have and I'll give you a better prediction and recommended counterstrike than anything her staff could produce."
"I'm sorry, I thought you were talking to me because I would recognize a
idea when I heard one. You're not getting one word about what we're doing now."
"You would force the Wrath into the greatest battle of her life blind?"
"I was never the one blinding her."
"I don't have time to elaborate on how false that statement is, though I will ask you to recall how long it took you to tell her your real name. The fact is, the Wrath still stands at a disadvantage in her struggle against Darth Baras. I think even you have enough familiarity with the situation to know that she will need every available resource to win the battle ahead. I know you don't have enough familiarity with the situation to be all the resource she needs."
"So long as we're discussing resources, you seem to be talking right around the fact that you dramatically threw in your lot with the other side. It's somewhat undercutting your credibility here."
Quinn tightened his jaw. "I no longer serve him."
"Easily said. Easily gone back on once you're free. I'm not giving you a second chance to carry out your orders."
"That's not your decision," snapped Quinn. "As the first wasn't mine. I served what I believed best for the Empire. That meant Baras, in all his power, experience, and projected influence. Circumstances have since changed. The only correct thing to do going forward is to support the Wrath."
"Support her? You think anything you could possibly do, apart from dropping dead, could influence her for the better now? Your wife won't forget your effort to tear her to pieces as quickly as you seem to. Do you have any idea what you did to her?"
The officer's expression stayed frozen. "More than you could know."
"Than I could know?" Quinn wasn't the one who had seen her fighting like blood and darkness. Quinn wasn't the one who heard her begging in her sleep for a mercy Quinn's confrontation would never give. Quinn had never once asked her to dance any place that wasn't a battlefield. He had never tried to know the girl and he wasn't caught watching the fury. Wynston struggled to keep his voice level. "My understanding of the matter isn't in question."
"Quite right; it's no use questioning what isn't there. Your priorities render it singularly difficult to present an argument that will sway you."
"I'll take my priorities over yours any day."
"Of that I have no doubt. Tell me, agent, what was the first thing you did when you came here? Defeated her enemies, perhaps? Offered some intelligence of value? Presented her with some critical resource?"
"Picked off several of your master's trackers, actually." Quinn was assuming some kind of sexual pursuit; Quinn was, from a certain point of view, accurate in his guess; Quinn was going to get an alternate subset of the truth rather than having his assumption validated. "Do you think I'm less at what I do just because I don't pointlessly backstab on command?"
"I think you're less for a number of reasons, none of which are relevant to the matter at hand except to say that you categorically lack the expertise to counter Baras's agents. The rest of the crew wouldn't know where to start, Darth Vowrawn has his own agenda, the Emperor's Hand has no credibility beyond what the Wrath has earned for them…" Quinn stopped, studying Wynston's face, and developed a worrisome hybrid of smile and sneer. "…oh. You were unaware of the Emperor's Hand?"
Damn. Wynston had tried not to react. "I'm still coming up to speed. I haven't been here long."
"How can you expect to win a battle when you don't even know who's fighting it? The situation with the Hand, with Corellia, and with Baras, will not be resolved by your approval or disapproval alone, and every moment of hers you waste – which is to say every moment since you came on board – brings it all closer to disaster. Recognize your limits, for her sake. You must convince her to allow me to serve."
Wynston shoved aside his initial reactions to the weighty-sounding term Ruth hadn't mentioned. This wasn't the time to back down or get sidetracked. "I won't. She wouldn't listen even if I asked. She's too wounded to hear. In case you've forgotten why you're not allowed to serve, I'll remind you that
you tried to murder her.
You were good for two things in your life and those were service to the Empire and support to her. You willfully failed at both."
"I did what I had to."
"What you had to? For whom? The Empire you keep claiming to work for? What better champion does it have than her? There's no authority with legitimate cause to remove her and even grasping scum like you should have recognized that! Or, to use a line of reasoning you may find exotic but I'll try it anyway, she was your wife. She trusted you. She loved you. She saved your life time after time and – to return to your world – she granted you a greater career advantage than anyone you've ever known, for no reason more than that she thought you were worth something." He leaned in. "That was her mistake. You take advantage of your enemies' mistakes, not those of your friends, agent."
"Captain," snapped Quinn.
"'Captain' isn't the job that put you in here."
"I wasn't free to dictate friend and enemy. I obeyed my commander, which is what responsible people do. The Empire works because that authority is clear."
"And who checks authority's responsibility? You're called to kill a woman like Ruth and you just do it? You don't look for another way to accomplish the objective? Death is never a goal in itself, not for any sane mind. It's only used to further some other cause. What goal would Ruth's death have served? What lives would it save? What secrets would it safeguard? Did you even ask?"
"I grow tired of your talk. If you walk out of here too full of self-righteousness to present my case and she is defeated because of something my knowledge could have prevented, you'll be the one who voluntarily finished the job I unwillingly started."
"You're not understanding this. You are no longer relevant, Quinn. You chose your side. You did your damage. You're out. There is no way you can possibly help."
"The campaign isn't finished yet. Even if she holds to her determination that my part in it has, tell me, has 'my damage' strengthened her?"
"That doesn't help! If she uses the pain of your betrayal to finish the fight, the Wrath that wins won't be the woman you supposedly loved."
"My feelings for the Wrath are less conditional than you seem to think, agent. So long as she is victorious I shall count myself satisfied."
"Do you think that justifies what you did?"
"No. But it's something to salvage from what I was forced to do." He paused, examining Wynston's face. "You've heard my offer. If you truly desire her victory, you'll take it."
Take his knowledge? Wynston recalled that had failed his interrogation examination during field agent training. More than once. The program's solution was to continue assigning him subjects with less and less visible cause and more and more personal similarity to himself, pressing him to properly 'break' a subject. Once he realized he couldn't just fail his way out of the lessons, he steeled himself and pulled the next subject to textbook-perfect figurative pieces, extracting exactly what his supervisors wanted to hear, and then got out of there. It was one of the matters he wasn't going to replicate when he put his own agency together.
That was over a decade ago. He wasn't proud of it. He didn't like thinking about it. He certainly didn't like repeating the techniques; the payoff had to be tremendous for him to consider it. Nevertheless, he had logged more training hours in torture than most agents of Imperial Intelligence ever did.
If Wynston were in the habit of offering specific personal anecdotes he would have offered that one. Instead he just said "If I thought you knew anything of value I would already have taken it from you, and not by asking nicely. Ruth tries to protect you, but she's too good a person to even imagine all the things she would have to forbid before I ran out of ways to hurt you."
"You were never the one who could hurt me." Quinn's mouth sneered, but his eyes were empty. "I do hope she succeeds. I hope that when your operation ends and you have no further use for her, your disappearance from her side will cause her less distress than mine did." An indefinable something cast a shadow over his face. "I have not forgotten that the closest she ever came to defeat was in one of your operations based on your faulty intelligence. If you are all the servant she is to have, you had better start living up to your own opinion of yourself.
Do not fail her again."
"I never failed her. On the occasion you mention, I was fighting on her side." Wynston stepped back to the doorway. "I'll mention our talk and make my recommendation. And she'll earn her victory, regardless of what happens to you or me. Good day, agent."
Difficult like roughly 12 rewrites difficult.
How many people
know about the Emperor's little cultist club, anyway? How much access does Imperial intelligence have to matters surrounding the Wrath and the Hand?
I remain profoundly unsatisfied with the about-face Quinn offers in game. Maybe his will to continue fighting the Warrior is just broken after one wrenching attempt and demoralizing failure. But yeah, I wouldn't believe that if he told me.
How does this Quinn/Wyn confrontation change from iterations in other times and places and other settings? Right now Quinn has definite, specific ways he can assist; he genuinely believes Ruth is in serious danger of failure, for she hasn't finished proving herself; and he hasn't had time to scab over, much less form protective scar tissue, around what happened between them. Meanwhile Wynston's got the rare direct juxtaposition of observing angry!Ruth near Quinn. So, um, anger.
This is one of those occasions where he gets more than irritable, then fixes the problem.
Oh, and by the way, Wynston, having met Ruth on Dromund Kaas, didn't tell her his real name until after Act 1 had ended for both of them.
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