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12.10.2012 , 01:38 PM |
Lodestone: Do the Math – Parallel.
This runs right alongside Subtraction. Agent endgame spoilers. 1700 words.
Wynston kept a stiff upper lip on his way through the spaceport concourse. There was work to do and he couldn't afford to sabotage it further through another lapse in self-control.
He shouldn't have pushed. He shouldn't have challenged her, not on anything that wasn't absolutely critical, not while things were so delicate. It was just that he thought they were working well together. She was so reasonable about everything else, just not Quinn.
Then again, hadn't that always been the way?
Enough. He should check his correspondence. Call Vector, see that the
was prepared for when Wynston…finished? Gave up? For when his business on Corellia was concluded. See that Ensign Temple was staying out of trouble; he still hadn't decided what to do with that sometimes alarmingly by-the-book creature now that he was going off the books entirely. Check in with Keeper.
Find someplace to dance and drink.
Stupid idea, that. Too much to do. He had a lot to catch up on and then he had to negotiate a re-approach. Ruth knew she could trust him, and he knew she knew it. It was just a matter of…of something. Getting over the defenses again. Finding the right leverage. It wasn't enough to just be himself, cute though that idea seemed. It never had been enough, never would be, and he was old enough to know that.
There was a way to fix this. There had to be.
Don't draw rash conclusions from what had happened back there. Think clearly, dammit, if he had to think on the subject at all. Rejection was nothing new. This one hadn't even involved knives, projectiles, or legal action; it should be easy. So much for the girl, move on. The only matter left to resolve was the job. If support was required for any practical end, there were ways. He considered. Extravagant repentance involving gifts and flowers, not likely to work. Torrid forceful approach, definitely ineffective. Crawling servility she wouldn't accept. Straightforward professionalism with a brief apology for trying to make it personal, she wouldn't go for it even if he could stomach saying it. She didn't think she needed professionals.
None of the scripts were likely to work, and going off script had made her suddenly decide he was being manipulative. He was out of tricks. Time to send in a contrasting agent to take over the op? He didn't have a whole lot to draw from. And nobody else knew her, her strengths and weaknesses, the things he couldn't just put into a briefing and the things he wouldn't. Nobody else would be there for her sake such that they could come close to the transparency that would keep her from shutting them out.
Right. Because his honesty had been so bloody effective.
What the hell was it about Quinn that had set her off like that? Even she had to know that Quinn's continued existence was a bad thing. Wynston couldn't just pretend otherwise. If he had registered the opinion and then just stopped pushing…that would've been the smart thing to do. Don't let anything, even something that significant, get in the way of the op.
"Op" didn't feel like the right word, but he wasn't ready to deal with that yet. Instead, as he reached his own hangar, he turned his attention to the perimeter and ship-exterior check: nothing new or unusual. A little wear showing on the ship's underside; he made a note to have that looked at. For that matter it had been a while since the auxiliary power system had gotten a once-over; he should look up whatever Fixer Keeper could recommend as non-Sith-owned and have them take a look. Yes. And, on the topic of keeping the ship in order, he made a note to restore Imperial ration type D bars to the droid's regular supply shopping list. Kaliyo had hated the stuff, hated even the smell of it, to the point where she'd made a policy of throwing any such ration bar she could find directly at Wynston's head until he gave up trying to stock it. Well, she was gone and he could have them back now.
He wished his own base didn't have these associations. It left very few safe topics to think about.
He made a round of the ship's interior, not really doing anything, just checking that everything was as he expected. Then he headed to the holo to make a call.
"Keeper," he drawled as soon as she came up, "you're a sight for sore eyes."
"Cipher," she said crisply. "How are you liking Corellia?"
"About as much as I did the first time around," he said. Pyromaniac bosses and torture interrogations had been bad for his physical health, but at least they hadn't been personal.
"I'm sorry to hear that." As well she might be, given whose idea the interrogation plant had been. "Any progress securing an alliance with the Wrath?"
Steady, he reminded himself. "It's touch and go. Her attention is fully occupied in the Sith infighting game, tearing down Darth Baras's people." Then, the number one takeaway he had to hand Intelligence so it wouldn't actively line up contingency plans for an uncontrolled power as big as the Wrath: "I'll have something by the time he's down. She is understandably gunshy, it may take time."
"Time isn't on our side. Matters with the Dark Council are moving quickly. There's a short list of targets I'd like to point her at if we get the chance. But of course Baras comes first."
"Absolutely." After that it was Ruth's call. He wasn't going to tell Keeper that right away. "In the absence of any better way to prove our goodwill, I'm working on resolving the Baras situation as fast as possible. Keep me informed as to what resources you can scramble on Corellia without bothering your own neighborhood Sith."
She sighed. "That may as well be nothing, but I'll do what I can."
He cracked a smile. "I know you will. I can tease what I need out of my own neighborhood Sith, so don't let my priority weight interfere with holding the rest of your duties together." It wasn't like anything she could arrange for him could change the part that mattered to him anyway.
"You know, when you move on I'm going to miss having an agent as low-maintenance as you," she said.
"You can call anytime. Not many people get to do that, you know. At least, not many I'd pick up for."
That finally got a returning smile, albeit an anxious one. "I'll call if I have to. Otherwise I expect your attention is needed more in the field."
The conversation wandered to lesser logistical details for a little while; then, eventually, he bid Keeper farewell and ended the transmission. There. That was one person who thought he had it together. The knowledge that someone was falling for it made him feel better.
Now for Vector. The Joiner couldn't see his aura over holo, and if Wynston was careful he was pretty sure his aura was the only thing that betrayed disquietude.
Vector picked up the holocall in short order. "Wynston," he said warmly, or as warmly as he ever said anything. "We hope the situation has improved on Corellia since your last visit."
"The Empire appears to be slightly worse off than it was," Wynston said levelly. That applied to the larger strategic situation, too. "I'm working on it."
"We would be glad to join you. Our vacation, while pleasant, has done very little to improve matters for others."
"No. If you're going back to work I need you on the
getting things in order for when my assignment here is finished."
"Ah. And how is the Wrath? She seemed nearly as popular with rival forces as we were on Voss."
Of course Vector would think to ask. He, being both decent and sane, genuinely liked her. Which made evasions feel a little wrong. "She's getting by." Not so wrong that Wynston wouldn't give them. "Darth Baras isn't pulling his punches, but he can't keep this up forever, not at the rate we're hitting his power base." Never mind the absence of apparent progress over the past three days. "She's cautious about newcomers right now, which is why I think you're better off elsewhere. I can say hello for you, though."
"Please do. We look forward to seeing her in less stressful times."
"Don't we all." Wynston steered the conversation away then, to Vector's off time, to plans for the
to the changes in operation that would happen when Wynston was fully set up with an out-of-the-way base of operations and a disguise generator that would let him remove the last trace of himself from his dealings. Good material, all of it. Promising. Disappearing sounded really good.
When he was satisfied with all that, he cut the line. That made two people he could still work normally with. Now it was time to get to his own task, identifying and removing major elements of Baras's support. He wanted to be near Ruth for it. That, he reminded himself sternly, was impossible. The only thing he could do was help with the job.
The following morning: wake up. Inventory: normal sleeping clothes. Pain: heavy, choking. Spiking now that he was paying attention to it. Nothing physical. Nothing that would slow…nothing that would…nothing that would slow him down, idiot, he was perfectly capable of finishing that sentence, he lied for a living. Move on. Surroundings, his own room, cool, clean. Sounds, nothing at all.
Ruth, his brain added unhelpfully, missing. In pain, hiding all her brilliance and warmth, and definitely, emphatically not wanting him. Himself, torn. He had opened up to her for a few short moments, more than he had to anyone since he was half this age and a thousand times this stupid. And she had tugged it all out, demanded more, taken a hard look, and decided she didn't want it. Necessity had driven him to perform a dazzling variety of chemical and surgical operations on himself in the past, but he didn't know how to stitch himself back up this time.
Stop it. Irrelevant to the status report, to side support activities, and to leisure prospects. Not actionable. Move on.
Vector's the bestest. And, I think, still makes for the best life partner Wynston could possibly have. Sorry, ladies. And, of course, sorry, Quinn.
Wynston has a limited set of problem-solving tools. I mean, it's an extensive spread for the job, but he doesn't do not-job. Just simulated not-job. It gets difficult when that proves to be insufficient.
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