Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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12.17.2012 , 05:47 PM |
L - 2
When Wynston entered the conference room on the vessel
, the Minister of Intelligence was already there, pacing with his hands behind his back, examining the walls as if determined to find a security problem in this ship he hadn't personally designed. Watcher Two – no, Keeper – was at the table console; she looked up and smiled when Wynston came in.
It was the Minister who spoke first, turning to face Wynston in a rigid pose. "Agent," he said coolly with the barest of nods. This was the distant mentor Wynston knew. Knew, and admired for his determination and skill.
"Please, call me Cipher. For old times' sake." Admiration notwithstanding, Wynston had stopped the formalities with his commander long ago; flippancy was just so tempting.
"Hm," said the Minister.
"We're glad you came," said Keeper. "There is a great deal to do, and the two of us have considerable demands on our time from the Sith and the military as they attempt to reconstitute some kind of Intelligence puppet."
"I'm sorry." He meant it, too. Keeper could deal with anything, but it was still a bad situation, and the Minister had worked too hard for too long to be reduced to this kind of squabbling. They deserved better.
"It is what it is," the Minister said sharply. "The fact is, the Dark Council is rapidly destabilizing and it is making an effort to bring Intelligence and half the military with it. The loose ends left by the Star Cabal are almost too many to name and we must seize as many as we can before they go to waste or are detected and taken by the Republic or the cartels. We have transferred what resources we can to these efforts without drawing the attention of our masters, but we can't do everything at once."
"That's what I'm here for." It was good to be needed somewhere.
The Minister nodded. "I expect much of your time in the immediate future may be occupied by administrative work here, but your attention should also be on Corellia. Much of the Dark Council has made the planet its battlefield; two nights ago Darth Thanaton was killed by a minor lord and as we speak Darth Baras is actively hunting what it pains me to call the relatively moderate Darth Vowrawn."
"Do we want Baras to win?" Painful though the question was, it was a legitimate one; Baras was shrewd and his vision for the Empire was solid. The only question was whether his brand of Sith crazy was something Intelligence could compensate for.
"No. He is too unstable; he'll tear resources down as quickly as he raises them, as you well know. He must go, and he must go before he cannibalizes the remainder of our war machine. Now, his other target on Corellia is the so-called Emperor's Wrath. That status could be tremendously useful."
"Yes, it could be."
"This is no time to play coy, agent," snapped the Minister. "She is your friend. I want Baras removed, I want her talking to Vowrawn if you think she can influence his views, and I want her on our side while we work to stabilize the rest of the situation."
"I have reason to believe that may be complicated, but I'll do what I can."
"This is no time to start hiding behind 'complications.'"
A long time ago Wynston would have been intimidated by the Minister's impatience, shamed by the mere fact of it. Now he was old and self-supporting enough to simply answer. "I spoke with her just yesterday on a personal matter. The situation may be complicated. Nevertheless, I'll try to calm her down. I'm certain she's closing on the Baras issue, if nothing else." And as soon as he found a way to help, he would.
"The longer game is just as important. Having the Emperor's Wrath in any capacity will be as great a boon as any Star Cabal position we've been able to identify."
"Agreed. I believe she'll come around." The accusations she hadn't quite thrown at him indicated problems with Baras and with her friends, not with her overall pro-Empire goals. He hoped. He dearly hoped.
"Good," said the Minister.
Keeper spoke up. "While we're busy on Dromund Kaas, we'd like you to take command of the
Keep her out of sight while you build up the resources you'll need for independent operations."
"Certainly," said Wynston. "I've put some thought into it." They had laid out their requirements; time to lay out his. "I'll receive full records on any staff you send my way. There are a handful of specific agents I know I can use if you can spare them; keep me informed. I and I alone have discretion over the use of the Black Codex. You will keep me apprised of the research and development surrounding the Old Man's disguise technology as well as anything we scrounged from Belsavis and anywhere else for that matter. I'll do what I can to render the operation self-sufficient; the last thing I want is to hamper your work. Give me this much and a little time and I'll build you the finest intelligence apparatus this galaxy has ever seen." He set his hands wide on the table and leaned forward. "We'll see that the Empire stays where she needs to be, in spite of every effort her leadership throws at her."
"I knew we could count on you," Keeper said warmly.
"Of course." Mischievous habit prompted him to keep going. "I don't suppose there's any place on this hulk to drink to the new resolution?"
Her smile widened a tiny bit. She had made it clear long ago that she found him, Chiss that he was, personally repulsive, but they got along well at work, insincere chatter and all. "No," she said, "but I'm somewhat resigned to the fact that you'll remedy that by the next time we visit."
"Count on it."
The Minister of Intelligence cleared his throat. "Thank you, Keeper, you're dismissed." He looked at the floor in a direction that let him track her from the corner of his eye until she left. Then he turned to Wynston. "There remains the matter of Kaliyo Djannis; Keeper reports that you and she had a falling-out and she has since fled Nal Hutta. Furthermore I am given to understand that you will not be disposing of her." He scowled. "Rest assured, the matter will be handled."
Something unfamiliar tightened in Wynston's insides. Then again, someone had to do it. "Acknowledged and understood," he said quietly.
"The experience is never comfortable," said the Minister. "But it is necessary."
The experience of sitting still while somebody else handled the job he hadn't had the nerve for? Or the experience of losing a lover who had managed to mean something by the end? "I know." It led to an interesting thought, anyway. "Minister?"
"As I stand here contemplating the fact that you're going out of your way to tell me about a kill that we both already knew you've arranged, it occurs to me that I may sometimes be more motivated after some discomfort, not to say pain. More focused. Perhaps more effective, it's difficult for me to tell."
"You are. Your record amply demonstrates that, if you know what to look for."
Wynston reminded himself who he was talking to. He thought along the useful lines, not the sentimental ones. "You could've chosen a less rampantly destructive irritant than Kaliyo."
"Could we have?" The Minister cocked an eyebrow. "Would you have tolerated any other irritant for so long? She appealed to your vice enough for you to stay with her and your virtue enough for you to keep trying to make up for her. She was a calculated risk; it turned out to be one of the more productive partnerships I've ever arranged."
For all that he had spent his whole association with Kaliyo thinking of ways to use her, this particular application and the fact that he hadn't been informed of it galled. "She's still out there. Did you calculate that?"
The older man's mouth thinned further for a second. "It wasn't the eventuality we would have chosen," he said. "But all may not be lost. She hasn't started trying to sell what she knows yet."
"I'll make a note to take comfort in that."
"All things considered, she was worth what we paid for her."
"The money, I can agree." This was the job. "But if you were orchestrating matters to that degree you must have had some say over the information she gleaned for her side jobs, selling secrets to her terrorist friends. You could have controlled what she found to sell. She was worth the money. Was she worth the blood?"
"Do you really need to ask that question? Just look at the workmanlike but frankly ordinary career you led before she was assigned to you. Compare it with everything you accomplished once you had her alternately supporting and driving you. Finding and taking down the Star Cabal? I would pay a few dozen lives on Brentaal for that."
"Next time you want me to work miracles, try just asking nicely."
"If I thought that would work, I would have done it."
"You know, the organization I build here may try the least twisted approach first on some matters, just for novelty's sake. Minister, I have the utmost respect for you, but I am glad I won't be working for you anymore."
"Not coincidentally, Cipher, I'm glad I am no longer formally responsible for your behavior." His frown cleared a little, and something like a sad acknowledgment gathered in his grey eyes. "You're about to take the weight of the Empire on your shoulders. I no longer have to pressure you."
They watched each other for a long moment.
"So. The mission?" prompted the Minister.
The part that mattered, in the end. The thing that had first brought Wynston under the Minister's tutelage and the thing that would likely bind them together as long as they both lived. "Ordinarily I would insist on kissing and making up before work continues, but I'll let it slide this once." Wynston grinned at the Minister's expression. "The mission goes on. I'll see what I can do about the Wrath. And I'll get you your start here."
So certain. "Out of curiosity, what if I couldn't handle all this? Or if I had lost to Kaliyo much earlier. I would die young and you would just look for someone more durable, is that right?"
"Your theory of management is undeniably effective, but I'm really coming to appreciate why you don't print it in the recruitment pamphlets."
After a flicker of irritation the…not kindness, not quite sympathy, but the clear knowledge…came back to the Minister's eyes. "This isn't glamorous work. I told you that."
"I remember." Wynston considered, then nodded. "Thank you. You've been a great help, and I intend to make sure the new organization lives up the vision you once held. The Empire you once hoped for. Just one more question. You've referred to your wife once or twice, always in situations where you might just have been making banal conversation as cover noise. Did you ever actually have one?"
The human expression in the Minister of Intelligence's aspect vanished. He walked away without answering.
Wynston lingered alone in the dark conference room. In the end it didn't matter what had brought the Minister here; this place was Wynston's. Soon he would build it up into every good thing Intelligence had been – he hoped – and everything it should be. He would take his place as an equal to the professionals who had taught him what protection meant and what it was likely to cost, and he would manage that cost better. He would get back to helping people. A moment's gratitude was easier and safer than anything else he could hope to earn from others. Might as well earn as many of them as possible.
This was something that would never stop needing him. It was opportunity. And, whatever else was happening, whatever else was going to happen, it felt good.
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