Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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01.07.2013 , 09:55 AM |
Text. Wall. (3900 words in today's story section.)
L + 15 years 36 days, parts 9-end: Guardian
Wynston was unconscious but stable back in his kolto tank when Ruth's transport dropped out of hyperspace into a seemingly random spot between planets of some no-name system.
Ruth opened a comm channel to Quinn's ship. "There's…nothing here," she said glumly, staring into the empty space where Quinn had said Colrand would be.
"Proceed another klick in," came Quinn's voice. "It's a cloaking field. Once you are inside we'll start boarding the facility."
An electric shiver ran through the ship when it passed through the great stealth field. Inside Ruth saw a larger copy of the Voice's space station. A small shuttle with military markings hovered a little ways outside; it fell in with Ruth's vessel to land in a large hangar that sealed after them both.
She led her people out from her transport onto the hangar floor; Quinn came alone. They came to within a few paces of each other before they stopped themselves. They exchanged nods. She felt his fear, even though he didn't show it, and she knew he must know hers, even though here in public she kept it out of sight. They were both ready to do whatever had to be done.
"Moff," she said firmly, "these are my people. Lord Scourge. Larr Gith. Jaesa you know, and these others are employees of Wynston's." A little more sharply, "I trust them implicitly. Everyone, Moff Quinn, Colrand's father. If the boy is found away from the Emperor–" and oh, that presence was here – "let Quinn attend to it. If he is with the Emperor…" and the control that may imply…"then he's mine. Understood?" She didn't wait for an answer; instead she stepped away from Quinn to take Jaesa aside. "Where did the doctor get off to?"
"After you went to the bridge, he went to collapse," said Jaesa.
"I see. I guess he did his job. Listen, if I should fall and you survive, let Wynston know." She had a feeling she would need it. "Let him know I love him."
"I won't have to, Ruth," Jaesa said stoutly. "But I'll keep it in mind."
Ruth raised her voice. "This should be straightforward. We find a way in. Lord Scourge, Larr Gith and myself face the enemy. The rest of you, survive. And find my son."
They made their way into the stark grey station. They reached the long curved path that formed a full ring of the place. And before long they reached a radial corridor leading inward to the center of the station.
"That way." Lord Scourge nodded. "Our quarry is within. The rest of you, secure this ring, see that we are undisturbed. Larr, Ruth, with me." He strode down the radial corridor to the great chamber that was dimly visible beyond.
Quinn leaned in after them. "Jaesa, go on, secure the station's control center. I'll be watching here." He readied a gleaming black blaster rifle. "Go."
Jaesa nodded, signaled to the troops, and moved on.
Colrand greeted them, as Ruth had feared he would. The station’s center chamber was a huge open space, round, shadowy, with a dais in the middle and a throne on the dais and a monstrous, vaguely man-shaped shadow on the throne. Colrand stood at the base of the dais and looked anxious but determined. "Hi, Mom."
"Cole. Come to me." She saw Lord Scourge and Larr Gith fanning out to either side of her. "It's time to come home."
"That's not gonna work."
The Emperor waved and spoke in an ear-grating rasp. "And here we are, Wrath. Your son is mine. I will spare his life if you aid him and me in dealing with the Jedi and Scourge. Otherwise…I fear he will fight you to the death."
Scourge growled and charged the Emperor himself. Larr Gith activated her saber but looked to Ruth. "Got this, mama?"
"I've got it. You worry about the other guy."
"Just make it fast if you want in on the real glory." Larr Gith grinned and ran on.
Ruth kept walking toward Colrand. "Cole?"
"Kill her," called the Emperor over the sound of an opening Force lightning volley. "And any of her allies who show their faces."
"Cole. Remember those Force meditations we practiced?" He had neither the native power nor the training she did, but he had been around for her practicing her shielding. She could hope.
"Doesn't matter, Mom. Sorry." He readied his saber, the red blade inherited from the grandfather he had never known. "Just…don't argue, okay? Go with this. If we kill them we can go home."
"That isn't true, Cole. If we kill them none of us are ever making it home."
"You fight them or you fight me."
"I won't do either."
He leaped at her.
She had sparred with him any number of times before; he was quick, tall, rapidly growing into his strength. She still had the edge over him in experience and skill. But he was different this time. He wasn't going to stop.
She shot a flash of Force energy, seeking the strike that would knock him out with minimal pain. He deflected it with a wave.
The Emperor was playing Force-storm havoc with his two assailants; in raw power he could easily hold them both. Ruth didn't have time to think about that. She had to keep Colrand occupied.
Wynston held still when he woke up. Inventory: mostly unclothed, heavy breathing mask on. Surroundings: kolto. A tank, in a dimly lit room, no staff in sight. Last status he had was Ruth sounding worried. Ruth wasn't even supposed to be here. Something was wrong. Physical status: Pain. Missing some flesh. Light-headed. It seemed he had been badly torn up. This wasn't the stuff of slowing him down, this was the stuff of floating in place for days or more.
It took all Lord Scourge's hatred just to stand in place when the Emperor raised the fierce Force Lightning storm. Scourge sensed Larr Gith closing to attack, but the Emperor badly outmatched the two of them.
And the Wrath was still wasting her time.
Larr would survive another few seconds. Scourge turned away from the Emperor and toward the black-haired boy. Ruth had him in a pointless holding pattern; as Scourge watched she made some Force attempt to disarm him.
"No more distractions, Ruth," he bellowed as he raised his saber and charged her son.
"No!" shrieked Ruth. The Force wave emanating from her shoved the boy with impressive power toward the open exit, far out of reach. She turned to Scourge with flashing eyes. "I'll go with you."
And she'd best keep her focus. Scourge snarled at her briefly and they ran back side by side to join Larr Gith against the big shadow figure.
It could put out a lot of power, but between Larr Gith, Ruth, and Lord Scourge, it couldn't hold all of them off at once. The Emperor shuddered when Lord Scourge's first blow struck home. The ancient enemy flung up a hand and suddenly all three of his attackers froze in place, shadows springing up around them. The battle he couldn't carry in the flesh he could still pursue in the mind.
Colrand recovered from Ruth's shove and advanced on her again. She stood before the Emperor, sabers drawn, seemingly frozen in place. He screwed up his face and shoved his saber at her heart. The blade just glanced away; the shadows that bound her body seemed to protect her, as well.
He turned around and scanned the scene, and then something kindled in his eyes when he saw Quinn watching from the end of the entry corridor.
He made the approach slow, looking scared. "Father," he said. "It's time. Like you've been saying, about duty."
"Cole," said Quinn. He backed the boy around the corner, out of line of sight of the big chamber, not that that slowed him down. "Calm yourself. Remember the safeguards your mother taught you–"
"Mom didn't do a good enough job. That's why I'm here. Please, don't make this hard."
Quinn's hand was terribly steady when he trained his rifle and started firing at Colrand's legs. The teenager deflected every shot with an effortless grace. Quinn scanned the corridor, found nothing else of use. Kept backing away. Colrand was catching up, reluctantly but steadily.
"Don't do this," said Quinn.
"I have to."
"You don't. You can fight this, it's an unjust command, you don't have to obey."
Colrand shook his head, got to within a couple of paces, brought his saber up. "I was really glad to meet you," he said shakily. "I'm sorry it had to happen this way."
Ruth’s awareness fell into a place that felt separate from the physical throne room. Larr Gith’s presence was bright gold here, imbued with something stronger and steadier than Ruth had ever sensed from her before. Scourge was a hungering darkness tinged with dried blood. The Emperor was deeper than black, a cold hole in the world. She flung her will at him, and it was rich and strong, shot through with shades of blue: pale, cerulean, dark. She could hold it with one purpose. She sensed surprise rapidly turning to concern when she pressed her attack into the Emperor’s essence.
His counterattack lashed at her, cutting her with a pain more than physical. His will was ancient, malevolent, strong as the ages. Hers joined with Scourge’s and Larr Gith’s, determined. More than determined, in a way. It wasn't just necessity driving her here, it was everything, every hope she had, every joy she'd known. Against his raging shadow she wielded her gift, her will, her power; she was backed by a whole galaxy's worth of good things.
"Be careful," Larr Gith's presence cried.
"Burn him," urged Lord Scourge. "Burn him to ash."
Ruth observed both and then did what she needed to do. All her strength, her father's training, her son's love; the darkness whipped at her but her own will was cracking it in return. Little pieces broke and burned while Ruth and her allies pressed in.
Before Colrand could swing at Quinn the boy abruptly grunted and spun, flinging aside someone's jacket-clad arm. Quinn scrambled aside and readied his blaster while Colrand turned on the newcomer. An angry red mark had showed up on the side of Colrand's neck.
It was Wynston Colrand flung back against the wall. "Sedatives in," he gasped at Quinn. "Just delay him."
Colrand scowled. "You won't get that chance. I'm sorry, Wynston." He raised a hand and Wynston's chin was forced up, slightly, while the Force choke took hold. The boy's face worked while he squeezed Wynston's throat. "I'm really sorry."
Quinn had the beginnings of an efficient physical takedown, but Colrand didn't lose strength at the same rate he lost coordination. When Quinn grabbed his shoulder the young Sith turned and flung both the older men back in the direction of the great chamber's entryway, pinning them to the wall with a slow dual Force choke. He was crying by the time he lost his balance and crumpled.
Quinn, no more than bruised, drew himself up straight immediately. Wynston slumped to the floor, wrapping an arm tightly around himself. He coughed hard, several times; blood from reopened wounds started slowly soaking through his thin shirt. He sat gasping for a few moments before he met Quinn's eyes and said "You'd think…you'd never had to…incapacitate…a Sith before."
The corridors of the station were guarded, but only lightly. Jaesa, with the remainder of Wynston's soldiers at her back, had little trouble working their way around. They took the broad dimly lit command center, anyway to monitor external matters from there. Jaesa wasn't one to go up against the Emperor, but she could watch and wait, make sure nothing else pressured her champions.
She sensed the Force battle when it started and she stiffened. That would be the deciding factor. She could only watch her friend's back.
Quinn looked into the Emperor's chamber and its four unmoving figures. Then he looked at the unconscious Colrand. Then he looked down at the Chiss at his feet.
Wynston looked up at him, and rasped, and bled, and smiled a hard smile. After a few labored breaths he managed to say "So. You win." He pointed a finger toward Colrand and, beyond that, the Emperor's room. "Get it…right this time."
Quinn watched him. The officer's expression was rigid, his eyes calculating. "You dragged yourself all this way," he mused. "How hard it must be, knowing your last act was saving my life."
"Bugger you. Saved Cole from…killing his own father. Saved her…losing the only…only thing she ever…wanted." Wynston's lip twitched hard. "Don't waste it."
What little color there was drained from Quinn's face. "Too late," he muttered. He knelt to check Colrand's breathing again. Then he looked back at a dull-eyed Wynston. This entire uprising, the rebellion, Ruth's involvement in such an insane-sounding plan, it all reeked of Wynston. Colrand had proved unshakably fond of the man. And even now Ruth was saying, or had in the hangar, that she loved him. "'Bugger, you,'" Quinn quoted thoughtfully. "You always believed she deserved better than me."
Wynston groaned. "Must I die…drowning in…the obvious?"
Quinn sneered. He looked over at Ruth's frozen figure. Then at Colrand. Then at the blood slowly spreading around Wynston. "Agent," he said bitterly, "I don't care how you die."
Then he walked away.
Closer and closer, Larr Gith's gold, Scourge's black-red, Ruth's multishaded blue converged on the remaining darkness. Piece by piece burned or tore away. Ruth heard Scourge roaring in her mind. And she had others, nearer or farther, Larr Gith, her father's years of lessons, on and on.
It was with a sudden strange silence that the three wills met in the center and found nothing left between them.
Ruth fell back into herself and staggered backwards. The great chamber felt…empty. Her, Scourge, Larr, here, but the presence and the darkness that bound this place was gone.
Larr Gith was prettily recovering her balance. Scourge had fallen heavily to one knee. Now he looked up at his allies. "My task is done. I feel it." His eyes unfocused for a moment, a profoundly thoughtful expression on his face. "You will not see me again," he said at last, and walked out without another word.
Ruth saw figures at the far end of the entry corridor but it wasn't until she got close that she sorted out Colrand and Wynston, both on the ground. "Cole!" She knelt at her son's side. He was breathing deeply and evenly, but he didn't stir when she shook his shoulder.
Wynston…hissed. She scrambled to his side and leaned in to hear. "Sedated," he hissed softly, his eyes still closed. "He's…fine."
Her stomach twisted up as she looked over Wynston, his dark-soaked shirt, and the and specks and streaks of red on the trail he had left on the way in. "You shouldn't have come," she said.
"Job's…here," he rasped between labored breaths.
"If the job calls for losing you it isn't worth it."
His brow tensed and his eyes opened just a sliver. "You. Cole. Had to be sure." The last word was almost drowned in a wet cough.
"Hsh. Don't talk if it hurts."
"Talking to you…" he wheezed and turned his head aside. A drop of what didn't seem to be sweat ran down from his eye.
And there was nothing she could do. She didn't have materials for this. She didn't have skill. She had someone to send, at least. Larr Gith was coming up behind her. "Larr. Get to the ship. Get Doc, bring him here. Now."
Something sounded from around the curve of the outer corridor. Ruth pressed Wynston's hands over some of his own wounds and drew her saber. But the man who rounded the corner at a sprint was Quinn, followed by a desperately fatigued-looking Doc.
Quinn slowed to a purposeful stalk. He moved straight past Wynston, pointing as he went. "Deal with this one," he barked. "I'm not trained in Chiss physiology." He himself knelt by Colrand with a stim at the ready.
"Well," said Doc, unslinging a pack that looked to have been dropped on his shoulders rather than intentionally hefted, "for starters, Chiss blood's supposed to stay inside the body. When possible."
Quinn, without looking at him, grabbed a couple of datapad-sized bags of some clear liquid from their perch atop his bag and tossed them in Doc's direction. "This should serve."
Doc whistled. "You carry this much synthplasma around in your field kit? Exactly how much bleeding goes on in your average workday?"
"Use it or don't," Quinn snapped. He returned to his pack, which beneath the two hastily thrown-in bags was immaculately organized, pulled out some supplies of his own, and turned his attention to Colrand.
Ruth had edged aside to give Doc some room. He shot her a smile. "Relax, honey, ol' Doc can reassemble your Chiss friend – but buddy, I should warn you I have a strict three-strikes policy in any given twenty-four hour period. After this your spleen is on its own."
"Can you…?" Ruth said shakily.
Doc gave Wynston a critical look. Then made a dramatic face, then returned to the critical look. "Aw, I've fixed up worse. I'll tell you all about it when we're all comfortable, intact, and very far away from here." He got to work.
Quinn was checking Colrand's pulse. "I've given him a stim to counter the sedatives he was put under, my lord. It will take him a minute to fully revive."
"All right." She wanted to hold Cole until he was feeling better, but if she had a few seconds she also wanted to confer with Quinn. She stood up and beckoned him a step away.
"When did he show up?" she asked, tilting her head toward Wynston.
"Shortly after you were…removed, my lord. Colrand was pursuing me. The agent stopped him."
"Even though he had no business walking." She looked around the scene again. It seemed clear that for some period of time Quinn had been alone with an unconscious Colrand, a dying Wynston, and no other witnesses. "Thank you for getting Doc here," she said quietly. "It means a lot to me. More than I really know how to say."
He nodded once, sharply. "I know." His jaw clenched hard for a few seconds. "I should summon Jaesa and let her know we're finished," he said crisply, and turned away.
Colrand was stirring. Ruth settled at his side while he sat up and cast a wide-eyed look around. "Stars," he muttered. "Is everyone okay?"
There was a moment of silence.
Doc pointed at Wynston and said soothingly, "This guy'll be fine if we can convince him to stay out of firefights. The rest of you all probably just need a week or two at the beach and you'll be fully up to speed."
"Wynston," Colrand said thickly. "Did I…?"
"No," said Ruth. "Most of that was the Imperial Guard, and he'll be fine. Are you all right?"
"That was…I tried, Mom. I tried to stop it."
"I know." She pulled him close. "You survived, that's what matters." She caught the look on Quinn's face and beckoned him over, easing up to allow him to put an arm around their son's shoulders. "It's cold for a while. Unsettling. But it passes."
They waited then, Larr Gith joining them to gather around while Doc tended to the Chiss. When the human lifted a sedative Wynston waved it aside. "Rather be awake," he mumbled. "Stim if you…have. For just a minute."
Doc complied, and then finally rocked back on his heels. "And that, my friend, will get you to a kolto tank." He stood and gave Larr Gith an oddly nervous look. "Princess, it's been real exciting catching up. I, uh, I'm thinking of going home and sleeping for a year or ten, but you should call me sometime."
She smiled. "What's your hurry? I'll walk you home."
Quinn and Colrand stood together while Ruth moved to Wynston's side. She looked up at the soldier and her son.
"I have my own ship to return to," Quinn said quietly. "In other circumstances I would offer anew to serve you. Now, at last, there is no authority that could challenge that. But this is not the place, nor the time." His eyes flicked briefly to Wynston. "And I am no longer the person."
"We'll work out arrangements for Cole," she said. She looked to Colrand for confirmation, and he smiled shakily and nodded. "Whatever assignment you seek next, I hope you can make time for him."
"No question of that." Quinn and Colrand exchanged identical looks and identical smiles, weary but warm.
"The Empire does still need its officers," said Ruth. "I'll see that you are not challenged by any higher-up who thinks they can use your actions here against you. And…again, thank you." He simply bowed to her and walked away.
Wynston was making a feeble effort to prop himself up against the wall. Ruth helped him to sit up and then backed off a little bit. Her heart jumped into her throat when she met his tired eyes. "I don't expect you to forgive me," she said.
With a visible effort, he raised and held out his hand. When she took it he drew her in close and whispered, "Forgiven. Anything else is your call."
Her eyes stung. "Let's get you back to the ship," she said hoarsely. She scooped him up once more and let him drape his arms around her neck. "I love you," she said as she walked.
He rested his head on her shoulder. "Again."
"I love you. I love you, and I'm sorry."
"Just the first part."
"I love you," she repeated, and he didn't seem to get tired of it, all the way back to the ship.
Jaesa was already on board working the controls; Larr Gith and Doc were nowhere to be found. Colrand mumbled something about sleep and slouched off. Ruth brought Wynston to the medbay and started prepping the tank for him.
He watched her. "The stim's already fading. I'm not looking forward to going under again."
"I'm not looking forward to seeing you there," she said. "It's just until you're certified back in one piece." She turned to gather him up from the table.
He leaned into her, but when she lifted he said sharply, "Not yet."
"Wynston, you need to–"
"Ruth, not yet." He took a couple of deeper breaths, holding contact with her. "What's your plan for after we clean up here?"
"I hadn't really…" She hadn't talked to anyone yet. She hadn't talked to him. She didn't have the right to assume anything there. "I was thinking of going home," she said uneasily. "For a while. To set things in order." She leaned back and lifted his chin with a fingertip. "And you?"
"I've been thinking. Rather a lot, actually. If you're free I'd like to show you around my spy operation. I should've let a partner in a long time ago." When she started a tremulous smile he smiled back, brilliant and sweet in the suddenly breathless room. "And, darling, there's so much we haven't done yet."
There are two parts of this that were hard for me, and those were a) Wynston bailing Quinn out and b) Quinn bailing Wynston out.
a) is relatively simple. Cole is talking/worrying/acting in controlled mode. He has to be restrained. If he did something to someone he cares about…so basically anybody except active gunmen out to get him…he'd never be able to forgive himself. Wynston knows he has to be stopped, even if that means saving Quinn.
b) is staggeringly hard. Why not kick Wynston's ribs in and leave him for dead? Sure, Ruth loves him, Colrand loves him, his stupid vigilante idea of everything was right, but…it's Wynston. I guess he did just offer up his life to save someone he hates for no reason more than that Ruth and Cole would want that someone to live (and, as noted in part a, the situation was too urgent to wait for a more elegant, Quinn-killing solution). Would Quinn really turn around and shiv that kind of charity? Yes, Malavai Quinn absolutely would.
But Wynston makes Ruth happy. Quinn can't be there for her anymore; Wynston can and is plainly willing to sacrifice to do it. Oh, plus the smallest chance of Ruth or Cole ever discovering Quinn had a hand in Wynston's death would screw him over. Hard.
So a killing blow might be too risky. No orders are in place, no commander watching to make things simple. He could at least begin to stabilize Wynston then and there if he wanted to; whatever he may claim he knows enough about Chiss physiology to do that and he could've gotten a start with the supplies on hand. But, ugh. No. Postpone the decision. Walk off for help – he'll want supplies from the ship for Cole in any case. Check Ruth's ship for that doctor she mentioned, because frankly, if Wynston must be saved Quinn would rather not have to be doing it himself. Walk off for supplies, and if Wynston's alive when Quinn gets back he'll reevaluate the situation then. If Wynston's dead, Quinn won't shed any tears.
Luckily for us all, 'stubbornly continuing to breathe' is a thing Wynston can do.
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