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01.27.2013 , 05:15 PM |
Sometime in Act 2: adventures for Vierce. Spoilers for Elara Dorne's conversation line. 3100 words, since apparently I can't write
Dorne acted a little different toward me after that Imp ambush nearly cut my arm off at the shoulder. We got back to a medbay before I quite finished bleeding out, and she cleaned me up – medicine is what she does, and she's damn good at it – but something about her changed a little after that.
Since we came back from leave I'd taken to sitting down with her once a week to clear paperwork; it went faster when we just sat in the same room and got all the consulting done at once. I wouldn't call it the most intimate of settings, but it the habit got to be sort of pleasant: her and me and the job, setting things in order.
So we were leaning over the table nitpicking some form or other so Command wouldn't find anything to nitpick for us. She moved a little to do something or other and, of all the ridiculous things for me to notice…of all the ridiculous things to notice for the first time…a lock of her hair fell loose from her regular ironclad bun. True gold, with a little curl at the end from where it had been tied. You can forget you're working with a woman if you try hard enough – it's easy, even, if you hate her – but every now and then the oddest thing will call your attention where you never meant it to go.
I focused back on her big green eyes. You'd never think someone like that would have such vivid color about her. "Sorry," I said. "What were you saying?"
She frowned. "If you're tired we can set this aside and finish filing in the morning."
"No, it's nothing." She looked skeptical. I gestured at my own face to indicate her loose hair. "That's a nice look for you," I explained. Stupid. "Sorry, I don't mean anything by that. Maybe I am getting tired." Out of line, Savins. "Forget it."
Something of a smile passed across her face. "Already forgotten, sir," she said, in a voice that suggested anything but.
We were on Nar Shaddaa for resupply; I think both Dorne and I were cheerful when we ran into each other in the mess the next morning. She headed out planetside to pick things up after while I stayed on the ship to help Jorgan run maintenance on the armory.
A little while later we got an incoming holo: secure line from a familiar frequency. I answered to find none other than Jonas Balkar, the only SIS agent I've worked with who was more competent than he looked.
He looked strained when he smiled greeting. "Captain. Any time Havoc Squad comes through town I know it's going to be an interesting time."
"Someone has to keep you people on your toes. What can I do for you, Balkar?"
"Well." His smile went away entirely. "I'd better hand this over to our guest." He stepped aside but stayed in view as the image expanded to include a light-haired, rather grim-looking officer.
He glowered down at me. "Captain Savins. I'm Captain Raznic, Personnel Division. Is Sergeant Dorne available?"
"No, sir. She's out for supplies, I can call her in if you need to."
"Oh, I'm interested in hearing her explanation. But first things first."
Trouble? "I'm not sure I follow, sir."
Raznic threw a quick look Balkar's way, then continued. "Captain, we have reason to believe that Sergeant Dorne has been corresponding with representatives of the Imperial Army. I don't like to jump to conclusions but the evidence is pretty damning: she's turned informant."
"That can't be right. If she were up to anything I'd know." I'd been watching her closely enough. And, honestly, in these last weeks I was starting to think I needn't have worried. Dorne was as straight-shooting as they come.
Raznic shook his head gravely. "Jonas. Show him?" He gestured and suddenly the image of the agent and the officer vanished, replaced by two different people: Dorne and a boyish-looking guy in an Imperial uniform.
"Sergeant," the Imperial said warmly. "Or should I say Lieutenant?"
"Do try to remember that 'Sergeant' is the only rank I officially hold so long as this assignment lasts."
"Sergeant it is. I hope you're enjoying that side of the fence."
"Even if it's not Dromund Kaas there are great opportunities here. But let's not waste time, sir; the Captain is always watching." A cold knife slid into my gut at that.
"Of course. Report, Sergeant."
Elara Dorne walked down the broad corridors of the Upper Industrial District with a quick step. There were some specialized stores off the beaten path here – reputable, with approved supplies, just better variety and better quality than could be found in most places outside the Core Worlds.
Someone waving caught her eye. A boyish-looking fellow in a Republic uniform approached and fell in step with her. "Lieutenant Lovissian, Sergeant, Personnel Division. Walk with me."
She looked askance at him. "Is…there a problem, sir?"
"Not as such. I know things have been hectic, I thought we could cover the checkin while you're here instead of trying to coordinate holocalls while you're on restricted missions."
"Sir, with all respect, I would have expected to receive this notification by way of my direct superior."
"The captain was…uncooperative when we tried to talk to him. I think it's an understandable if misguided effort to protect you; whatever the case, Captain Kalor assured me that you would help us clear this up with no trouble." He fumbled in his pocket for a moment, grinned apologetically as he folded and flipped through a wallet to finally produce a Republic Army identicard.
Dorne nodded hesitantly. "I always make an effort to see that things run smoothly, lieutenant."
"Yes, I…" Lovissian trailed off. He was looking down the street; a large knot of armed men had just come around the corner. "Huh. Some neighborhood. Let's take the next cross street, Sergeant, I don't like the look of that."
They didn't make it that far before the lead thug raised his rifle.
Lovissian dove for the nearest door and shoved it open. "In," he barked, readying a pistol to cover her retreat while blaster fire started lighting up the street.
Dorne was always crisp and efficient in her reports. She made only the occasional policy statement in this one, every line pro-Empire. It was exactly the kind of thing I had always been afraid of but had never caught her at. The only surprising thing was how much I didn't want to believe what I was seeing.
I stared, stunned, well after the holorecording had ended and the image returned to Raznic. The man started yammering and it took me some effort to listen. "She's due to meet with an Imperial officer this afternoon, Lieutenant Lovissian, in the upper industrial district. We have the SIS due to intercept and cut off any intelligence transfer that may take place."
"How long?" I asked hoarsely. "How long has she been reporting?" How long had I missed this?
"The earliest evidence we've located says three months. Since shortly after she joined Havoc Squad. It may have been going on longer."
"I had no idea. I was watching for this and I had no idea." And there I'd been getting friendly the entire time, or at least coming around to the notion.
"Captain, this isn't your fault. She fooled all of us."
She couldn't have. But if…if she had there would be a reckoning for it. "Is there anything I can do, sir?"
"Just sit tight," said Balkar. "Havoc Squad storming in to the rendezvous would only complicate things. I'll contact you as soon as my people check in." He looked to Raznic.
Raznic paused a second before speaking. "I'm sorry, captain."
"Yeah," I said slowly. "So am I."
"I'm sending you our most recent picture of Lovissian. We anticipate that the SIS team will be able to stop him, but if he tries contacting you in any way, keep in mind that he is extremely dangerous. With any luck we'll nab them both today and you'll be free to move on. Raznic out."
At some point Jorgan had entered. He crossed his arms and looked from me to the now-inactive holo and back. "I don't believe it," he said in a tight low voice.
"I…no. We'll call her, there's got to be an explanation." If there wasn't there would be hell to pay, and I didn't want the woman I knew to have to pay it.
It was right then that an incoming holo from her saved us the trouble of calling. I felt a little shiver of relief; if she were up to anything she wouldn't come to us.
She was tensed in combat-ready position. She talked fast. "Sir. I'm in the Upper Industrial District. There's been an attack, I think from the Exchange. I'm currently barricaded in an abandoned house but I'm not sure how long the barricade will hold. Requesting immediate assistance."
That was far from the innocuous check-in I was hoping for. Upper Industrial District. Did she have a name, too? "Who exactly were you meeting with, Sergeant?"
She didn't deny there had been a meeting. "Lieutenant Lovissian, Personnel Division. He's dead now, sir. I'm trapped here."
"Any personnel discussion you were having should've gone through me." I had gone out of my way for her on that front, rather than letting Personnel Division corner her with borderline harassment tracking. Saying she was bypassing me now was a weak excuse if I'd ever heard one.
"Sir, this isn't the time. We can discuss it after I've gotten out."
"Right." Why call me for an extraction? Was I that easy to jerk around? Stupid of me to think she would've been calling just to chat. I had evidence of what was going on, and now I knew what a lie she was carrying out. "Huh," I said, finally giving my uncertain anger permission to rise. "Exchange, is it?"
"I think so, sir. I need your immediate support."
Jorgan spoke up. "Sir, the Exchange has been all over that district lately. We can sort everything else out later, for now we need to get her out of there."
I gestured for him to be quiet. "What would they be after with you, Sergeant? Something you were carrying?"
"I don't know, sir."
It occurred to me that the SIS might not have backup for unexpected guests. I didn't want to get nearer, not really, but…"Estimated force?"
"A dozen, sir, armed with heavy blaster rifles and at least some grenades."
Why such a heavy patrol? There must've been something they wanted. I had a good idea what. And the idea of her walking off with intelligence on our people made me furious. One thing to check first. "All right. There's something I need you to do."
"Name it, but hurry."
"Show me Lovissian's face. Scan his ID, drag him over, whatever it takes."
She frowned, but she switched a setting on her holo and it zoomed out a little. She bent over a bloodied figure and pulled a wallet from his pocket. She flipped part way through, froze. Slowly went on, looking scared.
"I'll report fully when I get back, sir," she said. "He's…" Her voice dropped. "He seems to be carrying Imperial documents."
And she was going to say this was a surprise. "Then scan the Imperial ID, Sergeant. Show me what he looks like."
But I already knew. When she swiped the identicard, the face that came up was the Imp I had been told to expect.
Dammit. And I had had no clue. "Want to tell me again you don't know why the Exchange is after your little meeting?"
"Sir, I didn't know. This was an unplanned conversation, I had no idea–"
Her composure was crumbling. With good reason. "Did you really think you could lie to me, Sergeant?"
"I never did, sir. I'll answer any questions you have, but I have to get out of here first."
Jorgan waved a little to catch my attention. "We're ready to go when you are," he said.
"We're not going anywhere." It made me sick to say it, but not as sick as I felt about seeing her again face to face. Seeing what she was up to with my own eyes, and seeing her deny it some more.
There was panic in Dorne's voice. "I don't have much time, sir. I can hold out for a few more minutes but I can't drive them off on my own."
"You went in of your own accord, Sergeant. You figure it out."
I heard a sharp little intake of breath. "Sir?"
"Sir?" echoed Jorgan.
"We're not going, Jorgan. She's meeting with the enemy, she can clean it up herself."
"We don't have the whole story here, Savins, the least we can do is–"
"I said no. That's final."
Jorgan's yellow eyes flared and his voice was nothing but gravel. "You're talking about letting Dorne die."
For what she was doing? For the Imp she was shut in with now, for the fact that all my suspicion still hadn't caught what mattered, and for the fact that I'd started letting my guard down? "Yes. I am."
A loud impact sounded over the holo. Dorne cast a look elsewhere before turning her eyes to me. "Vierce,
The way her accent twisted my name raised the roaring in my ears even further. "You've got no right, Imperial. No right."
A shattering sound burst from over the line and suddenly Dorne had her blaster out and was looking up and past her own holo, determination shut tight over anything else she might have been feeling. I wondered if she had managed to transmit her report to her superiors. I hoped it died with the Imps in that room. I hoped the Imps in that room died.
The holo cut out. It felt like something of me got caught on the other side.
The light-haired man in the Republic uniform helped Jonas Balkar finish his report, then headed out to board an unmarked silver ship in a private hangar. He made his usual check of the ship, then placed a secure holocall.
The dark-eyed woman called Watcher Two answered. "Cipher, good to see you. You're right on time."
"And completely successful. Though I'm afraid we did lose Agent Lovissian in the process."
"We all knew the risks. The operation would still have worked if he had managed to survive, but you know the impact will be all the greater because a real Imperial agent was found on the scene." She looked off to one side. "I'm sorry Keeper isn't here; he's running late. Meetings with the higher-ups. All indications are that he's getting promoted in the very near future. I think this operation qualifies as a capstone for him."
"The promotion's well deserved. Orchestrating the second breaking of Havoc Squad was quite the feat." Cipher Nine half smiled. "And helping to execute it has been quite the pleasure."
"Ah, here he is. Patching him through." Her image vanished, replaced by the thin balding man known as Keeper.
"Agent. I'm told you have good news. Report. What's your status?"
"Our target Sergeant Dorne, by all appearances, made an effort to deal information to the Empire. Falsified recordings substantiate the claim. She and her Imperial contact were killed by an Exchange team seeking to intercept an intelligence transfer based on an anonymous tip. Embarrassingly enough, one or two journalists in the area captured the event before the Republic could hush it up. Quite apart from the Republic's loss of a very important soldier, I anticipate a number of secondary effects.
"The Republic has lost face on Nar Shaddaa. Dorne's brother, also a defector, though he is frankly of questionable value, may yet make something of himself; this event – particularly if our story about her goes on record as truth – may sway him back to our side, and he'll have some useful information just by virtue of having served with the Republic. Meanwhile my account as a Personnel Division employee is already receiving instructions to redouble security. We have good agents firmly embedded in the Republic Army; after this disaster it's going to be that much harder for real defectors to get in the door."
"A triumph. And the crusader?"
"If they remove Garza's hound for his negligence they might find a suitable replacement to command the remnants of the squad in eight to ten weeks. If they opt for an unsuitable replacement right away, their effectiveness will plummet. If the hound stays in place…given our profiles for both him and the other crew members, the loss in morale will have repercussions far, far greater than the mere loss of manpower." Cipher Nine smiled warmly. "Havoc Squad never recovered from Tavus's defection. And if they keep appointing people this volatile, they never will."
Balkar called in confirmation not two hours later. Dorne down. Imp down. Exchange heavies taken before they could walk off with a Republic-marked datacard that was going in for analysis now.
I couldn't look him in the eye. Or Jorgan, or anyone. I made it as far as the door to her quarters with this stupid automatic thought that I should pack things up. I got as far as the shelf just inside the door, with a neat little box full of hairpins, the kind she must've used a million of every day to keep herself together.
No way could I do anything here. I took a pin for no reason I could really explain and went to my own quarters. I locked the door, sat down. Turned the hairpin over in my hands. And over, and over.
I should have felt better, somehow. I saw it coming, didn't I? More or less? Before I got careless? I knew she was trouble. Just, somewhere along the way, I stopped wanting her to be. I thought things were finally going all right. For a few hours, I'd thought things might have changed even more than that. For a few hours I thought she was beautiful.
My vision was blurring. I gritted my teeth to keep myself from gagging and I snapped the hairpin in two. I thought a lot of things. I was wrong.
I was wrong.
Another Mister "I don't always have ideas, but when I do, they're pure evil" Ephemera special! (He doesn't even read the results, he just plants evil in my brain and wanders off again.) This is a
Night of the Living Prompt: What If?
that is never, ever going to be Vierce's official story.
If Imperial Intelligence wants to put resources into dismantling Havoc Squad, Dorne is a beautiful, beautiful stress point. Frame her, drive Havoc Squad's effective yet borderline unstable commander off a cliff, sit back and watch as the squad crumbles again.
This post spawned the Cross Faction AU, continued
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