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04.17.2013 , 07:37 PM | #8
Exit Strategy

"So... Do you get any special apprentice merit badges or Sith points or anything for that? 'Bonked a Darth', 500 points?"

Eilan chuckled at Vette's question, although he could tell she was honestly curious beneath the flippancy, even if she’d never admit it.

“Of course there are no tangible rewards—other than the extremely obvious.” He smirked at the Twi’lek’s comedic sound of disgust. “I can hope, though, that Darth Lachris will remember me fondly.” Balmorra’s new Imperial authority had certainly left an impression on him, but he was a fairly green apprentice and she was a Darth, beholden to a master who served on the Dark Council. Perhaps she went through lovers like cheap holonovels—read once and never again. He preferred to flatter himself with the thought, though, that he had earned her attentions through his particular blend of battle prowess and charisma, and not simply because she’d been bored and he’d been fresh meat.

I was the one to initiate the dance, the apprentice thought, but I suppose time will tell. “Some Sith like to burn things down,” he continued his explanation to Vette as the two of them walked through the Sobrik spaceport to his waiting ship. “That has its appeal, I’ll be the first to admit... but I also like to build things.”

“You mean like alliances,” Vette mused.

“Precisely. ‘Alliance’ might be too formal a term, but that’s the gist of it. I am quite good at making friends, if I want to.”

“Is that what they’re calling it now?”

Eilan grinned at his companion’s wry tone. “Unfortunately, that brand of diplomacy won’t work on everyone.”

“Ugh. With some of these Sith Lords you’ve been running errands for, I wouldn’t call it unfortunate at all.”

“How judgmental of you, Vette,” the Miraluka said in a mock-chiding tone, not quite suppressing a smirk.

“Look, I know you can’t see them, but... ugh,” Vette repeated for emphasis.

Eilan simply snorted in amusement as something else caught his attention. He slowed his pace slightly, prompting Vette to match his strides. “Speaking of people who are easy on the eyes... We seem to have a send-off committee.”

“Who, Captain Cardboard?” They’d not yet crossed onto the floor of the hangar proper, but the Twi’lek followed her “master’s” drift well enough to know who he meant. She had been less than impressed with their liaison’s stiff, by-the-book professionalism.

“Mm, the very same.” Eilan greatly appreciated Vette’s ability to keep up with his unspoken thoughts. It shouldn’t have surprised him; she’d made her living for a while as a treasure hunter, and that must have demanded quick wits, but it continually delighted him when she could follow his line of thought without him having to spell it out.

“What’s he want, a recommendation letter?”

“Ha. Possibly.” He still found it frustratingly difficult to get an impression of the newly promoted captain’s emotions, and that left him less prepared for unexpected turns like this. “I suppose we’ll find out in a moment. If he kills me, shoot him in the face for me, hmm?”

“Sure thing, boss.”

The officer stood at parade rest near the boarding ramp of Eilan’s Fury-class Interceptor, Katarr’s Curse, but quickly snapped to attention as soon as the Sith entered the hangar. Although Eilan could make nothing of Quinn’s emotions, he could feel the physical signs of tension in the man’s bearing. Tension over what, though?

“My lord, I hope you don't find my appearance here obtrusive,” the captain said apologetically once Eilan drew within speaking distance. “I beg an audience.”

“Begging does not become an officer,” Eilan admonished him, a hint of amusement in his voice.

Quinn either didn’t see the teasing for what it was, or decided to address it at face value, perhaps to prove his own sincerity. “Pardon my word choice, my lord,” he acknowledged with a slight bow. “I will speak plainly. As you know, Lord Baras enabled my reassignment anywhere I choose. It is an evolution I've longed for and assumed would never come.”

The Miraluka nodded in understanding. He could only imagine how much it pained someone of Quinn’s obvious intelligence and competence to be sidelined, with no real hope for promotion. Getting a free ticket off of Balmorra to posting of his own choosing must have seemed like nothing short of a miracle.

It was, in fact, so miraculous that it made Eilan wonder at Darth Baras’s motives. Ten years on Balmorra, and it had taken this particular mission to finally repay whatever debt Quinn owed? It seemed more likely that Baras was moving Quinn at this moment for some other purpose; the captain was very good at what he did, and could surely be an asset elsewhere. But that still left the question of why he was here at this moment.

“Aiding your mission on this planet has reawakened the ambition that I began my career with,” the captain continued in quiet fervor, “to make the most profound impact possible for the Empire.”

Hmm. A true patriot, it would seem. Does one really enter the military with that sort of goal in mind? Eilan wondered idly. I’d expect such lofty dreams from a Sith, of course, but an Imperial? How interesting. Still, I suppose ambition is the lifeblood of the realm, whether one wields the Force or not. “Then welcome back to life, Quinn,” he said, coalescing some of his thoughts into words.

“That is how it feels, my lord.” Quinn smiled briefly, and for a moment, Eilan felt a flicker of simple pleasure through the Force. Ha. He’s so happy that it’s showing through this... shield, whatever it is. That’s almost endearing. “I cannot think of a more glorious and honorable way to make a difference in the galaxy than to serve you,” the man continued before gracefully dropping to one knee. “I'm here to pledge myself to you. I'm ready and willing to serve in whatever capacity you see fit.”

Aha. And suddenly all is explained. Eilan looked down at the man kneeling before him, holding in the cynical laugh that threatened to burst forth. As I set out into the galaxy cleaning up Baras’s spies, he sics one on me. Delightful. It was, the apprentice thought, something of a waste on Baras’s part. He remained faithful, and had no plans to the contrary in the near-term. On the other hand, Quinn was very useful, and if he helped Eilan achieve Baras’s directives faster and more effectively, that was a win for both apprentice and master.

I suppose the old man knows that even if I guess at Quinn’s true purpose, he’s too valuable for me to cast aside. It was a neat little trap. Of course, he could refuse outright, but it was hard to know how Baras would react to that. Most likely, he’d find another agent further down the line. Better the devil you know, hmm? At least this spy has manners and a nice voice to listen to. Speaking of which...

“Whatever capacity I see fit? how exciting,” the Sith drawled, the implication in his tone difficult to miss.

Vette grimaced and held her hand to her forehead in exasperation. Quinn, on the other hand, looked up at him quickly in apparent surprise. After an awkward beat of silence, he gathered his composure and continued his pitch, apparently judging the apprentice’s comment safer to ignore than engage.

“My lord, if given the chance, I know I will prove myself to you. I'm a top-notch pilot, military strategist and a deadly shot. I can fly this ship, plan your battles, assess your enemies, and kill them.” The captain said all of this matter-of-factly, without a hint of arrogance. “You won't find a more tireless and loyal subject. I offer my military prowess and dedicate every ounce of my strength to your cause.”

My cause, or Darth Baras’s? This wasn’t the time to call him on it, however. That could wait until Eilan had figured out how to get a better read on the Captain—there was little point trying to pull out a confession if he couldn’t be satisfied with its veracity. “You needn’t market yourself like a new model of factotum droid, Quinn,” he said with a slight smile. “I will be pleased to have you.”

“The pleasure will be mine.” There was a note of relief in the captain’s voice as he rose to his feet. “Thank you, my lord,” he said with a brief, respectful bow of his head. “I will submit my reassignment papers as we depart.”

“Then let us waste no further time on Balmorran soil.” Without waiting for a reply, Eilan strode past Quinn towards the Curse’s loading ramp. Behind him, Vette was silent, but he could pick up on her feelings of doubt. Interesting—I don’t think she trusts him either, but I’m not sure her reasons are the same as mine. We shall have to compare notes... somewhere where we won’t be overheard.

That was something he would need to be mindful of; he didn’t find it at all unlikely that Quinn might bug the ship, and if he simply tried to neutralize the bugs, it would be an immediate signal that he was aware of the surveillance. No... he’d play along for as long as it remained harmless. There would be time later, he was sure, to reassess the situation.

Until then... well, the game is on. Eilan casually leaned in the doorway leading to the bridge as he heard the sounds of the hatch closing and an unfamiliar tread in the corridor. “Welcome aboard, Captain,” he said with his most disarming smile.

I know "cardboard" doesn't really make any sense in the setting, but the connotation was just too perfect. XD; Feel free to mentally replace with a more Star-Warsy material, as long as you know what I meant!
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