“So, Captain,” Eilan began, his voice barely loud enough to carry over the bustle and din of the casino, “care to try your hand at the games?”
Quinn shook his head. He still wasn’t entirely sure why the unpredictable Sith had insisted on coming here, since he was apparently uninterested in the games himself. Surely, if he’d only wanted a drink to celebrate his incredible victory today, there were any number of other, quieter establishments he might have chosen. It was Nar Shaddaa, after all, and there were vendors for every vice.
“As a student of statistics, I can simply say that I’d prefer to keep my credits, my lord,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Not even a hand or two of sabacc? That’s as much tactics as luck, after all, and you do have such an excellent sabacc face.” Eilan smirked at him over his glass of Arkanian sweet-milk.
Quinn wasn’t entirely sure if the apprentice was mocking him, although that seemed like a safe thing to bet on. Aside from battle, Eilan took very little seriously, it seemed. Perhaps it was a deflection technique to disguise his true feelings on matters? Darth Baras asked that I learn how his apprentice thinks—that’s clearly going to be harder than I anticipated.
“While I suspect I would fare better at sabacc than at a slot machine, my lord, I still see little reason to risk one’s money so frivolously,” he said out loud, wondering where the Sith was going with this line of conversation.
Eilan grinned and leaned in closer. “There are always other things to wager besides money, Captain.”
Quinn swallowed hard and hoped, probably in vain, that the other man hadn’t noticed. He should have predicted this angle of attack; Darth Baras’s apprentice was, he’d discovered very quickly, one of those Sith who frequently pursued the ideal of “passion” in its physical interpretation, and he hadn’t hesitated to make that very clear to Quinn. In the captain’s experience, that wasn’t all that unusual a state of mind for a Sith, but after being stuck on Balmorra for years, he was somewhat out of practice with politely fending off amorous lords and apprentices. Further complicating the issue was the fact that Eilan was his commander, as well as the apprentice of his ultimate master, Darth Baras. He had the right to refuse, to protest, but would doing so endanger his place on Eilan’s crew, or in Baras’s plans?
For that matter, even if he wished to accede to the apprentice’s persistent and pervasive importuning, it would be a terrible breach of protocol. He was Eilan’s immediate subordinate, and fraternization within the direct chain of command was so heavily discouraged that it was all but forbidden. Why isn’t it forbidden? Quinn thought in the back of his mind. The lack of a written rule simply encourages offenders to see themselves as a justified exception. Then again, perhaps it was because of the tendencies of Sith like Eilan that no formal rule had been created...
Well. If he had no recourse within Imperial regulations, he would have to draw the line himself.
“Lord Eilan.” The Miraluka was only an apprentice in the eyes of the Sith, but from mere Imperials, he rated a title of respect. “While I have no desire to curb your... fun”—the word did not often fall from Quinn’s lips—”the sort of dalliance you’re hinting at goes against established protocol.”
“Against established protocol,” Eilan echoed, his tone droll. “Since when have I struck you as a slave to protocol, Quinn?”
When he put it that way, Quinn did feel a little foolish for taking that particular approach. As an alien, Eilan’s entire existence as a Sith was “against established protocol”, and yet, here he was, thriving. Still, the apprentice generally didn’t flout rules simply because he could get away with it; if Quinn could get him to treat his incessant flirtation the same way...
“With all due respect, my lord... it simply isn’t—”
“Enough,” the younger man interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You’ve made yourself clear on the matter, Captain.” His teeth flashed in a quick, foxish grin. “Pity.”
Before Quinn could find a reply, Eilan rose from his seat, gazing towards the bar. “I’m going to go see what kinds of ‘good stuff’ the bartender has hidden under the counter,” he said with a knowing smirk. “Any requests?”
“Ah... no, but thank you for asking, my lord.”
With a nod of acknowledgement, the apprentice turned and made his way to the bar, taking a circuitous route past some of the busier game tables and across the path of several of the scantily-clad serving girls.
Did he leave because of my refusal? Quinn had to wonder. It was the logical conclusion, but the younger man didn’t seem angry—and Sith, in general, seldom felt the need to restrain their anger. Somehow, Eilan’s sudden concession made Quinn almost as uncomfortable as his flirting. Was it really that simple? All he’d had to do was ask?
He wondered if Darth Baras had had any inkling, when he tasked Quinn with joining Eilan’s crew, that he would constantly have to deflect the young Sith’s advances. Or... No, he couldn’t have assumed that I would try to ingratiate myself to Eilan that way, in order to earn his trust... Could he?
Quinn didn’t like any of the directions that line of thought was apt to travel. Perhaps that’s overthinking it. I doubt Baras is too concerned with how I study Eilan... only that I complete the task. If he had a specific plan, he would have laid it out. Probably. Darth Baras knew far too many things and used his pawns ruthlessly; delivering one of his agents as bait didn’t seem too far-fetched, when Quinn considered the idea objectively. It was not a reassuring thought.
And speaking of Baras... He knew he would have to write up his report of the incident with Lord Rathari soon. Unexpectedly, he found himself somewhat torn as to how much he should disclose. Eilan had made some fascinating, clever choices. Bargaining with the besieged Republic troopers had been a stroke of genius, and the captain wondered if Eilan had anticipated the need to call in that favor—there seemed little reason to make such a deal otherwise. As for letting them walk away freely in the end... Quinn was of two minds about that, but perhaps the apprentice had a reason—besides his promise—to let them go. I wonder if he’d actually tell me if I asked. The Sith could be maddeningly evasive when he wished to be.
But Darth Baras would care little about the manipulation of a few Republic grunts. No, it was the disposition of Lord Rathari and Agent Dellocon he would be concerned with. Dellocon was dead, as ordered, but he’d been cut down not by Eilan, but by Lord Rathari himself, who had begged to serve the young apprentice who’d just defeated him with little difficulty.
It had been a remarkable fight. Rathari had half a head’s height and probably twenty or twenty-five kilos on the younger Sith, but Eilan withstood the onslaught like a crag of rock being splashed by the tide. On the other hand, the apprentice was able to slice through Rathari’s defenses with powerful, well-timed strikes, and it wasn’t long before Eilan had his opponent at his mercy.
...And despite what Baras might have wished, that mercy was granted. Rathari had been seemingly awestruck by Eilan’s power, and had opted to throw in with the apprentice, in the belief that Eilan would eventually defeat Baras. Eilan accepted Rathari’s pledge without hesitation; perhaps after using one alliance of convenience so successfully, he was keen on setting up another.
Which brought Quinn to his current dilemma. Eilan had circumvented Baras’s orders, to some extent. The captain had sworn to serve Eilan, of course, but his debt to Baras was older, deeper. Eilan showed no signs of rebellion against his master now, but wasn’t that was most Sith came to, eventually? The conflict between master and apprentice? And when that day came, who would prevail?
Two days ago, Quinn’s answer would have easily been “Baras”, without a doubt. Watching Eilan’s duel with Rathari had left his conviction a little shaken, however—and Rathari’s immediate submission, even more so. He was no Sith to be able to feel someone’s strength; he couldn’t sense whatever Rathari had. But the Sith lord was a canny veteran, and surely wouldn’t have been easy to impress. Was he right? Would Eilan be Baras’s end?
Fortunately, cool pragmatism spared Quinn from his indecision, for now. Darth Baras would surely learn of Rathari’s survival from other channels; if the captain didn’t report such basic, and vital, information, he’d immediately place himself under suspicion. For his own sake, he had little choice in the matter. He’d make a full report, then, and let Baras use the information as he wished. He doubted Baras would act against his apprentice immediately, if he chose to do so at all, but this could be a useful tactical footnote whenever the time came.
If Baras saw Eilan as a threat, that reckoning would come sooner than later, and when it did...
That uncomfortable train of thought was broken as Eilan returned to their table with a triumphant grin, a bottle of vividly blue liquor, and a pair of tumblers rattling with ice. With exaggerated flourish, he set the two glasses down, unstoppered the bottle, and poured out a cautious measure of the alarmingly blue liquid into each. The drinks immediately began to fizz, producing a fine mist that hovered in the top half of the glasses like captive clouds.
Quinn didn’t know what to expect from a drink that produced such a show, but he imagined it had to be potent. “A successful expedition, my lord?”
“Well, I think so, at any rate,” Eilan replied as he sat down. “Martovliian sky-nectar. I’m afraid the special effects are mostly lost on me, but the buxom young Twi’lek who described it for me seemed quite fascinated by it.” He raised his glass to his face, as if taking in the aroma. “I can feel the vapor, though, and the taste is certainly not to be scoffed at.” He gestured with his glass for Quinn to try it.
Generally speaking, Quinn would never imbibe in a work situation, and in his mind, sitting with a Sith apprentice in a casino where he’d rather not be definitely qualified as work—it certainly wasn’t pleasure. He had no doubt, however, that Eilan would pester him until he gave in and drank. Conceding defeat before the battle could begin, he raised his glass in a semi-formal salute.
“To your health, my lord,” he murmured.
“And to yours, Captain.” Eilan’s tone was wry, as it so often was; again, he seemed to be laughing privately at something, or everything. He returned Quinn’s toasting gesture, and the two of them drank, setting their glasses down with simultaneous clinks.
The liquor was sweet and aromatic, and oddly spicy; it took a moment for the alcohol to catch up with the intense flavor, and when it did, it came on rather suddenly, and with force. Quinn was glad they’d already eaten—this was not a drink for an empty stomach.
“Interesting,” he managed to say in a neutral tone.
Eilan laughed, seeing through the captain’s attempt to downplay the drink’s strength. “Isn’t it just? I bought the bottle; we can give Vette a glass, enjoy the show and all that, and save the rest for a suitable occasion.”
“Does that mean we’re leaving, my lord?” Quinn winced inwardly at the plaintive note in his voice, but he was more than ready to quit the casino—and Nar Shaddaa, for that matter.
“Why the rush?” The apprentice grinned teasingly. “Hmm... Perhaps you’d simply prefer Vette’s company to mine?”
The insolent Twi’lek was little more than a nuisance to Quinn, and he knew Eilan was well aware of his feelings toward the girl. “I won’t dignify that with a response,” he replied with quiet aplomb, unwilling to give the younger man fuel for his mockery.
Eilan simply chuckled quietly as he rose from his seat. “As you like, Captain. ‘Come, let us rest for a time, ‘til that higher power calls us again to serve.’”
It wasn’t until they’d reached the taxi stand that Quinn recognized the quote; it was from a classic Zeltron epic, highly regarded as a masterpiece of erotic literature. Eilan had left off the last part of the sentence:
Come, let us rest for a time, ‘til that higher power calls us again to serve; then we shall strive with one another again, skin against skin, to deliver that most glorious end—to see each other utterly unmade.
“Unmade” was one of the most common euphemisms in Zeltron literature; knowing that made the intent of the rest of the passage quite clear. It was, Quinn thought with a silent sigh, thoroughly inappropriate.
And when it comes to Lord Eilan, he thought, resigned to the inevitable, I suppose 'inappropriate' is only to be expected.