CHRONICLES PRESENT, 57: In which desert planets continue to be terrible places (I/II)
Time period: during Master Rho's campaign
Amidst the shifting dunes of Loborr VI lies a recessed temple gate that somehow is never fully buried. The winds of the greater desert hold no sway there.
"This'd be better with explosives," said Pierce as he and the rest of Nalenne's crew waited alongside the officership of Insanity Company.
"We blew it all up last time," said Quinn. "Repeating the scenario is simply inviting the enemy to counter us. If you weren't there for the first one, that's your own fault."
"We might have recruited him earlier," said Captain Rutau. "From all I've seen and heard, Lieutenant Pierce would be a valuable addition to the company."
"No," said Quinn and Pierce in unison.
A sand skimmer crested the nearest dune and paused. It crept a little ways down into the unnatural calm of the temple ramp. Then it stopped, and Jedi Master Rho and his associates climbed out.
Master Rho cautiously led his party to fan out facing Nalenne's group.
"Jaesa," said Kira. "This looks a lot like an ambush. Like we talked about you not doing?"
"We're here to talk," Jaesa said nervously. "Probably."
"Yeah. Right." Kira took a look around, then smiled smugly. "Still, could be worse. Hey, Mister Wrath, how're you gonna drop rocks on us this time?"
Quinn scowled. "If I wanted to, Jedi, I would find a way."
Nalenne elbowed him. "My show," she whispered. She took a step forward. "So, Rho. We really need to talk."
"If that's what it takes to get you to stand aside, Lord Nalenne."
"Did Kira tell you what your boyfriend has been up to?"
"My what?" Rho said blankly.
"Your...oh, for spite's sake. Has she told you what Lord Scourge is doing?"
"Kira was mistaken," the Mirialan said firmly. "That misunderstanding has since been cleared up."
"I told you," Kira said to Jaesa. "He won't listen."
"You really don't think your Lord Scourge has been a problem?" said Nalenne.
"No. He has been a great ally," said Rho.
"Jedi clan has a dumbest as well," observed Broonmark.
"Rho," said Nalenne, "did Scourge happen to mention that, while managing your holocalls, he turned down Doctor Godera's hysterical begging for help against the destruction of two planets a couple of months back?"
Rho started. "He did?"
"Yup. Hung right up on the man. Repeatedly. I had to pick up your slack and save those worlds myself – a vocation I'd really rather not move into."
Lord Scourge gestured languidly. "Mistakes happen," he said. "Now, Master Rho. Shall we kill these interlopers and move on to the true task?"
"That's a lot of interlopers," Doc pointed out.
"Beepety boop beep," said T7-01.
"Your 'true task' is a sham," said Nalenne. "You should have listened to Kira, Jedi. The Emperor's all-consuming death vortex? That's a lie, made up by Lord Scourge to drive you into doing the dirty work for his personal vendetta. You're only here gathering his prep materials because he isn't strong enough to handle his grudge against the Emperor himself."
"You're mistaken, Nalenne." Rho spoke like he was trying to soothe a six-year-old. "The Emperor will destroy us all. It took tremendous courage for Lord Scourge to – "
"To run to Republic space and start giving you a you're-so-special speech, designed to play to your ego, so you can run be the big hero and save the galaxy in a textbook example of pandering to Jedi cultural stereotypes?"
"I…uh…he said there were cultists preparing rituals to serve the Emperor's ascension. I've seen them, everywhere. I've stopped dozens."
"The death cults were mostly organized by a very bored lonely servant of the Emperor. They're pathetic, not threatening."
"Their ideas were admirable," mumbled Lieutenant Hareth resentfully, but everyone ignored her.
Lord Scourge spoke up. "Wrath. After all the time you have spent in pursuit, is this the best attack you could come up with? You and I have seen things that no other living person has. We have tasted His dark presence and survived. Surely you must understand that He must be stopped." He started walking slowly towards her. "I realize it seems strange that I should have chosen a Jedi for this task. But surely you understand why. I didn't know if I could trust you. Could I have believed that anyone in the Empire would break free of their shackles enough to do what must be done? Could I really have hoped to find the necessary strength of will?" He stopped at last, looming over her, reaching to not-quite-touch her chin. He lowered his voice to a soft, intimate tone. "Could I have known the Wrath would be you?"
Nalenne stared up at him. "Nice, really nice. That might work if I hadn't gotten laid immediately before this conversation. As it is my higher brain isn't working enough to think through this situation as hard as you're suggesting."
"I could do it better," Scourge said, flicking a disdainful look at Quinn.
"You can't even enjoy it," scoffed Nalenne.
"I don't have to, so long as I get what I want afterward."
Quinn cleared his throat. "My lord, when it comes to intimate relations that is one of the worst possible sentiments you could express to this woman. Believe me."
"Hey," said Nalenne, turning on him, "you enjoy it. Don't you?"
Quinn cast a pained look at his company. "I can answer that in private, my lord."
"You'll answer yes. Right?"
"Not the point right now, my lord."
"Oh! Right. I was busy not getting talked into anything."
"Wow," said Vette. "Quinn's Stock Line #3 actually worked."
"That's a first," marveled Pierce.
"Sith clan has developed an unexpected willingness to listen to Sith clan's dumbest and take his needs and recommendations into account," quorked Broonmark. "We are glad for Sith clan chief's happiness, but we hope it will not interfere with killing."
"I'm sure there'll be killing," Nalenne assured him. "Because I'm not getting talked into anything."
Lord Scourge cast a quick look around, obviously recalibrating his idea of who was in charge. "General – the general who would have been Wrath," he said smoothly. "In a matter of this magnitude, would you leave the coming triumph to the Jedi?"
Quinn succeeded in looking down his nose at a man eight inches taller than he was. "My lord, I am an expert in unreliable narrators, so don't try. There is one Sith I follow and it isn't you."
Nalenne raised her voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, we can get on with the murder now."
"Stop!" called Rho. "Please. Lord Scourge, what are you doing?"
But Nalenne's lightsaber was already out, as were the blasters of Insanity Company. "Murdering," Scourge announced with a feral smile, and crossed sabers with Nalenne.