Lieutenant Malavai Quinn snapped shut his suitcase and took a deep breath. He hadn't had much to pack, living as sparsely as he did, and that was a good thing. He didn't want to miss the Fury as it left the spaceport. It would be just like a Sith to inform him of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the last moment, only to laugh when he missed the ship by minutes. He didn't think Darth Baras would trick him in this way, but when dealing with Sith, it was wise to be prepared for anything.
He didn't have time to arrange for delivery of his things, so he would have to carry the suitcase himself. He barely took a look back at the little barracks apartment he'd lived in for the last ten years. He wouldn't miss it. He slid the door closed behind him and took off briskly for the spaceport. It wasn't far; with luck he could make it still.
He gripped the suitcase handle and felt his heart pick up pace as the spaceport came into view. Darth Baras's generosity had been unexpected and he was still reeling from the news. Quinn had languished on Balmorra, this war torn cesspool of a planet, for so long, watching his career stagnate. Still, after being court martialed, Baras had given him a respectable, if unimportant, post, allowing him to stay in military service. Now, he had – finally! – proven himself worthy in the lord's eyes. He would not squander this gift.
He was not truly free of Baras's yoke. Baras had "suggested" that he could find employment onboard the Fury if he presented himself well, and had made it clear that an opportunity like this might not surface again. The Fury was owned by Darth Baras's apprentice, an up-and-coming Sith in her own right. Quinn knew he was on a leash, but the illusion of freedom was still so gloriously tempting and close. He was stepping out of that bad dream that had been his old life, and new possibilities glittered before him. He must make Morda accept his service. Rejection was unthinkable.
He had worked with Morda during the last few weeks, but still knew little about her. She struck him as arrogant, brazen, and abrupt, but what Sith wasn't? She had taken his advice in some tactical matters while doing her business here on Balmorra, and had treated him with courtesy, and that gave him hope. He still blushed though at the memory of how she had poked fun at a turn of phrase he had used once, turning it into an innuendo he had not intended. Deriving fun from the discomfort of others was an accepted Sith pastime, but it also could indicate a love for other, more sadistic pleasures. He decided to make every effort to make himself indispensable to this apprentice, so that she would see him as a valuable asset.
He had not taken her flirts seriously of course. It would be unprofessional for one thing, and for another, she was an alien. Her Sith Pureblood lineage gave her considerable clout and respect within the Empire, but that wasn't enough to keep Quinn from feeling a bit discomfited by her scarlet red skin and alien features. He normally found Sith Purebloods unattractive in general, particularly the dripping facial tendrils on the males and spiky ridges on the females. Morda, at least, was inoffensive to look at. He wondered idly if the very elements that made her more tolerable to him made her less attractive to those of her own kind. Her face was more humanlike than many he'd seen, sporting only some strong, pointed eyebrow ridges and some slight striations along her cheekbones. Her skin was a fiery red though, as were her eyes. He could still picture the devious mirth in them when she laughed.
Quinn stepped into the spaceport and stopped to adjust his collar. His future rode on this moment. He hoped luck was with him.
It was turning out to be a terrible birthday. Morda watched impassively as the man before her struggled and slowly turned blue. As his life drained away, however, so did her anger. This little peon obviously knew nothing so there was no need to belabor the point. She remembered he'd been trying to say something before she had started to force choke him. She released her hand and dropped him to the ground.
"What were you blathering about?"
The man coughed and sputtered before finding his voice.
"My lord, the manager approves all the parts. I just install them! You should talk to him."
"Where is he?"
The mechanic pointed behind her at a doorway leading to a room off the spaceship hanger. Morda strode through the door and found the manager inside, a slimy worm of a man if she ever saw one. He spotted her and licked his lips nervously.
"I'll never buy from that manufacturer again. Swindlers, all of them! I didn't have any idea!"
"My lord," Morda's slave girl spoke up from behind her. "That was cheap, aftermarket tampering. If that fluid had leaked into the circuits, the heating coils would have fried. We'd have reached outside temperature in minutes. Instant Sith popcicle, I tell ya."
The manager's eyes widened. He gaped a moment like a dying fish and then spun around to make a clumsy dash for the door.
Morda let him run a bit, watching as he ran heedlessly across the wide open hangar floor towards the far side. Then she reached for one of her lightsabers. The brilliant red blade hummed to life and she raised her arm, aimed quickly and gave it a sharp throw. It buzzed through the air, spinning in a flat circle several times before connecting with his body in a flash of light. His arms flung out wildly and he fell, his shirt smoking. Morda threw out her hand and called the blade back again before it could hit the floor. It spun back towards her and she caught it and sheathed it in one smooth motion.
"Aren't there any decent mechanics in these parts, Vette?" She scowled and Vette shrugged.
At last, the work order fulfilled and her ship ready for flight, Morda stepped into the spaceport hangar. She was making quick strides towards the gang plank when she caught a motion out of the corner of her eye. She pivoted and reached for her saber.
"My lord." The man threw out his hands and took a step backwards.
"Lieutenant Quinn," Morda said. "I was not expecting you." She was eager to lift off, but this was the man who had assisted her in hunting down and killing a Jedi. She was curious now as to what he was doing here.
"I came unannounced," he said. "Darth Baras has given me leave to start a new assignment, so I'm here now to pledge myself to you. I'm ready and willing to serve in whatever capacity you see fit, if you'll have me."
Quinn dropped to one knee with his head bowed, looking down at his perfectly shined shoes. Most imperials were trained to be respectful and duty-bound, but from what she had seen, Quinn expected no less than perfection from himself and others. Morda wondered if he also had the courage and flexibility to manage the type of dangerous missions she frequently underwent.
He began to list off his varied skills, which were impressive: piloting, military strategy and tactics, marksmanship. He needn't have tried so hard. Morda had seen a bit of his work first hand and knew his value. With Quinn on board, she could finally start building a real crew.
Morda felt a little thrill pass through her. Quinn struck her as a bit uptight and rule-obsessed, but she had sensed a deep well of emotional potential in him. He had blushed so prettily the one time she had teased him. This could prove interesting.
After he'd finished talking, Morda rubbed her chin thoughtfully a moment, just to watch him squirm. Then she smiled indulgently at him.
"Offer accepted, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, my lord," Quinn replied. "You will not regret this."
It didn't take long to get Quinn settled. He'd barely brought anything with him, although he did immediately make arrangements for a shipment of additional uniforms to be picked up at their next stop planetside. Morda was getting him acquainted with the bridge when she heard a call on the holoterminal coming in.
"Vette, take that call for me," she called out. She turned back to see Quinn lightly touching the controls on the flight console. He had stood at parade rest the entire time she had been showing him the bridge and this was the first time Morda had seen him do anything other than nod and say, "Yes, my lord." The gesture lasted only a moment, but Morda saw a longing in the way his fingertips grazed the controls.
"Has it been a long time since you last piloted a ship, Lieutenant?"
"Darth Baras sent me on a few assignments, but I underwent regular flight simulations to stay sharp during my stay on Balmorra. I graduated at the top of my class."
"I wasn't doubting your credentials, Quinn," Morda said, unable to hide the amusement in her voice. "I was just asking a question."
"Of course, my lord. My mistake."
The man was wound as a tight as a spring, she thought. Their first meeting, in his office back on Balmorra, had made a curious impression. She had walked into the room to catch him fiercely berating a soldier for a poor performance. The anger coming off of him then had been a palpable force, and the look on his face had been set and hard. After dismissing the soldier, he spotted Morda, and what she saw next was like a door slamming shut with enough force to knock the wind out of the room. Gone were the rage and the fire in his eyes, to be instantly replaced with a bland, respectful countenance, his voice quickly modulated and under control. It was only right that he address her with deference, but Morda was struck by the abruptness of the transition, and the contrast between the two emotive extremes. The first is the real Quinn, she thought, the man he hides with a zeal bordering on desperation.
It was Vette, standing in the doorway. Morda nodded for her to speak.
"Your mother is on the holo."
At least someone had remembered her birthday. Morda left the bridge.
The image of a tall, statuesque Pureblood woman flickered in the air above terminal. She had her hair coiffed elaborately and was wearing enough make-up that it could be seen even through the holo.
"My!" she said when Morda entered the room. "That new slave of yours is such a doll! And those freckles! You know how hard it is to breed Twi'leks for freckles? She's a bit high-spirited though, isn't she? How are things coming along with her? I see you've got her collar off. That confident already?"
"It goes back on when we are off the ship," Morda said. "She still tests her limits sometimes, but responds well to the reward system."
"Good, good. I see so many first-timers make the same mistakes. Too lenient or too strong, you know. One extreme or the other. Well!" Her mother cocked her head and pouted. "I was going to get you a slave for your birthday, but now you've already got one. You have any trouble, just come to me and I'll switch her out for a more docile girl and we can take over her training."
A tinny voice boomed from somewhere beyond the sight of the holo camera. "How will she ever learn, Morella, if you take over for her?"
Morella twitched an eyebrow and smiled back knowingly at Morda. "At least I could offer, being your birthday and all. Happy birthday, dear!"
"Ooh," Morella said. "Now who is this?"
Morda turned to see that Quinn had stepped into the room behind her.
"Mother, this is Lieutenant Malavai Quinn, newly arrived to my crew. Quinn, this is my mother, Lord Morella."
Quinn bowed politely to the holo image. "My pleasure."
"The pleasure is all mine," Morella cooed. Morda made a mental note to keep her mother away from the Lieutenant should they ever find themselves in the same room.
"Well, dear," her mother said. "I'll send something along for you, all right? Your father is-" she paused, frowning as she looked off camera, "-busy with his Corellian cocktail. He's still in a funk over the death of his last apprentice. The boy was a waste of space if you ask me, but it looks bad, you know. Three in a row like that."
"He needs to pick them better," Morda said.
"That's what they're all saying. That he's losing his touch, or that he's growing weak and purposely choosing ones that won't ever be able to challenge him. He sends birthday wishes, or he would anyway, if he could get his face out of his cup."
"Thanks," Morda said. Morella gave a nod and the holo fizzed out.
When Quinn went to inspect his new quarters on the ship, he discovered that there had been an error in his room assignment. The Twi'lek slave girl's meager possessions were strewn across one of the bunks. He could've sworn that Morda had directed him to this room, but perhaps she had been distracted when he had posed the question. He went to her immediately and informed her of the oversight. To his chagrin, she laughed at him.
"Have you seen the size of this ship, Lieutenant? You will sleep in the crew's quarters with the rest of the crew."
Quinn was incredulous. "My lord, there is no other crew yet. Just the slave. And a...a female one at that. Surely you don't mean-"
"Are you questioning me, Quinn?" One spiked eyebrow rose and the mirth dropped from Morda's face as if it had never been. Was it just his imagination or was there a tightness growing around his throat? He immediately retreated.
"No! Of course not, my lord. Please excuse my confusion. The ship is, as you say, much smaller than any I have previously served on. The accommodations will be adequate for my needs, I am sure."
"Good. Get settled and meet me on the bridge."
Quinn gave Morda a succinct bow and retreated to the crew's quarters. It was highly inappropriate for a man of his rank to be bunking with a slave girl. Was Morda testing him? That had to be it. But what game was she playing? Perhaps assigning himself to this Sith had been a mistake. He would need to adjust his attitude if he wanted to stay on her good side.
The following day when he came off duty, he discovered the slave's things were gone. In fact, he could see her mattress and bedding sitting on the floor through the open door of Morda's room. Finally, the Sith had figured out where a personal slave really belonged. His satisfaction turned to humiliation though when he later learned that the slave had apparently complained about bunking with him. That a slave would even consider lodging an actual complaint was ridiculous in and of itself, but even more ludicrous was the implication that her complaint had been acted on and not his. He took a deep breath. Morda was trying to get him to slip up somehow, to trick him into making a mistake. Perhaps she was having second thoughts about taking him on board. If so, why not just fire him? Quinn didn't understand Morda at all.