In her small quarters aboard the Resolve, Renci dons her concealing robes without bothering to wipe the blood off her face. She takes a sip from her canteen and places a call on her encrypted comm. Protocol would call for making a formal report through the chain of command, but command has not been getting the job done. Vault crossed a line, and Renci has to haul it back, right now. “Vault, do you have a moment to talk?” she asks.
“Word is you found a potential base for us, Baker,” says the angular cloaked holo.
“Turns out it’s not going to work for a base, but probably for a strike, which I think is right up your alley.”
“Anything to take out the Empire!” the Verpine cheers.
“Yes, anything indeed…. Look, I was going through some case files recently, and I have some questions about Amulet.” Renci knows the official line is that Amulet is convalescing and no longer in position to do what he did before. She played a part in the action that resulted in that, so it is not unreasonable that she could have been looking at those records. “I understand you were the handler? From the very beginning?”
Vault tells her that Amulet worked with some other handlers initially. “I got involved when the time came that Amulet needed special handling.”
“Can you tell me about this ‘special handling’? I work with a lot of different kinds of people. What did it take to work with Amulet? Amulet accomplished some really impressive things. While some of us like to think we can work alone, none of us really work alone.” Concealed by her robes, Renci shifts nervously; deceiving an officer is not her strong suit.
“When you’re running someone embedded in the Empire, having them do things alone is what usually works best. And you yourself have to be willing to keep your eye on the big picture and exploit your resource to the fullest. Sometimes, to get truly great results out of people, you have to encourage them to do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing.”
Wow, thinks Renci, is that Vault’s view of what happened with Amulet? There is no empathy there. “But how can you ever trust someone who is working in the Empire, especially if they’re not someone we put there in the first place?” she asks, still trying to figure out her best approach.
Vault rubs its foreclaws together and warms to its topic. It is not often that these young Rebels come to it for advice. This is rather nice! “Well, one thing that’s important in judging if you can trust an Imperial informant is initial verification. In the case of Amulet, since you asked about that specifically… Amulet had been releasing Rebels with useful information for a couple months to show potential before requesting any contact with a Rebellion officer. That kind of demonstration of access is helpful for judging a possible asset. Of course, it’s always good to have insurance in place, too. You want to keep your asset focused on your own priorities. And in the Empire, using the ISB, their own tool, is the best way to do that.”
“How do you use the ISB?” Renci asks, honestly perplexed. “Wouldn’t that just cost you your source?”
“Well, we don’t directly use the ISB. It’s the fear of the ISB that keeps assets in line if they start causing problems, showing reluctance, et cetera. And you can also use their conscience against them, to make them keep themselves in line. Clearly they want to do good in some sense, and even if they have some sort of personal grievance—with their handler, for example, if you’re thinking of branching out into this field—they may be unlikely to sacrifice all the other people that would be negatively impacted by them acting out.”
Vault seems to have no remorse. Renci tries a more direct approach. “I think I understand what you’re saying with a lot of these points. You mentioned using fear of the ISB to control people. Aren’t you just replacing trust with fear? Isn’t that going to change the kind of information and missions you get out of people? You won’t get the same information with fear as you do with trust. Isn’t the relationship going to work better if you use trust? Otherwise… that’s what the Empire does to people.”
Vault shakes its head. Oh, these uppity puppies, young Rebels with their heads in the clouds. “Yes, you will certainly change the info you get! Fear is a way stronger motivator than trust. Just because the Empire uses a tool, doesn’t mean the tool itself is broken. Don’t we repurpose Imperial frigates and use them in our own Navy? Amulet even got us one! And if you’re too squeamish for the realities of war, you should stay where you are on the fringes, doing your scouting work.”
Renci tightens her grip on her flask. “Some tools are evil, like the Death Star. And torture to get people to do what you want, that would be on that list. I didn’t use to think about these things; I didn’t use to think about what came after. But if what comes after uses the same tools, then nothing has really changed,” she seethes.
Renci continues, “I’ve been on the fringes, doing scouting work.” She pulls back her hood to reveal her still bloody face. “Do not tell me about the realities of war. We’re not fighting this war to win this war. We’re fighting this war to put something better together after the Empire, right? That’s the whole point. ‘To make forever free all beings in the galaxy,’” Renci quotes from Mon Mothma’s Declaration of Rebellion. “The purpose of this war—let me rephrase this practically—is to put together something that is better than the Empire, better than the Republic was. To do that, we can’t use the same tools, because otherwise, we end up with the Empire again, with just a different name, different colors. We cannot afford to have fought all these battles only to end up with the same thing all over again. And if you can’t recognize when a tool is itself is corrupt, like the Death Star, or torture, or coercion, then maybe you need to step back from handling Imperial agents who are every single moment of their lives living under fear of the Empire and putting their lives on the line.”
Renci glares at the Verpine. “You know what, Vault? I have the perfect mission for you to get back in the field. There’s a semi-derelict Imperial prison/re-education facility. All the guards are droids; all the prisoners are dead. If you could clear it and recover all the records, that would be great. We didn’t have the firepower to get it all done right now. I can give you details from when we scouted it out. If you recover all those records and go through them, then maybe you can see how useful the Imperial research on torture is.”
Vault is excited to hear the details of the facility. After expressing this, it says, “You’re not the first person to take exception with how I run my assets. And it’s true that my assets burn brightly but not for very long. Even Amulet went out in a blaze of glory, getting us the Vigilant. But we’ve been waging this war for 20-odd years, and maybe longer-term investments are the way to go. I will be very interested to personally seize this facility you’ve found.”
Renci advises Vault to get properly outfitted by the quartermaster and put together a suitable team. Thinking of Pile-of-Leaves, she mentions that she might have someone who would be interested in helping. Finally, she tells Vault to read her full report, which will be submitted in the next day or two. Then she shuts down the comm and collapses onto the narrow bunk, worn out by the stressful conversation. “How does JT do that all the time?” she wonders aloud. “It’s exhausting!”