Genre: Gen (adventure)
Savler swore under her breath. She'd had time to warn Mako that they were in a holding pattern when she'd joined them at the Luck, but they needed a chance to figure out what the hell they were going to do. It was a basic rule of bounty hunting that targets—acquisitions—weren't people. They especially weren't people you'd known since you were six.
No, I can fix that, she thought. He didn't really expect me to find her, anyway. No freighter pilot, no problem. Her "friend" was another story. The greenest rookie bounty hunter in the galaxy could've found him. Hell, with the information she'd been given, a child could've found him. Not failing Sith was a basic rule of life.
She and Mako sat on a box Bowdaar had carried in to the Luck's main room to make up for the lack of sufficient chairs. They were part of the conference because she was Jezari's friend, but she'd insisted on taking a back seat, even though both Kyrian and Corso had offered them theirs.
The chairs weren't much softer, anyway. They'd been old and in need of better padding for as long as she could remember. Jezari's dad had never bothered, and neither had Jezari. Freight hauling—even the extralegal sort—was no way to get rich. No wonder Jez's picking up government work.
That she thought she could trust an Imperial Intelligence agent was harder to understand. Trust a guy who lies for a living? What the frak are you thinking? She didn't care what Jezari thought she'd saved him from. People working for Intelligence came in three flavors: incompetent, scum, and incompetent scum. If Jez's pet Imp is any different, I'll kiss a Hutt.
She didn't know what con he was running, but she was damned sure he was running one. Imps didn't go making friends with Republic sympathizing freighter captains, especially non-human ones, unless they wanted something: a line on what the SIS was up to, a free pass to the core worlds... a way to weasel in and screw up her mission.
If she was right, Jezari would be thanking her for hauling his ass off to Dralick before the day was up. If she wasn't, well, that wasn't likely. He had to be using her, it was the only way it made sense. Except for the part about Jezari trusting him. If he'd really conned her that well...
Giving him to a Sith might be too good for him.
Kyrian doubted it was mere chance that he ended up sitting between Bowdaar and Corso. Under the circumstances, he wouldn't have blamed them if they'd insisted he and Kaliyo leave their weapons at the door. That they hadn't spoke louder than the seating arrangement.
Kaliyo slouched in a chair, apparently bored with the whole thing, but he noticed she hadn't taken her eyes off the bounty hunters. Who, in turn, hadn't taken their eyes off him.
That could be a problem. Savler had already proven herself quite capable, and, more importantly, she was Jezari's friend. He couldn't very well risk her life or livelihood to save himself; even if it proved safe for her to simply walk away, she would almost certainly be out a significant amount of credits. He wondered what Keeper would say if he made it up out of petty cash.
But first there was the question of a certain Republic engineer.
"Would it be too much to hope for a copy of the plans and the opportunity to try and recruit Riada?" He asked. "I realize he's not likely to say yes, even if he may be a little unhappy with your security at present."
"The SIS aren't mine," Jezari said. "And, no, you can't have the plans. Or Riada."
"I'd rather the balance of power stayed the same, or close to it," he said. "I don't think you want war, either. Besides, he may be safer with the Empire."
Her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Technically, my orders were to kill-"
"What!?" Corso howled. "Captain!"
Kyrian held up his hands. "I never had any intention of carrying out that order. But I'm hardly the only agent on Nar Shaddaa. Either the SIS needs to move him somewhere Intelligence can't find him...or at least can't reach him, or he needs to be on the Imperial payroll."
Corso subsided, still glowering at him.
Savler snorted. "That's convenient."
Jezari massaged her forehead. "That's gonna be fun to explain to the SIS. You're gonna be fun to explain to the SIS."
"Ah, yes." Kyrian could well imagine the awkward questions. "On the other hand, it might be better for both of us if I were merely a member of your crew." Healthier, certainly. Neither of them needed personal experience with SIS interrogation procedures. "You could pass my information off as underworld rumor, or mention that you encountered Imperials." Which was true enough.
"Better than trying to explain you," she agreed. "Hell, they lost him once already. They'd better ship him back to Coruscant or Rendili or someplace else sensible. I'm not sticking around to keep stealing him back from Hutts." She turned to Savler. "Tell me you're not working for another one."
The bounty hunter laughed. "Nope, this Riada guy is all yours. But if you want a hand, Mako's one hell of a slicer, and you know me; I eat Hutt guards for breakfast."
"We'd have to find some, first. There's something seriously wrong with that place."
"According to my contacts, Zarva pulled all the factory guards inside last night," Risha said, rejoining them. "Right about the time Riada vanished. I can't prove he's there, but there's nothing else suspicious. Except for rumors Zarva's gotten his hands on something big."
"Great, more competition. Just what we need." Jezari threw up her hands. "We could put up a sign."
"It's not that bad," Risha said. "Nobody knows what he has, and they're not going to rush into the factory looking for it. Right now, people are mostly eyeing his home or trying to get a lead on what he's got. They might keep him distracted."
"I could put out some fake rumors, add to the confusion," Mako offered. "And get you the layout of the building, how many guards he has, get into his security system..."
"Give her half an hour and she'll have everything there is to get." Savler grinned. "Even the color of his underwear."
"Ew." Mako's nose wrinkled. "I did not need to think about that."
"Go for it." Jezari indicated the computer terminal. "We need all the help we can get. And I need to talk to you." She looked at Kyrian. "Alone."
"Captain, you can't trust him," Corso objected. "Not this time. You heard his orders!"
Bowdaar's growl might have been in agreement, or in disagreement. Kyrian preferred to err on the side of caution.
"If it would make you feel better, you're welcome to take my weapons," he said. "You could have asked for them at any time."
"Hand 'em over," Corso said.
Bowdaar gave a dismissive wave and another growl, apparently the Wookiee equivalent of: "That's not necessary."
Corso didn't look pleased.
Jezari frowned. "Do you want us to take you prisoner?"
"Not particularly." Kyrian couldn't imagine that explanation helping matters if he returned empty handed. "All I really want is a copy of the plans. I'm quite happy to help you rescue Riada."
Kaliyo chuckled. "I can't wait to see how you explain this."
"It's simple: Riada escaped, but we were able to retrieve a copy of the plans. He should be too angry to ask difficult questions." He paused. "Unless he suspects I let him go." In which case, I am very unpleasantly dead. An investigation into his career would only leave them sorry they couldn't execute him several times. Assuming they couldn't. "I don't suppose you could return Riada to a different SIS office and convince them to report him dead or missing?"
Jezari stared at him. "What were you going to do if I hadn't shown up?"
"Charm him into defecting?"
"Kyrian..." She covered her face with her hand. "We need to have that talk."
Jezari was tempted to just shove him into the spare crew cabin and lock the door, solving all of her problems in one easy step. All of her problems except Kaliyo. And her own conscience. And the fact that the room would hold him for about five seconds, since she hadn't let Corso take his weapons.
She let the door shut behind them. "You can't keep doing this. We can't keep doing this." She waved in the general direction of Zarva's factory. "I almost shot you!"
"I know." Kyrian looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry. That shouldn't have happened."
"That's my point! Quit. Defect. Run away!" She took a deep breath and reined in her temper. Yelling at him wouldn't help. "The SIS could use you. I could use you. You could open a bar on some nowhere planet, take up gambling, breed rontos. It's a big galaxy."
"Imperial Intelligence would object to that."
"And they're gonna like it when you turn up and go 'oops, I forgot to shoot him and take his plans'?"
"No, they won't be pleased."
A number of nasty images popped into her head. She'd never asked what happened when he reported back after playing fast and loose with his orders, but everything she knew about the Empire suggested it wasn't good. Which was why she'd never asked. "Tell me again why I shouldn't throw your partner out and lock you in here for your own good."
"I'd rather you didn't," he said. "Besides, you may need my help to rescue Riada."
"Damn it, Kyrian, would you just quit!" What do I need? A full-color holopresentation? "I like my friends alive, not carved up by Sith as some kind of example."
"I'm sorry. You're right." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Even Kaliyo has advised me to quit while I'm ahead. It's probably not a good sign when she's the voice of wisdom." He shook his head. "I... I can't. I'm in the perfect position make a difference: minimize some of the harm the Empire does, maybe influence Intelligence a little, help people. Even if they aren't always people I'm meant to be helping. I intend to make the most of that for as long as I possibly can."
That was hard to argue with.
She sighed. "Fine. Help people, do what you can. Just promise me when the time comes, you'll run." She held up a hand. "I mean it. The moment you think you're found out, you run. Don't stick around and try to talk your way out. Run."
"All right," he said after a moment. "I promise." A hint of a smile touched his face. "I'm not loyal enough to report for my own execution."
"That'd be real reassuring if I thought they'd actually tell you that."
He sobered. "It's possible, though likely not for treason. The Empire isn't terribly forgiving."
Frak. The plans had to go back to the SIS. Uncopied. She knew that. Nothing else was even an option. The Empire can't have them. Not even part of them. Not even on a badly damaged disk that won't do them much good. There was no point in even thinking about it. None.
She reached for the door and stopped. Damn it. "Do you need the plans?"
"What? No," he shook his head. "That isn't what I meant. They wouldn't kill me for one failure. I can't make a habit of it, but I generally manage some measure of success." He spoke lightly, clearly intending to be reassuring. "I'll be fine."
She sighed. "You can have part of the plans. And I'll see what I can do about disappearing Riada. Okay?"
"That's more than fair." He smiled. "Thank you."
"Just don't say anything to my crew." She was pretty sure they'd all favor forcibly defecting him over giving anything to the Empire. They've all got sense.
He nodded. "There is one other thing." He reached carefully into a coat pocket and pulled out two spent electro darts.
She winced. "Savler?" It wasn't really a question; the nasty things were a staple of bounty hunting.
"She may have simply been protecting you," he said. "But I have made a few enemies who might not want to take their grievances through official channels."
"You want me to point out everything that's wrong with that?" She stopped him before he could answer. "Never mind. I'll talk to her. There's no way she knew we were friends when she took the job."
He shook his head. "No, you've agreed to too much already. Don't worry, I don't expect her to walk away empty handed. I doubt I'm worth more than I can afford, or rather than Intelligence can afford." His smile was wry. "It would be a legitimate expense. More or less."
"Are you sure you're not a legitimate bounty?"
"Sanctioned by Intelligence, you mean?" He laughed. "Quite sure."
Somehow that wasn't reassuring.