The roof of Zarva's factory was too exposed for Savler's liking. The vents, cooling units, and unidentifiable pipes were too scattered to provide real cover, making their position uncomfortably obvious to anyone in the neighboring taller buildings or on the balcony across the narrow alley. Mako could hide them from Zarva's security, but she couldn't make them invisible. Leaving the factory would be orders of magnitude harder than getting in.
And that was assuming that Jezari's pet Imp didn't turn on them as soon as they found Riada.
Savler turned to the side of the building he was supposed to be watching, scanning for approaching Imperials or anything else off. He'd agreed to her coming far too readily.
Nothing. Not even a hint of trouble. The sliver of loading area visible below the roof was empty and the traffic beyond was the usual mix of taxis, cargo skiffs, and older model airspeeders. Exactly what she'd expect to see in this part of Nar Shaddaa.
She turned back. What the hell is he up to? Her shoulder blades itched. She wasn't going to feel safe until she'd weighed him down with every set of binders she owned and dumped him in the holding cell on her ship. After shooting him full of something to keep him unconscious. And if he pukes on Dralick when he wakes up, that'll just be a bonus.
She hadn't had a chance to talk to Jezari. No, she'd had the chance, but the words hadn't sounded convincing in her head. He's Imp scum! He's my bounty. You know better! You think I work for Sith for fun? He's using you! I can't go back on this contract. I don't care what he's said, it's all lies. You, of all people, trusting an Imp!? No matter how she tried to put it, it sounded self-serving. It was self-serving. Too much so for her to say any of it.
Which left her standing guard with her target while Jezari cut a hole in the factory roof.
Might as well bathe with rabid dinkos. The job was tricky enough without bringing the biggest threat with them. Waiting for the Imp to show his true colors felt every kind of wrong, but as long as he had Jezari fooled, her hands were tied. Do something, asshole. You can't pretend forever.
She took another look over her shoulder, and hated herself for hoping to see Imperial troops.
He stood with his back to her, watching the passing traffic, his rifle slung over his shoulder as if he didn't expect to need it. And he wouldn't, not if the only people coming were no threat to him. Typical Imperial arrogance. He wasn't even pretending there was danger. We'll see how smug you are when this game's over. Dralick wanted him alive. He hadn't specified unharmed.
"Hey." Jezari had fastened handles to her makeshift trapdoor. "You guys wanna give me a hand with this?"
Savler bent to help, her gaze still on the Imp. He took the third handle without hesitation, as if the three of them really were a team. She frowned, her expression hidden by her helmet. Used to taking orders, nothing more than that. And Jezari could almost pass for human. His helpfulness would end the moment they'd helped him get to Riada.
Or the moment we get Riada out of here. They only had his word what his orders were, and it wouldn't be the first time the Empire had kidnapped or conned a Republic scientist or tech into working for them. An ambush once they were safely away from the factory. Of course. It was all clear now. Snatching Riada from the Hutt would mess things up with the Cartel, but taking him after somebody else had was a different story. He wasn't gonna break in, he was looking for a good place for an ambush.
Not on my watch. One twitch she didn't like and he'd find out just how fast her dart launcher worked.
They shifted the chunk of duracrete aside and peered into the gap. The storage room below was dark and unoccupied, just as Mako had promised. The security cameras ignored both the sudden ray of dirty light and their descent. Breaking and entering was almost too easy when your partner was an expert slicer.
"One guard in the hall," Mako said in her ear. "Gamorrean."
The feed appeared on her helmet's HUD: a heavyset porcine humanoid pacing in front of a door. Savler wasn't an expert on Gamorrean body language, but his slumped shoulders and the set of his jaw suggested he was sulking. Must have got the short straw.
"Gamorrean guard," she told Jezari. "Favorite of Hutts everywhere. I just gotta get close enough." She thumped her fist into her palm.
Jezari looked doubtful. "How far is it?"
"I'll show you. Mako?"
"You got it, boss."
The door gave a soft whiff and opened a few centimeters, just enough of a gap for Jezari and her Imp to look through. There was little chance of the guard spotting it in the shadowed hallway. They hadn't turned on any lights in the storage room; the hazy light from the hole was just enough.
They could hear the hum of idle machinery from the far end of the hall. The corridor was open to the factory floor below, which would have given them plenty of concealing noise if the production lines were going. They weren't.
According to Mako, the workers were crammed in the lunch room at the other side of the building and most of Zarva's guards were clustered near the building's doors. The buzz was, several other Hutts and a Nikto gang had all offered extra protection for a cut off the action—action he wasn't sharing. Nobody knew what he had, but that didn't keep them from wanting it. Mako and Risha were feeding that fire with every rumor they could think up.
He'll be one unhappy Hutt when we're done, Savler thought. And too busy trying to remake his reputation to worry about exactly how things had gone so wrong. As far as she could tell, he'd been out of his depth before they got involved.
"This is gonna be tricky," Jezari said at last. "I know you can take him, but if he sounds the alarm or somebody hears..."
"I could distract him," the Imp offered.
"You saw the big axe, right?"
"Zarva will want any intruders alive for questioning, and a Gamorrean wouldn't need weapons to subdue an unarmed man." He slipped his rifle off his shoulder and handed it to her. "As long as I look harmless, I should be fine. While he's confused, Savler can do the honors."
"I don't know about this."
"He's right," Savler said. "Guard sees me, he'll attack or call for help. Guard sees him, that's a different story." And if the Imp got his ass kicked in the process, well, that was no skin off her nose.
Jezari sighed. "Be careful. Both of you."
Kyrian waited for the guard to complete another circuit of the hall. The Gamorrean looked to be about average height, his breastplate custom-fit to his ponch, his bare arms thick with muscle; a physical confrontation would be neither quiet nor pleasant. He forced a confident smile and nodded to Savler. With luck, trusting her would encourage her to trust him. Or at least to distrust him less.
Or I'll find myself explaining to Zarva why an unarmed Imperial tried to kidnap his kidnapped engineer. He couldn't see that going well.
The door slid silently open. Kyrian took a deep breath and ran softly up behind the guard, nearly quiet enough to catch him by surprise. Nearly.
The guard turned, one hand on his axe.
"Hello." Kyrian stepped sideways, hands open and empty.
The guard turned with him, brows furrowed. Another step and the guard's back was to the storage room door.
"I'm afraid there's a small hole in your security," Kyrian continued cheerfully. "Also your roof."
The guard grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "How did you get here?" The guard demanded in Gamorrese.
"Wait!" Kyrian held up his hands. "Don't hit me!" It wasn't entirely an act; even deflected, a punch from a Gamorrean would do damage. And the guard wasn't likely to stop at one punch.
"Talk!" The guard's Basic was barely intelligible. "Now!" He shook Kyrian for emphasis.
"Easy." Kyrian tried to collect his scattered thoughts. "I haven't done any harm." Any story would do as long as it kept the guard's attention. "I merely dropped in to see Riada. Old friends, you know."
"Ha." The guard drew his fist back.
Kyrian twisted away, one arm up to block the blow.
The guard never finished his swing. Savler's punch caught him solidly just below the ear and he dropped like a stone.
Kyrian stumbled back a pace and caught himself. "Thank you."
The blank face of her helmet regarded him for a moment, then she bent to grab the Gamorrean's arm. "He's not gonna be out for long."
She was right. The guard was already beginning to stir by the time they'd dragged him into the storage room. With Jezari's help, they wrestled him into a corner, out of sight of the door, and secured him to a shelving unit.
"Nap time," Savler said. She popped a small dart launcher out of her left gauntlet and fired it against the Gamorrean's bare arm.
Kyrian winced. And wished, not for the first time, that Gamorreans were less dedicated employees. Pity we couldn't have dropped into Riada's room. But with no way to warn the engineer, and no working security cameras in the room, that hadn't been a viable option.
"Should hold him for a bit." Savler patted the guard on the head. He snorted drowsily. "Let's get that engineer."
The hallway was empty and there was no sign that anyone had noticed the guard's disappearance. Savler stepped back to cover them, her blaster and electro dart launcher at the ready.
Kyrian kept his hands in the open. The dart launcher wasn't quite pointed at him, but it was clear one wrong move on his part would change that. So much for gaining the benefit of the doubt.
Jezari frowned. "Savler."
"Just making sure all the threats are covered. I don't want him getting any funny ideas about shooting Riada now that we're here."
"He's my friend."
"It's all right," Kyrian said. "You didn't trust me at first, either." Knowing he was Imperial Intelligence had that effect on people.
Jezari sighed. "Fine. Can you pretend to trust him until we get out of here?"
"Somebody's got to watch your back." Savler said flatly.
"I should've left you both on the ship," Jezari muttered. She took position on the far side of the door, one blaster drawn. "Whenever you're ready."
Kyrian, still conspicuously empty-handed, took the near side.
At a word from Savler, the door whisked aside.
Riada had no guards. Nor was he wearing a shock collar or any other obvious restraint. The engineer looked as much like a guest as a prisoner. He was hunched over a work table, tools, a tangle of wires, and half-finished circuit boards to his left, flimsies spread in a semi-circle in front of him. He made a notation on one before looking up.
"Mercenaries?" He frowned. "Another Hutt, I suppose."
"No," Jezari said quickly. "The SIS hired me. Us."
"Hm." Riada studied them without enthusiasm. "Well, you got in here quietly enough," he said at last. "Whoever you are. I suppose you can get me out."
"We really are here to rescue you," Kyrian assured him in a soft Republic accent.
"Why hire you? No offense, but I would feel more comfortable with actual SIS agents."
"That'd get the Empire's attention," Jezari said. "They still don't know how Zarva got you."
Riada gathered the flimsies, tapping them into a neat stack. "Bribes."
The room went black.
Kyrian spun toward the door, taking a silent step back, away from it. Only near certainty that Savler's armor let her see in the dark kept him from reaching for his rifle. Taking another electro dart would do nothing for their escape plans, nor would it help them against whoever had hit the lights.
For a long moment, there was nothing but tense darkness and a silence so absolute an attacker could have found them by their heartbeats. Then the lights flickered back to a dim life. The door to the hall whirred open on nothing.
"What the hell was that?" Savler demanded, her blaster pointed at the empty doorway.
Riada frowned at the light fixture. "It must do more damage to the wiring than I thought."
Kyrian opened his mouth to ask what the engineer meant, but Jezari shoved him toward the door.
"Save it for later, we're getting out of here." She turned back to Riada. "Let's go."
The engineer crammed the flimsies into a pocket of his coveralls. "Do you have a plan?" He asked, scooping bits of circuitry into another pocket.
"Storeroom across the way." Jezari waved a hand in that general direction. "You got everything?"
"Mercenaries," Riada grumbled. He picked up a squat cylinder, little bigger than his hand. "I have what matters."
"They're coming." Savler unhooked a grenade from her belt and stepped into the hall. "I'll cover you."
They were already too late. As they rushed out, half a dozen guards, led by a leathery faced Weequay, appeared at the end of the hallway, weapons drawn.
"Run!" Savler flung the grenade at the guards.
A blaster bolt hissed past, close enough that Kyrian felt its heat.
"Stupid mercs." Riada activated the cylinder in his hand and everything electronic in the hallway—lights, doors, weapons, Savler's armor—sparked and went dead. The grenade landed with a clink and rolled harmlessly away.
Then Riada ran.
Kyrian and Jezari had just enough time to grab Savler, frozen in her armor, before the guards were on them.
The ensuing fight was short, painful, and decidedly not in their favor.
The guards pried Savler out of her armor, slapped binders on the three of them, retrieved Riada from the storeroom, and dragged them all downstairs.
Jezari had no time to study the factory proper for an escape route as they were shoved past it and into an office. Flickering monitors filled one wall, and another gave a clear view of the factory floor. A blue Twi'lek stood behind the desk, her scarred lekku curled around her shoulders.
The guards dropped Riada onto a chair and forced Jezari, Kyrian, and Savler to kneel in front of the desk.
"He did it again," the Weequay muttered, tossing Riada's cylinder onto the desk. It rolled to a stop against the desk lamp. "Getting tired of this shit."
The Twi'lek frowned at him.
"Sorry, Vrei." He stepped back. "The corridor's fried again, and now we've got mercenaries dropping in." He waved a hand at the three of them. "There's a meter-wide hole in storeroom twelve's roof. Is Zarva's 'guest' really worth this?"
Jezari looked up at the exasperated guard. That was the best opening she'd ever heard. "We'd trade for him," she offered. There had to be something Zarva wanted more than a troublesome prisoner. A little specialized shipping. A contract with the Republic. Nar Shaddaa was all about deals.
Vrei's lekku twitched. She pressed a button on her desk. "Send a repair detail to the upper corridor and storeroom twelve. And post a guard on the roof." She turned to Riada. "Zarva would pay you well, if you would just cooperate."
"I've made my device for you."
"And used it to try to escape." She stood over him. "Stop wrecking my factory and give us what we want. You might get out of this alive and wealthy."
"There are other considerations," Kyrian said, still affecting a Republic accent. "We may all be able to work something out."
"You can't kill me," Riada said. "And if you hurt me, I might take out your whole factory."
Vrei's expression darkened. "We could just sell your grenades."
"Wait, wait!" Jezari exclaimed. They needed Riada alive. More importantly, Riada needed Riada alive. "Nobody do anything rash!"
The engineer scowled back at Vrei for a moment longer, then his shoulders slumped and he stared sullenly at the floor.
Vrei smiled. "Smart man."
The Weequay shook his head. "He'll just do it again."
"You didn't shoot us, so you must want something," Jezari said. "We want Riada. Let's make a deal."
Vrei turned back to the desk and picked up the cylinder. "Maybe this is it. Might not work large scale." She turned it in her hand, looking first at one end, then the other. "He'd have fried the whole factory if he could."
Riada glared at her.
"Could be," the Weequay agreed. He rested a hip on the desk and began taking apart his damaged blaster.
"Hello?" Jezari was beginning to think their guards were the only ones who still remembered they existed.
Vrei set the cylinder back on the desk. She stared down at it, clearly lost in thought.
"Please listen to us." Kyrian had dropped the fake accent.
Vrei spun. "Imp scum." She kicked him in the gut and he crumpled, gagging.
The hands on Jezari's shoulders tightened, keeping her firmly pinned to the floor. Damn it! They had everyone's attention now. The Weequay had jumped to his feet. Even Riada was staring at them.
Vrei grabbed a handful of Kyrian's hair and pulled him up. "Why should I listen to you?"
"Empire... will keep trying," he wheezed. "...you have Riada."
"So I should just give him to you?" She tightened her fist, pulling his head back.
"Stop it!" Jezari tried to twist out of her guard's grip. "You know he's right. You can't fight off the Empire. You don't even want Riada. We're giving you a way out."
"Sell out to the Empire, like you did?"
"I'm working for the SIS," Jezari snapped. "You know, the people you kidnapped Riada from."
That seemed to give her pause. "The SIS?"
"You and an Imp?" Vrei gave Kyrian's hair another yank and he hissed in pain.
"Yes! No! Let me explain, damn it. He's... We..." Jezari scrambled for a good explanation. He's my friend was not gonna fly. "He has reasons. Revenge." That was always a good reason. "Look, we're just trying to get Riada back. The Empire will level this place to get to him."
"Is that right, Imp?" Vrei punctuated her question with a sharp tug.
"Yes." Kyrian's voice was strained. "The Empire wants Riada's designs. The man in charge likes collateral damage."
"So you decided to help the SIS?"
Vrei stared at him. "Just like that?"
"I don't like collateral damage. I wanted to recruit Riada, but she provided another option."
Riada snorted. "Like hell I'd work for the Empire."
"A better option. He'll be safer with the Republic than here."
Vrei let go of Kyrian's hair. "Maybe I believe you, maybe I don't." She eyed Jezari. "You really want Riada, I might ransom him. If you can prove you're SIS."
"Let us all go, and you've got a deal."
"Let's see this proof you've got first."
"Agree to let us all go, or no deal."
Vrei looked down at Kyrian.
"All of us," Jezari repeated. "I made a deal with him. Just like I'm making a deal with you."
"Don't count on him keeping that deal." Vrei gave Kyrian another bitter look. "But I won't make you break it. If you've got proof and credits, you're all free to go. It's time I salvaged something from this mess."
"We don't carry business cards. I have to call in." Jezari crossed her fingers that her clients would go along with her ruse, and the ransom idea.
Vrei activated the holo terminal on her desk. "If the person who answers has an Imperial accent, you're done."
Jezari ignored the threat. If that happened, they had much bigger problems.
The upper half of the woman who'd hired her shimmered into focus, the holoprojection tinting the room blue. She looked at Vrei with mild confusion. "Can I help you?"
"That depends on who you are and who this is." Vrei shifted the holocam.
"Hi." Jezari grinned nervously. "The rescue didn't go as planned. But they'll deal for Riada. We just have to work out the details and we can escort him out of here." Come on, go for it. The SIS didn't have a reason to care about the rest of them. She hoped they wouldn't think of that.
"Ransom?" The woman's face was unreadable. "For Adson and the plans?"
"And the name of the person they bribed to get him," Jezari added. She was willing to bet Vrei knew, or could find out, and it was something only the SIS would care about. "Can't trust anybody from that safe house otherwise."
The woman nodded slowly. "We should have considered that option. But I hate to reward criminals."
"I've got news for you, lady," Vrei said. "There's nobody else on Nar Shaddaa."
"We seem to have no choice." The woman frowned at Jezari, then turned back to Vrei. "What are your terms?"
Savler watched the negotiations—and Riada—thoughtfully. Zarva had definitely bitten off more than he could chew if his employees were willing to ditch the plan and bargain for a little ransom money instead. She wondered how the Hutt had expected his plan to go. Kidnap a guy for his impossibly effective ion grenade. There's a plan that can't go wrong.
Her carefully neutral expression hardened. The Hutt wasn't the only one who's plans had gone to hell. Riada owed her for repairs, and whether the negotiations worked or Mako and the others rescued them, it did nothing for the day's larger problem.
She glanced over at the Imp. His head was bowed in defeat, or, more likely, to try and keep his face off the holocam. Like that would help him. The SIS couldn't have him; the only place he was going was straight to Dralick.
She wasn't throwing her career away for some damned Imperial Intelligence agent.
But he hadn't gone after Riada when the engineer pulled his stunt; he'd grabbed her. He hadn't tried to offer the Empire as any kind of alternative. He was letting Jezari win. Letting Riada go back to the Republic. If he'd followed the engineer, abandoned her and Jezari, he'd have had everything.
She shoved the thoughts away. What had happened in the corridor was a fluke, a mistake, nothing more.
"Half now, the other half when Adson arrives safely," the SIS woman said.
"That's your agent's problem, not mine," the Twi'lek responded. "Pay us and we let them go."
"We've got a ride coming," Jezari said. "Half now, half when they pick us up."
"How do..." The Twi'lek looked up at the security camera above her desk. Her lips curved in a humorless smile. "Clever." She turned back to the holocomm. "Okay. We'll take your agent's deal."
The woman on the holo frowned slightly. Savler was willing to bet she'd been hoping to get out of paying Jezari altogether. Riada was one damned expensive engineer. The Republic wasn't likely to pay for her armor, and Jezari would be lucky to get maybe half what they'd promised her. All because the man had tried to ditch them.
Looking out for himself. Like she was. Like anyone would.