The trip from the factory to the SIS safehouse passed in awkward silence. Jezari had half expected Riada to balk at getting into the borrowed speeder van, but he merely scowled at her crew and stuffed himself in a corner, as far from everyone else as possible. Asking him for even a smudged page of his plans was clearly out of the question.
So was every other solution she could think of. Even faking his death would require his help, and she had the bad feeling that the Empire had all the SIS buildings – no matter how secret they were supposed to be – thoroughly bugged.
By the time she pulled the speeder into the alley next to the safehouse, she was ready to bite the control yoke in frustration.
"Damn it." She turned to look at Kyrian. "I don't care what we decided. Come with us. I can vouch for you to the SIS. Riada can vouch for you." She ignored the engineer's snort. "You can't go back to the Empire with nothing!"
"Nothing?" Kaliyo laughed. "Seriously, Agent? That guy's gonna have your hide."
Kyrian hesitated. "Ah, yes, he'll definitely be angry." His casual tone was almost believable. "It's nothing to worry about. Returning with even a fragment of Riada's plans would be suspicious, now."
"You don't have to return at all." Jezari's fingers sank into the soft foam back of the pilot's seat. Why won't you just defect!? Kyrian was unarmed; Kaliyo might not care. She could order Bowdaar to bodily deliver him to the SIS, or sit on Kaliyo while she did. Even if he never forgave her, at least he'd be safe. Probably. All she had to do was give the word.
"Jezari, it's all right," Kyrian said. "I'll holo you after I report in. I promise."
Kaliyo grinned. "Oh, this is gonna be rich."
They won't kill him, Jezari told herself. He thinks they won't kill him, a nasty little voice at the back of her mind pointed out. No. He was confident he could holo her. Kaliyo thought it was funny. They wouldn't kill him. She wouldn't think about what they would do. "I'm holding you to that. The rest of you stay here. I mean it. I'll be right back, and you'd all better be here."
Kyrian waited until she and Riada were out of sight around the corner before leaning forward. "Savler, can I have a word with you? Privately?"
She looked up from the gauntlet she was working on, a miniature screwdriver gripped in her teeth. She spat it out. "You think I'd go anywhere with you?"
"Not out of sight of the speeder," he assured her. "And Mako should accompany us. I have a business proposition. Nothing to do with Jezari's mission, or Riada," he added hastily.
Corso frowned. "The Captain said to wait right here."
"A business proposition?" Savler fitted the gauntlet onto her arm and made a fist. The electro dart launcher snapped into active mode. "Want to see if it works?"
Kyrian sat back slowly, his hands raised. "I only want to talk to you." He met her gaze, fighting the urge to glance at the dart launcher. "Kaliyo will stay here. You're armed. I"m not. You have nothing to fear."
For a long moment, she stared at him, eyes cold. Then the dart launcher retracted. "Fine. Let's hear it."
"I…" Kyrian sighed. Convincing her to get out of the speeder – and away from Kaliyo, and Jezari's crew – seemed out of the question. "All right. I believe you've been hired to capture me."
"And you wanna be alone with her?" Kaliyo eyed him. "That's stupid, even for you."
"I have a discretionary fund. I can meet your client's price. That would solve our problem, wouldn't it?" He smiled tentatively.
"What?" Corso said.
Risha hushed him. "It's their problem, not ours."
"You want to buy me off?" Savler's voice was so flat, it almost wasn't a question. "You've got ten thousand credits, just lying around?"
"Yes." It was very nearly the truth; he could request the amount from any Imperial Intelligence office. Perhaps not any. The former Fixer was already going to be livid. He pushed the thought away. One problem at a time.
"Huh." Savler rubbed her chin. "Okay, you got a deal. Let's go get that money." She hooked the mesh bag of armor over her shoulder and popped open the door.
Bowdaar made an unhappy sounding noise.
"Hey, wait, no," Corso objected. "The Captain said-"
"We'll meet Jez back at the Luck," Savler said. "She'll understand."
Kyrian slid out after her before she could change her mind. "Stay with them," he told Kaliyo. "We won't be long."
"Bad idea, Agent. You need me."
"I know what I'm doing." And if I don't, everyone's safer with you here. He managed a smile. "I'll see you soon."
"Ha," she said. But she stayed in the speeder.
Kyrian tried not to notice that Savler and Mako flanked him as they walked back toward a taxi pad they'd passed in the speeder. Clearly, agreeing to the deal wasn’t a matter of trust.
The droid taxi driver took a few credits and the spaceport and docking bay number where he'd parked the ship. A holocall from the hangar would be reasonably secure, and a lot safer than bringing the two bounty hunters to an Intelligence office. Or on board the ship.
"New plan," Savler said, her dart launcher centimeters from his upper arm. "Twitch and I fire. Hands where I can see them."
He obeyed. "You know I'm not armed. Riada's device ensured that."
"I don't take chances." She took his non-functioning rifle and handed it to Mako, her gaze never leaving his face. "Get on the floor." She gestured with a tilt of her head. "Face down. And keep your hands where I can see them."
"I don't think-"
She grabbed a handful of his coat and shoved him to the floor, her knee in his back. "Don't tempt me, Imp." She twisted his arms behind him and snapped binders on his wrists.
"Are you sure about this, boss?" Mako asked.
The taxi carpet smelled of a number of things, none of them pleasant. He turned his face away as best he could. "I really can pay you," he insisted.
"That's not how it works." Savler shifted, her knee grinding into his spine. "A bounty hunter who goes back on their contracts doesn't get work. And this isn't a client we can afford to ignore. You go to him. I get paid. We keep hunting. Jezari never knows. You went to report in and, whoops, nobody ever sees you again."
She gave the taxi driver new directions. Another docking bay; hers, Kyrian assumed. Her ship likely had a holding cell, working armor, and powerful sedatives. If he was going to escape, it would have to be while her equipment was down to one possibly working electro dart launcher.
She would have to get off him to get out of the taxi. Mako had a blaster on her hip, but she wouldn't shoot a bounty – not when he seemed to be very much wanted alive – and she wouldn't risk shooting her partner. That would be the moment to…
I can’t. Escaping wouldn’t solve anything. If he could escape. Savler moved like a skilled fighter; any hesitation on his part, and he'd lose.
He could escape from whoever had offered her ten thousand credits to deliver him.
They hired bounty hunters. They have money but not people of their own, at least not that they thought could capture me. That seemed promising. Unless they had some other reason for hiring a bounty hunter. He wouldn't consider that.
There was another problem.
"Savler, Jezari will try to rescue me."
She snorted. "How? She won't…" Her voice changed. "From Imperial Intelligence? I won't let her."
"And Kaliyo will know I didn't report in."
"I'll pay her off."
"There has to be a better solution. Your client-"
"Shut up." Her fist pressed against his back. "One more word and I fire."
"Maybe we should…" Mako began.
"No. This is the only way. I'll make it work."
"I'll make it work."
The taxi landed smoothly, the droid driver announcing the docking bay number as the vehicle pulled to a halt. Kyrian tensed. If he was going to try anything, now was the time. Savler's weight shifted and vanished. Before he could decide, there was the soft vwip of her dart launcher and the world exploded in pain.
He didn't hear her fire a second time. There was only more pain, and blackness.
And then a distant buzzing.
Kaliyo's voice came from somewhere in the buzzing: "... sell your pelt to Trandoshans!"
Kyrian lay on his side on a hard, flat surface, his arms awkwardly behind him. It felt as if someone had tried to yank them out of their sockets backward, and his right hip hurt. So did most of the rest of him.
He opened his eyes and saw assorted booted feet, and, a few meters away, Kaliyo, who appeared to be trying to bite the top of Bowdaar's head. The Wookiee howled at her and held her out at arms length.
"He's Imperial Intelligence." Savler, angry. She was somewhere to his left, behind him.
"You keep saying that like it means something!" Jezari, equally angry, right in front of him.
He tried looking up and the world spun oddly. He swallowed, fighting back bile.
"He isn't your friend," Savler insisted. "They don't have friends. They use people. You're smarter than this!"
"He is my friend!" Jezari yelled. "He's helped me. Multiple times! He saved me from the Empire! He trusted you! I trusted you!"
"You can't trust him!"
"It's...it's all right." Kyrian tried to sit up. "We can work this out."
Jezari dropped to one knee and steadied him. "Are you okay?"
Savler made an inarticulate noise of frustration.
"I'm fine." The dizziness had passed. His arms seemed to still work, and he was pretty sure he wasn't going to throw up on her.
“Yes.” His injuries were minor; nothing a medpac, or a little time, wouldn’t cure. He accepted her hand up, straightening carefully. “Thank you.” He took a deep breath. "Kaliyo," he called. "It's all right. None of this is Bowdaar's fault.”
Kaliyo pulled away with a growl as the Wookiee set her down. She stomped over to her dropped blaster and slammed it into its holster. "I told you you needed me."
"I'm all right. This is just...a misunderstanding."
Jezari scrubbed a hand over her face and looked at Savler. It felt like there was an invisible wall between them, right along the line where Kyrian had sprawled. Damn it, why didn’t you listen to me? I told everybody to stay put. Friends were always off limits! Why didn’t you talk to me? Were you gonna lie to me?
“Why?” She waved a hand at where the taxi had been. “What were you thinking?”
“I’m not throwing everything away for some damned Imp!” Savler took a step forward, fists clenched. “He’s using you. Jez, I know these people. They’re worse than Hutts! This was the only way.”
“You want my crew, too? They’ve got prices on their heads. How about me? I’ve got a whole bunch of bounties. You can take your...” She trailed off. “Savler?”
“Look, I didn’t know it was you. Just some Mirialan with an XS. And it wasn’t important. More like a...a bonus. He just wants the Imp.” She shook her head. “You know I’d never.”
He? No… There weren’t that many people she and Kyrian had tangled with. Not together. Not that would offer a bounty hunter ten thousand credits. A certain Sith Lord, though…
Kyrian had come to the same conclusion. “Lord Dralick?”
“He wants you nice and alive,” Savler said. “Something about unfinished business.”
“Do you know what he’ll do to him?!” Jezari demanded. “Do you know what he specializes in?”
“Do you know what’s in every crate you haul? It’s not our business to ask.”
“I don’t hand people over to Sith Lords for a living!”
“Most people with bounties on their heads aren’t nice people, Jez.” Her face was hard. “Imperial Intelligence doesn’t raise gizkas and win flower shows. Maybe you should ask him how many people he’s handed over to Sith Lords.”
“None, directly,” Kyrian said. “Indirectly, I don’t know. And Imperial Intelligence is hardly better.”
Jezari stared at him. Of course he had. It was his job. Why did hearing it from him feel…wrong.
“I’m sorry.” He looked down at his bruised wrists. “She’s right. There’s only one solution.” He turned to Savler. “If I surrender, would it be possible to hire you to rescue me afterward? Or create a diversion? Perhaps cut the power to the building?”
“Huh,” Kaliyo said. “That’s almost smart, Agent, but you’ve got it backwards. You’re doing her a favor. How ’bout, you surrender if she helps save your ass and gives us a cut of the bounty.”
“I won’t stop you from rescuing him,” Savler said after a moment. “But I’m going to be counting my credits over a nice dinner with Mako when it happens. Somewhere real public.”
“I could still cut power to the building,” Mako offered. “Or mess up his security.”
“When we tangled with him, he was using an internal security system,” Risha said. “No access from the holonet.”
“The building doesn’t have a powerplant,” Mako said. “Just a back up generator. He’s using city power. I wonder-”
“Wait. Hold up.” Jezari cut her off. “Nobody’s going to Dralick. That’s a horrible plan!”
“I don’t see an alternative,” Kyrian said. “Savler has to complete her contract.”
“But...” She groaned. “Hell.”
“I still think we should get a cut,” Kaliyo said.
It was late afternoon on Dirha when a taxi dropped Savler and her bounties in front of the squat duracrete building that housed Lord Dralick’s business. The trip from Nar Shaddaa hadn’t been quite long enough to repair and properly test the armor that Riada had damaged, but her older back up armor was better than nothing.
The plan wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t good. Savler had liked it a whole lot better before Jezari had gotten involved in it. Stubborn and reckless as always. I should’ve put my foot down. The extra thousand just wasn’t worth it. But Jezari had insisted.
None of the passersby so much as glanced at them as she shoved Jezari and Kyrian through the building’s double doors and into Dralick’s reception area.
A pretty young woman with fashionable hair sat behind the large reception desk, but the small waiting area was empty. If Dralick had clients or other business that afternoon, he’d either finished, or they were currently with him.
The receptionist looked up in alarm.
“I see Dralick’s taste in employees has improved,” Kyrian said cheerfully.
Idiot. Savler thumped him between the shoulder blades with her blaster, hard enough that he stumbled. And stayed silent. "Take these fools off my hands, and I'll take my credits," she growled.
“You’ll have to wait for...” The receptionist began.
Savler fixed her with a glare.
“I’ll call Lord Dralick right away!”
"I don't care who you call as long as they've got my credits."
The receptionist fumbled with the holocom on her desk, and a small, blue-tinged image of a man in a tailored suit bloomed above it. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, my Lord,” she said. “But your bounty hunter has arrived. With the bounties.”
“Excellent." Even in the tiny holo, Dralick looked pleased. "They're just in time to test my latest creation. I love fresh subjects."
Jezari and Kyrian exchanged glances.
Savler forced an impatient frown. “My credits?”
“Yes, yes, pay the hunter.” The holo blipped off.
The receptionist’s fingers flew across her keypad as she transferred the credits. “If you could just wait for the guards to-”
“Your problem now, sweetie.” Savler spun on her heel. “I got what I came for.”
She walked out of the building, every instinct in her screaming at her to turn around and save Jezari. The rest of the plan was out of her hands and out of her control. Eleven thousand credits isn’t remotely enough for this.
Jezari stared at the four guards who’d emerged from the lift. Humans didn’t generally get much over 2 meters tall, but somehow Dralick had found four that had, all built like Houks. They hadn’t drawn their blasters, but that hardly mattered. One of them could carry her and Kyrian, and still have a hand free to juggle speeders.
When Savler said she only saw human guards, I thought she meant normal humans.
She’d heard the unmistakable click of the outer door locking behind Savler, but she backed away anyway. “Hey, I’m just a pilot. I don’t even know what this is about. I swear.”
Two of the guards grabbed her.
“Ow! Hey. I’m not struggling.”
They searched her, checked that the cuffs on her wrists were locked, and dragged her to the lift. The other two did the same with Kyrian.
“Look, if I hauled something that was stolen, I didn’t know,” Jezari insisted. “Honest!” Come on, Risha, where are you?
The guards ignored her. One pressed the lift button. Nothing happened. He frowned, and pressed it again. Still nothing happened.
“Something’s wrong,” he said.
A speeder smashed through the front doors, spraying the room with shards of transparasteel. It stopped just short of the receptionist’s desk. Jezari and Kyrian hit the floor as Corso and Kaliyo fired on their guards.
One of the guards went down. The other three dove for cover, two vanishing behind the desk, the other upending the waiting area table. They returned fire.
Jezari rolled over, hands flailing for Kyrian’s wrists. They had to get the binders off, and fast. “Damn it, I can’t...” Her thumb found the release; a second later, she was free, too.
She sat up in time to see Bowdaar leap onto the table the guard crouched behind, flattening it. And the guard.
The Wookiee howled at them to run. The table wobbled under him, trying to rise. He stomped it down with a warning roar.
Jezari scrambled to her feet and ran for the speeder, staying low. Corso and Kaliyo blasted away at the desk, pinning the guards behind it. Unaimed return fire burned holes in the ceiling and the speeder’s cracked windscreen.
A blaster bolt hissed past, nearly scorching Jezari’s ear. Another struck the speeder as she vaulted into it, spattering molten specks of metal across her hand and arm. She landed awkwardly on the speeder floor, swearing.
Kyrian landed on top of her. “Sorry!” He rolled off, clutching his side.
“Fine.” He winced. “A little singed. My coat dispersed it. Are you all right?”
“Yeah.” Her hand throbbed. She needed armorweave gloves. “Nothing serious.”
The speeder lurched as Bowdaar joined them. A shattered chunk of table bounced off the windscreen.
“Get down!” Risha barely gave Corso and Kaliyo time to drop before throwing the speeder into reverse. It shot out of the building as fast as it had entered it.
Risha slewed it around and launched it into the sky. Blaster bolts peppered the rear fairing and caromed off the repulsorfield. And then they were out of range, sailing through the slightly polluted city air.
Jezari pulled herself onto the backseat proper as Risha headed for the spaceport. Back to Savler’s ship and a medkit. Mako would keep the docking bay cameras from picking up their arrival. And in an hour or two, they’d be off Dirha. Hopefully forever.
Kaliyo flopped next to her, grinning. “I love this planet!”
Lord Dralick surveyed the wrecked reception area. Chips of transparasteel crunched under his boots. Eleven thousand credits wasted, and thousands more racked up in damages. One scrawny Intelligence agent shouldn’t have been even half so much trouble.
In a proper world, he could simply have demanded Intelligence hand him over. In a proper world, Intelligence would never have dared interfere in the first place. Who were they to decide who a Sith could do business with?
“My Lord?” His assistant spoke up timidly. “The speeder seems to have vanished. But the bounty hunter and her partner are at a restaurant. She must have gone straight there. Should I summon them?”
“No.” He poked the broken table with his foot. “This was all a little too convenient.”
“You think they...”
“I suspect. Nothing more.” He turned back to the security footage she’d brought up on her damaged desk. It played on a loop, repeating the escape in slow motion. He paused it, studying the tiny figures. “I’ve been short sighted,” he said. “Revenge is good, but not as good as revenge that is also an opportunity.” His smile was cold. “I want to know more about the little cipher agent’s career. His interesting friends raise so many questions.”