Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 9

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 8 Here))

Turning my back on the Stripper took more courage than I would have thought I had. I could feel that cold, speculative gaze on the back of my neck all the way to the door. When it closed behind me, I breathed a sigh of relief, took Cariot by the arm and pushed her towards the entrance.

She resisted. "Where - "

"Shuttleport. Walk." I shoved her through the front door into the street and yanked her in the right direction.

"Oh, no," she said, planting her heels. "I'm not going back."

I took her by the shoulders and gave her a little shake. "Listen, doc, I don't care where you go, but you're through here, you understand? If you stay, they'll kill you. And then me. And I don't care much about you, but I'm kinda attached to my skin. So I'm going to put you on a shuttle back to the more law-abiding regions of the cluster. After that, it's up to you."

I started towing her towards the shuttleport again and this time she came along. "What happened back there, Tarva?"

"I made a deal," I said. "You leave. We all stay alive."

The shuttleport was crowded, but I waved a fifty syn note at the guy keeping the lines in order and he waved us to the front, making the note disappear as I held it out to him.

The next shuttle was heading for State space. Not cheap, a last minute seat on a shuttle bound for Jita.

Lucky I had a what was left of the doctor's husband's thousand syn burning a hole in my pocket. I counted it out and pushed it across the counter, and the girl sitting there stopped painting her nails exploding-warp-core blue long enough to ask boredly, "ID?"

Cariot hesitated, and then held her arm up to the scanner. "Janianial," she said. "Nerila. Doctor Nerila Janianial."

Something changed in her face as she said it. Aniac Cariot, medguri, had a life not many would envy, stitching up the Cluster's most desperate for whatever cash she could wring out of them. But looking at the woman next to me, I had the feeling that for Nerila Janianial, Aniac Cariot had been an escape as welcome as an emergency capsule on an exploding carrier.

I walked her to the shuttle, watched her board.

The doors closed, cutting her from view.

I turned and walked out of the terminal.

In this business, some days start bad, and get better. Some start out with fried protein and egg substitute and end up with you working for Myla Navanier and watching a beautiful woman walk away from you.

"Hey, you."

I looked up. Auvy was standing outside the doors. She'd changed her clothes, into something green and silky with just the right amount of cling, and she looked as fresh and sharp as an apple - a real one. I know, because I had one once.

She came to meet me and tucked her hand through my arm. "Think you promised me another dinner. After the way the last one ended." She smiled " I already made the reservations."

"Auvy, I - "

"Not a word, Rory. Not one word."

In this business, some days start out bad and get better. Some look okay, and end with you working for Myla Navanier.

And sometimes, when I get lucky, they end up with Auvy, and dinner reservations.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 8

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 7 Here))

When they'd all gone, and the door was closed, Myla asked, "What do you think you know? And what's to stop me from just killing you and tracking it down. Who's it with? That girl of yours? Auvy, is it?" She musta seen my wince, "One call, Tarva. One call."

"You don't wanna do that. You know how it works. This isn't my first long-limb roast, Myla. Yeah, Auvy had the package. Not now. And I've set up insurance, in case any of us don't walk away from this. There're copies of the data.

"As for what I think I know: You're a cop. CONCORD, maybe? Or a Fed? Doesn't matter. You're fuzz, and that'd be enough for your oh-so-loyal troops out there to rip you apart. We found a marker isotope in your blood. They use it for ident for undercover jobs. Classified, but not classified enough."

Her expression hardly twitched. "Not a anymore, Tarva. I went native a long time ago."

"Think it'd matter to those animals out there? You know'em best."

She just looked at me, "I might risk it. Make me an offer, Tarva."

"We all walk. I send you the evidence and the info. I keep a copy, just in case you change your mind. The doctor leaves the station."

"Not good enough." She leaned forward slightly, "Sometimes I maybe have jobs, jobs I need someone with your skill-set for. You do those for me."

I hesitated. Myla Navanier is not someone you want to owe favors. She pressed, "It's a good deal for you. You want to stay useful, Tarva."

What could I do? I nodded, "I'll leave my card. Rate's 500 syns a day, 2 day minumum, in advance."


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 7

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 6 Here))

Cariot wasn't hard to find. She hadn't been thinking clearly enough to hide her trail - or even to try and find a dealer who wasn't connected with the Serps. Which meant they were probably speeding toward us - like a full battery of cruise missiles, but deadlier.

I grabbed her arm and she turned around and gave me a big, lopsided grin. "Tarva! Honey!"

I cursed. I'd found her but not before she'd found what she was looking for. "Come on, honey. We have to get out of here."

She came along without arguing, paying less attention to me than to whatever piece of peace she'd bought herself.

Auvy called with the results of the analysis while we were on our way back. We were still a couple blocks from the safe house when I nearly ran into One-eye. His goons surrounded us. He gave me a nasty smile, "The Stripper wants to see you, Tarva."

They didn't call Navanier 'The Stripper' because she'd danced in the dockside clubs. What Myla Navanier could do with a belt sander would make a blooder swear off red meat. You really don't want to know.

We met her in the back room of a dinky bar, not far from Cariot's office. No-one seemed to be real clear on how old Navanier really was, and that much money could buy a lot of youth. Pale, almost frail looking, with void-black hair. Pretty. Sitting stiffly in her chair, a legacy of whatever Cariot had patched up for her, maybe. She still looked like she should be selling Quafe on a billboard, not running a criminal empire. At least, until she was looking at you - studying you. I've heard stories about out on the other side of the cluster, where explorers have found entire regions occupied by rogue drones. How the drones will break into the ships, infest them. Take the parts they want and discard what's of no use to them.

As Myla studied me and Cariot, I understood what the crews of those ships must have felt in their final moments, in front of glittering, inhuman eyes. She spoke, "You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble and just called me, Tarva."

"You aren't paying me. Doubt you could afford me. We might be able to make a deal though."

She laughed, "A deal? What do imagine you have that I might want, Tarva? Making an example of you sounds tempting. Enough people in the know know you that it could be instructional."

"We should discuss it more privately, just me and you. Your people missed something, when they hit the doc's place. I had it analysed." I jerked my head toward Cariot, "She had no idea, and she still doesn't."

Something got through to Cariot, or maybe her dealer had shortchanged her and the high was wearing off. "No idea about wha - " she started to say.

The Stripper cut her off. "Everyone out. Take the medguri." Myla regarded me with narrowed eyes, "If you misbehave Tarva, she won't have any skin the next time you see her."

I waited while everyone filed out. One-eye looked like he wanted to protest, but I think the look on The Stripper's face stopped him. It woulda stopped an Erebus mid-warp.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 6

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 5 Here))

I told Cariot I needed to go meet a contact about getting the Serps off our back. Managed to get my coat on without ripping any of the stitches. I'd lost my stun-stick in the tussle somewhere, but if I needed it, it probably wouldn't help.

I made my way back to Cariot's neighbourhood. Carefully. Found the laundry, circled it a couple times, but it didn't look like there was anyone watching it. Like One-eye had said, they thought they got what they needed.

The laundry looked like a thriving enterprise. That's the thing about poverty, right down where it hurt. You can't afford to live somewhere with a stove, you have to pay extra for take-away. Can't afford somewhere with a laundry in the building, you have to pay someone else to wash your clothes. And then haul 'em home and string 'em whereever you can, hoping they'd dry before someone even poorer stole them.

For enough syn the proprietor was willing to hand over Cariot's unwashed clothes. Blood still on them. I bundled them up and got out of the area as fast as I could. Then I called Auvy, explained what I needed, told her it was urgent.

I met Auvy at a greasy spoon too small to have a name, wedged between a drycleaner's and a place that sold life insurance. I know which one I'd invest in, in Syndicate.

She was dressed in a plain blue top and a black skirt that almost managed to not show off her legs - and she'd done something to her hair, it was dark, held in a simple ponytail. It was the closest to unremarkable I'd ever seen her - which meant she stood out in that diner like a Titan in Empire space.

I sat down and she smiled, "Heard you've been running around back alleys with some woman. Her husband must be important. There was someone around asking questions about you."

I started to slide the clothes over to her, but at that, I paused, "Maybe I should-"

"Don't be silly, Rory. I can take care of myself. You've obviously got your hands full just looking after yourself, you look terrible." She reached out and grabbed the bundle, stuffing it into an oversized purse, "I'll get these analysed."

"Thanks Auvy."

She smiled, "Can't say I never did anything for you."

She got up and disappeared into the flow of people. I headed back to the safe house.

When I got there, Cariot was gone.

I'd gotten too close, and forgotten: she still had a habit to feed.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 5

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 4 Here))

Half an hour later we were holed up in a safe house. In my line of work you never know when you're going to need a bolt-hole, and when my last missing person's case had dead-ended at a grimy apartment paid up six months in advance, I'd kept the address. And the key. It was only a matter of time until the Serps tracked us down, though.

Cariot glanced around and made a beeline for the bathroom. She was back a moment later, holding one of those cheap first aid kits that station regs mandate landlords provide, and what looked like a sewing kit.

She tossed it on the kitchen counter. "Take off your jacket. Shirt too."

"Aren't you going to even buy me a drink first?"

"You're a big boy, you'll do fine without anesthetic." Cariot opened cupboards in the kitchen until she found what she was looking for: a pot, which she filled with water and set on the stove, a couple of sharp knives, some tongs and a bottle of gin with maybe an inch left in it. "Off, or I'll cut 'em off. Doctor's orders."

It was my favourite jacket, the one that, up until today anyway, didn't have any holes or stains. I eased it off, shook my head sadly at the rent in the shoulder, and then the shirt.

Cariot dumped the knives and the needles from the sewing kit into the pot of boiling water and propped the tongs in, business end down. She came over to look at my shoulder, and gave me a less-then-gentle shove towards the kitchen.

"Put a bandage on it," I said. "I'll get it looked at later."

"Uh-huh, tough guy. I've seen corpses with prettier tans. Bullet's got to come out."


As much to distract myself as because I wanted to know, I asked her: "So what did you do to get so much personal attention from the Serps?"

"Fucked if I know. I thought they owed me one." Cariot set the pot on the floor, then washed her hands at the sink, splashing some of the gin over them, tipping the rest of it over my shoulder.

"Son of a - "

"Infection hurts more," she said. "Sit down. I don't want you fainting on me. On the floor, moron. Now hold still. You might feel a little discomfort."

That's what doctors say when they mean I'm about to cause you excuriciating agony. Still, criminal record, Serps trouble and fake ID and all, Cariot knew her job. It wasn't more than a moment or two of sweating and swearing before she was stitching me up with -

"Is that dental floss?"

"It's sterile. Ish. Hold still. This isn't embroidery, but you still want me to get the stitches straight."


I held still, or tried to. "So the Serps owe you one?"

"Yeah. I stitched up one of their bigwigs last night. Whatsername, Myla Navanier."

There'd been news on a botched attack on one of the Serp's clubs this morning, but no-one had mentioned that the station's biggest player had been involved. "You fuck it up?"

Cariot yanked the next stitch a little harder than she needed to. "I never fuck up." She leaned over to look me in the eye. "Unless I mean to."

She had the kind of eyes it was hard to look away from. I swallowed hard, and said "Shouldn't you be watching what you're doing?"

"I could stitch you up in my sleep, Rory Tarva," she said, and it was a threat and an invitation all rolled up into one.

"Still," I said. "I'd be more comfortable if you kept your eyes on your work. Doctor."

She laughed at me the kind of way women have been laughing at men who are out of their depth since time began, and leaned back. "No. To answer your question. I didn't fuck it up. I did a fucking stand-up job, in fact, bitch was bleeding all over the place and thrashing around like a hooked fish. Thought for a while she'd bleed out on me. Place looked like a slaughterhouse. Had blood clear through my scrubs, woulda thought I'd been swimming in it."

"And that's it? No bad debts? You owe your dealer?"

"I don't owe a soul in the Cluster," Cariot said. "There. You're done."

I turned to try and peer down at the wound as she shuffled backwards and sat down, leaning back against the cupboard. What I could see of it was neat, professional looking. The kind of thing you'd usually have to go to Station medical for, if station medical used dental floss.

Cariot tossed the bloody knives and needles back in the pot. "Not my usual kit," she said. "Don't look so fucking surprised, Tarva. You'll hurt my feelings. I was top of my class, you know."

She reached for the bottle and took a small swallow of what little was left as I gingerly turned myself around to sit beside her, keeping my bad shoulder clear of the cupboard. "And now you're a back-alley leech with the Serps on your tail."

Cariot grinned, and offered me the bottle. "Harsh but true, Tarva. Harsh but true."

There wasn't more than a mouthful of gin left, and looking down at the bloody kitchen knives in the pot, I figured I deserved all of it.

Bloody knives ... "How are you going to clean those up?"

"We're staying long enough for you to cook me breakfast?"

Fortune help me, but I blushed. "How do you normally clean up your ... kit?"

"Boiling," Cariot said. "Fancy places, they have these machines, you know? Or they just use all new, every time." She shrugged. "Boiling's the best I can do."

"That get rid of everything?"

"Off the cutting surfaces, sure. You get splashback onto the handles, blood builds up in the little grooves, and so on."

We got what we need, One-eye had said.

They'd headed for Cariot's instruments before making any move towards Cariot herself.

Blood in the little grooves. Had to be.

"You said Myla bled a lot. On your clothes?"


"What'd'ya do with them?"

"Nowhere to wash 'em where I live. Dropped them in at the laundry this morning."

"I see," I said - and I did. More than Cariot did.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 4

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 3 Here))

The door burst open and a whole lotta ugly flooded in. There were at least four, and I thought I could hear more crowding the stairs. I rapped the first one through the door on the ear with my stun-stick. He looked familiar. The doc grabbed that syringe back up and stuck his buddy, who dropped and started writhing like a sack of squid in a barrel of salt.

Behind the first rush one of the thugs went for the doctor's kit while another shoved past the poor bastard I'd stunned, with an ugly looking slug thrower leveled. He fired as I spun, grabbed the doc, and charged for the window in the back. I lowered my shoulder and busted through, heavy shutters and all. I'd forgotten how high up we were, though. Getting shot at tends to limit my concentration to the here-and-now.

We went down one story, bounced off someone's roof, rolled through a string of laundry with stains I didn't want to think about, and flew ten feet sideways through a patch of skewed gravity, then down again, landing in a tangle, in a pile of - I don't know what it was, and I'm not planning on thinking too hard about it. Didn't have much time to consider it, luckily, cause the joker with the slug thrower started firing down at us from the window. He winged me, high on the shoulder, and we took off for the compartment entrance, Cariot leading the way.

They'd left a guy guarding the door. He shoulda been paying more attention - he turned around just in time for the doctor to perform some groin surgery with her knee. I heard a couple of them dropping into the alley behind us, and the rest came pounding around the corner from the front, to our right. Nasty looking customer with one eye in the lead.

I'd realized why the guy I'd stun-sticked looked familiar. He was an enforcer for the Serps, and One-eye there was an under-lieutenant.

We ran left, right into a cul-de-sac, ad-hoc tenements leaning drunkenly against eachother and over the alley.

I picked a door at random, gave it a good kick. Inside: Right through a family sitting down for a meal, through a blanket serving as a door, down the hall, jumping to avoid a wizened, tiny old woman waving a huge cleaver and yelling curses in Amarrian at us, back out under the glaring lights of the station.

I skidded around the corner, dragged the doc with me. A ball of plasma slid through the spot we'd just occupied with a sound like a red-hot poker being swung through water. Some psycho was using a blaster indoors.

We kept running. I saw a sign I recognized, the Grinning Raven, "In here!"

I dove inside.

Inside the place was full of serious looking people - mostly Caldari - in serious looking suits, and two seconds after we came through the door most of them were suddenly holding serious looking weapons. The Raven was a favorite hangout for high ranking Guristas and their friends. I eased toward the back, the doc in tow. That's about when the Serps burst in. The first couple bounced off the doorman, who'd gotten up and taken an interest when we arrived, like BBs bouncing off an Apocalypse. There was a nasty murmur in the crowd when the newcomers were recognized, and we were promptly forgotten.

The bouncer turned and growled at One-eye, "Something you want, Snake-tyuui?"

I think 'tyuui' isn't a very nice thing to call someone, in Caldari. The Serp eyed the bouncer, who looked like about 130 kilos of muscle and cybernetics stuffed into a suit. Eyed the assorted hardware being pointed from the rest of the club. Got up. "No. We were just leaving."

One of his men started to protest, but the lead Serp cut him off, "Don't need this kinda trouble. Besides, we got what we needed. We can tie up loose ends later."

The Serps might be the biggest gang around, or at least on the station, but the Guristas are tricky, vicious, and have a sense of humor. Noone really wants to start a pissing contest with someone who might spike your drink with kerosene.

I bought everyone a round and tipped the bouncer, then inquired about the back door. One of the staff showed us to a store room, where a hatch in the floor let us into the back of a shop on the level below. The shop specialized in dried squid.

Like I said, a sense of humor.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 3

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 2 Here))

There are good neighbourhoods, there are bad neighbourhoods, and then there's the kind of neighbourhood Cariot lived in. Actually, it was a warehouse, that someone whose wallet was healthier than their conscience had rented out to anyone who couldn't afford better. Put together out of scraps of metal, plastic, discarded pieces of shipping containers, even scavenged pieces of ship hulls here and there - whatever could be found, the vertical slum filled the compartment, looking like the nest of one of those exotic insects: the kind that look ugly, smell worse, and have a nasty bite.

The smells that filled the air were a lot less wholesome than cooking or cut flowers, and I wasn't sure if it was them or the tilt to the floor from grav-generators too old to really put much effort into their work that turned my stomach.

As I ducked under strings of washing and stepped over things I didn't want to look too closely at, I comforted myself with the thought that at least Cariot wouldn't rumble my cover with one look at my face.

Cariot's address was up from the door, at least, it was up when you were at the door and it was up most of way there, too, except for those places where gravity was as sideways as Serpentis ethics.

As I knocked at the door I could hear a woman shouting in the first apartment, a kid screaming, someone crying. Happy families, or what passed for it in this part of the universe.

She opened the door just a crack, gave me the once over. I kept my hands in view, one with cash in it, "Need a doc, real bad."

She opened the door all the way, had a syringe of something a nasty green color in her other hand "Fine, come on in. Don't try anything, though."

The picture on her file hadn't shown more than her head and shoulders. Hadn't shown the difference animation made to those almost-pretty features, or the fact that the rest of package was more than worth writing home about - or sending a private detective a thousand syn advance.

Not that she was beautiful, or a patch on Auvy, of course. But she stood in that dingy room like she was a podder standing on her own hangar deck, and I suddenly understood why her husband would be so keen to get her back, drug convictions and all.

It wasn't until she spoke that I realised I'd been staring a little bit too long.

"Cash in advance," she said, keeping that syringe handy.

"We must'a gone to the same business school," I told her, making sure to keep my hands in view. I stepped inside, closed the door behind me. "I have to say, the mugshot didn't do you justice."

She tensed "Think you've got me confused with somebody else. You want to tell me why you need a doc?"

I eyed the needle. "I don't. At least, not yet."

"I've heard it all, sugar, no need to be embarrassed." She smiled slightly, a smile that had no doubt convinced plenty of nervous guys to drop their trousers on her orders. "What, that nice girl at the dockside bar gave you more than a half-hour's affection for your thirty syn?"

There wasn't any reason to keep dancing. "I'm working for your husband."

"You have got me confused with somebody else." Cariot held up her left hand, as bare of a ring as a freighter is bare of weapons. "Footloose and fancy free, me."

Had to wonder why she looked to be wound spring-tight, then. I shook my head. "Don't think that's quite enough proof, Doc. I've got a description. Pictures. And a thousand syn advance. He must care a lot, send that much to a total stanger, just to make sure you're alright. There's a message too."

She looked away, lips tightening, and tossed the syringe on the counter. "Man is a born fool. Look, Mr - "

"Tarva. Rordon Tarva."

"Mr Tarva, I don't have a lot of cash ready to hand. Maybe two hundred, but I can get more. I'll give you all of it to go back out that door, forget you saw me, and ..." She paused, and then said in hard voice. "Keep your message to yourself."

"Sorry lady, not the way it works."

"Occur to you I might have good reasons? Maybe he beat me, you think of that? Maybe I'm running for my life."

"Are you running for your life? That what it's about?"

She sighed. "In a manner of speaking, maybe I am."

"Well, he beat you, you can laugh at him for wasting that thousand syns on the message. Anyway, don't see me slinging you over my shoulder, do you?"

"The night is young," she shot back with a lift of an eyebrow and a curve to her lips that made it an invitation not many would refuse. "Look, Mr Tarva. You don't know what you've gotten yourself into. You tell him where I am, there's no telling where it ends. You ever have podder trouble? Because let me tell you, you don't want it."

She was right, I didn't. I'd had a brush with that kinda trouble before, and once was plenty. I'd taken her husband's money, though.

"Trouble comes with the job, Doc." I studied her, then gave her the message she'd been so keen not hear. "Your husband, he said to tell you - it's okay to come home."

She laughed with absolutely no humor. "Home? I am home, Mr Tarva. Look around. I'm exactly where I belong."

I was about to tell her that this wasn't somewhere anyone belonged when the door burst open.


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 2

((Co-written by Ciarente. Part 1 Here))

I grabbed my good coat and hopped a transport to Jara's Teahouse.

It was in an upscale part of the station, near admin and some of the megacorporate offices. Kresh plants flanking the doorway and a few tasteful light sculptures inside - but I happened to know that the owner was born on the station, same as me, and the closest his ancestors ever came to Caldari Prime was seeing it through a telescope from Gallente Prime.

The man I was looking for was sitting near the back, drinking tea that probably cost more per-kilo than pure Exile, out of a delicate cup thinner than a whore's knickers. Intaki, dressed expensively but conservatively enough to fit in in any boardroom in The Forge, wearing tight fitting black gloves, fingers moving nervously on the cup he was holding. His name was Alusen Steirs.

Teahouse owner was only his day job. Nights and weekends he was one of the higher priced assassins on the station.

He was also a notorious hypochondriac and germaphobe. Hence the gloves and pricey tea. People called him Ailing Alusen, but never in his hearing. My missing woman was a doctor with a stim problem. If she was doing freelance medicine, Alusen would have heard about her. I slid into the seat across from him.

"Hey Al, how's the tea business?"

He sniffed like I'd just dumped a bucket of fish heads on his floor, "Tarva-haan. Did you need something?"

"Yeah, you hear about a new medguri setting up lately?"

Alusen gave me a cold look. I held my stomach and tried to look sick. It wasn't hard, I'd gotten a whiff of that tea he was drinking.

"Really need one Al. Station medical's too steep for me, I'm barely making the rent as it is. I hear that new sawbones, the woman, is really good. And cheap. Feel like I might start thowin' up any time."

His expression transformed like magic, he looked downright alarmed, " Her name's Anaic Cariot! Here!" He took out a notebook and scribbled an address, ripped the paper off and practically flung it across the table, "Now, out! Out!"

I left.

((Part 3))


Syndicate Files: The Doctor - Part 1

((Co-written by Ciarente))

I'd just settled behind my desk when the message came in. It was a job - missing person.

You see a lot of those in Syndicate. It's the kinda place that has a lot of reasons to be missing: both the voluntary, and the involuntary, kind. Bad debts, short-tempered bookies, too close a call with the law ....

This looked like the kind of missing person who'd chosen to be hard to find. A doctor who'd lit out from the Republic, leaving a good job without a word to her boss or to the husband who was so keen to find her.

I looked at the record he'd sent. Not a bad-looking woman, not worth 500 syns a day, plus expenses, either. I ran her through the usual databases and got two hits right away: the passenger manifest that had brought her here, and the criminal record that'd dog her the rest of her days in the more lawabiding parts of the Cluster.

She wasn't listed on any residents' roster on the station, but that didn't mean anything. You could buy a fake ID, good enough for land lords who just wanted to be paid and keep the paperwork in order, on any corner.

Well, it was none of my business if her husband wanted her back, drug convictions and all. Missing persons are the meat - or at least the freeze dried protein - of my business, the jobs that pay the rent and keep me in scotch and coffee. And the poor stupid bastard who'd married her had sent a thousand syn advance, for an easy job that'd take a day at most.

No refunds. It says so, right on the advert.

((Part 2))


Resolving the Situation

Sarakai didn't like Urbrald much. It reminded her of home.

The people looked different here, but they were the same. The smells were familiar, the taste of factory effluvium and poverty in the air. The transport Sarakai and her team were in was well out over the water now, the city out of sight, but the smell still seemed to haunt the air of the cabin. Like it followed us out here.

Sarakai checked on the other members of the team with a critical eye, found everything satisfactory. Talvaas was up front, piloting the rented light transport. It shuddered slightly, as they began to slow near their destination - a spot well away from land, directly over a deep ocean trench.

The other two members of the team were talking quietly, across the tiny aircraft's cargo space. Nazdah smiled and laughed as Gadaruin - still dressed as a local, in drab shirt and work pants and worn boots, grease under his nails and skin artificially roughened - told her lies about some exploit of his or other. Nazdah, like Talvaas and Sarakai herself, was dressed in black tacticals over light armor. The striking True Amarr woman had been 'plan B.'

Plan B hadn't been needed. Plan A - Gadaruin - had worked like a charm. He was, as his personnel file said, 'probably mostly Vherokior'. He'd contacted the target, one Jemadar Abrastin, and the words 'Valhiri Akell' had hardly left his mouth before Abrastin was begging for a meeting. Gadaruin had offered information in return for an amount of money calculated to be affordable but taken seriously by the target. Then it was just a matter of setting up meeting in a sufficiently secluded spot.

This Abrastin fellow had been making himself a problem for Ms Akell, who was a friend of Sarakai's commander, Amieta Invelen. It was Amieta that had suggested using Akell's name as the bait.

With how fast he jumped at info about Akell, Nazdah might not have worked anyway. Glad Amieta is still sharp when it counts, even if she's gone a little soft.

It had been an unpleasant few days in Urbrald. Watching the ebb and flow. Factory workers trudging to work, or home. Tired looking prostitutes and nervous dealers. A gang of feral teenagers had tried to mug Sarakai and Gadaruin when they were on the way to the location for the meet, but it had been dark enough that the operation hadn't been endangered. No extra bodies to dispose of.

They'd had the meeting in an abandoned garage. Jemadar had shown up, they'd simply grabbed him and shoved him into a van. He hadn't had time to fight, or beg. Doubt he even had time to be surprised.

Sarakai stood as the transport banked. Nazdah slid open the cargo door built into the side. On the floor of the transport was a large bag made of a heavy, synthetic fabric. Inside were a number of weights and Jemadar Abrastin. Sarakai and Gadaruin each grabbed an end and tossed it into the sea below.

As the bag vanished beneath the waves, Sarakai helped re-latch the door and took a seat with a small sigh. Another day in Urbrald. At least the shuttle up to the station was early the next morning.