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.
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.