Syndicate Files: The Sister - Part 13

The room they herded us into was like a Caille socialite: a lot of time and money had been spent making it look like a picture out of a magazine, and the result was perfectly put together and perfectly empty of anything that even remotely resembled individuality or personality. At one end was a desk so bland it almost put me to sleep looking at it, and sitting behind it was a nondescript Caldari who looked like an accountant, if accountants really looked the way the directors of holos thought. His suit was in a style a couple years out of date, and it looked a little worn, but well cared for - it went well with the old-fashioned spectacles and the comb-over. He was flipping through an expense report as we were hustled into the middle of the room.

Varakin Haakinen, the most powerful Gurista on the station, didn't look up.

I exchanged a glance with Auvy, neither of us having to say aloud what we were both thinking. This doesn't look good.

Envelan caught the look. "This has nothing to do with you," she said. "Haakinen is a business man, no profit in hurting bystanders. This is my problem."

I couldn't quite share her faith in Haakinen's reasonableness.

I leaned closer to Envelan, "You're the Rabbit. What happens now?"

She shrugged. "We wait," she said. "Take our chance when it comes. I'll get you out of here, anyway." She was talking to me but looking at Sia as she spoke, and then frowned a little. "Sia?"

I turned. The pilot's face was pale, and she had the glassy-eyed expression of someone trying to decide whether throwing up or passing out was the better option.

"Do you think I might have some water?" she asked softly and very politely, and then folded up where she stood.

Envelan brushed me aside and caught Sia before she could hit the ground. All around us, hands went to guns. Envelan ignored them, and lowered Sia gently to the floor. The podder wasn't out, not quite, mumbling that she was okay, she'd missed breakfast, she was fine.

"Someone get a medic," Envelan ordered, exactly as if she was in charge, and the authority in her voice was enough to make a couple of our guards twitch reflexively.

Haakinen glanced up, and said mildly, "I appreciate your desire to stick to a winning tactic, but I think you'll find the staff here a little better trained than Inheras's."

"She's not faking," Envelan said. "She's not cut out for this sort of shit." When Haakinen's expression didn't change, she added almost pleadingly. "'At least let her have some water."

Haakinen considered, then nodded slightly. A flunky brought a glass of water, the guards watching closely as he set it down near Envelan and beat a hasty retreat. Envelan dipped one finger in it before she helped Sia sit up and held the glass for the pilot to sip.

"Expecting poison, Ms Envelan?" Haakinen with faint amusement.

"Not really," Envelan said. "But I'd kick myself if I turned out to be wrong."

Sia finished the water. A little color had come back to her cheeks and now she just looked tired, mostly.

"Just take it easy," Envelan told her, more gently than I would have believed she was capable of. "You'll be out of here in no time and the docs'll fix you up."

"I'm all right," Sia said. "It's just this vertigo, since they put the neocom in." She rubbed restlessly at the skin behind her ear and Envelan reached out to capture Sia's hand in her own. Sia blinked and started. "I'm all right, Ani, really." She squeezed Envelan's metal fingers with a weary little smile, and for a fraction of a second they looked like the sisters Sia kept insisting they were.

Then Envelan yanked her hand away and got back to her feet. She turned to face Haakinen, who'd been watching the two of them with alert interest. "Look," Envelan said. "I know you and me have got some things to sort out. But the others, they have nothing to do with this."

"But I think they have a great deal to do with this," Haakinen said mildly. He touched a button on that bland desk and a holo-display spray to life above his head: Sia in the Colonel's HQ, at the poker table, me in the background, Inheras pushing a stack of chips into the middle of the table. Haakinen steepled his fingers. "Inheras is quite ... resentful at losing so much money to a cardsharp. And I tend to agree we should discourage people with the idea of cheating our organisation."

"I didn't cheat," Sia said from the floor. She tried to get her feet under her to stand. When no-one else moved, I took her arm to help her. She swayed a little and then steadied. "Not M'ser Inheras, anyway."

"You just happen to be that good a poker player?" Haakinen said with polite disbelief.

Sia smiled, sweet and guileless as if she'd never ripped open a battleship's hull and sent thousands to their deaths. "I'm quite good at mathematics," she said, and let go of my arm to run her fingers through her hair. The honey-colored curls bunched between her fingers, revealing the pale column of her neck - and the glittering jeweled caps over her podder plugs.

There was a little silence in the room, as if everybody was simultaneously taking a quiet, careful breath. Haakinen looked at Sia with an expression as neutral as the dull blank case around a racing warp-core. "I see."

Sia let her hair fall back over her shoulders. It shifted and rustled as she shrugged slightly. "And besides," she said, "He should have paid as much attention to my cards as he did to my cleavage." She blushed a little as she said it, like a schoolgirl pronouncing a dirty word or a Kaalakiota accountant announcing less than seven percent ROI.

Haakinen looked at her gravely. "I'll pass on your advice," he promised, and gestured to a flunky. "Bring Captain - ?"

"Ross," Sia supplied.

"Bring Captain Ross a chair."

The chair was set on the other side of the desk to him. Sia settled herself in it, calm as cooled casein, if you couldn't see the rapid flutter of the pulse in her neck. She had to know what Haakinen did, what everyone else in the room knew now: a pod pilot wasn't an inconvenience or a future 'example'. In Haakinen's ledger, Sia Ross had just gone from a silly little rich girl out of her depth to someone who could easily have brought a small army to avenge Inheras's efforts to get his own back.

I wished she had, right about then. Even on short acquaintance though, I could tell: that wasn't the sort of thing that would occur to Siarente Ross.

Haakinen's expression hadn't changed, but there was a tension in the air as the silence stretched on. You didn't make an example of a podder, but you might make them and everyone who'd seen them near you disappear to protect yourself. For a moment it seemed likely that Haakinen would solve his problems the old-fashioned way: by tossing it out an airlock. I wasn't the only one who it occurred to, I glanced at Envelan and saw the thin blue lines of nano-tatts creeping up her neck. War paint. She was as tense - more tense than I was, like an anti-matter charge in the breech, just waiting to explode into self-annihilating destruction.

Then Haakinen sighed, "Inheras can sometimes let his temper override his better judgement. I will see to it he apologizes, and I trust we can leave this unfortunate lapse of his behind us." He gestured to Auvy and me, "Can your associates see you to where you would like to be, or would you like an escort?"

It was clearly a dismissal, and just as clearly, Envelan wasn't included.

Sia paused. "I'm sure that my three friends can see me safely home."

"I'm afraid we have a misunderstanding," Haakinen said. "Ms Envelan's betrayed the trust we placed in her, Ms Ross. She killed several of my employees - her colleagues. I'm sure that you understand that I can't let something like that go."

"Mmm," Sia said. "I'm afraid we do have a misunderstanding. I can't leave without Ani."

"You can," Envelan said. "And you will."

"You'll have to leave without Ms Envelan," Haakinen said. "Or not leave at all." The threat was unmistakable. The risk benefit analysis had clearly changed.

"Get the fuck out, Sia," Envelan said. "I told you: I don't want you here."

Sia flinched a little at the harsh note in Envelan's voice, but her gaze stayed steady on Haakinen. "I can't leave without her."

"Why not?" Haakinen asked. "What is she to you?"

"She's - "

Envelan cut her off. "No-one. I'm no-one. So kick the podder out and she'll forget all about this. Won't you."

Haakinen narrowed his eyes, and remarked to no-one in particular "I do hate taking risks I don't understand."

He flicked a finger and one of the guards stepped forward, drawing her gun in the same smooth motion. Sia's yelp of surprise was barely audible beneath Envelan's snarl as the guard grabbed Sia by one arm and pressed the muzzle of the gun to her cheek.

"Get your fucking hands off her!" Envelan lunged, nanotatts flooding over her face, eyes wide and teeth bared, but the guards were ready for her. Sia screamed and kept screaming, shrill as a boiling kettle, as Envelan went down, five of them holding her, face to the floor, prosthetic arms twisted up behind her back past the point my arms would have broken, and still struggling.

"'No-one', I see," Haakinen said. "Hardly seems so."

"Don't hurt her!" Sia was crying, words barely intelligible through her sobs, not pretty tears calculated for effect but the brink of hysteria. "Please, please, don't hurt her, please!"

Haakinen looked from one to the other. "That is really up to her, Captain Ross. One more time, Ms Envelan. How do you know Captain Ross? Why did you kill your own colleagues to protect her?"

Envelan hesitated, and the guard by Sia pushed the gun harder against her face, the pressure of the muzzle turning the skin white.

"My sister." Envelan's tone was tinged with defeat, "She's my sister."

I saw the glances pass between the guards holding her down. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to me that their grips eased a bit, too.

Caldari put a lot of stock in family. And the Guristas might have plenty of Caldari who don't quite fit in to the State, but they were Caldari, all the same.

"Well," Haakinen said. "Why didn't you say so?"

He flicked a finger and the guards holding Envelan hauled her to her feet, while the one holding the gun to Sia's head holstered her weapon and stepped back. Sia scrubbed at her tear-stained cheeks with her hands and took a step towards her sister, then stopped as Envelan moved just exactly that much away.

"It doesn't change anything," Envelan said. "She's got nothing to do with it. Send her back to her hangar."

Haakinen looked like he might be balancing accounts for all the expression he showed. "Nice try, Ms Envelan. Let loose a pod pilot with a blood feud?"

"It not for her the way it is for us," Envelen said urgently. "You can let her go - she won't hold a grudge."

"Is that true, Captain Ross? Family doesn't mean to you what it would to a Caldari?"

Sia took a shaking breath and found some reserves of composure from somewhere. "I don't know," she said. "I suppose we can't ever know exactly what's in someone else's head, can we? Maybe it is different for me. All I can tell you is, I won't leave here without my sister. I can't."

Envelan closed her eyes. "Sia ..."

Haakinen studied Sia for a moment, then Envelan. "Inheras seems to be making all sorts of errors of judgement lately." Suddenly, I wouldn't have given a bent half-syn for Inheras's career prospects. "Well, we have a problem. Ms Envelan's actions may have been inevitable, given Inheras's misunderstanding of the situation, but there is still a debt to be paid."

Envelan nodded. "Let my sister go. I'll pay what needs to be paid."

"I don't think you should be giving orders." A twitch at the corners of Haakinen's mouth, "And I don't think you'll be able to make the kind of payment I have in mind."

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