Syndicate Files: The Sister - Part 3

A game like this one could only be held on neutral ground. Holding it in any of the clubs or casinos associated with one or another of the pirate factions or criminal organisations on the station would have been an invitation for cheating, stealing, and a spot of murder: and not a 'call round if you're in the neighborhood' invitation but the kind of invitation that came in a full-color holo of dancing girls and maybe some exotic animals as well.

And neutral ground was in short supply around here. This is Syndicate: everybody owes somebody. Some people owe everybody.

But there was one man on the station who had no debts and owed no favors. Colonel Nesen Kurata, highest ranking officer in Mordu's Legion for a coupla systems in any direction, had come through a long career without giving anyone anything to hold over him and without losing his reputation as an honest man. He was sometimes asked to arbitrate conflicts between factions on the station, and his HQ - The HQ, it's called - is considered neutral ground. In fact, it's enforced neutral ground. He might seem like a rather charming, harmless, antique warhorse, but noone wants to piss off someone who could call in a battalion of MTACs.

He was getting on these days, and most of the business of the Legion was run by his second-in-command, but everybody including his superiors knew that the chances of the old man retiring were right up there with Heth and Roden sharing a sloppy kiss on a cluster-wide live broadcast.

The HQ was the headquarters of the Legion on the Station. The only sign is the Legion logo - you know the one, some kind of bird with a birth defect - etched on the crystal of the recessed double doors. It's not where you'd go if you wanted to hire them, that's a store front in one of the swankier business districts (buy a war, get a minor conflict free!) This was where the commander for the Legion spent his time though, so this was the HQ.

Colonel Kurata liked to think of himself as a gentleman, and from what I'd heard he was. Anyway, he ran his club like the gentleman he thought he was. It was a nice place for the right kind of people to meet and mingle and talk politely, and maybe lose a little money at roulette while they were doing it. The Colonel hobnobbed with bosses, charmed society ladies, drank with the influential in politics and business, and swapped lies about how good things had been with other veterans.

And it was a nice place for a high-stakes poker game, too.

There was that battalion of MTACs, after all.

Another good reason not to get caught.

Getting inside the main part of the club wasn't going to be a problem: the doors of the Colonel's club would open for Siarente, or for her bank-balance and podder implants, at least.

Getting the invitation from the Colonel to the game was a different question.

"Are you ready for this?" I asked Siarente.

She nodded, face pale, and then swallowed hard. "'sec," she said, and hastily snapped open the beaded purse she was carrying, pulling out a small packet of dry crackers.

I watched as she crammed a couple in her mouth and chewed. "Look, if you're having second thoughts ... better to say something now. Once we're inside there won't be room for mistakes."

Siarente swallowed. "I know. I'm fine. It's just ... brain surgery doesn't agree with me."

That had been the point where Sami's plan had nearly come unstuck. She hadn't been able to believe any pod pilot wouldn't have an internal neocom, and at first Siarente had been adamant in her refusal to have one put in. I like picking up my neocom like a normal person, she'd said in a sweetly reasonable tone. And I don't like people poking around in my head.

But the whole plan depended on Siarente keeping Mavare at the poker table until Ydet had time to steal Tialya's ring from the cloakroom and leave the carefully made replica in its place. Mavare wouldn't know that the family heirloom was also a family hairloom with a lock of someone's great-great-grandmother's coiffure sealed beneath the gem for verification. He'd be happy with the high-quality fake Auvy's contact had made, and never know the real thing was back on Tialya's hand - if Mavare didn't loose all his money in the first three hands and go to collect his belongings while Ydet was still wriggling through the airducts.

And Siarente might have been a quick study and Auvy a good teacher, but even when you're planning on losing card-sharping takes a lifetime to master and this table was not a place to make mistakes.

Sami was sure she could hack through the jamming and use the venue's security drones to watch the play. But it wouldn't do us any good if she couldn't get that information to Siarente, and sitting at the table with a comm handset held to one ear wasn't exactly the best way to avoid suspicion.

The pilot had hemmed and hawwed and asked Sami to come up with a different plan, and when Sami hadn't, Siarente had taken herself off to find someone else to look for her sister.

I might have panicked if there'd been anyone else on the station dirt-dumb enough to take the job. Fortune just isn't that fond of me, most days.

Siarente had come back within the day. Another twenty-four hours of lessons from Auvy while we waited for the replica ring to be made and the pilot's own medical team had arrived by Interbus to put in the neocom. Once they arrived, it was over so quick I couldn't work out what all the fuss had been about. The lead surgeon seemed to know her business, her manner as sharp as her scalpel. When they were done, I couldn't even tell where they'd done the work.

So there we were: me in my best suit, the podder's bodyguard with her best deadly expression, Ydet in a deep purple skin-tight that was both fashionable and perfect for eeling through narrow crawlspaces, and Siarente in a scarlet dress Auvy had had to stitch her into. I didn't need to know much about couture to be able to tell that the only thing keeping it up was some sort of technological miracle and from the heads turning as we headed down the boulevard towards Legion HQ, I wasn't the only one wondering how long that miracle would last.

Too many more of those crackers, I thought, and not much longer.

"Are you sure you're all right?" I asked Siarente again.

She dropped the packet back in her purse and snapped it closed. "Yes," she said.

"Now remember," I told her, "You just have to keep him busy at the table, you don't have to win. In fact, do your best not to. These people, they don't like people getting lucky at their expense."

Siarente nodded. "You told me," she said, and tucked her hand in the crook of Ydet's elbow. "Don't let me fall over in these heels,dear."

"Never, darling," Ydet said with a wink.

The bodyguard and I following, they sauntered arm and arm into the club.

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