Syndicate Files: The Sister - Part 5

No caper ever goes according to plan, even in the holos, and this was no holo.

The back room was set out in the same style as the front, only more so. More surprised-looking dead things on the walls, more tidy attendants in black suits and white gloves, more heavy paneling and ornate holos of improbably handsome people doing improbably heroic things.

In the middle of the room was the table, a monsterous, heavy thing. A fortune in wood. The Colonel probably looted it from some Guardian Angel casino in Outer Ring. It fit the men and women sitting around it in equally heavy chairs with gilt-edged arm-rests and slippery velvet cushions.

Our friend, Mavare was there, of course. A woman in a severe business suit was at the place next to him, I recognized her as a banker that helped clean money that had got a little dirty in its trip through the station's underworld. Maybe it was handling all that cash she couldn't keep that had given her the sour expression she wore, like a librarian forced to check out dirty holos when she knew she'd be spending the night alone with her furrier.

Next to the banker was Molotte Voirot, one of the most successful smugglers on the station, even if, or perhaps because, he had the fresh-faced looks of a teenage cadet. Next to him was a Civire with scars criss-crossing the backs of his hands and a very expensive suit, a high ranking Gurista, Ojavas 'Knuckles' Inheras. The last player was a Minmatar woman I didn't recognize, but I smelled an Angel.

If any of them noticed that Siarente was a podder, they didn't show it.

The Colonel was serious about preventing cheating. Apart from the players, only his staff were allowed to approach the table, and there were a couple of dedicated autoturrets ready to make confetti of anyone else who tried to break the rule. The players had all handed over their jewelery and any other personal effects that might be used to mark cards or give them some other unfair advantage, and the faint shimmer of a distortion field made sure no bystander could catch a peek of someone's hand and give another player a high sign. Electronic jamming was in place at the table to defeat any communication to or from the players, and leaving the table except at designated breaks or when you were bust was an automatic forfeit of your entire stake - and any future invitations.

The Colonel explained all of that to Siarente, who thanked him, and slipped into her chair with a giggle and gave a little excited bounce, for all the world like a little girl thrilled to death to be allowed to stay up past her bedtime and socialize with the grownups. She ordered a glass of champagne from the white-gloved waiter, complimented the banker on her hair and winked at Voirot. Her aura of just-waiting-to-be-fleeced had the other players welcoming her.

I'm sure the dress didn't hurt, either.

I was optimistic. Mavare was probably the lightweight at the table, but a million syns should take a while to burn through. Sami was confident she could beat the jamming, and all Sia had to do was keep playing until Ydet was done.

Yeah, I really was that stupid.

The Colonel announced the start of the game, and the first set of hands shot out across the table from the dealer - a real, human one.

The first thing that went wrong was the jamming. Sami's confidence that she could defeat the baffling and get a signal through to Siarente's neocom was justified: right up until the jamming signal cycled through to the next random frequency.

And it was too late to try and back out.

I guessed Sia knew the silence over the internal neocom she hadn't wanted to get in the first place wasn't intentional. She studied her cards with pursed lips and then fiddled with the dress strap, fragile as a Breacher's hull, over her left shoulder - the sign we'd agreed on if something went wrong short of an emergency.

But Auvy knew her cards and Sia was a quick study. She bet a little, lost it trying to draw to fill a hand of three acorns, won on the next with a pair of sixes when the rest of the table had hands full of even more trash, and then twisted a curl around her finger and laid down a flat flush.

Ydet sighed, rolled her eyes, fidgeted, and finally excused herself. Right on schedule. I checked my watch. Forty minutes, she'd said. In and out.

That's when the second thing went wrong. Mavare started losing. I'm no cardsharp, and I couldn't see the cards clearly through that distortion field, but even I could tell he was a terrible player. Not only that, he tried to make up for it by throwing on money. Never play loose in a tight game, Auvy had warned Sia, but that was clearly a maxim Mavare had never heard. I did some quick calculations, and figured we'd be ok, if not by a wide margin, though.

Then the third thing went wrong.

"Rory," Ydet hissed over my earpiece. "I've got a guard and a waiter going at it in the storage room. Right under my exit. I'm gonna have to wait it out. I'll need more time.

Sami was still fighting with the electronic jamming but she was able to get through to Sia for a few seconds here and there. She got word to the pilot about the need for delay.

Sia fiddled with that strap a bit more emphatically than before, putting the whole miracle of engineering at risk, and then eyed the cards face up on the table, twirled that curl around her forefinger and bet high on a five and seven of acorns. Her fake tell had the other players folding fast, but luckily Mavare wasn't so smart, and when Sia's hole cards turned out not to be the missing cards of a straight he raked in enough chips to stay in the game.

There was a break at the hour and a half mark. Sia and Sami's best efforts hadn't been able to keep more than a handful of chips in front of Mavare, so as I escorted Sia towards the bar for the break, I hoped we had bought Ydet enough time.

There she was, waiting in the lounge area when we walked out. She gave the slightest nod when she saw us.

I leaned closer to Ross, "Time to go, Captain."

Ydet joined us as we made our way across the room toward the exit. Then Siarente stumbled. I thought she'd turned an ankle in those fashionable heels, but as I reached out to steady her she bolted, heading across the room at a brisk clip, toward a knot of people around the Civire with the scarred knuckles. Her attention was fixed on a woman with grey, metallic prosthetics in place of both arms. The woman was talking to one of the Gurista's lackeys, making a report it looked like to me. She finished, whatever it was, and was gone again before Siarente got close. The Captain stopped, and the rest of us caught up to her.

"Who is that?"

I looked where Sia was pointing, probably under the illusion she was being discreet. "Him? that's Ojavas Inheras. A ... " I hesitated. Even in a dress that qualified as a fire-hazard for its ability to cause spontaneous combustion in innocent bystanders, there was something about Siarente Ross that made a man feel reluctant to use words like 'gangster' ... or 'murderer', for that matter. "A local businessman," I temporized.

"He's a regular here," Sami supplied. "Likes to win, and wins a lot - maybe because people know what happens to those who get too lucky at his expense."

"Really," Sia said thoughtfully. She turned to look up at me with a smile. "Could you give me a just a second here, Rory? I'll be right back."

That was the fourth thing that went wrong.

Before I could say a word she'd taken off, her heels tapping lightly on the parquet floor as she headed back to the poker table.

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