Friends: Part 2

Saer sat, pistol in one hand, as twilight deepened into night. She sat and she listened.

There was the sound of the brpbrp, scratching at the door to the bedroom. Somewhere above her, she could hear a baby crying, someone arguing. The muffled thump thump thump of bass, like a heartbeat, stripped of any accompanying music by the interposing walls. The wail of some new Gallente pop singer from another, closer apartment.

* * *

The bar was busy, but the people Saer was looking for weren't hard to spot. The maintenance workers were at a corner table by themselves, radiating a distinct air of 'fuck off'. There was a clear space all around them, an area that the rest of the customers seemed to avoid instinctively.

Saer sat at the bar and ordered a drink. It wasn't hard to keep an eye on her targets without seeming to watch them.

She saw it right away. The group mentality, the brittle good humor and 'friendliness' that fronts for raw pack mechanics and posturing, the cash changing hands. This was something she recognized, something she was used to. She'd run a few gangs herself, once upon a time.

As she kept an eye on them, she noticed one of them, one of the bigger men, had fresh split knuckles and blood on his shirt.

Saer bided her time, waiting for her moment.

It came when the big man got up, calling loudly that when he got back, the next round was on him. He went out the back.

Saer slid from her barstool and slipped out the front, then around to the alley between the bar and the Jin-Mei fast food place next door.

Her target was in the alley. He finished pissing on the wall and zipped up as she padded toward him.

He turned away from her, back toward the bar, but he must have sensed something, maybe a sound or a movement of the air.

He spun to face her, meaty fists at the ready.

He dropped them in confusion, though, when he saw the petite Sebeistor woman standing a bare meter away, "What're you being so quiet for? I'm not in the market right now, go bother someone else."

Sloppy, letting him know I was here. Saer thought, with something like irritation. At least he think's I'm a hooker. She made sure that the blackjack in her right hand stayed out of sight. She took a step closer.

His expression became annoyed, "Look, I told you. Shove o-"

Saer's kick doubled him over, though she doubted it had done any permanent damage. Still, he wouldn't be 'in the market' for a while. She stepped smoothly to one side and gave him a carefully measured tap to the back of the head with the little club.

Why'd he have to be so tall? He had nearly half a meter on her, she could guess it looked ridiculous as she levered him up from the ground and propped him across her shoulder so she could drag him along like a drunk friend. Hopefully no one will notice.

She started dragging him toward a motel.

* * *

Saer could hear sounds outside the apartment, too: a scream, cut off sharply; the wail of sirens; the buzz of hovers and roar of shuttles thrumming through the thick, polluted air as they landed at the shuttleport nearby. The rustle of voices and vehicles and blaring ads and all the other sounds of thousands of people packed together in poverty and filth on the streets below. She leaned back into the chair slightly. Away from all of it.

* * *

He started to come around, and she gave him a sharp slap to help him along. He groaned, then cursed as he came to. He glared at Saer, strained against the ties that held him in the chair and found them unyielding. He didn't bluster or threaten. Maybe there's some hope for him yet.

The motel was run down, and didn't even pretend to be clean. It was the kind of place where no one asked questions, or even for IDs, so it was ideal.

Saer sat on the bed across from him and let the facade fall. It felt good, not having to pretend and react and care the way she was supposed to, for a little while. She asked, without preamble, "The girl, where is she?"

"What fucking girl?"

"The Vherry girl." Saer answered, patiently.

"Which one?"

"Both of them."

"Both of who?"

She wondered why people in this situation insisted on delaying tactics. He has to know he's short on options and I'm short on time. She said, her tone that of someone explaining an important but boring bit of real estate law, "The next question of mine you don't answer, I'm going to break your little finger. Both of the Vherokior girls."

His brow furrowed, "The nosy ones?"

So he did know something.

She reached out and he tried to jerk his hands away. Unfortunately they were zip-tied to his knees. She took a firm hold on his right pinky, "Yes."

He shrugged as much as he could, "Now? Dunno."

Saer tensed her arm, and suggested, "You're going to want to be more helpful."

"Well, I fucking dunno. The nosy one from maintenance stopped hanging around couple of days ago. The other one, who knows by now? It's a big city."

Saer jerked his pinky sharply, and felt it break between the knuckle and the first joint. He grunted sharply at the pain. She left it pointing away from all of the others and explained, like a teacher suggesting that a student could do more to live up to their potential, "It's going to be difficult to do maintenance with broken fingers. I don't care what you and your people are into." She made sure to look him in the eyes. He tried to look away and she slapped him again, then grabbed his jaw, turned his face toward her, and went on in the same calm voice, "I'm not the police, and I'm not interested in your turf. I just want the girls. Where are they?"

The words tumbled out quickly, "The second one, last I saw her, she was in the alley down from the bar. Two blocks. The other one, at the shuttleport, I dunno! She was asking around and hanging around and then she wasn't!"

"Anyone take an interest in her hanging around?"

He tried to shrug again, "Nosy isn't good."

She got a firm grip on his ring finger and asked, "Who would I want to talk to, about that?"

"Yeah, all right!" She relaxed her grip slightly, "Tidjias, him and his boys. They get real nervous about questions."

"Tidjias." Saer tested the name, "Does he have a last name? Who is he?"

"He runs the section. Tidjias is his last name. I dunno his first." She tightened her grip slightly, and he nearly yelled, "I don't!"

There were more questions, but Hiri was out there in some alley. Better to get her taken care of first.

She nodded, "Good. Thank you for your help."

She gagged him and dragged him into a corner.

* * *
Saer sat in the apartment and remembered other nights, like this. A city like this, far away. Waiting for the door to open. Taking the time to carefully wipe the sweat from her palms so her hands wouldn't slip, her weapon a 'knife' made from a carefully chipped piece of a ceramic tile, with a cloth wrapped handle. Crude, but sharp as winter. It had been decades ago, and light-years away, but the sounds were the same.

* * *

There was no sign of Hiri in the alley.

Saer studied the pavement, trying to see any signs of a struggle or worse, blood, in the rubbish and dirt. Had she been lied to?


The man had been telling the truth, Saer was almost certain. She could go back and get more details from him, but that would take time.

He was a big man. Hiri was a small woman. And whatever happened to her, she hasn't been able to call me for hours now.

Saer tried Hiri's comm frequency, and a cheerful trilling came from one of the huge trash bins that squatted along the alley.

She heaved back the lid and the trilling grew louder, coming from somewhere in the pile of stinking bags. Saer began to throw them aside.

There. An arm: tanned, plump, small. Saer hauled, and Hiri emerged from beneath the rest of the trash. Saer pulled her over the edge of the bin and lowered her to the ground.

Hiri was limp and motionless, but breathing, her face swollen and bruised from what Saer judged to be a beating, the kind where the survival of the victim wasn't really a big concern.

Saer felt her arms and legs. Not broken. Breathing doesn't sound like there's a punctured lung. It's been hours and she hasn't bled out yet from anything internal.

Hiri stirred and groaned, and Saer squatted next to her, "Hiri?"

"Saer?" Hiri opened her good eye, "Ohhh... What happened?"

Saer helped Hiri to sit up, and got Hiri's arm over her shoulders, "You were beaten up. Let me help you, we need to get you somewhere safer."

Hiri leaned on Saer as Saer hauled her to her feet. "At the shuttleport? Where are we?"

"An alley." Hiri's knees buckled, and Saer held her up. "Come on, I've got a room."

"An alley?" Hiri asked, and then again, "What happened?"

Concussion probably. Saer half-helped, half-carried Hiri along, considering taking her to the hospital. No. Too risky. Tidjias's crew know she was beaten up, and they might have realized their friend didn't just wander off drunk. They might be watching the hospitals. Worse, the police might get involved, if she comes in like this.

No one at the motel seemed to notice or care that this was the second 'drunk friend' Saer was helping to her room. She kept Hiri on her feet long enough to get her inside the room and lowered her onto the bed, turning to lock the door behind them.

When she turned back Hiri was staring at the man tied up in the corner, "What...?"

"He's the one that beat you up," Saer said. "I'm just asking him some questions."

"He beat me up?"

"Yes." Saer dug out her first aid kit.

Hiri put her head in her hands, "At the shuttleport?"

"After the shuttleport," Saer said patiently. "Lemme take a look."

Hiri straightened up a little and whimpered. "My head hurts."

"You got beat up." Saer opened the kit. "Hold still, now."

Saer did the best she could with Hiri's scrapes and bruises, and gave her a painkiller that wasn't a standard part of most first aid kits. No skull fracture. Disoriented, retrograde amnesia, no vomiting, pupils normal.

No hospital.

"Did we find Tani?" Hiri asked plaintively.

Saer shook her head, "I'm working on it."

Hiri stared at the man in the corner. "Why did he beat me up?"

"For asking questions." Saer said without a trace of irony. She turned and considered her 'guest'., "I'm going to talk to him and find out about Tani. You rest."

"Okay." Hiri nodded and winced.

Saer hesitated for a moment. What would a friend do? She patted Hiri on the shoulder, "It'll be okay."

"I think ..." Hiri looked pale, "I want to lie down."

Saer turned on the holo, the picture grainy and rippling, "Try and stay awake if you can."


"You've got a head injury." Saer sat on the edge of the bed as Hiri lay back, "I can't stay with you, because I need to ask a few more questions, and find Tani."

"All right." Hiri still seemed a little vague, but at least she was conscious.

Saer nodded, then stood, grabbed the back of the chair that the man was tied to and dragged him into the bathroom. She closed the door behind her.

* * *

Saer's attention sharpened as she heard footsteps in the hallway outside the apartment stop in front of the door. She stood and listened carefully, but they didn't move on. There was the rustle of someone fishing in a purse or bag. Saer slipped over to stand against the wall next to the door, pistol held ready, quiet as the void.

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