Friends: Part 3

The apartment door opened and light spilled in. The woman stepped inside and quickly shut the door. She walked toward the center of the room, throwing her purse on the couch, "Lights."

As the lights came up Saer moved, sliding over to stand in front of the door and pointing her weapon, "Hello, Bjerd."

The woman spun around.

* * *

The motel room bathroom was cramped, and Saer could see various animal life scatter as she dragged her prisoner in and wedged him into the tiny shower stall, chair and all. He glared at her over the gag while she searched his maintenance jumpsuit.

He had an ID, a residence passcard, a couple of security passes for the shuttleport, and some cash. She pocketed everything except the ID. That she held up in front of him, "I have your name, Snallfur. That means I can find you whenever I want. I own you. Understand?"

The prisoner - Snallfur - nodded.

Saer went on, "You have a family? Girlfriend? Most people have someone they care about. I can find them too. If I care. Make sure I don't have a reason to care, so I don't have to stay on this piece of shit planet any longer than I have to."

Snallfur nodded reluctantly, eyes on Saer wary.

"Is there anything else you want to tell me about the Vherry girl, and your friend Tidjias?"

He considered, then nodded again. Saer removed his gag, and he spoke without hesitation, "They keep their stuff in a room, at the shuttleport. The stuff they keep, off the manifests."

"Maintenance area?" Saer asked.

"Yeah." Snallfur hesitated, then added, "And the only way out is to walk out, you know? So she walked out, or she's still on the shuttleport."

"You can describe where, exactly, this room is. First, though, are there any other ways into maintenance other than the main checkpoint?"

He nodded, "Where the parts come in, loading bay. At the back."

"Good. And the room where they keep their stuff?"

Snallfur described the location of the small room, not far from the loading dock. Saer committed it to memory. When he finished, she said, "Thank you. You've been very helpful."

He must have been getting some of his spine back, because he glared at her. Remind him what I'll do if he fucks with me? Saer considered, No. No need, nearly finished with him.

What she said was, "Last thing, your friend Tidjias, anything else you can tell me about him?"

"Don't cross him. He's mean. Holds a grudge. Likes things his own way."

"Is his second more flexible?" Saer asked.

"Dumb." Snallfur shook his head, "Like a slaver hound. Dumb and vicious."

Saer pursed her lips, "Pretend that I work for the Cartel, and I wanted to find someone reasonable in management, there. Just how many people would I have to eliminate before they were in charge?"

Snallfur snorted, "Maybe ... five? There's a girl in the small parts division, has her head screwed on. Smart. Scared though."

Five isn't so many. Saer smiled thinly, "Well, thank you again for your help."

* * *

"What-" The words died as the woman - Bjerd - saw the gun, and who was holding it. She asked more quietly, "What do you want?"

Saer nodded at one of the chairs, "Sit down. I'm here to talk to you, Bjerd."

* * *

When Saer left the bathroom, careful to close the door behind her, Hiri was sitting on the bed, looking more alert. Saer grabbed a bottle of water from a bag in the corner and offered it to Hiri, "How're you feeling?"

Hiri sipped it, "Better. I think. My head is killing me. What happened?" Another sip, "I remember the shuttle landing, and then ..." Hiri shrugged, then winced at the new bruises the motion tugged at.

"We asked some questions. Too many, apparently." Saer gestured to indicate Hiri's injuries, "One of the people involved beat you up."

"Questions? About Tani?" At Saer's nod, she went on, "If they... She really is in trouble, isn't she?"

"Looks that way."

Hiri began to fumble in her pocket, "I'll call the police."

This again. What have the cops ever done for anybody? Saer held her hand out in a placating gesture, "Police start showing up, they might panic. And we don't have any real evidence."

Hiri stopped, "Panic?"

"Yes." Saer nodded toward the bathroom, "I questioned one of them. I have an idea of where they might be keeping her."

"Is she all right, do you know, is she all right?" Hiri tried to get up and sank back with a groan.

Saer hesitated. Contact. They say contact is important. She reached out and gently touched Hiri's arm, "You stay. I'm going to go and either find her, or find out where she is."

"What can I do?" Hiri looked out of her depth. "Call someone? Do something?"

"Stay here. If I get her out, I'll send her here."

Hiri nodded.

"There's some water and protein bars in the bag. First aid stuff, too, if you need it. Don't open the door to anyone except me or her." Saer added, "I haven't been terribly impressed with these people's operation so far, but they did manage to track you down once. I've been surprised before."

Hiri nodded, with a nervous glance at the door, "Okay."

"There's also a stun stick in there." Saer pointed at the bag, "Just press the button is make sure it makes contact. It does the rest."

Hiri hesitated, "A stun stick... okay."

"Just in case."

Hiri looked nauseated, "Just in case."

"If you don't hear from me by tomorrow, call Commander Invelen." Saer started getting equipment out of the bag, "Tell her what's happened. She'll take care of things."

"Ami... should we call her now?"

Saer shook her head, "I'm probably just being over-cautious. This looks like a two bit operation, to me. I'll be back." She hesitated, "Anything else you need?"

"No. No, I'm okay." Hiri didn't look okay, but there wasn't anything Saer could do about that now, "Just - find Tani, please?"

"I mean to." Saer double checked her gear, then left. She waited to hear the snick of the door being locked behind her.

* * *

Bjerd sat. "Tidjias is- If he finds you, he's going to kill you. You and the girl." She didn't seem happy about it, just resigned. "Are you going to kill me?"

"That depends on how the conversation goes." Saer sat opposite Bjerd, keeping the gun trained on her.

* * *

Saer studied the maintenance section loading docks. She'd hoped it would be an easier way in than the main entrance. No such luck. There were armed guards, along with cameras. She slipped back out of sight and brought up the interface for her internal neocom. A few minutes later, her search agent came back with plans for the shuttleport.

Saer narrowed down possible access points until she was left with a maintenance access to the building's climate control. She made her way around the side of the building until the access point came into view. She timed the guard's patrol pattern, then sprinted to the wall between two cameras' fields of view. Sloppy, leaving a gap between the cameras. Just because they're sloppy doesn't mean you can be. Remember it.

She slid along the wall to the maintenance access point, and made quick work of the cover. She slipped inside, pulling the cover back on behind her.

'Climate control Maintenance Access Point' was code for 'way into the air ducts' of course. It wasn't like in the holos, where there was enough room for the broad-shouldered male lead to do a handstand inside. Saer was small enough to fit, but it was slow going, and filthy.

She made her way to the vent nearest the storage room, and checked the corridor outside with a mirror. Clear.

She carefully worked the vent cover loose and dropped to the floor. The storage room door was just down the hall.

The lock on the door was of a significantly higher grade than the ones on the other doors, confirming Saer's suspicions. It was mechanical, too. Someone's made an investment in making sure that whatever's in this room isn't discovered, and that if it is, there aren't any access records.

She took a slim case from her inside pocket and squatted down. Higher grade or not, the lock was no match for the small but very expensive collection of tools inside the case, and after a moment Saer heard a quiet click as the lock's mechanism gave up the fight.

Carefully, she eased open the door. The light from the corridor gave her a glimpse of a tiny storeroom, lined with shelves and crowded with boxes, before a shape lunged at her.

Saer sidestepped, registering female - medium build - short hair, and the figure crashed past her and landed on the floor with a grunt. Hands and feet tied - tape over her mouth.

The girl writhed around and tried to kick Saer, glaring at her with more anger than fear, and the movement gave Saer a clear enough view of her face to make a positive identification.

She said quietly, but with emphasis, "Tani." When the girl still glared at her, she went on. "It's Saer. Hiri's friend? We met at the dances. Remember?"

Tani stopped trying to kick Saer and started making urgent, muffled noises through the tape over her mouth. Saer knelt beside her and pulled it off. Tani yelped as some skin came with it, and then said indignantly, struggling against the plastic ties on her wrists and ankles. "They hit me! And tied me up! Get these off me! I'm going to kill them!"

"You're going to do exactly what I tell you to do," Saer said. "Hold still."

Tani stopped struggling as Saer drew her knife and began to cut her bonds. "Those four-footed sons of mice!"

"And stay quiet," Saer said. "Can you stand? Walk?"

Tani got to her feet, only slightly unsteady. Whoever tied her up didn't pull those ties tight enough to cut off the circulation, Saer noted. Either not paying much attention - or particularly careful. "I told them I wasn't going to tell anyone," Tani said, only slightly more quietly than before.

"Too late for that now," Saer said. She took another look in the storeroom. She might not be a mechanic but years on ships and stations had given her enough familiarity with the profession to identify the pictures stamped on the sides of the boxes. "Parts? Is that what's in there they don't want people to know about?"

Tani nodded. "They're selling them. Putting the old parts back in he shuttles. But they're too stupid to tell which ones really are past it and they're not doing the reconditioning right, something's going to crash and they'll all get caught, being greedy."

Saer shook her head. "Amateurs. If I get pictures, will there be serial number or something? Something that could be used as leverage? Parts that should already be in ships?" She checked the hallway again and then ducked over to take a couple of quick images of the boxes.

"All the parts are marked," Tani said. "They're changing the manifests though, too. Someone gets in the computer and changes the list so it looks like the serial numbers are the right ones."

"Would there be evidence of that? Maybe on Tidjias's machine? Or in his office?"

Tani snorted, "Him? He doesn't know how to turn on a terminal, let along use one."

"Who changes it, then?"

"Bjerd. Bjerd Esmur." Tani jerked a thumb over her shoulder, "In requisitions."

"We can go, leave now. Get out safe and walk away." Saer watched Tani carefully, "Or we can go to her office and get evidence. It's up to you."

Tani's response was immediate and indignant, "They're going to get people killed! They're supposed to be engineers!"

Saer nodded, "Alright then. Her office it is. Which way?"

"This way!" Tani started marching down the corridor like she owned the place.

Saer grabbed for her and snagged the back of her shirt. She pulled her back, and said firmly, "Stay behind me, and stay quiet."

They found Bjerd's office, more of a cubicle, without incident - and Bjerd was there. Tani immediately pushed past Saer and stomped into the office, saying truculently "I know what you're doing, you know!"

Saer frowned, If she doesn't learn to be a little more subtle, someone's going to off her. She keeps on like this, it might be me.

Bjerd looked at Tani in surprise and alarm. She slammed her terminal closed and lunged for her com.

Saer moved forward and shoved Bjerd back into her seat with one hand. She produced a knife and held it to the woman's throat with her other hand, "Don't. They wouldn't be here in time." Saer glanced at Tani, "Tani, there's a datapad in my bag. Get the information. Try not to make an announcement over the PA that we're here while you're doing it."

Tani got the datapad and turned the terminal back on, with a breif confused look at Saer at the mention of the PA. Apparently I need practice with sarcasm. Saer thought, Unless she really has no understanding of the situation we're in.

"What ... what do you want?" Bjerd's eyes rolled in fear, "Money? I have some, not much, but some."

Saer ignored the offer, "Does your boss, Tidjias, does he kick any of the take up to anyone?"

Bjerd started to shake her head, then thought better of it, "No. Him, share? No."

"So there's noone protecting him upstairs." Saer mused, "Well, I knew this wasn't exactly Fatal I was dealing with. Did you know he'd had Tani here kidnapped?"

"Yes. I tried to tell-" Bjerd looked at Tani, carefully not moving her head. "I told you, Tani - not to say anything to him."

Tani looked away from the monitor with a slight frown, "This isn't right. These aren't the right numbers. Why are you changing them again?"

"Don't tell TIdjias." Bjerd looked even more desperate, if that was possible. "Please? I have money, some money, I can pay you!"

"I don't really give a shit about your money." Saer increased the pressure with the knife a touch, to make the point, and a bead of blood welled up along the edge, "You and this whole operation are small change to me. I promise you that Tidjias should be the last of your worries right now. Answer her question."

"Some of the parts are still good! Some of them... Some aren't." Bjerd looked from Tani to Saer, "He doesn't care! He wants them all swapped back in, so I... make changes. He doesn't know. Please don't tell him. Please!"

"I told you, don't worry about Tidjias. I'm going to tie you up and leave you under your desk. Stay quiet, don't make any problems, and you're keep your health." Saer glanced at Tani, "Do you have the evidence?" At Tani's nod, Saer went on, "There are ties in the bag, tie her hands behind her."

Saer waited for Tani to get Bjerd tied up, then put away the knife. "Put the datapad in the bag. It's time to go."

Tani did as instructed, then gave Bjerd a kick before going to check the door.

Saer frowned slightly, Bright, but more than a little impulsive. Saer glanced out at the hallway, "Follow close, stay quiet. We run into anyone, let me handle it."

Saer's caution proved unneeded, and the trip to the nearest vent was uneventful. Saer wriggled inside, then pulled Tani in after her.

* * *

Saer studied Bjerd, "I'm here to help you, if you'll let me."

"Help me?" Bjerd eyed the gun, "Really."

"I'll help you, and you'll help me." Saer smiled, "That's the way things work."

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