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11.02.2012 , 05:47 PM | #26

Unsurprisingly, the data Serlynne gathered have led her into one of Coruscant's many spaceports. It was a large, busy place, with a lot of ships constantly arriving or leaving by their own schedule. Hiding a ship here was easy, especially if you didn’t know what vessel you were looking for in the first place.

Fortunately for Serlynne, like any other important public place, the spaceport had its own security and surveillance system which wasn't all that hard to slice into. Once inside, all she had to do was to check the list of captains and passengers who had arrived on the planet in the last few days for anyone matching in appearance with the woman that Serlynne have seen on the footage from Coruscant Security Headquarters. It was only a matter of time before the assassin found out that her name was Nerama Sundrift and she had arrived here on the ship known as Fortune's Folly.

There. Got them. Now it's time for a closer look.

And here was another problem: as eager as she was to watch Nerama stealing the artifact, Serlynne didn't want to interact with the woman or to reveal her own presence, which meant getting closer could be risky. The whole affair was supposed to be a source of Serlynne's personal entertainment – like a holovideo, only real. Getting actually involved in any way with what was going to happen wasn't part of the plan, but the only alternative was returning to the diner and resuming the watch.

Not gonna happen.

So Serlynne found a quiet place inside one of the spaceport's warehouses, where she now was sitting on a small metal container and looking in her datapad, which showed her target's ship. After a few hours of a familiar boredom (but this time without caf) Serlynne's patience was finally rewarded by a sight of Nerama leaving the vessel. All the assassin had to do was to follow her – quickly and quietly.

And if she spots me… well, I still have an ID of the security inspector, don't I?

Somehow that thought didn't calm Serlynne at all, making her even more alert instead. But it was okay – after all, adrenaline was a large part of why she liked her job so much.

Nerama paused at the bottom of the gangway, waving back to someone still on her ship before setting out. She whistled a bright, cheery melody as she strolled through the hangar, flipping a stylus end over end before jamming it through a knot of her hair, pinning it up into a messy bun. She walked at a relaxed, leisurely pace, and didn't spare more than a passing glance to her surroundings. To all outward appearance, she hadn't a care in the world.

Serlynne followed from a discreet distance as Nerama wandered through the port district with a wave and a friendly greeting for nearly every dockhand and corner vendor she met. Nerama stopped for a while at a shabby little cart with a brightly-colored but much-mended umbrella and bought a pastry and a cup of caf – Serlynne had edged close enough to see her slip an extra credstick into the till as the Nautolan cook counted out her change. The pair chatted amiably as Nerama ate, her gaze wandering aimlessly as they discussed friendly trivialities.

In the middle of a teasingly heated debate about the Rotworms' chances in the playoffs, Nerama fell suddenly silent, frowning as she looked toward Serlynne's hiding place. After a moment, she shrugged and, after a muttered apology to the Nautolan, took her leave. When Nerama set off again, she started whistling her happily off-key tune once again, but the tempo picked up to match her quicker, more purposeful stride.

Serlynne almost instantly noticed the abrupt change in her target's behavior and shrugged.

Well, here goes my stealth approach. Got to admit, sister, you are good. The question is, what are you going to do now? Fight? Run? Talk? Lead me to some kind of ambush?

Judging by Nerama's purposeful pace, it was anything but running away. Serlynne briefly considered leaving the woman alone and returning to her ship instead, but decided against it.

Now, when she knows that I am after her, Nerama will expect me to appear again at any time, making it much harder to follow her unnoticed. So I may just as well step into the light… in a way.

According to the lessons of the Hutts, when the hunter was spotted by his future victim, he had either abort mission and change his cover (in especially hard cases, leave the mission altogether) or spring into action. For Serlynne, the former was not an option while the latter usually meant either killing her target or making it an asset; the choice usually depended on her contract and the circumstances of the case. Some people, given enough motivation, were eager to provide access to whatever person or place the assassin needed. Others were either too stubborn, devoted, stupid, or their death was useful by itself.

But this time, everything was different. Nerama was neither the subject of a contract nor a stepping stone to it. Not a person to kill or to break, but in fact quite the contrary. For Serlynne, it was indeed new and interesting experience.

Well, sister, lets see what you have in mind.

Serlynne continued to follow Nerama, but now the assassin was only pretending that she was hiding. Nerama led her through back streets and narrow alleys on a path that seemed to be chasing its own tail. At the end of a squalid, trash-choked alley, Nerama hopped up to grab hold of the bottom rung of a rusty fire escape ladder. She hung there for a moment, kicking her heels to build momentum, and then swung herself neatly through a shattered window into an abandoned warehouse.

Inside, the wide-open dusty space was lit only by the thin streams of sunlight trickling through grimy windows. Nerama stood facing away from the window she had come in, her hands hanging visible and empty at her sides. Her whistling shifted from the bouncing, improvised melody to a military call-to-arms – a wordless dare.

Serlynne watched Nerama's jump from the distance. When the woman disappeared inside the building the assassin’s first impulse was to jump after her in the same window, but Serlynne suppressed it despite what all her instincts were telling her.

No need to rush inside. If she really wanted to get away, Nerama would have tried it already. No, she’s just teasing me, wants to see how I will react. Well, she will be disappointed.

Serlynne quickly moved to the back of the warehouse. There was a rusty door, which was locked, but the locking device was old and broken. One silenced shot from Serlynne's blaster was enough to disable it completely. Only then the assassin dived inside, making a somersault very close to the floor in process, but all precautions were in vain – no one tried to attack her. Serlynne shrugged and returned her weapon to the holster – she had no intention of using it against Nerama unless there would be no other choice.

Moving slowly and soundlessly, Serlynne went ahead to the room where her quarry must have waited.

"Hey there," Nerama said, turning to face Serlynne as she approached. "It's good to finally meet you in person." Nerama flashed a bright, guileless smile as she pushed her sleeves up to her elbows, revealing nothing but bare stretches of stick-thin forearm. Then, almost as an afterthought, she reached up slowly and pulled the stylus out of her hair, dropping it to the floor and kicking it toward Serlynne.

"Likewise," replied Serlynne, ignoring the stylus and slowly reaching for her own trophy knife instead. "By the way, nice stunt you pulled with that guard. He must be really sorry he met you."

"Oh... that." Nerama glared down at her toes as she raked her fingers through her hair, dislodging the loose knot that had begun to fall uncoiled when she removed the stylus from it. "Not really proud things ended up that way; they both seemed like decent people." She looked back up at Serlynne, smiling again. "But you! Looping the feed on that last camera was just brilliant! I almost didn’t catch it on the playback."

"Thanks." Serlynne returned the smile while crossing hands on her chest so her fingers slightly touched the handle of her knife. "I had really good teachers... just like the guy who covered your escape. Let me guess, it was someone from the Fortune's Folly or whatever that ship is really called, right?"

Nerama nodded. "Got it in one. Just 'tween you, me, and the four walls, Boss is pretty damn good at fiddly techy stuff like that." Her smile faded into a look of disappointment as she noticed Serlynne's fingers stretching toward the knife. "Is that how this is gonna go down? I was hoping we'd be able to talk this through."

"As was I," answered Serlynne with a calm expression on her face. "Call this a force of habit. I am not used to talking with dangerous strangers without having my weapons nearby. Besides, nothing stopping you from attacking me in any moment."

Serlynne reluctantly put her hands down, leaving the knife where it was.

So be it. My body itself can be a weapon if needed.

"I hope that's better. So you and your boss are really going to steal the item?"

Nerama hooked her thumbs through her beltloops, rocking gently back and forth from her heels to her toes. "Funny thing about that. Before we found out about you, I'd've said sure, we grab the whatever and run with it. But now...?" She shrugged. "You were right there, could have taken the prize before anyone else had a shot on it, but you walked out of that vault empty-handed. Before we make any kind of call on this, I think we need to know why you left that thing where it was."

Serlynne only shrugged. "If you think I know something about the artifact that you don’t, then you are mistaken. Just like you and your boss, I received an anonymous offer. Stealing things isn’t my style, nor do I like taking suspicious jobs, no matter how well they pay. However, I must admit I was somewhat intrigued by this one, so I went to check out the object of the offer. Unfortunately it did nothing to satisfy my interest, so I decided to stick around to see if anyone else would come for it and what would happen to them when they took it. That's when I saw you, Nerama. You know the rest."

It was not the whole truth, naturally, but Serlynne had no intention of confessing that in the end she intended to pick up the holocron from the corpse of its latest dead owner. Sure, the original plan to sit and watch the unfolding drama was blown, but the assassin was already thinking about a new one: she could take part in the fray as an ally for some of the thieves and make sure they would win… only to betray them by stabbing in the back in the last possible moment.

As they say, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

But since Serlynne had no friends to begin with, she could forget about the former part and concentrate on the latter.

"Besides," added the assassin, "my cover within Coruscant Security only goes so far. Taking the artifact out of the building without unnecessary questions being asked to some very important and powerful people would be almost impossible. It’s not worth it."

"Like you said," Nerama replied, grinning, "it's almost impossible… that just means it'll be kinda hard, which means it'll be fun. As for being worth it, I think we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Pick a time, pick a place, and boss and I'll be there to talk things out."

"I like the way you think," admitted Serlynne, and it was indeed so. "As for time and place, how about your ship, tomorrow, at 12 o'clock in the afternoon? I would have gone there right now but all this spying stuff has exhausted me. It's night already and I really need some sleep."

That and to think what and how much to tell you and your mysterious boss tomorrow.

Nerama nodded, her grin wide and bright. "Tomorrow at noon. It's a date. Oh, and thanks for opening the back door for me. Getting up to the window from inside is a pain." She whistled cheerily as she sauntered out of the warehouse.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but don't think for one second that I am one of them."