Nar Shaddaa, Docking Port 6957C
"There ya go, Canner, good as new. Kinda," Nayar shrugged as he turned TR back on. "Hey, Mans, go ahead and bring me your scatter, and let's see if I can't fix it," he yelled.
"It's fine," Maneera called back. "I got it covered, don't worry."
"Repair = substandard // Primary motivator = 0.95 of expected performance," TR hooted. "Female organic = predicts organic will damage weapon // TR = agree."
"Tell ya what, you hate my repair job, I'll just turn ya back off-line for good, maybe get a not so stuffy droid. And the last time you handled a gun, the barrel melted, so I don't think ya have a right to criticize me," Nayar scolded, bopping the droid on its head with a wrench. "Hey, Mans, go ahead and send our thief friend Miss Leather the rendezvous coordinates we got from Dredd. Tell her we meet there in an hour."
"It's okay, you can do this," Maneera muttered to herself as she headed for the holoterminal and dialed in the contact frequency Serlynne had left them. "No matter what she wants to do to you, she probably can't do it over a comm line. You'll be okay." She took in a deep breath and held it while she waited for the connection to resolve.
Serlynne was just finishing checking her gear before heading to the shuttle when her personal holocomm sprang to life. Probably Rainbird again. I wonder if he intercepted Tuk'ata's messages. I keep Imps and Pubs on two separate secure channels to avoid such complications, but you never know...
Only it wasn't Rainbird. It was Nerama and Serlynne got a distinct impression that the woman was nervious and trying her best not to show it. Is she feeling guilty for ignoring my warnings? Doesn't seem the type.
"Hey there," chirped Maneera, forcing a smile when Serlynne's image appeared. "You're looking remarkably agreeable and un-mugged."
"And you are looking relatively alive and happy," replied Serlynne, "which I personally find a bit strange. Do you still have the artifact?"
"Wow. Your faith in my ability to not die
is just so amazingly underwhelming," Maneera snapped. "Yes, we've got the box. We'll see you in an hour, sending map data now." She leaned down and tapped in the coordinates. "Got any questions, you can ask them then."
She said "we." So Alecs survived. Lucky bastard.
"Only one, actually," admitted the assassin. "Has anyone already tried to take the artifact from you?"
"What's it matter?" Maneera asked, her eyes narrowing into a suspicious glare. "We still have it. See you in an hour." Without waiting for a response, she closed the channel.
So someone indeed tried. I wonder whether it was a duo from the vault or we have a new player... And why such a strange reaction to a simple question anyway?
Serlynne sighed and started to check her equipment again. She had a feeling she will need it all very soon.
"And who was that?" A voice came from the doorway.
Maneera turned sharply to see the large Mandalorian, Dredd, still in full combat armor. "A contact," she replied, circling around to the far side of the holoterminal as if she'd meant to do so all along. "Helped Boss and me get into the vault."
The soldier nodded, taking her at her word. "Be prepared," he warned. "I fear we haven't seen the last of those Imperials."
"Yeah... that seems like a pretty safe bet," Maneera said, forcing a laugh. "Hey Boss!" she called. "Big guy's here!"
Nayar strolled into the room, walking past Maneera to grab his blasters, which were sitting in his holsters on his belt. Strapping them on, he turned to Dredd, and drawled, "Well now, time for us to collect our rightfully earned pay, eh? Guess we should head to that bartender-"
"At Club Vertica, yes. We could do that." Dredd interrupted, not bothering to veil his sarcasm. "Or we could follow the big guy directly to his boss, that might work too."
?" Maneera squawked, looking anxiously from Nayar to Dredd to the door. "Wait, no, we're not changing the plan, you don't get to make that call. We do this by the numbers, out in the open."
Nayar raised an eyebrow at Maneera, crossing his arms as he looked at her. "That seems pretty stupid
when we've got a free ticket straight to our payment. Are you sure you read the offer? Because scum across the galaxy know where to jump us."
"And going off the map with someone we only just met is so much smarter?" Maneera backed away quickly, reaching down to draw Q's knife from her boot. "Why, Boss? Why now? And why bring Chuckles here into it?"
She stood straight, knife in hand, to see the Mando's blaster trained on her from across the room, his draw lost in her own movement.
"Tell your friend to put the knife down, Cowboy." Dredd spoke calmly, eyes trained on Maneera. "Or I'll put a hole in her pretty little face."
Nayar looked incredulously at Maneera. "All right Mans, go ahead and put the blade down slowly. Neither Dredd nor I have any intention to harm you." He motioned for Dredd to lower his gun as Nayar stepped slowly closer to her. "The reason why we're going to go with the Mando is simply this: being out in the open increases our chances of dying. You like life, right?"
As Nayar advanced, Maneera sidestepped along the wall, trying to keep her distance. "He's gonna sell us out." She shook her head wildly. "You're gonna let him double-cross me. You could have just said you wanted to get rid of me, I would have left. Gotten out of your way, gone back to Corellia."
"Mans, do you even hear yourself?" Nayar soothingly argued. "You're acting paranoid. If Dredd wanted the artifact, he would have just killed us and taken it already. Why wait?"
"I don't..." Maneera slowed, stumbling to a halt. Still holding the knife, she slowly lowered her hand. "How can I trust you?"
Nayar dropped his blasters to the floor without a second thought. "If you don't trust me by now, I don't know what else will do."
Maneera drew in and held a breath. After a long moment, she nodded. "Okay. I can do this. Look at me, bein' all calm and reasonable." Glaring over Nayar's shoulder at Dredd, she added, "You sure about Chuckles, Boss?"
"More sure than I was first going after this 'cron."
Nodding again, Maneera crouched to tuck the knife back into her boot. She scooped up Nayar's blasters and handed them back to him, grips first, as she stood again. "Congratulations, you passed the test," she said to Dredd, forcing a grin as she crossed the room to pick up her scattergun. "Be right back, just need to swap out a couple parts real quick." Without a further word, she scurried out of the common toward the cargo bay.
"I already offered to do that- Jeez," Nayar called after her, only to sigh. "What has gotten into her?"
"I'd be lying if I said I knew." Dredd deadpanned, obviously annoyed.
Maneera returned a moment later, unfolding and refolding her scattergun to ensure everything still fit together properly. She no longer looked wound up tight enough to snap, but Nayar recognized the nervous ritual; some people paced, some people cracked their knuckles, Mans fidgeted with guns. "So," she asked, in the same cheery tone she had used when calling Serlynne, "do we still have a meeting to get to, or are we skipping that, too?"
* * * * * * * *
Much to her own amusement, the coordinates provided by Nerama led Serlynne to an abandoned warehouse, much like the one where the assassin had met the woman for the first time. Wary of Nerama's strange reaction to her question and generally being a cautious person, Serlynne arrived at the site of the meeting almost a half of an hour early in order to avoid a possible ambush. Having found no sign of one, she soon took cover in the attic of one of the empty buildings behind the warehouse.
Now the assassin was lying there on the floor, observing the area in front of the meeting place through the scope of her sniper rifle, until she finally saw three vague silhouettes approaching the building. As they came closer, Serlynne was able to recognize two of them as Alecs and Nerama. The third, however, was a complete stranger — a tall man in red Mandalorian armor. So I guess he was the reason behind Nerama's strange behavior? Who is he — just another bounty hunter who wants credits or a friend of the duo they didn’t bother to tell me about?
For a moment Serlynne was tempted just to pull the trigger and be done with this whole charade. Surely one of them had the holocron, so lifting it from the corpse wouldn't be a problem. But then the assassin restrained herself. If she had been here for her own entertainment, Serlynne most likely wouldn't have hesitated even for a second before ridding herself of the tools she now no longer needed, but both the Empire and the Republic were interested not just in the artifact, but in people who were ready to pay for it, and so far Serlynne was okay with Alecs and Nerama leading her straight to them. Besides, keeping an eye on three different people is more difficult than watching one woman. They may provide a distraction for my future victim as well.
So Serlynne got up, reluctantly put the sniper rifle on its rightful place behind her back, descended to the first floor and left the building through the front door, not caring that Alecs and Nerama would see her the moment she was on the street. Once outside, the assassin went straight to the trio.
"Hello, you two," smiled Serlynne. "Care to explain who your new friend is and why he's here?"
"Damn it, Az," Maneera snapped, glaring at Serlynne. "Do you have some kind of natural gift for not being where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there, or did you have to work at it?"
Serlynne only shrugged her shoulders. Among other things, the Hutts taught her to act unpredictable each time she was supposed to make an obvious move — not that Serlynne was going to tell Nerama any of this. She is avoiding my question. Again.
"Consider this an old habit of mine," replied the assassin. "And do you have a habit of ignoring all questions you don't like or only mine?"
"I've been as straight with you as you have with me," Maneera replied, smirking. "You want to get some answers, you might want to consider laying out a few of your own. Otherwise..." She shrugged as she flicked her thumb against the safety catch on her scattergun, bouncing the barrel lightly against her shoulder.
Serlynne required all her willpower in order to resist the urge to reach for her own weapons. "I honestly don't see why would you need to know more about me, much less why should I tell you anything. Besides I am not the one who brought a stranger without so much as a simple warning."
The armored man snorted loudly at Serlynne's comment. "If you know nothing of her, and she knows nothing of you." He smirked slightly as he idly kicked the dirt off his boots. "Then it looks like we're all strangers."
"I don't mind working with strangers," replied Serlynne. "As long as they know what they are doing and are not trying to screw me over. Now, who the hell are you and what's your angle in all this?"
"I'm getting there lady," he breathed, as he shot Nayar a look of disbelief. "I'm the only reason your 'acquaintances' here are even alive."
"If we're all done our with our periods, ladies? Az, Dredd here works for the man who wants the cube. Dredd, Az was helping us get the artifact. Nerama, mind calming down? I know that your paranoidness wants to shoot the living **** out of anyone who comes near, but try to keep calm? For me?" Nayar nudged, glaring at all of the gathered crooks. "Now, we can all keep trying to figure out who can piss the most, or we could get inside and get paid."
"Fine by me," agreed Serlynne, while silently wondering just what exactly Dredd was talking about. "As long as this guy doesn't try anything stupid."
Maneera nodded, grudgingly, and re-engaged the safety on her scattergun. Without a word, she dropped back a few steps from the others and tilted her head toward the warehouse doors.
"Alright, Dredd, you picked this spot. Where do we go from here?" Nayar questioned as the 4 moved into the warehouse, stopping a few meters from the entrance.
"Down." The large man grinned widely, entering a 5 number code onto a panel in his armor.
The floor panel they were standing on dropped a couple of feet and stopped, the shock of the movement sending everyone but Dredd to the ground. After a few moments of stunned silence there was a sharp hissing noise and the panel began to descend deep into the ground.
Dredd didn't look up, as he entered a few more numbers into the device in his armor.
"Shoulda warned you about the drop," He apologized with a chuckle, helping Nayar to his feet. "But that's not nearly as fun for me."
The ride went on for a another few seconds, before the area around the lift opened up and before them sprawled a large hanger, mostly empty, but no doubt in its ability to host a decent number of ships. It was an impressive place, and clearly money was little to no object for the Mando's mysterious employer.
"No doubt he will be waiting for us, there's no way he doesn't know we're here by now." Dredd idly wondered aloud as he scanned the area before them, the lift coming to a stop at the floor of the hangar.
A man quickly ran out to greet Dredd as the other "criminals" got their bearings together. "Sir, Mr. Kole's been expecting you for several days now. Do you have his package?"
"Yes, the Package is safe." The large man nodded as he began to loosen the straps of his armor. "And I've brought the freelancers he asked for as well."
"Very well, shall I send someone to inform the bartender he is no longer needed?"
"Might as well, and make it discreet, there will be eyes watching."
Serlynne said nothing during this exchange, but she was listening to every word. So the mysterious "he" specifically asked Dredd to bring hired guns to him. Does he simply want to pay us in person, or is there something else we are needed for?
Of course it could also mean a trap, since smart people prefer to leave no witnesses of their crimes, but Serlynne had no choice. For her own sake, the assassin had to learn more about whoever was behind all this.
"Alright then, Hunter, let's go meet your boss. Nerama, you okay? No sudden desire to blow anyone's head off?" Nayar checked.
Maneera shook her head stiffly, white-knuckling the stock of her gun. "Not really a sudden thing, as such. This feels bad, Boss. Everything
"Alright, well, try to keep calm. Dredd, let's get this over with, alright?" Nayar pressed.