The first round of the Sabaac tournament had begun much as Trey had expected. A bracket was set up and players assigned to tables. Rules were announced by the ship’s pit boss and penalties for cheating were cheerfully pointed out by Agent Deffico.
Watching the other players at his table, the thief smiled broadly, the same smile he’d been telegraphing as a tell when he was bluffing. An executive with the CSA caught the smile and his eyebrow twitched, telling Trey the bait had been taken. It was time to exit the tournament.
Throwing away his highest card and collecting a zero, Trey pushed his entire stake into the middle of the table. “All of it,” he announced proudly.
The other players, save one, threw in their cards with mumbles of “Too high for me” or “I’m out”. But the CSA bigwig nodded and, returning Trey’s smile, said “Call.”
“Okay,” Arden nodded her eyes scanning the room from her seat on the observation deck, “As soon as he loses we move down to meet him and start this.” She stood, a lot more gracefully on the heels then she had in the past few days, “This should be simple.”
Kyra hissed and winced at Arden’s optimism. “There you go spoiling everything.”
The young pilot looked up at the older girl, confusion clearly painted on her face, “What do you mean by that?”
“It means that it’s better to be a surprised pessimist, than a disappointed optimist,” Kyra explained.”It’s a lot easier going into something like this expecting something to go wrong; that way, when it does, you’re not so caught up in the ‘how and why’ and can work out the ‘what next.'”
Arden smiled, “You know usually I’m a big pessimist about things,” she watched as Trey lost the hand and walked away from the table, “but I have a good feeling about this.”
“That makes one of us,” Kyra said. They linked arms and put on vapid expressions. As the moved down to meet Trey, they both played up the drunken trophy act: giggling and laughing, bumping in to other casino goers, and generally making themselves invisible by being just another pair of ladies that had gotten too deep in their cups.
Trey stood and shook hands with the players on either side of him. “Make sure to take my money away from him, eh?” he laughed as he left the table with a salute. Navigating the maze of tables, he glanced up at Agent Deffico, who stared back at him cooly.
Walking out of the ship’s casino, he met up with the ladies. “Enjoy the show?”
“We got so bored,” she moaned, “can we go shopping now please?” Arden threw both her arms around Trey’s neck.
Smiling at her, Trey nodded. “Of course, my dear. Never let it be said that Baron Agri is stingy.”Linking arms with the two ladies, the ersatz baron turned and the trio walked down the hall.
They didn’t get far. Having walked no more than two meters down the corridor, Trey heard a familiar voice behind him. “Hello, Xero. Or Talin. Or Diem, Jon, Brallick or Xeran.” The agent paused as the thief and his companions stopped at the mention of Xeran. “Or Trey.”
Arden felt that sinking feeling and the cold sweat run down her bare back. She turned though with a wide grin on her face, “He called you a lot of funny names, Xeran,” she giggled slightly.
Kyra pressed herself against Trey and gave the security officer a lingering look up and down. “Maybe we should invite him back to the room… I do love a man in uniform,” she purred.
“See here, my good man. Just who do you think you’re addressing?” the thief blustered.
Agent Deffico just shook his head and smiled. “Give it up, kid. You’re good, but you’re not great. Better than you have been captured by me, Mister Vaux. And, of course his terrible twosome, Arca and Lausi.”
The ladies visibly relaxed. Obviously mistaken identity. The Imperial agent still might be a problem, but far less of one than if he knew Trey’s real identity.
“You got me, Deffico. He held out his wrists, awaiting the binders. “I knew we should have bolted when I saw you on board.”
“Ixnay on the oltedbay,” Arden hissed.
Both Trey and the Imperial Security Agent looked at Arden, amusement crossing Deffico’s face.”You do know I speak Bantha Futhark? As does most everyone above the age of seven.”
“Oh, well…” Arden’s eyes shot between Trey and Kyra, “poodoo.”
Trey just shook his head. “Nice going, Arca. Come on girls, might as well see if the brig’s as nice as our stateroom.”
“What?” Arden shrieked, “You are just going to give up?” The girl’s face went red, “You’re just giving up?” She walked up to Deffico and stuck her finger into his chin, “Because of this nerf-herder?”
Quickly, Trey slipped his datapad from his jacket and sent a quick message to the rest of the crew.Minor snag. Carry on as planned. Then he blanked his reader and chucked it in a nearby disposal.
One of the guards grabbed Arden and shuffled her back to the two others. “Watch them carefully.”Turning back to “Vaux”, Agent Deffico smiled. “Are you ready to go to the brig now?”
“Ready as I’ll get.”
The plush carpeting, rich wroshyr wood paneling, and expensive artwork gave way to spartan and sterile metallic corridors as Deffico and his security detachment led Trey, Arden and Kyra to the detention facility. They were placed in separate holding cells, with the ladies on one side and Trey across the corridor from them. The guards activated the energy fields that served as doors then departed, leaving Deffico alone with the trio.
“Not first-class accommodations by any means, but please try to get comfortable. I have to get back to the casino floor, but I’ll return as soon as my shift is over to handle your processing.” At that, he spun on polished black heels and left.
“Well,” Arden leaned against the wall of her cell, looking at Trey, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
For his part, Trey seemed oddly calm. Instead of pacing or looking for some way out of the situation, he just flopped down on his bunk and smiled. “Don’t panic. Things are going perfectly.”
Arden’s jaw dropped. “Perfectly? PERFECTLY?” she yelled across the corridor. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re in jail!”
“A ship’s brig is hardly jail,” Trey said, shaking his head. “Besides, behind this bulkhead,” he said, tapping the wall to his right, “Is the vault.”
Kyra raised an eyebrow. “Did you hit your head on something when they put you in there? Or was this all part of the grand plan that you conveniently forgot to tell us?”
Winking, Trey pointed upward. “The walls have ears. And eyes. So all I can say is that I made a last-minute adjustment when I saw an old friend on board… Everything will be fine.”
“Remind me to maim you later,” Arden flopped down on the bench in her cell.
Not feeling any desire to engage in the usual sarcastic banter, Kyra sat cross-legged on the durasteel bench and began her meditation exercises. No need to waste the time.
Perhaps it was the afterglow of the time in the spa, or the realization that the Zeltron bitch was her kind of bitch, but Aidenne found nothing but amusement in the oblique message Trey had left for them. “As if we’d do otherwise,” she chuckled as perused her wardrobe choices for the evening. After all, coming from Trey, a ‘minor snag’ could be anything from a stubbed toe or a lost limb.
Krynn stood in the room behind her stoically holding the pile of silky optional garments she had been sifting through almost as quiet as the coat rack he was being used as. But after watching her for all this time he asked, “Do what?”
Her smile was oddly patient as she turned her amber eyes to her bodyguard. “Trey has instructed us to ‘carry on as planned’. A thoughtful gesture, I’m sure. But unnecessary. Our part of the evening, especially my performance will go forward no matter what.” Aidenne’s face grew somewhat wistful as she continued to consider her dresses. “I will miss him somewhat if he manages to get himself killed though.”
“I take it that they were diverted from the mission somehow?” He waited a few moments while she picked through her pretty dresses humming her songs quietly. “Am I still to sweep the guest rooms with the woman? Or, should I alter my instructions?”
“Sweep the guest rooms,” the Diva told him with a shrug. She understood the questions. Krynn, after all, was a soldier; he was used to doing things a certain way, a way that was probably the complete opposite of Trey’s typical planning. “You don’t need to alter a thing.”
She touched his lips in a gesture that was far more gentle than anything she’d given him before. “But you do need to be silent if you wish to remain in here. I must prepare.” Turning away from him, she stared into the mirror, amber eyes meeting those of her reflection without truly seeing anything. She was drawing into herself, separating those parts that could only detract from the purity of her performance.
Blinking slowly, Aidenne could see it clearly in her mind’s eye. The blood was flowing away from her, leaving only the Diva. She was a creature of beauty, fragile yet powerful… and, until the last of her notes faded away, untainted by the hand of death.
“Minor snag…” The older soldier groaned a little behind the smirk on his lips. He slipped the com back into its pocket. “If there wasn’t I’d be worried.”
He stood in the lounge of the luxury suite that the Linathi Princess’s management. His helmet sat on the tabletop next to the schematics for the ship. Beside it was a communicator through which their old T3 unit was whirring and beeping. Bralor shook his head. “You’re doing your job now,” he said without looking at the droid, “so you don’t have to go on the ship. You’d just attract their attention.”The utility droid made a series of guttural tweets. “Yes. You could do it faster if you were there. They will do it fast enough.” He left off the “or get pinched” part.
Through the static he could hear T3-E7 rolling around, clearly disgruntled. Bralor cut the com and turned back to the schematics on the table, pulling the one of the path to the vault out from under the one of the ship. When it came to splicing, Bralor was better than average. It was something you needed to be pretty damn good at when it came to some of those black-ops intel missions. But the truth was he wasn’t as good as Trey. And people tended to keep their money safer than their information.
So you steal whatever information you can to make it easier to steal their money. But there still was that vault to get past, and Bralor wasn’t so sure he could crack it on his own. “Hrmmm…” Not without making a whole bunch of noise.
He stood upright, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m impressed,” he said without turning his attention from the table. “The two of you alone all that time. No bodies to clean up.”
“I can be professional.” Tiila leaned against the portal between two suites, a clear bottle with clear liquid within dangling from her fingers. “I am quite agreeable when massage and manicures are involved.”
“Never needed my nails tended to,” replied the Mandalorian as he picked up the com and jacked a security splicer into it. “Always too much blood and dirt under them.” The splicer’s display splashed with green light and started to cycle through a series of numbers.
“Then it sounds like you need more tending than most.” Her shoes clicked across the hard surface of the floor as she crossed the room to stand beside him. The heavy bottle clunked on the table top as she leaned just over his shoulder, peering at his work.
His brow knit together and his eyes followed to the bottle. “One way to look at it, I spoze.” Most used a drink to calm their nerves before a big job like this. For Bralor it just kept him on that even keel. “I suspect you’ll find me less agreeable with somebody filing and poking at my finger tips.” That corner of his lip rose into the lightly speckled stubble that covered cheek. “And I’m already the disagreeable sort.”
She tapped the clear glass gently. “Which is why I optioned for my other favorite past time.” Her thumb slicked down across the still frosted surface.
“Heh.” Eyes pried from the bottle, he looked over his shoulder at the ambassador. “Now that’s something that makes me more agreeable.”
She ruffled his short salt and pepper hair before twisting the wire clasp off the bottle. “Then lets choose to agree.” With a pop and a hiss of escaping air, she opened the bottle and placed it back on the table top.
He hooked it with his finger. “No glasses, Ambassador?”
“Since when have you needed glasses?” Her words were almost a dare.
“Me? never.” The bottle lifted from the table by that catch. “But I’m no lady. I’m not even a gentleman.” Dare accepted, he took the bottle to his lips, tilting its heavy base back as he swigged a long pull of the sharp liquor like it was blue milk.
“Mmm…” He examined the bottle a moment. “Courtesy of the house?” he asked, setting the bottle down before her with clear intent.
Taking the bottle up, she saw his drink and raised him one. “The house becomes very generous when I am about.” She grinned and dropped the glass gently back in front of him. “And I don’t see anyone about to bring my ladyness in question.”
The solider laughed, and she noticed the way his gaze lingered over her frame. “You certainly don’t,”he told her as he took the bottle back up for another long swig. His throat jogged up and down as he swallowed several mouthfuls in a single breath, denting the level of the bottle’s contents. He sighed with satisfaction as he set the bottle back down before her.
With a stained smile, Tiila raised the bottle to him. “Much better than the last time.” As she tilted both her head and the bottle back, her long pink throat mimicked his, drawing the eye down the neck of her dress.
“Doesn’t say much. Could be Bantha urine extract and it’d be an improvement.” Bralor swore that the room’s environmental controls were on the fritz as the heat seemed to rise a little. “But it’s quite good. Better than this old soldier is accustomed.”
The bottle broke from her lips and she placed the near half-empty container in front of him. “If you think this is good, just wait until you see what I bring back on board when we leave.” She tucked a tousled bit of blue behind her bangled ear.
“Oh, I expect you will be showered with gifts to make up for your misfortune. Quite expensive ones the likes a lady is accustomed.” The curl of his smirk grew tighter. “And that’s without any,” he paused a beat, taking a breath of that fresh air between the pair with its hits of floral accents, “added encouragement.”
He chuckled to himself, picking up the bottle and drinking. He could feel the alcohol warming his skin, its familiar feelers crawling through him. His dark eyes held her a moment and were only pulled away when the splicer chirped as it finished the download. Swallowing, Ures’ven handed the bottle directly into her hands this time, forgoing the table altogether. “And you’re dressed the part for sure.”
He pulled the now pre-loaded splicer from the com. A few checks to make sure the data had loaded properly and he set it aside. Unlike for him, The job had just gotten easier for Krynn and Kyra. Now he was sure at least two parts of the job would go well enough.
Turning in a half circle, she glanced at him over her shoulder. “You like it then, the dress?” Her hair fell down her bare back before him as she drained more of the liquor, her hand resting on the table top to balance.
“You wear it well.” Bralor replied with a nod. “Very well.” He put the communicator back into its pouch on his belt wondering a bit if she wore it too well. “I think you’ll do quite well tonight, Tiila.”
The Zeltron completed her circle before ending the drink. As her head dropped level, she swept a thumb across her lower lip. “Of course I will.” She smiled and gave him a wink as she dangled the bottle in front of his face.
Another soft chuckle fell from the Mandalorian as he looked at the bottle. His battle worn face rose a bit and looked at the Zeltron. That playful banter between them aside, her mood was actually quite cheery. And it felt genuine. She was enjoying herself. And he had to admit it. So was he.
He took the bottle from her. “Of course you will.” His head tilted back and he drained the bottle of its slick clear drink. The pieces were falling together. Her confidence was a good sign. He ran the back of his hand across his mouth, bottle dangling from his fingers. “You’re a survivor.” The bottle found its way back to the table, emptied of its usefulness.
“I have found it fairly easy to survive.” She leaned against his table, black silk pooling on the top.”Just do what I’m told.”
“I don’t know about that.” Bralor stretched his back, his body easing in that soothing, warm wash of the alcohol. He took a small step that opened a bit of space between them, but that smirk kept tucked in the his stubbly beard. “I’ve had plenty of orders that would have gotten me killed if I just did what I was told.”
“For me, not doing what I am told is often far more deadly.” She turned her eyes to the door between this suite and the one that Krynn and Aidenne were currently occupying. “I think our blue friend has had enough of our Diva all to himself. It’s getting close to show time.” With a flick of her fingers, Tiila swept her hair back over her shoulder and turned to the door, crossing the room with her practiced sway.
Pausing only a moment as she walked from him, the Mandalorian turned back to the table. He leaned on his fists and looked at the drained bottle. “Haar’chak…” Bralor groaned to himself. He shook his head, eyes falling to the splicer he’d had Pal load. He grabbed it and turned, following Tiila to the Diva’s room.
Touching the unlocked door’s handle lightly, Tiila glanced over her shoulder at the soldier with a little smile. “I just hope they’re behaving themselves.” And before he could respond, she pressed the handle and pushed the door open.