Dawn found Alyi behind the bar cleaning glasses as the morning’s first patrons stumbled in. Some were looking for breakfast before work, others for a drink to forget they had no work. She liked the morning shift and volunteered for as many as possible. For one thing, the place was virtually empty, except for the regulars who only left when they were thrown out for the two hours of cleaning the place got every day. The tips weren’t as good as night shift, but the clientele were dead on their feet, at least until after eating. And there weren’t many staff, just two security, two bartenders, and one cook. It was quiet most days. A good time to think and even daydream a bit.
There was a lot of time to think on dish duty.
And Weste was on duty in the morning. That was a bit of comfort. He at least guessed that she hadn’t been entirely truthful about her origins, but she was glad he’d said nothing to her or anyone else. He’d been helpful with the smugglers too. Her adoptive parents had taught her how to contact such people but Weste had been in Burkeport a while and knew who to trust.
Alyi set down the last glass. Conversation was nearly non-existent that morning. So was patronage. The security guys were chatting with the other bartender and the cook. She glanced over the customers as she replaced the towel. Only a handful, and all of them were regulars who never seemed to leave. Definitely not eaters or troublemakers. Since the patrons just barely outnumbered the staff, Alyi ducked into the back to check on Weste. Someone had said a water pump was being wonky. It sounded like the Dwarf had been fiddling with it for the last couple hours with no luck. She was actually amazed. Usually the maintenance guy seemed to fix problems in a few seconds. Could be the looming threat of a fight, she decided, that explained the sheisy number of customers too.
When she came back a few minutes later, Alyi barely crossed the doorway before she ducked back into the room.
Exercising as much caution as possible, she peered around the doorframe to confirm what she thought she’d seen.
Yes, over by the door. Another customer had come in, and even though he’d never been in the bar before, she knew him. The face was one she’d remember for a long time.
She spun into the storeroom, dodging stacks of foodstuffs and supplies. As she neared the utility tub, Alyi called out, “Weste! Weste, big problem!”
The Dwarf was at her side, his repair job forgotten in the face of a threat.
“New customer,” Alyi explained, remarkably calm, she thought, “I’ve seen him before, not here, at home.”
“When? Where?” Weste visibly relaxed a little. It was clearly a personal problem, not a Salma one.
“When my parents were arrested . . . and sent to Svalgard.”
Only the fact that he’d suspected for some time kept the Dwarf on his feet. He hadn’t guessed she’d be associated with the Empire’s most notorious prison. “When was, no never mind. Are you sure? Did he see you?”
“Yes . . . I don’t think so,” she considered, “No, he didn’t.” Otherwise, he’d be back with them, if he was after her.
Weste nodded, “Good enough for now. Stay here, out of sight. I’ll get Lazi.” He could probably handle it alone, but this was Lazi’s place. And she and Kel had done favors for all the employees, just by taking them in.
“But . . .”
“I’ll tell her I recognized him. We can explain it all later. Just stay here.”
The Dwarf was behind the bar when Lazi, flanked by three members of the neighborhood security, confronted the stocky Human. He overheard his boss introduce herself and ask that he come along with them in regards to an ongoing inquiry. Weste shook his head at the look that passed across the man’s face. Even an Imp agent couldn’t be that stupid. Not with Lazi’s spare muscle and the now alert bar security. Or maybe he underestimated Imp agents . . . the man started to rise and run. The Elven ex-smuggler and her guard were fastest, four stun bolts hit the man before the other two security’d cleared their weapons. The Imp’s momentum carried him another couple feet before he hit the floor.
As the three patrolmen cleared up, Lazi made her way to the bar. She looked meaningfully at Weste, “So. He was a probable threat and won’t be for a few hours. Would you like to tell me why?
“We’ll need to talk to Alyi, she id-ed him.”
“So he’s not really Imperial?”
“No, he’s an Imp,” Weste avowed, fully trusting his friend, “And so was she. I’ve thought so for a couple weeks, since helping her contact Republic smugglers, but she just confirmed it.”
Lazi’s potential reply was interrupted by one of the security guys. The Orc held a double handful of wires, small blades, and spikes. Weste registered them as a covert op’s tools, apparently his boss did too. She just nodded curtly. “Alright. Take him to the nearest holding station, I’ll be there in an hour to question him.” When they left, she turned to Weste. “Where’s Alyi?”
“Storeroom,” he said, opening the door in question.
The Elf strode in, eyes blazing. Weste was impressed. Years ago, when she and Kel had first purchased the place, she’d be storming around. The ex-smuggler definitely has a passionate streak and being misled usually brought it out.
He stood a few feet behind his boss, out of sight, but close enough to offer Alyi moral support when Lazi simply asked, “Well?”
Alyi noticed the Dwarf, but knew better than to acknowledge him. Still, he was there. She stumbled, then her mind caught up with her tongue. “I’m sorry, I’ve been hiding for months, before I got here,” she started, “I would’ve said something earlier but . . . obviously I’m not from the Commonwealth. I grew up on Clarsic, when I was nine, the Imperial authorities arrested my parents. They said they were spies, but they weren’t. There were spies in the neighborhood, they took me in, but the Imps just wanted land for a new facility. A year ago, my foster parents were caught. I’ve heard both my parents and the ones who took me in were sent to Svalgard. I guessed I’d be next, so I tried to disappear.”
Weste watched his boss, noticing subtle signs that she was cooling down. The kid made a good choice with her story. Wanted by the Imps herself, Lazi had a bit of a soft spot for others in that position.
“It took five months to get here because I tried not to be followed. I guessed I could get a transport to the Commonwealth or Republic from one of the fringe worlds. Burkeport was the only one I could afford.”
“And you recognized this man I just arrested?”
“Yes. I don’t know what he is, but he was there when my parents were taken, then he stayed for a few days and vanished.”
“you think he’s tracking you for the Imps?” Lazi spat out the last word.
“Why else come here after a year? And to Salma?”
“Could be a pilot with family there. Or maybe he was in the wrong neighborhood then,” Weste detected a note in his boss’ tone. No, she didn’t really believe that. If Alyi noticed, she’d have an opening, a crack in their boss’ façade.
“I don’t think so. I think the soldiers deferred to him,” the Human hesitated, “They didn’t salute or some close to him, but they knew where he was and stayed away, I think. Like they didn’t want to give him away. I think he might have been a spy.”
“Fine. Why don’t I go have a chat with our new friend then. If it turns out that he is innocent or not a spy, I want you out of here by the end of the week. If he is what you think, then we’ll talk,” the Elf turned to leave without an answer. She turned back as Weste drew his antiquated comm. “No need to call Kel, Weste. Or the rest of security. I’ll handle this and they don’t need to get involved.”
The mechanic nodded as his device disappeared into a pocket.
After Lazi was gone, he escorted Alyi to her room, realizing their boss would want her out of the way for the next couple days.
A couple hours later, Berl was interrupted in an interview when her comm went off. She pardoned herself to answer.
“Berl. What’s going on?”
“Get to the Alyyn Street station, and bring Kel if you have him. You should hear this.”
“Lazi? Tied to the case? He’s not with me, but I’ll be there in . . . ten.”
Berl arrived a few minutes before Kel, but the two entered the station’s interrogation room together.
Inside, they found Lazi standing with her arms folded behind the Human. As far as Berl’s trained eye could tell, he hadn’t been battered, but there were ways to conceal physical interrogation. And there were other means. Her guesses were cut shirt as her boss explained, “Mr. Certyr, here, and I were just having an interesting conversation. Alyi pinned him as an Imp agent, stationed on Clarsic. He says he’s with the Hawks and watching something here. I will explain Alyi later. It sounded like he might help the case.”
While Kel kept near the door, Berl came to the table. “Interesting,” she locked eyes with her fellow Elf, “Mr. . . . Certyr, is it? When did the Hawks hire a Riven?”
She sighed, her bosses forgotten, “Mr. Certyr, someone hired a Riven. The Hawks and some BCC faction then started killing Imperial patrols and spies to frame Salma. They’re the two biggest beneficiaries if the Imps go to all out war with us.”
The man glanced fearfully at Lazi, then, “N-no. N-no R-rriven. Stolen Alliance tech . . . bioengineered by corp and nano-enhanced.”
Sheis, Lazi must’ve done something . . . sheisfrek! Someone had mixed Alliance-level gene splicing and Republic nanotech? She raised a brow to her bosses, who were now standing together. “And we should believe this for what reason?”
“I w-was hired by the W-w-warhawks to observe the r-results of the attacks. T-to assess and r-report.”
“And how exactly is this person getting into our territory?”
“Why don’t I believe that, Mr. Certyr,” Lazi interjected.
“H-he’s living near the port,” Certyr stammered, with another fearful look at Lazi, “That’s all I know!”
Berl nodded, “Fine. Boss?” She flashed a security hand signal for ‘outside.’
Both Kel and Lazi nodded. An Ogre from security entered the room before they left, to ensure that their guest was safe.
“It seems plausible,” Berl opined when they were in the corridor.
The other Elf nodded, “Bounce him up to orbit from the Imperial or BCC port, transfer to another ship there, then back down to our port. A couple hours, tops, no bribes to worry about. That is how I would do it.”
“So what do we do about it?”
Kel and Lazi exchanged a look. The Human took the lead, “I’ll get a couple special teams together to tackle this guy, once we have a description. Berl, try to get one.”
His spouse nodded, “I can handle the Imps and data. We could let another BCC faction know, but the data would still be out there. Get me a team for some night work, Kel. And leave the Hawks to me. I think we can stretch the benefits out for at least a couple weeks, once the threat is eliminated.”
As everyone split, Berl determined to get the information fast. If they moved too slow, the Hawks would be able to alert people, destroy evidence, and otherwise clean up their mess. If that happened, the threat could just resurface and then they’d be in trouble all over again.