Intermezzo

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It was a dark and stormy night. Actually it wasn't. It wasn't even dark, but Payola Kambene preferred a certain sense of drama.

She peered around the corner to make sure she didn't lose sight of the man she followed. Still there. She waved Gideon closer and they both swaggered across the square towards their prey. The streets here were less well lit than the domed cities she was used to, but lamps gave adequate light if nothing else.

Now she was only interested in drawing as little attention to herself as possible, and skulking around corners among revelers on the streets was a sure way of making them both stand out. No one noticed a pair walking in the open, but she couldn't get too close to anyone they met. Her black skin would give her away as a foreigner even this late in the evening. That and her height. The people living here were far shorter on average compared to home, and being a Martian she was as tall as most men on Earth.

Gudrun guarded the passage south making sure they would at least know if their target left the hotel after they entered by one of the back doors.

Their prey had turned out to be just as elusive as they had suspected. When he didn't arrive on Theta 47 together with the other traders, Gideon, Gudrun and she simply assumed their roles as traders again and boarded the returning shuttle bound for the surface. After going through the motions of trading and selling the usual amount of metals, they found the local merchants to be a lot more close mouthed than expected.

On top of that they seemed to have landed during some kind of major festivity and no one was doing what they were supposed to. Gathering information had become more difficult as a result, but not too difficult. Payola was relieved that this was her third trip to Otherworld in the disguise of a trader and not her first. Gudrun was doing her fifth run for Christina Ulfsdotir's benefit, but Gideon was here for his first time.

The man they followed disappeared and they increased their speed. When they arrived at the street he'd chosen they could see him as he walked through the doors to his hotel.

Payola signaled Gudrun and ran down a side street. With Gideon tagging along behind her she quickly found the back door she looked for. Before she tried it she checked the windows.

Third floor, all others dark. He must be somewhere on the third floor.

She stole into the archway and prepared her primitive picklocks. After a few tries the door opened and they made their way to the stairs she knew would be in the center of the building. They climbed them and found themselves in the middle of a long corridor. Gideon took to the left and Payola chose the right.

Most rooms were dark, but every time she saw light escaping from under a door she put her ear to it and listened. There should be an audible conversation. The information they had gathered told them Arthur Wallman lived here and that a black haired trader named Harbend Garak represented him. Apparently they met in Arthur's rooms most late evenings.

She came to the end of the corridor. Nothing. Back again then. Gideon should be standing outside the right door by now. He was.

Now for the last part of their mission, the part that required Gideon's presence. Payola didn't mind doing dirty work if the pay was right, but she admitted that she lacked Gideon's practice at what lay ahead.

"We sneak in, you to the right and I take the left." She drew a gun from her shoulder holster. At her side Gideon did the same.

She tested the doors. They weren't even closed and swung open soundlessly. Silently she entered, crouched slightly and sped to the sliding doors she saw at the end of the room she had entered.

She raised her gun and prepared herself.

There was a sound like a bag of sugar dropping on the floor behind her. Then followed a muted gurgling and she spun. Gideon was falling backwards with an arrow protruding from his chest. She fired twice in the direction the arrow must have come from and bolted for the doors. She was almost there when she felt a searing pain across her back. She fell, fell and turned.

"A sword! Who the hell carries a bloody sword indoors?" she croaked.

#

"Now, what have we here? Assassins! One from Khanati and one from Rhuin."

"No, Vildir, this one may be as black as those from Rhuin, but they are both outworlders." Ramdar Garak bent over the woman beneath him. She stirred. He cut her throat. She wouldn't have survived the night anyway. "I believe young Harbend has more problems than he knows of."

"His partner?" Vildir asked.

Ramdar nodded. "With outworlder assassins stalking the streets, yes. I did not anticipate this."

"When plans meet the enemy..."

"They seldom survive, but outworlder interference is more than we bargained for," Ramdar finished.

#

When morning came Gudrun gave up all hope of ever seeing Payola or Gideon alive again. A small detachment of troops entered the hotel she watched and she decided to leave. She even managed to recognize the man she had watched the previous evening. He stood in the entrance to the hotel, a man beside him talking with the soldiers. If he was alive and soldiers were needed there was no hope left.

Getting away to the launch port shouldn't pose much of a problem, but she didn't look forward to reporting their failure to Christina Ulfsdotir.

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