Part 2

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"She's the one."

Samuel eyed Caleb skeptically as they tailed the young woman through a side thoroughfare of The Boulevard. "I know what you're thinking, but she's too young for you."

"No, she's too young for you, old man—and just because you're thinking it, doesn't mean I am. She's the right choice."

The woman had stopped to browse at a kiosk, and they did the same. Samuel picked up a neon lime t-shirt featuring an animated character painted on the front and held it out to inspect it. "All right. Tell me why."

Caleb squelched a rude reply. Almost four years had passed since he'd been Samuel's trainee; they were on this mission as equals. Technically. Yet he found himself answering as if he were still the student. "Watch how she moves. She's cognizant of everyone around her—where they are, where they're heading. Her eyes scan a crowd the way ours do—seeing it all and each tiny detail. This one's smart, quick and self-aware."

"That means she's a talented thief. It doesn't mean you can turn her."

He grimaced when Samuel held the t-shirt to his chest, shaking his head in firm disapproval. "I've seen her interact with Eli's people. If looks could kill, there'd be a string of bodies leading all the way from here to Eli's door. She thinks she's better than them, and she's not wrong. But she's also malnourished and essentially homeless, which means she doesn't have a way out."

"And you're going to give her one, be a big goddamn hero."

He frowned, taken aback by the cynical tone with which the statement was delivered. Not because Samuel wasn't often cynical—he was—but because Caleb had assumed that was the goal. "Well...yes. If she gives us the access codes to Eli's manufacturing facility, it's just compensation."

"True." Samuel folded the t-shirt and returned it to the table as up ahead the woman began moving again. After a suitable delay, they followed. "Sure you don't want to grab one of Eli's underlings and beat them until they spill their guts?"

He regarded his partner, deadpan. The man didn't enjoy roughing up people, even thugs, any more than he did. Not much more than he did.

Samuel groused and rubbed at his beard. "It was only a suggestion. If you say she's the one, make your play. I've got your back."

***

"Why should I help you?" the woman snarled at Caleb like some kind of feral cat.

He'd intercepted her as she pilfered a stack of disks from a merchant kiosk and escorted her to an alley off The Boulevard thoroughfare, then launched into his pitch. "Because I can get you out. I'll even get you off-planet, to somewhere you can start a new life."

"I already started a new life once. Didn't help."

Caleb smiled at her. It was genuine...and also happened to be part of the soft sell. "But I bet you have a list a kilometer long of the mistakes you made and how you would get it right the next time. Help me, and let me help you find your next time."

Her eyes narrowed warily to scrutinize him. He let her, refusing to wilt under her admittedly impressive stare, but also not bristling in challenge. He could see the thoughts race behind her dark irises, see her weighing the pros and cons of hearing him out...but when the scales didn't tip in his favor after several seconds, he decided it was time to sweeten the deal.

"I tell you what. Why don't you let me buy you some dinner, and you can think it over while we're eating."

She scowled and ran a hand through tangled, dirty hair, and he knew he had her. "Fine. It's your money."

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