Chapter Twenty Five

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Ayna was on a small ship. She had gathered as much. And judging by faint vibrations the hunter was the only other person on board.

Whatever Ayna sat in had straps that firmly held her ankles and torso. Her wrists were still cuffed, and the collar and cowl were still in place. The dark, soundproof material had loosened slightly now that she wasn't moving around at all, and she could breathe readily enough, but it still kept her completely blind and deaf. And the hunter had searched her pockets, including the hidden ones. The cuffs were the self-adjusting kind. Not standard issue, but perhaps the hunter had dealt with Dwyyk before.

Overall the situation was, as her mother might have put it, less than fantastic.

Ayna thought of the time she'd realised those 500 G-rils had been put on her head, and how dismissive she'd felt about it. How did one little mistake result in this? And what exactly was she to do, other than play old songs in her head to pass the time?

After a while of absolutely nothing Ayna realised the hunter was standing right in front of her. Whether it was due to tremors too faint for her to be consciously aware of them or something less definable, she didn't know. But something was about to take place.

A few seconds passed. Either her captor was thinking something through, or just liked dramatic tension.

Then the front of the cowl loosened from the collar and slid upwards, stopping at her nose. It was enough to return hearing, and more importantly unfiltered air. Ayna savoured it for a moment, then worked her jaw.

"Kiss me, darling," she then said.

"Sexual come-ons: Seventy-five," said a female voice, unaltered by a helmet.

"I... come again?"

"You are the seventy-fifth mark to resort to sexual come-ons," the hunter told her.

She didn't add anything for a few seconds.

"That's... fascinating," Ayna said.

"Ayna of Dwyyk," the hunter said. "There is a 500 Gybo-ril bounty on you for theft."

"You went to a tremendous amount of trouble for small change," Ayna commented.

"No. I did not venture into the Nearer Fringe for you. There is a 12.000 G-ril bounty on each member of the Blue Strike mercenary crew. Those others were simply in the way. And you were incidental."

"That's a touch insulting," Ayna said. "Did you kill any of those Bastard Browns?"

"I am not an assassin."

"And do you not have a name?"

"Kavia Sari," was the curt response.

"Right. You folks use cover names. Do you have a face, at least?"

"Bid for empathy: Thirty-three," the hunter told her. "The cowl stays for now."

Ayna felt a finger being hooked under the metal collar, and the hunter tugged on it a little.

"Let us talk business."

"Are you sure you're in the right business?" Ayna asked. "Because I know there are people who'd pay good money for this kind of treatment."

"Humour: Forty-seven."

"I can't tell if this is the most or least interesting conversation I've ever-"

A finger pressed against her lips.

"My only solid lead on Blue Strike was that they are after whatever the Addax is transporting. Now I have lost them, and the Addax. Where is that delivery headed?"

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