Chapter Thirty

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After two more days of the hunter's hospitality Golga 3 was finally near. Ayna still wasn't allowed in the cockpit, but she stood outside and observed the approach. There was only a handful of external lights, but the ship's screens gave a more comprehensive picture.

It was about what Ayna had expected. She'd been drifting just long enough that space stations had stopped being impressive purely by virtue of existing, and this was a less than stellar example.

Golga 3 was old, with an original central portion that held docking bays, the critical systems and the reactor, and several wings had later been added in days of bigger traffic. One wing had either never been completed, or had suffered some catastrophe and was being scavenged for parts, little by little.

Ayna wriggled her thin, nimble fingers.

Let's see what you've got for me, she thought at the ugly old thing.

Unsurprisingly the Kavian Hunter didn't announce herself as such, simply going through an utterly standard docking permit procedure for an out-of-the way little port. A quick negotiation later the ship drifted up against an airlock and settled against it.

"Let us get this started," Kavia Sari said and swivelled her chair around before rising.

"Happily."

"You already have all the intelligence I can provide."

The woman handed her a tiny ear piece.

"The rest is up to you."

"Got it."

Ayna inserted the ear piece.

"I will be monitoring you, of course," the hunter said as she took Ayna's left hand and finally undid the cuff she'd slapped around the wrist back at Chukata Mog. "And I can remotely track you through the collar. And activate any of its features."

She undid the other cuff and put both on her belt.

"I figured as much," Ayna said. "Well, if I don't report back in five hours, send in the military!"

"If you do not report back," the hunter told her calmly. "I will activate the cowl and come get you."

"You have no sense of humour at all," Ayna told her.

"I am on the job."

"When are you going to stop using that as an excuse?"

"When it stops being true."

"Right. You know..."

Ayna narrowly stopped herself from touching the collar. Her hand had been drifting to it yet again.

"Look..." Ayna said with a sigh at herself. "Can't you let me touch it, at least? I'm very fidgety. Always have been. Pleaaase?"

"Consider all of this an exercise in self-discipline."

Ayna sighed again.

"You remind me of my mother."

"If that is a fair comparison then I disapprove of her parenting," the hunter replied.

"Okay, that was a joke!" Ayna said. "Don't try to deny it."

The woman's face remained as controlled as ever. She just took Ayna by the arm and led her to the airlock. Then she handed over Ayna's spare sunglasses, taken from a pocket days ago.

"Thanks," Ayna said and put them back where they belonged. She then received her wallet from the hunter and tucked it away as well.

The woman reached over Ayna's shoulder and hit a button. The airlock's inner door slid open.

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