Chapter Thirty Three

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Grego's ten hours had passed, and the time to act had come.

Ayna had found herself a dark little corner in the bar and stayed there for the last hour, with the hood tucked down low and a drink in front of her. Not enough to be terribly conspicuous. Just enough to not be noticed.

Whatever meeting had been going on in Zan-Kiko's stronghold was over, and the gangsters had been filing in in twos and threes. They didn't wear distinctive outfits, but she nevertheless recognised them by their demeanour, their expectation of respect and fear from people, and the way people indeed got out of their path.

These were the local predators. And while they were away Ayna was going to walk into their lair.

She got up and slowly strolled out onto the floor, keeping away from the lights as well as she could. She'd had her eyes on two potential marks for a while now, and both had obligingly been drinking fast and hard.

"Will the collar shock me for theft?" she asked quietly.

There was a moment of silence on the other end of the earpiece.

"No."

"Did you just deactivate a feature?"

"No."

"Would you admit to it if you had?"

"Possibly not."

"I will admit this association is nothing if not exciting."

That was it as far as jokes went. For a moment Ayna thought of Kiris's observation of her switching between modes like some machine. Then she just focused.

One of her potential marks was very drunk by now, but the woman's company had pressed in closer around her. The other was more solitary, and simply leaning up against a pillar. She strolled past him, making it look natural and never turning her face directly his way. Then, just as she passed and the song on the speakers blared she lifted an access card from his pocket.

She continued on at a calm, unhurried pace, and never looked his way again.

A bit of a throng had formed between her and the gathering of Zan-Kiko thugs. She didn't understand the language the group was using, and couldn't tell if they were just a very passionate bunch of if a fight was brewing. It was hard to tell the difference with some peoples. A table formed the only break in the shouting, hand-waving pack of people, and she opted to go under rather than over it.

She passed between metal legs and flesh legs, and continued on into the chaotic mess without anyone noting her passage.

Zan-Kiko had a beat-up set of couches all to themselves, and better lighting than the rest of the interior. They glowed to her eyes like saints in frescoes, ironically enough, and she evaluated each person's state of awareness as she moved diagonally towards their general direction.

Once she was as close as she dared she found herself a square metre or so that wasn't in use and simply stayed there for a little while, making it seem to a casual viewer like she was taking part in nearby discussions.

She normally didn't do specific targets like this. Random thefts were generally the safer option. And if she incurred someone's enmity and was unable to shake them her only option was to flee back to her captor for safety. Without the price for her freedom.

But this was the battle for the price, and soon enough a pair of gangsters left their comrades and headed for the bar. Shouted threats parted the crowd, and it only partially solidified in their wake. Ayna used the moment of restructuring to discreetly place herself right where they'd passed. She watched from the corner of her eye as the two gangsters bought two drinks each, then looked completely away.

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