Chapter Forty

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Ayna approached Kavia Sari at a casual walking pace. All the action was over and only cleanup remained. The hunter had finished walking the last of the mercenaries over to where she'd stored the other two at the base of one of the pillars.

All had been cuffed, collared and cowled, and had triggered enough shocks to mostly stop thrashing about. The tether running between the collars of the pair gave them little individual space, but they had enough to slump with helpless, desperate fury showing in their body language.

Ayna couldn't work up much sympathy.

"Grenade out?" the woman said.

"I just... reacted, really," Ayna replied. "Did you have things under control? Did I embarrass myself? Because I kind of suspect you had things under control."

"I am rather certain I did," the hunter told her. "But overconfidence is the bane of fighters. Who can say for certain?"

"You know, you are SO boringly rational that it becomes fun."

"You have said things to that effect."

The hunter moved the last mercenary behind the other two and forced him to his knees. Then she added a tether to the front of his collar and fitted it to the back of the one in front of him.

"Sooo... three," Ayna said as she stopped. "Instead of seven."

"Slightly disappointing," the hunter said. "But this is still a big payout. And I was willing to settle for three back on Chukata Mog."

"So you were. Or one. So..."

Ayna pointed at the coffle of blind, deaf and muted men.

"Do you want me at the front or the back? Or is your word actually good for something?"

That crimson helmet turned to face her, and Ayna's only weapon and currency was a smile. The hunter then turned her attention to the thin plastic ties she'd used to bind the men's ankles before abandoning them.

The collar around Ayna's throat opened with a click. She let out a satisfied breath.

"A deal is a deal," Sari said.

"Sure. Sure it is."

Ayna reached up for the damned thing.

"I just-"

The collar snapped shut again.

Ayna froze in place and stared at the bounty hunter. The woman turned to face her again, taking her in for a few long seconds. Then she touched something on her gauntlet and the collar opened again.

Ayna snatched it off.

"Oh, that is funny," she said. "That is very, very funny."

"I am glad you think so," the hunter said, and returned to her task of giving each man enough slack to walk.

"What was that about you not having a sense of humour?"

"I do not recall stating any such thing."

Sari stood up.

"You should have seen your face..."

"I'm sure it was just fantastic," Ayna said, and now finally rubbed her neck.

The hunter held her hand out for the collar and Ayna returned it. The woman then detached a small pouch from her suit and handed it over.

"The rest of your belongings."

"Sure. Thanks."

The hunter started pulling and prodding the men into getting to their feet.

"Are you going to be okay with three of them to deal with?" Ayna asked.

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