The scent of incense cloyed the air of the medium sized chamber, not quite hiding an unpleasant smell reminiscent of putrescent vegetables. Endra Yahnna leaned back in her chair and wondered if her host had any intention of paying her. Yahnna’s instincts were telling her that something was wrong, but she just couldn’t determine what.

            Her host, Nargil Zar, a wizened blue-skinned humanoid, was the source of several unpleasant odors, not all of them physical. Nargil was a Thracian, a group generally inclined towards crime and mayhem, much like the Hutts, and the Thracians had an equivalent reputation for treachery and greed.

Just because Nargil had paid Yahnna for two previous deliveries didn’t mean he was going to now. Hidden by myriad wrinkles, his expression was difficult to read, but he didn’t bother to hide an oily smirk as he regarded Yahnna from behind a sumptuous desk of Ibollian skywood. Yahnna didn’t look her best, she knew, having just spent a hard two weeks evading Imperial authorities and she didn’t feel inclined to waste time getting pretty for someone like Nargil.

He likes to believe he’s a big fish in a little pond, Yahnna thought while waiting for him to break the silence that had grown between them since she had been shown into Nargil’s presence. The pond is a lot bigger than he cares to admit, but since he owes me fifteen thousand, I can pretend to be impressed.

“Madame Yahnna,” Nargil’s voice was a surprisingly musical tenor and entirely at odds with his apparently ancient appearance, “you had a good trip, I take it?”

Yahnna shrugged noncommittally. “The usual trouble, but we got here.” The rest of the crew of her current ship, the inappropriately named Smooth Sailing, had been ordered to remain on board. That, Yahnna remembered, had irritated them but she had her reasons for denying them the usual end-of-mission carouse for a few hours.

Nargil’s smile widened, showing the sharp teeth of a carnivore. “I’m so glad. So, where are my goods?” he looked around the empty room, obviously disappointed that Yahnna had not hauled two hundred kilos of illegal drugs through a busy spaceport to his door.

“Where’s my money?” Yahnna asked bluntly. She had long since learned the folly of providing the goods before she had a fistful of credits in her hand. “Pay what’s due and I’ll tell you where to pick up the gear.”

“Ah, of course.” Nargil seemed entirely unruffled by Yahnna’s manner as he languidly brushed dust off his toga-like robe. “I would like to negotiate that. Specifically, I think a reduction is in order.”

Yahnna bristled, a scowl marring her already-drawn features. “What?”

“The market has softened.” Nargil replied easily. “The value of the goods has dropped and I can’t afford to pay you the full fifteen thousand. I can offer you five thousand and a promise to carry my next cargo.”

Yahnna inhaled slowly, keeping her temper and thinking quickly. “Five thousand doesn’t even cover my expenses.” She declared, half-honestly. “What makes you think I’ll take that, with or without a promise to get swindled by you again?”

Nargil regarded the ceiling for a moment, as if expecting guidance from the heavens. “I have my reasons.”

“And those are?” Yahnna asked, shifting in her chair. She felt the need to have her blaster close to hand, and she never ignored that little voice.

To answer, Nargil clapped his hands sharply and turned his attention to the room’s single door. That door flew open and Yahnna recognized both beings that barged in. One, a compactly muscular humanoid, was Nargil’s regular bodyguard and the other was Dreena, a young woman of barely eighteen years and newest addition to Yahnna’s crew. Nargil’s lackey, Breshin, held Dreena in a painful arm lock and the blaster he held to her side was more than adequate to vaporize a large percentage of her mass. Dreena’s face was white with fear, but she kept quiet, even as tears ran down her face.

Nargil chuckled, “There’s my reason, Yahnna. You can accept my offer or lose this lovely young creature.”

Yahnna immediately drew her own blaster and brought it to bear on Breshin, although neither he nor Nargil were alarmed by her reaction.

“You’re outnumbered.” Nargil warned her, his confident smile still wide.

Yahnna nodded slowly, now understanding Nargil’s confidence. She sighed deeply, her blaster unwavering, playing for time. She could see Dreena shaking in her captor’s grip, and Yahnna wondered if this game was really worth the stakes.

“Where can I find the cargo?” Nargil demanded.

“Will I even get the five thousand?” Yahnna asked, not taking her eyes off her terrified crewmate.

“You might.” Nargil murmured, “If I’m in a good mood.”

“No wonder you’re rich, Nargil.” Yahnna sighed. “You’re so effective at keeping expenses down.”

Yahnna heard his chuckle. “Indeed I am!” he agreed. “Now, tell me where I can get the goods.” He repeated, impatience creeping into his tone.

“Alright.” Yahnna took a deep breath. “You got me good on this one.” She conceded.

The stuffy room suddenly sizzled with blaster fire as Yahnna snapped off two precisely aimed shots, killing both Dreena and her captor. A scant moment later, Yahnna whirled to face Nargil and sent a bolt of searing energy a hair’s breadth past his right ear, just to prove that she could take him, too. The silence that immediately followed was oppressively heavy, broken only by the clatter of Nargil dropping the holdout pistol he was trying to draw.

Yahnna regarded him steadily. “That cargo is worth more than a wet-behind-the-ears deckhand,” she told him flatly. “And right now, it’s worth more than you are. Twenty thousand credits or I’ll fry you.” Yahnna really hoped the trembling in her hands wasn’t visible. If this doesn’t pay off, she thought, anger and fear battling for dominance, my crew is going to lynch me.

Nargil tried to regain his shattered composure and failed. His azure skin had paled to a light blue and his toothy grin was distinctly rictus-like.

“Ah,” He struggled for words. “I hadn’t quite estimated how…dedicated you were.”

“Would you rather I was a coward?” Yahnna’s voice hissed out from between clenched teeth. “The money, Nargil. Now!

Nargil almost fell out of his chair as he hastily reached beneath his robes. Yahnna was so tightly strung she almost shot the Thracian before she realized that he was retrieving a bundle of Imperial credits, a sizable bundle, which he pushed towards her. Keeping her gun steady in her right hand, Yahnna grabbed the bundle, glanced at it briefly, and jammed it into a pocket of her coveralls.

“I didn’t think you would be capable of killing your own.” Nargil sneered, trying to regain the upper hand. “I hope she was worth it.”

“Stow it, Nargil.” Yahnna snapped. “That wasn’t Dreena.”

Nargil gasped, unable to hide his surprise. “How did you know?” he demanded.

Yahnna did her best to hide her relief. I was right! Thank the gods! “You tried to pull the same stunt on my parents, twenty years ago. You extorted a free run from them by using a chameleonoid decoy of me.” And now I can tell my crew why I insisted they stay on board until after this deal was done. I had to be sure Nargil didn't really snatch one of them. Yahnna's relief was almost overwhelming.

Nargil’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “The curse of being long-lived.” He muttered, “is the temptation to re-use successful tactics” And that confirmed Yahnna’s theory. Once again, she thanked providence that she kept in close touch with her family, and that they were willing to share all they knew about past escapades.

“You do that to all your smugglers, Nargil?” Yahnna demanded.

“Not all of them,” he admitted reluctantly.

Of course not, Yahnna knew, otherwise you’d get a reputation for it. Still, I’d have fallen for it, if I hadn’t known better. Naturally, she wasn’t going to tell Nargil that. Let him think she was a cold-hearted bitch.

“That extra five thousand is hush money.” Yahnna told him bluntly. “I don’t need you sending an assassin after me as soon as I walk out the door.” That much was true, and the extra money would make a good bonus for her crew.

“Fine.” Nargil nodded. “Now will you please tell me where the cargo is?” he asked plaintively.

Yahnna finally re-holstered her blaster and tossed two card-keys onto Nargil’s desk. “Go to the North End metro station, lockers one-thirty and two-eighteen. It’s all there.” Well, the directions to where the shipment really is will be there, Yahnna didn’t add.

Convoluted retrievals were her way of ensuring enough time for her and her ship to get off the planet and away from anyone who might try to seize her ship and recover their fee. The beneficiaries of the smugglers’ trade were a very untrustworthy lot, and much given to wanting to have their cake and eat it, too – as Nargil had just demonstrated.

“Thank you.” Nargil replied coolly, his nerves recovering. “I think our business is finished.”

“More than.” Yahnna muttered, smothering a smug grin of her own as she made her way to the door. “If you need anything else done, Nargil…do it yourself.”

That tears it with that weasel, Yahnna decided as she left. But the bonus was worth it…

 

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