Hive 18-III

Not The Droids You're Looking For.

Cool as a cucumber, Kai stared up at the man, face impassive. “Vanderwaal. Didn't expect to see you here.” I did my best to appear unobtrusive, but the two of them were so intently focused on each other I could have been a full marching band and neither would have noticed.

“I could say the same to you,” said the man, Vanderwaal. He was holding his hands behind his back, and from where I was standing I could see that he was squeezing one very hard with the other. “You've got some nerve coming back.

“Yeah, I've got nerve to spare,” she said flippantly. “I'm just passing through, anyway. No need to worry your little head over it.”

He scowled. “You don't get to just brush it off, Tanner.” So either she used the same pseudonym everywhere, or that was her actual name. I'd be surprised if she used her real name in a place like this, but then again, she'd said she wasn't in any system, hadn't she? So it wasn't like that name would get anyone any more information.

“Focus, please?”

Ah, right. “...what you owe me,” Vanderwaal was saying. “And you're not moving another step until we settle this.” He'd leant into the loom now, towering over Kai. He was actually taller than me, too, and that didn't happen often. Thankfully, the menace wasn't focused my way.

Kai didn't seem even the slightest bit perturbed by his threats. She deliberately took a single step forward, and the motion surprised Vanderwaal, enough to make him move to maintain the distance between them. “Oops,” she said flatly.

Given that we were standing in the entrance (or, I suspected, an entrance), we'd started to attract some attention. Nothing major, but people's gazes were lingering. I wanted to step in, do or say something, but I was worried I'd just make it worse.

“Well, hey, that's a first, isn't it?”

Get off my back, I'm trying, okay?

I think Kai had noticed too, because she stepped back, posture shifting slightly. “Look, Vanderwaal. You want to keep pursuing this stupid vendetta of yours? Fine. But if you do, I'll do what you should've done from the beginning and take it to Ingrid. And you know, I don't think she's gonna be too happy about it. Because you already tried that sh*t and got shut down, so now you're making a pathetic attempt into getting what you want by intimidating me. Well, guess what? I'm not intimidated. But I think you will be, when the woman in charge hears about this. So walk away, and I don't make your business hell.” There wasn't any particular venom to the words, no real rancor, just a simple statement of facts. It was impressively (and slightly uncomfortably) chilling.

Vanderwaal gritted his teeth, but the fight had left him, and he turned and stalked off. “You'll regret this, Tanner,” he spat over his shoulder, then walked through the door and out of sight.

Kai let out a long slow breath, posture sagging, and ran a hand across her brow. “God, I hate that guy.”

“I have… so many questions.”

She sighed. “Of course you do. Come on, let's get moving. We already wasted too much time on that piece of sh*t.”

I frowned, uncomfortable. “Could you please not do that?”

“What?”

“You know,” I waved a hand indistinctly, “four language.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You think sh*t,” I winced a little, “is foul language? God, you must be sheltered.”

“Could you please,” I insisted, “just not?”

She shrugged a shoulder. “Fine, whatever.”

The crowd grew thicker as we moved into the stalls, surprisingly so. Maybe I was just naive, but I was having a hard time thinking of this many people at a black market. But… here they were. Buying… black market things. One stall we passed had racks of exotic-looking weapons sitting behind, all glowing in a vaguely dangerous manner. Another was curtained off, and just said 'Curses’ on a cloth banner. That was weird. I wondered if it was a fraud, or if the person who ran it could… I don't know, cause bad luck or something.

Kai didn't seem to be headed for any particular stall, though. She darted through the crowd in the same effortless manner as before, headed as straight ahead as was possible with the haphazard layout of the place. She obviously had a goal in mind, even though she refused to tell me what it was.

“So,” I asked instead, “what was all that?”

She pursed her lips. “I, uh, used to sell some stuff here. You know, that I-”

“Stole. Yes, I remember.”

She laughed a laugh that didn't seem quite sincere. “Aha. Well, Vanderwaal bought some of said… stuff. I say bought, but it was really an exchange. He gave me some stuff that was valuable, I gave him some stuff that was valuable.”

“Only now he's decided,” I finished for her, guessing where this was going, “that he got a raw end of the deal, and so now he's trying to claim that you cheated him.”

She did the laugh again. “Yup. That is definitely what he's claiming.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“We-ell,” she hummed, “he's not… technically wrong?”

“Oh my god, are you kidding me?”

“Look,” she said defensively, “he was both an asshole and a creep. I was perfectly justified in maaaybe overestimating the value of certain things with him.”

“So that comment about taking things to Ingrid, whom I'm assuming runs this place, that was a bluff.”

“Ingrid's more of an overseer, but yeah. If she actually found out, officially found out, I'd never be allowed back in here again, and Vanderwaal could settle the score without damaging his reputation here.”

“I'm guessing that wouldn't be pretty?”

“You guess correctly.” A figure, dressed head to toe in black combat fatigues and practically dripping with weaponry, bumped into her from the side, almost knocking her over. “Hey! Watch where you're going, jerk!”

“Go shove it where the sun don't shine,” replied the figure irritatedly before vanishing back into the crowd. Their accent was the strangest thing I'd ever heard; I couldn't even begin to guess what it was.

“Rude,” Kai sniffed, fixing her jacket. “Anyway, yeah. Vanderwaal shouldn't be a problem, hopefully.”

“Well, I'm certainly glad I didn't step in. Seems like you would've deserved anything that happened.”

She grinned at that. “I thought you were a hero. You'd let some poor innocent like me get beaten up?”

“Poor innocent, my butt.” The crowd suddenly thinned, and I looked up to realize we were standing at the base of the rubble pile beneath the hole in the wall. “Oh no.”

“Oh yeah.” She hopped up on a piece of rubble and began climbing the rubble towards the bottom of the hole. “Trust me, if you thought this was a big deal, what's on the other side will blow. Your. Mind.”

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