“I apologize,” she said, with a bow that she hoped was deep enough to hide the dismay on her face. “Please forgive my indiscretion.” She stayed in that position, bent nearly in half, waiting for Fergen’s response. Fergen was silent for a long time, long enough that Alessandra’s back began to hurt slightly from being bent over. Finally, Fergen let out a deep sigh.
“Oh, knock it off,” she said, and she didn’t sound angry anymore, just resigned. “All this bowing and scraping doesn’t look good on you.” Alessandra straightened up, and as soon as she did so, Fergen said, “Ask your question.”
“Of course,” Alessandra replied briskly. “I just have always been curious, with your strength and your skill, why you have never challenged Bezzum for control of the clan.”
“I like my current level of stress,” Fergen said with a snort. “Besides, how often does the Clan Master get to go out in the field? I need to be out there, cracking skulls and breaking legs. I’d go crazy if I had to be cooped up in the clan house all the time.”
“I see,” Alessandra said. “Thank you for taking the time to answer me.” She turned to walk away, but Fergen stopped her with a big hand on her shoulder.
“Hold on,” Fergen said sternly. “I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but I’m not as dumb as everyone thinks I am either. I see what game you’re playing here, and if you’re looking for an ally from me, you can forget about it. I like Bezzum, and I’m perfectly satisfied with his leadership. And I happen to think he’s right about you. You’re a maverick, too concerned about your own glory and not enough about the good of the clan. You wouldn’t find me as Clan Master to be any more conducive to your ambitions than Bezzum is.”
“Of course,” Alessandra said with another bow. “Thank you for the warning.” Fergen smiled wryly at her, and shook her head.
“You’re not gonna give up, are you?” she said, and then held up a hand. “No, don’t answer that. I don’t really care what you have to say. Just…watch your back, yeah?” She looked deep into Alessandra’s eyes for a moment, as if looking for something, and then shook her head again and turned to walk away.
The next evening, Alessandra was riding in a semorjo on her way across the city to link up with the rest of her team near the bank. The massive vehicle was packed with people on their way back home after work. Most of them were sitting, but there weren’t enough seats on the semorjo to accommodate everyone onboard, so quite a few were standing. Alessandra was one of them. Slum dwellers weren’t allowed on the city semorjos, so she didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to herself. Anyone who had a seat was liable to be confronted by someone who wanted them to give it up. Someone who was standing was less likely to be pestered.
Alessandra watched the huge buildings crawl by as the semorjo creeped through the heavy traffic. She was currently in the Ashcraz District, one of the districts closest to the city center, and thus one of the wealthiest districts in the city. Of course, none of the people riding the semorjo lived in the Ashcraz District. People who were rich enough to live in Ashcraz didn’t ride the semorjo. Most of them had sevendejos, or even mescoras. Alessandra wondered sometimes what it would be like to fly in a mescora, but only the very richest people in the city could afford to own one. No matter how rich a thief clan got, owning a mescora was beyond their capabilities, if only because an unauthorized mescora would certainly be noticed by the Circle of Elders.
The glittering lights and towering buildings of this district fascinated Alessandra, but she did her best to not just stare out the window of the semorjo like an idiot. No one who rode this route regularly would be fascinated by the sights of the city. The glitz and glamour of downtown Serotopolis would be old hat to the people who actually lived here. Still, it wouldn’t hurt anything for her to just look, and imagine what it would be like to live outside the slums.
It was a futile dream, though. No one ever left the slums, not permanently. The Elder Guard might be lax about enforcing the laws that kept slum dwellers from entering the city proper, but they certainly weren’t lax about enforcing the laws that kept slum dwellers from living in the city. Alessandra had certainly heard of slum dwellers who had managed to get forged papers allowing them to take up residence in the city, but it was incredibly rare, and they were always caught. The punishment for possession of such forged papers was to be thrown into Mokatal Fortress and never heard from again. Alessandra might fantasize about living in Ashcraz District, but that was a risk even she wasn’t willing to take.
An announcement over the semorjo’s intercom, telling the passengers that they were about to pull into Vandeo Station, interrupted her thoughts. Vandeo Station was on the boundary between Ashcraz District and North Vandeo District, and, more importantly, it was only a few blocks from North Vandeo Bank. This was where Alessandra was going to get off. A few minutes after the announcement, the semorjo slowly ground to a halt, and a number of passengers, Alessandra included, moved toward the exits.
As soon as she hopped off the semorjo and began making her way toward the station, she got a nasty shock. Two Elder Guards were standing by the entrance to the station, and they were checking everyone’s papers before they could enter the station. Alessandra had papers, but they were fake, of course, and she had never had to test them in a situation like this before. She immediately began thinking that Kraylea should call the job off. If the Elder Guard were checking papers at a semorjo station, wasn’t that a good indication that they were onto Clan Mekoval’s plans?
To be continued…