She gritted her teeth and handed her papers to the guard waiting at the gate. He glanced over them briefly, and then looked up at her. She stared impassively back at him, just another tired commuter anxious to get home after a long day of work.
“Name?” the guard said in a bored voice.
“Nietasha Volemare,” Alessandra replied, using the name that was on her papers.
“I’m a records clerk at Veshamil Industries.”
“And you live in Vandeo District?”
The guard looked over her papers one more time, and then he handed them back to her and waved her through. Stifling a sigh of relief, she walked through the gate and into the crowded station. Weaving through the throng, she made her way through the station and out into the busy street. Evening was falling, but Serotopolis never truly went to sleep. Vandeo District was primarily residential, but there were a number of commercial enterprises there as well, especially near the border with Ashcraz. Well-dressed people and others who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the slums walked along the sidewalks bordering the busy road outside the station. Stores selling an almost unimaginable variety of goods stretched as far as Alessandra could see. Any of them would have made a tempting target if she had been alone, but tonight, she had a bigger job ahead of her.
She hurried down the street with her head down, just another overworked clerk rushing to get home to get some rest before another long day at the office. She dodged and weaved her way through the crowded sidewalk with ease, because, as crowded as it was, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the average walkway in the slums. After a few minutes, she reached her destination, a small park wedged in between two apartment buildings. Kraylea, Sharae and Shiena were already there. Sharae was leaning against the wall surrounding the park with her arms folded, while Kraylea and Shiena were sitting on a bench, making out.
“Good, you’re here,” Sharae said as soon as she saw Alessandra. “Now, we just need Fergen to arrive.”
“What about Fihal?” Alessandra asked with a slight frown.
“Fihal’s going to meet us at the bank,” Sharae said, glancing at Kraylea and Shiena with a slightly disgusted look on her face. “He had some last minute preparations to make.” She shook her head slightly as she watched the intense kissing going on, and then turned to look back to the street.
“I never figured you for the jealous type,” Alessandra said in a low voice, leaning against the wall next to Sharae and folding her arms as well.
“It’s not that,” Sharae said, frowning slightly. “Kraylea can slobber all over whoever he wants. Doesn’t bother me. I just wish he’d show a little more…discretion about when and where he does it.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Alessandra muttered. She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “We might have a problem. The Elder Guard was checking papers at the semorjo station.”
“Yeah? So?” Sharae said, still pointedly not looking in Kraylea’s direction.
“So what if it has something to do with us?”
“Why would it? If the Elder Guard thought were up to something, they never would have let us pass their checkpoint. The Elder Guard isn’t exactly subtle.”
“But don’t you think-” Alessandra began, but Sharae cut her off.
“Look, I understand if you’re a little skittish after what happened at the Vanmorzen manor,” she said, “but you need to put those doubts behind you. A thief needs to be bold. If there’s a good reason to abort the mission, we’ll abort it. But we can’t be jumping at shadows, or we’ll never accomplish anything.” Alessandra was silent for a moment, but before she could say anything else, Sharae spoke again, “I can tell you’re dissatisfied. Maybe this will cheer you up. Fihal’s doing reconnaissance on the bank right now. If there’s any extra security on the bank, he’ll see it, and then we can talk about aborting the mission. But we have no reason to think right now that extra security at the semorjo station has anything to do with us.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Alessandra sighed.
Before she could say anything else, Fergen strolled into the park, with her hands stuffed in her pockets and whistling a merry tune. She snorted as soon as she saw Kraylea and Shiena, and then made her way over to Sharae and Alessandra.
“What are we waiting for?” she asked, leaning against the wall next to Sharae and folding her arms across her chest.
“You,” Sharae said pointedly, pushing away from the wall and strolling over to Kraylea. “Kray! It’s time!”
“Well, let’s do this then,” he said as he extricated himself from Shiena. “Split up!” he ordered. “We’ll meet on Vadoray Street, behind the bank.” He immediately began heading for the nearby street, and Shiena went off in a different direction. Alessandra picked a third direction and began walking toward the bank.
Even though she was on a job, she couldn’t help but look around at all the sights there were to see in Vandeo District. It was far from the nicest district in the city, but it was still much nicer than the slums. Most of the buildings were new and shiny, but there were a few that were clearly hundreds of years old or even older, and even the old buildings were clean and well-maintained. There was no garbage on the streets, and the people hurrying along the sidewalks were clean and well-dressed.
She knew there was no way she would ever be able to live among these people, but it was kind of fun to dream. The highest thing she could ever aspire to was to be Clan Master. And she would indeed be Clan Master someday. But even a Clan Master was still just a slum dweller. Part of Alessandra wanted more. But she stuffed that part of her back down, because there was just no way it could ever happen.
To be continued…