What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted…
Jecks pulled at his neckline as if it were too close about his throat.
“It’s not what you…”
“Oh, but I rather think it is.” The first taste of victory after such a bitter defeat and three years of exile was so sweet. She leaned forward, unable to suppress her delight and not caring that it showed. “I rather think you need me again.”
Jecks physically recoiled from her.
“Kahina, I — “
“Var Sarava,” she corrected him. He looked as though she had slapped him hard across the face and Kahina smiled. “You are of course quite right. I knew already. Or should I be more accurate and say that Future Data informed me of there being a high probability that those two would resurface in this timeframe.”
“Then you know why I came.” Jecks sounded defeated now, resigned to some inevitable and inescapable fate. Which, Kahina supposed, was not too far from the truth of things.
“Of course I don’t know,” she snapped. “I’m not a mind reader. Future Data may inform me what is likely to occur, but it’s not yet capable of attributing motive to the behaviours it predicts. Why did you come?”
“It wasn’t my first choice, but Ilke Dray suggested…” Jecks stopped himself and took a breath instead. Wise man. Kahina could feel the pressure of her fingers closing into tight claws.
“How is dear Ilke these days?” Then she lifted a forbidding hand, forcing the fingers to uncurl, as Jecks opened his mouth to tell her. “No. I really don’t want to know. I’m sure she will be going about her busy little life in her busy little way. And of course you don’t need to tell me why you are here, that much is obvious. What I want to know is what do you have to offer me in exchange for my assistance at this time?”
Jecks wore the look of a man being asked to sell his mother.
“Var Sarava, you can’t seriously intend to turn the security of the Coalition into an auction?”
“Why not? I have what you need, and you can procure it nowhere else. That would seem to me the basis of a price negotiation. I am sure you have authorisation to offer me something or you wouldn’t have come.”
“I can’t reverse the decision of the courts. I can’t turn back the clock and restore your good name. I can’t undo what has happened.” He sounded quite upset about it too.
Kahina got to her feet as gracefully as her age allowed and crossed the room to the antique desk. She loved the smooth feel of the polished wood as she slid her hand beneath it to release a secret catch. It was a wonderfully archaic hiding place. She slipped the data stick into her hand and turned back to Jecks, holding it up for him to see.
“This is everything you need to know to deal with them — if you are willing to pay the price I ask.”
“I’m not authorised to offer you anything.” He sounded in pain.
“Then it’s good that I’m not asking you for any ‘thing’. I have only one demand to make.”
“The head of Ilke Dray?” Jecks suggested, his voice slightly strangled. And, for a moment, Kahina had to wonder if he was being serious. Perhaps he was.
“I have no idea what I might do with such a completely vacuous item,” she told him. “No. I couldn’t care less about Ilke. And the price I’m going to ask isn’t unduly expensive. I merely need to know you will pay it when the time comes.”
“What is it?”
“I want Durban Chola.”
She wasn’t sure if it was relief or appalled amusement that motivated his response. “Chola? What the…? I mean, why?”
“I really rather think that’s my business, don’t you?”
Jecks looked as though he was being forced to swallow a large, irregularly shaped solid object.
“Right. Yes. Of course. I think we can do that.”
It was that easy.
Crossing back to the chairs, she settled herself comfortably again before holding out the data stick to Jecks. He took it as if it were a sacred relic, then busied himself with his links for a few moments as he prepared it to read. She could tell when he had done so. His expression shifted. Hardened.
“This contains nothing. Just two names.”
“That is more than enough for now, I assure you. If you were intelligent enough it would be all you needed, but I am quite aware you will be returning to ask me for further guidance.” It was why she felt so confident that he would pay her price in the end.
Jecks was frowning as if trying to read some deeper meaning into what he had been given.
“One is someone I know quite well and I can see the sense in it, they’ve worked on this before — but who in the name of all sanity is Halkom Dugsdall?”
Kahina, her objective achieved, sat back serenely and smiled.