Downtime in Las Vegas
Chapter 6—Unexpected Gifts
by Aggy

Alis' eyes widened as his mind tried to absorb the spectacle that was Las Vegas. He could barely believe what his senses were telling him. The main strip made Corellia's Treasure Ship Row look as exciting as the records archive on Corsecunt.

Multicolored lights splashed across the city, making the growing twilight almost as bright as day. Wild laughter and music slithered through the open windows of his transport. He shuddered against the onslaught of depravity around him. This place needs Madam Director's presence. She would bring order to the Chaos.

The pilot, no DRIVER, Alis corrected mentally, turned around in his seat when the traffic signal turned red. He had the audacity to grin at the Imperial Agent. "First time in Vegas?"

The man was one of the reconnaissance people Madam Isard had sent to Earth to scout the planet, and to Alis' distaste, Officer Hyst seemed to enjoy the baser pleasures of the uncivilized planet. "Yes," he ground out between clenched teeth. The driver was an insult to the ideals of the Empire. To the glory of Ysanne Isard.

Hyst glanced at Alis through the rear view mirror, his attention captured by the ebony eyes that seemed bore through him despite being only reflections. He tore his gaze away from that of Agent Alis and stared resolutely at the traffic streaming past the taxi, telling himself that the tremor of his hands was due to fatigue, not the man sitting almost at attention in the back seat of the cab. "We'll be at the hotel shortly." The driver's voice quavered then the car was filled with a silence that seemed to sink itself into Hyst's very pores.

The rest of the trip was accompanied by that almost tangible silence. Hyst was sure that whatever power Agent Alis possessed would send him screaming into insanity before they reached the hotel.

Officer Hyst could barely control the trembling that jarred its way down his spine when the darkened glass pyramid of the Luxor finally dominated the landscape. Pulling into the proper traffic lane, he all but slammed on the brakes in front of the hotel's front entrance. The valet gave the sweating driver a curious look as he opened the passenger door for Alis.

As the agent exited the car, Hyst hit the control for the trunk, allowing the valet to retrieve Alis' luggage. As soon as the bags were placed on the curb, Hyst shifted the car into gear and pulled into traffic. Alis watched the vehicle disappear into the artificially lit night, considering the report he would submit to Intel.

His efforts would be wasted. Neither Officer Hyst nor the taxi he was driving would ever be seen again by Imperial forces.

The valet cleared his throat, gently reminding Alis of his surroundings. Mentally filing away the outlined reprimand, the Imperial agent followed the young man into the hotel.

# # #

Erin stared out at the growing twilight, smiling at the neon rainbow that danced down the strip. Even with the barrier of glass separating her from night air, she could feel the excitement that seemed to energize the city. My first trip to Vegas and it lasted only two days. Her flight was booked. She'd be leaving tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. to go back home.

Sighing, she leaned her head against the cool glass, wishing she hadn't lost her temper at the Rogues. The spiders had been a joke and she was still looking in corners for more of the damned things, but she shouldn't have gone ballistic. A shudder ran down her spine. Correction, I should've went ballistic but I shouldn't have quit. Now Lisa's without a guide and I'm going back to the university. My dream come true ruined by a practical joke and my temper. I'm a complete and total moron.

A knock on the door forced her away from the view and her berating thoughts. Rubbing her forehead tiredly, she barely kept herself from telling whoever was playing a drum solo on the wooden panel to shut up. A look through the peephole showed her that the wanna-be musician was a member of the hotel staff. The rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You" stopped as she unbolted the door.

Her irritation must have shown because the young man swallowed hard, looking at her nervously over a huge red gauze bow. Her gaze dropped from the mass of ribbon to the large box he held in his hands. "Are you Erin Hart?"

The delivery boy fidgeted from one foot to another then finally asked plaintively, "Can I please bring this into your room? It's heavy."

Erin blinked, then blushed at her rudeness. "Of course, I'm so sorry." She gestured to the couch. "Set it there."

While the young man placed the box on one of the leather cushions, Erin grabbed her purse, keeping an eye on him as she dug inside for a tip. He's just a kid, Erin. Chill. He's not going to attack you.

Still, she wasn't comfortable until the young man had left her room and the door was firmly bolted. Why am I so nervous? Is it the box or the boy that's giving me the jitters? Shrugging off the sensation of 'wrongness' that somehow tainted the situation, she sat down next to the mysterious gift.

As she ran her hand over the mass of sheer ribbon, her hand brushed against a hard edge. She caught herself before she flinched away. Instead, she carefully parted the ribbon away from the object, calling herself a fool when she realized it was nothing more threatening than an envelope. Erin pulled the envelope free and tore it open, smiling as she read the letter inside.

Just a little apology from your two FAVORITE Rogues. See you at the party tonight. Wes and Hobbie.

She chuckled over the wording. Not Wes AND Hobbie. Wes writing and Hobbie just agreeing with whatever Wes said. Oh well. I know they're both sorry. Then realization struck. SITHSPAWN! She looked up at the clock. I completely forgot about the party. Gods, should I even go? I'm not a guide anymore. Her hands twisted in the ribbon. I was stupid. I shouldn't have quit.

She shook her head, sending red hair spilling into her face. "Time to quit moping. You made your decision and they still want you at the party, so why not go?" she paused for a moment, realizing she was talking to herself. Okay…I'm finally going off the deep end. She looked down at the box sitting seductively next to her. It was almost BEGGING her to open it. Who cares if I'm insane? I have a present!

Some of her excitement dissipated when she realized WHO the present was from. I have a present form the two biggest jokesters in the THX galaxy. Force help me, it's probably an ewok. Tentatively she pulled at the ends of the gossamer ribbon, half expecting Lieutenant Kettch to pop out of the box. Instead, the fabric whispered apart with no unwanted surprises. Working her nails under the edge of the box, she pulled open the two halves.

# # #

Alis stood slowly as the holo transmission faded away. The Luxor was perfect for relaying such communications. The intense white light beamed up into the cosmos masked any data streamed offplanet.

One knee ached faintly from kneeling for so long, but as always, he felt invigorated by his time spent in Her presence. Despite the great distance separating him from his Goddess, he could sense her growing approval of him. Mayhaps someday she would see him as more than just a tool. And then…

A hasty knock interrupted his thoughts. He barked for the intruder to enter, knowing only someone with strict orders to report to him immediately would dare interrupt him after a discussion with Her.

The lanky young man saluted and stood at attention as he reported his encounter with Ms. Hart. The box was in her room and soon the sensor devices would infiltrate each area of the suite, allowing Intel to collect needed data on the woman and the traitors she was entertaining. The devices would not give him all the information needed, but when combined with the data his spies would uncover during the diplomatic dinner later that night, it would be enough for him to put his plans into motion.

Continued in Part Seven