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In the end, Tariq opted to release Mary and Colin, without their weapons, and with the warning that any further sightings in the vicinity of Tariq’s family would lead to a much more permanent solution.
“Your family is safe,” Mary said from the front door, now open to the weather which, despite being clad in only a thin sari, she seemed not to notice. “Our only interest is the cargo.” Here she looked at John, “Which of course means we will continue searching for our client’s property.”
“I can suggest a few places to look,” Jagati commented as Ysabel ushered Colin and Mary out the door. At a nod from Tariq, she followed the larcenous pair off the property and, John presumed, onto the nearest rickshaw, tram, or recycling lorry they passed.
The door had barely closed behind them when Izaldine turned to his mother to declare, “I’m hungry.”
“Of course you are,” she said. “Go on, then.” He took off at a run and she swung after him with a syncopated thump of her crutches.
John gave Jagati a look and jerked his chin after the pair, indicating she should go along with them.
She, in reply, jerked her chin at him, indicating he should be the one to follow.
In return, John cocked an eyebrow in reminder she’d given up her shot at being captain and Jagati, predictably, bared her teeth, thus informing him she’d follow the nonverbal order, but to expect some very verbal repercussions at a later date.
Then she stomped out of the library.
“Do all your orders have such an effect?”
John turned and looked at Tariq who, by his expression, had not only seen the entire nonverbal exchange, but had understood every unspoken syllable. “Not all,” he said, “but enough to keep things lively. Do you think they mean it?” he asked, indicating the door through which Colin and Mary had departed. “That they’ll leave you alone?”
“As she said, their only interest is in the cargo.” Tariq began to shrug but stopped as the motion pulled at the crossbow bolt still in his shoulder.
“The cargo,” John repeated, looking at the other man who, he suspected, was not a typical member of the shadow trade. “About that…”
“… if I’d known how much trouble it would be, I’d never have nicked the smogging thing,” Sameen said as she poured boiling water from the kettle into a squat brown teapot set on a small, sturdy, cart. Immediately the kitchen filled with the robust scent of Avonion Breakfast tea.
Jagati set the mugs Sameen had pointed her to on the table and Izaldine, already seated, poked through a bowl of overripe apples and pears.
Having not eaten most of her own dinner back on the Errant, Jagati considered grabbing a piece of fruit for herself as payment for being put on KP.
Then again, she understood John didn’t care so much about KP as gathering more intel on the smogging calculator.
Which was why she’d steered the conversation in said direction, all while taking in the expansive kitchen, designed with enough space for someone wielding crutches to navigate, and possessed of hybrid-powered cooking and fridge units that screamed efficiency to her.
An efficiency she found echoed in Sameen’s movements.
In fact, observing the other woman maneuvering around her kitchen—pulling biscuits from the cupboard, filling the kettle, warming the pot, filling it with leaves—not a motion wasted, Jagati had a sudden, visceral flashback to her days aboard a Corps airship, preparing for a jump.
With the tea steeping, Sameen placed the biscuits, pot and a pitcher of milk on the cart, to which she hooked her crutches, then used said cart as a support while she pushed it from the counter to the square table where Jagati had set the mugs.
Unwillingly impressed, Jagati waited until the other woman eased into a chair next to her son to return to the main topic of the night.
“So, if you didn’t know what you were taking,” Jagati asked, “why would you take it?”
Sameen’s smile returned, mischievous as ever, while she poured out. “That’s rather my job, isn’t it?”
Is it? Jagati thought, accepting her mug. In the almost year the Errant had been flying, they’d run across any number of shadow traders, smugglers, pirates, and mercs, and Sameen did not fit that profile. Still, she played along. “Your job is stealing unknown objects?”
“I stole a box with a tri-level Kairos lockset,” Sameen said, unconcerned with all this talk of stealing despite her son sitting right there. “Everyone in the shadow trade knows Kairos means valuable.”
Jagati thought there was more to Sameen’s story but didn’t press, asking instead, “And you never opened it?”
“Of course I opened it.” Tariq clutched the edge of the sink in the upstairs bath, to which he’d led John after the latter suggested it might be wise to remove the arrow from his back. He sat on the commode, facing the blue tiled wall as he continued, “Or rather Jacques, my mechanic, opened it. And proud of himself he was. Kairos locks are not for the faint of heart.”
“So I hear.” John took hold of the crossbow bolt with one hand and set the other on Tariq’s shoulder. Before Tariq had the chance to say more, he yanked the bolt from the other man’s shoulder while Tariq’s knuckles went white on the sink’s edge.
He dropped the shaft into the basin, lifted the flask of antibacterial wash, and held it up. “Ready?” he asked.
Tariq’s answer was a short nod, but a quick check of his skin tone and eyes confirmed the other man was not near to passing out, so John did the needful and poured a hefty dose of antibacterial into the wound, where it foamed vigorously.
“And it didn’t bother you,” John asked, poking through the medical kit for tweezers, “what was inside the box?”
“At first I thought it a joke,” Sameen admitted, ruffling Izaldine’s hair as he reached for his third biscuit. “It wasn’t until Tariq had taken it out of Nike I learned otherwise.”
“What about Colin and Mary?” Jagati asked as Izaldine slid her a biscuit. “Thanks.” Then, with a mouthful, she continued, “I mean, did they say who they work for?”
Sameen shook her head. “They didn’t have to. We met him.”
“His name is Galileo.” Izaldine made an icky face. “He smiled a lot, but I didn’t like him.”
“No, love,” Sameen murmured, dropping a kiss on his head. “Neither did I.”
“Galileo?” Jagati’s brow furrowed. She’d heard that name before.
“He could see inside my head,” Izaldine added with a longing gaze at the biscuit packet.
“So can I,” Sameen told him before leaning down and whispering, “Just one more.” Then she looked back to Jagati. “Galileo is a sensitive, and determined to retrieve his property.”
“Sensitives.” Jagati gave an involuntary shudder. She looked at Izaldine who, of course, was watching her. “Sensitives give me the swarms.”
He nodded, his expression serious under the crumbs. “Uncle Jacques says there are more sensitives born on Fortune every new generation.”
“The Al-Jinn’s mechanic,” Sameen supplied, pulling a small brown pear from the bowl and handing it to Izaldine. “He’s fond of the enquirers.”
“I like a little trash journalism myself,” Jagati said, thinking of one of the more recent spreads she’d seen about crystal rooting inside human brains and turning them into zombies. She figured it’d be a matter of weeks before someone turned that story into an opera. “I wonder what Galileo wants with the cargo in the first place?”
“I asked him, when he was locking me in Izaldine’s bedroom,” Sameen said, her expression darker than Jagati had yet seen. “He gave a nice speech about the technocrist movement.”
“Wait.” At that Jagati sat straight as the starbuck dropped and she remembered the conversation aboard the Errant, when she’d teased Eitan about his rebellious days in university.
“So you were part of a radical technocrist student movement in college?”
“I was experiencing a rebellious phase.”
And when she’d asked about the phase’s name...it was... “Galileo,” she repeated the name aloud, and looked at Sameen, who was watching her, brows raised in curiosity. “Was he very persuasive?”
“Crystal and comb for everyone,” Sameen agreed, drawing a medallion from under her blouse and toying with it. Jagati noted it was the Broken Sapling, given only to those wounded in battle. “But my take,” she continued, her hand sliding up and down the chain, “he’s in it for the money.”
“I suppose you think us fools for even keeping the thing,” Tariq said, leading John down the stairs.
“I have thought you many things since Dyar’s Canyon,” John said, half a step behind. “Fool, however, is not one of the terms that came to mind.”
Tariq looked over his shoulder. The clean shirt he’d donned bulged slightly over the bandaging John had applied. “I can imagine a few of the words that did.”
“Quite likely. But that said, there are few, even in the shadow trade—even fools—willing to handle an item as volatile as that calculator.
“But you did,” he continued, watching the other man as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “It makes me think.”
“You strike me as a man who thinks a great deal,” Tariq said, turning to face John. “Perhaps too much.”
At that John smiled. “You wouldn’t be the first to say so.”
“And what do your thoughts tell you now?”
“They tell me you had a reason for stealing the calculator. A reason other than money.”
“And how can you know this?”
“Because no one who looks at his wife and child the way you do would risk them for the sake of profit.”
The two men studied each other. “Thoughtful and observant,” Tariq said at last. “You are correct. We did not steal it for money.”
“We were told to.”
“That,” Tariq said, “is a long story, and one I cannot share. Yet.”
“I see. No,” John corrected himself. “I don’t see at all.”
Tariq’s expression became pained. “Believe me, I take no joy in holding the truth from you, but…it is complicated, and a bit political.”
“I hate politics.”
Tariq offered a palm up what can one do? gesture. “In the meantime,” he said, leading the way towards the rear of the house, “it is best if you keep the calculator.” On those words John came to a sudden halt. “At least until—John?“ Tariq stopped and looked back. “What is it?”
“No,” John said.
Jagati’s chin jerked at the medallion Sameen’s fingers were still toying with. “Ex-corp?” she asked.
Sameen looked down, as if unaware she’d been fiddling with the object. “Sorry, yes.” She dropped the medal, lifted her mug, and took a gulp of tea before continuing, “I was on the CAS Maathi’s jump team, until my line fouled during a jump in Subaru, back in ’46.”
“Mama got hurt,” Izaldine said, not looking up from the toy airship he’d carried from the library, and which he now seemed determined to ram into his pear. “She was asleep for a long time.”
“Izaldine was three,” Sameen said, “but he remembers more than I do, I’m afraid. Honestly, I don’t know how Tariq managed an invalid and a three-year-old at once.”
“Don’t make me rethink my opinion of the man who threatened to skin me…” She looked down at Izaldine and swallowed. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
“He what? To what?” Sameen looked at her son. “Papa has some ‘splainin’ to do.”
“Like Lucy?” he asked, eyes wide.
“Just like Lucy.” She turned to Jagati. “Shakespeare Circus has a matinee repertoire of plays based on a character named Lucy, her compatriot Ethel, and their escapades.”
“Wait, wait! The women who ate all the candies?” A smile tugged at the corner of Jagati’s mouth as she recalled the single show John dragged her to that hadn’t put her to sleep.
“As I recall, you loved that one,” John said, causing all three at the table to look up.
He and Tariq came into the kitchen, Tariq going immediately to Sameen and laying a hand on her shoulder, then looking at his son. “Well then, have you left any tea for your poor papa?”
Sameen looked up. “Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you, dear?”
“I have been shot.”
“You often are.”
“Lots of tea,” Izaldine cut in, rising on his knees in the chair before admitting, “but not many biscuits.”
John, meanwhile, came up on Jagati’s side, took her mug from her hands, and gulped down half its contents.
“Hey!” She glared up at him. “Mine.” She poked him in the side with a vindictiveness that had more to do with Sameen’s knowing grin than protecting her tea.
“Tasty, too,” he said, handing it back before accepting the crumbling remains of a biscuit from Izaldine. “Thank you,” he said, devouring it in a bite. “Also tasty, but we’d best be getting back to our ‘ship,” he said, patting Jagati on the shoulder. “Who knows? We might get to the Errant before Mary and Colin search her.”
“And if we don’t?” Jagati swigged the rest of the tea.
“If we don’t, Rory will make our lives difficult for having let strangers get aboard the Errant for the second time this week,” he replied.
“You’re not concerned they might find the device?” Tariq asked.
“Not very, no.”
“We that good,” Jagati said, winking at Izaldine, who gave her another bit of biscuit as a trophy.
“You’re just encouraging her,” John said, making the boy grin, then looked to Izaldine’s mother. “I feel I should apologize for our part in,” he gestured vaguely around him, “all this.”
“Sorry about the window,” Jagati added around the last bit of biscuit.
“Nonsense.” Sameen waved with her own biscuit. “I count us lucky Mary hired your lot. There’s many a crew wouldn’t think twice about taking the money and no questions asked.”
“As she said,” Tariq agreed, with the one hand on his wife’s shoulder and the other on his son’s. “And as I said earlier,” he looked at John, “I am in your debt.”
“If you can make the arrangements we discussed,” John said, “I will consider all debts paid.”
“Arrangements?” Jagati looked at her captain.
“I’ll explain on the way,” he said while she scootched out from the chair.
“Don’t forget to tell him about Galileo,” Sameen said.
“Technocrat sensitive who might have been Eitan’s boyfriend, back in the day,” Jagati explained.
John blinked. “What?”
“I’ll explain on the way,” she parroted his response, then threw a wink to the kid and a salute to his mother.
Tariq merited a grudging nod.
John stood dumbly for a moment, then followed her out of the room. “What?”
“I guess she got some ‘splainin’ to do, too,” Izaldine offered.