In the silence following Gideon’s revelation, Celia observed the curtains, closed over the bedroom’s open window, moving gently. “Are you waiting for something?” she asked, focusing on Gideon. “Applause? A clap of thunder? A tearful confession?”
“I don’t doubt you could pull one out. But like I said earlier, I just came for my coat. And maybe some answers,” he admitted with a negligent shrug.
“You’ve done such a fine job of coming up with your own answers. What could I possibly add?”
“How about why you’re still active, now the war has ended?”
“Foolish man,” she said, watching him. He really was a pleasure to look at. Too bad he’d have to die. “The war hasn’t ended. It has simply moved to a different battlefield.”
He looked at her, stretched out on the bed. “I’ll say. So,” he flipped the knife he’d taken from her in his left hand and then used it as a pointer. “To sum up, you, Celia Rand, are in fact the Coalition operative known as Odile.”
“You are impressed with yourself, aren’t you?” She sat up and crossed her arms over her knees, the better to enjoy the show.
“You are also a sensitive of some flavor or other.”
“Empath,” she confirmed.
He let out a low whistle which she took to be appreciation. “I can see how that would be a plus for maintaining a cover as deep as yours.”
Oh yes, she thought, he definitely has to die.
“Only, and I’m guessing here, when I was released from prison, you got worried. Less about me, because even if I could find out who was behind Nasa, who’d believe a convicted traitor?” He flipped the knife again and started to pace the room. “But still, you worried—probably about how poor old Jessup would react. Maybe he’s starting to feel a little bit guilty about killing those six soldiers—sorry, five soldiers.” He paused in his perambulations and looked at her. “Turns out your husband failed to murder my lieutenant.”
“That’s not all he failed at,” she said tightly.
“Guess the mourning period is over,” he observed, resuming his pacing. “Anyway, you’re worried, and being a sensitive, you’d have known you were right to worry. What to do? What to do?” He spun from the hearth and started towards the window. “Why not solve both potential problems at once? Jessup is becoming a liability, and I’m already—”
“Troublesome,” she inserted, sliding to the edge of the bed, drawing Gideon’s attention back in her direction. “The word you tend to inspire is ‘troublesome.’”
“And I’m troublesome,” he echoed, pausing in front of her. “So why not take out two dracos with one stone? Send your lackeys out to fetch me, and once they do, you drug me, murder your husband, and leave me to wake up in his blood. How am I doing so far?”
“Impressively accurate. I would pay as much as two starbucks to see you at the Circus.”
He gave the slightest bow, though his eyes remained locked on hers.
“So accurate, in fact, I wonder if you’ve a touch of sensitivity as well?”
Despite the casual tone, his eyes darkened with the desire Celia kindled. Encouraged, she prodded him further, psionically stoking the fire of his need as she asked, “And why is that?”
“Sensitives don’t do well around live crystal,” he told her, his voice pleasingly rough. “Something you’ll be finding out, soon enough.”
“No.” She shook her head once, slowly, “I’m afraid I won’t.”
Outside, a bird of some sort keened a low and mournful note.
Celia felt her control of Gideon slip.
At the same time Nahmin, whose presence she’d sensed outside the window, swept like smoke through the billowing curtains, his blade slicing through the air between himself and Gideon.
Celia slid to the floor as Nahmin leapt into the room, fully expecting to see Gideon, Nahmin’s blade in his back, falling to the carpet at her side.
What she saw instead was Nahmin’s dagger rebounding off the bedpost, before dropping to the carpet with a dull thud.
Then she saw the pair of long legs in rough-spun trousers, facing the window.
Looking up, she saw Gideon, his eyes glittering dangerously, his left hand extended, and empty.
Her gaze tracked the direction of that hand to see Nahmin, standing just inside the window, his expression blank, and a knife—her knife, which had been in Gideon’s hand—lodged in his throat.
Slowly, as if time had slipped out of synch, Nahmin’s head dropped in her direction.
His mouth fell open but no words could pass the obstruction of her blade.
Still, she felt what he felt, and surprised the both of them with the tears that wet her cheeks. “Your service will be remembered,” she told him.
Her words seemed to act as scissors, for on hearing them Nahmin’s legs buckled, and he dropped to the carpet where, after a soft sigh of release, Celia felt him no more.
She blinked away the tears to see Gideon, already crouching to retrieve Nahmin’s knife from where it had fallen.
“You should run now,” she told him, her voice strange and flat in her own ears.
He looked up from his study of the blade. “Why?”
She stared at him, so calm so… smug… in his righteousness. “You’ve just murdered my servant, have you not? That’s two men in two days, dead by your hand.”
“I didn’t kill your husband.”
“You killed Nahmin.”
“That may be true, but we both know when it comes to your word against mine, the widow of a decorated general trumps the ravings of a convicted traitor.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I guess you’re right.” Then he rose and crossed towards one of her display tables. “Which makes it a good thing I left this on, so the police could hear our conversation.”
As she watched, Gideon picked up a battered Stolichnayan radio from amidst the cans and music boxes and ancient shoes. “Quinn to Hama,” he said into the device, “did you get all that?”
“DS Hama is on the door, but rest assured, I got all of it,” a woman’s voice, dry and crisp despite the static, came over the radio.
“General Satsuke.” Gideon rolled his eyes. “So glad you could make it.”
“I sincerely doubt that,” the general replied. “Still, that was an… enlightening conversation. Despite a few moments of static, we heard more than enough to take Madame Rand into custody, if someone will unlock the door.”
“We’ll be right there. Over and out,” Gideon said, then set the radio down and held out a hand to Celia. “Coming?”
She looked at that hand, then at Nahmin—specifically at the dagger protruding from Nahmin’s throat.
She could, she was certain, have the knife out of his throat and into her own heart before Gideon could stop her.
“If you do that,” she heard Gideon say, “you’ll be admitting you lost.”
“I have lost.” She looked up to see him watching her. Hatred and—something else—burned in her heart.
“You’ve lost the battle,” he agreed. “But as you said yourself, the war’s not over.”
His hand was still out, still waiting.
“Suppose I still choose to exit the field,” she said, unmoving, “why would you care?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, after a beat.
Being what she was, she could feel this was so.
She could only speculate on what caused the emotional conflict. “Maybe you wish to see me suffer for my crimes.”
He held her gaze. “Maybe.”
“Or maybe,” she said, holding up her own hand and allowing him to pull her to her feet, “you’ve come to accept we really are much the same.”
His gaze sharpened, then he looked away.
Celia took it as a triumph, small though it be, to have rendered him speechless.