While Ray and Jessyn listened, Harry laid out the story the Lady had just witnessed from the inside of Harry’s head, but with a few additions, beginning with the discovery, five Standard years ago, of a slicer—a cy-tech of considerable talents, who’d become the bugaboo of every major law-enforcement division in the Confederation—who identified himself as “Gemini.”
And then he told them how, around three and a half years ago, Harry walked into his office in Toronto, in the IS Marshals’ Sol System branch…
He crossed the bullpen, mostly empty at this early hour, and continued on to his office, which, despite nine months of habitation, still had that new-office smell.
Except, when he opened the door, it smelled less like new office and more like fresh coffee.
It also had someone already inside it.
“Can I help you?” he asked, his left hand shifting towards the shoulder rig under his jacket.
“I don’t think you can,” a voice from the past replied before a face from the past looked up over one shoulder. “But I’ll lay odds I can help you.”
“Seth—Ensign Aliombe?” Harry’s hand fell from the gun and reached out towards the man rising from the guest chair.
“Not ensign anymore,” Seth replied, taking Harry’s hand in a quick shake and grinning. His smooth mahogany features showed no trace of tension, or the resentment Harry recalled from their last encounter, when they both received the CF Fleet Medal of Honor. “It’s Marshal Aliombe now.” Seth pulled his jacket aside to display the ISM shield affixed to his belt. “Cy-Division.”
“That’s—wow.” Harry entered the office and stepped around to the other side of his desk. “I didn’t know you were looking to law enforcement.”
He gestured to the guest chair and both men sat, Harry taking the time to open the desk’s side drawer, remove an old wooden yo-yo from his jacket pocket, and put it in the drawer next to the still shot of a young woman with terracotta skin and a crooked smile.
“I hadn’t planned it, but, after the war, Bletchley felt too…” Seth paused, shook his head. “I suppose confining would be the best way to put it. Oh, I almost forgot, this is for you.” He pushed one of two disposable cups towards Harry. “I hope you’re still taking it black.”
“As close to mainlining caffeine as I can get,” Harry said, accepting the cup. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure, Major. Sorry, Deputy Marshal.” Seth offered a toast with his cup. “Congratulations on your promotion, by the way. Taking down Victor Raz…” Seth shook his head and sipped again. “Number three on the Most Wanted? You were the talk of Glynco-Orion.”
Harry winced. “Pretty sure most of what you heard was pure detarame.”
“Maybe half.” Seth waved his free hand in a so-so gesture.
After that, each man took a long, life-giving sip of caffeine before Harry set the cup down and leaned back to study the ensign—no, he reminded himself, marshal.
No denying Seth looked worlds better than when they’d last seen each other, post-Kelmno.
Seth Aliombe’s injuries, physical and psychological, had sidelined him for the remainder of the war, and he’d eventually returned to the crypto-division at Bletchley while Harry went home to Earth, to resume his position in the Inter-System Marshal Service.
“So,” Harry began after a moment of only mildly awkward silence, “they assigned you to the Home office?”
“Loosely,” Seth told him, reaching down and pulling a file from the brief propped against his chair. “The truth is, I came as part of a package deal.”
Harry’s eyebrow rose, but he accept the file Seth offered. “And what’s the rest of the package?”
“A case,” Seth said, relaxing back into his chair. “And it is a doozy.”
“A doozy?” Harry echoed the term.
“And then some. Read the file,” Seth prompted, gesturing with his cup.
Harry shook his head, but he set his coffee down, opened the file, and read.
Ten minutes later, he was still reading.
Eventually he stopped, then he looked up at Seth. “Why is this case coming to me?”
Seth’s eyes widened at the question. “You have to ask? You’re the man who brought down Victor Raz and Tammas Ren and broke the Jezz’ra Trafficking Ring. And that doesn’t take your wartime exploits into account, even before the escape from The Kelm. Of course they’d assign Gemini to you.”
“Wait,” Ray interrupted the story here. “The Kelmno escape? That was you?”
Harry shot the younger man a weary look. “I’m guessing you heard about that?”
“Are you kidding? Everyone in uniform heard about that.” Even if that one in uniform had been in a cell at the time. “I remember the newsfeeds coming through,” he said, “but I’d forgotten the details.”
The look in Harry’s eyes said, more clearly than words, that Harry wished he could forget those details himself. At Ray’s side, Jessyn shifted, and her eyes shadowed in a way that said the Rasalkans also knew quite a bit about Harry’s service record.
After a moment, Harry shrugged and continued with the story.
There was another, more awkward silence following Seth’s explanation.
At last, Harry set the file down and picked the cooling coffee up. “So you’re saying this is my case now.”
“Our case,” Seth corrected. “Given the nature of the crime, you’ll need a cy-tech.” He paused, met Harry’s gaze, and added, “Partner.”
A loaded word, given their past, but all Harry said was, “You do remember I’m a pain in the ass to work with.”
“Just like old times,” Seth replied.
“Like old times,” Harry echoed, burying his discomfort as he raised his cup. “But with fewer people shooting at us.”
“Now where,” Seth said, “is the fun in that?”
“Thing is,” Harry said, staring down into his now empty glass, “it was fun. I mean to say, we worked well together. And we didn’t just focus on the Gemini file. We closed nineteen other cases in the time we were partnered, but the thing is, when it came to Gemini, we kept just missing him. We’d get close, sometimes close enough the tea was still warm in the cup when we’d bust into his hide, but we could never quite touch him.”
“Sometimes it goes like that,” Ray offered.
“Sometimes, yes,” Harry agreed, meeting Ray’s gaze. “But not every time. Especially not every time with a cy-tech like Seth working the codes. Especially not then,” he said, with an emphasis that had both Ray and Jessyn letting out a hiss of breath as they came to understand. Which was when Harry told them about how he’d come to suspect his partner, how he’d used the sting on Ceres to trap him, and how all that had worked out, going all the way through the explosion on Pluto’s moon, still fresh in his mind from his interlude with the Lady.
Listening to the story, Ray shuffled Harry’s intel on Gemini into his own mental file on his targets, Al-Kar and Booth, and tried to figure why, when Doyle gave him the assignment, he’d said nothing about Seth Aliombe, AKA Gemini.
Something he meant to ask his Control at the first opportunity.
“And what happened after?” Jessyn asked, leaning forward on one arm, while her left hand clutched tightly at Ray’s under the table.
“After?” Harry’s left hand turned the empty glass in its place slowly, slowly. “There were funerals for the members of the TacOps team who didn’t make it, reports were filed by all present, and after that came the usual scramble to assign blame.
“As the op’s leader and partner of the big bad, I came out the winner on that score. Not that I noticed, because I spent a few months in various surgeries for the spinal injury, and after that came the PT—lots and lots of PT. And about a week after I got on my feet, someone in the intelligence loop tracked me down in Pennsylvania to tell me Seth hadn’t died on Ceres. Once I heard that, I did what I had to do to get back in the game, and I’ve been following Seth’s breadcrumbs for the past five months—until they led us here.”
“Us?” Ray asked.
“Me and the new cy-tech,” Harry said, then looked at Ray. “So, that’s my story, and why I’m here. Now I’ve shown you mine, what are the chances you’ll show me yours?”
Somewhere between zero and none, Ray thought. “Mine’s less exciting,” he said, opting to use as much truth as possible. “I came to Romeria on the tail of two lowlifes.”
Harry almost smiled. “Al-Kar and Booth?”
“Al-Kar and Booth,” Ray agreed.
“They’re the reason I came to Ócala, myself,” Harry said. “Once it was deduced the two of them got Seth off Ceres, they were the logical link. And though I don’t think Seth was working for the Black Rose back in the day, from what I got downstairs, he is now.” At which point he looked at Jessyn.
“I know Sims and Gavin work for someone they call the Man, but I have never met him. But Neishi has,” she said, and glanced towards the foyer, then back. “They are quite close.”
“Really?” Harry thought about that. “Not Seth’s usual.”
“Taste in bed partners aside,” Ray said, rapping his knuckles on the table. “I have some possibly useful information.”
Harry brought his attention back to the table. “From your friend at the bar?”
Ray nodded, and relayed his earlier conversation with the bartender.
“If this party is as big as Ziio thinks, your man might make an appearance,” Ray concluded. “Assuming we can get into the place. It’s not like we’re on the guest list.”
“I might be able to help with that,” Harry said. “Or my cy-tech might.”
A flurry of motion from his left brought Ray’s attention to the approach of Sims Al-Kar and company, who fanned out as they neared the table, with Gavin Booth approaching from the right, Oz from the left, and Sims steaming toward them on an arrow-straight course.
Harry swiveled to face them, but stayed in the booth, playing the client while Ray remained seated until they were less than a foot away, then he rose from the booth, arms loose, weight balanced, waiting.
Sims, however, focused on Jessyn.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
“I am here at the Lady’s bidding,” she told him. “Whatever you have to say must wait.”
Sims’s eyes flared in silent rage as they jumped to Ray. “Find yourself another distraction, jammer. Jessyn is with me.”
“And that’s where she would be,” Ray stepped back and took Jessyn’s hand, “if she wanted to be there.”
“Shubo,” Gavin spat. “Screw the Lady.”
Harry let out a sound that might have been a cough, but Ray doubted it.
Gavin ignored Harry and nudged Sims. “Let me change this bastard’s mind, Brother.”
“Yeah. Let him,” Oz echoed, inching closer, his beady eyes eager.
“Are we all twelve here?” Harry asked, earning a hiss and a glare, respectively, from Gavin and Oz.
“Jessyn,” Sims reiterated, looking past Ray, his face almost unrecognizable in its gentleness, “please, come with me.”
“Let’s grab the bitch and go.” Gavin stepped forward to spoil the mood.
Sims turned, as if meaning to berate his blood brother, when Ray cut in. “Any next of kin?”
“What?” Gavin switched his focus to Ray.
Ray lifted one shoulder. “Just wanna know who’ll be notified to identify your corpse.”
Gavin halted, but his expression didn’t change. Ray wondered if it ever did.
Oz, meanwhile, glanced at Harry, who smiled and shifted to reveal the gun in his hand, drawn while everyone was watching Ray. Oz paled and stumbled back a few steps.
Sims dragged his attention from Jessyn with obvious effort. “This isn’t over,” he said to Ray, then shot a look of residual disdain in Harry’s direction. “Believe that.” He turned and moved away, with Booth and Oz on his heels.
“I cry bullshit,” Harry said, keeping the Glock out as Ray sat. “Sims Al-Kar is not the type to buck the boss’s orders. He was trying to get Jessyn out of the target zone.” He looked at Ray. “They’re not going to wait.”
“We need to move,” Ray agreed. “Now.”
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Before Harry met Ray…
Meet Ray and Harry in the dark days before their fateful meeting on Ócala.