The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 5

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While Ray was sitting down to dinner in the Gypsy Moth, Harry was standing in the bathroom of suite 419 of The Big Sleep Inn & Suites—Clean Rooms! Weekly Rates!—located on Romeria’s fifth level, shedding the remaining bits of Victor Raz. 

The eyes were the first to go, starting with the black disposable lens, revealing a pupil that contracted sharply against the sudden onslaught of institutional hotel light. 

Next came the glowing cybernetic “eye.” The demonic red covering was more than cosmetic; it was, in fact, a piece of liquid-imaging tech that fit over the eyeball. This made it both very convincing and almost impossible to remove in one piece. 

But for it to do its job, it had to remain in one piece, so Harry held the eye open with his right hand and performed what felt like the next thing to ocular surgery with his left, placing the galaxy’s tiniest suction cup over the balefully glowing pupil and, holding his breath, pulled it free. 

He had to work not to gag at the sucking pressure on his eyeball, and it wasn’t until he set the ocular recorder into its dedicated tray that he let himself breathe again. 

From here it was a simple matter of shedding the accessories. 

Weaponry, check.

The vial of liquid tracer he’d poured into León’s drink, check.

The wand affixed to the underside of his right forearm that vaporized any liquid it came in contact with, check.

This last was the latest evolution of a device Human stage magicians had used back in the day to make water or milk disappear. Soon after the trick hit the stage, grifters and cardsharps of Old Earth appropriated it as a method for convincing marks they were dealing with a drunkard.

Neither of those were the reason Harry used it. 

With the disguise, weapons, and miscellaneous gimcracks of spycraft disposed of, Harry at long last dove into the hotel’s pint-sized shower, angling so that the spray struck the layers of scar tissue which also happened to be the point on his back where the Gmell’s stool had struck. 

While the water was working its limited magic on those aches, he took care to scrub at the holes in his bicep left by that same Gmell’s talons. 

Could be worse, he told himself, xe could have bitten him, and a Gmell’s talons were sharp, sure, but they were nothing to their teeth. 

Between the aches, wounds, and Raz-toned skin dye needing to be sloughed away—not to mention the lingering eau de sewage—the water had gone cold by the time Harry accepted he was as clean as he was going to get in one dousing, and shut the taps off. 

With the last of the pirate washed down the drain, the man who stepped out of the stall was a tall, rangy specimen with a physique that spoke to serious PT, dark hair sheened by silver, and glacial blue eyes that managed not to meet themselves in the steam-edged mirror. 

With practiced efficiency, he disinfected and sealed the talon wounds using the hotel’s complimentary first aid kit. On the whole, he appreciated this feature more than the auto-hem machine and bedside reading unit loaded with seventy-nine unique religious tracts from around the galaxy.

Once his arm was dealt with, Harry left the bathroom, carrying the tray in which he’d placed the red recording “eye.” This he took to the desk that sat in front of the closed privacy screen of the room’s lone window, where he’d set up a scanner and mobile comp/comm. He inserted the tray into the scanner, which in turn uploaded everything Victor Raz had seen during his brief but eventful evening in The Needle to the comp. 

Once uploaded, Harry entered the appropriate commcodes and transmitted the data to another comp/comm, this one located in upside Romeria. 

As soon as he received confirmation the transmission had been received, Harry turned off the lights, dropped the towel he’d wrapped around his waist, and let himself fall face first on the bed. 

A moment later he grunted, shifted, and removed the yo-yo he’d left atop the mattress earlier that day. He tossed the toy onto the nightstand, where it landed next to an old still photo of a young woman with a crooked smile. The picture was creased where it had been folded repeatedly over the years, and one edge was singed, but her laughing eyes still shone warm from the gilded terracotta features.

With the yo-yo out of the way, Harry used what little energy remained to confirm his Glock was still in its place between the mattress and headboard before crawling between the sheets. But even as his eyes closed, the pain in his back persisted, the dull, hot pulse a constant reminder of why he was in a low-rent hotel in the middle level of Romeria—and a long, long way from home.

Over nineteen Standard months before walking into The Needle under the guise of Victor Raz, Harry Finn sat on the porch steps of his cabin, set amid the Pennsylvania Mountains of Earth. 

It wasn’t the original structure. 

That one had burned to the ground some twenty-five years ago, and while Harry had rebuilt the place, he seldom spent much time in it, preferring to flop in his Toronto flat when he was on planet. 

The cabin was where he came to forget, or to heal.

Since arriving a week ago, he’d largely failed at the first—was making some progress at the second. 

For now, however, he was taking a crack at just being, and the mountains seemed to want to cooperate. The air was cool, the trees shading towards russet, and every breath filled with the odd smoke-and-spice smell that said autumn was happening. 

A long time ago, on a night like this, he’d have looked out on those woods and been more than content. 

The porch on which he sat faced east, so the sun, already tilting westward, cast a long shadow behind the man who’d just stepped out of the sleek black glider that had settled soundlessly a few dozen meters from where Harry was perched, watching. 

“You’re a hard man to find,” the glider’s driver announced as he approached, the warm brown of his shaved head gleaming warmer under the touch of the setting Sol, which also sparked off his black-lensed shades. 

“Not hard enough.” Harry continued to whittle at the stick in his right hand while the other man came up even with the porch stairs.

“What are you making?” The newcomer, seemingly unperturbed by the rude greeting, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his long, flapping, black-as-secrets coat. 

Harry slid the knife along the wood and another fragrant shaving dropped down next to the cane that lay along the steps at his side. “A toothpick.” 

The visitor grunted, stepped up onto the stairs, turned around, and copped a squat on the same step as Harry. Obviously not one to take a hint. But then, he never had been. 

“What are you doing here, Colonel?” 

The other man didn’t move, but Harry got the impression the eyes behind the shades slid in his direction. “I wasn’t sure you’d remember me.” 

“You’re a memorable sort.” 

Which was, to say the least, an understatement, given Harry Finn’s last conversation with his unwanted visitor had been a wartime debrief over seven years ago, one involving Harry’s role in an unlikely escape from the Judon’s POW station. 

So unlikely was this escape, in fact, that Harry had been suspected of collusion with the enemy. At least, that was the impression Harry had gotten from the man sitting next to him.

“You left an impression yourself,” the colonel said, angling himself in Harry’s direction—also an understatement, given that said debrief had ended with Harry’s fist intersecting with the colonel’s face. 

Harry supposed he’d been lucky the superior officer hadn’t filed charges. “You still haven’t said what you want,” he said, pocketing the knife and exchanging his rapidly diminishing stick for the cane, which he held lightly in his right hand. 

The colonel’s response was a question of his own. “Do you ever think about Kelmno?” 

At the mention of the POW station, Harry’s expression shut down. “I try very hard never to think about Kelmno.” 

Then, in a move more defensive than he’d like to admit, he turned his attention out to the woods, where a rustle of branches was followed by the appearance of a doe and her fawn, treading carefully out of the trees to scent the air. Harry fixed his attention on the two white-tailed deer as if he hadn’t grown up watching them roam the woods his family cultivated and nurtured, part of the Finn lumber plantation that his mother, brother, and sister still maintained. 

But not Harry. 

Harry, the middle child and proverbial black sheep, had gone for the law, and, but for his memorable stint with Fleet Intelligence during the war, had remained with the Inter-Systems Marshal Service since the day he graduated from Earth’s Northern Hemisphere U, with degrees in Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychopathy and Psychology. 

And until ten months ago, Harry figured he’d be carrying that badge until he died. 

“Couldn’t get farther from The Kelm than this,” the man at his side commented, drawing Harry’s unwilling thoughts back to his original question. “I wonder, was it this place? Knowing you had all this to come back to, that made you lead that escape?” 

“I didn’t lead—I didn’t do it alone,” Harry said, playing the colonel’s game of not directly answering the question. 

“Like you didn’t break the HaQ line in the Yssymyn System alone. Or scuttle the Corretti smuggling ring alone, last year,” the other man said with a dip of a nod. “Your partner was—quite the cryptographer.” 

“Yes. He was.” And that, Harry thought, was enough of the small talk. “What,” he said again, “do you want?”

“I want to track down Gemini.” 

Harry didn’t notice himself moving, but suddenly he was no longer sitting on the step, but standing on the grass at the base of the porch, struggling to ignore the grinding protest in his spine, the lingering weakness of his legs. 

“Gemini is dead,” he said, leaning heavily on the cane and willing himself not to shake. “But if you want to see it bad enough, you can visit his arm. I hear they’ve got it frozen in an ISM Evidence locker.” 

“As enjoyable as that might be,” the colonel said, rising to face Harry, “turns out he’s not as dead as everyone thought. I have intel—reliable intel—indicating the slicer known as Gemini is very much alive, and is making himself useful to a criminal body my division has been trying to destabilize for over five years. And we were doing a damn good job of it until your boy went to work for them, around six months back.” 

The other man’s certainty was palpable, but so was the ice running up Harry’s damaged spine. “You can’t be sure of that.” 

“Yes,” he countered, “I can. I am. He’s out there, and I mean to take him down. Permanently.” He paused, reached into his coat, and pulled out a cigar. “Do you want in?” 

Harry’s hand on the cane’s grip tightened to the point of pain. “I think you know the answer to that.” 

“Before you get too invested,” the colonel cautioned, “there are no free rides on my squad. You want to work with Zodiac Division, you’ll have to clear the Force Intel physical.” He shot a meaningful look at Harry’s cane. 

Harry’s lip curled in response. The long rivalry between FI and the Inter-System Marshals included continued debates as to which branch had the toughest PT requirements. “I can do that.” 

“You’ll have to do it clean.” The other man’s expression was no longer easy. “You know what I’m talking about.” 

Of course Harry knew what he was talking about. “I haven’t had a relapse in six years. My record stands.” 

“It does,” the colonel agreed, again glancing at the cane. “But pain…changes things. Changes people.” 

“Yes,” Harry said, suddenly looking away, into the trees, now little more than silhouettes in the deepening evening, “I know.” 

For a moment, both men were silent. 

“A’ight,” the colonel said at last. “You’re in. Provisionally. Be at the Justin Trudeau Spaceport tomorrow at 1130 hours. Your transport will be waiting.” 

“Transport? To where?”

“Basic training, Finn.” The dark face split in a grin as the colonel shoved the unlit cigar between his teeth. “I want you in fighting trim the second we get a line on your friend.” 

“I’ll be ready,” Harry promised. “But one thing,” he added as the porch lights, programmed for sunset, began to glow. “Gemini is not my friend.” 

“No,” the colonel said, looking down at the cane, then up, “I guess he’s not.”

“Who’s the girl?” 

The question pulled Harry from sleep so fast he had the Glock in his hand and aimed at the speaker before his eyes were all the way open. 

Whoa, stand down, Finn. Or wake up.” 

A voice—an irritated voice—an irritated voice Harry recognized—pierced the fog of dreams.

Harry blinked the sleep from his eyes. “Mollin?” When the speaker became less shadowy blob and more coppery bulk, he lowered the gun. “Sorry.” 

“Feeling a bit jumpy, are we?” From where he stood examining the old still photo on the bedside table, the Cherrii cy-tech flicked on the table lamp, causing Harry’s eyes to shutter themselves in self-preservation. “And who’s the girl in the picture?”

“No one,” Harry said to the back of his eyelids. “And didn’t it occur to you to use the buzzer on the door before you hacked the lock?” 

“I did. Repeatedly.” Mollin, seemingly accepting the deflection, gave up on his question and crossed back to the desk where Harry’s comp/comm sat. “I also knocked,” he added, leaning over and activating the C&C. “I considered breaking out in song, but the neighbors might not have been pleased.” 

Harry, who’d heard Mollin sing, was sure the neighbors wouldn’t have been pleased. “What time is it, anyway?” he asked, setting the Glock on the side table, next to the yo-yo and the picture Mollin was so curious about. 

“Just past oh nine hundred, local.” Mollin turned to face the Human. “And may I say, you look more colorful than my grandsire during the Change.” 

Harry glanced down. What wasn’t covered by the sheet showed an assortment of bruises, abrasions, and bits of Victor dye that hadn’t quite given up. “You should see the other guy—guys.” He heaved himself out of bed with the sheet wrapped around his middle. A half-second’s thought reminded him where the dresser was, and he headed in that direction. 

“Thanks to Victor’s ocular, I already have.” Mollin’s expression remained bland, even for a Still—the vernacular for members of the Cherrii species born with a rare genetic defect that prevented their skin from changing color with their emotions. The disability set Mollin apart in a species for which dermal shadings served as literal body language, and individuals like Mollin were distanced not only by the inability to take part in a nuanced conversation, but also by the fact that their fellow Cherrii couldn’t tell if they were speaking the truth, since the shading also served as a built-in lie detector. 

The lack made life hell for Stills back home, so most, like Mollin, sought to make a life beyond their home system. In his case, that life was in Force Intel’s cyber division. 

“Did you have to burn the bar down?” Mollin asked, in a tone Harry felt made up for the lack of dermal shading. 

“I didn’t mean to. It just…happened.” Harry paused in the midst of gathering up a pair of sweats and looked over to the desk. “How bad?”

“Three confirmed dead, two presumed.” He glanced at Harry, who, as Victor, was one of the two so presumed. “Injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to smoke inhalation to stab wounds and assorted blunt-force trauma.” Mollin waited a beat before continuing. “Are you sure we should go forward with this op?” 

“Do we have a choice?” 

Mollin seemed to consider the question, no doubt also considering the response of their Control to same, and then shook his head 

“Then we go through with it,” Harry said, slipping into the sweats.

“Right.” Mollin returned his attention to the screen in front of him. “Your mark, León Enris, made it out alive. I waited until the med-techs released him before activating the isotonic tracer you put in his drink. Currently, the tracer puts him at a level three flat.”

“Uptown for a guy who was recruiting at The Needle,” Harry observed, digging through the drawer. 

“That’s what I thought. We have another thirteen hours before the tracer dissipates, give or take,” Mollin continued, “so you’d better hope he runs home to Papa.”

“In this case it might be Mama,” Harry said, coming up with a faded Northern Hem U t-shirt. “Or Sister, given what I heard from Rizzo the Dip last night. Speaking of, I need any information you can get me on a nightclub named Ankh.” 

“Will the club be your target?” Mollin asked, taking a seat at the desk's chair. 

“It might be a target. I’d rather see who León reports to first. If there’s a chance I can make my play on a smaller front—store, laundry, off-site gambling counter—somewhere with less collateral to damage, I’ll take it.” 

Mollin nodded, tapped a few keys on the C&C, and pulled up the record of the previous night’s events. “What about this guy?” he asked, easing aside to show Harry the frozen image of Slater. 

It was the moment Slater and Harry-as-Victor had hauled up the floor grate before making their foray into the sewers. 

“What about him?” Harry shrugged into the shirt. 

Mollin’s eyes rolled up, seeking patience from the Universe. “Do you want me to do a run on him?”

“No.” Harry shook his head, sat at the edge of the bed, and put on his socks and a pair of training shoes. “He’s some flavor of law enforcement, and digging might raise interest elsewhere. But check into a DB found in the Cailat District yesterday, late afternoon. And a missing person, Kaneth Sooks.” 

“And you want me to look into a dead body and a missing person because…”

“Because they’re ripples.” 

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You don’t have to know. Even I don’t know yet. Just look into it.” 

Mollin's shoulders hunched. “I should have let you sleep longer.” 

“I got plenty of sleep,” Harry mumbled, heading into the bathroom. 

Moments later, Mollin heard the taps turn on. “More like you had plenty of bad dreams,” he said over the splashing ensuing from the other room. “Like that Danish!” 

The rush of water ceased abruptly. 

“Say again?” Harry asked, re-emerging and scrubbing his face with a towel. 

“Like the Danish,” Mollin said, glancing up. “You know, the guy who said he could be counted a king of infinite space, except he had bad dreams.”

“You’re talking about Hamlet,” Harry said. “And he was a Dane, not a Danish, and—you know what? Not important.” He tossed the towel into the bathroom behind him and headed for the front door. 

Mollin looked up. “Where are you going?”

“The hotel gym. PT.” Harry grabbed his wrist unit and comm piece off the desk. The watch went over his right wrist and the comm piece into his left ear. “If León starts to move, ping me.” 

“Copy that.” Mollin waved over his shoulder as Harry headed out the door. “See if you can bring back a Danish from the breakfast room.”

“I’ll get right on that,” Harry said as the door closed behind him. 

“He’s not going to bring back a Danish,” Mollin muttered to the comp as it flashed the precinct reports on the body found in Caillat—one Kaneth Sooks, age nineteen, known prostitute. 

Seeing what had been done to the young man, Mollin figured a Danish wouldn’t sit well, anyway.

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