The Gemini Hustle: Chapter 9

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While Ray’s jaw was falling to the floor of the Anubis Room, Harry’s entire psyche was dropping into a scene that had haunted him for the past eighteen standard months. 

The warehouse was like any other warehouse in Sol Sector—ill lit, grimy, and bearing the unique fust that only occurred when machine oil got involved with rat dander and multiplied.

It was also, despite having been decommissioned shortly after the war’s end, filled to bursting with crates, bales, and pallets, all piled high, many with no visible means of support. 

In the midst of this logistical largess, four men stood around a small, square table under the glare of the warehouse lights. 

Two sides of the table were taken by Sims Al-Kar and Gavin Booth, gangbangers from Ócala who’d moved up to the weapons trade and, from the amount of ordnance crammed in the Ceres depot, doing quite well for themselves. 

On the other two sides of the table stood Inter-System Marshals Harry Finn and Seth Aliombe. 

Not that Al-Kar and Booth knew that. 

The two gun merchants believed Harry and Seth were Philip Marlowe and Easy Rawlins, a pair of well-connected brokers currently working a deal for a Judon pirate of some renown. 

“Quite the stash you have here,” Seth was saying, his normally warm mahogany complexion looking a bit wan in the overly blue warehouse lighting. 

Despite the alias, there was nothing easy about the look he cast at the nearest stack of ordinance, which loomed over the table.

Harry followed his partner’s gaze to the stack in question. The stamp on the crates proclaimed them to be filled with Tavor-Taz 100s—a make no longer on the market—and the pile of 50/per containers reached halfway to the ceiling. 

Given the proximity of the pillar of death to where the four men stood, Harry could appreciate Seth’s apprehension.

Some part of Harry understood he wasn’t on Ceres, knew that while his mind was reliving his attempt to net two of the newest and most ruthless gun runners to hit the Confederation in decades, his body sat in a quiet room, breathing in the scents of shampooed carpet and recently spilled blood. 

But knowing didn’t prevent the memory spooling onward.

“Shortages,” Gavin Booth responded to Seth’s comment with a shrug and a smile for Harry that came off as more of a leer. 

Then again, everything about the dark, slender Booth felt like a leer. Even his posture, a crooked sidewise slump, was suggestive of things unpleasant. 

“Most of what you see is spoken for, otherwise I’d be happy to give you the ten-credit tour,” Sims Al-Kar said, fastidiously flicking a bit of fust off his suit jacket’s sleeve. Al-Kar was a tall Human with sepia-toned skin, brown hair and eyes, and classically handsome features. 

He was the face of the two-man operation, as well as something of a clotheshorse. 

Harry’s answering smile was tight, and didn’t quite reach his eyes, but he did set the briefcase he’d brought along on the table with a thud that set the surface shuddering.

* * *

Harry felt his heart shudder, as if in sympathy with that table, and the sensation had him taking a step away from the other three men. 

As he did, the unfolding scene came to a halt, like a holo-vid put on pause. 

“How long has it been, that it still hurts you?” he heard a new voice ask. 

Harry turned away from the long-ago meeting on Pluto’s moon to find a woman watching—a woman who had not been present the day this memory was made. 

He looked at the table, at the three men held frozen in time, and then back at the woman. “This doesn’t feel like a dream,” he said to her.

“Because it is not a dream,” she told him. “This is a memory.” She glanced about herself, sniffing the stale air. “Quite a vivid memory, at that.” 

Harry didn’t know how to respond to that, so instead he asked, “Who are you?” 

“I am the Lady.” 

Harry believed it. Not only for her looks, though she’d been genetically blessed, from her golden brown hair and fawn-toned skin to black eyes so deep they challenged him not to drown in them. And her figure—clad in a simple drape of fabric that might have been made of smoke, for all it concealed—seemed to have been born to make a man’s mind deep-six. 

When the term femme fatale had been coined in the early days of pulp, Harry figured this was the woman they’d had in mind. 

But beneath and beyond the impressive surface, he sensed something more… something powerful. 

“How long has it been?” she asked again.

“Not long enough.” He turned back to where the other men waited, frozen in time.

“Our client has provided the requested price, in platinum,” Harry said, turning the briefcase so it lay flat on the table, the locks facing him. He let his gaze flick to Booth, still wearing that not-quite-smile (which got a lot more not-quite every time Harry looked his way). “But Xylla-Kaija wants visual confirmation of the merchandise before we make the payment.” 

This statement was followed by a breathless moment as all four waited for the cracking sound of a broken deal.

“As well you should,” Al-Kar finally said, nodding to Booth, who hauled up the briefcase he carried.

Keying the combination, the case snapped open with a hiss and there was another, slightly asthmatic space during which Harry waited to see just what was going to come out of that box. 

Booth’s leer upped its ante as he withdrew a prosaic-looking data unit, which Harry accepted with a dead-steady hand before passing it over to Seth for confirmation. His partner activated the device, skimmed the data, and nodded his satisfaction. “This is what we’re looking for.” 

Harry nodded and popped the top of his briefcase, but, instead of turning it around for view, drew out the two ISM-issue Glock pulsers stowed inside. 

The one in his left hand he pointed at Booth, the other he tossed to Seth, who caught it with his familiar grin. 

It was that grin, beaming with a sense of camaraderie, that had Harry looking away, and the scene freezing again. 

“What is it?” The Lady came up at his side.

“I don’t want to do this.” 

And because he didn’t, he caught the first drifting scent of autumn leaves and smoke. The odors, literally burned into his psyche, called him away, and towards a different memory. 

A memory worse, even, than this. 

“You must,” she said simply. 


“If you don’t, you will not walk out of Ankh alive.”

Harry looked at the table, the two gunrunners, and his friend. “And why do you care?” he asked her. 

“I have my reasons,” she told him, before adding, “none of which would matter to a dead man.” 

The breath trapped in his chest escaped in a pained laugh, but Harry returned to the table, and his past.

While Seth flipped the weapon Harry had tossed him over to cover Al-Kar, Harry focused on Booth, who, despite the sudden turn of events, showed a disturbing lack of distress. “I guess this means you don’t work for the Judon pirate?” Booth asked. 

“Good guess,” Harry replied. “We’re ISM. Marshal Aliombe,” he jerked his head towards Seth, “and Detective Inspector Finn. And you, Sims Al-Kar and Gavin Booth, are both under arrest for theft and wrongful disposition of military weaponry, transport of same across systems, falsifying official documents, unlawful occupation of a Confederation Fleet base, and malingering.” 

Seth glanced his way. “Malingering?” 

Harry shrugged. “I always liked the sound of it.” 

“It’s good you enjoy your work,” Booth commented, licking his lips as he eyed Harry. “I do.”

“Seriously?” Harry asked. “Do you practice that in front of a mirror?” 

“As a matter of fact…” Booth’s eyes glinted under the lights. 

“Dude.” Harry resisted the urge to step away and instead grabbed a pair of cuffs from the briefcase, which he held out to his partner—all the while his eyes remained on Booth, lest any of the seeping ick got too close. “Seth, do the honors?” 

“Ah,” Seth said, his voice sounding somehow strange. “About that…” 

“What?” Harry risked a glance at his partner. His partner, who, even as Harry looked, turned his pulser from Al-Kar to point at Harry. “Seth,” he asked. “What gives?” 

“Sorry, partner,” Seth said, the usually rich baritone sounding flatter than Harry was accustomed to, “but Sims and Gavin here have more value to me on the outside than they do in the stir.” 

“More value?” Harry asked as Booth slithered up alongside him and removed the pulser and cuffs from Harry’s possession. “Are you saying they work for you? He works for you?" He pointed at Booth.

“I’m sure it comes as a shock, learning your subordinate is more than the pansy cy-tech you thought he was,” Seth said, his voice flat and expression a mask of disdain. 

Harry’s eyes narrowed at the tone and comment both. “I never thought of you as a pansy.” 

“No?” Seth shrugged. “Maybe not, but you still never would have guessed your partner was working both sides of the law.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said while, at the same time, Booth affixed a cuff to his right wrist, “about that…”

Hearing the words he had uttered moments before echoed, Seth’s brown eyes went hard as flint before asking, “What are you up to, Harry?” 

But before Harry could reply, a wailing alarm sounded, followed by the static-ridden burst of a voice through the warehouse intercom. 

\This is the ISM drop ship Chanticleer to Ceres Depot. All within be advised this station is under lockdown by the Intersystem Marshal TacOps Division. All within are ordered to stand down and await further instruction./

Internally, Harry winced—TacOps was supposed to have already been in place by now. 

Externally, he braced himself as, on the other side of the table, Al-Kar let out a vile curse and, from behind, Harry felt the barrel of his own weapon pressed to the back of his skull, courtesy of Booth. 

“See, the thing is,” Harry said, ignoring Al-Kar, Booth, and the pulser, and focusing entirely on Seth, “I kind of did guess my partner was working both sides of the law…Gemini.” 

Gemini was the code name the IS marshals, CFID, and Force Intel had been using for several months to refer to a top-flight slicer who’d emerged in the years after the war. 

And for the last three-and-change of those years, the years Seth Aliombe had been Harry’s partner, Gemini had been making deeper and deeper inroads into law-enforcement systems. 

In the quiet following Harry’s statement, the warehouse floor groaned under the weight of a drop ship setting down just outside the bay doors. 

Meanwhile, Seth’s face split into a smile that was almost the one Harry knew. “Well, shit, Harry,” the younger man said. “How long have you known?”

“Not very,” Harry admitted. “Not long enough.” 

“Boss?” Al-Kar prompted, looking in the direction of the bay. “What’s the play?”

“Yeah, boss,” Harry asked, “what’s the play?” 

“I say we kill him,” Booth offered, drilling the barrel into Harry’s skull. 

“Hold up, Brother.” Al-Kar held up a hand. “Don’t burn the hostage.” 

“Boss?” This time it was Booth asking. 

Behind him, Harry heard the chime that warned of docking-bay pressurization. 

“I’d say both options have their appeal,” Seth said to his men as he studied Harry’s face. “Except for this.” And in one smooth move he lifted his weapon and fired at the stack of Tavor-Taz rifles he’d been eying earlier. 

Nothing happened. 

“The fuck?” Al-Kar’s dark eyes glared across the table towards Harry.

“The pulsers aren’t charged,” Seth explained. 

“Seemed prudent,” Harry added, and then, before either Al-Kar or Booth went for their own, no doubt fully charged weapons, shot his elbow up into Booth’s nose, then picked up the nearest briefcase and tossed it at Al-Kar, who instinctively tried to catch it, which gave Harry time to kick the table straight into Al-Kar’s groin. 

Al-Kar doubled over, emitting a string of inarticulate noises.

Harry heard movement behind him and spun around just in time for his right hand to catch the incoming knife Booth had drawn, getting a sliced palm in the bargain, but he held fast to the blade and brought his left around in a cross, so the metal of the cuff still locked onto it struck Booth’s jaw hard enough to draw blood.

While Booth fell away, making his own inarticulate sounds (more of pleasure than pain, which caused a shudder to run up Harry’s spine), Harry turned again, already stepping towards Seth, but stumbled to a halt as he saw what his partner had in his hand. 

“So,” Seth said, aiming his Glock—the one that fired bullets—at Harry’s chest, “here we are.” 

Harry froze, held both hands out to his sides, letting the knife drop with a too-loud clatter to the deck. “Seth,” he said. “I’m pretty sure you don’t want to fire that thing in here.” At least, Harry hoped he didn’t. 

As risky as pulsers were in pressurized atmospheres—atmospheres such as those found in a moon-based warehouse like this one—bullets were even worse. 

Bullets in a pressurized atmo that also happened to contain a battle carrier’s worth of weaponry were an order of magnitude worse. 

“Are you sure, Harry?” Seth’s head tilted, the normally calm features twisted in something close to pain. 

As he spoke, the bay doors finally slid open and the TacOps team came hurtling in, each bootstep echoing through the place. 

“Listen to that,” Harry said, jerking his head in the direction of the incoming TacOps team. “That’s the sound of thirty hyped TacOps troops. You shoot me, they take you out—assuming you hit me and not something that goes boom.” 

“All good points,” Seth said, his head still tilted at an unfamiliar angle. “Then again,” he added, his eyes dripping with hatred, “it might be worth it.” 

His finger tightened on the trigger.

Which, no doubt, would have been it for Harry, except that while Seth and Harry were focused on one another, other forces were also in motion. 

Forces like those hyped TacOps marshals, the first of whom came pounding into the open space around the table. 

Also forces like Sims Al-Kar, who, like Harry, held a healthy respect for what live rounds could do in a pressurized dome on a moon with no atmosphere. 

And lastly, forces such as Gavin Booth, who had slunk off into the stacks after being clocked by Harry, only to return rolling a cask of refined ioprine which he shoved across the deck, in Harry’s direction.

In this case, the first force, a young TacOps marshal with bright red hair and muscles on her muscles, raced in, her plasma shield already activated, and shoved Harry away from the line of fire so he slammed up against the base of the stacked pile of Tavor-Taz crates, hard enough to stun. 

Simultaneously, the second force, Sims Al-Kar, limped up from behind Seth and forced his gun down, likely hoping to discharge the weapon at the deck rather than anything that might rupture. 

Except that was also when the cask rolled between Seth and the floor, so when the bullet was loosed, it hit neither Harry nor the deck, but the rolling cask of ioprine. 

And the funny thing about ioprine was that, in its natural state, it was toxic as hell, but also inert. Once it got through the refining process, however, it became one of the key elements in sub-light fuel—and highly combustible. 

Harry only had a chance to see the first wave of the explosion before the shockwave hit, knocking him end over end away from the open space.

Once again, everything stopped. 

“I don’t understand,” the Lady said. “What happened?”

“Blacked out,” he explained, and tapped the side of his head as, around them, the warehouse, which had erupted into an impressionist’s sketch of color, fire, and noise, faded to black. “The first blast tossed me pretty far back. Al-Kar and Booth, too, so I’m told…” 

“But there is more,” she said as he hesitated.

“There always is,” he said, and went on to explain that the explosion didn’t just knock Harry down. It also knocked over the pile of Tavor-Taz crates, one of which landed on Harry’s spine.

It was the pain that woke him, and he really wished it hadn’t. And when he did wake, amid the noise and heat and smoke, he thought he saw two figures—Al-Kar and Booth?—moving through the inferno, holding something up between them.

He also saw, perhaps five yards from where he'd fallen, a disembodied arm, the unguided hand still holding a gun, which was pointed directly at Harry.

That was the last thing he saw before the world faded again to a black he fully expected to be final.

It wasn’t, but the doctors said it had been close. 

They’d also said he was lucky to be able to walk. 

“I see,” the Lady said as the warehouse dissipated to fog, or smoke, around them. 

Harry didn’t see, but before he could say so, she’d placed her hand against the side of his head. 

His head that, a heartbeat later, rose from the table to find Captain Eineen Marifanne pushing a cup of coffee in front of him.

Of the Lady there was no sign.

He let out a long, slow breath then, because it was there, took a significant swig of the coffee, looked at the mirror, then back at the captain. 

“The Lady will not get in your way,” Marifanne told him. “But neither will she help you. She also wants you to understand the one you seek is an asset of great value to the Black Rose Sisterhood. To touch him is to sign your own death warrant.”

“Oddly,” Harry said, turning his eyes to the mirror, “I’m okay with that.” 

And on the other side of that mirror, the Lady who’d forced Harry into his past watched, and waited, and considered.

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Before Harry met Ray…

Meet Ray and Harry in the dark days before their fateful meeting on Ócala.

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