Some twenty minutes after the scene in the conference room, Mollin had taken his place between Tahna and Caris in Fayla’s C&C.
All three, along with Ray, Jessyn, Fayla, Arrion, and Eineen, were privy to Harry’s part of the plan.
The others in the conference room believed Harry was being sacrificed to Mariska’s will.
Their belief, Fayla had explained, was necessary to sustain the fiction in a building full of Rasalkans.
But of the three seated in Command and Control, only Mollin was aware of the encrypted message sent from his personal comp-comm some forty minutes earlier.
With luck and the will of the Universe, the intended recipient would have decoded the message and be taking whatever steps he deemed appropriate.
* * *
Two floors down, Eineen Marifanne handed out the evening’s assignments, making certain her people were prepared to handle whatever the night may bring.
Tonight, every member of the Sisterhood wore a black rose, while every member of the Brotherhood would be wearing their dragon sigil.
The better, Eineen thought, to identify one’s targets should anything go amiss.
* * *
Alone in her bedroom, Fayla Szado sat in meditation, one hand resting on Neishi’s despised briefcase as she sifted and sorted through possible outcomes to tonight’s actions—and how to turn each one of those outcomes to her own advantage.
* * *
Jessyn sat before the mirrored vanity of her comfort room.
She gathered up the tumble of her curls with a lapis-tipped comb, then loosened the sash of her robe so it slithered to rest at her hips.
Ray’s Saint Christopher medal glowed against her skin as she took up a sponge from a basin of warm scented water.
Slowly, with the air of ancient ceremony, she pressed the sponge to her forehead, her face, her neck, her shoulders.
Silky warmth dripped down her skin as she washed away the previous hours, cleansing herself, body and soul.
By the time the ritual was complete, she would appear untouched by care.
And if that appearance belied what lay beneath, only she—and now Ray—would know her worries.
Worries for her bond mate and her father, both gained in the course of one night and who, in the course of this next night, could both be lost.
She wondered which was the worse fate, to have remained as she was, without choice or hope, or to be granted both, only to see them torn away?
Then Ray was behind her, his hands on her shoulders, and their eyes met in the mirror . . . and she had her answer.
* * *
And downstairs—all the way downstairs—Harry lay in a small, dark space.
Though unconscious still, the sensation was not so different from his time in the Kelm, and that—along with his earlier conversation with Fayla—may have been why his psyche traveled back to that time.
To the dark.
To the cold.
To the Kelm.
* * *
Harry had no idea what day it was, or even what time of day.
He was sitting on the floor of his cell, arms crossed loosely over his knees, displaying a rash of bruises splashed over the old-potato pallor he’d acquired since arriving in Kelmno.
His eyes were closed, his breathing measured, his body as at rest as possible, given the circumstances.
His mind, however, kept busy, retracing (or more, re-retracing) the route between his cell and the Inquisitor’s chamber.
In his mind’s eye he re-recounted the number of occupied cells on the ward and where the waste-disposal ducts were located.
He was in the midst of re-re-estimating how often the the Judon sentries walked the ward when he heard the clanking thud of boots on the grate outside his cell.
Hearing that sound, Harry’s mouth went dry as cotton. His gut, empty though it was, roiled with nausea, and his skin prickled with sweat despite climate controls set a hitch above arctic.
The footsteps stopped at his cell.
He didn’t rise, didn’t cower, did not, in fact, move a muscle—not out of any defiance, but because there was no point in wasting the energy.
So he sat, mouth dry, skin damp, and stomach heaving while the door groaned aside.
But when the cell door opened, the Judon zai standing in it didn’t order him to his feet.
Instead she stood, staring, her blue-green scales seeming to glow above the half-mask all Judon wore in the presence of haij—the Judon’s blanket term for aliens.
“Lok-Kaija thought you would enjoy some company,” she said at last, referring to the Inquisitor who’d been interrogating Harry since his first day in Kelmno. She gestured to her right, where another of the zai stepped into view, holding a shuddering figure.
Harry cursed and scrambled to his knees to catch the man the second zai thrust into the cell.
Lowering him to the deck, Harry saw that Seth’s eyes were glazed, his body wracked with tremors, and his lips moving in a mantra Harry couldn’t read.
It was the first time he’d seen the young man since the Judon had taken them from their shuttle, and the change was shocking enough he barely heard the door closing.
“Ensign?” he began, then shook his head, “Seth.”
Seth’s only response was to squeeze his eyes closed. “I’m sorry,” he said, his own voice barely a whisper.
“For what?” Harry leaned closer, despite the smell of blood, sweat, and worse.
“I told him,” Seth said. “I told him everything. What we are . . . What we’ve been doing to their communications . . . my codes, your operatives . . . everything. I tried . . . I swear to God, I tried not to . . .”
“It’s okay,” Harry lied, and knew Seth knew he was lying—because it was absolutely not okay.
Because in telling Gajor Lok everything he knew, Seth had also given up Harry, who knew a great deal more.
Which meant Gajor Lok would very much want to learn the secrets Harry had, up until now, managed to hold back.
And Harry, who’d already been calculating how much longer he might hold fast (maybe three sessions, more likely two), understood he’d be lucky to get through one more session with Lok-Kaija.
Which meant, in turn, that Harry had to step up his preparations.
“It’s okay,” he said again, this time forcing himself to believe it as he promised, “we are going to get out of here.”
“No,” Seth husked, his head slipping sideways. “There’s no going back. Not for me.”
“Yes,” Harry said, wanting to shake Seth, but didn’t, for fear of adding to the damage. “Yes, there is. Because—listen to me,” he ordered, waiting for Seth’s pained eyes to open before adding, “There is, because this is not your fault. Nothing that happened here is your fault. Do you understand me, Ensign?”
“It’s not my fault,” Seth murmured as his eyes again closed, and Harry believed he’d receded into unconsciousness until the cracked lips opened again to release a last, barely audible, “It’s yours.”