Harry’s eyes flew open.
He took a deep breath and recognized the odors of metal and biofuel, felt the scratch of industrial carpet on his cheek and the soft rumble of a vehicle in motion.
His head pounded with the echo of Ray’s blow.
Not the Kelm, he thought, but the trunk of Fayla’s car, on his way to Rija.
You are awake.
In the dark, Harry felt the brush of Fayla’s consciousness. Was it your idea to have Ray knock me out?
We believed a little injury would support the fiction we are weaving for Mariska.
Harry’s lips twitched. Method acting.
I don’t understand that reference.
Not important. He brushed his own sarcastic comment aside. How’s the team?
A moment . . .
Her psionic voice paused, and then . . .
/TESTING, TESTING . . ./ Mollin’s actual voice exploded behind Harry’s ear. /HARRY, DO YOU READ?/
“Gahh! Christ, man!”
/DOES THAT MEAN—/
“Yes,” he hissed through locked teeth. “I hear you. Now turn . . . it . . . down.”
/COPY THAT. REDUCing volume now. How’s that?/
“. . . Better.”
/The sub-q must be more sensitive than the external models./
/Reading you five by five. Good luck, Harry. Mollin out./
Harry’s skull was still ringing when Fayla once again made her presence felt. As you might guess from that last, the team is ready. But what about you? Are you prepared?
Instinctively, he tugged at the restraints holding his wrists behind his back. Great. Fine. Just like old times.
You must have had some fascinating old times, Fayla’s psionic voice observed, just before the steady thrum of the car’s engine shifted and Harry’s world angled, telling him they were moving uphill.
Harry figured that was it for the conversation, then Fayla surprised him with a sudden, May the Mother be with you.
He couldn’t help himself. You mean the Force.
Never mind. Thanks, he added, as he felt the car slow, for everything.
And then her presence slid away, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.
Outside, the thud of the car door was followed by muffled voices, and then the trunk opening to a blast of moist, cool air, a smattering of raindrops, and altogether too much light, given where he’d been—and where he was about to go.
* * *
From the back seat of a different car, Ray looked past Arrion’s silhouette at the wheel to see the beacon of Rija, glowing atop the hills.
He took in a breath laced with Jessyn’s perfume, felt her leg pressed against his, and turned from the view of their destination to where Harry’s last-minute guest was also staring at the gleaming nightclub.
Ray had to admit, Rizzo the Dip cleaned up pretty good, and in his slick suit and tamed hair, bore little resemblance to the scruffy pickpocket Ray had first seen in the Needle.
He could only hope Rizzo would be able to pull off his part of Harry’s batshit crazy plan. “So, you know the drill,” he said, though they’d gone over the scenario several times since departing Fayla’s high rise.
Rizzo bobbed his head. “I keep an eye out for the mark—”
“But don’t approach him—” Ray cut in
“—until after I get confirmation he’s been searched,” Rizzo continued.
The last thing anyone wanted was for Rizzo to make his delivery before Mariska’s people patted Harry down.
“Then we’re good,” Ray said.
“And be careful,” Jessyn added.
“Careful is my superpower,” the pickpocket replied as Arrion pulled into the line of cars snaking up the drive. “This is where I leave you,” he said as the car slowed, but before opening the door, he glanced at Jessyn. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Domina.”
“Likewise,” she said, smiling. “And please, call me Jessyn.”
Ray was pretty sure he saw little hearts popping from Rizzo’s eyes as he beamed at the Nhaiad. “Rizzo?” he prompted. “We’re on the clock.”
“Right,” the little man nodded again, popped the door, and slid out of the slowly moving car, only to wobble and drop out of site. “I’m okay,” he called, popping back up and pulling the door closed before he made his separate way to the entrance.
“Maybe you should try to soften the dazzle,” Ray suggested to Jessyn. “We don’t want to cause any accidents.”
“Funny man,” she said, lacing her fingers with his.
Up front, Arrion tapped his earbud. “Control, Degas. Rizzo is on his way to the building. Domina Jessyn, Slater, and I are approaching the main entrance.”
/Degas, Control, copy that,/ Mollin’s voice came back over the comms. /Harry’s already been brought inside so Operation Trojan Horse is a go. Hope you’re all ready./
“Not in the least,” Arrion, Ray, and Jessyn replied at once.
/Well, as long as you’re all on the same page,/ Mollin said. /Control, out./
* * *
Inside the nightclub, word of Harry’s arrival had not yet reached Gemini. He’d arrived early, and now stood at the balcony rail of Rija’s second floor, facing a three-story transparent wall that provided a stunning view of hills, the Nuph River, and the spires of the Romeria beyond.
Inside, the club seamed to echo the landscape, with walls of gleaming stone, cunningly twisted curls of metal, lush plantings, and furniture that appeared to have been worn into their present shape by the elements.
There was even a waterfall thundering from the heights of the third floor and shooting reflections from slender crystals that speared from the first floor pool.
From where he stood, Gemini felt the cool mist of water, breathed the clean damp, and watched guests spilling onto the gleaming floor below, each and every one dressed, quite literally, to kill.
Because tonight, the entire establishment had been reserved for select members of the Black Rose and Draconis syndicates.
Being one of those select members—and one of the architects of the coming alliance—Gemini’s presence had been required.
He should have been honored by the invitation, but given the Finn-shaped hole burning in his gut, it was tough to get into the moment. So, rather than join the crowds, he stayed where he was, glaring down at the glittering assemblage.
A ripple near the entrance had him turning to spy Mariska Breeshandra entering, glittering in a sheath of netted gemstones that set his right eye to watering.
“I see our dama has arrived.” Neishi Fabria, who herself was a vision, glowing in a catsuit of dull bronze, slid up on Gemini’s left while Sims and Gavin settled to his right.
“About time,” Gavin said.
“And when did you develop an interest in politics?” Gemini asked the green-eyed enforcer.
“I haven’t.” Gavin shrugged. “I just care that as soon as the deal is done, I get to play.” He glanced at Sims. “Isn’t that right, brother?”
“I promised you, didn’t I?” Sims asked, then jerked his head toward the lounge, where Mariska had come to a stop in front of a giant of a man wearing Draconis colors. “Who’s Mariska talking to?”
“Dré Altimus,” Gemini said, after a brief shuffle through his mental files. “One of the more powerful members of the Draconis syndicate.”
As he watched, Mariska and Altimus made nice, offering very measured nods and what passed for pleasantries between formerly warring crime syndicates.
Losing interest in the political dance, Gemini began to turn his attention elsewhere when a veiled figure stepped up to join Altimus.
And in that moment, seeing that particular Judon, Gemini’s control loosened, then slipped, then fell away completely.
“He’s here,” Seth whispered.
* * *
“Dama Mariska,” Dré Altimus gestured to the Judon at his side. “Allow me to present Lok-Kaija, my head of security and intelligence.”
“Kaija?” Mariska’s eyebrows rose in curiosity as she met Lok’s eyes—the only part of his face she could see between the shimmering metal of his hood and veil.
“The rank is a relic of the war,” the Judon replied dryly. “Sadly, my talents have little place in a galaxy at peace.”
“The galaxy is never truly at peace,” Altimus countered.
Mariska smiled. “The Brotherhood is fortunate to have you,” she began, just as Gemini’s bone-deep jolt of painangerfear slammed into her.
Glancing upwards, she saw Neishi and Gavin herding the quivering Gemini, or Seth—who could tell at this point—out of sight.
“Dama?” Altimus asked. “Is there something—”
“Dama, my sorrow to interrupt.” One of the club’s runners came to a halt as Asha, Mariska’s protector, stepped in his way.
Mariska warned Asha off with a glance before she turned her attention to the Cherrii server, a youth so nervous his pigment was changing shades faster than an aurora.
“It—I—there is a delivery for you, Dama Mariska. At the loading dock.”
Her eyes narrowed. “A delivery?”
The lad gulped. “Actually . . . a human. Actually.”
“A human?” Lok echoed.
Altimus shook his head. “Dama, you throw the most interesting parties.”