Several minutes after Ziio and Rizzo set out with the tainted champagne, Ray, Gizma, and Luz paused outside the third-floor corridor entrance and looked at one another.
“Either of you getting anything from the crowds?”
“Not yet,” Luz said.
“But we are both stronger at projection than reception,” Gizma added.
“Strong offense.” Ray nodded his approval. Still, they needed to know what was happening out there, so he activated his comms. “Slater to Team Szado. Anyone see anything happening, yet?”
/Got a couple green-looking dres in the Opal Lounge,/ Maynard reported.
/Getting some retching up on second,/ a female voice added.
“Great,” Ray said. “What’s happening with the surveillance station?”
/Rizzo, here. Rija’s security staff took the champagne, but I can’t be sure they’re drinking it. Oh. Wait. Hold on./
Ray held, listening to a distant groan, the thumps of footsteps and a sound most he often associated with marines who’d overdone it on shore leave.
/Oh. Oh. Ohhh . . ./ Rizzo’s voice came through muffled, as if he were speaking through his hand. /The observation room is clear. Of people, that is./
“Understood.” Ray turned to his companions. “We are a ‘go.’”
* * *
/Surveillance is down./ Mollin’s voice buzzed in Harry’s head. /You are clear to move out./
“Copy that.” Harry finished wrapping his mangled hand in his tie and picked up Lok’s gun, a projectile weapon of Judon design. “Where are my targets?”
/Rasalkan stationed to your right, Gmell on the left, and—oh. Uh oh./
Harry, halfway to the door, froze. “What uh oh? I hate uh oh.”
/We’re losing the in-house video feed. Hang on./
“Hanging,” Harry said.
A groan had him glancing back to see Gajor Lok shifting, but the concussed Judon remained unconscious, his arm dangling from the cuffs Harry had, with the help of Lok’s mag key, affixed to the back of a chair.
/Okay, so good news bad news,/ Mollin’s voice returned. /Good news, Rija security can’t view the monitors because someone puked on the control panel, causing a short, which caused another short, basically setting off a cascade system failure in the video feeds./
“Gross,” Harry offered. “And the bad news?”
/Since our video piggybacked into Rija’s video, we can’t see anything either. But we still have everyone on comms./
“So, I should just open the door, start shooting, and hope for the best?”
/And let us know how it turns out./
Harry grimaced, but he raised the gun, tapped the control pad with his bandaged hand, and stepped through the door, weapon ready.
“Finally.” Ray’s voice stopped Harry in mid-step and, more importantly, mid-pulling of trigger.
Ray stood directly in front of Harry, flanked by two Rasalkans, each fixing her attention on one of the two guards.
Stepping into the corridor, Harry turned to see the Gmell seated with xer back against the wall, tail thumping and limbs curled as if holding something. On the other side of the door, the Rasalkan protector sat cross-legged, eyes shut, features empty.
That the Gmell had fallen under the redhead’s spell was nothing to sneeze at, but for another Rasalkan to be subverted implied a massive psionic talent.
“Waiting for room service?” Ray quipped.
Harry shook his head. “I need to find Neishi.”
Ray’s eyes rolled. “You’re welcome.”
/Last sighting had Neishi entering a second-floor privacy room with Seth,/ Mollin’s voice burred in their ears. /Opposite side of the central dome from your position./
“You sure you want to go after Neishi?” Ray stepped in front of Harry.
“No choice,” Harry said. “It’s either follow through on the plan or spend the rest of my limited days dodging retaliation for her crimes.”
“Shouldn’t I come with you?”
Harry shook his head. “The fewer people associated with me the better,” he explained, even as he slipped around Ray and took off at a jog.
As he ducked out of the corridor he heard a sour, “Sure, hog all the fun.”
There may have been more, but Harry was already out of range.
* * *
“Where are we?”
In the velvet shadows of a private room, Neishi knelt beside the couch on which Gemini lay, his bionic arm curled close to his chest, his brown eyes black with memories of pain, and worse than pain.
“Someplace quiet,” she told him, fingers brushing his face, his throat, the fingers of his remaining hand.
Everywhere she touched gave him more pain, but unlike the Judon’s treatments, Neishi’s were twined with an unspeakable pleasure.
“The rooms in Kelmno were quiet,” he said, moaning and rolling to his back as her hands continued to work their strange alchemy. “Cold and quiet. Until Lok started to work.”
“Shhh . . .” She pressed the fingers of one hand to his lips. “That was then—”
“It is always!” The words erupted in a hiss as Gemini rolled up and away from Neishi, all the way to his feet, where he drew his sidearm. “In here.” He pointed the weapon at his temple, both the gun and his metallic hand glimmering in the soft light. “It is always because we . . . never . . . left.”
Neishi also rose, carefully, and watched as Gemini lowered the weapon and paced the room in an increasingly erratic pattern.
“We are still inside that cell,” he explained as he walked. “Inside with Lok-Kaija and his tools . . . and the table . . . that table.” He shuddered, looked over. “We hated that table.”
She stepped toward him. “Seth . . .”
“I am NOT Seth!”
“Forgive me,” she amended. “Gemini, I—”
“Wrong again,” he said. “Wrongwrongwrong . . .” The scarred head wove in a sideways figure eight, back and forth, back and forth. “Harry was wrong to take us out. He never should have taken this body out of the Kelm.”
“Yes, he was wrong,” Neishi agreed, her brow furrowed as she tried, and failed, to lock on to one of that body’s two personalities.
“We told him he was making a mistake, but he didn’t listen. And now will you look at us?” He held his arms out wide while he turned in a circle. “Neither Seth nor Gemini . . . fish nor fowl . . . well, maybe foul.” He giggled at the joke. “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” he snickered, turning his face to display first the clean, unblemished side and then the burns.
At which point Neishi decided enough was enough, and with a short step back, delivered a leaping inside kick to the side of the head, sending Seth, or Gemini, or whoever he thought he was, face first into the wall.
Past time, she thought, closing the door on the unconscious human, to speak with Mariska.
Except, on reaching the terrace, Neishi discovered the entire club engulfed in chaos. The crash of breaking glass warred with shouted accusations of poison as a tide of illness and anger slammed into her like a fist.
Retching, she reinforced her psionic shields, deciding a little psi-blindness was a small price to pay in exchange for freedom from empathetic nausea.
The Breeshandra comms were likewise a mass of confusion as one after another of Mariska’s people either fell ill or were attempting to prevent an outbreak of violence, so Neishi closed her comms as well.
Still, she needed a better idea of what was happening, so she headed to the catwalk, which provided both distance from the madness, and the best view of the club.
* * *
/So, what’s your next move?/ Mollin came over Ray’s feed.
Good question, Ray thought. “Where’s Jessyn?” he asked.
/Arrion reported he was taking her to one of the conference rooms,/ Caris’s voice took over. /She needed a break./
“Then that’s where I’ll be,” Ray said. “Luz, Gizma . . . you good?”
“We will be fine,” Gizma replied, not looking away from her target. “Give our regards to Jessyn.”
“I will, and thanks for the assist,” he said, waving his thanks before following Harry’s path toward the dome. “Arrion, I’m coming at you.”
Barely were the words out of his mouth before one of the Draconis soldiers came stumbling in from the terrace. His features were ashen, and he was holding his stomach.
Ray made an end run around the guy, and as he continued toward the third floor’s central dome, he heard the sounds of retching from behind.
“Arrion?” he repeated the call as he came out of the corridor and headed for the elevator. “You on comms?”
/Slater, Maynard here,/ the deep bass rumble responded in place of the Verdunian’s smooth baritone. /Last I saw, Degas was accompanying Domina Jessyn to one of the conference rooms./
“I got that from Caris,” Ray said, stopping in front of the elevator. “Is there a problem?”
/No. I mean, not that I’ve noticed, but I saw Gavin Booth follow them into the corridor. He came right back just a couple minutes later, so I didn’t report. But it’s Booth. You know?/
Ray did know. More, his recent personal experiences with Booth had a cold fist forming in his gut.
“Understood,” he told Maynard, boarding the elevator and pressing the second-floor icon. “Let’s play it safe. You go check on Jessyn, I’ll meet you there.”
As he waited for the elevator, Ray tried to access the—whatever—that he and Jessyn shared, but all he got was a blank.
Then the doors of the lift opened, and Ray found himself face to face with none other than Sims Al-Kar.
“What the hells are you and Jessyn up to?” Sims asked.
/Slater,/ Maynard comm’d in at the same time. /You need to get here, fast. I got Degas with a bullet in his back and no sign of the Domina./
“What?” Ray was pretty sure his bones turned to ice.
“What, what?” Sims asked, frowning, until Ray, glaring, pointed at his earbud.
“How?” he asked Maynard, shoving past Sims so both were on the elevator. “You were watching that corridor. How did someone get in there?”
/There’s another door to the conference room,/ Maynard said. /Staff entrance, looks like. We could really use a medic./
/Tahna here,/ the young Rasalkan came over the comms. /Sorrow for the delay, but we have multiple feeds. I’ve put word through to Slim. He is bringimg Viel to your location./
Ray barely heard her as, in his eyes, the copper siding of the elevator walls seemed to deepen to the color of blood.
“What is it?” Sims asked.
Ray turned to look at the other man. “Arrion’s down—shot—and Jessyn’s missing, not on comms. And,” he added, darkly, “the last anyone saw, your brother was trailing her.”
“No,” Sims said, but the denial was accompanied by a look of horror. “Jessyn . . . no,” he said again.
Ray bared his teeth, but his thoughts were shifting elsewhere.
Jessyn . . .
Her name dropped from his thoughts like a stone, sinking down, down, down . . .
“We have to find her,” Sims was saying. “Fast.”
Ray didn’t reply, but following the inner prompt, ordered the elevator to the basement subfloor D.
He drew his gun, looked at Sims. “You know him,” he said, “so you’d also best know I’ll do whatever it takes to stop him.”
“I do,” Sims said, his voice hoarse. “I do. But—give me a chance. If it’s not—give me a chance.”
“No promises,” Ray said, then turned to stare at the door.
I’m coming, Jessyn . . . The though burned across his psyche so fiercely he barely felt the answering, I know.