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The Harry Finn who descended Rija’s east maintenance ladder was a far cry from the Harry Finn who’d climbed up the west.
The broken fingers now kept company with a wrenched knee, at least one cracked rib, a minor concussion, and the reopened suture under his right ear where the sub-q transcomm had been crushed. Not to mention the chronically hot mess of his lower spine.
So it was that, on reaching the bottom of the ladder—and despite the pressing urgency to keep moving—he had to stop.
Here he stood utterly still, resting his sweating forehead against a chilled rung while the waterfall’s mist sprayed over his skin, diffusing the remnants of Neishi’s perfume.
Once the world stabilized enough to move without falling flat, Harry straightened and turned in the direction Mollin had said would lead to Seth Aliombe.
Stepping out from the shadows of the waterfall, he found the east balcony to be empty of guests. The walkway he stood upon circled from the waterfall to a stairway that curved down to the main lounge, a mirror image of the west-side stairs.
Directly in front of him, Rija’s transparent wall showed a view of the glimmering lights of topside Romeria.
And above the hills, a sky yacht skimmed through the night, its sleek lines shimmering in the rain as it neared the club.
Voices rose from below, and Harry turned from the view to look down at the Opal Lounge where Fayla, Mariska, and another woman, stood inside a circle of Rasalkans.
As he watched, Fayla and the woman he didn’t recognize each lifted their right hands in a cutting gesture.
Mariska took a step back, as if in shock, and then as he watched, the surrounding Rasalkans echoed the gesture before all of them, to a woman, turned away from the stricken Mariska with cruel deliberation.
Not quite the bell, book, and candle, but he got the implication.
As the women drifted away, a smattering of individuals wearing the Draco black and red, none of whom seemed to have partaken of the death liquor, coalesced out of a handful of other, smaller groupings.
Harry figured this wasn’t going to go well for Mariska.
As someone who’d carried a badge for most of his life, Harry knew he should care, but he didn’t.
And anyway, he had an appointment to keep, so he turned from the scene unfolding in the lounge and toward the path he hoped would lead him to Seth.
He’d taken all of five halting steps before a familiar voice rose from the stairwell.
“You left before we completed our session.”
Harry’s head dropped to his chest.
And then he turned to see Gajor-Lok approaching from the stairs, freed from the cuffs, blood clotting on what Harry could see of his face, a gun in his gloved hand.
“Listen,” Harry said, “I get you might be a little upset—”
“—but I don’t have time for this. If you want to torture me later, I promise I’ll put it on the calendar.”
“As enjoyable as that sounds,” Lok said, “my time is also limited.” He raised the gun.
Harry braced himself for a shot—and instead heard a dull thud.
As he watched, Gajor Lok’s eyes rolled back in his head, his knees buckled, and the Judon fell flat on his face.
Behind him, León Enris lowered the cane he’d just applied to Lok’s skull.
“What?” Harry said.
León looked at Harry, his eyes unreadable. “You’re welcome.”
“What?” Harry said again.
León’s eyes might have been a cipher, but his lips twitched. “I owed you that much.”
“For Ankhar?” Harry asked, trying to catch up. “Because you didn’t look all that grateful at the time.”
“I owe you,” León said, “for Kaneth Sooks.”
Hearing the name of the murdered prostitute, Harry understood.
As one, both men turned toward the pool where Neishi Fabria had landed.
“Kaneth was a good person,” León said and met Harry’s eyes. “I owed you for him.”
Harry’s head dipped in a nod.
“And now we are even.” Saying this, León spun on his good leg and started for the stairs.
“Wait,” Harry called.
León paused and looked back.
“If you’re smart, and I think you are,” Harry told him, “you’ll want to be leaving this shindig. Like, now.”
León looked at him, as if considering the advice, then nodded.
Harry started off toward the private rooms, making it another few steps before hearing León curse and then ask, “I owe you another favor, don’t I?”
“Not if you don’t move your ass, you don’t,” Harry called back.
León might have responded, but now he’d gotten so close, Harry no longer heard anything but his footsteps on the gleaming floor, in counterpoint, it felt, to the thudding of his heart.
The first room he came upon was empty, as was the next, and the next.
The fourth showed signs of occupation, but no one was inside.
“He’s not in there.”
Harry turned to see Seth—or whoever was wearing Seth’s body at the moment—leaning against the wall of the corridor. He wore a slate-colored suit over a shirt almost the same shade Harry’s had been, before all the sweating and the bleeding.
He was also armed with the standard-issue ISM Colt.
“I was looking for you,” Harry said.
Seth nodded, the scar tissue shining in the warm light. “I was looking for you too.”
Harry began to speak, but as if from a great distance, the sounds of glass breaking, voices shouting, boots thudding, and flash bangs banging erupted from the main lounge.
Which meant Mollin had successfully delivered Harry’s message to Control, and the cavalry had arrived.
Seth also heard the noise. “Your doing?” he asked, nodding toward the sounds of chaos.
“A little,” Harry admitted. “I had help.”
“You’ve made a mess,” Seth told him, raising the gun. “A terrible mess.”
“Do you?” Seth’s head tilted, his expression genuinely curious. “Do you, really?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “And I’m the one who should clean it up, but it’ll be . . . it’ll be hard,” he admitted, his voice catching. “Very hard, because this mess got started a long time ago.”
“In Kelmno,” Seth whispered.
“Before that,” Harry said, taking a careful—so careful—step forward. “We both know it was before that.”
Seth, his eyes fixed on Harry, nodded. “At Bletchley. When you came to my office on Bletchley Station.”
Harry nodded and took another step.
Seth’s eyes, however, were no longer on Harry, or not the Harry in front of him. “You said the Confederation needed my skills,” he recalled.
“It did,” Harry said.
“I didn’t like you.”
“I wasn’t a likable guy.”
“But I trusted you,” Seth said.
“You shouldn’t have.”
Seth’s eyes seemed to blur, then come back into focus, and for this moment he looked so young. “Because you lied.”
“Because I lied,” Harry agreed, at long, long last giving voice to the sin he’d committed, so long ago. “I told you you’d be safe, that I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.” He paused, then let the rest out, “I told you whatever you wanted to hear, because…”
“Because you needed my help,” Seth said, as Harry faltered.
“Yes.” Harry heard the sound of boots on the stairs. “I needed it so much I didn’t tell you what could happen. I didn’t tell you that you could die . . . or worse.”
In front of him, Seth’s head began to shake, back and forth, back and forth.
“And you were right,” Harry continued, before anything or anyone else interfered. “That last day, right before we busted out of the Kelm, you were right when you said it was my fault you were there. You were right, and I knew it. But that’s also why I couldn’t leave you there. Except—I think I did.”
At that, Seth’s head stopped shaking, and though he didn’t look at Harry, he at least looked as if he were listening, so Harry kept going. “I think I did leave you, at least part of you.” He paused and watched the younger man carefully as he added, “I got your body out, but your mind never left the Kelm . . . did you?”
“No.” Seth’s head drooped to one side. “I never did,” he said, then that drooping head tilted on its axis and those young, young eyes focused again on Harry. “So, now what?”
“Now?” Harry took one last step, bringing him so close that Seth’s gun touched his chest, “I say I’m sorry . . . because what I did was wrong.”
“And then what?”
“And then . . .” Slowly, slowly, Harry placed his hand over Seth’s, so both men held the gun, “You can shoot me.” He felt the jerk of the metal hand under his and prepared for the worst. “Or . . . maybe . . . we could try to get the rest of you home. If you want.”
Though the younger man’s body trembled, something in his face changed.
Then Seth’s bionic fingers released the gun, which Harry barely managed to catch before it dropped to the floor. “Okay,” he said, quickly adjusting his grip on the Colt. “Okay. It’ll be—”
“Freeze!” a voice Harry recognized from his previous life called from behind. “In the name of the Inter-Systems Marshals, you are under arrest.”
“Don’t move,” he said to Seth, hoping there was enough Seth in there to listen. “Hold your fire!” he called as he began to turn. “I’m going to—”
“Gun!” a voice, different from the first, shouted.
“Wait, you idiot,” the familiar voice called out. “That’s one of—”
Whatever else she had to say, Harry didn’t hear, because at that point he was looking at the dark stain blossoming over his shirt, just beneath the ribs. Then he was on his knees, and then Seth and one of the marshals—not the one who’d shot him—were easing him down to the floor and Seth was shaking even more.
“Hey, Chance.” Harry grimaced up at one of his former ISM colleagues. “Long time, no see. You remember my partner?” He glanced from her to Seth and back.
“Aliombe, sure,” Chance said, her expression neutral as she tapped her transcomm and requested medical and backup.
“Harry.” Seth leaned over, his metal hand covering the spreading patch on Harry’s shirt. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” Harry told his partner. “It’s okay,” he repeated as the world began to swirl around him. “It was my fault.”
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