Downstairs, the recording of Neishi’s confession had finally clicked off. Ray felt Jessyn shudder, and then a furious scream sounded from on high.
A scream that ended much closer to the floor.
Something twisted in Ray’s gut, and his vision went sideways.
In the same moment, Jessyn stumbled, and gritting his teeth, he caught and held her close.
“Jessyn? Babe? What happened?”
“Neishi,” she whispered, the name falling cold from her lips. “She is gone.”
“Okay,” he said, forcing his breathing to slow. “I think things are about to get messy—messier—in the lounge. We’d better—” He broke off and raised his weapon as a body came hurling around the edge of the waterfall.
“Did you see that?” Rizzo asked, his pale face paler in the blue light. “That woman! She fell! And then she landed! I’m never gonna be able to unsee it!” He came skidding to a halt as he saw Ray’s gun. “Sorry. Sorry. Please don’t shoot.”
“He won’t,” Jessyn assured, a little weakly.
“Don’t bet on it,” Ray said, but he lowered his weapon. “Let’s get to the extraction point.”
“Oh, please, yes,” Rizzo agreed.
Almost as one, the unlikely trio began creeping around the back of the waterfall in the direction of the loading dock.
They managed to avoid a handful of guests in the throes of champagne-induced illness and a tall Dré in the midst of an intense comm discussion.
When the sounds of a fight rose nearby, Ray pivoted and led the way into a staff corridor. It took a little longer, and he had to open every door they passed looking for the exit, but they also avoided getting involved in a fight.
He was about to open another door when Rizzo jumped. “Mollin wants you on comms,” he said to Ray, pointing at his ear.
“Shit, I forgot,” Ray said, then tapped his own comms to active. “Slater, here. Go ahead.”
/It’s about time,/ Mollin groused, at the same time a boom shook the building, followed by the sounds of breaking glass. /I’ve been trying to reach you, to tell you Uncle Mikey has arrived./
Ray caught the sounds of weapons fire from somewhere. “Yeah, I think we got that. What’s the story on the rest of the team?”
/Everyone but Harry is accounted for and en route to extraction,/ Mollin said. /Better get moving./
“Copy that,” Ray confirmed. “Slater, out.” He cut the comm.
“What about Harry?” Jessyn, who’d lost her earbud, asked.
“Nothing yet,” Ray began, but was interrupted by the echo of boots rushing down both ends of the corridor.
“Well, poop,” Rizzo said.
“Just follow my lead,” Ray told him before calling out, “I’m a friendly!” And he raised his hands, one finger hooked around the gun’s trigger guard. “Hold your fire, we’re friendlies,” he reiterated as two pairs of marshals in full tac gear approached from either side.
“Very friendly,” Rizzo added.
Jessyn gave the pickpocket a gentle pat on the shoulder.
“I’d have to debate that assertion,” a deep voice announced as Ray’s Control appeared. Black coat rippling, shaved head gleaming brown, Doyle eased through the two marshals to confront the trio. “But it’s late,” he added, smiling tightly, “and I’m not much in the mood for a debate, so you can put your hands down.
Ray put his hands down and holstered his weapon.
In the distance, the sounds of breakage diminished, and the pauses between orders to “stand down” lengthened.
Doyle looked at Rizzo.
“He’s with us,” Ray said, then added quietly. “Took you long enough.”
“You’re welcome,” Doyle said, then smiled as he turned to Jessyn. “Domina . . . ?”
“Breeshandra,” Jessyn said. “Jessyn Breeshandra, of House Szado.”
Doyle’s teeth flashed in the dim blue corridor. “An honor and a pleasure to meet you.”
“And you as well,” she said, offering her hand, which Doyle accepted, before bowing over it in a show of manners that had Ray’s mouth hanging open. “Your arrival was quite auspicious, Mr . . .”
“Call me Uncle Mike,” Doyle said.
“Truly?” Her smile lit up the hall, causing Rizzo to sigh and all four of the TacOps team to grin like idiots. “Uncle Mike,” she tried it out, seemingly oblivious to the range of her charms. “Thank you for your help. I hope we will have the chance to speak in less harried circumstances.”
“Not as much as I do. That’s a nasty cut,” Doyle observed, noting the welling blood peeking from the collar of Ray’s jacket. “You’ve seen some action.”
“It would have been much worse, if Ray had not been here,” she assured him.
“Of that I have no doubt,” Doyle replied. “But for now, our drop ship spotted a sky yacht moored outside. I assume that’s your ride?”
“It is,” Ray said, jerking his chin at Rizzo. “And the sooner you’re both on it, the better.”
Jessyn, already turning, came to a sudden halt. “You are not coming with us?”
“Slater’s presence is required elsewhere,” Doyle responded before Ray could. He gestured to the four TacOps. “These marshals will get you safely to your boat.”
“It won’t be long,” Ray promised.
“Very well,” she said at last. “But Raymond, if you are to stay, will you look for—for Mr. Finn?”
“Don’t worry about Harry,” Ray said, glancing at Doyle, who was studiously staring at the ceiling. “He’ll turn up.”
Jessyn nodded, then laid her hand on Ray’s cheek. “I will see you soon—sálufá?”
Sálufá—soul mate, Ray thought—and while this bond was still new, and odd and, yes, problematic—he couldn’t deny the soft click of rightness he felt on hearing the word. “You know it,” he replied, then stood back and waited while Jessyn, Rizzo, and their TacOps escort vanished down the corridor.
“I can’t wait to hear the story behind that,” Doyle said. “In the meantime, we—” then he stopped, held up one finger, before pressing it to his earbud. “Doyle,” he said, half turning from Ray. “You’re fucking kidding me. How bad?”
At the same time, Ray’s earbud came to life. /Mollin to Slater, come back./
“I’m here.” Ray stepped away from Doyle.
“Copy that,” Doyle said, glancing at Ray. “I’m on the way. And do me a solid, contact my on-planet MASINT, let him know our status.”
/I’ve picked up some ISM chatter,/ Mollin said. /It’s not good. Ray . . . it’s Harry./
“Harry? What about—”
/Hold on,/ Mollin cut in. /I have to take an incoming . . ./
/Can’t. More later. Mollin out./
“You sonuf—” Ray bit off the curse as the comm shut down and turned to face Doyle, who was observing him with an air of expectation.
So . . . what did he expect?
Then Ray’s hindbrain started sifting through Mollin’s call, and what he’d overheard of Doyle’s.
You’re fucking kidding me . . . How bad?
I’ve picked up some ISM chatter . . . It’s not good. Ray . . . it’s Harry.
—contact my on-planet MASINT—
—I have to take an incoming—
Ray focused on the here and now. “He’s Zodiac,” he said, meeting Doyle’s gaze. “They’re both Zodiac. Finn and Mollin are yours.” A glimmer of satisfaction danced over the other man’s expression. “You fucker.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Doyle said, unmoved. “But right now, one of mine’s been shot, and I’d like to debrief him before he gets hauled off to surgery, so . . .” He gestured toward the main lounge.
“Shot? Fuck.” Ray turned, started toward the lounge. “But you and me, we’re gonna have words once this is over,”
“Heard that before too,” Doyle said, following.