The Libra Gambit: Chapter 1

Welcome to The Libra Gambit, sequel to The Gemini Hustle.
This first draft will remain online for your reading pleasure. The only differences between this edition and the final, published version are some trimming, two chapters switched places, and, of course, edits for grammar. The story as a whole remains the same.
Anyone who wishes to purchase the final, professionally edited edition, click HERE.


To: Agent Ray Slater, Agent Harry Finn, Agent Mollin - CFSS Gypsy Moth
From: Colonel M. Doyle, Zodiac Division Control - CFSS Harpocretes
Re:  Operative Orion/Loki/ Status Update
Universal System Date: 16.12.74


This is a not-so-friendly reminder that all three of you are now eight days past check-in. It’s called a standard operating procedure for a reason.

For all I know, Harry succumbed to that GSW he took during the Gemini arrest, Mollin’s run off to join the Polaris Abbey crew, and Ray got himself perforated in a knife fight.


To: Agent Ray Slater, Agent Harry Finn, Mollin - CFSS Gypsy Moth

From: Colonel Liam Doyle, Director, Zodiac Division - CFSS Harpocretes
Re: Status Update
Universal System Date: 16.21.74


Put down the drinks with tiny umbrellas  and reply with your status.

To: Agent Ray Slater, Agent Harry Finn, Agent Mollin - CFSS Gypsy Moth

From: Colonel Liam Doyle, Director, Zodiac Division - CFSS Harpocretes
Re: Status Update
Universal System Date: 16.35.74


Have all my transmissions gone astray? They must have, or else I’m sure I would have received a reply telling me you’re free for a new assignment.

Expecting reply with status and location ASAP.


To: Agent Ray Slater, Agent Harry Finn, Agent Mollin - CFSS Gypsy Moth

From: Colonel Liam Doyle, Director, Zodiac Division - CFSS Harpocretes
Re: Status Update
Universal System Date: 16.43.74


Enough, already. 

You have thirty hours to report in before I cut off all your collective credit accounts… and Mollin’s subscription to the Polaris Abbey live stream.

Chapter 1

Inyll System
Surresh Prime
Universal System Date 16.61.74


Harry Finn slipped through the laser-streaked dark, weapon in hand.

The battle continued to rage some twenty meters distant, but he’d killed or shaken off all but one of the enemy. 

Unfortunately, that one was also the most dangerous—and Harry’s pulser was almost out of juice. 

Knowing stealth was his only chance, he eased between two stone columns, pocked by time and battle damage, and engraved with ancient hieroglyphs that, in less dire circumstances, he might have been interested in studying. 

Sweat ran down his spine, which ached like a bad tooth, reminding him of the crate that had fallen on it, over two standard years ago. 

That familiar pain was echoed by a throb in his right side from the bullet he’d taken a little over three weeks back.

His heart beat a timpani so loud, he was surprised his pursuer couldn’t hear it. 

Pressing himself against one of the columns, he raised the pulser in his left hand.  

/Have I mentioned this is a terrible idea?/ a terse voice emerged from the comm implant behind Harry’s ear, reminding him that Mollin, his cy-tech and near-constant companion for the past several months, was listening in on the battle. 

“Only about ninety-eight times…” Harry murmured under his breath, knowing the sensitive mic would pick up every word beneath the crescendo of singing weapons and distant shouts.

/It bears repeating… /

“So you’ve said, about ninety-eight times.”

/… since the guy you’re trying to get to is paranoid in the extreme. Chances are his security feeds tagged and identified you ten, no, more like four, seconds after you set foot on his property./

“Uh huh.” Harry would have rolled his eyes, but he needed them to track the enemy’s movements.

/Did I also mention the Wizard hires the kind of security who pound first, and ask questions, never?/

“It may have come up,” Harry murmured.

/I’m just saying…/

“Busy now,” Harry cut in as the air around him became still. 

It was the kind of stillness he associated with that last remaining enemy.

Three, he thought, flexing his fingers over the pulser’s trigger. 


One swift move brought Harry from his hiding place, where he loosed a series of bright green shots at his enemy, while the other guy sent smattering of orange pulses at Harry. 

Multiple pings declared solid-mass hits from both pulsers, and both men lowered their weapons to check their respective health statuses on the vests they’d donned for the game.

When the count wound down, Harry had a full life left to the other man’s half. “I win,” he said, giving his pulser a finger twirl, like a Sheriff from Ancient Earth.

Ray Slater, Harry’s fellow Zodiac agent, and his opponent in the game of laser tag, grimaced. “I’m not dead, yet, old man.” 

“But your pulser is.” Harry pointed at the sidearm. 

“So’s yours.” 

“But I have a half-life more than you, so I—”

Die Imperial scum!” 

Both men spun towards the enthusiastic cry, in time for the rest of their health to be thoroughly zapped by the spatter of blue light shooting from Jessyn’s pulser. 

The buzz of her shots was followed by a dull beep, telling Harry he was dead. 

Ray’s vest echoed the sound and both men lowered their pulsers to face the wild-haired, gleaming eyed warrior clad in black leggings, green high tops and a matching green leather jacket. 

Harry grinned, thinking how his daughter bore little resemblance to the sleek and sophisticated Naihad—a Rasalkan combination of ambassador, courtesan and spy—he’d first met on Ócala, only two days before he took that bullet.

“How can you have full HP?” Ray’s brows furrowed as he pointed his dead pulser at Jessyn’s. 

Overhead, a buzzer erupted, and the ambient light swelled from almost nil to My eyes, my eyes! announcing the end of the round of laser tag.

“Oh, well,” Jessyn’s shoulders lifted in a shrug while Harry’s eyes squinted against the light. “I—”

Cheated,” Ray cut in. “You used your empathic woo-woo to help your side. Like when you got us out of that shooting gallery in Ankh,” he added, referring to the club where Jessyn had masked Ray and Harry from an entire hit squad. 

It had been an eventful few days, Harry recalled. Not only had he gotten shot and found a daughter he’d never before met, but he’d also gained a son-in-law, of sorts, when Jessyn and Ray became bond mates. 

“I did no such thing.” Jessyn said to Ray, now. “I merely created an emotional blank space from time to time.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Ray said.

“It means that, while players on your teams could see me, or Tal or Vidi or Axllynn,” she indicated three of her team nearby, “they wouldn’t perceive us as a threat.” 

“So, you cheated,” Ray affirmed.

“I evened the odds,” she corrected her bond mate as the holo projector proclaimed Jessyn’s blue team the winners of the match.  “Since the orange and green teams each had you or Harry, and your accompanying skill sets.”

Harry had to give Jessyn props for not being specific about those skill sets. Especially since the aforementioned Tal, Vidi, and Axllynn were even now rushing over to give Jessyn a three-way hug. 

All three players were well under the drinking age, and one wore a set of exo-braces on xer legs. 

“She does make friends,” Harry commented as the children tugged Jessyn along with them, chattering all the way. 

“Unlike us,” Ray agreed.

/Is it safe to talk, yet?/ Mollin asked, and from Ray’s grimace, Harry figured Mollin had looped the younger agent into the conversation, this time. 

“Sure,” Harry said as he and Ray began to mosey out of the arena, a few paces behind Jessyn and her posse. 

/Great. Because you might want to know that Doyle’s sent another transmission./

“Not a problem,” Ray assured. 

/He threatened to cut the purse strings / Mollin said. /And my Polaris Abbey subscription/

“The horror,” Harry murmured.

“Was it a comm or a text transmission?” Ray asked.


“Then we’re okay for now. Doyle likes to make threats, but it’s not serious unless he’s haranguing in real-time.” Ray said this with the voice of experience, and since Ray had been working in the Zodiac Division for five years to Harry’s eighteen months, Harry had to take his word for it. 

“See? No problem.” Harry said as he and Ray walked through the over-sized door. Once there, they  joined the rest of the players in removing their vests and pulsers before laying them on the conveyor belt that swept them through sterilization and into the staging room on the other side of the arena.

/There’s still the issue of this being a really bad idea/ Mollin came back, sounding, to Harry, like a broken holo. 

“I’d like to point out, it was your idea,” Harry said, facing Ray as he unbuckled his vest. “We’d never have come to Surresh Prime if you hadn’t suggested our only chance of slicing into the Libra Super-Max was with the help of this Wizard guy.”

/What I told you—while impaired by twenty-straight hours in cy-space and a half-bottle of Slater’s scotch—/

“You’re the one who drank my booze?” Ray asked, eyes narrowing as he dropped his vest and pulser onto the gently rumbling conveyer belt. 

“You know it wasn’t me,” Harry said. “And I don’t think Jessyn’s a fan of Blue Label.”

Ray rolled his eyes and crossed to the other side of the room, where Jessyn continued to chat with her new best friends-slash-fan club. 

/As I was saying/ Mollin’s aggrieved voice came back, /was that this entire scheme was dead in the ground without the Wizard, which meant it’s dead, period, because the Wizard does not like ConFed Law and he especially doesn’t like ConFed Marshals./ 

“First, I think you meant dead in the water,” Harry said while he placed his gear on the conveyer, “and second, I’m not a marshal, anymore.” 

Which was when a voice from behind said, “Marshal Harry Finn?” 

/I guess everyone didn’t get the memo/ Mollin snarked. 

Harry grimaced, then turned to face the person who’d spoken, who he judged to be an employee of the arcade, as she wore the staff tee-shirt emblazoned with the Oz VRcade logo. 

Petite, black and black, copper complexion. Late twenties, early thirties, he judged, and mostly Human. 

The not-Human bits were cybernetic, of an impressive variety and scope.

A few—such as the exo-skeletal mods running from her right shoulder to a set of fingernails that could probably perform laser surgery—were on the ConFed banned list.

One of her eyes eye shone yellow over sharp cheekbones, contrasting with the black, organic eye. 

“Not a marshal anymore,” he said, responding to her statement. “But the rest is accurate.” 

Ex-marshal Harry Finn,” she corrected herself. “I’m head of security for Oz.”

“Nice to meet you Ms. Head of Security for Oz. Is any part of that your given name?” 

She favored him with a steady look. “My given name is Shayleen. My friends call my Shay.”

“Well then—”

“But we’re not friends.” 

“Okay.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. Waited.

The steady look took on an edge. “You’re not here to play games.” 

“No,” he agreed. “I’m here to see your boss.” 

/Bad. Idea/ Mollin hissed.

“He wants to see you, too,” the woman said. “You, and your partner, over there.” She flicked a glance to where Ray stood near Jessyn, but angled so he could observe Harry and Shayleen’s conversation.

“He’s not my partner,” Harry said, the denial automatic. 

“Your boy toy, then.” 

“A guy could do worse,” Harry decided. 

The woman didn’t smile, but the skin around her biological eye crinkled. “Let’s go.” 

“What about our other friend?” he asked, indicating Jessyn, who appeared to be engaged in an intense conversation with Axllynn. 

Shayleen glanced over, then her head tilted, and her biological eye’s focus changed in a way that told Harry the security officer was hooked up to her own version of Mollin. 

Even as he thought this, Shayleen’s gaze shifted back to Harry. “She can keep playing,” she told him, and started towards the wall on the opposite side of the room from the conveyer belt, and the escalator that lead to the upper floors. 

Curious, Harry followed, giving Ray a jerk of the head. 

Ray’s chin tipped before he turned his eyes to Jessyn, who glanced up from her coterie, dipping her head in the slightest of nods. 

They didn’t say a word but, with the psionic bond the two shared, Harry supposed they didn’t need to.

As soon as Ray joined them at what looked like a very impressive stretch of blank wall, Harry made the introductions. “Ray, this is Shayleen, head of security for Oz. Shayleen, Ray.”

The two exchanged almost identical speculative once-overs followed by actually identical dips of the head before Shayleen tapped the wall, which slid open, to reveal an elevator. Inside waited a Milleon who, from the Oz logo on the sash they wore over their upper thorax, was part of Shayleen’s team. 

“It’s just like Bond holo,” Ray observed. 

“Wrong movie,” Harry countered, indicating the stencil of Oz’s famed Emerald City etched into the elevator’s back panel, echoing the logo on Shayleen’s shirt and the Milleon’s sash.

“Inside,” Shayleen said. 

Harry and Ray looked at each other, shrugged, and stepped onto the lift. 

And though Mollin said nothing, Harry could hear the foot stomp that was the Cherrii's equivalent of a facepalm. 

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Before Harry met Ray…

Meet Ray and Harry in the dark days before their fateful meeting on Ócala.

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