The Libra Gambit: Chapter 25

In today's chapter of The Libra Gambit, Harry gets the not-so-grand tour.
To catch up on previous chapters, click HERE.

Chapter 25

Shuffling out of the Charon in the midst of a particularly alcohol-soaked party of Libra employees, Harry wasted no time taking a deep gulp of the metallic station air—and caught a hint of vomit. 

Someone must have missed the space-sick bag, he thought, and counted himself lucky that he, or Bolger, rather, was not yet on janitorial duty.

Stepping out onto the deck, he heard the hum of a motor and turned to his right in time to spy one of the station buses zooming to the right. He couldn’t see inside, but odds were good that bus was carrying Ray. 

He could only hope it was carrying Ray to the tower where the ADs were being held. 

“Hey, Bolger!”

Harry turned from the receding bus to find CO Luddy gesturing to the left. “Station tram’s this way.”

“Thankee,” Harry said with Bolger’s grimace of a grin, and slouched in the direction the rest of the passengers were moving. 

“You know to stop at SR, right?” Luddy asked. 

“I do indeed,”  Harry said, truthfully. Less because of Koz’s slice of Cerberus than because Libra’s Sapient Resources procedures were included in their recruitment literature. No slicing required to learn that new hires stopped at SR to receive their berths and have their Ident cards programmed for their assigned security level. 

Also part of the SR literature was the information that each of the seven rings connecting Libra’s three towers housed its own Sapient Resources Center, as well as rec rooms, medical, and training facilities, commissaries, and docking bays for staff shuttles.

This level of replication provided all the employees ease of access to the facilities, and assured no one service would ever be over-burdened.

Apparently the Libra Consortium went out of its way to keep the staff happy.

Possibly, Harry thought, because the Powers That Be figured happy employees would be less likely to notice, or question, Libra's dealings with GIES.

But he kept that thought buried as he followed Luddy along the gently curved deck, looking out a port to his left to see a veritable swarm of freight carriers and tririsium scoops hovering around one of the station towers.

That, he knew, was Tower Three, where the refinery was located. 

Tower Two, he recalled, held all the cell blocks and inmate facilities, while Tower One housed the staff berth, C&C, Security, and Operations units.

And, he reminded himself, an unknown number of ADs, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. 

All three towers were connected by the seven docking rings—which Harry thought of as donut—and the fastest way to traverse the donuts was via the tram system.

The buses, such as the one that Harry believed had taken Ray, were used strictly for prisoner transport. 

“Good timing."

Luddy's observation brought Harry's attention to the trio of gray-sided cars whooshing to a stop at the curved landing, just as they approached.

The doors, all placed on the inner side of the donut, slid open and Harry, along with the other travelers, waited for the smattering of arriving passengers to clear the way before flowing inside one of the spacious cars. 

All pa…n…ers sta… clear of the cl…ng …rs,” came over the intercom. 

Harry, no stranger to mass transit, automatically translated this to All passengers stand clear of the closing doors. 

Some things, he thought, were universal—like the elbow currently jammed in his kidney.

Fortunately the elbow shifted as soon as the doors of the vehicle slammed shut and the tram whooshed forward, moving almost soundlessly to its next destination.

As the tram sped along its magnetic track, Harry tuned in to the conversations buzzing on all sides.  

Talk of shift assignments, a jinky smelter in the tririsium refinery, a couple of prison gangs dancing on the edge of a turf war… 

Normal conversations and, but for the last, the kind a body might hear in any place of business.

No one, he noted—and he’d been listening—said a word about ADs. 

“…rst stop, Tow… …ne, Lev…l …o. Co…mi…ry T…, HR, Me…al Two …vices, …egal.” 

“This is you,” Luddy said, jerking a chin at the window, and the signage glowing green against the donut’s industrial putty gray.

“Thanks, mate,” Harry said, grinning his crooked grin. “Mebbe I’ll see ya’ around.” 

“Maybe,” Luddy said. “But it's a big ass station. Just remember what I said about the kale,” he added.

“And beware the ghost!” called the Drellan who’d told the story added as Harry stepped off the tram, eliciting a purring chuckle from his Gmell friend. 

Harry tossed the jokesters a cheerful wave, then waited for the tram to pull away before studying his new surroundings.

The same spacious, curving corridor as the docking area, but with a number of closed doors spread out along the inner curve, facing the tram’s track. 

More of the glowing green signs, with arrows pointing the way, and more signs on the doors themselves.

There was, Harry figured, very little chance of  getting lost here, especially since there were only two directions to choose from. 

He didn’t bother to check for cameras, sensors, or the like. Their glimpse into Cerberus indicated the donuts were the least jacked sections of the prison, an allowance for the fact that every member of the staff, of every security clearance, made use of them

As long as a body possessed a valid Ident, that body could traverse the donut without interference. 

A fact made evident by the sapients Harry observed passing through the corridors now. 

Several wore the gray uniforms assigned to operations, others the dark blue of the techs, some black-clad COs and one wearing the same janitorial orange as Harry, somewhat the worse for wear. 

A few sapients were fixated on their palm-comps, others obviously held conversation with someone over their comms, gesturing and talking to the air while sipping from disposable cups bearing the Libra logo of the scales of justice. 

It seemed the branding division of Libra decided to stick with the obvious. 

Even if, in this case, the justice was a lie. 

With a shrug that was part irritation and part an attempt to hitch his pack up, Harry followed the holosign’s direction and turned to his left, sauntering past the second level’s medical station, legal services, and a commissary—the only space that didn’t feature a door, he noted—from which wafted scents of several different species' cuisines, and from which a low buzz of conversation seeped into the causeway. 

It was just past the commissary that he found the door of SR… and proceeded to walk right past it, continuing on until he spied his actual destination, Utility Access Chamber 2-C.

Since a pair of Libra staff dressed in civilian clothes—admins of some sort, he figured—were approaching, he made a show of hauling a palm comp out of his pack, then focused on entering some data until the two had entered the very Sapient Resources office Harry had bypassed.

Once the hall was clear, he turned to the door of the UAC,  pulled out the IDent for Ray Bolger that Mollin had already crafted from his pocket, and pressed it to the door’s lock. 

He barely had time to hope it would work when the lock hummed, the door slid open, and Harry ducked into the chamber, leaving the corridor empty behind him. 

Ten minutes after the crooked, amiable, brown-eyed, brown-haired Bolger entered the chamber, the door slid open to reveal Harry, standing tall, eyes their natural blue and his dark hair touched with silver.

The orange jumpsuit was gone, replaced by the black uniform of a Libra CO.

In his hand he carried a refuse bag, which contained the remains of Bolger, from his brown contacts to his gold tooth to the cleansing rag Harry had used to remove the brown hair dye to the Ident that had gotten him aboard.

He took a moment to assess his surroundings, then turned to head back in the direction of the tram station. 

At the transport's platform, he tossed the refuse bag into a recycling chute and turned to face the track just as the next trio of cars arrived. 

Without a backward glance, he boarded the tram, taking his place among the rest of the travelers for a ride that would, for him, end in Tower Three. 

It was there he meant to join the team of COs working Gamma shift in the refinery, the shift which, according to Koz, would include the inmates from cell block Tango-13—the cell block to which the inmate known as Bree Sandran had been assigned. 

He set a casual hand to one of the safety bars as the tram hummed along the track, stopped, and started again.

As the transport worked its way around the donut, part of Harry took comfort in the scant attention paid him by the members of Libra’s legitimate staff. 

It meant he was just another body, just another uniform. A part of the landscape as unremarkable as the staticky intercom or the sticky floor of the tram. 

But behind the relief in his relative anonymity, his thoughts churned. 

Concern for Ray, worry over Jessyn and Mo, anger at the machinations of GIES and Libra and who knew who else for what they were doing to the ADs… and the very real possibility that this whole prison break (In Space!) could still go pear-shaped, roiled behind CO Solo’s cool facade. 

And deeper still, buried in the heart of that maelstrom of worries, in the still-quiet eye of the storm, there rose a fresh realization, pulsing, and tentative…

The realization that, for the first time in their collective lives,  he, his wife, and his daughter, were all in the same location. 

Too bad said location happened to be a supermax penitentiary.

That, he thought, had to at least make Honorable Mention as one of the Known’s weirdest family reunions. 

Adding a dose of irony to the weird was the fact that Harry had once been responsible for the arrest of more than a few of the Known’s Most Wanted, many of whom would have ended up in stations very similar to Libra. 

Had anyone ever warned Deputy Marshal Harry Finn that someday he would step this far over the line of the law, he would—depending on the year—have gone for a session with the heavy bag, or reached for the nearest bottle. 

Not because he didn’t believe it could happen, but because—and here was another dose of irony—even back then, Harry had already been something of a criminal. 

Not by ConFed, or even the more rigorous Terran standards.

But, by marrying, and then conceiving a child, both Harry and Siane had broken—hells, more like obliterated—the most inviolable of Rasalkan commandments.

Which, he now supposed, meant it probably wasn’t so weird that, in order to reunite his family, he would have to trash a few ConFed laws.

After all, the Rasalkan goddess was all about the balance. 

A balance he almost lost when the tram once again rocked to a stop. 

The broken intercom made an attempt to announce they’d reached Tower Three, a fact Harry deduced by looking out the window and seeing the Tower Three sign beaming bright orange against the donut’s putty-gray wall.

Then the tram doors slid open, and Harry joined the handful of other bodies as they stepped onto the deck. 

This time he angled to the right, along with three others wearing CO uniforms, all heading in the direction of the Tower Three elevator bank. 

On arriving, two chose the leftmost elevator, one the rightmost, which was the same Harry wanted. 

Since he’d rather take this ride alone, he hung back and once again hauled out his palm-comp, making as if to study something while the others flashed their Idents and responded to the Security protocols, which were, as he’d been tutored, a part of Cerberus’ oversight.

As soon as they departed, he headed for the lift. 

[Retinal scan and Ident] the AI prompted, it’s flat, atonal drone making him miss Dorothy. 

Harry held up the Ident for scanning and leaned in for the retinal, praying to the goddess, the Universe, and anyone else out there that Mollin's work would stand up to the AI's eye.

Especially since Harry had no idea how Mollin had managed to build Solo's Ident.

Not that Mollin hadn't explained what he was doing. Harry recalled something about piggybacking on an existing Libra IDent and then via mitosis (at least Harry thought that's what Mollin said) basically spawning a new IDent, in real-time, for Corrections Officer Solo, including appropriate security clearances.

There was a pause, a blip, and just enough time for a bead of sweat to form on Harry’s forehead before the scanner flicked to green. 

[You are recognized and cleared for Refinery Access, CO Solo.]

“Cool,” Harry said, straightening and entering the lift as soon as the doors opened.

He glanced at the wall panel, selected deck eleven, and then almost jumped out of his skin when, as soon as the door’s closed the light’s flickered to red. 

Had something gone wrong? Was he busted? 

Then the AI’s voice boomed through the small space. [Please be advised, you have requested access to a high risk zone. Before continuing to the requested level, you are required to confirm that you are not carrying any powered or projectile weapons. Also confirm you are carrying no lighters, matches, or vapor sticks. In addition, be mindful that perfume, cologne, all hair or pelt sprays, gels or other products with an incendiary base are strictly prohibited.]

“Okay?” Harry said, running a hand over his hair. 

[Please confirm you have heard, understood, and are in compliance with the stated bans, restrictions, and prohibitions.]

“I have heard, understood, and will comply by all—what you said,” Harry affirmed, then his curiosity got the better of him and he asked, “But, can’t you tell if I’m carrying, or wearing cologne? You know, with the sensors, and all?” 

[Sensors are capable of detecting all known flammable substances with a ninety-seven point nine-seven percent accuracy. That allows for a two-point-zero-three chance of a known flammable substance bypassing scans, which is a two-point-zero-three chance more than station admin is comfortable allowing.]

“So say we all,” Harry agreed.

[Commencing descent] the AI replied, and Harry felt the sudden drop of the floor beneath his feet.

He hoped the sudden drop wasn’t a sign of things to come. 

Before Harry met Ray

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