For Harry, waking up came as something of a surprise, given, in his experience, most people didn’t recover from their brains bleeding out of their ears.
Waking also, he soon came to realize, hurt.
“Anyone get the license number of the skimmer that hit me?”
At the question, Harry turned his head—carefully—and saw Ray easing his way to sitting from the swoop of couch on the other side of the table.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. His hand slipped off his stomach to stroke the soft fabric he recognized as belonging to one of the three sofa’s set around the holo-table that, last he recalled, featured a floating green head.
“You still alive, old man?”
Harry replied to the query with a one-finger salute, and felt a little thrill of accomplishment.
“That was very unpleasant,” Jessyn said.
Hearing his daughter’s voice, Harry sprang from prone to sitting, and Ray from sitting to standing.
A heartbeat later, Ray was sitting again, and Harry sliding from the edge of the couch to the floor.
From here, at least, he could see his daughter, who occupied the third sofa. She sat upright, back straight, legs folded in a lotus position, eyes closed, brow furrowed.
“Jess?” Ray said at the same time Harry asked “How?”
Both queries came out as a croak.
Jessyn’s eyes opened, but the furrowed brow remained, but before she could speak, a shadow moved through the gap in the sofa’s to Harry’s right.
“Oh good. You’re awake,” the shadow said, and Harry’s eyes caught up to the shadow being a male of Human extraction. His cop-brain then noted the male of Human extraction was slightly less than medium height, with an indoor-pale complexion, and a mop of curly black hair.
He wore jeans and a well-worn t-shirt, faded red sneakers, and a sheepish expression.
He carried a glass filled with some sort of fluorescent orange liquid in each hand.
“Nice to know someone’s happy to see us,” Ray said, eying the newcomer. “I thought that green headed freak was going to kill us.”
“One, that green-headed freak was an homage to the original holo in The Wizard of Oz,” the guy said. “I use it for dealings with people I don’t want seeing my face. And two,” he said, crossing to where Jessyn sat, “killing you was on the list of possible outcomes. Before.”
As he spoke, he offered Jessyn one of the two glasses.
“Before what?” Ray asked, visibly bristling.
The guy didn’t respond straight off, but remained where he was, angled towards Harry, but looking at Jessyn.
Harry, watching his daughter, saw her expression shift towards comprehension. “Before he knew harming you would harm me,” she guessed, accepting the offered glass.
The guy’s head dipped in acknowledgment.
“So, you’re the Wizard,” Harry managed, pleased to hear something like actual syllables come out of his mouth. “Doctor Kzzzl… Kozavvo…” He gave up.
The man winced, then grimaced, then huffed out a pained breath. “I don’t use that name anymore,” he said, crossing to where Harry remained on the floor. Crouching, he held out the second glass. “Call me Koz.”
Harry eyed the tall draft of liquid, then met Koz’s deep brown eyes.
“It’s safe,” Koz told him.
“What’s in it?” Ray asked.
“Electrolytes,” Koz replied, not looking in the younger operative’s direction. “And a few other things.”
Harry still didn’t take the glass, not until Jessyn, over a curse from Ray, tipped up her own portion and took a long draught of the orange goo.
“A little sweet,” she said, licking her lips, “but effective.”
Saying this, she unfolded her legs and rose to her feet with the preternatural grace Harry had come to associate with her Naihad training.
Then she looked down at her father, raised her brows, and dipped her chin.
It was an expression Harry had seen before, on her mother’s face, whenever Siane thought he was being an idiot.
Harry blinked, and took the glass from the silently observing Koz.
Though his hand shook, he managed to get it to his lips.
As first swallow hit the back of his throat he choked, coughed, and glared at his daughter. “A little sweet?”
“That’s the honey,” Koz told him. “It comes from the purple trillium flower of New Verdun, and is commonly used as a restorative after intense exercise, sporting events, or long illnesses.”
“Uh huh.” Harry blinked, again, this time to clear the tears caused by choking and the coughing. Still, choking and tearing aside, he did feel somewhat restored, so Harry braced himself and downed the rest of the liquid. “Gah.”
“Don’t suppose you have a little more of that laying around?” Ray asked as Harry made a few more cat-with-a-hairball sounds.
“I’ve got you covered,” a new voice slid into the mix, from the same direction Koz had emerged.
While Harry didn’t recognize the amused speaker—a woman sporting bright pink hair and a matching catsuit that left nothing to the imagination—it was clear Ray did, because he was back on his feet in a heartbeat. He stayed there just long enough to say, “Mo?” before plopping back down on the sofa.
Jessyn, along with the pink lady, rushed to his side.
Harry looked at Koz, even now taking the empty glass from his hand, and felt a little cheated.
“Mo,” Jessyn said as Ray accepted his portion of potion. “I am so pleased to see you, again.”
Ray, glass halfway to his lips, froze. “You’ve met?”
“Briefly,” Mo told him as both women sat down, sandwiching Ray between them. “Drink. It’ll all make more sense if you’re not on the verge of fainting again.”
“I did not faint,” Ray protested. “I passed out. Because of the sonic murder machine.”
Mo tipped her head in a way that had Ray scowling, but he lifted the glass and downed the contents in three long gulps.
“Showoff,” Harry said, levering himself up and onto the couch.
Koz straightened and took a measured step back.
“Could be worse.” Ray judged, eying his empty glass before addressing Koz. “So, about that sonic murder machine…”
“Self-defense,” Koz responded to the not-a-question. “I thought you were with GIES.”
“Geese?” Jessyn asked, visibly confused. “Like the Terran birds?”
“Genetic Investigation, Enforcement, and Security” Koz explained.
“It’s a relatively new branch of ConFed security,” Harry added. “A controversial branch.”
“Not controversial enough,” was Mo’s opinion.
“Why did you think we were the gene police?” Ray asked.
“Not you, specifically.” Koz glanced at Ray. “But you?” He turned back to Harry. “I almost asked Shay to take you out in the elevator.”
“But you didn’t,” Harry noted. “And thanks for that, by the way.”
“Thank Mo,” Koz said. “I held back because she knew him.” He jerked his chin at Ray. “She thought I should give you both a chance.”
“A chance?” Ray glared at Mo. “Just a chance?”
“Like I said to your lady, here…” Mo winked at Jessyn “… I know what you do for a living, and Koz is a friend, too. Rock.” She pointed at Ray. “Hard place.” She jerked her thumb at Koz.
“But it wasn’t Ray who worried you,” Jessyn said to Koz. “Not really. It’s Harry. You… fear him.”
“Yes,” came the simple answer.
“Why?” Ray asked.
“Because he’s one of the reasons GIES exists,” Koz snapped, and when his gaze returned to Harry this time, they were filled with anger. “Maybe the reason, after you closed the Tammas Ren case.”
“Tammas Ren,” Ray echoed, frowning. “That’s the name the green glowy head mentioned, right before everything went red.”
“It is,” Harry agreed, beginning to feel ill, again.
“Would you like to tell them about it?” Koz asked, meeting his gaze.
What Harry would have liked was to forget he’d ever met Tammas Ren.
Unfortunately, and not unlike the nightmares he still had about that particular meeting, forgetting wasn’t an option.
“Technically, the Ren thing wasn’t a case,” he said, glancing from Koz to the trio on the other side of the table. “It was more an accident.”
“An accident,” Koz scoffed. “I’ve seen your records, Marshal Finn. Your case files, your arrest reports, your clearance rates. Do you really expect me to believe you weren’t hunting Ren for the Interstellar Marshals?”
“I can’t tell you what to believe,” Harry said. “I can only tell you that the day I crossed Ren’s path, the only thing I was hunting was the bottom of a bottle. Tammas Ren was the one doing the hunting.”
“But, who is Tammas Ren?” Jessyn asked.
“Serial killer,” Harry said shortly. “One who’d decided to upgrade himself… one part at a time.”
“Ach,” Ray said.
Jessyn’s gilded brown skin went ashen. “Like Neishi?” she asked, referring to a particularly murderous individual Harry had dealt with on Ócala.
“No,” Harry shook his head. “Neishi did what she did for thrills. Tammas was—broken,” he said at last. “He thought—he told me—that he’d been found wanting, so he’d taken it upon himself to upgrade.”
“Damn,” Mo said, her eyes flicking from Harry, to Koz, and back.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Though, to his credit, Ren only killed people he believed were ready to die. I wasn’t at my best, after the war,” he explained as Jessyn let out a soft sound of distress, then cleared his throat. “Afterwards… after Ren’s arrest,” he clarified, “a series of DNA tests revealed Tammas had taken … bits … from thirty-seven males of five unique species, all reported missing over the course of eight years.”
Now he returned his attention to Koz, still watching Harry with dark, wary eyes. “Tammas Ren was brilliant, in his way. He was also thoroughly insane, and responsible for the deaths of thirty-seven sapients, and I was going to be number thirty-eight. That is why I stopped him, and that is why I placed him under arrest. It had nothing to do with his being a clone.” He paused, waited a beat, then let it out. “Like you.”
Koz actually jumped. “I’m not talking about me,” he said as Ray let out a soft whistle. “I’m not—I never said anything about—”
“You know about the Ren case,” Harry pushed himself to his feet as Koz skipped backwards, almost colliding with the table. “You’re in a frothing panic about GIES—enough of a panic to consider murdering two men you’ve never met, but not so much you’d risk an innocent…” Here he indicated Jessyn, “… to save your own. That tells me two things, Dr. Kosto—Koz,” he corrected himself. “One, that you are a decent person, and two, you are also a clone.”
At which point everybody in the room went as still as a held breath while the word “clone” reverberated through the air between Harry and Koz.
Then the stillness broke, and the held breath was released.
In Koz’s case, that release came out in a pained huff that was—almost—a laugh as he said, “We prefer to be called ADs.”
“AD,” Ray echoed Koz’s statement, unable to recall the source of the acronym because clones, clone-growing, and other clone-related activities were well outside his operational parameters.
A fact for which he thanked all the gods of all the planets in the Known.
“Short for Artificially Designed Human Life Form,” Koz explained.
“Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?” Ray quipped, then winced as Mo’s elbow hit him in the ribs.
“For your information,” Mo said as he glared, “Artificially Designed Human Life Form is a far more accurate designation than clone.”
“Why?” Ray asked, easing away from Mo’s killer elbow.
“Unlike the technique for cloning, which is now relegated to growing transplant organs,” Koz said, “ADs aren’t created from a single individual’s DNA.”
“Which makes them each unique,” Jessyn said, surprising Ray. “Since every AD is created from varied combinations of multiple progenitors, they are as varied as any biologically created life.”
“True,” Harry agreed, sending his daughter a look that Ray would have given a stack of credits to interpret. “And, as Tammas Ren explained—quite forcefully—the process for AD development is a lot mroe selective than biological reproduction.”
“And yet, crazy serial killer,” Ray pointed out, then cursed as he took another elbow to the ribs, this time from Jessyn.
“That said,” Harry said, “I have spent a lifetime pursuing violent offenders. A lot of them,” he added with feeling. “And to date Tammas Ren was the only clone—sorry—AD, in the lot. He was an outlier,” he said focusing on Koz. “In every possible way.”
“What happened to him?” Jessyn asked, watching her father. “Ren?”
Harry turned to Jessyn. “He was convicted, sentenced to a facility for the criminally insane on Titan. And less than a month into his sentence, he was found hanging from a bedsheet in his cell.”
“The inquest concluded it was self-termination,” Koz said bitterly.
“I heard,” Harry said.
“You weren’t called in?” Mo asked.
“Not my jurisdiction,” Harry said. “And, I was in rehab at the time.”
While Mo and Koz digested that, Ray considered Harry.
It didn’t escape him that he’d been granted a deeper—and more disturbing—snapshot of Harry’s life in the past few minutes than he’d been allowed in three full weeks of sharing a mid-sized spaceship.
Then again, Ray reminded himself, it’s not like he’d been inclined to share much of his own history during those three weeks in close—often too close—quarters.
A history, he thought now, that included Mo, the shocking pink blast from his past, who was even now studying Harry with an expression Ray recognized.
Because he recognized it, and wished he didn’t, Ray let his gaze track to his left, where Jessyn sat, studying Koz.
Her expression was relaxed, but there was a lot of turbulence underneath.
Since his own emotions were running a little on the jagged side, Ray could relate. “It was supposed to be a simple prison break,” he heard himself mutter.
“What?” Koz turned to face him.
“Did you say prison break?” Mo asked.
Harry didn’t quite slap his palm to his face, but Ray sensed Jessyn thought he wanted to.
Nope, nothing at all confusing about this relationship.
“Long story, and the reason we came looking for you,” Harry said to Koz. “One I’d be happy to explain… maybe over a cup of coffee?”
“You had to say coffee.” Mo shook her head in a swirl of pink.
“I can quit anytime I want,” Koz told her, with the ease of long affection.
How long, Ray couldn’t know, as he and Mo had made only the most sporadic contacts over the past few years.
“We all have our poisons,” Harry observed.
“Speaking of poisons,” Ray grabbed onto that lifeline and raised the empty glass he still held. “I don’t’t suppose you have anything stronger than orange electrolytes around here?”
“If you mean alcohol, I don’t drink,” Koz told him. “And the VRcade is a dry establishment.”
“I noticed,” Ray said. Dryly.
To his left, Mo snorted, while Jessyn patted his thigh in sympathy.
Harry’s lips quirked. “Maybe you and Mo can find a less dry establishment,” he suggested. “Catch up on old times while Jessyn and I explain our situation to Koz.”
“I don’t think—” Koz began.
“Please,” Jessyn cut in, rising from the sofa to meet the AD’s troubled gaze. “All we ask is that you listen. If, after, you choose not to help us, we will honor that, and leave you in peace.”
“Just like that?” Koz asked, disbelief and bitterness warring in his tone. “Even knowing the ConFed has as much as declared me an illegal life form?”
“Even knowing,” Jessyn said.
“Especially knowing,” Harry added, sharing a glance with Jessyn.
Understandable, Ray thought, as Jessyn’s half-Human status made her anathema to most Rasalkans. “They mean it,” he said to Koz as he rose to stand with Jessyn. “For us, at least, no means no.”
At which point Mo stood up as well. “Koz, you know me, and I’m telling you, if Ray says it, it’s so.” As she spoke, she threw an arm over his shoulders and gave a squeeze. “He may be a hot-headed pain in the ass, but he’s an honest hot-headed pain in the ass.”
“Thanks,” Ray said.
“I like your friend,” Harry commented, earning a smile and another appraising study from Mo.
Which was more than enough to spur Ray into action.
“Drink,” he said Mo. “Now.”
She rolled her eyes, then tipped her head towards Koz. “Well?”
Koz didn’t look happy, but… “I’ll listen,” he said to Harry. “But don’t get your hopes up.”
“You spins the wheel and you takes your chances,” Harry replied philosophically. “Now, about that coffee?”
Ray gave Harry an eye roll of his own before looking at Jessyn who, sensing his regard, turned from studying her father. Her lips quirked as she met his questioning gaze. “We will be fine,” she told him. “Enjoy yourselves.” Her eyes then shifted to Mo. “My thanks for your assistance, earlier. Please know, my honor is yours.”
“And I will guard it as my own,” Mo replied, crossing a hand over her heart in the Rasalkan fashion.
Ray got the impression something major had just flown over his head, and a sly smile from Harry confirmed it.
Since there was little hope of getting anything useful out of Harry, and every hope of getting a drink in his near future, he decided not to ask.
“Have fun,” Harry called as Ray and Mo started for the elevator. “Don’t stay out too late. Or burn down the bar. Or start any riots.”
To which Ray replied with the same one-fingered salute Harry had offered him on waking, post sonic-murder-machine.
It was only as they boarded the lift, and the doors began to close that he recalled something important.
Turning to Mo, who for once looked more thoughtful than smug, he asked, “I don’t suppose you know where my weapons are?”
At that, her thoughtful expression became resigned. “At least some things never change.”
Thank you so much for continuing this journey with Ray and Harry. LG and I hope these dips into another world provide some respite in a tough time.
For those who are able, UNICEF is working to protect children and families affected by COVID-19.