The Libra Gambit: Chapter 45

Hold onto something as The Libra Gambit enters the darkest night.

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Chapter 45

Inside the auction room, Bader had just reached the control panel when series of crashes had her looking to the far side of the room in time to see the two battling men fall over the bar and out of sight.

Which would make it a lot harder to know if—when—Slater killed Rikert.

“Well, shit,” she muttered, looking at the panel, then over to the bar, where the sounds had gotten a lot more quiet.

Too quiet.

And for the first time since deciding to ram a bus through her career to save the guy, she wondered if, just maybe, Slater wasn’t up to the job.

As the man with the  terrifying visage squeezed her wrist, Jessyn attempted to replicate her attack on Rikert—multiplying the pain before bestowing it on her enemy.

But, where Rikert had immediately succumbed to the empathic assault, the man holding her fast simply grimaced, and squeezed harder.

So Jessyn fell back on another strategy—an empathic persuasion she had developed over many years—that Ray called her Jedi mind trick.

"You don't want to hurt me,” she said, lowering every barrier as she focused her will on the man before.

"I don't want to hurt you," Vanzale echoed, his hand on her wrist slackening.

Jessyn took a relieved breath. “In fact you want to... to…” Then she froze, her free hand flying to her throat.

"I want to what?" she heard him ask.

She would gladly have answered, but for the fact that some invisible force had cut off most of her air.

Spots formed in her vision and she clawed at a slender wire that was not there—and understood.

She had opened herself to Ray’s battle.

And it was not going well.

Ray, struggling to keep Rikert’s hands from tightening the garrote any further, barely noticed the sharp pang in his wrist.

It was, after all, only one of the sensations warring for his attention, from the weight of the frothing maniac crouching on top of him to the wet warmth spreading beneath his back where a shard of glass had sliced through his skin, to the heady cocktail of spilled liquors, to the way his hands slipped as he continued to press Rikert’s fists together, preventing the other man from pulling the wire completely closed over Ray’s windpipe.

But even as he pushed with everything he had, Rikert’s hands moved another millimeter apart, and the wire closed that much more, narrowing Ray’s access to air even further.

It was in that moment, as the wire began to cut into the flesh of his throat, Ray accepted the truth.

This was not a fight he could win.

Not hand-to-hand.

Not against Rikert’s strength.

Eventually, Ray’s grip would falter, a muscle in his arm twitch, and the garrote tighten again.

And when that happened, even the last, feeble trickle of air Ray currently enjoyed would be cut off.

And it would be over.

Because this battle of strength against strength was not a fight Ray could win.

Mo didn’t think she’d ever run faster in her life.

Well, there was that time in the Drellan tropics, with the mgroth, but besides that, she was pretty sure this was the fastest she’d run.

Certainly it was the fastest she’d run at the head of what felt like her own personal army.

If one could count fifteen ADs, one rebellious GIES agent, and a pod of Neocols as an army.

She glanced to the Neocol at her right, still surprised at how fast the tentacled being could move.

“You see them as cargo?"

“Is it not how you see them?” the lead Neocol had asked in return.

The question hung in the air like a challenge.

Or, no, Mo thought.

A test.

“No,” she said simply. “I see them as people.”

And then she’d had to work hard not to shriek when the Neocol, with shark-like speed, scythed through the ADs standing between it and Mo to wrap a tentacle around her wrist.

“Explain,” the creature had ordered.

So Mo had explained—quickly and with only a few edits—who she was and what they were doing on Libra.

And then the Neocol had done likewise, and that was when Mo learned that Amalpha—the lead Neocol—and her pod were an investigative unit assigned to the Confed Sapient Rights Committee.

“Rumors began to filter through the web of sapient trading. We followed these rumors and, after some effort, managed to infiltrate the auction, hoping to gather intelligence and identify those behind the act. We did not expect to become part of a mass escape,” she added, fixing her left eye on Mo.

"Welcome to the big leagues," Mo said. "But right now, we really need to move."

"Yes,” Kaara said, “you must."

Mo turned and looked up at the graceful Eiolan, where she was now resting against the bulkhead. “We are not leaving you, here.”

"You are not," Kaara agreed. "But I am staying. Amby,” she continued, then shook her head. “Whoever you really are, you do have to hurry, and I cannot. And,” she added, “someone must remain, to tell the truth of what happened here—the unfiltered truth. And beyond all that—I need to do this. I may not have approved of Zyx's orders,” she explained, before Mo could ask. “But we both know, if I had not found you here, I would have followed them.”

Mo's mouth opened-and closed again, because Kaara was right.

“Time is passing,” Amalpha said, waving at the ADs.

“Go,” Kaara said.

“Almost there,” Mo said over her shoulder as she, with Amalpha at her side, passed her crushed shoe, and then Claude’s body. "We may have trouble ahead. There were three security guards with him who may be awake by now.”

“Not anymore,” Amalpha assured and, right on cue, Mo had to angle to avoid tripping over a trio of gray-suited-and figures, all bearing the circular burn marks.

“Good to know,” Mo said.

Ray lay on the deck, hands trembling, facing Rikert’s twisted leer and the unavoidable truth of his situation.

But along with the acceptance that he could not win a contest of strength, there was a way not to lose.

And he only had to last seven seconds—ten at most—to make it happen.

So he gave Rikert’s hands one last push, loosening the wire enough to allow him to suck in one final gasp—and then he let both hands fall away, allowing Rikert to pull the garrote closed.

And the count began.

Somewhere, outside the breathless horror engulfing Jessyn's senses, she knew there was a man with a cruel face and large hands that hurt her.

A rough tremor told her the man spoke, but words were lost in the roar of blood in her ears.

And it didn't seem to matter that Jessyn knew there was no wire circling her neck. In this moment, her bond with Ray was so complete, she knew that, should he die, she would be traveling with him to the other side of midnight.

The realization brought a small measure of comfort, for she would not wish him to be alone.

Which was her last thought before the gray shrouding her vision went to bright, electric white, and she felt herself falling.

At first, she believed this was the end, and worried she might lose Ray in the huge, blank, void.

But then the void shimmered, and she became aware the rough hands holding her had been replaced by something else, something slender and cool, which held her suspended.

Blinking, she became aware of the odor of burning, and then Mo’s face, hovering over hers, sharing space with the pulsing body of a Neocol.

She felt her mouth open—so many questions ready to tumble out—when another shudder took her, and the only words that emerged where a desperate and choked, “He is dying!”


As the garrote closed completely over his throat, Ray placed one hand over Rikert’s chest.

Rikert’s grin didn’t falter. He sensed the endgame was near, but he was missing the play because…

… two…

… with his free hand, Ray was removing the glass shard digging into his back. He barely noticed when it sliced his palm, but he did notice his vision began to fade.

No time to waste…

… three…

… so Ray pressed his fingers under Rikert’s sternum, using that sensitive lever to push him just a few centimeters away—not because Ray expected to dislodge him—but because he needed the extra few centimeters of space in order to…

… four…

… raise the shard and then, at the edge of the dying of the light, thrust the knife-thin edge of glass into Rikert’s inner thigh and…

… five…

with one quick slice, cut through the other man’s femoral artery.

… six…

Rikert, so intent on killing Ray, barely faltered until…

… seven

… Ray let the shard fall, which was when Rikert froze, then turned his eyes down to where his own life was spilling out over the deck, as fast and unstoppable as…

… eight


… nine…


… ten…



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