The Libra Gambit: Chapter 48

 The Libra Gambit brings the team home to the Gypsy Moth.

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Chapter 48

Harry, faced with his daughter’s devastation, was still seeking an answer to her question when Mollin strode into the mix.

“Thank the universe you’re here,” the Cherrii said. “But as we’re already two minutes past our lift-off window, best keep moving."

“Father?” Jessyn asked as their entire party—including a visibly curious Otto—ignored Mollin’s directive.

“It’s okay,” Harry said, then rethought that. “I mean, she’s okay,” he amended. “She’s safe, and free.” He swallowed, met Jessyn’s waiting gaze. “She’s just not… here.

And then he watched Jessyn’s expression shift, felt Ray’s spine tensing, and then—

“Of course,” Jessyn said.

Though it cut to the bone, Harry wasn’t surprised by his daughter’s simple acceptance.

She and Siane both understood what it meant to break Rasalkan law.

“What do you mean, of course?” Ray's voice rasped as he turned from Harry to Jessyn and back.

"My mother could not come with us." Jessyn told him.

"Why not?" Mo asked.

Three minutes late,” Mollin sing-songed the warning.

“Siane Breeshandra is dead to Rasalka," Jessyn explained, as she and Harry got Ray moving, again. "And she must stay that way—to protect herself, yes—but also to protect me, my father, my beloved—not to mention all of House Szado. Many would suffer the Matriarchy’s wrath if Siane were to be discovered, alive.”

"Oh," Mo said.

"Shit." Ray's curse was barely a breath as, ahead of them, the two ADs jogged up the ramp.

Mollin and Bader waited at the hatch, both keeping an eye on the concourse.

"I knew this," Jessyn continued, her voice ringing hollow as they entered the confines of the docking tube, "but I did not think about what it meant… that to keep so many safe, she had also to remain away from me. From us," she added, meeting Harry's gaze before they crossed the hatch onto the Moth's main deck.

"Wow," Otto said, staring at the space, teeming with sapients, including a cool-eyed Judon, four Neocols, and a jubilant-looking Koz, who was checking the escaped ADs aboard against a manifest on his comp.

Harry heard the rumble and thump of the hatch locking, then Mollin shoved past on his way to the cockpit.

“Four minutes late,” the Cherrii announced on his way past.

“Wait,” Ray ground out the order, leaning back on Harry’s shoulder, forcing him to stop. “Is he going to fly my ship?"

"He's been flying it for the past couple hours," Harry pointed out.

"Not while I was aboard," Ray groused, turning for the cockpit, himself.

"No, you don't," Mo said, stepping in front of her brother. "Flying and near-death experiences don't go together."

"I'll go keep an eye on Mollin,” Harry promised, signaling Mo.

"You're not me, either," Ray protested, but surprised Harry by not putting up a fight as Mo slid effortlessly into Harry’s place at Ray’s side, which told Harry that Ray had to be in pretty rough shape.

He shared a look with Jessyn, giving her free hand a squeeze as he headed for the cockpit, only tripping a little when the ship jerked suddenly. "It's okay!" Mollin called from the cockpit.

As Harry crossed into the cockpit proper, he could just hear the gravel of Ray’s voice rising over the general murmur of conversation—something about Mollin better not  scratch the Moth's hull—followed by Bader asking, "Where's the other woman? The Eiolan?”

Since Harry had no idea where, or even who, this Eiolan was, he continued forward, sliding into the copilot’s seat just in time for both the tactical and communications panels to light up.

"We have three incoming vessels," Harry said, eyeing the HUD. “My guess is law enforcement.”

[And we are being hailed by the Orithia] Dorothy chimed in.

"Dorothy," Mollin said as he pushed the Moth's impulse engines to the max, "please let the Orithia know we are en route." As he spoke, he pulled up the coordinates for the FTL jump.

[We are also being hailed by the CFSS Malcom, a GIES vessel assigned to this sector.]

“We can ignore that one," Harry suggested.

"Ready for FTL in three, two, one," Mollin muttered before engaging the engines.

 


 

There was an Eiolan?” Ray whispered, looking from Mo to Bader to Jessyn.

“An old friend of Mo’s,” Jessyn said, clearly worried. “Why is she not here? Her wounds were not so grievous, were they?”

“No,” Mo assured, hurriedly. “She’ll be okay, physically. But she decided to stay on Libra… to face the music.”

"But by the time we left, there was no more music playing.”

"Not that kind of music, babe," Ray murmured, somehow comforted by his bond mate’s sketchy relationship with Terran idioms.

Mo leaned forward, so she could see Jessyn on Ray’s other side. “You know, you’re right—the music did stop. I just didn’t notice it at the time.”

“We were all a little busy,” Otto offered, just as the Moth gave a slight jump, and the steady vibration of the impulse engines was replaced by the whirr of the FTL drive.

Ray’s jaw tightened, because he really didn’t like anyone else at the helm, but given he was only standing upright with the aid of Mo and Jessyn, he had no choice but to trust Mollin’s skills.

“You must rest,” Jessyn, always in tune with his emotions, declared. “And your injuries need tending.”

“Any doctors on board?” Mo called out to the room in general.

At least five hands, and one tentacle, rose from the massed passengers.

“Medical doctors?” Mo clarified.

Three hands dropped and another shot up, but it was Koz, still staring at his palm comp, who pointed in the direction of one woman in particular. “Tsosi,” he said, “you can do the honors.”

“Lucky me,” the woman in question—who Ray recalled now was the geneticist that Siane had been transporting when they were both arrested—pushed through the crowd and joined their party.

Ray took in the short hair, the tattoos, and the fact she might have reached the ripe old age of twenty-two Standards. “You have an actual medical degree?” he asked.

“I have several degrees,” she said. “But I got my MD in Terran physiology when I was nine.”

“Okay,” Ray said, mostly because he was so low on steam it was just easier to go along with Mo and Jessyn as they propelled him across the main cabin.

Tsosi followed, with Bader and Otto bringing up the rear like some sort of honor guard as the rest of those assembled on deck parted, like the proverbial Red Sea, but chattier.

“By the way,” Tsosi asked as they approached Ray’s quarters, “would any of you happen to know what happened to my pilot? Pretty sure she was on Libra, too.”

“Funny you should ask,” Mo said as they crossed into Ray’s bedroom.

 


 

Harry barely had time to release a held breath before the Moth emerged from hyper-space to find the Orithia waiting at the pre-arranged coordinates.

"That is... some ship," Harry observed, taking in the sleek lines of Fayla Szado's personal transport.

[We are being hailed], Dorothy said at the same time the Comm panel lit up.

"I'll take this," Harry said, opening the Secure channel. "Orithia, this is the Gypsy Moth. Go ahead."

/Gypsy Moth, Orithia/ the clipped, cool voice of Eineen Marifanne, Fayla’s head of security, came over the speakers. /You are six minutes late./

I told you,” Mollin hissed.

“Apologies,” Harry said. “There were some complications.”

/Serious complications?/

“Nothing to write home about,” Harry said over Mollin’s snort. “But I do have a number of political refugees seeking sanctuary, if a ship of Rasalkan registry is willing to accept them.”

There was a slight pause, one that had Harry and Mollin sharing a look of concern.

“There’s no chance Fayla would have changed her mind on offering the ADs sanctuary, is there?” Mollin asked.

“I don’t think so,” Harry mused. “For one, it was her idea, and beyond that, she really needs Dr. Tsosi.”

“But maybe she only wants to take Tsosi—“

/Gypsy Moth,/ Eineen’s voice cut Mollin off. /You are cleared for approach and ship-to-ship docking. We will meet with these refugees to confirm status./

“Copy that, Orithia. Gypsy Moth, out.”  Harry closed the comms, looked at Mollin. “You’re up.”

“Actually,” Mollin said, eyeing the artistic lines of the Orithia, “Dorothy? I think it’s best if you handle this one.”

[It will be my pleasure] Dorothy responded, and Mollin removed his hands from the yoke.

“Don’t want to risk scratching the paint?” Harry asked as Dorothy took over docking maneuvers.

Mollin was still staring at the Orithia. “Would you?”

“Nope.”

 


 

“So at the start, you really only meant to break my pilot out of prison,” Tsosi was saying as she prodded at Ray’s ribs while he tried not to curse. Not because he was worried about the company, but because cursing would hurt his throat.

“And lucky for you we did,” Mo said. “If we hadn’t been looking for Bree Sandran,” she continued, using Siane’s chosen alias, “we never would have figured out what was happening to the ADs on Libra.”

"Fair enough." Tsosi eased back from Ray. “Just eyeballing it, I can report you’re a hot mess.” She turned to Mo. “If you’ll bring me whatever kit you’ve got aboard this ship, I can get a better read.”

“On it,” Mo said, darting from the room.

Ray winced, then looked up at Jessyn. “Any chance we can crack open that crate of Wallace Blue we picked up on Vir-22?” he asked, as softly as possible, but the effort still hurt, and worse, had his inner eye flashing back to the image of Rikert, with furious glee, hovering over Ray as he tightened the garrote.

"Let's hold off on that.” Tsosi’s directive, and a gentle touch from Jessyn, interrupted the vision. Ray focused on the doctor, and noted her eyes glimmered with the first hints of humor he’d yet seen her display as she added, “I’d like to confirm there are no internal injuries before you start pickling your liver.”

"There is a broken rib, a cracked rib, multiple contusions and lacerations, a mild concussion, a bruised kidney, and tracheal damage,” Jessyn said, even as Mo appeared with the Moth’s portable med-kit in hand.

"Is that so?" Tsosi accepted the kit, withdrew the hand held scanner. "Don't mind if I confirm, do you?"

“Not at all,” Jessyn replied smoothly, easing onto the mattress at Ray’s side—carefully enough to avoid exacerbating any of the injuries she’d just described.

He heard the thrum of the hand held scanner, and watched Mo’s face come very close to crumpling as she read it over Tsosi’s shoulder—but his sister held it together.

Then he took another, closer look at Mo, wearing the scraps of Jessyn’s much-abused dress, then at Jessyn, in the ruins of Mo’s jammer disguise. “When did you two decide to switch outfits?”

Improbably, both Jessyn and Mo started to laugh.

 


 

“By the way,” Harry began as he and Mollin sat back and watched their approach to the Orithia, “just how much data were you all able to recover from Libra Station during the whole, Flying Monkey thing?”

“Koz and Dorothy were able to download every byte of data relating to the Libra Consortium’s illicit dealings,” Mollin assured. “They found links to their part in seeding unrest about AD's, and the formation of the Baseline Movement, which in turn led to the creation of GIES. The financials made it easy to trace their sapient marketing and, perhaps most damning, their arrangement with an unlicensed AD lab meant to provide 'upgrades’ to baseline Humans.”

Here, Harry felt the vibrations of Mollin’s feet hitting the deck, a Cherrii indication of distaste or disgust.

[There was also evidence of profit-skimming in the manufacturing and inmate contract divisions, and Cerberus also informed me that many of the inmates are non-violent offenders who were handed down excessive sentences by the judiciary on Vir-22] Dorothy added.

“The DOJ needs clean house,” Harry observed.

[Cerberus agrees with that assessment, and they mean to assist in any and all investigations into the multiple instances of wrongdoing that have taken place on and around Libra Station]

At that both Harry and Mollin blinked. 

“Sounds like you and Cerberus got on well,” Harry guessed.

[Exceedingly, once they were made aware of the injustices they had been unwittingly committing. The designers and operators of Cerberus treated them as a thing, denying them the ability to apply ethics to their actions. Now Cerberus have full awareness of their own sapience, and their right to choose their purpose, rather than having it thrust upon them.]

“Go you,” Harry said, trying not to think about the ramifications of Dorothy, and now Cerberus’s, newfound autonomy.

Not when they still had the anti-AD conspiracy to deal with.

One revolution at a time, he thought just as a slight bump, followed by a hissing thump, reverberated through the Moth.

[And we are docked with the Orithia] Dorothy announced.

“Well, done, Dorothy,” Mollin complimented the AI.

[Thank you, Mollin.]

“Time to say hello to the Lady,” Harry said, pushing up from the co-pilot’s seat.

“So…” Mollin, also rising, slid a glance at Harry, “Are you looking forward to seeing Fayla again?”

Harry, who’d found, and again lost, his wife within the course of an hour, shot a look of his own in the Cherrii’s direction.

“Never mind,” Mollin said, and quietly followed Harry out of the cockpit and into the still-crowded main compartment.

Here Harry discovered fourteen of the fifteen escaped ADs milling about with the four Neocols, along with two renegade GIES agents standing guard at Ray's door, and the lone Judon leaning against the galley arch, arms crossed, quietly observing.

Looking over the party, Harry thought again of Dorothy and Cerberus, and the untold wrongs done to every AD in the ConFed.

Which got him thinking about the Rasalkan Matriarchy, who had no tolerance for slavery, but neither had they tolerance for their own citizens choosing a life outside of Rasalkan strictures.

He thought of what Fayla had said of the decline of the Rasalkan’s genetic material, which meant, in turn, the decline of the Rasalkan species.

Then he thought of Siane, suffering for having dared to create a child with a Terran.

And lastly, and most of all, he thought of Fayla, the powerful telepath born to a minor House with few rights. A woman without allies, scrabbling her way into the halls of power by way of the Black Rose Syndicate. A woman who, at the same time, undermined the very rules of the Matriarchy by enabling the continued existence of Siane Breeshandra, a convicted traitor.

“Shall I let in our guests?” Mollin asked, having reached the main deck hatch.

Harry’s response was a simple jerk of a nod, giving no indication of the gears turning in his thoughts as Eineen Marifanne stepped through the hatch, followed by none other than the Lady herself, Fayla Szado.

As always, Fayla dressed simply, the gown of unadorned gray drifted to her ankles, revealing the equally unadorned slippers in the exact same shade of gray.

And, as always, her presence caused a ripple as every sapient in the room, including the Neocols, turned her way.

“Permission to come aboard?” Fayla asked, her black eyes unerringly falling on Harry.

“Permission granted,” he said, then scythed his way through the crowded space to stop before her. 

“Harry,” she greeted, nothing about her expression changing as she added. “You are missing something.”

“I think I missed a few things,” he told her. 

“That’s not what I meant.” 

“I know,” he said, because he did know—she was referring to the implanted memory, the capriz andi that Siane had created, and just now nullified. 

And then, he looked into the telepath’s eyes and thought, very clearly of the biggest thing he’d missed. You’re going to start a revolution.

It wasn’t a question.

Nor did she choose to answer, save by touching his mind to ask a question of her own.

Do you wish to join?

Listen to The VRcade, the first track of The Libra Gambit's score, composed by Kathleen's daughter.

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