The Libra Gambit: Chapter 50

 The Libra Gambit Chapter 50, in which the team sees the end of a Very Big Adventure, and possibly the Beginning of Another.

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Chapter 50

Some time later—Ray wasn't sure how much later, because Doyle time passed more slowly than actual time—he and Harry stood at the main deck hatch, bidding farewell to Bader and Otto.

The two GIES agents had accepted Fayla's offer of a ride to Vir-22, in exchange for their testimony as to what they'd learned about the AD slave trade aboard Libra. 

"You're not gonna forget about the job offer though, right?" Otto asked as they waited for their escort from the Orithia to arrive.

"Already done," Ray told him. 

“An operative will be waiting to meet you on Vir-22,” Harry elaborated. “They’ll help facilitate your transfer out of GIES and into Zodiac Division.”

“I’d think GIES would have a warrant out for our arrests, by now,” Bader said.

“They might have,” Ray said, “but between Cerberus, Zodiac and House Szado, there’s no evidence of anyone doing anything that could raise GIES eyebrows.”

A statement that had both Otto and Bader’s brows rising. “That’s…” Otto began.

“A little scary,” Bader finished.

“You get used to it,” Ray said as, from the other side of the tube, the Orithia’s hatch opened to reveal Eineen Marifanne. “Eventually.” 

“We’ll have to take your word for it,” Bader said, offering a hand to Harry, then Ray. “Thanks," Bader said, offering a hand to Harry, then Ray. “I guess this is goodbye, then?”

“You will have a chance to say farewell in the morning,” Eineen announced as she came up alongside the two agents. “The Orithia and the Gypsy Moth will remain tethered until the Lady is assured this venture has achieved the desired outcomes.” 

“It achieved at least one,” Ray muttered, thinking back to the conversation with Doyle.

“So we’re in bed with a Rasalkan syndicate,” Doyle muttered while Ray donned a pair of jeans. 

“More like we have an in with a single House of the Rasalkan syndicate that is building an in with the Rasalkan government,” Harry corrected, waving  Doyle’s objections aside. “But the real win here is that, by allowing the Rasalkans and the Sapient Rights Committee to take credit for uncovering the Libra-AD conspiracy, no one’s going to be looking at Zodiac.”

“And we all know how much you hate people looking at Zodiac,” Ray added, slipping a black tee-shirt over his head. 

“Or knowing there is a Zodiac,” Mollin offered. 

“We’ll see if the Oversight Committee has the same point of view,” Doyle muttered, then looked over the three operatives. “Anything else I need to know before I try to sell this shit show of yours to the OC?”

Harry and Mollin said nothing, but did look at Ray. “There are a couple of things,” Ray admitted turning to dig a pair of socks from his wardrobe. “For starters, I killed a guy.” 

“Just the one?” Doyle asked. “Shouldn’t be too hard to clean up.” 

“The guy was Frederick Rikert,” Ray said, and then, before Doyle had a chance to erupt, Harry chimed in. 

“We didn’t know Rikert would be on Libra until later, at the same time we discovered he was the GIES director aboard the station, and that he was profiting from not only the sapient trading operation, but also some pretty hinky experiments being performed on the ADs that had been wrongfully imprisoned.” 

“I flagged those experiments in the data,” Mollin added. 

“I read the highlights,” Doyle said, though he was still glaring at Ray. “Where’s the body?” 

Ray told him. 

Doyle held up a “just a minute” hand while he contacted a field agent embedded with one of the Vir-22 boarding parties, ordering them to insure nothing on Libra could be linked to the extraction team. 

When he was finished, Doyle again turned his attention to Ray. “Flechette says you owe her.” 

“I’ve cleaned up after her enough times, I think we’re even.” 

“Not for the clean-up, for having to wear a synthetic fiber mall cop uniform while she does it.” He paused, glared a little more. “You said there were couple of things. What’s the second?” 

Ray slid into his shoes, stood up, spared Harry a glance, then looked at Doyle. “I was wondering how you’d feel about having an AD on the payroll?”

There was a barely perceptible pause before Doyle shoved his hands in his pockets. “You mean another AD on the payroll?” he asked, staring at Ray. 

“Whoa,” Harry said.

“Seriously?” Mollin added. 

“You knew?” Ray demanded. 

“Of course I knew. Our bioscanners are the best in the Known.” 

This time it was Ray gaping.“Why didn’t you tell me?”

"I kind of thought you already knew.” 

“How would I know? I was raised in a backwater orphanage, and their bioscanners are not the best in the Known.” 

“Huh.” Doyle thought a moment. “I guess I should check the others on the team, make sure they know where they came from.”

“Unbelievable,” Ray said. 

“Wait,” Mollin said, stepping in. “Since you don’t have a problem hiring ADs,  there’s someone I’d like to recommend for the cyber-division.”  

Harry turned to Mollin. "You think Koz would take a job with Zodiac?"

"He's not not interested," Mollin said. 

Another new hire?” Doyle pulled his hands from his pockets to form the universal, WTF gesture. “Jesus Mary and the Universal Triad, do I look like I’m in HR? Don’t answer that,” he cut in as Harry opened his mouth. “Just forward the data on all three and I’ll check them out.” 

Harry and Ray watched as Bader, Otto, and Eineen disappeared through the Orithia’s hatch. 

“Is that it?” Ray asked, looking over his shoulder at the common room. “I can lock up for the night?”

“I think so?” Harry said. “Unless one of the Neocols is hiding somewhere, and I’m not getting any seaweed smell.” 

As he spoke, Harry scanned the deck, where Koz and Mollin were hunched over the comp comm. Mo, he knew, had gone to Ray’s room to use the comm set up to reach her crew, and Jessyn was—

“Wait, where’s Jessyn?” he asked, turning to Ray. 

“Last I saw she was heading to your room,” Koz's eyes stayed on the comp, but his hand waved in the direction of Harry’s berth where, as if on cue, the door opened and first Jessyn, then Fayla, emerged. 

Fayla’s gaze slid over the rest of those present to land on Harry, bringing with it the weight of their last conversation. 

You’re going to start a revolution.

Do you wish to join?

Fayla’s response echoed, quite literally, in Harry’s mind as he led her into the privacy of his quarters.

“You have assembled quite a company,” Fayla noted as the door closed behind her. “Where did you pick up the Judon?”

“She’s an ally. Sort of,” Harry said, turning away from the desk on which he’d set the picture of Siane he’d kept close for over twenty-five Standards. “I was hoping you could drop her off on Vir-22, along with the Neocols, and a couple of ex-GIES agents?”

Fayla came up alongside him, picked up the still-shot of Siane.“I don’t recall opening a shuttle service.” 

“Consider it payment for not telling us the real objective of your operation,” Harry said, snatching the picture from Fayla’s hands. “You knew she wouldn’t come with us. Siane. You knew.” 

At that he saw something flicker in those dark, dark eyes, but it was fast, and Fayla was Fayla, so he couldn’t tell quite what it was. 

“I knew she would not risk her daughter, or our mission,” she replied. “And before you ask, yes, it is our mission. Rasalka must change, must come out of the shadows, or else we face extinction.” 

“Okay,” he said, and had the satisfaction of seeing her confusion at the simplicity of that response. 

“Is that all you have to say?” 

“No.” He tipped his head to one side as he added, “Because I never answered your question, about whether or not I want to join your—mission.” 

Her gaze locked onto his, as dark and deep as ever. “And do you?” she asked. 

His answer, when he made it, was just as dark, and deep, and only interrupted by a chime from the door, followed by Eineen announcing that Viel Inverra had arrived on board to assist with any injuries.

“So, who’s hungry?” Mo asked, flicking her damp hair back. 

She had emerged seconds after Fayla had departed and Ray closed the hatch, freshly showered and wearing a set of Ray’s sweats, which bagged everywhere but, to Jessyn, appeared very comfortable. 

Perhaps, Jessyn thought, her beloved would allow her borrow some of his clothing. 

“I could eat,” Ray said. “In fact, I could eat a lot.” He frowned as his stomach grumbled in agreement. “I’m starving.” 

“That’s the healing talking,” Harry said.

He was, Jessyn knew, speaking from experience. Viel’s work was deep, and took energy from the patient and healer both. 

“Do you also want to cook?” Mollin asked as he and Koz rose from the comp station. 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ray said. 

“Especially if we want to avoid food poisoning,” Harry agreed, giving Jessyn a gentle kiss on the temple as he passed. “It’ll be okay,” he whispered to her, even though his sorrow over Siane was a palpable thing.

I hope so, she thought, but only patted his hand as he passed by, and then Ray was there, tall and solid and whole and alive, and her gratitude for that truth was such it almost eclipsed her mother’s loss.

No, not her loss, Jessyn reminded herself. 

Siane was still as alive as her beloved, and the Mother may yet allow her parents and herself to be together. 

To be a family.

Not, perhaps, the family Harry wished, but as Jessyn was learning, families came in many forms.

Even if, sometimes, those families must sometimes part.

Once Raymond’s healing was complete, Jessyn had sought out her Lady, to make her own report, and to receive her next assignment.

“You understand our situation,” Fayla said to Jessyn from where she sat at Harry’s desk, over which one of his shirts was draped, along side one of Mo’s. 

None of which, Jessyn knew, signified to the Lady. Fayla’s thoughts were turned, as always, to a greater, and far more dangerous, game. 

“But now Mariska’s crimes have been revealed," Fayla continued, "there is opportunity to forge new alliances, based on trust rather than fear, and you are our best ambassador for such alliances.”

“Of course,” Jessyn said, even as she felt something inside wrench. 

It is too soon… the traitorous whisper rose from the roiling of her psyche.

“It will always be too soon,” Fayla replied to the unspoken thought, but now without pity. Then the Lady paused, and then she touched Jessyn’s cheek and said, “There is more.” 

“There is,” Jessyn said, opening her heart and mind for the Lady to see how she had, without thought, used her gifts to create pain. 

Koriaisz… my sister’s child,” Fayla said, brushing at the tears Jessyn hadn’t known she was shedding. “There is no shame in protecting yourself, or others.” 

“But to do it in such a way?” Jessyn shook her head. “Neishi was—“

“Neishi had a sickness in her,” Fayla cut in before Jessyn could continue. “A sickness that was not born of her gift, but in spite of it. She was an aberration. Or did you believe our warriors hold their gifts back in battle?”

“I know they do not,” Jessyn said, meeting Fayla's steady regard. “But I never wished to be a warrior.” 

“No,” Fayla murmured, “you did not.” 

Since no one wanted to put any effort into creating a meal, everyone opted to rifle through the cupboards and toss whatever was immediately edible onto the table. 

The only real effort was put into the making of coffee for Harry and Koz, tea for Jessyn, Mollin, and Mo, and—at long last—opening a bottle of Wallace Blue for Ray. 

It wasn’t your typical celebratory meal, but Harry figured the company made up for the lack of presentation. 

“Come here, sweetheart,” Ray said, raising his glass to chase down a handful of trail mix. No one commented on the fact that he'd already downed a bag of kora chips, three strips of jerkey and a container of the despised yogurt, without even blinking.

“Truer words,” was all Harry said as he took another bracing sip of coffee. 

“Let’s see what else we’ve got.” Mo leaned in, poking through the piles of goodies on the table. “Ugh. More jerky, dried legumes, veggie sticks and—hah—gummy tardigrades!” She sent a grin to Jessyn, who shook her head but did smile. 

“I’ll take those,” Koz said, holding up his hands. 

Mo tossed them over  then pulled out a box of cookies and ripped it open. “Chocolate chocolate chunk, anyone?”

“Oh, yes, please.” This time Jessyn dove in as well. 

“Where are the peanut butter crackers?” Harry asked, shuffling through the heap. “I was sure I ordered peanut butter crackers.” 

“Ah.” Koz looked up from the package he’d just opened, so the odor of candy wafted up to join coffee/whiskey/cookie thing they had going. “Lyrr-Kaij took them with her.” 

Harry froze, looked up over the mountain of junk food. “You’re saying you let the Judon take my peanut butter crackers?” 

“She was really intrigued by them,” Mollin said, easing closer to Koz and grabbing a gummy from the package. “I don’t think she’s ever tasted peanut butter before.”

Harry set his mug down with care. “So you let her take them all?” 

“Look at it this way,” Mo said, pointing a cookie at him, “your crackers—“

Peanut butter crackers,” Harry inserted.

“Your peanut butter crackers,” Mo echoed, “could be the key to opening up a new dialogue with the Judon.”

“She could be right.” Ray, appearing mellower than Harry could recall ever seeing him, raised a glass to his sister. “It may be that your package of peanut butter crackers is the first brick in a bridge of peace between the ConFed and the Judon.”

Harry, and everyone else, turned to Ray. 

“How much have you had to drink?” Harry asked, peering at Ray’s glass. 

“Not that much, old man,” Ray said. 

“He’s just basking in a world that no longer contains Rikert,” Mo said. 

“Harsh,” Ray said, “but true.” 

“Well—“ Harry began.

“I have to leave,” Jessyn cut in. 

Harry, and everyone else, turned to where his daughter sat, the remains of a cookie crumbling in her tightening fingers until Mo gently loosened them to release the bits onto the table. 

“I am so sorry,” Jessyn said, turning from Ray to Harry and back to Ray. “But, my duty is to House Szado.”

“Hey.” Ray was up and then kneeling by Jessyn’s side in an instant. “I get it. It’s—we all know what it’s like.”

“I didn’t,” Jessyn said, her voice small and, to Harry, heart-breakingly young. “Before—I only knew my duty. Now there is so much more.” As she spoke, her hands crossed over her heart. “So much more, here, and I don’t know… I am afraid I will lose you. Or worse, endanger you, simply by being with my own kind.” 

Harry had to swallow the waves of grief and fear that were surging up, and a quick glance showed him everyone else was experiencing similar distress. Mo’s eyes were filling, Mollin looked gobsmacked, and Koz’s hands gripped the bag of gummies so hard the package was tearing. 

And then there was Ray, who looked as if his entire world had been ripped from beneath his feet. 

“Jessyn,” Harry said gently as he rose. “Honey, you’re projecting.” 

“What?” Jessyn looked up, then blinked, then shook her head. “No, that can’t be.”

“Oh, it can,” Harry said, gesturing around the table.

He watched her take in the situation, both visually and empathically, and then as she closed herself off, which was like flipping a switch. 

“Shit!” Mo said, then frowned. “Is that what the two of you go through, all the time?” she asked, glancing from Ray to Jessyn.

“No,” Ray said. “I mean, not for me, but—“ 

Jessyn shook her head. “My sorrow,” she said to everyone. “That was an unforgivable lapse. I have not lost control in such a fashion since my adolescence, but now, I have twice lashed out without thinking.”

“Twice?” Ray asked. 

“I used my gift against another,” Jessyn said. 

“You used it against Rikert,” Mo said. “And saved a life doing it.” 

“I know but, that I did so without thought,” Jessyn said. “What is happening to me?”

“I think I know,” Harry, who’d seen another empath experience a similar loss of control some years back, said. “But I think you should ask Viel to come back over and confirm.” 

Oh,” Mo said.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. 

“Confirm?” Ray asked. 

"Confirm the hormone levels," Harry explained.

“It goes like this, little brother,” Mo said, rising to put an arm over Ray and Jessyn, both. “Sometimes, when a Human and a Rasalkan love each other very much…”

At which point Ray and Jessyn looked at each other, then down at her stomach, then looked at each other, again.

"Oh," she said.

"Azfylnja," they said, together.

Haven't read The Gemini Hustle yet? Learn more HERE.

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

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