About an hour before the crew of the Moth were faced with the possibility of a new life, Zumo Vanzale was staring at the definitive face of death, in the form of Frederick Rikert.
He’d woken just minutes ago, his skin burning with stings, tasting metal and seaweed.
As soon as he assessed his personal situation, the lack of a pretty woman and an unconscious gray-suit, he ventured into the auditorium. The place was deserted, for the moment, so Vanzale made a quick sweep of the place, hoping to find one of the security team’s weapons and, who knew, maybe some spare credit sticks laying around.
What he found was the remains of his boss, getting colder by the second.
Vanzale didn’t grieve for Rikert’s loss, but he was purely pissed about the death of GIES because there was no escaping the truth that a dead Rikert and an exposed sapient trading ring meant the Genetic Investigation, Enforcement, and Security division was about to go tits up.
Time, he figured, to find another gig.
With a last, one fingered salute for his former director, Zumo Vanzale made for the rear door of the auction house, intent on finding himself a new uniform, preferably something from the tech or janitorial division, and a ride off-station.
As he left the room, didn’t see the Terran female entering from the concourse.
Luckily for Vanzale, Billie Flechette’s orders were to clean up any trace of Slater’s presence, not questioning random GIES employees, so she headed in the direction of Rikert’s body to take care of business, and didn’t give the fleeing agent another thought.
Unaware that Rikert’s hound was on the loose, Ray and Jessyn perched on the edge of the bed in their very crowded quarters.
Crowded because they were sharing the space with Viel, who had just confirmed the seeming impossible—that Jessyn was, in fact pregnant—as well as Fayla, Harry, and Mo.
Theirs because Viel had just confirmed the seeming impossible… Jessyn was, in fact, pregnant.
“I’m going to be an auntie!” Mo said with a massive grin. “And you’re going to be a grandpa!” she crowed in Harry’s direction.
Ray, however, was shaking his head as he looked from Viel, seated in the room’s desk chair, to Jessyn to ask, “How?”
“That’s the fifth time you’ve asked,” Harry pointed out from his spot by the door.
“I know, but—how?” Ray couldn’t help asking for the sixth time as he met Jessyn’s eyes. “We were careful.”
“Extremely,” Jessyn agreed, then she looked at him, and in her eyes was more than love, there was joy… and a hint of fear.
“Maybe the eggs in your family are more powerful than contraceptives?” Mo suggested.
“That is one way of looking at it,” Ray managed a grin for his sister, then looked at their hands, twined together.
“It is early, yet,” Viel said from her chair. “But from what I sensed, you conceived close to six weeks ago.”
“So, the week we met,” Ray said, looking at Jessyn.
“It was a very eventful few days,” Jessyn offered, then turned to where Fayla stood next to Harry.
“Lady,” Jessyn said, “my sorrow. I never intended this to happen.”
“Of course you didn’t. How could you?” Fayla gave her head a single shake. “Though I suppose, being your mother’s daughter, perhaps I should have.” Then her eyes turned to Ray. “This does complicate things, you understand.”
“That’s the mother of understatements,” Harry murmured, and Fayla’s eyes flicked in his direction, but she didn’t address his statement.
“I think these young people require privacy,” was what she said, then glanced at Mo. “Would you escort Viel?”
That appeared to startle Mo, but Ray’s sister was quick to respond. “Of course.”
“My thanks,” Viel said, rising as Mo neared. “I suppose I should have worn my sensory net, but it can be tiring, having so much input all the time.”
“I can only imagine,” Mo said, leading Viel out of the room.
Fayla sent one last glance to where Ray and Jessyn sat, then turned and followed the other women out.
“Father?” Jessyn asked, and in that one word, Ray caught the glass-sharp edges of her fear.
Harry met her gaze. “I won’t tell you not to worry,” he said, “because you should be worried. But, I promise, I will do everything in my power protect both of you. And so will he,” he added, looking at Ray.
“You got that right… grandpa,” Ray said, and was pleased to see the shadow of a smile reach Harry’s eyes, and then, he, too, was gone.
Ray waited for the door to close before turning to Jessyn. “So,” he said, “what kind of names are you thinking?”
Her answering laugh might have been watery, but Ray took it for a victory, nonetheless.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Fayla turned to Harry.” I need to speak to your master."
“My... what?" Harry asked, reluctantly turning from the galley, where Mo and Viel were telling the anxious Koz and Mollin the good news.
"Your master… Colonel Doyle,” Fayla said, pitching her voice beneath Koz’s excited, “Mazel tov!”
"You mean my Control,” Harry corrected.
Fayla’s brow tipped. “What is the difference?"
"Good point,” Harry admitted. “May I ask why?”
"I believe it is time we formalized our alliance."
“I don't know that Doyle thinks of what we all have going as an alliance."
"No, he believes you are embedded, somewhat literally, in my House, just as he knows that Jessyn was embedded in your little crew. I need to make it clear to him that Jessyn’s condition changes the situation.”
“You mean it’s pushing the time table on your revolution."
“Our revolution,” Fayla reminded him. “The one you agreed to help with.”
“I agreed,” Harry mimicked the emphasis. “I can’t commit an entire division to your cause.”
“It may be the ConFederations cause as well,” Fayla said. “Unless the corruption aboard Libra Station occurred in a vacuum, there are other forces at play within your government. The sort of forces my House would be able the help reveal.”
It would be hard to argue the value of a team of psionics, Harry thought. “Still, this is what we Terrans would call a big ask…”
At the sound of Ray’s voice, Harry and Fayla, and everyone else, turned to the open door of his quarters.
There stood Ray and Jessyn, both looking flustered, happy, and, in Ray’s case, perhaps a bit manic.
“So, we want to make it official,” Ray said.
Fayla shifted at Harry’s side. “It?”
“Official?” Mo stepped out of the galley, where she’d just served Viel a cup of tea, to confront her brother. “For real?”
“Your brother insists I make an honest man out of him,” Jessyn said, her eyes dancing as she met Mo’s.
Harry, deeply aware of Fayla, turned to see the Dama of House Szado sigh, close her eyes, and a moment later, open them to announce, “Diotessa Quaila will be here, shortly.”
It was, of necessity, a rushed affair, but Mo still insisted Jessyn wear a gown, and Ray grumbled his way into the suit his sister selected—one that included a white shirt to contrast with his usual black-on-black attire.
He might have groused more, but then Harry appeared from his room wearing a silver-gray suit of his own.
“Who got to you?” Ray asked as Harry tugged at his collar.
“Three guesses, and the first two don’t count,” Harry said, eyeing Mo, who crossed the deck to join them.
“Nice,” Mo said, pausing to adjust Ray’s tie.
She’d taken the time to toss on Jessyn’s emerald silk, which swished as she turned to flick a bit of imaginary lint of Harry’s lapel. “You make a really sexy father of the bride,” she told him.
Ray just managed not to growl.
“Bride,” Harry echoed. “Ha.” Then Ray watched as Harry’s head tipped in thought, and then his blue eyes shot to Ray. “Has it occurred to you that I’m about to become your father-in-law?”
Ray felt a weird sinking in his gut. “I don’t think—“
“I understand someone is to be wed?”
Everyone turned to the hatch to find Diotessa Quaila, whom Ray and Harry had first met on Ocála, entering the room, a smile adding more lines to her wizened face.
Ray recalled his first conversation with Quaila, specifically regarding the Sáttmáli, the bond he and Jessyn shared, and found himself bolstered by the older woman’s approval.
Then Jessyn emerged from their room, wearing a gown that looked like liquid gold sliding from one shoulder, and Ray’s emotions shot up another few million meters.
Whatever else happened—and he knew, a lot could happen—nothing would take this moment away.
Nothing would take his family away.
In short order, the ceremony began.
To honor Terran custom, Mo walked Ray down the center of the room to stand before Diotessa Quaila before joining Mollin and Koz on the groom’s side of the room.
Harry and Fayla—standing in for Siane—together walked Jessyn to where Ray waited, then both joined Viel on the bride’s side of the cabin.
From there it was a simple matter of the Diotessa calling all present to witness the willful union of two separate hearts, forever to beat in a rhythm of their own making.
There was more, but Harry let the words flow over him, a soothing background to the view of the two young people, both still slightly dazed, but entirely in tune with one another. Unique unto themselves, yes, but each of those selves clicked with the other.
And then Diotessa Quaila was proclaiming it time to seal their troth with a kiss.
This they did with enthusiasm, and while Ray and Jessyn lost themselves in the moment, Koz called out a giddy, “Mazel Tov!” while Mollin stomped his feet and Mo shouted, “Way to go Cowboy!” all spurring a laugh of delight from Viel.
But for Harry, that moment of joy transported him back to a day long ago, when he and Siane were the young couple locked in an embrace that felt as if it would never end.
But it had ended, he thought.
Remembering that day, and what came after, Harry swore to every god in the Known that, in this one case, at least, history was not going to repeat itself.
“No,” Fayla said, agreeing with the words he hadn’t spoken, even as the rest of the party cheered the formal recognition of Ray and Jessyn’s bond. “It will not.” She waited a beat before adding, “If we work together, it will not.”
In for a penny, Harry thought. “I’ll reach out to Doyle.”
Then a pop had him turning to see Mollin holding up a newly opened bottle of champagne, Jessyn hugging Viel, and Mo and Ray standing, heads pressed to one another while Koz fetched glasses and Quaila beamed generally at the room.
“Let them enjoy the moment,” Fayla murmured. “We should all enjoy the moment, while it lasts.”
Harry gave a short nod and, with the Lady, joined the celebration of his daughter’s marriage.
Tomorrow would be soon enough for life to become, once again, far too interesting.
Listen to The VRcade, the first track of The Libra Gambit's score, composed by Kathleen's daughter.
Thus endeth The Libra Gambit, which will remain posted as is until such time as we can move on to publication.
In the meantime, feel free to follow along as we post our three first-in-series, and don't forget to keep a lookout for the next serialized work, a Tale of Fortune titled The Crew Who Came in From the Cold, coming soon to Outrageous Fiction!