In Chapter 39, Harry wakes from a seemingly endless nightmare, not unlike the rest of us. Welcome back, at long last, to the final act of The Libra Gambit.
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Still caught in stasis between waking and dream, Harry sucked in a lungful of air bearing the metallic taste of scrubbers, while the whine of impulse engines buzzed in his ears.
“—the hells?" Siane completed Harry’s question as, all around him, the illusion shimmered and dissipated, as if no more than smoke itself, leaving him gazing at a helm console beneath a domed window.
He allowed his eyes to shift to the right, to find Siane seated in next to him, in what looked suspiciously like a pilot’s chair.
He looked around and discovered that, somehow, she had gotten him out of the lift, and into one of the scooper maintenance shuttles.
A shuttle she had successfully launched, if the drift of stars beyond that window meant anything.
"How?” he asked.
Her head tilted, her lip quirked. Her eyes, however remained dark. “How what?”
“How did you get me here?”
“A little help from an enthralled technician.” She shrugged, as if that level of psionic control were child’s play.
Then again, to her, maybe it was. Though, from the pinging in his back, the technician hadn’t been too concerned about Harry’s getting into the shuttle intact.
He leaned forward, mindful of that pinging, so he could peer out of the window, to where the station loomed on their port side while, to starboard, he spied several shuttles were racing away from the station. “How did you get the shuttle past the lockdown?” he asked, easing back.
"You’re not the only one who can use a code phrase,” Siane replied before tapping the autopilot to active and turning to face him. “‘No place like home?’”
“Right,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Great. Now all we need to do is—”
“Tell me what the hells just happened.”
“Maybe later,” Harry said. “Right now we really need to—”
She sliced the air with a gesture so achingly familiar Harry was surprised it didn’t draw blood. “Don't make me make you tell me.”
From what he’d seen in the past few minutes, Harry had little doubt she could. “As much fun as that would be, you should be able to recognize the czozprjz andi,” he said, using the Rasalkan term for such implanted memories. “Seeing as you’re the one who put it there,” he added as he turned his attention to the window, and the hulk of a prison beyond.
“Of course I recognize the czozprjz andi,” she said, her voice low with anger. “I also know I put it there over twenty-five Standards ago.”
"I know.” Harry glanced her way. "I've counted."
"And it's been like this?" She gestured at his head. “This acute? The entire time?"
“Pretty much.” Why, after all, bother lying when she’d recognize the falsehood. “The smells, the sounds… your last scream” The guilt of not being able to get to her. “Always there, always fresh. Like it’s happening for the first time.”
Her curse was more a hiss.
“Work could mask it.” Harry fixed his gaze on the console. “So could booze. I could get deep enough in a case, or a bottle, and the memory would become a dull roar in the background. But cases end, and bottles empty, and the memory would be there, waiting.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like that,” Siane said, her voice rough, her eyes narrowed with thought. “The implanted images should have been like any other memory, any other trauma. It should have faded. Softened. Become a dull ache.”
“Have yours?” he asked.
“Most of them.”
“Yeah, well…” Harry shrugged. “I guess this one was pretty dug in.”
“When did you find out?” she asked. “That the memory wasn’t real?”
“Fayla.” He angled to face her, and the question. “She found your picture in my kit—I have a still-photo of you, from that trip to Ireland—and then she dove into my psyche, found the implant, then she dove further down to the real memory that was buried under the implant.”
“Of course she did,” Siane muttered, “Fayla never met a secret she could leave alone.” She slumped back in her seat while the shuttle’s autopilot angled around an incoming scooper. “But if she found the false memory, why was it still in your psyche for me to trigger?”
“How would I know?” Harry asked, suddenly feeling a bit defensive. “It’s not like I ever understood how all this,” he gestured from his head to hers, “works. I just did what you asked, when you asked.”
“Yes, you did,” she said, staring at him before, for the umpteenth time, slapping him in the shoulder. “You idiot!”
“What?” Harry rubbed his arm. “Why? How am I the idiot?"
"You let a fledgling pregnant empath mess with your neural net. And let me tell you, those hormones were no joke.”
"I rememb-ow," he said when she hit him in the shoulder. Again.
"You shouldn't have let me screw with your head like that!"
“It was your idea!”
“It was a terrible idea,” she countered, pointing at his head. “Obviously.”
"Not that bad," he countered, rubbing his shoulder. “It kept you alive.”
“Barely.” The pointing finger dropped and she glared out the window. “And I still lost our daughter.”
“And I found her,” Harry said. “And then we found you. So… maybe not a total loss?”
He was close enough and more, in tune enough, with her to feel the breath hitch. Close enough to want to be closer, to reach for her.
Instead, he reached for the helm controls, toggling from auto to manual piloting, and took the co-pilot’s stick.
“Time to get to the rendezvous,” he said.
Siane turned to face him. “Rendezvous?”
“We’re not going to get out of here in an impulse drive repair shuttle,” Harry pointed out, pulling up the HUD.
“No, but we could retrieve my ship from contraband.”
“The Sh’tani is here?” Harry asked, glancing her way.
“Anchored at Docking Ring Nine, with the rest of the confiscated transports.”
“Tempting,” Harry admitted, “but we still have to join up with the other extraction unit at Docking Ring One, in case they need support.” Spying the correct tower, he angled the shuttle to starboard.
“Extraction unit? Who else are you extracting?”
“Jessyn and Ray and Mo are in Tower one, retrieving your passenger, Kaylin Tsosi, and the rest of the ADs who were on the auction block.”
“The rest of the—wait. Did you say auction block?”
“Right." He huffed. Shook his head. "I guess there’s a lot I didn’t have time to tell you,” he said, then figured he may as well lay it all out. “While we were planning your escape, we learned Libra Station was running a really ugly side-hustle.” And he went on to explain how they uncovered the incarceration and sale of the ADs, including the details Ray had gleaned from Rikert less than half an hour before.
“Dear Mother,” Siane said at last, staring out at the looming prison as Harry piloted them into an open dock. “I didn’t know.”
“No one knew,” Harry said, then glanced her way. “And no one would have, if Fayla hadn’t asked me to break you out of this place.” As he spoke, the shuttle bumped into the dock, and a hissing thump indicated they’d mated with the ring. “With luck, the other team, about a dozen ADs, and our ride will be waiting to meet us when we join up.”
He paused, glanced at Siane, saw she was still staring out the window, where the prison’s hull now filled the entire port.
“Jessyn will be there, too,” he added, powering down the shuttle.
“I remember,” Siane said.
Then she sighed.
Then she said, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Harry asked, rising from his chair.
“For this,” she said, also rising, to lay her hand on his arm.
And then, before Harry had time to think, added a single word…