Bader had just started to cross towards the bar when a commotion at the rear door had her raising the table leg she'd wrenched free on hearing Rikert's inarticulate bellow moments before.
Then she spied Jessyn, along with the woman who had gone to free the ADs.
Otto dashed in behind, looking more grim than Bader recalled ever seeing him.
Following Otto came four Neocols, and after that, an all-out rush of people—the ADs, she assumed—spilled into the room.
“The bar,” Jessyn, leaning on the brunette, pointed in the direction Bader had been heading.
Bader started to join them when the dark-haired woman looked across the hall. “Get those doors open!"she called to Bader.
As much as she wanted to see what was going on with Ray, Bader followed the other woman's orders.
Dashing back to the console, she palmed the doors' locking mechanism, and when the red light flashed, declared, "There's no place like home."
"Who came up with that code phrase?" one of the escaped ADs asked as he came up alongside Bader.
"The Wizard," two, identical, young ladies replied in unison.
Bader almost rolled her eyes at that, but the now the doors were opening, and the scene they revealed had her raising her table leg once again as a Human male in the uniform of a Libra CO was just turning from the falling figure of a gray-suited guard.
To his left, a female Judon casually dislocated another Human’s shoulder before shooting a knee into his head and tossing him aside.
Several other figures of various species lay, groaning or unconscious, on the deck at their feet.
Another three sapients, on spying Bader, a horde of angry ADs, and a pod of Neocols, appeared to rethink the odds and took off running.
While Bader and company absorbed the scene, the man in black strode into the room, his eyes skimming the crowd until Bader stepped in front of him, at which point the cold blue eyes fell on her.
“I know you,” he said, “from the Charon.”
“I don’t know you,” she replied, tapping the table leg in the palm of her hand.
At the cry, both Bader and the stranger turned to see Jessyn’s eyes fixed on him. The other woman was at her side, but Otto had sprinted ahead and was already at the bar.
“Now you know,” the man said to Bader.
It just kept getting weirder, Bader thought, but she stepped aside, and he rushed through the first line of ADs before stopping and looking back.
“You look like you know your way around. Can you get these people to docking bay Alpha-Sixteen?”
Too stunned at this point to respond, Bader simply nodded.
“Then do that,” he said, then continued to race across the room.
A jingle of metal had Bader turning to discover the Judon female, her mesh veil chiming with her breath, had joined the party.
"And you are?" Bader asked.
"With him…for the moment ," the Judon said, her yellow eyes flicking towards Jessyn’s father before her voice dropped to add, "I smell blood."
Bader, veteran of many a ground battle, nodded. “Me, too,” she said softly, then gestured to the multitude behind. "You heard the man? Let's move out."
Harry’s long stride carried him across the room, the scent of blood thickening with every step.
He arrived a mere breath after the short GIES agent he’d seen aboard the shuttle, escorting Ray, along with his blonde partner.
It appeared that, sometime in the past hour, the pair had joined team Gypsy Moth.
As one, the men stepped around the bar, where Harry discovered the source of the odor that had drawn him across the room.
It took several frantic beats of his heart to determine whose blood it was, but even spying the telltale wound in one of the tangled figures—for though they lay, side by side—Rikert's left hand was still tangled in the wire wrapped around Ray’s neck.
Both men's eyes were closed, as if sleeping but, to Harry’s eyes, only Rikert’s chest still rose and fell in the shallowest of breaths.
The clinical part of him assessed the amount of blood lost, and determined it wouldn’t be rising much longer.
All this he noted in the second, it took Mo to growl a warning, "Otto,” and for Jessyn to utter a soft, yet undeniable, “Step aside.”
And then the two women had slipped past Otto and Harry, and then they were on the deck behind the bar, taking no notice of the gore spreading beneath them.
Harry felt an odd twisting in his chest as Mo, without hesitation, began to perform chest compressions and Jessyn, kneeling above his head, loosened the wire over his throat, leaving Rikert’s hand to slap wetly onto the deck, separating the two men, at the last.
Harry and Otto shared a bleak look, before Otto sent a meaningful glance at the entrance to the auction house, where the last of the escaped prisoners were already disappearing through the doors.
Harry nodded, turned to his daughter, just as she straightened from giving Ray her breath. “Jess—“
"There is a spark,” Jessyn cut in, before turning her unwontedly calm gaze towards Mo. “I need help to fan the flame."
"Anything,” Ray's sister agreed, even as she continuing to pump Ray’s heart.
“Father,” Jessyn continued, even as she laid her free hand on Ray’s forehead, “will you continue the compressions?”
He wanted to protest, to tell her whatever spark she sensed couldn't possibly be enough, but the certainty in her eyes would not be denied.
And so, despite his misgivings—and Otto's huff of disbelief—Harry joined the two women, barely noticing the glass crackling under his knees as he eased down next to Mo.
“Come on, Cowboy,” Mo muttered as, with practiced ease, Harry slid his hands under hers in to take over the compressions. “You are not leaving me, like this.”
"He will not," Jessyn promised, holding out one hand. "We will make certain of it."
"How?" Mo asked, but she put her hand, and her faith, in Jessyn’s waiting palm, and immediately felt the world around her dissipate. From the littered deck, the coppery air, the brush of Harry’s uniform jacket against her arm as he continued to force Ray’s heart into motion—all of it—washed away like chalk in the rain.
And within the space of a heartbeat, Mo found she was no longer kneeling on the blood-soaked deck of a prison, but standing at Jessyn’s side on the pearlescent shore of a silver lake.
Mo felt her eyes widen in shock, but she sensed little else in this strange place.
Though she knew she stood, her feet sensed nothing beneath them. And while her lungs expanded, she could not taste the air.
All she could feel, truly, was Jessyn’s hand, clutching her own.
It should have been terrifying, and might have been, but for Jessyn’s soothing presence, and the shimmering mist which hung all around them.
The mist itself was impenetrable, but to Mo’s wonder, it sparked with a multitude of lights, all flickering like a host of fireflies.
But where fireflies shone in single, lonely, bursts, these lights shot out tendrils that connected to other lights before they dimmed, weaving an ephemeral web of dazzling color.
It was beautiful, and yet it seemed to Mo as if the tendrils were slowing in their bursts, and fewer and fewer flickered to life afterwards.
Then Jessyn’s hand jerked. “Sálufá,” she murmured.
Mo, turning, saw that Jessyn was looking at a figure in the lake.
“Ray,” she said, as, even through the strange mists, she recognized her brother. “Ray,” she said again, not even questioning how he was here, or even where here was.
Ray shifted, ever so slightly, and as he did, the lights around them surged.
Encouraged, Mo took a step towards Ray, but Jessyn—with an unexpected strength—held her in place.
"We must not touch the water. "Jessyn said.
“But the water's not real,” Mo protested before asking, “Is it?”
"It is real to him," Jessyn said, before turning her gaze to where Ray was taking another step away, further into the depths.
“Sálufá!” This time she called the endearment out loud, and Ray, on the verge of another step, paused and looked their way.
And in that moment, Mo knew the first stirrings of doubt, because, and despite the seeming distance, she could all too clearly read the expression on his face—and it was an expression she’d never expected to see in Ray—one of acceptance.
“No,” she said as Jessyn, despite her own warning, took an impulsive three steps closer to the water.
Mo didn’t hesitate to follow, but she did grip Jessyn’s hand tighter, for though it could be no more “real” than the lake, or the beach, or the mist, it was the only tether Mo had to the world she lived in.
The world she knew.
“Ray,” Jessyn said, coming to a halt a bare hand-span from the gleaming waters, “Esprezi,” she used the Rasalkan endearment that Mo knew meant beloved. “Would you leave us so soon?”
Out in the waters, Ray hesitated, and for a moment Mo thought he would continue walking.
In that one, short moment, she no longer saw Ray as the man he’d become, but as the child she’d taken under her wing at the orphanage—he and Sol, lost boys both. She saw him toddling to her, arms outstretched. She saw him crying as one of their friends went away with her new family.
No more than an instant passed, but once it had, and her vision resolved again on the grown man in the middle of a lake, Mo discovered just how much pain a heart could endure and still go on beating.
Ray was no stranger to conflict—hells, his entire life had been one long battle.
Even when, as Father Ernesto would often point out, the only one he fought was with himself.
It should have come as no surprise, then, that his death should also be contested.
Yet he was surprised when the faded sound of his name being called drifted over the water.
Surprised enough to turn and see two dim silhouettes standing at the shore.
Which was, of course, impossible.
For he had seen his ending in Rikert's eyes.
Seen it when the other man realized the only reason Ray had stopped fighting for his own life was so he could take Rikert with him.
There had been some pleasure in that moment-a sweetness to counter the bitterness of leaving.
But how could he, the orphaned child of no one, the disgraced soldier, the cold-blooded assassin, have expected there was a single soul willing to follow him past that last cruel exchange?
Plain answer… He couldn't.
Which was why he dismissed the shadowed figures as nothing more than Life's final joke at his expense, and so turned to take another step further into the lake.
Ray faltered again, this time as the Rasalkan endearment rippled through the stillness, shot a fireworks display of lights through the mists.
Once again he turned, but more slowly than before, because the lake, or whatever was beyond the lake, called to him as well.
But he did turn, and turning, found that the shadowed figures had come closer, to the edge of the rippling water, allowing him to see exactly which two people in all the Known would dare to follow him here.
"Brave one,” Jessyn continued, her clear voice scything through the seductive mists. “Beloved, second beat of my heart … surely you would not leave us so soon?"
It was a simple question, and should have been powerless, in such a place, but the poignancy of her voice, in asking, had Ray's breath catching in his throat.
At which point he realized it was the first time since finding himself in this place that he'd taken a breath at all.