Inside the GIES cell where his body had been deposited, Ray’s psyche continued to struggle through the massacre on Verdanti Prime.
Lost as he was in the feedback loop of that fateful day, Ray couldn’t know how many times he and his company made the jump from the drop ship, how often he attempted to buck Rikert’s murderous orders. He didn’t realize he’d watched Corporal TaJihn turn to a purple mist, or Private Razelle’s chest explode.
The visceral assault of memory, likely triggered by the shock of the stun wands, lasted only a few minutes per cycle, but the cycle itself showed no sign of abating, and every time it began, Ray’s heart rate increased, and his adrenaline pumped, his pulse sped and his muscles contracted as if he were in the midst of battle.
All of which Jessyn sensed as she raced back to the Gypsy Moth. Only she was aware, keenly, how many times Ray had fallen into the quagmire of his nightmare.
He had just eviscerated the Kydor mercenary for the seventh time when she dove through the docking link and into the cargo hold of the Moth.
She dashed up the stairs and into the lounge, where she spied Koz hunched over the main comp, his portable open on the console.
Mollin, at Koz’s side, turned as she dropped the bags containing Mo’s purchases next to the heap of parcels, crates, and sacks of groceries and supplies that must have been delivered while she and the others were out.
“We have eyes and ears on him,” Mollin said, indicating the main comp’s holo, which showed Ray, looking much the worse for wear, laying on a drab, gray, floor, hands and feet shackled.
“Give me a moment,” she said, starting for Ray’s quarters. “I will have more.”
Once inside the room she shared with Ray, Jessyn tore through her beloved’s belongings until she found Ray’s St. Christopher’s medal, then pulled a smooth oval of green cyprallite from the small case of adornments she’d brought aboard before dropping, cross-legged on the floor. The medal had once before allowed her to find Ray during a time of great distress, while the cyprallite served as her grounding stone—a talisman that did exactly what its name suggested, by providing Jessyn a tactile reminder of where, and who, she was.
Having experienced Ray’s nightmare once, she had no desire to become lost in it.
Thus armed, she darted back to the lounge, almost bumping into Mollin, who’d followed her.
“Can you open his comms?” she asked, sidestepping around Mollin, aiming for the couch.
“We can, but we’re still not sure how sensitive the GIES security net is. They haven’t detected his comm implant,” Mollin assured as Jessyn dropped to the couch and folded her legs beneath her, “but we’d like to keep it that way.”
Jessyn calculated the risks. “This, then,” she said. “When I say it is time, open the comms. A direct link between he and I. There is much Ray must know, once I wake him, and I am not certain our bond will carry the information clearly.”
Mollin took a deep breath, but looked at Koz, who was watching over his shoulder. “What do you think?”
“It’s one way to find out how good their listening is,” Koz said. “And I can set up a second, ghost transmission—one that’s noisier, and comes from an external satellite. That way, any noise from Jessyn’s communication will look like part of the ghost.”
“Good,” Mollin said. “That’s good.”
Jessyn simply nodded her thanks, gripped the stone and the medal tightly, and closed her eyes. Murmuring a swift mantra, she dropped into the wellspring of her empathic talent, diving deep, and deeper still. Once fully immersed, she traced the eddies of Ray’s essence through the space that is not space, until she once again found her beloved, covered in blood, sweat dripping in his eyes, and swinging his gun in her direction. “Now,” she said aloud. “Activate the comms.”
The sight of Jessyn, standing literally in the middle of what remained of Sergeant Thyss, had Ray finger jerking his rifle down and to the side. “What the ever loving fuck?”
“Raymond,” she said, and to Ray’s further confusion, though her lips moved, the sound of her voice seemed to come from somewhere else—somewhere outside the smoke and muck and blood of Verdanti. “You must wake, now.”
“Wake?” He shook his head, then raised the gun and blew a hole through the torso of an approaching Kydor. As he did, Jessyn’s image flickered.
“Sálufá,” she called. “My heart, wake up—now.”
The order, coming again from the air around him, was accompanied by a surge of emotion—desperation, love, urgency, foreboding—that seemed to pulse with the too-quick beating of his heart.
But at the same time, a familiar hump of enemy soldiers were forming out of the smoke, and Lance Corporal Kastral was waving him down. “Comms,” Ray called, as he had, too many times to count, “sit-rep!”
“It’s bad Lieutenant,” Kastral began, but even as the carnage began once again to subsume Ray, he felt Jessyn’s hand brush over his cheek, turned towards it.
“Forgive me,” he heard her say, “but you must wake. Now!” At which point the gentle hand dropped and her command, backed by fear, love, and desperation, struck him with the force of a phos-grenade’s shockwave, throwing him off his feet and back, back, back…
The landing, when it came, was a lot harder, and a lot colder, then he expected.
“Ouch,” he said, then grimaced, ran his tongue over his teeth, trying to suss out why his mouth felt like he’d been three days in a desert.
Smell—disinfectant, sweat, and blood. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know he was the source of the latter two.
Nor did he need to see the cold, gritty floor on which his cheek rested to know it would be the gray polymer commonly found in prisons, brigs, and hoosegows throughout the known.
But the gentle nudge of Jessyn in his psyche told him he had to, so he did, and had his suspicions as to the nature of the floor, and his injuries, confirmed.
In addition, he noted the door was constructed of reinforced trichromium, which was not standard, unless the brig, prison, or local hoosegow expected to confine the Incredible Hulk.
/At last/ Jessyn’s voice murmured through his comm, causing Ray to start. /Do not respond/ she warned quickly. /You are under watch./
Watch? Ray wondered, then it all came back—the space station, GIES, a fight, the Gmell kit, the stun wands.
Rogue AD on 18 Gamma, request backup!
That couldn’t be right, he thought.
Couldn’t it? Ray questioned himself, the man who’d been left, barely over a year old, at an orphanage. A child who came from nowhere.
From no one.
/It is much to process/ Jessyn said, her voice an anchor in a storm of confusion. /But there is more/
Behind closed eyes, Ray felt his lips twist in a grimace, but even that hurt. He didn’t speak, but he knew she sensed his, ‘let’s get it over with’.
/Beyond the AD, we know you are to be transported to Libra Station on personnel shuttle, the same one Harry will be taking/
Handy, he supposed, just as he supposed Harry thought it handy to have a man inside—way inside—the AD holding cells. That had, he knew, been gnawing at both Harry and Mo, that the ADs wouldn’t know what was coming, or who to trust.
He wondered how trustworthy he looked.
/Beyond that, the rest of the plan remains in place. Koz says the monkeys will be ready in time./
/I know, it is difficult/ Jessyn said, sending a soothing wash of her trust and affection his way, but beneath the bolstering of her love, he felt something else.
What else, he wondered.
/There is one thing more/ she said, as if reading his curiosity, if not his actual thoughts. /It is to do with Verdanti/ she began. /Or, more with—what?/
“What?” Ray asked, both of Jessyn and the air in general, as from beyond his cell he heard a series of voices—questioning, angry, authoritative voices.
Some of them were approaching his cell.
“Company’s coming,” he murmured.
/GIES have blocked the ghost signal/ Jessyn said, which meant all of nothing to Ray. /Koz says we must cut the comms or we will be discovered. Ray, you have to know, Ri—/
And then, as Koz had apparently promised, the comms were cut.
“Ri?” he asked of the air, but the air had nothing to say on the matter.
And, anyway, the door to the cell was opening. Since Ray was still on the floor, his first sight of the incoming agents were two pairs of boots, shined to a ridiculous gloss.
The boots came close enough Ray braced himself for a kick, but then two sets of large, powerful hands gripped him at the shoulders, hoisting him upward as if he were no more than a child’s toy and deposited him, butt-first, on the cell bed’s well worn air-cushion mattress.
Ray let his body settle back until it collided with the wall while he fixed his gaze on a pair of black-uniformed GIES agents.
“What you are feelin’ are the after-affects of an X-90 tactical stun wand,” the shorter of the agents explained, holding up his own wand. “Thirty-thousand volts at the lowest setting.”
The guy’s name, according to the tag, was Otto, and his dialect marked his lower-class Terran British heritage. He also spoke with enough relish Ray got the impression that this was a guy who really enjoyed his work.
“Now, thirty’s usually enough to take down most Fakes.” As he continued, Otto leaned down over the cot, getting close enough that Ray could count the hairs of the wanna-be mustache speckling his light-brown skin. “We ‘ad to go to seventy thou to take you down… Cloney.”
Ray’s spurt of anger might have been predictable, but that didn’t make it any less potent—and it had the added benefit of putting the adrenaline from his extended nightmare to use as he popped his head forward and into the GIES agent’s nose.
Blood erupted, curses flew, and as a fist slammed into the side of Ray’s head, he felt Jessyn sliding into the roiling fury, her essence silky as a clear-running river, smoothing the turbulence, cooling the anger.
And beneath all that, though he couldn’t hear her words, he had no trouble perceiving the implied wait for it.
Not a lot of choice, he thought, as the bloodied Otto eased back, activating his stun wand.
“Back off,” the second agent ordered, stepping between Otto and Ray.
“Dat fuckid Clodey broke by dose!” Otto complained, prodding at the offended proboscis.
“Because you were stupid enough to get in range,” the other agent told him, adding the faintest, “asshole,” at the end.
“He’s cuffed!” Otto waved at Ray.
“Obviously that didn’t stop him,” the woman pointed out.
Ray didn’t react, but he did give her a second look.
Taller than her Cockney partner, the second agent wore her hair high and tight, with the longer, white-blond top pulled into a tail.
Her posture was pure military—ConFed Marine military, Ray thought—and the name on her ID tag read Bader.
“Let me guess,” Ray said, as Bader turned her attention his way, “you’re supposed to be the Good Cop.”
“Sure,” she said, one shoulder hitching in a shrug. “And as the good cop, I’m going to ask nicely for your identification.”
“Not carrying any,” Ray said, truthfully. “As you probably found when you searched me.” He donned a leer and added, “I hope you were gentle.”
“You godda’ take dat?” Otto asked, blotting his nose with his sleeve.
“Just give us your name,” she said. “And maybe the arresting agents will forget that you were carrying an unregistered pulser, a vibro-blade, micro-smoke bomb, which you deployed in a civilian setting,” she added with a dark glance his way.
“You forgot the baton,” Ray said, recalling with a dim satisfaction just how many agents that baton had bruised.
“I didn’t forget it,” Bader said. “But as the only weapon you were carrying that wasn’t contraband, I decided to ignore it.”
He wondered, though he didn’t ask, if she’d ignored the garrote. Because if she hadn’t, that meant it was still in place.
If so—sing hallelujah, because a weapon was a weapon, no matter how small.
“So,” Bader said, interrupting Ray’s internal celebration, “give. What’s your name?”
Ray simply tipped his head.
“Listen,” she said, “Agent Otto here got a sample of your DNA—“
“I was’t ge’tle,” Otto sneered.
“Eww,” Ray said.
Bader nudged Otto and glared at Ray. “We have your DNA and a trace is in progress. But it’ll save us time and you grief if you just give us your name, now.”
“Bond,” Ray said after a brief hesitation. “James Bond.”
Otto’s brow crinkled. “That do’t soud right.”
“Because it’s not,” Bader told him, her disgust with the other agent clear.
“Ya’ got me,” Ray said with a sigh. “It’s Sam Spade.”
Otto took out a palm comp and started to type.
“Idiot!” Bader turned on the other agent. “He’s playing you.”
“I can see GIES recruiting spread a wide net,” Ray said.
“In a shallow pool,” Bader muttered, then winced, as it apparently occurred to her she was agreeing with a prisoner. “Fine, you can keep your secrets. All the way to Libra.”
As Ray considered this confirmation of what Jessyn had told him to expect, Bader glanced at the only other bit of furniture in the room, which was the standard prison issue toilet, then looked back at Ray. “So, if I release your shackles so you can take a piss, are you gonna do something stupid and make me hurt you?”
Ray considered that, and the fact that he really wouldn’t mind making use of the facilities. “On my honor, I will not do anything stupid. At this time.”
Her eyelids flickered and there was again that hint of a quirk in the lips, right before the blast doors dropped and cold duty returned. “You heard the man,” she gestured at Otto. “Drop the leg irons.”
“Why do I ‘ave to?” Otto complained.
“Your nose is already broken,” Bader told him.
“Boss is gonna ‘ear about this,” Otto said, but he handed her his wand and crouched down to apply the magnetic key to the shackles on Ray’s legs.
As the irons fell away with a dull clank, Ray kept his eye on Bader, and wondered.
“You’ve got about thirty minutes before we ship out,” she said, while Otto collected the shackles and backed quickly away from Ray. “Maybe you want to think about giving us your name, and the names of any loved ones you want to say goodbye to.”
With that, she turned and left the room, Otto shuffling quickly behind her.
The door slid closed behind them, and Ray tried not to think how sepulchral it sounded when it thudded into place.