Never before would Jessyn have considered herself to have lived a sheltered life.
How could she when her role, from the moment of her ascension from the Naihad Academy, had been that of Fayla Szado’s spy.
Given that Fayla was not only the Dama of her own House, but a senior member of the Sisterhood of the Black Rose, it followed that Jessyn’s assignments often required interacting with a number of powerful—and often treacherous—individuals. Interactions in which she made full use of both her training and empathic skills to engage, entangle, or seduce, sealing whatever alliances or collecting whichever secrets the Lady required to further her plans.
And Mother knew some of those assignments required Jessyn to dance on the edge of a very keen blade.
One mis-step and Fayla would not only have lost vital intelligence, she would have had to seek out a new spy.
So, no, Jessyn could hardly claim to have been living the life of a Sheltering Diotessa.
But as the Acheron emerged from hyperspace, mere moments after the Charon, Jessyn found herself realizing that, for all her experiences in the service of the Lady, never had she expected to be part of an undertaking as audacious as a prison break.
In space, Harry’s voice echoed in her thoughts, threatening to break her stern expression with a smile, even as the shuttle angled towards the upper docking ring, and the pilot announced the Acheron would soon be docking.
“Oooh,” Mo said, pointing out the port window from the divan she shared with Kaara. “It’s huge! Think someone’s compensating?”
While Kaara choked on the tea a member of the hospitality crew had provided on boarding, Jessyn caught a brief glimpse of Libra’s triple towers—and was struck by a sudden, sticky sensation—a residue of avarice and lust seeping from several of the other passengers as they, also, viewed their destination.
The sweaty anticipation of those potential buyers told Jessyn more than she wished of the fate awaiting the imprisoned ADs.
But not every passenger’s desires were carnal in nature—at least, not judging by the icy fingers of calculation Jessyn sensed from the veiled Judon standing aloof in the corner of the shuttle, arms crossed over her chest, bright yellow eyes ignoring the existence of every other species in the cabin.
But Jessyn found even the Judon’s chill focus was preferable to the inky inquisitiveness flowing from the pod of amphibian Neocols, grouped a scant three meters from Jessyn’s position.
From that too-short distance, their combined curiosity slid stickily over Jessyn’s psyche, leaving viscera-like trails she had no wish to follow. Nonetheless, she could not stop her gaze from fixing on the pod of four, their iridescent heads bobbing gently on masses of tentacles that appeared fragile, but that could break a Drellan’s neck with ease.
And as she studied them, one of the Neocols turned her way.
Immediately, Jessyn slammed down her internal shields, cutting off any potential emotional leaks on her part.
For while the Neocols were not a true telepathic species, their tentacles were equipped with suckers that could taste changes in the air—pheromones, respiration, perspiration and a host of other “tells”—that carbon-based species involuntary shed everywhere they went.
As Jessyn had no wish to draw the Neocol’s attention, she could only hope her psionic shields were enough to mask her physiological responses. And when, after only a few heartbeats, the Neocol shifted its attention back to its kin, she judged her attempts successful.
“Attention all passengers, we are now approaching docking tube Alpha-16. Please prepare for departure,” the pilot announced over the intercom. “And a friendly reminder from the Libra staff, don’t forget to check any weapons with the hospitality crew on your way out.”
“Well, that’s no fun,” Mo decided, drawing Jessyn’s attention back to her friend.
“I think your idea of fun is lightyears away from everyone else’s,” Kaara observed.
“Please,” Mo flipped a hand. “Everyone loved it when those two brutes drew down on each other at Zyx’s party,” she added, referring, Jessyn supposed, to Kaara’s employer, the art thief.
“No they didn’t,” Kaara assured, handing her empty tea cup to one of the passing hospitality crew.
“Are you sure?” Mo asked, likewise passing off the remains of the Caroco Nebula she had requested.
“Entirely sure,” Kaara said.
“Well, poop.” Mo let out a little huff. “I thought it was the most exciting part of the weekend.”
Jessyn once again felt a smile tug, but this time, before it could form, the shuttle bumped against the dock, and Jessyn’s stomach lurched, sickeningly. As if, she thought, the ghost of a fist had lodged itself under her sternum.
So sharp was the sensation that she had to place a hand on the back of Mo’s sofa to steady herself.
Holding very still, she slowly took a deep breath, inhaling the heady mix of Mo and Kaara’s perfumes, traces of the expensive liqueurs the passengers had enjoyed, all undercut by a layer of dying vegetation (thanks to the Neocols) and—cherries?
That couldn’t be right, Jessyn thought, but even as her eyes slid over the cabin, seeking the source of the overly sweet odor, the ghost of a fist was replaced by the specter of nausea.
Not hers, she realized, as the sweaty urge to vomit shimmered, then faded, but Ray’s.
“Hey? Are you okay G?”
“I think it is—” she began to respond to Mo’s question, but paused as she spied Kaara looming over Mo’s shoulder.
“My apologies, Miss Em,” Jessyn amended, straightening. “The quick jump seems to have thrown me off balance.”
“Yeah, I know I’m usually disappointed by a quick jump,” Mo observed.
“Am—Em,” Kaara chastised. “It is understandable,” she said to Jessyn. “Perhaps you need to sit?” she suggested, indicating the sofa.
“No, but my gratitude,” Jessyn said formally. “It was but a passing discomfort.” For her, at least. She could only hope Ray’s recovery would be as quick.
Before Kaara could comment, or Mo distract, the hiss of the airlock had all three turning to the opening hatch.
Already, two of the cabin crew stood by, each with a lockbox at their feet, each wearing an ocular enhancer over one eye.
“Finally!” Mo clapped her hands and rubbed her palms together. “Okay girls, let’s get this party started.”
“It is hardly a party—oh, never mind,” Kaara said, the ingrained manners mostly covering a deep well of disapproval. With the faintest shake of her silver-maned head, she strode off, following the last of the four Neocols towards the exit.
“Did you want to make her angry?” Jessyn asked as the Eiolan stalked off.
“Just wanted some space to to ask what really happened,” Mo murmured as she and Jessyn fell into line behind a party of Humans.
“It is Ray,” Jessyn replied, her voice barely a whisper. “He was—in pain.”
“The bond,” Mo breathed, then eased away as they came up even with the two crew members.
“I have no weapons,” Jessyn said to the blue-clad attendant to her right, while Mo greeted the other crew member with a finger wave.
Jessyn’s host nodded, then, as he had for every other passenger, activated his ocular.
Apparently, the crew were not inclined to take anyone at their word.
As she was not, in fact, carrying any weapons, she wasn’t worried.
Not until the ocular skimmed down to her arms, and she experienced a brief spurt of panic that the scanner might pick up the data tab secreted in her wrist unit.
She only dared breathe again when, after a few buzzing seconds, the scan was complete.
“All clear,” the attendant said, but then paused and asked, “But what’s with the shoes?”
“Shoes?” Jessyn blinked, then remembered Mo’s spare footwear. “Ah, for the young miss,” she said, indicating the glittering heels Mo was stomping as the other attendant ran a scanner over her.
“Do I look like I need a weapon to get what I want?” Mo was demanding. “And even if I did, where do you think I’d keep it in this outfit?” She gave another temper-fueled stomp.
Jessyn turned back to the attendant at her side. “She tends to break them. Quite often.”
“Ah,” the attendant said, then waved her on before turning to the Milleon clattering up behind Jessyn.
Once outside the shuttle, Mo sashayed up to Jessyn and took her arm. “You felt Ray get hurt?” she asked, then gave a huff. “Of course you did,” she muttered, answering her own question, “because of the bond.”
“Even so.” Jessyn kept her expression bland, and noticed the Judon leaving a pulser in the box, while the Neocols, as a party, seemed to chitter at the idea of needing a weapon. “I know he is more than capable but…”
“Capable doesn’t mean impervious,” Mo agreed, then gave Jessyn’s arm a surreptitious rub. “But listen, he’s taken a lot of dings, and keeps coming back. I know my brother, he’ll manage. But how about you?” she asked softly. “Are you going to be able to handle what’s coming his way?”
“Do I have a choice?” Jessyn asked as they exited the docking tube and stepped onto the curved upper ring and that was when Jessyn realized there was a choice, but one that she could not, in any way, have expected.
Because it was then, as heard Mo’s heels clatter on the deck, the rise and fall of conversation amongst the other buyers, broken by the occasional faulty translator, scented the cold, metallic air, saw the flat lights gleaming off of gray walls that, for the first time in her life, felt—nothing.
“What?” she asked, almost staggering as the symphony of emotions—that had been part of her for as long as she remembered—was suddenly silenced. “How?”
And then Mo, who was still there, though Jessyn could not feel her, not in any real sense, took Jessyn’s hand and pointed to the holo-sign posted at the exit of the ramp, which read:
All guests please be aware:
Libra Super-Max Penitentiary employs a neuro-harmonic net throughout the station.
The net is harmless, but it will disrupt any naturally occurring telempathic abilities, thus ensuring the safety of the station employees, inmates, and visitors.
“Azfylnja,” Mo, staring at the sign, hissed the Rasalkan expletive.
Jessyn, meanwhile, felt not even one of Rasalka’s foulest curses could do this situation justice, turned to her friend with a soft but fervent, “Well, fuck.”