Rikert gets chatty over drinks. *
To catch up on previous chapters of The Libra Gambit, click HERE.
*Please note, we will be taking the week off for the holiday, so chapter 30 will not be posted until Monday, December 7.
This does not mean we are traveling, or hosting large parties. But, the people in my particular bubble won't be distance learning or working from home for the entire week, so we're going to try for some family time that's not just "we're all stuck together in the same place". Thanks to everyone for keeping up with the story, and we'll be back on December 7!
“Wallace Blue?” Rikert’s brows winged up at the request.
“What?” Ray’s shoulder hitched up in a shrug that pulled sharply at his ribs. “I have good taste.”
“You have expensive taste,” Rikert observed. “Which isn’t necessarily same as good.”
/Hey, Cowboy,/ Mo’s voice hummed through Ray’s skull. /Did you mean to activate your comms, or are you just trying to get a drink?/
“In this case, it’s a little of both,” Ray answered both Rikert and Mo at once.
/Copy that/ Mo said.
/Stay safe/ Jessyn added.
Harry was uncharacteristically silent, but Ray figured he might not be in a good place to chat.
Ray was right.
Harry, standing between CO Luddy’s raised baton and the inmate still struggling to stand, was not in a good place to chat.
Since he figured Ray wasn’t, either, he kept his own mic muted while a voice he’d only heard for the first time a couple hours back—first via Ray’s nightmares and then when Koz sliced into the GIES communications—filtered through Ray’s comm, asking if two fingers would be enough.
Since Rikert sounded inclined to be friendly, he kept the greater share of his focus on the less-than-friendly Luddy, who was currently asking Harry, “Who the fuck are you, and why are you interfering in my disciplinary action?”
After a silent, woo hoo that Luddy didn’t recognize him, or rather, Bolger, Harry pointed to his name tag. “Solo,” he said. “Second shift.”
“I don’t know any Solos on the second shift,” Luddy said.
“I don’t know any Luddys, from anywhere,” Harry lied. “Anyway, I’m new. Started two weeks ago.”
“It shows,” Luddy said, indicating the prisoner still huddled behind Harry.
“Can I get up?” the fallen inmate said.
“Sure,” Harry said.
“Only so I can knock you down again,” Luddy snapped, edging around Harry while the other two inmates shuffled back.
/I believe a toast would be in order/ Rikert’s voice edged past the CO’s threat.
/Okay/ Ray said. /To absent friends…/
“Beg pardon?” Rikert asked, settling at his own chair, drink in hand.
“No.” Ray raised his glass, well aware of Vanzale, looming behind him. “Here’s to Lewash, Sergeant Major, Gery; Ribbloo, Private Arid; Perry, Lance Corporal, Martha, Ctheon, Staff Sergeant, Gnokti; Van, Private First Class, Salos—xe was on xer first tour, by the way, and shed like a motherfucker, but you know how it is with Gmell’s in hot weather.”
“Whatever are you blathering about?”
“Absent friends,” Ray echoed himself. “But I guess it was too much trouble for you to learn the names of the soldiers you—”
Ray’s query had Jessyn glancing at Mo. “Does he have to antagonize Rikert so?” she asked.
“Antagonizing people is Cowboy’s superpower,” Mo replied. “Now let’s get a closer look at that painting.”
Jessyn followed Mo’s gesture to the purported art that, if the blueprints were correct, covered the second of the lounge’s data ports. “Do we have to?” Her eyes danced over what amounted to a crime scene on canvas.
“Of course we do,” Mo said with a very Ambrosia-like flip of her hair. “Because I want that painting. In fact, I have to have it. Have. To,” she added, turning her gaze to Jessyn and offering the quickest of winks. “My collection won’t be complete without that…specific… painting,”
“If you are talking about a nightmare collection, I would under—oh,” Jessyn said as the credit dropped—and she once again cursed the station’s neuro-harmonic net. Then, at Mo’s not so subtle nudge, she led the way towards the offending art work.
“The lines,” Mo rhapsodized as they neared their objective. “There just aren’t any words to describe the power of those lines.”
“No polite words,” Jessyn agreed as Rikert’s voice—more distant than Ray’s, but still audible, intruded once again.
/Now that you’ve exorcized your maudlin muscle/ Rikert’s voice slid in, cutting off even the urge to smile, /did you still want an answer to your question?/
/Question?/ Ray asked back as Mo and Jessyn shared a glance. /Oh, right—the question about how you became Hulk strong./
“I thought we’d already dispensed with the science fiction,” Rikert said, taking a sip of his own scotch.
“Hulk’s more pop culture,” Ray explained, crossing an ankle over his knee, the very picture of relaxed. “Bruce Banner, wimpy science geek, turned super strong behemoth after getting blasted with some gamma rays. He also turned green,” he added, squinting to recall the reprints he and Sol would pore over in their youth.
“I can assure you no gamma rays were involved in my improvements,” Rikert said.
“And you’re not green,” Ray observed.
Both men sipped their scotch. Sighed.
“Cybernetics?” Ray offered as they lowered their glasses.
“Close,” Rikert nodded, “but not—”
“Listen, Luddy,” Harry swung around, keeping his body between the CO and the prisoner, “I don’t know if you got on the wrong side of the bed this morning or what, but—”
“Believe me, I got off on the best side of the bed this morning,” Luddy cut in with a grimace. “The best side of the best bed.”
“Okay.” And, as Harry watched, Luddy’s eyes warmed with memory, then cooled again when they fixed on the guy huddled behind Harry. “But when I rolled out of that deluxe gel mattress, leaving two of the highly skilled employees of Sharrah’s Platinum Palace of Pleasure—”
“Two?” the cowering prisoner said while his two cohorts, who’d retreated to the chute, whistled in appreciation. “Way to go, Boss.”
“Sounds like a great start to the day,” Harry admitted.
“It was,” Luddy grimaced, sighed, and lowered his baton. “And then it all went to shit when I got back on station and five minutes after hitting my berth, got shunted into the middle of second shift because Portnoy decided to try healthy living and had the kale and quinoa salad for lunch. Don’t ever eat the kale,” he told Harry and then, looking down at the guy behind Harry said, “You can get up Soren.”
“Thanks, Boss,” Soren said, pushing to his feet. “You too,” he added, glancing up at Harry.
“Don’t mention it,” Harry replied while, Rikert’s popped back into focus.
/—true there have been enhancements/ Rikert’s voice trickled through the conversation. /Just not of the silicon chip variety./
Then what’s left? Harry thought.
“Then what’s left?” Ray asked.
“You’d be amazed,” Rikert murmured, swirling the liquor in his glass before setting it on the desk with a thump. “Tell me, do you keep up with the news feeds? Particularly the crime beat?”
If he only knew, Ray thought. “Can’t say as I have,” he said. “Why?”
“Because, about six, seven years back, there was case involving a clone—forgive me, an AD—who turned out to be a serial killer. Human males, specifically. He got away with it for quite some time, racking up over thirty victims, before he was caught.”
“That’s a lot of bodies,” Ray said, while deep in the back of his mind, he thought…
“Uh oh,” Mo said, taking Jessyn’s hand.
At the same time a gray-suited figure stepped up to the podium to tapped a gavel. “Honored sapients, if you would all take your seats.”
/It is, indeed, a lot of bodies,/ Rikert agreed. /Or, rather, parts of bodies./
Rikert’s smooth explanation sent a shiver down Mo’s spine, not unlike the moment she’d first heard Harry tell the story, back on Surresh Prime, in Koz’s penthouse.
“Parts?” Ray pressed, when Rikert paused. Not because he didn’t know which AD serial killer Rikert was talking about, but because Rikert didn’t know Ray knew.
Which was all too fucking confusing.
“You heard correctly,” Rikert confirmed. “According to the stories, the fellow was on something of a self-improvement kick, and was becoming the man he thought he should be—”
/—one leg, one eye, one hand at a time./
“Hey,” Luddy said as Harry’s froze, which was the only reasonable response he could make when his heart was trying to jump out of his throat.
“You okay, Boss?” Soren asked. “You look kinda gray.”
“I—probably shouldn’t have had that kale salad for lunch,” Harry managed, as the odors of sweat and ore were subsumed by those of blood and antiseptic.
“Dude,” Luddy shook his head. “Never, ever, eat the kale.”
“Gross,” Ray said, because that’s what he would have said if he’d never heard this story before. “So he was, like Frankenstein-ing himself? Because I’d think it’d be tough to do the stitching.”
A snort from above told him Vanzale was amused.
Always nice when you can give the sociopathic muscle a good laugh.
“You really should try reading above a fourth grade level,” Rikert observed, sending Vanzale a quelling glance before continuing. “No, Tammas Ren did not ‘Frankenstein’ himself. What he did, was use the same principles of gene splicing that created him… and you, and every other AD. Except in Ren’s case, his creators erred, and a madman was loosed upon the worlds.”
“Guess that didn’t work out so well for the lab that made him.”
“You would think,” Rikert agreed, lifting his glass for another sip. “However, while there was no denying that Tammas Ren—that would be the unfortunate ADs designation—was an utter disaster—”
“Ya think?” Ray interrupted.
Rikert’s eyes narrowed. “Do you want the rest of the story, or not?”
Ray raised his hands, then, because it was there, took another sip of the scotch since his throat was uncomfortably dry.
“Well,” Rikert continued, “after Ren’s arrest, and the subsequent publicity fallout for Pygmalion—that would be Ren’s lab of origin—the owners decided to take the lemons of their literally monstrous failure—”
/—and make lemonade./
Jessyn glanced at Mo as, all around them, the potential buyers walked, stalked, or glided to the seating area. “I do not believe anyone would want to drink that lemonade.”
“Because you’re a good person,” Mo said. “I’d lay odds there are a more than a few who’d be lining up for a taste.”
Ray might not have heard his sister’s comment, but he was of the exact same mind. “What kind of lemonade?” he asked as Rikert tossed back the last of his drink.
Rikert set his glass down on the desk with a clink, then met Ray’s eyes. “I think you know.” He glanced at Ray’s torso, where twice, his fists had left serious marks, then back. “Bet those punches hurt something fierce,” he said.
“I think you cracked a rib,” Ray agreed.
“And I would love to take full credit for that rib,” Rikert said with a smile, “but in all fairness, you should blame Conal Ving, Anders Kurosawa, Mahmoud Trelaney, and Hermine Chan. You see,” he continued, as a chill ran up Ray’s spine, “I may not remember the names of every one of the thousands of marines I commanded, but I do recall every one of the ADs who sacrificed their genetic excellence for my benefit. For the benefit,” he added, while Ray felt the sweat run cold down his back, “of every Baseline sapient willing to pay for the privilege.”