At the same time Rikert was covertly slipping his own sonic shields in place in his office in Tower Two, Harry tucked Luddy's spare pair into his ears.
Then, because as far as he could tell, there was no change in the levels of ore rattling, machinery grinding, or Soren and his comrades chatting about the most recent rumored appearance of the C-13 privy’s headless ghost, gave his right ear-piece a testing tap.
“They auto-activate if the sonic suppressors are engaged, remember?” Luddy said, pointing at his own shields.
“Oh, yeah,” Harry said, though of course he didn’t, because, despite untold hours of studying the prison’s security protocols, no one on Team Gypsy Moth had seen a single mention of sonic suppression systems. “Just not used to the pressure, is all.”
“Uh huh,” Luddy replied, his expression doubtful.
“Anyway, about the TPS?” Harry prompted, hoping to move things along.
“Right. Over here,” Luddy said, once again leading Harry towards the utility panel.
Harry, following, continued to fiddle with the shield in his right ear—funny how spoiled he’d become with Fayla’s comm implants—and hoped that, once the flying monkeys were unleashed, the AI’s sonic protocols would be disabled, rendering the shields unnecessary.
And if the gods were feeling kind (or, at least, less capricious), Jessyn and Mo would have already uploaded their own data tabs by the time Harry got to his.
If they had, then Cerberus—Libra station's three-headed AI—should be distracted enough to allow Ray to take down Rikert, Jessyn and Mo to rescue the ADs, and himself to find and extract Siane.
All of which would be the hat-trick to end all hat-tricks, he thought, opening his hand to study the tiny tab, no larger than his thumb nail.
Even Harry, who lived by what he called Operational Chaos Theory—the proposition that all plans inevitably devolved into chaotic states before achieving a higher level of order—couldn't quite suppress the needles of doubt pricking at his conscience.
What if Mo or Jessyn couldn't upload their code?
What if they did, and nothing happened?
What if everything worked to plan, but too late to help Ray?
What if he couldn't find Siane?
"You waiting for an invitation?" Luddy asked.
"What?" Harry glanced up and saw Luddy had come to a stop. "Oh. Right.” He stepped up to join the other man at the utility panel, which was loaded with comm controls, environmental readings, and a row of docks for a variety of portable devices.
Harry leaned in to scan the docks, looking for the one that matched his tab, when a shadow crossed the arched threshold to his right.
“About time you got back.” Luddy slapped his baton into the flat of his palm as he stepped around Harry, blocking his view of the newcomer. "I thought you were just helping Ipswx to the lift, not taking him all the way to the med-bay.”
Ipswx, Harry figured, must be the unfortunate, kale-eating CO whom Luddy had been called in to replace. He shrugged, continued to run a finger over the docks as Luddy continued, “Two more minutes, and I'd have had to set the dogs on you.” As he spoke, the CO pointed his baton skyward, as if to indicate Cerberus, Libra's three-headed AI, while Harry found the found the dock, lined up the data tab, and began to slide it into place.
“Sorry, Boss,” the new arrival said.
A simple phrase, delivered in a warm, husky voice.
A voice Harry hadn’t heard outside of dreams for over twenty-five years.
Which was likely why, on hearing it again, he froze, the data tab forgotten, as he turned. Still, all he could see was Luddy’s broad head, red line of his neck, sheened with perspiration, while that voice continued to explain, “CO Krieg, over in separation, stopped me on the way back, wanting to know why there was a slow-up on the ore belt.”
Here, Luddy shot a glare at Soren and company, who had ceased chatting, and were muscling the chute into place with more vigor than Harry thought necessary.
It gave him just enough of an opening to see the newcomer’s face, also aimed at the three inmates, her profile offering the faintest hint of a crooked smile as the trio came this close to dumping the entire load of ore onto the deck, rather than the belt.
His heart took a long, slow, turn, and he began to step forward, when Luddy spun back, once again blocking Harry’s view.
“Sandran,” the CO said, waving at the chute. “Get in there and see if you can keep those idiots on task before Krieg sends a complaint up the ladder and we all end up in smelting for the next three cycles.”
“Got it, Boss,” she said, offering a single, over the heart salute, before starting to cross the deck, not so much as looking at Harry.
Not that he was surprised she didn’t see him, a shadow of a uniform behind another uniform, but—how could she not have sensed him?
How could Siane not know he was standing right here?
Relief that he wouldn’t have to find her battled with confusion she seemed oblivious of his presence as Harry angled to follow her progress.
But turning as he did, with the data tab half in place, caused it to catch against the side of the dock.
Spinning back, he fumbled the tab, tried to catch it, and eded up bobbling it from the palm of one hand to the other, in a tragic attempt at juggling, until it finally bounced off his right hand, flying out of his reach, arcing down to land near Siane, lodging in one of the open slats of the deck with the tiniest tink.
“Way to go, Solo,” Luddy said, throwing Harry a glare.
“Sorry,” Harry said. “Sweaty hands.”
“More than I need to know,” Luddy told him. “Sandran,” he called out, gesturing towards the tab. “Do you mind?”
She paused, turned, noted the tab just a few inches from her scuffed boots and, with the same briskness Harry remembered so well, scooped it up and turned on her heel to face Luddy. "Here you go, Bo—Harry?"
"Who?" Luddy asked.
"What?" Harry asked at the same time, maintaining an expression as bland as cold, white toast.
Siane's face blanked. "Sorry," she said, flipping the tab to Luddy, who caught it awkwardly, "I thought you were someone I knew."
"Funny," Luddy observed. "I said the same thing."
"I’ve been told I bear a strong resemblance to Lord Harry on Polaris Abbey," Harry reiterated.
“That’s not it,” Luddy and Siane said at the same time.
Harry grimaced, more for Siane’s benefit than Luddy’s, before holding out his hand for the data tab. “Anyway, about that TPS?"
“Yeah,” Luddy said, his brow crinkling as he stared at Harry. “Sure.” He held out the tab, then snapped it back, “Just, can you do one thing for me, Bolger?”
“What do you need?” Harry asked, only to realize, as Luddy’s expression darkened, which name he’d just responded to.
Not Solo, the one currently inscribed on his ID tab, but Bolger, the name he’d worn aboard the Charon, when he first met Luddy.
“I knew it,” Luddy said as, for all the heat in the room, Harry’s spine iced over. “I knew there was something off about you.”
“What?” Harry asked, tapping his ear piece as he stepped forward. “I think these things are messing with my hearing.”
“Nice try,” Luddy said, backing away so he stood, the point of a triangle, between Harry and Siane.
“Boss?” Siane asked while, behind her, the other three inmates came to a halt to study the events by the door.
“What’s going on?” Soren called out, easing away from the chute.
“That’s what I want to know,” Luddy held data tab in one hand, his baton raised on the other. “Just like I want to know who Harry is, and Solo.” He threw a warning glance at Harry, “And Bolger.”
“Who?” Siane asked.
“Long story,” Harry told her, one hand on his own baton, still sheathed at his side.
“A story you don’t have time for,” Luddy said, eyes darting between the two.
“I’m sorry,” Harry continued, still looking at Siane.
“For what?” Siane asked, taking a step closer, which also brought her closer to Luddy.
“Back off, Sandran,” the CO warned, not noticing that Harry had also closed distance from behind.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Siane said to Harry.
“I’m so confused,” Soren commented.
“I am warning you all to back the hells off.” Luddy brandished the baton. “No one wants a sonic hangover, do they?”
“He’s got a point,” one of Soren’s buddies offered.
“I thought you were dead,” Harry said to Siane, while Luddy’s eyes flicked left, then right.
Her brows rose. “That was the point.”
“Whoa,” Soren said.
“Does no one care that I’m about to call down the wrath of Cerberus?” Luddy asked tightly.
“I do!” a small voice from Soren’s direction called out.
“I have missed you,” Harry said, his gazed fixed on Siane.
He shook his head, cutting her off. “I’ve missed you,” he echoed. “Every day you weren’t there, every night I dreamed you were. It’s been like living with half a heart, forever missing that second beat.”
Siane blinked, her breath visibly hitched. “Goddess—“
“Aww,” Soren said.
Luddy scowled at the inmate. “Damn the paperwork,” he decided. “Cerberus,” he began, his gaze flicking up, “activate—“
Which was as far as he got before Harry, who’d moved another step closer, slid his baton free to deliver a sharp blow to the back of Luddy’s head.
“Whoa!” Soren and company all jumped as Harry caught Luddy, easing him to the deck.
“Really, sorry about that,” Harry said as he laid the CO out, then retrieved the data tab which had fallen from the man's limp fingers.
“What in the—what?” Soren asked, joining Siane.
“It’s a long story, ridiculously complicated,” Harry said, returning to the utility panel. “But the abridged version goes like this: turns out, Libra Prison was created by very bad people who are using it as a cover to do very bad things to ADs. More bad than we even thought to start. Me and a few associates mean to stop them,” he said, once again finding the appropriate dock for the tab. “Also,” he added, jerking his chin towards Siane, “I’m breaking her out of here.”
Soren (and company) thought about that, then looked at Siane, as sweaty and sooty and basically downtrodden as themselves. “What makes her so special?” one of the three asked.
“Idiot,” Soren elbowed his compatriot. “You heard him a minute ago. He’s in love with her.”
“Well, I guess that’s all right then,” the companion replied with a sniff.
“So.” Soren looked to Harry. “What do you want us to do?”
“That depends,” Harry said, lining up the data tab.
Siane, finally, seemed to shake off her stupor and crossed over to join him. “On what?”
“On if this works.” Harry slid the data tab into place with a satisfying snick.
Siane looked at the tab, then at Harry. “What are we waiting for?”
“The monkeys,” he said.
She stared. Sighed. “Operational Chaos? Still?”
He grinned. “It hasn’t been disproven, yet.”
“And how long until we reach a higher level of order?” she asked, but before Harry could reply, another shadow crossed the threshold.
“Luddy?” Another CO came striding into the room, her face flushed and her voice livid. “Why am I not seeing any ore on that belt? What in the hells are you idiots doing in here?”
“Hey, CO Krieg!” Soren waved helpfully at the new arrival.
“I think we’ve a ways to go,” Harry said, reaching for his baton, only to remember it was still on the deck, next to the gently stirring Luddy and added. “A long ways.”