Jessyn might not have been privy to her father's unique application of universal chaos theory, but as Mo's tempestuous demand hung like a high-pitched ghost over the frozen reception area, she definitely grasped the concept of events slipping out of her control.
"Answer my question!" Mo pressed, unfazed by the mass of eyes and antennae fixed on her. "Do you know who I am?”
Hoping Mo's display was enough of a distraction, Jessyn eased away from the center of the confrontation.
As she moved closer to the presumed utility console, a genteel throat-clearing emerged from the podium, followed by the host's gentle declaration. "In fact, Madame, we don't know who you are. Because you are using an alias, as is everyone else present."
"And how dumb is that?” a manic Mo asked turning to face the host with a wide-armed wave that whapped the security staffer’s head.
“Okay,” the man said, grabbing Mo's arm on the rebound. “That’s enough.”
“Hey!” Mo shouted again, this time twisting in such a way that the bit of fabric in the security officer’s hand tore. “Hands off, you, you, you— troglodyte!”
Jessyn, mid-retreat, came to a halt, caught between Mo's directive to upload the monkeys and the need to fulfill her role as a jammer.
Mo, however, solved that problem by bringing her knee into the unsuspecting security officer's groin.
His pained grunt was barely audible over the gasps, whistles, and one “Whoa” of sympathy from the audience.
"I have to admit," one of the Human guests faux-whispered to her companion, "I never expected we'd be getting a free show with our auction."
“Ancestors, this is just like Zyx's party, all over again," Kaara murmured, and Jessyn glanced over to see the Eiolan rising from the chair she’d taken in the back row as a loudly whispered, "Is this a part of the event?” came from another guest.
"This sort of display would never be allowed at a Judon function," the veiled representative of that species observed.
Since the Judon were known for their xenophobia to the extent they never allowed haij—non-Judon—to see their faces, Jessyn had difficulty imagining any Judon function that would include the members of other species.
“This party sucks,” was Mo's addition to the commentary, made as she stepped away from the security drone, who was curled over himself while the seven remaining security staff, spread throughout the room, hesitated.
Jessyn imagined they'd never seen the likes of Mo, before.
Goddess knew, Jessyn hadn't, but as the grifter was drawing all of the attention in the room, she turned and headed straight for the horrible painting, popping her wrist unit and retrieving the data tab as she went.
Mo, meanwhile, tugged the shredded excuse for a dress back into place. “Serves you right,” she said to the moaning drone at her feet, before turning to see the other security types were finally starting to come to life, while Jessyn was within a meter of the painting.
“Try me,” she said to the oncoming drones. “I’ll have all your asses in front of a personal injury oversight in a heartbeat.”
As she watched, three reconsidered the next step, another three turned to the host, apparently seeking guidance, while the last one, a tail-lashing Gmell standing at the lounge’s entrance—moved to cover the lounge’s entrance, supposedly to prevent any kind of escape.
But what the Gmell didn’t know was that Mo had no intention of escaping.
“Honored sapients, if you would please take your seats?” the host asked, a hint of pleading in his voice, which was enough to jar the rest of the security team into motion.
Sort of motion, Mo noted, their cautious approach reminding her of the Cybasyrros—Surresh Prime’s version of cowboys—trying to cut a wild murryn from the herd.
She bared her teeth at the nearest guard, who backed off a step, while gauging the distance to the second utility panel, which was still guarded by nothing more threatening than that pastry tower.
She could make it, Mo thought, and better, while she was making a sprint for the data port, no one would be watching Jessyn.
After that, well, all bets would be off.
Resigned to ride whatever wave was coming, Mo made a show of adjusting the torn strap of her dress, using the move to tap the cabochon in the wrist cuff she’d taken from Jessyn, but just as she palmed the data chip a blue hand clutched at her shoulder.
“Amby!” Kaara hissed, clearly ignoring the host's strained request. “What in the—?”
“What in the hells are you doing with that painting?” another guest, one of the Humans, called out, interrupting Kaara, who, with Mo, glanced over to see Jessyn standing behind the bar with the ugly painting in hand—and, praise Jesus—an open utility panel behind her.
Without hesitation, the Rasalkan beauty aimed her baby blue eyes at the audience, who were now focused in her direction.
“It spoke to me,” Jessyn explained with a quirk of a smile and a half shrug, shifting automatically into the most guileless version of herself Mo had yet seen.
The fact that the change from cool jammer to wide-eyed innocent was so seamless had Mo wishing she could lure Jessyn onto her team.
“It spoke to me, too,” another Human guest said with a grimace. “It told me to ‘Get out.'”
“I think it quite lovely,” one of the Milleon guests observed, the translator’s flat tones belying the excited clacking of his mandibles.
“They do say art is in the eye of the beholder,” the host agreed. “Which reminds me, we have a number of lovely subjects waiting to be bid upon.”
“Amby? What. Is. Happening?” Kaara whispered the question, while the host attempted to corral the audience’s attention, and the security drones continued their attempt to corral Mo, though it looked as if two of the team were now splitting off to where Jessyn still held the painting.
Mo turned her own gaze to Kaara, mentally counting the steps of the incoming drones. “I promise, I will tell you everything, later. If there is a later,” she amended, glancing at the security guys. “But first—do you trust me?”
Kaara’s expression flattened. “Why should I, when it appears that every time we meet, disaster follows?”
“Because, like art, disaster is in the eye of the beholder,” Mo said quickly—even at their murryn-herding pace, those five security types were getting close. “And if you’re the person I believe you are, you already know the only one left hurting after Zyx’s party, was Zyx.”
As she spoke, she peeked over Kaara’s shoulder to see the two drones closing in on Jessyn. Mo jerked her head in the direction of the nearest and Jessyn, after one blank look, caught on and tossed the painting at the gray-clad woman.
“Oh, I say, is this necessary?” the host asked as Jessyn grabbed a glass from the bar and heaved it at the second security individual, who ducked, but the glass continued to fly until it bounced off the carapace of one of the Milleons, who leapt up from her seat, followed by both her cohorts.
Jessyn, to her credit, used the distraction to spin around to the utility panel and slam her data tab into the dock.
One down, Mo thought, while the Milleons, chittering and clacking faster than their translators could pick up, headed towards Jessyn, a move that pulled two of the murryn herding drones from Mo to the Milleons.
“Sapients, please,” the host called out, “I promise, all will be sorted if you would just remain in your—and there go the Neocols,” he cut himself off with a sigh as the pod of amphibians began to drift towards the excitement.
“We had one night together,” Kaara pointed out, her fingers digging into Mo’s shoulder as the rest of the audience surged from their chairs. “Hardly enough for you to think you know me.”
“Some nights speak more than others,” Mo countered. “Ours told me you are a decent person, one who does not want to be here, and one who would, if she had the chance, put a stop to the obscenity of an auction that’s about to happen.” She watched Kaara’s breath hitch, then took the older woman’s hand as it fell from her shoulder. “I can give you that chance,” she said, putting all her trust, and all their lives, in the Eiolan’s hand. “If you can trust me.”
Over at the bar, Jessyn was continuing to throw glasses, bottles, and cocktail garnishes.
She wasn’t actually aiming at anyone, she just wanted to cause a distraction, so when, in one memorable moment, sent a corkscrew flying she froze, then waved her hands and called out a quick, “My sorrow!” as the pointy utensil careened past the host’s ear. Then she wondered why she was apologizing—after all, the man was involved in selling people—and picked up a container of tiny umbrellas, which she let fly over the milling crowd of guests and security.
It was then, as she grabbed hold of another bottle, that she noticed the gray-clad staff converging on Mo, who was holding Kaara’s hand. Jessyn couldn’t hear what Mo said, but her expression was one of entreaty.
The pair were still half a room away from the second utility panel, with four guards converging on their position.
Then Jessyn saw Kaara shaking her head, withdrawing her hand from Mo’s, and stepping away as the guards, as if freed from some restraint, converged on Mo, eyes hard and stun batons raised.
Jessyn, unable to sense what was happening, could only assume that whatever succor Mo had sought from her one-time lover had been refused.
Which meant Mo could not plant her third of Koz’s code.
Setting her jaw, Jessyn threw another bottle, and another, this time at the guards surrounding Mo, but the lounge was large, and now the Neocols were in the way, their tentacles flicking out to block Jessyn’s missiles, and her view of Mo.
Despair iced her spine as more security, including one holding the horrible painting, surrounded her, joined by two Milleons and the Judon.
“Are we done, yet?” asked the painting-toting guard. “Because I think it’s safe to say, playtime’s over.”
In reply, Jessyn grabbed the closest bottle and held it like a club, only noting it was unstoppered when the wine within cascaded, a garnet-colored fall, to stain the carpet at her feet.
She tried not to think how much it looked like blood.
Looking up, she found herself surrounded, and over the shoulders of the man with the painting, Mo was in custody, her eyes hot, her expression devastated.
At a loss, Jessyn lowered the bottle, then let it fall from her hand to land on the sodden carpet, stirring up the odor of tart berries.
Perhaps it was the scent of the wine that reminded her of the breath of cherries she’d sensed when first arriving on Libra. But when the phantom spike of a headache followed that sickly sweet odor, she understood.
It was Ray, again, smelling those cherries, feeling that pain.
Somehow, even through the station’s sub-harmonic block, she could perceive, at least a little, of what he was experiencing.
My sorrow, Salúfá, she thought, hoping that, at the last, he would feel her, as well.
And then the Libra security were swarming around the table, proving that playtime was, indeed, over.