Slumped on his knees on Rikert’s carpet, his gaze forced up by the muzzle at his throat, Ray met the unquestioning face of murder hovering above him.
“At least I’ll be able to take you with me,” he heard himself mumble.
Rikert’s brows rose. “Unless you’ve got a sub-dural boomer in that wreck you call a body, your threats are as empty as your pockets.”
“You’re right.” Ray’s lip twisted in half a grin. At least, he thought it did. Hard to say with everything still on the numb side. “Nothin’ up my sleeve. But,” he added, his hoarse voice dropping to conspiratorial tones, “once those monkeys kick in, you’ll never know what hit you.”
Even as he spoke, Ray wasn’t sure what made him spill the plan.
Maybe it was another side effect of the sonic blast?
An unconscious trigger of self-preservation?
Maybe a combination of both.
At this point, it really didn’t matter, because (hallelujah) even as the words spilled forth unbidden Rikert withdrew the muzzle to a less larynx-crushing distance.
Though Ray’s senses were still a bit wonky, he was at least seventy to eighty percent sure that the look he saw in the bastard’s eyes had shifted from Goodbye, Mr. Slater to What the hells was that?
“What the hells are you gobbing on about?”
Okay, Ray thought, he was close.
But he was dead-on in one respect, at least. He had the bastard’s attention.
“You mind?” Ray jerked his chin ceiling-ward, in the general direction of where the sonic assault emanated. “It’s… kinda hard to think with your brain on the scramble setting.”
Rikert paused a moment, his gaze hopping back and forth between the ceiling and the pulser’s muzzle. And then slowly, cautiously he slid back, rising to his feet.
“Cerberus, discontinue Siren protocol, standby mode,” he called out.
As the sonic disruption ceased, Ray almost flopped all the way back—would have, in fact, had Rikert’s fist not snapped out to grab his shirt and haul him forward, close enough to once again smell his breath, which now included a hint of Blue Wallace mixed in with the cherries.
“You have twenty seconds to hold my interest,” Rikert explained.
“I think this mi’ take a bit longer,” Ray said, wondering if he was going to puke again.
“Now you have fourteen.”
Ray grimaced, wondered what Harry would do, then thought, fuck Harry. Harry was the reason he was in this situation.
“Eleven,” Rikert offered, apparently as fond of countdowns as Koz.
“Koz,” Ray said, as the AD’s features, scrunched in thought, wafted through his brain.
“What?” Rikert asked.
“Not what,” Ray said, pleased to be able to correct asshole Rikert. “Who. Koz is a who. In fact, Koz is the reason your entire life is about to implode.” Wow, he thought, that sonic woo woo sure makes a guy chatty. Maybe something in the sound waves triggered the “Drunk as shit” glands?
“I think you’re making this up,” Rikert said, giving Ray’s shirt a yank before thrusting him back as he himself, rose, putting himself out of Ray’s reach. “And, you are out of time.”
“Go ahead,” Ray waved his hands as he fought to remain upright. “But don’t blame my cold, dead, body when Koz’s monkeys fly, and the team—my team, all on board this station right now—makes damn sure the entire galaxy knows what you’ve been doing here.”
“Doing?” Rikert said.
“You know what I mean,” Ray said. “The sapient trading scam you’re running with GIES… the auctions… the lemonade… all of it." He paused, sucked in a breath, felt the cold tingles of sensation returning to his limbs, along with the even colder sense of sobriety.
He decided not to let Rikert know about that last.
“You’re lying,” Rikert said, but Ray, with his rapidly clearing vision, saw the sweat pricking from the director’s pale forehead.
“If I’m lyin’,” Ray countered, swaying drunkenly, “then how did I know about those auctions? I’ll tell you how I know,” he continued, while Rikert’s mouth made fish-like motions. “Because Koz, he of the flying monkeys, told me. Oh, and did I mention Koz is an AD?” Ray pressed, watching Rikert’s skin seem to shrink against his skull, and his hand grip his pulser tighter. “He is,” Ray bobbed his head, playing punch-drunk for all he was worth. “But unlike me, Koz always knew he was lab grown. Man, I wonder if that means me and Koz are, like, clone cousins?” He made face at the idea. “Gods I hope not. What was I saying?” he asked.
Rikert, still looking shell-shocked, cleared his throat. “You were talking about your friend, Koz.”
“Right!” Ray said, slapping at his thigh and missing, thus proving Harry wasn’t the only thespian on team Moth. “Koz is like, smart. Wicked smart,” he affirmed. “He’s got an IQ close to—hells, maybe higher—than that damned three-headed AI of yours. In fact, Koz says that’s what’ll make the monkeys so effective.”
“Koz says that, does he?” Rikert said.
“That he does,” Ray replied. “He says it’s because your AI—what’s it called? You just said it—Cerberus? Yeah, Cerberus—is too smart for its own good. By the time it…they…it? Whatever.” He waved off the question with a flop of his hand. “Point is, by the time your hound dog realizes what’s happening, and tries to fight it?” Ray drew a finger across his throat. “It'll be way too late.”
“Too late for you, perhaps,” Rikert said. “I, however, will have plenty of time to appreciate the depth and creativity of your mad, and failed, attempt to save your own skin.”
“I’m telling you the truth,” Ray said.
“Your truth,” Rikert scoffed, “is little better than a page of recycled pulp fiction, no doubt stitched together from the vast library of action films and comic books.”
“Graphic novels,” Ray said, while bracing himself to make what was, at this distance, and his current condition, a suicidal jump. Just a few more seconds, to get even a little more control of his limbs would help.
But Rikert was already raising the pulser but even as he took aim a chime sounded, followed by the shimmering appearance of a holo-comm in the middle of the floor, directly between Ray and Rikert.
“Director, my apologies for the interruption,” a slender man with improbably blue hair worn in a tall cone, offered a half nod, half bow to Rikert.
“I don’t have time for interruptions, Claude,” Rikert said, then paused and looked again at the man. “Aren’t you supposed to be running an auction, right now?”
“Yes, but you see, that is the issue—we’ve had a bit of a—complication, I suppose you’d call it, with two of the guests?”
Ray, still kneeling, felt a welcome rush of adrenaline at that statement, one that went from crown to toe.
He was pretty sure he knew which two guests Claude was talking about.
“Then sort it out,” Rikert said with an impatient gesture. “I have other issues to attend—no, wait,” he said, even as Claude’s holographic hand moved to cut the communication. “What kind of complication?”
“Some petty vandalism, possible art theft, and an assault on one of the security guards,” Claude explained.
“When my mother hears how I was treated on this station, you’ll wish you’ve never heard of me!” Mo’s voice rang from offscreen.
“We already wish we’d never heard of you,” another, deeper voice growled.
Claude sighed. “It has been quite an adventure, so far.”
Rikert watched Ray, who remained half-slumped, trying to look as harmless as possible while wondering how Mo and Jessyn ended up in custody.
Did that mean they’d succeeded with their portion of the upload?
There was no way to know, especially not with Rikert watching Ray like a stooping hawk watched a mouse.
“What do you wish me to do?” Claude asked, breaking the mutual stare-fest.
Rikert flicked a gaze at Claude. “Keep everyone in the lounge, and I’ll be along, shortly.”
“Shall I continue the auction?” Claude asked.
“Not just yet,” Rikert said, turning back to Ray. “Lock the room down, Claude, and wait for me.”
“As you wish,” Claude said, though he didn’t look happy about it.
He looked a lot less happy as Mo’s voice again cut through with a rousing call of “Attica! Attica! Remember the Asimov!”
Then Claude cut the comm, leaving Rikert focused entirely on Ray.
“So,” he said. “You were telling the truth after all. Or some form of it.”
Ray figured that didn’t require a response, so he didn’t.
“And yet, I see no monkeys,” Rikert pointed out. “Or any other simian.”
“You sound disappointed,” Ray said, flexing his toes.
“Because you made it sound so thrilling,” Rikert said.
“Wait a few,” Ray said, wishing Rikert just a few inches closer. “You’ll be thrilled to death.”
The skull-like smile made a brief appearance. “Bold talk, for a man about to die.”
“Jesus,” Callie said, falling back on her heels from where she and Otto were crouched on either side of the fly. “I mean—Jesus.”
“It can’t be true,” Otto said, his gaze, for once, shadowed with doubt. “All that about the ADs, and the auctions, and—GIES—it can’t be true. Can it?”
Callie shook her head and pointed at the fly, from which Slater’s voice was asking, “Do you really think killing me will change anything?”
“Not in the least,” Rikert responded. “However, even if you are being utterly truthful, and even if your non-literal monkeys actually do fly, and your Koz, and your team—two of whom are now in custody, I believe—do manage to… spill the lemonade,” he said with a soft chuckle. “Even if all your wild predictions do, in fact, come to pass, it won’t matter a damn.”
“That don’t sound good,” Otto murmured.
“Why not?” Slater asked.
“It won’t matter because there will be no witnesses—and more importantly, no evidence—to support their allegations. Or, there won’t be, once I finish with you and order a cleanup on Tower One,” Rikert said, supporting Otto’s supposition.
“So not good,” Callie said, straightening.
“Does that mean he’s gonna—does me mean to kill—?” Otto, also rising, seemed to lose the ability to speak.
“A whole bunch of people?” Callie asked. “Sounds exactly like what he’s saying.” She spun, glared up one side of the corridor and down the other, until her eyes landed on the bus. “We have to get in there. Now.”
“Not that I don’t agree, luv,” Otto said, still pressed to the office’s outer wall, “but how d’you mean to do it? I ain’t got no lock slicing gear on me and—oy,” he said as she started to walk away. “Are you even listening?”
“Do I ever listen to you?” she asked, not looking back until she climbed into the cab of the bus. “The Libra buses are armored, right?”
Ray, still gathering strength on the floor, might have been heartened to know that, just outside the office, Agents Bader and Otto were in the process of jumping over GIES’s thin black line to join the side of the angels.
But since he had no clue what was happening in the corridor, all he could do was listen as Rikert, in true Bond Villain style, concluded his gloating monologue and watch him aim his pulser, telling Ray they had arrived at the inevitable Do or Die moment.
Ray could only hope it wasn’t going to be the latter.