Chapter 36 - Pt 1
"Well?" Mollin asked.
“Well, what?” Koz, still standing in the middle of the Gypsy Moth’s cockpit, asked back.
“Well, are you going to give me that mug of coffee?"
Privately, Koz had to admit he was impressed question had been able to escape Mollin clenched teeth. “Sure,” he said, crossing to the pilot's chair, but even as Mollin reached for the mug, Koz pulled it close. "Only I wondered… he paused, waiting for Mollin's inarticulate garbling to cease. “I wondered... Doesn’t it bother you?”
Mollin's outstretched hand dropped. "Doesn’t what bother me?"
"This.” Koz's chin bobbed, indicating the cockpit, the HUD, his comp. “All of this. The waiting, the being unable to do anything, not knowing if your people have failed, or if they're even ali-"
"No," Mollin cut in, perhaps a mite too quickly. "It doesn't. Bother me.”
"Really?" Koz asked.
Mollin attempted a shrug. “I make a point of not obsessing over what I can't control," he explained, but his glanced dipped briefly to the right as he spoke.
“Okay.” Koz studied him for another beat, then held out the mug, but when when Mollin grabbed hold of it, Koz didn't relinquish his grip.
“Universe preserve," Mollin muttered. "Now what?”
“I just thought you might want to know that you suck at lying,” Koz said.
Mollin’s eyes narrowed, but all he said was, “Fine. Now let go of my coffee."
"It's not a flaw," Koz, told him, ignoring the demand. “It’s just interesting. One would imagine that since your Zycyrdoal's Syndrome prevents you broadcasting your emotions via dermal coloration, you'd have had more experience flexing your obfuscation skills. It's interesting," he reiterated. "In my opinion, at least."
“Is that so?” Mollin asked, rising from the pilot’s chair (all, Koz noted, while maintaining a death grip on the mug), “Well, to quote from the Book of Slater, you can take your opinion and shove it up your—”
/All hands report to emergency stations/ the alert, blaring over Koz’s comp, cut Mollin off. /Repeat, repeat, all hands report to—<Fly my pretties! Fly! Fly!>/
"That’s—” Koz began.
"Coming from Libra," Mollin finished.
<It appears as if your code has been successfully uploaded,> Dorothy added, as a series of alarms, vocal and verbal, fought for supremacy over the code’s homage to the immortal Margaret Hamilton.
"They did it!” Koz slid both mugs in the cockpit's cup holder as he climbed into the co-pilot's sect.
"You sound surprised," Mollin said, flinging himself into the pilot’s seat, where he began the abbreviated prelaunch sequence. "Didn't you expect your code to work?"
“I knew my code would work,” As he spoke, Koz muted the Libra alerts while Mollin brought up the Nav display. "My concern was the capability of the biological element of the plan."
"You mean the team," Mollin said, activating the ship's thrusters. "Your team."
"They're not my—” Koz began, but left the protest unfinished as he looked to where Mollin, eyes locked on the HUD, took the yoke in both hands and hauled back, launching the Moth from her hiding place.
No one would ever accuse Koz of being able to read the room, but even he knew when he’d managed to, as the Cherrii said, put his toes in the composter.
Inside Rikert's office, Ray made a quick survey of the scene following the, literally, explosive arrival of the prison bus. Breathing in air that tasted of smoke and coolant, he first peered over the desk to see Rikert flat out, seemingly unconscious. Possibly he'd knocked his head on something as he'd flown over the desk.
What Ray didn't see, on either side of the desk, was Rikert’s pulser, but as he took a step backwards, his foot tapped against something hard, that rolled slightly away from him. Looking down, he discovered the bottle of Wallace Blue.
He didn’t even know he’d bent over to grab it until he rose, one hand balancing on the desk, with the bottle in his hand.
Still gripping the scotch, he turned to study the bus, the front of which was still poking through what had been the door. Since nothing appeared to be on fire, he focused on the two figures still sitting, apparently stunned, in the cab and raised the bottle in their direction, tipping it back and forth in invitation, even as a series of alarms morphed into the opening strains of Follow the Yellow Brick Road.
His pantomime was answered by a trio of muffled thumps from the cab, followed by a metallic screech, and then an echoing bang as the door on the driver’s side flew open.
Bader emerged first, followed by a gaping Otto, who made straight for Ray. "Let's have some o’ that." He said, his dark eyes wild.
"Whoa.” Ray stepped back, holding the scotch out of reach. "First answer me this.” He pointed at the pair with his free hand. “Visitors, or home team?"
Otto froze mid-step, and his face, smudged by dust, twisted. He looked at Bader. "Who's the home team, again?"
"Him," Ray said.
"He is,” Bader said at the same time.
Except, while Ray was pointing at Rikert, over on the far side of the desk, Bader was pointing at Ray.
"What?" he asked, before hearing a growl that wasn't coming from Libra’s speakers.
"Behind you!” Bader clarified, reaching for her baton, but Ray was already turning to see a clearly furious Vanzale working his way to his feet.
Ray had actually forgotten about the other agent, who looked, with his bared teeth and eyes glittering in the flickering light, like the living embodiment of murder.
Like recognizes like, Ray thought, even as he raised the hand holding the Wallace Blue.
He barely heard Otto’s drawn out, “Noooo,” as he loosed the makeshift missile, but he did echo the sentiment as the bottle bounced off Vanzale’s skull to hit the corner of the desk, where it shattered and sent a shower of glass, and very expensive scotch over the desk, Vanzale, Rikert, and Ray.
“Well, shit,” Ray said, taking stock of the wreckage.
“I’d sooner see a church burn,” Otto said, coming up alongside Ray in a moment of unexpected commiseration.
“At least Vanzale’s out again,” Bader offered, coming up on Ray’s other side.
“Small favors,” Ray agreed.
“So,” Bader said, still studying Vanzale, “you looking for a ride?”
“What Mr. Slater is looking for is something I can guarantee he’ll never find,” a too-familiar voice rose from behind the trio.
Bader and Otto spun immediately, to face the new threat, but Ray didn't need a visual to ID the speaker.
“Rikert,” Ray said, forcing a somber chuckle while scanning the floor for the missing pulser, “you’re like a case of the Martian trots. Just when you thought it was over, bam! More shit.”
Where had that gun ended up?
"Uh, Slater?" Bader nudged Ray with her elbow. "Maybe not the best time to piss off the guy with the pulser."
Which answered that question, Ray thought, resting a hand on the corner of the desk as if to support himself while he turned to see that, yes, Rikert who was standing half in and half out of the bus' cab, had possession of the damned pulser, and was aiming it directly at Bader.
He might not be the most strategic thinker, but no doubt, Rikert’s upgrades had made him fast.
“Where was it?” Ray asked wearily, leaning a little more heavily on the desk.
“Rolled under the bus,” Rikert said, glancing at the pulser, then back at Ray. “Apt, seeing as that’s where I intend to throw you, and your misguided saviors.”
<I’ll get you, Dorothy, and your little dog, too,> the AI cackled, as if in agreement.
To be continued…