Apologies for the late posting. I spent the morning dealing with broken clothes dryers and distance learning issues. It's been a day.
But now, at long last, LG and I present Part 2 of chapter 36.
To catch up on previous chapters of The Libra Gambit, click HERE.
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Chapter 36 - Pt 2
"What is happening?" Kaara whispered into Mo's ear.
A reasonable question, Mo thought, given the fact that Kaara, Mo, and Jessyn were standing in the middle of the lounge, while most of the grey-clad security types were scouring the room, searching for them.
"Tell you in a sec," Mo murmured. "First we need to get out of here.”
"We can't go through the main door," Jessyn said, her voice little more than a strained whisper. "The Neocols may sense our passage.”
"Then I vote we take the employee route," Mo said, drawing Kaara closer as a Human guest walked past the trio, his eyes skimming over the three as if they weren't there.
It was like having a cloak of invisibility, Mo thought, as Jessyn turned and led the way towards the door through which Claude, the auction's host, had disappeared.
"I hope it's not locked," Kaara breathed in Mo's ear.
Mo did, too, but if it was, they’d have the chance to test the pass phrase Koz had sworn would work for any locked areas, once the monkeys were loose.
There was never any question of allowing all the station doors to be unlocked. Libra, for all the sins of its makers, was still a prison, and Tower Three held a few thousand violent offenders who could not be allowed to wander freely.
"Is anyone looking this way?" Jessyn's soft question came as she halted about a meter from the rear exit.
Mo turned to check. "No. all cle-wait," she hissed, as one of the security staff who was still searching the room glanced in their direction.
As the woman’s cool eyes passed over them, Mo felt her spine go to ice.
Beside her, Kaara ceased breathing.
Then another cackle rang from the speakers, and the guard winced and turned to search behind the bar.
"Clear," Mo said, the word coming out on the gust of air.
Kaara wasn’t the only one holding her breath.
“Quickly, then,” Jessyn said, and, with Mo and Kaara in tow, strode towards the door.
Which did not, in fact, open.
“Now what?” Kaara asked.
“Jessyn?” Mo said, turning to watch the rest of the room. “Do the honors?”
Jessyn’s head dipped and she pressed a hand to the intercom installed next to the door’s keypad, leaned close, and whispered, “There’s no place like home.”
For a moment that lasted about five years, nothing happened, and Mo feared they’d have to brave the Neocols at the front of the room, but then the door slid open and Jessyn dashed through, hauling Mo, who dragged Kaara.
The door swooshed closed a half-second later and all froze.
“Nice,” Mo said.
“Did it lock again?” Kaara asked.
Jessyn and Mo looked at the door. “Yes,” Mo said, then took stock of the narrow corridor in which they stood. Unlike the larger concourse they’d taken to the auction room, this was little more than a tunnel, barely wide enough for two to walk side by side.
Mo listened, but heard no sigh of Claude. The only sounds came from their breathing, the rustle of Kaara’s gown, and the opening notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. “I think we’re clear,” she said to Jessyn, who nodded.
“We are, and I am dropping the veil,” she announced and, though Mo felt nothing change, Jessyn seemed to relax as she added, “But we need to get to the holding cells.”
“I’d be willing to bet a whole lot of credits this corridor leads to those cells,” Mo said. “More convenient than parading the ADs through the main concourse but, just to be safe, why don’t you tag the Moth? The nerd squad should be able to get some sensor readings by now. If we’re headed in the wrong direction, they can guide us. Oh,” she added, as Jessyn activated her comm, "can I have the other shoes?”
“As you wish,” Jessyn said, pulling Mo’s business-like shoes from the pockets of Harry’s jacket and handing them over.
While Jessyn made contact with the Gypsy Moth, Mo stepped out of the heels, slid into the flats, then handed one of the spike-heeled shoes to Kaara. “In case you need to hit someone,” she said, keeping the second shoe for herself.
“Thank you, Dorothy,” Jessyn was saying. “We will keep you apprised. You were correct,” she said to Mo. “We need only follow this path, keeping to the left when it splits, and we will reach the ADs.”
“Excellent,” Mo said, at the same time the sound of fists pounding on the door caused all of them to jump. “Time to go,” she added, and with Kaara’s hand in hers, led the way.
Mo turned to see Kaara studying her. “Yes?”
“Now may I ask what we are doing?”
The wicked Witch's order was still bouncing off the walls of the Ore Transfer Chamber when Harry leaned close to Siane. “If you can keep Luddy off my back, I’ll handle Krieg,” he murmured.
“Wait,” she hissed, but Harry was already moving, angling his shoulder as he dove at the muscular CO in his best imitation of a defensive tackle going for the quarterback.
It was a sound strategy, and one that might have worked, had Krieg been pretty much any other species.
But Krieg was a Drellan, and Drellans were famously possessed of a particularly dense musculature, as well as a near preternatural ability to ground themselves.
In fact, Drellan military history was rife with tales of unstoppable assaults meeting an immovable defense (followed, historians added, by the opposing sides giving up and settling their disputes over a huge banquet). Human sumo wrestlers had even been known to apprentice with DreIlan Pach-phaks, in hopes of emulating the feat, but few ever came close.
All of which Harry recalled… pretty much as soon as his shoulder struck Krieg's middle, when the resulting impact jarred every bone in his body, in particular his already-compromised spine.
Harry’s ensuing, “Ow” was overcome by a gurgle as Krieg hauled him up by the collar with one hand while raising her baton with the other.
Bracing himself for what he expected would be a world of hurt, Harry raised an arm to bar the incoming baton. But before it could strike, Siane’s voice floated through the cacophony of near-by alarms and distant shouts, uttering a single word.
And at that command, Krieg's entire body went limp, dropping Harry and her baton before, like e a puppet whose strings had been cut, collapsing to the deck with a reverberant thud.
Harry blinked, then looked up to discover Luddy, Soren, and Soren’s fellow inmates similarly crumpling nearby, a series of gentle snores indicating they, too, had felt the sudden urge for a nap.
He turned to where Siane stood, exactly where he'd left her, studying the inert Krieg.
Then her gaze rose to meet his.
“This is new,” he said, indicating the slumbering party.
“I’ve had a lot of time to expand my techniques,” she said.
Harry studied the group. “How long will they be out?”
“Depends on how tired they are.”
“Right,” Harry said as, with an apology to his aching back, he bent down to retrieve Krieg’s baton.
“You went easy on her,”
“Say what?” Harry shot up, cursed at the twang in his spine, then glared at Siane.
“You went easy on Krieg,” she said, following his gesture to the arch. She angled left, and he angled right before each peered out into the corridor, which proved to be empty.
“If anyone passes us, I’m escorting you back to lockup,” he murmured and, when she nodded her understanding added, “Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, Krieg is a Drellan.”
“And you are an IS Marshal, with all the CQC training that implies,” she said, falling into step slightly ahead of Harry, as she would for any CO. “We both know you’ve gone up against criminals from every species in the Known, even before the war,” she continued, angling her head slightly so he could hear her over her footsteps, the occasional shouted order to ‘remain at your stations’ from various processing chambers, and the rantings of Cerberus, now yammering on about a horse of a different color. “You went easy on Krieg because she is a she. Which is what you always do.”
“Not… always,” Harry countered. “Turn right here,” he added before asking, “And how in the hells would you know who I’ve gone up against?”
What he could see of her skin darkened under the smudges of silt and sweat. “Maybe I’ve kept up with your career.”
“You did?” he asked, oddly pleased.
“Sometimes. When I was bored.”
“You missed me,” Harry said.
Siane didn’t sigh, but he could feel her wanting to. “You have to stop looking at females as weak,” she said, following his gesture to the right.
“Some women are,” he said, knowing he sounded defensive.
She shook her head. “And so are some males. So are some non-binaries. Gender does not signify strength or character or—what?” She asked, stopping to glare at him.
“What, what?” he asked.
“You’re grinning at me.”
He was. “It’s just, I’ve missed this. Talking to you. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you.”
“So you said.” Her glare didn’t soften. If anything, it became flatter, colder. “Where to next?”
The shift from almost playful to cold as space gave Harry pause, but he noted where they were, matched it up with his mental map of the deck. “Next left to the elevator bank,” he said. “We’ll be going down to scooper maintenance.”
“You want to take one of the repair shuttles,” she guessed.
“Seemed faster than trying to get to the main shuttle bay.”
“Then let’s go,” she said, and headed out, leaving Harry no choice but to follow. And wonder.