“Glass breaking?” Jessyn echoed Koz’s statement. “My sorrow, but I don’t understand the reference.”
“Kristalnacht,” Koz said, glancing her way. “It was the opening act of one of Earth’s uglier moments in history.”
“We’ve had a few,” Harry agreed.
“I see,” Jessyn said. “But, if the registration was, as you say, a danger, why are you angry with Mollin for speaking out? Especially when speaking out allowed you to escape?”
“I’m angry,” Koz said tightly, “because when I escaped, he was supposed to come with me.”
“Ouch,” Harry said.
Jessyn’s response was more diplomatic. “My sorrow for your pain,” she said, resting a hand briefly on Koz’s shoulder.
“Mollin said something like that, at the time,” Koz told her. “But it rang a little hollow, given he said it on a recorded transmission.”
“And the ouches keep coming.”
“Exactly.” Koz nodded at Harry. “And in that same recorded message, he went on to explain how he could do more for me, and all the other ADs, by staying to fight inside the system, rather than running from it.”
“And you don’t agree?” Jessyn asked.
“Given things have continued to get worse for ADs, no. Especially now that the ConFed Senate is brokering a lot of deals with a lot of non-CF systems.”
“Deals?” Harry asked, his own brow furrowing. “What kind of deals?”
“The ConFed is granting lowered tarriffs on interstellar trade for any plantery systems that will allow GIES powers of search and seizure of non-registered ADS.”
“Mother,” Jessyn murmured.
“When did that happen?” Harry asked. “I know we’ve been busy, but I’d think a deal that big would have hit the news feeds.”
“Officially, no accords have been announced,” Koz explained. “I only know about it because I got a heads’ up from a source who works in the ConFed senate. And then this happened.” As he spoke, Koz tapped his wrist unit, then indicated the screens on the far side of the kitchen.
Jessyn and Harry turned to face the mass of screens, just as one switched from its live feed of the arcade to reveal several lines of code.
“That’s a sniffer program,” Harry said, then looked at Koz.
“Not mine,” Koz said. “But I do have countermeasures installed in every public, and a few private surveillance systems. I get pinged whenever the countermeasure detects anomalous activity.”
Harry nodded. “Where did your countermeasures find this one?”
“The Inner Pallash Chamber of Commerce. Another sniffer is working its way through the Surresh Prime Department of Immigration, and there are at least a dozen working the financial institutions, real estate brokers, and utilities and telcomm suppliers.”
“That seems excessive,” Jessyn said.
“Yes,” Koz agreed.
“You don’t think GIES is waiting for the ConFed accords to be announced,” Harry said, turning back to Koz.
“No,” Koz shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the screen. “I think they’ve already started the sweep.”
“I think you’re right,” Harry said. “I also think we can help each other out.”
“How?” Koz asked, his expression less than encouraging.
“The favor,” Jessyn stepped in. “The one we came to ask of you.”
“Right.” Koz shrugged. “So, what was it?”
“We need your help slicing into the Libra Prison security systems,” Jessyn explained.
“Think prison break, in space!” Harry tossed in.
“Good one,” Koz said, then looked from Jessyn to Harry and back. “Wait. You’re serious?”
“Deadly,” Harry said.
“You do know I’m trying to keep a low profile, here,” Koz told him.
“It may have come to my attention,” Harry said.
“And you want me to get involved in a prison break?”
“Yes.” Jessyn said
“In space,” Harry added.
“Hah!” was Koz’s comment. “And also, no.”
“Even if leaving the planet would get you away from those sniffers?” Harry asked.
“Those sniffers aren’t going to find me.” Koz dismissed the threat with a shrug.
“You sound awfully sure about that,” Harry noted.
“I am sure,” Koz told him. “I’m sure because, as far as the sniffers, or the Decagon, or any other d-base in the ConFed is concerned, Dr. Kozmir Kosterlovovich doesn’t exist.”
“You erased yourself?” Harry asked.
Koz nodded. “Down to my creche DNA-marker. There may be a few professors at MIT or Kepler University who recall my presence, but there is no genetic fingerprint to support the memory, no matching DNA marker to trip the sensors. I’m a ghost,” he said with a jerk of the shoulder that almost hid the bitterness. “A ghost that can’t help you.”
“Won’t,” Jessyn corrected, her voice thickening.
“Fine. I won’t,” Koz agreed, shuffling uncomfortably. “Look, just because you and your dad here are as illegal as I am isn’t enough reason for me to commit suicide with you.”
“Wait!” Harry held up his hand, now. “What makes you think I’m her dad?”
“Have you looked in a mirror?” Koz asked, dumbfounded. “Even if I discounted the identically blue eyes, you both share six facial match points. And then there’s the left-handedness, the single eye-brow quirk, and lastly,” he continued as Harry and Jessyn stared at each other, “my system runs a DNA scan on everyone who walks into the penthouse. Yours was fascinating.” He turned to Jessyn, now, enthusiasm shoving the bitterness aside. “It’s not my area of study, but from what I could see, the Rasalkan and Human genotypes are more like two branches from the same genetic tree than separate species. Which,” he said, as if debating with himself, “would explain how you were conceived in the first place. Inter-species procreation generally requires medical aid to occur. Fascinating,” he said again before his eyes came back to the woman in front of him.
“If you’re that interested, you should reconsider coming with us,” Harry said. “Take a little vacay, study some hybrid DNA—and help us break into a privately-owned prison while you’re at it.”
Koz shook his head. “What the hells is on Libra that you want so badly?”
“My mother,” Jessyn said at the same time.
Koz’s eyes widened. “What is she in for?”
“From what we could discover, she was arrested for smuggling,” Jessyn said.
“So she did break the law.”
“So did I, when I married her,” Harry pointed out. “And another when I hid her from her people. Jessyn broke a law just by being born. The fact is, we’re all breaking some kind of law, here.”
“If my mother really was moving contraband, she would have had a good reason for it,” Jessyn added.
“You could die, trying to get her out,” Koz said. “I could die,” he continued, sounding suddenly quite young.
“You are dying now,” Jessyn pointed out, but gently. “Dying by degrees as you live in the shadows, hiding what you are, who you are, what you can do.”
Harry, who knew a thing or two about dying by degrees, watched as a small war played out over Koz’s features.
It was, he thought, a hard fought battle, and close, so close… Harry couldn’t say which side would win.
Not until Koz looked up.
“No,” Jessyn murmured.
“I’m sorry,” Koz said to Jessyn. “Truly sorry, but I can’t help you.”
“Okay,” Harry heard himself say, keeping to the promise he'd made Koz, even as the first tear he spilled down Jessyn’s cheek.
Helpless in the face of that despair, he turned to the surveillance screens, taking in the colorful motion of the arcade and the streets surrounding it.
He noted the hover scooters on the outside feeds, the shoppers, the kids racing through the rain like maniacs.
And on the middle panel of the second row of screens, he spied at least a dozen Human military types, all wearing crisp black uniforms, gathering under the Oz marquee. “Oh,” he said, “shit.”
“What?” Koz and Jessyn both asked, following his gaze to where the GIES team broke into several parties of two, with one remaining at the front door. “Oh shit,” Koz said. Then, “How’d they find me? They couldn’t find me. They can’t—”
“Problem for another day,” Harry told him at the same time the clomp of racing feet had them turning to see Shayleen rushing in, a backpack over one shoulder, her expression fierce.
“I know,” he said, already shutting down comps as he indicated the action on the security screens.
“We need to get you out,” Shayleen said, setting the bag on the counter and joining him in the business of closing down Koz’s mass of tech.
“We can help you with that,” Harry reminded him.
“I don’t need your help,” Koz began, when an alert blared, and all four occupants of the kitchen turned to the security wall to see another of the screens showing another party of black-uniformed individuals moving through a narrow, damp-looking, tunnel.
“They found the bolt hole,” Shayleen hissed as Koz froze.
“As I was saying…” Harry turned to the discomfited pair “… we can help you. Or, more to the point, Jessyn can.” He looked at his daughter, who immediately stepped forward.
“I can get you past the GIES officers,” she told Koz. “They won’t even look in your direction.”
“I don’t think so, sister.”
Harry looked at Shayleen. “Can you think of any other options?”
She glared, the cyber-eye flickering. “No. But they’ll be scanning everyone—”
“It shouldn’t matter,” Koz reminded them all. “My DNA-marker isn’t in their system.”
“And yet, here they are,” Harry pointed to the screens. “Do you want to risk the scan? What if you missed something?”
“Boss.” Shayleen interrupted him and they glared at one another for a heartbeat before she turned to Jessyn and pointed to the security screens. “How do you plan to get him past the blackshirts?”
“By making sure they do not look,” Jessyn said.
Then she disappeared.
“Holy mothering shit,” Shayleen swore.
“Where’d she—” Koz began, and then Jessyn was back, and standing next to Harry, who barely suppressed the jump.
Even knowing what she did, and a little of how she did it, didn’t make it any less weird.
It had been the same with her mother, who used to take an unholy delight in sneaking up on him.
“Empathic veil,” Jessyn said, meeting Shayleen’s gaze. “I can cover as many as four with great concentration, and two easily. I can get him past the sensors,” she promised.
“Huh,” Shayleen said, then turned to Koz. “I think she’s your best shot.”
Koz grimaced, but he clearly trusted his head of security, who apparently trusted Jessyn. “Shay,” he said, and reached for her hand, but but before he made contact, Shayleen grabbed him by the shoulders, hauled him in, and laid a kiss on the AD.
Harry blinked, then turned to stare at the floating image of Koz’s toaster until he heard Shayleen’s gruff, “Go.”
Koz stumbled back. “The business, the assets, they’re all yours—“
“I don’t want them.”
“I know, but you’ll need them. Shay,” he said again. “I—you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Shayleen said with the hint of a smile. “Me too.”
Harry turned to Jessyn. “Do what you do to get out and back to the Moth,” he told her. “Ray and I will be right behind you. I’ll need to contact Ray,” he continued, turning to Shayleen. “Any chance of dropping the dampening field so I can comm him? Ray?”
“Do it,” Koz told Shayleen as he shoved one of the comps—an older-looking model with a mass of game and cy-company stickers all over the thing—and shoved it into the pack Shayleen had thrown at him. “Then finish cleaning house,” he said, slinging the bag over his shoulder.
“All over it,” she said while Koz joined Jessyn and took her offered hand.
Jessyn shot Harry a tight smile, then the pair turned to leave… and vanished.
“I don’t feel any different,” Koz said, and Harry’s eyes drifted to where the shadow of dark hair wavered.
“You won’t,” Jessyn said, and there, he caught the barest whisper of green. “But it works best if we remain silent.”
After which even the will-o-wisps faded.
“That is fucking awesome,” Shayleen said, drawing Harry’s attention back to the moment. “My implant couldn’t even register them.”
“It did,” Harry told her. “So did your biologic eye, but your brain can’t process what Jessyn doesn’t want you to see. Or something along those lines.”
“Right,” Shayleen said. She stared, blinked once, then looked at Harry. “I’ve just disabled the damp, you’re clear to comm—I have neural connect to the system,” she added, indicating the implants.
“Fucking awesome,” Harry said, then tapped his own implant to life.
“Loki to Orion, we have a problem.”
/Join the club/ Ray’s voice came back, tighter than usual. /A bunch of GIES goons just raided Phantasmik. Looks like they’re rousting the help./
“Shit.” Harry looked at Shayleen. “GIES is hitting another location.”
“Shit,” she echoed, and turned away, speaking softly—briefing her own team, Harry supposed.
“Listen, we are on a fast exfil here. There is no time to get involved. Get Mo, get out, and do not engage. I repeat: Do. Not. Engage.” He paused, waited, heard something that sounded like glass breaking and a shriek. “Orion?” He waited. “You’ve already engaged, haven’t you?”
/What do you think, Old Man?/ Ray asked over a high-pitched squeal.
What I think is, I’m going to kill you, Harry thought. He turned to Shayleen. “Can you direct me to a place called Phantasmik?”
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