The tumult from the club was echoed outside, allowing Ray, Harry, and Mo to weave their way through the crowds of evacuees, GIES agents, and rubberneckers with relative ease.
Once free of the gawking hordes, Ray summoned an auto-cab, which pulled up at the same time the first emergency responders came screeching to a halt, adding to the pandemonium.
As soon as they took their seats in the automated vehicle, Harry updated the other two on the GIES invasion of Oz.
“You let Jess go out alone?” Ray asked as Harry got to the part where Jessyn and Koz made their getaway.
“Do you think I could have stopped her?” Harry asked, leaning past Mo to meet Ray’s irate glare. “You know what she can do.”
“I don’t,” Mo raised a hand.
“Think Jedi mind trick,” Ray told her, “with a little Amazing Mesmer on the side.”
“Clear as mud,” was Mo’s assessment.
“I would like to know how she’s doing,” Harry admitted. “But I don’t want to risk distracting her. With a comm, that is,” he added, sending a bland stare in Ray’s direction.
“What?” Ray asked and then, as Harry added an arched brow to the stare, realized what he wanted. “Fine,” he huffed, then he turned his attention to the window, and the blur of rain-washed streets. He listened to the patter of drops on the cab, thought of water, falling. Water sluicing down an icy spillway. Water in a cool, deep, spring.
And then he felt her.
When he blinked back to the present, Mo had joined Harry in staring. “Stop that,” he said to Mo, then focused on Harry. “She feels focused… is focused, but not stressed.”
“Good.” With a soft huff, Harry eased back in his seat. “That’s good.”
“Interesting,” was Mo’s contribution.
The rest of the trip was silent, and soon enough they were debarking from the cab at the space port entrance, where Mo’s general lack of clothing drew only a handful of stares.
They joined the stream of other travelers onto the moving walk that led from the entrance to the port’s various access gates.
It was here, as they stepped off the walk and into terminal nineteen that they found more GIES agents stationed in front of the dock’s access portal.
“Shit,” was Ray’s summation.
“On it,” Mo said and, without slowing, aimed straight for the mass of uniforms.
With Harry at his side, Ray followed, noting there was a space port employee at the dock counter, but the slender Eiolan female barely registered between the two muscular GIES agents looming on either side.
Mo gave the agents a finger wave as she produced an ident chip—from where Ray decided not to wonder—then glanced over her shoulder. “You’re the jammer,” she murmured to Ray. “You’re the Alfred,” she said to Harry.
“Wait, what’s a—” Harry began, but Mo was already strutting towards the portal with a sassy sashay and an air of entitlement that her lack of clothing enhanced, rather than diminished.
Even the mono-focused black-shirts straightened as she approached.
“I’m sorry, miss,” the Eiolan held up a sinuous hand. “The terminal is on temporary lock-down.” Her shoulders shifted in an apology. “No one is allowed to depart.”
“Or board their vessels,” one of the GIES agents added, indicating the irritable clumps of travelers crammed in the terminal.
Given the gesticulating and sour expressions, Ray guessed a lot of the stranded space farers were already on their comms, making their displeasure known to the space port’s management.
“I don’t care about lift-off,” Mo declared in a voice higher, younger—and a few million creds wealthier—than it had been a moment ago, “but I will not be left sitting in this… place… when I have a perfectly acceptable ship.”
“The Phoenix Flight,” Ray supplied the Moth’s most recent false registry. “Pad 19-G.”
“Alas, Madame—” the Eiolan began.
“Do I look like a madame to you?” Mo’s eyes sliced through the port official’s protest with surgical precision.
Ray, in full Jammer mode, paused in the act of scanning the terminal to offer a sympathetic shrug to the Eiolan.
Harry stood by, tugged his shirt cuffs and, Ray thought, managed to look very much like an Alfred.
While the port official wavered in the face of privelege, both GIES agents’ significant jaws tightened and two hands landed on two muscular pulsers.
“No exceptions,” one of the two agents growled.
“You can wait with everyone else,” the second seconded, “or…”
He left the threat hanging.
Probably, Ray figured, because he was used to dealing with law-abiding citizens, ie: people who either respected or feared anything in a uniform.
All of which meant he was unprepared for the likes of Mo, who was already taking in a deep and—given Harry’s barely closed blazer—impressive breath.
A mere four minutes, eighteen seconds later, (Harry knew because he timed it), Mo received permission for herself and her escorts to wait out the lockdown in the comfort of her own ship.
Harry was pretty sure he’d seen the moment the officials’ collective brain cells caved under the onslaught of one Ambrosia Purefoi—a foot-stomping, cleavage-baring, hair tossing, spoiled-rotten mama’s girl with a persecution complex.
It had been somewhere between Mo’s impassioned, “Do you have any idea who I am?” and her order to “Alfred” to comm her mother ASAP because “Mommy needs to fix!”
Shortly thereafter, the port official, whose nametag read “Yala Myyr” led Mo, Ray, and Harry away from the tall desk and the glowering agents—and past the resentful eyes of the other grounded passengers—to the terminal gate.
Myyr came to a halt just shy of a walk-through scanner.
A scanner Harry knew hadn’t been in place when they debarked from the Moth that morning, and upon which a pair of GIES techs were even now furiously tinkering.
“What’s with the hardware?” Ray asked the port rep, who shrugged a slender shoulder.
“Nothing invasive, I assure you,” she said, sending Mo a nervous glance. “Nor will the scanner invade any sentient’s privacy.”
“I rather thought the point of a scanner was to invade one’s privacy,” Harry noted, using the poncy British dialect he’d decided an Alfred required.
“Ha. Yes. Well.” The Eiolan’s skin flushed to indigo. “My understanding is that this scanner is only meant to detect the DNA markers unique to Artificially Developed Human Life Forms, and is more efficient than hand-held scanners. Or so I’m told,” she added, sending the techs a scathing glare. “But until the scanner is operational, and all travelers cleared, no one is allowed to lift off.”
“Whatevs.” Mo waved a negligent hand before clipping through the arch, just as it spit out a hopeful-sounding hum.
Ray shrugged and followed.
Harry, waiting his turn, noticed that the techs, despite the obvious signs of life in their toy, were both preoccupied by Mo’s departure.
While he couldn’t blame them, he spared the pair what he thought to be an Alfred-like “tch” before striding through the sensor and out the door to the tarmac, where Mo had already activated her rainshield and stepped out into the weather.
“Still got it, Duchess,” Ray muttered as he came up alongside her.
“Did you ever doubt?” she muttered back, then eased back to link arms with Harry while Ray took the lead.
“Duchess?” Harry asked.
“Stage name,” she replied.
“Hmm,” he said, and took a moment to be grateful that Mo’s stage name had never crossed his desk back in his IMS days.
On reaching the Moth, Ray tapped his wrist unit to unlock the ship’s hatch.
The outer door hissed open. While the plank descended, Harry scanned the platform, noted three small to mid-size vessels docked close to the Moth, and a smattering of black uniformed bodies patrolling the platform.
Several of those bodies paused to give Mo’s party the stink-eye, telling Harry they’d been apprised of Ms. Purefoi’s situation, and were keeping a close watch on the spoiled little princess.
Mo saw them as well, and sent them another finger wave that had most of the agents frowning.
One, however, did wave back.
“Unbelievable,” Ray said as Mo, still on Harry’s arm, spun on a heel, and climbed the ramp into the Moth’s cargo deck which had little room for cargo, given Ray had outfitted it as a full gym, holo-sparring functions included.
Once inside, Mo shut down her rainshield and tugged the lapels of Harry’s jacket closer against the ship's chill.
“How long do you think they can keep the lockdown in place?” she asked.
The switch from pampered pout to cool assessment was dizzying.
“No more than few hours, I’d think,” Harry said, glancing out onto rain-washed dock. “Surresh Prime is a major hub for interstellar trade, never mind the tourist draw. I can’t see the locals putting up with stoppages for long.”
“They’d better not,” Mo said.
Harry’s brow quirked. “In a hurry to be somewhere?”
“I had passage booked to the Qylln sector first thing in the morning,” she told him. “I’ve got a job waiting.”
She didn’t say what kind of job, and Harry thought it wise not to ask. Instead he turned to Ray, who was glaring down the ramp. “Anything from Jess?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” Ray admitted, running a hand through his damp hair before leading the others towards the mid-ship stairs. “I mean, I’m getting a lot of frustration, but I can’t tell if it’s hers or mine.”
“It’s mine,” Jessyn said from behind Harry.
“Holy Mother Mary!” Mo gasped as she, Harry and Ray spun to see Jessyn and Koz, standing to one side of the ship’s hatch.
It was quite a picture, given that Jessyn and Koz were dripping rain, and what appeared to be flourescent paint, onto the deck.
“Did you walk through a rainbow?” Harry asked while Ray slapped the control pad to raise the plank and close the hatch.
“If only,” Jessyn said, then plucked something that looked like spaghetti from her shoulder and tossed it out through the closing hatch. “I need a shower. Don’t ask,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Harry promised, before adding, “Someone should let Mollin know we’re aboard.”
“Great,” Koz muttered, sloshing his way over.
“I could use a drink,” Ray surmised, but his hand rose to brush over Jessyn’s hair.
“I could use another layer,” Mo noted.
“Given the lockdown, we’ll probably have time for all that, and a game of tri-level sudoku,” Harry said, gesturing to the stairs.
Which was precisely when the dock alarms began to shriek.
At the same time, the Moth’s comms pinged to life.
/We have a problem/ Mollin’s voice emerged from the cargo bay speakers.
/Attention Phoenix Flight/ the voice of authority intoned on the heels of that statement. /Your vessel is hereby under impound for attempted transport of a restricted life form. Open all hatches and prepare to be boarded!/
“Well fuck,” Mo said.
“It wasn’t me!” Koz insisted.
“Whatever,” Ray said, taking Jessyn’s hand and rushing up the stairs. “MOLLIN, get those engines humming!”
“I guess that’s a no on the sudoku, then,” Harry said, following the rest of the party up the stairs.
Harry managed to get out of the VRcade fairly quickly, even with teams of antagonistic GIES agents roaming the floors.
Mostly because Harry had palmed his old IMS badge and flashed it at the first goon who stepped in his path.
“Finn, Detective Inspector IMF.” Harry tapped the badge.
The agent, whose own badge proudly bore the name Gorchek, gave it a brief, unimpressed, glance.
“And,” Harry echoed, “I was this close to nabbing a fugitive on these premises when you and yours crashed the party and sent him flying.”
“Sorry for your loss,” Gorchek said with what Harry recognized as a smirk.
Of course the GIES agent would be a smirker, Harry thought.
“You don’t look sorry,” he said, as Gorchek’s cohorts corralled a herd of teens and tweens and began running their scanners over the kids who appeared Human.
“Listen, I got orders from the Senate Committee on Genetic Crimes,” Gorchek stated flatly. “And clearance from the local government to seek and retain any genetic offenders. Feel free to file a complaint.”
“Thanks,” Harry said. “But I think my time is better used tracking down actual criminals.”
Gorchek’s jaw twitched, but all he said was, “Out.”
Harry bared his teeth in what an Eiolan would have termed the “I may be smiling, but I am murdering you with my thoughts,” smile, and dashed out of the arcade, and into the afternoon rain, where he tapped his comm to life.
“Loki to Motherboard, come back.”
/It’s about time!/ Mollin replied. /I’ve been trying to reach you. An entire GIES division made planetfall about an hour ago and they’re—/
“We got the newsflash,” Harry cut in. “Oshun and the asset are already en route to the ship,” he added, using the code name they’d given Jessyn. “I suggest you warm up the engines.”
/And what are you doing?/
“I’m going to retrieve Orion from a joint called Phantasmik, located on—”
/Lys Street. I’ve got it/ Mollin cut in, reminding Harry just how good the cy-tech was.
“Orion is in the weeds,” Harry said, dodging a tween on a hoverboard and then a shopper laden with packages and a rain shield. “Get into the Phantasmik security system and see what you can do to make a road for him.”
While Mollin did whatever he did, Harry continued to race for the club, blinking rain from his eyes and gritting his teeth against twinge in his back, the thudding ache in his side.
He didn’t slow until he turned onto Lys Street, where the rain shot of color from Phantasmik’s holo.
As he neared the club, he noted that the doors of the doors were open, but even in the wet, even from meters away, he could see, and smell, the telltale smoke of riot grenades in action.
“Loki to Motherboard,” he murmured into his comm. “How’s the slice going?”
/There’s not a lot to slice/ Mollin replied. /I’ve got an emergency alarm system here, and fire suppresse—/
“Fire suppressant,” Harry cut in. “Activate that. And alarms,” he added. “All the alarms. ASAP.”
Mollin muttered an obscene suggestion in Ha’Q, one that no Human could pronounce, much less perform.
A heartbeat later, Harry’s eardrums were assaulted by a piercing wail emerging from Phantasmik, underscored by a fresh rush of multilingual curses.
Stepping through the door, a cold mist slapped Harry in the face, telling him the suppressant had been released.
/I should warn you/ Mollin said as Harry strode through the foyer, /the suppressant is going to make things slippery/
Harry heard this last just as he stepped into the main lounge, and came perilously close to sliding onto his ass.
Luckily, growing up in Pennsylvania had included a lot of ice skating, so he was able to keep his feet, even as he continued to slide further into the chaos.
White foam showered from above, a kind of royal icing decorating the mix of GIES officers, civilians, and a whole lot of folks wearing very little indeed.
Harry, sliding, grabbed the edge of a round platform and brought himself to a skidding halt. “Thanks for the warning,” he said to Mollin.
A sudden squeal had him looking up, then raising his arms, just in time to catch a wriggling, multi-limbed Milleon.
“Where did you come from?” he asked the surprisingly heavy mass. “And where’s your parent?”
Even as he asked, a multi-limbed shadow emerged, foam dripping from its antennae, forelimbs waving in Harry’s direction.
“Good timing,” Harry said as the larvae gave a quick chitter of satisfaction. He passed the kid to the adult, then turned to scan the room for Ray and/or Mo.
The latter he found quick enough—no amount of foam was going to stay on that slick pink catsuit.
At the moment, Mo was engaged in a tug of war over a pulser with one of the masked agents.
Since the agent had about a half meter and a good twenty kilos of muscle on Mo, Harry wasn’t liking her chances.
Not, that is, until Mo solved the problem by letting go of the weapon, so that the agent stumbled, slipped on the foam-slicked floor, and fell back, knocking his head on one of the tables as he went.
“Mo!” Harry called out.
Her eyes shot up, locked on his. She sent him a thumbs up sign, then pointed over her shoulder, towards a sign that read “Employees Only” before starting back in that direction. As she disappeared through the door, Harry saw her yank her pink hair off and toss it over her shoulder.
With an appreciative grin, he continued to search for Ray.
Then a mountain of foam erupted between Harry’s stage and the bar, revealing a shock of dark hair, flying fists, and a few sizzling curses.
Ray’s eyes were tearing, Harry noted, and assumed he’d been close to one of the gas-bombs. He was also favoring his left leg, and he held himself at an angle that indicated possible damage to the ribs.
None of which, Harry noticed, did a thing to soften the blows Ray was delivering unto a GIES agent with an impressive, and disconcerting, combination of cold precision and visibly burning fury.
“Yo!” Harry called. “Orion!”
Ray, busy ripping off the dazed officer’s mask, the better to punch him in the face, didn’t seem to hear.
“Your man is out!” Harry shouted this time. “Hells, all of them are out,” he muttered as a statuesque red-head dropped a bottle on the last black-shirt standing.
Harry turned back in time to see Ray shove a knee into his agent’s nethers with a force that had Harry’s own nethers shrinking.
The agent performed a sort of slow dissolve into the foam, reminding Harry of nothing so much as the Wicked Witch of the West melting into a puddle.
Ray’s hands clenched, and Harry worried the younger operative might not consider the job done, but then he straightened, skimmed the room and met the eyes of the redhead. “Better fly,” he told her and Harry watched as the woman’s eyes shifted from murderous to sad in a blink. Then her head dipped in a nod and she vaulted over the bar where one of the bartenders was already pulling out a tray of cash, and another peeling off his shirt.
As the woman’s friends helped prep her for an escape, Harry joined Ray. “Time to go,” he said, gesturing towards the exit Mo had taken.
“You think?” Ray countered, then both men slipped and slid through the remaining masses, following in Mo’s tracks through the door and into the dressing room.
Here several dancers, including the Milleon and its father, were gathering their gear and heading out the door.
With no better options, Ray and Harry joined the mass.
Though his vision was still a little clouded from the gas, Harry couldn’t miss the flacid pool of shining pink catsuit laying near the exit.
He understood the need to ditch the telltale neon outfit, but couldn’t imagine what the hells Mo might have had on under the thing.
He found out a few seconds later, when he followed Ray though the back door and into a pelting rain, and a well-toned brunette with hazel eyes, wearing little more than a smile slid between he and Ray.
“That was fun,” Mo said, taking Harry’s arm and guiding him along the street that backed Phantasmik, stopping traffic as various drivers of various vehicles took notice.
“I think your idea of fun and mine are light years apart,” Ray said as the emergency response vans came careening to a stop outside the club.
As one, the threesome slid into the evacuating crowd flowing around the vans.
“On the bright side,” Harry said, doffing his blazer and draping it over Mo’s shoulders, “we didn’t actually burn anything down this time.”