Soon after the jump to FTL, Mo asked if she could make use of the Moth’s comm system.
“I need to let my team know where I am,” she explained.
[There are comp-comm’s available in the lounge and in each of the private quarters, as well as the cockpit] the AI, or rather, Dorothy, announced, even as Ray began to say the same thing.
“Nice,” was Mo’s comment.
“Come,” Jessyn rose and held out a hand to Mo. “I can show you to a terminal before I wash this off,” she said, indicating the rainbow splatter she still wore.
“I kind of like the look,” Mo said, but she took the offered hand, throwing a smile in Ray’s direction before the two women left the cockpit.
He wondered if he should be nervous.
“Mollin,” Harry said, drawing Ray’s attention. “Maybe you should show Koz around the place? Let him get a shower too?”
“Oh.” Mollin glanced at the damp and paint-splattered Koz. “Sure.”
Ray glanced over his shoulder in time to see Koz shoot Harry a glare, but he followed Mollin out of the cockpit.
Ray glanced back, saw Harry watching them depart. “Will I regret asking what’s going on with those two?”
“Almost certainly,” Harry said.
“Then I won’t ask,” Ray decided.
“Good call.” Harry turned to face Ray. “You took a couple of hard knocks back at that club. Do you want to hit the MMB?” he asked, referring to the medical mini-bot located aft of the lounge.
“Nah, I’m good,” Ray said, after a testing shrug and a stretch. Maybe once the adrenaline wound down, he’d be feeling more, but at the moment, he wasn’t suffering.
“In that case, I’m going for coffee,” Harry said, angling out of the co-pilot’s chair. “You want?”
“I’ll get something later.”
“Okay.” And with that, Harry followed the others out of the cockpit, moving with enough care to remind Ray that Harry might not have taken any knocks at Phantasmik, but he was still technically recovering from a GSW.
Maybe Harry could use a trip to the MMB, he thought.
Then he reminded himself Harry was fully capable of worrying about himself, and turned his attention back to the flight console, already ticking down the thirty-seven hours it would take to reach the Dizhiu system.
All thirty-seven of those hours trapped on a ship that now had six bodies aboard…which was three more bodies than the Moth had berths.
A realization which led to Ray wondering who would end up bunking with whom. Then he thought of Mo’s professed interest in Harry, and decided he didn’t want to think about that.
In fact, he could use some time not thinking about anything for a spell, so he decided to use one of those thirty-seven hours to delete the Phoenix Flight’s registry and flight history.
It was a mindless bit of housekeeping, and one he usually entrusted to the AI, but the AI wasn’t just “the AI” anymore, and until he got a better handle on what—who—what this Dorothy thing was, he meant to use it as little as possible.
Of course, he wouldn’t have to worry about his ship’s AI, or be burning another cover ID for the Moth, if they hadn’t brought Koz aboard.
Not only had the clone… AD… whatever… gotten the attention of GIES, he’d fucked with Ray’s ship.
No one fucked with Ray’s ship, except Ray.
And Zodiac’s IT department, he reminded himself.
And that mechanic back on Eros, that one time.
And the pit crew over at the Aeolian meteor beltway.
As he tapped the last command and sent the remains of the Phoenix Flight up in ashes, he felt a kind of hollow tug in his center.
It was a sensation he’d experienced several times over the past three weeks, ever since his private vessel had become command and control for Harry’s planned prison break.
In space! Harry’s inevitable tagline for the op followed the thought.
Hard on the heels of that thought came the question Ray had asked himself several times over the past weeks: How in the name of all the gods in the Known had he gone from being a solo operative (read in-assassin), to the unwilling host of a rapidly growing party of lunatics?
Even as he wondered over that, the hollow tug was displaced by another sensation, one that nested somewhere under his heart.
Or maybe in it.
How would he know?
Up until about three and a half weeks ago, he’d never felt anything even remotely like it.
Not with Saskia—the woman who’d been his handler, and more, during his first years in Zodiac; not even with Mo, back in his hormone-charged youth.
Not with anyone.
But it was here, now.
Had, in fact, moved in and set up housekeeping with as little regard for Ray’s desires as Harry had shown when he dragged Ray into his crazy ass plans for a prison break—in space!—bringing Mollin along with him.
And, of course, Jessyn.
Which, he supposed, was the answer to the question of how he’d gotten here.
But there was another question, one the bond with Jessyn did not, and could not, answer.
The question being should he—Ray Slater, ex-marine, ex-con, and current Zodiac hitter—even be here, on this mission, with these people?
With a single-mindedness that supported Dorothy’s opinion on his coffee intake, Harry made a beeline from the cockpit to the Moth’s galley. As he passed the dining table, he snapped up the mug he’d set down soon after touching down on Suresh Prime, less than five hours, one bar fight, and a few dozen vaporized drones ago.
He emptied the dregs into the sink before crossing to the coffee machine, where he programmed a fresh cup.
While the coffee maker ground the beans, he leaned against the counter and tried to ignore the twinge in his back, which had gotten a little twerked during the Moth’s aerobatics in the canyon.
He could only hope their unauthorized liftoff… and the brouhaha at Phantasmik… and ensuing destruction of property… didn’t get back to any of the ConFed’s law enforcement branches.
Zodiac Division in particular. Not only because, hey, they worked for Zodiac, but also because Colonel Doyle, Zodiac’s Oversight, might take issue with their aiding and abetting an AD in escaping GIES.
Or said AD slicing into the Surresh Prime planetary defenses.
Then, of course, there was the planned prison break.
Behind him, the coffee maker burped, shifted from the burr of grinding to the thrum and splat of brewing.
Harry turned to watch the last of the process and in seconds, was yanking the mug from under the spout. Thus armed with caffeine he left the galley, crossed the lounge, with its curve of a sofa and the pair of armchairs ranged about the central holotable, to the starboard berth he’d claimed as his own. Ray and Jessyn had the port quarters, with its en suite bath. The two starboard units were smaller, and shared a bath.
It was rather like being back in the ISM training dorms, but as long as there was a door he could lock behind him, Harry was good with it.
Blowing steam from the mug, he palmed the door open… and walked into the middle of a war zone.
“—via transmission!” Koz was shouting, his arms waving manically. “And not even a visual, either. You broke up with me by text!”
“It was the only way I could—Harry?” Mollin cut off his explanation on seeing Harry in the door. “Did you need something?”
“One second,” Harry said, then stepped backwards out of the door, checking to make sure he’d walked into the correct room, then back in, and eyeballed the bed on which Koz’s portable comp now sat, and then the bedside table, where a wooden yo-yo and an old still-shot of Siane rested.
He looked at Mollin. “Something wrong with your quarters?” he asked.
“I thought a more neutral location would be best,” Mollin explained.
“Uh huh,” Harry said, while Koz made a sound that indicated no location could be neutral enough. “I’ll just be out there.” He gestured with the mug, “Doing…something.”
Mollin waited for the door to close before he turned back to Koz.
“I understand that you’re angry,” he began. “But we both know if I’d gone on the run with you back then, CFI would have deduced what I did, and why. And they’d have come looking for both of us, and it would have been a lot harder to hide an AD and a broken Cherrii than just an AD.”
“You’re not broken,” Koz said wearily. “Genetic variations are normal within any species.”
Tell that to my father, Mollin thought. “My point,” he said, “is that you had a better shot at staying hidden without me.”
“Which would make a lot more sense if you hadn’t just told your friend the marshal how to find me. And by the way, how did you know where I was?”
“Kozamir,” Mollin’s voice deepened. “I’ve been tracking you since you ran the first time. I’ve always known where you are.”
Koz hissed, then met Mollin’s quiet gaze. “You were the only one who ever called me that.”
“I love… your name,” Mollin said. “I always did.”
They stood, staring.
“There’s someone else,” Koz said after a beat. “I mean, I’ve met—I’m involved with someone. Else. It’s been years,” he added, with a hint of defensiveness.
“No, That’s… good.” Mollin said, for once pleased his skin tone could not reveal his feelings. “So am I. Sort of.”
“Sort of?” Koz’s brows rose on the question.
Mollin rolled forward on his toes, then back. “He works for an organization we—my division—has under surveillance.”
“Uh huh.” Koz shoved his hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels. “So, when your division decides to make a move on his organization, are you going to warn him off? Maybe send him a break-up text?”
Mollin’s toes curled, but all he said was, “Ha.”
“No. I’m serious. I mean, do you have these things pre-written?” Koz asked, then his eyes widened. “Have there been others? I bet there have.”
“There have no—maybe.”
“You…” Koz yanked a hand out of his pocket to point at Mollin, “You have a type.”
Mollin’s toes curled tighter. “I do not have a type.”
“You totally have a type.”
“Bite me,” Mollin said, borrowing a phrase Ray enjoyed.
“Can’t. These teeth are taken.”
Mollin gave up. “Shower’s over there,” he pointed at the bath that joined Harry’s room with his. “I’m getting coffee.”
“Coffee?” Koz perked up. “I could use hit.”
“Of course you could.”
At the same time, on the other side of the Moth, Jessyn stepped out of Ray’s comfort room, hoping she’d gotten all the paint off.
It was hard to be certain, as the stingy mirror Ray had hung over the sink did not provide a comprehensive view.
Though already changed into the long brown robe she favored for relaxing, she crossed the room to flip through the clothing she’d added to Ray’s wardrobe on boarding the Moth.
She rather thought Mo would appreciate having something other than Harry’s blazer to wear.
She glanced over her shoulder to where Mo—still wearing nothing but Harry’s blazer—sat at the little desk the room afforded, having a conversation with a Human male.
“—not like I’m asking you to perform brain surgery,” she was saying, tapping her fingernails on the desk. “It’s a simple Godot Turnaround.”
“Simple?” the man’s voice pitched up. “There is nothing simple about the Godot Turnaround.”
Jessyn paused her search long enough to study the handsome face hovering over the desk, which was a few shades deeper than her own soft umber. It was also twisted with consternation. “To start, there are the three—count them, three—shell corporations to set up. Plus slicing into the system news feed. And we have to get Szzyxx established in the Qylln underground, and you know Szzyxx hates working the ground game—”
“Szzyxx doesn’t hate the ground game,” Mo cut in. “Xe just hates people, but that works for this con.”
“I’m just saying—”
“Szzyxx will be fine,” Mo interrupted again. “Everything will be fine, and I’m just a comm away if things go sideways.”
“They always go sideways,” the man opined.
“And that’s what makes our job so interesting.”
“Sean,” Mo echoed his tone. “You’re ready, more than ready, to run a grift on your own. Trust the team, trust the groundwork, and if you can’t trust any of that, trust me. You’ll be fine,” she said again.
They stared at one another while Jessyn pulled a soft blue tunic and loose, stone gray trousers from their hangers, thinking they would suit Mo, who was both taller and curvier than herself.
“I hate you,” Sean broke the silence.
“I hate you back,” Mo said with an affection Jessyn could feel as well as hear. “Now, go ruin a Qyllnish oligarch’s year.”
“Fine,” he said, but there was the faintest twitch of a smile.
“Duchess?” Jessyn asked as the holo closed.
“Alias, not title.”
“It suits,” Jessyn decided, then nodded towards the closed comm. “You handled that quite well,” she added.
“Not really much to handle,” Mo said. “Sean tends to exaggerate a job’s hurdles, but that’s a good thing because thinking of all the bits that can go wrong forces him to come up with twice as many solutions.” She turned and offered up a little shrug, “The sturm and drang just gets a bit wearing, at times.”
“Sturm and drang,” Jessyn echoed the words, new to her, with pleasure, then smiled. “The Lady says much the same when it comes to dealing with… well, most sapients.” As she spoke, she set the bundle of clothing on the bed.
“The Lady?” Mo asked, rising to shed Harry’s jacket before slipping into the offered garments.
“The Lady Fayla,” Jessyn explained, “Dama of House Szado.”
“I’ve crossed paths with a couple of Rasalkans over the past few years, but I don’t think I’ve heard of that House.” As she spoke, Mo dropped the tunic over her head.
“Few have,” Jessyn said, and thought, Yet.
Mo made a little hmmm sound as she smoothed on the tunic, then she looked up. “This is Ócalan silk,” she said, her voice dropping.
“I suppose it is.”
“Ócalan silk,” Mo repeated, staring down at the tunic. “This costs a fortune,” she continued, looking at Jessyn. “You could buy a moon with a bolt of this stuff.”
Jessyn recalled the patroness who’d gifted it to her, and thought that, yes, Ayabal could likely have bought and sold a few moons. “I don’t have any need for a moon,” she told Mo. “A friend, however, carries a price greater than a hundred bolts of silk.”
“Lucky for both of us, I like you,” Mo said, taking Jessyn’s hand and giving it a little shake. “But I have to ask, before we start braiding each other’s hair and talking about who wants to take who to the prom—”
“Weird Human rite of passage thing, I’ll explain later. What I mean is, before we move into typical gal pal territory, can you explain where we’re going? And why you wanted Koz?”
“Oh.” Jessyn blinked. “I thought Ray would have told you.”
“GIES busted in before we got that far.”
“Ah. Well,” Jessyn said. “It involves my mother,” she began, and proceeded to tell Mo about Harry’s intention to stage a prison break.
“You have got to be shitting me,” Mo declared as Jessyn came to the need for Koz’s services. Then, before Jessyn could reply, rushed out of the bedroom and into the common area, where Harry was on the way back to the galley, mug in hand. “You have got to be shitting me!” she said again, this time in Harry’s direction.
“What’s going on?” Ray asked, rushing from the cockpit at the same time Mollin and Koz stepped out of Harry’s quarters.
Mo tossed an icy glare at Ray before she strode over to poke Harry in the chest. “You. Have got. To be. Shitting. Me.”