Kitsune woke up to the smell of fresh, strong coffee and the incessant beeping of some kind of communicator. She opened her eyes and watched Chaos slip out of the bed and walk to the dresser, where he picked something up and pressed a button. "What?" he said. He listened. "Shit. All right. And you have no idea what happened after it was over?" He listened again. "All right. Thank you. I'll let Mr. Esterhazy know." He pressed the button again and dropped the communicator back down on the dresser. "Shit."
Kitsune sat up, wrapping the covers over her shoulders. "What's wrong?" she asked.
She wanted to cheer, but she kept her mouth shut.
"Which means that Nick is still alive, and we still don't have the jewel."
"If Nick isn't hurt too bad, I'm pretty sure he'll come here. You could just wait for him like you waited for me."
"That's our only option right now. I have to go inform Mr. Esterhazy. Do you want to come with me?"
"No, I'm still not sure about things. If Nick is still alive, things are a little different for me. Not that I would go back to him after everything you told me. It's just hard to make that kind of break from someone I used to care about."
Chaos smiled. "That's okay. I understand."
After Chaos was gone, Kitsune slipped into the Jacuzzi. There really wasn't much for her to think about. Everything that Chaos had said the night before still made perfect sense to her. The fact that Nick had killed Ghostshadow only helped Chaos's argument. She knew how much Nick hated to kill. She had seen how hard it had been for him to kill Blackeye Hart even in self-defense, and she had seen how he reacted afterwards. It had upset him so greatly that he had left Walden City and took the two-month pilgrimage honoring the three stars that ended on Lost Tree. He was different when he returned. She couldn't quite say how, and he wouldn't talk about it. If he had killed again, even under the same circumstances, then all his despair over having taken a life was an act. It had to be.
"Greyson, get your head out of your ass!" a vaguely familiar female voice said.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Don't you see what he did to you? He hypnotized you or something! Why do you think he wanted to talk? That's what he was tweaked for. Everything he told you is a lie. You know better. You know Nick. Nick loves you. And you love him. And since he's not dead, you damn well better get your ass in gear and do what Ryan asked you to do. And I can't believe you slept with Chaos."
"Who ... what are you?" Kitsune asked. She recognized the voice as the voice of the fox from the dream she had had the other night.
"I'm part of you. I'm the spirit of the fox they used in the experiment on you. I was so angry at what they were doing. I had to find some way to save you and maybe avenge the others. But that didn't happen. You didn't remember what they did. I did save you, though, and that was enough."
"How did you save me?"
"I possessed you."
"How do you think you do the things you do? No human, tweaked or otherwise, is quite as nimble as you are. That's because of me."
"Okay. All right. I believe you. It makes sense. But why didn't you ever talk to me before?"
"I didn't need to."
Kitsune closed her eyes and went over her conversation with Chaos in her mind, trying to find the point at which he had been able to turn her away from Nick, but she didn't see it. His methods were too subtle. She did remember not really wanting to break eye contact and finding a great deal of comfort in his words, lies or not. She was scared; there was no doubt about that, but she wasn't one to seek shelter in a storm. She had always plowed ahead and did what needed to be done. Besides, if she didn't find any evidence, she had no doubt that Ryan would pay Esterhazy a visit himself, and that would be bad for everyone.
"Okay," she said. "But I can't do anything now. Let him keep thinking he won. And then we'll give him a little surprise."
"Did you see this?" Gaston asked.
Aaron just looked at him over the rim of his coffee cup.
Gaston pushed the news slate across the table. "Just take a look. It won't hurt to not think about the case for two seconds."
Aaron picked up the slate. There was an image of Xebec from a weather satellite showing a strange light phenomenon over the city of Newton. It was some kind of bright blue aurora in the shape of an angel with a sword in its hands. It had occurred shortly after sunset and seemed to originate from the shore, but when investigators had arrived at the spot, they found the body of a man who had been shot in the head. They were unable to identify the body just yet, but they were certain he was a Slider. He had been found with two death coins in his mouth. Investigators were also trying to gather samples of the blood they found on the rocks at the site.
Aaron put the slate down and sipped his coffee.
"Isn't that weird?" Gaston asked.
"It was Tsyplakov," Aaron said.
"Who killed the Slider. It had to be."
"Remember what the Brannagh girl told us about what she saw in the control room? I think when she sees this image, she'll say it's the same thing she saw."
"What does that have to do with Tsyplakov?"
"He had to have been in that control room."
"You know, I'm starting to think that Esterhazy has more to do with this. The Falkenbergs have never been very noble nobility. They're a bunch of cutthroats and back stabbers. I don't think Pavel likes his little brother very much. Why else would he say he thought Nikolai was dead? And why is Pavel working for Esterhazy anyway? Something just doesn't seem right to me."
Gaston tapped his fingers on the table. "No, it doesn't seem right. What if Esterhazy hired Tsyplakov and the girl to steal the jewel for him? Tsyplakov would have known that they couldn't give it to Esterhazy because of its power. So they didn't go back to Aria. I would bet that Esterhazy sent thugs after them. Otherwise, why keep running like this? Tsyplakov could have come to us with the jewel in his hand and told us everything and not worried about serving time. His family would never let that happen."
"And if the jewel really does belong to Konstantine, maybe Tsyplakov wanted to take it back to him."
"What the hell was it doing in the museum in the first place?"
"Maybe we should be talking to Konstantine."
"He won't cooperate."
"Then let's take a closer look at Esterhazy. We'll probably find a whole lot of fun and interesting things there."
"Yeah, I agree. Besides, we're never going to find the thieves. Not with a reward that high. Everyone thinks they know where these two are."
Gaston and Aaron left the diner and headed back for the BII offices. They had gone maybe a few feet when they distinctly felt like they were being followed. They were about to turn around when a man said, "Excuse me, detectives."
When they turned, they were both surprised to see Ryan Phoenix.
"You ... what are you doing here?" Gaston asked.
Ryan grinned. "I'm the delivery boy today," he said. Two white envelopes appeared in his left hand. He handed one to Gaston and one to Aaron. "It is a formal event, and I know you probably aren't used to things like that. But you're gonna want to be there."
"What the hell ... "
Aaron opened his envelope. It contained an invitation to the Falkenberg's annual ball, which was to take place in a little over a month. "Why would we want to go to the Falkenberg's ball?" he asked.
"Trust me," Ryan said. "It'll be interesting."
"I don't think our supervisor will want to wait a month to close this case."
"You aren't gonna find Nick and Kitsune before then. And digging into Esterhazy's company isn't gonna be as easy as you think."
"We can't just stop trying because you said so."
"What if it was Talon who said so?"
"That's a little different."
"Yeah, he gets all the props, doesn't he? That pisses me off sometimes. No one knows what I did except for the people who saw it. And most of them aren't really even sure what they saw me do."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Gaston asked.
Ryan shook his head. "I'm regressing to my psychotic phase. Sorry. Just show up at the ball. You won't be sorry you wore uncomfortable clothes for a few hours."
Nick wasn't doing well. Lash was starting to have difficulty passing Nick off as a friend too drunk to walk straight. Maybe the fact that he was bleeding from the mouth had a little to do with that. But at least Nick's condition kept people from wanting to ask too many questions.
Lash had put Nick down on a bench inside the terminal at the port, and Nick hadn't remained upright for more than two seconds. Lash had to stay with him to keep him from falling off the bench.
He scanned the list of departing ships, wondering if Nick would even make it that far. He should have taken Nick to a hospital but was afraid that someone would recognize Nick and call the BII. The name Leviathan caught his eye, and he remembered what Ryan had told him. "Nick, I gotta get up now," Lash said.
Nick made a sound. Lash wasn't sure if it was consent or pain.
"Don't fall off the bench."
That time, Nick was so still that Lash thought he was dead. Lash put his fingers against Nick's neck and felt the very slow and faint pulse there. Carefully, Lash stood up. Nick didn't move, so Lash walked up to the desk.
"Hi. Can I help you?" asked the girl at the desk.
"What's Leviathan?" Lash asked.
"Leviathan is a luxury slow liner that runs between here and Lore."
"That takes, what, about a month?"
"That should be enough time. Two please."
"Two cabins or one?"
"Oh. I'm not used the liners. Yeah, one cabin."
"Lucky you. That's the last double available. Leviathan doesn't pull out until seven, but it is boarding now at dock nine, right outside the terminal. Do you need assistance with luggage?"
"No, thanks. I think I can take care of that."
She pushed the tickets across the desk to him and smiled brightly. "Enjoy your trip, sir."
When Lash turned back towards the bench, Nick was trying to sit up. Lash rushed over and let Nick lean on him. "What the hell are you trying to do?" Lash asked.
"I don't have a month," Nick mumbled. Blood dripped over the corner or his mouth. "I need to get to Walden City."
"We'll get there."
"Nick, you aren't in any condition to argue with me. Kitsune will wait for you. You know that."
"I don't want to wait."
"Ryan told me to take Leviathan. Do you want to argue with him?"
"All right, then. If you can get up and get yourself passage to Walden City, we'll do that instead."
Nick didn't move for a long time. He wiped the blood from his mouth. "Fuck you," he said.
"So I win. Come on."
Getting through the crowds on the docks wasn't any fun. Every time someone bumped into them, Nick bled more. By the time they reached the hatch, he was unconscious, but Lash managed to get him on board and to the cabin without anyone asking questions. Once he had Nick on the bed, he put in a request for medical supplies. The request was filled, but the supplies weren't brought to him by a steward like he had expected. The security officer showed up at the door instead. Lash could only blink stupidly at her as she handed over the supplies he had asked for.
"Do you mind if I oversee this for just a little while?" she asked.
"Um ... I guess not," Lash said.
"It's just a precaution."
"My name is Evelyn Brannagh, by the way."
"Then you probably know who I am."
Evelyn nodded. She shut the door behind her and watched silently as Lash prepared the i.v. that would keep Nick unconscious and feed his body drugs to help heal his injuries. Then he cleaned and bandaged the external wounds. He set and splinted Nick's broken wrist and then looked at Evelyn for her assessment.
She nodded. "That's good work," she said. "You could be a doctor instead of a bounty hunter."
"I was a field medic on my home planet during the war," Lash said.
"What happened to Mr. Tsyplakov?"
"You know him?"
"I was the security officer on the pilgrimage ship he was on. I had to remove him from the tour on Frontier."
"The fewer psychics who make it to Lost Tree, the better."
"So what happened to him?"
"He was in a fight. A Slider called Ghostshadow was trying to kill him."
"Ghostshadow? Doesn't he work for Archer Esterhazy?"
"Used to. He's dead now."
"Must've been a nasty fight if this is what happened to the winner."
"It was bad, yeah."
"Why are you involved?"
"Talon hired me to keep an eye on him."
"You know the BII has a big reward out for him."
"I know. But no one's gonna collect if he dies. That's why I need to keep him out for a while. He'd rather try to go to Walden City right now, but he wouldn't make it."
"He won't be very happy with you when he wakes up."
"But he'll wake up. That's what matters."
"If you need anything else, let me know."
Evelyn left the room before Lash could say anything. He was surprised she wasn't going to turn them in. She must have known more than she was telling him. He wouldn't have been shocked to learn that Ryan had paid her a visit at some point. It was going to be a long month, but at least the only thing he had to worry about was taking care of Nick.
Kitsune managed to refuse Chaos's advances without making him suspicious and spent the night planning. In her backpack, she found that Ryan had left her a gift of several sticks of a somewhat weak explosive. But that was all she would need. She didn't want to destroy anything. She just wanted to shake it up a little. During the day, she had made Chaos give her a tour of the building. Thinking she would eventually be living there, Chaos left nothing out. He showed her the control room where he monitored the security cameras, including the flying eyes. He showed her all the offices, even going so far as to tell her who kept track of what kind of information. The last things he showed her were the basement level labs. He put a nice spin on the illegal experiments, explaining that most of Archer's employees would probably die if they didn't perform experiments and routine tests to make sure their DNA was stable. She almost made a comment about checking for mental stability as well but thought better of it. Chaos did a good job of hiding his emotions, but he was clearly upset by Ghostshadow's death.
Most of what she was after was going to be in the labs, but she figured they had to be covering up the expenses of the experiments somehow, so she decided to start with the chief financial officer's office on the twenty fifth floor. Lucky for her, Pavel had left for a meeting on Commonwealth that morning and wouldn't be back for another day or so. She waited until well after midnight and crept down the dimly lit stairwell to Pavel's office.
Kitsune expected cameras in the stairwell, and they were easy to avoid. She planted a few of the explosives along the way. The twenty fifth floor was a little bit better monitored, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. At least there weren't any of the flying eyes to deal with. The office door was locked but not very well, and once she was inside, there were no cameras to worry about. The only ones who would see her there were the psychics.
Pavel's organizational habits were predictable, and she quickly found what she was looking for, copied it onto a disk and slipped the disk into her bag. She was about to leave when she got the sudden urge to go through his desk drawers just in case she missed anything. On top of a pile of letters was a letter from Pavel's twin brother, Gavril. It was just a short note. "I thought you'd find this interesting," was all Gavril had written. Also in the envelope was a copy of the last will and testament of Andre Afinogenov. It left everything to Nick. Kitsune could just imagine how angry that made Pavel. His runaway thief brother stood to inherit a more than substantial fortune, and not a penny of it was Falkenberg money. Valeska could do nothing. There were other letters from lawyers and from Valeska, none of which contained any news Pavel was glad to hear. Pavel must have taken great pains to find out where Nick was and convince Archer to have Nick and Kitsune steal the jewel of blind vision. Pavel had to have known Nick wouldn't bring it back and that Archer would kill to have it. That was the only way Pavel, Gavril and their sister Noreen would see any of their father's money. There was a letter from Noreen. She was not offended in the least by her father's will. In fact, she seemed to think it was the right thing to do and went on to state that she was ashamed of the way they had all treated Nick when they were children. Or rather of the way they had ignored him like he was no better than one of the servants.
Kitsune tucked the copy of Andre's will into her backpack and slapped a stick of the explosives on Pavel's computer. "Just be glad that's not your head, you bastard," she said.
She slinked back into the stairwell and detonated the explosives when she reached the first basement level.
She thought it was clear sailing from there. She got what she wanted and headed back up, hoping the explosions had caused enough of a distraction for her to get out and be long gone before Chaos realized what she had done. But her karma wasn't quite that good. Chaos and Zero were waiting for her in the lobby.
"You're a clever girl. I'll give you that," Chaos said. "But I'm not that easily fooled."
"But I had you going there for a while, didn't I?" Kitsune asked.
"I should have known better."
"Yeah, you should have."
"Zero, please take care of the vermin."
Zero snapped forward, catching her jaw with a roundhouse kick that sent her hard into the wall. She expected it to hurt more. It stung for sure, but there was no pain. He came at her again, raising his fist to plow it through her chest. She let herself drop to the floor and kicked his knee as hard as she could while he pulled his fist out of the wall. She heard something crack, and he stumbled. He looked at his knee then at her, and then he blinked. She scooted backwards just barely in time to avoid the downward plunge of his fist into the floor. She got to her feet and opened the first door she saw, hoping she could get up a flight or two then crash out of a window with her grappling hook. Zero's kick had disoriented her just enough though, and she was staring into the coat closet.
Zero had extracted his fist from the floor and was coming at her again. She grabbed a coat and threw it at him. He kicked it out of the way with a crescent kick. She was almost impressed by his form, but Nick was better. She grabbed a few more coats and threw them at Zero. He wasn't as successful batting them out of the way that time and got tangled up in them. She leaped on top of him, knocking him to the ground, and then she hit him until he stopped moving.
"Well, I guess you had the advantage, having seen him fight before," Chaos said. "He did seem somewhat sluggish this evening, though. I wonder why."
"Don't make excuses for him," Kitsune said. "He just got beat by a girl." She took her grappling hook from her belt and flung the hook at Chaos. It struck his temple. He stood there for a second as if he wanted to call her some dirty name, and then he hit the floor. She tied him and Zero up in coats with the hook, though she hated to part with it. It had served her well, and would serve her better by keeping them busy while she ran.
She stowed away on a liner headed to Parable. From Parable, she got a ride on a nice cruiser called Slow Kiss that took her all the way to Walden City. The pilot looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place him. His crew complained bitterly about their passenger, though she was sure none of them were aware of the BII's reward. He only told them to shut the fuck up, and she smiled to herself.
When she got off at the port in Walden City, the pilot said, "Ryan wanted me to tell you that Nick's not here yet."
"Thanks," she said. "I figured I'd beat him."
"Um ... he's not gonna be here for a while."
"Why? What happened?"
"I don't know. Ryan didn't want to tell me much. He was acting weird as usual. But Nick'll show up. Just lay low and be careful. I almost forgot. Here." He handed her a white envelope.
"An invitation to the Falkenberg ball on Teatree."
"A ball? I don't have anything to wear to a ball."
"Don't worry about that."
"Thanks again. For everything."
Kitsune left the dock and resisted the urge to go to High Spirits. Instead, she bought a cheap meal and found a cheap hotel to hide in.