Imogen gripped my arm as we waited. “I don’t like this,” she muttered for the tenth time.
“I know,” I said. I didn’t particularly like it either, since I would much rather be waiting with the attack party that was focused on Adams. “But this was the best option on short notice.”
We were in the corner of a small, out-of-the-way courtyard in Block 19. Sawya had picked it, assuring us that we wouldn’t be disturbed. They had given us the location before Adams, so we had arrived early to choose our position.
Here, tucked away in the darkest corner, tall columns gave us some cover. I was cuffed, cloaked, and blindfolded, though I wasn’t truly as helpless as I appeared. My blindfold looked good, but I could see straight through it.
“If one of Adams’s goons kills you, Valentin is going to kill me,” she said, “and I very much enjoy being alive.”
“Valentin won’t kill you. And even if he tries, Luka won’t let him.”
“Why couldn’t Luka betray you? That seems far more realistic.”
“Maybe too realistic,” I agreed with a laugh. “But he doesn’t have family in Quint territory, and Adams will be rightfully wary of him. You’re a woman. Adams will automatically underestimate you for that alone.”
“I still don’t know how you knew about my family,” she grumbled.
“Don’t take it personally. I looked into your background before I took you to Koan with me.”
Her head tilted. “Why take me at all if you knew I might be compromised?”
“Ari vouched for you.”
Imogen nodded and lapsed into silence.
We’ve got movement, Eddie said over the group link. Front door. Team of four. No sign of Adams. I repeat, Adams is not with them.
Let them pass, Ari said. Samara’s team can handle them. We wait for Adams.
We’d had spotters in place all day. Unless Adams had spent the night somewhere else, he was still in the building. I hoped confirmation of my presence would be enough to draw him out. If not, I would take out the first squad and see if that did it. If nothing else, it might startle him into flight.
Tonight it was all hands on deck. The two groups sent by my council had joined Ari, Valentin, and Luka. Anyone who wasn’t comfortable fighting was with Stella to provide medical support. My team was spread out on the upper floors of the buildings facing into the courtyard, with a couple of spotters farther out to let us know when Adams’s group approached.
I carefully arranged myself on the ground so that my bound hands were visible and my cloak wouldn’t be in my way when I stood. I didn’t love being on the ground, even with the columns between me and the open courtyard, but Imogen had supposedly drugged me in order to capture me, and we had to sell the story.
The minutes slipped by in silence. Adams was apparently going to let his team come all the way here before he risked his own neck, just as we’d expected.
Incoming, a spotter on my team warned. Confirmed team of four.
I heard them before I saw them. A second later, four men in dark clothes stomped into the courtyard. I couldn’t see them directly, but the tiny camera I’d installed gave me a visual. The men were armed with short plasma rifles and, for all of their excessive noise, they held the weapons like professionals.
“Imogen Weber?” the tallest one called.
Imogen peeked out from behind her column. “Who are you?”
“We’re here on behalf of our commander.”
“That wasn’t the deal. How do I know you’re not just after the money for yourselves? You’re not cutting me out of this, not after what I’ve been through.” Her voice cracked. She was a hell of an actress.
The man scowled and waved an arm at me. “We have to verify the identity.”
The group wasn’t acting like soldiers in hostile territory. They hadn’t taken defensive positions and they continued to shift around, making noise. Something was wrong.
Team Two, report.
All of the team members reported in with nothing unusual, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were missing something.
“If you want to verify her identity, then put your gun down and approach,” Imogen said. “Only you. And don’t try anything or I’ll shoot you.”
The man cocked his head and smiled. “Why don’t you put your gun down and step away from the target.”
A single, nearly soundless footstep was all the notice I got before Adams shimmered into view directly behind Imogen, the visor of his combat armor open. He clamped a hand on her shoulder a pressed a plasma pistol into her back. Around the courtyard, four more soldiers in armor appeared.
Imogen sucked in a surprised breath.
I remained limp on the ground and kept pretending to be unconscious, but I shouted across the link, Adams is here in fucking Kos combat armor! Everyone converge—
My connection to the net died in a blast of static. Adams’s team wouldn’t be able to keep it down for long, but they didn’t need to. Even if Valentin and the others figured out what I meant, they had to cross three blocks to get here. Adams would be long gone before they arrived.
I’d lost access to the camera, but I could still see Imogen and Adams through my blindfold. The other soldiers didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
“Dropping your gun is an excellent idea,” Adams said. “Carefully now. I wouldn’t want you to die before you can spend your hard-earned reward.”
I mentally urged her to do as he said. I couldn’t get a clear shot at him from my position and even if I could, he was liable to pull the trigger on his way down. Imogen and I both wore a flexible, lightweight armor base layer, but it wasn’t guaranteed to deflect point-blank shots.
At least my team had decided to hold their fire. I had warned them not to risk Imogen, and apparently they were listening. Or maybe they had already bailed. Adams had snuck an entire squad in combat armor right past my spotters, all of whom had thermal cameras for just such an occasion.
I’d thought it a bit overkill since none of Sawya’s information had mentioned armor, or even large supply boxes that could hold armor, but I liked to prepare for all possibilities.
A lot of good that did me.
None of our spotters had reported extra soldiers, and while one or two might be compromised, Eddie wasn’t. I knew it in my bones. Had Adams found a way to suppress the armor’s thermal signature? If so, we were fucked.
Imogen dropped her pistol. She had at least two more on her, but she had to be free to draw them.
“Where’s my money?” she demanded.
“All in good time, my dear,” Adams said. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t completely trust your change of heart.”
Imogen snorted. “For the amount of money you’re offering, a saint would have a change of heart—and I’m no saint.”
“Is the queen alive?” Adams asked.
Imogen lifted her free shoulder in a careless shrug. “Last I checked. I don’t think you’re supposed to mix alcohol and sedatives, but I didn’t have much choice.”
“So if I shoot her, she won’t feel it?”
I kept my body relaxed and my breathing deep and even. I’d be delighted if Adams pointed his gun at me, because then it wouldn’t be pointed at Imogen, and I could act.
Imogen shrugged again. “Who knows? But I’d rather have something between us before you attempt it. She’s going to be mighty pissed when she wakes up.”
Adams chuckled. “Oh, I’m counting on it.”
Imogen’s fingers twitched and her pinky curled in, leaving three fingers. After a beat, her ring finger curled.
I groaned and twitched. Hopefully she would understand that I was on board.
Adams turned his attention to me. “I thought you said she was unconscious.”
Imogen sighed. “I don’t know how much of the sedative she actually drank before she passed out. Then I had to drag her all the way here. Pay me before she wakes up and kills us all.”
She curled in her middle finger and I groaned again, louder. Adams shifted, but his gun remained pointed at Imogen’s back.
Come on, you bastard.
“Beale,” Adams said, “come—”
Imogen’s last finger fell and she twisted away, faster than Adams expected. The gun went off, but I couldn’t tell if she was hit. I surged to my feet, breaking out of the weakened cuffs and removing the blindfold. I drew a pistol on my way up.
Plasma pulses rained down from above as my team laid down suppressive fire. One of the soldiers in armor went down, but the others shimmered and disappeared. Plasma pulses appeared to come from thin air as they returned fire.
Fuck, why couldn’t a single thing go right today?
Imogen and Adams were locked together, wrestling for control of the gun. Adams was strengthened by the combat armor, so even with her augments, it was all Imogen could do to hold him off.
I didn’t have armor-piercing rounds in my plasma pistol because that was just asking for trouble in an area surrounded by civilians, so I had to hit Adams somewhere fleshy.
Like his face.
Imogen was far enough back that I had a clear shot. I brought up my pistol and squeezed the trigger. Adams must’ve caught my movement because he jerked back at the last moment and the pulse punched through his visor rather than his skull. That was twice that I’d missed the bastard, and I didn’t plan to let it happen a third time.
I adjusted but before I could shoot again, he twisted and shoved Imogen at me. On her way down, she yanked his gun away from him and then tucked, trying to avoid me. I didn’t reach for her. A fall wouldn’t kill her, but Adams might.
His armor shimmered, but he didn’t disappear. I must’ve damaged the active camouflage when I hit his visor. He raised an armored arm, shielding his face. “Cover me!” he shouted.
I might not be able to punch through his armor with a single shot, but I’d get through eventually if I kept hitting the same spot. I ignored the plasma pulses winging through the air and squeezed the trigger as fast as I could aim, hitting him in the side under his arm. He was not going to walk away from this.
“We have to go!” Imogen shouted from next to me. She leaned around the column, shooting at the advancing soldiers in the courtyard. “There are too many.”
I caught a glimpse of Adams’s head and adjusted my aim. The pulse hit the top of his helmet and he ducked, bringing his arm up more.
“Kill them both!” he shouted. Then, before I could do anything else, he turned and ran.
I growled out a curse. If I left the relative safety of the column, I’d be shot before I made it a meter. And while my central mass was protected by the armor, my head was not.
The soldiers without armor had retreated behind the columns on the far side, and two of them were down. One soldier in armor was still down, but the rest were getting close based on their shots.
There was no option. “Fall back!” I shouted. I hoped the rest of my team could hear me.
Imogen turned and kicked open the door behind us. I followed her inside, then barred the door. The apartment was as abandoned as it had been earlier. “Are you hit?” I asked her as we dashed to the tunnel that would take us to the next building.
“Grazed,” she said. “I’m okay. I tagged the armor Adams had on. Once we get outside of the net dead zone we’ll be able to track him, assuming he doesn’t dump the armor.”
I laughed. “Excellent work.”
We raced through the second building until we came to the door leading out. I pulled up my hood and peered through the window. I didn’t see anyone, but that wasn’t exactly comforting. My next set of contacts would definitely include thermal imaging.
I opened the door and stepped out before Imogen could stop me.
No one shot at me.
Adams had three options: return to his house, head to his ship, or hunker down and wait for his team to catch up with him. They each seemed equally likely, and I wouldn’t know which he’d chosen until I could connect to the net and track him, which meant I needed to get out of the dead zone.
The nearest airlock led to Block 18. I headed for it, Imogen on my heels. Both Adams’s house and ship were on the other side of the station, so if he picked a direct route to one of them, he would use the 18-19 airlock.
We ran, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. We crossed two sectors before the net connection spluttered back to life. The group link came back, too, but I didn’t have time to respond.
“Where is Adams?” I asked Imogen.
She frowned and sent me the tracker link.
I pulled it up and cursed again. He was heading for the other airlock, the one that led into Block 20. Did he know about the team waiting at his house? I changed direction and then asked the group, Where are you?
We’re in Block 18, almost to 19, Valentin responded, his tone relieved.
They were going to be too slow.
Head to the courtyard, I said. My team could use the help with Adams’s soldiers. There are still at least three in Kos armor, and they may have found a way to defeat thermal imaging, so be careful. Adams is on the move, heading to the 19-20 airlock. His armor is damaged. Imogen and I will follow him.
We should follow you, Valentin argued.
I agree, Ari chimed in.
I blew out a breath. My team in the courtyard had cover and exits on their side. I had to trust that they were capable of taking care of themselves. Fine, do what you will, but we’re not slowing down. I sent the group the link to the tracker.
Be careful, Valentin said.
We will be. You, too.
I sent the link to the background and focused on running. We were slowly closing the gap, but we wouldn’t catch Adams before he made it into Block 20. Without the tracker, he would’ve disappeared completely. Finally, one thing was going right today.
The people who were out at this hour pretended not to see us when we ran past. We returned the favor. We were still several minutes behind Adams when he approached the 19-20 airlock. As soon as he crossed into Block 20, an alarm began to sound overhead, deep and reverberating.
“What is that?” Imogen shouted over the noise.
The people around us started running for the airlock, panic on their faces.
“An emergency has been detected,” a calm, pleasant voice announced, “please proceed in an orderly fashion to the nearest airlock or emergency shelter.”
Oh, fuck me. That’s what I got for thinking the universe was on my side for once.
The timing was too close for it to be a coincidence. I didn’t know how he’d managed it, but Adams had initiated a block lockdown, and if we didn’t make it to the airlock before the outer door closed, we would be trapped until they determined that there wasn’t really a disaster happening inside.
I ran faster.