Avalanche – Snippet 57
Perhaps some people had forgotten Verdigris. But I had not. After all, I could not forget. And he had most certainly not forgotten about us. A good thing that Khanjar was our ally, then, and that I was always, always watching. And I can watch everything, everywhere, and I do not need to sleep.
Pop Goes the Weasel
Mercedes Lackey and Dennis Lee
“Distraction?” Khanjar followed her employer — or target, depending upon the conversation — across the room. Dominic Verdigris was in the throes of a fit of genius that had lasted for more than three days. The fact that he had deigned her worthy to hear bits and pieces about this new project made her suspicious. She expected a full explanation, complete with holographic diagrams and at least one prototype. Instead, Khanjar got a few words and the request for a sandwich. “What distraction?”
Verd wagged an admonishing finger at her, careful not to drop the crystalline board and its associated components. “Ah, there’s no fun in spoilers. It’s like good art, you’ll know it when you see it.”
“Art.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Dom, you’ve collected nearly a billion dollars worth of contemporary artwork in the past decade. I’m not seeing the logic there.”
“No? Ah, well. I suppose you’ll just have to wait for it to happen.” He scooped up a glowing tablet and walked through an opening in the wall. A new laboratory gleamed from beyond the entrance, one that Khanjar was certain she hadn’t seen before. She started to follow him, but a thin red sheen and the tang of ozone warned her that the contents of the room were for his eyes only.
More secrets. She tried one more time. “What’s the distraction,” she pressed. “What’s the big surprise?”
He glanced over his shoulder, his grin widening at her annoyance. “I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you, dear. But trust me. You’ll know it when it happens.”
“You’ll know it when it happens.”
“That’s what he said.” Khanjar stirred her drink with the tip of her index finger and scowled. Getting away from the prying eyes of ECHO and avoiding any possible tag-alongs from various mercenaries had been difficult, but not impossible. “It’s not unlike him to hold his cards that close to his chest, especially when he thinks that he’s on the verge of something spectacular. This time, though…”
In the shadows, she caught a faint nod from her companion, and a low rumble of annoyance. “It’s different.”
She curled her lip. “It’s suspicious. He prides himself on never duplicating the same method or following the same procedures, so being different shouldn’t raise an alarm. The fact that he doesn’t want to crow about every brilliant creation he’s managed in the past few days, that concerns me. Humility is not his hallmark.”
“It’s not humility.” The words emerged, sounding flat and unequivocal from the shadows. “I think we’re finally seeing something we’ve been waiting for.”
Khanjar scratched at her bar napkin. “We, or you? Present company makes that line very blurry.” She glanced around the room. It was bare, with the exception of a few old wooden tables and chairs, unadorned with anything even remotely resembling decoration, with hardwood floors and muffled sound off cushioned walls that screamed of high-end sound proofing. A single lightbulb with a simple shade hung low over the center table, illuminating a small area while keeping the rest of the room dark. When he had led her in, her first thought had been of interrogation. But he had simply motioned her to sit and leaned against a wall, and waited for her to speak first. It was eerie, the room was so stark that it seemed to defy having any purpose at all. The rest of the place wasn’t much different. It was the strangest bar she had ever been in.
“We’re quite alone,” her companion said. “I promised you that, didn’t I?”
“You did,” she agreed dryly. “Pardon my shock at seeing it come through.”
“You never did like me, babe,” she heard him chuckle softly. “But I always kept up my end of any bargain, you have to give me that.”
“Sooner or later.” Khanjar leaned back and studied the shadow. “So, you’ve been waiting for something since when? This recent onslaught of fighting that’s got half of the world running scared? Or before then?”
The knife of a smile that came from across the table reminded her of the Cheshire cat. “Verdigris wouldn’t have a dumb bunny at his side. Think, darlin’.”
She despised this verbal chess, the nuances and simpering dependance upon half-truths and clever phrases. If she didn’t need such alliances, she would have put a blade through his gallbladder just to hear him squeal. “Before. Before the fighting, but not since…”
Khanjar stopped and pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. The simplest and obvious reasons were always the ones that Verd had avoided, and she had brushed them aside. But the truth had been staring her in the face since the day that he had singlehandedly united ECHO. Unintentionally, and at the cost of his well-polished and carefully tended ego.
“It was only a matter of time,” her companion said. “You’ve watched him more than anyone, even me, and for years. He’s always a step ahead. He’s always ten steps ahead. But things have gone sour for him this last year. He probably saw some of it coming, as a remote possibility, but even he can’t hedge his bets all the time. And now, for once, he’s got to catch up. And he’s worried. He’s scared. He’s in a place he never thought he’d be.”
She nodded, understanding. “He doesn’t know what will happen, does he?”
“Nope,” he said. “One thing that Verd never was very good at, was faking confidence. You just saw the cracks in his armor, sweet thing. He’s flying by the seat of his pants. Which means, for once, he’s not seeing outside his immediate plans. Which means…”
“He won’t see us coming,” Khanjar said, a slow smile spreading across her lips.
“More than that, he still trusts you,” he said. “Gotta admit, that was something I wasn’t sure we could bank on. I think this will play out just fine. Tell me again, what does he expect you to do?”
“Everything, and nothing. Wait to be surprised.” She thought for a moment. “When all hell breaks loose, I’m supposed to get into Top Hold, and take care of one of his loose threads.”
“Harmony,” he said. “He’s finally going after her. About time. These mental movies are really tiring to watch, y’know. I’m sure our friends are getting antsy for some answers too. Well, one of them, anyway.”
“Yes,” Khanjar said. “She’s a liability he hasn’t had an opportunity to eliminate, until now. Apparently, all eyes will be elsewhere. Skeleton crew. He’s not wrong, I should be able to get in there without much difficulty.”
She watched as his lowered his head in thought. Finally, he chuckled, lifted himself off the wall and slowly approached the light.
“The Djinni’s in there too, isn’t he?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Our intel isn’t too solid on his case, but apparently the evidence against him is tight. They expect him to hang, eventually. Or however one can dispose of a meta. Locking him in an escape-proof cell in a sub-sub-sub basement perhaps.”
She watched as the shadows slid away from his face as he bent down, his knuckles resting lightly on the solid tabletop.
“Well then,” Jack said. “Why don’t we pay both of them a visit?”