Title: Redstone Chapter 15, Part 2
Going now. Ten-fifteen minutes.
Tamara felt her breath catch in her throat, but forced herself to reply. Understood. Good luck.
She closed her eyes and forced air through her lungs, pushing past the stuttering, adrenalized fear response that had taken what seemed like forever to break herself of. She was not going to break down right now, damn it. She was going to do her job like the professional she was, and she was going to do it well. And someday, someday when she was old and looked more like her father’s peer instead of his daughter, she was going to tell him this story, about how she was an integral part of a daring escape, about how they saved someone who was going to help save the Federation as they knew it. And then he would see her for a real person, a person who could achieve things and live a full life even if it was a short one, and they would finally be equals.
But first she was going to dismantle her Morse device, because if everything went to hell it wasn’t going to help her to have that lying around. Tamara disconnected the parts with brisk competence, reassembled the pieces into the innocuous communicator they’d once been, then stood up and went for her secret stash of perishable death: a very thoroughly wrapped package of snack crackers that had been imbued with peanut powder.
Peanuts. Tamara had an allergy to peanuts, of all things. So quaint, so much something that just didn’t happen to people anymore. A lot of modern doctors hadn’t even heard of allergies, as Regen usually inoculated people against local sources of irritation while they were still in their mother’s womb. For those who traveled to other planets allergies occasionally popped up, but again, Regen worked wonders. And then there were the naturals, for whom the most innocuous thing could become a fast-acting pestilence for one.
Tamara had first learned about her peanut allergy when she was three years old, visiting an aunt who owned a farm on Rhysis. Being a farmer was actually a quite elevated position on a lot of worlds, and her aunt had been very proud of her crop of peanuts—“one of the only naturally-grown sources for them in the galaxy,” she’d said. And so, inevitably, Tamara had eaten one along with her cousins, and less than a minute later her throat had closed up and she’d stopped breathing.
It had been the first of many family outings she’d ruined. It helped, in a way, to know that her weakness was now going to be the very thing that made her infiltration possible. It wasn’t perfect, but it did take the sting out of what she was about to do. Not literally, though. Literally, it was going to sting like a son of a bitch.
Tamara tucked the package of crackers into her pocket, then headed out of her room. She needed to be in a public place for this. She checked her watch—five minutes had passed. Now was as good a time as any for her to get started. She walked into the common room, opened the package and popped a cracker into her hand. It lay there, brown and crispy and smelling just like she remembered. Peanuts. Fuck. She’d better get a damn note in her file that said willing to go above and beyond the call of duty once this was over. She raised the cracker to her lips—
And a large, hard hand closed around her wrist before Tamara could actually eat the cracker. The hold startled her into dropping it, and she turned toward the source of her surprise angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Demarcos said, his body language relaxed but his voice intent. The casual layer of prison surveillance wouldn’t pick up anything amiss as long as they kept looking relaxed. “What happens in ten to fifteen minutes, Miss Carson?”
It felt like her blood stopped moving for a moment. “I beg your pardon?” she asked through numb lips.
“I believe I heard a message that mentioned that timeframe. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to miss anything.”
“How did you hear that?”
“Good ears,” he said flatly. “What’s going on? And don’t try to play me; I have had it up to here with being lied to. If this is some kind of plot against my client—”
“Do you really want to get into this here?” Tamara asked lowly. “Where anyone could walk in on us?” God, she was so stupid. She should have protected herself better. She should have been paying closer attention to her surroundings instead of letting herself get distracted with reminiscing. If she got locked up at the end of this, she would deserve it for being a fool.
“We could go to my rooms and you could explain yourself there.”
“That—no.” Because damn it, she needed to be in a public place for this to work. “No, I can’t do that.”
“What, you think I’m going to hurt you?” Demarcos laughed hollowly. “I think it’s rich that of all the bad guys you could have picked out, you’ve decided to put the role on me.”
Tamara took a deep breath to settle her jangling nerves. “Sit with me.”
“Let go of my goddamn wrist and sit down with me on that lounge over there,” Tamara hissed, “before you ruin everything for Kyle.”
Demarcos’ eyes narrowed, but after a second he did as she said. They walked over to the lounge together and sat, and Tamara did her best to put a friendly expression on her face while keeping her voice as low as possible. “Listen to me, and listen good. I am not your enemy.”
“You haven’t done anything to make me think of you as a friend,” Demarcos countered softly.
“I’m not what I seem.”
“I’m not even sure what you seem to be.” He sounded unduly agitated by that. “You’re a spineless official on a charity loan to the biggest name in Federation politics, but you’re also sending secret messages via Morse, which is about as antiquated as it gets, to someone else in the prison who, what, is planning some sort of breakout?”
“You got all of that from being an eavesdropper?”
“It’s not eavesdropping when I’m listening in Morse, which I didn’t think anyone off my planet knew anymore.”
“Clearly you never got schooled at the Academy.”
“I had better things to do with my time than learn to be a killer,” he said. “You keep blinking.”
“I’m checking the time.” Her implant had started a countdown timer in the corner of her vision, and Tamara could read it better when she blinked. “Shit. Look, you have no reason to trust me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“But I’m asking you to, because I am planning to get some people out of here, and one of them is your client. But I can’t do that if I don’t get to the infirmary in the next five minutes.” Shit, time was passing by too quickly.
“Why would you—”
“Ask yourself why a natural would choose to align herself with President Alexander, even out of desperation, when he’s lobbying to have the planet that was given to people like me excised from the Federation,” Tamara said. “Ask yourself why I would support a man who is willing to let the fallout of his brother’s murder—and that’s what will happen if we don’t act now—come down squarely on me in his stead. Ask yourself who in the hell I could possibly be talking with in Morse code. If it was someone official, why would I bother?”
“You could be here for someone else,” Demarcos said, but some of the suspicion had gone out of his voice.
“And I am, but that person was only here originally to be Kyle’s fallback plan. He’s making sure that Kyle stays alive while the rest of us work on getting him out.”
“Breaking him out of prison won’t make the charges against him go away.”
“Breaking him out of prison before publicizing the heinous crimes his brother perpetrated against him as a child is the only way to keep him alive, though.”
Demarcos’ eyes narrowed. “What crimes?”
“I’ll tell you when this is over. For now, though, please, trust me. Or at least trust the man who’s paying for you, because he knows all about this.” It was a risk, bringing Garrett into things, but surprisingly that seemed to relax Demarcos even further.
“That twisty son of a bitch,” he muttered. “Fine. What do you need?”
“I need to eat something.”
“The cracker?” He glanced over, but a cleaning bot had already swiped it off the floor. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay, I have more.” Tamara popped another one onto her palm. “Just…don’t interfere, all right?”
“Interfere in what?”
“In what happens next.” She bit into the cracker before anything else could go wrong, chewed and swallowed quickly. The back of her throat tingled. “Oh, yay, it’s working.”
Tamara would have tried to answer him, but she started to cough instead. And once she started, she couldn’t make herself stop.
“What…” Demarcos’ hand smacked her on the back, but there was nothing to come up. It was biochemistry blocking her airway now, and Tamara would have smirked if she hadn’t been freaking out because she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t breathe and the itching was spreading and the lights were fading already, and she couldn’t…she was going to…
Unconsciousness had never felt so welcome.