“Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Jin?”
“I’m sure.” Jin spoke around the screwdriver clenched in his teeth, not glancing up at Nyr, who was hovering across the kitchen table from him. “And if I don’t, it’s not like you’ll be able to yell at me.”
Nyr’s face twisted in anxiety and Riyad chuckled where he was sitting on the counter. He wrapped a rubber band around his hand, the rubber tense against his skin as he stretched it, and shot it at the back of Jin’s head; weeks of practice in Ath’ran’s office had improved his aim and the projectile hit its target. Jin jerked and twisted in his seat, rubbing the back of his head and shooting Riyad an indignant look through the protective glasses he was wearing.
“Don’t worry, Nyr,” Riyad reassured. “These aren’t high explosives.”
“I’d still die if it blew up in my face!” Jin protested, spitting the screwdriver into his hand and brandishing it like a weapon before turning back to the clutter on the table.
Nyr looked between the two of them, nails tapping nervously on the back of the chair he was clutching, facing Jin across the table. “But that’s not going to happen, right?”
Jin sucked in a lungful of air through his teeth. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Makes you wonder how, doesn’t it?” Riyad smiled, winking when he caught Nyr’s gaze over Jin’s head. “You think maybe he was one of those--”
“I’m not a terrorist,” Jin snapped. He began to screw a cap onto the metal tube in his hands, the delicate, measured movements belying the annoyance in his voice. The overhead lights glinted on the polished metal, rotating past Riyad’s vision and dazzling him for a moment. Jin’s voice lowered. “Xifeng’s full of psychos, but I’m not pretentious enough to think I know better than the government how to run a city.”
“Then how do you--?” Nyr was hesitant, perhaps subdued by the edge to Jin’s voice. Riyad was surprised, too; he wouldn’t have expected Jin to have such a strong reaction to a string of bombings that had happened seven years ago on the other side of the world.
He slumped back on the countertop, pressing his back against the wall and glanced at the sand-blown dunes in the window to his right. New Arcadia certainly didn’t seem as far away as it actually was; Xifeng probably wasn’t the other side of the world for Jin either.
“We used pyrotechnics in the circus,” Jin explained, fiddling with something Riyad didn’t recognize on the cap of the tube in his hand. A soft, metallic ratcheting punctuated his words. “I learned how to make them and read some stuff to find out more.” He glanced up, lips twisting at one corner into a crooked smirk. “Yes, I can read. Don’t have a heart attack.”
Riyad raised his hands in defeat, smiling and glad that Jin wasn’t offended. “If all this goes according to plan, you’ll have earned that massaging chair as far as I’m concerned.”
The ringing of Riyad’s phone drowned out Jin’s response. He glanced at the caller ID, confused when it showed no information, and answered. He was met with an odd crackling sound that made him wince.
It took him a moment to recognize the voice, but when he did, he sat up straight. “Surge?”
“Yeah.” Under the static and a tinny echo, he sounded tired. “Yeah, it’s me. I talked to James and Ashe.”
Riyad hurriedly slid off of the counter and crossed to the table, his socked feet slipping on the floor as he rounded the island. Turning the phone to speaker so that Nyr and Jin could listen in, he leaned against the table beside Jin, wrinkling his nose at the chemical smell clinging to the air there.
“What’d they say?” Riyad pressed.
For a moment the static grew louder. Riyad imagined he could hear voices in it and he thought for a moment that the signal was bad. Then he remembered the blank caller ID and he stared at the phone in surprise.
“Surge, are you calling from inside the wires?” he blurted before Surge could answer his first question.
There was another pause before Surge answered. “Yeah. Kind of. It makes it harder to track the call.”
Jin let out a low whistle and Nyr leaned further over the back of the chair in front of him, concern for his former parishioner twisting his face.
“Anyway,” Surge continued before any of them could speak, “I explained things to James and Ashe. James says he’ll do what we’re asking him to, but Ashe just looked like he thought it was funny. He--” Surge paused under an onslaught of static, and when he spoke again, he sounded distracted. “He said something about the whole situation being on James’s shoulders. Whatever that means.”
Maxwell’s role in the events leading up to this had been minimal, from what Riyad knew. Riyad frowned, trying to imagine what Ashe-im-Torim might have been referring to.
“Do you know when this is going to happen?” Surge said into the silence.
Riyad ran a hand through his hair, wincing when it caught in a couple of snarled curls. “Caine and Yoko are taking care of it. We’ll know more in a day or two.”
“I’ll contact you again then. If you need me before then, call James.” Surge’s voice crackled, and Riyad had to wonder if what he was really hearing were electrical signals translated into the closest approximation of speech by his mind, or if Surge was actually speaking aloud to them.
“Gotcha.” Riyad tried to infuse his voice with confidence. “Take care, Surge.”
There was a pause, as though Surge was going to say something in acknowledgement, but the connection went dead without another word spoken.
Riyad couldn’t help frowning as he brought his phone closer to his body, wiping his thumb across the display. The timing of the plan was the part they were still sketchy on, and it depended almost entirely on discovering what Hiroki was going to be doing and when. If they couldn’t find that out, then--
“I hope Ash is okay.” Nyr’s voice derailed Riyad’s thoughts and he looked up, blinked dumbly, and then laughed.
“I doubt Surge would have let him go uncared for. Didn’t you say he loved that cat to death?”
Nyr nodded, but his expression was still grim. He’d been contacted by the SPD shortly after Surge’s disappearance, based on some surveillance of him visiting Surge’s apartment once. Afterward, relating the interview to Riyad, he said he’d been purposely vague on what he could tell them, and then used his status as a former priest to avoid saying anything else.
Of course, Cross and Julian had been interrogated as well, and likely everyone else Surge had come into direct contact with in his mundane life. Fortunately for Riyad and, probably, Maxwell, there was no surveillance record of their interactions with Surge, and the SPD had apparently not yet developed a way to track his movements through the wires. Or if they had, Riyad couldn’t imagine why they hadn’t apprehended him yet.
A soft thunk and the sound of metal gently scraping on metal drew Riyad’s attention back to Jin. He had lined his twenty pipe bombs up in the center of the table and was looking at them like a proud parent.
Riyad smirked and mussed Jin’s hair, earning him an indignant but still smug growl as he reached up to smooth it back out again.
“How many more are there?” Riyad asked.
“That’s it. The rest’ll be dummies.” Jin tapped his fingers on the table to a beat only he heard. “I’m gonna fill them with confetti.”
“Not that it’ll matter. Right?” Nyr leaned forward, drawing their attention. “We’re not going to set them off anyway, right?”
Riyad shook his head. “Nah. They’re just for show. We only had to make them for real so that when the SPD does a scan, they won’t think we’re bluffing. As long as--”
“What’s this ‘we’ business?” Jin interrupted. “Nyr’s the one who’s going to be holding the detonator.”
The color drained out of Nyr’s face, just like it had every other time anyone had mentioned his role in the plan. “I really wish there was another way...” His voice trailed away and he shook his head, shooting Riyad an almost apologetic look. “But it’s a good plan. I’ll do my best.”
Riyad’s smile was gentle as he reached across the table and put a reassuring hand on Nyr’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. This is going to work, and we’re all going to come out of it just fine.”
Nyr didn’t have a chance to answer before Riyad’s phone rang again. He looked at it curiously, and then smiled when he saw the name on the display.
Putting the phone on speaker right away this time, he couldn’t keep the exuberance out of his voice as he said, “Rabbit! Tell me you guys found something out.”
“A few things.” Rabbit sounded as tired as Surge had and Riyad wondered if he was the only one at least putting on the appearance of optimism. “There’s no way to get onto the ziggurat from the inside or outside of the building. But there are access panels along each side of it.”
“So there’s something inside,” Riyad concluded. “It was built for the Shards. Caine was right.”
“He usually is.” Rabbit exhaled audibly. Riyad pictured him breathing smoke out through his nose as he clenched a cigarette between his teeth, and wrinkled his nose even though he couldn’t smell the smoke. After a few breaths, Rabbit said, “There’s something else.”
“Oh?” Riyad leaned in closer, glancing at Nyr and Jin. Nyr was watching the phone with an expression of concentration, while Jin was looking at the ceiling, twirling a screwdriver between his fingers. Riyad was sure he was listening despite the appearance that his attention was elsewhere; Jin postured without even knowing it.
“Two things, actually. There’s engraving on the sides of the ziggurat. I asked Quinn about it and he says it predates any known old world languages.”
Riyad scratched the side of his nose thoughtfully. “We can ask Yoko. He might know.”
There was a brief silence, and after a moment, Riyad thought Rabbit must have nodded rather than spoken. He rolled his eyes. “What was the other thing?”
“Hiroki bought something from Alan,” Rabbit said. “A week or two ago. Alan can’t remember what it was.”
Riyad frowned, glancing at the others. Jin was looking at the phone now, dark eyes quizzical behind the goggles he was wearing. Nyr bit his lip and then asked, “What could Alan have that he’d want?”
“Fuck if I know.” Rabbit’s tone was clipped and he made a noise that Riyad assumed came from him spitting out his cigarette butt. “You guys figure that one out. I’m going to get something to eat.”
“Yeah,” Riyad said quickly, forestalling any more questions or comments from Nyr and Jin. “We’ll talk to you later.”
Rabbit grunted in acknowledgement and hung up. Jin rolled his eyes and, with his hands braced on the edge of the table, balanced his chair on its back legs.
“That guy gets nicer every day,” he said, taking one hand off the table.
“He’s under pressure, just like everyone else,” Nyr replied as Jin released his grip on the table altogether.
Riyad bit the inside of his cheek in thought and watched Jin flail to keep himself from toppling backwards. Extending one hand, he caught Jin’s arm and pulled him forward until all the legs of his chair rested on the floor. Jin grinned at him, his glasses askew, and Nyr smiled slightly before turning away.
“We should eat, too. We can talk about what Rabbit told us during supper.”
Riyad followed him further into the kitchen, easily syncing his motions with Nyr’s as they began to prepare the meal, exchanging quiet comments about what they should cook. They were under pressure, like Nyr had said, but at least they still had moments like these, bittersweet in their normalcy if only because there was no guarantee that they would keep occurring.