It’s called a Smarteye,” Aria said, holding the device in her trembling hands. She sat at the dining table with Sable, a steady rain pattering outside on the stone balcony. Night was falling, and she heard the Snake River, swollen with rainwater, rushing far below.
“I’ve heard of them,” Sable said.
Aria remembered the look in his eyes from the last time they’d sat at that table. He’d snatched her wrist then. He’d hurt her with no hesitation.
Liv sat in silence beside him, her face emotionless. At the far end of the room, Roar looked calm, leaning against the wall, but his gaze moved from Sable to the guards by the door, calculating and intense.
Aria swallowed, her throat tight and dry. “I’ll contact Consul Hess now. ”
She’d never felt more self-conscious as she applied the device. Even the guards by the door stared at her. At least Sable had sent the scraggly gossipmonger away.
When she fractioned, she appeared in Hess’s office again. He stood by the wall of windows behind his desk. Like before, she saw the even levels of the Panop and felt the same twist of homesickness.
“Yes?” he said impatiently.
“I’m here with Sable. ”
“I know where you are,” Hess said, his irritation plain.
“I mean he’s here,” she said. “Sable is in front of me right now. ”
Hess came around his desk, suddenly focused. Alert. She continued. “He knows where the Still Blue is, but he needs transportation. He says he’s open to a trade. ”
Aria heard herself speaking, the sound of her own voice oddly far away. In the real, she felt the wooden back of the chair pressed against her spine, the sensation dull and distant. She was in Sable’s dining room and Hess’s office, but everything felt unreal. She couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Sable offered to negotiate?”
Aria shook her head. “No. It was my idea. I took a guess at what he needed, and I know what we have. ” She’d seen the hangar lined with Hovercraft months ago in Reverie, the day she’d been left on the outside. “I followed a hunch,” she said. “I had to—and I was right. ”
Hess watched her for a long moment, eyes narrowing. “Transport to where and for how many?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Sable wants to talk with you directly. ”
“When?” he asked.
Hess nodded. “Give him the Eye. I’ll do the rest. ”
Aria fractioned out, but she didn’t take the Smarteye off yet. In the real, Sable’s gaze held on her. Keeping her breathing steady, she chose the Phantom mask.
Soren spoke as soon as she joined him at the opera hall. “I’m on it. ”
“You’ll record their meeting? I want to know everything they say, Soren. I want to see it myself. ”
“I already said I would. ” A grin spread across his face. “Not bad, Aria. Not bad. ”
Aria fractioned out and took off the Smarteye, holding it in the palm of her hand. Her fingers still shook, and she couldn’t get them to stop. “It’s set up,” she said to Sable. “Hess is waiting for you. ”
Sable held out his hand, but she hesitated, suddenly feeling possessive over the device. She’d helped Perry into the Realms willingly last fall, but this felt different. Like she was inviting a stranger into something private. She had no choice. Sable would give Hess the location of the Still Blue in exchange for transport. Her part of the deal would be done. She’d be able to get Talon back and be free of Hess.
She handed it to Sable. “Place it over your left eye, like I did. It’ll pull tight to your skin. Stay calm, breathe slowly, and you’ll adjust. Hess will bring you into a Realm once the device is activated. ”
Candlelight reflected on the device as Sable examined it. Satisfied, he applied it over his eye. Aria saw his shoulders stiffen as the biotech worked, and then relax as he adjusted to the gentle pressure. Moments later he grunted softly, his focus growing distant, and she knew he’d fractioned to the Realms. He was with Hess. There was nothing to do now but wait.
Aria relaxed in her chair and imagined the negotiations happening right then between Sable and Hess. Who would hold the upper hand? She’d see everything later, thanks to Soren. She’d never have expected to have him as an ally on the inside.