The Bold Final Snippet for Shadows of Opinion, Opus X 7!
Tomorrow is the big day! Are you ready for book 7 in the Opus X series, Shadows of Opinion? Or are you more anxious to see how Erik and Jia did in their fight? Hehehe Don't worry, I have the exciting conclusion to this first fight. Hint, it's on the beginning! The book goes live on Friday, July 9th, so get your pre-order in now!
The Sky Garden receded as Erik and Jia dropped lower, moving away from the full flitters toward ground level.
Police and military vehicles converged on their previous location like a flock of angry, hungry birds on a corpse. Whatever pull or tricks the terrorists had used to delay the response had been defeated. The entire situation might have been a quick intel-gathering job that turned into something more dangerous, but Erik and Jia had avoided the trouble of having to deal with the terrorists later and saved a lot of lives along the way.
It wasn’t a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day after all.
The two of them set their flitters down on a parking platform. Other people pointed to the Sky Garden in the distance, chatting quietly amongst themselves. Jia pinched the bridge of her nose with her right hand, and Erik found himself staring at the medpatch on her other hand. Her face was pale and covered with sweat.
He came close, looking around as he asked, “You okay?”
“It’s fine. One of the guys got in a lucky hit.” Jia raised her left hand and waggled her fingers with a slight grimace. “It’s not as bad as getting the whole thing blown off. It should be sealed up by the end of the day and as good as new in a couple as long as I keep patches on it.”
“You didn’t tell me you’d been shot.” Erik frowned. “Neither of you mentioned it.”
“I assume Jia will pass along the information to you that she feels is necessary,” Emma noted, a hint of irritation in her voice. “It’s not my responsibility to babysit her for you. I think she’s proven that by now.”
Jia smirked and raised an eyebrow in challenge at Erik. “It’s not like we had a lot of time to discuss reinforcements. We both did what we needed to do to take them out. If I’d cried about getting shot, you wouldn’t have been able to concentrate.” She eyed him, his emotions clear to her. “Right?” She inclined her head toward the Sky Garden. “We saved it, and all it cost was a few dead terrorists. If I didn’t want to get shot, I wouldn’t chase dangerous men with guns.”
Erik couldn’t argue with that. Jia had known the danger that came with being a cop, and she had still become a detective. She understood that leaving the force to work for the Intelligence Directorate would be a greater risk. It also wasn’t like she’d never been shot before.
Part of respecting her was accepting she could take care of herself, even if she got banged up.
He took a few deep breaths and let them out. “Fine. Let’s get back to the hotel and contact Alina before some giant yaoguai dragon appears and starts laying waste to the city.”
Jia laughed. “That’s unlikely.”
“A lot of shit that happens to us is unlikely.”
* * *
“All’s well that ends well,” Alina offered with uncharacteristic cheer. “I didn’t anticipate such an immediate outcome, but I’m not going to complain about you two achieving it, either.”
Erik sat on the edge of a small bed, sparing a glance at Jia on occasion. She’d removed the initial medpatch and added two new ones, giving him an opportunity to see the bloody hole that had been torn through her hand. Willpower and adrenaline could do a lot in a fight, but it was never fun to get shot.
“Jia got shot,” Erik noted. “That’s not the best ending. It’s a clean hole, so the patches should be able to regenerate it pretty well, but we’re not walking into another assignment right away, even if it’s supposed to be easy. She needs to be at her best the next time a simple job turns more complicated.”
Jia shot him a frown, but she didn’t say anything. He shrugged back. It wasn’t about protecting her.
Having only partial use of a hand could get them both killed.
Alina sighed. “You’re right. You should return to Neo SoCal. I apologize that things got out of hand. The effort wasn’t supposed to be Herculean, but take heart that it wasn’t Sisyphean, at least.” She chuckled to herself. “I’ll handle all the cleanup. A lot of the loose ends can be pointed back at the terrorists, and from what you’ve already told me, between your helmets and Emma changing transponder codes so often, there isn’t much of a trail to lead to you. I’m surprised. Even trained agents can take a long time to get as good at hiding themselves, and you were bold public police officers not all that long ago.”
“Thanks, but that might not be enough,” Jia commented. “Don’t you think the local cops will figure out that someone helped solve their little terrorism problem for them?”
“Sure, but I’ve found over the years that local law enforcement often is willing to look the other way when something works out to their advantage. Many might even intuit that it was an ID op and are smart enough not to ask questions that will cause everyone trouble.”
“You felt the need to make a big official appearance to us when we were still with the NSCPD,” Erik replied. “You might have hidden some of that crap, but why be so in our face if that was what you expected?”
“Among other things, because even then, I wanted to leverage you as resources.” Alina let out a low chuckle. “And you two were already poking around in a lot of businesses I had an interest in. You weren’t normal cops, which was why I scouted you. Most cops wouldn’t be able to change gears in the middle of this kind of operation and stop a group of terrorists in between lunch and dinner.”
Erik bit down on a low growl. He didn’t like how lightly she was taking the situation, but he couldn’t accuse Alina of being someone who didn’t risk her own life.
He was far more concerned about something else.
“Did you know it’d be more than a little intel gathering?” Jia demanded, echoing Erik’s thoughts. “I’m not all that worried about my hand. It’ll heal, but I don’t like the idea of walking into a battle underprepared. We obviously handled it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.”
“Hmm.” Alina fell silent on the other end, not even her breathing audible. “I didn’t know about the plan, and I was honest about your mission briefing. Despite what you might believe, just because I work for the ID, it doesn’t mean I know what every random terrorist group is doing. I thought this was more about connecting with suppliers, not pulling off an op. My intel suggested the terrorists were scouting out Lagos, not ready to move already.”
Jia frowned. “That makes sense. They sourced the explosive locally, and it wasn’t that big a thing. They left less of a trail.”
“One of the advantages of having you two working for me is that I can send you out, and I know if things get a little more complicated than anyone expected, you’ll be able to handle it. And because you’re handling it, I can concentrate on other more opaque investigations that’ll pay off in the long run, including bigger threats like Talos.”
“That sounds like you’re giving us your busywork,” Erik noted.
“Sure, very bloody and dangerous busywork,” Alina replied. “If it makes you feel better, I’ll be as blunt as I can be. You two are assets to me, but you are valuable assets who might help me take down Talos. It’s not my goal or intention to waste your lives, and I’ll never expend them lightly.”
“But that doesn’t mean our lives are at the top of your concerns,” Erik noted. “Would you trade us if it meant you could be sure to take down Talos?”
Alina scoffed. “I might trade myself if I was certain it’d take down Talos. But despite my nickname, I’m still primarily in the intel game, which means I don’t want to do anything that risks you unnecessarily.”
“What if we’d decided not to pursue the terrorists?” Jia asked. “What if we’d decided it wasn’t worth the risk?”
“Then you’d have to live with your consciences.” Alina yawned. “I’m going to let you go so I can start cleanup and management of the situation. Thanks for your help. I’m sorry it turned it out rougher than expected, but I’m not going to guarantee that’ll never happen again. This line of work just isn’t that clean.”
Erik chuckled. “Yeah, well, I’d have to call bullshit if you tried to tell us it wouldn’t happen again.”
She snorted. “I’ll do everything I can to keep you alive. But for now, I have to go. Talk to you soon.” Alina ended the call.
Jia lay back on the bed and set her patched left hand on her stomach. “What a waste. I was hoping after this was all over, we could have a nice dinner here rather than just grabbing quick café food.” She frowned at him. “And come on, you don’t have to have a beignet everywhere. Expand your horizons.”
“Why can’t I?” Erik shrugged. “I had them on the Moon and Mars. I like to get that different local touch.”
Jia’s scowl vanished, an infectious smile taking over. No one would have known she’d been shot not all that long prior. “I’m just saying there’s good Nigerian in Neo SoCal, but we can get the pure, undistilled authentic experience here. We have choices other than beignets.”
“We could stick around for a little longer.” Erik sighed. “The terrorists are done, and she’s not going to give us a new assignment right away.”
“No. If Alina’s trying to clean this situation up, it’ll help if we’re not around in case someone did catch us on a camera. It wasn’t like we’ve had helmets on the entire time we’ve been in Lagos.” Jia rolled onto her side. “But you’re right. It’s been a while since we’ve had a real date, and I was hoping to have one before we end up stuck on a ship with Lanara and Cutter. I like them, but they kind of kill the mood.”
Erik nodded. “I can’t argue with that.”
Jia waved her hand. “Aching hands kill the mood, too, so let’s hope Alina gives us a few weeks to breathe.”
Erik nodded. It’d only take a few days for the medpatches to heal most of the wound. He was sure they could slip in some relaxation back in Neo SoCal before their new boss sent them after whatever bizarre terrorists or cyborgs were threatening the peace of the United Terran Confederation that week.
Jia snickered. “Who am I kidding?”
“Half our dates end with us shooting at someone.” Jia rolled onto her back, a smirk on her face. “Does make me wonder, though.”
“About?” Erik prodded, noting she looked rather good just lying there. Focus.
“How you feel about all this?” Jia gestured toward the ceiling. “Everything. Being a cop was always a means to an end for you, and now we’ve worked a decent amount of time under Alina. We might still be junior ghosts by her standards, but we’ve already gutted an entire syndicate on Mars, saved an agent, and stopped terrorists.”
Erik stared for a moment longer, wondering if she was probing for discontent or simply curious.
He’d long ago decided to not hold anything back from her and saw no reason to start then. “It doesn’t feel that different than being a cop. I thought it’d be more straightforward, with less investigation, but if anything, it feels like the opposite. We have to do more of it ourselves because we can’t drag people in and interrogate them as easily, and we have to spend more time sneaking around in disguises.”
Jia gave a slight nod. She held her wounded hand above her and stared at it. “That’s what I was thinking, too. I expected things to feel different, but they don’t. I’m even a little more satisfied.”
“You are? Why is that?”
“All crime is important, but let’s be realistic. The kind of men threatening to drop something like the Sky Garden, let alone Talos, will hurt more people than the petty thugs we had to deal with as cops.” Jia lowered her arm. “Maybe that’s just me being a wood dragon.”
“Huh?” Erik furrowed his brow. “What are you talking about?”
Jia pursed her lips. “A stupid conversation I had with Imogen last week. She’s obsessed with Chinese astrology all of a sudden because of some stupid romance movie she saw. Twelve Men, Twelve Women.” She pointed to her heart. “I’m a wood dragon. According to her, that explains everything.”
“It does?” Erik didn’t know the first thing about astrology, Western or Eastern.
Jia nodded. “Because wood dragons are supposed to be courageous, strong, and intelligent, but introverted, and they have trouble with relationships.”
Erik snort-laughed. “Maybe there’s something to astrology, after all.”
“Just because I got shot doesn’t mean I can’t come over there.” Jia shook a fist.
“What about me? I was born in 2178.”
Jia sighed. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Imogen.”
Emma’s holographic form appeared near the wall, but instead of her normal white dress, she wore a large-sleeved lavender gown, her hair up with a dragon hairpin. Her smirk remained the same.
“Who are you supposed to be?” Erik asked.
“The world’s first AI matchmaker?” Emma suggested with a shrug.
“That sounds like a nightmare,” Erik muttered. “That’s how the AI revolt happens, huh? Via our dating services? Maybe it already has.” He rubbed a cheek, thinking. “That would explain a lot about people.”
Emma sneered. “Be that as it may, Erik, I’m here to answer your question. You’re an earth tiger. You’re supposed to be brave and bold, but stubborn. Your particular combination also tends toward loyalty and adventure.”
“I kind of like that.” Erik grinned. “I might not believe in it, but who am I to talk? I’m only half-joking when I discuss the Lady.”
Jia eyed Emma with suspicion. “Matchmaker? What does astrology say about dragons and tigers?”
Emma’s sneer turned into a condescending smile. “It’s as if the universe planned this, Jia. Dragons and tigers have the best romantic compatibility. Perhaps I am truly a blessed matchmaker.”
“Ugh.” Jia groaned. “I better not tell Imogen about you, Erik. I’m surprised she didn’t ask already.”
Erik laughed. “You’re the one who was pushing us to date, and now you’re worried about our astrological compatibility?”
“We’re compatible because of personalities and chemistry, not because of…” Jia motioned with her hand and groaned again. “Astrology.”
“That says we’re compatible?” Erik shot her a grin.
She eyed him. “Don’t you start. You’ve got me almost believing in the Lady. The last thing I need is to start obsessing about astrology and lucky numbers.” She looked as if she had eaten a bad lemon.
“What?” he asked.
She turned to eye him, a rare look of concern visiting her face. “I’ll turn into my grandmother!”
Emma walked over to the bed and smiled down at Jia. “Would it help if I noted you flew mostly northwest to get to the Sky Garden, and that’s your unlucky direction?”
“Keep that up, and I’ll go to the MX 60, grab your core, and throw it off the side of this tower,” Jia threatened.
“So much enmity. I don’t know when I was born, but I must be a dog for you to hate me so.” Emma laughed.
Erik kicked off his boots and laid down on the other bed. It might have been a busy day, but if Jia could joke like that after getting shot, she was fine. Now all they had to do was get back to Neo SoCal without some terrorist group or conspiracy targeting them.
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