I had planned what we would propose to the Raven a thousand times, but when the words came out my mouth, I felt like a gibbering idiot. The Raven's associates stood like pickled specimines in a grotesquerie while I preached my hare-brained plan to someone who wasn't even there. It would have been ridiculous, if it weren't also terrifying.
Eventually, when I'd expounded the last of the details, the room settled into a still, sharp silence. There was no noise from the dome, and by the noise in my ears I could have sworn I was the only one in this room who breathed. Kris' boots creaked a little as she shifted at my side. Then, from within the dome, I heard the voice chuckle.
"Well, well, well." The voice sounded almost amused. "And I thought I'd heard it all. I'd not have coined you for a risk-taker."
If only you knew, I thought darkly. Though, on reflection, letting Vengeance chance ripping my bowels out seemd a good deal less dangerous than the owner of the crackly voice beyond the communicator.
"However ... as you have Lucatz's connections, and doubtless he'd be willing to lend a little financial support for his own brother ..." - the drawling voice paused - "why come to us?"
"Lucatz is a big fish in a little pond," I replied, hoping I sounded more confident than my quaking knees felt. "I need sharks."
"You flatter me," the Raven purred. "But, beware Gavin. I like you, but I'll not risk myself or my people over your petty revenge. If you want me, we'll do it on my terms."
"There's no risk for you!" I blurted suddenly. "I'll be the one going into the Arena, the other teams don't even need to get that far, I -"
"Be that as it may," the Raven's voice was sharp now, "you are but one rogue criminal who escaped the Arena with a little help from some sodium sulfide and a hell of a lot of luck. Your only risk is your life. And, it seems to me, you don't set much store by it."
Kris ground her teeth, and groped at her hip for her absent gun. I gripped her wrist hard.
"All right," I spoke slowly now, "All right. I'll work with you. If you give me the people, the money, and the means, I'll do the rest."
"Smart man," said the Raven. "You'll be hearing from me again soon. In the meantime, my friends here will show you to your rooms." A soft laugh. "I thought you might appreciate the gesture. Oh, and if your brother wants to meet with you personally, the back door staff will be leting him in. I'd like to think Lucatz would be willing to make amends for the past."
With a click, the voice fell silent. Silently, the Raven's associates gathered up the dome and strode out of the door. As we followed them out, the silver-haired man was waiting for us at the door. We followed him meekly to our allocated room, neither of us daring to so much as make eye contact until we heard his footsteps fade to nothing on the other side of the door.
"What the hell was that? I thought you said we had him!" Kris hissed at me.
"We do," I replied, "it's part of the act. He was right - we're only risking our lives here. If everything goes wrong, nobody's going to believe we did this alone, and he and I both know where the wandering eyes will turn."
"If you knew that, then why did you -"
"Because we weren't the only ones in that room! Just because the Raven trusts them to bring us to him doesn't mean he tells them anything."
Kris thought about it for a moment, then snorted, "A show. He made you play the fool to reassure his pets."
"And a good thing too, or those pets would be liable to bite," I said. "He's on side, Kris. We'd be dead by now if he wasn't."
Kris snorted again, but nodded. Leaving her to brood, I crossed the atrium of our apartments and stepped into the spacious living room beyond. We were on the top floor, scarcely half a corridor away from Suite A. I gave one of the walls a soft tap. Sound proofed. Just as I suspected. The Raven would hardly want any private conversations to be overheard up here. Even if the whole place was full of his own associates anyway.
I strode over to the window, biting my lip. I hadn't been totally honest with Kris. The Raven liked our plan, and his demands that he be in control had all been part of his show, but there was one thing I did not like. His mention of my brother. It could have been a coincidence, but if he knew Lucatz wanted to talk to me personally...
Despite the warmth of the room, I shivered.