“Here’s the thing about the Kree: they’re boring. Smart, tenacious, irritatingly thorough—but boring.” Loki tilted back in his chair and re-crossed his feet on the table.
“You think everyone is boring,” Thor pointed out. Skarra coughed a stifled laugh from across the room, where she was examining a shelf full of what appeared to be either doorknobs or explosive charges.
The Orlando’s state room was as full as her cabin, less headquarters than museum. Its walls were lined with shelves and frames, holding a galaxy’s worth of mementos and curios: a Z’Nox gauntlet encrusted with the glistening remains of deactivated technoorganic enamel, a handful of n-dimensional dice from the gambling disks of YRZT, graceful light sculptures from Coconut Grove. Most, Thor suspected, were accompanied by equally colorful stories. He had admired a matched case of Kalosari rapiers, and Zia had responded with the tale of a daring heist, culminating in a pitched battle on a Badoon catering freighter that left Thor newly impressed with the cross-applicability of culinary and military arts.
All of this finery framed the table that served as the room’s centerpiece: a massive slab of dark wood, inlaid with Shi’ar calligraphy which Thor—who rarely saw the use for such ornament—found himself studying with a tenacity matched only by his determination not to let his gaze wander to the boots propped proprietarily at the table’s head beside him, and still less the brother who wore them.
Across from Thor, Zia and Horangi shared no such reservations. At least the open suspicion in Horangi’s glare was a relief. But Zia and Loki clearly had the kind of history that left Thor alternating between deeply wishing his brother would confide in him and relieved that he rarely did. Loki, for his part, had hardly taken his eyes off the captain, even as he lectured.
“Not everyone.” Loki smiled at Zia, who rolled their eyes but still smiled back. “And I’m generally right. It takes a special sort of dullness to find yourself in possession of a powerful, untested artifact made from an unspeakably rare metal, and promptly lock it in a treasure vault. Wouldn’t you say, my brother?”
Thor glared. Loki preened.
Zia sighed. “The plan, Loki?”
Loki smirked and rearranged his feet on the table. “Now, remember, this is an armory, not a treasure vault. This isn’t where our Kree friends throw things away to forget about them; it’s where they painstakingly catalogue things that someone might someday find useful. Or interesting.” His smirk grew into a grin. “And that means it’s meant to be accessed. Not easily accessed, mind. Unless you’re very high in the Kree military, there’s a whole rigmarole of requisitions and background checks and sponsorship. It can take years, I’m told.”
“We don’t have years.” Horangi slammed a hand down on the table. “Do you have a way in, or not?”
“Do I have a way in? Don’t be ridiculous.” Loki swung his feet down and stood in a single smooth motion, hands spread like a magician finishing an encore. “I am Loki of Asgard. I always have a way in.”
“This is not a plan,” Horangi growled to Thor. “A plan would have steps. Coherence. What we are embarking upon is a gambler’s farce.”
Thor tried to think of a good reason to disagree, and couldn’t find one. In the days since his arrival onboard the Orlando, Loki had been spare with details, answering questions with frustrating generalities while exhorting the rest of their company over and over to trust him.
“The good captain’s faith in my brother is certainly . . . unprecedented . . . from someone who seems to know him well,” Thor finally hazarded.
Horangi snorted. “Or maybe the good captain knows how hard it is to stab someone in the back when you’re busy gazing into their eyes like a lovesick calf.” She gestured at Loki, who, sporting his most charming smile, was immersed in some kind of dramatic story for Zia’s benefit as they looked on in amusement. “I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone so eager to please.”
Thor couldn’t argue with that, either. Loki had always been prickly, burying his hunger for approval beneath disrespect for authority and a strong penchant for treachery. But his affection for the pirate captain seemed earnest. It was a side of his brother that Thor had seldom glimpsed in the years since their childhood; and it made him want to trust Loki even in the face of what Thor knew to be better judgment.
It was a fragile trust, and one that evaporated completely when Loki announced the...