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28 November 2015 @ 08:07 am

Ra'd leaned back ignoring the spectacular view, grinning as he watched his best friend awkwardly juggling a baby.

"I dunno Ra'd, somehow I expected any baby of yours to be breathing fire and terrorizing the neighborhood." Ebsa's expression was dubious as he looked down at Fox. "Not that he doesn't seem to be a perfectly adequate baby . . . but he's so normal."

In the background Paer rolled her eyes. He caught a faint mutter of " . . . got my work cut out . . . "

And Nighthawk's laugh. "Not that he doesn't have a point, he just doesn't understand infant growth rates."

Ebsa looked over his shoulder. "Infant? Ha! What are these kids going to be like as teenagers, eh? Have you thought seriously about what forces you're going to be turning loose on the Multiverse?"

Ra'd snorted. "We have eleven years to work out a plan. Longer, at the rate we bubble them."

"And . . . " Nighthawk popped Ebsa on the head as she walked past and settled beside Ra'd. "Speaking of forces let loose on the Multiverse, tell us about these elves of yours."

"Pointy ears, of course. Absolute requirement for the name. A bit on the short side. The adult we got closest to was about Izzo's height. A hundred and sixty-five cems. That would be, oh, five foot plus five inches, to you weird Fallen."

Nighthawk made a rude gesture.

Paer giggled. "Ngorei was about Oak's size. At a guess five or six years old. Zhodan was early teens, I think."

"A hundred and fifty cems." He shut his mouth at a glower from Nighthawk.

"Four foot ten. And despite twigging us about the babies, you both look very wishful. Missing them?"

"Yep." Ebsa looked back and Paer, the sleepy Oak balanced on her hip. "I had a thought about contacting them, that'll I'll no doubt spend tomorrow writing up a proposal for."

"Oh?" Paer walked over.

"I believe the Elf Worlds we've found sort of clustered. If Q could find an empty world about halfway between, we could build an electromagnet to copy the pulse of the Eden Beacon."

Paer grinned. "A strong signal and half the distance? On a neutral world. Brilliant!"

Ra'd couldn't help but tease them a little. "Boring. Sitting on your arse waiting for them to decide whether or not to contact you."

Ebsa opened his mouth . . . shut it. "Well, I'm not saying there aren't drawbacks."

Paer shook her head. "By the time I get the last of my patients out of the hospital here I'll be ready for few months of a nice climate and real food. Peace and chirping birds . . . Which are sorely lacking here, I've noticed . . . I figure six months then we'll both be ready to run off and do something dangerous."

Ebsa's eyes crinkled as he looked at the baby in his lap. "So sad, you two settling down to domestic bliss. No more adventures."

27 November 2015 @ 07:42 am

He closed his eyes. Slick gates, the looming protective spells of the Disco building, the solid presence of the Comet Fall Embassy . . . Recognition.

The volcanic hotsprings were too far away, but the back porch, the trail he'd built with his own hands winding down to their beach.

That complex spell.

He stepped forward and touched the two hostages. Removed the contact with Greg and Hector from his recognition, and fed power into the spell.

Light warp. Here. The spell bridging to. Porch. Power.

He stepped to the porch. The Ambassador staggered, grabbed his wife. No sign of Greg or Hector.

Ra'd's head gave a single spike of pain and he folded.

"What was that!"

"I believe, sir, that I have figured out how to teleport." Ra'd grabbed a chair and hauled himself to his feet. Kept a grip on the chair while his balance steadied. "Umm, if you'll come this way, I'll get us all back to Disco."

If I can stop seeing double.

He guided them back through Nighthawk's two houses and found it all over but the shouting and pursuit.

Nighthawk pounced on him. "They fired some shots around and ran through the gate. I followed, but they'd already gone through another."

"Ah." Ra'd looked around and sat on one of the black basalt cubes that piled around Disco HQ.

"Huh." Nighthawk dodged away. Returned moments later with a bowl of ice cream. "Eat it before you fall over."

A tall figure loomed. "I'm impressed. Three people, thirty kilometers on your first try. While warping light."

Nighthawk tossed her head. "Well, Dad, you always did say you wondered if Oners could teleport."

Wolfson's teeth flashed. "And now I know—and have to live with the consequences. Nighthawk? Keep him, eh?"

"Was planning to, Dad."

They watched him walk back to the gates. And the embassy guards walk up.

"So, figured it out, did you?"

"Yeah. One, that was energy intensive. I'm going to have to practice . . . when I feel up to it." Ra'd leaned back against another very hard and uncomfortable cube. "And teach it. I may come to regret my success."


"Yeah, starting real soon." Easy snorted. "I suspect that you'll cease being a guard and turn into a full time magic miner real soon now. Possibly right now."

Ra'd opened his eyes and focused on the advancing pair. Izzo and Ajha. Izzo angled off toward the Ambassador, Ajha came and shook his head at Ra'd.

"Well, aren't you just full of surprises. And here I thought the President's little talk about warriors from the past had cleared up all questions I had about your never-spoken-of past. But teleportation?"

"It's new. Got it right the first time, and a damn good thing." Ra'd contemplated getting up and decided there wasn't any reason to do it. At least he was only seeing one of everything. He settled back. Against hard angular basalt. "So . . . what shall I find out next?"

Chapter Twenty

16 Shaban 1408 yp

"So, I've been assigned to the Intel subdirectory, with orders to learn as much as I can about—and learn how to do—Comet Fall style magic." Ra'd let a grin out. "So I'll be here for a good while. What are you guys up to?"

"Well, everyone's gotten mail about do we want to change jobs, what with a sudden loss of personnel in the Action Subdirectorate—did you hear that they've split them up again?"

"Ouch! Trying to insulate the Exploration Teams from all the chaos in Action, perhaps? I wonder what poor ass just got stuck with the job of rebuilding?"

"Kael Withione Montevideo."

"Holy One! Kael the Bitch. Damned efficient mind you, but diplomatic, no. Any of you tempted?"

Sighs all around.

"Sort of." Boner shrugged. "Much though I hate to admit it, you have impressed us . . . and it was interesting going out and tackling a problem instead of sitting on our duffs guarding."

Ace grinned. "And your philosopher buddy has been appointed Subdirector of Exploration."

"Oh . . . best field leader ever. He'll hate the job and be very good at it. And damn good for both teams and projects. Damn, now I'm going to have to hope this Intel stint doesn't last too long. Don't tell Nighthawk I said that."

Since she was walking along beside him, she punched his arm. "Behave." Her head turned and lifted. "And Ajha's just come across . . . he feels upset."

"The Director's Limo." Ra'd strode out. "They're going to Disco. Let's eavesdrop."

He ignored the laughter behind him.

"There's your Action teamer. Sticking his head into danger for the sheer fun of it." Easy's voice.

And Boner's. "So, c'mon. Let's go see what's up."

"That's Kael getting out, must be an Action Team problem?"

"Except Ajha, and there's Izzo . . . " Nighthawk trotted forward.

By the time the three of them had made it up the stairs of Disco, Wolfson was waiting for them.

They walked up behind them in time to hear Ajha saying they needed Q.

"Or maybe both of you. We've marooned a large scientific project, over a hundred people."

Ajha nodded to Q as she joined them. "That dead civilization world, where you installed some sort of gate closer. Apparently there was some sort of biological emergency. Four months ago. And . . . Paer is over there."

Oh no, not Paer! My first friend, in this weird future . . . and Ebsa, he was assigned to the project as well. They can't be . . . injured. Lost. Or worse.

Ra'd suppressed sudden memories of Rangpur, the Warriors who'd trained him and taught him to fight. The ordinary soldiers, so determined to keep the Chinese from engulfing the world, keep them away from their families.


"So we need a gate, probably through an empty world. If you can find that world again."

Q nodded. "No problem. Let's go." She eeled past them and out the front doors. "I'll start with a very barren world, then gate to Dystopia."

She sat down facing an empty arch. Wolfson joined her.

The world on the far side was all barren rock.

"I think a corridor, in case it's an airborne contagion." Q walked off to the side.

Wolfson paused long enough to Press the gate into the ground so it could be driven through, then gestured and rock flowed like putty to form an arch over the gate.

Q had an even larger arch of rocks framing a bronze surface. She stepped into it, shrinking in a few steps to a dot, making his brain hurt while his eyes tried to work out the perspective. A bright light, suddenly expanding, with a full sized Q silhouetted against it.

"She can throw the far end of a bubble a couple hundred miles without raising a sweat. I'm lucky to get half that." Wolfson shook his head and stepped through.

Ra'd stared from gate to corridor.

Nighthawk raised an eyebrow.

"It feels slick, magically, but for all I can see it might as well be a glass window."

Nighthawk smiled. "Good. All I can see is the gate energy. A swirling white sideways whirlpool. I should keep you around, to warn me when there's a hungry T-Rex on the other side."

26 November 2015 @ 01:13 pm

It's an odd holiday for Empty Nesters with no family in town.

Who ever heard of baking a couple of turkey drumsticks and calling it a feast? Well, OK, there will also be dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, something green and fruit salad, and I just pulled a single pumpkin pie out of the oven . . . So it'll qualify.

But I miss family, especially since it's so drastically shrinking instead of growing. And I even miss all the leftovers. I think this holiday, of all of them is my favorite, and the one that's changed the most all through my life.

I hope yours is as quiet and peaceful as I'm making mine. Enjoy!

26 November 2015 @ 07:34 am

Ra'd snorted. "I hate to disillusion you, but my heart belongs to the incredible woman who just happens to be sitting right next to me. Fluffy and Buffy . . ." are waving and blowing kisses to Greg and Hector. What the One Hell? "But I really ought to have screwed Fluffy while I could." Which sounds like . . . Hector going out of his way to say that he didn't know the women personally? Oh surely it's a bit late in the story to be having a twist like this.

And how do I figure it out, prove anything?

Or more likely disprove it. They probably chatted the women up before the Intel head warned us all off. Sex hadn't happened yet, and now won't ever, but the women don't realize that.

And there's no reason to suspect Greg and Hector of espionage. Why would they bother? They aren't fuzzy headed idealists about the Empire, but then, who is? We make plenty of missteps, but we're getting better. And it's a long step from "The Empire is ruled by idiots" to active aid to the enemy.

None-the-less I suspect we need to keep an eye on them. I'll start now, and make sure those idiots don't do anything nasty to Fluffy and Buffy. Drat, means missing out . . . but I really do need to watch them.

He glanced over at Nighthawk.

She was smirking. "You are at your best and most handsome when you are on the hunt. And no, don't tell me. Or just tell me you need the kids out of the vicinity."

"I'll walk you to your house here, and then sneak around watching these guys. Good old Hector and Greg. I think they are about to do something stupid, so I'm going to try to . . . use it for something better." He handed a cash card over to the waitress. "Wish me luck, Warrior babe."

"Good hunting, Warrior. Watch your back."

Chapter Nineteen

2 Shaban 1408 yp

At least it was summer, with nice dry foliage to lurk in.

No doubt Greg and Hector also appreciated it as they split up outside the Kitchen and went to ground.

Ra'd shifted to where he could see both of them, and edged closer. Are they really going to attack them so close to so many powerful magicians? Just kill them or haul them off somewhere for some "fun" first?

This could be the first time I've actually found a use for the Oner perversions, because I'm going to have trouble blocking a couple of quick shots.

He tracked movement to the left . . . more Oners in search of ice cream . . . the Ambassador and his wife, Intel Head Ajgi with a woman on his arm, other men and women vaguely familiar as upper echelon . . . Through the windows of the restaurant, he spotted Fluffy and Buffy heading for the doors.

Oh Shit.

He reached for Easy. :: Boss! Possible trouble about to erupt outside the Kitchen, the ambassador and his wife are here. ::

He warped light and beat the ambassador to the doors by a few meters, just as Fluffy and Buffy walked out.

And the idiots jumped them.

Perhaps they'd been so focused they hadn't seen the approaching party. Perhaps they had tipped across the line of sanity as they anticipated what they were about to do.

Hector leaped, shoving Buffy into Fluffy, and Fluffy into Greg as he emerged from the shadows. Greg grabbed Fluffy, a brief flick of a spell as he pulled her into the dark, north away from everything but the running track.

Hector hustled Buffy after them . . .

Ra'd chopped across his bicep to loosen his grip, grabbed Buffy and whirled her away and into the Ambassador's party. He flattened Hector and bolted after Greg. Who whirled and threw Fluffy at him. Ra'd tried to dodge, tangled feet with the flailing woman . . .

Greg bolted past him, back toward the lights and people. Hector staggered to his feet and in concert they leaped at the Ambassador's group.

"Get the Ambassador! I've got the wife."

And guns in their hands, aimed at the heads of their victims as they backed further away.

Toward the gates. Where are they planning to run? Do they have a place that they can go to? Who do they work for?

"Who do you work for Greg? You do know your value just dropped to zero." Ra'd glanced at the shaken Fluffy as everyone withdrew from the confrontation. "Your plan to frame the beauticians for the intel leaks has failed. Why don't you surrender and live to tell us all about it?"

Just in case Ajki wants to use them . . .

A harsh laugh. "Surrendering to the One is a death sentence." Hector glanced over his shoulder and shifted his retreat to the right.

Running footsteps, slowing and spreading out around the confrontation. Easy was half a step ahead of Commander Umbre and Lt Lucky.

:: That's one of Q's exploration gates. Goes to an empty world with dozens of gates to more interesting places. :: Easy's mental voice.

:: Can you get someone through it without them noticing? ::

Somehow I suspect they aren't heading for their Dinosaur hunting ground. The question is, do they have stuff there. Weapons, supplies . . . a route to . . . where? Or perhaps who . . .

"Ah. Met Rior, have you? Do you think she'll bother with you now?"

"He, you moron. And he needs magically talented and trained people."

"Stop telling him things, Greg. You! Fuck-You-Ra'd. Back away, or we start damaging The ambassador's wife." Hector was wild eyed and his hand was shaking a bit.

As likely to accidentally kill the ambassador as deliberately.

Lucky grabbed Ra'd and hauled him back. "Back off Ra'd. We'll handle this now."

:: Do that invisible warp. Get through the gate. :: He shoved Ra'd behind the other guards and stepped forward.

"So, Hector and Greg. I think this has gone far enough. I have no idea why you are working for Earth . . . "

Laughter. "Earth? We work for money. Fuck-You-Ra'd got that right. Collect and sell info to anyone who'll pay. Including those Ministry Intel fools. And don't think you won't keep right on doing it, once we've got our new set up finished." Greg was steadier.

Ra'd warped light and eeled through the crowd, emerging into the open well to the side of the Guard officers.

A light mental touch from Nighthawk. :: Am I allowed to kill Hector? ::

:: Better to keep this all Oner . . . officially. You take Hector, I take Greg. Simultaneously, as they give us an opportunity to divert shots from both. ::

:: Pity they aren't using lasers. Can't drain your slug throwers. ::

Ra'd edged nearer. Silent, and careful to not get touched . . . unless . . .

25 November 2015 @ 08:27 am

Chapter Eighteen

29 Nicholas 1408 yp

"I don't believe this."

They'd all been summoned to the Intel offices.

Head of Ministry Intel Ajgi drummed his fingers on the conference room table.

Ajha, currently an administrator in Directorate Intel sat across from him, and looked at the guards with a grin.

"I do not believe this." Ajgi repeated.

"They are all three closely related, part Earther, part Purple, with magic genes closer to Comet Fall's than the One gene. Now we just have to figure out what the One Hell to do with them. Arrest them? Or use them to channel false information through to Earth?" Ajha grinned. "I'm going to kick the decision up to Ajki and Urfa, since the Directorate is such a mess, just now."

"Not settled down yet?" Ra'd eyed him.

"We've gone from shocked to stunned to . . . I dunno. More shocked and more stunned? I have an appointment with Izzo in an hour, so I've got to run. I just wanted to be sure you all sit on this information for a while."

They all nodded. Jack looked a bit disappointed. Had he hoped for a career enhancing public arrest?

"That's . . . going to be difficult, since you still have One only knows how many gossipy women in and out of that shop every day." Ra'd shrugged. "But whatever the boss says, goes."

Easy nodded. "And we'll get back to plain old boring guarding."

Ajgi scowled at them. "You'd better."

Jack slipped out after them. "Thank the One I talked to him . . . He actually listened, and sent those samples off with a rush order."

And suddenly they were all grinning.

"We did it, didn't we?" Boner bounced on his heels waiting for the elevator.

Greg and Hector swapped shrugs.

Hector sighed. "You were all just guessing, and pretty much fell into it by accident."

Ace sniffed. "It worked."

Ra'd nodded. "So far. I wonder what they'll do? And no doubt I'll keep right on wondering, because we have no need to know. Dammit."

Greg smirked and walked off.

Hector glanced back. "But I really ought to have screwed Fluffy while I could."

Ra'd was glad to get away from them all. Kissed Nighthawk, and ran off down the trail. And down the beach, trying to clear his head.

Because I really hate the thought of having helped in the arrest, conviction and execution of those two women. Because there's a very real chance that's what will happen . . . Some big tough warrior I am. I've killed before. I've killed at close range and gotten the blood of my victims on my hands. And clothes.

I'd have much rather have found just the man guilty. Or some electronic surveillance in their shop.

He looked up into the cloudless blue sky. "I'm an idiot. A compassionate fool who can't stand to think badly of a woman. No one knew about our three rumors except us, the harpies we passed that on to, and the beauticians. So just shut the fuck up."

He ran all the way back and up the hill and threw himself panting on the floor at Nighthawks' feet.

"Get it out of your system?"

"Not much. I just . . . the chase was fun, but when the results can get people killed . . . you tend to wonder if you ought to have done it. And if Isakson heard me say that I'd be in for some serious hurt."

"I need to meet this Isakson of yours. And no matter what my dad says, you can't ignore espionage." Nighthawk wound down to sit curled up against his side. "So come and take a shower. We can take the kids for ice cream at the Disco Kitchen. I'm going to start back to work tomorrow morning. We can celebrate. It has nothing to do with the Witches having an ice cream contest. "

He managed a weak grin. "Ice cream sounds good. Then tomorrow your bosses will probably want a complete report on that warrior you've been studying. Or is that my ego talking?"

"Ego. Go shower."

The ice cream had been made without the faintest concern for calories or fats, or the addictive qualities of field ripe strawberries. Or other ingredients. But the strawberries . . .

Fox, who was growing by incredible steps in the speed house, got a tiny taste of cherry cordial. Oak wolfed down a broad selection and licked the bowl. Declared the mega chocolate the winner. Ra'd was hard put to not copy her eating style, and went back for more strawberry.

Word of the treat must have circulated. There were a lot more than Disco people here. Nighthawk elbowed him and nodded across the room.

"There's your other girlfriends."

Ra'd snorted. "I hate to disillusion you, but my heart belongs to the incredible woman who just happens to be sitting right next to me. Fluffy and Buffy . . ." are waving and blowing kisses to Greg and Hector. What the One Hell? 
24 November 2015 @ 06:42 am


Two nights later, at the weekly wrapup in the Assembly Hall, the Earth ambassador made a snarky comment about the Oner's Neanderthal buddies.

Ra'd thought it over, and on the morning run, alone with Wolfson, brought up the Neanderthal story.

"It was a plant. we've got a leak that we're trying to trace. If you don't mind ignoring it? Umm, my guard detail is sort of trying to outdo the Ministry and solve it ourselves . . . "

Wolfson grinned. "And that's why Ambassador Ejhy was so genuinely baffled by that comment? Inso went across to ask about it, but no one knew anything. So you haven't even told your own boss?"

"No. But it's about time to bring in the local Head of Intel for the Ministry."

Wolfson sputtered. "You haven't even . . . " He started laughing. "The bane of all bosses. The underlings who do it first and ask permission retroactively."

Chapter Sixteen

Nighthawk started joining him on his hikes down to the beach, and back up. "Whew, at least you aren't running the whole way. But damn I need to get back into shape."

Ra'd grinned. "It's close to two kilometers round trip, the way I cut the path. And then with some running around on the beach, and part way back up, it's a good workout. Mind you, it's a bit lacking in the cool down stage. And we both know you'll be dashing up and down the hill inside of another month."

"Yeah." She tossed a grin over her shoulder. "I'd bubble Fox and Oak more, but I want to take advantage of you being here for as long as I can. Much though I hate to admit it, it is slowing me down."

"Hmm, more green vegetables needed."

"Yuck!" Oak yelled, from the baby pack on his back.

"Yeah. I'm with her." Nighthawk stopped to catch her breath. "Vegetables are yuck."

Ra'd shook his head. "Damn. I which Ebsa was around. I guess I'm just going to have to find some good veggie recipes."

"Brute! Beast!"

He turned back and pulled her into a sweaty embrace. "Who'd have thought I'd finally be killed for force feeding my lovely almost-wife food full of vitamins and minerals?"

"Umm, most people don't know you well enough to believe you know a thing about vegetables."

"I know a little about everything, and lots about a few. Plus my mother was a veggie freak. Forced us to eat tons of the nasty things. Somewhere along the line, I started liking them."

"Humph. Appeal to authority. I think that's not a valid argument."

"Then the next time Lady Gisele casually drops by to terrify me, I'll ask her opinion about veggies."

"Oops. Now I'm in trouble." Nighthawk nudged him back into motion, and he headed up the trail.

Walking now. "I ought to have put some more switchbacks in, at the top, so it would be possible to cool down on the way up. Then I wouldn't have to put brussel sprouts in your pancakes."

"Dead. Meat."

He sent a message to Ebsa, asking for vegetable recipes.

Chapter Seventeen Treason

20 Nicholas 1408 yp

That night Wolfson showed up on Nighthawk's door and told Ra'd to go watch the Oner news.

"That hornet's nest in the External Directorate blew up. You won't want to wait to hear it, and you may be needed."

The news vids were frustratingly uninformative.

An announcement by Director Izzo. Treason. Totally unsuccessful. "I won't say more until the investigation is over. I suspect names will be forthcoming tomorrow. There were some fatalities. Next of kin are being notified right now." He walked out to a babble from the newsies.


Embassy Head of Intel Ajgi looked like he had a headache. Or a stomach ache. Possibly both.

"I cannot believe a hair-brained scheme like this actually worked. Maybe. So, we have a link between ten Oners on staff here, and reactions from the Earthers. A possible channel for the information through a beauty shop. Due to the beauticians lack of outside contacts, the possibility of electronic pickups in the embassy cannot be ruled out."

His glare deepened. "And the Directorate is in the loop. So I'm going to have to go talk to them—if I can find any of them not having hysterics over yesterday's debacle."

They all sat up.

"No, I don't have any inside information. All we've heard is rumors and the official 'We're investigation a serious attempt at treason, but it's all over but the prosecution. Nothing to see here, go about your business.' And we don't believe a word of it."

Easy stared at him.

Got nothing but a stoney glare.

Ra'd leaned toward Ajgi. "Izzo made the announcement. But what about Ajha? Is he alive? Is he accused?"

"As far as anyone said anything over there, most of the Action teams and several subdirectors are involved. No names. But if the former Philosopher was accused of treason, that would have leaked." Glare. "And no, you cannot go ask. Wait and watch the news."


Six subdirectors accused of plotting against the Empire. Two of them, Ebko of Action and Exploration and Wgli, the subdirector of Granite Peak, and Governor Arry had taken action and had been charged with Treason. Several Princesses. Thirteen Action Team Leaders. And nearly two hundred other personnel were charged with Treason.

Ra'd felt his stomach twist.

But he had to check the list. No telling who had been swept up in a mass arrest.

He recognized a lot of the names. But the important ones were not there.

He took a deep breath and let it out.

Caught looks from the others.

"No one I care about has been accused . . . but damn there's a lot of names I recognize." He shuddered. "I knew Izzo got sent in to be the hatchet man. But I thought it was . . . just nepotism and political influence."

Easy looked down the list. His finger pausing a few times. "They'll take it to the One, to be sure."

Ra'd clenched his jaw and didn't say anything.

Yeah, like they gave justice to Nighthawk.

Grandfather, have you learned anything? Will you just kill them all because of the outrage, or will you truly judge each man? He looked at the list. The length of it turned his stomach, and he slept not at all. Stuck to the vid in the common areas.

Four subdirectors had plotted, but taken no action. They were allowed to retire. Ebko and Wgli were executed. All thirteen Action Leaders were executed. More than half the teamers were guilty of other crimes and sentenced accordingly. Just under a hundred were executed for knowingly committing treason.

"I can't believe how fast it all went." Easy rubbed his arms.

"They see everything, unless you're drugged. At least for this they would have been very careful to examine each man. I hope." Ra'd stared at the vid screen. "Four Princesses. One!"

Nods all through the room. They weren't the only shift hanging around.

Bonner shook his head. "I'll bet the whole bloody Gate City is in shock right now. I pity anyone who needs to deal with them for the next few days. Or weeks."

23 November 2015 @ 03:35 am
A couple of scenes that will go in earlier. Greg (Wgre) and Hector (Ecto) have replace a couple of the others in the Guard detail.

Ra'd eyed Greg and Hector as they bracketed him, walking out for the morning run. Side kick low to the right, block and punch left . . . No problem unless these guys have some really impressive speed.

I should work out with them more . . . and find out the limits of my enemies. Or at any rate, the problem children in my detail.

"So I guess being an official ancient Warrior of the One accounts for you always falling into these sweet assignments."

Ra'd smiled thinly. "The information was close held, to protect the children in the group. I didn't fit in well, and got thrown into the deep end regularly. Possibly in hopes of killing me and removing the irritant from their chain of command."

"Oh, c'mon! Interning with Ajha?"

"A year ago he was just a Clostuone field leader who only got his position because of push from his Uncle, Subdirector Ajki. Mind you, his reputation for success was substantial, and well respected at the lower levels. To the upper echelons, he was nothing. Not even much of a problem. Although useful to threaten, to get to Ajki. It was only success and Ajha's stint as a Philosopher of the One that turned a very dangerous assignment into a glowing accomplishment.

"Think about it. A four man team headed by a Clostuone? Five academic types and three raw interns to keep safe on four worlds, culminating with dinosaurs? It was not seen as a sweet assignment—other than by three naïve interns." Ra'd made his voice squeaky. "Oh boy! Dinosaurs!"

Greg laughed. "One Hell yeah. Dinosaurs. Who wouldn't want to go there?"

Hector waved back at the plaza. "About half the arches on the north side are Disco links. They go to empty worlds, then they explore from there, branch out all over. Sometimes people go take a look. The barricaded gates are to dangerous places. We know several with dinosaurs."

Ra'd eyed the idiot. "I hope you remember to close the barricade when you're done?"

Greg laughed. "Yeah, we always lock them back up. But it's fun to go hunting, sometimes."

"You've got a reputation of a trouble maker—and a damned good shot. You should come with us sometime." Hector smirked. "We could bring some willing women and make a party of it."

Ra'd eyed them. Fat. Chance. "I've done all the dining with the dinosaurs I want to." He reached the track and started running. Faster than usual, but he really didn't want to socialize with these two. Especially with Nighthawk in sight up the trail.

She didn't make it easy to catch up to her, and grinned at him. "I like them even less than you."

"You don't like me?"

She sputtered, then laughed. "Come with me. I'll show you an alternate path. Got some people you ought to meet." She glanced back. "Good. they're out of sight."

She veered through a bush that apparently wasn't there, and slipped between two trees that brushed his shoulders as he followed.

The track wound east between trees, then broke out into the rolling grass cover hills.

Several horse raised their heads and looked them over.

A tall red mare trotted up, nostrils wide to take in his scent. :: This is Oak's sire. ::

Ra'd tripped, caught his balance and stopped. "That was the horse."

"Yep. Ra'd this is Flame. Flame, this is Ra'd."

Ra'd swallowed. "Flame . . . I guess I shouldn't be surprised at genetic engineering from Comet Fall."

"Earth, actually. The Gods stole a bunch of laboratory animals when they escaped. They've got a whole bunch of the same artificial genes we've got, and a bunch we don't have. Probably the genes they were testing before they used them in . . . well, their human-appearing lab animals. A lot of them can talk, but not very many people can hear them."

The horse nodded.

Other horses crowded up around them. Ra'd could detect a sort of conversation among them. Words, but pointing of ears, tossing of heads, few mental nips, and flicks of tails . . .

"One! I'll bet Paer just about died of shear frustration when she realized she didn't dare take one of you home with her." Ra'd held his hands out for snuffling and admired the silky coats and rippling muscles.

"If Dad wasn't planning on beating you up again, I'd take you for a ride."

"I'm . . . getting better. Never thought I'd need more shoulder muscles, but those big swords seem to have found all my weaknesses." Ra'd turned away from the horses and headed back for the track. "And I like the practical as opposed to sport training."

"Well, all our sports are to train us for real battle, so we don't have the silly 'count points even for slight touches' system you guys use." She grinned. "Poor Ajha. He just couldn't stop lunging from almost out of range. 'Ajha, that would have barely sliced my skin !' Dad found him very frustrating, so fast and so very wrongly trained."

Ra'd kept that in mind. I know fencing, and knife fighting. I can learn a third technique.


"So . . . how did Ajha's Helios hunting work, anyway? We never hear any details. The . . . practical stuff."

"We ran pretty lean. Ajha has a core group he's worked with for years, a couple of all purpose types, and an electronics expert. I'd been with them for one of my internships, along with Paer and Ebsa. No doubt you've heard about merging? Q had a spell so the Oner personality prevailed and the DNA all swapped back to theirs. Ajha put it on everyone in the monitoring camp that was attacked. So when it was all over, he had three Intel weinies with issues from merging. The Helaos personality was gone, but some knowledge remained. They spoke the language and knew how to operate their machinery and so forth. So they were along as useful."

"One, that's . . . hideous."

"I was there for my shooting, Ebsa for his all around creative responses, and Paer, because we knew we'd be rescuing traumatized and injured women. Then we borrowed Nighthawk from Disco so we had dimensional options as well. The hunt was a Disco approved operation, funded by the Empire. Don't believe all those stupid 'rouge hero' movies that are coming out. So, just the eleven of us. We took three crawlers and three utes. A small army's worth of weapons and ammunition."

"From what I've heard, they spread out, mostly to establish lots of farming clusters and small towns."

"Yes. One hundred communities, they called them. They had lost so many people, especially civilians last time that when they divided the intact families, that made for eight hundred women per town. And a million and a half men hoping to buy a captured slave girl. Less than half a million survived, and they concentrated in the one city, again, hoping to somehow acquire a woman."

"That . . . must have been an interesting place to try and raid."

"Yes. We got a lot of backup for the city brothel raids. First we raided the private residences, to minimize the stiffening of guards at the brothels. After that it was down to the small towns scattered all across the world."

"But . . . how do you find a few thousand women in a city of half a million or so?"

"Magic. Mind you, there was a lot more fear and anguish than just the kidnapped girls, but the ones especially stood out, even drugged. The girls from their other target weren't magic, but their fear was distinct enough."

"Damn. And then . . . there wouldn't have been roads between all these towns would there?"

"No. They built on the coasts, and had some shipping, but mostly they were on their own. They stayed in touch, though. We had no trouble tracking them down through their radio communications. The decentralization made it easy for us. We'd slide in at night and check for captives and what we called reverters. There were merges where the Oner—or the guy from that other earth—hung on and slowly prevailed over the Helios personality. We were pretty cautious about them, turned them over to the Priests or the Comet Fall people, to try and sort them out better."

Boner hunched his shoulders. "That's just . . . oh, just kill me territory."

"Yes. There have been a lot of suicides. The men—and women—remembering what they experienced their merge doing, helpless to stop it. But most of the people we rescued were young women, captured to use as breeding stock and prostitutes. They were not well treated. And unfortunately they were frequently drugged with tranquilizers that interfered with magic use. Being young, they mostly weren't well trained anyway."

Easy frowned. "So you just drove around . . . raiding these towns and farm clusters?"

"Pretty much." Ra'd shook his head. "When I was first out of the Directorate School, I thought there was no reason for Action Teams. No excuse for packs of killers. That year taught me better."

"Yeah . . . And you hooked up with Nighthawk again, eh?"


Kobold eyed him. "Did you merge?"

"Not with a person. We crossed into the shadow zone and found unmerged water that took care of most of the problems, then we walked into one of their merge centers, drank mineral glop they used to cover inequalities in the merges—everyone there was so disoriented by the process that they weren't really processing what was happening. Ajha and Fein had killed most of the . . . medical staff and Helios waiting to merge. They were barricaded with a couple thousand drugged kids working to get them all out of there."

"Ooo! Don't tell me you did all the heavy lifting?"

"Hardly. The kids would have been dead hours before we arrived, and we only came because we suspected Ajha needed to be rescued. Without him, the death toll would have been rough twenty-two hundred higher. All college students."

"And then another thousand plus rescued later. Damn."

Ra'd nodded. There wasn't much more to say.

22 November 2015 @ 06:27 am

They slid back into a semblance of normality.

Until a lot of the Earth women stopped wearing the baggy pocket pants.

"My sister says they all get their hair cut here, and then they argued about whether Fluffy or Buffy was the best. They generally go once a month—then get together for dinner in the next few days—well, the two groups separately, but since they snip so much at each other they all tend to get their hair cut within a few days of each other, so no one gets one-upped. They don't—the two cliques don't—always have a fancy dinner out on the same night, but it does happen often enough that it's not news worthy."

Ra'd steepled his fingers. "So they had a ladies night out on . . . the twenty-fourth of Emre and that Project Rubicon had leaked was known by the thirteenth of Jumada. So eighteen days . . . and the Earth must have learned all that early enough before to initiate actions to block it. And those actions were . . . ?"

Jack scowled. "They increased food deliveries and suddenly agreed to a higher price for gold in the treaty negotiations."

"Which would have taken some time to get approved." Easy scowled. "So, a month later, roughly 24 Jumada they'd have gotten new hair styles, and dined out. And the thirteenth was when we started spreading the first rumor, so eleven days from us telling to—in theory—the beauticians learning about it."

"And no changes in their activity until

/// Ugh! Re work the scenes and dates, make the bait and reaction a bit more obvious.///

Ra'd tipped his chair back. "What we need to do is track the women and find all their contacts, especially anyone who regularly leaves the compound. Jack, why don't you try for a date with Buffy? We'll try to figure out the best way to monitor the shop and follow Fluffy."

"Sounds like a children's book with talking bunny rabbits." Boner grinned.

Easy snickered. "And do we have any volunteers to look like love sick fools hanging around hoping for a kiss from Fluffy Bunny?"

Ace sat up straight. "I'll make the ultimate sacrifice, and save my fellows from that horrid fate."

"Atta boy, knew we could depend on you." Boner clapped his shoulder. "Have fun."

Hector sniffed. "I don't see why they'd do it. Spy for Earth, I mean. No insult to Ace's sex appeal intended. But Earthers are so flat and uninteresting."

They all pondered that in silence.

"They are Oners, aren't they?" Ra'd glanced between Jack and Easy. "Can we get sight of their security checks?"

Chapter Fifteen

"Very interesting reports. Cousins from Tall Trees Colony. Illegitimate. Their mothers were half native, they grew up in the native slums, so they weren't registered until they decided to go to college in Rinville. They lasted a year, swapped to a beautician's trade school, moved to One World and worked for five years in Azteca before they opened the shop here." Jack looked up from the screen. "Tall Trees is the Colony that the Earth found, that they tried to infiltrate through, what, three times?"

"So, we have no record of them as children." Ra'd grinned. "Now, did Earth wise up and recruit people from Purple to act as their moles? And how do we get genetic samples so we can check?"

"Purple . . . for the power genes. Right. Of course." Easy frowned. "Right. we need hair, skin or blood."

Ra'd pulled up a specialty program on his comp. Ebsa has the fab codes for an amazing array of things. DNA sample collectors . . . don't think they'll open wide for a cheek swab . . . ah. Stickies for the fingers. He got up and walked over to a fab. A little tickle of telekinesis with a soft spin to open the lock. Opened the control panel. It wanted a password, so he typed ADMIN. Accepted. Then typed the code for the hard-to-see stickies. Six of them should do, since they just wanted two women's samples.

Jack was scowling at him again. "How did you do that?"

"I have a friend who can even make those things cough up edible food. Right . . . should some of us others collect samples while you two just charm them?"


Ra'd reluctantly abandoned his family in the predawn and sought the coffee shop that had a view of the dark and locked up beauty shop.

So I'm supposed to sprint down and hold the door for them or something, when they finally show up? Obviously no one gets a hair cut when they're usually getting breakfast. He dropped a glower at the fabbed "muffin" he was nibbling at. The coffee shops seemed to be the only places open for business. A man walked by, pushing a dolly with boxes . . . deliveries. Of course. A perfect way to get info out of the embassy. A delivery here, some to the café's and night clubs. Were there other beauty shops out in the developing areas. Or maybe just stores that sold shampoo. Some place far enough away that a compressed radio signal from a delivery truck wouldn't be detected.

This particular man turned into a clothing store. Ra'd turned casually and watched two more dollies trundling along. One stopped at a different beauty shop. He unlocked the door, checked a screen and took two cartons inside.

Ra'd finished his coffee and strolled down the walk, sticking fairly close to the store fronts. Ignored the squeaky wheels coming up behind him, nose down as if reading his screen.

"Excuse me!" Abrupt and impatient.

Ra'd looked up, stepped aside. "Sorry." His wave of apology barely brushed the man's bare arm. He walked on. Nose back to the screen. Turned off and reflective. Yes. The man stopped, unlocked the door. Made two trips with cartons. Didn't seem to dawdle. If he picked up anything, it was right where he expected it to be.

Ra'd bagged that sticky and stuck another on his finger, in case he ran into one of the women on the way out.

Ra'd dropped down to the ground floor and wandered through the gateway and waited. Wafted a slight illusion over himself. Blue shirt instead of white, hair lighter. Phone to ear, but set to take photos. One truck, stranger at the wheel. Second truck, bingo. He took pics and watched the truck out of the corner of his eye. It turned up the diagonal, heading, more or less into Oner territory.

He walked back, wondering . . . and got on the elevator with Fluffy. Brushed her hand as they both reached for the floor button.

"Sorry. Oh, hey, the girlfriend loves the haircut. Thanks." A smile and he turned the opposite direction as he politely let her out first.

Bagged that sample, and headed back down.

Over to building one, and Jack's office. Jack eyed the bags, copied the pics. "I'll have to get authorization to send these to the Directorate lab. One only knows if anyone over there is paying attention to anything. Go away, I'll talk to you lot at lunch."

"Right." It was so early . . . Ra'd popped over to the house and found Nighthawk nursing his handsome devil of a son. He fixed breakfast, kissed Oak and Hawk good morning and went out to run and possibly impress his almost-father-in-law.

Then he sketched Fluffy, Buffy and the delivery man, while Oak doodled on another piece of paper. Did they really have a family resemblance, or was he "remembering" that because he wanted them to be related.

"Friends?" Nighthawk yawned over to him. Already flat stomached.

"Suspects in a security breach. Which I only mention because it appears to be between us and Earth. Nothing to do with Comet Fall or Disco. And I suppose I shouldn't even mention that much. Just in case."

"Probably not. I am a Disco agent, after all."

"Heh. I've heard reports that the God of Spies likes spies. That he think political espionage reduces the chances of war."

"It's the god thing. He has a real affinity for almost any sort of government agent. He even like counter espionage types, so don't worry that he might have a subconscious bias against you."

"Is being the Master of the Multiverse affecting him?"

"Not so's anyone noticed. I think he's a bit miffed. He'd really like to shed a lot of the Super Spy archetypical problems."

Ra'd frowned. "Problems?"

"Always gets the girl, but never finds true love, unless she gets killed or kidnapped so he can go on a vendetta. He's genuinely afraid to propose marriage to Rael. He figures that as long as she's his biggest weakness, the Enemy Agent, she's safe from the curse."

"Ouch. Yeah, all the movies are like that, aren't they? I hadn't thought about . . . being more subject to the collective archetype than the reality."

"They all have issues like that. I really hope I never wind up like that."

Ra'd considered the trope of the sword slinging barbarian warrior babe, and hoped devoutly that that Comet Fall did not have that Archetype. She's a mother, and an agent of a multidimensional peace force. And hardly a barbarian. No problem. Right?


21 November 2015 @ 07:26 am

Ra'd suppressed a grin. "Or tells Disco about a possible illegal contact the One has underway? I suspect our various superiors will be less than delighted about it. We'd better think us something less inflammatory for the next one. Think about it for a couple of weeks. Or a month. Might give us a better idea of who to drop the next one on."

Chapter Thirteen

1 Nicholas 1408 yp

And another day off, which translated to almost a month, even with morning runs and other outside activities. Fox wasn't sleeping through the night yet, so Nighthawk was napping when she could.

And Ra'd painted when his whole family was snoozing. Nice to have a whole day for the light and shadows in landscapes. And a good memory for other pictures.

A visitor by the name of Gisele. An old woman . . . no, the light was fooling him. She was middle-aged . . . young and beautiful. Oh One. The Goddess of Health and Fertility. The Maiden, the Matron, and the Crone.

Huge blue eyes that saw through to his soul. Rippling golden brown hair, smooth lightly tanned skin and an hourglass figure . . . Ra'd shook his head and closed up his shields as hard as he could.

"Yes indeed. Rustle said there were no complications, but I decided to come anyway." Her eyes were on Ra'd, and a bit suspicious . . . until they drifted and spotted his picture of the poker game.

She walked closer and studied it, stepped back and smiled. "That is excellent. You did it from memory? You've caught their appearances and attitudes perfectly. Not to mention the dramatic lighting. Are you going to sell it?"

"I just paint to please myself. If you would like it, it's yours."

"I was thinking museum . . . actually it would be excellent in the Comet Fall embassy." She cocked her head and smiled. "The Gods at Play?"

Nighthawk snickered. "The Game of Gods? The Divine Gamble?"

Ra'd snorted. "Old Friends, I think."

The Goddess chuckled, eyes still on the picture. "Ah, Romeau. Jason Rombeau. I remember him at eighteen, charming all the women at Trans World, collecting information. Computer passwords, account information . . . Good Lord, those children had us tied up in knots and no one noticed. Then the Government stepped in, for the Exile. Wolfgang had it all planned out, and even with the government in control he managed to get everyone away."

Nighthawk walked up and leaned on Ra'd. "Did you love him, even then?"

"Oh . . . I'm not sure. I knew I was being manipulated. Not that I remembered right after we escaped. We were all brain damaged—they'd hard wired us into their computers. Amazingly shortsighted of them. But really, all that matters is that we love each other now."

She stepped away, hunching her shoulders and fading into a little old lady. "You are not at all what I expected. Stay that way."

Ra'd watched her walk away. Smoothed the hair on the back of his neck. "Will you still love me if I go fetal under the bed?"

Snort. "No."

So he painted the Goddess instead. The spectacular Maiden with the all knowing eyes, the Crone and the Matron like dim lit shadows in the dark background, dark personas peering over her shoulders.

Then Oak woke up and he could play and teach for awhile.

They meditated on the porch overlooking the ocean.

He learned to recognize this location. Much harder, without the volcanic heat. But the odd slick feel of the building behind him, juxtaposed with the curve of the coast below the steep hill . . . felt like enough. Why?

And he guiltily picked up the complex spell Nighthawk was attempting to hold in her mind, and tried to remember it.

I need to analyze it . . . just in case it is the Teleportation spell.

Chapter Fourteen

17 Nicholas 1408 /// this matches dates in External Relations. May need to move the excitement to a later chapter///

/// Third attempt

Ra'd grinned. "How about fashions. Did you know the new Earther styles for women are nearly exactly what gay men wear on the One World?"

Yes burst out laughing. "Are not!"

"But we ought to say so, umm, like a couple of centuries ago so it's hard to check. And see if they keep wearing those baggy pants." Moo grinned. "This is going to be good."

Jack sniffed. "If you can manage to spread the rumor. Keep track of who you tell."

Ra'd eyed the Intel Weinie. "Jack, why don't more people go out places? All of what is in Building Two, anyway?"

"Oh, there a whole floor of shops. Beauty salons—hair and nails, you know. Three of the damned things—clothing stores, cleaners, food stores, liquor stores. A vid theater, game arcades, book stores . . . everything. A play venue for the kids—not that there are many, but . . . Let's see. A coffee shop at opposite corners, a couple of cafes, but they come and go. Why pay for something that not even as good as the main restaurant in Building One?"

"What about all the people who work in the shops? Do they live here too?"

"Oh no, they commute in, daily."

"Hmm, and no doubt all vetted? Multitude or Halfers among them?"

"No. All Oners. Servaones, by and large, but no one the Fallen can influence without them noticing."

"Interesting. Take a few of us for a stroll through, will you?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Two of you. No more. We don't want to attract attention. Not that people won't notice you insane . . . Oh, go change into civilian clothing. I don't believe this. My main suspect is running an unofficial investigation."

Kobold grinned. "It's good for you. Makes you more flexible, and trains you to think in a broader sense."

"And then take action. That's always an important step to not forget. All the thinking in the world won't beat getting out into the real world." Ev looked around. "Draw straws or shall we all go?"

They all went.


"What are we looking for, anyway?"

Ra'd looked around the busy corridor. "Oh, places where women hang out and gossip. Where a listening spell or a well stealthed bug could pick up information."

Jack sniffed. "We sweep periodically."

"But not the Guards quarters, otherwise I wouldn't have found four spells and three bugs in my room. Right, Jack?"

The pudge colored up a bit . . . then frowned. "Four listening spells?"

"Hey, I'm popular. Let's split up and wander around a bit." Ra'd headed down the corridor, eyeing the storefronts.

Most of the guys headed right. Ra'd spotted one of the young harpies and left them to try and charm her.

Jack paced him.

"So there's one of the coffee shops. They don't actually look like they encourage sitting around for leisurely verbal battles." Ra'd bought a cup of nasty fabbed coffee and sat and sipped for half an hour, until pointed looks at his empty cup drove him onward. Jack had wandered off a bit, pretending to window shop, while watching Ra'd.

Does he expect me to rendezvous with a contact right under his nose? Or does he just realize how bad the coffee is?

Ra'd sauntered over to meet him. Eyed the manikins in the window. "I can't imagine Nighthawk wearing something like that."

"Too Oner?"

"Too restricting of her range of movement."

Jack eyed him, and wandered off.

Ra'd looked around. "The beauty shop? Umm, no they're too busy with the staff, and I find it hard to believe they get chummy with the help. No?"

"Well, they can't just sit there in silence, can they?" Jack looked through the window.

Two women with stringy wet hair being snipped at. One with hair blowing all over and another with her head under a dome.

"Well, I don't recall discussing any thing with a barber other than sports, and not much of that." Ra'd shrugged. "But the women do probably stay there longer."

He walked on. Strolled through the book store, gazing at the cover art, and downloading three that looked interesting. No one chatting there. The customers looked to be more interested in the books than each other.

A café with seating. He bought a sandwich—fabbed and horrible. This time Jack joined him, and picked at the food.

"You guys need some shops that believe in real food, not these fabbed horrors." Ra'd ignored the indignant stare from a waitress.

Jack nodded. "A lot of the younger set seem to think this is how food is supposed to taste."

They didn't linger.

A bar for a weak, tepid, beer.

"At least it gets the taste of that fabbed bread out of my mouth."

Jack looked into the depths of his plastic mug. "But what can we do to . . . " He broke off at a glare from the bartender.

They walked on.

Clothing stores. Shoe stores. The women were dealing with clerks, not spreading secrets.

He spotted Boner ahead, gawping into another beauty shop. Caught the sound of a female voice.

" . . . you can't possibly be looking for me!"

Boner looked panicked.

:: Say you were hoping to see her or you are dead meat. And you'd better admire her hair. ::

Boner flicked a glance his way, then turned back to whoever was in the shop.

"Actually, I'd, umm, hoped . . . I might see you again. I mean, not that I expect you to care, but . . . well, you were so . . . wow."

"Oh Puppy, you need speech lessons." Followed by some mumbling and at least one other female voice. Then the harpy emerged, hair immaculate . . .

Boner gawped. "That's fantastic. I love the way it curls and lays over and, and . . . "

"Ah. You noticed, and said something specific. There may be hope for you yet." The Harpy took his arm and led him away.

Ra'd stepped up to the shop entrance, sidestepping a bit to get out of the way of the other pedestrians on the walkway. "I don't believe I just saw that."

A giggle from inside. "I've never seen her pick up a man before." A spectacular blonde with a huge and very shapely bosom was also looking after the unlikely pair.

Jack glanced her way and blushed.

"Well, Moar can pretty much do whatever she wants." Ra'd shrugged. "Although I'd advise against trying Earth fashions."

Another women, with dark curling hair joined them. "No kidding. Those horrible loose pants with all the pockets. Not an hour ago one of our other clients said that gays wore things like that ages ago." She shrugged. "Beats me. I don't recall ever reading about them."

The blonde eyed them. "I'm Fuwp, this is my cousin Bwuf. Fluffy and Buffy, I'm afraid."

"Beats Wqlw. And this is Egqo. Lew and Echo."

Jack glared at him and smiled toothily at the women. "I actually prefer Jack."

The dark girl nodded. "Much better."

Fluffy looked them over. "We do men's hair cuts too. You two look a little ragged. How about a quick shampoo and trim for six rials?"

The shampoo felt fantastic. Ra'd grinned while Fluffy snipped.

"I think Jack is quite taken by Buffy."

"And you're immune."

"Almost married—trying very hard, so please, no bald spot."

Fluffy giggled, and the cut was nice and professional looking.

Ra'd looked at Jack, laughing with the other woman, paid up and left.

So our rumor about the pants has passed from Harpy to hairdresser. Or at any rate some woman told Buffy. Have I got a clue, or just an indication that women chatter a whole lot?

"We haven't told anyone about the pants, have we?" Jack looked baffled.

"And if we were bugged, they'd know it was a plant. What the hell? Let's find everyone."

Back in Building Three, they all compared notes. Kobold had talked with Ruws Servaone. "She just a gofer in the PR department. She got snotty so I suggested she try those Earth fashions—there was a store selling them right there—so everyone would know she was really a gay man. She stuck her nose in the air and walked off."

"Huh. And that was right after we got there? The timing is about right."


Ra'd scratched his chin. "Boner, did you talk to your sister?"

"Yes, and she told me to get lost."

"Next time you see her, ask her to ask any of those harpies where they get their hair cut. And how often. Preferably all of them. We know where Moar goes. She only heard the first rumor, right? And a day after she goes to that place the expected results of that rumor hit."

Jack nodded. "And Fluffy had heard the third rumor that same day, day and a half ago now. So let's see if baggy pocket pants suddenly go out of style. That would give us some idea of how fast the rumors go from the beauty shop to the Earth Embassy."

Easy rubbed his face. "I'm still waiting for fallout over the Neanderthal rumor. I can only hope that women don't gossip about stuff like that."

Moo sniffed. "They passed on the Rubicon stuff."

Ra'd paused. "Did they? We're making an unwarranted assumption that it is the Harpies. Just because Jack decided I must be the leak. If the leak is someone else, the timing, shortly after us overhearing the harpies about it, is simply coincidental."

"But if it is the harpies . . . are the beauticians passing it along or are they bugged?" Jack bit his lip. "And . . . do we arrest them before or after we sweep their shop?"

Ra'd hesitated. "Sorry. Name dropping warning. Urfa has said he might have left Wolfson loose, to feed disinformation or trace contacts. And much as I've enjoyed the game, if we get much more of an indication, we're going to have to bump this upstairs. Jack? When should we talk to your boss? And should we also bring in the Directorate Intel people?"

"Ugh. Why did I ever let you lot talk me into this insanity?" Jack paused. "One more indication and I'll talk to him."


20 November 2015 @ 03:53 pm
I'm thinking about putting up a short story. Input welcome