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."
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?"
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.
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 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."