Being confined to the gate area limited the entertainment potential, but there was a movie theatre and several nice restaurants.
And friends of Paer's who spotted them and walked over. Including, unfortunately, the Lying Moron. Off-something-or-other. Paer's guard, who had been dawdling behind, closed up, her lips moving slightly. Subvocalizing to another guard?
They all stared down their noses at Ebsa as introductions circled.
"Clostuone? Really Paer!" That was Tayc, the strikingly gorgeous professional blonde. The way she pronounced it sounded awfully close to Take.
"Hey, let's all have dinner at Francisco's." Hioz, the fluffy blonde, was probably brighter than she looked. "We can make Pause pay."
Pause—Wpxa—glowered at her.
"Pause lost a bet, last night." Paer glowered at the Moron.
Amsi rolled his eyes. "We'll let him pay off at a cheaper place. Hey Closey, you know any cheap places around here?"
Ebsa tried to look thoughtful. "I dunno. I've been across for a while. If you guys are short of ready cash there's always the main cafeteria."
They sputtered at the very idea of eating for free at the employee's cafeteria. Paer giggled into his shoulder.
"No? Well . . . " Ebsa pulled out his comp. "Let's see if this Franciscos can handle seven of us just dropping by . . . no, all booked up. How about Lucian's? Very upscale Italian? They say they can have a table for us in thirty minutes."
Various glowers, then nods. They all started moving toward the nearest tunnel access.
"I see you aren't too out of touch." Moron eyed him with distaste.
Ebsa smiled back. "So, are most of you analysts?"
"Indeed." Tayc's nose was still well up in the air. "And you are a, umm, field agent."
"Yes. I have both exploration and info training and a strong science background." Ebsa spoke over his shoulder as he trotted down the stairs. "Whatever it takes to get across. I enjoy being out there on a new world."
Tayc made a little moue of dislike. "We're all 'across' just now, in the most horrible crawlers imaginable."
"Aw, at least the new one's clean and someone made an effort at decorating it." Hioz batted her eyelashes at Amsi. "Such a pity that it's all female."
Paer nodded. "A ten bunker. Not bad."
Ebsa blinked. Bet I know where that one's been.
"Not bad!" Tayc rolled her eyes. "That . . . Fean woman makes it bad all by herself."
"Tayc insulted Ajha." Paer put in a loud aside to Ebsa. "The Fiend is holding a grudge."
"She's just a secretary! To a Clostuone. I shouldn't have to put up with her insinuations."
"Fean is a very experienced field agent. Very well trained in magic, very powerful." Paer smirked. "And she did two years at the Princess School before she transferred to the Directorate School. So she's an expert at social snobbery and underhanded methods of dealing with people she dislikes. Tayc . . . is having difficulties."
Ebsa nodded receipt of the information. It sounds like Ajha is in Intel, watching the Helios. Perhaps from an Empty World. Which is excellent. Someone with brains and street smarts on site. Although I pity him having to deal with idiot petty bureaucrat-wannabes. And apparently this lot and Paer as well. "You're lucky to have a clean crawler. I've had to clean some before we could use them, and what an Action Team can do to a bunkhouse in just a few weeks is nauseating." Not that I've seen that many that bad . . . and I need to not say things that make me sound like the janitor around this bunch. They don't understand a team all diving in to do what is needed. Indeed the noses were rising again. He stepped onto the roller. The center of the gate area was crisscrossed by the tunnels and their moving "walks."
"At least we aren't in tents like the Army." Paer shrugged, and walked along beside him. "They rotated a lot of officers through. Not very many soldiers stationed there permanently."
Moron sniggered behind them. "I guess all this chatter, with no mention of what or where must be irritating, right Closey?"
Ebsa looked over his shoulder. "Nope. I'm sworn to secrecy too."
"What, about what you've cleaned, and where?" Take looked him up and down. "I'll bet that's the only suit you own."
"Yep." Ebsa grinned, since he couldn't spit in her face. I didn't see them at the meeting. I think they were back in a corner somewhere, no doubt with Paer. And they didn't see me. Too bad, I might get some respect . . .
"It's out of style. And the tie is positively antique."
No, only about twenty years. Ditto the very nice custom made suit. Inherited from my murdered dad, so shut up. The stuff that was out at the cleaners when his house was torched is all I have of a man I never knew. Ebsa turned abruptly and stepped off the roller. I'll walk the last three blocks, before I do something I'll regret.
Paer was on his heels and tucked her hand into the elbow he offered.
The uniformed guard stepped off behind them; a woman in casual civilian garb stepped off in front of them. Well, at least they're mostly subtle. Poor Paer, even inside the secured gate area she has minders.
Paer trotted up the steps to the surface sidewalk. "I have been so used. They didn't act like this . . . "
"Until I showed up?"
"Until their potential stepping stone started getting away from them. I love my dad, and hate being the president's daughter."
"What was it like, before then? When your dad was just a minor party councilman?"
"Oh, I was nine years old when he jumped from the regional council to the Imperial Council. I remember being scared of living in a strange place, but he brought my pony with us, when we moved to Paris. He hired this nice lady to drive me everywhere . . . well, that's what I thought. I suppose she was more of a nanny than a chauffeur. Then Qayg showed up, and I thought she was grand . . . After a couple of years I started taking proper riding lessons . . . show jumping. Dad splurged and bought Crystal and I started showing seriously, earned a spot in Madam Chin's school."
"Even I've heard of her."
Paer giggled, then grimaced as she spotted the others down the block, waiting for them. "It was a bit of a shock, when Daddy decided to run for President. I mean, since he wasn't allowed to also run for reelection to the Council, he was basically committing career suicide."
"Oh, yeah. If I'd been noticing politics at that age, even I could have seen that."
"Hey, you were thirteen too."
"Ah, but I was an obnoxious thirteen. Really resentful at being uprooted and my mom having to either put me in boarding school or live in an employers house in the enclave."
"She must have hated it."
"Yeah, well, she always put a good face on it. 'This is how I learned all my cooking, when I was younger.' and so forth. I hated leaving my friends and I had trouble making new ones. So . . . obnoxious is probably an understatement. By fifteen I was trying to prove I was big enough and bad enough to join a gang. That's when I got sent to give a message to Rael."
"And that changed everything for you, didn't it?"
"Yep. I hate realizing that if I hadn't been such a jerk, I'd have never met you."
Paer giggled. "Well, in that case, I'm glad you were a jerk."
"Oh, what? And he's better now? Uppity little Upcomer." Moron glared at Paer's hand on his arm.
"Incredibly good." Paer smiled and turned to the restaurant doors. The Maitre'd blinked when he recognized her. A quick sideways glance toward the uniformed guard, and his eyes widened at the confirmation.
"Table for seven? Ebsa?"
The man gave a quick glance at his comp, then turned all smiles. "Right this way." The table set for eight was prominently placed, right by a big window. The extra place setting was whisked away to another large table in the back . . .
Someone is going to be pissed that they didn't get the good table.
He did the whole hold the chair routine for Paer, and to his annoyance the Moron circled the table to sit on her far side. Tayc bumped him with the chair he was standing behind and batted her eyelashes and simpered. "Oh, we ladies ought to sit together, not give anyone ideas."
Something resembling a quiet growl from Paer's direction. The guard placed herself where she had a good view and stared steadily at Offe.
"Oh? You helping the Newsies too? Not really impressive, or career enhancing, you know?" Ebsa eyed her glower and shrugged, held the chair for her, and circled around to sit across the table, between Amsi and Pause.
"What a paranoid little thwat." Pause turned away from him. "Hey Hioz, How are the statistics going on 'that project' of yours?"
"It's very interesting. Rather horrifying, but it leaves no doubt, you know?"
"Indeed." Pause raised the shoulder on Ebsa's side, dismissive.
Ebsa looked across the table. "Do you guys equestriate too?"
More down the noses looks.
Paer eyed him thoughtfully. I wonder what she's thinking.
"Personally, I prefer motor vehicles, but I've done enough falling off to qualify as a rider." Ebsa couldn't help but grin at the snobs. "If you haven't fallen off, you haven't ridden enough to qualify. Honest, heard that from an expert." By the name of Paer.
"The point of riding is to stay on the horse." Amsi was going to have trouble eating if he didn't bring down the nose . . .
"While doing something fun." Paer flashed a smile at a waiter and took a menu.
"Or competing." Ebsa glanced toward the Moron. "But then that can be fun and challenging as well." Paer looked like she wanted to kick him. He took a menu, and pretended to look it over. The conversation dropped to a grumble, while Moron tried to decide if Ebsa was baiting him or challenging him to a duel.
Well, at least the food was good. And when the waiter appeared with the bill, Ebsa produced his wallet and handed over his ID. The only good thing about living in the directorate housing is all the money one can bank. He thumb printed the reader and they all straggled out the door and into a beautiful warm evening.
Paer shook off the Moron's attempt to take her arm and trotted down the steps to stand on tip toe and kiss Ebsa's cheek. "Thank you for the lovely dinner." She turned him, and blocked the mischievous looking Hioz, closing in as if to kiss him too.
"Well, I'm afraid I need to get home. Ebsa, can I drop you off?" Paer steered him over to the car pulling up to the curb.
"Sure." Ebsa followed her quickly.
The Moron pushed forward. "Hey, can get a . . . "
"No." Paer smiled, and Ebsa slid into the back seat beside her. Snatched his hand away as the Moron helpfully slammed the door. The uniformed guard elbowed him, loomed and glared. The Moron smirked.
That's what passes for an analyst these days? I always thought they'd be on top of the Game. Or at least minimally intelligent.
Paer sighed and leaned on him, as the guard slipped into the front seat. "I am so tired of that lot. How could it all turn so sour so quickly?"
"They're what? Two years or more older than we are? Or did I just not notice them at the school?"
"Some of each." Paer curled up, leaning on him. "Can you come home with me?"
"If I can collect some clothes, first."
"Right." Paer caught the eye of the driver. A different one than yesterday. "Don't tell me I got reinforcements!"
The woman nodded. "All properly lectured first by Rael, then by Fool, then by Urfa . . . "
Paer snickered. "Sorry, but . . . "
"Yeah we all remember the reaming your first set in New York got." The car slid up to the warehouse and stopped. This time the guard got out, and when the door unlocked at Ebsa's proximity, went in first.
Ebsa flicked on the lights. Blinked at the damp echoing room. "One! Ra'd pressure washed the inside too?" He looked up dubiously at the lights overhead.
Ra'd looked out of his room. "Relax. I checked. They are designed for this sort of thing. It's a warehouse."
"Are you really going to paint it?" Paer looked around. "Not that it doesn't need it, but shouldn't Maintenance and Facilities do it?"
"They have a six month waiting list for minor things. I put the quarters on their list, and signed off on doing the rest myself." Ra'd looked around. "I have plans."
Ebsa grabbed clothes suitable for the theoretically lower key meeting tomorrow, and waved. "See you in the morning."
"Unless they want to grill us separately." Ra'd waved them off.
They snuggled in the car, and slept as late as they dared.
In the morning, Ebsa's scheduler directed him to a room at the Intel Center inside the secure gate area. Yet another set of Intel analysts who thought their clever questions could reveal something crucial. It was quite fun going through all the crawler's recordings and filling in the action they hadn't caught. The three Intel weinies were looking a bit aghast at the dinosaur carnage.
"I thought those things were herbivores." One of them shook his head as he watched two hundred honking maiasaurs charge into the swamp and tromp the Helios' small vehicles into the mud. Deep into the mud, badly crushed. Mostly with the Helios inside. The soldiers who tried to get away on foot were crushed as well. Three of their doodle bug type things had been close enough to solid ground for them to turn and escape.
"The maiasaurs weigh in at four to five tons each. The mobbing behavior would probably take care of velociraptors, and nesting across mushy ground is the only possible defense against a T-Rex." Ebsa shrugged. "We swung wide of the nesting area, along the shore, then turned into the lake. We anticipated that the Helios would cut the corner, and we figured either the soft ground or the maiasaurs would get them off our trail."
"Right. But that was the second time you crossed the river, right?"
"Yeah. The first time, we needed to get line of sight to the camp, well, arguably fort, for a tight beam warning that hopefully the Helios couldn't tap. But if the Helios spotted the Fort, it was all for naught. So we prepared to boat down stream, if they found us again. They didn't, so we got our warning off, backed back into the lake and then headed downstream. Then we headed east, to draw them off in the wrong direction, if they spotted us again.
The Intel weinies checked the map. Nodded in near unison. "So you tracked them back to their base, where they had their gate beacon."
Ebsa hesitated. "It was more of an accident than deliberately hunting them. In fact, we couldn't really sense them, mentally. Nighthawk was better than we were. We picked up the students, they were a bit foggy, as if drugged, but unmistakably Oners. We thought they must have captured some of the team, or the scientists."
"So you were just driving along, and spotted their base?"
"No, we drove under some trees when we heard equipment—a drone, actually—and thought we'd better try to listen for more. Nighthawk was better at detecting the Helios than we were, but even we could feel the kidnapped students. So we grabbed them and ran for home, with a detour past the swamp to lose the pursuit. The very few survivors of the maiasaurs were in no shape to follow us, and the fort was broadcasting that they were beseiged, so we ducked down into a ravine and Nighhawk opened a gate to Embassy, so we could get the warning out. And drop off the kids before we went back to try to rescue the scientists and the rest of team."
They led him through the whole use of Dinosaurs as a weapon.
Then homed in on Nighthawk's use of a transdimensional bubble to steal the beacon.
Ra'd's use of his to collect high ranked prisoners.
"Where did he get that?"
"I assumed Nighthawk . . . "
Triple glare. "That is the first lie you've tried." the blonde one said.
The brunette crossed his arms. "And it was a pathetic attempt."
Ebsa shrugged. "All I've got is guesses. A lot of Ra'd's past is classified, and usually gets referred to an Izzo Withione Alcairo . . . whom I believe is currently subdirector of the Pacific Region. Or you could just ask Ra'd and he'll probably give you a number to call."
The black haired one eyed him and started tapping at his computer. Then pulled out his comm and tapped a number in.
"Senior Analyst Ohge, Exterior. I have a question about Wqlw . . . Class Nine! . . . Yes, if our need reaches that level." He clicked off and frowned at Ebsa. "Well. At least you are transparent. A Montevideo Upcomer. Mixed up in that disgraceful trial of the Comet Fall girl. All your instructors either loved you or hated you. Your three superiors have all rated you highly and requested that you continue to labor under them. You live in the barracks or warehouse forty-two, save a big chunk of your pay and managed to spend almost five hundred rials at an upscale Italian restaurant last night. What did you do, throw a party?"
"Showed off by picking up the tab." Ebsa shrugged. "After being insulted, except when I was being ignored or sneered at. And, of course, I walked off with the lady."
"And she was even more expensive?" Blonde again.
"Not that kind of lady."
"Riiiight." Brownie tapped at his comp, boggled. "You? You drove off with the President's daughter!"
Ebsa smiled. Ah crap, it's not all over the news is it? I'd better check, quick.
The black haired one eyed his display. "Well that explains the fencing lessons. But do you really think you can go that high?"
"Not if I don't acquire the required skills."
They had sandwiches delivered and kept poking at details. And Ra'd, occasionally.
"Which colony was he raised on?" Blondie looked casual.
Ebsa wasn't fooled. He knew a few info junkies. "Don't believe he ever said."
"And you never asked?" Browny too.
"Too busy, too well mannered, too much fun kidding him about being a space alien."
They finally let him go. He checked his comm.
A message from Paer: Med section meeting until 1800. Ugh.
And one from Ra'd: I'm going to go spray paint everywhere. Recommend you stay away.
So Ebsa checked the dojo, snagged a lesson time and headed that way.
The gym was used to agents and teamers coming and going, with and without appropriate gear. He collected the right sizes of much washed whites, a locker number and dressed out to bow to sensei Enni.
"Haven't seen you for a month." Enni frowned past him.
Ebsa looked around. The Moron. Might have expected that. And here comes his cheering section.
Pause and Amsi stepped up to either shoulder.
Drat. I ought to have done some basic research. I have no idea of the man's rating.
"Hi guys. Come to watch?" Ebsa nodded and turned back to the Sensei.
"No . . . but since you're here I thought you might like to spar." The Moron nodded politely to Enni.