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14 August 2015 @ 06:19 pm
_Project Dystopia_ part 1  

This would be just after _Black Point Clan_ and just before to overlapping _External Relations_. You've seen it a month ago, but I'll reprise as it turned into the start of this story.


Chapter One

15 Jumada 1407

"Come to Paris in your best suit. Versalle. Right now. Drop everything. Ra'd as well, if you spot him before I reach him."

"Yes sir." Ebsa clicked off. "Oh shit, what's happened?" Urfa's never called me before!

He trotted down the hall, worry building as he leaped and grabbed the closing elevator door. Jittered under the disapproving gaze of three office workers, one male, two female, all old enough and with assured body language to be well above his pay grade. In basement one, he bolted out and down the steps to the tunnel slidewalks. He'd been working late, again, so they weren't crowded. He strode down them to the last stop, up the stairs, two more blocks to the warehouse. He stripped as he crossed to his room, grabbed the dress shirt, into the slacks, shove feet into the good shoes, grab tie and jacket and head back out . . . a black car slid to a stop.

Presidential guard at the wheel, Ra'd leaping out of the back.

Ebsa leaned to catch Kief eye. "You taking us all the way?"

"Yeah, no one's sure what's up, but Isakson says he wants you right now, so he gets you." Princess Kief grinned. "He was muttering about Izzo being too high and mighty for this, and Xiat too pregnant. But all the rest of you guys that he's started calling Warriors are being hauled in for something."

"Something?" Ebsa climbed in and scooted over as Ra'd dashed back, coat and . . . guns over one arm.

"Don't give me that look. When Isakson calls up his warriors, he expects us to be ready for a fight." Ra'd handed him a shoulder holster.

Ebsa bit his lip, and shrugged into it, got his tie tied, and coat on . . . huh, the sleeves were about right. Now I can only hope I've finally stopped growing. He ran fingers through his hair and hoped for the best. Checked the gun. Loaded, of course.

Ra'd had both shoulder holster and a 10mm rifle.

The shiver of a corridor and they were in pre-dawn Paris. Well, the outskirts. They'd wisely put the corridor far enough from downtown to avoid traffic backup through the corridor.

Versalle, the president's retreat and home of the Presidential Directorate and the Presidential guards was across town. Encroaching suburbia meant it was no longer the Presidents' country retreat, but the grounds were expansive, and it backed up to the forested ruins of old Paris, now an Imperial Park.

Isakson was waiting for them in the gym. The old warrior's gaze raked over them and he nodded his approval. Rael and Qayg were both there, Qayg in a black suit, Rael in her uniform, black with purple trim. The four guards that Isakson had called Warriors, in their slightly different uniform, also black with purple. They were military, but assigned to the Black Horse Guard, the special presidential security unit.

Isakson handed them white keffiyeh scarves, then the green agals, the bands to hold it in place . . . Ebsa's breath caught. The green agal is worn ­only by Warriors of the One. I guess it's official . . . and perhaps about to become public?

"The One has requested an honor guard of the Warriors when he addresses the Conclave of the Clan this morning. We will be there."

Ra'd nodded, flinging the keffiyah over his head and pulling the agal into place. Flipped the ends over his shoulders and looked natural. A third century Islamic Union warrior, in a nice modern business suit.

I hope I can figure out how to put this thing on. And . . . is this a priest sent to represent the One or that scary old man who made me wonder if all the Prophets were actually dead?

***

Emre was tired. "I'm too damn old for this."

The Ecclesiastical guards didn't reply. They were too closely connected for them to not know he was just grumbling. Wishing the weight of years would finally crush me, and I could be done with all this. Finally find out if there is anything after death, some excuse for forcing religion down the throats of eight billion people.

The limo glided to a gentle stop. The guard in front was out first. The ones in back out next, then he was allowed out himself. An old friend was waiting for him, an old warrior just a century younger than himself. Except he was bubbled for most of it. He's really only a couple of centuries old.

"Isakson. You look good. And you have found some interesting companions." Ra'd, of course. My grandson. And his friend who glows so solidly, so reliably and so unwaveringly. You ought to have been the Philosopher of Justice, boy, but then we might have missed the Philosopher of Friendship and wide open Acceptance. Heh. Hadn't expected that! It's even affected me. Heh. I'd nearly forgotten how to be friendly.

Four young men, strong and vibrant. Never met, but well known through the Power of the One. Ohhe, who's working so hard to look impassive. Wsca, whom everyone calls Scar, despite his flawless babyface. These names! Uzmo and Ixpu, competing for everything, as if life were one big game of points. Another old friend. Qayg, I almost didn't recognize you, you've grown well since leaving the Hive Mind. And . . . the happy woman. Glowing and bright. A Dancer turned Warrior. A granddaughter, I believe. I remember wanting to make her Of the One . . . just to add happiness. Too independent, though. Invaluable where she is. I wonder who her mother or father is?

But he turned to the business at hand. Legal definitions. As if they truly matter . . . They matter. I remember Trans World Travel, damn you Xen Wolfson, for making me remember. We—all of us Tellies—were less than slaves. We were legally defined as laboratory animals. So . . . this legal naming is important.

The Ecclesiastical Guards were ahead, behind and beside him, but the Warriors were even closer. Isakson at his left shoulder, Qayg at his right. Protective equals. The other seven followed and once inside, spread out, watching everyone, everything.

In the audience the respectful near silence suddenly became utter silence as sheer power of his presence penetrated their self absorption. He paused to let them adjust. They needed to be capable of remembering what he said.

"I am Emre One. After fourteen centuries, there are few of you who are not my descendants. And also the descendants of dear friends and colleagues of mine. Long departed.

"I come to you today, because of why you are here. You wish to clarify some entirely artificial divisions among the people who have the power gene of the One." He shrugged. "It is only human to form hierarchies. Only human to, once you are on top, to want to stay there.

"But of late I have become aware that the current system fails to encourage all the One to train their skills, to learn their limits, and then stretch them.

"When the New Prophets came, there was limited technology for genetic analysis. And frankly, we arrived in the middle of a long war. There was no time for laboratory tests. We fought, on the battleground, in the halls of power, and more subtly within our expanding social alliances. We sorted ourselves according to talent and ability.

"It was only later that we had the time and luxury to analyze children, and try to steer them toward what we felt might best suit them."

He eyed the three thousand people watching him. Do you understand?

"Names became attached. I don't even remember the origination of the With, Near, Close, and Servant designations. First they depended on the number of genetic insertions, then they switched to counts of individual genes. Occasionally there were attempts to decide which genes were more important than others.

"None of that matters. What matters is that each person be judged as an individual. You must realize that if someone you label Servaone has the right genes, he may well be stronger magically than a Withione who has every single cosmetic gene.

"Do not exclude people. Make your new definitions more inclusive." An odd thought drifted in. "Stop calling my children servants. They are workers. They see what needs to be done, and they do it. I recommend you rank people by the number of insertions, and by the number of genes, and by ability. Raise individuals in ranking by any of these standards. There is no need to have a single exclusive qualification. Raise people, do not fence them in and discourage their reaching for the sky." Oh dear God. Reach for the sky, you varmint! I'd forgotten about Westerns. Used to love those old movies.

Emre stared out at the crowd. Is there anything more I need to say? No. Oh, wait.

"Bless you. Seek the wisdom within you." He nodded to them, as to equals, turned and walked out. The Warriors exfiltrated ahead, around, and behind him. "Isakson, Qayg, ride with me."

Isakson dismissed the rest, and slid into the limo behind him. Qayg sat facing him.

"I have been pondering these . . . healing magics from Comet Fall. They are shockingly cavalier about genetic manipulation, but many of these potions of theirs are more mundane than that. What are your thoughts on them?"

***

Ebsa squeezed into the car from Versalle. "So . . . is Isakson going to collect us together?"

Shaken heads.

Rael shrugged. "He says that in the modern setting, it is better to have us spread throughout the directorates, ministries, and military. Highly trained, and hopefully on the spot when a Warrior is needed." She giggled. "You two especially have epitomized that. I suspect you may consider yourselves the Poster Boys of Warrior . . . whatever."

"Certification, perhaps?" Ebsa pondered the possibilities. "Sort of like having Medic certs, or markmanship certs."

"Hmm, yes. I like that. I'll suggest it to Isakson. Although he may not like the idea of making 'Warrior' equal to certifications for electronics repair or cooking." Rael giggled. "And get more people in to work with him."

Ra'd flashed his teeth. "If you bring in Ajha, can I watch them meet?"

A pregnant pause.

Ebsa eyed the trepidation on the others' faces and started snickering. "You don't know him, do you? Honestly, best field leader ever. And other than being horrified at being stuffed behind a desk, he hasn't changed a bit."

Ra'd was grinning. "Oh yes. We must be here when you lot meet him. The meeting with Isakson will be dessert. And don't think I didn't notice the One picking up on Workaone, Ebsa the Rebel."

"I didn't . . . He didn't pick that up from me, did he?"

"It's hard to keep anything from one of them." Ra'd grinned. "And it's a good idea, too."

"I'm going back to the office and I'm going to pretend this didn't happen. With luck no one will have recognized me."

Rael giggled. "Stay for breakfast, find out if Isakson is coming back. We'll still get you back in time to go to work with no sleep. How did you end up in an office, anyway?"

"The Action Teams are . . . sort of in a crisis, with their primary bully boy rapist roles evaporating. Ajki's got a fight on his hands, and . . . I think he decided to get some assets away from the fight."

"At least I'm not stuck in an office." Ra'd snorted. "Getting tired of painting warehouses exactly according to spec, though. I don't think my supervisor appreciated all the hard work I put in on Warehouse Forty-two. I just glad this call came so late, after I'd cleaned up for the day."

They breakfasted, and were driven back to Gate City. Neither Isakson nor Qayg had shown up.

***

The Prophet Emre was the headline, in the morning. With pictures. Lots of pictures. And lower down, speculation about the warriors. Which made Ebsa all the more glad that he'd gotten right back to work.

Half his co-workers found excuses to wander past his office and eye him. Most of them walked off shaking their heads. ". . . nah. Couldn't have been the Closey . . ."

Help! Help! Get me back out into the field! Preferably to that Lost Civilization World that Paer's assigned to. "Surely they need a cook, if nothing else."

"Who needs a cook?" His boss crossed his arms and stared at him from the doorway. Wrinkled his nose and shook his head.

"Oh. I was thinking about that Lost Civilization project. It must be fascinating . . . Have they decided whether or not the inhabitants were human?"

An impatient wave of the hand from the administrator. "We'll find out when they issue the report. Now about these figures you sent me. Stop wasting your time talking about the economies of permanent gates and using dimensional bags. The Director purely hates having to ask Disco for help. So we need to shorten up on gate expenses."

"Fewer, longer, gates. Set up tracks for the trains on the far side, and you can really get a lot through in a hurry without worrying about driver error." Ebsa shrugged. "It's not magic, sir. There's no way to change the way gates work."

Glare.

"Or wait ten years and hope that Endi Dewolfe's children can make gates. They're, umm, twelve or thirteen years old. Might be time to start talking to the Directorate School about actively recruiting as many of them as we can."

The administrator pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why did you get assigned here? All your field evaluations are excellent. Just . . . tell me that wasn't you."

"That wasn't me."

"You're a horrible liar. Surely someone needs a cook somewhere." He turned and walked out.

Director Akji was his next visitor. He stepped in and closed the door. "Why didn't anyone ever tell me one of the Prophets was still alive? Not to mention the warriors infiltrated into my organization."

"Well, no one ever told me either. About Emre One. And . . . there's no Warrior Cadre or anything like that. It's more of a certification. Like having a Medic handy, or something. And . . . well it's pretty new, just a dozen of us, so far as I know."

"That old man and Qayg are not pretty new."

"You know, this might be a good time to ask Urfa about Ra'd."

"How about you telling me." Crossed arms and challenging stare.

"I do not know. I have researched to the point of indigestion. My conclusions . . . are only thinly supported." Ebsa paused and got nothing but a stare. "Well. Here's Ra'd with archaic language tics, well trained in every form of mayhem ever invented. Admits to learning martial arts in India. Mentioned Fort Rangpur—pause—reinactments. Step mother, younger half-sister. Courtesy uncle named Isakson, five other women and six kids in a tight knit, tight lipped group.

"So. The Fall of Fort Rangpur. Two hundred troops, the Prophet Nicholas and seven Warriors died there, and some civilians who were trapped by the fast encirclement. Including the Prophet's last wife, his youngest daughter, and his teenaged son from a previous marriage who was fighting with the warriors."

Ajki shook his head. "Don't bullshit me boy."

"The Book of Warriors lists Isak ben Isak, called Isakson, as dying at Fort Rangpur. And Ra'd ben Nicholas, trainee, is also listed as dying at Rangpur." Ebsa shrugged. "Yeah, those Bags of the Prophets are a trite movie cliché. But I think they were used at least once."

"That's . . . "

"Ridiculous. Yep. S'why I've never asked. First I have to decide if I really want to know. Whether, you know, Urfa's trying to revive an old tradition, or if the old tradition has suddenly shown up and decided to revive itself."

"And what are the qualifications for this certificate?"

"We've batted it around a bit. Level five Speed, preferably greater."

"There isn't greater . . . That I've seen . . . "

"Trained in Martial Arts and weaponry. With experience that demonstrates a willingness to kill or die for the Empire." Ebsa shrugged. "Mind you, Isakson wasn't there to give his opinion, but Ra'd was quite certain about the experience being necessary."

"Experience . . . " The Director looked appalled. "I think I'll find a nice field assignment for both of you."

"Thank you sir."

"And I suppose any recommendations from you would involve your highly placed girlfriend's location?"

"Yes sir. Ra'd, by-the-way has a pretty good 'in' with Wolfson. I'll bet he could pick up a lot of the Fallen magical techniques if he was assigned to Embassy. Or Disco, for that matter."

Ajki sighed. "Well . . . it'll get you out from underfoot while I try to modernize the Action Teams."

Ebsa tried to avoid grinning. Modernize? Nice way to say, retrain bullying rapists into efficient guards and hunters for science projects. "Watch your back, Boss . . . maybe I should stay here."

"Ha! I know more about dealing with backstabbers than you, youngster. No matter what unofficial certifications you may or may not have." He walked out.

As far as Ebsa could tell, no one else had noticed him come or go. I guess you can't kill a man you don't see.