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05 March 2017 @ 09:24 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 2  
 

Phoebe and Poppy, Fiob and Jowp, officially, were the daughters of Mother's best childhood friends. Withiones, both. The others . . . a few Neartuones, mostly Withiones. He averted his eyes at the gleam of one. Very high Oner. He knew all about the power of that glow. He tightened his shields a bit more. Several faces turned his way, a few distant nods.

"No kids around? I thought I remembered at least a couple of you getting married." He looked innocently at them.

Poppy glowered at him. "Good evening Ajha. Nice to see you again. And you know perfectly well what happened. Even you must have caught that gossip."

"Well, yes." He looked around. "But no kid?"

"He's at boarding school. Where else? I can't keep him with me, at his age. I have to work for a living, you know."

After your husband divorced you and retired in disgrace with you pregnant with "Endi Dewulf's" baby. Right. Caught right in the middle of the spy wars.

"Yes, you got used by all sides, and then dumped."

Poppy lowered her voice and told him to do something he didn't quite catch over the party background.

He closed his teeth over a reply. Typical Withione woman.

"I barely remember what you were like in school." The woman at his side had him sucking in his aura and closing down his shields. Trained, honed and strong.

"Hi, Xiat. Still enjoying the Presidential Directorate?" She was the daughter of his mother's half brother and father's half sister. Pity our mothers hated each other. My closest cousin, and she's just another pretty girl who ignored me in school.

"I don't advertise that, and anyway, I've moved to Interior, for a change of pace. And I've never seen such a fast close down. And thorough. You could pass as Multitude."

"Thanks. I get lots of practice. It's a reflex, sorry." He opened back up to a socially polite level, just a little heavier on blocking incoming impressions.

"Do you? What are you up to now?"

"Still the Exterior Directorate. Fighting off promotion to a desk job. Specifically, I've been on the recovery mission, working out of a hub world. I sort of got out of touch with everything going on here at home."

"Ah. That would be why I haven't heard about you insulting the High Council with another Top Secret report for awhile. Of course, everyone here thinks you're in a cushy office job your uncle provides. They never think to question their assumptions."

Ajha shrugged. "Gossip always takes the worst possible view. Uncle Ajki wasn't Director when I started. In fact, I think he shifted to the Transportation Ministry sometime during my first assignment. And anyway, I love field work. Have you done any? Or I vaguely recall you being invited to Princess School?"

"Yes, Princess School. But I didn't have the right mind set for the standard post." She hunched her shoulders and shivered. I flunked the psychological tests. And they were right, then. And now. I could never kill Izzo. "So I wound up as a Presidential bodyguard at first. Then playing hostess and chatting people up, getting them relaxed and talking at parties, and writing up the notes and analysis the next morning. After thirty years it started looking poisonous and pointless. So back to school. Now I'm in criminal investigations. European Region. My job is half analysis, stuck at a desk, and half footwork, out in the field. But not cross dimensional."

"I'll bet that's a challenge. If you need another change you should try to transfer to Embassy. It's an interesting place, all the very different people. Fascinating."

Poppy snorted. "You could meet Endi again. Or Xen, as he calls himself. One only knows why."

Ajha shrugged. "It's his mother's culture to name their children according to themes, going through the alphabet. They were doing minerals, that year. He got Xenotime. His father is one of their old gods, the Old Wolf, the God of War. Hence the 'Wolfson' he uses at home and 'Dewulfe' that he used on One."

Xiat eyed him. "Did you research him?"

"I don't think you can get a degree in Cross Dimensional Affairs without doing at least one paper on him, these days. But he happened to us much later. I've met him, on Embassy."

Krazy oozed over and batted her eyelashes. "Was he your type?"

Cute. "No. But have you seen the pictures of the Comet Fall witches. Very pretty, and that's without the glow they've got in person." Ajha spotted his uncle retreating, grinning. Yeah, right. Like I have the faintest idea what to do with these six women. Last thing I need is too many.

The House Computer announced more people. Ifbo had been one of his fellow nerds. Looked like he hadn't outgrown it.

"Hey, Bo, you remember everyone?"

Bo nodded a bit nervously. He appeared to have transitioned from teenaged nerd to middle aged nerd. "Sure. Long time, and all that."

"Ajha was just telling us all about the Comet Fall people."

"We should kill them all for what they've done to us." Sue tossed her headful of golden curls.

Ajha eased back half a step from her. "We shouldn't have started a war with a powerful bunch of magic users. Especially ones who are so good at genetic engineering."

"I know you travel dimensionally, but have you actually met many Fallen? Aren't you afraid of the von Neumann's?" Cookie was at least not encroaching on his space.

"Terrified by the potential. Yet there hasn't been a single incident—apart from the one they intended—so far. Even with the stuff in the hands of Rior's Gang. There's some scary potions running around out there, the Exterior Directorate has their hands full stopping the smuggling. But, thank the One, the majority of potions are not von Neumanns."

Phoebe's eyes were wide. "But, but what about the bio attack? You, especially, couldn't afford to lose more magic genes."

"Actually I never had any copies of those three genes. So I didn't lose anything. I know a lot of Withiones are upset." He nodded politely around the group. "But those genes had minimal advantage and lots of potential negatives. Losing them isn't going to change anything other than a few extra very high count Oners being promoted to Withione. And I'd think that some Withiones will find themselves demoted if they return to defining it as all twelve insertions."

Cookie snorted. "You do realize that unless they change the definition, a whole load of Withiones and Neartuones will suddenly be ranked as Clostuones, don't you? Ninety-five percent!"

"If they retest everyone. Doubt that'll ever happen. Much more likely they'll change the definitions for babies born in the future. And probably allow, but not require, retesting." Ajha eyed the women. Lots of emotional overtones, there. I guess, being out in the field, I didn't realize how upset everyone is.

Krazy wrinkled her nose. "No matter what they do, it's going to be a definite switch in enough people to change a whole lot of relationships."

"And we have no idea how long it'll take the congress to embrace the idea that they started the war, and they can stop it." Ajha shrugged. "I keep telling people that the Comet Fall people just don't hold grudges like sensible people. But they can't seem to deal with the concept of 'just stop and they will too.' "

Krazy frowned at him. "Why not fight them? Since when have we been pacifists?"

Poppy sniffed. "I don't see why they are so sure Xen will whip up popular support for a war, over our almost executing a single witch. Well, and trying to assassinate him."

"It's more complicated than that. That was just one more attack on them, and they've run out of patience." He glanced back, but his uncle was escorting Ahvi to the door. No help there. "We can't just keep attacking people and expecting them to do nothing about it. I trust you pay enough attention to the screaming heading news that that you know that when the Helaos attacked us, they jumped straight in and helped?"

Multiple dainty sniffs. Cookie shrugged. "They could have been the next people who got attacked. They were helping themselves."

Ahja sighed.

But his grandfather had caught his glance and gestured him over. "Come by at ten tomorrow morning. Your father wants to present a united front for the cameras. You've always wanted his approval? Here's how to get it. Support him in every way."

Ajha paused to gain control. "I'll be there." No point in being rude. Shouting that he was too damned old to need his Daddy's approval any more wouldn't impress any one. And it wasn't actually untrue. He'd just realized if it ever happened, it would be met with the same qualifying terms and lukewarm praise his grandfather had always extended.

"Still having trouble with your father?"

Ajha looked over his shoulder. Jain, one of his mother's school chums—Poppy's and Whipper's mother—looked worried.

Ajha shrugged. "You have to accept people for who and what they are. And Father is an emotionally remote man. Period."

The man with her was vaguely familiar. "Damned remote yourself, aren't you?"

"Oh, Ajha, this is my husband, Sub-minister Arja Withione. Commerce Department, you know."

"Oh, of course, I should have recognized you. Can't think what distracted me." Ajha cast a glance toward the younger set of women.

The man laughed, and steered his wife away. Ajha sighed. An up-and-coming politician. A Player. A cousin to some degree, going by the name. Ajha wondered briefly what the man wanted from Jain. A closer connection to The Ax perhaps? Or the Director of External Relations. Possibly both, if the Ax and his ex-wife—full sister of the Director—could make up and work together. At his level, wives came and went with the political seasons. Only the young women, like his mother seventy two years ago, and Poppy fourteen years ago were tender enough to be bruised. Lady Kiaj's grudge was notably acute and long lasting. Even Poppy was blaming the man she'd willingly had an affair with, rather than the husband who had been her inferior in the power and unable to impregnate her.

It was an engineering flaw, or possibly a deliberate design, poorly thought out. A fertility block that faded only with sex with a more powerfully magic man. Perhaps an attempt to ensure that the best of the sperm were the ones that fertilized the egg. Unfortunately they rejected equal power as well. So that the more powerful the woman, the less likely she'd ever have children. The Prophets had been transported from a parallel world, one a few centuries ahead of the world they'd arrived in. Before genetic studies had made testing possible, women who had not gotten pregnant after a few years of marriage generally divorced their husbands and sought a more powerful man, political allegiances coming and going with them. Or the 'barren' wife seduced a more powerful man. A pregnancy was taken as a measure of the relative power of the two men. A wife gotten pregnant by another man was a disgrace, a defeat. Back then, it had happened frequently.

The psychic bond between parent and child produced a quick zap of energy, detectible to those near by. A man publicly touching a baby in public . . . everyone would know if he was, or wasn't the father. A fool proof method of counting coup . . . if one survived the duel that almost inevitable followed. In modern times, the seduction ploy had lapsed. Then eleven years ago, Endi Dewulf had revived the tactic. He'd disgraced half the War Party's leaders by impregnating their otherwise barren wives. That had enlivened the Game no end.

Ajha smiled a bit, and glanced over at Xiat. "Political infighting, via sex and marriage. I've been abroad long enough to see it as strange and bizarre. Does it still look normal and natural to you?"

"It comes into every One damned case I've ever investigated. From neighborhood politics on up. I doubt it's different elsewhere. Possibly less obvious."

Ajha blinked in surprise. "No. Elsewhere, marriages are expected to be close to permanent. A marriage cements an alliance. It's a pledge of the permanency of the support. Here, it's Team Colors. A pretty flag of temporary fandom, shallow and frequently dropped."

"One, Ajha!" Phoebe sniffed. "You've not just grown up, you've gotten old. What utter nonsense you spout. Careful, or I'll mistake you for my great great grandfather." She hooked Xiat's arm in hers and led her off.

Pity. The Cheer Girl, all agile flips and athletic springs had grown into an intelligent woman. Perhaps some other pleasant surprises awaited him. "So, Bo? What are you doing these days?"

"Oh. Accounting. I know it sounds boring, but I love the definiteness of numbers."

"Satisfying. Compared to trying to figure out people, at least." Ajha contemplated the effects of forty-six years of such surety and shivered. "I do a fair amount of statistical analysis on data I collect. Bringing order to chaos. Have you eaten? There's a good spread across the room, if we can get there."

Analyzing the crowd, he was a bit surprised to find that his cohort was indeed the youngest in the room. He nibbled on a cracker. "Bo? Did everyone leave their kids behind? Shouldn't there be some twenty and thirty years olds around? Or even fifty year olds. Unless they're partying elsewhere, our family is shrinking badly."

Bo shrugged. "Too many Withiones. I think most of the women have married at least five times. Well, Poppy, just three, and she the only one with a kid to show for it, so to speak. Poor kid. You think we were ostracized? One! Endi Dewulf's bastards live in Hell. Well, Xiat never married. She's a princess, no matter what job she has. Guaranteed no children."

"And us guys aren't doing much better."

"Well, we're just reaching an attractive age. Women always marry up a generation, you know?"

Ajha tried to imagine marrying one of the younger agents he'd trained and supervised, and shuddered. "That's insane. I like mature and intelligent women."

"Pity they don't like you." Krazy at his back, this time.

"Much though I hate to admit it, I can see why you girls didn't find me attractive in school. But do you really like marrying men older than you? How did you meet them? What did you have in common, to talk about over breakfast back when you were barely twenty?"

Cookie chuckled. "Oh my. Ajha, we may have lived under the same roof as our husbands, but we don't live with them. We usually have adjoining bedrooms, for the necessary. But the servants get up and fix the men breakfast, not us." She rolled her eyes. "Except when we're packed in like sardines like this. Thank god I'm divorced."

"How many husbands have you been through?"

"Just dropped the sixth one yesterday."

"That is . . . an interesting career."

Cookie lowered her elegant brows. Professionally plucked and shaped, no doubt. "Was that meant to be an insult?"

"No. You seem to be making a career of being a Marker in the Game. Do you prefer to think of it as a life style?"

"Well. I suppose it's both."

"Does having a child boost your value as a Marker?"

"That depends. It brings up doubt as to how high your own score is, but if you've been infertile through several marriages, then produce a child inarguably your husband's, then his prestige is raised, relative to the prior husbands and that reflects on you. It really is a game. A very profitable one." She cast a glance toward Poppy, across the room. "Ende Dewulf really raised the stakes. Thirty-five years of barren marriages, then, wham. A blow to every man she's ever bedded. Husbands have gotten more generous since then, not wanting to risk a bastard dropping their prestige."

Bo just shook his head in disbelief.

Krazy snickered. "Sometimes we get tired of the Game, drop out. Maybe in another fifty years. I'm about ready to take a big step up and marry some real power."

"Director or Minister? Or will you go for a Sub-director or Sub-minister first? Our generation of the family is over supplied with Withione girls, I guess. I mean, not counting the more distantly related of you, that's five Withiones, here and what? Six others in the subclan? Only one Neartuone that I can think of. The men, we've got three Withiones to eight Neartuones."

Bo snorted. "You and I are lacking girls, period. And you didn't count yourself."

"Nah. I have no idea how I'd be ranked, these days. Exposure to Comet Fall genetic engineering, you see."

More women oozed into the group as he spoke.

"I hope you aren't trying to pass yourself off as an Endi Dewulf."

"Oh, is that why you've got such nice hair? Last I'd heard you were going bald."

"And gray."

Ajha lost track of who said what, and just nodded in general. "Yeah, it's sort of cheating, anyway you look at it. I didn't get those genes from my parents, and they may not be identical to the Prophet's genes."

"Eww!" Poppy led a general drawing away from Ajha.

He and Bo swapped grins. "Now there's a reaction I remember from school."

"Yep." Bo grinned. "I'm clean, Girls."

That completed the rout.

Bo and Ajha turned back for more food.

"More satisfaction, here." Bo mumbled around a melon ball.

"I feel young again." Ajha admitted.

***

Xiat watched from across the room, and wondered what had caused the general exodus from the vicinity of Ajha Clostuone and Ifbo Neartuone. They'd been the class nerds, no doubt about it. But they'd never hung around together, either. Xiat had always had the opposite problem. Especially after she'd gotten passed out drunk at a graduation party and woken up having jumped in power through losing her virginity. She'd attracted both men and women like flies to carrion until her advanced training had taught her how to shut down her aura. Now she usually kept it down to a nice polite social glow, nothing special. She'd opened up a little tonight, just to be sure of contacting the men she was supposed to be monitoring.

Ajha was one of them. The Ax's only child. And he worried her. She'd seen that level of barrier in the most dangerous Players, and the most ruthless criminals. And Ajha'd been out-dimension too much to be a Player.

She'd been half looking forward to, and half apprehensive about getting chummy with all her old school pals. Fifty-two years since they'd split up, and only one of them had had the sense to just get a job.

Poppy was doing well, growing micro-circuits for a small specialty manufacturer. They got together every few months, lunch or dinner, chat a bit, talk to the kid, walk away. The other four were still going through husbands and trying to figure out the unwritten, and generally unspoken rules of the Game. Since her own mother died, she hadn't even kept up on the gossip about them. As far as Xiat could tell from a quick look at their files, their divorces had been rancorous enough to not count as 'making useful contacts' and since none of the four had yet managed a pregnancy, they hadn't crushed the reputations of ex-husbands, nor worked their way high enough to marry someone who could get them pregnant.

Fortunately Director Ajki was the only unmarried older man in the house. The younger male cohort would be considered barely suitable for chatting and maybe even practicing flirting technique, but nothing heavier. So it ought to be a peaceful week. Watch Ajki and the Ax's son; try to enjoy catching up with rather shallow old friends.

All expenses paid and she got to save her vacation days.



 
 
 
mbarkermbarker on March 6th, 2017 02:04 am (UTC)
Y'a know, that off-hand comment about Endi Dewulf's bastards living in hell... If Xen hears that, I suspect he might try to do something to help them? Now, what would it be? Come to Comet Fall and join the party? Or...

Whoops, I know, no more story seeds, you have too many now. But it's kind of intriguing. Especially with the single mothers (divorcees) in the mix.
matapampamuphoff on March 6th, 2017 02:41 am (UTC)
From Embassy:
Xen eyed Agni. "Certainly. I'd be delighted to install a Gate City-to-Paris corridor. So long as you lot don't keep trying to kill me while I'm over there."

Agni scowled. "President Orde has issued an unconditional pardon. And made it quite clear we weren't to touch your precious hide." He extended two cards, his scowl deepening.

Xen took the cards, and grinned. "An ID and a bank card. I wonder what he—or more likely you—put on the ID."

Snort of disgust. "Name, Xen Wolfson. Place of birth, HMC5623, also known as Target 42, also known as Comet Fall. Ash, section two, Foothills Province, Kingdom of the West. 1370, although that's just a guess."

"Only off a year. 1371 Year of the Prophets. The day before the Autumnal Equinox, whenever that fell on your insane calendar, that year."

Grunt. "And the bank card accesses your old account, which is no doubt overdrawn. Eighteen judges issued standard child support claims against it. No doubt you'll be hearing about how much you owe. If you survive the husbands who are out for your blood."
matapampamuphoff on March 6th, 2017 02:46 am (UTC)
I suspect Xen sold enough gold to settle the child support claims and left plenty of mad money for his own expenses.

Beyond that, he's from a culture that doesn't give fathers much credit or responsibilities, and he was dealing with a culture that married and divorced frequently, with and without kids, and again, neither he nor they expected him to take any active care of the kids.

I'm afraid this is a bad spot on the hero's glow of perfection.
mbarkermbarker on March 6th, 2017 05:30 am (UTC)
Not so much active care, but I could see him hearing they are living in hell, and providing an escape mechanism. At least I have an impression that he might look at such a situation and think, "Wait a minute, I can do something about that." Not a biggie, just a vagrant thought.
matapampamuphoff on March 6th, 2017 05:43 pm (UTC)
Keep in mind that "Living in Hell" is one Game player's opinion of their _social_ status. They are occasionally shunned by schoolmates at the insistence of the parents, it gives schoolyard bullies an excuse, and their mothers have all pretty well dropped out of the Game and possible even high society, as with Poppy, who's moved to another continent and gotten a job she enjoys.
mbarkermbarker on March 7th, 2017 02:50 am (UTC)
And I see the next part nicely shows us what's happening with at least one of the boys! Thanks!
(Anonymous) on March 6th, 2017 04:25 pm (UTC)
The relationship between Xiat and Ajha is bugging me-pretty sure it's due to the stories written between when this was first written and now. Xiat knows Ajha well enough to tease him about briefings. Yet she doesn't know him well enough to be familiar with his shield habits.
Could one of the precogs maybe specifically point to him a little? Something indicating someone close to or closely related to his dad is a danger to the peace of the One? So Xiat is reassessing everything she thought she knew about that affable exterior agent she knows well enough to tease, but he's across so much, does she really know him?
Or something.
Holly
matapampamuphoff on March 6th, 2017 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, their relationship, and Izzo and Ajha's relationship need to change. I've nudged them a bit, but it needs further work. Ajha's name and actions ought to be well known to anyone following the Rescue mission.

The Action and Exploration Subdirector may be avoiding naming the Teamers involved, but I'd think there'd be rather a lot of interviews with the rescued college students.
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 6th, 2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
Yes

=="Still the Exterior Directorate. Fighting off promotion to a desk job. Specifically, I've been on the recovery mission, working out of a hub world.==

Needs more work. Xiat has to tip-toe, I think, since she knows a lot of sensitive stuff from before and maybe after she moved to Interior.

Ajha doesn't mention the post Rescue (Lodge in the Mountains) mission here except by reference to genetic changes

Xiat's close genetic relationship to the Black Point movers and shakers is mentioned in Empire but I didn't really follow that through to Ajha.
matapampamuphoff on March 6th, 2017 09:44 pm (UTC)
_The Lodge in the Mountains_ stuff was happening about the same time as _Trouble in Paradise_.

Having finalized the four world study, Ajha was sent off to quietly snag data on some collapsing book membranes. One suspects that world has just veered off from the book. . .

Now we'll have _First Assignments_ then Paer at the _Surveillance Camp_ while Ebsa and Ra'd go play with dinosaurs and encounter Helaos.

*Then* we throw everything together for _The Last Merge_. The follow on retrieval mission is just winding up when _Black Point Clan_ happens.

Clan interrelations got a bit out of control here. Black Point is one of the smallest Clans. The jokes about inbred Black Point "As" Or AJs" are quite justified, but it has produced an inordinate number of very powerful Oners. Ahvi had four children with three wives. Axti the Ax is the oldest. Xiat's mother is next, then twin daughters who are the mothers of Senior Investigator Ahxe who married Rael's sister, and his cousin the lawyer, Axse. Both of Xiat's and both of Ahxe's parents died in a car crash when Xiat was in Princess School and Ahxe was ~16. He moved to Montevideo to live with his Aunt, husband and there son who was about his age.

Did you recognize Ahvi, Ox's grandfather who attended the wedding?

And yes, I do get cross-eyed trying to keep these people apart, hence the proliferation of nicknames.

Edited at 2017-03-06 09:56 pm (UTC)