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07 March 2017 @ 07:15 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 4  
 

Chapter Three

8 Safar 1407 yp

Ajha was starting to worry her.

She'd not noticed, in school, any homosexual tendencies, but then she'd been pretty naive back then. But Ajha had taken a definite interest in Pajamas. In Jay. He even gave the kid an acceptable nickname.

"And I know he's spent years on Comet Fall. Absorbing One knows what odd customs and ideas. I think I may have found a big black mark on the Ax's dossier." She looked around the crowded coffee shop. It was too noisy for anyone to have heard her muttering, without special equipment. She slurped the last swallow of tepid coffee and tapped in a specific request for Ajha's sexual orientation, and told the office to look for any local unsolved male preteen or early teen molestations in his vicinity.

But is this anything to do with all the precogs? I've sat in on some of his briefs in Paris. He's competent, knows his stuff. Been across to much to be a party insider. maybe he's just . . . here for the vote. It's silly of me to worry about Jay. But of all of my age cohort, Clostuone label notwithstanding, I think he may well be the most dangerous person here.

In fact, I suspect Uncle Ajki is the only one here who could take him. Besides me. Maybe I'd better check just what he's been doing on the Rescue Project. The rumors that leak involve some very bloody encounters with the Helios Army.

"Fighting off promotion to a desk job," he said. So if he's active in the field . . . He said Info, but has he been running with the Action types? They get very twisted.

She closed up her comp and left the shop. So. If his barrier was any indication, and she knew from school that he was extremely intelligent, and he was possibly a sexual pervert, and he was possible a pacifist radical, she had a real honest to One challenge. She'd just have to dissect him and study what made him tick. So. First, what was he up to, here and now. What was he planning, and was it for or against his cold rejecting father?

She took the tram back up the hill, and spotted a group of young men headed down Spinnaker. Mushy and Whipper, three others she couldn't be sure of in the twilight. They'd be heading for Aunt Zowm's House, and Ewmo's party. Blech!

But with Ajha gone, she could search his room.

Unfortunately the ramp down was under the eye of everyone in the Great Room.

She ducked into the dining room instead. Empty of both people and food, formal dinner service hours away. The unobtrusive door at the back corner led to the kitchen.

" . . . now and that'll be one less chore tonight." The heavy woman looked around in surprise. "May I get you anything, Miss?"

"No, I'm just being nosy. I didn't realize Aunt Kiaj kept a large staff."

"Ha! She doesn't keep anyone at all. We're just here while she's got a houseful. Gives all of us a place to stay, and extra money, so it works all around. Wretched Conference, anyway. Just an excuse to party. Useful for the girls, thought. Myself, I'd rather be back in Freeport at the restaurant."

Xiat followed her indulgent gaze around a corner and found a quartet of young women chopping vegetables. A play pen in the corner held two crawlers. "Oh hi, didn't realize the place was packed."

"Oh sure. I mean, look at the house. It's crawling with Withiones." The first girl grinned. "All we have to do is figure out how to get past the wives."

The one at the other end giggled. "Or find the nerve to flirt with a Director."

"I'm sticking with the young ones." The second woman had a long golden braid. "Do you know, Miss, which ones are Withiones?"

"Whipper and Mushy. Bo is Neartuone."

They all nodded. "And we all know Ajha's Clostuone. The Mistress was divorced over it."

"Pity, he's got the best manners."

"I went to school with them." Xiat said. "Ajha's also the smartest one. But he's either shy or homo. He doesn't make passes."

They all giggled. "Homo! Oh, no Miss, we know to watch who's watching us. His eyes are right here where they belong." The first woman cupped her generous breasts.

"Really? Huh. Well, if you want smart kids, keep him in mind." Xiat leaned over the pen and smiled at the chubby babies. How can something so messy and time consuming be so desirable. So forever out of reach for me. "What little darlings! Boys or girls?"

"Both girls, both Clostuones. We'll get Neartuones next year, just watch."

Their own version of the Game. The next generation will lift up the whole family. And a good thing, because the Withiones don't seem to be reproducing.

"Good luck! Or should I say, good hunting?" Xiat ducked through the back door. She leaned against the wall for a moment, swallowing tears. She'd had the same reaction when Paj—Jay was born. A baby hunger so deep it was painful. Or perhaps the pain was knowing she couldn't have one. She cleared her throat and got back to work. It doesn't matter. I won't let it matter.

The first door was to the garage, then an outside door to the rubbish bin, a short hall to the servant's quarters, and the back hallway that led past Ajha's room. The door was ajar, the lights on. No one home. She took a quick look at the bathroom, no one there either. Big box of Antihol on the sink. Overflowing clothes hamper. Four beds, a double set of almost matching bunk beds. Xiat's lips curled up at the thought a quartet of grown men climbing into them. The floor to ceiling drapes were half closed. The edge swayed in a slight breeze from the open sliding glass door. In the light from the room, she could see a small slice of patio and the trunks of redwoods beyond as the ground dropped steeply away.

A quick rifling through the drawers showed very little unpacked. She checked the four heaps of luggage. Fortunately with tags. Whipper's old bag was stuffed almost randomly. Bo's case was full of meticulously folded clothing for all occasions. Mushy's clothes were half messily disgorged in every direction. Ajha had one well made but obviously much used case. Inside, two new outfits still in the store bags, with tags attached. Beneath the clothes bags, two bottles of wine, with customs' stamps in place, then a folded batch of clothing in unusual textures. She pulled out the top one. Shirt. Button front, weird folded over collar ending in points that would be over the collar bones. Guess he has been across. Beneath all that, bingo! A modular comp too large to be casually carried around. She read off the specs and whistled. Ajha was carting around more computing power and memory than her Region office. So, let's see what my double half-cousin is up to.

She lifted everything out carefully, so as to be able to put it back. Then attached her own comp and suggested that it grab the index and the four most recently accessed files. I really shouldn't still have those presidential security override codes. But they'll give me anything in either Interior or Exterior . . . Hard to imagine Urfa not remembering to revoke my codes. Does he still consider me one of his in group? Both Izzo and I get invites to the meetings. Then she powered up the module. Her comp flashed a green light. She turned everything off, and settled everything back where it had been. A careful reccee up the ramp showed the great room empty. She glanced at her watch. Not dinner time, but perhaps time to spruce up for dinner. She settled down and turned on her computer.

"Observations of a Collapsing Book." "Repercussions of the Artificial Merge of Seven Close Membranes." "Close Membranes and Perceived Membranes—What is 'A World?' " "Encounters with Cross Dimensional Criminals."

At least the last one looks interesting. The other three look like real snoozers. She opened the fourth one and blinked stupidly at the author's name for a long moment. Ajha Clostuone Black Point. The others had multiple authors, but his name was on the list of all of them, he was the lead author of the third. "Well. And here I figured he was exaggerating his job." She turned back to "encounters" and read until about half the household passed through on the way to dinner. Then she closed it up and looked around.

Jain's new husband, Arja, the sub-minister, came up the ramp. "No one home."

Kiaj sniffed. "Zowm's son Ewmo, have you met him yet? He invited them all to a party. One of those young men's things. I'm surprised Ajha went. I thought he had more sense." She led off to the dining room.

Xiat wrinkled her nose. "Young men's things" tended toward over-drinking and sex with anything female that seemed willing. So the table was very unbalanced. Nine women to two men. Imgo held a chair formally for the hostess, and then his wife. Then Arja walked in, barely in time to do the honors for his own wife. Uncle Ajki was nowhere to be seen. I can't keep track of these people. Makes them a bit tough to analyze.

Kiaj kept the conversation light, chatting about styles, tut tutting a bit over crimes among the Multitude, far away where it didn't affect them, teasing Imgo and Arja just a bit about the difficulties of marrying when they had Princesses. A few glances headed her way.

I am not that kind of Princess. I do not report to the One, and I certainly do not assassinate people who are about to do something the One doesn't want to happen. And thank the One I was in Interior Relations before the vote of No Confidence. I've heard all about the "fun" the Presidential Directorate had under the Committee.



Chapter Four

9 Safar 1407yp

Black Point Enclave, West Coast of North America

All Xiat wanted was a good night's sleep. In the early hours of the morning she'd awoken to the sound of male voices and stumbling feet. It seemed like she'd just drifted off when her implant buzzed. She climbed over slumbering female bodies and out to the Great Room to call her office.

"We just intercepted a call from Duiz Withione—her nephew Udzi is dead, sounds like a very bloody scene. We will tell the local police to expect you, and your assistance."

"Udzi? I didn't think this was that kind of election."

"It is now."

So she'd dressed, driven down to the police station and introduced herself to the Commandante, who looked disgustingly fresh for the early hour. They gone together to the scene.

"It looks like a duel, but why didn't anyone hear anything?" The Investigator in charge there eyed the rug. A few back and forth scuff marks. And rather than the clean coup-de-grace, a slashed throat. "The aunt was in the next room, but there are closets between. She woke in the night, thinking she'd heard something. She didn't hear anything else, rolled over and went back to sleep. She glanced at the clock, she's pretty sure it was ten thirty something."

"The attacker had an edged sword. Illegal. Or a knife and everything was arranged to make it look like a duel." Xiat eyed the sword on the floor. Overly ornate, but with a fine microassembly blade. Dueling sword. Regulation length, triangular cross section, blunt edges and sharp point. Some toughs would sharpen just the last two inches of the lower acute angle of the triangular blade.

The sword on the floor was a bit rusted, and didn't appear to ever have been sharpened. The acute angle of the lower edge could bruise, and when roughened like this rip the skin and make a nasty wound, but rarely kill. Side blows from dueling swords generally just left a very visible welt.

Xiat stepped carefully around the wide spatter of blood from a severed carotid artery, keeping to the hardwood floor. She found a dry path and crouched down close to the corpse. The slice was neat, expert. Starting just to the right of the trachea, deep and slicing to the back. "I think the killer must be left handed. And he was either lucky, or knew exactly what he was doing."

"And we're all betting on the later." The Investigator looked around carefully without moving his feet. "I think we're dealing with a professional assassin. He enters, challenges the old man, lets him grab his sword and maybe even fences with him a bit, then the lunge and slash. If he was quick, he may have even managed to walk away with minimal blood on himself."

"But why a sword fight? Why not shoot him? If a hired assassin, then the principal must have specified using a sword."

"Or the killer has more fun this way."

"Umm, yeah . . . " Xiat made a mental note to search records for murders by left handed swordsmen. Can't be many, else I'd have heard about it.

"Let's see if we can determine how he got in and out of the house." He moved carefully then, walking the circumference and examining windows. "I hate good housekeepers. Not a speck of dust. But it looks like this one has been forced." He gestured to one of the lab crew. "Get a picture of this." He examined, then opened the next window. Leaned well out. "And the marks on the outside of it, too. I think someone had a short circuiter, to get around the alarm system. Check the ground outside, not that the lawn will show anything. Then we can talk to the neighbors. Investigator Xiat? Would you go roust the spectators up the hill on the path? Warn them off the path and get their names. We'll interview them later."

***

"I suppose I should do some research on the other three fellows running for Patriarch." Ajha yawned as he loaded a plate with scrambled eggs and waffles. "Arlw, Udzi and Ozji. Surely not the J-twins grandfather? He must be over two hundred."

"Yep. Him. And is it worse to have a truly old man as patriarch, rather than a younger man with a time-consuming job in government?"

"I don't know." Ajha admitted to Imgo. "I haven't been here in so long, I doubt I should actually vote. I don't even know who the other two are, let alone any of the public stances of the three."

Imgo looked amused. "You claim to know your father's?"

"I got an exhaustive run down to parrot, in case anyone asked me what Father thought. For better or worse, they asked me what I thought."

Imgo shook his head. "You should have replied with your father's position. No wonder he was so livid."

"Livid?" Ajki yawned as he walked across to the buffet. "That was just 'putting the subordinate in his place' angry. By now he's realized what a great opportunity he has. One of the empire-wide carriers will ask him about it, and he'll proudly say that his son speaks his own mind, being a grown man, and no he doesn't agree, himself. Get himself in the news as a reasonable man who listens to other opinions. If he can manage to sound proud of the boy it'll do wonders for his cold reputation."

"Are you going to tell him that?" Ajha asked.

"Already did."

Ajha tilted his head and contemplated his Uncle. Empire news carriers? They weren't actually relevant to this convention, which meant his father and uncle were aiming at something beyond the clan. He tucked into breakfast silently. He really didn't want to have anything to do with even minor plots. He'd leave that to the old men.

Jain was looking toward the back of the house. "What is that noise? A siren?"

Ajha listened, and heard it over the audio feed of the vid system in the next room. "Downhill somewhere, I think." He shambled through the Great Room and out onto the deck. Nothing. He walked back. "Maybe it was something on the vid." He poured himself a cup of coffee. So nice to have his old favorite blend available. He'd have to stock up, take a bunch with him when he returned to the world he was studying. His staff might appreciate some good coffee from home. "What's today? Choosing reps from each family, right? To physically be on the floor of the Hall to present our votes?"

"Yep. I'm voting for Ajki."

Ajha nodded. "Good idea, make the old guy do it. No one will try anything. Although they may well wonder in private if he stacked the family votes."

"Ajha! You are a walking, talking disaster." Krazy walked past him and picked up a small fruit cup. "Maybe you should be quiet for the rest of the week."

"Now that is a good idea." Ajki bent an amused glance toward Ajha. "Doubt it'll happen."

"It's all your fault. Making me supervise all of those younger and smarter agents has developed my tongue. I've been forced to use my vastly greater experience to awe them into obedience. I've found that jumping in first and talking real fast prevents them from thinking too much. Minimizes the stupid things they do."

"All this and modesty too." Krazy finished her fruit and looked wistfully at the buffet. "If Uncle Axti is elected, I suppose we'll all become hot prospects. We need to talk him up at all the meetings. I've got a luncheon today that could be useful."

Poppy nodded. "Arlw and Udzi are the main competition. Ozji is too old to worry about."

Imgo wrinkled his nose. "Arlw is such a politician. Mind you, I don't like Zi either, but Arlw is all tied up in the Game. Hard to tell what's really there, under all the trading cards."

"Udzi's public stances make him a bit too pro war for my tastes. Not that it really matters, what with the redefinition as what will probably be the biggest issue of the next Patriarch's reign." Ajha looked over at his Boss. "Who's your second choice?"

"Fortunately I don't need one."

"Ho, confidence, first thing in the morning." Arja walked in and started a raid on the buffet. "I like someone who can breath fire when necessary. Old Oz has lost his fire and is turning into a backstabber. You better warn the Ax to not turn his back to him."

Imgo snorted. "But closer to home, what do our wives have planned for the day? Any chance of our escaping?"

Arja shook his head. "Not me. Jain's got a brunch, a luncheon, a tea, dinner and a cocktail party on her planner. Today, close family for the floor representative vote closing at midnight. Tomorrow those three women will be in full swing to get the Ax elected. I think their schedules are tentative after that. They'll want to see the poll results before they commit time to people already won over or completely hopeless."

Imgo grimaced. "That sound depressingly familiar. Nice to know their connections will work as well for us at need though, eh?"

"Oh yes. They've got a huge network." Arja glanced over at Poppy. "You need to get back to picking up husbands and contacts. Pajamas isn't that big of a disaster. Everyone knows about the Comet Fall wine, now."

Poppy nodded reluctantly.

Ajha kept his mouth closed. People fall in love. The One constantly fails to consider that. Hard to say if she wants Uzga back, or if this is all for Xen. Or perhaps someone she can't marry. Low ranked or married to someone else. He got out of the way as people came and went to breakfast or cycled through the limited number of showers and baths available. He parked himself in a corner of the Great Room and pulled up a report to start editing.

"There you are!" Mushy thumped his shoulder. "You should have come up to Aunt Zowm's. Ewmo had quite the shindig going up there. Lots of randy Serviones, you know?"

Whipper was right behind him. "Young, pretty ones, hoping for Neartuone kids to boost the next generation."

Bo snorted, somewhere behind them. "They wouldn't have wanted Ajha. His count's too low."

Mushy laughed. "How low is your count, Ajha Clostuone?"

Ajha gritted his teeth. "Two hundred five. I lack only five of a complete set, and six genes on the second."

That garnered a long silence. Beat all three of them.

Then Mushy laughed. "Yeah, we believe you."

They walked out to the deck and left the door open. They were leaning over and pointing at something. Ajha shivered a bit in the crisp breeze, but got up and walked out as well.

Between the redwoods to the southwest, he could see flashes of light. Ambulance? Police? Where were they? The next row of houses was far enough downhill to not block the ocean views of this row of houses. Something was happening in that row, at the house two south of them.

"There's a path, if you want to walk down and gawk properly." Ajha ignored the glares and headed for his room. He grabbed a jacket and walked out the glass doors and across his little private patio. The properties weren't fenced, this area was all open green space with trails, both foot and equine, running behind the lots and connecting to the streets occasionally. They slid as much as walked on redwood needles down the steep slope to the path that cut across the hill. It was sanded, raised enough to drain. Two houses south they could look down on what was apparently a crime scene. Police cars, yellow tape. A lot of police cars.

They weren't the first people to the overview. Ajha nodded politely to some neighbors he'd probably not seen in twenty years. Lady Rawl recognized him, even so.

"It's Udzi. Some one cut his throat. I heard there was blood everywhere!"

"Udzi the candidate?" Ajha wheezed a bit, and eyed the distant house. "That explains why there are so many police on hand. When did this happen?"

 
 
 
mbarkermbarker on March 8th, 2017 01:55 am (UTC)
Oh, a murder mystery! I love those! That should make the politicking more interesting...