?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
09 March 2017 @ 06:45 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 6  
 

Chapter Five

17 Safar 1407yp

Black Point Enclave, West Coast of North America

Ajha woke from the best night's sleep he had since he'd come home. "Well, it was only my third day here." He stretched and climbed off the old couch, hit his head on a roof beam, and grumbled his way down the attic stairs. Once he'd given half a bottle of joy juice to Mushy and Whipper he'd grabbed his luggage and fled.

He tiptoed past the occupied rooms and down the stairs. No scent of cooking breakfast wafted from the kitchen.

Xiat was frowning around the barren cold dining room. "I'm afraid I know what happened to the staff, last night."

"Oh. Umm, I'd better roust them out." He headed for his room, Xiat on his heels. Well, she was grown woman, she'd probably seen it all before. "My, how cozy." Mushy was curled up in bed with a blonde girl on top of him. Bo was asleep on the floor beside the other bunk, the low one of which was occupied by the cook, Maij Servaone, a distant relative and an off-and-on employee he'd known all his life. "Yikes! That must have been some party." He invaded the servant's quarters and found Whipper in bed with the older two of Maij's daughters. He bumped the bed. No response. Bumped it hard and got a single moan.

"Good grief. You lot need to get up and get breakfast going, or you'll get fired." Silence.

Xiat walked in and shook her head at the sight. "I've got the cook moaning. But I think breakfast is going to be cold, this morning."

"Yeah." I shouldn't have given them the joy juice. Drat. It'll be my fault if they get fired. He cut through the back door to the kitchen, and with a bit of hunting , found a tub of peeled and chunked fruit. A loaf of bread. He handed the bread to Xiat. "Why don't you start some toast? You look hungry." He found the little bowls the fruit was served in and filled a half dozen. Hauled them to the dining room, and put them where they belonged. Turned on the warmers and headed for the kitchen. One big frying pan for bacon, one for the diced onions. When the onions were transparent he added eggs and scrambled them, added cheese, tossed it in a serving dish, sprinkled on some of the chopped tomatoes and green onions he spotted in the fridge.

Xiat looked impressed and grabbed a stack of plates from the cabinet and helped herself. Ajha brought in the bacon, and whipped up pancake batter.

By the time a red-eyed cook staggered into the kitchen, he had their jobs secure. He touched a finger to her forehead with a pain killing spell. "Better drink a bunch of water, or it'll be right back."

"Info Leader Ajha! You can't cook!"

"Can too. I've been on my own for over fifty years now. I'm a good cook. As I recall, you taught me."

A baby crying and running feet were heard from the back.

He stayed in the kitchen, and helped with hangover cures, both magical and liquid as the maids showed up. "You guys are all pretty observant, aren't you? Who was here for dinner not last night, but the night before? The table must have been pretty unbalanced with the guys gone."

"Oh yes, not that your mother has ever been a stickler about that. But for a minute, I thought Subdirector Imgo was going to be the only man. Then Arja hustled in." Merry, Mier, was the cook's oldest daughter, probably nearly thirty. The whole family had beautiful long curly black hair.

Jiaq, better known as Jacky sniffed. "He went down to your room to see if you were there, but you'd gone off with those no-goods." Her eyes softened, though.

Had fun last night. Ajha hoped he wasn't going to regret bringing out the joy juice.

"Then he made a phone call." Maiv added. She was the youngest of the bunch.

Baef was a friend of Mier's. Her hair was blonde, with a bit of help from a bottle, long and usually braided. Nicknamed Bay after she'd beaten up the first boy that dared call her Beef. Somehow, no matter how long it had been since he'd been back, home always managed to feel like home.

"Uncle Ajki wasn't there? I wonder what he's up to? Or rather, which of his old chums he was bar crawling with."

They all giggled. Thousands of Directorate agents would boggle at the mere thought of The Director bar hopping, let alone anyone laughing about it. Clan. They never gave you the respect you deserved. Thank the One.

***

Xiat rather belatedly wondered if she ought to have eaten anything Ajha had cooked. But they'd been damned good scrambled eggs. She pulled up her mail and found an abbreviated file on Ajha's Directorate career. A note appended said that more detail could be gotten, but not without the Director finding out about it.

"Huh. He did spend six years on Comet Fall."

"The Info Leader?" The investigator looked up from his own screen.

They'd stopped for coffee and to catch up with each other's progress. Xiat tipped her screen so he could also read it. "He's been to every client World, opened two of the new Colonies. And he's been studying a ton of Worlds for the Dimensional Physics Research department. One! Jackpot! He's met the outlaw Rior and her gang. The rebel Comet Fall witches and wizards."

"Do you have his medical files?" The Investigator grinned. "There. Quarantined. The date right after his reported contact with Rior's gang. He's been contaminated with the von Neumann's maybe even genetically engineered. Ha! I though the last time he was in town he'd been going bald and gray."

Xiat nodded. "The Director must be protecting him."

"No doubt about it. Well, he was already at the top of my list of suspects. The only question is, would he have done it on his own, at the Director's order, his Father's or his grandfather's."

"We haven't a clue what the Fallen spells are capable of. Twisting personalities, perhaps an inclination to murder powerful political figures when the opportunity arises." She shifted uncomfortably. The One influences politics through assassination rather more often than I am comfortable with. Do the Fallen . . . well, the only spy we ever caught certainly wasn't an assassin, but I suspect Xen Wolfson was not an average agent.

She read a quick brief on the oldest candidate as the Investigator drove to his ridge top mansion. Ozji Withione was two hundred and fifteen years old. He looked like a Patriarch ought to look. His granddaughters Jowk and Jwok—Joke and Jay Walk—lived with him, his current wife, and a pile of servants. Like most of the One, the servants were Servaone relations. And at the moment, the house was stuffed full of relatives who lived elsewhere. No fewer than five of his ten ex-wives were in residence. Four sons, two daughter, five more grandchildren. Now, a murder in this house wouldn't be surprising at all.

A low voiced, vicious, three way verbal cat fight was going on in the front parlor as they entered. None of the three so much as glanced their way. Lady Laer floated in to greet them. She was a well kept eighty, slinky apart from an obvious pregnancy, and that got glares from the trio of exes.

"My husband will see you in his office." She led them away, through a maze of corridors and two separate stair cases. "The house was added onto about a century ago. I can't imagine what they were thinking, to not reroute some of these corridors."

"Probably these beautiful cornices. Otherwise you'd have rerouted them yourself."

She laughed. "I think you just put your finger on the reason, rather than the excuse."               

The Investigator stepped into the room. "Oz. Long time."

"Ef You! Come to arrest me?"

"In my dreams."

Xiat stayed back to watch. His subfamily, not mine, this time.

"Murder any rivals, lately?"

"Afraid not. Now if the victim had been one of my exes, or any of several of my kid's current spouses, then there's be grounds for suspicion. One! I can't piss without tripping over someone wanting to kiss up to me."

"I don't suppose you have an alibi for eleven on the night of the ninth?"

His wife snorted. "He got up, as usual after eating a meal like that! At about then. And went in search of some antacids."

"Five! Five of them bushwacked me along the route. 'Try this brand, Father.' 'Oh, no, mine is better, it will stop gas as well.' 'Careful, sir, what you take from people.' One above. All I wanted was some bicarb from the kitchen. Cook knows me, she'd left it out on the sink. Should have married that woman centuries ago."

"Anyway, what with the fuss, and Laer, here having to move into my room to make room for her sister and her new husband—loudest snorer in the multiverse—I got to tossing and turning."

"I glanced at the clock at midnight." The lady drummed her fingers. "I'm afraid I can't see any of those boot lickers actually murdering anyone, no matter how much they wanted to impress Oz."

"With your permission, I'll ask around."

The old man waved dismissively. "Do me a favor and arrest two or three of them."

Outside the office they were waylaid by the J twins. Identical. Thirty years old.

"Grandfather would not stoop to such tactics."

"He barely knew the man, Udzi didn't even live in Black Point. Why would he want to be Patriarch?"

"And Arlw and Axti are just as bad."

"Grandfather cares about the Clan!"

They attracted more attention as they gradually worked their way back to a large enough room to hold everyone. A few questions about alibis, and Xiat was able to cluster them into groups who all vouched for each other, overlapping enough to cover everyone but the servants. Unlike other houses, they were mostly long term employees, with added relatives to help out in the crush. Clean up from the banquet which had gone on till past ten had lasted until midnight.

They were out of the house surprisingly fast. "Well, he was the least likely anyway." Xiat shrugged.

"Yes, and you can't sneak out with a houseful like that. I think they made them a designated voting subclan all by themselves."

"Hmm, who are the votings reps? That vote was yesterday. Director Ajki for our family, Jay Walk for this one, Ahvi for the Ax's. Not that that's terribly important." Xiat paused. "Although when it comes to intimidation, it's hard to beat either Ajki, Ahvi, or the Ax."

"Arlw comes close." The Investigator checked the time. "Let's grab lunch and do some reading before we head over there."

Xiat started into the other mail about Ajha. The directorate contact at the Black Point Guest House—short term domicile for Clan member coming and going—in Gate Town reported that Ajha had dated several staff members casually over the decades, all female, no offspring had resulted. Gate Town police had no unsolved boy rapes overlapping Ajha's many passes through the town.

"Huh. So much for that theory. Ajha's not a homo."

The Investigator looked at her indulgently. "Can't you tell by the way he looks at you? Practically drools."

She sniffed. "He doesn't act like any of the other's his age."

"No, he's head and shoulders above the pack of younger Players. If, or more likely, when, he enters the Game, he's going to go places, and I don't care if he's labeled a Clostuone. You realize that technically a man missing a single, unimportant pair of genes would be classified as Clostuone."

"You think he's that powerful?"

"I had to Harmonize and Truth a Priest once. He reminded me of that. Be careful around him."

"Right." She turned to the next note. Xiat? Are you insane sneaking around about Ajha Clostuone? Do you realize he's testified eight times before the One and regularly briefs the Council and the President? He is, like, The expert on Comet Fall magic. And now he's practically running the whole Rescue Project, mostly from in the field, with an Action Team full of "interesting" people. Watch your step! It wasn't signed, but she knew who it was from.

"Damn." The Investigator was reading over her shoulder.

"I asked a very highly placed friend if she knew how close his relationship was to the Director. I thought it might just be family duty, not real affection. Didn't expect this."

"No wonder he's so damned confident."

"We're going to have to have a lot more than a hole in his time schedule before we arrest him. Is someone doing a search for the weapon?"

"Yes. Dogs and all that. Let me check in." He looked to his own comp and tapped open a mail. "Got it . . . jammed in the storm drain at 58 Spinnaker. That would be the house three down and across from Elwy Withione."

"Three from Aunt Zowm and Uncle Elwy's house? But, Ajha didn't go to Aunt Zowm's."

"Not openly. So, was this a deliberate plant, or did someone at that party think we wouldn't search so far abroad?"

"And what subclans are all the neighbors in? One! I'm going end up suspecting the entire Clan." She looked back at her own message. "Is this the crime of a man, not recognized by the public, yet very powerful? And what effect did the exposure to One knows what from Comet Fall have? Is he sane? Is he controlled? Have his loyalties been twisted?"

The Investigator grinned suddenly. "I feel like a character in a book, coming face-to-face with an equally fictional super villain. Let's get down to the lab and see what they have. They mentioned clothing as well."

"The blood DNA's as Udzi's, despite the sprayed on digesters. They did their work, though, we're getting nothing from the person who wore it." The head of the Scientific Investigations Unit gave a disgusted glower at the body suit. Reddish brown in three shades and black, it would have blended in with the forest day or night. The closure was to the right side of the back. "Hand made, off the shelf material, the mixed colors are spray painted on. The digesters were sprayed on the inside, before it was put on, possibly well before, and the suit sealed in an airtight bag. We've neutralized the digesters, but at the rate they were dissolving it, it hadn't been exposed to oxygen for more than thirty-six hours. As it is, there were no organic traces left, no fingerprints, no sweat stains. The sword is a standard brand of sports saber. The rolled tip was clipped off at an angle, the lower edge honed to a razor thinness from the clipped point and down two inches."

"Not even a dueling sword, which we might have found a record of." The Investigator looked disgusted. "Cheap and disposable, hence the storm drain."

"The body suit was wrapped around it. The digesters would have affected it, starting in another two days, best guess, dissolved the thin blade, but probably not the hilt. As it is, they took off any organic traces. So no fingerprints, and even the blood on the outside of the suit, well, most of it was beyond analysis. Just lucky some remained on the left cuff where it must have been thickest."

The Investigator nodded. "If it wasn't sprayed separately, that makes it more likely that the suit was sprayed well before use. We'll still run a search for the digester, and the cloth, the paint, and who's bought any such thing recently."

Xiat touched her own throat. "He knew exactly what he was doing, didn't he?"

Doctor Agzu nodded. "Just a swipe wasn't good enough, he had to lunge in just a bit to hit the artery. Find yourself a master swordsman."

"Anything else?"

"There were no nicks, bruises or touches on the body, the clothing, nor, as far as we can tell, on this body suit . . . the fight was very brief."                             

They stared at the sword unhappily.

"I'll search for sports records for any of the bunch of suspects. But I suspect we'll need to look into more recent activities as well." The Investigator turned toward the door.

"Yes. In High School, Bo and Ajha were on the fencing team, but everyone their age who has political ambitions takes up fencing. In the mean time, we're about to be late for an appointment with Arlw Withione."

Arlw had a small home, usually vacant as he spent most of his time in Paris or on government business elsewhere. The Minister of Agriculture was austere and remote. His current wife wasn't Black Point and hadn't bothered to come. They'd been married four years, like as not they were already negotiating the divorce. His staff of three—Secretary, valet, and chauffeur was currently augmented with a temporary cook and two maids, as well as the five man Council Guard.

The evening of the ninth, he'd been closeted with four other men, discussing various strategies. The others had departed an hour after midnight.

"Short and succinct." The Investigator sighed. "I think we should have another talk with the Info Leader."

***

"So Mier and Bay have both been trying to catch Imgo's eye? Have they succeeded?" Ajha eyed his investigators. They didn't look too hung over, but then they'd only just finally made it out of bed.

Whipper snickered. "Bay says she 'accidentally' encountered him between the bedroom and the bathroom the night of the ninth, after dinner, so about eleven. He wasn't interested, but she followed him all the way back to his room and then skulked about, in hopes he'd change his mind. So I don't think he did it."

Ajha nodded. "And Jain and Arja are in the room across the hall, so she'd have noticed if Arja was up and about. And the windows are high, for privacy, with a straight drop of about fourteen feet to the front lawn, where any nosy neighbors would have seen them. Oh well. So, fill me in on Aunt Zowm's servants. How many has she got, right now?"

"A cook and three maids."

"Huh. Out numbered them, didn't you?"

"Oh man, there was one who was collecting, you know?"

Mushy grinned. "She went through us new ones one after another. You should have seen the surprised look on Bo's face when she dragged him off to her room."

Ajha couldn't keep from grinning. "Bo? The Hot Meat?"

"Well, I wasn't much paying attention, seeing as how I was collecting, too. But I didn't see much of him until . . . well, there at the end we were all done. Busted. Limp. And damned if Bo didn't come staggering in from the bathroom and manage it one more time. In front of everyone. He must not have drunk as much as I did."

Whipper disagreed. "I think the women just ignored him, and he rested up in the middle of the party."

"Ah, but did you see him resting up?"

Uncertain head shakes.

"All right. I need you guys to go bar hopping. Brag about your Uncle Ajki, and see if anyone mentions seeing him out drinking that night."

"Bar hopping. Cousin, I could get to liking this investigation stuff. You're paying, right?" Mushy was perking back up.

Ajha handed over a cash card. They trooped off to gleefully spend every credit of it. Did he need to double check Aunt Zowm's household? Not really. Whipper and Mushy simply weren't assassin material. What about his grandfather's? He knew everyone; Grandfather had a chauffeur, a cook and three maids to keep up with the oversized museum he lived in alone. Father travelled with a Council Guard detachment, generally an officer and four men. His personal secretary and another flunky who spent most of his time talking to the Paris office and making sure the Ax got the information he needed and wasn't bothered by anything else. He'd never married after divorcing Kiaj, Ajha had heard the usual rumors about dates and mistresses, never laid eye on any such.

He called the secretary. "Jason. Ajha. I'm arranging my schedule; if my father wants me present for anything I'd appreciate knowing about it in advance."

The man's infuriating upper class Parisian drawl came back quickly. "We have you tentatively penciled in for a reception on the opening day. Tomorrow."

"And tentatively penciled out if that would be more politic?"

"Of course. Eleven, after the opening speeches."

"Right." One! Who'd have thought I'd ever want to be on casual dropping in basis with my own father?

He gave up and flipped on the big vid and requested the news, from the top.

The President was giving out prizes for a science contest.

The Council was arguing about how much money they could spend to annihilate Comet Fall.

Poppy and Krazy stuck their heads in, and then joined him.

The Philosopher of the One was recommending calm and prayer before battle.

The First Alternate Philosopher was suggesting that they needed to understand the Comet Fall Gods before they attacked, and if they were too strong, isolate the world instead of attacking.

Ajki wandered in and sat with a huff. "You know him, don't you Ajha?"

"Yeah. He used to be even scarier. How many alternate philosophies do we have now? Three?"

"Not yet. When the Third one appears, the One will have to consider a Great Debate."

Another Priest suggested that they should cut all ties with the Embassy network, and depend only on Gates they made themselves.

"He's a follower of the Second Alternate Philosopher."

A Spokesperson for the Council suggested that the One needed to add some Priests and Princesses with economic training before starting a war.

"Maybe that's the third one."

"Too sensible." Ajki snorted.

"Right. So *The* Philosopher is an aggressive expansionists. The First Alternate is a Wary Expansionist. The Second Alternate is an Isolationist. I think Fiscally Sensible would be just fine for the last one, myself."

"There's a reason I send you across so often, for so long."

"And I really appreciate it, Uncle Boss."

A ten year old girl with a suitcase held off an Action Team for three hours until it was determined the suitcase contained only dolls and doll clothing.

"Better recruit her." Ajha murmured.

Ajki glared. "And assign her to your team, tamer of the Fiend?"

"I didn't tame her. I befriended her."

"Tamed. She's polite to complete strangers now. Until they piss her off."

The drought in southern Patagonia was being illegally relieved by corridoring water from the flood stage Mississippi. Ecologists were having fits. The Farmer's Combine of lower Patagonia was denying all knowledge of the water transfer. While diverting it into their extensive irrigation network.

Ajki scratched his chin. "Damn. Never thought of using corridors for that. But how did they transport a corridor?"

"Stuck to a piece of paper, folded up in a pocket, while they took a plane to wherever they're picking up the water." Ajha grinned. "Leaving the other end in Patagonia, of course."

His uncle turned a glower his direction.

"They aren't three dimensional things. There's no drag, inertia, weight, mass, or momentum. One Membrane I visited has a corridor to the Moon. Inside a pressurized dome, of course."

The Director turned away from a fire on the screen. "I heard about that. Sounds insane. What about the Earth rotating every day? Doesn't that mess it up?"

"Yeah. They replace it every three months or so. They've got one on the way to Mars. It connects to a whopper of an airlock on the Moon, in a special isolated dome."