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11 March 2017 @ 07:22 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 8  
 

***

Xiat spotted the four guys in the Great Room, and slipped out the front door to circle the house. Ajha's patio was fifteen foot wide, the width of his room. The sliding glass door was a bit to the left of centered, as she faced it. The left half did the sliding, and had been open when she searched the room. The drapes had covered the rest. Ajha could very easily have been sitting right there, in that reclining canvas chair, and awake or asleep, she'd never have seen him unless she stepped outside. Which she hadn't.

She looked downhill. The houses on the next street were offset enough that they didn't intrude on the view down the hill. Xiat half slid down to the path, and looked back up. Someone down here might have seen him. A rider, up higher on a horse would have been more likely to spot him. And anyone in dark clothing skulking about. But who rode at ten at night? Or later. Even with the moon almost full. Would Jioh even rent one of her horses out so late? She followed the path north, crossed the street and kept going, a path branched and headed lower, for the stables.

The unremitting rains of the previous weeks had turned the soft dirt of the arena into a swamp. Jioh had her students walking a circuit in the stable's parking lot. About the only lighted, level, and reasonably drained spot around. Xiat joined her in the middle. "This must be inconvenient."

"I kept waiting for the arena to dry enough to get the tractor in and regrade it, add sand . . . and it kept raining." The old woman had been an Olympic champion in her youth. "I'm raking in the money, renting horses during the day, but that only works if my regular students' lessons shift to twilight. But the conference will be over in another few days and then I can move my lessons back to sensible hours. If it weren't for the moonlight, I wouldn't be able to get any riding in, myself. But the moonlight should hold out long enough for the conference to end."

"Moonlight? Do you take to the trails after dark?"

"Of course. Can't do a thing here. And Xurug is too old to do anything but lollop along anyway."

"The night of the ninth. Did you by any chance go south, across Hill Street?"

"Toward the murder, you mean? I saw you on the vid, playing assistant cop. I did, but there was nothing. Well, parties in a few of the houses." She turned to her students and raised her voice. "Are they all cooled out? Good. Head for the barn."

"Could I ride with you, tonight? And go over the same ground?"

Her old instructor cocked her head. "I always knew you wouldn't stick with the horses, that you'd develop different ambitions. Certainly. Let me get these kids out of the way first."

Xiat helped put the saddles up, and then followed Jioh to the last two stalls. "You still have Nasi? I can be mistaking that blaze."

"Yep. My old gal. By the time I stopped showing her, she was too old to breed. I tried, but she didn't take. I still keep my eyes open for collateral relatives of both of them. They're both so old I should . . . but then I keep hearing about these Comet Fall spells."

"I don't know anything about them, but I know someone who does. I'll bring him down, before we all go our separate ways again."

"Hmm, that'll quash all my dreams, won't it?" She handed Xiat a saddle and turned to the gelding in the next stall. "Usually I ride them on alternate nights. They'll enjoy getting out together."

"There was a dignified party at that house—clinking glasses and conversation." Jioh waved at the corner house as they padded along the path. The houses to their left, uphill, would face out onto Spinnaker. Aunt Zaom's house was on the other side of Spinnaker, fourth of the generously spaced homes. "The moon was almost full, instead of just past. And I was out just a bit earlier, but it was still a bit higher in the sky."

"It's quiet and peaceful. I can see why you like to ride at night."

She snorted. "You should have heard the parties last night! All these young men, thinking they are quite something, with their low paying government jobs, thinking they're Players. The girls they grew up with won't be seen in public with them, and the lower class girls just call them meat. The parties are a disgrace. I loved them, when I was younger. Now I'm old and cynical." The old gelding turned uphill with a grunt. The trail ran beside a little creek, between two houses and across Spinnaker.

"This just a little loop, isn't it?"

"Oh yes, the old beasties can't do the long trails anymore."

Across Spinnaker the trail kept heading uphill, angling a bit to the south to lower the grade of the climb. They crossed the next street, Jib, where Udzi had lived. Up further, then they turned north. This was the part of the trail that ran behind Udzi's house on the west and Aunt Kiaj's house on the eastern, uphill side.

"Any parties along here? On the ninth?"

"Didn't hear a peep. That's Udzi's down there, isn't it?"

"Yep. And I'm staying with distant relatives, just up there."

Jioh glanced up and smiled just a bit. "No meat snoozing in the moonlight tonight. If I'd been younger I'd have been tempted to try a magic kiss."

Xiat stopped her horse. Between the trees, the slope was open, the sliding marks of the foot traffic up and down obvious in the moon light. "Could you see if anyone had been up or down the slope, then?"

Jioh backed her horse up a bit. "No. I was being a bit silly, thinking about magic kisses. And I told myself to be serious, that slope would be slick as anything, damp ground and needles from the trees. I told myself the Princess would be all over mud before she got up there and probably out of the mood."

"Would you recognize the man?"

"No, the moon wasn't overhead yet, only his legs were out where you could really see them."

A silhouette stuck his head out the door. "Hello?"

Xiat raised her voice. "Bo? Is Ajha around?"

"Yeah, want me to get him?"

"If he's not doing anything important."

A moment later Ajha walked out onto the patio. "Riding by moonlight? Very romantic."

Xiat snorted. "We were talking, Horsemaster Jioh has two elderly champion horses. Do you know if the Comet Fall rejuvenation spells work on horses?"

"Oh yeah. Frighteningly well. Umm, I have some filtered stuff, no assemblers, let alone von Neumann's allowed. I don't know if it works as well as the original. Would you like to try them?"

Jioh cleared her throat. "Yes."

"Is this them? I'll nip up to the attic if you want. I hid my stash so it didn't get drunk in mistake for regular wine."

"Sure."

Ajha ducked inside.

Mushy and Whipped slid down the slope. They didn't even look disappointed when they were close enough to discern the Horsemaster's age in the moonlight.

"Is this your Olympic horse?"

Of course, Jioh was famous.

"Both of them. Nasi from '82 and Xurug from '86."

"I didn't know horses lived that long."

"Most of them don't. These two are ancient."

Ahja reappeared, and slid down carefully, a mixing bowl from the kitchen in his hands. The horses whiffed at it. Nasi stuck her nose in and drank. Ajha got it away from her and offered it to Xurug. He slurped up the rest and licked the bowl.

"I doubt it'll have the extreme effect of the original, but it'll be interesting to see how much it helps. Huh. Maybe I can sell peace with Comet Fall with a promise to save all the old pets."

"You are too weird. " Bo scowled. "Why peace? Scared you're going to die?"

"People do tend to, in wars." Ajha pointed out.

"Not people like us." Whipper looked disgusted.

"One! Do you really think the Multitude is going to fight for us, if we keep up these stupid attitudes? Go back to the founding documents. They declared everyone equal before the law and government. They sought to concentrate the power of the One to strengthen the whole, not create a detached elite. The status games we Oners play are bad enough, how we treat the Multitude is insupportable. Why the hell should they fight and die over an insult to our Oneness?"

"Got it!" The new voice was gloating. "That was priceless!"

Xiat squinted into the darkness and spotted the form, the over sized vidcamm on the shoulder . . . Ajha is toast.

The Newsie retreated hastily, as if expecting pursuit.

Nasi tossed her head and pranced. The boys retreated from the hooves.

"I'll come by the stable tomorrow and check them, if you don't mind." Ajha started up the slope.

"Thank you." Jioh sounded a bit stunned. She turned Xurug and Xiat followed.

"Where did you find him?"

"Remember when the Ax divorced his wife over a Clostuone baby? That was Ajha. Apparently he's making a career of affronting people."

"And he's damned good at it." They cut down hill and into the dark stable yard.

Xurug neighed, waking horses and getting neighs in return. Nasi danced around and actually reached out and nipped him.

Jioh laughed. "None of that, Miss. At least his tonic seems to be sound, whatever his odd philosophy."

Xiat snorted, and unsaddled the mare, brushed her and sneezed in a blizzard of hair. "Maybe he should call it instant shed tonic." In the flood lights the chestnut mare gleamed. "I'll come by tomorrow too, so you can kill me if he's poisoned them or something." She led Nasi down the row and put her back into her stall.

"See you tomorrow. Behave, Xurug!" Jioh towed the gelding away from another, his ears pinned back. "Starting fights at your age!"



Chapter Seven

18 Safar 1407yp

Black Point Enclave, West Coast of North America

"As if we didn't have enough problems already!" Arja turned and glared at Ajha.

Ajha looked up at the vid screen. The night dark forest made an excellent dramatic backdrop. Horses milling, and Ajha in the moonlight, the light level enhanced by the news producer, declaiming on the meaning of the founding documents. "Oh. Dear. One."

The screen switched back to the station's news room. "The One is said to be sending an examiner. In other news . . . "

Ajha walked off to find breakfast. He rather thought he was going to need at least one good meal today.

He was halfway through an omelet when his father stalked into the room. Leaned on the table and stared at him. "Do you realize what is happening?" His voice was soft, almost conversational.

"I hope I'm wrong in what I'm trying hard to not think about."

"I . . . am not sure what I hope." His father stared at him, baffled. "Seventy years ago, I did what was expected of me automatically, not even thinking about it. My father was so furious about your test results that I didn't stop to think how I felt, let alone Kiaj. I think it took a week for the reality to sink in, and I've cursed myself ever since."

"Isn't seventy years long enough to curse? Maybe it's time you did something about it instead. Go tell Mother your regrets."

The tough old man straightened. "I should have . . . I'm sorry . . . "

"Yes. Well. In the next few years you may be glad of that life long repudiation."

"No. I won't."

"Brace yourself, then."

The old man nodded and walked out.

Imgo and Fibber had been watching in disbelief.

"He apologized? The Ax?"

Jain leaned to look out the doorway. "He's going to her room!"

Imgo looked back at Ajha. "That was rather elliptical. What was he talking about?"

"Oh. I've been spouting off rather a lot lately. The birds will be coming home to roost shortly." Ajha pushed away from the remains of breakfast and fled the house. The streets weren't much better. People kept turning and looking at him. He took to the trails and wound up at the stables. Jioh was just sending a batch of early riders off.

"The lower pasture is dry enough. I'm going to turn the oldsters out, let them get some sunshine in before the next storm." She walked away, returning a few minutes later with the prancing mare. "Look at her coat! Over night! Why aren't we selling this joy juice stuff?"

"Because it's from Comet Fall, so we automatically consider it bad." Ajha leaned on the fence and watched the mare run to the end of the paddock, wheel and run back, stopping midway to buck and kick.

"Stupid. Can it make me feel like that?"

"Yep." Ajha turned his head and spotted the newsie filming them. He turned and addressed the camera directly. "This is an elderly horse, given a dose of Comet Fall Joy Juice last night. As you see, she's feeling much invigorated. We should be testing these new therapies, not automatically rejecting them."

Jioh came back a few minutes later, towed by her other elderly horse. Ajha opened the gate for her. I really ought to warn her . . . But this is going to really impress a whole bunch of old men. Xurug bucked and kicked and raced off with the mare.

"Jioh, how old are these horses?"

"Nasi is thirty-four, she's the oldest horse I've ever owned. Xurug is thirty-one." She addressed her comment half to the newsie's vid camm.

The spectators gather behind the Newsie were pointing and laughing.

"How old was he when he was gelded?"

"Four years old, I like to wait until their bones are fully mature." Jioh frowned and turned to see what everyone was pointing at. "Holy S . . ." She clapped her hand across her mouth.

"That's the reason they call it Joy Juice."

Ajha managed to slip away while Jioh was out catching her amorous equines.

***

Xiat found the Investigator in the Commadante's office, watching the news.

The Investigator glanced over. "We have been informed that a number of officials are on their way from Makkah. When I asked if I should lock Ajha up so he doesn't injure himself, they declined. I hope you don't like this guy, the penalty for treason against the One is a long, slow death." He waved at the screen, and Xiat stepped around to where she could see it. "The Multitude is waking up and cheering this guy. Xiat . . . there's another possibility."

"Don't say it. Maybe he's just a fruitcake."

"In my dreams." The Investigator led her off to his office and they read each other's reports and scanned the negatives coming in about purchases of sword, cloth, paint and garbage digesters.

Then they accompanied the procession to the train station, and bowed and scraped even deeper than they had planned as the priests stepped out. The Philosopher of the One and both the First and Second Alternative Philosophers followed. With lots of people buzzing around them.

They drove straight to Kiaj's house. The woman was nearly stuttering, and the Ax was right behind her.

Ajha was in the Great Room.

"The One requires you to drop your shields." The spokesman didn't bother with introductions or other preambles.

Ajha swallowed and started glowing as he opened up. And up. Xiat looked away, but it wasn't a physical light. It drilled into her soul, and showed her his. A vast soul. Warm and accepting. Curious and full of wonder and a bubbling joy. Seeing the Worlds, clear eyed. Seeing people, societies. Judging but not rejecting. Firm in his criteria, unwavering in his course.

Other souls opened, three others. One was deep and heavy, filled by the support of the People. The others were weighted as well, but to a lesser degree. And now she saw Ajha's aura sag and deepen as the combined subconscious of the People of Power, who, united, were the One, considered him. If they shifted, the balance of power would be changed. Before her were all the pride and arrogance of the One. And the canny wariness of an elite that that had fought its way to the top and was going to stay there. And also the urge to withdraw, and find safety in isolation. And something else. Curiosity, openness, reaching out beyond fear and pride. Something alive and young and new.

When those mental lights finally dimmed, Xiat was leaning weakly on the wall. She had no idea how much time had passed. Dimmly she could hear voices. She mopped tears from her face.

"Welcome, Philosopher."

"But I am not a Priest."

"That doesn't matter."

"I've taken Fallen potions, changed my genetics. I am not worthy of this status."

"The One accepts you. That is all that is important. We will leave you here to settle your affairs. Join us when you will."

Xiat blinked and almost managed to focus on the procession walking by.

The door closed behind them. After a long silence, she finally heard Ajha's voice.

"You know, I was really hoping for a brain tumor."

Oh yeah. You just lost the job you loved, everyone you know is going to treat you differently, and . . . you're going to be out there in very public view espousing a very unpopular view. Every word you say is going to be broadcast, dissected, analyzed and misinterpreted.

Damn near every high Oner is going to hate your guts.

Yeah, I can see where a life threatening disease would have been a relief.



 
 
 
John B. ConnellJohn B. Connell on March 12th, 2017 01:46 am (UTC)
Ive seen this before, so this last part doesn't surprise me, but for someone reading it for the first time, the introduction of the philosophers might seem abrupt. maybe sprinkle a few more comments about the philosophers throughout the earlier parts?