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17 March 2017 @ 08:01 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 14  
 

"Poppy?" He prodded her back to the subject.

"When she regained consciousness in the hospital, she told us about Uzga giving her the pill, telling her it was a hallucinogen. She didn't trust him. When he said to give it Ajha, she crushed the pill and took less than half. The rest of the pill was gone, by the time the Investigator and I thought to look for it. Ajha's personal dragon, Fean, ordered out a full chemical hazard sweep through the house and hauled Ajha away. Do you have any data on her? She was . . . very competent."

Izzo snorted. "She got halfway through the Princess school, said they were disgusting perverts and she had better things to do with her life than seduce idiots. She entered the Cross Dimensional Studies track at university, then the Directorate's college, then joined a new Information Team in the field under Ajha Clostuone. Apparently she was a disaster in her intern positions and very rude to the counselor about putting her under a Clostuone. Three years later, still on his team, she took maternity leave following an encounter with Rior's gang and that Fallen Joy Juice. Twins, a boy and a girl, both Withione with a few extra Fallen power genes. When the Helaos attacked, she dropped the babies in her mother's lap and headed out to back up Ajha as he scouted out the merge zone, and she was with him holding the Merge Center and afterwards very often went with him on the raids. At the moment, she's finishing up a PhD on some obscure magic technique at the University here. She still technically a Directorate Agent, on educational leave, and now seconded to the Third Alternate Philosopher. I checked, she was on camm in the college when Udzi was killed."

"Damn. Twins?"

"Yeah." His eyes glinted a bit as he looked over at her. "I've got to get some of that stuff."

"Feeling brave, eh? Well, with the end of the convention, all the actors have gone home, most of them to Paris. So here I am."

"And the question is, are we investigating a move in the Game after a success, or a failure. Are subsequent actions just cleanup, or is there still ongoing action?" Izzo fished in his pocket for a toothpick and chewed on it. His sole bad habit. Besides, perhaps, me.

"I've been assuming all along that this was an internal War Party power play. But Ajha is going to change cross dimensional policies, possibly drastically. This may have started with a vicious bit of 'Who wins the prize of another title and who kneels to swear loyalty' between Arlw and the Ax. But the War Party is going to get very active, once Ajha gets up to speed. The question is, what is the Ax going to do, if he has to choose between the party and his son?"

"You think Ajha's going to be Pacifist?" Izzo shook his head.

"Not pacifist, not that way. No, Ajha just wants us to stop being rabid aggressors for no real reason other than winning points in our Game. When we were attacked by the Helios, Comet Fall threw all their resources behind the Disco effort. What percentage of the population really wants to turn around and declare war on them?"

"They attacked us."

"They retaliated For our attack on them with a pinpoint exact destruction of the underlying problem. Tell me. What can't you do, any more? Have you lost power, magically or politically? If no one had told you you'd just lost six of the Prophet's genes, would you have noticed?" She started taking down her mental barriers as she walked across to his chair. "Do I glow less?"

***

"My first protesters. I'm so thrilled." Ajha was watching the demonstration outside his office tower on the vidscreen. Any attempt to do so at close range would have triggered the poor guards' protective reflexes, and he really didn't want to be dragged home by the scruff of his neck.

"Yep. Told you your Time Line was going to catch everyone's attention. Now, which bit of evidence do we send out first?"

"The Action Team in Ash. Have you done a reconstruction from the recorders?"

"Yep. It's all ready."

"Put it up, then. I can challenge the First Alternate Philosopher to comment upon it. Usse won't lie, but he's completely self controlled, he won't give me any ammunition. Pity he's a Priest. Testosterone is so good at freeing the temper and the tongue. And Idre and Egto can testify as to how accurate the reconstruction is. Poor idiots, probably give them nightmares. Again."

"Heh. What those teenage girls did to a double Team gave me nightmares, and I didn't see it in person, and didn't know any of the people."

***

"You told me fourteen years ago I was too high to not be playing the Game."

Xiat nodded, curled comfortably into the angle of chest and arm. "Took you this long to agree with me?"

He sighed. "This long to realize that being Mr. Loner with a Princess girlfriend wasn't going to work. Mother has been introducing me to women who would make suitable wives."

She winced. "They changed the rules, for Priest candidacy. Any sons of yours will have the right to refuse."

"Yes. Both the parents have been pressuring me, since."

"I'm not the kind of Princess that arranges parties."

"Are you the type that makes arrangements of the other sort? I've always wondered if you were the Mr. Loner version."

She sat up indignantly. "We met back when you were a lowly Senior Analyst, way too junior to be assigned to a Princess."

"I know. But in the dark hours of the night, I have some awfully cold and lonely thoughts."

"Well, as soon as you marry into the Game, I'm sure the school will send someone. Then you can kick yourself for ever doubting the depths of my total devotion and slavish love." She flounced out of bed and walked over to the window. The one way glass covered the wall, floor to ceiling. Thirty floors up. She always felt like she was flying. "I'm going to hate it. I'm going to absolutely hate it. Maybe I'll transfer. A different Region, or the External Directorate."

"I always knew that if you killed me, it would be because I needed killing, not for some stupid political paranoia. I don't want a different Princess, I want you." He followed her, wrapped himself around her. "I love you. I can't believe I'm having this cold blooded conversation with you."

"Bah. Everyone knows men like you marry and divorce routinely. No emotions allowed. Unless you fall in love with your Princess Watchdog, like in some damned lovers' tragedy, ending with the man murdered and the princess killing herself in remorse."

"Wrong story plot, I'm too alert to be killed."

"Bah. I'd poison your damned toothpicks, Mr. Easy."

"Oh. Now that's not nice! Now I'll never be able clean my teeth without wondering if I'm about to die."

"You don't clean your teeth, which would be disgusting. You chew on them to give yourself an excuse to take the time to think before speaking. I'll bet your dentist has something to say about it."

"Hey, that's confidential, between me and my dentist!"

"Or if you want to affront some High Class Oner with your Hick Colonial bad habits. And don't think I don't notice the traces of Homestead accent showing up when you really want to irritate someone."

"I . . . don't watch my speech around you."

"Yeah, but that isn't so much an accent as a lack of faking a Parisian accent."

"Me? Ape my betters?" He unwound himself and retreated to the bed.

She snickered and followed him. "Some might even call it parodying your opponents. So, tell me Mr. New Player, what are Arlw and the Ax going to do now? What about any other powers in the War Party? The Director's kind of bowed out, not made any moves for years. Are there any up and coming hot shots—besides yourself—who might start something? Or are they going to focus outward and foment this war with the Fallen? What are you going to do?"

"Yeash. I'm too new to be moving up. I'll need to be collecting allies. With, damn it, a sensible marriage. Join a better fencing club. Fence more often. More aggressively." He shoved pillows up against the head of the bed, and leaned on them. "Ajki has just made a clear move in the Game. Backing the Ax. Just that is enough to give the Ax a major boost. Right now, everyone's so unsettled about the Third Prophet that they aren't sure if Ajha's a plus or minus for a War Party leader. It's a bit hard to reconcile what he says with his record. I wonder if their heads will explode?

"But Ajki, now there's a definite, legitimate, target. Look for Arlw to hit out in his direction. The Ax's next best move would be for Ajha to settle down as at least a neutral influence, and preferably a positive. Ajha's not really a pacifist. If The Ax can get that across, and show a definite split between his leadership—war when necessary, never for its own sake, never for 'points' for the 'Oners Game' then make Arlw look like a rabid dog, biting anyone and anything over the faintest excuse . . . Damn. I like this picture. You should go visit your Uncle Ajki and find out if I'm right. And point out my brilliant reasoning, if I'm not."

"And pick up a few points yourself? Good thinking, so long as your own boss doesn't start seeing you as a threat to him."

"Point. And there really isn't another Department or Directorate I could move to, to go around him."

She nodded. "Too many Players, and they'd all think you'd either just stolen their promotion or were planning on stealing the next open Minister's position."

"As indeed I would be, except I'd be low on seniority everywhere but here."

"Want to dethrone your boss?"

"No. I was planning on being just strong enough to be the obvious replacement when he retires, which should be in about ten years."

"And getting cozy with the Ax is way too strong a move. Especially as an opening move." She paced, restless. Heartsick. "Do you think you could ask Director Efge for advice? Mention specifically that you anticipate supporting him until he retires?"

He shrugged. "One of the unspoken rules are that we never negotiate openly."

She shook her head. "Thank the One I wasn't considered qualified to get into that mess." She walked into the shower and tried to empty her mind under the steaming water. She'd always known he'd move on. Swim or die was the other unspoken rule. He'd accumulated a working reputation next to none. Time to move to the social arena, then on to the political. "I won't be a part of the social posturing. I won't." He'll marry someone, and I don't share well. He'll divorce her, marry again. Get cynical about women. More cynical. Then he'll have children. They've changed the rules, he can dare to have children now. And I still can't. So he'll leave. This hurts too much. Bad enough he thinks I keep an eye on him for the One.

She dried off, found a robe and followed cooking odors to the kitchen. "If you end up retiring in utter disgrace, I'll hire you as my housekeeper. Deal?"

"Deal. So. My first inclination is to keep a very, very low profile. Shopping for a wife, not marrying yet. Mentioning something to an ally of the Ax's, but not talking directly, nor actively aiding. Let's face it. This year is going to be full of adjustments. I need to lean toward one side, but not overcommit, because they could lose. Spectacularly."

"A year. Yes. An excellent idea." She blinked back tears. Dug into a steak, perfectly seasoned, cooked just the way she like it. Fresh, real vegetables. Fresh fruit sections. "Of course, the man who brings down Director Axti or Minister Arlw will leap into prominence."

"Is that a suggestion for me to watch for or to do?"

"Or suggest to the Director. Perhaps he'd like to be President for a few years before he retires. In fact presidents tend to stay well past the usual retirement age."

He sat down and stared over her head. "That would work nicely, wouldn't it. The Ax and Arlw are both a bit damaged right now. A power play from the third leader of the war party could be decisive." He sliced into his own steak. Chewed and swallowed. "When did we move from solving crimes to using them to our advantage?"

"When we moved to Paris. Decades ago."

He stared at his plate for a long moment. "Just because he's been passive for several years doesn't mean he's quit forever. I'll try to subtly determine if he's inclined to leap back into the Game."

"Mind you, I still want to catch the principal, whoever it is. But politically, if Efge wants back into the Game, he will need some sort of power play, quickly."

"A demonstration of his leadership, while Arlw and the Ax are floundering around playing at petty politics."

"Something at least federal. Possibly dimensional." She savored a slice of fresh peach. Looked for another. Playing the Game. One help me.

"I love you."

"I know."



Chapter Thirteen

22 Safar 1407yp

New York, North America

"No. I'm saying that in the course of exploring that World, we decided to kill the native magic users, as they might make our naked theft of a World from its inhabitants difficult. They did nothing to deserve being killed, apart from existing. A village of one hundred and twenty-eight souls. Twenty-four of them children. Forty-two of them teenagers. Of the sixty-two adults, over thirty were visibly old. Only thirteen of the adults were men." Ajha smiled at the vid show hostess. "Makes us look like brutes, doesn't it? What I wonder is, what were our superiors thinking? If they were a threat, surely they should have sent more than a over-sized double Action Team. But if they were so weak that eighteen men could annihilate them, then they weren't really a threat, were they."

"But, they were a threat. They killed, hideously, that entire Action Team." The pretty thing looked wide-eyed and innocent.

He wasn't fooled. "Yes. A dire miscalculation on our part, all around. They killed the people who attacked them, and went back to their usual routine. They didn't strike back, didn't hunt down the Post in Karista, didn't declare war on our ally Auralia, or even make diplomatic demands that we be kicked out of Fascia. They simply went back to their lives." He looked over at her. "And we staged an attack on Earth out of there, left them holding the bag, so to speak. Not that Earth didn't know who was behind it, but we made sure that if the Earth could track the gate connections back, they would find only Comet Fall, not The One World. The Dimensional location of the One World is still our best kept secret. Only Comet Fall has ever found us." He leaned forward. "And they have never given our location to anyone. Ever."

"That alone makes them dangerous!" She was sitting, straight and alarmed. Hadn't this occurred to her?

"Indeed. Stronger magic than ours. Able to make low energy Gates. They have critical information they could easily give to Earth." He sat back. "Funny isn't it? They've never told our worst enemy how to find us. Not even after we discovered the far side of one of their experimental gates, and attacked them through it. It's almost like they want to de-escalate the situation, as if they want peace. We arrested a student from there, accused her of murder, for what was known to be an accidental death. When Xen snatched her from the executioner, we infiltrated a team into Comet Fall and attempted to kidnap her. They returned the team in a rather interesting fashion, then retaliated by removing the genes that caused the instability, the disgraceful rape statistics of Oners. Do you realize that rape statistics have nose dived? They're down to less than ten percent of the number reported before the bioattack. That's got to be the strangest 'attack' yet."

"They took six of my genes!" That burst out, full of fury, spontaneous.

"What abilities have you lost?" Ajha let the silence lengthen a bit, then stood up and walked out to the edge of the stage set. The light crew wised up and brought up the lights on the audience. "Have you lost anything? Anyone?" For this low brow entertainment, they were mostly Multitude, with a selection of Halfers and Servaones.

"Would you like to gain something? The Fallen genetic engineering can extend your life, give you back your youth. Yes, you can live as long as a Princess. They can cure cancer, heal wounds as fast as the medgician in the hospital. Change the color of your hair, cure baldness. He ran his hands though his shaggy locks. "Those last two I can attest to. Here's my official directorate photograph from three years ago. Gray hair, receding hairline. Bald spot.

"WHY THE HELL DO WE KEEP ATTACKING THESE PEOPLE?"

He let the echoes die. "Are we just so full of hate we need to kill? Are there so few Empty Worlds that we need to steal the ground out from under people? Do we actually need slave labor? Us? The pinnacle of evolution and we can't make machines to do the dangerous, tedious stuff?                                                  

"There. Is. No. Reason. For. War."

***

"Your old school chum is going to be lucky to survive his first month as Philosopher."

 
 
 
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 17th, 2017 03:24 pm (UTC)
= Third Prophet => +Third Alternate Philosopher+
ekuah on March 17th, 2017 03:35 pm (UTC)
This is after No Confidence, right?
The gene replacement potions are already offered.
Why don't Ahja mention them?

Btw.
I have an idea about those genes.
Couldn't the Cometfall engineers create nonfunktional variations of those genes? Like those nonfunktional purple gene?

With that, the Oner could get their gene-insertions-count-status restored, but without those downside effects.
matapampamuphoff on March 17th, 2017 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: This is after No Confidence, right?
Because I wrote this years ago. Continuity errors like this are one of the reasons I'm resnippetting.

As for the non functional . . . the first three-quarters of these books were written before "epigenics" were discovered. I'm trying to slide them in carefully where they won't jar too badly with the early books. So at some point I am planning on having Xen offer to turn the genes off.

But the replacement genes have to be working copies or the issue will just get worse.

Edited at 2017-03-17 06:06 pm (UTC)
ekuah on March 17th, 2017 06:32 pm (UTC)
Re: This is after No Confidence, right?
I didn't want to criticize you.
I just wasn't sure if I stumbled over a continuity issue, or if I mixed just something up.

About epigenics and things that weren't discovered when you first wrote the books:
Sometimes people (in books) can be just ignorant to obvious solutions. (Like we real people too)
See the corridors. Just make bubble with two entrances, and you have a shortcut to places hard to reach before. It's a logical solution.

About the replacement genes: You maybe right with that, the Oners might react badly to such tinkering.
(Okay, you are right anyway, because you are the boss ;-)
matapampamuphoff on March 17th, 2017 07:17 pm (UTC)
Re: This is after No Confidence, right?
Those genes have an effect that can be felt. Giving back fakes would be immediately seen as betraying the agreement to replace the genes that had been removed. It would create the *correct* appearance that Comet Fall and Disco could not be trusted.
matapampamuphoff on March 17th, 2017 07:23 pm (UTC)
Re: This is after No Confidence, right?
And yes, this is taking place after _The Last Merge_ and the recovery mission that Ajha headed.

_No Confidence_ is during Ebsa, Ra'd and Paer's last semester before graduation.

So three years later. Give or take. I have to get through _The Last Merge_ before the date of BP is set in stone.
ekuah on March 17th, 2017 09:26 pm (UTC)
Re: This is after No Confidence, right?
I think you misunderstood my suggestion.

My though was, that Xen supplies both variants.
The original is the default option, and the modified will only offered if asked.

"Here is the original Gene that will make murderous again.
And here you have an deactivated variant that will revert you back into a full Withione but will let you stay sane"

Edited at 2017-03-17 09:55 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on March 17th, 2017 10:48 pm (UTC)
Given that Ajha just came back from a field assignment with Fean, Ra'd, Paer, and Ebsa, and Fean's shown up (pretty sure you said somewhere that the terrific trio were on his Helaos Hunter team), you probably need to insert them, the trio, somewhere, even if it's a passing stopped by on their way across. If Ajha can requisition staff, I'd think Ra'd would be an ideal non-priest bodyguard and that there are a number of people, starting with President Orde and including Izzo and Xiat, who'd find that a really good idea, to have one of his group of Warrior allies on-site. Ebsa's probably too publicly the President's daughter's fiance or whatever.
The trio weren't even a glimmer in the author's eye when this was first written, right?
Holly
matapampamuphoff on March 18th, 2017 12:51 am (UTC)
Exactly. It may have been added after I posted the section, but when Fean first got to BP, I had her mention that Ebsa was reporting no problems with the project.

It's tempting to park Ra'd and a large gun nearby, but he wouldn't be important to this particular story, so I've left him out.
ekuah on March 18th, 2017 04:57 pm (UTC)
Or you could...
... put the usual SNAFU in place.
Like a mean bureaucrat sending them of to some meaningless duties to prevent Ahja's access to them.
Letting them; guarding a statue, doing an inventory of kitchen supplies and manning the check-in desk of a hospital.
matapampamuphoff on March 18th, 2017 05:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Or you could...
Remember the start of Project Dystopia? Ebsa back behind a desk writing reports about how to increase the effeciency of the powered gates and Ra'd is painting warehouses. To spec. In approved colors.
ekuah on March 18th, 2017 07:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Or you could...
I wasn't sure which stories happen at the same time, with your jiggling around.
matapampamuphoff on March 18th, 2017 10:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Or you could...
The timing probably a bit off. Since Ajha was recalled from Limbo (the world where they're keeping the merged but pretty recovered, but not welcomed back by family, people they've rescued) Ebsa and Ra'd are probably there as well.

I may need to change Fean's current situation as she would probably still be with the project as well.