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20 March 2017 @ 08:22 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 17  
  

Izzo nudged Ajki into the limo.

"I can take him down."

"Eight goats are enough, for this trip, sir. And if you did push him, there's no telling what he might do to you."

"He did do something. It's still working. I can feel it. It was something so different I didn't have a shield for it."

Xiat started the limo, and followed the lead goat transporter. This is going to be awkward.

From Embassy, she messaged ahead that they required an isolation facility and a block on all news about it. They waited, windows closed and mirrored to the outside until they received directions.

Five hours later she finished her report, complete with the raw recording from her lapel pin vid, and sent it to Director Urfa. The President's gatekeeper.

The eight goats were now in a segregated area, each in a quickly assembled pen of his own, as it had quickly become clear that they had very poor impulse control and were . . . sexually aggressive. They answered to their names, gave definite yes and no answers to questions, their DNA matched the records. The doctors, and the increasingly high level experts in magical manipulations were variously shocked, stumped, disbelieving, fascinated, and horrified.

The first Medgician who'd attempted a brute force breaking of the core spell was in a pen of his own.

"I've read the reports about some we tested a few years ago . . . I thought they were a joke." The hastily appointed head of the "transformation study project" looked ill. "And the remaining spells . . . I've never seen some of these. Even the ones I recognize are on hard and solid. Not that I've tried very hard." The man glanced toward the last pen, where his colleague was turning in circles, trying to look at himself.

The two men who'd been retransformed were found to still have most of a layered spell web on them, the most alarming of which blocked magical energy transport in or out of the body. It evinced as a cord-like dull metal chain around their necks. Touching it dulled the magic of the person touching it to an alarming degree. An examination of the goats showed that they were each wearing one under the hair of their necks.

She slipped her comp back into her briefcase. Not looking at the better part of a bottle of that wine she'd slipped into it. Later. I'll think about it later.

She found Izzo and Ajki. "Well, do we stay here, or leave?"

Ajki was talking on his comm. "Yes, sir. No, sir, it's going to take some time. Do you want me to stay here to . . . Yes, sir." He looked around, crooked a finger at a young man lounging casually off to one side. "You've got my number. Call me if there's anything to report."

"Yes, sir."

"C'mon you two, time to go. The President is going to want a face-to-face explanation of this fiasco in the morning. So we might as well sleep while we can." A different chauffeured car whisked them through a series of corridors and into a government garage in Paris. Ajki stepped out and the car drove off.

"Which of you first?" the chauffeur asked.

Izzo eyed her. "We need to talk."

"My place, then." Xiat sat back and said nothing until they had a solid door between them and the rest of the world.

"What are we going to tell the President?" Izzo sighed. "No one is going to believe that I wasn't playing the Game."

Xiat snorted. "You may be thought of as rather heavy handed. But getting your boss turned into a goat is surely unique, with a style all its own." She set her case down and walked over to stare into the fridge. "I'd recommend the truth. Trying to goad whichever, Arlw or the Ax, was guilty of the murder of Udzi, we suggested the Director make a move. Involving Comet Fall was his idea. And his behavior was definitely provocative. Preplanned, I think. He doesn't want a peaceful resolution."

"Xiat. Are you thinking this is all his deep laid plan? Do you think I . . . "

"Umm, possibly. Actually I was using you to, umm, nudge Efge. Him being my third suspect, in as much as he was the only person clearly benefitting from this mess. I . . . well. This goat thing isn't going to look good." She hauled out sandwich fixings and assembled a pair. Popped two beers. "The President, well. I think I'm about to land on his bad side. You'd probably better eat and go home."

"You didn't tell me you thought the Director . . . You thought I was his first cut off, didn't you?"

"Well, you're the logical one. Do you know, this goat thing might actually give me time to unravel a few things ahead of him. I got his ex-wife, the dachshund lady, in protection, without triggering anything uphill in the Directorate."

"His what?"

"Ex-wife, who was also Udzi's ex-wife, who dropped by to talk to Udzi the day before he declared for the Patriarchy."

"I have always loved you for your brains, but now you are scaring me."

"Want to run away?"

He started digging in his pockets and assembled a heap of toothpicks. Threw them all in the dust bin. "There. Safe. Now I think perhaps we'd better watch each other's backs for the rest of the night."

***

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry." The President glanced over at them.

"Scream." Urfa growled. "How the hell do you prevent the infiltration of people who can make their own Gates with about fifteen minutes of concentrated magic use? The Comet Fall people have put a vid of the . . . altercation up on the grid. It's gone viral, we can't contain it. Can't deny it. Two of the guards were recording, as well as your recording."

Xiat squeezed the bridge of her nose. "Why didn't we talk with Ajki's top people first? Put a bit more thought into it?"

The President chuckled. "Because you had an ulterior motive? You were thinking about solving a murder, not how the Fallen might use this ill conceived and ill fated trip to their advantage. They had a video recorder running, one of our manufacture, so if we did anything stupid, said anything unwise, they'd have us. And do they ever."

Xiat winced a bit at what amounted to telling her that her apartment was bugged.

Izzo shrugged. "I'm a nice little colonial. I never will grasp a political system that lets Efge not just survive association with an assassination attempt, but promotes him several times since."

Urfa grinned. "It's our bloody history. The Empire grew from roots in the Arab culture. Favoritism, cronyism, political favor swapping, political backstabbing, assassinations . . . SOP. The princess assassins assigned to almost every highly placed Oner were an attempt by the Prophets to hold a threat over the heads of a nasty bunch of corrupt power seekers. But they are controlled by the One, not by the President. Orde has to deal with what he's got. And the War Party was only minimally reduced and has made a strong comeback. Efge's a competent bureaucrat, so we saved our energy for a different fight."

Orde nodded. "This is also why Ajha is so important. What he changes, changes which politicians are at risk of, umm, fatal accidents if they don't curb their conquistador attitudes. He can change everything. If he lives long enough." He tapped his fingers on the table, eyeing Izzo. "Now. Izzo. I see that you have seniority in the Directorate."

"Yes, sir?"

"And while I realize that you are a member of the War Party, you've never seemed too extreme. So Interior's all yours, until we get Efge back in working order. I anticipate that he'll be in the hands of the experts for quite some time. Use the time well."

"Yes, sir."

"Xiat? When you have wrapped up this murder, consider a transfer to External Relations. I think you could use a bit of very different experience, it would make you a bit better rounded an agent. Thank you for your time, I know you need to get back to the Directorate, which must be in a bit of disarray, just now." The president's lips twitched in a suppressed smile.

Indeed. The directorates that are supposed to report to him have gotten a bit too independent. He and Urfa are going to milk this opportunity for all it's worth.

They were ushered out, and driven to the Directorate. Which was indeed in disarray. The Director's secretary, an immensely competent woman of advanced years, practically fell on Izzo in tears.

As he was dragged away, he called back over his shoulder. "Xiat, you're in charge of Analytics. Go. I'm going to be up here . . . all day."

Xiat dropped back down to the Analyst's area.. All conversation stopped as she walked into the smaller area that handled the problems with imperial implications. Her five co-workers eyed her carefully. ­Or do they count as underlings? I doubt my temporary position will last a week. Efge will be back as soon as he can . . . lose a few dozen spells.

"That didn't really happen, did it?" Ogre was first to speak.

"Yes it did. Sub-director Izzo and I have just been talking to the President. Izzo will be Acting Director until such a time as Director Efge is able to . . . until he is fully recovered. I am in charge of Analytics. So . . . anything I need to know?"

"Autopsy report on Uzga. No one knows why he was in New York. Some fancy designer chemical poisoned him. It was breaking down fast, but you told them what to look for. His Princess was on a visit to her mum, so there was no-one there to find him, and get him to a medgician." He put his thumbs in his belt and stared at her. "She killed him, right?"

"No. Or, not without proper authorization. Have you looked over my reports on the Udzi murder? Do so. You'll be at least doing the foot work from here out. Possibly taking the whole thing over. We'll talk after you've read."

"Right."

"So, what else is active that I should know about, right now?" She cast a look out the door. "Here."

One! The whole of Central Region Analytics is my responsibility? Eep! Put on your game face, Xiat, look confident. Look like a boss, because you are one. And you can do this job.



Chapter Sixteen

"There's something on the Grid I think you need to see."

Ajha yawned. "That can't wait for the office?"

"It's a Comet Fall Covert Ops posting." Fean snickered. "They've made themselves a logo. They're advertising."

Ajha sat down and brought up his home page. The spotlight that was set to always hunt for Fallen articles was jammed with multiple copies of a vid. He opened one.

"Xen and Easterly. Xiat and Uncle Ajki. In the Tavern. This does not bode well, if the Fallen are making sure everyone see it."

Fean nodded. "Do you know who the other two are?"

"The Director of Internal Relations, Efge Withione and Izzo, his Sub-director for Imperial Analytics."

Ajha watched the rest silently. Winced. Shut down the screen. "Well. I suppose yesterday's polls aren't very relevant today."

The Fiend shook her head. "No. Not at all. Should we go help them retransform those poor people?"

"Let's go through channels, say that we're somewhat familiar with Fallen transformations, and might be able to help. Let's see how long it will take them to ask us for help."

"Ooo, Boss, you're developing a mean streak. High time."

Ajha read everything Fean thought he should read. Wrote a response to the "Fallen attack on the Highest Levels of Government" and then recorded a vid with him talking about this variety of spell web while Fean demonstrated the transformation process with her favorite pony and cat changes. With a bit of editing they managed to minimize the naked female human parts. So maybe the watchers would concentrate on the magic, the casual attitude toward physiological transformations.

The next knock on his office door was Uncle Ajki.

Ajha looked at the worry lines and decided this wasn't a family occasion. "Director?"

"As you saw from the vid, I tried to block a second spell that Nil threw at Efge. Apparently it was hot enough to affect both of us. Can you or Fean identify it? Stop it? Our hormone levels are dropping and there are some . . . physical effects."

Ajha winced. "One! Not a sex change spell. Please not a sex change spell."

Ajki got real still. "Is there such a thing?"

"Oh yes. Fully functional." He stuck his head out the door. "Get someone to find Fean and send her up. The problem, sir, is that the change, once started needs to be completed. Trying to reverse it partway is apparently not a good idea."

Fean trotted in. Straightened up and almost saluted the Director. "Sirs?"

"How do you tell if someone's been given a male to female transformation spell?"

"Oh, hormone drops, testicular shrinkage, penis, err sorry sir. There should be a low level spell that feels almost like a healing spell . . . " She reached out and touched the Director. "Yeah, there it is. It takes three months, then another three for the reversal. I can find Eldon and get a reversal potion without any problem. Umm, do you want to have a baby, while the opportunity . . . " She shut up at a growl from the Director.

Ajha cleared his throat. "I under stand the Joy Juice can accelerate things. Perhaps I should dispatch Fean to locate the reversal potion. When we have it in hand, you can take a vacation, get it all over with."

The Director sighed. "And what about the goats? There's a trap spell on the web, damn it all."

Ajha fetched out one of the webs he'd created himself, that had a trap spell on it. He held the glittering mental construction up and rotated it. "See this and this, that's the type of trap the Fallen tend to use."

"One damn it all. I should have had you back teaching at the Directorate School. That's very interesting."

"Use care. I've never actually met him, but I've heard that Nil is very strong, innovative, and apparently one sneaky bastard."

"I noticed. A sex change spell! Those damned perverts. They are down right scary. What will they do if we attack them?"

Ajha looked at him. "Director, four years ago they let loose a von Neumann's that changed three gene complexes. In just about everyone's bodies. They can destroy the One without ever killing a single soul. Think about it. They can remove the One gene. Don't give them a reason to do it. They are too damned dangerous to rile. They are trying to be friendly, we need to take them up on that."

"I guess I always knew they could do that. Hearing it said is a bit scary." Ajki looked angry. "We're so used to being the strongest, the best. We don't know how to play second best. I don't know but that most Withiones won't prefer annihilation."

"They won't get annihilation unless they commit suicide. The Fallen don't want to lord it over us. They want friends, not enemies. Neutrality, if they can't get anything else. This isn't a simple game with a one wins, one loses solution. This is a complex thing, where we can each be the best in different ways, so long as we don't fight. We fight, we both lose. Them, probably just slightly, us, badly." He paused trying to get his thoughts ordered. It wasn't as easy as it had been before, but he thought he was getting the hang of only hearing his own thoughts. "Who wants a war? I mean, Comet Fall is an obvious target, but it just as well could be Earth. Who here benefits so much that they would spend so many lives to get it? Or is it all just posturing on their part? They whip up the frenzy and use it for their own advancement, but they never intend to actually go to war."

Ajki scowled. "The War Party. Arlw, Axti and Efge. They used the Patriarch race, and they'll use Comet Fall. They think the Merge, a two day battle with a rag tag desperate half million soldiers is what a real war looks like."

Ajha nodded. "I remember the first encounter with the Helaos. They took over an entire world, killing over four billion people. The casualties were only so low because the Fallen could open gates for people to escape through. They would have merge-killed forty million people, and with the final merge, the rest of the twelve billion people there. But it's just numbers to the politicians."

Ajki stared at the wall. "The Ax, I think he is starting to realize that the posturing is having an effect, that they have started a ground swell for war that is getting out of their control. I need to talk to him, see if he'll be reasonable, see if Arlw will be as well. I hate to think of you as the lone voice of reason."

Ajha eyed him. Taking a new tack in the Game, Uncle? For or against Axti? For or against war? "Director . . . my relationship with my father is difficult. But it's not blind. He's under his father's thumb. Grandfather isn't quite a narcissist, but he's certainly ruled as much of the family as he can, with an iron fist. Most of them left. My father is one of the few he's speaking to, and since my successes in the directorate, he's softened enough to actually accept my mother's social invitations.

"But until my father is out from under his thumb, he isn't presidential material."

Akji winced. "But it's a damned good game play."

"Think bigger, if you want to run the Presidential electorate and be the president's chief adviser. Forget the Game and remember the Empire."

"Are you going to be like this forever?"

"I was always like this. It just didn't affect anything but Agni's blood pressure. Don't change the subject. Ahvi still feels his own loss in the last election keenly. Is he living vicariously through his son?"

Ajki sighed. "The Ax is a damned good Minister of Audits. I . . . think he'd be a good president. Who else should the War Party run? Arlw?"

Fean was scowling. "And Director Efge would be even worse. When he can talk again."

"He's on indefinite medical leave. And no one is rushing to get him back in power. Fean, I would like you to find Eldon and consult with him about Director Efge's condition, and get that sex un-change spell for me. And him." Ajki looked over at Ahja. "If the Third Alternative Philosopher will allow me to borrow back the staff he's apropriated."

"Of course, sir. If you are going to talk to my father, perhaps I should talk to Arlw?"

Ajki sat back and frowned at him. "Feeling suicidal? No, I think you need to wait, just a bit. Let's see what he's going to do, with Efge out of the way and Axti possibly moderating his stance."

"You're a player, Uncle Ajki. If an eccentric one. And you've openly allied yourself with father. I don't know that Arlw will talk to you. I might be able to get an appointment."

"Yeah, but boy, things are getting really poisonous, just now. I want you to watch your back—especially with Fean gone. Damn, I should have thought of that. I'll test out some of that joy juice and get this half of the transformation done. So I don't have to wait to do the reversal."

"I'll make myself a bit hard to find, how about that?" Ajha grinned at his uncle's exasperated glare. "I can, honest." He shut his shields solid, even high and low, where most people wouldn't look.

Ajki nodded. "Very good. but you still look like yourself."

"That's just hair and clothes. Not a problem." He could feel his grin widening. "It feels good. I think I'll just take a little vacation."

His uncle stuck a finger in his face. "Don't do anything stupid!"



 
 
 
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 20th, 2017 03:43 pm (UTC)
Continuity scan needed on Izzo's and Xiat's job titles.

search 'region' should do it.
ekuah on March 20th, 2017 04:10 pm (UTC)
Several issues...
The vibe is still not right.

Ajki acts somewhat out of character.
At the beginning he acts like a typical unconvincible Oner.
"I can take him down." after he have witnessed the complete ineffectiveness of high Oner's magic.
He would have to be a total megalomaniac to believe that he alone could take down a man that wasn't even ruffled by the combined attack of eight high Oners.
It is not apparent if he is still under shock or something.

Later Ajki admits that he is impressed/scared:
"I noticed. A sex change spell! Those damned perverts. They are down right scary. What will they do if we attack them?"

Honestly a complete body transformation into another species inside a few minutes sounds way more impressive than a mere sex change that take weeks.

The aggressive Ajki and the cautiousness Ajki feel like two different characters.


Then some other problems:
Fean mentions Eldon like the director would know the person.
"I can find Eldon and get a reversal potion without any problem."
This deep knowledge would clash with with his non knowledge of Nil.


Further:
Not all readers might remember Nil as the 700-800 year old inventor of the original goat transformation spell or as Nihility the Tyrant King of Scoone.
That he is the one person who is even less forgiving than the gods of war or just dessert.
A quick explanation from Ahja to the director could act as a refresher reader who are less familiar with the canon.


Fean's transformations:
You could do the same with CGI today.
Are the people familiar with the fact that Ahja can't lie right now?
Would it be convincing to the public?
This demonstration could turn Fean and her children into lab rats for the researchers.

Edited at 2017-03-20 04:19 pm (UTC)
matapampamuphoff on March 20th, 2017 04:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
I think the main problem, or solution, is to get Efge involved earlier, complete with aggressive attitude, and rivalry with the other War Party Leaders on one hand, and Ajki, who has just declared support for one of the rivals, and has probably irritated him previously. Otherwise Efge comes out of nowhere and causes a mess. This is an example of what's in my head not making it onto paper.
ekuah on March 20th, 2017 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
I think the main problem is, that the oners act like they are on same information level as they were after spy wars, (which was probably the canon when this story was first written) and have not learned a thing since then.

You have to offer a reason why these oners act as they do.
Maybe whole action is highly unsanctioned? So no briefing or gathering of intelligence because it's all hush hush.
Or intentional ignorance on the behalf of Efge?
Intentional inaction on behalf of Akji.
And complete disbelief on behalf of Xiat and Izzo how their boss can act so irresponsible.

I know you wanted to show, that Efge tried to force an aggressive reaction from Xen.

But even then, he must know that Xen is damn dangerous.
Right now I seems (and reads) like the oners were focused on Nil.

What did they expect Xen would do, sit back and do nothing? (like he did surprisingly)
It would make more sense if they would see Xen and Easterly as the main opponents, while disregarding all other attendees.

But the power drain by the serving girl would have already warned them.


I think that nether Akji, Izzo or Xiat are ignorant enough to not see the warning signs. But they seem to be completely surprised by the results.

I hope you understand what I wanted to explain.
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 20th, 2017 10:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
I should point out that the goat transformation is not essential or to a different species but 'just' morphological, "their DNA matched the records" see also the _Embassy_ goat transformation.

Now that's still quite a feat, especially eating grass, but it's probably just twisting one mammal into the form of another.
ekuah on March 20th, 2017 11:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
I know.
Still a sex change is 'just' changing a few organs, tuning the hormone levels and a slight body reshaping. Heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, innards, etc. could stay the same.

A goat change is a full body rework. Nothing can stay the same. (Maybe the brain, if the skull is large enough) For grass digestion alone you need to add a whole bunch enzymes. (Human innards cant break up cellulose).

And then there is the speed issue.
The goat spell transforms a lot more stuff in a lot less time. (minutes to weeks)
matapampamuphoff on March 21st, 2017 12:24 am (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
Just as Xen's purple bunny produces a rather substandard bunny,Nil's goat spell produces a critter that is mostly goat-like. With a bit of gazelle. He keyed the horn shape to certain genes, so there's individual variation. The skull shape accommodates a human brain, but is also buttressed to allow use of the horns. Nil wanted his victims to know and understand and suffer for attacking him. What exactly he did to the digestive system, I've never gone into detail about. He may well have gone more for a horse-like single stomach system which would take a lot fewer changes. Horses are much less efficient at digesting cellulose.

As Xen said, it's mostly the shape and size of the bones and the angles the joints make that get changed. And hair and pigment. Ears, jaw, nose.

Nil adds in a suite of other nasty spells--he was quite the nasty Tyrant Wizard back in those days, and a lot of people are dubious of his claim to be a Retired Evil Wizard.
matapampamuphoff on March 21st, 2017 12:31 am (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
And I have politely skipped mention of the gastic distress caused by a stomach and gut full of grass, leaves and twigs when the person is returned to human from.
matapampamuphoff on March 21st, 2017 12:33 am (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
And don't fuss if I don't jump right in on some of these points. I'll consider how to address them when I finally rewrite it all.
mbarkermbarker on March 21st, 2017 12:33 am (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
Why would sex change seem more impressive than goat change? Well, for one thing, some of them are probably still thinking the goat change is basically an illusion, just a surface shift. While a sex change... that hits the foundation of personality. Especially given a middle eastern background, with women still apparently not quite considered the same as men (except princesses?). What's the difference between "he looks like an old goat" and "he looks like an old woman"? I mean, if I offer you a werewolf spell, hey, that's good fun, right? But if that same spell switches your sex... wait a minute, you didn't tell me that! I think the impact of the two really is different.
matapampamuphoff on March 21st, 2017 12:42 am (UTC)
Re: Several issues...
A lot of people's self image includes their gender as an unchanging certainty. However serious to someone with issues, to most people it's just a comedic element of vids, husbands and wives swapping bodies and so forth. An element of horror, tapping into sexual insecurities, perhaps. Having it actually happen against one's desire would be quite a shock.

The animal morphing is so outre as to be, well, nothing anyone would have been feeling insecure about.