?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
22 March 2017 @ 06:39 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 19  
  

***

Ahja sighed as the first person he saw, recognized him.

Maiv had seen him in various states of hair during her frequent visits to Black Point, and his mother's house. "What are you doing?"

As the train pulled out of the Freeport station he sat down beside her. "Uncle Ajki told me to hide, so I'm visiting my mother."

She frowned at him.

"Well, that and I thought I should check and see if her buddies were still around, and see if I can find out who killed Udzi."

"Do the police still think you did it?" Maiv was the youngest of Maij's kids, sixteen years old if he remembered correctly. "That's stupid. And everyone in Black Point will recognize you, it's only three years since you were going bald. Anyhow, I thought Lord Udzi's murder was political. You're above that, now."

"I wish. And I haven't started on my disguise, yet. By the time I get to the Enclave, I'll be unrecognizable. Honest. Why are you going to Black Point?"

"Your Mother still has house guests, and the other people she hired don't know her routine very well. Plus the decontamination people threw out everything edible." She tapped the bag at her feet. "I'm bring in all the spices my mom uses, plus other stuff. This way, she won't have to worry that someone will poison food in the local stores, in hopes of killing you." She sighed. "But Whipper and Mushy won't be there."

"Err. . . "

"I know, I know. They're Withiones and won't marry us. And anyway, my big sisters all said I was too young and monopolized them. I barely got kissed."

"Don't you think you'd be happier just tossing these silly genetic games and just marrying some nice guy right off?"

She wrinkled her nose. "I'm not sure."

"Perhaps you should be sure, before starting down either path, eh? And there might be a few other directions you could head as well."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mother."

He grinned, and concentrated on his illusion spell. Black hair. Blue eyes. A noticeable bump on the nose.

Maiv's eyes were wide and impressed. "That is total! They didn't teach things like that in school. How strong do you have to be, to do that?"

The rest of trip turned into a basic magic school. He hadn't really remembered, but the schools only taught self control, and the beginnings of manufacturing processes. Out of school, everyone learned to play stones—and the Servaones always lost at that, as brute force was a major factor. All the good stuff, the subtle things, he'd learned later. In Directorate College or from various Fallen. Maiv followed him off the train, still trying out a basic illusion. Then she headed up hill, and Ajha turned to the local Inn. Midnight here, it would be nine in the morning in Paris.

He could call Xiat, then sleep in.

***

"This looks like a very top power play, determining who will be the War Party candidate for President. I think, in this instance all the Players are advancing themselves behind the main two or three candidates. It is three isn't it? What did Director Efge have planned?"

Xiat huffed in irritation. "I'm not sure if Efge should be considered. I was just bumping him a bit to see what happened. But he escalated the situation ridiculously, making it all a power play, One Magic vs. Fallen Magic. I'm beginning to wonder if he just wants to start a war. Otherwise, the confrontation was poorly planned, poorly thought out and quite deliberately used as a provocation. Efge may be playing a game, but I'm not at all sure it has anything to do with Udzi's murder. Except . . . I have some evidence that he gigged Udzi into reaching for the Patriarchy. Which is important because he was so well located for implicating Axti through you."

"Well, I have personal knowledge that I didn't kill him, so I'm a step ahead of you there. If my father is the Principal, he didn't use me. If he used Arja, it would have been for the purpose of implicating me. This is both contrary to my understanding of his feelings toward me, and dangerous to him. If we accept that Arja checked on me, saw I was going to be seriously lacking an alibi and call the hit man—probably Bo—then we have to concluded that my father has the lowest likelihood of being the Principal."

Xiat's voice growled her reluctance through the connection. "All right. Now Arlw. Actually, he's the most opaque of the three. At least to me. As far as the Investigator has been able to discover, he never made a step outside what would have been expected."

"So is he innocent, or did he simply have an agent whom he trusted? Can we find out if he and Arja have ever spent enough time together to have created such trust? Ditto, Arja and Efge."

Xiat huffed uncertainly. "Look, you managed to keep yourself alive against Bo. But do you realize that Ewmo, Orc, Yukky, Ask Me and Halleluiah are all looking like Blind errand runners? Poppy, too, for that matter. And Uzga is dead. Same poison he gave to Poppy to kill you with. Possibly the other half of the pill Poppy took. You are going to have to be very careful, in Black Point."

He blinked at her tiny picture on the phone. "I didn't think anyone but Mother and her buddies would still be here."

"Tomorrow Imgo and Arja are coming in. Unusual devotion to their wives, don't you think?"

Ajha eyed her. "Do they have mistresses? Princesses?"

Xiat blinked. "Oh. How stupid of me. Of course. The One's beautiful spies, assassins, and lovers. They've left them behind. They can do whatever they want without hindrance. Then go home and plan nothing for the future. The One doesn't punish past crime or trespass, it stops things it sees coming. So long as it ends there, they'll survive."

"So, what are they planning? That they have cause to think the One might prevent, if it could?"

"Killing you is the most obvious. The War Party has to be throwing fits—in private—over a pacifist philosopher. There aren't any other loose ends here other than Arja himself."

"That you know of. Blind errand runners have been known to peek."

Xiat glared. "Right. Did you remember to turn off your ID as you left the train."

He grinned. "I'm afraid I used a forgery. First practical use for this philosopher nonsense so far."

"Where did you get a forgery? At least I know you've got the money to pay for one." She scowled at him.

"I made it myself. Several Fallen, who had previously infiltrated, showed me how to do it. The manufacture of the blanks is easy enough, the programming is a bit harder. All right. I won't stay at my mother's. I'm not about to go to my grandfather's house . . . actually . . . One! Grandfather's opinions might be useful to me, and he'll know all about what's going on at Mother's house."

"Just be careful. All we'd need is an Alternate Philosopher killed accidentally."

He grinned. "As opposed to on purpose? Which happens regularly?"

***

In Paris Xiat drummed her fingernails for a moment then headed for the street. There was a temple three blocks away. The resident priest was a bit taken aback by her request, but provided a comm which he assured her was not tapped or traced.

The lost looking secretary who answered the comm at Ajha's office didn't have to do a thing when she asked for Ajha's security Captain. He swooped into view and glared.

"Do you know where he is?"

"Hmm, I figured he must have escaped. Now, be subtle when you go there, else someone will comm ahead and have an hour clear to find him before you're off the train. Understand?"

His teeth gritted audibly.

"And on the way to Black Point, read Ajha's bio. He can deal with mere murderers. I believe he's staying at the Sea View Inn." She hung up, thanked the Priest and walked back. It didn't feel like the case was winding down. Was that just because of the disastrous trip to Comet Fall, or was the Principal is still in action? Or an agent, acting very independently.

Well, no better place to dig up dirt than with an ex-wife. She downloaded everyone's publicly accessible files when this started. She could hunt through for connections without leaving a trail that would be reported to Efge.

And then talk to the girls, who knew all about Jain's relationship with Arja, and more to the point, quite a bit about his relationship to what sounded like a total Ice Princess.

Xait called and made an appointment.

Like all trained Princesses, Yssa sat beautifully, poured tea gracefully, and for anyone else, would have glowed.

Xiat sat gracefully, smiled beautifully and accepted her tea. "Have you become fond of Arja? It must be nerve wracking when he runs off to plot in what he thinks is safety."

"Oh, no. Not at all. It would be foolish to allow myself to care, at his level of Play." Yssa took a dainty sip.

Technically speaking, there were probably somewhere around a hundred thousand female Withiones who had two hundred or more of the magic genes and, of course, two copies of the One power gene. They were sometimes called Princess, but what most people meant when they said "Princess" was one of the graduates of the Princess School, employed as an agent by the One itself. They were the One's second line of control. The first being religious devotion. But through fifty thousand women, placed as high society hostesses, mistresses or secretaries of the most powerful and most dangerous men, the One insured the power of the theocratic bureaucracy. Princesses were trained to spy—and kill.

Xiat had not been assigned, due to a psychological problem. Fean had walked out at the outrageous thought of bedding whomever the One assigned her to. This Princess was a graduate and long term agent. Do not underestimate her.

"Is he devoted to his wife, or is she just as excuse for him to return to Black Point?"

A tiny smile enhanced the beauty of the woman even further. "The One doesn't interfere with internal Party Politics. With three leaders, the War Party has been floundering and unpredictable. With a clear Alpha, they will settle down and be easier to track and control."

"Yes. I understand the One's wishes in this. My duties revolve around individuals and criminal actions. When Arja married Jain, I thought he was seeking a tie to the Ax. But perhaps he was already tight with Arlw and was watching for an opportunity to act against the Ax."

Yssa's smile broadened. "They have so much fun, mapping out their moves in the Game. Aren't they amusing?"

Princess Precious wants me to play her little Game too. Jump through hoops for her entertainment. I cannot trust any answers she gives me.

"Apparently he's just interested in Party Politics, since he wasn't stopped. I'm surprised Director Efge wasn't stopped before he went to Comet Fall."

An elegant brow rose. "With four competing Philosophies? The One does not have an opinion on Comet Fall."

"Director Efge moved quickly, while The Third Philosopher was in Mekkah. Perhaps he feared his Princess would stop him."

Elegant shrug. "Wasn't it interesting, how he failed to even recognize let alone adapt to changing circumstances? That was quite a failure on his part. I think the One will leave him to his well earned repercussions."

Xiat thought carefully about allowing failures. Was the One testing the leadership? If Efge was out permanently, then Izzo had just arrived in a seat of power. I've spent too much time worrying about him gaining a wife. I'd better start worrying about a Princess being assigned.



Chapter Eighteen

The enclave was eerily deserted, with all the convention visitors gone. No one was watching when Ajha cut across on the riding path and walked up to the back of his mother's house. A bit early for lunch, he could check on her, then go talk to his father either before or after lunch, depending on his reception. He hastily swapped his IDs around, so the House Computer would recognize him, and unlock the patio door to his bedroom. He smiled to see his bed back in place, the bunks gone. He opened the door to the hallway.

The house was quiet and still and reeked of gas.

He stepped back and slid the glass patio doors wide. "House . . . " Is there a trigger for a fire or explosion? Like raising an alarm or shutting off the gas? "How many occupants right now?"

"Seven, including yourself, Master Ajha. Your mother is resting and is not to be disturbed."

"Any servants in the house?" Little Maiv! He ran for the kitchen. She was draped over the center chopping block. He heaved her over his shoulder and ran for the front door. He was staggering and his vision had tunneled down to a small spot as he staggered through the door. "Leave the front door open! Is Mother in her bedroom? Where is everyone else?"

"She gave me very strict instructions to not allow her to be disturbed."

"Very good. Sensible. Who gave the actual instructions?"

"Lord Arja. The Mistress concurred."

His vision was back to normal, the gas was heavier than air, and would be settling, flowing out through his back door, with luck. He hyperventilated and threw himself back through the doors. He made it to the Great Room before he had to breath. Choked and staggered to open the patio doors. Two deep breaths, and he headed for his mother's room.

Locked. Damn. He was going to have to say it. "House. Turn off the gas. Unlock all the doors. This is an emergency." The lock clicked. He heard a distant foomp of ignition. He threw himself through the door, slammed it behind him as the security system alarms started hooting. The forms in the bed didn't stir. The patio was burning already, the floor was getting hot. The crawl spaces beneath must have been full of gas as well. The other door led to the bathroom, there was a window large enough for a person to get through easily. He threw it open, ran back to the bed and grabbed the closest body, dragged Fibber out. Where's mother? He dropped her through the window, five feet to the ground here. Ran back and hauled Imgo out and tossed him as well. He could hear sirens, now, and opened the door to the adjoining bedroom. His mother. He opened the side window, grabbed her and heaved her unceremoniously out. The other figure in the bed—Father!—followed in moments. There were hands waiting for him, and they grabbed Ajha and dragged him through after. "One more inside. Maybe the front bedroom." His voice was hoarse and choked, but they seemed to understand him. He was hauled around to the street, away from the house. He saw someone being handed through the front window, and staggered around to point. "I shoved two people through the back bathroom window . . . " Are they breathing? Are they alive? He was afraid to say it aloud. Someone put a mask over his face, people in orange coats were running for the back of the house . . . his mind blurred for a bit, sharpened as the oxygen took affect. All those other figures were getting oxygen too, one was getting chest compressions. He closed his eyes and floated, seeing glows everywhere. There. That was Mother. Weak but alive. The glow that fluttered was his father. Ajha felt the tears come. He always did what was 'right' even when it meant rejecting mother and me. Poor idiot. He reached out and sent power into that fluttering light, and saw it steady. Oh. I'm a Priest now, aren't I? Sort of. He sucked down another lungful of oxygen and looked at the other glows. On the far side, Jain was waking up. Beyond, Maiv wasn't doing well. He climbed to his feet and walked over, as steadily as he could manage.

"She was at the lowest level, got the most gas." He knelt and put a hand to her forehead above the mask, tried to not look at the tabs all over her bare chest, the uneven bleat of the machines. He poured a gentle stream of power into her. Healing spells for the nervous system, the brain. I know those, from the Merge fights, from the victims of the Helios. He pulled out the glittering string of spells he'd learned from Quicksilver and cast them over the girl. Powered them from his own reserves and the heat energy of the air. Now the heart, the lungs. Another box, another cast. He could feel her heartbeat even out hear the beeps echoing that. He opened his eyes to find himself surrounded. Medical and emergency people. Staring at him.

He cleared his throat and they all startled. "Does anyone else need anything special?" He flinched at the crash as the roof caved in. No one died but the House. I hope Mother had backups, I rather liked that computer.

He staggered to his feet, the Investigator grabbing his arm to steady him.

"Can you tell me what happened here?"

"I think Arja was cleaning up some loose ends, including his wife. Why don't you start by trying to find him. No. Find the other loose ends, Allu, Ewmo, Orqu, Ukky, Ifbo, Ask Me. Check them first, in case he's going for a clean sweep."

The Investigator spat something obscene and unlikely and bolted toward a knot of policemen.

***

"It was for Kiaj. I thought we could take Axti down a few notches and she'd get over him. It's obscene, seventy years and she's still in love with the man!"

"That was nice of you." Ajha lowered his barriers a quarter and glowed at her. "Mother does need to develop some healthy interests, not dwell on the past." He felt weak from over exertion and hunger. He'd snatched a candy bar in the hospital, waiting his turn to be checked by the overworked doctors. It hadn't been nearly enough.

Jain licked her lips and leaned toward him. "But then he said I had to stay."

"He and his Principal used you. Who was that again?"

She sighed "Arlew of coooorssss . . . " She dribbled off and nearly fell into his lap. He closed up just a bit.

"Arlw really trusted him. When did they meet?"

"Oh, University. Sports teams, you know. I think boys form their closest bonds then. They've always stayed in touch. S'funny listening to them not-talk about their plans."

Ajha heard the Investigator muttering in the background. "Heard a Princess can get a man drunk on glow, but this is . . . probably illegal."

"So, you've known Arja and Arlw for a long time?"

"Oh yeah. When Igso got snarky, I showed him! Ha! Bastard twins. When I divorced him, he paid through the nose to keep me from telling everyone the twinies were Arlew's." She dribbled off in giggles. Then swapped to tears. "But then he used me! To spy on Kiaj and she's my buddy . . . "

"Too bad he decided to use Poppy, too."

Jain grabbed a tissue, almost falling out of her chair. "Poor girl, she needs shaking up worse than Kiaj. She can't make up her mind who she's in love with. Uzga or Endi. Maybe now she'll realize she shouldn't bother with silly things like love."

"When Arja left, did he say anything about where he was going?"

She shrugged indifferently and gazed calf-eyed at him. "He had me get him some tickets for Denver with Kiaj's ID. Bastard. Left me laying there listening to the fire alarms." Tears dripped.

"Maybe it was Efge, what do you think?"

"Who? Oh, we all laughed about him being a goat. Really, Good Old Endi got him proper. I could almost forgive what he did to Poppy . . . "

Ajha shut his glow down. Sighed as Jain shifted from euphoric to horror.

"He tried to kill me! He tried to kill all of us! Son of a Camel!"

Ajha stepped out as she started cursing in earnest.

The Investigator glanced over. "Allu and Ask Me died about noon yesterday. The Highway patrol says it looks like their brakes failed. They had to fish the car out of the ocean before they could get IDs on the bodies."

Ajha closed his eyes in pain. "The two with the least anger."

"We need to find Arja in Denver and try to get something definite to show that Arlw is the Principal. Something other than an angry frightened woman."

Ajha looked up as a trio of Eclesiastical Guards walked in the front door. The captain's eyes widened as he took in Ajha's disheveled appearance. Ajha sighed and pulled out his comm. Would Xiat know why Arja was headed for Denver?



 
 
 
Scott Harrison on March 22nd, 2017 07:34 pm (UTC)
Gas
What gas is this? People would notice natural gas before it was at dangerous levels as it is made odoriferous for exactly that reason (at least here and I assume that the Oner's are at least as smart as we are about safety). Coal gas (assuming that anyone would use it that had a choice) does not work this way. It takes days or weeks to get it out of the system. Also, gases rise or fall not by molecular weight, but by temperature, otherwise we would be breathing pure oxygen as it is heavier than nitrogen. Also, in the scenario that you have here, I would expect a fuel-air explosion that would level a good part of the block, not just the roof falling in.
Even with all this though it is still an entertaining read. Please give us more.
ekuah on March 22nd, 2017 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
It could be Unobtanium gas. I think it is better if Pam does not specify the gas, it is not necessary.
But addressing your points:
1. 'natural gas ... is made odoriferous'
I does not had to be. The oners could think their tech is so superior that there will be no leaks. (aka. typical oner hubris)
2.
'gases rise or fall not by molecular weight, but by temperature'
wrong, they rise and fall by density.
And the gasses (air and fuel-gas) do not mix immediately.
3.
'I would expect a fuel-air explosion that would level a good part of the block'
You need to have certain ratio between fuel and air to get an explosion.
If you have to much air or too much fuel or an inhomogeneous mixture you only get a deflagration.
See the airship Hindenburg. Filled to the brim with highly explosive hydrogen. But it did not flatten New Jersey when it crashed.
Igniting oxyhydrogen gas makes usually a very loud bang.
But because hydrogen and oxygen were insufficiently mixed it was just a comparably 'slow' fire.

Edited at 2017-03-22 09:14 pm (UTC)
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 24th, 2017 11:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
I raised the gas scene problem with Pam back in March 2015.
{actually October 24th, 2014 01:59 am }

"the gas was heavier than air, " and natural gas, being mostly methane, is lighter than air. Making it propane or butane from a tank isn't very plausible.

My "vague is good" semi-fix is to just eliminate the above phase and make the life-risk lack of oxygen.



Edited at 2017-03-24 11:58 pm (UTC)
ekuah on March 25th, 2017 07:40 am (UTC)
Re: Gas
Using propane or butane from big tanks is quite common here.
Especially in remote homes.
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 25th, 2017 08:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
Yes, but Black Point enclave isn't in any way remote.
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 10:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
His vision was back to normal, the gas was lighter than air, the leak must have been low, possibly in the kitchen. Or the crawl space and rising through gaps in the floor boards . . . and would be thickest upstairs, with luck. He hyperventilated and threw himself back through the doors. He made it to the Great Room before he had to breath. Choked and staggered to open the patio doors. Two deep breaths, and he headed for his mother's room.
Locked. Damn. He was going to have to say it. "House. Turn off the gas.
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 10:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
I may also toss something in about them having been doped at dinner.
ekuah on March 25th, 2017 10:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
Hey I'm proposing a compromise.

We are talking about a fictitious, future, parallel Earth populated with genetically engineered, psychic superhumans.

I think I can safely claim, that we DO NOT HAVE A f***ing clue about which kind of gas they would use for their kitchen.
It could be butane, propane, methane, hydrogen or unobtanium gas. It could come out of a pipe or out of a tank or out of a gas generator. We don't know it.

Pam wrote that the gas was heavier than air.
It makes more sense plot wise.
Why not leaving it like it is?


Edited at 2017-03-25 10:35 pm (UTC)
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 11:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
If you're curious, Black point Enclave is based (very loosely) on Sea Ranch California. If you're into Google Earth, it's 38* 43'N 123*28'W.
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 11:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Gas
Oh, and propane tanks abound.
ekuah on March 22nd, 2017 08:51 pm (UTC)
Please Pam, pretty please...
... scan your manuscripts with a search and replace routine, and replace all 'Ahja' with 'Ajha' or else it is hard to tell apart Arja from Ahja/Ajha.

P.S.
This also applies to your older titles like Spy wars.



Edited at 2017-03-22 09:10 pm (UTC)
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on March 25th, 2017 12:02 am (UTC)
Re: Please Pam, pretty please...
No! Can't change published stuff unless inconsistent.
ekuah on March 25th, 2017 07:37 am (UTC)
Re: Please Pam, pretty please...
I meant, correcting her manuscripts, not her already published books.
Because sometimes it happens, that she corrects a book (like the Black Goats), and it would come handy if the manuscript is already corrected then.
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 10:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Please Pam, pretty please...
Typos yes, or obvious errors. But larger changes are not really a good idea.
mbarkermbarker on March 23rd, 2017 12:10 am (UTC)
Love the mystery, but man, those alphabet soup look-alike names are painful. Must be hard for you to keep straight, too! Are you going to give us a cast of characters with this one to help keep them straight? You know, can't tell the players without a scorecard?
matapampamuphoff on March 25th, 2017 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'll put in a note to add more nicknames.

And maybe a cast of characters.