_Cool as Ice_ Keiq scene from Earlier

Chapter Four

The New Boss



Keiq fought her facial muscles to avoid frowning at the Head of Internal Security.

Which is a poor name for the group that investigates internal issues. Security leaks, sure, but 90% of what I deal with is corruption and abuse of power charges.

Senior Investigator Alli Neartuone Tamatave Madagascar, formerly with the Criminal Investigation Subdirectorate, had been appointed head of the IS division last year, by Subdirector Ydle, himself a new appointee, said to be a crony of President Afgu.

And Director Ajki, back in control again, was trying to give these people a fair chance to prove that they are competent.

"Senior Analyst Icka Withione Tall Trees is no longer with IR. He's none of our business, anymore." She was pretty sure she'd kept her voice calm and reasonable.

"He saved a known traitor of the Empire. You know damn well he couldn't have walked out of that battle inside Government House unless he was one of them. And you will prove it."

Ah. I see. Trying to prove his own loyalty by pulling down other people. And no doubt thinking the larger the better. Or is it the other way around? Could he actually think Ice is a small target, easily brought down?

"If he is guilty. I will not set up a Warrior of the One."

A snort of disbelief. "A Native! I don't care what he claims, that Native is not a Warrior."

Oh. Prejudiced. That makes it awkward.

"He doesn't appear to have much Tree in his genetics. If you have seen my report from two years ago when he was investigated, he's a 216 with the priest gene. There was some speculation that he'd been handed off to some Tree to keep him from being taken by the One." Keiq shrugged. "I believe he was just lucky in his genetics, but in any case, he trains regularly with the Black Horse Guard and . . ." Keiq stopped when he slapped his hand on the table.

"And nothing! You. Will. Take. Him. Down."

"I will investigate him honestly and thoroughly. Again." You asshole. And if you tell me to manufacture evidence . . .

"Good. Dismissed."

Keiq stalked out and headed down the aisle to her own office.

Not quite bad enough for me to send a complaint upwards . . . where Ydle would no doubt kill it. And going over the subdirector's head and straight to Ajki would be . . . undiplomatic.

Keiq threw herself into her chair and spun it around to scowl out the window. I hate politics, and office politics are even more. But . . . I guess I'll just investigate Ice all over, again.

She started grinning. "So it's not all bad."

She spun back to her desk and dug up her old file on Ice. It'll be interesting to see how it reads, now that I know so much more about him.

Enough to ask some different questions, this round.

She started grinning suddenly. Including his background. I want to find out where that Priest gene came from.

She grabbed her briefcase and and headed for the elevator.

I'll start with XR records of everyone who's ever been to Comet Fall. If not his father, a grandfather. The Priest gene is rare enough that I ought to be able to at least narrow it down to a few possibles.

And stepped into the elevator . . . double take, no, the tall blond man was not Ice . . .

"Hey, Keiq! Long time no see." A toothy hungry grin.

She blinked. "Ixku?" Oh One! What did I do to deserve this? "I thought you were XR?"

"Transferred last month. Trying my hand at police work."

This idiot? And by the suit, an investigator, not a street cop.

"Well, good luck at it."

He loomed. "So I'll see you regularly."

"No. Ixku . . . I trust you remember how we parted ways at the school?"

He scowled.

"Let's not go there again."

"Why not." He reached and grabbed her wrist. "You don't look like you're carrying, this time."

She flashed back to that sick realization on being in the grasp of a man larger and stronger than she was . . . she shoved the emotions down, and looked at his hand, half above her sleeve and making skin contact.

And here I thought that particular lesson was something I'd never need!

She pulled power from the man, collecting it like a vampire. Twisted loose from his grip.

He blinked and staggered back. "What was that?"

She frowned at him. "Your standard asshole behavior. Pity you didn't outgrow it. You . . . don't look very good. Are you sick?"

"N, no?"

"I think you'd better go to the clinic." As the doors opened on the ground floor, she reached back and punched the button for fourteen. Walked away, trying not to grin. Laughing a bit inside at the thought that she'd ever thought that man attractive.

I can't believe I ever saw him when I looked at Ice. Yeah, right the hair's spot on, they're both about 193 cems, with good shoulders. And Ice does the High Oner body language, accent, and the weaponized drawl . . . superbly.

But I'm quite sure I'll never have to shoot Ice.

In fact I can't imagine Ice even thinking of dragging me into the bushes . . .

Drat.

She was still grinning when she got back to her office with the detailed DNA of every person who'd ever been to Comet Fall.

I'll do a quick search for the Priest gene, and see what comes up.

Other than every Priest ever assigned there.

A perfunctory knock on her door. "Officer involved shooting, two dead, at the wrong address. It's going to be messy."

"Wrecking Crew?"

"Nah, this sounds like someone trying to get promoted with a flashy raid."

"Shit, let's go." She hit the comp's power button and headed for the door.

Ice can wait.


_Cool as Ice_ part 16

"Ox didn't think you'd fit in well with the War Ministry. Ajki said you'd own the taskforce within the first month."

"I don't own them!"

"Nah, they just look to you for advice, for opinions, for direction . . . and donuts. In just a week." Onca grinned. "And Ajki said you'd look after your Guards."

"I don't own them either, but apparently I need to be driven to my other office right now." Ice shook his head. "This is ridiculous."


At the task force office, he answered questions about his visit to Fort Degalle during the election . . . so they could go to a meeting after lunch at the War Ministry building to report and, no doubt, answer questions . . . He emphasized that he had only guesses, as to which officers were puppets, and which were not. And same as to who had tried to mentally influence a presidential contender.

He wished them luck as they headed out, popped out to grab a sandwich, and stuck around the office to field questions. Only three, he was glad to say. He contemplated "Why was an Internal Security senior investigator with the party?"

An unexploded bomb, and best answered honestly. "At that time Imperial Analysis was leaking classified information. Later traced to the Drei Mächte Bündnis agent and the puppet in the group, but at that time Senior Analyst Icka Withione Tall Trees was the top suspect. The Senior Investigator encountered Icka as he left the building to meet Rumakova's entourage, and was included in the tour of Fort Degalle for no particular reason other than that she was with Icka."

The defense is going to love that. "This so-called Warrior who is considered a security risk . . . " And the War Party upper levels who still feel any loyalty to Afgu will try to blame me.

Gah. Why do I like politics? Am I crazy?

He turned back to his statistical analysis of a bunch of city level elections from the last ten years . . .

***

Keiq bounced out of the amazingly ugly modern building that housed the local fire Department's business offices, and drove the three blocks to a huge hardware store that specialized in renovations, although usually of houses much younger than hers. Well, Ice's.

She parked and call the fire sprinkler place first, then called Ice's private comm, and knew she sounded utterly gleeful.

"The Hissies loved your gothic ceiling, and approved the disguised fire suppressor system. So I ran by the FD headquarters and got the chief's signature on the permit and some guy named Harvey at Safety Systems who said he'd talked to you said they had all the parts they needed and can start tomorrow!" She paused to take a breath, still grinning.

"Excellent . . . Sounds like I'd better get to work on the plumbing! They'll need water pretty soon."

Poor man sounds wishful. I'll bet both bosses think they have him for two-thirds of the time.

"Oh! I showed them--the Historical Society--the plumbing plan and the electrical as well. They're a bit miffed over the requirement for so many bathrooms, but you're hiding the pipes well enough that they approved both those plans, too!" She snickered. "Six bathrooms in the basement?"

"Holy One! You are awesome. And there wasn't anyplace else to put them. As soon as the Taskforce has survived their meeting, I'll head for the house. I'll need to get the under-the-slab pipes done ASAP."

She laughed. "Yeah, I had a good day. Right now I'm in the parking lot of the hardware store, and I'm going to look at windows and door just in case there are some that are close enough that you could mold them into the authentic shape."

"If you find any, get the specs on the size of the rough opening that's needed."

"Will do, see you at the house, whenever." She clicked off, grinning. That man thinks I didn't notice the windows and doors were suddenly wide enough to pass the Fire Department's requirements? Ha! I just wish I could do it.

She strode into the store and headed for the doors and windows department. Drooled over the gorgeous creations.

All of Ice's furniture is sleek and modern. I wonder if he'll like his house as well once it's all gaudied up in faux-neo-victorian and faux-neo-gothic windows doors and furniture? Maybe . . . we could keep parts of the top floor not period . . . well, not the either Oliver or Mikel felt the least need to be consistent.

She stopped and admired an arched glass door that was so close to perfect for the upper floor doors to the balcony.

"That's beauty, aint it?" A man wearing the store employee's official shirt stepped up beside her. "We make all these doors, so some customization is possible."

"Really?" Keiq pulled out her folder of pictures. The old picture from the book. "These three doors up here."

"Mikel's House?" His eyebrows rose. "We heard someone was renovating it, but just leveling it . . ."

"It's leveled, and we have the permits in hand for the plumbing, electrical, fire suppression, The go-ahead to keep fixing the roof, the blessings of the Historical Society and . . . I'm looking at doors and windows."

"Ma'am, you have come to the right place. May I bring a crew in to make an estimate?"

"Certainly. In fact, I'll be there all day tomorrow while the fire suppression system installation gets started."

***

The meeting ended with Subminister Imro taking a tour of his new group's facilities.

"Damn, Roz, how'd you manage this? When you said apartments in an older building, I was picturing slums. This bears a shocking resemblance to an office. Have they go more space?"

Erzo grinned. "Not at the moment, but the owner seems to be taken with the idea of making the whole building into offices, one apartment at a time, as tenants move out."

"Tell the owner we'll take them." He gave Ice a dubious glance, obviously recognizing him. But stuck his hand out anyway. "I'm pleased there's such good cooperation with the Directorates."

"The Drei Mächte Bündnis is a large problem, and unlike the Earth, they know where we are. This isn't the time to descend into internal partisan strife." Ice grinned. "Maybe next year."

The subminister snorted and continued his tour, greeting most of the people by name.

Right a reasonable boss. At least at first glance. We'll see if I get tossed to the sharks in an effort to save Afgu's head.

The subminister headed upstairs, then returned and Erzo escorted him out to his limo and returned.

Glanced at his watch. "Right a quick after-meeting meeting, then we can all head home. Imro's pleased with our overview of the whole history of the Dreis' infiltration and has picked up six points he wants details on. How many kinds of them are there? How many of which are there? The timing of them switching from infiltrating to invasion prep and what that looked like? Is the approach to our world standard? Have we caught them all? Have we found all of their gate beacons?"

He glanced at Ice. "So how many answers do you have?"

"Not any of them with any certainty. I wonder if we could get Eldon to come talk to us? Or if Wolfson would let us go talk to the Free Cyborg Rebellion people?"



_Cool as Ice_ part 15

Erzo got Ice a Ministry Comm, so anyone could call him.

***

Keiq laughed. "Only you could figure out how to move a Ministry Office so you had an easy commute."

"Part time. What do you want to bet I wind up bouncing back and forth between them, daily?"

"I'll try to sympathize while I have tea with the Historical Society and we chat, off the record, about how to hide the fire suppression system."

"Heh, that will probably be easy. The pipes and wires are small enough that I can make channels in the decorative ceiling in the formal dining and ballroom. Whatever they call them."

"Oh. In those framing boards . . . the Victorian ceilings . . . except, frankly they look heavy enough to call them Gothic . . . but the actual sprinklers will be ugly. Although with your illusions . . ."

"Yep. The problem is, illusions don't show up in pictures, so we'll hide as much of them as possible. How about a working dinner tonight? Brings some pictures of the ceilings, I'll pick up some lumber and sprinkler parts, and maybe we can make something to impress the Historical Ladies."

"Good idea." A mumble away from the mic. "Wacky says to come up here, she wants to see you do woodwork."

"Deal . . . and in two minutes I'm off the clock, so I'll pick up the ute, buy a few things and meet you in Yvesline."

It was fun doing the decorative carving by magic, and hard to do it evenly. Keiq wound up drawing the patterns on, ruler in hand. A very thin sheathing of wood over the plastic housing of the smoke detector/heat detector/sprinkler with an overhang to conceal the white plastic without blocking the air vents, and the sprinkler head sticking out the top.

All inset up to the vents in a round juncture with cross beams.

"If I can stain the metal a bit, I won't even need much of an illusion."

Wacky was fascinated. "And a plain, well, decorated, dome on the rest of the junctions."

"It's different from the pictures and ceiling in Oliver's House in Makkah." Keiq bit her lip. "But I hope it'll fly with the Hissers."

"Hissers?"

"They start hissing every time I ask about something not absolutely authentic. Modern plaster is right out. They gave me the formulas for the period." Keiq shrugged. "And it's better than calling them hussies."

"Get snippy, did they?"

"No . . . actually they find you fascinating. I'm not sure if it's lust, horror or both."

"One! Bored society women are the only thing worse than teenagers. At least I'm finally looking old enough that most of the girls think I'm too old to be interesting." He ignore Wacky snickering.

***

The office was open for business Monday morning. Ice finished the morning run, the morning magic training sessions, showered, suited up and joined the morning crush on the metro to get . . . to his other office.

"Ice? Since you're only part time here, you're getting one of the smaller, well . . ."

"Is it worse than a cubicle?" Ice grinned. "I worked in the tower, in a cubicle for eleven years. You can't scare me."

Erzo grinned. "Even if I point you at the laundry room in 1c?"

"Nope, you'll have to do worse than that . . . so where are you putting Advo?"

Erzo pointed out the door of his nice big office. "In that laundry room. At lease he got a nice desk. Yours is utilitarian."

"That's me, useful." Ice grinned, and went in search of his utilitarian laundry room. It wasn't much smaller than his cubicle had been. He hauled the desk around sideways so he wasn't sitting with his back to the hall and popped open his bag to unload about half his usual office paraphernalia. The other half being back in Versalle . . .

"Ice? How did you get these early dates for the start of the Drei's infiltration?" Analyst Zawm, a plain woman with damn good makeup and style sense.

"The first thing I check is public information. Take Zeeq, as an example. Tracing her reported school history back, she's absent from all yearbook pictures and class pictures until her senior year."

"A high school yearbook?"

"Yep. There are digital copies on line. I tracked down a former student and examined all her old paper versions, to double check, and I still do spot checks, just on general principles. But they seems to think that the final year of high school, then college, then work, preferably in a government job, is a good way to infiltrate a society."

"Did they all do that?" A voice from the hall.

"Yep. They . . . don't appear to be very innovative. I've heard a lot of opinions about the brain chips stifling inventiveness, creativity." Ice shrugged. "Those so-called no-show cyborg soldiers in the Government House attack were highly controlled by the mentalists, who had no concerns for their lives. They were just robots to them. Even the obvious cyborgs had more . . . personality. Given the opportunity they'd surrender, or dive for cover."

He spent the whole afternoon being informative and helpful. Didn't get a lot of his own stuff done for Ox, but getting off to a good start with a new group was more than worth it.

***

Ice groaned. "No, I can't come in before I go to Versalle. I'm already out there. I'll come in after lunch, if that'll work? No? Right. Be there in an hour."

He clicked off as Ox stepped through the door.

"Having trouble splitting your time?"

"Yeah, I think I'd better switch to two days there and three here. The troops are up to speed on the magic, until the next batch arrives, and three mornings a week will do for just ten of them."

"Good." Ox shook his head. "I suspect you're not getting a lot done on your house, just now."

Ice grinned. "We've got it cleaned, and Keiq got the Building Inspector--this time with a whole crew--out to look over the bare bones and the roof beams actually passed inspection. The plans for the plumbing and electrical systems were approved--by them."

And one help me, we have to have eighteen toilets, at least half of which must be in full bathrooms.

"Next up, the Fire department's inspection and hopefully their approval of the fire suppression system design.

"And then . . . we present it to the Historical Society." Ice pinched his nose. "All of whom will probably be horrified. We'll see how many iterations it'll take before all parties are satisfied."

Ox chuckled. "Good luck. Now, on the trial front, you have achieved a milestone, never before reached by a Presidential Analyst. More death threats than the President. We're totally impressed, and the Black Horse wants to put a guard on you."

Ice leaned and thumped his head on the desk. "Really? I'm a Warrior, I'm supposed to do the guarding."

"I know. But, no more commuting on the Metro. We'll send you from home to work in a car. Set it up with Onca." Firm voice. Steady stare.

"Yes, sir." Ice pinched the bridge of his nose. "So . . . Which days do you anticipate needing me here? Then I'll see if that meets Erzo's needs . . . speaking of iterative approvals."

Ox chuckled. "How about Monday, Wednesday and Friday?"

"I'll give it a try." And maybe I can add a bedroom to the magic bathroom in the horse barn and sleep out there every weekend.


Major Onca shrugged. "What the heck, I'm not as short on people as I used to be. As early as you come in to run, I'll need two drivers, graveyard and late." He eyed the rosters on his wall. "Now I know why Eppa hated vacations and holidays . . ."

Ice looked over. "I heard you were still doing mounted guards changes."

"Silly as it sounds, but it has reduced the people trying to get into the ruins. I wish to hell the trial was over so we could strip it all down and get the rebuilding started."

Ice caught some familiar names. "Still don't trust Enno and Ettw?"

"No, and I don't think having two former puppets driving you is a good idea."

"Ah, but who better to detect a problem?" Ice grinned at Onca's sour expression. "You've even got them on late and graveyard, so E-one can haul me home and then go on to the rest of his duties, and E-two can pick me up and haul me in toward the end of his graveyard shift."

Onca pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ox just lost another bet with Ajki."

Ice eyed him suspiciously. "What was the first bet?"

"Ox didn't think you'd fit in well with the War Ministry. Ajki said you'd own the taskforce within the first month."

"I don't own them!"

"Nah, they just look to you for advice, for opinions, for direction . . . In just a week." Onca grinned. "And Ajki said you'd look after your Guards."

_Cool as Ice_ part 14

Getting back on track, Tanya hasn't been found yet:

"Or water. It doesn't look like anyone ever used it for anything." Keiq held her light up and looked at the arches. "This is what they ought to have used as a ballroom."

"Yeah. Plaster over the concrete, flooring, good lighting . . . I don't know about the acoustics, though."

Keiq laughed, stopped at the echoes. "Yes. It would need absorptive surfacing."

Ice nodded. "Let's take another look at that formerly very fancy bathroom. Then I need to think about the windows."


Apart from a few holes in the floor and the steps up into and down into what had once been a bath that could have held Mikel and all three of his older wives . . . none of the records actually mentioned a divorce . . . maybe Tanya was the junior of four wives? From the holes in the wall, it must have also been a shower. With solid gold fixtures. Amazing what people do when they have money. He grinned. Like buying an old wreck of a house?

"Right. The toilet was in a little closet there. Sink along here. Bath taking up the whole end there . . ." Ice poked at the back wall. "It just looks--and feels--like solid concrete."

Keiq snickered and stepped over what was probably the remains of wall board and into the toilet closet. She put out a hand and pushed it through the illusion.

Ice snorted. "Is that any place to put a secret entrance?"

Keiq felt carefully. "Still full of metal stuff." She pulled her hand out and dusted off rust. "How about upstairs?"

Upstairs, another illusion around small room he'd dismissed as a closet.

He picked up a pole he hadn't used yet and poked carefully. The rusty rubbish wasn't resting on a floor, but at least there wasn't much of it. He looked up, at the bottom side of the tiled roof. "I wonder what the original roof looked like? There are steel-in-concrete cross beams every few meters. Surely he didn't remove a concrete roof?"

"I'll bet he did." Keiq grinned. "There's a couple of references to high ceilings in the women's and children's quarters, and high windows for ventilation and air flow."

Ice nodded. "There at the end, which I had to reinforce, since the top part is wood. Added when they put on the new roof. I'm going to guess he had a lot of money, and did whatever he pleased, however unnecessary."

"Most of the walls up here were wood framed, and I suspect they were shifted around a lot." Ice stepped carefully out to the front wall. "Three doors out to the balcony, I'm guessing three rooms for the three wives Mikel had when he started building the house."

Keiq looked around. "Well, they'd have been good sized rooms, what, maybe six meters wide, and however deep they wanted, I suppose. But still . . ."

"Have no fear. I have zero interest in a harem. In fact I seem to having trouble acquiring a single wife." Ice eyed the rest of the space. "I don't think he had any minor children at the start of construction."

"And his old wives told him to take a hike. I wonder if they liked each other?"

"Or him. He's the one with the big suite with the fancy bathroom downstairs." Ice eyed the floor around the tower. "I don't see any holes for water or drains."

Keiq walked back at the tower closet and looked upward. "You do know we're going to have to talk to the Historical Society about which version we're restoring it to?"

Ice started laughing. "You want a tower, don't you? Or should I say, sniper's nest?"

"That is not a . . . Oh One, it was, wasn't it." She started laughing. "I'll spend some time at the museum and dig into their archives."

"Yeah, and find out if we can just strip everything out of here and start from scratch." Ice looked around . . . Windows one point two meters wide and high? He fished out a measuring tape and walked to a doorway. One meter wide. Surely that rule is just for windows? Otherwise . . . He put his hand on the wall and felt for the metal skeleton of the house . . . Shouldn't be a problem enlarging the hole, I'll only have to mold the concrete. Of course, the shear number of windows in a house this size . . . I need to take a look at replacement windows and so forth. Find out how big the rough holes need to be to put in windows the fire marshal will approve of . . .

He looked over at the tower wreckage. "I can use the iron scrap to repair the metal supports for those ridiculous stairs in the entry . . . And if we're restoring the house, it ought to be as close as possible to what it looked like in Mikel's time, don't you think? Emre and Jeb are sure he put the roof on, before he toook out the tower, so the version with both the roof and the tower would be good."

"Except for the water leaks?" Keiq eyed him. "Wolfson teach you any anti-roof-leak spells, Hot Shot?"

Ice grinned. "Not yet."


And no time soon, as the Council voted to create a Special Taskforce to look into the entirety of the Drei Mächte Bündnis interaction.

Ox received the briefing from the young man he had monitoring the Council. "Thank you Advo. So they expect us to be a part of it. And I'm going to drop it all in your lap, Ice, since you've probably got everything they need at your fingertips. Talk to them, find some office space closer in, if you need to be be there regularly. One knows Facilities will snap up your space here before you're out the door."

"Yes, sir. I expect they'll be wanting to get to work quickly in case they need information for the trial."

"Exactly. So . . . work out what's needed, and what you need to do it."


Advo, once the meeting was over, looked horrified. "Do you have any idea how tight office space downtown is, right now?"

"Yeah, my former colleagues tell me all about how the people packed into their conference rooms gaze enviously at their cubicles. So, do we know who's in charge, on the Council side?"

"One help us, they've put this under the Ministry of War's Intel Division. Let me see if they've named someone . . . Looks like a Senior Inspector Erzo Withione is going to be in charge. Let's see if he's got room for us."

Once through the disapproving security in the lobby, they were escorted to a small conference room. Small enough that adding them to the eighteen men and women there made it standing room only.

They all boggled at Ice.

The fellow at the head of the table cleared his throat. "Well . . . we were just wondering how much trouble we were going to have getting the Presidential Directorate to give us access to you. Umm, welcome to the gang. Our other queston was where we could meet. The Ministries are all packed, and office space is at a premium, right now."

Ice nodded. "And probably for the next five years. How much flexibility do you have, as to the type and location of space?"

"Within ten kilometers of the Council Hall. All the rest of the usual restrictions have been temporarily waived." He eyed Ice curiously. "You have any ideas?"

"I know of some empty apartments around Twenty-first and Turner, but it's, as they say, a bit of a run down area."

A lot of negative expressions, fading into resignation.

Senior Inspector Erzo grimaced. "Get me a cost and square feet, we need to get working immediately."

"Right. Have you all got my reports?"

Shaken heads. "We've got a request in for everything on the Drei Mächte Bündnis and specifically including everything you've written on the subject." A woman down the table smiled nicely. "Can you get them?"

"Got them right here. Let's do a transfer, then I'll check out those apartments . . ."


Alfred had four empty apartments. Gulped a bit at the thought of them being used for offices. "But they can be worse than the Butt-nothings, can they? Jerks clear out of 1a and 1c last night and took everything with them. Including the kitchen from 1a!"

"Yikes. Well, four apartment would be close to 270 square meters, total? How much do you want a month?"

"Fifty-four hundred a month. I can have them spiffy in a week."

"Let me check . . . " Ice stuck his head back into the room. Everyone, including Advo, was reading. "Erzo? Is 270 square meters enough? 5400 a month, and if that in the ballpark . . ."

"Dirt cheap."

"Perhaps we should take a look. They're being worked over after abuse by the last residents, so this would be a good time to jump in and get it set up more like an office."

"Right. So, you playing guide? Yep."

They were all a bit worried about the location, so he wound up leading a twenty-person strong parade in through the entry on Turner. Alfred was in 1a with the door open.

Ice walked in and boggled. "I thought you were kidding when you said they'd taken the kitchen. Cupboards and all, eh?"

Alfred sighed. "At least they turned off the water before they took the sink out." He eyed the crowd. "I see why you wanted all four apartments."

"Yeah . . ." Ice looked over at Erzo as he walked back from the bedroom.

"Right. We could put a receptionist in this missing kitchen, two people each in the living room and bedroom, and if we get desperate, someone in the laundry room."

"Which other apartments? 1c you said?"

"Yep. And 2a and 2c. C'mon, I'll show you."

A nice tidy block; the four at the north end of the first two floors. In 1c the departing renters had only taken the washer, dryer, refrigerator, and oven-stove.

Alfred huffed out an irritated breath. "At least the folks upstairs gave notice and didn't steal anything!"

Erzo eyed the kitchen dubiously. "Well, we'll need a kitchenette, but three's a bit much. Let's see the other two."

Up the stairs, the two apartments had been cleaned, and the windows were open, dissipating fumes from the slightly worm and stained, but now clean carpets.

Alfred shot a glance toward Ice. "I was thinking I'd just replace the carpets down below. Kin I show them your floor?"

"Sure, umm, let me make this blunt and clear." He eyed his new colleagues. "I do not do office romances or even flirting, and sure as hell not sex. This is the only time any of you will cross my threshold."

"You are trying to get us to open an office in your apartment building?" Senior Analyst Advo was snickering."

"These are the only apartments I know anything about." Icce shrugged and headed up to the next--top--floor. 3d was the southeast apartment. He flicked off all of the illusions as he walked in. "Alfred was repairing this one when I leased it, and I paid for some upgrades. Flooring like this, which is mid-grade fake hardwood, would be good for at least the reception area of 1a, then more, umm, office type carpeting for the rest?"

"Damn, you've got a pretty good view from just three floors up." One of the inspectors, Wkmi, looked around. "But then we're on a hill. Two blocks from the metro station. I say we go for it."

Nods of agreement.

Erzo looked over at Alfred. "Let me get a recommendation in, and a standard one year lease form. We'll want you to not replace the kitchen in 1a, maybe bring one of the refrigerators down to 1c, for a break room there. And we don't need the bathtubs. I wonder if we could put supply cabinets over them . . ."

They walked away discussing the costs and timing of various things, and move in dates . . . Ice chivied the rest out after them.

Two of the women had their heads together, giggling.

Inspector Wgor looked around, shook his head. "You pay half what I do for half the space."

Ice grinned. "I leave my pretensions of High Oner Snobbery at the office." Damn, the Paris accent crept back in automatically, didn't it? "And probably have a longer commute than you. Till now. I've bought and am renovating an old house in Argent Enclave. Handy to commute to Versalle. All I have to do is try to get assigned there, after they get Government House rebuilt."

"And inbetween, you'll commute from there to here?"

"Much though I hate to admit it, Government House may be rebuilt before we finish that wreck of mine. Historically significant." He sighed. "The Society has to approve everything. I have to satisfy the Building Inspectors and the Fire Marshal, and then go back to the Historical Society for them to usually not approve the necessary changes . . ."

That got snickers.

Should be a nice group of people to work with.

"So, I'll leave you all to get back to your reading. Take notes, and at need or when I've wrapped up my current stuff at Versalle, I'll come in and answer questions. Erzo will have my comm number, if you need me in haste."

"You're actually going to commute to Versalle from here?" One of the two older women looked around. Loel, pronounced Loyal, if he was remembering right. The group secretary.

"That's what I've been doing for five months, now." Ice shrugged. "I'll be glad for any space Eroz rents in the central area."

"This isn't central."

"It's right on the edge. Another block west and any potential offices would, technically, be too far away."

"Hmph. Well, it will work for now. I hope."

"Me too."Ice poked his head into 1a where Alfred was staring at his comm.

He sidled over to Ice, and dropped his voice to a gleeful whisper. "First month's rent and two thou to meet their special needs! I'm calling the boys and we'll have these fellows all set up in a couple of days!"



_Cool as Ice_ Tanya 2

"So I'd better be prepared for this battle."


Ice had been busy while they were gone. Two cars in the driveway, one ordinary, the other a white limo with a uniformed chauffeur leaning on it in the shade.

Female voices echoing around the inside of the house, then a trio of women emerged and converged on them.

The middle aged one took the lead. "I am Umaya daughter of Victor and grandaughter of Carl. I am the wife of the Prophet Nicholas. This is Jadida, daughter of Juhani, and wife of the Warrior Davos ibn Daiki ibn William. And Mona, daughter of Ian. We are all survivors of Rangpur, a thousand years from our rightful time. We're here to help you."

Tanya gawped at the women, then slid down from the horse. Raised her nose. "I am Tanya daughter of Oliver, grandaughter of Alexander. Senior Investigator Keiq has been filling me in on . . . the basics. I believe I am going to start by speaking to the One."

Mona smiled. "Perhaps after feeding your baby? We have brought supplies . . . and lunch."

Tanya's eye narrowed and her head whipped around toward Ice.

Instant suspicion. Fear and anger, again.

I think she's had a lot of practice with those.

Ice extended two metal rods. "We changed his diaper, but put him back in when he got hungry."

Tanya snapped the rods out of his hands. "You are giving them to me?"

"They are not mine to give. Circumstances have robbed you of most of your possessions, I will not rob you of these."

Tanya's back relaxed.

A snort from Umaya. "I should think not. Come sit in the car, there's no furniture in that mess."

Resentment. Fighting an automatic rejection out of pure hating to be given orders.

Tanya's jaw muscles jumped, but she headed for the limo.

Ice walked up and took the reins. "Want me to take care of them? Umaya's a bit pushy."

Keiq nodded. "She's calmed down enough to think and plan. But maybe I'd better referee."

"Good luck."

Wary, cautious . . . worried.

Dammit, I really ought to turn this thing off around Ice!

She joined the other women at the car, where Tanya was being shown the disposable diapers, and rolling her eyes. "Three ninety-seven was not the Dark Ages. We had those thing, or something close enough. But I do appreciate your bringing them, right now." She reached for a cloth to toss over her shoulder and pulled the baby out from under her blouse to pat until he burped. Switched sides."

"Do any or all of you have children?" Tanya smiled wryly. "You see, Keiq, I have acquired a few basic manners."

"Can't have been too much worse than I was at your age." Keiq looked at the wives and widows of warriors and soldiers.

"I have two, a grown daughter and a five year old son. And a stepson, also grown, and father."

"A son, five years old at Rangpur, just turned thirty." Jadida looked wishfully at the baby. "I should try an elixir, and have another one or two."

"One daughter, Naila, seven at Rangpur, where her father died. Thirty-two years old, and, well, I don't know if I set a good or bad example, going to college instead of being someone's wife." Mona grinned. "But she's so smart, and the young men such idiots. Perhaps someday I'll be a grandmother."

"I . . . am think about college. And this Directorate School sounds interesting. Exploring, guarding . . ." Tanya looked down. "It will not be easy with a baby."

"You'll probably want a Nanny. Possibly a cook or maid." Jadida shrugged. "We got the widow's pension, and a lump sum to start us off well. The government was generous, too. Ah, President Orde is a fine man. President Izzo is a bit sharp, but also a good man, if perhaps less warm."

Umaya snorted. "We should all go to Makkah, and make sure that Mikel's widow and son receive their due."

"Keiq said you can drive there?"

"Yes. Scoot over, let's go."

Tanya and Keiq exchanged glances and burst out laughing.

Keiq waved down at herself. "I'm filthy and we both smell like sweaty horses. Fortunately Ice's barn has a shower. And I have a change of clothes, but Tanya . . ."

"Bah!" Umaya sniffed. "Didn't your mothers teach you anything?"

The spell to clean clothes was amazing. Keiq still put on her nice slacks and blouse and shoes, rather than the suddenly clean work clothes. Then they were being shooed into the big car.

Five women and a baby were no strain for the limo to carry in luxury. The lunch mentioned was an endless supply of dainty sandwiches and non-alcoholic fruit drinks.

As an experienced aunt, Keiq was no stranger to babies, and took her turn hold Ollie as he got passed around. The Rangpur women seem to go all gooey and start talking about having more.

Keiq eyed the delightful child and passed him on to Mona with no reluctance at all. "I have four older brothers, who have a total of fourteen children. I'm not ready to add to the herd."

Giggles from all four women. "And did you do a lot of babysitting?"

"Not when I was young! I practically had to run away from home to college when the first nephew was on the way and my second oldest brother tried to talk me into being a nanny. He magnanimously offered to pay me about a quarter of what a trained nanny would get." Keiq rolled her eyes. "Mother thought that was a much better idea than going to New York.

"Of course, now I live next door to my eldest brother. He married my best friend from the Directorate School, and I babysat their three, even though they had a ferociously professional nanny. They're old enough to not need babysitting any longer, although I do sort of hang around when their parents are out late and stuff. I much prefer older kids."

The others looked at Ollie.

"Tsk! I like the babies and younger children." Umaya smiled. "Although my step son is a fine man now, he was a terror as a teenager. Have you met him? Or do you only work here in Paris?"

"I met him earlier this year, when I was training with Rael." Keiq turned to Tanya. "Rael may well be a good example of what you want to be. A woman Warrior. She's taking a break from most of her duties to raise her son, who's seven or eight now."

That got nods from the other women. "Rael is amazing, and she looks so harmless."

"We'll have to get out all those movies they had us watch, to show us what the world was like, and some important bits of it." Fajida shrugged. "It's funny, to remember how disoriented we were, that first month. Now it feels like home."

Mona nodded. "And this is your first day? One! Just tell us to slow down and explain . . . or just shut up and let you have some peace and quiet."

Tanya shoved back her gorgeous hair. "I'm very lucky to have met you all. Keiq especially got me calmed down." Her eyes widened as she looked forward. "What is that!"

Keiq turned and looked. "The Corridor. This one goes to Alcairo. The next one will take us to a spot north of Jeddah, just before the road splits off to Old Mecca, and Makkah."

Tanya muffled a scream, at the little twist as they popped through. Her head whipped back and forth as she looked around. "Where are we?"

"Alcairo. It's very handy."

Tanya glanced her way, and then back forward as they took aim at the Jeddah corridor. "Why would I want to use such a horrible thing!" She covered her mouth with both hands and didn't scream as they popped through the corridor.

"You'll get used to them." Keiq grinned.



_Cool as Ice_ Tanya

This will be a bit later, when they get the tower mess cleared out and Ice can see the strip on the inner wall that looks crystalized, like it's been magically molded.


A woman stepped out. Swept long platinum blonde hair out of her face with her left hand, while her right swung up and smacked him under the chin.


Chapter ???

Tanya



Keiq jumped forward as Ice stumbled back, but the blonde had frozen, looking around.

Angry but controlled. Taking in the situation, ready to attack.

"Who the hell are you people and where the Hell is that piece of camel-dung husband of mine?"

One! "I'm Keiq Withione Colorado, and you are?"

"Withione?" The blonde snorted. "What a stupid name. "I am Tanya bint Oliver bint Alexander, and if you've kidnapped me, you are going to regret it. Where. Is. Mikel!"

She needs the straight information.

"I'm sorry, but you were inside two bags. It's been a thousand years, and the Warrior Mikel is dead."

Shock. Denial.

"What! I opened the inner bag a few times, but the outer wouldn't budge. So I closed the second bag so I didn't have to deal with a dirty diaper before Mr. High and Mighty got back from his can't wait, very important meeting." Her eyes narrowed. "A thousand years? Do you even know what happened."

Suspicion.

"Mikel died on thirteen Qadah of the Year of the Prophets 397." Ice stepped closer, but kept a wary distance.

The woman's tanned complexion paled. "That's today . . ."

Horror.

Keiq stepped back and waved at the room. "Look around. We're renovating a house said to have belonged to the Warrior Mikel-the-Eye."

Tanya stalked out and frowned around the big room. Spun and dashed through the study and into the oversized entry.

She walked to the front, looking into the ballroom, the dining room. Breathing in short gasps, blinking watering eyes. She spotted the ladder and ran to it, scrambling up. She walked a few steps to eye the women's side, then turned and trotted across to the domed room.

"Damn." Ice looked up at the balcony. "She needs help."

Keiq nodded. "I may be better at this than you. Being not-male."

"Yeah. I'll fade back."

Tanya walked unsteadily back to the ladder.

She fumbled her way down, broad pants legs suddenly awkward instead of flowing gracefully. She glared at them, then stalked out the front entrance.

Belief, fear starting to win out over the anger.

From the far side of the driveway, she turned and slowly studied the house.

"And when he died, who took ownership of the house?"

"His oldest son at the time. James . . ." Keiq was far enough away bare read the young woman.

"Bah, he hated this house." Tanya scowled. "Well, I have so few happy memories of it . . . and I suppose the money is long spent."

Ice nodded. "The house has been bought and sold dozens of times. We're the first people in a century to try to renovate it."

Ice is concerned, worried for her.

Dammit, she's so beautiful!

"So I'm penniless."

Bitter anger, now.

"Emre and Nicholas are the only prophets still living . . ."

Her anger flared. "The Prophet Nicholas died a hundred years ago."

"No. He turtled up in a Bag. There are nineteen who survived that way. Lucky Dave and Davos are both brothers of Mikel. If the One will not admit they owe you a Warrior's widow's support . . ."

A knot of fear now.

The girl needs a good cry. Or some other form of emotional release.

"Bah. I will not be dependent and controlled!"

Frightened and angry.

Keiq huffed out a breath. "Yeah, I know that situation. In my case, parents and older brothers. It's why I got an education and a job far away from home."

She studied the tense woman. "What do you want to do?"

The young widow unclenched her jaw. "Leap on a horse and ride away as fast as I can, as far as I can and never return."

"Well, the horse I can supply, if some speed will help, but you'll probably need to come back." Keiq looked over her shoulder, but Ice was already heading for the barn.

Lightning and Pineapple trotted up. and he brushed them and saddled them quickly.

A faint snort from Tanya. "They don't look very fast. And he's not coming with me."

"No. Ice would fall off if you ride the way I suspect you're going to ride. I'll come." Keiq caught a irate comment from Lightning. :: So prove her wrong. Show her how fast a Comet Fall Smart Horse can run. Can you jump that rail fence Ice put up? ::

An equine grin. :: Oh yes. Those trails will be perfect for a nice fast run. ::


Half an hour and twelve kilometers down the trail, Keiq finally caught up to the wild girl.

Tanya grinned. "That felt wonderful. This is a very fast horse."

:: She's a very good rider! :: Lightning smirked at Pineapple. :: Beat you! ::

Keiq grinned back. "I have to admit that I haven't had a good long run like that in a long time. Not that we were full out for very long."

Tanya leaned to pat Lightning's sweaty neck. "Now, as you said, I have to go back. And that man--is he your husband? He had better be there with the Bags." She bit her lip. "As my son is still there."

"Ice is not my husband, and he's highly unlikely to run off with a baby." She shrugged. "How about I drive you to Makkah. We can be there in four hours."

Tanya glared. "Liar! I know how long it takes to get to Makkah."

"A lot has changed in a thousand years." Keiq winced at the resurgence of the girl's inner fear and anger. "We have dimensional corridors that will get us to Jeddah quickly."

Tanya nodded grimly. "I must find out where I stand. Then I can make plans. Better than my silly plans a year and a half ago."

Keiq eyed her. "What were your plans, then?"

"To marry the Warrior Mikel! To fight beside him!" A bitter laugh that ended in tears. "He married me because I looked like a half sister who'd died centuries ago. He expected me to dress up and host meetings. To be sweet and gracious to disgusting diplomats at parties, and go to teas with the other wives of important men. He laughed when I said I wanted to fight. And . . . he kept calling me Jasmine. He, he called me Jasmine on my wedding night!"

And finally the tears flowed.

"That's . . ." Keiq shook her head.

"Does that 'Ice' ever call out someone else's name?"

"No . . . I'm the one with ghosts from the past." Do I do that? Look at Ice and see other men, men who hated my independence, wanted sex but also to own me?

Keiq frowned at the girl. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen. Eighteen next week. Give or take a thousand years."

"You married when you were sixteen?" Keiq failed to keep the horror out of her voice. "I was still in high school!"

Tanya wiped her face. "Did you go to college, and all that? How old are you?"

"Forty-one. I went to the Directorate School, it's part of the University of of the Empire in New York. They teach regular academics, but it's all aimed at getting us prepared for exploring other Worlds and analyzing and . . . One!"

The girl was shocked.

Keiq swallowed. "You're from before we figured out how to make dimensional gates. We've got colonies on other World, we're sort having diplomacy with the Earth the Prophets came from . . . you do know . . . Oh good."

"You explore other Worlds?"

Keiq shrugged. "Not me, but maybe half of the students from the Directorate School go to the Directorate of External Relations. Umm, let me tell you how the government works, these days . . ."

The horses strode happily along as Keiq briefed Tanya on all the politics, a bit of history, Disco . . . The Helios disaster, the Cyborgs . . .

"How does one get into this 'Directorate School?' I know karate, I can shoot."

"You're going to need to swot up on history . . . maybe a local college for two years, then transfer? Mind you, the references you'll have will get you in, but you can still flunk out.




_Cool as Ice_ part 13

Chapter Seven


Ice looked over Mikel House with a new perspective.

"I can even see things in the old photos that I wasn't recognizing before." He tapped a picture. "I just assumed the dark floor was wood. But it could just as well be black marble."

"But we didn't find any . . . but there have been waves of people living here since then, and the last owner who actually lived here probably stripped anything salable." Keiq grimaced. "Not to mention looters . . . although . . . I think the Paranormal Guild ladies are the only trespassers we've seen. Do you suppose there's an anti-looting spell on the house?"

"That would explain things like the stove and sink not getting hauled off for scrap metal." Ice leafed through the book . . . "Here the floor has light colored patterned tile, and the fireplace is tiled."

"Much more traditional Islamic than the original. Taken in 554 yp. Over eight hundred years ago." Keiq wrinkled her nose. "I should have asked when this house was built."

"Started in 379, according to Jeb. Then Mikel got sent off to Southern Africa. So it didn't get finished until 385. By which time his three wives had settled down in Riyah and told him to leave them alone. He married a Helga, granddaughter of Hugo and Furkan in 386, divorced her in 393, no children. He married Tanya in 395, baby born in 396. Then Mikel died in 397."

"Did you get that from Makkah?"

"Partly, and partly confirming my own research." He walked over and pointed under the stairs on the right. The tower must have gone up from there . . . no sign of the door now. I wonder if I could get in from the basement?"

Keiq grinned. "I haven't been down there. Shall we look for skeletons?"

Ice grinned back. "Now that I think about it, that's where the Ladies ought to have held their seance." He followed her past what the books called the breakfast room, and the kitchen to the stairs leading down. He collected heat for a light ball and tossed it down the hole in the floor.

Keiq grinned and stepped onto the ladder and climbed down quickly. Her astonished "Oh!" floated back up.

Ice headed down . . . and blinked at the huge open space, crossed by arches. Two lines of them running off into the darkness, and cross arches from the front wall to the back.

Ice paced them out, footsteps echoing. "Six meters from the front wall puts this line of arches under the wall of the banquet room and ball room. Another six meters and we're under the wall that runs from the kitchen to the beam holding up the second floor balcony and between Mikel's office and that amazing bathroom."

Keiq snickered. "I may try to find bathroom fixtures in that style, in brass. I feel no need for solid gold, nor even gold plate." She squeezed down heat and created a light ball of her own and walked further into the basement. "This big pillar must be the support for the fireplaces above?"

"Yep and that over there must be the base of the tower stairs." Ice walked over to the corner of two short concrete walls, and around to find a doorway on the north side. Filled with twisted rusty metal.

Keiq eyed it, sent her light upward. "It looks like the tower stairs collapsed all the way down into the basement."

Ice knelt to examine the floor, the metal wasn't sitting right, over there . . . reached and poked his finger into the concrete. "Ha! I thought that looked odd. It's a persistent illusion over a hole. Damn! And I was proud of illusions that lasted months. I think Mikel had an escape tunnel."

"And you cut it off?" Kieq eyed it.

"No, I think the slump collapsed it, and then the runoff found an easy channel, right under the house." Ice rocked back to his feet. "I didn't expect the tower entry to be on this side. We're pretty much under that bathroom."

Keiq snickered. "What do you want to bet he had a secret entrance in the bathroom?"

Ice grinned and looked around. "There's the bricked up stairs to the patio at this end. And given the rustlings in the debris around the windows, I wonder if they had a problem keeping the critters out?"

"It doesn't look like anyone ever used it for anything." Keiq held her light up and looked at the arches. "This is what they ought to have used as a ballroom."

"Yeah. Plaster over the concrete, flooring, good lighting . . . I don't know about the acoustics, though."

Keiq laughed, stopped at the echoes. "Yes. It would need absorptive surfacing."

Ice nodded. "Let's take another look at that formerly very fancy bathroom. Then I need to think about the windows."