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matapam
13 October 2018 @ 08:05 am

Chapter Eleven

Today’s the Day!

A quick shower in the morning, her hair braided . . .

She was starting on her makeup when Madam A commed her.

"The traffic is hideous! We're going to be late! You must delay everything!"

"Oh, now it's hardly time to panic. I've got my hair braided up out of the way, and I'm starting on my makeup. I'm sure you'll be here to add the finishing touches." She clicked off, and went back to applying a sensible amount of makeup that would allow her to grin like a loon, or tear up without it running.

The hidden passage was opened and the real wedding gown was pulled out . . . Qayg's indrawn breath wasn't the only one.

Heak sighed.

Qammar squeaked and bounced on her heels.

The Fiend looked wishful for a second.

Nighthawk nodded. "Now that is a wedding gown!"

Rael giggled. "The best kept secret in Paris."

A panicked call from Madam C. "The limo had broken down! In this traffic! The driver has no idea how long it will be before the tow truck can even get here!"

Paer smiled. "Don't worry so. The flowers have been delivered, I've got all your things right here, I just have to get dressed. In fact, perhaps you should plan on going straight to the Cathedral."

The Fiend grinned. “Ooo! So they aren’t in on the dress swap? And now we know why you ordered the bridesmaid dresses with scoop necks and long sleeves. You sneaky devil!”

The others got into their gowns while grinning maids helped Paer get her lace and silk confection on, the necklace just so, the tiara . . . a double helix of emeralds, filled in with pearls and crystal, that might almost be a jeweler’s idea of a warrior’s agal . . . she settled the veils so it showed. Makeup check for everyone . . . the creamy white roses of the bouquets had somehow been infected with red roses.

Rael giggled. "Ebsa insisted. No, I have no idea why."

"Then it'll be perfect." Paer reached for hers.

A tap at the door. "The limos are ready. Most of the guests are seated."

Two blocks to the ornate structure that was called a mosque by one faction and a cathedral by the other.

They swooped up to the entrance where the groomsmen waited to escort the bridesmaids. Gorgeous dark cream tuxes with shimmery dark green edging around the lapels and red rosebuds in their boutonnieres.

Heak swallowed. "Whoa. Now isn't that a handsome display of yumminess."

Qayg shook her head. "How did you two manage this much secrecy?"

"Oh," Paer grinned. "Just luck, for the most part."

And then her father was there, grin widening as he handed her out of the limo and got a good look at her dress. "That is worth every penny Ebsa apologized for spending on a second gown."

And there was Ebsa waiting at the altar. Eyes bright and tall and handsome . . .

***

She barely remembered the wedding ceremony. She was pretty sure she said all the right things at the right moment. Then the slightly plainer band was on her finger, and she was walking out the door grinning, and starting to laugh through a shower of rice.

Ebsa pulled her around for a kiss in public for all the newsies then it was off to the party.

***

"So, Ebsa, any comments on the wedding of the century?"

"Umm, you mean, besides 'Thank the One it's over?'"

"Yes. Besides that." Koil was grinning.

Ebsa spotted the three Harpies of One With Each Other stalking around a clump of dignitaries, homing in on him. Frames rigid, hands poised to claw.

He raised his voice a bit. "Actually it was great fun, and I owe it all to 'One With Each Other.' I was so impressed by the level of secrecy they maintained, right down to the 'leak' of that appallingly ugly gown everyone entertained themselves critiquing all last week." He turned to Madam A, frozen there with her mouth open. "A magnificent effort! I just can't say all I feel about the hard work you and your staff have put in.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe it's time to sweep my bride off her feet and take her away to a secret destination."



Epilogue

It was one of the most popular special exhibitions the Museum of Popular Art had ever held. People crowded in to watch The Proposal from inside the full scale illusion. To see the Decoy Dress up close. To see the ring, magnified, the holographic jeweler talking about how Ebsa had faceted the diamond with magic, himself.

Natural blue white diamonds had tripled in price.

The handsome tuxedos. The mist-green bridesmaids’ dresses.

And then The Wedding Gown.

Wishful women from the teens to the eighties sighing.

Enlarged views of the geometric lace pattern and discussion of the Islamic art traditions it harkened back to . . .

A pile of the gifts, from various friends and relatives.

And front and center, the groom’s gift.

A brilliant painting, a desert background, Ebsa and Paer sunburned and sweating, grinning. The bright-eyed Paer sweeping her hair behind an ear. The relieved Ebsa just behind her shoulder, one hand on an odd pole-lie contraption.

“What does ‘Rescuing Dystopia’ mean, Momma? What that thing he’s got?”

Ra’d looked down at the boy. “Project Dystopia was marooned for about six months. Ebsa and Paer were part of the project, and that’s a picture, pretty much, of when they drove out.”

The mother frowned at him, clearly not liking a stranger jumping into answer her kid’s question. “And how would . . . you . . . Oh . . . you’re HIM!”

Should have kept my mouth shut. Now everyone’s looking at me.

“Who Mom?”

A woman who’d examined the painting in detail and just stepped away, turned back. Her eyes widened. “Ra’d ibn Nicholas ibn Emre x Elif.” She sounded a bit breathless. “Which is not the proper way to append fathers . . . Sir.”

Ra’d glanced at her. “I know. The Prophets sought to undermine the Arab culture’s extreme patriarchy. Changing the meanings of terms. Redefining things, whatever helped. In my case, that’s son of Nicolas, maternal grandson of Emre and Elif.”

She frowned. “You can’t have two maternal grandfathers, do you mean that your grandmother’s father was Elif?”

Ra’d snorted. “Certainly not. My Grandmother is the Prophet Elif.”

“But . . .”

“Ten of the Prophets were women.” Ra’d shook his head. “I knew most of them.”

And here I thought everyone had seen that interview—which they very definitely did not add to the exhibit.

“Oh . . .” She blinked and straightened her shoulders. “Umm . . . I am Administrator Keyq, with the Museum of Fine Art. It’s clear that you are an experienced painter . . . could we interest you in a one man show in the Museum?”

Ra’d blinked . . . started grinning. “I think my paintings of the Prophets will be a real eye-opener. Educational. Why don’t we go talk about details like the number of paintings and dates and so forth?”

 
 
 
matapam
12 October 2018 @ 09:55 am

Chapter Ten

Dueling Dresses

The Safron Sisters called. Paer slipped out for a fitting and returned grinning. "It is incredible."

Ebsa sighed in relief. “I feel guilty asking your father to pay for a second dress, but what the ABC harpies finally produce . . . I could be wrong. Maybe . . .”

“It would take a miracle to top the secret dress.”

***

The Fitting for the Official Dress.

Complete with a photographer "for the book about the wedding of the century."

Paer recoiled as the three Madams pulled off the drape.

A miracle had not occurred.

"You've changed it again! I thought we'd agreed on traditional."

Madam C sniffed. "Keyhole necklines are traditional. We've updated it so you look modern instead of frumpy!"

"A key hole neckline so large it exposes half my breasts is not . . . that doesn't actually go low enough to show my naval does it?"

"It's the hottest fashion. This dress will be the talk of the town for months!"

"Years, most like. And I have a nasty suspicion none of us will like what they say." Paer braced her shoulders. Game. On. Time to start pretending I’d be caught dead in this thing! "Right. Let's try it on."

Three frowns. "I do hope you've been dieting."

"I told you, make it fit the real me, not what you imagine I ought to look like."

But in fact she'd been so nervy, she hadn't eaten normally for weeks. Only barfed once, from stress.

The dress did fit. With the huge empty oval in front, only the hips could possibly have been tight, and there was enough fullness there as it swept out to an enormous skirt that it actually managed to make her look fat. The support mechanism for her breasts was stiff and squeezed her ribs. Padded to make her look busty, and about to fall out of the dress. Or, into the keyhole, in this case.

Paer looked in the mirror and shuddered. "It's hideous. And it is definitely not traditional."

"You look lovely!" Madam A beamed. "Cutting edge."

Madam B smirked. "The long train is certainly traditional."

Paer turned to look. "I don't think I'll be doing a lot of dancing."

Madam C hustled up with an arm load of . . . stuff. "And now the headdress and veils."

Paer eyed the fluff . . . "Is that a wig?"

"Of course! I'm sure that shoulder length is practical but it's hardly romantic. And your hair is so straight and so brown. This is a huge improvement! I suspect you'll want to grow your hair out and get highlights, once you see yourself in style!"

And then they got out the makeup.

"It's rather thick, isn't it?"

"It will photograph well."

"Today." Paer was firm. "On my wedding day I want to be able to grin like a loon without looking like my face is cracking."

Triple titters. "So amusing, Dear."

***

Paer called the Safron Sisters and asked about a headdress and veils.

"Already taken care of, Sweetie! It will all be ready to go in two days."

"You guys are amazing. I'll send Rael to pick it up."

She had nightmares of the Safron Sister's Wedding Nook being burgled or going up in flames.

***

The photographer called, voice horrified. His files had been hacked.

The hideous dress was all over the grid by noon. To universal horror, scorn, and laughter.

***

Rael smuggled the Montevideo dress into Government House. And hid it in the emergency escape system. Paer woke up and checked on it three times.

***

"So, which of you lucky dogs is driving Madams A, B, and C to Government House tomorrow?" Ebsa smiled around at the Black Horse Guards.

The guards and agents all swapped glances.

Major Onca eyed him suspiciously. "Why?"

"Because they need to be delayed so much that they barely make it to the wedding. So unfortunate, all the traffic. The limo might even break down someplace where it would be difficult to hail a taxi."

Onca pinched the bridge of his nose. "I am going to be so glad when this is over."

***

Rehearsal and dinner, with added guests, all very carefully vetted. A couple of Ministers, Director Izzo, Director Ajki. Urfa of course. A few extra friends . . . Evdu came with his father.

Paer smiled and played hostess, ready to scream with nerves by the time she finally escorted the last guests off to their cars.

Is it possible for brides to actually sleep the night before their weddings? I'm going to be a zombie by tomorrow.

". . . so impressed by your advanced medical magic. I must get you together with some of the top talent, so that you can get proper training."

Paer rounded the corner smiling faintly at the elderly Minister of Health. Evdu hovered at her other side, and she wondered how to politely disengage and let them find their own way back to the car park.

At least he’s gotten over himself, and behaved politely tonight!

She glanced, and spotted the usual stiff stance of guards on duty and relaxed a hair as she walked past them.

Then she realized the guards uniforms all bore the red piping of Ministry Security. One of them flicked forward on Speed and blocked the path forward.

That's the dangerous one. If they are here to do more than escort the Minister home.

She turned to frown at the minister.

"We know that by now you must realize what a horrible mistake you've made." The old man looked saintly and concerned.

The four ministry guards loomed.

"Minister, you are on the brink of doing something very foolish. Stop right now before a single one of your people lays a finger on me."

The guards were spending more time looking outward than inward.

Excellent.

Evdu was grinning like hyperactive monkey. "We're going to help you find the resolve to stand up that closey upcomer bastard. As soon as he's slunk off, we'll release you. With no guilt, because it won't be your fault. We won't hurt you, but we also will not let you do this."

And he grabbed her arm.

Oops, foolish boy, you just crossed the line.

The sound of running feet.

All the guards looked that direction. The fast one stepped around the minister . . .

Good. No one dangerous behind me.

Paer slid into Speed. Shoved loose from Evdu.

She might not have mass, but force depended on the velocity squared. And she had a whole lot of velocity.

Two hands down on the fast one's neck. Kick right, step up and punch that one in the solar plexus. Turn and kick the last guard, step back and land the back of her fist to Evdu's cheek knocking him flat. That last one she pulled, just enough to not injure him.

Paer turned and advanced on the Minister of Health as Ebsa rounded the corner.

"Don't interfere." Paer looked over her shoulder. Pointed. "Stand right there."

She drew her open hand back as she turned to the minister. And let fly. Slap!

"So, you don't like my tastes in husbands?" Slap!

"What a shame." Slap!

"You've mistaken me for a passive doll." Slap!

"Shall I challenge you to a duel?"   Slap!

"I recommend against it." Slap!

"Because I don't have Ebsa's sense of restraint." Slap!

"Nor his cold-blooded control." Slap!

"He knows there would have been a good chance of him killing Doo Doo, here, and refused to risk it." Slap!

"If that's your idea of cowardice, you're a fool." Slap!

"Now, pick up your people and go away. I do not want you at my wedding."

Evdu wavered to his feet. "Paer . . . "

Slap!

He hit the ground. Again. Rolled a bit and blinked and focused behind her. "You! Aren't you going to save your Princess?"

Ebsa strolled up and looked down at the man. Shook his head. "She doesn't actually appear to need rescuing. In case you didn't notice, Paer is the most dangerous person here. And she is not a Princess, she's a brilliant Directorate agent. She doesn't need anyone to save her. But she wants me for her husband, and I'm all for it. Now take your father home before this becomes a police matter."

Paer took Ebsa's arm and steered him past the groaning ministry guards.

She paused as a pair of Black Guards charged around the corner, then jerked to a halt. "I may have seriously injured some of them. Perhaps you should call for an ambulance." She pointed at the Speedy one. "Get a neck brace on him before he is moved."

A grinning Ra'd—carrying a large rifle—slid down from the nearest roof. "That was beautiful. I can only hope there's a recording." He disappeared the rifle into a bubble.

Ebsa shook his head. "No recording. Something happened to the cam a few minutes ago. Fool called me as Paer walked this direction."

Paer scowled at him. "Huh. So you were prepared to rescue your princess after all."

"Just in case the minster had a clue who he was dealing with." Ebsa smirked. "Four ministry guards down in about two seconds. And of course we didn't see you slapping the minister and his son around."

Ra'd snorted. "I did. And enjoyed it no end."

Paer sighed. "Ebsa, I really do admire your control over your temper. I felt like killing the two of them on the spot."

"Well, there. See? You controlled your temper."

Paer squeezed his arm.

The Black Guards were on their comms but still stepped out to where they could watch her until the three of them walked through the doors.

Ebsa sighed. "You know . . . unless they all keep their mouths shut, you may have trouble getting into medical school."

She shook her head. "My last few assignments, as a medic . . . even though some of them were in dangerous places, I was still one of the protected. Not one of the protectors. A medical degree will just make it worse. I think I'd prefer to be a teamer. One who can patch her teammates back together, but first and foremost, out in front."

She savored Ebsa's spreading grin, then kissed him goodnight before Ra'd chivvied him off.

Most dangerous person here.

Brilliant.

He thinks I'm brilliant and dangerous.

She slept very well.

 
 
matapam
11 October 2018 @ 04:59 am

Chapter Seven

It was magnificently subversive.

Mr. Safron's two sisters were seamstresses, wedding gowns a specialty. Yes, in the shop next door to the tailor’s.

As Ebsa and Paer showed them the sorts of things they liked, one of Ra'd's geometric tangles flashed by and they made them back up to it . . .

"Lace in that pattern! It will be absolutely unique!"

"Over the bodice, with seed pearls and crystals around a deep scoop neckline. Then a high collar necklace in that pattern with pearl and crystal bangles . . ."

"A few emeralds to carry the green accents from the groom's agal . . . "

"Long sleeves. Ragland, with seed pearls and . . . maybe bangles there too."

"Long sweeping lines, short train, with a detachable under train . . . "

“It will be done in three weeks. We’ll call you.”



Chapter Eight

"Today we are honored to have with us a Warrior of the One, born 250 years after the arrival of the New Prophets of the One True God. Please Welcome R'ad ibn Nicholas."

Ra'd walked out, trying to relax, trying to not think the hostess's toothy grin made her look hungry rather than welcoming. How the Hell did I get talked into this?

He smiled back, shook her hand and allowed her to retain it as she led him to a pair of chairs on the stage. "Thank you for inviting me, Miss Dear."

"Oh do call me Deary."

"I'd rather not." . . . I probably should not have said that out loud.

"Oh. My." The toothy grin expanded. "You are old fashioned!"

"Very. Although I am trying to adjust. After all, it has been almost twelve years." Ra'd wondered briefly if there was some gas encouraging a loose tongue. Or perhaps there were some subtle spells in play.

"You were just fifteen, at the Battle of Fort Rangpur. A Trainee."

"Yes, but please understand that in the middle of a desperate war, it was on-the-job training. I killed a Chinese soldier when I was thirteen."

"Thirteen!"

"Yes. I was scouting and spying. With the right clothes and few goats, I was taken for a Hindu peasant. Ignored. I telepathed ahead the strength of forces attacking us, the specific weapons."

"And you killed one of them?"

"Two soldiers had surprised another Warrior, were bringing their weapons to bear. I killed one. Kyle Emreson killed the other." Ra'd had to glance away. "My uncle. He died at Rangpur two years later."

"Your uncle? Umm, your mother's father was Emre?" Her voice was a little high now.

"Is. Yes, and Eltia was my maternal grandmother."

She blinked and the teeth retreated a bit. "Oh. Umm, so you are . . . a Prophet."

"I am a Warrior."

". . . as powerful as a Prophet? Stronger than a mere Oner?"

"The abilities and strengths of the Prophets were individually variable. As are the One. The . . . evolutionary sorting and resorting of the genes of the Prophets has produced some very interesting abilities, widespread across the Empire. Sometimes in places you people seem to find very unexpected. Take Speed, for instance. I am privileged to know a man whom some fools call a Closey Upcomer Bastard. Which he says is technically accurate. He is faster than me. Faster than Isakson, which I didn't think possible.

"All Oner's top to bottom, are unique, with individual skills, and should be judged as such. But then, the Prophets believed very strongly in the individual. They looked at the Multitude here, and saw equals."

The teeth disappeared altogether. "The Multitude are not my equal!"

"And that attitude is the one thing that I will never adjust to, in this modern world."

***

Ra'd glanced over to where Rael was wiping tears of laughter from her face.

"Fortunately, due to the advertising breaks, the show was only forty minutes long."

Rael snorted, blew her nose. "I don't think she's ever punched a guest before."

Qayg tsked. "I don't think she's ever punched anything harder than a pillow. I really enjoyed the way she cried and cradled her hand. Pity nothing was actually broken."

"Ha!" Isakson clapped him on the shoulder. "Good job. They need to stop thinking we're just a quaint pair of over-hyped swaggerers. We knew the Prophets. We know how they thought before they trapped themselves in the knot of power."

"Hmmph." His stepmother nodded. "They needed to stop thinking that you are just a Directorate Agent."

She shook a finger in his face. "And you should not have insulted your friend in public. Even if he is a nice boy."

Ra'd's turn to snort. "Ebsa was not insulted. In fact he is nearly impervious to insult.

Qammar galloped in, a gangly twenty-two year old. "I can't believe you didn't hit her back!"

"I was trying too hard to not laugh at her."

"But I liked your speech."

Rael started laughing again. "The part about how the Council wanting to go to war was 'like a hysterical woman throwing her best china at the wall in a fit of rage, after her husband has walked out and slammed the door behind him. Do you want Disco to walk out and close the gates?' Oh dear One."

"They can close the gates anytime they want to. And don't think they can't take out our powered gates." Ra'd shrugged.

"We know." President Orde walked up. Grinning. "And no doubt I'll be questioned about it at the next press conference. Just now however, those people who have been making movies about what they think happened when you left the bag? They really want to talk to you."

"Oh, yes. They will be so impressed by two stolen police cars, all the accidental damage we did in our rush. Electronic transaction fraud through mental manipulation. Assault on the ecclesiastical guard, both physical and mental. And, of course, refusing the One's right to take Isakson's son. And the One's refusal to accept his rejection. The One will not allow that to be known."

"Especially after you called them thirty generations of perverted child abusers in a stuck Compass." The President of the Empire was failing to stifle snickers. "Live on Empire-wide vid."

Paer glowered at him. "And they aren't perverts. They're all eunuchs."

"Oh? And they don't commit sexual violence on ten year old boys?"

" . . . Well . . . "

"They need to stop. To disengage." Ra'd shrugged. "They need to obey their own rules, and allow the boys to refuse."

Rael shifted. "They have the Comet Fall hormone repression spell now, and various herbal and medical methods."

"Indeed. But do they allow boys to choose to not join the One? A mental rape as bad as the castration."

"One! And as Ebsa's best man you are going to be on public display for another three months." Rael shook her head.

"Perhaps Ajha can send me across for six weeks."

"I'll mention the possibility." Orde snickered. "Ebsa will be back in a few days . . . I wonder if Deary will have the nerve to interview him?"



Chapter Nine

And a man suddenly blocking his path. Oh, that minister’s son who was proposing to Paer at her birthday party. Evdu? I think?

“Get out of my way, you pretender! You lying social climber!”

“Hi, Evdu. How you doing?”

"You are a coward. And a liar! We . . . I checked your financial status. Pathetic! What did you tell Paer? That you had family money? You are a lying coward!”

“No, Paer knows all about me.” Ebsa sighed. I see where this is going. “And no. You can’t goad me into challenging you.”

“Fine!” Evdu’s lips drew back in a snarl and he shoved two handed at Ebsa.

Ebsa sidestepped and let Evdu scramble to find his balance. Another step, not that he expected the confrontation to be over.

In public. Out on the street on Gate City. With plenty of witnesses.

“Then I challenge you to a duel!”

“No.” Ebsa tried another step, and Evdu grabbed his arm.

"You coward! You lying upcomer bastard. Turn and face me!" Evdu's lips drew back over his teeth in a savage snarl.

"Doo, I am not a High Oner who has fenced all his life. You want to fence in a salle to prove you are a better fencer than me? I suppose I could oblige. Duel with pointed weapons? No."

I insulted you! I challenged you! You can’t just say no!”

"No. I'm a killer. I'm not enough of a fencer to think I could even try to injure you and end the fight. So if you come at me with a deadly weapon, screaming about how much you are going to enjoy killing me? My only options are to let you kill me, or to kill you."

Ebsa shook his head at the poor idiot. "I would kill you. And in order to do that I'd have to throw everything I've got at you and kill you before you could engage swords with me. It would look bad. As if I'd egged you into challenging me so I could swat you like an insect."

The red faced furious man laughed at him. "You? Kill me?"

"Yes. But I'm not going to duel anyone, let alone someone whose death would blight my wedding and my marriage. I'm not going to create a scandal for my soon-to-be father-in-law. I am not going to create a chasm of ill will between myself and the Ministries."

"You, you . . . "

The poor pretty boy hadn't imagined that he would simply refuse to fight.

Ebsa turned and walked away. He kept his mental barriers low enough to keep track of the man. But Doodoo hadn't come armed, and no matter how angry, he had sense enough to not attack a directorate agent with his fists.

I'd better call Paer and warn her all about the news of her cowardly fiancé that's about to hit the news.

***

For the newsies he shook his head sadly. “Paer never encouraged his suit, turned him down in public. It’s sad when a boy won’t take it like a man and get on with life. Very sad.”

***

“Ebsa! That made it worse!” Paer clutched her hair. “Arg! Why can’t he just grow up! And of course when the Newsies asked me about it, I pointed out that I’ve turned down eighteen out-and-out proposals, and refused to speak to three marriage arrangers. Are they all going to line up and try to kill the man I’ve given my heart to? One! If getting a marriage proposal turned down is grounds for a duel, I’m the one they should be sharpening their swords for.”

Ebsa choked. “Did you say that to the Newsies?”

“Yes, One dammit! I . . . sort of lost my temper.”

Out in the vehicle bay, Ra’ started laughing. “Ebsa? If they challenge you, do you get to pick the weapon? I recommend crawlers at 100 meters.”

“Very funny!” Ebsa called back. “Unfortunately, the dueling laws are so rigid I couldn’t even do bare handed or straight magic.”

The evening news was entertaining. Koil had gone straight to the perfect man to ask about Ebsa.

Ajha’s startled expression was classic. “Ebsa? A coward? One, the boy’s a stone cold killer, when he has to do it. Then he goes and barfs in the bathroom and cries for a while. Good thing too, I’d worry about him running around loose if he enjoyed the killing part.”

“He’s actually . . . how many . . . Who did he kill?” Koil sounded shocked.

“Helaos. How many? Well, things got wild a few times, so we have no idea how many were injured versus killed. Two hundred? Three?”

“Wait? Ebsa? But he’s so nice!”

“Yes. Until he’s got a couple of hundred armed Helaos soldiers between him and some students who needs to be rescued. It . . . was necessary. But a duel with some stupid little boy with hurt feelings? Ebsa’s too good of a man to kill him, and too bad of a fencer to let him get close.”

“Uh . . .”

“Ebsa’s very good with magic. He can slice ten meters.”

Ra’d snickered. “Ooo! The Boss just lied on Empire-wide TV.”

“Tee what? Umm, yeah, that’s about the maximum believable. He didn’t actually say that was my limit. Everybody’d think he was lying if he said fifty.” Ebsa shrugged. “Mind you, on the salle, we’d be so close . . . Eesh. I might manage to chop off his arm before he skewered me.”

After that Evdu . . . wasn’t around.

Paer snorted. “I just hope he doesn’t come to the wedding. If he makes a scene . . . well, Xen taught me that purple bunny spell.”

Ebsa thought about that in the middle of the Grand Cathedral, in the middle of his wedding.

I think it’s already enough of a spectacle. Please, please, stay away, DooDoo!



 
 
 
matapam
10 October 2018 @ 08:36 am
Chapter Six

"One With Each Other" was the largest wedding organizer in the Empire.

They were utterly aghast at the thought of a mere four months of preparation time. "The dresses! The flowers! The cakes! The venue!"

Ebsa cleared his throat. "We thought, the garden at Versalle. And the staff ought to take this right in stride . . . "

"No, no, no! Not for the wedding of the President's daughter! The Grand Mosque is the only possible . . . "

"And a white wedding gown for a proper Daughter of the Prophet's wedding."

"Right, however fun some of the, ahem, local traditions can be." Madam Beut nodded decisively.

"Off white, dear Abbie, stark white won't do!"

"Good One, dear Coat! That was implied!"

Ebsa and Paer met each other's gaze.

"We will survive this." Paer swallowed, as if refusing to add "I hope."

***

Isakson glared at him. "You will wear the keffiyeh and agal of a Warrior of the One."

Ebsa paused, mouth open while his sense of self-preservation caught up with his tongue. He cleared his throat. "Of course. Umm . . . Paer?"

"I am not suicidal. Never tell a woman what to wear to her own wedding."

He commed the wedding planners. "Who is in charge of the groom's clothing? Ah, well, I believe I forgot to mention that as a Warrior of the One I will of course be wearing . . . "

Much horror in the voice of whichever of the ABC’s he was talking to—Abbie, he thought.

He listened in to the faint argument in the background.

“But he’s a Warrior! The first Warrior to have a wedding!”

Silence, then grudging acceptance.

"But the keffiyeh must coordinate with the tuxedo, and must the agal be that shade of green . . .”

“And I mean, Montevideo, the boy's probably a Catholic . . . Can't we just forgo the whole headgear thing? And what about Paer's tiara and veils? They'll have to be . . ."

“No, no! Just the greenery in the bouquet will be sufficient! Good heavens! You’d think these children wanted to elope!

Paer and Ebsa swapped nods.

***

Then the interview with the President's PR staff so they could issue an official biography of Paer's fiancé.

"Now tell us everything and we'll clean up the things that shouldn't be publicized. Umm, Director Urfa has classified this, so we can't go to the police about any of it." Nervous look from the two women. "Why did he say that?"

"Because of the very dangerous nature of many of my assignments I regularly carry deadly weapons, and umm, some Comet Fall Joy Juice."

"But . . . but not here. Where it would be quite illegal."

Ebsa eyed the nice ladies. Over protected office workers. "I come and go regularly. Through gates, that is to say, in and out of the One World. So . . . yes."

"Oh. Umm, we'll be right back."

"Say hi to Urfa for me." Ebsa sighed.

Fortunately I never got arrested in my wannabe gangster phase. I can soften that up a bit. Emphasize the growing up in a kitchen, love to cook stuff. Oh, and the Doodlebugging. Must remember the Doodlebug races. And the street orgy . . . and having at least one child . . . One! This is going to take some time!

***

"It's not too late to elope." Paer's voice was a near growl.

"Oh One! What now?" Ebsa eyed his comm in alarm.

"They want me to diet and stop exercising. I'm apparently too muscular and healthy for their waif-like imaging of the perfect bride."

"Tell them to stuff it. Point out what a blow to their business reputation it would be if they made the wedding dress the wrong size. And tell them you intend to dance in it."

"Oh, let's not even mention the four meter train."

"Detachable. Treat them like giant rats. Make them respect you."

"When I said yes, I ought to have hauled you straight to the nearest priest."

"Heh. I ought to have done that years ago."

***

"Paer! Paer! Did the wedding planners actually call you fat?" Newsies holding mics up to catch her reply.

"No, they said muscular. I pointed out that I was a directorate agent, not a high society trophy. I just hope the dress fits the real me, not what they imagine my shape ought to be."

***

Paer growled. "And they ordered me to stop clipping my fingernails."

Ebsa nodded. "They sent me to this . . . well, I refuse to call him a barber. It would be an insult to every honest barber in the Empire. Thank the One I'll be wearing that kaffiyeh."

"Oh. They looked at my hair and sort of shook their heads. They didn't say a thing."

"That's ominous."

***

"You are pathetic." Ra'd grinned. "Do I need to show you how to handle the artistic temperament?"

"He's not an artist. He's a tailor who's putting on airs."

"Come with me. I will save you from the nasty man."

Ra'd's friendly hand on his shoulder shoved him through the door.

The nasty little man had a manikin dressed in a green tuxedo front and center.

Ra'd prowled around it, eyed the other cloth draped around the room. Lifted his nose. "A green tuxedo? No, I think not. A bit too much green for good tastes. Let's go with the dark cream." He grabbed some cloth and draped it over the green monstrosity. Turned back for a scrap of shiny deep green fabric. "Dark green silk pocket accent. The agal can be that dark too. Wind some gold cords around it. Make the keffiyeh cream a shade or two lighter for contrast. Silk, of course."

The male wardrobe coordinator scowled but jolted down a note.

Ra'd flipped a limp wrist. "And just think of the striking contrast of red roses in the boutonniere. Darling! It will become the rage. Men will flock to you for elegant masculine garb."

The nasty little man paused, eyes slowly widening. "Oh! Red roses have been out for so long . . . " He snatched a bit of red whatever and twisted it up and held it against the dark cream, edged the dark green closer . . . "Oh yes! Time for red roses to return! I will . . . I will create a trend!"

Outside, R'ad crawled into the back seat of the car and fell over laughing.

Ebsa slammed the door on him and walked around to the driver's seat. "So . . . don't you and Nighthawk want a fancy wedding?"

"One no! She'd have killed someone by now."

"You are so weird. Stone cold warriors are not supposed to be Ahhhtists, daaahling."

"Ha! Look at yourself, Daddy to Dinosaurs. Warriors had some . . . interesting hobbies." Ra'd sat up finally. "So. I'm afraid to ask what they are doing to Paer's dress. And I have to get back to work, so you'll have to deal with that yourself."

***

Ebsa stared at the computer model. Blinked. "Ha! Very funny. Now what are you really recommending?"

Indignant stares.

He looked back at the screen. Hadn't changed.

He kept his voice level and calm with an effort. "No. I do not care what the latest fad is. Pictures of this wedding will be shown for decades to come. Centuries. My wife will not be immortalized with peek-a-boo holes in the front of her wedding gown. And why the high neckline? You've put everything else on display."

"To hide her excessively developed trapezius muscles." Three noses elevated.

Paer trotted in. "Sorry I'm late . . . " She stopped dead.

"I've already said no."

"Good." Paer looked at the three stubborn women. "Are. You. Insane? I said traditional. I'll be back tomorrow, and I expect a traditional design."

She walked out, Ebsa on her heels.

"I am going to strangle them. I swear, I'm going to do it."

Ebsa steered her away from the limo and toward his car. "C'mon. Time for us to do some planning. And bring in the big guns."

"Your mother?"

"And my step mother. Those three don't stand a chance."





 
 
 
matapam
09 October 2018 @ 11:49 am
Chapter Four

3 Emre 1410

Paris, One World

Ebsa stared at his list, the graph.

It was election year. The War Party and the Isolationists were hogging all the news time. Even the small political parties, the Pacifists, the Nativists, the Strong Federalists, and the Multitude Supreme parties were getting more news time than the Modernists.

And mostly the mentions of Orde were dismissive. “The One are tired, ready for someone new, someone with a vision.”

All the polls had him running a weak third. No big deal this early in the year, with all the attention on the primaries.

But . . . President Orde has been in office for over fourteen years. Reelected twice. Is everyone bored with him? Ready for something new, despite all the changes Orde has ushered in? Permanent gates, corridors. Diplomacy among all the dimension traveling worlds.

Of course . . . Comet Fall's successful genetic attack was a serious setback, but everyone knows it was retaliation for our attack on them, one raid too many, after all the trouble we've caused them. And we're back at peace, and anyone who wants their genes back can get them back.

The Conclave was a bit of a disappointment. They just confirmed the current standards, while saying no direct victims of the attack would be reclassified. And they're still arguing.

And it wasn’t like the Helios were his fault. But a lot of people are still upset about their slave raids. About not being able to get all the captured students back.

Ebsa scowled at his list.

Orde needs to get his name mentioned, he needs to hold attention more often. But not a government scandal. Not a personal scandal. He got up and paced the floor.

Of course it will it be a scandal. But not the president's dishonorable behavior type of scandal.

So should it be quietly done and over with? Or should it be a year-long social extravaganza? AKA torture.

Torture. Definitely.

But we have to keep it to a few months!

So . . . will this help a faltering campaign, or destroy it?

"Only one way to find out." He paced over to the new suit, laid out on the bed. "Montevideo does the latest Paris fashions, and makes them look better. I think." He finished dressing. Dithered. Slipped the ring into the inside pocket.

"All I need is courage. And brashness. And the gall to make sure this gets a lot of publicity. And the grit to see it through." He carried coat and tie out to his car, and placed them carefully within reach. Dry swallowed. "Courage."

He parked in the "known, trusted" area. Combed his hair, tied the tie just right. At least it was a garden party; any men in tuxes would be guards. Ebsa got out and put on the suit coat. Checked the ring.

The shuttle swung by and picked him up. Black Horse Trooper driving, of course. He stopped for two other party goers and dropped them all at the main entrance.

Because even the casual party attendees expect to go up these famous steps.

He was early, purposefully, and sought out Koil.

The Newsie eyed him. "Ebsa, what are you up to this time?'

He tried his best innocent look, and got cynicism in return.

"I'm going to arrange something I'd like to have a recording of. And yes, I do realize that if it's newsworthy, everyone will see it. So . . . see that little niche over at the far end of the dance floor? Scope out how to record unobtrusively, and be there at . . . " He pulled out his dance card to check . . . because of nerves. "Three dances from the end. Scheduled for twenty-two fifteen. Something might happen over there, during the dance."

Koil peeked at it. "I just love these casual parties where you have to reserve a dance a week ahead of time. How many dances did you manage with Paer? Only four? And practically nothing else. Tsk! Poor woman is being besieged by, umm . . . "

"Everyone." With money, position, or power. Or all three.

"Dirty old men."

"Ambitious men. See you then."

It was a good party. Izzo and Xiat were there, Rael of course. Both women danced with him, and a few others he'd met. And Paer. Their fourth dance was the third from the end and he steered her steps to the far end of the dance floor and off the floor halfway through.

Paer sighed in relief. "My feet are starting to hurt."

He handed her down to the bench. Dry swallowed.

Knelt.

"Paer . . . will you marry me?"



Chapter Five

4 Emre 1410
Paris, One World

Koil's paper led with it. A full page picture of Paer on the bench and Ebsa on one knee, dark sepia overlain in huge italics in white "Paer . . . will you marry me?"

And below the fold. "Yes."

Other papers had pictures of them approaching the President. His beaming laugh and hug. And from comm interviews, Ebsa's mother's death threats, "If he doesn't call me before your paper is out on the streets! That Boy! No consideration for his old mother. I was beginning to think poor Paer was going to have to ask him! Yes of course I've met her, sweet girl, and so smart! Goodness, that boy of mine had better make her the happiest woman in the world . . ."

Of course some of the vid channels ran the whole half hour diatribe without cutting it, right down to the ending: "I'm so happy I could cry!" Which she was obviously already doing.

Ebsa heard a replay on the radio while stirring pudding in her kitchen, Paer perched on a stool beside him, discreet guards grinning or serious, depending on their opinions of Ebsa, prowling about. Eyeing the impressive array of very sharp implements with dismay.

Rael, as the local expert, had briefed them all, and was around somewhere. Probably being glared at by the former co-workers of her brother-in-law the former Chief of Police.

Ebsa waited until his mother had nothing breakable or liquid in her hands. The cleaver . . . well, minimal damage possible if she dropped it. "And of course President Orde wants to meet you."

His mother froze.

"He'll be down in two days."

"Ebsa!" She looked around in horror. "He's coming here?"

"He knows you have a business to run. I told him you don't open until eleven, so he's going to come by in the morning."

"Here? The President?"

"The newsies will take pictures, then the two of you can sit down with some coffee and pastries and chat for a bit. He's a very nice man."

"Here? The President?"

Ebsa got up and took the cleaver from her slack fingers and steered her over to a stool. "Everything will be fine Mom. Orde is very happy about this. He knows we held off so long because of what effect it might have had on his last election. He said he was glad we'd waited to be sure of each other, and that if anything the attention would help his election."

Paer snickered. "I said we ought to be really sensible and elope."

That got his mother sitting up and paying attention.

"Oh! No, no, no! A young woman like you should have a beautiful wedding! A spectacular wedding!" She glowered at Ebsa. "So don't you get any funny ideas, young man!"

The President agreed. They put their heads together over coffee and pastries and started planning the whole wedding.

In the back ground Paer leaned close to his ear. "If they start planning the honeymoon, the elopement is on."

Two parental glares.

"Humph. Obviously you should honeymoon on Embassy."

An emphatic nod from the president.

"Oh, One. We have created a monster." Ebsa looked out the window. The guards were keeping the Newsies back a hundred meters. "If any of them have voice pickups . . . "

Most of them did. Of course.

Grinning newsies pointed mikes at them whenever they stuck their heads outside.

"Paer! Embassy for the Honeymoon?"

Paer threw her hands in the air. "Really, I had no idea my father would get so . . . enthusiastic about a ceremony! And, and, I'm only twenty-eight, so there's no rush for children."

Ebsa sighed. "Of course our parents seem to have a different opinion about that. But there's no need for the Joy Juice, we're both healthy. All we need is the specific spell that turns off the rejection process. So, no von Neumann's, no aphrodisiacs, and no twin or triplet producing fertility aids and so forth."

"Paer, are you worried about your children, marrying a mere Clostuone?"

Ebsa sighed, loudly. "Shall we be crude, chuck our manners altogether? I'm a two oh one. I have all twelve insertions. A few holes. And I never did have any of the rape genes, so for me, nothing changed."

Paer squeezed his arm, and raised her chin. "And I am now a two ten. And I don't want those genes back, either. I'm a much stronger magician, and medgician than I was before. Possibly just age and practice, but I'd rather give up the numbers than the strength." She hesitated. "I might, before starting a family. Maybe."

A second's stunned silence from the Newsies, then a blast of questions from all directions.

:: This is going to go on for . . . months. ::

She squeezed his arm again. :: Yes. So we've got the worst out of the way. :: She turned her smile on the newsies. "When? Well, we haven't set a date, and the Wedding Organizers," She nodded back at the restaurant, "will no doubt have their own ideas about it. One help us."

Ebsa cleared his throat. "Surely we can organize a wedding in a few months. Perhaps the middle of Nicholas, so the primaries will be over, but before the frenzy of the end of the campaigns gets going and captures all of your father's attention."

More questions. Ebsa parsed out a general consensus.

"No, I suspect we'll be too busy to do much campaigning . . . speaking of which I suspect our bosses are going to have . . . some comments about timing and remembering that we're working stiffs and so forth."

Alone, Paer eyed him suspiciously. "Mind you, I like that fact that you're politically aware, but may I know why mid-Nicholas?"

Ebsa felt his face heat and controlled an impulse to squirm. "I've been getting a strong feeling that you want children soon."

Her glower softened into wistfulness.

"Well, the wedding will get your dad plenty of news time to start off the hard core campaigning. And perhaps just a week or so before the election, I mean, four months . . . We might just have something to announce."

Her eyes widened, and her mouth opened in a silent "oh!" And curved up into a big grin. "You politician! That's the perfect fit of politics and personal wishes, isn't it? I think a wedding in mid-Nicholas would be excellent."

"Now let's see if we can sell it to the parents."



 
 
matapam
08 October 2018 @ 06:34 am

Chapter Three


"Hey, Paer says that
dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane we used on Dystopia will help the tsetse fly problem.”

Ra’d frowned. “DDT? You actually used DDT on your giant bugs?”

Ebsa eyed the man. “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that as a logical acronym. I’ve read about it. Do you mean to tell me that you’re . . . well . . . one generation removed from that old Earth panic about it killing all the birds?”

Ra’d paused. “Panic? Sounds like I need to research the matter. It was considered . . . something we used for expediency, but needed to discontinue as quickly as possible. Because it built up in the environment.”

Ebsa folded the last of his field pants and carried the pile straight into the Junkyard. Not that the crawler looked like the disastrous mess the transportation people had told him to keep. Nighthawk had done a fantastic job fixing it to better than new standards. Ra’d’s Comet Fall girlfriend was handy to have around. Witches were so good at working metal.

He frowned at his foot locker and dug out some of his mineral samples. A little gold nugget, so to speak, the assay had been nearly eighty percent copper. Native silver . . . He scooped those up and hefted them.

I’ll practice metal working in small bites. And . . . well . . . rings. If I’m ever going to marry Paer, the newsies won't let me get away with a cheap jewelry shop ring. And I really can’t afford the sort of extravagance they’d approve of.

He looked down at the scraps and his heart sank.

Maybe . . . I could get away with a one-of-a-kind handcrafted “art” ring. Maybe.

More likely anything I could make would be sneered at as amateurish and crude.

How can I even think about marrying Paer? What do I have to offer her? I’ve saved up a decent down payment on a house. I could blow it on a spectacular ring . . .

He dropped the nuggets in his pocket, and headed for the crawler. An hour to gate time. They’d better get moving.

The assay mission had an eight man Exploration Team running security. He and Ra’d were “Science Support,” with secondary orders that involved keeping an eye on the team and getting them shaped up for their new job. All eight had been security guards for the Empire’s embassy on the Embasssy World, and had recently transferred to Exploration.

Essy, Arc, Boner, Fly, You, Ed, Moo, and Kobold. They were quite gleeful about the sudden jump in what they were allowed—expected—to do.

And lined up and ready to return to the fly and elephant infested World EH 15579, AKA Bonanza.

All the gold fields of South Africa, the diamonds . . . the event that split this world off from what they called the Main Stream Earths must have been in the last 100,000 years. Possibly even more recent. The flora and fauna were all modern Holocene. All that was missing was humans. Or even humanoids, or smart apes. Neanderthals, or Elves. Zero, zip, nada.

Which was really nice for the mining companies. The mission would turn in a report, the world would be auctioned . . . And Teams Fifty and Forty-five would go on to other assignments.

A crawler and a big excavator pulled up next to them. The crawler was a bit crooked and off center.

Ra’d snorted. “Go. Otherwise I might punch someone.”

Ebsa climbed out of the driver’s seat, and headed over.

He eyed the excavator’s height, and got a laugh from the crew cab. Okri, the Camp Manager, better known as Okay Boss since Ra’d had corrupted the whole mission’s modern vocabulary, stuck his head out the door. “Wxxo made me take it down to the test track and drive it through the ring. So stop worrying. It will fit through.”

Ebsa grinned and walked past him to the geology lab. “All right. Who’s going to admit to parking like this?”

Vee grinned. The other seven all pointed at him. “I think they want you to drive, Ebsa.”

“Uh Huh. And how many times did you drive through those rings?”

Vee squirmed. “My mom called and needed me to come home.”

Ebsa shook his head. “I’d call that sad, except I have one of those kind of mothers too. You have to learn to lie convincingly. Shave a day off your down time, and tell her you have to head back right after dinner. Then you give her the big-eyes and ask if she can fix your favorite ever, no one does it better, dinner. Makes her feel appreciated.”

Vee shook his head. “You’re shameless. I will try that one, next time.”

Twenty minutes later they drove out of the gate and back into an Africa full of animals with no fear of man. And the tsetse flies, which were the main reason they were stuck using powered gates.

We need a really nasty barren world to use as a hub. We could route everything into it, drive a hundred kilometers and then go through another permanent gate for home.

Ebsa was delighted to see Team Forty-five driving off for their last camp, without hesitation. Good. They’re getting confident. Comfortable with their job. By the time we finish up here, they’ll be top notch.

The aversion spells they’d left on the camp had worked moderately well. The tracks of—of course—elephants trailed through, but very little had been left out that could be damaged. They did have to shove one squishy back squarely onto it’s pad, and replace the plumbing connections. Apparently it had made a good scratching post.

“So, what’s with the excavator? Going to dig into some of the kimberlite pipes?”

“Yep. I have some locations for the most productive mines on our world.” Okay Boss grinned. “It worked for the gold. Now we can get some serious samples and evaluate them, so the companies that might bid on this world can take a good guess at the costs.”

Ebsa grinned back at him. “So, let’s get to work.”

It was work he enjoyed. A lifestyle he enjoyed. Sweating in the hot sun, sitting around a camp fire in the evenings. The geologists and engineers egged him on with his metal working attempts. Showed him how to see crystal structure and facet quartz crystals. He ruined a lot of quartz. Managed to separate gold from copper . . . mostly. With a splitting headache.

Helped sort through whatever the excavator came up with. The Kimberlite pipes weren’t weathered deeply enough . . . but a drill and dynamite helped get them plenty of rubble to dig through. Gold, the Witwatersrand ridge was right where it ought to be.

“Damn.” The grubby grad student—unfortunately nicknamed Ear Wax—held up a shiny dark lump. “Gold all through it.”

Okay Boss nodded. “We ought to just pack up turn it over to the auctioneers. But let’s check out a wider area. Turn in everything you find—we get ten percent of the value of what we find, but we have to stop collecting well short of anything that looks like commercial mining. I’ll tote up the value and we’ll split it when we’re done.”

Doc Square picked up another chunk. “And it’s going to be a nice solid bonus.”

***

“So alluvial diamonds are too time consuming to be of any interest to a company?” Ebsa eyed his finds.

“Much.” Doctor Yippy—Ypxe—poked at his findings. “Mind you we’ll mention it, and make your finds available for inspection . . . hang on a sec . . . let me weigh these. It’s actually unusual to find multiple in such a short period. Check the map, I’ll bet your river run close to one of the volcanic pipes.”

Ebsa shifted over to the mapping comp, and overlaid the satellite photos on the geologic maps from home. My river was . . . “Yeah, it skirts right around this one.”

“Hmm, interesting. Want to practice that faceting on some diamonds? I can credit you for a partial bonus with . . . these two little ones. Practice on this one, it’s got a lot of flaws. This one looks better, you can give that girl you’re pinning for a nice present—if you don’t shatter it.” He frowned and eyed Ebsa. “How did you even see them?”

“Oh, lesson from a Comet Fall Witch. Nighthawk said they mine diamonds by ‘seeing’ higher density points. So I tried that. That’s how I found the big one, there. So I kept looking. And dug where I felt something dense.”

“Huh. Well take these two, and go practice your faceting.

***

Ebsa whistled at the size of the bonus. Two month’s pay! Yippee! Add it to the house fund. A note that popped up on his comm informed him that Paer was Across. And another from his mother.

Yeah. I’ll grab some home time before the next assignment. Relax.

But this time I'll do my laundry first, mostly because I'm not sure I've got any clean clothes left. Except my suit. I could surprise Mom by being all spiffy . . .

Wearing it did let him wash everything.

And it was all well and good in a northern hemisphere winter, but the corridor to Montevideo dumped him into a mid-summer heatwave. The coat came off, and he abandoned all thought of surprising his mom in a tie.

He walked into the restaurant in the mid-afternoon slack time . . . also known as the dinner prep time.

"Well! Look what just walked in the door! Humph!" His mother looked him up and down, and shook her head. "Paer said you needed a new suit. And I see you need new shirts as well!"

"Mom . . . "

"That old suit was nice, I'll ask Madam Raod who that man's tailor was. Now, I think a wine reduction sauce would be a good for tonight's special . . ."

Madam Raod and her husband, the Chief of Police, came for dinner.

Ebsa stayed in the kitchen and tried to not listen . . .

" . . . in Paris regularly he'll need a business suit and a more formal suit and a tuxedo."

"Arg!" Ebsa shuddered. "Thank the One for the bonus I just got!"

Laughs from the kitchen crew. "That's what happens to ambitious people." Lupe sounded a bit proud.

Well he's known me since I was a kid. He and Mom worked for the same restaurant until I felt the power and she had to move to the enclave. And when she and Rico opened their own restaurant, Lupe and Jose were the first people they hired.

Jose nodded. "The President's daughter! I think even Madam Taix had trouble believing that."

Ebsa shook his head. "No, she was afraid I'd be so hurt when that snotty High Oner dumped me. I'll bet she hasn't said that since she's met Paer."

"Oh no, nothing but praise for 'that sweet girl' since that cooking contest." Lupe shook his head sadly. "Beaten by a hotdog vendor. It's a wonder you're allowed in her kitchen."

Ebsa grinned. "That was so fun. I missed last year's. I'll bet it was a great deal more . . . organized. I wonder if they'll do it again this year?"

And faintly from the front, Madam Raod’s voice. “. . . tuxedo.”

And his mother. “Perhaps two suits, and shoes, his are scuffed past redemption.”

“Good thing I just got a big bonus.” Ebsa turned back to the stove and got to work.

***

Mr. Safron's shop was next door to a shop specializing in wedding dresses. Ebsa gave the fluffy white confections in the window a wishful look before the two women hauled him into the tailor's.

With two women choosing everything he needed . . . It totaled up impressively.

And it was going to look so good.

Ebsa thought of his crude rings, and sighed. “Next up, rings. I need an art jeweler.”

Oh, the looks from Mother and Stepmother.

Mr. Safron chuckled. “Go talk to Mr. Ortego. He makes some very interesting items.” The address was just a few blocks away.

The women herded him back to his car, and he fetched his rough rings from the trunk.

Mr. Ortega was not busy, and happy to chat.

“I was playing with metal work and faceting while I was in the field. This is sort of the idea I had . . .” Ebsa trailed off as Mr. Ortega’s brows dropped as he stared at the rings.

“Eww. Well, it’s nice idea, the mobius strip, yes? But it needs to be smoother, a shining circle. Like this.” The big man stared at the ring . . . and it became a shining circle. “And your idea for the setting is . . . interesting.”

Mr. Ortega stared at it, and Ebsa’s strip holders were suddenly symmetrical and also shiny. “Natural diamonds are . . . not currently popular, but this one has a nice touch of blue. The cut is acceptable. And the matching wedding ring . . .” which was suddenly smooth and shining . . . “Needs a bit of sparkle, and matching the big stone will be difficult . . .”

Ebs pulled out the box of all his practice pieces, mostly very small.

Mr. Ortega—whom Ebsa had realized was probably a Withione from the Ortega subclan—looked from the padded box full of the little faceted pieces. “You did the work yourself? From a larger piece?”

“I’m with External Relations. An Explorer scout. I took a couple of rough diamonds I found as part of my mission bonus, and used them to learn faceting.”

“Well, well. If you ever get tired of the Directorate, come see me for some advanced training. Now . . . You’ve got the big diamond at the top of the twist of the mobius strip. So let’s run some littler diamonds in a channel down each side, and on the wedding band, I believe these seven small stones . . .”

It was beautiful.

Everything he’d envisioned, made perfect.

Professional.

Mr. Ortega turned his leftover scrap gold into a thick masculine mobius strip, took a look at Ebsa’s scratched and battered watch, and shook his head sadly. “No stones for you.”

Ebsa ponied up the rest of his bonus to pay for the labor.

All I lack is nerve.

And to pick a time that won’t crash my potential father-in-law’s reelection bid.

***

When he got back to Gate City, he managed a few day's overlap with Paer.

They headed for their favorite restaurant, for dinner and chat.

“Avalanche. They were amazingly lucky there were no fatalities, but they couldn’t get their vehicles or equipment out, and better than three quarters of them couldn’t walk out. One guy hiked for the gate, and jumped through unprotected when they opened it.” Per shivered. “I’d never seen what that does to the peripheral nerves before. I gave up and gave him a slug of Joy Juice, to the glares of the real doctors responding.”

Ebsa grinned. “You’ve got permission to carry.”

“Yeah, but they didn’t like my using it.” She sighed. “And then they heaped praise all over me for the bone and tendon repairs and would not stop talking about me going to medical school. I . . . am not ready for that yet.”

“Whoo, look at the Hot Shot Agent, dating outside his social circle!”

Ebsa glanced over his shoulder, identified the heckler as unthreatening, and turned back to Paer. And caught a faint sadness in Paer's eyes.

Because she's not the one being called the hotshot agent? Or because . . . well, no husband, no children? Ebsa, boy, you'd better get your plans together. Next year's the election, so the year after is the wedding. Right?

Although . . . from what I’ve heard . . . perhaps I should reevaluate the political impact.

Paer reached across the table. “You’ve got your ‘planning something diabolical look on.’ What are you thinking about?”

“Politics. Will you still love me if I . . . am wrong about a possible . . . umm . . .”

“I will love you no matter what . . . and when are you going to tell me about it?”

“Next week, if my analysis supports my gut feelings."

 
 
matapam
07 October 2018 @ 09:14 pm
Chapter One

2 Muharram 1410 yp

Gate City, One World

"Thank the One you're back!" Paer's voice was loud over the comm.

Ebsa paused, half out of his grubby field khakis. "Problem?"

"It's my birthday! Dad's arranged this huge party, practically a ball, and invited everyone I've ever met in my entire life. The party starts in three hours, you have to get here." She sounded desperate.

"Paer? Are you all right?"

"Yes! It's just . . . men keep cornering me and . . . explaining what strategically valuable husbands they would be. I'm getting calls from arrangers. Please come. I need your sanity."

"Right. Three hours. Government House or Versalle?"

"Government House. Dad's . . . well, he needs to regularly get into the news, and . . . "

"A big birthday bash for his daughter works nicely. Right. Tell all the guards to let me in, please."

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"

"I still have to clear it with Ajha."

All the rich men bringing her presents . . . He tossed a quick glance at his footlocker. Some nice mineral samples, some spectacular crystals, a bit of gold. Collected from a dozen expeditions to various parallel Earths. Oh hell, forget those things. I have the perfect gift, something none of them can beat. And no import license . . .

A deep exhalation over the comm. "Yes. Go clear it with him. Wow. Just hearing your voice has helped. I'll be fine if you can't come."

He snorted. "Oooo, that had putting up a good front all over it. I'd better run."

Ebsa punched off, and tapped in Ajha's code, while pulling up the right forms on his comp.

Good thing I know the Subdirector of Exploration so well . . .

He tapped away at the form while the wait light flashed.

Click. "Ebsa? Problem? Didn't know you were back."

"Just got in. Three day break. No problems other than the tsetse flies, and the voracious fauna. Even Ra’d getting tired of shooting lions, leopards, jackals, wild dogs, poisonous snakes . . . and the herbivores are even more dangerous. But the mining companies are going to be killing each other for access. Umm . . . Ajha, do you owe me any favors?"

"Free lessons in the subtle use of influence?"

"Leave to leave almost immediately for Paer's birthday party in Paris and an import permit for the present I want to give her?"

Finished the form . . . sent it.

"Import permit? I'm almost afraid to ask . . . Ah, here's your form. You want to import two . . . Wait a minute. You have two actual . . . in a bubble, I presume? Where did you get them and for how long have you not been telling me about them?"

"Umm, four years? They're from that world where Ra'd and I first encountered the Helios. I keep forgetting about them." Ebsa walked to the kitchen fab and ordered a bucket of pseudo tomato cubes. And a large red ribbon.

"I really don't know how you fail to mention things like this to me, now and then. What is Paer going to do with them?"

"Play with them until she finds a good zoo to take them, or releases them to the wild back on their world of origin."

There was a thump from the comm that he hoped wasn't Ajha's head hitting the desk.

"Right. Your permit is in the works. Go with my blessings or some such nonsense."

Ebsa found the bar handles of the double bubble at the bottom of a drawer and opened the bubble. Excited cheeps. He pulled out the big dog crate, and checked for cleanliness. With the double bubble, essentially no time had passed and the bedding was still clean.

"No, you can't come out and play, and no I'm not feeding you yet. Paer will feed you." He shoved the container of tomato cubes into the bubble, tied the ribbon around the crate and slid it back in as well. The cheeping died away as he closed the bubble.

Then into the shower. Into his good suit. He frowned a bit at the slight fraying around the lapels. I guess I need a new suit. But it'll do for now.

A long line at the corridor, and then Paris traffic being what it was, he was late when he finally pulled up to the side gate at Government House.

At that point he got the expedited treatment. A grinning guard directed him around to a side entrance, where Scar took the wheel to park the car while Ohhe hustled him inside. "Rescue the poor kid from that bunch of snobby leaches."

"I'll do my best." Ebsa scanned the room. The crowd thickened from left to right, where Paer was seated, and apparently in the process of opening presents. A pair of newsies with almost discreet vidcams riding their shoulders. One of them, Koil, of course, turned to get a good shot of Ebsa.

Ebsa edged into the group, trying to pick up cues as to how far along the party had gotten. It looked like Paer was on the last present. Buffet tables were in the process of being refilled. Quiet music, no dancing.

Up front a young man knelt and produced a small box. Just right for a ring.

"Paer , I have the highest regard . . . "

"No." Paer pushed back in her chair. "Don't. Just don't."

"Paer, will you . . . "

"No."

"Do me the honor . . . "

"No."

"Of becoming my . . ."

"No! For the One's sake, Evdu . . . "

"Wife?" The idiot finally sounded a bit uncertain.

"No."

"But, but . . . " Now baffled.

"No."

"My father . . . " But still trying.

Paer lifted her eyes, and spotted Ebsa. She lit up and jumped up out of the chair.

Dodged the idiot, who had risen with her and apparently thought he should kiss her. She didn't even notice. Her elbow to his ribs was just a reflexive clearing of an obstacle and barely thumped him. Unfortunately.

Then Paer reached him and threw her arms around him. "You made it! I was getting worried."

"Traffic. Sorry."

"Who is this?" The idiot had followed.

Everyone was gawping at Paer's public display of affection.

"Ah, Ebsa this is Evdu Withione Paris. Son of the Minister of Health. Doo, this is Ebsa Clostuone Montevideo, a colleague of mine at Exterior and a Warr . . . "

"Clostuone! What are you doing hugging a Clostuone?"

Nods and murmured agreement all through the crowd. And other murmurs. "Old fashioned suit . . . " "Country hick . . . " "A bit threadbare . . . "

Paer stiffened, a faint growl . . .

"And he showed up late without a present." Idiot, nose in the air.

"Oh, yeah." Ebsa grinned and turned to Paer. Pulled out the metal bars, which of course she recognized as the handles of a dimensional bubble. "I've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to give you these."

He knelt on the floor and opened them. Pulled out the crate, to much excited cheeping from inside.

"Ebsa, what in the One . . . "

Paer opened the door and two critters the size of large clumsy puppies crowded out, cheeping in excitement. A little fluff of feathers, but naked skin showing, faint striping, . . . with neck shields and three stubby horns above their beaks.

"Triceratops?" Paer folded up on the floor as the clumsy babies milled about cheeping in confusion. Then identifying Ebsa, they charged up and butted him and tried to climb into his arms.

"Yep, they hatched, oh, their time line, maybe a month ago." He pulled the bucket out of the bubble. "They love tomato cubes." He hastily pulled off his coat and spread it in her lap. Handed her the bucket.

The chicks transferred their allegiance to her immediately and slurped, smacked and dripped tomato everywhere. Mostly in her lap.

And the giggling Paer didn't seem to mind at all, as she fed them cubes. The coat caught most of the drippage.

Ebsa glanced to the side. A beaming President of the Empire wiped a tear from his eye. "That's my little girl."

The other guests of a more mature age were split behind rueful shakings of heads or appalled disbelief. The newsies were grinning and getting it all.

The younger cohort was mostly aghast.

Fortunately for the sake of the party, the chicks quickly stuffed themselves, pooed on Ebsa's coat and collapsed for a nap.

Ebsa put the puppies, or chicks or whatever baby triceratops ought to be called, back in the crate. A snickering maid took Ebsa's coat away, holding it at arm's length.

Paer was still grinning, and took his arm. "Dad? I'm going to stand you up on the first dance."

Evdu hissed faintly. ". . . dead meat, Closey."

"Of course, Honey."

Ebsa offered an elbow and led Paer to the dance floor as the band segued into a waltz.

If looks could kill, Evdu would have had his wish five times over.

At least the President looked happy.


Chapter Two

“Tsetse flies?” Paer looked over at Ebsa, as he pulled into the line at the corridor to Gate City.

“Yeah. Ra’d says it’s not fair, the worst danger not being amenable to just shooting it.” Ebsa grinned. “And the elephant stampede! I don’t know why they were in such a big hurry, but we just put up the strongest shield we could manage, wedge shaped, with the crawler at the point, so they sort of bounced off the angled sides and kept going.”

Paer sighed. “And I’m stuck in the hospital. Again! Maybe I’ll plan a tsetse fly eradication program.”

“I’d love it—especially if you could come supervise it.” He sighed wistfully.

Paer nodded. “We really need some private time.” She glanced at her watch.

“Yeah, with the traffic, I’m barely going to get you to the hospital for your shift. And I might have enough time to run my field clothes through the wash.”

“You are such a bachelor! Ick!” Drat. I need to change that, but Dad . . . there are times I hate being the president’s daughter. But this should be his last election, so maybe in a year . . . two at the most. I mean, we’re both still young, what’s the rush?

She gazed as his profile as he drove forward. He’s even a good driver. The guards don’t worry about him showing off and getting me killed or, or, anything.

She grinned suddenly. And he gave me two baby triceratops! Anyone who knows me this well is dangerous. And dangerously yummy.

But yummy or not, he did barely have time to kiss her good bye, before she bolted through the hospital staff’s door to check in.

She spent the whole shift working on broken bones and a nasty bit of nerve damage. “Doc, you need to send more people to Embassy to train with Dr. Heath.”

Dr. Agre sighed. “Indeed. I’ve sent them, and they do come back better. I went across myself and talked to Dr. Heath. She says you have a rare combination of seeing, understanding, and being able to manipulate tissue.” The old doctor grinned wryly. “Congratulations! You’re the best student she’s had since Xen Wolfson.”

“Ooo! High flattery.” She glanced back at the room she’d just left. “I’ve got Irbw’s nerve cells splitting. I’ll check in a couple of times a day, it may take two or three days’ worth to span that gouged out bit. Then we’ll see if I can get the fibers all sorted out and connected to the right one on the other side.”

Dr. Agre sighed. “Call me, and I’ll round up the usual suspects to watch how you do it.”

“Right. Do you suppose we need to catch potential Medgicians earlier? I could pop into the School and coach a few of the Medical Aid classes. Maybe identify people with potential?”

“Yeah, right after you liaise with the Elf Project people. No, don’t look excited, there’s still no contact.”

Paer nodded. “It’s been a year and a half. I suspect they don’t want to contact us.”

And on her break, she researched the tsetse fly.

Insecticides, traps, sterile male release, and of course their real threat was the diseases they carried. She’d need to know what that world’s Tsese’s were transmitting, then if they could eradicate the disease in the native species that was hosting it . . . Not that eradicating a nasty bloodsucking fly wasn’t a good idea in itself.

She sent a message to Ebsa about the best insecticide to use around their campsite and how to get samples so she could identify the diseases, then went back to work.

***

Paer finally got across. Which was always good, even if it was only to the Halfway World.

Halfway, energy-wise, to the part of the multiverse where they’d found worlds where a different branch of the human tree had become the dominant, tool using, civilization building people. The Elves—that they’d found before they stopped searching this direction—were mostly short and slender. Mostly hunter-gatherer level, some with agriculture . . . and one with high tech, including dimensional travel.

They’d only met them once. She and Ebsa had picked up as much of their language as their short time together had allowed.

And old dimensional beacon had apparently drawn their interest to a very dangerous world. Now, an Intel sudirectorate research team had set up on this world, and were running a beacon from here.

More power for the beacon, half the distance.

No response.

Yet.

But Paer spent two days speaking squeaky Elf to the linguists and sociologists. Trying—again—to remember every little detail.

Then back to work. Coaching resentful medgicians—medical magicians—in the Comet Fall techniques.

And interviews. No matter what her job was, she remained the daughter of the President of the Empire . . . and she had baby dinosaurs. Which led to discussions about the practical use for dimensional bubbles.

“A year on the outside is less than an hour on the inside. Cute Chick and Ugly Puppy have been sleeping off their tomato dinner for a couple of minutes. My Olympic jumper Crystal, and my pony Raccio, have been bubbled for the better part of seven years. Mind you, I get Crystal out and ride her occasionally, and she got used for the jumping scenes in one of those vids, but in between, they don’t age.

“These sorts of things would be so nice for other pets as well. Your dog could be bubbled while you go to work or overnight. While you’re on vacation. You can take them with you, for that matter.”

Koil nodded.

Our pet newsie, who helped us solve a murder our friend had been convicted of. I probably shouldn’t give even her so much access . . . but she’s never tried to trap any of us, never ambushed us. I guess I’ll keep her.

“With that much bubble time, a pet could live thirty or forty of the owner’s years.” Paer bit her lip and tiptoed toward the deep end. “No to mention, never needing a babysitter again. ‘Got the kids right here in my purse.’ Or some such.”

Koil choked. "But, but . . . people couldn't, wouldn't, with babies!"

"Well, the Fallen Witches often do, but even so, you’d have to be much more careful with babies. Not leave the handles someplace where they could be stolen, or, well, I believe bubbles are air and water permeable, so you could drown or suffocate someone inside."

“Paer, I swear every time I interview you, you manage to terrify me.”

Paer laughed. “The speed the world, the Multiverse, is changing terrifies me sometimes.”

***

Paer took a weekend off to go to Paris . . . and found herself attracting men, with marriage proposals. Fortunately most were businesslike and took their dismissal well enough.

Evdu kept showing up every time she went anywhere. Museums, coffee shops. And two out of three formal dinners—the price extracted for being the president.

She gave up and rode. A lot.

And accepted an official car, with chauffeur, to get her back to Gate City after Sunday dinner. Her apartment was a relief, even if it was five in the morning when she collapsed in bed to catch a few hours’ sleep before taking a late shift at the hospital.

And in the afternoon, a call out for a medical emergency, Across. She grabbed the medical cases shoved at her and followed the other emergency staff out.