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matapam
19 April 2019 @ 04:09 pm
Then we've got a batch of stuff with Arno and Ryol starting college, then . . .

Professor Ivy shook his head. “Much though I hate to turn you loose on society, this three-day weekend is intended as a breather before you came back for the second half of the semester. So at least get off campus, preferably, go home and see your family and old friends. Have some fun. See you Tuesday, rested and ready to go. Or hungover. Whatever. Scat!”

Milo looked wistful.

Ryol snorted. “Have fun in Paris. I’m headed for Montevideo, and the beach.”

***

It was great. Late enough in the southern hemisphere spring that swimming, surfing, and sunning with family and friends was fun. Monday evening came too soon, and Mother dropped them off at the curb, a short walk to the dorms.

Arno veered off to his and Ryol walked on, the sidewalks busy in the twilight, all the students returning from the weekend.

Milo popped up from a bench outside her dorm. “I thought about calling, but . . . I really need to talk to you.”

“Milo . . .” She took in his worried expression . . . almost sick. “Let me dump my luggage in my room. I’ll be right down.”


“Now what the One has you in such a swivvet?”

He waved his hands, helpless . . . “It’s just . . . being around my father again, and being treated like I was . . . well I didn’t put myself foreward when he was talking to some other people . . . but I heard him say that at least they wouldn’t have to worry about Izzo much longer.”

“Milo!

“I know! I know this is already one of the dirtiest campaigns in centuries, and I ought to be on my father’s side. But . . . And it’s not like I have any real information. Or even . . .”

“Do you know who he was talking to?”

“Peeve . . . he works for my dad. Two Councilmen, Otty and Aprw . . . I don’t even know who to talk to about something so nebulous.” He stared at her. “But your dad’s a subdirector, maybe he know where to . . . I don’t know. Drop a hint?”

Ryol sighed. “I know who to call.” She pulled out her comm and tapped in Rael’s number.
 
 
matapam
17 April 2019 @ 01:34 pm

“Let her go now, Insa. Come and sit down over here. We’re going to be talking to the detectives for hours, we might as well let everyone else do their jobs.”

And a dreary couple of hours it was.

And this is only the primaries. It’s going to get really nasty before Ramadan.

***

“Why did I do that?”

Lucky Dave looked over at Insa, who was looking at his gauze wrapped hands.

“You guys would have gotten them all out safely, probably faster, without me being in the way.”

“No, we wouldn’t have.”

Insa jerked around and stared at him. A policeman walking past stopped and turned.

“I didn’t even see the bus, I was focused on looking for a follow up threat, and getting you to somewhere safe.” Dave glanced toward the burned out wrecks. The freeway’s going to be closed for the investigation for the rest of the day. “The four people who died were critically injured in the initial blast. Because you spotted them, and instantly ran to help, we were able to get the rest of the kids out before the secondary fires flared up. Before the bus’s gas tank burst.”

Insa dropped his hand and stared into space. “Damn Ycrw. And you know damn well there won’t be a speck of proof.”

“Yeah. Even if they trace the truck, the explosives . . . there will be layers of blind errand runners.” Dave winced. “And don’t discount the War Party or the Isolationists. They may have figured to eliminate both of you. You dead, Ycrw suspected of brutal murder.”

Insa was staring at the ground, probably not seeing much of anything. “A year ago it seemed so clear and obvious. I was angry and everyone agreed with me. Except it was really just the few people around me. I didn’t see anyone else. Even the crowds . . . just warm bodies I could whip into a frenzy, to reinforce what was so obviously right.”

He swallowed. “I thought Crow was brilliant—a boring speaker, no human touch at all—but his ideas were sound. Or I thought so, then. Since he declared for himself, I’ve gone back and read his speeches. And wondering how I missed the way he talked about people.”

He hung his head. “At least I saw people I liked, or disliked. People I could use. I never saw things.

Eventually they were sent away, and after three days of no campaigning, Insa braced his shoulders and scheduled an interview.

***

Dave watched from the sidelines.

The cute blonde hostess was smiling while she expertly prodded Insa into saying a lot more than he’d intended.

“No. ‘Equal Rights’ doesn’t mean ‘everyone is the same.’ I’m more magically strong than most people, I’m more intelligent than most people.” Insa flashed a grin at the closeup camera. “Good looking too. But. We are all citizens of the Empire, all equal before the law, and all endowed with the civil rights that the Prophets enumerated.”

He sat back and eyed the pretty Newsie. “But we are not identical. We are all individuals, and should be judged as such, not categorized and put in a box and required to conform to society’s preconceived notions of how someone from that box ‘should’ behave.”

She raised eyebrows. “But you reject genetic engineering?”

“Yes. We are both who and what we are, and genetic engineering changes the what. Does that also change the who? We are all the sum of the interactions of our genes and our environments. Where are the studies of personality changes, with genetic engineering? And which genes? How many?

“And why? I heard of a few antidotal instances of people touching the power of the One after receiving a One Power gene. But no actual studies to say what percentage of the engineered ever touch power, and how many gain a truly useful amount? How many have accidentally injured another person, having had no lessons in control and caution?”

“I haven’t heard . . .”

“Because there have been so few. What happens when millions of people get genetic engineering?’ Insa threw his hands out, the right one still bandaged.

No one knows what people may be doing to themselves!”

Dave nodded. Finally, something of the fire and passion. But . . . the wrong issue for a One Firster.

Insa leaned toward the newsie. “The . . . social status of the One is due to our being the descendants of the Prophets. Some artificial chemicals added by a Native Wizard doesn’t make anyone a descendant of the Prophets.”

The Newsie was frowning at him, now. Not getting what she wanted.

“What about the bus? Did you realize you were risking your life for a pack of Multitude kids?”

Insa paled. “That didn’t matter. They were kids in danger, and I did my best. The Black Horse Guards did most of the saving. If I hadn’t tried . . . I wouldn’t be fit to be president.”

“You cried over a girl who was already dead. Are you strong enough to be president?”

Insa was blinking back tears. “Yes. I’m strong enough to care. Smart enough to do things that will work, not things that sound good.”

Ycrw called him a weakling and a Native Lover.

His wife filed for divorce and half his staff quit.

There was no progress on the investigation. A auto-drive truck stolen a month ago. Old fashioned explosives made from easily obtained household and farm chemicals. Commercially available electronics reengineered to trigger the explosion.

Someone was watching Insa’s campaign HQ, and had the timing right to send out the truck. So many thing that could have delayed us . . . but a check of all public records we can find, and there’s no sign that they’d tried before, but not been in the right position.

Well, sometimes you do luck out the first try.



Chapter

Acceptance

Arno eyed the sender’s address . . . University of the Empire, School of Directorate Studies.

“Well . . . Good news or bad?”

Ryol leaned to peek at his screen. “Oh One! Are they sending acceptance letters?” She jerked back and started clicking on her comp. “I have one too.”

Arno opened the letter.

We are please to accept . . .

“Yes!” Arno heaved out a deep breath and started reading the details . . .

Ryol bounced in her chair, “Me too! We’re in!”

Congratulation from around the room. Izzo looked in to see what was causing the commotion, and added his congratulations. “Well, other than losing staff . . .”

“Not as fast as Insa . . . he’s really sunk in the polls of One Firsters. You can probably stop mentioning rabble rousers and start in on cold-blooded, unfeeling, power seekers.”

Izzo grinned. “Yeah. Heroics that would have won any other party’s nomination . . . but the One Firsters are horrified. Well, Ycrw always was the bigger threat to me.”

Ryol, still grinning, turned around. “Actually him being the bigger draw than Insa is good. It pulls more voters from the War Party and the Isolationists.”

“True.” Izzo shook his head. “Kids . . . advising a presidential candidate.”

***

Then he called his Mother, and then Aunt Rael, uploaded a note to the Wolf Kids bulletin board . . . and got back to work.

Izzo and Pug—Wpgu—were unique in that they were both pushing their moderately similar agendas, without getting extreme or attacking each other.

The other primary races were a gold mine of extremist quotes that were going to be very useful . . . hopefully for Izzo. And vastly entertaining, even when they weren’t usable.

They headed home before the rush hour hit and found a party waiting for them. Mother beaming, then Dad getting home early, also beaming. The little brats excited, except for a brief wide eyed minute of realizing their big brother and sister would be leaving and only get home a few times a year . . . from now on.

And it’s true. I’m months away from turning eighteen . . . and suddenly I don’t feel very grown up.



Chapter

Primaries

And faster than he’d believed possible it was suddenly Rajab and time to run frantically around the globe encouraging people to vote for him as the twenty-ninth arrived and the Polls opened.

Xiat had reserved the main ballroom at the Saint Honorine for the poll watching, and hopefully victory party. And a penthouse suite so he could step out and . . . flop on the bed.

“I can’t keep smiling. My face hurts.”

Xiat snickered. “Yes, Dear. Relax for an hour. Then we’ll go over the exit polls before your next interview.”

“Umm . . .”

Relax. They look very good, everywhere but Paris. Homestead is in your pocket, as we expected. Now relax for a little bit.”

Guess I’d better. This is just the prelims. I just hope we don’t have any more bombings.

***

Insa conceded early. Circulated, thanking all the hard work and loyalty his staff had given him. “Remember that you are the best people. Not the best tyrants.”

Dave tried to keep one car and send the Guards home. Scar shook his head. “Nope. He’s getting the full escort, none of this slinking away home, defeated crap.”

So they drove him to his oversized home in the Alcairo Enclave, gave it a quick sweep . . . removed a nasty—but neither illegal nor dangerous—present from his soon to be ex-wife.

Dave eyed the man. Sad but not depressed. Solidly centered. “Going to rabble rouse for Ycrw?”

“No . . . I’m not dead sure what I will do. Now.”

Dave nodded. “You might look into the effects on personality of adding power genes to adults. I conned a better researcher than me into digging for information . . . and there simply are not any studies out there.”

Insa eyed him. “All the Lucky Dave stories said you had the priest gene, not the power gene.”

“I got the power gene the day after I arrived.” He shrugged. “I don’t think—or feel—like my personality has changed. My magic has increased by a tiny amount. Measurable, but tiny. And I’m a man who was trained rigorously in the use of power from the time I was five years old.”

Insa nodded. “I’m glad to hear about the personality . . . and mixed on the rest. Because, you know, Halfers are the descendants of the Prophets. And even a lot of Multitude have some of the non-insertion genes. So . . . maybe I was completely wrong.”

“We are all the children of Allah, or God, or however we all variously call the Creator. Even the one who vehemently deny his existence. Good Luck.”

***

Izzo napped, showered, and headed back down, to look confident, talk to Newsies. To thank all his staff, both volunteer and paid. Uncle Zipo was looking happy about the money that had rolled in the last few days.

Midnight, and the last polls closed on the far side of the world. The actual numbers started rolling in . . . half an hour later Ugpw conceded.

Tomorrow it starts all over again, with a slightly different focus.



Chapter

Last stretch

The Black Horse guards reorganized for the general election. And the analysts as well.

“Agfu, for the War party. Ovil for the Isolationists, Ycrw for the One First Party.” Rael was reading off her list. “Izzo for the Modern FederalistsDiego Jesus Blanco Ramos for the Multitude Supreme, Ketzel of Falconhurst for the Nativists, Beautiful Flower for the Pacifcists. The two independents are still running. So, nine people to guard. Volunteers? No, you cannot all have Izzo.”

That was good for a snicker.

“So . . . Idlo, how are you getting along with the Crow?”

“Poorly. I’m not an admirer, therefore I am the enemy. Same with the Guards. I’d recommend trying a whole new set of people to liaison with his people, and that they avoid too much contact with the man himself. That way they might remain neutral and do a good job of warning his security.”

“Ouch. Right, anyone want Afgu or Ovil? Ammo?”

“I’ll take Afgu, he’s a pretty standard politician. I understand the mindset.”

“You’ve got him. Idlo? Ovil’s all yours. Echo, how are you doing with Izzo?”

“Umm, he’s got so many competent people I feel like I’m getting run over by a fleet of trucks. I mean, no problem, but you might want to put in someone new, who can establish a better rapport than I did . . . Actually, working with an icicle like Ycrw will suit me.”

“Hmm, Dave, I think we’ll throw your mystique at Izzo’s staff. Then there’s Ramos and Ketzel . . .”

Ydro waved. “I’ll take Ramos. I grew up in a Multitude neighborhood.”

Mick volunteered for Ketzel, “I lived on horseback all of my early life. From his interviews, I’ll like him, even if it isn’t reciprocated. Plus he’s got a wife and a princess, a teenaged daughter and two younger boys. I’ll ask Major Eppa to send guys who like horses.”

Save rolled her eyes. “I’ll stick with Miss Fluffy Beautiful Flower. The woman’s insane, and driving her new princess crazy. It’s entertaining.”

“Good. Ydro, you get Atty, and Opnu, Wglo’s all yours. From what I’ve seen they’re single issue candidates, just working to raise awareness of, for Atty, the environmental mess in Siberia, and Wglo, the demands of the pre-nuclear war Amerind tribes in North America. So they’ll both continue with minimal Guards. But if they do actually scare up some interest, or trouble, let me know.”

 
 
matapam
16 April 2019 @ 11:03 am

Chapter

Acceptance

Arno eyed the sender’s address . . . University of the Empire, School of Directorate Studies.

“Well . . . Good news or bad?”

Ryol leaned to peek at his screen. “Oh One! Are they sending acceptance letters?” She jerked back and started clicking on her comp. “I have one too.”

Arno opened the letter.

We are please to accept . . .

“Yes!” Arno heaved out a deep breath and started reading the details . . .

Ryol bounced in her chair, “Me too! We’re in!”

Congratulation from around the room. Izzo looked in to see what was causing the commotion, and added his congratulations. “Well, other than losing staff . . .”

“Not as fast as Insa . . . he’s really sunk in the polls of One Firsters. You can probably stop mentioning rabble rousers and start in on cold-blooded, unfeeling, power seekers.”

Izzo grinned. “Yeah. Heroics that would have won any other party’s nomination . . . but the One Firsters are horrified. Well, Ycrw always was the bigger threat to me.”

Ryol, still grinning, turned around. “Actually him being the bigger draw than Insa is good. It pulls more voters from the War Party and the Isolationists.”

“True.” Izzo shook his head. “Kids . . . advising a presidential candidate.”

***

Then he called his Mother, and then Aunt Rael, uploaded a note to the Wolf Kids bulletin board . . . and got back to work.

Izzo and Pug—Wpgu—were unique in that they were both pushing their moderately similar agendas, without getting extreme or attacking each other.

The other primary races were a gold mine of extremist quotes that were going to be very useful . . . hopefully for Izzo. And vastly entertaining, even when they weren’t usable.

They headed home before the rush hour hit and found a party waiting for them. Mother beaming, then Dad getting home early, also beaming. The little brats excited, except for a brief wide eyed minute of realizing their big brother and sister would be leaving and only get home a few times a year . . . from now on.

And it’s true. I’m months away from turning eighteen . . . and suddenly I don’t feel very grown up.



Chapter

Primaries

And faster than he’d believed possible it was suddenly Rajab and time to run frantically around the globe encouraging people to vote for him as the twenty-ninth arrived and the Polls opened.

Xiat had reserved the main ballroom at the Saint Honorine for the poll watching, and hopefully victory party. And a penthouse suite so he could step out and . . . flop on the bed.

“I can’t keep smiling. My face hurts.”

Xiat snickered. “Yes, Dear. Relax for an hour. Then we’ll go over the exit polls before your next interview.”

“Umm . . .”

Relax. They look very good, everywhere but Paris. Homestead is in your pocket, as we expected. Now relax for a little bit.”

Guess I’d better. This is just the prelims. I just hope we don’t have any more bombings.



 
 
matapam
15 April 2019 @ 10:04 am

Dave sighed and looked back to where Insa was scowling at him.

Insa stalked down the steps. “I was not inciting him! I was just bitching about Izzo and his oh so egalitarian, I’ll go anywhere and everyone is my equal pigshit.”

Dave shrugged. “But some people will take that as a hint. You have to be careful of your audience.”

“Bah.” Insa stepped around him and out to the limo pulling up. Flunkies scurried to join him.

Scar driving, another man riding shotgun, two cars escorting. Dammit, I hate not driving and I’m an analyst, dammit, not part of his guards. I probably don’t need to go along to see yet another mini riot while he preaches about how great Oners are.

None-the-less they were two men short, with Ux and Icks dealing with the idiot. Dave trotted over to the guard detail, and got handed the keys to the lead car.

:: Just straight down the One-Oh-One to the San Francisco corridor. :: Scar’s mental voice was clear and unworried. :: Go. ::

Dave pulled out onto the street, turned right, merged left, onto the freeway . . . Slammed on the brakes and slewed the car so the truck cruising down the road shot past them before turning into a shrapnel laden fireball.

How did they know we were coming?

The limo thumped the side of the car hard, backed away . . . no room to turn, and temporarily blocked by traffic behind them. Dave had to throw himself against the door and get it open, the rear door wasn’t opening at all, and it was a tad warm on the other side. Dave jumped out and the they all piled out behind him, climbing over the front seats . . .

And staring as Isna bailed and bolted across the freeway.

The heat from the burning remains of the truck was intense. What did they load it with?

Dave ran after him, and saw the problem. The school bus that had crashed the center barrier, this side blackened, the flaming debris under it. Sticking to the side of it.

Napalm, the Prophets called it . . .

Isna grabbed the release bar on the back of the bus and screamed in pain, flinching back.

Heat is power.

Dave held both hands out and pulled power. Grabbed the bar lifted and pulled. The other guards were right behind him, pulling out screaming, crying children.

Dave jumped up and balanced on the highway divider, ran halfway up the bus and concentrated on a tiny little slice, and removed a whole window assembly. Reached in and grabbed a kid trying to crowd into the center aisle of the bus, pulled him out. Other kids followed.

Dave ran up almost to the front and cut out another window. But this time he had to climb through and so very carefully pick up injured, dazed children and hand them out . . . and children with burns, from the shattered windows on the far side. Glass cuts, head wounds . . . there were lots of people helping now. He spotted Rael’s read hair, a tall man in a sparkly tuxedo, Major Eppa, air cars whisking injured children away . . .

Three covered forms, two small, one large.

Insa sitting on the road, rocking a dead child, tears streaming down his face.

The guards standing around him looked helpless. Dave knelt beside him.

“Sir . . .”

“I know. I felt her die.”

Dave looked at the horribly burned child. She must have had her window open.

He looked around . . . the last children were being removed, the cars stuck behind the explosion were backing up and being sent on their way. Just a few witnesses talking to the very large number of Black Horse Guards, and the few city police who’d gotten through what was probably a monumental traffic jam.

“Let her go now, Insa. Come and sit down over here. We’re going to be talking to the detectives for hours, we might as well let everyone else do their jobs.”

And a dreary couple of hours it was.

And this is only the primaries. It’s going to get really nasty before Ramadan.

***

Dave watched the news interview from the sidelines.

The cute blonde hostess was smiling while she expertly prodded Insa into saying a lot more than he’d intended.

“No. ‘Equal Rights’ doesn’t mean ‘everyone is the same.’ I’m more magically strong than most people, I’m more intelligent than most people.” Insa flashed a grin at the closeup camera. “Good looking too. But. We are all citizens of the Empire, all equal before the law, and all endowed with the civil rights that the Prophets enumerated.”

He sat back and eyed the pretty Newsie. “But we are not identical. We are all individuals, and should be judged as such, not categorized and put in a box and required to conform to society’s preconceived notions of how someone from that box ‘should’ behave.”

She raised eyebrows. “But you reject genetic engineering?”

“Yes. We are both who and what we are, and genetic engineering changes the what. Does that also change the who? We are all the sum of the interactions of our genes and our environments. Where are the studies of personality changes, with genetic engineering? And which genes? How many?

“And why? I heard of antidotal instances of people touching the power of the One after receiving a One Power gene. But no actual studies to say what percentage of the engineered ever touch power, and how many gain a truly useful amount? How many have accidentally injured another person, having had no lessons in control and caution?”

“I haven’t heard . . .”

“Because there have been so few. What happens when millions of people get genetic engineering?’ Insa threw his hands out, the right one still bandaged.

“No one knows what people may be doing to themselves!”

Dave nodded. Finally, something of the fire and passion. But . . . the wrong issue for a One Firster

Insa leaned toward the newsie. “The . . . social status of the One is due to our being the descendants of the Prophets. Some artificial chemicals added by a Native Wizard doesn’t make anyone a descendant of the Prophets.”

The Newsie was frowning at him, now. Not getting what she wanted.

“What about the bus? Did you realize you were risking your life for a pack of Multitude kids?”

Insa paled. “That didn’t matter. They were kids in danger, and I did my best. The Black Horse Guards did most of the saving. If I hadn’t tried . . . I wouldn’t be fit to be president.”

“You cried over a girl who was already dead. Are you strong enough to be president?”

Insa was blinking back tears. “Yes. I’m strong enough to care. Smart enough to do things that will work, not things that sound good.”

Ycrw called him a weakling and a Native Lover.

His wife filed for divorce and half his staff quit.

Chapter

Acceptance




Chapter

Primaries

Once Izzo had written a number of responses to various issues, the volunteers organized the sending of appropriate replies, and kept up with the statistics—now sorted geographically—so he knew how to shade his stump speech according to local interests. Exle and his Party staff were impressed with the items Izzo was willing to shift to the regions and boggled by how far down he thought some responsibilities should be. Uncle Zipo juggled numbers and gave him a daily synopsis. He turned his travel and speaking arrangement over to Xiat. Wiz ran the office.

Advertisements on screen, on Grid, getting on the news as often as possible.

So far it was working.

Izzo emphasized their position in the Mulitverse, the need for a modern, open tolerant outlook. Ugpw emphasized the need to shift responsibilities to Region and Division. Izzo agreed, cautioning against both the regions becoming isolated from each other, or the colonies neglecting security as they opened gates to other worlds.

“Unfortunately there are some very unsavory polities out there. We can extend the hand of friendship without inviting the Earth to attack, or the Helios to try another mass kidnapping event.”

He had Foo running security with nine guards on rotating shifts, and more available when he travelled. Eqku—Echo—was the Agent assigned to him, poor fool got all the threatening, nasty mail and had to analyze it for actual threat potential.

And he was a hit on Homestead, giving his speak in T!ectlk* with a grinning *Zolt translating it into English for the linguistically challenged. Couldn’t do it on Tall Trees or Vista, the other two Colonies with Natives, but he did a lot of small group discussions, with both natives and Colonists. Businesses. The impact that Corridors and permanent gates had had on their lives seemed at the forefront of all the groups on multiple continents. And the possibility of not having to go to the Empire Council for every micro managed thing certainly appealed.

“The Council’s going to fight giving away power. It’s not just a matter of electing a Federalists. We need a strong showing in the council races—twenty percent of the Council is up for reelection every year, so we need to keep working to build up representation every single year. Regional elections shouldn’t be neglected, either, because with luck and hard work, they’ll be taking over those responsibilities.”

And faster than he’d believed possible it was suddenly Rajab and time to run frantically around the globe encouraging people to vote for him as the twenty-ninth arrived and the Polls opened.



 
 
 
matapam
14 April 2019 @ 08:17 am

***

“I tried to talk my brother into leaving . . . and finally admitted it wasn’t going to happen.”

Izzo eyed the little old man. “Well, your younger brother lives on Homestead—he’s a wildlife biologist—most of the time. But he’s been traveling a lot lately, helping the colonists on Lucky Thirteen, Limbo and Agony, as well as some of the foreign colonies—Tyrant and Refuge.

“He’ll be delighted to meet you, and probably haul you off and show you everything you’ve missed over the last . . . century? One!”

“I’m a hundred and forty-seven. I won’t say I’ve missed life, but I have missed the life I might have had. But I’ve lived to see the end of era, to see the One Mind stop.

Izzo nodded. “I’ve met your alternate self, from the Whirlpool One. He’s settled on Tyrant, married and they’re expecting their second child. So perhaps you should consider that your life may be diverting back toward that life you might have had.”

“What an interesting idea. I shall have to consider it. “ The old man eyed him. “Rael tells me you’re running for President? Do you need a statistician? Or an accountant? I’ve done both for the One.”

Izzo grinned. “I’ve got some party people setting up the fundraising end of things, and yes, I do happen to need an accountant. On the other hand, I’ve got insufficient and nearly untrained people reading my mail to see what people are most concerned with. Umm, Dad always refers to you as Zipo . . .”

The ex-priest laughed. “I’d forgotten that! Excellent. I shall be your Uncle Zipo.”

***

Back at campaign headquarters, Izzo found the staff hard at work, and expanded once again. With a few familiar faces.

“Shouldn’t you two be in school?”

Arno grinned. “Extra credit for taking an active part in a presidential campaign. I’m analyzing your mail so you can write, or have someone write more specific responses to questions they have.”

“And I’m diagramming the ministries, to see which ones do what things, and which of them could, and possibly should, be shifted to Regional, Division, or District levels.” Ryol had an outline on her comp . . . “I started with the official chart, and now I’m going through the subministeries.”

Izzo felt a chill. I have seventeen-year-olds organizing my mail? Telling me what functions I should shift away from the Ministries?

He swallowed and told himself they were just shifting the most basic data.

Uncle Zipo leaned over Arno’s shoulder. “How are you sorting them?”

“Well, I’m keeping a double list. One is individual issues; I’m counting the frequency of each. The second is a list of linked issues, that is, many letters have multiple issues, and I’m trying to see if there are many multi-issues the frequently show up together. And if perhaps a specific plan that dealt with related topics should be considered. Umm, for instance, leading the pack, the Empire’s debt, the annual deficit, the pork added to every spending bill, government employees primo perqs, and how the Regions are going to pay for any responsibilities they take over that are currently the Empire’s job.”

Arno squirmed. “I thought maybe a list of the order things need to happen would be useful.”

“Arno . . . if you weren’t a high school kid, I’d hire you.”

He flashed a grin. “Graduating in two months. I hope I’ll be accepted at the Directorate School, and if so I can work until the middle of Shaban.”

Ryol nodded, and poked at her screen. “Surely they don’t make waste water treatment decisions at the empire level. There’s way too many variations in population density, water supply, soil types and, and . . .”

Izzo nodded. “Yeah. Drives the remote farmers crazy to have to have to sorts of systems cities need. Keep highlighting the most obvious stuff.”

A chuckle from Uncle Zipo. “Got a pair of smart ones. Is your whole staff like this?”

Izzo was saved from having to admit that no, most of them were just earnest office workers, by the arrival of Wizzy.

“Oh! You are so definitely Izzo’s uncle!” She stuck a hand out. “Princess Gews, please call me Wiz. Izzo’s note said you were an accountant? Let me show you what we have set up . . .”

Izzo looked back at Ryol’s sheets. “That exactly what I need. Dig as deeply as you can.”

A glance at Arno’s . . . “I guess I’d better start writing.”

***

And once a number of responses to various issues were written, the volunteers organized sending appropriate replies, and kept up with the statistics—now sorted geographically—so he knew how to shade his stump speech according to local interests. Exle and his Party staff were impressed with the items Izzo was willing to shift to the regions and boggled by how far down he thought some responsibilities should be. Uncle Zipo juggled numbers and gave him a daily synopsis. He turned his travel and speaking arrangement over to Xiat. Wiz ran the office.

So far it was working.

He had Foo running security with nine guards on rotating shifts, and more available when he travelled. Eqku—Echo—was the Agent assigned to him, poor fool got all the threatening, nasty mail and had to analyze it for actual threat potential.

And was a hit on Homestead, giving his speak in T!ectlk* with a grinning *Zolt translating it into English for the linguistically challenged. Couldn’t do it on Tall Trees or Vista, the other two Colonies with Natives, but he did a lot of small group discussions, with both natives and Colonists. Businesses. The impact that Corridors and permanent gates had had on their lives seemed at the forefront of all the groups on multiple continents. And the possibility of not having to go the Empire Council for every micro managed thing certainly appealed.

“The Council’s going to fight giving away power. It’s not just a matter of electing a Federalists. We need a strong showing in the council races—twenty percent of the council is up for reelection every year, so we need to keep working to build up representation every single year. Regional elections shouldn’t be neglected, either, because with luck and hard work, they’ll be taking over those responsibilities.”

And faster than he’d believed possible it was suddenly Rajab and time to run frantically around the globe encouraging people to vote for him as the twenty-ninth arrived and the Polls opened.

***

Lucky Dave sidestepped and landed on the stranger’s toes. Flinched back just a bit as he yelled, grabbed him to steady him . . . and felt the weapon under his coat.

Bloody Hell! Another one! The Fruitcake Magnet has done it again! I do not believe this.

Dave had the laser out of the man’s hand as he drew it so neatly it nearly looked like the man handed it to him.

“That’s better. You know, Insa tended to get excited and say things he didn’t actually mean, so whether you are planning to kill him, or think you will help him by getting rid of a rival . . . don’t do it. Just . . . don’t.”

As he’d come to expect, this idiot—like those before him—swung a fist, and Dave blocked and punched him, bending him over retching and gasping for breath.

Icks and Ux trotted up and grabbed him by the arms and hauled him off. A day in the local jail for psychiatric evaluation would do him a world of good.




 
 
matapam
13 April 2019 @ 08:44 am

Chapter Nineteen

Organizing Analzing

Lucky Dave eyed the other dozen people in Urfa’s conference room. Rael, Idlo, Inre, and Ydro he’d met often enough. The other eight, well, he knew their names.

Urfa walked in late, and this time, Puur in tow, as usual. “Right. As the Presidential Director, I’m recusing myself from this project. Rael? It’s all yours. Call me if you need advice or whatever, otherwise, it’s all yours. Good luck ladies and gentlemen, hopefully we can keep everything peaceful.”

And off he went, having not even sat down.

“Well,” Rael shifted to the head of the table. “Apart from the usual rivalry between the parties, this season will be enlivened by the two One Firsters being at each other throats. Since Midnight, we’ve have six more people declaring, One each from the War Party, and the Isolationists. Two more Multitude Supreme, and two independents.”

She leaned back. “Now, most of the security and protection will be in the hands of the Black Horse Guard, but it is also our job. We’ll be monitoring chatter, looking into threats both verbal and on Grid.

“And we do not play favorites. While we’re on this job, we don’t favor any of them, we don’t act against, or fail to notify anyone. Got it? If you have a problem with that, keep in mind that our friends and colleagues in the Black Horse will be throwing themselves between the candidate you hate, and anyone trying to harm him. If you still don’t give a damn, you can go back to your regular job and I’ll pull in some new people.

“In fact, with the new candidates, I’ll be pulling in more people as well.”

“One challenge we’ve got are the two female candidates.

“The Black Horse Guard, being so overwhelmingly male, every woman Guard is going to be out there with the families. And they’re going to be stretched to cover them all. So, Mick and Save? You will be doing some closer coordination with Guur, who apparently wants to be called Beautiful Flower, and the new Isolationsist Candidate Toag Withione Brisbane in venues where it’s difficult for the guys to check the lavs and so forth. Most large venues, there are a few more private lavs, so that hopefully won’t be an issue and you can concentrate on analyzing all the hate mail . . . stop frowning. In six months you be begging to go back to lav checks, and changing rooms and escape from the mail.”

The two women’s frowns turned thoughtful.

“After the Primaries, we’ll have half the people to cover, and half as many targets for the troublemakers to spread their joy among. So we’ll be concentrating both guards and analysts on the nine or so remaining. The independents may stop campaigning at some point, when they run out of money. So their guards can be reduced as well.

“So, with that in mind, we’re setting up in Versalle, second floor west.

“Now, let’s a take a look at these candidates. In theory the four former councilmen will be familiar with security and coordinating with bodyguards, except that Ramos always refused an escort ‘because the people loved him’ so we may have a problem there.”

They sorted the them out, personality types, wives—neither of the women candidates were married—children, Princesses.

“The eight who do not have assigned princesses already, are getting them post-haste. Like as not temporarily. But we can hope their presence works as a reminder to their principals to stick to verbal means of attacking their rivals.” Rael looked around the table. “Any comments? Any worries?”

Idlo nodded. “The Multitude Supreme could get . . . interesting. They’re all favors of Socialists, but Ramos is from Mexico and fairly dark. Elias Mann is from the Caribbean and appears to have a lot of African heritage. Burchett is a White from South Africa. A traditional hotbed of racism, but I don’t know about him personally. They may well join forces and push universal socialism, or . . . not.”

Rael winced. “Right. Ydro? Do an in depth search on Burchett, looking for any history he has, one way or another. Has anyone been to Vista Colony?”

Idlo raised a finger again. “Nowhere near Falconhurst, whole different culture. Ketzel will be a European horseriding hunter clan, and the Anglofied clan name means it’s a new one, established well after the Oner takeover. Even odds he’s a Halfer.”

“How about Badlands?”

Two of the new guys waved. “A little farming, a lot of mining. Even counting the mine workers, it’s the smallest colony. Everyone’s dirt poor, unless they’re government or upper ranked company officials.”

The second guy chimed in, “I think Oscu is one of the farmers. I suspect he’s running just to raise awareness of how little the government cares about the colonies.”

“Find out which group he belongs to, see if he’s made an speeches, or written anything.” Rael looked at her notes. “”Beautiful Flower has been in local Hawaiian politics for decades, and a couple of years added the whole Pacific rim to her attempts to influence people. She wasn’t holding any government positions the last two years. Does anyone have any personal experience with her?”

The princess she’d called Save, lifter her hand. “I know Toad. Nice enough, but tedious about politics. So if you need a volunteer for Beautiful Flower, I’ll take her.”

Rael frowned at her comp. “I have Toag with a G.”

“Yeah, but, well, sometimes the nicknames are worse than the original.”

“I see. So Mick, Toag is all yours.” She grimaced. “Ycrw and Insa are going to be challenging. Any volunteers?”

Lucky Dave shrugged. “I’ve been watching the Insane one yelling at crowds more than a year. I’ll take him.”

Rael nodded. “Good luck, and yell for help if needed. I’ve asked for more people mainly so I could double-team those two.”

Idlo raised his hand. “I’ll take the Crow. I’m snobby enough that he won’t write me off as too low class to listen to.”

Lucky Dave blinked. That’s a degree of self-knowledge I hadn’t expected.



Chapter

Relatives

Izzo looked up as Wizzy—Princess Gewz—walked in. His assigned princess had returned from Makkah just in time to whip his quickly ballooning staff into shape. “Rael wants you.”

“Rael? Put her on the speaker.”

They were alone in the back office of Campaign Central, the third floor of a smallish ten story office building. At five in the morning, his staff was sensibly not here yet.

“Izzo, I’ve got a late arriving Ex Priest, oldest we’ve seen yet.”

Izzo raised his eyebrows at Rael’s tone. Boggled? Amused? Both?

“Name of Izpo Withione Al Cairo, son of Izgo, older brother Izmo, younger Igzi.”

Izzo was nodding. “Yep, that’s my uncle.” He looked over at Wizzy. “Do I have anything this afternoon?”

“Informal staff meeting for lunch. Driving to Rome to meet the Regional Councilors?”

“Right. Rael, I’ll be there in half an hour. Wiz? If I’m not back for lunch, start without me. Make a list of things I need to decide on, prioritize it.”

“Right, Boss.”

 
 
matapam
12 April 2019 @ 11:42 am

***

Dave watched the three kids wandering off, then looked down at Qamar. “Want to bet Arno isn’t the one who rescued our alternate selves?”

“Nope. I won’t say it’s a sure thing; he’s got the dimensional ability. But does he have the initiative and nerve to do what the Whirlpool Oner Priests say he did?”

Dave grinned. “Just walk in a join their search? Hard to say. Some teenagers are completely oblivious to danger and do the damnedest things.”

“Speaking from experience, Dave?” Qamar grinned. “I, of course, have always been a model of sensible behavior.”

“Oh yes. Umaya’s told your father all about your sensible behavior. In between bragging about your academics.”

“Hmph! And you hear everything. For that, you’re going to have to dance with me.”

Dave checked that the commander was covered, then let Qamar lead him off to the dance floor.

Half an hour to midnight, the fireworks started. And ended at exactly midnight.

President Orde stepped up to a raised circle, tonight supplied with a podium and microphones. The potential candidates and party leaders moved up close. Traditionally, the party with the sitting president started the announcements. Dave grinned at the wave of comments swept the crowd as the Modernists were joined by the Strong Federalists in the circle.

“It’s with pleasure that I get to start the campaign season off with the announcement of the merging of the Modernists with the Strong Federalists. We’ll be filing the paperwork later today, forming the Modern Federalist Party.”

Another wave of comments, mostly hushed, in tones of dismay . . .

“And right now, two immediate contenders for the Presidency, Ugpw Withione St. John’s East Canada, and Izzo Withione Tanta Alcairo.”

Polite clapping as first Ugpw, and then Izzo stepped up and recited the official declaration.

No speeches tonight. Tomorrow it’ll be nothing but speeches as they all trot out their agendas and try out their stump speeches. The ones aimed at the whole Empire, as opposed to the ones that would take aim at the regional audiences.

They all walked off with pauses for shaking hands here and there.

The War Party took the circle, with three candidates. The Isolationists had two. Then the One First Party was next up with “The Crow” Ycrw Withione Volla Naples’ rolling out the declaration with his deep honeyed tones. It came close to a fist fight right there when Insa Withione Kubra Al Cairo stepped up and declared.

The microphone was fortunately not sensitive enough to have picked up the Crow’s hissed threat. But Dave caught it, and the through-the-teeth comment that he hadn’t resigned his Council seat.

Sneer. “Sent it just before midnight, to avoid exactly the sort of shit you’re going to be . . .” they were out of hearing range, and Dave shuddered at the thought of being the bodyguard of either man. Major Eppa said earlier that he would try to assign guards to people they like, so as to encourage vigilance. He’s going to have his hands full, there.

And . . . I’m presidential directorate, not Black Horse . . . so now that these guys are official candidates, I’ll be analyzing threats and hopefully seeing them coming in time to tell the bodyguards about it.

Then the Multitude Supreme Party . . . Diego Jesus Blanco Ramos had resigned his Council seat a week ago, and was apparently their only candidate here tonight. And the head of the Nativist Party, Ketzel of Falconhurst from Vista Colony stood up there alone to declre his candidacy. The last Party—the Pacifists—were fielding two candidates. Guur “Beautiful Flower” Neartuone Lana’I was the sole female candidate, and Oscu Withione Redrock Badlands from the Badlands Colony was the last candidate to declare.

Urfa stepped up to the mic to invite any independents to step up, and having no takers, thanked everyone for coming and invited them to stay for the last round of fireworks.

And tomorrow . . . later today . . . we get to work.



And a list of the candidates, wives and assigned princesses in case you want it to keep track.

The War Party: Afgu Withione Iztapalapa Azteca                           Qook              Fiip
                             Yflo Withione Evreux Paris                               Joid(Jodi)      Poix
                             Whlu Withone Jeromimos Madrid                     Swup              Nyyk
                             Icto Withione Knysa Draken                             Ime                 Ciod
One First Party:  Ycrw Withione Volla Naples (Councilman)             Vaat                Cuet
                              Insa Withione Kubra Al Cairo (Councilman)      Qwof               Teoz
Isolationists:     Ovli Withione Tianjin Peking  (Councilman)              Powx              Roug
                             Upzu Withione Long Island New York                Vwex              Like
                             Toag Withione Brisbane                                                         Dyyn
Modern Federalists   Izzo Withione Tanta Alcairo (Director)             Xiat                 Gewz
                             Ugpw Withione St. John’s East Canada          Toul                Poyt
Multitude Supreme Diego Jesus Blanco Ramos(Councilman)           Carmellina     Boyf
                             Elias Mann    [Carribean]                                Velva              Kuyk
                             Valentin Burchett [Southern Africa]                   Gertie             Dewn
Nativists             Ketzel of Falconhurst [Vista Colony]                   Imperusa       Siav
Pacifists             Guur “Beautiful Flower” Neartuone Lana’i                                 Piaf
                             Oscu Withione [Badlands Colony]                  Zwyg               Baus
Independents    Atty Neartuone Lenin Moscow                              Noup              Quad
                        Wglo Clostuone Broadway Los Angles                 Luyc(Lucy)    Maym



 
 
matapam
11 April 2019 @ 10:33 am

Chapter Eighteen

Announcements at Midnight

30 Ramadan 1414

“The problem with getting reference letters is that the most important people I know are relatives.” Arno scowled at the screen of his comp.

Across the table, his annoying twin sister nodded. “Aunt Rael would be awesome, and Dad too. A subdirector! But not the biodad. I wrote a letter to One Ytry asking for a letter of recommendation, but I haven’t got one back. So who are you going to ask?”

“You actually asked a priest? One of the priests we dosed with Joy Juice?” Arno blinked. “I don’t suppose they would blackball us . . . would they?”

“One Ytry had a sense of humor. The other priests? Brrrr! No way.” Ryol smirked. “Anyway, I asked the President for one. And I think I’ll ask Lucky Dave.”

“Wow. You do have nerve.” Arno looked back at his list. “I was going to ask Izzo . . .”

Ryol nodded. “And then he quit last week. Which means . . .”

“He going to run for President. One! I really hope he can pull it off.” Arno looked back at his comp, and his immediate problem. “Maybe I’ll ask Ebsa. He’s a distant enough step-relative.” Ra’d’s the one I ought to ask . . .

Clicking heels on the floor. “Ready to go?” Their mother looked them over and nodded her approval. “The limo is two minutes out, so if you need to . . .”

Arno shut his comp and headed for the lav.

A garden party at Government House to view the fireworks on the Eid. All the families of the top people invited. Hmm, how many of Aunt . . . Mom’s co-workers have I been around enough to ask for a letter of recommendation?

Well, they’ll all be planning their speeches for the announcements right after midnight.

Arno’d been to Versalle several times with Aunt Rael, but this was the first time he’d been to Government House. But he’d seen the front entrance in the news and in movies a million times, and this garden almost as often. He gulped a little as he walked out into the place where his genetic mother and father had almost died. Yeah. Right there on the dance floor.

He looked away, looked around at his sister’s squeal.

“Lucky Dave! Whoa, you cleaned up nice.”

Yep, there was the famous Lucky Dave, shaking his head at Ryol. “Hi, Crazy Redhead Number Two. I see you haven’t changed a bit in a year and a half.”

Arno snickered. Looked around and spotted Jay. Wow, someone I know. Well, all right, he’s a half-brother. He walked around two other groups of chatting people.

Jay spotted him and bowed out of the group of adults and joined him. “Hey, how’s it going?”

“Still good. Thank the Oner Mother decided we were responsible enough to trust to a grid school, so the last two semesters were great.”

Jay nodded. “My school is death on bullying, so I don’t mind all the rest of the strictness. At any rate, I haven’t turned anyone into a goat. Yet.”

“Really? You know that spell?” Arno considered a couple of students who had been especially nasty in their harassment . . . “I could have used that one last year.”

But Jay was shaking his head. “No. And probably a good thing.”

“Yeah. So when did you go to Embassy last?” Arno glanced over to see what Ryol was up to . . . still talking to Lucky Dave, now with a tall brown haired woman . . . Qamar? Yeah, the Prophet’s daughter.

“Or What, Yrno, and I got hauled in for a week just before school started. We can all do corridors, now. Still flubbing gates. You?”

“Couple weeks before that, I had lessons with Q. Man, I had no idea how hard it is to put a gate where you actually want it!”

A snort from Ryol, behind him. “As opposed to randomly? Lucky Dave, this is my idiot twin, Arno, and Jay is my nice half-brother. This is Dave ibn Daiki ibn William, and Qamar . . . do they use ibn for girls? Daughter of Nicholas, Granddaughter of Victor.”

Arno shook hands with both, trying to not let his jaw drop. “An honor to meet you both.” And they are a pair, standing close, and Qamer eyeing Ryol like she’s competition. Ha!

Lucky Dave eyed him. “So you can make gates? Randomly?”

“Well, not randomly. They have a strong tendency to stick to the same spot on the other world that you’re standing on. Not to mention the trouble anyone except Q has finding the right world in the first place.”

“Probably not too much of a problem, if you don’t particular care where on the world you go.”

Qamar nodded. “Or you could go to the place on the One World that you wanted to go to on the other World, couldn’t you?”

Arno nodded. “Except we like to keep the gates all in the SGA. Well, except for the suburb worlds . . . I wonder if they all go to their local regions, or if they try for nicer climates?”

Yes, let’s change the subject, shall we?

Qamar nodded. “It would work for a temporary gate though. Like, a quick check for gold in California, right?”

“Yep.” Or not. Lucky Dave is looking thoughtful. “Although you’d have to get permission, or a permit or something, from Director Izzo. Otherwise it would be quite illegal.”

Dave nodded. “No doubt. Why don’t you all come meet Commander Nicholas?”

***

Who was talking to Ox . . . Arno blinked. “You look just like Ra’d.” And knew he was blushing, but couldn’t seem to stop his mouth. “Umm, other way around, I guess.”

The Prophet grinned. “Yes. And you look a great deal like Xen Wolfson.” He eyed them all. “So you’re three of the people who are bringing dimensional abilities to the Empire?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Excellent. And interesting to see irony at work on a cosmic scale. Wolfson sabotaging us . . . by giving us even more access to the Multiverse.”

Qamar snickered. “It is, isn’t it? With a big enough time gap that by the time we’re seriously dangerous to Comet Fall, maybe we won’t want to be.”

“Depending on the next President.” Arno glanced at his watch. “Two hours until we start getting declarations of candidacy.” He eyed the Prophet, a sudden thought . . .

“Oh Hell no!” The prophet grinned. “In fact, I’m not dead sure I’d qualify as a citizen of the Empire.”

They all gawped at him.

“I guess I’d better check on that, and see about how to register to vote and so forth.”

Ox snorted. “I suspect that was assumed. You’ll just have to register that you are residing in the District you’re living in.”

“The French countryside. I feel like I should plant grapes.” Nicholas looked over his shoulder. “Unfortunately I need to go meet more politicians. It has been a pleasure to meet you three.”

They watched him move off, and Arno heaved a deep breath. “He’s almost as deep as Master Xen.”

Ryol sniffed. “I’d like to see him next to the Old Wolf. Although too many deepnesses . . .”

“Could be a bit overwhelming.” Arno glanced at the Prophet, now shaking hands with former Councilman Ramos. “One of Those Left Behind, Wolfgang Oldham, is our biological grandfather.”

Lucky Dave and Qamar both gawped at him. “

Dave huffed out a breath. “The Commander says he learned his martial arts, from weaponless to military tactics from a Wolfgang. The Warriors he taught call their barehanded, knife, and stick methods ‘the Way of the Wolf.’ And it’s quite impressive.”

Qamar snickered. “And Dave is a master of it. He beats up all the Warriors.”

“Not all of them.” Lucky Dave grinned. “But some, yes.”

Arno looked puzzled. “Why aren’t you considered a warrior?”

“I can’t do the fancy battle magic.” Dave shrugged. “Didn’t need it, my job was to keep Nicholas alive.”

Qamar grinned ruefully. “We’re both taking lessons from Rael. She’s called us her stubborn idiots more than once.”

Dave snorted. “Yeah. I can slice almost a meter now. What kind of range do you kids have?”

Jay shrugged. “Us Wolf Kids, as a group? Thirty to fifty meters for slice, double that for a small diameter punch.”

“Wolf Kids?” Arno looked at Jay.

“Oh, haven’t you heard that? The Farmer Kids got tired of being treated like hicks, so they decided to change it. We staged a great shouting argument, where they used it like an insult, then we pointed out that half them were Xen’s kid’s too, the other half took lesson from him . . . We’ll see if it sticks.”

Ryol rolled her eyes. “I would much rather just be . . . one more oner kid. Maybe I can shed the group identification in college.”

Lucky Dave snickered. “Good Luck, you’re not the sort to blend in. Crazy Redhead.”

 
 
matapam
10 April 2019 @ 08:23 am

Izzo leaned and poked at the screen. “Actually, there’s an entrance back here that I’d prefer to use. We’ll park back there and walk in.”

Dave nodded. “Political maneuvers starting already?”

“Just dropping in on some old friends.” Izzo’s grin was sharp and hungry, his eyes bright.

A happy warrior in the field of his expertise. Right. Let’s go get ‘em.

***

And not exactly a battle.

Lucky Dave thought about just being part of the background, as Izzo sought out a small meeting room. No more than a dozen men and women, chatting, the door open . . .

“Izzo!” The first man to spot him sounded surprised. “I don’t suppose you’ve come to rejoin your old party?”

A lot of eyes brightened at that, only a single scowl . . . and that faded into thoughtfulness.

Izzo shook lots of hands, only needed two introductions.

Dave eyed one man, his deep red complexion very foreign . . . was this the XR subdirector? Tok, with a deep pop in front of it? He was clearly delighted to see Izzo.

He thumped Izzo’s shoulder. “So . . . how much trouble are we going to get into today?”

“Oh, this is just a quick visit. I wouldn’t want to disturb a Party meeting.” Izzo grinned. “I mean, it’s not as if you’d consider merging with the Modernists, to combine your broad appeal in the Colonies with Orde’s popularity here to take advantage of the way the One Firster have pulled voters out of both the War Party and the Isolationists.”

!Tok nodded. “Really, it would be so hard to find someone well known on Homestead, as well as a solid reputation and well known to the public here. Although perhaps not so hard as persuading someone else to quit their job to run from our ranks.”

Heads turned from !Tok to Izzo and back.

The man standing at the head of the table laughed suddenly. “I’d forgotten how the pair of you used to plot and plan . . . or just jump in and support each other no matter how hare-brained the idea. Thank you for dropping by Izzo. Perhaps you could hang around for a while.”

Izzo grinned. “They’ve got a nice snack bar here. Good coffee.”

Dave stepped back out the door, all clear, and Izzo followed him. The door shut firmly behind them.

“That . . . was very interesting.”

“Yes, but we won’t mention it again, until they’ve realized this is . . . workable.” Izzo pointed the way and a subtle spell, an illusion, slid over his face, the hair darker, the face young.

Dave snorted. And thought fatherly thoughts. Two coffees and half a dozen overpriced cookies later, Izzo’s comm buzzed. He looked at it and grinned.

“Let’s go do some more talking . . . or it might be time to arrange a meeting with the Modernist leaders.”

Dave frowned as he followed Izzo. “You have talked to them, haven’t you?”

A couple of the federalists caught that and nodded. “You have, haven’t you?” The leader asked.

Izzo ushered them back into the room and closed the doors.

“I have spoken to Orde, Urfa, and Exle. We hashed it over and agreed that they’d support shifting a whole lot of responsibilities to at least the regional level, if not below. If. You will admit that some things do need to remain at the Imperial level. And not suddenly decide you dislike so much trade with outsiders.” Izzo eyed them. “I suggested that since you had wanted, and been pleased to receive the gates among the colonies and to Embassy, you would realize that the Modernists have already shifted a great deal of power to the colonies.”

A man down the table snorted. “In trade, not in government.”

“Not officially. Not in making law. But the laws Orde fought to get passed changed laws so that colonies can trade independently—if they wish—or not. Their choice.”

!Tok looked innocently around the table. “It’s really no surprise that over seventy percent of registered Strong Federalists voted for Orde four years ago. It’s hard to spot a downside to this.”

Numerous glowers bent in his direction. “Especially since you think it lets you off the hook!”

“Well, you know me. Personal before Party.”

Dave decided, based on the combination of amusement or irritation around the table that !Tok had probably just mangled a party policy. Or something.

Izzo looked serious. “It just so happens that Orde, Urfa, Exle, and I will be meeting in Versalle tomorrow. If you would care to join us.”

Had it all worked out and set up, didn’t he?