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12 November 2018 @ 08:20 am

Ryol stopped dead.

Rael froze. "No . . . That's the sort of thing one notices . . . except . . . I was in a coma for two months . . . " She gulped. "I always did wonder how Raod met Endi. I . . . " She fumbled out a pocket comp and tapped at it. "All right. This is easy to check, no need to flounder around about it. I never really looked at my medical records. Squeamish, you know?" Her eyes moved as she read.

"I'm sorry," Arno whispered. "I didn't mean to . . . to."

She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. Froze. "D and C. Two embryos removed for transplant. One month after I was shot. Son of a . . . " She blinked. Tears? Aunt Rael?

Ryol elbowed Arno out of the way. "Mom should have told us. She ought to have . . ." She waved her hands distractedly.

Rael switched to comm mode and tapped in a familiar code. She angled the screen slightly away from them.

The screen lit, their mother's face . . . "Rael? It's one in the morning!" Her voice rose in sudden alarm. "What happened? What's wrong?"

"Raod, what did you or didn't you tell these children? And what didn't you tell me?"

"Oh . . ." Mom looked away. "I knew you'd find out . . . eventually . . . Rael . . . I wanted a baby so bad . . . five husbands, and nothing! And everyone was whispering that I must be barren . . . and I wanted a baby so bad . . . The doctors said a pregnancy would compromise your recovery, maybe tip it from a small chance you'd survive to no chance at all. We knew what had to be done. Mom was crying and Dad was all stoic . . . and then I had this brilliant idea. I could have your baby! And then you recovered. And Mom said you'd want the babies . . . I could feel them kick, feel their thoughts starting to stir, my sleeping babies . . . I made her and Dad promise to not tell. I told Ox. He didn't like it, but even he agreed once we thought about what that man might do."

Rael heaved a deep sigh. "And you were a wonderful mother. Are. Much better than I would have been. But you ought to have said something. I mean, I grew up knowing Kael was my biomom and thank the One she didn't have charge of me . . . well. Well. Go back to sleep. I'll talk to the kids."

She clicked off.

They stared at each other.

Rael reached out and pulled them into a hug. "You guys are still the best niece and nephew in the Multiverse . . . I should have known . . . should have looked at my medical records . . .”

Ryol reached out tentatively. “We love you. We always have.”

Arno blinked back tears. “Yeah.” I wondered . . . I didn’t know it would hurt to be right.

Aunt . . . his biomom . . . nodded. There were tears running down her cheeks. “I love you two. Now. Get back to your friends, and I'll see you tomorrow."

She released them. Turned and walked away.

"Is she crying?" Ryol whispered. "I can't believe you said that!"

"Me neither. I just . . . every time I felt that big zing, I wondered. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't know."

"It doesn't matter." Ryol gulped. "A Presidential guard hasn't got time to fool with raising kids."

"Doesn't mean she didn't want kids, though.."

Chapter Four

"So. Lon." Xen hid a smile as the old man eyed him suspiciously. "It occurred to me to wonder if we needed to expand some city services."

That got him a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, now, do you really need to look so skeptical? I was just looking at our overflowing school and wondering how many embassies had schools, and whether public schools, you know, letting the kids from all over mingle and get to know each other, would be a disastrous idea or not."

Inso shook his head. "Bad idea, Master of the Multiverse. When Oners start feeling the Power of the One, their control can get iffy, and they're a bit dangerous around the Multitude."

Xen frowned. "I don't recall many problem in Ash, but that was a small community, where everyone knew everyone's parents by their first names."

Everyone perked up at the mention of Ash. No doubt taking mental notes of anything he said about the near mythical "Magic Village."

Especially the new foursome. Cove Islands and Discordia, Old Gods help me!

Inso looked casual. "Oh? Thought everyone there was magical."

Xen snorted. "Three quarters, possibly a bit more. You guys can openly take notes if you want, the only people we'd want to hide it from already know where it is."

Inso and Lon both tried to look innocent. One of the other agents, from a Rain-of-Fire Book Earth, grinned. "Did Earth and One both attack it?"

"Only the Empire. Haven't you heard about the Action Teams that got eaten by dragons?" Xen sent a grin down the table. "The Earthers had moles in place—Andrei Andrews, Damien Malder and company—and they dropped in, at every possible excuse. Until they got recalled. Dear god. The idiots they put in their place. It's embarrassing. Yes, Lon. Please, please, pass that on. We keep having to rescue them from snotty nobles who don't like being talked down to. Sooner or later we'll be too late and they'll get the crap beaten out of them. Or get fresh with the wrong women and find out about witches first hand."

Andrei snorted. "Like those idiot men I was with didn't get into trouble?"

Lon sighed. "I'd tell them to send Malder back, but you had him pegged immediately too, didn't you?"

"We had people all over the gate camp. Before they ever left to infiltrate us." Xen grinned. "I probably ought not admit that we lost track of them for more than a year. Lefty says they cleverly painted their wagon, and lost all the knotheads who were supposed to be watching for them."

Inso snickered. "Is knotheads a pejorative for your version of the Multitude?"

"No, we don't have Multitude. Knotheads is what Lefty generally calls lieutenants, especially the ones that try to stick a lord in front of their name."

"Are the lords the magic workers?"

Xen shrugged. "A few of them. None very well trained. Well, except me."

"You're a lord?" Inso eyed him.

"Umm, technically, I can get away with prince. I was, very briefly, thank God, considered for Spear Heir. But even lord is pretty silly, since it's highly unlikely I'll ever inherit my father's land grant." He flashed a grin. "Which includes Ash."

"And who is this Lefty?"

"Colonel Carwell Lebonift. A wizard in the military. He's in charge of our, sorry, their dimensional exploration."

Lon cleared his throat. "Getting back to the matter of a school, I'll send a note to all the embassies, asking if they see a need for a public school. Actually, multiple elementary schools, in the various neighborhoods that are springing up. Perhaps two high schools to manage the magic emergence.

Xen smiled. “While you’re at it, why don’t you also ask if they think it’s time for the city to put in a sewer system. I’ve, umm, caught a few whiffs . . .”

Several nods around the table.

Karl held up a finger. “I’ve heard that the water pressure’s dropping off, especially in the upper floors of the Earth Embassy building.”

Xen bit his lip . . . “All the houses they’re building . . . Three hundred more planned for this year? Yes, we’re going to need to expand the water system. And the supply.”

Chris Hanger nodded. “I was thinking the other day that we’re getting spread out enough that buses might be useful.”

Lon pinched the bridge of his nose. “I'll ask about several things. Public transit of some sort. Electric, water and sewage. Comet Fall's got the public hospital arranged. City police? Fire department? Don't sniff, Xen, just because you can look at a fire and put it out doesn't mean the fires will oblige us by only breaking out when you're in town."

"Any wizard can do the same, and I don't see why Oners couldn't learn how. They source from heat, after all. And Purps, and Arbolians. And we've already got the water system in place. I’ll think about how to enlarge it. We could put in a sewage treatment system like Karista has, since the population has gone beyond a ton of septic systems."

"It's the big embassies that are having problems." Inso looked innocently over at Lon.

Lon raised an eyebrow. "I have heard a few comments . . . but perhaps we ought to first ask what sort of sewage treatment Karista has?"

Inso frowned. "And the water system here. There's no water towers and I can't recall any pumps, surely this isn't all gravity feed from the mountains?"

Xen blinked. "Umm . . . one way pipes? Surely the One have . . . No?"

Inso crossed his arms and pressed his lips together. "All right. Gloat. Show me what a one way pipe is."

"It's just a charm engraved on a pipe so whatever is in it is propelled in one direction. And yes, the big mains come in from the mountains. Q said she wasn't going to drink filtered river water, when a bit of work could get her snow melt. She roped in our uncle and a bunch of his disreputable buddies and after they made the pipes they were so drunk on magic, they turned right around and made this hulking monstrosity you all complain about." Xen swept his hand around to indicate the building they were sitting in, then reached over and filched the straw from Sommer Albrecht's coke.


"I'll give it right back. See the charm sequence?" He let it hang in the air long enough for the trained magic users to read it, then applied it lightly to the straw. He handed it back to Sommer. "Careful. It's kind of a small diameter for the spell . . . "

"It's blowing air." She frowned at it and put in in her drink. Cold carbonated sugar water hit the ceiling and dripped. She yanked the straw out and dodged the drips. "Xen! Honestly!"

He hid a smile and waved a careful variation of a shield spell. Very weak and flexible, he was able to skim the liquids off various surfaces and dump it in the trash. And dissolve the charms on the straw.

Inso was drumming his fingers. "You use those charms on pipes, and don't even need pumps. Not for a whole city? How much time do how many magicians spend doing that?"

"Eh, a week now and then? Every time Chance is in a town, he just sort of wanders about and charms any newly piped in areas. Anyone can do it, but since he roams around so much, it's pretty well covered. Just a few one wayers can keep the water moving through the more ordinary stretches. Occasionally, if there's a problem, a town will hire one of the engineering companies to come deal with it."

Lon was looking amused. "Sewage?"

"Purification spells on, yes, one-way pipes. Probably breaking down the complex organic chemicals all the way down to the atomic level, and letting them recombine, however they feel like. I haven't actually looked into it. But with so many people here, I guess it's about time." He glanced down the table. Quail Quicksilver was off visiting friends and family. Trace Breesdon was sitting in her usual place.

The young man shrugged. "Arbolian cities just dump it all in the river. It's disgusting. I speak as a country lad, who was once forced to endure to horrors of Lundon."

A sneer from Admiral Alf L’Sanjac, a tough old retired seaman. “We have pipes down to the sea, nothing else is needed.”

The younger Cove Islander pressed his lips shut. Lieutenant Martin T’Linc wasn’t going to contradict his superior officer.

I’ll have to split them up as much as possible, let the youngster figure out that here he’s under Disco’s authority, not his home Navy’s.

A curled lip from Solti Farid Mubera. “The Old Gods set up the system in Discordia. It has worked for a thousand years. Do you Wizards actually think you can equal it?”

Stuck up ass. Fifth younger brother of the Amma down there. An untrained Mage. And badly at odds with the other rep. Noh Verde is a SeaWolf. Probably a son of the original Cove Island rebels that fled and sought asylum elsewhere. A Sea King Mage with an ambitious glow to his poorly trained magic. I need to get both of them into training before they give us all headaches. And their kids. Two teenage boys apiece, and rumors of wives and daughters staying in harems in their embassy. Yuck!

"Ahem." Andrei Andrews eyed Xen severely. "I will get you several examples of how most places deal with sewage. Then we can adapt a system for this city and our various abilities, not have to start from scratch."

Inso snorted. "Good idea, no trial and error with sewage, please."

Katrine Cactus had been taking notes, and cleared her throat. "So, perhaps I should write up a letter to all the embassies. I'll request they indicate whether they have a need for public schools, police, fire department, additional water service, or a sewage system. Then we can collate the results and propose a budget. No Xen. I really do think we've gotten past the point of you just wandering off and taking care of it."

Lon nodded. "Cactus, also ask about public transit, and leave a spot for other suggestions. Any other matters we ought to consider?"

"Our boredom?" Chris muttered. Heads nodded.

Lon looked at Xen.

"There just aren't enough trouble makers around to really keep everyone busy." Xen shrugged. "How about if I doled out worlds to you lot, and you could go spot check them yourselves."

"Troubled worlds?" Xian Chang perked up.

Xen hesitated.

Lon snorted. "Isn't it time for you to learn how to delegate?"

"Ermmm . . . Yes?" Xen sighed. "Right. I suppose . . . the trouble worlds are Earth and One World. Then there's the criminals, the smugglers, the Cannibals and the Cyborgs."

"Oh don't look at me like that. I just pop in, catch up on news once or twice a month. I randomly check the Earth's Nowhereistan for troop movements. You know, we ought to have a permanent office there. Covert or overt? What do you think?"

Lon winced. "Overt. Please. And no One Worlders on staff. Really. That might fly."

Inso nodded. "Likewise on our side." He shot a glance down the table. "People with the power would get more respect than those without." He squirmed a bit. "Most Oners don't use the power on a day-to-day basis, like those nutcases from Comet Fall. You who've been engineered and learned to hold mental shields will fit right in."

Xen nodded. "Right. So? Who wants to go spy on Earth? One? Umm, who wants to go open offices? Are we going to need diplomatic immunity? More staff? How about we hire local people to run the office and we just supply the managers? Then the government there can insert spies, and our bunch can stay on their toes, avoiding disinformation."

Lon covered his face with both hands. "You are an even worse manager than you are an employee. Not, mind you, that anyone who knows you thinks you even try to act like an employee of the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation."

Karl Montego cleared his throat. "I never did quite get what we are a department of."

Everyone looked at Xen.

He spread his hands. "It sounded substantial, when we were planting disinformation for the Oners to find, if our spy ring was busted. I think Uncle Charlie came up with it, he liked the acronym, and I wasn't there to recognize a fit of very old humor."

"Is Charlie one of the old Gods? I don't recall the name." Lon was looking puzzled.

"He's one of the fourteen centuries old experimental children, but he went to Arrival, without brain damage. One of our early experimental gates connected to his world, thirty-five years ago. His humor can be hard for us younger type people to catch."

"Rather like yours. I never know when to believe you."

"Honest. No matter what the tabloids claim, there really isn't a High Council of Dimensional Overlords." He grinned at their expressions. "Except me. And Q. Actually she's better at dimensional stuff than I am. So, maybe she's the Evil Empress of the Multiverse?"

Chris snickered. "She's got to shed that sexless-everyone's-kid-sister aura before she can carry off an Evil Empress impersonation."