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matapam
14 November 2018 @ 06:07 am

***

The Priest eyed Arno thoughtfully. "So. Interesting results on your gene scan."

"I don't have a One gene, do I?"

"No. I surprised you recognize that."

Arno shrugged. "Everyone always talks about feeling the One, about hearing others, coordinating with other Oners . . . and I just don't feel anything I could even guess was the One or the Collective Subconscious. And everyone says my mental voice is getting loud, but they never act as if they feel my emotions. The talk the other day, I suddenly realized what the problem was, and why."

"I see. Very perceptive of you. When Xen Wolfson was here, he felt very much of the One, and had a connection. We are considering sending several of you to him for training. You might want to ask him how he did that, so you could as well."

Arno swallowed. "Actually . . . go meet him? I only just learned he's my bio-father three days ago!" That got raised eyebrows. "Mother just never let conversations go that direction."

The Priest nodded. He was elderly, unthreatening. Bright intelligent eyes. "Now, all the other genes of the Prophets, that we've spoken about. You have a huge amount. Over eighty percent. I'd really love to test your mother. She must have a large number herself; even if the wine selects, it doesn't make anything up."

Arno nodded. "She's a Princess. I mean a trained Princess. My biomom. She's here today, shall I tell her you want to test her?"

The priest's thin eyebrows rose, and his eye tracked back to the papers . . . "I didn't realize your mother-of-record wasn't . . . Montevideo . . . Do you mean Rael Withione Montevideo?" His voice went even higher.

"Yeah. It's not on our records?" Arno shivered. She went away and didn't come back all day. Maybe she doesn't want to see us.

The priest gave him a sharp look.

"Apparently I need some training in shielding." Arno sighed. "Another day of this and I'm not going to dare to think anything."

That got a smile. "Have you had the usual meditation and visualization exercises? Consider a mirror. A circle of mirrors. Facing outward, it reflects away the thoughts of others. Facing inward, it keeps your thoughts from leaking out. Once you've got that mastered, you can consider one way glass, frosted glass, fishbowl helmets and all sorts of variations. Why don't you step out into the courtyard and practice adding those mirrors to your meditations."

"Yes, One Izmo." Arno nodded obediently and slipped out of the room.

Aunt Rael was sitting behind a table right by the door, with a pile of . . . something . . . on the table. One bit of whatever it was had fallen off the table, and he stooped to pick it up. It slipped from his grasp, and he concentrated on it. This is no time to be a klutz! Try to impress her!

Her eyes twinkled.

He groaned. "I'm going to go practice mental mirrors. Right now." He held out the . . . "It fell on the floor. What is it?"

"A test. Congratulations, you passed."

He poked at it. It was like the glowing blue edges of a cube, but with some weirdness, like it was cubes inside of cubes folded up inside of cubes. He tried opening it up, pushed on a side, tried both at once to turn it inside out, it unfolded, in sort of a twisty weird . . . it popped like a soap bubble and disappeared. He jumped a bit, and reddened. "Sorry, sorry I didn't mean to break it."

Rael shook her head. "I can't even see them, whatever they are. Are there more?"

"Uh, yeah." He hastily snatched his hands back from touching the pile. "A couple dozen or so. You can't see them?"

"Nope. So, go meditate. I'll talk to you guys later."

"Right, sorry. Oh, One Izmo wants to do a detailed gene scan of you." He managed to get out the doors and only stumbled over his big feet once. He plopped down between Jay and Or What and tried to picture a mirror. A ring of mirrors all pointing at him, a ring that was a single smooth mirror. Like a fun house. All distorted. Yuck. He really didn't want to look at himself. He shrank his imaginary ring down to a band close around his head. Across his forehead, around his temples and meeting at the back, leaving his eyes uncovered to look around. Like an agal. Would it do any good? Maybe he needed an old traditional scarf thing. Keffiyeh. Maybe it could be all foggy. Like frosted glass, but flexible, and the mirror agal could hold it in place. But was foggy grey suitable? He was, well, on his mother's side, South American. Well, except for the part that was descended from the Prophets and they had been all types, but mostly European . . . He scowled and concentrated on the keffiyeh. Blue and white stripes, like the division flag. Leave off the big yellow sun, or maybe stick it up on the front of the agal . . . his head hurt.

***

Ryol shook her head at her clumsy brother and followed Princess Diuc past the pile of odd things on Aunt Rael's table, to a small room.

"Please, sit. Not to our surprise, you have a One X chromosome and Wolfson's double powered X chromosome. Your count of the other Prophets' genes is extraordinary. You kids average about fifty-five percent. You have eighty-four percent. Your mother must be extraordinarily strong. I'm surprised she wasn't recruited by the Princess School."

Ryol nodded. "Our biomother was. It could be that our records missed that complication, since we were embryo transplants. I'm not actually sure if we were legally adopted, or if everyone just decided to leave the hospital birth records uncorrected and save the fuss."

"Humph. Very irregular."

"Well, it could be that I misunderstand." She tipped her head toward, well, the wall, and by inference beyond. "Rael Withione is our biomother."

"Oh. She never said anything."

Ryol could feel her face heating, and wished she could go back and edit the conversation. "We've always called her Aunt."

"I see." The look was a bit pitying.

Oh great, now she thinks our mother rejected us!

"Well that does explain the lack of third person genes."

"Third person?" Ryol blinked.

"Literally." She shook her head. "That wine! Apparently, along with everything else it can do, it will sort through all available genes—that is all available sperm—and grabs anything better than the original chromosomes in the fertilized ovum, and substitutes them."

"Eww! That's . . . "

"Disgusting? Hard to say. No doubt the putative fathers of the other children will be happy to know that they've had some genetic input." Diuc returned her attention to the data screen. "So. You are a 212 Withione, with a Comet Fall X. You first touched the Power of the One at the age of ten years and four months. You’re glow is very well controlled, for your age.”

“Aunt Rael gave me lessons.”

“Hmm. And what did you see on the table out there?"

"A heap of maybe twenty cubes, four or five centimeters to a side. The edges glowed electric blue. The sides were translucent, very pale blue. The interior was hard to see, there may have been further cube frames within."

"Excellent. That was a test for dimensional abilities. You will be receiving an invitation to the Princess School when you graduate from high school. Actually you would even if you had no dimensional abilities at all. In the mean time, you will, from time to time, be invited to join others in special training. Part of the training is to measure your progress. We will be measuring your baseline this week. Some training sessions may involve travel to Embassy to train under the dimensional experts at Disco."

Ryol swallowed. Managed to nod.

"We're almost done with the individual chats. Why don't you relax. We'll be splitting the group up into those who have and those who haven't awakened to the Power of the One for appropriate exercises."

"Thank you, Princess." Ryol nodded and hurried out. I made a total hash of that interview. But . . . I will be going to the Princess School! And . . . Embassy!

Aunt Rael grinned and winked at her as she fairly danced past.

Gior and Voan were gone. The other girls were all trying to be serious and meditate and all. She sat down cross-legged and let her grin out. Princess School! Ryol for the win!



Chapter Urfa

"Then he handed me a sack full of absolutely nothing, and said any kids who could see and manipulate them could do corridors, and had a thirty percent chance of also being able to create gates." Rael glanced at the chip on the desk between them. "I did a word-for-word report on the whole conversation. With annotation."

"Humm. Well, did any of the kids see anything in your bag?"

"All of them." She pressed her lips together. I'm not going to ask if he knew. I'm not. "Nineteen of them just saw a vague blue glow, the rest saw cubes inside of cubes. Some could pick them up, others described them as too slippery to grab. One boy was fooling with, as far as I could see, thin air. He suddenly jumped, turned red and apologized for 'breaking it.' Whatever the heck 'it' was."

"Huh. And, did you meet any of his other kids? Or these mixed Oner and Comet Fall kids?"

"Yes. In fact Lieutenant Ruff Hasty who has considerable diplomatic duties with the Comet Fall Embassy, is one of Dancer Hoon Withione's pair. Xen is his father, and his younger brother is apparently the son of the God of Art, who is apparently no longer alive. And they said Ajha has a daughter and granddaughter there!"

"Hardly shocking, the way Action Teams were previously encouraged to run wild."

"Well, yeah, but, Ajha?"

"One suspects it wasn't rape."

"Oh. Yeah, that I can see." She nodded. "So, then Xen took me to Comet Fall, and introduced me to the Karista Bay Pyramid of witches. Dear One! It was like Pink Princesses everywhere! Four of them were the result of an Action Team gang rape. They felt like Oners. One of them was a member of Endi's spy team, the woman called Heil. They seemed to have about the same abilities as their more ordinarily conceived sisters. Sisters being a courtesy term applied to any fellow witch. Although in this particular pyramid a bunch of them had the same mother."

"I've heard they don't marry." Urfa tipped his chair back and gnawed his lip.

Rael grinned. "They do, but it's utterly scandalous. Very rare. 'Keeping a pet,' as they call it, is more common. Senior Sister Trump keeps Lord Hell, otherwise known as the God of Just Deserts."

Urfa choked faintly. Nodded.

"He's one of the original thirteen. Took my breath away, and he was pretty well shielded.

“Anyhow, back to the Embassy bunch. Ruff's apparently what they call a mage, and, well, technically speaking he's got dimensional ability, but can't really do anything. He's strong, mind you. He said the One gene and the Mage gene—that's the one they've got on the Y chromosome—were so similar that there wasn't the usual two different power genes effect, which Xen says is a large part of being able to do anything with the dimensional ability.

“Apart from Ruff, Xen's got four kids there on Embassy. Well, there's a lot more kids there, but four of them are his. Twelve year olds, two girls and two boys, scary strong, just glowing with magic. They've all got older brothers and sisters, apparently not Xen's, who are off at 'The Wizard School.'

“They made it sound like the equivalent of the Princess School . . . but Xen laughed and said it was straight up academic magic, both theory and practice. No politics or training for bodyguarding, and certainly not being trained to be leashes hung around someone's neck."

She didn't even try to suppress a sudden grin. "And he said that teleportation was not a dimensional skill. He said it merely took power, discipline, and training, and that he'd talk to his elders about the advisability of teaching us how it works. He started looking a bit cautious, at that point."

Urfa snorted. "And so I ought to send a powerful, well trained and disciplined Princess there? One that can get him to open up a bit more than is, strictly speaking, wise."

"Yep. Now, may I go check on those kids again?"

"Sure. Keeping an eye on your niece and nephew?" His brow creased. "How did your sister meet Endi, anyway? I thought she lived in Montevideo."

Rael closed her eyes. "The main reason I went to vent at Xen was that Arno asked something, and I checked my old medical records. After I was shot, while I was in a coma, they removed embryos for transplant. I yelled at Xen to keep myself from strangling my sister. She never told me. My parents never told me."

"Oh. One."

"Yeah. Thank the One I like those kids. Bit of a shock, fourteen years later, though. To find out I'm their mother, not their aunt." She sighed. "Biomother. And I haven't told them about my genetic irregularities, so to speak."

Urfa drummed his fingers. "Don't. They're at an impressionable age, no need to . . . make them feel attached to Comet Fall. Xen is such a heroic figure, I'm probably a fool to let any of these kids meet him."

"Umm. And being told they're something like three-fourths Comet Fall . . . I think you are correct."

 
 
matapam

"Oh, and teleporting is a very advanced skill, but not one that requires the dimensional ability. Don't know if we've got something else that facilitates it, or if it’s just another skill Oners haven’t needed, and so didn’t invent.”

“I hope so. I mean, Ra’d can teleport, but he’s not your average Oner.”

Xen shook his head. “No, but he’s taught Ebsa. Not sure if Paer’s got the hang of it yet.”

“Really? Dammit. Why am I having so much trouble?”

He grinned. “Come back some time and we’ll find out. For the kids, I'll send you some training aids. The kids who can see them clearly might be able to open gates—only about thirty percent of the kids with dimensional talent are actually able to open gates. They'll probably all be able to do corridors, when they’re older.

“And, umm. Tell Urfa I'll consult with my betters about lessons for my Oner kids." He pulled her closer. "Stay the night. And tomorrow. Meet some of our half-Oners, try to worm the teleportation secrets out of me . . ."

And not to say she doesn't feel what she's showing, but she wouldn't let it show without a reason, without wanting a specific response from me. Or, more likely, Urfa wanting a particular response from me. If magic lessons for kids is all, no problem.

***

“Have you met Ruff Hasty?”

Rael blinked, shook her head.

“Come along then, he’s posted here at the embassy. When I was a raw green lieutenant myself I had an interesting encounter with a woman whom I later learned was a Oner by the name of Hoon.”

“Yes, a Dancer, undercover as a maid in Rior’s entourage. Whatever happened, she dropped out of sight until she contacted an exploration team across one of your gates. And was killed in the battle there.” She followed him across the bridge and out of the grotto.

“Killed by the commander of the invasion, or at any rate, the ranking officer on the ground.” Xen shrugged. “In any case, Ruff is mine and hers, but he’d bonded with a man, a musician who worked for her, and Kipp finished raising him. His younger brother, Mars, was adopted by my Aunt—have you met Obsidian? Right. His father was Marty Beta, AKA the God of Art. He’s . . . nineteen and starting his two year rotation.”

“Whatever that is.” Rael got stern looks from the soldiers on duty at the Comet Fall West embassy. I wonder when they changed the name? Probably about the time the other polities decided to open embassies here.

“Ah, young Lords are expected to spend two years rotating through four posts, to be evaluated as potential officer material. The best get recruited. Yes, I’m one of the ones they wanted.” He pointed at the young officer in charge. “As was Lieutenant Hasty. Ruff, this is Rael Withione . . .”

“Yeah, she’s on all the ‘Known Foreign Agents lists.’ I’d have to check to see if her visitors pass is still valid.”

“Don’t bother. She’s just curious about Oner-Fallen kids, being one herself.”

The fresh faced young man looked her over and grinned. “Bran Butcher?”

Rael slapped a hand across her face. “Arg!”

“There’s a family resemblance. Didn’t realize he’d gotten onto the One World.”

Rael dropped her hand and sighed. “My biomother was an Action Team Leader, assigned here. I believe there was wine involved.”

Of course there was wine involved. You’re just lucky there weren’t any goats.”

Hand to face again. “I do not want an explanation of that.”

“Actually, if that pass is still valid, I should take you meet the Karista Bay witches. You can try to guess which five are half Oner.”

Ruff dimpled, suddenly looking a lot like Xen. “Do you have your pass, Miss?”

“Actually, it’s probably somewhere in my bubbled stable . . .”

Half an hour later, she trotted Carousel through the gate, right behind Xen on Pyrite.

The Karista Bay Pyramid of witches was so different from the Mount Frost Pyramid it boggled the mind.

Where Ash had sported neat vegetable gardens behind each tidy small-or-sprawling house, Hell’s Island sported a massive mansion surrounded by a barely tamed ornamental garden. The women were dressed in city fashions, rather than the shifts, over vests, and belts of the village.

They wore makeup and drooled worse than the big dogs when they caught sight of Xen.

At least the dogs were friendly—as soon as Xen spoke to them.

The witches, on the other hand . . .

“Ooo! Look who showed up on our doorstep!” A gorgeous woman with jet black hair, eyes gleaming with amusement.

“This is Inky, the archetype of Little Miss Trouble Maker.” Xen looked over the approaching crowd. “Looks like everyone is here.”

Eleven women, and then teenagers and little kids appeared from all over.

Xen stepped away from several women getting quite close to him and nodded to a woman with light brown hair with a tint of red in it. “Good morning, Trump. Have I just interrupted a family get together?”

“No, we just got back from the Island, and haven’t dispersed back to wherever, yet.” Trump set an eagle eye on the crowd. “Beige, Yoderite? Take their horses and put them up.”

The two who were trying to climbed all over Xen pouted, but took their reins and led the horses away.

The pale, almost white-blonde nodded politely to Xen. “Good to see you again.” And frowned. “Keeping dangerous company, I see.” A little bitter edge to her voice.

“Yes. Rael Withione Al Media Montevideo, this is Heliotrope, and her mother Trump who is the Senior Sister of the Karista Bay Pyramid.” He threw out names while pointing. Two minerals, then colors and a familiar name and face.

“Well, three of you got colors that match your hair. Heliotrope, I’ve seen pictures of, from the infiltration. And I met Princess Mihaela, wow has it been two years?”

Mihaela grinned. “It’s been a bit busy for you. Quite the spectacular wedding for the President’s daughter, and then that mess with those tangled up worlds. Staven and I did the tour of a couple of the Barren Worlds . . . Algae Worlds? And the pattern was . . . well frightening, frankly.”

Real giggled. “Is the dead dinosaur still stinking?”

“It’s pretty faint now, I mean, it’s been a year.” She grinned back. “I’ve gained an appreciation for vultures. It’s weird to think of all of what would be laying around putrefying without them eating most of it.”

“Eww! Really Mihaela! The things you do for that man!” The redhead—Scarlet?—looked past them. “Speaking of whom . . .”

Mihala grinned and pounced on the tall man.

That curly blond hair all the royal family sports . . . Prince Staven, Crown Heir, second in line for their crown.

“So. You’re the one who caught Xen.”

Rael turned back. “Heliotrope. Were you fishing for him?”

A snort from Inky. “Throwing herself at him. Settled for a Normal when she finally realized Xen thought she was worthless.”

Heliotrope growled faintly.

Rael giggled. “Oh you really are a trouble maker, aren’t you? How does that work anyway? Do you just walk around saying the nastiest thing that comes to mind?”

Inky glowered at her. “Yes. So tell us, how did you catch Xen?”

Rael thought that over. “I think partly because as an enemy agent I fit the femme fatale archetype for the God of Spies. And of course, being happy and enjoying life never hurts.” She giggled and bounced over to Xen who’d drifted off to talk to a very tall fellow with white-blond hair and improbably blue eyes. Who was leaking deep, deep power through substantial shields.

The God of Just Deserts.

He looked over at her with a smile. “Yep. Good and Bad. Mind you, the bad ones get the most notice. Would you like a puppy?”

“Umm . . .”

Xen shook his head. “It’s Pig’s fault. For a total of nineteen puppies.”

The Old God—who looked perhaps thirty years old—shrugged. “I keep trying to him take them away and find them homes. I’ve got them double bubbled at the cute stage, but somehow he doesn’t seem to think spreading Hell Hounds across the Multiverse is a good idea.”

“They are rather . . . large and under the wrong situations, quite dangerous.” Rael bit her lip. “I’ll ask if the Exploration people, or the Presidential Guards would be interested.”

Xen snorted. “Maybe I should take Pig to Versalle for a demonstration. They’ll either take all the puppies or run away screaming.”

“Screaming, if they’ve got any sense.” Prince Staven joined them. “Prince Xen, Lord Hell. And what is the correct address these days? Warrior Rael?”

“Oh Dear. We’re trying to be low key about it. Umm, Princess, which isn’t at all your sort of princess, would probably be best.”

“The extra confusion being a desired end?”

“Oh, I think all of you know enough about us now to understand that the title means ‘lots of magic genes and good training’ or . . . well, ‘assigned watcher, prepared to kill.’” Rael shrugged. “I’m starting to gain an outsiders view of my customs. I just hope we’re not quite as bizarre as I’m wondering.”

Grins all around.

“I suspect, that given the multitude of culture we’re all running into these days . . .” Staven frowned in thought. “. . . yes, I think you Oners are right out at the bizarre end of the spectrum.”

Rael giggled. “Oh. Well.”

Prince Staven looked thoughtfully at her. “Well, it was a pleasure to meet you again, but I’m afraid Mihaela and I are expected at a function tonight, so the primping needs to start soon.”

A groan from Mihaela. “Already? Then you’d better sweep me away, and take me to your castle.”

Rael glanced at Xen. “So, how come you haven’t swept me away to a castle? Prince?”

“I’m working on it.”

She eyed him. “Really?”

“Yep.”

They stayed for a buffet dinner of chaotic proportions, with conversations generally centering on clothes, men, upcoming balls, and how to steal Xen from Rael.

She was feeling seriously overwhelmed by the time Xen fetched the horses.

Carousel was energetic and bouncing. Pyrite clomped along tiredly, ignoring multiple neighs behind them.

Rael looked worriedly at Pyrite.

Xen just shook his head. “I suspect Beige and Yoderite thought it would be amusing to dose them—and an opportunity to steal a few stud services themselves.”

“They gave the horses the Wine of the Gods?” Rael glanced behind. “How many mares do they have?”

“Around a dozen.” Xen patted Pyrite. “He’ll be proud of himself once he recovers.”

Rael aimed her prancing mare at the corridor. Waited until Xen and Pyrite were through. “So it’s an all-purpose, all-species potion?”

“Yep.”

“And what is Lord Hell going to say when all of his fancy carriage horses all foal at once?”

“He’ll shrug and say ‘Again?’ I’d say ‘poor fellow’ except he utterly dotes on his huge family.”

Rael ran her hands through her hair. “Good Grief. Anything further from Ash is hard to imagine. So . . . I’m going to guess Heliotrope’s part Oner, and that’s why she was part of your infiltration team.”

“Technically, it was Easterly’s team. Yes, she spotted the . . . differences in our glows, so we could adjust and look more like Oners.”

“Was she throwing herself at you?”

“Umm, school girl crush style, without a bit of insight into what attracted me, who I really was. I was a bit . . . well, I had to get bluntly verbally brutal to get her to stop.”

“Oh dear.”

“And she’s married to a fellow she adores, who loves her deeply and keeps her busy.” Xen glanced over at her, grinning. “Yet another reason the Ash Witches find the Karista Bay witches so appalling. Three of them have gotten married! The Horror!”

Rael snickered. “And did I see a little stiffness between you and Staven?”

“Oh . . . when his brother was murdered, most of the suspects—the people who gained with an upward leap in the order of succession—were people he knew, respected and sometimes loved. As an outsider, I was safe to hate, to hope I was the killer. There’s still some defensive bristling there. No big deal.”

“Really?”

“Really. I thought his suspecting me was amusing, which really irritated him.”

Rael giggled. “Well, I can see that. Good grief, you were starting to terrify me before the Assassination Attempt. Don’t give me that innocent look. I feel like an idiot, never thinking you could be an actual foreign spy. We were running around in circles, going ‘Must an Isolationist! No, a resurgent Strong Federalist! No wait! Multitude Supreme!’ Stop laughing!”

“Looking back, the whole thing was insane.” Xen tossed a grin her direction. “Worked, though. Stopped the invasion dead in its tracks.”

“No it didn’t. The assassination attempt did that.”

“Oh. Well . . . In my darkest moments I wonder if my seduction scheme didn’t trigger that. If General Akja discovered his wife was pregnant . . .”

Rael hesitated then shrugged. “I probably ought to manipulate your guilt feelings . . . but they’d set up the foundations for the assassination before you arrived. They started plotting within days of Orde’s election. Your hanky panky with their wives may have made them speed things up, before General Akja lost face. Did you know his wife Noac had triplets? Two girls and a boy.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Speaking of games with the wine.”

“What? You didn’t dose all of them?”

“Less than half.” He eyed her, looking uncertain. “I really did have to dose you. You were bleeding so much, and I could barely stop it. Couldn’t do anything else . . . had to save myself.” He looked away.

Ashamed? Why? That he didn’t give me everything, at the cost of his own life?

“You did enough. Saved us both.”

He gave a wry smile. “But I’m supposed to be perfect, god-like and omniscient. And no, I don’t believe it, but I could do better. These children I’m going to try to train . . . are probably my most shameful failure.”

Rael pondered that as the horses turned into the road through the empty field that bordered their gate to Embassy. “If . . . you ever again refer to those children who are my niece, nephew, and children as shameful failures, I will beat the crap out of you.”

She trotted Carousel ahead, and through the gate.

Xen followed shortly. “I meant a moral failure on my part.”

“I know. And I’ll still beat the crap out of you.”