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.
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.