The Metro got Ice home by noon. He wolfed down the sandwich he’d bought on the way, collapsed in bed and slept.
Horrible dreams about “them” coming for him in his sleep.
He crawled out of bed, and checked his messages. Then dashed for the shower and into clean clothes and made it to the restaurant in time to join a selection of his soon-to-be-former co-workers for dinner. Dog and Vaul led the questioning.
“Where did you go?”
“What happened this morning?”
“Uqqy fired me.” Ice grinned at their expressions. “C’mon, you know it had to happen.”
Wet Paws growled, “He doesn’t have the position yet.”
Ice glanced at the menu, nothing had changed since the last ten times he’d been here.
“And that’s why Ajki, pretended to back him up and fired me, effective one minute before the swearing in starts. Oh stop looking shocked. Ajki will get me severance pay. Uqqy would have found an excuse to toss me out in the street, penniless.”
They all still looked upset. Hid it while ordering.
“Anyway, I’ll come in tomorrow and hand off all my current projects, archive the finished stuff where you lot can read my brilliant analyses and weep for your own inadequacies . . . there, those are much better expressions.”
“Ice, dammit.” Tiip threw her hands up.
“Look, you guys have to work with the man, and once everything has settled down, I’m sure you will adjust to a different management style and personality, and find him competent, someone you can respect, and maybe even like.”
“Not counting on that last, but I’ll hope for some of your bullshit list.” Figgy shrugged. “All right. As usual, you are right. Why the hell did he take against you so badly?”
“I haven’t a clue. But I’ll hope for the best for you guys and I’ll get anything useful I’ve got to all of you.” Salads arrived and they crunched away for a few minutes.
“So anything amusing or horrible happen at the ball after I left?”
Vaul shuddered. “Well, at one point I was wondering if Madam Xiat wasn’t going to turn Ehfa into road kill. That whole group needs to lay off the booze, or maybe see about the rape gene turn off potion.”
Lulu snorted. “Now I’m sorry I missed it. It’s always useful to know your enemy.”
That got the big man a whole lot of sideways glances, and small nods.
Ice winced, but didn’t pursue it any further.
“So, did Uqqy run around firing anyone else?”
“Not that we heard.” Vaul’s face flushed at the same time her eyes narrowed in anger. “He doesn’t seem to value or respect women employees.”
You know, being an Earth spy and all, I should cheer the destruction of the IR. Damn, now I’m wishing I’d grabbed DNA samples to check and see if they’re purps.
Wouldn’t that just be a mess.
Or, you know, we keep forgetting about Whirlpool One. Some of the creepy people are too young, but the main people probably have duplicates. Now isn’t that an interesting thought?
Which I am not going to mention to these guys, but perhaps I’ll send a list to Ebsa, he’s got some friendly contacts over there.
More food arrived, and Ice looked over at Vaul. “So, is Rumacova going to stay for the Inauguration?”
“No, they’re packing up and heading home.” She grinned. “I don’t know who’s sorriest to see them go, their neighbors or their guards. It’s been really interesting interacting with the Black Horse guys.”
Dog grinned. “Especially Rip?”
Vaul’s nose rose. “I haven’t the faintest notion what you’re talking about.” She almost managed to not smile.
“I always knew you had good tastes, you know, avoiding us.” Ice grinned as a number of masculine glares came his way.
Tiip snickered. “Which is all well and good, but what the heck do we do now?”
“Your job. Adjust to a new boss. Break in a new analyst to replace me. Really no big deal.”
Happy grunted. “Easy for you to say. The more I think about it, the more I think you’re the lucky one.”
Dog nodded. “So, what are you going to do?”
“Job hunt. Spread my resume around.” Ice drummed his fingers on the table. “I’ve sort of thought about Disco.”
Vaul’s brows rose. “I thought those were assignments from the Presidential Director?”
“Yes, but they also just hire people.” Ice grinned. “Or buy into a colony. Lucky Thirteen sound really interesting, such a huge mix of people. I’d probably fit right in . . . if only I knew how to farm.”
That got skeptical looks as the waiter removed plates, and brough coffee and deserts.
“Or maybe I’ll analyze the stock market, get filthy rich.”
“You don’t want to go back to Tall Trees?”
He shook his head. “I’m too much of a Oner to put up with the government’s attitude toward Natives, including upcomers like me.”
I wonder if being an agent of the One pays a salary? Or is it more of a hobby, running alongside a “real” job? And what the . . . One I’d do after figuring out this . . . oddity? Assuming I can. Assuming it’s anything bad, I mean, the other political party won the election. No big deal. It’s just the non-contact I need to figure out.
They broke up soon after, half of them still short on sleep.
Ice looked around his comfortable apartment. With a pair of hardy houseplants he’d, so far, managed to not kill.
And where does an Agent of the One live?
And . . . what would Keiq think.
I hope she doesn’t have a problem with . . . whatever the hell I am.
In the morning he bought donuts and a couple hundred memory chips on the way to the office. Loaded up on coffee, and got to work making fifteen copies each of all his references and data files. Archiving his completed projects, finalizing two reports that had been put off too long, and comprehensive files on his active projects . . .
Ibla walked in and scowled at him. “And now who am I to get to mentor in all my new analysts, the ink still wet on their diplomas?”
Ink waved around. “Happy and Figgy have enough experience. Lulu too, but he’d probably terrify any nice little girls.”
“I heard that!” from faintly down the rat maze.
Ibla snorted. “Dammit.”
“Eh, we’ll all survive.” Ice shrugged. “Elections happen, and bring changes along with them.”
Ibla growled and stalked off.
Poor man’s going to have to deal with Uqqy every day.
He finished the copying and delivered it all to Ibla.
He left a little early and strolled past various places. His nerves were still a little jumpy around both the One First and War Party campaign addresses.
He cut over to stroll up Nicholas Drive. The Council Hall on the west side of the broad boulevard, the Grand Mosque on the east side. There was a fancy upscale hotel north of the Mosque. Handy for wedding parties, visitors to the Council, and three blocks east and north to Government House.
The Council Hall and the Grand Mosque, no problem
A side street ran between the Grand Mosque and the hotel.
Ice stepped off the sidewalk to cross, and leaped back. Every nerve jangling. He shifted, his stomach knotted. He turned and walked away. Circled the Grand Mosque and approached the hotel from the far side. Shuddering. Turning and striding away.