The Oath of Office was direct, clear, and brief.
Everyone started clapping. The audience stood up and clapped. On the center dais hand were shaken.
Ajki edged along the tier, gathering glares, but they all let him through.
President Afgu, smugger than usual, looked him up and down. “Thought you weren’t going to come.”
Ajki nodded, raised his voice a bit. “Sorry, bit a shocker at the office at the last minute.” He half turned to Uqqy. “Your job now. We found a man with a cyborg control chip in his brain.”
Heads turned and the noise level dropped.
“Probably just an observer. I understand this type of chip makes the man a puppet, controlled by an agent from a safe distance.” Ajki shook his head. “Shows up, clear as a bell, in a head X-ray. You’ll probably wind up X-raying the whole staff.”
And a turn back to Afgu. “Your staff too.”
And the bomb. “Get one yourself, to show your people it’s no big deal.”
A flash of anger in Afgu eyes. “Take your ridiculous fantasies elsewhere.”
Well, if Ice can do it . . .
He didn’t dare gather power in this group. He just snapped out the stun spell. Was knocked down across the stairs, heavy live weights. Muffling the sounds of the crowd’s panic, the closer. “Stunned. Dear One! What the HELL, Ajki?” Scar, maybe?
Then Izzo’s voice. “I have no authority, but I recommend the President be moved to . . . whichever clinic has an X-ray machine.”
“No.” Uqqy sounded pissed. “We will not give into an assassin’s demands!”
“Fuck!” from close above as crashing, yelling, bangings, thuds, screams, lots of footsteps, loud, running. The load pressing him into the very uncomfortable steps lightened.
Must be a hell of a fight. At least it hasn’t gone to gunfire. Can’t rule out stunners and lasers, though. I think I’ll just lay here . . .
A thunderous load of footsteps. Hopefully more Black Horse!
Must have been. It quieted quickly.
Then all but one person got off of Akji. Black boots in front of his face.
“Akji Withione Abadan Black Point. You are under arrest for assault on the President of the Empire.” Major Eppa’s voice. Mostly level. Disbelief trying to stay cold.
One set of running steps, thumping up onto the platform. The boots stepped away.
Assassination protocol. Comm suppression, in case of bombs.
“Major, the X-rays. The doctor says he’s never seen anything like this before.”
Oh, One. I may survive the day, after all.
“X-ray everyone.” Eppa sounded like he’d just been sucker punched. The boots returned. “Starting with you, Ajki.”
The last guard got off him. Grabbed him by the arm, probably more of a restraint than an aid, but Ajki needed it to get to his feet.
Eppa pointed. “Take him . . . Ajki, if you’re right, I’ll apologize . . . sometime. If you’re wrong you’re going to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
“If I’m wrong, I’m sure the One will ensure it’s an unfortunately short stay.”
By the time he’d been marched to the clinic, a shocked doctor had found three more control chips. Izzo was just climbing off the scanner bed, and getting an injection.
“Short term beepers, used to identify the recipients of new or untested medicine.” The doctor shrugged. “It’s all I have on hand to identify people who been X-rayed and no chip found.”
Izzo nodded. “Damn good idea.” He looked at Ajki. “I don’t believe you did that.”
“I don’t believe I’m alive.” Ajki laid down, got zapped, got an injection.
Eppa stepped up to be next, then grabbed Izzo and Ajki. Hauled them into the hallway. “All right. I need the details, Ajki.” Eppa frowned down on him.
“I have no idea why Ice is sensitive to these people, but this being his last day at the office, he decided to go for broke, and stunned Enqy, hauled him down to our clinic for a head X-ray. He called Rael to have her send the X-ray to Wolfson. He was there, and recognized what it is.
“So . . . I decided to be a suicidal idiot.”
“You are referring to Ice’s nerves these last months?” Eppa frowned. “If he could sense them, that would explain that duel . . . they wanted him dead.”
A limp Uqqy was carried down the hall and into the clinic. The chip showed clearly.
Izzo cleared his throat. “Ajki, you said, ‘Probably just an observer.’ Any evidence . . .”
“No, that was just fast talk to elicit a reaction. If their control of both the President and the Minister of War was to cripple the early stages of an invasion, well, whoever was controlling these men is probably signaling attack or abort, right now.” Ajki bit his lip. “I called Ajha and warned him, as Gate City would be the logical target . . .”
“The Minister of War? Shit! Where’s Minister Ytgy . . .”
The building quivered. A single sharp jolt.
29 Shawwal 1420yp
Ice changed into civvies, the casual baggy pants and over-sized t-shirt that made him look pudgy instead of muscular. Hair brushed back under a cap. He dragged out his biggest backpack. Half full with his basic emergency supplies. He added more clothes, toiletries . . . weapons . . . No. No weapons. I need to disappear. Look ordinary. Okay, I’d better take a suit so I can apply for jobs . . . I wonder if the One will mind my hacking the computer system for new ID?
He checked the time. Eleven forty-five.
Should get out of here, watch from some public place.
Now, what else can’t I easily replace . . .
Ah . . . He dived under the counter and pulled out the bottle of joy juice.
Slid it into the middle of his clothes.
Ice pulled out his comm and minicomp. Popped them in plastic bags. Wrapped each of them in three layers of foil.
Grabbed his back pack, and walked out.
I believe I’ll disappear for a short while.
He turned and strode down to the next east-west street and headed west.
First stop, the bank for a bunch of cash cards. I can sleep in youth hostels, and camp if it warms up a bit.
Or mosques, maybe?
After the bank, a sandwich shop he’d never been to, with a big screen showing the inauguration. He sat away from the windows, facing away from any passers-by who might recognize him.
The opening prayer ended. Ice shuddered as Afgu stepped up and swore to uphold the laws and customs of the Empire of the One. Clapping and shaking of hands . . . And there was Ajki . . . Newsies with directional mics trying to catch all the kissing-up with variable success . . .
The new president sneering at Ajki. “Take your ridiculous fantasies elsewhere.”
And collapsing, as every guard in the area jumped on Ajki.
The screen went dark.
Oh One! I am not doing well, here. And I may have just gotten my boss killed.
The screen lit up, an outside shot of Government House. Noon in the foreground talking. “Crowds have gone silent after the shocking attack on the newly sworn in president.”
Ice stuffed everything back in his pack. I’m going to be running away real soon now.
“The standard procedure for the President’s security includes a massive energy barrier, to block any potential remote triggering of bombs.”
Ice stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth.
“Let me emphasize that there is no indication of any explosives. The backout is precautionary. All we know at this point is that Ajki told the President Afgu about a Cyborg spy they’d caught, and that Ajki then attacked the President.”
She looked over her shoulder. “People are being escorted out, I see Rondo and his camera man, I’ll turn this over to him for an eye-witness report as soon as he can get on air.”
Then the windows of the sandwich shop blew in