January 11th, 2020

_War Party_ part 28

Room 322. Work first, then apply for a job.

Crossing the back end of the big, open central hallway on his way to the stairs . . . a chill. He slowed looking around carefully . . . a man who had been walking toward Ajki and Ox, glanced his way, turned away abruptly and sped up, heading for the front doors.

Lucky Dave noticed too. Black and purple uniforms started moving . . .

The man pulled a gun and spun . . . aiming at Ice. He shielded and dived, spinning as the bullet hit his shield, scrambled to his feet and dashed to the guards standing around the . . . mentalist.

That’s why they haven’t grabbed him.

Ice formed a mental shield and wrapped it around the man.

The guards jumped, shook themselves.

“He’s been X-rayed.” Lucky Dave frowned. “And how the hell did he get a gun in here?”

Ice lowered his shield just enough to feel the man frantically probing for a weakness. “I think we have found a representative of the Drei Mächte Bündnis. Keep your mental shields up hard, and beware of anyone around he could grab and take control of.”

He eased the shield, but the guards were ready, now, and grabbed him, and searched him.

A girl, young woman, trotting past with an armful of folders slowed, blinking. Dropping everything and reaching for a guard’s gun . . . Ice threw a mental screen around her, and she jerked back, looking shocked.

“In fact, a dose of methalformalin would be a good idea.” Ice looked at the man, so ordinary . . . “And a DNA analysis.”

“Oh. Good idea. Ask a Dr. Ysse at IR about how it compares to Jaejong Chou’s DNA.” Rael, bounced up, sounding cheerful.

“They’re pulling in everyone, aren’t they?”

“Oh yeah. Urfa’s over on that Cyborg World with Xen and Agni. Explaining to their government that they’ve been naughty, and they aren’t going to be allowed to play in the multiverse anymore. Every time they get snippy, they blow up another building. I think Agni and his crew are enjoying themselves.”

Agni? One! Did they just sic a couple hundred Action Team Traitors on something they were allowed to blow up?

The man they were holding wrenched and snarled. “The Drei Mächte Bündnis bows to no one! How dare you cattle try to limit us!”

Lucky Dave nodded. “Snippy. Ice, how come they set you off?”

Rael’s brows rose. She looked from Ice to the captive. “It must be something to do with how you shield . . . If I lowered mine . . . yow!” She rubbed her arms. “That’s . . . really interesting.”

She turned to eye Ice. “Can you feel this?”

A hard poke at his mental shield . . . sort of at the edge, somehow. “Yes?”

“Stiffen it up, right there. Good. Now here.”

Ice stretched his shield further that way and strengthened it. “Oh. It’s gone. Whatever I was feeling.”

“Right. Now lower it again, but remember that, if you need it.” Rael looked down at the girl scrambling to pick up her files. “Twit? Next semester sign up for one of the Magic Practicum sessions. You need some shield work.”

The poor girl managed to get even redder.

Oh, pulled in Directorate students for emergency internships? How the hell many people have turned up with chips?

Lucky Dave glanced from Rael to Ice. Shrugged. “In the meantime, I think that horrible Chain is just what we need here. ” He circled his left index finger and the man’s glow disappeared.

Ice eyed the silvery chain around the man’s neck. That wasn’t there, a second ago . . . was it?

“What I want to know, is what the One Hell do we call these people?” Ice eyed the man, but he was sagging, sobbing—in fury, since he was still glaring. “Drei? I mean that’s just German for three, right?”

Rael giggled. “The Free Cyborg Rebellion calls them Bunnies.”

Ice blinked. “The Free . . .” He thought back . . . Mom said . . . “Right, they take young men from their conquered worlds and turn them into Cyborgs. So they’re rebelling? How did they manage that.”

That got him several hard stares. But Rael nodded. “It’s these control chips. I’ve met a bunch of the rebels, by and large not magical at all, they say that three days of the Joy Juice dissolves the wires in their brains, then they’ve got these medallions, with shield glyphs on them to shield them mentally.”

She looked back at the temporary committee room. “I’ll be talking to them about it. Maybe we can dissolve the puppets’ wires and . . . see if we’ve got a competent President or not.”

She bounced away toward the committee room, and two of the Black Horse grabbed the . . . Bunny’s arms and hauled him down the west corridor.

The remaining guards frowned at Ice. Lucky Dave loomed. “How did you learn this much about them?”

“Ah . . . there are some XR security issues involved, and I can’t talk about it,” He looked at Ajki, approaching from the side, with Major Eppa. “Unless the Boss says so.”

“The Boss has five free minutes, come in here, all of you. This will not be further discussed, even among yourselves, and sure as hell not with anyone else.” Ajki led them to a small room and closed the door. “Ice? Now I need the details.”

“My mother is Kaat Withione Kriti. She was with the Presidential Directorate under Uzmo, then transferred to XR, was infiltrated into Earth via Comet Fall.

“Two years later, working in their version of the SGA, she was caught up in that stupid attack through the Earth’s gate to Comet Fall. Which in case you didn’t know, involved a three day rape, pillage, burn, and blow up rampage before they all fled back through a gate to some world One knows where.

“What with serious head injuries, and so forth, Kaat only remembered her cover identity.”

“Amnesia doesn’t work like that.” Ajki’s voice was mild.

Ice snorted. “Yes, there’s usually a strong psychological element. Maybe, say, a two hour gang rape by her own side?”

“Uh . . . or the Auralian troops?”

“Mostly Halfers, not that that makes it any better. They were still trained by us and putatively under our command.” Ice took a deep breath. “The raiders probably thought it was a great joke to force Joy Juice on all the women so they’d get pregnant. In any case Kaat was evacced to the Hague, and instead of returning to Nowhereistan, found a job there. She was one of only seven women out of several hundred, who did not abort their pregnancies. In any case, fifteen years later, she regained her memory and the beacon she’d brought across.”

“It was still where she’d left it?”

“No . . . well, sort of. She’d attached it inside a large sofa, which had been lost in all the mess. It was coming across the sofa that triggered the return of her memory. She shifted the beacon to a house—with the return of her memory, she had access to a lot of things she’d set up including more identities and bank accounts—so she could buy a house. She ran standard marooning protocols for several years, then finally left it on, full time.

“XR never found it, but apparently the Cyborgs did. That house and five others were where they attacked from.”

“Mother had spent years working their traffic control system. Which enabled her to assist in locating their gates and getting them closed.”

Ice paused to look for questions. Or for bravery.

Dammit. Just keep going.

“Now, we never really talked about it. But . . . well, when she regained her memory, there she was. Married, with a son, a stepdaughter, friends, neighbors, a job she liked . . . and since they’d checked all the rape children’s DNA, the near certainty that they knew she was a Oner.

“After the Cyborg raid, they stopped pretending, and she helped them question their Cyborg prisoners. And she told me about them.”

Lucky Dave eyed Ice. “Do you know where her loyalties fall.”

“Not then. I’m not sure she knew. And since then she’s either been marooned for another twenty plus years, or XR is really good at keeping secrets. I thought at least Ajki would have some idea of her existence, if they’d ever contacted her.”

“Not a clue.” Ajki shook his head. “Damn. And what about you?”

“Earthers are even worse than Oners when it comes to Natives, and phobic about genetic engineered mutants. I was not considered human. Mother got me into the training program aimed at getting spies into the One World. A couple dozen Purps, and the seven of us. One of the training programs, they must have had at least one more.

“I crossed over in 1399 to Tall Trees, under orders, and with no intension of following them. Spent five years there until I was accepted at the Directorate School. I have not been contacted, nor attempted to contact anyone from Earth. I have been to Makkah and got a ‘Welcome Home.’ End of story.”

“Fuck me.” Ajki shook his head, checked his watch. “I have to go. Dave, get Ice some helpers and haul him everywhere, and find as many of these Cyborg Puppeteers as possible.”

_War Party_ new start

Prologue

1418 Year of the Prophets

Icka Withione Sycamore Tall Trees leaned casually on the wall. A quick brush-through with a dye to darken his hair and eyebrows, a change of posture. The fencing jacket made him look pudgy rather than muscular. The name etched down the outside of the right leg read “Acce W. Kriti.”

Unlikely that his target would recognize him. The only advantage of being a blond was that people rarely recognized him with a simple change of hair color. Slump and lumber along, speak with a different accent . . . It hardly even counted as a disguise.

He’d gotten here early, taken a lesson, sparred with a couple of other mid-level fencers. Just normal stuff. The guy he was investigating, Councilman Ehfa Withione Azteca, had come in during the lesson, and chatted with friends, sparred a bit himself . . . expertly . . . People had come and gone. One man set his gear down beside Ehfa’s bag. He did a few stretches, walked over to watch a few bouts.

Ice shoved away from the wall and strolled past the man, nerves jangling a bit. A polite nod as he passed, getting a good look at the man. He stepped into the men’s lav.

No one I remember seeing before.

Leaving a bribe? Picking up instructions? Let’s start by finding out who he is.

He stepped back out. The man had moved, walked back and picked up his bag and now it looked like he was heading for the front entrance.

Ice strolled, trying to not look obvious about hurrying. He scooped up his gear bag and stepped out the side door. He hustled down the alley and got hit halfway to the street.

The attack was purely magical, gnawing at his mental shield, seeking entry. A multifaceted net. Ice tried to analyze it, reached to feel it. Some essence of fear, of being hunted. Of a threat from some looming thing that was hungry . . . elements of a control spell.

Ice tried to throw a spell of his own, a hastily cobbled together reverse of the control elements. The attack spell collapsed. Ice raced down the alley . . . no one in sight. He opened his mental shields and reached. Something furious, nearly beyond his ability to feel. Twisted, ugly and furious. Moving away. Gone. The sound of a motor starting, fading.

Ice shook off the creepy feeling and walked back to his gear. Slung the bag and headed for the metro. Whoever that was, was gone.

And I have no idea if he even had anything to do with Ehfa. Who he was, and really, even if that magic attack was the guy who put his bag down by Ehfa’s.

I wonder if I could get that damn much fear and creepy nuance into a spell? I’ll have to try it. It didn’t seem all that dangerous. Although it did stop me in the middle of the alley, not chasing him, but it really didn’t get through to me, just the scary hunted feeling. Meh, probably not that useful.

And Ehfa? Well, no surprise a councilman playing games. Hopefully nothing deadly. Ugh.

A year and a half till the presidential election, and Ehfa’s name gets mentioned often enough whenever anyone starts speculating about it.

I guess we’ll see.



Chapter One

10 Ramadan 1419yp

Black Horse Guards Barracks, Paris, One World

Ice answered the summons and walked out onto the mat. Reached for his center, for peace. Shed what he thought of as normality, as if it was heavy, invisible cloak.

He felt light as a feather as he faced the Warrior Isakson, and bowed. Forcing himself to move very slowly. Not that it fooled the old man, but it was good practice to not signal Speed.

The low pitched bong of the bell at Speed.

For the longest three minutes imaginable, trying to survive a fight with a man who’d fought all his long life. In a war that must have seemed unending.

He didn’t coddle his students.

And Ice, or better or worse, had advanced to the “nothing’s off the board” level. He hit Isakson three times and the ground four.

Bowed to the old man as the weight of the real world flowed back over him. He managed to not limp off, back to the wall, to watch the rest of the sparring.

“Looked good. Bet you get a lecture.” Captain Wsca, Scar, had already had his exercise. An ice pack to his elbow.

“On wasting time fencing, no doubt.” Dog snickered.

“But I really need that, too.” Ice rubbed his ribs, and watched another of the Black Horse Guards get trounced. “And you won’t be laughing after your round.”

“Most likely not.” Dog, Arfy on paper, still grinned, and he looked at Scar. “Is Isakson’s working over your whole squad today?”

“Yeah. As soon as the election fires up, we’ll be working our asses off, with no time for training.” Scar winced and shifted his ice pack to his shoulder. “Well, we will do some, but it may well focus on firearm quals. So Isakson’s making sure we at least start out at the top of our game.”

Ux and Ick both snickered. “Or bruised.”

Scar’s “Speed Squad.” The New Warriors.

Ux looked over at him, an innocent expression belied by the twinkle in his eyes. “Rumor has it that one of Ajki’s goons is a disguise artist.”

Ick grinned. “Not that we suspect you, you’re pretty recognizable.”

They both looked thoughtfully at Dog.

Ice snickered. “See? When we’re doing a bit of field investigation, sometime we change clothes to fit in. You should try it sometime. I mean, without the uniform, no one but your mother would recognize you.”

“Cute.” Ux shook his head. “No wigs, no makeup?”

“Dresses?” Ick grinned.

“Me? Never. I cannot speak as to anyone else’s perversions.” He wrinkled his nose. “And I’m way too tall to ever pass as a woman.”

Two shaken heads. “You are destroying the best rumors.”

“Sorry.”

Ux shrugged. “That just proves they’re true.”

Ice snorted and changed the subject. Before they ask about hair dye or illusions. “So Major Eppa’s splitting you guys up and scattering you among the candidates?”

Scar nodded. “Yep. A Warrior in every campaign, if he can.”

One help me, Isakson calls me a Warrior Trainee. But I’m just a political analyst. With so much baggage in my past that this is about as high as I ought to even think of going.



Chapter Two

12 Ramadan 1419yp

Directorate of Interior Relations Headquarters, Paris, One World

Ajki stretched muscles stiffened by sitting too long.

I don’t feel a day over a hundred and fifty-four.

If I’d work out more . . . And the Empire would stop having elections every five years . . . I’d still be, a glance at his watch, on time for my hundred and fifty-fifth birthday party if I leave right now.

He shut his computer firmly.

I can read the report on the Al Iadrah’s latest bad idea tomorrow. “Destroy the Fresco’s Gang once and for all!” Why the hell did they have to choose an election year to have a gang war in the middle of Paris?

He got an approving nod from his old friend and assigned princess, Fuyl. Who looked like a sweet little old lady until she allowed the steel underneath to show.

“Poor Poppy, she knows what election years are like, but that’s not going to stop her from making a little fuss over your birthday.” She gave him an approving nod. “And nag you to take care of yourself.”

Ajki gave her an innocent look. “I seem to recall her fussing at you, just a little. How’s the walking going?”

“Four kilometers a day. Regular as clockwork. As you well know, since it’s mostly on a treadmill. Humph! I never dreamed that you’d have such good tastes in a wife.”

He walked out the entrance of the building and down the steps to the street just as his car pulled up. He opened the door himself, and slid in. Fuyl right behind him. The car pulled away from the curb as the door closed.

A quick practiced maneuver that barely disturbed traffic. A nice side effect for a maneuver designed to minimize the time an assassin had to target him.

And it’s never happened. But it saves me unwanted ceremony, and the commuters are happy.

“I’ve been thinking.”

Ajki eyed her cautiously. It was a term she only used after doing a great deal of thinking, and had made a decision.

“I think you should introduce that pretty Ice boy to that fierce Keiq.”

“Matchmaking again? You know it doesn’t work.”

She looked innocent. “But they were both raised outside of high society. And they react to it in such different ways. It could be interesting, watching them try to figure each other out.”

“Stirring up a pot of trouble.” Ajki shook his head, trying hard to not show how amusing the idea was . . .

“Tsk! I just like to observe human nature. The Native upcomer who does such an excellent job of imitating High Oners. The country girl, who hides cluelessness behind a mask of dominance and aggression.”

“The woman who refuses to fit in meets the man who can fit in anywhere?”

“Exactly. It should be fun.”

“You are a Bad Woman, Fuyl. I’ll have her try to track down that irritating leak in Political Analysis.” Ajki scowled. “Maybe she can even figure out where it is leaking to.”

“It’ll be nearly as much fun as poor Arfy—what was his mother thinking, to give him a name like that—and his Native Girlfriend.”

“She’s a Neartuone.”

“Born and raised in the Great Forest. She’s a Tree, deep in her soul.”

Ajki eyed her. “I hate it when you get bored.”

She patted his arm. “Now, now. I’m just a hopeless romantic, and I’d love to see that girl stop chasing men away. And it would do that handsome young rascal some good to have to do the chasing for a change.”

He sighed. “In three weeks the Presidential Campaign begins. One help me, I’ll be so busy I won’t even notice an office romance or lack thereof unless you rub my nose in it.”

“Then I’ll just have to enjoy it on my own.”

And no doubt she will.

They, as usual, made good time to the enclave and home.

Where his kids mobbed him.

One! Can Joak really be twelve years old! And Ajjo just turned seven. How time flies when you’re too damned busy.

And Jay, Poppy’s boy that he’d help raise from time he was ten had managed to get time off, no doubt due to his boss—and Ajki’s nephew—Subdirector Ajha, who raised a glass from across the room in greeting.

A kiss from Poppy, and a glass of wine.

Enjoy the family time. Next year’s going to be busy.