The Family Reunion
6 Hija 2021yp
Two weeks later a rather cautious Keiq invited him back. “The family does a big week-long family reunion every summer. They all want to meet you. And you don’t have to stay the whole time, or anything. It’s just . . . this is the first time there was anyone I even might have invited. I mean . . .”
“Keiq? Do you mean to say I’m the first serious boyfriend you’ve ever had?”
“Not really . . . well . . . since I was thirteen . . .”
Ice grinned. “I would be delighted to come. When is the best time for an unknown person to show up?”
“Umm, look? Did I ever mention the other three brothers having wives and a total of eleven more children—teenagers? An . . . interesting Aunt? An Uncle and his current wife, with one grown son from a previous marriage and his three kids? And Wacky’s aunt and uncle with three kids who are all married and have a bunch of small kids?” She sounded a little desperate.
“So . . . I’ll need a score card?”
“Brace yourself. Wacky’s parents have arrived early. I’m sure that checking you out had nothing to do with it.”
A snort from the study. An old man stepped to the doorway, thin white hair, wrinkled, but he stood straight, and his brown eyes were sharp as he looked Ice up and down.
“Hmm. Think you’re good enough for our Keiq?”
Our? Not that I’m surprised that they like their son-in-law’s sister . . .
“I think we’re both pondering the possibility.”
“Arci. Arc.” The old man offered his hand. A strong grip. “Good job, last winter.”
“Thank you . . .” Ice blinked as his brain added clues. “Yveslin? Former Presidential Director? Under President Uzmo?”
“Yes.” Frown. “Do I know you? You look familiar.”
“Err . . .” Former Directors keep their security clearances, mainly to make it clear they’re still held to the same standards. I can talk to him . . . and Keiq? Not so much, but if he didn't kick her out . . .
“When I mentioned I wanted to meet you, Ajki seemed to think it was quite funny. All us old directors get together, now and then.”
“That’s . . .” Ice took a quick look both directions. “There are security concerns . . . I was just trying to figure out how to talk to Keiq about it . . .”
Keiq glowered. “Security? What security concerns?”
“Indeed. Come into the study. I don’t like mysteries around the family.” Another frown. “I have met you, haven’t I?”
Ice closed the door behind him. “No, but I look a lot like my mother Princess Kaat Withi . . .”
“Killer!” The old man turned and those sharp eyes scanned him. “That's it. Damned if you don’t look like her. Yeah, you’ve got her eyes. Dammit, XR would never tell me what happened to her.” Another frown. “How old are you?”
“Forty-three. Mother successfully infiltrated Earth in 1375. Two years later she was caught up in that clandestine attempt to invade Earth. One more victim of our three day rape, pillage, and burn spree before they all gated away.”
The sharp old eyes narrowed in anger.
Keiq walked over to a chair and sat down.
“The Earth is even more prejudiced against Natives than we are, and utterly phobic about mutations and genetic engineering. I . . . didn’t fit in, and was legally limited in my . . . options. Mother had worked her way up and was in a position to get me into the program training Purps and the other Oner Rape babies to infiltrate the Empire. I was sent across to Tall Trees in 1399 with the intent of escaping from Earth. No spying, and I deliberately kept out of Earth’s view after diplomacy started.”
Keiq looked boggled. “I’ve been kicking myself for months for ever thinking you could possibly be a spy.”
“Hey, you’re good at your job. Anyhow, I went to Makkah and they said welcome home.”
Keiq’s frown was back. “You went to Makkah?”
“Yeah, as an ordinary analyst, no problem, but I was getting too high up to leave any ambiguity. So I went to Makkah, well, I needed to ask about other stuff, and it was time that I . . . well, I didn’t confess because they already knew it all. But I had to clear that up before . . . I mean it wouldn’t be fair to . . .”
Arc poked him. “Lovey dovey stuff later. Where. Is. Killer.”
Ice sighed, and looked back at the old man. “I have not spoken to her for twenty-one years. I have caught a few glimpses of her in the background of some surveillance vids. As far as I can tell, she’s well up the UECIA hierarchy, possibly working for General Black’s Embassy Surveillance Unit.”
Arc sat down abruptly. “We have an agent, Killer, by the One! Inside their main Intelligence Agency. One!”
“Sort of. And that name must not be spoken. That we have an agent anywhere on Earth, not even thought.”
“Sort of? Explain.”
“She was gang raped by her own side. And has been out of communication for forty-four years. Twenty-one years ago, I was never sure just where her loyalties lay.”
“Oh.” A deep sigh. “Oh, my dear old friend.”
Ice looked back at Keiq. “And so I have to stay a Native Upcomer, not . . . anything else. Because the truth could very easily get my mother killed.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “But you’re really, possibly part Comet Fall, not part Tall Trees. But you fit so well with Zizi and Rumakova . . . Is your fitting into Oner high society here is another façade?"
"No. Façades are too flimsy. You have to commit to a role, or it won't work for any length of time. And . . . I like Tall Trees. And the One. And . . . well, I belong here."
She studied him. "And you’ve got a pretty high count and the priest gene? I, umm . . . I’m a two-fifteen.”
“That’s very improper, young lady.” Arc sounded amused.
Ice grinned. “Two-sixteen. But . . .”
“Disgraceful!” Definitely amused.
Keiq bit her lip. “Yeah, the priest gene. That could be an issue.”
“You might as well pop the question, boy.”
Ice huffed and looked around at the old man. “I’ve only managed one kiss, so far. I may need another year before . . .”
Keiq grabbed his arm and pulled him back around, other hand around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss.
He wrapped his arms around her and returned it with interest. Let her go reluctantly. “That’s two.”
A snort from the old man. “That was an extra credit kiss. You two get out of here, I’m too old to deal with that level of pheromones in the air I breathe.”
Unfortunately the rest of the family arrived almost at once.
Ice managed to nab a few names as introductions flew. The other three brothers turned out to be two shades of brown hair and one blonde—Axgi who had six kids, all teenagers. "Twins run in my family," his cheerful wife, May, Mayr officially, waved at the crowd of teenagers. "Almost half the gang."
"And . . ." Ice dredged for the name of the older guy. "You're Acte?"
The man grinned. "Right. Auel's son and the father of the three not quite teenagers yet."
Right, Keiq's . . . cousin? On her dad's side?
"And Auel is Aqik's older brother?"
"You got it! Not bad for a hired gigolo." A friendly slap on the shoulder and Ice was left standing with his mouth open.
A cackle behind him. "Surprised we spotted you? Ha!"
Arc's sister-in-law. Unmarried.
"Poor Keiq, can't get a date, such a big girl. I guess she had to hunt around for someone taller than she is."
"Miss Kewl. Do you live in Paris?" And Arc's wife is such a nice, intelligent, quiet woman. Her little sister . . . isn't.
"Certainly not! Horrible dirty place. I just come to show family solidarity. Cywk's husband's family is so overwhelming! I can't imagine why Arc allowed his daughter to marry such a person!"
"Er . . . Azek is quite successful, very well to do."
She smiled unpleasantly. "Yes? But his sister's not. She's just an office drone. Living on her family's in-law's generosity. You won't get much, kissing up to her!" A nasty smirk and satisfied nod, and she went away.
Another woman . . . Is this Keiq's Mom? Looked him over a bit disapprovingly. "You don't look like you ride."
"Umm, horses? Not often. Do you, umm, sorry Keiq hasn't told me much about her family, have horses?"
"Of course. We own and operate what's called a dude ranch, for vacationers who want a taste of the past." She eyed Ice and shook her head. "I don't think we could pass you off as a cowboy. Don't you Tree people have horses?"
"Not domesticated. There are zebra out of the plains. Rather of a nuisance, to the crop farmers. Tasty though."
The lady stiffened in disapproval. "Well, I suppose you're better than no date at all. But I can see you're going to be no help at all in rescuing Keekee from this horrible urban environment."
Ice glanced around the huge patio and surrounding gardens.
"Oh, this is all very pretty, but she needs to return to the wilds where she was raised. My poor baby! This air isn't doing her health any good . . . oh, hi sweetie."
Keiq forced a smile. "Hi, Mom. Umm, excuse us."
She grabbed Ice's elbow and hauled him into the garden. "Oh One! Ice, I apologize for my family! I'm afraid one of my idiot brothers actually believes Aunt Kewl . . . oh. I see from your expression you've talked to her."
She looked so horrified Ice started laughing. "So, how many men of negotiable virtue did you have to check out before you found one tall enough?"
She thumped her forehead with the heel of her hand. "I was hoping they'd at least stick to talking behind your back."
"This is what happens when you go for decades without bringing a date along to the family reunion." He reached and hugged her. "Don't worry. I'm taking the opportunity to make mental notes on a wonderful variety of rude assumptions and oblivious offense. Research Gold, for someone like me."
"Oh . . . I should not have done this."
"Nonsense, in fact, I think you should let me lead you down the garden path and then they can gossip about just what it is you're paying me for."
"Oh they wouldn't!" Keiq cast a glance back toward the house. "Half of them just suddenly looked away. Arc's laughing."
"So am I. So . . . these are actual topiary animals, rather than wire frames with ivy on them?" Ice steered her away from the house and down a well-lit path.
Around a corner, where a pair of teenagers were jumping apart and trying to look innocent.
Keiq shook her head. "You're cousins. Your children would be morons."
"We were just curious, Aunt Keiq!"
Ice snickered. "Guys are always very curious. Or whatever other excuse will get a girl out of her clothes."
Keiq glowered at him. At the kids. "Get back to the patio." The glower switched back to him. "That was a bit crude. Might even make Nono think. I hope."
"How old is she?"
"Eighteen. Both Anze and Axgi married before Azek, and got a head start on the next generation. And Atlo married just a few months later." She sighed. "They all think I'm going to be an old maid like Aunt Kewl."
"Umm, I advise strongly against it."
A snort. "How did I wind up with you?"
"Investigating a leak. Probably." He steered her around a corner that ought to have taken them back to the house but didn't.
Keiq laughed. "It not a real maze back here, but it does a pretty good imitation."
He managed two kisses before she led him back to the patio. Which cheered him up so much that he found the family amusing instead of irritating.
Even Uncle (?) Avenue's (Avvw?) vulgar sense of humor—mostly aimed at Ice. "So, 'Ice,' I suppose you have some Native name . . . How much do you charge for 'escort services,' anyway?"
Well, if they're going to play dirty . . . He brought out his most amused, superior tones, and definitely drawled. "Sorry, I have no idea how much a gigolo costs, but I suppose, whatever you need to do to keep your wife happy."
Keiq slapped a hand over her mouth and stepped out of the room, coughing. Arc grinned, and Kewl cackled.
Jiiv huffed in disbelief, switching her glare back and forth between her husband and Ice.
Everyone changed the subject after that.
"My last project? I was the lead contractor to arrange funding, and procure the needed equipment to upgrade and deploy an environmental illumination system. Zero cost over runs and zero safety incidents."
Brother Number Two, Ansy's, brows rose. "That sounds impressive. But what did you actually do?"
"Changed a lightbulb." Ice kept his face straight, as Azek sprayed wine and started coughing.
Keiq squeezed the bridge of her nose and shook her head.
Anze scowled. "Keekee, would you mind if I took your 'friend' outside and trashed him?"
Arc snickered. "Ants, never try that with someone from the Directorate School. And matching witticisms with one of Ajki's agents is bound to fail."
"Seventeen years of government service. I know the language well."
He got a fair amount of dubious looks after that. And he never did figure out which kid was which and who their parents were.
Arc's chauffeur drove him home at midnight. Unfortunately without Keiq.