"Whoa! Because he's 29 Vinogradov and the rules for the line of inheriting the seat get weird. Umm, me too. I'd wind up under my fourth cousin . . . I never really thought about it. Because my Dad doesn't do too much dangerous stuff."
"Couple m-more weeks and y-you're safe. Axel and Dina's baby . . . They'd b-both rather her f-father or brother got him, but . . ."
Ark stopped dead. "Wait, wait! Uncle Axel's has a baby? I mean, his girlfriend? I mean . . ."
"Not quite yet." Pauli started laughing. "F-five m-months t-to g-go and h-he's st-still t-trying to find a w-way ar-round the r-rules!"
"Wow. Wait till Mother finds out. And relax. I won't tell until we're back home."
Pauli just grinned. "I'd be ash-shamed to b-be blabbing like this, b-but, y'know, Dina's starting to get big in a pretty obvious w-way. He's got to hurry up and make up his mind which way it's going to go. And th-there will be plenty of gossip, no matter what."
"Wow. No kidding." He shook his head and started running again, gradually curving and winding up walking back to the Hotel and getting a ride home.
In the limo that was totally tricked out with hidden compartments and odd equipment.
"I suspect there's usually weaponry and so forth hidden all over, but Axel said we weren't to bring any guns along. He, umm, called it the battle limo. I suspect it belongs . . . well, to someone Up Top?"
"Oh! The Battle Limo! Dad's mentioned it. Bullet proof, with a military grade all-terrain frame."
So once back at the Novikov's house, they got ouut and gave it a good hard look. Six Twelve even joined in, sneering, but curious.
"See the convex plate underneath? That's to divert the shrapnel and blast energy from a bomb under the car."
Then Pauli thumped a tire. "There's no stem, to air it up. Is it solid? I mean, it drives stiff and bumpy, for all those look like heavy-duty shocks."
"Which would all get blown off, if there was a bomb." The Cyborg frowned.
"With b-bombs, I think the p-point is to protect the p-people inside, with dr-drivability a s-secondary concern."
"Huh." The Cyborg sniffed and thumped a window. "Odd glass. I'll bet there's steel panels in the doors, too. Pretty cool, but why does Lord Axel need something like this?"
Ark opened his mouth, but Pauli spoke first. "I th-think he p-picked it up at a government A-aution, ch-cheap."
Oh. Of course I shouldn't even hint to anyone else that Uncle Axel really is a Agent of . . . does he work for my dad? That would make him an Agent of the 300. Or if he works for Uncle Michail, he'd be an Agent of the Alliance.
Does it matter?
Daring . . . Dairying . . .
After an afternoon immersed in research about the dairy industry, it was a pleasure to get back to training Ark. Even if the boy probably wasn't going to like this part . . .
Axel eyed the belligerent Cyborg. "Six-twelve. Lord Demyon has given me premission to use you in Ark's training."
That got everyone's attention.
The Cyborg, who gave a short nod, just scowled. "He probably thinks me getting beaten up will be good for me."
Axel grinned. "Well . . . I may have failed to give him any details. You see, sparring is all well and good. But a real fight, where the other person is at least trying to really hurt you, and maybe even kill you comes as a bit of a shock, the first time."
Ark and Pauli were both eyeing him uneasily, now.
"So, since Ark really needs to get over that shock before the challenge . . . you have my permisssion to hurt him."
"What!" Ark yelped.
The Cyborg's jaw dropped, and his eye widened. Then narrowed as a thin smile crossed his face.
"Ark? Six-twelve, here is going to try to beat the snot out of you. And you are going to reciprocate. Please don't kill each other, no eye gouging." Axel backed away from the stretch of lawn. "Go!"
Six leaped in and punched Ark in the face. The boy stumbled back and barely blocked another punch, then they flailed around at each other until Ark remembered his training and then Six remembered as well and it turned into something resembling a martial arts match, with dirty tricks and wrestling until Ark, tears treaming down his face managed the arm bar and pinned Six down.
"All right! Good job, you two."
"Uncle Axel!" Ark looked up from where he had his wrist jusst above a cyberntic elbow. "I think I broke something in my hand! How am I going to fight in two weeks!" He staggered up to his feet. Bloody nose, the bruising around his eye already darkening . . .
Axel reached over to where he'd left the wine bottle and two paper cups. "Six, this will do wonders for those ribs Ark kicked." He filled both glasses and handed them over. "Ark, drink it, then I'll look at your hand, I doubt it's too serious, but . . . ah yes, there's a reason they call this boxer's knuckle. And you managed to dislocate your thumb . . . hold still . . . there you go."
Ark looked at the empty cup. "What is this stuff?"
"Three hundred different healing spells. I haven't found anything it can't cure, yet. Take it easy with the hand for a few days, and you'll be fine. Six? You need anything looked at?"
"No I'm . . ." The Cuborg crushed the cup in his hand. "Wow! I feel great!"
He and Ark exchanged glances. They both started grinning.
"Wow, that was . . . a rush!"
The Cyborg nodded. "I got to almost beat the crap out of a lord! And you will be, in what? Two weeks? Just, a word to the wise, don't let your friends take you out and get you drunk, not even two days before." He jumped to his feet. "Oh, I feel good!" he very nearly danced off down a side path.
"I hope he doesn't need to drive anywhere for a few hours." Axel recorked his wine. "How's the hand?"
Ark wiggled it cautiously. "Good! And . . . why do I feel so drunk?"
"It seems to be an effect of all these spells. Along with an aphrodisiac effect."
Ark blushed under the blood from his nose and the fading bruise.
"Let's see if we can sneak you in to get cleaned up before your mother sees you . . . tomorrow I'll start working you on some specific magical effects that will work well in a challenge."