And he still couldn't do a damned thing to the mush in the bin. He poured all his power out and tried and wound up on his knees, shaky and weak.
"Pity. Such a great family, once. Bring him to my office . . . once he can walk." The Head Executioner turned and walked out.
Grigory crawled to the wall for support and climbed up slowly. Walked down the hall, a hand on the wall and made it to the snack shop. Water, slopped out half of the glass as he staggered, sandwich, salt. He wobbled to the closest table and sat. Salted his sandwich with more salt than was sane. Moving carefully so the triple pack of salt wouldn't be obvious. Took two horrible bites.
Opened a half dozen salt packets under the table and dumped them in the palm of his left hand, and then fiddling, left hand over the water, hopefully dropping the salt unobtrusively into the water. He ate the rest of the sandwich sipping salt water. Swished his mouth out with the lastof it. Opened more packets under cover, and staggered out, the scant handful in one clenched fist as he wobbled into Grand Executioner Yarik Orlov's office to stand before the over sized desk.
A glass barely a quarter full, to one side. A servant in black. Latex gloves, a tiny capsule in one hand.
Grigory stared from the water to Orlov.
"It's your choice, but then you know that, don't you? Will you go with grace and leave a clear opening for the next Gorbechev, or are you so weak you'd give up your power so you can live a little longer?"
Grigory looked at the glass. Arkhip, I pray I have not failed you. "I will live." His voice dry.
The servant poked the capsule with a pin, withdrew the pin and swished it around the water.
"Yes, so little. It was designed to take out entire buildings." Orlov gloated.
Grigory reached out right handed and pulled the glass closer. Casually laid his left hand over the glass as he looked at Orlov. "Will you let me go to my son, and Present him?"
"Drink or die." Pitiless cold eyes.
Grigory drank. Fought to control nausea.
"Get him out of here. Send him home."
Grigory staggered halfway around, and was pulled out of the door. Through another, and into a small cart that whined away to a portal. There was traffic coming through.
Grigory squinted, peered around. "Only one portal? Did the Enemy get even the Portalmakers?"
No answer. The cart rolled forward, turned. Hands grabbed him and he was tossed. Hit the ground, his skin on fire, rolled and staggered back to his feet. A glance behind showed the Portal closed now.
He turned and walked away. A vague feeling that he ought to go to the right, but the nerve scorch of unprotected portal transit really wasn't going to make walking home feasible . . .
A car pulled up and a Cyborg popped out . . .
"Yes, sir." the back door opened. "Sit down carefully. You're safe now."
He figured it was going to hurt no matter what, but he sat slowly and carefully. Painfully.
"Did they call to say today was the day they'd toss me out?"
"No sir. I've been here every day for that last three weeks."
"Oh." He leaned back, managed to not scream. Twelve hours. It gets better after twelve hours, Axel always said. God above, how did he ever make himself do it the second time? And however many times it's been since.
"Would a drink help, sir."
Dear God, is he crying? "No. I need to stay as salty as possible for as long as I can stand it."
"Just take me to the house . . . Are Father and Grandfather all right?"
"Still holding out, sir. Still stuck here." The door closed, and the car moved off. Smoothly, but he still felt every bump and turn.
Ten days till Arkhip's birthday. Damn you, Orlov!
Presentation and Challenge
"Mother is driving me up the wall." Arkhip lined up for the warmup kata with Pauli, Dmitri, and Six-twelve. He hadn't decided yet which of the last two surprised him the most, but they'd all been working out every morning for a week.
"And the little kids are all jittery too."
"Huh!" Six looked over at him. "It's like they like you or something."
"Pauli, lead the kata, I'm going to check something." Uncle Axel was scowling at his phone. "Be right back."
The kata was basic--a stretch for Dmitri, a good warmup for him and Six, probably boring as all get out for Pauli.
Uncle Axel was back, with his big computer. Smiling, but there was something under that made him think he wasn't amused. "There's an opening in three hours. Want it?"
Ark boggled. "For my Presentation? Yes! Get it over with! Please!"
"And here you are already in a presentation suit. Let's go."
"Right. And I haven't sweated in it yet." Arkhip ran a hand down the white fabric. Took a deep breath. "I'm ready."
And that fast, they were off.
A quick stop for Axel to switch to his full formal . . . wow! Even a saber on a black and silver belt to match the silver embroidery on black of the rest.
And the medallion on a red ribbon.
Uncle Axel grinned. "Your Dad'll have to buy you one for Christmas."
Ark grinned back. "A saber, not a suit. I'm growing too fast for the suit."
Pauli drove them a few blocks and dropped them off at the front door. A compact little stadium, they walked in and registered. Uncle Axel tapped at his computer for a few seconds, then they walked into the waiting room. A dozen seats, a door at either end. One father and son ahead of them. Uncle Axel eyed the kid, pale and sweating, and turned to Ark.
Spoke loudly. "Just remember, Ark. Walk in confidently, shoulders back, stand up straight, and bow. Three defensine moves, three attacks, and three demonstrations of Mentalist Talent."
He grinned. "Not necessarily in that order. Then spar around a bit to make sure the judges saw it all. Then put the poor thing out of its misery."
Ark saw the other boy take a deep breath and then the door at the end of the room opened and the boy was called in.
"Do they come back through here? Where do the fathers wait?"
"No they leave through the back, and the father, or in my case, second cousin, gets stuck in an isolation room, sound-proofed, one-way glass, a speaker so they can hear as well as see, but not interfere."
"Wow. Are there other spectators?"
"Just staff, mostly. Occasionally a policeman, if a criminal is the opponent."
"So no, your mother isn't out there and nothing is broadcast, ever."
"Oh good. Umm, no offence, but I'd rather you agonize instead of her. And . . . I didn't tell her. Did you?"
"Yeah, almost chickened out, but . . ."
Ark looked over as the front door opened.
Another son and father, or whatever. The boy swaggerd in, sneering . . . blinking at Uncle Axel's finery and medallion. The father frowned, nodded politely.
A faint flick of . . . something. He looked at Axel.
"The death flash of a very ill Cyborg."
"So, you never felt anyone die, before?" The other boy sneered. "Well, you'd better hope you feel one up close, real soon now."