"Hey, it's my two favorite brats." Cheerful, breezy and familiar tones.
"Aunt Rael! " Ryol squeaked and threw herself on the speaker for a hug.
Saved! Arno got swept into a hug as well. And got the usual big zing of a close relative not touched for some time.
"So, you guys are getting some special training, eh?"
"Or studied like bugs under a lens." Arno couldn't help but relax. His aunt was a hair above average in height, a bit on the skinny side, but with muscles. Short red hair gelled up into spikes. And a happy twinkle in her eyes. And a reputation that took second place to none. She was the Rael Withione. And wearing her uniform. She must have come straight from work.
"Ha! They must not have said it yet. They hope you lot can make magic gates and teleport. Of course, they haven't the faintest idea how to even start training you. I may have to make the ultimate sacrifice and go bat my eyelashes at Xen and ask him to work with you guys." She grinned.
Every kid within hearing shut up suddenly. Lots of wide-eyed gawps.
Ryol gawped. "Magic gates! Like Endi made? Makes? I mean, Xen. I mean . . . Captain Wolfson? Is that really his rank? Why?"
Rael snickered. "That's his rank in the Army of the West. Disco doesn't bother much with rank. He says 'Master of the Mulitverse' and only about half the people listening laugh at him. They kept switching Directors, until everyone realized that Xen and Q just want someone to do the paperwork and argue with diplomats while they have fun exploring new worlds and beating up armies. Neither one of them takes orders worth beans, but wave a challenge in their faces and you can't stop them."
"Whoa! Do you see him often?" Ryol's eye widened.
"Oh, maybe once or twice a year. I'm mostly busy with other stuff."
Arno eyed her. "Does the External Directorate pull you in when they want Captain Wolfson distracted?"
Her toothy grin widened. "Why, Arno, how could you think such a thing?"
"That's what every one says."
"What do you mean, everyone. You live halfway around the world from anyone involved with any of that stuff."
Ryol rolled her eyes. "We chat on the grid all the time. And everyone knows we're your family so we hear all the gossip about you. And half of it involves him."
"Oh, One! There goes my reputation." All bubbly and silly—seventeen years ago, she'd thrown herself between the President and an assassin and nearly died. She still worked for the Presidential Directorate, and Arno'd seen a vid where she took out a trio of big beefy guys who'd gotten through a barricade and too close to the President.
Of course, what she was really famous for was the rumored romance with Endi . . . Xen Wolfson. A real romance, not the seduction-as-a-Game-Play.
They laughed at her, and steered her over to get drinks—all non-alcoholic but she didn't seem to mind. And munchies.
Various of the staff wandered by to meet or greet Rael. About half of them seemed to know her. Arno drifted apart to the boys he'd met, who were suitably impressed."You two look pretty unenthusiastic. Why don't you walk me out to my car?" Rael led them out a side door. "Actually, you look a bit overwhelmed."
Arno sighed. "Mom never told us. I mean, we knew Dad was our stepfather, no zing, you know?" He eyed her . . . should he ask?
"Ask what?" Rael grinned. "Your thoughts are starting to get really loud. I'll have to come by and give you some shielding lessons. So, ask. Get it out of your system."
Arno swallowed. "I do realize that it's variable, and weakens with regular repeats and all that . . . but I've always gotten a bigger zing from you than from Mom. Are you our biomom?"
Ryol stopped dead.
Rael froze. "No . . . That's the sort of thing one notices . . . except . . . I was in a coma for two months . . . " She gulped. "I always did wonder how Raod met Endi. I . . . " She fumbled out a pocket comp and tapped at it. "All right. This is easy to check, no need to flounder around about it. I never really looked at my medical records. Squeamish, you know?" Her eyes moved as she read.
"I'm sorry," Arno whispered. "I didn't mean to . . . to."
She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. Froze. "D and C. Two embryos removed for transplant. One week after I was shot. Son of a . . . " She blinked. Tears? Aunt Rael?
Ryol elbowed Arno out of the way. "Mom should have told us. She ought to have . . ." She waved her hands distractedly.
Ryol switched to comm mode and tapped in a familiar code. She angled the screen slightly away from them.
The screen lit, their mother's face . . . "Rael? It's one in the morning!" Her voice rose in sudden alarm. "What happened? What's wrong?"
"Raod, what did you or didn't you tell these children? And what didn't you tell me?"
"Oh . . ." Mom looked away. "I knew you'd find out . . . eventually . . . Rael . . . I wanted a baby so bad . . . five husbands, and nothing! And everyone was whispering that I must be barren . . . and I wanted a baby so bad . . . The doctors said a pregnancy would compromise your recovery, maybe tip it from a small chance you'd survive to no chance at all. We knew what had to be done. Mom was crying and Dad was all stoic . . . and then I had this brilliant idea . . . And then you recovered. And Mom said you'd want the babies . . . I could feel them kick, feel their thoughts starting to stir, my sleeping babies . . . I made her and Dad promise to not tell. I told Ox, but even he agreed once we thought about what that man might do."
Rael heaved a deep sigh. "And you were a wonderful mother. Are. Much better than I would have been. But you ought to have said something. I mean, I grew up knowing Kael was my biomom and thank the One she didn't have charge of me . . . well. Well. Go back to sleep. I'll talk to the kids."
She clicked off.
They stared at each other.
Rael reached out and pulled them into a hug. "You guys are still the best niece and nephew in the Multiverse. Now. Get back to your friends, and I'll see you tomorrow."
She released them. Turned and walked away.
"Is she crying?" Ryol whispered. "I can't believe you said that!"
"Me neither. I just . . . every time I felt that big zing, I wondered. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't know."
"It doesn't matter." Ryol gulped. "A Presidential guard hasn't got time to fool with raising kids."
"Doesn't mean she didn't want kids, though."