Disco Headquarters, Embassy World
Xen felt the emotional storm cloud and headed for the door of his office. Someone under very great stress . . . Rael met him at the door. Pale, but red spots on her cheek bones. Tight mouth, red rimmed eyes just starting to spill tears . . .
"The President?" Oh, crap oh crap oh . . . "Paer?"
She shook her head, grabbed a double handful of his jacket, white knuckled, control slipping. "This is personal." She was a bit hoarse.
He reached for the feel of his home, and pulled her with him. Reached physically to close the bubble across the door, quick flicks of spells to close the windows. "Right. We're private. What happened?" He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.
"Why didn't anyone tell me I was pregnant?"
He tightened his grip. He could feel her hands flex.
"When I got shot. I was in a coma for almost two months. A pregnancy would have narrowed my already slim chance of survival. My sister had already been through five husbands without getting pregnant. So instead of an abortion, they did an embryo transplant. They never told me! One damn it, they should have told me." She rocked him, shaking her fists without releasing her grip on his jacket. "I thought they were my niece and nephew. 'Nice kids, but thank the One they aren't mine!' That's what I always told myself. 'I don't want kids' I told myself. Lied to myself. Damn. Damn. Damn. It wouldn't have been so bad if their eyes hadn't looked so much like yours." She leaned her forehead on his chest and took deep breaths, reaching for control. "I was so pissed my sister had your kids while I couldn't."
He relaxed his grip, ran his right hand into her hair and massaged her scalp. "I didn't think . . . I gave you some of that wine, but with a serious injury, the ribozymes it produces are usually aimed at emergency repairs and healing. I didn't think about it later, either."
She sniffed. Accepted a hanky to blow her nose. He could help but smile. Very un-princess-like.
"And I can't believe I came to you to vent on."
"Tsk. I have a very good shoulder for crying upon. Actually I have two." He framed her face with gentle hands. "Better?"
She took a deep breath. Exhaled. Nodded.
Get her talking. "So . . . redheads?"
"Ryol is. Arno's . . . well, a younger version of you. Hell, they're getting all your kids together for special training, and the whole roomful of them! Twenty-seven of them, for the One's sake. Little Endi's running everywhere. It's a bit overwhelming.
"Arno, the little stinker, he's a bit undersized, a bit clumsy, and scary smart but so quiet a lot of people don't see it. Ryol's brilliant, and everyone notices. I love them both, but I've always tried to be a good aunt, not, not wish I had kids, too . . ."
Her mouth turned down unhappily. He pulled her into another hug. "You can't go back in time. You just have to . . . go forward from here. How well do you know them?"
"I only see them a couple of times a year. We always have fun, they seem to like to see me . . ." Her lower lip quivered a bit.
"Then you have a good place to go on from." He looked down at her, fondness, admiration . . . realization that she was one of Urfa's top Intel Agents . . . "I do hope you stopped to tell Urfa where you were going? Spy Masters just hate their agents suddenly running . . . oof!" Not that she hit him very hard.
"You horrible man. Yes, he said I ought to ask you if you had any security reasons to not help with a bit of training. I think he hopes the kids can make gates and teleport and so forth."
"Umm. Haven't thought about that. I genetically engineered myself so that any kids would be Oners . . . after the first couple. And then you, umm, invaded my room just as I was changing everything back and getting ready to bail out."
"First couple, eh?"
"Spur of the moment impulse. Impulses. Look, even in retrospect I can't believe this social sorting though competitive fertility. So I was thinking about causing domestic disturbances through flirting. Not actually having children. Then I woke up to the true weirdness that is the High Oner Game, and used it. I mean, discredit General Akja? Irresistible. And then I thought to change a few genes."
Rael sniffed. "You want weird? Look in the mirror. Comet Fall is run by the powerless. People with power let themselves be tools, when they ought to rule."
He flashed a grin. "I'd have thought your Intel was better than that. I'll have to get Garit or some other male line heir to the throne to send your geneticists a sample. They've got a version of the mage gene that is powered by crowd reactions, and generates charisma. The Cove Islands are ruled by the Sea King. A nasty assassination a few decades ago knocked them briefly off the throne, but the eight year old who's the new king, under a regent, is a great-grandson of the last true Sea King, a mage with an affinity for the sea. I'd say that was half the polities, but Auralia has split, combined, resplit . . . I'd have to check to find out how many polities it is, at the moment. And then there's Scoone." He thought about that for a long moment, then shook his head. "They had wizard tyrants so bad that eight centuries after throwing them out, they still burn suspected wizards at the stake."
"One! Weirder than I'd realized."
He couldn't help but grin. "Can you stay for a bit? I'll introduce you to some of my other kids, and a couple of adults who are half Oner—courtesy of Action Teams, and lost Princesses."
"Rior and several of her entourage went missing in some odd kerfluffle."
"Yeah. Hoon was one of them. She set up shop in Karista and kept handwritten notes on paper before she contacted, or was contacted by, a Oner exploration team. She had two kids. Ruff's twenty-two and Mars is eighteen. And a witch seduced an Info Team member—fellow by the name of Ajha—Vulperite is forty-four and has a twenty-six year old daughter."
"It's a rock. They went through the alphabet, rocks and minerals, that time. I've got aunts named Obsidian and Topaz, a great-aunt named Wollastinite. I'm Xenotime, officially. That's some rare mineral. Yttrium phosphate."
"Right. I've now heard of a naming scheme worse than ours. Thank you. I think."
He snickered. "Anyhow. I'll introduce you to a couple, if they're around at the moment." He thought back over what she'd said. "Oh, and teleporting is a very advanced skill, but not one that requires the dimensional ability. Don't know if we've got something else that facilitates it, that Oners do or don't have. For the kids, I'll send you some training aids. The kids who can see them might be able to open gates—only about thirty percent of the kids with dimensional talent are actually able to open gates. They'll probably all be able to do corridors. Umm. Tell Urfa I'll consult with my betters about whether or not to teach teleporting to you lot." He pulled her closer. "Stay the night. And tomorrow. Meet the kids, try to worm the teleportation spell out of me . . ." And not to say she doesn't feel what she's showing, but she wouldn't let it show without a reason, without wanting a specific response from me. Or, more likely, Urfa wanting a particular response from me. If magic lessons for kids is all, no problem. Teleportation? Hmm . . . don't think so. These people are dangerous enough already.