Philey rotated in front of the mirror. "What do you think?"
Ylany J'nin, nodded approvingly. "Mah-vel-ous Dahlink, you're ready to head for the theatre and then a romantic midnight dinner at the Top."
Its housekeeper, Emmo H'rel shook her head sadly, "You look so sharp and hard, sweetie!" she poked uncertainly at the heavy blue turban impaled on the spines of her own head, then wandered off to put the room in what she considered order. The chair had to be at just this angle to the window, and the dresser top had to have fresh flowers every day, or the Energy Flow from the Gods just wasn't right. Philey couldn't feel the Energy. And had never quite figured out why the Temple kept the eccentric psuedofem here, serving a lizard like its father, but meals arrived on time and the dank old mansion was functional, so perhaps it should just thank the Old Gods for sending Emmo, and try to not disrupt the Energy Flow too badly.
Wef J'niam hissed. "I think you should dress male, just in case. And that way I wouldn't have to take all the girl cooties."
His sister Del threw a pillow at him, starting a brief free-for-all, with poor Emmo darting distractedly about, trying to collect pillows and put them back where they would focus the energy properly. At least they missed the flowers.
A distant clank alerted them to the presence of someone at the front door.
Emmo glanced around the disordered room with dismay, but at a second clank abandoned them to the Bad Energy Flow and headed off in the general direction of the front door. Two or three more clanks would probably be required to pull her away from distractions between here and there, long enough for her to actually remember to see who was there. Once faced with an actual person, her instincts were usually good enough to let in the right ones and ignore the wrong ones. Philey's friends had had their own keys for years.
Philey scowled at the mirror. "I just wish I knew!"
Ylany nodded sympathetically. "I can't believe your parents didn't do a chromo check on you. I've known all my life I was a fem." She rubbed absently at an itchy spot in her fine baby spines, and got up to check in the mirror.
Philey eyed the itchy spot, "I can't see anything. You're only twelve anyway. I should start shedding before you do."
"Yeah, and then you'll know."
"What if I'm a male?" Philey worried, "Will you still be my friend?"
"Of course," Ylany avowed stoutly. "But not the kind of 'friend' they show on late night vids, that's just gross, all that biting!"
"Yeah. I hope I stay a pseudo. Those trus are sickos."
"Yeah, and no hormone shots, so we act like that!"
Del and Wef nodded decisively, together, but Wef, as usual, did the talking. "You're right. It doesn't really matter if you're male or female. The important thing is to stay sane and sensibly pseudo."
About then Emmo wandered back in, "Shall I start lunch? What would you four like?"
"Cheeper. Who was at the door?"
Emmo blinked, a bit startled, "Oh, Neveti! It was the police. I put him in the parlor."
The kids exchanged startled looks.
"Maybe it's about your father." Ylany whispered. "He just got away, umm, back. Is he gone again?"
"Yeah. Business trip, he said. Hopefully he hasn't been arrested again." Philey gulped a bit, gathering courage. "I'll better go talk to him."
"I guess I'd better go home," Ylany eyed it worriedly, "call me." The other two nodded, and they all headed off, taking a back route to avoid the parlor. Philey's father's notoriety had led its friends' parents to forbid them to have anything to do with Philey, so they met most afternoons in the L'azlod Cave where they couldn't be seen. Letting the police see them would get them all grounded.
Philey walked out, trying to be dignified and adult. It couldn't be good news. The last time it had been about the REM, before that, drugs.
The lizard rose as Philey entered the parlor. A unpreposing trumale in a very sharp, urban style suit. As good as a uniform. What is a national cop doing down here? Must be drugs, again. Philey glumly concluded.
"I'm Inspector Bani M'nal of the Department of Union Security. There have been some questions about your father's whereabouts. I was wondering if you could help with some information."
"My putative father fortunately never seemed inclined to bring me into the family business, or keep me up to date with his travels. I doubt I can help." Philey braced itself.
"Putative?" The lizard studied it a moment. "L'azlod seems quite confident that you are his daughter."
"He is also a retro-anarchist who never married my mother, nor had any gene tests done." Philey crossed its arms across its chest. "For all he knows, I may be his son. Or better yet, not his at all."
The detective blinked as if taken aback. "Everyone seems to assume you are fem."
"Indeed." Philey smiled thinly. "No doubt I'll find out in a few years." Just for once it was useful, throwing this cop off balance.
The inspector looked around, dubiously. "This is the L'azlod family home, is it?" The cave was one of the oldest in Ice Cap South, every room excavated from the solid rock of the First Cut. They lived in the front rooms for the windows overlooking the Cut. A maze of workrooms honeycombed the rock behind, dismal, dank and dark. There was even an emergency exit to the surface.
Philey smiled. Now they were getting down to it. The cops wanted to search. Well, why not. Showing this lizard around might be good for a few laughs. Philey pasted on a proud smirk, "It is the last cut wall cave still in Founding Family hands. Would you like a tour?"
That was good for nearly three splits of amusement; stopping so the inspector automatically stopped under drips, 'accidentally' dropping the candle back in the storerooms by the stairs to the surface, and finally leading the creature back through the kitchen which had been built with a much larger family in mind, and then modernized to an industrial standard, which had a lot in common with a modern morgue, or at least the ones she'd seen in vids, which probably weren't too accurate. Emmo eviscerating a cheeper with a huge knife added to the ambiance no end.
At any rate, the Cop looked relieved when it finally brought him back to the front door. He took his leave quickly.
Philey let out three splits worth of frustration in a cursing fit, and wished it had a better vocabulary. "Sand, cold and salt. Oh dust storm. Why won't Father leave well enough alone!"
"Instead of just leaving, sweetie?" Emmo materialized at her elbow.
"Yes. My father's . . . business associates, sand take them." Philey led the way back to the kitchen and climbed onto a stool at a little round table tucked into the corner. "I wonder if they know where he's gone?"
Emmo bustled back to the cheeper and fired up the grill. "You aren't going to _do_ anything, are you?" she peered worriedly at it.
Philey wrinkled its muzzle, "Nothing I can do. They won't listen to a chick."
"Now, now, you need to stay away from them, they're dangerous enough with your father around to keep them in line."
Philey took a deep sniff of the odor of flaming cheeper. "Not to worry, I'm staying right here, inside. But I do wonder what my father is doing this time."
". . . by the time we get back the wedding announcement should have been made, and everything will settle down." Trev said, stretching as he got to his feet. The long distance monorail cars had tiny lavs on board in the center of each car. He waved his bodyguards back, they'd checked it when they got on, and Leri'd gone a split ago.
The sack over his head was a salutary reminder of why he was supposed to always have either Leri or Vee accompany him. But he was mostly wondering what that odd smell . . .