How many friends does Father have? Philey wondered. It had never seen the three bodyguards before, but it could see that Father and the big trumale he'd introduced simply as 'Vee' had a long history together. They co-ordinated. So did the other big trumale, but not as smoothly. The little pseudofem probably didn't even count as a bodyguard, she looked uncomfortable and out of place.
Vee started and stared at Emmo, who had made a silent entrance.
"Dinner is ready." She wandered over to tweak a display book back into proper alignment on her way out the door. "Will Miss B'thom and Miss V'arm be joining you?"
"No, they're going to stay at the warehouse and keep an eye on things."
At its father's gesture, Philey led the way out with the others following. Redle and the lawyer fem were collected from the library along the way, with Redle talking non-stop about the Collection members and their known preferences and tendencies, and especially their weaknesses.
The formal dining room was down a floor and further north. Glancing behind her, Philey smothered a grin at the strangers' puzzled study of the room. The long table was at an angle to the walls, the stools grouped as if inviting cozy chats at opposite corners. The flowers in the center and on the side board were color coordinated with the placemats, and dishes; all the Energy neatly channeled where Emmo wanted it.
Still apparently leading, Philey nervously pointed Vee at one stool and slid around the table to the other side. Father, of course, sat at the head.
Emmo bustled in with platters of crispy wurfle and sizzling pike, placing them just so, and dipped her muzzle.
Father raised his hands and recited the First Chant. "We descend to darkness.
Still You call to our hearts. Shadows become light."
Emmo bowed deeply and slipped out.
Philey hid its uncertainty by nabbing the wurfle platter and helping itself. It was seriously bothered by the differences between its memories of its father and the reality. He'd actually sounded serious when he gave the chant. It seemed to remember a sneer always being present before.
And had Emmo ever bowed to him?
It eyed the fem as she came and went with dishes. They needed to talk.
Away from this group. The lawyer fem and Redle were chattering away about politics, with Redle doubtfully checking with father about some things the lawyer had told him.
"You actually want to not censure the Imperium over disrupting another planet's ecology?" he demanded.
"It's good for Mars." Its Father replied. "Mars is fragile, Blue is robust. Those plants and animals can't live on our surface, can't survive even in the caverns, so I'm not worried about contamination of our own ecology. Big Blue's gravity is too high for us to ever colonize. We'll never have even a minimal effect. And then the Imperium can't spend money on both the Space program and the Pipeline. Not while digging new city sized caverns."
He took a bite, then continued. "On the other claw, if there is something valuable on Big Blue, the Imperium can spend all the initial research and development money, and then we can reap the benefit."
Redle wrinkled his muzzle, "But, it just…"
Father nodded sympathetically. "It's not a clean fight. We'll be using a lot of dirty politics for REM, but also for the Union. There just simply isn't anyway to convince everyone to just live rightly. So better the Union than the Imperium."
Philey rather thought this looked more like letting the Imperium get a head start, but Father must have something planned. Maybe.
The meal ended with the inevitable trifolds. Philey gulped in sudden apprehension. Emmo had a habit of, umm, aiming the fortunes that were baked into the crispy treats. It eyed the three trifolds on the plate Emmo place at their end, maybe if she turned the plate . . . but did it want to intercept Father's fortune or Vee's?
Too late. Its father reached out and picked up the nearest one. Vee did likewise. It reluctantly reached for the last one as its father cracked his open and extracted the slip of paper.
At the other end of the table, the others were breaking theirs open.
"Scattering surface seeds widely, a wind blows gently. Children are a blessing." Father nodded approvingly, "Nice." He smiled at Philey. Actually smiled.
Vee flicked his spines, looking a bit amused as he too read his aloud. "Although in tunnels deep, we always know, that we are never alone!"
Philey cracked its and read. "Darkness all about. A shaft of gold shining through dust, dances in light." Whew. All pretty innocuous, although it sounded like Emmo would be keeping an eye on Vee. "I, umm, need to do some work on a school project we were assigned for the Summer Break."
Its father nodded and waved it out. It escaped gratefully, making a detour to its room to grab its school bag in case Father checked.
It thumped the book bag down on the kitchen table.
Emmo was just bringing in the last of the dishes. "They've gone back to the library. Your father said if you needed to use it they could go elsewhere."
"That's a first." Philey hesitated, then plunged in. "That's not father, is it?"
"I don't think so, Sweetie."
"I'm more worried about criminals, Sweetie." Emmo dried the platters and replaced them in their best positions. "The Master had a lot of things going on, and he used to say there were other Imperial Bastards around."
"Oh," Philey sat up in alarm. "I remember that! He said the Crown Prince got around. But would they look this much like father?"
Emmo nodded gravely. "Apparently one of them does. So keep in mind that this nice fellow is probably here to take over your father's operation."
Philey worked through it slowly. It really didn't care about the illegal stuff, or even the cover business of wholesale importer. It did, however, care about the L'azlod cave. And the Union. "So . . . should I help this, this uncle of mine, or not? He can't have my cave, but so long as he's not an Imperial spy, he can tromp all over Father's associates and I'll cheer."
"I thought it out." Emmo said. "It's obvious that your father captured him, therefore this fellow has not harmed your father himself."
Philey thought of the barely glimpsed figures on the stairs to the surface. "I think he collected an awful lot of friends when he disappeared two days ago. If he has even more, they may be acting against Father while he's here."
"Yes." Emmo frowned. "All I heard at dinner was talk about politics."
"Yeah. Could they be Imperials? I wish I knew why Father had this fellow locked up in the warehouse."
"I suspect the only one who knows is Blozolli C'dasl, and you should stay away from him." Emmo hesitated. "Assuming he's still alive."
"Yeah, that part and Ynno and Namro not coming back is a bit worrisome, isn't it." Philey thought carefully about options. Then pulled out a notebook and started rereading notes. It couldn't do anything until tonight. And it really did have a big project over the vacation period.
Periodically it wandered out to catch a snatch of conversation. This representative was open to such and such, that one already bought and paid for. A call to some lizard or other at Iso party headquarters to assure them of L'azlod's approval of their stance would prevent wavering.
Politics or treason? Well, espionage and political sabotage if the look-alike was an Imperial.
At a decent hour, Philey stuck its head in long enough to bid its father goodnight, and then retreated to its room. Hmm, music playing very softly, pillows in the bedpit, a blanket all tucked up and a bit twisted. It looked pretty good. The clothes it had been wearing it dumped on the floor. Nice detail, it thought, as it put on masculine shoes, kilt and vest.
Then thinking about what Emmo would say, it kicked the discarded clothing into a good shape and energy orientation.
The concealed door in the closet took it down to a shadowed corner of the lower tunnel with the slide walks. It waited until no one was near, slipped out and walked along the slide walk for a bit, then hopped on at the first break in the low wall. There were several exits, all at stair wells with labels for which street intersections they led to, and major office buildings, and advertisements for shops. It got off when it saw the sign for S'mast's tea house.
The tea house was open a hundred splits a day, and popular. Philey slipped to the rear, and into the restrooms. Males, which was going to be awkward when it grew up. Or not.
In the second stall it stepped up on the facility, popped open the paneling and stepped through. A short jog down the narrow zigzagging ramp and it was looking out at the "employees break room" of the warehouse.
If Ynno and Namro were supposed to be guarding captives, this was an odd way to do it. They were sitting around a table with four other lizards. The two pseudofem's Philey had seen before it released the Fake Metini L'azlod, the humongous Aularde, and a trim stylish pseudo male. Two more males were messing around with a pot on the heater. They all looked very intent.
"…so you got this from Blozolli, not Metini? And you believed him?"