Philey dressed in its favorite slinky but floaty pinkish orangish skirt and favorite jewelry to leave the hospital. They'd made it stay overnight, and it would no doubt die of cancer from all the X-rays by the end of the year, but finally they'd admitted that it was fine except for the bruised-swollen-sore throat and let it go. Emmo has spent the brief opportunity they'd had packing Philey's stuff, and nothing of her own, but she still looked cheerful as they walked out to the big fancy cart.
Uncle Trev had said they, it and Emmo, would be living with him for now, until they met the rest of the family—including her _Grandfather_ Crown Prince Fensteri—and Philey had decided where and with whom it _wanted_ to live.
Uncle Trev, who didn't look all that much like her father now that he'd shed some transplanted spines, stepped out of the cart and ushered them in, just like he wasn't a Real Prince himself. Vee, the huge lizard who wasn't _actually_ that scary, was driving and grinned at them as he pulled into traffic.
"All right, Philey, Emmo, first stop will be home, which is an apartment at the top of a office building full of cops. Then we'll head out for lunch. Emmo, I took the liberty of getting you a change of clothes, since you've been living in the hospital for two days." Emmo nodded stiffly. Philey was beginning to think she was having a harder time adjusting than Philey was. Trev looked at it seriously. "Philey, among other tests at the hospital, they did a chromosome check. Do you want to know whether you are..."
"Yes," Philey said firmly. It was Time to Know.
"You are male."
"Oh." How anticlimactic. Philey looking down at itself, assessing. Did knowing make a difference in how it felt about itself? Sudden realization hit. Philey flushed with horror. "I'm dressed like a _girl_!"
Uncle Trev choked and coughed. A stifled snicker came from the front seat.
"Don't laugh! What if someone sees me?" _He_ sat up, appalled. "Are there going to be lizards around this building full of cops?"
Uncle Trev grabbed a bag on the floor, and pulled out a plain, masculine kilt. "I borrowed this from one of my other nephews, anticipating the possibility of this reaction."
Philey took it hesitantly, blushing, but Uncle Trev called Emmo's attention to something outside the cart and Vee winked in the rear view mirror then tipped it up. _He_ jerked off the appallingly feminine garment that had been _his_ favorite up until a decisplit ago and tried the kilt on. It was a bit tight around the waist, but it would get _him_ through an office building full of _his_ Uncle's colleagues without embarrassing either of them. _He_ took off the necklace, and looked at it with a pang of regret. It wasn't very valuable, it was merely _his_ favorite. "Emmo? Would you like these? I think the colors would look good on you." He started pulling off the various clips and pendants.
"Oh, Sweetie. Let's call it a loan."
The cart pulled up at a building with the extravagantly engraved title of The Double Moons over the main entrance. Vee bounded out of his seat and opened doors for them, while a smaller lizard slid behind the controls and disappeared with the cart as soon as they were out of it.
The Dim at the front desk emerged to be introduced, and shook hands with both Philey and Emmo. Despite being quite genial, Sergeant G'far ran a scale calibration on them, and to pass him, even Trev and Vee had to pass the scale scan.
They took the stairs all the way to the top floor, well it was only ten flights, and Uncle Trev led them into a surprisingly spacious apartment, doors leading off every which way. He must have noticed Philey's expression, "I have these _bodyguards_ I can't seem to ditch." He shrugged, "Although I keep trying."
A second large lizard entered from the side and was introduced as Sergeant Leri K'derat of the Imperial Guards. He was wearing a very impressive uniform. Philey glanced sideways at Vee.
"I hate the dress uniform." He rumbled, "So Leri does all the 'Prince Fatreve' appearances, and I guard the plainclothes cop."
Sergeant K'derat sighed, "He gets all the fun. But don't worry, very few lizards are after Prince Fatreve."
Philey nodded, relieved, although until that millisplit he hadn't really thought about the implications of _needing_ bodyguards. Uncle Trev had very quickly become someone he didn't want to lose.
"We've annexed another room, and moved, so you two will be in here..."
There wasn't much to choose, between the two bedrooms, but when Philey saw Emmo sniffing contentedly at a plant in one, he promptly chose the other. It had plants too, and to his surprise, when Emmo followed him in, she rearranged very few things. A lamp further back, one chair, angled. Apparently the apartment had good energy. She wandered off, and Vee brought in the bags Emmo had packed for it. Philey scowled at them. He hadn't had all that many really masculine outfits. "So what does an unacknowledged grandson wear to meet his grandfather?" he asked thin air, and started digging through the bags.
Minus the jewery, many of his skirts were all right. And the formal vest was good. Most of the shoes would have to go. A couple of rather ugly ones were fine. He finally chose a dark green skirt, er, kilt, to wear with the formal vest and the black shoes, and tentatively edged back out into the main room. Emmo was already there, in a trim business suit, wearing his necklace. She looked much happier already, and was wandering from plant to plant. The two bodyguards were there, sprawled and relaxed looking, but Philey noted that they both had Emmo in view.
"You have an awful lot of plants," Philey said, not quite asking why.
"Miss Xaero is a biologist as well as a lawyer." Leri answered. "She keeps bringing them."
Vee grinned. "Do you know who General Xavarti Ile Leia was?"
Philey stared at him, did he think Unionists didn't know any history? "Properly speaking, War Chief would be the more accurate translation of his title, as he had both military and governmental authority."
Vee's grin just widened. Philey was beginning to think he was a bit hard to disturb. "Miss Xaero is his granddaughter. She roams around on the surface for the fun of it, and grew most of these from seeds she collects up there."
Emmo looked up at that. "That's why these plants are so happy! They are wild seeds, raised with love."
Both bodyguards stared at her uneasily.
"Happy?" Leri looked dubious. "Healthy, certainly. The ones up on the roof even more so."
Which led to them trooping up to the roof. It was great, open and bright with huge pots for the plants and a steaming hot spa. Maybe a little too open, Philey looked over the edge and then across the cavern filled with the geometric forms of buildings. The Cut was much narrower. Much. All of Ice Cap South's excavated caverns were, well, not so much narrower as broken up into cubes with supporting walls throughout.
"I'm not really used to open spaces," he admitted, backing away from the railing. "I can see how the Imperial Cavern could collapse."
Emmo on the other hand, was staring up at the grid of skylights, holes drilled through a couple hundred strides of rock. "We're so far away from the sky. In the Cut, there was only the roof between a lizard and the gods."
"You'll have to ask Miss Xaero to show you around outside." Vee suggested. "She loves showing off her surface place."
Only Philey heard her grumble, "Dry Scale. Hmph."
Emmo was a descendent of the first lizards to seek out the deep caverns, to bid their skies, but not their gods, farewell. The Dry Scales were the last heretical holdouts, who had kept the reality of the sky and discarded the spirituality of the Gods that bid them to safety. They were extinct, too. Well, except for some hybrids.
And then there'd been all the other peoples of Mars, who went under ground after the First People.
Conquered, conquering, absorbed, absorbing, indoctrinated in new beliefs, creating new beliefs, those first people were blended into the modern Martian population, nearly lost from sight. But the Talons kept records. Eight thousand years of records. The Talons of the Sky Gods, the Priest Warriors of the First People, had hidden themselves, sometimes in far places, as often as not in plain sight, lost in the crowd. Sometimes farmers, sometimes merchants. Always keeping the Old Beliefs, the Old Rituals alive. Reintroducing them whenever they could. The modern age of skeptics was seen, rather paradoxically, as the best opportunity to bring back the First Religion since the fall of Hourm's Temple six thousand years ago. Atheists don't hunt down and burn out competing beliefs.
Philey was not truly a member, had no calling to the service of the gods. So he was only vaguely aware that the Talons were behind several recent trends. 'New' sports. Decorating fads. Eating—especially the Fortune Trifolds. All the fortunes were in the proper prayer form, and many were the traditional Temple Chants. Even clothing fashions were somehow being manipulated.
According to the Talon's records, the Imperial Family contained the highest percentage of ancestors of the First People, but had lost all contact with the Talons. A second family with high percentage First People blood had remained in tenuous contact. In return for services, a daughter of that family had seduced an Imperial Prince. And the Talons had seen that fem into a high place in the Union Government, and sworn to serve her son.
He had been a great disappointment to them. They had long abandoned him to a single Servant.
Philey wondered if the Talons still served his grandmother's family. His mother was a remote branch of that tree as well. Most of them were in politics, none were very. . . nice.
And now Philey was associating with Dry Scales. And dragging his poor Talon along.
And yet Philey had seen Emmo spend splits basking in the sunlight that shone through the roof of the Cut.
So perhaps the Dry Scales weren't that bad.
Trev called from below, and Philey gave over philosophizing in favor of nerves.
The restaurant was full of lizards that looked a lot like her father and Uncle Trev. And himself.
"Hi, I'm Fenery." A boy, judging by his garb, a bit younger but about the same size as Philey. "This is my sister Fitro, she's old, but fairly sensible." Fitro was exactly what it, er, he'd, wanted to grow up to be. A sophisticated pseudo with money to spend on wardrobe. She spoiled the sophisticated air by trying to sneak a punch into Fenery's ribs.
Fenery was lighter in color than Fitro, and most of the rest of the Imperial Family, being mostly bronzy. Fitro was bronze shading to black. Philey fit right in. If Philey remembered his current affairs lesson correctly, Fitro was the last of Princess Ferita's legitimate children. Fenery'd been born years after the princess had divorced her husband, which seemed to matter to these Northerners. Emmo had always told her the sky gods sent babies where and when they wanted them, and that current marriage ceremonies were a barbaric form of slavery having nothing to do with the gods. Philey'd noted, but not mentioned that the Talon's record keeping was as silly as the Imperial bloodline obsession of the north. It had always liked the fact that the people of the Union elected their leaders, so ability was what mattered. Or ought. Look at his father, buying influence. Ugg.
Philey wrenched his attention back to Fenery and Fitro. "Who's who?" he asked waving a hand at the assemblage.
"C'mon, I'll introduce you." Fenery grabbed his arm and dragged to the far end of the room. "This is my mother Princess Ferita."
"Hello Philey, welcome to the family." While shaking hands, Philey noted that the princess looked to be growing some wisdom spines. Interesting, it looked like a change in the succession was about due.
Fenery pulled him away for an endless line of, "This is my uncle, Princeling Falte. This is my aunt, Princette Fristo." "This is my uncle, Princling Fije." And "this is my uncle, Prince Fensteri."
At that, Philey snapped out of his smile-and-shake-hands routine. He braced himself. "Grandfather." He nodded politely and waited for a response, studying the lizard. He was a near twin for both his father and Uncle Trev. A little heavier in weight, and Philey was shocked to realize, seriously uncertain.
"Philey." He sighed. "I'm sorry you were caught between political machines."
Philey realized suddenly that that was absolutely true. He nodded. "My grandmother's family is entrenched in the Union, and the politics down there. Father was raised to be useful to them, not to you."
The older lizard winced. "Up here, well, I suppose we are raised to be useful, but not unloved, or unappreciated. What about you? How do you stand with the rest of your family?"
Philey blinked away tears. "I haven't talked to my mother for nearly a tenth." He shrugged, trying to pretend it didn't hurt.
"You have a lot of options, now. Starting with staying here, but including returning home. Will your mother feel differently, now that your father is dead?"
Philey blinked uncertainly. "I suppose they've found him? And that pseudofem?"
"It's just gone public in the last hour." His grandfather told him. "We'll talk after dinner about what you want to do. I think you should contact the Ice Cap South police, tell them you've been visiting relatives up here and are shocked to hear about your father. Then call your mother." He touched Philey's shoulder gently, "If you want to stay here, we won't let them have you. If you want to go back, it will be with our support, approval and help anytime you need it."
Philey nodded, unable to form his thoughts into words. Trying to think. What should he do?
Uncle Trev and...Aunt Ferita came up to them. They must have been listening, because the princess stepped right into the conversation. "We understand that the Union is your home, and holds your loyalty. Loyalty is good. All we want is that you, personally, not be an enemy. And not spy. Our nations are at peace, co-operating with each other as Mars faces a dire environmental crisis. The last thing we need is to fight with each other. Mother's diplomats have all been told that, and we're contemplating more co-operation. So there shouldn't be a conflict in your loyalty to the Union and your becoming a part of our family."
Uncle Trev nodded confirmation. "We're going to invite the Union to join our space exploration. There is a lot of it we'll be keeping secret, but no reason the exploring and the results can't be openly shared."
Philey rubbed his muzzle, and pushed thinking about 'family' away. "I was so wound up with helping you, I missed all the Space stuff. I haven't even seen the Big Blue vids."
Grandfather and Uncle Trev swapped looks, then Grandfather said, "Well, we can fix that easily. Trev and Xaero kept low profiles on the vids, but they were both explorers on the first trip."
Philey straightened, jaw dropping.
"Xaero's out at the Space Science Center now, fooling with the Big Blue biota. I'm going out there tomorrow." Uncle Trev scratched his jaw thoughtfully. "If you want some advice, I'd say, go home for your father's funeral. Talk to your mother. Then come back and spend the rest of your school vacation with us. Take your time and decide what you want. You can always come and go. School in Icecap South and vacations up here would probably work." His eyes scanned the room and located Emmo, who looked a bit lost, despite Vee at her side. Was he being nice or making sure she couldn't harm anyone? "Assuming Emmo will continue as your surrogate family."
Philey blinked. "Of course she will." He balked at saying more. It was Talon business, after all. The Talons. Direct access to the Imperial Family _and_ the Space program. _Not spy_. Sand! He needed time to think. "That's a good idea. I'll go home for Father's funeral, for starters."