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13 March 2017 @ 08:03 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 10  
 

Ajha set up his modular comp on his mother's makeup table and tapped away diligently until Mushy stuck his head in to say his father's speech was coming up.

The Ax looked fresh and relaxed, happier than Ajha could ever remember seeing him on screen.

"I'll be brief. Concentrations of Power allow one to complete great tasks. Great concentrations of Power warp the balance, and allow excess and extremes full rein. A huge concentration of Power has just blitzed my family. My son cannot refuse the role that has fallen on him. To moderate the impact, I believe I need to soften my own personal horde of power. As a first step, I withdraw from this contest. Both Ozji and Arlw are honorable, intelligent men. Listen to them now, and chose between them. Thank you."

"Oh. Clever." Ajha glanced at Ajki. "Had he planned this all along?"

"Oh no. You've tossed our plans to the four winds, One only knows where they will land." Ajki flashed a grin. "But he was purely hating the thought of kneeling before Arlw and swearing his loyalty to Clan."

Ajha snorted and listened to Arlw talk about the Pride of the One, the Duty of the Clan to uphold it, and to defend it from further attack. To retaliate and attack Comet Fall. Before he was done, Ajha was back at his computer, writing a timeline of Comet Fall's experiences with the Multiverse. The early years when they had no gates of their own, when the Earth and the One had considered them a tasty morsel to trample while they fought over which one would get to eat it. He'd send someone to Embassy, to check it over for veracity, before he posted it.

A history of genetic engineering wouldn't be a bad idea either. He might be able to show how closely related the Prophets were, to the Comet Fall Gods. Show how they were One people, become many, spread over a Mulitverse too large to be squabbled over.

In the Great Room, he heard Arlw finish his speech, and the Clan Council call up Ozdi. He walked out and stood beside Bo to listen.

Ozdi sideswiped the history of the Clan for a few useful details, spoke of the flow of obligations, from people to government, and government to people. He spoke of how the Federal Government took more than it gave, to support an Army, defensive and offensive, research, development, exploration . . . then he spoke of the Clan, that gave more than it took, to help individuals, to keep the home enclave prosperous and productive, encourage childbearing and education. He spoke of Arlw's suitability for the Federal government, and his own fit for the homeland role. "No one can do both jobs. Attempting to will just harm both. And I'm here, where a Patriarch belongs."

"And not a word about the redefinition, bioattack or retaliation for same." Ajha sighed.

Bo frowned at him. "Are you really going to espouse a pacifist position?"

"Well, I don't think we should roll over and let anyone kick us. But we've been the bully in the sand box for long enough. We've stepped out of the playground, and found out that bullying may not be the best method of dealing with the adult world. Oh Damn. I hate my mouth." He threw his hands up and walked back to his comp.

Bo followed him. "What?"

"Every time I open my damned mouth, some One be damned speech comes out of it. All full of metaphors and political . . . residue."

"Residue?" Bo laughed and walked out.

Ajha pulled the voter page and identified himself. Voted for Ozji. To Hell with Father and his political ambitions. He looked out at the gloomy dark ocean through towering redwoods, their branches trimmed to give a breathtaking view from here. It looked like it was going to get serious about raining.

***

"Now that was a proper breakup, not one of these modern polite, arranged divorces!"

Xiat smiled politely at the old Neartuone. Udzi's maternal aunt, aged one-hundred-and-fifty-four-and-not-ashamed-to-show-it, Duiz, Doozy to her friends, was well named. As a source of family dirt, she was a gold mine. All Xiat had to do was balance a tea cup and look wide-eyed occasionally. But even a stoic cop was sometimes knocked out of her tough shell.

"Sixteen pregnant dachshunds? She walked out and left him with sixteen . . . "

"Give or take a couple that might have already whelped. All the servants quit. My! How that house smelled! But Udzi got the better of her. It was such a good story he had no problem selling the pups at all, and that's how he financed his run for Regional Representative."

"I see." She controlled her breathing carefully. Serious cops do not roll around on the floor laughing. She tried to concentrate on the periodic tick of raindrops on the roof above her head.

"She came by briefly, just to say hello, she said. I think she came back to the enclave hunting for a new husband, or even a remarriage to Zi. Well! No chance of that! Once was quite enough. Let's see. After Zi divorced her, he married into the Brightwater Subclan. Was that ever a mistake! Woman was completely barren, and no good saying it was Udzi's fault, for she had no children, ever, through a dozen marriages."

And the problem with it all was that Udzi's election would have reflected, however distantly, on all those connections. What she needed to do was to look for motives in the political hotbed of Paris. And look for connections to the Black Point Clan. And find out what they'd been doing, since their arrival.

They finally came to an end of all the wives.

"Did Udzi ever talk about his work in Paris, or his socializing? Did he keep a big house there?"

"Oh, Sweetie! Everyone who is anyone has a big swank apartment in Paris!" She dropped her volume, confidingly. "And 'Social Secretaries' to do the entertaining, but most of those were really mistresses."

One! I didn't realize anyone still euphemized assigned Princesses! Xiat widened her eyes, like a naive little girl. "But, their wives . . . "

"Wives come and go. A good Social Secretary is never, ever dismissed."

Ha! As if the man were the one in control of that!

"I see." Xiat shivered, thinking back all those years, to her Princess training. Most of her class mates were assigned Princesses. They often occupied their time acting as social secretaries. And if the One decided the man they were assigned to was dangerous, the social secretary took care of the accident.

"They are the highest of the Withiones, you see, and can never have children. Very handy."

"Quite." She agreed, weakly. "So, who was the Lord's social secretary?"

"Meoc." The old woman sighed. "Such an exquisite woman. Died in a auto crash two years ago. Udzi was so distressed. He was assigned another, but when he retired, she was recalled. He just shut down the Paris apartment and came home. He said it was time to leave the bigger playing field. I think he was looking around for a nice cozy sort of wife, lower class but less fuss, you know? Old men get like that, silly things."

"I see. So . . . who was he dating?"

"Negotiating for, dear. Old men don't date."

"Oh, surely they can be a little frivolous."

"Frivolous. Humph. That pretty much describes the girls. Honestly! Goim's youngest wasn't but twenty-two! And . . . "

Xiat escaped eventually with a list of five women.

One lived just down the street.

Gaem Clostuone rolled her eyes at the mention Udzi. "Call me Game, please. One, these hideous names, why don't they let us at least register a nickname and use that? Udzi was a dirty old man. It's bad enough when they leer at the maids. When they start in on the daughters, look out! I couldn't see why mother kept inviting him in for tea. But when she started insisting that we join them, it became clear. 'So good for you to practice your manners, dear.' Ha! Turns out the old creep wanted to marry me. Makes my skin crawl! Yuck. I mean, my big sister would have jumped at the chance. She's a Neartuone. I figured she'd be the one getting the offer. That Ewmo of hers may have good numbers, but he's just starting out. I'm a Clostuone, a disgrace to the family. That means I can marry for love, and I damn well will. And I told him so, when I turned him down."

"Wow. Well, I'll bet your boyfriend's relieved."

"Oh, I haven't got one yet! I'm taking classes on the grid, and I'm going to get a job, save some money and unlike all my Withione neighbors, I'll have kids. And they'll all have the same father. Thank you very much."

Xiat blinked. "And they say the younger generation is lacking in common sense and morals."

"Just the Withs and Nears. And with those genes gone, even some of them are wising up."

Xiat checked in with the Investigator, then met him for a quick lunch.

"Huh. All these politics, funny if we end up with an enraged boyfriend offing the old guy for trying to outbid him with his girl. Did you catch the speeches this morning?"

"No. Anything surprising?"

"The Ax dropped out. Called both his opponents worthy and walked."

Xiat nodded slowly. "So either Arlw is nagged to death by Clan duties, or he has a recent loss on his election registry. Either way, the Ax wins. I suppose he used Ajha as an excuse?"

"Yep. Said he had to avoid a dangerous concentration of power."

Xiat contemplated that, and took another bite.

"I take it you don't think Ajha did it?"

"I went riding, at night with Jioh. Retracing the path she'd taken the night of the ninth, around ten-thirty to eleven-thirty."

"I saw the news feed. Stop to chat?"

"Yeah. From the path, she saw someone asleep on the patio, and the slope was undisturbed. Above and beyond that, Ajha now has immunity, and still says he didn't do it."

"That could be to stay in image."

She shook her head. "Philosophers don't have false fronts. Ajha's run smack into the One, and his deepest and most heartfelt convictions are surfacing. I'm not sure he's capable of lying, right now."

"Humph. Well, I've talked to everyone on Udzi's house computer's list of welcome guests. They were mostly the old aunt's friends, half the rest are too old or otherwise infirm to have done it. And there's not a motive to be found."

"Right. I'm going to go talk to Jioh, then talk to the rest of these women Udzi had his eye on."

She walked into the stable yard, apprehensively. A small crowd was watching the lower pasture. Xurug was trotting down the fence line, head up, eyes on some distant horses. A neigh from the stable brought his head around, and he galloped back.

"He's still going strong, after spending half the morning running." Jioh spoke from behind her. "I have two grid cams running, following him, both with advertising for equine products. The vet came with his portable ultrasound and says all the veterinary schools have called him wanting daily updates. Even if he does pop a couple of rocks, it'll be worth it, just to see him looking so good again."

"He is an Olympic gold medal eventer. It's not like he's even average, let alone bad. How many times have you cursed yourself for gelding him?"

Jioh paused. "Umm. Well stallions are such a pain in the arse in competition. Umm." Her eyes swung from Xurug, back to the stable.

Xiat left her pondering and headed for the next young woman on her list.

Cair Neartuone was slow and warm and . . . cushiony. She looked like the ideal old man's bedwarmer. She batted long black eyelashes at Xiat. "I was thinking about it. I mean, I scraped by with one bare complete set and a couple extras. If I tried to play the Game, I'd be preggers inside of a week. So, a nice old man, money, a house . . . I told my big brother to negotiate." She shrugged, wavy black tresses sliding across pale shoulders. "I can put up with the Aunt for a bit, but not forever, so when he died, I either wanted the house, or enough money to buy a house. Depending on kids, you see? Because he didn't have any. So there's a bunch of nieces and nephews in his will." She reached out languidly and picked up a foil wrapped chocolate from a cut crystal bowl, and peeled it slowly, a corner at a time. "I guess we ought to have been a bit faster about it." She placed the chocolate between perfect white teeth and half closed her eyes as she savored it.

Xiat swallowed. "Ah, I'll bet you've got plenty of boys hanging around."

Cair smiled. "I dunno. I think I like the idea of a rich old man. Maybe I'll look around for another one."

Further uphill, Veol Clostuone was the daughter of two Servaones. They had a tiny three room suite in the back of their employer's home.

"I told Daddy, Hell no! But did he listen? Not a chance." Veol had silky sandy brown hair down to her butt, blue eyes and a wasp waist. The wasp also had her tongue. "Always coming back with a better offer. Same old man, though. No. No. No. I'm going to have fun, and no babies. These pretty boys can dance like anything, and bring me presents. I'll worry about picking up a stipend in a decade or two. I think it's poisonous, anyway, that Mummy and Daddy get twice the educational adjustment for my big brother as for me." Sniff. "Wretched Neartuone. 'He needs to go to special classes, indeed.' He isn't that much stronger than I am."

The rapid fire chatter was aimed at Xiat's reflection in a mirror as the girl swept rouge carefully over her cheeks, and pouted her red lips. She nodded in satisfaction. "The mistress is giving a party. With some young men on the guest list. Withiones. Now they've got glow!"

Across the ridge, and down in the woods, the lots were smaller, the houses tiny, and within the price range of a working family. Neaq Servaone was hosting a backyard party around a hot tub, clothing optional. Xiat opted to come back tomorrow.

"Everyone is throwing a party because of this damned vote." She juggled comm and comp as the Investigator chuckled. She signed in and voted for Ozji, without bothering to think too hard. She glared balefully at the clouds. They weren't getting any thinner.

"I think we should talk to Ewmo. He's the only boyfriend whose name has come up. Maybe he didn't get the word about Udzi wanting the little sister instead of his squeeze."

"Can't hurt. Meet you at Aunt Zowm's?"

Aunt Zowm was the Ax's older sister. Elwy was her fourth husband, and had been so proud of the son he'd engendered, not to mention her three exes he'd just pissed on, that they'd stayed married for the intervening seventy-three years. He was a sub minister in the agriculture department, and traveled frequently. He was too proud to admit to a hearing problem.

At the moment he was traveling up and down stairs to their attic. "Zowm just has to have all the crystal she put away forty years ago, because it was out of style. Then she spotted something like it on some silly fashion show, and she has to have it all fetched back down. She's in the kitchen driving the servants to drink with menu changes. You'd think she'd never given a party."

They trailed the old man up the steep stairs to the attic. "Is Ewmo about, somewhere?"

"Oh no. Wouldn't let him get within ten feet of a box of good crystal. I don't need any help." He flipped on the light. "Now, as I recall, they were in white boxes, and we put them about in the middle of the side wall. Yeah. Behind this chest, where they wouldn't get tripped over and broken. Because things always do come back into style, don't they?"

Xiat let the man babble on. Her attention was on a long case, the sort of thing one might carry a musical instrument in. It wasn't designed to carry a sword, but it was long enough, and noticeably free of dust.

The Investigator studied it, and turned to Elwy, and his boxes. "This case looks new. Have you taken up playing the clarinet or something?"

"Clarinet? What? Huh. Don't remember that case. One of the boys must have brought it. Dunno how it got up here." He juggled boxes uncertainly.

"Sorry, didn't mean to delay you, when you've got your arms full. Would you like me to carry one?" The investigator chivvied him downstairs.

Xiat opened her comp and pulled up a search warrant request, filled it out and sent it, called the station and requested the lab. She walked downstairs and waited. Her comp chimed. She printed out the warrant, and handed it to Elwy when he came back.

"I'm afraid you won't be able to go up until our lab people have looked at that case. Most likely it's nothing." Elwy gawped and stammered at the warrant, then the lab truck arrived.

No prints on the outside. Inside it was padded, with the form of a sword impressed in the foam. A faint scent—the lab had a fast field test for the exact chemical digester used on the body suit. It matched.

"Right. The murder weapon was carried here, the case hidden. Now let's search the rest of the house." The Investigator was smiling tightly.

Xiat pointed the lab guys at the dining room. "If it's clear, we'll use if as an office. Good thing Aunt Zowm hasn't set the table yet. Uncle Elwy, you've got a household of Ewmo's friends staying here, don't you? Why don't you tell me about them? Ewmo's working in the Commerce and Trade department, isn't he? Are these new friends from there?"

The man waved that away distractedly. "No, they wouldn't come to Black Point during this convention. You can't suspect Ewmo. He was hosting a party for the young set when Udzi was killed."

The lab guys pulled out of the dining room. "All clear."

"What?" Elwy looked after them, then hustled through the dining room to the kitchen. "Zowm, get out here, we got a problem."

"Oh what now, can't you see I'm . . . Who are those people, and who are you?" Zowm's gaze left the investigator again for the lab guys as the ran their instruments over the furniture in her parlor.

"I'm Investigator Efku. We're investigating Udzi's murder. We're testing for some chemical residue that is important to the case. I understand Ewmo had a party here, the evening of the ninth?"

"Oh, young men and women, you know how they are! Just a few friends, really . . . I . . . we know them all . . . they wouldn't . . . " She shut her mouth long enough for her brains to catch up.

Elwy was already there. "We have Ukky, Orqu, and Atmy staying with us. Ifbo, Azky, Wpja, Ushy and, umm, Eccu was here, too, wasn't he?"

"Yes, they came for the party, and left about two in the morning, between them and those Servaone girls, Ewmo will have a completely water tight alibi." Aunt Zaom's anxiety level dropped to half its former peak. "And you are no doubt mistaken in suspecting any of our guests."

Xiat checked the names and affiliations of the young men, so as to be sure of getting the right ones. Damn these names, anyway.

The lab found evidence of the chemical digester in several rooms of the second floor. The house was built back into the hill, the second floor was at ground level in the back, where a large room held a gaming table, a wet bar, huge vid screen and a variety of chairs and sofas. Two bedrooms and a bathroom were at the front of the house and opened to the game room.

"Ewmo has a nice big bedroom upstairs." Aunt Zaom wrung her hands as she obeyed orders to stay well back.

"The chemical itself is long oxidized and gone, out here. But a few fabrics have been affected. That bedroom, the bed shows a spot that's been broken down. Three spots out here. The bathroom—one towel."

The Investigator scowled at the shower.

The head of the lab team muttered something about it being big enough for a three some, and probably had seen several. He caught a glare from Zowm. "We'll check outside now." Grimaced at the raindrops, now coming closer together.

"Right. Now, we need to speak to Ewmo and your house guests. Do you know where they are?"

"Up at Kiaj's, of course. They'd be insane to not make points on their connections to Ajha. Bless the One! Of all the people to be a new Philosopher! Ajha!"

The Investigator looked bilious, and turned to the lab people. "Bag everything up. Seal the attic. I want to talk to all these young men. Lady Zowm, can your party remain downstairs?"

She gulped. "I suppose it had better."

Outside, the rain was coming down steadily. Xiat joined the Investigator in his car. "So. Our assassin stows his gear in Aunt Zowm's attic. Retrieved it during the party. And what? Put the suit on in the attic and jumped out the window? Tight fit. Perhaps he just tossed the suit and sword, then went back down and out. Everyone drunk, lights dim, patio doors open—it was a nice night, bright moonlight. He could walk right through and out."

"Dress, run up the hill and kill Udzi." The Investigator nodded. "Back down the hill, suit and sword down the drain, and walk into the party. Except he'd have had the digester all over his clothes. Shoes, too." He stopped in front of Aunt Kiaj's, but pulled out his comm. "Check the roof, look for the digested residue of shoes and clothing." He dropped the comm in his pocket and they headed for the house.

The party was both casual and subdued. A Southern Season football game was playing on the vid screen with the sound turned off. Two couples were dancing on the covered half of the patio, door open despite the damp chill. Ajha waved from the far side of the room, and pointed toward the patio. They worked their way through the crowd.

"I'm quite sure I didn't plan a party, but one seems to have sprung up anyway." Ajha looked at his watch. "Five more minutes till the voting closes. Then the poor reps have to start their dance. Ajki left a half hour ago."

"Then Arlw will Rule the World!" Ewmo had found enough to get drunk on.

"Or Ozji." Ahja put in, unwisely.

"You didn't! You voted for that old man?" Ewmo staggered out the door, Bo trailing, looking disgusted.

"I flipped a coin. Well, not really, but I might as well have."

"I don't think I'm going to be one of your followers." Bo shook his head. "Pacificst. Coward. Quiter. Native Lover. Hey, did you really screw a Comet Fall witch?"

"Two of them, actually." Ajha wrinkled his forehead. "For just a moment there I could almost lie."

"Hey, those were deadly insults, aren't you going to challenge him?"

"Nah, those were just drunken . . . where the hell did you get those swords, Ask Me?"

"He brought them to show Ewmo." Bo got in Ajha's face and back him out into the rain. "You man enough to use one, or did those Priests already cut off your balls?"

Xiat lunged forward as Bo shoved Ajha. Ajha leaned, turned, grabbed Bo's arm and rolled him over his hip, and the low rail and dropped him about four feet to the slippery mud of the slope.

"Nice!" She leaned over the rail as Bo scrambled to find his feet.

Someone caromed into them and Ahja cursed as he went over the rail. Someone at the back of the crowd laughed and she caught the flash as two swords were tossed over everyone's heads. Fortunately missing the two on the ground as well. Bo slid down and grabbed one, and Ajha backed up cautiously to the other.

"This isn't a good idea, Bo."

She saw the spell as a flick of light. Ajha shrugged it off.

Xiat slammed an elbow into the person pressing her into the rail. A perfect setup! Two idiots sliding around in the mud and pine needles on a slope, with swords in their hands. Drunk, laughing. It would look so accidental . . .

 
 
 
ekuah on March 13th, 2017 02:30 pm (UTC)
To Paum 'Pamup' Withione Hoff, the silly prophet who came up with this batshit crazy naming sheme
Is Ozdi just a dyslexic form of Ozji or are they different people?

Edited at 2017-03-13 02:31 pm (UTC)
matapampamuphoff on March 13th, 2017 03:36 pm (UTC)
Re: To Paum 'Pamup' Withione Hoff, the silly prophet who came up with this batshit crazy naming shem
Fried writer brain.

Ozdi 5, Ozji 13. Ozji wins!
mbarkermbarker on March 14th, 2017 01:10 am (UTC)
Re: To Paum 'Pamup' Withione Hoff, the silly prophet who came up with this batshit crazy naming shem
We're off to see the wizard of ozji, the wonderful wizard of ozji...

mbarkermbarker on March 14th, 2017 02:34 am (UTC)
Minor point, but should the ecclesiastical guards be distracted somehow? Especially the Commander, who seemed like a conscientious type? Perhaps Ajha asked them to give him a little room, these are friends? Just seems odd that in the previous chunk, they were starting to set up close watch but they seem to be lost in this action? Or actually, they could be stuck in the crowd, I guess?
matapampamuphoff on March 14th, 2017 03:15 am (UTC)
I'll make it more clear that they are being deliberately distracted or blocked.