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23 March 2017 @ 09:24 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 20  

Chapter Nineteen

"For better or worse, I'm Playing." Izzo sank back into his usual chair. "Had lunch with several other War Party elites. They talked about all the public stances I'm supposed to repeat whenever asked, the agendas, the way I slant the things I tell the President." He threw himself out of the chair and paced to stare out her window.

"They aren't your biases, are they?"

A heartfelt sigh. "No. What's your analysis of what would happen if I were to change parties?"

"They'd blackball you, at every possible turn." Xiat squinted, feeling very odd . . . almost lightheaded . . .

It was a dark night. A faint sheen of drizzle. Oily patterns floating on the wet pavement where the street lights hit just right. Izzo stepped off the curb, the car came from the left . . .

Xiat startled as he touched her.

"Are you all right, Princess? You looked a bit odd."

She forced a smile. "Picturing the rage in the smoky back rooms." Oh shit.

"Speaking of which, they want me to meet them tonight."

Xiat glanced out at the gloomy clouds darkening the evening into night already. "It looks like it will rain later." I can not let him go out tonight. I will not.

She was a bit surprised that when the time came, it took no thought at all.

She walked into the kitchen and pulled two wine glasses off the rack. Pulled out the bottle and worked the cork out. "See what you think of this while I throw a salad together."

He inhaled. "Nice." Then he took a mouthful. Swallowed. And froze. "Princess? I thought the poison would be physical, not magical. And on a tooth pick." He moved jerkily and pinned her against the fridge. She could feel him fighting a dozen spells. And under it the pain of realization. That she had done this.

She raised her own glass.

His hand shot out to trap hers. "No! Not some stupid damned sacrifice." He shuddered as spells slid through his efforts to shield himself from something inside. "Don't, don't . . . "

"It's not poison." She turned her head and took a good long swallow of her own. It burned all the way down.

With desire.

Some hours later, the grip of the pre-cog faded. Not that she had the faintest intention of kicking Izzo out of bed. Now or ever. Or letting him out for the rest of the night.

He sighed into her neck. "Please don't ever do that to me again. I can't deal with the shock of you really killing me. Or worse, yourself. But if that wasn't poison . . . Was I just sideswiped by the Wine of the Gods?"



"I think you didn't do a very good job of hiding your opinions at lunch."

He propped himself up on one elbow and eyed her in the dim light coming from the living room. They hadn't bothered with details like light switches on the trip from kitchen to bedroom.

"Princess network warn you about that?"

She shook her head, tension unwinding from around her heart. "It's funny. I've never had a pre-cog before. But I didn't doubt that I was seeing your death, not for a second."

"Does that mean I should give up tooth picks forever?"

"No. But you'd better learn to look both ways before crossing a street on a rainy night."

"Ouch! Just one more traffic statistic? I always wanted to go out dramatically, until I thought it was happening. Now a quick and easy auto-pedestrian encounter sounds good." He rolled over and pinned her down. With his nose about an inch away from hers. "Next time you have a nasty pre-cog, just tell me. I'm an expert. And I'm supposed to be capable of making my own decisions and plotting to save myself in this damned stupid collection of power plays." His voice slid from anger to exasperation. He sighed. "Or just hit me. Tie me up. Lock me in the closet. I think I'm still in shock. Horrible woman." His grip softened, his hand slid down her arms found her breasts. "One! Against the fridge. On top of the dining room table. Under the table. On the couch. In the doorway. How many times since we actually made it to bed? That stuff should be illegal."

"It is."

It was past midnight before they were able to talk again. "So tell me all about this pedestrian car thing."

She shivered, and described it in as much detail as she could.

"That's a nice tidy pre-cog. They tend to need interpretation, also known as guess work. Huh, road kill."

She thumped his ribs. "Well, you're going to have to put it off for awhile. I fully expect you to hang around and observe the results of this experiment involving the effects of the Joy Juice on a Princess."

His smile grew slowly. "You think maybe it's just the wine, not the wine plus a Fallen wizard? I think you'd better marry me and make sure I stick around."

They both flinched at the sudden tones of her comm. She cursed it mentally, and when it failed to stop, out loud. She had to hunt it down, back tracking the trail of abandoned clothing until she found her bracer under the couch. Frowned at the unfamiliar number.

"Yes?" She made her voice chilly.

"Sorry to bother you at this time of your night, Xiat. But do you know any reason Arja would go to Denver?"

"Ajha? Where are you? Are you still doing the amateur detective thing? Arja? Why Arja?" She tilted the comm so Izzo could hear. This sounded like business . . .

"He just burned down my mother's house. We barely got everyone out in time. Both my parents, Jain, Fibber and Imgo were inside. We think Arja was heading for Denver."

"That is where I hid Poppy and Jay. One! How fast can . . . I can call the Denver Police, but if Arja has any contacts among them . . . "

"Or Arlw. Or Efge."

"Umm. Sounds like I need an update. Later. The director does have contacts, they all work for him, after all. But he can't actually do anything right now."

"Are you sure? You broke the goat spell. Fean said he was demanding a comm, last she heard from him."

She headed for the shower. "Poppy's address is 5342 Meadowside, apartment 18. I'll get there as fast as I can. You may be faster."

Izzo mouth something obscene and fairly sprinted through the shower. Her own was nearly as brief. After a night of sweaty hot sex . . .

Izzo was on his own comm as he dressed. The car arrived at the curb as they hustled out the door. "The fastest way there is a web of Corridors. I really wish the environmental people weren't so damned rigid about continent to continent accidental wild life transport. We've got to go through two decontamination stations."

She looked at him, exasperated. "Somehow I don't think the director, even just an acting director, is supposed to be the one making the emergency runs."

"And I know for a fact, from personal experience, that the Subdirector of Analytics isn't supposed to. Shall I have the driver pull over and drop you off?"

"No." She rubbed her forehead. "Umm, you know, I'm pretty sure that wine is starting to wear off, and I'm going to have a massive hangover."

"Right. Let's blame the wine, not the inadvisability of our doing this ourselves." He leaned and kissed her. "Shall we do this right and call out the subordinates?"

"If we did, we could at least make them do the clean up paperwork."

"Now you're thinking like a real executive."

Chapter Twenty

They took the fast train to Freeport, then Ajha's corridor to San Francisco. The Investigator gritted his teeth through the locals trying to explain how Arja'd been missed at the airport. " . . . and there's no one of that description on the plane, let alone someone with his ID."

Ajha had called ahead, and the Guards on duty in Freeport had hustled ahead to San Francisco and gotten them a car. And researched the way to get to Denver soonest.

"The train, One. It climbs to five thousand feet in the Sierras, then passes through a corridor to the Denver region—same air pressure, you see?"

Ajha nodded checking out the situation on his comp. "And so it arrives in Denver about ten minutes before we'd get there, taking the next plane. One, I hope the situation isn't that critical." He tapped at the comp. "In any case, I've got tickets for everyone but the driver. The time is so tight, I don't think we can even park."

The captain growled a bit. "I don't think Philosophers are supposed to act like this!"

"Well, you have a rather small sample to choose from, and I think I'm the only one under a hundred and fifty years old."

"One Usse is only a hundred and thirty four."

"Is that all? One, he looked that old fifty years ago when I first met him."

Investigator Efku looked surprised. "You know the First Alternate Philosopher?"

"Oh yes. He was Post Head in Karista when I landed there as the newest and rawest member of an Info Team. I agree with his thoughts about learning more about the Fallen Magic—I split off where he says 'So we can fight them effectively, or wall them off.' There's no reason to fight them. Sorry, I keep slipping into lecture mode." As the car swung to the curb, he bailed out, leaving the rest to race after him. The train was in its last boarding phase. It started moving before they found their seats.

The guards called ahead. A sleek black car met them, the startled driver absorbed their anxiety and drove faster than the guards were comfortable with. Ajha smirked a little at their white knuckled grips and the other drivers tended to get out of their way.

He'd learned all about opening electronic locks in various places; the gate to the parking area opened at a tangled thought, and Ajha bailed out at the first walkway. His minicomp had placed apartment eighteen on the ground floor . . .

Two policemen stepped into his path, aggressive shoulders . . . He slowed and let the guards confront them while he dodged around them.

The door of eighteen was open.

Poppy was on the floor semiconscious, right arm curled protectively over the left, cuddled to her chest.

Jay stood between her and Arja.

The man rocked back at a mental slap from the boy. "How cute."

As he raised his hand Ajha reached out with a powersource drain. No calls for help or in warning from you, today, cousin.

Arja felt it and spun. "Well, well. If it isn't Mr. Close to a Philosopher. This is going to be even more fun than I'd realized." Arja's lips curled upward in genuine amusement as Ajha moved forward. "Don't think that because you can take an arrogant little weasel of a killer, that you can handle a Withione with real training and real experience."

"Experience?" Ajha stepped over the threshold. "You have a desk job in the War Ministry. You play games in salles with pointy thingies."

Arja pulled out a laser pistol and pressed the firing stud. Nothing happened. He dropped it back in his pocket. "Fallen trick. Have you gone over to them completely? Got yourself re-engineered?"

"A bit. Kept me alive against the Helaos a few times." Ajha circled around to get between Arja and Poppy, but Arja leaped to grab at Jay. Ajha threw the spell net.

It wasn't as nasty and all encompassing as Nil's. The transformation to canine was much simpler. No major modifications to the digestive system, and he'd left the paws rather hand-like and made no changes to the teeth at all, although the forward projection of the lower face was still moderately painful. And having seen altogether too much of the Black Goat behavior, he'd added a spell to reduce the sex drive to the net. Along with stun, sleepy, spin, yawn, giggle, hiccup . . . It had seemed quite fun at the time, but the thrashing form that crashed to the floor was making the most hideous collection of noises. Ugly half transformed thing lunged toward the boy.

Jay shoved it away from his mother, wrestling with an uncoordinated almost-dog that weighed in at about a hundred kilos.

Ajha grabbed the back of his coat and yank him completely away.

"How did you do that?" Jay scooted over to his mother, hovered, afraid to touch her arm.

"A little trick I learned from your father. I really ought to haul you off to Embassy. Let you meet him, and a pack of your half-siblings." He wrinkled his nose at the dog. It didn't seem to be gaining any sort of motor control. After a moment he realized the thing was having trouble breathing.

"A few too many respiratory spells, eh?" He removed the hiccups and giggles. And, a bit reluctantly, the yawning and spin. Stun and Sleepy took over, then, and Arja-the-dog flopped over limply, still tangled in his clothing. "Interesting. I never thought about how spells that compelled actions actually interfered with stun and sleep spells." He pulled four little rocks out of his pocket.

"That was Total." Jay was looking back and forth between his mother and Arja.

"I agree, but what do we do with everyone, now?" The Investigator looked down at the dog in Arja's clothing. "If the locals are corrupted, we should leave. Although I hate . . . what are you doing now?"

Ajha grinned and shifted the rocks around on the table. "I grabbed these as we went through my office. The other end is still in Freeport. I just need to get them into the right order and we can go home."

Captain Wrlo scowled. "Leaving an open corridor for them to follow us?" In the background Ajha could see Xiat arguing with a guard.

Ajha grinned. "Good point. You will pick someone to stay, collect these rocks, and take a train or plane back. In fact, they should probably stop at the office and set up the Corridor end again. Relax, see there's half your troops peering through the little hole. Glaring, actually. Now tell the men to not get into a wrangle with the local police. In fact, Xiat is on the way. They should send her through when she's got the locals straightened out." He stuck the stones to the wall, and despite the brisk breeze through from the barely above sea level opening, they quickly moved the still semiconscious Poppy, Jay and the slumbering canid Arja through to his new house. Investigator Efku stayed close to Arja. The Captain detailed a man to return with the stones, and stepped through himself.

Ajki was waiting for them. Wearing rather loose clothing that concealed the state of his body. "Arja and Arlw, eh? Well, well. And here I was sure Efge had something to do with it. The Fiend called. She may have reversed the goat spell on Efge and his guards, but the other spells are still all over him, so he's still officially on medical leave, and Izzo's in charge. She says the Chain spell is going to take some serious work, and a few of the miscellaneous spells, possibly a brute force break."

Ajha nodded. "I've heard of the Chain spell, but never seen it in action. The Fallen seem to consider it a real tough one to deal with. Poppy's arm, on the other hand, should be simple." He touched her forehead and her eyes slipped closed. He pulled out his hip flask and dribbled a bit in her mouth. "When she wakes up, I'll give her more."

He felt her arm carefully, pulled gently and twisted slightly, a touch of telekinesis and the bone slid into place. He held it a long moment, as the Joy Juice took effect and started the healing process. She blinked uncertainly as the Joy Juice also fast forwarded the sleep spell and it ended abruptly. She jerked upward, fists knotted and striking out. Ajha gently cradled the broken one, as a Guard leap to secure the other.

"Mom, we're safe. It's all right." Jay sort of melted down beside her with a relieved huff.

"The Ecclesiastical Guards have the whole place safe. Be careful with that arm, the bone isn't completely healed." Ajha folded her arm across her chest and evaded the fingers that sought to grasp his. Oops, Joy Juice kicking in.

The guard on the other side released the arm he was holding, and eased back as Ajha put a bit of distance between himself and Poppy.

Captain Wrlo looked over. "Acting Sub-director Xiat of Interior has arrived at the apartment complex."

"Oh, good. Let me move the stones outside and they can drive right through." He pulled them off the wall and headed outside.

A few minutes later a big black car rolled through to the driveway. Ajha turned back to the Investigator.

"What's the situation at Black Point?"

"Everyone is up in Ahvi's house, with my people guarding them, until the lab is done at Kiaj's house. I understand that Arlw is en route."

Ajha shook his head. "Why won't any of these people stay still?"

The Investigator chuckled. "Welcome to routine police work. Although this one is notable for my not even daring to suggest the witnesses and suspects not leave the region." He eyed Ajha. "Some of them won't even stay on the same world."

Ajha just grinned. "I think the main problem is that two of the main suspects haven't even set foot in the region. I'm speaking of Director Efge of Internal Relations, and his subdirector Izzo."

The Investigator sighed. "Who's Izzo?"

"War Party up-and-comer. You've seen the Fallen Grid cast? The third man in the party, currently the acting Director. I've never met him, and admittedly my only reason to suspect him is that he's among those few who have profited by all the mess, with a promotion, however temporary." Ajha noticed the direction of the Investigator's gaze and turned. "Oh. Hi. Izzo, this is Investigator Efku of Black Point."

"Pleased to meet you. I've always wanted to be a suspect." The man sounded a bit put out. Not too surprising.

Ajha shrugged. "Well, as I was saying, that's really just a list of who benefited. I'm reasonably sure it was Arlw, but stand up in court evidence is a bit thin."

"Absent." The Investigator growled. "Jain never spoke to him about this, she just leaped to conclusions. And if Arja is his cut off . . . " He looked around at the large dog. It was sitting up, looking woozy. One of the Eclesiastical guards had found a line to tie around his neck. "Well. I think we need to change him back and see if he feels like talking."

Izzo stared at the dog, then eyed Ajha.

"Yep. You've got to admit, it ends fights really quickly." He looked around. "We shouldn't talk in front of him, however. C'mon inside. Poppy? Can we get a word by word replay of Arja's visit?"

However gloating and nasty, Arja hadn't named any names.


mbarkermbarker on March 24th, 2017 12:50 am (UTC)
Drat, I used to read mysteries. Ten little indians? Was that the Agatha Christie where she slowly removed the suspects, until we get to the end? This feels a little like that.