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10 April 2017 @ 09:24 pm


Pam Uphoff

Chapter One

25 Safar 1397

Ajha tapped at his comp, and pulled up another file. "As you see, we have a pretty solid grasp of the society. Both of the Kingdom of the West proper, and the subculture of the strongest magic users." He eyed the Director of External Relations warily. "Or at least we did at one time. Apparently most of the early reports had been 'lost.' So to speak. So there was no further study or analysis.

"Fortunately I knew where to look for backups."

The Director growled, but didn't say anything about extra, personal, backups being against directorate regulations.

And I'm not about to mention that I backed up everything, not just my own reports! Stupid insider politics, new managers sidelining "old, unimportant" reports and raw data, in favor of their pet projects. Making their mark and climbing the ladder to success and promotion, no matter the critical information shoved in a backup file somewhere, or even "accidentally" deleted.

I don't know if I should have tried to hang around and influence things, or if I'm delighted to have been sent away for the vast majority of the last almost thirty years.

"So, I have put together a quick presentation you can give to the President." Ajha tried to maintain a business-like demeanor as he told the Director he could have the credit for his subordinates' hard work.

Director Agni looked sour. "Unfortunately, Director Urfa wants it straight from the field agents. Which I regret, includes you. The travel office will have your tickets. Enjoy Paris."

"Yes, sir . . . err, while I was digging for archived data, I stumbled across the modified genetic analyzer we used in the field and passed it on to the head of Equipment. He said they'd reverse engineer it and modify more up-to-date analyzers. They'll have them in the field in a month or so."

Definitely a growl. "Go. Away."

He went.


Izzo sat in a back corner, taking in the presentation. It wasn't, technically, his jurisdiction, but Interior did need to keep an eye open for infiltration, another infiltration, from Target Forty-two.

Thirty-five year old data . . . that we've ignored for thirty years.

The four current Info Agents assigned to Target Forty-two were trying to not gawp at the older agent's presentation. The older agent had spent five years on the target world, one of a four man Info Team, and then been assigned elsewhere. From the infrequent contacts, the man must have been shoved out of the way and nearly forgotten. It had taken them six months to retrieve all the personnel Urfa wanted to talk to; this man was the final one. Exterior's Subdirector of Intelligence had seemed to think he would be worth the wait. And apparently he was correct.

"Of course our information on Auralia is seriously out of date, given what I've heard since I got home." He gave a nod to the younger agents, who had spent the last six months scrambling to pick up information after a series of disasters, both natural, manmade, and self inflicted had shut down their information gathering on the planet.

The older agent's map was projected on the wall. Auralia encompassed all of South and Central America and well into North America.

The Info waved at a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean. "The Cove Islands. An independent trading empire." Then the southeastern part of North America. "The Empire of Verona." Northeast. "Scoone is a democracy, with strong anti-magic prejudice. The center of the continent, as you see contains a mid-continental spreading ridge, called the Rip. The whole area is a desolate no-man's land. Or was, thirty-five years ago. Now I understand there's a gold rush. The west coast was settled, umm, five hundred years ago, when Scoone first started a pogrom against the magically talented. A number of magically talented people from Verona joined them. The Kingdom of the West thus has the highest background level of magic on that World.

"From their history, they used magic in their wars, most notably in a very desperate series of battles when the southern third of their kingdom was captured by Auralia. The kingdom's magic users were thrown into the worst of the fighting. By the time they'd thrown out the invaders, they'd pretty much run out of trained magicians of any sort."

The Info flipped to another map, a more detailed one, showing the Kingdom. It bore only a weak resemblance to their own world. There had been extension faulting that had sunk the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Now a broad swath of grasslands stretched to their version of the Rocky Mountains.

But the most glaring difference was the northern ice cap that covered the north of the continent.

"Now, these thirteen 'Old Gods' of theirs. One forbid the term 'Those Left Behind' cross my lips, but . . . here we have people rumored to be fourteen centuries old, and highly magical. With genetic engineering almost identical to ours." He started flipping through pictures. "The God of Peace, the God of War, the God of Travelers, the Goddess of Health and Fertility, the God of Love. Those five I've seen in person. The God of Virtue . . . " He glanced over his shoulder at the image of a bronze statue, his expression dubious. "Well. I have copies of pictures from books and museums, of the rest. Four of them live here." He flipped back to the map of the Kingdom of the West, and a bright spot winked from the foothills on the west side of the Rockies. "And collected around them the few magical survivors from that war I mentioned. A hundred years later, the village of Ash is still the center of magical training on the World." The picture flipped to a kitchy, colorful ski chalet looking cluster of buildings that spread out into farms and orchards and pastures. "Our attack on the village proved . . . unfruitful." The man's eyes drifted to the other former Info Agents. The three men were roughly his own age, and presumably the other three-fourths of his former team. One was looking a bit thoughtful. The other two were sitting pressed back in their chairs, hands locked on the arms and glassy-eyed, as if reliving a nightmare.

Heh. Guess which two were the surviving witnesses to the deaths of eighteen trained and deadly Action Agents! Izzo eyed the last six people. Action Team members. The ones who hadn't been in on that particular action. The two women were sitting close to each other, a noticeable gap between them and the four men. The hostile glances between them were nothing compared to the poisonous looks Info Ajha was getting as he kept talking and showing pictures.

The site of the battle between the Native magicians and the Earth's army was interesting. But not half as interesting as the architectural details of the bridge at the site. How was that built?

Then back to the capital city, Karista, for a series of pictures, a map, their form of government, an economic analysis . . .

Izzo was impressed. They sent this guy away in disgrace?

Then the Info popped in a new chip and started in on the genetics of the population. The Interior geneticists sat up and started taking notes. And asking questions.

Once he was done, and had sat down, one of the women spoke. A former Action Team Leader, very rare for a woman to reach that level in the field. She was . . . belligerent, dismissive of any possibility that the "natives" had true magic, and the Info obviously didn't know how to use his analyzer and had contaminated the genetic samples.

"We attempted to increase the hostilities between the Earthers and the natives. Three bodies in native uniforms . . . "She broke off to glare at the Action team men. "The plan was to steal bodies from their morgue and dress them in stolen uniforms. Fake wounds with Earther weaponry . . . The bright boys, no one here, decided it would just be simpler to murder three policemen already in uniform."

Izzo winced. We have a lot to answer for.

"In any case, at the Earther's gate we took out some guards, raided an office for information, the bodies were placed, and we withdrew as if driven off." She shrugged. "We were ordered to return expeditiously, so we never learned if the Earthers were fooled or not. Personally, I suspect not. They weren't in regular contact with the Natives, and had been defeated in battle the only time they attempted to move into North America."

One of the men sneered from his seat. "Why should anyone listen to you? Mommy."

The woman flushed and looked ready to murder him on the spot.

Action Teams. Where all the violent Oners seem to wind up. I'll admit I'm surprised she got pregnant. The strength of her glow she ought to be damn near barren, and she's hardly cozy . . . Of course I know how Endi sabotaged the War Party . . .

No one else had any questions. Izzo winced and stood up. "Action Leader, may I assume from the comments that you got pregnant? Did that happen while you were on Target Forty-two?"

Glare. A nod. And another glare aimed across the room at one of the Info Agents.

"The reason I ask is that the spy here on the One World had a fertility potion in wine that overcame the High Oner fertility barrier. It also has a strong aphrodisiac. Do you recall drinking any wine right about the time you probably conceived?"

The woman was tall and broad shouldered, muscular, silky red-blonde hair cut in a rather masculine style, skin pale . . . showing a deep angry flush as he spoke. She narrowed her eyes. One of the traumatized looking Infos pressed even deeper into his chair.

"Yes. A pocket flask of red wine."

The Info blinked, frowned and shook his head.

Izzo cleared his throat. "No? Well, that raises some awkward possibilities. We have to also consider the possibility of one of their wizards, with a really good illusion of being your favorite Info Agent . . ."

The Action Leader straightened, the eyes narrowed, the voice chilled. "I assure you that I have never had relations with a Native!"

Izzo nodded. "None the less, I recommend a genetic analysis of your child."

She folded her arms, glared. Her voice dropped to a soft purr. "Well, that will be easy enough. Rael still being in the hospital."

Urfa's head jerked around at that.

"Rael Withione Al Media Montevideo?"

Snort. "Yes. The Princess who saved the President. My sister raised her, of course. I have no maternal instincts."

One! Giggly, bouncy Rael? This battle ax produced glowing, happy Rael?

"Thank you, Team Leader."

The woman stalked back to her seat.

The others were interviewed, one by one. The other Action Team woman had been Kael's aide. She'd also gotten pregnant. Twins. Heads nodded around the table. The eighteen women known to be pregnant with Endi Dewulf's babies include five sets of twins and the woman who had triplets yesterday. A fertility aid that doesn't know where to stop.

At the head of the table, Urfa glanced at his comp. His brows drew together as he read something, then he swept the room with a quick glance.

"Thank you all for your reports today. Please stay in town, and we'll meet here again tomorrow, same time. Just now, I need to think about all this new information. No doubt this will result in lots of questions tomorrow." He stood up and took aim at the door, glancing around the room . . . "Izzo, come with me."

Izzo blinked in surprise. Ducked out the nearest door and met the Director in the hallway.

Urfa strode quickly outside. His car pulled up, and he invited Izzo in with a wave of his hand. "Prophets Memorial Hospital." He turned away from the driver and looked at Izzo. "Apparently Endi Dewulfe dropped by to visit Rael."


"He . . . it was very odd. After the story you told me this morning . . . I just . . . " The young woman sighed. "I prayed to the God of Spies. Stupid, eh? Except he stumbled out of thin air, complaining that he'd never been summoned through a gate, before."

She looked like the One's own hell. Muscles wasting away, color sickly . . . She was reclining, the bed adjusted to half sitting position. She held out her left hand, stiff and clawed as if little used for the last six months. She flexed it, not able to either close it to a fist, nor open it all the way.

Beside him, Urfa's breath caught.

"It's more than that. I can sort of feel my legs . . . He said he was a medgician, although no doubt his methods differed from ours. He was here for hours. No doctors, nurses or guards came. Director . . . he disappeared back into thin air, as if he could teleport!" Her brows rose suddenly. "You aren't surprised. Can he teleport?"

"Either that or he fakes it really well. Summoned by prayer . . . the God of Spies. That's a scary possibility." Urfa huffed out a breath. "I think I'm going to order Agni to send an old, experienced agent back to Target Forty Two. I'd say something about 'why didn't anyone notice something seriously weird about the place,' but apparently plenty of people did—and with one exception—loftily ignored it."

Izzo nodded. "And it sounds like they sent him to the far end of nowhere."

Urfa's mouth twisted wryly. "Good thing too. Apparently the man walked into the Directorate HQ for the first time in two years, plucked Endi's picture off a secretary's desk and said 'When did we start hiring Natives from Target Forty-two?' Agni overheard, and, well, wound up at the hospital on a heart monitor, tranqs and blood pressure meds. Too mean to die, of course."

"Good thing?" Izzo thought it over. "Yes, I see. If Ajha'd been posted here . . . Yeah, we might be short a President."

muirecan: Withersmuirecan on April 11th, 2017 05:10 am (UTC)
You've done this bit before.
Michawl Dolbear: pic#111005956Michawl Dolbear on April 11th, 2017 07:32 am (UTC)
This was revised, adding Kael's no-murder plan. But both this and the as-executed plan were typical Oner arrogance, assuming both Earthers and Westerners were stupid. Note that any agents in place in Karista would have heard of any bodies missing from the morgue, not sure about missing city guards.
ekuah on April 11th, 2017 09:35 am (UTC)
Yes, this sounds familiar.
But one question:
How could Ajha recognize Xen?
I mean, he was five years on Comet Fall and then 30 years somewhere else.
I don't know how long he stayed after the Dragon Dinner incident (when Rustle, Xen's mother, was just a little girl). I think Xen was not even born when he left Comet Fall.

Okay. Maybe he noticed the family likeness to the god of war. But even that is far fetched.

Please understand, I REALLY like that scene, when Agni nearly blew a gasket.

I've only yet noticed, that Rael is several years older than Xen.
Somehow she appeared to be younger to me.

Edited at 2017-04-11 09:37 am (UTC)
(Anonymous) on April 11th, 2017 12:43 pm (UTC)
He doesn't recognize Xen, per se, he recognizes a target 42 native. Kind of like noticing the picture of the Norwegian on the desk of the middle eastern secretary -- you don't know who the person is, but you know he isn't from around here.
(Anonymous) on April 11th, 2017 01:56 pm (UTC)

I might walk down a street and see a distinctive man and think "Mexican? Indian?"

The expert behind me spots the man and thinks "Zuni. Looks al lot like Barking Frog when he was young. I wonder if he's related?"

Ajha's an expert. He looked at Xen's picture and thought "Target Forty-two. Damn you look like the God of War, I wonder if you're related?" and then out loud "When did they start hiring natives from Forty-two?" Sinking feeling . . . "Umm, Agni? Did anyone read my reports? Some of these guys are highly magical, got nearly identical insertions . . . Agni? Director? Sit down. Haes, call for medical assistance . . . "
ekuah on April 12th, 2017 05:14 pm (UTC)
Found it.
Released on 10 March 2015 @ 12:23 pm
But haven't compared the two versions yet.