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05 October 2017 @ 09:16 am
_Fractured Loyalties_ part 2  

Lt. Lucky was bright-eyed and eager—and had apparently been listening in on the conversation Ra'd had just had with their mutual boss. "So . . . just what is your relationship to Xen, right now? Are you going to get brushed off by the father as an unacceptable boyfriend? Or get the cold shoulder from the daughter?"

"Nope. I'm in solid with Nighthawk. I'm going to be the eager-to-please, wants to impress his future Father-in-Law sort of fellow. I'm going to make a nuisance of myself."

Lucky blinked. "Really? That snotty arrogant woman who thinks Oners are so far beneath her she won't even date them? Beats them up regularly, when we join Disco's martial arts training?"


"Damn. You lucky dog, you. Good luck." He leaned forward and tapped his comp. "So, 5AM. Running gear. We all head straight north. There's a path that makes a loop into the hills and back. About four kilometers, total. We pretend we're doing it separate from the other groups. Walk for a kilometer to warm up, run two kilometers, cool down walking the last kilometer. By that time all the groups are pretty mixed up. A little martial arts, a little magic, then we all go off to shower, breakfast and duty."

Ra'd eyed the blocked out schedule showing on the screen. "Six shifts of four hours?"

"Officially. In practice we overlap a lot at the busy times. We're three hours ahead of Gate City, so the traffic through the gate doesn't start picking up until seven or eight hundred, here. A few delivery trucks, then the rush hour, busses mostly, with everyone's ID already checked, so they just get waved through. A lot of the Embassy personnel with families still live in Gate City. They're starting to build houses here now, though, so the rush hours are falling off.

"I'm going to start you on our usual training slot. Twelve hundred to sixteen hundred. The guys'll treat you like a newbie, show you the procedures, before we throw you into a rush hour shift. This'll work for both the morning run and wooing your dangerous sweetie in the evenings."

"That will be perfect. Just switch me around the way you do with any new guard, and that's what I'll be when on duty."

"Right. So," He tossed a card across the desk. "Room 528 is yours . . . do you have stuff with you?"

"A few things."

"We lock up all the portable goodies—beats me why, haven't had a theft since we got here—so see the quartermaster in the basement for a vid screen and high end speakers and whatnot."

Ra'd picked up the card and rose. "I'll need to pick up the right sort of uniform, as I wasn't expecting to be an Embassy Guard. Then I'll grab an early lunch and report for duty . . . Where?"

"First floor, center of the north side. Welcome to the crew . . . Wqlw? Do you have a nickname? Lew, perhaps?"

Ra'd paused. The president named me in the speech about the warriors . . . perhaps anonymity would be a good idea here. "Several. Lew will do, here."

The room was bare bones. The way he liked it. No clutter for either physical or mental senses. Ra'd opened his dimensional bubble and pulled out a few things. Pictures, clothes . . . he had plenty of the XR field khakis, but the Embassy Guards wore more formal uniforms of a dark brown with a few khaki highlights and a double row of brass buttons down the double breasted (with light ballistic and laser resistant padding) jacket. He negotiated with the complex's computer, found the official store, and ordered one in his size. The comp told him where to pick it up—apparently the complex sent even moderate sized packages by pneumatic tube. There was a drop for it down the hall.

He looked around the bare room, and dug deeper into the bubble. Two large paintings. An impressionistic landscape, Makkah at dawn. And done from memory, Nighthawk. He eyed it now, memory refreshed. "Close. I'll get it right next time."

He hung them on the walls, threw a more colorful blanket over the bed. Then he fetched his uniform, put it on and headed out to find lunch.

Chapter Three

21 Emre 1408yp

Empire of the One Embassy, Embassy World

Both Cafeteria and Gymnasium were on the third floor. A small medical aid station at the back of the elevator bank and the mechanical column. Restrooms in the center, opposite the vendo and fabs that were apparently the sum total of the food available. The two flights of stairs were in the northeast and southwest corners.

Ra'd circled the center stack, noting the tables and chairs scattered in halo around the floor, mostly empty at eleven hundred hours.

The Speed bubble is going to be very disorienting. I'll have to be sure to get enough sleep . . . because I was awake for ten hours . . . and only half an hour passed out here in the real world.

He noticed three tables of men in brown uniforms. My shift perhaps? They were turning to eye him. I'm going to have to be nice. Be unbothered by challenges. Pretend I wouldn't just as soon eat alone. Act like Ebsa. Shed offense and just dive in and get to work.

He strolled over. "Morning. Wqlw Withione, just assigned newbie."

The ten men looked him over.

The man with his back to the windows and his chair tipped back was the first to speak. "I'm squad leader Essy. You have an assigned shift yet?"

"Twelve to sixteen hundred. Lieutenant Lucky said that was the standard teach-the-newbie slot."

"For my sins. Grab food—or something pretending to be food and c'mon back."

Ra'd drifted to the fabs and ordered up a noodle dish. A drink from the vendo and back to the guards.

"So is the problem people or goods? And which way do people smuggle things?"

"Into the Empire, mostly. The two we most worry about? One, Comet Fall potions, especially the Joy Juice. Two, spies."

"From Earth? Comet Fall as well, I suppose."

"All of them. Some Arbolians and Purps can pass as Oners. So it's not just the Fallen we have trouble spotting as alien."

"Hmm, have they got forged IDs? Implants or ordinary?"

"Well . . . we've never actually caught any." One of the other guys, a tall blonde gave a wry shrug. "Truth to tell, this is rather boring duty."

"Off hours are fun though." The black haired fellow grinned. "I'm Arc, that's Boner—Ulna if you want to be formal—Vicky, Fly, You, Ed, Moo, Kobold, Hector, and Greg."

They told him all about the nightclubs, the restaurants, the beaches, the mountains . . . the bored ministry staff, a sizeable percent of which was female. The women from the other embassies.

"Be careful though, you have to report on every non-casual encounter."

Ra'd nodded. "I got the lecture before I came. I was at the Directorate School when Wolfson's daughter . . . "

That netted him ten stares, nods.

"Oh, you're the guy who tried to rescue her." Boner grinned. "And kissed the frost queen."

Essy frowned at him. "So . . . are you with security, or intel?"

Ra'd paused. One dammit. Talk. Be chatty. "Well, security, except . . . I got a hell of a lecture, all about when I talked to Nighthawk . . . Umm, report it all, and whatever you do don't get Wolfson angry. I think they want me to get close to her . . . and him."

Arc grunted. "Ugh. Political maneuvering."

Essy nodded. "Yeah. Well, watch yourself, ask for help before the situation is dire, not after, got it?"

"Got it." How weird. They're . . . treating me like one of them.

Boring guard duty turned out to be exactly that. All across personnel had implanted ID in addition to the normal, everyday ID cards that everyone had. The approach to the gate had sensors, matched both forms of IDs against the list of people already here, sniffers to detect the Joy Juice and several other prohibited substances, infrared detectors to spot any stowaways . . .

Incoming had already been vetted through into the secure gate area of Gate City, the busses had onboard detectors so only people cleared for Embassy—mainly employees—got aboard.

By noon, Embassy time, most of the employees were already hard at work. So it was just a few of the irregular visitors popping over, delivery van heading home, most of them on regular routes and familiar. A few private vehicles whose occupants could be checked at a glance . . . boring.

If not for the wild speculations.

/// "We're pretty sure that guys a Space Alien, don't care what the computers say . . . "

As the day spun down, workers started heading home.

"They have staggered start and quit times, so they don't all try to get on busses and through the gate all at once. These are the early birds, they start work around six hundred, which would be three in the effing middle of the night. Beats me why they do it."

"To be home when children get out of school?" Ra'd thought that over. "But then someone else has to get them up and going in the morning."

"I think they cheat and just don't sleep. Party all the time." Boner grinned. "Like my little sister."

"Oh look, it's the bus of clones." Ace nodded toward a bus that looked to be exclusively female. While blouses, short, tight black skirts. Black high heels.

Boner grinned. "You see, Lew, they clone them over in the med center in building two. They think just giving them different hair color will keep us from noticing that they're exporting secretaries."

The nearest gave them a corner of the eye glance and a rude gesture, down where it couldn't be seen by her coworkers.

Ace snickered. "Funny, how that one looks just like Boner's sister. Behave, or we'll all beat you up, by the way." But his glower was aimed past Ra'd, not at him.

"No problem, I have a little sister, myself . . . is there that sort of problem around here? I thought they tried to not send the obnoxious ones here." He shifted and glanced behind . . . Ace's glare had been aimed at either Greg or Hector.

"They do. Unfortunately the Ministry isn't as rigorous as we are, so there are occasional issues."

Hector snorted. "It's these stupid new rules Comet Fall is imposing on everyone."

Greg nodded.

Ra'd stared at them. Better keep it under control.

They both stiffened and glared back.

Essy cleared his throat. "Fewer since it's been classified as a family posting. A developer has bought up a four block section and started building housing and shops. And selling the houses to anyone."

"Even Earther's." You strolled back from chatting with the woman's group as they filed on a bus with a declared destination of "Women's Barracks."

"I heard the Comet Fall Ambassador was looking the model houses over, too, but the way they build . . . everyone figured she was just getting ideas." Boner grinned. "They don't like indoor plumbing, think it's unsanitary."

Kobold nodded. "I heard Earth was getting in their own developers to start their own suburb."

Ace grinned. "Embassy is not really big enough to have suburbs. I'll bet those will be the close in overpriced areas in, umm, fifty years max."

"Ah, here come the robots."

Men in suits closed in on a bus pulling up. Red power ties. A few daring ones sported green. A fair sprinkling of women as well. The bus was for "Main Gate Parking."

"So a lot of people commute to Gate City every day?"

"Yep. They're probably trying to talk their families into moving here." Boner glanced at his screen and waved the bus through.

Ra'd nodded. If I were assigned here permanently . . . Nighthawk has a house, but what about schools? "Are they building schools?"

Ace nodded. "At least for the littler kids. The teenagers will need to be in enclaves or boarding schools until they can control their magic."

Gate City had nearly half its land area designated as a mixed enclave, mostly houses and schools, a few shops, but most of the shopping areas were outside the enclave. It just wasn't safe for multitude and halfers to be around teenagers, as their hormonally driven emotional swings produced occasional dangerous spontaneous magical effects.

Which Ebsa claims is actually very rare. And he should know, as powerful as he is. Of course, he's also nice. Not a bully or rapist. He craned his neck as a red light flicked on, on the screen.

Boner snorted, raised his voice. "Ihgi, you lose your ID again?"

A curse and a man patted his pockets, grabbed his briefcase and got off the bus. The bus pulled out without him, but Ra'd spotted him on the next parking lot bound bus.

The next crew came on and took over, and they were done for the day.

"Change into civvies, and meet us in the cafeteria in ten minutes. We'll show you where to find a real dinner and introduce you around." Boner stretched and stepped away from the screens.

Nighthawk had agreed that he'd best act like a good little Oner his first few days, so Ra'd nodded. "Nice civvies, or casual?"

"Casual. The clubs and a few of the restaurants insist on ties after twenty one hundred hours, but most of them are casual."

Ra'd followed them up the stairs and headed for his room. That was actually a nice group of people. Pity I didn't start with the nice teams instead of the roughest of the Action Teams. I might have avoided a whole lot of my bad reputation.

Of course, the way Ace looked at Greg or Hector . . . I may soon find myself at odds with my supposed-to-be-buddies-and-coworkers. Again. Maybe . . . maybe I can strain myself and only react to actual actions, not words. And actually, somehow, get the neutral parties more on my side than the side of the brutes.

cnmckenney on October 5th, 2017 03:29 pm (UTC)
Heh, heh, heh
Paer and Ebsa would be rolling on the floor watching Ra'd trying to act like a good little functionary.
matapampamuphoff on October 5th, 2017 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Heh, heh, heh
I'll have to find a place for that to happen. Of course the return insults about "the Cook" and "the Nurse" will result in much laughter . . . and then a bit of sparring with the outsiders who don't get the joke.
(Anonymous) on October 7th, 2017 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Heh, heh, heh
Please, Ebsa is the Chef, not the cook. He earned that nom de guerre in "The Last Merge".
matapampamuphoff on October 7th, 2017 09:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Heh, heh, heh
Nor is Paer a Nurse. But if they're going to rag Ra'd about being a mere security guard, he's going to reciprocate.
(Anonymous) on October 21st, 2017 12:42 am (UTC)
Re: Heh, heh, heh
In that case Ebsa would be Nanny.
(Anonymous) on November 22nd, 2017 12:07 am (UTC)
Shift length
12:00 to 16:00 is a four hour shift, not a six hour. Unless the training slot is shorter than the normal shift, it looks like a typo.
matapampamuphoff on November 22nd, 2017 01:50 am (UTC)
Re: Shift length
I started with six shifts of four hours, but that's too short, however much I want Ra'd to have plenty of off time, and the Guards need to have a lot more to do.

But I am making notes to that effect in the manuscript that will be addressed when I do the final draft.