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06 October 2017 @ 08:07 am
_Fractured Loyalties_ part 3  

Chapter Four

22 Emre 1408 yp

Empire of the One Embassy, Embassy World

Ra'd rolled out in the predawn, and got ready to run.

Downstairs, he spotted his group among the Oner's drifting toward the street, and angled that way. He got a couple of fishy looks, from the Ministry Intel head, Lt. Lucky, and a dark glare from Moo.

Cool. Be cool. Do not assume every thing they say is seriously meant. Do not look for offense.

He strolled up to the group, turned a bit to survey the crowd. "Looks like quite a lot of people are interested in fitness."

A throat cleared behind his back. He turned back.

Essy crossed his arms and glared. "And several of us can even do on-grid searches and employ facial recognition programs. Are you quite sure your nickname isn't Ra'd?"

Ra'd snorted. "Quite certain. My name is Ra'd ibn Nicholas. My Oner designation is Wqlw according to an insane and politically drive classification scheme. And yes, I chose that myself, to express my opinion of the entire process."

The people within hearing range all turned and eyed him.

"And you are also the fellow involved with that witch's murder trial."


"And you are an Embassy guard."

"Yes. And in my off hours I'm supposed to get as close to the Fallen as I can manage."

"And you admit it? Out loud?"

"The likelihood of Wolfson mistaking me for anything but a Oner Agent is somewhere in the negative numbers. Might as well be an eager swain kissing up to his girlfriend's father. Might amuse him."

"One! You know Intel here is suppose to be a Ministry function."

"Yes. Which is why I was sent to Administrator Ajgi, first. Not really a problem. What the Director wants is teleportation. Ajgi can continue to collect the more usual sort of intel."

"Teleportation." Kobold's eyes fairly glowed. "They say even Rael can't get that out of Wolfson."

Nods all around, and thoughtful looks.

Greg and Hector were conferring in low voices . . . by the glances and smirks it was just as well he hadn't caught anything they'd said.

Essy nodded. "Good luck. Now lets go."

The amble up the road to the field beyond all the embassies was hardly what Ra'd would call a warmup. But it did give him time to survey the side of the night club on his left and the Arrival embassy on the left. Where a raised dirt track crossed the road, the people in the lead strode out more vigorously. More people were clumped ahead.

"Earthers." Ace snorted. "It hurts to get close to them. Keep your mental shields up . . . not that you seem to do anything else."

"Old habit." Ra'd shrugged, and did not say that it was because of growing up around massively magical people with lousy shields. All the various uncles and aunts of the third generation learning—or not—how to shield, in the early years.

"Disco people just sort of straggle out whenever they want . . . Yeah, there's Wolfson." Essy eyed Ra'd. "I should warn you, we'll be making book on how long until he beats you up."

"Better hurry. This could be quick." Ra'd trotted forward, broke into a run as soon as he was clear of the group.

Wolfson was easy to spot, half a head over even the tall Oners. Not that he needed the height to be instantly recognizable. He had to be one of the more intensely studied men in the multiverse. And one of the most opaque. According to the reports. The people who knew him well always laughed. Time to find out why.

Ra'd stepped up the pace until he was running beside the man. Movement in the corner of his eye was Nighthawk, closing in on her father's other side.

A quick flash of teeth from Wolfson. "Don't worry Hawk. I won't hurt him too bad."


Another flashing grin. "So, what's Urfa fishing for these days?"

"Actually this is mostly Ajki sending some people out of the splash zone while he cleans house. Of course, being ambitious, I'm going to attempt to learn how to teleport."

That got another flash of teeth. "I'll admit to a fair amount of curiosity as to whether Oners can. Some of us who can, have no dimensional ability at all."

"Really?" Nighthawk looked surprised.

"Answer and Nil can both teleport. I've seen Answer do five hundred miles. Nil is quite indignant about it."

"Hmm, you haven't taught me yet."

"Ha! What do you think those recognition exercises are leading up to?"

"Really?" Excited this time.

Wolfson shook his head, grinning. "This is going to be interesting. A boyfriend who knows to shut up and let you do the interrogation."

"Doubt it'll work, but . . . " Ra'd swallowed. Am I really just sitting here . . . running along . . . chatting about spying on the man I'm talking too?"

Wolfson laughed. "Might as well. And be sure to get Nighthawk to take you to the Tavern for dinner."

"Dad! Well, I mean I'm sure Ra'd will get along just fine with Harry. But what if my mother finds out and comes there?" Nighthawk glanced at Ra'd. "She's a real harpy. And so are some of the others."

"Sounds like my step mother." And invited to Comet Fall. And having my mind read. He tried to tighten up his shields.

That flash of teeth. "Oners don't get their shields up into the highest range that we can use. And yes, we did have problems in the lowest ranges. The first Oners we encountered in Paris took one look at us and decided we were Space Aliens."

Ra'd nodded. "You were lucky to run into drunks, first thing."

"Oh yes . . . what did you lot do with our poor drunken Native guides?"

"Questioned them extensively, turned them loose and watched them. Hell, they're probably still being watched. But since they charge for interviews, I've heard they are doing pretty well, financially."

Wolfson laughed. "Inventing stories to get more money, no doubt."

"That's everyone's conclusion. Some of the arguments about which stories are fact, however embellished, and how many are entirely fictional are entertaining." Ra'd eyed the wizard. "Did you really mistake a cat for a skunk?"

Grin. "Yep. Domestic cats died out several hundred years ago in our world. Our reaction to this black and white critter slinking along the wall, inside an already marginally habitable building was . . . howlingly funny, to the winos. And to us in retrospect."

Nighthawk snorted. "And we've imported cats, now. High end luxury pets. The people who are old enough to remember them are offended that mouse catchers are so valued by snobs. They figure ten years max before we're flooded with cats and can't give them away, like every other world we've explored."

Ra'd nodded. "At the rate they can reproduce, that's probably not an exaggeration. I wonder why they went extinct."

"In Scoone, there were a lot of . . . issues with magic, and the poor beasties got blamed. Silly superstitions about witches being familiar with cats. I'm not at all sure what happened in the rest of the world."

Ra'd eyed the wizard, running along effortlessly, talking. Like a Warrior. Fit and tireless.

"Hardly tireless, but an early morning run is invigorating. It maintains my internal energy at a high level." Flash of teeth. "Once I get my breath back and eat breakfast. So I'm probably best attacked right after the run."

Ra'd glanced at the amused crinkle at the corner of man's eye. "Somehow I suspect that would still be a bad idea. I'll refrain, if you don't mind."

"You'd better not try!" Nighthawk sounded a bit winded.

He grinned and got a glare.

And stopped talking before he started sounding winded, himself. The track turned up into the wooded hills, and wound up and down a few grades. A very nice route for daily exercise.


"We switch off, every other month, with sword training, weaponless martial arts, and magic."

Ra'd let Nighthawk lead him over to one side of a close mown lawn.

"We're finishing up martial arts, so just join in with us." Wolfson flashed a smile "Next week we can evaluate each other's magical systems, and in . . . let's see Jumada for you? Yes, I'll see how that epee work translates to handling a real sword. Ajha never could shed his old reflexes. Some of this lot are doing better."

Ra'd followed his gaze.

Greg and Hector were lining up.

Behind Nighthawk, who was ignoring them.

In running gear, Ra'd had trouble telling where various people were from. The Earth wasn't the only place without magicians. So even that wasn't a good indication. Two men and a woman had purple hair, ranging from the woman's almost black with a peacock sheen, to the older man's gentle lavender. The woman's complexion was a warm tan. The men had purple under tones that looked extremely unhealthy. The woman glowed strongly, felt like a Oner. Neither man had that sort of glow, nor the absence of any that Ra'd tried for, and Wolfson achieved. They have the purple gene, but not the power gene.

A woman who looked a great deal like Wolfson trotted up and joined the loose formation. Deep glow showing around a shield.

Nighthawk leaned closer. "That's Q. Quail Quicksilver."

She looked like a rather quiet, nice, college student, not the head of Disco's research and exploration arm.

And there were kids. The teenagers trailing in from the run, younger kids coming to join them from the direction of Disco. The bright sparks and glows of budding magical talent sprinkled among them.

Wolfson led them through a basic warm up kata.

Then they split up, or rather the self organized biases of the line up suddenly made sense.

Beginner, intermediate, and expert classes.

Nighthawk gestured for him to stay and trotted over to face the beginners' class.

Hector whistled. "Damn good butt on that one."

Wolfson smiled, all teeth showing, but no humor at all. "You lot know it all, so how about a little sparing? Q? Why don't take Hector? Inso, you want to re-prove yourself against a young pup? Greg is all yours. Ra'd? We'll go third."

Ra'd relaxed his clenched teeth, and then his hands. I should not have let them know they'd gotten to me.

The sweet little Q danced all around Hector, tapping him at will. So fast Ra'd had to reach for speed just to see her toying with Hector, who was moving in slow motion. Totally. Out. Classed.

Then Inso—the current head of Disco, the former Director of Internal Relations—showed Greg how cunning and skill could beat youthful enthusiasm, standing like a rickety old man, leaning this way and that to assist the healthy young man throw himself over Inso's hip to hit the ground. And the other hip, and then from the back. And do it all over again. And finally a simple leg sweep before Wolfson called the match.

Ra'd stepped out, reaching for Speed as he bowed.

And found someone worse that Isakson to fight. The Wizard was half smoke and half solid rock, floating around except when he was rooted to the ground. His style changed at least three times, as Ra'd attempted to adapt. Deflected a punch, got a kick in, but only to the hard muscled thigh. A brass bell rang, they stepped apart and bowed.

"Very interesting style you have. We'll have to do this again."

Ra'd suppressed a moan. "Certainly." And if you ever spar with Isakson, I want to be there.

Chapter Five dining with the Harpies

23 Emre 1408 yp

Empire of the One Embassy, Embassy World

The "Main" dining hall was an order of magnitude ahead of the XD auto diner.

Snowy linen on the tables beside fine china.

"The upper crust doesn't mingle." Essy nodded toward a raised area against floor to ceiling windows and a view that almost rivaled Nighthawk's. "They've got actual silver silverware, and the wine is incredible. Mind you, I only got invited up there once."

"Nice view, but was it worth the company?"

Essy coughed to cover a laugh. "I don't think I'll answer that."

Arc and Boner were snickering.

An actual human waiter led them off to a distant table. "Dinner choices tonight are grilled beefsteak or chicken pasta argentine." Nose in air, to express his opinion of the Directorate personnel.

"Beefsteak, rare please, and a glass of your house red." Essy shed the waiter's attitude with an indifferent glance around.

"Chicken pasta, and do you have hot tea?"

The back stiffened, the nose rose further. "I'm certain something can be found."

You may go screw yourself now. Ra'd tried to copy Essy's indifference, and managed a polite nod. Ace and Boner ordered.

The other tables were filling in slowly, with them in an island of isolation until the waiters escorted in half a dozen prim and disapproving middle-aged women.

"Secretaries for the diplomates. The wicked witches of the east." Boner kept his voice down, but possibly not enough as the disapproval deepened.

Ra'd looked around as a giggly quartet of young women took over the table on the other side. "How is the diplomacy handled, anyway. Do they specialize in specific worlds?"

"That's the rumor." Ace leaned back as the waiter distributed wine glasses, and fill two with red and one with white wine. "Not that we mere peons actually get informed about it."

"I've heard the terms 'Earth Bureau' and 'Comet Fall Bureau' bandied about, but I have no idea how the non-gating worlds are split up."

"Which is as it should be. Humph!" One of the older women.

Of course, being Oners, they were all attractive, just obviously not young. The four women at the other table looked too young to be out of school. And not friendly with their older fellow Ministry women.

"As if the ambassador and his staff tell their 'executive assistants' anything." One gorgeous brunette curled a lip.

"Hear the little records clerk with a single year's experience."

Ra'd cleared his throat. "So, do we get football broadcasts? I think the Montevideo Flash have . . . "

"Is it true you have a degree in fingernail filing?"

"The Cairo Comets will bury them. Our new center can . . . " Ace's voice got drowned out.

"I am a professional . . . "

Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on October 6th, 2017 04:14 pm (UTC)

==Then Inso—the current head of Disco, the former Director of Internal Relations—showed Greg how . . . ==

May I suggest

++Then Inso—the current head of Disco, once very high in the Directorate of Internal Relations—showed Greg how ++

My reasoning is that Inso is a Neartone and we have only seen Withiones at the very top.
Director is not mentioned when we meet Inso in Empire of the One
Inso was in the Old Spy's Home and injured and in a Wheelchair which doesn't fit retired at Director's rank.
Nor did Shadow Inso make it to Director in Nuked One.

Also, this is only what Ra'd has been told.

Now, none of this is impossible, and some might trigger a series of Shorts about Inso's history/ backstory, but I am against it.

I take it your brain chose 'Internal' in spite of the Granite Peak visit to avoid a prior connection to Target 42 at a senior level?
matapampamuphoff on October 6th, 2017 06:09 pm (UTC)
I chose Interior to both not conflict with Agni's tenure there, and also because he trained Urfa who at some point I mentioned leaving a promising career at Interior to become an assistant to Orde when he was just a Modernist Councilman with big ideas.

It's not terrible important, and I've never worked out the time line of Urfa's age vs when and why Inso was so badly injured in on One World and died in the other.
(Anonymous) on October 7th, 2017 05:23 am (UTC)
Inso's position as former Interior Director is established in a scene from Urfa's perspective in the final chapter of "Empire of the One":

"'We'll see he does't get away, Director.' A man lacking three fingers of his right hand, his entire left arm and both legs nodded sharply. His old mentor, former Interior Director Inso."

So while a Neartuone as Directory may be a rarity, clearly it did happen in Inso's case. Perhaps that's because, as Urfa comments elsewhere in the same chapter, Inso and Jiol are "Two of the top agents ever."

Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on October 7th, 2017 09:18 am (UTC)
You have revealed you didn't buy the final version (which has "His old mentor.") what you are quoting was changed by the draft Empire 20140214
(Anonymous) on October 7th, 2017 10:33 am (UTC)
That's in the ebook I purchased last year.
matapampamuphoff on October 7th, 2017 12:36 pm (UTC)
Tsk! Don't nitpick. It's Clostuones (~30% of all Oners) and Servaones (~62%) who have trouble getting into high places. Neartuones (~7%) and Withiones (>1%) snag most of the high posts, and all of the very highest.

Except in the Council, where some of those Tick Tocks have gotten elected. (A late addition to my constant evolution of the Empire)

Oners with more than 200 genes on their double sets? there's about 60K total. That perhaps as many as 2K are Clostuones is usually ignored.

Being raised in enclaves, going to exclusive schools, most Oners don't quite understand what a small part of the population they are.

I sort of over-did this with Xiat. Black Point Clan, Princess School, Presidential Guard. The Halfers in the Black Horse Guards and the servants in the mansion at Versalle and Government House are as close as she's gotten to mingling with the masses. 59 years old, and it took Izzo to shake her out of her narrow experience of the world.
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on October 7th, 2017 07:49 pm (UTC)
You did mention that Xiat was a Regional Champion before she went to Princess School so perhaps add some Halfer grooms.
matapampamuphoff on October 7th, 2017 09:20 pm (UTC)
Black Point Clan is unusual in that it was built in an area that had very few survivors of the nuclear war.

Now that San Francisco is rebuilt there are more Multitude and Halfers around. But right in the isolated enclave, all the servants are Servaones. Xiat's groom--and she may not have had a dedicated one, just several grooms for however many horses went to a show from that stable--would have been a Servaone.

The majority of the Clans started with the Governors of Islamic Union areas where they'd married into the local ruling Arab families (Alcairo) or the appointed Governors of captured territories (Montevideo.)
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on October 7th, 2017 05:46 pm (UTC)
And it's not in my copy purchased Friday, September 19, 2014

Various people have been trying to get Toni and other publishers to mandate a software style release code on (say) the copyright page so an update or downdate would be obvious.

No joy so far.