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09 October 2017 @ 07:52 am
_Fractured Loyalties_ part 6  
 

"So . . . how did Ajha's Helios hunting work, anyway? We never hear any details. The . . . practical stuff."

"We ran pretty lean. Ajha has a core group he's worked with for years, a couple of all purpose types, and an electronics expert. I'd been with them for one of my internships, along with Paer and Ebsa. No doubt you've heard about merging? Q had a spell so the Oner personality prevailed and the DNA all swapped back to theirs. Ajha put it on everyone in the monitoring camp. The one that was attacked. So when it was all over, he had three Intel weinies with issues from merging. The Helaos personality was gone, but some knowledge remained. They spoke the language and knew how to operate their machinery and so forth. So they were along as useful."

"One, that's . . . hideous."

"Useful. Especially the way it knocked the snotty attitude out of three really obnoxious high Oners."

Ra'd grinned at their straightening backs and indignant huffs.

"I was there for my shooting, Ebsa for his all around creative responses, and Paer, because we knew we'd be rescuing traumatized and injured women. She's got Medic Certs and training in Comet Fall style medical magic. Then we borrowed Nighthawk from Disco so we had dimensional options as well. The hunt was a Disco approved operation, funded by the Empire. Don't believe all those stupid 'rogue hero' movies that are coming out. So, just the eleven of us. We took three crawlers and three utes. A small army's worth of weapons and ammunition."

"From what I've heard, they spread out, mostly to establish lots of farming clusters and small towns."

"Yes. One hundred communities, they called them. They had lost so many people, especially civilians last time that when they spread out the intact families, that made for eight hundred women per town. And a million and a half men hoping to buy a captured slave girl. Less than half a million of those men survived the last merge, and they concentrated in the one city, again, hoping to somehow acquire a woman."

"That . . . must have been an interesting place to try and raid."

"Yes. We got a lot of backup for the city brothel raids. First we raided the private residences, to minimize the stiffening of guards at the brothels. After that it was down to the small towns scattered all across the world."

"But . . . how do you find a few thousand women in a city of half a million or so?"

"Magic. Mind you, there was a lot more fear and anguish than just the kidnapped girls, but the Oners especially stood out, even drugged. The girls from their other target weren't magic, but their fear was distinct enough."

"Damn. And then . . . there wouldn't have been roads between all these towns would there?"

"No. They built on the coasts, and had some shipping, but mostly they were on their own. They stayed in touch, though. We had no trouble tracking them down through their radio communications. The decentralization made it easy for us. We'd slide in at night and check for captives and what we called reverters. There were merges where the Oner—or the guy from that other Earth—hung on and slowly prevailed over the Helios personality. We were pretty cautious about them. We've got a halfway world, Limbo we called it. We took all the people we rescued there and turned them over to the Priests or the Comet Fall people, to try and sort them out better."

Boner hunched his shoulders. "That's just . . . oh, just kill me territory."

"Yes. There have been a lot of suicides. The men—and women—remembering what they experienced their merge doing, helpless to stop it. But most of the people we rescued were young women, captured to use as breeding stock and prostitutes. They were not well treated. And unfortunately they were frequently drugged with tranquilizers that interfered with magic use. Being young, they mostly weren't well trained anyway. It . . . affected them badly, to be so powerless. Limbo has turned into a permanent settlement, and eventually it will be a colony."

Essy frowned. "So you just drove around . . . raiding these towns and farm clusters?"

"Pretty much." Ra'd shook his head. "When I was first out of the Directorate School, I thought there was no reason for Action Teams. No excuse for packs of killers. That year taught me better."

"Yeah . . . And you hooked up with Nighthawk again, eh?"

"Yep."

Kobold eyed him. "Did you merge?"

"Not with a person. Shortly after their first attack, we crossed into the shadow zone and found unmerged water that took care of most of the problems, then we walked into one of their merge centers, drank the mineral glop they used to cover inequalities in the merges—everyone there was so disoriented by the process that they weren't really processing what was happening. Ajha and Fean had killed most of the . . . medical staff and Helios waiting to merge. They were barricaded with a couple thousand drugged kids working to get them all out of there."

"Ooo! Don't tell me you did all the heavy lifting?"

"Hardly. The kids would have been dead hours before we arrived, and we only came because we suspected Ajha needed to be rescued. Without him, the death toll would have been roughly twenty-two hundred higher. All college students."

"And then another thousand plus rescued later. Damn."

Ra'd nodded. There wasn't much more to say.



Chapter Work out

21 Emre 1408yp

Empire of the One Embassy, Embassy World

Ra'd eyed Greg and Hector as they bracketed him, walking out for the morning run. Side kick low to the right, block and punch left . . . No problem unless these guys have some really impressive speed.

I should work out with them more . . . and find out the limits of my enemies. Or at any rate, the problem children in my detail.

"So I guess being an official ancient Warrior of the One accounts for you always falling into these sweet assignments."

Ra'd smiled thinly. "The information was close held, to protect the children in the group. I didn't fit in well, and got thrown into the deep end regularly. Possibly in hopes of killing me and removing the irritant from their chain of command."

"Oh, c'mon! Interning with Ajha?"

"A year ago he was just a Clostuone field leader who only got his position because of push from his uncle, Subdirector Ajki. Mind you, his reputation for success was substantial, and well respected at the lower levels. To the upper echelons, he was nothing. Not even much of a problem. Although useful to threaten, to get to Ajki. It was only Ajha's hard work and impressive results and his stint as a Philosopher of the One that turned a very dangerous posting into a 'sweet assignment.'

"Think about it. A four man team headed by a Clostuone? Five academic types and three raw interns to keep safe on four worlds, culminating with dinosaurs? It was not seen as a primo internship—other than by the three naïve interns." Ra'd made his voice squeaky. "Oh boy! Dinosaurs!"

Greg laughed. "One Hell yeah. Dinosaurs. Who wouldn't want to go there?"

Hector waved back at the plaza. "About half the arches on the north side are Disco links. They go to empty worlds, then they explore from there, branch out all over. Sometimes people go take a look. The barricaded gates go to dangerous places. We know several with dinosaurs."

Ra'd eyed the idiot. "I hope you remember to close the barricade when you're done?"

Greg laughed. "Yeah, we always lock them back up. But it's fun to go hunting, sometimes."

"You've got a reputation of a trouble maker—and a damned good shot. You should come with us sometime." Hector smirked. "We could bring some willing women and make a party of it."

Ra'd eyed them. Fat. Chance. "I've done all the dining with the dinosaurs I want to." He reached the track and started running. Faster than usual, but he really didn't want to socialize with these two. Especially with Nighthawk in sight up the trail.

She didn't make it easy to catch up to her, and grinned at him. "I like them even less than you."

"You don't like me?"

She sputtered, then laughed. "Come with me. I'll show you an alternate path. Got some people you ought to meet." She glanced back. "Good. they're out of sight."

She veered through a bush that apparently wasn't there, and slipped between two trees that brushed his shoulders as he followed.

The track wound east between trees, then broke out into the rolling grass covered hills.

Several horses raised their heads and looked them over.

A tall red mare trotted up, nostrils wide to take in his scent. :: This is Oak's sire. ::

Ra'd tripped, caught his balance and stopped. "That was the horse."

"Yep. Ra'd this is Flame. Flame, this is Ra'd."

Ra'd swallowed. "Flame . . . I guess I shouldn't be surprised at genetic engineering from Comet Fall."

"Earth, actually. The Gods stole a bunch of laboratory animals when they escaped. They've got a whole bunch of the same artificial genes we've got, and a bunch we don't have. Probably the genes they were testing before they used them in . . . well, their human-appearing lab animals. A lot of them can talk, but not very many people can hear them."

The horse nodded.

Other horses crowded up around them. Ra'd could detect a sort of conversation among them. Words, but pointing of ears, tossing of heads, few mental nips, and flicks of tails . . .

"One! I'll bet Paer just about died of shear frustration when she realized she didn't dare take one of you home with her." Ra'd held his hands out for snuffling and admired the silky coats and rippling muscles.

"If Dad wasn't planning on beating you up again, I'd take you for a ride."

"I'm . . . getting better. Never thought I'd need more shoulder muscles, but those big swords seem to have found all my weaknesses." Ra'd turned away from the horses and headed back for the track. "And I like the practical as opposed to sport training."

"Well, all our sports are to train us for real battle, so we don't have the silly 'count points even for slight touches' system you guys use." She grinned. "Poor Ajha. He just couldn't stop lunging from almost out of range. 'Ajha, that would have barely sliced my skin !' Dad found him very frustrating, so fast and so very wrongly trained."

Ra'd kept that in mind. I know fencing, and knife fighting. I can learn a third technique.

He eyed the early fights among the younger students. They get in much closer to strike. None of the extreme extension, barely poke the other guy for points. Sideways swings, but those tend to leave one open to a fast stab.

Ra'd blinked as one boy punched another, got the hilt shoved in his face . . . "Guess I can see why the cross arms are padded."

The boys were rangy, early teens, hormones no doubt disrupting their control of their tempers. Their padded short swords, sized for them, were more like oversized knives . . .

Nighthawk nodded. "When you are fighting with bandits, there's no art to it. Everything is a weapon. Of course, these boys . . . " She raised her voice. "Bari! Thames! Break it up and get control of your tempers."

"He deliberately . . . "

"You started it . . . "

"Swords down. Run the track, opposite directions."

They thumped their swords down with ill grace and ran in opposite directions.

Ra'd suppressed a smile. "So, how does a witch persuade a pair of medieval teenagers to obey her?"

"She beats them up. In practice, mostly." Wolfson strolled over. "Two more years and I'm going to suggest the two year rotation for that pair."

Ra'd tried to think of a delicate way to ask Wolfson if those were more of his children.

Flash of teeth. "Not them, but their younger siblings are. Their mothers are old childhood friends, and persuaded me to put the boys to work for the winter. They've been here for sixteen months, now. They seem to think this is a lark, even the stall cleaning."

"And they're hard workers." Nighthawk shrugged. "When they aren't trying to kill each other."

Wolfson caught Ra'd's eye and grinned. "So why don't you grab a sword and I'll show you a few things about handling a heavy blade properly, as opposed to brawling with oversized knives."

A thorough introduction and drill in the proper uses of point, two sharp edges, crossbar and hilt as striking tools, not just protection of the hand and counter weight. The blade could even be grabbed with mailed gloves and the hilt and cross bar swung like an axe.

"It'll dent armor. But generally speaking, I wouldn't try it. It's hard to keep up a guard when you're holding it that way."

Ra'd nodded. And pretended his shoulder muscles weren't starting to seize up.

***

"I know Alcairo is the largest Clan, but this many subdirectors from there? That's just not a good idea."

"Nine of twenty subdirectors? And by the letters, seven are fairly closely related. Izzo must be related to them as well."

Ra'd nodded. "Yes, but he was raised on Homestead never met most of them until he went to law school."

"Never? That's a bit odd. No?"

"No. He has the Priest gene. His father's a third son, allowed to live in the world. He and his wife moved to the wilds of Homestead and took care to not bring the existence of a son to the One's notice. Izzo registered himself when he was twenty-four."

Boner whistled. "So he's technically Alcairo Clan, but actually an outsider."

Ra'd nodded. "So he can dump a bunch of Alcairo insiders without Alcairo making an issue about Black Point Clan attacking them."

"Maybe they'll bring Ajki back?" Essy sounded wishful.

"I don't know. He's War Party." Ra'd tapped at his comp screen. "Where Izzo switched to the Modernists . . . a couple of months ago? That's odd. He's been one of Urfa's ingroup for as long as I've known him."

Multiple glares.

"Look when we got out of the bags of the Prophets we . . . tried to sort of ease our way into this weird future society without being noticed. Didn't work. Izzo was in charge of investigating anything that might be spies from either Comet Fall or Earth, so he's the one who . . . umm straightened out the mess we'd gotten into and hauled us to Paris."

"Mess? C'mon, a Warrior of the One?"

"We all—all of us males—have the priest gene. As soon as we tried to get registered . . . well, you just shouldn't threaten to castrate the ten year old son of a Warrior. It got messy." Ra'd failed to suppress a grin. "Let's just say we managed to not kill anyone, and the President quietly paid off all the damage and pardoned a few dozen crimes."

"I'm almost afraid to ask what crimes."

"Well, we had to run down the priests who'd kidnapped him . . . let's see, two stolen police cars, defrauding through magic—airplane tickets—I have no idea how many laws we broke circumventing airport security measures. Umm, and then assaulting ecclesiastical guards in Makkah . . . Don't think the building damage was our fault . . . " He shrugged. "It's only funny in retrospect."

A long silence.

Essy shook himself. "So . . . how did this Izzo straighten out the mess."

"He walked up, cool as could be, and said 'we're facing a magical opponent, we need Warriors.' Those priests sneered, 'If the One wants us to have warriors, he'd send some.' And Izzo waves at us. 'And here they are.' So while they were thinking that over, we retreated to the train and got the hell out of there."

"So . . . how many Ecclesiastical guards did you assault?"

"A dozen or so? It was a bit wild, for a bit there."

"Damn. So Izzo's in your good book."

"Oh yeah. It was back to the wall, save your last bullet for yourself time, when he walked up. And when the President mentioned all but two Warriors present? Izzo's one of them. His wife is the other."

"Right. Mega Director inbound! Run for your lives!"

"Shut up Boner." Essy rubbed his face. Looked at Ra'd. "Is he?"

Ra'd thought that over. "Depends on how well he handles Exterior. But frankly? I think he's being groomed to be the next Modernist president."

They shifted and thought that over.

Boner cleared his throat. "I think perhaps I'll practice my espionage on someone else."



 
 
 
ekuah on October 9th, 2017 03:31 pm (UTC)
pamuphoff on October 7th, 2017 08:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Suggestion:
"No. I really can't keep rehashing everything in every book. "
matapampamuphoff on October 10th, 2017 01:29 am (UTC)
Tedious, isn't it? It reads like filler.
ekuah on October 10th, 2017 07:52 am (UTC)
At least you broke it up a little bit.
It doesn't read like a long monologue as in some of your former stories.