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11 October 2017 @ 06:25 am
_Fractured Loyalties_ part 8  

Chapter Nine

13 Jumada 1408 yp

Empire of the One Embassy, Embassy World

"So where the One hell were you all yesterday and last night?"

Ra'd eyed the Intel weinie. "Egqo . . . can I call you Jack? How did you escape Echo or Ego for a nickname?"


"Jack, I hate to tell you this, but I see no reason you should spy on your own people, instead of outsiders. However, just because it will infuriate you, I will tell you that I was on Comet Fall. Late dinner, then a poker game. I met four of the Old Gods, their Archwizard, and Ambassador Never's husband, who is apparently the number two wizard at their School of Wizardry."

The man turned red, huffed indignantly, and finally frowned.

"Well, the reason we spy on our own people is to spot leaks. Whether caused by injudicious talk, or active espionage." The poor pudge tried to loom. "Project Rubicon leaked. The Earth is plugging up our access, and moving to correct the trade problem we'd hoped to take advantage of."

Ra'd blinked blankly at him. Searched his memory. "Rubicon . . . Ah. That's what those harpies were snipping about at dinner two weeks ago, right? I tried to ignore them, but it was a bit hard, at that volume and shrillness. I haven't mentioned it to anyone, let alone one of the Fallen."

"Oh really? And you the only one with outside contacts?"

"Did I mention volume and shrill? I'm not a bit surprised it 'leaked.' You need to talk to those women about keeping their mouths shut."

Jack leaned forward, eyes narrowed, trying for a tough intimidating stare.

Not even close, little boy.

"What I want to know is whether you're playing a Directorate vs Ministries game, or if you're an honest to One traitor."

Ra'd grinned. Gave up and laughed.

Jack sputtered.

"All right, you poor little Intel Weinie. Let's just see if we can solve your problem for you. I'll enlist some of my guard unit members, and find out where the harpies go when they're off work. C'mon. Let's just see what we can do."


The weinie was still yelping indignantly, but sticking to his heels when they found the others in the cafeteria.

"Look, guys! I found us a pet. Jack, here, is an Intel Weinie. Probably trained in espionage and counter espionage. And he comes equipped with an excellent research project."

The Guards leaned back and studied the pudge, looking very unimpressed.

Jack glared. "What the One Hell do you think you are doing?"

"I'm . . . " Acting like Ebsa? Well, nothing wrong with that. Working with others? Getting along with people? That's something new. "I'm helping you. Sit down."

"Ra'd?" Essy looked . . . amused.

"Remember that dinner in the main dining hall? Women on either side of us throwing insults and innuendo past us?"

"I've been trying to forget." Ace eyed the Weinie. "So?"

"Remember what they were saying about something called Rubicon?"

Boner snorted. "You mean," His voice went falsetto, "Oooo! They'd never tell you lot about something so important!"

Ace laughed. "If that was supposed to be a secret, I think I know the problem."

Jack scowled and hunched his shoulders. "But Ra'd has the only known outside contact."

Ra'd nodded. "Key word. Known. Now, how are we going to find out if those women have any outside contacts?"

Fly grinned. "Follow them? I always wanted to be a stalker."

Moo tried unsuccessfully to straighten out a grin. "I volunteer to seduce all the young pretty ones."

Ed sat up straight. "Hey! Share, you don't want to be a pig do you?"

Jack sputtered.

You shook his head. "You guys are pathetic, best leave the seduction gambit to me."

Ra'd flipped open his comp. "So, Jack, give us some names, for starters."

"This is not the way it is supposed to work!" Jack flapped his hands. "Umm, Kual Neartuone is the Ambassador's executive secretary . . . "


A quick cross-check with the gate records showed that four of the older women and one of the younger commuted to and from Gate City. Their dinner in building two had been the only time any of those five had stayed late for a month.

"So, we only really have the five of them who live here to check for questionable contacts here." Essy frowned at the short list. "Of course, this is just the people we overheard, not everyone who knows about that project."

Jack leaned away from them. "No. I am not getting you a list of everyone who knew. You can waste your time with these silly women, and that's it."

Boner grinned. "Ra'd, you need to take you pet in for obedience training. And I'm not dead sure he's housebroken."

"Ha. Ha. You lot are just hysterical."

Ra'd eyed Essy's comp. "Are there records of who leaves the embassy?"

"Ha!" Jack glared. "You certainly come and go without being seen or registering on anyone's equipment. I want to know how you do that."

"The same way the Fallen do. You warp light around yourself. With a little more effort, you can include radio and microwave frequencies." Ra'd eyed their skeptical looks and warped the light around himself and his chair. "I'm still here. The light just splits and flows around me, then rejoins as seamlessly as possible. There's usually enough of a distortion that you can sort of tell that something's there, if you have enough time to stop and study the area."

Boner poked him, flinched back and wiggled his fingers to make sure they were all there.

Ra'd let the warp go. "After about fifteen minutes I start getting a headache. So don't think I can use it follow any of those harpies."

"Too bad." Moo tapped at his comp. "Right. A couple of them have left in the last month . . . Looks like they were dressed up for the night club, and with a male escort. But really, what a bunch of homebodies. Do we need to check their off hours contacts inside the Embassy?"

Jack glared.

"What about trapping them? Drop a bit of information on one of them and see if it escapes?" Ra'd frowned. "And how would we know?"

Essy sat back and eyed Jack. "How did you know this Rubicon was leaked?"

"The Earthers suddenly fixed the problem." Jack glowered. "So you'd have to drop something relevant to Earth . . . "

Ra'd looked back at Ed, Moo, and Fly. "What if one of you actually managed a conversation with one of those women, and just happened to drop the information that you were supposed to be seducing Earth women. Would the Earth restrict their female staff? Warn them?"

Jack scowled. "Pack of amateurs. How the One Hell would you know if they'd been warned? I mean, above and beyond the warnings they already get?"

Ev turned to his computer. "How about a frequency analysis of how often female Earthers visit our clubs? An abrupt change . . . "

Kobold started typing as well. "Unescorted women. Women in groups . . . Yes, we have the data."

"I do not believe this." Jack clutched his head. "And I especially don't believe I'm going to suggest this to my boss."

The guards swapped grins.

"Who needs bosses. Pack of spoilsports." Ev grinned at his comp. "This is going to be fun."

Moo had been researching something else. He tapped his screen. "Dibs on Lios. I like blondes."

Jack clutched his head. "We do happen to have a professional who collects gossip and analyzes it."

Ra'd raised an eyebrow. "Interior gossip or exterior?"

"Well . . . mostly what everyone who has contacts outside the Embassy says when they're off duty, but also inside gossip." A glare at Ra'd. "Which is why I tackled you."


Ra'd had an uneasy suspicion that he was the only one who hadn't tried to flirt with the young trio.

Boner came back looking . . . odd.

"So, I laid on the charm . . . and it slid off. Then one of the old harpies came over and said 'young men these days, not an ounce of suave, no method. Let me show you how it's done.' I, umm, I . . . well it certainly was educational! And I dropped the hint about being sent out to charm Earth women. She wished me luck. And laughed."

Ra'd kept his face straight, somehow. "Which one was it?"

"Moar. No jokes allowed, dammit. She's the secretary to the guy who heads up their Purple relations department."

"I told that to Lios, too. She just rolled her eyes and walked off." Moo looked over at Boner. "At least you got laid."

"Several times. She coached me on the whole seduction routine." Boner was starting to look more cheerful. "And she knew some really dirty tricks. Yow!"

"I have created a monster." Ra'd muttered. "Anyone else manage to spread our test rumor?"

Nothing but shaken heads.

Essy snorted. "No wonder we're all single. Six out of eight of us can't even figure out how to chat with a woman."

Jack looked at Ra'd. "Did you try?"

"No. I have no wish for Nighthawk to kill me. You?"

Jack colored up. "Well, I said hello. I think Heul must have a hearing problem."

Snickers all around, but a lot of nods.

Ra'd shrugged. "We'll watch the statistics on Earth women going out on the town and see if there's a dip. If there is, then we've narrowed our suspects down to those two women and all their contacts."

He thought that over. How many casual gossipy encounters do these women have? Shrugged. "Can't hurt."

Chapter Ten

20 Jumada 1408 yp

Embassy World

Oak speed crawled across the floor and grabbed his pants to help her stand up. Lost her grip and sat down.

Ra'd scooped her up. "Oh, daddy's little girl is going to be walking in no time."

"Da." Emphatic point of finger. "Dow!"

"And talking. If I put you down where are you going to go?"

Point. "Mom mom mom!"

Ra'd grinned and set her down. She made a beeline—crawling—for Nighthawk, sitting cross-legged on the bed. Definitely pregnant. And not just the entrancing double glow, she was showing physically as well.

"Good thing Comet Fall clothes run to loose and comfy. I've requested two weeks leave. That'll get me the rest of the way through this and six to eight weeks to recover and play with the baby."

"Two weeks?" Ra'd felt his throat go dry. "That's, that's . . . You're going to have the baby here?"

She shook her head, dimples showing. "At the first signs of labor, I'll walk through three corridors and turn myself over to Lady Gisele and Grandmother Rustle."

Oak pulled herself up by the bedspread, beaming. "Mom mom!"

Ra'd stepped closer. Knelt and held out his hands. "Can you walk?"

Grin. "Wok!" She managed two teetering steps and fell into his grasp.

"That's my big girl! Walking already."

Nighthawk cheered. "Look at the little athlete! By next week you'll be running."

Ra'd bit his lip. "Hawk? Will I be allowed to come to Ash with you? Or after you? I do realize that our bad reps start right there."

"Oh. A man, in at a birthing! Oh, the shock and horror!" Nighthawk grinned suddenly. "And since this is a boy! Oh the atmosphere may get a little chilly . . . Do you know, having the baby at the tavern is definitely an option. Heck, there's the hospital here. A dozen medgicians right there. Why am I thinking about going anywhere else?"

Ra'd eyed her. "Whatever you want is what I shall try to provide, or abide, as the case may be. Whatever results in you and . . . whatever his name is . . . being healthy and happy."

She slipped off the bed and hugged both him and Oak. "I want my family. I'll write Rustle and tell her what's going on. Or ask Q to go tell her."

Ra'd buried his face in her hair. "And you can't spend four months here alone, either. I'll come as often and spend as much time as I can, but that's still just one week out of three—a third of every day for me—more or less. Other visitors would be a good idea."

She nodded. "True. Darn. I wish Paer was here."

"Hmm, last I heard she was assigned as a medic to a project studying an extinct civilization. I'll ask about that, see if she's still there, and if she has leave, if she's free to visit."

"Umm. I'll bet she's loving it there. Sounds intriguing. What killed it?"

"They don't know. They aren't even sure it's a human civ. I suspect they're all hoping for Elves, or Neanderthals, or something completely new."

"Elves would be neat. We've not found any. But both Earth and the Empire have. Clearly we should explore that direction. Whatever it is."

"I don't think we've been exploring toward the Elf planets for decades. I really need to sit down with Ajha for a good gossip, find out what's going on."

"Poor Ajha. Did they really stick him in an office?"

"Yep. Terrible waste of the best Exploration Leader ever." Ra'd sat back, baby on his lap, and gorgeous babe at his side. "Disco needs to recruit some explorers. Field some teams like we do. I know some hackers. I'll bet they could get me assigned to Disco for that."

I could stop being pulled between the Empire and my family. Find out more about the Comet Fall Gods.

She snorted. "Better do it honestly . . . how on the world did you get assigned to be an Embassy Guard? Is it really a cover for espionage?"

"Thin as tissue. I was assigned to Intel, but the Ministry people bounced me. Director Ajki apparently figured I might as well do some work while I was here and made the guard appointment official."

"You like him, don't you? Ajki?"

"Yes, but I like Izzo too. He'll be an excellent director. I just wish they weren't shoving Ajki overboard. I . . . really hate having politics in the Directorate."

Nighthawk nodded. "Inso, Xen, and Lon have to tromp on partisan rivalries regularly. And we're a tiny organization. I can't imagine how anyone can control tens of thousands of people in your Directorates."

"The hierarchy handles it pretty well most of the time. Now, with the philosophy question settled, maybe it'll get less political." He could hear the dubious tones in his own voice. "If all else fails, can I quit, and come be your pet and the kids' nanny?"

That got a giggle. "Not that I wouldn't take you up on it, but you'd get bored. Maybe we could start a free lance exploration company."

"I like that idea. Maybe the next time they condemn the Junkyard, I could buy it. We could go places and see things . . . come back and auction off the rights to empty worlds . . . "

"Hmm, do you suppose we'd be persona non grata on our home worlds? Or just rather unusual entrepreneurs?" Nighthawk scooted away from him and held her arms out. Oak crawled to her.

"Well, I guess she's not totally bipedal yet." Ra'd stood up. "Is it my turn to fix dinner? Or whatever meal this is?"


Then the sun peeked over the horizon and they bubbled Oak and went out for the group run. Nighthawk kept her speed down and walked more than ran. And laughed at Ra'd for hovering.

"Go beat up my dad, if you can."

Fortunately the opportunity did not present itself. A lesson in sword fighting with the heavier blades of the Fallen and then back home for breakfast with his little family, playing with Oak, lunch, a trip to the beach via corridors to start a collection of funny shaped driftwood and pretty rocks and shells. Lunch, then off to work.

ekuah on October 11th, 2017 12:04 pm (UTC)
Three things:
'You shook his head. "You guys are pathetic, best leave the seduction gambit to me."'

Is 'you' a Oner nickname? If so, I would suggest a change, just to avoid confusion.
"The same way the Fallen do. You warp light around yourself. With a little more effort, you can include radio and microwave frequencies." ...
"... There's usually enough of a distortion that you can sort of tell that something's there, if you have enough time to stop and study the area."

What about the Oner glow?
Maybe you should let mention him, that you also have to close up your personal shields. So that even the usual polite glow is surpressed.
"No. I have no wish for Nighthawk to kill me. You?"

Would she really kill him? I think no. Turning into a goat is much more likely. That would also underline that Nighthawk would be no ordinary opponent. I'm betting that they haven't forgot what happened to that 'poor' assistant who pinched Never's butt.