And then the Presidential Candidates started showing up for the Wednesday seminars.
Izzo’s stump speech was nicely altered to the concerns of young adults. “Not that you in the School have to worry immediately about work. But shifting responsibilities from the Imperial level downward will affect employment in the future, even in government. In an ideal world, the regions would need fewer people to run the departments as they move down. But there’s really not any hope of that. But the local offices should be more responsive to local issues, to local cultural concerns.
“At the top level, an imperial government that regulates minimally, exercises fiscal restraint—and uncommon sense—to keep both inflation and deflation under control, will keep the economy growing. And a government that keeps the peace both here and abroad will free you here to explore the multiverse.”
Followed by a poisonous stew of verbiage from Ycrw, pandering to the predominantly High Oner audience. “We turned a war among an alliance of medieval tribes and two Early Industrial nations scrambling through the ruins of a high tech world for weapons they could use, into a unified, modern electronic age World. We guided their research into the dimensions and created a cross-dimensional empire.
“We Oners are the leaders. We always have been, we always will be. We are approaching a crucial point in history were we may have to fight to remain the leaders, to keep lesser people from tearing the Empire apart, to keep traitors from allowing outsiders to stifle us, to restrict us.
“Are you with me in this fight?”
Half the kids jumped up and yelled their allegiance.
Ryol leaned over toward him. “Izzo’s speeches need a bit more fire. He’s being too logical and sensible.”
Arno nodded. “Ycrw’s taken lessons from Insane. His speeches have improved. Pity about his ideas.”
Milo leaned between them. “Afgu’s a much better choice than either. Good Grief, Izzo’s never run for office before.”
Ryol’s run times improved quickly. Not that she caught up with Arno, but she was in tenth place among the women. And dammit, barely edging into the top hundred, overall. I’d hate men, if they just weren’t so yummy.
And like a jinx, Milo popped up next to her at lunch. “So, what’s a gorgeous redhead doing, eating all alone?”
I’d deck him, if I wouldn’t get into trouble.
“Wolfing down lunch so I can review before Biolab.”
She eyed all the good looking women around. High Oners, every one of us. And ambitious, or we wouldn’t be here. I dunno why Milo’s fixated on me, I’ve got lots of competition for looks, here.
“Ooo. I suppose I should as well.” He pursed his lips. “Nah. Too boring.”
She sighed. “Milo, what are you doing in the Directorate School? I beat your run times, your shooting, and you don’t work at the academics either.”
“Weeellll . . . I’m mostly pissing off Daddy while not having to scrape for tuition money.”
Ryol blinked. “Really? Most High Oners at least think about the Directorate School, since it’ll guarantee them a job in one of the directorates.”
“Oh sure, but most High Oners aren’t the Prime Councilor’s son. Daddy is outraged.”
Ryol started laughing. “Oh. My. One! Yeah, I’ll bet he is ticked. His darling boy, working on the President’s side of the government. What does your mother think?”
“Oh, she thinks I’m stupid to turn down Daddy’s offer to pay my way through one of the big private unis. They’re divorced, of course, but Daddy’s mostly had daughters, so I used to be,” He fluffed his hair, “his golden boy. But all that tuition came with strings, so I turned him down.”
“I see. And you’re here because The Directorate pays for nearly everything, so long as you work for them for five years, post-graduation.” Ryol started eating.
Milo shrugged. “I expect Daddy will offer to repay them. But those strings . . . I’ll just work off my indenture—that’s what Daddy calls it—and hopefully fall into something interesting. Analysis would be good.”
“Hmm. Yes, especially if you’ve kept your ears open, and absorbed a lot of politics.” Yikes, I’m conversing with him.
“Eh, couldn’t get away from it. How about you?”
“Oh, Dad’s a cop, solid through, even though he is climbing the rank ladder. So I never got much politics. Mother's a software engineer, so I got even less politics from her.” Ryol shoved in the last bite and grabbed her glass, finished it off as she rose.
“Lucky! See you in the lab.” He called after her.
He can’t possibly like me. I was just the prettiest accent piece he could pick up.
And if he sounded a bit lonely, he was probably fishing for sympathy. Really.
“I want him to leave me alone.” Ryol growled, stomping along as she walked toward the Dojo.
“Poor Milo.” Arno started snickering. “Well, you could always tell him about our biodad.”
“Even Milo is not that annoying.”
“Okay. Here. Wear my hat.”
She eyed it with disfavor, then reached and took it. “Sensei Egads says he’s going to send me up to section B next semester, and then as my Speed grows, I’ll probably be in Advanced next year. In fact he said the only reason I wasn’t in advanced was my lack of the minimum two years training. And being a woman. Gior and Voyr will probably be there too.”
Arno nodded at her orange belt. “Yeah. I tested up pretty quick too. Eww! Another class with my nasty twin. I’ll have to save up my sibling rivalry and take it out in sparring next year.”
She shook her fist at him, then he split off for Bio2 lab and Ryol trotted off toward the Dojo.
“I can’t believe Ryol’s wearing your ass-terick hat.”
Arno looked around at Milo. “The asterisk is the letter for the frontal ‘tsk’ in Tektalk. And it’s Izzo’s nickname on Homestead. All of which I’m sure you know.”
Milo glared. “Even Ryol knows you’re an idiot. You should stay away from her. She doesn’t like you, and you’re not good enough for her, anyway.”
Arno snorted, a snicker leaked out. “You think . . .” He broke down altogether laughing.
Milo shoved him. “Don’t laugh at me, you little shit, you stay away from her!”
“Is that why you’re such an ass? You’re jealous?” Arno tried to suppress his giggles, and wiped tears of mirth from his face. “Milo . . . I really, really do not lust after my annoying twin sister.”
“Twin. Sister.” Milo stared blankly.
“Yeah. You have nothing to worry about, other than Ryol’s opinion, where romance is concerned. And what you see in her, beats me.”
Milo straightened, eyes snapping. “Don’t you disparage . . .”
“Oh, you’ve got it bad, don’t you? Poor fool.”
“I have spent two bloody months working my ass off to look better than you . . .”
Arno stopped laughing long enough to talk. “All you have to figure out is how to . . . be a person she likes. Without straining yourself too hard. Because no one’s worth twisting your core self about.”
Milo growled and stomped off.
“Right, your midterms and reports are all graded. By-and-large you have shocked me with their excellence. But those few of you who got less than 70 on them, make an appointment to meet with me sometime next week.”
Ryol looked over her shoulder. Yes, that overly loud sigh had been from Milo.
“Failing to impress me again?” She sniffed and turned back. Checked her own score—103 with the five bonus points he’d awarded her.
A snicker from behind, and Milo leaned and held his comp in front of her.
“A hundred and ten! How’d you do that!” She realized she sounded indignant, and half turned to look him in the eye. “Congratulations. A perfect score and double bonus. I’m actually impressed.”
“Heh. What I do for a little respect . . .”
“And Arno, no doubt, did well as usual.”
Milo scowled and sat back. “Did you realize that I didn’t know that scrawny little punk’s your brother?”
“Yes. One, it was funny. Two, I thought it would keep idiot men away from me. Didn’t work worth a fig, but . . .” She shut up and looked back at Professor Ivy.
Professor Ivy shook his head. “Much though I hate to turn you loose on society, this three-day weekend is intended as a breather before you came back for the second half of the semester. So at least get off campus, preferably, go home and see your family and old friends. Have some fun. See you Tuesday, rested and ready to go. Or hungover. Whatever. Scat!”
Milo looked wistful.
Ryol snorted. “Have fun in Paris. I’m headed for Montevideo, and the beach.”
It was great. Late enough in the southern hemisphere spring that swimming, surfing, and sunning with family and friends was fun. Monday evening came too soon, and Mother dropped them off at the curb, a short walk to the dorms.
Arno veered off to his and Ryol walked on, the sidewalks busy in the twilight, all the students returning from the weekend.
Milo popped up from a bench outside her dorm. “I thought about calling, but . . . I really need to talk to you.”
“Milo . . .” She took in his worried expression . . . almost sick. “Let me dump my luggage in my room. I’ll be right down.”
“Now what the One has you in such a swivvet?”
He waved his hands, helpless . . . “It’s just . . . being around my father again, and being treated like I was a traitor to the family . . . well I didn’t put myself forward when he was talking to some other people. They didn’t know I was just outside the door . . . I heard my father say that at least they wouldn’t have to worry about Izzo much longer.”
“I know! I know this is already one of the dirtiest campaigns in centuries, and I ought to be on my father’s side. But . . . And it’s not like I have any real information. Or even . . .”
“Do you know who he was talking to?”
He hunched his shoulders. “Peeve . . . he works for my father. Two Councilmen, Otty and Aprw . . . I don’t even know who to talk to about something so nebulous.” He stared at her. “But your dad’s a subdirector, maybe he know where to . . . I don’t know. Drop a hint?”
Ryol sighed. “I know who to call.” She pulled out her comp and quickly wrote up what Milo had said, and sent it to Rael’s comm with a flag.
Lucky Dave spotted Rael as she walked into Izzo’s campaign HQ, and cut over to meet her on the way to . . . talk to Scar and Foo?
Scar looked concerned. “Trouble?”
“Well, I sincerely hope not. We have an over heard snatch of a conversation, to the tune of ‘we won’t have to worry about Izzo much longer.’ Which can be anything from confidence to an expected public embarrassment. Or, of course, another assassination attempt.”
Dave looked over at Izzo, as he joined them. “What’s your schedule look like today and tomorrow?”
“I’ve got a dinner meeting in Madrid . . . leaving here at seventeen hundred?” Izzo looked at Foo, who nodded. “So . . . dare I ask who’s involved?”
“No candidates . . . the Prime Councilor, and two other Councilmen, and a fellow Wpvw, pronounced Peeve, a umm security analyst of the PC.”
Izzo winced. “Never did get along with Igsu . . . Are you going to do anything I shouldn’t know about?”
Rael giggled. “Actually, I’m just going to step around and suggest to the Prime Counselor that quietly shutting down whatever is being planned, with no fuss, no sudden deaths and so forth would be appreciated.” She cocked her head and eyed Izzo.
Who nodded slowly. “I’d like to know what you find out, though. It’s always fun to drop oblique references in future conversations.”
Real shook her head. “And you used to be such a naïve Country Bumpkin.”
“Unfortunately true. Be careful Rael.”
“That’s what I’m doing, right now. I . . . decided just popping in on the PC without telling anyone where I was going might not be wise.”
Dave frowned down on her. “I’ll come along. What are you driving?”
“A pool car. Not heavily armored, but good for light arms.” Rael grinned. “If you want to play chauffeur . . . who am I to deny you the fun.”
“Right. Izzo? Stay inside and away from windows until we find something out. Umm, please.”
Scar snickered. “Did you used to order the Prophet around like that?”
“Strong armed him, a couple of times. Only tied him up once.”
They all stared at him. “Yes. I actually did. Stuffed him in a closet, rigged a dummy in the car in the garage, and got three blocks before they attacked. Hit the car with a cement truck. He was pissed about it for a week. That was a damned nice car.”
Izzo bit his lip, a smile fighting to come through. “All right. I’ll behave. Rael . . . I’d really prefer you not kill anyone.”
She grinned. “Me too. Never fear, I am, after all, an incompetent assassin.”
“Just . . . stay alive.”
Rael giggled. “C’mon, Dave. Before his benevolent mood wears off. The man has been longing to arrest me for decades.”
“Totally believable.” Dave nodded to Izzo. “When the time comes, can I help?”