Xen nodded, but his gaze was inward, thinking.
Rael dropped her mental shields to incoming, matched harmonics . . . and still could barely skate the surface of his thoughts, a bare impression.
Why is he so worried? Who are Jeff’s kids?
“Perhaps this would be a good time for me to go check Wolf World.” A quick flash of a grin. “Remove myself from temptation.”
Yes, dammit. Because I just put Comet Fall back on the suspect list.
Wednesday, 25 Furkan 1416
Wednesday morning. Waking up alone. “Got used to living with Xen fast, didn’t I?” Rael hustled out at a cry from Exzy. Change diaper, handed him a bottle from the doubled dimensional bag. Bit her lip and reached for the other bag on the shelf. “So, young man. I’m afraid you’re going to have to spend time in here, today. Your Daddy has run away to possibly dangerous places, and you’re staying with me.”
After another diaper change, clothes change, burping, fortunately before she was in her running clothes . . . “I need a nanny, and in the meantime, you are bagged.”
She ran well, home for breakfast alone, then warmer clothes for Practicum.
Then four wonderful, free hours before Advanced Magical Theory.
“So, my young man, I now need to sort through all those people I invited to the party.” Rael wiggled her fingers and slowly lowered them toward Ezxy’s tummy.
He giggled and rolled over to crawl away. “Cat me, Mummum!” He made for the hallway at impressive speed.
Rael giggled and followed. “I’m going to get you!” And I’ll get the Not-Purple Purps later!
But even playing with Exzy, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then dinner, a bath and reading a bedtime story . . . and into the fast room to make a list of all the men at the party over, well, to be safe, sixty.
University Chancellor Ejti, School of Magic Chancellor Adse, and those three horrible women were the only guests other than the Directorate Faculty. And the spouses. Eep! But they are influential . . . So really, only about forty men in that age range.
Prioritize them by their influence on Magical training, now or in the past.
Sort by, what? Travel to Granite Peak or Tall Trees? The two worlds we know Earth found, and could have used to infiltrate an agent.
But if the problem originated on Zingo . . . no. The two Purps mean this is an Earth infiltration.
So . . . Chancellor Ejti goes to the top of the list. And did he say eight grad students, over the years? I’d best track all eight of them down.
She walked out of the double bubbled fast room to check on Exzy—silly, really, since it had been less than a minute for him—then back to the fast room. She’d spent eight months here—over a span of ten days on the outside. Xen had fitted it out with an office, and a recliner with a good reading light, exercise machines, a huge wall screen and a vid player with hundreds of shows. A comfy couch, a dining room, and of course, a large bed.
She’d come out for the bathroom, for cooking, grid access, com calls . . . sunshine and talking to someone other than Xen. In fact she’d spent most of those ten days out of the bubble, just ducking back in for less than four minutes—three days of study and sleep—before returning to chat with whoever was handy or strolling around the hills. And ducking in for another minute and a half . . .
If I was normal, I’d resent every extra minute I aged in here. But Xen says I have the best longevity genes, so for me, it doesn’t matter how much extra time I accumulate.
She sorted through all the papers on the Granite Peak Nomads, eliminated the ones that hadn’t involved actual field work, and was left with Chancellors Ejti and Adse. Dr. Erdu of languages, Dr. Eshy, and Dr. Ivy, the historian. Two professors from the BioSci department, Wcke and Ipfi. A Geologist. Professor Agzu. And the head of the Combat Department, Dr. Ijly, had published a paper on the use of the bow from horseback.
A lot of other papers, as well, but these nine were all teaching here, and had all, possibly, been at the party.
“I’m not even sure I’ve met all of these people, or that they were, or weren’t at the party.”
She checked the time, and headed down the stairs to Advanced Magical Theory.
Ice and Dog showed up for Comet Fall Theory, and stuck around to talk.
“Ajki was really impressed with what those kids could do. We’re assigned here, sort of, to observe, assist, and get some training.”
Rael grinned. “Excellent. Tomorrow, eight in the morning through six in the evening. An hour break for lunch.”
“Uh . . .”
Rael giggled. “Yes. Tuesdays and Thursdays are brutal. I’d like your opinions on the training these kids got before I got my hands on them, and how it contrasts with the training you two got . . . what, ten, eleven years ago?”
“Then if you want to skip some of the sessions, no problem. I’ll be resorting the classes in three weeks and hopefully getting a saner schedule.”
Ice wrinkled his nose, shook his head. “Too late. You’re already insane.”
“Very Insane.” Dog winced at another flare from Agny.
Ice blocked it with an angled shield that sent it off up the hill.
Agny hung his head. “Sorry.”
Rael just grinned. “Now do you believe me when I said your magic was going to grow in leaps and bounds? Now, ground out, and let’s practice gathering just the amount of power you need for what you want to do.”
“But . . . Tuesday I had to push the energy so hard, to get the slice out there!”
“And today, you don’t. So, close your eyes and hold out your hands. Absorb a double handful. Stop. Open your eyes and look at the target. Think about a narrow blade and push that handful of power into it.”
He opened his eyes, and the top of the log toppled off.
“And the next one.”
A meter higher on the slope, two meters further away. The top fell, and Agny sagged.
“Good job. Grab a bottle of boost. And do not practice out of class. You’ll probably have a few more jumps like that.” Rael grinned at Ice’s poleaxed expression. “What?”
“That boy is so dangerous . . .”
“Just for the next few weeks.” She stepped away from the kids and dropped her voice. “Probably lost his virginity. He’ll adjust quickly.”
Dog snorted and turned back to watch the rest of the kids.
“Agny was in the first Very Basic Class. He hadn’t had any training in using magic until . . . Has it only been two weeks? Yes. A week of that and I swapped him out to this group, which is pretty good. There were six juniors, and once I finish the last of the one week very basic classes, I’ll resort the groups according to training and strength. I suspect all the juniors will be in my most advanced classes.”
“More than one advanced class?”
“Yep. Hopefully I can sort them out the way I want to.” Rael turned to the class. “All right. Everyone ground out. Grab boost and get lunch. Dog? Ice? You hungry?”
She led them to her office, and while they were gawping at the bearskin rug, she ducked out the other door and checked the bubble bins, yep, lots of sandwiches.
“Holy One!” Dog tried to stop with just his head and shoulder through the door, yipped and disappeared.
Rael grinned and walked back into the office. “Stopping halfway can be done, but it works best if you grab something.”
Dog looked up from his seat on the floor. “Which is why idiots that don’t respect following distance in cars wind up in wrecks.”
Ice gave his friend a hand up and they followed her through, munched sandwiches as she gave them a brief tour, then back to the office.
“So . . . you are teaching seventy-six students?” Ice popped a soda and slurped.
Dog eyed his can. “What’s a coke?”
“A traditional drink on Earth. Xen loves them, so I’m well stocked.”
“He must be a sugar addict.” Ice took another slurp. “One! That’s hideously sweet. Does he actually buy them on Earth?”
“Probably the Earther’s store on Embassy. Not that going to Earth is a big deal for him.” Rael shrugged, and sipped at her own soda. “Caffeine and sugar. It’s . . . energizing.”
Ice nodded. “And you need it. Five more classes?”
“Yep. The last class is just three students, so if you two want to join the lesson, instead of frantically catching flares, that’s the place for it.”
They were pretty good. And better after a mere hour of conscious drill in power collection and feeding power into shields and the slices, pushes and punches . . .
Milo grinned. “I’d make fun of your boggled expressions, except I was there a couple of weeks ago. Dog? Where did you learn your basics?”
“Daiki U. But they don’t teach it like this!”
Ice nodded. “And they didn’t teach it like this here, twelve years ago. And apparently continued to not, until two weeks ago. And I was Teacher’s Pet. Professor Jues liked Upcomers even more than she liked girls.”