The Advanced Theory Midterm was scheduled for Tuesday morning, Comet Fall that afternoon. She let Joke and Lenny spread out on her conference table to grade theirs and headed for the lecture hall. Two-hundred forty-one Theory students, three-hundred twenty Comet Fall students—the maximum allowed for the two lecture halls.
Two, hopefully short, essays. On each midterm.
At least the people auditing the class don’t have to be graded!
She started reading the Advanced tests while proctoring the Comet Fall midterm. Then collected them all and headed for home.
She grabbed coffee and munchies, settled down in the fast room, and got to work.
The doubled bubble distorted interior time so extremely that five hours of concentrated work . . . was less than a minute on the outside. She plugged in the room batteries, hunted through various cupboards . . .
“I am almost out of precooked bubbled meals.” She looked around, grabbed at her pocket, yes Exzy was still there and safe. “Maybe . . . Maybe Exzy would like to go shopping. Then I could cook dinner . . .”
Shopping with a sort-of one year old baby was . . . interesting. Especially since he knew the store, and she didn’t.
Point. “Sawads for Mummum. Wots of spinny!”
Wots of people turning and grinning. She grabbed salad stuff, including spinach, then looked around. “What else do I need?”
Exzy pointed. “Dewi!”
The pimply young man behind the Deli counter grinned. “Hi, Exzy, did you eat all the turkey already?”
It all looked pretty good . . .
And then, “Bakey”
Where a pretty girl grinned and handed over a free donut. “His Dad only lets him have one. Wow, I see where that gorgeous red hair comes from, now. What can I get you?”
She held the line at two kinds of bread and a small cake.
“Ooo! Dead Chicken! Yummy!”
And yes, the big beefy butcher knew the kid by name. Too.
And after she finally escaped with a king’s ransom of food (that wasn’t even cooked,) Exzy spotted a drive through.
“What has your Dad been feeding you!”
Although it sounded like a really good idea . . .
She unloaded groceries while Exzy dissected and crunched away at his taco.
And collapsed to eat hers.
“So, young man. I am beginning to realize that I have no idea what you two gentlemen have been getting up to while I was working. And I had no idea that you had an active social life.” She looked at the happy toddler. He grinned, and her heart melted.
I am going to work fewer hours. Somehow. Dammit. Because I need to spend more time with this glorious child.
And as soon as I’ve got all these midterms graded and the results posted, I’m heading for Embassy.
Not actually because I want to find Xen, although I’ll happily let everyone think that. No, I have some questions to ask, that can best be answered by people over there.
Saturday 13 Muharram 1417 yp
“I don’t suppose that wretched man bothers checking in?” Rael grinned and handed Exzy to Jiol, before she turned back to Lon.
“Of course not. Dr. Heath swears she’s cured me of ulcers for the rest of my life, but I have my doubts.”
Rael nodded. “Is it rough, sending everyone out, when you used to be the one doing the field work?”
“Hideous. Not that I ever explored inhabited planets. My one experience, well, prior to Comet Fall, was late in the takeover process and turned my stomach.”
Rael grinned. “Oh, so you weren’t the man who met the Purps and saw potential allies?”
“Ha! I strongly suspect that they managed to land near a native with trained magic, and got mentally modeled.”
“Oh . . . I hadn’t thought . . . how long ago was that?”
“Thirty-four forty-seven. Current Era, as we say. Umm, thirteen thirty-two Year of the Prophets.”
“That early? But you only auctioned off the Hygea Branch Empty Worlds in . . . thirty-four seventy-seven? Why did it take so long?”
Lon chuckled. “Bureaucracy. Some part of our government don’t work very fast. Although in this case, they discovered Purple first. Then hunted and pecked around until they’d zeroed in on a clump of good looking Empty Worlds. Once we figured out the Hygea connection, Purple got classified as one of them, but that was, oh, thirty-three years after we found it.”
“Huh.” Rael craned her neck to check which Disco personnel was falling under Exzy’s sway. “Let’s see, your calendar . . . thirty-four ten before Xen shattered our insular little egos.”
Lon chuckled. “Yeah, we got it from his grandparents.”
Rael caught the change in Exzy’s tone and sighed. “He’s getting hungry. I’d buy you lunch, but as far as I’ve noticed, the Kitchen never charges anyone with the faintest association with Disco for anything.”
A snort from the hallway. Andrei Andrews leaned around the door frame, Exzy in hand. “Xen owns it, pays everyone, and if the income from charging everyone else isn’t enough to cover supplies, he throws more money at them.”
Exzy squirmed and Rael reached for him. “Hungry, Punk?”
“Yep. Let’s go.”
Of course half of Disco came along and Rael found herself explaining the two magic courses she was teaching. “Mind you, I think I amused Xen with my understanding of Comet Fall Magic, and he’s footnoting the XR reports I’m using, since there’s nothing remotely resembling a text book on the subject.”
Some of the hovering teenagers—witch waitresses and students—snickered, and . . . One! Is that Ra’d’s Oak?
Oak grinned. “We all want to learn the Quacking spell.”
Lots of nods.
The adults looked horrified.
“I think maybe we ought to wait until . . . well, until you are all old enough to not use it on each other.” Shaken heads and denials. “Or your teachers.” The denials stopped, the head shakes slowed . . .
“Yeah, I remember being your ages. No quack attacks.” She eyed the gang. “Huh, you guys are from all over, aren’t you? One, Comet Fall, Purple . . .” she eyed some she hadn’t met.
A girl of about ten grinned. “Lucky Thirteen. So we’re all sort of everything.”
Rael nodded. “Yeah, I heard your Governor Ryah has a bit of Nomad and Purp. She really impressed Izzo when he was the director of XR, and now President.”
The kids all looked over their shoulders at an older couple eating lunch.
“Those are her grandparents. Cough Cough’s handling a lot of the Trade agreements here.” The girl blushed. “I mean, Administrator Ahme.”
A snort from the old man. “Cough Cough’s good enough.” He studied Rael. “So, the infamous Rael.”
Rael grinned, and stood to walk closer. “An honor to meet you, sir.”
A firm handshake. “My wife, Kelanna.”
“You two must be very proud of your granddaughter.”
The woman chuckled. “Along with bemused? Or terrified. Goodness, the people she’s making friends with!”
Rael nodded. “Quiet a change after . . .” She eyed the old man, “Did you move to Granite Peak with the first farmers, in 1337?”
He shook his head. “I was an agronomist with XR, trying to get things to grow on Algae Worlds. I hauled, seeds, starts, fruit trees, and suck through within a month of our finding a world so close to ours. My tests determined what crops those early farmers brought through.”
A shrug. “I loved it there, and staked a claim of my own. By the time you lot rediscovered us, all my old trees were dying . . . old age, mostly, but those Earthers didn’t prune them properly. And then with uncertainty about whether we’d get sold down the river to make peace with Earth, replanting looked like a waste of money.”
Kelanna sniffed. “Grumpy old man. Well, you’ve got a new orchard now.”
“And I’m too busy to tend too it!”
Kelanna rolled her eyes. “He’s enjoying running all over the Multiverse, so don’t mind him.”
Rael grinned, “Right, and I’d best let you finish your lunch. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.”
And now I know just who to ask about all my suspects and their activities . . . if I need to.
But today they took a ride on Carousel, the went to the castle to play in what Xen called the master bath and everyone else called a private water park. Exzy even dog-paddled a bit in the small, shallow, swimming pool, but preferred crawling through the waterspouts and rainstorms, down wet slides and up waterfall stairs.
That man added those just for Ezxy, and the pool’s half the depth it used to be. Still dangerous, but he can—barely—stand and get his nose above water.
Honestly! That man! He’d better be being damned sneaky . . . wherever the hell he is.