Amateur. No training in resisting interrogation, just babbling along . . .
Rael shook her head, unable to find any sympathy for the man who’d thought Exzy would make a good hostage. She walked out of the room and left him there for whoever was lined up to talk to him next. Internal and External both wanted him. They can have him. In pieces as far as I care.
Adse, on the other hand . . .
“So, Mr. Mike Felis. Or is that Michael?”
“Doctor Michael Felis. I earned that second doctorate. Wrote and defended the thesis for the Sociology degree as well.”
“Hmm, and all you had to do is kill the real Adse. Must have been weird, the close resemblance.”
His eyes narrowed. “That’s what gave us the idea. To substitute me for him, get a spy into the this new civ we’d just found. And he’s not dead, or wasn’t then. If we’d had friendly relations with the new people, we’d have traded back.”
“But your brother subbed as well.”
“Half brother. Stupid little show off.” An angry shrug. “He’s not any kind of a scholar, you know. A bloody stand-up comic, doing imitations of politicians on street corners for tips.”
Rael crammed down laughter. Really? Eshy’s a standup comic? Or was when he was a fatherless teenager? “I suppose the acting was handy. The biggest surprise was that Adse’s name worked for you, when they retested for the new IDs.”
Snort. “It’s just genetics. Which influences your appearance. Of course we had a lot of the same insertions.”
“And the skin grafts. Nasty. And taking one from Dr. Yppo was a big mistake. Why did you kill him?”
His eyes shifted a bit. “I have no idea what you are talking about. He had a heart attack. Pity he wasn’t able to cal for help. But even the medics might not have been able to save him, who knows?”
“The skin graft was a really stupid thing to do. Way too obvious.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. Damn Urfa for his suspicions. And damn you. I suppose you’ll be back in Paris sitting pretty with your brother-in-law in charge of the Black Horse Guards?”
“Er, no. I’ll be here, teaching. Raising my son, repairing three generations of deliberately lousy magical training.”
His eyes narrowed. “We have the best training for magifacturing and truth matching in the Empire.”
“And not a bit of battle magic.” Rael shrugged. “So, Lenny tells me you stole his data, his research from the draft of his doctoral thesis.”
Sneer. “I needed a quick paper to publish. I helped him with the data collection, so what if I accidentally left his name off the authors’ list. Stupid punk kid. He’s just in the Directorate School, no one cares if his thesis sounds a lot like my prior publication.”
So that’s where it all started to fall apart. Let’s see if I guess what happened.
“But Dr. Yppo cared, didn’t he. Pity he didn’t have sense enough to not confront you after hours, with the building empty.”
“He had a heart attack.”
“And you let him die.”
“I want a lawyer.”
“Right.” Rael got up and walked out.
Erdu started cursing the moment she walked in. Rael verbally poked him a few time, but he wasn’t budging.
She walked back out. “Have fun with a truth match on that one. Get lots of very strong priests, and then I’ll take the Chain off.”
Oljo hunched his shoulders. “That thing gives me the creeps. You need to teach it to some of us. And . . . maybe that purple bunny spell. Maybe.”
Ajki snickered. “Jealous, Joe?”
“You better believe it. The three of them took eighteen of us down without breaking a sweat.” Oljo looked Rael up and down. “One skinny little Princess took out two with a huge spell net . . . and then fast-talked the third spy into thinking he was escaping when in fact he was stepping into the one place where he’d have to behave or suffer immediate punishment.”
Ajki grinned. “And after Nick tossed him back through, you still had problems with him.”
Oljo sighed. “Two more stunned, and I think he was trying Control on Monty, when Rael Chained him. Beats me why they call her an incompetent assassin.”
Rael giggled. “Because the only two times I’ve been ordered to kill someone, they survived?”
“More likely because it’s funny that they found something you failed at—on the surface. On further analysis? Refusing to be used for murder-by-proxy, and then failing to trigger a war? Odd definition of incompetent.” Oljo shook his head. “Well, I’m glad the damage to your house was only superficial . . . by the time the City Inspectors arrived.”
Ajki grinned. “What amazing luck. I arrived in time to find an incredibly cute little kid telling the local cops all about his Mummum zapping two Bad Guys and turning them into purple bunnies. In as much as the purple bunnies were still there, the cops were forced to believe him. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of Newsies around by then. Anyway, Madam Kyol and the nanny are fine. And if my kids were younger, I’d steal that nanny from you.”
Rael nodded. “I just hope she stays. I mean, not a good first day.”
Ox, who had been silent, observing in the background beside XR Director Ugpw, snorted. “She claims she never falls in love with other women’s children, but she appears to be completely taken by Exzy. I suspect some faint semblance of sanity has come to your household.”
Rael cleared her throat. “I hope so. We could use some nice normal people around.”
Ugpw nodded. “I’ve found Wolfson very friendly, despite occasionally doing utterly insane things. Is there any indication that Comet Fall is involved?” A nod to Ajki. “In this or any of IR’s leaks?”
“I doubt it. They don’t have a shortage of magical people, however few, thank the One, the extremely powerful are. They don’t need to use Purps, and if they did, they’d change their genes and make them look just like Oners.”
Raerl bit her lip. “I . . . think Xen knows a lot more about the Earth training Purps to infiltrate than he’s said. He did say they used Purps on Comet Fall, and it sounded like they’d suborned them and they were refusing to return to Earth. I could dig deeper, or in fact I could call him and ask him to come talk to us and we can all study his twitches and pauses. Good luck finding any.”
The three directors looked indignant. Ajki shrugged. “Is he in town?”
Rael glanced at her watch. Three in the morning. “Probably sound asleep.” She tapped at her comm. “Hey, want to come compare notes about those two Purps you said were on Comet Fall?”
They all startled as he stepped out of nowhere.
“What can I say? The Earthers are, as a whole bloody stupid about how they treat Purps. Hammer on that, and you’ll get somewhere.” He glanced through the one way glass at Erdu. “He’s a whole different type. Very hard, now that the façade is down. He feels like someone who was recruited young and indoctrinated from the start.”
Rael eyed him. “Do you know anything about the Earth cloning Oners?”
He blinked. “No . . .” He turned back to stare at Erdu.
Everyone else was staring at Rael.
“Really?” Ajki eyed Rael, then Xen. Waited.
“From his bones, I’d guess him at seventy. How old is he supposed to be?”
“A hundred and ten.” Rael sighed. “I don’t know if I like having that theory confirmed or not. It’s about seventy years since he . . . or the real Erdu . . . visited Granite Peak.”
“I don’t know his genetics, he could just have maximized longevity genes.” Xen looked around. “Have you got a sample I could touch?”
One of the local cops led him off.
Rael grinned at the looks coming her direction. “What? Cloning is old tech. Only done under extreme circumstances and much legal paperwork. As a way to substitute in a spy, once the possibility was on the table, irresistible. I wonder how many researchers and colonists got sampled without realizing it.”
Pug and Ajki winced. Ox sighed. “One more thing to look into. Now we’ll have to flag anyone with Granite Peak antecedents for extra attention.”
Xen returned, a man in a white coat trailing. The tech’s eyes widened as he recognized the three directors.
“Ah, the skin patches on the two detainees . . .” He glanced at his comp. “Eshy’s graft is from an Eghu Clostuone. Ardu’s is from Yppo Withione.”