The two cops were waiting at the ute. Shivering, even while they stood in the early morning sun.
Illya hunched his shoulders. "That . . . that . . . old guy . . ."
"The Prophet Emre."
They both managed to pale a bit more.
"Yeah. The One's scary. Let's get out of here."
Four hours to Medina, where Ice took pity on his passengers and they stopped for lunch.
Killi eyed Ice cautiously. "So . . . who or what are you?"
"Ice Withione Sycamore Tall Trees." Ice grinned. "And this is what I really look like. I worked for XR and IR under Ajki, got fired by Ehfa. I have no desire for notoriety, hence the illusion."
A choking sound from Killi. "That's who you are! The Warrior who closed two gates during the invasion! All by yourself!"
"I actually did have help." Keiq, Dub, Noon, and Ipte.
"So . . . you're moving to Tall Trees?" Illya sounded ambivalent about the idea.
"Doubt it'll be permanent. But I'll hang around long enough to help untangle some of the messes Rumatova's facing."
"Oh my . . . One." Killi's voice slid off into a whimper.
Another four hours and they crossed the last gate and drove into Center City. Where it was, again, early morning. Ice dropped the cops off and checked into a cheap motel to catch some sleep before getting to work. Whatever that might turn out to be.
All his dreams were vague memories of Bruce's companions. Three "powers" as the Purps called the men and women with the power genes, but lacking the turned on purple gene.
He'd recognized them from Utne-Bruce's memory.
Victoria and Rich Golden. Brother and sister, and their cousin Eileen Golden. I wonder what happened to them?
He gave up after a few hours. Showered, dressed, ate lunch and headed for the Governor's office.
The receptionist eyed him. James-the-office-boy scooted out the door.
"The Governor is in conference . . . I'll . . . just . . ." She sidled around the end of the desk and squeezed through the tiniest opening of the door she could manage.
Oh, right. Yesterday she saw me looking like this going in, and a strange Tree going out . . . and who knows what gossip has made of yesterday's doings.
She popped right out, and gestured him in with half-panicked waves.
Ice stepped through and closed the door behind him.
Hunter Ridhe, Illya, and Killi eyed him.
Rumakova snickered. "Don't worry, Ice. I told them you were a Warrior of the One, and not a Mitzumo. Although they don't seem to be reassured. What are you going to do today?"
"Well . . . The One is sending a pack of Priests to act as judge and jury as the new Chief of Police cleans house. If you have other corruption issues, I am sure they will judge them as well."
Hunter Ridhe pinched the bridge of his nose. "Don't think I don't recognize you, Fusa Weni. You always were . . . a very strange Tree. But you certainly impressed everyone with your hunting." A flick of a glance toward Rumakova.
Who snorted. "I was just trying to make . . . someone . . . jealous enough to . . . show some interest." A glower toward Ridhe.
Who was eyeing her uncertainly.
Oh, ho! Romance in the making? I hope he's not currently married.
Ice cleared his throat. "So. What do you need done?"
Rumakova huffed out a breath. "Knockings of heads together? We need to build a very sturdy, very long, drift fence to divert the migration of the herds away from the farmlands. The construction company wants to clear cut forest for the wood needed, and got rude. So now the Trees have combined in absolute refusal for even scattered cutting."
Ice thought that over . . . "What about that forest fire up north, last summer? I thought there was a lot of standing killed trees? Perhaps I should talk to the Pine tribes about how they could make some serious money?"
They all looked at him.
Then Ridhe and Rumakova both nodded.
"But wait until these Priests come. They make me a bit uneasy."
Illya nodded. "We don't even have them for truth matches, any more. I guess that would have stopped some of the corruption."
"You don't have mosques? Churches?"
"There's a church over on the east side. Runs a Native School. The old priest . . . nobody much bothers him anymore."
"Right. One Emre said they'd come in two weeks." He considered travel time on the roads through the Great Forest. There's a good road halfway to the Pines. "Perhaps I will drive to the Pines and mention this business opportunity, then return quickly."
/// Possibly insert _Love and Spies_ here, stretch it out a bit ///
Five Months Later
11 Qadah 1421yp
/// Brief scene with Ice teaching magic slice to take down trees—a recent burn scar with standing tree trunks, taken down and sold to the Migration Mitigation Company—building a big drift fence so the fall migration of the wild cattle/bison/antelope/zebra herds would be diverted away from the ripening crops/domestic livestock.
/// Distributing the Wine of the Gods.
“Marry her honorably first. We do not need to be like them.” Ice grinned. “All right. Like my family. Mostly.”
The oldest man there nodded. “We need to return to our families, to be as we used to be. To keep what we want from the Oners and add it to our ways. But too many of us have fallen into despair, and alcohol.”
Ice nodded at the collection of bottles he was sending home with them. “The wine will cure addiction. It will not stop the most despairing from returning to it. But women, wives, having their children, will change many men’s hearts.”
The old man looked away. “The woman in my heart is too old.”
Not truly old, but not a Oner. He might be fifty.
Ice shook his head. “Try it. You may be surprised.”
He’d spent a week in each of nine workers’ camp, and five villages whose Elders allowed him in, teaching basic magic every evening, then a weekend with specific uses of the magic in their work. And business proposals. And leaving the wine with both men and women.
“Keep adding wine to this, or drip a bit into other bottles. Share it with other men, with women who’ve been told they are barren.”
“We hear that it is illegal.”
“Oh yes. The Oners don’t like magic that they can’t control. And like anything, this wine can be abused. It makes both men and women horny as an evil Mitzumo. Give to a woman you love, who loves you. Create a child you will both love and raise.”
“With Oner medicine.” A man in the back spat.
“Actually it is Comet Fall medicine. I think it is a tool we can use to take back what the Oners took from us. But like any tool, it should be used carefully, and with good purpose.”
At least most of them looked thoughtful, as they took the bottles and faded off to their beds in the camp.
It's been a damn good Summer. Not much pay, but the satisfaction in what I am accomplishing . . .
///rewrite according to L&S ///
Then he'd just gone back to the drift fence, the lumbering, ears open for reports of trouble from the magic or the wine.
Nada. Even Rumakova looked content, a gleam in her eye and a blush as she glanced at Hunter Ridhe. Excellent. Best advertising for the Wine, and hopefully the best example possible.
And a new possible future for all of these men as well.
Ice sacked out in his ute. Checked his mail and cruised the grid. Nothing new since yesterday. One forbid the Council or the president should work on the weekend, and the Hot News was about Iss Dacca’s latest spat with his sixth wife.
He wrote a snarky post about how a clever politician could get three or four vid stars in his pay to rotate who was splitting up, getting married, having babies in and out of wedlock—and keep politics off the front page.
Ended it with “Of course, all the smart politicians don’t need such a ploy. The current crop . . . maybe I shouldn’t give them ideas . . .”
Sent it off, and shut down for the night.
I keep hearing rumors about a vote of no confidence. One knows I'd love it, but will they have the votes? Would the War Party Councilors vote against their own president? Would the Isolationists and One Firsters think they had a better chance against Izzo this year or in three years?
Dammit. I've enjoyed this spring and summer, but it's not what I want to do all my life.
Tomorrow I’ll see how the drift fence is doing. If it looks good I’ll leave it to the local companies. If we can get enough of it in place by next week, we can divert most of the kamachitu away from the farms. I wonder if there are enough of the herds left to even call it a fall migration?
But if the farmers will only kill the critters who get around the fence, the wild herds can recover and the Grass Tribes can return, if there’s actually enough of their culture left to form up tribes. If nothing else, herd management can supply the market for wild game elsewhere. Get outside money coming in to the tribes.
Eh. My poor adopted world. If I can steer them away from the feeling of still being a conquered people. If I can scrape together enough social cohesion that they don’t just dwindle away. If I can ease tech into their society without destroying it . . .
And I need to get back to Paris.
I need to see Keiq.
It's been . . . almost six months.
But is that long enough that being spotted in my company wouldn’t result in her getting fired? That’s not the sort of thing one does to someone who might be the love of one’s life. But never calling is also not a good idea.
I need to wine and dine some information sources. Check out what Ajki’s up to . . . I ought to talk to him about writing some more posts for Aces. And Ox and Izzo would have some interesting perspective. I should lure them in as well. And if I get really brave . . . Orde?
Hmm . . . I like this idea.
And then there’s Urfa and Rael . . . I wonder if the School counts as Government service? They might not be able to publicly comment. Hmm, I have no idea of the rules. Heh Non-compete clauses, gov equivalent of. I don't actually know if I ought to be analyzing the government.
He ran his hands through his hair. He'd let the blond grow out again, used the temporary dye . . .
I’ll head back tomorrow. Test the waters. Call Keiq and ask her out to dinner . . . if everything's quiet.