Just another Day . . .
A morning run, a fencing lesson.
Ice eyed the contents of his closet and called Keiq. "Free for lunch?"
A snort. "Are you brave enough to get this close to the Tower of Evil?"
Ice blinked. "I fear nothing. And you can tell me all about the derivation of the new nickname . . . Corbins? Half an hour?"
"Right. See you then."
"Ink is grumpy and ineffectual. All the new section heads—yes, he replaced all of them, as well as all five subdirectors—are outsiders with political connections to Afgu. Maybe third are former puppets." Keiq grimaced. "And their leadership style and . . . attitude toward their subordinates is . . . pushy, disrespectful, and starting to cross some lines."
"Damn." Ice eyed the surrounding tables. About half IR, and they don't look like they're pleased. And you really don't want the city police pissed off.
His eyes drifted toward the screen.
"Do you see Noon often?" Keiq followed his gaze, then tapped at the controls in the center of the table. The sound from the channel on the big screen, volume low, to not disturb other diners.
Noon was interviewing, or rather siting back and letting the Minister of Domestic Affairs talk.
". . . disturbs me that four of the nine Ministers are former puppets." The Minister waved away her attempt to speak. "Yes, I know, the chips and wires are gone. But we have insufficient information about the long term effects . . ."
On the screen, Noon's head turned and she frowned.
The minister turned, falling silent.
". . . can't go out there while they're on the air . . ." A low voiced hiss from off stage, barely picked up by the onstage microphones.
A couple of thumps and loud footsteps. A man in a dark brown uniform.
Noon shot to her feet "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
"None of your busin . . ."
"It is very much my business! Identify yourself!"
The man pointed at the camera. "Shut that down! I thought we cut the power!"
A second man in brown. "We did. They must have an emergency generator."
"Of course we do. We need to be able to broadcast in emergencies, after all." Noon stepped up and blocked the man as he stepped closer. "What is your business here, and what legal right do you imagine yourself to have?"
The boss brownie looked over her shoulder. "We're here for the Minister of Domestic Affairs Ujkw. The President wishes to speak to you."
"I answer to the Council, not the President. Where's your warrant?"
"We don't need a warrant, we are acting under the express orders of the President of the Empire."
Ice pulled his eyes away from the screen and swept them across the room. A couple of high rankers in the justice subdirectorate . . . He got up and walked over to them. The man with his back to Ice glanced over his shoulder.
"Oljo, are those XR dress uniforms? They don't have jurisdiction here, do they? And why are they running errands for the president?"
The four cops glared.
"Is that even legal?" Ice nodded at the screen, where Noon had been shoved aside, and two of the brownies had Minister Ujkw by the arms.
"No." Oljo growled, standing up.
Ice pointed. "Two blocks north, three west. 354 Diego. Third floor."
"You. Stay. Here!" Oljo turned away, pointing at men, pulling out his comm as he jogged out the door.
Ice walked back to Keiq, who was standing, alarmed. Looking from him to the screen, where Noon was now blocking the Brownies' exit.
". . . kidnapping in broad daylight, not to mention live broadcast. How dare you act like jackbooted secret police in the Empire of the One!"
The lead Brownie drew a pistol, and turned, aiming it straight at the lens. A flash and the screen blanked.
Flicked back, a camera from the side taking over just in time to catch the lead Brownie swing his pistol around to connect with Noon's cheekbone, knocking her sprawling over the guest chair and rolling off to the floor.
The Brownies marched the Minister out as Noon scrambled to her feet. Her eyes up to the side. "Pet, are you all right? Good! Grab the mobile vid cam and let's get going."
Keiq choked. "She's going to get herself killed!"
"In theory, the people with jurisdiction are on the way." Ice bit down on a thumbnail. "Not that Oljo has any authority to order me to stay out of it . . ."
"Ice . . . you just said he had legal jurisdiction. Behave." Keiq reached for the volume controls on the nearest table. Oljo's picked cops might have been the first out the door, but they'd been far from the last.
The abandoned stage was abruptly replaced by a bouncy shot of Noon's back trotting out the glass doors of her office building.
Brown uniformed men struggling to get an old man into a big black car. The sound of sirens, police cars coming in from several directions, blocking the black car.
The vidcam steadied as Pet stepped up on something and stood still, microphone sticking out into the frame.
"All right. What is going on here?" The first policeman stepped forward, two more coming up behind him, more on the far side.
"We are escorting this man to a meeting with the president." The head Brownie stepped forward to block the policeman's view.
A strangled "Help!"
"Kidnapping." Noon, loud and firm. "These people refused to identify themselves, or produce a warrant. Minister Ujkw does not want to go with them."
"All right. Let's start with some identification." The lead cop got up in the head Brownie's face. "Who are you? You are wearing an XR uniform, which lends you no authority or jurisdiction here."
"We are acting under orders from President Afgu . . ."
"Bullshit. If the President wants someone arrested, he goes through Internal Relations. Because we know the law! Show me an arrest warrant. Right. Now."
At the edge of the frame, Oljo walked up to stand beside the lead cop. "This is Action Team Twenty-nine. Olli. You are being used for political purposes, way outside of your jurisdiction, and even you ought to know better. Pixy, Square? Let go of the Minister. Before something very unfortunate happens."
From the other side, two cops stepped in and also laid hands on the minister.
The biggest of the teamers shifted his grip to the minister's throat.
Oljo shook his head. "Pixy, I would hate to see you threaten the life of a Minister. I don't think even an appeal to the One could save you."
Olli's teeth grinding could be heard over the speaker. He turned his head. "Let him go. We will get further instruction . . . and a warrant."
"Served by cops with jurisdiction." The lead cop put in.
"And then we'll be back." Team Leader Olli turned and watched the minister staggering away, supported by the two cops. "And someone will regret not coming quietly."
Ice shook his head. "That was the stupidest thing I've seen in months. What the hell?"
Keiq hunched her shoulders, watching the minister sitting sideways in the front seat of a patrol car, legs still on the street while a cop spoke to him. "That was definitely an abuse of power. But who's going to stand up to the president and tell him that?"
The vid cam shifted to a trio of big black cars pulling up, men in black uniforms, red piping . . .
"Someone called the Council Guards . . . is that the Prime Councilor?" Ice grinned. "I think we just found the man to face down the President."
Keiq snorted. "Indeed. This could get interesting . . . and you'd better hope you stay anonymous."
"Not possible. But I may slide back to Tall Trees and see how everything's going while this all blows over."
He touched base with a really pissed Ajki, and got another anonymous guest post for Aces on the Inside, and suggested regular contributions.
"And if you happen to talk to Izzo, Orde, Urfa, Ox . . . maybe I'll talk to Rael, although there may be something in her contract . . ." He snorted. "And I need to get back to Tall Trees and see what horrible things they're doing to my drift fence."
And what the One is doing to the local police and courts.
But he started with Rael.
Who was, as usual, running at full speed, training people.
"Do you ever stop?"
"One! Sure, I'll stop as soon as I have time. Diamond! Be careful! You are gathering too much power." Rael pointed. "Ice? Go over there and make sure the girls don't kill themselves and I'll talk to you in a moment."
Ice turned and looked at "the girls."
Diamond was short and curvaceous at . . . twenty? And Twit was twenty-one. Tall and still thin. I hope to hell they have acquired boyfriends.
"What are you two learning now?"
"Wood working." Diamond scowled at the stick in her hands.
Twit nodded. "I can't . . ." She waved a chuck of firewood. "It just ignores me."
Two young men "wandered casually" closer, eying Ice suspiciously.
The hypothetical boyfriends, perhaps? Ice looked them over. "Do you two do woodwork?"
The sandy-brown-haired one scowled. "We try."
"You're Osnu, right? Sunny? And . . ." Ice eyed the big bulky dark-haired one.
"Right, why don't you join us . . . Is this like, Summer Retraining or something?"
"Advanced Magic." Agny shrugged. "Apparently, having been invaded by Cyborgs eight months ago, they decided we weren't frighteningly dangerous after all. So here we are, getting trained to be even more dangerous."
"Or get utterly fucking ignored," Diamond received an elbow to her ribs, "by a sweet little piece of wood."
Ice stepped to the side and grabbed a piece of wood himself. "Why don't we all sit down and I'll try to coach you through a bit of wood work."
And sat on the grass. Good thing I didn't wear a suit!
He pulled his mental shields back to protect his personal stuff . . . professional, too, for that matter, and looked at the wood.
:: This is what I see, when I look mentally at this stick. It's ten years of sunshine, carbon dioxide, water and a few minerals. I can press these fibers, move them, squeeze them . . . anything I want I just press, pull, bend. ::
A snicker, quickly suppressed.
:: Look at the wood in your hands. One! Teenagers! Stop filtering everything through your hormones. Look mentally, magically, at your stick. :: He opened up further, pulling them in and letting them feel what he was doing. First Diamond's stick, Twit's, Agny's and Sunny's. Back to his own and he turned the raw wood into small, rectangular board. Twenty centimeters long, ten wide and five thick.
:: See? Make the fibers turn and move. Not completely detach. Reinforce the attachments when they are where you want them. ::
And then they were doing it. Not quickly or easily, but they shoved fibers around, sort of squared off their sticks.
And opened their eyes, grinning in triumph . . . then laughing as the lumpy misshaped boards registered.
Ice looked at his own. Compressed it down, smaller and harder, polished the surface, pressed curving patterns into it. "Not, mind you, that it's good for anything, but once you've got the technique, you can use it on any wood."
They all glanced over at Rael.
"Yeah, like a house's wooden frame." He looked back at Twit. "Or a picture frame." He looked at his pretty stick and grinned. "Well, that'll take some practice. I can do the same sort of shaping to metal. Someday I'll get up the nerve to ask Wolfson if the transformation spells use the technique."
Twit snickered and held out her hand. He handed her the stick and watched, curiously, as she turned it over, studying his random curves. Then a slice the length of the stick, following unmatching curves on both flat sides. Pulled it apart with a bit of resistance where the curves almost pinched.
A grabbing motion at thin air, pressing something bronzy to the curves . . .
"Ah, Twit are you supposed to make those?"
She grinned, and looked over to catch Rael's attention. "Can the Hero of Paris be trusted with a bag of non-profit?"
"I am not, not . . . bag of non-profit?"
Diamond grinned. "Well, we can't call them Bags of the Prophets, can we?"
"And I'm trying to avoid them realizing how much the things are worth." Rael sauntered over and swopped to pick up one of the odd boards. "Well, well. I think you four have got it. Or at least a good start."
Twit popped the two halves of Ice's stick together, and looked it over. Popped it apart to show the bronze square.
Rael giggled. "Nice. Yes, the Warrior Ice may have a bubble. So Ice, what brings you here?"
"I'm soliciting snarky and/or intelligent posts for Aces on the Inside. Have you got any legal reason to not criticize our government?"
She grinned. "I see. And here I thought that had to be Ajki."
"He's done a few guest posts. Do you suppose Urfa might? I . . . don't know him very well." He grinned. "Ajki said he'd ask Orde and Izzo. From what I've seen of Ox, he may be too honest to snark properly."
She snorted. "I'll think about it. And I'm sure these children won't spread vile rumors."
The "children" all grinned.
"Of course not." Ice nodded. "And I'm sure no one in government has any suspicions about who could possibly be behind that appalling site."