"Months, I suspect. I have gotten horribly social, the last two decades." Ice settled back to listen to the Multitude Party speaker. He summed up that speech as "Who gives a damn about brain chips and invaders. This idiot is trying to wreck the economy!"
The first Modern Federalist up—they'd drawn lots, two speakers per party—talked about Afgu's ambitious drive to control the Empire making him easy for the Bunnies to control.
"Ouch! That's a nasty insinuation." Ice winced at the growl from the War Partiers in the chamber. "I thought they kidnapped him from his home and returned him after a long weekend. "
"I thought he was married?"
"Then. They were already on the outs, and she was probably relieved to have him go away for a while. She moved out very shortly after."
Keiq snickered. "He probably got a lot colder."
Unless the Bunnies like second-hand sex through their puppets.
Eww. Well, if I ever get back inside, I'll no doubt find out.
Ice hunched his shoulders. "If he accepted their help . . . he can't possibly have gotten the details, and still agreed."
Ice tapped in "Even Afgu would not knowingly betray the Empire. But after he was chipped, did he think he could ride the tiger? 'Somehow' get free after he was elected? Only he knows. But by the invasion standing by at his inauguration, he must realize he would have failed, utterly and completely. Is he honest enough to admit that, even to himself?"
The Isolationist blamed it all on Disco and Wolfson. Softly sneered at Afgu's "weakness."
Ice wrote in a note that one infiltrator had been here for seventeen years, and that the Drei Mächte Bündnis had known enough about the One by then to successfully infiltrate. “Once IR and XR complete their investigations, we may find that the Bunnies' presence here predated Disco's establishment.”
From the far end of the couch, Keiq snorted. "Not going to say anything about Afgu being weak?"
"Heck no." Ice grabbed the last piece of pizza, and headed for the fridge. "Want a beer? I also have orange juice, can put on a pot of coffee, might have tea . . . and you'd probably shoot me if I offered some wine, so we'll skip that and mention water."
Keiq glowered, and grabbed her bag. Fruit, veggies, chips, dips, and sodas.
"Do I worry your family that much?"
"Only half of them." She shook her head. "I would have said something like, 'Even Ice could never be mistaken for a station creeper' but since I was starting to catch on about the disguises, I wasn't actually sure."
"You have a pretty good innocent face, yourself."
The Multitude speaker. Stiff, horrified expression.
Ice summed him up as "No doubt Afgu was an innocent victim, but must still be traumatized, possibly brain damaged. How else to explain his appalling economic policies? What sort of idiots handed the reins of power back to this pathetic remnant of a president?"
Added the editorial "It was crucially important to show that the invasion was not an excuse for a coup. In the long run, the trust of the people is more important than a few months of incompetence. This Vote of No Confidence is the legal, open, honest, way to deal with removing a president. As with President Orde, the people will vote and the government will accept their decision."
Two minor party speakers, one for, one against "the return of the coup."
"Yikes!" Keiq eyed him. "No comeback from you?"
"Never repeat a good slogan. Hard to say if that would work for or against Afgu, it sounds so much like a cheezy vid title. Better to just not fix it in peoples' minds."
Keiq took the platter of veggies out to the couch, and sat there. "Did you go to college . . . elsewhere?"
"Yes. History, linguistics, and statistics. Certainly trained me in research and analysis."
"I did the math. You're six years older than your records."
Ice grinned. "Yeah. Every Tree knows that if you claim to be sixteen when you register, you get two years of school free, and can work a bit to earn a stay in the dorms. I was still a weedy young Oner and easily passed. And still grew a couple more centimeters and filled out."
An Independent spoke of needing the process to be open and clear. And that the will of the people would be heard and obeyed.
"Exactly. If the voters want Afgu . . . they'll get Afgu. One help us all." Ice posted that and checked the chat site.
Keiq leaned to take a look. "Rael? The Rael just accused you of trying to give her nightmares!"
"Keiq? Think of all these guys as being like Arci. You've got this level of power in your family. There are only business connections, for me."
Ice tapped in a response: "If I was doing it on purpose, I'd say something like 'The War Party will probably run Agni' and give myself nightmares."
Ajki sent a rude symbol: "So we can all be unemployed for the next four years? If not nineteen? You'll have me looking wistfully at the colonies."
Xiat: "I'm telling Poppy you said that."
Ajki: "Oh, I don't know, She might like the idea of getting out of the rat race for a bit. Maybe we need a retired High Government Officials World. Are you looking at an particular world, Ice?"
Ice: "Evac 40. Dibs on Lot 132E. It's my favorite."
Urfa: "Call it Directorate World, with pedestrian gates to the SGA, IR tower, Versalle, and the School."
Rael: "But I need sand dunes for the Compass practices."
Ice: "Bound to be sand dunes and beaches somewhere. And rumor has it you know a cheap source for corridors."
"Oh One!" Keiq looked shocked. "Have you met Xen Wolfson!"
"Oh yes. Rael ropes him in for our advanced magic classes regularly. Dog got out there several times a year, too. Have you seen the pictures of those big shields over the government district? Dog was holding the ones over the IR tower area, that's how come we only lost a little glass."
"Wait. I thought that had to be compass work. I mean, I've seen all the vids. The shields were out thirty meters above the buildings, at least!"
"Dog sicced the traffic division on the Cyborgs, then went up on the roof. Izzo was shielding Government House until they evacuated it. And I'm sure I never heard a thing about Eppa threatening to bodily remove him if he didn't move right now!" Ice turned back to the big screen where a big deal was being made over the introduction of Councilman Ollw Withione Taroko Taiwan.
"Right. That level of pomp makes it look like he's going to be running, and probably on the Interim Committee." Ice listened to a speech that had more overtones of an election than a vote of no confidence.
Posted to the Aces site, "It is with regret and sadness that we admit that Afgu is a worthless asshole. I, on the other hand, am wonderful and fart rainbows."
Izzo: "You have a nasty turn of phrase, Ice. No wonder Ajki wouldn't let me steal you."
Ajki: "Damn straight. Unfortunately we can probably count on Afgu being on the committee, so Ice?"
Ice: "Yeah, not to worry. I'd rather not work for him. One of you poor lot will have to work with him."
Rael: "Eww! Well, Izzo . . ."
Izzo: "And he'll make it as hard for his opponents to campaign as possible."
Orde: "Urfa? How about you for the committee, so Izzo can campaign?"
"Holy crap!" Keiq gulped.
Ice grinned. "Not quite how you'd envisioned backroom deals being worked out? This is most of the old Modernists' leadership faction; we'll get together with the old Federalists' leaders and see what emerges."
Urfa: "You're just determined to drag me back into politics, aren't you?"
Orde: "Just booting you back out into the Public's eye for a few months. In 2025, you really ought to run for the Ottoman Council Seat. Escu is getting pretty old."
Ice listened to another Isolationist blaming Xen Wolfson, personally. Posted "Same old, same old."
Followed by the last Modern Federalist. Who pointed out that while the Empire was perfectly able to defend its self, Disco had enabled them to strike back immediately and destroy the Drei Mächte Bündnis' gate mechanism, and dictate terms to their government.
"Because we got Afgu and the other puppets out of the way. And we need to also get them out of the way of the economy."
Ice whistled. "That's telling them."
"I'm going to have all my illusions destroyed, and be force fed politics if I hang out with you very often, aren't I?"
"Only one way to find out." Ice leaned and gave her a very cautious kiss on the cheek.
She eyed him uncertainly.
"I dare not get too distracted, right now. And, well, Raised by Wolves. Must not assume you know a . . . umm, dating kiss from a seriously seductive kiss, which most kissings of you tend to strongly resemble."
She glowered. "Lessons on kissing now?"
"Short lecture, done. Demonstrations . . . will resume after I replay the last speech and see what I missed . . ."
He ran through it quickly as the last speaker stepped up for a tepid endorsement of a nay vote.
"And now for the vote." Ice sat back. Probably closer to Keiq than he ought to dare. But . . .
The electronic voting was quick. When the total hit the number of Councilors present, Prime Councilor Igsu tapped his gavel. "All members check your vote. The next tally will be final."
Two flicks as the total votes jumped down and back up.
Steady. A motion to close the voting, seconded. Passed.
Tap of the gavel.
Ice stood, refrained from bouncing, chewed a fingernail.
"Voting is now closed." Tap. Then the rest of the board lit up.
"The vote is 2376 for. 898 against."
"Yes!" Ice scooped up Keiq and kissed her. Long and hard, with hands going where they probably ought not.
The tap of the gavel. Finally caught his attention, and he let her go.
"That . . ." She took a deep breath. "I don't think that was a dating kiss."
"Umm. No. Definitely not. Umm, I'll just sit way over there and attend to business for a minute."
"The Council of the Empire Declares that it has No Confidence in President Afgu Withione Azteca. The Office of President is in abeyance as of eighteen hundred hours, the third of Hija, Fourteen Twenty-one Year of the Prophets. An Interim Ruling Committee will be formed. A Special Election will be held in three months, on 3 Muharram 1422 Year of the Prophets."
A motion to close the session was made, seconded, voted.
Tap. All the councilors stood and headed for the nearest doors.
"So . . . now the parties all caucus?"
"Yep. The Interim Committee will meet and be recognized tomorrow at noon. So everyone's heading for meetings in Paris." He caught Keiq's raised brows and shook his head. "Not me. I'm a flunky. I'll be a gofer if they need me tonight. But tomorrow, if Afgu's on the committee, he may not be welcoming."
"Umm . . . you took a knife for him."
"And ruined his presidential bid. Guess which one looms largest in his mind. I think he genuinely thought he was just communicating, and they could not have controlled him."
She snorted. "Right. And there they were, standing by to invade at the signal. How can he possibly not realize what he did?"
"He's a politician. If it gives him more power, how can it not be good?" Ice glanced at the chat comp. "They're all on their way here, to meet up with all the Modern Federalist Councilors, and the Party Head and his people. ETA two hours, and they'll probably make up their minds pretty quickly."
Ice grinned. "I can't wait to hear who the War Party is going to send. After that vote . . . more than half their own Councilors voted to remove Afgu . . . so I think they'll send someone else."
"You really aren't worried, are you?"
"Nope. I've got money in the bank, three part time jobs, reasonable expectations of a job offer after the election, and my fall back plan. Which involves terrain and vegetation that makes me feel at home." Ice eyed her. "So . . . what sort of place feels like home to you?"
"Oh, goodness. That resort my parents told you about . . . I grew up on horseback, riding out in the regional forests and parks. Rocky ground, pine trees, mountains . . . It was a lot of work for them, hence my somewhat unstructured upbringing."
"And your parents didn't seem to grasp why not a single one of their five kids wanted to take on the family business?"
"Oh . . . they didn't try to recruit me through you did they?"
"I got the distinct impression that I'd have been a much more acceptable boyfriend, if only I knew what a horse was, and wanted to dedicate my life to giving riding lessons, entertaining city folk with my charming rustic manners, leading ten day pony treks through and over tall mountains . . ."
Keiq was giggling by the end of that. "They think I'm going to shrivel up and die working in an office building, in a city. So you don't ride?"
"I took lessons. Developed a mild fondness for horses. But for mountain trekking, I'd rather walk." He bit his lip. "I'm, umm, in the middle of introducing horses to Tall Trees . . . Do you know where to buy saddles and things?"
She snickered. "Venturing into unknown territory? There are lots of saddle shops around Paris, but finding the sort of saddle you want may require shopping in North America."
"Yes." She bit her lip. "Wait till my mother hears about this!"
"Uh . . . Maybe wait to tell her until after I've talked to the Trees? And I'm still not a good rider."
"Maybe you should practice here, until you can pass as an expert? And according to Zizi, you're a good hunter, so maybe try some hunting from horseback?"
"Yep. My poorly trained brute force magic was excellent for locating game of various sorts."
"Hunt by glow? Huh." Keiq's eyes unfocused as she thought about it. "I didn't want to kill those pretty deer or cute bunnies. I wonder if glow was why I could never seem to find any? My brothers thought I was the world's worst hunter."
Ice grinned. "I dunno. That sounds awfully girly. Are you sure you needed lessons in how to do girl?"
"Woman. I didn't walk, stand, or sit right. Thought makeup was a waste of time. Dresses silly, hosery obscene, and the shoes Wacky thought I ought to just love! Torture devices!" She shot Ice a quick glance. "And I was right."
"I did notice an interesting bias toward practical in your shoes. I considered it a mark of intelligence. Umm, sorry about the snarky . . ."
"I'm the one who ought to apologize. Name calling."
Ice shook his head. "Obviously just for effect. And right in my face so I could properly admire your cheekbones."
"Do you realize that your glib tongue and ease of flattery is one of your more obnoxious qualities?"
"Ouch. Next you'll be calling me a politician."
She scowled at him. "I thought you liked politicians?"
"Umm, half of the top five percent. The rest are ambitious and often not terribly bright."
Scowl slid into glower.
He was saved something worse by the ting of his comm. "Hey, Boss."
"Put on a pretty suit and come be available for errands. One help me, the Federalist Councilors are all coming to the meeting. I think they're afraid the Modernists have plans." Amusement all over his voice.
Less than a year since he ditched the War Party. And sees the internal plays anyway. Probably always has.
Ice snickered. "Do you suppose they could get Tok to do it?"
"One! A Businessman! Running the Empire? Get your ass up here, pronto."
"Yes, sir." He clicked off and eyed Keiq. "And even worse, you look relieved."
"I . . ."
"Yeah . . . So . . . why don't I walk you out to your car, so I can turn myself back into an obnoxious drawling High Oner Snob?"