"Why don't you go turn yourself into a snob and I'll drop you off . . . they're meeting at the Sefe, right?"
"Right. Good plan. Be right back."
It felt good, all dressed up and ready for the battle. "Don't look so appalled. I'll leave the accent turned off until you drop me off." He grabbed one comp, the minicomp, comm, keys, wallet . . .
She made a helpless gesture. "Sorry you look exactly like every man who ever sneered at me as hopelessly declasse."
"Stupid of them. Lucky for me." Ice cleared his throat. "Do you realize this is one of my disguises? Designed for fitting in with the High Oners? Not the real me?"
"Yes. Umm. And that's a bit scary too."
"Ah. Well, let's go, while I reconsider my seduction campaign."
"Yeah. We'll stick to public places while I sort of show off the real me."
"Sort of?" She followed him out the door.
"It's not all good. There's some insecurities, a few scars . . . Meh. You've seen my reaction to my worst nightmare. Not to mention I need to be gainfully employed to impress your exceedingly large family."
"My family . . . I really shouldn't have thrown you to the wolves like that." Keiq slid behind the wheel and Ice climbed in.
"Bears, not wolves. Very large talking bears. Did you pick this car because none of your brothers could fit in?"
"Yes. They kept borrowing my old car and it was hard to park, anyway."
Ice laughed and held on. Keiq was not a slow driver.
"Anyhow if your family, altogether can't scare me off, you'll have to give me the heave-ho yourself."
"I . . ."
"And it's not going to be easy."
She tried hard to glower, but the corner of her mouth on his side kept turning up.
He shut up as she whipped onto the expressway, off, through city streets, and pulled up before the overly ornate Sefe tower.
He leaned and dropped a kiss on her cheekbone. "Nice friendly kiss. I'll call."
He extricated himself, grabbed his briefcase and headed inside.
Princess Fuyl was in the lobby and raised her eyebrows at him. "Did I just see you kiss the most unassailable maiden in IR?"
"Not my fault no one else dared. Where's the Boss, and what does he want me to do?"
"Keep the Newsies out. Especially your other girlfriend."
"Noon has sensibly thrown me over for an older and wiser man." Ice eyed the sweet motherly Princess. "Every once in a while I wonder if you aren't amusing yourself in small ways with Ajki's people."
She widened her eyes in hurt disbelief.
"Ha! Thought so. Thank you for Keiq."
Sniff. Point. "Get in there and do whatever looks like it needs doing. Come out occasionally and when the Newsies show up, run interference."
A twinkle in her eyes. "You are such a bad young man! Save your charm for someone else."
"All those delegates, you mean? Did they stop for dinner? Has the staff put out a buffet?" Ice strode over to the big conference room. Looked over the set up and shook his head. Nabbed a hotel flunky and started giving orders. Moving tables.
Walked around the room with his eyes half closed, removed four listening devices, and a miniature vidcam from a light fixture.
The head of the Modern Federalist Party, Ikdi Withione Caracas muttered "Who the hell is that?"
Ajki chuckled. "One of my agents, currently unemployed. Very good at debugging, public relations and analysis, but pathologically unable to avoid politics."
Ice made a rude gesture, and veered off to help two maids roll out the green table cover over the three tables across the front of the room and secure it. Then cover the two tables in the back.
Ordered food and drink. Arranged chairs.
Intercepted Noon and her vid guy. "No, you can't go in, but hardly anyone has arrived. Keep an eye on the front door and you'll catch the big names as they arrive for this historic occasion."
Place names! He connected with the Sefe's business center and had them printed out.
Met the guy with the food and drink and got that set up as Orde and Urfa arrived almost simultaneously.
The food guy stood there gaping. Ice gave him a few seconds, then nudged him out the door. "Now you can brag about delivering to two former Presidents and three Directors."
He started setting out the place names, and caught Party Head Ikdi's eye. "I'm assuming you'll want Izzo and Orde on either side of you, then Councillor Whqo Withione London, and Exle Withione Bangkok . . ."
Ajki looked at his recommendations and grinned. "You pissed at me, Ice?"
"Well, I assumed you were too smart to run, so that puts you in the awkward position of being in the top six ranked in Government positions held, but a party member of less than a year. How are you guys going to handle that?"
Head swiveled from Ice to Ajki, who was grinning. "The best thing about Ice, here, is that he knows when to just lay it all out. I am not running. I'll just sit here in the first row like a high-ranked trophy, and mind my manners."
Ice left the name cards on the table and trotted to the back to evict a pushy Newsy. "Right. You've got your opening shot, now go find a nice dramatic backdrop for your chatter." He popped the microcam off the wall and handed it back to the Newsie. Lowered his voice. "Do that again and it'll cost you Presidential access. Now get."
"You can't threaten me!"
The Newsie backed away, muttering. Ice made sure he got well away from the doors, made another sweep of the room, just in case. Ajha and !Tok, quickly followed by Izzo and Ox, walked through the doors. The last delegates rushed in.
Ice settled down outside to guard the doors.
He caught Ikdi's voice.
"Before we bring this meeting to order, there are drinks and sandwiches on the back tables. I know some of you skipped dinner to get here, so please grab something and sit, and we'll get this meeting going."
The door closed, and Ice spread a sound suppression spell along the hall wall backing on the room. Didn't grin at the irritated expressions on all the newsies' faces.
Two hours later, Ikdi walked out with all the big name support behind him.
"The Modern Federalists will appoint Urfa Withione Ottoman to the Interim Ruling Committee, so that Former President Izzo can concentrate on his campaign."
Questions flew, and were ignored, as some of the most important men in the Multiverse dispersed back to their homes. Or as in Urfa's case, were whisked away by Black Horse Guards to spend the night in Versalle.
Ice helped clean up, tipped the over-worked staff, and sent them home with the leftover sandwiches and drinks.
And found Ajki waiting for him. "Good job. The War Party is sending Yzda, Ovli for the Isolationists, Ramos for the Multitude, and One help us, Insa for the One Firsters. So I have no idea who they'll appoint to head the committee. Hopefully one of the three directors they'll be appointing will want you on staff."
"Umm, I'm not actually a government employee . . ."
"Send in a job application. Tonight. Either Presidential Directorate Senior Analyst, or Senior Aide to the Interim Committee."
Ice tapped at his minicomp. "Application in. It'll be interesting, seeing how the Committee sorts itself out in the next few days."
"And send me an invoice for your expenses tonight." Then Ajki was out the door and gone.
Ice sauntered after him, and spotted a familiar car waiting to the side.
"Thought you might need a ride home." Keiq blushed. Glowered. "Stop grinning, I haven't made up my mind."
"Hmm, well there's a decent chance that I'll be gainfully employed by tomorrow night, and in a position to propose marriage."
She hit the brakes. Barely turned her head to study him out of the corner of her eye. "You're more dangerous than I'd realized."
It was really great waking up with Keiq not exactly snugged, but close enough. Ice just laid there, feeling stupidly happy just to watch her breath, but hydrologic pressure forced him away . . . and it was late morning . . . a quick shower, a damp kiss and grope as Keiq took over the facilities, then he turned the screen back on to watch the news dissecting the five members of the soon-to-be Interim Ruling Committee.
With Keiq hesitantly getting close enough to be pulled into a snuggle on the couch.
"I love you."
She snorted. "I'm not sure I can handle such bare-face truth from you."
"Umm, well in a few hours I ought to be receiving, or not, a job offer for the next three months. If you prefer a bit more stability, or, umm, time to think, umm . . . How about 4 Muharram, after the election, I go all out for the totally stereotyped tradition. On one knee, box-with-diamond-ring extended while I bare my adoration for all to see? I'll even wear a tuxedo."
"You . . . you . . ." She swallowed. "Yes."
"Ah . . . was that, yes three months or yes you'll marry me?"
She snickered. "Three months. And if the answer's going to be no, I will warn you in advance to spare us both public embarrassment."
"Hmm, I was sort of hoping the public embarrassment would tip the scale toward yes . . ."
"Liar! Honestly, Ice, you are a horrible manipulator."
"Ouch! I thought I was pretty good at it."
She thumped him with an elbow and extricated herself from his grasp. "You always make me laugh, horrible man. And a good thing it's Saturday, otherwise I'd be so late for work there wouldn't be much point in going in at all."
"Hmm, yes. And . . . I just might get dressed and wander downtown, so as to be right on the spot to accept a job offer. Would you like to come?"