"Hmm, and be seen in public with you? Good idea. Good thing I over-packed. Wacky got a bit over enthusiastic about what I should wear." She blushed. "She assumed I was going to seduce you."
Ice snickered. "As opposed to me trying to find a balance between seducing you and scaring you into running away?"
"Exactly." She eyed him. "My family seriously misunderstands you. I . . . am starting to. I think."
"Mis-understand?" Ice grinned and headed for the closet. Chose the green tie.
Keiq was spectacular in a deep blue dress, and blushed as she drew admiring glances from the thin scatter of early lunchers on the fourth floor patio of the Foret Hotel. The patio faced east, toward Government House, half a kilometer away. Unfortunately the intervening buildings blocked the view of everything except the top half of the dome. Today obscured but the canopy the staff had deployed in the slight drizzle.
"Almost every one's milling around down closer, or trying to bribe someone for a window with a view." Ice shrugged. "Back here, it's peaceful and quiet, but I could get down there in five minutes, if I got pushy."
Keiq grinned. "Now I have visions of you vaulting from the roof of car to roof of car, to get into the fight for plum positions."
Ice snickered. "Denting them as I go? I sincerely hope I never have to take you suggestion . . ." He glanced at the screen. "And in any case the ceremony will be inside today, with only a brief walk out and wave to the crowds."
A faint sigh from Keiq.
He raised his brows.
"You are so much a part of that level of government."
Ice nodded. "It happened so quickly . . . less than four years since Akji sent me off to see what Rael was up to . . . and suddenly I'm getting trained to a level of magic I'd never dreamed of, never realized existed."
She snorted. "I did research you, you know. Do you remember Section Head Ogre?"
"Ibla's predecessor? He retired five years ago."
"Yeah, and was he ever happy to reminisce. Said Ajki stole you from XR because you'd argued statistics with him a month after you'd graduated from the Directorate School and been assigned to Intel."
"I didn't . . . argue. I just pointed out the really sloppy methodology."
"Uh huh. And with three years' experience, you marched into IR and instead of merely being brilliant as you whipped through your own work, you just sort of turned into the helpful guy everyone turned to and naturally followed. And tried to avoid attention from above. Overachieving while keeping a low profile." She snorted. "Well, I guess I understand the low profile, now."
"Well . . ."
"So don't tell me about four years of magic training. You were already . . ." Her eyes widened suddenly, and Ice turned to look at the vid screen showing the investment of the Interim Committee.
Afgu. With armed troops. Laser pistols and firearms.
Half the Black Horse Guards leaped to get between them and the committee members. Dropping, stunned by the other half of the Black Horse Guards.
Not Going Peacefully
Ice reached out blindly and brought up the sound.
Afgu grinning. "Think you can steal the presidency, do you, Izzo? Well, why don't you just think about the error of your ways while we wait for that piece of shit that ruined everything. Ice-kah? Get in here or I'll start killing people."
He walked over to the stunned guards and nudged one with his foot. "Friends of yours, aren't they? I'll start with them and finish with Izzo. So you better hurry."
Ice walked to the balcony. Shields that wrap around my arms, anchor to my shoes. And stick way the hell out to the side. Anchor a Pull way out there . . . a kite tail . . .
He stepped onto a chair, to the rail, and jumped.
Fell as he shoved the shields out five meters from his finger-tips. Swooped up, banked and turned to dive down the side street. Grabbed a new anchor point and dropped the first . . . zipped out from between the buildings channeling wind and sank abruptly.
He had enough control to aim for an empty spot in the street, released the shields from his shoes and arched them overhead like a parachute, and managed a running landing. Dropped the shields and kept running. Elbowed through the bloody stupid spectators, and into the open.
Rip waved to catch his eye, and Ice hustled over. "What's he saying now?" then he spotted the small screen and Rip turned up the volume.
". . . stupid pretty boy to drop his coat and guns, roll up his pants legs. Then get in here."
Rip swallowed. "He's got some sort of spray methalformaline, or something with a similar action. You're going to get dosed as soon as you're through the door."
Ice nodded, pulling up his memory of the methalformaline antagonist. "Just . . . get Izzo out of there as your priority. All of the committee, but . . ."
And a bare whisper. "I'll try to keep their attention, get people with light warps and unnoticeable in there to shield."
He laid the spell over himself, muscles twitching suddenly, a sudden headache stabbing behind his eyes.
Ice shucked his coat, rolled up his pants legs and headed up the steps.
The doors were all open, the usual security gates and detectors shifted out of the way. Lights off, hampering any marksmen trying to identify targets in the dimmer light from the glass panes in the cupola high above.
"Stop right there."
Ice stopped. A man stepped out, wearing the Black Horse uniform but someone he'd never met. He raised his hands and got frisked. The guard stepped back inside. "Walk forward and halt."
And got sprayed.
His skin started burning and he swallowed as his stomach rebelled. The world went gray and flat as his magic was snuffed out.
A nasty laugh from the dimness.
"That's pulled your teeth you Native bastard." Afgu's voice, sounding gleeful, almost drunk.
"So . . . back in touch with the Drei Mächte Bündnis?" Ice squinted and couldn't enhance the light. "This has the feel of a pyric exit for the observers they have left."
"Oh you stupid fool. They have thousands of worlds and at least a quarter have gate capacity. Conquering a single world does you no good. They'll be retaking it, now that we've withdrawn. And damn Wolfson for taking down the permanent gates! I could have used them to secure their cooperation, to obligate them."
Ice staggered a bit, stepped closer. "I doubt they feel any obligation to help you. They call us livestock."
"You Natives are. And the Multitude. Powerless nothings. Yeah, get over here. I want to kill you myself. Pity I can't spare the time to really enjoy it."
Ice hoped the burning that was sinking through his skin was a battle between spells, and thought about a mental shield keeping his thoughts in, just in case it worked. He took in the dozen Black Horse Guards still standing, the other troops . . .
"Less than a hundred puppets total? Do you think you can take the Empire with so little backing?" Ice tried to walk steadily, closer.
The bodies on the ground, as he passed them, seemed to be breathing. All the important people, here to witness the investiture of the Interim Committee. But they were pretty selective. He's got Izzo, the Prime Councilor, and Ajki standing with the five men who were going to run the Empire until the election.
Rael and Ajha out cold on the ground. The most dangerous. Ox. And is that President Orde, face-down over there?
Oh One! He could cripple the Empire killing just a dozen people here.
"Bah. No one with the nerve to stand up to me will survive the day. Those weaklings in the Council will cave. The remaining leaders of the War Party will flock to me, to see the primacy of the Empire restored, expanded as we take over the Drei Mächte Bündnis."
Ice stepped up on the first riser, stepped inbetween Ajki and Afgu. Close enough to touch Ajki, a slight shove behind him.
He stepped up to the next riser and stopped to face Afgu. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Insa back away, step close to the edge of the riser. He stopped there though as a few guns swung his direction.
Ice eyed Afgu. "Are you truly so blind? Didn't you realize they had an army poised to take over? You betrayed the Empire and handed us to them, all to gain power for yourself."
Afgu glared and stepped closer. "I. Will. Rule."
"Over the death of the Empire. Do you imagine that your Puppet Master will follow your orders. You're just a naïve cow, being milked for everything they can get. When you stop producing, you'll be sent off to the slaughterhouse, like any other useless animal."
"You stupid Native! I should keep you alive, you'd make a lovely Cyborg."
Ice eyed him, side-stepped to the right. "So are you going to sell us all to your Cyborg Masters? Agfu . . . is that still you inside there, or is there a mentalist controlling you, even now?"
The hostages on the next riser, Urfa and Ydza, stepped apart, getting out of the way of the confrontation. Ice could see, on the other side, Izzo step from the second riser to the first, and nudge the Prime Councilor.
Ice took another small step right, a slight turn. He kept staring Afgu in the eyes and didn't waver as Ajki stepped off the first riser, and Insa stepped down onto the first.
The Troops shifted and Ice stepped forward, finger jabbing at Agfu. "Oh, you'll be the first one they Cyborg."
The troops stirred, guns swinging to cover Ice. The hostages all shifted carefully, to get out of their line of fire . . . and incidentally lower down.
Good. Keep going. If all we'll need is one shield, held long enough for Rip to lead the charge up the steps . . . am I kidding myself, that I can feel people again? Agfu's got a tiny glow . . . and now I can feel the nearest troops.
"You don't know what it's like! You've never contacted one of their Mentalists. They're greater than the One Hive Mind ever was. But individually weaker than we are. We will dominate them, we will bring back the One."
"You are just fooling yourself, or allowing yourself to be duped by the Bunnies."
"Stop calling us that!" Almost a hiss.
"Ah. I see. Have you merely suppressed Afgu or erased him and taken over? Who am I talking to?" Ice stepped again, Afgu turning to face him, now with his back to the big room.
Ajki leaned and grabbed Orde's shoulders and started dragging him toward the door. No sudden movements, to draw attention, but still . . . The others were grabbing stunned people as well.
How many, or rather how few, Bunnies are controlling all these troops? That they aren't even seeing what's happening right under their noses?
And more limp bodies sliding off without apparent cause.
Rip's got people with unnoticeable spells, and lightwarps in. And surely he's ready to raise shields . . . Ice stepped sideways again. The longer before he notices . . .