"I may need it."
"It'll be late when I get back. Shall I come to the Tower tomorrow? Tenish?"
"Yes. That will be good."
She clicked off and headed back inside, where a sullen Ixku waited for her.
"Where'd you go?"
She frowned back at him. "No help from Oljo?"
"No. The Military slapped a top secret on everything. The only way to find out what happened involves a pile of forms, or a trip to Makkah."
"Hmm, the military . . . that's unusual. Well. Our person of interest in on Embassy at the moment. Tomorrow I'll ask him, politely, to drop by, so you can meet what we're up against. So right now, let me introduce you to the man who does most of our financial audits." Keiq led the way, and ignored Ixku bashing his fingers on her shield.
Trying to pinch my butt? What the hell kind of an idiot is this guy?
"Enry Neartuone New York, Ixku Withione Sao Marcos. Ixku will need your results on Icka Withione Tall Trees, when you get it."
Enry stood to shake Ixku's hand then sat. "I've just got the raw data. Your man's cooperating. I was just going to take a quick look . . ."
"Good. Ixku, stay and learn a bit about how this works." Her shield and a push spell, and she was stomping down the hall to her office.
Yhfe, in the door of his, glanced down the hall. "That's a bundle of trouble."
"Hopefully very temporary. One! An Action Teamer investigating misconduct?" She stomped on into her office and pulled up files from two years ago.
Just over two years since I skimmed the data collected on Senior Analyst Icka Withione Sycamore Tall Trees, then went to meet him.
Instantly took a dislike to him, just because he looked like Ixku. And sounded like every High Oner who'd ever sneered at my hopeless hick manners.
Noticed he wasn't nervous. Irritated, but not so much by my investigation as by the leak itself. My insults rolled off his back, and his replies were snarky and insulted me back. When I analyzed it all later, I realized he was treating me like an equal, but de-escalated the hostility.
I wonder when he started liking me?
She thumped the heel of her hand against her forehead. I have got it so bad!
She dived into the data to see how she'd missed that the first half of his life was a complete fabrication.
Mother's name, Ingwe. Unregistered. Father Unknown. Birthplace Bhishi Wizi. Most recent residence Mozany Gungwa.
She got out a translator. Oh, so his mother is Leopard, he was born in River Beach and Lived in Green Ocean . . . except the program says the river-lake-ocean words have gotten scrambled in some dialects? And different letters dropped, added, or changed?
All right. If something like this ever crosses my desk again, I'll find out if any of these places exist, and if a lady named Leopard ever lived there.
School records. I never dug into his school records . . . placement exams . . . good English and Math. Weak on History and Science. Yeah, the high math scores ought to have been a flag . . . maybe. I should look at other Trees' scores.
High School . . . the science jumped up fast, the history slower. Because at that point they probably had little knowledge of our history? Surely they'd captured textbooks on Granite Peak?
Ixku frowned through her doorway. "He's a freaking millionaire."
"I know. He'll be in tomorrow, mid-morning." Keiq eyed him. "Go away and do you usual CI stuff. See you around ten tomorrow. You can meet Icka, and Enry may have some questions for him."
The evening was oddly empty, without Ice.
She saddled up Lightning for a ride along the river, then let Rags out to gambol about and cry when he couldn't get up the ladder.
"Good dog Rags. I'll be right down!" She measured the holes they'd found, once the floor was completely clean, and marked them on the floor plan.
Plumbing. We will have plumbing! Real Soon Now!
Back down the ladder and into the kitchen, where the cast iron stove was still up on bricks, but getting Ice's spell that stripped the oxygen off the rust and pressed the powdery iron back into solid metal. She had all the measurements for the cabinets, orders in for the common slate floor tiles . . .
"Dammit, Rags. How the hell do we manage enough time off to supervise the plastering? The painting? The flooring?" She snickered. "Shooting Ixku would probably work. And damn, the trial's starting in . . . twelve days? Arg!"
Rags raised his muzzle and howled with her, reducing her to laughter.
"All right. My batteries are going. Not everyone can toss lights around like Ice. Dammit. Speaking of things I don't have time for, more magic lessons is getting higher on my list. C'mon pup, let's head home."
Which is feeling less like home daily. Ice isn't the only one getting shaken out of his quiet, solitary home life. Not that mine's that quiet, what with the family and all. It'll be weird, living half an hour's drive away from them.
And I guess, at the rate I'm always thinking about being around him . . . I really will marry that man.
"What a strange and disturbing feeling." Keiq swallowed. "Oh One! My mother is going to go crazy over a wedding."
"C'mon Rags, let's get out of here while I figure out whether or not I'm really going to do something that insane."
A Meeting of Men
18 Emre 1422 yp
Ice dragged his tired ass out of bed at nine, showered, dressed, and found a car waiting for him at the curb.
Exasperated sigh. "You know, Nero, I thought I could dodge you guys, just this once."
The Guard laughed. "Not a chance Ice. I mean, we all know Ox doesn't want anything to happen to you between now and the trial, but somehow the order for safe transport doesn't have an expiration date on it. I think You'd better get used to be driven around."
"Crap. Anyway, I need to stop by IR today, not sure for how long."
Nero grinned. "Gottcha. and luckily for your independence, the Tower's considered friendly territory, so I won't go all bodyguard and escort you."
"Oh One! Not that. Never let me get to that point!"
Nero just laughed again. "Ice . . . you're a climber. I give you two years max before you're not allowed to do anything for yourself."
Ice growled and didn't mutter anything about quitting to become a full time writer of political snark. Even though he thought it.
"Any odds on this investigation being a last gasp to discredit me?|
"Last gasp? Nope. Otherwise the betting is heavily toward discredit, with demonstrating bias running second. Only a few fools bet on pure coincidence of timing."
"There's always a few people who like to play the long shots. And I hope to hell that this is their last attempt." Ice sat back and pulled out his comm. Sent a text that he was on his way, and appended the digitized report on the formation of the Free Cyborg Rebellion.
The car swung around the front steps of the tower, and Ice stepped out and headed back into his old stomping grounds. He even recognized the front desk security men as they logged in his Presidential Directorate ID and waved him through.
Internal Security was on the thirteenth floor, which rather a lot of people found appropriate. Ice stepped out of the elevator into a loud confrontation in the hallway.
". . . a professional attitude before I kick your ass out of here." Keiq, sounding like she was ready to kill someone. The big blond guy she was glaring at, no doubt.
Ice recognized Senior Investigator Alli, the head of the IS section, as he entered the fray.
"Keiq! We need to cooperate with the other subdirectorates."
"Yes, sir, but they need to not fob their dregs off on us." Keiq spotted him, and glared. "And if we can all be professional, the man we want to interview has arrived."
The blond guy turned around, and straightened, trying to loom. "I'm Investigator Ixku Withione Sao Marcos."
"Senior Analyst Ice-kah Withione Tall Trees." Ice stuck his hand out. We have at least three insertions in common . . . Ixku reached out for what he'd probably expect to be a squeezing contest and jerked back at the solid zap.
"I really hate these coincidental over laps." Ice let the accent deepen all the way into massive snob territory. "Unless, of course, your mother's from Tall Trees."
Stiffened offence. "My mother is from Crete, Native." he turned back to Keiq. "Hey, Sparklebooty, why don't I interview the perp . . ."
Oh. My. Fucking . . . Bingo! There it is.
Ice tapped Ixku's shoulder.
"Don't touch me you . . ."
"Ixku? Are you under orders to be as offensive as possible?"
Behind him Keiq looked surprised. "He's lying."
"One! I thought I smelled a rat. Ixku, I'm beginning to think you're being set up." The guy's going to get whiplash, trying to figure out who to glare at.
"Well, I'm the target. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they want me to assault a police investigator. But I suspect they're hoping I'd kill you. Umm, and if I didn't, somebody else would shoot you . . . I always did wonder where the pistol Ehfa's people confiscated from me and never returned wound up. We may be about to find out."
"What the One Hell are you talking about." Ixku looked like he'd been sucker punched.
Alli stepped forward. "Don't be absurd! I had orders to make this as smooth and trouble free as possible!"
"But why did you assign Keiq to investigate me? She's hardly neutral. And why was someone with a negative history with Keiq sent to assist?"
"I . . . Subdirector Ydle told me she'd done an excellent job investigating you last year, and putting her in charge would put us well ahead on the investigation."
Keiq eyed him censoriously. "Did he also mention anything about Presidential Directorate Analysts being none of our business?"
"He . . . implied that he was . . . in communication with someone at the Presidential Directorate. He said that Icka's long history here made it much easier for us to investigate him."
Right. Nice careful wording of a man who's just caught on to being knee deep in shit.
A faint growl from Keiq. "So Ixku, who ordered you to join the investigation, and who ordered you to be deliberately provocative?"
"Subdirector Exxi. He implied it was personal." Ixku was starting to get mad.
Ice pulled out his comm. "Time to make Ajki's day."
"Hey, Ex-Boss, some of your subdirectors are playing political games . . . " Ice dropped the comm as he spotted the door to the emergency stairs opening. A shadowy figure, a gun . . .