A shadowy figure, a gun . . .
Ice slapped a shield out and deflected the first shot. An explosion of glass and sparks from the ceiling . . . a yelp from Keiq as he ran forward. A concave shield, another shot. The gunman yelled and fell. Odd and slow. Clutching his right shoulder, then pawing for the gun, with his left hand.
Ice kicked the gun away.
Caught the faint echoes of someone retreating down the stairs.
Surveyed the hallway. Ixku getting behind a small table, in slow motion, right hand coming out of his suit coat, with a gun. Keiq with her pistol pointed down the hall, more or less at Ice.
Ice shifted out of the line of any shots and let the Speed go. Keiq straightened and lowered her gun. Ixku froze, blinked, and slid his gun back into the shoulder holster.
Running footsteps from several directions.
The floor was littered with glass, a few sparks and a whiff of smoke. The lights went out and the alarms shreiked.
Ice compacted heat and tossed light balls.
Keiq turned and covered the west hallway. Ixku stood, looking around.
Ice raised his voice. "Ixku, stay out of this unless it gets really bad. Everyone has their physical shields up, right?"
He stepped closer to the east hallway, trying to hear over the alarm. Closed his eyes. Warm spots, slowing in the dark, stopping. Feelings of alarm and confusion. Nothing like the Alert aggression coming down the stairs, but that had a familiar feel.
"Wrecking Crew on the way. Nobody shoots at them, right?"
A laugh from Keiq. "Yeah, good idea." she yelled back. "Anyone know how to turn these damned alarms off?"
"I do." Oljo led the way out of the staircase, moving at about level three speed and taking everything in at a glance. Tapped his pocket. "Turn the alarms off."
Sudden relief from the shrieking.
Ice nodded at the man on the floor. Quiet now apart from pained panting. "He fired two shots. I slapped a shield up that deflected the first shot into the ceiling, then I curled the shield and he shot himself."
"Who was he aiming at?"
"Not sure about the first, the second was aimed at me." Ice stepped out to the east hallway. "The Wrecking Crew's here you might as well relax in your office for a bit."
Oljo snickered and tapped his pocket again. "Medic to thirteenth floor, emergency response team with gurney to thirteen." A glance at the ceiling. "Fire inspection to thirteen. Maintenance to thirteen with a standard light fixture."
One of the crew was carefully searching the gunman. "No ID on him."
Ixku eased closer and leaned . . . "Oh hell. That's Akha. He's umm, Subdirector Exxi's gofer."
Ice looked around. "I kicked his gun over there, and dropped my comm . . ." He nodded at the gun, which already had a man standing by it, and spotted his comm. Still live.
"Hi, boss, sorry about the interruption."
"Ex boss. Right, who do I need to talk to?"
"Exxi, Ydle, Alli, Ixku, Keiq and me." Ice looked over at Oljo. "Want to turn the details over to some ordinary cops, and come have some more fun."
A faint snort from the comm. "At least you asked instead of ordered. Give the comm to Oljo."
Ice handed the comm to Oljo and walked across to Keiq. "You're bleeding."
"Glass in my scalp. I'll see a medic in a moment. Don't. Touch."
Ice hovered, got sent away when the first wave of medical help took the shooter away and the second wave arrived to deal with minor injuries.
Got called up to Ajki's office while Keiq stayed to be de-glassed and probably sprayed with antibiotics, clotting agents and skin sealers.
Ajki had his arms crossed, eyes on his open computer.
A couple of his usual guards bracketing the door, inside, eyes on the big semicircular table.
Subdirector Exxi looked a little roughed up, and two of the Wrecking Crew stood behind him. Two seats away, Subdirector Ydle was stiff and frightened. Only a single goon focused on him. Two seats further on, Alli was still looking horrified. Ixku, two seats away, was frowning at nothing in particular. At least he didn't have a personal guard.
Princess Fuyl and two Priests were lounging around behind them.
Fuyl pointed and Ice added himself to the pattern.
Good thing the Ex-boss has a big table.
He kept his mouth shut.
Keiq slipped in, no visible bandages, hair a disastrous mess.
Ajki unfolded his arms, and pointed at the chair to his immediate right.
"So . . . Exxi, Ydle . . . did it ever occur to either of you that there is a point in your career where you need to be more concerned--much more concerned--with the well being of the Empire, than your personal ambitions? That there is a time to leave behind the political party games?"
He sighed, shrugged. "Well, that time obviously passed without either of you noticing. Why anyone in the War Party is concerned with Former President Afgu's well-being is beyond my comprehension. Would either of you like to mention who came up with this idea?"
"I thought not. Now . . .what is going to happen is very simple. You are going to get a full body scan. Your homes and families are are being given a security check. Do you feel that you have been acting under a threat to them?"
Ice watched their stony faces, a faint shade of contempt showing.
"Right. You are both fired. Your termination date and time will depend on the results of your medical tests. Do you have anything to say for yourselves?"
Silence. Ajki jerked his head and both men got up a walked out, their three guards went with them.
"Alli. The same holds for you. You started this job under the shadow of a popular boss being fired without cause, but you have failed to make a connection with your staff. You will also be the lucky recipient of a complete medical examination. I will think on just where I will transfer you, and you need to think about working with the people below you, and when orders from above clearly exceed your responsibilities, to question them, and if necessary, go over your boss's head. It's a difficult decision, not to be taken lightly. Ponder the matter."
He waved him away, and Alli went quickly.
"Ixku . . . what path led an Action Teamer here?"
The man blew out his breath. "I left the Teams when I re injured an old injury." A glance at Keiq. "I settled into the SGA police . . . and suddenly, three weeks ago got orders sending me here."
His lips tightened. "For reasons now obvious. I . . . am not nearly as obnoxious as I was twenty years ago, but Exxi made it clear that where Keiq was concerned, I should be pushy and rude. And . . . I was."
"I see. Do you wish to get back to Gate City? Cops or Teams?"
"Teams, but . . ."
Ajki tapped at his comp for a minute. Then looked back at Ixku.
"This is an order. I will send you in a car to Embassy, to the Comet Fall Hospital to look at and hopefully fix that old injury. Stay as long as needed for a complete recovery. As you recover, join the early morning workouts with Disco. Take lessons, especially magic lessons from Wolfson. I will speak to Ajha and get you transferred back where you belong."
Ixku blinked. "Thank you, sir."
He got waved out..
"Ice, once again, the right place at the right time. Thank you. Ox wants to talk too you, but he said for you to take Keiq home first."
Ajki smiled ruefully. "Sorry to drag you in here, Keiq. I thought those fools might try to justify their orders. But I didn't need a lie detector today. Take a week off." He grinned suddenly. "Don't work too hard on that house.
"Now go away while I try to find a couple new subdirectors."
By the time they'd stopped by Keiq's office to pick up her things, and reached the street, Nero was pulling up to the curb.
"Do you guys track me?"
"Only from a few hundred meters. That's how we can be on time like this. In fact, the trackers only indicate a grade of ID. In this case, I had it set to look for IDs for Presidential Directorate with presidential access. Only one in the building."
"Huh. Can you do specifics?" Ice scooted closer to Keiq, who was rubbing her temples.
"Only if the person is inside Versalle or, Government House. Dammit."
"Ah. So you know where the on duty Guards are if there's something that needs the personal touch." Ice looked at Keiq. "Yveslin?"
"Yeah. I think I'll just put my feet up and do nothing for the rest of the day." She leaned on him and rested her head carefully on his shoulder.
"I'll report back to Ox, then see if I've bagged any time off."
Ox was quietly angry. "Right. You are getting full time guards. Shut up, Ice. You're going to work from home until the trial is over. I told your Ministry people they'd have to make do calling you. Now get."
Ice kept a straight face until he was out of the office.
Ten days, at least, off. First I'll call the plaster and paint people. I'll get the basic plumbing in, so we can get everything connected. Then the flooring . . . He touched the little square of his bag of non-profit. Time to move some furniture.
Nero was waiting for him. With E-one riding shotgun. Grinning.
"Me and Ettw are your night guards, while Onca scrambles up some extras."
Ice shook his head. "This is ridiculous. First stop the apartment, to pick up a few things, then out to Mikel House, where I will languish for a week and a half . . ."
"Or more." Nero swung away from the curb. "Unless the former president changes his plea to guilty."
"In my dreams."
Ice hauled E-one up to the apartment. "Because this will be so much easier with someone to take the other side . . ." Dresser. Sofa. Recliner. Table, chairs. A swoop around for the closet, linen, cookware, plates, bags of food . . . The stable bubble was still out at the house, but the new one . . . I should never have mentioned needing mahogany to Xen Wolfson. It's not wise to give an appearance of owing anything to a foreign agent. Of accepting expensive gifts.
"Oh, go through the first Maze gate, take the left hand corridor, then a U-turn to the right for the next gate and you'll be right where you need to be to find mahogany. Oh, and you'd better take this, yes, you can fit a whole tree in there. And watch out for the wildlife."
Well, I knew snakes that size existed, I just hadn't seen one up close and hungry.
E-one got his boggle back under control and pretended to take disappearing furniture all in stride. On the way to the house, Ice called the plasterers who assured him they had the proper formula and would be delighted to start tomorrow, and the guy on the comm recommended they start on the outside since the forecast was clear of rain for a week. They sounded nearly desperate.
"Any chance we could bring in the scaffolding this afternoon? The earlier in the morning we start, the sooner done, without any breaks so there are no lines where it dried out before we started again."
"No problem." Do I need to look into the building trades? I know destroying Government House was a hit to the local economy, but I'd think the mad hunt for office space would have helped builders, not hindered. Although, perhaps not for plasterers.
The workers were waiting at the gate when they drove up and E-one pretended to be helping Ice with the gate while keeping an eye on the unknown men.
He doled out grain to the horses and asked them to please stay inside for a bit while the workers put up weird stuff.
Lightning snorted. :: It's more fun down by the trail, seeing all the horses and people going by. But they're all just ordinary. But pretty to look at and the riders all say nice things about us."
"Oh, want me to move the barn down there? And I can turn it so if it rains you can go inside and look out over everything."
The horses nodded and he closed up the barn and walked it down the slope to a nice vantage.
/// find places to add in using CF techniques to drill a water well. And rebuild that curved wall at the entry///
Ice went back inside and worked steadily on the steel supports for the two staircases.
I'll cover it all with mahogany, mahogany steps, and then try to figure out if I can do the fancy newel posts. I'm . . . not much of a magic carver. Patterns that I can draw out, no problem. The eagles on the top are going to be difficult . . . or I could try to find a real wood carver.
He had a sudden thought . . . but the scaffolding was carefully placed to avoid the basement window wells. If I am going to enlarge the basement windows to Fire Department specs . . . I'd better do it all tonight. So they gets plastered with the rest.
They were working around to the corner now, so he headed for the basement. I'll do the back before they get there, and the front while they aren't looking . . .
They didn't notice a thing, other than how very difficult getting to the walls above the formal dining room was going to be.
Good thing I haven't replaced all the tile . . . and the concrete flat roof is still in place below it.
They finished the scaffolding, checked the quality of the water with raised eye brows, and promised to be back in the predawn to start work.