He was sitting on a log watching the first stars pop out in the twilight and drinking boost when Keiq and family arrived, an auto truck following them.
Keiq looked embarrassed. "They thought that if I was camping out here, I should do it in comfort. And does the scaffolding mean that plastering is going to happen?"
"First thing in the morning, and apparently going on until it's done. Or at least until they can break at a wall corner where it won't show." He pried himself off the log. "So, moving in before the house is livable? Me too, and we're going to have to hide it all if the building inspectors show up."
She snickered. "Yeah, sensible people probably wouldn't consider it livable."
The fancy camp kitchen ran on bottled propane. They positioned it so the fan could blow the exhaust up the chimney of the second floor fireplace.
Ice grinned as Wacky supervised the men rolling out rugs in the dome room, and rearranging his furniture.
"Honestly Keiq! Don't let the historical society ladies talk you out of living in this room!" Wacky shook her head at Ice's modern sofa and sent him and his ever-so-handy bag back downstairs for Keiq's big wardrobe.
With a section fenced off by tall furniture for a bedroom, a desk to claim an office area, the living room looking out at the crescent moon sinking toward the horizon, and the small table for eating . . .
Wacky looked around and started laughing. "All it needs is electricity and an indoor bathroom."
Ice grinned. "Yes, plumbing needs to happen real soon, and . . . Keiq? Did you talk to the electrician recently? I know you got the plan approved . . ."
"Yes, they said they'd be delighted to do the installation . . . should we do that before the plasterers do the inside?"
"No, it's going behind or through all the woodwork . . . mostly. But we should probably schedule it pretty soon. And hold up some of the plastering, where we'd have to ruin it to put in the wiring."
Azek shook his head. "I'm impressed at how quickly you've managed as much as you have." He poked at a window. "Not to mention these odd persistent spells. Makes me wish I'd studied more magic. Just one class for beginners and suddenly I'm wondering how much else I don't know, don't is even possible."
Wacky nodded. "Dad was always so busy. Mom used to laugh when he claimed to have retired. But he was always going somewhere, people always wanted his opinion . . . so even though Dad was trained the old way, he didn't realize that I wasn't getting any training."
Ice nodded. "The next time I get fired I ought to start a back alley Mojo." That's what I was doing on Tall Trees, wasn't it? "Or just work with people after work and on weekends."
Elk grinned. "You can do classes while you're on leave!"
"Well . . . technically I'm working from home. But my hours can be quite flexible."
:: And we can go for rides! ::
Ice glanced out a back window. White pinto spots barely visible in the gloom down below. Looked back at the kids. "And you can exercise the horses to pay for the lessons."
:: We aren't work! We're play! ::
Keiq and Elf snickered. Azek looked out the window then turned his head to look at Keiq. "I want to be here when our parents meet Ice's four legged friends."
Keiq thumped her forehead. "One!"
Elk grinned. "We ought to camp out too, and exercise the horses in the morning."
Ice shook his head. "I think that had better wait until we have a minimum of one working bathroom, not to mention a whole lot fewer people working on the house all day long."
Working from home wasn't too bad, when it involved sitting at his table writing a report on the incident yesterday. Then attempting to read the camera shots of hand written descriptions of various bits of Cyborg history.
"I keyed in one report, and then gave it up as too time consuming to do in a day. So the Ministry morons started taking pictures and I ran off to find a mahogany tree."
"No, a couple gates deep into the Maze got me to a really nice grove of trees on an empty world. I cut down and bagged a nice big one. And yes. I have an import permit, which due to my brilliant foresight did not specify which world I was importing it from."
Keiq snickered. Winced at raised voices outside. "I keep picturing something awful happening when that man yells, but I go outside and the plaster's smooth and perfect . . . and you're grinning. Do you actually understand whatever language that is?"
"Hindi. Yes. I love languages."
Keiq snorted. "Inhuman."
"By definition on some worlds, and so are you." Ice grinned at her, and strolled over to look out the window. "They're already halfway down the back side and Wrxe is calling them lazy bums. The guy up top is a bit behind the other two and Rex just said his mother must have taken three days to give birth."
Keiq shook her head. "That's almost as funny as Eldon's recounting of just floating from World to World, waiting for the Drei to show up, destroying their beacon, and just drifting off, leaving them marooned. He calls it playing wac-a-mole. Whatever that is."
"Yeah. I think I want to meet that guy." Ice took a break from transcribing an account of the current situation on Roman World to search for statistics on the number of building permits in the Central Region.
There'd been a jump immediately after the explosion, for repairs. There'd been a lot of windows replaced. Then a drop. Not that there weren't regular fluctuations, but . . .
People are siting on their cash until they decided it's safe enough they don't need that extra cash cushion. Nothing to be done about it, really. Hopefully the trial won't drag out. There will be no violence. And . . . well, the verdict is not a foregone conclusion.
And the Drei Mächte Bündnis is still out there.
Maybe the sensible people are the one who are ready to get away from the capital city of an empire under threat.
"You know . . . your family might want to avoid me until things settle down after the trial."
She eyed him. "Premonitions?"
"I don't think so. Just common sense. I . . . guess I'll just go work on something."
The corner of her mouth tucked in. "Not going to tell me to go away?"
"No. I'm much too selfish for that."
Snicker. "Well, then come and tell me what the piping in the master bath looks like and what we need to do about it."
"And find Tanya and the baby."
Keiq looked around at the doorway. "Did you hear something?"
Ice swallowed. That really wasn't me doing precog stuff. "Yeah. So lets take a look."
"What?" She glowered at him.
"Mikel. He still wants me to find Tanya and the baby." Ice led the way out and scowled around the over-sized bedroom.
The little study is five meters by six meters. The bedroom is ten by twelve, not counting the bathroom that adds another thirty or so square meters. So the master suite altogether is two and a half times the size of my apartment.
"Some day I'll get up the nerve to ask Wacky if she actually likes rattling around in a house twice this absurdly oversized mansion."
Keiq snickered. "She grew up in that house. Azek's the one to ask."
"Azek impresses me as much too sensible to answer that." Ice knelt and ran a hand across the floor. "There's a drain pipe here . . ." He took the chalk Keiq extended, and traced the pipe's path, the toilet's drain, two from what was probably the sink. Smaller pipes paralleling the drain He felt the wall where all the pipes bent both down and up . . . tried to trace the water pipes to the toilet . . . an odd piece of metal in the wall . . .
"I . . . think there was a magic light switch here? Or actually the was some recrystallized concrete inside the tower about here."
"Magic lights for the staircase makes sense." Keiq grinned. "Can you make magic lights that other people can switch off and on??
"I can try, but right now I'm wondering if something else didn't get stuck in the wall." He struck his head through, and reached to touch the crystalized strip, and molded the concrete himself. Pulled out the metal bars.
"Just like the ones they make now."
"It was stuck in the wall? Why?"
"To hide it, and keep anyone inside from opening it." Ice swallowed. "I really hope this isn't one of those horrible tragedies." He pulled the bars apart. Reached in and pulled another handle out. Opened them.
A woman stumbled out. Swept long platinum blonde hair out of her face with her left hand, while her right swung up and smacked him under the chin.
Keiq jumped forward as Ice stumbled back, but the blonde had frozen, looking around.
Angry but controlled. Taking in the situation, ready to attack.
"Who the hell are you people and where the Hell is that piece of camel-dung husband of mine?"
One! "I'm Keiq Withione Colorado, and you are?"
"Withione?" The blonde snorted. "What a stupid name. "I am Tanya bint Oliver bint Alexander, and if you've kidnapped me, you are going to regret it. Where. Is. Mikel!"
She needs the straight information.
"I'm sorry, but you were inside two bags. It's been a thousand years, and the Warrior Mikel is dead."
"What! I opened the inner bag a few times, but the outer wouldn't budge. So I closed the second bag so I didn't have to deal with a dirty diaper before Mr. High and Mighty got back from his can't wait, very important meeting." Her eyes narrowed. "A thousand years? Do you even know what happened."
Ice stepped closer, but kept a wary distance. "Mikel died on thirteen Qadah of the Year of the Prophets 397."
The woman's tanned complexion paled. "That's today . . ."
Keiq stepped back and waved at the room. "Look around. We're renovating a house said to have belonged to the Warrior Mikel-the-Eye."
Tanya stalked out and frowned around the big room. Spun and dashed through the study and into the oversized entry.
She walked to the front, looking into the ballroom, the dining room. Breathing in short gasps, blinking watering eyes. She spotted the ladder and ran to it, scrambling up. She walked a few steps to eye the women's side, then turned and trotted across to the domed room.
"Damn." Ice looked up at the balcony. "She needs help."
Keiq nodded. "I may be better at this than you. Being not-male."
"Yeah. I'll fade back."
Tanya walked unsteadily back to the ladder.
She fumbled her way down, broad pants legs suddenly awkward instead of flowing gracefully. She glared at them, then stalked out the front entrance.
Belief, fear starting to win out over the anger.
From the far side of the driveway, she turned and slowly studied the house.
"And when he died, who took ownership of the house?"
"His oldest son at the time. James . . ." Keiq was far enough away to barely read the young woman.
"Bah, he hated this house." Tanya scowled. "Well, I have few happy memories of it . . . and I suppose the money is long spent. A thousand years!"
Ice nodded. "The house has been bought and sold dozens of times. We're the first people in a century to try to renovate it."
Ice is concerned, worried for her.
Dammit, she's so beautiful!
"So I'm penniless."
Bitter anger, now.
"Emre and Nicholas are the only prophets still living . . ."
Her anger flared. "The Prophet Nicholas died a hundred years ago."
"No. He turtled up in a Bag. There are nineteen who survived that way. Lucky Dave and Davos are both brothers of Mikel. If the One will not admit they owe you a Warrior's widow's support . . ."
A knot of fear now.
The girl needs a good cry. Or some other form of emotional release.
"Bah. I will not be dependent and controlled!"
Frightened and angry.
Keiq huffed out a breath. "Yeah, I know that situation. In my case, parents and older brothers. It's why I got an education and a job far away from home."
She studied the tense woman. "What do you want to do?"
The young widow unclenched her jaw. "Leap on a horse and ride away as fast as I can, as far as I can and never return."
"Well, the horse I can supply, if some speed will help, but you'll probably need to come back." Keiq looked over her shoulder, but Ice was already heading for the barn.
Lightning and Pineapple trotted up. and he brushed them and saddled them quickly.
A faint snort from Tanya. "They don't look very fast. And he's not coming with me."
"No. Ice would fall off if you ride the way I suspect you're going to ride. I'll come." Keiq caught a irate comment from Lightning, and shook her head. :: So prove her wrong. Show her how fast a Comet Fall Smart Horse can run. Can you jump that rail fence Ice put up? ::
An equine grin. :: Oh yes. Those trails will be perfect for a nice fast run. ::
Half an hour and twelve kilometers down the trail, Keiq finally caught up to the wild girl.
Tanya grinned. "That felt wonderful. This is a very fast horse."
:: She's a very good rider! :: Lightning smirked at Pineapple. :: Beat you! ::
Keiq grinned back. "I have to admit that I haven't had a good long run like that in a long time. Not that we were full out for very long."
Tanya leaned to pat Lightning's sweaty neck. "Now, as you said, I have to go back. And that man--is he your husband? He had better be there with the Bags." She bit her lip. "As my son is still there."
"Ice is not my husband, and he's highly unlikely to run off with a baby." She shrugged. "How about I drive you to Makkah. We can be there in four hours."
Tanya glared. "Liar! I know how long it takes to get to Makkah."
"A lot has changed in a thousand years." Keiq winced at the resurgence of the girl's inner fear and anger. "We have dimensional corridors that will get us to Jeddah quickly."
Tanya scowled. "I must find out where I stand. Then I can make plans. Better than my silly plans a year and a half ago."
Keiq eyed her. "What were your plans, then?"
"To marry the Warrior Mikel! To fight beside him!" A bitter laugh that ended in tears. "He married me because I looked like a half sister who'd died centuries ago. He expected me to dress up and host meetings. To be sweet and gracious to disgusting diplomats at parties, and go to teas with the other wives of important men. He laughed when I said I wanted to fight. And . . . he kept calling me Jasmine. He, he called me Jasmine on my wedding night!"
And finally the tears flowed.
"That's . . ." Keiq shook her head.
"Does that 'Ice' ever call out someone else's name?"
"No . . . I'm the one with ghosts from the past." Do I do that? Look at Ice and see other men, men who hated my independence, wanted sex but also to own me? Ixku was neither the first nor the last. Fortunately he was the only one I needed to shoot.
Keiq frowned at the girl. "How old are you?"
"Seventeen. Eighteen next week. Give or take a thousand years."
"You married when you were sixteen?" Keiq failed to keep the horror out of her voice. "I was still in high school!"
Tanya wiped her face. "Did you go to college, and all that? How old are you?"
"Forty-one. I went to the Directorate School, it's part of the University of of the Empire in New York. They teach regular academics, but it's all aimed at getting us prepared for exploring other Worlds and analyzing and . . ."
The girl was shocked.
"One!" Keiq swallowed. "You're from before we figured out how to make dimensional gates. We've got colonies on other World, we're sort having diplomacy with the Earth the Prophets came from . . . you do know . . . Oh good."
"You explore other Worlds?"
Keiq shrugged. "Not me, but maybe half of the students from the Directorate School go to the Directorate of External Relations. Umm, let me tell you how the government works, these days . . ."
The horses strode happily along as Keiq briefed Tanya on all the politics, a bit of history, Disco . . . The Helios disaster, the Cyborgs . . .
"How does one get into this 'Directorate School?' I know karate, I can shoot."
"You're going to need to swot up on history . . . maybe a local college for two years, then transfer? Mind you, the references you'll have will get you in, but you can still flunk out."
"So I'd better be prepared for this battle."
Ice had been busy while they were gone. Two cars in the driveway, one ordinary, the other a white limo with a uniformed chauffeur leaning on it in the shade.
Female voices echoing around the inside of the house, then a trio of women emerged and converged on them.
The middle aged one took the lead. "I am Umaya daughter of Victor and grandaughter of Carl. I am the wife of the Prophet Nicholas. This is Jadida, daughter of Juhani, and wife of the Warrior Davos ibn Daiki ibn William. And Mona, daughter of Ian. We are all survivors of Rangpur, a thousand years from our rightful time. We're here to help you."
Tanya gawped at the women, then slid down from the horse. Raised her nose. "I am Tanya daughter of Oliver, grandaughter of Alexander. Senior Investigator Keiq has been filling me in on . . . the basics. I believe I am going to start by speaking to the One."
Mona smiled. "Perhaps after feeding your baby? We have brought supplies . . . and lunch."
Tanya's eye narrowed and her head whipped around toward Ice.
Instant suspicion. Fear and anger, again.
I think she's had a lot of practice with those.
Ice extended two metal rods. "We changed his diaper, but put him back in when he got hungry."
Tanya snapped the rods out of his hands. "You are giving them to me?"
"They are not mine to give. Circumstances have robbed you of most of your possessions, I will not rob you of these."
Tanya's back relaxed.
A snort from Umaya. "I should think not. Come sit in the car, there's no furniture in that mess."
Resentment. Fighting an automatic rejection out of pure hating to be given orders.
Tanya's jaw muscles jumped, but she headed for the limo.
Ice walked up and took the reins. "Want me to take care of them? Umaya's a bit pushy."
Keiq nodded. "She's calmed down enough to think and plan. But maybe I'd better referee."
Wary, cautious . . . worried.
Dammit, I really ought to turn this thing off around Ice!
She joined the other women at the car, where Tanya was being shown the disposable diapers, and rolling her eyes. "Three ninety-seven was not the Dark Ages. We had those thing, or something close enough. But I do appreciate your bringing them, right now." She reached for a cloth to toss over her shoulder and pulled the baby out from under her blouse to pat until he burped. Switched sides."
"Do any or all of you have children?" Tanya smiled wryly. "You see, Keiq, I have acquired a few basic manners."
"Can't have been too much worse than I was at your age." Keiq looked at the wives and widows of warriors and soldiers.
"I have two, a grown daughter and a five year old son. And a stepson, also grown, and a father, himself."
"A son, five years old at Rangpur, just turned thirty." Jadida looked wishfully at the baby. "I should try an elixir, and have another one or two."
"One daughter, Naila, seven at Rangpur, where her father died. Thirty-two years old, and, well, I don't know if I set a good or bad example, going to college instead of being someone's wife." Mona grinned. "But she's so smart, and the young men such idiots. Perhaps someday I'll be a grandmother."
"I . . . am thinking about college. And this Directorate School sounds interesting. Exploring, guarding . . ." Tanya looked down. "It will not be easy with a baby."
"You'll probably want a Nanny. Possibly a cook or maid." Jadida shrugged. "We got the widow's pension, and a lump sum to start us off well. The government was generous, too. Ah, President Orde is a fine man. President Izzo is a bit sharp, but also a good man, if perhaps less warm."
Umaya snorted. "We should all go to Makkah, and make sure that Mikel's widow and son receive their due."
"Keiq said you can drive there?"
"Yes. Scoot over, let's go."
Tanya and Keiq exchanged glances and burst out laughing.
Keiq waved down at herself. "I'm filthy and we both smell like sweaty horses. Fortunately Ice's barn has a shower. And I have a change of clothes, but Tanya . . ."
"Bah!" Umaya sniffed. "Didn't your mothers teach you anything?"
The spell to clean clothes was amazing. Keiq still put on her nice slacks and blouse and shoes, rather than the suddenly clean work clothes. Then they were being shooed into the big car.
Five women and a baby were no strain for the limo to carry in luxury. The lunch mentioned was an endless supply of dainty sandwiches and non-alcoholic fruit drinks.
As an experienced aunt, Keiq was no stranger to babies, and took her turn hold Ollie as he got passed around. The Rangpur women seem to go all gooey and start talking about having more.
Keiq eyed the delightful child and passed him on to Mona with no reluctance at all. "I have four older brothers, who have a total of fourteen children. I'm not ready to add to the herd."
Giggles from all four women. "And did you do a lot of babysitting?"
"Not when I was young! I practically had to run away from home to college when the first nephew was on the way and my second oldest brother tried to talk me into being a nanny. He magnanimously offered to pay me about a quarter of what a trained nanny would get." Keiq rolled her eyes. "Mother thought that was a much better idea than going to New York.
"Of course, now I live next door to my eldest brother. He married my best friend from the Directorate School, and I babysat their three, even though they had a ferociously professional nanny. They're old enough to not need babysitting any longer, although I do sort of hang around when their parents are out late and stuff. I much prefer older kids."
The others looked at Ollie.
"Tsk! I like the babies and younger children." Umaya smiled. "Although my step son is a fine man now, he was a terror as a teenager. Have you met him? Or do you only work here in Paris?"
"I met him earlier this year, when I was training with Rael." Keiq turned to Tanya. "Rael may well be a good example of what you want to be. A woman Warrior. She's taking a break from most of her duties to raise her son, who's seven or eight now."
That got nods from the other women. "Rael is amazing, and she looks so harmless."
"We'll have to get out all those movies they had us watch, to show us what the world was like, and some important bits of it." Fajida shrugged. "It's funny, to remember how disoriented we were, that first month. Now it feels like home."
Mona nodded. "And this is your first day? One! Just tell us to slow down and explain . . . or just shut up and let you have some peace and quiet."
Tanya shoved back her gorgeous hair. "I'm very lucky to have met you all. Keiq especially got me calmed down." Her eyes widened as she looked forward. "What is that!"
Keiq turned and looked. "The Corridor. This one goes to Alcairo. The next one will take us to a spot north of Jeddah, just before the road splits off to Old Mecca, and Makkah."
Tanya muffled a scream, at the little twist as they popped through. Her head whipped back and forth as she looked around. "Where are we?"
"Alcairo. It's very handy."
Tanya glanced her way, and then back forward as they took aim at the Jeddah corridor. "Why would I want to use such a horrible thing!" She covered her mouth with both hands and didn't scream as they popped through the corridor.
"You'll get used to them." Keiq grinned.