The last one out of the Ute was a girl around nine or ten years old, at a guess. Dressed in black from neck to toes, and scooting around to the far side of Ice to eye Ruin. "I'm a Ninja. What's a coyote?"
"It's like a wolf, but they mostly live in the desert and their howls are really screechy scary horrible." Ruin bit her lip. "What's a Ninja?"
"A sneaky 'sassin from Japan. Ice fought one." The girl skipped to keep up with Ice. "Thou are all right."
Ruin gave her a sidelong look. Not the accent Lada's got, but not standard Oner, either. Calls him "Ice" not Dad. Interesting.
A dignified gentleman escorted them to a table, and a waitress popped up with menus. The table wasn't brightly lit, but there was no problem reading the menu.
Animal barely glanced at hers. "Swordfish is the best."
Madam Keiq rolled her eyes. "As always. But their steaks are good . . . umm are either of you vegetarian or devout . . . No? Allergies? Good, no worries, then."
Ruin looked at the prices and gulped a bit. At least the swordfish was the most expensive so she had no trouble picking a petite steak and baked potato.
The waitress whisked back to take drink orders--Ice ordered a beer, the rest of them stuck to non-alcoholic, even Fayt. And since they were ready, dinner as well.
"I've never been to Dune. Is the whole planet really that dry?"
Ruin shook her head. "It's an Ice Age world, so it's pretty dry, but there are more grasslands than actual desert. The grass kind of drys up in the summer, so most of the vegetables and orchards are around oasis. Which I guess aren't really like the ones here. Just, areas around large lakes and with shallow ground water for irrigation."
Fayt grinned. "The first gate must have landed in a desert though, right?"
"Yep. With the low sea level, the central part of North America is a big desert, and they attached in the middle of a dune field." Ruin shrugged, "So that was what they named it. All the settlements are in the southeast, Georgia and Florida, and all the continental areas that are underwater, here."
Madam Keiq raised her brows. "Do they use the old state names?"
"Yep . . . hmm, maybe, if we get two reps, we could split it at the district line . . ."
Fayt snickered. "So you farmers get your own rep? And Sahara City gets theirs?"
"Yeah . . . well . . . probably too many farmers in Georgia. So that wouldn't work."
Ice nodded. "But it might be a good starting point. Then you'd just have to grab a region of farmers to balance things out. One of the things the Council needs to consider is how often to adjust for population growth. Which I'll be mentioning next week. Among a lot of other things."
Fayt rubbed her temples. "But . . . what do we do?"
"I think tomorrow I'll put you two to work practicing your data handling. Get the last four censuses, and split them out in various ways and graph their growth." Ice leaned back for the waitress and food delivery. "By Council District, as that's what's going to be the level that matters. TWe'll never get the districts exactly equal, so the Council's going to have to decide on a reasonable range. Say, give or take ten percent."
Ruin perked up. "So if you know an area is growing fast, it might be best to deliberately have it on the low side."
"Right. And an area with a stable population can be either high or low, according to the common interests of the edge communities."
Section Head Kieq sighed. "Dream on. The bigger blocks will split, and then add outside group that are a minority of voters, so the big blocks get two councilors instead of one."
Ice tsked. "Cynic! Right, but still a cynical prediction."
"That's going to be tough on the colonies, well, maybe not Homestead . . ." Fayt frowned. "Then what do we do?"
"Maybe mail zones?" Ruin put in. "Or, or . . . I guess we need to look at the data and see what metrics they collected?"
"Tribal areas On Vista and Tall Trees?" Fayt popped a shrimp into her mouth.
Lada sighed. "I wish I was doing real work, not the awful history and civics lessons I'm stuck with."
A growl from Animal. "Me too."
Ice just grinned, "You're getting there. Lada, you're on track to go to a regular school for your senior year. Animal . . . missed a lot of school."
Lada looked at Ice. "Are we allowed to talk about it?"
"Yes. It's not a secret, but we'd prefer to avoid publicity." Ice swapped a look between Fayt and Ruin. "So don't talk about it to other people. Even at the office."
Ruin bobbed her head.
Lada swallowed a bite. "Basically, we escaped from the . . . you guys call them the Drei Mächte Bündnis, but that's the German name. They call themselves True Men, in every language. Anyway . . . um . . ."
"They met Rafail and Bob at the office." Ice put in.
"They rescued me from the Bad Mentalists." Animal hunched and leaned closer to Ice. "They pretended to be bad and took me away." A glare toward Lada. "Lada made me take a shower. Then Ice came and fixed my neck."
Lada snickered. "Dirtiest little child ever!"
"Humph!" Ice just grinned. "I briefly infiltrated a small group of Russian Mentalists who were marooned on a World under the control of the German Mentalists. Bob and I encountered Lada, who was delighted to help us. Rafail had the room next door, in the hotel we were staying in, and when a gang of nasty young Mentalists caught a street orphan, he got them to hand her over to me before things escalated too far."
"I wasn't scared of thee!'"
"Oh yes you were." Ice raised his nose. "I was very scary."
"Were not!" Animal squirmed. "Bob was scary. For a little while."
Lada snickered. "I know. It was hard to realize any Cyborg could be nice."
Fayt was wide-eyed. "So were you natives of that World?"
Lada shook her head. "Seven-eights True. If I'd been a boy, my Mentalist Father might have presented me when I turned eighteen. But since I was a girl, I would have gotten a control chip."
"Eww! But . . . they don't do that to their own women, do they?" She was aghast as they all nodded.
"So I was lucky to run into Ice. And Animal was lucky they didn't kill her."
"And Bob and Rafail were lucky too." Animal finally smiled. "Ice be my dad now."
After dinner, Ice drove them back to the office/apartment building, and they all pitched in to tote boxes and bags upstairs.
"Somehow Ice managed to buy beds without thinking about sheets, blankets, pillows . . . and for the kitchen, a rather mixed assortment of old china, flatware and cooking equipment." Keiq looked around the apartment. "Anything else you need, make a list, and we'll get it for you."
Then they all trooped off.
"Are they gone?" A whimper from Fayt.
"Yes. What . . ."
Fayt staggered into the bathroom and folded up in front of the toilet.
Ruin closed the door.
Leaving Fayt to her fate. Or hangover.
But she did make up both beds.
She crawled into her own and pulled the blanket up over her ears.
Ruin had to clean the bathroom in the morning.
So she was only a little early when she trotted downstairs to the office.
Pook smiled from her desk. "Coffee and doughnuts if you want them."
Ozmo was in the remains of the kitchen, talking to Ice as she rounded the partition.
Ice looked beyond her, and grinned. "Hangover?"
"Yes. I didn't think she drank that much, last night."
"She's small, it doesn't take much. And they are generous with the alcohol, the first drink."
Ruin eyed him uncertainly.
He grinned. "It's close enough to the Tower that a lot of guys drop by after work for a beer. They have good beer. They rather like the police being around, it represses the worst of the creepers. Until a creeper cop shows up. Those guys last night must have been used to coming in much later. Or maybe they're new in town. But they probably work in the Tower, since they all knew who Oljo is. I rather hope they're not cops."
"Not my usual ambiance, but I have been there. But not for years, even before Keiq finally decided to keep me." He pointed at a shelf of mugs. "The plain white ones are up for grabs. The others belong to people. Help yourself to doughnuts. Work-wise, there's a new chip on your desk, the last five censuses. Why don't you grab one, and see what information they collect, then think about what might be of interest to us."
The guys shifted out of the way, and she poured a cup of coffee, grabbed a doughnut and headed for her desk.
So, time to use those data handling and analysis classes.
Fayt walked in, almost on time. Dressed for the office, steady on her feet, face pale, eyes red. Smile weak and forced, as she sat down at her desk.
Ice brought her a bottle of water. "Would you like me to cast a hangover spell on you?"
"Yes, please." Fayt closed her eyes, and suddenly relaxed. "Wow! That's nice."
"Drink the water and stay hydrated today. Study old censuses."
"Thank you." Meek, for once.
Ruin looked at her data. All right. I know what they collect, now what can I do with it? How can I sort it? Is it accurate right down to the individual level? Can I track a person?
How about my mom? Let's see, she's 55, so she was born in 1369 . . . in Gate City . . .
Ruin frowned at the lack of results. I'll try the 1380 census.
Nothing. No. Nyus Withione Williams Gate City.
But I was born three years later! And I'm Gate City Clan because of that, because my Upcomer Mom was born and registered there. Ah, let me see if I can trace her parents.
Etna Williams and Liun Nasar Williams . . . at the same address they'd lived at, the few times Mom took me to visit them. And at the address . . . daughter Suyz Williams . . . the age of my mother.
What. The. Hell?