The three guys invited them to come along with them. "Just sandwiches. Good ones mind you, but . . ."
Pook waved a cash card at them. "Bring me back a ham and swiss, no veg, no condiments. I'll mind the office."
Ruin relaxed a bit at the familiar table-top ordering-and-paying kiosks. Tapped in her order, slid a cash card in the slot, and a few minutes later, a skinny boy wove through the tables to plunk it down in front of her.
How to start?
"Umm, do you guys know Ice very well? I mean, it sounded like you've worked with him a lot?"
Ozmo laughed. "More off than on. Like today, someone will call and off he goes."
Whisper nodded. "He was gone for about eight months . . . rumors said he was missing and likely dead. Then he just pops up one day. 'How's it going?' He says, 'Anything new on the DMB?' Like he'd been gone a couple of days."
"And walking in behind him? A Cyborg, a Mentalist, and a teenage girl raised part time in a DMB politician's household. The three of them have given us a mountain of data." Azvu grinned. "Not to mention an all new perspective on Cyborgs."
Fayt frowned. "But . . . where did he find them?"
All three spread their hands. "Ice says he was exploring, and accidentally found a DMB World, and that the three of them helped him hide until XR found him again."
"Yep, and weren't they all boggled, when he said that. You know it was the other way around."
Ruin frowned. "So Ice is XR?"
"He's bounced around a bit." Whisper shrugged. "He started in XR Intel, when Ajki was the Sub D of Intel, and followed him to Paris and worked in the Imperial Analysis section for around a dozen years."
Ozmo nodded. "Then the 1420 election happened and he graduated to hero, killing Cyborgs right and left."
"What!" Fayt gawped. "He can't possibly be that guy! The vid didn't say Ice was a Tree!"
Snickers all around.
"Gasp! Horrors! A Tree? A Warrior? The star of the vid! Never!" Ozmo shrugged. "But the real Ice is. And he married the IS investigator who was the gunman who helped him. They're expecting twins in another four months."
Fayt and Ruin exchanged glances.
"Yeah, we met her last night. A Section Head!" Ruin frowned. "Umm, what is Ice's official position? Project Leader? How does that rank?"
They all laughed. "No one has a clue, but he reports to Director Ox and sometimes directly to the President. And he's a Warrior. If you doubt it, go check out some of the original footage that Noon recorded."
"Holy . . ." Maybe I'd better not get too nosy.
She munched a very good sandwich, real sourdough bread that made her homesick, toasted, buttered . . . and she thought the salami might be real too.
Note to self: Eat here often.
Ice was back a hour later. And admired their charts and graphs. "Excellent! Just the sort of stuff I need to show the committee next week. Focus in on two of the big cities and umm . . ."
"Mail code areas?" Ruin suggested. "Color by population?"
"Yeah, that's a good idea. Then play with splitting them up along those borders. See if you can get them into areas of 2.4 million each. Give or take a couple hundred thousand." Ice grinned. "This is just to show the committee the impact on the Home World. This won't be used for anything else--it'll all get redone after the new census. So stop looking so alarmed."
Then he went away to let them work.
Not a bad boss . . . whatever he's done in the past.
After work, they went grocery shopping.
To Fayt's horror.
"Didn't you ever cook? At all?" Ruin snickered as Fayt poked at a real carrot.
"No! We had a big kitchen fabber, it could make anything. And then we ate out a lot." Fayt sighed. "At pickup bars. Mom, Granny, and me. I was so excited when I was finally old enough to order martinis just like them."
"Oh. Well. Watch this."
Ruin stuck to the basics, a mixed salad with an orange ginger dressing, and fried chicken.
A quick glance Fayt's direction, and she boned the chicken and got the bones out of sight quickly before breading and frying.
Poor girl'd probably faint if she consciously realized she was eating a dead animal. I'll have to pick up some vat meat and leave it where she can see the labels, so she thinks all of it's fake meat.
Hmm, and a sourdough starter . . . No, I won't be here long enough to be baking bread. Man, I've really missed cooking the last two years at the school.
But after dinner, Fayt buried herself in a grid chat, and Ruin pulled up some old news. Raw footage of the Cyborg invasions. And there's Ice, might have a cap on but that's definitely him. And less than a year later, the battle in Government House. Yeah.
So I think I'll just stop here, and not watch the Trial at Makkah.
In fact, I'll stop investigating him. Right. Now.
Even if that means I'm left with investigating my own mother. I mean, it's nearly impossible to change your name . . . so how do you . . .
Oh. Only if a re-registry check show an error such that the old letters are impossible. And . . . stuff about the older less accurate equipment mistaking similar gene combinations within the same insertion "family."
It takes more than that to get from Suyz Williams, a Halfer at best, to Nyus Withione Williams Gate City.
So how else could that have happened?
Another dry swallow. At school everyone was talking about the two professors who'd turned out to be Purps, probably infiltrated from Earth. And another professor who'd been a clone of the Real Professor Erdu, whom he'd murdered.
But Mom can't be a spy. She lives in the back-side of nowhere. Spies live where they can pickup information, or sabotage things or . . . Like Gate City. Where Mom lived until something happened and she left for Dune.
What. The. Hell?