The second trip, Taneli looked worried. "The Government's created an Army, now. And they're looking for 'hidden mentalists' all over. Even the servants that are part mentalist. They want to cleanse the genes of the taint of the Invaders, they say." He shifted and pulled a bottle out of a drawer. "They say that this is a potion that will dissolve the wires in everyones' heads. That it needs to be diluted in more wine and a glass taken every day for two months."
Rat eyed the bottle. "Are they giving it to everyone?"
"They hand out these little bottles, and say to get wine, mix this in and spread it around." A shrug. "I feel a bit more clear headed. Maybe."
Rat whistled. "There must have been a hidden laboratory. That made the Plague, and now this." Everyone without wires . . . "May I take this one?"
"Da. I kept it for you. I suspected you'd like it." The captain grinned suddenly. "It's got some interesting side effects."
Rat almost dropped it, the latent power he could feel through the glass, locked up in the deep red liquid. He tucked it in his pocket and slipped out the back to walk home. I probably could have driven one of the trucks. There's nothing special about them. But people might notice a truck parked for awhile, Keiv district plates . . . I wonder if I can do something about that? There's some old junked vehicles at my father's house . . .
He touched the bottle in his pocket.
Dissolve the wires. Maybe. But what else does it do. "Interesting" side effects, indeed! But Taneli wouldn't know if it also contains the plague.
After dinner he'd brought out the bottle. No label, nothing. "Pomo Taneli says that this is being circulated as treatment for the zivvy wire. He said the Army--the new Government's Army--gave instructions to dilute it in wine and drink a glass every day for two months."
Everyone eyed the small bottle. "It'll be awfully dilute!"
Rat nodded. "I'm worried about what else it might do. If it's got the plague in it as well."
"I'll get some wine. There's just the cheap stuff we get; Lord Renatt doesn't leave the good stuff behind." Lula hustled out, and two of the guys went with her.
"Almost fifty of you. How many of you, before you were chipped, had any mentalist talent at all? If this has the plague, you won't get that back."
Lula hustled back, three bottles in the crook of her arm, a corkscrew in hand.
Kirill shook his head. "I never had any. I'll test it. In case of ordinary poison."
Lula sniffed. "I had maybe a tiny touch. Wouldn't miss it. I'll give it a try."
Emilio and Darby set down more bottles and got to work on the corks.
Rat dribbled a bit of the potion. Very, very dilute.
But my fingers are tingling from the spells, the magic in the bottle. He put it down and picked up the wine bottle, and got a jolt. Holy . . . it spreads? "This is highly magical. I think I'd better test it first . . ."
The bottle was snatched from his hands. A disapproving Blackwell glowered at him. "You are not expendable."
Peg sniffed. "Da! You are Lord Rat, not Laboratory Rat." She held out two glasses and Blackwell poured.
"But you guys aren't expendable either!"
Kirill had found a glass. "Let me go first, I never had any power."
"Guys!" Rat stepped forward and was pulled back.
"Rat, you aren't mean enough to do what you'd have to do to stop them." Double-oh-five, steered him away. "So just let them protect you. I've heard rumors that's the way it's supposed to work."
The Cyborg gave him a little shake. "Don't call me that. I used to be angry that you hadn't found a way to save me . . . but I've been watching you tearing yourself apart trying to find some way to save Aria. It can't be done, can it?"
"Not that I've figured out. I just can't get a chip to respond properly to a check." Rat slumped.
"You're trying to forge brain chips?" he looked thoughtful. "Or something that registered as a brain chip. With no zivvy, stick it under the scalp . . . Damn! But then, how would you slip it past Lord Renatt?"
"That would have been the other problem. Now I need to figure out how to save everyone from the Mentalist-hating mob."
Behind him, Ivan Blackwell set down the empty bottle and the four--Lula'd gotten into the act as well--clinked their glasses and they all took sips.
Lula took a second swallow. "Wow, that's got a real kick!" And the four of them proceeded to get totally drunk on a few swallows of cheap wine and major magic.
"Cody, all right, fine. Double-oh-five. Let's send the kids off to bed. Especially the teenagers, as it appears this cure is rather uninhibiting."
Double-oh-five looked at Lula kissing Blackwell, and the starched and proper secretary returning the kiss with interest, and nodded. "Damn, now that's an interesting side effect."
Fortunately the little kids were already in bed, and the older kids thought the adults were gross. Rat ignored the thoughtful look Aria was giving Double-oh-five, and took himself off to bed.
None of my business. None of it is my business.
Until Tizzy and Peg climbed into bed with him.
"We doped up all the wine, and Tizzy and I decided we'd share you."
Not that he hadn't bedded them both occasionally, but . . . Peg kissed him with lips that tasted like a really fine wine and he realized how long it had been and . . .
So all the adults were hungover and a little embarrassed in the morning.
Aria didn't know whether to be amused or scandalized as Lula dropped a kiss on Mr. Stiff and Proper's head.
"I mean, I knew you and Mother were never some grand love affair, but . . . aren't you jealous?"
Rat shook his head. "We drove to Kiev for my seventeenth birthday. To spend a year getting me some town polish before I was presented. The party was a very stiff and formal dinner with Father, his Lordship, and my brothers and their wives, with a few token gifts. Your mother thought that was a pathetic birthday party for a nice young man and that anyway, I ought to lose my virginity, before the Challenge."
Aria covered her eyes, turning red. "Dad! Honestly! I don't think parents are supposed to tell children things like that."
"Well, umm, sorry. Anyway, that was all. Ever."
She rolled her eyes and went back to the kitchen to keep the hungover cooks from burning everything.
Rat walked down to his father's old house. I never thought of it as mine. Ilari inherited it, with stipends from the Family Trust for me and Martin. I wonder how long it's been since Ilari bothered to even come check it?
I grew up here, but it wasn't the house that I loved.
He didn't even go in. Just walked around it and around behind the barn. A broken down truck, not worth the cost of repairing it. A rusted heap he vaguely remembered as a car Martin had wrecked, before Rat had even been born. Two old tractors. A lot of brittle old plastic. Everything else had rotted, rusted,
The truck plates, a bit rusty and out of date, but local, were exactly what he needed. He sliced the rusted screws and headed home.
Two weeks later, the army came.