"Well . . . the news is mixed." Nastasya looked at her brothers, or cousins or whatever. She'd heard that in some households it was different, but in this one? They might not know who their fathers were, but they all looked enough like the legitimate Vinogradov's—and most of the other servant's children—to make it pretty certain they were all either the old lord's bastards or his twin son's.
I wish I had red hair! I wouldn't mind being Lord Axel's bastard.
"Lord Axel is back from wherever he got to this time."
All three boys grinned.
"W-we h-heard." Pauli grinned. "I c-can't wait to s-see what he fools the tw-twins into this t-time!"
The awkward little attic space was cramped with the four of them and Pauli's computer equipment in it. And probably illegal.
"Actually he's up to something with His Lordship. I'm not . . ." sure I should get your hopes up! "sure what. Something about the Twin's big fiftieth bash in six months."
"When we get to find out if we're being given to Nikoli or Andre, or stuck here, and whether they're going to keep living here or set up a separate house hold." Barf—Varfolomey—snorted. I haven't a clue which way I'd like it to be."
Nastasya nodded. "Any luck on the trace today?"
Pauli shook his head. "S-same as ever. C-cab picked him up at a public venue on the west side of the Old Town."
Dimitri grinned. "So, he's got a sweetheart somewhere around there. That's a pretty nice part of the city."
"Now that it's gotten cleaned up. It was pretty bad for awhile." Barf leaned to look at the map Pauli was displaying. Dozens of red dots, Lord Axel's pickup spots.
"I'll b-bet he's secretly m-married and has three k-kids, at least."
Nastasya glared at him, then leaned and put her finger back behind the spray of dots. "Maybe he's got one of the old cliff houses."
"Now. But years ago . . . How old is he, anyway?"
Pauli laughed. "Older than he l-looks. Everyone keeps s-saying he looks younger than 48, but I ch-checked central records. He's 49. Going to be f-fifty in three months."
"Really? Oh man, His Lordship will kick him out of here . . ."
"Yeah, and I heard his trust wasn't any big deal." Barf looked worried. "I sort of wondered if he might buy us."
"M-maybe he's married a r-rich widow?"
Nastasya sighed. "And we're running out of time to figure it out. I . . . guess I'll like having a real job . . . but I hope I'm not too stupid." She blinked damp eyes. Please make it work! Please! I'd love to be a spy. Really! And my friends would be excellent executive secretaries.
They looked around glumly and they all shrugged.
Getting chipped was as inevitable as puberty, and less avoidable.
They slipped out of the attic and headed for their bunks.
A Novel Idea
Once he had eliminated the sappy romances from his reading list of best sellers, he found himself reading the most appallingly inaccurate police and espionage thrillers imaginable.
I know I've been busy, but how did I ever miss these amazingly bad stories?
Then he read how-to books, and Learn to Plot Like a Pro, and . . .
Had a major attack of indigestion when he realize the kids were missing.
They didn't come for Nastasya for testing, damn it. They took all four at once. Damn, damn, damn.
He ground his teeth, sat down at his computer and started writing the worst possible combination of a ridiculous Romance Hero and Heroin imaginable in an over-the-top plot to stop the assassination of a regional governor . . .
And absolutely did not have to blink away watery eyes when they showed up three days later still, mostly, with hair. The boys kept out of sight until their hair had grown out enough to cover the plates. Nastasya brushed her hair to hide the shaved spot with the stitched down flap of shaved scalp, and as far as Axel could tell, neither of the twins noticed that Mr. Solovosky even had three new assistants, let alone that they had executive plates.
And the Boss didn't call.
He gave up on his clutzy moron of a Hero and his Idiot Girlfriend, and brought in a Real Policeman, to do the heavy lifting. It was quiet freeing to manipulate the whole thing, infuriating when he got carried away and wrote something he'd swear he hadn't intended but it worked out better than what he's sort of planned.
And . . . might have happened to find a few hours to work with the kids, on a few methods of avoiding notice, mental shielding, and monitoring their grow-in period, when the zivvy, the living wires were growing into their brains.
Not that Nastasya needed more than a single lesson to pick up the beginner's techniques.
He wrote an even more ridiculous final battle, and a really stupid wrap up scene, where the assassin was led off in restraints, the Hero proposed marriage to the Idiot and got turned down. The Idiot went off to find the policeman, who spotted her coming and departed quickly.
The end. And I am so happy to be done with it! I really don't have what it takes to write stuff like this!
He saved it, copied it to a tab, and went down to dinner. Good timing. Tomorrow's my birthday and I'll pack up and get out of the place.
The twins, as usual, bracketed their father, their wives sat together down from Andre, and chattered, ignoring the three children old enough to eat at the table, and Axel sat a chair down from Nikoli, also being ignored.
I wonder what Inspector Smirnov will investigate next?
Wait, no! I am not writing a sequel!
They'd started dinner late, and by the time the soup and salad courses had passed, the children started whining and were whisked away. Then the fish course. Imported halibut.
We don't have many farms, a few truck gardens, don't fish . . . Maybe a plot to isolate the world and starve the small population? No! Damn it, it was an interesting thing to do. To see if I could.
And anyway, there wasn't anything about a small population like here. I put some Natives in.
So it'll have to be something different.
Then little medallions of beef, and fresh green beans . . . Imported beef, possibly local produce. I really ought to write in one of these ridiculous drawn out meals. The purpose of which will be to contrast not much of a birthday dinner for me tomorrow, I suppose.
Last year Dear Uncle had indigestion and ate sparingly in his rooms, the other's went out to dinner, and I had some excellent chicken in peace and quiet.
It's going to be hard to top that.
Or maybe he'll draw dinner out past midnight, then tell me happy birthday. And if he knows how old I really am . . . tell me to go pack. God, that would be so nice!
A loud crash of breaking china. Axel jerked around as his uncle, half his face sagging, leaned and toppled over, taking his chair with him.
Axel leaped up, pulling out his phone and hitting the emergency code.