"Yep. So these rooms are all empty, and we can take these stairs up to the fourth floor, which is a little bit attic-like except for the solarium."
The stair door let them out into . . a green house. Glass roof and windows, plants in a wild variety of pots and boxes, winding trails through it . . ."
"I don't think the current Lords even know this is up here. It's ours."
A little old man peered around at them, a pitcher in one hand. He frowned a bit uncertainly at Vlad, then went back to sticking his finger in the dirt of the pots, and occasionally watering them.
"Old Fedya started planting every seed he could get . . . well, he had a bad grow-in . . . forty years ago, something like that. And all he does is try to grow things. When they get too big, they get transplanted outdoors. Lord Axel is good about finding spots for them, where the gardeners won't bother them."
"So everyone likes Lord Axel?" Forty-one stopped to look up a tree . . . "Is this a peach tree?"
Old Fedya looked around, ducked his head in a nod.
"And he doesn't count as 'the lords don't know about it?' I guess I understand that."
Nastasya bit her lip. "Yes, but they know he's still a Lord. Everyone's in a tizzy over who the Ladies will sell to him, and what he will do."
"I asked him what he was going to do with a hundred servants, and he said he'd mostly leave them here, just pick up the expenses."
Nastasya nodded. "That makes sense." She hunched her shoulders. "I don't suppose he can help many of the kids, like he saved us four."
Vlad shook his head. "But he appears to be trying."
Nastasya nodded. "It's just that I have so many friends getting close to the age . . . or over it, and sort of dull and uninterested anymore. Or gone. Sold."
She led them down the hallway and out of the miniature park. There was a good sized screen set up in the corner, where people down both hallways could see it. There was a fair crowd in this hall. Sitting on the floor near the screen, some in chairs, then people standing.
An older woman leaned to hiss at Nastasya. "The Governor's going to make a speech about that attack yesterday!"
The usual clapping on the screen, a brief introduction . . .
"Five ///go back and put in time markers/// days ago the City Police found a dimensional beacon while investigating a crime. A search of a computer on the premices gave us a list of addresses. The Imperial troops were in the processs of checking those sites when the early stages of an invasion were found at one of the addresses. With this early discovery, we were able to shut the portal and kill or capture all the invaders in a few hours. Two Imperial Mentalists and three Imperial Soldier Cyborgs were killed in stopping this invasion."
Vlad eyed all the people behind the Governor. That's the guy who was giving orders here, and I'm pretty sure that's the Inquisitor. And that brown-haired fellow with the good tan sure looks a lot like Axel.
"We owe a lot to those men, and rest of the men who threw themself into the battle to save our World."
"Why Tier Four Hub Budapast Reborn attacked us is something we've been asking the prisoners all day, and the news is not good.
"They believe that the Enemy has found and attacked the Three Hundred. They believe that there will be no zivvy deliveries this year. They believe the Three Hundred have the Plague and cannot make zivvy. They doubt that the powerless former Three Hundred will be able to teach their successors how to make it."
The Governor took a deep breath. "Therefore, in case they are correct, I am suspending all chipping except for criminal convictions. Our next scheduled delivery is June first of next year. So chipping is stopped for the next six months. If we do not receive that delivery, routine chipping will remain haulted until such a time as regular deliveries of zivvy can be guaranteed."
The teenagers watching burst into cheers, whistles, and clapping. They drowned out the TV, but Vlad caught Nastasya poking a couple of boys. "I thought you guys were lined up to get Exec Plates? Why are you cheering?"
"Huh. Their Lordshipss changed their minds and kicked us out this morning. 'We're getting properly trained Secretaries' they said, with their noses up in the stratosphere."
The other boy nodded. "I dunno what happened, they were only gone a day and a half, but they're different. Worse."
Yeah, they were. Vlad backed away. Pulled out his phone and tapped for text and entered Axel's number.
IS THERE ANY INDICATION THAT THEY SENT INFILTRATORS OVER IN THE 36 HOURS BEFORE THE ATTACK?
He sent it with the priority police code.
On the screen, he could see the brown-haired man look down.
An answer popped up.
NO INFO ON THAT. WHAT HAPPENED?
YOUR COUSINS WERE MISSING FOR THAT TIME. RETURED LAST NIGHT AND ARE ACTING OFF.
INTELLIGENT AND DANGEROUS.
On the screen he could see the brown haired man leaned a bit toward the Inquisitor, the boss type leaned in to look from the other side. Then brown-hair stepped back and slid behind other people.
DON'T DO ANYTHING UNTIL WE GET THERE. FIFTEEN MINUTES. TELL ONE OF THE KIDS TO GO UNLOCK THE BACK DOORS.
And there was Nastasya leaning over to read the messages. Eyes widening. She stepped into the crowd, and he spotted her making gestures.
And as he made his way back to the stairs, he wasn't a bit surprised to see her three buddies coming from the other direction.
Nastasya grinned. "I'm on a secret mission to unlock the back doors."
Vlad eyed the trio. "Can you telepath Lord Axel?" Four nods. "You three might find some spots to watch the grand hall from, watch where Lord Andre and Lord Nikoli go."
Pauli grinned. "I have a f-few m-micro cams spotted around."
Vlad eyed him. "But not on the west side."
"Until a f-few d-days ago."
"I hope I never have to arrest Lord Axel. I'm not at all sure what you lot might do." Grins all around. "Yes, Pauli, you watch your cams. I'll go down and tell them I'm done, who knows if the Imperials are done or not, and whatever, to hold their attention while Nastasya unlocks the back doors and then gets the heck out of range of any violence."
"Dimitri, Varf? Try to stay unnoticed."
Grins. "We'll practically be invisible." They hustled off the way they'd come.
Nastasya grinned. "Now the question is, can you find your way out of here?"
"Down a level, duck through Axel's childhood apartment, and down the front stairs."
"Perfect! But use these stairs." She followed the boys. "On the third floor they--now--open right into the apartment. On the first floor, it's just off the breakfast room and I'll pop down the outside hallway and unlock the back doors."
He opened the door to the third floor and glanced back.
She was already halfway down the next flight with a cheery "See ya!" floating back.
Guess I'm not in love, since I just sent her out to do the most dangerous task.
He hustled through the apartment and down the first flight of stairs. Stepped out to the balcony that gave access to the old Council Hall. Then more decoriously down the last flight. letting his bootheels click on the mahagony steps and then on the marble floor as he walked out into the Grand Hall.
Lord Andre stepped out of the last office, Mr. Solovsky's antechamber to the late Lord Vladimir's office, and frowned at him.
"I rather think policemen should use the servant's stairs."
"Indeed? Have you had much experience with the police, Lord Andre?"