He paused for the reaction, then continued.
"He contacted, then contracted with a mercenary company operating out of Tier Four Hub Budapest Reborn. We suspect, from observation and questioning, that the mercenary company had close ties to the government and often acted as their agents.
"Before Lord Vladimir's plans were completed, he suffered a stroke and died."
Another pause for the Councilors to settle down.
"A City Policeman, Senior Detective Gargarin, investigating the death, found a working dimensional beacon of Budapest Reborn manufacture, in Vinogradov House. An Imperial Fast Response Team responded immediately. While they were present, a portal was opened. Our Inquisitor Gorbechev crossed over and had a very brief exchange with them and retreated back through the portal under fire."
A definite rumble from the watchers. Sounding both angry and alarmed.
"Imperial Intelligence took over the investigation and found a list of properties. We immediately sent people out to look at these properties, which is why we spotted the invasion at such an early stage. Which, yes, was coming from a warehouse owned by Lord Vladimir."
"Just days later, Budapest Reborn opened another portal in Vinogradov House. Our police investigators were on site and noting something odd about Lord Andre Vinogradov and Lord Nikoli Vinogradov, again alerted us. They were ringers. Imposters. A gunbattle in Vinogradov House ensued.
"One imposter was killed, the other captured.
"On the authority of the Imperial Inquistion, an Imperial Agent was sent to Budapest Reborn. He returned with the two missing men, and four more people. One, a citizen of Siberia Max--whose imposter we now have in custody--and two citizens of Tier Two Hub Stuttgart."
A faint smile. "And Budapest Reborn's only portalmaker."
A bit of a group boggle, then thin smiles as they realized that Budapest Reborn was without working portals.
"At this point, I think we need to take a deep breath and do a lot of thinking and planning." He gave a nod to some in the hall. "After consulting with the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees we suggest that we open a portal to Tier Two Hub Stuttgart to return their kidnapped citizens, and speak to them about mutual security arrangments."
Then he definitely had to stop for the noise to die back down.
"We will take no actions without Council support and approval."
"Damn, son. You found a portal beacon?"
Vlad grinned. "Yep. I was with Nastasya, and we were thoroughly lost in that damned maze. There was a communications damper close by, and a damn good thing Tash could telepath Axel. He called in the fast response team and he was the one who fast talked the Mercs. Quite apart from what he did to them when they invaded.
"I misjudged that man so many times."
"So, is he the one who rescued those people? Did they really send him in alone?"
Dina grinned. "Of course! Who else would they send?"
Vlad shook his head. "This is the first I've heard that Andre and Nikoli were retrieved." He started laughing. "And he stole their portalmaker! Oh, that's rich!"
I wonder what they'll have him doing next?
"Father must have been duped."
Nastasya looked over to where Lord Andre had his face buried in his hands, then over to his twin.
Lord Nikoli had tears running down his face as he shook his head. "No one ever duped Father. This is why he wouldn't let us move to the west wing. He had a beacon there."
"Why didn't they take it away?"
They did. The imposters brought another one.
The two ladies had abandoned their husbands and were sitting close together.
Nastasya caught a whisper from Veronica.
"They'll take everything. The government. We'll be destitute . . . I'll have to take the children to my father . . . Surely my father will present Ivan, when he comes of age . . ."
A faint sob from Anastaciya.
Her father's dead, she had nowhere to go.
Not to mention the government can take all hundred and fiftyish servants and their children. Sixty of them. Us four, the Rangers . . . Lord Axel owns us, so he ought to be able to keep us.
She bit her lip. :: Pauli? Pack up your essential computer equipment. It might be time for us to separate ourselves from everything the government may confiscate. ::
:: Oh crap! They wouldn't! . . . We've got the spending authorization. Let's rent some place and get all our stuff gone. And all of Axel's books, too. :: His mental voice never stuttered.
Dimitri chimed in. :: Yes, Miss Ranger. ::
Whoa! I like that! Nastasya Ranger!
A mental snicker from Barf. :: Can you spoof the owner? We could be real secret agents! ::
:: Boys! Keep it honest . . . but that's not a bad idea. Maybe spoof who owns AIV Enterprises? In such a way that you can unspoof it as soon as Lord Axel yells at us? ::
:: Right. :: Pauli sounded much too gleeful. :: Just learning how to do it, in case we ever really needed to disappear. Sorry, Boss, I'll fix it immediately! ::
Nastasya sighed in exasperation. :: Don't get so involved you forget to pack and leave. Axel will get pissed if you got swept up by the government and tossed into a public auction. ::
:: You'd better believe it. :: Axel sounded amused. :: Try Lord Artimey Ivan Vyatkin. ::
Nastasya glanced over her shoulder to where Lord Axel sat, speaking quietly to his twin cousins. I didn't think he could hear me!
:: It's getting hard. ::
She turned back to the two women, kneeling to offer cake. Load them up with carbs, calm them down a bit. "I'm sure Lord Axel will do everything posible to keep the house and the Lords' Trusts."
Anastaciya nodded. "He's turned out to be pretty solid." Her eyes turned to the three men. "What if everyone finds out what they did to Andre and Nikoli?"
"They. Were. Not. Chipped. The bad guys just shaved their hair off and gave them a little stab, to make them think it happened. Nasty People! What a horrible thing to make the Lords think!"
They nodded uncertainly.
"It didn't happen. They'll be fine once they're over the shock and whatever drugs they gave them." Nastasya set the cake plates down, collected empty plates and bowls and retreated.
She dropped off the dirty dishes, paused at the little screen the servants left running to catch the Governor explaining that undoubtedly the Budapest Reborn people had portalmaker clones in training and there was no way to tell how quickly they would get their portal running again.
She shivered. We're a tiny research world. Population just over two million. And because of our research--and needing to import almost all our food--we've got three gates. But surely a Tier Two world will be too civilized to attack us! We doing them a favor!
She detoured to grab an empty cloth sack, then to her locker. She didn't have much, but she carefully folded half her clothes and then wound up stuffing them in the sack.
She left the sack in an empty room in the inner core of the ground floor, convenient to the east-side entrance. Dropped down to pick up five sandwiches to take up to the second floor--they were watching the address from Nikloi and Veronica's living room--where she found Andre back on his feet. "And that's why you made us turn off our phone."
"Yes. I'll set people up in offices to field all calls and teach them how to answer them. And which calls to pass through."
Nikoli frowned. "Where is Mr. Solovsky?"
"Up top . . . they needed Inquisators to take all the compulsions and controls off him. It wasn't very good for his brain. He's telling them everything . . . I . . . do not expect him to come back."
Both men nodded.
"Good." Andre sniffed. "Lenni'll be just as good."
Nikoli nodded. "And Osip. Thank God Father never had them to train himself. When things get back to normal we'll get them executive plates."
If they aren't confiscated.
Nastasya set down plates and retreated as more servants entered with drinks and deserts.
Down the hall, around the corner . . . Pauli, of course, was totally engrossed in his endevors and hadn't packed a thing.
Nastasya eyed Lord Axel's books, stuffed into mismatched bookcases, the whole length of one thirty foot wall.
"And h-he's got b-boxes of books across the h-hall in a store r-r-room." Pauli didn't even look around.
"And there's his parent's old library on the third floor. Good grief. I'll go find more boxes."