Wine of the Gods 26: Embassy (3 page)

Chapter Four
2 Nicholas 1400 yp
Paris, One World

 

 

Rael slipped into the conference room late. Hot under her uniform.
If I'd known Urfa was going to call us all in, I'd have skipped the extra weightlifting. But then they wouldn't call it an emergency meeting, would they?

She eyed the man chatting with Inso and Jiol. He was familiar . . . Ah yes.

She plunked her comp down on the table and tried to subdue what her favorite instructor had called her "hunting male prey" bounce.

Exterior Relations Subdirector of Intelligence Ajki Withione Black Point looked around and blinked. Recovered faster than most men.

Ajki had returned to the post after a decade in the Ministry of Finance. He had clashed badly with the Director of External Affairs, and rumor had it ten years separation hadn't helped much. But even Agni admitted he was good at what he did.

"Subdirector, I don't believe we've met."

He grinned. "But apparently no introductions are needed, either direction."

She giggled just to see how he'd react. Catch of breath, thoughtful expression.

Xiat snickered behind her. "Behave Rael. "

Sigh. "Business. I know. No one ever lets me have any fun." She winked at Ajki anyway and circled the table to sit down two seats from the head of the table. Good view of the door, close enough to the head of the table to shield whoever was sitting there.

Usually Urfa, but when the President came, Urfa ceded that chair to him.

The small conference room had bare walls, the desk at one end cleared.
The man gives away nothing. No wonder people don't believe the easy going tolerant reputation.

There were four men, and four women in the Presidential Director's in-group. Urfa was late for his own meeting.

Rael reached across the table and pulled her comp to her. Tapped away, ostensively ignoring him. She was hitting three fourths of the keys left handed, used only the thumb and index finger of her right hand. Nerve damage. She spotted Ajki spotting it.
Very observant.

The door opened behind him and Urfa sauntered through. "Good, everyone made it, have you introduced yourselves?"

A shaken head from the old Princess, the faintest hint of a smile from the oldest man in the room.

"Ah, So nice to see you reaching out to improve relations with Exterior Relations." Urfa sat at the head of the table and eyed Ajki. "So . . . what brings the XR Subdirector of Intelligence to Paris, this morning?"

"Target Forty-two. Or Comet Fall, as my people there report Earth is calling them these days. One of my agents had an encounter with Endi Dewulfe or Xen Wolfson, as he's apparently named. A very interesting encounter. Utto was in trouble, and rather sarcastically called for the God of Spies to come rescue him. And he did." Ajki leaned back and observed expressions.

Rael focused on her screen and forced herself to breathe to a slow count. Old Inso was smirking, and Jiol rolled her eyes, a faint hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

Urfa raised his eyebrows.

"Dewulfe teleported him off to dinner—perhaps I should mention that Utto had been in a confrontation with an Earther spy when the local enforcers, vicious magical variety, closed in—Dewulfe rescued the Earther as well. Chatted them up over food then took them on a tour."

Ajki frowned down the table at Urfa. "They've got something similar to a gate—a permanent gate like they make. They call them corridors. They link places in the same world, rather than going to other worlds. They use them for transportation. Thousands of kilometers crossed in a single step. Dewulf pointed out how valuable, what a savings in time and fuel, what a nice treaty tidbit they made."

Ajki crossed his arms. "He said he was going to set up an empty world as neutral territory. Every polity could build an embassy there, and hopefully talk instead of fight. He said he'd call you in a month. Which by now should be next week."

Rael froze.
Breathe. Again. Relax. Smile. Look interested, as if you were speculating, not panicking.

I will see him again.

Oh shit.

Chapter Five
15 July, 3515 ce
Nowhereistan, Earth

 

 

Captain Karl Mantigo edged toward the door, three-fourths of his attention on his vid screen. On the President's speech to the United Earth Council.

Damn it, this is more frackin' important than kissing up to colonists!

President of the World Howard Carmichael took the podium and the restless growls of the angry background conversations slowly died.

"Gentlemen, when you start a war, it's no good getting your feelings hurt because the other guy dares to fight back. Or in this case, that this Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation intervened. What we did was unconscionable. That biowarfare agent could have killed every person on that world. The hubris, the intolerance, the arrogant assumption of Godhood has to end." The president looked around the room.

Carmichael had served his usual three terms, and retired . . . only to be called back when President de Ladmirault resigned under threat of impeachment when the gate was destroyed.

And hopefully he'll stay on top until some semblance of rational thought returns to all those Councilmen.

"A world where we can all talk, carry out diplomacy, is an excellent idea. We will send an ambassador, with staff, and apparently we'll need to build an office."

A universal growl from the Council. One voice carried angry questions.

"We should not be surprised that they are giving out no information about who or what organization is backing them up. We've seen that Elf . . . But for now the Comet Fall people appear to be working on their own to set up a place where we can engage other worlds diplomatically. We have shown what sort of conscienceless brutes we are. So get me some recommendations for the position of ambassador. And find someone with experience in building in a howling wilderness."

One man pressed his lips together in disapproval, then spoke. "What about this nonsense about sending some people to join this Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation?"

"I have already contacted the man I wish to place inside their organization, and a sociologist to study them as well." The President glanced at the camera, then back at the councilors. "The game changing potential of these permanent gates and the dimensional corridors is mind boggling. Think about importing raw material from mining worlds at essentially no gate cost. The economic boom will take us into . . ."

 

Mantigo's chron buzzed. He glanced at the clock, cursed and ran for the assembly ground.
Poor damned Colonists were marooned for better than two years. I shouldn't resent their needing help with predators. Thank God there aren't any Natives there. If they were hostile, if they'd killed a single colonist, we'd probably have orders to hunt them as well. Unless the stories going around are complete fabrications.

I just wish . . . well I'll catch up on these "permanent gates" and "dimensional corridors" when I get back from the big game hunt.

Because I think the world—the Mulitverse—is about to change.

***

Napoleon Zambrano bounced on his heels in frustration.
I should be there. Dammit, I'm a better reporter than Helen . . .
He shut down the internal whine and listened to the President.

"I have instructed the Head of the IBI to request that the gate from this Embassy World be opened to our gate compound in Asia. We have, perhaps, a week until it happens."

The Congressmen grumbled, en masse, but didn't actually interrupt.

A week?
Napoleon was grinning as he turned to the Chief. "As it happens, I've kept my Gate Security Clearance up to date. Shall I start packing?"

Chapter Six
Summer 1398
Black Island, Comet Fall

 

 

The two oldest witches, Jade the Spider Woman and Teri the angelic blonde with the heart of pure arsenic, had very reluctantly allowed Rior to return, allowed him to show them some magical techniques.

And I learned a hell of a lot about theirs.

They paid lip service to the traditional witch pyramid organization, but as outcasts, they lacked witches in the upper echelons who would have taught them.

One damn it all. I'd just decided I liked this male thing, and now I find out that there are advantages to being female.
He considered the two women's backstabbing rivalry . . .
Or maybe not.

The younger witches were appallingly poorly trained. The trio—blonde, brunette, and redhead—claimed to have been raised in a "Speed bubble" that at a twenty-to-one ratio had compacted eighteen years of growth into barely a year of elapsed time for the rest of the world. It was enough to make a Oner very wary, and a former Princess of the One feel guilty for taking advantage of three naïve teens, however horny. And now pregnant. Untrained, poorly socialized and lacking even a basic stop menstruation spell, which would have prevented the pregnancies.

The three serving women, including the one who looked a bit like a frog, had no magic. They were pregnant too.
At least I didn't fuck the Spider Woman.

The men . . .
Mag of Gendo calls himself a Sea King. Franc, Hat, Ajay, and Bender call themselves mages. They all have the power gene that is so close an analogue to the One gene on their Y-chromosome. And not a single smidgen of magical training among them.

I'll find a way to use this to my advantage.

***

Dagger hated the ten day stays in the fast house.

Oh, Arrow had been there, and Epee, Falchion and Gauntlett. But the younger trio—now the older trio—had their mothers with them, and Arrow had her mother when she was out. Betelgeuse, Dagger's older sister, had only needed to be sped up by a couple of years to be a teenager and grasp power.

Their mother had been sick . . . well, half morphed into something nasty and a bit spider-like. . . so Dagger was guiltily glad she didn't get to see Jade very often.

When she was little, the breaks from the House had been both wonderful and lonely. She'd explored all around,
run.
Learned to swim and . . . spent a lot of time alone.

And Teri had had Arrow get pregnant, so
Teri
would advance to the Waning half, ahead of all the other Full Moons.

Then the orgy on the beach—Old Gods, I'm glad Betelgeuse and I were off getting lessons!

So practically everyone else was pregnant. Well, not the four eldest.

Even poor Miss Herriette who had at least tried to be a substitute Mother to Dagger, along with her birth daughter Falchion, but she was too afraid of Teri to protect a child from her manipulations. One of Teri's test spells had turned Miss Herriette into something a bit toad-like, the only time she'd tried. And the poor woman had gotten pulled into the orgy, and was expecting. Nanny Mason and Becca, too.

Teri was already talking about what she'd do to make the babies "useful."

And now Jade was back to looking human, back to trying to act like her mother.

Less than a year, her time. Ten years for me. I saw her three times that whole ten years.

Betelgeuse's actual age was close to her calendar age; she'd only added four years. More or less, no one actually kept track. But she claimed to be fifteen, and had grasped power.

Dagger eyed the tall dark haired woman, and didn't really remember her, not as a Mom. Her memories were mainly of meeting a stranger every few years. The stranger who was trying to worm her way back into Dagger's life, after she'd left her to Teri and the ten days at a time stretches in the house, hadn't gotten a fond welcome.

And was concentrating her teaching on her older daughter.

"There's no point in training you until you've grasped power. Go practice meditating, or something." Jade shooed her away.

I should have pretended to be glad to see her.
Dagger slipped quietly away, into the main house, where Teri and Jade lived.

The mirror showed her the latest evidence of Teri's experiments. Black hair with a dramatic white streak, off center to the right. Dagger bit her lip, and didn't let the tears come. Put her hands to her face and swept the hair out of the way. She looked carefully.
She didn't change my face. It's just color, so it hardly matters. I don't even know what color my hair is supposed to be.
She glanced at her eyes, looked away.
They've always been blue, I think. Just, not this pale, like an aquamarine.
She headed back out starting the meditation exercises as she walked, quieting her mind and pulling it all in where no one could hurt her. She slipped around through the brush and sat where she could spy on Betelgeuse's lessons.

Smokey and Sunset walked out to practice their own magic. Jade sneered, and gave them a few pointers. Then Teri brought in Arrow, Epee, Falchion, and Gauntlet.

"Really, Jade. Where has Dagger gone off to this time? You really need to start her lessons as well."

Dagger stood up and started easing away, keeping behind the thickest growth of plants.

"She hasn't grasped power. What's the point?"

"Of course she hasn't. She's much too young, hasn't had her first period yet. But she needs to memorize the charms and meditate regularly."

By the time Dagger had circled around and walked into the clearing from a different direction, they were arguing about climbing the volcano.

"We missed the Summer Solstice, because of that storm. It's three days until the full moon. That would be a good time to be up there." Teri smirked. "Unless you're not up to it yet."

Dagger sat down beside Epee and started on her meditations again. Little sparks danced across her fingers, and she squelched them quickly.
Teri will do something awful to me, when she finds out. Probably use me to breed babies for her to play with.

"Fine. We'll collect some food and leave in the morning!" Jade got up and walked off in a huff.

Teri sniffed. "So, let's do a bit of triad practice. Dagger, just . . . pretend, so Betelgeuse and Arrow can practice. Smokey, Sunset, let's . . . " Teri broke off and glared past them.

Dagger turned and looked. "It's that man!" she hissed.

The trio turned eagerly around, all bright-eyed . . .

"Rior. You are not welcome here. This is training for witches, and whatever the hell you are, you are definitely not a witch." Teri was glowing, gathering power.

The man inclined his head, looking cautious, but not afraid. "And the hike up the volcano?"

Teri growled, and Dagger looked for a place to hide.

"If we catch you spying on one of our ceremonies, we will kill you. Begone. You've done enough harm already."

"Certainly. Oh . . . I took a look at their prison." Rior didn't glance toward Smokey and Sunset. The twitches in their magic was probably enough to tell him he'd scored. "Not that there was much to see. It's on the other side of one of their gates. They just guard the access. Which means there aren't many men on guard there. As there's so little to guard."

"That you can see." Jade eyed him thoughtfully. "How long did you watch?"

"Three days. At shift change, they only swap four people from the other side of the gate. Another twenty on this side."

Smokey strolled over to face him. "So . . . can you sneak us in, and then out again with the witches?"

Jade snorted. "Sleep or stun spells would do as well."

Teri hunched her shoulders. "The prison is only about a mile from the Tavern. We dare not throw magic around so close to Harry. Not to mention how often witches eat there. How'd you like to interrupt Answer's dinner, eh? There's a reason I'm taking it slow and being careful."

Jade glared. Shrugged. "You're right. So we sneak in, using as little magic as possible. I'm not going to stop studying the gates though."

"The . . . yes . . . if we . . . more likely one of you . . . could make gates." Rior started grinning as the possibilities blossomed in his mind. And backtracking the conversation. "Just where are you studying the gates? At the Crossroads? Do you actually have a corridor that close to the prison?"

Teri curled a lip. "Where else could we get close enough to study them?
And
I've been watching the prison. Which we ought to be able to sneak in and out of."

"Soon!" Smokey shot a glare at Teri.

Rior cleared his throat. "Then there's the timing. It would be easier to sneak in during a winter storm, with the guards huddling in their coats and poor visibility, especially at night." Rior watched their reaction, reluctant acceptance.

Nods all around.

He looked pointedly at the young witches.

In the month he'd been gone Arrow had ballooned, thanks to the fast house.

Falchion shrugged. "We'll hurry things along, so we're recovered and ready when the time comes."

Arrow gave her a sharp look.
Not going to let her beat her.

Dagger concentrated on hearing, as Rior eased closer to Sunset. "What's with the competitive pregnancies? What does it matter?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Giving birth is one of the big steps up in power. Becoming a grandmother is another."

"I know that."

"And Teri is about to become a grandmother years ahead of Jade. As the sole, and Senior Waning Half Moon, Teri will be the unchallengeable leader of the Pyramid."

"No matter that Arrow just skipped about five years of her life?"

"She'll be the first Crescent Moon of that age group." Sunset shrugged. "She may regret it in the long run. Now go away."

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