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A Little Blue
10/21/09 1030 outside Rathcormac, Ireland
Elsa stared at the large stone house in front of them and turned to Ciaran. “Please tell me that Uncle Mike is known for his practical jokes.”
“Not that I’m aware of.” He twisted to look at his uncle. “Well?”
Mike shook his head. “This isn’t a joke. This is my father’s house. Why?”
Victoria took a deep breath. “This is the home of the madman with the double barreled shotgun who threatened to kill Ciaran yesterday.”
Mike frowned. “He does have a gun like that. What were you doing here?”
Ceres shrugged. “Some helpful person at the pub in Rathcormac told me you lived here when I asked about you.”
Mike blinked. “I haven’t lived here in over a decade.”
Elsa didn’t quite snarl but her canines gleamed in the sunlight. “We didn’t get that far in the discussion with your father. We asked if you lived here and your father whipped out a shotgun and threw us off of the property.” She smiled maliciously. “I wanted to go express our appreciation to the person who sent us here and almost got Ciaran shot, but he wouldn’t let me.”
Mike looked at Ciaran. “Appreciation? What does that mean?”
“It would have probably involved Elsa throwing him through the strongest wall she could find.”
“No, I learned a cool spell from Dominique. It makes the recipient violently allergic to the tiniest amount of alcohol,” she smiled broadly, “for the rest of his or her life. He looked like he lived in that pub, so it would be an appropriate reward for being so helpful.” Her smile turned beatific. “I mean, I’d be helping him to stay healthier. Alcohol is so hard on the human body after all. It is a poison.”
“Please don’t let her tell Linda about that spell,” Mike muttered to Ciaran. “I like visiting the pub now and again.”
Elsa grinned abruptly. “You might as well talk in a normal tone. From this close I can hear you whether you whisper or shout. And I like you more than I like Linda, so you’re safe.”
Mike gave Ciaran a worried look. “Let me talk to my father first.”
“You go ahead. You’ll notice I’m still standing in the road. I intend to stay here unless Jeremiah invites me onto his property. I take threats to kill me seriously. More importantly, so do my ladies. And since all of us shoot back, if he does do that again when I’m not on his property, I just might be able to talk to his grave a lot sooner than anyone expects.”
Mike blinked. “You’d kill your grandfather?”
“At this point he’s not my grandfather. He’s some man who threatened to kill me for being on his property. While it’s a stretch, he was technically within his rights in defending his property that way. However, I’m not on his property anymore and if he points a weapon at me again I’ll take it as an attack.”
Mike looked him up and down slowly. “You are a lot like Thomas and my father. There’s no give in you.”
Ciaran shrugged. “I think there is, but that just might be my opinion. I don’t want to kill Jerimiah Ahern, but I don’t want him to kill me a lot more than I don’t want to kill him. I don’t plan to kill anyone and neither do my ladies.” He smiled suddenly. “I think Iain said it best.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that if he killed everyone who was an idiot, humanity would never recover from the additional population loss and his daughters would never find husbands and tamers.”
Mike blinked and laughed. He shook his head. “I shouldn’t find that funny.” Then he squared his shoulders. “Let me see if my father will talk to me.”
Ciaran frowned. “Mother said you were the black sheep of the family. Considering Mother drove him almost to apoplexy, how did you manage to beat her out for the title?”
Mike grinned. “I’m his son and therefore any disobedience on my part is magnified much more than on Martha’s since she’s just a woman. Father blames Rafael more for her behavior than he does her. However, having said that, after that fight with Father, Martha became the black sheep of the family. He actually started speaking to me again, which is the only reason I can talk to him for you now.”
Ciaran sighed. “Well, Mother asked me to talk to him, so I have to try.” He looked at Ceres. “Don’t put out any sentries. I don’t want to look like we’re threatening him. Oh, and remind me to let Mother know her father isn’t dead. I’ll probably remember when I tell her that I gave her message and she freaks when I then tell her his reply, but she should know before that.”
“I will,” Ceres said. “Tamsin, would you and Libby go stand over there somewhere?”
Baker looked at the indicated area off to the left and a dozen feet away. “If you want, we will, but I’m curious as to why.”
“If Jerimiah fires that shotgun at us, the pellet spread will cover this area. You won’t get shot over there if things go poorly.”
Baker blinked. “What about all of you?”
“I will be in my battle form in front of Ciaran the instant the shotgun gets raised and I can easily survive several rounds from anything smaller than Ciaran’s grenades. I won’t like it, but I won’t die. But the area around us is likely to become,” she paused, “interesting and I don’t want you and Libby caught in any possible crossfire.”
“So you’ll be in front of me,” Ciaran said. “Where will I be?”
“You’ll be not being shot,” the Tantrasaur said calmly. “Is there a problem with not being shot?”
He chuckled suddenly. “I suspect that if I say I have a problem with not being shot Elsa might grab Tamsin’s pistol and shoot me in the leg. That would certainly get me out of the line of fire.”
“I wouldn’t. If I did then you couldn’t deliver the message to him,” Elsa said. “I would think about it, though.” She grinned. “I am allowed to think things without being evil, right?”
Mike snorted. “It depends on what you’re thinking. Sometimes even thought is a sin.” He headed for the house as Baker and Libby moved a short distance down the road and Ciaran’s girls coalesced around him.
“Is that true,” Elsa asked Ciaran.
“That just sucks.”
He chuckled as Mike knocked on the door. “Yes, it can.”
Her ears flicked. “Do I really have to become Catholic?”
He turned to look at her. “I have never said you had to. You don’t even have to become Christian, although I’d like your soul to be saved.” His eyes narrowed. “Did anyone else say you had to become Catholic?”
“No, I guess I just figured it was expected of us.”
“If you search your heart and decide to accept Jesus as your Savior then I will welcome you with open arms, Elsa. If you decide to tell me that you do and you don’t, well I will find out eventually and I can’t abide liars. More importantly you’d be lying to God and He does not forgive that sort of thing. If you do not want to accept Jesus into your heart and are honest that you don’t I will respect that and I won’t treat you any differently than if you did.”
“Doesn’t the Bible say you’re supposed to convert people?”
“It does. It also says I’m supposed to kill fornicators and adulterers. I suppose I should, but no man is perfect. I just try to live a Godly life as best I can and, if possible, be an always imperfect and yet good man as a living example to others of what they too can be.” He broke off as the door opened and the white haired man spoke to Michael. “What are they saying?”
Elsa glanced at him. “Privacy violation?”
“Don’t,” he said quietly.
“Michael is telling him who you are. His responses so far have been ‘I don’t care’.”
“That’s easy to believe.”
The old man reached behind him, grabbed his shotgun and stepped around a suddenly silent Michael. The women around Ciaran shifted and he slowed, stopping a dozen yards away. “I told you not to come back,” he snarled.
“I heard you,” Ciaran said as he stepped between Victoria and Spirit. He carefully stopped before stepping off the road. He held his shotgun easily, balanced for instant use on the tactical sling it rode on. “And I am not on your property. And, my Mother’s father or not, even with her request that I deliver a message to you, if you point that shotgun at me now I will kill you where you stand.”
The man’s shotgun twitched. “What is your message?”
“Are you Jeremiah Ciaran Ahern, the father of Martha Ahern Sullivan?”
“I am.” Jeremiah didn’t quite spit the words.
“He’s telling the truth,” Victoria said quietly.
“My mother, your daughter, thought you were dead. She asked me to tell your grave that she is sorry that the last words that passed between you and here were ones of anger. She also wants you to know she’s sorry you never got to meet your grandson and granddaughter.”
When he didn’t say anything else for several seconds, Jeremiah glared at him. “Is that it,” he asked waspishly.
“From my mother, yes it is.” Even as the words left his mouth, Ciaran realized that this man, his flesh and blood, had managed to get under his skin like no one had been able to do in a long time. His anger at both the man and the situation made him reckless. “From me, no it is not.”
“You have a message for me?” Jeremiah smirked at him. “What is it, boy?”
“I see what you’ve done.”
Jeremiah blinked. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know what hurt you so much. I don’t care. But this wall of anger that you’ve built to keep away the rest of the world is not truly you, Jeremiah Ciaran Ahern.”
Jeremiah purpled and the shotgun lifted. It stopped suddenly as Ciaran whipped up his and Jeremiah found himself looking over the hole of the muzzle into a single green eye. He swallowed hard. “I am not afraid of you and you know nothing about me.”
Ciaran’s muzzle didn’t waver. “I know everything important about you. I know that you’re a good man. How do I know that? I have met one of your children and been raised by another. Both of them are good people, and while each of them has regrets about their relationship with you, neither of them hates you. So you have raised at least two good children and that doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen if just the mother is involved. And my father certainly must respect you. He doesn’t respect people like the side you show the world now, so you must not really be like that.”
Jeremiah scowled. “What makes you think your father cares one whit about me or my opinion? He certainly ignored me and it to marry Martha against my wishes.”
“Rafael Andrew Sullivan is a good man and a Godly man and a good father, but when he hates, he hates forever. If he hated you, he would never have let my mother name me after you. And my mother never expected to see you again in this lifetime, so naming me after you would have done nothing to get her back into your good graces. Therefore she must have done it out of love for you.”
“You? You were named after me?”
“I take it Uncle Mike didn’t get the chance to tell you my name. I am Ciaran Declan Sullivan.” The shotgun dropped and Ciaran opened his left eye. “And like it or not, acknowledge it or not, I am your grandson.”
Jeremiah’s scowl deepened. “This changes nothing.”
“I knew it wouldn’t.”
Jeremiah gave him a puzzled look. “Then why say it?”
“Some things need to be said.” He started to turn to Ceres and stopped. “I’ll be in the area for a couple of more days and, unless he throws me out, I’ll be staying at Uncle Mike’s. If you have any messages for my parents I’ll courier them for you. Ceres, let’s go.”
Mike caught up with them before they’d gone a mile. “Was that really necessary?”
“I told my mother that I’d deliver her messages to her father. We both thought it would be to his grave, but I do what I say I will.”
“I was talking about calling my father out about his attitude.”
“Yes, that was necessary. I don’t usually tell people they’re being jerks because it makes me feel good. I usually just ignore them unless they get in my face about it.” Ciaran looked Mike up and down. “So, did he have anything to say after I left?”
Mike shook his head. “He didn’t say a single word to me. He went into the house and locked the door.”
Ciaran shook his head. “Was your father the only person you wanted me to visit?”
Mike blinked in surprise. “I still have some questions about what happened.”
“I thought you might. I’m not going to answer them, so I’m moving on. Maybe I’ll feel like answering them later. Are we visiting anyone else today?”
Mike gritted his teeth. “I thought we’d see your grandmother.”
“Wouldn’t she be back at your father’s house?”
“I’m not talking about your maternal grandmother, Ciaran. We’d have to go to the cemetery to visit her. I’m talking about Rionach Sullivan, Rafael’s mother.” He pronounced it Ree-in-ock.
Ciaran blinked. “Father told me she’s dead.”
“And my sister told you that our father was too. They haven’t been home in a while and things have gotten bad everywhere. They probably figured pretty much everyone on both sides had died already. So, do you want to see her?”
“I would. Do I have uncles and aunts from Father’s side too?”
Mike shook his head. “Rafael had two brothers and a sister. One of his brothers and his sister is with God. They died in a fire. As for David, nobody knows what happened to him. His wife and children all died in the Red Plague and one day Rionach found a note in his house. It said he had gone for a walk and that if he didn’t come back then his property was to go to his mother. That was five years ago and nobody has seen him since.”
Ciaran nodded. “I’ll let Father know.” He pulled out his computer. “Do you have yours?”
“I’m not planning to call anyone so I left it at home.”
“It does a lot more than just that,” Ceres said. “Watch Ciaran.”
Ciaran pulled up a map of the area and handed the computer to Mike. “Where is Rionach’s home?”
Mike stared at the screen for a second and touched a spot. “Here, I think.” He blinked when the screen changed showing a line. “What’s this?”
“It’s routing what it thinks is the best path to there from here.” Ciaran took it back and zoomed in on a particular home. “Is that it?”
Mike stared at the screen for a while before nodding. “It’s hard to tell from above, that still looks like it. There’s a burned out house not too far from her home and that,” he touched the display, “looks like it’s in the right location relative to her house.”
“Once you’re at a place you can enter it into the computer’s memory,” Ceres said. “Not only can you use it to map how to return, you can send the coordinates to someone else so they can too. The computers also have a lot of the old address information in them just in case you have that available too.”
“That’s impressive,” Mike said.
“It’s got a lot of other functions too,” Ciaran said as he put the computer away.
Ceres glanced at him. Are you going to offer them twee?
I don’t know yet. What if Jeremiah demands one too? I think it’ll keep for a little while yet.
10/21/09 1245 outside Rathcormac, Ireland
The home they stopped at was a neat looking cottage quite unlike the stone manor that Jeremiah Ahern lived in. Mike gestured towards it. “That’s Rionach’s home.”
“After the Ahern place,” Baker said, “I’m surprised it’s so small.”
“The Ahern’s have always had more money than most,” Mike replied, “and some of my ancestors were a tad extravagant in showing it. The Sullivans aren’t poor by any means, but they’ve always lived frugally. Their money tends to stay in their investments, herds and farms.” He grinned. “Two years before the Red Plague, Rionach bought a small distillery just outside of Cork. It was still running but she said it needed to be more efficient and produce more. Everyone thought she’d finally gone mad when she spent money to upgrade it. Instead it was a Godsend. Now it supplies all of the medicinal alcohol and a decent portion of the whiskey to this part of Ireland.”
He went up the walk and knocked firmly on the door. A moment later a young woman opened it. “Yes?”
“Hello Shannon, I bring news to Rionach Sullivan about her family.”
The woman nodded. “Hello, Mr. Ahern. I will inform Mrs. Sullivan and see if she will receive you.” The door shut.
Michael grinned at Ciaran’s surprised look. “I never said she wasn’t a bit odd. I’d say she was touched in the head from the Revenge War and the Red Plague like a lot of people were, but Rionach has been like this since I was a wee lad. Even her husband followed her rules. Oh, and you’re supposed to call her Mrs. Sullivan.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ciaran replied.
The door opened and the woman looked out at them. “Mrs. Sullivan will receive you in the sitting room, but not all of you. There isn’t enough room. Decide who will attend and please come inside.”
Ciaran looked around but Ceres was already issuing commands. “Elsa, take charge. You, Spirit and Kentarch will establish a security perimeter around the house.”
Elsa scowled even as she nodded. “I get to go inside next time.”
Ceres shrugged. “I’d take you inside now if I could but now I need you as a reserve.” Elsa appeared somewhat mollified as she turned to the two Kentarchs.
Libby looked at Baker. “Mistress, with your permission I will stay out here too so you can go inside.”
Baker nodded. “Thank you, Libby. I appreciate this.” The Nekomata beamed with happiness as Baker turned to Ciaran. “I hope you don’t mind me coming inside too.”
“I don’t. Now let us see if our hostess does.” He looked at the young woman. “Is five people acceptable?”
“It is,” the woman replied. She closed the door behind them and led them down the hall a short distance and into a room. “Mrs. Sullivan will be along in a moment,” she said. “Please sit down. I will bring some refreshments.”
A few moments after she left a woman entered the room. She looked to be in her mid to late thirties, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. She surveyed the room before sitting down in an overstuffed chair. “Good afternoon, Michael.”
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Sullivan.”
Victoria frowned. “I thought you said we were going to meet his grandmother.”
Mike nodded. “I did.”
“Is this her?”
“This woman is too young to be his grandmother.”
Mrs. Sullivan looked at Michael. “What on earth is she talking about?”
“Mrs. Sullivan,” Ciaran said, “I am Ciaran Sullivan and I’m the son of Rafael and Martha Sullivan from Texas.”
Mrs. Sullivan stared at him for long enough that the young woman returned with a tray. She looked around and placed it on a small table next to Mrs. Sullivan before withdrawing silently. Finally Mrs. Sullivan seemed to rouse and looked at Mike. “Is this true, Michael?”
“It is. I’ve spoken to Martha and she confirmed it.”
“So my daughter in law is alive.” She looked at Ciaran. “What about my son?”
He smiled. “My parents are fine, Mrs. Sullivan. So is my sister, Beibhinn.”
“If they are here, why haven’t they come to call?”
Mike held up a hand apologetically. “Only Ciaran and his women are in Ireland, Mrs. Sullivan. The others are still in Texas. Ciaran has a phone that let me talk to Martha. She told me that she and the others would be coming to visit for Christmas.”
Ciaran spoke before Mike could. “I have pokegirls. This is Victoria and this is Ceres. And this,” he indicated Baker, “is Captain Baker of the British Army. She’s traveling with me right now. I actually have three more pokegirls. They’re outside so we’re not crowding you.”
“How very marvelous.” She looked around the room again and rang a small bell from the tray. The young woman appeared in the doorway. “I wish to speak with my grandson alone. I will have Shannon bring refreshments outside.” She waved a hand imperiously. “Now go.”
Victoria hesitated and looked at Ciaran. He shrugged. “I think I will be safe enough.” If there’s the slightest danger I’ll contact all of you immediately.
She relaxed. You do that or I’ll see about strangling you for real. “I guess I’ll agree,” she said reluctantly. Everyone filed out behind her.
Mrs. Sullivan waited until Shannon returned. “Everyone is outside, Mrs. Sullivan.”
“Thank you, Shannon. Please give them refreshments. Oh, and shut the door behind you.”
“I will, Mrs. Sullivan.”
The door shut and Mrs. Sullivan waved to a chair. “Sit down, Ciaran.” He blinked at her suddenly no-nonsense tone and she smiled for the first time. “I have liked to have structure in my life and ever since my husband died I carefully work to make people think I’m a little crazy and bury them in formality. It keeps them from trying to court me or take some of my money away for some scheme of theirs.”
“Oh,” he said as he sat down. “Uncle Mike said you’d been like this since he was a boy.”
She chuckled. “I insist on some structure and I’ve always liked the Victorian period.”
He nodded absently as his mind raced. “Mrs. Sullivan, what did you want to talk about?”
She chuckled once more. “Call me Rionach in private, child. For now at least, I doubt either one of us would be comfortable with you calling me Grandmother. I knew you were Rafael’s boy as soon as I saw you, but I am curious as to what this is about.”
Ciaran frowned. Suddenly he understood. “You think this is some kind of scam.” When she looked puzzled it was his turn to smile. “Sorry, I keep getting reminded that American slang is different from what’s used here. You think I am here to try to convince you to give me some of your money for a scheme. I’m not.”
“Then why are you here?”
“There’s a man named Iain Grey in Texas and he hired me to come here to survey parts of the United Kingdom. He’s interested in investing in the Royals. He’s also selling them materiel for the war against the Blues.”
“That doesn’t explain why you are here in Ireland.”
“I have a lot of latitude in where I can travel and I have always wanted to see where my parents grew up. Other than my parents and my sister, I’ve never met any of my relatives except Uncle Mike. I went to his house and he dragged me to meet Jeremiah Ahern and then here to see you. But I don’t want any of your money. To be honest, I don’t need it.”
“Is my son that rich then?”
Ciaran frowned. “No, not compared to the richest Americans, at least not monetarily but my father is a wealthy man in regards to the fact that he has a strong family and good farming land that he loves. In that regard he’s richer than many people I’ve known.”
“How did you get to Ireland?”
“It’s kind of a complicated story.”
She smiled. “Humor an old woman.”
“Victoria’s right. You don’t look old.”
“That’s very sweet, Ciaran, but I’ll be seventy in a few months. I’m a Sheehan by birth and my family has always borne the weight of time easily on our shoulders.” Her eyes saddened. “We always outlive the ones we love, too.” She fixed him with a look. “Now, how did you cross an ocean full of monsters to get here?”
“Iain Grey, who I mentioned is my employer, has access to advanced technology, better even than what was here on Earth before Sukebe tried to destroy the world. He has space ships and stuff that you could only imagine or read about in science fiction books and see in the movies. So I flew here on a space ship that landed offshore and came to Scotland on a ship carrying cargo to the Royals.”
“And your pokegirls?”
“I have met all of them since coming to the British Isles. It’s one of the ways Iain got me to come in the first place.”
“I have seen a few pokegirls, mostly with the soldiers who pass through, but I haven’t dealt with them. What are they like?”
“They’re people, Rionach. They have special gifts and special needs, but people they are. You’ll meet them and hopefully you and they will get along.”
“Are yours important to you? The soldiers treat theirs well, but not as equals.”
“Mine are my friends, Rionach, as well as my lovers and my protectors. That last is a source of friction between all of us.”
“They want to protect me and I want to protect them, often at the same time.”
Rionach looked at him and started laughing. “I can see where that would be a problem. Are pokegirls as powerful as I have been told they are?”
“It depends on the breed, but some of them can be extraordinarily powerful. I have a computer that I’ll give you. One of the things it has is a database with a lot of information about pokegirls in general and the various breeds in specific. Just be aware that the data is very general and a pokegirl can be very different, especially in personality, from what the breed information suggests.”
“I have never had a computer. Are they hard to use?”
Ciaran shook his head. “It’s not and I’ll teach you how to make it easier.”
Rionach gave him a shrewd look. “You said your employer is interested in the Royals. What about Ireland?”
“He’s willing to make similar deals with the Irish that he’s made with the Royals.”
She smiled. “I’m your grandmother and an old woman, Ciaran. Couldn’t you convince him to give me a better deal than what he’s making with other people? We are family after all.”
“I have this sudden urge to inventory my possessions before this discussion goes any further.”
She blinked and burst out laughing. “You are refreshing, Ciaran.”
“Refreshing or not, you would probably do better dealing with me instead of Iain. After all, you’re family and I’d be willing to keep the fleecing to a minimum for family.”
“How can you provide these things instead of Grey?”
“I found something that Iain valued and he bought it from me. With that money, I acquired a ship that can make the things he sells just like his ship does for him. My ship is smaller right now, so I can’t make as much stuff at a time, but I don’t think you’re going to be interested in purchasing enough gear to supply the Irish people as a whole.”
My manufacturing,” Eriu said in his mind, “is somewhat independent of my size. I am splitting off some of the nanobots and moving them to a nearby asteroid. They will produce what you need and expand my hull construction at the same time. She grew thoughtful. If I continue doing this eventually I will ramp up production enough to begin significantly reducing the time for my new hull to be completed. This isn’t normally done in Tirsuli society because most asteroids have been claimed by someone. I hadn’t considered that isn’t the case here. Thank you for the idea.
Rionach smiled broadly. “That depends on what you can supply and what I can sell it for.”
“I’ll put the list of available supplies that Iain is offering to the Royals on your computer. If I can’t provide it, I’ll get it from Iain. It’ll cost a little more, but that can’t be helped.”
“Agreed,” Rionach said. She looked down at the tea set. “I don’t suppose you could get coffee and sugar, could you? I prefer coffee to tea.”
“I can leave you a grinder and a pound or two of coffee and some cane sugar today,” he replied. “Iain and the Bishop farm are producing both, although they’re not making so much of it that there’s any for export outside of Texas. You won’t be selling it any time soon, I’m afraid.”
She smiled. “That will be even better, Ciaran. That means if I give some as a gift it will be well received.” She glanced at a grandfather clock ticking away in a corner. “We have been alone for nearly too much time. I don’t want Michael getting suspicious about me or us. He’s a good man but he isn’t a Sullivan. When you leave him, come visit me again. I want to meet your women.”
“What about Tamsin, I mean Captain Baker? She’s pretty much glued to my side.”
“Is she your woman?”
He shook his head. “She’s my friend, but no.”
Rionach cocked her head. “You’re not telling me something.”
“I’m not telling you a lot of things. And I won’t either. We just met and a little trust goes a long way.”
Rionach smiled warmly. “That is very intelligent of you, Ciaran. Smarter than most. We will figure out a way to distract this Englishwoman of yours.”
“She’s my friend, but she’s not mine.”
“In any case, Ciaran, we will make sure she gives us privacy, hopefully without her being aware that we desire it.” She rang the bell again and Shannon opened the door. “Ciaran is leaving now.”
“Yes, Mrs. Sullivan.” She led him to the door and opened it silently. “Have a pleasant day, Mr. Sullivan.”
“And you as well, Shannon.”
Victoria was leaning against the wall next to the door. “Did your meeting with your grandmother go well?” Elsa says Tamsin has a truth detecting spell operating right now.
He nodded as everyone approached him. “It was certainly interesting. Mrs. Sullivan is not anything like what I expected, especially after meeting your father, Mike.” He looked at Ceres. “I want to leave her some coffee, a grinder and some sugar. Give it to Shannon, please. Later we’ll come back so I can give her a computer and a quick tutorial in how to use it.”
“I’ll take care of it,” the Tantrasaur replied with a grin as she reached for her pack.
Mike blinked. “You have coffee?”
“We do. We don’t have a lot, but Ceres can grow small amounts of it as we travel, so we don’t run out. Would you like some?”
“Me, no, but Linda used to drink it by the liter.”
“Then we’ll grow some before we leave.”
“What did you two discuss,” Baker asked him curiously.
“Mike’s right about her business acuity. She’s interested in Iain’s list of trinkets. Apparently she’s like me and Beibhinn in being willing to hawk his wares.”
Baker chuckled. “I’m not sure I’d call machine guns and grenades trinkets, Ciaran.”
“Americans are known for their ability to make light of things, aren’t we? Now main battle tanks wouldn’t be trinkets.”
“We are better than any tank,” Spirit said from where she stood surveying the surroundings. “Then we are not trinkets?”
“No, my dear, you are a vital necessity at the very least.” He smiled at the glow of pleasure she suddenly radiated. “Uncle Mike, do you have anyone else you want me to meet today?”
“I do,” Mike said good naturedly. He pointed down the road. “You’ve got a cousin not too far from here and her jam is the best in the county. And there’s still time to get there for a late lunch.”
Ciaran gave his uncle an amused smile. “Ceres, as soon as you’re done with the coffee let’s get a traveling formation, please.”
10/24/09 0930 outside Rathcormac, Ireland
Ciaran was helping Spirit and Kentarch split firewood for the home when the sound of someone pounding on the front door brought them to a halt. He looked at the two women. “I know you have enhanced hearing. What do you hear?”
Spirit had become translucent again as she focused. “They’re not talking loudly enough to hear over the sounds of cooking in the kitchen. Linda is chopping hard vegetables and the noise confuses things. I hear someone leaving down the road.”
Kentarch frowned. “She’s stopped chopping. Mike is in the kitchen now and asking Linda and Ceres where you are. He sounds,” she paused, “hurried.”
Ciaran looked skyward. The putative patrol that Victoria and Elsa were involved in had devolved into a game of tag between the two flying pokegirls and he watched Elsa trying to keep away from his Angel. Ladies, please join me. There may be a problem. At the same time he whistled loudly.
Mike appeared in the doorway as they twisted around and dropped for where he was standing. “Something’s happened at Father’s home. I was told that his house has been destroyed and they can’t find him. The Army has been sent for but they’re several hours away.”
Ceres was behind Mike. She looked at Ciaran. “We can be ready to go in a few minutes if you want a combat deployment. I’m not sure about Tamsin.”
“Where is she?”
“She and Libby are hunting somewhere around here. They didn’t tell me what for.”
“Call her and leave a message that we’re going to Jeremiah Ahern’s if she doesn’t answer.” He made a quick decision. “We’ll take everything as if we’re deploying.”
Ceres looked at Spirit and Kentarch. “Get your things. Five minutes.” She looked at Ciaran. “Teleport?”
“It’s fastest and we don’t know if we’re operating under a time constraint.” He turned to Mike. “We have a way to get there almost instantly. If you’re coming get whatever equipment you’re taking. We leave in five minutes.”
“What about Captain Baker?”
“Uncle Mike,” Ciaran said as he turned his uncle around to face the house. “Tamsin and Libby know where we are going and Libby can travel by teleport too so they can catch up. Now get moving or stay here.”
10/24/09 0940 Jeremiah Ahern residence
Victoria let Mike go as soon as they arrived before summoning her wings and vaulting into the sky to begin circling alertly overhead. They’d arrived a quarter of a mile from the house but it was obvious that bad things had happened since their last visit.
The Ahern house had been smashed. The roof was shredded, holes had been punched in the walls and the front door was a blasted ruin of shattered wood and metal. As they approached, from what Ciaran could see through the holes in the walls, in many places parts of the second floor sagged down towards the first, suggesting that most of the structural integrity of the building had been compromised.
Ciaran turned to Elsa as Ceres gave Spirit and Kentarch their instructions. “You are the only one of us with an enhanced olfactory sense. I’d like you to sniff around and see if you can locate Jeremiah’s body. If nothing else that will give Uncle Mike some information.”
Mike scowled at him. “We need to know what happened. He’s your grandfather and we should avenge his death if he’s dead.”
Ciaran faced his uncle as Elsa began a circuit around the destroyed structure. “Mike,” he said, for the first time dropping the honorific, “as far as I am concerned, Jeremiah Ahern is an angry old man who has threatened my life and thrown me off of his property because he’s still angry at my mother and father for something that happened before I was born. I don’t owe him anything and he certainly hasn’t earned the right for me to avenge him.”
“I found a body,” Elsa called from the other side of the house as Mike opened his mouth to reply. “It’s not Jeremiah but it is important.”
Ciaran raced Mike around the building to where Elsa was pulling a chunk of roof off of a corpse. It was an insectile pokegirl with four arms, one pair of which were as heavily armored as her body. She had a single pair of veined wings sprouting from her back and insect legs and feet. It looked like she’d been almost decapitated by a blast from a shotgun that had taken her mostly in the throat because, while her compound eyes and one mandible had been shattered, her head was still attached by only a few strands of tissue. It’s a Wasp. His twee fed him information on the breed in less than a heartbeat.
Ciaran grimaced. “Elsa, tell Ceres about the Wasp and then get up there with Victoria. Wasps are territorial and there should be a hive somewhere within ten miles of this place. I don’t want to get hit if we can avoid it.”
Elsa looked at Mike. “Has anyone else been attacked like this?” He shook his head and her ears flicked. “We’re probably on the edge of their territory then or else others would have been raided. To a Wasp, a human farm is just a big larder and breeding factory.” She glanced at Ciaran and realized he was watching her with an expression she’d seen before when he’d told her to do something and she’d ignored it. She gave him a slightly guilty smile and moved off a few feet before unfurling her wings and taking to the air.
I am purchasing satellite time from the Grey Clan, Eriu informed him. I’ll start with the telemetry of that area from the last few nights and look for a hive with infrared. It’ll be faster than Elsa and Victoria blindly searching. In the meantime I am moving over Ireland and getting a pair of drones with pokeball cannons ready for launch.
“What’s a Wasp,” Mike asked.
“It’s an insect pokegirl. They live in hives and eat meat. If they took Jeremiah then he’s either bound for their larder or is destined to live the rest of his life drugged and having sex with the Wasp Queen to fertilize her eggs. A hive will hunt their territory clean of animals, humans and pokegirls. Fertile human women will be used as brooding chambers for the Wasp Queen’s eggs.” Ciaran grimaced as Mike paled. “Yeah. If we can’t find that hive you’d better pray he’s food.”
“I thought you said he wasn’t worth revenge.”
“I said he hasn’t earned the right of my vengeance,” Ciaran said tersely. “But Wasps are bad news for everybody and I will rescue him if I can. Fortunately I have pokegirls with fire and flying techniques so we’re a good match for them if there aren’t too many of them.”
“What about the Army?”
“I’m not going to wait for them. If they intend to eat Jeremiah, they might keep him alive for a bit to keep the meat fresh. I don’t want to wait for the Army and discover his still warm corpse. I have enough things I’m going to have to do penance for at my next confession.”
Ceres joined them with Spirit and Kentarch, both of whom were in their battle forms. Above, Victoria and Elsa suddenly turned and raced east. “Eriu thinks she’s located the hive and I’m sending our fliers to investigate.”
Ciaran glanced skyward. “That was faster than I expected.”
Eriu appeared standing next to him. She had an amused smile on her face. “It turns out that when I requested satellite data from Theodora that she just happened to have a satellite not only already in the area, but already aimed right here. She’s been keeping an eye on you and was actually kind of embarrassed to have been caught peeping. Since her view is normally kept fairly wide, a quick review showed she’d managed to record the attack on Jeremiah’s home. With a little enhancement I was able to follow the Wasps back quite a ways before they disappeared. Rolling back the visual data until the satellite began recording when you arrived let me track other Wasps disappearing in the same area, suggesting the nest is hidden there.” She glanced at him. “I am copying her idea and from now on an observation satellite will be parked over you at all times. I’m family. I can peep.”
“That is a good idea,” Ciaran said and she beamed with pleasure at him. “What is the ETA on your capture drone?”
“There are two inbound now,” she replied. “They’ll be joining you in fifteen minutes.”
“Excellent,” Ceres said. “Station them overhead for the time being since we have no air coverage or surveillance.”
“I could put one or more of my drones overhead,” Spirit said crisply.
Ceres blinked. “I didn’t think about that. What is the maximum ceiling on them?”
“I don’t know. I keep them within sight most of the time.” Spirit’s armored head tilted. “I do not know what the maximum distance I can move a drone and still keep control of it, either. I do know it is at least a kilometer. We will have to run tests to determine the answer to both questions when there isn’t an incipient battle.”
“Put one of your drones overhead,” Ciaran ordered. “I don’t think we’d enjoy getting ambushed by more Wasps.”
Kentarch’s arm cannons suddenly moved into ready position as she scanned around them. “I don’t see anything.” One of her drones shot upwards to hover thirty meters overhead.
“My sister isn’t ready to control her drones in combat,” Spirit said. “She is allowing me to run them for her. This will give me a full complement for battle and still have four available with which to refresh my forces while we charge the others.” She chuckled suddenly. “And to answer the question that Ceres is probably about to ask, I do not know what is the maximum number of drones that I can control at once and still maintain full combat effectiveness. If Eriu can produce more of them, we can test that instead of waiting for our children to be old enough to let us find out.”
“Not to mention,” Ceres said quietly, “If Eriu can make more of your drones for us it would give you much faster access to replacement drones. And we might be able to build chargers holding spare drones that we can station around wherever we finally end up living.”
If I can build a control network for her drones, I could also use them in battle to aid her, Eriu said in his head. That is, if it won’t sting her pride too much.
Let’s deal with one problem at a time. First we we’ll have to see if you can make them, much less control them.
Mike had a hunting rifle and he checked it before looking at Ciaran. “Do you think he’s dead?”
Ciaran had no clue about Jeremiah’s status and Mike should know that but his uncle obviously wanted to be reassured. “I don’t think he is. I think he was probably taken to fertilize the Wasp Queen. So he will probably be drugged to the gills when we find him.”
Mike blinked. “Fertilize. You mean she’ll…” his voice trailed off.
Ciaran tried not to smile and failed. “Yeah.”
Mike shook his head and chuckled. “If he remembers it, maybe getting laid will help him out.”
Ciaran’s mouth dropped slightly as his twee fed him data and his stomach twisted at the visuals. “No, it’s more like rape. I don’t think he would ever want to remember experiencing that, whether he was drugged during the encounter or not.”
Mike gave him a curious look. “What do you mean?”
“I can show you in your computer if you’d like but it has got information on the Wasp Queen. She’s got something very much like a penis and she often sticks it into her sex partners.”
Mike was staring at him. “Something like a penis? What does that mean?”
“The Wasp Queen is in many ways rather like a regular wasp. A wasp can’t have babies and stabs her victim with her ovipositor and implants eggs which hatch and eat the victim before leaving the corpse. The Wasp Queen instead inserts her eggs inside fertile women and pokegirls through the vagina almost exactly like a man would with a woman. There, the eggs implant and convince her body that they’re hers and that she’s pregnant so her body will take nurture them while they grow until she gives birth. That allows the Wasp Queen to keep women having her babies until they get too old or die. The Wasp Queen can use the same ovipositor to stimulate her male partners, who are necessary to have sex with her in order to fertilize the eggs. It’s quite flexible and she can do this while being penetrated by her partner. Do you think your father would like something like that happening to him?”
“God, no,” Mike breathed. He blinked and crossed himself. “Forgive me, Lord, for my blasphemy.”
Ciaran put his hand on his uncle’s shoulder. “Hopefully we can get to him before it becomes an issue, but the truth is that no matter what, they have to be stopped. Wasps will depopulate the entire area around their nest if we let them. Once they get too hungry they’ll move the nest and do it all over again and again until they’re stopped. There’s a bee version of a pokegirl that does something similar.”
Spirit stirred from where she’d been standing motionlessly. “Elsa and Victoria have teleported here.”
Ciaran looked. Elsa and Victoria were jogging towards the group. “We found the nest,” the Angel said they stopped in front of him. “We were almost immediately attacked by them and landed on the other side of the nest from here and hid before returning.”
Elsa grinned. “It was my idea. Hopefully they’ll keep searching for us while we hit the nest from this side. I did faintly smell Jeremiah Ahern when I landed at the entrance to the nest and butchered the guards to get their attention.”
“Recover your drones,” Ceres ordered Kentarch and Spirit. She turned to Ciaran. “We shouldn’t waste the tactical advantage.” Her voice dropped until he could barely hear it. “And I’m not sure Mike should come along with us. He’s an unknown factor.”
“That is my father out there,” Mike snarled. “I am not staying here while he’s out there.”
“Apparently he has better hearing than I thought he did,” Ceres muttered. Elsa has her sleep spell.
“Uncle Mike is right,” Ciaran said with a glance at Ceres and a slight shake of his head. “I’d want to help rescue my father. However,” he turned to Mike, “when we get there you find a good place and stay out of the way. We are going to be too busy to try and protect you and I do not want to have to explain to Aunt Linda that you got killed trying to rescue your father. She might understand that you’re an Ahern and a son and you had to do this,” he said as Mike started to speak, “and you’ll still be dead and she’ll still be alone. I want your promise of no heroics or you will stay here.”
“Can we get the same promise from you,” Victoria asked grimly.
“I will be with my family,” Ciaran retorted. “I’ll stay out of the thick of the fighting and that’s the best you can expect.”
“Kentarch will guard him,” Spirit said.
“We are wasting time,” Ciaran announced. “Give me that promise, Mike.”
“I promise to stay close to you,” Mike said through clenched teeth. “That’s the best you’ll get from me.”
“We’ll take that one,” Victoria said as Ciaran started to speak. “So now the both of you will lay low while we’re fighting so you don’t get your uncle killed.” She looked at Ciaran expectantly. “Right?” Ciaran’s jaw set but he didn’t say anything. “Excellent.”
She really doesn’t seem to realize just how much that pisses you off, Elsa said in his head. He was grateful that her tone was sympathetic instead of gloating as he’d normally expect. Or maybe she does and she’s just willing to live with you being upset as long as it keeps you alive. Either way she’s being an idiot.
Ciaran realized he was grinding his teeth and forced his jaws to relax. “Ceres, let’s do this.”
“I am rerouting my drones to the hive,” Eriu said. “ETA is nine minutes.”
“I am not saying that we shouldn’t wait,” Elsa said quietly, “but if we wait that long the Wasps might have stopped looking for us. Once the search is over they will have heightened security for several days due to our intrusion. We are unlikely to gain surprise during that time.”
Ciaran didn’t hesitate. “We wait. Eriu’s help at the lake was one of the reasons we’re all still here today. There will probably be fewer Wasps at the nest than there were Titodiles on that island, but Wasps are a lot more dangerous with their venom and flight. Besides, this time we don’t have Libby and Neem in case the wheels come off.”
“You will have Libby soon,” Eriu stated. “She and Tamsin are getting their equipment from the Ahern house and, if we wait the nine minutes for my drones, I think they should be arriving before we leave.”
“How do you know this,” Mike asked curiously.
Eriu looked at Ciaran. “Do I tell him?”
“Sure. It’s not like he won’t realize you’re a hologram eventually.”
She nodded. “Mike, I am an artificial intelligence.” At his look of incomprehension, she smiled. “Ciaran gave you a computer. It runs programs, including the pokedex and some others that are capable of learning to certain degree and can talk to you if you let them. Technically, I am nothing more than a program that has volition, although I am unimaginably more powerful than any program in your pokedex. Tamsin Baker and Libby are friends, at least for the moment, and since they travel with us, I keep an eye on them through their computers since Ciaran would like to keep them safe until his mission is complete.”
Mike frowned. “At least for the moment? What does that mean?”
“Tamsin and Libby have obligations to powers that, if these powers insist, would override their friendship with us,” Eriu said. “Because of that, while we like them, we cannot trust them completely. One of these powers, of course, is the Loyalist government.”
“There are others?”
She nodded. “There are. I am not at liberty to discuss their other obligations with you, Mike.”
“We,” Ceres interjected, “would appreciate it if you didn’t mention to or around them that Eriu is keeping an eye on them. If they receive instructions to do something nefarious to us, we’d like the fact that we will know at the same time they do to come as an unpleasant surprise.”
Mike grinned. “I am an Irishman, Ceres. I intrigue as naturally as I breathe. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Tamsin and Libby are leaving the house. They should be here momentarily,” Eriu interrupted quickly.
“They’ll come out a distance from the house like we did,” Victoria was watching their surroundings as she spoke. “Even if Baker doesn’t think about it, Libby most definitely will and she won’t want to endanger her mistress by arriving in the middle of a raging battle. Startling Elsa might be even more dangerous to Tamsin’s continued wellbeing.”
“I see them,” Spirit said. She pointed east. “They’re over there. Captain Baker is 88.185 meters from my overhead drone, which means she is 72.641 meters horizontally from it. That places her 123.458 meters from me. Libby is 123.803 meters away. They are obscured from my direct vison due to underbrush and trees but my drone has line of sight on them.”
Victoria blinked. “Are you running a targeting solution on them?”
“I am. I run solutions on everything my drones or I see in case I have to kill it.” Her voice changed, becoming contemplative. “That is incorrect. I do not run solutions on everything for I do not run solutions on Ciaran. I wasn’t aware of that until your question triggered an internal diagnostic. That is interesting. I was not aware that exclusion rules existed in my systems.”
Victoria frowned. “Do you run solutions on me?”
“As you are not Ciaran, obviously I do. Baker and Libby are coming this way.”
“Victoria,” Ciaran interrupted. “Go fetch Tamsin and Libby please.” She nodded and jogged away as he continued speaking. “Eriu, how much longer do we need to wait?”
“The camouflaged drones will be in supporting positions in one and a half minutes.” She looked at Spirit. “May I make an observation, Spirit?”
“When talking with others, such precision is unwise. It makes many people uncomfortable. And it is sometimes advisable to lie to people like Victoria about whether or not you are ready to kill them.”
Spirit cocked her head. Her voice was curious. “Why would I lie about that?”
“Victoria and others will feel that an ally and sister should not be ready to murder her,” Eriu said.
Ciaran blinked when he heard Eriu’s voice in his head and realized she wasn’t talking to him. And, sister, I would strenuously suggest that you lie to Victoria when she gets back to reassure her that you aren’t still targeting her.
How do I do that? It was Spirit’s mental voice. Ciaran had never heard a conversation across twees before and held very still so as not to give anything away.
I’d tell her that I wrote a new exclusion rule that eliminated family members as targets.
Spirit sounded faintly bewildered. I do not know how to change my rules.
Victoria doesn’t know that. More importantly, Elsa doesn’t know that either and is also likely to believe you.
Spirit straightened slightly. Victoria can detect lies. I cannot lie to her.
I know she can. I also know she isn’t doing it right now. She is coming with Tamsin. Tell her, but do it vaguely so Tamsin and Libby won’t understand what you’re telling Victoria.
I will try. Spirit reached out with an armored hand and placed it gently on Victoria’s shoulder as the Angel stopped next to her. “I have considered what you said, Victoria, and I now have a new exclusion rule for family.”
Eriu’s voice sounded in Ciaran’s head again. I wanted you to hear both sides of my talk with Spirit. I do not believe that we will be betrayed by family members, but having them believe that Spirit isn’t considering killing them every moment will help to prevent possible mischief on the part of Elsa and perhaps others.
Victoria looked startled and then smiled. “Thank you, Spirit. I appreciate that.”
Ciaran noticed that Elsa relaxed slightly too. “Glad you could join us, ladies.” He smiled so they knew he wasn’t upset.
Baker shifted her rifle on its tactical sling. While they were at the Sabine Ranch, Iain had provided the captain with the model he had recently begun providing to the Loyalist forces for use against both the Blues and pokegirls, the FN SCAR. Hers was the SCAR-H and chambered in 7.62 mm, although Iain was also giving the 5.56 SCAR-L conversion kits to the Loyalists so they could continue to use up their vast stockpile of 5.56 mm ammunition. The Loyalists were exchanging their old LA85A1 for the new weapon as fast as Iain could get the SCARs to them, not only for the increased firepower but so they could easily distinguish between Blue and Royal forces at a distance since the two weapons looked completely different. Iain was also providing every rifle with an attached M320 40mm grenade launcher and High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds at a very steep discount. Ciaran had decided at the time that Iain really didn’t like the Blues. “We were out so Libby could get some more target practice.” She shrugged. “It’s not really helping.
Libby carried Baker’s old rifle, but she was a terrible shot and didn’t even bother to load it. She just carried it so Baker didn’t have to. The Nekomata’s ears flicked. “I keep jerking the trigger. I think I’ll just continue using my powers instead, mistress.” She looked at Ciaran. “What happened to your grandfather’s house, sir?”
“Wasps attacked it,” he said grimly, “and they took him away with them. We found the nest and you got here just before we were ready to leave, destroy it and recover Jeremiah’s remains or rescue him if he’s still alive. Care to come along?”
“We would be delighted,” Baker said in a droll voice. Libby just grinned.
Spirit’s head shifted slightly. “Ceres, have Victoria and Elsa scouted a safe arrival site near the hive? I do not want them to drop us right next to it where Ciaran would have to immediately violate his agreement with Victoria to stay out of the fight unless necessary and where Uncle Mike and the rest of you would be at maximum danger of being killed.”
Mike frowned. “Aren’t you worried about being killed yourself?”
Spirit laughed hollowly. “I am already dead. I cannot be killed again.”
Ceres turned to Victoria as Mike went chalk white. “Spirit is correct. Go and find a safe arrival point that does not put us in an immediate fight for our lives.”
“Wasps are pretty dangerous,” Ciaran warned Baker as Victoria and Elsa vanished. “If they defeat us, all of the women are in line to spend the rest of their lives drugged and as breeding stock for the Wasps. It’s the reason I am determined to destroy that nest before it can do that to the Irish and pokegirls in the area.”
Baker stared at him for a long moment before her eyes hardened. “Libby,” she said in iron tones, “if we’re losing and I’m going to be captured, you are to kill me without hesitation.”
Libby’s ears went flat and her tail drooped as she gaped at the captain. “Mistress,” she almost whined. Then her mouth shut with a click. Her voice was emotionless. “I will do as you command, mistress. Will you do the same for me?”
Baker nodded. “I will, Libby.”
“You know,” Ciaran said conversationally, “if that’s happening, Libby could just teleport to you and then away with you instead of you two having to murder each other. I don’t intend to fight to death. I can always heal my girls and we can hit them again. Each attack will weaken them more since they can’t heal up the way we can. I just wanted to let you know what could happen if catastrophe overtakes us.”
Baker glared at him. “Thanks for cheapening our heartfelt moment.”
Ceres chuckled. “We will openly mock it if it keeps all of us alive.”
Mike pointed at Spirit. “She said she’s already dead,” he half shouted.
The Tantrasaur smirked slightly. “Ok, we keep everyone who is alive still alive.”
Kentarch snickered. “Where does that leave me? I am both dead and alive.”
Mike gave Ciaran a desperate look. “What is she talking about?”
Ciaran thought for a second before answering. “The short version is that Spirit was killed and is now a ghost. Kentarch was killed a while ago and was a ghost before she possessed the body that was Spirit’s after Spirit was ejected from it and before the body completely died. Due to the circumstances involved, Spirit welcomed Kentarch possessing her former body because she can’t.”
“Is there an easy to understand version of that story.”
Ciaran shrugged. “You just heard it.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“Both of us are alive in most ways,” Kentarch said firmly. “We require sustenance and we require physical and emotional love as any other pokegirls does. We just require different sustenance than you do, although I must also eat food to keep this body alive and healthy.”
Elsa appeared. “Arrival point located.” She grabbed Libby’s hand and they vanished for a heartbeat before returning. Victoria came back with them. “And we’re ready to deploy.” She looked at Ceres. “Unless you think you’re ready to solo teleport.”
Ceres shook her head. “Twice under controlled conditions does not make me ready for a combat teleport. I still have to reorient afterwards and that takes too many seconds.”
Spirit and Kentarch looked at each other and nodded simultaneously. They turned to energy and were sucked into the pokeballs on Ciaran’s belt before he could touch them. He blinked. “When did they learn that trick?”
“We all did,” Victoria said as she took Mike’s hand, “at Iain’s.” We can also see outside our balls and let ourselves out too in case someone like Tamsin attacks you while we’re in them.
Elsa grabbed his and Ceres’s hands as Libby took Baker’s. She looked at Ciaran. “Ready?”
A second later the clearing was empty.
Victoria – Angel
Ceres – Tantrasaur
Elsa – Mazouku
Spirit – Astral Kentarch
Kentarch – Haunting