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Loose Threads

Thirty Two

Iain drained the cup of lemonade, sighing in pleasure as the cold liquid pooled in his stomach. Then he tossed the cup into the trash where later it would be broken down and turned into something else. Or maybe it would be turned into another cup. It was late enough that the children were all in bed and now the adults were starting to drift that way since the movie was over. They were outside and the only light was provided by some tiki torches and the waning moon. The women had voted and fire provided an ambiance that had won out over more efficient electrical lighting for these entertainment evenings. The only modern technology was the holographic movie system and electronic insect repellant stations scattered around the area.

Iain, Theodora said in his head. I know this may be a bad time but it looks like we have an opportunity for Operation Stinkbug.

I’m on the way. He got up and looked around before heading for where Lucifer was sitting with Eve. “Eve, might I borrow Lucifer for an hour or so?”

Eve’s eyes twinkled humorously. “An hour isn’t really that long for you and sex, Iain.”

“It’s not about sex.”

Lucifer eyed him curiously. “What is it about?”

“It’s a surprise.” He thought about it and gave a mental shrug. “You can bring Eve if you’d like. She might enjoy this in a guilty way.”

“Now that sounds intriguing,” Eve said. “I don’t feel guilty pleasure about many things.” She looked at the woman curled up with her. “Shall we?”

Lucifer nodded and got up, pulling Eve to her feet with her. “I think we shall. Where are we going, Iain?”

“We’re off to the bridge of the Theodora.”

“Lead on.”

A few minutes later Eve and Lucifer were comfortable in seats on the bridge while Iain settled into his command chair. He turned it to look at the two Megami-sama. “Ladies, the last time I met with Ronald Hastings I tagged him with a tracking device.”

Eve frowned. “Hastings?”

“He’s the Secretary of State for the Illinois Free Republic,” Lucifer explained. “I told you when he came to see Iain and me.”

“That’s right,” Eve said. “I’d dismissed it as inconsequential since we weren’t going to be working with them.” She looked at Iain. “Why did you tag him?”

“I wanted to know when he got back home,” Iain said. “The tracker has a subspace transmitter on it and Theodora has been listening. According to her, right now Hastings is meeting with Rush.”

Theodora appeared. “Voice recognition and speech patterns from broadcasts and interviews that Anton Rush has made in the past match the man I am listening to right now. Including the fact that Hastings has called him both by title and by his given name and the probability that it is Anton Rush is greater than ninety nine percent. He’s discussing Hastings’ trip and they’re smoking cigars and drinking alcohol. Apparently they’re close friends.” She looked at Iain. “Shall I?”

“Give me the red button.”

She sighed. “You should let me do this.”

“No. I’m the clan leader and I make the hard decisions. I should never forget that.” Part of the console in front of Iain unfolded to reveal a two centimeter wide red button under a wire cage. Iain placed two fingers on the cage but didn’t move it. “Roll ship and give me a visual.”

A hologram large enough for everyone to see appeared in the front of the bridge. On it an overhead view of a building was shown, dimly visible in the darkness. As they watched the view brightened until it resembled daylight and a pulsing cursor slid into view, stopping when it was in the center of the building. “Target locked,” Theodora intoned formally, “and the firing pattern for Operation Stinkbug is standing by.”

“Operation Stinkbug,” Eve asked curiously.

“The name was randomly chosen in case someone heard it,” Iain said. “The USA used that procedure for their operations and I thought we’d keep to it.” He lifted the cage out of the way and rested his palm on the red button. “Anton Rush and Richard Hastings, it is time for you to die.” He pressed the button flush with the console.

“First salvo away,” Theodora said as launchers shot out four missiles. The hologram changed, still showing the building but adding another graphic display that showed four dots headed from a larger dot towards the planet below. “The second salvo is standing by. The missiles have gone hypersonic and are entering the atmosphere. ETA to point alpha is ninety seconds from now.”

“Are you doing this because of the way Hastings treated me,” Lucifer asked quietly.

“You wouldn’t want me to do that.” She nodded unconsciously as Iain continued. “I’m doing this because Rush is feeding humans to the ferals and his little dominion is less than six hundred miles from Indigo’s capital. At his current force levels Theodora gives him a twenty six percent chance of capturing Washington DC and defeating the Indigo League within the next five years,” Iain said. “At that point he’d create an empire which would be our next door neighbor and would be teaching the feral population of North America that people are easy food. Indigo is bad enough.”

“Point alpha in twenty seconds,” Theodora said.

“What is point alpha,” Eve asked.

“I had four options to use here. The first was nuclear weapons, the second was a kinetic strike, the third was orbital energy weapons and the fourth is this. This is the only one that won’t destroy large portions of Chicago and massacre the inhabitants.”

“Point alpha in three, two, one,” Theodora said.

In the nose cones of the missiles, separation charges fired and the nose cones came apart, dispensing thousands of tungsten rods on a predetermined path. The racks that held the rods then dropped away for cutting charges to destroy as they fell, leaving secondary nose cones visible as the missiles turned and headed for space at Mach 25. The sonic boom of their passage shattered most of the windows in Chicago that had survived the Revenge War, the Red Plague and then the ascension of Anton Rush.

The tungsten rods impacted the building Rush and Hastings were in and the surroundings, drilled through the building while slowing only slightly and buried themselves in the concrete beneath it, leaving behind them dead and dying people, shattered walls and destroyed structural supports. As Iain, Lucifer and Eve watched, the building slowly began to twist and then collapsed inwards in a huge cloud of dust that rose to blot out the scene.

“Missiles are on their proper flight path and I will recover them tonight,” Theodora said. On the screen flames began to be visible under the dust cloud. “I estimate there is a ninety six percent probability of no survivors from the attack, but I will monitor the area just in case.”

“Thank you,” Iain said. He looked at Eve. “Option four minimized collateral casualties, as I knew Lucifer and you would have wanted. The missiles will be recovered to keep anyone from possibly looking at advanced technology.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this plan,” Lucifer asked.

“It could have been a long time before the circumstances allowed it to happen,” Iain said. “And just a whisper about it could have destroyed any chance of it working. I’m not done by the way.”

“Oh?”

“I have Assistant Secretary Monroe now,” Theodora said.

“Nuts, I guess you’ll have to watch and learn,” Iain said. “Put him on.”

Monroe wasn’t wearing a tie or a jacket and he looked more than a little pissed. “You. What do you want that couldn’t wait?”

“Good evening, Secretary Monroe. I am calling to inform you that Anton Rush is dead.”

Monroe scowled. “If that were true I would have been told of it. And just when did this supposed death happen?”

“About five minutes ago,” Iain said, “when I killed him.” Monroe went white. “Your government will find out that Rush’s office building in Chicago collapsed today and that everyone inside is dead. When you retake Chicago, you’ll discover thousands of tungsten rods in the foundation, which will also be shattered. I did that. You’ll also find that video of the event has been sent to your mail.”

“If that’s true, my government would owe you a debt of gratitude,” Monroe said slowly. “I do have to ask why you did it, though.”

“It should be obvious,” Iain smiled coldly. “I reached out a thousand miles and killed Anton Rush and, in the process, destroyed a single building in Chicago. Washington DC is only a few hundred miles farther from me than Chicago is and the people in your government have been cheerfully going about believing that I wouldn’t murder everyone in the Washington area to kill them. Even if they are right, I have just demonstrated that I do not have to. I can kill them anywhere in the North American continent if I desire to and I can do it without warning.”

Monroe swayed in his seat. “I do not have the authority to surrender the Indigo League,” he said faintly.

“I don’t want your surrender,” Iain said in surprise. “Hell, I’m busy enough as it is. Why would I be crazy enough to want to rule the Indigo League?” The cold smile returned. “Anton Rush is dead, which means that Indigo is going to spend the next few years reincorporating the land of the Illinois Free Republic back into the league. After that you’re going to be tempted to turn your attention back to Texas and my home. Don’t make that mistake. I will strike for the head, just as I did in the case of Rush.”

Monroe blinked. “You killed Rush just to send a message to us?”

“Exactly,” Iain said.

Theodora moved around to stand behind Iain. “I have another warning for you, Monroe. I am Theodora Grey and I have studied how the Indigo League conducts its affairs. You consider assassination a viable option and if you decide to do something completely asinine and try to murder Iain, whether you fail or succeed, what I will do to the Indigo League will make the Louisiana Canal look like a line dug in sand by a child with a stick in comparison. You know what happened to the Sunshine League’s Green Battalion when they invaded Texas. I will do that on a much larger scale if you attempt to hurt Iain or any of us.”

“We would never do that,” Monroe said slowly.

“I hope you are right.” She looked at Iain. “I’m sorry about the interruption, sir.”

“I forgive you this time but don’t make a habit of it.” He looked at Monroe as Theodora left the camera’s view. “And that is what I didn’t think could wait, Secretary Monroe. If I’d waited to call you until after you’d received word of Rush’s demise, you might think I was trying to capitalize on a lucky event. I wanted to make sure you didn’t think that.”

“I don’t,” Monroe said woodenly.

“Then I believe our business this evening is concluded,” Iain said. “Good health, Secretary Monroe.” Monroe’s image vanished.

“Thank you for using a surgical strike instead of any of the other options,” Lucifer said as she got up and put her hand on his shoulder. “I approve of how you resolved the situation.”

“Thanks.” He looked up at her. “One of the reasons I wanted you to see this is so you understand that we can do that to buildings in Shield if we have to or to Alliance bases in part or even in their entirety. It’s all about how many missiles we use.”

“I’m also modeling applications of the penetrators in use against feral and aware pokegirls,” Theodora said. “In rocky areas they will still penetrate dozens of meters into even the hardest stone to reach deeply buried colonies such as Mantis nests and reusing the missiles can save a lot of manufacturing time if we start using a lot of them. The penetrators and nose cones are very easy to produce in large quantities quickly. Missiles, while by no means difficult, do take significantly longer to manufacture.”

“When you’re done with the modeling,” Lucifer said, “please send me the data. I’d like to have it at hand when I’m planning Prometheus’ activities and, as Iain pointed out, it may be useful in our coming war against the Alliance.”

“Why did you insist on doing this instead of just having Theodora do it,” Eve asked as she rose gracefully to her feet and moved to stand beside Lucifer.

“It’s too easy to wave a hand and say ‘go kill those people over there’ and know that Theodora or one of you will kill them,” Iain replied. “If I initiate the attack in situations where there is time for me to do so, maybe it’ll help to remind me that actual people are dying at my order and it’s not something in a video game, which is what the missile attack looked like.”

Eve hugged him around the neck and leaned down so she could rest her head on top of his. “That is a very good reason,” she said softly. “There is more goodness in you than you think.”

“If that’s what helps you to stay with me,” Iain said gently, “then you just believe that.”

Lucifer smiled and then frowned slightly. “Eve, I sense that our daughters are stirring and starting to look for one of us. Please go reassure them. I’ll be along in a moment.”

Eve nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Iain.”

“Sleep well, Eve.”

She vanished and Lucifer squeezed Iain’s shoulder. “So you did this to protect Texas and not to punish Hastings for the way he treated me when he was here?”

Iain smiled at her. “You know I didn’t do it just to punish him.”

“I do, but I am glad that you did want to punish him for his behavior.” Her smile faded. “You know that not all of us may survive the war with the Alliance.”

“We can each die any given day, Lucifer.”

“That is true. If I fall, please take good care of Olivia and Seraphina.”

“I will,” he rose and wrapped his arms around her. “But I think it’ll be a lot easier if I just don’t let you die.”

She leaned against him. “I would rather that myself,” she said softly. “I will help you in that endeavor as much as possible.”

“Just remember that if you die I can travel to the lands of the dead and drag your ass right back here to suffer this world with me.”

She blinked and laughed softly. “I do believe that is the most unique way I have been consoled about the possibility of my death that I have ever experienced.” Her amusement faded. “But that does mean I have to ask why you have not returned to the lands of the dead for those that have fallen on your journey. Why have you not done this for Scheherazade, Hathor, Montsho and Irena?”

Iain sighed and let her go, turning to reach out and trace a finger over the metal wall next to him. “Hathor, Montsho and Irena have already moved on to the next step in their journey, so they’re not in the lands any more. Scheherazade is busy with something and returning would stop whatever she’s doing. She’s unwilling to do that, but then she’s always been mission oriented.”

“I am sorry that I have caused you pain, Iain.”

“It was a good question. You couldn’t know I’d already investigated.” He took her hand and turned back to her. “Yes, it hurts that her mission is more important to her than I am. But I have things to do too and I’m not going to worry over things I can’t do anything about.”

“That is probably the best thing you can do. Who are you supposed to be with tonight?”

“I don’t know.” He smiled at her look of surprise. “I don’t get a schedule emailed to me and some of the family just shows up in my bedroom. I don’t know if it’s a last minute change due to betting or whatnot or if they don’t think it important to let me know beforehand.”

“I think I may have to have some short and rather Celtic words with April and Ninhursag if they are aware of this situation and somehow think that it is somehow fair to you,” Lucifer said firmly. “That is presuming that it bothers you.”

“It does, but if it’s due to last minute changes taking place it’s not going to get fixed.”

“It will be remedied if Ninhursag imposes a time limit on when such abrupt schedule changes can take place,” Lucifer said. “And I will explain that to her.”

“Thanks, I think.”

She smiled. “Now let me get you off to the doorway back to our home so you can get to your room and discover who you are sleeping with.” They vanished.

***

“All right, sit your butts down.” Amanda waited until everyone had found a seat before nodding to Iain. “Sir, the floor is yours.” She sat down with her harem and leaned back to keep a baleful eye on everyone else.

Iain chuckled as he moved behind the podium at the front of the room. “It’s odd,” he said, “my mind thinks she should still be calling me LT, but with everything that’s been going on, Amanda is both a Ranger sergeant and an active duty colonel in the Sisterhood and so we’re not sure just how to address each other, which is why she took refuge in sir.” People smiled back at him. “It’s the same way with those of you who were previously in the Sisterhood before becoming Rangers. Because of that, in the interests of keeping the confusion down to a minimum, today we’re going to dispense with rank entirely.” He raised a finger as eyebrows rose. “However, Amanda has insisted that we maintain military courtesy and I suspect she’s planning something rather unpleasant if anyone violates it.”

Dora, Amanda’s alpha, grinned around the room. “He’s got that right and I can assure you that nobody wants what the Colonel has planned for you if you fuck this up.”

Iain glanced at her. “Dora, threats.”

Her grin widened. “That was a warning, sir, but I understand.”

“You were and still are all Rangers,” Iain said. “And unless Garret fires us all you will return to those jobs when everything is over. If he does sack us, I’ll make sure you’re still taken care of. However, for the moment what’s going to happen to us as Rangers isn’t as important as is the fact that all of you have been sworn into the Sisterhood and therefore into the service of Lucifer.” He looked around the room. “Lucifer is part of my clan, as you well know and that puts the Sisterhood of the Thorn squarely into satellite status of the Grey Clan.” He smiled slightly at the looks of confusion that appeared on most of the faces in front of him. “Why do I tell you this? It means that you are also members of the Grey Clan and therefore are subject to and charged with enforcing clan law as well. Officer Jenny pokegirls, I order you to open your minds and learn clan law.”

He saw eyes widen and some heads come up, but he calmly waited until everyone had stopped moving. “As you have been briefed, certain members of the Sisterhood have determined to bring the Sisterhood and the clan both into the service of the Celestial Alliance, willing or not. After consulting with Lucifer, I have made the ruling that these people are oath breakers according to clan law and will be dealt with under clan law.” He continued on over the gasps. “I have also determined that because the true scope of the betrayal is still unknown and due to the severity of breaking their personal oaths to Lucifer they no longer have the rights they would enjoy as clan members and will be treated as the outlaws they are. We will still try to take them into custody whenever possible, especially since not everyone we face may be an outlaw, but eventually the full weight of clan law will be brought to bear on the guilty.”

“Have you been inducted into the Sisterhood,” one of the Officer Jenny asked curiously.

“I have not, nor will I be. I stand as the head of our clan and Lucifer is the head of her satellite clan Sisterhood and in this we will remain separate so that the chains of command stay as clear as they can. You will report to Lucifer and do her will, but you will do it as my clanswomen and clansmen and you will do it under clan law.”

He looked around the room. “And that brings me to something related to your mission, at least at first glance, but it isn’t, not really. I am aware of the situation you have found yourselves in. You are Rangers and you are Sisterhood and you are Grey clan. Under our rules you cannot discuss or warn anyone in Shield until they have been vetted, be they friends, lovers or even family.”

One of the Officer Jenny stood. “We uphold the law, sir, and our families understand that. It is impossible that an Officer Jenny is involved in this, but our orders are clear and we will always obey them.”

Iain nodded. “Cathleen, some of these Sisterhood personnel were traitors before they came to this world. Some of them are Alliance personnel from your world who joined under false pretenses and then snuck over with the Sisterhood. If I were coordinating their operation, I’d have brought over Alliance Officer Jenny and inserted them into the Sisterhood’s police while making sure they understood they were Alliance personnel first and operating under Alliance rules. No one would doubt their loyalty to the Sisterhood and would likely not even hesitate to bring them into a counterspy operation, but that’s why we are not going to do that until all of the individuals have been properly vetted.”

Cathleen stared at him as the color drained from her face. “I see, sir,” she said finally. “I apologize.”

“You had a valid question and I have always welcomed questions,” Iain replied as she returned to her seat. “As I said, I understand how much above and beyond you have volunteered to go for both the Sisterhood and the clan. I can’t reward you as a Ranger and Lucifer will be too busy to worry about rewarding you as you deserve but I am your leader. It is my right and responsibility to reward you under clan law for what you are doing for me. To that end, I am welcoming any who wish to become fully clan into our clan with a promotion to outer clan and all of the benefits that entails,” he smiled widely, “most of which you are not aware of.”

A gray haired man raised his hand. “Isn’t Colonel Sawicki now outer clan?”

“She is.”

“I’ve known her for twenty years, sir. Is the reason that she looks more like she did when we met than she should because she joined your clan?”

“It is. There are advanced technologies that are only available to my clan.”

He nodded. “I’ll have to discuss this with my women, but how long do we have to decide if we want to formally become Greys?”

“For major decisions like this it is traditional that you be given a year and a day to consider it.” Iain looked around the room. “Just understand that some of those technologies just might keep one or more of you alive during the coming storm and they are not available to satellite clan.”

“What about our children,” a Griffon asked.

“Your non-adult children become outer clan when you do. If you are married, so do your spouses if they wish. Adult children will be given preferential consideration if they wish to petition to join the outer clan. If adult children join the outer clan and have children or spouses of their own, they will be treated just as your children and spouses will be.” He stepped away from the podium. “Now if you have more questions I’m afraid they’ll have to wait but I’ll have office hours tomorrow and I’ll be around here and there as usual. Don’t be afraid to ask any other questions that you have, but Lucifer is in operational command and I won’t have a lot of details about what we’ll be doing in regards to the traitors until she briefs me too. But as of this moment you are officially on hiatus as Rangers and under her command.” He looked at Amanda. “Colonel Sawicki, they’re all yours.”

She got to her feet. “Yes, sir, I have taken the liberty of asking Sofia to put together a training regimen to challenge us and get us back into war readiness, sir.”

Iain managed not to laugh. “You asked Sofia to challenge your people?”

“I did, sir.”

He flashed a quick grin. “Then what is about to happen to you is entirely your fault, Amanda. Remember that.”

She grinned back at him. “Sir, I knew what I was asking for but we have a lot of rust from being just Rangers.”

Iain turned back to the room. “This won’t make what’s about to happen to you feel any better, but I’ve been training under April and Sofia for years now. Sofia is very good at her job and she will push you until you won’t think you have anything left to give and are ready to give up. Don’t. What you need to remember is that she intends you to survive your training so you can get hurt and I won’t have to. If you die, I’ll have to get involved in the fighting, which she doesn’t want.” He continued as many of the pokegirls and some of the tamers laughed. “But rest assured that you are about to find out that the trainer you thought you hated while you were with the Sisterhood was actually very nice to you. But she is clan and you are clan and we don’t kill clan members during training. That would be rude and I’m not a big fan of being rude.”

***

“Did you know that there was a pool about you amongst your women that none of them won and they had to abandon?” Ygerna smoothed her skirt and settled almost daintily into Iain’s lap. “I understand that this particular event hasn’t happened before.”

Iain gave her an amused look. “Did it occur to you that perhaps Kasumi might not appreciate you plopping into my lap?”

Ygerna gave him a winsome smile and winked at Kasumi, who was sitting nearby. “I could suppose that she wants to be here and so she’s jealous of me right now, but your lap was obviously empty or else I couldn’t have sat down here. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s find out. Kasumi, I’d be willing to give his lap up to you if you’d like.” She looked at the kami evenly. “Would you rather it was you sitting here right now instead of me?” Kasumi’s cheeks turned bright red, making Ygerna laugh musically. “I do believe you’re right, Iain. Kasumi, I’ll get up, but only if you do actually use his lap. It is an excellent lap and quite comfortable. Someone should be making use of it.”

Kasumi shook her head and looked away. “It wouldn’t be right. You belong there as you are his wife.”

“Kasumi.” There was no humor in Ygerna’s voice, but instead an intensity that drew Kasumi’s eyes back to her. “I know that you are not used to this kind of familiarity, but when you are Iain’s wife will you use his lap then?” Without looking at him, she reached up and put a finger on Iain’s lips as he started to speak. “You stay out of this.”

Kasumi spoke in a low voice, carefully not looking at him. “I would if Iain would let me.”

“Let you?” Ygerna smiled. “Iain will welcome you. He has not complained about the fact that I am in his lap, he has only been concerned that you might not want me here. He almost always welcomes us to touch him. If he didn’t welcome me in his lap, I would no longer be sitting here. I have seen him shove people out his lap and it is unmistakable when he does.” She twisted in his lap and slid out of it in Kasumi’s direction. “Give me your hands.” When Kasumi hesitated, Ygerna smiled at her again. “We are friends, are we not?” Kasumi nodded. “Then please trust me.” Kasumi looked into her eyes for a long moment and held out her hands. Ygerna tugged her forward, turned her and slowly moved her back until the kami was firmly ensconced sitting sideways in Iain’s lap. “Isn’t that comfortable?”

Kasumi frowned slightly and glanced up at Iain, who was surprised by the almost hidden mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I think it’s not as soft as you led me to believe it would be.”

Ygerna chuckled. “I never said it would be soft, Kasumi. I said it would be comfortable. If it were too soft it wouldn’t be comfortable at all. In fact, it would be worrisome if it were completely soft.”

Kasumi looked thoughtful before nodding. “I can understand your reasoning and cannot truly fault it.”

“Excellent.” She gave Kasumi an expectant smile. “I’ll take that lap back now.”

Kasumi glanced at Iain and he saw that twinkle again in her eyes, along with a question in them. He nodded slightly and the twinkle got stronger. She shifted slightly in his lap and then deliberately curled up against his chest. “But it is so comfortable,” she said to Ygerna.

Iain saw shock, disbelief, anger and then wry amusement sweep across Ygerna’s face in rapid succession. She chuckled. “That was very well done, Kasumi. I will remember how cunning you can be.”

Kasumi sat up. “I was merely teasing you, Ygerna, as you have been teasing me today. I will gladly move.”

“No,” Ygerna said as she slid over and pulled Iain’s arm around her as she cuddled closely against him. “I invited you into my husband’s lap and I put no conditions on it. I would have taken advantage of such an offer just as you did. And this is just as comfortable.”

Iain reached up with his free hand and gently pulled Kasumi back against his chest. She sighed and curled up again. “So, Ygerna, what was this pool you were talking about that nobody won?”

The Sidhe chuckled. “Branna heard the argument about it shortly after I moved here, but she only recently told me about it. It seems that they made a bet before you came to this world about how many of your Texas sayings were actually real. Nobody had bet that all of them would be true but apparently it turns out that they are, so there were no winners.”

Iain just shook his head and laughed quietly. “The things they make bets on.”

“So, why did you ask me here,” Ygerna rested her head on his shoulder. “Granted the cuddling is nice and I’m not complaining about Kasumi’s presence, but I am curious.”

“We had a mystery to solve,” Iain said. “And you need to know what we discovered in solving it.”

“What was the mystery?”

“Why is Kasumi attracted to me?”

“That’s easy,” Ygerna said. “You’re a fascinating man.”

Vanessa snickered from where she stood. “He is, but as is usual with Iain it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“I felt an unusual attraction for Shikarou when we met,” Kasumi said quietly. “It turns out that kami blood calls to kami blood and I had kami blood from my mother and father. However, I felt a similar attraction for Iain and he has no spirit folk blood of any kind.”

Ygerna’s golden eyes regarded Kasumi for a long moment. “Could it be because of his magic? I too felt an unusual attraction to him when we met, but I thought it was because he has the potential to be a mage as powerful as the greatest Sidhe wizards.” She smiled. “And I was and still am an ambitious bitch.”

Kasumi chuckled. “You are the politest bitch I have ever met then, my friend. No, it turns out that Iain’s spirit isn’t human.”

Ygerna blinked. “But the body is just a reflection of the spirit. If Iain’s spirit isn’t human, then he isn’t human.” She looked up at him. “What are you then?”

“According to my grandmother and confirmed by Kerrik, Iain has the spirit of a Western dragon. It is surmised that his spirit was changed with magic from human to dragon before his family traveled from Four to here or possibly even before he was kidnapped to Four.”

Ygerna’s face was incredulous. “You’re a dragon?”

“According to Kerrik I am but I haven’t transformed for some reason or another. Apparently one of these days it’ll happen and I’ll turn into one,” Iain said.

“That could explain a great deal,” Ygerna said thoughtfully.

“Oh?”

“Iain, I am over a thousand years old and, in that time, I have had a half Sidhe child by a human but I never considered actually mating with one. The child was an accident and I never saw the man after I grew bored with him and left. Even after Faelan rejected me I didn’t consider the men of Haven, not even Jamie or Graeme.”

“You were drawn to Iain just as I was,” Kasumi said as she sat up.

“I hadn’t considered it before now but I believe you are correct.” She stroked Iain’s arm gently. “Danu intended for us to pair or I would not be pregnant now but perhaps your being a dragon is why she decided you would be worthy to help recreate the Sidhe race on this world.” She glanced at Kasumi. “I don’t know how it is for your kind but when Sidhe create children they mingle their spirits as well as their blood. It is thought that is the source of our inherent magical powers. A dragon’s magic is very powerful and promises great things for our children.”

“What is the difference between a spirit and a soul,” Vanessa asked. “If there is one, I mean.”

“There is,” Ygerna said, “although in truth there is overlap between the soul and the spirit. The soul is what makes you an individual. It makes you into who you are and it is the source of your consciousness and self. The soul grows and changes as you do. The spirit makes you into what you are. So your soul is that of Vanessa while your spirit is that of an Ingénue.”

“I see.” She turned to Iain. “Neither Ygerna nor Kasumi brought bodyguards to this meeting so I think that this is the best time for them to find out the truth about me.”

Iain nodded. “I’ll let the others know.” His eyes unfocused.

Ygerna perked up. “I get to learn another secret?”

Vanessa nodded. “You do, and it is one of the greatest secrets of the inner clan, for its release could mean war to the death with many of the legendary pokegirls of this world and possibly the leagues as well. I must request that you do not even tell your bodyguards, for they are not inner clan. The outer clan does not know this and they will not for many years, if ever.”

“The area is secure and clear,” Theodora said through Iain’s pokedex.

Kasumi frowned. “I am not Iain’s wife,” she pointed out. “I am still outer clan.”

“I am aware of the conversation you had with Eve,” Vanessa said.

“Oh.” Kasumi flushed.

“Do I want to know what this conversation was about,” Iain asked curiously.

“You most certainly do, but it is not yet time for you that find out,” Vanessa said. “Trust me on this.”

“OK.”

“Do we have to vow not to tell anyone,” Ygerna asked.

Vanessa shook her head. “I will only implore you not to. You are inner clan and Kasumi is a special case and I can only request your silence because of it. We do not demand vows from our sisters and I will not demand or even request an oath from either of you. But if you do repeat what I am about to tell you, you place all of us in terrible danger and most especially Iain.”

“Somehow,” Kasumi said dryly, “that is not surprising in the least.”

Vanessa chuckled. “It isn’t, is it? Trust our Iain to always be in the place of the most terrible danger, if only because he believes that by doing so he protects us.” She gave him a fond look. “Sadly, he is often right in that determination and there is little we can do to prevent him from protecting us even as we protect him.” She looked from one to the other of the two women in front of her. “As are many secrets, my secret is simple and yet, when examined, layered and complex. The simple part is that I am Evangelion.”

Ygerna’s mouth dropped for an instant but she recovered quickly. “Now you being Iain’s bodyguard at the negotiations with Shikarou and his family make sense.”

Vanessa nodded. “Until Iain comes into his full strength and possibly even then I am the most powerful person in the Grey Clan, which makes me his assigned bodyguard in the most dangerous situations. As an Ingénue no one would suspect that I am any more than a little dangerous and, as I once told you, I serve as a tripwire for the rest of the clan. That is still true, but I am a rather formidable tripwire.”

“You have children,” Kasumi said. “I thought that was impossible.”

“It is supposed to be impossible,” Vanessa said. “It is because of Iain that I became pregnant and bore Myrna and Saoirse. Now imagine if the other legendary pokegirls thought that Iain could get them pregnant.”

“Can he,” Kasumi asked.

“My pregnancy was the result of a wild surge of Iain’s magic,” Vanessa said carefully. “He has explained to me that such surges are uncontrollable and impossible to reproduce. We know that the surge changed me somehow as well as made me pregnant. It is the reason that my eyes are the same color as Iain’s.” She smiled when Ygerna looked startled. “I should say colors, though, as both of ours are now blue and green.”

“How else did it change you?”

“I don’t know,” Vanessa said. “Sometimes it scares me to wonder about it, but I know that whatever it is, if it is detrimental we will face it together. But to get back on topic, if the other legendary pokegirls discovered who I was, that I had children and that Iain was the catalyst, when they realize that they cannot have children they will wonder if Iain could get them pregnant as he did me. At that point all of you will become potential hostages and Iain will become their prime target. A few will seek to possess or kill me or my children.” Her face became grim. “And I will kill all of them that I can just as soon as one of them discovers this secret to keep us safe.”

“How long have you been Vanessa?”

“Evangelion is a boogeyman,” Vanessa said. “The less she is seen the more her legend grows. So I created the alias of Vanessa right after I arrived on Four and it became my secret identity, known to only one other Legendary pokegirl. But after I became pregnant, Vanessa became more real to me than Evangelion did. I love Iain and I love my family and they have little use for Evangelion, and that makes me happier than being Evangelion ever did.” She looked at her hands. “But I am Evangelion and I expect that she will likely appear again during the war with the Celestial Alliance.”

Kasumi looked at her curiously. “How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t like to kill people,” Vanessa said quietly. “I try very hard not to whenever possible. But sometimes people refuse to learn and they either die or they do something evil. Right now I hope that we won’t have to exterminate the Celestial Alliance, but I suspect that when we’re done they won’t exist as an organization anymore. Probably Lucifer will subvert those who are smart enough to let her be merciful into the Sisterhood. I doubt that she will just let them go. And to answer the question you haven’t asked yet, yes, as Evangelion I am supposed to only get involved in a situation if the threat is to the greater part of the world. If the Celestial Alliance gets control of the Sisterhood or of our clan, it will become a threat to all of the free people of the Earth. If it gets control of both organizations it will be threat to all of the people of any world the Alliance can reach. I would have no choice but to align myself against the Alliance for either of those threats even if I didn’t have my girls or love my family as I do.” She looked at Iain. “Does the Celestial Alliance count among its leadership pokegirls with longevity?”

“It does.”

“I had wondered. The Alliance’s goals and methodology had remained too consistent over the centuries and that would explain why, just as the Sisterhood’s has because of Lucifer and her leadership cadre.”

“Will you be able to have more children,” Kasumi asked.

“As I said, my first pregnancy involved an accident of wild magic. Theodora has determined that whatever the additional changes were from this incident, making me normally fertile is not among them.” She smiled. “But as we are talking about things that involve Iain, all I can say with certainty is that the future is fraught with potential. Whether that potential is good or bad is something that we will only discover when the future becomes the present. Right now I don’t want more children. I love my girls with all of my heart, but I had long ago come to terms with the fact that I was infertile.” She frowned. “And my twee has just reminded me that Iain has an appointment for team training in twenty minutes.”

Iain shrugged. “I have a pretty woman in my lap weighing me down and my rule is usually not to fight that sort of thing.” Kasumi sat up and slid off his lap. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I did,” she said as she stood and offered him a hand. “I too am involved in that team training and I don’t want to be short a teammate for whatever April has planned for us.”

Iain sighed and took her hand so she could pull him to his feet. “What about you, Ygerna?”

“My training isn’t until this afternoon.” She got to her feet. “My bodyguard and I are all spell casters and we’re being turned into a magical support team of some kind to take advantage of that fact.”

“Cool,” Iain said. He started to turn only to stop when Ygerna wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly. Then she did it again before letting him go.

She winked at Kasumi before smiling at Iain. “The second kiss was for Kasumi since she won’t kiss you yet.”

Iain shook his head. “While on the surface that sounds noble, I’m pretty sure that if I looked deeper it would probably just be greedy.”

The Sidhe smirked at him. “You might conclude that, but only if you were an untrusting person. Are you?”

“I don’t suppose there’s any way for me to answer that without sounding like a jerk to someone here, is there?”

“No, I don’t think so.” She grinned at Iain and Kasumi in turn. “I’ll see the two of you later.” Then she was gone, slipping away silently.

“Sorry about that,” Iain muttered.

“It isn’t your fault, Iain.” Kasumi gave him a sympathetic smile. “Therefore it isn’t you that I’d like to punch in the throat.”

He looked surprised. “You want to hit Ygerna?”

“Right now I would very much like to thrash her. I do not want her taking liberties with you in my name.” She looked at him and took a deep breath. “You understand that I am a faithful and dutiful daughter.”

“I do.”

“I must inform my father that I am divorced before I can do anything else.” She slowly reached out and took his hand. “I married Shikarou a very short time after I met him. I have already known you for far longer than I knew him before we married. Even if I only counted the time I have spent here and not the time since we first met, I still have known you longer than I knew him before we wed. Once I have informed my father of my divorce I will be free to marry again.” Her eyes searched his. “That is, if you would still have me.”

He squeezed her hand in his. “I will and gladly. I just don’t want you to feel forced into this. You’ve already been trapped into a marriage that you didn’t want and I don’t want that to happen again.”

“If, before I married him, I had been able spend the time with Shikarou that I have spent with you and learned the things about him that I found out over our years of marriage, I do not think I would have wanted to marry him,” she said softly. “This may sound bad to Vanessa and to others here if they heard it, but he treated me just like he treated his pokegirls. And once I was settled into my position at the school, he didn’t have much to do with me. He spent more time with his pokegirls because they could go feral and I cannot. Also he cared for many of them much more than he cared for me, although I didn’t see that at the time. Perhaps it was because, as you once said, he is far more traditional than I am and a traditional family isn’t that close emotionally or physically. I accepted it because I knew nothing else since my father and mother were traditional too.” She smiled at him. “Here I am clan. I have a home. I do not have to marry to be safe. I stand equal with any that I see. And now that I am free to be alone, I find I do not wish to be. You have said to me and to others without knowing that I would ever hear of it that you wanted me. Is that still true?”

“It is. Just remember that this isn’t like Haven.”

Kasumi laughed, cutting him off. “This is like no place I have ever lived, Iain. I thought life on Caomh Sith was hectic, at least in the beginning when we were building the town and developing the island. Then I thought Haven was hectic when we moved there and started over. But each time there was a burst of activity and then things settled down. It doesn’t matter where I go here, there is almost always something happening. If we are not rounding up the cattle for something we are going after pigs or chickens or wild dogs or feral cats or hunting ferals or even rugby. If I ever grow bored I can join Prometheus and work to save the world from itself and the feral pokegirls.”

“Don’t forget the training,” Vanessa said.

“I cannot,” Kasumi replied. “This is some of the most strenuous training I have ever undergone.”

“No,” Vanessa said, “don’t forget we are supposed to be on our way to training now. April is not going to accept an interesting discussion as a valid reason for us being late.” She smiled, “even if it is an interesting discussion.”

Kasumi chuckled as they followed Vanessa. “That just proves my point. If Shikarou decided to be late to training, training would wait for him to arrive.”

“We have too much to do for training to get delayed for one person,” Iain said.

“Again you prove my point. Here is chaotic, hectic and,” her smile faded and she regarded him seriously. “And it is where I truly feel at home. But nothing can happen until I explain to my father what has happened.”

“Then we need to get you home so you can talk to your family.” Iain looked thoughtful for a moment. “I’ve got some things I want to do on our next trip but at least one of them is going to take some planning so we won’t be able to go until at least next month. Is that all right?”

“I would prefer not to wait but I understand.”

Iain took her arm and pulled her to a halt. “Kasumi, this is not me being like Shikarou and telling you we have to wait. If this is a need, the clan will leave in two days for your world. But if you are willing to wait, I would ask you to. I don’t want to disrupt what we’re doing here unless I have to and you really want me to do this before we get married.”

“What is it that you seek to do?”

“I’d like to present it to you as sort of a before we get married gift.”

She looked into his eyes. “You are not putting me off like Shikarou did.”

“I am not. You’re still on the hook for at least sixteen children in the first decade.”

She frowned. “I thought it was fourteen.”

“It was originally, but inflation happened.”

Her frown became a tiny smile. “Inflation?”

“Yeah. It’s still doable. I mean, what, six sets of twins and four regular pregnancies isn’t that outlandish, is it? Or perhaps just one set of septuplets and nine regular pregnancies.”

The smile became more visible. “If the inflation for children is going to remain more than ten percent I don’t think I can afford to wait too much longer, but I will wait if you ask me to.”

“If I ask you to wait the inflation gets put into abeyance during the waiting period.”

“That’s reassuring to hear. Will I like this present?”

“I think you’ll like it more than you can imagine, Kasumi.” He smiled reassuringly at her. “And you shouldn’t have to wait more than twenty two days.” He tugged on her arm and released it. “Now we really need to get to that training.”

***

Dianthus was looking through binoculars at the water. “The walkway is moving away.” She lowered the glasses to look at Iain. “Is that good?”

“It is.” Iain checked the twin throttles to make sure they were in the neutral position. “The throttles are neutral and I’m starting the engines.” He was speaking out of habit from his time in the military and also for the data collection that Theodora was undoubtedly doing. He pushed a button above each throttle and a green light came on. “Engine start is good.” He glanced back at Dianthus. “Barb, I’m going to do the engine checks now.”

She moved to the rear of the control room and lifted the binoculars back to her eyes. “Ready.”

“Rolling number one engine astern.” Iain tugged the right throttle backwards about halfway.

Dianthus didn’t look back at him, watching as water and foam began to move under the right side at back of the ship they were on. “Confirmed.”

Iain put the throttle neutral again. “Engine one neutral, rolling engine two astern.” He pulled the left throttle halfway back.

“Confirmed.”

Iain took the throttles neutral. “Engine two neutral. Rolling engine one forward.”

This time the water pushed away from the stern of the ship. “Confirmed.”

Iain repeated the process with the number two engine and took both throttles to neutral before cranking the wheel to the right. “Here we go,” he said as he pushed both throttles forward about three quarters. He activated the radio. “This is the Defenseless, moving out. See you downrange.”

From the bridge of the Iain Grey, Idun and Lucifer watched at the ship turned for the mouth of the Louisiana Canal and began to pick up speed. The Angel looked at Lucifer. “Did he just name that ship the Defenseless?”

“You will find that gallows humor is prevalent in Iain’s life.” Lucifer said with a chuckle.

“We’re going to follow it out to sea and sink it in a live fire exercise,” Idun pointed out. “It doesn’t need a name.”

“Iain is the captain and apparently he disagrees.” Lucifer shook her head. “It is impressive that he and Dianthus are the only two people on it, considering it’s the same size as the Iain Grey.”

“It is, but the two of them couldn’t fight a ship,” Idun noted, “even if it had weapons.”

“I think that’s why he called it the Defenseless,” Lucifer said.

“He is certainly a strange one.” Idun turned. “Begin preparations to get underway. I want to give the target an hour’s head start, so plan to leave then.”

“Yes, captain,” the OOD said.

Idun looked at Lucifer. “Care to join me in the officer’s mess for breakfast, Eldest Sister?”

“I’d love to,” Lucifer replied.

***

As soon as they were in the canal, Iain pushed the throttles forward to their stops. Dianthus dropped the binoculars around his neck and picked up her bow as the ship began to pick up speed. “I didn’t think we were going to make a full speed run to the Gulf,” she said. “That isn’t what Idun is expecting.”

Iain smiled broadly as he adjusted the strap on the binoculars for comfort. “Yeah, but this thing is going to the bottom of the ocean in a day or so. Who cares about engine life at this point? Besides, if the engines fail she can always sink us in the canal without worrying that the wreck will interfere with the passage of her cruiser. We could sink dozens of aircraft carriers here without that being an issue.”

“I think she was expecting to intercept you at the coast,” Dianthus said. “This ship has the same engines hers does but it’s significantly lighter.” She looked thoughtful. “Theodora says it should max out at a little over fifty knots as opposed to the Iain Grey at thirty two. At full speed she’s never going to catch you unless you let her.”

Iain grinned. “Yeah, I know. Hey, it’s not like she’s going to dislike me more because of it.”

Dianthus shouldered her bow and ran her fingers through her hair, which was now almost to her shoulders. She laughed softly. “True.” She glanced at him and frowned at the serious expression he had while watching her. “That is not the face of a man appreciating my growing out my hair for him. What is it, sir?”

“I’m worried about you getting hurt,” he said.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I am going to get hurt.” She shrugged. “I’m supposed to get hurt but they shouldn’t kill me in front of you.” As long as you don’t let them take me from your sight, I should survive this.” She turned to face him squarely. “But if I don’t, you must remember that I chose to be your bodyguard and I demanded to be here today.” She smirked at him. “Master.”

“None of that or I get to spank you,” Iain said with a smile.

“Dominique is crazy,” Dianthus said. “I let you do that once just to see if I was missing out on something enjoyable. You hit hard when you spank.”

“That's why I don't spank people much. It's supposed to hurt. And just for the record I hit Dominique harder than that because her spankings are never possibly sex play.”

“And so I won't call you master much.” She looked around the small bridge. “Do you really think the Alliance will take the opportunity to try and capture you?”

“We're giving them one on a silver platter,” Iain said. “It's just you and me and the Defenseless has no weaponry.” He held out his hand. “Give me your pokeball.”

Dianthus eyed his hand before looking into his eyes. “You'll use it to return me when the Alliance arrives so they can't hurt me while I'm defending you. That means I won’t get to defend you. No.”

His hand dropped. “You are such a pain in the ass.”

She smiled slightly. “As you know, sir, I don't do anal. Find another for that.”

Iain just shook his head. “So many people think they're funny, so few actually are.” He smiled when she gave him a brief glare. “When we get to the rendezvous area I'll throttle back the engines and then start circling until the Iain Grey can join us. I figure that if the Alliance is going to try something it'll be then or when we are on our way to the target zone. Considering the clan is on standby, it won't really matter when they try for me.”

“I think they'll wait until the Iain Grey gets here,” Dianthus said. “They'd have to have us under observation to know when we would be most vulnerable to attack and it is likely they have agents on board.”

“They could have pokegirls underwater tracking us,” Iain pointed out quietly. “Flying pokegirls could be just barely in visible range and some magic spells allow for long distance vision, like a form of clairvoyance or remote viewing.”

The Elfqueen grimaced. “I hadn't considered that.”

“It's OK. Your job isn't to do threat assessment except right around me and that you do very well indeed.”

“Thank you.”

“You are very welcome, Barb.” He made sure the rudder was centered before rotating a bar down over the ship’s wheel and clamping it over the wheel which locked the wheel in position. Then he set a timer on his handheld. “The autopilot is set and my timer will remind me in half an hour to check our course.” He glanced at the walls on either side of the canal. “If they seem to be getting bigger I need to know because it could be we’ve drifted off of course and are getting closer to one side, which is bad.”

***

As soon as the Iain Grey entered the channel, Idun turned to the helmsman. “Make turns for thirty knots.”

“Make turns for thirty knots, aye,” the Megami replied and adjusted the throttle.

Idun glanced at Lucifer before turning to her Executive Officer. “Use the satellite uplink and access the satellite network to find the Defenseless. I want to know where she is so we can shadow her as soon as we catch up.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

Lucifer hid a smile at Idun’s use of the name Iain had given the target. “I thought you were going to give Iain a head start and you weren’t supposed to use satellite surveillance. That was the operational plan, if I remember it correctly.”

“I did give him a head start and I’m supposed to use every advantage I have in a real battle,” Idun said with an amused smile. “So now he’s my quarry and the chase is on. I want to get close enough to run targeting exercises on the Defenseless for my crew but not so close that we’re detected.”

“Considering that the ship has no radar on it I don’t think that’ll be hard,” Lucifer pointed out.

“True, but your male has proven remarkably resourceful in the past. There’s no telling what he is capable of. Also, the channel itself will provide too much clutter at more than twenty kilometers for both targeting and search radars.”

The XO looked over from where she was. “Idun, I found her. The Defenseless is around a hundred and twenty kilometers from us and almost in the exact center of the canal.”

Idun frowned. “That’s impossible. How fast is she moving?”

The XO checked her console and looked up, her eyes wide. “Her velocity is ninety plus kph.”

Lucifer chuckled as Idun’s eyes narrowed. “No, there’s nothing special going on. Theodora just reminded me that the Defenseless masses a lot less than the Iain Grey. She should have a top speed of fifty knots or so. It sounds like Iain changed the plan too.”

“That bastard,” Idun snarled. She moved to the radio station and grabbed the microphone. “What do you think you’re doing, Iain?” Her eyes narrowed when there was no answer. “Grey, answer me!” She thrust the microphone at the radio operator. “Keep trying to raise the Defenseless and let me know immediately the instant you do.”

“Yes, captain.”

Idun turned to her XO. “Keep tracking the target. He can’t change course in the channel but once he reaches open water let me know what he does.”

“I will.”

Lucifer reached out with her twee. Iain, is everything all right?

It is. Trust me, if we get attacked by anyone I’ll be screaming loud enough to be heard back at the ranch.

Idun is furious at you right now. You are fortunate she has never been on the Defenseless or she might be there right now, probably doing you physical harm.

There was a feeling of amusement. She’d be doing her best pincushion impression, you mean. Barb is irritated at me and would love the chance to vent some of that on Idun or, really, anyone else. What did I do that has Idun’s panties in a twist? That is, presuming she’s wearing any.

You have significantly deviated from the protocols of our little exercise. You are going much faster than planned and Idun is really unhappy that she can’t catch you unless you let her.

I would like to point out that the only way she could possibly know that right now is if she is currently breaking the rules. Satellite observation was supposed to be restricted so she couldn’t use it to adjust her fire on target.

Apparently it is allowable for her to violate her mission parameters but it is not allowable for you to do as well.

What a bitch.

Nothing about the evil that dwells in the hearts of Celestials, Lucifer asked teasingly.

There is nothing evil about deciding rules apply to only one side. It’s high handed, arrogant and moronic, sure, but it’s not evil. Besides, that’s a family joke and she is never going to be family so she doesn’t deserve to get our humor.

She’s trying to reach you on the radio.

She’d have better luck using a computer to call me. I set the autopilot and left the bridge. Barb and I are on the main deck and I’m doing katas while she keeps an eye on things. When we get to the rendezvous site I’ll slow down and do circles until you arrive, like a good little boy.

Lucifer shook her head slightly. You could slow down for Idun.

I could. Are you asking me to do so?

It would placate some of Idun’s ire and make her remaining hours alive more enjoyable. As you are aware, she does not have many of those hours left.

So far, Lucifer, you have suggested that I comply in order to make Idun less unhappy. I don’t care about Idun. If you are asking me to slow down and that doing so would make you happier, I will, of course, comply.

Lucifer was surprised to hear that. You would?

In the scheme of things, pissing off Idun is only amusing. To be honest, all I wanted to do was see what full speed on this ship was like and I’ve done so. It’s not as visually impressive as I’d hoped it would be. Even if it was, making you happier with me is more important than doing fifty knots on a ship. After all, Idun is irrelevant, but I love you.

Then I would appreciate it if you slowed the Defenseless.

Give me five minutes to get to the bridge and I’ll slow down to around twenty knots. You do realize that even with a ten knot overtake, Idun is not going to catch up before we reach the rendezvous.

I do and it is enough that the Iain Grey is closing on you. Thank you.

A few minutes later the XO looked up. “Captain, the Defenseless is slowing. Her speed is now eighteen knots.”

“Good.” Idun looked at the radio operator. “Do you have him yet?”

“No, ma’am.” The Cherry blinked and reached for her mike with one hand as she unconsciously reached up to touch her headphones. “Captain?” She didn’t wait for a reply from Idun before activating the mike. “Wait for the captain, sir.” She turned and held out the microphone as she touched a switch with her free hand without looking at it. “Ma’am.”

Idun almost snatched it from her. “Grey, what are you playing at?”

Iain’s voice was compressed from the transmission, but it was easily identifiable as his. “Idun, I’m not playing at anything. What are you talking about, over?”

The Angel scowled at the mike. “Grey, you are over a hundred kilometers away from us and you were proceeding at fifty knots. That’s not protocol for this exercise.” She grimaced. “Over.”

Iain’s voice was unapologetic. “I was running a speed test. It’s possible to build cruisers this light, although their armament would be significantly different from yours. Also, this would be a decent hull for a fast cargo or troop ship. The speed test is done and we’ll finish transiting the canal at our current speed.” There was a pause. “Besides, how do you know where the Defenseless is? You’re not supposed to be using satellite imagery or shadowing this vessel with aerial surveillance until your attack run. That kind of ruins the training part of this exercise.”

Idun’s cheeks reddened, but Lucifer wasn’t sure if it was from anger or embarrassment. “I am the captain and I will run my ship as I see fit. You will follow the exercise protocol from now on, do you hear me?”

Even with compression, Lucifer could hear the sudden coolness in Iain’s voice. “And until I abandon her to go to the bottom, I am the captain of the Defenseless and I will run her as I see fit.” Idun sucked air in an angry hiss as he continued. “I will meet you at the rendezvous point and there we will conduct the exercise according to the protocols you and the Eldest Sister established. Until then, unless you come under attack, I see no reason for further communication. To that end, contact me by phone if you get attacked. Iain Grey, commanding the Defenseless, over and out.”

Idun’s knuckles mottled white as she gripped the microphone with all of her strength. Then she took a deep breath and handed it to the radio operator. When she spoke to the hapless Cherry, her voice was tense. “Keep trying to raise the Defenseless. If he replies, inform me immediately.”

“I will, ma’am.”

“The Defenseless’ speed and course are unchanged,” the XO announced.

“Thank you,” Idun said as she turned to Lucifer. “Why do you put up with such behavior,” she asked in a low voice.

“He does not behave so willfully with me,” Lucifer replied. “But then I do not go out of my way to provoke him and I am not sure that is not what you are doing.”

“Why would I do anything like that?” Idun rubbed her forehead. “Your male is incredibly intransigent.”

“My male has a name,” Lucifer said. Idun blinked at the acid in her tone. “You wouldn’t refer to your XO or any other member of your crew as your pokegirl, would you?” Idun reddened. “Exactly. Part of the problem you are having with Iain is because you insult and demean him and he responds to that just as we would.” She shook her head gently. “Yes, he’s just a human, but we are human too and we become blinded by arrogance when we forget that. We need them as much as they need us.”

“He makes me want to strangle him,” Idun half snarled.

“I would suggest that perhaps you make him behave in that way. If you watch him, he is polite to everyone who is polite to him.” She took Idun’s arm and tugged her close as her voice dropped even further. “He cannot be controlled through force, Idun. Do you not think that if he could be controlled that way that it would be currently in use on him? Threats only make him fight harder. Make his situation hopeless and he turns that fighting inwards. I learned that when he was first in the hands of Sanctuary’s minions and he decided that he couldn’t possibly escape, he responded by taunting one of them into killing him. According to what I have learned, he was almost beyond the help of even the most powerful healing magic.”

“He could not do that to us,” Idun said confidently.

“If he were in front of you a few minutes ago and you strangled him as you’d wished, you would have probably crushed his larynx. Do you not think he couldn’t goad some Seraph or Fallen Angel who is guarding him into resorting to violence to get him to be silent? And if she does, might she not snap his neck? She would be very contrite afterwards, but the damage would be done.”

“We could use magic to dull his mind and make him receptive to our wishes,” Idun said.

“We could,” Lucifer said, resisting the urge to tear Idun’s head from her body. Controlling people that way was one of the things she detested most about the Alliance. “But first he must be unaware of the developing situation.”

“Perhaps you are right,” Idun said thoughtfully. “In any case, we will continue on to the rendezvous and there we will meet up with Iain.”

Iain Grey

Inner Harem

Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani

Eve Grey - Megami Sama

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)

Zareen - Nightmare

Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa – Evangelion

Lucifer – Megami Sama

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elf

Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen

Outer Harem

Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck – Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Silver - Pegaslut

Joyce – Milktit

Outer Clan

Melanie – Iron Chef

Siobhan – NurseJoy (Glasgow)

Queendom / Outer Harem

12 Elves

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

Matilda - White Tigress

Liadan - Twau

Sorrel - Armsmistress

Natalie - Blazicunt

Maria - Slutton

Rhea Silvia - Chimera

Geradine - Human

Mother s & Children

Vanessa

Myrna

Saoirse

April

Dorothy: Duelist

Meara: Duelist

Regan: Duelist

Canaan

Hannah: Huntress

Rebecca: Huntress

Joyce

Lisa: Milktit

Sherrie: Milktit

Harriet: Milktit

Lucifer

Olivia: Megami-sama

Seraphina: Megami-sama

Zareen

Caltha: Nightmare

Kim: Nightmare

Xanthe: Nightmare

Epona: Nightmare

Philippa: Nightmare

Nott: Nightmare

Nyx: Nightmare

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