Grey Chronicles

Twenty Six

(11/13/08 1115 Wolf Lodge, Texas League)

Iain sagged against the rock wall and slowly settled down on an outcrop as he wiped away the sweat dripping from his beard. Kerrik watched with an amused half-smile. A handful of meters away Ninhursag sat with Autumn and played with the kit resting in her lap while Misery stood sentry over the area.

Between training exercises they’d been discussing Iain’s situation and Kerrik was apparently in the mood to foment rebellion. “You realize there’s a simple way to make them fix your force field generating ring, don’t you?”

Iain glanced at him. “Apparently I don’t.”

“Refuse to wear it until they correct what they’ve done. Your Dominique seems capable enough that I am hoping she’ll be willing to start teaching Raven formal magic. And if Eve is an honors graduate of Kasumi’s school then she’s no slouch either. I’ve looked over the place and the curriculum enough to know that getting an honors degree there is hard. I’d lay odds that the ring works exactly as they want it to.”

“Refusing to wear it isn’t that simple. My ladies would be kind of unhappy about it.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Do you think your women enjoy you being unhappy?”

Iain frowned. “I,” he hesitated. “I don’t understand where you’re going with this, but no they don’t.”

“It’s admirable to want to do the things that please those we care about, but if you spend all of your time making your women,” Kerrik smiled briefly, “or anyone else for that matter, happy, then you will eventually be unhappy.”

That I understand.”

Kerrik shook his head. “I don’t think you do. If you become unhappy, eventually those you care about will become unhappy because you’re unhappy. At that point, not only are you unhappy but you’ve failed in your goal of making them happy.”

“Sounds like I’m screwed no matter what I do.”

Kerrik smiled again. “In the long run, if you do things that make you happy, even if they make your women briefly unhappy, they’ll be happier overall because you’re happier most of the time. And once they see you’re happier with these things, unless it involves something like tightrope walking over the event horizon of a black hole, they’ll relax about you doing them.” He leaned back and turned his gaze on the women playing with the children. “And on a different tack but one that’s entirely related to this conversation, you are a truewizard. If you are unhappy with those you care for, you could accidentally hurt them pretty badly. If you are unhappy with them long enough, eventually that accident becomes pretty much a certainty. You will have a stray thought, it will get a brief impetus from your will and someone’s head will implode at that point. They, not being truewizards, will probably never truly understand how much we have to work to keep our powers from reaching out at our whims. If you don’t control those whims and powers, well then you end up a scum sucking bottom feeding loser like Mhodvitnar.” He nodded towards the women. “And they eventually end up dead. Or worse. And that is likely to make them really unhappy.”

“Yeah, but without the ring I’m pretty damned vulnerable. I don’t want to die like Mhodvitnar did.”

Kerrik snorted. “You can learn how to protect yourself and you need to in case you end up alone somehow. Mhodvitnar died because he was an idiot. He wanted to kill you up close and personal and he didn’t bother to strip you of your defenses or scout you before attacking. That’s what got him killed. But he did understand that without challenges you can’t grow, even if he didn’t understand it in a healthy manner. Hiding behind that ring will just make you stagnate and less likely to push your development when you’re not here. That could get you killed.”

“So you don’t think I’m an idiot?”

“I haven’t decided yet. Letting other people dictate your life isn’t bright and you’re doing that. Every being desires freedom from the constraints that surround it. The difference between us and them is that if you deny yourself any freedom then your mind will one day take it for itself and at that point it won’t care what it does to those around you.”

“Is that what Confucius might say if he were a truewizard?”

Kerrik’s ears flattened. “Qiu was an ass kisser who would have advised us to give our power to the ducal government in return for an assured reward in some very distant future or possibly the next life. His habit of collecting writings and sayings that made the government sound like working for it is a wonderful thing was part of that ass kissing. And it worked, getting him promoted.”

“Did you know the man?”

Kerrik shook his head. “I’ve never been in any China during that particular time period but he reminds me a lot of Procopius of Caesarea. I did know that worm when he was on Belisarius’s staff.” He grinned suddenly. “I liked Justinian and his wife, which is why I was amused when I learned Theodora’s name. The empress was a hard woman, but an interesting person to know.”

“Maybe someday I’ll be able to find out for myself.” Iain eyed the Elfqueens sitting together. “Do you think Autumn would tell us where she came from?”

Kerrik cocked his head. “Is this about Sanderson?” He shrugged when Iain nodded. “Ninhursag is that mad at him?”

“Yeah, I think she’s that mad at him. She put up with years of abuse from both him and his son. This is the woman who spent two centuries trying to kill the mage who’d murdered her sisters and now she has a chance at some payback.”

“Did she get him?”

“The mage?” Iain nodded. “That she did. Helping her to get to him is how we met. He’d locked himself inside a slowly degenerating stasis field that she couldn’t break. We figured out how to get rid of it and Ninhursag got her revenge.”

Kerrik’s eyebrows rose. “Those can be tricky. What did you do?”

“Dominique figured out what was going on and I drained the field until it collapsed.”

“She must not be much of a mage if she couldn’t do that herself.”

Ninhursag looked up. “I couldn’t surround the entire field the way that Iain did. Until he did, it restored itself from the ambient magic whenever someone like me tried to drain it.”

Kerrik blinked. “You can extend your absorption?”

“I can. Why?”

“That’s unusual. Why don’t you show me?”

Iain shrugged and clambered to his feet. He concentrated, increasing his constant absorption a hundredfold and visualizing it extending outward in a sphere. A blue glow slowly spread out from his body.

Kerrik’s ears twitched. “Get rid of the blue.”

Iain concentrated until sweat sprang on his forehead. The blue faded and returned, faded and suddenly he was encased in an opaque blue ball. The color slowly faded until it was gone.

“Is the field still active?” Kerrik reached out until his fingertips intersected with where the field had ended. “If I weren’t me I wouldn’t be able to detect the energy drain. That’ll keep any regular mages from casting in your presence.” His head came around. “Misery, come here.”

The black Mini-top trotted over. “What is it, Kerrik?”

“I want you to create an energy blade and put it a couple of centimeters from,” he raised a finger, “from, not through, Iain’s leg.”

Iain’s mouth set as a glittering line of energy sprouted from Misery’s hand. He had to force himself not to move as she pointed it at him. She swung it towards Iain and made a surprised noise when it vanished. “What the fuck?” She moved her hand away and created the blade again. It vanished once more when she approached Iain with it. “I can’t give it energy fast enough to keep it going.” Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of trick is this?”

“It’s truewizard magic,” Kerrik said soothingly. “I wanted to see if Iain could protect himself. Thank you.”

“So no pokegirl is going to be able to do that to me when I want to stab her?”

“Not so far as I know.”

She grinned. “Good.”

Kerrik watched her return to her post. “Iain, that won’t protect you against physical attacks, but you now have the first step towards a protective system of your own design.” He smiled thinly. “I’ll have to remember if we duel not to throw bolts of magical energy at you or try to shoot you with a plasma weapon.”

Iain looked shocked for a second. “We are not going to duel. First, you’d kick my ass and second I’m pretty sure that Magdalene would take it poorly. I like her and I’d like to keep her friendship as well as yours.”

Kerrik’s ears stilled. “You’re not interested in her sexually?”

“Nope. I’m not into casual sex and she’s already given her heart to you.” Iain smiled. “For once, knowing more than I probably should about your family is a good thing. I do not and never will have a chance with Magdalene while you live. And if you did die, she’d need friends more than she’d need a lover.” He grimaced for an instant before his smile returned. “Besides, she’d probably go home and I think that staying far away from her family and the Kalan Empire is a healthy thing for my clan. Not to mention I’d be too busy hiding from whatever killed you.” His smile faded and he raised his voice slightly. “Autumn, do you think Sanderson is still in St. Louis?”

The Elfqueen looked up. “I think he’d come after me, but I’m not sure he has any idea which direction I was traveling. And eventually he might give up. He does still have Renee and if he leaves the store for too long who knows what might happen.”

“Do you have a problem with us tracking him down?”

Autumn’s eyebrows rose. “The man was trying to find a way to make me abort. He’s not important enough for me to hunt down and I don’t care what you do to him but if he’s capable of what Ninhursag said her William did then he needs stopped.” She smiled coldly. “After all, Ninhursag is certain that William killed the Autumn analog that was her mother.”

Kerrik’s ears flicked. “Iain, you’ve got these abilities to see things. Do they help you understand the motivations behind somebody’s actions?”

“Sometimes.”

“Why did Ninhursag’s Sanderson kill Autumn and why did this one want to abort Autumn’s pregnancy?”

Iain had the sudden impression that everyone except the kits was focused on him. He took a slow breath and forced his nerves to settle. “It’s primarily about control. Sanderson remembers the war and, while he was willing to welcome Autumn for the sex and her powers, he was always aware that she was one of the creatures running around killing people. On top of that, Autumn was never docile or submissive enough for his tastes. She would actually tell him he was wrong and would make decisions without referring to him while other pokegirls he could see were much more deferential to their owners. When she turned up pregnant, Autumn’s concern about and care for her pregnancy told Sanderson that the kits would come before him in her life and he couldn’t tolerate that. If she aborted, she might actually become more submissive than she was before because of the grief from her loss she’d be going through. Both Sandersons felt the same thing in this instance and behaved in almost identical manners.”

He paused to collect his thoughts. “In Ninhursag’s case, once the kits were born, Sanderson used the four that survived to control his Autumn. She believed that the death of the one kit was no accident and that he’d murder one of the others if she misbehaved. Once the kits were old enough to be sexually interesting, Autumn became less important to Sanderson. And when he realized that they could potentially have their personality broken to his will and they had never taken a life, Autumn’s fate was sealed. Her death would give him complete control over the child Elfqueens. He only waited as long as he did until the young children became as useful as their mother. On top of all that, Sanderson had some personal animosity towards Elves because of something that happened during the war.”

Autumn was watching him curiously. “Was the first kit murdered?”

Iain waggled a hand. “Yes and no. She died from Sanderson’s abuse but he didn’t intend to kill her. So she was murdered but it was almost an accident. It was essentially a case of shaken baby syndrome.”

“Do you feel that excuses him?”

“Not in the slightest.” Autumn seemed happy at his immediate response. “Accidental murder is as much murder as a deliberate killing. There’s no way it could be self-defense and that’s the only mitigating circumstance I’d accept. That’s one of the reasons I’m willing to help Ninhursag hunt this world’s Sanderson down and see if he’s like the one from her world.” He shrugged. “Abusing the baby would be reason enough for me. There is no excuse for doing what he did. That and his life means nothing to me. In that kind of situation I have absolutely no compunctions about killing someone.” He looked at Ninhursag. “Since Autumn has expressed no interest in keeping Sanderson safe, I’ll have Theodora do an aerial reconnaissance of St. Louis. I want an overview of the area before we go blundering in looking for him. That means we won’t be leaving tomorrow.”

“What league is St. Louis in,” Misery asked.

“It’s in Johto.” Iain shrugged. “I haven’t had any dealings with Johto or written about it much before I was snatched, but I know in general what it’s like so there shouldn’t be any major problems that we can’t deal with.”

“I’m glad he added that last part,” Ninhursag said quietly to Autumn. “I’m sure there’s something that is going to try to bite us, but we can deal with,” she grinned widely, “whatever it is.”

***

(11/15/08 2145 Grey Ranch, Texas League)

Daphne was looking at a newspaper that someone had brought from the day’s trip to Port Arthur. Like most people who’d recently become literate, she loved reading. “I have a question. What’s Thanksgiving?”

It’s an American holiday, Theodora answered to everyone, which will take place on Thursday November 27. It is a harvest festival celebration reportedly based on the first successful harvest of a group of early colonists to the North American continent several centuries ago. Recently it had become a holiday where family got together and gave thanks for the good things that had happened that year, watched or played organized sports and consumed lots of traditional foods and alcohol.

Ryan grinned. “I like holidays about food.” Several other people laughed.

Daphne turned to Iain. “Will we celebrate holidays?”

“I certainly hope you do,” Theodora said as she appeared next to April. “I have already begun the preparations for it and Christmas.”

Iain looked curiously at her. “How so?”

“Remember when I collected samples of bone and such before we went back to One? I cloned a flock of goslings that have grown up in tanks and are ready to be decanted and awakened.”

Iain blinked. “Geese?”

Theodora gave him a bland look. “That is what goslings usually become, although there is a story about one that became a swan. I’m not sure that story is legitimate.”

“It was a duckling that became a swan and the story was an analogy for the author’s life,” Iain said. “I’d love some roast goose.”

“Is it a popular holiday,” April asked.

“Indeed it is,” Iain replied. “Why?”

“We should contact Ellen and David to see if we can sell the outstanding geese.”

“I don’t doubt that we will be able to sell all we want,” Iain was looking thoughtful. “While not able to fight off any pokegirl except maybe a Chickenlittle, geese make great sentries. They make lots of noise when strange beings come around. Did you clone domestic turkeys too?”

“I cloned both domestic and wild ones,” Theodora said. “I know that they’re traditional American fare but I also know that you prefer goose to turkey. I am sending a list of the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas foods to April and Ninhursag’s twee as we speak.”

Ninhursag blinked as she digested the information. “We’ve pretty much got all of that except the cranberries. I’ll have to plant some pecan trees and peanut bushes though. I’ve seen them wild here but we don’t have any in the fields.” She smiled “It’ll give my students something to do.”

Iain blinked. “I bought a dozen kilograms of cranberries back in One. They were on the shopping list.”

“I put them on it because I knew what was coming. It’s good thing that Ninhursag can force plants to grow since they don’t normally survive in Texas weather.” Theodora smirked at him. “And I have the ones you bought for me in storage. You can bring them back with you.”

April frowned. “Back? You’re going to the Theodora?”

Iain nodded. “I was going to explain when we discussed tomorrow’s schedule.”

The Duelist eyed him warily. “Then maybe we should skip to that part of the evening. Why don’t you tell us what you’re doing tomorrow?”

He smiled pleasantly. “I go last.”

“I’m more than willing to grant an exception tonight.”

“No, I refuse to be given special treatment. Let’s do this by the numbers.”

April blinked and then shrugged. “Very well. Tomorrow Ninhursag and her queendom of Elves will be working with the agricultural students until noon. After that they and the students will be moving to the battle area and joining the outer harem and the satellite clan for individual combat exercises. Ninhursag, Canaan, Pandora and I will be leading the training. Eve and Sofia are going to the Thorn encampment. Theodora is delivering the second batch of supplies and Eve is going to oversee the unloading. Sofia will be training with some other Rias who are there. Zareen and Raquel are on wagon duty in the morning and will be helping Ryan and Silver learn how to pull the second wagon safely. In the afternoon all four of them will be sweeping the property and checking the livestock. Speaking of the livestock, we’ll need to round up and brand more of them sometime soon. Dominique, of course, is working on her training lab for Bette and Lauren as well as the rest of us magic using types. Vanessa and the girls will be here.” She turned and smiled sweetly at Iain. “So, I thought you’d be working on your magic training in the morning and joining the combat exercises in the afternoon.”

“Let’s start with what I won’t be doing.” He flicked something golden at Dominique. It glittered brightly as it spun through the air.

She caught it easily. “This is your force field ring. Why are you giving it to me?”

“I’m not wearing it anymore.”

She frowned. “Why not?”

“It’s broke.”

“No it’s not.”

“So it’s doing what you want it to?” Her mouth opened and she froze. He smiled without warmth. “You were going to agree with that statement.”

Dominique’s eyes narrowed. “No I wasn’t.”

“Someday I too will be able to discern lies, you know. After that day, I wonder how these conversations will go.” He shrugged when her jaw muscles tightened. “Right now I guess it doesn’t matter. The ring doesn’t do what I think it’s supposed to and so I’m not wearing it until it’s fixed.”

“You need to stay safe.”

“I do and I intend to. I am not going to be in the front line, that’s for damned sure.” He leaned back in his chair as people exchanged looks. “As for tomorrow, Theodora is sending a transport for me and I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning for the Theodora. I’m setting up a proper study area where I can focus on my magical work without being disturbed every ten minutes.”

Eve cocked her head. “Why don’t you do that here?”

“I don’t intend to be available for chats, discussions or any cuddles, that’s why. You see, whenever someone needs my time, they take it out of my study time and I never ever get it back. That is coming to an end and it has been made plain to me that the only way I can ensure I’m not disturbed is if I do my work behind an armored door that you can’t open unless I allow it. That is, of course with the appropriate phase and teleport blocks in place.” He mock glared at Zareen, who grinned shamelessly.

“I think your magical progress is more than sufficient now, Iain.”

He laughed softly. “Now that I think is the truth. I honestly believe that the less I progress the happier you will be, and that’s because you think it’ll keep me out of trouble. I think it makes me a victim just waiting to be victimized.”

April frowned. “I can’t go and neither Ninhursag nor Eve can get free from their obligations and go with you on such short notice. It’ll have to be Dominique.”

The Archmage scowled, but before she could speak Iain laughed again. “Nobody has to go with me. Unless they have something to do on the Theodora they’d just have to wait outside and waste their time while I’m working. I’m planning on going alone and whether I go alone or not I will be alone while I’m studying. Besides, we did obligate ourselves to training Lauren and Bette as soon as we can get the lab set up and Dominique is looking forward to teaching someone besides Rosemary who isn’t as fumble fingered as I sometimes am.” He shrugged. “Look, I’ve been led to understand that you trust Theodora to keep an eye on me, so it’s not like I won’t be under supervision that you approve of.”

“We still don’t like it,” Eve muttered.

“Like it or not, more and more I intend to be the force determining how my life unfolds and you’re going to have to get used to it.” He got up. “I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m being as much of an asshole as it sounds to me, but it is what it is.” He bobbed his head. “Good night, all.” People began filing out behind him.

Ninhursag waited until everyone but the inner harem was gone before shaking her head. “You’re not going to win this one, April. I’d suggest you give it up.”

“What do you mean? Iain will see reason. He always does.”

“He believes he is being more than reasonable. That’s the problem you’re not going to be able to defeat.”

Eve frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“This came out of a conversation he and Kerrik had the last time he was there. Kerrik suggested that if Iain doesn’t take better control over his life and start doing some things that made him happy, him being unhappy all the time will make us unhappy. That and he might accidentally start blowing us into bits with stray magic.”

Eve licked her lips. “He’d never do that.”

Ninhursag snorted. “Theodora, you want to tell her what you told me?”

The hologram smiled. “Not really, but I didn’t want to tell you either. Revealing this is on the razor’s edge of infringing on Iain’s privacy.” She turned to face Eve. “Iain allowed me to go with him on his journey through Mhodvitnar’s life. When Mhodvitnar was mastering his magical abilities there were several instances where his power manifested through an impulsive thought he had. He killed several people he didn’t like that way. Also, Mhodvitnar’s teacher gave him several case studies of instances in which other truewizards did similar things in an attempt to convince Mhodvitnar to focus more on his control. And the truth is that Iain is unhappy with certain aspects of life here and his unhappiness is focused on you in general and a few of you specifically. Rightly or wrongly he feels he has no privacy and no time or place he can call his own and he resents it.”

“Is that important,” Raquel asked curiously.

“Before he was yanked from his home dimension, Iain was often happiest when he was alone. After he was taken by Sanctuary, the only time he was alone was when he either threw a tantrum over it or was someone’s prisoner. His time alone after a tantrum was never very long. Don’t get me wrong, he loves many of you and enjoys spending time with each of you but he sees that he is the only person who is not allowed the privacy he craves and his frustration, while well hidden from most of you, is very evident to me. By the way, Ninhursag is correct that Kerrik suggested that Iain taking more control of his life would be better for Iain in the long run, which would also benefit us.” She hesitated. “And then there is another factor, something I did not mention before. It’s his undead harem.”

“What about them?”

“The Dragonesses are self-aware, relatively free willed and absolutely loyal to Iain. They have already done things not because he instructed them to but because they thought he would want them to do these things.” She looked around the room. “And they do not value your lives in the slightest except as Iain values them. This means he does not have to have an accident with his magic to kill one or more of you. All he has to do is have one of them think he would be better off with one or more of you dead and you will be attacked. Considering their power and methodology, except for me and Vanessa it will not be easy for whomever they attack to prevail. Vanessa is too strong and they do not understand me well enough to be able to harm me.”

April blinked. “Methodology?”

“They exist to protect him and to do his bidding. Their continued existence is necessary to fulfill both of those functions. Unless ordered to use a direct assault, they will attack with surprise when their target is in the worst possible position to defend against their onslaught. I am not trying to frighten you. Iain wants none of you dead and without that the Dragonesses should not move. I am merely pointing out that Kerrik had a valid point when he warned Iain that he needs to relax or you might be in danger because of it.”

Dominique looked up from the ring she was turning over in her fingers. “Can’t you tell when he’s getting close to that point?”

The hologram’s face was deadly serious. “I cannot. Whims are, by their very nature, impossible to predict. Do not worry, for I will watch Iain as closely as I always do but if something appears in his mind there may not be time in which I can react before the deed is done.”

***

(11/16/08 0530 Grey Ranch, Texas League)

Iain’s eyebrows rose slightly but didn’t speak at the sight of Dominique sitting at the dining table with a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal. He got himself a couple of bagels from a basket and poured himself some tea before joining her. They ate in silence. When they both were done eating, he put her bowl on his plate and disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned, she’d refilled his tea. He sat down again and sipped at it. “I take it April was insistent about you going with me?”

Dominique shrugged. “She wants to be, but I don’t answer to her any more than I answer to Eve anymore. I do answer to Ninhursag, but she doesn’t care either way. I’m going because you had a good idea and I’m stealing it.”

“What was my good idea?”

“Putting your study area on the Theodora where you never have to move it again. I’m going to do the same thing with my training lab. That and Theodora can repair any damage faster than I can here.”

“Are you going to modify the lab you already have on the Theodora?”

She shook her head in a cascade of scarlet hair. “I’ll build an entirely new one instead. I’ve got a lot of things in there I don’t want some trainee Witches around. The only problem is that with the way they squabble I don’t really want to be stuck with them during the trips back and forth.”

“I might have a solution for that.”

Her eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “What’s that?”

“You can watch me try when we get on the Theodora.”

“You’ll show me your magic?”

“Dominique, we’re a team. Of course I will.”

She smiled warmly. “I’d like that.”

“Then let’s finish our tea and get out of here.

***

(11/16/08 0630 Theodora, Sol System)

The entrance to Iain’s study area was unremarkable until it slid noiselessly open. Dominique stared at the tunnel extending into the distance. “What the hell?”

Theodora’s voice came from a point in midair about where the mouth was on her holographic image when she used one. “The armor around Iain’s studio is twenty meters thick. That hatch is too. It makes the entrance look like a tunnel.”

Dominique looked at Iain. “Why is your outer wall that thick?”

“You and the others are too enterprising for it to be any thinner. It’s not completely solid. No, there’s multiple phase, teleport and telepathic blocking arrays embedded in there.”

Theodora snorted. “It’s essentially solid, with the arrays taking up enough room to be considered impurities, but the truth is that a lot of my interior is essentially solid. I carve out new rooms as needed and fill the spaces in again when they’re not.”

Iain grinned. “Wait until you see the study.” He hoisted the pokepack he’d brought with him and headed down the passage at a brisk walk. Dominique trailed after him.

They stepped into the space beyond the tunnel and Dominique looked around cautiously. The chamber they’d entered was circular and twenty meters in diameter, with a ceiling ten meters above them. The center ten meter space was occupied by a raised platform upon which were an ornate desk, some comfortable looking chairs and a small couch. Also on the platform was what looked like an ultramodern smithy and a solid looking laboratory table. Bordering the walls were meter wide garden beds filled with shoots and seedlings poking up through the earth. A blue crystal fountain splashed merrily in the middle of one of the flower beds. The place was well lit with what looked like natural sunlight emanating from the ceiling. The space between the edge of the platform and the garden beds was currently empty, giving the room a partially finished feel to it. On one side an ornate staircase led down into the floor. Iain gestured to it. “Below are a small but comfortable sleeping area, bath and kitchen along with some storage space for stuff. It’s mostly storage for future projects.”

“This place is incredible, Iain. I may use a bunch of your ideas for my place.”

He chuckled. “I stole them from ideas other wizards had, so you go right ahead.”

She frowned. “You said there was a sleeping area. Just how long are you planning to stay in here?”

“I’m only making day trips for now, Dominique. The sleeping area is if I need a nap and the bed doubles as a healer.” He gestured around them. “I wanted plenty of room so that I could add and remove equipment as the whim caught me without having to change the shape of the room or adding more rooms to it or without having to crawl over something to get to something else.”

“Iain has the same rules in place for food that are in place for you Dominique, so I’ll make sure he doesn’t neglect his health.”

Iain blinked. “I do?”

Theodora chuckled, the sound seemingly coming from all around them. “You didn’t ask for them but yes, you do. It’s only fair and you are setting this up so you get your fair share of private time, are you not?”

“I am and I agree to your arbitrary and yet useful rule.” He dropped the pokepack on the table. “Go ahead and unpack this for me as we discussed, will you please?”

A part of the ceiling unfolded and a glittering chunk of metal descended on a thin cable. It uncurled as it lowered to reveal a spidery looking mechanical with a torso roughly a meter across surrounded by ten or twelve legs. The legs added two or three meters to both the diameter and the height depending on their position as the mechanical moved. A pair of auxiliary hands unfolded and picked up the pokepack as the cable dropped from the ceiling and was pulled into the back of the mechanical. “I will, Iain.”

Dominique stared at it as it headed for the stairs. “What the hell is that?”

“It is a remote that’s part of the defenses,” Iain took her by the elbow and gently guided her back towards the hatchway out of his study. “They’re scattered all over the interior of the Theodora and can be used to apprehend intruders or other things.”

She pulled to a stop to watch the spider. “How is it you know about them and I don’t?”

“I asked. I don’t think anyone else has expressed an interest in the Theodora’s internal security system, but I was curious.”

“To be fair, Iain, everyone else seems to think of themselves as passengers on the Theodora as opposed to crew members.” Theodora’s voice was mildly reproachful. “They don’t really think of this as a starship or a home for the clan. Other than you nobody has expressed interest in ship’s systems or been outside.”

Dominique blinked. “You’ve been outside the Theodora?”

“It was while I was recuperating from Mhodvitnar. You trusted Theodora to keep an eye on me and I took the opportunity to do my first EVA.”

“EVA?”

“It stands for Extra Vehicular Activity.” He grinned. “I’m an astronaut and I wanted to see what space was like.”

“How was it?”

“It was incredible. If I turned just right I couldn’t see the Theodora at all and I could pretend I was completely alone in the universe.” He shrugged. “At least it was true if I ignored the omnipresence of both the tattoos and the pull of the delta bonds.” He tugged her back into motion. “Now we get to see if I can make it so you don’t have to spend two trips a day inside a transport with Lauren and Bette.”

Once in the hall he led her a short distance down it and stopped in front of another hatch. It slid open to reveal a five meter long passageway that ended in an ornate looking wooden door. Dominique touched it and discovered that it only looked like wood. “You made a fake wooden door?”

Iain chuckled. “It’s so it matches the others in the library because I don’t want it to stand out on the other side. Now to see if I can activate it.” He pressed his hands against the door and closed his eyes. Dominique felt the surge of magic grow until she could almost see it in the air. Then it vanished abruptly. His eyes opened. “That was harder than last time. I wonder if it was because of the distance or if it’s some other factor. I’ll have to research that one of these days.” He grasped the doorknob and pulled it open. Beyond it was an octagonal room with doors on several of the walls. “And behold the antechamber to the library.” He flashed a grin. “If you walk from here into the antechamber and then through the right door you will be in the Barton House. While all I really wanted was to let us get to the library from here, now you can walk less than twenty meters and go from the Barton House to the Theodora while making Bette and Lauren ride up on a transport.”

Dominique’s laughter bounced off the walls around them. “That’s so cruel. They’re going to go crazy trying to figure out how I can beat them here.”

“You should warn them that you are much more powerful than they are,” Theodora’s voice said, “or else they might decide if you can teleport up here then so can they. Considering that you have determined that such teleportation is impossible, it could kill them if they try.”

“Oh, I’ll warn them and I’ll be sure to do it where Mark Prochazka can hear me do it so he can forbid them from trying. After that, their deaths are not my fault.” She eyed Iain briefly. “Are you going to be traveling this way from now on?”

“I like flying the parasite ships and I don’t want this trick to become common knowledge. It’s a potential direct line to invading the Theodora from the Barton House. That’s why there’s so much armor around this door. It’s not to protect the door so much as it’s to protect the Theodora from things that might come through the door from Earth. And I made a bunch of other security decisions before even considering this door.”

Dominique blinked as her twee supplied her with the details, the most drastic of which was a massive electrical current that would surge through the armor around the door and turn it into a molten sea that would destroy the door if it were closed and back flow through it into the library antechamber if the door were open. “I hope you are protecting the books.”

“I am, but Theodora is clan and her life is more important than any collection of books. If I have to choose between them and her I’ll torch the library myself.”

“I don’t think that it will be necessary to activate the meltdown protocol,” Theodora said. “I would first evacuate the entire atmosphere from the door chamber and keep it in a vacuum no matter how fast they try to fill it. If any attackers find a way around that, considering the defenses I have available to use before meltdown would be required I can obliterate any mixed force of pokegirls until the burnt carbon from their corpses clogs the entire passage. In the minimum time that would take I can summon help from my clan as well as use combat parasites from outside my hull to cut their way to the door chamber and open it to space where I can bring their weapons to bear and destroy the door, severing the link between me and the library.” A whimsical tone filled her voice. “In the meantime, of course, I know where each of the termini for the library entrances is and if I find that one is being used for an invasion I will proceed to bombard it from space to increase the complications they face in attacking me. If I destroy their door they cannot proceed further. And if I determine it is a league that is attacking me I may begin destroying their military bases until they desist.”

***

Iain Grey

Living Harem

Ninhursag - Elfqueen & maharani

Eve Grey - Megami Sama

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

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

Zareen - Nightmare

Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa - Evangelion

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

Slutton

Ranch employees

Daphne - Whorizard

Lynn - Growlie

Chuck - Doggirl

Ryan – Unicorn

Winifred - Rack (German)

Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)

Allison - Umbrea

Silver - Ponytaur

12 Elves

2 Elfqueens - Dionne & Adrianna

Joyce - Milktit

Lake Employees

Heltu - Wet Queen

6 Wet Elves

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