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Oh, shit, Ganieda said to Dianthus through her twee.
The Elfqueen continued her survey of their surroundings. I see nothing wrong. What is it?
It’s the woman approaching us.
Dianthus had noticed her but she wasn’t a threat and while she’d never seen the woman before, Theodora had provided her with imagery of the being named Mielikki that had called herself a goddess and it matched perfectly. That is Mielikki. But she knew that Ganieda should have already either figured that out or been told by Theodora. I do not see what about her has you so concerned.
Look at her eyes.
Dianthus examined them when her next sweep slid past the woman. They are blue and look human. Stop being vague and presume I cannot see what you are sensing.
I can’t read her at all, Ganieda admitted. But her eyes are filled with intelligence.
Dianthus almost looked at the Splice in annoyance. I said stop being vague.
Mielikki is smart and she’s pretty. Dianthus’ head whipped around to regard the stranger as Ganieda continued remorselessly. As I heard a Texan recently say, Iain is toast.
Dianthus considered Ganieda’s words and shrugged. If she joins us she will bring strength and power to our family and the clan.
Iain motioned for Mielikki to sit down on the other side of the table from him. “It’s weird,” he said, “I want to stand because I was raised that it was the polite thing to do for a woman, but you requested this meeting formally through Golden Cloud which means I’m acting as the Grey and the clan leader doesn’t rise for anyone.”
She smiled as she settled into the chair. “You would have stood if I’d requested something informal?” He nodded. “I’ll remember that for next time. Good morning, Iain Grey.”
“Good morning, Mielikki. I’m afraid I don’t know how I’m supposed to address you. Would you like something to drink?”
She looked over the collection of drinks that were off to the side. “Is the grape juice fresh?”
Iain poured her a glass. “It was harvested yesterday and juiced this morning.”
Mielikki sipped the juice. “It is very nice. Considering the circumstances, you may freely use my name as you have already.”
“Then please call me Iain and not Iain Grey,” Iain replied smoothly.
“I would like that,” Mielikki said. She took another sip of the grape juice. “I asked you how you knew Kerrik Wolf and you told me that it was a long story. Can you tell it to me now?”
Iain shrugged. “I’m from a different world where there is no magic that I’m aware of and there I imagined Kerrik Wolf, how he existed and what his life was like. I was kidnapped by some magic users and I ended up in the part of the multiverse where there are pokegirls and discovered that Kerrik Wolf was real. When my family and I moved to this world, Kerrik and I met and got along. I’d learned before meeting him that I was a type of magic using individual like he is. I also have the ability to know things that it should be impossible to know about people, including him, and he decided to take me as his student in our shared style of magic and in the martial arts he created a long time ago. I suspect it’s at least in part a case of keeping potential enemies closer than it is he likes me, although I think we’re becoming as much friends as people like us can. I’m also married to his former daughter in law so I’m the stepdad to his granddaughter. Finally, he has hinted that he may introduce me to his half-sister sometime later in our lives with the hopes that we might end up a couple.”
“That is a very complicated story and yet it did not take long to tell at all.”
“That’s the shortest way I could figure out how to tell it and I’ve been thinking about how to explain it since you decided you were curious about my story. Also, I did not see any reason for either of the two versions of Danu to know anything relevant about me so I didn’t want to discuss it while they were around.”
“I am impressed with how prudent that logic is.” Mielikki raised an eyebrow. “Why are you willing to tell this to me?”
“You’re living on my property, the herd accepts you as their goddess, you mentioned wanting to join the clan and you’ve been nothing but polite so far. My relationship with Kerrik isn’t a secret and telling you about it shouldn’t cause either him or me any harm. And I don’t see why we can’t try to get along and possibly even become friends, if a goddess can be friends with a mortal.” Iain drained a glass of water. “Why did you want to talk to me?”
“I want to petition to join the clan.”
Iain regarded her curiously. “May I inquire as to what you expect to gain from becoming clan?”
“One of the things I hope to get from joining your clan is protection,” Mielikki said simply.
“As Kerrik so candidly put it, I am almost powerless. I am hardly more powerful than you are, Iain, and if the two Danu goddesses joined forces I would not be able to withstand them. And as you are aware, there are other powerful beings around the world. I can hide inside the forest, but I have been hiding for a very long time and I grow tired of it. Besides, the two Danu goddesses already know I exist and where to find me.”
“If you can’t stop them I’m not sure what you think we can do,” Iain said quietly.
“You have only begun to harness your mystical abilities. I can teach you how to do much more with it and without expending a great deal of power while doing so.” She peered into the reflection of the grape juice for a moment before looking back up at him. “In my time as I am now, I have had to learn how to do things with an absolute minimum expenditure of energy. The unpleasant lessons I had to master can be used to make you much more powerful overall. The Danu goddesses are not very powerful either and after I teach you, together we could hold them at bay if we worked in concert.”
“Golden Cloud said once that the herd avoided helping outsiders because it usually just made the enemies of the outsiders into enemies of the herd too, to little benefit of the herd. This sounds a lot like that.”
She nodded as a faint sadness appeared on her face. “I was hopeful that you would not deny my petition, but I also see how it is best that you do so.”
“I didn’t say I was turning you away,” Iain leaned back in his chair.
Mielikki looked astonished. “But you are right in what you said. I see no real reason for you to accept me when I come with such danger in my shadow.”
“Did you think Danu and Danu are my friends now?” Iain smiled coldly. “At best they’re not my enemies at this moment just as they’re not your enemies at this moment. And those other beings you mentioned are likely to be just as friendly and polite as the Danu of Ygerna’s world is and that’s on a good day, when they’re willing to accept that I might be barely sentient. And then there are the pokegirls, the feral, the aware and the legendary ones.”
Mielikki nodded slowly. “Allowing me to join the clan will add strength to the clan that you or your descendants may need one day. Your reasoning is sound. And yet you have not said that you will accept me into your clan or that you will not.”
“You said one of the reasons was protection. Care to tell me some of the other reasons?”
“I am lonely, Iain. The unicorns are good, decent creatures and completely incapable of discussing anything at length that isn’t within their narrow viewpoint of the world and how it operates. One can only talk for so long about how various things taste or the best places and times to find various foods. Also, as we discussed, I am essentially powerless and I do not wish to spend the rest of my existence that way. Joining the clan is a step on the path towards regaining that which I lost so long ago.”
“You said you weren’t interested in Iain sexually,” Dianthus said. “Has that changed?”
Mielikki looked at her and shook her head. “It has not. I am not interested in a relationship with anyone now.”
“Now,” Ganieda asked.
“Even at the height of my power I could not tell the future,” Mielikki said. “If I could, would I have willingly put myself in the position where I am here now asking for succor from Iain?” She shrugged. “In a few centuries I may change my mind and desire a physical relationship. By then, if he lives, I will know if Iain is the man I would choose for that and he would know if I am a woman that he would accept in his life.”
“I will have to discuss this with my command staff,” Iain said.
“I am aware that you do not rule by fiat,” Mielikki replied. “I have spent much time watching you and the rest of your close family before deciding I wanted to take this step. I also know that your influence is important in deliberations of this nature, so I would like to ask how you are inclined regarding my request.”
“I think it would be good for the clan and I will so advise the others. I also think it’ll help you.”
“I appreciate your candor.” She rose. “And I should take no more of your time. There is one other thing, however, that I wanted to have you consider.”
“What is that?”
“As you are aware, your use of your innate magic is improved by your study and mastery of other magical styles. That is one of the reasons that Kerrik Wolf devotes himself to the study of almost every new style of magic that he encounters in his travels. It would be of benefit to you to do the same.”
“I intend to do exactly that,” Iain said.
“Good.” She smiled. “Now that I am joining the clan, not only will I be able to teach you to use your power more effectively, it also makes a style of magic available to you that was not available before.”
Iain frowned. “It does?”
“I am a goddess and although not that powerful anymore, I am still a goddess and I can still grant my priests the ability to cast spells in a style that none of your other teachers can use.” She shook her head. “That isn’t true. Kerrik is a priest of some god or goddess but he cannot teach you to cast divine spells. No mortal can because only a god or goddess can grant you the ability to do so.”
Iain had sat up while she was talking. “You want me to become one of your priests?”
“I believe it would be to our mutual benefit and you would be my only priest, probably for quite some time. You would gain instruction in a new way to channel magic and I would gain someone who would be available at times, but I understand not at all of the time, to answer questions of prospective worshippers and to celebrate my holy days.”
“Doesn’t that mean you’d expect me to do what you want? I have never been big into being ordered around by anyone and I’m pretty sure there’d be friction between us in short order.”
“I have no worshippers and very little power with which to grant you the ability to create miracles with which to attract them,” Mielikki’s voice was somber. “That will not change for a very long time. If you are my priest and I have a need for your service, I assure you that I will request it of you instead of command it. As my priest, I would expect you to hear my request and, if you cannot perform it, inform me of that fact. If it is something that I truly need instead of something that I merely want, I will ask that you attempt to find someone who can do what I need. In the meantime, I will instruct you in how to pray for and use priestly magic.”
“If you’re clan and you really need something, we will make sure you have it,” Iain rubbed his eyes. “Let me think about this for a few days if you don’t mind.”
“It is a decision that should not be made in haste. I will bring you some copies of the books of my religion to read if that will help your decision.”
“It would. Thank you.” A thought struck him. “If I agree and we come into conflict over something, can I be released from your service?”
“Yes. I would release you immediately from my service in such a situation. I understand that our relationship will be complicated since you would be my superior insomuch as you are the Grey and I would be your superior in that I would be your goddess. However, we are both intelligent and we can both be reasonable in determining where each of our spheres of responsibility lie. And hopefully we can be friends, which will also aid in reducing possible friction between us.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Iain said slowly. “I will read the books you give me and think about what you’re asking.”
“Thank you, Iain. I bid you a good day.”
“And I hope you have a good day too, Mielikki.” He watched her vanish and sighed. “Could my day get any more fucked up?”
Dianthus glanced at him. “Why did you ask that question? You know that now the universe is going to have to prove that it can.”
“Gah.” Iain sighed and got to his feet. “I’m meeting with Lucy and Danielle in a few minutes. I need to go pee before they get here.”
Dianthus waited until he disappeared into the bathroom before looking at Ganieda. “I think she’s setting things up so she can fuck him when she’s ready to. What do you think?”
“I don’t have to be a genius to know you’re absolutely right,” Ganieda stretched. “Think they’ll have kids?”
“Probably. Everyone else wants his seed for making babies.” Dianthus glanced at the Snugglebunny Splice. “When is your time?”
“I’ll wait for a little while longer, but not too much. What about you?”
“Before I came here I have never been given the opportunity to have kits.” Dianthus shook her head. “Now that I can, I find the idea of having children to be among the most frightening things I’ve ever contemplated. I’ll have some, I’m just not sure when the time will be right.”
Ganieda nodded. “I feel something similar since I am the only one of my kind. What do you think Lucy wants?”
Dianthus consulted her twee. “I think we’ll find out in ten minutes.”
Iain looked at the tiny house. In Ireland it would have been called a cottage, but here in McAllen Texas it was a house. Remarkably, it was a tidy place. The yard was relatively well kept and the house was in good repair with a thin stream of smoke flowing from the chimney. Iain sighed and April smiled up at him. “I can’t believe this is where he lives.” Her smile faded. “Nervous?”
Iain shrugged. “A little,” he admitted. “But this isn’t going to do itself.” He glanced back at Raquel, who gave him a reassuring wink. “Let’s do this.”
The man who opened the door at Iain’s knock was his height but thinner and muscular in a wiry way. He was clean shaven and had short sandy blonde hair with blue eyes that had been bleached by the sun while his skin has been tanned to a deep gold. He looked at each person in turn. “Good afternoon,” he said. “Can I help you?”
“I’d like to have a moment of your time,” Iain said.
The man shook his head brusquely. “Not here.” He nodded past them. “See that warehouse?” Iain had noted the dilapidated looking building earlier. It was across the street from the house and looked like it had been constructed years before all of the troubles that pokegirls had brought to Texas. “I do business there. Wait there and I’ll join you in a few minutes. Don’t touch anything.” He shut the door.
“He’s a bit rude,” April said.
Iain chuckled as he took her elbow and steered her towards the warehouse. “We established Prometheus so we didn’t do business at our house. I don’t have a problem with someone else doing the same thing. And he wasn’t expecting us.”
The warehouse door was obviously made of steel and was sealed shut with a massive looking chain and padlock but the entrance had a small porch attached to it and they took cover in its shade from the heat of the early afternoon sun while they waited. The windows had been covered with sheets of metal that had been bolted into the concrete walls using some massive bolts. Louvers up near where the walls met the roof allowed heat to leave the interior without letting anyone outside access to or even see the inside. The yard had various bits of equipment in various states of disrepair scattered around it and the grass had only been partially cropped to make a path to the warehouse door.
A few minutes later the man hurried out the house and across the street to join them. He unlocked the padlock and opened the door. “Inside and grab a chair,” he muttered as he waved them ahead. Once they were inside he dragged a large mirror outside and adjusted it to shine light through the doorway. The light hit another mirror and scattered into still more mirrors strategically placed to light up the interior, revealing that the inside held a small collection of tables and chairs and in the back, where there was a large overhead door, boxes had been neatly stacked in rows.
The man sat down in an overstuffed office chair behind a massive wooden desk and looked them over. “Who are you and who recommended you to me? I’ll warn you that I don’t take on new business with people I don’t know unless someone I do trust recommends them, so if you’re newbies who don’t know anybody, you’d be better off leaving now and not wasting my time.”
Iain nodded. “I’m Iain Grey and this is April and Raquel Grey.” He leaned back in the chair. “I don’t know your name, I’m afraid. As for business, I’m here for something a little different. Besides, I have no idea what your business is.”
“If you don’t know who I am and what I do, then why in the fuck are you here?”
“That’s kind of a convoluted story,” Iain said. “But I’ll start by trying to pique your curiosity. If you’re wondering why I seem familiar to you, it’s because you see my face every time you look in a mirror. We’re not related, though, but in a way we are.”
The man frowned. “All right, who the fuck are you and what does that mean?”
“Before he destroyed the world and human civilization, James Scott proved to the rest of the world that there are other universes,” Iain continued. “I’m from one of them. I am you from that universe just as you are me in this one. And I’m here because someone asked me to come speak to you about a proposition. Now since you have me at a disadvantage, what is the name you’re using?”
The man barked a laugh. “I’m James McCoy and I hope you realize that I’m not interested in swallowing the bullshit you’re offering me.”
“Your father died when you were eight,” Iain said, “of a massive stroke.”
McCoy shrugged. “Yeah, so? It’s not a secret.”
“He died at the kitchen table,” Iain said. “He was talking and stopped, fell to the left and hit his head on the floor when he did. Your most vivid memory of the event was the sound your father’s teeth made when they slammed together when his head hit. You dragged him away from the table until he was flat and then after you called 911 you hung up on the dispatcher because you knew you had to call the office where Mother worked to tell her what had happened. Your sisters were at school and the only reason you were at home is because you were recovering from pinkeye and hadn’t been released to return to school.” McCoy had gone pale. “You realized he wasn’t breathing and over and over again you pushed on his chest to try and get air to his lungs until the ambulance arrived. That’s what happened to my father and it’s why I took all of the first aid and CPR classes I could later in life.”
“Me too,” McCoy admitted. “Still, you could have found out about that.”
“You never told anyone, not even your mother or sisters the exact details about how your father died,” Iain snapped. “However, you used to practice smiling,” McCoy’s eyes went wide. “You knew that you were different and you knew that you had to hide it or the other kids would feel you were weak and attack you because of it and your smile never felt right. You don’t feel empathy for strangers, but then you don’t really give a shit at all about them. What happens to them isn’t important. But if you like someone, you’ll move heaven and earth to help them if they need it. You’re good at jobs where you don’t have to interact with people but you can work with others by faking it if you need to, at least to a point. You’ll be a shitty salesman unless you actually believe in the product and you’ll suck even then because you can’t pretend to care about others for long periods of time. You have a scar on your left foot where you stepped on a rake when you were four and when you were five you hit the second leg of the triad of serial killers when you committed your first arson. You hit the first leg the year before by torturing kittens. However, after the normal period while you were learning to use the toilet, you’ve never been a bedwetter.”
April was looking at him. “Arson at age five? Kittens at age four?”
Iain shrugged. “I was precocious.”
“You still are,” Raquel noted amusedly.
McCoy made a noise suspiciously like a snicker. He nodded towards April and Raquel. “I know those are both girls. I can spot a girl every time no matter how she’s disguised. If one of them is a scanner then she could have plucked all of that out of my head and given it to you.”
Iain laughed. “I don’t give a flying fuck about you, McCoy, and while you could be right about the whole telepath thing, you’re not important to me. I’m here because a friend of mine asked me to meet you. Up until a few days ago I didn’t even know you existed and if someone had told me about you I wouldn’t have cared.” He shrugged. “Besides, having one of my telepathic pokegirls scan you just because would be rude.”
McCoy’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t like rude?”
“There’s usually no reason to be rude to people. If you don’t like them, kill them.”
McCoy eyed Iain thoughtfully. “Who asked you to meet me and why?”
“It’s kind of an interview,” Iain said with a smile. “The women who asked me to meet you are named Lucy and Danielle. They are both pokegirls. One is a Megami-Sama and the other is a Megami. They wanted me to meet you because they wanted me to determine if you were a good bad person like I am.”
“I have a passing familiarity with Megami,” McCoy rubbed his face. “There’s one who works in the local sheriff’s office. She’s not that fond of me, pretty much on general principles, but so far she hadn’t harassed me much except to try to get me to be nicer.” He snorted. “But I’ve never heard of them being shy. Why send you?”
“If you’re a bad person without any redeeming qualities, Lucy meeting you might mean she’d end up killing you,” Iain said bluntly. “She was concerned I’d take that poorly. Being born from a big bottle means she’s a little confused about how we naturally birthed people view family and who is and who isn’t kin. The fact that we’re both Irish and Texan in outlook in a lot of ways just complicates things since we’re sometimes a bit unpredictable about family. When I came here, I brought with me some other people. Two of them were a pair of Megami-Sama lovers, one who is named Lucifer and the other is Eve, although Eve’s name used to be Danielle. I’m married to both women.”
“They’re your world’s versions of the ones who wanted you to meet me?”
Iain nodded. “More or less, although it’s a bit more complicated than that. Still, Lucy and Danielle saw the relationship me and my two ladies have and they want something like that for themselves. My family isn’t accepting new people right now and they went out and located you.”
McCoy blinked. “That’s fucked up.”
“Yeah, it is.” Iain grinned. “If you’re like me enough without being eviler than I am, I think they’ll come by, introduce themselves and ask you out on a date.”
“So you’re their matchmaker?”
Iain shrugged. “I’m more of an advanced scout in this situation, and that really only because they’re my friends, they’re pretty and they said please.”
McCoy frowned. “That’s my line.”
“If we’re analogs we are likely to have a lot in common.” Iain looked around the warehouse. “What do you do for a living?”
McCoy smiled slightly. “I smuggle contraband into and out of Mexico. Mostly it’s into Mexico. The Mexicans are willing to pay good money for items they can’t get in Sunshine. It’s a good living as long as you’re cautious.”
“You need a pokegirl,” Raquel said.
McCoy gave her a hard look. “I had one in my life. She’s dead. I haven’t found another that I like. That and I’ve been kind of busy.”
April frowned. “May I ask what happened?”
McCoy shrugged. “In addition to the smuggling I used to help people escape from Mexico into Texas. The money for that can be very, very nice. The last time I did anything like that, however, it turned out to be a trap. Lynette and I were captured by a Shiner infantry company and instructed that from then on we’d be ferrying spies and saboteurs into Texas and the pay would be that we’d get to keep breathing. We didn’t like their terms, and during our escape, Lynette was killed. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been looking for a relationship since my wife died. My hobby means I’ll get killed sooner rather than later.”
“Hobby?” April looked confusedly at him.
Iain had understood what it meant. “What’s your count?”
McCoy smiled thinly. “A hundred and ninety-four.”
April looked from one to the other. “Count?” She blinked. “You’ve killed that many for your wife? When will it end?”
McCoy smiled again. “A Shiner reinforced infantry company is a hundred and eighty men in six platoons of thirty. I killed one man for every man in the unit that killed her. The others just got in my way while I’m trying to complete my goal. I’ve got two more to go but they’re hard to find.”
“You’re hunting specific people,” April asked.
“There’s no way to know exactly who was there,” McCoy said as he shook his head. “But while I’ve killed enough officers to match those in an infantry company, there was an intelligence colonel and major there who were running the show. It turns out there aren’t that many colonels wandering around waiting for me to knife them in the back, but I think I’ve found a major for my next trip into Mexico. So hopefully soon there’ll be enough Shiners in Hell that Lynette can rest easy and I can give up my hobby.”
“We call them Sunnies,” Raquel said.
McCoy sneered. “There’s nothing sunny about those assholes. They sneak in just close enough to the Rio Grande and snipe someone randomly over here before running back to their crappy little base in Reynosa. Captain Otero doesn’t have the forces to suppress that and he can’t get permission to invade and take the town away from those shits. Truth be told, he doesn’t have the forces to do that, either. I almost got shot once by one of their random murderers.” He sighed. “If it weren’t for Mother I’d probably just move somewhere else. The smuggling’s better down near Brownsville. The Mexicans over in Matamoros pissed off the Shiner government by trying to revolt and join Texas. The rebellion got crushed and the Shiners have been withholding supplies to keep them compliant. I’d have a much better living down there.”
Iain was staring at him. “Your mother is still alive? Mine died a while ago.”
McCoy shrugged. “She’s dying. The doctors think it’s COPD from when she smoked a lot. It’s just slow.”
Iain eyed McCoy for several seconds. “Do you want her to live or have you decided you’d be better off without her?”
“Iain!” April was glaring at him. “Nobody wants their parents to die.”
“That is isn’t true and you know it,” McCoy said amusedly. “And since Iain here seems to know me a lot better than anyone should, he’s right to ask the question. My mother is the only thing I’ve been able to keep. She keeps me centered and I am not ready to let her go. Why?”
“We can save her.”
McCoy folded his arms. “I’m not rich. How much?”
“I am not going to charge you to save your mother’s life,” Iain replied. “How are your sisters?”
“They’re dead. The Breath of Kali got them,” McCoy said sourly. “Can you really save my mother? You haven’t even examined her yet.”
“You heard about the new medical technologies coming out of East Texas,” Iain asked.
“A little,” McCoy admitted. “I couldn’t afford it so didn’t worry about it.”
“We’re providing a lot of it to Texas,” Iain said quietly. “And now we can provide it to you.”
McCoy nodded. “For this I’ll meet your women.”
Iain laughed. “They’re not mine in any way, they’d be insulted if I were doing this to get them in the door to meet you and,” his laughter died instantly, “I’ll be insulted if you do that again. I’m not here for you, I’m here for Lucy, who is my friend, and Danielle, who is becoming my friend. I’ll tell them what I found here and I’ll give them my opinion if they ask. What you want is immaterial.”
“And you’re willing to help my mother why?”
“That’s a little more complicated. For now you’ll just have to accept that I want to. The detailed explanation involves the fact that there are women in my family who would say that she’s sort of my mother too and would probably come here and save her unless I gave specific orders for them not to, and I learned a long time ago not to give orders that won’t be obeyed.”
“They’d violate your orders?”
Iain shrugged. “Let’s just say,” he was watching April, “that some of them would probably become quite creative in finding a way around whatever I ordered and even more creative in how they justified it after the fact.”
April gave him a smug smile. “We would, too. Up to a point, your life and James’ life should have been almost identical and we would not want that window into your past to escape us.”
Iain chuckled. “See, she’s already working on the ‘we’re doing this because it’s the best thing for us to be the best for you’ defense.”
Raquel flashed a grin. “That is true, Iain,” she said in her heavily Noir accented English. “Also, Kasumi and Ygerna are not likely to obey orders you give to us.” She looked at McCoy. “What is your mother’s name?”
Iain shook his head. “April, have Siobhan, Canaan, Ganieda, Allison, Heather and Dianthus brought here.”
“They’re on their way,” April said as she got up. “Disposition?”
“Heather and Dianthus get me, freeing you to help Siobhan.”
“I’ll have her bring my medical kit. And the others?”
“I have something for them and Raquel to do.” He eyed McCoy for a moment. “And when thing settle out we’ll offer the two of them twee. It’ll help level the playing field with Lucy and Danielle.”
April smiled. “I’ll make sure the offers get tendered when things are a little quieter.”
“James, I’m going to have some pokegirls teleporting in here in a few minutes.”
McCoy nodded. “I won’t startle anyone. I happen to like my bones unbroken. In fact, I will just stay sitting right here until you let me know I can get up.”
“Incoming,” April warned quietly. A few seconds later people began appearing around Iain. When the last of them had arrived, she spoke again. “Dianthus and Heather have Iain. Siobhan, you’re with me. We’ll go outside and give these men a little room before McCoy joins us to lead us to your patient.”
Iain watched them leave. “James, this is Canaan, Ganieda and Allison.” He pointed at each pokegirl in turn. “Ladies, this is James McCoy, my analog on this world.”
“That explains the resemblance,” Ganieda said. “Why are we here?”
“I want you three and Raquel to go into Reynosa tonight and hit the Sunshine base there. You are free to kill and destroy as much as you want, so long as they’re Sunshine military or police or their facilities. Collateral damage is to be avoided if possible, but don’t endanger yourselves to do so. Allison, Raquel and I will spend part of today making a sign you’ll leave at the base. It’ll explain I don’t like random sniping attacks into Texas and if there’s another one you’ll come back and spank them harder.”
“Have I mentioned recently just how wonderful the gifts you give us are,” Allison asked with a grin. “I haven’t had unrestricted combat since the war.”
Iain chuckled. “Once in a while you do. While we’re making that sign, I want Ganieda and Canaan to go on a little side mission for me.”
Ganieda’s ears flicked. “What kind of mission?”
“You two are going into Mexico and fetching me out a colonel and a major. They must be members of the Sunshine military but I don’t care who they are otherwise or what they’re specialty is or what they are doing. They’re to be relatively undamaged and you’ll bring them here for Mr. McCoy to take charge of. He intends to kill them to avenge the murder of his wife and then he’ll be free of entanglements so he can meet Lucy and Danielle. A pair of intelligence officers were involved in his wife’s death and he’d like to kill their equivalent since he can’t find those specific individuals.”
Canaan’s antenna unfolded as she looked at McCoy. “I see what they look like. If we can find them we will, but otherwise we’ll find you substitutes.”
McCoy was staring at her. “You were in my brain? I didn’t feel anything?”
“If you ever do, it’s not me or Ganieda scanning you.” She turned to Iain. “Permission to rampage while looking for our targets?”
“Considering the random sniping, permission is granted. If you find any snipers, feel free to entertain yourselves as long as you stay safe while doing so. A thousand Sunny troops aren’t worth any one of you.”
Canaan grinned at Ganieda. “I haven’t been on a real hunt since before I was Spliced. You?”
“No.” The Snugglebunny Splice’s fangs gleamed in her smile. “I am going to enjoy this.” She turned to Iain. “Your orders are understood, sir. We will hunt for you.”
Iain’s eyebrows rose. “That sounds formal.”
“It’s what we told the Creator when he gave us a mission.”
“I am your male,” Iain said firmly. “I am not a stand in for Scott.”
“Good.” Ganieda looked at Canaan. “Let’s go.” The two of them slipped outside.
Allison’s ears went flat for a second. “I hope they leave me and Raquel something to kill tonight.”
“I have never enjoyed killing like you do,” Raquel noted softly. “If they do what we need to, then I will accept that. There will be enough killing in the future.”
Iain put his hand on her shoulder. “You don’t have to do this.”
Raquel smiled at him. “I want to hunt, Iain, and hunting humans means killing them. I just don’t need to kill as many as my sister here hopes to do tonight. A few will be more than adequate for me. After Canaan and Ganieda hurt them today, tonight they will be tired and off guard, not expecting another attack so soon. While the others are distracting the soldiers, I will instead strike for their armory and destroy their supplies. As I have learned from listening to you and April, if their weapons are broken so is their will to fight us. I will have to return to the ranch. I want thermobaric grenades and some other equipment for this hunt.”
“Excuse me,” a soft voice with a Hispanic accent said behind Iain.
He turned and smiled. “Sofia. James, this is Sofia, another member of my family. Sofia, this is James McCoy, my analog on this world.”
She nodded to James. “Hello.” Her attention returned to Iain before he could respond. “You are our clan leader. You are not our military planner and Raquel was correct to contact me.” The Ria’s ears flicked. “If we attack the Sunshine base in Reynosa, we should eliminate it, not damage it. I recommend the second platoon with an Elf platoon in support and the rest of the clan standing in reserve. It will also give us a chance deploy the goblins in a real combat situation and evaluate their effectiveness with the new armor and weapons as well as to see if our tactics with them work as expected.” She smiled grimly. “Understand that this is just a force estimate and our pre-strike planning will determine what forces we will employ in the assault.” Her smile vanished. “No?”
Iain shrugged. “You’re right. I overstepped my bounds. Just understand that Ganieda and Canaan are on a hunt and unavailable until it concludes. Otherwise, make it happen.”
Sofia gave a him a slight smile. “Thank you for listening to me. Allison, Raquel, come with me back to the ranch. Theodora will survey the city while Ninhursag, Lucifer and we put together an operation for nightfall.” She vanished, followed quickly by Allison and Raquel.
James was staring at Iain. “Did I just hear her say that you’re going to destroy the Shiner base in Reynosa?”
“I’m not.” Iain smiled slightly. “I’d be wrapped in duct tape if I even suggested I get involved in this Charlie Foxtrot without a lot of prior planning. But, yes, it does sound like the base in Reynosa will cease to exist by tomorrow morning or sometime in the very near future no matter what.”
“Does that mean you don’t need that sign,” Dianthus asked.
“I think I’ll let Ninhursag decide that one,” Iain said. “Crap. I’m going to end up having another one of those talks with Lorena, aren’t I?”
“You almost certainly are,” Heather said.
“Who is Lorena,” McCoy asked as he got to his feet.
“President Robinson,” Iain replied. “She’s a friend and accuses me of making her life a little difficult sometimes like when I do little things like destroying military bases that belong to our enemies.”
“I wonder why,” McCoy said. “You know some important people.”
Iain shrugged. “I know a lot of people. Most of them are irrelevant no matter what they think of themselves. The problem with Lorena is that I like her and her husband so their opinion matters to me sometimes.”
Siobhan stuck her head in the doorway. “I’d like to meet my patient,” she said loudly. “That means James needs to show me where she is. And Iain needs to be with us since he’s my student.”
“You are learning to use healing magic, aren’t you?” She disappeared back outside.
McCoy chuckled. “Why does everyone, including you, sound like they’re from England?”
“That would be I sound like I’m from Ireland and don’t call April or Siobhan English,” Iain said quietly. “April is staunchly Irish and Siobhan is Scottish and decidedly so.”
“What about you? If you’re me then you’re a Texan.”
“I am, but I spent several years in Ireland and, if you’re like me, you’re a mimic about accents. I know I am.” He smiled at the two women nearby. “As for them, Dianthus spent a lot of time in New Zealand and Heather is from what used to be the Midwestern US. You’ll find that pokegirls who were born in the war were programmed with accents based upon where they were supposed to be stationed after Scott took over.”
“Does that mean that Raquel is from France?”
Iain smiled. “Something like that.” He motioned towards the door. “Lead the way, James.”
McCoy led them outside and wrestled the mirror back into the warehouse before rechaining and locking the door. “I’d like all of you to stay outside while I talk to Mother and let her know what’s going on. She’s pretty frail and surprises can be bad for someone in her state.”
Siobhan nodded. “We will do as you ask as long as it doesn’t take too long.”
McCoy led them across the street and slipped into the house, leaving everyone else standing on the porch. Iain looked at Dianthus. “I know better than to ask you and Heather to remain outside in a strange house with strangers.”
Dianthus glanced at him. “Then why does it sound like you’re hoping I’ll agree to do just that?” Iain stuck out his tongue and she chuckled. “Exactly. April, you and Siobhan will be focused on Catherine McCoy which will leave Heather and me watching everything else.”
McCoy opened the door shortly. “Come inside and sit down.” He led them into the living room and scowled at an empty chair with a blanket folded over the back. “Damn. Sit down, but not in that chair. I’ll be right back.”
Iain waved Siobhan and April to the couch and folded his hands behind his back as McCoy headed through a doorway, only to backpedal into view to avoid the tray the woman was holding as she walked into the living room. She was obviously older than McCoy, small and petite with mostly gray hair interspersed with brown and a face that face looked tired but alert. She smiled at them as she put the tray down and settled into the chair. “James, be a dear and serve the tea. I’m Catherine McCoy and I welcome you into our home.” She frowned as her blue eyes lingered on Iain. “You look remarkably like my husband, rest his soul.”
Iain smiled. “My mother told me that too. My name is Iain Grey and I don’t really look a lot like your husband. I do, however, look a lot like your son and there’s a good reason for that.”
She smiled back at him. “I would remember having another child, Mr. Grey.”
“Please call me Iain.” He chuckled. “I would hope that you did. No, I look like your son because in another universe I was him before I came here. I realize that may sound hard to believe, but it’s true.”
Catherine’s eyes twinkled. “I have seen a woman shoot fire from her hands and fly, Iain. Very little is hard to believe. If you are my son from another place, why are you here?”
“I was kidnapped and eventually ended up here. Now I live in East Texas with my family.” He gestured at April and Siobhan. “These are two of them. This is April and this is Siobhan. The women behind us are Heather and Dianthus and they’re my guards and family too. As for why we’re here, I am here now because I was asked to meet James by a pair of women who might be interested in him and they wanted me to vet him first.”
“Really? That would be wonderful. James has been alone for too long since his wife died and I would like to see my grandchildren before I join her.” She eyed him. “How was your mother when you were kidnapped?”
“My mother was killed by a drunk driver right after I graduated from high school,” Iain said. “It left me to raise my sisters, who were alive and relatively well when I was brought here. However, we can discuss my past later when you’re doing better. James wants us to heal you so you won’t die soon.”
Catherine looked surprised. “You can do that?”
“There are pokegirls with healing abilities to rival the destructive powers that other pokegirls wield,” April said. “Between Siobhan, myself and Iain, we can fix almost any illness you might have.”
Catherine frowned. “Iain can help?” She looked at him. “How?”
“I’m learning magic and Siobhan is teaching me more about healing people, so technically I’m her student in that sort of thing.”
“So you’re not like James in,” her voice died away.
Iain could guess the question. “If you’re asking if I am a sociopath who doesn’t care about very many people, the answer is I am. Siobhan has a kind heart and wants to help you because you need help. I offered to help you because I miss my mother. You’re not her, but I don’t see a reason for James to have to lose you when we can keep that from happening.”
Catherine was watching him with a look he remembered from his mother. “You’re a good liar, aren’t you?”
“I try not to lie to people but yes, when I want to be I’m a very good liar.”
“Are you lying to me?”
“You really offered to save my life because you miss your mother?”
“I did and I do. I miss the people who I love who died.”
“But you didn’t come here to save me.”
“I didn’t know you were alive until James mentioned that you were. Until recently, I didn’t know James was alive either.”
“You said you’re here because some women want you to give them your opinion of him. Are they important to you?”
Iain frowned. “One of them is my friend. The other is her lover and is likely going to end up my friend as well. Having them find a man who will make them happy will be a good thing, both for them and for me.”
“Why would it be a good thing for you?”
“I and some of my family are concerned that if they don’t find a man of their own, they might decide that I’d be a suitable choice for them. That would cause problems I don’t want.”
“That would cause problems that we don’t want,” April muttered.
“Are you going to lie to them about James’ potential suitability for them?”
“I don’t have to. What they’re looking for he has. Now they’d have to meet each other, and everybody involved would have to decide if their personalities are compatible.”
“Will I like these women?”
Iain shrugged. “I hadn’t considered it and I can’t answer that question except to say I don’t know. Later you can tell me.”
“Are they good women?”
Iain snickered, which turned into a low laugh. “Very much so.”
Catherine scowled. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“All sorts of things.”
“Now you sound like James when he’s feeling sneaky.”
“That’s interesting. Now do you want us to save your life or will it not matter if you like those women or not since you won’t be around for very long?”
Catherine’s scowl deepened. “Why are you being such an asshole?”
“I’m not. You won’t miss it when I am. However, I am trying to irritate you so you’ll drop the subject. I’m not going to discuss Lucy and Danielle with you while you try to decide if you like them from my description. They get to meet James cold and him them the same way so you get to meet them without any briefing either.”
“I could be your mother.”
Iain started to say something and shook his head. “That’s kind of true but you’re not and I doubt you’d offer to adopt me and I’m not sure I’d let you even if you did. I mourned my mother and my life has continued since then and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be happy with all of the decisions I made to get to here. I’ve killed people, I’ve kidnapped people and the best thing my daughters can say about me is that I’m a good bad person.”
“They also say you’re the best daddy in all of the universes,” Siobhan said quietly. “Myrna told me that.”
“Very well, that’s the best thing they can say about me.”
Catherine looked stunned. “You have children?”
“I have a small army of children.”
“They would like to have you be a grandmother,” April interjected. She glanced at her husband. “And we were hoping that you could tell us stories about James’ youth and we’d find out that Iain’s early life was the same so we could know more about him.” She smiled when Catherine looked at her curiously. “I’m April Grey and one of Iain’s wives. Three of that army of children are mine and they love their father with all of their hearts.”
“There are twenty-one children in the clan,” Heather said suddenly, “which is less than a platoon, so it’s not an army. All of them know Iain as their father and all of the ones that are on the way will know him as their father too. They have three grandmothers, two of which they see sometimes, and they, being greedy as all children are, would eagerly welcome another grandmother.”
Iain glanced at April. “Two? Who else besides Gormlaith?”
“Since we returned from our last trip, you know that Gormlaith has been spending some time with the children and recently Kasumi has been bringing Yuko over for visits. Yuko helping with the children is still pretty new and Theodora is watching them closely as they’re still new to this. Yuko isn’t in any sort of rotation which is why you haven’t seen her with the children and you haven’t seen her name on the schedule. She is remarkably tender with them.”
“Ah.” He looked at Catherine. “So to get back to what we came here for, can we fix whatever is wrong with you?”
“What happens if I tell you no?”
“You’re a Texan,” Iain said. “We’ll respect your wishes. And when James poisons you so you can no longer give consent, assumes guardianship of you and asks us to help, I’ll help him.”
Catherine’s mouth dropped and she stared at Iain for a second before turning to McCoy. “You would do that.”
“Just as soon as I was alone with your teacup,” he replied with a smile. “You don’t want to die, Mother. Let them help you. If you get another son out of this, can he please take care of you at least half of the time? I could use the break. And since I’ve had you for over twenty years,” he trailed off with a grin. “It’s his turn.”
Catherine shook her head. “I don’t want to die, Iain. Please, if you can, save my life.”
Siobhan got up. “Give me your hand.”
Catherine held out her hand. “What good is that?”
“I am a Nurse Joy and I can diagnose a wide variety of medical problems by touch.” She took Catherine’s hand and nodded before she lifted Catherine’s hand towards Iain. “Tell me what you detect.”
Iain took it. “I can already see that she’s got emphysema. Her lungs look like hell.” He smiled at Catherine. “You’re having a good day today, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “I am. I’ve only had one bad coughing fit and I haven’t felt out of breath yet. How can you see something like that? My doctor had to do some tests to tell me what I might have and he wasn’t certain since the disease isn’t so advanced that it’s easy to diagnose.”
“One of my abilities is the ability to see inside people,” Iain said. “I can feel that you’re not healthy and I can see your lungs at the same time.” He looked at Siobhan. “She’ll have to have surgery, won’t she?”
“She will. The damage is not new and can’t be healed like battlefield injuries can. But Theodora and I can treat her in only a day or so.” She looked seriously at Iain. “Or can you fix her in some way that I can’t?”
“I am not going to experiment on this woman,” Iain said firmly. “She’s nice and I’m not going to kill her by accident. I’d have to kill James too and that would just send Lucy and Danielle back towards us.”
Siobhan nodded. “But someday you might be able to heal something like this without surgery?”
“It’s possible.” He looked at Catherine. “We can help you but because of the way Siobhan’s magic works she can’t heal your lungs as they are. We’d have to remove them and grow you new ones if she was to do the healing. What we can do instead is take you to our medical facility and treat you there. You’ll spend a few days asleep and when you wake up your lungs will be completely healed, along with pretty much anything else that’s medically wrong with you, including badly healed broken bones and other things. At the same time, if he’ll consent we can do the same thing for James. He probably has badly healed scars and poorly set broken bones that, when mended, would make him healthier.”
Catherine eyed Iain curiously. “Why aren’t you talking to James about his health?”
“I will, but he can hear me now and I was hoping to enlist your aid in getting him to acquiesce since he’s probably got the same stubbornness about powering through injuries as I do.”
Catherine laughed and began violently coughing. Siobhan put her hand on Catherine’s chest and her coughing eased immediately. “Wow, that helped a lot.” She looked at the Nurse Joy. “You just proved to me that you know what you’re doing. You are my doctor and I’ll listen to your advice.” She looked past Iain. “James, listen to them and let them heal your leg.”
Iain chuckled as James glared at his mother. “I know, it’s a good as it’s going to get. I used that argument too for a long time.”
McCoy transferred his glare to Iain. “Then why bring it up?”
“Because it’s not as good as it could be. I was captured by someone and vivisected. I’ve had my arm cut off and you can’t tell either happened to me. Hell, even my nose is straight now.”
McCoy touched his own slightly crooked nose. “Really? I find that hard to believe.”
Iain sighed and held out his hand to April. “He’s not going to do this without proof.”
“You are not supposed to be a training dummy,” April said as she took his hand gently. “I don’t like doing this.”
“You think I want,” he broke off in a loud grunt as, with a crack like a tree limb breaking, April snapped his wrist. He took a deep shuddering breath. “Someone fucking fix it please,” he hissed between clenched teeth.
“We should make you heal yourself,” Siobhan said as April pulled Iain’s wrist straight.
The Duelist held her free hand over his broken wrist and bathed it in golden light for a moment. “There.” She met his eyes. “You’d better protect me from Eve.”
“You’ll be fine. It wasn’t my eyes this time, it wasn’t close to my brain and I will not let her hurt you for this.” He looked at James as he slowly rolled his wrist in circles. “Now if you still don’t believe me I’ll be happy to break one of your bones so they can prove to you that was real. I’d even be willing to break several of them. But I’m not doing my Conner McCloud impression again.”
Catherine captured Iain’s wrist in her hands. “Child, don’t scare me like that again,” she said quietly as she felt his wrist carefully.
Iain blinked. “Are you mothering me?”
She smiled at him. “I feel better than I have in months, Iain, and you made it possible for Siobhan to come here. I don’t know about adopting you, but I’d like to be friends and if we’re friends I don’t want you injuring yourself for no reason. If my pigheaded son wants to keep hurting, let him.”
“I don’t want Lucy lecturing me.” He shrugged. “Fine. If they work out she’ll get him healed anyway, it may just involve amputations and regeneration. Maybe they’ll give him anesthesia beforehand.”
James sighed. “Mother we can’t both be gone at the same time or they’ll break into the warehouse and empty it. We’ll lose everything.”
“How much is the stuff in your warehouse worth, roughly,” Iain asked. James frowned at him and Iain grinned. “And don’t tell me it’s priceless. I’ve seen priceless things and you don’t have anything priceless in that pile of crap.”
“It’s not crap,” James protested. “It’s worth at least a thousand dollars.”
“If you get robbed while you two are gone I’ll give you a thousand dollars,” Iain said. “You can keep whatever crap you still have too. Besides, I have another job for you, if you’re interested, and the monies involved will be lucrative enough that you’ll probably want to hire someone else to do the smuggling for you and minimize your risk.”
James blinked at him. “I meant two thousand dollars.”
“James!” Catherine glared at her son. “Don’t try to lie to Iain.” She smiled suddenly. “It’s like he’s your brother.” She looked at Iain. “I keep James’ books. He’s got seven hundred and nineteen dollars invested in his current inventory. His profit margin on most of his trips is around twenty four percent so the maximum value of his stock is just under nine hundred dollars.”
“Mother!” McCoy was staring at her in shock. “I can’t believe you just told him that.”
“So the thousand dollars will cover his losses?”
“Yes and no.” Catherine glanced at her son. “The total value of the things in my house is nearly three thousand dollars. He’s right that we might be robbed. Smuggling is a cutthroat business and our competitors aren’t very nice people. I’ve had to shoot two of them while he was out on a run when they thought an old woman couldn’t protect our property.”
James stared at her. “You never told me that.”
She smirked at him. “I didn’t see where you needed to know. You don’t tell me about all of the people you’ve killed in your quixotic mission of vengeance.”
Iain looked from one to the other. “We can protect your property while you’re gone. Considering that we’re going to destroy the Sunshine base in Reynosa, I don’t think a house and a rundown warehouse will be hard to keep safe for a few days.”
“You can’t do that,” Catherine’s eyes were bleak. “There’s an armored battalion in the base. You’ll be slaughtered by their tanks.”
There are no tanks in the Sunshine order of battle, but the Reynosa base has a battalion of forty Panhard ERC-90 Lynx armored cars inherited from the military forces of Mexico, which purchased them thirty years ago, Theodora said to Iain. They’re heavy anti-tank infantry support vehicles with 90mm main guns. The five of them in the command platoon are operational and the rest have been cannibalized for parts to keep the command platoon running. They do not have night vision equipment and rudimentary optical systems making them a minimal threat. Ninhursag and Lucifer are aware of their presence and we are factoring them into the plans for the assault on the base. The biggest concern is snipers using the inoperable hulls as ad hoc foxholes so they will be destroyed along with the command platoon at the beginning of the assault and before the goblins deploy. It won’t be difficult as the command platoon parks in an open area near the battalion commander’s quarters so they can’t be vandalized.
April was looking at him curiously and he nodded. “There are forty Lynx armored cars with antiquated anti-tank guns on the base. Most of them are deadlined for lack of parts. The command platoon is operational, although how fully is anyone’s guess. They’ll go away in the first salvo before the infantry deploys.”
April smiled. “I doubt the command platoon does a lot of training.”
“We will presume that they do,” Iain said quietly. “And kill them quickly, along with the hulks just to make sure we get them all.” He looked at James. “So, want to get that leg fixed while we watch your house?”
James visibly hesitated and Dianthus shook her head. “If we wanted your stuff or to hurt you, it would have already happened. If Iain says your property is safe with us, it is.”
“Barb,” Iain said quietly, “If he is anything like me, it is very hard for James to put his trust in anyone except himself. I had a really tough time doing so even with Scheherazade and I still don’t trust easily.” He looked at McCoy. “But the truth is that she’s right. If I worked for one of your rivals or enemies or whatever they are and I’d agreed to hurt or kill you, it would have already happened and you’d never have even known my people were around. Now, I have done my due diligence and gone past it with my offer to heal your injuries and this is as far as I need to go. If either Lucy or Danielle try to fault me for your refusal, they can sod off.”
“You are offering to heal me for them?”
“I have known you for a little more than thirty-nine minutes, McCoy. I certainly didn’t do it for your sparkling wit and lively personality. While Catherine is charming, I’ve known her for less time than I’ve known you and so I didn’t offer because I like her either. So, last chance for an answer. Is it yes or is it no?”
James glared at the wall behind Iain for several seconds. “I can’t accept your offer until I get the last of the killers. After that, I will accept it.”
Iain nodded. “I can understand that. But it means we need to go back to your warehouse since Ganieda and Canaan are back with the prisoners you’ve requested. But I remember you saying that these two would end your hunt for vengeance. If you lied to me I will remember that, and you are unlikely to be trusted by anyone in my family again.”
James was staring at Iain. “You have them?”
“No, Canaan and Ganieda do.”
“James, remember your promise,” Catherine said sternly.
James nodded. “I remember, Mother. I only want them dead. Torture has never brought me pleasure the couple of times I tried it.” He looked at Iain. “And as you know, killing is a means and not a goal. I don’t enjoy killing, but sometimes it has to be done.”
Catherine grabbed Iain by the wrist. “Don’t you have a problem bringing people to my son so he can kill them?”
“I understand about the drive for revenge,” Iain said gently. “I’ve been driven by it. But I just want your son to be finished with his quest so he can meet Lucy and Danielle cleanly. I’ll brief them about what he’s done in his wife’s memory but this way I can stress that he’s done with it and so they don’t have to worry about him haring off to murder some random Sunshine soldier when they cross paths.”
Catherine’s gaze was shrewd. “You really want these two involved with my son and not you.”
“Indeed I do. My family is already so large that we have to schedule out the times I spend with all of my women so I don’t neglect anyone. Adding to that is unfair to both the newcomers and to the women already in my life.”
“You talk funny. There’s no shed in schedule.”
April giggled. “Finally, Iain said it properly.” Beside her, Siobhan laughed softly.
Iain sighed and pulled his hand from Catherine’s. “Let’s go, James. I don’t need to stay here and get picked on. I can get picked on lots of other places.”
Dianthus looked at Heather. “You take point.”
The younger Elfqueen was already headed for the door. “I’m on it.”
James paused when they were outside. “I don’t see your women.”
Iain kept walking, forcing James to start moving again to keep up. “They’re probably waiting for us inside the warehouse.”
“I locked it up and it’s pitch black inside.”
“That doesn’t matter to them. Pokegirls who can teleport can go anywhere they’ve already been.”
James frowned. “And the fact that it’s as dark as fuck in there doesn’t matter either?”
“Not when you can create your own lights, it doesn’t.”
James shook his head. “Damn. Lynette couldn’t do any of that.”
“They’re abilities that have to be taught,” Iain replied. “And it’s easier for some pokegirls to learn those kinds of abilities than it is for others.”
“Do Lucy and Danielle know how to do these things?” James busied himself unlocking the padlock and unlacing the chain from the door.
“I believe they do. If they don’t, they’re smart and can learn quickly.”
The interior was lit by light globes and Canaan and Ganieda were standing over two kneeling forms. The Snugglebunny Splice grinned at Iain and James as they came in. “I am pleased to report a successful hunt.”
Iain ignored the prisoners. “How much damage did you do to the base?”
“If you look west you’ll see some rather large pillars of smoke climbing into the sky,” Canaan said. “If they don’t get the fires under control quickly it could be disastrous for them.” She smiled. “And the bodies inside will be cremated if they don’t get them out soon.”
“Release us immediately,” the prisoner wearing the three gold stars of a colonel said in heavily accented English. His arms were bound behind his back and his uniform was mussed where his gun belt had been roughly torn from his waist. “We are members of the Sunshine military and you have no right to hold us.”
James was staring at them. “How did you know,” he asked in a wondering voice.
“I told you I scanned your mind,” Canaan said gloatingly. “Your memories of that day were pretty easy to read and it turns out these two were stationed at the Reynosa base and are well known and feared by the regular soldiers there. This wasn’t a difficult hunt.”
Iain eyed the prisoners. “You found the two who actually captured James and Lynette?”
“They did,” James moved forward. “Do you remember me?”
The major’s eyes went wide even as the colonel shook his head. “I’ve never seen you before,” the colonel said dismissively.
“He’s lying,” Ganieda said. “He recognized you the instant he saw you. They both recognize you.”
James looked at Iain. “Do you mind?”
“Help yourself. Just remember the mess and what you promised your mother.”
“Yeah, I should probably take them outside for this.” James jerked the major up by his hair and dragged him towards the door, his wiry strength ignoring the major’s struggling just as his ears ignored the major’s cries for mercy. Once outside, the major’s pleas ended with a loud gurgling noise that Iain identified as the sound of someone’s throat being cut while they were talking. It was interesting to note that he’d never done that particular deed and only knew it from his memories of Mhodvitnar, Eoghan and Germanicus. But then the dead dwarf’s behavior at the best of times would have turned the most jaded sadist green with envy and the two druids were almost as evil and depraved.
The colonel apparently recognized the sound for he went white when he heard it. He turned to Iain. “Please, before he returns, release me so I can at least fight for my life.”
“What chance did James and Lynette have when you faced them down with an infantry unit full of soldiers and told them to obey or die,” Iain asked him pleasantly. “She died during their escape, which is what started James down this road of death and so it’s why you are here today waiting your turn to be slaughtered like a hog.”
“I have a wife and children,” the man said pleadingly. “They need me to take care of them.”
“You should have thought of that before you decided to become what you are,” Iain replied. “This day always waits for those like you.”
“You’ll end up like this too,” the man snapped.
“Perhaps, but there are no guarantees. Now shut up before I have Canaan and Ganieda look up your family to make sure your genetic garbage doesn’t continue to propagate.”
James came inside, holding a large knife. He looked at Iain and the colonel. “Problem?”
“Just some blubbering from the condemned.”
James grabbed the colonel by the neck and slammed the hilt of the knife into the man’s temple, stunning him. “I’ll be right back.” He looked at Iain. “I love Lynette and I miss her terribly but I will be glad to be finished with this. I’d have stopped but in my rage I swore an oath to kill them all.”
“And we carry out our oaths,” Iain nodded. “Go.”
“Just so you know,” Canaan said quietly as James dragged the man outside, “the colonel was never married. He probably does have children, however, considering the number of rapes he committed over the years.”
“Do you think that changes the way I feel about the colonel?”
The Huntress’ teeth gleamed in her quick grin. “I know you don’t feel much of anything for him, but that information will make some of the other women in our family happier with this outcome.”
“I suppose that’s true enough. Ganieda,” the Snugglebunny Splice straightened. “Tell Siobhan that we’ll be leaving soon and she needs to prep her patients.”
“I’ll take care of it.” She vanished.
Iain looked at the waitress. “I’m looking for Captain Otero.”
The woman nodded. “This way, sir.” She led him and Pandora through the restaurant, carefully wending her way around the occupied tables until she stopped in front of one where a painfully skinny man in a TDF uniform sat with a red headed Paladienne, also TDF. “Captain, this man says he’s looking for you.”
Iain smiled. “I apologize for disturbing your lunch and I’d like to make it up to you by buying both of your meals.”
The Paladienne grinned and pulled a chair out. “If you’re buying, sit!”
The man shook his head slightly as he gave the Paladienne an annoyed look. “Who are you?”
“I’m Ranger Lieutenant Iain Grey,” Iain replied. “But I go by Iain.” He nodded towards his guard. “This is Pandora.”
Otero grinned. “I’m Paolo and the greedy wench over there is Carmen.”
“Hey,” the Paladienne protested. “I’m not greedy. I just know how much you eat and a free meal sounds great.”
Otero gave her a shocked look. “How much I eat? You always eat more than I do.”
Iain settled down in the offered chair while Pandora took up station nearby. “Well, it’s nice to meet both of you and paying for the meal reminds me that I don’t like people bothering me while I’m eating unless they make it worth my time. Hopefully, getting the bill makes this worth your time.”
“Speak, kind sir,” Carmen announced.
“I wouldn’t be so hasty,” Otero warned her. “Rangers usually travel with trouble.” He looked at Iain. “What’s wrong?”
“I understand you have a problem with terrorist attacks,” Iain said.
Otero looked at Carmen and seemed reassured that she looked as mystified as he was. “No, I don’t know anything about any terrorists.”
“Don’t you have a problem with snipers shooting random people in town from across the river?”
Otero scowled. “Oh, that. I hadn’t considered that terrorism but thinking about it, that’s exactly what it is.” He leaned back in his chair and regarded his glass of tea. “I went so far as to arrange a meeting with the base commander in Reynosa and told him that what was going on was in violation of the rules of war. He laughed in my face. Apparently this is total war and he doesn’t care if a few Texans get murdered while they’re conquering us. Then he had me escorted back to the border and told never to enter Sunshine land again.”
Iain smiled thinly. “That’s why I’m here. I intend to put a stop to it but I wanted to know if the civilians in Reynosa support Sunshine or if they want left alone.”
Carmen had been watching Iain closely. “You’re related to James McCoy, aren’t you? You remind me of him.”
Iain chuckled. “Distantly, yes. I originally came here to see if I could help Catherine get better and to see if James wanted a job. Then I found out about the terrorist attacks.”
“While I want those attacks stopped as much as anyone,” Otero said, “You’re just one man.”
Iain flashed a grin. “I’m not a man, I’m a Ranger. You know our motto of ‘one riot, one Ranger’.”
Otero shook his head. “Fine. I’ve got a Ranger here to stop the sniping attacks. What’s your plan, Ranger?”
“You haven’t answered my question,” Iain commented. “Do the people of Reynosa like being part of Sunshine?”
“No,” Carmen interjected. “The league has been worse than the Mexican government ever was. It’s not as bad as what’s happening to the people in Matamoros, but things are bad enough here. The national police are pretty brutal to the civilians. Why?”
“I was thinking about talking to the Sunshine base commander but after your meeting with him I don’t see any other way to stop the attacks than to eliminate the base they’re coming from,” Iain replied. “You might want to get ready for an onslaught of refugees when that happens.”
Otero stared at Iain for a long time. “You do realize just how crazy that sounds,” he finally said.
“He knows,” Pandora stated quietly. “But that’s what we’re going to do. That’s why we’re warning you to be ready for it.”
“I have a company of TDF infantry,” Otero protested. “We’ve all got combat pokegirls and the new rifles and if we tried what you say you’re going to do it would still be suicide.”
“It would,” Iain agreed. “But don’t worry about me. I’ve already got plenty of people to do that. Instead you might want to have a word with the McAllen government and give them a head’s up on what’s coming.”
Otero shook his head. “You really think you can pull this off?”
Iain put some money on the table. “That’s for your meal.” He rose. “I think the base in Reynosa is doomed.”
Carmen was watching him. “McAllen’s government won’t be able to keep this secret. The Shiners will get word of what you’re planning to do.”
“I figured,” Iain said grimly. “If I’m lucky, the smart ones will run. The rest,” he shrugged. “I don’t plan to kill everyone, but sometimes things happen.” He gave a half bow. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have things I have to do. I wish you a good day.”
“Uh, sure, and have a nice day,” Otero said back. He watched them leave. “Weirdoes.”
“We need to go see the sheriff after lunch,” Carmen said. “He can tell the mayor.”
“Do you really think he’s serious?”
“Paolo, he is deadly serious. I don’t know if he can do it but if he succeeds we may be knee deep in refugees and if he fails the Shiners are going to blame us. Either way we need to let them know what might be coming.”
Dianthus appeared with Iain, followed closely by Zareen, Pandora and Lucifer. The Megami-Sama looked around with a half-smile. “I once found myself at a dairy during the war and this one smells a lot better than that one did.”
“That’s probably because this dairy doesn’t have any cows,” Iain said. “The Robinsons instead use Milktits. It’s more what you are probably used to on the world we came here from.” He looked at Dianthus. “Let’s get moving.”
“We’ve been seen,” Lucifer noted quietly as she watched a Tigress come running from the direction of the largest building towards her group. “Hypatia is coming to intercept us.”
Pandora smoothly slid forward to put herself between Iain and the oncoming Tigress.
Iain nodded, ignoring Pandora as he knew she wanted him to. “How’s her training going, anyways?”
“She is a quick learner and wants to be the best she can be to protect her family.” Lucifer replied. “For the most part she is doing an exemplary job learning from us. But if you want her to hit something with a firearm, you’d better give her a large bore automatic shotgun and hope for the best.”
Zareen snorted. “Throw best for kitty.”
Lucifer chuckled. “Perhaps you’re right. She is accurate with rocks. Maybe she can be as accurate with a thrown gun.”
“Give her grenades,” Iain suggested quietly.
“That is something to consider at length,” Lucifer said thoughtfully.
Hypatia skidded to a halt a few meters away. “Iain?” She frowned, her ears flicking. “I didn’t know you were coming to visit.”
“Good afternoon, Hypatia, and you didn’t know that we’d be visiting is because this is unexpected,” Iain replied. “I need to see Lorena and it’s important so I need to see her now if I can."
Hypatia smiled. “Lorena told me that if you ever said it was important to let you through immediately, so let’s go.” She turned and headed for the building she’d come from. “Lorena is in the barn helping to set up for tonight’s orgy.”
Iain grinned. “Well, let’s go, ladies. We certainly don’t want to miss that.” He waited until his guards had fallen in around him. “So, are you happier now?”
Hypatia slowed to let him catch up and walk beside her. “I am.” She grinned toothily at him. “It was weird at first but I love being here and thanks for the lessons and training. If nothing else, I have a fighting chance to get them out while yelling for you.” She tapped her temple and her eyes narrowed slightly. My twee started talking to me yesterday. Can you hear this?
Congratulations, Iain told her. You’re the last one, right?
I am. Now all of us have them. Thank you so very much. She grinned. “I’m still learning a lot from it.”
“We all are,” Lucifer said. Hypatia looked surprised and she smiled. “Iain has his twee set to repeat nonprivate conversations to his guards so we know about them. It’s a way to help decrease reaction time if there’s an emergency and we need to respond.”
“It can do that?” She blinked. “Never mind, it told me that it can. Wow.”
“As long as you don’t forbid it from trying to help,” Iain said, “you’ll find that your journey with your twee has only just begun and it can be a godsend.”
“I hear you,” the Tigress replied. She opened a door and stepped aside. “Lorena’s in here.” She called in a louder tone, “Iain is here!”
As soon as Iain stepped into the room he was handed a pillowcase filled with something fairly heavy. Lorena grinned and pointed. “Hi. You can line those up over there.”
Iain looked at her and smirked broadly. “You’ve lost some wrinkles. I take it you’re feeling better?”
Her grin widened as Pandora and Zareen entered the room. “I am. This medicine of yours is fantastic. Thank you for it and the twee. Now empty that bag, mister.”
Iain reached inside and grabbed an item, frowned and pulled it out. “You gave me a bag of dildos?”
Lorena laughed. “Yes, I did. Now lay them out.”
“Suddenly I feel better about ruining your day with business.” He began laying the dildos out. They were multicolored and Iain paused before looking closely at the one he was holding. “We made these.”
Lorena cackled with amusement. “I was wondering if you’d recognize them, I bought them from your factor in Austin.”
Iain sighed and looked around the room for the first time. It was clean and the floor was covered with single mattresses, each of which had brightly colored sheets on it. There were lots of pillows and a small fridge hummed merrily in a corner next to a cramped looking shower. “Nice orgy room. I didn’t realize you had electricity.”
“We bought one of your technological whiz bang power converters and Aaron had it installed. We don’t have air conditioning since nobody can make refrigerant for them but we’re not doing too badly since we’d never gotten rid of our refrigerators and they still worked.” She looked around the room with a proprietary air. “You don’t think it’s too much? Aaron thinks we’re spoiling the girls terribly.”
“You probably are,” Iain said, “but they deserve it and so do you. And with the bright colors this will make a good delivery room too when kits and children start coming.”
Lorena sighed. “If we make it that far. We had a feral attack last week.”
“It was a Coyotits,” Hypatia volunteered. “I took her down but I’m glad it was only the one. The pokedex suggests they travel in packs normally. It was a tough fight. I had to be healed afterwards.”
“They do normally travel in packs,” Iain said. “You might want to patrol her trail back several kilometers just in case.”
Hypatia had her tail in her hands and was examining the end. She scratched one spot and looked pleased. “I already did. She was lactating and I wanted to find the kits if there were any, but I didn’t find any place where she’d holed up for more than a day and there wasn’t any sign of kits at any of them. So Aaron took her into town and sold her to your factor.”
“You did what you could and better than many would have bothered doing,” Dianthus said.
Lorena finished laying things out and turned to Iain. “What’s the bad news?”
Iain put down the last dildo and dropped the pillowcase next to them. “McAllen has had a problem with Sunshine snipers taking potshots at whoever is available.”
“I know.” Lorena smiled at Iain’s expression of surprise. “Contrary to what you might think, mister, we normal folk have ways to communicate with each other that don’t require your help. The sniping has been going on for months and there have been a lot of injuries and deaths. I protested to the Sunshine envoy and he told me that we were at war and in war people got hurt.”
“I don’t think he’s going to feel that way after I obliterate the base in Reynosa that’s providing the snipers,” Iain said quietly. “But afterwards you can throw those words back into his face while you explain that we don’t like terrorism, especially not against Texans.”
Lorena opened the fridge and pulled out a glass bottle filled with milk. “Want one? It’s treated.”
She opened the bottle and took a long swallow. “Can you destroy the base?”
“We will,” Dianthus said.
Iain smiled. “Lucifer here, among other things, is my general.” He waved a hand towards Lucifer indicating that she could proceed with an explanation.
Lucifer smiled. “We have plans ready to reduce the Reynosa base with the use of an infantry attack with associated support elements. Damage to surrounding civilian structures should be minimal since the Sunshine military pulled down all of the houses and other buildings near the base’s boundaries. Our mission is to destroy the facility and all heavy equipment we can find. Sunshine casualties will be unavoidable in such an assault, but we won’t slaughter everyone out of hand. We also intend to reduce any police stations that we find but we will let the police escape if they’re quick.”
Lorena rubbed the cold bottle against her forehead. “If you did this, could you hold the city afterwards?”
“We could,” Iain said, “but we’re not going to try. These are clan forces and we’re just going on a raid. If you want to capture Reynosa then you’ll have to do that on your own.”
“I need something to leverage the Sunshine League into acknowledging us and to take us seriously,” Lorena said. “Taking that city and holding it would do exactly that. Right now I don’t have anyone to follow up on your work so you’d have to hold it for me.”
Iain shook his head. “My people, my clan, my rules. No.”
“Don’t say it,” Pandora said warningly to Lorena.
She looked bewildered. “Don’t say what?”
“Don’t put on your sad face and say please.”
Lorena raised an eyebrow and clasped her hands together entreatingly while still being careful not to spill her milk. “Please, Obi-wan Iain, you’re my only hope,” she said in a husky voice.
“Fuck,” Pandora muttered.
Iain turned to look at the Archangel in astonishment. “Did you just cuss?” Zareen laughed.
Pandora looked belligerently back at him. “What of it?”
“Don’t you owe me like a million dollars for that or something?”
She made a rude gesture. “Sod off.” Then she sighed. “Do we get involved?”
Iain looked Lorena over. “Turn around in a circle.” She looked confused but did so. “When you’re back in your prime, are you cute? It looks like you might be cute.”
Lorena gave him an impish grin. “I’ll show you some pictures of me in my twenties. In college I was told I look a lot like Pam Grier when she was making her movies.”
“Damn,” Iain said slowly. “That’s crossing the line from cute to hot. How’d Aaron ever land you?”
“We met in church. I might look like Pam Grier but I was a very good girl.”
“I’ll vouch for that,” Hypatia said deadpan. “She still is.”
Everyone laughed as Lorena gaped at the Tigress. Her shock was quickly replaced by an angry glare. “I can’t believe you said that, you bitch!”
“That’s you queen,” Hypatia replied serenely.
Iain looked at Lucifer as he got his laughter under control. “Care to hire out some of the Sisterhood as mercenaries to the Texas government for the purpose of taking and securing the Sunshine town of Reynosa once Clan Grey has destroyed the military base located there? That lets Texas take credit for the capture and it should only last until Lorena here can get her butt in gear and get TDF forces into the area to garrison it.” He looked at Lorena. “And it will be short term only. We will not be revisiting this in six months where you still don’t have any forces ready to take over.”
Lorena nodded. “Two months at the outside if I can trust the cease fire with Indigo to last and I am going to chance it.”
Iain turned to the Megami-Sama “Well, Lucifer? I said I’d be hands off on the Sisterhood except as pertains to them being clan. This is a business venture so it’s your decision.”
Lucifer’s eyes glowed for an instant. “I accept your offer. Considering the window of opportunity involved, we will have to work out payment and prices after the fact. Will you cover any losses that I might sustain from the Texas government if they try to be miserly?”
“I will.” Iain grinned at Lorena. “And if they cheat us I can quit working for them in outrage.”
“That’s not fair,” Lorena protested. “Who decides if you’re cheated?”
“I do,” Iain said.
“That’s definitely not fair.” Lorena shook her head. “You’ll get paid. You may have mined, processed and minted most of the coinage I’ll pay you with but you’ll get paid.”
“I thought we were friends,” Iain said. “If you were really my friend you’d cheat me so I could quit.”
“You just made yourself invaluable again, Iain. I think it’s time to structure the Rangers more along the lines of how they used to be set up and promote Captain Garrett to Chief Garrett. Then he could promote his lieutenants through captain all the way to major where they’re supposed to be. Then you’ll be Ranger Major Iain Grey.”
Iain folded his arms and gave her a mock glare. “I am standing entirely too close to all of those dildos for you to make me start having ideas about where to stick six or seven of them.”
Hypatia laughed and promptly clapped both of her hands over her mouth. She hiccupped around her fingers several times as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Lorena leveled a finger at the Tigress. “You keep quiet.”
Dianthus snickered. “I think he struck a nerve.” Hypatia went back to hiccupping. “Maybe she likes dildos.” Hypatia collapsed, howling with laughter.
“I think that’s entirely too much information about a woman who is going to turn out to be hot and out of my reach,” Iain said. He looked at Lorena. “So you’re not mad at me for what I’m going to do?”
Lorena dropped a pillow over Hypatia’s head and looked like she was considering holding it down before looking back up at Iain. “You’re helping again. Reynosa is big enough that the Sunshine League will have to pay attention to us when we capture it. And, frankly, what they’re doing right now is terrorism and it needs to be stopped before other Sunshine units start thinking they can do it and get away with it like Reynosa has.” She rubbed her eyes. “When are you going to attack the base?”
Iain used a pair of binoculars in addition to his eye’s innate enhancements as he looked over what he could see of the Sunshine base in Reynosa from where he and his squad were hidden on the roof of a warehouse on the edge of the cleared zone. It was night, and the moon was just a tiny sliver low in the sky, so he needed the light amplification of the starlight to make out anything more than a few meters away. Theodora hadn’t laid sensors over this base, considering it was on the other side of Texas from her family. This meant that the physical layout of the base was unknown, but as soon as plans had been started to assault it, a satellite had been parked overhead and had been monitoring everything that it could. According to what Canaan and Ganieda were picking up from unshielded minds inside the base area, the two Hunter splices had destroyed the BOQ (bachelor officer’s quarters) and some building he couldn’t identify since the fires hadn’t been put out before they collapsed.
Stealthed surveillance drones are in position, Theodora told him, Ninhursag and Lucifer. Less than a hundred meters overhead, cloaked drones hovered and sent telemetry to the ship, who processed it and sent it back to her clanmates.
Iain slid down so he was out of sight of anyone in the base and focused on the image of the overhead view of the base taking shape in his head. Labels began appearing over various buildings identifying them as well as important defensive constructions. Not surprisingly, there were a dozen machine gun and antitank cannon nests hidden around the perimeter of the base, but they all showed up glaringly bright in infrared from the heat of the personnel in each of them. Iain chuckled at three of the nests where the crews were obviously playing cards or dice and completely ignoring their surroundings.
Also not surprisingly, although not how Iain would have arranged things, considering that McAllen and therefore Texas was to the southeast, more than half of the nests were situated on the southeast quadrant of the base. Ninhursag and Lucifer had taken that into account, which was why the clan forces were currently hidden north of the base and preparing to hit the base from that direction to help catch the defenders off guard. It also put the clan forces downwind of the base so the pokegirls present wouldn’t smell them and spoil the surprise.
Iain looked at Lucifer, who watching the base. “I’m not trying to rush you, but I am curious as to when we’re going to attack.”
“Ten minutes,” she said without hesitating. “I want them relaxed a little more from their firefighting efforts this afternoon. As we’ve seen, even the sentries are lackadaisical in their behavior and I want to encourage that until we attack.” Her smile was cold. “Some of them are even drinking on duty.”
“Do you need to be removed as my guard so you can focus on our battles?”
She looked back at him thoughtfully. “That’s a valid question. I don’t believe functioning as your bodyguard will hinder my ability to orchestrate a battle. Pandora won’t like hearing this but we both know that if I need to focus on the battle more than on guarding you, you’ll be busy guarding me and that the role of who is the guard can move back and forth depending on the situation. It does slightly increase the chances of an artillery shell taking out the command elements, but Ninhursag is functioning well as my subordinate and would be able to take control until we are able to return to action.”
Pandora was standing nearby and she chuckled softly. “I am aware of the situation and I know that things are fluid in a fight. Between the five of us we can heal almost anything except instant death and if the situation is too desperate, Zareen will get Iain to safety while Lucifer, Dianthus and I fight our way out of whatever trouble we’re in.”
“I should point out that Zareen does not know much healing magic,” Lucifer said.
“She’s learning,” Pandora replied. “Granted she’s a trifle reluctant about it, but she’s learning healing from Siobhan. Dianthus is getting a refresher from her too and picking up some new techniques while doing so. So am I since Siobhan knows healing techniques I don’t.”
Iain glanced at the Nightmare where she was standing in some shadows and watching the base. She turned her head, looked into his eyes and nodded before returning to her vigil. Learning healing techniques will improve my survival chances as well as yours. Siobhan doesn’t give me any problems over the fact that I can’t talk well to her. She’s taught mute pokegirls how to heal others and is happy that I’m paying attention and learning quickly.
Good. Iain thought back at her. “I felt I needed to bring up the subject, so it could be addressed, and we could get back to business.” Lucifer nodded.
Iain set a timer in the lower right corner of his vision for ten minutes and let it run backwards while he went back to watching the base. The numbers jumped ahead a handful of seconds. Your count was off, Theodora whispered to him.
As the timer spun down Iain put the binoculars down and picked up his new rifle. It was a rifle version of the overpowered pistol that Theodora had designed for him and he was the only person currently certified to use it.
His first designated target was a concrete revetment containing an antitank gun and its crew. On infrared, the interior was bright with the heat of the bodies of the crew. Most of them were clustered in a circle to the right of the gun while a few were stretched out on the other side of the weapon and obviously asleep. Iain ignored them as he switched from infrared back to light amplification. There was a dim light in the bunker near the circle of crewmembers and from the way it flickered, Iain suspected it was a tiny candle. While dim, with amplification it provided more than enough light for Iain to see the gun itself through one of the firing slits, and he centered the dot of his sight in middle of the 90mm cannon, which incidentally, had been scavenged from one of the dead Lynx armored cars and mounted in its bunker to deter feral pokegirls and other nuisances.
Iain felt the hand on his shoulder and with his perception he could see it was Lucifer. Don’t fire early, she told him.
I won’t, he assured her. I want to see how the goblins fare before I shoot.
As do I, Lucifer replied. She gave his shoulder a quick squeeze before her hand fell away and she moved to where she could see the whole front they would be assaulting as the timer ran below one minute.
In Iain’s world, the world record for the javelin throw is ninety eight and half meters (or three hundred and twenty three feet), set by a Czech track and field athlete named Jan Zelezny in 1996. The weakest of his goblins could throw a spear farther than that and the best goblin throwers could easily double that distance and they could do it consistently and accurately without a run up, which Jan had required to set his record. When the timer went to zero, all hundred and sixty four goblins hurled their spears at the targets their twee had selected for them from Theodora’s input and Lucifer’s instructions.
Few of the spears were actually aimed at their destinations, most of which were out of range of even the best goblin throwers, but they were all aimed in the direction of their targets and, for the most part, aimed very well indeed. So when they reached the zenith of their arc and the flight stabilizers popped out of the first third of the shaft and the rocket motor fired, each was almost already aimed at its real target and Theodora had only to do a little course correction to put them where they needed to go.
Many were aimed in threes at the machine and antitank gun positions while others were aimed at the Lynx armored cars. Theodora was taking no chances with the lives of her clanmates and slammed them home with deadly precision, each warhead going off with twice the equivalence of an AT4 antitank round.
Iain watched as three of the rockets flew through the firing slit of the bunker he was sighted on and detonated as one. When the flash and smoke cleared, the bunker had collapsed in on itself and the gun was no longer a threat to anyone.
The remainder of the rockets were aimed at the barracks buildings the Sunshine infantry slept in, causing chaos and death along with setting several of them on fire, which caused still more confusion as the troops, already exhausted from firefighting efforts earlier in the day, tumbled from their beds and tried to comprehend what was happening to them.
Having thrown their spears, the goblins shifted to their Grey assault rifles, which they had eagerly adopted as an addition to their axes and spears after seeing them in action, and silently charged in their squads as on either side of them pokegirls from the clan opened up with their techniques and weapons. The goblins quickly came under sporadic small arms fire and, by fireteam, returned fire enthusiastically.
Sniper, Theodora said in Iain’s mind and whispered coordinates to him. He shot Marigold. Iain shifted his aim and switched back to infrared as he targeted the indicated watchtower. The sniper’s form touched his dot and he squeezed the trigger. The hypersonic round from his rifle slammed through the sniper’s helmet, his head, the other side of his helmet and the armored wall behind him to disappear into the distance.
While many of the clan’s women could use various powerful attacks such as hyper and solar beam, there was a disadvantage in their use since they were beam attacks and the initial point of the beam showed exactly where the person using the technique was standing. Instead of those destructive techniques, many of them were using automatic rifles, grenade launchers and thermobaric or tandem charge bunker busting grenades. Others used attacks that didn’t lead back to them and still others used firearms or bows.
As the clan forces moved irresistibly through the Reynosa base, buildings shattered and collapsed into flaming rubble. While not the primary target, any soldiers who encountered the goblins were butchered and most who tried to engage the pokegirls ended up with the same fate, only instead of being shot with bullets or hacked with axes they were usually killed by Elf arrows, swords or magical bolts of energy.
Iain, Ygerna, Kasumi and their teams were kept in reserve and only used when a clan unit bogged down due to growing resistance from the Sunshine soldiers. Since the clan’s forces steamrollered their way through the base without pause, none of them were called upon very often, just as Lucifer and Ninhursag had planned it.
The sunrise was just starting to break, and it revealed that the Reynosa Sunshine military base lay in ruins. Flames roared in several places as fires burned uncontained and the majority of the buildings were rubble, with bodies strewn all over. Several of the clan had been injured, but due to the speed of the assault as well as its overwhelming nature and the prepositioned first aid available, none of them had been killed.
Iain looked at Lucifer. “Are we going to put the fires out?”
She shook her head. “We’re making sure that they won’t spread but firefighting would keep us here much longer than I feel is safe. The Sisterhood troops hired by Texas are crossing over from the Texas border and they’ll keep the fires from destroying the city while setting up their own fortifications. Base building has made us rather good at rapid construction and if I need more help I’ll hire Theodora’s transports for supplies.” She looked around them. “I wish the butcher’s bill wasn’t so high for the Sunshine forces, but as you say, if it comes down to clan or outlander, outlanders have to go.”
Iain nodded. “I’ll have Theodora drop off a load of food and basic supplies for your mercs to give out to the Reynosa populace. Just don’t let the local government claim the credit for what we’re doing.”
“I won’t. I’ve already learned my lesson about that from the work Prometheus has undertaken around the world.” She rubbed her eyes. “We’re gathering up the wounded we find and healing them for release. Do you have a problem with that?”
Iain smiled. “I don’t. I also don’t think you’ll find a lot of wounded to heal.”
“We haven’t so far,” Lucifer admitted. “But we’ll keep looking and Canaan and Ganieda are helping so we shouldn’t miss many of them.” She glanced at him. “What do we do with the small number of aware pokegirls we’re finding?”
“If they’re with tamers who are still alive, cut both of them loose unless for some reason they need to be our prisoner or want to emigrate to Texas. If they’re without a human, offer them a job or a chance to go with us back to Texas. If they don’t want either, cut them loose too. If we find ferals, they’re property and we’ll claim them for sale to Texans.”
“What about the equipment the soldiers had?”
Iain considered for several seconds. “What do you want to do with it?”
“I think we should give it to the citizens of Reynosa. They’ll need it for fighting the ferals.”
He nodded. “You’re not concerned they’ll use them against your troops?”
“I am less concerned that they will try that as I am concerned that they will be eaten by a feral pokegirl while Texas is establishing its presence here. We did destroy most of the police stations in secondary attacks.”
“Then collect the weapons and hand them out to people as a reward for being useful. If you let the Reynosa government collect them for redistribution there’s no telling where they’ll end up or who they’ll be used on. While the Mexican government wasn’t as hard on its citizens as Sunshine could be, it didn’t put the needs of its common people first before the needs of the government stooges.”
Lucifer smiled. “I am well aware that the current government of Reynosa has to be pro-Sunshine or the league would have purged it and replaced it with loyalists.”
“Just make sure your unit’s officers and senior noncoms know that too.” He grinned. “Ask Belldandy if the Alliance wants to help with relief efforts here.”
“That is an excellent idea, Iain,” Lucifer was rubbing her eyes tiredly. “I’m sure she’ll want to help and, even if she doesn’t, making the offer will help to keep her on our side.”
“It’ll also give her something else to do beside dither while putting together the trials of Raphaela, Prastara and the other leaders.”
“She isn’t dithering, Iain. The trials will take place next week and you’ll probably be tasked with the executions a few days later.” She gave him a concerned look, “Which I must protest.”
Iain held up a hand to stop her. “I am not going to perform the executions.”
Lucifer looked surprised. “You aren’t?”
“Nope. I’ve delegated that task to someone that Belldandy and the rest of the Alliance will respect for doing what is necessary.”
Lucifer eyed him curiously. “That eliminates Ganieda and Canaan. Who is it?”
“Me,” Pandora said. “I was a Seraph, then a militant Fallen Angel and now an Archangel. I was never one for mercy and I have no problem destroying evil wherever it is and both Prastara and Raphaela are evil. Iain asked me to execute our prisoners when the time comes because it’ll keep the issue within the ranks of the Celestials, which will help mollify both the Celestial Alliance and parts of the Sisterhood since I am merely doing what is required and everyone that it might matter to will understand why I was their executioner.”
Lucifer nodded as she smiled. “It not only won’t hurt Iain’s reputation with the Celestials around the world that he understood how this act needed to be performed, it will in fact enhance it. That is very cunning.”
“Yeah, I’d have made a great Slytherin,” Iain replied.
“I will keep this information to myself,” Lucifer decided. “While it would quell some of the questions which will arise when the verdicts and sentences are announced, keeping your plans quiet will make a much greater impact on all of the Celestials involved when your methodology is discovered.”
Iain was watching the sunrise and glanced at her for an instant. “I don’t want them flocking here to join us, but I also don’t want them to turn you away because of me when you offer to help or especially when you request it. Now if they want to flock to join the Sisterhood, that’s great.”
“That is another salient point,” Lucifer said. “I will inform Ninhursag and Eve so that they are appraised of how events will unfold, but that is only because they need to know.” She looked at Pandora. “You will make their deaths clean.”
Pandora’s look dripped disdain. “I don’t take orders from you and I will make their deaths quick and as painless as possible. It may be a little messy.”
Zareen snickered loudly and Lucifer shrugged. “That will have to do,” the Megami-Sama said. She gave Iain a quick kiss. “I must go.”
“I’ll see you at the debriefing.” Lucifer nodded and vanished.
Pandora made a grumbling noise. “She was supposed to wait for Heather to arrive.”
“I don’t need a full quartet of guards all of the time,” Iain said. “Speaking of which, however,” he turned to Zareen. “Since you’re going to be in my guard when we’re in a fight, would you like to join it as a full member?”
Zareen met his gaze and gave a firm nod. “Yes.”
“I don’t think she’s ready for this,” Pandora started.
Iain interrupted her. “So she’s good enough to protect me during a fight but not when I’m going about my regular day? Is this about the fact that she doesn’t wear clothes and you don’t like that or is it something else?”
Pandora flushed but didn’t look away. “That bothers me but it isn’t important for this. What is important is that it’s hard to understand her sometimes.”
“Listen better,” Zareen said.
“You should learn to speak better,” Pandora shot back. “If the worst happens, communication is critical.”
Zareen rolled her eyes. “I know that,” she said distinctly. “And then I will speak like you do if I must, but otherwise I see no reason to use all the words you seem to need. It’s unnecessary.”
Dianthus gave her a startled look. “You can talk in complete sentences?”
“Always have,” the Nightmare replied. “Just no need. Few words do well.”
“None of us were the people who made fun of you when you were starting to talk.” Pandora pointed out. “Well, Canaan did but she’s not part of the regular guard.”
Zareen stepped forward so she was standing nose to nose with Pandora. “You no tease. You no stop. You watch. Same.”
Pandora turned beet red. “I shouldn’t have said nothing. I’m sorry.”
“Not accepted. I guard.”
The Archangel’s jaw set. “No you don’t.”
“Pardon me for interrupting,” Iain said evenly, “but it’s my call to make.”
Pandora scowled at him. “Why her? She can’t focus well enough and she’ll just be a distraction.”
“First of all, the distraction part is useful if my enemies can’t stop staring at her tits.” Iain shook his head. “You really need to move past this nudity taboo, but I won’t force you any more than I’ll let you force anyone else to follow it. And, second, Zareen is one of the most focused people I’ve ever known and you know that’s true.” He folded his arms. “But I’ll tell you the same thing that I told Ninhursag when I told her I was forming a guard for me and that you were going to be in it and she asked the same question. I know you’ll lay down your life to protect mine. Zareen will do the same thing if necessary, but she’ll try like hell to get me out of an untenable situation if she can so we can both live. I like that attitude. I happen to be kind of fond of all of you and don’t want you to die if it is at all possible.”
Pandora was looking a little shell shocked. “Ninhursag didn’t want me in your guard?”
“Focus,” Zareen said. “He want. He get. That important. Queen Elf not.”
“That is going to drive me insane,” Pandora muttered. “Are you really going to put her in the guard?”
Iain sighed. “I already said I am. If I have to start repeating myself then I may start talking like Zareen does to save energy. And if you’re lucky, I’ll only do it in English.” Zareen giggled and Iain smiled. “Look, I know Zareen’s speech patterns bother you. I also know you know she’ll be an exemplary bodyguard.”
Pandora sighed deeply. “Why won’t she speak normally?”
“Are you familiar with Zareen’s history?”
Pandora snorted. “Since she’s never shared it, no.”
Iain looked at Zareen, who nodded. “Tell. Once.”
“Zareen was born a feral Unicorn, from what her twee can tell, either right at the end of or just after the Revenge War. She never had a tamer, which meant that she was feral for three hundred years before she and I found each other. So she’s had a long life without ever using sophisticated verbal communication. I did some research and the data about how they respond to being tamed the first time is, unsurprisingly, rather sparse. Apparently, the number of feralborne pokegirls with longevity who have lived feral for centuries who know that’s what happened to them is pretty much one, making Zareen just as unique as you are. But there are reports of a small number of feralborne pokegirls from breeds that can have longevity who never learn to talk well. I suspect they’re from a similar situation. Zareen can talk as you do when she wants, but her raw IQ is almost as high as Canaan’s or Ganieda’s, which explains a lot about Poppet and Branwyn.”
“Unicorns don’t have longevity,” Pandora pointed out.
“Poppet and her batch mates do,” Iain said, “and so do their children. I ran the DNA of the Unicorn that Zareen had been when we met and it’s identical to Poppet’s and Branwyn’s DNA. Her mother was probably one of Poppet’s sisters since there was exactly one production run of Unicorns with longevity.”
Pandora kneaded her forehead with the knuckles of her fist. “I still think this is a bad idea.”
Zareen grabbed Pandora’s hand and pulled it down so she could meet Pandora’s gaze with her glare. “Iain is mine. I will keep him alive if I have to sacrifice the lives of everyone else in the clan to do so and if in the end I have to die too, so be it. He will live.”
Pandora blinked. “I believe you,” she said slowly. “All right, you’re in his regular guard.” She looked at Iain. “But she can still be your steed while doing so since you’re refusing to let Ganieda do that job.”
“All right,” Iain said. “But this is the last discussion about Zareen.”
“It is,” Pandora agreed. “Since she just told me she’d do exactly what I or Dianthus or Heather or Ganieda would do to keep you alive.” She waited for several seconds. “What, no complaints about what we’d do?”
“I chose you and the others for my guard because I know the price you’d pay to keep me alive,” Iain said quietly. “I intend to keep you alive at all costs too. So if you keep me alive and I keep you alive then nobody gets to die, which works for me.”
“Then why do you fight me so much about this,” Pandora asked plaintively.
“Because I don’t need guarded all of the time, just like you don’t need guarded all of the time. You agree that the second part of my statement is true but you haven’t figured the first part out yet. All of you except Zareen were mistreated somehow and are frantically paranoid that you’ll lose me if you look away. The odds of that happening are so low as to be zero, but you and the others refuse to accept that. I am not going to leave you, you’re not going to leave me and if someone spirits me away then while I’m working to get back to you I know you’ll working to get to me. No one and nothing will ever keep us permanently apart.”
Pandora gripped his upper arms hard enough that his skin paled beneath her fingers. “Swear it.”
“I swear that nothing and no one will ever keep us permanently apart.” Pandora stared into his eyes for several seconds before burrowing against him. Iain wrapped her up in his arms and held her tightly. “It’s all right,” he said soothingly. “It’s going to be all right.”
Ganieda appeared, followed by Heather an instant later. The Splice smiled toothily. “We’re all crazy, you know that?”
“I don’t think our lack of sanity has ever really been in doubt,” Iain replied. “And it doesn’t matter. In today’s world, being functional is more important than being sane and we are all lethally functional.”
Pandora pushed away from him slowly. “What am I going to do with you,” she asked quietly.
“What are we going to do with him,” Heather corrected her.
“Trust,” Zareen said. “Iain not leave.” She grinned. “If leave no fuck. Him like fuck. No leave.” Her grin faded into a much warmer smile. “Him father. Love our kids. No leave. Him love us. You leave before he leave.”
“I tried that once.” Pandora replied. “He wouldn’t let me leave.”
“Know that already,” Zareen said. “We not let him leave either. Trust.” She waved a hand at the women around Iain. “This not trust. Opposite trust. Wrong. You know wrong, not admit.”
“I am so glad she doesn’t talk like this when we’re in bed together,” Ganieda muttered.
“Not talk any while fuck,” Zareen said tartly. “Fuck is fuck. No talk.”
“Enough,” Iain said. “You have to learn to trust me. I realize it’s going to take time, but I need this. It is not a want. Theodora says I’m still internalizing my stress only I’m better at hiding it and that if it continues she’s worried that one day I’ll just cease to be.”
“Is she right,” Dianthus asked.
“She’s right that I’m still internalizing my stress and that I’ve kept from getting nosebleeds and vomiting blood while doing so. As for the last part,” he shrugged. “I’m still here.”
“Is being alone that important to you,” Heather sounded genuinely curious.
Theodora appeared. “All of you except Iain spend time alone. You run in the woods by yourself. Dianthus communes with plants while Pandora flies and Ganieda spends time on the Theodora when nobody else is there so her mind is quiet. Zareen is, of course, alone whenever she wants to be. Iain is the only one who has no chance to be alone, and that includes when he’s on the ship. In large part, that last bit is my fault and I must work just as hard to give him time just as you all do. He’s right that it’s a need, just as it is for all of you. I am the only one who does not ever want to be alone, and that is my choice and probably because I live at speeds where I can be alone even when I am surrounded by organic life.”
“If I get into trouble I will call,” Iain said. “I have never just watched trouble attack me.”
“Your definition of trouble isn’t the same as mine,” Pandora replied.
“No, it isn’t, but I’m willing to try and adjust mine if you’re willing to do the same. If you refuse I see no reason to give anything up.”
“This would be really hard for us,” Ganieda interjected.
Iain smiled thinly. “If I’m making it too easy for you now, speak up. I can fix that.”
“Shadow walking is too dangerous for you to do alone,” Pandora stated.
“Teleporting is too dangerous for you to do alone,” Iain replied. “You should always have a buddy with you.”
“I’ve been told by Dominique that one day you’ll learn how to teleport,” she shot back.
“And one day you may be able to shadow walk,” Iain worked hard not to sound amused and was pleased when his voice was even and calm. “There is no reason that I can think of that other living beings can’t do it, and the fact that my undead harem and I can suggests others can learn. I can play games with what if all day long. I never said it would be easy. I merely said I need this and I don’t want to just disappear from time to time without warning.”
“But you will if we don’t give you some space,” Heather stated.
“I have never said that. I would not use it as a threat, not with people I care for as much as I care for you.”
Ganieda’s eyes went suddenly wide. “Iain, are you multithreading?”
Pandora frowned, “What does that mean?”
“He thinks faster than anyone I’ve ever been able to scan, but up to now it’s been a single line of thought. I multithread my thoughts, like Canaan does and the smartest psychic pokegirl breeds do, which lets me keep up with his mind. Today his mind is slower than usual, but I think he’s multithreading.” The Snugglebunny scowled. “Iain?”
“I’ve been thinking about how it might be done,” he admitted.
“That is just unfair. Please stop. If you figure out how to multithread and think as fast as you normally do at the same time,” she broke off as her ears went flat. “Just stop.”
Dianthus grinned. “Once again our male proves his superiority.”
Iain sighed. “Look, we’re getting way off topic.”
“We are,” Pandora agreed, “and it isn’t important. I’m going to have to think about whether or not I can even begin to try and give you what you need and I’m going to have to consult with others in our family before I can decide. It you really need this, then I’ll try, but first,” she shrugged.
“You don’t want to believe that I really need it.”
“No, I don’t.”
“At least you’re honest about it.” Iain checked the time with his twee. “And I have study time coming up so I should get to the ranch.”
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 - Elfqueen
Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen
Allison – Umbrea (Outer Harem Alpha)
Daphne - Whorizard
Lynn - Growlie
Chuck – Doggirl
Ryan – Unicorn
Winifred - Rack (German)
Rosemary - Mistoffeles (Uruguayan)
Silver - Pegaslut
Joyce – Milktit
Melanie – Iron Chef
Siobhan – Nurse Joy (Glasgow)
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Melanie – Iron Chef
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Harem
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
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
Geraldine - Human
Mother s & Children