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“Just a moment,” a voice called from inside after Iain knocked on the door. He glanced back at Heather and she shrugged without ceasing her survey of their surroundings. A minute later the door opened and Catherine McCoy looked at him. “Iain!” She grinned and hugged him hard. “Come in. You too, Heather.”
He managed not to react to the smell of stale cigarettes that clung to her and entered the McCoy residence, the Elfqueen close on his heels. “You haven’t started smoking again, have you?”
She blinked and shook her head. “Smelled it, did you? No, I had a caller a little while ago who thought that since James was out I might be reasoned with. He smokes like a chimney and lit up while we were talking. I haven’t smoked for nearly ten years and I am not going start ever again.”
“What did he want.” Iain sank into the chair she pointed him at, “that required you to be reasonable?”
“He’s one of our competitors and he feels it’s unfair that we’re involved with food and equipment procurement for the Sisterhood troops and we’ll be doing the same thing for the TDF forces that will take over security for Reynosa. It’s not fair because he isn’t making any money from it. He wanted in.”
Iain nodded. “That’s not uncommon. There are some, I guess more upstanding members of the McAllen community is what they want to be called, who have expressed displeasure to the local Sisterhood command structure at not having a share of the pie too.”
“Did you shoot him like the others,” Heather asked curiously.
“No, but I probably should have. The man is horrible and thinks he’s the reincarnated avatar of Casanova. He spent the whole time leering at me.” Catherine looked at Iain. “And before you say anything, I look in the mirror every day and I still look pretty close to my age. Anyone who looked closely would just think I’ve started dying my roots.” She headed for the doorway to the kitchen. “You want your tea iced with nothing in it, right?”
“For both of us,” Heather called after Catherine. She looked at Iain. “I don’t think she heard me. Are you safe here?”
“Yes. Go.” She nodded and headed after Mrs. McCoy.
A few minutes later they were sitting and a tray with some cookies waited on the coffee table nearby. Catherine took a sip of her tea and gave Iain a hard look. “Are you here to gloat about my son’s discomfiture?”
“I am not,” Iain reassured her. “I will do no more than quietly snicker in amusement. How is he?”
“He won’t admit to it, but I haven’t seen him this happy since before Lynette’s death.” Catherine smirked. “He hasn’t been alone since their date. Either Danielle or Lucy is with him constantly.”
“I’m glad the three of them are getting along well,” Iain replied. “How are you?”
“I am all right,” Catherine said. “Other than a few spats with Danielle and Lucy about boundaries, we’ve been getting along better than I’d hoped.”
“How are you feeling physically?”
She smiled. “I feel better than I have in years.”
“Are you having any problems with your twee?”
She shook her head. “It’s marvelous. I suddenly have a perfect memory and access to an encyclopedia of information without having to hope I can find an encyclopedia when I have a question.” She regarded him with curiosity. “I see a lot of James in you, Iain, but you’re not him. Did you drop by because you wanted to talk to me or to see your dead mother again?”
“Catherine, I will never confuse you with the Catherine who was my mother. I made my peace with her death a long time ago and you are different enough that you only superficially resemble her. You work for me and James works for you and Danielle and Lucy are my friends and I really hope their relationship with James works out. That means I have several reasons for coming by since I already had to be in McAllen. Also, I hope we can be friends as well.” He glanced at Heather. “And Siobhan asked me to check up on you and Heather reminded me I said I would if I had time.”
“I would like us to be friends as well,” Catherine put her tea down. “You have my reports on the work I’m doing for you. Do you have any complaints?”
“You would know if I did. Do you have any complaints with me?”
“I don’t see you enough.” Iain looked surprised and she laughed. “My son is trying to foist me off on you, remember? And between Lucy and Danielle he has little enough time for me and I don’t have many friends in the area so, while the work is keeping me busy, I don’t have many people to socialize with. You aren’t much like James but I would like to get to know you better. And I believe I was offered the opportunity to spoil a bunch of children of yours who would call me grandmother. I haven’t seen them since I was at the ranch when you got hurt and I came by to see how you were and I hope they miss me as much as I miss them.” She smiled broadly at Iain. “Hint, hint.”
“I’ll talk to April,” Heather said. “She’ll get that sorted out in short order. Iain would, but he’s been rather,” she looked him up and down evenly, “swamped recently, with clan business, family business and, even more recently, Texas business. I don’t make excuses for Iain and I’m still not when I say he has been very busy recently keeping things that could be emergencies from becoming emergencies.”
Catherine looked from Heather to Iain and back. “Texas business?”
“This isn’t for distribution, not even to James,” Iain said quietly, “but Johto wants a peace treaty with Texas so they can purchase oil and natural gas. In return they are willing to recognize Texas as a nation and claim they’ll also sponsor Texas in an organization called the Planetary League Council, which is something like the UN was. It would mean Texas would be on an even political footing with the leagues and possibly be able to charge Indigo and Sunshine with war crimes against Texans. And it would open the door to Texas recognizing and trying to gain entry for Israel, Nippon and the United Kingdom. If it happens.”
“If you don’t want James to know, why tell me?”
“You asked and you’re right. I want us to be friends too, so I’m willing to trust you with something this big.”
She smiled craftily. “And if I fail in this trust, you will never trust me again.”
“I would like it if you thought of Catherine more as your mother than not,” Heather said. “Others would as well.”
Iain frowned. “Why?”
“She’s pretty and she’s smart.”
Iain sighed and shook his head. “Drop it.”
“What’s wrong?” Catherine was looking between them.
“Smart and pretty women are what gets Iain interested in women for relationships,” Heather said. “I’ve seen the pictures of you in your early twenties and it would make us more comfortable if Iain thought of you more as his mother because of it.”
“Oh. That’s very flattering for an old woman.”
“First, genetically she is identical to the woman who did give birth to me,” Iain said, “so even if it technically isn’t incest because this person did not give birth to me it is not healthy breeding and neither her kids nor mine should need genetic screening and therapy before birth. Second,” he sighed. “Catherine, one of the things that my ladies seem to keep uppermost in their minds, is this idea that one day I’m going to hunt down a woman without any pokegirl genes, dump all of them and go running off with her. I’ve never suggested anything in this vein but it keeps coming up from time to time.”
Catherine was watching Heather. “Is it something exclusive to the women that came here with you or the ones from this world?”
“It appears in both, which suggests it may be something that was engineered into their psychological makeup or maybe it’s learned. However, it doesn’t appear in all of them. And finally, you’re a nice woman, and you are pretty and smart and all, but you’re not my type.”
Catherine drew herself up. “I’m not, am I? And just how am I not your type,” she asked in a teasing tone.
“You’re a lot like my mother in that you’re bossy and I’m not a fan of bossy women. Dad apparently liked being ordered around by my mother. I’m not him and when she tried to transfer that bossiness to me after his death we had problems. Sometimes the women already in my life get bossy and then we have problems too. I don’t like bossy men, either, but I have little contact with anyone like that at this particular juncture in my life. Well except for Kerrik sometimes and I have to do what he wants because I really need the lessons.”
“You like strong willed women,” Heather said. “What’s the difference between strong willed and bossy?”
“With the understanding that this is all very, very subjective,” Iain said, “the difference is simple. A strong willed woman or man is able to be assertive and confident and resist attempts at being controlled, but when it crosses the line into overbearing dominance then it becomes something that gets my hackles up. Bossy people think that they can order everyone around them even when perhaps they cannot. And a lot of the time all they give is orders, even to friends and family.”
Heather looked at Catherine. “Are you bossy the way Iain defines it?”
Catherine looked thoughtful for a few seconds and then nodded. “Sometimes I am. And my husband did sometimes have issues with my behavior, but we didn’t fight about it in front of the children. James has learned to live with it; but Iain has been without his mother for a long time. And I have never asked James if he resented the way I treat him, but sometimes we do fight about it.”
“That’s when he gets fed up enough with it and loses some of his temper,” Iain said quietly. “It probably helps that he’s away from you for long periods of time on his smuggling trips. It’s also possible that he’s come to terms with it or it never bothered him like it does me. We are similar in many ways but even in our childhoods we were not ever identical.”
Heather leaned forward slightly. “Is that why you got angry with me about Mizuho?”
“No. That was something else entirely.” He looked at Catherine. “I’ll ask April to set you up with regular transportation to visit our place so you can spend more time at the ranch, if you’d like. She’ll contact you to work out a schedule that won’t conflict with your job.”
“I would like that, Iain,” Catherine said. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, Mrs. McCoy.”
Catherine frowned. “I was told that neither Kasumi nor Ygerna are pokegirls. Doesn’t that mean you’ve already done what they’re worried about and married a human?”
Iain smiled as Heather coughed to muffle her laugh. “While it is true that they are not pokegirls, neither is human as you would term it. To be honest, pokegirls and humans have more in common than Kasumi or Ygerna have with either type of human. And I happen to think you are right and that I’m already married to several humans because pokegirls are human to me. It’s my ladies who disagree with that assessment. I just don’t argue with them about it. It’s not that important to me.” He rose. “And I am afraid I have to be going. I’m sorry that I missed James, but I’ll catch him at home sooner or later so he can blame me for the events happening in Matamoros and how it’s ruined some scheme of his.”
Catherine laughed and hugged him. “He won’t. I think Lucy and Danielle are keeping him too distracted right now.”
“Is it getting in the way of doing his job for you,” Iain asked curiously.
“Not yet. When it does, I’ll let you tell him.” Catherine’s smile faded slightly. “You said you had to be in McAllen already. What for?”
“Captain Otero asked for a meeting. Two of the most notorious snipers from the Reynosa base may have been seen in town recently and he wanted some information on how to catch them. We don’t know if they died in the attack or not, and they’re not among the prisoners that have been captured, so it does have to be looked into.”
Heather snorted. “He wanted us to investigate and catch them if it was really them. Iain told them who their local Ranger contact was and how to reach this region’s Ranger office.”
“You don’t want the credit for catching them?”
“Catherine,” Iain said seriously, “I am not a Ranger for glory or credit. I’m a Ranger because I got suckered into the job and some family members asked me to keep it. But since I am a Ranger, all I want to do is my job correctly, well and efficiently. I also don’t want to piss off other Rangers and, while I have jurisdiction anywhere in Texas, this area has a competent Ranger unit and I won’t get involved in their territory unless I am invited by them or I chase someone into their territory. Since neither situation has happened, I’m staying out of it. Otero will contact them and find out I already told them that he went to me first, but they won’t hold it against him. Now I’m afraid we have to go.”
“Thank you for dropping by,” Catherine told him as they headed for the door. “It was nice to see you again.”
“It was nice seeing you again too. April will contact you in the next few days to set up some visits, so I should be seeing you more often in the future.”
“You will.” She gave him a last hug before opening the door. “Be careful.” She surprised Heather with a quick hug too. “You too.”
“We will.” Iain took Heather’s hand. “Now to Brownsville.” They vanished.
Lucifer looked around the room at his command staff. “That pretty much finishes up the briefing on Prometheus and the expansion in activities in Europe. As for the restructuring of the Sisterhood, we are on schedule to finish up in four months at which time it will begin the transition into a full satellite clan organization with me as the clan head and Eve as my designated successor. After consulting with Iain, Theodora, Kerrik and the clan histories that we have available, I determined that there will not be an issue with the leader of a satellite clan being in the inner clan of the primary clan or my relationship with Iain and the rest of you.”
“Was it a regular occurrence,” Ninhursag asked curiously.
“Many satellite clans desired a closer,” Lucifer smiled, “and much more intimate relationship with the primary clan because of the rewards that such an association granted. To that end, many were eager to mingle their blood or the blood of their progeny with the members of the primary clan, and the higher the rank of the person they could mingle their blood with, the better. Also, marriages of convenience often took place to cement the loyalty of the satellite clans to the primary.”
Allison snickered. “How much more intimate do you think you can get with Iain?”
Lucifer glanced at him and her smile warmed. “I believe that the current level of intimacy is sufficient to protect that which I hold, but if it were possible for us to grow somehow closer,” her voice trailed off suggestively and the other women in the room laughed.
Iain shook his head while smiling. “And I believe that Lucifer’s briefing is the last thing on the agenda for today’s meeting. Is there anything pending that isn’t on the agenda?” The last was because sometimes things came up without warning.
Ninhursag, Lucifer and Allison all looked at each other before the Elfqueen nodded. “Yes, there is. Your schedule has been cleared today because you have an errand to run with Zareen. I realize that you had free time scheduled for this afternoon, but that too has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at your discretion and without us being able to stop this rescheduling, as per our agreement on disturbances, with the only caveat being that this errand must take place today so you cannot reschedule for today. Normally I wouldn’t do this, but this errand is important.” She took a deep breath. “And I want to tell you now that the inner harem as well as Kasumi and Ygerna have already signed off on what you need to do today. We feel it is important that this be done and we hope that, once you understand what it is and why this is happening, you will too.”
“So what is it?”
Ninhursag shook her head. “You’d argue with us about the necessity if we told you about it first. Please trust us.”
Iain didn’t hesitate. “All right, I will.”
Allison’s ears flicked. “Ryan is waiting for you outside. She has asked to take you to Zareen.”
Iain looked from one woman to the next. “Your security is getting better. I had no idea I was going to get blindsided like this today. If it’s this important to all of you, I guess I’ll have to see what is going on, but the mystery is, well, pretty mysterious.”
“We are doing this to address a serious weakness within the clan,” April said quietly. “I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.”
Iain rose to his feet. “I’m going. I’m going. Otherwise I’m going to start demanding answers.”
Daya or I would tell you what is going on, Theodora said in his mind, but the rest of the inner harem invoked privacy and what is going in isn’t something that I feel I should advise you to order us to break privacy for.
Do you think this will address a serious weakness within the clan?
I do and Daya agrees.
“Where’s Ryan, other than outside?”
“She’s outside at the picnic table under the oak tree,” Ninhursag said. “Thank you for not resisting.”
Iain chuckled. “You’re just lucky I’m doing lessons with Caintigern right now. She gives me orders enough for me to easily recognize that I could just stand firm and protest and you’d let me, but I trust all of you and if you say it’s important, then it is. I hope you ladies have a good day.”
Lucifer looked around the room after he’d left. “We all know that we are fortunate that Iain trusts us as much as he does. We must be careful not to abuse that trust, or it will wither and die, never to bear fruit again.”
“I know,” Ninhursag said. “And we won’t. But I still think he would have balked if he knew what he’s doing.”
“He would,” Silver agreed. “Which is why we gave him to Zareen.”
Ryan stood as soon as she saw him. “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”
“I am almost completely mystified.” He took her hand. “I do know that you’re supposed to lead me to Zareen.”
The scene around them changed. Iain recognized they were in the woods, not far from the center where the magical forest had been laid and Caintigern lived. “I’ll take you to her, but first,” she burrowed into his arms. Iain held her as she clutched at him so tightly he had problems breathing. Her breath was warm and moist against his neck. Finally she relaxed. “I carry our daughter.”
“Or daughters,” Iain said quietly.
She smiled. “True. After this was explained to me, I agreed with it. Remember that. I wasn’t ordered to say I agreed with it, because Allison knew it wouldn’t work. I can’t be ordered to do things like that anymore because,” she closed her eyes for a moment and then her next words came in a rush. “I love you. And because I love you I will always disobey anyone, including my maharani if it helps you.” She covered his mouth with her hand when he started to speak. “I know you don’t love me, Iain. But you will and we both know that one day you will be able to say that back to me. I am willing to wait for that day and I’m willing to agree to this because I know that you will love me and that our daughters will be ours and that you’ll love them even if you’re still learning to love me when I present them to you.”
“You have grown into a remarkable woman,” Iain said. “Anyone would be honored to have your love and I am grateful beyond words that you’ve chosen me.”
She gave him a teasing smile. “You should be. You may have room in your heart for all of the women in your life, but I think there’s only just enough room in mine for you.”
“Then I am extraordinarily lucky.”
“You are.” She kissed him gently. “Now you know how I feel and now I can take you to Zareen.” The scene shifted around them and, as she stepped away from him, Iain realized they were at the swimming hole at the Barton Springs, not far from the Barton House. Ryan looked around. “Zareen?”
“Here.” The Nightmare was standing in the shade of a tree that, like everything else around her, had been grown by Ninhursag or her court. Her golden hair gleamed in the sunlight as she moved to join them. “Mine now.”
Ryan gave Iain another quick kiss. “Be careful.” Then she was gone.
Zareen regarded him curiously. “Clever. Understand?”
“I appreciate the compliment, but I have no idea what is going on other than you and I are going somewhere to address a serious weakness within the clan.”
“Not clan weakness,” Zareen corrected him. “You. Weakness affect clan, but you. You, me, fix.”
“Curiouser and curiouser, but if this is such a severe weakness of mine, let’s go fix it.”
“No speak once leave. Twee only. No bond.”
Iain’s eyebrows rose. “I hear you. Don’t use our delta bond or my delta bonds with anyone. And keep my mouth shut. I presume that also means I am supposed to do whatever it is you tell me to do, without hesitation or debate?”
She flashed a grin. “Very clever. Yes.” She turned and picked up a satchel that had been lying against the tree she’d been waiting under. “Take.”
Iain slung it over his right shoulder, so it wouldn’t interfere if he had to draw his pistol or use his left hand. “Ready.”
Zareen shifted to her centaur form and turned to present him with her flank. “On. Off when tell.”
Iain slipped onto her back. Understood, he said through his twee.
Zareen reached behind her and grasped his thigh firmly in her left hand. The scene jumped around them and they were standing in a copse of aspen on the side of a hill or mountain. Zareen slowly looked around, her head moving almost imperceptibly from right to left. We hunt. She placed a hoof forward and stepped into the air even as the breeze that had been blowing on them died away and they faded from sight.
Iain’s twee spoke. Accessing the satellite constellation tells me that we are in the former state of Wyoming, inside what was Yellowstone National Park and not far from the hot springs. Detail mapping of this area has not been performed, making precision orienteering impossible. I also detect several drones in the area that belong to us. Shall I query them?
Wait. Iain reached out to Zareen. What are we hunting?
Pokegirl. Psychic, magic. Not sense me. Not sense you. Might sense bond. Teleporter. If sees, flees. Hard find after. We find. You eat magic, cannot flee. We catch. Feral. Clever. You awaken.
We catch. Iain focused on his twee. Can you use that to find our prey with the drones?
The only reason the drones would be here in Johto is to help with this mission, his twee replied. So they should know what we are seeking. Working on it.
Even though she was silent, insubstantial and invisible, Zareen kept to deep cover where they couldn’t be seen as they moved across the mountainside.
Target located, his twee announced. Sending the information to Zareen.
The Nightmare glanced back at him. Clever. Iain maybe too clever. She winked. Good. We catch. She changed direction and sped up slightly. Careful. Must be careful.
Iain focused on his twee again. What are we catching?
A crippled feral Unicorn is the intended target of the drone surveillance. I’m downloading the telemetry from the drones. There was a pause. As Zareen said, she is cunning. Twice she’s spotted a drone and immediately randomly teleported around the area, making reacquisition difficult and forcing the drones to employ stealth and remain at a distance.
She’s crippled and still that mobile?
Her left arm is missing with the removal site being between the elbow and the shoulder. The rest of her limbs seem normally operational. She is thin, but many feral are and she appears to have adapted well to the loss of her arm.
Iain tightened his arms slightly around Zareen’s waist. Show me, he told his twee. She was a Unicorn insomuch as she had the horn, although it was hard to see under the roughly woven cap of leaves she wore. Her hair was underneath the cap and couldn’t be seen. The skin of her human torso and the fur of her equine body was an almost uniform shade of yellowish brown that blended well with the bushes she was currently hiding in. Even her leonine tail was the same color. The arm was obviously an old injury and, although the same color as the rest of her, completely healed.
She was chewing something, and the purple on her mouth and the fingers of her one hand suggested she’d been feeding off of the great grape bush he could see a dozen meters from her. Iain frowned and zoomed the view of her face so he could see the cracks in the yellow around her mouth. That’s dried mud.
She rolls in a hot spring every few days according to the surveillance, his twee said.
Are we sure she’s feral?
Yes. In her case it appears to be very light. She has a den and has a couple of tools, one of which is a pair of scissors that she uses to cut her hair short. And, as you can see, she can weave leaves and grass together to make a hat. It must be very difficult with only one hand. One of the drones explored her den while she was outside, and she has a frame made from pieces of wood that she uses as an anchor for her weaving.
What does this have to do with my being weak?
His twee knew what he knew but he could hope for a speculative answer. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t meant to be. Unknown. It may not have anything to do with it. We might just be here to catch this Unicorn for another reason and then move on to the real issue.
Doubtful. Iain wasn’t going to disturb Zareen during a hunt, so he just gave a mental sigh and drew on the well of patience he’d developed over the years.
Close, Zareen said as she eased to a stop in a thicket of bushes. They shifted around her, indicating she’d become solid again. She didn’t look back at him, but he knew she was watching him with her perception. You help.
She sees human, pokegirl, run. Dog no threat. No run. Block teleport. We catch then. Zareen did look over her shoulder at him then. You be dog.
Iain’s eyes narrowed. I am not supposed to put myself into stupid danger and you want me to get close to a feral pokegirl and hope she doesn’t kill me?
Zareen nodded. Yes. Her eyes filled with pleading. Please? Important.
Who is she?
Zareen turned to look in the direction of where the Unicorn was teasing another berry from the great grape bush. Mother. That is the analog of my mother. She looked back at him. Am sure. My twee has been assembling my memories and I remember this place. I checked records and it survived the destruction on Four. I remember her. You can keep her from escaping so I can catch her. Please. She smiled. I pretty. I smart.
Iain made a face and slid off of Zareen’s back. You want to take her alive. Do not worry about hitting me when you attack her. You may not be able to miss me because I’ll have to be close to her since I haven’t learned how to project my magic absorption. Whatever your attack is, I’ll survive it. If you hold back I should just shoot her now. Understand?
Understand. Pokeball not catch you. She dug into the satchel he carried and pulled a pokeball out of it.
Iain looked at her and became his wolf form before loping off in the direction of the Unicorn. There are wolves here, his twee said. She may have been attacked by them already.
That is a possibility. Unicorns are omnivores too, so she may see me as an opportunity to vary her diet. If I’m not smart I could get killed. On top of that, she may have some precognition warning. And what confuses me about this is that everyone knew I’d be doing this.
There was a pause and then a feeling of surprise from his twee. Ryan was giving you her permission to add another Unicorn to the clan, and the others were approving this. What is going on?
Soon we will find out. Iain tested the wind with his nose and circled around his target until he was approaching the Unicorn from downwind. He wanted to able to see the Unicorn with his eyes and perception instead of the drone’s sensors and cameras before he did anything else.
When he got close enough to monitor the area with his perception, he sank down on his belly and watched for several minutes as the Unicorn collected more of the great grapes and put them in a small bag made of untanned rabbit hide. If she ruptured the skin of any, they got quickly eaten.
Eventually he lifted his head slightly. Zareen, are you ready?
Iain slid forward on his stomach and nosed under a bush where its shadow swallowed him up.
He was standing in an open area. It was mostly dark and the air was warm and moist and full of the scent of people. “Hey, who let a dog into prom?” He could hear music playing and recognized the tune as Heart of Glass by Blondie. Iain blinked and his ears flattened as he whipped sideways and darted into the nearest shadow to disappear.
He emerged from the shadow of the tree behind the Unicorn and jumped into the air, changing to his large dragon form as he did. He sank the claws of all four feet into her equine back and buried his teeth in her back at the base of her human torso as the sudden impact of his weight slammed the Unicorn to the ground to the sound of breaking bones. He jerked his head sideways and felt her spine snap while his absorption field sprang into existence around him for ten meters, keeping her from trying to use magic to escape. A second later, Zareen appeared, driving her dark blade deeply into the Unicorn’s human chest, out the back and, incidentally, into Iain’s shoulder at the base of his neck. She slammed the pokeball in her hand into the Unicorn’s face and she dissolved into the capture beam.
Zareen dropped the ball onto the ground in front of Iain. “Stop field.”
“Can’t until we know she won’t get free,” Iain forced the words out past the agony in his neck and shoulder. He focused his will and the pain faded into something manageable. “My healing magic will keep me alive and conscious for that long.”
The capture took what seemed like a small eternity, but finally the ball stopped moving. Instantly Zareen pressed her hands against Iain’s wound. “Stop field!”
She must have been trying to heal him because her magic joined with his in the instant his field vanished. When his wound closed, she changed to her human form and dropped to the ground to sit cross legged in front of him as she licked at his blood on her hands. “Good.”
Iain sat back on his hind legs and rolled his shoulder experimentally, deciding to give it another minute or two before changing back to his human form. “I’m glad you like the flavor. How’d you keep your dark blade up in my absorption field?”
“Supercharged whole time. Much work.” She grinned up at him. “Good hunt. Iain did good. Surprised.”
“In my smaller dragon form I’ve been doing a lot of hunting. Apparently it translated well into hunting a feral pokegirl, at least this time it did.” He changed to human and picked up the pokeball. “Did the others know you intended me to be involved in her takedown?”
“So I should clean up before we go home to keep you out of trouble, right?”
She nodded. “Yes. Fun!”
“If it hadn’t been fun I wouldn’t be bothering to try and keep you out of trouble.” He examined the ball closely. “An ultra ball. You at least tried to minimize the chances she’d escape.” He tossed it to Zareen, who scrambled to catch it. “What now, as if I couldn’t guess?”
She held the ball out towards him. “You wake. Others know. Approve. Grudging.”
“I’ll bet. There’s a large majority who think the harem is too big now.” He shook his head. “But I already knew they approved of what we’re doing. We’ll go home and after she gets healed and cleaned I’ll wake her up.”
Zareen shook her head vehemently. “No! Wake now!” She frowned when he folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Please! Important!”
“It’s important that I fuck this woman before she’s healed and cleaned up? You put a large hole in her chest and I snapped her spine and broke other things. Even if I don’t know why you think this is so important I am not fucking a dying woman.”
Zareen stared at the pokeball and back at him. “I go. I heal new hurts. I bring back. You fuck. Then heal all.”
“Do you realize that you’ll be leaving me here, in the middle of unexplored land, alone?”
Zareen’s face was a study in frustration. Then she brightened. “No.” She grabbed his arm with her free hand and shoved his sleeve back to reveal the tattoo of Liadan. “Dead guard.”
“My undead harem is supposed to be an adjunct to my living guards,” Iain said quietly. “Do you understand the shitstorm you’re asking me to volunteer to jump into?”
“It’s important,” Zareen replied. “I’ll be gone just a few minutes. I’ll bring you new clothes.”
This possibility was anticipated by Daya. Ninhursag and a squad of Elves are on five second standby and waiting for your call, Theodora said in Iain’s mind.
“Go,” Iain said. “Do what you need to do and get back here.” He reached out to Ninhursag through their bond as Zareen teleported away. Is this really that important?
I believe it is or I wouldn’t have let this happen, she told him. Were you hurt during the capture?
I’m fine, although I am covered with the blood of our target. Why can’t I bring her home and wake her there?
You will understand afterwards, Iain. For now, please do as Zareen asks, but if you can, take her someplace safe before you wake the new girl.
Iain scowled before giving a mental shrug. All right. I will, but it means I’ll be out of communication for a few hours.
Do as you must, my love, but take Zareen with you.
The woman twitched several times before her bright green eyes opened. She looked unseeingly at the metal ceiling above her for a long moment before sitting up. She was lying on a loose pile of furs. The walls and floor were also metal, with a heavy solid metal shutter sitting closed in the one window frame. An open door was opposite the window and the woman slid to her feet to head for the door only to stop to stare at the stump that was her left arm.
She was finally roused by the smell of cooking food and the growl of her stomach. Carefully she peered out the doorway and frowned at the sight of a man, wearing only pants, cooking at a small metal stove. She was so intent on him that she jumped when he spoke without looking up. “To your left is my shirt, if you’d like to wear something. I usually wear oversized shirts so it should cover everything you might want to hide from me. I won’t mind if you don’t wear anything since I do appreciate the female form, but the choice is yours and the shirt, my socks and boots are all of the clothes here right now unless you want me to give up my pants. Also to your left is the table, with what I’ve prepared so far. Feel free to tuck in without me.”
The woman picked up the shirt and held it up before sighing when she realized the problem it represented. “I want to wear this but I can’t button it up. I need two hands to put it on. Would you help me? If you’re the man who I was with, then you know what my body looks like already.”
He turned and nodded as he put the skillet on the floor next to the stove. “I am. I’m Iain.” Quickly he helped her put the shirt on, stopping when she could do the rest. Then he returned to the stove. “What’s your name?”
“Six Hundred. So the war is over for me.” She looked at the food. There was a bowl of berries and a platter with some roasted corn, fried potatoes and several thick steaks cooked to varying degrees of doneness. She took an empty plate and put it down next to the platter so she could slide a steak and some potatoes along with an ear of corn onto it.
“The war has been over for several years,” Iain said as he picked up the skillet, put it back on the stove and went back to cooking the steak in it. “Without access to regular sex, the sentient portion of your mind shut down and you went feral. That means you were operating on just base animal instinct until you were captured earlier today and I woke your mind up. You were probably living like that for several years. You may never remember those years completely or events that transpired during that time.”
She looked at her stump again. “That might explain why I don’t remember what happened to my arm.” Her head came up to regard him. “Or did you do this to me?”
“I did not have anything to do with you losing that arm and, soon enough, you’ll get it back.”
She frowned. “I will?”
“While where we are is a bit rustic, when we get back to my home I have access to healing machines and other medical equipment necessary to regenerate your arm. Also, other members of my family, and hopefully your new one, can grow you a new arm if you’d prefer magic to technology.”
“Hopefully?” She blinked. “You have other women. I can see it in your mind. Some of them are healers.”
“I do and they are.” He finished the steak he was cooking and slid it onto a plate, putting the skillet down next to the stove again. “I’ll clean up after we eat.” He stopped, looked at the plate and her. “May I join you?”
She regarded him for several seconds. “Yes.”
He sat down across from her. “I would like to apologize for not thinking about how having one arm would affect you. Would you like me to cut up your steak for you?”
“I would like that.” She slid her plate in his direction and watched as he shoved his to the side to take hers and start slicing the steak into small pieces. “If you had thought about it, what would you have done differently?”
“I’d have cut the steaks up as I cooked each of them so you didn’t have to have me ask to do so or wait while I did this.”
She nodded. “Why am I covered in dried mud?” She rubbed her cheek. “It itches.”
“You were rolling in it while feral to use as camouflage.”
“So I can wash it off?”
“Yes you can. I’ll have to stand guard if you want to do it here, but yes.” He glanced up at her. “I haven’t piped water up here yet and the place is a mite dangerous.” He finished cutting up the meat and slid the plate back to her. He leaned back in his chair and reached for the tea pitcher to pour two glasses of iced tea. “Do you have any questions?”
Her attention was focused on her plate of food. “After I finish eating.”
A while later she finally pushed her plate away from her and burped softly. Iain looked up and she blushed slightly. “Sorry.”
“Throughout a lot of human history, if someone belched at the end of a meal it was a compliment to the cook’s skills. It probably only became rude when some king got a face full of bad breath and bits of food and decided that he didn’t like it. I’m not that king and you don’t have bad breath.” He gathered up the untouched food and took it to a large cabinet. He put the food away inside and returned to get the scraps, which he scraped into a rough looking sack. “I’ll dump this when we go so you can bathe. Don’t ever leave food out. It’ll draw insects and the ones here are not only very aggressive, most of them are around this big,” he held his hands nearly twenty five centimeters apart. “And the little bastards are quick, so you don’t want to fight them if you don’t have to, although if you have a flame attack that’ll crisp their wings if it doesn’t roast them outright. Just remember that if they’re on the ground they’re less dangerous, not harmless. They have a nasty bite and many of them are poisonous. And the larger insects, like the giant scorpions and spiders, are very poisonous.” He frowned. “You know, I’ll just take you back to the Theodora and you can bathe there. I don’t have to worry about you getting eaten there.”
Six Hundred rose. “I want to see this place. I’ve never heard of anywhere with such large insects. It sounds incredible.”
He eyed her for a moment before turning towards the bedroom. “Let me get my gun and we’ll go on the roof. If you’re here and the time permits, always go on the roof before going outside. While not foolproof, it’s a good way to scout for threats.” He was gone only a moment and returned as he fastened his gun belt around his waist. A binocular case was on the belt. “This way.”
She followed him to a ladder. “Where are we?”
“I call it my hunting lodge and I’m still setting it up.” He looked at her and frowned. “Can you climb with one arm?”
“I’ve never tried.”
He nodded. “Your pokeball is in the bedroom. Would you like to go up in it?”
She blinked. “You have pokeballs? You were serious about having advanced technology. I would prefer to remain outside if I can.”
He looked thoughtful. “I can climb up to the next floor and stand where you can see me and then you can teleport into my arms since you haven’t seen where the stuff on that floor is.”
“That would work.”
He quickly climbed the ladder and stood where he was easily visible to her. “Ready.” An instant later she appeared in front of him and grabbed him around the neck with her arm. He steadied her and let her go. “That wasn’t so bad and we’ll do it again to get onto the roof.”
She looked down at herself and pulled out the neck of the shirt to peer inside. “It must have been many years that I was living like that. I’ve lost a lot of weight.” She looked at him. “I used to be much curvier. I don’t particularly like how I look now.”
“When you get healed you can get however you used to look back if you want.” He moved to another ladder going upwards and climbed it until he could twist a mechanical lock that secured a heavy looking trapdoor before forcing it up and open. He stuck his head up and quickly looked around before climbing onto the roof. “Come on up,” his voice called down a few seconds later.
She teleported into his arms. “Why did you hesitate?”
“Like I said, it can be dangerous and some of the dangers can fly and this roof is nice and flat, so I look around for potential dangers before relaxing my vigil at all. If I say get off the roof you are to teleport to the ground floor immediately.” He let her go and held out a pair of binoculars. “Look around.”
She slowly looked around, her face going slack in amazement at the activity around them. The building was sited on a hilltop and she could see in all directions. Down on one side a large animal she didn’t recognize was being chased by four smaller ones with sharp claws and mouths filled with teeth. “What are those,” she asked as she lifted the binoculars for a closer look. As she looked through them, they adjusted automatically until the tableau she was watching came into focus.
“The creature being chased is a Parasaurolophus and the ones looking to make a meal of it are raptors. Supposedly they’re Utahraptors, but like a lot of creatures here they’ve obviously been genengineered.” His voice was heavy with amusement. “Well, it’s obvious if you know anything about therapods.”
Six Hundred lowered the binoculars and looked at him with a faint smile. “What do you know about genetic engineering?”
He smiled. “You might be surprised and I’m learning more every day.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re on an artificial construction in space called an Ark. I didn’t build it and I’m not sure who did. The creatures you see are all grown in a laboratory and released here to live and die. I didn’t build that either.”
“What did you build?”
“This house and the fence out there around it that hasn’t been finished yet. It was a good place to bring you where we couldn’t be disturbed by anyone. There’s another woman here but she’s in her pokeball until we leave and I put her up right after we arrived, as per our agreement.”
She cocked her head. “What agreement?”
“She and other members of my family insisted we catch you and I wake you up and bring you into the family. The one thing that’s missing from everything that’s been revealed to me is why I’m doing this, other than because people I trust say it’s important. I have only been told that your presence will somehow address a weakness of mine.”
“So you brought me here so I couldn’t say no to your ultimatum?” When Iain looked confused she waved the binoculars in her good hand towards where the raptors and their prey had disappeared into a copse of trees. “I doubt I could survive out there for long so what choice do I have other than to agree to whatever your demands are?”
Iain looked surprised and then smiled. “We’re not staying here and you don’t have to agree to anything. If you want to walk away when we get back to Earth you can and I can’t do anything except ask if you’re sure you want to leave and plead with you to stay if I really want you to. We’re here so we can’t be disturbed, which I can’t guarantee anywhere else.”
“Your family won’t come here?”
“They can’t. Zareen doesn’t know the coordinates to this universe and the rest of them don’t even know it exists.” He frowned. “And Zareen shouldn’t have been here long enough to pick up the energy from this universe so that Dominique could read it from her aura. And if she reads it from you, well, I’ll find another place for my hunting lodge and start over. I already did it once to keep my lodge from another pair of women that I have to deal with regularly.”
She nodded. “Do you want me to stay?”
“I don’t know yet.” She gave him a startled look and he shrugged. “I don’t know anything significant about you. You’re a Unicorn. Ryan is a Unicorn and I’m rather fond of her. If she hadn’t told me that she approved of this we wouldn’t even be talking. You know something about genetics. Probably you know a lot or you believe you do since you sounded a little condescending when you asked if I knew anything about genetic engineering.” Her cheeks reddened and he smiled. “Yeah, I caught it. It’ll take more than that to insult me. Unicorns are pretty rare and they tended to be fairly highly placed in Scott’s hierarchy, so you might have been important. And I know you aren’t one of the Deaths or a Huntress variant of a Unicorn.”
Her eyes went wide. “How do you know about those things? No human knows of them.”
“I know a lot of things about a lot of things, but fortunately not everything about everything.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t want to know everything?”
“That would be boring, not to mention I’m not sure my mind could handle it all. I’d know everyone’s secret desires and fears. Not even the gods know that stuff.”
She gave a brief laugh. “Gods. Right.”
“I’ve met a couple of them so I know that at least some of them are still around.” He stopped and frowned. “Hold that thought.” He headed for the other side of the roof. Six Hundred watched and then followed.
Iain stopped at the edge and looked down. There was a loud growl and he shook his head. “You stupid shit, do you really think you can sneak up on me? You can’t climb and if I’m ever outside when you pull this I’ll blow whatever passes for brains in that pointy head of yours out of the back of your skull.”
Six Hundred looked down and saw what looked like a robotic raptor that was bright blue. Its attention was focused on Iain and it snarled and leapt, scraping claws against the metal of the wall. “What is that?”
“It’s a slightly more artificial creature than most of the others here,” Iain said without taking his attention off of it. “She’s a cybernetic version of a raptor. I should kill her, but her presence reminds me to be careful. She comes back every so often to see if she can get to me. She even tried the door that goes outside but I keep that locked whenever I’m inside and trapped when I’m outside. And since she only tried it once I don’t think she understands doors.”
“What does trapping your door do?”
“It’ll open once and then it locks after it closes. That’ll let me get inside if I’m being chased and if there’s something like her waiting inside I’ll know when the door is difficult to open. It also makes it harder for something chasing me to open the door once I’m inside, although nothing here has shown the intelligence necessary to operate doors.”
“What if something comes inside and then you get chased by something else and have to get inside quickly?”
He surprised her with a grin. “That could get tricky.” The raptor growled and leaped again, scrabbling at the wall as it fell. Iain chuckled. “You know, lass, your Indian name is Been Pissed On. Do you want it to be changed to Been Pissed On Again?”
Six Hundred’s face looked like she was fighting to smother a smile. “Can it really be a she?”
“All raptors, including the cybernetic ones, come in genders and they can be bred to produce viable eggs that can be hatched. Still, they’re like all dinosaurs and have cloaca, so I’d have to knock her out and give her a physical examination to determine if she’s a girl or a boy. And I’m not sure how dinosaurs smell different based on gender so I can’t tell that way either. But she’s got that attitude I’ve run across in certain vengeful women who are just waiting for the person they hate to have that one instant of vulnerability so they can strike. But it doesn’t really matter since all she wants to do is eat my ass and for that she can be a girl or a boy. I just anthropomorphized her as a girl because I’m me.”
“If she’s an enemy you should kill her. If she gets inside she’ll kill both of us.”
“Eventually I will, but if I kill her now I’ll have to dispose of her body or the carrion will draw other predators. While my house is big enough that no land predator can get to me on the roof except for a Giganotosaurus, and those are rare, when a Rex or Allosaurus roars at you it stinks and there’s this nasty spray of saliva. It stinks too and then I have to wash the walls down. Since I haven’t run water up here, that’s quite a chore. Not to mention, if the worst happens and I have to kill the Rex or Allosaurus, then I have to dispose of it too or the situation will just snowball. Eventually the pile of bodies might get high enough that a raptor could slip up here and get me.” He leaned down and stared at the raptor. “Go away or next time I will bring a tranquilizer rifle with me and some food and we’ll see what happens then.” He shook his head. “I know I’ll regret trying to domesticate you because I’m almost certain you can’t be housebroken.” He looked at Six Hundred. “Like I said, I haven’t run water to the lodge yet, so that’s why I thought I’d take you back before you bathed. You’d have to use the river that’s over there,” he pointed in a direction, “on the other side of those trees and I’d have to guard you from things like her. I keep the piranha under control, so they shouldn’t be an issue unless the fucking Overseer once again decided to refill the river with those bastards. We’d check first, and I have some electrical grenades that’ll clear them out pretty quickly if they’re back.” He shrugged. “It’s your choice.”
“Is there hot water where you say I will be safer if I bathe there?”
“It comes in all temperatures from containing ice bits all the way to pure steam.”
“I would prefer to have hot water.” She watched a Pteranodon go gliding by overhead. “This place is fascinating. Can I return later?”
She cocked her head, watching him. “You don’t want me here. I can feel it. Why is that?”
“This was going to be my private place, but apparently I’ll have to find another one.” He frowned. “How is it that,” he stopped, his eyes widening slightly. “You’re in my head. How can that be?”
She smiled. “I’m a telepath.”
“That doesn’t matter. No telepath can get in my head. It proves first debilitating and then fatal if they insist on trying.” He frowned and then paled. “Shit.”
She raised an elegant eyebrow. “Is cursing going to make things better?”
“It isn’t going to make things worse.” His eyes narrowed. “Your name is Six Hundred.”
“That is what I told you.”
“You’re one of the Batch Six Unicorns.”
Both eyebrows went up. “I don’t know how you came to possess that information, but you are correct. I am the first of that batch, which is why my name is Six Hundred. Technically it is Six Zero Zero, but the Controllers called me by the whole number instead of breaking it up like it should be.”
“But they all have blue eyes.”
She shook her head. “No, all of them except me have blue eyes. For some reason my genes expressed the green instead of the blue, probably because of some copy error when my original DNA chain replicated. Since blue eyes are homozygous recessive, it would only take one rather small change in how my genome expresses to allow my eye color to express. Why is this significant?”
“The Batch Six unicorns delta bond to their lovers until they get experienced enough to be able to keep the bond from forming. That’s why you’re able to be inside my head in spite of my shields.”
“What is a delta,” she broke off and her eyes widened. “I just learned what a delta bond is from you. I think you’re right and shit is an appropriate term to use in this instance. It means I can’t leave you.”
“Were you planning to?”
“The problem is I hadn’t made that decision yet and now I find that it has been made for me. I don’t like that.”
“It’s still your decision to make. I know how to safely break delta bonds and it doesn’t require either of us to die in the process.”
She frowned. “You do? I can’t see that information.”
“I’ve gotten very good at compartmentalizing since I have about a zillion delta bonds with various women, all of whom sometimes try to burrow around in my head to learn things I don’t want them to. I either learned how to hide things or everyone knows what presents I’m getting for them and that’s no fun for anyone except Canaan.” He frowned. “What I don’t get is why you?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “I don’t understand the question.”
“That would be because you were still feral when it was posed and answered. It’s a mystery to me because I wasn’t around at that time.” Iain sighed. “Are you familiar with the geography of the area that used to be the continental United States of America?”
She nodded. “I am, but I warn you that I am not an expert.”
“When you were feral, you were living in an area of northwestern Wyoming that was the Yellowstone National Park. Do you know where that is?”
“I live in east Texas, about seventeen hundred kilometers from where you were. I knew nothing of your existence until today, when the leadership of the inner clan informed me that I and a Nightmare named Zareen were going on an errand. That errand, it turned out, was catching and awakening you. What hasn’t been explained yet is why I went on that errand, except I was told that it, I mean you, would fix some weakness of mine that could affect our clan.”
“Do you normally do what they tell you to without questioning it?”
“No, I don’t. And that fact that they so earnestly asked me to do this and specifically asked that I not question it means they understand that unless I do understand this and agree with them it’ll be the last time I do anything like this.”
“I am curious too,” Six Hundred said. “How do we get answers?”
“Zareen probably knows what’s going on.” He glanced at her. “Would you mind if I released her from her pokeball?”
“I,” she paused. “I do mind, but I want answers more than I don’t want anyone else here. Do you know why I don’t want her around?”
“You’re a pokegirl. You have been engineered to want to belong to me and Unicorns aren’t big into sharing. On top of that, if they can, pokegirls want to be in charge of their surroundings, except for their partner, at least sometimes, and your subconscious realized that Zareen was part of my life before you were woken up and you’re concerned that she’ll outrank you.”
“That’s absurd. We were promised our own males, not that we’d belong to them.”
“Scott lied to you. He made pokegirls subservient to him so he could always command them. It had the effect of making most pokegirls subservient to any human who can have sex with them and exchange DNA and reproductive hormones. It could be that he didn’t think it would make you subservient to any human and only to him, but it didn’t work out that way.”
“I haven’t been subservient to you,” she pointed out.
“Have I given you any orders or made any demands of you?” He smiled crookedly when she looked surprised. “No, and I haven’t by deliberate choice. On top of that, there was only one run of the Batch Six Unicorns because he didn’t like the product very much. Your genetics made you very smart, but he felt it made you too prone to resisting being ordered around and it tended to make your group obsessive, which meant that you’d resist being taken away from your obsession.”
“Can I learn what you know about pokegirls?”
He smiled. “Only if you stay with us.”
“Now I can’t leave you again and you’re taking that decision away from me.”
“No, I’m trying to influence that decision so you’ll stay. You can still decide to leave, but now you know something you’ll lose if you do, which is a certain piece of knowledge.” He headed for the ladder. “I’ll go down and you can teleport to me again. Then we’ll find out what Zareen knows about what’s going on.”
Iain climbed down the ladder and looked up only to stagger when she appeared and grabbed his neck. “You could have waited.”
“I want answers.” She hadn’t looked around when Iain was climbing up and wanted to see what was on the second floor. It was a single chamber with more shuttered windows scattered around the walls and was empty except for a single wan light on the ceiling that cast a dim glow. A small portable computer of a type that she couldn’t identify sat on the floor on the other side of the room. “What is this place?”
“It was going to be my work and research area.”
“If you want to come back here it isn’t going to be my hunting lodge and I don’t see any reason to put in the work to make it that way. So instead I’ll put in the basics for you and build my lodge somewhere else.”
“Won’t that disappoint Been Pissed On?”
He snorted. “She’ll get over it or she’ll die before she can. Let’s get downstairs and I’ll get Zareen’s ball so we can find out what is going on.” Six Hundred smiled and vanished. “Right, you’ve already been downstairs.” He climbed down the ladder and looked around. “Now where are you?”
“Here,” Six Hundred called from the bedroom.
“Where else would a pokegirl be,” he muttered and headed into the bedroom.
She gave him an arch look when she saw him. “I heard that.”
“Good.” He picked up the satchel and fished out a pokeball. “Let’s see what’s going on.”
“I looked in there and there are twelve pokeballs. How can you tell which is the right one?”
“It’s a gift.” Iain triggered the ball and Zareen appeared. “Zareen, this is Six Hundred. Six Hundred, this is Zareen. So, what is going on?”
Zareen looked Six Hundred up and down. She smiled at Iain. “Shirt. Fuck?” She sniffed the air and grinned. “Fuck.”
“Yes, I woke her up, although she hasn’t decided if she’s going to stay. Now answer my question.”
“She stay. She like fuck.”
Six Hundred frowned at Iain. “What did she say?”
“Zareen said you will stick around because of the sex.”
“I don’t remember it.”
Zareen blinked at her and looked at Iain. “Not remember?”
“She was feral at the time. The fact that you remember what we did when you were first awoken doesn’t mean that every feral does. Apparently Six Hundred falls in that category, at least this time.”
Zareen looked around. “Not here before.”
“No, you haven’t and stop trying to change the subject.”
“Is she retarded?”
Iain blinked and chuckled. “No, she’s not. She’s as smart as you are, she’s just being Zareen because you’re here.”
“I doubt she’s as smart as I am.”
Zareen grinned. “Start as smart. Smarter now.” She tapped her temple. “Twee.”
Iain sighed. “You’re starting the harem dynamics already?”
Zareen’s grin widened and she nodded. “Senior.”
“What does that mean,” Six Hundred asked in a frosty tone.
Iain raised a hand as Zareen opened her mouth. “You be quiet and let me try to explain this.”
“Bloody troublemakers,” Iain muttered as he turned to Six Hundred. “Are you aware that Scott pulled from other universes and so they exist?”
Six Hundred folded her arms and glared at Zareen. “I am.”
“Are you aware that there are universes that are very close to each other dimensionally and so the events in them can mirror almost perfectly the ones in the other nearby universes?”
Six Hundred turned speculative eyes on him. “I am,” she said curiously. “How do you know this?”
“I come from a universe that’s far from here and so there was no techno wizard named Scott and no pokegirls. I was kidnapped and brought to another universe that isn’t far from here. There I met some women, including Zareen. She is the feral parthenogenic daughter of a feral Unicorn. That feral Unicorn was you in that universe, so the Unicorn that Zareen was before she evolved was identical to you genetically and that means Zareen had the raw potential to be as intelligent as you are. Later we moved to this universe.”
“My children would be Unicorns and she isn’t a Nightmare. They have red hair and eyes.”
Zareen smiled proudly. “Iain make me.”
“I’m learning to be a mage,” Iain said with a calmness he didn’t feel. Tension was building in this room and he was starting to think he might be safer with the raptors outside if it came to violence between these two. If nothing else, he wouldn’t regret shooting any of the raptors. “When I met Zareen, she was feral and a Unicorn. There was a burst of wild magic and she became what she is now. Later we moved to the universe where we’re living now and here we are where she’s not answering my question.”
“She’d better start answering you right now,” Six Hundred said harshly. Zareen responded by sticking out her tongue and blowing a raspberry at the Unicorn. Her tongue was still out when she dissolved into the capture beam.
“Some days you just can’t win,” Iain said as he reached into the satchel again. He stood, holding another ball in his right hand and returned Six Hundred to it before she knew what was happening. “But right now I am just not in the mood to deal with it.” He looked at both balls. “Fuck.” He released Zareen and then Six Hundred, putting them standing next to each other. “I shouldn’t have done that and I apologize to you both.” He dropped the balls into the satchel. “I won’t do it again. Having said that, if you two want to fight we can go outside and you can fight it out among the dinosaurs. Otherwise, you’d better calm the fuck down and you’d better do it right now.” He waited for a moment. “Somebody had better speak up.”
“We no fight,” Zareen said, with a glance at Six Hundred. “No kiss either.”
Six Hundred frowned. “Kiss? I don’t understand.”
“It’s kind of a joke. At one point some time ago, two of my women who were being bitches at each other kissed and made up once in order to prove to me that they were not going to fight and the harem decided to incorporate it into their behavior routines. I’m not sure why they’ve done it, but it crops up from time to time.”
“They do it to keep your attention,” Zareen said. “And to invite you to group sex. I’m not interested in sex with her.”
“So you can talk,” Six Hundred said.
“I was talking before. I don’t see a reason to use needless words and when I first joined the harem they abused me over how difficult it was for me to talk like they do. Speaking the way I normally do started because I didn’t like them and later became a habit since I don’t care about what they want and it didn’t bother Iain, the only person who matters. He has always understood what I’m saying. Now Iain’s mad at us both so I don’t want him to have to repeat what I say so you can understand it.” She turned to face Six Hundred. “I am sorry I was goading you into a fight. That’s not why I insisted Iain bring you into the family and, right now, it serves no purpose and it’s rude.” She waited several seconds and turned to Iain. “I can’t make her accept my apology.”
“I know, but you can explain the rules of that to her. Since I’m not sure what additional rules Ninhursag or the others might have imposed on the process, please do so.”
Zareen turned to Six Hundred. “I have apologized to you for my behavior. You can either accept it or reject it and then you can apologize for threatening me if you want to. You have to be specific with an apology. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t acceptable.”
“Oh.” Six Hundred glanced at Iain. “I accept your apology.”
Zareen nodded and waited several seconds. “You need to apologize too.”
Six Hundred looked surprised. “I do? Why?”
“You threatened me. That’s rude and rudeness is something not to be tolerated within the harem except during training.”
“I didn’t threaten you.”
Zareen turned to Iain. “Ruling.”
“Six Hundred, didn’t you tell Zareen that she’d better start answering my question and heavily imply in your tone that you were going to employ violence to coerce her obedience if she balked?”
Six Hundred’s mouth opened but no words came out. She pulled it shut and said in a quiet voice. “Yes.”
“That was a threat. Please apologize to Zareen for threatening her.”
“You’re asking me to apologize to her?”
“And if I refuse?”
“That depends on Zareen. If she wants an apology, then I’ll ask again and if you refuse again that’ll mean you aren’t interested in being a Grey. We don’t have a lot of rules, but the ones we do have keep people from constantly fighting for status, which gets tiresome very quickly.”
“It also means that one of us will eventually accept your challenge as to who is the better combatant,” Zareen said. “You may not be able to defeat me and if I were truly offended it would be my right to beat you nearly to death if I can. And in the end, if I won, I can force you to apologize.”
Iain frowned. “I didn’t institute that last part.”
“Ninhursag did, as is her right as maharani,” Zareen replied. “And since no one has complained to you about it, under the rule you did institute, you cannot get involved.”
Iain growled softly. “True.” He looked at Six Hundred. “Will you please apologize to Zareen for threatening her?”
Six Hundred nodded. “I apologize for threatening you, Zareen.”
“I accept your apology.”
Iain folded his arms and leaned against the wall. “Now that the apologies are complete, Zareen, tell me why this is happening. I fulfilled my end of the bargain and did what was requested of me without question, with the understanding that my questions would be answered afterward. It is now afterward, so talk, mare.”
Zareen giggled. “Stallion forceful and strong. Like.” Her smile faded. “I recently decided that you are right, and that reading is fun. It made sense to start with the site rip and I read the stories you wrote first. Something was immediately obvious. You have two main categories of stories. The first are your shorts and one shots. They have no continuity between them, although they may be referenced in your serial works. The second category is your serial stories, which draw heavily on the previous stories and intertwine to a great deal. They are much more important to you and tell more about your state of mind when they were written.”
“That’s true of anything written by almost any writer,” Iain pointed out.
“See, clever. In your serial stories, there is one person who is present in almost every story, either as a supporting character or just in a cameo, but that person is there. Stallion clever. Who?”
Iain thought for a few seconds. “Poppet.”
Zareen nodded. “Stallion still clever.” She cocked her head. “Sometimes she’s sympathetic and sometimes she’s a bitch, but she is almost always presented somehow as a love interest for the main character. She was for Jaime and then Devon, although he didn’t want her, and then she was suggested as a lover for Faelan and finally for Shikarou, who married her and brought her here even over the protests of his own maharani, who is Poppet’s parthenogenic daughter, which meant he already had Poppet’s genetic legacy available to breed with. She wasn’t a romantic interest for Nicodemus, but then it could be argued that Nicodemus is incapable of love.”
“You think I’m infatuated with Poppet.”
“You are. The harem agrees that you probably are. Now I ask you, are you infatuated with Poppet and, if so, is it something that either Poppet or her family could use to manipulate you and therefore us?”
Iain frowned. “I don’t want to say yes and I can’t say no to the first part of your question. That means the answer is most likely yes, which means the second part’s answer is also yes since it’s safest to say she can and then work to remedy the situation.”
“Stallion again clever,” Zareen purred in a sultry tone.
“Well, the clever stallion has also not forgotten his question hasn’t been answered yet.”
Six Hundred was looking confused. “Why does she call you stallion? It doesn’t sound like a term of endearment and you’re human.”
Zareen smirked at her. “Clever mare.” Her smile vanished. “Still wrong. Iain not human.”
The Nightmare grinned at him. “She needs to know if she’s going to stay. If she leaves, Canaan will wipe the knowledge whether you want her to or not.”
“I haven’t forgotten about my question,” Iain warned her before turning to Six Hundred. “Zareen is correct when she says that I’m not human. I was born a human but not too long ago, magic was used to turn me into a dragon. I’ll point out right now that it was done against my will. But I was human and now I’m a dragon, which means that first I still think of myself as human a lot of the time and, second, I’m coming to terms with it but I’m not really all that happy about it. Like you, I prefer to make my own choices and when I feel that my ability to make my own choices is taken away from me, it tends to piss me off.”
“You are obviously male, so you’re not telling me that you have been turned into a pokegirl. Even the futa breed is feminine.”
“Correct. And if I were a pokegirl, you’d still be feral.”
“But as a dragon you can make me not feral?”
Iain sighed. “Apparently I can wake your mind because I did. Look, we’ll have the whole reveal later since we’d have to it outside or on the roof since I don’t have a lot of furniture and I’d miss what little I do have.” He turned to Zareen. “Answer the fucking question.”
“You’re a smart mare. Break it down.”
Zareen nodded. “Canaan explored Poppet’s mind the first time she came to visit James and Monica. Those memories were uploaded to Theodora and examined to see if they could help us. At the time we were not that friendly with her family.” She paused and waited expectantly.
“As best we can, my twee and I have been reconstructing my memories from the time I was feral. You are right, and I have been feral for my whole life, from birth to when you found me. Theodora has been helping because she possesses processing power that my twee does not, so she has a full upload of me. It is updated regularly so that if I am killed I can be reborn, like you have been doing.” She paused again.
Iain lifted an eyebrow. “And these things tie together somehow.”
“See, clever.” She looked at Six Hundred, who was obviously paying attention, and back to Iain. “Unicorns are telepaths, even while feral. I was a Unicorn. Ferals don’t have stupid limits or stupid rules like the aware do. My mother’s mind and mine were so intermeshed that we were almost one being. When I lost her, it was devastating. I nearly died.”
“It would be like having a stroke or some other brain trauma,” Iain said quietly.
“Yes. Not important. I lived. Healed. Met you. What is important is that my mother’s memories and thoughts were as much a part of me as my own. I know what she knew and so I know her name was Six Hundred.” Zareen cocked her head, her golden eyes glowing softly. “Canaan’s scan of Poppet is not restricted by privacy and so Theodora could tell me that Poppet,” she paused, “loathed Six Hundred, and my memories told us that Six Hundred returned that loathing. Six Hundred’s presence in the harem and in the clan will protect you from Poppet’s influence.”
“It’s a different universe,” Iain pointed out. “Six Hundred and Poppet could have been besties.”
Zareen shook her head. “Canaan looked. This one despises Poppet too.”
Six Hundred frowned. “Who is Poppet?”
Zareen smiled. “A Batch Six Unicorn who took that name for the first man she loved after he rescued her from certain death. You know her as Six Thirty Nine.”
Six Hundred’s eyes narrowed slightly. “She survived the Revenge War? I suppose it isn’t surprising. Cockroaches are notoriously hard to kill.”
Iain’s voice was droll. “I take it you and she didn’t get along.”
Six Hundred nodded calmly. “I was the designated leader of the Six batch because I was the best out of the entire batch. We were tested. My leadership potential was determined to be the best and I was placed in charge of my sisters before we were separated. She was a designated research assistant who instead spent most of her time trying to rise in position and eventually supplant me. She helped the human war effort far more than she ever helped the Creator’s.” She eyed Zareen for a second. “And I do not despise Six Thirty Nine or Poppet or whatever she calls herself. One does not despise a cockroach for being a cockroach. Nor does one feel sympathy for it when one crushes it beneath a heel because, in the end, it is nothing more than a cockroach and that is its fate. Six Thirty Nine would have to rise to the level of being a person before I would bother to despise her.”
Zareen grinned at Iain. “See? Perfect. Poppet no influence with her. Poppet ambitious bitch from day she open eyes.” She glanced at Six Hundred. “What you do Poppet come round make eyes at Iain?”
“What does ‘make eyes at’ mean?”
“Want fuck Iain.”
Six Hundred turned her head and regarded Iain for a long moment. “I wouldn’t have to do anything. His standards aren’t that low.”
Zareen giggled. “Not fuck you again?”
“Absolutely not. Any dick that touches her will not touch me.”
“I get the point,” Iain grumbled. “Does that mean you’re staying?”
Six Hundred looked at her stump. “You’ll give me my arm back?”
“Whether you stay or not, that’ll be one of the things that’ll get fixed as soon as we get home. Even if you don’t stay, I won’t let you leave with such an injury.”
“What would I do?”
“Poppet Harris is supposed to be getting us a list of mothballed science facilities that Scott used. I’d like to drain their knowledge and reset the systems to warn us if anyone else tries to access them. It’ll let us track potential enemies. You could help with that.”
Six Hundred frowned. “Why did you say her full name?”
“Two Poppets,” Zareen supplied. “One your Poppet, one different world.”
Six Hundred turned an inquiring gaze on Iain and he nodded. “Poppet Harris is the one you knew. Poppet Wolf is the same person from a different world and she’s three hundred years older than Mrs. Harris or you are and the woman that Zareen and the others are most concerned about between the two of them, even if she’s married to the son of a friend of mine. I’ve only met Poppet Harris a couple of times and she’s totally invested in her husband Jamie right now.”
“How is it possible that anyone is three hundred years old?”
“Look in my mind for what longevity is,” Iain said. “Your batch of Unicorns was given it.”
Her eyes went wide. “We have a six hundred year minimum lifespan? How long will you live?”
“I am, now at least, effectively immortal, unless I die by violence or choose to end my existence.”
“I see.” She nodded. “Are you going to use the facilities to make more pokegirls?”
“No, and if we ever decided to do anything like that, I have access to better and more reliable equipment. I just want the information since the gear isn’t all that great.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “I helped with that equipment. It is state of the art.”
“My art is better. My cloning facilities are faster and have a failure rate of less than a millionth of a percent. I could use your help on my projects.”
“I would be willing to look them over and see if anything interests me,” Six Hundred replied. “If I am allowed to pick my work.”
“You will be,” Iain said, “to a point. We all train on the combat teams and you’ll be expected to do that. What training you’ll be doing and what you’ll be doing as part of our combat team will depend on your skillset.”
“Are you our military leader?”
Iain shook his head. “I’m the clan leader and I’m good at picking subordinates who can do a job far better than I can. The harem military commander is the maharani, Ninhursag, and the overall commander of the clan’s forces is Lucifer, but right now she’s overseeing the restructuring of a large military force along clan lines before she assumes her position as my general. On the combat teams I’m part of the reserve and I’m a sniper.”
Six Hundred frowned. “Lucifer? Do you mean the traitor who was killed by the Creator’s agents?”
“She’s the one from the world Zareen came from and, as point of fact, the one from this world didn’t die either. She faked her death and you’ll meet her later.”
“Iain negotiator,” Zareen stated firmly. “Good. Grow clan.”
“Technically that’s not a combat position,” Iain said. “I’m also an expert interrogator and translator, but our enemies and some of our friends don’t want to hear about that.” He rubbed his eyes. “Look, I need to be getting you home so you can run through medical and get that arm back. At the same time you’ll meet Ninhusag and April and then start the process of getting you settled in.”
“No,” Zareen said firmly. “Take room Theodora.” She looked at Six Hundred. “In his quarters, let him bathe you and then show you what you don’t remember so you’ll know how good in bed he is and consciously want to stay with us. After that, he can get you clothes if you want.” She gestured at her body. “No have wear clothes but can if want. After clothes. you can go through medical and finally you can meet Ninhursag and the others. He has very nice hands.”
Six Hundred gave Iain a sidelong glance. “I like her plan better than yours.”
Iain laughed. “Honestly, so do I.”
“Outside interesting,” Zareen said. “Don’t recognize animals. See later?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Still have week. Alone here?”
“Yes. There’s nobody here but us and the animals, which can be pretty dangerous.”
“I’m still experimenting. Some are better raw and I haven’t built a barbecue here yet.”
“This is our place,” Six Hundred said firmly.
Zareen chuckled. “Possessive mare. Part of you remembers what you and he did. And if he doesn’t bring me here when you are here, what does it matter?”
Six Hundred frowned and shrugged. “Change sheets.”
Zareen looked the pile of furs. “What sheets?”
The Unicorn looked at Iain. “Get bed. Sheets.”
“Are you going to talk like Zareen does?”
A hint of a smile flickered around her lips. “Maybe. Bother?”
“Me? Not at all. I speak monosyllable.” Zareen giggled as he smiled. “Everyone else? Yes, it’s going to bother them. It may also make both Poppets think you’ve got unhealable brain damage and lower their opinions of you.”
“If their opinion of me matches my opinion of them, I doubt it can go lower.”
Iain shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. If you want to talk like Zareen does, then go ahead. I know how smart you are just as I know how smart Zareen is. I also know why Zareen hides how smart she is. If you decide to hide your intelligence, eventually I’ll figure out why you do it.”
“She talk normal,” Zareen said. “Want authority. Want power. Talk like me not get.”
Six Hundred looked startled. “How do you know that?”
“Poppet ambitious bitch. Other Poppet ambitious bitch. Likely Batch Six all ambitious bitches.”
“You are from that line,” Iain said quietly.
“I ambitious bitch too. I want, I have. I have food. I have daughters. I best hunter in clan.” She reached out and touched his cheek. “I have you,” she said softly. “Best stallion ever.”
Six Hundred looked startled. “You have children?”
Zareen nodded proudly. “Eight. All strong.” She gave Iain a look pregnant with promise. “Have more.”
“We will,” Iain agreed. “Now we need to go. Zareen can go in her pokeball and so can you if you want. When we get to my quarters I’ll get you some clothes.”
Six Hundred looked down at herself. “Can I keep this shirt? I like the way it smells.”
Zareen laughed. “Keep. All except me have shirts.”
“Why not you?”
“Good excuse. I want scent, I go rub nose against him.” She grinned. “I rub right places, I get more than scent.”
Six Hundred chuckled. “I am starting to think she is as smart as I am. That’s clever.” She glanced at Iain. “Of course, now he knows your trick.”
“Him already know. Him not stop.”
Six Hundred’s eyebrows rose and she looked at Iain, who smiled. “I’m not stupid either.” He reached for his socks. “Let me get dressed as much as I can and I’ll put you two up for the trip home.”
“While he’s doing that,” Six Hundred said to Zareen, “I will take you up on the roof and you can see this place.”
Zareen was reaching for Six Hundred’s hand when Iain looked up. “Zareen.” She halted at the flatness of his tone. “It’s dangerous. Keep her safe.”
Six Hundred grabbed her hand and they were on the roof. “Why did he not caution you to be safe too?”
Zareen was looking around. “Like. Hunting good.” She glanced at the Unicorn. “I am always safe. Iain knows I will abandon you to save my life and he was asking me to save you too if I can. I will abandon everyone except him to save my life.”
“You said you have children. What about them?”
“I will abandon outlanders to save clan. I will abandon outer clan and satellite clan to save harem. I will abandon harem to save children and I will abandon my children to save Iain and myself. I love my children but if they die and I live I can have more.” She shrugged at the horrified look on Six Hundred’s face. “Theodora says my survival instincts are more those of the mare whose genetics I carry and less than those of the human part of me, except that I value Iain’s life above my own. But do not fear, I will fight almost to the death to save my family, which you have joined unless you leave us.”
“So why is Iain’s life more important to you than your own?”
“If Theodora and Iain live and I die than I will not stay dead for long. If everyone but Iain dies and he lives, then he will come for me in the Lands of the Dead and I will live again, just like Pandora.”
Six Hundred looked downward at the metal floor they stood on. “He is that powerful?”
“Yes. And if my children die he will bring them back to life if he can. I have them uploaded to Theodora daily along with my personality, as is my right as their mother.” She cocked her head. “Iain ready. You choose new name. Maybe Iain choose.”
“What’s wrong with my name?”
“Old name, old life. New life now. New name tradition.” She grinned toothily. “Surprise Poppet.” She hadn’t let go of Six Hundred and they teleported back to the bedroom.
Iain glanced at Zareen and then Six Hundred. “What she didn’t mention was that you don’t have to change your name if you don’t want to. Not everyone has and who gives a damn what Poppet thinks?”
“You could hear us?”
“I have better than human hearing, so yes. Between my magic studies and some other things you’ll learn about, you’re going to find I’ve gotten some basic upgrades.” He dug out two pokeballs. “Now, ladies, if you don’t kind, I’m supposed to be giving a pretty lass a bath and I don’t want to delay that.”
Six Hundred looked puzzled until Zareen poked her with an elbow. “You.”
The Unicorn blinked. “Oh?” Her eyes lit up. “Oh. No, that shouldn’t wait.”
“I’ll see you two in a few minutes.” Iain returned them to their pokeballs and put them in the satchel. Next he spent half an hour cleaning up. Then he picked up the satchel and climbed up onto the roof. Night was coming and he stopped for a moment to breathe in the warm, humid air. “I guess I’ll change the plans and add another floor along with some defenses just in case bigger predators start showing up once more people are visiting.” Then he stepped into a shadow and was gone.
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
Six Hundred - Unicorn
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
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