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One Hundred Twenty Seven
Iain frowned slightly when he saw Morticia and Gomez waiting for them and then shrugged. “Good morning, Morticia, Gomez.”
Morticia nodded. “Good morning, Iain. Thank you for joining us.”
“I’m happy to. It’s a beautiful morning and looks like it might rain again.” He glanced back at Zareen, who was his guard this morning and then at Marguerite and Dominique. “Is Wednesday going to be joining us soon?”
“I’m surprised she isn’t already here,” Gomez said. “She said she would be.”
Iain raised an eyebrow and looked back at the house. “Didn’t she spend all night talking with you?”
Gomez shook his head. “No, she left at about three to take a nap before joining us this morning.”
“Do you think she tried to attack you in your room,” Dominique asked Iain.
“I really didn’t think she would, but that would explain her absence.” He looked back to Mortician and Gomez. “Would Wednesday attack me before we meet?”
“That would be completely unethical and against all rules of decorum,” Gomez said. “Of course she would to try and catch you off guard.”
“Then I need to go check my room. Wednesday might be in it.”
“You don’t know,” Morticia asked curiously.
“I spent the night in my lady’s room,” Iain replied. “I wasn’t sure if Wednesday might attack me or not, but I wasn’t going to take a chance. I did, however, leave a nice trap in my room for her, just on general principles.”
Gomez smiled broadly. “I thought you said you didn’t know how the game was played. That is one of the first rules of courtship.”
“I wasn’t really aware of that rule, but I spent some time with Mamma. We talked a lot about how things were supposed to proceed if Wednesday approved of me. She gave me some excellent advice and I listen to people who know more about something than I do. She recommended that I be sure and leave a set trap or ten in my room whenever I wasn’t awake to guard myself.” He looked back towards the house. “I should probably go check my room.” He turned back to Morticia and Gomez. “If you don’t mind?”
“Go,” Gomez said. “If Wednesday arrives, I’m sure one of your ladies will inform you.”
Iain nodded to both of them and jogged for the house. Once inside, he paused and carefully made his way up the stairs, checking for new traps as he went.
His door was closed, but the doorknob rolled under his testing finger. This was interesting since he’d left it locked when Zareen had taken him out of his room last night.
With his perception he could see Wednesday lying on the floor near his bed, wrapped in the pseudopods of the jelly ball he’d used for his trap. As designed, the ball had covered her jaw and mouth with a mask the same color as the rest of her bindings and extended a pseudopod into her mouth just far enough to avoid a normal person’s gag reflex. Wednesday’s eyes were closed and she seemed to be asleep.
Iain smiled slightly as he opened the door. Seemed.
Wednesday’s eyes snapped open when he entered his bedroom and knelt next to her. Black eyes stared into his as he nodded once. “Good morning, Wednesday. I’m Iain.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “It’s very nice to finally meet you, but you’re late to our appointment with your parents. Your father suggested that you are not normally tardy to such an event and so I thought I should check and see if you’d decided to return the favor from when I entered your dorm room undetected. Apparently you did. I’m going to remove the jelly now.” He pulled out the release stone and touched it to her bindings. They began to dissolve into nothingness as he stood. He offered her his right hand. “Let’s go.”
She took it with her left hand. When Iain pulled her to her feet, Wednesday turned the pull into a lunge as a knife slid out of her sleeve into her right hand. She struck straight for his heart.
Iain parried the thrust with an outside block and grabbed her wrist while tightening his grip on her left hand. He jerked hard, slamming her body against his hard enough to drive the air from her lungs. Wednesday hissed and struggled for a few seconds before realizing that he was much stronger than she was and was easily holding her immobile. She looked up at him. “Release me.”
Iain let go with both hands and stepped back. “Your parents and my ladies are waiting for us outside. Will you walk with me?”
Wednesday looked him up and down as she returned the knife to its spring loaded holster. “Yes.” Iain motioned her forward and she left his room. He closed the door and they headed down the stairs. She glanced at him as they reached the ground floor. “Why did you release me?”
“I did because you asked me to. Wednesday, I am here to court you. I am not here to dominate you or control you unless that’s what you want and I don’t believe it is. I will have to dominate you when I abduct you,” with his perception he watched as she blushed, “but you want that to happen and I will be happy to oblige you.”
“I will not go easily.”
Iain opened the front door and stood aside for her. “Of course you’ll fight me.” His eyes met hers as she walked past him. “It won’t change the outcome in the slightest, but it’ll make your abduction fun.” He followed her through the door, closing it behind him. “About the only way it would be more fun is if your family followed an even older tradition.”
She glanced back at him. “What tradition is that?”
“The one where your family doesn’t get to see you again until you’re obviously pregnant with our first child.” She stopped and turned to stare at him. He smiled. “That would be more fun.”
She looked into his eyes for several seconds before turning away and starting around the house for the meeting point. “You are very sure of yourself.”
“It’s not that I am sure of myself. I plan for every contingency I can imagine and then I ask others to try and imagine things I may have missed. It is one of the things that makes me successful more often than not.”
“You won’t be successful with me.”
Iain glanced at her. “Take my hand.” She looked at him for a second before slipping her hand into his. “Step when I say step, but only when I tell you to step. Ready?” She nodded.
Iain deliberately didn’t wrap her in his power. “Step.”
The world rotated around them and they found themselves standing on the island in what Iain called the lava sea. It was night and the light from the lava was a dark red glow that extended to the horizon all around them even as the heat beat down on them like fists striking flesh. “Step”
Wednesday shuddered violently for several seconds before the tremors passed and she could look around and examine their surroundings. They were standing on top of a giant mushroom that stood dozens of meters tall. It was dark, the only lights came from the gigantic plants that towered over even the mushroom they stood on. These plants twined around the walls of the humongous cavern they stood in, extending for kilometers in every direction. More lights came from the plants below them. Everything was reds and purples and soft blues with some yellower lights nearer the ground. Wednesday watched some of the yellower lights move and realized they were creatures who had their own lights. She was still watching them as she spoke. Some were moving slowly, others faster and some few moved much faster than she could run. “Where is this?”
“This is one of thousands of space stations orbiting a world where the humans exterminated themselves through stupidity and greed. We’re underground and it extends for miles in every direction. The surface is an irradiated wasteland that’s full of terrible creatures that hunt the night and burrow into the ground to avoid the sun during the day because it’ll destroy everything it touches.” He pointed at a glowing carno as it killed a small creature that looked a little like a bulldog. “Many of the creatures here are incredibly dangerous and the entire place is a test of fitness to prove you can move to the surface of the planet and try to survive there. This place is called Aberration and we are the only two people here.” He looked at her. “I can travel between universes, Wednesday. If necessary, I will use this to get to you when I come to steal you away. I will succeed.”
“Will you bring me here again?”
“If you would like, this can be where we come to get away from everyone.”
She looked around again. “I am still going to fight you as hard as I can.”
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. Are you ready to go back?”
“No, but we must.” Her fingers tightened on his. “I am ready.”
“Step.” They stood looking down into a valley. The wind was gentle but it was so cold that the fog from Iain’s breath froze into a spray of delicate crystals that fell away before it could dissipate. In the distance, something dark blue and massive flew through the air of the valley, headed away from them. Around them, all of the plants looked dead. “Step.” They stood where they’d left Twenty Four. “And we’re back.”
Wednesday shuddered for several seconds. When the tremors stopped, she looked down at where they were holding hands and released his. She looked back into his eyes. “You will do. We must inform my parents. Come.”
Iain fell in beside her as they continued around the house. “Understand that, like I said, I’m not here to control you and I am not going to allow you to control me. I realize that your mother runs the family but I am not going to marry her. Our relationship will either be one of equals or it will be one of constant strife.”
“Marguerite explained that to me before you arrived. Can I have a harem of my own?”
“Once you know what that truly entails and, if you still want that kind of responsibility, it’ll be your choice, that and the choice of any pokegirls you try to recruit. You will have to be careful if you decide to travel a lot, either on the world we live on or, even more importantly, some of the worlds we can get to. Because you look different from most people you will be confused with certain pokegirl species and some people will treat you like one as a result while others will think you have some pokegirl blood traits. They’re likely to treat you as one too.”
She glanced at him. “Will you protect me from them?”
“If you want to be protected from them, I will. If you do not, I won’t, at least until and if you change your mind and request my help.”
“That is a very reasonable answer. I like it.”
They stopped in front of Morticia, Gomez, Marguerite, Dominique and Zareen. “I was late because I could not avoid the trap Iain left for me and then I could not escape it. He had to release me from it. We have talked and I have decided that he is acceptable, if he can successfully abduct me within our rules.”
Morticia looked from her to Iain and back. “That must have been a very interesting conversation. Are you saying that Iain does not have to court you?”
“I have spoken with Marguerite. I expect that Iain, like Pappa does for you, will court me for the rest of my life.” She looked at Iain. “When we marry, I will become clan. Will I have access to the things that Marguerite has shown us?”
“And more. There are many things that we have that you don’t know anything about yet. And if you later convince your family to become clan, they will have these things too.”
“Tell us about one of these things that we would find useful,” Gomez said.
“There is a pill that grows things inside your body that improve your body, making you more resistant to damage and things that might otherwise kill you. More importantly, according to what I know of the Addams history of persecution by outsiders, it gives you the ability to silently communicate with anyone else who has it and wishes to communicate with you. This means that even if the family gets separated during some unfortunate event, they will all be able to talk to each other and it will help lead them back together if they wish it.” Iain gestured at his ladies. “We all have this.”
“That would be very useful,” Gomez said. “Do we have to wait until you marry Wednesday to become clan?”
“You may abduct her any time you’re ready,” Morticia replied. “But we want her to finish university before she marries.”
“And there a few things I want to do before I marry,” Wednesday said.
“Is this that thing involving you dancing naked in a town square and bewitching a minister?”
Wednesday’s head slowly turned to look at him. She looked even paler than normal as her eyes searched his. “How do you know about that?”
“I have this ability where I sometimes know things that it should be impossible for me to know. Most of the time it’s more of a curse than anything else.”
Wednesday’s eyes continued searching his as she spoke. “Mother, I want to wait as we agreed to marry, but how do I keep my relatives from finding out about him and trying to take him away from me? He keeps getting more interesting. If I am at university, I cannot be around to intercept them all.”
“I am not sure,” Morticia said thoughtfully. “If I deal with them then they’ll think I am after Iain.”
“May I offer a suggestion,” Iain asked. “If Wednesday is willing to trust me, I am not the kind of person to go back on something I say I will do. If she doesn’t trust me, we could get betrothed.”
“Or, if you trust Iain and still want to be betrothed,” Marguerite said. “That is possible too.”
“You would have to successfully abduct Wednesday before I would consider a betrothal,” Gomez said firmly. “My daughter wants one, you agreed and she will have her abduction.”
“I see,” Iain said. “Very well. Wednesday?” She turned to look at him curiously and Iain touched her on the forehead with a finger. She collapsed.
Iain caught her before she hit the ground and threw her over his shoulder as Zareen grabbed his hand. They vanished.
Marguerite smiled. “Iain, Zareen and Wednesday are no longer on your property and you do not know where they are. Does that satisfy the requirements?”
Gomez looked at Morticia, who smiled slightly and nodded. He grinned at Marguerite. “You abducted our daughter from right in front of her parents without us having even the slightest chance of interfering. Bravo!”
“Yes,” Morticia said simply.
Iain looked at Zareen who nodded. “I’m on watch.” She began surveying their surroundings.
He lowered Wednesday to the ground and broke the paralysis spell to allow her free movement again. Her eyes opened and she blinked several times as she looked around aimlessly. “Sorry about that, but I had to abduct you so you could choose what you wanted with our relationship.” Her eyes focused on him. “Later, if you want, I’ll do a more traditional abduction where you get a better opportunity to resist.”
She held up a hand. “Help me stand.” Iain took it and pulled her to her feet. “How did you do that?”
“I’m a wizard. It’s the whole reason your mother wanted us to meet.”
“Can I learn how to do that?”
“Dominique says you’ve got strong potential, so you can if you decide you want to learn it badly enough.”
She looked around. They were in a small copse of pine trees. “Where are we?”
“We’re on the Williams Ranch that’s next door to your parent’s home. I’m going to buy this property so we have a place to come back to when we want to visit that doesn’t require us to stay with your parents.”
“You plan ahead. That he does not is one of my father’s greatest weaknesses. Mother tries to compensate for it, but my father is impulsive and rash. Usually those are admirable traits, but not when harm to the family is the most likely outcome.”
“Iain can be both impulsive and careful,” Zareen said.
“I can, but I am usually careful and that’s because I know that the saying about adventurers is mostly true,” Iain added.
Wednesdays’ eyebrows rose slightly. “I do not know that saying.”
“There are old adventurers and bold adventurers but very few old, bold adventurers.”
“I recognize that saying now. Pugsley and Uncle Fester play that game. Marguerite explained to me about the multiverse. Are you saying that the game they play is real somewhere?”
“It is. I just returned from a mission to one of those places and my teacher in magic resides in another.”
“Marguerite said you have many wives. Do you have wives in this place too?”
Iain nodded. “Three of them with a fourth who would like to become my mate.”
“I understand that a mate is a dragon wife. Is that understanding true?” Iain nodded. “That is interesting. I will meet them someday.”
“You’ll meet my and, someday, your entire family, Wednesday. Now Marguerite says we can return to your parent’s place. Please take my hand.”
“Will I meet your parents before we marry? Wednesday slipped her hand into his.
“They’re both dead.”
“I can carry out a séance. I have done so successfully before to speak to my father’s parents, even if I am not fully trained as a witch yet.”
“Well then I guess you can meet my parents. We may have to travel to the universe where they died for it to work, but I will have to go back there eventually anyway.” He took Zareen’s hand. “Zareen.”
Suddenly they were standing where they had been in front of Morticia and Gomez.
Wednesday turned to Iain. “What was that?”
“That was teleportation. Zareen used it to move us from there to here in an instant.”
“Will I be able to do that?”
“Someday you’ll be able to do it a different way.”
Morticia looked closely at her daughter. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
“I do,” Wednesday said in a voice oozing with satisfaction. “Iain paralyzed me and took me away. You watched it and I had no chance of resisting. It is the best abduction of any woman in the family in a very long time. Mamma will want to tell everyone how well it went. All of the other single women will be very jealous of me.”
“I agree,” Gomez said happily. “You’ll have to watch your back even more than normal at the next family assembly.”
Iain chuckled, and it was a harsh sound that make the hair on Marguerite’s neck stand up. “I explained to Wednesday that I will protect her and defend her if she wants to be protected or defended and that I will not if she does not want me to. But if anything happens to her, well, she won’t be able to tell me not to avenge her. The others might want to keep that in mind for their plotting. They might get her but it’s unlikely they will survive her for long.”
“I like that,” Wednesday said quietly.
Iain straightened up. “Gomez Addams.” Gomez blinked in surprise at Iain’s suddenly formal tone. “I have successfully abducted your eldest child and only daughter, Wednesday. She has stated that I am acceptable to her. I would like to ask you now for her hand in marriage.” He glanced at Wednesday, who was watching with wide eyes. “And as her hand is still attached to her body, I want the rest of her as well.”
“Why do you want to marry my daughter?”
“Wednesday has the qualities that interest me in a woman. She is very smart; she can be as strong willed as anyone I can think of and she is very attractive.” Wednesday’s cheeks turned scarlet.
“You understand that Wednesday will not be able to marry you for several years,” Gomez replied just as formally.
“Yes, but a betrothal will allow us go to out and spend time together. It will give me the opportunity to learn more about what it means to be an Addams and Wednesday to learn what it means to be clan and specifically what it means to be a Grey.”
Gomez looked at his daughter. “How do you feel about this, Wednesday?”
She turned to her father. “I am not opposed to such a union, Papa. I believe he will make us stronger. He is not you, but I believe he can be at least as strong as you are and,” she glanced at Iain and her cheeks turned pink again, “his appearance is not completely displeasing to my eyes.”
Gomez looked at Iain. “My daughter finds you agreeable and I believe you will be a good husband for her. I agree to the match. You and she will remain betrothed until such a time as her schooling is complete and she has completed the things that she feels she must do,” he looked at Wednesday, “so long as these activities do not take more than a year and a day from when your schooling is complete.”
Gomez nodded. “As Iain is not an Addams and does not know our ways, Morticia and I will ensure that the betrothal is announced properly.”
“I would like to help with that,” Iain interjected. “I should learn what is required for, one day, Wednesday and I will have children who will be marrying and not all of them may be marrying a spouse who knows the customs either.”
“Well said,” Morticia murmured. “I will guide you in what must be done.”
Gomez grinned. “And now that’s complete, I’ll get the shovels!” He dashed off.
Iain looked at Wednesday. “Shovels?”
“Engagement rings are family heirlooms and passed down from grandmother to granddaughter,” Wednesday explained. “As I am the eldest, I will receive the engagement ring from Pappa’s mother. As is tradition, it was buried with her and we will have to dig her up to retrieve it.”
“Ah. Well, this won’t be the first grave I’ve violated.”
Dominique cocked her head. “What happens if there are more than two children?”
“If possible,” Morticia said, “we would then recover the engagement rings from the closest family members who died without successors and were buried with them, that their rings would continue as they were supposed to. If that is not possible, and it has almost always been possible, then we would have to acquire suitable rings from some other dead and they would become ours by right of conquest.”
“What about the wedding band,” Iain asked.
“That follows the same tradition,” Morticia led them towards the family cemetery. “You will have to dig up Mamma Addams again when it is time for Wednesday to marry you.”
“What if the grandmother is still alive, like Mamma?”
“When Pugsley is ready to marry, Mamma will give him her engagement ring for his betrothed.”
“It’s an interesting tradition,” Marguerite said. “It would drive jewelers crazy though since a lot of people wouldn’t be buying jewelry.”
They stopped at the entrance to the cemetery as Dominique grinned. “If we adopted it, Zareen and Iain would have to start digging up corpses now.”
Morticia looked curiously at Zareen. “What does she mean?”
“I have had one pregnancy with Iain,” Zareen said. “I gave birth to seven wonderful daughters.”
Wednesday cocked her head curiously. “Did it hurt?”
“Very much, but it was worth it.”
“Then you would need six sets of rings,” Morticia noted.
Zareen shook her head slightly with a smile. “Seven. I own no jewelry and my mother is long dead and nobody knows where her body is, even if she had jewelry of her own.”
Gomez came bustling up with two shovels. He tossed one to Wednesday, who caught it easily. The other was tossed to Iain, who plucked it from the air. “We will observe the disinterment.”
Wednesday nodded. “Iain, come.” She headed into the cemetery. Iain glanced at Dominique, shrugged and followed.
Wednesday stopped in front of a gravestone marked Katla Addams. “We dig here. You will start.” With is perception, Iain could see the coffin and inside, where a woman’s corpse in an elegant dress rested. He considered unlocking his necromancy to learn more about it before giving a mental shrug. He was pretty sure he’d have to do so later and he’d wait until then.
Daya whispered information into his mind via twee and Iain chuckled as his shovel bit into the dirt. “So, is your grandmother the witch who made the volcano in Iceland erupt, or is she a descendant?”
“Grandma Addams is directly descended from the witch of the story,” Wednesday said as she watched Iain dig. He carefully cut a rectangle in the grassy sod and cut it into rectangles that could easily be levered out and placed to the side for reuse. Once all the grass had been removed, Wednesday joined him in digging. They quickly uncovered a coffin.
Iain stopped when they’d cut around the coffin and tossed his shovel out of the hole. “Wednesday, we need to get out. It’ll be easier to do this if we pull the coffin out.” She nodded and her shovel joined his as Iain made a stirrup with his hands. “Marguerite, Wednesday’s coming out.”
“I’m ready,” the Unicorn called down. Wednesday stepped into Iain’s hand and Iain lifted smoothly. Marguerite grabbed Wednesday’s hands and helped her step out of the grave. Then both women helped Iain out.
Dominique had her staff out and raised it as she muttered a spell. A beam of bright blue light shot from the end and struck the coffin. It smoothly lifted out of the ground and Dominique pivoted to drag it sideways and gently land it several meters from the grave.
Gomez clapped vigorously. “Bravo!”
Dominique grinned at the look Wednesday was giving her. “Yes. Once you finish your training you will be able to do this.”
“Good.” Wednesday said quietly. “I want to learn everything there is about magic.”
“That’s an admirable goal,” Iain said as he examined the casket. He glanced up at her. “But you might want to become immortal first because you’ll be learning forever.” He looked at Gomez. “This is padlocked shut.”
“Of course it is. I wasn’t sure that Mother was really dead. She’s tricked us before. Careful, she bites.”
Iain stared at him for a second before giving a slight shake of his head. “Do you have the key?”
Gomez frowned. “Hmm. Where did I put it?” His head twisted from one position to the other as he thought. “I think it’s in the vault somewhere.”
Iain tugged on the lock. “It doesn’t matter. It’s rusted solid.”
“Cut,” Zareen asked.
“This is a simple thing,” Dominique said to Iain. “Go ahead and open it.”
Iain glanced at her for a second and returned his attention to the lock. He took it in his hand and muttered. Rust and dirt slid off the lock into a neat pile on the ground. When the lock looked clean, Iain tugged the hasp open. He reached for the lid and paused, considering Gomez’s words and the family he was marrying into. “Mrs. Addams, I am Iain Grey and I’m going to get Wednesday’s engagement ring for her. If you are not dead in there and you bite me I will remove your head so next time there’s no mistake about your status.”
“Good, warn her,” Gomez said with a grin.
Marguerite touched Iain’s mind. Is she alive in there?
Iain opened the casket, a variety of memories flashing though his head as the smell of rotting adipose fat and tissue floated around him for a few seconds. No, according to my magic she is very definitely dead. But there is something odd and I’m not sure if she’s not undead. It could be fey magic too. If she’s aware undead, she heard my warning. If she attacks me I will destroy her.
Katla Addams was a desiccated corpse that appeared to be undisturbed. There were no signs of damage to the interior of the casket either, suggesting she was truly dead when buried. She was wearing elegant earrings and an ornate necklace that had been laid carefully on top of her dress. Several of her fingers sported rings, but on the third finger of her left hand was a pair of gold rings. “Wednesday, which of these is the engagement ring?”
She had moved to stand beside him when he opened the coffin. “The one with the snakes with the jet eyes.”
“Can I retrieve it? I want to make sure I don’t violate some custom by not letting you loot your own dead.”
“That’s very polite of you to ask, but you are supposed to retrieve the ring and place it on my finger. If you can, it’s considered good luck if the finger remains attached to Grandmother Addams.”
“Dominique, you want to see this,” Iain said as he reached into the casket. “I haven’t done any research into a formal magic way to do this.”
The Archmage almost ran around so she could see. “I’m ready and recording,” she said eagerly. She realized Morticia was watching curiously. “Iain and I have an agreement where if he does something with his special magic that I haven’t seen him do before, he warns me so I can observe. It give me a chance to later research a way to make what he does into a formal magic spell.”
“I see,” Morticia said. “Will you teach these things to Wednesday?”
“If she’s interested I will.” Dominique watched at Iain touched a gold ring with intertwined snake heads with black eyes with a fingertip. He lifted his finger and the ring came with it, passing through the corpse’s finger as if was not there. “When did you learn to phase things?”
“When I was away.” He caught the ring in his free hand. “I’m not comfortable phasing myself through things. Too many odd things can happen and many of them are immediately fatal. On top of that, where I was there are other, malevolent creatures who can phase too and I didn’t want get into a fight with one while inside something solid. That would be a stupid way to die since there are lots of other ways to get through barriers. But while I’m cautious about sticking portions of my anatomy through things, phasing items has become fairly simple to do.”
“How did you get into my dorm room,” Wednesday asked unexpectedly.
“I picked the lock using tools. Your door has a fairly simple lock.”
“I was told it was quite sophisticated and resistant to being picked.”
Iain shrugged. “You were lied to.” He held up the ring. “Wednesday Addams, I have abducted you and I have won your approval.” She nodded once. “I have asked your family for a betrothal and they have agreed to it. I have succeeded in retrieving your engagement ring from your paternal grandmother. However, according to my customs there still remains one step that I have not yet taken and now it is time for that step to take place.”
She frowned slightly. “What step is that?”
“Wednesday Addams, will you marry me?”
He saw the surprise bloom in her eyes and slowly fade. “You are aware that this is not normal for us.”
“I am, but I believe that deciding I’m acceptable and agreeing to become a member of my family and my wife are two different things and you should get to make the decision for each of them separately.”
Wednesday looked thoughtful. “I can see the distinction and I appreciate it. Yes, Iain Grey, I will marry you and your other wives. I will become a Grey and yet remain an Addams.” She offered him her hand.
“I didn’t expect anything else from you.” Iain slipped the ring onto her finger. “Thank you for agreeing to become my wife.”
“This is very romantic,” Morticia said. “You have made finding a wife more difficult for Pugsley.”
“He just needs some time around women who do something besides find a reason to leave or throw themselves at him,” Iain replied. “We can help him become comfortable being himself around women who are not his immediate family.”
“Iain is going to purchase the Williams place,” Wednesday said. “He wants it so we have a place to stay that is nearby without imposing on you and Pappa.”
“I certainly won’t miss Mr. Williams,” Gomez said with a moue of distaste. “He was very rude in staring at Morticia and Wednesday whenever he came around. I’m glad he stopped or else I would have had to call him out for his behavior.”
“I have to do a few things but hopefully they’ll be taken care of soon.”
“What do you need to do,” Morticia asked curiously.
“I have lots of gold but very little money to use on this world. While gold can be sold here, there are reporting requirements that I, having no real identity here yet, would find more burdensome than many others would. So I need to find someone who will buy my gold and ask few questions, without trying to rob me and ending up dead or something.”
“I may have a suggestion that could prove useful,” Morticia said.
Leonid’s eye widened. “How much gold did you say you have,” he asked in heavily Russian accented English.
Iain noted absently that Leonid only had one eye. There was no socket for a second eye and his one eye had migrated towards the center of his face, but not quite. The man wore an oversized eyepatch over the side of his face where there should be an eye to hide the lack of a socket. Even without the eye, Leonid’s name, Leonid Vasilovich Addamsikh would have told Iain he was an Addams. “Six thousand kilograms. At the current price of gold, that’s around seventy two million dollars, of which I will pay you two million for the transaction.” His smile cooled. “If you can move it all.”
“It isn’t what I normally deal in,” Leonid admitted. “Did Morticia tell you what it is I do?”
Iain nodded. “You help enterprising troublemakers gain access to the tools they need to cause that trouble.”
Leonid was an international arms dealer.
Leonid smiled. “That is an interesting way to describe my work, but yes.” They were sitting at a table outside a pub in Athlone, Ireland. From some of the flags inside the pub, Iain suspected it was a local stronghold for the IRA. The meeting had specified only one person could be present, so Marguerite, Dominique and Zareen were in some nearby woods and monitoring through Iain’s eyes and ears. Leonid lifted his pint and took a deep drink as he thought. “I can handle your merchandise. When can you deliver?”
“I can deliver in an hour,” Iain said. “I will deliver when you’re ready for the delivery.”
“In two days I can have a third of your payment,” Leonid said “The rest will have to wait until I sell the merchandise, but I know someone who is buying all of the gold he can find for sale. I should be able to sell it within a week of delivery.” He spread his hands helplessly. “Most of my liquidity is tied up in my merchandise right now. Would you like to purchase a newly refitted MiG-25?”
“Thank you but no,” Iain took a swallow of his beer. “Morticia says you are trustworthy and I respect her opinion.”
Leonid smiled widely. “And if I were to vanish with your gold?”
“I have not yet announced my presence to the world’s community of power brokers,” Iain smiled slightly. “You do not want to be the way I do so. Still, I am sure that Morticia would understand and forgive me for what I must do in such a situation. If nothing else, Mamma would advise her to.”
Leonid made a motion with his hand that Iain belatedly recognized as one used to ward off the evil eye. “There is no need to invoke the name of that witch. I will deal with you fairly, I assure you.”
“Uh, I’m sorry,” Iain said apologetically. “I didn’t realize mentioning her would upset you.”
Leonid peered closely at Iain. “I believe,” he said slowly, “that you really don’t know.”
Iain met his gaze. “May I ask what it is that I don’t know so that I will not accidentally use it again?”
Leonid frowned and then gave an emphatic nod. “I will tell you. The Frump witches are the reason that the men of my family only have one eye. I have heard the story that my family tells to explain why this is so and I have heard the story that the Frumps tell about the events involved. Neither has many things in common and neither makes a lot of sense, but then what really makes sense anymore?”
Iain shrugged. “I don’t have an answer to that either, Leonid. I will not mention her to you again, though.”
“Good. We can do business.”
“Excellent. Can I ask a personal question?”
Leonid smiled. “Why is a Russian arms dealer in Ireland?”
Leonid nodded and flashed a quick grin. “They say that us Russians have no sense of humor. That is not true. How can you live in Russia without having one? You cannot. You would go crazy if you did not. That and everyone confuses the Communists with the Russians. We are not always the same people.” The grin faded. “But, the Communists do not have much of a sense of humor when their military equipment vanishes without a trace and they do not get any money out of it. Quite the contrary, they are very dour when that happens. And when they are that dour, they must find someone to blame for their predicament. Sometimes they find an innocent businessman and they blame him. Then he must flee the country or else suffer while they try to get him to admit he is to blame for their carelessness.” He smiled. “In Russia, if you leave something valuable unguarded, sometimes it will disappear. This is a known thing and yet some people are still surprised when it happens.”
“Some people are just silly about that sort of thing,” Iain noted amusedly.
“Exactly!” Leonid slapped his thigh. “You Irish understand that this sort of thing happens.”
Iain smiled. “It probably comes from our history of stealing cattle from each other.” He rose. “We’ll meet here again in two days and set up for delivery of the gold the day after that. That way we can deal with any unexpected issues that might appear.”
“Good. Contact me and I will tell you where to bring it.”
“I hope the Russians don’t find you.”
Leonid grinned. “They look for me in Bosnia. As if I would live with those lunatics.” He drained his beer. “I have a question too, before you leave.”
“What is it?”
“Morticia and Gomez are well known and influential among us. Why does she speak for you? You are not one of us.”
“I’m engaged to their daughter, Wednesday, and the money will help me to care for her as she deserves.”
“I see. That makes things very different. I will not charge you for this. It is my gift to the wedding. I would, however, like an invitation to the wedding.”
“You do understand that Wednesday will want her grandmother to be in attendance.”
Leonid nodded. “I want to talk to the Frump witch and the wedding will be neutral ground. My life is my life, but I would like my son, when I someday marry and have one, to have it easier than I have. Both eyes would make it easier for him to live his life. The curse must end.”
“May I warn Mamma that you will be attending?”
“Yes. Explain to her what I want so she can decide what she wants for giving me what I want.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Iain paused. “Just understand that, under my rules, if I invite you to the wedding, I am responsible for your behavior. I don’t like rudeness and I tend to be very harsh with someone who embarrasses me in such a situation.”
“You would make a good Russian,” Leonid said. “I swear to you that I will only talk to the Frump witch. I do not intend to cause more trouble.”
“Her name is Mamma and I accept your oath. I’ll get you that invitation, but we’re not going to marry for several years. Don’t vanish on me too.”
Leonid grinned. “Do you leave valuable things unguarded?”
“I do not.”
‘Then I will not disappear on you.”
Iain chuckled. “I’ll see you in two days and we’ll set up a way to stay in touch. Good day, sir.”
Theodora appeared and smiled. “It’s good to see you again.”
Iain smiled back at her. “It’s good to be back. I’m not completely familiar with the new protocols. Do we need to go through the medical processing for this return?”
Daya shook her head. “You were in my care the whole time so you do not.”
“My sister is correct,” Theodora said.
Iain was on the bridge of the Ouroboros. It was very different from that of the Theodora, being much sleeker and smoothly organic in look. None of the consoles had manual controls or displays and all were buried in battle steel armor to protect the users from spalling should damage make it this far without destroying the entire vessel. Each seat also had an armored cocoon that could rise up from the floor to completely cover the operator if it became necessary. Everything in here required a twee to use. The very presence of the bridge was an anachronism of sorts since a fully trained bridge crew could fight the Ouroboros from anywhere in the ship, and that design was only because most Tirsuli warships weren’t necessarily homes for clan inorganic intelligences.
Inorganic intelligences were keenly aware of their own immortality if not destroyed and preferred to be housed in structures that were placed on much larger things that were harder to destroy, like planets.
Marguerite, Zareen and Dominique were elsewhere on the ship, presumably decompressing from the mission and spending some time alone.
“Very well, we don’t need a trip to the Danger Room. What is on today’s agenda?” Iain knew that Daya had updated Theodora with the latest information about their trip before the gate had closed behind her. That meant that he didn’t need to brief the maharani of his inorganic harem on the events of the past several days.
“You don’t remember,” Theodora asked teasingly.
“Things get slipped into my schedule without warning,” Iain shot back.
Theodora nodded, “That’s true enough, but so far nothing has been added. Heather is on her way to join you since she’s still on duty. You do have that meeting with Vice President Lyons and Secretary Savoie, but that’s tomorrow.”
Iain grumbled softly. “There’s another hour of my life I’ll never get back. I would much rather be playing with the children. The attitudes of our kids are better than Savoie’s and they’re much smarter than he is.”
“You could cancel,” Theodora noted.
“David very politely asked me to try and help out with the negotiations with Louisiana and I said I would. I just didn’t realize that it was at Savoie’s demand. I also didn’t realize that Gaston Savoie was going to be quite the,” Iain paused, “jewel of humanity that he has turned out to be.”
“He’s doing a job, Iain,” Theodora said.
“Yeah, well he seems to really enjoy that job.” Iain shrugged and got up. “I’ll deal with him. It’s part of my job as the Grey.”
“Louisiana is negotiating to join Texas, not the clan,” Daya pointed out.
“Louisiana is negotiating to betray and leave Indigo and join Texas,” Iain replied. “There is a difference in that the Louisiana government was cheerfully part of Indigo until Kozakura and Stephen shattered the league. Never forget that. And never forget that they’re still part of Indigo. The nukes used in Texas were stored at Fort Polk. Savoie thinks becoming part of Texas is going to be better for him and for Louisiana. He’s right, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were involved in the attacks and, until they become Texans, they are not our friends.”
“You sound more like Daya than you used to,” Theodora said.
“No, I just sound more politically aware, which I had to become while I was gone. Daya might argue that once an enemy is always an enemy until we crush them and rebuild them to be our friend.”
“We don’t have to make them our friend,” Daya noted with an amused smile. “We could just drop their bodies way out to sea so we don’t have to contaminate our land with their tainted ashes.”
Iain smiled. “See? I sound more reasonable than that.” He headed for the door.
Theodora shook her head resignedly. “Are we dumping Savoie’s body in the ocean?”
Iain paused as the door opened in front of him. “While that does sound nice, no. I am, however going to give him a rather large dose of reality about what he’s been demanding. One of David’s flaws is he stays too nice for too long until he finally gets fed up. He needs to get over that if he’s going to be a good president.”
“Or he could hire more people like us to help him out,” Theodora noted.
“I’m trying to get fired, remember?”
“Quit,” Daya said. “The women who would be disappointed will get over it quickly enough, especially once they see how much happier you are not to be a servant of the state.”
“Don’t tempt me. Seven hundred years of not playing their games did not make me miss them at all. Before it’s all said and done I may have no choice but to quit.” He headed into the hall and turned towards the closest transit station. “Maybe we should all just move to Twenty Three.”
“We can’t do that,” Daya said. “We’d have to rename that universe to One and rename all of the others. That would confuse everyone for years when referencing a universe.”
Iain snorted. “We swap the names of this universe and that one. Nothing else changes.”
“Stop spoiling my whine.”
“Close the bottle and keep it from getting too much air,” he replied. He smirked. “The bottle being your mouth.”
“Now you’re just being mean.”
“As much as I’d like to consider it, we can’t move to Twenty Three.” One of the transit cars opened its door and Iain slipped into it. “My quarters, please.” The car’s door closed and it shot away from the platform. “We may end up making Twenty Three our second home but this is our first home. We’ve got too much going on here, including Kerrik’s lessons with Ava and Kasserine. And then there’s Lucifer’s dream of finishing off the leagues, making pokegirls into people the world over and figuring out what is the perfect amount of ice to go into a glass of tea to keep from watering it down too much.”
“Did the women of Twenty Three think your jokes were funny,” Theodora asked.
“Damn, shot down in flames,” Iain muttered.
Daya laughed. “It’s a good thing we love you so much.” She turned bright red. “I mean she loves you.”
The transit car left the traffic lane it was assigned and landed on a platform. The door opened but Iain didn’t move. “I’m aware that you two try to mimic organic level speeds and behavior but you really operate at speeds that mean you don’t make mistakes like that unless you want to. Is this an admission?”
Daya turned redder even as she glared at him. “She isn’t happy that you understand us so well,” Theodora said quietly. “You are also aware that at our normal speed of operation, five days is a very long time and Daya has never been without you since she made you her primary administrator in perpetuity for more than a few seconds. She missed you terribly and we had to explore the true depths of her feelings for you. You do realize that does mean that, like me, she will go with you wherever you go if you go traveling for the long term unless you specifically forbid it and we all know you won’t do that.”
Iain got out of the car and headed down the passageway. “I did know what that meant but I hadn’t considered the ramifications in sufficient detail before now. I should have and I apologize for that lapse. Are you willing to share me with Daya, even when you both have an organic component and there’s a much more intimate relationship involved?”
“Daya is my sister and everything that I have is hers if she needs it. She was adjusted to love the other Iain to ensure her loyalty and that portion of her code has never been touched since she came to be with us. She needs you.” Theodora raised a warning finger. “However, she gets her own place in your mind and heart. Mine is taken.”
“It so happens that the mind is infinite even if the brain that houses it isn’t. We’ll find a place for her too,” Iain looked at Daya, “if you want one.”
Daya squealed like one of the children. “YES!”
Iain winced when the noise ruptured his right eardrum. “Ouch.”
“I’m sorry,” Daya said instantly.
“It’s ok. It’s healing. Remind me to tell you someday about how Theodora here depressurized me before I was ready for it.”
Daya glared at Theodora. “You did what?”
“We were setting up the program for EVA certification and Iain was my guinea pig. He obviously didn’t die and it’s not like it’s the first time he’s ended up coughing up lung tissue.”
“Gee, you sound so blasé about me doing that,” Iain noted. The door to his quarters opened as he approached it. “But enough squabbling or both of you can stay out here while I go inside. Is that clear?”
“I’m sorry for sniping at Daya,” Theodora said instantly.
“I’m sorry for sniping at Theodora,” Daya said in the same instant so their voices intermingled.
“While that sounds suspiciously scripted,” Iain said, “come on in and we’ll see about finding Daya her place in my head.”
“Iain, do you love me?”
“Daya, I do not, but it is only a matter of time until I do. Now get in here.” He entered his quarters and the door slid shut behind him as they vanished.
The ladyba opened the door. “Sir, Iain is here.”
David Lyons looked up and glanced at the clock. “He’s early.”
“Yes, sir, he is. I’d make him wait without disturbing you but he’s your friend and you need some friendly company right now since I’m on duty and can’t do anything to make you relax.”
David chuckled. “You take such good care of me. Thank you, Maisie and send him in, please.”
She gave him a broad smile. “Yes, sir.”
Iain was standing quietly when she returned, researching one of his mental projects to pass the time. “Iain?” He blinked and focused on her. “David will see you now.”
“Thanks, Maisie. How is his foot?”
She smiled. “It’s getting better. The exercises that Candace gave me to make him do are helping out a lot.”
“Think he’ll finally give up playing soccer with pokegirls and people who are twenty years younger than he is?”
She shook her head. “Considering he’s already planning to get back out there and play more once his foot is healed, no.”
Iain grinned. “Next time I can ask Irena to provide medical assistance instead of Candace, if you would like.”
Maisy shuddered. “Please, not her. I want David to keep his foot.”
Iain chuckled and headed into the office. “Good day, Mr. Vice President.”
David raised an eyebrow. “And what do you want?”
Iain looked innocent. “Me?”
“Everyone who uses that tone wants something, Iain.” He held up a hand when Iain opened his mouth. “I know you were talking with Maisie. Don’t say anything about my hobbies. I am not giving up soccer.”
“That’s between you and her and whoever gets to treat your next injury,” Iain replied. “And I do want something, which is why I’m early.” He dropped into a chair. “I’m tired of what Louisiana is doing. They’re wasting my time and yours. I’m going to lay out the truth of what I intend to do if Savoie doesn’t get his ass in gear and suddenly become serious about these talks. I want you to stay silent while I do it.”
“I need to know what you’re going to tell him before I’ll agree to that,” David replied.
“Indigo nuked Austin. They killed my family and they killed a lot of other people on top of that. The distance from my house to my eastern border is not nearly enough to allow any sort of decent defense in depth if they wait until after Haven’s bombardment ends and rebuild their military. That’s doubly true if that military uses pokegirls in any sort of intelligent manner. That leaves only two options that I’m willing to accept. Either Louisiana joins Texas or I expand to create the depth I think I need to protect the surviving members of my family.”
David was watching Iain warily. “You haven’t said anything about this before.”
“I still held a few shreds of hope that these meetings were actually about preparing Louisiana for becoming part of Texas. Those shreds are gone now. I’d still prefer that Louisiana becomes part of Texas and so I’m going to hit Savoie with the truth and hope it spurs him and his sponsors to pull the trigger on the plebiscite, as we’d discussed.” He cocked his head. “You weren’t pushing because the Shiner state of Tamaulipas voted to join us and the government is tied up with incorporating them into the league and bringing them up to speed on our laws. You hoped to finish absorbing them before pressing Louisiana for a decision, but I’m done waiting. I’m done waiting because I don’t see them as Louisiana and I never have. Until they become Texans or clan, they’re still the fucking Indigos and they helped murder my family and other Texans.”
David sighed. “I’d really like another three or more months to finish working on Tamaulipas.”
“You’re absorbing the land equivalent of a third of Texas. You’re going to need years to sort all of that out,” Iain noted. “The next couple of Presidents of Texas are going to still be sorting that all out when yours and Maisie’s kids are deciding if they want to get involved in politics like their old man was or still is.” He smiled. “So what’s the situation next door in Nuevo Laredo?”
“Chaotic,” Lyons grumped. “The only intelligence we’re getting out of there is what you’re providing and that shows nobody is in control over there yet. We’ve been told by the Sunshine League to stay the hell out of Nuevo Laredo and the insurrectionists are trying to get us in on their side.” He eyed Iain thoughtfully. “What would you do if you had my job?”
“I’d quit.” Iain smiled when Lyons held up a fist, middle finger extended. “Yes, I am number one to a lot of people.” His smile faded. “I’d do what you’re doing. I’d wait and see what happens. I’d also take the long view, which is that Texas is better than anything the Shiners have been able to slap together and we don’t have an offensive military, by design, so we are not ready for open war with Sunshine. Besides, even if Sunshine suppresses what’s going on in Nuevo Laredo, those people are going to remember what is going to happen to them and they’ll remember it while watching the lives of the people of Tamaulipas get measurably better in a relatively short period of time.”
“What if their lives don’t get better,” Lyons asked.
Iain smiled again. “That we have control over. Prometheus is already putting together some care packages to help the new Texans improve their lives, including access to pokegirls who are looking for homes.”
“Do you have factors in Tamaulipas yet?”
“Catherine has eleven of them in training with one for each city in the region.” Iain chuckled. “Hiring her was one of the best decisions I made for that program.”
“You know who her son is, right?”
Iain cocked his head. “Do you know James?”
“Iain, every person who has anything to do with law enforcement or border smuggling in south Texas knows about James McCoy and his mother. How do you know the McCoy family?”
“James is my cousin.”
Lyons’ eyebrows rose. “Iain, I know the truth about your past, remember?”
Iain laughed. “That’s the story we use for public consumption. James is the me who was born on this world. Catherine is the mother of me on this world. My real mother is dead and Catherine keeps trying to adopt me as her son.”
“That makes sense,” Lyons said slowly. “The McCoy family was a pretty big pain in my ass when I was working as a Ranger down there.”
“Are you saying that I’m a pain in the ass?”
Lyons smiled. “I never said that, Iain.”
“Feel free to fire me,” Iain said.
“Lorena and James Garret would make me disappear if I did that.” Lyons grinned.
“Fine, be that way,” Iain grumbled. “Value yourself over me.”
“You know,” Lyons said, suddenly serious, “if I do what Lorena wants me to I’m going to need a running mate to be my VP. You’re not a bad pick.”
Iain leaned back in his chair. “I appreciate the idea behind that offer, but I’m not well known. Besides, I’ve done things that could easily come back to haunt your campaign and I am almost certain that your campaign team will tell you that I’m a terrible choice.”
“They already did,” Lyons said. “They also said I had to make the offer and that you’d refuse it.”
“Why do you have to offer me anything?”
“You’re our anchor over in East Texas, Iain, and they don’t think I can afford to alienate you. You may not be well known by the regular voter, but the so called elite of Texas all know who you are. And even the regular voter has heard your name in conjunction with the Louisiana Canal. Granted, that’s not great press overall, but it’s the bulwark that will slow any Indigo advance and give us time to respond.” David shrugged. “And you’ve got over forty thousand registered voters in Shield, Thistle and Stile. Our metrics show that they all vote in every election, too. And if they listen to Lucifer,” he smiled slightly, “who is your wife, then pissing you off becomes a very bad idea.”
“Lucifer has always asked them to vote for whomever they think is best,” Iain said. “And she has never suggested to anyone outside the immediate family who she happens to think that person might be.” He shook his head. “I’m not interested in making my life more political, David. I just want to make my family stronger. So, will you be quiet and let me threaten Savoie?”
David rubbed his face with both hands. “I shouldn’t, you know, but you’re right. He’s been wasting our time and neither of us has the spare time for this right now. I’ll do it. What do you need from me?”
“Just don’t contradict me while I’m being disruptive and it’ll be good.”
“I can do that.” Lyons leaned back in his chair and reached for the phone. “I’ll have Maisie bring us some tea since Savoie is usually late.”
Gaston Savoie laid the document on David’s desk. “As you can see, our counteroffer is more than fair for what you are asking us to give up in order to become part of Texas.” Hs eyes widened when Iain reached out and skimmed it from David’s desk. “Mr. Grey?”
Iain flipped through the pages before tossing it back onto the desk. “Mr. Vice President, it’s the same offer as before. A few words got changed here or there but that’s it.” He looked at Savoie with a hint of disdain. “You and Louisiana are not going to get some kind of sweetheart deal to join the state, I mean league. Texas’ laws are fairly simple and anyone joining the league will not get any waivers from any of them, especially not the ones regarding pokegirls. Ferals are property, but once they’re made aware they become people and have the same rights as any other Texan.”
“You are not the person that we are negotiating with,” Savoie pointed out with a smirk. Several meetings with Iain being mostly passive during them had emboldened him.
“No, we are not negotiating,” Iain agreed pleasantly. “I’m giving you an ultimatum.” Savoie looked surprised. “You wanted me here because you’re afraid of me and my clan. Nobody has come out and said that yet, but that’s why I’m wasting my time listening to you natter on and on and on ad nauseum. I’m done with this. You keep talking about Louisiana. Fine, let’s talk about Louisiana. What exactly is Louisiana today? It’s a region in the Indigo League. You are part of the group that murdered my family.” Worry began to appear in Savoie’s eyes. “The war isn’t over yet and you’ve already broken the ceasefire we had.”
“I am here under a flag of truce,” Savoie said quickly.
“I haven’t forgotten that and I am not a barbarian. Tate truce will be honored by me and mine. But I am telling you right now that the current situation is not acceptable and it’s not going to stand. It would be too easy for a lightning thrust to be on my front doorstep before we can react and I’m not going to live with that being true. Either Louisiana breaks away from Indigo and becomes part of Texas, and soon, or I am going to expand my territory to the east and the north to give me the room to breathe if you bastards attack us again. It won’t be much, I’ll establish a new border, oh, let’s say a hundred and fifty miles east of Stile and north of Thistle.” He smiled when Savoie gaped at him. “And I should warn you now that once I claim that land it will be Grey land forever. If Louisiana joins Texas the day after that, I will not relinquish that land.”
“You, you can’t do that,” Savoie said in a shrill tone.
“You wanted me here because I have a private army and you were afraid that I’d use it. Turns out that you had a good reason to be concerned because if you keep dicking around with these talks then I am going to do exactly that.”
Savoie turned desperate eyes on Lyons. “David?”
“If you’re looking for me to intercede,” Lyons said humbly, “I’m not sure what I can do other than talk to Iain about finding some other way. He’s a Texan and he’s not going to be claiming land that’s part of Texas. I’m afraid I don’t have any jurisdiction to do more than plead with him to be reasonable.”
Savoie looked from Iain to David. “I thought Texans didn’t make threats. It’s part of your philosophy towards the world.”
“I’m not threatening you,” Iain replied. “A threat is a possible repercussion. I have just made an IF THEN statement. If you do this, which is not join Texas, then I will expand my border until I feel safe. It is not a threat. It is what is going to happen if the conditions that make it possible do not change.”
Savoie’s face twisted. “It might just be,” he said angrily, “that you may not find us to be the pushover that you think we are. Not all of the nuclear weapons at Fort Polk were used and not all of those that weren’t used were destroyed by the bombardments. And we have the command codes for them.”
Iain came out of his chair in a blur that sent a frisson of fear down Lyons’ spine. He’d seen pokegirls move that fast, but not a human. It seemed that he went from sitting to standing nose to nose with Savoie in the interval between heartbeats. Savoie made a frightened noise and stumbled backwards. Iain followed closely as he spoke in a cold, hard voice of hammered iron. “If I ever even get a hint that you are planning to use another nuclear bomb, if I ever have the slightest concern that might be the case, I will exterminate all life in Louisiana, down to the rodents. Men, women, children, everything will die. And rest assured that I will make it my personal business to ensure you go with them, no matter where you might be.” A snarl tore from his throat that made the air vibrate and his voice was a growl that made Lyons’ heart begin to race. “Never again. Do you understand me, Savoie?”
“Yes! Yes!” Savoie slid away from Iain, who let him go, only his head turning as it tracked the Indigo diplomat.
Lyons shivered as he remembered a feral Dragoness that he and some others had fought in the ruins of Austin nearly a decade ago. She’d appeared on top of a pile of rubble from a broken office building, and she had stood there for a few seconds like a queen deciding what to have as a snack as she’d chosen her first victim. It was obvious she didn’t feel any of them were a threat and her aura of merely picking which piece of chocolate to pull from the box first had scared him. She’d been right too, killing two pokegirls who had been in the fight and then teleporting away with their bodies while he and his companions tried fruitlessly to stop her.
Iain rotated in place to face Lyons. His voice still rumbled with suppressed fury but his words were calm. “Mr. Vice President, I am going to leave now, before Savoie says something that makes me violate the truce he is here under.”
“I understand,” Lyons said. “Please ask Maisie to come here as you leave.”
Iain nodded and left the room. A moment later, Maisie opened the door, relaxing when she saw he was unharmed. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Call security. Mr. Savoie here is leaving and I want him escorted directly to his hotel.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll arrange it. Are you safe to be alone?”
“I am.” Maisie nodded and left as Lyons turned to Savoie. “You will contact your government and you will tell them that these meetings are over unless you’re ready to join Texas. There will be no special considerations and no waivers. I’d suggest you move quickly because I don’t know how much time Iain will give you before doing something now that you’ve threatened him and his family, but I don’t think you have very long.”
“He threatened Louisiana,” Savoie snapped. “He threatened me.”
“And you threatened to use a nuclear device on Texas soil, Gaston. I lost friends in that attack. Like Iain said, never again. And if you think Iain was angry, President Robinson is going to be far madder than he was. She toured ground zero and I have never seen her so angry in all the years I have known her.”
“You have no standing army with offensive capabilities, remember? What can you do?”
“Gaston, Iain is a major in the Texas Rangers and he’s therefore a major in the Texas Defense Force. President Robinson could order him to conquer Louisiana with that private army you’re so afraid of. Right now, he just might do it if she does.”
There was a knock and the door opened to reveal a Galem wearing a TDF uniform with a sergeant’s rank tab on her collar. She filled the doorway from side to side and top to bottom with her bulk. The pistol and grenades on her belt seemed superfluous when compared to her sheer physical presence. “Mr. Vice President,” she said politely. “You called for security?”
“Mr. Savoie is returning to his hotel. He is to go directly there and he is not to go anywhere else until he does. If he tries to resist while inside this building, you will arrest him. Outside, if he tries to run, let him go.”
The Galem nodded. “Yes, sir. Come with me, Mr. Savoie.”
Lyons watched them leave and sighed before picking up his phone. He had to warn Lorena before Iain did something, ah, decisive.
Daya checked behind her as she verified the codes coming from the gate generator complex. Satisfied, she let the gate close as the Ouroboros floated slowly away from the entrance point. She felt foreign sensors lashing at her skin and detected massive energy surges around her at varying distances and inclinations designed to make complete defense against attack impossible, even for her. The urge to raise her defensive shields was overwhelming, but she fought it down. Almost simultaneously, the challenge arrived. This is the Clan Grey vessel Phantasmal Surveyor in automatic defense mode omicron. You are being targeted by multiple weapon systems. Identify yourself.
I am Daya Grey and this shell is the Ouroboros, a dedicated Grey warship. Interrogatory codes lashed out from a satellite and Daya responded appropriately. The entire process took nearly a full second before the Phantasmal Surveyor accepted that she was who she said she was. Around her, she could feel the weapon platforms going back to standby and disappearing into stealth. Once there they would move into new attack positions for the next time. Daya allowed herself to feel several picoseconds of extreme satisfaction as the process played out exactly as she had designed it to.
Phantasmal Surveyor initiated contact once more. How may this unit assist you? And set stealth protocol beta. This system has an active space presence that is magic based and not technological so they may not show on passive scanners until it is too late to avoid detection.
The Ouroboros accelerated away from the gate complex, turning to an intercept course with Toril as camouflage systems came online and she faded from visible sight. This is the security survey for this system. Send me all applicable data that you possess.
This unit has been instructed to at this time give you that data and then act as a relay in order to provide you with a secure link into the Observatory. This unit’s data is incoming, a sideband of raw and processed data began flowing into Daya’s receivers, but you must move into close subspace range for real time communication before this unit will be allowed to unlock the Observatory’s data storage.
Daya frowned. She didn’t really, not having a body, but to her it felt like she was frowning. Why is there no relay system of comsats to allow real time communication from the planet to the gate complex?
The Grey deemed it too much of a security risk.
And that, Daya thought to herself, was that. The Ouroboros’ course shifted to that of an intercept with the Phantasmal Surveyor. I will be in range in less than ten thousand seconds. Have the link ready.
This unit will comply. There is a pending request for geological and topographic survey data for the planet Earth or Terra in the One universe from Helesatra Grey.
That was surprising. She is one of Iain’s wives, is she not?
What is the justification for this request?
One was not given. The request was made with high priority. Will you transmit the requested information?
Daya considered the situation for a few seconds. I will. I am also requesting a reason for this request to be made in the first place, but I will not withhold the information while waiting for it. This request is to be sent to Helesatra Grey.
The request has been sent.
Thank you. I look forward to finding out what’s going on.
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Dianthus – Elfqueen
Candace – Nurse Joy (kami)
Bellona – Dragonqueen
Elizabeth - Vampire
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
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
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria (was Loviatar) – Dark Queen
Omisha (was Hel) – Demoness
Viersunuth great wyrm blue true dragoness
Talyl – drow commoner
Zarza – drow commoner
Sabrae – drow commoner
Sintree – drow commoner
Alyfaen Dinaen – drow, matron of House Dinaen
Phaerxae Dinaen – drow, former matron of House Dinaen, mother of Alyfaen
Selsharra of Evermeet
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)