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The Prometheus Society had built a nice four story building in Port Arthur to house its primary offices. It didn’t need a building that big yet, but Lucifer was planning for future growth. The fact that Autumn’s forces had swept through here on their way out of Texas and leveled the buildings higher than two stories just made the Society’s building, and therefore their presence, more obvious.
Iain had an office inside. It wasn’t as nice as Lucifer’s, but he spent very little time in it and he didn’t really care. If he was at the Society building on business, usually that time was spent in Lucifer’s office with her or in a conference room if it was with other members of the Society.
The only time he was in that office was if a human absolutely had to see a human face representing the Society and Lucifer felt it was necessary to indulge this individual’s desire. So on another level, Iain really didn’t like his office because of what it represented in the way of human ignorance and discrimination against pokegirls in general and against a woman he loved specifically. He was also more than a little predisposed to not like anyone who insisted on meeting with him in it.
The man Lucifer led into his office was tall and broad, with wide shoulders and a muscular physique that was starting to go to seed. He blinked in surprise when he saw Iain sitting behind the desk. “You’re Iain Grey?”
“I certainly hope I am or I’m doing his job while he’s off lounging around somewhere.”
The man blinked again at the acid in Iain’s response and stuck out a hand. “Sorry, from the stories I expected someone bigger. I’m Ronald Hastings.”
Iain decided to let the statement lie, especially since he could see Lucifer trying hard not to bristle at the implied insult. He shook with Hastings. “I’m afraid I’ve been kind of busy with my ranch, which is why this meeting had to be rescheduled for today. I understand you’re a member of Anton’s administration.”
Hastings blinked at Iain’s words. “I represent President Rush and the Illinois Free Republic, yes. I’m the Republic’s Secretary of State.”
Iain leaned back in his chair and waved at a seat. “Please, sit.” Lucifer had already taken her customary chair beside him. Behind him and on his other side from Lucifer, Pandora stood motionless. “Would you like some refreshments?”
Hastings shook his head. “That’s not necessary, Mr. Grey.”
Iain nodded. “I appreciate the risks you took to get here and speak with me, but I am curious as to why. I’d think we’re way too liberal to interest your government.”
Hastings smiled easily. “President Rush has no interest in Texas per se, Mr. Grey. After all, you’re on the other side of the Indigo League from the Republic. However, we have an enemy in common, that being the Indigo League, and President Rush wanted to reach out to Texas and to you specifically, Mr. Grey.”
“And what is Rush seeking to accomplish by reaching out to either Texas or me, Mr. Hastings? As far as I know, you haven’t tried to set up an appointment with the Texas ambassador. Mr. Gonzales is the accredited envoy meeting with the Indigo League and Stile isn’t that far from here. I’m sure he’d make time to meet with you.”
“Mr. Grey, we are well aware that you, sir, have President Robinson’s ear and that Gonzales does not. So, while Gonzales is negotiating with Indigo, you are a much more direct conduit to the Texas government. And you are the force behind the Prometheus Society, which is providing a great deal of military aid to people. We would like to become recipients of some of that largess.”
“Then you should be talking to me,” Lucifer said, “and not disturbing Iain. I decide where the Society’s resources will be allocated.”
“I’m well aware of the fiction that you lead the Society,” Hastings smiled thinly at Lucifer. “But you will do as your master tells you to, which means that Mr. Grey is the true leader of Prometheus.”
Iain didn’t wince at the sudden wave of fury he felt from Lucifer, but it was very hard not to look at her and see if she was getting ready to kill Hastings. He was glad to be in the room however. Hastings wasn’t important to Iain, but if Lucifer was going to commit murder, Iain wanted to be a witness so he could tease her about it for the next few years. Still, it would probably be messy and she’d feel guilty afterwards, so he spoke before Lucifer could move. “Mr. Hastings, I assure you that Lucifer runs the Society and that insulting her is not going to help whatever case you are here to present. However, since you are in my office, why don’t you tell me what you and Anton think Prometheus is going to sell you.”
“There are a number of items that you have been providing to other groups that we might be interested in,” Hastings said with a warm smile.
Iain interrupted him. “Is it Ron, Ronnie or Ronald?” He blinked and almost looked at Lucifer when her fury evaporated and was almost immediately replaced with a feeling of amused contentment mingled with a growing sense of glee.
Hastings looked surprised. “I prefer Ronald, Mr. Grey.”
“Ronald, I asked you a direct question. If I want to hear unctuous prattle, all I have to do is listen to the French rebels in Noir blathering about the great relationship France had with the US and how I should remember that and provide them with everything they desire at zero cost to them. All I want from you is to answer the fucking question I’ve already asked. If you can’t answer it, you’re wasting my time when I could be doing something useful with it like gelding a hog. What does Anton want?” He did glance at Lucifer when he felt the glee getting stronger. She had an expression of contentment that he’d have expected on the face of a lioness while watching a member of her pride strangling a zebra so they could eat it.
Hastings shot a glare at Lucifer, as if he blamed her for Iain’s mood. “We want weapons and ammunition, medical supplies, food, computers, those pokedexes that Indigo is getting from the Kingdom of Haven, pokeballs and pokegirls. We also want you join us in our war with Indigo and open up a front from Texas.”
“Are you aware that Texas just got official recognition and a cease fire with Indigo,” Iain asked calmly. “President Robinson is unlikely to want to jeopardize that for Rush.”
Hastings sneered. “That will last until the day Indigo feels it shouldn’t and then they’ll be at your door like the wolves they are.”
“I agree with you,” Iain said with a smile. Hastings looked surprised and Iain laughed. “I don’t trust the Indigos. I never have. They created their country in betrayal and murder and by destroying the country I helped to protect. I know they’re lying and I expect that.”
“Then why accept what they’re saying?”
“I don’t, but I am not an ambassador of Texas. I don’t have to believe them or even pretend to. Besides, I live too close to the border to trust them any more than absolutely necessary.”
“So we agree that Indigo isn’t to be trusted?”
“We most definitely agree on that, Ronald.” Iain leaned back in his chair. “The problem is that I don’t trust you either. Rush isn’t trying to recreate America, he’s building a tyranny and he’s doing it on a foundation made from the bones of all of the people he’s murdering along the way.” Iain’s smile was hard. “And if Rush did win and destroy Indigo, the Rush Empire could never tolerate the existence of a free Texas on its border. Rush would have to destroy it because he couldn’t build a wall high enough to keep the empire’s citizens from fleeing to Texas in droves. Oh, he might never make it this far and might just create an empire around Chicago and so he wouldn’t ever really be a threat to Texas, but there’s still a small problem in that Rush doesn’t meet the criteria that Lucifer is using to decide who gets the help of Prometheus and who does not.”
“What criteria is that?” Hastings’ voice was flat.
“I insist that any group I help is morally better than the one it is opposing,” Lucifer said politely. "Your government doesn’t meet that requirement.”
Hastings' mouth thinned. “And who is playing God and decides which group is morally superior to another?”
Lucifer smiled serenely at him. “I do. The Indigo Free Republic’s behavior and care towards its citizenry and its enemies that I am aware of and can verify is substantially worse than that of the Indigo League before it and some of the rumors are much worse, although I do not base my decisions upon rumor. Considering its current philosophical character and its leadership, the Illinois Free Republic will not receive assistance from the Prometheus Society.”
Hastings purpled. “You will let that creature make your decisions for you, Grey?”
“Lucifer is in charge of the Society,” Iain said mildly, suppressing the urge to kill Hastings for calling Lucifer a creature. “I am not letting her do anything. It’s not my decision to make.” He cocked his head and smiled. Something in his expression made Hastings’ eyes widen and he straightened in his seat. “Honestly you should be very glad it isn’t my decision.”
Hastings regained a bit of his earlier bluster. “Why is that?”
“I happen to know the lady who made the Louisiana Canal,” Iain said. “There’s a very steep price involved, but if I am willing to pay it she would be willing to turn the Illinois Free Republic into a place where nothing lives. While that wouldn’t benefit me or Texas directly, it would provide an object lesson using a group that Indigo doesn’t really care about me wiping out and even the politicians of the Indigo, Johto and Sunshine Leagues could understand what that lesson might mean in regards to their continued survival if they do come to decide to threaten me again. On the other hand, Lucifer won’t pay that price to end your existence.”
I would destroy it faster and with less argument than you’d get from Vanessa, Theodora said inside his mind.
And I would use you instead of her to keep her from feeling the heartbreak of murdering all of those people but Indigo doesn’t know about you and would still blame her for the destruction.
Ah. I honestly hadn’t considered that possibility. Are you giving me permission to destroy the IFR?
No and bad Theodora needs to stop tempting me.
She laughed in his mind. You like bad Theodora.
“You wouldn’t do that,” Hastings said.
“I won’t do that,” Iain said, “and what I won’t do is very different from what I wouldn’t.” He looked at Lucifer. “Do you think he understands now?”
Her voice was serious but Iain could hear the smugness in it. “I think he’s angry and he’s going to blame us. I also suspect Rush is going to blame him for not returning with the desired agreement.”
“I can’t believe this,” Hastings came out his seat angrily. “The Indigo League will massacre us if they win.”
“I’m sure the leadership such as yourself will be executed, but I’m actually hoping you’re right and there are some public trials and pogroms for the citizens too. That’ll show the Texans what to expect should Indigo win here and stiffen the spines of some of the ones who think we can join Indigo under our own terms like the Republic of Texas did when it joined the United States. But you, yeah I think they’ll come up with something interesting for you.” Iain pushed his chair back. “Is there anything else, Hastings?”
“Do you hate us that much,” Hastings asked angrily.
“I don’t hate you at all.”
Hastings waited for several seconds. “Then what?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why won’t you help us?”
“No, I guess he doesn’t understand yet,” Iain said to Lucifer. “Let me be specific. Did I establish Prometheus? Yes, with the help of several of my family, Prometheus got started. Do I support Prometheus? For the most part I do. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they do or all of the decisions they make, but for the most part I support the Society. Do I make the decisions in the day to day operations of the Prometheus Society and who they will help? I do not. Lucifer does. She is much more compassionate than I am, has a better eye for liars than I do and a better tolerance for dealing with people than I will ever have. And she likes helping strangers. Me? Not so much. So it’s not me you should be soliciting for aid, it’s Lucifer. You have been told this. And yet you keep ignoring her presence and talking to me, which does not endear you to either of us since you’re insulting her, wasting my time and pissing me off by ignoring a very capable woman who is happily doing a job I do not want to do and therefore freeing me up to do other jobs.”
“Are you happy to be doing these other jobs,” Lucifer asked quietly.
“Not all of them,” he admitted.
“Then you need to find other women who will happily do those jobs that you don’t like.”
Iain chuckled and turned to Hastings. “I’ll convey your request to President Robinson.”
He looked surprised. “You will?”
“But you just said you want to see us destroyed.”
“No, I said I might destroy you if the decision was mine to make while Lucifer said that the Prometheus Society isn’t going to help you. President Robinson is not part of Prometheus and you asked for me to convey your request for aid to her. I will and I won’t advise her to refuse it out of hand.”
“I see,” Hastings said slowly. “When can I expect a reply?”
“She is a politician. What I’d suggest is that you purchase a pokedex and give me the com code. When I hear something from President Robinson I’ll either forward her response or just let you know what she decides. It means you don’t have to hang around here hoping to avoid the Indigo assassination team that’ll be dispatched into Texas when they realize you’re here since I can contact you anywhere in the North American continent.”
“I have a pokedex already,” Hastings said as he reached into a pocket and retrieved it. Iain produced his and they synched the units to exchange com codes and he put it away as Hastings shoved his back into his pocket. “When will you meet with President Robinson?”
Iain shrugged. “I wouldn’t expect anything for at least a week. She’s in the middle of some business and I won’t be able to get an appointment until then.”
“Thank you for this.” He held out his hand.
Iain took it with a smile. “Just remember that I’m a messenger. Her answer is her own.”
“I’ll show you out,” Lucifer said to Hastings and motioned him towards the door.
Iain watched them leave and took Pandora’s arm. “Back to work.” She nodded and they vanished.
“That man has to be completely delusional!” Lorena hurled the pokedex against the wall in her fury and glared at Iain. “Who does he think he is?”
Iain looked at Aaron. “Did I pick a bad time for this?”
Aaron chuckled. “I don’t think you could find a good time for this particular visit.” He looked sternly at his wife. “Are you aware that you were watching the video of his meeting with Hastings on Iain’s pokedex and so you just threw his property and not yours?”
Lorena looked from him to Iain and back at where the pokedex had ricocheted away from the wall to disappear. “Crap. I think it went behind the cabinet.”
The Milktit who had been bringing in a tea set smiled at her as she put it down. “Let me help you move it, Lorena.” She glanced at the two men. “Someone should since they just want to watch.”
Lorena gave her a grateful smile. “Thank you, Tamara.”
“I didn’t throw it,” Iain said. “When one of my daughters throws a tantrum I make her clean up the mess. I don’t think I should have to retrieve it.” He sighed and got up. “Let me help you, Tamara.”
The Milktit blinked. “You’re helping me but not Lorena?”
“Yeah. You didn’t trap me into being a flunky for the league. She did.”
Tamara laughed and the two of them quickly moved the cabinet away from the wall enough for Lorena to slip behind it and retrieve the pokedex before they put the cabinet back in its original position.
Lorena handed him his pokedex. “Sorry about that, Iain.”
“No harm no foul.” He checked the unit. “Damn, couldn’t you even break it for me?”
Tamara looked at Iain’s bodyguard. “Why do you put up with him?”
Joyce tapped the receiver of her GAR-15. “I’m on duty.”
Iain glanced at them. “Joyce, you’re off duty. I don’t think Lorena is going to attack me. Go spend some time with your former herd sister if you want to.”
Joyce nodded. “Thanks.” She looked at Tamara. “I don’t put up with Iain. Every time I meet more people I learn anew just how special he is. You are happy here and that’s wonderful for you, but after what I’ve experienced I’d go crazy if I lived your life.”
“Joyce?” She looked back at Iain. “I don’t mean to be rude, but can you take your discussion into the kitchen, please? I do still need to talk to Lorena and Aaron.”
“No problem.” She unclipped the assault rifle from its sling and tucked it under her arm. “Come on, Tamara. We can talk shop and I’ll give you some new recipes I’ve learned. Play your cards right and you’ll have Lorena and Aaron choosing you first for attention all the time.”
“Cool!” Tamara looked at Lorena. “If you need anything, just call.”
“I will.” Lorena watched them leave before turning to Iain. “I’m glad Joyce fits so well with your family.”
“So am I. So far I’m one for three but April did choose wisely when she picked Joyce.”
“What else did you want to tell me?”
“To answer your question, Hastings and Rush both think they’ve been the first people to successfully bloody the nose of the Indigo League and they think they deserve recognition for it. They don’t see the Louisiana Canal as anything significant since we didn’t kill a bunch of soldiers and murder some civilians to build it.”
Aaron shook his head disgustedly. “I fought in the last year of Vietnam and that Charlie Foxtrot in Lebanon from eighty two to eighty four and then in the Revenge War. Politicians were incredibly blind then too. I’m glad you didn’t have to kill thousands of Indigos to get that ceasefire.”
“I too am glad that Evangelion was so restrained in her tactics,” Iain said carefully. “Especially since we now know that Indigo was preparing for an invasion. But we all know that the ceasefire will only last as long as they want it to.”
“You know that even if I wanted to I can’t give anything to Rush,” Lorena said. “I don’t have the authority to declare war or mobilize troops.”
“And we’re all glad you don’t have that power,” Iain said. “Rush is on his own and I hope that Indigo crushes him and quickly. I’m more concerned about possible fallout from Indigo destroying the rebellion.”
Aaron gave him a curious look. “What do you mean? Is it Indigo returning its attention to us?”
“That’s going to happen no matter what,” Iain replied. “What’s possibly more important is that Hastings sneaked through Indigo to Stile without Indigo knowing anything about it. When the IFR falls, what do you do if Rush or some of his people make it to Texas and Indigo finds out and wants their war criminals back?”
“Can’t you come up with some good things for me to think about, Iain?” Lorena sat down on the couch next to her husband. “I think I pay you to once in a while tell me something I want to hear.”
“I’ve seen my paycheck from the league,” Iain flashed a smile. “You can barely afford anything better than the absolute worst news. However, I can assure you that whatever recipes Joyce ends up selling to Tamara will be excellent.”
“If we’re lucky, Indigo will hang Rush from that balcony he likes to give speeches from,” Aaron said darkly. “I’ve read the intel reports you’re sending Lorena.”
“You want the truth, you come to me,” Iain shrugged. “You want good news from Illinois, I can’t help you right now, but I hope that one day I can.”
Lorena leaned against her husband, who wrapped an arm around her. “What is Indigo doing?”
“They’re building up supply depots outside of quick raiding range of Rush’s troops and building fortifications to stop him if he tries anything heavier.” Iain scratched an itch on his nose. “I don’t have any evidence yet, mind you, but I think they’re waiting until the crops are harvested and will probably want to attack before the first winter storms come rolling in. Where that attack will come from, I won’t try to guess.” He looked at Aaron. “Care to speculate, oh Marine colonel?”
“I’m not even going to try,” Aaron said. He frowned. “Is the Indigo army stockpiling more construction supplies at the depots?”
Iain nodded. “They are. It’s a surprising amount.”
“They may be planning to do what the Romans sometimes did. Move a force forward for a day or two of travel and build a fortification. Garrison it and repeat. It leaves a line of forts that can support each other in case of a siege and allows you to better protect your supply lines.”
Iain rubbed his nose idly. “It was their supply lines getting overextended that helped them get surrounded and cut off the last time.”
Lorena smacked Aaron gently. “I thought you weren’t going to speculate.”
“That wasn’t speculation, my dear. That was logical tactics and I don’t really expect the lunatics in Indigo to be that logical. Few of them are professional soldiers and have the legacy of experience the US military had. And they definitely don’t have the other intangibles that come from being US military.” He looked at Iain. “You were enlisted, right?”
“What was the one thing you knew would happen in a war between the US and anyone else, whether your ship was destroyed or not?”
Iain frowned and then smiled. “We win.”
“Exactly,” Aaron nodded to him. “We have an almost unblemished history of winning wars. Indigo is trying to claim that history for itself, but it killed a lot of military when it took over. It had no choice, since they rightly saw Indigo as a rebellion and fought it. But that means they don’t have a lot of experienced officers who were willing to turn coat and serve the new masters.” He frowned. “And then there’s Golding.”
Iain gave him a curious look. “Is there a problem with the general?”
“He’s capable and I don’t like Indigo having a capable man commanding Fort Polk. I know you’re keeping a close eye on the fort, but he is more than capable of catching you off guard. He’s a sneaky man.”
Iain blinked and laughed. “He is, but he is well aware of the reality of the situation since we’ve discussed it a couple of times. If he attacks Texas I will retaliate and it will cost the Indigos dearly.”
Lorena shrugged. “So he’ll attack somewhere north of the reservoir. Texas isn’t that strong there.”
Iain watched her for a moment before making a decision. “It might be that I told Robert that if Indigo forces attacked Texas anywhere I’d counterattack and I might have hinted that Washington would be on my list of places to ravage. I’ve noticed that the politicians seem to become much more reasonable about life when it’s their necks on the block.”
Lorena’s mouth dropped. “You can do that?”
Iain shrugged. “You can do that. Fast pokegirls such as Rapitaur can be almost anywhere in North America in a day. Have them hide an hour or so from their objective and rest before the assault and you can cause a tremendous amount of damage when you do. And since Rapitaur and other quadrupedal breeds can carry riders you can augment their firepower by a significant amount and turn what sounds like a suicide mission into a survivable operation.” He smiled thinly. “You and everyone else are still just scratching the surface of what pokegirls can do when properly trained and motivated. What you remember them being able to do from during the Revenge War is just the tip of the iceberg. You see, the pokegirl soldiers of the war didn’t know what their full capabilities were either.”
“But you do,” Lorena said.
“Not as much as you’d think,” Iain corrected. “However, some of the people I spend time with have an excellent idea of what pokegirls can do and I listen to their wisdom.”
“I’ll remember to tell General Hays to pick your brain for tactical information,” Lorena said.
Iain made a face. “Tell him to use his pokedex and leave me the fuck alone. You are not roping me into another government job.”
Aaron chuckled. “This one’s become too wily for you, Madam President.”
Lorena just laughed. “He might be at that,” she finally said. “What are your plans now, Iain?”
He smiled. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”
Aaron started laughing. “I haven’t heard that in years.”
Lorena looked from one man to the other and finally punched her husband in the side. He rubbed his ribs, chuckling as she glared at him. “What does it mean?”
“It means you don’t want to know what he’s doing,” Aaron said. “And that he won’t tell you even if you do.”
“I swear you get together with another veteran and you lot start speaking in code,” she grumbled.
Iain exchanged a look with Aaron. “Lorena, do you understand what plausible deniability is?”
She frowned. “No.”
“It means being able to look anyone else in the eye and being able to say to them ‘I had no idea that Iain Grey was doing that’ and it being the complete truth,” Iain said.
She looked at him with a surprised expression on her face. “Is that important?”
“You can’t ask that question,” Aaron said, “because if he answers it you don’t have plausible deniability.”
She shook her head. “Sometimes politics sucks.”
“Actually,” Iain said, “politics always sucks. It’s just sometimes it doesn’t suck as much as it does at other times.” He leaned back in his seat. “You know, if you really want to punish me for not answering your questions you can always fire me from my job as a Texas Ranger.”
She gave him a crafty smile. “If I wanted to punish you, Iain, I should make sure you get promoted.”
Iain gave her a flat look. “You are a low and evil woman.”
“You have no idea,” Aaron said.
All three of them laughed for a moment before Iain got to his feet. “That’s all I had to report,” he said. “And I need to get back to the ranch.”
“I wanted to give you congratulations on getting married,” Lorena said. “What is her name again?”
“Ygerna. And thank you. It was an interesting courtship and it looks to be just as interesting a marriage.”
Aaron shook his head. “How many wives do you have?”
“I think the word plenty comes to mind,” Iain said with a smile. “Believe it or not, I’m not supposed to discuss exactly how many women I have married. Some of them don’t think the specifics of our relationship are anyone’s business but theirs and I respect that.”
“Pokegirls are weird,” Lorena said.
“And human women aren’t,” Iain countered. “My ladies are just as human as you are, it’s just that they suffer from an imbalance that requires them to have sex on a regular basis and you don’t. That is the only real difference. The fact that they have preternatural powers you don’t doesn’t have anything to do with how human they are.”
Lorena smiled at Iain. “Relax, we understand. We call the Milktits on our farm our girls because they have become like daughters to us. Aaron has to have regular sex with them, but those are still our girls.”
Iain made a face. “Sorry. I guess being too close to an Indigo has made me defensive.” He rubbed his face. “I shouldn’t be. They’re not the strangest.”
“Well, for example, in the Middle East you won’t find a canine breed of pokegirl anywhere in a predominantly Muslim area. They’ve exterminated them or driven them out so they don’t have to have sex with them.” He smiled slightly. “There are odd people everywhere and I really need to be going.”
Lorena got up and hugged him. “Be careful, Iain.”
“I intend to.” He shook hands with Aaron before heading for the kitchen and Joyce while letting Pandora know he needed a lift.
Lucifer frowned and looked at Iain. “I thought we agreed you were taking Canaan as one of your security element.”
“I am,” Iain said with a smile.
“I see Pandora, Allison and Heather. Canaan is too tall to hide amongst them.”
Allison’s ears flicked and she grinned. “I’m Canaan.”
Lucifer looked at Iain. “I don’t understand.”
“Canaan is a Hunter, remember, and the mother of the Huntress breed. Allison volunteered some blood so Canaan could take her form for today.”
Lucifer’s eyebrows rose. “I see. What about Canaan’s abilities? You do not have your antennas.”
“My powers are not hindered in the slightest by my form,” Canaan/Allison said. “Except that I only have two arms and therefore two hands right now. Even that’s not really a problem since I can take my real form instantly.” She glanced behind her. “And I’ve been practicing for a couple of days so I’m almost completely used to my tail. I hardly ever dent walls with it anymore.”
Lucifer nodded. “So even if Idun is aware of Canaan and the fact that she has psychic powers, she won’t be concerned with the presence of Allison. That will stand us in good stead today.”
“The strangest thing,” Heather said, “is the fact that we’re no longer taller than Iain. It’s odd seeing the back of his head instead of the top.”
“Who are you?”
“Ganieda. I was blended with a Hunter and have all of their abilities too. Allison, Heather and Dianthus are on standby in case there’s a problem.”
Lucifer nodded. “That explains why you don’t have her bow.”
“It’s a calculated risk,” Ganieda/Heather said. “Not all Elves have living bows and Heather is not one of the more memorable members of the clan. Those are her words, by the way. I would not say that of one of my new sisters.”
Lucifer eyed her briefly. “You understand the mission.”
“I will protect Iain as I always do and we’ll gather intelligence on our enemies.” Heather’s teeth were human, but the toothy smile on her face was still predatory and definitely Ganieda’s. “I can be patient when it is necessary. I do have one question that Iain couldn’t answer.”
“I don’t think we should stop with the traitors in the Sisterhood. If we do not punish the Alliance for what they’ve been doing, they won’t ever find any value in stopping. Are we going to include them as our foes in this?”
“We are,” Lucifer replied, “for you are correct. However, we must first secure our flanks and purge the Sisterhood of our enemies before we move on to the Alliance, for when we strike the Alliance I intend it to be a decisive stroke indeed and the Sisterhood will be one of the weapons I intend to employ against them. It is my hope that for generations the Alliance will remember the mistake they made by aligning themselves against our clan and that our very mention will strike fear into their hearts. I have been long tired of the Alliance’s position that the evil they do is sanctioned by the supposed purity of their motives and I refuse to let that mentality take root here. If the Alliance survives what is coming, they will remember this lesson.”
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with Celestial fighting Celestial,” Pandora said.
“Celestial is a label,” Lucifer replied as she put a hand on Pandora’s shoulder. “No one is purely good and no one is purely evil. Do I want to kill Megami and Sama? I do not. But these self-anointed good persons wish to enslave Iain and the clan and no one who wishes to enslave another has pure intent. That includes our Iain with his dead harem, but he only adds those that he would have killed after they attacked us while the Alliance seeks to chain those that have done them no harm. I can accept Iain’s reasoning for what he does as acceptable even as I condemn the act itself as evil. I cannot even say that I have pure intent for in truth I intend to give Iain some of the Sisterhood traitors for his dead harem. There they can give us all of the information they know and then can lure the Alliance into the trap that will spell their doom.” She dropped her hand as she smiled a smile that would have been at home on Ganieda’s face. “And their continued existence after their deaths will remind my Sisterhood that one does not betray me and break the solemn oaths they swore without consequence. I am Lucifer, who waged war against our very creator for his desire to enslave humanity and pokegirl alike to the yoke of his rage and his whim. If my enemies have forgotten that, then it is past time that they are reminded of the true mettle of those they would pit themselves against.”
Ganieda/Heather looked at Canaan/Allison. “Did she stop to breathe while making that speech?”
Lucifer chuckled. “Only to exhale so I could keep speaking.” She flashed a smile. “Were you not aware that Celestials are rumored to have the ability to speak for hours without having to inhale?”
“No, but that explains a lot.”
Lucifer’s smile didn’t fade. “It is said that ability is so we can confuse our enemies. It is an unfortunate consequence that it also works on our allies.”
“Then confusion to our enemies.”
Iain chuckled. “I’ll drink to that. How are we doing this, Lucifer?”
“The Iain Grey should be ready for departure and as soon as we board we will get under way. Once we’re out of sight of land and the area has been cleared we’ll begin the trials of the holographic projector.”
“Then unless you need me for something specific I’ll be double checking the installation since I wasn’t involved with it. That way if it doesn’t work I can avoid being blamed for it and if it isn’t installed properly but I can get it running anyways I can be working on the problem. Idun already hates my guts but I don’t see any reason to make it worse if I can avoid it.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” Lucifer said mildly. “She only feels that you are being underutilized as a resource by the Sisterhood and the Alliance.”
“And the fact that I disagree and don’t give a shit what she wants?”
“That she is likely to hate and, yes, she is the type to transfer that hatred from your opinions of her desires to you. Such a strong hatred is unhealthy, but fortunately for her she will not hate anything for much longer.” She took Iain’s hand. “Please follow us with the others, Pandora. Let us not reveal that members of his guard other than you can track and follow our Iain.”
“I’ll bring them,” Pandora said.
Suddenly Iain and Lucifer were standing on the fantail of the Iain Grey. A Witch was standing sentry and she nodded to Lucifer as Pandora appeared with Ganieda/Heather and Canaan/Allison. “Eldest Sister, welcome aboard.”
“Thank you, Sister. Please inform Idun that we are aboard and we can get under way.” She turned to Iain. “Be careful. Too many Celestials have tried to join the clan already.”
“I will. I’ll get someone to take me to the projector and if I go anywhere else I’ll let you know first.”
“Thank you.” She teleported to just outside the bridge and entered.
Idun nodded to her as someone else spoke. “All lines are away, ma’am and the gantry is being retracted. The gantry is in the safe zone.”
The circumstances of Thistle Bay’s construction had meant that there was no shallow water in the bay in which to construct a traditional port. Instead, a moveable gantry had been built into the western wall of the bay. When the Iain Grey was in position, the gantry would swing out and be attached to the ship and then locked into place to prevent it moving towards the wall. When the ship cast off, the gantry would be swung back against the wall of the bay and the cruiser would then power up its engines and move away. It meant that pilot ships were not necessary and saved the Sisterhood from having to build and crew them as well as protect them from ferals in the bay.
“All ahead slow,” Idun ordered. “And make for the entrance to the bay. Once we’re in the canal go to ahead full. Commander Leslie, you have the conn. I’ll be in my stateroom if I am needed.”
“I have the conn, captain,” a tall green haired Megami replied.
Idun took Lucifer’s hand and they appeared in her stateroom. “Greetings, Eldest Sister. I thought you were bringing Iain with you.”
“Greetings, Idun and I did. He wanted to check the installation immediately and I thought it best if I let him reassure himself about it.”
Idun waved Lucifer to a chair and went behind her desk to sit. “That’s for the best. There were some problems with the installation. I don’t know what the engineers did, but they managed to trip a bank of circuit breakers in the electrical room during the installation process. They say the drawings were flawed but that they managed to work around it.”
“I see.” Lucifer pulled her pokedex out of her pocket and accessed Iain’s com code as she placed the phone in speaker mode.
There was a silence for a moment. “What?” He sounded pissed. “I take it Idun has mentioned the minor complication that occurred during the installation process?” The acid in his tone could have etched steel.
“She says the engineering group worked around it. Did they?”
There was silence for a handful of seconds. “Is that what they said? Considering they managed to direct ground the control module and burn a hole through the primary controller’s molecular circuitry, I’d be fascinated to know how they managed to work around the damage.” There was a growl from the phone. “These people could screw up a fucking wet dream.”
“Do we need to abort the test?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m still running diagnostics to find out just how bad the damage is but as soon as I know something I’ll put together a parts list and I’ll send Pandora on a parts run. I’d say continue out to the test area because I might be able to fix this in a reasonable amount of time since the damage I’ve found so far is in the modular section of the system and I may be able to just swap out the broken shit with new modules and then upload the programming to them again.” His voice was suddenly loud, making both women in the room jump. “Don’t you fucking touch that!” She heard an indistinct female voice and then he spoke again. “Yes, I know it’s not broken. And if I don’t let you put your dick skinners on it it’ll fucking stay that way.” His voice returned to its normal timbre. “Sorry about that. Someone insisted on being helpful.”
Idun leaned forward. “What do you need from us, Iain?”
“Idun? What I really need are some armed guards with instructions to club anyone I yell at.” The Angel blinked and tried not to smile as he continued. “Barring that, I need to finish the diagnostics and figure out how they managed to ground this sucker in the first place, so time is what I really need. Well, that and four more hands. I did send you the installation and operation instructions and complete drawings, right?”
“Your installation team can read, right? And by read I mean English and they don’t have to sound out the big words?”
“Yes, Iain, they are literate.”
“Ok, that means they’re just idiots.” He growled again. “It’s a pity the hull is designed to stay clean. You really need barnacles for a good keel hauling.” There was a sigh. “I’d appreciate it if you got your engineer down here so she could take charge of these goobers and keep them out of my way until I want their help. Oh, wait, there is one other thing.”
“What is that,” Lucifer asked.
“Now that we all know that in the arcane engineering language spoken on this ship that the word complication means busted, the next time there’s a minor complication that the ship manages to survive we should be informed immediately so it can be repaired.” There was a pause. “I have to get back to work if there’s any hope of getting this thing working today.”
“Good luck, Iain.”
“I’ll take all the luck I can on this one.” The com went dead and Lucifer returned her pokedex to her pocket.
“I wasn’t aware there was damage to the projector,” Idun said. “If I’d known about it I would have informed you immediately.”
“I understand, but there is still a problem in that someone likely does know there was damage and tried to cover it up.”
“I’ll conduct an investigation,” Idun said.
“Please let me know what you discover.” Lucifer rose. “In the meantime I should go keep Iain from hurting any of your crew. He is unlikely to deliberately harm anyone since he knows I’d be disappointed in him, but if his magic runs wild anything can happen.”
“Is that likely?”
“If I could predict that my life would be lot quieter. Unfortunately as I said before, the carrot is the best way to lead him. The stick has proven to be ineffective.”
“Perhaps the right stick just hasn’t been used yet,” Idun said musingly.
“Perhaps, but the problem is that if someone guesses and is wrong they could do irreparable harm to what I have managed to accomplish with him so far. And then of course, historical data suggests they will also be dead as part of that failure.”
“I am still exploring my options as to how to better aim his focus,” Lucifer admitted. “However progress has been and I expect it will continue to be slow. Fortunately, I have an extended lifespan.”
Idun laughed. “As do I, which is also very fortunate. Please go protect my crew from him, Eldest Sister.”
“How bad is it?” Lucifer sat with Iain in the officer’s mess. They were drinking iced tea while Canaan/Allison and Ganieda/Heather were stationed along the wall behind him.
“Pandora is getting the parts I need and I should be able to get the unit running in a few hours,” Iain replied. “The biggest problem is going to be that part of the projector housing was damaged, which will interfere with the hologram generation. It won’t kill the test, but the housing section will need to be replaced for the hologram to be its most effective. It just means the test won’t be with the system at a hundred percent, but we can pretend it is battle damage for the purposes of the simulation.” He lifted his glass and drained it. The damage was deliberate. It was specifically placed to do the most possible damage to the system without using explosives or other techniques that would call attention to the saboteur. And hopefully it would look like an accidental electrical short.
“That’s good to hear.” Do you know who did it?
No. I never thought I’d need sensors inside the projector. But I left my pokedex inside it for now in record mode. It’s connected to the projector and I’m ostensibly running diagnostic scans with it. Meanwhile, Pandora is bringing me some real sensors that I’ll place in case this accident happens again. “I will have to do some programming and I’ll need Theodora’s help for some of it but I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be ready before we reach the test area.”
“I’ll let Idun know at dinner. Will you be joining us?” What about the problems with the Alliance sympathizers?
We are still gathering information. It is, however, bad, at least among portions of the crew of this ship. Iain shrugged. “If you insist I will, but otherwise I will be working on the projector until the repairs are complete. If it takes through dinner, send us some food.”
The Iain Grey was traveling down the canal at 25 knots, which meant the roughly two hundred and forty kilometer trip from Thistle Bay to the coast would take over four hours. After that there was another six hour cruise to reach the testing area so it was far enough out to sea that they could be sure to be safe from all Indigo surveillance except satellite, and their satellite system had suffered a lot of degradation over the years from the inability to replace aging spy satellites as they ran out fuel as well as the loss of the people who knew how to operate and maintain the systems involved.
Lucifer shook her head. She already knew about Iain’s habit of wanting to work until a job was actually finished and, except where it interfered with time spent with her and her daughters, she approved of it wholeheartedly. “I’ll make sure you’re fed lest I find out you’re fishing off the back of this ship and building a fire on the deck to roast your catch.”
“I wouldn’t do that. I’d just send Pandora to Melanie’s for food.”
“And then you’d have a riot when everyone else wanted some of your meal. And that doesn’t even include the fact that I would be jealous of you and your guards.”
“Well, we can’t have you being jealous of our food,” Iain said with a smile. “So we’ll just wait for you to make sure we get fed.” When I get done with the repairs I’m going to make a tour of the ship like I do on almost every visit to see how things are going. My guards will go with me so we can continue our project.
Good. Lucifer finished her tea and gave Iain a wink. “I will do everything within my power to ensure that you can keep your strength up. After all, it is not just critical for me, but also for the girls that their father is able to play with them whenever they need his company.”
Iain chuckled and pushed his chair back. “Well then, I’d better get back to work so I’m available should that need arise anytime soon.”
Iain stood in front of the whiteboard and looked out over the crewmembers. They were in the mess deck, it being one of the few indoor areas large enough for the affected watch standers to meet together for the final briefing.
“In a nutshell,” he said, “the way the system works is it takes real time video of the area around the ship through sensors on the bow, stern and each side of the ship as well as the sky overhead and the sea beneath and combines that together. Then it recreates that image in a hologram except that it removes the cruiser from it when it does and projects that image around the ship, effectively making the ship invisible to casual visual observation. Just remember that this is designed primarily for masking the ship’s presence from feral pokegirls only. Aware people will recognize that the wake means something odd is going on, although if you kill the engines and stop the ship they might decide they were following a submarine that has since dived. Of course, with your magic, if you take the Iain Grey airborne then that wake will stop, but the problems involved in flying the ship aren’t mine to solve, at least not today.” Chuckles sounded from around the room. “The same is of course true in regards to diving the ship.”
“I believe that for the near future we will remain afloat as the only way to currently dive this vessel is to sink him,” Idun said dryly. More chuckles sounded.
Iain smiled. “Well, as the fellow this ship is named after, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t sink me.” This time the laughter was much louder. “To get back to the subject,” he said as the laughter faded away, “the system will also bend radar waves to a degree, in this case we’ve twisted radar waves to a thirty degree offset on the return. That means that if your ship is hit by radar from the front or sides the return will be aimed down at the water and will hit the water about a kilometer and a half away. Radar from above will be twisted to the sides on the return. It will make it a lot harder to locate the Grey and to localize her once she is located. The holographic system can do this to radar even when the holographic projectors aren’t turned on, meaning your enemies could see your ship but any radar aimed systems won’t get solid returns of off you. That includes modern attack radars used by ships and missiles. It should not interfere with your radar systems, either, since the radar doesn’t get twisted by the field because your radar arrays are recognized by the system and left untouched. Just remember that the system manipulates the radar waves by manipulating gravity around your ship. This means that if someone is using some sort of gravitonic detector, they will pick you up. At this point, that’s only the clan, the Kingdom of Haven and equipment deployed by Kerrik Wolf. The Sisterhood is currently not arrayed against any of those groups but the future is always unknown. Another thing to remember is that the system only partially obscures infrared and ultraviolet and it absolutely doesn’t touch higher energy waves. This system was designed to help against ferals and the added capability to handle more than visible light would have made the power requirements prohibitive for your power generation systems.” He looked around the room. “The last thing is that the field effect takes place on the outer limits of the projection field, or roughly thirty meters away from the ship in the front, on the sides and above, but only ten meters under the ship’s keel. Anything or anyone closer than that, including the ship’s personnel, will not see the hologram. The only way to tell if the system is functioning properly is to either trust your instrumentation or to send someone farther than that from the ship and have them look it over. It will also not mask other objects inside the field so you can’t hide a tender that’s loading fuel or stores. I’d recommend turning the field off at that point so as to not tip off observers.” The ship’s engineer raised her hand. “Yes?”
“Does that mean that a flying pokegirl landing would be seen until she landed and then she’d vanish?”
“It does. The same would happen with the ship’s anchors, a small boat or water pokegirl until you pulled it or her from the water or even a helicopter landing on the fantail. That’s why I’d recommend turning the system off during these evolutions. If any of these are being chased by ferals you’ll want to engage them farther out than thirty meters in any case.” He looked around the room. “That concludes the technical explanation of what’s about to happen. If Captain Idun would like, we can proceed with the practical test at her pleasure.”
The Angel nodded and checked her wristwatch. “It is 16:20. We will begin the test at 17:15. Iain, as our technical expert I want you standing by at the projector in case there are any issues that arise.”
Iain smiled, his eyes amused. “Aye, aye ma’am.”
“Before we begin this little meeting,” Iain said from where he sat and cradled a beer in his lap, “I’d like to say something quick about the operational test of the holographic projector on the Iain Grey yesterday.” Everyone turned to look at him. “Having had to deal with engineers of various stripes during my time in the US Navy and afterwards before I came here, it is a distinct pleasure to know that when Theodora builds something, gives it to me and says that if I follow her uncomplicated instructions that item will work as expected, without having to do anything special or some extra step that’s not in the instructions and I follow those instructions the item does what she says it will every single time. Having dealt with shipyard engineers pushing their latest pet project during my time in the Navy and afterwards, you have no idea just how awesome that is.”
“I appreciate the praise,” Theodora said with a smile from where she stood at Iain’s side, “but the topic of this meeting is not about making me feel good.”
Lucifer nodded. “You’re right. Canaan, please begin.”
The Splice looked around the room. “The summary is that most of the officers of the Iain Grey are either sympathetic to the causes and methodology of the Celestial Alliance or actively support it. The other officers are either neutral and also unaware of the situation or, as in the case of four new lieutenants, are actual members of the Celestial Alliance from Four who were hidden inside the Sisterhood and came over with us.”
Lucifer’s eyes hardened. “I see I need to work on my internal security.”
“That would be advisable,” Canaan didn’t quite smirk. “On the other hand, other than the Command Master Chief and few of the other chiefs, most of the enlisted are staunch Sisterhood personnel and would be loyal to Lucifer in the event of a mutiny.” Her antennae twitched. “I mean when the mutiny happens. It is going to happen.”
Ganieda cleared her throat to get attention. “The four lieutenants are symptomatic of a bigger problem. Alliance personnel inside the Sisterhood who came over from Four are the ones who originally contacted the Alliance on One and started this mess. This wasn’t something off the cuff either. This was planned from the beginning. One of the Alliance spies in Fort Thistle is a historian and had knowledge of where the Alliance historically had operations and the codes to contact them with. While the unchanged continents made it harder than anticipated, the Alliance from Four made contact with the Alliance from One only six months after the Sisterhood moved here.”
“You’d think that Kelvin would have made them understand that messing with us is a mistake,” Iain said calmly, but his eyes betrayed his fury.
“I intend to meet with the Alliance leadership from this world,” Lucifer responded. “I will attempt to reason with them in that regard. If that reasoning fails, then there will be war between the Alliance and the Sisterhood of the Thorn.”
“What about the Alliance personnel inside the Sisterhood and their sympathizers,” Silver asked.
“They swore oaths of fealty to the Sisterhood,” Lucifer said grimly. “And in those oaths they vowed to be true to me and the strictures of the Sisterhood. Those who fight will die. Those who surrender will be given trials and executed if convicted.” She looked at Iain. “We will need to secure our flanks and purge the Sisterhood first.”
“I know, but I also know how much this is going to hurt you. Some of these people will be friends.”
Lucifer smiled sadly. “I have known Idun since she was five years old. She has been a member of my command group and a close friend for over a century and she and her partner fostered a litter of mine sixty years ago. But that will not save her and nothing will save the others. The Sisterhood is bigger than they are, it is bigger than my feelings for them and, in the end, it is bigger than I am. It must survive and it must carry on its mission and it and the Alliance will never be allies for we seek to aid while the Alliance seeks to control.”
Iain’s eyes looked into hers. “Let us do most of the killing for you.”
“I intend to but in truth it will change nothing,” she said. “No matter by whose hand they perish, I am the one who says whether they live or they die, just as you do for yours. It is my decision and my burden and I refuse to give it to you. It would cause my heart more pain if I did than if I keep that burden for myself. You carry too many burdens for us as it is.”
“But I want this burden,” Iain replied. “These people betrayed someone I love and I want to kill them for it.”
“And it is still mine to keep,” she said. “But it is your arms which will hold me when I weep from the pain of it.”
“Always,” he said gently. Then he turned in his seat. “Theodora, the status of the Sisterhood in relation to the clan has been undefined to this point, hasn’t it?”
The hologram straightened at the hardness in his voice. “It has.”
“If they are sworn to be true to Lucifer then they are satellite clan. As such, the clan penalties for oath breaking and betrayal are in effect. I am officially suspending privacy for the Sisterhood of the Thorn as pursuant to a widespread investigation of betrayal to the clan they are sworn to. As our inorganic and as our archivist you will bear witness. Sow the city of Shield and Fort Thistle with sensors and begin surveillance. In one year you will discard anything not directly related to this investigation but you are to keep it until then in case it turns out to not be as innocuous as it originally seems. Lucifer will head up this investigation with Eve as her assistant.”
“I understand and I am happy to help.”
“Thank you.” He turned in his chair again. “Ninhursag, rearrange the schedules to free up as much time as you can for Lucifer and Eve without it being evident to outsiders that we are doing exactly that.”
“What do we tell the others when they ask what’s going on,” Allison asked.
“At that point you can tell whoever is asking that they’re doing something special for me,” Iain replied. “Imply that it’s a punishment for something they screwed up so nobody else decides they have to be involved in whatever they’re doing. I suspect the grim faces on both of them will help to make that perception real.”
Ninhursag chuckled. “That will definitely put a stop to anyone wanting to be involved.”
“Also tell whoever is asking that I am punishing Lucifer and Eve and that if someone tries to help without my specific request I will find some really special way to punish them for trying to take away my fun.”
April stood. “Let me be clear, people. That punishment will include not being with Iain for a very long time, not socially or sexually. Now that I’ve said it you can tell it to them and they won’t sense a lie if they have that spell or ability.”
“It is a punishment,” Lucifer said grimly. “I did not police my people thoroughly enough and now I must select which among them will die by our hands, and I already know that will include some that I called friend or lover. But the Sisterhood’s purity must be restored, as a sword that has lost its hardness and durability must be reheated and then tempered yet anew.”
“We are your hammer,” Vanessa said. “Strike as you must, we will always be with you.”
“Thank you, my sisters.” Lucifer sighed and stood. She looked at Eve. “I am sorry to make this fight yours too.”
“Iain assigned me to help you because he knows I will whether you want me to or not,” Eve said with a smile. “And as we find loyal members of the Sisterhood, they will aid us as well.”
“Then let’s get started,” Iain said.
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
Eve Grey - Megami Sama
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Canaan - G Splice (Hunter Amachamp & Alaka-Wham)
Zareen - Nightmare
Raquel - Fiendish Rapitaur
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elf
Dianthus Barbatus - Elfqueen
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)
Queendom / Outer Harem
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
6 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
Geradine - Human
Mother s & Children