Gallant stared at the four small children who had just walked into his camp. If you can call a stump to sit on, a small fire, a fishing rod and tackle box, and a time/space ship which is, internally, an infinite three dimensional reality and, externally, a small silver travel trailer reminiscent of those seen on the highways of Earth in the mid-twentieth century, a camp.
The three girls and boy of about five were obviously members of his sons' family. The boy had near platinum ringlets. One of the girls had soft curls of palest cream. The other girls were a redhead and a strawberry blond. He could almost name whose children they were by the color of their hair. He decided to try.
"If you're not from too far in the future, great-great-grandchildren, perhaps, I would say you're Dez', Cal, Mike and Sandy's children."
"You're good, Gallant. You missed Tess, but Mike is her aunt. I'm Warren. Dez is my daddy. That's Valador, Tes a'Tur h'Elan, and Elizabeth. We're going to be the bond group the Seekers. I'm half human. The girls are all double Gallant. You know, mothers and fathers both in the family. Tess is going to be our bondleader, but she's not going to take over til we're about seven. Val bosses me around now, but Liz is about to take over for awhile. We came to live with you. We're not safe anyplace else."
"We're the Seekers. It's all going to try to stop us. We do the things that have to get done, but we have to grow up first. About everything there is will be lined up against us. We need a place to grow up. I'm not a timewalker, but Wren, Liz and Val are. They say we live with you. I like the idea. We'll have fun. You'll teach us lots. Anyway, we knew the coordinates to get us here, but we couldn't get back."
"Didn't... Isn't there anyone with you, Tess?"
"No. We've got a ship, but it's not done and we can't use it again til it is. Somebody brought us most of the way. We could get stopped and none of us would have ever been."
"See, we do what Athena says needs to get done. We're important to us. We can't grow up at Home. We have to be where we can get big before the destructive force gets all set to stop us. Like; my mommy will sneak visits, but they'll all be pretty quick in her life and spread out in ours and we have to kind of get them in without even you knowing they happened and... It's confusing even to us, 'cause our memories of the PAST are already starting to get to be two memories."
"Well, Val, I think we should go inside Alice and get this figured out. I'll have to add to dinner."
"We need you to get our ship. It's got to be put inside Alice. We've got our lessons in it and some other stuff our mommies sent. Hurry, Gallant. This place is getting not safe too."
"Get inside the ship quickly. We'll ask Alice to materialize around yours, Tess."
Lane swayed and Clete dove to catch him. Clete was empathic. He could feel his brother's confusion as his memories of the future changed. He was over two meters six, intensely developed and had trained in high grav, but he would MUCH rather steady his slightly smaller, denser, half-brother than pick him up off the floor.
"I've got him, Dutch, but he's not steadying."
"I won't get steady til he makes up his mind, Clete. He's considering changing the future. I'll just stand here... On second thought, I'll just lie on the couch? Thanks, Clete. Talk to us, Dutch. Tell me why my head is spinning, little brother."
"I don't know, Lane. I'm sorry. I'm still stalling. I don't want to take us into the war yet. I'm not quite ready to lead all my children into battle."
"I want Mike, Bill and Cass out of that time. I'm sending them Home. We're going to spend some time in the cluster."
"Dutch, you're doing strange things to Bill's command of a Fleet starship. He and Mike take their kids into his ready room and an hour later the kids walk out a couple years older."
"The Newton is a scientific vessel, Clete. The crew is pretty long term. Bill's first says Commander Mike, Captain Bill and their children are the ONLY things they AREN'T curious about. I want the prep time. We'll spend about an extra six months getting ready. We need time to get to know the ven-Corethans. We haven't dealt with many non-anthropoid races. If Mike, her family and Cass are at Home, we can spend six months in the same time period they did."
"You just made him real nervous. He's not settling."
"Talk, Lane. Clete, does he need help?"
"Wait. No, they aren't going to steady. Don't worry about my nervous, Clete. It's because Dutch just made the future mutable. I'm just going to wall up my memories. Dutch, this isn't quite how I'd hoped you'd take the four deaths we timewalkers see in the war from our memories, but we trust you completely. If this is what you believe is right, we'll follow you anywhere. It's just without our future memories, we're not a lot of help."
"Don't start that again, Lane. Your memories of the future are ONE of the skills you bring to what we are. We've already fought one war where you didn't have them."
"You're delighted. Tell him, tell us, why."
"Because I don't want Dez, Con or Lane looking at their deaths in their future memories, Clete. I don't want them there."
"Dutch, it's... We'd rather see... Never mind."
"Lane, just deal with it. Your memories may clear at any time. I pathed Cass and Mike transport is coming. Be back."
Dutch teleported to Cass first. She was simplest. He just waited until she said "Alone." and went to get her. He could have called her to him, but he'd have still had to take her to the settlement they'd built and called Home.
She grinned and gave him a hug. It didn't bother her that her golden-haired grandfather was shorter than she was again, but it did him. He'd broken, with much unpleasant assistance, so many bones his body had decided to adapt for high gravity. He'd shrunk to his original one hundred eighty-five cens. He'd added a few, but didn't equal her one ninety-four. He was the smallest Knight Gallant again. The other three girls topped him by a cen or two, but only Lane and Clete outweighed him.
He took Cass Home to be with her four children, then went for Bill, Mike and the three children they had with them. They really didn't mind. They had the triplets with them because they were the youngest. They had two sets of twins and another boy at Home. He took them there, then ported back to his brothers and their bondcat Puck aboard their ship, Melissa.
"Lane, set coordinates for Pastora six months before I picked up Mike and Cass."
"THAT made him happy. Made me happy too."
"I thought it might, Clete. I suppose we'll land in Varenya's living room and you'll be headed for India's house as soon as we get the doors open."
"I'll be standing in front of them. I hadn't really noticed I'd missed her until I found out we were headed for Pastora."
"That's because Cass kept you busy a lot of the time."
"She did at that."
"We'll be down in a few minutes, Dutch. In Varenya's living room."
"I'll find us a place to live while you two get reacquainted with your ladies. Loris will have suggestions. If I can't find, we'll build. I want her contacts with the ven-Corethans anyway. We could make our own, but an intro wouldn't hurt. Help. You two are already getting warm. Give me a little time to locate cold water."
"Sorry, Dutch. You'll probably spend a LOT of time warm."
"Yeah, Clete, I know. It's actually one of the reasons I want to spend time on Pastora. Other than Dez and I, every male in the knights has a lady here, even Dad."
"I wonder how long it'll be before you and Dez remedy that situation."
"Awhile for me, Clete. I'm too tangled over this war to really give my attention to anyone."
"Sure, Dutch. Melissa seems to have decided our horses DO belong in the ship, Lane. She was creating a holo-reality trail for them to run when I checked on them."
"It's Mariah's colt. Melissa wants him to grow up big and strong."
"She's done a good job so far, Lane. That's a sturdy colt. He's already big. He thinks he's ready for a rider. I think he's been shopping for tack."
"It'll be a good year before he's big enough to carry one of us. He does want to run with the knights though."
"So, Dutch, did you ever figure out who daddy is?"
"No idea, Clete. It could have been any of the stallions. Trust Mariah to manage to be the ONLY mare we didn't know was coming into season, or not cause problems with the stallions."
"You're smug, Dutch. You'll claim papa status for Sweet Baby Boy any day."
"Can't let him think he didn't have one, Clete. Actually, my money is on Moonraker or Mickey Mouse, but she could have been pregnant before Dez, Con and I started our trip around our home island. Shaena says the gestation period for the horses is actually getting longer. It's so individual at this point, we don't know HOW long it was. They may be getting smarter. I'm sure they're getting bigger. The first few were sports, exceptionally big for the breed, but we aren't getting any small foals any more. They're all big. How soon, Lane?"
"We'll land not long after dinner, an estimate. The fried chicken smells done."
"Dutch, I'm not sure how I feel about going into this without my memory."
"Understood, Lane, but I feel like the decision which presents itself should be considered. I've been following my own path into the future. I know it leads to this war, but... It's a bit like a vid game. I'm picking up keys along the way. The most direct route isn't necessarily the best one. I'm living in a half dozen times in my head. I thought I'd share the confusion."
"No confusion. You're hard determined and cool. You want to observe the ven-Corethans and mechs yourself. Whoa. You have time to chew. Slowly. The chicken isn't going anywhere."
"True, Clete. On both counts. And the chicken IS too good to rush through. I want to meet the species most threatened by the mechanical life forms. I want more time to think about that too. I NEED to see them. There's a chance here, a choice that brings all of us through this. You know, we've dealt almost exclusively with anthro, or at least mammalian-type species, so far. I need to make friends with one of the entoid. The only things I know are they're large, look like pastel pink crickets, vegetarian and the museum exhibit of Earth's Northwest coast native art set attendance records there."
"They're much more interested in the humans than they are in them."
"I don't think so, Clete. Let's get Hober Jorn to help bring a ven-Corethan exhibit to the cluster."
"Great idea, Lane. The twelve human worlds in the cluster will soon be in the Fed. Suddenly the Fed is household and their nearest neighbors are an alien species. If they see they have the essential component to be called... sentient life... "
"Lane, our little brother just hit on something. I'm not sure what, but definitely something."
"Even I can see that, Clete. He went from gobbling to motionless with a bite halfway to his mouth, which is still open."
"I think I defined what this year is for. You said it, Lane. The mechs aren't even AWARE of feelings. Can they learn to be aware?"
"Is that awareness the essential component?"
"Perhaps it is, Lane. Well, we'll see."
Dutch ate distractedly. Clete and Lane watched. He was definitely thinking hard. He didn't 'come back' until Clete set dessert in front of him.
"Good pie, Clete. Tastes like Dad's lemon meringue."
"It is. He wanted that new set of equations so I made him a trade, my equations for some weight training and his recipe. He knew I'd make him lift, but the recipe surprised him, like pulling teeth. I actually thought he was going to wait for Dez to get the equations from Sandy rather than part with it."
"I'll bet. Good. I pathed my thanks. He said he's not far behind. When and where landing, Lane?"
"Midmorning of fiveday in Varenya's living room. You thought I was teasing, didn't you? I don't know if she'll be home."
"Yes, I did. I'm a bit surprised."
"Her maid and houseman are VERY discreet and they held her hand while she waited til you could get me away from the mechs."
"Before you get TOO involved, do get things rolling."
"Sorry, Dutch. My mind is already running in neutral. Hope you don't get too warm while you're on the comm. I'm going to change. Later."
"Relax, Dutch. You've got Loris to help. You'll manage without US. Fiveday means India doesn't have classes for three days. I should notice the rest of existence about the time she has to teach. I'm going to change too."
"Help. So tell me, Puck, aren't you going to rush off somewhere? Yes, I'll be warm. It's good for them. Sorry, buddy. You and I will just have to play a lot of water polo. I think the teasing is a healthy sign too. It shows he's not really bothered too badly by not having his future memories. At least, not badly enough to let it get between him and Varenya. Lane, I thought you were going to CHANGE clothes not just undress. That outfit could get you arrested on SEVERAL worlds."
"Yeah, she should like it. Go uniform, Dutch. You're on official business. Let the planetary authorities in on it. We're establishing a rear base on a world which has already had one missile attack because we were here. They may say they don't want us."
"True. Thanks. You're putting me in the spotlight and you're planning on turning up the heat."
"On this world, Clete and I get a bit back. Be careful. There are going to be some really closed minds."
"I've got Dad coming. He's got a way of opening them. Whoa, Lane! At least introduce me to the help and have them point me to a comm. Clete, are you going to ride across town in THAT? You MAY get arrested."
"Thanks, Dutch. Your envy is duly recorded as a compliment. Open the door, Lane. I want OUT."
The cooking school, restaurant and office complex was beautiful. Of course, with Ace and Loris double-teaming its design, he'd expected no less, but it always thrilled Dutch to see plans become substance. The Builders accomplished things almost too fast. Most of the time he never even saw the plans.
Dutch knelt and presented Loris a rose, then spread his arms. The tiny woman with short legs, a hump, one arm and a fixed expression was one of the most beautiful people he'd ever known. She got her hug and stepped back to look at him.
"You've shrunk. You're shorter, a LOT shorter."
"Shh. I spent some time on a high G planet. My body decided to adapt by getting denser. I'm almost the same height I was when I was seventeen, but I weigh more than I did when I was here before. We need a place. We want private, but not inaccessible. We need pasture land. We brought horses. Well, they look like horses, but they're sturdy enough to carry us. We need permission to use Pastora as our main base."
"Let me see... Yes, this file. There's a house and land at the south end of this terraformed valley. You're in luck. Hober Jorn holds title. Let's see if he'll sell it to you. Hober, Dutch is in my office. They need a place and someone to say you're welcome. Your piece of property at grid seven four nine seven is just what they need for one. You're what they need for the other. Done. All right, Dutch, you've got land and a huge old house, colonial. Needs quite a bit of work, but Ace would want to play with it anyway. It's a beauty falling to ruin and deserves better. Hober will see to it you get a chance to convince the worriers in the council this afternoon. He may be looking forward to seeing Gallant even more than his daughter is."
"I wouldn't bet that one either way. Uh, Loris, who is that?"
"Triz Meyer-Jordan. Wondered when you'd notice her. She's got one of the best minds in the cluster, but she's not easy to slow down enough to work on a problem. Quite a star pilot too. I call her my best feather. Half the cluster has tried to hire her. She does emergency food runs for us. I'll introduce you. She's prickly, Dutch. She's the wrong color and the wrong size and too many people work too hard at not noticing."
"She's gorgeous and there's nothing WRONG with her color OR her size. I'll take my chances."
"Your head. Triz! Come over! Triz, this is Dutch Gallant."
"I've heard of you. Heard you think you're something real special."
"I am. Heard you think the same, also with good reason. Are you familiar with the south valley?"
"More or less. Why?"
"Because my family is about to move in there. You look like you'd have a vehicle with long legs. My friend Puck and I would like to look the property over. We need a ride. I get bored on long rides. You don't look like you'd make me yawn.
"I wouldn't, but all I've got is a hot scoot. All I usually need."
"Thanks, Puck. He says he missed Loris and he plans on visiting Shasta and Sheila's kitchen in the school. Hmm... Nah, property first, THEN Shasta's cooking. Let's ride."
Dutch was amazed and delighted at the way she rode the scoot. He didn't ride pillion often. He actually enjoyed it. She was as good on a scoot as any human he'd ever seen. She'd quickly realized he couldn't be surprised and really ridden. When they stopped to look over the property, he was wearing a large smile.
"Triz, you're good enough to ride with us. Oh, my. It DOES need work. Well, my son will soon fix that. Nice and big. Oh, oh. Empty garage. Dad HATES empty garages. I've got shopping to do. We'll need grain for the horses. Do you know how big this place is?"
"So big, it's a white elephant. I'd call it a manor. The city sort of grew in its direction. At one time this house was the social center of the south valley. Horses?"
"Not actually an Earth breed. Similar development, but stronger, smarter and faster. We've got Earth horses in this cluster too, polo ponies."
"Can you play polo?"
"Yes, but I'm too heavy for the ponies. You play?"
"My team took cluster championship three years. I get twenty-four bedrooms."
"Close to my count of twenty-seven. Big, empty and echoing. Ooh, I LIKE this. It'll be great for parties."
"This ballroom will hold hundreds! Some parties."
"They have a tendency to run days. Uh, oh. I was afraid of that."
"Sorry. I've got a war coming and I've asked our three women warriors to sit it out because of children. They've begun pointing out their children don't need mommy ALL the time. Well, I've got six months to convince them. It WON'T be easy."
"Wouldn't work with me. If I think it's right, nothing gets between me and a fight that needs to be fought. LOTS of work. This place is falling down in places."
"That's really rather minor. Ceilings are easy if the structure itself is sound. No, I'm going to play it a bit safe for a change. I'm not going to put my weight on those stairs. I DON'T think they'd hold me. I'll see the cellar when my entrance won't be abrupt."
"How much do you weigh? I could feel it in the scoot."
"Make a high estimate and double it. You'll get close, high grav adaptation."
"Me too. Spent my childhood on Ramses Six, science colony."
"Interesting. Wish that pool had water in it. My brothers are really starting to heat things up."
"We're psychically bonded. They have special ladies they haven't seen in a while. Let's ride and see if the wind can keep me from paying QUITE so much attention to the nice package your mind and skills are wrapped in."
"Climb on. Where next?"
"Shopping? Cars, scoots, flitters and horse feed."
"This may be fun. You have a vehicle preference?"
"Hot and gorgeous. Like you."
"Get on, Goldilocks. Let's get you cooled off."
"Sorry, Triz. I haven't had much practice at being a good boy."
"I believe you. Whoa! Remind me not to do THAT again. Your eyes make me dizzy. They spin. Well, the irises look like they do, hypnotic."
"Not intentionally. Car shopping while I still remember that's where we're going. High grav would help explain how a little thing like you handles a Godorn S Six scoot. You do the modifications?"
"Yes, but I'll take you to the shop where I borrow a corner. Pops will like you. Hang on."
They spent the day in, over, under and around vehicles. He became more impressed with the young lady by the minute. The topper came when a salesman dropped his stylus. Dutch caught it, but Triz' hand was around his when he did. She was the quickest human he'd ever seen.
Triz stated high G muscle made you faster on lower grav worlds if you trained right. He asked for the technique. The five months training they'd done in high G and the muscle density they'd gained hadn't made them appreciably faster. She agreed to a trade. She wanted to learn their training routine. He got an idea how strong she was when she lifted a scoot onto stands to examine the disk.
"Talk to me, Triz. Non-human, part or more than. Too smart, too fast, too strong. Too beautiful, for that matter. You're even more than you seem, and you seem incredible."
"Science colony, Ramses Six. I'm human, Dutch. All the way. I just have a few more parents than most. The reference is lost on you. You know this culture, Dutch. You uncovered the nasty side of 'We're the best.' in it in bigotry against other species and new ideas. The station at Ramses Six was the other face of it. Human is best. Select the best of the best. My 'duty' is to lead all the others to strive to be all they can, and take care of them. I'm the only person in existence whose EVERY gene was selected and the station of Ramses Six was ON Ramses Six so I'd spend a great deal of time in a high grav environment."
"Bitter. Why? Hypocrisy? Or because they made you TOO different? Being unique in the universe is the only experience truly common to all lifeforms. Most spend their time minimizing some of those differences and maximizing others. You'd be different in another way in my family. You'd be a bit slow, not as strong, not as long lived, not quite as intelligent, but very much as beautiful. Your mind and soul more than your lovely heart-shaped face and compact, muscular body. You're the essence of femininity. Humans select for something we call spirit-- Stop!"
"Wow! What a gem! And for sale!"
"Somebody had my brother in mind when they built that beauty. Lane is tailored and polished. So is she."
"You've gone stock with everything else."
"Yes, but stock here is different than most places, much more flair and individuality. Besides, stock gives us things to play with ourselves. Customizing our own scoots and cars will be fun, but this gem was built FOR Lane."
"Hi, she's gorgeous isn't she?"
"More than. I'll take her."
"If I had to ask the price, I probably couldn't afford a jewel like that. Contact Loris. She's got all the info. Tell her Dutch said it's for Lane. She'll tell you where and when to deliver. OK, Triz, let's go. That's my list for today. Back to the scoot shop."
"Ooh, you left him with his mouth open."
"He deserved it. That jewel is a spit and polished come on. Probably not over-priced, but he DIDN'T expect to sell it."
"I know what you mean. Probably on consignment and he's been getting a lot of sales by steering people to almost as nice and more affordable. Can't really fault him though. It isn't really dishonest, just a little play on human nature."
"Nice lead back to that we were talking about. I'm half human. Perhaps a bit more than that. Our race also has bernisi and a race known as the adithi. From them, we gain a stability of relationships. We're as much created as you are, as guilty as the geneticists of Ramses Six. We gene select our children telekinetically. We select our PARENTS. We're creating ourselves for the only job worth doing it for. We're breeding ourselves into a species to defend life. I'm breeding us."
"Guilt! Nasty. Maybe worse than my load. I know it's not mine, but I haven't found anyone I thought deserved to carry it and my life is a bit strange for me to just dump it. It's too heavy a coat to wear, but I'm afraid I'd get cold without it."
"I DO know that one. Dinner?"
"Not tonight. I coach a soccer team, little ones who need hugs and ice cream cones win or lose. They've got a match."
"Wow. Can I watch? I have over fifty children I miss terribly. I can't even tell you how much I'd enjoy it."
"Very. Generations. Soccer?"
"I know. Antiquated. Antiquated society in some ways. I like soccer in combination with martial arts and lifting. It uses a whole different mind set. The entire body with a de-emphasis on the hands. I like the teamwork required too."
"Groan. Well, I'm sure my brother Clete will like you. Where's the match and can I buy the ice cream? Better. I'll BRING the ice cream. Milkshakes, then pizza afterward. No, not milkshakes. Ices. Better for little tummies. Root beer and banana ices. Sound good?"
"My kids are going to like you. Coast View Park. Match in two hours."
"I'll be there. Good, my scoot is ready. How old are the kids on your team?"
"Eight and under. Underest being six."
"Uh, hope you don't mind a large cheering section. The rest of my family is going to be looking for something to do, something ELSE to do. There are three of us and Puck on this world now. In an hour, there will be fifteen and five bondcats. Within two days, we'll be moved into that house. My son will make it a beautiful place to live and work, but the work is still preparation to do battle."
"The falcon of war sits upon your brow, Dutch. See you in two hours."
Dutch rode his new scoot back to Loris' offices. They were in the building with the best place to eat in the cluster. Well, one of two. Mom Berrick's place was high on his list, but it was on another planet.
He sighed when he saw the traffic in the area. A lot of people had learned the Knights Gallant were back. He sighed again. This time in relief. The paths had started checking in. They were down and on their way to help him handle society. Dez was a bit surprised to be told to dress in the blood-stained and tattered white uniform he always wore when in his service. The others reassessed their wardrobes and put on their uniforms. They would still escort their ladies, but their attitude toward the evening had changed.
Loris moved in to rescue Dutch from people delighted to be seen standing next to him and got him through to the ones he was delighted to see. She took him straight through to the kitchen. Shasta and Sheila gave him hugs and Turk grinned from his leaning place next to the prep station.
"NICE to see you, Turk. Con said he was landing. You talked him into a drop?"
"My buddy. Ready to deal with politicians? They know what's going on. The Fed wasn't about to do patrols without explaining them to the cluster. We monitored comm. Your name was mentioned. Often. You've got a mix running from 'Gee, I hope they spend lots of money.' to 'Just who do they think they are bringing war this close to my life?' About what you'd expect. There are even some who see the mechs as a real threat. They are NOT in the majority. Some enterprising news research bunch did a most probable and came up with this planet wouldn't be the best for the mechs to strip for minerals for about a hundred years UNLESS they were after us."
"With this bunch, flat truth. They're coming. We're going to fight them before they get this far. We don't THINK they'll be in any real danger."
"Agreed. We'll also defend them if they're attacked. Thanks, Turk, I needed the briefing."
"I may have had lovely ulterior motives, but briefing is why Con dropped me."
"That and to keep me from being mobbed."
"That too. Hi, Puck. Yeah, with me and you both next to him, they won't crowd him as much. Shall we go? Oh, Con says put on your coronet."
"Groan. Protest. Groan. A quote from Mick."
"At least yours is a nice light coronet. That crown he won weighs a half kilo. Wait! Don't go out there. Stay put. Call Dan. There's danger here."
"Knight Sword, to me! Hello, Dan. Turk's suddenly nervous."
"Not a good omen for a quiet evening. It's dangerous out in the dining room. Look high, Turk. Above... high above. Thickness... Something is too thick."
"Dutch, I'm SURE you shouldn't go through those doors."
"All right, Turk. I'll wait. I don't like--"
"Dan and I are getting to be a good team. Let us."
"Mick says they're three minutes away, Dutch."
"Dad's about that too. Dan, do we have time to get those people out?"
"Found him! No, Dutch, this is a... messed up mind. He's got the trigger on him. Dead man's switch. He doesn't have locations, Turk."
"I found them. The moulding around the chandeliers is too thick. I count four. Think you could get me up there? I can swing from one to the next, grab explosive and get it out of here."
"No, Turk. Too risky."
"Dutch, I don't see any other way to clear it."
"We've got to get those people out of there before we do--"
"Get your noses away from that door. Shasta has an idea."
"Great, Sheila. It is?"
"We're going to set the food out in the garden and open the terrace, Turk. It isn't quite done yet, but we can manage around the inconveniences. The thing we need help with is setting tables out and up. You start unstacking those tables and chairs. I'll bring linen and silver."
"Thanks, Sheila. Tell your twin sister she's a genius. A FEW inconveniences?"
"There'll be fewer when you get all the building materials moved, Dutch. We'll send others as they arrive. It'll be ready to come out in ten."
"Turk, shy Sheila has CHANGED."
"Yeah, this cooking school has been good for them, Dutch. They both have fellows. I'm sans company. How's Barrie, Dan?"
"Beautiful. Tel's bringing her. Let's shorten this. Let's use the panel to carry the lumber."
"Let's use it to finish the job. We can see how the lattice is built. There's not much more. If we're a few more than ten, Shasta will move food around us."
"Good idea, Dutch. Here comes the best help there is. Hiya, Dad."
"Hi, Turk. Dan, Dad. Looks like we're just in time."
"You are, Ace. We're about to do a bit of carpentry. The Builders' expertise is welcome. Hi, Mick, Red, Pierce, grab a hammer and let's do it. Shasta will have food in ten and we need to do an unsuspected evac of the dining room."
"Red, get slat measurements. Give them to Mick. You can start cutting. Pierce, Dan and Turk, put it together. Come on, Dad, let's build a gate."
"It's a good thing I glanced at the plans when Loris was designing it. Here. I've got it pictured in my mind. Look at it. See?"
"Nice gate, Ace. Perhaps we should build it."
"Going to be fun to build something with you, Dad."
"Yeah. We've got very few minutes."
"It's cut for assembly. Hammer for you, Sir."
"Thank you. Like the saw Mick's using."
"He wanted something that would cut through anything and small enough he could carry it in his bandoleer. That baby can be set to cut a micrometer deep or take a slice off a moon."
"You know how it works, Dad. Get an idea, tell Dez, do a little prelim, watch him get excited, hold out your hand for the technology he creates. Daddy wanted a new tool. Dez figured out how to make it do what he wanted."
"We're spoiled, Ace. I remember having to do all that hard work myself."
"We still do a lot of it, but Dez DOES make short work of problems that stump us. Voila, gate. Let's get this up. The lattice is about finished. This will be so beautiful when the plants cover it. They're planting climbing roses and the open spots in the flagstones are for wisteria. The whole garden will be under an isofield. All right, let's get these privacy panels down. Construction is complete. Let's let the city see the Rose Terrace."
"NICE view. Nice walk."
"Open the gate. That terraced hill is part of this restaurant. Here comes food. Hello, Shasta. My son says he's delighted you broke his heart."
"Hi, Ace. Our fellows will be here this afternoon. They're looking forward to meeting him."
"He's looking forward to meeting them too."
"Yes he does feel smug about--"
"Unveiling your beautiful selves. Nice gate."
"Thanks, Turk. See you in a bit, Dad. Gentlemen, let's get in position to remove trim that wasn't in the plans. You're the attraction out here, Dad. Get a cocktail and stand in plain sight of the doors when Sheila opens them, then back the crowd that direction."
"Will do, Ace. Be careful. Buildings can be replaced, boys."
"Point understood. Here comes your boy and he's MOVING."
"I am here, Lord. What would you have of me?"
"You are my chosen guard. You know the job. Somebody here doesn't like me to the extent he doesn't mind killing a hundred or so innocents. Got him?"
"Yes, picked his messy mind. Dan thinks we need Tel and Dad both. It's a messed WITH mind. He's been tampered with. See?"
"Yes. He needs help. I hope they can do something. I can see what was done, but I'd tear him apart trying to remove the compulsion and implanted motivation."
"That's too sophisticated for the mechs. They don't understand our minds that well."
"Agreed. Here they come."
Dutch 'got caught' by the crowd by the coffee table. It was as far away from the dining room as he could get. Dez and Puck kept close. Dez caught the influenced man's thought as it formed. He dove into Dutch and they went down and fell through the concussion of the sonic gun. Puck knocked out the man who had shot them with a swipe of his paw. Dutch had pathed keep him alive. Unconscious was the best place he could put him.
Gallant ported to Dez. As usual, he nearly landed ON him. Dutch heard a ship coming and lost consciousness.
"He's out, Gallant. How bad?"
"Well, my medunit isn't as good as Clete's, but it says not bad considering. Basically, you're both going to be dizzy and have a large area which is not an attractive color. You did well, Dez. At that range a sonic weapon could have killed nearly instantly. You saved my son again."
"A very mutual arrangement, little brother. Hi, Cal. Hello, Sandy."
"Ouch. You hurt."
"Yes, Sandy, I do. Clete says put him in regen."
"I'm not bad. Missed my head."
"Oh, lord. If he comes up scrambled like he did he last time... Sandy, get Peaches open. I've got Dutch. Let's go. Mick says we DON'T want him to wake up."
"That sounds like a good story, Gallant. Be back in a minute, Dez."
"How, Cal? How did he know we were coming? This wasn't done today. That explosive had been there awhile. We know that man. He worked with us on the charity fashion show. There's a random element in this."
"And our future memories are useless. I'm glad mine's not there, Dez. I don't WANT to see it. I don't want to have to avoid looking at it."
"I'll find a way. I promise. He can't be the only singularity in existence. I KNOW there must be another path for the power. Dutch will keep me alive to find it."
"A very mutual arrangement. Dez, it'll hurt you more for me to carry you than for you to struggle up and walk. The Charmers just moved in. Our dads have got it under control."
"Dutch has a date in an hour. We're all included. Cal, I need to trance to help him heal."
"And you. You can't protect him if you can barely stand. Are you listening?"
"Yes, Cal, but it won't do any good. As soon as I get into trance, I'll start healing Dutch. Survival trait. If one of us has to fight for both of us, it must be him. Find Clete and Lane. They're going to be guilt a K wide."
"Especially Lane. I'll talk to him."
"I thought you two had figured things out."
"We have. Our solution was always simple. I love him incredibly and always will. We aren't you and Dutch."
"I understand what you THINK is true, but if you two don't think there's desire between you... Cal, don't lie to yourself."
"I'm not. If it wasn't there, it wouldn't have ever been problem. We just choose other ways to deal with it."
"Yeah. Ooh. Couch. Thanks. Hi, Sandy. He is?"
"One large bruise. You're turning an interesting shade too."
"I'm getting to work on it. There. All warned. I'll probably draw on everyone when I go into trance, Sandy."
"Wondered why I wasn't in the 'all warned'. Go ahead. Trance. Oh, my. He's in a hurry, Cal."
"I can feel it, Sandy. Turk says he's looking for a couch too. Dez is drawing on his energy pretty heavily. Lane and Clete are headed this way at a dead run."
"Oh, and feeling GUILTY."
"Hello, Gallant. You thinking about looking for a couch too?"
"Yes, Cal. Here come Lane and Clete. Hello, b--Well, that'll help with the guilt. Shall we move them out of the doorway, Sandy?"
"He clobbered them the second they got in the ship. I felt Dez grab their energy and kick them into trance. Rather a relief. They were about to drown me in 'I should have been theres'. Hello, Turk. How went the removal?"
"Fast. We barely got the detonator before it clicked when Puck clobbered damaged. I see Dez took care of Lane and Clete feeling guilty for awhile, Cal."
"Yes. He told me to take care of it, then did it himself. Sandy, how long?"
"He's going to be healed and out of regen in minutes. Dez is actually hurt a bit worse. Want to bet he comes out and puts Dez in?"
"No bet. They were lucky, Gallant."
"Dez made most of their luck. Some of Dutch's bruises were gotten when they hit the ground. They TRAVELED through that concussion. It's spread over a large area of their bodies. They cracked a flagstone. Dan says Mick and Tel are starting on tampered with. They seem to think they can help."
"I hope so. Poor fellow. I want to find who did that to him."
Dutch came out of regen and put Dez in before he washed the mist off and dressed. Turk said he felt pretty drained, but dinner was waiting. Dutch promised not to leave Peaches until Dez came out of regen. He'd given him the job of guarding him. He'd be upset if he didn't let him do it. He grinned when Turk pushed a loaded cart in the door shortly after he'd gone out. Shasta wasn't about to let the four in the ship go hungry. Lane and Clete awakened and Dutch handed them laden plates.
"Courtesy of Shasta and Sheila. You two look pretty tired. Dez took a lot out of you for me. Thanks."
"We should have been here, Dutch."
"No, Clete. Dez was on guard. He took care of me very well. He may be even better at watching over me than I am at watching over him."
"Nah, he's just been busier lately."
"You've made yourself the primary target of the destructive force, Dutch, but he's still a close second."
"And his mother a not distant third. I know, Lane. That's why he's in the whites. You two can help me. I need root beer and banana ices for about sixty."
"Sixty?! That's a lot of ices."
"I've no idea how many are on Triz' soccer team, Clete, but there are near thirty of us with the ladies. Lane, make reservations for a pizza party in about four hours, near Coast View Park if possible. Our transportation will arrive in a few minutes. Unlike Dad's vehicle shopping on Mern, I spread mine out. We have cars coming. Nothing quite like Floozie and Sassy, but hot and nice. Scoots and flyers are being delivered to the house I bought. The cars will be brought here. I'll have Turk bring my scoot. It'll tickle Con to be the first to drive their car. You'll like yours too."
"Ours? How many cars did you buy?"
"Oh, nine hot little numbers, a couple four seaters and three that'll hold six comfortably, no two alike. You each have one, Clete. You'll recognize them. Yours is emerald green and Lane's is tiger-eye gold. Happy birthday whenever we had one. No, Clete, don't tell me how old we are. I'm firmly holding to the idea I'm just NEARLY fifty."
"Dutch... Never mind. Fourteen cars?"
"Yes, and fifteen scoots, two transports and five flyers. Triz knew every good shop in the city. Primarily stock, but NICE stock and I thought it would be fun to modify our own this time. There's one MAJOR exception. You'll notice. I'm looking forward to all of you meeting Triz. We're going to watch her soccer team play. Eight and under. I thought you'd like that. Ah, Dez is awake and moving fast. See you in a very few."
"He's pleased with himself. We're going to LIKE those cars and scoots."
"He accomplished a lot today. Here's a pocket, Clete. Load 'em. Who do you suppose Triz is?"
"I don't know, but he was frank admiration and a bit family when he said her name. I'm sure this is more than just a pretty lady."
"I got that impression too. Hi, Dez. Thirty each, root beer and banana, Dutch. Here's the pocket."
"Got it. Thanks, guys. I'll take Dez with me. You do an apology run and we'll sneak out the back."
"You really don't want to face that crowd, do you?"
"No, Clete, I don't. I'm going to desert. I know I should rub elbows and shake hands, but I'm just not up for it. Get us permission for me, Lane. I'm sneaking out and running for it."
"Lane, I'd rather he didn't go out and mix. This is too expected a place for him to be. We've already seen that. Oh, you made LOTS of people happy, Dutch."
"I noticed, Dez. I'd say the cars are arriving from the chorus of yippees I just got. The paths are all pleased. Ah, Dad likes her. I thought he would. Well, go on you two. Go see what I got you and have Turk move mine to the side door. Turk because I'm nervous and he'll feel it if someone has tinkered. Go on."
Mick pathed Dutch and showed him Clete and Lane's expressions when they saw their cars. The hot little two seaters were not alike. Clete's was larger and had lots of leg room. Lane's was dressy and classic. Dutch grinned. Not alike was an understatement. He gave a quick picture to Dez of Triz nearly standing the scoot on its nose when they'd seen Lane's. They both eavesdropped on him.
Lane sniffed and raised an eyebrow at Clete. The upholstery was real leather and the appointments were real wood and brass. He wondered who had created the grav car. The person was a vehicle historian. The gauges were different and it had a disk instead of wheels, but it reminded him of the earliest luxury sports cars of Earth. He dragged himself away. He had work to do. Gallant looked like he was having trouble leaving his little red gem too.
"Come on, Dad. Let's get Dutch the approval he wants and take our ladies to a soccer match. Did you learn anything about Triz?"
"Yes, Clete. Loris introduced them earlier today. She thinks Triz belongs in our family. I have instructions to introduce her to Tel, but an opinion her major problem is she doesn't LIKE being better at everything than everyone else. Mm, hm, that's what she said."
"Dutch was impressed. It was strong when he said her name. I don't think Tel is going to find much problem with her."
"I don't either. It's not easy to accept and you never like it, but it can be dealt with healthily. The nicest way I've found is to have a whole family that way and just get to be one of a bunch. Dutch says he and Dez are headed out in the car with Turk on scoot. He also says Triz will be joining us for training. He thinks she has things to teach US."
"I'm starting to be REAL interested in this lady."
"Dutch is near chortling. He can't WAIT to see you two side by side. Triz is about a hundred thirty cens of petite femininity and solid muscle. He even converted it for me. Had it ready when he told me. She's as dark as we are fair. I'm looking forward to seeing how your six foot eight plus stacks up against her four foot nine too, Clete. Dutch thinks she has what it takes to make it through our workouts. She's an unaugmented human, but she was designed by a computer. That's what he said. There's Hober. He'll know who we need to court. I'll path who we need to convince. We'll put the Builders on the ones who just want to be charmed into accepting something they'd rather support. These people feel rather secure. They are officially on their way to joining the Fed. It's not going to let something happen to them during the transition from non-aligned to Fed members. Ah, Hober, just the person I was looking for. Dutch thought his presence would keep the earlier incident in mind and asked us to establish a good relationship with the politicians. In other words, he had a date and said, 'Fix it, Dad.' How bad is it broke?"
"The attempt made more mad than nervous. In a way, it's good. The damaged man you have set this up some time ago, or someone set it up to use him. Avis and I have been expressing the opinion he was assaulted and set on this course by the criminals you helped us get rid of. It's been a year since you were everyone's heroes, but there are still a large number of pictures of each of you in the living rooms of middle-aged ladies. The fashion show vid you all did for charity is still the top seller in the cluster. That show changed the entire course of fashion on twelve worlds. Thank heavens. I was beginning to feel like I was putting on a box instead of a suit."
"The clothing styles reflected the attitude toward the Fed. They were boxy and sharp-edged, no allure at all. They said your people weren't ready for Fed membership. Until we got to this world. The flower girls and Loris were already changing this one."
"How are they?"
"You understand it's been longer for us."
"Believe, but not understand. Those two and that one are truly worried. That bunch just want to be consulted. The lady in dark blue is your biggest challenge. She's firmly convinced you could bring war here. She wields a lot of influence."
"Hmm. She seems to have an eye on Pierce. I'll put the Builders on it. If she can be convinced, they can do it. Now, let's see. Mary and Sandy had twin boys, then she gave Dan a son and Tel a daughter. Lily has three boys. Turk, Dan and Tel are daddies. Heather has a boy, Cal's. Rose has one boy too, Tel's. In all, we have forty-one recent additions to the family. Hober, we're going to slip out by ones and twos. We've been invited to be cheering section for a group of budding soccer stars."
"Triz Meyer-Jordan's team. I know Loris was anticipating introducing her to you. Hers is an interesting story."
"I get the impression I should ask for it."
"I'm glad you asked. Triz is the life's work of a group of geneticists, but they didn't think of her as an experiment. She's a disappointment in only one way. She doesn't like to lead. They chose each one of her genes. She's got nearly every human genotype. I know one of the contributors. He's an explorer. He handles high grav better than any other human I know. Another was a woman who acclimates to extreme temperature well. The list goes on. She's fully human and more than human. She's got more spirit and drive than any other human I've ever met and Loris is the only one she's met who can keep up with her in a conversation. I think she's going to be drawn to you Gallants. Loris is SURE of it. We both think being around you would be really good for her. An opinion, of course, but since Loris shares it, I'm sure it's correct."
"I understand she's quite small."
"Tiny, but I doubt any man but you Gallants could take her in any form of combat. She's a champion polo player and coached our ski team for the cluster games. Loves children. Soccer isn't the only sport she coaches little ones in. She's got the equivalent of six doctorates. Gallant, she's eighteen."
"Oh, my. No wonder Dutch is impressed. He says she's beautiful."
"She is that. Some of her size has to do with growing up in one point eight nine G, but her features aren't flattened, so I think most is due to the fact her primary ancestor is an exceptioanlly small man of Asian descent. Of course, that's not the only thing exceptional about him. Another is !tKung. He's the one who can live and work at over two G without serious problems. A lot of her physical characteristics come from them. She has a slight epicanthic fold. Her dark skin is part of her heritage in climatic adaptability. She's sun-darkened now. She's fairer in winter, but still a rich chocolate. She does NOT sunburn. Gallant, we believe what the scientists did was wrong. They took biosamples and didn't tell the contributors what they were doing. Loris, basically, rescued her. She found out what they were doing on Ramses Six and put a stop to it. Triz was fourteen when the station was shut down. She has a few leftovers, but not bad. Her excellent mental health was the reason rehab sentences for the geneticists were light, but I'm still a bit surprised she and Dutch hit it off. She's rather stand-offish with most men."
"My son recognized that, probably because Loris thumped him to attract his attention to it. And I think 'hit it off' came with two noses in the generator compartment of SEVERAL scoots and cars. Hmm, Avis is close to the door. I'm going to see if we can slip out. I'm dying to drive my new car. Later."
Dutch, Dez and Turk pulled into the parking lot and were immediately surrounded by children. The car was the attraction. Very few had seen one up close, but most recognized the Hanlon Hawk. A few of the older boys probably had pictures of one in their bedroom wall holo-program. Dutch spotted Triz and headed her direction.
"You were right. The car puts a gleam in young eyes. Triz, Dez and Turk."
"That's some outfit, Dez."
"It HAS seen a lot of wear. I wear it in my lord's service. Most of the blood on it is mine, but some is his."
"We bleed on each other a lot. Turk?"
"A nice relaxed bunch. I'm comfortable. That clock says match in twenty."
"Good. That gives us time to meet the team and hand out ices. Oh, I do have them, Triz."
Dutch had a great time pulling ices from nontime and handing them around. Triz was a bit surprised. He'd said he liked children, but she hadn't expected him to be quite so comfortable with them. She grinned when more of the big men arrived and waded into her crowd of kids. She recognized most of the women with them and liked them. She looked up at the huge, beautiful, man walking toward her. He could only be Dutch's brother Clete.
"Hi, I'm Triz. Dutch says you're who I have to talk to about learning your training routine."
"I want to learn the way Dutch said you've converted high grav strength to speed. I like soccer as a sport, but we seldom have enough to play."
"Good for teaching you to think in terms of body movement."
"I'd love to play flit with you."
"It's a game played in null-G in a transparent cube. There are sudden air currents and we usually have to work out where we can hit without going through. You're penalized for holding the ball or another player. Team with longest possession when the period ends wins. I was thinking you could use any of us as an extra wall. Played with a real hotshot they called Blitz. She was about your size. She won us a tourney. I'll bet you'd like the game. It's rough."
"Where? When? Now? I'm ready. We could build a court. How many players?"
"Hang on. Ace, Red, the lady has an idea."
"Hi, I'm Ace. Fairest lady, your plan has the aid of the Builders. Plan on."
"Clete was telling me about flit. I was thinking about building a court. Null-G isn't that difficult. Define the area and run a field. The materials should flex, but not break with your weight. That maintains the challenge of computing speed into the sides."
"Perhaps make that flexion variable. Gives us heavy boys an advantage. We're the best at math. Hi, Triz. I'm Red. Ace is the architect. I'm the engineer. The two headed this way are Mick and Pierce. Mick will do the real math and Pierce will get us everything we need and put on the finishing touches."
"Match time. We'll be taking your team for pizza. We'll talk then."
"Sounds good, Ace. Thanks. You know, dealing with you is like giving an idea to Loris."
"We have never found anyone else we prefer to work with. We think alike. A good idea should be put to use. Yea team."
"Thanks. See you guys after."
"A new house to do. So you want a flit field, Clete."
"Didn't realize it until I told her I wanted to play on a team with her. Ace, she's really different. She feels like she belongs among us."
"That's what Loris told Dad. Our size bother her?"
"Not a bit. What's bothering you, Mick?"
"She's got full telepathic barriers and she has no idea they're there, Clete. Should we tell her?"
"I think we should talk to Dutch about it first, but let's wait a bit. Let him just enjoy the kids. They're good. She's a real good coach. Those kids adore her. I'll bet she can dance. Well, I'm going back to my seat and watch. I left India holding my ice."
Dutch had a marvelous time with the children. When they went for pizza, Dez rode on the scoot with Turk. He took the small boy who was in love with his car with him. Triz observed them closely. Loris had told her she should be part of their family. She didn't know if she wanted to be family, but she was beginning to want to be a knight.
The knights took their ladies home. Dutch, Dez and Turk bid Triz good evening and went out on the town. They enjoyed themselves, but headed back to Peaches fairly early. Dez moved her to the house and paced until Dutch and Turk drove the car and scoot into the drive.
Dutch slept about two hours then ordered Dez to bed. Sometimes he took his job as guard a bit too seriously. Dutch had awakened to find him standing at the side of the couch with his sword in his hand. The others started arriving shortly thereafter. They still had several cars in the city and made the trip back in one of the ships to get them. They'd gotten the consensus of approval they needed. Pastora would be where they prepared and rested.
* * * *
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved