In Which Silence Is Observed
I was a little surprised to see Dee come into the dining hall for breakfast, but even more surprised to see her without an escort… the last time I had seen her, she’d been accompanied by a novice from Ceilos who had been given the impossible job of keeping someone who outranked her in every way from going about her daily business.
“I have reached a compromise with my guardians,” she said, by way of greeting. “If such a word applies when they haven’t agreed to my terms and I haven’t agreed to theirs. But they cannot prevent me from doing as I will and I cannot prevent them from doing as they must. It would be wise to assume that any words that can reach my ears might also reach others.”
She very pointedly avoided looking at anyone as she said this, her gaze fixed in the middle of our table. I resisted the urge to look at Amaranth. I really don’t know if she did the same with me.
“I don’t think I saw you around Harlowe last night, Dee,” Amaranth said conversationally.
“I did not think it considerate to subject the novices to dormitory life,” Dee said.
I had a feeling that the accommodations in Harlowe were actually pretty roomy compared to what the Ceilos novices were used to. Space tended to be at a premium in underground settlements, and low-ranking… or high-ranking, according to their reckoning… members of a religious order didn’t usually get a lot of premiums.
Dee’s real purpose for staying away more likely stemmed from the same source as her oblique warning: she wanted to respect the privacy of her neighbors. Being her nearest neighbor on one side… and knowing the eagerness of the Ceilos delegation to pin things on anyone but Dee… I appreciated it.
Though I did wish that Dee by herself was able to maintain her Harlowe residence… having a telepath with elven hearing nearby would make it harder for Trina and company to snoop.
“So where are you staying?” Amaranth asked her.
“There is some ‘apartment-style’ housing on the southwest end of campus that is customarily reserved for seniors,” Dee said. “Some of the foreign delegations were already staying in empty suites. When my shadows learned that the women’s quarters in Harlowe are not appreciably more tranquil than the men’s, they requested lodgings there… I said appreciably.”
The last part… and the look of irritation on her face… made little sense until I turned to see where she was looking and realized she was talking to Steff, who had just entered the cafeteria. Not only could elven ears locate a voice from across the room, but elven voices were very good at locating ears over similar distances.
“Are you sure you didn’t bend the truth a little?” Steff said as she came within normal conversational range of us.
“I’m quite sure I have a better idea what levels of tranquility a novice of my goddess would appreciate,” Dee said.
“If you say so,” Steff said.
She seemed to be in a very good mood, and as far as I could see she had every right to be. She looked incredible… almost as radiant as Amaranth. She even looked slightly flushed and out of breath, which was not a normal look on her at all. She must have got quite a workout before breakfast, I realized. She’d had a few days to get used to the changes and recover from the stress of it. It was only natural that she and Viktor would be taking advantage of her renewed energy levels.
“Oh, what’s that blush for, Mack?” she asked, as I realized I was thinking about Steff and Viktor together.
“My mind’s just wandering a little,” I said.
“I don’t know if you can call it ‘wandering’ when it paces back and forth in the same place,” Steff said.
“This is really kind of new ground,” I said.
“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, Steff,” Amaranth said. “Just don’t overdo it.”
“Hey, the only thing that’s really changed is I’ve got more padding than before,” Steff said, sticking out her chest. “Thanks again, Dee.”
“Do not mention it,” Dee said.
“No, really… thank you,” Steff said. “I don’t know… I mean, sincerity’s not actually my strong point, and neither is gratitude, and we’ve never… I’ve sometimes… I just… oh,” she said as she realized a little belatedly that Dee had been speaking literally. “Um… oh, you might want to inhale that bacon a little slower,” she said, turning towards me. “Your guy was on his slow, plodding way over when I was stepping inside the union.”
“Thanks for the tip,” I said. I hadn’t realized I’d been eating all that quickly. If anything, I was just eating more than the others because I hadn’t had anything to say.
Well, Two wasn’t talking, either, but she was just a slow eater.
Ian did catch up not more than a couple minutes later. He slipped in next to me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. It was nice, comfortable… there was a little moment of hesitation right after he did it, like he wasn’t sure how I was going to react, but none beforehand. I took his hand in mine and tried to give him a little smile, but I ended up looking at the table while I did it.
He wasn’t the only one who had little moments of self-consciousness.
It seemed like he got the idea anyway.
“Um, hey… did you guys watch the news this morning?” he asked.
“How often do we watch the news?” I asked. Sure, when something big happened and we heard about it we’d go run and find a TV, but it wasn’t like we had one in our room.
“Oh, right,” Ian said, rolling his eyes. “The news is boring and only icky grown-ups watch it.”
“Where did that come from?” I asked.
“Where did yours?”
“Maybe it came out a little sharper than I’d meant it to, but there’s no reason to act like I’m behaving like some kind of a child,” I said.
“Come on, Mackenzie,” he said. “You do kind of have a… an immature outlook sometimes.”
“Right, the comics you read are so much more sophisticated than the comics I read.”
“I’m not critiquing your reading habits,” he said. “Or at least the fictional ones. Given the kind of serious shit you’ve been swept up in, it wouldn’t kill you to pay a little attention to the world.”
“I think my outlook’s been plenty mature lately,” I said. “I’ve been dealing with things pretty well I think.”
“Then why did you look at me like I was from an outer plane when I asked if you caught the news?”
“Because you should know that I don’t watch it,” I said.
“Yeah, well, anyway… Leda’s family is coming to Prax,” he said. “Flying in… they can’t gate in or out of the Shift, and I guess they don’t trust gates at all because of that? That was the impression I got, anyway. I kind of wasn’t paying attention until I realized…”
“So you weren’t watching the news, either,” I said.
“Baby,” Amaranth warned.
“Okay, yeah, I wasn’t,” Ian said. “Khersis, Mackenzie, when I asked if you’d seen it, it was a question not an accusation.”
“Well, when I asked how often I watched it, it was a question, too,” I said.
“Mack, baby,” Amaranth said. “You are being childish, even if Ian is responding in kind.” She looked at him. “This is something you both do. It’s all very well and good for you to encourage Mack to grow out of it, but not if you’re doing it at the same time.”
“I don’t think I was as… okay, point,” he said. “Sorry, Mackenzie.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“This could mean even more pressure upon the authorities to resolve the matter quickly,” Dee said. “Which would only be a good thing for any of us if accompanied by pressure to resolve it correctly.”
“Except for me,” Two said. “My friend Hazel says we’re beneath suspicion.”
“Well, yes,” Dee said. “But official pressure has already pressed upon you nonetheless.”
“This is the funny thing,” Ian said. “They were talking about some rumored big break in the case. The news people were all speculating about whether or not this was connected, or there was anything to it.”
“When did they announce this?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Ian said. “I’m not sure there was an announcement… they were just reporting that the rumors that the royal family had flown out of the Shift early this morning had been confirmed.”
Early this morning…
It could all be a coincidence, but if their departure did relate to the supposed “big break” and said break had occurred overnight, then it was remotely possible that Lee’s plan was already in action. If not, then it was possible that the tip would be moot, anyway.
Though as Dee had noted, a quick resolution wasn’t the same thing as a correct one… it was entirely possible for the big break to have little or nothing to do with the truth. What would happen if the information from Lee’s high-powered client came to the authorities’ attention at the same time that they were wrapping some scapegoat up with a bow for the Shifter royals? Even the possibility that someone else would take the blame made me glad that I’d done something with what I knew.
It was just possible that Lee’s little sleight-of-hand would improve the chances of justice being done. If Mr. Embries was so important as to have a law firm at his beck and call, and was eager to claim the reward money, then he could at least create some discomfort for the Imperium if they tried to pass something else off as the official story.
There were a lot of ifs and a lot more uncertainty, but I had to trust that Lee knew what he was doing. He wouldn’t have suggested this course of action otherwise… even though he stood to make a lot of money for a more important client.
That wasn’t exactly fair. Lee had taken me on as a client with no guarantee of payment… he’d always tried to do what was best for me regardless of the outcome for him. He’d been upfront about the fringe benefits he’d reap for going to Embries with the information. He’d also made a good case for it being the best way of keeping me from being dragged back into the investigation. It was a good plan.
“So?” Ian said, and I realized that while I’d been thinking no one else had been talking, either. “What do you think is going on?”
“As I told the others,” Dee said, “it’s best not to assume anything you say in front of me will go no farther.”
“Ah,” Ian said. “So no talking about anything important. I got it.”
“We can speculate, though,” Steff said. “Who do you think they’re going to pin everything on? At least we can be sure it’s not any of us.”
“How?” I asked.
“Because we’re all walking around free as birds,” Steff said. “Birds who walk.”
“Freely,” Two added, with a nod.
“Birds who walk freely around campus,” Ian said. “If Dee’s under surveillance, all of us could be. If Gregory wanted to grab any of you guys… any of us… he could do it.”
“If it’s a frame-up, I’ve got a feeling it’ll happen in spite of Inspector Gregory, not because of him,” I said. “But I think Steff’s got a point. Yeah, they could take us in at any time, but why wouldn’t that time be now? Or before they invited the royal family of Mariinsky Lake.”
“Ian, did it sound like they were coming at imperial invitation?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, if they’re on their way because something did break that’s one thing, but if they’re coming on their own because they don’t like the pace of the investigation, that could be a little different. Anyway, if there’d been an arrest I doubt the authorities would be sitting on it.”
“You think this government has to tell us when they arrest someone?” Steff asked. “Honey, there’s naive and then there’s naive… did you fall off the back of the grain cart yesterday?”
“But they’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by going public if they’ve arrested a suspect,” Amaranth said. “The longer they go with no progress, the worse they look.”
“But maybe they figure a dramatic reveal is worth a little delay. We should check and see if anyone’s gone missing,” Steff said. “Anybody seen Shiel and… Green Shiel?”
“Oru,” I said. “There are enough empty rooms right now… oh, that reminds me. Dee’s friends aren’t the only people who are getting nosey. Steff, do you by chance have any extra noise-canceling cloth I can borrow?”
“I don’t have any extra-extra, but I think we can maybe get by without draping the outside wall,” she said. “Or we can try to stretch them some more… why?”
“Trina has apparently decided to minor in divination,” I said. “She’s getting her friends to try to listen in on me through Twyla’s wall.”
“Trina? With the eye?” Steff said.
“She has three,” Two said. “But one of them is bigger than the other two, so I could see how you would overlook them.”
“Isn’t she telepathic?” Steff asked.
“In a small sort of way,” Dee said. “It would take constant effort for her to keep herself open to thoughts from another room on an ongoing basis, and that is the last thing she would want to do if that room contained a mind of infernal origin.”
“That makes sense,” Steff said. “The word around Coombes’ Tomb is that she’s only a little bit more psychic than wet toilet paper. She just plays it up to be ‘interesting’.”
“Coombes… what?” Ian said.
“The necro building… Coombes Hall, really, but when the Emeritus Dean of Necromancy’s name makes a decent rhyme… well, if we were creative people we’d be in the Bardic Arts,” Steff said. “Anyway, I hear a lot of things echoing around the vaults.”
“Anyway… I don’t really like the thought of Trina knowing my business even if… things weren’t… you know,” I said.
“Well, anything to help a friend,” Steff said. “Or thwart a near-stranger.”
Ian and Steff both spent a little more time speculating about what the authorities knew or thought they knew or had planned despite not knowing anything, but I couldn’t have talked about what I knew even if we didn’t know Dee was being observed from afar. I cleaned off my plate in silence, and then went up and got another serving just so I wouldn’t be sitting there awkwardly. Anything else I might have talked about was kind of overshadowed by the things we couldn’t talk about.
It was kind of a relief when Steff and Ian finished. It wasn’t that I didn’t like spending time with my lovers and best friends, but I was looking forward to my first class of the day… I usually looked forward to Professor Goldman’s thaumatology lectures, but today was supposed to be a question-and-answer session in preparation for the comprehensive quiz on Friday. That quiz wasn’t worth any more points than normal, but it would reflect the sorts of things that would be on our midterm. Goldman had made it clear that the reviews were optional, but I wasn’t going to miss this chance.
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