"What are you preparing there, my hero?" "I'm going over the regulations about uniforms, Auntie." "What's wrong about it?" "Nothing, just making sure it's doing what it's supposed to do." "I have a Telbun for that." "Your Telbun's taken enough of my slack, I need to return the favour." "My Telbun hasn't been on 80 hour shifts, except this last week. You're the one overdoing it. I'm surprised Flora hasn't given you a hard time over the paternity leave you're still owed." "How much?" "Five weeks, or you can take fourteen two-day weeks or twenty-five three-day weeks." "Flora'll have to approve that..." "If she denies you any, send her to me. I'm owing you both some time, you didn't have to do that, for Shen." "My half-brother deserved that, and more." "Do you think it's safe to say it out loud?" "They can't use it against him anymore, and they hate me and you, and have from the date we were born, for being born what we are... If you see a good reason to keep silent, I will, but I do not see a point, myself." "Hmm, I'll give it a think, but I can't say you don't have a point. They hadn't started hating on Shen yet, because his parentage was still secret." "And now they'll get more desperate in their attacks against me and Bihar." "Bihar? Not Flora?" "An attack against either of us is an attack against Flora, they'll learn that to their sorrow..." "Oh, quite. How's Robyn?" "Back in her cat tree, last I checked." "What did she win a fight against?" "An invader. That's being kept secret." "What?" "Her, Jor-Jie and Shibué cornered an invader, he's in the prison infirmary right now, thanks to all three." "Jor-Jie's claws?" "Claws, teeth, and Robyn's same, were matted with the invader's weird blood, he's one of the horny ones, with orange blood." "And Robyn?" "Basically tore a hole in his windpipe, from what I can tell, while Jor-Jie made sure his hands stayed as far away from Robyn and Shibué as possible, biting them off, one at a time if she had to." "And Shibué herself?" "Your bodyguard used five different martial arts blows on him, which he replied to with blows of his own, broke her arm, his own leg is snapped like a twig, it's unclear who did it, but my money's on Shibué doing that, just from a leverage perspective, unless he fell on it, his leg weighs about as much as Robyn and Jor-Jie combined." "Oh, a stout one too?" "Yes, he was very big and strong, clearly a soldier, we're investigating the markings on his uniform, he may either be a spy or a military officer." "Their spies have markings?" "His uniform was clearly marked with the invaders' symbol, maybe more of an action directe type." "Oh, special forces?" "Who knows if they organize them the way we do?" "Well, if those symbol recognition attempts bear fruit, we'll know." "Point, anything else?" "My hero, you don't get 'dismissed', talk to me." "Robyn was heading to my place..." "Yes, because the kits were there. Grainea led her there, it's on camera. That's why I asked you to move into the palace, not so much that it's not secure, but that trying to secure two places is going to be so much more difficult." "Oh, so by moving everyone into the palace, we are simplifying the defence, I get that. But... excuse me for saying this, Auntie, but I've yet to catch an invader in my staff, they're all palace staff..." "What? Even this last one?" "Jor-Jie spotted him, he was blocking the garden gate of the palace, heading to number 12." "Which is not on the way to your place..." "No, and not on the way to Linni's place either, nor to State..." "Why are you telling me this?" "I want to propose inverting your strategy: let's move out to Dunkehl." "Why there?" "No reported invader activity, within the Circle's stomping grounds." "What do you hope to accomplish?" "I think the invaders are hunting something in the palace, not you." "Why do you say that?" "If they wanted to catch you, they'd infiltrate your flight crew first." "It's so obvious, what makes you think they haven't tried?" "It's so obvious, we've caught them in a few places, but never there, we've not caught them even trying a proper encirclement net either..." "So what are you saying?" "If you are the target, they're shockingly incompetent... My money is they want something in the palace, we let them have it, but ambush them coming out, then negotiate for whatever it is..." "You think the lifeguards will stand for this?" "If you don't ask for reparations, I know they won't, but maybe..." "Point taken, getting them to admit guilt might go a bit of a way with our folks huh?" "Lifeguards are on the edge between soldiers and police officers, especially First Meihomei. They do know it's riskier than a regular posting." "What would I do without you, My Hero?" "Ugh, do you have to sound sarcastic when you say it?" "I don't, at least, I don't mean it in a sarcastic way..." "So many repetitions, so little actual oomph, it's starting to sound empty... Try only every other time please, maybe it'll be more believable." "I'll try to keep that in mind, my hero." "So you are moving to Responsible Disclosure?" "No, let's change it up, move everyone to Garay, not enough room in your little Veneer, not for me." "What?" "Veneer, it's a small city, I'd be locked in if I tried not to be recognized, if your theory is correct about the palace, I can go anywhere that's not Megamisama." "Ok, I didn't see that coming, why do you want to move the kits so badly?" "I don't, but I don't see a good way to avoid it. Those kits love you and Linni, but they're famous where you live. At least in Kimagure, I can get lost in the evening fishing crowds." "And you won't miss Shen's tomb?" "Kimagure's not an hour further than Veneer, if I need a quick trip, I'll load up the hypers." She paused. "Reminds me what a certain hero was doing, going 400kph in a 100 zone, although much less environmentally-friendly." "Ugh, Flora told you about that?" "And Senya, Shibue, Firrson, Mikhala and Nellun. That got noticed." "What, even Nellun?" "He had to pay the fines, said he was worried about the demerits..." "Ugh, really, really not my intent." "You're my heir now, you can't play loose with the law like that now." "And you can?" "A Hyper's a plane, takes up a plane spot in traffic control, not an aircar's... There's no speed limit for hypers, silly. But your stunt almost lost you your ability to escape... I know that's not your intent, but it would have hurt you badly..." "You're so right. It would have knocked my act right out of the park, if I had to pretend I didn't have an exutory for Flora's death, while I had to pretend she was dead." "That didn't work, by the way, it's counting towards your theory. If the invaders were smart, she'd be a priority target. So would Maelle." "And Valias?" "Valias barely leaves her office or the tunnel between our offices! If anything, she's proving your point." "What if..." "What if?" "What if they are hunting for something under the palace? I mean, they're always trying to get in deeper." "No bet, so far you're closer to divining their intentions than anyone else I have, and the Apihmei of Kagomei and Meihomei's secret keeper have floated this idea, just with much less conviction than you can muster, on a bad day. My hero, your idea of brainstorming seems to be: 'This brilliant idea no one else but me believes in.'" "I believe, Flora believes, we're good at that." "Shibue and Jor-Jie's patrol reports back you up, I'm not convinced, but it's more than anyone else's got so far. If anything, your results are superlative, after capturing more invaders than anyone else except for Valias, Maelle, Flora and Shibué." "I'm sharing some of those, but they're my senior officers..." "Half of them credit you for it, it's on the record that you're the one with the ideas on this." "I'm humbled." "You're also the only one to capture an invader in single combat." "I did my best, and is he cooperating?" "Somewhat." "That's something at least." "He's giving us erudite classes in their political system, some of which we're put to use, diplomatically." "Linni or Luci?" "Both, they're both working different agents we've identified, so far it's yet to bear fruit, but the agents don't act like we're up the wrong tree, either." "Oh, so a negotiation?" "My hero, you've done enough, get some rest. Take some of that paternity leave, you've got Bihar to catch up on, and I'd authorize you some for the kits, since you're taking as much care of them as Linni and Shibue, who are after all, on hannabrid." "I'm afraid their formative experiences aren't me or Flora, but Bihar, who has an interesting vocabulary: scratchy, fluffy, cute, purry." "She's so cute, I'm so glad to be her great-aunt." "You're also her step-aunt, at this point." "What?" "I'm Shen's step-brother and half-brother. She's crossing generations, when you're not careful." "No, we're not, Mikhala's my sister, and your mom, so she's my grand-niece, not my step-grand-niece." "But I am Shen's half-brother, and her father." "That tree isn't more complicated, Bihar is Dan's grand-daughter." "Doesn't that make her your step-grand-daughter?" "Hmm, you're thinking too hard, having her my natural grand-niece overrides being my step-grand-daughter, at least according to Kagomine law. Now if she was my grand-daughter, it wouldn't. But blood overrides chosen family, because blood causes so much more trouble."