The Port Novem crew were settling in, and Gematria (it would grind her gears to be called Aunt Sis, for some reason) was totaling our troop strength, when a Mage, a diplomat and a nun walk into the bar....
Right, time to back-track a bit. So – I got the call from Mama about a month before that I might be needed for a diplomatic pick up, and by the way had I managed a human form yet?
Now, Mama is not one to worry about visual appearances so much as social appearances, so I was understandably curious. I reported to the main office in Kitti, then Steelhead and Antiquity, and eventually found her behind the bar at der Hut.
“All right, why here? For that matter, why not send the address, or why didn’t you just tell me?”
Her eyes flickered to the street, and then she murmured, “This is not exactly an official request, since it is for family, but I do not wish to cause an incident by sending someone unsuitable. You are suitable for the mission, if visually distinctive.”
I put my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands, “Could you, for once in my life, give a straight answer?”
Mama said, “I need you to help escort a nun in a transport across dimensional planes.”
I stared at the bar top a few moments, and sighed, “You know, the frightening part is that - for those that know you – that statement was entirely comprehensible.” Sitting up and looking her in the eye, “Which members of the Steelhead SWAT need to get to the clan house?”
“Wrong direction, dear; you will get the co-ordinates for pick-up from your Aunt Kitla.”
I shook my head, “Right, I am still asleep in the boathouse and Wolfgang had released hallucinogens in the parlor again.”
“No, your reflexes are better than mine, and you will need an exorcist in the next day or so,” her eyes flashed momentarily, and she continued as if she had not paused, “…sooner than later. Go to your Aunt Kitla; tell her what I have told you, and what you and Gematria have been gathering.” She handed me an unsealed envelope, “This is what we can release from the office and from Uncle Nico for the background on what is possibly going to happen. No foresight, just extrapolation of existing data.” Mama then went back to polishing the bar, and smiled pleasantly, “Have a nice trip dear, and let me know when you get back.”
Her change to a chirpy tone had coincided with a flicker of movement down the street, and Herr Greegor entered as I left. I took a chance at finding Auntie at home and slid back to Harborside.
Auntie Kitla was in full rig when I got there, and still making arrangements for transport in her front hall. I nodded to the boys on the stairs, who were watching in varied states of study. With barely a glance at me she asked, “Do you have a more formal uniform?”
I eye-rolled and responded, “Back in a minute.” Good thing Lowenstein Station is just across the street, and most of my things were still there. Turned out and pressed for inspection takes only a short while if everything is ready, and Mama had apparently seen to it that my gear was taken care of as soon as I left the room. Then again, maybe it was not Mama at all, so I left a bowl of milk beside my duty boots, just in case.
Back at Auntie K’s tree house, I snapped to at the door (there not being much floor space left by the glowing sphere of equations in her parlor) and waited for her to acknowledge me. With a flick of her hand, she opened a door in the wards for me, and said, “There is a handy landing point, but I warn you, it is in a maximum security circle. We may need to wait for the sister to be brought to us.” I joined her on the spot she indicated, and in the studies I had gotten so far from Great-Uncle Nico, the 'Cubi would have called it the wingman spot - one pace behind and one pace to the right of the point. This was the position that would give me the best aim for a 200 degree angle to the front and side of us. I had unconsciously settled into the ready stance, and she brought this to my attention by saying "Respectful watchfulness, please."
I adjusted my posture as she finalized the equations, and suddenly the warm woods of the sunny parlor were replaced by grey cheerless stone, the circle there blazed to life as hers faded. Auntie Kitla's posture stiffened as the new circle flared to what seemed to be unusual strength, and a gravelly voice reached us from the shadows beyond the glowing runes, "Greetings, Master Sorceress; please wait while your escort arrives."
"What is the meaning of this, Sergeant?" Auntie's voice was cool, but there was a sharp undertone. I was about to suggest I wait there while she attended to business, when the voice spoke again.
"New procedures, Lady Kitlalmina. Please wait while..."
A new voice interrupted in a hiss, "We can't let him come in here with *THAT* in the circle!"
I shifted, and Auntie turned her head to quirk an eyebrow at me. In the complex and elegant language of the supercilium, she let me know we had encountered Goodman Rookie Armsman Git. I let my posture settle into Papa's spinal memories, and assumed the air of a veteran. It was perhaps a bit presumptuous, but not entirely wrong. I muttered in Europan, "If I am reading the circle right, I am not sure if I should be insulted or complimented." Auntie chuckled, just as the door opened and allowed sunlight to pour in, haloing a dark figure.
Back in the swing
6 months ago