Sister Time John Ringo & Julie Cochrane

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"This is incredibly stupid," Stewart said as he stepped into the car. "This endangers not just me but our children."

"Whom you have never met," Cally said coldly.

"For that precise reason!" Stewart snapped. "Do you think I don't care?"

"Given that e-mail," Cally said. "Yes."

"I sent that to prevent the danger," Stewart said, sighing. "I've become too much of a player in the Tongs to keep up this dual life. Other members watch me even if Grandfather does not require it. The Tongs are not much friendlier, internally, than the Darhel. If we are found out, it would mean not only our own lives but those of the children." He paused and looked at her stony face. Cally was apparently concentrated on driving. "It would mean yours. And I cannot lose you, Cally."

"So you dumped me to protect me?" Cally scoffed. "Oh, that's rich. I damned near got killed because of it! I was preparing for a mission, you moron! You think getting a Dear Cally just before a mission didn't put me in danger? If it hadn't been for George I'd have never made it! My head was, to say the least, not on my job!"

"I didn't know," Stewart said. "And I couldn't think of a better way to do it. In person would double the risk."

"Well, you can forget about 'risk' for the time being," Cally said coldly. "You're covered. My Lord are you covered."

"How?" Stewart asked.

"You're sure it's him?" Chang Pou said.

"He just passed through a coded door," the technician replied, waving at his screen. "It took a gene scan. It's him."

"Grandfather was sure he was meeting someone," Chang Pou replied, looking at the video footage. The Tong were well connected in the security system of Luna. Anything that security saw, the Tong could look at as well.

"Not so far," the technician said. "He's stayed to public corridors. He could have made a dead drop at some point, sent a signal. But you know how hard those are to detect."

"There is nothing here though," Chang Pou replied. "Curious."

"You've got somebody doubling for me on the Moon?" Stewart asked.

"Not . . . exactly," Cally said. "My sister, who is truly scary, is projecting a sort of hologram. Except that you can touch it. It is you to any simple examination down to a surface gene scan. It's just going around, doing things that you normally do. It's even going to do some business for you. Meanwhile, if you think meeting with me is tough, you're going to have to explain to Papa O'Neal why you haven't been by to see your kids. Not to mention trying to Dear Cally me. Not to mention marrying me in the first place without his approval. As if I needed it!"

"Since I'm finally going to see my kids, I can live," Stewart said, grinning. "And if we can patch things up—"

"Oh, you're not forgiven," Cally said. "You're going to owe me, big time. Get ready for lots of backrubs."

"I can deal," Stewart said, then paused. "Who is George?"

"Oh, don't even start . . . !"

"Sittin' on a dock of the bay . . ." Mueller muttered, looking out over the seascape.

"I thought you were under orders to not sing?" Mosovich asked.

"Ain't in the army no more, Snake," Mueller replied. "Haaarmy training, sir!"

"Okay, try to sing and I'm going to off you," Mosovich replied.

"So what the fuck do we do now?" Mueller asked.

"Oh, there's plenty to do," Papa O'Neal replied, grinning. "There's farming and fishing and—"

"You'd better have more use for us than running a plow," Mueller growled. "I did not throw away a . . . fifty-something year career to become a farmer."

"Killing bad guys," Papa O'Neal continued. "Fighting the Darhel . . ."

"That's more like it," Mosovich said, taking a pull of his beer. "Where do we start?"

"Going to have to find a place to hide you, frankly," Papa O'Neal replied. "With most of DAG suddenly descending on us, we've got an overpopulation problem. I'm thinking we might need to start up another island. So there may be some farming and fishing involved. Not to mention hunting Posleen. But we'll handle it."

"Just another day in paradise," Mueller said grumpily.

"Every day's a holiday," Mosovich replied. "And every meal's a banquet."

"Mike," Shari said from the kitchen. "Cally just pulled up."

"Oh, there will be a banquet," Papa O'Neal said, standing up. "We're going to serve the head of my grandson-in-law."

"I thought you were covering for my husband on the moon?" Cally said.

Michelle was sitting in the flower bed, holding one of Sinda's hands over a pansy.

"I can do that and this at the same time," Michelle replied. "I'm pretty good for a 'glorified engineer.'"

"Any news on the investigation into the attack?" Cally asked, ignoring the jibe.

"The Wise have stepped in," Michelle replied. "I was exonerated for my actions, including my actions against the guards and your forces, due to the nature of Erick's . . . unwellness. There is a portion of the Wise who disagree with my actions, who feel that it should have been handled by a broader consensus. The majority, however, simply want the situation to go away. The Tchpth, Darhel and Indowy senior leaders have, in rare combination, convinced the local human governments to ignore the occurrence."

"We're covered, in other words," Cally said.

"Well, the humans would still like to find out what happened to DAG," Michelle admitted, then turned back to Sinda. "Can you feel it? The tug of life?"

"It's tickly," Sinda said. "Like a flower in my head."

"All things are linked," Michelle said quietly. "This is not just a saying; it is a fact of reality. The universe is not so large as people believe. Indeed, large is an illusion. Everything is everywhere. At once. Everything is everything. At once. This is the first lesson of Sohon. Your daughter has the Gift, Cally."

"You mean Sohon?" Cally said. "Really?"

"Our father learned some of the most rudimentary abilities at the age of nearly thirty," Michelle said. "Oh, not much more than what I am showing Sinda. But it was an impressive feat. The Gift is hard to define. It is not carried genetically or even through proteinomics. Experience shapes it. But it must be present. Sinda could be a great adept in her time. She has the Gift most strongly."

"Oh, great," Cally said. "I've got a wizard for a daughter."

"She will never develop it here," Michelle said, looking up into the sun.

Cally shifted slightly so her sister was in shade.

"You want to take her with you," she said. It was not a question.

"One of our clan children, Mark, is . . . less gifted," Michelle replied. "And quite a handful. He seems to have gotten the full measure of the O'Neal chaos gene."

"Gets in fights?" Cally asked.

"He's learned not to engage in actual violence," Michelle said distastefully.

"Yeah, well, we'll see what we can do to correct that," Cally said, squatting down. "Sinda, Aunt Michelle is asking me to let you go live with her. She wants to send one of her boys to live with us. We could still see each other from time to time."

"I don't wanna leave Mama," Sinda said, suddenly frightened.

"Perhaps not yet," Michelle said, nodding. "I can understand the fear. I cried very much when I had to leave my parents. It was not a good time. But . . . can we talk about it?"

"Yes," Sinda said, lisping slightly. "Can we play with the flowers some more?"

"Of course," Michelle said. "Take my hand . . ."

Katund, Clan Leader of the Epetar clan-corp, was still in the midst of one set of breathing exercises when he heard his AID chime, "Urgent report for you, your Tir," it said.

"What is it now?" he was at his limit and controlling his temper with difficulty.

"The council respectfully notifies you that the Epetar Group has been found in default on the ship maintenance contract for the Eastern Fleet Detachment. Accordingly, this message is to notify you of contract termination," it said in its melodious but ultimately uncaring voice.

After a long moment's pause, the AID prompted, "Is there any reply, your Tir?"

Another long moment passed, "Tir?"

And another, "Please respond, your Tir."

It was still repeating its polite query when two of his Indowy body servants came in to see to his needs. The former Tir sat, still, in his chair, a dreamy but somehow horrible grin lighting his face as his glazed eyes stared off into the distance.

"Oh, my. Inform Tir Hmili immediately." The addition of the honorific was automatic.

"Should I send you some help?" the other Indowy asked.

"Please. He is not small. I'll need at least four others to get him through the bounce tube. I suppose the roof is the best place to store him until he is ready for disposal. Wait just a moment," the first Indowy stepped outside with his companion and shut the door, effectively shutting out the catatonic Darhel's AID.

"We must risk a message out. This could jeopardize the entire plan. Send it," he said.

Two very grave Indowy turned to their separate tasks.

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