“We need to prepare,” I said.
Derek just smiled. “I am preparing.”
“I meant going over battle plans and searching for weaknesses in our defense. Not eating sandwiches.”
“But they’re good sandwiches.”
I rubbed my forehead and counted to ten. “Derek, the most powerful military in the solar system has declared war on us. We do not have time for sandwiches.”
“Don’t forget Fierna,” Akane said as she pulled up a chair and sat down. She had been a bit annoyed ever since her capture by the Belians and subsequent release. She didn’t like losing, but then, who did?
I sighed. “Yes, and there’s also Fierna and that whole storm. On the plus side, I think this means the Belians will help us defend the city.” I rolled my eyes. “Now we just need to get the other hundred cultures behind us.”
Derek took a bite of his sandwich and frowned. “I fwoght thwat wath—”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
He swallowed. “I thought that was going well? You said even the Acheroni warlords are getting behind the defense. Silver and gold, even Wee Jas and Hextor are helping, right? Who else is there?”
“There’s a lot. For Acheron, the Cabal Macabre and Scourgehold are the exceptions, not the rule. Besides them and Nishrek, no one is helping in the slightest. They’re just boarding up their own doors, hoping to wait it out.” I made a face. “I was hoping this would finally force those idiots at Tintibulus to work with Clarke, but that looks like it’s not in the cards.”
Akane snorted derisively. I ignored her.
“But we got the angels,” Derek insisted. “And most of the vampires. The ones who listen to the Dragon, anyway.”
“Which is barely half. The ghouls, Levisans, Mammonites, Nessians, and Nosferatu are all ignoring his calls to unity. Not to mention smaller subcultures like the skulls, who want nothing to do with all this.” I shook my head. “The kemos are worse. We got the lupes and about half the ursas, but that’s about it.”
“And the giants are still dealing with the aftermath of Mjolnir,” he mused, before munching on his sandwich again. It did smell really good.
“Everyone’s doing their best,” I said, trying to ignore the food. “It’s just not enough.”
“So we might actually lose,” Akane said quietly.
“It’s a real possibility,” I admitted. “Even if we don’t, a whole lot of people are going to die. Oh, and if we somehow do manage to win, there’s always the chance that this will piss them off enough that they’ll just shell us from the mainland.” I smiled weakly. “We have no defense against anything like that. Nothing that will last long, anyway.”
Everything was quiet for a moment.
“Well,” Derek said as he tossed down his empty sandwich wrapper. “That settles it. We’re having a party.”
I blinked. “We’re what?”
He spread his hands wide. “It’s a beautiful day—”
“It’s cold as Maeve’s house, not to mention the whole announcement of war—”
“And we are strapping young individuals who need something to take our minds off everything—everything like the war.” He strode over and pulled me out of my chair with a smile. “Come on, let’s get back to the dorms. We can call people, get something started.”
I sighed as he pulled me across the street towards the campus. I could see it from here; despite being the middle of the day during lunch time, AU was completely abandoned. I couldn’t even remember the last time I went to class, with everything happening. “Derek, no one is going to want to have a party today.”
“Sure they will! We’ll have it on the roof, maybe just after dusk. Miss Nervi can cater.”
I glanced back at his bodyguard. “Akane, help me out here.”
She was checking her phone. “Have to go. Flynn needs me.” She flipped the phone closed. “Call me later. I think my kensei would like it.” With that, her body blurred slightly as she activated her speed, and jumped to the top of the nearest building—roughly a hundred feet straight up.
It bothered me a little that neither Derek or I so much as blinked at this. “See?” he said. “Akane thinks it’s a good idea!”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll go along with it, if only to prove you wrong. But the second Butler calls, we’re out. Understand?”
“Laura,” he said, eyes twinkling. “They’re not going to attack today. I don’t know crap about large-scale armies and all that, but I’m pretty sure it will take more than a few hours to get an army mobilized.”
True, but they could have delayed the announcement until right before they were ready…
We reached our dorm, Derek holding the door open for me politely. “I don’t want a huge thing, but I also want more than the usual crowd. There’s the Paladins, the retinue—especially Alex, he deserves a party more than anyone—and Akane’s kensei. Anyone else?”
I thought about it as we walked to the elevator, past Emily lounging in the booth like always. “There are some scientists from NHQ who could use a day off. Not Clarke, don’t worry. His idea of a fun time involves too many syringes.”
Derek grinned and pressed the button for our floor. “Point. What about Adam’s friends? He have anybody in NHQ?” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, the CS squad. They’d be good, right? They need a break, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure,” I said as the elevator began to rise. “Unfortunately, they’re still needed. There are too many dangerous people with powers running around. We need more of those men, not less.”
“Why don’t they just make more of those… countersong devices, or whatever they’re calling them?”
“Butler wants to make sure everyone who has one is completely trustworthy, not to mention competent.”
He grinned. “It’s not like they’re some ‘sarian secret. The blueprints got published on Fundie. Silk was as good as her word on that, at least.”
Yes, she did seem to keep her promises. I was still worried about her motives. Too many unanswered questions, too many things that could not be true. Trillions of years old? Destroying stars would only slow her down? She wasn’t an enemy, she was a goddess. You couldn’t fight a goddess.
Derek didn’t seem to notice my mind wandering. “Well, whatever, Adam probably treats those kids like subordinates rather than friends anyway. Inviting them would probably be awkward anyway.”
The doors opened on Derek’s floor, and we piled out. The walls still showed damage from the Rampage, both from a few uncontrolled powers and from Adam’s guns. The worst of it—like a few doors that had been broken down—had been repaired, but for the rest there were just more important things to do. Who cared about a few scratches and bullet holes?
Derek’s room was reasonably tidy, as always. He hardly ever spent any time in here these days, anyway, which helped. I was pretty sure Adam wasn’t even sleeping here any more, judging by his untouched bed.
Derek walked over to his laptop, opened it up, and started typing. “I’ll send you a copy of the invite, which you can send to the NHQ scientists. Same with Akane. Tonight at ten o’clock sound good?”
I shrugged. “Should work. What about Nervi’s catering?”
“Oh, she’ll deliver at any time.” He paused. “Hm… is it wrong to invite Simon and Seena?”
“Uh, no. Why would it be?”
“Well, Seena’s a warlord now. She has stuff to do.”
“Then she won’t come. Still nice to invite her.”
“Fair enough.” He tapped some keys. “Invites sent.”
“Of course, with such short notice, I doubt anyone will come.”
He just rolled his eyes. “What, because we’re all so busy right now? Except for Seena, I think we’re all pretty much just waiting for the ships to show up on the horizon. May as well wait together.”
I sighed and sat on his bed. “Maybe. But they could attack at any moment. We should—”
“We are prepared,” he said, turning away from his laptop to look at me. “You’ve given Butler your plans, and he’s using them as a guide. I have my role ready and understood, and even Adam knows his place in all this. Once the attack starts, yes, we will be needed, but right now we’d just get in the way of the people who do need to prepare.”
I groaned and flopped back on his bed. “You make entirely too much sense for someone who is suggesting we have a party while the world goes to hell.” I blinked. “Oh, speaking of which, Aramazd called, and he’s donating some toys to the attack.”
Derek frowned. “Who?”
“The new Power of the sibriex. He took over after Nhang got his head blown off by the Mals.”
He looked thoughtful. “…that wasn’t under Seena’s direction, was it?”
I considered. “I don’t think so. I know the Mals paid retribution, so whoever it was would be a matter of public record, but why would Seena kill Nhang?”
He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. Her life’s gotten a little weird since she became Nyashk. Or before, I guess.” He turned back to his laptop. “One second, I’ll look it up.”
“Is it really that important?”
“I guess not,” he said with a shrug, stepping away from the computer and stretching. “Nhang was never really popular anyway. I hear the ‘sarians barely charged anything, and the sibs didn’t complain.”
“I heard it was a class-1 fine,” I said. That was the biggest fine they could give.
He just rolled his eyes and smirked at me. “You know they could have done worse. Should have done worse, for a warlord and a Gatekeeper of Hell. Any other Power, and the culture would have demanded blood.”
Perhaps. Narek was—had been—a bit unique among the Gatekeepers in that no one really liked him. He was more the head nerd than an actual warlord or leader. Even Malcanthet had the Riven, her willing followers. For a certain definition of ‘willing,’ anyway.
“Anyway,” he continued. “The point is that partying here isn’t going to leave us any less prepared than if we hang out at NHQ. We’ll keep our phones on, all that. Butler will be able to call us when the invasion starts.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 268)
This is another attempt to avoid showing too much planning on either side before the war. Still not sure if I’ll show the party, since I’m not that great at that sort of thing.