Serena stepped off the plane and tightened her ponytail as she led her sister to the Customs Desk. //Hello, do we have to pick a specific line?// she asked the worker in somewhat flawed Italian. She had only started studying a few weeks ago. He pointed at his line and both girls got into it.
"Anything to declare?" he asked in accented English.
"Just my snacks," Serena said, handing them over. "I have to eat, I get sick."
"I just got done with being sick," Xandra said miserably as she put her two bags up onto the counter as well. "Mine are in the smaller bag."
He checked them and confiscated the beef jerky, then searched their bags. He held up a small necklace and Serena shrugged. "I'm due to meet someone important. Hence the ballgown as well," she told him, putting it back. "It was a birthday present when I was twelve from my mother." The man smiled at her. "Our father is coming on the next flight," she assured him. "We're here to meet the nun watching over us while we study at the Vatican." He lost his smile and checked them through, stamping their passports. "Thank you. Which way to the waiting lounge?"
"Through the doors. You can page in there," he told them, watching them leave.
"We're fourteen," Xandra told him. She smiled at the shudder. "Trust me, our fathers are fierce and our brothers are marksmen." She gave him a nice, pleasant smile before walking into the terminal. There were two priests waiting in there. "Did Sister Mary Catherine send you?" she asked. They looked confused.
Serena repeated it in Italian and they shook their heads. "Bummer," she sighed, sitting down. One of them said something about the Pope.
"Dudes, we're waiting on a nun and we promise not to maul him," Xandra told him. She opened her bag and pulled out a lollipop. "Want to page or call her, sis?"
"I'll do that if she doesn't show up in five minutes," Serena agreed. She heard a loud whistle and looked up as the overhead announced that the security brigade was going to clear parts of the terminal. "Maybe we'll page her now then," she decided, standing up. She and her sister shouldered their backpacks and carryon bags, heading for the information desk. //We're to be met by a nun named Sister Mary Catherine,// she said in Italian. //Could you please page her for us?// The dyed blonde woman nodded, paging the nun for them. A few nuns came over to check, but it wasn't her. Serena looked at her sister. "Cellphone?"
"Cellphone," Xandra agreed, pulling it out her pack. She hit the number for home. "Where were we supposed to meet the nun?" she asked her father. She laughed. "No, we paged, she's not here and the Pope's coming in so we can't hang here." She laughed again. "Okay, tell her we're heading into town, to the *big* place where she works, and to meet us by the main gate. Thank Uncle Philip for us." She hung up and turned to look at her sister. "We're going to go hang with Uncle Philip. Sister Mary Catherine is probably still at the dig." She waved at the woman. //Thank you,// she said in Italian. //If someone comes looking for us, we went to check up on our Uncle Philip. She'll understand.// She nudged her sister. "Money exchange?"
"I did it at home," Serena told her, leading her to the money exchange signs. She watched as her sister groused about the exchange rate. "Do you have your debit card?"
"Of course! I plan on finding something magnificent in real Italian leather, not that stuff they sell in the US." She led the way out to the taxi stands. "We're going to the East Gate of the Vatican," she told the driver. He looked stunned. "Our uncle is waiting on us outside it." Serena repeated it in Italian for her. "Knew I should have paid more attention," she said as the taxi took off at a breakneck speed. They had to grab onto the doors as the cab spun around corners without the squeal of brakes. They hadn't heard brake sounds the whole way in. Xandra paid him and they got out, gripping the wall to steady themselves as the cab sped off. They checked their bags to make sure they were still closed, then hiked over to the gate.
"Philip Callaghan?" Serena asked. The guard said something. "He said he'd meet us here. He's researching in the catacombs." They were pushed out of the way as a cavalcade of cars came their way. The Swiss Guard saluted and stood at attention. Serena nudged her sister when she saw her tapping her foot. "Stop it. We can be polite. This is their faith." The guard looked at them once the gate was closed. "We're not Catholic, our uncle is."
Philip cleared his throat and the guard let him out. "Girls?" he said, smiling at them.
"She wasn't there and the Pope just came back from one of his many trips to spread the word of his faith," Xandra told him. "We have no idea where the house or the dig is."
"I can show you where the house is," Philip said, giving them both hugs. He said something to the guard, making them laugh. "Come on. I'll even treat you to tea."
"As long as it's not boiled," Xandra told him, smiling at him. "I learned a neat new trick with my sword, Uncle Philip."
"Good on you, princess." He gave them both squeezes as he led them down the road. "Did the Cardinals' Procession bother you?"
"They didn't try and force us to change," Xandra said with a shrug.
"Yay," Xandra told her. "I can protect our native faiths from them." She looked down as a large dog ran up to them. "Hello, I've seen fur like yours on our brother's sweater," she said, petting it. It barked and bounced around them.
"Yes, that's their dog," Philip agreed, smiling at the mutt. "Let them be, they'll play with you in a bit." The dog led them to the wrong house, then happily came back to the main house when they went there. "I think most everyone's on the dig," he told the girls as he let them in. "Where is she?" he yelled, making both girls grab their ears.
"Hi, Uncle Philip," the little girl in the house called. She skipped down the stairs. "Ooooh, you two are naughty! Sister called and said many bad words about you."
"We were there but the Pope drove us off," Xandra told her, tickling her. She giggled and ran down to pet the dog. "We're going to hide here from the nasty Missionaries."
"Okay," she said happily. "I'll go tell the others." She hurried to the library. "They're here."
Philip made the girls a snack and sat down at the table with them. "Don't worry if you don't see anyone else. Most of the researchers here are involved in their work all day long."
"They're like you, only without the need to get up and wander while you read?" Serena teased. Philip swatted gently at her. She laughed. "Sorry, couldn't resist. After all, you're the one who taught me to read while I walk." Somewhere a door slammed and footsteps came their way. "We paged you," she told the nun coming in.
"I wasn't there yet, you two were early," she chided.
"Not our fault. We outran the big storm over Greenland," Xandra said with a shrug. "We would have stayed, but the Pope's people were getting a bit antsy about us. Apparently they think we're dangerous," she said snidely.
Sister Mary Catherine laughed. "No, not at all, dear. You're not at all like your father, dear." She gave them both hugs. "What sort of weapons did you bring?"
"They're being mailed tomorrow," Xandra told her. "Legacy courier services. My two favorite sidearms. One sniper rifle in case we need it. One sword so I can continue my practice. And a blow gun, because I did get Daddy's taste for quirky weapons."
Serena laughed. "They're bringing in my carefully transcribed journals and ledgers so I can do that sort of work as well."
"Good, then let's hope they clear customs before we leave tomorrow." She sat down to nibble with them. "This tastes so much better without the sand in it."
"It always does," Philip agreed dryly. "Is the engineer still sneering at your academics?"
She nodded. "Yup. Started on our security people."
"Can I lift him out into the woods and make him find his way back?" Xandra asked with a sweet and innocent smile for her uncle.
"No," the adults said together.
"You're to stay out of his way," Philip warned.
"He'd better stay out of mine," Xandra told him firmly. "I don't put up with leering or assholes. Or any combination of the two."
"Who leered at you?" the nun asked.
"The guy who went through our bags," Serena said, wiping off her mouth. "Did he take my earrings?" Xandra nodded. "I thought so. I'll have to write mom and tell her that tonight."
Phillip snorted. "She's not in any position to do anything about it," he pointed out. Serena looked at him. "Never mind," he sighed. "She'll probably steal them back or something." Both girls nodded.
"I'm sure we'll be surprised if a set of earrings show up suddenly," Sister Mary Catherine said diplomatically. "Did you bring a dress to meet with the Lord High Archivist?" Serena nodded, looking interested. "Good. We'll be doing that tonight. Xandra, did you want to come?"
"And be bored to death while guarding my sister?" Xandra asked. "I'd rather go find a street gang and talk them into playing soccer with me."
"We'll kick a ball around in the back yard," Philip soothed, rubbing her back. "Did we start our precautions?" Both girls nodded.
"What precautions?" the nun asked.
"We're both taking shots to stop our periods for a few months so we don't have to worry about them on a site without a lot of running water," Serena told her. She looked stunned. "Grandfather suggested it."
"At least it's not Precious, she has miserable ones," Xandra added. "She's taking it just so she doesn't have to suffer anymore."
"It's probably normal," Sister Mary Catherine put in. Philip shook his head. "No?"
"No. She's miserable. Has to sit in a bath all the time. She's got her mother's cycle and we tend to leave her alone during those times."
"Better her than us," both girls said together.
Brandon and Timmy stepped off the commercial flight and put on their sunglasses as they headed for the terminal. The flight attendant escorting them gave them 'you're adorable' looks as she handed them over to the gate guardian. Timmy handed over their passes. "We're waiting on our Godfather," he told her. "Dominick Doreheson."
She smiled. "You two are so cute," she told them. "So grown up." She paged the nice man for them. Little did she know that the man was an asshole. She did learn when he walked up to the gate, already scowling.
"Boys," the man said with a slight Russian accent.
"Bite me, Uncle Dominick. We don't control fog conditions. You could have chilled and gotten a beer or two," Timmy reminded him.
The man laughed. "I see you are like your sister."
"Yes, but Sister Mary Catherine is plagued with her at the moment. Can we go so I can set up and check my email?"
"Of course." He nodded, smiling at the gate guardian now. He steered both boys toward the luggage claim area. "How many bags?"
"One big one, duffle style. Daddy packed it," Brandon told him. He pointed at the carousel with their flight number on it. "It should come out there." He leaned against a pillar, watching as the luggage started down the belt, frowning when their bag didn't come down. "Timmy, tell me you didn't add anything," he groaned.
"Only the cable modem," he pointed out. He walked over to a worker. "Our bag's apparently been confiscated due to the computer gear in it. Where would we go to beat the hell out of someone for that?" Timmy asked politely. The guard looked down at him. "I'm a programmer, it's not like I'm going to be without my life's work over an internship."
"Through the yellow door to the red window," the guard said, pointing. "I suggest you try to hold in your anger a bit more, boy. They'll make your life a living hell if you try anything against them with a mean smirk."
"I take self defense with my sister. She's a dual blackbelt," he told him, walking away. "Through the yellow door to the red window." He hiked that way, letting his twin brother keep his bag. He tapped on it. "Did you confiscate my bag?" he demanded.
"Ticket, sir?" the guard said, sneering at him.
"Fuckwad, I just put it through the window," Timmy said with a same look. "You're interrupting my nap and my chatting with my girlfriend." He watched as the tag was looked at and then his bag was gotten. He opened it so they could search it.
"The scanners only picked up electronics."
"Yay them. How many people do you get for having a portable DVD player?" he asked, holding his up. He watched as they looked at the computer components. "I'm a geek, you guys. I'm here for an internship."
"Oh." They zipped it back up and handed it over. "We can't be too careful, boy."
Timmy lifted his sunglasses to look at him. "It'd help if you scanners could distinguish between a DVD player and a bomb. Think about how many less cranky people you'd have to see daily." He heaved his bag up and carried into the main area, handing it to their guardian. "Here. The DVD player got caught." Brandon groaned from behind his book. "Where's my bag?"
Brandon kicked it. "There."
"Thank you." He grabbed his bag and followed their guardian out to his car. "I'm here to be a geek, right? I brought plenty of gear just in case."
"That's fine. We'll be working on a VR simulation of breaking into a closed chest," Dominick told them as he popped open the trunk. A bunch of men with hands on their guns ran toward them. "Did you channel Xandra?" he asked as they were surrounded.
"Not yet. I'm about to." He looked at Brandon, who had dropped his bag into the trunk. "Okay, what's wrong *this* time?" Timmy asked, crossing his arms.
"You set off the metal detectors and kept moving," one of them said.
Timmy showed off the sticker the guy at the window had put onto his bag. "I just got checked! It's computer gear! I'm a techno-geek!" He was led aside and the bag was researched. By the time they were done, he was ready to thump someone.
"Timothy, calm down," Brandon said calmly. A few of the guards around him looked at him. "You guys are managing to piss him off and he's not going to be nice. By the way, you break another of my DVD's and I'm filing a suit against your group," he said coldly. He saw a familiar person out of the corner of his eye and looked at that way, his mouth falling open.
Timmy looked in the same direction. "Mom!" he said happily, walking over to give her a hug. Someone tried to stop him so he kicked his ass until he was whining on the ground and did it anyway. "Hi, mom."
"Hello, son," Willow said, smiling at Brandon. "Want one?" she asked, holding out her other arm. Brandon trotted over and got his own hug, the guards wisely didn't stop him.
Dominick cleared his throat. "Rosenberg," he said dryly. "Why are you here?"
"Because I'm about to do something nice," she said with a smile. She waved a hand and a set of earrings landed on them. "Can you please send these back to Serena? The Custom's idiot stole them." She pulled her badge out of her purse and put it in front of the head guy's nose. "My sons." He shuddered and everything was gently put back. "I'll expect it to work, or else I'm going to get a might bit pissed," she told him. "My son is my protégé." She hugged them both again. "You two be good. I'll write tonight." She disappeared.
"That was interesting," Dominick told them, looking down at the earrings. "Aren't your sisters going on a dig?"
"Serena's meeting the great nerd Archivist in Rome tonight," Brandon told him. He shrugged and reloaded their bag. One of the guards jogged away and came back with a DVD to replace the one they had broken. "Thank you," he said with a gentle smile.
Timmy looked at the guy groaning and holding his broken leg and arm. "I'm sorry I hurt him," he said as he got in. "I'll try to be more careful next time." He waved as the car took off. "That was interesting. How many times has she shown up recently?"
"Just that time to me, but Junior said he saw her the other day at school." Their caretaker looked in the mirror at them. "He was being bullied and she comforted him until Precious reminded the girl who ruled the school and the family."
Timmy laughed. "That's the only time I've ever seen her run away crying. She's been picking on some of the ninth graders. Her mother was not impressed with Junior in the least, but she hasn't bothered him since."
"Yeah, I think it was the ball of flame she helped him conjure more than anything though," Brandon put in. The car stopped abruptly. "Grandfather heard and sent her a nasty note," he assured the local Second. "It was handled."
"As long as Rayne knows," he said quietly, starting the car moving again. "Did Junior or did Precious do it?"
"Precious was teaching Junior when the girl came back," Timmy told him. "That's part of how she reminded the girl not to fuck with the family. She's a bit scared of us now."
The Second in Command looked back at him. "Does that turn you on?"
"No, but it's nice. That way I don't have to get in trouble for kicking the little creature's rear," Brandon told him. The Second nodded. "We got yelled at for that opinion as well."
"Good. I can't imagine what it must be like raising six of you."
"It's usually okay. We're pretty calm most of the time," Brandon told him. "So, VR of a box?"
"We're trying to figure out how to get inside without tripping the defense mechanisms."
"Cool. I'll look at the images tonight after we get settled in," Timmy told him. "Maybe I can figure something out." He shifted, resting against his twin brother's shoulder. "I need a nap or a snack."
"I know," Brandon told him, patting him on the leg. He looked at the empty front seat, frowning. "Shut up!" he said suddenly. "You scared him! Tell Richie to talk to Adam himself if he wants to force him to train me!"
"Um," Dominick asked.
"My angelic wardens," Brandon said, pointing at where he could see her. "I was supposed to be getting special training from Adam this summer, but telling him so spooked him and he decided to go on a long vacation."
"Ah!" Dominick nodded. "I can understand that. I'd probably run too if I got told I had to mentor one of you."
"Tell me about it," Timmy giggled. "My own mentor is presently trying to figure out how I rewrote that program so it's making funny noises at him." The car pulled over this time before Dominick looked back at him. "He pissed me off. I made it blow raspberries. He deserves it. Kana laughed." He grinned.
"I'm very glad you're not mine," he told them. "Will you behave while you're at my house?"
"Of course," the boy said together.
"We always *try* to be good," Timmy assured him.
Dominick groaned and decided to make a stop to stock up the bar for the night. Or for the summer, they'd probably need it.
Precious fluffed her hair out as she walked off the plane and out to meet her trainer for the summer. She bowed to him. "Master Kana. How nice to see you again."
He smiled and shook her hand. "It is good to see you whole and still on the side of good," he agreed. "Come, let us leave this crowded place for somewhere quieter and more casual." He grabbed her bag. "Just this one?"
"Oh, no," she said with a smile. "Aunt Buffy packed my clothes." She saw the shudder. "Then Daddy Oz whittled it down to a reasonable level. I've got two large suitcases as well."
"That's fine." He smiled and led her that way, going to grab her gear for her. "Did you remember to pack things to work out in?" he asked when he saw the usual sized suitcase.
"That's what's in the blue one," she told him. She patted them and let him grab a cart, letting the guard check their tags before they left. "Thankfully, I left most of the electronics at home. I carried my portable DVD player on."
"Good idea. Didn't everyone?" She shook her head. "Timmy?" he asked, wincing.
"Timmy," she agreed. "They went to Arizona to that house that tests the artifacts." She let him lead the way to the car. "He and Brandon went togther."
"Where are the others?"
"Junior's at home. The other girls are with Sister Mary Catherine." She laughed at his disgusted look, then looked off to the side. "Mommy!" she said, running toward her to grab a hug. "What are you doing here!"
Kana watched as the mother and daughter talked, not liking this but he couldn't exactly banish Willow. When Precious drug her mother back, he smiled politely at her.
"At least I didn't show up in the house," Willow said smugly. "I wanted to talk to her, tell her to be good and all that stuff. Remind her not to scare people with her gifts. Things like that."
Kana nodded. "Thank you. That was very nice. Did you need a few more minutes or should I send on a message when I report this to Derek tonight?"
She laughed. "Tell him to tell the boys I said hi and I'm not going to get impatient." He nodded, looking like he understood. "I'll give you another message," she said, stepping closer. "You keep her away from the demons," she said quietly. "She's still in training and I don't want her to have to slay already, Kana. Do you get me here?"
He smiled brighter and nodded. "Of course. I have no intention of getting that close to any of them. If we do, and she decides to jump in, I'll try to keep her safe."
"Good." Willow gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Because if something happens to my little girl, I kill you." She disappeared.
Kana wiped off his cheek. "Remind me to test that for magic later," he said, pointing the way to the exit. "Shall we?"
"Of course," Precious said, pushing her cart. "Demons?"
"A new case that just came in. We think it's a haunting." He led her to the car and let her get in. "Did she do that to the others?"
"The boys. The girls got themselves out of trouble for the most part and she *hates* Rome. She said it feels nasty there because of all of Brandon's friend's friends."
Kana smiled. "I'll have to remember that," he said happily. He let her fill the trunk then got in to drive. "Should we stop anywhere?"
"No, I should be good. As long as you don't expect me to eat sushi and you don't expect me to eat soy." He looked over at her. "I'm allergic. I doubt we want to rush me to the hospital?"
"No, that would probably get our house destroyed by your mother. Did you send a note to our housekeeper?" She nodded. "Excellent news. I'll make sure it's spread around. We'll let you get settled in and sleep off the jet lag. We'll start training when you wake up tomorrow." She nodded, settling into the small seat.
Serena shook the old man's hand, weathering his look over her young body and the slight raised eyebrow for her age. "I'm Derek Rayne's granddaughter," she told him. His face lit up. "Between him and my Uncle Philip, I've been handling their library for a few years now."
He led her away to talk to her, taking her away from the adults around her to talk to her. Philip and Sister Mary Catherine looked at each other and rolled their eyes, sitting down to nibble on the appetizer plate that had been brought for them by the old man's servants. "Do you think he's hitting on her?" the nun asked quietly.
"Probably," Philip agreed with a smile. "Young women like her, who look at him like he's God, aren't that common in his life these days."
"If they ever were," she pointed out. "Do you think he'll recommend her?"
"I can only hope so. I know she'd get funny looks if I did," he admitted. "The head over that program thinks I'm a stuck up snob." She looked at him. "He caught me on a bad day, when I was dealing with little snots who were tearing up the books."
"Ah. I've seen those sort before. The last one I saw I paddled." She smiled as the girl came back. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. He quit hitting on me when I reminded him that I was not only underage, but that I was jailbait." She made them a little plate and walked back to his side to talk to him some more. He was asking her nosy questions about her reading habits. "Uncle Philip, can I tell him about the diary I found?" she called.
Philip thought about it. "Yes," he said finally. "In general." He smiled at the nun beside him. "It'll be secret until it's presented," he reminded her when he saw her confused look. "Derek's said we're presenting it next month."
"Wonderful! Is this the DaVinci one or the other?"
"The other. She's been helping me translate recently."
"Another good thing for the house," Sister Mary Catherine agreed, sipping her water. She smiled when the girl looked over at her. She saw the unhappy look and stood up. //Excuse us, sir, but the young lady is still needed for another appointment tonight. If you're nearly done?// she asked in Italian. He glared at her. //She has to meet with Mr. Renault-Thorton tonight.//
"I am? I thought I was meeting with his head researcher," Serena said regally.
"I think it might be both," Sister Mary Catherine told her. "Hence you getting really dressed up."
The old man laughed. //I see. Yes, I will quit pestering the young woman.//
Serena frowned at him. //You are not pestering me,// she chided. //If you were, I am more than capable of walking away. I do it all the time from my siblings.// She shook his hand. //I hope to see you again next summer, during my next internship.//
//I hope I last that long,// he agreed with a smile. //Such delightful young women should be cherished, not chained to a bookshelf and a computer.//
"I prefer the old ways, personally," Serena told him in English. "I prefer the journal method when working on a translation. It allows me to track prior thought processes." She bowed. "I look forward to hearing your lecture if I'm still in town and can talk Uncle Philip into escorting me," she told him. Then she stood up. "Thank you for seeing me." She let Sister Mary Catherine lead her back to Philip's side.
\\Philip,\\ the old man called in Polish, his native language. \\I will write her a recommendation. Such talent as hers should not be limited to your organization. See that her education continues and she is not so limited.\\
\\I'll do what I can, but if she comes to us, I can't stop her,\\ Philip reminded him, smiling at him. \\I would never make her choose, but I will make sure she is known as an expert by the time she graduates. She'll get what I should have.\\
The old man laughed. \\Good, see that you do. See that she finds an understanding mate as well.\\
Philip shook his head. "That I leave to the children themselves." He led the girl away, a hand on her back.
She looked back at him and smiled. "Unfortunately, I'll have to search long and hard to find a good wife," she told him. He laughed. "I am my mother's daughter and she likes women more." She shrugged. "Sorry."
"At least have a child to pass on the gift," the old man told her.
"Of course. My fathers would be devastated if I didn't give them at least one grandchild." She waved. "Thank you." She walked out, careful not to get her dress wet in the puddle next to the car's door. She slid inside, letting her uncle slide in next to him. "Is he going to be pissed?"
"No, I think you've managed to be the one lesbian he can appreciate as a knowledgeable being," Philip assured her, patting her on the knee. "Don't go announcing it though, the higher levels of academia are still clouded with stuck up bastards."
"Yes, Uncle Philip," she agreed. "Who else are we going to see?"
"Renault-Thorton is one of our top researchers," Sister Mary catherine told her. She walked around and slid in to drive. "You did very well, Serena. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you." She beamed at the nun. Then at her uncle. "Can I get out of this dress and back into a comfortable one now? This taffeta itches."
Philip laughed. "Of course. We'll go home and let you change, then we'll take you and your sister out to dinner. You can change back afterward."
"If I know Xandra, she's probably already eaten the house bare. Or she's still swinging her nifty little sword around in the back yard."
Philip chuckled. "It's possible," he agreed, giving her a hug.
Timmy looked over as the house's control room door opened, waving at the guy walking through. "I think I found the chink to send through the micro camera." He got out of the way at the shove. "Hey, jackass!" The man looked at him. "I was sent here to help, not to put up with shit." He smiled at Dominick came in. "Get the putz out of my way, he's blocking my light."
Dominick held in his smile. "That's our Precept, Timothy."
"Yay. He shoved me." He shoved the man harder. "Thank you. Come look, Dominick." He got down again. "Have you ever seen those Discovery channel specials on human reproduction?" The man grunted as he squatted down next to him. "Well, they used a filament camera to catch how the cervix sucks up sperm at the time of orgasm, and to go in and watch the baby as it grew. It's about as thick as a hair. If we use this crack," he said, pointing at it but not touching it. "We could probably get a micro-filament camera in there."
"That's a good call, Timothy, but what if something's in there and we pierce the protections?"
"Then you get Brandon to hold onto it and he'll stubborn it back into place," Timmy told him, smiling at him. "He's like that. He's the only person cursed with seeing angels who can also use magic that Uncle Philip has ever heard of."
"Hmm," the Precept said, getting down to look at it. "How would we get one of those cameras, young man?"
Timmy looked at him. "Borrow, beg, or steal?" he quipped. "Or possibly buy since it might help in a lot of other matters. It's the newest level of spygear and it could be useful in other cases."
"We already have a small camera, but not that small," Dominick told him.
"Then call Cairo, they've got one," Brandon said as he walked in, reading a book. "Okay, I've translated two of the glyphs on the top. We might not want to know what's inside." He pointed at one. "That one's obsolete and probably not written anywhere if Uncle Philip doesn't know it. This one," he said, pointing at the next one, "says soul. Again, obscure and an offshoot of the older version of Hebrew, before it was modernized in Biblical times. The last one is a symbol that might mean curse, or warning. Depending on what the first means."
"So it's probably someone who's been cursed to stay inside there?" Timmy asked.
"That's what I'd assume," Brandon agreed, closing the book. "So now comes the hard decision. Do we really want to free this soul, if I got it right?"
The Precept looked at the boys. "Would inserting a camera help us determine that?"
"It could, or it could free it. I can't tell which until we try it and free the soul or not." Timmy stood up. "Anything from your buddies on high?"
"Not a bit. Both of them are off having fun poking Adam around until he gives up and finishes my training himself," Brandon admitted. He grinned at his brother. "I could try and call one of them, but I don't think they're going to want to help. Either that or we send a piccie to Xanny and ask her to bug Uncle Philip until he gives up and takes a long look at it."
"I like that idea," the Precept admitted quickly. "How long before you can digitize a good image and send it on?"
Brandon pulled a phone out of his pocket and hit a button. "Xanny, get Philip online tonight. No, I think we may have found a trapped soul, but the translation sucks ass because it's more archaic than we're used to dealing with and we don't want to let it loose in case." He smiled. "Sorry, I know how much you enjoy your time with sharp and pointy things. Yeah, from Arizona. No, I'll let Timmy do it. Really?" He smiled. "No, mom showed up and gave us a hug," he admitted. "Yeah, got us out from the armed idiots at the airport who were a tad bit miffed at Timmy."
The Precept looked at Dominick. "Should I have read that report already?" he asked.
"You could," Dominick agreed. "Tell her we could have used her lock picking skills if we are going to open this thing."
"Pfft. Junior can do it better," Timmy told him. "Uncle Nick's been teaching him since he was unpossessed." He took the phone. "What did mom say to you guys? Really? I guess she'll show up once you're out of Holy town." He laughed. "I know, I shouldn't say such things, but Uncle Philip will *never* make me a good Catholic boy. I like my woman too much." He giggled, a high pitched squeaking noise. "Really? That's *so* cool! Yeah, we'll chat in a few hours. Cool! Nah, you get dirty and test that new cover for the laptops. I'm enjoying the a/c here. Kick ass, Xanny, you deserve it." He hung up and handed the phone back. "Philip and Serena are due back in two hours, after meeting with the Lord High Archivist. Whoever that is. She'll be setting up her system in a few minutes and we can do a wonderful video for her." He looked at Brandon. "Can you narrate or do I get to?"
"You get to," Brandon told him. "He's less used to your style of narration. I'll send on pictures of the ideograms." He grabbed a digital camera and took clear pictures of the top and the small band just under the lid's closure point. Then he went to work on his own laptop.
Dominick looked at Timmy. "Did your mother teach you that?"
"No. I taught me that. Though I admit I got my more geekly tendencies from that side of the union. Between the two geekly parents, I got the better half of both, with mom's more focused nature. I will need a *good* video camera and a microphone if possible," he said with a shit- eating grin.
"We can do that," Dominick agreed, letting him run the show. If it backfired, Derek wouldn't blame them as much. Probably. He looked at his boss. Hopefully. He went to grab their video camera for the boys. He wanted to watch the kids work. He didn't know who had trained the boys, but at least they didn't trudge and whine about the work.
Xandra leaned back from the living room as the front door opened. "Philip, Brandon and Timmy need you to look at something. They think they've got a soul trapped in a box and they're not sure if they should try to scope the inside or not."
He walked in and sat down, turning off the sound.
She laughed. "Timmy did the narrating this time and the email after this is from Brandon, with a more detailed look at the top and all the word-type things." She leaned back and smiled at her sister. "How did it go?"
"Fine. He was impressed, told me to have at least a child to pass on the gift. Said he'd write me a referral and for Philip to make sure I got named a debutante in my future department." She slid down to look at the pictures. "Hey, that's kind of cool. It'd make a pretty jewelry box."
"It's keeping a soul, the most precious jewel of all," Philip said. He replayed it, this time with the sound up. He laughed at the fake French accent as the 'tour guide' led him around the outside of the box, ending at the small crack on the side. "Phone?"
"Check the other one first," Xandra told him as she handed it over. "Hey, Sister Mary Catherine. Are we leaving very early in the morning, or just early for us?"
"Just early for you. I refuse to go through Rome's rush hour for anything less than a death or a potential disaster." She sat down to look at the box. "Is that the one found in Egypt?"
"Syria," Philip corrected. He looked at the pictures and Brandon's best guess at translation, smiling.
"He got that one wrong," Serena said, bending over to point. "There's been a rubbed or cut spot there, that would leave another line and would mean 'demon', right?"
"Very good," he agreed with a smile for her. "You five together are going to be hell. We should set you up in your own research house."
"Eww," Xandra told him. "Having to live with Precious for all time?"
"I meant Junior," Philip said with a smile.
"I think he's going to like being a thief," Serena told him, leaning back again. "So we have demon, trapped, and a name?"
"A signature most likely," Philip told her. "An 'I did this' sort of mark."
"So, demon, caught, author's mark. Cool. Should they scan it?"
"I'd rather they encased it in ice and buried it in the Polar Caps facility," Sister Mary Catherine put in.
"Me too," Philip said, hitting the 'reply' button. The simple message would probably get a small laugh at least. He looked at the girls. "We were heading out to dinner, would you like to come?"
"I could eat," Xandra agreed. She stood up. "If I have to change, we're all shit out of luck, this is as fancy as I brought."
"I think we could find somewhere to suit your lower-class dressing urges," Serena told her. "Let me go find real clothes of my own." She carefully went up the stairs so she wouldn't trip on the long hem. Fortunately, she had packed a few good outfits for such occasions. She changed into one of her favorite dresses and a better pair of shoes, then grabbed her purse and headed back down to the family. "All done," she announced. Xandra looked back at her. "What happened?"
"Daddy was eavesdropping. Said the video file was too large," she said with a suppressed grin. "He sent out a dirty message to me and Timmy to behave."
Philip started to laugh. "It was rather cute. Timmy answered him back in hacker. I could only understand half of it but it was apparently quite vulgar. The next message came back in red text and came from your other father."
She giggled. "I'm sure they're feeling more parental now." She patted Xandra on the shoulder. "The time difference will work for you. Daddy won't be getting up in the middle of his night. Or ours." She pulled her sister to her feet. "Come on, I need food and shopping."
"I can do some shopping. I've been looking forward to some new leather."
Sister Mary Catherine cleared her throat. "I think your fathers heard you."
Xandra leaned down to look at the screen. Then she grabbed the keyboard and type in a response. 'My allowance is going to clothe my butt in leather or I'm going to start wearing Precious' old outfits to school. Pick which one you like.' The answer made her laugh. It must have been from Daddy Xander. 'Leather is better than dressing like a ho. Please pick something with taste or we'll confiscate it when you get home.' "Okay, log me off as eating and let's go."
"You can't wear leather on the dig," the nun said as she walked the girls out to the car. "Serena, you did bring pants, right?" She shook her head. "Girls, that's not practical."
"I've gardened in all those clothes, plus had to run through the woods. I know what I'm wearing," she assured her. "The same as Xanny *only* wears leather that she can fight in. Grandfather knows what we brought."
"Will we have to use a generator?" Xandra asked. Sister Mary Catherine nodded. "Okay. I'll make sure that I've got everything configured so it won't blow. Any other precautions?" she asked as she sat in the back seat.
"Not that I know of. What are you testing?" the nun asked as she got in to drive. Philip jogged out to join them, sitting in the front.
"I'm testing a cover for dirty and nasty conditions for laptops. I'm testing a new battery system for long life, and I'm testing a new set of camera tools for Uncle Nick. Including a little micro robot for really small spots."
"When did he give you those?" Philip asked.
Xandra looked at him. "Who said he gave them to me? Grandfather gave them to me before we left. Everything is in my carry on."
"Mine was filled with more practical things. Books, journals, breath mints and waterless soap," Serena put in.
"It sounds like someone helped you pack, besides your clothes," Philip told them. "Leather will be very hot, Xandra."
"Yay. I wore it all summer. I can sweat it in. I fight in it too."
"I know, but expect some funny looks," he told them. "Maybe we'll swing by a store that sells more practical pants."
"Pants are nasty and ungirlish," Serena told him.
"Get a few pairs anyway," Sister Mary Catherine told him.
"Yes, ma'am," the girls said together. They looked at each other. They could get through this even if they had to wear horrible pants.
Philip laughed, having caught their looks. "You'll live. You can wear leather and dresses on your time off."
"Yay me, but aren't I going to be the only security-trained person on the site for three months?" Xandra asked. Philip groaned. "No?"
"Yes," Sister Mary Catherine told her. "That doesn't mean we'll make you work every hour of every day, dear. You'll still get a few weekends off."
"Go us," Serena told her. They giggled.
Precious wiped the sweat off her forehead and bowed to her trainer. "How was I?"
"Impressive," he assured her. "You have a few figure faults and the like, but your style is excellent for battles and fighting. I would hate to have to face you in a real battle."
She smiled at him. "Just think, I didn't pull out the big guns."
"I'm appreciative," Kana told her. "Come, let us go upstairs so you can check your email and take a shower."
She took his hand and let him lead her upstairs. She laughed at the man trying to balance the book on his nose. "Try to tip your head back farther," she encouraged.
"It throws the rest of me off balance," he said with a shrug. "What do you do around the house?"
"I fight. I'm a slayer in training," Precious told him. He looked stunned. "The others have more important roles, I train so I can live a really long time."
"I guess that's a good thing," he agreed, watching her walk past. "I thought she was going to join," he told Kana.
"I'm Precious, not Serena," she called back.
"Oh!" he said happily. "No wonder. Where is your sister?"
"With Sister Mary Catherine and Xandra," Precious said, stopping to look at him. "She's presently being a wonderful book nerd on the dig Rome is running. You'll be seeing her next summer."
The man smiled. "Thank you. Are we going out to dinner tonight?"
"She refuses to eat sushi or soy," Kana told him. "If you can find somewhere suitable."
"Why not soy? It's very good for you. Especially for women," he offered.
"I'm allergic," she said with a one-sided shrug. "I don't want to go to the hospital tonight."
"All right, then we'll go to that nice Italian place tonight." Kana laughed. "What? You like it too."
"Yes, we do. Will we be allowed back in there?"
"Yes, they sent a request to see us again sometime," he told him, trying to balance the book again. "If we had work, I'd be doing something worthwhile," he admitted at her laugh.
"I think finding your center of balance is worthwhile," she told him, then headed into the computer area to check her mail. She missed his speculative look at her backside.
Kana punched him on the arm. "She's fourteen and Xander's daughter."
The man shuddered. "Then I'll be my usual charming self and make sure I lock my door," he told his boss. "Have fun with her."
"I plan on it," Kana told him. "She's got a good start on her training and is knowledgeable if nothing else." He went to make sure she wasn't having a problem.
Xandra walked onto the dig like she owned the place. Or more appropriately like it was her turf and everyone was a minor pack member to her alpha bitch. She found the current security person and nodded at him. "I'm here, let's chat," she said with a knowing smile. He threw his head back and laughed. "What?" she asked innocently.
"I knew you were going to bring life to this boring spot of sod," he told her, clapping her on the back. "All right, we've got a few gawkers, some press, and the idiot engineer. Which do you want to start on first?"
"Press. Easiest first," she decided. He gave her a look. "Have we roped off the area and set up a pass system?" He looked stunned. "Can't we?"
"I hadn't thought of that," he admitted. "Not a bad idea. I set up a registry and anyone can come on Saturday afternoon to ask questions of the good Sister and Philip." She nodded. "Did you bring the sentry system Nick promised me?"
Xandra handed over her carry on bag. "Here it is. All the new gizmos are in there, my dear." She pulled over a stool. "What about the gawkers?"
"Groupies." She giggled. "They always wanted to be archeologists, but mommy and daddy made them do more financially stable stuff."
"Well, gee, can we set them on a payment system and give them a corner?" she suggested. Someone outside coughed. "Sorry, not a good idea?" she called. Philip walked in. "Can we give them the top layers or something like that? Make them pay for the privilege?"
He patted her on the back. "I'll pass that on, Xandra. It's a brilliant idea." He smiled at their old security person. "What can I do to help?"
"We're going to be setting up perimeter alarms in a bit, you can help us with that," she offered. "I'm going to piss on trees, metaphorically of course, to mark my turf." He smiled and shook his head. "Okay, the last problem. Primadonna?" The security guy nodded. "Then we'll have fun," she said cruelly. She winked. "Six markers, able to be set at least six thousand yards apart."
"Good enough," the security person agreed. He looked at the rest of the stuff she had brought. "Micro robots, laptop covers. What's this?" he asked, holding up an obvious sex toy.
"The catalog said it was a massager," she said innocently. Philip cuffed her gently. "Sorry, I wanted to see what they did and this way neither father can butt in." Philip groaned and walked away. "Hey, with what we are, it's a thought," she called after him.
He handed it back. "I'll let you hide that yourself, dear." He gathered up the markers. "Let's walk the perimeter and I'll introduce you around. Most of the grad students are sweet and don't speak English, but they're very nice. We get along." She followed him, taking half of the markers to carry. They heard yelling and she headed that way. "You don't want to do that."
"Bet me," she told him. She walked into the tent and cleared her throat. "Shut up!" she yelled when the engineer started up again. "We're setting up perimeter markers now. That means there will be an alarm which will go off if you go past the boundaries of the dig. I'm setting up machine guns to shoot anyone who crosses them." She looked at the engineer, who sneered at her. "That includes you, buddy, and I'm not putting up with shit." She shifted things around. "Alexandra Harris-Osbourne. Security." He backed away from her and gave her a disgusted look. "Fine, then let me make myself clear. You fuck up, you fuck with me, or you fucking make my life difficult and I'm going to return the favor threefold. Some of us do practice and live the threefold rule. Got me?" He continued to sneer down at her. She carefully handed the markers over then swept his feet out from under him and frisked him. She found the tape recorder and handed it over. She found the microphone and handed it over as well. "Thank you. There will be *no* talking to the press without our okay." She let him go and took back the markers. "I run a tight ship, as taught by their bosses. I may be young, but I am more than capable of doing your job and my job without breaking much of a sweat. Get it straight now. You harass my aunt or my uncle and I will pound you into the dig so you become an artifact." The man lost his sneer. "Good. The markers will be at the edges of the dig, there will be an opening for people to come and go. I won't even make you sign in and out," she said with a smile. "Work with me and I'll be nicer. Fuck with me and I get worse. My sister is the standard for bitch." She smiled at her aunt. "We're going to plant markers now. I had an idea about letting the wannabe's work the edges, or the top layers. Maybe even making them pay for it. What do you think?" She strolled away, her leather pants shining in the sunlight.
Sister Mary Catherine helped him up. "Xandra is the best up and coming security person, but she means it," she said quietly. "If you cross her, she will make all of our lives a living hell because she'll enjoy getting you back."
"She's a little girl," he said in disgust. "I know her family runs the organization, but really."
"Actually, she's here because she's passed all her certifications already. It was this or speciality training with less legal-minded people." He looked surprised. "She can do what she said and she will do what she said. Try not to get mad at her. Try not to get in her way. She's here for your safety as well." She smiled at him. "Now then, what sort of problems are we having with those tunnels? She brought some new robots to test on the dig."
"I don't think they'll work. The ones I've seen have been too large to work."
"Hers are about the size of a palm and have cameras," she put in. "We could sit down and talk with her tonight."
"If she's going to be reasonable."
"She usually is. Listening to people shriek and whine tend to get on her nerves." She smiled. "We had a bit of a problem with the neighbors this morning. It woke her up early. They were holding a wedding."
He snorted. "She should have slept in the car."
"She did. The road is bumpy though." She gave him a look. "She'll be back for dinner, we'll corner her then and we'll see if her robots will fix that situation." She heard screaming and walked out to see what was going on. Xandra had a naked person at the edge of the woods, with a gun to his head. "Dear, don't kill him."
"He was trying to molest one of the girls and she was sobbing. It didn't sound like she was enjoying it."
"That's fine. Tie him to a tree and we'll call the police," she assured the girl. She looked at the workers. "Is the girl who was with him back?" They pointed at their tents. "Is she all right?" One of the boys babbled something. "I know. I'll talk with her if Philip doesn't. Oh, this is Xandra, she's going to handle security." Xandra tied the man to a nearby tree and dumped something in his lap, then went back to her planting markers.
Philip came out of the girls' tent and smiled coldly at the boy. "What did you think you were doing?" he asked, walking over to look down at him. He sobbed something. "Xandra, the honey was mean," he called. Her laughter came out of the woods. He rolled his eyes as he turned to face the rest of them. The girls all laughed and tittered at each other as they went back to work.
Sister Mary Catherine groaned. "Philip, call the cops to get him, even if she doesn't want to press charges." She went back into her tent. "Come join us afterwards."
"Yes, Sister," he called, going to use the phone in the security tent. Once inside, he started to laugh. His granddaughter was too much some days. Wait until Derek heard about this.
Timmy looked over as his computer beeped. "Xanny's on," he told himself, getting up to answer her. He laughed at her disgruntled whine about stupid humans who couldn't follow orders, and typed back that he probably didn't realize how impressive she was. She responded.
They were caught around breakfast the next morning, when Dominick and Brandon came to get him up. "Who are you talking to?" Brandon asked, flopping down beside his twin brother. "Oh, Xanny." He looked at the clock. "Shouldn't she be asleep?"
"Someone's coming to take her shift in a few minutes. She's sending telemetry from the new markers." He clicked into the other window and smiled. "The alarm just went off." He looked back but she hadn't answered. "I guess she's got it, and if she doesn't, Serena does." He clicked to check the telemetry readings. "I think she's got one out of place, or one's on the blink." He made a note for her and smiled when his uncle answered. "Philip's chatting."
Brandon shoved him out of the way so he could type at him. He laughed and shut it down. "He said she's off to bed after she beats the sneaking couple. She'll be back in a few hours." He climbed off the bed. "Come on, time for brekkie and then we'll get to play with more toys," he told his twin.
Timmy smiled and followed him. "Does that mean I get to reimage the drives again? There's a killer game I wanted to put on so I have someone to play with." He grinned at Dominick. "Surely you guys can have fun and let me play with the network."
"You'll have to get clearance from your father for that," he said tolerantly. He followed the boys down to breakfast and watched as they inhaled most of the breakfast buffet. He looked at the housekeeper, who gave him a smile and made some more food for everyone else. "Boys, when is your next birthday?"
"In about three more weeks, right after we get home," Brandon said between bites. He smiled at the housekeeper, making him look cute, helpless, and like the little boy he was. "We'll be fifteen."
She laughed and gave him a hug. "I'm sure you'll be wonderful teenagers. It's been a while since I had to cook for boys your age, but I'll keep you in food."
"Popcorn?" Timmy asked between bites.
"Now?" she teased.
"No, when I'm working. I don't eat it buttered, but please? Air popped?"
"I'll see what I can do. We have firm rules about food not being allowed in the control room."
"Yeah, but I hate to program without nibbles," he said, smiling at her. "I can work from the main computer if I have to."
"I'm sure the Dr. Winters would love you for that," she said, laughing as she went to make more coffee. "Boys, do you want more milk?"
"No thank you," Timmy told her. "I drink tea all day."
Brandon swallowed quickly, coughing a little bit. "I drink juice mostly. Apple or orange/tangerine if possible," he told her.
"I'll run out to the store as soon as you boys are done." They both gave her hugs. "You'd think that you never got anything to eat," she teased.
"Our housekeeper is on a diet." Timmy shuddered. "We have all sorts of nasty stuff if our fathers don't cook at home."
"And diet soda there because dad has blood sugar problems," Brandon added.
"Is it hereditary?" Dominick asked.
"Yeah, but Oz is our father," Timmy reminded him. "We're not going to get it from that, but dad occasionally has fits where it's worse."
"We manage," Brandon put in. "Daddy Oz has it in control and is watching him closely for bad moments. Of course, if he's ever hurt from it, we'll have to kill someone ourselves. Before Daddy Oz can find them. He'll have enough to deal with without that."
Dominick smiled at them. "I would never work against your fathers, boys. I'm part of the contingent that is scared of what Xander could do if he actually had to put his mind to being mean."
"Good idea," Timmy agreed. "Daddy has a streak of evil in him that will one day come out and bite someone on the ass." The housekeeper coughed. "Sorry, ma'am, I'll modulate my language."
"Thank you, Timothy." She smiled at them. "I've heard such great things about you both. Won't you go sightseeing today?"
"We'll go if someone else wants to go, but we are here for an internship," Brandon reminded her with that same smile. "Technically, I'm going to be working on the library for a bit. Timmy wants to play with the computers. Maybe we'll go tomorrow, ma'am."
"That would be fine. Remember they're still boys, Dominick."
"I remember very well," he agreed. "There's no way I could forget it. Timothy, when will you need to take a nap?"
"After lunch for maybe an hour. I'm used to getting by on five hours of sleep," he told him. "I have a girlfriend who's at a nearby boarding school and we chat all night. I really do more techno stuff than Xandra, she's more gear and I'm more computers. Plus, she's got weapons training and I've only had the minimum."
"Have you thought about being put in a house together?" the housekeeper asked. "You, your sisters, and everyone like you?"
"That means we'd have to live with most of our family forever," Brandon reminded her.
"Except Precious," Timmy pointed out. "I could handle living with Serena and Xandra. Even Junior if he doesn't turn to the dark and start being a thief."
"Among the four mentioned, you'd make one hell of a research house," Dr. Winters said as he walked in. Brandon raised his hand. "I know, but we have hopes that you'll at least lead a double life."
"I haven't even found my right version of faith yet," Brandon told him. "I don't know how I'm supposed to be one of the Chosen if I can't find a faith to follow."
"Perhaps I have a book that might help you," Dr. Winters told him as he sat down. He accepted his cup of coffee. "Finish up the food, boys, I'm sure we can afford to feed you. It can't cost more than an event." He smiled at their scoffing noises. "How was your sister doing? I heard you were typing at her."
"The new perimeter alarms had one that wasn't working great," Timmy told him, scraping his plate and eating the last bite. He licked off his fork. "She's had to get tough with a few people. The engineer working on the site is a pompous windbag. He knows his stuff, but he's not nice to his coworkers. She stopped him from sneaking off to meet with the press earlier." Dominick looked at him. "He got caught by the alarms. Before that, she had to break up a boyfriend who was trying to molest his girlfriend. She tied him to a tree and dumped honey in his lap. The local cops thought it was a great idea. At least until they had to clean off the bugs."
Dr. Winters snorted his coffee. "I can't wait to see her taking over a house of her own. I'm sure it will be lively." He smiled at the boys. "What did you want to do today?"
"Work on classifying and tagging the library," Brandon told him.
"Reimaging the hard drives to speed up your access speed for the database and give you the games I play so someone will play with me," Timmy told him.
"Not doing anything fun?" Dr. Winters asked.
"We're going to hog the pool later tonight," Timmy assured him.
"Good." He smiled at them. "How intrusive will this library switch be?"
"Very, for about six days," Brandon admitted. "We finally worked out a common classification for the libraries and I'm bound and determined to make them work for everyone. It'll be more tagging and moving. Large piles until I'm done."
"Good enough. Have fun hefting the books. What about our miscellaneous section?"
"I'll mark that as well. Those were taken into account. As were your armor and swords of the Middle Ages collection."
"Good. Then I'll let you get to it. Timmy, no food in the computer room. We don't allow it."
"I usually nibble on unbuttered popcorn."
"You can't do that here," he said patiently.
"Can I chew gum?"
"That I will allow, as long as nothing comes up sticky." He gave the boy a look. "I mean it."
"I could work from your office, give you control over the others."
"No, son, I have to do work myself." He stood up, refilling his coffee. "Have fun, boys."
Brandon grabbed the plate of toast and took half of it to nibble on his way to the library.
Timmy shoved the other half into his mouth as he headed for his computer case in his room and then the control room. By the time he got there, he had used a clean wipe to clean his fingers and had found his stash of gum. They both settled in to make a good impression and have someone besides their parents appreciate them.
Serena looked up as the tent's flap opened. "Sister, I think we're going to have a problem," she announced, pulling over some pictures. "We need to redo this shaft." They both looked at the pictures and she pointed out the problem glyphs. "That's one for the old Gods. The Roman ones. This one's for Poseidon. That one's for Hephaestus. By name, intermixing the faiths." The sister looked startled. "After that is a symbol for destruction. Either this person is a seer, or we've got the carbon dating wrong and this was after Vesuvius." She handed over all the pictures. "The tunnel we started today has another symbol for fire, or more rightly destruction by fire. But it's a future tense from the surrounding ones. I don't like this."
"I know," she soothed. "Let me talk to Xandra. I want a slower and more thorough scan of those." She whistled, bringing Philip running. "She's found a problem. Fire warnings."
Philip picked up a magnifying glass and looked at them. He sighed in disgust. "It could be posing."
"Still, a more thorough scan and moving the excavators away from tunnels," Serena offered. "Move them to that secondary ledge, unless it's a problem?"
"No, it might help and we can get a better picture without people banging near the tunnels," Philip agreed. "What had you more upset? The double references or the fire?"
"The fire, though the newest one has mentions of future if I've got my translation correct," she told him, pointing at the sub-carvings around the main one. "Wouldn't that mean future?"
Philip examined them again, then shrugged. "It could. Or it could have meant a time back. That one's ambiguous without having more information and color."
"Then we'll see if Xandra can come up with a better method," Sister Mary Catherine told him. "Go move the crew. Tell them to do the west edge today. Maybe the other end of the tunnels will hold more clues."
"The resonance scan spoke of something solid," Philip warned.
"As long as it doesn't come alive," she reminded him. She glanced around. "I don't know what to do about the non-Legacy members if something does happen."
"If it's about fire, we may not have a choice," Serena put in. "They could get very badly hurt and we'll have to switch to a full team and move them somewhere else, like the Syria dig or something." Both adults looked at her. "I looked over all the offerings before suggesting to Grandfather that I come here. Syria or Germany both look to be safe, but not that exciting of discoveries. Germany looks really safe and kind of boring, but important if I read the signs right. What about the engineer? He'll have seen these and Xandra did catch him sneaking off last night to talk to a reporter."
"I'll deal with him," Philip promised. "Don't you worry about a thing, Serena." He gave her a hug. "Good catch. I'll go move everyone to the other side of the tunnels. Maybe we can diffuse whatever's over there if it will explode." He hurried out to stop the crew, moving them to the new sight.
Xandra strolled in. "What's shaking now?" she asked.
"Possibly literally," Serena told her. "See these?" Her sister nodded. "We've got major problems."
"Want to switch me for Brandon? Or just bring him here?"
"I might need him," she admitted. "These pictograms aren't my best subject and this repeated warning about fire and destruction worries me."
"Then digitize them and I'll send them to Timmy," Xandra reminded her. Her sister gave her a hug and grabbed the diskette out of her computer. "Cool. Let me send it on and get their opinion. Maybe Grandfather's as well?"
"It's pictograms, not his best area either," Serena pointed out.
"Hey, the research houses have their own chat list," Xandra reminded her. "Maybe we can put it out on there."
"That is a great idea," Sister Mary Catherine agreed. "Go do that, both of them." Xandra nodded and hurried off. "You've always had a touch of the sight, Serena, are you going off?"
"Precious has the sight, the boys leech off her. I'm not that sensitive. Xanny has telekinesis, if that'll help." She took a deep breath. "This is normal apprehension. I don't want to die today."
"Good girl. You're doing so well," she said, giving her a hug. "I'm sure it will be fine soon enough." Serena nodded and picked up the magnifying glass to go back to them. "I'll have Xandra try and get an enlarged, clear picture from the tunnels before we go any farther." Serena nodded absently so she went to tell the girl to do that as well.
Timmy's head popped up as the message hit his personal account and the warning popped up. "What the fuck?" he whispered, opening it. The symbols didn't mean anything to him but he toggled the intercom. "Brandon, emergency message from the site. Serena found a lot of fire and destruction warnings in those tunnels." He came running in with the rest of the house so Timmy got out of the way. "She said they're going back in for another look, but that's as good as they've gotten so far."
"Fine. Back up." Brandon used his twin's computer to put the images slowly up onto the screen, going frame by frame. He found the ones that weren't right. "They put Roman and Greek gods together," he said, starting to worry. "Fire, destruction, explosion," he said, using the mouse to highlight. He sat back suddenly. "That's a future mark! No way!" he breathed, sending it to the Archivist's list with an 'oh shit' tagline. He immediately got reprimanded by his Grandfather but within moments their chatroom was filled with ideas. He typed in what he saw and someone asked which one he was, so he told them. That got a few snickers and snorts typed in. He pointed out that he knew that particular language and could someone please get his trainer. His Grandfather wrote back that he was on his way up from the kitchen and to hold on.
When Adam got on, everyone backed off because his detailed descriptions backed up both him and Serena, and told them to clear the sight for two days. That he'd be over there soon enough and to call a short holiday. Philip agreed and asked if Brandon wanted to come as well.
Brandon looked back at his brother. "Want to help Xanny and Serena?"
"Sure, I'm more than up to it," he agreed. "It'll take us three hours to finish up here and be ready to leave. Have them send a plane." He went back to what he had been doing. "This one will be ready in about ten minutes. I can do one other before I go and set that one to do the others. I'll check my email if you need me, or my father Oz is overseeing the project," he said from underneath the computer, where the control panel was. The computer he had been working on restarted and he blew a bubble, popping it as the screen shorted. He reset it and it worked just fine so he crawled under another one. "I'm stealing control from the office for this, Dr. Winters. I'll restore it when I get back if my father doesn't have to come and do an emergency sweep when whoever downloads another virus." He climbed out and stood up, inserting the cd he had created to do the hard job for him. He gathered up his computer case and hurried up to his room, going to pack a smaller bag. His carry on became all he needed and he met his brother in the hallway, jogging down the stairs with him. He handed off his bag and went to check on the computers, smiling when he saw his corny little message about the upgrade. "Ten more minutes, restart everything, and you can call me on the plane if everything isn't working perfectly," he told them. "When is the plane coming?"
"You're leaving in about ten more minutes," Dr. Winter told him. "How long?"
"Ten minutes. I did the other one in the same amount of time, but the monitor was frizzing in and out so I have to fix that as well. By the way, the one in the corner has a blown crt, you might as well pitch it and get something better and more up-to-date. The plasma screens are really nice and cheap right now." He smiled as everything finished and manually restarted. He stole his cd before the computer could use it again and tapped his foot while everything fixed itself. He found one miscued registry, but that was a fault of their system and as soon as he fixed it system- wide they were back online and up to speed. He waved a hand. "Ta-da," he announced. He went out to meet his brother, slipping the cd into his computer case and redoing his bag so they could leave. They walked out together to get into the car. A little early was a great help. "Who has our passports?" he asked.
"Um, they're on their way hopefully," he admitted. "I didn't even think about bringing mine." He leaned forward. "Stop the car for a second please, I want to try one of my mother's spells." He concentrated hard on the picture of their passports in their fathers' office, using the magic that was the gift from their mother to summon them to his hand. He smiled when he got them. "We've got all three. We'll mail Junior's back." He smiled at the driver. "We've got what we needed. Go ahead." The car finished its trek down the drive, interrupted only by Timmy's cellphone. "Tell daddy I did it," Brandon said as his brother answered it.
"We're on our way to help the girls," Timmy said as he answered. He smiled at Brandon. "No, Grandfather, that was Brandon. We didn't even think about bringing our passports."
Brandon took the phone. "Sorry, Grandfather, but we'll need them to go help. Well, I am one of the best at on the fly pictogram translation. Because I'm going. Yes, I am, and Timmy's coming with me. You can bitch all you want, but Serena and Adam both agreed." He pulled the phone away from his ear. "Uncle Philip said so too," he reminded him in a lull. That got more yelling. "Well, then I'm going over to protect him for you. How about that?" he asked with a smile. "I can always buy us regular tickets if you don't release the plane," he pointed out. The next part made him lose his temper just a bit. "You know, if I hear one more person snark on me about my age, I'm going to hurt someone, Grandfather. You *know* I can do this. Hell, if you weren't babying Serena into following you, I'd have been at that dig already and she'd be in Germany. Yes, you, favoritism. Just because everyone *thinks* I have a destiny doesn't mean I'm not capable of doing this sort of thing. This is what I'm trained for as well, Grandfather." He hung up. "Timmy, fire up your laptop and get us two tickets," he said, digging out his cards. "I'm going to call Uncle Philip with my phone." He handed that one back with his debit card and settled in to talk to his favorite uncle, who could probably calm their Grandfather down with a few choice words. Hopefully they'd be yelled, but he'd accept it if his grandfather would get off his back. "Uncle Philip, Grandfather's being unreasonable. No, I hadn't thought about him reporting our cards stolen." He looked at Timmy, who shook his head. "Good. No, we're on our way. Any plane, Tim."
"Any plane is expensive, this one is cheaper, leaving in one hour, and has room for us in first class." He bought their tickets and smiled. "Done and they'll be waiting on us when we get there." He took the phone and gave over the details.
Brandon took his phone back. "No, I have no idea. He's babying Serena again and ignoring the fact that I do the same damn work as she does. Oh, you're going to have to discourage a lot of people. There's been a suggestion put forward that we be put into the same house." He laughed. "Really? Well, try. That probably would kill us. Yeah, love you too," he said before hanging up. "Okay, how long?" he asked, checking his watch.
"We have twenty minutes to get to the airport," he told the driver. The car sped up. "Thank you." He looked at his brother. "Wasn't that your shopping allowance for the summer?"
"Do you honestly think daddy won't give me more?" he asked. "They'll understand. They do stuff like this themselves. As a matter of fact, one of them may be rushing to Rome as well."
"I want my license," Timmy declared. "That way we wouldn't have to wait on rides." He grinned as the driver looked back at him. "Only two more years."
"I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun stealing your father's car," the driver said diplomatically. He sped up a bit more, ignoring the phone in the car. It would probably only piss those two off and they'd get out and walk or something more horrible, hitchhike. He got them to the airport in time and they rushed for the counter to check in.
The flight attendant looked at them. "You really need a parent with you."
"We're going to meet them," Brandon told her. He was the best liar, outside of Precious. "Our father was on vacation and just had a small wreck driving around the Plaza something or other. We really need to get to his side since he's gay and our other father isn't exactly welcome in the hospital since he's in Rome." The flight attendant nodded and printed out their boarding passes, starting on the security questionnaire. They even managed to pass through the security checkpoints without too much problem. Though one of the guys did give them a heated look as he held his casted arm. "Sorry," Brandon told him. "Family emergency. We'll be back in a few days hopefully." He smiled brightly and drug his brother past all the snack stands until even he had to stop and get something. Sure enough, his card was empty, but his brother still had money left on his. They made it to the gate with enough time to sit down and take a few deep breaths before boarding was called.
Derek looked at the activity log for his grandson's card and mentally swore. Those two would be the death of him yet. "Xander!" he yelled, not bothering with the intercom.
Oz came strolling in and turned the computer monitor off. "You did thwart them and he is one of the best in the field," he said calmly. "Adam will be watching over them all, and we'll be reimbursing him for the tickets. Calm down before I call Marcus and have you sedated." Derek opened his mouth. "If they were full Legacy members, would you hesitate to send them out?"
"They're children," Derek reminded him. "Yours, so I would assume that you'd be more worried."
"I'm letting Xander worry," Oz admitted. "He does it better." He grinned. "Now, calm yourself. We both know Brandon should have been the one to go there, with Xandra, because he is better at those sort of things. Serena should have been in Germany or Syria, but you pushed her toward the harder dig because it would earn her acclaim. Which I agree with, she'll need because she's female and this area is still male-centered. She won't need to be blown up through. For that, I should start to scream and yell at you." Derek looked away so Oz moved his head back. "We love you, Derek, but *we* decide where the kids go from now on. I wanted Xandra to do a techie rotation, not a security one because she is so young. No matter that she's fully qualified and has already proved it. You gave our kids harder assignments because they're ours, and yours. We don't mind, but in the future we're going to be told about such things. Aren't we?"
Derek smiled and relaxed. "You're not going to scream and yell?"
"Again, something I tend to leave up to Xander, because he's better at it," Oz reminded him. "He's been wanting to scream and yell ever since the assignment sheets came out of the printer into his hands. I may have upheld you before, but you get to tell him this time. I'm not going there." He backed up. "Now, who else is going from here?"
"Just Adam. I could have the jet stop and pick them up."
Oz checked the clock. "They're already onboard and taken off, it wouldn't do much good. Have him pick them up in Rome and take them out there," he said calmly. "Then pray that none of our children get hurt." He walked away, going to soothe his husband now. Xander was nearly bouncing in anger. He had a much simpler method of calming him down, he grabbed him and held him still until Xander relaxed against his chest. "It'll be fine, they know what they're doing. With those four working together, there's not a whole lot that can stop them."
"Yes, Oz," Xander said miserably. "What can I do to help?"
"First, repay Brandon for the tickets. Then we'll worry about support." Xander nodded and sat down with the phone to do that, giving the bank a good reason to process it today. Then they called the plane and told Adam what was going on with the boys. He agreed to pick them up. Then they had to sit back and wait. It would take the boys approximately ten hours to get to Rome on the flight plan they had. It would take Adam about nine since he didn't have any stops to make in New York or London, but had to refuel in Paris. Oz decided a diversion was in order. "Come on, I want to cuddle," he told his husband, pulling him from the room. He found them a quiet couch on the patio and laid down with him, forcing him to stay calm enough to fall asleep in his arms.
"I see that still works," Nick quipped as he brought in drinks. "The housekeeper's still on a diet."
"I can break that later," Oz told him. Nick looked impressed. "In my room, in my sock drawer, is a golden box. Go give it to her." Nick laughed but walked off to do so. "I still have the touch," he told his husband's sleeping head. "Just the right amount of persuasion." He heard the screaming about her diet, then it went quiet. The housekeeper stormed in. "You're making us miserable as well," he reminded her. "Take a day off. We're going to need comfort food. The boys are headed for the dig outside of Rome because there's a problem that their sisters are handling." She nodded and ate a chocolate. "Go back to being on the diet tomorrow, Hilda."
"Yes, Oz," she said quietly. She looked at Xander. "How do you do that?"
"Forced holding. It only works with me." He grinned. "Can we have good food tonight, nothing that will make us ill from food allergies?" She looked confused. "Precious is allergic to soy and I don't get on well with it myself."
"Oh! I hadn't realized," she said, looking distressed. "No wonder you don't eat over here. I promise, I'll find a good cookbook today and have supper done better."
"Thank you," Oz agreed. "Eat the rest of the box, you deserve it." She laughed as she went to search for what cookbook to buy when she went in for groceries. The house didn't have anything but vegetables in it. Oz stroked his husband's chest lovingly, liking the quiet time. When Derek came out, he shrugged. "She deserved the chocolate."
"I know. Thank you." He handed Oz a printout. "From the Archivists chatroom." He looked down at Xander. "How long will that hold?"
"Until he wakes up and we have sex." He looked at the memo and smiled. This was worth waking Xander up. "Honey?" Xander mumbled and rolled onto his side. Oz forced open and eyelid and held the paper in place. Xander took it to read. "See, other people think Xandra is yours too."
Xander laughed and settled back in to finish his nap. "I'll show it to her when she gets home," he said against the t-shirt clad stomach. "What's for dinner?"
"Real food. Hilda and I had a talk."
"Okay." Xander fell back asleep, making the other men smile.
"Thank you, Derek. Relax. It'll be fine. Philip has it well in hand and if Brandon can summon his passport, he can probably put up a shield at least."
"Goot point," Derek agreed, giving him a pat on the arm. "Thank you for keeping me calm."
"It's what I do. Messy emotions get in my way and make me freak." He winked and settled in for a nap of his own.
Derek went back to his office to finish chatting with his coworkers. They needed to know what he did in this case.
Brandon stepped out of Customs first and looked around, waving at their teacher. "Hurry up, Tim, Adam's already here."
Timmy gathered his computer case back together with a small wave and closed everything up, then followed his brother to the not-pleased looking man waiting on them. "Bad flight?"
"Turbulence and repeated phone calls from your grandfather," he grunted. He hugged them both. "Your father put the money back into your account and straightened out your grandfather. We're going to meet Philip in an hour. Let's eat something."
"Cool. Rental car?"
"No, I refuse to drive in Roman traffic. I had enough of that when they still used horses and drove just as fast." He led the boys to a little cafe inside the airport and got them all settled, ordering for them. "How was Arizona?"
"Kickin'," Timmy told him. "I got most of the computer upgrades done." He opened his laptop and plugged in his phone, dialing in to check his mail. "Xanny's on. She said Philip's just left and the road's wet so we have a few more minutes than thought." He responded and smiled. "She caught the engineer screwing around with her gear and nearly killed him." The waitress made a rude comment and he looked at her. "I'm talking to my baby sister. Get over it or we won't tip you at all," he said coldly. "I don't like rudeness." She flounced off and another waitress had to add them to her rounds. He logged off and put his laptop away. "We should tip this one really great," he told Adam.
"Yes, you should," Adam agreed with a smile. "Did you remember to change money?"
"No time. We got there with enough time to breathe before boarding," Brandon said as he nibbled on something that had squid in it. "We need steak before we leave."
"I'll remember to buy you one if everything goes well at the dig," Adam told him, patting him on the hand. "Have you looked at those pictures again?"
"Not yet. I want to see the real thing," Brandon admitted. "Maybe even try and get in there to see." He nibbled on another bit of stuffed pastry. "Someone else eat something so I don't feel like a pig."
Timmy took the tray and picked out what he wanted, then put it back in the middle of the table. "There, how's that?" He waved the waitress over and handed her his empty soda glass. "Please?" She nodded and came back with it full. "Thank you." She smiled and left them alone.
"For service that great, she deserves a thirty percent tip," Brandon told his brother. They both slid out of the booth and headed for the big sign that said 'Debit Card' to withdraw some money and get it exchanged.
Adam shook his head. Those boys were odd when they were away from the family. He would have to remember that. He stole some of the squid pastry and nibbled, smiling as the waitress sent him a flirting look. He said something to her in Italian and she blushed, but didn't rebuff him. Maybe he'd get lucky before he left. It had been a while for him after all. The boys came back and hogged the rest of the tray. And as promised, they left a thirty percent tip. Their waitress scolded the other one, making fun of her as she tucked away the tip money. If only she had been nicer, Americans were like that.
When they got to the dig, they found Xandra beating the engineer, screaming at him. "Those were the instructions!" she shouted. "Now you can't do anything with it! Plus, we can't disarm the thing!" She hit him again, making him wheeze and fall over. "Get up again!"
Adam walked over and picked her up, carrying her into the main tent. "Problems?" he asked the nun in charge.
"He decided to try and open one of the tunnels. Not the ones we've been looking at." She pointed at the pit of black goo that was still burning. "That's what came out."
"It could be an experimental siege engine," Timmy offered, going over to look at the mess. "Why would this be listed with a water warning?" He sniffed and winced. "Eww, no wonder. Manure. Poseidon was over horses, right?" Adam nodded. "That's just nasty. How did they ever stand to cook over that?"
"I'm wondering why it smells after all this time," Serena said from her workbench. "We've taken new pictures. Closer to the small figures. There's a lot faded." She let Brandon have her magnifying glass to look them over. "Was Grandfather sedated?"
"Daddy Oz got him," Timmy told her as he pulled out his computer case. "Xanny, let's see if we can work those robots into a more useful, real time device." She nodded and led him to where she was set up.
Adam looked at the pictures, taking the spare glass to look at the little pictures himself. "It was like they were worshiping him. Whichever God gave the idea." He frowned. "Neither of those would have given that idea."
"Maybe he thought he was God," Serena offered.
"That is certainly possible," Sister Mary Catherine said as she came over to help them. "Philip laughed at the one with the main figure as Priapus."
"I'd laugh too," Brandon agreed. "Napoleon complex."
"You can't have a complex before it's identified," Adam told him, giving him a gentle nudge. "Serena, can you tell what the female ones are?"
"I took them to be flower and offering bearers."
"If they are, then he probably did think he was a god for creating this whatever-it-is," Sister Mary Catherine agreed. She looked at the pictures. "What's that one?"
Serena took the magnifying glass and looked at it. "Looks like another thing where he's stating he's got a big dick." She handed it over, making the nun blush. "Sorry. I tend to be blunt about such matters."
The nun looked at the picture and nodded. "He's even waving at it to make sure all the pretty women handing him things know it's there. What a schmuck," she said, walking away. "What do we do with the steaming manure?"
"Let the guy who let it go clean it up?" Brandon suggested. Adam gave him another nudge but he was smiling at him.
"If I did that, it'd never get done," she pointed out. "I think he's ran away again anyway." Xandra stormed in. "No luck?"
"Two new encroachments on the perimeter," she told her. Adam stood up and looked at her. "I'm guessing manure boy went and told."
"Give me a radio," Adam told her, holding out a hand. One was handed to him and he followed her out. "How far is the line?"
"About a mile in each direction," she told him, pointing in front of the manure. "The thin line is that way and that's the way the break happened. Want left or right?"
"I'll take right," he decided, heading off for that side of the line. He watched as she disappeared into the woods. "No shooting them, Alexandra."
"Yes, sir, take my fun," she called back.
He listened, laughing when he heard her unique method of calling out any trespassers.
"Just because I can't kill you doesn't mean I can't wound you," she called. "I'll only hurt you a little bit and laugh for a little while," she yelled as she walked.
Brandon and Serena stared at the little monitor, frowning in unison at what they saw. "It is a siege engine," she said finally. "An early form of the catapult." She stood up. "We should be able to dismantle the fire and the launching mechanism in one go."
The adults looked impressed. "Where will we have to dig?" Adam asked cautiously. He didn't want to puncture another compartment of crap. That was a bit more than they paid him to do.
"At the other end, that solid place, are the stored balls. He made it mechanical enough to pick up the next ball, basically using a spring to load a clip." He nodded, looking happier. "So, we need to puncture that solid spot, without breaking into the fluid compartments. He apparently laid a liquid form of gunpowder or something that lights it on fire as it launches up the tubes. Hence, our steaming pile of manure out there." She clapped her hands. "We can even let the grad students working on the dig do it if they want."
"I didn't think they had springs back then," Xandra put in.
"Yeah, well, the guy was inventive. He probably wouldn't let anyone else do anything with it." She winked. "Sort of like *somebody* with his new game program." Timmy blushed. "Does it work?"
"Better each game," he announced. "I'm playing with Uncle Nick and one of the guys in Arizona. He's bored." He looked up. "So, we dig?"
"We dig," Xandra agreed, dusting off her hand. "Or we get the grad students to dig."
"They're not due back for another day," Sister Mary Catherine reminded her.
Timmy looked at the adults. "Since he thought he was God, do we get to call this flaming holy shit?"
Philip caught him and tickled him until he gave in and apologized.