“Open your mouth,” Jason commanded. He took hold of the small child’s chin and tipped her head back, shining his flashlight in and playing it across the pustules on the back of her throat.
How exactly he’d been goaded into coming out to the servants quarters to examine the six year old still managed to elude him, but he was sure it had something to do with Hunter and blackmail.
“Strep throat,” Jason told the worried mother. Without another word, he produced his prescription pad and scribbled out a note for some antibiotics, left it on the table, and began gathering his kit.
The servant’s quarters occupied one large tower in the castle, and actually had its own staff of fully qualified doctors. Apparently they were all tied up doing head lice inspections at the campus middle-school, and apparently through a lengthy series of favors, someone had gotten Jason to come check a sick kid out.
He glanced out the open door to the apartment and watched something brown dart past. The scraping of claws against carpet, pawing for traction, grew softer, until muffled thud sounded through the hall.
Then, the paw-falls began anew, Doppler-shifting as they moved closer.
The brown streak shot by again, and again the paws scraped and tore along the expensive carpet for more traction.
Another muffled thud shook the floor.
Rolling his eyes, Jason stood and stepped out through the door, just in time to have wolf-Lily slam full-force into him and knock him flat on his back.
He landed hard and it knocked the wind out of him, but he had just enough sense to twist into a ball and cover his head as she came back for another pass, indiscriminately trampling his frame.
Jason rolled out of the way and took shelter against a wall, this time observing the scene for what it really was.
As he watched, a tiny red point of light played across the floor, barely staying ahead of it’s mighty she-wolf hunter.
It moved all the way down the hall at full speed, until the chaser slammed forcibly into the wall.
Then it began its journey back.
Jason followed the beam back to its owner, and was stunned to see Metanie. At the end of the hall, a series of stares led up to a slightly higher level, owing to a ball room on the floor below. It was only about a four-foot elevation gain, so the railing was fairly low. On the second landing up, Metanie was carefully directing the laser-pointer and trying to hide a nasty grin on her face.
And, just as he processed this, Jason caught sight of Hunter, sneaking up behind her. With a very light but forceful shove, he sent Metanie toppling forward, watched her fall, then called out an apology.
Lily stopped in mid gallop, head snapping back and forth as she searched for the light. Her eyes spotted Hunter, and a growl twisted her face. She barked a few times, then raced towards him.
Breathing hard, Jason regained his feet and crossed the hall to help Metanie up. She’d only fallen three or four feet and landed on soft carpet, and she was more annoyed than anything else.
“That rotten, no-good goon!” she snapped in the direction Hunter had run. “He should watch where he’s going better!”
A number of retorts came to mind, but Jason clenched his jaw shut and instead returned to the apartment to retrieve his med-kit.
Bur’Ian royal servants lived well. They were housed in the palace without paying any kind of rent or salary deductions. They had full medical benefits, their children even had access to good schools, all from within the palace. The only downside was that their access was restricted. Rather than have the servants live outside the palace walls and need to be checked every day, they lived inside. It was getting out that was tough.
Jason bent to help Metanie up and swept a few stray pieces of dust off her nondescript blouse. Lily, still in wolf-regalia, approached and stood beside him expectantly, and Jason gave her a pat on the head.
“Ahh, there you are, Jason. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Jason turned to see Caleb approaching down the hall, with his usual entourage.
“Now why would you do that?” Jason replied.
“Hmm?” Caleb blinked.
“Why would you look all over for me?” Jason asked. “For that matter, why come all the way out here yourself? It’s at least a ten-mile hike from the throne room.”
“Well… I don’t get to see the outer-parapets much,” Caleb shrugged. “Also Nitta’s on a bit of a warpath, seems she’s just suddenly become annoyed with the state of Bur’Ian faster-than-light propulsion. Despite having lived in the kingdom all her life and not having given it a second thought.”
“I see,” Jason rolled his eyes. “What did you need?”
“Ah, yes, that,” Caleb nodded. “A message arrived for you via the office of special courier, seemed important so I thought I might bring it to you myself.”
He produced a large envelope and handed it to Jason, who eyed it suspiciously.
“You put a Bur’Ian Royal Seal on it,” he commented.
“Yes, well, I have been bored,” Caleb admitted. “I didn’t read it.”
Jason nodded and ripped the paper open, taking out the folded letter and scanning it quickly.
His eyes made a good-faith effort to leap out of his skull.
“Now that’s something,” Caleb whispered to Metanie. “I spent most of his childhood waiting to see him this surprised by anything.”
Jason’s hands literally trembled as he held the paper, reading it over again and again, tracing the lines with his finger.
“I’ve been invited to argue at the caucuses on Gleskel Core,” Jason breathed.
“Well, fancy that,” Caleb smiled.
Jason lowered the paper and looked at Caleb and Metanie.
“I don’t think you understand,” he breathed hoarsely. “I, me, have been invited to argue at the caucuses! I—me—”
Lily moved fluidly out of wolf form and sprang up to throw her arms around him.
“Congratulations, Jason!” she cheered.
“No hugging!” Jason backed away. “The caucuses are the event of the scientific community. Every four years, scientists from all over the Alliance and the Foundation gather on Gleskel Core to meet, network, exchange ideas, share viewpoints—but the highlight of the conference is the caucuses. Each year, a handful of scientists, considered to be the foremost experts in their fields, are invited to come and argue—debate, really. The debates are televised and played all over the Known Worlds; they literally set the course of scientific research for the next four years! This is… this is my chance to be part of the guiding force behind… behind… what did they want me to come argue again?”
Jason lifted the paper back up and squinted at it.
“Temporal theory! …I have to pack.”