"House AI will provide anything else you need, and can contact me if necessary," Dill reminded Momma Bear before he carefully sealed the door behind him. Trudging upstairs, he dropped into his bed, exhausted. He missed having Brian there, but Bri wasn't going anywhere without Sammy for a while and someone had to be upstairs if anyone came visiting.
Next thing he knew, Cher was shaking him awake. "So how did it go?" she demanded. "Where are Bri and Sammy?"
Dill groaned as she ripped the covers off of his head, and the morning sunshine slipped through his closed eyelids. "Let me sleep!" he complained, only to be shaken for his efforts. "Sorry, not that easy sleepy-head," Cher informed him firmly. "Besides, you have a visitor."
"A visitor?" Dill groaned in complaint. Rubbing his eyes, he slid his legs out from under the covers and sat up. "What kind of visitor?"
Cher took a deep, obvious breath through her nose to draw his attention to the smell of the room. "The kind you should go take a shower before coming out to greet," she informed him primly. "Now, answer my question."
"Downstairs, hidden," Dill sighed. Cher would get it from him sooner or later, so he might as well be nice.
She sniffed disdainfully. "Fine then," she pranced out of the room. "I'll just show myself down there."
"Not happening," Dill yelled out the door. Lifting an arm to smell himself, he had to agree with the shower comment. He stank, though it wasn't pure BO. "House AI," he barked, "priority order. Increase ventilation to high and clear the room of it's smell. Introduce olfactory cleansers."
"Understood," House AI answered, and a sudden breeze picked up through the room. "Extrapolation: would you like the rest of the house similarly cleansed?"
Dill frowned. "That won't be necessary, but remind me to change the sheets."
"Understood," House AI acknowledged.
Dill closed his door before stripping off the clothes from the night before. Glancing at them, he swore. "Correction," he tossed the sheets on the bed, "the sheets require immediate disposal. I'll take them downstairs in case they need them there, but inform me if they ever come back upstairs by accident."
"Understood," House AI hesitated. "If you are concerned about the blood stains, you may wish to add your shoes to the pile."
Dill glanced by the door, where he had at least kicked his boots off before coming to bed last night. "Thanks," he nodded, then tossed them onto the bed as well. They were more expensive, but if there was even a trace of blood on them, that could become a problem.
Dill was extra thorough in the shower to insure that he scrubbed away all traces of last night's activities. He didn't know who his guest was, but Cher would have warned him if anything was up, so he had time. Hell, all he had to do was point out that she'd woken him up as an excuse! Whoever it was-
Dill's thoughts stumbled over that thought. House was programmed not to let people in without express permission, and while he and Bri could both invite people in, Cher didn't have that authority. So whoever it was had to have explicit, preexisting and long term permission to be here. Which was impossible. Mom was dead. 'Dad' in jail. Grandma was dead. He'd revoked his grandparent's permissions. Other than him and Bri, that only left-
Dill's eyes widened, and he snapped the water off and leaped out of the shower. Skidding on the tile floor, he managed to catch himself from falling by grabbing onto a towel holder, unfortunately ripping it out of the wall in the process. Tossing the bar itself aside, he wrapped the towel around himself and charged out of the bathroom.
Cher laughed at him as he raced past, wolf-whistling at the way the towel's flapping exposed his buttocks, but he burst into the entry room to the house without any other memory of the rooms he'd had to travel through to get there. In the middle of the palatial entry was a man, wasted by years of atrophy until he had to sit in a motorized wheel chair. "Rafe!" Dill cried letting go of his towel as he knelt beside his brother and hugged him. "Oh God, Rafe!"
"It's been a long time," Rafe said huskily. "More for you than me, I imagine." His voice creaked and groaned from disuse, but it held the old laughter still.
"Oh Rafe," Dill said past his tears. "God, it's been so long. I thought you'd never wake up."
"The grandparents were of similar opinion," Rafe rasped. "They also expected me to completely agree with them in blaming you for what happened. So sorry to disappoint them on both fronts."
Dill let go of his brother, letting him slip back into his chair. The anger in his brother's voice was unusual, and slightly frightening. His brother just didn't use that bitter, clipped tone, and it sounded unnatural from someone who laughed at everything. Still, it was Rafe! And he was here! "God, what are you doing here?" Dill asked, smiling at the sight of his brother. "Not that I'm unhappy to see you, but shouldn't you still be off convalescing?"
"The doctor's informed my grandparents that yes, I could finish my convalescence at home if I so desired," Rafe rasped. "They showed up last night to cart me off, and I told them I was too tired to do it. That they should come pick me up sometime around noon today."
Dill frowned. "But don't you need help? Physical therapy?"
"So long as my family helps me with my needs, I can do the physical therapy on an out-patient basis, it was decided," Rafe informed him. "As soon as they left, I called Cher and arranged a pick up. If I was going to do my convalescence at home, I was going to do it at home. Not their house."
Dill nodded. "The restraining order-"
"Is null and void," Rafe smiled. "The grandparents signed it on my behalf, but it was always contingent on my agreeing with it when I woke up. The lawyer you talked to, Ms. Jones, showed up and talked me through the thing, including how to void it."
Dill remembered the lady in question and smiled. "I thought it was going to take a while," he commented.
"Turns out it didn't," Rafe shrugged. "My grandparents never even noticed the loopholes she left, and neither did she until she went back and looked over it again. She almost swears it wasn't the order she wrote, but all the copies agree with each other, so her memory must just be faulty. She was rather upset about it, there were some other loopholes in there that she should have caught while writing it. I'm glad you arranged such competent legal representation for me."
Dill's eyes narrowed. Paul had mentioned having a few 'errands' to run after he'd heard about Rafe's situation, but how could even he pull that one off! Especially with all the other work he'd had to run around doing?
"Rafe," Dill hedged, "it might not be her memory that's faulty. Let me look into the matter before you decide she's a screw-up, OK?"
Rafe snorted. "What, did someone just wave a wand and magically rewrite the documents, complete with our grandparent's signatures on them?"
Dill hesitated for a bare instant before coming up with a suitable answer. "No, of course not. No such thing as magic wands."
Rafe snorted. "Well, I won't argue with that-" Rafe paused and frowned. "Actually, you know, I would. The Guardian War sure showed the world we don't know as much as we thought we did about reality." Rafe's gaze grew more penetrating as he stared into Dill's eyes. "And you only denied the magic wand."
Dill's mouth opened slightly as he tried to figure out a way to dig himself out of this particular hole. "Forget it, bro," Rafe smiled. "We'll deal with it after you've finished dressing. Is my room still available?"
"Sure," Dill nodded. "Head on up."
"Alright," Rafe nodded. "Is my stuff still in there?"
"Yeah, most of it," Dill answered after a moments though. "There's probably some that was sent downstairs into storage, but we can move that up later."
Downstairs. Storage. Oh crap. Dill trusted Rafe, but there were a lot of trigger-happy soldiers down there still who didn't know him from Adam. Bad idea. Very bad idea.
"See ya," Rafe waved before activating his wheelchair's motor to drive off.
Dill caught Cher's eye before she walked out with Rafe. "Yes?" she asked archly.
"We need to keep him upstairs," Dill told her. "If he goes downstairs, we've got problems."
She nodded. "I figured as much. I'll take the excuse of 'surveying' his stuff down there to go visit for a bit later today, but I expect the elevator system to be conveniently offline."
Dill nodded. "House AI, I want the primary elevator system put into diagnostic mode. You just detected a potential failure if anyone asks, and are running routine maintenance procedures."
"Understood. Once Rafael has exited the elevator at his destination I will deactivate the system," House AI obeyed.
Dill jerked his head up. "He's in the elevator, already? That doesn't make sense!"
"His stated reason was to examine the contents of his subterranean storage room, specifically the retrieval of a few items placed there before his injury," House AI explained.
Cher and Dill looked at each other in shock. "House AI, do not let him into the subterranean facilities," Dill ordered. "Reroute the elevator to the living quarters."
"Unable to comply, elevator has opened on destination. Egress safety protocols-"
"Shit!" Dill swore. His mind raced over possible solutions. "Is there anyone around him?"
"Brian was coming upstairs to visit," House AI reported. "He was engaged in conversation with a military escort and Sammuel. Rafael is currently engaged with discussing the situation with the three of them."
"What else could go wrong," Dill complained in a moan.
"Warning," House AI's voice took on a flatter tone as it recited a canned warning. Hard-edged, deep sounds ground through the house as concealed plating sealed every window and door. To a casual eye, they'd just look like shutters, but they were inch-thick plates of advanced polyceramic-metal armor about twice as strong as the next-generation tank armor the Army was preparing to deploy. "Unidentified vehicles entering outer surveillance perimeter; armaments detected. Automatically setting Security Level Two, requesting permission for Security Level Three."
The look Cher bestowed on Dill spoke volumes.
Dill resisted the impulse to swear. "House AI, request for Security Level Three denied at this time. Identify approaching group." The last thing he needed was to give a computer authorization to pre-emptively open fire if someone looked like they were getting ready to fire their weapon.
"Unidentified vehicles entering primary security perimeter. Video feed confirmed, analyzing vehicles," Dill blinked. Whoever they were they were in one heck of a hurry if they crossed the entire outer surveillance perimeter that quickly. Laser tripwires and long-range telescopic cameras gave House AI nearly a full mile of safety buffer outside the actual grounds of the house. To have crossed that fast meant whoever it was, they were coming in fast.
"Identification on several vehicles confirmed, requesting permission to stand down from Security Level Two," House announced.
"Who are they?" Dill asked.
"The vehicles belong to the Savannah City Police Department, and one of the drivers has been firmly ID'd as Lieutenant Kendrics, also of the SCPD," House answered.
Dill reached past the last few years of easy living with Bri and called the arrogance of Old Money back into his heart. "Cheryl, would you please be so kind as to get Rafael back upstairs?" he asked. "We, of course, have no clue that Brian is in the house, much less downstairs."
"Alright, I'll get him back to his old room," she nodded.
"That will be most satisfactory," Dillon informed her. Turning, he walked to his room quickly to dress. There wasn't a moment to spare.
When the police arrived, Dillon was waiting for them in the foyer, the hauteur of a man with enough money to buy the entire city they worked for draped around him like a coat of armor. The gates swung open wide at their approach and allowed the officers onto the grounds proper. Similarly, as they approached the great doors that lead into the house they also swung open. "Welcome to my home, gentlemen," Dillon greeted them. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"Dillon Torrelli, I am here to execute an arrest warrant for you and Brian Clements," the officer pulled a sheaf of papers out of his pocket and waved them at Dillon. Before he could withdraw them, Dillon snapped them up and started shuffling through them.
"House AI, these gentlemen are police officers with an apparently valid search warrant," Dillon sighed. "If they wish to cause property damage, you are to log but not otherwise interfere. Please contact my lawyers and inform them of the current situation."
"House AI has already called Andrew Murphy's office and he is on his way," House AI informed him.
"Officers, while the search warrant is valid I'm afraid I do not recognize the validity of the arrest warrants," Dillon said after a moment's reading. "Both forms have had the reasoning section skipped. There are no charges provided, no facts I can dispute in court."
"We have the right to arrest you and hold you for up to twenty-four hours-" an officer began.
"I don't believe that right extends to taking me from my own home," Dill snorted. "If you'd like to claim it does, that is of course your privilege. My privilege is to have my lawyer sue you for every cent you'll ever make, and then some, if you in any way violate my civil rights."
The man who had offered up the papers held his hand out, demanding them back. "I'm Officer Simmons," he introduced himself as he shuffled through the papers. "That's odd," he frowned. "You're right, there are no charges or cause provided. I'm not sure how I missed that." Dillon took a deep breath and forced himself not to suggest that the officer had been 'helped' into that mistake. "I'll call into the office and find out what the cause is."
Dillon kept himself from sighing. "Very well. Please do so as quickly as possible."
"While that is getting straightened out, my fellow officers will be searching the premises," Simmons gestured them forward. "I trust you will help us do so quickly and thoroughly?"
"You can trust in whatever you choose," Dillon informed him frostily, "but I am in no way required to assist you in executing the search warrant. House AI will open all residential areas to you at your request. House AI, please consider that last statement a direct order, you will open all residential areas to the officers. Other areas, such as your computational core, remain off limits."
"Understood," House AI responded.
"This warrant gives us the right to search-"
"Bedrooms, kitchens, garages, closets, cabinets, etc etc. Server rooms aren't mentioned," Dillon was firm. "You can even search our basements, house AI will unlock the doors to the stairs for you. They aren't mentioned, but I'll be generous."
The officers glanced at each other angrily. "Very well," Simmons said frostily. "I'll get that detail straightened out as well."
"I and my lawyer will both resist any attempt to gain access to the server room," Dillon shook his head angrily. "House AI is a combination of proprietary hardware and software critical to my business interests. Further, the server facility is a clean room, there has been no human entry since it was set up to maintain the integrity of the system."
Simmons shook his head. "I'll let the lawyers hash it out, but we're going to have to assure ourselves that no one is hiding in there."
"House AI, do you have security cameras in your server room?" Dillon asked.
"Yes," House AI responded. "Would you like me to display it?"
"Please, do so," Dillon nodded. "Make that visual available to the officers for display."
Simmons inclined his head in thanks before motioning to a nearby chair. "Please sit down while I call my superiors."
The officers drove off, extremely frustrated. Murphy had pulled some legal fast ones, defeating the arrest warrants and preventing all attempts at forcing entry to the server room. Despite a thorough execution of the search warrants, they'd failed to find so much as a spec of evidence. Which was surprising as hell given the dirty laundry he'd left piled up in his room. The sheets were dirty, grimy, and nasty, and his clothes had actual bloodstains on them.
But the officers never so much as mentioned the sheets. No one had carted anything off in evidence bags. They'd just marched out, empty-handed, with a stern warning that they'd be back soon, and not to leave the state.
As soon as they were gone, Dillon sighed a deep breath of relief. "Thank you, Murphy," he thanked the lawyer who had driven out instantly on receiving House AI's call.
"It's what you pay me for," Murphy nodded, "and after the other day, I owe you one."
Dill nodded. "Thank you anyways.
"I should warn you, Mr. Torelli, that this probably has to do with last night's events," Murphy added. "They're going to be looking at me too soon enough."
"Last night's events?" Dill asked, ever-so-casual. Murphy nodded as if he'd confirmed something.
"Last night, the facility Sammy was being held at was attacked by terrorists," Murphy told him. "Rumor has it no one survived, the entire building was reduced to glass by some strange weapon."
Dill didn't bother trying to mime shock or dismay. Simple, cold disdain was a much easier mask, and one that wouldn't ring any alarm bells in his circles. After all, that was the only acceptable expression. "That's too bad," he said. "Brian will be most unhappy."
"His brother is listed among the dead, I imagine he'll be devastated," Murphy agreed. "Unless the rumors that someone drove off with all the poor kids who were in the facility for desperately needed developmental therapy proves true, anyway. I hear that person is looking at quite the drop if they ever get their hands on him."
Dill shook his head. "I'm sure they're planning many nasty things for the people involved. Hopefully, they never catch them."
Murphy nodded. "Ask House AI about remote secure positions. I helped set them up for your grandfather. Completely untraceable thirty years ago. I probably couldn't do it these days, but I managed it back then." He pulled a card out of his pocket and scribbled something down on it before handing it to Dill. "I told you I had another client interested in that facility. They wanted their child back. I imagine they and Brian can find some kind of support group for parents and family who lost children in last night's attack."
Dill nodded as he took the card. "I'll see to it that all appropriate measures are taken. I suspect, though, that it's going to take some effort to do it without raising any red flags."
"My office is being watched," Murphy shrugged. "I'm quite sure they can't eavesdrop on us while we're in here, but as soon as I leave I'm not going to be able to blow my nose without them weighing, measuring, and analyzing it."
Dill winced. "Understood. By the way, my allowance money is fairly high for my needs. I'm considering making charitable donations with it. Food and clothing for the poor, probably funneled through some local churches. Some very specific churches."
Murphy nodded. "I hear what you're saying. I'll look into it. How many people do you want to help?"
Dillon took a deep breath. "I'm not sure about exact numbers. When you've compiled the numbers, why don't you drop by with the details?"
"Alright," Murphy nodded. "I should probably warn you that ten thousand dollars a month won't stretch as far as you think it will, and several of the trustees aren't going to be happy with the idea of you spending every penny of it on charity. Sets a bad precedent, and you need something to live on anyways."
Dillon frowned. "Any thoughts?"
Murphy smiled. "I think charitable donations can be a great tax write-off for any multi-billion dollar corporation, and that you have majority ownership over one. While the trustees actually control it until you turn twenty-five, that doesn't mean we can't nudge them in the right direction. So long as your desires don't actually harm the trust, great weight is given to any request you make."
Dillon nodded. "I'd like to avoid government oversight, and the media, at least for a little while. Giving is one thing, but I don't want to make a big deal of it."
Murphy nodded. "It's one thing to be charitable to those less fortunate, but broadcasting it over the media makes it less charity, and more public relations. You aren't doing it for the fame, you're doing it because it's right. You'd rather the act be lauded than the person doing it. You're worried that letting your name get banded around with the donations might cause trouble as the paparazzi flock around the churches receiving them."
Dill stowed each of the reasons and excuses away as Murphy listed them. "I'll come up with a speech listing each of those reasons for you to review. I'm sure you can make certain the right news agency digs this up, once the time comes?"
Murphy blinked. "I'm not sure I understand. Isn't the idea to keep the transfer secret? I brought those up as fall-back positions."
Dillon cocked his head. "Oh. I was thinking of the purloined letter. Don't hide the transfers, flaunt them."
Murphy turned it over in his head for a few moments before laughing. "That could work, that could work. It'll take a few months before we can start diverting significant funds to any specific individuals without it being remarked."
Dillon nodded. "The individuals in question have a few months of food already, and while the clothing isn't great, they should be able to get along for a little while. Especially if their families help out a little when they visit."
Murphy smiled. "I'll get to work on it immediately. Do you know which churches you want to receive the bulk of your funds?"
Dillon shook his head. "Someone else is making those arrangements. I should be able to fax you a list later today, I'm sorry I forgot to print it out for you."
"I'm sorry I forgot to ask for it, I think," Murphy disagreed gently. "You should just call and mention that by the way, there are specific churches you'd like to support if possible."
Dill nodded. "Alright, that works."
"There's also the concern about the RECC blackmail attempt, this could be viewed as an attempt to pay them off," Murphy pointed out.
"Oh no," Dill answered in mock dismay. "Whatever shall I do? Oh, yes, I know... I shall publicly write a check for one dollar a month and drop it off in person. Exactly one dollar, as that's all they need for their charity programs to run smoothly. And please, make that a public announcement."
Murphy winced. "I suppose that gets the point across."
"And do me a favor, make certain to fill that announcement with every ounce of venom you can manage," Dill ordered. "You know exactly the type of announcement I'm talking about, and I want it ready by tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Murphy frowned. "But-" Then comprehension dawned on his face. "Oh, now that is evil, just evil!"
Dill smiled wickedly. "Isn't it just?"
"I'd better be going," Murphy sighed. "I will contact you later tonight."
"Good afternoon," Dill nodded, walking Murphy to the door.
Turning around, he ran upstairs. How the hell had the cops missed the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of his-
He screeched to a halt in the doorway. It wasn't there. The laundry was just gone. Except... Except... His eyes started watering as he looked at a corner of the room. There was nothing there. There couldn't be anything there. "Azjure ka-dante bretah," he whispered under his breath.
The sudden, splitting headache rocked him back a few steps, but seeing Paul resolve into focus was almost worth it. Paul's eyes snapped open a second later. "Oh, it's you," he shook his head. "I was trying to make sure they didn't leave anyone behind before I dropped the veil."
Dill shook his head in confusion. "What just happened?"
"I noticed the cops coming over, so I slipped inside," Paul shrugged. "You were all but screaming your concerns about the laundry, mentally spoken, so I hid it."
"You can just sneak in here?" Dill complained. "Don't I have plenty of security?"
Paul smiled. "You're house was well aware of my presence, but you weren't in a position to be informed. It took the initiative to let me in here to hide the laundry."
"It took initiative?" Dill blinked in surprise. "House AI, confirm?"
"Conversation this morning had previously indicated you didn't want attention drawn to the events of last night, most specifically your involvement in them," House AI explained. "The laundry pile represents such evidence. You have displayed trust towards Paul on several occasions, suggesting you would allow this."
"Initiative, use of personal pronouns..." Dill shook his head. "House AI, remind me to run you against the Turing test soon."
"Understood; reminder scheduled," House AI confirmed.
"Alright then," Dill shook his head. "Thank you for helping. I thought you were going to be busy, though."
Paul's face grew darker as he touched the axe at his side. "I found a few individuals. I wanted to touch base again before I left the area entirely. To avenge Thomas by abandoning those he sought to protect would dishonor his memory. First, I need to make sure things are stable here."
Dill nodded. "Lets head downstairs with that pile. I'm surprised you didn't just walk off with it, I didn't actually see you, but I sure as heck knew something was here."
Paul frowned for a moment. "They weren't aware of my presence, at all."
Dill opened his mouth, then shook his head. "Alright, but then surely they could have run into you."
Paul shook his head again. "I wasn't invisible as such, simply supremely unnoticeable. Ordinary. A part of the room they had no interest in. As good as invisibility, but without the drawbacks. That's why you were so confused when you entered the room, your mind was capable of perceiving the contradiction. Moving would have made it much more difficult to maintain the illusion, even a little bit chancy, so I had to do it the way I did. After all, none of them had a chance of breaching the veil."
Dill frowned. "If none of them could breach the veil-"
"None of them could so much as sense it," Paul smiled. "You're different."
"Different?" Dill asked.
Paul laughed. "Lets head downstairs and talk with Brian. He needs to be here for this conversation."
"What conversation?" Dill asked crossly as Paul picked up the bundle and trundled off.
"You'll see," Paul told him cryptically. Dill wasn't able to get anything more out of him as they trudged off towards the elevator.