Chapter 6

Darius and Zach stood on a stone plant trough in order to peer through a window at the Samson's Villa.

“Shit.” Darius said miserably. “Look at her, Zach.” Alexandria was whirling round the dance floor, faultlessly, with Axel Samson. “Whatever made me think she was relying on me.”

“I think I can safely say that you've won your future bet.” Zach nodded.

“Oh that damned bet.” Darius heaved. “Yes, I've probably won that, but what have I lost?”

“Darius?” Zach turned to look at his friend in surprise.

“There's Jack Skatch.” Darius said quickly. “See him? He's one of my first graders. Come on you little toerag, turn round.”

“Why do you want him to see you? I thought we were meant to be being discrete?” Zach said.

“I want to give him an intimidating glare to get him out here. Ha! He's seen me.” Darius jerked his thumb at the boy, and gave him a glower that would melt diamond. “That should do it.”

“Darius, are you afraid of losing Alexandria?” Zach asked., climbing down from the window.

“What? Don't talk tosh, Zach. If she goes, I lose a huge source of professional research.” Darius sniffed. Zach smiled and shook his head. “Anyway, I don't want her going anywhere with a head full of temper. I want her where I can see what's doing, otherwise she'll have the lot of us hanged.” He wafted his hand around. “Skatch! Over here!” He hissed when he saw Jack looking round the gardens. “Skatch! Over here in the bushes! Good grief.” Jack scurried over and crawled under the bush to get to the two professors.

“Sir? I'm sure the Samsons won't mind if you've forgotten your invitations.”

“Nevermind that!” Darius said irritably. “Miss Rayne. You know who I mean?”

“Oh I'll say.” Jack beamed broadly. “The scholar, right?”

“Yes that's the one. What's she doing?”

“Huh? Well she's dancing with Axel.” Jack said in confusion.

“Yes I can see that.” Darius said patiently. “And? Is she OK in there? Are people OK with her scholar ... stuff?”

“Well they know she's a scholar, sir. Everyone does.” Jack nodded.

“And everyone's OK with that?” Darius badgered.

“Well why wouldn't they be?” Jack answered starchily. “Just because she isn't a Solunian scholar doesn't mean she's not one at all. Sir, we aren't as stuffy about that as they were in your day.” Zach snorted a laugh.

“Stuffy? I am not ... look that doesn't matter! What's she talking about in there?” Darius rasped, semi-hysterically.

“Oh she's getting along just fine with Axel, sir.” Jack winked conspiratorially. Darius flinched. “They were talking about structural engineering earlier. She certainly knows how things are bolted together. I don't know what they were talking about after that, I don't understand Al Kazik.”

“Al Kazik? Skatch, what in black buggery are you talking about? I want to know about Miss Rayne! OK? Alexandria Rayne? Red dress, ringlets, yay big? Yes?”

“Yes sir, I know who you mean. I told you so.” Jack protested.

“So she wasn't speaking Al Kazik! Axel, yes, his mother is Al Kazik. No one speaks Al Kazik except the Al Kaziks!” Darius shrieked. “I'm going in.”

“No!” Zach laughed and caught his friend by the arm. “She'll choke you. Jack are you sure Miss Rayne was actually speaking Al Kazik and not just listening to Axel?”

“She was speaking it very well, sir. Well enough for a conversation with Lady Hexa Call.” Jack said seriously. “Is she Al Kazik? Miss Rayne, I mean?”

“I have no bloody idea.” Darius said in a daze.

“She can't be.” Zach nodded. “She wouldn't have been in her last department if she'd been from anywhere else. She'd have had to report to her native sector.” She'd have been deported on arrest.

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