"So, what are we going to do about Jason?" "Why do we have to do anything?" "He's turned into a teen-ager. Sullen. Disobedient. A pain in the ass." "Well, that's a fine attitude." "Hey, I signed up to take a bullet for him, and I still would. For your sake, if nothing else. Well, yeah, and for his. Doesn't mean I have to like the little twerp 24x7, though." "Well, it's good to hear you at least admit it openly." "Don't get me wrong, Byron. He's smart, when he applies himself. He's dedicated, when he gets off his ass. He could fly a jet, or track down an arms smuggler, or run your business -- if he could be bothered to do it." "So what? It's not like I'm going to send him off to military school." "No, the kid needs grounding. Discipline, but not the uniform kind. Learning to lead a real life, not what we do day in and day out." "So ...?" "Sit his ass down in Halcyon. Send him to school there. Tell him it's a prerequisite for getting a higher degree. Let him meet girls, for Christ's sake. Or, hell, boys, if he swings that way." "I have no idea." "That's part of the problem, Byron. Boys, girls, camels -- he needs a chance to get away from all this non-stop craziness. Meet some people. Make some friends. Do some stuff that doesn't involve hovercraft and automatic weapons." "There's his safety to consider." "Byron, I was assigned to protect him -- but that was a lot more important when he was 6 than when he's 16. He'll be at the Halcyon compound. He'll be going to Halcyon Academy, most likely. If that's not enough security, hell, build a robot bodyguard for him, that's the sort of shit you do. There are ways to keep him safe." "What about Amir?" "What about him? If he wants to settle down, get a degree, whatever, fund it. But he's a scrapper. He's used to living on his own terms. He enjoys this shit. Jason has always been sheltered, protected. He needs to get out from under. Figure out who he is." "He'll resent it." "Good. Best way to learn who you want to be is to be thrown in the deep end of the pool." "That seems a bit cruel." "It's a cruel world, Byron." "I could ... inquire at the Academy. Make some arrangements." "I'll talk to AEGIS, make sure they keep a watch on the boy." "But he'll need more protection. Hmmmm. Maybe the nanobot defense vest." "That sounds ... like just your kind of weird." "It's just something I've been toying about. Smart materials, non-integral, capable of reconfiguration to provide optimal situational protection. Bullet-proof vest becomes body armor become crash cushion. It needs a lot more work before it's suitable for licensing, if it ever will be -- but I could equip the boy with a prototype that should provide interim protection. He can beta test it." "I'm not sure 'beta testing' and 'safety' go hand in hand." "It should work fine, just need some periodic readjustments in the neural interface. I can monitor it, even remotely -- make sure he's not having problems." "Well, as long as it works for him. You know Chin would like nothing more than to get his hands on him. Or even Amir." "I'm -- well, I'm not worried about that." "Why the hell not?" "That's ... off the table between us. Chin won't do anything directly against Jason. Or Amir." "Because?" "Because we agreed to it." "The hell?" "Jesus, Rusty, I'm a father. By blood and by adoption. I would do anything to protect my boys." "And Chin?" "He's a father, too. We ... agreed. Nothing that targets the children." "Huh. And collateral damage?" "That's ... allowed. If Chin tries to shoot down the Dragonfly to get at me, and we're all aboard, well, c'est la guerre . But nothing that specifically targets Jason or Amir. Or Alycia." "Not sure how you draw that line, Byron." "I draw it quite conscientiously. I have to trust that Chin does the same." "Which is why you were willing to let the girl go after that episode in Yakutsk." "And why the bomb under the mini-sub 'miraculously' failed to go off." "How long has this been going on?" "We -- reached an agreement after that thing in Kazakhstan." "When the kids were all held hostage?" "After they got away." "And after Chin blew up the rebel base." "I -- had a hand in that, too. I supplied the coordinates, he supplied the munitions." "There were about eighty casualties in that camp." "I know. But it stopped any pursuit after the kids. And we couldn't have gotten there in time." "Stupid of them to think they could extort weapons systems from both of you." "Stupid and fatal. It was after that -- cooperation -- that we came to an agreement." "Very 'Great Game' of you." "Perhaps. Maybe we were afraid of what extremes the other might go to if one of us played that particular card. God knows what I'd -- well, this keeps the rivalry ... cleaner. More between the two of us." "You could have told me." "You're a direct man. That's part of what I love about you. No grays. Just blacks and whites. It makes you an excellent bodyguard, an effective agent -- and a fine lover. But the real world is grays. And if it takes some shade of gray to protect Jason, and Amir, than so be it." "And you thought I couldn't be trusted?" "I thought you'd be the one suggesting taking the Chin girl and using her as leverage against him." "The thought had occurred to me, but I figured you'd never go along with it." "You figured right. No, best to let this end when one of us does. Or both, if it comes to that. No need to drag this thing out into another generation." "Do you ever feel ... compromised, Byron? Working with a devil like Chin." "To protect the boys? That's my moral touchstone, Rusty. As long as what I'm doing is protecting them, then I'm doing the right thing." "So putting Jason into school at Halcyon Academy?" "That's the right thing for him, too. I realize that, on consideration. And it's not like we're going to vanish from his life. We'll be there for him, as a touchstone." "He'll need it. As much power, as much influence as he'll have as your son, he'll be a target for every world conqueror, malcontent, enemy agent, local politician, and media mogul who can fight their way into the compound." "Don't I know it. But I can't protect him from that directly. Sooner or later he'll need to face that on his own. The Academy has resources he can learn from in that way. And it will help him get his act together. I'll start making some calls in the -- Hey." "What?" "This started off with you making the suggestion, and ends with me turning out to be all gung-ho for it." "Well, what do you make of that?" "I make it that I that I should have said you're a fine diplomat, too. Even if your stubble is scratchy at night." "A little scratchiness can be a good thing." "Don't I know it." "I've got some other suggestions, too. Want to see if you get all gung-ho over them?" "Do they involve scratchy stubble? I'm in." "Clearly I got into the wrong line of business."