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16 December 2017 @ 08:57 am

Chapter Five

Nick was quite familiar with hangovers. He'd drunk himself insensible more than once, after . . . after that nightmare flight from Makkah. Almost four years, now.

But this was a grownup hangover, with a bad attitude and a determination to stomp his brain into mush. In between stomps he remembered a hell of a party. He'd found a couple of drunks, offered them wine, some prostitutes had joined them, their pimp had stalked up and threatened them . . . Nick had decked him . . . then a dozen women had been laughing about it, more wine . . . and there'd been some skinners . . . more women . . .

"That was not . . . " His voice trailed off in a whimper, and he whispered the rest. "Not how I'd envisioned losing my virginity. Well, maybe I imagined an orgy a couple of times before."

The doorway he was sitting in was littered with bottles. Once he'd had a sip of that treated wine, he'd told everyone to pour a little into every bottle . . . Hell, even the pimp had joined the party, once he'd been dosed.

There were plenty of snoring, groaning and puking bodies around. Half of them totally naked.

Good thing this is the part of town the police avoid.

He managed to get to his feet and start walking. Started crying. I had a fantastic party while my sister was dying! And it doesn't change anything. I'm still a Eunuch, still a wanted criminal, still a mass murderer.

And if Gamer is still alive, I'll need to come back here regularly and find people I recognize, study them to see what the wine has done.

And figure out what to do with Gamer, if . . . if there's a mental spell. Something that makes her dangerous to the rest of us.

He made it far enough out of the Red Zone to find a corner vendo. Bought water.

Amazing. I still have that cash card. No one lifted it last night? Guess the couple I hit made the rest . . . too happy drunk to worry about it. I sort of remember buying more wine a couple of times.

The really astounding thing is that I managed to keep my clothes on. In the dark no one saw . . . the scars. The lack. Even when I . . . I hadn't realized how good sex was.

He kept moving until he was a couple of blocks from home. Then he slipped into a shaded corner and leaned on the wall.

Abbaas joined him a few minutes later. Sniffed. "You drunk, or just roll in a gutter for the fun of it?"

"Hungover. Anything?"

"Quiet as can be. The mothers are going to ream you. Karima slipped in to check Gamer. Said she was sitting and eating some nasty soup Umaya made."

"Right. Wait another hour. If the police aren't waiting for me to show . . ." Nick hesitated, then fetched out the cash card. "Go shopping."

Then he shoved off the wall and went in to face the music.

Gamer's face lit with relief . . . then dismay.

"You're . . . all right." Nick found himself on his knees beside her chair.

"Yes. What did you give me?" She leaned away, waving a hand through the air.

"Sorry. Umm . . . I'll go get cleaned up . . . "

"Drunk! What would your father say!" Umaya drew breath to continue . . .then shrank away from something she saw in his eyes.

Nick dredged up a smile for Gamer. "She's right. But it's mostly just a hangover now." He reached out and touched her.

"I'm real. Whatever that was healed me. Nick . . . go sleep. Tell me about it later." Her worried gaze followed him as he staggered back to his feet and into the little bathroom they all shared.

He shed clothes and climbed into the shower. Even the water hitting his scalp hurt. He made himself soap down and rinse before he gave up and headed for bed.

The early morning sun woke him.

The clothes he'd shed were washed and folded at the foot of the bed.

Abbaas and Hakim were snoring in the next room. The four women shared the largest bedroom.

I won't be sorry to move again. Pity we have to stay in the city, but people notice us out in the country. If the gates still worked . . . if we could find a way through security to one of the smaller colonies, live off the land . . .

I hate being a thief.

The cash card was on top of the pile.

That man. Ebsa Clostuone. He looked at me and saw a friend. And if he is from another world, a close split? He must have a gate beacon, a place where they will pick him up. Could we get through it? All of us?

But then his One would take the younger boys, and that I won't allow.

Sleeping the clock around had cured the hangover, so he dressed and followed his nose to the kitchen.

Gamer grinned over her shoulder. "Did you really just throw a whole chicken and vegetables in the pot and walk out to get drunk?"

Nick looked into the pot. "Huh. Someone went and cut up my vegetables. And what about the chicken bones? Very nutritious; you lot ate them all already, didn't you?"

She snickered. "Yes, and this is all that's left." She dished out a bowlful and handed it to him. "You slept right through an earthquake, but no buildings collapsed here that I've heard. The Middle East and the West Coast of North America got hit a lot harder."

Nick hunched his shoulders. "I hate these quake swarms."

"Now tell me what that . . . medicine . . . was and where you got it."

He took a bite and chewed. "Huh. Ruined it with spices as well."

She just waited.

"I walked into an auto café for lunch. There was a man at a table. Dark hair, blue eyes. He spotted me and looked . . . relieved? Happy? I don't know. Like his best friend just walked in. Then he really looked at me . . . " He touched his ear, the old nick . . . He shoved back from the table and walked to the mirror. It was gone. A little patch of new pink skin, not the slightest dip in the curve of his ear.

He walked slowly back to the table. Stared at the soup and started talking. Ran out of soup about the same time he got to the part about going out the window. "Got away from the cops. Shopped, got a bottle of wine and," Shrug.

"It worked. So . . . I'm betting you kept some before you went out . . . Why?"

"I thought I'd try it on some winos, see what happened."

She raised eyebrows.

"I didn't mean to drink any myself. But I got the wrong bottle and it just . . . knocked any common sense right out of my head. I bought more wine, hard liquor, we experimented with everything."


"The winos, the tarts, some bag lady . . . there must have been a hundred people mixing drinks all over the street before I passed out." He felt his face heat.

"I suspect you're leaving out the indelicate parts?"

"Yes. You are much too young to know what an orgy is."

That made her laugh. But then she sobered. "We'd better wait a month and see if there are any adverse effects before we experiment any further. And . . . I'd better get back to work."

"You missed a week. I expect they'll tell you to get lost."

Snort. "No, they'll believe me. The factories always need people." She touched her face. "Once I get the bones molded back to . . . my disguise."

"You reverted fast. I wish I weren't so well known." Nick looked down at the cash card.

More money than we've had for months, and he just left it sitting on the table. Didn't even notice my sleight-of-hand picking it up.

I'll need to get back to work soon enough. Day jobs, cash pay, no questions. Construction, cleanup, whatever. Holding illusions all day. And when no one is hiring, theft.

But today I think I'll head back to the Red Zone.

Chapter Six

"So . . . what was that about a test? I couldn't find any references to a new gate complex, or whether you'd found any of your colonies. Well, actually the colonies wouldn't have split, would they? But surely you've got a working gate again!"

Ebsa ignored their glares. Slid out of his coat and draped it over the back of a chair. Dumped his pockets on the desk, smoothed out the tie.

The he eyed the silent men.

"No gates? Holy One. What happened?"

The slightly shorter one shrugged. "Odd things happen when we fire up the gate."

15 December 2017 @ 12:03 am

Another man came in . . . Eggo or something like that. Exterior Directorate. "And if you're done, Urfa, I have some background questions about his version of the XD."

Urfa eyed him. "Actually, I assumed it would be the same as before the disaster. Why should it have changed?"

"Not a very safe assumption. They must have had to adjust to the loss of Granite Peak, even if they didn't nuke the gate."

Ebsa frowned suddenly. "I didn't have enough time to look deeply into the matter. Did we nuke our own gate, or did the Earth bring an anchor through and open their own direct gate?"

Both men eyed him.

Urfa shrugged and broke the silence. "Their gate, we were trying to get the bomb through the gate and then detonate it."

Ebsa chewed his lip. "The Disco expert said there were several membranes orbiting each other. I wonder if there's a version of Earth out there that got nuked?"

Eggo leaned at him. "So tell me about XD."

"Well, after we lost the Granite Peak Colony—the anchor was destroyed so we couldn't find it again—we beefed up Exploration, trying to find Earth, or Granite Peak, or a Colony of Earth we could use to attack them. With no luck. We also beefed up the Action Teams . . . In my opinion unwisely recruiting a lot of bullies and rapists . . . that were used on a number of Target Worlds.

"We opened several new colonies. Then we started actions on a medieval level world, to start our conquest. At roughly the same time Earth discovered it.

"The short version of the story is that the world was a fourteen centuries old Earth colony, used to exile some of the genetically engineered people on Earth. Including Those Left Behind. We captured the Earth Anchor but failed to invade the Earth. The local magical community, which included many of the very old original Tellies, became aware once again of the Multiverse, and started working on making gates themselves, and eventually set up an Empty World for embassies from all over, and sponsored Disco, to put some teeth in their 'No War' demands." Ebsa eyed their crossed arms and stubborn expressions. "You really do need to talk to them."

Urfa shifted. "And what of the One?"

Eggo frowned at him. "What does that matter? Why should it be different?"

"Because there wasn't a huge battle two years ago, all over Makkah, between the Last Prophet and the Last Warrior. Aren't you curious?"

"Not really, that's Interior's problem. I have enough of my own." A glance at his watch.

Ebsa got his boggle under control. "Emre One versus Isak ibn Isak? With a cast of thousands? Is Makkah still standing?"

Urfa leaned close. "Don't get snippy. There were over two hundred dead, including both the Prophet and the Warrior."

"Emre and Isakson are friends. Or, on this world, were friends. Until the One kidnapped the child of a Warrior. Castrated a three-quarters trained Warrior. What the Hell were they thinking? I'll bet Ra'd was responsible for half the casualties." Ebsa boggled, shook his head. "You created a monster. What about the rest of the kids? The wives, widows, rather of the Warriors? What happened to Umaya, wife of the Prophet Nicholas? What happened to the daughter of the Prophet?"

Urfa glowered. "She's more dangerous than her brother. Massive telekinetic sabotage from easily a hundred meters away. There are kill-on-sight orders out for her. Interior nearly had her, last week. Pity they only injured her."

Ebsa huffed out a breath in disbelief. "You are damn lucky they didn't kill her. Are you trying to make your monster worse?"

Eggo glanced at his watch.

Why is he watching the clock? Ebsa rattled his handcuffs in frustration. "Right. So . . . what, apart from trying to disassemble Makkah has he done?"

"Aiding and abetting the assassination of a Prophet of the One? It's hard to top that," One of the other Interior guys growled.

"How many murders, here in Paris?"

"None that we know of. He's not on a killing spree . . . " the Interior guy trailed off, starting, finally to look worried.

Ebsa softened his voice. "How many Presidents have you lost? How many Councilmen, Ministers, Directors have died?"

They stared at him.

"And maybe he will just suck on a gun when he has nothing left to live for. But I think he'll leave a heap of bodies behind before that happens. Carefully selected targets."


Urfa glared down on him. "And what's your solution?"

"Not my problem, despite my immediate 'my friend is in trouble' knee-jerk reaction. But tossing him through a gate and losing the location comes to mind." Ebsa looked over at the priests. "Is your medical science so primitive that you cannot simply suppress the hormones until the brain is fully mature? I mean, with castration, you miss the boost in ability that comes with puberty, loss of virginity, fatherhood . . . No? You really ought to try experimenting."

"That is hardly the business of a . . . Native." Ohme had been around nearly constantly. Touching devotion, or more likely a desire to track Ebsa to find Ra'd. Or Azho. Whatever.

"Umm, wrong insult. I'm a Closey Upcomer Bastard, thank you very much."

Urfa glowered and tapped at his comp. "A two oh one Closey Bastard. Bad luck, eh?"

"Umm, not really. I'd hate to think what a nasty snob I might have turned into with a whole set." Ebsa looked innocent. "Much better to sneak up on high status through three or four generations, don't you think?"

Eggo sniffed and looked at Urfa. "You've all the test results on him and his clothes. It all agrees with what we'd expect from a dimensional traveler from the One World, right down to the implanted ID that gives him the top security rating. Including presidential access."

Urfa growled, and looked to the cops. "Put him someplace you can watch him, while I talk to some diplomats and bureaucrats about this Disco thing."

Eggo glanced at his watch again. "Dammit, I need to get back for the test."

Everyone sort of froze.

"Trying to destroy the world again?" The Interior guy sniffed. "We don't need gates."

"Yeah, not until Earth finds us again." Eggo stalked out.

In an uncomfortable silence, they handed in Ebsa's clothes and he dressed quickly, walked out. Eyed the table. "Comp? Comm?"

"We're still dissecting them."

Ebsa sighed. Reached for his wallet . . . much lighter by ID and the cash card. He shrugged and pocketed it. Strapped on the watch, hanky in other back pocket. He shrugged into the suit coat, folded up the tie and pocketed it. Put the pencils and the pen in the shirt pocket and picked up the roll of antacids. Took two. Left the pocket lint.

The Interior fellow waved a pair of goons forward. Totally stereotyped, so probably a lot brighter than they looked.

"Utly and Wkde will . . . escort you to a place where you may remain comfortably. Try to leave without them, and we'll find a less comfortable place for you. Much less comfortable."

"Righto." Ebsa looked at the two men. Mouse brown hair and brown eyes in plain features. They were going to be hard to tell apart. "So, where we off to?"

A hotel. Ebsa looked toward a restaurant across from the front desk. "Dinner?"

"Room service." Utly steered him toward the elevator.


So they think I'll take an opportunity to escape?

Ha! I need to stick around long enough to talk to government people. And perhaps they'll want to talk to Disco, So I can arrange that. Well, introduce them to Hackathorne and rush home to my bride, while other people do the arranging.

Sorry guys. My objectives and yours are at odds.

And I haven't a clue what I should do about Azho.


14 December 2017 @ 07:40 am

Ebsa looked over at the Priest. "What happened to the rest of the group? The Warrior Isakson? His wives and children, the wives and children of the other warriors? Ra'd's stepmother and younger sister?"

"They rebelled against the One." The Priest's eye narrowed. "But you know of them."

"In my world, Isakson is the trainer for the Presidential guards, and trains and certifies the New Warriors. A few of the widows have married, the kids are all in school. Qamar is the oldest, she's working on her doctorate in Magical Theory."

Urfa's glare was aimed at the priest, this time. "I was not aware that Azho was not an ordinary priest candidate. Am I correct, now, in realizing that we're dealing with a highly magical, highly trained warrior? I thought those were rumors!"

Ohme glared back. "They're true. And that is why we must have him."

"And this Isakson?"

"Dead, and several others of the group. We want them all, but because of his training, we want Azho most of all."

Ebsa cleared his throat. "You killed the last Warrior of the One?"

Ohme frowned back at Ebsa, glanced at Urfa.

:: So how do we use him. We can't just release him. ::

:: We'll have to be very sloppy and let him escape. I'll pretend to believe his story and relax around him. ::

Ebsa suppressed a snicker. I think I will pass on at least the first two attempts to get me to escape. See how desperate they get.

"Umm, as long as we're being all chummy here, I think I should tell you about the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation . . . "

Chapter Three

It was easy enough to shed the team that was after him.

Pathetic. Their spell net was weak, their blocking shields obvious, with plenty of gaps. No real Speed, limited range of magic, no counterspells. Apart from the one fellow. He had serious depth behind good solid shields. Even I nearly took him for an ordinary High Oner.

Ra'd. He knew my old name.

Could he really be from a different One World?

A Wild Card that will break, for better or worse, this fugitive existence we live in?

Nick touched the little vial in his pocket. He could feel the spells. Healing, among other things. Dare I use it? Of course I do. I have nothing to lose.

He veered into a grocery store, picked up a few staples, a gallon jug of red wine. He'd dilute it enough for the healing spells to still work and the other spells, whatever they were, to hopefully not be deadly.

The cash card he'd picked up from the table in front of the agent worked, and showed an impressive balance. He hustled out the door and took a twisted path around to where he could see the grocer . . . all quiet.

So . . . no tracer on the card? Or are they stringing me along?

Or was he telling the truth? He knew my name.

He shoved those thoughts away and took a new route home. They'd been here longer than he felt comfortable with. But . . . he stepped into the back room. Gamer's face was flushed with fever, her eyes half closed and not focusing. He tried to ignore the odors. Failed. Feces and gangrene.  

"Oh Gamer. I should kidnap another doctor." It's too late for even a top hospital to save you. You'll be gone in hours. My little sister. Qamar ibn Nicholas ibn Victor. You should be a queen, not a criminal, in this hideous future we've landed in.

Her mother was sitting by her side, silent. She wiped a tear. "Insha' Allah."

He uncorked the wine and tipped in a few drops from the vial. Pour a bit into the untouched water glass by his sister's bedside.

Waste of time. It'll be so dilute it will do no good at all.

But he knelt and lifted Gamer's shoulders. She whimpered, her eyes opening a bit more.


She tried. Leaned her head on his shoulder. Took another sip. And another. Broke into a sweat as she took the glass in her own hands and drained it.

The smell was stomach churning. He let her lay back and pulled back the padding on her abdomen. The entry wound on her back was miniscule. The exit wound . . . was poring out foul matter. He wiped, grabbed the trash and dumped the padding, grabbed tissues and wiped.

"Don't stand there, get towels! Rags, anything. A plastic bag."

Umaya staggered to her feet and out the door, her voice carrying before her.

Meisha, the most sensible of the lot, was right back with a roll of paper towels and garbage bags. "Oh . . . what is this?" She set to wiping and Nick got out of the way.

Only the four oldest children were with them now. The other two surviving wives and their school age children had managed to stay unnoticed under false IDs. Settled, the children in school.

But Hakim . . . The Priests will take him, if they find him, if they are watching us. Abbas and I paid for our naivety. No one else will.

Karima was just eleven, tears on her cheeks, but trying to look stoic. Pressed against the window, where the breeze brought fresh air.

Abbas and Hakim were fourteen and twelve. Isakson's children. He and their mother both died fighting the Priests, trying to save their sons.

Nick nodded at the line of backpacks along the wall. "Go. Twenty-four hours on outlook."

They snatched their bags and bolted.

Nick turned back to the bedroom.

Gamer was pale and motionless. Only her chest moved with her breath.

Umaya was praying silently.

Meisha shot him a puzzled look. "All the bad oozed out. Now it looks pink and healthy. Take out all this garbage. We will wash her now."

Nick grabbed the bags, and took them out to the alley, one bag in each of four dumpsters. If found and identified, they'll have to search four apartment buildings. He washed up in a faucet, and prowled the neighborhood. No sign of police. He searched the apartment building. Meisha was in the basement, in the laundry room. Umaya was sleeping in the chair beside Gamer.

Gamer . . . he reached and took her pulse. Seventy.

He looked back at the jug of wine. Not yet. I still don't trust him. But I think I will add this stuff to the survival packs.

He hunted through the pantry and fridge, and found a miscellany of almost empty bottles. Filled them with wine and tucked them into the other four packs. Threw random veggies and the chicken he'd bought into a pot of water and turned on the heat.

If Gamer is healing . . .

He walked back to his room and closed the door. Cried. Please God, let Gamer live!

After a little while, he walked back and stood there, watching her breath.

What have I done? What if there are subtle effects, mental effects? Or something deadly? How will I tell normal weakness from a poison?

I'll have to experiment on someone else. Give them a heavy dose. Perhaps two or three people . . . Who won't be missed if I'm wrong. People I won't feel too guilty about killing. If at all. Only the ever-bedamned One knows how many I killed in Makkah.

He stepped quietly out. Taking the wine with him. Over in the Red Zone there were plenty of winos and prostitutes. He pushed down a twinge of guilt. They are drinking and drugging themselves to death anyway. Why should I not test a possible poison on them?

He bought another jug of wine on the way.

I drink out of the new one, they drink out of the treated one.

Chapter Four

" . . . so since you're a dimensionally able civ, you really ought to think about at least talking to the Disco people. Mind you, they're nasty about cross-dimensional wars. You need to give up on finding the right Earth to punish."

"Fat fucking chance of that!"

Ebsa had long ago lost track of who was who among all the people talking to him.

He was tastefully dressed in a flimsy paper . . . outfit. Everything he'd brought with him was spread out over the table he occasionally glimpsed when the door opened.

They did seem to have accepted that he was from a close parallel world. They found his testimony half fascinating and half horrifying.

They really didn't like the idea of the Exile Worlds, of magicians as strong as they were. And downright queasy at the thought of dimensional doubles of everyone over forty-five years of age.

A couple of times he was left alone for a few minutes, as people left before new ones entered. More often there was overlap.

Then they all got called into a meeting. One guy stuck his head in, visually checked that he was handcuffed to the table, closed the door and locked it.

Ebsa put his head down and settled in for a nap.

They woke him up after half an hour. Looking a bit irritated.

"What the hell are we supposed to do with you?" Urfa glared at him, glanced at his watch.

"Let me talk to some diplomats, or One forbid, some bureaucrats. I can take them, introduce them to the Disco people . . . No? Well. I can see why you don't want to give up on revenge. But you need to. Every world out there is Earth. The Earth that we deal with also attacked the Granite Peak Colony—A close split from them was a bit faster, a bit better equipped, and made it through the gate. Disco hasn't found them. When they do, it'll be time to think about how to penalize them. Until then . . . talk to everyone else."

13 December 2017 @ 07:06 am

Ebsa decided on pure honesty. "Because I'm an Exterior Agent, taking a first look at a newly discovered transdimensional world. One that apparently split off from mine about fifty years ago. On that world you are a friend, a fellow agent and frequent partner."

Now Ra'd leaned and glared. "Not a Priest?"

"Umm, he has a rather . . . negative relationship with the One."

"Well." Razor sharp smile and leaning well into Ebsa's space. "My relationship with them is extremely negative, after they castrated me and tried to rape my mind. I killed at least eight. I got too busy to continue counting after that."

"Ah . . . " Ebsa blinked. "Riiiight . . . they didn't think they needed Warriors, then?" He looked back at his comp, the photo of the mushroom cloud over the central plains of the North American continent.

Ra'd hand snapped out and spun the comp. He frowned at it.

"That's the split between our worlds. We closed the gate in the face of their army, marooning most of the colonists. So my world was shaken by the loss of a colony, but continued exploring, hoping to find Granite Peak again, or better yet, the world that had attacked them."

"And did you find it?"

Ebsa subdued a twinge in his stomach. No wonder the high tones. They caught him at fifteen. For a High Oner, that's about when puberty starts.

"It's not quite so simple. We found a world . . . well, before that, but you would have barely started exploring it. Umm, it was one of five Exile Worlds, where the Earth dumped all the genetically engineered people. The Prophets—as you well know—were a marooned exploration team. The Exile was two years later, from their same world."

"Oh? And you think I should know about it?"

"I suspect your father and grandparents spoke of their origins. Those Left Behind—we found them." Ebsa paused as Ra'd stiffened.

Ra'd finally leaned away, sat.

"May I take something out of my wallet?"

Narrowed eyes. Nod.

Ebsa moved slowly, pulled out his wallet, the little vial of Joy Juice. "You'll find this useful. It's a von neumanns, dope a bottle of wine, and yes, of course test it on animals first. It's stuffed full of healing spells for damn near anything."

Ra'd eyed it, pocketed it. "So . . . is there another you around somewhere?"

Ebsa glanced at the comp and shook his head. "My mother was a baby when that happened. According to the census, she has two daughters instead of a single son. I was never born. Nor my wife. My father-in-law is a District Councilman, not . . . what he became on my world. A couple of my bosses exist. No doubt quite changed."

Ra'd nodded. "Pity my introduction to the future wasn't as peaceful as my . . . alternate's." He leaned closer. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing. Not my world. Not my fight."

Razor smile. "It is now."

And he was out of his seat at Speed, curling into a ball as he hit the plate glass window and ran. Four men charging through the doors reversed course, ran after him . . . two coming in from the back service door had guns on Ebsa.

"You touch power, you die."

"Umm, right." Ebsa kept his hands very still. Play dumb? Or be honest? This is a dimensionally able world, closely related to mine. I think I'll start by introducing the concept of Disco to them.

"Where's he going?"

"I don't know. I just met him today."

A fist knotted but did not swing. "What did you give him?"

"A magic potion. It contains a couple dozen very powerful healing spells among other things."

Glower. "We can make you talk."

"No reason for me to not talk. But you'll probably want to Truth me right from the start, it'll save time and repetition."

He was cuffed, searched, and marched off to a closed truck.

Chapter Two

10 Yusef 1400 yp

"Tell us all you know about Azho Withione Nicholas Makkah."

Ebsa boggled. "Wait, do you mean to tell me there's a worse choice of letters for Ra'd? Holy One!"

Glares. Lots of aggressive body language. He was a bit surprised no one hit him.

"Tell us about him."

"Umm, I am a directorate agent, an explorer scout from a world that split off from yours sometime in the last fifty years. Probably associated with the Granite Peak disaster. On my world Ra'd is a fellow agent, and I know a lot of his past, that might be useful to you, but clearly your history diverged from that of my friend's years ago."

"Do you expect us to believe that shit?" The fellow in charge leaned close, threateningly. "If we weren't waiting for the priests, you'd be full of drugs and babbling your guts out. But don't look relieved, we'll be getting to that soon enough."

"No doubt." Ebsa tried to ignore his stomach. That hideous lunch, not sheer terror.

Two priests joined them . . . He recognized one of them . . . Ohme or something like that. In his world, he was stationed at Versalle. Part of a relay station to mental contact with the One.

Have I attracted high up attention already? He thought that over. No. This is because of Ra'd.

Rolled his shoulders as his handcuffs were released. Signed that he was voluntarily agreeing to a truth match. Held out his hands and started lowering his shields. Stopped at the sight of all the guns. "Yes, I'm strong. Do you want a truth match or not?"

Ohme snorted and took his hand. The other priest took his other hand, the top interrogator sat opposite.

:: I am Ebsa Clostuone Castellanos Montevideo. I am a directorate agent from a close parallel world, scouting out this one. On my world I know Ra'd, and recognized your world's Ra'd immediately. ::

:: That's not his name. :: from the interrogator.

:: Yes it is. He is Ra'd ibn Nicholas ibn Emre. A trainee Warrior of the One born in 250 yp, trapped in a doubled bag of the prophets for centuries. In my world he and the others with him, the survivors of Fort Rangpur, emerged in the year 1397. That point, being after the split between our worlds, his two selves no doubt began diverging. ::

:: Why did you speak to him? ::

:: He saw that I'd recognized him. Then I realized that this wasn't my friend. :: Ebsa closed his eyes and brought up the memory. Played it through, bit by bit, his thoughts, his reading of Ra'd's body language. He gave it all to them.

:: Why are you cooperating? He's your friend. ::

:: He's the twin brother of my friend. I know how extremely dangerous he is. I understand his anger, and gave him the means to reverse the cause. But I know how dangerous he is. And that the One will not release him. ::

Ohme's mental touch. :: But in your world, we released him. ::

:: In my world we thought we were facing a war with Those Left Behind. We needed Warriors. I am appalled by what you do to children. Eat the results of your lack of acceptance of an individual's rights. ::

Steaming anger. :: What do you know of Those Left Behind? ::

Memories again. :: I've met three of them. :: And he pictured Wolfgang Oldham leaning on the bar at the Tavern, Harry Murchison making a joke about something, Jason Rombeau laughing as he joined them.

Pain. He slammed his shield shut jerked his hands loose and clutched his head. Made himself hold very still, as he suspected there were rather a lot of guns aimed at him.

The top cop jerked forward and grabbed Ebsa. "Stop it! Now!"

The pain subsided. He squinted cautiously, then opened both eyes. The interrogator had collapsed, sprawled on the table. Ohme was sitting rigidly, eyes closed. The other priest was reeling in his seat. Ebsa looked around. Even the people not in the merge were looking shaken.

Ebsa shook his head. "That wasn't me. I think I startled the One."

"Startled?" A familiar voice.

Ebsa jerked around to face Urfa Withione Rodos Ottoman.

A huff of relief . . . followed by the realization that this wasn't his Urfa.

Urfa's eyes narrowed. "Interesting reaction. So . . . assuming we believe you for a single moment . . . who am I on your world?"

"Head of the Presidential Directorate, under President Orde, sir."

"Really? Orde's much better placed as the Minister of Finance."

Ebsa felt his face go blank . . . but . . . Oh, wrong Orde. "Err, Orde Withione Atlas Algeria, right? As opposed to my father-in-law who was a district councilman until he went for region?"

That got a sniff. "So that's why you searched for him? And Taix Castellanos?"

"My mother. I was trying to pin down the timing of the split. Figured if she was here, then it was after 1354, and if I wasn't, it was before 1382. Bracketed it, and . . . well, the Earth took the Granite Peak Colony the year after she was born, so I checked . . . " He hunched his shoulder and tried to only leak a little of his gastric distress. "We closed the gate in the face of the fleeing colonists. I . . . can't imagine having to nuke . . . " He shut his mouth.

"You didn't think the split was a long time ago?"

"Oh, the first Disco person through recorded forty-eight hours of vid broadcasts. So we recognized President Agni's picture in the news. In our world he's the retired XR Director and two time presidential aspirant."

"He tried to take the War Party from Orde?" Skeptical eyebrows.

Ebsa squirmed. "There was a . . . umm . . . problem involving a secret invasion of the world Those Left Behind were exiled to . . . an ignominious military defeat, a leak, and he lost the election to a minor party guy. Umm, Agni lost the last, our last, election, in fact."

"In 1400?"

"Oh . . . huh, time slip there. It's 1411 back home. Seventh of Yusef, right? I never did get a good explanation for why it's always the same day of the year, no matter what year it is, Across."

Icy skepticism.

"Excuse me, but . . . what are you on this world? Director of Interior, perhaps?"

A snort. "I'm a bit young for that. Subdirector of Criminal Investigations."

Right, one step below Director, and no doubt on the fast track upward.

Then Ohme cleared his throat. "His precise on Azho is essentially correct. He shaded a few items, avoided mentioning others, but never actually lied."

"Oh, we can get the rest, no problem." Urfa narrowed his eyes as the priest shook his head.

Ebsa felt the faint tickle of mental communication . . . and reached high up . . .

:: . . . a connection in the back of his subconscious. I think he has merged often enough with his Ra'd to be able to feel our Azho . . . without either being aware of it. I think we can use him as a hunting dog, and track down our rebel. ::

:: And if we can't capture him, kill him. ::

Can that be Urfa? So angry, so filled with hate?

:: NO. Absolutely not. The One must have him alive. ::

And panic from the Priest? Why do they need him alive? Ebsa's breath caught. Ra'd speculates that the One will collapse when the last Prophet dies. Do they think Ra'd can hold them together? Son of Nicholas, grandson of Emre and Elif.

But it hasn't collapsed . . . or perhaps it is collapsing slowly. Slowly enough that they think they can still save it.

12 December 2017 @ 08:25 pm


Mirror, Mirror

Chapter One

5 Yusef 1411 yp

Ebsa eyed the new files on his comp. "Two Empires of the One? Does the Multiverse deserve that?"

"Probably not. The other one was discovered by Disco, but they decided against exploring it themselves. They just asked all sweet and innocently if we'd like to check out a world recently split off from us." Director Izzo drummed his fingers. "Q said there was something weird going on, and that she'd check the other side of the weirdness."

"And she didn't specify?"

"Several membranes orbiting each other, she said. Caught in a whirlpool in the inbetween and getting pulled in deeper. The other One World is in deepest, with a recent spit from Earth pretty deep as well, and several other worlds pulled in more recently. Whole membranes actually. We're not, Thank the One, talking about cannibal miniverses, here." Izzo grimaced. "We'll wait for the in-depth study, until Q has something to show us. But right now all we have is forty-eight hours of vid broadcasts and two days worth of newspaper downloads. All now on your comp.

"I want you to take a good hard look at what we have, then pop across and see . . . well, basically if we should ignore them or contact them. But just a few days, until we learn about the weirdness. I hope to Hell it's not a disaster in progress, or a third One World."

Ebsa grinned. "Now that would be bad. One more One will be quite enough of a challenge. I wonder if any of my electronics will work there? Or cash cards. Guess it depends on when the split was."

"Have fun. Let me know when you're leaving and who's going with you."

The entertainment shows were all different.

Ebsa watched two commercials for ordinary products, from companies he'd never heard of. Then a quick news break.

Flooding, murder, weather forecast, government . . .

President Agni was negotiating with Prime Councilor Akja over the details of the budget . . . then back to the silly situation comedy . . .

"Oh dear." Paer shook her head at the screen. "That's our Agni, not someone with the same name. President! And Akja!" She shivered and leaned into him.

"Remember, that's a different man." Ebsa checked the records. "Agni is a hundred and seventy, here, so whatever happened, happened in the last hundred and seventy years. Because everyone born since wouldn't have been."

"Oh? And how about those books? The close parallel Worlds that are getting closer, not moving apart?" Paer rubbed her extended belly. "And you'd better get back here before the twins arrive."

"I just need library access. Or if a normal cash card works, I'll just buy a couple of history books, download census data. Maybe the government personnel lists."

On screen, the entertainment vid was back. Ebsa leaned on his elbows and watched an actor open a perfectly ordinary comp. "If our electronics mesh."

"After a hundred and seventy years of random drift?"

"Maximum. Could be less. Probably is, I'll bet it's since Agni was fairly high in government. I wonder if Endi Dewulfe would be a splitting point?" Ebsa bit his lip and didn't say "Or the assassination was successful." Because then Akja'd be president.

Paer glowered at him. "They could have sent a different agent, I suppose."

Ebsa frowned at the screen. "Except . . . if they're exploring like us . . . how come we haven't met them yet? I think . . . since we'll be using Disco's permanent gate I'll just slip across and find out about the electronics. Because if they don't mesh, we'll have to do a whole lot of groundwork before we can do much of anything."

Paer pried herself out of her chair. "The clothing styles are close enough to pass. And the gate is in Paris? Your grey suit will blend right in. Let's get comps and cards with software from years ago . . . decades ago . . . You won't have Ra'd to watch your back . . . You'd better take the bubble with the pencil handles . . . "

Ebsa grinned and followed her. One month to go. Holy One! I'm a father! A real father, changing diapers, and helping with homework. I'll just pop across, try a minor purchase from a vendomat. If that works, download a bunch of stuff, then come right back. Quick and easy. I'll be so fast the Newsies won't even notice I've been gone.

I hope.

The newsies had been relentless in their determination to keep the newlyweds in the news. They'd hounded their house hunt, speculated about Paer's figure, howled vindication when they'd made the announcement about the twins' . . . now they were speculating wildly about names . . .  

His Father-in-Law had won the election handily. Thank the One.

I'll be right back.


A smelly alley. A big metal dumpster crowded the gate on one side, a puddle of oily water to the other. A persistent illusion concealed the permanent gate on the wall between them.

The tiny antennae and laser rely in the corner were unobtrusive. Azko was on the far side, an Empty World, with the crawler, recording broadcast news and entertainment. In theory the wiz kid electronics expert could come rescue Ebsa if he really fouled up.

Ebsa eyed the dimensions of the alley and doubted the crawler could make the turn. Although he's getting a lot better at slewing the whole thing around.

Ebsa stepped carefully around detritus and looked both ways. Busy street to the right. He headed that direction. He was a bit overdressed for the neighborhood. He unbuttoned the suit coat and spotting tall buildings, headed that direction.

The looks he got were of a predatory nature, but no one approached him. I guess I've got the "move confidently and no one will bother you" thing down.

A corner vendo. He fished out a cash card and slid it in. Wrinkled his nose at the nasty selection and chose a pack of antacids. The machine kicked it out to him and returned the card.

Excellent. Now I just need to sit down somewhere quiet and see if the comp will mesh.

A few miles further on he was just one more man in a suit. And as the lunch crowd thinned, he found an auto café and settled down for lunch and research.

I need to narrow down the time frame of the split. A hundred and seventy years covers too much . . . perhaps . . .

He opened his comp and turned it on. It searched for a bit, flicked through several error screens, then settled down to download an updated grid connection program.

And once ongrid, there weren't many changes. It was easy enough to hunt down census data.

South American Region, Uruguay Division, Montevideo District . . . no Ebsa Clostuone Castellanos Montevideo . . . Taix Castellanos on the other hand was registered with her two daughters.

Well, that worked. Whatever happened, happened between mom's birth and mine. 1354 to 1382 .

1354? The main things that happened after that would be . . . the loss of the Granite Peak Colony. Just a year or so after Mom was born . . .

He tapped away.

Granite Peak produced a load of hits, and a quick scan of the titles . . . he tapped the one about the nuclear weapon . . .

"Holy One. They didn't get the gate closed in time. The Earther's captured the gate complex." Ebsa gulped and shut his mouth before someone heard him.

We nuked our own city to stop them.

"Well . . . that certainly changed everything." He tried to not hyperventilate, thinking about how desperate they must have been . . .

Who was born before 1355? He checked the date. Before Ramadan.

Not my generation, nor the next. But Ajha and Xiat. Izzo . . . but was he still on Homestead?

Ebsa checked the status of the colonies . . . "Nothing. Holy One. Surely they have a gate working. It's been fifty years. Except, the colonies didn't split . . . probably . . . "

He went back to looking for people.

The President—my President Orde . . . a district representative in the Eastern Europe Regional Council.

He looked back at the picture of the destruction of Gate City. Damn.

He sat back, blinked and focused on a familiar figure walking through the door. Huffed in relief.

Ra'd stepped over and eyed him.

A bit more tanned and weathered, an old nick in one ear. Whipcord muscles, sharp cheekbones in an underfed face.

And of course anyone stuck in a bubble wouldn't have been affected by the events of the split.

Absolutely no sign of recognition, scrutiny turning into a decision . . . and not a passive or friendly decision.

"Afternoon, Ra'd. Join me for lunch?" I wonder how many guns or knives he's carrying? And which he's planning on using?

A pause. "So your people can get here?" A soft quiet voice.

Very different from his Ra'd's razor edged baritone.

"I . . . don't have any people handy . . . and why . . . " Ebsa sat back and . . . kept his hands in plain sight. "I . . . take it you're in trouble? Of the legal or criminal variety?"

Ra'd studied him for a longer moment. "You know my name. Why don't you know the rest?"

He was standing balanced, the relaxed pose of man prepared to kill him.

12 December 2017 @ 05:15 pm
So while I hack and slash my way throughthe end of _Last Merge_ are there any requests for repeats of stuff I've taken down?
10 December 2017 @ 12:09 pm

There was always news on, during breakfast.

Rael tuned her bug in to the screen she was facing.

Oh One! Hysteria about missing college students. We retrieved . . . wait. Hundreds? What the . . .

"For those of you just tuning in, cross-dimensional raid on the University of Karachi western campus early this morning. Police are still trying to account for all the students, with roughly a thousand students being treated for broadcast sleep spells

The Newsie on the scene and his cameraman were focused on stretchers carrying limp bodies out of another building. They weren't shrouded, as if dead, and as they zoomed in, were clearly female.

The vid switched to a hysterical man pointing at a building. "See? They took over that building with all the big lecture halls in it. Do you believe they packed two hundred kids into a theatre-like room and expect them to learn anything?"

The newsman looked a bit taken aback. "Well, it certainly made everything easy for the kidnappers. It has to have been either a gate or a corridor. At this point all we know is that six hundred young men and women are missing, and the police say a military type force had control of most of the campus and is backing away."

Military. Oh crap.

An unidentified voice interrupted. "Ugde, they are leaving most of the women behind, and the doctors at Central City Hospital say they have detected halogen gas traces." "Hypnotic gasses? That sounds like Earth. The Fallen would have used magic."

Rael watched carefully, as a remote backup memory of a security camera was shown. She recognized the phenotype and uniforms immediately. "Helios. God. Damn. It is them."

:: Urfa! Those are Helios in Karachi. :: She could feel the man's wince and toned her mental voice down. :: Is it still ongoing? Can we get there in time to do anything. ::

She looked over her shoulder . . . "Eppa? I need the Speed Squad? Guys? Uniforms. An armored something. No, can aircars get through corridors? Lots of guns." She bolted up the stairs and headed for her room, already shedding her warmups. Uniform, her favorite pistol, the rod of the dimensional bag. Lace shoes. Run back down to where a bunch of weapons were being carried out the front door.

Major Eppa, waved her toward the first vehicle. "Rael? It's not armored at all. It's fast and it'll go through the corridors."

Urfa huffed up, put of breath. "You're heading straight for Auckland—the Helios are already out of Karachi. I've called Disco, they're enroute."


"Yeah, at least they yelled for help immediately."

Isakson arrived at a run. Pointed at the Speed Team. "Two in each seat. Rael and I get the doors."


"Because she can fly and I can parachute." He eyed the driver. "Show me how fast you can get to Auckland."

The driver—Dear One! Zippo!—grinned. Isakson leaped in beside him, closed the door, the others crammed themselves in.

Rael sat on Ux's lap and pulled the door closed. The aircar leaped into the air and the rear jets cut in. "What? Don't look like that, better me than Isakson, right?"

"Uhhh . . . Ahhhh!" as the aircar dropped . . . right into the red-lit emergency zone in front of the corridor to Gate City, skidded through, bounced up . . . twist and drop into the space before the Auckland Corridor . . . up and blast forward . . .

"Campus coming up on the right where do you want me to land?"

Rael leaned between the front seats and pointed "See that line of trucks disappearing into nowhere? As close as you can get." She triggered the emergency door release and jumped.

Shield wings out, tail, flipped up and dive for the spot where the trucks were disappearing. And throw a slice across the engine compartment of the truck approaching that spot.

Her left arm jerked back and she fell into an out-of-control spin. Bullet hit the wing. Reach out for a pull to stabilize, kite up in a swoop. Wings in one solid sheet bulging out in front of her. With brief holes so she could throw three more slices to stop trucks, then she dropped into a target rich environment and went to work. Hard stuns—prisoners to question—a curved shield, grounded and braced and they were shooting themselves with ricochets.

Isakson hit the ground on the far side of the trucks and laid out his own swath of destruction.

Rael took a breather to check the battleground.

The truck drivers were all out, shooting from behind their truck doors, windows down and providing rifle rests. The foot soldiers . . . Some were in cover, providing cover for the ones who were up and running for the buildings.

:: Ohhe, concentrate on the ones running. Don't let them get hostages. Isakson and I will deal with the trucks. ::

She turned her attention to the trucks. A vertical slice through the middle of the door . . . Worked nicely. Well, messily. She ran to get the right angle on the next truck, staggering at the punches of hits on her shield. Slash and slash again. Turn and slash right through a concrete planter that the Helaos must have thought was safe . . . and all the shooting had stopped.

Rael looked back at the gate . . . which wasn't there.

Q was.

She walked over to Rael. "I disrupted their gate enough that they shut it down, and I've destroyed their gate anchor. But I'll bet they've got them at dozens of other colleges."

Three more aircars, with more sane pilots, arrived, and the Blackhorse Guards joined the local police in a room by room search for the mentally-invisible Helaos.

None surrendered. A few more were stunned.

Newsies were almost as thick as the police and medics. Yelling questions.

"Doctor Quicksilver! How did they get their gate mechanism repaired so quickly?"

Q glanced their direction at that one, looked back at Rael. "The gate was coming from their colony world." Her comm buzzed. She clicked it on and listened. "Right. I'll go to the Colony and see if I can stop them there. Then I'll meet you at the staging world."

She clicked off and looked around as Urfa jogged up. "Xen says they've established a shadow zone on the target. These kids they've kidnapped? They're on the colony world. They'll gate them to the Target and haul them into the Shadow Zone from that side, to merge with Helaos coming in from their world. I've got to go."

Not even a poof of air. She was just not there.


09 December 2017 @ 07:46 am

Chapter Demon

"Kill them all!" The big man, the King of Portland, pointed north. Dogs and men charged, dogs pulling ahead as the men threw clothes aside, changing as they ran.

A shot echoed around the basin. The big man spun and dropped, blood pumping. He spasmed, throwing himself at the nearest fire.

"My blood, for you!" Smoke billowed as the Hunter fell on the fire, pulsed with the spurts of blood, slowing . . . Thick tentacles rolled out . . .

I threw myself against the tree, felt it give, threw myself as hard as I could again. A snap. Again, and I was falling, clumsy, feet trapped. I kicked my legs up in the air, got one up over the stump and I was free . . . with my feet hobbled together and my hands behind my back.

I bunny hopped to a pair of pants, discarded on the ground. Felt the pockets, bingo! A pocket knife, not very sharp, but it cut the rope between my ankles. I dashed back to the posts. With all the howling, I hadn't actually heard their screams, but they were screaming. I managed to cut the first one loose with my hands behind my back. She snatched the knife and ran for the next post.

I checked the progress of the smoke tentacles, and sat down. I have long arms, I'm flexible . . . I didn't dislocate a shoulder getting my hand-cuffed hands past my butt, but for a moment, I wondered.

Lady One cut Lady Two loose and ran for the woods. Luckily she dropped the knife, so I cut the third woman loose and pointed down hill. It was the only direction I was reasonable sure no Hunters had gone. She went.

And I turned back to the dancing floor.

:: Dance! Howl and sing me into the world! ::

A tentacle uncurled and reached for me. I backed away. How to disrupt what little dancing was happening? Ah, there was the Seattle group, dancing beside a huge boulder that hid them from the snipers up on the ridge. They were trying to keep up the power, the strain . . . whatever the hell it was. I picked up rocks and started throwing them.

I was a pretty damn good athlete in high school, even if not good enough for a scholarship.

I threw a dozen Hail Marys into the Dance before the Hunters came for me.

I back pedaled to avoid being surrounded.

"One more sacrifice will do!" Old and wiry, fanatical gleam in his eyes and a familiar looking long knife in his hand.

Each group must have a sacrificial knife. Is it something special, a part of the mechanism? With blood and fire?

:: Come! Give me your blood! ::

I took a quick glance at the dance floor. A shark's mouth on a long neck, twisting and snapping. I backed faster. If I was going to die, it was going to be as far away from the demon as I could get before they killed me.

:: I am not yours.::

:: Come! ::

I turned to run, stepped on the end of the rope still around my ankle. Turned the pratfall into a roll. Nearly levitated to my feet as sick pale vapors curled up from the gritty ground.

I was surrounded.

The Hunters howled and the old one grinned and stepped forward. "Uncuff him. The All Mother should see the traitor killed in a fair fight. We are better than he is."

One of them walked up warily. I held my hands out. He was growling low his throat, barely holding back his anger. And the dog-form. But he unlocked the cuffs and retreated.

The old Hunter stalked forward, the sacrificial knife held low, point up like a sword.

High school wrestling, football, and track were not going to be very useful here. A couple of years of karate . . . but not very much stick work . . . I grabbed a stick off the ground as I retreated around the circle of Hunters. Unfortunately light weight. I tapped it on the ground, sturdy enough, and there wasn't enough time to try another as he charged me.

I dodged. "Is this a good idea? I mean, do you actually know what to do with that on someone who isn't tied up?"

He lunged. Nothing half-hearted. This was a huge fencer's lunge at full extension.

I jumped back in shock, a shallow slice down my forearm. Bleeding. Dripping onto the ground, that steamed as if hot, as if growing tendrils like noxious plants.

:: You are mine, you will serve me. ::

:: Never. :: I put stubborn immobile rejection into the thought, and remembered my attempts at mental shields, and tried to seal her out.

My swing with the branch was woefully slow, more blood hit the ground . . . and did not steam.

I jumped away, fell over a knee-high boulder and rolled away, grabbed his knife hand and twisted. The knife fell. A fast scramble, and I was up, with the knife.

He laughed. "Cut me! Just try!"

The blood of a believer? Shed on this ground?

The little boulder had a crack in it. I jammed the knife in and threw my weight against it. It snapped.

They screamed and charged. I reached for the dog-form as I kicked and punched. Slashed out—No, dammit! No Blood! Stay human!—was knocked flat and rolled.

They piled on, yelping—half drowned out by roaring, bright lights and gunshots.

I grabbed a man in a very illegal wrestling hold and wrench his head around. Something gave and he dropped. I kicked out, scrambled out of the scrum and spotted the old man. He was prying at the crack in the boulder with the stub of the blade left on the handle.

I pounced, got him in a choke hold. Spun and used him to knock back a couple of Hunters . . . and then I could see what was happening on the dancing floor. The roaring was helicopters, two. The gunshots were from the guys in full SWAT gear.

It wasn't all one sided. There were black-clad lumps among the canine and casually dressed or undressed human bodies. I stared as a tentacle of smoke wrapped around a SWAT guy and lifted him from the ground. Threw him.

The tentacle reach up and grabbed the landing skid of a helicopter and pulled it down. It landed hard, motor cutting off and more men spilled out both sides.

Then the dogs came for me—the Seattle Hunters had gone canine—and a black clad man ran towards us, shooting. Two more behind him, and he was yelling to not shoot the dark haired man . . .

"Kris?" I yelled as loudly as I could. "Try to not spill blood on the ground! It strengthens the demon!"

His head swiveled back to the pitched melee at a scream, very human. A man in SWAT gear held aloft by two tentacles . . . pulling . . . the spine gave way and muscles ripped, the body in two parts swung, spewing blood as they were thrown. Intestines stretching . . .

The old Hunter finally went limp in my hold, and Kris was behind me, shooting.

"Leo, you want him alive you better let him breathe."

I hesitated, shook my head and squeezed harder. "He's too dangerous. Too . . . close to the demon to ever be safe."

As I watched, the shark-head tentacle reached to bite . . . and passed through the SWAT guy as he leaped away.

All the tentacles were fading, losing solidity and blowing away like the smoke that had partly formed them.

I looked around. It was over. I was the only werewolf standing.

Kris flipped up his face plate. "No blood on the ground, eh?"

One of his escort pulled a long straight knife from his thigh sheath. "I'll just make sure." He reached out casually and slid the knife inbetween the old Hunter's ribs.

He left it there. Flipped up his face plate and looked around. "Huh. Never seen anything like this before."

I made a note of his face, telling myself to never give this man cause to kill me.

I laid the body down on it's back. Not that there was any blood . . .

"So, Leo . . . I don't suppose you have any clothes around here somewhere?"

"Umm, yeah. Over somewhere, if I won't get shot walking over there. Umm, I was expecting Mr. Wright, and wondered if I was going to have to run for it again."

"Oh, he's around somewhere. Poor fellow. Finding out I was his new boss has been a bit of a blow." Kris headed across the battlefield, and I walked beside him, pretending I wasn't the least bit embarrassed by being totally naked. Which I wasn't, much. I guess because I spent so much time as a naked dog.

I tried to ignore the fact that a few of the SWAT guys might be SWAT gals, and that I was harvesting a whole bunch of unfriendly looks.

"So was that guy something special?"

"Head of the Seattle Hunters." I looked around. Pointed. "The big guy in the fire was the head—called himself king—of the Portland Hunters."

I spotted my stuff and Quickly pulled on the briefs and jeans. Sat down and pulled on my socks . . . examined my shoes, which had been stabbed several times. I put them on anyway.

"I appreciate the sniper and the rest of the rescue."

"Meh, anytime." Kris looked around. "Almost two hundred of them, and I think less than a dozen of them had guns."

I nodded. "I they do most of their fighting in dog-form. They take pride in their deadliness, and like to taste blood."

"Still stupid of them." Kris looked around. "So, where's Wright?"

Several glances at the top half of the ripped apart body . . .

"Oh . . ." Kris walked over and knelt briefly.

One of the guys nudged me. "So what were those tentacles?"

"Uh, just guessing, you know? The physical manifestation of an energy being from another dimension. The Hunters thought they were summoning their demon ancestress. Which I suppose is just a matter of terminology. I think it may have created the Hunters to assist it in opening cracks for it to enter the world."

Kris snorted. "Still trying for science instead of mysticism, Leo?"

"Damn straight. I refuse to believe in magic. Mostly."

08 December 2017 @ 10:28 am

Ah, rival . . . packs. Sort of sharing the primo dancing floor on the flank of Mt St Helens.

They stripped the ruins of my jacket and shirt off, and I was handcuffed. Shit. Metal.

They searched my pockets, found the multitool, the folder in the ankle brace. They yanked my shoes off and the pants, feeling the seams, stabbing my shoes . . .

"Nothing, no wires."

"Where's his wallet?" That sounded like the guide Hunter. "He put it in his pocket."

"Search your car. If you find it drive it away from here." The big man waved him off.

The king of Portland? Your kingdom exists only in your mind, you corrupt killer.

I was dragged to the poles—the trunks of dead trees, left in place—and one cuff taken off. My attempt to fight resulted in a blow to the head that had me fighting just to stay conscious as they threw me against the dead tree and fastened the handcuff again. Ropes for my ankles . . . Should have kicked while I could.

I let my knees bend, my weight on my wrists, the handcuffs digging in as I sagged forward. I tried to make my struggle look helpless, not like a test saw at the tree trunk.

How long ago had it died? Could I hope for a bit of rot?

I shut my eyes.

Three desperate little glows to my right. Sickly yellow everywhere else . . . until I reached out further. Half a mile away, over the ridge to the west, where we'd started the last climb and hair pin turns, working our way around this shoulder of the mountain. Where they'd blocked the road. A bonfire of clean white . . .

I opened my eyes and looked at the sun. Here in this little hollow, with the crest of the ridge to our west, the sun was going to be setting in an hour. Maybe they wouldn't start while it was so light? They might wait for the sun to touch a more distant horizon?

I looked the other way, The mountain was black rock, streaked with the white of an early snow, crowned in white.

The ground shivered. A cloud . . . no . . . the way it was rising that had to be steam rising from the ruptured crater. Climbing high and bright.

The Hunters threw back their heads and howled.

"She comes!"

Then again, this close to the source, maybe they didn't worry about the sun.

I took a deep breath for courage and closed my eyes. Sickly yellow green, bright spots of the hunters, but now there was . . . something like a ground fog creeping around rocks and boulders. An awareness so large it encompassed the entire hollow, oozing up from below, and flowing down the mountain like an avalanche of pure evil . . . no. Not evil. Inhuman. Un-human. A god playing with living toys, a boy with an ant mound, a scientist with a puzzle.

And the dance, uncoordinated and unorganized as it was, was twisting the aura, the energy . . . opening access and pulling the so-called demon through.

The Hunters' demon had nothing to do with Heaven and Hell. It was a creature, a thing that had no place in our world, our reality. An entity that had slipped in through a place of strain . . . And created a living tool to help it return.

If they'd hired a choreographer it would have been a lot easier for the demon.

And while a couple hundred Hunters were capering about and lighting multiple fires, I concentrated on doing something I'd never tried before. I'd changed half way, and then reversed. But I'd never tried changing just a small part of myself.

Claws. The first two claws of my hands. Claws to dig into dead wood. Claws to free me.

Chapter Snipers

Mike cursed under his breathe.

Can't be but maybe half a mile to the crest of this bloody ridge, but bloody hell it's steep, the pine needles are slippery, and the rocks are deliberately place to be tripped over!

His favorite rifle was over his shoulder. His second favorite was broken down to fit in his backpack, along with lots of ammunition. All well and good for Barnette to talk about "one bullet one kill" But Mike had been frighteningly close to dry when he'd faced his first and only ever fight with werewolves.

It wasn't going to happen again. Even as he cussed the weight.

He glanced back, but Danny Barnette and trees were all he could see. Down there somewhere three teams were hoofing it up the road while the last team cleared the road.

Hopefully from up here we can see what's going on. We'll be a quarter mile away from the phone's GPS.

He climbed up a slanted ten foot patch of rock to almost level ground.

That shivered.

"Earthquake." Barnette grunted. "Probably another steam explosion in the crater."

"So long as it doesn't erupt." Mike wound between a couple more trees, sidestepped thicker brush as he reached a drop . . . into a broad cup full of howling Hunters.

"Damn, we're right on top of them." Mike pulled out his binocs.

Barnette stepped up beside him. "About three hundred meters. Simpson . . . are we really supposed to kill all of them?"

"Mr. Write is a bit . . . paranoid about these guys. They got four victims for tonight's fun . . . "

"Looks like three women and a man."

"Yeah. Crap, that's Leo."

"Uh . . . The friendly one Wright really wants dead?"

"Yeah. Wright's really paranoid about him. He's an orphan, raised by nice people, he's helped break up three groups so far, and is helping us here . . . And there are—that we know of—two groups on the East Coast that we could use his help with. But Wright wants him dead."

Mike eyed the man. I'm a desk jockey. The bosses borrowed these guys from who knows where. Can I actually give them orders? That will be followed?

"My recommendation is that you keep busy killing the other Hunters to avoid the ire of people higher up who do not agree with Wright about Leo."

Down below a dozen fires were starting.

Mike clicked on his radio. "Alpha, we've found them. They're right below us. There are close to . . . "

"Hundred and fifty." Barrette leaned into the mic. "I've got a good spot to take them."

And in return, "We've found the cars, we're coming across. Wait until we're in position before you open fire."

"Roger." Mike left the radio on, covering the mic as he turned to Barnette. "First priority is to save those women. Second to not let any of them escape."

From below, howls, and something that might have been chanting. Dancing, not terribly well coordinated, stomping around, raising dust, or perhaps it was smoke from the fires, hugging the ground, and swirling as the dancers threw things in the fires.

Once the sun drops behind the ridge, that's going to look spooky. And full night, worse. Mike rubbed his eyes. Actually, it's pretty eerie right now. I don't like the way it's reaching out for those women . . . even if it isn't getting there yet.

The Hunters turned, heads up.

Uh, oh! "Alpha! I think you've been spotted." Mike crammed his ear protectors over his ears and snugged down with his rifle.

Down below, a fat man pointed into the forest on the far side of the basin. "Kill them all!"

The dogs charged. The men started shedding clothes.

Mike took aim at the fat man and squeezed the trigger. he saw him go down, and switched to shooting the dogs before they were lost in the forest.

Click. He rolled back and grabbed his backpack. Switched mags. Started shooting. Damn it, he was taking too many shots to knock each one down.

New mag. Aimed carefully, trying to not waste ammunition. Trying to keep the Hunters away from the sacrifices.

He laid the rifle down to let the barrel cool and pulled out the /// Slotted the barrel in and loaded.

07 December 2017 @ 07:42 am

I got a tourist's guide and . . . toured.

I blocked out the areas they weren't. All of the south. I steered way from the faintest touches , all in the north. Pointy arrows toward them, on my map.

I went to book stores, and bought magic books.

And I felt them, the watchers who bracketed me. They stayed about a mile away . . . surely I didn't have a greater range than Hunters, raised and trained in all the things I was slowly finding out about. I decided it had to be caution on their parts.

I read, and kept doing my meditations. Tried to "see things through other people's eyes" and . . . didn't know whether to hope that wasn't my imagination, or fear the thoughts behind my hotel room neighbor's eyes.

And on the tenth, strolling up Alberta Street between art galleries . . . I spotted Mike Simpson. I caught his eye and shook my head ever so slightly. I walked on, consulted my marked up map, folded it up and missed my pocket as I walked into a shop of hideous black and white photos of contorted nudes. I stared up at one . . . body part. I'm pretty sure it was an armpit. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mike walk by. Stoop and then straighten without pausing.

I suspected that would be the best I could do.

The map has a sticker from my hotel on it. He knows my car. He can follow me.

I don't know if he did, but the next night when I came "home" after dinner there was a cheap tosser phone beside my hairbrush that I'd never seen before.


The next morning I had two Hunters at my door. I nodded to them, grabbed my jacket, wallet, car keys, phone . . .

"Leave the keys and phone." I was pretty sure this was my former guide.

I turned, jangling keys in hand, and dropped them and my black wallet on the desk as I tucked the black phone in my back pocket as if it were my wallet. Slung the jacket over my shoulder and headed for the door.

They didn't notice. I followed the guide out, the unnamed Hunter on my heels. They steered me to a dark gray SUV. I got the front passenger, with Unknown behind me while the Guide drove.

Chapter Kovac

FBI Senior Special Agent Kristjan Kovac eyed the man across the desk. "Thank you. It was a pleasure to trim back the Forty-eights. I sincerely hope your organization can finish the job, and get all of them."

The man had introduced himself as Mr. Brown. Period no embellishment to personalize himself or indicate how far up the hierarchy of secret stuff he'd gotten.

Kris studied him. Deep brown skin. Confident, middle-aged with a touch of gray in his hair. Pretty high rank, I suspect.

"We'll get them. However a question has come up, in regard to your Leonard Stone. How far do we trust him? Did he rescue your wife and sister-in-law because he was attracted to the sister-in-law?"

Kris blinked. "Not solely. He had already located the gang's homes, and Mr. Wright made an oblique mention of an email."

"Yes. Probably sent from your computer and signed 'Anonymous Dog.' It contained the addresses of the houses in Phoenix and the warehouse in Albuquerque. Mr. Wright's raid on the warehouse resulted in an explosion and fire. Twelve bodies recovered."

The man leaned back in his seat. "Your Phoenix raid was much less deadly. Dr. Reid thanks you. Six days ago we had a reprisal of that raid . . . with Mr. Write reportedly determined that none of the . . . genetically abnormal people or dogs survive. Including you friend."

Kris tensed, tried to not show his instant flush of anger.

"A junior agent of mine intervened. We believe Mr. Stone survived, in as much as by the time we had the situation sufficiently under control to check, his apartment was stripped and his car gone."

"Good." Kris braced himself. So what do you want of me? I won't hunt him down so you can kill him.

"So in the end, we have added to our total population of illegally detained werewolves, and have lost track of Mr. Stone." Mr. Brown leaned forward. "He left a message that he'd look for the Pacific Northwest pack and phone Mr. Wright with a location."

The two men sat and studied each other for a moment.

"So I brought you here, today, to look you over before I offered you a job."

"I am quite happy with the FBI."

"I need a special sort of Field Agent in the Pacific Northwest to deal with the Forty-eights. Upon completion of which, I'll be needing a new head of the Special Projects division. Mr. Wright is a little too inflexible for the position, and is going to make a lateral transfer quite soon." Brown smiled. "I understand Seattle's a lovely place to live. But that would probably just be for a few months. The permanent location will be in Idaho, near the Idaho National Laboratory."

"Umm . . . " Dammit, I owe Leo so much. "If my wife doesn't mention divorce when I mention Idaho, I'll take it."

Chapter Mt St Helens

We drove nearly an hour north to the town of . . . St. Helens?

And turned off onto Lewis River road. It wound through pine forests and around ridges . . . I started catching glimpses of a broad white dome . . .

I found my self shivering, goose bumps on my cold arms.

Oh shit! Surely not a ceremony at the volcano! It's not actually erupting, right now. Maybe a steam release, now and then, right? So we'll just be in the forest somewhere, right? No throwing sacrifices into the volcano.

And why am I so shaken by Mt. St Helens?

I pulled the jacket on.

The Guide laughed. "You feel it, don't you?"

"Yeah. It's been almost fifty years since the big eruption."

"Forty-eight years since the Demon Sashoddifail re-entered our world through the stress of the eruption. She had waited for this chance, to finish her great project." He jerked out of his rapt contemplation of the volcano to jerk the wheel and get the car back off the gravel verge.

Forty-eight years! The oldest dancing ground they've found was twenty years old . . . But then I suppose the four brothers had to . . . Grow up? Have children or puppies or whatever? And then they'd start having these obscene ceremonies.

Unless, of course, they sprang full-formed from the All Mother's forehead and got right to work. So their early sacrifices just haven't been found.

Same, same for Escapees from the government's secret labs. Which, state of the art being what I read in popular science articles, the four brothers would be about ten years old. Maximum. The biggest breakthroughs were, when? 2018 to 2022?No way even mad scientists were making werewolves before then.

Crap. I hate it when the weirdest theory is truly the only possible one.

The Guide turned off the river road and started winding around and over ridges, climbing and dropping into small valleys. Every glimpse of the mountain it was nearer and larger. The road disappeared under a jumble of rock. We followed the tracks of previous vehicles, and found the paved road on the far side.

"Debris flow. Between creep and flash flooding, it's not worth paving."

"Guess not." Damn that mountain's big.

The road split and we took the high road. I spotted movement behind us. Rocks rolled and a tangle of mid-sized trees and brush fell across the road.

Didn't read about anything like that in my magic books!

We stopped. Two hunters trotted out of the forest and climbed into the back seat.

Three long climbs and hairpin turns and we turned off the road into the forest and parked beside . . . quite a large number of vehicles. All under camo netting. I hopped out and before anyone else was where they could see, I slipped the phone out of my pocket dropped it and kicked it under the SUV.

You'd better be bloody tracking that, Mr. Wright!

The Guide popped the back hatch and they pulled out netting. I help spread it, then followed my silent . . . relatives . . . through the tree. Side tracking the ridge, then climbing higher. Into a faint depression, it looked like the rock her had slid down the ridge a bit and left this space, forty acres, perhaps, of rock and pine seedlings.

Facing east for a view of the volcano.

And Hunters everywhere. Human and canine.

No. Not Everywhere. There were two groups, a bit of a separation between them. A quick, rough, head count. Eighty in each group, give or take.

The big Hunter from the restaurant was the center of the near group, the others were sort of spread along the southeast slope of the depression.

In the center, an area of perhaps an acre as flat as this rocky terrain could get.

Four poles toward the north end.

Three women tied to them, no other captives in sight.

My arms were grabbed, and my feet jerked out from under me. I was slammed down on my face, turning my head enough to save my nose.

"Hey, what . . . " A foot on my head crammed my mouth into the pine needles.

"I want to see this cut." A rumbly deep voice, the big man.

Cold steel against my neck, but the edge was away from my skin, slicing through the collar of my jacket and shirt

I yelped through pine needles as my duck taped padding was ripped off.

"That's no dedication cut. That's a death stroke gone awry."

I had a ground level sideways view of one set of shoes and pants stepping away and another stepping up.

"Indeed. You've found the traitor, but have you betrayed us all by bringing him here, King of Portland?" A snappish old sounding voice.

"It's more than you've done, Seattle. The All Mother will feast on the traitor's soul tonight."